Archive for December, 2011

Fast away the old year passes,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
 –  Traditional Christmas carol

It’s hard to believe that another year and 365 columns have gone by since I wrote my last New Year’s Eve post.  At that time, I was worried about running out of steam and even thought I’d decrease my rate of posting, but by February I had hit on a few strategies which made the process both easier and more flexible (such as pre-posting columns days ahead if I know I’ll be busy or away from home), so I’ve been able to continue at the same rate without burning out.  And let me tell you, I’m really glad I managed it; I really feel like what I’m doing here is important and I’d like to keep up this pace for as long as possible.

mountain of paperBut the ability to persevere in the effort is nothing without the motivation, and a lot of that comes from y’all, my readers.  Every week I receive numerous complimentary comments and emails, plus a plethora of links and attributions all over the internet (and that means all over the world).  That started in earnest only a few weeks into the year, largely due to my efforts at debunking the trafficking mythology in general and the “Super Bowl sex slave invasion” in particular.  But it would’ve only lasted the proverbial fifteen minutes if not for the unflagging loyalty and tireless support of my readers; please don’t ever think your kind words, enthusiastic participation and topic suggestions are superfluous, because they mean more to me than you can possibly know.

2011 was a strange, eventful year; it started with the aforementioned Super Bowl hype, fed by a general explosion of “sex trafficking” hysteria which was accelerated by endorsements from a number of second and third-rate celebrities.  One of these, Ashton Kutcher (along with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Demi Moore) started a really stupid anti-prostitute ad campaign supported entirely by misinformation, and when called on it by the Village Voice he responded with a rather absurd tirade on Twitter which called unwelcome attention to his advisor’s disregard for facts.  And though the campaign against Backpage which Kutcher championed has gained in popularity, the fact that it hasn’t a legal leg to stand on has robbed it of any real relevancy.  Yellow journalism on the subject from CNN, the New York Times, Newsweek and Huffington Post reached new lows, but other media outlets support our rights and study after study after study after study confirms what prostitutes and our advocates have been saying all along.

Witch-hunts against sex workers of all kinds, carried out by busybodies who are almost entirely fueled by American dollars, driven by American State Department propaganda and threats and encouraged by self-promoting journalists, continued unabated around the world, while some other jurisdictions preferred to persecute men and infantilize women by promoting  the “Swedish Model” of anti-prostitute law (or rhetoric) and/or schemes derived from it, and still others simply resorted to robbing sex workers or their associates or clients instead.  Several sex worker rights organizations have fought these crusades via ad campaigns that demonstrate sex workers are not victims or slaves but ordinary people, and several lawsuits defending the sexual rights of individuals have been filed.

While American police departments continue to harass and rob strip clubs and waste tremendous sums pursuing high-profile campaigns against escorts and our advertising venues, New York police have made no progress whatsoever in finding the Long Island Killer except to decide that he’s one man and probably a cop.  And of course there was the usual mixed assortment of politicians who were caught with their pants down.

Moral panics always get worse before they get better, so I don’t think we can expect things to improve anytime soon; however, they can only go so far, and perhaps by this time next year we’ll at least have passed the climax of the hysteria.  And that, I think, is a worthwhile subject for a New Year’s toast.

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The disposition of all power is to abuses, nor does it at all mend the matter that its possessors are a majority.  –  James Fenimore Cooper

On December 17th, 2010 New Orleans reclassified prostitution, marijuana possession and two other minor crimes as municipal offenses, thus allowing police to write tickets instead of making arrests; in my column of one year ago today I wrote, “while cops will still have the option to arrest hookers if they please, it’s likely they will be discouraged from doing so because the move was intended to cut costs, reduce crowding in Orleans Parish Prison and unclog courts.  This also means escort stings will likely become a thing of the past in New Orleans; can you imagine their setting up an expensive operation just to write a girl a ticket?”  Alas, I underestimated the stupidity and pigheadedness of the NOPD and the pure sadism of its chief, Ronal Serpas; while at first it really looked as though the city had ceased its decades-long war on the profession to which it owes its existence (even convicting one cop of kidnapping and attempting to rape a prostitute and firing two others for harassing and falsely arresting streetwalkers), the police later launched a campaign intended specifically to destroy as many people’s lives as possible before the state took away their license to do so.

To explain what I mean by that, please permit me this reprint from my column of July 2nd:

Regular readers know that prostitutes in Louisiana are routinely charged with the ludicrously-named “Crime Against Nature” felony in addition to simple prostitution, but while it’s generally dropped as part of a plea deal with white middle-class escorts like me it tends to stick for poor (especially black or transsexual) streetwalkers, who are then committed to the “sex offender” registry for decades (40% of Orleans Parish “sex offenders” are there for this non-crime).  In my column of February 26th I reported on a federal challenge (Doe vs. Jindal) to this law and mentioned that WWAV had other strategies for defeating it besides the court case.  Well, I can now tell you what I was asked to withhold in February:  One of those strategies was a legislative one, and it bore fruit Thursday (June 30th) as Governor Bobby Jindal signed a law reducing “solicitation for crime against nature” to a misdemeanor, thus removing the registration requirement.  The litigation must continue because everyone previously convicted is still classified as a felon, but considering the new law I think there’s a good chance the case will succeed and those who were victimized by the arbitrary pronouncements of little tin gods in the police and prosecutor’s offices will soon have a chance at a normal life again.

