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It's a Video Game, and an Army Recruiter

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 27, 2005; A25

The Army's flagging recruitment numbers are serious business. So Army officials increasingly are turning to a game for help.

It is an online, multiplayer video game that they believe will lure teenagers into Army culture, hoping both to educate them about the military and to spark interest in volunteering to serve.

The game, dubbed America's Army, employs a realistic and team-oriented approach to give players a sense of what it is like to join the Army, to train how to use weapons and then how to work together on missions. Players progress through the game and its many updates in a variety of ways, learning how to jointly accomplish military tasks while using different skills, such as fighting as an infantryman or saving lives as a medic.

First-time visitors go through weapons training on the game Web site and learn how to jump from airplanes. They are punished for their "criminal" mistakes -- such as shooting the drill instructor -- by doing time at Fort Leavenworth's prison. Then players join others from around the country on virtual missions, helping one another move through lifelike scenarios.

"We want kids to come into the Army and feel like they've already been there," said Col. Casey Wardynski, who as director of the Army's office of economic and manpower analysis came up with the idea. "A game is like a team effort, and the Army is very much a team effort. By playing an online, multiplayer game, you can get the feel of being in the Army."

Wardynski began developing the game after a similar recruiting crisis in 1999, when top Army officials were looking for a way to reach out to potential recruits with minimal cost. Wardynski wanted an economical way to counter pop-culture images of the military with a no-nonsense approach to being a soldier. The game, he decided, would provide a gateway to information and entertainment, targeting boys 14 and older.

With many potential recruits put off by images of basic training and drill sergeants, Wardynski said, the game tries to break down those barriers.

"It's designed to give them an inside view on the very fundamentals of being a soldier, and it's also designed to give them a sense of self-efficacy, that they can do it," Wardynski said. Players start out completing obstacle courses and learning how to fire realistic Army weapons, such as automatic rifles and grenade launchers. "We want them to see that they can succeed in doing this. You don't have to think what it would look like -- you can see what it looks like."

Since the game's launch in 2002, nearly 5.4 million users have registered on the game's Web site, and more than 2 million users have passed through basic training in the latest version of the game, which focuses on the Special Forces. Wardynski said the game and its nearly 20 updates have been downloaded 20 million times, and recruiters have issued almost 2 million copies of the game on CD-ROM. The Army also has licensed the game for release on Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation platforms later this year.

Although the game runs through its own Web site ( http://www.americasarmy.com/ ), its developers purposefully built privacy into the game -- no personal information is gathered from players. Army officials know how many people have registered and how they are doing within the game, but have no way to contact the players individually. There are links within the game for those who want to contact a recruiter or to learn more about the Army.

Recruiters have used the game, however, to get people to come to them. America's Army is the subject of gaming tournaments around the country, giving recruiters an opportunity to interact with people already familiar with Army basics and might be more apt to join.

Sgt. 1st Class Bo Scott, recruiting station commander in Newport News, said he was able to meet 70 people at a recent tournament he sponsored with a local college. Out of the group, one video gamer has already enlisted through his office, and another has contacted him about signing up.

There are no statistics about how many people have joined the Army because of the game, or after playing the game, but Army officials have plenty of positive anecdotes and say it can only help in a very difficult recruiting environment.

"The game is never going to overcome someone's trepidation and fears regarding the ongoing war on terror," Scott said. "But it does get some people talking to recruiters who might not have otherwise. It opens a window, and if they look in and they decide to join, great."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company
 
A Critic Takes On the Logic of Female Orgasm - New York Times

Full text

May 17, 2005
A Critic Takes On the Logic of Female Orgasm

By DINITIA SMITH
Evolutionary scientists have never had difficulty explaining the male orgasm, closely tied as it is to reproduction.

But the Darwinian logic behind the female orgasm has remained elusive. Women can have sexual intercourse and even become pregnant - doing their part for the perpetuation of the species - without experiencing orgasm. So what is its evolutionary purpose?

