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the underground reality of a cyber-attack

We live in a threat-centric world. And not without reason. Paris was recently attacked on November 13, 2015. A Russian plane went down just before taking all 220 lives with it. Paris was also attacked on 7 January of this year in what has come to be known as Charlie Hebdo. But it is the November 13 mass shootings, terrorist attacks, suicide bombings and hostage situation occurring simultaneously, which cause deep concern. In France’s capital, Paris, as well as in Saint Denis, its northern suburb at various locations: Stade de France, Bataclan theatre, Le Petit Cambodge, le Carillon, La Belle Equipe, Café Bonne Biere, La Casa Nostra, Comptoir Voltaire. They were all fatal ground attacks. Like NY’s 9/11, which claimed about 3000 lives. Rwanda, Syria, Lebanon, Mumbai, Pakistan, Afghanistan etc., too have all sustained attacks, on or above ground.

But on-the-ground attacks aren’t the only concern. Digital attacks occur, too. In media, The Interview was pulled from cinemas because of a cyber attack on Sony by North Korea. One film. One hacking. One shutdown, but many losses to Hollywood. In defense, there was the “sophisticated cyber intrusion,” which affected about 4,000 military and civilian personnel on July 25, 2015, and which forced the Pentagon to take the email system offline. Then there was Target, and banks, most noteworthy one being the sophisticated attempts like North Korea knocking out almost 50,000 servers and computers in South Korea for several days at banks and media coms. Even the IRS, too was compromised this year: 334,000 people hacked, and it didn’t matter how safe your computer was at home or office!  The IRS paid billions to hackers in 2013.

All of these attacks were carried out on the Internet, and effortlessly for those who knew how. And they were carried out ‘wirelessly’. But what about attacks not on the ground nor the cloud?

Recently, Kate Murphy opened the door to myriad questioning in her “Underground Cyber Threats” [NY Times 8 November 15]. What if we sustained an attack ‘not’ on our wireless access – which has been easily disconnected or hacked – but on the cables on which this wireless access resides? On the cables which lie underground?

The Internet infrastructure is a network of cables, where cables span as much as 30 miles to connect 100,000 people. These cables are also vulnerable to today’s gun violence tendency that plagues us and the extremely precarious trigger-happy nations and hackers. We already know what is it like to have a statewide blackout for electricity following the one in NY in 2003, when we thought the blackout was another terrorist attack after 9/11. It shut down NY leaving people scared witless everywhere in cramped, closed, suffocating subway cars for hours while others walked for hours to their homes on foot etc. Today, we rely on ‘digital current’ as we rely on electricity to see and perform daily activities. But what would happen if there was a digital blackout?

Such an underground digital blackout or attack would shut down everything, hitting hard our reliance on connection to others, on running the country, on manning security, on regulating finances compromising personal info for those who bank electronically, including the banks. FaceBook made it possible for folks to connect to their loved ones in Paris recently in the face of fear and mayhem, but what if that connection was gone and the many other connections along with it?

Worse, what if there was a coordinated attack on multiple places in USA or elsewhere or even in several countries simultaneously, November 13th Paris-style ?

Recent attacks have shown us how debilitating and real terror is and that nothing is foolproof. We concentrate on monitoring social media and above-the-ground attacks, increasing security with guns around major trains stations in first world countries, gov’t buildings and others places whenever an attack occurs in a major city like Paris or London or NY. Such big fortresses prove that nothing and no one is invulnerable in today’s highly digital, trigger-happy world. Russia, China, USA, Japan and Brazil etc are concentrating on cybercrime products but perhaps so, too the attackers, who are always searching for newer, better ways to infiltrate the extended network.

Yet, if the cables that run social media and other governmental controls, including security are cut, there’ll not even be a threat for stolen data or leaks, because we won’t have any digital ‘electricity’ to even fire off any of the processes, investigations, or actions so necessary to catch hackers or cybercriminals. When we rely on systems that have hidden vulnerabilities and where cybercriminals are devoting their time to finding and exploiting, we must keep constant vigil, and have a forward0thinking mind-set.  If it was easy to prevent cyberthreats and attacks, ISIS would be stopped, because logically any cyber centric approach should be able to curb them, but it is not happening. One thing the so-called spear-phishing attack on the invincible Pentagon exposed is a new and different vulnerability not seen before. Like the giants of our past – the dinosaurs- who failed to survive despite strength and so much power, an underground attack to our wireless system would be a Cyber pearl harbor.



where offline desires become online realities

In places like china mostly, but South Korea and Japan, too social media and actual cosmetic surgery are enabling women to change their face and lives. In such societies, “there are no ugly women, only lazy ones”.