But Louisiana politics being what it is, somebody on the losing side tipped off the NOPD that its window of opportunity for inflicting decades of torment by a single act of piggish sadism was about to close, so Chief Serpas launched two major persecution campaigns within a few weeks with the specific intention of inflicting “crime against nature” charges on as many victims as possible – and thus getting them labeled “sex offenders” – before he was forever barred from ever doing so again on June 30th:

…New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas…said 51 people were arrested on drug and prostitution charges during undercover stings set up during the past three weeks…[then launched a second series of stings only two weeks later which resulted in the arrest of] 29 men who allegedly agreed to pay for sex with undercover…female officers…Superintendent Ronal Serpas said police arrested the men…between June 14 and June 22.  The men were booked with the solicitation of prostitutes and crimes against nature…“They (citizens) have children and families and want to use their neighborhoods,” Serpas said…[he] added that prostitution can result in the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and is often linked to other crimes, such as carjackings or robbery.  “Prostitution is a crime of addiction and violence,” Serpas said…

As I pointed out when I first reported this last August, the areas mentioned in the article aren’t “neighborhoods” in any meaningful way:

…they’re industrial areas whose only inhabitants are rats and the residents of cheap motels.  And of course no story of police persecution of whores would be complete without the obligatory lies about disease and violent crime.  I guess Chief Serpas didn’t get the memo about us all being “trafficking victims” now.

Governments, like all organisms, exist to feed and grow; since they are non-producers, they do so by consuming progressively greater proportions of the wealth of the society on which they are parasitic.  If a society is fortunate this parasitism is largely passive, like a benign tumor.  But in most modern “democratic” societies bureaucrats feel compelled to justify their existence by ever-increasing control and regulation, especially regulation which results in more wealth for the government or benefits for its political cronies.  Sometimes lower levels of government grow “too big for their breeches” and attempt to countermand the laws established by their feudal overlords; Louisiana is particularly known for this, as evidenced not only by its attempt to circumvent Lawrence vs. Texas, but also by its recent moves to outlaw United States legal tender and New Orleans’ criminalization of free speech.  It won’t ever end, but perhaps sooner or later either the subjects below or the courts above will curtail these particular abuses, and the politicians will be forced to find new ways to rob, exploit and subjugate the populace.

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When goose down is sent a thousand miles, the gift may be light but the sentiment is weighty.  –  Chinese proverb

OK, I have to admit it; I really, really like getting presents.  I would never expect anyone (except for my husband at my birthday and Christmas) to give me a present, and I’m always careful to let anyone who might decide to get me one know that.  And as anyone who knows me in person will tell you, that’s not merely a pose on my part; I don’t say “oh, don’t get me a present” and then become angry when the person doesn’t, nor do I expect gifts at any of the numerous occasions retailers have promoted or even invented throughout the year (though I do quite like when my husband gets me valentines, and yes I keep them).  And my feelings toward people don’t change because they do or don’t give me gifts.  But that having been said, I still do feel a childlike sense of happiness when somebody thinks enough of me to go out of his way to give me an unexpected gift, or when a seasonal gift turns out to be more thoughtful or generous than expected.

As I’ve written before, clients often give escorts gifts and I still have many of the books, CDs, DVDs and other permanent presents I have received over the years; one regular client brought me a small present of this sort every time he saw me and I think of him every time I watch one of the movies or consult one of the books.  But even with that experience, I never really expected my readers to do the same; I set up an Amazon wishlist just in case, but figured it would only come into play occasionally.  That, however, was not the case; the first reader to use it was Americanus, who in March sent me a copy of Three Felonies a Day by Harvey Silverglate.  Then in August, John Galt sent me a copy of Marc Stevens’ Adventures in Legal Land.  That was all until November, when the avalanche started; Ted sent me both Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics, then a reader who prefers to remain anonymous sent me a bonanza:  Heterophobia and Professing Feminism by Daphne Patai, A Vindication of the Rights of Whores by Gail Pheterson (editor), America’s War on Sex by Marty Klein, Harmful to Minors byJudith Levine, All or Nothing by Jessica Warner, Go Directly to Jail by Gene Healy and even the movie Klute!  Last but definitely not least, just a week before Christmas a small padded envelope containing Music of the Ouled Nail arrived; I had to examine the packing list to see that Krulac sent it (and as you can see if you click that link, he got the last available copy!)  I am truly grateful to all of you; your thoughtfulness lets me know that I’m really appreciated, and it touches me in a way I find difficult to express in words (which is saying a great deal).

