Giorgione's Sleeping Venus
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Earlier this month, Morocco’s head of counterterrorism, Abdelhak Khiame,warned that the Islamic State (ISIS) is trying to build chemical weapons to use in an attack on Europe. The announcement comes after Moroccan authorities in February discovered components for making a chemical weapon during a raid on an ISIS cell poised for an attack in Morocco.
Khiame was not exaggerating the risk to Europe, as ISIS has the desire, and is working hard to develop the capability, to pull off such an attack. The recent terror strikes in Paris and Brussels demonstrated ISIS’ ability to infiltrate trained terrorists into Europe, and revealed the extent of terror networks embedded across the continent.
An important part of ISIS’ brand is that it is the most ostentatiously brutal of all terror groups, so a chemical attack also has appeal, as it would inspire particular fear and revulsion. In fact, ISIS has already perpetrated chemical attacks in Iraq and northern Syria. Iraqi intelligence officials claim that the group even has a unit focused on researching and building chemical weapons.
Fortunately, ISIS has not been able to realize its chemical ambitions outside Iraq and Syria yet, but it is sure to continue trying. Morocco’s success in breaking up the ISIS cell in February—one of 25 terror plots it claims it has foiled recently—and its broader efforts against terrorism offer some lessons for how counterterror officials in the United States and Europe can make it more difficult for ISIS to carry out such an attack.
In 2003, Morocco suffered a triple suicide bombing that killed 45. The country responded by developing a multi-pronged program to counter Islamist terrorism that included judicial, security, and even economic initiatives, earning the praise of the U.S. State Department for its holistic approach.
Morocco cooperates well with its neighbors—with the exception of long-time antagonist Algeria—and with the West on security matters, leading the United States to designate it a major non-NATO ally, one of only three African countries to be so recognized.
A crucial component of the Moroccans’ fight against terrorism is its efforts to combat the radical Islamist ideology that animates groups like ISIS. The Moroccan government propagates a moderate interpretation of Islam that emphasizes tolerance for other belief systems through a training program for imams from around the world, a dedicated television channel, and an annual lecture series hosted by King Mohammed VI during Ramadan.
Morocco’s efforts have not been fool-proof. Fifteen hundred of its citizens have joined ISIS (around 275 of whom have returned to the country). Its government also struggles to find the balance between aggressive counterterrorism and protecting the rights of its citizens. It has taken steps towards a freer society, but rights for many are still too constrained.
Yet allies like Morocco are a critical part of the fight against a vicious terrorist group and deserve American support. A large majority of Americans agree. In findings from a recent Heritage Foundation market research poll, 80 percent of those polled said the U.S. has a responsibility to escalate its response to terrorists when they strike an ally. ISIS’ desire to use chemical weapons against American allies—and likely the United States itself—and Morocco’s efforts to stymie ISIS’ plans are yet another reminder of the need for vigilance and determination in the fight against terror and of the value of our partners in what will be a long battle.
Once islamic terror organizations will have discovered the power of arson, they will win any war. Setting cities like Lagos or Kairo on fire will drive tens of millions of refugees to Europe and undermine European culture forever.
New York Post
In 2005, the world was introduced to reclusive billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, friend to princes and an American president, a power broker with the darkest of secrets: He was also a pedophile, accused of recruiting dozens of underage girls into a sex-slave network, buying their silence and moving along, although he has been convicted of only one count of soliciting prostitution from a minor. Visitors to his private Caribbean island, known as “Orgy Island,” have included Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew and Stephen Hawking.
According to a 2011 court filing by alleged Epstein victim Virginia Roberts Giuffre, she saw Clinton and Prince Andrew on the island but never saw the former president do anything improper. Giuffre has accused Prince Andrew of having sex with her when she was a minor, a charge Buckingham Palace denies.
“Epstein lives less than one mile away from me in Palm Beach,” author James Patterson tells The Post. In the 11 years since Epstein was investigated and charged by the Palm Beach police department, ultimately copping a plea and serving 13 months on one charge of soliciting prostitution from a 14-year-old girl, Patterson has remained obsessed with the case.
“He’s a fascinating character to read about,” Patterson says. “What is he thinking? Who is he?”
Patterson’s new book, “Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal That Undid Him, and All the Justice That Money Can Buy,” is an attempt to answer such questions. Co-authored with John Connolly and Tim Malloy, the book contains detailed police interviews with girls who alleged sexual abuse by Epstein and others in his circle. Giuffre alleged that Epstein’s ex-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the late media tycoon Robert Maxwell, abused her. Ghislaine Maxwell has denied allegations of enabling abuse.
Epstein has spent the bulk of his adult life cultivating relationships with the world’s most powerful men. Flight logs show that from 2001 to 2003, Bill Clinton flew on Epstein’s private plane, dubbed “The Lolita Express” by the press, 26 times. After Epstein’s arrest in July 2006, federal tax records show Epstein donated $25,000 to the Clinton Foundation that year.
