Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why Natalie Dylan is A Genius

...for auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder through a Nevada brothel in order to pay for grad school, in case you haven't heard.

How many "virgins" are totally sexually inexperienced? The vast majority of people have kissed and touched and gone through several of those junior high "bases" before engaging in heterosexual intercourse. Many have also experienced *some* form of genital contact. (Dylan obliquely acknowledged this when she said, " I think people misconstrue virginity with being prudes... ") Why do we make the insertion of the penis into the vagina such a sexual milestone? Sure, it's different in that it is a potentially reproductive act, but fewer and fewer people lose their virginity in order to have children. In the age of effective birth control, it is no more of a reproductive act than any other sexual activity. Many people who only have same gender lovers have *never* had heterosexual intercourse, but it would be an insult to their rich and extensive sex lives to call them virgins. The idea that having a penis in one's vagina marks one's transition away from sexual innocence is a recapitulation of heterosexist, patriarchal norms that are really no longer relevant. Natalie Dylan, a young woman from a generation with changing viewpoints around sex, with a sister who's worked a sex worker who has also probably given her more expansive ideas on the subject, and a degree in Women's Studies where she's examined just these sorts of questions, probably doesn't view heterosexual intercourse as some huge turning point in her sexual life. But cleverly, she's exploiting the obsolete ideas of men who do see her lack of experience with this form of sex as holding some huge cache. So both parties get what they want--the man who makes the winning bid gets to believe he's buying a once in a lifetime experience, while Dylan loses nothing b/c she understands that " losing her virginity " is merely a technicality bolstered by a huge amount of hype, and after a sexual tete-a-tete that will take no more than an hour, she gets to walk away with the cash to pay for her degree, plus a few million to spare.

Of course, the hold that the idea of " virginity " still has on this culture is incredible, judging by the fact that more than 10,000 men have bid on the auction. Dylan is also benefiting in yet another way, by analyzing the phenomenon as a Women's Studies scholar:

" We wanted to study the dichotomous nature between virginity and prostitution. There’s really been so few case studies of it… "

And thank you, Ms. Dylan, for tying in sex work with the feminist credo of my-body-my-choice, an obvious connection that's often lost on too many second wave feminists, in a mainstream venue:

" I think this is about being pro-choice with your body, " she said on the Tyra Banks show.

Of course, coverage of the auction has been as hysterical and insulting as one might expect. For some trenchant commentary on that, check out Sex In The Public Square.

I'd also like to put in what a commenter in my facebook said when I posted this link---" It pisses me off to see this stuff in the media as part of a moralistic debate on how one should/should not make a living instead of a conversation about the cost of education and the realities of low wage jobs... " It's the usual sleight-of-hand with the issues of sex work and economic need, similar to the way people focus on low-income women streetwalking rather than why they need to do so,in depressed urban areas in a country where so many low skilled jobs have been shipped abroad to sweatshops where corporations can pay pennies on the hour for the labor. With welfare cut so that poor people often have to make a choice referred to bitterly as "heat or eat" during the winter, it's no wonder that the inflated wages of the black market appeal to many people struggling to get by. Whatever your opinion of the morality of prostitution, surely people should understand that the greater crime is not the nonviolent offense of prostitution but the systemic violence that leads low income women to make desperate choices trying to feed themselves and their children. At Arise For Social Justice, a low income rights organization I worked with that advocates de facto decriminalization of prostitution in Springfield as one of its goals, we often made this argument, and I still have the pin proclaiming, " OUTLAW POVERTY, NOT PROSTITUTION. "

Monday, April 13, 2009

what do *you* want me to write about?

Contemplated and half-worked on posts:
*"Of Pimps, 'Running Partners', and other Bad Boyfriends ( Romantic and Economic Relationships in the Context of the Criminalization of Prostitution and the Drug War)(A plea for people to look at relationships on a case by case basis to see if they're abusive, rather than judging them solely on whoraphobia,junkie stigma, classism, and racism--with some personal stuff along with the analysis, going on about the love of my life--my "pimp" and "running partner". Also analysis on how people team up to work the blackmarket effectively and protect each other, often with couples running a blackmarket business or survival racket, b/c they know they love and trust each other the most in a dangerous situation. And acknowledgement that many of these relationships have been abusive, just like so many relationships between "straight" people are--and how criminalization protects the abuser.)

