News for January 2010

Overlooked In the News: January Round-Up

♥  Let’s start with a story of trivial magnitude that I still found fairly unbelievable: ‘Oshkosh Police Arrest Las Vegas Woman For Prostitution After Viewing Posts For Services On Websites’. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been living in the UK too long. But the idea of government money spent on an ‘undercover operation’ to arrest a single independent woman advertising sexual services on the internet seems unreal to me. No excuse of stopping trafficking, coercion, soliciting – just good old-fashioned moralizing on the exchange of cold hard cash (versus presents and dinner?) for sex. She was only living in Oshkosh, Wisconsin temporarily – a pretty harsh wake-up call to the fact that our Dorothy wasn’t in Las Vegas anymore!

I have no idea how common these kind of police operations are, tracking working girls on the internet. If you have any further info, please feel free to post in the comments below.

♥  On to some discrimination on a much larger scale. Queerty has been bringing CBS’s ridiculous hypocrisy to the public eye with regards to it’s Superbowl ad choices.

First we hear that ‘The Super Bowl Welcomes $2.8 Million Ad Buy From Hate Group “Focus on the Family”‘. Which is fair enough, until you remember CBS’s own policy that does not allow any ad that “touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance”. This quote is from a letter to the United Church of Christ, whose ad campaign of inclusiveness (“Jesus Didn’t Turn People Away. Neither Do We.”) was rejected for broadcast in 2004. So much for CBS’s ‘long-standing policy of not accepting advocacy advertising.’ No one’s seen the Focus on the Family ad spot yet, but from what the group has said publicly, it is going to be very clearly pro-life.

Just to emphasize the political nature of these decisions, Queerty has posted two ads rejected from this year’s Superbowl: ‘CBS Won’t Let Super Bowl Viewers See GoDaddy’s Gay-ish Ad Or a Gay Dating Site’s Spot. 30 Seconds of Abortion Still OK’. Although some might argue the content itself was not up to snuff – I demand you watch your average American TV spot before you make that judgement.

♥  Next, to the BBC reporting on how ‘Sanitary pads help Ghana girls go to school’. “Schoolgirl absenteeism in Ghana could be cut by half by providing free sanitary towels, a study has shown.” So easy to take things like that for granted in life. Somehow I think this is the kind of study that only gets done when it’s women on the research team!

♥  The NY Times had an interesting article called ‘Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret’ on the number of gay partnerships that are open sexually, and how they negotiate that understanding. I find it fascinating not just in itself, but as a model for straight couples as well. There needs to be a certain amount of trust, lack of jealousy, etc. – but these are things that often make relationships stronger. Some studies show that open gay relationships last longer than closed ones. As Joe Quirk, author of the relationship book “It’s Not You, it’s Biology”, put it: “If innovation in marriage is going to occur, it will be spearheaded by homosexual marriages.” Here, here!

♥  On a final, lighter note, click here to read how ‘Student Peter Backus uses alien maths to explain why single men can’t find a girlfriend.’ Apparently the probability of finding love in the UK is only about 100 times better than the probability of finding intelligent life in our galaxy! Somehow I bet those chances are much improved by spending less time in front of a calculator.

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In Search of Pandora: Escape… Then Meditate

Since the movie’s debut, there’s been a lot of publicity about Avatar viewers who experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after having to return from the movie’s magical world ‘Pandora’, back to our (comparatively) bleak one. Eliezer Sobel of the Huffington Post wrote this very interesting article about escaping into other worlds (whether by entering a 3D virtual reality like Avatar or having a good old-fashioned psychedelic experience).  He makes the inspirational point that:

“The alluring world of Pandora is not ‘out there.’ It surrounds us every moment, it is the very atmosphere in which we live and move and have our being. Hell and heaven are separated only by an infinitesimal turn of the mind and inner view.”

In a similar vein is Sue Blackmore’s refreshingly frank article “I Take Illegal Drugs for Inspiration”. She speaks about her experiences with different substances, and comes to the following conclusion:

“Are drugs the quick and dirty route to insight?  I wanted to try the slow route, too. So I have spent more than 20 years training in meditation – not joining any cult or religion but learning the discipline of steadily looking into my own mind.

Gradually,  the mind calms, space opens up, self and other become indistinguishable, and desires drop away. It’s an old metaphor, but people often liken the task to climbing a mountain. The drugs can take you up in a helicopter to see what’s there, but you can’t stay.

In the end, you have to climb the mountain yourself – the hard way. Even so, by giving you that first glimpse,  the drugs may provide the inspiration to keep climbing.”

