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Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

Easter 2014

Again rejoicing Nature sees
Her robe assume its vernal hues
Her leafy locks wave in the breeze,
All freshly steep’d in the morning dews.
  -  Robert Burns

Easter GreetingsAs I pointed out last year, most of the holidays Christianity took over from paganism and redecorated with a Christian rationale are still pagan to the core; this is especially true of Easter, which is virtually indistinguishable from the other spring festivals which preceded it all the way back to Sumer and before.  Christians still celebrate with the ancient symbols of flower, hare and egg, Jesus’ coming forth from the tomb is just the old story of Tammuz or Attis or Adonis or Osiris with refurbished names and details, and (in English, at least) even the festival’s name is that of the goddess from whom Christ inherited the day.  Before cute bunnies and the like become the dominant iconography in the early part of the 20th century, the goddess still appeared on Easter cards and other illustrations in the guise of an angel, a young mortal girl or even the Blessed Mother; no matter how much the Church patriarchy tried to suppress her, she just kept popping up out of the spiritus mundi like spring flowers from winter soil.  And though the sheer joy of spring is severely muted due to the disconnection of modern urbanites from nature, her symbolism still persists; as this holiday reminds us, many things which have been buried are nonetheless not truly dead, and merely await the proper time to emerge into the sunlight once more.

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The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector.  -  Ernest Hemingway

invisible whore Major events always provide an excuse for governments to “clean things up” in the host cities before the guests arrive.  These include World’s Fairs and Olympic Games.  Police sweep undesirable, embarrassing, ugly people out of public view.  They throw them into jails or exile them for the duration.  The victims vary with the time and place.  The poor, the homeless, unpopular minority groups, drug addicts and gay people have all been among them.  The list always includes sex workers.  Moralists in countries where prostitution is legal still feel they must purge it from visitor areas.  They don’t want the visitors to see it, even in Greece or Brazil.  Bigotry is also heightened by such events.  Those so predisposed fear strangers coming to town, bringing with them outlandish and alien forms of sin and crime.  Together, these two factors may be the origin of one of the strangest and most persistent myths of our time.  Tens of thousands of whores wander about the world from mega-event to mega-event.  They are not impeded by the usual logistics of transport and lodging.

The legend seems to have first appeared in conjunction with the 2004 Olympics in Athens.  Prohibitionists depicted sex work as “sex trafficking” since the late 1990s.  But the moral panic seems to have begun in earnest in January of 2004.  Athenian officials went through the usual pre-Olympic cleansing procedure.  They raided brothels for bogus violations of zoning restrictions.  A Greek sex workers’ union complained.  They said the city would increase illegal prostitution by making it difficult to work in legal brothels.  European prohibitionists twisted this into “Athens is encouraging sex tourism.”

The growing “anti-trafficking” movement used bad stats.  They claimed that “sex trafficking increased by 95 percent during the Olympics.  And they did it by the end of the year.  Then anti-sex worker groups predicted that about 40,000 women would be “trafficked” into Germany.  They meant for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.  It was bizarre.  Of course, nothing of the kind happened. Police raided 71 brothels, but only came up with five cases of exploitation they believed linked to the event.  The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women investigated the myth in its 2011 report.  The report’s name was “What’s the Cost of a Rumour?”, and it was unable to find a credible source for the “40,000” figure.  It seems somebody made it up.  But it has hung on like a tick since then.  It accompanies every major sporting event.  Some of them were the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and the 2012 Olympics in London.  Massive police crackdowns cost about £500,000 in London.  They found no significant increase in prostitution, coerced or otherwise.  Neither has anyone else.

By 2008, the myth reached the United States.  It became attached to the Super Bowl in place of the fading but also spurious claim about domestic violence.  You know the one.  The story that year took the form of police statements  about “warnings” that they “[were] prepared for”.  But by the following year police and other officials in Tampa had turned the rumor into a campaign.  They bagged exactly one quarry.  She was a 14-year-old.  Her pimps were two clueless individuals. They called her a “Super Bowl Special” on Craigslist.  Ever since, prohibitionists repeat the detail as part of their catechism.