One thing which I told all the givers, and which I’ll repeat here for all my readers, is that as a librarian and a dyed-in-the-wool used-book store lover, it doesn’t matter to me whether books or CDs you send are used or new; many of the things I like are out of print and can only be obtained used, plus used books often have a certain character.  And best of all, they’re cheaper so you can spend the same amount and get more books!  Of course, there’s also something to be said for a clean, virginal new book.  What I’m trying to say is, I appreciate all of your gifts, whether it’s one item or several, old or new, reasonable or dear.  None of you have to send me a thing, so any gift at all is a lovely and thoroughly-appreciated gesture.

Of course, not all gifts are purchased. For example, this summer Dean Clark (who is himself a professional writer) used me as the model for a character in a Sherlock Holmes story he wrote; the lady in question is Holmes’ beautiful and mysterious accompanist in a private concert, and the author hints she might even be “The Woman”, Irene Adler.  As if that wasn’t flattering enough, he then had an artist friend illustrate the story, and amazingly the line-drawing of the character based on me ended up looking rather like me!  So if any of my other readers are artists, writers, musicians or other creative types and are inspired to use me as a model/inspiration/muse or what-have-you, please feel free; the compliment is very much appreciated.

No post on gifts would be complete without mentioning my Christmas and birthday gifts.  Those of you who are married know that after a decade it’s difficult to surprise one’s spouse with a present, but my husband certainly managed it for my birthday; not only did he get me a full-length faux mink coat (which is not only awesome looking but luxuriously warm), he also had a mug made with my “eyes” banner and The Honest Courtesan written beneath.  And at Christmas he gave me a lot of small things he knows I like in addition to the first season of Bewitched (a childhood favorite) and dealing with a long-standing house maintenance issue I’ve been dreading having to deal with for months.

One Year Ago Today

Madame de Pompadour” is a biography of the famous courtesan who was the official mistress of King Louis XV and exerted a powerful influence over the arts and letters of her time.

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O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.  –  William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (II, ii)

Though all internet-based sex workers (like all internet businesses) rely on Google, the search-and-content giant has never been a friend to us.  In the past, they were subtle about it; I’ve heard stories of escorts’ gmail and Google Voice accounts closed without warning for unspecified “terms of use violations”, and anecdotal evidence of porn sites which curiously fail to show up where they should.  Back in May Google unceremoniously cancelled an ad paid for by “Turn Off the Blue Light”, an Irish organization fighting those who want the Swedish Model imposed on Ireland; the ad was only restored after considerable bad press and a protest by the group outside Google’s Dublin headquarters.  But on December 14th, it made its efforts more overt by donating over $11 million to anti-prostitute groups:

Tech giant Google announced Wednesday it is donating $11.5 million to several coalitions fighting to end the modern-day slavery of some 27 million people around the world…”Many people are surprised to learn there are more people trapped in slavery today than any time in history,” said Jacquelline Fuller, director of charitable giving and advocacy for Google.  “The good news is that there are solutions.”  The Washington-based International Justice Mission, a human rights organization that works globally to rescue victims of slavery and sexual exploitation, was chosen by Google to lead the efforts.  It will partner with Polaris Project and Slavery Footprint and a handful of smaller organizations for the multi-year effort to rescue the enslaved, push for better infrastructure and resources for anti-slavery enforcement agencies overseas, as well as raise awareness here in the United States and help countries draft anti-slavery legislation.

…Gary A. Haugen, president of the International Justice Mission, said the coalition would focus on three initiatives:  A $3.5 million intervention project to fight forced labor in India; a $4.5 million advocacy campaign in India to educate and protect the vulnerable; and a $1.8 million plan to mobilize Americans on behalf of the millions currently at risk of slavery or waiting for rescue around the world.  The remaining $1.7 million will go to several smaller organizations working to combat slavery.  “It’s hard for most Americans to believe that slavery and human trafficking are still massive problems in our world,” said Haugen.  “Google’s support now makes it possible for IJM to join forces with two other leading organizations so we can bring to bear our unique strengths in a united front.”

Those leading the U.S. efforts will meet in Washington on Wednesday to kick off the joint initiative.  The project will focus on improved legislation to protect vulnerable children and adults in the United States, as well as a push for more accountability and transparency in the U.S. supply chain by retailers and manufacturers to make sure their products are “slave-free.”  The trafficking of women for the sex trade is common in big American cities.  Some illegal immigrants find themselves forced to work in sweatshops, in private homes as domestic servants or on farms without pay under the threat of deportation.  The new effort will launch new initiatives that ordinary Americans can take to help abolish modern-day slavery, such as understanding how their own clothing or smartphones might contain fabrics or components manufactured by forced labor…

There’s that “27 million” number again; it seems to be turning into the most common propaganda figure among NGOs and popular faddists, though most government figures are lower.  As we know, “The trafficking of women for the sex trade” is absolutely NOT“common in big American cities” unless you’ve got a really weird definition of “common”; only about 1.5% of all prostitutes are coerced, and most of those are controlled by men they’re involved with rather than “trafficked” in any meaningful sense of the term.  And as Laura Agustín repeatedly points out, most so-called “trafficked” women all over the world are simply crossing international borders to work the way white middle-class Western men do all the time; it only becomes “trafficking” in the racist minds of trafficking fanatics when those people are brown-skinned women from the “third world”.

