Archive for December, 2013

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
  –  Alfred, Lord Tennyson

And so another year has come and gone, the fourth since I started this blog.  I’ve finally got things just about exactly the way I want them, so you probably won’t see a lot of change this year as you have for the last few; though I have made a few refinements in the way I organize my writing, that really isn’t something visible to y’all.  Suffice it to say that I’m steadily giving myself more room for the sort of outside projects that I’m getting more offers for, and also for working on my second book (which I hope to have ready to launch by summer).  One thing that definitely isn’t changing is the pattern of my holiday columns; as usual, New Year’s Eve means a retrospective of the year’s news.

Inside of the White Slave TrafficFrom what I can see, we’re on course for the “sex trafficking” hysteria to end by 2017 as I predicted.  This doesn’t mean that things are going to get steadily better now; in fact, it’s just the opposite.  Though skepticism about the claims of “trafficking” fetishists is becoming much more common, both governments (it’s a versatile, albeit blunt, excuse for tyranny) and the rescue industry (it’s oh-so-profitable and provides work and validation for pathological liars) have a vested interest in keeping the panic going, and so the myth will grow ever more silly, bizarre, grandiose, ridiculous, specious, supernatural, impossible, dogmatic and self-contradictory until it implodes.  One example of this fracturing is the way in which classic whore stigmatization and support for criminalization exist alongside of the “whore as pathetic victim” narrative, sometimes within the same article.  Another is the way that while some states seem reluctant to embrace “Super Bowl sex trafficking” idiocy, others are so aroused by it they prematurely ejaculate their foolishness over a year in advance.  Because the Swedish model dovetails perfectly with “sex trafficking” mythology, it’s no surprise that several countries with long histories of mistreating sex workers are considering it as an excuse for further oppression, especially since it’s known to increase violence against us.  And though the United States isn’t about to decriminalize selling sex any time soon, “end demand” rhetoric provides a useful cover for hurting people in the name of “helping” them.

Of course, it’s not only whores who are under attack; anyone who dares to be sexual in any way (especially kinky ways) is a target, as is anything which can be portrayed, however implausibly, as having anything whatsoever  to do with “children” (a category that now extends from conception to at least the age of twenty-one).  Pregnant women’s rights are routinely violated, governments claim the right to invade people’s privacy on a microscopic level or censor the internet, and all of these actions are performed in the most mindlessly-violent way possible.  Nor are the mainstream news media of any help whatsoever; they have become the handmaidens of the police state, defending monstrous tyrannies and mindlessly parroting official statements in articles larded with absurdly-Victorian language, packed with lurid, masturbatory “sex trafficking” fantasies and showering government functionaries in glowing, fetishized praise no matter how outrageous and morally indefensible their actions.  So because they won’t do their jobs, I and others have to step into the breach by exposing lies and exploding myths; this year I debunked inflammatory nonsense about rape, the notion that criminalizing sex work deters coercion, the claim that the Swedish model reduces violence against sex workers, the idea that people who sell or buy sex are abnormal, and a whole host of prohibitionist lies.

Still, the news wasn’t all bad this year; besides the growing number of organizations supporting decriminalization, we’ve also seen a lot of positive coverage of disabled people hiring sex workers, victims of the Satanic Panic being exonerated, support for draconian “sex offender” restrictions eroding, sex workers mobilizing to fight criminalization, and the Canadian Supreme Court striking down arbitrary laws against sex work.  Many people are awakening to the fact that sex workers are routinely denied human rights, and though the progress is maddeningly slow it is the nature of these things to take time.  Year by year, we move closer to the day when the majority recognizes that it’s never OK to oppress any minority, and that those who condone such oppression of others are paving the way for their ownRIP Jasmine

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Back Issue: December 2010

It’s good to know that the Finns are so healthy that University Hospital has nothing more important to do than speculate on the menstrual irregularities of plastic dolls.  –  “Barbie