The Florida Department of Children and Families claimed to have “rescued” 24 other people.  This is not substantiated.  But that number pales beside the grandiosity of another claim.  The claim was that “‘tens of thousands of people‘…[were] sold into the sex trade during Miami’s Super Bowl in 2010.”  The claim was that most of them were young girls.  Miami was the first instance of full-blown circus-like hype.  This hype has characterized the buildup to the game in later years.  Members of “anti-trafficking” groups descend in droves upon the host city. They do it to “raise awareness” and “rescue victims”.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott would not to be outdone.  He declared the Super Bowl “one of the largest human trafficking events in the United States”.  He organized a huge “task force” involving a dozen different federal, state and local agencies.  He did this in preparation for the Dallas game (2011).  He missed no opportunity to pontificate about “pimps” and Backpage.com.  The total haul from all this effort?  One would-be pimp who got the idea from hearing the myth on television.

But legends like this take on a life of their own, which mere facts cannot end.  By July, Indiana’s attorney general, Greg Zoeller, got the Indianapolis Super Bowl bandwagon rolling.  He made the claim that the Texans had made “133 separate human trafficking related arrests”.  They picked a two and a half week period around the game.  Then they claimed every vice arrest made in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex was “trafficking”.  It was dishonest.  The number has since become part of the narrative.

The hype around the New Orleans game last year was somewhat muted.  But Cindy McCain seems unwilling to wait her turn.  She is already beating the drum over “human trafficking” for the 2015 Super Bowl in Phoenix. The myth is not limited to the Super Bowl any more.  In the past two years people have made similar claims about other large football games and sporting events.  They range from the Kentucky Derby to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to hunting season in rural Minnesota.

PapaMost of the media have been complicit in spreading this lurid fantasy, but there have been a few dissenting voices. One is “Papa” Kotz of Village Voice Media, who interviewed me for “The Super Bowl Prostitute Myth” three years ago.  He expanded upon that article for “The Super Bowl Prostitution Hoax” the following year.  Several others articles quoted the latter piece since then.  One was this year’s “The Super Bowl Sex-Trafficking Story That Just Won’t Die”.  It also references the GAATW report cited above.

Reporters can locate such articles with a quick search.  It’s easy.  But even if they’re too dumb to handle that, they could just go to Snopes.com, which has listed the story as false since February 2012.  But sex sells and the “rescue industry” brings in at least tens of millions of dollars per year.  Anthropologist and commercial sex researcher Dr. Laura Agustín called it that.  The “rescue industry”, I mean.  So there are quite a few people in and out of government with a vested interest in keeping the myth going.  Even if it’s destructive, absurd, and easy to show up as false.

But there’s a glimmer of hope.  An article reports that some “anti-trafficking” folks are unhappy with the legend.  It was in Canada’s National Post, but I won’t quote it because it’s too hard to read.  True Believers will ignore anything skeptics or sex worker rights advocates have to say about the issue.  But they may listen to those they consider fellow travelers. With any luck the Super Bowl Prostitute Invasion story may finally be on the way out.  We can only hope that the “sex trafficking” hysteria of which it is a part will follow close behind.

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Eostre

Come, gentle Spring!  Ethereal Mildness!  Come.  -  James Thomson

EostreAt 16:57 UTC today (just before noon where I live) the apparent path of the sun will cross the celestial equator on its way north, for the fourth time since I’ve started this blog, the forty-eighth since the beginning of my current incarnation, the two thousand and fourteenth since the beginning of the Common Era and the (roughly) fifty-nine hundredth since the arrival of spring became an important enough event to calculate, mark and celebrate.  Obviously the event had occurred every year, unmarked on human calendars, since the Earth was born, and had come and gone uncounted times between the point at which we first turned our eyes to the stars and the point at which we began to count the days; however, until we invented agriculture and began to fear the winters, we never bothered to wonder about the specific moment of transition between one season and the next.  For roughly the first four thousand years after we began to plant and harvest, the winters were so mild that the exact day simply wasn’t an issue; once it got warm enough we planted, and that was that.  But after the climate change we still dimly recall in our myths of losing a primordial Golden Age or Eden, it became necessary to plan ahead to make use of the shortened growing season; furthermore, those ancient farmers needed to ensure they did not plant too soon and lose the young crop to a late frost.  The dawn of the growing season was likened to the dawn of a day, so it isn’t too surprising that the Indo-European dawn-goddess also became the goddess of spring in many cultures; Eostre was what the Anglo-Saxons called her, and we still use her name for a slightly-later spring festival which has since been taken over by another god.  But as we have seen many times in this blog, the old symbols never quite go away even if we create new meanings for them; the hare and the egg belonged to Eostre, and still persist in the celebration of that slightly-later holiday even if few who employ them understand why.

