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Archive for March, 2013

Easter 2013

Well pleaseth me the sweet time of Easter
That maketh the leaf and the flower come out.
  –  Bertran de Born

Eostre & bunnyAs I’ve pointed out before, all of the Christian holidays are merely pagan ones dressed up in a new garb, and though they may have some explanation derived from Christian catechism most of them are still pagan to the core.  This is true of three of them more than any of the others: Halloween is still the Day of the Dead as it has always been; Christmas is still the festival of the reborn sun, celebrated with revelry and song and greenery and gift-giving as it has been for millennia; and Easter is still the observance of rebirth, with Christ standing in for all the vegetation-gods who came before him, Tammuz and Attis and Adonis and Osiris, slain and buried to rise again from the dead.  Just as the dye which colors the shell of an Easter egg has little (if any) effect on the substance of the egg beneath, so it is with the holiday itself; the theological rationalizations and the complex religious pageantry have not changed the day’s deeper meaning one iota, and devout Christians still employ the ancient symbols of flower, hare and egg.  This is why it matters little to me that we observe the holiday on the Christian date rather than the traditional astronomical one; it’s only fitting that I bend the Christian day to my needs just as Christianity bent the ancient pagan holiday to its.

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I am appalled at the utter waste of US tax dollars.  –  William Shatner

Like a runner exhausted after a race, the internet was much quieter this week after last week’s link frenzy.  That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of “tweets”, links and blog posts flying about, but most of them seemed to be concentrated on a smaller number of subjects and few were noteworthy enough to inspire me  to grant them space in this column.  In keeping with last week’s Star Trek theme, we heard about how the IRS blew $60,000 on a terrible parody of the classic show, but it was “terrible” in the sense of “jejune” rather than in the sense of “ludicrous”; I couldn’t get through a third of it, so there’s no way I’ll feature it here.  Instead, I present a “bath salts” scare video produced by the US Navy, which I found in a Reason feature entitled “5 Government Videos Every Bit as Terrible as the IRS Star Trek Parody“; if you haven’t seen the Star Trek abortion yet and you’re feeling masochistic, you can watch it there.  In contrast, I’ve also included a good didactic video, a 1974 PSA on carpooling which I enjoyed so much as a child I used the word “kalaka” for decades afterward.  Radley Balko was our champ this week, providing everything down to the first video and the second half of “fascism” (the first half was supplied by Wendy Lyon).  The second and third links between the videos were contributed by  Jesse Walker, and the fourth and fifth by Gideon’s Trumpet.

From the Archives

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We are simply sisters, mothers, neighbors and friends. We shop where you shop, we vote where you vote and we pay taxes like the rest of you.  –  Kristen DiAngelo

Cops and Condoms

…Bill Gates has…[offered] a $100,000 grant…to…develop “the next generation of condom”.  Though condoms are the most reliable…method to protect against pregnancy and STIs, it doesn’t take your ex-boyfriend to tell you how much they kind of suck (oh, and will he tell you).  So the foundation is requesting proposals for a…condom that “significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve…regular use”…

Advice for Clients

Amanda Brooks published her own set of tips for clients; I think it’s worthwhile for a gentleman to read as many of these as he comes across, because every woman is different and may include something others didn’t think important.

Lying Down With Dogs

Ask yourself once again:  Is this really the company you want the US to keep?

Egyptian prosecutors ordered the detention of 17 women and a Lebanese man…[for]…commercial phone sex…security forces raided [their] office…and confiscated phones and computer devices…Investigations showed “gang members” recruited female university students through job ads in newspapers and then agreed with them to perform acts “that run contrary to morality”…

Sales Pitch

Sweden says its “model” has reduced prostitution and deters clients:  “[A] newspaper…published an advert about a fictional 19-year-old [sex worker]…Over the weekend, the phone had 130 missed calls and seven texts.  After a week, the number had grown to 287 calls and 57 texts…[a] local police [spokesman claimed]…the callers were more curious than interested in buying sex…”  What a pathetic rationalization!  Here’s the real attitude of Swedes toward the law:

Down Under

Can you imagine American cops contradicting a prohibitionist politician’s lies?