Epstein was also a regular visitor to Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, and the two were friends. According to the Daily Mail, Trump was a frequent dinner guest at Epstein’s home, which was often full of barely dressed models. In 2003, New York magazine reported that Trump also attended a dinner party at Epstein’s honoring Bill Clinton.
Last year, The Guardian reported that Epstein’s “little black book” contained contact numbers for A-listers including Tony Blair, Naomi Campbell, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Bloomberg and Richard Branson.
In a 2006 court filing, Palm Beach police noted that a search of Epstein’s home uncovered two hidden cameras. The Mirror reported that in 2015, a 6-year-old civil lawsuit filed by “Jane Doe No. 3,” believed to be the now-married Giuffre, alleged that Epstein wired his mansion with hidden cameras, secretly recording orgies involving his prominent friends and underage girls. The ultimate purpose: blackmail, according to court papers.
“Jane Doe No. 3” also alleged that she had been forced to have sex with “numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, a well-known prime minister, and other world leaders.”
“The reader has to ask: Was justice done here or not?”
Epstein, now 63, has always been something of an international man of mystery. Born in Brooklyn, he had a middle-class upbringing: His father worked for the Parks Department, and his parents stressed hard work and education.
Epstein was brilliant, skipping two grades and graduating Lafayette High School in 1969. He attended Cooper Union but dropped out in 1971 and by 1973 was teaching calculus and physics at Dalton, where he tutored the son of a Bear Stearns exec. Soon, Epstein applied his facility with numbers on Wall Street but left Bear Stearns under a cloud in 1981. He formed his own business, J. Epstein & Co.
The bar for entry at the new firm was high. According to a 2002 profile in New York magazine, Epstein only took on clients who turned over $1 billion, at minimum, for him to manage. Clients also had to pay a flat fee and sign power of attorney over to Epstein, allowing him to do whatever he saw fit with their money.
Still, no one knew exactly what Epstein did, or how he was able to amass a personal billion-dollar-plus fortune. In addition to a block-long, nine-story mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Epstein owns the $6.8 million mansion in Palm Beach, an $18 million property in New Mexico, the 70-acre private Caribbean island, a helicopter, a Gulfstream IV and a Boeing 727.
“My belief is that Jeff maintains some sort of money-management firm, though you won’t get a straight answer from him,” one high-level investor told New York magazine. “He once told me he had 300 people working for him, and I’ve also heard that he manages Rockefeller money. But one never knows. It’s like looking at the Wizard of Oz — there may be less there than meets the eye.”
“He’s very enigmatic,” Rosa Monckton told Vanity Fair in 2003. Monckton was the former British CEO of Tiffany & Co. and confidante to the late Princess Diana. She was also a close friend of Epstein’s since the 1980s. “He never reveals his hand .?.?. He’s a classic iceberg. What you see is not what you get.”
Both profiles intimated that Epstein had a predilection for young women but never went further. In the New York magazine piece, Trump said Epstein’s self-professed image as a loner, an egghead and a teetotaler was not wholly accurate.
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years,” Trump said. “Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
Three years after that profile ran, Palm Beach Police Officer Michele Pagan got a disturbing message. A woman reported that her 14-year-old stepdaughter confided to a friend that she’d had sex with an older man for money. The man’s name was Jeff, and he lived in a mansion on a cul-de-sac.
Pagan persuaded the woman to bring her stepdaughter down to be interviewed. In his book, Patterson calls the girl Mary. And Mary, like so many of the other girls who eventually talked, came from the little-known working-class areas surrounding Palm Beach.
A friend of a friend, Mary said, told her she could make hundreds of dollars in one hour, just for massaging some middle-aged guy’s feet. Lots of other girls had been doing it, some three times a week.
Mary claimed she had been driven to the mansion on El Brillo Way, where a female staffer escorted her up a pink-carpeted staircase, then into a room with a massage table, an armoire topped with sex toys and a photo of a little girl pulling her underwear off.
Epstein entered the room, wearing only a towel, Mary said.
“He took off the towel,” Mary told Pagan. “He was a really built guy. But his wee-wee was very tiny.”
Mary said Epstein got on the table and barked orders at her. She told police she was alone in the room with him, terrified.
Pagan wrote the following in her incident report:
“She removed her pants, leaving her thong panties on. She straddled his back, whereby her exposed buttocks were touching Epstein’s exposed buttocks. Epstein then turned to his side and started to rub his penis in an up-and-down motion. Epstein pulled out a purple vibrator and began to massage Mary’s vaginal area.”
