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Spying on Eros

H T GoransonH T Goranson is the Lead Scientist of Sirius-Beta Corp and was a Senior Scientist with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. His previous piece on Webdiary was A primer for pandemics.

by H T Goranson

A Sydney-based Muslim cleric, Sheik Hilaly, recently made headlines in Australia when he publicly reflected that immodest women invite rape because they are like "uncovered meat." More unfortunate still was his implication that this was the cause of a series of gang rapes in Sydney in 2000, in which the attackers’ legal defense was that they thought the women were sexually available because they wore Western clothes.

Although local Muslim leaders have since criticized Hilaly’s attitude, the incident again raises the question of attitudes regarding sex in "orthodox" communities, and how they can be reconciled with prevailing norms in the West.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the controversy over government spying on its citizens seems to have died down, mostly because people are now convinced that their government will only look at the really bad guys.

What do these two issues have in common?

Gathering sophisticated intelligence is largely a matter of understanding trends. It is less important, for instance, to steal a copy of North Korea’s bomb designs than to know the morale and capability of its scientists. It is important to know how much deprivation in a country would swing public opinion. Like most social science, measurement of these dynamics is conducted indirectly.

Intelligence analysts operate like scientists, in the sense that they develop theories, then measure and test them. Like scientists, they prefer to work with huge amounts of data, which is why the US government wants a record of every call and financial transaction made by every inhabitant of the country. Tracking the movement of individuals by the locator in their cell phones is possible, and it is surely under consideration.

That is because intelligence agents look for indicators, correlations, and causes. Causes are the hardest to understand. For example, the civil services in Iraq have recently crossed a threshold beyond which they are now probably impossible to administer. A significant reason is believed to be the steady flight of intellectuals from Iraq, which seems obvious, but is difficult to measure.

Indicators and correlations are easier to demonstrate. If a lot of people are leaving their seats during a sporting event, you might consider it an indication that the event is not exciting.

During the Cold War, Western intelligence agencies developed an immense catalogue of indicators and correlations. If train traffic on certain routes increased, it suggested that army food supplies were being delivered, thus hinting at impending military action. Likewise, shipments of toilet paper are amazingly accurate indicators of military activity. Once the Soviets realized this, they began to send bogus shipments around the country on random schedules, creating shortages for the baffled civilian population.

As it turns out, another extremely useful view into a society is the type of pornography it consumes, together with how that pornography is manufactured and delivered. Yes, it is true. Spies are interested in prurient behavior everywhere.

One reason is that pornography in orthodox societies is illicit, so the distribution channels opened by sexual materials are usually used for other goods as well. In the Muslim world, there is a significant, important flow of pornography. According to one story, possibly apocryphal, in the 1970’s, the Islamic insurgency in Iran was initially planned using material delivered through porn-related channels because the mosques were so tightly controlled.

But there are other trends indicated by pornographic content that are useful to spies. Movies produced for the sexual gratification of consumers reveal cultural norms of restriction, transgression, and otherness. In fact, porn is so specifically tuned to the tastes of consumers that shifts can indicate changes in a society almost immediately.

Interestingly, many purveyors of pornography initially thought that better quality video would make their product more desirable. However, it seems that high production values were actually less popular. So a "casual" production style was adopted, similar to the design of worn and ripped jeans. Part of the raw appeal of pornography, it seems, is that the product itself be raw, and conspicuously illicit.

But local tastes nonetheless vary widely. Japanese porn features schoolgirls, often bound. Egyptian porn before Nasser featured local beauties and voyeurism, but now focuses on fair-haired and pale-skinned women, sometimes with forced sex as a theme. Egyptian-born Sheik Hilaly, in Sydney, may have been verbalizing a latent sense of otherness and mistaking it for insight.

This means that tinkering with the content of porn could be in the national interest, under certain circumstances. Anyone privy to details of such activities cannot comment on them, but one story circulating in the research community involved attempts to introduce condoms into African porn as part of an anti-AIDS effort.

Then, of course, there is the biggest market of all: the US, where it is estimated that annual revenue for pornography in 2004 exceeded the combined revenue of the ABC, CBS, and NBC television networks by many billions of dollars. We should not be surprised if someone eventually tries to tweak the content of pornography to exploit Americans’ cultural proclivities on behalf of other products, causes, or even political candidates.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2006.


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I've been in a few courtrooms

Fiona: No, I have not been cross-examined but I have sat in a few courtrooms in my time as a reporter. I would still hold to my point that a lawyer does not have to be unpleasant to do his or her job.

