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Archive for November, 2011

If I can’t sell it, I’m gonna sit down on it.
Why should I give it away?
Now darling if you want it,
You got to buy it.
And I mean just what I say.
  –  Andy Razaf and W. Alexander Hill

I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing another hooker song column so soon, but several of you made such good suggestions after my last one, and then Tits and Sass visited the subject on the 13th and regular reader B.B. Wye emailed me on the 8th about a song he wrote and recorded, so I think the Universe is telling me that it’s time.  Our title comes courtesy of Feminist Whore, who posted the lyrics and video on her site and in this commentAmazing Susan suggested Bob Seger’s “Main Street”, which is an awesome song but I didn’t use it today because it’s technically about a stripper, and Rapid suggested the sea chanty “A Whale of a Tale” which was performed by Kirk Douglas in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; unfortunately Disney changed the third verse so Harpoon Hannah was a hag rather than a whore, so it didn’t make the cut!  The first one which did is from Bruce Hornsby and the Range and was suggested by Krulac:

Down the Road Tonight (Bruce and John Hornsby)

There’s a place
A local roadside shack
A poor man’s Paris with parking in the back.
There’s a girl there
She knows how to unwind
She don’t talk much but she knows just how to act.
I said – Don’t tell me she don’t love me,
The money’s just a mere formality.

(refrain) Every day, every night
Something’s going on, something’s going on
Down the road over yonder.
Any place, any time when I’m fading
My love lies waiting
Down the road tonight.

When I was younger
All the older boys
Would drive me way out past the county fairground.
They’d laugh and point out
This roadside trailer
And say something wild’s going on over there.
They said – What they’re doing
Don’t mean nothing to you now
But someday it’ll mean everything.

(refrain)

There were movies in the parlor
They were dealing one-eyed jacks
And when I said I loved her
She said – Just keep coming back.

(refrain)

Like the characters in several other songs we’ve seen in previous columns, Hornsby’s sensitive, lonely young man is in love with a whore and would rather not believe that her feelings toward him are purely commercial.  B.B. Wye’s character clearly has a healthier attitude toward his favorite working girls, seeing them as friends rather than lovers:

Midtown Asian Sex Spa (B.B. Wye)

You’ve got the number to call,
It’s not the one they advertise
The minute she opens the door,
You know it’s gonna be all right
She takes your hand and leads you
To a room all aglow
She’s gonna spread you out in halting English
And wash you tip to toe

(refrain) How come you’re all so super sweet and nice and super sweet and fun
How come you’re all so super sweet and super nice and sweet and fun
Oh, you’re so super sweet and fun and sweet and nice
How come you’re all so super sweet and super fun and sweet and nice
Oh, Bibi, Suki, Mimi, Kim! I can’t wait to see my friends
At the Midtown Asian sex spa, the Midtown Asian sex spa
The Midtown Asian sex spa again

Naked and all squeaky clean,
On a towel on a spread on a bed
You wait for her quiet return —
This is where it all has led
The table shower just a hint
Of wonders to come
That was funny that time when Cici came in
With a big, bright “Honey, I’m home!”

(refrain)

Her smile, a little bit sly,
Sends me out into the city sun
Her eyes shimmer and shine
With pride in a job well done
Well, maybe I’m just old and vain
Or old, vain and old
I think she guesses how her generosity
Touches my soul

(refrain)

Of course, not all prostitutes are as professional as Wye’s massage girls; Joni Mitchell’s character in our next selection (suggested by reader Joe Bar) is obviously a ne’er-do-well who has turned to hooking because she isn’t any good at anything else:

Raised on Robbery (Joni Mitchell)

He was sitting in the lounge of the Empire Hotel
He was drinking for diversion
He was thinking for himself
A little money riding on the Maple Leafs
Along comes a lady in lacy sleeves
She says let me sit down
You know, drinkin’ alone’s a shame
It’s a shame it’s a crying shame
Look at those jokers
Glued to that damn hockey game
Hey honey-you’ve got lots of cash
Bring us round a bottle
And we’ll have some laughs
Gin’s what I’m drinking
I was raised on robbery

I’m a pretty good cook
I’m sitting on my groceries
Come up to my kitchen
I’ll show you my best recipe
I try and I try but I can’t save a cent
I’m up after midnight cooking
Trying to make my rent
I’m rough but I’m pleasin’
I was raised on robbery

We had a little money once
They were pushing through a four lane highway
Government gave us three thousand dollars
You should have seen it fly away
First he bought a ’57 Biscayne
He put it in the ditch
He drunk up all the rest
That son of a bitch
His blood’s bad whiskey
I was raised on robbery