Police say they’ve seen no evidence to back up [a New Zealand] MP’s claims that girls as young as 13 are working as prostitutes in south Auckland…Asenati Lole-Taylor says there is “growing prevalence” of underage girls selling sex…and she’s backing a bill to ban all street prostitution and confine sex work to brothels…[she also claims] she has witnessed police dealing with young prostitutes …That was news to police Area Commander…Chris de Wattignar.  “It’s not something that police have seen ourselves.  We also work with a number of agencies and community partners in the Otara town centre and that’s certainly not the information we have”…

Decentralization

The US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has [issued] regulations on…Bitcoin…there’s been zero regulation…[so far, because that] would essentially admit that it’s legitimate…The nature of Bitcoin makes it untraceable so unless firms are coaxed into cooperation, it’s hard to imagine the regulations being enforced.Anastasia Volochkova

Droit du Seigneur

A former Bolshoi ballet dancer has called the acclaimed company a ‘giant brothel’…Anastasia Volochkova claimed that female dancers were forced to sleep with wealthy patrons…

September Q & A

Though the main Wikipedia entry for “Prostitution” is an unusable (and uncorrectable) mess due to aggressive sabotage by neofeminists, there is a new article on “Migrant Sex Work”  which is comprehensive, fact-based and non-judgmental and includes citations from many good writers like Laura Agustín, Elizabeth Bernstein, Pardis Mahdavi, Nick Mai and Rhacel Parrenas.  Here’s hoping the author is able to keep control of it.

Thought Experiment

Charlotte Shane’s “’Getting Away’ With Hating It:  Consent in the Context of Sex Work” is a brilliant exploration of how the weakness of the concept of “enthusiastic consent” (now being pushed by the “rape culture” folks) is demonstrated by sex work.  This is definitely a must-read, especially for my male readers, as it looks at an area of female sexual psychology most men seem to have difficulty understanding.  Even the comment thread is worth your time, especially the reactions to a Good Men Project writer who apparently thinks it’s only OK to pay a whore if she doesn’t need the job and is only doing it as a hobby or something.

The More the Better

The Australian Woman’s Weekly published “When Sex is Your Day Job”, an interview with five sex workers (including Rachel Wotton) about prejudice, sex work myths, discrimination and sex as a human right.  What a difference from the United States!

Above the Law

…New Jersey [prison guard]… Juan R. Stevens, 50, was charged with…sexual assault and…criminal restraint…Stevens would call…escorts…[and tell them]  he was a police officer in order to intimidate them into having sex with him for free…

AminaA War for Peace (TW3 #11)

For once, I agree with a Femen leader’s analysis; too bad they don’t see it also applies to sex work:

A 19-year-old Tunisian activist who was threatened with death by stoning after posting topless pictures of herself online has reportedly been admitted to a psychiatric hospital.  The woman, known only as Amina, posted the photographs…to the Femen-Tunisian Facebook page…Amina’s aunt claimed…”She had decided to kill herself and so posted nude pictures of herself online.”  [Femen leader Inna] Shevchenko described the move as “a typical way of reacting to a woman’s demand to be free – they say she’s gone crazy or is being too emotional”…

Whorearchy

A…Mexican politician who…[appeared] in a…lingerie video is taking legal action against political rivals who claim she was [an] “escort girl.”  Giselle Arellano says the…accusations resulted in her failing to win the nomination of Mexico’s conservative National Action Party (PAN)…She wants the election annulled on the grounds that she was “slandered” by her rivals…Arellano…resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she has done stints as a model and also runs a small company that offers “concierge services” to visitors.  She was running for a seat in the Zacatecas State Legislature that is reserved for Mexicans who emigrate abroad…

Besides conventional services, Black Rose Services plans bachelor parties and group excursions to strip clubs and only takes clients by referral.

Bogeymen

Microsoft recently sponsored a “hackathon” based on the theme “combating human trafficking”, and a story on the ever-credulous NPR reports that one of the entries is a smartphone app that middle-class teenage girls who are suddenly “trafficked” by surprise (presumably by “pimps” leaping out at them from bushes) can use to surreptitiously “connect with resources, like a hotline number or a chat room where they can get help.  ‘One of the requirements of this project was to make it covert, so it’s not easily detectable…and [that] it’s for girls ages 11 to 21.’  So the app, which they call Blossom, is disguised to look like it’s just about fun for teens…”  Because captives would certainly be allowed to keep their phones, and university-age adult women are interested in the same sorts of games as 11-year-olds.

