by Furry Girl

01.14.12

I'm not a hardcore nerd the way some of my wonderful friends are, so what I like with geek events are discussions of social implications of technologies, surveillance, privacy, anonymity, and fighting state power and censorship.  Most of these recommended videos are from the 28th Chaos Communication Congress, which concluded a couple of weeks ago.  These are my favorites, but you can find even more talks from the CCC by searching for "28c3" on YouTube.

How Governments have tried to block Tor by Jacob Appelbaum and Roger Dingledine [description].  Some amount of nerd jargon, a basic understanding of how the internet and censorship works is helpful.  Something to love here is both speaker's insistence that it's not about things like "Tor versus China," but the Chinese government versus their people.  There's good discussion of context and how things work differently under different regimes, and how ultimately, Tor developers want to help people decide their own fates in their own countries, and the life-or-death importance of truth in marketing when you offer a censorship circumvention tool.  It's valuable to look at how censorship is deployed in the world's most oppressive countries, and that those censorship tools are developed and sold by American companies like Cisco and Nokia, much like how IBM colluded with the Nazis during WWII.

Marriage from Hell: On the Secret Love Affair Between Dictators and Western Technology Companies by Evgeny Morozov [description].  Morozov is one of my favorite tweeters, the author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, and is fun to read for his snarky skepticism of the popular mentality that says that "the internet" magically makes activism and politics better.  (I'd call him a delightfully crabby old man, but he's a year younger than me.)  This talk has very little nerd jargon, and assumes you're already aware that US tech companies knowingly sell things to dictatorships to help them oppress people.

Macro dragnets: Why trawl the river when you can do the whole ocean by Redbeard [description].  Low amount of nerd jargon.  Redbeard is an awesome activist/hacker friend, and this talk takes a very quick jaunt though the basics of a wide array of data mining/collection/storage: US Customs and Immigration, DNA databases, voter records, facial/iris recognition, the data that Amazon stores on customer, IdentifyRioters.com, criminal/prison information collection, and more.  (If this topic interests you, Steve Rambam's multi-hour talks at HOPE are accessible and awesome.)

If you're into nerd-jargon-heavy stuff, Meredith Patterson's talk on The Science of Insecurity is a fun take on security from the perspective of someone who studies linguistics, math, and programming.  Another honorable mention goes to Your Disaster/Crisis/Revolution Just Got Pwned by Tomate and Willow.  Low amount of nerd jargon, this is aimed at hacktivists/coders on how humanitarian groups respond to disasters and crises.  I especially like that it emphasizes self-care, taking breaks, getting sleep, and keeping a sense of humor.  Stressed is the importance of knowing how secure your tools really are before suggesting people trust their lives to them, as well as taking an approach that focuses on the needs of people you're trying to help, rather then selling them on using something you created without their input.  "Don't make a solution for a problem that doesn't exist."  (Good advice for any activist.)

And, from back in October, I finally got around to watching Jacob Appelbaum speaking at an internet activism conference in Sweden on Internet surveillance, censorship, and avenues of resistance with anonymity.  Low amount of nerd jargon, scroll down to the fourth video on the linked page.  This talk includes the importance of privacy-by-design rather than privacy-by-policy, and how the specter of "child pornography" prevents people from questioning the "need" for internet filtering, and how the state functions as the real terrorists who most threaten our freedom.  I appreciate Jake's noting of the West's "othering" of censorship, assuming it's just an issue for foreigners and those in Arab dictatorships.  "Technological utopianism is really part of the problem."

And, finally, a bonus item, so long as I'm throwing out suggestions: PBS's Ascent of Money miniseries, available free online.  This four-hour documentary by Niall Ferguson is wonderful at making financial history of the world interesting, from the development of math and bookkeeping, how money has driven trade and colonization, determined the course of wars and revolutions, all the way up to hedge funds, derivatives, the current financial mess.  I've been looking to learn more about economics, and this is a highly recommended primer on everything from the history of stock, commerce, insurance, and how the real estate crash that's destroying America's poor and middle class was brought about by decades-earlier attempts to quash the appeal of communism.  Really, even if you're not curious about economics, this is a cool history of the not-so-well-known drunks, murderers, gamblers, entrepreneurs, and clergy who got us where we are today.





by Furry Girl

01.04.12

[Edit: Material from this blog post was shamelessly stolen by NPR's Sarah Abdurrahman for the On the Media program.  If you're coming to this post from the debate around NPR stealing my work, please read my response to their ethical and legal violations here.]

At some point last year, I sent off Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to a number of government agencies.  I'd actually pretty much forgotten about it after getting form letters back from a number of agencies saying they had nothing on me - or at least, nothing they felt like releasing.  Then, I got a padded mailer from the FBI yesterday.  My FBI file had arrived!  The contents were not what I was expecting.  I don't think I'm that terribly interesting to the government, but I have had the fortune/misfortune to have socialized with, dated, and befriended a number of wonderful people who definitely would be considered "interesting" to law enforcement.  I was expecting a few pages about my friends and lovers, but what I found was that I was physically followed by a group of FBI agents for five days of my life when I was 18 and involved in organizing a protest/campaign.

The FBI released 436 pages of intelligence related to or about me, none of which dates later than 2002.  436 pages!  Printed out, it would be almost a whole ream of paper.  And the most exciting things contained within are reports of us doing things like making photocopies, buying beer, riding the bus, and eating at a restaurant.  99% of it is mundane or mildly creepy, 1% of it is hilarious, and I hope there is something to be learned.  There are a ton of redactions.  It reads like this a lot of the time:

Here's the story: myself and 10 or 11 other people (judging based on line spacing in redacted lists) were being spied upon as we organized a campaign that culminated in a protest.  It ended up being a low-to-mid-level local protest event, got blurbs in the newspapers and TV that day, but will not be remembered by history books, which was about what we expected.  None of us got arrested, no one destroyed any property, and as far as I know, no one planned to, either.  (We were prepared for police aggression, and the group contained a number of street medics ready to deal with pepper spray.)  It was the sort of thing activists do every month all around the world.  There are repeated statements that basically say the FBI is not aware of anyone planning violent, destructive, or illegal acts, but since other protests have (notably the 1999 Seattle WTO), it's best to keep tabs on everyone just in case.  I'm not going to tell you exact details and name names of this one silly campaign, because that bit actually doesn't matter.  We were a small group of young poor activists living off cheap eats, lusty protester sex, and bitching about the system.  We could have been anyone or anywhere.  For the three days leading up to our protest, the day of, and the day after, we were being followed by a group of FBI agents who wrote down what we were doing and often took photos.

I'll spoil the ending for you: the only illegal act we committed in all 436 pages was dumpster diving at food distributor.  This was not actually picked up by the FBI's physical surveillance detail (that would come later), but a beat cop who happened to catch a few of us in the act on patrol.  Friends and I were issued misdemeanor trespassing citations on the spot, the fine for which was under $100.  (The FBI did note that a local police search of a compatriot netted the following suspicious materials: "three pieces of chalk in his pocket, green, red, and white in color," as well as a sticker for a campaign.)  After the citations by local police, the FBI "had the crime lab respond and photograph" the area.  Oh, how exciting!  What a crime scene!

After this dumpster diving citation, the clever FBI was excited to now know my address.  Except, I was hardly "in hiding" or anything.  For the first time since I was 15, I had an official address.  My name was on the lease and I had phone/DSL service at that address under my own name, as well as a mobile phone with a bill that went to that address.  Funny how my home address was still somehow a mystery to the federal government.  (Which calls to mind the first InterPol warrant out for Julian Assange, where they couldn't find one single photo of the man.)  FBI agents did a scouting of my apartment building, noting that there was a mailbox with my last name on it in the lobby.

I am repeatedly identified as a member of a different, more mainstream liberal activist group which I was not only not a part of, but actually fought with on countless occasions.  To somehow not know that I detested this group of people was a colossal failure of intelligence-gathering.  Hopefully the FBI has not gotten any better at figuring out who is a part of what, and that this has worked to the detriment of their surveillance of other activists.  I am also repeatedly identified as being a part of campaigns that I was never involved with, or didn't even know about, including protests in other cities.  Maybe the FBI assumes every protester-type attends all other activist meetings and protests, like we're just one big faceless monolith.  "Oh, hey, you're into this topic?  Well, then, you're probably into this topic, right?  You're all pinkos to us."

