Archive for November, 2013

Denying that sex work is work means…talking over the very people who are most knowledgeable about their industry.  –  Tara Msiska

The Slave-Whore Fantasy

Methinks Mr. Hendricks typed this one-handed:

…David Hendricks [said]…”we see…torture that we would see at a POW camp…the tattooing of victims…sends a message to other pimps, ‘This is my property’…”  Hendricks went onto explain that every facet of a…trafficking [victim’s life] is controlled, including if they can eat, when they can return home, and who they can communicate with.  A growing sector of the sex workers in Long Beach—largely affiliated with gangs…are usually in a group of about a half-dozen women under one dominating male, who then requires a set amount of dollars to be made per female, typically in the range of $500 to $700 per day…

A False Dichotomy

Take a look at the claims above, and compare with the reality:  “The 24-year-old Hungarian woman [willingly worked but]…when she told Istvan Toth she wanted to return to Hungary he…threatened her, causing her to fear for her family’s safety.  So she began recording conversations and taking photographs, and…confided in two of her clients,The Weird who offered to pay for her to stay in a hostel…”  So much for barcode tattoos, evil clients and “controlled communication”.

Presents, Presents, Presents!

This week I received Christopher Lee’s Omnibus of Evil as a late birthday present (delayed in customs) from Kevin Wilson, and The Weird as an early Christmas present from Daz.  Thank you both so much!

Because We Say So (TW3 #19)

Remember those low-caste Nepalese women who were criminalized at the urging of prohibitionists in order to “save” them?

…The government-pledged alternative livelihood programme…was never implemented…Badi women continue to work as sex workers.  Many of them go to India…“If the government cannot provide us jobs, education and health services then it could at least lift the ban on prostitution,” said Soni Badi, adding that they would vote [for] the candidate ready to legalise…

The Course of a Disease (TW3 #36)

If only American celebrities were so principled:

The singer Antoine brought together over seventy [French] celebrities around a “simple statement to moderate tone…Without condoning or promoting prostitution, we reject the criminalization of…prostitutes and those who use their services, and ask to open a real debate without ideological bias…Why does the Special Committee…include so many abolitionists?  Why do they not consider…prostitutes’ choice?…It is time to give them the same rights as other workers”…

Here’s more criticism of the proposed law from Reason and Al-Jazeera.

Hard Numbers (TW3 #37)

on June 14, 2012, Rio’s…Police…rounded up prostitutes, staff and the owner [of Centaurus, and]…seized $150,000 in cash…police filmed the raid, threatening to leak the footage to the local media thereby exposing the women’s identities unless they handed over more money.  Thaddeus Blanchette, an anthropologist who has documented prostitution in Rio since 2004, is not surprised by this.  “Blackmail accompanying raids is not uncommon,” he reveals.  “It is one of the reasons why I am skeptical of using the police as neutral agents in the combating of trafficking.”  Centaurus was one of over 20 popular sex venues to be shut down in the period surrounding the Rio+20 Conference…Raids continue…as Brazil steps up its image-cleansing campaign ahead of the World Cup…despite the fact that exchanging sex for money is legal in Brazil and prostitution has been recognized as an official occupation…since 2002…

King of the Hill

Texas is so angry at claims it’s behind Georgia, California and New York in “sex trafficking” that it’s unveiled a new strategy to ensure its #1 position: claiming a bogus fraction of all “sex trafficking victims” rather than a mere ranking:

With an estimated 25 percent of the nation’s sex trafficking victims hailing from the Lone Star State, Texas [congressmen] John Cornyn and…Ted Poe led an effort…to punish “Johns” as harshly as “pimps”…proposed legislation…would impose penalties of 15 years to life on convicted customers…of sex slaves younger than 14 years old…Poe…[claimed] 300,000 sex trafficking cases [are] prosecuted each year….the proposal would [net the government] $15 million…a year from convicted traffickers’ seized assets and fines…

gold star for effortThere haven’t even been 300,000 “trafficking” prosecutions in the entire world since the panic started a decade ago; of course the reporter couldn’t be bothered to fact-check that.  An Illinois politician is also on the bandwagon, but all he can say is that his state is “a hub”, which is pretty pathetic if you ask me.  Still, he did inflate 3% to 33% and 14% to 62%, and insert a bogus “safe harbor” provision into the bill, so I suppose we should award him a little gold star for effort.

