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Archive for December, 2012

New Year’s Eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights.  –  Hamilton Wright Mabie

When I was still a sweet young thing, I didn’t really understand what older people meant when they told me that time would speed up as I aged.  But nowadays, when the months fly by faster than weeks seemed to in my teens, I at last understand; oh boy do I understand!  And here I am writing another New Year’s Eve column despite the fact that I remember last New Year’s Eve as clearly as I remember the last 4th of July and Halloween night!  A great deal has happened since then, though, and as is my custom I’m going to take this opportunity to remind you of some of it.

When to leaveAs I predicted, we’ve begun to see increased skepticism about the vaguely-defined concept of “human trafficking”; it’s only a little so far, and the rescue industry, the media, insecure men and governments are still heavily invested in it.  But ever-larger numbers of ordinary women are turning to sex work and talking about it, more established sex workers are writing about their experiences, more journalists are accepting us as real people, more academics are confirming that what we’ve been saying all along is the truth, and that decriminalization is the solution to most problems associated with sex work.  But we’re not out of the woods yet; though the lies of “trafficking” charlatans are being exposed at an increasing rate, and growing so outrageous and bizarre that they increasingly need to rely on paid shills to sell their bill of goods, sex workers all over the world must still fight fiercely against abuses perpetrated by police and NGOs  who are largely bankrolled and encouraged by American prohibitionists, and even strippers are suffering increased attacks.  Meanwhile, the Swedish model continues to plague the Earth, though it is being challenged by facts and beaten back in some places, and may soon lose its grip on Norway.  California recently enacted a law which allows almost anyone to be classified as a “sex trafficker”, and even Australia, long at the forefront of sex worker rights, suffered its share of setbacks and prohibitionist assaults this year.

Land of the Free by M. TromblyNor is the burgeoning police state content with trying to control sex workers and our clients; food is another favorite target, as is the internet, and the number of excuses cops use to literally rob people increases all the time.  Uniformed thugs of all types are being given more and broader excuses to sexually assault people, and though a few of them are punished, they nearly always get far more lenient sentences than ordinary men; sex workers, by contrast, are targeted for increased abuse by programs sold to the public as “helping” or “rescuing” them.

I opened a Twitter account just over a year ago, and now have almost a thousand followers; my article about the Cartagena scandal attracted national media attention, and helped to boost my traffic enough to reach my first million page views in October; the rate has remained so high I’ll reach 1.2 million in the next few days.  That’s a good thing because the more people read my work, the more the message gets out that whores are human beings like everyone else, that the “sex trafficking” narrative is a myth, and that recognizing our work as work is the only way to help those who really are exploited and abused in it.  The increasing absurdity of prohibitionists’ claims and the increasing support for decriminalization among human rights activists and the medical community  shows me that we’re past the height of the “trafficking” panic, and on course for it to collapse by 2017 as I predicted last year.  Perhaps by the time I write my next New Year’s Eve column we’ll be able to see more definite signs of decay, and thereby know we’re just a little closer to the day when sex workers are no more oppressed than anybody else.

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Among the many misdeeds of British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.  –  Mohandas Gandhi

This was another fairly quiet week for links, as is typical around the holidays; I expect it will start to pick up again after today, though.  The next link column will include an explanation of a few format changes I’m instituting for the new year; like many of my other changes, it is intended to decrease my workload and make the blog more useful for readers.  Because the changes will affect the TW3 columns as well, I’m moving the next links column up to Friday so it will fall before the TW3 this week; that also conveniently opens up next Sunday, January 6th, for a King Day column.  The top link contributor this week was Michael Whiteacre, who provided every link down to the first video (which was itself provided by my husband).  The second video and the link directly below it were contributed by EconJeff, and the links between the two videos were supplied by Amy AlkonAspasiaGraceWalter OlsonRadley Balko,  Franklin Harris and Jesse Walker, in that order.

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How can people reasonably be expected to conform their behavior to the law when it is impossible for them to figure out what actions it proscribes until after they’ve been arrested and prosecuted?  –  Jacob Sullum

mega-brothelWhat a Week!

