Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Job in Afghanistan

Except for a brief explanation in one of my earliest posts I haven't really tried to describe what my job was in Afghanistan. This is in part because of the difficulty involved in doing so. My official MOS (military occupational speciality) is 12B or combat engineer. Historically, combat engineers have been mostly involved in the use of demolitions and/or area clearance (e.g., mine detection and removal) but with the proliferation of IEDs as a favorite tactic of insurgents combat engineers have mostly been involved in "route clearance" which is not as benign as it sounds. In a nutshell, combat engineers attempt to clear routes for infantry, supply lines, special forces, et al by finding and neutralizing IEDs. That sounds a lot like what EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) does which is what people most confuse combat engineers with.

But a crucial difference between a combat engineer and EOD is that the former is actually a combat MOS whereas the latter is only combat support. This is an essential distinction because it means that EOD is not permitted to engage in active combat situations and so only to be employed in a supportive role. Usually they sit around on the base until they are called out to neutralize an IED. This renders films like The Hurt Locker wholly inaccurate which is why, even with the critical acclaim it received, I did not care for that movie because an EOD unit would not have found itself in 90 percent of the situations depicted in that movie. The other chief difference between the two is that EOD is qualified to BIP (blow in place) and/or neutralize more types of IEDs than are combat engineers which is why they are equipped with a bomb suit and robotic investigative unit.

A friend of mine the other day pointed out to me a documentary that National Geographic did on combat engineers called Bomb Hunters. I've watched some of it and it is pretty accurate in terms of what I did in Afghanistan. For those interested more specifically in the day to day operations of a Route Clearance unit I suggest watching this documentary. Here's the link to the first part (embed doesn't work):

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Revisiting the Female Orgasm

Sometime ago now I wrote a tongue in cheek post about the evolution of the clitoris relying heavily on the conclusions of the late paleo-evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould that sought to provide a structural as opposed to adaptive explanation for the evolution of the clitoris. The conclusion reached there was that the penis and clitoris are homologous and that it is only through embyronic sexual differentiation that the two become "distinct" parts of their respective genitalia. Now in that post I did not treat the various adaptive explanations that many have proposed for the clitoris such as that a clitoral orgasm might help "draw up" sperm further into the reproductive tract thus increasing the chances of propagation or that it is a part of "bond pairing", the idea being that a female is more likely to stay and therefore continue to reproduce with a male that is able to fulfill her sexually via clitoral stimulation. There are many others and I chose not to engage with these adaptive theories because, again, that post was meant primarily to be humorous and entertaining.

Why am I then revisiting that post? Well, I came across an article on CNN that deals with exactly this issue and, interestingly enough, cites a recent study from Animal Behavior which questions the validity of the byproduct theory of the evolution of the clitoris:

Yet a study of twins and siblings published recently in the journal Animal Behavior questions the byproduct theory of female orgasm. Researchers looked for similarities in orgasm function between 10,000 Finnish female and male twins. And although there were significant similarities between same-sex twins, the researchers found no such correlation in orgasm function between opposite-sex twins, a correlation one would expect if female orgasm is a byproduct of male orgasm.

I'm not going to debate the findings of this recent research because I'm simply not qualified to do so though I do think it is flawed. And though I wrote about this with considerable levity in that earlier post this is actually an important issue when it comes to female sexuality. As the CNN article states we tend to reflexively value things that we hold as being more natural. But the female clitoris has historically been viewed as less than natural because of the (seemingly) lack of a role it plays in the reproduction of the species. Because of this it was seen as unnatural and hence improper for a woman to experience an orgasm other than through sexual intercourse. Sigmund Freud for example noted that it was fine for a young girl to experience an orgasm through self stimulation of her clitoris but that when she got married she should put away such childish behavior and thereon only attempt to achieve orgasm through intercourse thereby consigning an untold number of married women to sexual oblivion because as I noted in that earlier post the majority of women cannot achieve orgasm except through direct or at least indirect stimulation of their clitoris.

I suppose this is why I am attracted to the "byproduct" theory of the evolution of the clitoris because it easily disarms those who may be tempted to argue that stimulation of the clitoris is unnatural or unwarranted. And though I joked about it in that earlier post, the subject of the evolution of the female orgasm really is no laughing matter since at stake here is the justified sexual satisfaction of millions of women.