Misdirection (TW3 #40)

[American] public schools—even ones that teach comprehensive sex education—invite religious abstinence speakers to come in…and…spread [disinformation]…one…said, “If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and claimed she could tell which teenagers are promiscuous by looking at them…she also asserts that the HPV vaccine “only works on virgins”…[another] said…that if a guy gets sperm anywhere near a girl’s vagina, it will turn into a “little Hoover vacuum” and she will become pregnant…


More anti-guest-post-spammer genius from Popehat:

…[Teaching] children…to love and cherish and squeal over ponies…is like teaching [them] that whirling sawblades taste like Strawberry Quik…Children love games, particularly video games with eerie bug-eyed avatars and art styles out of the methadone nightmares of Japanese pornographers, so…in…our proposed dress-up game — tentatively titled PONIES LAUGH WHILE THEY KILL EVERYONE YOU LOVE…players could choose amongst different outfits suitable for a post-pony-apocalypse, including gnawed tatters, wretched tear-stained shifts, and gowns slick and dark with the blood of their cherished grandparents…

Lack of Evidence (TW3 #51) Alyssa Brame

no criminal charges [will] be filed in the death of Alyssa Brame, who was arrested…for allegedly offering to perform a sex act…for $40 and died of alcohol poisoning in a jail cell.  The five [Massachusetts cops] who [arrested]…her…claimed she did not appear…overly intoxicated, but by the time she was taken to the police station she couldn’t walk on her own, and cops there debated whether she was too drunk to be accused of offering sex for money…

Little Boxes (TW3 #135)

Another example of the “limited hours for massage parlors” fad:

…”We’ve been able to identify in excess of 200 victims of human trafficking…in the massage parlors”…said Sgt. Curt Chastain…the new ordinance would…[force them] to provide a…license from the California Massage Therapy Council…it would also limit hours of operation from 7am to 9pm, prohibit doors from being locked during business hours and require visibility from the street into the massage parlor…

The City of Fresno claims to have “identified” more “sex trafficking victims” than several huge operations were able to find in the entire United Kingdom.


Another claim that disasters cause harlotry:

…an aide to…Britain’s international development secretary…said…”After previous emergencies…we have seen an increase in…the trafficking of girls”…after the earthquake in Haiti…sexual abuse and exploitation were widespread…because women and girls could not obtain the goods and services they needed to survive…during the 2011 drought in…Africa, families married off daughters…as young as nine to pay their dowries…before their livestock died…

So we have the conflation of survival sex with rape and child marriage, all boxed up together and tied with a “trafficking” ribbon.

Big Sister (Extra Edition)

The lawyer…for the…champagne club…closed…on suspicion of procurement of prostitution…has accused the Reykjavík police of entrapment…police reportedly spent ISK 800,000…in champagne and time with the women and offered them money and cocaine in return for sex but to no avail…

Remember, taking money for sex isn’t illegal in Iceland, but offering money is.  So the cops broke the law and spent $6,600 (€4,900) trying to entrap women into doing something that isn’t illegal.Daily Mail 11-18-13 (cheering for censorship)

Opting Out

Husbands who like to watch pornography on the internet will have to confess to their wives and ask for permission, David Cameron said today.  Under Tory “moral guidelines”, people who want to view pornography…will need to actively “opt-in” with their internet service providers…It is not just pornography…but also…material related to alcohol, drugs, smoking, and politically extremist material – in what many are describing as the Great Firewall of Britain…politicians and civil servants will decide what is pornography and…what political views are “extremist”…In order to push…censorship, Cameron has continually conflated…child pornography with legal adult material…[despite the fact that child porn is] shared on the “dark web”…and therefore…this erosion of digital freedoms will have no effect on the very problem it is being proposed to solve…

The worst part about loathsome ideas, though, is that politicians learn from one another:  “Joy Smith hopes to emulate…David Cameron’s web censor plan…and…is…suggesting a great Canadian internet filter…

Bad Girls (TW3 #339)

When will guys learn cheating hookers is a really bad idea?  And when will hookers learn to get the money up front?

