Archive for August, 2013

All prostitution laws are conceived as methods to control women who, before ideas of victimhood took hold, were understood to be powerful, dangerous figures associated with rebellion, revolt, carnival, the world upside down, spiritual power and calculated wrongdoing.  –  Laura Agustín

The Pro-Rape Coalition

Dr. Robert King on porn, with a nice endorsement of yours truly:

…Some would like to ban fantasies—hide them away…fantasy can function as an outlet for desire…violence—including sexual violence–has been decreasing across the board.  Has consumption of violent fantasy decreased?  Quite the reverse.  Violent video is everywhere but violent crime has gone down…we really need to stop thinking that we…know what is good for others—especially when those others are consenting adults…puritans…try to control others’ sexuality…through guilt, fear, and misinformation… as documented in exhaustive detail by the excellent Brooke Magnanti and Maggie McNeill…If the puritans were serious about harm to children they would spear-head proper realistic sex education…


Brian Doherty draws on a Forbes article to discuss the government’s latest efforts to shut Bitcoin down, destroy everything good about it or, failing in both of those, to steal a cut of it.

If It Were Legal

One wonders how much more often sex workers could help to fight actual crime were we not absurdly and arbitrarily classed as criminals ourselves:

A prostitute given $300 in dye-stained $20 bills led police to the home of the man suspected of robbing a…bank…she…told the FBI agent [that the suspect, Anthony] Nugent…began behaving erratically [after paying her, so]…she left…later that night…her boyfriend…told her [the money] appeared to be dye-stained…Bubblegum Husky


Frankly, what’s most “unclear” to me is how this is even physically possible:

An Idaho man was arrested Thursday after police say he sexually penetrated a cat on more than one occasion.  Ryan Havens Tannenholz, 28 – a…”furry” who dresses up as a dog he calls Bubblegum Husky — is charged with six counts of crimes against nature, and one count of cruelty to an animal…It’s unclear how [police] learned about [his] alleged actions…Furry News Magazine Flayrah reports that Tannenholz was a member of…furry fandom…who portrayed himself as a “sparkly” husky, a blue fox named Kismet…and another purple canine…

Above the Law

I’ve said it countless times:  As long as government actors have excessive power over individuals, cops will continue to rape women in their homes:  “A deputy in Texas accused of raping a woman in front of her children has resigned…Lisa Rodriguez…said [he] told her if she resisted he would take her to jail…” or during traffic stops:  “…Thomas Merenda and Franklin Hartley…are charged with unlawful compensation, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison…Hartley ordered the passenger to perform oral sex on him, then [raped] her.  Merenda…asked the victim…to punch him in the…genital area…’Tom really enjoys this’, [Hartley] reportedly told the driver…”  Note that the cops are charged with “accepting bribes” rather than rape, and the reporter even avoids the word.  TSA agents can’t even confine their groping to travelers:  “A [TSA] manager at Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport resigned after he was charged with sexually abusing a co-worker…Shane Hinkle, 38…is accused of forcibly touching [his victim]…

Enabling Oppression

The Polaris Project continues its loathsome and exploitative campaign to link sex work to historical American black slavery:

New undercover footage of pimp-controlled prostitution will be shared…at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and End Slavery Cincinnati to show the realities of enslaved women.  The Polaris Project developed the 20-minute footage from the streets of Washington, D.C.  Following the showing, representatives from The Salvation Army’s Anti-Human Trafficking Program, the Cincinnati Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Off the Streets program will speak about the reality of pimp-controlled prostitution in Cincinnati…

Imagination Pinned Down

Elizabeth LoftusHere’s a short overview of the work of Elizabeth Loftus, the foremost expert on the malleability of human memory:  “…Loftus…has done more than any other researcher to document the unreliability of memory…and…has used what she has learned to testify as an expert witness in hundreds of criminal cases…informing juries that memories are pliable and that eyewitness accounts are far from perfect recordings of actual events…Now…[her] research is starting to bring about lasting changes in the legal system…” I drew heavily upon Dr. Loftus’ work for the research paper I wrote for the Albany Government Law Review, to be published this autumn.

