25 June 2011


BOYCOTT DELTA. One of the few surviving major air carriers in the U.S., Delta Airlines, is in deep doo-doo. According to a Huffington Post report, "Jews and Israelis, or passengers carrying any non-Islamic article of faith, will not be able to fly code-shared flights from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia under Delta Airline's new partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines .... Saudi Arabia, which is governed by strict Islamic law, requires citizens of almost every country to obtain a visa. People who wish to enter the country must have a sponsor. Women, who must be dressed according to Saudi standards of modesty, must be met at the Saudi airport by a man who will act as a chaperone.

"Saudi Arabia bans anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport from entering the country, even in transit. May Jews believe the kingdom has also withheld visas from travelers with Jewish-sounding names. Religious items such as Bibles that are not related to Islam may be confiscated at the airport."

Among reactions to the announcement are the following ~

"The very idea that there is a common carrier airline service that would deny an American citizen in America access to their services because they are Jewish or have religious items such as a yarmulke, a cross, or a priestly collar, is deeply disturbing."

"Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, should be strongly condemned for its despicable discrimination against Jews. For an American company, our nation's values should trump narrow business interests. Delta should be the first to reject Saudi airlines as a Sky Team member."

To date, Delta Airlines statements have been formulaic, in effect shrugging their corporate shoulders as if to say, "What can we do? Business is business." Which is precisely the problem. Even recognizing that the globalization of commerce, travel and even government is the inevitable next step in our social evolution, common sense suggests that Delta's narow focus on profit (and make no mistake, if they weren't realizing a magnificent profit from this partnership, they wouldn't be in it) is blinding the company's executives and stockholders to broader issues of human rights and dignity. It is an unfortunate truth that the U.S., which is largely run by Wall Street, has for decades supported, defended, and catered to vile national leaderships ranging from banana republic dictators to oil-rich kingdoms. Our national interest on the surface is about democracy, freedom, and national security, but at its foundation the national interest is about money, territory, hegemony, and natural resources. Period. Delta Airlines' licking the slippers of Saudi royalty is just one more manifestation of that sad reality.

Which is not to say that we should simply sit back and do nothing. An international boycott of Delta Airlines is entirely called for .... as is a national furor demanding that government regulators and the legislators who control them be held accountable for approving this mess in the first place. Was everyone asleep at the switch, or did they simply think that no one would notice? More likely, the gears of commerce and politics were lubricated by generous doses of monetary gain for all concerned -- except for the traveling public, that is.

MASTURBATION. Now that I have your attention, I would like to direct your eyes to The Scientific Case for Masturbation, an entirely serious explanation for how self-pleasure came about, and the evolutionary advantages it confers (the rants of religious fundamentalists notwithstanding). "The science is straightforward. Whenever a behavior is common in the animal kingdom, biologists suspect it has an adaptive function. That is, the behavior enabled individual animals to survive better and leave more offspring than animals that did not engage in the behavior. As a result, genes for the behavior spread throughout that population until it became essentially ubiquitous. And so it is with autoeroticism, which is common -- really common.

" .... What then, might be its adaptive function? How can autoeroticism help animals triumph in the war of survival of the fittest? Lucky for us, scientists have been pondering this. There are four basic theories, each with support in one or another animal species ~

"1. Masturbation might remove old, worn-out, broken sperm from the reproductive tract. That would increase the fraction of healthy, speedy sperm, improving a male's chances of becoming a father ....

"2. Masturbation might be a form of advertising. According to this idea, males that engage in autoeroticism signal to possible mates as well as to competitors how much they have to offer ....

"3. Masturbation might be a form of victory lap. Some animals masturbate after they mate. Since other members of a group know this, then masturbation signifies that the male engaging in this behavior was the chosen partner of other females ....

"4. Masturbation can serve a hygiene function. According to this idea, males engage in autoeroticism because it cleans the reproductive tract and reduces the chance of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease from a female that he mated with and who had other recent partners. Result: a lower incidence of STDs, better sexual hygiene, more mating, more babies."

But what about female masturbation? The report says little, other than that observations in the wild are rare except among bonobos (who are our closest and randiest primate relatives). I have to confess that I'm not entirely persuaded by any of the proferred explanations. I suspect that there are other adaptive advantages to self-pleasure which no one has thought of, yet. And please note that the above discussion applies to the non-human animal world only. Although we are assuredly members of the animal kingdom, our large brains and social evolution has carried us into experiential realms which other creatures cannot begin to fathom. Removing old sperm, advertising, a victory lap, a hygiene function .... any combination of these may apply, but they don't tell the entire story. I would suggest that, like exercising any other muscle, perhaps we pleasure ourselves because it provides a form of physical and emotional release, and because (like personal grooming) it just feels good. Other suggestions are welcome -- simply click on "comments" below.

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