Cosmetic surgery has increased exponentially in China: the medical procedure has been transformed into a consumer product no thanks to the plethora of ads that show what beauty is or should be. Women feel empowered when they can change their face, body and life. Of the more than 140 million potential cosmetic surgery customers in 2014, 1 out of every 1000 faces has undergone either major or minor surgical treatment and 2 out of every 1000 have considered going under the knife [see Oiwan lam Nytimes 21 oct 2015 ” how social media fuels china’s growing love of cosmetic surgery” ] .

We might ask how such outer or outward changes can change the inner life or self in a culture which prizes Confucius’ teachings that spiritual upbringing is more important than looks. But the young Chinese feel that looks can determine their fate, and so they tweak their looks to have a more beautiful life.

The reigning obsession among the young in China is a younger, more beautiful self. Chinese don’t care whether it is artificial or natural as long as they’re happy. is a website, established in 2013, dedicated to selling services to enhance beauty. “Young people have an open mind for plastic surgery, especially the post 90s generation who account for more than half of the users who have shared their experiences on the site, boasts the founder of soyoung- Jin Xing.  Soyoung is an online diary which allows people to upload their photos and share their surgical experience. It connects both domestic and international doctors and hospitals directly with their clients and enables users to have online dialog and make appointments. In just 2 years, soyoung has accumulated more than 600,000 registered users and facilitated 2000 cosmetic surgery facilities in reaching out to clients. There are at least a dozen other platforms that help the industry to promote their medical services.

No longer is beauty in the eye of the beholder, but the person beholden; she who desires white skin, double eyelids, tall and straight nose, oval shaped face, big breasts, long and slim legs. Mobile apps give young Chinese and Japanese girls the immediate gratification to see themselves transform into their desired looks. The beauty industry is pushing women to make surgical changes to be beautiful. So strong is the drive to surgically transform that botched up surgeries are suppressed: the cosmetic surgery industry aggressively uses social media to suppress complaints on botched up procedures and creates a herd mentality among potential clients.

In a country where reviews are everything, from Yelp to Google to Amazon to now doctors in America, it is odd to see that the Chinese beauty industry has managed to convince clients who had surgical errors to forget the potential risks and instead they announce that such stories are malicious rumors spread by competitors. Without reviews we shy away from buying or using services in USA. But in China, the client participate in a social media Q&A and is flooded with lots of positive comments which make her excited and ready to embrace surgery. what’s worse is that the women who had botched up errors aren’t willing to share their botched up story, because Chinese society has no sympathy for them.

The imbalance of info reflects the adverse effects of China’s current internet governing policies which encourage the growth of online businesses while suppressing the development of virtual communities and especially those dedicated to feminist consumer and individual rights issues. It affects women’s ability to know and to speak out. One blogger’s comment shows the prevailing mentality of women when she writes:

“I don’t have sympathy for people who fall for these ‘super cheap’ schemes. ok plastic surgeons aren’t as qualified as real surgeons, but it still takes a lot of hard work and training to do it, if people are being cheapskates about it and trying to save money by using dodgy surgeons then they are hurting the honest ones who learn how to do it properly and are good at it.”

The writer isn’t against cosmetic surgery, but only against bad cosmetic surgery. In a country where there’s limited access to necessary info, soyoung is able to fill the void easily and provide answers to prospective clients. it makes women feel empowered by giving them choices: to choose a doctor they like, a hospital they like, prices they like and even operation items they like. But they cannot choose not to conform to all looking alike nor to reality. They all want to fit in, not stand out.

But women everywhere fall victim to such myths about beauty. Americans invest to get bigger breasts, Angelina Jolie or Kim kardashian type lips, tummy tucks and wrinkles removals. Brazilians like bigger bottoms and tummy tucks, too. Europeans do nose jobs as well as Iranian women, who actually stand #1 now in surgery. They even leave the bandage on their nose for months to make sure everybody knows they’ve done a nose job. Jamaican and Indian women strive to be white and whiten their skin. some even bleach their skin endangering their health. Many years ago a dear friend told me that every young person in Argentina [her home country] does rhinoplasty and have a ‘shrink’ even though the country has been, and still is, in dire economic straits.

