Posts Tagged ‘Mars’

Anti-prostitution crusaders behave as if we were at war over a symbol rather than discussing possible and partial solutions.  –  Laura Agustín

Check Your Premises 

Yeah, I’m sure they answered the pigs’ fake ads and said, “Hi, I’m interested in buying sex from a potential trafficking victim”.  That sounds totally legit:  “The FBI and police in St. Louis County…[claim] that [14] men contacted undercover officers….[and] were interested in paying for sex from potential trafficking victims…

First They Came for the Hookers…

Just in case you think owning a “legal” sex work business protects you:

A brother and sister were sentenced…to two years in federal prison for their schemes to promote prostitution at 10 Portland-area strip clubs and adult video stores.  Kandace Desmarias…and her brother, Gilbert “Mace” Desmarais…also were convicted of conspiring to evade paying more than $728,000 in federal income taxes by concealing $2.6 million in income from the clubs’ strip shows and prostitution.  The ringleader of the operation, their stepfather Lawrence G. Owen, 75, was sentenced in April  to two years and six months in prison…

“Ringleader”?  Seriously?  Are owners of non-sex related businesses called “ringleaders” when convicted of tax evasion?

Life Imitates Artifice (#139) 

It took four years, but eventually an Islamic theocracy followed Russia’s lead in using “sex trafficking” hysteria as Anti-American propaganda, exactly as I predicted:

[Bahram Qassemi of the foreign ministry of] Iran said…“The root causes of human trafficking lie in unilateral, interventionist and aggressive policies as well as the wars of attrition, terrorism and ethnic cleansing in which the military and security forces of America and some of its allies are involved…the U.S. government…cannot shirk its responsibility for that by playing blame games and leveling unfounded and false accusations against other countries”…

Business As Usual 

Given that cops raping sex workers is both typical and tolerated by police departments, my guess is that this dude pissed off somebody well above his pay grade:

An NYPD cop working undercover prostitution stings in Manhattan…[raped] six women…All of the[m]…illegal immigrants…[Michael] Golden would pay between $40 and $300 for the sex acts, prosecutors said.  Then, a field team made up of fellow officers would burst in and…arrest [his victim]…Under the rules, undercover cops can strip down to their underwear, but they aren’t allowed to engage in any sex acts with the sting targets…

The Hooker Vote (#615) 

Yet another Dennis Hof PR scam, because reporters are stupid enough to keep giving him free publicity:

Licensed prostitutes in Nevada…are organizing against legislation they say will devastate them, other prostitutes across the nation and their families…dubbing itself “Hookers for Health Care,” this group plans to go “on a political offensive…to stop the Republican effort.”  At the helm is Alice Little…who works…at Dennis Hof’s Sagebrush Ranch brothel…About a hundred women working in Hof’s seven brothels have already signed up to be involved with this new movement…

Are these reporters complete dolts? Are they unable to see that a real “movement” would involve prostitutes who didn’t work for Hof as well?  Are they oblivious to Hof’s unimaginative naming convention (cf “Hookers for Hillary”, “Tarts for Trump”, “Pimpin’ for Paul”)?  Why do these imbeciles keep providing free advertising for this dangerously self-centered jackass, who’s happy to get in bed with prohibitionists against sex workers who aren’t forced to give half of their income to him?

To Molest and Rape

“Forced into a sexual relationship” may be the most convoluted way of saying “raped” I’ve yet seen:

…Melissa Granados sued the Otero County [New Mexico] Sheriff’s Department…Joshua R. Sides and others…Granados [reported] that after Sides and four other [cops] entered her home without a warrant and arrested her as she got out of the shower, naked except for a towel, co-defendant sheriff’s Officer John Emory joked with Sides and others that it was “hard to handcuff her … those tits are distracting me”…The five [thugs from] the Otero County Narcotics Enforcement Unit entered her home “claiming they had an arrest warrant for plaintiff, however never produced any valid warrant to enter her home”…later…Sides told her she had 24 hours to accept his offer to work as an informant.  Granados…refused…[then] Sides [coerced] her…in[to] a sexual relationship…She arrived home one day to find him already inside, though he had no key…he…hit her and knocked her…unconscious…