You know you ain’t bad looking
I like the way you hold your drinks
Come home with me honey
I ain’t asking for no full length mink
Hey, where you going
Don’t go yet
Your glass ain’t empty and we just met
You’re mean when your loaded
I was raised on robbery

Because of the lively tempo and light treatment, what could be a hard-luck story instead comes across as comical and upbeat; one gets the feeling that whatever setbacks she may encounter, Mitchell’s “rough but pleasing” lady will continue to muddle through somehow.  The song was first recorded in 1973, the same year as the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar was released; as I’ve pointed out before, Rice’s lyrics follow the traditional portrayal of Mary Magdalene as a harlot, and in this song Judas takes exception with the way Jesus favors her:

Strange Thing Mystifying (Tim Rice)

Judas:  It seems to me a strange thing, mystifying
That a man like you can waste his time on women of her kind.
Yes, I can understand that she amuses
But to let her kiss you, stroke your hair – that’s hardly in your line.
It’s not that I object to her profession,
But she doesn’t fit in well with what you teach and say.
It doesn’t help us if you’re inconsistent;
They only need a small excuse to put us all away.

Jesus:  Who are you to criticize her?
Who are you to despise her?
Leave her, leave her, let her be now
Leave her, leave her, she’s with me now
If your slate is clean, then you can throw stones;
If your slate is not, then leave her alone!

I actually prefer the original version with Murray Head as Judas and Ian Gillian with Jesus; the words of that one are very slightly different but they don’t change the meaning.

While our last lady isn’t strictly a prostitute, she’s obviously a serious gold digger, and that’s close enough to justify it at this time of year:

Santa Baby (J. Javits and P. Springer )

Santa Baby, just slip a sable under the tree,
For me.
Been an awful good girl, Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa baby, a ‘54 convertible too,
Light blue.
I’ll wait up for you dear, Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.

Think of all the fun I’ve missed,
Think of all the fellas that I haven’t kissed,
Next year I could be just as good,
If you’ll check off my Christmas list.

Santa baby, I wanna yacht, and really that’s not
A lot.
Been an angel all year, Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa honey, there’s one more thing I really do need,
The deed
To a platinum mine, Santa honey,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa cutie, and fill my stocking with a duplex,
And checks.
Sign your ‘X’ on the line, Santa cutie,
And hurry down the chimney tonight.

Come and trim my Christmas tree,
With some decorations bought at Tiffany’s,
I really do believe in you,
Let’s see if you believe in me.

Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing,
A ring.
I don’t mean on the phone, Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight,
Hurry down the chimney tonight,
Hurry, tonight.

Thanks for all the suggestions; if this keeps up I reckon we’ll be seeing another column like this in January!

One Year Ago Today

Pam” is the story of the simply awful woman who owned the first escort service I ever worked for.

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Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.  –  Joseph Campbell

The renowned expert on mythology, Joseph Campbell, often advised lecture attendees to “follow your bliss”, in other words to pursue the life-path that results in the greatest happiness and fulfillment.  Campbell argued that it’s impossible to know whether one is really doing the “right” or proper thing in a cosmic sense, but one does always know what makes him feel right.  I think that’s good advice for healthy, self-aware people, but perhaps not so much so for deeply disturbed or sexually unbalanced individuals.  But even they often seem to “follow their bliss” into careers which let them immerse themselves in their passions, and when those passions involve socially forbidden subjects reaction formation often takes a hand in their career choices.

Most of you probably recall that reaction formation is a psychological defense mechanism by which the human mind shields itself from uncomfortable feelings or desires by forming an obsession with the exact opposite of that thing; for example, a preacher who is obsessed by porn might frequently speak out against it from the pulpit, and a man who is obsessed with child porn in particular might champion legislation against it, or even seek a position investigating allegations of pedophilia:

A Catholic Church child safety co-ordinator who was in charge of investigating sexual abuse allegations was jailed for 12 months today for internet peadophile [sic] offences.  Christopher Jarvis…investigated historic claims of child abuse, interviewing the victims when they were adults.  He was responsible for child protection at 120 churches and parish community groups for nine years…and…had access to police and social services information about victims of child abuse.  As a result of the conviction and sentencing, the Roman Catholic Church has ordered a review of child protection across the South West of England.

…Jarvis…was arrested after uploading images of pre-pubescent boys on to the Ning social networking website…police officers who traced him to his home…found more than 4,000 child porn images, mainly of boys aged 10 to 12, on his church-supplied computer and a memory stick…The majority, 3,721, were at Level One…but there were 120 at Level Four, which includes scenes of child rape, and 12 at Level Five, which can include scenes of torture and sadism…he had [also] viewed erotic content about a relationship between a nine-year-old boy and an adult man.