Merry Old SantaBy December, I was finally beginning to hit my stride.  Not only had I mostly settled into a routine that made writing and posting easier, I had also found the tone I wanted:  while several of the columns for October and many of those for November read like my current work, I would say most of those for December do.  Indeed, I sometimes refer back to some of these and say to myself, “Wow, is this one really that old?”  There are a few relics which mark this as an early month, such as the gossipy narrative style of the two-part “Bits and Pieces” (an experimental type I used only a few more times after that); however, I am mostly pretty happy with the way most of these came out.  That’s more than some others could say, however; three of these columns (“Courtesan Denial”, “For the Record” and “Criticism and Response”) are either partly or wholly responses to harsh criticisms of earlier columns, two by people who I am told still bad-mouth me at every available opportunity.

assassin of gorEven at this early stage, I could have done my news columns on a weekly basis rather than a monthly one, though it would be another year before I finally decided to do that; “December Updates” was supplemented not only by the aforementioned “Bits and Pieces”, but also by “Ho, Ho, Ho!”  Three other columns (“O, Canada!”, “Liar, Liar” and “It’s a Start”) were based on news items, and many others were of the news/essay hybrid type which are so common on the blog nowadays: “Not So Different” (on sugar babies), “Ban the Super Bowl!” (comparing the “gypsy whores” myth to the old “abuse bowl” one), “Lack of Evidence” (the truly ridiculous things cops claim constitute “evidence of prostitution”), “The Swedish Pimpocracy” (Sweden, rape and Julian Assange),Veronica Franco and the two-part “The Slave-Whore Fantasy” (containing my first mention of Nicholas Kristof) all fall into this category.  There were two columns which debunked prohibitionist lies:  “Mecca” for the notion that decriminalization results in an increase in the number of whores, and “Bad Jobs” for the one that sex work is the worst, most degrading of jobs.  The “Q & A” column was a regular feature by this point, the harlotography was “Madame de Pompadour”, and the fictional interlude was “Christmas Belle”.

FezziwigThe latter was only one of many holiday-related columns.  Of course there were “Yule”, “Christmas Eve”, “Christmas”, “Boxing Day” and “New Year’s Eve” (which contains the amusing idea that I would start taking a couple of days off a week).  But in addition to those, I wrote about the “Yuletide” season in general, told y’all what “Barbie” and  “Saint Nicholas” have to do with whores, honored the old Roman festival of Larentalia with a discussion of “Whore Goddesses”, and explained why “The Red Umbrella” has become the symbol for sex worker rights in my very first column for December 17thMecca

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A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all.  –  Edward Snowden

This is about par for the course for Christmas week; I’m glad we had so many seasonal ones.  The first video is of Edward Snowden’s “alternative Christmas message” on the UK’s Channel 4 (in case you didn’t get to see it); everything above it was provided by Jesse Walker.  The second video is from Mike Siegel, and the links between the two were contributed by Paul MurrayCop Block,  Radley Balko, AspasiaChris Hall and Rick Horowitz (last two), in that order.

From the Archives

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The violence of a john does not diminish the role of the state in making a prostitute more vulnerable to that violence.  –  Beverley McLachlin and other justices of the Canadian Supreme Court

R.I.P. Al Goldstein Al Goldstein

Al Goldstein, the gleefully-controversial publisher of Screw magazine, died on December 19th after a long illness and an even longer decline in fortunes; he was 77.  Screw debuted in 1968 as a sort of déclassé foil to Playboy, and Goldstein was arrested many times on obscenity charges; my very first memorable exposure to anti-sex feminism was an episode of the Tomorrow show in which a neofeminist dumped a shredded copy of Screw on his head (I was 12 or 13 at the time).  The New York Times obit is excellent, and worth your time; though his name is less well-known than those of the more successful and mainstream porn magnates, Goldstein was a lot more influential than you may realize and is remembered quite fondly by many in both the sex and publishing industries.

Another Example of Swedish “Feminism”

[A] nude named Juno, painted by baroque artist G E Schröder, had hung in the guest dining room for some 30 years before deputy speaker Susanne Eberstein [ordered it removed]…”It is…a feminist issue.  It’s tiresome (looking at) a bare-breasted woman when I sit at public dinners with foreign guests.  I think it feels a little hard to sit there with men who look at us women”…Eberstein explained.