The Widening Gyre (#692) 

I love watching “authorities” get caught up in their own manufactured moral panic:

A SERIAL conwoman who cost [Ireland] €350,000 in armed garda protection by posing as a child sex trafficking victim is facing up to 10 years in jail after pulling a similar scam in Australia.  Samantha Azzopardi…who is now 28…[is] accused of obtaining €13,500 worth of services from the state and charities by pretending to be a 13-year-old Sydney foster child…named Harper Hart…court documents…cite…her “extensive history of providing false documentation, obtaining passports in false names and assuming identities of other persons” in Queensland, Western Australia, Ireland and Canada…

The Widening Gyre (#697)

Those who don’t remember the height of the Satanic Panic may be surprised by this level of lunacy:

Alex Jones…interviewed Robert David Steele, a man whose Wikipedia page lists him as “an American activist and former Central Intelligence Agency clandestine services case officer.”  Steele laid out a strange theory that suggested NASA not only has secretly sent humans to Mars without anyone knowing about it but that…“There is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space…once they get to Mars, they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony…Pedophilia does not stop with sodomizing children…It goes straight into terrorizing them to adrenalize their blood and then murdering them.  It also includes murdering them so that they can have their bone marrow harvested as well as body parts”…

Checklist (#713) 

Just in case you didn’t think you were spied on enough in airports:

…the House’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill…would require new mandatory training for all “ticket counter agents, gate agents, and other air carrier workers whose jobs require regular interaction with passengers” on “recognizing and responding to potential human trafficking victims”…federal agents have already been training flight attendants and other airline personnel on how to “detect” human traffickers or trafficking victims on their planes…There is no evidence these efforts have actually yielded any trafficking busts—which shouldn’t surprise anyone not immersed in some Taken-style fantasy…A heightened sensitivity to anything out-of-the-ordinary—which in the United States can still mean interracial families or a child traveling with two fathers—means a propensity to profile passengers based on stereotypes…Airline Ambassadors International, which often works with government officials on sex-trafficking awareness training, suggests that “children and young women traveling alone” should be considered suspect, as should people who say they are adults but have “adolescent features”…

Interview:  Laura Agustín

Another interview with Dr. Agustín about The Three-Headed Dog:

Why should acknowledgement of structural inequalities mean victimising those less equal?  I’ve never understood that.  Unequal in terms of money and power does not mean unequal in agency, connections, street-smarts or guts…The focus on inequality leads logically to self-positioning as a helper – the Rescue Industry.  And if helpers believe everyone must want to be in their original homes, it leads to deportation…

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rock make all grak friend jealous best rock in village. rock work for hitting things.  –  Grak

Surprised to see this on a Friday?  Take a look at the calendar; because of the way the holidays fall this year, it was really the best choice until January.  Anyway, as I told you a few weeks ago, I’ve been binge-watching Doctor Who with Lorelei Rivers, who as it turns out is as big a nerd as I am (and if the idea of sharing an evening with two hot, nerdy, librarian whores sounds good to you, do let me know).  Anyhow, a few weeks ago she showed me this very funny parody starring Rowan Atkinson, and I just noticed it was on YouTube so enjoy.  The links above it were provided by Wendy Lyon (“Sweden”), Jesse Walker (“kink” and “feathers”),  Nun Ya (“West”), Walter Olson (“ahnt”), Tim Cushing (“whatsoever”),  Popehat  (“bottled”), and Mistress Matisse (“Louisiana”).

From the Archives

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I recently became aware of Science Hooker, and I was so impressed I immediately asked her to do a guest column.  She was able to achieve what in my youth I wanted to achieve, but couldn’t, and that makes her even more awesome in my estimation.science-hooker

Fucking science.
Science does not need to be dry.
Middle and upper class.
Even though people fitting these values dominate it.
Serve my science as a double shot in a sleazy bar.
“What was your name again?”
Learning and ability is not about background.
It’s about will, thought, curiosity, stubbornness and passion.
Science Hooker is about science for ALL.