I notice in the articles and youtube vids and blogs I sourced, that it is mostly women who comment. Men are missing. It would be nice if men would comment on these procedures because perhaps their comments could save women time, effort, and money since such enhancements are done to please men. These women who transform only their outer selves are setting up their future children for major disappointment. They’re creating illusions that will disillusion their children in the next generation.


Another Hollywood-inspired cinema is launched! Ouallywood. Ouarzazate [war-za-zat] + Hollywood = Ouallywood. Financial Times baptized south Moroccan cinema ‘Ouallywood’  [], the same way American Cinematographer baptized Indian cinema Bollywood [Bombay + Hollywood] when an American engineer helped produced the first Indian sound picture in 1932 at a time when Tollywood, and not Bollywood, was the center of India’s film industry. And since Tollywood was the earliest ‘Hollywood-inspired’ name [referring to the Bengali film industry, based in Tollygunge, Calcutta], the engineer could only name Indian cinema after his own knowledge of Hollywood and Tollywood. But ‘Ouallywood’ has long been in existence and like Indian cinema, has had a thriving cinema industry in Ouarzazate that predates the great British film, Lawrence of Arabia in 1962.

Ouarzazate, known as the « door to the desert » is a magnifient oasis, adorned with flourishing valleys and kasbahs everywhere. The symbol of the town is in fact the Kasbah of Taourirt, built in the 18th century, and which was featured in Star Wars

ouarzazate 1   atlas studios ouazarazate maroc

Ouarzazate is known for its plentiful sunshine, 300 days per year, which made it an artist’s paradise as well as a cinematographic haven for directors. Not only has there been mega Hollywood productions in Marrakech, Casablanca, and Essaouira, as we read about often, but also in Ouarzazate. Even before Prince of Persia in 2008, and Ridley Scott’s decision to start shooting the Alien prequel next February and March, Ouarzazate was the décor for Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in 1954, La Momille [Jacques Becker] [], Lawrence of Arabia by British director David Lean in 1962, and Italian Bertolucci in 1990 for Un Thé au Sahara []. .

ali baba     arabia     prince of persia  the au sahara          tom cruise marrakech

This a list of other films done in Ouarzazate, but it may not be an exhaustive list, as this region’s cinema has been invisible to us for as long as it has been.

Année Film Réalisateur Rôle principal
2003- 2004

Source accessed 27 oct 2015

Ouarzazate aspires to be the African leader in cinema, trumping South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and Tunisia []. It can only wish to occupy this prestigious position if it has something to get it there. Ouarzazate has a film school, in a region of the Maghreb where film enthusiasts & scholars have had to travel out in the past- mostly to France, but also to Belgium, German etc. – to study film. There are also several studios: Atlas Studios – created in 1983; Aster Studios – created  in 1990; Kanzaman Studios initiated by Mohamed Asli in 2004 and is a partnership between the Lazio region in Italy and the Moroccan production Dagham Film; CLA Studios – a partnership between Dino de Laurentis, Cinecitta and Sanam Hilding.

Ouallywood, like Bollywood, and the rest of the –wood cinema, isn’t a physical place like Hollywood, but will perhaps become the majority cinema for that country [Morocco] like Bollywood has come to represent the entire cinematic industry of India for a lot of people. It is indeed good that the world will now see some Moroccan cinema with its abundance of themes and films rather than for only its exotic décor in Rome, Egypt, Tibet or for Sex and the City 2 and Game of Thrones’ Pentos, as the Free City and location of Dany and Khal Drogo’s wedding. Women directors have started to play a more prominent and urgent role in a Moroccan film industry which used to be dominated by men, so even if Ouallywood has become legitimate only in the context of imitating Hollywood, so be it. Let the show begin!

Art of attention & mindfulness

Molly Worthen’s “Lecture me. Really” [NYTimes 18Oct2015] brought back several scenes and memories of my past as I read it and laughed aloud. Some of these memories had been forgotten until this article, but others have never left my classroom or observation.

My first memory was during my 1st year of college in NY. I was in an algebra class and the professor had to repeat what he said every single day and students would come to class the next day and ask the same question as the day before and the before that day. I was extremely shy, never spoke, and sat at the front of the class never turning my head to see who was there or who wasn’t. Except that day when I blurted out “why can’t you all take notes so you don’t have to ask the same question everyday?” The professor was visibly shocked, said nothing, and a smile slipped out from his tired lecturing, interrupted lips.