…Judge Paul Darlow dismissed attempts by the defence to have sentence deferred to examine whether Jarvis [who claims to have been abused as a child] would benefit more from psychiatric help than prison…”You, of all people, were more aware than others of the massive theft of innocence and long-term damage exacted on the children whose images you downloaded for your own sexual gratification…In the circumstances, your behaviour was more elective and cynical than might otherwise have been the case…It had a deep impact upon the church.  In the eyes of the public you had a respectable position in the church…”

A judge is not a psychologist, but it shouldn’t take more than a passing understanding of the subject to recognize that Jarvis did not download child porn in spite of his job as the judge seems to presume, but rather sought the position in the first place due to his fascination with the subject of pederasty.  Obviously there is no way to prove it, but I strongly suspect that the great majority of men who take jobs which require them to deal with child porn do so because they are aroused by it.  Similarly, if you’re a journalist who is turned on by fantasies of very young girls held in sexual slavery, you might (theoretically, of course) get a job at a major newspaper (such as, for example, The New York Times) writing column after column about young girls held in sexual slavery, expressing your great disgust and deep indignation for the awful monsters who enslave them yet describing their situations in lurid (some might even say loving) detail:

…Srey Pov’s family sold her to a brothel when she was 6 years old.  She was unaware of sex but soon found out:  A Western pedophile purchased her virginity, she said, and the brothel tied her naked and spread-eagled on a bed so that he could rape her…After that, the girl was in huge demand because she was so young.  Some 20 customers raped her nightly, she remembers.  And the brothel twice stitched her vagina closed so that she could be resold as a virgin.  This agonizingly painful practice is common in Asian brothels, where customers sometimes pay hundreds of dollars to rape a virgin…Repeatedly, she tried to escape the brothel but she said that each time she was caught and brutally punished with beatings and electric shocks.  The brothel, like many in Cambodia, also had a punishment cell to break the will of rebellious girls…each time she rebelled she was locked naked in the darkness in a barrel half-full of sewage, replete with vermin and scorpions that stung her regularly.  I asked how long she was punished this way…“The longest?” she remembered.  “It was a week”…

Yes, I’m talking about “Creepy” Kristof again.  I’ve mentioned him before, most recently in yesterday’s column, but I can never get over the fact that this man apparently has legions of credulous female readers swooning over his “courage” (because obviously it takes a real man to go along with a moral panic).  These silly women are apparently far too naive to pick up on the fact that all of Kristof’s columns on the subject (and there are many, going back at least six years) read as though they were typed one-handed.  Call me cynical if you like, and there’s absolutely no way that I can prove it, but I’ll bet I know what Old Nick is thinking about when he dates Mrs. Palm and her five daughters.  I’m certainly not the only one who thinks so; I’ve seen other whores allude to it in comments, and I imagine it must at least cross the mind of most of his male readers.  In fact, I’m amazed that Kristof has as many male readers as he does…but of course, denial is a powerful defense mechanism as well.

One Year Ago Today

As Young As Possible” was my first column on the “studies” produced by the Schapiro Group, which are so laden with bias, spurious methodology and unsupported conclusions they aren’t even good enough to qualify as junk science.

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Only when human sorrows are turned into a toy with glaring colors will baby people become interested—for a while at least.  The people are a very fickle baby that must have new toys every day.  –  Emma Goldman

Schadenfreude is a German word which means “the act of taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others”.  Generally it’s used to mean an openly-sadistic enjoyment such as that derived from watching gladiatorial combats or contemplating the downfall of one’s enemies and (as Conan expressed it) hearing the lamentation of their women.  But I would argue that there is another, more subtle kind of schadenfreude, one which cloaks itself in empathy; it is the secret satisfaction felt by the haves while indulging themselves in Pharisean displays of pity for the have-nots or victims of disasters, sometimes while distributing petty largesse but usually while lugubriously expressing sympathy for them while shedding crocodile tears in their air-conditioned houses, wearing designer clothes and watching every possible moment of the spectacle on their big-screen plasma television sets.

This is not to say that there is no such thing as genuine, heartfelt sympathy, nor that all public appeals to charity are automatically insincere; in fact, I think it’s pretty easy to tell the difference.  When the speaker calls more attention to the people than to the plight, to facts over feelings and to the cause rather than to himself, one can be reasonably certain one is looking upon sincere empathy.  But when the speaker dwells lovingly upon lurid details, treats humans as passive objects to be done to (“rescued”, “saved”, kept from making their own choices, etc) instead of helped, arranges as many photo-ops with starving children/trafficking survivors/ disaster victims as possible and makes sure that his own name and image are always prominently associated with his crusade, one can be equally certain that one beholds a narcissistic “baby person” whose interest in tragedy is his own self-aggrandizement and a paternalistic satisfaction in controlling “lesser” (usually brown-skinned and/or female) people “for their own good”.