In taking a general survey of all area activists, the files keep trying to draw non-existant connections between the most mainstream groups/people and the most radical, as though one was a front for the other.  There are a few flyers from local events that have nothing to do with our campaign, including one posted to advertise a lefty discussion group at the university library.  The FBI mentions that activists may be planning "direct action" at their meetings, which the document's author clarifies means "illegal acts."  "Direct action" was then, and I'd say now, a term used to talk about civil disobedience and intentional arrests.  While such things are illegal actions, the tone and context in these FBI files makes it sound like protesters got together and planned how to fly airplanes into buildings or something.

There's a heavily-redacted page that talks about people networking with activists from other countries, and when a non-American has traveled for a protest to the area on other occasions.  This seems to be something of concern to them - if people would bother traveling for political causes.  One listed criteria for which people were profiled was if they have been previously arrested at other protests.  In trying to mentally piece together who might have been my fellow spied-upons, one of the people I think they were profiling had long since dropped out of activism by that point.

It's the surveillance detail where things get funny and weird.  Eleven or twelve of us were followed by a group of 3-6 FBI agents over the course of five days, and there was often a detail sitting outside of my apartment, totally unbeknownst to me.  (I feel like a total chump that I didn't notice that I was being followed and photographed during this time.)  I had never read law enforcement surveillance logs before, so it was interesting to comb through the pages.  Here is a typical page, which documents some hard-core anarcho-terrorist scheming, blue redactions were made by me:

Because if we let young people watch Lord of the Rings and drink beer, then the terrorists win!

Here are some other highlights about me, complete with snarky commentary:

Wow, serious Sherlock action there.  I entered a bakery, came out with a bag, and I am believed to be carrying bread or food.  (At least it doesn't say, "... believed to be carrying plastic explosives and hand grenades.")

This is cute to me because that hoodie was borrowed from my boyfriend at the time - perhaps the person I was seen walking with in this spy report.  I remember how it was amazingly soft, and I loved wearing it.  It smelled like him and made me horny.  Also: glasses are sexy.

This one documents the most serious activisting on my part - making copies at Kinkos.  The hidden humor here lies in the fact that it's entirely likely that I was making copies about stuff ranting against the police state and the explosion of domestic surveillance of protesters since 9/11.

My very favorite thing the FBI recorded about me:

As you can see, I pose a clear and present danger to society.  I pick up other people's trash and put it in the proper bins.

I'm bummed out that I didn't get to see good quality versions of my surveillance photos.  There are dozens included, but they are so screwed up from generation loss and copying and faxing, you can't even tell what's in them.  Most seem to be outdoors shots with some parked cars and trees.  The surveillance photos all have an otherworldly quality to them, like faded memories and half-remembered strolls after too many Cooks-based mimosas on the first warm day of spring.  Is this a photo of me?  Am I holding hands with someone I almost loved?  Or is this a photo of another person entirely, beamed from a parallel universe?  Such are the artistic mysteries of the FBI spying on Americans.

The day of the protest, I was followed along with others to a vegetarian cafe afterwards.  The FBI's surveillance notes report that we sat at a table.  You know, in stead of storming the place with guns drawn, demanding to be served in the bathroom, or on the ceiling.  The day after the protest, we still had our followers - I guess to make sure we hadn't planned an extra secret super-protest filled with violence and mayhem?  I was observed visiting hotbeds of political unrest like a dollar store, a used records shop, and a discount grocery place.  (Following us around, often on public transit, was basically a tour of "Places Poor People Go.")

At the end of it all, when the FBI decided to close the case file after the protest transpired and nothing interesting happened, it is concluded of me:

Well, there was that dumpster diving incident, but I guess they'll let it slide.

I wonder how much money this operation cost.

* * *

I don't have any particular tips or tricks to filing a FOIA on yourself.  I used this handy-dandy free service to generate the required form letters for me, which I then printed, signed, and mailed.  I didn't pay for anything, even though I indicated that I would pay for any amount of copying fees necessary.  I sent the letters to all the national agencies, and maybe a dozen FBI branch offices.  If I'm remembering correctly, I quickly got letters from all those local offices saying they'd sent my request to the national FBI office for processing.

What are you waiting for?  All it costs is some stamps and 10 minutes of your time.  Maybe a group of FBI agents once followed you around, too.  Filing for one's FBI file is one of those things I know a lot of us mean to do but never get around to doing.  I hope this blog post inspires more Americans to make today the day you ask your government if, how, and why you have been watched.





by Furry Girl

11.23.11

Firstly, I apologize for the lack of uppity pro-ho materials on my blog lately.  I haven't been as motivated to explain the same things over and over, as I have been defending porn and sex work for almost a decade now.  (Fuck, I am so old now.)  The thing is, there's no such thing as a new argument against sex work, although there are more and more studies suggesting things like the benefits of porn consumption, or that "secondary effects" of adult businesses are a myth, or that it's just not true that millions of underage sex workers are trafficked little girls being exploited and controlled by pimps.  It's like debating the Bible - there will never be any new arguments in favor of creationism, but there's always more evidence in favor of evolution - once you know how to rebut all their arguments, all you can do is repeat yourself, which can get boring.

Now, moving onto my annoyance of the season: the left's current love affair with the utopian notion of "free" college for everyone.  Perhaps the most commonly articulated concrete demand from Occupy protests has been for "free" college for everyone.  (The most common vague demand is "end corruption" but since that's an abstract concept with no definition or proposed solution, I can't really be expected to discuss it seriously.)

How on earth could anyone be against "free" college?  If I'm against "free" college for everyone, it must mean I hate learning and knowledge and poor people, right?  Lefty people recoil in horror like I'm some kind of hard-right Tea Partier, but above fiscal conservatism, my beliefs about education are actually due to my deep and flagrant disregard for the presumed authority and superiority of academia.

I am against "free" college because most people don't need college

While everyone would prefer to have a high-paying job and be a millionaire astronaut rock star brain surgeon, there will always be a huge demand for less-skilled labor, even as we lose some of those jobs to overseas factories and technology.  According to the list of the largest employment sectors from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only one in the top ten (nursing) requires college education.  The others - retail sales, cashiers, office clerks, food service, waiting tables, customer service, janitors, laborers, and secretaries aren't exactly careers that require a lot of advanced training.  Saying that everyone should have a degree so everyone can have a high paying job is like saying everyone should be rich - it sounds fun, but in reality, it's an untenable concept.  Not everyone can have a job that pays $50+ an hour, and even if we did pay that to janitors and sales clerks, the market would adjust and make everything that much more expensive, negating the value of that higher pay.  Everyone likes to believe that they are special and gifted and brilliant and deserve college, but in actuality, most people are average (that's why it's called "average"), plenty of people are below-average, and all those people still need jobs.

And after all, if everyone has a degree, no one has a degree.

I am against "free" college because college degrees has been devalued by the very people who insist on the importance of "free" college

Thanks to the expansion of liberal arts education and the efforts of largely left-leaning academia, degrees don't mean much now.  College degrees in my dad's era meant you must have some serious training in objectively useful stuff like science, engineering, medicine, or business, but now, anyone with a student loan or trust fund can fritter away their time earning a degree in knitting or feminism or contemplating what it means to exist.  The British have an awesome phrase for this: a "Mickey Mouse degree," meaning a degree in some silly subject that has no use in the real world.

The other day, I was curious what it takes to get a degree in women's studies or feminism, since such people largely seem to be nitwits with no comprehension of things like statistics or biology.  Look at this list of fluff required for bachelor's degree program at the University of Washington.  Anyone who has at least a C-average can be a women's studies graduate, no pesky math classes required beyond the single "Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning" class required of all UW graduates, in which they only need to earn a grade of .7, which is a D-.  And that's not even a math requirement - it can be met by taking astronomy.  So remember, when you see someone with a feminism/gender studies degree from UW (and presumably other colleges), you're looking at someone whose most strenuous degree requirement was getting a D- in a freshman-level science class.  And then they wonder why they can't find high-paying jobs.  (It must be The Patriarchy purposefully oppressing them, right?)

I am against "free" college because I don't support the idea that college is the only or best way to learn about every topic

I find it strange that the left, which in the past has embraced "unschooling," free schools, and learning skills on a peer-to-peer basis, in recent years has decided the only and best way to learn about anything is at college.  By rallying for "free" college, the left's argument hinges on the idea that college is the only road to success and knowledge, which is just plain false.  Most of my friends are not college graduates, and that includes the number of people I know in the non-ho world who make over $100k a year.  The thing I've seen, across almost every single field, is that you don't need a degree if you're a smart and reasonably tenacious person.  To me, the only reason to pay for an official education is if you want to go into a field which requires a degree, like medicine or engineering.