Hooker Humor (TW3 #31)

Miranda Kane, the BBW escort turned comedienne, is getting good reviews; here’s an introduction she wrote for the Edinburgh Festival:

…There’s a stigma to sex-workers, as well as their clients.  We’re all shown the negative side, the poor, helpless trafficked victims.  But all the women I knew were just ordinary, happy ladies who just happened to enjoy having sex for money…Our clients weren’t seedy, sex-obsessed perverts.  They were kind, keen, appreciative men who just wanted a moment of luxury, intimacy… to be able to be with the kind of women they could only fantasise about normally…My show exposes the every-day life of a sex-worker; how we work in the digital age, the bizarre and strange requests from clients, what both elated and annoys us.  I try and show the human aspect – that the women are normal, they’re not drug addled victims, nor are they overtly beautiful and wealthy courtesans.  They’re women you see every day…


[Queensland] Police Minister Jack Dempsey is considering allowing sex workers to make suburban house calls after lobbying by the Prostitution Licensing Authority.  While it is lawful for sole operators to make house calls it is illegal for brothels to send their workers to clients…brothel owners…[say they] need the extra business to remain profitable…[PLA] chairman Manus Boyce…[said] that illegal prostitution was operating without fear in Queensland and that allowing more outcalls could put more pressure on the illicit trade…

The Naked Anthropologist

Last week Dr. Laura Agustín published “Prostitution Law and the Death of Whores”, a primer for those who haven’t thought much about the harm anti-prostitution laws cause:

…Twenty years ago I first asked two questions that continue to unsettle me today.  The first is answerable:  What does a woman who sells sex accomplish that leads to her being treated as fallen, beyond the pale, incapable of speaking for herself, discountable if she does speak, invisible as a member of society?  The answer is she carries a stigma.  The second question is a corollary:  Why do most public conversations focus on laws and regulations aimed at controlling these stigmatized women rather than recognizing their agency?  To that the answer is not so straightforward… My focus on the female is deliberate.  All who propose prostitution policy are aware that men sell sex, but they are not concerned about men, who simply do not suffer the disgrace and shame that fall on women who do it…

Though it’s not extremely long, the article covers agency denial, the “rescue industry”, the irrationality of prostitution law, neofeminism, the Swedish model and media sensationalism; it’s thus one you should bookmark for sharing with people who are ignorant, but will listen to reason.floating brothels Utrecht

Dutch Threat

As the Netherlands continues to cave in to greed and hysteria, Dutch sex workers have been forced to find their own solutions:  “A group of 15 prostitutes in Utrecht have set up a cooperative to run floating brothels after the council withdrew operating permits from their previous landlords.  The cooperative, named Macha’s, is now applying for a…brothel licence and a boat mooring permit…Some 300 Utrecht prostitutes lost their place of work when the council cancelled contracts for the operation of brothels…because of human trafficking fears…

Backwards into the Future (TW3 #321)

The Commission for Gender Equality has [submitted] a proposal…for the decriminalisation of sex work [in South Africa]…“The current position of total criminalisation has not succeeded in addressing problems associated with sex work”…said the…commission…[which] was informed by studies conducted in…New Zealand and Australia.  “Legislation…should adopt the principle that sex work is work, and allow the industry to be governed by the wealth of existing labour and business laws aimed at preventing unsafe, exploitative and unfair business practices”…The commission said studies…offered strong and concrete evidence that decriminalisation empowered sex workers to protect themselves from violence…improved relationships…[with] the police…[and] reduced chances of sex trafficking or sexual exploitation of children…


Deals with devils always have more conditions than anticipated:

The Maine woman convicted of running a prostitution business out of a Zumba fitness studio is headed back to court…to fight having to testify at the trial of one of her clients.  Alexis Wright…has been subpoenaed by prosecutors to testify at the trial of Donald Hill…

It’s That Time Again (TW3 #326)

A politician’s wife wants her state to look even stupider than New Jersey by starting “gypsy whores” panic a year and a half in advance:

The wife of Sen. John McCain…is calling on the [Arizona] legislature to pass tougher laws against human trafficking…[for] the Super Bowl in 2015.  “The Super Bowl, as all of you know, is one of the world’s largest human trafficking centers when it goes on in the world,” McCain said…Forbes reported that 10,000 prostitutes were brought to Miami for the 2010 Super Bowl.  There were 133 prostitution arrests in Dallas during the 2011 Super Bowl…

No, Forbes said that habitual liars NCMEC claimed there were that many, and there were 133 arrests of all kinds in the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area during a 2½ week period before the Super Bowl…which is typical for DFW.Spreadsheets

Between the Ears (TW3 #332)

Dr. Brooke Magnanti writes about others who think good sex can be defined by statistics:

…Thanks to the new [iPhone] app Spreadsheets, no longer will you have sex without being able to save and analyse the stats of your performance…according to the company’s website:  “Spreadsheets monitors data from user’s movement and audio levels through the accelerometer and microphone to provide statistical and visual analysis of their performance in bed”…The notion that longer is better…and that loud equals enjoyment has gained such traction in popular culture that it’s hard to find any other measure of what “good” sex is…I once dated a guy whose sole measure of whether a good time had been had was how long he stayed erect.  Being jackhammered long into the wee hours is hardly a great way to spend your time…

Do As I Say, Not As I Do (TW3 #332)

A pastor from…Sweden has been convicted of buying sex from a prostitute after…police broke up a major pimping operation…[he] has been temporarily relieved of his duties…”  Synopsis of the rest:  “human trafficking”, “These woman were used as if they were on a conveyor belt“, blah blah blah.

Election Day (TW3 #332)

As you might imagine, I find this new trend of cops arresting retired madams on drug charges to be a highly disturbing one:

…Heidi Fleiss has been charged in Nevada with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell…officers found nearly 400 marijuana plants growing in and around…[her] home in Pahrump…She said she had been growing marijuana without a license and that she intended to sell it to a cooperative in Las Vegas…she was not arrested.  All the plants were taken away by police as evidence.

Yeah, “evidence”.  Pull the other one, guys.

The Privilege Paradigm

Coincidentally, someone else wrote about the problem with the word “privilege” and came to almost exactly the same conclusions as I did:

…A privilege is something extra — and from a very young age, I knew that when something was referred to as a privilege, I was in danger of losing it.  How does that make sense…with something like being free from fear of police harrassment?…when it is called a “privilege,” my initial thought is that it is something unjustified that should be taken away — i.e., we should all have to be stopped and frisked…I [have] some degree of autonomy and dignity in my work — do we really want to say that that’s a “privilege”?  In both cases, aren’t we dealing with something more like a right that’s been denied to a great many people?…

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on July 21st; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

Narcissus by Carvaggio (c 1595)People, as the Doors song says, are strange.  And one of the strangest of all the strange types of people in the world is the narcissist, the person who appears to be absolutely convinced that the entire universe revolves around him.  Now, we all start out that way: as infants we are completely self-centered, but babies have the excuse of being not exactly brilliant by adult standards; they are simply unable to comprehend that there are a huge number of other beings with whom they must share the world.  Of course, we expect this of babies; it’s only when they manage to make it to adulthood with this overinflated ego intact that problems arise.  And though such people have an adverse affect on everyone around them, it seems exaggerated when those with whom they interact are sex workers.

Because the narcissist believes his own life to be more valuable than those of others, every fraction of that life – in other words, any given amount of time – is more valuable than an equal amount of anyone else’s time.  What this means in practice is that the narcissist expects other people to be willing to invest as much time in interacting with him as he is in interacting with them; while it’s possible for them to waste his time, he cannot fathom that he might be wasting theirs.  This effect is intensified when sex workers are involved for two reasons:  One, because our time is what we sell, so lost time is lost money; and Two, because there seems to be a very common misconception that since clients come to us for pleasure, we must also be doing it for pleasure (hence the popular “whores are lazy” myth).  Some men think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with calling an escort and trying to keep her on the phone as long as possible, or actually making an appointment and then not showing up (or not answering when she shows up), or taking every minute of the purchased time and then s-l-o-w-l-y washing up, getting dressed, etc so as to consume another twenty minutes or more.  After all, she’s just a lazy hooker, right?  She can’t possibly have anything else to do but entertain him for free, and the idea she might have another appointment never seems to enter his mind.

I honestly thought I had seen my last time-waster, but when I became an activist I discovered otherwise.  Apparently, every last anonymous prohibitionist on the internet believes that I just lie about all day, looking at myself in the mirror and eating bonbons while my staff writes my blog; I therefore surely have unlimited time to refute all of his tinned arguments, look up links for him and restate the content of my entire professional oeuvre in convenient 140-character sound bites.  As I told one such individual recently, I would take as much time with him as necessary if he were a legislator trying to push for decriminalization or a celebrity who planned to advocate it on national TV; I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that he was offended by the suggestion that he did not have the power to influence millions.  Nor does the relative fame of his target make any difference to such a person; Laura Agustín recently wrote a post explaining that no, she couldn’t do students’ research for them, and (despite her stage name being practically a household word) Brooke Magnanti still gets people who are Terribly Offended when she won’t take time out from writing, travelling and public appearances to refute prohibitionist myths for the umpteenth time on Twitter (she recently shared this wonderfully snarky tool for adjusting the thinking of those who expect such hand-holding).