Bottleneck

“Authorities” not only refuse to recognize the damage licensing laws do, but often insist on congratulating themselves that they’re “helping” sex workers:

Saskatoon’s new adult services licensing bylaw…gives police new…powers to keep a closer watch on a large part of the sex industry…Anyone advertising sexual services…is now required to get a licence from the city…This is…taking part of the sex trade out of the shadows to protect vulnerable women, police and city officials say…”Prostitution is not against the law.  If a person is working at a hotel and communicating in a private place, then they are not committing a criminal offence”…

And that obviously wouldn’t do, so they had to find a way to make it into one.  For our own good, of course.

King of the Hill

North Carolina’s entry into the “trafficking hub” competition is especially hilarious for its claim that rural areas with low populations are “attractive” to those in the “sex trafficking trade”:

…On Eagles Wings Ministries plans to [build]…a haven for girls involved in the sex-trafficking trade…Gaston County provides a location that’s close enough to Charlotte to help girls there, but far enough away to keep traffickers at bay…North Carolina has become a hotspot for human trafficking…[due to] major highways and interstates, transient populations and large rural areas…

Book Reviews (October 2012)

Two of the authors of books from this column (Rob Arthur of You Will Die and Laura Agustín of Sex at the Margins) were interviewed on the subject of what inspired them to write those books; I think you’ll find their answers illuminating.

A Tale That Grew in the Telling (TW3 #50)Eden poster

It’s a very hopeful sign when a review of a movie based in “trafficking” myth can conclude with this passage:  “Eden…[is] not a documentary, it isn’t entertainment, and…[it] sure as heck isn’t art.  It’s just a message, screaming on and on at people who agreed with the point before they bought a ticket.”

The Public Eye (TW3 #131)

More on the escort from American Courtesans who was arrested after complaining to police about a stalker:

Last month Lora LePoudre, who goes by the escort pseudonym Hilary Holiday, was arrested by the Eden Prairie Police department in Minnesota following an anonymous tip off by a neighbor and a subsequent sting operation…Neighbors in her family-friendly condo complex [said] they were thankful police had arrested her…

As you may remember, there was no “complaint” except from Hilary herself; the reporter also cherry-picks neighbors, spews inanities like “family-friendly” and misquotes Kristen DiAngelo as saying escorts are “very different” from other sex workers, when actually she said there was a difference between free and coerced prostitution.

Skin To Skin

…The head of the Essonne department…Jerome Guedj…called for allowing sex surrogates…as part of regular social services…[noting] that [they]…are permitted in some other European countries…But…[removed] the term…just ahead of the vote…after coming under criticism for opening the door to legalized prostitution…a national ethics council…ruled that authorizing sex surrogates would essentially “merchandise the human body”…

But while France says it’s OK to neglect disabled folks in order to “send a message” to dirty whores, New Zealand sees stories like this one:

I hired a sex worker for my late 93-year-old father.  He had dementia and lived in a nursing home when he said to me, “You’ll need to find me a woman”…I took his request seriously [because]…I’m a disability support worker and I’ve seen how an individual’s sexuality needs to be considered…Touching Base put me in contact with…the person they thought most suitable:  ‘Emma’…After time with Emma, my father’s well-being and consequently his behaviour improved…He wasn’t as agitated.  He didn’t obsess over things like he used to.  He was serene, happy and relaxed…

For Those Who Think Legalization is a Good Idea (TW3 #139)

The Indian government has now completely reversed its sneaky criminalization attempt:  “Sex workers and women’s rights activists across India have welcomed the…move to drop the word ‘prostitution’…from the amended…Penal Code.  The new formulation targets sexual exploitation and not adult consensual sex work…

Dutch Threat

What could possibly go wrong?