…a…[Malaga] man…went to a…brothel…[and] decided to engage in an orgy with three prostitutes…[Afterward] the women demanded €70 each…but the man refused to pay one of them…[she then] pulled out a knife and slashed the man’s genitalia…“Everything went well but doctors told me I was very close to dying or being impotent for the rest of my life…”

The Course of a Disease (TW3 #341)

Another example of the real and ugly motive behind the Swedish model’s pretense of “protecting” women:  “The mayor of Oslo has called on the Norway’s new government to look at making prostitution illegal, after women were reported to be selling sex outside the parliament building…

Social Autoimmune Disorder (TW3 #342)

In Sanford, Florida, police are already sending…notices…[to] owners of cars that cops see ‘lingering in areas known for prostitution.’   The goal here isn’t to arrest would-be Johns…[but] to embarrass these guys should their wives open the letters.  That gets a lot easier with license plate scanners…”  And as Radley Balko explains, it gets much worse from there. San Antonio 4

Traffic Jam (TW3 #343)

The San Antonio Four are free at last:

Three women who served more than a decade in prison for allegedly molesting two girls were set…free…after…recent scientific advances undermined medical testimony pivotal to their convictions.  Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Elizabeth Ramirez were…released on bond…pending a decision…on whether to grant them a new trial.  If that happens, the…District Attorney…will decline to prosecute them, and their convictions would be overturned…

The fourth, Anna Vasquez, was already out on parole.

Across the Pond (TW3 #343)

Delusional Scottish officials imagine that raiding saunas will force dirty whores to take menial jobs:  “A job club for sauna workers is being launched – to help women find work…the…proposal…is designed to cater [to] an expected flood of women away from the industry…

Think of the Children! (TW3 #345)

Another criticism of “sex ray” idiocy:

…For every…case…in…the press, there are many [former sex workers] who are fired…without us ever hearing about it…people…have been fired for camming, pro-domming, stripping and] phone sex [work]…people…[don’t list] sex work…on their CVs…because employers…don’t see sex work as work…by firing people for previous or current sex work, employers are making them unemployable, and actually forcing them to return to the very industry they have moral scruples against…

The More the Better (TW3 #345)

This follow-up to Business Insider’s quasi-review of Sheri’s Ranch is about as awful and tone-deaf as it’s possible for an anti-criminalization article to be; it leads off with the usual “heavily regulated” garbageArizona's tenacious laws against sex workers that (as regular readers know) never works as intended, continues with the vile “whores are too stupid and criminal to take care of their own health without being forced to by their betters” trope, and even throws in a “rent out their bodies” for good measure.  But at least they’re trying, and I suppose that’s something.

Traffic Jam (TW3 #346)

By the time last week’s TW3 had posted, Al-Jazeera had censored the article which was harshly critical of Arizona’s horrible treatment of sex workers; it was later replaced with this puff piece dishonestly back-dated to pretend it was the original.  Fortunately, nothing ever completely vanishes from the internet; I found a cached copy of the original and took this screenshot of it for posterity.  I guess it’s one thing to criticize bad data and a wholly different thing to question a police state, unless it’s France.

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on October 13th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile the internet is the greatest mass-communication innovation since the printing press, it has also created a few social problems that did not previously exist.  Unfortunately, the attempts of Luddites and control freaks to deal with these issues resemble, as do so many other governmental attempts to “do something”, an attempt to break an egg with a sledgehammer.  Take “revenge porn”, for example.  For those who are blissfully unaware of this rather nasty little phenomenon, it’s the practice of uploading sexy photos of exes to the internet in order to expose them to public humiliation and even to damage them economically, since many prospective employers, licensors and the like now routinely attempt to dig up all the dirt they can via Google.  Nor is this economic damage merely passive:  about a year ago the twisted minds of those who run these sites recognized that they could charge people hefty fees to take down their pictures.  Technically, this isn’t blackmail, which is defined as demanding payment not to reveal something; these pictures have already been revealed.  Furthermore, the charges are disguised as “service fees”, just as banks claim it really costs them $25 or more to deal with a bounced check.  But because sex is involved, it was a safe bet politicians wouldn’t ignore the issue for long, and because they are politicians, it was a safe bet the response would be neither reasonable nor moderate.  But as Dr. Brooke Magnanti points out, the issue isn’t as simple as they pretend:

…The American Civil Liberties Union opposed the first draft of California’s revenge porn bill on [free speech] grounds.  Florida also rejected a similar bill earlier this year…as long as nude pictures are considered objects of shame, we have a problem…And as ever, laws that monitor anything to do with sex have a nasty habit of being misused by police to bring trumped-up convictions.  While a fine seems eminently reasonable to discourage this undesirable behaviour, jail time does not.  If the victim must show they suffered emotional distress or humiliation, surely this would be better handled in civil rather than criminal law?  And…with California’s already overcrowded penal system suffering the effects of the “war on drugs”, can they really afford a “war on revenge”?