The “rescue” industry is stocked to the rafters with such people, middle-class white Westerners seeking to assuage their self-inflicted guilt by “getting involved”.  If these organizations were to limit themselves to disaster aid, famine relief and other such clear-cut issues, providing whatever aid was specifically requested by the victims rather than trying to run the show, assign blame and pass judgment on the lives and morality of others (not to mention abducting their children), I honestly wouldn’t give a damn if they were doing it for their own selfish purposes; after all, the fact that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs aggressively promoted personal computing for the purpose of making themselves rich does not change the fact that they helped to make the internet as we know it possible.  Motive is immaterial as long as the actions are wholly beneficent and remain that way, but when the self-appointed “rescuers” start to meddle in the lives of others, disrupting their cultures and governments, destroying the livelihoods of women and even abducting, confining and attempting to brainwash and enslave them in the name of “saving” them, that is another thing entirely.  In such cases the selfish motives of the “rescuers” are very much the point.

As Laura Agustín points out, the mildest form of this self-interest is mere tourism (much like the “disaster tourism” after Hurricane Katrina), “Rescue Industry  prurience rooted in racism and colonialism” designed to help comparatively-wealthy Westerners feel good about themselves.  But if the “rescuer’s” desire to build his own ego, to feel as though he is part of something bigger than himself or to experience the visceral excitement of “saving” people (without actually having to endanger himself by being a fireman or a disaster rescue worker, of course) becomes so powerful that his own emotional needs supersede any of the needs of those he supposedly “helps”, it’s very easy for him to lose sight of what people actually need or want or to convince himself that he knows better than they do.  Trafficking fanatics now claim that their campaign to deny agency to whores is the new civil rights movement, a conceit which would be hilarious if it weren’t so sick.  It’s as though white people in the 1960s had cast their denial of black people’s rights as a way to “protect” them from the control of other, “evil” white people who were smarter, emotionally stronger and more sophisticated than poor, stupid, childlike colored folks.

But the worst of the “rescuers” go far, far beyond merely ignoring the needs of others and/or unconsciously buying into self-serving mythology; they consciously and calculatedly blur the lines between consensual adult prostitution and slavery, deny that sex workers are capable of adult decision-making, inflate statistics, attempt to hide evidence which contradicts their claims and invent incredible justifications for their own outrageous behavior.  For some of them, this is done in order to win public and governmental support for their Christian or neofeminist religious crusade against all prostitution; for governments in East Asia, it’s done to secure funding from the United States, and for people like Somaly Mam, it’s done as a way to exorcise personal demons while controlling others and making themselves feel important.  Since it passed draconian anti-prostitute laws three years ago in order to please its masters in Washington, Cambodia has become a particularly nasty nexus for all three of these types:  Cambodian police, aided and abetted by Somaly Mam (who is herself financed by money from neofeminists, religious fanatics, trafficking alarmists and the garment industry), have conducted a series of high-profile brothel raids and streetwalker sweeps, often accompanied by Western journalists like Nicholas Kristof who are interested in advancing their careers and reputations by pandering to “trafficking” hysteria.

None of these people care one iota about the lives, needs and desires of women; “rescuing” whores is to them nothing but a means to their own personal ends, and after the cameras stop rolling or Kristof stops “tweeting”  they are no more interested in these women’s welfare than they would be in the container which held a portion of recently-consumed food.  The “rescued victims” are thrown into filthy, crowded cells at Somaly Mam’s “rehabilitation centers” where they are beaten, robbed, gang-raped and starved while their “savior” hobnobs with celebrities and receives accolades from anti-whore fanatics.  Young girls who submit to brainwashing become Somaly Mam’s “poster children” and older ones are sent as slaves to sweatshops, while those who refuse are simply left to rot unless they can escape.  Groups like Human Rights Watch have repeatedly protested this horrific abuse, and sex worker rights groups have released short documentaries like “Caught Between the Tiger and the Crocodile” or videos like “Somaly Uh Uh” in order to alert Westerners to the atrocities their ignorant and ill-considered jihad against harlotry has enabled.  But they’re shouting into a hurricane; the credulous masses refuse to listen while they’re eagerly licking up the lurid, near-pedophiliac accounts Kristof and others like him serve up for their schadenfreude.

One Year Ago Today

What a Week!” reported on a number of whore-related stories including police persecution of a severely-disabled man seeking a prostitute, a sex worker safety column on Jezebel, Charlie Sheen’s meltdown, cops admitting their total impotence in halting online hooker ads, the opening of a mega-brothel in Spain and the advent of new advertising restrictions on Backpage.