There is considerable sympathy among Dutch MPs for moves to get tougher on people who visit prostitutes and don’t report suspected exploitation or abuse…The senate…is currently considering legislation that would force prostitutes to sign up to an official register.  Clients who fail to check if a girl is registered, could face prosecution…[some] want to go further and say clients should be prosecuted for failing to report to the authorities if they suspect a woman may be being abused or forced to work as a prostitute…

King of the Hill (TW3 #312)

Oregon is really ramping up the hysteria; between two different stories on the same legislative/cop antics we are told that “trafficking happens in small towns” to 9-year-olds, that “80 children are victims of sex trafficking each year”  in Portland, that prosecutors want to use “racketeering laws” to prosecute whoever a girl names as her “pimp” after being jailed indefinitely (for her own good, of course), and that “men looking to buy sex from minors describe the victims they want to order.” All this on the word of unnamed women who present no evidence; you know, kind of like witch trials.

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The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…  –  Fredric Brown

As I’ve said many times, I prefer short stories to novels; even when I shared my list of favorite books a year ago, six of thirteen were short story collections.  As I said then, “This is because for me, a large part of the pleasure of a book is the mood it sets, and if that mood is disturbed I can’t enjoy it nearly as much.  Short stories are quickly consumed, and even novellas or short novels can be read in one extended sitting…When I started whoring the long-established preference for short fiction grew even stronger, because I knew that at any moment I might be interrupted by a phone call from a client and have to run off.”  But despite this preference (or perhaps because of it), choosing a list of favorite short stories was even more difficult than choosing my favorite books.  Last May Eve I provided my list of the ten scariest short stories, and I’ve excluded those from this list along with all stories which are included in any of my favorite books (which means everything by Doyle, Lovecraft and Poe).  I also excluded fairy tales because, though I love them dearly, they’re really a different genre (and one I will visit in a future column).

Because most of these are quite well-known and highly regarded, and none of them were published after I was born, I was able to secure PDFs of all but two.  There was a PDF of #7 as well, but it was so poorly formatted that the ends of most lines were cut off on the right side; I therefore decided not to provide it, but if someone can locate a proper copy I will.  You will note the majority of these are quite short; three of them qualify as short-shorts, and only two are novelettes.  But since y’all know my own fiction is primarily in the short-short format, that shouldn’t surprise you.  All of these are either fantasy, science fiction, horror or suspense except for #3, which is essentially psychological horror (as is #5).  They all have something else in common: all are unique and highly memorable.  They are listed here in chronological order.

1)  Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1844)

A Woodland Maiden by Emile Vernon (1901)This gothic tale is often listed as one of the earliest works of science fiction, because its premise relies on human experimentation by a mad scientist.  Hawthorne was far more interested in the dark portions of the human soul than in speculation about the nature of the physical universe, but his short stories often explore this by means of some fantastic situation.  Those who recognized this month’s fictional interlude as a tribute to this story are probably unsurprised to see it here.

2)  How Much Land Does A Man Need?” by Leo Tolstoy (1886)

Though he is best known in the English-speaking world for his lengthy novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Tolstoy also wrote many fine short stories including this fine example of the subgenre the French refer to as contes cruels, stories which are not necessarily supernatural but demonstrate the cruelty of fate and usually conclude with a shocking or horrifying twist.  John Collier and Roald Dahl (see below) also produced many tales of this type.

3)  Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad (1899)

Heart of DarknessA steamboat captain travels up a river in Africa to investigate his company’s trade agent at an outpost in the interior, and discovers that the “Dark Continent” is not nearly as dark as the recesses of the human heart.  Many of you may have studied the story in literature class, and though it has been adapted several times the most famous was Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which transposed the events to Vietnam War-era Cambodia.

4)  Sredni Vashtar” by Saki (1914)

Saki was the pen name of H.H. Munro, a brilliant British author whose career was cut short by a German sniper at the Battle of the Ancre in 1916.  His best work is equal parts horror and humor, and this one – the story of a sickly orphan who creates his own secret pagan cult in his guardian’s shed – is its perfect exemplar.

5)  Silent Snow, Secret Snow” by Conrad Aiken (1934)

This chilling (no pun intended) tale of a young boy’s descent into madness manages to create a horrifying atmosphere without any of the conventional elements of horror.  In addition to the PDF, I thought y’all might enjoy this short film made for TV in 1966; the same director later remade it as an episode of Night Gallery, narrated by Orson Welles.

6)  Thus I Refute Beelzy” by John Collier (1940)

Many of John Collier’s stories are strange and haunting, but this one more than most.  It’s the tale of a boy whose father, one of those annoying people who makes a fetish of rationalism (think Maureen O’Hara in Miracle on 34th Street), becomes jealous of his new imaginary friend and decides to disprove that friend’s existence once and for all.