Blessed Be!

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Cake is happiness!  If you know the way of the cake, you know the way of happiness!  If you have a cake in front of you, you should not look any further for joy!  ―  C. JoyBell C.

Since it’s been far too long since I published a recipe, I decided to make up for it with seven new ones: all different types of cake, arranged one per demi-season.  Yesterday we covered winter and spring, and today cakes for the summer and autumn.  I would only consider one of these (Moss Rose Cake) difficult, and even it isn’t all that tough.  But if you aren’t an experienced baker, make sure you read my general tips in yesterday’s column before proceeding.

Summertide (late May – early July)

Texas BrowniesI first discovered this recipe in the early ‘90s, and I don’t know why they’re so named; maybe because they’re big, or maybe it’s the buttermilk, but they’re delicious in any case.  If you don’t have buttermilk handy, put 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of lemon juice or vinegar into a glass measuring cup, pour milk in until it’s just below the ¾ cup (180 ml) line, stir, and let it sit for 5 minutes before using (the usage is divided between cake & frosting, so be sure to measure).  Note that the coffee need not be freshly brewed; I always use whatever’s left from breakfast.

Texas Brownies

2 cups (480 ml) flour
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking soda
¼ teaspoon (1 ml) salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1/3 cup (80 ml) cocoa powder
1 cup (240 ml) coffee (the stronger the better)
2 eggs
½ cup (120 ml) buttermilk
1½ teaspoons (8 ml) vanilla extract
1 recipe frosting (see below)

Preheat oven to 350o Fahrenheit, grease a 13” x 9” baking pan and sift together flour, sugar, soda and salt.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine butter, cocoa and coffee, stirring constantly until it boils.  Add the chocolate mixture to the dry mixture and beat with an electric mixer at medium to high speed until well-combined.  Add eggs, buttermilk and vanilla and beat for 1 minute more, then pour into the pan (batter will be thin).  Bake for 35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean, then remove from oven and immediately prepare frosting.

¼ cup (½ stick) butter
3 tablespoons (45 ml) cocoa powder
3 tablespoons (45 ml) buttermilk
2¼ cups (540 ml) sifted powdered sugar
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) vanilla extract

In a small saucepan over medium heat combine butter, cocoa and buttermilk, stirring constantly until mixture boils.  Pour over powdered sugar in mixing bowl, add vanilla and beat until smooth, then pour over hot cake.  Allow cake to cool thoroughly in pan, then cut into squares.

Lammastide  (July and the Dog Days)

refrigerator cakeIt’s true that sheet cakes aren’t as fancy as layer cakes, but unless you’re trying to impress company they taste the same.  Here’s another cake Maman used to make; it’s wonderfully refreshing in an oppressively-hot Louisiana summer.  Just bake a white cake in a 13” x 9” pan, and when it’s cool use a wooden skewer to poke holes at about 1-cm intervals over the whole top of the cake.  Pour the proper amount of boiling water over two regular-size packets of any flavor of dessert gelatin (in the US this would be two cups [480 ml] of water ) and stir until dissolved, about 2 minutes.  But do not then add cold water as one normally would when preparing the gelatin; instead pour it evenly over the top of the cake and set it in the refrigerator for at least four hours before cutting.

Mabontide  (September and late August)

To make up for all those homely cakes, here’s a very fancy one that’s my husband’s all-time favorite.  It isn’t just two layers, but three!  Usually I add green and red food coloring to the frosting to get a sort of mossy color in keeping with the name.  The fresher the eggs, the lighter and fluffier the result with this cake; farm-fresh eggs give the best result.  It’s also much easier if you have a stand mixer.