Nerves jostle my stomach stepping onto the podium, adjusting the mic.  Hundreds of academic faces, mostly white, mostly men, mostly upper middle class, peer at me from the cavernous dark.  Mars rover tools.  I’m here to talk about Mars rover tools, about how ultrasonics enhance performance.  The focus envelopes, I calm…. begin.  A significant part of my confidence in academia traces back to me fucking for a living.  Honing those social skills.  Escort, prostitute, courtesan, whore; the label has never seemed important.  I remember perching on the radiator in a cold Edinburgh flat, nervous energy bubbling through me and a client due to arrive any minute.  The doorbell chimed, the focus enveloped, calm… begin.

I’ve never been ashamed or embarrassed about escorting.  Why should I?  There was so much learning.  So much living. I was an escort in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was studying part time at the Open University of Scotland, a truly fantastic institution for social mobility.  I gained a 1st in a geoscience BSc and was half way through an MSc when offered a PhD with the UK Space Agency, investigating the loss of the Mars atmosphere into the rocky crust and what lessons we can take from this in respect to climate change on Earth.  I’d never studied full time, nor physically attended an institution.  The integral snobbery, bigotry and discrimination is real.

Many academic peers are surprisingly religious, mass on Sunday sort of thing.  Their attitude to open discussions of prostitution backgrounds is full of the usual “saddening”, “terrible” and “disgusting”, coupled with trite ignorant sentiments such as, “Well, at least that is behind you know, or I hope it is, otherwise I don’t know what to say”.  The idea that there could be any positive life or value within the confines of escorting is anathema.  The message clearly announced that sex workers do not belong in academia unless they are very repentant, and acknowledge that their life was very sad, and how grateful they are to have transcended into the academic’s world.  Fuck conforming to fit in with this scene.

Science Hooker is my reaction to this elitist, insular environment of privilege.  It started in December 2015 as website, Twitter and Facebook platform where I simply shared fun science, but with an “escort” slant, which probably tasted daring and risqué to most academics.  The few thousand followers were mostly academics.  Yet, the project has evolved since the early days, becoming less timid.  A regular blog slot was provided by The Huffington Post, with a relatively free hand regarding content; this has been a powerful platform to engage larger audiences.  Following a Huffington article I wrote on prostitution, the House of Commons invited me to a panel discussion on reforming prostitution laws; it suddenly felt like Science Hooker could make an impact.  A short film was produced as a Cairn Productions-Science Hooker collaboration about my science research.  Thousands of academics followed, hundreds of professors; but still, I felt Science Hooker was pointless in a way.  Sharing academic content with academics is preaching to the converted.  It is not outreach.  It is not real science communication.  Added to this, a dozen other platforms are doing the exact same format of science dissemination.  I found myself asking: why am I doing Science Hooker?  What is the goal?  Where is it going?

The answer is still forming.  Fermenting.  Recently, large numbers of sex workers have followed, sharing their content, thoughts, jokes and issues.  I am glad of this demographic shift.  Interestingly, the extent I engage with the sex work community correlates with a proportionate decline in academic followers; a price worth paying, but informative about attitudes, and reinforcing my previous conclusions.  There has been a mixture of positive and negative reactions to Science Hooker.  Recently an academic pulled their copyright and association with a mineral reference book I had been working on with other students because they had stumbled over Science Hooker and my escort history.  This was no loss, academics are plentiful; we simply replaced his contribution and took the incident as a perfect example of bigotry and exclusion in the sciences for those from alternative backgrounds.  At the other end of the spectrum, Science Hooker recently got nominated by a post-doctoral fellow for the Annie Maunder medal from the Royal Astronomy Society for public outreach.  Science Hooker generates impact, disparagement, respect, hatred, encouragement and dismissal in a messy bundle of reactions.

Science Hooker ethos has always been about making science accessible and understandable to all, yet the tangible application of this goal is difficult.  How does one achieve this in any concrete sense?  Initially the accessibility I had in mind was all about explaining science, but now I feel it has morphed to include smashing down ivory walls of the academic tower, or at least graffiti them up a bit; highlighting discrimination, denial of access and judgemental hatred to sex workers in relation to formal science, education and academia.  A new project on the drawing board just now is called “Ask a scientist!”  I am collecting a network of scientists from a wide range of disciplines willing to answer public questions in a 1-1 personal way.  There will be two functions.  Anyone will be able to search for a scientist from a database, read about their history and motivations, their area of research and contact them directly via email.  Alternatively, people will be able to ask a question on the website, and any scientist can choose to respond and answer it, or not.  Possibly different scientists will forward different viewpoints and a conversation will develop.  I hope so.  Once this has been trialed successfully, it would be interesting to create another database called “Ask a sex worker”, again, with the aim of developing conversation, connection and mutual understanding.  I firmly believe it is through knowledge of each other that stigma dies.