Another time, I remember was when I’d chaperoned some 3rd or 4th graders to the Met museum who kept interrupting the guide from giving her talk on the exhibitions we had gone to see.  Hands popped up, some waving with great urgency, like a flag fluttering in a strong wind in the middle of the guide’s sentence or thought, every minute or two, or after 2 words or just before she finished her sentence. Finding it odd after a few times, I asked the teacher why she wasn’t asking them to ask questions after the guide’s talk before asking their own questions. She smiled tight-lipped saying “oh! That’s no problem!” Sometimes the guide tried to finish her poor sentence and at other times she just buckled and gave in to the child’s question only to be told by some students “oh! I forgot what I was going to ask!” Not only did the child not have a question, but often the guide lost her train of thought and had to start over her sentence or thought.

This impatience [both mine and the kids’] brought me back to my elementary school years when we were taught to wait until the teacher finished speaking to ask questions. We learnt early to let someone finish speaking before asking questions because that person/ teacher or guide may very well cover your question during her/his lecture. The same happened in secondary school and even at university.

I also remember sitting in amphitheaters listening to psych lectures or other subjects at NYU or SUNY Stonybrook where questions formed in your mind, and you had to jot them down.  I remember also being at a Parisian university and being lectured for hours, taking notes upon notes and coming back to New York with more cahiers remplis and books in my suitcase than anything else.

Today, as a professor I see remnants of those third graders in young and older adults when, in the middle of a very important lesson, students’ hands pop up to ask questions. And although asking questions is what I encourage, I’d rather they occur after I’ve explained something important, and not during. Worse, no one takes notes except foreigners who are conditioned to do that, the same ones who perform well in my tests and write great compositions. Most students forget because they have no notes. They have nothing to revise, and the quick, constant buzz of technology doesn’t not help them in the remembering process nor does it deter them from asking the same questions over and over, like my algebra classmates. I tell every class about the power of taking notes and how it shapes the mind, but it is difficult as they haven’t been taught to think or act like that.

One aspect of American culture I like is the freedom to discuss ideas – in my own class and elsewhere. Great things are learnt from other’s ideas, and my students have taught me lots over the years and it’s fascinating to see their process of thinking when an idea is launched. Active learning, student-led discussions and group work is a platform for questioning and learning, but waiting before asking a question still trumps. My British and French education did not make space for such learning – American style- in quite the same way. I thought that the French way of learning: lectures in great big amphitheaters and travaux dirigés in smaller classrooms was better than my own British education, because students could talk if they wanted, although they didn’t for the most part. But the option was there. Instead, we took more notes from the TD professor. We waited until we wrote our critical papers to ‘ask questions’ and argue our ideas. We did this based only on the notes we’d taken in class and from our own input. I remember one of my professors in TD expressing aloud his shock that “the American” [ I was clearly not French] was capable of thought at the end of the term because my paper was mentioned in class and he didn’t know whoso paper it was.

The art of attention, the crucial first step in critical thinking have always been prized in the French and British way of teaching and learning. It’s extremely useful in higher ed. How else can one build an argument if building blocks are lacking? If we abandon the lecture format to please students we are doing them a great disservice. Lecture and listening gives them strong foundations.

If we don’t give them platforms for learning and listening their aborted attention span and interrupted thoughts evident in such phrases as ” what’s your point?” or “get to the point” will continue. And the urgency to ask questions or talk and say something overtakes any other learning as though the journey and art of discussing and arriving to conclusions is irrelevant. It is not. Knowing when to be silent and when to speak is what conversing and listening is about. It is what makes learning constantly fascinating. Knee-jerk reactions are not leading to the mastery of critical thinking or synthesizing of info to increase knowledge, vocabulary, and listening.  While give and take is to be considered in the learning process, the vogue of active learning cannot blind us from seeing how important the ancient method of teaching and listening still remains.

Québécois ´de souche’ face aux immigrés 

La population du Québec est 7 million. Parmi eux, seul 3% est musulmane, dont Manal qui parle dans cette vidéo en bas.