Noted free speech attorney Marc Randazza agrees that civil law is the proper vehicle here, and if California insists on “doing something”, maybe that “something” should be banning discrimination against people for having taken sexy pictures or video in the first place.  But while (as so often happens) California was first out of the gate, it didn’t take long for New York to follow with a “significantly improved” version which would not only increase the penalty to $30,000, but also (as Scott Greenfield explains) extend to people who post their own nude photos:

…California’s law…can only be used to prosecute individuals who personally took naked photos of someone else and then disseminated the images against the subjects’ will, New York’s proposition would…apply to making sexually explicit self-portraits public”…[the bill’s sponsors] have gone so far as to issue a press release about their plan to save people from themselves, explaining how they will make a more perfect world.  “…the majority of its victims are women who don’t know that their images and likenesses has been bartered and sold over the internet…Criminalization is preferable to civil suits…because civil suits do not deter those who upload or disclose new images after a…suit has ended…This bill is narrowly drawn so as not to infringe on First Amendment rights”…So the nice gal who revealed Anthony Weiner’s selfies is a criminal?…

Did you note the “sex trafficking” undertones there (“victims…bartered and sold over the internet”)?  That’s courtesy of one of the bill’s chief architects, a Florida law professor and neofeminist named Mary Anne Franks who interned under Catharine MacKinnon and has written a long string of articles on porn, “sexual harassment” and other favorite neofeminist targets (she has never actually practiced law).  But while Franks and her bluenosed cronies are busy promoting a law which will also criminalize escort advertising and online porn, they have largely ignored a very similar, equally sleazy online racket because it doesn’t involve sex and affects far more men than women:

…a handful of…[mug shot aggregator websites] routinely show up high in Google searches…[their] ostensible point…is to give the public a quick way to glean the unsavory history of a neighbor, a potential date or anyone else…[but they] make money…by charging a fee [of up to $400] to remove the image…To…millions…now captured on one or more of these sites, this sounds like extortion.  Mug shots are merely artifacts of an arrest, not proof of a conviction, and many people whose images are now on display were never found guilty, or the charges against them were dropped.  But these pictures can cause serious reputational damage…

When the New York Times contacted the companies who enable this extortion, an interesting thing happened:

Initially, a Google spokesman…fielded questions…with a statement that amounted to an empathetic shrug…Two days later, he wrote…that the sites…run afoul of a Google guideline…[and] the company …[has introduced an] algorithm change…[to disfavor the sites in image searches]…officials at MasterCard…contacted the merchant bank that handles all of its largest mug-shot site accounts and urged it to drop them as customers…PayPal came back with a similar response…American Express and Discover…both…said they were severing relationships with mug-shot sites.  A representative of Visa wrote to say it was asking merchant banks to investigate business practices of the sites…

In other words, businesses handled the problem far more quickly and effectively than legislators ever could, and without giving cops and prosecutors a new weapon to use against people who never hurt anyone; “revenge porn” could easily be handled in exactly this same way.  But doesn’t this, as some reporters have opined, amount to censorship?  Mike Riggs argues otherwise:

…The case against releasing mugshots was probably made most effectively in 1999 by the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana, which ruled against releasing the mugshot of Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr…In its ruling, the court…noted that mugshots [are]…”intended for the use of a particular group…of persons”…Like fingerprints, mugshots are used by law enforcement to identify people.  Over time, the press began to treat them as “public documents,” and some courts have agreed.  It’s clearly time to renegotiate that claim.  Two decades ago, unless you were a celebrity or a nobody accused of a particularly heinous crime, your mugshot wasn’t worth much.  Today, it’s worth something to a lot of different parties:  mugshot sites want to bank on prying eyes, neighbors want to know more about their neighbors, etc…Yet people lived without having this information at their fingertips until about 2010, when the first of the mugshot sites began to pop up…Making [mugshots] publicly available turns an investigative tool into a lifelong punishment.