The university is ending my funding soon, and I won’t have finished the PhD in time.  I don’t know what will happen, with me, or with Science Hooker.  I may even return to escorting.  Life is uncertain. I am unpredictable.  Science Hooker is fluid.  We can all only play with the cards in our hand, make a difference where opportunity and circumstance allow. So why not visit Science Hooker?  See what it’s all about.

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Art is nothing more of less than various modes of stylized, dehumanized representation.  –  Venus of Willendorf

Finding What Isn’t There (#24) 

Do these prohibitionists think I’m a she-devil who can appear when my name is spoken?

…The Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána issued a joint statement…[revealing] that there had been a massive, joint operation…[and] smashed one of the most serious sex trafficking rings world-wide.  Some 784 women had been rescued and taken to secure accommodation for their own safety.  Twenty men, all of eastern European extraction, had been arrested…the men had groomed the women on-line…offering them the chance of employment in Ireland.  Once here, their passports were confiscated, they were made to service 50 men a day, sometimes more.  If they resisted, they would be chained to radiators.  After several months of being “broken in”, groups of the women were…flown in an unmarked jet to Atlanta, the major trafficking hub in the US…Lord Morrow…sharply criticised those politicians who had called for evidence during his [Swedish model] Bill’s progressing, saying…[they had] been taken in by the lies spread on some American libertarian websites by people posing as “ex-madams”…

The Widening Gyre 

It was only a matter of time…

Several anti-sex-trafficking organizations held a joint press conference today to announce their opposition to space exploration, citing concerns about future sex trafficking.  “Space is going to be like a frontier town,” said Nicholas Kristoff.  “There will be no law enforcement in space, which means that girls, some as young as 11, could be easily trafficked to colonies on Mars or in the asteroid belt where they would have to service up to 50 men a day”…Julie Bindel…[noted] that science fiction films have frequently depicted prostitution…She derided the series Firefly for presenting an unrealistic and unrepresentative model…[and added] “No little girl grows up wanting to be a triple-breasted Martian prostitute”…a recent study by Dominique Roe Sepowitz…presented evidence that shuttle launches are associated with major increases in sex trafficking…Amanda Marcotte…advocated for an “enthusiastic consent” standard from other planets before further human exploration.


So “signs of trafficking” idiocy isn’t confined to the US:

When a young 17 year old trafficking victim was discovered in a hotel in Valkenburg the Netherlands last fall, government officials and law enforcement authorities had to consider: how could this have happened right under our noses?  The Netherlands in a major hub for human trafficking, as the country is located near the sea and has borders to various European countries such as Belgium and Germany…not all victims are bundled across borders in cars with tinted windows or shipped in containers.  Sometimes they’re just hidden in plain sight, among other children and women…law enforcement and human trafficking experts are now working together with teachers to catch the earliest signs of child sex trafficking…Peter van Dam…of StopItNow…[said] “Some children are trafficked as young as four years old…Kids as young as 5 years old are being raped daily, some estimates suggest up to one in twelve children could be victimised”…

Scapegoats (#449)

Well, this was unexpected:

…An unusual furry prostitution ring has been busted…in…Manhattan.  Despite surveillance footage, the age, gender & species of both the victims and perpetrators have proven difficult to determine.  A Detective from the NYPD, Will Wonder suspects “very young girls” and “seriously fucked up old men.”  No evidence of money exchange has been reported but Detective Wonder is convinced “no woman would do this without getting paid.”  Police were first alerted by another guest at the upscale hotel who noticed people gathering in “very unflattering costumes” even though “Halloween is months away.”  Upon completion of a mostly illegal search & seizure, a man/bear confessed to “anything & everything” which detectives are interpreting as “running an under age furry prostitution ring.”  Investigators are shocked & appalled at the furries apparent willingness to exploit young girls’ “natural obsession with animals and arts & crafts” for their own sexual gratification…Caroline