Moss Rose Cake

2 cups (480 ml) sifted flour
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
2 teaspoons (10 ml) baking powder
4 eggs
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) almond extract
1 cup (240 ml) hot milk

beaten whole eggsLet eggs sit at room temperature for half an hour while you grease and lightly flour three 8” or 9” round cake pans, then sift flour, salt and baking powder together three times.  Preheat oven to 350o Fahrenheit.  Beat eggs and almond extract on high speed for about five minutes, gradually adding sugar, until very thick; the mixture will cascade from the beater in a thick ribbon and mound up on the batter’s surface, then slowly vanish into it.  Gently fold flour mixture into egg mixture, then gradually add hot milk and stir quickly until the batter is smooth.  Divide evenly between the three pans and bake for 30 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly touched.  Cool layers in pans for 20 minutes while preparing frosting.

7-minute Frosting 

1½ cups (360 ml) sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) cold water
2 egg whites
¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) cream of tartar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) almond extract
Food coloring

In the top of a double boiler combine sugar, water, egg whites and cream of tartar and mix with electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds.  Place over boiling water and cook for seven minutes, mixing on high speed the whole time, until frosting forms stiff peaks.  Remove from heat, add extract and color, and beat for 2 or 3 minutes more until frosting reaches spreading consistency.  Carefully remove layer from pan, frost and stack layers, frost the whole cake and then sprinkle the top with ground pistachios (about ¼ or ½ cup of nuts ground up in a food processor should do it).

Autumntide  (October and November)

This is a simple but delicious seasonal cake; I used to make it often at UNO when friends came over to play Dungeons & Dragons.  As with Texas Brownies, you can use sour milk in place of buttermilk; put one tablespoon (15 ml) vinegar or lemon juice in a glass measuring cup, then add milk to the one-cup (240 ml) line and stir.  Allow to sit five minutes before using.

Pumpkin Spice Cake

2 cups (480 ml) flour
1½ teaspoons (8 ml) baking powder
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 ml) cinnamon
¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) each nutmeg, cloves and ginger
¼ cup butter (½ stick)
¼ cup (60 ml) vegetable shortening
1½ cups (360 ml) sugar
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk
½ cup (120 ml) cooked pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350o Fahrenheit, then grease and lightly flour two 9” round cake pans and stir together all dry ingredients except sugar.  Beat butter and shortening together with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for about 30 seconds, then add vanilla and sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Add pumpkin, then dry mixture and buttermilk alternately in thirds, beating at low speed after each just until combined.  Pour into pans and bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 20 minutes while preparing frosting.  Variations: Replace pumpkin with 1 cup (240 ml) applesauce and reduce buttermilk to ¼ cup (60 ml); or, omit fruit altogether and increase buttermilk to 1¼ cups (300 ml).

Browned Butter Frosting

In a small saucepan melt ½ cup (1 stick) butter over low heat, then continue heating until it turns a delicate brown.  Pour it into a mixing bowl with 4 cups (960 ml) powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons (30 ml) milk and 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla, beat on low speed until combined and then on medium to high speed until it reaches spreading consistency.

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Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.  –  “a great princess” (according to Rousseau)

I like cake, and I’m sure you do as well unless you’re some sort of disguised alien (just kidding)(not really).  But I wonder if you’ve considered the amazing variety of cakes that there are?  They come in many shapes, textures, flavors and presentations, and the familiar chocolate cake, wedding cake and the like represent a very small region of the cake world.  Recently, I realized I hadn’t done any recipes lately, and since a couple of sex workers I follow on Twitter often mention how much they love cake I was inspired to share some favorites you might not find in the typical cookbook.  I’ve assigned each of these recipes to one of the demi-seasons as I count them (each anchored by one of the sabbats), but you can really make most of them any time you like.  Some of these recipes are easy, and some a bit trickier; the first two are actually brioches, and two others (one today and one tomorrow) could even be made with a box cake (just don’t tell me if you do that).