Secret Squirrel

The DriveSafe device can be inserted into the onboard diagnostics port of any non-hybrid/electric car made after 1996…[and] communicates via Bluetooth with the Esurance smart phone app.  Parents can then fine-tune what their kids’ phones can do.  “Customize block lists so they can’t tweet but can still access navigation apps and receive calls from you,” Esurance suggests.  Or simply disable texting…it also tracks every aspect of a teen’s drive:  how fast they went, how quickly they accelerated, how hard they braked, and where they went…

Against Their Will

Kamalabai Pani…of Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP)…in India…[recalled a] raid on…May 20th, 2005…[which] came on the heels of VAMP’s sister organization Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM) turning down funds from USAID [because of the “anti-prostitution pledge”]…“The police…dragged [sex workers] off by the hair…[they] were beaten and dragged to the vans”…The raid was timed during a school holiday.  “It was May and the schools were on vacation, so [girls visiting] their mothers [could be arrested and represented as “trafficking victims”]…a smear campaign [was then] launched against SANGRAM…claiming that USAID had terminated [their] funding…because they were traffickers and had tried to “thwart rescue efforts”…The raid…was initiated by…Restore International, a Christian NGO under the leadership of Greg Malstead…[who later] continued to harass the sex worker community…detail from Juno by G E Schröder

The Crumbling Dam

The City of Vancouver [BC] is looking to repeal an anachronistic 1923 bylaw that requires club managers to…not allow a ‘prostitute or person of evil repute’ to enter…

Follow Your Bliss

American missionary Daniel Johnson…was arrested…in relation to sex crimes committed in the U.S. and…is now accused of raping five boys…between the ages of 11 and 15 at an orphanage in [Phnom Penh]…

Backwards into the Future (TW3 #137)

Beijing has heralded this year’s decision to abolish re-education through labour (RTL) camps…But human rights groups say…thousands of people are still…held in a parallel system known as “custody and education”, overseen by public security officials rather than judges.  Unlike prisoners…the detainees [most of them sex workers, are used as slave labor and] must pay living costs and take compulsory tests for sexually transmitted diseases…

Flush Criminalization

Scott Greenfield on the effects Kathleen Rice’s ugly “end demand” campaign:

…our Protestant ethic condemns the sale of sex and vilifies those engaged in it, regardless of whether it fits within the paradigm of loose, evil women or victims of evil sex trafficking…the latter…gave Kathleen Rice the perfect opportunity to…score points…But…as Newsday reports, it wasn’t the johns, but Rice’s prosecutions,  getting flushed…So far, there have been six guilty pleas and five dismissals.  Not a very good average, given that Rice gets to cherry pick her prosecutions.  In fact, it’s a total disaster.  But…these accused johns…[were] publicly humiliated by the arrest, the detention…Rice’s poster, the cost of hiring a lawyer and appearing in court over and over…[at least one’s] wife is divorcing him…Most people, including those who cling dearly to their Puritanism, don’t think breaking up families is an appropriate goal of the legal system…But…as long as there is that lie in small print at the bottom…Rice…gets all the benefits of public adoration with none of the responsibility for destroying the lives of the innocent…

Opting Out

I really wish I didn’t have to say “I told you so” quite so often.

Pornography filters used by major internet service providers are blocking websites offering sex education and advice on sexual health and porn addiction…[while] failing to block hardcore porn-hosting sites…Among the sites…blocked as “pornographic” was BishUK.com, an award-winning…sex education site…Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse CentreSexual Health Scotland,  Doncaster Domestic Abuse Helpline, and Reducing The Risk, [another]…domestic abuse…site…

Not to mention EFF, Blogspot, Boing Boing and the site you’re reading now.  However, you can get around this:

A Google Chrome…extension…[called] “Go Away Cameron”…will allow UK internet users to visit any site they want, bypassing government restrictions…The creator of the…extension,…@nubela, said that…the add-on simply picks up the government block and bypasses it…

The Punitive Mindset (TW3 #337) Chris Grayling as Scrooge

For the first time this Christmas, people in [UK] prison will not be able to receive parcels from their loved ones under petty and mean new rules introduced by the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.  The new rules…forbid prisoners from receiving any items in the post unless there are exceptional circumstances…families are prevented from sending in basic items…such as cards, paper…pens…books…magazines…clothes and underwear…Instead people in prison are now forced to pay for these items out of their meagre prison wages to private companies who make a profit from selling goods to prisoners…

Imaginary Evils

A new article by Dr. Nick Mai on “sex trafficking” in the UK:

The moral panic on the supposed prevalence of trafficking in the global sex industry rests on a lie:  that the majority of sex workers are trafficked.  In fact, the opposite is true.  However, on the basis of this fiction, the dangerous abolitionist campaigns in favour of the criminalisation of clients…are gaining ground in several EU countries  …our research [found] that…only…about 6% of female interviewees …felt that they had been deceived and forced into selling sex…Most …thought their rights could be more asserted and their vulnerability reduced by decriminalising sex work…All…thought that restrictive migration policies and…criminalization…make people more likely to take risks and accept undignified and dangerous working conditions…

The Course of a Disease (TW3 #342)

Following a series of articles in…The Guardian, ICRSE and many sex workers organisations, academics and allies have signed a letter demanding…fairer representation [of] the debate on criminalisation of clients.  To this date, the letter [has] not been published…”  The letter corrects both (unintentional?) errors on the part of the Guardian itself and (deliberate) misstatements of fact in Swedish model propaganda, and was signed by many whose names you may recognize.

Crumbling House

Pierre Fallavier, who…advised [Somaly Mam’s organization] Afesip between 1999 and 2007, wrote…that from the beginning of his relationship with the organization, [staff raised] concerns…that [victim narratives]…disseminated by Afesip [were] “exaggerated”…Fallavier said…“[I] find it unfair to point solely at Afesip for fabricating stories…This…is the approach that all major international NGOs use…They take bits and parts of the life stories of different beneficiaries and make up a ‘typical’ sob story…they are unapologetic, and…it is well known to anyone working in that sector…This is marketing…and it is only with extreme stories that they will get people to give the cash they need”…

Perverse Incentives banner


The debate on Cato Unbound is drawing to a close; in all, I had four essays (plus an upcoming conclusion which will appear Monday or Tuesday), neofeminist prohibitionist Dianne Post had four, researcher Ronald Weitzer had three and “sex trafficking” NGO rep Steven Wagner had only the one.  If you haven’t read the entire issue yet, why not take advantage of the holiday lull to catch up before my conclusion next week?

Under Every Bed (TW3 #349)

The latest installment in Al Jazeera’s rapid descent into “trafficking” hysteria:

…Most victims of [sex] trafficking…in Spain come from Brazil, China, Nigeria, Paraguay and Romania, according to the police, who estimate the number of victims in the country at 12,000 and the earnings of the sex trafficking rings…at 5mn euros ($6mn) a day…”they don’t tend to recognise that they are victims,” said Paula Mandillo…with Mujer Emancipada…The first European Commission  report on human trafficking in Europe…put the number of victims between 2008 and 2010 at 23,632…Spain had the second-highest number of victims…in the European Union, after Italy…sex trafficking rings often use babies…to coerce [victims] into forced prostitution…[so] authorities…are…carrying out DNA tests on women and children at border posts, to verify that they are related…

If Spain has 12,000 “victims” and it’s second after Italy with 12,001, that gives the two countries together 24,001 of the total 23,632 victims.  Obviously math skills are not a requirement for either police work or reporting.

The Crumbling Dam (TW3 #351)

Look for a full column on the Canadian Supreme Court’s landmark decision week after next; I’m waiting to see if any politicians will open their mouths to insert their feet.  But in the meantime, here are three standout pieces on the subject.  First, one of the lawyers on the case expressed her opinion on one politician’s call for the Swedish model:

Elin Sigurdson…[said] “asymetrical criminalization…isn’t consistent” with the…ruling…”The same issue of danger and jeopardy will persist when one of the parties rather than the other is criminalized…it couldn’t be upheld under this decision…because you’re going to find the exact same problems persisting”…

Then Dr. Brooke Magnanti weighed in:

…Already, the decision is being decried by the losing side with complaints of how dangerous it would be for Canada to become “the next Amsterdam.”  On the one hand this is true:  the Dutch system does not work.  I have a friend who is an escort in the Netherlands and her home is regularly raided by police who accuse her of running an unlicensed brothel, even though she’s an independent escort who works alone…sex workers would prefer to not work in a country like the Netherlands…and certainly not in the dangerous and misguided setup endorsed by Sweden…most sex workers advocate for full decriminalization—as seen in the laws of New Zealand and New South Wales, Australia—as the best way to ensure minimum abuses and maximum access to rights…This is a view also supported by the WHO, UNAIDS, and other international aid agencies…Will Canada’s government craft a model of decriminalization, or something else, in the year until the new ruling takes effect?…

And on that last point, from Australia:Nikki Thomas, Terri-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott

…The Swedish model…works to silence any alternatives to the narrative trope of pitiful victim in need of rescue…[it makes] big claims about ending prostitution…but the research does not back this up…and…sex workers [are] further stigmatized…sex workers…can guide our social policies towards best practice…Can we hear their voices ringing loud and clear?