I concur, but I’d like to borrow one further argument from Radley Balko:

…The names of misbehaving prosecutors are rarely if ever included in…court opinions that find misconduct…Some prosecutors argue that they should be protected from false allegations…[but Ken White of Popehat] said…”You’re dealing with a justice system where the defendant never gets that kind of protection of anonymity.  There’s no delay in releasing his name until he’s actually convicted.  Instead, prosecutors put out press releases and make public statements about the accused.  I just don’t think there’s a legitimate argument you can make as to why prosecutors should get more protection…than defendants do”…

Janet ConfortoIf “authorities” want to argue that people’s reputations deserve protection from false accusations, surely equality under the law demands that all citizens deserve that same protection?  And if they think the posting of a mere nude photo, which does not in itself constitute an accusation of wrongdoing, should be a criminal offense, what about all the police and other “official” websites which post far more damaging photographs (which are then scooped up by mugshot sites)?  Surely they should be criminally prosecuted as well?  Of course, this will never happen; government repeatedly grants to even its most minor actors immunity from the edicts by which it establishes universal criminality for the rest of us.  But the only way there will ever be even the slightest chance of change is for people to wake up and recognize the true intent of every law our rulers present as intended to “protect” us.

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This is a kind of hybrid column, half Q&A and half guest post.  A reader sent me the photo below, and wanted to know if I could tell him anything about it (you’ll see why he thought I might in a moment).  Well, everything I know about art wouldn’t even make a whole column, but the essence of librarianship isn’t knowing information directly, but rather knowing where to find it.  So I asked Aspasia Bonasera, who happens to be an art historian in addition to a sex worker, and she provided the analysis below.  I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

In the early eighties I found this de-framed painting in an antique store in Wisconsin.   An older couple who ran the store said it had come up the river from Storyville to Chicago, where they got it in an estate sale, along with its anecdotal provenance.  Seems it was cut from its frame in great hurry, then later “framed” in something that was at some point painted dark brown…

Storyville painting

This painting was done in oil on canvas.  Primary colors dominate, though the palette is vibrant; the paint quality is average to maybe slightly above average.  The canvas itself looks to be average quality as well (cotton or low-grade linen), so this painting was either done by an artist without a lot of money to spend on finer, linen canvases or someone who paints as a hobby.  This says to me that it probably wasn’t a commission or if it was, it was not commissioned by someone with a lot of money for the project.  Commissions are generally done with the best materials the artist has access to, and it is not unusual for the patron to provide these finer materials.

The painting was originally larger; the female subject’s foot is clearly cut off at the bottom of the canvas where it was cut and re-framed.  There could be any number of reasons for this; for example, if the painting was commissioned for one patron but the deal fell through for reasons unknown to us, another patron may have bought it but asked that it be scaled down to fit on their walls.  More than likely, I think this painting was cut and re-sized by the buyer rather than the artist.  So far as I can tell, there is no signature of the artist on the painting, which tells me it may have been located on the bottom of the painting, which has been removed.  If the artist had re-sized/re-framed the painting in his studio, he would have re-signed his creation.

The painting shows a classic Reclining Venus, which was a popular theme in antiquity and Renaissance paintings.  For example, the Venus of Urbino by Titian is a Reclining Venus.  Naturally, this would have been an appropriate subject for a brothel.  The two young men are almost satyr-like, especially their ears, which are almost pointed and their long, drawn faces.  Satyrs were known for their lust and high libidos and were often depicted with women who were equally lusty and wild, especially Maenads.Diana and Actaeon by Camille Corot (1836)  The presence of the men in a voyeuristic pose may also be influence by the Greek myth of the virgin huntress Diana being surprised at her bath by the hunter Actaeon, whom she punished for spying on her nudity by turning him into the very animal he hunts (see also Titian’s rendering of that story).  Unlike Diana, however, the woman in this painting, as a representation of Venus/Aphrodite quite enjoys being spied on, though she doesn’t make eye contact with the voyeurs but affects an aloofness that probably only intensifies their lust for her.  Appropriate for a sex worker!

The style reminds me the most of French Rococo artists such as Antoine Watteau, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, or François Boucher.  Fragonard and Boucher are known for their erotic arts and voluptuous pastoral scenes.  This painting shows nature as full and sensual and blossoming.  The style, in my opinion, is very strongly influenced by Fragonard, which brings me to a conundrum of my own.  Fragonard was very popular among the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the French Revolution.  When the Revolution occurred, Fragonard fell out of favor (as did Boucher) and his art was forgotten for many years; this included the time period in which Storyville would have existed.  That said, however, Fragonard may have fallen out of favor in mainstream art history, but perhaps he was still remembered among those who were outside of the mainstream, such as those people who still liked the voluptuous and erotic artistic expressions embodied by the Rococo?  Certainly there would have been those among the elite classes of the French Creole in New Orleans who may have had Fragonard paintings (or at least known who he was) and also patronized Storyville.