There are plenty of worthy charities Google could have endowed with this money, but the evangelical Christian “International Justice Mission”, a “rescue” group well-known for encouraging violent brothel raids and streetwalker sweeps whose victims are then beaten, robbed, gang-raped and starved, is not one of them; nor is the pathologically dishonest Polaris Project, which intentionally confuses stripping and escorting with child slavery and violent pimps even when it isn’t directly lying.  Furry Girl reprinted Google’s own list and pointed out that it also contains Not For Sale, a group which “Gets their information on sex work from Donna Hughes [and] advocates that adult sex work criminalization will somehow stop child sex slavery.”  The others on the list are ActionAid India, Aide et Action, BBC World Service Trust, GoodWeave, La Strada International and Slavery Footprint; I haven’t heard anything bad about any of these, but any group in bed with IJM and Polaris is carrying the same plague fleas.  I know it has to get worse before it gets better, but I hope it doesn’t have to get much worse.

One Year Ago Today

December Q&A” answers questions on how to explain prostitutes to young children, the causes of vaginal looseness, the definition of “slut”, the right way to try anal sex and whether size really matters.

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Lust and greed are more gullible than innocence.  –  Mason Cooley

I’ve written often about what the Village Voice’s Pete Kotz referred to as “stenographic journalism”, the tendency for fourth-rate reporters to take down everything a source says and simply accept it without question.  Hacks like Torsten Ove, Amber Lyon and the unnamed multitudes for whom “research” is anathema and “critical thinking” might as well be some obscure principle of Hindu metaphysics, are the greatest enemies of truth and reason in the world today.  The principle of the Fourth Estate is to stand against the forces of authority by giving the public facts those “authorities” might find inconvenient; it’s why the Founding Fathers considered the First Amendment so important.  But the modern mainstream media is driven by ratings, and at some point in the last few decades the accountants decided that a “Question Authority” message doesn’t pay as well as parroting the latest lies about domestic violence, Emo, “Grog X D”, “human trafficking”, “iDosing”, “jenkem”, pedophilia, rainbow parties, rape, “sex addiction”, “sex buyers”, “sexting”, smoking Smarties, strawberry-flavored methamphetamine, violent video games, vodka-soaked tampons or gummy bears, or any number of other myths three minutes on the internet would be sufficient to disprove.

You may have noticed that every single one of these ludicrous stories is about a behavior (mostly vices, usually sexual or drug-related) that other people (usually teenagers or “perverts”) other than the reporter is said to indulge in, and that said behavior is always both “dangerous” and “epidemic”.  And as Andrew Ferguson points out in this article from the December 5th Weekly Standard, so-called “social scientists” are among the worst offenders:

Lots of cultural writing these days…relies on the…eagerness of laymen and journalists to swallow whole the claims made by social scientists.  Entire journalistic enterprises, whole books from cover to cover, would simply collapse into dust if even a smidgen of skepticism were summoned whenever we read that “scientists say” or “a new study finds” or “research shows” or “data suggest.”  Most such claims of social science, we would soon find, fall into one of three categories:  the trivial, the dubious, or the flatly untrue.

A rather extreme example of this third option emerged last month when an internationally renowned social psychologist, Diederik Stapel of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, was proved to be a fraud…in the literal, perhaps criminal…sense.  An investigative committee concluded that Stapel had falsified data in at least “several dozen” of the nearly 150 papers he had published in his extremely prolific career…[and he] didn’t just tweak and twist numbers, he made stuff up…Science Insider reported, “he would discuss in detail experimental designs…and would then claim to conduct the experiments at high schools and universities with which he had special arrangements.  The experiments, however, never took place.”  Questionnaires are the mother’s milk of social science, given (most often) to collections of students who are easily accessible to the scientist…the students…serve as proxies for humanity in general…

…One thing [Stapel] liked to demonstrate in his studies was the exploitive nature of democratic capitalism.  Last year, the New York Times reported on a typical Stapel study…[which purported to prove] that advertising for cosmetics and fancy shoes “makes women feel worse about themselves”…another of Stapel’s favorite themes [was] white racism…[in a recent study] Stapel discovered—scientifically, of course—that white heterosexuals used racism and homophobia as defense mechanisms.  Confronted with disorder in their “social environment”…they quickly reverted to their natural inclination to stereotype “the other” and draw comfort from their prejudice.  At this writing, investigators are not yet clear to what extent the results of these particular studies are discredited by Stapel’s fakery.  And nobody knows how extreme an anomaly Stapel’s behavior will prove to be.  Leslie John of Harvard Business School recently surveyed more than 2,000 social psychologists about their research methods.  She found a rash of research practices she deemed “questionable.”  Indeed, she wrote, in social psychology, “some questionable practices may constitute the prevailing research norm.”