7)  With Folded Hands” by Jack Williamson (1947)

Some of you may recall that I have referred to this science-fiction warning of the perils of the nanny state once before, in a column which shares its name.

8)  Man from the South” by Roald Dahl (1948)

Man from the SouthMany people who know Dahl from his children’s works such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches may not have realized he also had a talent for marvelously wicked adult stories; he even had his own syndicated TV series, Tales of the Unexpected.  Even before that a number of his stories were adapted for television, most notably on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; Hitch’s production of this one starred Peter Lorre as the title character who bets Steve McQueen a new car that he can’t light his cigarette lighter ten times in a row without fail.

9)  The Man Who Traveled In Elephants” by Robert Heinlein (1948)

This was Heinlein’s favorite of all his short stories, and mine as well; I can never read it without tearing up.  Some critics have dismissed it as a “mistake”, an overly-sentimental fantasy in sharp contrast to his usual hard science fiction.  But this is not Heinlein’s only fantasy, nor his only whimsical story, nor his only sentimental one; furthermore, its themes connect it to many of his longer works such as The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, I Will Fear No Evil and The Number of the Beast.

10) The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

Tigers Nest MonasteryClarke is not among my favorite writers; IMHO he’s usually too dry, too self-limited and too obsessed with enormous timescales, and he created his female characters in much the same way Michelangelo did (i.e., by sticking tits onto male figures).  But there are a few times he really surpassed himself, and in my estimation this is the best of them.

11) Space-Time for Springers” by Fritz Leiber (1958)

Don’t make the mistake of dismissing this as the science fiction equivalent of a LOLcat, though at first glance it may appear to be.  Yes, it’s cute; yes, the hero is a kitten behaving in a terribly precious way.  But stick with it, and you’ll find there’s actually a tale of courage, love, duty and sacrifice under that cuddly and apparently superficial veneer.

12) Earthmen Bearing Gifts” by Fredric Brown (1960)

As I mentioned in “My Favorite Authors”, Brown was the absolute master of the short-short story, and though he wrote many excellent longer tales (including the one that was adapted into the Star Trek episode “Arena”) he is today best remembered for his little gems like this terribly sad conte cruel.

13) Sagittarius” by Ray Russell (1962)

SagittariusRay Russell was the greatest 20th-century writer in the Gothic style; when I first read his most famous story, “Sardonicus”, I had to check the copyright page to convince myself that it was not first published over a century earlier.  “Sagittarius” is the second part of a loose trilogy with the aforementioned story (the third part is “Sanguinarius”).  But I’ve always liked “Sagittarius” best for its clever interweaving of the stories of Jack the Ripper, Gilles de Rais, Mr. Hyde and the Grand Guignol Theater; unfortunately I can’t supply a PDF copy, but I own it in Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown, which is well worth the pittance you’ll pay for it.

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A quack doctor can kill you without a knife.  –  Chinese proverb

A male reader writes:

So, I was talking with my therapist, and one of the things he asked me is if I had paid for sex.  I said no, I want to have a connection with my lover.  But what he said next shocked me:  he claimed that ALL prostitutes are either sex slaves or owned by a pimp of some sort.  Not some, not many, ALL.  How can I show him he’s wrong?

Gumby brain specialistI am not exaggerating when I suggest you should find another therapist.  Anyone who could believe such a thing when there is overwhelming proof to the contrary (in the form of not only studies but personal accounts) is so irrational that it qualifies as a full-blown delusion; a person who could believe that can believe literally anything, including psychological fads like “sex addiction” with no basis in valid psychological theory or study.  He obviously has no idea of how the female mind works, or is in deep denial; furthermore, he has an EXTREMELY low opinion of women’s agency and capacity for self-determination, which will affect everything he tells you about women.  And though he’s not an economist, even the most rudimentary understanding of rational choice theory or the basics of undergraduate-level sociology would make it impossible for any sane mind to believe in such utter foolishness.

