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Archive for February, 2012

Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November;
February has twenty eight alone,
All the rest have thirty-one
Except in Leap Year, that’s the time
When February’s Days are twenty-nine.
  -  Traditional English rhyme

One year ago today…there was no day.  Because today is Leap Day, which only comes once every four years.  Well, almost every four years; centennial years aren’t leap years unless they’re evenly divisible by 400.  In other words, 2000 and 1600 were leap years, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not.  It’s that little difference which caused the Julian calendar to creep ahead; the Roman calculations weren’t quite precise enough to determine that one extra day every four years is just a smidgen too much, so in the Julian calendar centennial years are leap years.  The error was ten days when Pope Gregory XIII ordered it corrected in 1582, but eleven when the British Empire adopted his calendar in 1752 (they had added a leap day in 1700 when they shouldn’t have).  By the time Russia adopted it in 1917 the error had increased by two more days (1800 and 1900); that’s why the Russians celebrate Christmas on January 7th.  And if the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t switch to the Gregorian calendar by 2101, it will then move to January 8th.

Because it doesn’t occur every year, a February 29th birthday is the only one rarer than mine.  What’s that, you say?  What’s special about my birthday?  Well, a study released last year shows that fewer babies are born on Halloween than on any other day of the common year; 11.3% fewer, as it turns out.  So while roughly 1 person in 365 was born on any given day, only about 1 in 411 was born on Halloween.  Even more interestingly, roughly 1 in 347 are born on Valentine’s Day:

Pregnant women are capable of influencing the timing of their babies’ births, according to a study that shows fewer children are born on Halloween…Dr Rebecca Levy of Yale School of Public Health, who led the study, said Halloween’s associations with death, evil and skeletons might subconsciously put women off giving birth.  “The study raises the possibility that the assumption underlying the term ‘spontaneous birth’, namely, that births are outside the control of pregnant women, is erroneous,” Dr Levy told New Scientist magazine.  She added that a connection between the state of mind of pregnant women and hormone levels could explain the link…

Dr Levy and colleagues analysed data from birth certificates for all births in the US that took place within one week on either side of Valentine’s Day and Halloween between 1996 and 2006.  They found the likelihood of women giving birth on Valentine’s Day was on average 5% higher than on other days during the week before or the week after.  It was 3.6% higher for natural, non-induced births and 12.1% higher for Caesarean section births.  The chance of deliveries occurring on Halloween was on average 11.3% lower than during the days in the week before and after.  This broke down to 5.3% lower for natural, non-induced births, and 16.9% lower for Caesareans…

There has been anecdotal evidence from partners of members of the military suggesting that when fathers are due to return from postings away from home close to the date of birth, their babies sometimes “wait” until their return before being born, [and] a 2003 study carried out in Taiwan showed increases in Caesarean births on auspicious days and decreases on inauspicious days of the Chinese lunar calendar.

I wonder if mothers who are scheduled to give birth on February 29th might also unconsciously influence that one way or another, either to give the child a unique birthday or to avoid one that doesn’t come every year.

So, why does February have only 28 or 29 days anyway?  Couldn’t they have just taken one day each from two of the 31-day months and given them to February so she’d have 30 most of the time?  I’ll leave that one to Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope:

…[In] the 8th century BC…a Roman king by the name of Numa Pompilius established the basic Roman calendar.  [Previously] the calendar covered only ten months, March through December…[(which means “tenth month”)]…July was originally called Quintilis, “fifth,” Sextilis was sixth, September was seventh, and so on…3,000 years ago, not a helluva lot happened between December and March.  The Romans at the time were an agricultural people, and the main purpose of the calendar was to govern the cycle of planting and harvesting.  Numa, however…decided it was going to look pretty stupid if the Romans gave the world a calendar that somehow overlooked one-sixth of the year.  So he decided that a year would have 355 days — still a bit off the mark, admittedly, but definitely a step in the right direction.  [This] was the approximate length of 12 lunar cycles, with lots of leap days thrown in to keep the calendar lined up with the seasons.  Numa also added two new months, January and February, to the end of the year.  Since the Romans thought even numbers were unlucky, he made seven of the months 29 days long, and four months 31 days long.  But Numa needed one short, even-numbered month to make the number of days work out to 355.  February got elected.  It was the last month of the year (January didn’t become the first month until centuries later), it was in the middle of winter, and presumably, if there had to be an unlucky month, better to make it a short one…

Some historians say that when Julius Caesar reformed the calendar (and you can see how badly in need of reformation it was), he made February 29 days long (30 in a leap year).  For his work, the month of Quintilis was renamed “July” in his honor.  When his nephew Augustus became emperor, Sextilis was renamed “August” for him, and some say he stole a day from February to make his month as long as Julius’.  Perhaps, but there’s not really any primary evidence for it (like a calendar chart from Julius’ day showing a 29-day common-year February).  What’s important, though, is that the “renaming months after emperors” thing stopped with Augustus; I’d really hate to have been born in the month of Caligu.

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Both magic and religion are based strictly on mythological tradition, and they also both exist in the atmosphere of the miraculous, in a constant revelation of their wonder-working power.  They both are surrounded by taboos and observances which mark off their acts from those of the profane world.  -  Bronislaw Malinowski

One year ago today I published “February Q & A”, in which I answer the questions, “Do you know an escort who works in my city?”, “Would you please give us a few pointers on how to perform oral sex on a man?” and “Why do so many more escorts kiss nowadays?”  But every so often I get a single (complex) question whose answer is enough for a whole column; this is one of them.

Why is sex such a taboo in human culture and civilization?  I am in my 20s and I find that the cultural conditioning is not allowing the natural sex urge to express itself naturally.  Which social, economic and political factors are responsible for such a situation?  The expression of sex urge has become more artificial in modern society.  How much role does pornography play in making sex experience artificial?  Do you think marriage is necessary in our modern society?

I suspect the sexual taboo derives from two different but related factors.  First, consider birth; once our ancestors recognized the link between sex and babies they (understandably) developed a sense of awe about it.  To them, it was magic (which in the end really just means “anything we don’t understand”), so they devised rules and ceremonies around it (such as marriage and sacred prostitution).  And once religion and law get into the act, everything becomes more complicated and artificial.  The development of the concepts of private property and the ability to organize society on a larger level than the tribe allowed the growth of cities and nations and the appearance of social classes, and heredity became important; since it was the responsibility of each family to care for its old, children became vital not merely as heirs but as caregivers in old age.  Thus taboos developed around the generative organs, from which descendants sprang; if an enemy or evil spirit wished to harm one, causing his genitals to malfunction via magic could be an effective way.  The ancients believed that words (especially names) had magical power, so people became reluctant to speak aloud of the genitals or sex acts, and it became more important to hide the organs and behaviors from sight and to describe them with euphemisms.  In women, the mammae were sometimes hidden as well since they produce milk without which babies die.

Once such trends start, they continue by themselves even after people have forgotten the reasons they began in the first place.  The modern welfare/police states have managed to turn children into a liability rather than an asset and birth control has made it possible to avoid them, yet we still pretend that every sex act is a magical ritual which may produce the most valuable of resources.  We no longer believe that words have magical power, so we instead ascribe pseudoscientific explanations to the imagined “harm” they can cause and continue to legislate against them.  And we cloak taboos against nudity with meaningless words like “decency” and pretend that for a woman to undress in front of strange men will somehow cause harm to society as a whole.