But…the silliness of social psychology doesn’t lie in its questionable research practices but in the research practices that no one thinks to question.  The most common working premise of social-psychology research is far-fetched all by itself:  The behavior of a statistically insignificant, self-selected number of college students or high schoolers filling out questionnaires and role-playing in a psych lab can reveal scientifically valid truths about human behavior.  And when the research reaches beyond the classroom, it becomes sillier still.  [Stapel’s “disorder promotes racism”]…study…began after janitors at the Utrecht railroad station went on strike…as the garbage in the station piled up, [Stapel and his assistants] cornered 40 white passengers…[whom they] asked to take a seat in a row of folding chairs…[to take] a questionnaire…[in exchange for] a piece of chocolate or an apple…the questionnaire asked to what degree the travelers agreed with stereotypes about certain types of people…Stapel had planted a person at the end of the row of chairs—sometimes a black person, sometimes a white.  Researchers measured how far away from the person each respondent chose to sit…On average, the travelers sat 25 percent closer to the white…[after] the janitors came back to work…Stapel… returned and performed the experiment again…their questionnaires showed they were less racist and homophobic than their counterparts from the earlier experiment.  And on average, they sat the same distance from the white person as the black person.  Hence, as the headline read:  “Messy surroundings make people stereotype others.”

…Did Stapel fake his research?  Did he and his students really make all those people fill out forms for an apple?  Did Stapel really cross-tabulate the data?…Who cares?  The experiments are preposterous.  You’d have to be a highly trained social psychologist, or a journalist, to think otherwise.  Just for starters, the experiments can never be repeated or their results tested under controlled conditions.  The influence of a hundred different variables is impossible to record.  The first group of passengers may have little in common with the second group.  The groups were too small to yield statistically significant results.  The questionnaire is hopelessly imprecise, and so are the measures of racism and homophobia.  The notions of “disorder” and “stereotype” are arbitrary—and so on and so on.  Yet the allure of “science” is too strong for our journalists to resist:  all those numbers, those equations, those fancy names…To their credit, the Stapel scandal has moved a few social psychologists to self-reflection.  They note the unhealthy relationship between social psychologists and the journalists who bring them attention—each using the other to fill a professional need.  “Psychology,” one methodologist told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “has become addicted to surprising, counter-intuitive findings that catch the news media’s eye.”  That’s a scandal, all right.  Stapel’s professional treachery is a scandal, too.  But the biggest scandal is that the chumps took him seriously in the first place.

I’m sure most of my readers recognize this sort of “methodology”; it’s the same type used by Melissa Farley and her cronies.  Start with the “theory”, pick a tiny, unrepresentative (but convenient and preferably captive) group you think will confirm it, give them a short, vague questionnaire from which you then infer all sorts of complex things, generalize a lot and make up what you can’t “demonstrate”.  Perhaps the Stapel scandal will have a domino effect, with a number of other con artists like him and Farley exposed, and though most journalists will keep doing exactly what they do now, maybe a few – especially in the alternative media – will begin to follow Village Voice’s lead in questioning the neofeminist “all whores are defective victims” narrative.

One Year Ago Today

Criticism and Response” is my reply to a fairly well-known activist who insisted that I’m not allowed to speak up for whores’ rights unless I turn off my brain and just read from his approved script.

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Christmas is forever, not for just one day, for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf.  –  Norman Wesley Brooks

All right, readers in Commonwealth countries; today is your turn.  Back on the day after Thanksgiving (now widely referred to in the United States and part of Canada as “Black Friday”) I scolded American readers about fighting crowds for bargains at overhyped sales “events”, and today it’s your turn.  As explained in my column of one year ago today, the day after Christmas is called “Boxing Day” in the UK and many of her former colonies, and was for many centuries a day for giving charity; it was “the day on which English churches opened their alms boxes to the poor, the day on which servants were allowed to ‘box up’ the remains of Christmas feasts and take the day off to visit relatives, and the day on which tradesmen came by to collect their ‘Christmas boxes’ from families who wished to give them such gifts”; it’s even the day on which Good King Wenceslas was reputed to have gone out into the snow to help a poor man gather firewood.  But now it has, like the day after Thanksgiving, degenerated into a time for the greedy to help themselves to “bargains” they don’t need.

And so, at the risk of being labeled a nag, I’m going to once again urge my readers to stay away from all this hype.  I myself have pointed out many times that holidays evolve over time, and new traditions supplant the old; I realize that it’s absurd to expect modern city-dwellers to go masking or wassailing, but surely those who don’t need to work today can find something better to do with their time than assisting “big box” merchants in clearing out their overstock so they don’t get assessed inventory taxes on anything still in the store come January 2nd.  How about visiting family, or calling old friends one hasn’t seen in a while?  How about just relaxing at home, playing games or watching favorite movies?  That’s how we spend ours; my husband says he often enjoys the day after holidays more because I’m not rushing about like a madwoman preparing a feast singlehandedly.