*"Natalie Dylan Is A Genius" (For auctioning off her virginity to pay for grad school in the state of Nevada, in case you hadn't heard)

*" 'Occupy Everything Now'? Maybe Not, but...Notes Towards An Effective Student Left for the 21st Century" (Talking about how college students can be great at macropolitics and oncampus politics, but don't seem to really participate where their voices are most vital--in how their colleges swallow up college towns economically for example, using them for marketing and development purposes, while gentrifying and driving low income people out. How the situation we're dealing with in my local activism now, with Smith developing and destroying low income housing in its development, and joining the Business Improvement District to basically buy more control of the town, is analogous to the 1968 Columbia student occupations in protest of the development of the gym in Morningside Heights--that did achieve many of its goals, despite the sacrifice 30 students made in being suspended, and the suffering many more experienced in being victims of police brutality. Acknowledging that I'm part of the disaffected left, and that I did roll my eyes at the dramatic notion of occupation from student activists in my movement, but looking at the New School and NYU occupations and seeing that some of their goals are to draw attention to how the colleges and universities exacerbate economic disparities in the city. Urging the exhaustion of "legitimate" avenues of protest first, but not crossing direct action off the list. Recommending everyone read _The Strawberry Statement"--fun, sweet diary of a student in the Columbia occupation. Looking to a nation wide movement of students that hold colleges accountable for economic decisions.)

So, please talk about this stuff, and scream in my ear urging me to finish one post or another...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

support the troops-until you bring them home

Sorry, no drugs or sex in this entry. But this topic still has some personal significance for me. Gianna blogged about this and brought it to my attention, but I just have to say something.

You see, my partner of five years is a heavy combat Vietnam veteran of two and a half tours. When we first got together, he sat me down one night and said, "I want to tell you everything I did during the war." He cried. He said he knew my politics and he didn't want to slip and refer to something later that would make me end our relationship, recoiling from him because he was a "babykiller", in the parlance of some particularly insensitive people in the peace movement of his time. He knew he had participated in atrocities. But he was a 17 year old slum kid when he enlisted, from a gang run neighborhood where you "either got out in a uniform or a box." (Recruiters still prey on that desperation today, setting up shop in urban ghettos and targeting poor young people of color, dangling the hope of a college education and banking on the fact that the kids won't read the small print-- a surprisingly small number of soldiers ever get that subsidized GI Bill ride through school because of new, more stringent qualifications for that "privilege.") For the first time in his life, because he was good at being a soldier, good at leadership skills so that he soon made sergeant, and the people who commanded him, first the Marines and then the Black Ops people who made use of him, made him feel good at something, made him feel special, when before he'd just been one more anonymous street kid. It's easy to manipulate a barely literate teenager from a lower class background who just wants some attention and affirmation. Way too easy.

On his first leave home after his first tour, they put him on a plane back to the States still in muddy combat fatigues. No debriefing, no transitional programming. He was asked to check in his rifle but left with his small arms. As he took a cab back from the airport back to his NYC home, they passed through a huge traffic blocking peace protest. He knew nothing about the peace movement, barely anything about the huge cultural changes of the mid 60s. He'd shipped out in 1965, one of the first wave of Marines. Media censorship in the military was tight and the America he remembered was the Kennedy America, and here were these protesters, in tie dyed fashions he didn't recognize, screaming in one vast roar, condemning him. He got back, said hello to his parents and took off camping in the mountains of upstate New York for the remainder of his leave, so he could be alone.

He couldn't handle what America had become or the consequences of his decision to enlist. As a lower class kid, he had no political vocabulary to make sense of what was happening. But he knew things were deeply wrong when he heard guys in his platoon bragging about raping women, when he saw a soldier shoot a village elder in the back. He was happy in the villages, making small talk with his pidgin Vietnamese and French, watching the children ride their water buffaloes, seeing a communal way of life he had never encountered but felt strangely at home in. "These people just wanted to be left alone to live the life of their village," he told me. Most of the other soldier embarrassed and disgusted him. "I truly found out the meaning of the phrase "the ugly American"--no wonder everyone hates us!" But he couldn't go AWOL either and go home--the home he remembered wasn't even there anymore. He got himself stationed so far North, next to the DMZ, that he had barely any supervision. He went on black ops missions alone with just a radio man (they had picked out and discovered a few soldiers like him who were good cannon fodder for this kind of thing) and tried to make as many of his own moral decisions as he could.