It looks like prohibitionists are getting more desperate:

A car bomb was defused in…[the] parking lot…[of]  Paradise, one of Spain’s largest legal brothels…masked men sped up to the brothel in two cars.  A man got out of one…and shouted he was leaving behind a car with a bomb in the back…it took a bomb squad several hours to deactivate the device…Town Mayor Sonia Martinez said she would take action to try and close Paradise, because it “seriously damages the image of the town”…

Welcome To Our World

This is exactly why most whores in legalization regimes refuse to register:

…In a piece titled, “The gun owner next door: What you don’t know about the weapons in your neighborhood“, the [New York] Journal News [published] the names and addresses of local residents who are licensed to own handguns…[in] Westchester [and] Rockland…counties…The article includes an interactive map

Nor is this the only lesson the anti-gun crowd could learn from sex work legalization regimes; those who have studied them could explain to Sarah O’Leary that when the police are allowed to “regulate” something, corruption and abuse are the inevitable results:

…It’s unrealistic to think we can get the estimated 300 million guns off the streets…Lawful gun owners…are not the ones who endanger the masses of us.  The ones who use massive amounts of ammo against innocents do…If we used law enforcement venues…to regulate gun owners’ access to ammunition, we would greatly limit the unstable person determined to commit mass murder…Require gun owners to log on to a centralized government website to order their ammo, then pick it up at their local police stations…the only places where anyone can legally buy ammunition. Put limits on how much ammunition can be purchased at any given time, and over any given period…

The density of ignorance in this article is truly mind-boggling.  O’Leary imagines “mass murderers” use more ammo in a spree than target shooters use in an afternoon, that police are incorruptible, that a centralized database is a good thing (see article directly above) and that people can’t make their own ammo; in fact her level of ignorance approaches that of sex work prohibitionists, and that’s staggering indeed.

Backward, Turn Backward

In the profoundly perverse minds of “trafficking” fanatics, teaching someone to keep herself safe or work more efficiently is a “crime”:

…Police say 25-year-old Emilie Cook negotiated a $500 deal for herself and the teen to have sex with…an undercover cop.  “[She]…was instructing a 16-year-old runaway on how to conduct prostitution,” said Trooper Melissa Matey with Louisiana State Police.  “The 16-year-old has been taken into custody, and…[Cook] has been booked in the Orleans Parish Prison for trafficking children for sexual purposes…state police is [sic] anticipating more arrests and this case is ongoing…”

Note the pretense that this simple example of mentoring is part of some larger criminal conspiracy.Potential Prostitutes

The Scarlet Letter

A new and revolting twist on “involuntary porn” extortion sites:

Potential Prostitutes  is only the latest sleazy site to wed personal photos to public humiliation…any woman may be be anonymously tagged as a prostitute…in a browsable “offender” database seeded with mugshots of convicted prostitutes.  Entries may be removed by those listed…[for] a hefty removal fee.  Along with Predators Watch, a nearly-identical sister site…it’s part of a growing fad for shakedowns that exploit public records, police mugshots, compromising Facebook photos and other embarrassing personal information…the sites were registered to a P.O. Box in Stockholm, Sweden, in the last few weeks…Its Twitter feed consists only of a burst of links to prostitution stings and scandals from early November.  Status People reports that only 6 percent of its followers are “good”, the rest being fake or inactive accounts…[Ken White of Popehat] writes that…”Courts are still determining application of Section 230 to extortion sites, [but] even the most generous application…wouldn’t apply if…the purveyors of the site were themselves the ones populating it with pictures under the guise of users doing it…Moreover, Section 230 is not a defense to criminal charges. Extortion is a…federal crime…[and if] the site makes deliberately false statements…to extort money, it…may [constitute] fraud…”

Backwards into the Future

Consider how closely this statement from a third-world militocracy resembles American anti-whore rhetoric:

Burma’s new quasi-civilian government has vowed to improve its record on tackling human trafficking…police chief Yam Len Mun…noted that Burma has already moved from tier three to tier two in the [US Trafficking in Persons] report…he said…the first priority for next year should be to educate workers in every factory in the country about the dangers of human trafficking.  Other…measures…include setting up telephone hotlines in border towns…and…[setting] up rehabilitation camps for trafficked workers who have been rescued…