Palm Beach assigned six more detectives to the investigation. They conducted a “trash pull” of Epstein’s garbage, sifting through paper with phone numbers, used condoms, toothbrushes, worn underwear. In one pull, police found a piece of paper with Mary’s phone number on it, along with the number of the person who recruited her.
On Sept. 11, 2005, detectives got another break. Alison, as she’s called in the book, told Detective Joe Recarey that she had been going to Epstein’s house since she was 16. Alison had been working at the Wellington Green Mall, saving up for a trip to Maine, when a friend told her, “You can get a plane ticket in two hours .?.?. We can go give this guy a massage and he’ll pay $200,” according to her statement to the police.
Alison told Recarey that she visited Epstein hundreds of times. She said he had bought her a new 2005 Dodge Neon, plane tickets, and gave her spending money. Alison said he even asked her to emancipate from her parents so she could live with him full-time as his “sex slave.”
She said Epstein slowly escalated his sexual requests, and despite Alison’s insistence that they never have intercourse, alleged, “This one time .?.?. he bent me over the table and put himself in me. Without my permission.”
Alison then asked if what Epstein had done to her was rape and spoke of her abject fear of him.
An abridged version of her witness statement, as recounted in the book:
Alison: Before I say anything else .?.?. um, is there a possibility that I’m gonna have to go to court or anything?
Recarey: I mean, what he did to you is a crime. I’m not gonna lie to you.
Alison: Would you consider it rape, what he did?
Recarey: If he put himself inside you without permission .?.?. That, that is a crime. That is a crime.
Alison: I don’t want my family to find out about this .?.?. ’Cause Jeffrey’s gonna get me. You guys realize that, right? .?.?. I’m not safe now. I’m not safe.
Recarey: Why do you say you’re not safe? Has he said he’s hurt people before?
Alison: Well, I’ve heard him make threats to people on the telephone, yeah. Of course.
Recarey: You’re gonna die? You’re gonna break your legs? Or?—
Alison: All of the above!
Alison also told Recarey that Epstein got so violent with her that he ripped out her hair and threw her around. “I mean,” she said, “there’s been nights that I walked out of there barely able to walk, um, from him being so rough.”
Two months later, Recarey interviewed Epstein’s former house manager of 11 years, documented in his probable-cause affidavit as Mr. Alessi. “Alessi stated Epstein receives three massages a day .?.?. towards the end of his employment, the masseuses .?.?. appeared to be 16 or 17 years of age at the most . . . [Alessi] would have to wash off a massager/vibrator and a long rubber penis, which were in the sink after the massage.”
Another house manager, Alfredo Rodriguez, told Recarey that very young girls were giving Epstein massages at least twice a day, and in one instance, Epstein had Rodriguez deliver one dozen roses to Mary, at her high school.
In May 2006, the Palm Beach Police Department filed a probable-cause affidavit, asking prosecutors to charge Epstein with four counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor — a second-degree felony — and one count of lewd and lascivious molestation of a 14-year-old minor, also a second-degree felony.
Palm Beach prosecutors said the evidence was weak, and after presenting the case to a grand jury, Epstein was charged with only one count of felony solicitation of prostitution. In 2008, he pleaded guilty and nominally served 13 months of an 18-month sentence in a county jail: Epstein spent one day a week there, the other six out on “work release.”
Today, Jeffrey Epstein is a free man, albeit one who routinely settles civil lawsuits against him, brought by young women, out of court. As of 2015, Epstein had settled multiple such cases.
Giuffre has sued Ghislaine Maxwell in Manhattan federal court, charging defamation — saying Maxwell stated Giuffre lied about Maxwell’s recruitment of her and other underage girls. Epstein has been called upon to testify in court this month, on Oct. 20.
The true number of Epstein’s victims may never be known.
He will be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life, not that it fazes him.
“I’m not a sexual predator, I’m an ‘offender,’?” Epstein told The Post in 2011. “It’s the difference between a murderer and a person who steals a bagel.”
95 percent of the victims of violence are men. Because women are natural cowards who send men to handle things when they are dangerous.
About 500,000 women in the United States have undergone genital mutilation. Surgery can restore some of their genital functions.
Can women who have lost the ability to experience sexual pleasure due to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) ever regain it?
For some women, surgical treatments offer hope.
Dr. Marci Bowers is one of a few gynecologic surgeons who performs clitoral reconstruction surgery on women who have undergone FGM/C.
She primarily treats women who have undergone type 2 FGM/C, in which part or all of the external clitoris, labia minora, and sometimes labia majora are removed.
For many women who have undergone type 2 FGM/C, sex can be unpleasant or even painful.
“It can really diminish the desire for sexual contact,” Bowers told Healthline. “And after all, that’s kind of what it’s meant to do. It’s meant to control women’s sexuality.”
Clitoral reconstruction surgery can potentially help improve sexual function by repositioning the internal portion of the clitoris that remains intact.