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The canned food item could stun the intruder or even knock him out until the police arrive.  –  Priscella Holley

Apparently we’re over the holiday slump, because there were lots of good links!  Mike Siegel was the top contributor this week, with the first video (an example of Sweden being Swedish) and everything above it; the second video (silly, but amusing) was provided by Kevin Wilson, and the links between the videos by Mistress Matisse (“race”), Radley Balko (“start” and “blue”), Dan Savage  (“federalism” and “unpunished”), Jesse Walker (“beer” and “luck”), Clarissa  (“determined” and “bury”), Violet Blue (“adventure”), Aspasia (“owners”), Popehat (“Mars”), Amy Alkon (“stupid”), Angela Keaton (“truck”), and Michael Whiteacre (“shampoo”).

From the Archives

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We are the Martians now.  –  Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley)

Five Million Years to EarthOne of my favorite horror movies is Quatermass and the Pit (1967), released in the United States as Five Million Years to EarthIMDb synopsizes its plot thus:  “An ancient Martian spaceship is unearthed in London, and proves to have powerful psychic effects on the people around.”  If you’ve seen the movie you already know that doesn’t remotely do it justice, and if you haven’t (but would like to) you might want to skip today’s column for now because it uses the film’s plot as a metaphor for human behavior, and that necessarily involves major spoilers.  If you’ve already seen the movie, or don’t like science fiction-style horror (or horror-tinged sci-fi), or you just don’t mind knowing the end of a flick you might someday watch, stick around.  And even if you know it well, please have patience while I describe those plot elements crucial to the comparison.

The synopsis says the ship is “unearthed”; that happens during the excavation of a new Underground station at Hobbs End, a locale long associated with ghostly goings-on.  Of course the immediate assumption is that the find is an unexploded bomb left over from the Blitz, but tests quickly prove that the thing has been there for a hell of a lot longer…five million years, give or take.Martian spaceship  It is also, needless to say, not of this Earth.  Further investigation by Professor Quatermass and his associates reveals that its origin is Mars, and it contains the mummified bodies of its crew (who were killed on impact) and several hominids who appear to have been artificially altered.  Research and various incidents reveal the full truth:  though the Martians knew their world was dying, they could not colonize the Earth because the gravity was too heavy and the air too dense for their fragile, locust-like bodies.  They therefore decided to re-engineer the brains of Earth’s primitive inhabitants so that they would think and act like Martians; in other words, they would essentially make Martians in human bodies to survive on Earth.  But the experiment was only in its early stages when the Martian civilization collapsed; they were never able to reprogram enough members of our race for the experiment to fully succeed.  It did, however, introduce certain elements into the human gene pool.

Roney & Quatermass with mummified MartianThe Martians had what we would call psychic abilities, and though the plan was incomplete it did result in some humans displaying such abilities in latent form…abilities which could be awakened by the artificial psychic presence which served the function of a ship’s computer.  Over the millennia, sensitive individuals living in the area above the buried ship received signals from it and saw ghostly apparitions of Martians (which they perceived as horned goblins or devils, hence the name of the place).  As the movie approaches its climax, an accident fully re-awakens the ship’s damaged consciousness, which immediately sets about fulfilling its original mission:  to create a Martian colony out of the area’s humans.  The Martians, as previously mentioned, were insect-like creatures who lived in tremendous hives; as one might expect of insects, they had little individuality and no tolerance for deviation from the norm.  They therefore underwent periodic purges, events in which mass hysteria raced through the hives and caused them to exterminate all whom they sensed were too different to be allowed to live.  And they intended us to live the same way, undergoing occasional periods in which those more like our Martian creators – unimaginative, conformist and easily driven by the hive-mind – would gather in mobs to seek out and destroy those who were too different, using the psychic technology at their command.  Until he is shaken out of it by the more-purely-human Dr. Roney, even the brilliant Professor Quatermass is swallowed up in the hysteria, unable to use his critical thinking abilities while in the grip of the blind drive to destroy everyone who is different.