There are a few general things I should note before we start; if you’re an experienced baker you can skip this paragraph.  First of all, DO NOT be tempted to replace butter with margarine; butter is pure fat, while margarine is an emulsion of fat and water which does not behave the same way in cake recipes and may ruin the results.  If you want low-fat, I’ll be happy to share my recipe for angel food cake if you haven’t got one (it has no fat whatsoever).  DO NOT omit salt if a recipe calls for it; it’s there for a reason, especially in the brioches (yeast needs a slightly saline environment in which to grow).  Use large eggs, and unless a recipe says otherwise add them one at a time, beating for about a minute after each.  You don’t need to use cake flour for any of these recipes, though you might get a slightly finer result from Moss Ross Cake (tomorrow) if you do.  Though I’ve provided metric equivalents for most ingredients, I don’t know whether sticks of butter are the same size in other countries as in the US, where a standard stick is 4 ounces (113 grams).  The same goes for pans; a 13” x 9” rectangular pan would be 33 x 23 cm, so use the closest equivalent.  Test most cakes for doneness by inserting a wooden toothpick or skewer near the center; if it comes out clean, it’s done.  Test sponge cakes (like Moss Rose) by lightly touching the top; if done, it will spring back.  And since brioche is really a sweet bread, panettone and king cake are tested as bread is: by tapping on the top, which sounds hollow when done.

Yuletide  (late November – January 5th)

Panettone is an Italian brioche traditionally eaten during Yuletide; you can buy it imported from Italy in a box, but making it fresh is so much better.  You’ll need a peculiar baking tin for this one: a large, clean coffee can with a volume of about 3 liters, or something similar to that.

4½ to 5½ cups (1 to 1.3 liters) flour
1 package fast-rising yeast
1 teaspoon (5 ml) nutmeg
1 tablespoon (15 ml) ground orange peel (orange zest)
1¼ cups (300 ml) milk
½ cup butter (1 stick)
¼ cup (60 ml) sugar
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) raisins
½ cup (120 ml) candied orange peels

panettoneCombine 2 cups (480 ml) flour, yeast, nutmeg and zest in a large mixing bowl.  Heat and stir milk, butter, sugar and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter almost completely melts, then pour the mixture over the flour mixture and beat with electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix on high speed for 3 more minutes.  Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can, plus raisins and peels.  Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough; this will take about 3 to 5 minutes and will still be slightly sticky when you’re done kneading.  Shape the dough into a ball, put it in a lightly greased bowl (cooking spray is perfect for this) and turn the ball to grease the surface of the dough.  Then cover it with a clean towel and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour.

Meanwhile, grease and lightly flour the coffee can, then cut a circle of waxed paper to fit in the bottom of the can and sprinkle a little more flour on it.  At the end of the rising time, make a fist and punch down into the uncovered dough (it will deflate as gas escapes), then gather it up and put it into the prepared can.  Let it rise until double again (another hour), and near the end of the time preheat the oven to 350o Fahrenheit.  Bake the loaf for 35 minutes, then drape a piece of aluminum foil on top to prevent overbrowning and bake 15 minutes more (50 minutes in all); the top should sound somewhat hollow when you tap on it.  Immediately remove the panettone from the tin to a cooling rack and dust the top with powdered sugar; when ready to serve, cut it with a bread knife.

Carnival  (January 6th – Mardi Gras)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In New Orleans, the traditional dessert of this season is king cake, the very first recipe I ever shared on this blog (on Twelfth Night, 2011).  Of all these it is the one most firmly attached to the season I’ve assigned it, though panettone is a close second and pumpkin cake third.

Lent  (Ash Wednesday – Easter Eve)

When I was a lass, Easter baskets in the Deep South could be counted on to prominently feature products from the Elmer’s candy company of New Orleans, and among the most prized of these was a chocolate, marshmallow and almond confection called Heavenly Hash.  Here’s a cake based on it, though it uses pecans rather than almonds; if you can’t get pecans I’m sure almonds would be just as nice.

Heavenly Hash Cake

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
4 eggs
1½ cups (360 ml) flour
1½ teaspoons (8 ml) baking powder
¼ cup (60 ml) cocoa powder
2 cups (480 ml) chopped pecans
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
3 cups (720 ml) miniature marshmallows
1 recipe icing (see below)

Heavenly Hash cakePreheat oven to 350o Fahrenheit, grease a 13” x 9” baking pan and sift dry ingredients together.  Beat butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds or so, then add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each one, then add flour mixture and mix well.  Add vanilla and pecans, mix just until combined and pour into pan.  Bake for 40 minutes or until done; remove from oven, immediately cover cake with marshmallows and prepare icing.