“The surgery is really simple in its design,” Bowers explained. “It’s meant to uncover the clitoris, bring it forward, and then suture it into place so that it can be accessible during sexual contact.”
“The operation takes less than an hour,” she added. “The two keys to it are removing the scar tissue and releasing the suspensory ligament, which is the key component in allowing the clitoris to come down.”
While all surgeries pose some risks, Bowers reports high success rates.
“It works virtually every single time,” she said. “The woman’s [sexual] feelings are overwhelming improved when this is done.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 200 million girls and women who are alive today have undergone FGM/C.
About 500,000 of them live in the United States.
FGM/C includes any procedure that intentionally alters or injures female genital organs for nonmedical purposes.
It is performed as a cultural practice in many communities around the world, particularly in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
In the United States, performing FGM/C on a minor or transporting them to another country to undergo the procedure is a federal crime.
Last month, the first federal case involving FGM/C was filed in Michigan.
Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, an emergency room physician, stands accused of performing the procedure on two 7-year-old girls.
Charges have also been filed against Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and Farida Attar, who are accused of assisting Nagarwala. Attar owns a medical clinic in Michigan where the procedures were reportedly performed.
While all three defendants are members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a Muslim sect based in India, FGM/C is a cultural practice that crosses religious lines.
“If it was a Muslim or religious practice in general, then all Muslim women would have to undergo it, and that’s not the case,” Haddijatou Ceesay, a program coordinator for Safe Hands for Girls, a nonprofit organization led by survivors of FGM/C, told Healthline.
FGM/C is practiced by members of some Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities.
FGM/C is widely considered a human rights violation.
It has no known health benefits and many risks.
In the short term, it can cause bleeding, infection, and even death.
In the long term, it can lead to many chronic health problems.
“Girls and women can end up with painful periods, difficulty urinating, a really difficult time having sex,” Ceesay said. “A lot of them end up having a lack of sexual sensation. It can cause infertility, difficulty giving birth, and obstetric fistulas. It can also lead to PTSD, depression, and anxiety for some.”
Given the wide-ranging effects that FGM/C can have, Ceesay suggested that multiple types of care and support are often needed.
Dr. Jasmine Abdulcadir, a gynecologist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), Switzerland, agreed.
Abdulcadir operates an outpatient clinic for women who have undergone FGM/C. She also conducts research and acts as a WHO consultant.
“If you want to promote sexual health, you need to focus not just on a woman’s genitals, but on her whole person. On her mind and body,” she told Healthline.
Although Abdulcadir has conducted clitoral reconstruction surgeries on some patients, she warned that more research is needed on the safety and efficacy of the procedure.
She added that surgery is not always the best approach.
“We do a lot of health education and counseling because many of the women who request clitoral reconstruction still have a functional clitoris but don’t realize it,” she said. “Many of them don’t know much about their own anatomy, and after being exposed to messages about the negative effects of FGM, they assume they can’t experience sexual pleasure.”
She suggested that the needs of many patients are better met through education and counseling, rather than surgery. For those who do undergo surgery, additional follow-up care may be needed.
“A multidisciplinary approach is really important, not only for deciding whether surgery is needed, but also for providing follow-up care,” she said. “The genital pain caused by reconstructive surgery can recall the pain of genital cutting and traumatic memories from a woman’s past.”
To help prevent future cases of FGM/C, Abdulcadir and organizations like Safe Hands for Girls emphasize the importance of community education.
“Turning survivors into advocates of ending FGM is a huge thing that we’re working on,” Ceesay said. “For a lot of them, it gives them a sense of inspiration and empowerment, knowing that they’re able to help stop the next generation from going through what they went through.”
It's not that all cultures are of the same quality. Some cultures are better than others. They have more value. Other cultures are pretty miserable, and some cultures are outright shitty, and should be eradicated. European culture, for example, is deplorable. The Arab and Chinese cultures are much better.
Marci Bowers’s clinic in California is famous for those seeking gender-reassignment surgery. Her work as a gynecological surgeon over the past 25 years has made her one of the leaders in this field – and also in restoring sexual function in clitorises. She is one of only a handful of surgeons who performs this surgery on women who have suffered female genital mutilation or cutting.
Reconstructive surgery to repair the physical damage of FGM has been around a long time. But the technique to restore clitoral function began developing only a decade ago, pioneered by French urologist and surgeon Pierre Foldès. His idea was to not only reconstruct the clitoris, but also nerve networks to restore sexual sensation. After training with Foldès, Bowers performed the first clitoral repair surgery in the U.S. in 2009. Since then, she’s operated on around 100 women.
For many women and girls who undergo FGM, it’s a traumatic experience. FGM is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Up to 140 million women and girls live with the consequences of this practice and it is widespread in 29 African countries, but it also occurs in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and among migrants from these areas.