As you leave a screening of ‘Avatar’ or the last traces of a chemically-induced buzz wear off, coming back down to social consensus “reality” is often depressing. You want to go back, to retain those feelings and thoughts during your day to day existence. You’ve been taken in for a sneak peak at something incredibly different.  Now you feel like you’re back where you started.  But you’re not really – the experience you had up there (or in the cinema!) can inspire and drive you to start climbing back the hard way.  I believe it’s possible to achieve all kinds of altered states without outside help or stimulation, but it takes a lot more patience, time, and effort.

So why bother? Because in the end most methods of ‘getting high’ still leave you with the inevitable process of coming down. Some descents are bumpier than others and it’s common to find yourself quickly seeking out another escape in order to avoid a crash landing. As Sobel put it:

“There is really not much use in continuously revisiting artificially induced states if it is at the expense of doing the actual work required to integrate the teachings from those selfsame states into one’s life in a meaningful and less transient manner. Philosopher and Zen practitioner Alan Watts compared it to a scientist in a lab who discovers something under the microscope; she doesn’t just keep on repeating the experiment and staring at the result; she takes new actions informed by her discovery. Or, switching metaphors, Watts also said, ‘When you get the message, hang up the phone.'”

In the 1960s, Dr. Richard Alpert (soon to become spiritual teacher Ram Dass) gave the Indian guru Maharaj-ji a massive dose of LSD, and was shocked to find it had no effect on his mind whatsoever.  Was he already living in – or beyond – the psychedelic state of consciousness?

Maybe spiritual teachers sell their philosophies all wrong. In this day and age, who wants to go through all that work just to become ‘enlightened’? How about marketing the practice of meditation as a way to achieve powerful natural highs that are entirely under your control – with no hangover! (You won’t believe it’s still legal!)

In all seriousness, it does sound amazing: To depend on nothing and no one else to make you happy. The ability to create your own ecstasy and internal bliss – anytime, anyplace.

Wouldn’t it be funny if it turned out that spirituality was the ultimate high – the greatest escape of them all?

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How Not To Win Over The Muslim World

How Not To Win Over the Muslim World

1. Send soldiers into Iraq and Afghanistan with rifles engraved with Bible codes that reference passages of the New Testament. You know, so that extremists have real justification for claiming that this is a Holy War. Crusades anyone? Even the Afghan military were given these Bible guns. The Pentagon arms supplier Trijicon claims it has always used New Testament references on its products. Soon after ABC broke the story, Trijicon agreed to stop. But is the damage already done? See Al Jazeera English coverage for more.

2. Hire private security in Iraq from a company whose boss is now being accused by two of his ex-employees of viewing himself “as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.” There are also claims that Erik Prince, head of Blackwater, “openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as ‘ragheads’ or ‘hajis’.

Whether or not those accusations are true, thousands of documents show Blackwater guards routinely opened fire in Iraq’s streets, then left the scene without aiding civilian casualties.

3. To top it all off, it surely doesn’t help that the proposed ban on burqas is receiving strong public support in France. I’m all for finding ways to target sexist discrimination, oppression and general misogyny. But we have plenty of that in our western society, even if it’s not as obvious to us as a woman dressed head to toe in black. Sarcozy may think he’s being idealistic, but in reality he is misguided. If he wants to address issues of racism and sexism in French society, there are plenty of places he can start that don’t involve singling out a religious minority that already faces heavy discrimination and difficulty assimilating.

Ex-President George W. Bush once said that the Muslim extremists “hate us for our freedom”. Looking over these headlines, one begins to wonder if some hate us because we won’t give them theirs.

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Posted: January 25th, 2010
Categories: Politics
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Cutting Edge: Articles for a New Age

As we start to sink our teeth into 2010, here is the Daily Transmission’s pick of the most interesting reads from the past weeks:

First head over to Brainwaving, where you’ll find the brilliant David Nutt’s article on the comparative dangers of taking ecstasy and horse-back riding:

Is Equasy More Dangerous Than Ecstasy?

Reading the full version of his article alerted me to an astounding set of statistics:

“A telling review of 10-year media reporting of drug deaths in
Scotland illustrates the distorted media perspective very well
(Forsyth, 2001). During this decade, the likelihood of a newspa-
per reporting a death from paracetamol was in per 250 deaths,
for diazepam it was 1 in 50, whereas for amphetamine it was
1 in 3 and for ecstasy every associated death was reported.”

Talk about distorting perception of danger…

Also at Brainwaving is an excellent review of the movie Avatar by Dr. Ralph Metzner, for anyone who’s interested in looking deeper into this newest cultural phenomenon:

Avatar: A Mythic Masterpiece For Our Troubled Time

A reprint at Reality Sandwich alerted me to Michael Garfield’s September 2009 article in H+ magazine on The Psychedelic Transhumanists. A dense read, but rich and thought-provoking if you have the time to dig in.