There is a MOUNTAIN of information which disproves this absurd myth, much of it linked on my Resources page and much more easily discovered by a quick Google search.  If he believes all this information is wrong, he’s a megalomaniac or a religious fanatic; if he believes it to be deliberately falsified he’s paranoid, and if he doesn’t know it exists he’s woefully ignorant.  In any case, he isn’t the kind of person who should be responsible for anyone else’s mental health, and in fact could benefit from a great deal of therapy himself.  His belief is as irrational as the contention that an anthropomorphic god created the universe in six calendar days 6000 years ago, or that large numbers of extraterrestrials have abducted humans for experiment, or that vast Satanic cults enslave thousands of teenage runaways to breed babies for sacrifice; you should avoid him just as you would avoid a “therapist” who believed in such ideas.

Finally,  There’s also one more possibility:  He could know very well what he’s saying is a lie, and is just trying to scare you away from seeing sex workers.  That would make him an amoral manipulator, which is just as bad as the other possibilities unless you actually want to develop False Memory Syndrome.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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Since time immemorial and all over the world, men have wanted more sex than they could get for free.  So what inevitably emerges is a supply of women who, for the right price, are willing to satisfy this demand.
–  Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

SuperFreakonomicsI first heard of Freakonomics and its sequel several years ago, but because my stack of reading material is always much too high I never took the time to pick up a copy of either.  My interest began to ramp up two years ago when Satoshi Kanazawa mentioned SuperFreakonomics in the column which served to introduce us when I replied to it; his follow-up column which discussed our correspondence  sent an absolutely tremendous amount of traffic my way (I still get hits from it every week), so I became much more interested in the books and would probably have eventually bought them myself had Ted not sent them to me the following November.  Being a stickler for doing things the right way, I read Freakonomics first and reviewed it one year ago today; the fact that it has taken me this long to get around to reviewing the sequel is due in part to my reading many other books in the interim, in part to not having nearly as much time to read as I might like, and in part to my just finally catching up from the holiday backlog.

The books were written by economist Steven D. Levitt (of the University of Chicago) and journalist Stephen J. Dubner (formerly of The New York Times); Levitt is interested in economics in its larger sense, the study of how human beings react to incentives, and Dubner makes Levitt’s investigations interesting to read.  As in the first book, they covered a number of subjects: the chapters are entitled, “How is a Street Prostitute Like a Department-Store Santa?”, “Why Should Suicide Bombers Buy Life Insurance?”, “Unbelievable Stories About Apathy and Altruism”, “The Fix is In – and It’s Cheap and Simple”, and “What Do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo Have in Common?”  There is also an epilogue named “Monkeys are People Too”, which I’ve already discussed in a previous column.  And though chapters two through five are fascinating, enlightening and well worth the time of anyone who’s interested in psychology, sociology, criminology and/or global warming, the first chapter provides so much material that I’m going to dedicate the rest of this column to it.

For some reason I’ve never been able to adequately fathom, economists tend to be remarkably stupid about prostitution, often abandoning skepticism and proper data-gathering to embrace ludicrous claims they would never accept about any other economic activity.  Furthermore, virtually all books written about prostitution by sympathetic outsiders have a mixture of correct and incorrect information, and this one is no exception; however, I’m pleased to say that they got more right than they did wrong, and that none of the errors are due to buying into moronic prohibitionist myths.  In fact, the chapter serves as a thorough refutation of the most damaging and pervasive sex work myth of our times:  the notion that most whores are (or ever have been) coerced.  Though the book was published in 2009 the words “sex trafficking” do not appear anywhere in it, and prohibitionist laws are correctly framed as a product of the social purity era:  “The white slavery problem turned out to be a wild exaggeration.  The reality was perhaps scarier:  rather than being forced into prostitution, women were choosing it for themselves.”  They demonstrate that about 2% of American women in the 1910s were prostitutes (already considerably lower than the 19th century average of 5.5%) and that the average Chicago whore of the period made almost twelve times as much as a factory worker.  Furthermore, they clearly understand a principle I’ve pointed out before:  the reason there are far fewer whores now, and the reason we make relatively less than we used to, is that so many women are giving it away now that the market simply won’t bear the prices and volume it used to a century ago.