3½ cups (840 ml) sifted powdered sugar
¼ cup (60 ml) cocoa powder
½ cup (120 ml) cream or evaporated milk
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, melted

Beat together all ingredients until smooth; pour over hot marshmallow-covered cake.  Allow cake to cool thoroughly in pan, then cut into squares.

Springtide  (Easter – late May)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe arrival of spring meant Maman “would pay me far too much money to cut her lawn every week, and usually made a cake for me; my favorite one was a simple yellow cake made in a ring pan and drizzled with powdered-sugar icing flavored with a powdered drink mix.”  I now call it Love Cake in memory of my beloved Maman.  Just bake a regular yellow cake in a tube pan (an angel food cake pan); you’ll probably need to add 5 minutes to the baking time.  Cool it for 20 minutes in the pan before removing it, then combine 2 cups (480 ml) sifted powdered sugar with ½ a packet (just under a teaspoon, about 4 ml) unsweetened powdered drink mix and 2 or 3 tablespoons (30-45 ml) milk and mix well; drizzle it evenly over the top of the cake, letting it pour down the sides.  You can use any flavor, but I like orange best.

Tomorrow:  Four more recipes for the other half of the year!

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All because it’s carnival time
Well, it’s carnival time
Well it’s carnival time
Everybody’s having fun.
  -  Al Johnson, “Carnival Time

Mardi Gras 2014 by Andrea MistrettaAs I’ve written before, “even though today isn’t a holiday for most of you, it will always be one for me,” and though I don’t live in the city any longer I always try to avoid going anyplace on Fat Tuesday (in French, Mardi Gras) because it’s just too weird seeing everything open and everyone acting as though it isn’t a holiday.  See, even though the occasion’s rationale is strictly Catholic (it’s the last day one can eat, drink and be merry before the solemn season of Lent begins tomorrow, Ash Wednesday), the actual celebration is purely pagan and comes down in a direct line from the Babylonian Zagmuk by way of Saturnalia and medieval Twelfth Night celebrations.  The mock king who was sacrificed in the true king’s place became for centuries the Lord of Misrule, then eventually a mock king again…wearing raiment made to last one day and a cardboard crown, seated on a papier-mâché throne and dispensing plastic largesse to people who are not his subjects.  That’s why it’s so funny to hear idiots babbling about the ribaldry and excess of carnival and attempting to shame women for baring their tits; the misbehavior is exactly the point, and the deities who preside over the festival are not those associated with Christianity, but rather the ancient pagan gods who, in New Orleans alone out of this whole grim, Puritanical country, have never fully relinquished their rule.

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A slave is one who waits for someone else to free him.  -  Rosellen Brown

Save Us from SaviorsAsian sex worker activists are my heroes; they are everything I wish American sex worker activists could be.  Here in the US, we let the media run so absolutely wild in spreading the prohibitionists’ poisonous lies that the few of us who do speak up almost seem like proof of the prohibitionist myth that we are “unrepresentative”.  But when they use that same asinine strategy on Asian sex workers, it merely makes them look foolish: consider, for example, Nicholas Kristof’s claim that all 65,000 members of DMSC are “pimps”; it made him look like a clown rather than a savior, and has not exactly entered into the prohibitionist arsenal of slurs as he might have liked.  Read that number again:  sixty-five thousand.  And Durbar is only one of many such organizations in India:  SANGRAM, VAMP and others are so numerous and so influential that if it were not for the vast resources pumped into the country by American prohibitionists I have no doubt they would have achieved decriminalization long ago.  Sex worker organizations in Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea are equally formidable, and like India wouldn’t suffer nearly the level of criminalization and police abuse that they do were it not for the flood of American money and busybodies pouring into them via both governmental and non-governmental channels.  Yet unlike sex workers in the US, they refuse to take this abuse lying down, crawling into the shadows to cry like whipped dogs; on the contrary, they band together to fight all the harder, holding massive demonstrations and press conferences, doing their own studies to counter rescue industry mythmaking, and otherwise acting in their own defense instead of waiting for someone else to “save” them as all too many American sex workers are wont to do.  It’s terribly ironic: the people whom prohibitionists characterize as most in need of “rescue” are actually those least in need of it.