Obviously without more to go on, this analysis is purely speculative, though based in what I have learned in my course work.  I would love to know more about it, though, as I always love investigating that intersection of sex and art.  If the reader really wants a thorough, in-person investigation, I suggest contacting a gallery that is in New Orleans itself, such as M.S. Rau Antiques; in Chicago, there are a whole bunch of places that could do the job as well.

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I’m a widow who’s been in a relationship with a widower for two years; he has a successful business and is very well-off and very good to me, and though neither of us had a very good sex life with our deceased spouses we have really made magic together.  But for the past few months, things have cooled between us; the sex is still really good but somewhat less frequent, and his behavior has become odd.  Due to his business he’s gone for about half of every week; this never used to bother me, but while I was unpacking his case from his last trip I found a bottle of Viagra, and some of them had been used.  When I have sex with him now, he never wants anything but anal; he can’t come any other way.  He gets a lot of junk texts on his phone from gay dating websites; he just deletes them and says he doesn’t know why they’re being sent to him.  All this started after he hired a gay male friend of mine, and I have come to believe the two of them are having an affair.whispering men  I sometimes find the two of them talking in whispers, and they stop when I come into the room; one night recently I went to bed during one of the friend’s visits and awoke about three in the morning to find the two of them sitting close together in the garden, talking in hushed voices.  The next day he came by work and avoided me, rushing out without saying hello; we used to be close friends, but now he avoids making eye contact.  I want to trust my boyfriend, but it’s difficult given the circumstances.

I wish I could tell you that you’re only being paranoid, but I really don’t believe that you are.  If I were in your place, I would be just as suspicious as you are; all of these things do seem to point toward your boyfriend having an affair with your friend.  His sexual difficulties, his evasiveness, the way he and the friend seem to be sharing a secret, the fact that the friend is now uncomfortable around you, and the gay solicitations…together, they add up to something that doesn’t look good.  Despite the social gains made by gay people in recent years, there is still a great deal of stigma attached to homosexuality among older people, and even younger ones in many countries; it would therefore be no surprise for your boyfriend to be in denial about his attraction to other men.

Obviously, you’re going to have to talk to him about it somehow, but I think we both know he’s going to deny it because that’s what most men do when they’re caught.  I suggest you really think about how to confront him before actually doing it; try to plan this so you are as calm and rational as possible.  It’s almost certainly going to turn into an argument, so you need to prepare for that, but try not to let it degenerate into a screaming match; let him know how you feel, and watch how he reacts.  You will probably be able to tell by his reactions and what he says whether your suspicions are correct, even if he keeps denying it.  After that, you’ll have to make a decision based on what he says and what you discover; I can’t tell you what the “right” decision is, because you have to decide that for yourself, but one way or another this has to be resolved.  As the old song goes, “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds”; either you have to deal with the suspicion, accept the situation or move on from the relationship, because it isn’t fair to either of you for things to continue like this.

(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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To avoid doing anything, wait for the right circumstances.  –  Mason Cooley

I’m sure my regular readers have noticed that, though I usually feature news items y’all send me within a week or so, there are times when I don’t even mention them in passing (much less feature them), even if they seem to be something right up my alley.  Indeed, sometimes a dozen or more of you will send something to me, and that’s on top of all the times I see it on Twitter, yet I stubbornly refuse to give it as much as a nod.  And when it does happen, some of you probably ask yourselves, “What is up with that?”  Well, today I’m going to explain it, with the help of a recent example of the phenomenon.

bovine excrement meterThe one-word explanation is “instinct”.  As many have remarked, my bullshit detector is pretty finely calibrated; I can usually sense it no matter how expertly it’s hidden, and I can often produce an analysis of the exact breed and variety of the bull and tell you what he was eating besides.  But at other times, I’m just not conversant enough with the background or good enough with math to figure out exactly what’s wrong with the story in question; I still know that it’s wrong, but I can’t quite put my finger on why.  And so rather than rush to report something everyone else is nattering and opining about, and thereby look like an idiot when it’s invariably debunked, I just sit back quietly and wait for the other shoe to drop.