Levitt & DubnerUnlike his more credulous colleagues, Levitt recognizes harlotry as an economic activity like any other, governed by the same laws and responding to the same pressures.  In order to demonstrate this, he and Dubner look at two types of sex worker: opportunistic (and sometimes seasonal) street workers on Chicago’s south side, and a high-end escort named Allie in a different part of the same city.  But while the information on escorting is sound because it was provided by Allie herself (who contacted Levitt upon hearing he was interested in writing about the subject), the information about streetwalkers was collected by a man I’ve written about before: Sudhir Venkatesh, the Columbia sociologist known for his incredible credulity, his sloppy scholarship and his ethics violations.  Some of the conclusions the authors draw from Venkatesh’s data seem reasonable, such as the claim that many streetwalkers prefer to work with pimps because they bring in better clients (resulting in higher income even after the pimp’s 25% cut).  Others seem highly doubtful, such as the declaration that going without a condom only costs $2 more on average; in New York, he claimed it was typically 25% more (and as I pointed out then it’s difficult to fix a “usual” price on desperation).  But since there’s absolutely no way to tell the good data from the bad, nor to determine whether Venkatesh’s numbers are merely distorted or outright lies on his part (or that of the women he surveyed), this section of the chapter is absolutely worthless, and that includes the credible and highly-publicized “finding” that 3% of all tricks were freebies given to cops to avoid arrest.

The Venkatesh streetwalker study is definitely the weakest part of the book, though as I stated above it’s impossible to tell how wrong his numbers are.  My only other quibble is a minor but important one; it represents a flaw in Dubner’s thinking which is common even among sex workers, but which must be dispelled if there’s ever to be any progress.  Though Allie recognizes that she is no less a whore than any streetwalker, Dubner writes “she has less in common with that kind of woman than she does with a trophy wife…she isn’t really selling sex, or at least not sex alone…”  The error, of course, is that sex is purely a physical activity; Allie is very much selling sex, she’s just selling a richer sexual and sensual experience than the streetwalker is.  We wouldn’t claim that a dinner theater was fundamentally different from a hot-dog stand merely because the food is better and it comes with a lot of extras; the trophy wife is a whore as well, and though it’s true that a high-end escort is closer to her than to the streetwalker, it doesn’t change the fact that all of them are whores, and that no bright, clear line can be drawn at any point on that spectrum.

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Now some pays a dollar, some pays a dime
Just to see me strut this stuff o’mine.
  –  Lucille Bogan

One of the presents my husband gave me for my last birthday was Street Walker Blues, a collection of old hooker songs; it’s provided a number of good examples with which to round out my next few columns on the subject, but I prefer to split them up and mix them with songs from other genres for the sake of variety.  The rest of today’s selections were suggested by readers in the comments of “Money Changes Everything” and “Savage Breast”; if you have a suggestion for a future column, check the Musicography page to make sure I haven’t featured it already, and if I haven’t please share it in a comment below!  Our first song today is from Street Walker Blues, and though it’s performed by Ethel Waters I’m not sure who wrote it:

Bring Your Greenbacks (sung by Ethel Waters)

Come all you sheiks, and lovers, too,
Listen to what I’m tellin’ you;
I took a resolution New Years Day,
Never to give nothin’ away!
So run along and let me be,
‘Cause what I’ve got I’m holdin’ for me!

So if you want to be my man,
Bring the greenbacks when you call,
‘Cause I’ve just got enough for myself,
And I can’t spare nothing at all!

Don’t depend upon your looks and try to get my dough,
I can look at pretty papas in a movie show!
So if you want to be my man,
Bring the greenbacks when you call!

So if you want to be my man,
Bring the greenbacks when you call,
‘Cause I’ve just got enough for myself,
And I can’t spare nothing at all!

Don’t come askin’ me for my money, ’cause it ain’t no use,
For all you’ll get from me is going to be abuse!
So if you want to be my man,
Bring the greenbacks when you call!

Now, I’ll give you a piece of cake, also a piece of pie,
But not nary a piece of flesh, ’cause meat’s too high!
So if you want to be my man,
Just bring the greenbacks when you call!

Though there are exceptions, most of the ladies in these vintage songs are quite self-assured; they know the value of their favors, and have absolutely no shame about using them to make a living.  And though our next selection (suggested by Annie Sprinkle) treats the subject more subtly, it’s clear that the lady it describes has exactly that same attitude.