That’s why I am glad to see today, Sex Worker Rights Day, finally beginning to gain the attention it deserves; you see, it is the only one of the “big three” sex worker observances with an Asian origin:

[Sex Worker Rights Day]…originated in India in 2001 as a festival organized by the sex worker rights organization Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, and attended by 25,000 sex workers despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who tried to prevent it by pressuring the government to revoke their permit.  In celebration of their victory over those who wish to criminalize and marginalize sex workers, DMSC proposed it as an annual, international event the following year:  “We felt strongly that that we should have a day what need to be observed by the sex workers community globally…Knowing the usual response of international bodies and views of academicians and intellectuals of the 1st world (many of them consider that sex workers of third world are different from 1st world and can’t take their decision) a call coming from a third world country would be more appropriate at this juncture, we believe.  It will be a great pleasure to us if all of you observe the day in your own countries too…

Though the day caught on fairly rapidly in Asia and Africa, it was still virtually unrecognized in Europe and North America in 2008, and only barely recognized the first time I wrote about it in 2011.  But it’s quickly gained ground since then; by 2012 a number of Westerners were writing about it online, and last year it seemed to get even more attention than Whores’ Day.  As I wrote in my column for the latter occasion, “The sex worker rights movement was born in the West, but it has come of age in the East and South, and it is their example which is most heartening to those of us struggling under the near-constant persecution of our profession in the United States.”  While it’s true that the movement in Australia and New Zealand has succeeded in winning the best conditions for sex workers, those activists didn’t have to contend with the racism, colonialism and blatant interventionism against which Asian sex workers must struggle for every tiny gain; furthermore, they’ve succeeded in moving forward while Europe has been trapped in a dramatic backslide.  That’s why I’m proud to hold them up as an inspiration for Western activists, and to do my small part in promoting a celebration which they created. Sex Workers' Freedom Festival

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Oh, if it be to choose and call thee mine, love, thou art every day my Valentine!  –  Thomas Hood

Prayer to Saint ValentineRegular readers know that I’m fond of holidays; I believe that rituals are important, and holidays help to give the year structure (especially in these modern times when so many are isolated from the natural ebb and flow of the seasons).  But as careful readers may have already surmised, I do not really care for Valentine’s Day.  Even as a child, it struck me as a rather odd kind of celebration; even the symbolism associated with it always seemed weird to me, and that’s no less true now than it was then.  Though I do like getting cards expressing sincere affection, the sort of sentiment touted by valentines is the polar opposite of sincerity.  And while I appreciate good puns, those which infest Valentines are never good.  And then there are the presents; it seems to me that most people believe the first rule of Valentine gift-giving is to get the recipient something she would never buy for herself, and the more expensive the better.  Chocolates are not figure-friendly, and if a man got me roses at the dramatically-inflated price florists demand for this one day when he wasn’t in the habit of getting them for me at times when they were priced more reasonably, I always felt as though he was doing it not because he wanted to, but because he thought he had to.  As I wrote last year,

An obligatory “gift” of a certain expected value which must be presented at a certain time in order to retain a woman’s sexual favors is not a love offering, but rather a whore’s fee.  And while I obviously have absolutely nothing against that, I prefer for it to be an honest and consensual arrangement mutually agreed upon by two adults, rather than a coercive charade designed to mask the transactional nature of a sexual relationship.

Some of you may name me a cynic, and you would be correct.  But don’t make the mistake of thinking that it was harlotry which so made me; I was already thinking about this in high school.  I have nothing against sincere romantic expression, but surely (as today’s epigram implies) that isn’t something limited to a specific day.

There’s one other thing which makes Valentine’s Day different from all other holidays in my mind:  while all the others are inclusive, this one is exclusive.  Holidays are times for friends, families and others to gather and celebrate together, but Valentine’s Day festivities (except, perhaps, for polyamorists) are exactly the opposite.  Lovers tend to seek every available excuse to be alone together anyway; it hardly seems necessary to set aside a special day for that, especially one on which the show is celebrated above the substance.