While you’re there you might want to watch the video of a man playing the piano with only his brain. Completely surreal: By Thought Alone: Mind Over Keyboard.

Back in the here and now, Naomi Klein makes a compelling argument that ties in corporate branding, Barack Obama, and “No Logo” over at the Guardian: Naomi Klein on how corporate branding has taken over America

Finally, a bit of a trend alert in the Evening Standard: The New Psychedelia. A cleverly compiled overview of the coolest new psychedelia-influenced fashion, art, music, and film.

The 60s are in the air… let’s just hope this trend goes beyond swirly prints and trippy sci-fi.

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The War on Drugs is Over:
America and the End of Prohibition

Looks like it’s the beginning of the end. Yesterday’s Independent featured an excellent article by Hugh O’Shaughnessy called “US Waves White Flag in Disastrous ‘War on Drugs'”:

“After 40 years of defeat and failure, America’s “war on drugs” is being buried in the same fashion as it was born – amid bloodshed, confusion, corruption and scandal. US agents are being pulled from South America; Washington is putting its narcotics policy under review, and a newly confident region is no longer prepared to swallow its fatal Prohibition error. Indeed, after the expenditure of billions of dollars and the violent deaths of tens of thousands of people, a suitable epitaph for America’s longest “war” may well be the plan, in Bolivia, for every family to be given the right to grow coca in its own backyard.”

and

“For the lives and sanity of millions, the seeing of the light is decidedly late. The conditions of the 1920s, when the US Congress outlawed alcohol and allowed Al Capone and his kin to make massive fortunes, have been re-created up and down Latin America.”

Highly recommended reading.  Are we finally coming out the dark ages?  It’s only in the last hundred years that we made it illegal to eat, drink, and/or smoke certain plants. Brainwaving.com has a fascinating history of what happened when drugs were legal and why they were prohibited.

All this comes in the same month that a New Jersey vote backed marijuana for the severely ill and California’s proposal to legalize and tax marijuana was approved by a key committee of the Assembly. Not to mention the opening of Oregon’s first marijuana restaurant/cafe.

Kind of ironic considering it was only last year the UK government reclassified cannabis as a Class B drug, meaning that in the eyes of the law, weed is as bad as amphetamines and barbiturates.

Fourteen states in the US now have medical marijuana laws, recognizing the positive potential of cannabis. Come on England!

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Posted: January 19th, 2010
Categories: Drugs, Politics
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The Death and Rebirth of Intimacy in the Sex Industry

There was an interesting article in the Sunday Times today called “How teenage access to pornography is killing intimacy in sex”. Natasha Walter addresses the issue of internet pornography and it’s effects on a generation of children who see their first hardcore porn at a younger and younger age.

According to a London School of Economics study in January 2002:

Nine out of 10 children aged between eight and 16 have viewed pornography on the Internet. In most cases, the sex sites were accessed unintentionally when a child, often in the process of doing homework, used a seemingly innocent sounding word to search for information or pictures.

I clearly remember attempting to visit the website for the US government and making the unfortunate mistake of typing in whitehouse.com rather than whitehouse.gov at a very young age. But I would imagine that as we see children dealing with adult themes earlier and earlier in their lives, a lot of this viewing is not unintentional.

We mustn’t make the assumption that children viewing sex at a young age is necessarily harmful – however, the problem is that most popular pornography is a very skewed and one-dimensional portrayal of sex. As a teenager, I personally thought of sex as something one does because men like it – that was the impression I had gotten from my exposure to porn on the internet. It wasn’t till years later that I would start to understand female sexuality, and then my own.

It would be great if our education system could provide sex education that taught more than just the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. How about teaching our children something about sexuality as an important way humans express intimacy and sometimes love?

I agree with Walter when she writes that:

“If the rise of pornography was really tied up with women’s liberation and empowerment, it would not be increasing women’s anxiety about fitting into a narrow physical ideal.

and

“…women are still encouraged much of the time to concentrate on their sexual allure rather than their imagination or pleasure.”

Unfortunately the article goes downhill from there, as she goes on to attack the sex industry across the board.

I was disappointed to see the conflation of the entire industry with the intimacy-less portrayal of sex in much popular porn and culture.

Walter completely ignores the shifting trend in the sex industry away from the “porn-star experience” (PSE) prostitute in favor of sex workers who offer the “girlfriend experience” (GFE). Many men are not interested in paying for sex without intimacy. The highest paid call girls in the industry are those who provide more personal interaction – not just completing a sexual act, but focusing on things like kissing, cuddling, foreplay, and conversation.