Apparement, il existe des Québécois  de souche qui sont contre les immigrés, et “qui ne sont pas racistes ‘mais'”…

1. Qui blament cette petite minorité de musulmans pour toutes leurs problèmes de société alors que 53 % des québécois sont analphabètes eux-mêmes

2. Qui pensent que la religion doit avoir des limites – bien sûr comme  les Français de souche ils ne parlent que de l’islam meme si ce n’est que 3% de la population. Ils parlent de l’interdiction de la religion en raison que ce 3 % de la population veut islamiser le Québec

3. Qui pensent que les gens comme Manal  (et bien sûr tous les immigrants!) ne doivent pas se présenter comme québécois. Même si ces immigrés peuvent être plus éduqués, plus doués ou plus talentueux que les analphabètes puisque le Canada accepte des gens plutôt très éduqués pour s’y installer légalement en général

4. Qui pensent que les immigrants vont prendre leurs boulots, mais le fait est que ces immigrés gagnent le moins de l’aide social et arrivent – je répète- avec le plus haut niveau de l’éducation.

On considère les immigrés  “retardés mentaux” mais avec telles objections aux immigrés, qui l’est? Qui est raciste dans cette équation?  Il n’y a pas de “mais” dans #jenesuispasracistemais…Soit on est soit on ne l’est pas.

L’éducation reste la seule manière de libérer cette vilaine pensée des gens “de souche” et non pas le voile ou le dévoilement ou les lois sur le viole. Ce qui est intégral est de se dévoiler soi-même des pensées illogiques, mais surtout racistes!


Rapping for social causes & Dalit women

Sonia Ashraf’s video “Kodaikanal Won’t” has gone viral, more than 2 million views.

In this video, Sofia is rapping parodied lyrics to Nicky Minaj’s “Anaconda” as a message to Hindustan Unilever [HUL], the multinational consumer goods company for its failure to clean up toxic mercury at its thermometer factory in Kodaikanal in south India. HUL attributed the adverse effects its former workers are facing to ‘circumstance’, and not to mercury poisoning and won’t compensate workers. Even though the factory was shutdown in 2001, its workers still face fatal problems including deformities and stillborn babies, which HUL has ignored for years. Ashraf began a petition online that demands two things from HUL: clean up the mess and compensate those who have suffered because of toxic contamination of mercury.

“Kodaikanal Won’t” has had an impact that few have achieved: it received 55,021 signatures after the video release, forcing Unilever to call a press release where they promised to act in a transparent and responsible manner regarding this matter. HUL CEO tweeted that ‘all humans are the same’ and ‘shouldn’t accept different standards’, and in another tweet he was determined to move to solve the issue fast. Sofia’s song didn’t die a quick Internet death like most ‘songs with messages’ but achieved its purpose, a rare moment in a superficial world of digital campaigns. Minaj isn’t the only one to support Sofia’s song when she retweeted Sofia’s video with a ‘wow’, but journalists, activists, environmentalists and major newspapers like Huffington post, and New York Times have all converged to force the entire world to focus on the Kodaikanal mercury toxicity.

But Kodaikanal isn’t the only cause Sofia Ashraf has espoused. She grew up in an orthodox Muslim home and has a BA in interior design and MA in graphic design from a Chennai university. After studying history, philosophy and many world religions, she read Islam from a different perspective and her old beliefs stopped making sense, so she gave up Islam at 22, created a new set of beliefs on which she bases her identity and left for Bombay. She became part of the Vettiver Collective in Bombay, a group that advocates for environmental, and human rights issues. This group has been fighting HUL for a long time before Sofia joined them, and they asked her to rap the song as they had seen her perform before.

Sofia is part of Justice Rocks, an initiative by Vettiver Collective, which puts on a rock show every year to fight social causes. Justice Rocks has taken on DOW chemicals over the union carbide issue, which killed many people in Bhopal, the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board for their plans to set up nuclear plants instead of preventing leakage of electricity during transmission converting Tamil Nadu into an ‘electricity deficit’ state and moral policing of various religions against the backdrop of a fatwa passed against a Kashmiri rock band.

Sofia intends to use YouTube as a medium to fight other social and environmental causes, which for her, Dalit and women’s issue rate the highest and closest to her heart. She intends to change the way Dalit are seen in India. Dalit men and women are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system and despite laws to protect them they face widespread discrimination in India. Dalit must wash their cups when they’re done drinking tea because they are untouchables and anything they touch becomes impure. PhD Dr Vinod Sonkar – who studied affirmative actions in India with those of post apartheid South Africa & the USA and teaches at Delhi University – says India is the largest democracy in the world, but an apartheid-style state. The Indian government comes from the upper castes and has convinced the international community that caste discrimination is an internal, cultural issue. But the truth is that it affects the very way the country is run. It is this issue – the horrible treatment of the Dalit and particularly women’s issue – which made Sofia Ashraf move out of the comfort of her parents’ home and do something for them.