You are right, it may well not be a pleasant experience to be cross-examined but it does not need to be made worse by a lawyer who actively seeks to make the experience as unpleasant as possible.

It is possible for a professional lawyer to be  determined, powerful, even manipulative in cross-examining without being unpleasant. It may be rare but it is possible.

I think you need to differentiate between how a person responds to cross-examination, and no-one, even those telling the truth, is comfortable I am sure given the environment, and how the person who is cross examining treats the subject of their attention. |The end result is the difference between measured verbal aggression  which is in context and plain old-fashioned bullying.

David: I presume you are referring to my last comment. Thankyou for taking it out. I did have doubts as soon as I hit Post Comment but these days without Edit we do not have the opportunity for second thoughts. Mea Culpa for allowing myself to be drawn somewhat to his level.

I think as Robyn pointed out in an earlier discussion on personal abuse the problem is that it is contagious.

Although I would have thought it was a mild comment in response to the one Malcolm concluded with in his post to me and that remained. Perhaps you were not Moderating at the time. I have realised that some Moderators are more rigorous than others in general and some even in regard to particular posters.

Richard:  I think we treat all posters equally, Roslyn 

A good lawyer

Malcolm: A good lawyer is not unpleasant. No-one needs to be unpleasant to do any job. You may choose to be unpleasant in doing yours but that is a different thing and it is your choice.

I do not have a problem with What you said but How you say it. You are crass and rude and seek to be offensive because clearly, you are incapable of reasoned discussion. That reflects on you, not on me.

If you read my post, which it seems you did not, you would see that I reposted your comment to clarify my response. I would have thought a good lawyer would have spotted that.

Fiona: Roslyn, have you ever been cross-examined? I have, and I am a lawyer, and it is not a pleasant experience. (Even though I was telling the truth - at least, as I saw it.)

David C: I've taken out the last comment.  Personal abuse, even in reply to provocation from another 'diarist, shouldn't get published.  (Fiona - happy to discuss!)

Tasteless and offensive yet again

Malcolm: Is there no post you can make which does not resort to insult and abuse?

You said:Is Hindu art pornography?

No, ancient Hindu art is not pornography  in the sense that I and Goranson talked about. Neither is The Perfumed Garden. They were seen as pornographic during Victorian times (and this makes my point ) because the society was so puritanical.

Such sexual depictions in ancient art have been interpreted as pornography when in fact they are just as likely to represent a healthier and more natural appreciation for the sexual act. Pornography can be in the eye of the beholder depending upon one's beliefs.

You said: The "culture" of the rebel American Colonies is as diverse as any on the face of the planet - try the Borat fillum for an example.

I don't know what you are talking about. The discussion was not culture or 'culture' but as the article stated, the fact that the Americans are big on porn. I merely gave a reason why this may be so.

You said: I do wonder why you bother. Is there something useful you want to contribute or do you just have to pour out so many words a day to justify your existence?

I do wonder why you have to be so trite and so rude or do you do it to justify your existence?

You said:What you have said is just silly. I live in the Cross, I used to be the President of the Chamber of Commerce, porn is a moveable feast;

Of course porn is a moveable feast. I merely make the point that the worst kind of porn is more common where puritanical religious values abound. America also has a 'habit' of serial evangelicals being 'outed' for their sexual behaviour, which also makes my point.

You said: porn is what you make it and what you make of it.

Porn may well be what you make it and what you make of it but it has a clearly identifiable predisposition toward misogyny. There is no denying that pornography also uses the subjugation of men and children as a sexual 'turn-on' but the major focus for such abuse is women.

[Deleted remark from Malcolm B Duncan]

I find this remark tasteless and offensive and actually think it should have been removed by the Moderator. I happen to think this is personal abuse of an unpleasant kind.

Roslyn: You're spot-on, the remark should not have gone through.  Apologies for any offence caused.  I suspect all the moderators have inadvertently let one or two dodgy things through (I know I have), we're human after all.  But again, sincere apologies. 

And your point was?

A virtuoso post.   You repeat not only what I said but what you said.   You don't like what I said.

I spend my life being unplesant (that's the nature of the law) but, unlike you I try not to be unplesant simply because I have a particularly ideological stance: I'm equitably unplesant.   Yay the yids.

A woman for all seasonings?

Is there no question, Roslyn Ross, that you cannot reduce to mere assertion and drivel?