He volunteered for his third tour. He didn't fit in the States, or in the rear. The only place he belonged anymore was the jungle.

Eventually he got wounded and they forced him back to country, though he tried to stay in the Japanese military hospital for as long as he could, selling his plane tickets home a few times. He embarked on a number of lively careers on both sides of the law, smuggler, dealer, art student, fashion photographer, antique trucking company owner...Then one day when he was 35, during a particularly stressful period, the PTSD came down and hit him like a hammer. He blacked out, but they told him later he'd been walking around, swinging a lead pipe at parked cars and screaming at passerbys.

So, I'll get to the point of this long winded, melodramatic account. The point is that in some ways my boyfriend was lucky. His was one of the first signatures on the Agent Orange class action suit, and they had a powerful case and prevailed, getting coverage for the damage they suffered after being exposed to the chemical. He got good treatment for the heavy duty PTSD he suffered from for years, with the VA sending him to this area to a specialized PTSD unit, the best in the country. He eventually qualified for 100% disability benefits for both his physical and psychological injuries.

Young veterans coming home aren't so lucky now. The Valley Advocate predicted at the beginning of the Iraq war that there would only be 1/4 of the resources needed to deal with the number of PTSD cases that could reasonably be predicted in the soldiers coming home. So how would you expect the military, that bastion of fair dealing, to respond when they're faced with the bill now, in the form of thousands of veterans coming home with their most common injuries being a subtle form of brain damage from IEDs and big helpings of PTSD? They get their doctors to fudge things. They invent pre-existing psychological conditions for these men and women when there were none so that they're left without coverage. My boyfriend says they were playing the "pre-existing condition" game back in the Vietnam and post Vietnam era, but as he says, they've gotten better at it. And back then there was still a muckraking independent media that wouldn't let them get away scotfree for Agent Orange conditions, for example. Now we have a media controlled by only three major corporations, a monopolized media that's in bed 24-7 with the Powers That Be. So it's no surprise that an online venue was the first to cover *this* story:

So, we've been hearing about their denials of PTSD diagnoses for Iraq and Afghanistan war vets for some time, but now we have *proof* of orders from above to use these tactics. Proof gathered by a veteran suffering from PTSD with the Army refusing to acknowledge it, in fact.

Here are quotes from the Salon story :

April 8, 2009 | FORT CARSON, Colo. -- "Sgt. X" is built like the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he rode in while in Iraq. He's as bulky, brawny and seemingly impervious as a tank.

In an interview in the high-rise offices of his Denver attorneys, however, symptoms of the damaged brain inside that tough exterior begin to appear. Sgt. X's eyes go suddenly blank, shifting to refocus oddly on a wall. He pauses mid-sentence, struggling for simple words. His hands occasionally tremble and spasm.

For more than a year he's been seeking treatment at Fort Carson for a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, the signature injuries of the Iraq war. Sgt. X is also suffering through the Army's confusing disability payment system, handled by something called a medical evaluation board. The process of negotiating the system has been made harder by his war-damaged memory. Sgt. X's wife has to go with him to doctor's appointments so he'll remember what the doctor tells him.

But what Sgt. X wants to tell a reporter about is one doctor's appointment at Fort Carson that his wife did not witness. When she couldn't accompany him to an appointment with psychologist Douglas McNinch last June, Sgt. X tucked a recording device into his pocket and set it on voice-activation so it would capture what the doctor said. Sgt. X had no idea that the little machine in his pocket was about to capture recorded evidence of something wounded soldiers and their advocates have long suspected -- that the military does not want Iraq veterans to be diagnosed with PTSD, a condition that obligates the military to provide expensive, intensive long-term care, including the possibility of lifetime disability payments. And, as Salon will explore in a second article Thursday, after the Army became aware of the tape, the Senate Armed Services Committee declined to investigate its implications, despite prodding from a senator who is not on the committee. The Army then conducted its own internal investigation -- and cleared itself of any wrongdoing.