I am someone who has managed to teach myself - a school dropout - how to do everything I need to do to run a small business.  (And yes, there's a lot more to what I do than just taking off my clothes.)  I don't think the ability to learn things on your own is so difficult that plenty of other people couldn't tap into if they tried.  I know so many other self-starters who have built successful careers and small businesses on their own, without needing degrees, as well as many who regret wasting money on college because they think their degree was largely useless.  I'm a believer in skill-sharing and learning directly from each other in a cooperative and hands-on environment, which I consider a much more "radical" perspective than the current left's mindless brainboner for all things academia.  (In this vein, I am happy to back Kio Stark's new book on Kickstarter, Don't Go Back to School: A handbook for learning anything.  A Yale dropout and teacher at NYU, go check out what Kio has to say in case you're wary of my "bias" as a non-college person.  I don't know her personally, but her partner and geek entrepreneur Bre Petis is awesome, so I'm guessing Kio's awesome, too.)

College seems like "special ed" for people who lack the initiative and follow-through to learn how to do things in the real world.  For people not getting medical/science/useful degrees, I can't fathom why they will gladly spend tens of thousands of dollars to read books in groups when they could read those same books at home for free.  It would be a pain in the ass to build a home chemistry lab with a ventilated fume hood and safe disposal for hazardous waste, so I understand taking chemistry lab at college, but fucking literature?  Art?  Philosophy?  Gender theory?  The pro-college people are such babies that they can't figure out how to read a book without it being spoonfed to them on a schedule and being explicitly told which parts of the text were the important bits.  And on top of that, they're supposed to be intellectually superior to me, the drop-out?  I've easily read and written more about feminism, human sexuality, sexual politics, and gender than your average women's studies graduate, but I ultimately win because I didn't flush $50,000+ down the toilet to do so.  (In fact, I've come out financially ahead.)  I guess that's kind of my ultimate fuck-you to the "educated" feminists.

I am against "free" college because it isn't actually free

What people on the left have a very hard time understanding is that "free stuff from the government" isn't actually free or from the government, it just means the cost is diffused over time and to all taxpayers.  "Free" simply means that your neighbors are footing your bills.

I am against "free" college because it's not my responsibility to fund other people's hobbies

On Bill Maher's show a couple of weeks ago, he noted that in 2009, about 37,000 people graduated college in computer science and engineering, and about 89,000 in visual and performing arts.  To use his perfect phrase: "A lot of people are going to college and doing bullshit."  A blog post I read about one man's genuine quest to understand Occupy Wallstreet noted that he couldn't find a single person in Zuccotti park who had a science degree, but found tons of unemployed actors and artists.  Americans going to college these days seem to do so largely to study things of personal interest to them, regardless of whether that degree will help them find gainful employment, which, phrased another way, is called going to college to learn amusing new hobbies.

I love books, I love crafts, I love non-pretentious art, I love discussions about sexuality and gender, I genuinely enjoy all sorts of the stuff liberal arts colleges teach, but I don't believe that I should be forced by the state to pay for other people to read books and navel-gaze and contemplate the "true" meaning of feminism.  When you argue that something should be taxpayer-funded, your argument is that your beliefs should be forced onto other people through the government and under threat of imprisonment and fines if people do not comply.  That's a pretty strong position to take, and while you can say that of all taxes, I'm more in favor of forcing everyone to pay for the maintenance of roads than I am of forcing people to pay for someone to take up fun new craft projects and read classic novels.

Unlike many others who are interested in women's studies and art and philosophy, I have the ability to separate my personal interests and hobbies from things which I believe the government should force others to fund.

I am against "free" college because it will probably cost more

I'm not an economist, so I don't know how to run the numbers on this, but I can only imagine that taxpayer-funded college would cost more.  If tuition is $10,000 a year, how much more is it going to cost on top of that in additional taxation infrastructure and enforcement and school welfare disbursements?  It seems like creating an HMO for schools, which just adds a lot of unnecessary bureaucratic costs to the service of education.  (It would create jobs, on the sole plus side, but if we're going to give people jobs just for the sake of giving jobs, I'd rather we spend that money to employ people to update and modernize the country's crumbling infrastructure.)  So, ultimately, when you're calling for "free" school, you're calling for school to cost more.  If the goal is that everyone goes to college, then not only is everyone still going to be paying for college through higher taxes over the course of their lifetime, but they're wasting money by paying for more red tape around that college degree.

The solution to our current bullshit- and fluff-filled world of expensive college degrees is not to have everyone get an expensive degree in bullshit and fluff, but to point out that the emperor has no clothes in the first place.

Let's move on, let's take the initiative to teach and learn from each other, and let's stop embracing the idea that college has a monopoly on learning.  College is indeed necessary for some people, and offers skills that would be difficult to learn on your own (like my chemistry lab example), but it's not the be-all end-all of success or knowledge.  And stop demanding that your neighbors foot the bill for your hobbies, unless you want me to come back at you and force you to pay for me to take up new hobbies of my own.

 

My debates with the pro-"free" college crowd generally go like this: They insist that they need a degree in order to get the high-paying job they believe they deserve; I tell them if so, they should stop wasting their money on their non-useful art/philosophy degrees and get a degree that will actually be a good financial investment; they tell me that they don't care about the money, and they are enlightened and believe in learning for learning's sake; then I ask them why they needed to get an official degree to prove that they believe in learning purely for learning's sake, and why do they say they don't care about money when a minute ago they said that they want a higher paying job; at which point their logic folds in on itself and they stop replying.

Update, argument two: The art college fetishists insist that everyone is entitled to go to college and that they believe oh-so-passionately that useless degrees are a human right.  Then I ask them why they don't channel that passion into spending their own money on footing the bill for others' liberal arts college tuition, and they balk and come up with an excuse as to why they shouldn't have to fund their beliefs, but that I should be forced by the government to fund their beliefs.  Seriously, kids, this is why we have these things called charities.  Anyone can spend their own money supporting the "worthy cause" of their choice, but you do not have a right to force all Americans to financially back your pet issue.

 

I've turned off comments on this post because I'm tired of having to read pointless bullshit from pretentious morons.





by Furry Girl

11.17.11

In the last month, there has been more and more talk from some sex workers about how awesome the Occupy movement is, including some of my ho activist friends on Twitter who are part of different Occupy encampments.  SWOP-NYC has a pro-Occupy post, Jessie of SWOP LA throws in her support, Trisha wrote about the issues of SlutWalk and Occupy, and Melissa Gira Grant wrote a strangely pearl-clutching piece about how sad it is some people -gasp- do sex work to pay for college.

I've been wary and on the fence about the Occupy movement and its vague, utopian, barely-articulated aims.  Occupy embodies basically everything I hate about the left, and the best I've been able to muster so far is feeling sorry for people who have been assaulted by police.  Today, I went from on the fence to against Occupy Seattle.  I was trying to get to the nonprofit vegan grocery store, Sidecar, a place I'm happy to support because all the proceeds go to an animal sanctuary.  I sure timed my bus errand poorly, because I ended up behind an Occupy Seattle march.

First off, the protesters went out of their way to disrupt as much traffic and transit as possible.  I talked to my bus driver, and he said the group had told Seattle Metro they would be marching along a certain route, giving Metro a chance to divert buses in the area to another street.  Once the time came for the march, however, the Occupy folk changed their official plan and went down the street where they knew Metro buses were being re-routed, all to maximize problems for commuters.  That's a pretty asshole move.  How is going out of your way to screw up as many public transit lines as possible harming the super-rich?  Are there a lot of country-ruining billionaires on the bus during rush hour?  I guess I never noticed them though all the students, disabled people, punks/hippies, elderly people, nonwhites, single moms, young folk, and homeless-looking people who typically make up much of Metro's ridership.

After half an hour on a bus that was barely moving, I gave up and angrily walked home in the freezing rain, knowing it would have taken hours to get to my destination.  Congratulations, anti-capitalists, you prevented me from spending my money at a nonprofit, so I shopped at a corporate grocery store instead.  I went home and watched the clamor unfold on Twitter.  The march had moved on to occupying a bridge, shutting down traffic in both directions.  This bridge is one of the connections between the central Seattle area and the University of Washington and the outlying suburbs, as well as a major hospital complex at the university.  Occupy Seattle was cutting off a key route for hospital access, which could genuinely cost lives if ambulances had to re-route and go back to other another bridge in an emergency.