Quatermass and the PitOf course, this is all a mere fantasy; we know humans don’t carry any hidden bombs in our unconscious minds.  We know there aren’t any evolutionary relics, behaviors designed to advance some greater biological purpose with a complete disregard for what individuals might want.  We know that humans don’t behave differently when they’re in mobs, and that such mobs don’t really engage in horrible acts their members would condemn if they were committed by individuals.  We know that people don’t allow themselves to be guided by sinister “authorities” about whom they actually know nothing, and that they don’t blindly obey laws they had no part in creating.  We know that people are never terrified of imaginary devils which exist only in their minds, and that they aren’t subject to periods of irrational hysteria in which they discard millennia of moral development in a blind, monstrous quest to purge all Outsiders from society.

Don’t we?

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I don’t call him my boyfriend.  He’s more a good spirit friend who happens to be from the octopus race.  –  Stephany Fay Cohen

Sometimes it becomes obvious early in the week who’s going to be the lead contributor, but other times it’s close up until posting time.  And once in a while I have actually collected the leader’s links at the top of the draft, only to have him fall behind in the end.  That’s what happened this week; Jesse Walker only surpassed Radley Balko on Friday afternoon, and then by only one link.  All of the links down to the first video are Jesse’s, as is the last part of “welcome to our world”; the first two parts were contributed by Marginal Utilite and Mike Siegel respectively, and the first three links after it are Radley’s.  Both videos were supplied by Grace; the first one features her kind of guy (her own inventions aren’t quite that Goldbergian), and the second is a primer on a  Supreme Court case I’ve mentioned before.  “Warrant” and “judicial overreach” were provided by Gideon’s Trumpet, “unnecessary quotes” by Popehat, “new teeth” by Luscious Lani, “penis thieves” by Michael Whiteacre and “errant shooting” by Aspasia.  This week we’ve also got an unusually-high number of articles by link contributors, as the bylines will show.

From the Archives

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While female orgasms were most commonly experienced during foreplay,  copulatory vocalizations were reported…most often…with male ejaculation …[indicating] that there is at least an element of these responses that are under conscious control, providing women with an opportunity to manipulate male behavior to their advantage.  –  Gayle Brewer & Colin Hendrie

This has been rather a quiet week, which is good because it’s allowed me to get ahead on my work, and to adjust my schedule for being out of town next week (I’ll explain where I’m going one week from today).  This “Links” feature has almost finished its circuit; next week it will once again be adjacent to the TW3 column, and two weeks after that it will be back to its accustomed place on Sunday (where it will remain except when some special occasion displaces it).  Radley Balko was top dog again this week, contributing all the links down to the first video; that was provided by Satoshi Kanazawa, and examines an interesting problem in probability which fooled me until it was explained (and even then required some thought).  The second video isn’t nearly as intellectually challenging, but may be harder to accept emotionally for many Americans; it’s a short recording of a protest based on a principle I have myself stated to Grace (who is a quarter Choctaw) many times.  The links between the videos were supplied by Michael WhiteacreBrooke MagnantiAL 360Jack ShaferAmy AlkonPopehatMike Siegel and Jesse Walker, in that order.

From the Archives

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Going too far is as bad as not going far enough.  –  Chinese proverb

Most people will probably agree that quality is more important than quantity, and most reasonable people recognize that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.  But it seems very few people, especially in America, can resist the temptation to want more of something that was fine as it was.  This isn’t about portion size, though I suppose one could stretch the point to include that; what I’m really talking about is portion number.

The hero of C.S. Lewis’ fantasy novel Out of the Silent Planet, Dr. Ransom, arrives via a series of adventures on Mars, whose inhabitants never “fell” and therefore still live in a state of grace.  One of the Martians tells Ransom that his people cannot understand the human drive to keep repeating things; if a Martian has a pleasant experience, he appreciates it for what it was and feels no compelling need to do it over again.  In fact, they feel that to repeat it too soon would actually cheapen the initial experience.  Reading that was one of those moments in which a book has a profound effect on one’s life; I had always felt exactly like Lewis’ Martians, and had never understood why other people didn’t.  That passage gave me the words to describe how I felt, and let me know that I wasn’t the only person on Earth who saw it that way.