The Mote and the Beam

The US Senate asking someone else to be a “responsible global citizen” is unbelievable hypocrisy, its ignorance is shocking and its embrace of “sex trafficking” is just sad.  But its sending the demand to the wrong corporation is totally hilarious:

The Senate passed a resolution…that calls on the newspaper Village Voice “to act as a responsible global citizen” by taking down its “adult entertainment” section of its classified advertising website…“The numbers are rising, in part because it has become frighteningly simple to order a child prostitute on the Internet…” Sen. Mark Kirk…said…“Just a few clicks on this site easily enables ‘johns’ to purchase children for sex.  Law enforcement believes that the existence of Backpage encourages the recruitment of victims for sexual exploitation because it allows traffickers to operate out of sight from police patrols”…Kirk said that experts estimate that each year as many as 300,000 children are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States and cited cases where those prosecuted for such crimes have used Backpage.com to advertise…“The profit-first mentality at Village Voice Media, which prioritizes the rights of pimps, not children, must end.”

Size Matters

The Mystic Mother of the Phoenix Goddess Temple was arrested again after investigators said they found her posting ads on backpage.com seeking sex in exchange for cash “donations.”  Tracy Elise, 51, was re-arrested on December 13, fifteen months after her initial arrest for running a suspected brothel.  Elise insists her church was misunderstood because it combines spirituality and sexuality…Prosecutors argue that the Goddess Temple was a ruse for prostitution and even though religion was discussed…that doesn’t change the fact that money was expected after sex…

Posting a new Backpage ad while awaiting trial for prostitution is such an incredibly bad idea, I must assume either the cops are lying or Elise is trying to create a test case.

Presents, Presents, Presents!

Treasury of Great RecipesI receivedjelly babies two extraordinarily generous gifts this week: from Juan Iglesias, a copy of Vincent Price’s highly-regarded 1965 cookbook A Treasury of Great Recipes; and from Dr. Brooke Magnanti,  over a kilogram of jelly babies plus several packets of Parma violets.  Thanks so very much to both of you!
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Change a Few Words

It’s gratifying when others see the resemblance between decriminalization of drugs and prostitution:  “Now that a couple of states have made it clear that pot is legal within their own borders, it looks like the momentum has shifted on drugs…Perhaps now is a good time to start directing some attention to another prohibition, and that is prostitution…”  While the author buys into “sex trafficking” hysteria and the “dirty whore” myth, he nonetheless recognizes that criminalization creates most of the problems, and that is a good sign for the future.

The Course of a Disease

Though England fought off the Labour Party’s last attempt to persecute sex workers and clients by imposing the tyrannical Swedish Model, the misogynistic puritans who run the party are at it again:  “The government is coming under increasing pressure to…follow…Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland…[in imposing] the so-called Nordic model…

Feet of Clay

Kristof’s awfulness is becoming so obvious, even the ignorant (such as someone who writes without a hint of sarcasm, “Paul Krugman is right about everything“) recognize him for what he is:

Nick Kristof travels the globe rescuing sex workers by getting them arrested and then attempting to find them jobs in sweatshops…His writing always features morally unambiguous black-and-white heroes and villains.  The heroes are frequently rescuing helpless maidens.  Kristof declines to see complexity in every great crisis he tackles, and largely refuses to acknowledge that money and American “intervention” are frequentlySanta on the moon, courtesy of C. Andrew…the cause of [them]…Kristof’s reliance on anecdote and personal narratives above all else…lead him to deeply stupid conclusions…

The Young and the Brainless

It’s for their own good!  “[On Christmas Day] police arrested three men, 53 women and 16 transvestites for engaging in prostitution across Bangkok…to suppress human trafficking issues during the New Year holidays.  All suspects will be sent to local police stations for further prosecution.”

Metaupdates

Counterfeit Comfort (TW3 #16)

You may remember that when New York wanted to unconstitutionally punish people who had already served their sentences, it simply applied political pressure to get private corporations to do its dirty work for it:

New York State has teamed up with several major online game services to purge another 2,100 accounts held by registered sex offenders…New York’s Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP) requires convicted sex offenders to register all of their email addresses, screen names and other online identities with the state.  That information is passed along to sites and services so they can show predators to the door…

Obviously, there’s no possible way guys caught pissing in public or having sex with their girlfriends could ever start new anonymous accounts and not tell Big Brother about it.