Less than 24 hours after winning national sympathy when Seattle police pepper-sprayed a small elderly woman, Occupy Seattle experienced a big wave of hatred from the general public, pissed off at missed meetings, missed classes, missed flights, and being stuck in traffic for no good reason.  Twitter users were cheering for them to be beaten, shot, pepper-sprayed, and many hoped aloud that the bridge would collapse, or that protesters would fall/jump to their deaths.  Comments on various local news websites all echoed similar opinions - anger, annoyance, confusion, and rooting for harm to befall protesters.  There were countless comments where someone said they supported Occupy before, but this changed their minds.

Any sane activist would be thinking, "Oh shit, we made a huge fuckup here.  The public is angry at us, we're blocking hospital access, and we're not accomplishing anything other than showing people that we like to cause pointless disruptions.  This has been an absolute disaster."

Instead, the resounding consensus among protesters on Twitter was that the event was a massive success, and Occupy Seattle marchers and supporters responded to people who disagreed by making fun of them, insulting them, telling them they are the enemy, and generally celebrating the fact that the public had turned against them after the bridge occupation.  It was like watching some spoiled punk teenager gloat about how they're really "sticking it to the man" by pissing off "the squares" with their green hair.

What today highlighted for me is my growing uneasiness with how Occupy protesters continually scream that they are "the 99%," insisting that they represent just about everyone in the country.  I don't like seeing strangers keep arguing that they are my spokespersons, that they can attest to the interests and beliefs of most Americans, that they are protesting "for me," and even that they are me.  This creepy rhetoric reminds me all too well of how anti-sex worker crusaders always insist that they are acting and speaking on our behalf, without ever deigning to listen to us.  There is something deeply and profoundly fucked up about declaring oneself the mouthpiece for people whom you don't know, aren't trying to get to know, and in many cases, who actively oppose what you are saying and doing, such as it the case of the vast numbers of Seattle folk irate over having their evening disrupted by a core group of perhaps a hundred protesters who were trying to stay on the bridge as long as possible.

Where this whole thing goes from eerily cult-like to comical is that the people who pretend to be and represent "the 99%" are a tiny minority, even in a large left-leaning city, and they were causing a problems for the majority.  Occupy Seattle wasn't representing the desires of anyone but themselves, least of all working and lower-income people who rely on public transit to get around the city.

Occupy Seattle: you are not the 99%.  You do not represent me, you do not represent Seattle, and I wish you people would stop insisting that you do.  A group that relishes in causing disruptions purely for the sake of causing disruptions does not embody the key political concerns of most Americans, any more than a right-wing billionaire does.  You are an obnoxious minority that continues to further isolate itself from the rest of the public, and I can't think of one positive thing you have contributed to my city.

But all that doesn't matter.  According to Occupy Seattle kids, the fact that I dislike them just means that they've been victorious in their protest, despite the fact I will never be earning in the top 10%, let alone the top 1%.

As a sex workers' rights advocate, my life would be so much easier if the sole metric by which I judged an activist "success" was how many members of the general public I could get to hate us.  It's easy to turn the public against you, any lazy dipshit can do that.  Influencing the public to adopt more progressive and tolerant ideas?  That's not as adrenaline-soaked and fun as instigating confrontations with the police, but it leads to actual and long-lasting change, which is precisely the kind of work that needs to be done.

 

Update one: In looking at more local coverage, the first three comments on a cheery pro-Occupy article on SLOG summed up today's debate so neatly, especially the middle one as being the most used defense by bridge protest supporters.

Gern Blanston: "Claim it for the 99 percent." What a fucking joke! When they shut down a bridge, or a busy downtown street, they're preventing everyone else from going about their daily lives. They're just a bunch of self-important, grandstanding pricks. They don't speak for me.

what_now: Maybe there are things that are more important than people going about their daily lives?

LJM: the problem is that you're suggesting that one group of people know which "things" are "more important" than going about their daily lives, and which "things" are less important. You can use this reasoning to justify any type of inconsiderate behavior by people who claim to be doing it for your own good.

Update two: Seattle Central Community College - where Occupy Seattle set up residence after moving from their original location in the shopping district - has been complaining about the public health hazards being created by the camp in the form "accumulations of garbage, poor food handling, discarded syringes and needles, fire safety hazards, dog feces, and disposal of wastewater."  Congratulations again, Occupy Seattle, you've succeeded in be-filthing a facility that caters to lower-income people.  That's really sticking it to the evil super-rich, isn't it?  (As I saw someone else point out today, if they really want to stick it to banks through civil disobedience, why not occupy bank-owned foreclosed houses?)

Occupy supporters are seemingly unable to come up with non-false dichotomy arguments to support their protest at the bridge.  It's all hyperbole like, "Oh, so you love watching billionaires raping the country?" or one who told me that I must be too busy fawning over the Kardashians to care about anything else.  You can be against Occupy Seattle and its dumbass tactics without being pro-cop, pro-bailout, pro-apathy, and pro-status quo.  I was, in fact, anti-status quo before this new wave of Carhartt Warriors grew their first pubes.  (Do dirty anarkids still wear Carhartts?  Am I totally dating myself in my choice of derisive terminology?)

Also, I actually do support using disruptive and controversial protest methods, but only when they are targeted and/or express a clear message and demands.  (Examples being crashing a shareholder meeting to send a message that a corporation should stop engaging in such-and-such practice, or civil disobedience on a logging road that prevents logging companies from cutting down any trees that day.)  Making things hard on huge numbers of Seattle residents who just want to get home from work makes people hate you, and accomplished absolutely nothing.  Yes, it got media coverage and attention, but so what?  Is the only goal of Occupy Seattle to get lots of bad press?  Does getting bad press fix the economy or make one single person's life better?  No, but it sure is easier than engaging in strategic activism or doing something positive.





by Furry Girl

11.11.11

Last night, I was doing some reading about the most popular political panic of the mid-80s, and stopped to tweet, "Sex work activists should read about the political manufacturing of the crack 'epidemic.' 25 years ago, it was crack; now it's trafficking."  I'm no expert on drug issues, but I feel like I should explain my comment in more detail, so here is a (non-exhaustive) list of parallels between the crack epidemic and the sex trafficking epidemic.  I think it would benefit sex workers' rights supporters to look at how another moral panic was whipped up and profited from by those with special agendas.

Medicalized diagnoses, criminalized cures

First, I have to start out with an important note on how language is used as a tool to frame an issue in one's favor.  Proponents of both the crack craze and the idea of sex trafficking as a vast and ubiquitous problem (and inseparable from consensual sex work) use language of health problems like epidemic, plague, disease, and addiction, but their proposed solutions to both are arrest, shaming, further marginalization, and punishment.  Imagine if police responded to the health problem of people having the flu this winter by conducting taxpayer-funded raids, kicking in the doors of homes where people were suspected of staying home sick - arresting them, subjecting them to fines and imprisonment, and even keeping a public registry of the dangerous monsters who have been convicted of carrying the flu, preventing people who ever had the flu to be able to lead a non-flu-tainted life.  But we don't do that to flu sufferers for that "epidemic."

Causes and effects

Continuing on with of the topic of medical euphemism is the issue of confusing symptoms with causes of social ills.  The crack "epidemic" was framed by politicians on both sides of the political spectrum as not a symptom of poverty, inequality, and larger social disparities, but as the cause of social problems in the first place.  Urban ghettos weren't getting worse because of the lack of social services, educational opportunities, affordable healthcare, and quality jobs, they were simply suffering from crack cocaine.  Sex trafficking is also seen not as a response to social forces such as some countries having more wealth than others, the desire to go abroad to earn better money, few employment options for undocumented migrant workers, or the difficulties in legally entering a Western country if you're poor.  No, sex trafficking is the social ill to be eliminated, and all that complex stuff about class, race, immigration, and gender gets neatly swept under the rug in favor of an explanation that lets people scapegoat manufactured omnipresent boogeymen while failing to address real social problems.

At last, an issue everyone can support!

As mentioned above, the crack panic wasn't just a right-wing pet project, but a topic around which both liberals and conservatives could battle to see which party could take the loudest and harshest stance.  No more worrying about pesky minor problems like the economy and joblessness, let's give everyone a chance to come together and agree: the real issue plaguing the country is crack/sex trafficking.  There are few topics around which both Democrats and Republicans will battle over who supports/condemns it more, and when such is the case, you have to consider the idea that such an issue is being used as a shiny distraction.  (See also: hysteria around terrorism being successfully deployed by all politicians to keep people from thinking about eroding civil liberties and a tanking economy.)

Both panics exploded in popularity during major economic downtowns

The crack epidemic could be said to have peaked in the late 1980s, the same time as the US was experiencing a recession.  Our current recession and financial meltdown dovetails perfectly with the rise of interest in and coverage of sex trafficking.