This particular case in point started back in July, with the publication of an article in Marie Claire which rehashed the perennial legend that young Japanese people have lost interest in sex (remember when the “herbivores” were taking over a few years ago?)  Well, nobody noticed this new one (because it was Marie Claire, after all) until author Abigail Haworth rehashed it in the Guardian one month ago today…and then it took off, being quoted and discussed in many other media outlets.  Needless to say, none of them bothered to do any original research to confirm the story; as in the case of “sex trafficking”, the parrots in journalists’ clothing at Time, Huffington Post, Slate and many other rags mindlessly reported the original, with the high level of critical analysis one might expect from a toddler or a spambot.  I knew it was garbage from the get-go; Japan has one of the largest and most diverse sex industries on the planet.  It equated dating with having sex, like the American researchers who obsess about “correcting” the large discrepancy between the fraction of men who cheat and the fraction of women, because they refuse to recognize that the majority of male cheating is carried out with whores rather than cheating wives.  Furthermore, it claimed that a low birth rate was somehow evidence of lack of sex, as though the reporter had dispatched her story from some past era before the invention of reliable contraception.  However, I was still reluctant to weigh in; I’m not an expert in Japanese culture, so it was conceivable that there was something beyond those two obvious errors that I was overlooking.

As it turned out, on this occasion I had been overcautious.  The debunkings which started appearing a week later came to the same conclusions I had, with very little more to add; I had simply underestimated the institutional cluelessness of the modern media.  In Global Voices Online, Keiko Tanaka quoted a number of criticisms of the piece, including one which pointed out that Haworth cannot read Japanese and was therefore at the mercy of a tiny number of sources.  And in Bloomberg, William Pesek wrote:

…The real issue is that many avoid traditional, committed relationships out of doubts…based on economics rather than culture.  If low libido were strictly societal, why do the Czech Republic, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and Taiwan have fertility rates as low as Japan’s?  I don’t see the global media characterizing those countries as sexless freak shows spiraling toward extinction…Part of the problem is cherry-picked data.  Take the 2011 survey…on which sex-drought stories are often based.  Its finding that 61 percent of unmarried men and 49 percent of single women between 18 and 24 of age weren’t in any kind of romantic relationship is mentioned up high.  Rarely cited is this fact on Page 2 of the report:  almost 90 percent of respondents intend to marry someday.  And…71 percent of unmarried Americans aren’t in committed relationships [either]…Japan’s low birthrate…is a result of exorbitant living costs, elevated stress and diminished confidence…

So there you have it.  Though both of those articles did add details of which I was unaware, I could have commented on the matter without hesitation and been largely right on.  Ah, well; at least I’ll have a resource to refer back to the next time the “asexual Japanese youth” canard starts making the rounds again in 2017 or thereabouts. sex is gross

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The truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.  –  Herbert Agar

The Road of Lost InnocenceEven ignoring the immorality of using lies to support one’s agenda, there is another major problem with the tactic:  unlike the truth, lies are unable to stand on their own.  Facts are what they are; even if they are neglected, forgotten, buried and denied they continue to exist, waiting to be uncovered again.  Events produce effects, and the evidence of those effects may not always be obvious to those interested in hiding the truth; it simply rests wherever it falls, awaiting a future day of discovery.  A lie, on the other hand, is like a wooden house in a wet climate: without constant maintenance it will soon begin to rot and fall apart, and if there are forces actively working against it that day will come sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, it is the nature of human folly that most of our species prefer comfortable lies to uncomfortable truths, and even when those lies start to collapse many will ignore the process until the roof falls in on their heads…at which point they will invariably insist it was due to sabotage by their enemies rather than to the inherent unsoundness of the construction.

Somaly Mam has built an elaborate edifice of lies in which to house her extremely profitable business, and has never been terribly concerned about those she has hurt in the process.  In my column “Schadenfreude” I wrote,

…Cambodian police, aided and abetted by Somaly Mam (who is herself financed by money from neofeminists, religious fanatics, trafficking alarmists and the garment industry), have conducted a series of high-profile brothel raids and streetwalker sweeps, often accompanied by Western journalists like Nicholas Kristof who are interested in advancing their careers and reputations by pandering to “trafficking” hysteria.  None of these people care one iota about the lives, needs and desires of women; “rescuing” whores is to them nothing but a means to their own personal ends, and after the cameras stop rolling or Kristof stops “tweeting”  they are no more interested in these women’s welfare than they would be in the container which held a portion of recently-consumed food.  The “rescued victims” are thrown into filthy, crowded cells at Somaly Mam’s “rehabilitation centers” where they are beaten, robbed, gang-raped and starved while their “savior” hobnobs with celebrities and receives accolades from anti-whore fanatics.  Young girls who submit to brainwashing become…“poster children” and older ones are sent as slaves to sweatshops, while those who refuse are simply left to rot unless they can escape.  Groups like Human Rights Watch have repeatedly protested this horrific abuse, and sex worker rights groups have released short documentaries like “Caught Between the Tiger and the Crocodile” or videos like “Somaly Uh Uh” in order to alert Westerners to the atrocities their ignorant and ill-considered jihad against harlotry has enabled…