child with gunBut as far as sex workers are concerned, the very worst and most dangerous narcissists are those who truly believe that their feelings take precedence over other people’s health, safety and income.  These are, of course, the prohibitionists, people who believe that because they dislike sex work, nobody should be allowed to do it.  They think that because they don’t like the idea that men can hire women for sex, cops should arrest men and harass women to discourage the practice; because they don’t like knowing lad’s mags exist, the whole industry should be shut down (no matter how many people lose their jobs); and because they feel uncomfortable hearing sex workers defend our choices, we cannot be allowed to speak.  When narcissism is limited to foolish demands for attention, it’s merely amusing or annoying as the tantrum of a spoiled child might be.  But when the narcissists use the machinery of government to impose their personal prejudices on others, it’s like giving that same spoiled child a loaded gun.

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The war on privilege will never end.  Its next great campaign will be against the privileges of the underprivileged.  –  H.L. Mencken

check your privilegeI finally figured out exactly what it is about the word “privilege” that annoys me so much.  It isn’t just that it’s thrown about so often these days that its place in an identity politics or “feminist” drinking game or bingo-card parody would be a given; nor that it’s often used (generally in the phrase “check your privilege”) to shut down discourse; nor that it’s increasingly employed by statists to subvert the concept of individual liberties; though of course all those things are part of it.  Over a year ago I wrote that

…I tend to tune out when sex worker activists start blathering about “privilege” as though it were some specific quality like height, skin color, IQ or income.  There is no single quality in the modern world which confers “privilege” as birth once could, not even money or education.  I’m not denying that some people are underprivileged and others start out with greater advantages, but this is inevitable in a world where everyone is different; even in a hypothetical post-scarcity economy of the future where teaching machines gave everyone a university degree at the age of five, there would still be a plethora of areas in which some had advantages over others.  Furthermore, early advantages no more ensure success than early disadvantages guarantee failure, and in fact a growing number of psychologists point out that too much privilege often makes a child (and the adult he becomes) fragile, maladjusted and less likely to succeed than one who has to struggle to achieve his goals.  It is as pointless to feel guilty about one’s natural advantages as it is to resent those with other advantages one lacks…

At the time, I knew that overuse of the word irritated me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on the exact reason.  But now I realize what it is, and it’s twofold.  Firstly, a privilege is something that is conferred upon a person by others; we don’t speak of a dog’s “superhuman hearing privilege” or a bird’s “flight privilege” because we all understand that these things are innate in the animal.  Yet similar natural characteristics in humans are often referred to as “privileges”, despite the fact that they cannot be considered such by any normal understanding of the word; no conscious entity “grants” a human a good brain, a healthy body or a stable neurochemistry, therefore these things can only be advantages, not “privileges”.  And that brings us to the second part of the problem:  the word “privilege” implies an advantage which is undeserved and unearned, and thus something for which the individual so “gifted” supposedly owes some debt or obligation to someone else (generally God, country or “society”).  The replacement of semantically-neutral words like “characteristic” with the semantically-loaded “privilege” is an overt attempt at emotional manipulation, an effort to make the fortunate feel guilty for characteristics over which they had no more control than their eye color or height.

not a privilegeGovernment’s conversion of natural rights into granted “privileges” is a similar cognitive game; if civil liberties are unearned “privileges” magnanimously granted by beneficent governments, “authorities” arguably have the power to take them away again under certain conditions just as a landlord has the right to evict a tenant who has violated his lease.  But when we recognize that self-ownership and personal agency are the birthrights of every single sentient being, governmental abrogation of those rights is seen for what it truly is:  Violation.  Usurpation.  Theft.  Rape.  For example, using the phrase “white privilege” pardons the government for its systematic violations of the rights of minorities; if the way white people are preferentially treated in Western societies is a “privilege”, an “extra” thing conferred upon some but not others, the onus of guilt seems to fall upon those who are fortunate enough to have received this (undeserved) gift.  But if we recognize the truth, that such treatment is the birthright of everyone, then the onus falls where it belongs:  on those government actors who act independently or collectively to rob minorities of what is rightfully theirs by virtue of their humanity.  Being harassed relatively less by cops, being treated more leniently by the courts and the like are not “privileges” conferred upon white people who otherwise would be treated as poorly as minorities; rather, minorities are cheated and robbed of their inalienable right to be treated in the same way as white people.  To refer to decent, respectful treatment as a “privilege” is to imply that nobody actually deserves it, when in reality everybody does.  And nothing that rightfully belongs to everyone alike can reasonably be called a “privilege”.