The increasingly-artificial expression of sex has nothing to do with porn (which has existed since man discovered art and language) and everything to do with burgeoning legal penalties for those who express sexual urges in anything resembling a natural fashion.  Religious fundamentalists use the old excuses, neofeminists use new ones equally unfounded in reality, and governments seize upon any excuse whatsoever to harass, impoverish and imprison citizens.  We’ve added new crimes to the old, and devised ever-more-fiendish punishments like “sex offender registration” for those who sin against the Holy Ritual of Sex; we’ve added an entirely new field of civil law in which individual women (no matter how warped or unrepresentative their views) are the sole arbiters of acceptable male sexual behavior; and in many cases we have elevated these previously-unprecedented civil torts into criminal law.  People (especially men) are therefore increasingly wary of stepping into any of the arbitrary, subjective and often-invisible snares governments have designed to entrap them, and now have to consider any interaction with others (even their own children) as a soldier considers crossing a minefield; any misstep could result in swift and total disaster.  Is it any wonder modern sex is artificial?

Finally, marriage.  Though I’m a strong believer in traditional marriage, I think it’s like the riding of horses:  a novel curiosity accessible only to the very few.  And for nations to expend the time, money and effort they do on its continuance is equivalent to mandating horse lanes on motorways.  It is an anachronism, and needs to be abolished; simply put, government needs to get out of the marriage game entirely except in its role as the adjudicator of private contracts.  All marriages should be contracts written and freely entered by citizens of legal age, the number, sex and conditions of which are determined by nobody other than the participants.  The function of the registrar would merely be to inspect the contract to ensure it contained all the necessary provisions (such as child custody and alimony/support) and no illegal ones.  If such a contract were broken, the injured party could sue in civil court just as he could if any other contract were breached.  There would be no such thing as “family law” or “divorce court”, which would remove the unfairness inherent in the current system and make it difficult for either party to use his or her natural advantages (money, sex or children) as a crowbar with which to leverage a lopsided deal into which no sane person would enter without compulsion.

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He who is the author of a war lets loose the whole contagion of hell and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death.  -  Thomas Paine

The 21st century American view of sex is warped beyond that of any other historical culture.  The official and popular paradigm appears to be based on the belief that sex is such a horrible, monstrous abomination that the mere mention of it to an adult can constitute “violence”, that participating in it for taboo reasons can be a “crime”, and that if a person is exposed to sexual contact, conversation or imagery (observing, creating or modeling for) even one minute before midnight on her 18th birthday she will be instantly and irreversibly ruined beyond any hope of redemption.  Unwanted but non-violent sexual contact is portrayed as equivalent to murder or mayhem, and looking at a picture of a nude person younger than the sacred Moment of Shazam is worse than some forms of murder, even if the “victim” is already grown up, dead or unaware the picture exists, or if the models are only pretending to be underage or (in the case of drawings) aren’t even real.

Given this sick, obsessive paranoia over a simple biological function, it’s really not surprising that America has declared total war on it.  And I don’t just mean a regular war, either; this is a win-at-any-cost, scorched-earth, throw-babies-to-Moloch, morals-and-honor-be-damned Götterdämmerung.  The “authorities” are willing to sacrifice civil rights, legal precedents, our kids’ health and happiness and even decency and common sense to “win” it…and it shows.  Its clearest illustration is the “sex offender registry”; those who are condemned to it face ostracism, exile, unemployment, harassment and sometimes risk of assault or murder, usually for the rest of their lives, for horrible “crimes” such as prostitution, getting their girlfriends angry, having sex while teenaged or drunken bladder relief within sight of a cop.  No other crime which doesn’t end in corpses earns a lifetime of punishment for a single action, and no other offense of any kind results in such a disproportionate and cruel sentence.  But when sex is involved, logic and proportion are disposable, as is the law itself:

…Corey Hipscher…was accused of fondling…[three] young girls…[whom he] had taken…on boat rides [at a Florida water park where he worked], pulling them behind him on a flotation device, the girls and other witnesses testified during trials in August and November 2011.  Hipscher’s lawyers argued that the girls misinterpreted innocent contact.  [He was tried and acquitted twice]…for those who may not appreciate it, obtaining an acquittal against accusations of this nature are notoriously difficult, as the natural inclination to believe and protect children tends to overcome all other evidence.  To prevail twice in such cases is, well, quite extraordinary…[Broward Circuit Judge Martin] Bidwill was unimpressed, finding that Hipscher committed a new crime while on probation for an old one.  And while he legally could not impose the life sentence Hipscher would have received had he been convicted of child molestation, Bidwill gave the defendant the stiffest sentence he could…15 years imprisonment, based solely on the same evidence for which had been acquitted…

Hipscher was on probation for a 2002 conviction, having nothing to do with children…[he] was accused of sexual battery on his then-girlfriend [and]…told Bidwill the whole case was a lover’s quarrel, and [that] his girlfriend [had filed] charges against him so she could qualify as a victim for a program that would pay for her relocation to Illinois.  Nonetheless, this conviction put him on the sex offender registry, which included a condition that he stay away from children.  Worse still, he had two prior “technical” violations, neither involving the commission of a new crime, for which he had served under a year each.  But this time…prosecutors turned to the probation violation after losing both criminal cases.  “We pursued all avenues to get prison time for this defendant,” said Broward prosecutor Maryanne Braun.  “We absolutely believe those girls who said he molested them, and the court believed them as well.”  The only people who didn’t buy guilt were the people sitting on the jury.  And who cares what they think where the prosecution and court face a defendant…they’ve decided needs to go down…guilty or innocent, he never had a chance.  The only question was how he would be burned, not whether.  His fate was sealed.

…When the acquitted defendant gets 15 years for the crime, we lose faith.  We lose hope.  We see a system that cannot be trusted, a judge and prosecutor who have spit at the jury, telling them they couldn’t care less that he was acquitted…No doubt the prosecution was sure of Hipscher’s guilt, but…there is almost always a cavalier certainty by prosecutors that they somehow know deeper truths than ordinary people.  But there is a judge…whose job it is to prevent the system from falling into clutches of the prosecution and being reduced to no more than a tool to convict…

Ernie Allen, the president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), would no doubt cheer Judge Bidwill’s actions, but then he is a moral retard who accepts governmental claims that registration “is not punitive [but] regulatory”, doesn’t care that a third of all who “commit sex offenses” against “children” are “children” themselves, and thinks it’s permissible to defend the system with lies such as “[there is a] high risk of re-offense” (no, there isn’t), “most of the victims of America’s sex offenders are younger than 18 years of age” (no, they aren’t) and “common-sense steps…better protect the public, particularly the children” (no, they don’t).  Allen’s $1.3 million salary and compensation package depends on keeping the hysteria going, so that’s what he’ll try his utmost to do…even if it means lifelong torture for three quarters of a million Americans, of whom 90.3% were not convicted of violent offenses.

Nor are those accused of “offenses” (and their families) the only victims of the panic; as one of my favorite non-whore bloggers (Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids)  constantly points out, the restrictions parents place on their children due to hysteria are far more dangerous to their development, self-esteem, happiness and health than the remote possibility of harm from a “predator”.  In the above-linked article she quotes a New York Times profile

…of Danah Boyd, an Internet researcher who hops over hysteria… “It’s not that the Internet is doing something bad to these kids…” [one of Boyd’s colleagues said], “…it’s that these bad things are in kids’ lives and the Internet is just a component of that”…This is something I try to remind parents about:  The Internet is a lot like the real world.  In fact, it IS the real world:  It’s where kids hang out…and one of the main reasons they ARE gathering online, rather than at the mall or even — I know this sounds crazy — the PARK, is that:

“Children’s ability to roam has basically been destroyed,” Dr. Boyd said…“Letting your child out to bike around the neighborhood is seen as terrifying now, even though by all measures, life is safer for kids today.”  Children naturally congregate on social media sites for the relatively unsupervised conversations, flirtations, immature humor and social exchanges that are the normal stuff of teenage hanging-out, she said.