When Sgt. X went to see McNinch with a tape recorder, he was concerned that something was amiss with his diagnosis. He wanted to find out why the psychologist had told the medical evaluation board that handles disability payments that Sgt. X did not, in fact, have PTSD, but instead an "anxiety disorder," which could substantially lower the amount of benefits he would receive if the Army discharged him for a disability. The recorder in Sgt. X's pocket captured McNinch in a moment of candor.
"OK," McNinch told Sgt. X. "I will tell you something confidentially that I would have to deny if it were ever public. Not only myself, but all the clinicians up here are being pressured to not diagnose PTSD and diagnose anxiety disorder NOS [instead]." McNinch told him that Army medical boards were "kick[ing] back" his diagnoses of PTSD, saying soldiers had not seen enough trauma to have "serious PTSD issues."

"Unfortunately," McNinch told Sgt. X, "yours has not been the only case ... I and other [doctors] are under a lot of pressure to not diagnose PTSD. It's not fair. I think it's a horrible way to treat soldiers, but unfortunately, you know, now the V.A. is jumping on board, saying, 'Well, these people don't have PTSD,' and stuff like that."

...McNinch told Salon that the pressure to misdiagnose came from the former head of Fort Carson's Department of Behavioral Health. That colonel, an Army psychiatrist, is now at Fort Lewis in Washington state. "This was pressure that the commander of my Department of Behavioral Health put on me at that time," he said. Since McNinch is a civilian employed by the Army, the colonel could not order him to give a specific, lesser diagnosis to soldiers. Instead, McNinch said, the colonel would "refuse to concur with me, or argue with me, or berate me" when McNinch diagnosed soldiers with PTSD. "It is just very difficult being a civilian in a military setting."

McNinch added that he also received pressure not to properly diagnose traumatic brain injury, Sgt. X's other medical problem. "When I got there I was told I was overdiagnosing brain injuries and now everybody is finding out that, yes, there are brain injuries," he recalled. McNinch said he argued, "'What are we going to do about treatment?' And they said, 'Oh, we are just counting people. We don't plan on treating them.'"...

When McNinch learned he would be quoted in a Salon article, he cut off further questions. He also said he would deny the interview took place. Salon, however, had recorded the conversation.

On the tape and in his interview with Salon, McNinch seemed to admit what countless soldiers not just at Fort Carson but across the Army have long suspected: At least in some cases, the Army tries to avoid diagnoses of PTSD...

"Each diagnosis is an acknowledgment that psychiatric casualties are a huge price tag of this war," said [David Rudd, the chairman of Texas Tech's department of psychology and a former Army psychologist]. "It is easiest to dismiss these casualties because you can't see the wounds. If they change the diagnosis they can dismiss you at a substantially decreased rate."...

There is some evidence that Sgt. X's experience with McNinch represents part of a broader scandal, as suggested by the former Army psychiatrist who told Salon about identical problems at another post. Last year, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released an e-mail from Norma Perez, a psychologist in Texas, to staff at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility there. In addition to the Army, that department also provides veterans with benefits. "Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I'd like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out," Perez wrote in the e-mail dated March 20, 2008. She suggested the staff "consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder." As opposed to those with PTSD, veterans with adjustment disorder, a temporary condition, typically do not receive disability payments from the government...

Do read the rest of the story to find out about soldiers plastered with insulting "personality disorders" so that the Army and the VA can avoid that expensive admission of PTSD, and to find a link to another Salon article which identified a pattern of medical officials searching to pin soldiers' problems on childhood trauma instead of combat stress at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Salon also promises that it will "explore Thursday how the Army was made aware of Sgt. X's tape, how the Senate Armed Services Committee declined to conduct an investigation, and how the Army absolved itself of any blame for wrongdoing."

