Tuesday, September 20, 2011

PETA.xxx? Using human bodies to protect animal ones?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has apparently decided to launch a porn site in the new .xxx top level domain. See an article about this here. The decision from the domain name registry about whether the site is approved should come in November.

This is waaaaaaaaayyyyyyy to good to be true for a scholar whose work includes studies of the body in global politics, Internet governance, and global political economy.

Where to begin?

For those who aren't immersed in the minutia of Internet governance, a top level domain (TLD) is the part of a web address that comes at the end: .com, .edu, and the like, and now .xxx. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit corporation, charted in California, that was initially formed at the behest Clinton Administration, is in charge of determining what new TLDs are added to the global Internet. (And if that sounds weird -- that a California nonprofit determines global Internet policy -- believe me, you are not even seeing the half of it! It's workings are much more bizarre: ICANN is arcane.) Back to our story: ICANN decided in March of 2011 that .xxx was a worthwhile addition to the virtual real estate that is the Internet. ,

This new TLD is a "sponsored" TLD (sTLD), which the .xxx registry, ICM defines this way:

The Sponsored Community consists of individuals, companies and organizations that have voluntarily determined that a system of self-identification would be beneficial and have voluntarily agreed to comply with all IFFOR Policies and Best Practices Guidelines. The Sponsored Community also includes those who provide Adult Entertainment intended for consenting adults and those who provide talent, products or services to the adult industry.

In other words, .xxx is something of a virtual, global red light district, and its supporters argue that it provides a way to both keep the young from accessing porn and to create a more law-abiding online porn industry. To be able to have a .xxx website, you have to provide evidence that you are not going to steal your customers' money, that you are not dealing in kiddie porn, etc.

Best Business Practices

Developed by the International Foundation for Online Responsibility (IFFOR), all .XXX registrants will be obliged to follow a set of practices to be drawn up to provide effective self-regulation by the adult industry.

In particular they must:

Safeguard children from being marketed or targeted online
Defend customer privacy
Oppose fraudulent, anonymous and unsolicited bulk SPAM advertising adult entertainment
Combat the use of unlawful malicious codes and technologies (e.g., spoofing)
Use and promote accurate labeling and meta-tagging allowing .XXX to be blocked more easily by parental controls
Ensure clear and accurate disclosures, security of transactions and contact information
Protect intellectual property rights. IFFOR will preserve the credibility of these practices through regular revisions and updates to accommodate developments in technology and in keeping with the current views of the general Internet using public.

Enter PETA. PETA thinks its message needs to be heard by the porn consuming public, which apparently includes most males and a large proportion of females. (For example, consider the study of Danish adults ages 18-30 by G.M. Hald. It can also be found online here.

Despite the widespread consumption of porn, porn certainly raises issues of sexual exploitation of women and others, despite the IFFOR best business practices. There is a debate about the extent to which women, either by overt coercion or because of a lack of other options, are forced into prostituting themselves. There are further questions about the misogyny and racism that plays out in the content of the porn. See, for example, an article by D.M. Hughes in the Journal of Sexual Agression. Other analyses differentiate between those who are forced into the pornography industry and/or prostitution and those who choose to be "sex workers." R. Weitzer, in Politics & Society (see also here), for example, carefully makes this differentiation and demonstrates the factual inaccuracies of the "moral panic" over sex trafficking.

In any case, though, porn websites have at best moral ambiguity attached to them. So, why peta.xxx?

Given the problematic elements of porn, PETA is definitely opening itself up to the charge that it really does not care at all about one kind of animal: the human kind. The PETA site, judging from news reports, will feature actors and models who have chosen (no coercion!) to arouse (sorry) interest in the protection of animal rights by (mis?)using their own bodies.

PETA has not shied away from using fetishized naked (male and female) bodies in its campaigns before, though such campaigns are more artsy than pornographic, in large measure because the organization seeks public outlets for them. In a Ron Jeremy ad, the art form leans toward satire, veering in the direction of sarcasm, with a well-known (and rather pudgy) porn star encouraging spaying and neutering pets because "too much sex is a bad thing." He says this in bed, nude and draped with a sheet. How silly is that?

It seems like PETA is trying to do two things: make the case that violations of animal rights are more "pornographic" than porn and show the public that being anti-meat and anti-fur does make the organizations' members stodgy fussbudgets. OK. We get it: animal cruelty is wrong and PETAns are cool. We also get that PETA makes a clear distinction between animals and humans and privileges the dignity of the animal over that of the human. And we get that PETA is trying to take advantage changes in Internet porn delivery through the .xxx sTLD.