Jezebel (Sade Adu)

Jezebel wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth
She probably had less than every one of us
But when she knew how to walk she knew
How to bring the house down
Can’t blame her for her beauty
She wins with her hands down

Jezebel, what a belle
Looks like a princess in her new dress
How did you get that?
“Do you really want to know”, she said
It would seem she’s on her way
It’s more, more than just a dream
She put on her stockings and shoes
Had nothing to lose, she said it was worth it

Reach for the top
And the sun is gonna shine
“Every winter was a war”, she said
“I want to get what’s mine”

Jezebel, Jezebel
Won’t try to deny where she came from
You can see it in her pride
And the raven in her eyes
Try show her a better way
She’ll say, “You don’t know what you’ve been missing”
By the time she blinks you know she won’t be listening

“Reach for the top”, she said
“And the sun is gonna shine”
“Every winter was a war”, she said
“I want to get what’s mine”

Of course, not all working girls are as successful and well-adjusted as Jezebel; all too many songs on the subject are about her exact opposite, the low-priced street girl who just gets by and usually comes to a bad end.  I try to avoid most such songs because these columns are meant to be light, but I’ll make an exception for this one (which was later covered by Bonnie Raitt) because the singer expresses sympathy for the girl and judgment for those who looked down on her.

Louise (Paul Siebel)

Well they all said Louise was not half bad
It was written on the walls and window shades
And how she’d act the little girl
A deceiver, don’t believe her that’s her trade
Sometimes a bottle of perfume,
Flowers and maybe some lace
Men brought Louise ten cent trinkets
Their intentions were easily traced
Yes and everybody knew at times she cried
But women like Louise they get by

Well everybody thought it kind of sad
When they found Louise in her room
They’d always put her down below their kind
Still some cried when she died this afternoon
Louise rode home on the mail train
Somewhere to the south I heard it said
Too bad it ended so ugly,
Too bad she had to go this way
Ah but the wind is blowing cold tonight
So good night Louise, good night

From a small town we go to a big city; this next song (suggested by Ornithorhynchus) demonstrates a different kind of sympathy for its whores, who won’t take any crap from a bunch of stupid young guys who think they’re going to get something without paying.

Big City Girls (Myles Francis Goodwyn)

Late night hustle goin’ down in the city
A one way street on the wrong side of town
Young and foolish, man don’t you know
All we could see were

Ladies in the night, walkin’ a straight line
Ladies in the night, workin’ overtime
Ladies in the night, doin’ the hustle
Ladies in the night, flexin’ their muscles
Ladies in the night, big city, big city girls

We worked out a deal with some chicks on the corner
Back at the room it was never to be
No one had money and the girls got so uptight

Ladies in the night, walkin’ a straight line
Ladies in the night, workin’ overtime
Ladies in the night, doin’ the hustle
Ladies in the night, flexin’ their muscles
Ladies in the night, big city, big city girls, so tough

Baby I know, it’s just what I see
Baby I know, it’s not what I need
Big city, big city girls

The next thing you know, things got rough, babe
They carved out a warnin’ with a switch blade knife
The message was clear, if you wanna play, you gotta pay

Ladies in the night, walkin’ a straight line
Ladies in the night, workin’ overtime
Ladies in the night, doin’ the hustle
Ladies in the night, flexin’ their muscles
Ladies in the night, big city, big city girls

Our last song for today, suggested by Arum, is more ambiguous than any of the others; in fact, given lines like “picturesque decay” and “finds your heaven, finds your hell”, I think that ambiguity is strictly intentional.  I had never heard this one before I listened to it while making my choices for this post, but I like it; it makes me think of the elaborate and often very expensive brothels of the late Victorian Era.

Baroque Bordello (The Stranglers)

See a picturesque decay there
Something for all time to tell
See the woman of your dreams there
In a baroque bordello

Swing doors and a blind venetian
Keep her in a walnut shell
Has to rub your eyes to bathe you
In a baroque bordello

All the words are written for you
Finds your heaven, finds your hell
Finds your love but keeps it hidden
In a baroque bordello

Seven days and seven nights spent
Sleeping in her wishing well
Climb her rope and find her trailer
In a baroque bordello
In a baroque bordello
In a baroque bordello
Baroque bordello
Baroque bordello
Baroque bordello
Baroque bordello
Baroque bordello

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