The solution to both problems is not harm reduction, but arrest and locking people up

Billions of dollars were spent on stateside law enforcement as a means to curb the "epidemic" of crack addiction, but where did that get us, as a country, aside from having the world's highest rate of incarceration?  Likewise, does anyone really feel safer in when their tax money is used on costly police stings that arrest and jail prostitutes in hopes of being able to fin even one "trafficking victim"?  Lots of money is wasted on "cures" that do nothing to help real victims, do everything to drive both victims and criminals further underground, and ultimately only achieve good PR and further funding for police, politicians, and other people with a stake in selling the moral panic.  The solution is never to provide services to people at risk of exploitation, but to use arrests and imprisonment to try and cover up things that cause discomfort among members of the middle and upper classes.

Who needs evidence when you have hysteria?

Question the anti-crack rhetoric, and a public figure would be attacked as "soft on crime," and detractors could obtusely ask how one could be in support of the crack plague taking over the country.  Similarly, if you question any part of the agenda of those selling and profiting from the sex trafficking scare, you are painted as being in favor of raping children and the sexual enslavement of millions.  The topic is framed and such over-the-top hysterical ways, it leaves no room for reasonable discussion of the facts.  Anyone who questions anything is a monster.

Emotional-tinged "statistics" trump real data

Parents were told that young people around the country were falling victim to crack addiction, and that "an entire generation" was hooked on the substance.  However, even according to government surveys, cocaine use/experimentation of any kind had peaked among young people in 1982, and in 1986, while the media was touting the coming crackpocalypse, daily cocaine use of any variety among high school seniors was a mere 0.4%.  (How many of them were crack users in particular is unknown.)  Less than 4 out of every 1000 seniors is obviously not "an entire generation" addicted to crack, but boring facts like that have no place in a moral panic.  (Just like boring facts rarely get any play in discussions about sex trafficking, where people prefer to fantasize about how millions of children are being captured and raped at every turn.)

The "epidemic" is portrayed as a personal threat to all Americans and their children

Those with something to gain have managed to hype both crack and sex trafficking as attacks upon the fabric of our culture over which everyone must worry, painting pictures of crack dealers hiding behind every corner, ready to get Johnny Quarterback hooked on drugs, or kidnap little Betsy Countryclub from her ballet lessons and sell her into a child sexual slavery ring.  Everyone is a target, and the evil people are poised at this very moment to ensnare your children.  There's no time to think, only to worry hysterically.

It's not about race and class, except when it is

With both the crack and sex trafficking panic, there is this pervasive undercurrent of fear of the other, fear of nonwhite and poor people, fear of them infiltrating us and ruining everything "we" built.  The crack epidemic was about fear of poor, urban Blacks and Latinos, mostly young men who might be in scary gangs.  The sex trafficking epidemic, when not about stealing your children for sexual slavery, has the more subtle racial component of a fear of migrant workers sneaking into "our" country and doing morally distasteful things with our husbands, our dads, our brothers, corrupting us, tearing at our family values, and making us impure by association.

Extreme cases are way more exciting than our routine problems

Alcohol, car crashes, and tobacco kill tons of people, but that's not very exciting, and such "mundane" deaths hardly every make the news.  But comparatively-rare crack-related deaths and injuries became a top political issue for both parties.  Likewise, spousal abuse, domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault are accepted as facts of life, only making the news when there's some bizarre, celebrity, or "funny" angle to the story.  Yet, when occasional cases of barbaric forced sex trafficking or the pimping of an underage girl are uncovered, it's held up by proponents as a major problem that is happening to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the country.  The focus is always on exploiting extreme cases for political gain and financial contributions, and insisting that extreme cases are the norm.

The issues play well on TV and make for dramatic publicity stunts

In 1989, George Bush Senior held a famous press conference to hype the crack problem where he showed bag of the substance and declared that it had been seized in a drug deal in the park across the street from the White House.  A photo of Bush holding the bag was printed in newspapers around the country, proving that crack was everywhere now, even in "good" neighborhoods, and thus, warranted the panic of all Americans.  However, the backstory to that photo-op is much more interesting.  Since no drugs, let alone crack, were available for purchase in Lafayette Park, the government needed to manufacture a situation that would make for good televison.  An 18-year-old African American high schooler was cajoled to come to the park to sell the crack, a young man who famously asked the undercover DEA entrapping him, "Where the fuck is the White House?"  I can't recall the last time a week went by that I didn't read about an anti-trafficking publicity push, carefully coordinated and framed for maximize sensationalism.

Now, the "war on drugs" is largely recognized as a failure

I can only hope the war on sex workers, framed as the "war on trafficking," will meet the same fate.  I'd love to hear how anti-drug war activists were able to shift public perceptions from the early 90s onward, because we should really emulate whatever they've been doing.  (Or how to play up everything the government and moral crusaders are doing incorrectly.)

 

If you have more interest in this topic, the most awesome and in-depth thing I read was The Construction of America's Crack Crisis by Craig Reinarman and Harry Levine.  Hat tip to their research for providing a bunch of the information in this blog post.





by Furry Girl

09.26.11

In the last week, I've seen lots of tweets about the Occupy Wall Street protest currently happening in Manhattan.  It's a protest camp first proposed by the glossy I'm-a-Whole-Foods-dwelling-yuppie-but-I-like-to-pretend-I'm-an-anti-capitalist-revolutionary magazine Adbusters.  The "occupation" of "Wall Street" has thus far seen a few dozen to few hundred people hanging out in a park down the street from the New York Stock Exchange.  (What you don't hear often is that this "occupation" is taking place in a private park where the protesters were given permission to stay.  The whole thing makes me think of an angsty teenager "occupying" their parent's living room in an act of defiance.)  The Occupy Wall Street protest doesn't have aims beyond some kind of vague "stop bad things," "end capitalism," and "no more corruption."  Earlier this month, the protest organizers were using an online poll (open only to people with a Facebook account) to vote on what the protest was trying to achieve.  Something like 80 people were arrested on Saturday, but the group has insisted it will continue.  A friend of mine reported this morning that the "occupation" is currently a few dozen anarchist kids sleeping outside.

Whereas supporters see Occupy Wall Street as a leaderless revolution on par with the Arab Spring that overthrew oppressive dictators, I see a small, confused group of white people who have no idea what they're protesting, what they want, and how to go about getting that end result.  I'm not at all against leaderless protest movements, but you can be leaderless, diverse, and democratic and still have some plans, goals, and strategies.  Getting people to show up in a small park isn't a revolution in and of itself.

It's all good and well to make a sign that tells people to "fire your boss," but how exactly is the average worker in America going to go about doing that?  Telling people to "fire your boss" is easy when you're flexibly-employed or privileged enough to be able to participate in "occupations," or a young traveling protester who is happy eating out of dumpsters and being filthy.  The group has been organized under the banner of "we are the 99%," but I really doubt the average working class person struggling to survive in this economy could either find the free time and financial resources to travel to Manhattan to attend, or, once there, gain anything useful from listening to the protesters.  Why not try to give all those regular working people tools to create actual change in their lives?  Why not use all the geek power behind this protest's social media presence to create an open database of people by area and occupation to help them find other workers to form collectively-owned businesses?  And use the streaming video feed from the "occupation" to give workshops on how to start a worker-owned co-op or small business?  And that's just one idea I had after seeing a photo of a "fire your boss" sign.  Sure, "work hard and start your own ethically-run company" isn't a very sexy tagline, but it actually does mean firing bosses.

If you want to overthrow something big - a government or capitalism or whatever - you're not going to do so as a scruffy "outsider" group of people sleeping on the street without a plan or tools for implementing change.  Successful revolutionary movements provide people things that the state isn't, plain and simple.  Revolution is about stepping up and showing the masses that you can do things better, not dropping out and sitting in a park, hoping that those beleaguered working class people you've read about in Adbusters will show up en masse and let you lead them to their salvation.  One of the most revolutionary projects across the 60s and 70s protest movements in America were the breakfast programs set up by the Black Panthers.  Lifting up your community with a long-term strategy like giving poor kids free food so they can pay attention in school might not be easy like holding a sign that says "smash capitalism," but it's stuff like that that really counts.  Remember, you have to demonstrate that you know how do it better, and you have to offer people things the current regime does not.  Occupy Wall Street uttery fails by that test.  Sadly, even the stupid Tea Party does a better job at getting large numbers of working class people on their side.