But peta.xxx? Really, what are the odds that an .xxx surfer looking for some good, racy porn is going hang out on the PETA.xxx site and take PETA's political message to heart?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Humanizing animals and research rules

Just a few musings on a news article:

"New rules urged on hybrid animal-human experiments," by Ben Hirschler on the Reuters website summarizes a a report from Britain's Academy of Medical Sciences on the use of animals containing human material.
But Martin Bobrow, a professor of medical genetics at the University of Cambridge, who led the Academy's working group, said there were three areas of particular concern.

"Where people begin to worry is when you get to the brain, to the germ (reproductive) cells, and to the sort of central features that help us recognize what is a person, like skin texture, facial shape and speech," he told reporters.

His report recommends that government should put in place a national expert body, working within the existing system for regulating animal research, to oversee such sensitive areas.

There are a lot of interesting aspects to this -- from the idea that regulation is needed in advance discovery, to the idea that humanizing animals will (necessarily?) lead to creating monsters, at least if a certain kind of humanization happens. Privileged here are: brain cells, germ cells, and that other category: "central features that help us recognize what is a person." So, something hidden, like pancreatic islet cells, might be transferred to from a human to an animal for the purpose of research without raising the problem that the animal might resemble a human too much. The potential problems seem to be: animals thinking, looking, or sounding like humans; or animals having human(-like) babies.

As odd as this sounds, speculating and even regulating in advance of discovery may be necessary. But once again, the boundary between "us" and our animal relatives is brought into question.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dangerous bodies

The TSA is Now My Dermatologist - http://pulse.me/s/GoLu

Goldberg's description of the 'security theater' that surrounded TSA's evaluation of a cyst on his leg reminded me oddly of the Bible's description of the Hig Priest's evaluation of suspected leprosy lesions...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Zombies or Cyborgs? Unnatural body metaphors for IR

I haven't read Dan Drezner's new book on Theory of International Politics and Zombies yet, but I do love Charli Carpenter's response to it.

But Charli's amusing, thought-provoking, & arch response aside, how are we threatened by the unnatural body that is the cyborg? And how much artificial material can be added to the human body before it becomes a cyborg? Night vision goggles enhance vision beyond the "natural" ability of the human eye. Do these goggles make the wearer "slightly cyborg?" And is that a good or bad thing?

Cristina Masters examines "Cyborg soldiers and militarised masculinities."* She writes:
Increasing military interest in the body cancels the transgressive potential of the cyborg. Where humans become the weakest link in contemporary warfare, the cyborg represents a desire for total masculinist control and domination.

And as Charli Carpenter points, out, the cyborg elements of modern warfare make it possible for a woman to "fight like a man."

*Cristina Masters, "Cyborg soldiers and militarised masculinities," Eurozine
May 20, 2010, online at http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2010-05-20-masters-en.html, accessed April 5, 2011.

Monday, April 4, 2011

When a body chews coca leaves . . .

This is NOT a pro-substance abuse blog. Substance abuse is REALLY bad idea.

In 2009, Bolivia requested that the UN remove the provisions regarding coca leaf from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. If no other government objected by the end of January 2011, the ban on coca leaf would have been rescinded. However, at the 11th hour, the US, UK, and Sweden entered there objection. See Bolivia's response here.

Here's the back story: Cocaine can be extracted from coca leaves, but chewing coca leaves has long been a traditional practice of Andean communities. It apparently acts like a mild stimulant. I have been unable to find any actual explanation of harm to the body that chewing coca leaves causes. Even the 1950 UN report on the dangers of coca leaf says:

The leaves of the coca plant contain cocaine. In the present state of knowledge the indications are that the effects produced by chewing coca leaf are to be explained by the action of cocaine.

It does not at present appear that the chewing of the coca leaf can be regarded as a drug addiction in the medical sense.


Briefly the harmful effects of chewing coca leaf, from the point of view of the individual and of the nation, are the following:

It inhibits the sensation of hunger and thus maintains, by a vicious circle, a constant state of malnutrition;

It induces in the individual undesirable changes of an intellectual and moral character. This is especially clear in exceptional cases, and it is much discussed how far this is general. It certainly hinders the chewer's chances of obtaining a higher social standard;

It reduces the economic yield of productive work, and therefore maintains a low economic standard of life.


Coca leaves contain, as do other green leaves, vegetables and fruits, most of the known vitamins, especially B 1, B 2 and C in significant quantities. In spite of this fact it would by no means be advisable to supply these vitamins in the form of coca leaf chewing i.e., together with the toxic substance cocaine. In no way can the chewing of coca leaves therefore be regarded as a substitute for an adequate diet.