I feel it is vital for the peace movement to support the troops in a way that many hawks never do--that is, we should recognize in our leftist analysis that what the army calls enlistment is little better than a subtle draft, determined by conditions of poverty that leave young people thinking there are no other options for them to leave their desperate environments. And how many options are there? Arise for Social Justice, a low income rights organization I worked in for years, tried to run an educational program letting high school students in Springfield, MA ghettos know about all the consequences of enlistment before a recruitment official glitzed the military up for them. We also tried to offer them other options. The problem was, there weren't that many other options.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't hold low ranking soldiers accountable for their actions during wartime. But if you want to focus your rage at the wars, focus it at the decision makers, the politicians and the defense industry bigwigs and the privileged West Point educated generals light years away from knowing what the privates and non-commissioned officers experience on the ground.

Let me use a dirty pinko commie freak word here and remind you all that the soldiers from poor backgrounds that the military focuses its pitch on deliberately, who are hoodwinked into traumatic combat situations, are just as much victims of *capitalism* as the populations of countries we invade with our new brand of American Imperialism. and the many others in the Third World our corporations work to death in sweat shops.

Veteran's rights should always be a progressive issue.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

So proud of the mother country

The US is to blame for the global drug war and its devastating results, it's true. But just when you think things are bad *here* and yearn for a good old dose of European Socialism or start daydreaming about moving to Portugal...

Both government and public health officials agree that the epidemic of heroin addiction in Russia has reached terrifying proportions that could in the long run prove devastating. But while the Government hints that the Western intervention in Afghanistan is the root cause of Russia's drugs woes, its critics claim that Russian Government policy on drugs is responsible for worsening the epidemic.

"The Russian strategy is to stifle serious debate about the problem and demonise drug users," said Dasha Ocheret, of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network in Moscow.

Any addict who seeks medical help for addiction is immediately put on the state "narcological register". This information is available to police, who can have the drug user arrested and put in prison, and causes huge problems for people if they kick their habit and want to reintegrate into society.

A report by Human Rights Watch claimed that Russian policy decisions on treating drug users were outdated and "deliberately ignore the best available medical evidence and recommendations".

Substitution therapy using methadone is banned in Russia, and needle and syringe exchange points are regarded as highly controversial. "Task number one for any drug user is to hide away from everyone," said Ocheret. "They worry that if they go to get clean needles and syringes they will be arrested and sent to prison."
This in turn drives other devastating epidemics in the country, such as hepatitis C and HIV/Aids. More than one million people in the country are thought to be HIV positive.

More than 30,000 people die from drug use every year, and in a sparsely populated country, it's a statistic that Russia cannot afford.
--The New Zealand Herald 3/12/09

Reminds one of the the draconian conditions under Anslinger described in William Burroughs' _Junkie_, where the state of *being* an opiate addict was an arrestable offense and people started injecting in all sorts of creative places b/c of the regular demand to pull up one's sleeve in drug neighborhoods, an encounter that usually led to a stay in jail.

On another note, a lighter one--and maybe this blog should start having more of those--why are Russian tattoos, especially Russian prison tattoos, so superior to American ones? No garish ink colors, no cartoonish aesthetic. Intricate detail, ink that fades gracefully into a pleasing dark green, cool subverted Orthodox Church religious imagery & art, a complex code of criminal identity...
Check out this incredible blog devoted exclusively to this topic---Russian tattoo porno for eccentrics like me!

Monday, April 6, 2009

hos and junkies unite?

(A public "sharps container", a receptacle where used syringes can be safely disposed of, next to a condom machine in Lausanne, France)

It warms the cockles of my little junkie heart to see SWOP (Sex Worker's Outreach Program) and SWANK (Sex Worker's Action New yorK) send me a message over facebook about a workshop they're holding on using Narcan/naloxone as an antidote to opiate overdose.

Not only because I think more people need to be given the knowledge to use these tools and have Narcan dispensed to them before the ambulances come to late, as they often do, to what they think of as another dumb drug overdose call ("when people are *actually* suffering out there...") (Even when paramedics are well intentioned and speedy in arriving, the neccessary delay still often kills. "If people have to rely on paramedics, more often than not, the overdose is going to be fatal, just because of the amount of time for people to get there," explained Casey Cook of Prevention Point Philadelphia to the Associated Press on August 1st, 2008.) Not only because these life saving tools have been denied to us for so long,with the last drug czar expressing disapproval over such workshops in Philadelphia, saying they encouraged drug use by eliminating the risk, making users feel too complacent, the old not-giving-them-condoms-keeps-them-from-having-sex argument.