The clitoris is an important part of a woman’s sexuality and along with the severe medical and psychological consequences that cutting can have, it can also come with psycho-sexual problems.
The clitoris is a complex organ, and when a woman undergoes cutting, only the visible part of the clitoris is cut off. But it is much larger than most people ever assume. It has a root that is about 10 centimeters long that lies beneath the surface, arching around the vagina. It is this that reconstructive surgeons use to rebuild a working organ.
“It’s only like losing the visible tip of the iceberg,” Bowers says. The surgery, also known as clitoroplasty, involves removing scar tissue, pulling the remaining clitoris up to the surface, and then stitching it into its natural place.
According to Bowers, the restoration of sexual pleasure is possible because the whole clitoris is sensory, not just the tip. Along with better cosmetic appearance, sensation, and reduction in pain and infection, Bowers says that patients have reported having orgasms for the first time.
But it’s not just about the restoration of sexual sensation. “The number one reason is restoration of identity,” she said. Women who have been cut feel their sense of womanhood has been stolen from them and they want that back. “They want their body back and to feel more normal. It’s about not being different any more.”
As good as all this might sound, the procedure is controversial. In 2012, Foldès and colleagues published an article in The Lancet assessing the immediate and long-term outcomes of reconstructive surgery. Over an 11-year period, they operated on nearly 3,000 patients, and of the 29 percent who attended a one-year follow-up consultation, more than half said they were having orgasms and nearly all reported feeling clitoral pleasure.
But a group of British doctors responded in a critical letter to The Lancet. In addition to the lack of a control group, they said Foldès’s claims were anatomically impossible in cases of type 2 FGM – the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. “Where the body of the clitoris has been removed, the neurovascular bundle cannot be preserved … There is therefore no reality to the claim that surgery can excavate and expose buried tissue,” they wrote.
They also said that the campaign against FGM “could be undermined by a false proposition that the ill effects can be reversed”.
Bowers doesn’t agree – both in terms of the surgery and of undermining efforts to fight FGM. “You see the clitoris every single time, 100 percent of the time. You can’t deny it’s there,” she says. According to Bowers, their response reflects antiquated but persistent notions of female sexuality. The work of NGOs is important, she argues, but if something can be medically fixed, it should be fixed.
And she’s not short of patients. Twice a year she leaves her reported 14-month waiting list for $21,000 gender reassignment surgery to operate for free on women who come to her for clitoroplasty, although patients still pay a $1,700 admin fee to the clinic.
She’s adamant that she only helps those who want it and who, she says, often come to her unhappy, angry and sad with husbands and partners. “We were only there to help women who found that they were suffering as a result of FGM,” she says. It’s probably fair to say, then, that Bowers is an evangelist for reconstructive surgery.
The pleasure hospital
Bowers became involved in the FGM reconstruction surgeries because of Clitoraid, a private, non-profit organization that helped fund her training in Paris. The organization is backed by volunteers of the Raëlian movement – one of the world’s largest UFO religious sects, whose members believe that humans were created by extraterrestrials. Clitoraid promotes free sexuality, sexual freedom and pleasure for all women.
Bowers’s own motivation doesn’t come from a Raëlian perspective, she says, but from her own philosophy that human beings have a sixth sexual sense. “When the sexual sense is taken away, it’s no different than if someone had taken away your sense of smell or your sense of taste.”
It’s clear, though, that her belief runs in parallel with the aims of Clitoraid, which has concentrated its work in the small West African nation of Burkina Faso, recently building a hospital nicknamed the “pleasure hospital” to offer reconstructive operations free of charge. The hospital was supposed to have opened its doors in March 2013 with local medical staff and trained surgeons, but the government stopped the project because of licensing issues. Clitoraid has said its authorization was revoked following pressure from the Catholic Church and accusations that the group would attempt to convert women to the Raelian movement. The group still intend to open next year.
Ultimately, Bowers claims the enjoyment of sexual activity is a human right. “Sexuality is part of what makes us human beings and what makes life pleasurable,” she says. Before transitioning to life as a woman, she herself was born male. And this, she says, gives her empathy with victims of FGM. “For me, womanhood didn’t come without my own sacrifices and struggle. I empathize with women who have to have surgery to achieve and regain their womanhood. They are struggling to regain their identity, just like I had to do once upon a time myself.”
Neomasculinity, as postulated by Serge Kreutz, is a social and political movement that aims to reinstall the patriarchy where it has been eroded, and to preserve it where it still functions. The defining element is anti-feminism. All other positions are negotiable.