Let me give you a few examples.  Once Olivia told me that she liked a new album so much she had “put it on repeat all afternoon”.  I told her that I didn’t think my CD player had such a function, and she replied that she suspected it did but I just hadn’t ever looked for it.  As it turned out she was exactly right; it had simply never occurred to me.  Though I do play favorite albums more often than others, I literally could not comprehend why anyone would want to play the same album over again immediately after listening to it once.  I was similarly flabbergasted by the kids who had seen Star Wars dozens of times; though I like the movie, I’ve probably seen it fewer times in my life than some of those kids watched it in a month.  It’s the same thing with food flavors:  every time we went to Plum Street Sno-Balls I got a different flavor, and would never return to the same one twice in a summer no matter how much I liked it; Jack, on the other hand, got the same flavor (pralines and cream) every single time we went there, without fail.  The query, “Don’t you even want to try another flavor?” was invariably answered with, “I like this one.”  I reckon that’s why I sympathize with the male need for sexual variety, even though I don’t really feel it myself (for reasons I’ve previously explained); on the other hand, I just don’t “get” why anyone would want to have sex twice in a single hour.

As you can probably guess, I find Hollywood’s addiction to unnecessary sequels, remakes and “reboots” incomprehensible.  There are some movies which either need or can smoothly accommodate sequels, and others which can’t; there are some which practically scream, “Do not cheapen me with a sequel!” (Rule of thumb:  if the writers can’t think of an actual name and instead just call it “Such-and-such II” it probably didn’t need one).  Sometimes it’s easy to tell; nothing short of physical force or a very large sum of money could have compelled me to see Highlander II, because though I loved Highlander I could clearly see that the only way to make a sequel was to pervert the story.  Alas, I wasn’t so perceptive when it came to Ghostbusters II.  The same thing goes for television shows; I truly respect producers who end a show while it’s still strong, rather than allowing it to “jump the shark” and degenerate into self-parody before finally limping into its grave.  And I promise you that if I ever feel my creative juices ebbing and recognize that the quality of this blog is starting to slip, I will have the wisdom to say “OK, that’s enough,” and go out on a high note.

And that brings me to my main point (yes, there is one):  I feel the same way about lives as I do about shows.  Even if a person has a happy life, even if he has a spectacular life, everything has a point at which it’s best for it to end.  Change is natural; just because a person is aging or disabled due to disease or injury does not mean his life is necessarily worse than it was when he was young and hale.  In fact, some people are actually happier after such a change of life, just as some sequels surpass the original.  So I’m not saying there should be some specific point at which everyone hangs it up; some TV series are spent after three seasons, while others can carry on for seven or more.  What I am saying is that I respect the wisdom of those who can see when it’s time to go, and choose to leave this plane in a dignified manner of their own choosing rather than being dragged kicking and screaming across the threshold, pathetically clinging to life like the cast of After MASH.  Furthermore, I think it’s an abomination for tyrants to prevent people from doing so, even when their lives have degenerated into inescapable nightmares; an individual who does not own and control his own body is a slave, and self-determination includes the right to self-termination.  Quality, as I said at the beginning, is far more important than quantity, and a successful life is judged by its character rather than by the number of years it endures.

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For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales.
  –  Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Locksley Hall”

Ray Bradbury’s passing on the 6th set off a chain of thoughts and reminiscences about my lifelong love of astronomy and space travel.  Ever since I was a small child, I dreamed of visiting other worlds, and eagerly devoured books and shows which allowed me to do so in my imagination.  It didn’t much matter to me whether the stories were realistic or fantastic, hard science fiction or pure fantasy, illustrated or not; I was just as happy with Adam Strange’s travels by zeta-beam to the planet Rann as I was with John Carter’s astral projection to Mars or the voyages of the starship Enterprise, and every bit as fascinated by the real moon landings as I was by Dr. Dolittle’s lunar excursion on the back of an immense moth.