As the carol reminds us, Christmas was traditionally a twelve-day festival which ran all the way to January 5th (Twelfth Night).  And though we no longer live in an agrarian society wherein most people have the luxury of doing nothing but celebrate for nigh on two weeks, very few of us are so busy that we need to be in a hurry to cut the holiday short, either.  Modern commercial Christmas is all buildup, so much so that for those caught up in the hype the day itself can seem anticlimactic; by Boxing Day many people (and most companies) are ready to clear away the remnants, fold up the decorations, discard the Christmas trees and move on to the next thing.  But it doesn’t have to be like that; if we can be festive for a month (and more) leading up to the day, what’s the harm in eleven days more?  Christmas comes only once a year, and in my opinion it seems a bit rude to rush a guest out practically as soon as he arrives.

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Hark, how the bells, sweet silver bells,
All seem to say, throw cares away.
Christmas is here, bringing good cheer
To young and old, meek and the bold.
Ding dong ding dong, that is their song,
With joyful ring, all caroling.
  –  Peter Wilhousky, “Carol of the Bells

Today is Christmas, the most widely-celebrated festival in the world; though a Christian rationalization was attached to the holiday in late Roman times, its origin (as explained in my column of one year ago today) was completely pagan and many Church fathers of the first millennium (and later, Protestant leaders after the Reformation) tried to suppress its celebration for exactly that reason.  It thus became a completely secular celebration, and though Christians in the 19th century finally embraced it and some of the late 20th century started a campaign to hog it for themselves, it remains a holiday beloved by hundreds of millions and has become popular even in countries where the Christian minority is relatively small such as Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore and South Korea.

As I explained on Yule, I set up all my columns this season to post automatically so if you’re a subscriber (and if you aren’t, why not sign up?) you received the notification for this one just after we’ve finished breakfast, and soon we’ll be opening presents and looking to see what Santa Claus brought us.  I’ll be cooking most of the day and my husband will be enjoying a well-earned respite from his many travels (and probably watching one of the videos that a little elf told me will be in his stocking).  I wish all of my readers a very, very Merry Christmas, and the opportunity to spend this most joyous season free from care and in the company of those you love.

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Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp.  –  Theodore Seuss Geisel

I find it terribly sad that many if not most modern people don’t “get” Christmas at all, and the major reason is that so many of them try to turn it into something it isn’t, or else they fall for others’ attempts to do so and mistakenly believe that Christmas “is” what all the Grinches say it is.  Big business has tried to claim it as the excuse for an orgy of conspicuous consumption, conservative Christians have overreacted to commercialization by trying to claim it as “their” religious holiday, and the politically correct have overreacted to the Christians by creating a neutered “winter holiday” shorn of any symbolism or meaning whatsoever, thus encouraging further commercialization and Christian posturing.  And this annual power-struggle between Christ, Mammon and Sensitivityperson has become so annoying that many people want nothing more to do with the holiday, which they perceive as a colossal fraud.

But Christmas has existed in one form or another since at least 3000 years before the birth of Jesus, and in all likelihood back to the last glacial retreat about 10,000 years ago.  It has had many names, and though each succeeding generation adds some traditions and old ones slowly fall by the wayside, some elements have remained unchanged practically since the beginning.  In a way, Christmas is a lot like life itself (as befitting a festival celebrating the renewal of life and hope); everyone thinks of it differently and experiences it differently, and nobody is harmed by other people celebrating it differently or not celebrating it at all.  It’s big enough for all the varied traditions which it encompasses, and then some, and any attempt to reduce it to one specific “reason for the season” which excludes all others is selfish, childish and ultimately a theft of the spirit of the holiday, which is about giving and sharing.  If you want to celebrate the birth of your deity at Christmas, feel free; if you want to employ it to make a ton of cash, go right ahead; and if you want to use it as an excuse for a skiing holiday that’s fine as well.  But don’t pretend that your way of observing the season is the only “right” one, because it isn’t.

One year ago today I wrote about the magic of Christmas as I experienced it growing up, and I pointed out that it can still be that way:

The hype can be avoided by turning off the TV set (or at least avoiding commercials by fast-forwarding prerecorded shows), tossing sales flyers and setting one’s spam filters to reject any rubbish with “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” in the subject line.  The crush and stress can be avoided by shopping early and/or online, and the joys of a simpler time can be recaptured by watching favorite old Christmas shows and movies on DVD while munching on homemade (NOT store bought) gingerbread men or Christmas cookies and drinking cocoa or egg nog…think back to your own childhood, and bring those fun and magical activities back.  Even if everyone around you is eating tasteless, frozen TV dinners, there’s nothing to stop you from cooking a real meal, and so it is with Christmas; just because everyone else has swallowed the prefab commercial “holiday” doesn’t mean you have to as well.