(If the czar had ever taken Narcan while he was habituated to opiates, he'd know that no one *planned* on taking a super high dose and then banked on torturing themselves with the pain of naloxone ingestion afterwards.) Not even because we need to make sure that these methods are not exclusive to medical professionals because of how these medical professionals so often use them: naloxone is often used *punitively* in hospitals or in ambulances after an overdose, as junkie punishment medicine. What naloxone does is inhibit opiate receptors, thus, it takes out the high and often plunges a person into a concentrated bout of withdrawal--plus pain, seeing as how opiates are so similar to endorphins. Often, EMTs and other health professionals use twice the effective dose in order to Teach The Junkie A Lesson. The results can be traumatic. (Sometimes it just teaches the person never to trust doctors, hospitals, or ambulances.) On the other hand, harm reduction workshops which dispense Narcan and teaches users how to administrate it usually tell them to use the smallest effective dose on the overdosing user, taking most of the horror out of the experience.

No, all of that is important, but not as marvelous to me as the fact that this particular workshop is being sponsored by a sex workers' rights organization. For far too long, the sex workers' rights movement has been distancing itself from harm reduction and drug decriminalization movements. Some of this has been understandable, at least from a strategic viewpoint if not from a moral one. Even though most prostitutes work middle or upper class venues, the TV image still casts us as the desperate, mangy street worker. That media phantom uses loads of disreputable drugs like heroin and cocaine, injecting herself on scabied and abcessed skin. (This imagined street worker doesn't even bear any resemblance to the street workers of actuality, who are agents of their own destiny who deserve the public's respect.) The sex workers' rights movement needed to normalize ourselves to the outside world, show them that no more of us are desperately poor drug users than they are. It's easy to feel alienated from "hard" drug users that the drug war so effectively demonizes, so we needed to make sure people knew we were not them--which, in fact, we weren't, not many more of us use drugs than people in any other profession. When we struggle to show that the vast majority of us come to our work voluntarily, that we are not victims of human trafficking or patriarchy, it's hard to demonstrate that if people think you turn tricks to support your habit--people have come to think of addiction as as powerful a force at destroying agency as demonic possession, and if we acknowledged drug use in our midst as anything but the bad habits of a sad, pitiful, tiny minority, we risked having people think that we can't freely choose to perform sex acts for money since we depend on that money for our next fix. ( An argument we had to defuse, but a ludicrous one, really--so a heroin addict accountant can't freely choose her job because she depends on her salary to buy bags, among other things? And trust me, there are plenty of "functional" heroin addicts in "straight jobs" out there, living necessarily totally closeted lives. I'll link to some of their stories in a later post, perhaps.)

But the pendulum has swung too far. Because while we probably don't have many more drug users in the sex industry than other professions do, we have as many as they do--a lot, because the fact is there are quite a few drug users in this country. And the issues are inextricably linked--how can sex workers fight for a person to have control over how they use their body and the kind of goods they choose to sell, in the context of a nonviolent crime that hurts nobody, and not realize these very same arguments apply to drug use and sale? People sell drugs for the inflated black market money when other choices become limited, just like sex workers go into the business during those kinds of times. They also sell because they aren't made for and don't believe in traditional legitimate job wageslave labor--and that's why many sex workers choose to work off their ads as well. Drug users take risks, but no more than extreme sports enthusiasts do (perhaps less), no more than people who like to drive fast, and using harm reduction methods and researching the drugs they ingest, they minimize those risks. A call girl takes a huge risk every time she enters a room with a stranger, but by screening callers and using other harm minimization techniques, she cuts those risks down to an acceptable level. Sex workers and drug users are both scapegoated for evils spread by non-pros and non users--sex workers are accused of spreading HIV, whereas in the First World they're much more likely to use safer sex methods than people having noncommercial sex and one is much more likely to pick up HIV from a free fuck one finds at a bar. Illegal drug users are seen as being crazed and super violent, impervious to pain when on a Reefer Madnessesesque rampage, yet alcohol, the *legal* drug, is the only one with a significant statistical correlation to violence. And while both sex workers and drug users and sellers are victims of the violence of the black market, sex workers who don't manage other prostitute's earnings are only facing a misdemeanor, while drug users and sellers often face mandatory minimums that leave them rotting in prison for years longer than rapists and murderers.