Catastrophic Consequences

Because “bottleneck effect” is not in the lawhead vocabulary:

Health chiefs in Edinburgh want a network of tightly-regulated brothels to replace…[the] saunas…NHS Lothian revealed the plan during discussions with police and other agencies…Police Scotland are determined to close down Edinburgh’s saunas despite warnings that it will drive the sex trade underground and increase crime and sexually-transmitted diseases…A terse email from an unnamed NHS official said:  “Sauna owners are speaking to us about condoms and they are suggesting Police Scotland are insisting that ‘no items of a sexual nature will be permitted on the premises’…This will cause us big problems in terms of public health.”  Police Scotland replied…[that their] “aim is to stop the saunas being used for criminality – i.e. brothel keeping and other illegal activities”…

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on October 27th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.

Nearly three years ago I wrote an essay entitled “Social Autoimmune Disorder”, in which I compared modern society’s persecution of sex workers to a disease “in which the body’s protective systems turn from attacking pathogens and other invaders to attack some portion of its own tissues instead”:

The bodies of societies sometimes also develop such syndromes; the systems which were meant to protect society from invaders or other troublesome organisms are instead turned against some of its own systems, sometimes even vital systems.  And just as in biological autoimmune disorders, those who are affected most are usually women…one…[example] is the continuing persecution of prostitutes in England and the United States, despite the obvious social function we serve…

macrophages killing cancer cellIn the past few decades police, especially in the United States and countries over which it has a powerful influence, have gone from primarily fighting those who harm the body of society (violent criminals) to primarily attacking the body itself (ordinary citizens accused of violating any of the countless laws against nonviolent, consensual behavior).  And when these infected police departments attack the mechanisms society has evolved to channel its libido, the metaphor folds back upon itself:  the figurative disease may result in the spread of literal disease.

Many of the persistent myths about sex work are exactly the opposite of the truth.  For example, prohibitionists often claim that pornography and stripping increase “violence against women”, when in fact the prevalence of rape, child molestation, domestic violence and other social ills decreases with the increased availability of, and decreased stigma against, porn and other forms of sex work.  Another looking-glass claim is that whores spread disease; in fact, the incidence of every kind of sexually-transmitted infection in developed nations is much higher in the sexually-active portion of the general population than it is among prostitutes, and only 3-5% of all STIs can be traced to either side of a paid sex transaction…which is to say that over 95% of them come from unpaid sex.  The reasons for this should be obvious: sex workers have a vested interest in keeping ourselves clean and we enter into relations calculatedly rather than in the heat of passion or as the result of inebriation, so we scrupulously use condoms while a great many amateurs (especially those under 25 and above 50) do not.

In a sanely-run world, sex workers would be held up as examples of how to have an active sex life while protecting oneself from the potential dangers thereof…but no part of this world is sanely-run.  Instead, sex workers are widely stigmatized where we aren’t outright criminalized, and the tools we use to protect ourselves are labeled “prostitution paraphernalia” in the diseased minds of the police.  In many places (including most of the United States), cops steal sex workers’ condoms and represent them as “evidence of prostitution”; the obvious effect of this is to discourage the use of condoms among everyone likely to be harassed by police, professional or not, thus resulting in a public health nightmare.  Unfortunately, the concept of harm reduction is completely alien to those who are obsessed with conformity, “law and order”, arbitrary rules and “sending messages”; they are wholly unable to recognize that their precious laws pose a clear and present danger to society, and therefore endeavor to enforce compliance even when the facts are directly before them.