Capricious Lusts (TW3 #37)

While Hollywood figures are lining up to climb on the “sex trafficking” bandwagon, Bollywood figures are beginning to support decriminalization:

…Legalising prostitution in India would be a step…to bettering…conditions…Prohibiting all activities related to prostitution…does not seem to be curbing the booming sex trade…Prostitution has been in existence since organised society came into being, and…these women provide services to all existing societies even today.thought police poster  Isn’t it time we give…[them] the respect and dignity they deserve?…

See No Evil (TW3 #51)

…a Montreal jury acquitted  special-effects artist Rémy Couture of “corrupting morals” by creating gory photographs and short films…The government said his images were obscene…

Traffic Jam (TW3 #51)

Another judge acquits “trafficking” witch hunt victims due to a total lack of evidence:

A federal judge…overturned the convictions of three men on sex-trafficking charges…based on the government’s failure to prove the men were part of a single, overarching conspiracy…[and] because the government failed to turn over [to the defendants]…documents [which] showed contradictions in the testimony of the government’s principal witness…The [alleged] victim testified…that she was used as a prostitute…starting at age 12.  But…new evidence…suggests…[she] lied about her age…[and was actually] 18 or 19…

Gorged With Meaning (TW3 #51)

I’ll bet those pearl-clutching Welsh academics didn’t expect this:

…Former madam Becky Adams, who is taking part in a Swansea University project examining youngsters in the sex trade, said that the market was almost flooded with people trying to pay their way through university…“The market is almost flooded with them…An hour used to be £150 in the 90s and now you can find an hour for £70 or £80.  That is a result of supply and demand because there are so many more people at it.  And you cannot just blame the Eastern Europeans…”

This Week in 2010 and 2011

Beside the original “Presents” post and my previous columns for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, this week also featured two columns about whore goddesses, a response to criticism from another activist, a biography of the Madame de Pompadour, a deconstruction of the ridiculous claims of “social scientists”, a report on Google’s support of anti-whore activism and my answers to reader questions on vaginal looseness, sluts, P411, anal sex, penis size and talking to children about prostitutes.

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If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.  –  Thomas Pynchon

I’m getting so many questions nowadays that I find myself stacking them months in advance (these were answered in late October).  That’s just silly, so I’m going to start answering these individually in short columns rather than saving them up for the ends of months.  If you have a question of your own, please email me at maggiemcneill@earthlink.net.

My girlfriend and I are interested in engaging the services of a sex worker as an ongoing part of our relationship.  While there seem to be many online resources, we’d like to understand how to narrow down the choices to someone who will be of the high caliber (we are in Dallas).  Any guidance on how to sift through all of the information to make sure we connect with a reputable person?

Living in Dallas has its advantages and disadvantages for you; on the one hand you’ll have more selection than in most cities and may pay less, but on the other hand you have many more names and profiles to go through.  Unfortunately, due to criminalization it’s hard to be “sure” of anything in this business, but I have a couple of suggestions that will help you.  First of all, make use of ECCIE, the most popular escort review board in the Dallas area.  Find a woman you both like who advertises that she enjoys working with couples, and check her reviews; even if none of them are for couple calls specifically, that shouldn’t really matter because her friendliness, reliability, customer service and the like will be just the same for a couple as they are for an individual.  If anything, a good escort will be even more on her “best behavior” with another woman present.  Once you find someone who seems right to both of you, contact her in whatever way she asks on her website, providing all the information she asks for, and make sure you specify it’s for a couple.  Don’t be surprised if her rate is a little higher for a couple than for a man alone, but it probably won’t be double (if it is you may want to consider someone else, because unlike dealing with two male clients, a couple is NOT twice the work).  Let her know that you’ve discussed this together and you’re both game; you’d be surprised how often men will inquire about couple calls without discussing the matter with their ladies first!  By assuring her that you’re not wasting her time you are more likely to start out on the right foot.