This article is informed by Prasanna D Zore’s “the Rapper who is taking on Unilever” India Abroad 14 August 2015 & Vignesh Radhakrishnan’s “Unilever misinformed to save face: ‘Kodaikanal’ rapper Sofia” in Hindustan Times August 7, 2015.

Sex, rape and the blurred lines of consent

Love and hate are flip sides of the same coin perhaps because of the volatility of emotions. Emotions are prone to change as they are driven by desires and coupled with preference.  Desires flow, then ebb over time and can change from one day to the next.  One day we love Cosby and the next, all our love for him can change when news break of him drugging women then raping them.  Someone can go from mentor and mentee to [sexual] predator and prey from one decade to the next because some desires like love, lust, and hunger not only change, but can also become blurred.  Sex can be consensual and good one day, then become non-consensual and sour tomorrow, making it rape. Rape and Consent have become strange bedfellows because of the rape epidemic on campuses and around the nation today.  It does not mean that non-consensual sex didn’t happen or that rape didn’t exist as abundantly as before.  It wasn’t reported for fear of shame on the girl, but also because girls were usually raped by someone they ‘knew’ so there was that fear also that rape would be hard to prove.  It may be for the same reason that the 30 or so women who have now come out against a father figure and public moralist or the very famous and lovable Dr Huxtable couldn’t do that two or three decades ago. Plus, before now, rape was associated solely with sexual violence.  The women who knew Cosby went to his home, and even accepted financial help from him, making it quasi-impossible to prove rape at the time they were allegedly raped. The accusations of rape heaved against Cosby proves that rape is no longer just violent, but non violent, too.

Rape has always been a huge a problem before now given that prominent leaning models for consent used to come [and still come] from porn, TV, movies, and one’s patriarchal cultural upbringing, which is not the healthiest education for sexual behaviors.  These means of sexual education positioned males as gatekeepers of consent and had set up a power dynamic that undermined consent as an ongoing conversation between two people.  Today, those means, especially porn, are as flourishing as ever and even more with Internet freedom and no age limits, but at the same time, the same Internet is also allowing space for women to speak up against rape and silencing it.  Simultaneously, we’ve come a long way out of hiding in shame over matters of sexual harassment and rape: from Anita Hill in 1991 to the mattress girl at Columbia currently.  Over time and because of the frequency of rape in colleges and sexual harassment in offices, rape has had to extend its definition to  ‘consent’ from both partners, but especially from girls since campus rape had grown exponentially.  Judith Shulevitz’s “Affirmative Consent” unzips this issue and whets our appetite on this indigestibility of affirmative consent where sex and rape are concerned:

But, the lack of clarity around consent to have sex is a slippery slope, because it is difficult to evaluate and show consent before having sex and before deeming it rape.  Before the affirmative consent question flashed, the onus to substantiate rape was the girl’s exclusively; she had to convince the court that she didn’t ask for sex.  Women had to prove before this legislation that ‘no’ did not mean ‘yes’ as men and women both inside and outside of the court thought that the girl’s clothes and behavior were big factors in blaming them for rape.  Affirmative consent was impossible to prove pre-internet age, and still is even today, but much easier, at the same time.  Shulevitz argues that affirmative consent is anxiety producing and risks criminalizing poor communication.  Consent can indeed be a contraption as the 1988 film Accused [Jonathan Kaplan, 1988] proves.

Accused, which won Jodie Foster the Oscar for best leading role, illustrates the difficulty of  ‘consent’ very well.  Based on actual events, and on an actual rape, Sarah Tobias [Jodie Foster] goes to a sleazy bar, sexily dressed, where she and the men all drink, play pinball, then she puts on a one woman-show, then dances with one of them, and is raped by 3 of the men while others cheer and spur the men on:

Tobias has to prove that the rape was legit; in other words, she has to prove that she didn’t give the men ‘affirmative’ consent to rape her.  The film does not explore the blurry domain of sex, which turned into rape. Tobias has to convince the Court that she said ‘no’ although she had taken drugs that night and acted provocatively in the bar.  She was able to prove that all the seductive body language did NOT mean consent, despite that both lawyers thought she had a past, was ‘not uncomfortable flirting’ leading the men on.  Her behavior was NOT affirmative consent for sex and therefore the men couldn’t assume rape.