sauna raidNor is this self-destructive behavior limited to countries where it is well-established by precedent; even in places where officials have by some miracle been made to see the wisdom of harm reduction policies, the police can be counted on to act in ways which endanger everyone unless they are forcibly restrained from doing so.  Scotland provides a perfect example: until recently, the country had eight different police forces; but when they were all brought under one umbrella, prohibitionist fanatics from Glasgow got in control,  and in only a few short months have done their level best to wreck the system of tolerated brothels which has kept Edinburgh sex workers safe for decades.  But in late October, they unveiled their crowning idiocy:

…Police chiefs [sent]…a letter…[asking] the city council to add new conditions to licences, including that “no items of a sexual nature will be permitted on the premises”…[HIV group the Terrence Higgins Trust and sex worker organisation Scot-Pep savaged the proposal, which they said would ruin decades of sexual health education]…A recent report by the World Health Organisation…read: “Condoms should never be considered to be evidence of sex work, either in official laws or through unofficial law-enforcement practices, and condoms should never be confiscated from sex workers”…[and] MSP Margo MacDonald said…“this…makes the police look…rather amateurish”…

The police, who were obviously unprepared for such strong resistance, backpedaled furiously:  “Police Scotland does not advocate the banning of condoms…at no point do the recommendations make reference to the banning of condoms…”  Pull the other one, gents; only the hopelessly gullible could believe that you didn’t intend the purposefully-vague “items of a sexual nature” to include condoms.  Fortunately, the council proved somewhat less credulous than they might have been, only allowing themselves to be bullied out of cancelling the licenses of six out of the thirteen saunas; the other seven were renewed without the foolish and dangerous restrictions demanded by the police.  It seems unlikely that this will deter their attempts to harass sex workers into hiding for very long, however; remember that the violent raids to which the saunas were subjected in recent months came despite the fact that their licenses were duly renewed last year.  Unless the burgeoning power of police to victimize peaceful people is radically amputated, it must eventually result in catastrophic consequences for any society so afflicted…and as I have warned many times before, though such consequences always start with sex workers or other marginalized groups, they never end with us.

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On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Two turtle-doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
 – Traditional Christmas carol

wren boys on Wren DayWe all learned the traditional carol as children, but did you ever stop to think of what it’s actually about?  Other than a rather improbable inflation of increasingly expensive gifts, I mean; just imagine how much it would cost to hire ten noblemen to leap at someone’s party on three successive days.  I’m sure most of you realize that Christmas was originally a twelve-day festival, but you may not realize what that actually means:  pre-industrial European society essentially shut down for twelve days while everyone celebrated.  Other than the Church, virtually every social institution – banks, businesses, governmental functions, the lot – was closed until January 6th.  Now, obviously things moved a lot more slowly in those days; crossing the average country took days rather than hours, and people (again, outside the Church) planned more by the calendar than by the clock.  Considering that, the twelve-day hiatus was not much more inconvenient than a weekend was in my childhood, when virtually everything other than restaurants (and the Church) was closed from 5 PM Friday to 9 AM Monday.  On top of that, it came midway through the slowest time of the year: though most modern people imagine that the agricultural lifestyle meant constant hard work, that was really only true in the spring and autumn; summers weren’t at all bad, and winter was basically a three-or-four-month vacation except for normal household chores.

That started to change with the rise of the towns in the High Middle Ages, but even then work during the festival was probably a lot like the Friday afternoon before a long weekend:  lots of people out “sick”, and the ones who aren’t not really trying too hard.  This was undoubtedly a large part of the reason dour work-until-you-drop-you-horrible-sinner-because-God-hates-you Protestants condemned the festival so relentlessly, even getting it banned in Britain under the Commonwealth from 1647-1660, and in Boston from 1659-1681.  Industrialization and the breakup of extended families renewed the attack a century later, and though the influence of rural people and writers like Charles Dickens revived the holiday in the first half of the 19th century, it only survived as a shorn, domesticated, factory-friendly one-day celebration rather than a two-week orgy of eating, drinking, games, music and most un-Puritan laziness.