It’s possible that even if you do all your homework, the experience may not be as good as you wanted; remember, there are three interpersonal reactions to consider here rather than only one.  If that happens, it doesn’t necessarily mean three-ways aren’t for y’all; it may just mean the chemistry in that particular case was wrong, and you need to try another escort.  Have y’all read my two part “Couples” column?  The second part gives examples of a nearly-perfect couple call, and a disastrous one; it may help y’all to gather your thoughts before proceeding.

You’ve often warned against people seeking escorts via Backpage, but what if there isn’t any alternative?  My state is mostly rural, and barely listed on sites like ECCIE (if at all).

It’s not quite fair to say that I’ve warned people against Backpage; what I actually said is that if you really want to play it safe, maximize the chance of finding exactly what you want and minimize the chances of a run-in with cops, it’s probably better to contact only established, well-reviewed escorts.  It’s definitely true that Backpage has a larger fraction of amateurs, set-up traps, scammers and low-quality girls, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good girls there as well; in fact, most of the active escorts I know use Backpage in addition to the hooker boards, especially when travelling.  In order to use Backpage safely you should probably avoid very young girls and those whose advertising seems to indicate a lack of experience and good judgment; vulgar phraseology is a dead giveaway, and very low prices are a sure sign of a scam.  If the lady seems established but the ad is recent she is probably on tour, so try to find previous ads in whatever city she claims to come from.  Even if a girl doesn’t advertise on one of the review boards, that doesn’t necessarily mean nobody has reviewed her; check for that in her home city (e.g., “Heather from Backpage” or the like; if she changes her stage name frequently you don’t want to see her anyhow).  Tineye is a very useful tool; with it you can search to see if her picture has appeared elsewhere, and if you discover (or even just suspect) that the picture is stolen stay far away, because that signifies either a scam or cops.  Finally, trust your instincts and use common sense, and insist on talking to her by phone at least once for a few minutes before meeting; I always advise escorts to do that in order to feel clients out, and it works the same way from your side as from hers.

I’ve seen references to screening of clients from you and from escort ads; I gather it involves getting enough information about the client to be sure that he’s not a cop, but exactly what information is asked for?  How does one “pass” a screening without also exposing oneself in the event that the whore is arrested, as in the Kennebunk case?

As in so many other cases, the answer is “it depends.”  Escorts aren’t only trying to screen out cops, but rather any kind of dangerous or exceptionally troublesome characters.  That’s why so many depend on referrals:  other escorts can report not only whether a potential client is what he represents himself to be, but whether he’s unnecessarily rough, habitually late, prone to haggle or stand girls up, etc.  For an escort whose primary screening is the checking of references, the necessary information threshold is really quite low:  she simply needs to be reasonably sure that the man with whom she’s dealing is the true owner of the alias to which the references refer.  Most simply assume that he is, which is a safe assumption in the vast majority of cases (but obviously doesn’t preclude cops managing to pressure him into turning over his information for them to misuse).  Other escorts ask for much more information, possibly including work telephone numbers and the like; some will only see men who have been screened by a verification service such as P411.  And a large fraction simply trust their guts, as nearly all of us did in the days before the internet had quite so much information on it.

When I owned my agency, I never kept records for any clients who paid cash; the only information I had for them was names, phone numbers and addresses on the day’s notebook page, which was shredded at the end of the night (and would have been shredded immediately had cops started pounding on my door).  However, a client can’t count on that; most escorts and agencies do indeed keep records, sometimes very detailed ones.  So there’s only one real way for a client to ensure he can pass most screenings, yet not reveal anything cops or prosecutors could make use of:  he must establish a consistent and unvarying “hobby” alias with a name, screen name, email address and phone number which he never changes, yet bear no ties to his real information; fortunately, prepaid cell phones and anonymous webmail make this easy.  He must then find a few girls who will see him on instinct, use them as references for other girls, and thus build up a reputation.  He won’t be able to hire every escort he might fancy because some insist on verifiable identifying data, but a well-established alias will get him in most women’s doors as long as he continues to treat every lady he dates honorably.