Whenever I air criticism of things like this, I get the common response: "at least they're doing something!"  There's this idea that so many people who consider themselves activists have that "doing something" is of paramount importance, and it doesn't matter what you're "doing," so long as you can tell people it's "better than doing nothing."  Yes, the people hanging out at Occupy Wall Street are "doing something," but what, exactly?  That's what no one can explain to me.  They've gotten some media attention to the idea that some Americans aren't happy with the current state of the economy, I suppose, but that's hardly news.

"Doing something" isn't doing something unless you're actually doing something.

Here's how to do something:

* Decide what you're against.  Make it well-defined, not "I'm against greed."
* Decide what you want.  Make it a clear goal, not "No more corruption."
* Explain what exactly you're going to do to get from point A to point B.  Look at the history of other social change movements and figure out what tactics best suit your cause, and which tactics are likely to fail.  Remember that just because you're "doing something," it doesn't make that something effective.
* Follow through and modify tactics as necessary until you achieve your goal.

It's pretty amazing to me how few people who consider themselves activists can't master these simple steps for how to have a campaign.  So many people seem to think that endlessly restating what they're against, or what they want, will somehow magic those things into happening.  I see this with sex workers' rights activists a lot.  There's a lot about "Stop violence against sex workers" and "We want decriminalization," but there doesn't seem to be much of an overall plan other than continuing to repeat those demands within our echo chamber.

With my project, SWAAY.org:

* I am opposed to marginalization and violence against sex workers that is the result of bad laws and social stigma.
* I want full decriminalization and for sex workers to be an accepted part of society.
* The only way to get any of these things is to get the public on board and educate them about our issues.  You can't change an ingrained social stigma and laws when the majority of the public is against you.  It amazes me that there is almost no sex workers' rights activism that does any sort of public outreach or education, since that is generally the foundation of any social change movement.  (And no, having a blog that a member of the general public could conceivably find does not count as "public outreach.")  With SWAAY, my goal has been to get people interested in the topic, using both DIY campaigns like the "respect sex workers" stickers, and paid media campaigns like the upcoming billboard to draw viewers to a web site that gives people the basics in an accessible manner.

See, it's not that hard.  Coming up with a goals and a plan is the easy part of activism, the tough work is in the implementation.  If a group or person can't handle putting together a reasonably well thought out foundation, I don't give their cause much of a chance of succeeding.

 

I've turned off comments on this post because I'm tired of reading stupid nonsense from people who couldn't debate their way out of a wet paper bag.





by Furry Girl

08.28.11

My WikiLeaks cable search continues, and this time I spent a full day reading about how US diplomats cover abortion.  A lot of the items I've seen mentioned with the cables are "big deal" political issues like terrorism, censorship, corruption, but I think it's also important to consider more "pedestrian" topics, such as the issue of abortion.  Access to safe abortion services might not garner headlines like an leak about who we've tortured, but it affects far more people worldwide in their daily lives.

Most of the results for "abortion" are about the Catholic Church opposing it, snippets about sex-selective abortion in India and China, and brief mentions of forced abortions at the hands of human trafficking rings.  Meddling from pro-life Republican Congressman Chris Smith came up in four cables about abortion, and that's just what I noticed as a casual reader.  (What does your representative do overseas on diplomatic missions?  Why not search the cables and see?)

This post is by no means exhaustive, and like my roundup of cables on sex work and prostitution policies, reflects only some of the things I found while poking around on CablegateSearch.net.  If you find something else interesting, post it in the comments, or on Twitter with the hashtag #wlfind.  If everyone spends just a couple of hours looking through the cables for a topic that's interesting to them, we can all find more stories in this huge repository of US diplomatic information.

Cables of note, mostly on abortion, plus two on FGM I stumbled across:

* A January 2010 cable from China discusses the country's sex-selective abortion and how it affects their gender ratio.  "Social consequences of this imbalance include an estimated excess of over 30 million unmarriageable males, a potentially destabilizing force that threatens to cause unrest in the most economically marginalized areas, and could lead to increased gender violence through demand for prostitution and trafficking in girls and women."  The @WikiLeaks Twitter account mention this earlier today.  I still am wondering what defines one as an "unmarriageable male" in China.

* A December 2009 cable from the Vatican, marked SECRET, "reiterate" the Vatican's position on US healthcare legislation.  "[Archbishop] Mamberti asked the Ambassador about the status of the health care legislation now pending before the U.S. Senate, and reiterated the concerns expressed by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops that the final version of the legislation not contain funding for abortion."

A November 2009 cable from the UN summarizes a meeting on population, family planning, development, and climate change.  Call me ignorant, but I wasn't previously aware that the Catholic Church has a representative at the UN.  Really, why should they of all people get a seat at the table in UN population and family planning meetings?  Does the Taliban get to have a place to influence debates on the global response to terrorism?

* An October 2009 cable from Colombia explains how the country's complicated system of having 4 types of courts hinders clear decisions on abortion rights.  "In September, [Inspector General] Ordonez successfully scuttled the Mayor of Medellin's plans to offer abortion services at a new integral women's health clinic.  Some hospitals and doctors still refuse to perform the legal abortions due to objections of conscience, and some judges have blocked the full implementation of the ruling. Ordonez argues that abortion is still a crime (punished by one to three years imprisonment) with specific exceptions, and not a right."

An October 2009 cable from the Vatican summarizes a conference on getting more faith-based groups to work with governments on HIV/AIDS charity work.  The Vatican's event had nothing to do with promoting condom use or sex education (surprise!), but on the importance of HIV testing and treatment for children, how to work to prevent HIV transmission between mother and child.  The Vatican wants to see more groups providing care to children born with HIV, but has zero interest in addressing the reasons why babies are born with HIV or how HIV is most commonly transmitted.  The US embassy considered this event "very successful."

* An October 2009 cable from Afghanistan on the situation of women weighs the pros and cons of a drug.  "Hemorrhage is the leading cause of maternal death in Afghanistan.  JPAIGO, a USAID implementing partner affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, conducted a study in which midwives and health workers provided expectant mothers with misoprostol, a drug that prevents hemorrhaging if taken immediately after delivery.  The Afghan Government is cautious about using the drug, since it can also be used to induce abortion, which is illegal in Afghanistan."

A September 2009 cable from Kazakhstan explores the many factors that caused one town, Temirtau, to be dubbed "The AIDS Capital of Kazakhstan".  They include layoffs from the world's largest steel company, AcelorMittal, which once employed half the town.  Later, on the subject of efforts to promote safer sex, "...only 1-2 percent of Temirtau's residents use contraception to restrict birth; abortion remains the overwhelming preferred method of birth control."

A September 2009 cable from the Vatican covers a Catholicism conference headlined by Tony Blair and Jeb Bush.  After defending the event from critics, the cable reluctantly notes, "It is, however, at the forefront of the cultural wars pitting traditional Church values against Western European secularism.  As such, it works assiduously to advance Church teachings on controversial issues such as euthanasia, abstinence in the fight against AIDS, abortion, and the role and influence of religion in society."  The cable refers to the conference as a success.

* An August 2009 cable from Morocco deals with abortion and family planning.  "Abortions are legal in Morocco only to safeguard the health of the mother.  The practical measures to garner permission for a legal abortion, however, are especially difficult. In addition to written consent by the spouse, the region's chief medical officer must approve all pending abortions.  These stringent procedures mean that legal abortions are rarely approved beforehand."

* A June 2009 cable from Russia says that family planning efforts are having a hard time "gaining a foothold" in the face of religious and state opposition.  "Svetlana Yakimenko, the Director of Project Kesher, an international women's rights NGO, told us May 21 that Planned Parenthood International had a difficult time gaining a foothold in Russia and faces opposition to its work from both the GOR and the Orthodox Church. [...] The GOR pursues an official policy of encouraging women to have as many children as possible in order to counteract the country's demographic problems..."

* A June 2009 cable from Poland discusses the country's abortion laws.  It notes that "abortion is allowed only in three instances: when pregnancy poses a threat to the life or health of the mother, when pre-natal examinations indicate a high probability of severe birth defects or incurable disease, and when pregnancy was the result of rape.  As women's rights NGOs point out, even those entitled to legal abortion under the strict anti-abortion law are often denied.  Under Polish law, a doctor has the right to deny an abortion if it is in conflict with his/her conscience (so-called conscience clause)."

* A June 2009 cable from the Vatican seems to be written for Barack Obama, explaining what the Church wants to discuss on his visit.  "Vatican officials grudgingly accept that abortion is legal in the U.S., but oppose making it more widely available.  Internationally, the Vatican would forcefully oppose USG advocacy of legalizing abortion elsewhere, financing foreignabortions, or making abortion an international 'reproductive right.'  The Vatican would welcome an honest, respectful dialogue with the United States on abortion."