As so often happens, the fiction inspired me to explore the fact, and I read every book on astronomy and/or space travel I could get my hands on.  I must’ve read We Came in Peace (a pictorial history of the space program published a few months after the landing of Apollo 11) dozens of times, and about 6 or 7 years ago was overjoyed to discover a copy in a used-book store in New Orleans while I was killing time between calls.  By the time I reached high school I was determined to be an astronomer, but after I saw Cosmos I modified that to “astronomy popularizer” instead; I wanted to be a female Carl Sagan, writing books explaining science in general and astronomy in particular to lay people.  I figured I might even get my own show one day, using my sex appeal to bring the viewers in.  That dream never quite went away, either; when Denise won a scholarship in chemistry and her friend Jane (to whom I was also very close) excelled in pursuing a physics degree, we conceived of the notion of trying to sell one of the cable networks a show called The Astronomy Babes after the two of them had earned their PhDs.  I would also go back for my doctorate in library science, and the three of us would host the show together, talking about astronomy and space science dressed in sexy outfits.  I think it would’ve been a winner; we were all beautiful, intelligent and unusually busty, and each had her area of specialization (Jane would explain physics aspects, Denise chemistry, and I would handle the cultural and historical segments).  Alas, real life intervened for all three of us, but it’s fun to fantasize about an alternate world where our show is entering its third season and I’m raking in royalties from Astronomy Babes DVDs, T-shirts, web promotions, etc.

Realistically, a show like that takes some serious putting together and we probably would’ve all had to relocate to Los Angeles.  But I had one other astronomy-related fantasy which was much more achievable, and had I not fallen in love I would probably be living it right now.  What I envisioned was that after building my house I’d semi-retire around the age of 40, then go on tour to all the parts of the country where interesting astronomy projects were going on while Grace ran the agency at home.  I planned to take only one or two calls a day (mostly just enough to pay for hotels, food and gas), leaving plenty of time to do sightseeing, visit observatories, etc.  Like my heroine Phryne, I would have established a sliding scale: high prices for most clients, typical ones for highly-paid science types and nothing at all for astronomers and other scientists who took the time to give me tours and answer my questions.  I know I have a number of scientists as readers, and at least one astronomer, so I’m very sorry, guys; life always seems to take me in a different direction than I imagine it will.  Had I gone down that path I probably wouldn’t be doing this blog, which I humbly believe will prove more important in the long run.

Though I still love astronomy, it’s grown increasingly difficult for me to follow the newest developments.  Just a few weeks ago, for example, I read an article on the neutrino observatory in Antarctica which discussed neutrinos of different masses; now, although I was familiar with the idea that neutrinos might indeed have an infinitesimal mass, the last I heard (from an astrophysicist client back in 2000) was that the concept had been disproven…and here this new article is treating neutrino mass as an established fact!  And now they’re saying the Higgs boson could be detected any day now; I despair of keeping up.

Space travel, on the other hand, has become exactly the opposite for me now:  I still know what’s going on and have no problem understanding it; I simply don’t give a damn about it.  The endless delays of the shuttle program (chasing the ridiculous goal of eliminating all risk in an inherently dangerous pursuit), the bureaucratic obstacles which blocked all efforts at commercialization of the field so that we’ve only recently reached a point which should have been achieved about 30 years ago, the psychotic waste of trillions on warmongering, oppression and political games when a hundredth part of that could’ve opened up the solar system to us by now…all of these have contributed to my present attitude on the subject, which might be best described as, “wake me up when you actually do something.”  My attitude toward most recent science fiction cinema is similar; I see it as a lot of noise and flash with no real substance.

I no longer believe human beings will walk on Mars in my lifetime, nor that we will strike out for the stars anytime in the next several centuries unless we’re forced to by some unforeseen circumstance or easily enabled to by some unforeseen discovery; human society has turned in on itself again, as it has so many times before, and the hands that hold the purse-strings are more interested in their own petty power-games than exploring new worlds.  A new Enlightenment will come, as it always does, but I won’t see it in this incarnation; so of late I’ve turned away from what passes for space travel in the real world, and devoted my attention instead to explorations of the mind.  Though I will never set physical foot on another world myself I have walked a thousand of them in my imagination, and there is nothing to keep me from going outside on a clear summer night and turning my eyes upward to the stars.

One Year Ago Today

Dirty Whores” analyzes the reasons for the persistent myth of the diseased whore, and contrasts it with the truth of the subject.

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