Like these men who raped Tobias, Cosby, too thought he was skilled in picking up non verbal cues that signaled a woman’s consent: “a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things, whatever you want to call them” [NYTimes Graham Bowley and Sydney Ember, “Cosby detailed many affairs in testimony: sex, drugs and deceit described by actor” on 7/19/15].  Sex can go awry because of some idiotic men who rape and don’t or can’t read signs [like Cosby and others] or conversely, because some angry or spurned women cry harassment or rape, especially if they don’t like the person coming on to them.  There are innumerable examples of men raping in Shulevitz’s and others’ articles, but few of women ‘crying wolf’.  A recent episode of White Collar allows us to imagine this question of consent when the criminal Keller approached a woman at a florist’s shop to flirt with her, but she rejected him harshly and resolutely and was ready to cry for help.  Next scene cuts to a very handsome, well dressed, and suave Neal Caffrey who rescued her, and she was all smiles and flirtation, and ready to embark upon a second meeting, which she did.

Because of men and women of dubious and psychotic character, sex and rape have become conflated and we must now address this matter for the general good of all [women].  It has become necessary to protect our girls at colleges because the school cannot, because college personnel are busy protecting their football jocks, donations, and school reputation. Consent policies are great because sex is undoubtedly safer for our girls at college and elsewhere.  But affirmative consent is great only in theory in an ideal ethical world, but in practice the problem rests in reading body language, which as Cosby has shown is not easy to read.

Today, 27 years after Accused, consent is still as shaky because it is as hard to disprove intention or prove consent.  It was difficult to prove that Tobias’s conduct gave a clear ‘yes’ through every step of her seduction, and it was difficult for Cosby to fathom that his attention to these women was rape.  We don’t see the men asking Tobias if their actions were okay, although she does say no laughingly twice then continues. So how do we define ‘consent’ legally when it stands on such shaky and emotional grounds?

Affirmative consent, according to legislation, is defined as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” every step of the way.  In Accused, a real event, Tobias was conscious of the men’s actions and seemed okay, therefore there was voluntary agreement via flirting, kissing, gyrating, laughter, and scorn she heaps on her female friend whom she rejects because the friend is ‘jealous’. Tobias was clearly drunk or tipsy as most college aged males and females are at parties, and who become uninhibited and flirtatious. If this is so, then that would exclude all girls and boys under the influence of alcohol and drugs, because whatever occurs during sex would not really be conscious as per legislation’s definition.  Under the draconian rules of affirmative consent, it would be easy to violate the law of consensual sex, and will turn a lot of spontaneous people into sex offenders.

Instead of setting better repercussions against rape crimes, and meaning them by enforcing them, preparing colleges to handle rape criminally instead of being pacifists, and educating our girls and boys especially about sexual behaviors from young, and teaching and telling them to think intelligently and independently and to say when they’re scared or uncomfortable, we are codifying sex.  Codifying sex will undoubtedly help women against over-sexed psychos and perverts, but it will also reshape sexual mores as it eliminates intimacy, and kills desire and joy between two consenting adults.

Affirmative consent across the board, while necessary in some cases, could make real sex rigid and contract-like if one partner has to stop and ask every minute if what he or she is doing is okay rather than read his or her partner’s body response.  Not only will actions have to be given the green light during intimate moments, but desire, too will have to shut off and on.  The problem is that desire doesn’t always work like that, and in fact works quite opposite to affirmative consent.  Desire is there, or it isn’t!  And without desire, no meaningful sex!

With policies to regulate bedroom activities Big Brother wants ‘in’ in our bedroom, too.  Will privacy have to change rooms if it cannot occur in the bedroom?  If we continue to monitor sex, love, desire the way we are doing with data and information we may soon stop holding hands, and that would be a pity.  Social media is already changing the rules of love and coupledom, and now codifying sexual behavior threatens what’s left of intimacy, spontaneity, and desire, and could make desire and sex become extinct because of some dimwits for whom legislation is slack.  The other difficulty with affirmative consent is how to eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding when most people aren’t talkative during the delicate tango that precedes sex, and aren’t always good at decoding sexual signals.

What would sex and building relationships look like if intimacy, spontaneity, and desire are taken out of its substance?


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