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Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.  –  H.L. Mencken

One year ago today I published “November Q & A”, in which I answered the questions “Would you like to do a science fiction anthology with sex work as a subject?”, “How were you able to get through anal rape without screaming?”,  “Did a condom ever break inside you?” and “Doesn’t monogamy get kinda old  for a sexually liberated woman like yourself?”  But from an activist standpoint, the most important question was, “So if the average age at which a woman enters prostitution isn’t really 13, what age is it?”  In retrospect, I probably should’ve given that question a column of its own or at least led off with it, because whenever I’ve referred back to that post I have to specify that it’s the second answer.  So today, I plan to revisit the subject and recalculate the figure using excerpts from previous columns, thus bringing a few threads together in one easily-linked place.

If you’re arguing with someone who has bought into the trafficking mythology and won’t sit still for the recitation of figures, there’s a very simple reductio ad absurdum with which you can point out the impossibility of the claim:  If the “average age” of a given group of people is 13, that means that (roughly speaking) for every 14-year-old in the group there is a 12-year-old, for every 17-year-old a 9-year-old, etc.  In other words, if the “average age at which a girl enters prostitution” were really 13, for every woman who started at 25 there would be someone who started at 1.  Obviously, this isn’t exact; one 40-year-old could also be balanced by nine 10-year-olds, but I honestly don’t think even the trafficking fanatics believe that kind of age imbalance could possibly exist.  They simply don’t consider the implications of their bogus “statistics”; they merely parrot them without thought and therefore never recognize just how ludicrous they are.  But who started this nonsense in the first place?

As so often happens, the bogus “fact” is based on a (possibly deliberate) distortion of a miscalculation in a deeply-flawed, badly-structured 2001 study by Richard Estes and Neil Weiner of the University of Pennsylvania entitled “The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U. S., Canada and Mexico”, which is also the source of the ubiquitous (and equally erroneous) claim that “100,000-300,000 American children are trafficked as sexual slaves”.  Estes and Weiner claim that among the underage prostitutes they studied, “The age range of entry…for the boys…was somewhat younger than that of the girls, i.e., 11-13 years vs. 12-14 years, respectively.”  In other words, they claimed that the “13 at entry” figure was only for underage prostitutes, not for all prostitutes, and even then it’s absurd as explained in the preceding paragraph.  Without seeing Estes & Weiner’s data we can’t be sure exactly what statistical errors they made, but as Emi Koyama of Eminism explains, there’s a built-in error caused by using the artificial cutoff age of 18:

For the sake of discussion, let’s pretend that in a small town, six minors enter into prostitution each year, one individual each for ages 12-17.  That means that there is one 12 year old, one 13 year old, one 14 year old, and so on.  The average age of entry in this hypothetical town is the average of these six individuals, which is (12+13+14+15+16+17)/6 = 14.5.  But when researchers arrive in this town, they don’t just survey these six minors:  they will also survey others who have started prostitution in the years past.  So for any given year when the research is conducted, there are one 12 year old (who entered at 12), two 13 year olds (entered at 12 and 13), three 14 year olds (entered at 12, 13, and 14), and so on.  The average among all of these youth will be…13.7 – which is almost one year younger than the actual average age of entry.  This discrepancy is caused by limiting the research subject to minors.  [One] who entered into prostitution at age 12 has six years in which he or she might be surveyed…while [one] who entered at 17 has only one year, which artificially inflates the proportion of research participants who entered early.  In short, we cannot know the actual “average age of entry” by simply averaging the age of entry reported by research participants.

Though Estes & Weiner didn’t share their data the charts provided by the anti-prostitute organization Shared Hope International (which seems to be the original source of the distortion from “the average underage prostitute” to “the average prostitute”) demonstrate (as Emi calculates) an average of 15.91, three years higher than their verbal claims and slightly higher than the average reported by the John Jay study, which was 15.15 for girls and 15.28 for boys.  Incidentally, it also found that only 15% of teen hookers entered the trade at an age below 13, which absolutely demolishes any notion of 13 as “average”.

In last November’s essay I reported a study of 100 independent escorts which asked how old they were when they entered the trade; it generated the following results:

Younger than 15: 3%
15-17: 11%
18-20: 13%
21-23: 18%
24-26: 16%
27-29: 10%
30-32: 10%
Older than 32: 19%

A secondary poll of the “over 32” respondents revealed that the average age for that category was 42; we can estimate the average for the “under 15″ category as the fanatics’ beloved 13. Given these figures, the average age of entry into prostitution for American escorts is 26.46, which we’ll round down to 26.  It’s difficult to know what percentage of all American prostitutes are escorts, but I would suspect 60% is a good guesstimate; with our standard 15% streetwalker estimate that would allow 25% in brothels and massage parlors.