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Agony Aunt

Honest advice is unpleasant to the ears.  –  Chinese proverb

Honey Boo Boo hates Justin BieberCultural literacy is a funny thing.  We all share a stock of common knowledge which is not directly taught to us by parents, teachers or peers, but rather simply absorbed from our surroundings, taken in like air.  Because the process is so subtle and pervasive, it’s generally safe to assume that everyone who lives in a given culture for a long enough time is familiar with all of the common cultural elements even if he has no particular interest in some of them; for example, though I’ve never had any interest whatsoever in football and have never watched more than a few minutes of a game, I still know the basic rules and many of the particulars.  I didn’t have to read about it, research it or study it; I simply picked it up unconsciously from other people’s conversations, seeing games on television in the background, and other such means of involuntary learning.  In fact, it’s difficult to avoid familiarity with popular cultural elements even if one might prefer to; for example, I know who Honey Boo Boo and Justin Bieber are (and can even recognize their pictures) despite not having watched broadcast television in a decade (and despite wishing I could allocate the memory space devoted to them for something more useful and aesthetically appealing, such as a catalog of domestic animal parasites).

So it’s always a bit strange to discover someone who has somehow never learned about something which everyone else takes for granted; in this particular case, the way advice columns work.  It’s not like they’re something new; the first such column appeared in the Athenian Mercury in 1691, and they rapidly proliferated throughout the 18th century.  Nor have they vanished with the newspaper; if anything they’ve multiplied, and the freedom of the internet allows modern agony aunts to answer questions with a frankness that would have been completely impossible just twenty years ago.  Advice columns aren’t even a novelty on this blog; I answered my first reader question within weeks of starting it, and the Q & A columns were a regular monthly feature by the third month; since the beginning of this year, I’ve answered at least one reader question nearly every Wednesday.  But despite all this, a reader recently sent me a very nasty letter for publishing his question and its answer in my column, despite the facts that A) he didn’t ask for confidentiality, and I hid the few identifying details anyway; B) it’s the way I’ve always done it; C) it’s the way advice columns have been done for 322 years; and D) in my email reply to him, I specifically told him the date it would appear in the blog!  Apparently, this is not an isolated case; just over a year ago Amy Alkon of The Advice Goddess had a letter from a similarly-misinformed reader accusing her of “asking for your readers to write in with their problems so you can take your ideas from them (also called stealing) and write your own column.”  The mind boggles.

Thinking of You by Gil ElvgrenGiven two not-dissimilar cases only a year apart, I am forced to conclude that there really are some people out there who honestly don’t know how advice columns work; it would therefore seem prudent to put my own policy in writing for the benefit of such readers.  First of all, I try to answer every letter I get which asks for a reply; if I get behind in my work due to holidays, travel or other such events this could take as many as three weeks, but most of the time it’s more like three days (or three hours if the answer is short or I’m all caught up).  Not every question makes it into a column, but anything which I think other readers will find interesting or illuminating almost certainly will; however, I always remove identifying details and slightly rephrase the language (if necessary) to simplify and/or broaden it.  For example, if a reader mentions that he lives in a particular European country I will change it to “Europe” (or else leave it out entirely if I don’t think that’s significant to understanding the answer).  If you would like to ask a question but don’t want it to appear even in disguised form, all you have to do is say so; I have answered many questions confidentially and would not even dream of violating such a request.  Most importantly, I think honesty is the most important quality of advice; though I answer questions as politely as I can, I am not going to lie to spare your feelings; would you really even want that?  It’s better to take the bitter medicine which may cure the ill, than to swallow a sugar pill and continue to suffer.  One last thing: if your letter does appear in the blog, I suggest you read the comments left by other readers; it never hurts to get other opinions, and sometimes a reader may add something that I hadn’t even considered.