As for the fear that predators and bullies lurk everywhere on the Web, Boyd says there is no evidence that bullying is more prevalent on line than in the “real world,” nor is there any evidence that it is on the rise in either place!  And predators?

“The most deadly misconception about American youth has been the sexual predator panic,” she said.  “The model we have of the online sexual predator is this lurking man who reaches out on the Internet and grabs a kid.  And there is no data that support that.  The vast majority of sex crimes against kids involve someone that kid trusts, and it’s overwhelmingly family members.”

So basically, we have become afraid of our kids hanging out beyond the home, for fear of predators, bullies, sexual situations, etc.  Meantime, we are afraid of our kids hanging out inside the home, on line, for fear of predators, bullies, sexual situations, etc.  And it’s all part of the same thing:  An unrealistically grim perception of anything our kids try to do on their own…

It’s time to stop being afraid of the activity to which every single one of us owes his existence, and to stop fighting a war whose casualties are far greater than any the “threat” itself has ever produced.

One Year Ago Today

See How Well It Works?” examines the efforts of “Super Bowl Sex Trafficking” hysterics to pretend that their hysteria itself was the reason for the failure of their hysterical predictions to materialize.

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A modern democracy is a tyranny whose borders are undefined; one discovers how far one can go only by traveling in a straight line until one is stopped.  -  Norman Mailer

Just after midnight Wednesday night, I reached half a million total page views; thanks to all my readers for making it happen!  And here are twelve other things that happened this week, in the form of updates:

The Rescuers (August 25th, 2010)

This story is an update both to “The Rescuers” and “Bad Girls”…which, strangely enough, was published the day before:

…Erik Garcia…ventured on to [sic] the Houston back pages [sic] website with the idea of calling up an escort service…”I would preach to that person and try to get them [sic] to change their [sic] ways, and low [sic] and behold, I got mugged,” Garcia said.  Investigators say the woman who answered…was Jamie Vaughn…who’s been arrested more than 10 times…for drugs and prostitution…she picked up Garcia…and allegedly robbed him…

I also made a comment on the story, commenting on its numerous factual errors and pointing out that, while I’m glad Garcia wasn’t hurt, one might point out that he attempted to trick someone and was tricked in return.

What a Week! (November 28th, 2010)

Remember the man with half a head who was victimized by cops for trying to hire a hooker?  Well, somebody who knows him made a video, as reported on Huffington Post:

…The Miami New Times, who first spotted the cheerful alleged prostitute-solicitor in its “Mugshots Friday” series, ran across a YouTube account…in which the gentleman himself explains the traumatic injury.  Answering to the name “Halfy” and smoking what looks an awful lot like a blunt, he suggests it’s best to stay off drugs…[he] then alleges the president of the United States uses drugs, affirms his love of large women, and makes several sexually explicit remarks…

The video was removed from YouTube but is still available here, at least for now.  As you can see Halfy’s statements aren’t anti-drug, they’re against impaired driving and marijuana criminalization.

The Coffee Klatsch (April 28th, 2011)

Our friend Kelly James is now a full-time libertarian activist in Keene, New Hampshire; some of you have probably seen her “Don’t Strip Our Rights” video, which documents her handing out anti-TSA pamphlets clad only in lingerie.  Well, it’s attracted a lot of attention, including this recent story on Huffington Post.  Congratulations, Kelly, and good luck!

A Procrustean Bed (May 19th, 2011)

Massachusetts has enacted a new law which defines all prostitutes as raped infants and all men who have anything at all to do with them as international gangsters.  Fortunately, somebody at the Boston Herald thought to ask the actual experts their opinions:

…a sweeping new human-trafficking law…[is supposedly] aimed at protecting child prostitutes but also hits adult hookers’ clients with fines of up to $5,000 and up to 2½ years behind bars, as part of a broad crackdown aimed at snuffing out prostitution…women of the night…are treated as victims of human trafficking, still facing the same misdemeanor charges but with new rights to sue those who exploited them.  “The penalties we’ve had have been far too low,” [said] Attorney General Martha Coakley…But one high-priced online hooker said she’s no victim — and she doesn’t know any women who are.  “If you are an escort, you go into it of your own free will,” she said.  “Absolutely no one is forced into doing this…”  Another call girl who’s happily hooking online said she doesn’t feel like a victim either.  Her johns even provide references from other prostitutes…Coakley said the law brings equity to enforcement that for decades targeted streetwalkers almost exclusively, often letting their clients and pimps walk away scot-free.  “This is about leveling the playing field and making it fair…”

I’m sure you recognize the Swedish reek on all this, complete with Orwellian redefinitions.  I wonder if any crafty attorney will be willing to take on a class-action suit in which escorts sue politicians for exploiting them for PR value by robbing them of a livelihood?

A False Dichotomy (June 22nd, 2011)

In Pardis Mahdavi’s new book Gridlock:  Labor, Migration, and Human Trafficking in Dubai she  joins Laura Agustín and many others in criticizing the whole “trafficking” paradigm; here’s a review from Rights Work:

Gridlock offers a fascinating report of the negative consequences…the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Dubai [suffer] as a result of…the UN Trafficking Protocol and the U.S. anti-trafficking law.  Mahdavi focuses…[on] migrant workers, ranging from…construction workers to…sex workers…[and offers] a powerful critique of the current paradigm of international anti-trafficking law…arguing that [the laws] hurt the very people they seek to protect…[She says] contemporary anti-trafficking discourse has been inordinately preoccupied with the increased criminalization of sex work…[and] successfully argues for reframing trafficking as an international migration and human rights issue…the term trafficking is used…primarily [to] connote women…who have been duped or forced into sex work…Consequently, the exploitative conditions under which a large percentage of Dubai’s migrant non-sex worker population labors is not considered seriously…[but] all sex workers…are considered to be trafficked…This has been reinforced by US influence on trafficking discourse, particularly, the US TIP Report…which…political and social actors in the UAE experience…as an instance of US imperialism and hegemony…

…sex workers cannot be easily characterised solely as victims or agents…Any attempt to ignore this reality and dictate that all sex workers are ‘victims’ translates into rescue operations, which go against sex workers’ wishes…women who can legally enter…domestic work often choose to enter…sex work for the relative autonomy and higher pay that it offers.  They prefer sex work to the highly exploitative working conditions…they face as domestic workers…[furthermore, maltreated] domestic workers [may]…run away from their employers…[rendering] their immigration status illegal…many women [thus] enter sex work through legal migration channels…[US pressure drove] the UAE to step up law enforcement efforts…tighten borders…and dramatically [increase] surveillance of female migrant workers…anti-trafficking discourse…renders abuse in non-sex work sectors invisible, while ‘fetishizing victimisation’ in the sex industry…

Mahdavi characterizes “trafficking” hysteria as a “global moral panic” and states that officials need to stop obsessing about sex work and border crossing and instead improve migrant workers’ rights by improving work conditions.  We need more researchers like her, and more organizations like Rights Work which are more concerned with facts and helping people than with promoting anti-sex agendas.