At the time I wrote the previous article I had not yet made my study of the New Zealand figures and so was forced to err on the fanatics’ side regarding the number of streetwalkers who are underage.  But based on that data, we can now make a much better estimate:  there are roughly 16,000 underage female prostitutes in the U.S., of whom roughly 12,000 (75%) are streetwalkers.  The total U.S. streetwalker population is approximately 70,000, therefore underage streetwalkers are about 17% of the total.  Assuming that the average adult streetwalker starts about the same age as the average escort (which is probably a bit too high, but we’ll make it up on brothel girls in the next paragraph), and that the average underage streetwalker starts at 15 (the John Jay figure), we arrive at an average streetwalker entry age of 24.

There are about 443,000 prostitutes in the United States, of which we’ve estimated 25% (111,000) work in brothels or massage parlors.  If we assume that the 25% of underage prostitutes who aren’t streetwalkers work in brothels (the percentage who are escorts is miniscule), that gives us 4000/111,000 = 3.6% of brothel workers who are underage, essentially equal to the total underage figure of 3.54%.  I’m going to err on the fanatics’ side and assume that the average adult brothel worker begins at the overall streetwalker average of 24, and that the average underage brothel worker begins at the same age as the average underage streetwalker, namely 15; this gives us an average starting age for brothel workers of 23.68, which I’m going to round down to 23 to be on the safe side.

So let’s crunch the numbers:  if 60% start at an average age of 26, 15% at an average age of 24 and 25% at an average age of 23, the average age at which American hookers enter the profession is 24.95, which we’ll round off to 25; I think everyone can agree that’s safely into the adult range.

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‘Tis the eye of childhood that fears a painted devil.  –  William Shakespeare, Macbeth (II, ii)

Very young children are unable to distinguish image from reality; they perceive frightening pictures or hostile words as equivalent to concrete threats.  Rational adults understand that this is not so; things without physical power to harm, however shocking or unpleasant they may be, can be dismissed by the disciplined mind and therefore cannot be compared to tangible phenomena.  That’s why many people enjoy horror movies; they enable us to confront terrifying images or ideas in a safe environment.  No matter how awful the fictional spook, it has no actual power to harm us, so we’re free to experience fear without long-term repercussions.  The same could be said of tragedies, adventure stories and even porn; the feelings they evoke are mere specters, with no ability to reach into the physical world unless we give it to them.  Like vampires, the emotions produced by words and images can only cause harm by invitation; as Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” and no one can make you feel anything else without your consent, either.

But somehow, people in Western countries have lost sight of this simple principle.  I suspect it’s due to the fact that so many of them live in a state of  complete isolation from Nature; because they are rarely (if ever) in any real danger, words and pictures (which they encounter frequently) seem to be more of a threat than actual physical menaces.  How many people in Western countries are really worried about, say, bubonic plague or lightning strike?  These dangers are far too remote to cause alarm, because everyone knows they’re rare.  The “threats” about which middle-class Westerners express the greatest concern are either those they hear of frequently or those which the media can convince them are omnipresent, which is why groups who derive income and power from some particular fear (rape, “illegal aliens”, terrorism, “human trafficking”, child sexual abuse, etc) cook up bogus statistics to make those threats seem vastly more common than they actually are.

This obsession with the insubstantial and/or inconsequential has created a bizarre inversion of priorities in many Western countries; major issues which are largely hidden from public view, or which affect a comparatively small number of people, are virtually ignored in favor of absurdly expensive, intrusive and punitive campaigns against “crimes” which actually injure nobody.  One example of this is the crusade against “child porn”; mere possession of an image is deemed a “crime” equal to using actual children to create that image, and artificial images such as sketches or written descriptions are in many cases considered equivalent to the real thing; this is tantamount to banning fictional depictions of murder.  The excuse used is that artificial images “create a demand” for porn, but this is mere sophistry; human beings are not computers to be programmed, and as any marketing expert will tell you it’s impossible to “create” a demand for something without somehow tying it to a real demand such as the desire for food, sex, status, health, wealth, etc.  In other words, one can’t “market” child porn to anyone who isn’t already sexually attracted to children, and to argue that draconian anti-porn legislation is justified on “end demand” grounds is equivalent to arguing that everyone should be sterilized at puberty because the male sex drive leads to rape and pregnancy to abortion and child abuse.  Demand for movies and music leads to copyright violation, but I don’t see anyone campaigning to ban music and movies because of it.