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Candlemas 2014

Still lie the sheltering snows, undimmed and white;
And reigns the winter’s pregnant silence still;
No sign of spring, save that the catkins fill,
And willow stems grow daily red and bright.
These are days when ancients held a rite
Of expiation for the old year’s ill,
And prayer to purify the new year’s will. 
-  Helen Hunt Jackson, “February”

Imbolc by Wendy AndrewThough in some climes spring may indeed start to appear soon after this day, it is almost never true in the center of North America; here February is often the coldest part of the winter, and where I live it’s often our snowiest month.  So it matters little what any groundhog or other sacred animal supposedly predicts; here, there are still six weeks left of winter, even if it’s a mild one.  I’m a little shy of predicting one way or the other this year; though I have a much better record than the famous Pennsylvania rodent (about 70% accuracy to his 39%), I was wrong last year and this winter’s weather has been so weird I’m not sure what to think.  Ah, well, que sera, sera; it’s not like we make long-term plans based on such predictions anyhow.  Since I’m not a farmer, early spring has no particular charm for me; though it is my second-favorite season after autumn, I’m content to let it come when it comes (unlike autumn, which I’m always happy to see arrive early).  In these parts, winter is trickier than summer; though summer rarely makes a surprise reappearance after autumn has arrived, winter barges back in during early spring so often that I have come to expect it.  And though I like winter better than summer, there is nothing I dislike more than a rude and unwelcome cold snap in April, just in time to kill the new flowers.  Better for the spring to gather her strength and wait to make her debut when she’s good and ready, than to rush things and leave herself vulnerable to winter’s inability to make a punctual exit.

A happy Candlemas to you, dear readers, and Blessed Be!

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I refuse to replace perfectly good words with ugly, cumbersome, polysyllabic abortions which are designed to obscure the truth with a cloak of vagueness, or to clutter good English sentences with a host of qualifiers, de-intensifiers, weasel-words and apologetics intended to sap the strength of the text like a school of lampreys attached to a shark.  -  “New Year’s Day

Girls in ChainsJanuary of 2011 was a transitional month for this blog.  I was still only writing a little in advance, and an unexpected event like an illness could leave me flat-footed; hence the rather disorganized “What’s the Buzz?” (in which I clearly state that I’m still manually posting columns rather than scheduling them, a practice I didn’t start until August 1st of that year).  “Gilda” was one of the last biographies of someone I knew personally, and “Hello, Dolly!” the last of a non-harlot in the harlotography slot; other than the still-undeveloped way I was organizing the miscellanea columns (“January Miscellanea”, “January Updates” and “Holiday Leftovers”) and the absence of some features that came along later, the blog otherwise looked much like it does today.  As I mentioned last month, most of the columns from this period even read like my current style, and several (notably “Welcome To Our World”) are frequently linked in TW3 columns.

Big BirdThis month also marked the first appearance of a number of people and things that would later become regular topics.  “Dog Bites Man”, “Social Autoimmune Disorder” and “Harm Reduction” introduced concepts I would revisit often, as did “Creating Criminals” (universal criminality); then “Doublethink”, “Grow the Hell Up!” and “Convenient and Inconvenient Victims” all looked at the trend toward redefining whores as victims.  And though I had looked at “sex trafficking” hysteria before, there were several landmarks: “Acting and Activism” saw the first appearance of “trafficking” buffoons Mira Sorvino, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher; “A Manufactured War” was my first attack on CNN, “Aggressive Ignorance” my first full-scale mockeryThermopylae of rescue industry organizations, and “Numerology” my first full-scale debunking of the numerical myths.  The latter column also provided my first huge surge in traffic when Radley Balko linked it on The Agitator a week later.  The post still draws quite a few visitors, but not as many as my expose on “Ashley Madison”, which is my second-most-viewed post of all time.

12th Night Revellers invitation 1884Of course, there were already some regular features by this time; besides “January Q & A” and a fictional interlude (“The Specialist”), there were the miscellanea and harlotography columns.  The month’s holidays were “New Year’s Day”, “Twelfth Night” and “King Day”, and though “January Second” isn’t a holiday, it got its own column nonetheless.  Rounding out the month were “The Cold, Grey Light of Dawn” (in which the truth begins to dawn on some prohibitionist sympathizers); “Born, Not Made” (could there be a “hooker gene”?); “Walking Stereotype Sues Whore” (self-explanatory); “Shifting the Blame” (“authorities” pretend Long Island killings are the fault of someone other than the murderer); and “Wild Guessing” (a two-part vivisection of yet another ersatz prohibitionist “study”). Gotham skyline

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