Frankly, the "harmful effects" sound an awful lot like "Demon Rum." I wish I could have found a reliable, evidence-based source of more recent origin that would actually say whether chewing coca leaves is harmful. The Bolivian government thinks there's nothing wrong with chewing coca, but I don't see the evidence either way.

Khat is perhaps an analog (completely different drug, though). Nasir Warfa and co-authors suggest that studies "suggested a weak association between khat usage and mental illness, with no evidence of causality." What they do see, however, is something of a "moral panic" that skews the discussion of whether there is harm.* I suspect the same thing is happening with coca leaves.

Because cocaine and crack cocaine are so harmful, anything associated with them must be harmful as well, or so the thinking goes. The body is seen as weak flesh, subject to the ravages of poisons. Coca leaf then becomes even more insidious because of its apparent innocuousness.

Now I am definitely opposed to harmful drugs and I am opposed to breaking the law. I have never used marijuana in any form (this is actually true), and I don't intend to chew coca leaves unless (a) they become legal and (b) scientific evidence shows they are not harmful and (c) scientific evidence also shows there is some benefit to them. I doubt this would happen soon, and I do reasonably well with coffee and other forms of caffeine as my stimulant of choice.

Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder about the insistence that coca leaves be placed on the same "schedule" as cocaine, oxycodone, and opium.

I'm thinking about this because of tomorrow's lecture on illicit flows of "bad" goods: illegal drugs, in this case. One of the assigned readings was a chapter by Silvia Rivera Cusincanqui on coca use in Northern Argentina, just over the border from Bolivia.** She makes a strong case that people do not see coca leaf chewing as bad or illicit -- even when it is illegal.

Nevertheless, the US, the UK, and Sweden still insist on framing coca leaves as as significant a threat to the body as other controlled substances that may have much more harmful effects. Moreover, many uncontrolled substances (or minimally controlled substances -- alcohol where there's a minimum drinking age) may have worse effects on the body than coca leaves.

Well, I skipped my wine with dinner tonight. I'm up too late and will certainly need my coffee tomorrow. And then I'll probably find a way to ingest my favorite psychotropic food: chocolate. A day without chocolate is like . . .a day without chocolate and that is not a good thing.

*Nasir Warfa, Axel Klein, Kamaldeep Bhui, Gerard Leavey, Tom Craig, Stephen Alfred Stansfeld, Khat use and mental illness: A critical review, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 65, Issue 2, July 2007, Pages 309-318, ISSN 0277-9536, DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.04.038.

**Silvia Rivera Cusincanqui, "Here even the legislators chew them": Coca Leaves and Identity Politics in Northern Argentina, in Illicit Flows and Criminal Things: States, Borders, and the Other Side of Globalization, ed. by Wilem van Schendel and Itty Abraham (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Quiz Time! And the Answer is:

Adam Smith in Theory of Moral Sentiments

Who said this? No fair Googling to find the answer:

We sympathize even with the dead, and overlooking what is of real importance in their situation, that awful futurity which awaits them, we are chiefly affected by those circumstances which strike our senses, but can have no influence upon their happiness. It is miserable, we think, to be deprived of the light of the sun; to be shut out from life and conversation; to be laid in the cold grave, a prey to corruption and the reptiles of the earth; to be no more thought of in this world, but to be obliterated, in a little time, from the affections, and almost from the memory, of their dearest friends and relations. Surely, we imagine, we can never feel too much for those who have suffered so dreadful a calamity. The tribute of our fellow-feeling seems doubly due to them now, when they are in danger of being forgot by every body; and, by the vain honours which we pay to their memory, we endeavour, for our own misery, artificially to keep alive our melancholy remembrance of their misfortune. That our sympathy can afford them no consolation seems to be an addition to their calamity; and to think that all we can do is unavailing, and that, what alleviates all other distress, the regret, the love, and the lamentations of their friends, can yield no comfort to them, serves only to exasperate our sense of their misery. The happiness of the dead, however, most assuredly, is affected by none of these circumstances; nor is it the thought of these things which can ever disturb the profound security of their repose. The idea of that dreary and endless melancholy, which the fancy naturally ascribes to their condition, arises altogether from our joining to the change which has been produced upon them, our own consciousness of that change, from our putting ourselves in their situation, and from our lodging, if I may be allowed to say so, our own living souls in their inanimated bodies, and thence conceiving what would be our emotions in this case.

Post your responses as comments . . .