This obsession with the image over the fact leads to abominations like a recent case reported in Reason on November 7th:

Last week a Florida judge sentenced Daniel Enrique Guevara Vilca, a 26-year-old with no criminal record, to life in prison without the possibility of parole for looking at forbidden pictures.  A jury convicted Vilca on 454 counts of possessing child pornography, one for each image found on his computer.  Under Florida law, each count is a…felony punishable by up to five years in prison.  Sentencing guidelines indicated a minimum term of 152 years…”Had Mr. Vilca actually molested a child,” The New York Times notes, “he might well have received a lighter sentence.”

…the draconian punishments prescribed by state and federal laws for mere possession of child pornography seem to be based on the premise that anyone who looks at records of heinous acts must also be committing them or at least planning to do so.  But as I  [previously] noted…that simply isn’t so:  Research indicates that child porn consumers, like fans of violent movies, do not necessarily copy what they see.  As Troy Stabenaw, a federal public defender who wrote a devastating 2009 critique of federal sentencing guidelines for child pornography, tells the Times, “we ought to punish people for what they do, not for our fear.”

…the familiar argument that “consumers of child pornography drive the market for the production of child pornography…” [is hardly] relevant…now that people typically obtain child porn online for free…[and the prosecutor’s claim that] “…when the images are shown over and over again, they’re victimized over and over again”…seems even more problematic, since any such injury would require (at the very least) that victims know when people are looking at images of them…[and] would not apply to child pornography featuring victims who are no longer alive…[Furthermore] the offense is not in the same moral ballpark as other crimes that are punished by life sentences…a life sentence is what we give first-degree murderers, and possession of child pornography is not the equivalent of first-degree murder…

The fact of the matter is that possession of child porn is vastly more common than child rape, therefore cops, prosecutors and judges see it more often, therefore they conclude it’s a more important issue and push for harsher laws on it.  In other words, the punishment is based on the personal emotional discomfort of those in power rather than physical harm to any person.

The current hysteria over “bullying” is another example; what person has never been bullied or observed another being bullied?  Such behavior is merely the human equivalent of animals posturing and snarling to establish a pecking order; it cannot be eliminated without lobotomizing the entire population at about the age of four.  If the anti-bullying people were concentrating on instances of actual, physical assault I would find their arguments much more convincing, but they’re largely talking about words.  I was bullied in grade school; I was unusually bright, read a lot, was a bit plump, hit puberty at 10, had a severe overbite, used “big words”, liked science fiction…you name it, I got picked on for it.  And you know when it stopped?  When I grew a spine and a thicker skin and stopped letting words get to me.  Bullies crave an upset or submissive reaction; when they don’t get it they move on in search of easier prey.

But now the sheeple want the nanny state to “correct” human nature, and not just among children; now we’ve got biologically-adult women whining and crying because men say mean and “sexist” things to them online.  And it isn’t just sheltered coeds and mommy-bloggers, either; this November 7th article from The Guardian features pathetic laments from professional women who have somehow managed to succeed in journalism while failing to develop the psychological barriers I had established by the age of 14.  They argue that death-threats or “I hope you get raped” type nonsense is different from “you’re ugly” or “you’re stupid” or whatever, and in a way I agree; it’s certainly symptomatic of a less-evolved individual.  But as long as he sticks to writing empty threats to strangers, he’s nothing but a barking dog; people have been making such threats since language was invented, and every statistic shows they are now much less likely to carry them out.  Still, these women argue that Nanny should censor or even punish men who hurt their feelings online, though at least one of them (Zoe Williams) seems to think that bullying is OK as long as a soi-disant “feminist” directs it against another woman.  Not that this surprises me; “feminists” are famous for dishing out hatred but being unable to take it.

As I pointed out in my column of one year ago today, people used to understand that it’s better to tolerate minor “evils” which prevent greater ones than to indulge oneself in a doomed and quixotic crusade to rid the world of  all unpleasantness.  If artificial child porn reduces the chance of child rape, and if posting ugly threats on the internet prevents real violence, these things need to be tolerated; I for one would much rather endure empty rape-threats than to know a real woman was raped.  Words and pictures are not real, and adults need not concern themselves with painted devils.

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Toys have become commodities instead of playthings. – Beth Copeland Vargo

I’ve mentioned my partiality for Marines before, so it probably won’t surprise you to hear that my favorite charity is the USMC Reserve’s Toys for Tots program, which collects toys for needy children.  As I said in last year’s “Yuletide” column:

It’s bad enough being a needy adult at this time of year, but children lack our mature understanding of economics and it’s heartbreaking for them to think they have been forgotten by Santa Claus.  I urge all of my American readers who are financially comfortable to please donate at least one toy this year; even bargain stores such as Big Lots and Dollar Tree have donation bins, so for only a few dollars you can send a little bit of Christmas cheer to those less fortunate, and so experience a little of the joy of giving and help to make a Merry Christmas for some child who cannot control the conditions in which he lives.  Those who prefer not to go near shopping malls during this season can even donate money directly on the website via credit card, donate in memory of a loved one or specify that toys go to American Indian children, many of whom live in some of the most shamefully poor conditions in this country.  Also, if any of my readers chooses to send me a gift from my Amazon wishlist this season, I will make a donation of equal monetary value to the Toys for Tots foundation in your name.  My international readers might also inquire if there is some similar program to benefit needy children in your country.