In Denial (Part Two) (August 16th, 2011)

I just love it when actresses clearly demonstrate that our professions haven’t diverged much:  “…Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel…got engaged over the holidays…’She wants a fidelity clause in the prenup giving her at least $500,000 if he [strays]‘…[Timberlake]…is offering a cash settlement with no fidelity clause or alimony…”

Counterfeit Comfort (August 28th, 2011)

Control freaks won’t be satisfied until every conceivable behavior of “sex offenders” is criminalized; then they can get to work on expanding the list of registerable crimes to include everyone who isn’t a politician or cop:

A federal judge in…Louisiana has struck down a state law barring sex offenders from using Facebook and other social media…Chief Judge Brian Jackson ruled…that the law…imposed “a sweeping ban on many commonly read news and information websites”…The definition of “chat room” in the law is so broad…the court’s own website could fall under the ban, he said…


Unsurprisingly, a spokesman for Facebook said it supports the law, and the governor’s office opined that it was “necessary” to keep prostitutes, guys who relieved themselves in the wrong place while drunk and other “dangerous predators” from magically reaching through the internet to molest “innocent children.”

Neither Addiction nor Epidemic (December 4th, 2011)

Sex isn’t the only thing busybodies attack with ridiculous exaggerations and addiction rhetoric:

…Britain’s boozing has reached ‘scandalous’ proportions…UK prime minister David Cameron declared last week, referring to what he called the “rising tide” of irresponsible drinking across the country.  But it’s not just loud yobbish drunks…it’s also the ‘hidden alcoholics’, the middle-class wine drinkers…As well as emphasising the ‘anti-social behaviour’ alcohol causes, the government and campaigners alike are quick to point to what the Observercalled “the intolerable burden being placed on the health services”.  Even by overindulging on the vino by ourselves at home, we are apparently being irresponsible and causing a public nuisance – by potentially contributing to what David Cameron claims could be between £17 billion and £22 billion per year spent on “alcohol-related costs”…The precise way such figures are arrived at is questionable.  It is certainly the case that the amount of revenue brought in through taxation on alcohol covers the NHS bill for alcohol-related issues, with a couple of billion pounds left to spare.  And, strikingly, the increase in hype about a drinking ‘epidemic’ in Britain coincides with…a steady drop in the amount…drunk by people of all ages…

Just one teensy thing more; remember how some of you thought I was being alarmist when I pointed out that a government which provides health care will eventually make laws against consensual behaviors that tend to increase medical bills?

The More the Better (January 9th, 2012)

My heart lifts a little every time I see another article about how single mothers are increasingly turning to sex work to support their kids; here’s a long one entitled “The Family Prostitute” from LA Weekly.  Think the prohibitionists will still be able to sell doom, degradation, “violence against women” and “no real choice” once most women at least have acquaintances who have been there, done that?

Scapegoats (January 26th, 2012)

Though Oklahoma is in the “Bible Belt”, even there the old religious rationalizations for bestiality laws are giving way to “abuse” rhetoric:

…[After a] Pittsburg County woman [traded a dog for two laptops]…she discovered videos depicting a man engaging in sex acts with a dog…[and] drove all the way back to Owasso to alert police about the former computer owner…she worried the dog she traded for the computers was in danger of being molested…[police said] the nineteen year-old Owasso woman [who previously owned the laptops] was being investigated for sodomy and crimes against nature, but once she was booked in jail, she was held on a felony complaint of…distributing obscene material…

The story also states that Lori Hall, the head of Tulsa’s SPCA, said animals can be victims of sexual abuse, “just like children”.  Does anyone else wonder what the Owasso police were smoking?  The video showed a man shagging a dog, but they arrested a woman instead?  Did they suspect her of being a shapeshifter?  And now she’s accused of “distributing obscene material”, i.e. giving someone a computer with porn on it.  Don’t they have any actual crime in Oklahoma, or is this just the usual police preference for victimizing women rather than going after criminals who might shoot back?

Sex, Lies and Busybodies (January 27th, 2012)

Remember the claims that Aussie whores were spreading disease in mining towns?

Absolute total rubbish, was the response from Sexual Health Services specialist Dr Arun Menon to [newspaper claims]…that the rise in syphilis cases in the North West was due to dubious sex practices in illegitimate brothels in Mount Isa.  “The problem isn’t with sex workers or brothels; it’s with young people aged 15 to 30…” Dr Menon said…Queensland Health’s senior director of Communicable Diseases, Dr Christine Selvey, also took exception to the article…”There have been NO cases of syphilis involving the sex trade industry, illegal or otherwise, or indeed the mining industry workforce,” she wrote.

The Course of a Disease (February 16th, 2012)

According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, a new poll shows that 59% of Israelis oppose the proposed client criminalization law, and only 34% claim to support it.  But considering that proponents of the Swedish Model never care what sex workers, health experts or anyone else thinks, I hardly believe this will matter.

One Year Ago Today

Crime Against Society” discusses activists’ efforts to defeat Louisiana’s vile “Crime Against Nature” law.

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Woman, wake up; the tocsin of reason is being heard throughout the whole universe; discover your rights.  The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies.  The flame of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly and usurpation.  Enslaved man has multiplied his strength and needs recourse to yours to break his chains.  Having become free, he has become unjust to his companion.  Oh, women, women!  When will you cease to be blind?  What advantage have you received from the Revolution?  -  Olympe de Gouges, Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen

When one reads the histories of famous women who started out as whores, one cannot fail to be struck by the way their harlotry is frequently downplayed, couched in euphemisms or completely ignored.  Theodora and Nell Gwyn are described as “actresses”, Lola Montez as a “dancer” and Édith Piaf as a “street singer”.  And Wikipedia diffidently describes Olympe de Gouges’ means of support with the evasive, “She chose to cohabit with several men who supported her financially.”  One can almost excuse this Victorian stuffiness in 19th-century biographies or those written for children, but in a modern account written for adult readers it constitutes an unforgiveable distortion of the truth designed to render the lives of “feminist” heroines palatable to prudish modern sensibilities and to disguise their refutation of the neofeminist dogma that prostitution is degrading.  This would no doubt have infuriated de Gouges, who rejected traditional norms of female propriety, specifically listed women’s beauty as one of the qualities we “bring to the table”, and argued that the sexual freedom of women is an intrinsic part of our political and social freedom.

She was born Marie Gouze in the south of France sometime in 1748 (her birthday is variously reported, but was probably either on May 7th or December 31st) to the beautiful Anne Olympe Moisset, wife of a butcher named Pierre Gouze.  The marriage was not a happy one, and Anne was rumored to have had an affair with Jean-Jacques Lefranc, the Marquis de Pompignan; this rumor, together with the facts that Gouze died when Marie was two and that his name does not appear on her birth certificate or baptismal records, convinced her that the Marquis was her biological father and contributed to her passionate support of the rights of illegitimate children.  Historians now generally agree that Gouze probably was her real father, and that Marie preferred to believe otherwise for the same reasons many exceptional or unhappy children like to believe that they are “really” the child of someone other than their common or disliked parents.  She also felt a burning desire to climb the social ladder, and a noble pedigree (even an illegitimate one) supported this drive in her mind.

Marie was not formally educated, and in 1765 her mother married her to Louis Aubrey, a minor government official from Paris.  He died in 1768, a year after the birth of their son, Pierre; Marie was actually quite relieved because she despised him.  She refused to conduct herself as a widow was supposed to, instead moving to Paris in 1770 (sources disagree as to whether she left Pierre with her mother or took him along) and changing her name to Olympe de Gouges.  She supported herself as a courtesan, relying on her exceptional beauty and the carefully-encouraged rumor of her noble paternity to gain entry to higher social circles and a wealthier clientele.  In 1773 she established a long-lived association with the wealthy and educated Jacques Biétrix de Rozières, who introduced her into the salons where she made a number of influential friends and professional contacts.  Around this time she learned to read and write, and decided to become an author; accordingly, she embarked on a campaign to educate herself by reading everything recommended to her by her intellectual friends and clients.  By 1784 she began to publish essays and plays, always on social and political topics; Zamore et Mirza, for example, had an anti-slavery theme.  Unfortunately, her plays were terrible; the dialogue was awkward and wordy, and her grammar was very poor.  But her essays made up in energy what they lacked in style; she was extremely passionate about human rights, and therefore supported equal rights for men and women and the abolition of slavery.  She did not believe that men and women were the same, but rather argued that our different strengths and weaknesses combined to form a better and more balanced society.