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Legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways.
–  Frederic Bastiat

cops gloating over lootTake a look at the posts tagged “A Broker in Pillage”  sometime, and you’ll see many examples of the armed robbery by which pathologically-bloated modern governments sustain and enrich themselves:  Robbing homeless people of their meager possessions for the “crime” of being homeless in the first place.  Stealing cash and automobiles from sex workers’ clients and robbing sex workers of their life savings.  Stealing rental vehicles from their owners because the renters crossed imaginary lines with them.  Stealing a yacht because there were cigars on board.  Attempting to steal a family’s livelihood  because a few strangers were arrested on the property.  Stealing an entire township because weeds were growing on it.  The outrage is disguised by the euphemism “asset forfeiture” (which almost makes it sound as though the victims voluntarily give cops their property), and it’s become such a gigantic, out-of-control problem that it’s even attracting attention from staid, mainstream publications like The New Yorker:

…In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient.  Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one…civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.  One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace…United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins…[and] State of Texas v. $6,037…“The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor…and…leading forfeiture expert, observes.  A piece of property does not share the rights of a person.  There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence.  Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods.  Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve…

Though this article is extremely long, it’s well worth your time if you’re unfamiliar with how egregious this extortion racket has become.  It focuses primarily (though by no means exclusively) on a case that’s particularly over the top even by the horrific standards discussed above: the bandit ring of Tenaha, Texas, whose modus operandi was to stop minorities for ridiculous “offenses” such as “driving in the left lane without passing” or “driving too close to the white line”, illegally search them, steal any valuables, and then force them to sign the loot over to the police under threat of spurious felony charges,Tenaha welcome sign false imprisonment and even abduction of their children.  The whole rotten scheme was shut down last year and federal criminal charges may be pending; the mastermind behind it, a former state trooper named Barry Washington, insisted to investigators that God had given him permission to rob people.

This thuggery is a cancer which has hastened the degradation of the justice system in both the United States and the United Kingdom.  But while the US media generally remains silent about it in most cases, or reports it somewhat neutrally when sex work is used as the excuse (“…A new [Minnesota] state law permits authorities to forfeit the cash that was used in or intended for…sex solicitation…[and] applies to prostitutes, patrons or pimps…in addition to other penalties offenders can face…”), their British cousins gleefully compete to see who can lick police boots the cleanest while vilifying their victims the most viciously, especially when those victims are involved in the sex industry:

…brothel boss [Margaret Paterson]…is set to lose her haul…as police bid to claw back £1.2 million in dirty cash…the remorseless 61-year-old faces financial ruin after the Crown confirmed it will seek to recoup the colossal seven-figure sum under Proceeds of Crime rules.  The confiscation grab would be one of the biggest single hauls in Scottish legal history…

And given that police departments in both countries keep growing while their governments criminalize ever-larger numbers of ordinary activities, you can bet the situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

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I am now depicted as a former good-guy lawyer, i.e., a “First Amendment lawyer,” who lost his halo, fell in with bad company…and…revealed his lack of wit by ignoring the Free Speech Mafia and suing an Internet saint.  –  Charles Carreon

One of the most rewarding results of my increasing internet presence has been the opportunity to make the acquaintance of other well-known bloggers and public figures who use their platforms to fight for what they believe in; had I realized there were so many I would’ve started blogging back in the autumn of 2004, when I first really began to explore the whole internet thing beyond the confines of a few commercial and informational websites.  But despite my tardy arrival, I’ve been accepted into the community of those who care enough about human rights to devote considerable amounts of their own (uncompensated) time to the struggle, and to my great amazement and delight I have discovered that a larger fraction of them than I had previously imagined are lawyers.

lady lawyerThe observation that whores and lawyers have a great deal in common is not a new or especially clever one; we both charge for our time, care professionally about people we may not like very much personally, etc.  Nor are lawyers themselves oblivious to the resemblance; in fact, I think a majority of those who have joked about it to me over the years were themselves lawyers.  The similarity extends to the fact that both professions have their goodies and baddies, their ethical and fair practitioners and their sleazy rip-off artists, their honest professionals and their opportunists who view their respective trades as little more than a means of larceny.  But I’m ashamed to say that until I started reading and corresponding with lawyers who care deeply about civil liberties, I believed them to be a very small minority; I still can’t make a credible estimate about what fraction of all lawyers they might represent, but I suspect it’s not dissimilar to the fraction of whores who are honest and competent.  As one might expect, most of them are attracted to criminal defense, and for reasons that should be obvious many of those with whom I’ve had the most contact are especially interested in free speech and the other rights guaranteed in the United States by the First Amendment.