Over the last four decades, scientists have come up with a variety of theories, arguing, for example, that orgasm encourages women to have sex and, therefore, reproduce or that it leads women to favor stronger and healthier men, maximizing their offspring's chances of survival.

But in a new book, Dr. Elisabeth A. Lloyd, a philosopher of science and professor of biology at Indiana University, takes on 20 leading theories and finds them wanting. The female orgasm, she argues in the book, "The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution," has no evolutionary function at all.

Rather, Dr. Lloyd says the most convincing theory is one put forward in 1979 by Dr. Donald Symons, an anthropologist.

That theory holds that female orgasms are simply artifacts - a byproduct of the parallel development of male and female embryos in the first eight or nine weeks of life.

In that early period, the nerve and tissue pathways are laid down for various reflexes, including the orgasm, Dr. Lloyd said. As development progresses, male hormones saturate the embryo, and sexuality is defined.

In boys, the penis develops, along with the potential to have orgasms and ejaculate, while "females get the nerve pathways for orgasm by initially having the same body plan."

Nipples in men are similarly vestigial, Dr. Lloyd pointed out.

While nipples in woman serve a purpose, male nipples appear to be simply left over from the initial stage of embryonic development.

The female orgasm, she said, "is for fun."

Dr. Lloyd said scientists had insisted on finding an evolutionary function for female orgasm in humans either because they were invested in believing that women's sexuality must exactly parallel that of men or because they were convinced that all traits had to be "adaptations," that is, serve an evolutionary function.

Theories of female orgasm are significant, she added, because "men's expectations about women's normal sexuality, about how women should perform, are built around these notions."

"And men are the ones who reflect back immediately to the woman whether or not she is adequate sexually," Dr. Lloyd continued.

Central to her thesis is the fact that women do not routinely have orgasms during sexual intercourse.

She analyzed 32 studies, conducted over 74 years, of the frequency of female orgasm during intercourse.

When intercourse was "unassisted," that is not accompanied by stimulation of the clitoris, just a quarter of the women studied experienced orgasms often or very often during intercourse, she found.

Five to 10 percent never had orgasms. Yet many of the women became pregnant.

Dr. Lloyd's figures are lower than those of Dr. Alfred A. Kinsey, who in his 1953 book "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" found that 39 to 47 percent of women reported that they always, or almost always, had orgasm during intercourse.

But Kinsey, Dr. Lloyd said, included orgasms assisted by clitoral stimulation.

Dr. Lloyd said there was no doubt in her mind that the clitoris was an evolutionary adaptation, selected to create excitement, leading to sexual intercourse and then reproduction.

But, "without a link to fertility or reproduction," Dr. Lloyd said, "orgasm cannot be an adaptation."

Not everyone agrees. For example, Dr. John Alcock, a professor of biology at Arizona State University, criticized an earlier version of Dr. Lloyd's thesis, discussed in in a 1987 article by Stephen Jay Gould in the magazine Natural History.

In a phone interview, Dr. Alcock said that he had not read her new book, but that he still maintained the hypothesis that the fact that "orgasm doesn't occur every time a woman has intercourse is not evidence that it's not adaptive."

"I'm flabbergasted by the notion that orgasm has to happen every time to be adaptive," he added.

Dr. Alcock theorized that a woman might use orgasm "as an unconscious way to evaluate the quality of the male," his genetic fitness and, thus, how suitable he would be as a father for her offspring.

"Under those circumstances, you wouldn't expect her to have it every time," Dr. Alcock said.

Among the theories that Dr. Lloyd addresses in her book is one proposed in 1993, by Dr. R. Robin Baker and Dr. Mark A. Bellis, at Manchester University in England. In two papers published in the journal Animal Behaviour, they argued that female orgasm was a way of manipulating the retention of sperm by creating suction in the uterus. When a woman has an orgasm from one minute before the man ejaculates to 45 minutes after, she retains more sperm, they said.

Furthermore, they asserted, when a woman has intercourse with a man other than her regular sexual partner, she is more likely to have an orgasm in that prime time span and thus retain more sperm, presumably making conception more likely. They postulated that women seek other partners in an effort to obtain better genes for their offspring.