Maximilien Robespierre

As political tensions increased in the 1780s, de Gouges advocated reforms which she believed would head off revolution, accomplishing change without violence.  She urged the King to grant reforms, and when he failed to do so she suggested he abdicate in favor of a regent government which could bring the growing revolution under control.  Her writings criticized and lampooned extremists on both sides, and she continued to preach moderation as conditions degenerated into chaos.  Though she supported the Revolution, she abhorred its violence and the fact that women had been denied equal rights; she considered this a betrayal of one of its core principles, égalité.  In October of 1789 she spoke before the Assembly and proposed a feminist agenda which included legal equality, marriage and divorce reform and better education for girls, but her concerns were dismissed and she grew increasingly disenchanted with the new government.  In 1791 she organized a feminist association called the Society of the Friends of Truth and published Déclaration des Droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne, a response to Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen (the primary declaration of Revolutionary principles).

The situation continued to spin out of control, and de Gouges became increasingly vociferous; she believed in a constitutional monarchy, and after Louis XVI was arrested and tried in the latter half of 1792 she spoke out against his execution.  But the Jacobin party (led by Maximilien Robespierre) was in the ascendancy; Louis was executed in January of 1793, and on June 2nd the moderate Girondists, de Gouge’s allies, were arrested.  Her own arrest came in July, following her publication of a poster which demanded the people be given a choice between a republic, a federal government and a constitutional monarchy.  Her house was searched and unpublished writings used against her at her trial three months later; she was found guilty of sedition and executed by guillotine at 4 PM on November 3rd, just 18 days after Marie Antionette.  Though she attempted to delay her fate by falsely claiming to be pregnant (a doctor examined her and pronounced otherwise), she mounted the scaffold without tears and said to the crowd, “Children of the Fatherland, you will avenge my death.”

Though her last words are not known to have come true in any direct fashion, I gave them a fictional consummation in my story of one year ago today, “Carnival”, which takes place almost four months later.  Even in real life, though, history has a far higher opinion of Olympe de Gouges – courtesan, writer, philosopher and feminist in the truest and noblest sense of the word – than it has of her enemies, whose names have become synonymous with bloodthirsty tyranny.

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Why?  It paid the rent.  -  Marilyn Monroe (on posing nude)

Ten updates from the seventh week of 2012.

Whore Madonnas (August 29th, 2010)

The classic Madonna/whore fallacy teaches that women can be one or the other, but as I’ve said many, many times before this is complete and utter hogwash.  Any normal woman is capable of playing either role as required or even both simultaneously, and about half of the girls who worked for me had children.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that many women enter prostitution because of their children…”  Case in point, from Offbeat Mama:

…I have the perfect suburban mommy resume [but] I keep a huge secret from my family, neighbors, and friends…I’m an escort…Scoop those jaws up off of the floor, moms and dads, because…it could happen to you.  I don’t mean you’ll be trafficked into sex work by some skeevy creeper on the internet — I mean that you may some day be in a position you never dreamed you’d be in doing things you never saw yourself doing in order to make ends meet…And you know what?  It’s not horrible.  I don’t hate my life.  In fact, sometimes I think I have it better than most American moms.  I work on the evenings and weekends the kids are at their father’s place…They never even know I’m gone.  Then when they are with me, I get to be a devoted single stay-at-home mom…

The piece is well worth reading in its entirety, and even the comments are overwhelmingly positive!

BDSM (Part One) (September 15th, 2010)

OK, I like abduction fantasies as much as the next healthy woman, but most of us have the sense not to act them out in public:

…Nikolas Harbar, 31, [of Portland, Oregon] was only “role-playing” when he…tied up his naked girlfriend, 26-year-old Stephanie Pelzner and threw her in the back of his Subaru [on Valentine’s Day]…but…a concerned witness [called the cops and when they arrived]… Pelzner confirmed that “she was voluntarily bound and nude”…[the couple was] arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, but released later that day.

Real People (February 6th, 2011)

Bethany St. James is a brothel prostitute who advocates extending the Nevada model to the whole United States.  And while I disagree with her belief that women can’t be trusted to manage our own sex lives, her recent essay in Huffington Post is excellent:

…when I recently appeared on a daytime talk show to discuss an article…I wrote…I was shocked to find that it was nearly impossible for the…audience to…fathom that a woman who works in the sex industry could be educated, happy and goal driven.  The stereotype that all prostitutes are drug addicted women with sad childhoods who’ve been reeled into a life of shame and disease…remains…prevalent.  No matter how I attempted to explain that just as in all professions, there are a multitude of factors and variables, my words seemed to have fallen on deaf ears…Not all sex workers and adult entertainers are the same, just as not all people within the same ethnic background are the same.  Although many women in the adult industry have problems, couldn’t the same be true of every profession?…there are college educated professionals with problems far worse that any prostitute I’ve known.  Job description alone should not be the sole factor when forming an opinion of a person…

Interview:  Jill Brenneman (Part Four) (February 24th, 2011)

One year ago today I published the final installment of my interview with activist and sex trafficking survivor Jill Brenneman; coincidentally, a Dutch website named Nederlandse Debatbond recently reposted her July 2010 article “Prohibitionists’ Comparing Sex Work and Straight Work:  They are Dead Wrong”, which originally appeared in Bound, Not Gagged.  If you’ve never read it, now’s your chance.

It’s Different Because It Involves Sex, Part Umpteen (June 16th, 2011)

Last year, judges in New York ruled that dancing isn’t dancing if it’s sexy.  That bizarre belief appears to be shared by a California woman who claims porn can’t be copyrighted:

…Hard Drive Productions…demanded $3,400 to make their threatened lawsuit go away but [Liuxia Wong] not only says she’s innocent and harassed, but also that porn cannot be copyrighted…In a lawsuit filed at the end of January, Wong says that she did not download the work in question and goes on to attack Hard Drive on a number of fronts…the alleged infringement [took] place [on] March 28th, 2011, but…the movie…wasn’t officially registered until April 22nd…[and though]…Hard Drive insist[ed] that [she] would be liable…even if her router was unsecured and someone else [used it] without her knowledge…Wong’s suit dismisses that…as “erroneous”.  But perhaps most interestingly, Wong is challenging the notion that Hard Drive can own the copyright to its own work – indeed, that porn can be copyrighted at all.

“…the Copyright Clause [of the US Constitution] empowers…Congress: ‘To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries,” the lawsuit details, adding:  “Early Circuit law in California held that obscene works did not promote the progress of science and the useful arts, and thus cannot be protected by copyright”…Wong is asking the court to…[declare] that not only is she not liable…for infringement, but that the company’s movie is not copyrightable and is illegal due to Hard Drive engaging in “solicitation, conspiracy to commit prostitution, pimping and/or pandering,” during its production…

While I’m sympathetic to Wong’s right to defend herself against those who misuse the law, that defense doesn’t require actions which are just as immoral as Hard Drive’s and could potentially cause a great deal of trouble and expense for others who aren’t even involved in the dispute.