Long ProsBut in the two years since that essay, Mam’s jerry-built structure has begun to crumble.  First, it was revealed that women she had claimed in her press releases as underage and coerced were neither, and those she claimed to have been murdered or abducted by “traffickers” were alive and well.  Her ex-husband also revealed that their daughter, whom Mam claimed “had…been kidnapped and gang-raped in revenge for her mother’s activism …had simply run off with her boyfriend”; the daughter, who lives with her mother, has confirmed that.  A year ago it was revealed that Long Pros, a young woman whose eye had supposedly been gouged out by a “pimp”, and whom Mam had exploited as an “anti-trafficking” poster child, had never been involved in sex work and had lost her eye to a tumor.  Just last month Meas Ratha, Mam’s very first iconic “trafficking victim” at the beginning of her crusade in 1998, said she could no longer live a lie; she admitted that (like Long Pros) she had never been a sex worker, and that “her testimony…was fabricated and scripted for her by Ms. Mam.”  Former “rescued sex slaves” who worked for Mam’s organization AFESIP have reported endemic sexual harassment and even rape by male bosses, especially two named Phana and Ou Sophan (the latter one of Mam’s relatives); those who reported them were fired and anyone who sided with the victims was disciplined.  And in a recent interview, Mam’s ex-husband disputed even her own claims of having been “trafficked”:  “She was a prostitute.  Was she abused?  Yes.  Was she trafficked?  I doubt it.  No one has proof.

As you might expect, Mam’s organization denies everything.  She “misspoke” when she made false accusations of murder and rape.  A spokeswoman who insisted that Long Pros’ parents, doctors and medical records were all wrong told reporters, “you are now bullying victims of sex slavery.”   The reaction to Meas Ratha’s revelation was, “We don’t know why, nor will we speculate on why Meas Ratha has allegedly made [these] claims,” accompanied by an accusation that the paper which reported the story “has never been historically fair with Somaly” and is involved in a “witch hunt”.  “Trafficking” fetishist Nicholas Kristof, one of the major proponents of Mam’s legend, doesn’t care; his assistant told a reporter, “Nick isn’t going to give a comment because it seems the reports are unrelated to the reporting and writing he has done on Somaly Mam.”  And not one of the Hollywood stars, American politicians or fashion-industry moguls who have feted, promoted and bankrolled Mam and her exploitative “foundation” have seen fit to distance themselves from her or to publicly demand an explanation.  It won’t be long before they’re forced to do so by increasing media attention,Somaly Mam and Nick Kristof but I don’t expect much fanfare; they’ll just quietly exit the collapsing building, dust off their expensive designer clothes, and move on to the next celebrity fad without so much as a word of apology to those who have been brutalized, marginalized and infantilized by the wicked schemes of the greedy, unscrupulous woman they have enabled for over a decade.

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The Blues are not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch; ain’t no way out.  –  from “How To Sing the Blues”

This was a relatively quiet week for links, and I’m glad to say that I haven’t yet seen much unseasonably-early Christmas stuff yet (though I did have to re-activate the email filter which automatically deletes anything with the words “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” in the subject line).  I’m nearly finished with my book, and the cover art should be here in the next few days; I’ve also been working on some other extracurricular stuff I’m sure y’all will like, which will be announced as it’s released.  Everything down to the first video is from Radley Balko; the video itself is from Aspasia, and the second video (a short film from 1966 on the making of 2001:  A Space Odyssey) is from I Am Curious Blue.  The links between the videos were contributed by Szusa (“Greek music”), Brooke Magnanti (“Prince”),  Mike Siegel (“update”), Neil Gaiman (“Heisenberg”), Walter Olson (“ice”), Rick Horowitz (“Circle K”), and Jesse Walker (“python”).

From the Archives

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