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Have a holly jolly Christmas,
It’s the best time of the year.
I don’t know if there’ll be snow,
But have a cup of cheer.
  –  Johnny Marks

Since y’all seemed to enjoy my Halloween favorites column, I thought a companion piece for Christmas would be in order.  Though it’s only my second favorite holiday, it’s my husband’s favorite and since it is the world’s most popular celebration the activities are extended for a much longer time and there’s a lot more “stuff” to choose from for this list.  For me, Halloween and Christmas are the two high points of a long festive season which begins with the autumnal equinox and ends with Mardi Gras, with a sort of encore at Easter.  But the stretch of time between Halloween and Christmas Eve, by virtue of being bookended by my two favorite days in all the year, is the best.

My Favorite Christmas Songs

Some people love Christmas music, and some hate it; I react to it as I react to nearly any music, loving some and hating some and tolerating the rest.  I don’t like sappy or overly sentimental songs, nor those in the “wink wink, nudge nudge” school such as “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”; bad and/or forced rhyming irritates me in any song, which is why I have a strong aversion for “Winter Wonderland” (bluebird/new bird and snowman/“No, man”; really?) And the only Beach Boys song I hate more than the grating “Little Saint Nick” is the truly execrable “Kokomo”.  Among traditional Christmas carols my favorites are those in minor keys:  “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells”  are especial favorites, as is the haunting “Veni, Veni”, (performed here in both English and the original Latin by one of my favorite artists, Enya).  Of modern Christmas songs, my hands-down favorite is “Holly Jolly Christmas” performed by the inimitable Burl Ives:

My Favorite Christmas Shows

The video above contains clips from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, one of the earliest Christmas specials from the “Golden Age” of such presentations in the 1960s and ‘70s.  It’s among my favorites, though it’s exceeded in my estimation by “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” from the same producers, an origin story which depicts the young Santa Claus as a libertarian who holds that people have the right and duty to disobey stupid laws:

But of all the stand-alone shows and special episodes of series, my absolute favorite has to be “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, as those of you who remember “My Favorite Short Films” had probably already guessed.  Chuck Jones was better at translating Dr. Seuss’ bizarre whimsy into animation than any other director, the choices of Boris Karloff as narrator and Thurl Ravenscroft  as singer of the Grinch song were nothing short of inspired, and Seuss’ words, silly as they are, presented the meaning and moral of the story without spelling it out in words of one syllable.

My Favorite Christmas Movies

There are probably hundreds of Christmas movies, a number of which are regarded as classics.  But while I do enjoy It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, there are only two without which my holiday season would be incomplete.  One of these, which we watch every Christmas Eve, is the Patrick Stewart version of A Christmas Carol; though it does have a few flaws it’s the only version of the story in which I can see Scrooge as a completely real person, and his conversion as both natural and believable.  The other is A Christmas Story, which I had never even heard of before I met my husband.  It’s one of his favorites and soon became one of mine; in fact, it’s usually the film which kicks off our Yuletide viewing season.  The plot is very simple: a young boy in the late 1930s schemes to get a BB gun for Christmas.  But that brief description does the film absolutely no justice; in fact, no description I could write could do so.  Do yourself a favor:  just see it.  Trust me.

My Yuletide Schedule

Regular readers know that I am a creature of habit, and like to do things on a very regular schedule (as long as I get to set that schedule myself).  I generally start thinking about Christmas presents in June or July, keeping my eyes open for fun little “stocking stuffers” and even for full presents; this year my husband found the perfect gift for one of our friends way back in March, and it sat in my secret gift stash until I wrapped it a few weeks ago.  Once Halloween is over the stores all put up their Christmas displays these days, completely ignoring Thanksgiving; I refuse to acknowledge this premature celebration, beginning only on the traditional American date, the day after Thanksgiving.  That’s the date on which we tromp off into the forest, find a suitable tree, and bring it home to decorate.  That day or the next we do our Christmas cards and I prepare soup stock:

Stock:  4 quarts (liters) water; 10 chicken bouillon cubes; ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) each salt and pepper; ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) each thyme, sage and MSG; 1 teaspoon (5 ml) each tarragon, paprika and granulated garlic.  Combine all ingredients in large stock pot, add turkey carcass (after removing as much remaining meat as you can) plus neck and giblets.  Bring to boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer until all the meat has fallen from the bones, stirring occasionally and pulling the bones out as they become clean (you’ll probably have to pick bits of meat from them by hand as you go).  Once all the bones are out remove from heat, allow stock to cool and ladle it into quart (liter)-sized containers.  If using glass jars, make sure you leave expansion space before freezing or else they will break.  It takes a few days for one of these to thaw in the refrigerator, a few hours at room temperature.