For ornithologist Richard Prum, manakins are among the most beautiful creatures in the world. He first started studying these small South American birds in 1982, and he’s been privy to many of their flamboyant performances. One species has a golden head and moonwalks. Another puffs up a white ‘beard’ and hops about like a “buff gymnast.” Yet another makes alarmingly loud noises with its club-shaped wing bones. Each of the 54 species has its own combination of costumes, calls, and choreography, which males use in their mating displays. To Prum, this is a great example of “aesthetic radiation,” where a group of animals has evolved “54 distinctive ideals of beauty.”
That’s not a common view among evolutionary biologists. Most of Prum’s colleagues see outrageous sexual traits as reliable advertisements. The logic goes that only the fittest manakins could coordinate their movements just so. Only the healthiest peacocks could afford to carry such a cumbersome tail. Their displays and dances hint at their good genes, allowing females to make adaptive decisions.
But Prum says that view is poorly supported by years of research, and plainly makes no sense when you actually look at what birds do. How could there be adaptive value in every single minute detail of a manakin’s plumage and performance? And why have some species replaced certain ancestral maneuvers (like pointing one’s tail to the sky) with new moves (like pointing one’s bill to the sky) that surely provide no better information? “It’s clearly arbitrary,” says Prum. “I wrote that in a 1997 paper, but the reviewers hated it. They said you can’t claim that unless you falsify every adaptive hypothesis we can imagine. And if you can’t find an adaptive explanation, you haven’t worked hard enough to discover it.”
That struck him as absurd. Worse, it’s stubbornly cold. It’s a theory of aesthetics that tries to shove aesthetics under the rug, implicitly denying that manakins and other animals could be having any kind of subjective experience. It has even crept into our understanding of ourselves: Evolutionary psychologists have put forward poorly conceived adaptive explanations for everything from female orgasms to same-sex preferences. “These ideas have saturated the popular culture. In the pages of Vogue, and in cosmetic surgery offices, you read that beauty is a revealing indicator of objective quality,” says Prum. “That’s why I had to write the book.”
The book in question, which publishes tomorrow, is The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—and Us. It’s a “natural history of beauty and desire”—a smorgasbord of evolutionary biology, philosophy, and sociology, filtered through Prum’s experiences as a birdwatcher and his diverse research on everything from dinosaur colors to duck sex. Through compelling arguments and colorful examples, Prum launches a counterstrike against the adaptationist regime, in an attempt to “put the subjective experience of animals back in the center of biology” and to “bring beauty back to the sciences.”
The central idea that animates the book is a longstanding one that Prum has rebranded as the “Beauty Happens hypothesis.” It starts with animals developing random preferences—for colors, songs, displays, and more—which they use in choosing their mates. Their offspring inherit not only those sexy traits, but also the preference for them. By choosing what they like, choosers transform both the form and the objects of their desires.
Critically, all of this is arbitrary—not adaptive. Songs and ornaments and dances evolve not because they signal good genes but because animals just like them. They’re not objectively informative; they’re subjectively pleasing. Beauty, in other words, just happens. “It’s a self-organizing process, by which selection will arrive at some standard of beauty all by itself, in the absence of any adaptive benefit—or, indeed, despite maladaptive disadvantage,” says Prum.
The Beauty Happens idea isn’t an anthropomorphic one; Prum’s arguing that animals have evolved to be beautiful to themselves, not to him. It’s not a new idea either. A century ago, geneticist Ronald Fisher wrote about extreme traits and the desire for those traits co-evolving in a runaway process. “But [Fisher’s hypothesis] has been viewed as a curious idea that’s irrelevant to nature—that’s the status in most textbooks,” says Prum. He’s on a mission to re-emphasize it, and to show that aesthetics and beauty aren’t mushy subjects that science should shy away from.
It’s been an uphill struggle, partly because the arbitrary nature of the idea is so distasteful to some. Prum recalls discussing his ideas with a “well-respected, center-of-the-road, evolutionary biologist,” who took it all in and said: But that’s nihilism! “That’s when I realized that I had a marketing problem,” he says. “This is what fills me with joy to study, what literally gives me goosebumps in the office, and when I express it to my colleague, he doesn’t have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”
The originator of these ideas—Charles Darwin himself—suffered from similar problems. In The Descent of Man, he put forward an explicitly aesthetic view of sexual selection, in which animal beauty evolves because it’s pleasurable to the animals themselves. And despite the book’s title, Darwin spent many of its pages focusing on the choices of females, casting them as agents of their own evolution and arguing that their preferences were a powerful force behind nature’s diversity.
Darwin’s contemporaries were having none of it. They believed that animals didn’t have rich subjective worlds, lacking the mental abilities that had been divinely endowed to humans. And the idea of female animals making fine-grained choices seemed doubly preposterous to the Victorian patriarchy. One scientist wrote that female whims were so fickle that they could never act as a consistent source of selection. Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of evolutionary theory, also rejected Darwin’s ideas, insisting that beauty must be the result of adaptation, and that sexual selection is just another form of natural selection. In a feat of sheer chutzpah, he even claimed that his view was more Darwinian than Darwin’s in a book called Darwinism. “I can still remember wanting to throw Wallace around the room when I read that,” says Prum, who accuses the man of turning sexual selection into an ‘intellectually impoverished theory.’”