But today, we’ve regained some of that leisure time we started losing in the 18th century; though many of my readers returned to work today, many others did not (perhaps even using vacation or “flex time” to accomplish that).  If you’re one of those lucky ones, I suggest you resist the urge to join the throngs at Boxing Day sales or returns counters; instead, indulge in the traditional activities associated with this day such as visiting friends or helping the less fortunate, or else just rest at home with those you love and eat Christmas leftovers.  While it’s true that we can no longer put the entire world on hold for twelve days, I’m sure most of you can manage two. Medieval Christmas banquet

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Christmas Day

Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we.  –  Dr. Seuss

Father ChristmasIn “Visions of Sugarplums” I imagined a Christmas centuries in the future, and that’s probably the least-fantastic premise of the entire story:  I am sure that Dr. Seuss was correct in asserting that the holiday will last for as long as humans remain human, because it has already lasted for as long as we’ve been civilized (and began just a bit before).  What we now regard as the “jolliest” of holidays started out as a dead-serious affair involving human sacrifice and inspired by the event from which the myths of the Fall are derived, yet many of our Christmas traditions can be traced directly back to that dark beginning.  But so much other lore has been added along the way that I couldn’t fit it all into just my Christmas columns; you might be interested in these discussions of the Christmas tree and other greenery, Saint Nicholas and other gift-giving figures, the traditions which grew into Carnival and official Christianity’s long crusade against the holiday, and that’s just a start.  If you’ve got some time to kill tomorrow, there are quite a few items in every December that relate either directly or indirectly to the holiday that dominates this month so thoroughly that it’s impossible to even hear the word “December” without thinking of it.  And since I have written so extensively on it in the past, I don’t think I have to feel bad about taking today off from blogging to commit myself to cooking for my family and then having a well-earned rest when it’s all done.  Merry Christmas, dear readers!

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Christmas Eve 2013

Commercialization and culture wars can only steal your Christmas if you let them.  –  Maggie McNeill

I’ve written on a number of occasions how important rituals are to human mental health, and how much poorer and sadder modern Westerners are for having largely forsaken them or, more often, allowed them to be replaced with other, synthetic rituals which serve the interests of the ruling classes (festivals such as “Super Bowl Sunday”, “Election Day” and “Black Friday” spring to mind).  The mistake all too many secular and rational people make is in imagining that “ritual” automatically implies “religion”, which it absolutely does not (any more than irrational belief systems require a god).

Pope Xmas blessing 2009As these examples of synthetic ones illustrate, rituals need not be organized around supernatural beliefs, biological families or anything else; the one thing they share is that they involve groups of people voluntarily coming together to do something in some specific way that doesn’t necessarily make logical sense.  The event is not actually about what it is declared to be about; the Super Bowl could be recorded and watched later, shopping could be performed on some other day and no individual vote is worth the trouble it takes to cast it.  What is most important to those who are devoted to such rituals isn’t the actual activity, but the sense of being part of something larger than themselves.  To those who cluster outside stores on “Black Friday” the wait is part of the experience, just as it is for those who wait in lines to see long-awaited new movies or those who throng to an appearance of some admired leader.

The supposed reason for any given ritual is thus much less important than the ritual itself, and Christmas is a perfect demonstration of that.  What began as an attempt to ensure the return of the sun after a long decline eventually became a celebration of that return, then a festival of various gods associated with rebirth, then a way to brighten the long winter nights, then a time for family and friendship, and now an excuse for spending a lot of money.  But the major aspects of the festivities (such as their extraordinary length in comparison with other holidays, the giving of gifts, the feasting, the singing, symbolism involving plants and lights, etc) continued on through the centuries no matter what the current “official” reason was, and each place and time has made its own contributions to the vast heap of traditions and rituals which we now call “Christmas” (though it has had other names before, and will again).  Some old traditions eventually drop by the wayside, and new ones are added; the pattern varies from place to place and even from household to household; but if we look at the big picture what we see is one large tapestry stretching back some 6000 years in time and across most of the Earth.