Déjà Vu (June 25th, 2011)

This column examined the strong resemblance between the Victorian and modern incarnations of anti-whore rhetoric, and its epigram was from a letter sent to The Times by an anonymous prostitute in 1858.  Well, on February 11th Dr. Laura Agustín discussed the “fallen woman” metaphor and the persistent idea that whores need to be “rescued” from our “plight”; she also wrote of Charles Dickens’ involvement with a “rescue home” and mentioned that he once tried to “save” a woman who didn’t want “saving”…the very lady who wrote the letter from which my epigram came.  If you’d like to read that letter in its entirety, take a look at Dr. Agustín’s February 14th column.

An Ounce of Prevention (October 15th, 2011)

More news about potential HIV vaccines:

The discovery of HIV-resistant sex workers in Africa could pave the way for a more effective AIDS vaccine, according to a new study by University of Montreal researchers.  “Studying women who are naturally resistant…[may enable] researchers to…[develop] vaccinations or . . . gels that could prevent transmission of HIV,” said lead researcher, Dr. Michel Roger…”Our research shows that…we should turn to the entry points…to find a means for blocking the virus.”  The year-and-a-half-long study involved 52 commercial sex workers who were uninfected with HIV, 44 sex workers who were HIV-positive and 71 uninfected [non-prostitutes]…in Benin…researchers found that the…uninfected sex workers had fewer inflammatory molecules in the vagina than [HIV-positive] women…working under similar conditions.  “We have identified prostitutes, who of course, are highly exposed to the virus and some of them, they don’t get infected even though they practise in the same way as others, in the same building, with the same clients.  They don’t get infected after four, five, seven years of prostitution,” Roger [said]…this group of HIV-resistant women [even] had fewer inflammatory molecules than [non-prostitutes]…”we need to understand better the mucosal response against HIV in order to design an efficient vaccine,” he said.  This new kind of vaccine could be administered through the nose and would immunize all mucus membranes in the body…

Bad Fantasy, Good Reality (October 27th, 2011)

Another Western female academic studied Asian hostess bars and discovered that the women there are neither “degraded” nor “victimized”, but rather following a deliberate strategy:

…seven years of in-depth research into the hostess bar scene in Phnom Penh has revealed…that…aspirations and obligations drive the girls from the countryside to the cities in search of opportunity.  For many…it was…a personal desire to earn money, after seeing friends…return to the provinces bedecked in gold, make-up and new clothes…Upon arrival in the capital, the easiest and most fruitful job for a newcomer is work in a hostess bar, where the monthly salaries range from $60-$100.  On top of that, tips and ‘ladies drinks’ (a $1 surcharge added to drinks bought for them by customers, which is then given back in their wages) can increase their earnings to as much as $300 per month.  In a country where the average monthly salary for a teacher or police officer is approximately $60-$80…bar work is incredibly lucrative…and is considered by many to be more ‘fun’ than other unskilled employment options, such as garment factory work or street trading…Most women arrive unable to speak English, but learn within months…they enjoyed the friends they made and the financial power it gave them.  All people…need money to survive; they work because of economic…motivations.  These young women are no different.  This is not to glamorise the bars – there are plenty of downsides, such as structural inequalities, exploitative bosses, large fines and gropey customers who are sometimes racist and rude.  However, [they] can also be viewed as places of opportunity, which the women exploit in order to empower themselves and improve their lives…

…these women are highly stigmatised by wider Cambodian society.  And those who…supplement their incomes by trading in sex…are considered srey kouch or ‘broken whores’…traditionally strict moral and social rules…require ‘good women’ to stay at home and take care of their families, be indoors before dark, and remain virgins until marriage…[but] within their families, the ability to speak English, learn about life outside of Cambodia, socialise with foreigners, and use the internet to communicate are also all markers of prestige and status…On the one hand, they completely defy all the social rules of respectability, such as being submissive and ‘virtuous’.  Yet the high status their families receive as a result of material goods provided by the women sometimes helps [them] improve their reputations.  In the end, they are virtuous for the help they give to their families…bar workers and professional girlfriends…don’t want to be viewed as bad women or helpless victims of exploitation that are in need of rescuing…

The author, Dr Heidi Hoefinger of the University of London, is the author of the upcoming book Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia.

Legal Is As Legal Does (December 14th, 2011)

US law allows politicians and cops to tyrannize whores as they like, but in New Zealand even prohibiting streetwalkers from working in certain areas requires a new law:

…A bill that will allow Auckland Council to ban street prostitution in specific places is to be considered by the local government select committee.  Other city councils including Christchurch are expected to show interest and may seek to have the same powers applied generally…Chairwoman Nicky Wagner, who is MP for Christchurch Central, said…street prostitution in the inner city had moved out to the residential areas…[Manurewa MP George] Hawkins said he would have preferred to have had a bill amending the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 to outlaw street prostitution nationally…[but] the committee believed [that] would negate the intentions of the…Act…

The story also illustrates that freedom can never be taken for granted, because there will always be those who want to criminalize anything that isn’t currently criminal.

Moloch (January 29th, 2012)

Here’s another story of American “authorities” sacrificing kids to their filthy devil-god; the February 10th episode of the public radio show This American Life tells of attractive young police women posing as students in Florida high schools in order to ruin the lives of teenage boys by using their sex appeal to trick the boys into getting marijuana for them.  Once again, the sickness of American culture is revealed for the world to see:  Independent whoring to support one’s kids = degraded criminality, but whoring for the State Pimp to destroy innocent teenagers = heroic and laudable.

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Physically there is nothing to distinguish human society from the farm-yard except that children are more troublesome and costly than chickens and calves and that men and women are not so completely enslaved as farm stock.  -  George Bernard Shaw

Most of my readers are probably familiar with FarmVille, a computer game available through Facebook in which one creates and tends a virtual farm.  He raises virtual crops, which can be harvested for virtual money which is then used to buy more land, seed, tools, animals, etc.  The farm is completely dependent on its owner; if crops are not harvested when ripe they wither and if animals are not fed they fail to grow.  I say “animals” because they are shaped like animals, but of course they aren’t animals even in a virtual sense because they don’t do anything which characterizes animals.  They don’t have individual differences, move on their own, escape from pens, get sick, fight with one another or anything else.  In other words, they’re really just another type of virtual plant, passively remaining exactly where they’re placed by the game player, and they don’t need space or a particular type of habitat or even shelter from the elements because there aren’t any.

Of course, this doesn’t really matter because they’re just collections of data, electronic patterns which form the “pieces” of an electronic game, and can therefore be manipulated without moral consequences.  And since it’s unlikely that many FarmVille players will ever own farms of their own, there’s very little chance of the sort of disappointment a naïve teenage mother may experience when it sinks in that her baby is not a doll and cannot simply be laid aside when she doesn’t feel like playing house any more.  Real babies and real animals are often unpredictable, and unlike the cute little cartoon critters of FarmVille cannot merely be stacked up in neat little rows without any concern for what they might want…not without consequences, anyway.

Apparently, Nicholas Kristof doesn’t understand this; he imagines women and girls as passive, vegetable entities to be locked into compounds and “protected” like the electronic “animals” in FarmVille.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth; the following is from an interview with Kristof  published on January 10th in Fast Company and called to my attention two weeks later by a “tweet” from Melissa Gira Grant:

I think gaming might be the next big platform for news organizations and causes…there are a lot of people who spend a lot of time playing games online, so we in the news business would do well to think about how we can use games to attract eyeballs.  My wife and I are…creating a Facebook game…It will be vaguely analogous to FarmVille.  You’ll have a village, and in order to nurture this village, you’ll have to look after the women and girls in the village.  Actions in the game will also have real-world effects.  In other words, there will be schools and refugee camps that will benefit if you do well in the game…

What fun!  No doubt you’ll be able to arrange your little brown women and girls any way you like, and they’ll obediently and passively stay put until the bad old “traffickers” come to take them away.  Then you can “rescue” them from little cartoon brothels, and put them right back in their little village where they belong.  And your actions in the game will have real-world effects, because as godlike Western white people you should have the power of life and death over doll-like women and girls in third-world villages who will perish without your deific benevolence.