In other words, commercialization and culture wars can only steal your Christmas if you let them.  It was here long before the Grinches which have tried to claim it as exclusively theirs, and it will continue to exist long after they’re just words in a history book.  Because as Dr. Seuss reminds us, “Christmas Day will always be, just so long as we have we.”

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The story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf is not a meaningless fable.  The founders of every state which has risen to eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source.  –  Henry David Thoreau

As I mentioned in “Whore Goddesses” (my column of one year ago today), “In ancient Rome today was Larentalia, the festival of an apotheosized courtesan named Acca Larentia; she was referred to as the ‘most noble whore’ and was sometimes associated with Lupa, the she-wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus.”  Acca Larentia was an Etruscan who lived in the early days of Rome and, because she was childless, left her entire fortune to the Roman people.  But ancient mythology is often unstable, with varying traditions, and the story of Acca Larentia is no exception; some writers claimed that her fortune was acquired through marriage at the end of her career.  And still others state that she was the wife of the shepherd Faustulus, who discovered Romulus and Remus being suckled by the she-wolf and adopted them.  But though these accounts may seem contradictory, it is possible that they are all partial reflections of a larger truth which contains clues to the real story of the founding of Rome.

Yes, I said the real story; just because the early history of Rome and the lives of Romulus and Remus are wrapped in legend and myth does not mean they did not exist.  Radical atheists make the same argument in order to deny that there was an historical Jesus, and  neofeminists to deny the well-substantiated existence of sacred prostitution; 19th-century archaeologists used such reasoning to argue that Troy was only a myth until Schliemann discovered its ruins.  And though fantastic tales are told about the lives of Alexander the Great, Harun al-Rashid and George Washington, nobody doubts the historicity of these leaders.  So it’s entirely specious to argue that the twins’ reality is disproven by stories of divine parentage or other mythic elements, especially since most of their story is highly credible and even mundane.

Romulus and Remus were exposed by their granduncle Amulius, who had usurped the throne of Alba Longa from his brother (the boys’ grandfather) Numitor.  But they were found in the wilderness by a she-wolf and nursed until Faustulus discovered them.  That seems a rather straightforward myth; feral children suckled by animals have been a staple of fantastic lore from Enkidu to Tarzan.  But in this case, the story may be less myth than symbol, code or misunderstanding.  Though I’ve never uncovered an adequate explanation for the association, lupa was also a common Roman slang term for “whore”; some Roman streetwalkers even made a sort of pun on this by making wolf-cries to attract customers.  The Roman word for “brothel” was lupanar, the fertility festival which later evolved into Valentine’s Day was Lupercalia, and Valeria Messalina’s stage name was Lycisca (“wolf-girl”).  Even in modern Italian, the word puttana can be translated as either “bitch” or “whore”.  Consider also the incredible tolerance for and multiplicity of prostitutes in ancient Rome, the number of her goddesses (including Bona Dea, Flora and Fortuna Virilis) who were worshipped by acts of prostitution, and the fact that Aeneas, the legendary progenitor of Rome from whom both Romulus and the Caesars were descended, was the son of the great whore-goddess Venus.  Yet, in most ways the early Romans were a very straight-laced, disciplined, moral people…the sort who generally don’t think much of hookers.

Put all this together with the varying traditions about Acca Larentia, and I think we have the basis for a hypothesis:  What if the abandoned princes weren’t nursed by a literal she-wolf at all, but by a prostitute?  If that’s the case, all the traditions might be true:  Acca Larentia, a wealthy courtesan, married Faustulus, an equally-wealthy gentleman farmer (a “shepherd” in the sense that he owned lots of sheep, not in the sense that he herded them for someone else).  He discovered the exposed children and brought them home to his ex-prostitute wife, who had lost her own child and had milk to spare; they raised the boys as their own and financially backed them when they set out to found a city.  Faustulus then predeceased Acca Larentia and she left the entire estate to Romulus – and therefore Rome –  upon her death, after which the grieving king declared his beloved foster-mother a goddess and established traditions honoring her former profession.  Over time, the story became either garbled or purposefully disguised by prudish historians and/or priests, and though all the elements were still present they were mythologized until nigh-unrecognizable.  Obviously, we’ll never know if any of this is true, but it certainly explains the confusing and apparently-contradictory traditions about Acca Larentia, sheds a bit of light on a linguistic mystery and proposes a credible explanation for ancient Roman society’s love affair with harlots.

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One may be old in years, but not in spirit, or poor in wealth, but not in ambition.   –  Chinese proverb

Though Rosemary wouldn’t have admitted it, she was very relieved to have a date for that night.  It wasn’t that she doubted her plan; she was an intelligent and resourceful girl and realized that, though it might seem counterintuitive, one of the surest ways to succeed as a call girl was to pretend one already had plenty of money.  So she had left the brothel at which she was formerly employed, invested in a new wardrobe, taken a small but fashionable apartment with her sister as housekeeper and secretary, and even had a private telephone installed.  She then let her regulars know she was out on her own, took out personals ads in the papers and waited for the results.