Dr. Lloyd said the Baker-Bellis argument was "fatally flawed because their sample size is too small."

"In one table," she said, "73 percent of the data is based on the experience of one person."

In an e-mail message recently, Dr. Baker wrote that his and Dr. Bellis's manuscript had "received intense peer review appraisal" before publication. Statisticians were among the reviewers, he said, and they noted that some sample sizes were small, "but considered that none of these were fatal to our paper."

Dr. Lloyd said that studies called into question the logic of such theories. Research by Dr. Ludwig Wildt and his colleagues at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany in 1998, for example, found that in a healthy woman the uterus undergoes peristaltic contractions throughout the day in the absence of sexual intercourse or orgasm. This casts doubt, Dr. Lloyd argues, on the idea that the contractions of orgasm somehow affect sperm retention.

Another hypothesis, proposed in 1995 by Dr. Randy Thornhill, a professor of biology at the University of New Mexico and two colleagues, held that women were more likely to have orgasms during intercourse with men with symmetrical physical features. On the basis of earlier studies of physical attraction, Dr. Thornhill argued that symmetry might be an indicator of genetic fitness.

Dr. Lloyd, however, said those conclusions were not viable because "they only cover a minority of women, 45 percent, who say they sometimes do, and sometimes don't, have orgasm during intercourse."

"It excludes women on either end of the spectrum," she said. "The 25 percent who say they almost always have orgasm in intercourse and the 30 percent who say they rarely or never do. And that last 30 percent includes the 10 percent who say they never have orgasm under any circumstances."

In a phone interview, Dr. Thornhill said that he had not read Dr. Lloyd's book but the fact that not all women have orgasms during intercourse supports his theory.

"There will be patterns in orgasm with preferred and not preferred men," he said.

Dr. Lloyd also criticized work by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis, who studies primate behavior and female reproductive strategies.

Scientists have documented that orgasm occurs in some female primates; for other mammals, whether orgasm occurs remains an open question.

In the 1981 book "The Woman That Never Evolved" and in her other work, Dr. Hrdy argues that orgasm evolved in nonhuman primates as a way for the female to protect her offspring from the depredation of males.

She points out that langur monkeys have a high infant mortality rate, with 30 percent of deaths a result of babies' being killed by males who are not the fathers. Male langurs, she says, will not kill the babies of females they have mated with.

In macaques and chimpanzees, she said, females are conditioned by the pleasurable sensations of clitoral stimulation to keep copulating with multiple partners until they have an orgasm. Thus, males do not know which infants are theirs and which are not and do not attack them.

Dr. Hrdy also argues against the idea that female orgasm is an artifact of the early parallel development of male and female embryos.

"I'm convinced," she said, "that the selection of the clitoris is quite separate from that of the penis in males."

In critiquing Dr. Hrdy's view, Dr. Lloyd disputes the idea that longer periods of sexual intercourse lead to a higher incidence of orgasm, something that if it is true, may provide an evolutionary rationale for female orgasm.

But Dr. Hrdy said her work did not speak one way or another to the issue of female orgasm in humans. "My hypothesis is silent," she said.

One possibility, Dr. Hrdy said, is that orgasm in women may have been an adaptive trait in our prehuman ancestors.

"But we separated from our common primate ancestors about seven million years ago," she said.

"Perhaps the reason orgasm is so erratic is that it's phasing out," Dr. Hrdy said. "Our descendants on the starships may well wonder what all the fuss was about."

Western culture is suffused with images of women's sexuality, of women in the throes of orgasm during intercourse and seeming to reach heights of pleasure that are rare, if not impossible, for most women in everyday life.

"Accounts of our evolutionary past tell us how the various parts of our body should function," Dr. Lloyd said.

If women, she said, are told that it is "natural" to have orgasms every time they have intercourse and that orgasms will help make them pregnant, then they feel inadequate or inferior or abnormal when they do not achieve it.

"Getting the evolutionary story straight has potentially very large social and personal consequences for all women," Dr. Lloyd said. "And indirectly for men, as well."