* A June 2009 cable from Mexico covers the abortion debate in the country.  Abortion is legal in cases of "confirmed rape," which makes me wonder what their rape certification process looks like.  "Some pro-abortion NGO's claimed a modest victory in regulations requiring a response by state health authorities no more than 120 hours after a confirmed rape, provision of emergency 'morning after' contraception, as well as abortion on demand in rape cases. Such organizations, however, noted that the regulations require written authorization by law enforcement authorities who must certify that a rape had taken place (for victims under 18 a parent or guardian must also provide authorization)."

* An April 2009 cable from Guinea titled, "Exploring Fgm- Sorcery, Secrecy, And Livelihoods" talks about female genital mutilation and the women who perform it.  "...Asst Poloff had a rare opportunity to interview women who actually perform FGM, or 'excision'. The interview took place at the community health center, with four local women in attendance. [...] Although any woman can attend the actual procedure, it is usually older girls who have already been excised and/or older female relatives such as aunts or grandmothers.  [...] The excisers balked when questioned about the role of men in the practice of excision. The younger exciser explained that men would not 'dare' involve themselves in the domain of women."  (And here we Westerners are told  that FGM is caused by a thing called "The Patriarchy," not an empowered sisterhood of women.  A cable from the UAE in 2005 notes that FGM is inflicted by "elderly women or midwives" when it happens in that country.)

* An April 2009 cable from India discuses sex-selective abortion and gender disparities in the country.  "Though President Patil, India's first female president, claimed in her talk in December 2008, in Yavatmal, Maharashtra, 'Today, our women are competing on an equal footing with men,' the reality for many in western India belies this claim."

* A March 2009 cable covering the presidential election season in Slovakia notes how Catholic Church campaigns against one female candidate.  "Recently, several bishops helped to ignite the Slovak 'culture wars,' by publicly calling on Catholic voters not to support her.  Banska Bystrica's Bishop, Rodulf Balaz, recently went as far as to indirectly compare [her] to Hitler because of her attitudes toward abortion and gays."

* A November 2008 cable from Nicaragua speculates on whether the country's anti-abortion president is causing it to lose foreign aid.  "Finland is not the first country to withdraw budget support from Nicaragua since Daniel Ortega became President.  In August 2007, Sweden announced it would end its foreign assistance to Nicaragua, as a result of its decision to shift focus on countries in Africa and Eastern Europe.  Observers in Nicaragua speculated that the true reason behind the Swedish decision was Ortega's prohibition of therapeutic abortion, an assertion denied by the Swedish Ambassador."

* A July 2008 cable from Ethiopia discusses inteference from an anti-abortion American politician.  The country apparently doesn't want outsiders meddling in its laws, citing "the example of Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, who adamantly opposes abortion.  When Ethiopia's parliament passed a clause allowing abortion in instances when the mother's life was in danger, Congressman Smith severely criticized the Prime Minister and his government and is now a vocal critic of Ethiopia.  If Ethiopia accepted funding from anti-abortion groups and overturned the Parliamentary law to be in compliance with Congressman Smith, it would not be a law truly embraced by the people of Ethiopia."

* A September 2008 cable from the Vatican is titled, "Catholic Movement Wary Of European Human Rights Discourse".  The Church is upset that they think Europeans and their governments "are promoting the view that abortion, euthanasia and same sex-marriages are human rights," views that "betray" the "true essence" of human rights according to Catholic religious doctrine.

* A December 2007 cable from Kenya discusses various ways that religion influences politics in the country.  On religious activism: "While some positions are clearly in line with church doctrine -- such as the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Kenya calling for aspiring leaders to reject abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty -- other leaders' declarations have been more political and have correspondingly sparked controversy."  Good to know that the Catholic Church is always working hard on issues that really matter, like fighting against abortion access in developing countries.

* An October 2007 cable from Nicaragua covers abortion debates and the Catholic Church's role.  Interestingly, anti-abortion politicians decided to turn it into a homophobic issue.  "Agreeing that the only women in favor of abortion were homosexual, deputy Navarro scornfully called the female protesters 'lesbians, lesbians, lesbians' during his turn at the microphone."  The US embassy concludes, "In our discussions with women's organizations and NGOs, we have made it clear that U.S. foreign policy does not condone or recognize the right to abortion."

* A May 2007 cable from Brazil covers the Pope's visit amidst debate on changing the country's archaic abortion laws.  Ever the sensitive guy, Pope Benedict "asserted that the spreading of the gospel during colonization did not represent 'alienation of pre-Columbian cultures nor the imposition of a foreign culture.'" The cable also mentions "a Vatican proposal to make religious education obligatory in public schools."

* A March 2007 cable from Senegal plainly spells out that the position of the US government is anti-abortion.  It covers the visit of pro-life US Ambassador Rees to discourage the country's adoption of the Maputo Plan, which aims to improve sexual health and family planning for the people of Senegal, and includes abortion.  (Trivia: Rees was once a legislative aid to what US Congressman?  Chris Smith!)  "Ambassador Rees voiced U.S. concerns that the Maputo Plan of Action requires countries to integrate all HIV/AIDS programs with family planning/reproductive health programs, an integration that would likely divert badly needed HIV/AIDS fund to family planning, and also seemed designed to require African countries to make abortion more widely available. [...] During a 30-minute meeting with Minister of Health Abdou Fall on March 21, Ambassador Rees stressed that the Maputo Plan of action was not a consensus document, could create 'an abortion industry in waiting.'"

A March 2007 cable from the Vatican reports on a "right to life" conference.  "Addressing conference delegates during a private audience, Pope Benedict XVI stressed that the right to life must be supported by everyone because 'it is fundamental with respect to other human rights.'  The pontiff then lashed out against interest in developed nations in immoral biotechnological research, 'the obsessive search for the perfect child' through genetic selection, a renewed global push for abortion rights and same-sex marriage, which is 'closed to natural procreation.'"

* A February 2007 cable from Portugal notes that the country is about to legalize abortion (up until 10 weeks).  The country's leadership "hailed the outcome, underscoring that it would ensure Portugal's move toward modernity and place it among the world's contemporary democracies."  I like that increasing abortion access is seen as a cornerstone of modernity and democracy.

* A January 2007 cable from the Vatican summarizes Pope Benedict's speech about what he thinks wrong with Africa.  Abortion is apparently one of the key problems facing the continent.

* A December 2006 cable from Nicaragua talks about the country's abortion laws.  "[Nicaraguan Minister of Health Margarita] Gurdian expressed regret that the medical community was shut out of the legislative debate that was strongly influenced by Catholic church and Evangelical group interests."

* An August 2006 cable from Fiji discusses the visit of US politicians, who discussed the pressing issues of abortion and war.  Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican Congressman, "expressed hope that Fiji would not support a UN program that he said advocates abortion as a means of family planning.  A spirited discussion followed among several of the congressmen on abortion-related issues."  The country was thanked for "Fiji's participation in the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq."  (At this point in time, Fiji probably had less than 300 troops in Iraq.)  Perhaps in return for their support of the war, Fijian politicians were "very interested in prospects" that the 2000-ish Fijian citizens illegally living in the US can be shown "some consideration" in upcoming immigration bills.

* An August 2006 cable from Vietnam talks about the current state of affairs for the country's population policies, including what it defines as "real abortion".  "[A government official] raised doubts about the reliability of abortion rate figures and stated that 93 percent of all reported abortions performed in Vietnam are actually 'menstrual regulation.'  This procedure allows women to end a pregnancy during the first trimester by artificially triggering withdrawal bleeding.  Some 20 percent of women undergoing this procedure are actually not pregnant and just 'want to be on the safe side,' he said.  Therefore, the [government's population department] only considers mid- or late-term abortion cases to be 'real abortions' and has allocated funding to try to reduce the number of these cases, which account for seven percent of the reported abortions."

A March 2006 cable from Vietnam mentions Congressman Smith's penchant for telling developing other countries what to do with their abortion laws: "Smith had promised to work cooperatively with Vietnam on the issues of combating trafficking in persons (TIP), preventing abortion and promoting religious freedom."

* A March 2006 cable from France summarizes how the US has been portrayed in the local press, including Bush's abortion politics.  It quotes one concerned article: "This anti-abortion law does not concern South Dakota alone... When it comes to morals and culture, the wind often blows from the U.S. onto our shores.  President Bush, spurred by the 'Christian right' is already waging an anti-abortion crusade worldwide.  He is making anti-abortion legislation a condition for aid to poor and developing countries.  This crusade will intensify if the right to abortion was questioned in the U.S."