From the time I was old enough to understand what censorship was, I’ve considered it loathsome in the extreme; it’s bad enough that busybodies want to tell other people what they can do, but telling them what they can think or say crosses over the line from garden-variety control-freakishness to full-blown mental illness.  At one time, would-be censors were merely a very vocal minority in the US, but in recent years they’ve become far more numerous and powerful, even to the point where many who could be expected to fight them (such as journalists) are instead joining them, effectively declaring themselves mental incompetents who need to be told by their “betters” what they should be allowed to see and hear.  The most common excuse nowadays (beside the nebulous “national security”) is the imagined emotional fragility of women and children; we are repeatedly told that speech or images some people don’t like must be censored to “protect” their delicate psyches from discomfort.

But the more offensive something is, the more important that it be protected, even if we disagree with it ourselves; because this is counterintuitive to so many people nowadays, it’s vital that those of us who understand it work together to defeat any and all efforts to suppress speech.  This makes us seem rather fanatical to some, while others whose attempts at censorship are vigorously opposed may go as far as to cast us as members of some sinister cabal (in the exact same way prohibitionists malign sex worker activists by pretending we’re members of an imaginary “pimp lobby”).  Hence today’s title, thoughtfully provided by Charles Carreon (whose attempts to censor every critic of his attempts to censor a popular cartoonist are already the stuff of legend).  Carreon represented a website who tried to use a creative (that’s a nice way of saying “assholy”) interpretation of trademark law to censor said cartoonist (Matthew Inman, AKA “The Oatmeal”) and make a profit in the bargain, but was defeated (that’s a nice way of saying “buried”) by said “Free Speech Mafia”, who represented Inman pro bono (that’s a legal way of saying “for free”).

Popehat signalNor was this an isolated case; the blog Popehat has a regular feature called “The Popehat Signal”,  by which it asks for pro bono help for bloggers and other worthy individuals threatened by such lawsuits (and as far as I know always gets it).  Furthermore, I have been personally involved with seeking such help from this so-called “Mafia” on two separate occasions.  In one, a popular sex worker rights podcast was threatened by a mainstream media corporation; I explained the problem to attorney Marc Randazza of The Legal Satyricon, and he was able to quickly smooth things over at no cost to the activists.  In the other, I myself was threatened by a certain large internet-based corporation I’ve written very disparagingly about in this blog on several occasions; I turned immediately to Kenneth White of Popehat, who took care of things so expeditiously I didn’t even have time to get worried (again, at no cost to me).  These men and women (and many others in the First Amendment Lawyers Association) don’t spend their time fighting censorship for the glory, and it certainly isn’t for the money; they do it for the same reason so many other activists fight attempts to infringe individual liberties, namely because it’s the right thing to do.  And if that makes them some kind of gangsters, you can consider me a moll.

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Perhaps now that the arms race on the street has resulted in criminals equipping themselves with gravity, police should be issued with the Strong Nuclear Force so as to keep their edge.  –  Clark Bianco of Popehat

The internet has rebounded from a run of slow weeks with a vengeance, swamping me with a deluge of good stories and links.  While this column is flexible enough to absorb the surge, the “That Was the Week That Was” feature has a fixed length of ≈2000 words, and I can only trim the stories down so much before they turn into plain links.  Generally, stories that appear up to Wednesday night or Thursday morning make it into that week’s TW3, but this week I had my quota by Tuesday morning, and by Thursday morning I had enough for another column!  As you read this I’ve already posted this coming Saturday’s TW3, and the overflow will go into an extra edition on Tuesday the 27th.  Our top contributor was, as so often happens, Radley Balko, with everything down to the first video and “don’t wave at cops”.  But two others provided three links each, namely Mike Siegel (“39 stats”, “rhinoceroses” and “testes”) and Jesse Walker (“Area 51”, “terrorist” and “1776”); Grace clocked in with two (“ring” and “never call the cops”).  The first video (via pws) is a mini-horror film (from the creator of Ju-on) which is no less effective for its brevity, and the second is a demonstration of why government control of weapons is doomed.  The other links were supplied by Gideon (“Batman”), Franklin Harris  (“waiter”), Luscious Lani (“spontaneous combustion”), Pee-wee Herman  (“where no man”), Nun Ya (“26¢”), Amy Alkon  (“journalists”), Glenn Greenwald  (“non-compliance”), and Stacy Swimme (“Iceland”).

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