Giving to a program like Toys for Tots is more important now than ever because it helps us to remember the true meaning of this time of year.  Despite the increasing tendency of retailers to push it back to November 1st, today is the traditional beginning of the Yuletide season in the United States, and has long been among the busiest shopping days of the year.  It’s also the day on which many U.S. retailers finally go “into the black” after running in the red for the previous eleven months; this is one possible origin of the name “Black Friday”, an in-joke among retail managers in Philadelphia since the 1960s which slowly spread across the country in the 1980s and became known to the general public by the late 1990s.  By the turn of the century retailers were referring to their after-Thanksgiving sales as “Black Friday sales” instead, and since then marketing experts have inexorably worked to replace Thanksgiving (a day to give thanks for what we already have) in the public consciousness with the artificial “Black Friday” (a day to go out and buy more).  A few years ago I noticed that much of both spam and legitimate email advertising alike now refer to Thanksgiving Week as “Black Friday Week”, and this year many retailers are beginning their “Black Friday sales” at midnight (and Wal-Mart at 10 PM Thursday), essentially ruining Thanksgiving for those employees who are drafted for the graveyard shift.  Since 2002, the violence associated with the day has also increased, especially at so-called “big box” retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy; this hearkens back to another possible origin of the term “Black Friday”, a negative reference to the massive traffic jams and rude, pushy crowds which characterize it.

Do I need to point out that this is not only insane, but totally contrary to what the Yuletide season is supposed to be about?  I haven’t set foot in a store on the day after Thanksgiving since the late ‘80s; it was the day my family always decorated our Christmas tree, and I’ve continued that tradition.  This afternoon my husband and I will go out into our woods, find a suitable tree and bring it back here to decorate; we’ll play Christmas music and have Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner, and tonight we’ll watch one of our favorite Christmas shows.  Readers, why don’t you do the same?  Instead of battling pathetic, deluded “consumers” for a marked-down big-screen TV you don’t really need, stay at home and do your holiday shopping next weekend or even online.  But whenever and however you do it, spare a thought and a little cash for an unfortunate small person, and consider giving a toy or donation to Toys for Tots.

One Year Ago Yesterday

Last year, Thanksgiving fell on the 25th so I noted the column from last Thanksgiving yesterday, thus pushing the column from last November 24th to today.  It’s called “Lying Down With Dogs” and it calls attention to the fact that besides the U.S. and a couple of its client states, every country in which prostitution is criminal is a “totalitarian state, a country only recently emerged from totalitarianism, a theocracy or near-theocracy, a postage stamp, a third-world shithole or some combination of two or more of those categories.”

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Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude.  –  E.P. Powell

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States; as I said in my column of one year ago tomorrow, Thanksgiving is…

…a day originally established (as the name attests) to give thanks for what we have.  It is essentially a late harvest festival, a secularized American version of Samhain or Harvest Home, and like most harvest festivals in every place and time it is celebrated with a feast.  Unfortunately, as with so many traditions, the original meaning of the institution has become lost and in the minds of many the observance exists only for its own sake rather than for the purpose for which it was established.

One year ago tomorrow?  Yep.  Thanksgiving is what is called a “moveable feast”, a holiday (like Easter) whose date changes from year to year.  But Americans are more concerned with where days fall in the work week than with the phases of the moon, so the computus for Thanksgiving involves neither tables nor astronomical phenomena; it’s simply the fourth Thursday in November.  Last year that fell on November 25th, and this year a day earlier, so it seemed more appropriate for me to call attention to tomorrow’s column today and today’s column tomorrow (when the feature will be called “one year ago yesterday”).  Got it?  I hope so, because I’m off to cook a feast.  I urge all of my American readers to celebrate this day as it was meant to be celebrated:  with those you love, giving thanks for what you have rather than just stuffing your face and planning to buy more tomorrow.  To my Canadian readers:  y’all already had your Thanksgiving back on October 10th, so perhaps today you can drink a toast to your tardy Southern neighbors and wish us luck in catching up on human rights issues.  And to my readers all over the world, I wish you all prosperity and hope that all of you have much to be thankful for as well.

Blessed Be!

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