If Kristof had ever demonstrated some actual regard for the complex and often contradictory desires, needs and behaviors of real women I might not read this subtext into his silly game, but he hasn’t; females of every age are simply props to him, little game-pieces whose function is the aggrandizement of Nicholas Kristof.  He treats the real lives of sex workers as FarmVille players treat the existence of their virtual creatures:  as things to be manipulated for profit and “points”.  He uses the stories of girls to build up his own reputation, exaggerating their lurid details and reworking them into enslavement porn from which he reaps the profit while condemning others as “pimps” (talk about pot calling kettle black…)  He participates in Hollywood cowboy “brothel raids”, then never stops to wonder what happened to the women he “rescued” afterward.  And he no more bothers to consider what the girls he “rescues” and writes about might want than a FarmVille player considers the desires of his digital farm animals.  To Kristof, individual women are as interchangeable and passive as endlessly-duplicated digital beasts, and our function is to stay wherever he puts us and earn him money and status.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who recognizes Kristof for what he is; there are actually quite a few (including some at his own paper), but most don’t dare to speak out because it isn’t politically correct to blaspheme Saint Nicholas right now.  One who both sees and dares is Laura Agustín, who has written a number of columns against him; the most recent (and one of her best yet) appeared on January 25th in Counterpunch.  It’s called “The Soft Side of Imperialism”, and I urge you to read it in its entirety; she, too, was struck by the paternalistic attitude inherent in “KristofVille”, but places it and its creator in a much larger (and even more disturbing) perspective.

One Year Ago Today

The third part of my interview with sex worker rights advocate and real sex trafficking survivor Jill Brenneman.

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A fool and his money are soon parted.  -  John Bridges

Day before yesterday, I used the story of Chicken Licken as a metaphor for those who wildly overreact to regular events or even non-events, inflating the fall of a nut into Armageddon.  But while the identity of the various barnyard fowl (Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey et al) was obvious, you may have wondered who played the role of Foxy Loxy.  In most moral panics that would be government, fattening itself on the stupidity of the masses by granting itself ever-increasing powers to “fight” drugs, crime, terrorism, poverty, “trafficking” or whatever other bogeyman it can take advantage of.  But as I said on Monday, real moral panics are much more complicated than children’s stories, and there is plenty of room for more than one Foxy Loxy to feed on the fat geese who run around looking up at the sky for imaginary debris rather than paying attention to their surroundings and considering just who it is they’re trusting to “help” them.

The rescue industry is full of such scavengers, amoral profiteers who take advantage of a moral panic to rake in the dough.  They feed on government grants and private donations alike, and though jackals like Somaly Mam  entertain their donors with theatrics and may actually believe in their warped minds that they’re doing good, others simply weave fanciful tales of dangerous rescues that never happened.  Now, from the victims’ point of view the latter is infinitely preferable to the former, who destroy real businesses and abduct real women, stealing their children and abandoning them to beatings, gang rape and starvation in squalid, overcrowded third-world jails.  But from the donors’ point of view it would probably be the opposite; after all, the crowd craves real blood on the sand of the arena floor.

The problem, of course, is that there are only so many whores to brutalize and only a very small fraction are young enough to be cast as “trafficked children”.  So though competing rescue industry groups can repeat the same stories over and over, present pictures of Asian schoolchildren as “rescued trafficking victims”, and develop clever schemes to divert public funds from real issues, sooner or later they have to run out of tricks.  The next generation of “trafficking” scams therefore have to be more subtle, and to get money from new sources; that generation has already arrived.

As I pointed out in “One Born Every Minute”, con artists are always willing to take advantage of people’s unrealistic fantasies or their desire to get something for nothing, so it was only a matter of time before they used “trafficking”.  The “fake conference” scam has been making the rounds since about 2004; marks receive an email advertising an imaginary conference for a nonexistent NGO, and since many academics and professionals are always looking for a paid vacation they don’t really care that they’ve never heard of this organization before.  So they send money for registration, accommodations, etc…and of course that’s the last they hear of it.  Most of these supposed conferences are for environmental and social welfare causes; child abuse, racism and HIV are among the most popular topics, as you can see on this lengthy list.  Here’s one a correspondent of mine received on January 25th:

Dear Colleague,

It is a great pleasure to invite you to the World Congress on human trafficking and forced labour 2012.  The theme of this conference is:  Combating Human And Sex Trafficking Worldwide.  This topic not only invites us to reflect upon the basic and classical criminological ideas from a contemporary perspective, but also proposes to discuss their current transformation, modification, and new developments.

The world congress on human trafficking and forced labour is scheduled to take place from Monday 27 February to Thursday 1st march 2012 at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City and 5th to 8th march 2012 at Firenze Conference Center Vicenza Italy.  The congress is hosted by the Campaign against Sex Trafficking and sponsored by other benevolent donors worldwide

Objectives of the world congress on human trafficking and forced labour objectives are:

1. To Increase awareness about the many types and ramifications of Human Trafficking
2. To serve as a resource to the public and advocates by providing valuable information about other initiatives working to address human Trafficking sex trafficking
3. To provide rehabilitation services to current and potential victims.
4. To encourage policy at local and national levels that will contribute to reducing human trafficking and abuse.
5. To provide insight in the activities in the field of science and policy interface;
6. To build a platform of knowledge at an international level;

For more information please contact the conference organizing committee via E-mail:  htafl2012secretariat@mynet.com

Sincerely,
Ms. Michael Judith
Youth organizing World Congress (Y.O.W.C)
E-mail:  congress.invitation@gmail.com

The clumsy grammar, poor punctuation and intermittent adherence to rules of capitalization would reveal this as a fake even if the scammers had bothered to create a website for the “event”, which they didn’t.  But a careless academic who really believed in the “trafficking” mythology might not be too scrupulous about checking out somebody who promised him a university-sponsored week in Italy.  And this is a good thing; the more good money is poured down the “trafficking” toilet, the more “Grey Man” and fake conference scams we see and the more ridiculous the bogus statistics get, the closer we come to the day when this whole house of cards collapses under its own weight.

One Year Ago Today

The second part of my interview with sex worker rights advocate and real sex trafficking survivor Jill Brenneman.

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While you stroll in New Orleans
You ought to go see the Mardi Gras
If you go to New Orleans
You ought to go see the Mardi Gras
When you see the Mardi Gras
Somebody’ll tell you what’s Carnival for.
 - Byrd/Terry, “Go To the Mardi Gras

Today is Mardi Gras, which I referred to in last year’s column on the subject as “one of the last large-scale pagan festivals left in the increasingly sanitized and homogenized United States”; those of you who didn’t read that essay may wish to do so today.  You’ll notice that it is dated March 8th, because Mardi Gras moves with Easter, which is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox and can therefore fall anywhere from March 22nd to April 25th.  Likewise, Fat Tuesday (since it’s always 47 days before Easter) can fall anywhere from February 3rd to March 9th; last year it was about as late as it could be, and this year it’s pretty typical.