The takeaway from all this is summed up in today’s epigram:  Christmas is there for you if you want it, and barring catastrophe or malicious action nobody but you can take it from you.  How people celebrate Christmas next door or across town or in other cities makes no more difference than how they celebrate it on the other side of the world, or how they celebrated it 3000 years ago, or even what they call it or what reason they ascribe to the celebration; anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.  Take whatever elements you want from the vast Yuletide buffet, and leave the rest; add your own traditions, and cherish them year after year; call the festival whatever you want, and ascribe it to whatever excuse pleases you.  The only important thing is that it’s all meaningful to you and those you care about, and that you refuse to allow the pressures of life and the behavior of selfish busybodies to rob you of something which rightfully belongs to everyone. Grinch feast

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A song, a song, high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea.
  –  Noël Regney

National logoMy friend Terry majored in music and also adored comedy, so it should come as no surprise that he was very good at inventing song parodies on the fly.  And though we had always spent a lot of time together, that was especially true in the latter half of 1986; I lacked both a boyfriend and a car at the time, and since Terry was only too happy to ferry me about we saw even more of one another than usual.  One night just before Christmas of that year, he was driving me down to the National supermarket at the corner of Robert E. Lee and West End Boulevard (where I bought most of my groceries in those days) and we got into a discussion of Christmas songs we liked and hated.  As I’ve mentioned before, I strongly dislike sappy and overly-sentimental songs, and the one Christmas song I despise above all others is both:  “Do You Hear What I Hear”, written during the Cuban Missile Crisis by Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker; in addition to its other loathsome qualities, I hate the patent absurdity of the way the bearers of the message escalate in authority over the course of the song.  Well, by the time we got to the store Terry was starting to improvise a parody, and as I shopped we continued working on it; by the time we got back to my place it was mostly done, and he wrote it down on a piece of scratch paper that I have treasured for 27 years.

I don’t know why I remember that night so clearly; we spent many pleasant times together that are now, alas, lost to time and the fragility of human memory.  Perhaps it’s because I think of that song every year, and sing it at least a few times every Yuletide season.  This year, I’d like to share it with y’all, not merely because it’s something I had a hand in writing (I suspect observant readers may be able to guess which lines came out of my head), but also because it ridicules several things that I’m still mocking a quarter-century later, including the way rumors become increasingly distorted with repetition and the way people adore “authorities” no matter how horribly they behave.

Do You Hear What I Hear?  (music by GS Baker, lyrics by Terry F. & Maggie M.)

Said the north star to the winter wind,
“Let’s fuck with this kid’s head.
Tell him a story that’s bizarre;
Let’s pretend we’re Godhead.
Tell him I’m an omen or something
And then he’ll run to the king;
He will certainly run to the king.”

Said the winter wind to the shepherd boy,
“Listen to what I say!
Leave the sheep alone for awhile,
And listen to what I say!
A star, a star, the third one from the right –
It will bring us goodness and light,
It will bring us goodness and light!”

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
“The wind told me to come here!”
(Of course we know this isn’t true;
It gets much worse, I fear.)
“A star, a star, the third one to the right –
It will bring us goats every night,
It will bring us goats every night!”

Said the king to the men in the white coats,
“Take this nut case away!
He’s been spending too much time with sheep and goats –Do You Hear What I Hear
Put him in a white room
With padded walls, guards out in the halls
In the deepest part of the loony bin,
Where he cannot talk to the wind.”

Said the king to the people everywhere,
“Listen not to blockheads
Who go about talking to the wind,
And sleep with sheep in their beds!
Stars have no right, bringing goats by night
To weird little kids in the field,
To weird little sheep in the field.”

Said the people to the sheep everywhere,
“Come and lie in our beds!
Wooly white sheep everywhere,
The king said lie in our beds!”
The wind said “Star, this has gone too far –
Let’s do it again next year!”
“Yes,” said Star, “Let’s do it next year.”

Merry Christmas, dear readers, and if the wind tells you anything tonight it would probably be better if you didn’t repeat it to any kings or agents thereof.

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It was anticlimactic and boring until the cops overreacted.  –  Stefan Warner

Though there were some big stories in sex news this week, it’s always a bit quieter on the link front around the holidays.  And that’s really a good thing, because I’m not sure I’d want to be a Grinch by sharing too many of the usual tales of tyranny right now (I wish I had none to share, but that’s impossible under the current police state).  Mike Riggs took top honors this time, with everything down to the first video; the second one (via Grace) is the only “burning log” video you will ever need.  The links between the videos were provided by Popehat (“denunciation”), Brooke Magnanti (“Cthuken”), Franklin Harris (“Apocalypse” and “drugs”), Jason Kuznicki (“virgins”), Waiting Girl  (“incubator”), Kevin Wilson (“Sweden”), and Molly Crabapple (“blame”).

From the Archives

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