In these black times, it was an incredibly bold move; but as her Grandmother O’Malley had always said, the only thing she had more of than spunk was luck.  And though some of her friends thought she was crazy, Colleen had faith in her and the two of them kept each others’ spirits up for months as her assets dwindled and her new clientele failed to materialize.  Oh, they weren’t in danger of starving; Rosemary had some good regulars and always made the rent on time, though it often took spending more time in bars than she would have liked.  But unless she started attracting the kind of gents she was aiming for, sooner or later she would become financially unable to project the high-class illusion on which her image depended.

She also felt ashamed of being unable to buy her sister the same sort of nice things she bought for herself.  Of course, every time the subject came up Colleen just pooh-poohed her concern and pointed out that it wasn’t important because the gentlemen never saw her, and that she was lucky to have such a generous sister now that jobs were so hard to come by.  That was the sort of girl Colleen was; loyal and uncomplaining, as their mother had been…and it just made Rosemary feel worse.  So much worse, in fact, that she had spent entirely too much money on Christmas presents for her.  And after that, and filling the icebox with food for their Christmas dinner, there wasn’t exactly a lot left in her bank account; the call had therefore been a godsend.

Luckily, this had been the warmest autumn Rosemary could remember, so their heating costs had been almost nonexistent; the mild weather also made it possible for her to save cab fare tonight by walking to the client’s place, which was only eight blocks away.  She hesitated a bit upon seeing the building; though it was certainly no tenement, it also didn’t look like the sort of place in which a man who could afford to blow $20 for an hour with a good-time girl might live.  But she trusted her luck and her instincts, and the latter told her to go inside.

She was admitted to a well-kept apartment by a young man who, despite his mature demeanor and clothing, couldn’t have been a day over 17.  This was unexpected; Rosemary had sometimes been received by valets or maids, but never a client’s son!  Still, times being what they were, she subdued her expression of surprise.  “Hi, kiddo!  Where’s your dad?”

“He died in the war when I was just a baby.”

“Gee, I’m sorry!  Your older brother, then.”

“I’m an only child; it’s just me and Ma here.”  At the mention of a woman Rosemary started to retreat with a mumbled apology, but the young man stopped her with, “Oh, she’s not here, she cleans an office building at night.”

“Look, I’m sorry, I must have the wrong address.”

“Aren’t you Rosemary?”

“Yeah, but who are you?”

“I’m Bill.”  It was the name the client had given.  He certainly hadn’t sounded as young on the telephone as he looked in person.

“Wow, Bill…look, I’m sorry but…aren’t you too young to be engaging in this sort of pastime?”

With an air of seriousness which belied his age, he asked, “What difference does that make if I can pay?”

“No offense but…$20 is more money than most guys your age can afford.”

He was unperturbed.  “I left school two years ago to help Ma out; the man who owns the radio shop down the street hired me and taught me to repair them.  He says I’m a natural.  One day I want to have a shop of my own, so I’ve been saving up.”

“A smart, good-looking young guy like you probably has every girl in the neighborhood after him!”

“Yeah, but I can’t stand girls my age; they’re too silly.  Not a one of them has the brains to talk about the sort of things I’m interested in.”

Rosemary had already noticed the stack of Amazing Stories, Weird Tales and other magazines of fantasy and scientifiction.  “What makes you think I’m not just as silly as they are?”

“Because my boss told me about you.”

“He what?”

“Don’t get angry; he knows I’m trustworthy and tells me things he wouldn’t tell his own brother.  And besides, he was drunk at the time.  He sees you often and he really likes you.”

Rosemary now knew who the boss was, and what sorts of things he had probably said.  “Bill, you understand that this isn’t like a regular date, right?  I mean, I charge by the hour.”

He looked a bit sheepish.  “Well, I was sort of hoping that once I hired you a few times, you might get to like me and maybe we could just go out together sometimes.  Like as friends, I mean I wouldn’t expect the other stuff.  Just like movies or dinner or…”  he trailed off.

In spite of her annoyance, she had to admire his moxie.  In a way, they were kindred spirits; both were unconventional dreamers with a yen to succeed on their own terms and the drive to make it happen.  After a short pause, she said, “Well, what are you waiting for?”

“Excuse me?”

“Get your hat and coat.  You called me for a date, remember?  And if we’re going to get good seats for that new Boris Karloff movie, we’d better step on it.”

His face broke into a huge grin, and he hustled to get his clothes, then suddenly stopped with a crestfallen look.  “I can’t afford two hours.”

“Keep the money, except for cab fare and the cost of my ticket and my popcorn.  Save it for that radio shop, or get your Ma a new coat for Christmas.  I can always use another friend, and besides I’ve been thinking of buying a radio, and maybe you can help me pick one.”

The grin returned, and in seconds they were out the door and on their way toward the future.

One Year Ago Today 

For the Record” tells about my first conflict with another sex worker rights activist and explains my position on child support.

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