Soup:  1 jar stock; 2 quarts (liters) water; 5 chicken bouillon cubes; ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) each salt & pepper; 1/8  teaspoon (0.625 ml) each thyme, sage & MSG; ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) each tarragon, paprika & granulated garlic.  Combine all ingredients in large stock pot, bring to boil over medium-high heat, then add 2 cups (500 ml) of egg noodles, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

I of course do this again on Boxing Day with the remains of the Christmas turkey; on New Years’ Day we generally have ham (saving the bone for split pea soup later in the week).  All of the feasts are accompanied by traditional side dishes and homemade bread, with seasonal desserts (and yes, I render my own pumpkin from the Halloween jack-o-lantern and make my own mince meat, too).  It’s a lot of work for one woman, but I take housewifery as seriously as I took harlotry.  Christmas Eve and New Years’ Eve meals vary, but the days after those feasts are always leftovers.  Sometimes we open one present each on Christmas Eve, but that varies; one thing that doesn’t is that the tree stands until King Day, when we have our first king cake of the season.

My Favorite Christmas Foods

panettoneBeside the stuffed turkey, candied yams, corn pudding, mince meat pie and plum pudding of the Christmas dinner, the season is full of delicious foods.  Just after Thanksgiving I make two fruitcakes so they’ll have time to age, and during Yuletide I generally prepare panettone several times (it’s an Italian brioche flavored with orange and nutmeg, which my husband loves); then in the week before the holiday I make cookies, fudge and other treats so as to make up tins for all the people we regularly do business with.  But none of these are my favorites, though I do enjoy all of them; of all the foods usually associated with the season I would have to say my own favorites are spiced Christmas teas, gingerbread (I sometimes make a house), fruit and chocolate combinations, those Danish butter cookies that come in tins and egg nog, especially that made by our local dairy.

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Christmas comes only once a year, and in my opinion it seems a bit rude to rush a guest out practically as soon as he arrives.  –  Maggie McNeill

Saint Nicholas with hollyAs I explained in yesterday’s column, Christmas was a twelve-day festival from the very beginning; the ancient Sumerians who originated the holiday had a duodecimal number system and attached mystic significance to the number twelve, which is more easily and conveniently subdivided than ten.  And though the holiday became much shorter among the Greeks and Romans, the traditional twelve-day length survived in the winter celebrations of the peoples of northern Europe and became part of Christmas when the Germanic Yule was absorbed into it during the period of Christianization.  Originally, there were different traditional activities for each day of the festival, leading up to Twelfth Night when Christmas gave way to Carnival.  And though some heavily-Celtic parts of the British Isles still celebrate pre-Christian traditions (Wren Day or Mummers’ Day) on the second day of Christmas, in most places it is Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day, and was strongly associated with charity (which is why Good King Wenceslas was described as helping the poor wood-gatherer on this day).  It was also a time for visiting friends, or just relaxing from the hustle and bustle of Christmas Day.

In recent years, however, it’s become the Commonwealth equivalent of the American “Black Friday”, a day on which retailers slash prices so as to get rid of overstock.  And now that more Americans are staying away from “Black Friday” stupidity (this year saw an especially sharp decline), how much longer can it possibly be before US merchants add Boxing Day sales as well?  My advice to all of you is to stay home and enjoy your feast leftovers, go visiting friends, or do the old-fashioned thing and give to some worthy charity if you haven’t already this season.  There will be other sales, and why wait in long lines to return unwanted gifts when you can do it more quickly after New Years’ Day?  As I wrote last year, it’s silly to cut the holiday short; even if you have to return to work today, you can certainly be at least as festive for the next eleven days as you’ve been for the past month.Morris dancers in Bottesford, Leicestershire (Boxing Day 2009)

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Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share.
  –  Lee Mendelson, “Christmas Time is Here