As I wrote in the aforementioned column, one of the weirdest things about moving away from New Orleans is seeing everyone go about his business normally today as if it were any other day, when I know that back in the Crescent City there’s a huge party going on!  When we were in town two weeks ago, the signs were everywhere:  many places were decorated in purple, green and gold, the stores were full of king cakes, and viewing stands had been erected on the major parade routes in both New Orleans and Jefferson Parish.  Unfortunately there weren’t any parades any of the nights we were there, but that doesn’t mean we had nothing to do; we visited friends on three nights of the five, and on Wednesday went out walking on Bourbon Street with an out-of-town friend who had arrived that day.  While we were there, we went into a little courtyard called “Musical Legends Park”, where a jazzman named Steamboat Willie was playing.  My husband always buys a CD from any live performer we enjoy, and while he was doing so in this case he also requested that Willie perform “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?” for me.  Well, when he heard my name he insisted on performing two songs for me, the first being his original composition “Maggie” from his album Move ‘N On (you can listen to a sample or download the song or album on Amazon).

Anyhow, even though today isn’t a holiday for most of you, it will always be one for me:  You can take the girl out of New Orleans, but you can’t take New Orleans out of the girl.  So I’m taking the day off, and I wish all of you a Happy Mardi Gras!

One Year Ago Today

The first installment of my four-part interview of sex worker rights activist Jill Brenneman, who was the victim of real sex trafficking and realizes that “only rights can stop the wrongs”.  The first two parts of the interview are both graphic and disturbing, and I caution sensitive readers to consider carefully before reading them.

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“Oh, Foxy Loxy, the sky is falling!” said Turkey Lurkey.  “How do you know?” said Foxy Loxy.  “Goosey Loosey told me,” he replied.  “And Goosey Loosey, how do you know?” “Ducky Lucky told me”.  “Ducky Lucky, how do you know?”  “Henny Penny told me.”  “Henny Penny, how do you know?”  “Chicken Licken told me.”  “And Chicken Licken, how do you know?” “Part of it fell on my head!”  “Make haste, then,” said Foxy Loxy, “and all come into my den!”  -  English folktale

Chicken Licken and company meet Foxy LoxyI’m sure everyone remembers the story of Chicken Licken (or Chicken Little, as she is called in America); some natural object (usually an acorn) falls on her head and she runs about shouting, “The sky is falling!” The other barnyard fowl then join the panic until a clever fox offers them shelter in his den, where he quickly devours the foolish birds.  The tale appears in many forms from all over the globe, including a 2500-year-old Tibetan version in which the animal who starts the panic is a hare, the frightening event a ripe fruit falling with a loud “plop” into a pond, and the predator a tiger.  Weaker modern versions in which the silly animals escape disaster subvert the moral of the tale, which could be stated as “Those who panic due to perfectly natural events or hearsay will be taken advantage of by the clever but unscrupulous.”  The “trafficking hysteria” is obviously an example of this, with ridiculous geese running about squawking “The sky is falling!” merely because someone else told them it was.

In real life, panics are usually a little more complicated; they are set off by a combination of events rather than one, and unfortunately do not generally end with the rapid devouring of the idiots who started the hysteria.  But the phenomena which trigger them are still nearly always perfectly natural ones; in the case of “trafficking” hysteria, for example, the triggers are women trading sex for money, people ignoring arbitrary laws which wrongfully restrain them from what they need to do, people crossing borders to work, and xenophobia.  The first two also combine with another natural event, young people doing things of which their elders disapprove, to produce a different but related moral panic we’ve discussed several times recently:  university students having compensated sex to pay their bills.  As Dominique Jackson pointed out, this isn’t remotely new; older men have always sought younger women since time immemorial (even when, as in my column of one year ago today, they get in trouble for it), and young women have always been willing to capitalize on it (as well they should).

But the fact that these things are as natural as the fall of a nut doesn’t stop media Chicken Lickens and Turkey Lurkeys from getting into a panic over them, as demonstrated by these two recent items which appeared on EconJeff’s blog.  The first one appeared in Click On Detroit January 17th and Jeff commented on it the following day; since I have nothing to add to his insightful comments I’ll just embed an excerpt from the news story in boldface before quoting him:

A pornographic website features college co-eds having sex in dorms, and recent videos…feature students from the University of Michigan.  The DareDorm.com producers have posted advertisements on websites to recruit new students for new movies.  Anthony Kalil, a student at U of M, has heard about the campus porn invasion.  He knows students are being offered up to $10,000 to do the videos.  But he also knows the ramifications of shooting an X-rated movie.  “For somebody to let a crew in to film something like that, you’re ruining yourself and you’re ruining your friends.  It’s just not a good idea,” Kalil said.  “It’s definitely a decision that you are going to have to deal with for the rest of your life.  Twenty years down the road and you have kids, they go on the Internet, they are going to see mommy and daddy when they were drunk in college”…

Can you imagine?  Students having sex in the dorms?  Video cameras?  The internet?  Money?  What is the world coming to?  Surely the end times are near! …Note the use of students (presumably carefully selected for their negative views) to provide the illusion that Channel 4 is engaged in reporting rather than running an anti-sex editorial.  Could they really not find a single student with something positive to say about getting lots of money for doing very little work? …Suppose that you can get $10K for a video.  At typical local wages for undergrads, that means putting in, say, two or three hours of time rather than 1000.  Those 1000 hours could be spent, say, studying.  They might allow an aspiring student to take harder classes or complete a harder major than he or she otherwise would.  Is that necessarily a bad tradeoff? …In the age of Facebook and surveillance cameras does anyone really think that one video on Dare Dorm is going to ruin someone’s life, as suggested by the undergraduates interviewed for the story?  How exactly will someone’s children find their parents’ Dare Dorm video from among the zillions of porn videos on the internet? …Note to Channel 4:  there are lots of important things to report on in the Detroit metro area.  This is not one of them.

I must point out that Jeff is a professor of economics, not a sex worker rights advocate, yet I couldn’t say this any better.  The very next day, he posted a commentary on a local news item about “the medium-term paid relationship services market, informally known as the sugar babies market…[which] lies somewhere between paid escorts who charge by the hour or day and particularly mercenary marriages…[note] the obligatory scary remarks from local law enforcement (playing double duty here as moral scolds)…”  The story appeared on January 18th in MLive:

Students at Jackson-area colleges and universities are among the “College Sugar Babies” signed up on a worldwide dating-for-dollars website.  SeekingArrangement.com, which touts itself as the country’s leading…[compensated] dating website…recently released its top 20 list of colleges and universities with the largest number of sugar baby signups in 2011.  [Local institutions]…did not make that list, but they did have…[a total of 33] students…who registered as “sugar babies” last year…SeekingArrangement.com advertises “mutually beneficial relationships” and has garnered national [media] attention…One in every two “sugar babies” who join the website today are college students, and college “sugar babies” now make up 40 percent of the site’s population, [a recent press] release said.  The numbers and universities are identified by students who register on the site using their “.edu” email address.  They automatically receive a free premium membership upgrade and are classified as “College Sugar Babies,” which receive three times more inquires from potential “Sugar Daddies”…

The website does not promote a direct exchange for sex, so using it does not directly violate the law, said Jackson County Sheriff Steve Rand.  However, he said the website is potentially dangerous.  “The Internet is the wild, wild west and there ain’t no sheriff,” Rand said.  “It’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt on a site like this.  It’s a recipe for disaster”…

Legal adults using their time and assets sensibly without busybody interference from self-appointed “sheriffs”?  The horror!  Sheriff Rand says it’s only “a matter of time” before “disaster” strikes; considering that this sort of thing has been going on for at least 12,000 years, I presume he imagines we’re overdue for “somebody to get hurt” and that the sky will be falling any minute now.

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