* A January 2006 cable from South Africa expressed US concerns with what it considers "contradictions" in a newly passed law.  "Under the new bill, a child can consent to medical treatment, including HIV testing and the purchase of contraceptives, at 12 years of age. Previously, under the Child Care Act, the minimum age had been 14.  There are contradictions in the new bill.  Having sex with a child aged 15 or younger is considered statutory rape, but the new law assumes a 12-year-old is mature enough to purchase condoms.  Another concern is that, at 14 years old, children can now consent to surgical procedures, including abortion.  However under the new bill, a girl can consent to giving up her baby for adoption only at 18, whereas previously, a 16-year-old could make that decision."

A December 2005 cable from Vietnam talks about Congressman Smith's advice of using fake "pregnancy crisis centers".  "On abortion, the Congressman noted that faith- based pregnancy-care and pregnancy-crisis centers are very powerful weapons in the fight against abortion."

* Another December 2005 cable from Vietnam states that Congressman Smith "is deeply concerned about the prevalence of abortion in the world".  A Vietnamese official smartly notes, "Preventing abortions is a noble goal... a far better solution than abortion is to provide the social and financial methods and resources to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place."

* A September 2005 cable from El Salvador touches on the Catholic Church's anti-abortion lobbying in the country.  "[Archbishop] Saenz Lacalle succeeded in an effort to prohibit legally all types of abortion, by busing Catholic schoolchildren to the Legislative Assembly to stage anti-abortion demonstrations.  In an effort to influence legislators, Opus Dei also solicited thousands of signatures for anti-abortion petitions from churchgoers after Mass; some political observers viewed this as an inappropriate intervention in national policy on the part of the Catholic Church."

* A November 2004 cable from Brazil reports on an effort to amend strict anti-abortion laws to exclude cases of anencephaly, an extreme deformity that renders a fetus/baby incapable of surviving.  An earlier cable on this potential exception notes opposition from a Catholic church group, stating they "will struggle for the preservation of the rights of anencephalics, especially the right to be born."  (The Wikipedia page on anencephaly includes photos you may consider disturbing.)

* A January 2004 cable from Ghana mentions the country's abstinence-focused sex ed.  "USAID,s program works to decrease the abortion rate by promoting family planning for married couples, educating girls and boys on abstinence and delayed sexual initiation, and advocating faithfulness between married partners (school-based curricula, Life Choices media campaigns and the Church's Counseling curriculum are examples)."

* A November 2003 cable from Croatia explains the Catholic church's role in politics.  "Catholics were also directed not to vote for parties and individuals who support legalized abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriages."





by Furry Girl

03.11.11

I haven't had much time to write on the ho revolution lately, so I wanted to draw my readers' attention to Egypt again.  (See an earlier post on the intersections of how society treats both sex workers and Muslim women here.)

Focus on the country is waning, and I'm now only following one Egyptian tweeter/organizer myself: @Sandmonkey, who is now known to be 29-year-old Mahmoud Salem.  He posts tons of stuff - from coordinating protests as they happen, to thoughts on the economy, to how to talk to average people about politics - and it's been interesting to keep following the very-much-not-complete revolution going on in the country through his eyes.  Sure, Egyptians ousted president Hosni Mubarak, but now what?  With the country under temporary military rule, people are trying to sort out "which way forward?"

It might seem like overthrowing an Arab dictator, and American sex workers fighting criminalization and stigma, are about as different as two causes could be, but I've found a lot of commonality reading Sandmonkey's tweets.  (Pardon me if I sound like a fangirl.  Full disclosure: this chick will always melt for smart political dudes.)  I wish I'd saved or re-tweeted more of my favorites so I could find them now, but here's a sampling of things I've liked, which cover the three big points that I want to highlight:

Public outreach

One of the overall themes I've found both with Sandmonkey's tweets, and other things I've read about Egypt's revolution, is the importance of young people reaching out and talking to older generations and people who disagree with you.  Sandmonkey is regularly urging his followers to talk to their families, their neighbors, anyone they encounter, and debunk myths and explain what the January 25th revolution is really about.  Sex workers badly need to do this sort of thing, and better facilitating public outreach is my goal with my upcoming not-for-profit project, SWAAY.  You can't change the world without being bold enough to start talking to lots and lots of normal people and explaining why they ought to get on board with your ideas.

Mutual aid

Another issue, not at all new to sex workers, is of the importance of taking care of your own communities when the state and police fail to help you.  Even though the specifics are different, the point is very much the same: we must look out for each other.  In the last 6 weeks, I've seen Egyptians on Twitter posting about things like neighborhood watch patrols to protect themselves from government thugs, warning systems at the Tahrir Square camp to alert other protesters if police were coming, the construction of physical barriers for protection, medical volunteers treating injuries, supporters making food and bringing it to those on the streets, women leading protests during the day after men protected them during the night, and later, people popping up to sweep and repair damage to their city after the massive protests.  (Sandmonkey was arrested and beaten while delivering medical supplies to a makeshift clinic for protesters.)  We will take care of ourselves because no one else is going to do it for us is the kind of vital empowerment from within that all types of outliers require.

There's room for everyone

Not everyone is going to be at the front lines.  Not everyone can be a full-timer.  We all have things of value to contribute, and if we can all spare just a bit of our energy, we can make a big impact.  I don't think I'd be good at trying to reach out to the police in an effort to get them to be less violent, rape-y, and discriminatory against street-based sex workers.  I don't think I'd be good at policy and lobbying stuff, I don't want to be on TV as a spokesperson, and I lack the skills to help people with medical issues.  Thankfully, other people are good at those things.  I think I'm pretty good at explaining complex issues in accessible terms, debating anti- sex worker myths, and I know how to operate clean, easy-to-navigate web sites.  Diversity of skills and interests is an asset, not a weakness.





by Furry Girl

02.28.11

"Behind the most powerful manufactroversies, lies a predictable formula: first, a new problem is generated by redefining terminology.  For example, an autism 'epidemic' suddenly exists when a wide range of childhood mental health diagnoses are all reclassified as part of an autism spectrum.  The reclassification creates the appearance of a surge in autism cases, and that sets the stage for cause-seeking.

Second, 'instant experts' immediately proclaim that they have special insight into the cause.  They enjoy the authority and attention that their unique 'expertise' brings them and begin to position themselves as a 'little guy' crusader against injustice.  They also are likely to spin conspiracy theories about government cover-ups or pharmaceutical malfeasance to make their case more appealing to the media.  In many cases the experts have a financial incentive in promoting their point of view (they sell treatments or promote their books, for example).

Third, because mainstream media craves David and Goliath stories and always wants to be the first to break news, they often report the information without thorough fact-checking.  This results in the phenomenon of 'Tabloid Medicine.'

Fourth, once the news has been reported by a mainstream media outlet, the general population assumes it’s credible, and a groundswell of fear drives online conversation on blogs, websites, and social media platforms.

And finally, celebrities take up the cause while personal injury lawyers feast on frightened consumers who now believe that they are victims of harm perpetrated on them by the 'medical industrial complex.'  Meanwhile flustered government health officials have no scientific evidence of harm, but cannot prove a lack of association without further research (and that takes time).  So they offer what seems like tepid reassurances, which are perceived by some to be tantamount to an admission of guilt.

And that’s how a lie becomes an urban legend.  Perception is nine tenths of reality."

-- Dr. Valerie Jones, in Review: How the Internet is being used to hijack medical science for fear and profit on scientificamerican.com

Hmm, doesn't this sound an awful lot like porn/trafficking/prostitution/sexuality/kink/strip club hysteria?





by Furry Girl

"Manufactroversy (măn’yə-făk’-trə-vûr’sē)

1. A manufactured controversy that is motivated by profit or extreme ideology to intentionally create public confusion about an issue that is not in dispute.

[...]

As a scholar of rhetoric, I have studied some modern cases of manufactured controversy to discover how to best confute these contemporary sophists, and I have come up with some preliminary hypotheses about what makes their arguments so persuasive to a public audience.  First, they skillfully invoke values that are shared by the scientific community and the American public alike, like free speech, skeptical inquiry, and the revolutionary force of new ideas against a repressive orthodoxy.  It is difficult to argue against someone who invokes these values without seeming unscientific or un-American."

-- Leah Ceccarelli, in Manufactroversy: The Art of Creating Controversy Where None Existed on scienceprogress.org

Sex workers rights advocates have a lot to learn from anti-science lobbying movements and how they work to successfully confuse and misinform the public through "teaching the controversy."  See one of my earlier blog posts on the subject here.





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