For more on this I highly recommend Elizabeth Bernstein’s “Temporarily Yours: Intimacy, Authenticity, and the Commerce of Sex”. In this model, intimacy is being sold along with sex. Sex workers are seen as just another kind of service provider (in line with therapists, masseurs, etc.) in a capitalist economy where (let’s face it) we all prostitute our time and labour for money in one line of work or another.

Walter claims that “women are scarred by the myth that selling sex is a positive career choice” citing two girls who worked in the sex industry as examples. But when she refers to the bestselling memoirs of prostitutes such as Belle de Jour, she completely ignores the validity of their experiences as empowered sex workers. Denying women’s agency and subjective experiences – is that not typical misogyny?

Surely we can do better than that Ms. Walter.

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America’s First Legal Male Prostitute:
As Progressive As He’d Like To Think?

He’s compared himself to Rosa Parks, but don’t laugh.  Read what 25 year-old “Markus” has to say in his interview with Details first.

Markus is America’s first legal male prostitute after Nevada finally changed it’s health codes in December.  Male prostitutes were previously unable to qualify under these codes because they specified that prostitutes must undergo “cervical” testing for sexually transmitted diseases.  Talk about confirming the assumption that the word prostitute always implies a female worker!

It’s great that Markus is a political crusader who wants to make a point through his employment:

“This actually isn’t about selling my body. This is about changing social norms.”

Having empowered straight male prostitutes who work legally in Nevada will probably help build the case for de-stigmatisation and legalisation of sex work across the country.  Somehow the fact that he’s so heteronormative stops people from reverting back to a prostitutes-as-victims discussion.

However, as Gawker pointed out, his business plan is a bit flawed.  For now, women who purchase sex are a serious minority in the sex industry, and the competition is rough.  Judging from the fact that he’s not much to look at, he probably stands a better chance in the world of gay prostitution, a market with a higher demand. Society seems to allow men the right to pay for sex, so prostitution is more accepted among free-thinking homosexuals.  

So unless he’s the charmer of the century, he may have to reconsider the idea that his “sphincter is not for sale”.  Even if he only wants to service women, how about all the potential clients who enjoy pegging?

Funny how we pick and choose which social norms to deconstruct, eh Markus?

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Posted: January 14th, 2010
Categories: Sex Work
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How Not To Promote Safe Sex: A Lesson in Defeating the Point

Today’s outrageous headline comes to us from Change.org, where Alex DiBranco reported ‘Don’t Carry Condoms in D.C. – You Could Be Charged with Prostitution’.

That’s right, police in Washington D.C. have the right to arrest anyone suspected of sex work – and carrying three or more condoms has been used as proof of intent to sell sex.

In any sane society, you’d think the police would be relieved to find prostitutes carrying condoms. After all, sexually transmitted diseases are one of the most common ways we tend to stigmatize prostitutes.

But we live in an insane society, because apparently New York and San Francisco use condoms as evidence of prostitution as well.

In New York:

Some businesses are even afraid to offer the city’s snazzy free condoms because they can also be used as evidence of “maintaining a premises for prostitution”.

Apparently public health is lower on the agenda than a moral crusade against sex work.

Will the madness ever end? Only if you want it to. Sign the petition on change.org now to tell D.C., San Francisco and New York that condoms aren’t a crime!

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Posted: January 13th, 2010
Categories: Sex Work
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Drugs in 2010: The Year of the Nutt?

In the face of the UK government’s current drug policy of scare tactics and ignorance, it looks like David Nutt, the ex-chief drug advisor who was fired last year, is making a comeback.

The BBC reported on Nutt’s ‘powerful grouping’, the Independent Council on Drug Harms, to be launched at a meeting in January 2010.  Dose Nation was one of the first to praise Prof Nutt’s new drugs group, which will rival the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

Then Sphere reported on a Telegraph article that slipped under the radar during Christmas. Professor Nutt is working at Imperial College to develop an alcohol substitute that avoids drunkenness and hangovers.

While I’m skeptical about society substituting a valium-type drug for alcohol, it would be an improvement on the fairly dire situation we’re in with alcohol abuse today. More promising is Nutt’s refusal to back down when it comes to providing independent scientific evidence about the effects of drugs.  It’s about time someone stood up for the truth.

Knowing Nutt’s public disagreement with the government’s decision to re-classify cannabis as a Class B Drug and not to downgrade ecstasy, change could be in the air.

Stay tuned.

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Posted: January 11th, 2010
Categories: Drugs, Politics
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