As I said yesterday, I suspect the festival we now know as Christmas began about 3900 BCE, when the climate abruptly cooled and dried all over the world.  For about 2000 years before that, the climate had been wet and warm enough for agriculture to succeed even in areas which are arid in modern times, and with little irrigation or centralized planning.  But once the long drought set in (around the same time copper started to replace stone as the favored tool material), everyone started to crowd into the comparatively small areas of the river valleys: scattered villages gave way to large cities, wars were fought over the limited arable land, and hierarchical social structures appeared in order to keep track of which land belonged to whom and what would happen to it when he died.  Because warfare and rigid hierarchies appeal more to the male mind societies became more patriarchal, and because heredity was now important sex laws and taboos started to appear.  Now that agriculture was a bit trickier calendars were needed so people would know the best times to plant and to reap, and rituals were developed to appease the gods so as to ensure bountiful harvests.

Marduk vs. TiamatBy the late 4th millennium BCE, the most important of these rites was the one which commemorated the creation of the world by the sky-god Anu after his victory over the forces of chaos; the Babylonians assigned this role to their god Marduk, and personified chaos as the dragon Tiamat.  The battle was believed to have lasted for 12 days, so the festival (which the Babylonians called Zagmuk) did as well, and though it occurred at the end of winter (the two weeks before the vernal equinox) rather than at the beginning, this was the origin of our 12 days of Christmas.  As in many later cultures, the time between the end of the old year and the beginning of the new was a time of chaos, and the rituals were thought to help Marduk beat back Tiamat for another year.  The priests and nobles enacted a pageant (the ancestor of our Christmas pantomime) in which the king played Marduk, and he was supposed to be sacrificed so as to join the god in the underworld and fight by his side.  But because it was impractical (not to mention counterproductive) to have a new king every year, what actually happened was this:  on the first day of Zagmuk, the king abdicated his power and a condemned criminal was invested as king.  He was feted and given homage, and played the part of Marduk in the early part of the festival; he was then sacrificed and the true king resumed his station, receiving the power to rule by consummating a ritual marriage with the entu (high priestess of Ishtar).  To provide a mystical balance, another prisoner was chosen at the same time as the temporary king; instead of being sacrificed, he was set free in order to bear the sins of the nation away with him (a similar ritual was later practiced by the Hebrews using goats).  And while the ruling classes enacted all this, the common people helped by burning effigies of Tiamat in bonfires.

Sumer was the Great Mother of Western civilization, and her culture infused all which came after it.  The Zagmuk festival spread to all parts of the Near East, and though it changed as it spread its influence can be clearly seen.  The dedication of a human sacrifice to represent the death of the god, followed immediately by the investiture of another person as the reborn god, was adopted by the Ancient Greeks as part of their primitive festival of Lenaea.  And while the human sacrifice eventually vanished in a literal sense from the Babylonian festival (later called Akitu), it survived in symbolic form; during the twelve days of the festival the social order was reversed, with masters waiting upon slaves and one slave chosen to be the head of the household for the duration, just as a criminal had been made king in earlier times (but without the unpleasant conclusion).  And after the battle-pageant the common people thronged in the street, rejoicing in the victory of their god with shouted invocations and joyful songs.  The festival was extremely popular, and survived conquest after conquest for millennia; the Kassites, Elamites, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians and Seleucids each adopted it in turn.  By late classical times many of its elements (including the social reversal and the singing in the streets) had entered the Greek Kronia, descendant of Lenaea and ancestor of the Roman Saturnalia; the latter adopted its practices wholesale in 217 BCE, at the same time (and as part of the same Sibylline reform) as the Venus Erycina  was brought to Rome.

Six thousand years ago the climate shifted, driving our ancestors from a pleasant Eden where food was plentiful into a harsher world where winter was a time of crisis.  And though the elaborate ritual devised by the ancient Mesopotamians to drive back the chaos is no longer solemn or bloody, many of its elements – feasting, mumming and masking, pantomime, bonfires, caroling and even the twelve-day duration – became traditional parts of our winter holiday season, and have endured even to the present day.  From the unnamed festival of ancient Uruk to Zagmuk to Lenaea and Akitu, then via Kronia to Saturnalia to Sol Invictus, and finally to Christmas and Carnival, there runs one long, unbroken cord which none who opposed it, whether king, priest or ideologue, has ever been able to sever.An Orgy in Imperial Rome by Henryk Siemiradzki (1872)

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