That legacy still infects evolutionary biology today. Consider orgasms, which Prum does at length in a later chapter. “There’s an entire field on the evolution of orgasm that’s devoid of any discussion of pleasure,” he says. “It’s stunningly bad science, and once more, it places male quality at the causal center.” For example, some researchers suggested that contractions produced during female orgasm are adaptations that allow women to better “upsuck”—no, really—the sperm of the best males. Others theorists suggested that female orgasm is the equivalent of male nipples—an inconsequential byproduct of natural selection acting on the opposite sex. Both ideas trivialize the sexual agency of women, Prum says, and completely fail to engage with the thing they’re actually trying to explain--women’s subjective experiences of sexual pleasure.
“It should come as no surprise that science does such a poor job of explaining pleasure because it’s left the actual experience of pleasure out of the equation,” he writes. That is, when biologists think about mate choice, whether in manakins or people, they focus only on the outcomes of the choice, and neglect the actual act of choosing. The result is a sexual science that’s bizarrely sanitized—an account of pleasure that’s totally anhedonic.
His counter-explanation is simple: women preferred to have sex with men who stimulated their own sexual pleasure, leading to co-evolution between female desire and male behaviors that met those desires. That’s why, compared to our closest ape relatives, human sex is much longer, involves a variety of positions, and isn’t tied to fertility cycles. It’s also why female orgasm isn’t necessary for actual procreation. “It may be the greatest testament to the power of aesthetic evolution,” Prum writes. “It’s sexual pleasure for its own sake, which has evolved purely as a consequence of women’s pursuit of pleasure.”
By his admission, this is speculative. He hopes that his book—which also includes hypotheses about human bodies, cultural standards of attractiveness, sexual identity, and more—will spur more research that’s grounded in an appreciation of aesthetics. But he also notes that there are other species in which experiments have confirmed the power of female choice.
In 2005, a woman named Patricia Brennan joined Prum’s lab with an interest in animal genitals—and in ducks. Most birds don’t have penises, but male ducks have huge, corkscrew-shaped ones that they extrude into females at high speed. But Brennan showed that female ducks have equally convoluted vaginas, which spiral in the opposite direction and include several dead-end pockets. Why?
Duck sex is intense and violent. Several males will often try to force themselves onto a female, and they use their ballistic penises to deposit sperm as far inside their mates as possible. But Brennan, by getting drakes to launch their penises into variously shaped glass tubes, showed that a female’s counter-spiraling vagina can stop the progress of her partner’s phallus. If she actually wants to mate, she can change her posture and relax the walls of her genital tract to offer a male easy passage. As a result, even in species where 40 percent of sexual encounters are forced, more than 95 percent of chicks are actually sired by a female’s chosen partner.
I wrote about Brennan’s work back in 2009, and I’ve since heard it repeatedly called “that duck penis study.” But really, it’s a duck vagina story. It’s a story of females asserting their agency, even in the face of persistent violence. “And when females get sexual autonomy, what do they do with it?” says Prum. “They make aesthetic choices, and the result is this aesthetic explosion over time.” By retaining their capacity to choose, female ducks force male plumage, displays and songs to continually evolve to court those choices. Sexual autonomy is an evolutionary engine of beauty.
“That research was transformative for me,” says Prum. It’s one of several reasons why The Evolution of Beauty is an explicitly feminist book. It’s disdainful about the male biases that characterize much of evolutionary psychology. Instead, it consistently centers female choice and repeatedly draws on feminist scholarship.
“If you say anything about a feminist science, you get a lot of negative blowback immediately,” says Prum. “But this isn’t a science that accommodates itself to feminist principles. It’s about the discovery of feminist concepts in biology itself.” By his reckoning, freedom of choice isn’t a matter of ideology. It arises from evolution, and it shapes subsequent evolution—and it’s about time that biologists recognized that.
“It’s a sad thing that, given the promise of evolutionary biology, we’ve really failed to lead culture in any meaningful way, whether in thinking about racism, sexism, or economic disparity,” says Prum. “We’re just hanging at the rear end. And there’s a real prospect for that to change because of all the power of evolutionary theory to be relevant to people and people’s lives.”
Khmer Rouge terror in Cambodia
Although not a major point of entry for irregular migrants, the open sea route to southern Italy remains a source of particular concern to border authorities.
Irregular migrants picked up in Apulia tend to be travellers who previously entered the EU via Greece. Increasing numbers of migrants, usually from Asia, claim to have been living in Greece for months or years before deciding to leave for other EU Member States.