Is Hindu art pornography? I rather think The Perfumed Garden both saw it in that light and revelled in it but I don't think it is.

The "culture" of the rebel American Colonies is as diverse as any on the face of the planet - try the Borat fillum for an example.

I do wonder why you bother. Is there something useful you want to contribute or do you just have to pour out so many words a day to justify your existence?

What you have said is just silly. I live in the Cross, I used to be the President of the Chamber of Commerce, porn is a moveable feast; porn is what you make it and what you make of it. It appears that you make of it an instrument of opression.

David C: There was a line here that some Webdiarists reasonably found to be very offensive, not to mention threatening towards Roslyn.  I don't think it should have gone up and have taken if out.  Apologies to all, this sort of stuff is completely unacceptable.  Malcolm, it would be good if you applied some self-censorship. 


David C, I exercise it all the time.    If you don't like my exercise of it, don't publish the comment.

I do not think the enormous amount of verbiage that emanates from Roslyn Ross evinces any form of self-censorship nor does it demonstrate self-control.   If moderators will not reign her in, it's up to the rest of us.    I note that I am not alone by any means - even the collective seems to agree.

We obviously come from different worlds and backgrounds.   I am an advocate; I have a particular style.   It happens to be quite effective.   If you don't like it, tough. 

May I remind you that we are, in a sense, in a courtroom: the courtroom of public opinion. 

Porn is sourced in misogyny

This is an interesting article beyond an insight into how spies do business, or gather information.

It is not surprising that porn is big business in the Muslim world and that it is, for the same sorts of reasons, big business in America. The United States is the most religious of the developed nations and that religiosity is very often of a fundamental nature. Even when it is not, American religion is sourced in a fundamentalism which can be traced to the religions followed by its founding fathers. The puritan ethic is alive and well in America in its religions and in the religious attitudes which permeate even the secular society.

In psychological terms, every part of the psyche which develops substantially will be 'balanced' by its opposite at an unconscious level. Orthodox religions tend to be puritanical in regard to sex in general and women in particular. Porn is the opposite of that in many respects although what it shares with orthodox religion and puritanism is a fear or hatred of the feminine. Women tend to be portrayed in porn in the same way that religion defines them.

I will qualify this by saying that religion, even the most enlightened, 'defines' women unconsciously if not consciously by the religious writings upon which belief is founded. Those writings, across the board, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist are, in essence woman-hating and woman-fearing. The goal therefore is to control women. The same 'goal' is very often reflected in porn.

It is interesting that while some, maybe many, women are interested in porn, they are not interested to the same degree which men tend to be. No doubt this is because so much of porn is not only immature in its banality, it is misogynistic. Or perhaps men get more out of it because, even in a Western nation like the US, men can still get 'off' on seeing women controlled and/or abused.

Pornography will always be present where sex is not regarded as a healthy and natural expression of communication between human beings. What is hidden becomes feared and in the fear and the secrecy different levels of eroticism will develop. That eroticism will be unhealthy but it can be addictive because stronger and stronger 'triggers' will be required to create the same sexual response.

It is not surprising therefore that women from orthodox religious communities, particularly those who are forced to cover or diminish their femininity in any way, such as orthodox Islam and some Jewish and Christian sects demand, will, beneath the facade, be dressed in ways which would make a porn queen proud. This is private porn, for the eyes of the husband only, but it is porn all the same. Just as the veneer of a puritanical society will hide to some degree the lustful eroticism (that being the goal whether it succeeds or not) of pornography, so the 'veneer' of dress which is imposed upon women will hide the pornographic truth beneath those robes, wigs, scarves or whatever.

It is the old virgin/whore equation where 'every man's dream' is the virgin in the kitchen and the whore in the bedroom. This can be a hard act for women to maintain and it is not surprising that very often men are forced to find the 'whore' elsewhere. In fact, in Victorian times in England it was considered unsuitable for a wife to take on this role and accepted that men would do their 'whoring' elsewhere, with the wife kept for cleaning and procreation, or 'clean' procreation.

In a healthy society where sex is openly embraced and not considered shameful, unclean, or demeaning (to men who have no capacity to resist the wiles of evil women as the religions teach), it would become an expression of physical, psychological and emotional communion instead of the ridiculous farce it often is at best and the hate-drenched and sometimes deadly misogyny it is at worst.

And then of course, in a healthy and natural form one can only presume it would be of no use to spies. But achieving that goal is probably in the 'pigs might fly' basket given the level of misogyny which is still entrenched in society in general, courtesy of religion.

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