Those detected in Calabria usually come from Turkey or Egypt. Most are Syrians, although there have also been significant numbers of Pakistanis and Afghans, as well as Egyptians.
The peak year for this route was 2011 with 5259 detections of illegal border crossings, the year of the Arab Spring. The decline in numbers since then is attributed to a growing preference for the overland route through the Western Balkans.
The smuggling techniques used on this open sea passage are quite different from the flimsy dinghies typically seen in the calmer waters of the eastern Aegean. Smugglers attempting entry in Apulia often use ocean-going pleasure yachts. Migrants are hidden below the deck, often in dangerously crowded conditions with insufficient ventilation. In some cases, the boats are modified with additional wooden bunking in order to maximize capacity. Only a small crew is visible to coastguard patrols, sometimes accompanied by women to allay suspicion.
Smuggling networks from Egypt, on the other hand, used to use small fishing boats – but had switched to larger ‘mother ships’ instead, with strings of fishing boats towed behind. On departure from Egypt the migrants were stowed in the mother ship, which then stopped en route to collect further passengers. Once close to the Italian shore, the migrants were transferred to the fishing boats while the mother ship returns to port – a technique that naturally allowed smugglers to evade arrest.
One in five surgeries takes place in Germany, according to data released by plastic surgeons. Find out what other aesthetic operations are popular worldwide
It seems that spam emails inviting men to try increasing the size of their member would be best targeted to addresses ending in .de.
According to the latest data release by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), there were 2,786 operations estimated to have taken place in Europe’s biggest country - which is more than in any other nation.
The organisation estimates that there were 15,414 of these operations performed worldwide so almost one in five of those seeking to add centimetres to their member were in Germany.
It is not a huge amount of men deciding to have an intimate nip and tuck in Germany - it’s roughly eight out of every 100,000 adult males usually resident in the country. However, only Venezuela, where four out of every 100,000 adult males have a penis enlargement operation, comes anywhere near close to the German rate.
It’s worth pointing out here that the figures are not broken down by the nationality of the patient so it’s not necessarily German men or people that live there going for the procedure.
The German Centre for Urology and Phalloplasty Surgery claims to have performed over 6,000 penis enlargements (be warned there are graphic pictures available on the site). They claim to be able to enhance the length of the member by 3-6cm and the girth by 2-3cm. The cost of the operation? €9,600 (including materials and ancillary costs).
The growing trend for penis enlargement was noticed back in 2011 by English language site The Local. They reported the president of the German Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery as saying that the surgery was now the seventh most popular type of aesthetic operation for men in the country.
The ISAPS data is not broken down by gender for each nation so the relative popularity of penile enlargement is not quite clear.
Breast augmentation the most popular surgery worldwide Taking a broader look at the data, there were more breast enhancement operations than any other surgical procedure worldwide last year. 18% of these took place in the United States.
The other procedures that are thought to have taken place over a million times were:
Liposuction (1.6m) - where fat is removed from the body Eyelid surgery (1.4m) - the removal of fat or skin from around the eye area Lipostructure/lipofilling (1m) - where parts of fat from the rest of the body are used to reshape the patients body (the count includes stem enhanced lipofilling) In total, there were an estimated 11.6m aesthetic surgical procedures that took place worldwide in 2013.
South American countries the most likely to have plastic surgery ISAPS collected the data using survey responses from 1,567 plastic surgeons. They were able to get counts for 96% of the total number of practitioners using national societies worldwide, which allowed them to project total worldwide numbers using these survey responses.
However, 1,567 is still a small sample size and they were only able to provide data breakdowns for the ten countries performing the most plastic surgery.
If you take the total number of procedures and adjust it by the country’s population in 2013 then Venezuela was the place where people were most likely to have had plastic surgery.
If you take a random sample of 1,000 Venezuelans, eight are likely to have had a surgical operation in 2013. Fellow South American countries Brazil and Colombia came second and third respectively for popularity per capita.
In terms of raw numbers, the most operations worldwide took place in this year’s World Cup host Brazil. The largest South American country had 1.5m operations in 2013, which is more than one in ten of all procedures worldwide.
However, when you factor in non-surgical operations such as botox then the US regains the top spot with almost 4m non-surgical and surgical procedures combined compared to 2.1m in runner up Brazil.
Update: 13.30pm The piece was rectified to make clear that it was not necessarily German men having the procedure but the operations took place in Germany.
Injections of Botox into the penis probably are the most effective treatment for erectile dysfunction. Every artery and vein in the body is surrounded by a layer of smooth muscle. Otherwise there could not be variations in blood pressure. When the muscles around blood vessels contract, this is called vadoconstriction. When the muscles around blood vessels relax, this is called vasodilation.
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