How can we fight for the decriminalization of one and not the other?

A long time $pread, the great sex worker's glossy based in NYC, commissioned a article from me about drugs and sex work. I balked, I wrote thousands upon thousands of words but couldn't put them together neatly in any way. I never sent it in. The article was a political justification of my whole life--what, a junkie ho who considers herself victimized by a society that controlled the way we use our bodies, not a victim of her own bad choices? A junkie ho who--ha, ha, ha--considered herself an *activist*? And I looked over the pages of $pread, and while I loved this magazine, over and over I saw nothing but contempt in interviews in memoirs for "girls who worked to feed a habit", and never a word from those girls so dismissively referred to. I remember doing the research for the article, and looking at one sex worker blogger's little rant about how tired she is of liberals who say "legalize it all--sex, drugs, and gambling!" Not the same thing, she fumed, without even bothering to explain why--the difference was self-evident to her readership, obviously. She was a a lady courtesan, & this other marginalized group of people were just trashy junkies. What more needed to be said?

And while sex workers constantly questioned the way they were psychopathologized because of their profession, labeled masochists and nymphomaniacs, they used traditional tropes about addiction and trauma and self-medication to talk about drug use. There was never the consideration of the wide range of reasons that people had to use illicit drugs--for fun, for ritual, to "expand the mind", to socialize, to cushion a difficult time, as therapy--even though sex workers in the movement write about the huge variety of different reasons people have to do sex work all the time.

Why, I wondered, was the sex workers' movement's view of drug users as one dimensional as the public's view of sex workers?

I'm not saying things were totally bleak. At the 2006 Desiree Alliance conference I helped find methadone treatment for me and others, and helped accomodate and especially invite drug using sex workers and ex-sex workers by offering them scholarships. And now SWOP-NYC & SWANK send this. Hopefully it's not just about Helping Their Downtrodden StreetWalking Sisters, who are the only ones who would Stoop to *That*. Hopefully it's the beginning of real change, of a united movement to decriminalize nonviolent crimes, nonviolent practices as old as human history hit hard in the last couple of centuries by an upstart Puritanism that does not know when to stop when controlling the behavior of consenting adults.

more on how speed is speed

And don't tell me the method of ingestion makes all the difference. The tablets of stimulants given out to children are easily crushable and snortable, damaging the nose by making a deviated septum more likely, intensifying the drug's effect, and leading to a shorter if stronger high that peters out all the faster. It is rare that a child does not learn to snort the pills by tween age.

Another issue: Many parents complain that their child's ADD medications "poop out" by late afternoon or evening, and stop working. This is what any recreational user of speed worth their salt recognizes as the speed crash. It is not that the medication has "stopped working", it is simply that it is time to pay the speed piper. The law of mental gravity applies here and what goes up must come down--the user becomes irritable and tired and yet unable to sleep for a few hours. Yet, how do doctors advise solving this problem? By adding another dose of amphetamine at the end of the day, merely exacerbating a speed crash that is now delayed, but not eliminated.

If the children were using it recognizing the drug as a risky stimulant, choosing to use it of their own free will and approaching their use from a harm reduction standpoint, it would be one thing. But as minors, children are forced to ingest an intensely mind altering substance (I, for one, see being forced to take uppers in multiple doses every day as sheer torture, and I'm sure many of these pathologized children are experiencing it as exactly that.) Their parents might not even be aware that the drugs their children are taking are good old fashioned uppers. And the doctors, who in another context would recognize a speed crash when they saw one, are blinded by the false conceptual divide between drugs that are marketed as cures for "psychiatric disorders" by Big Pharma and drugs that are sold by the blackmarket for recreational or lifestyle use--not even when, as in this case, it's the *exact* *same* drug under discussion.

This why the mad movement and the anti drug war movement need to begin a dialogue.

For a brilliant explanation of how our society alternately demonizes and angelicizes certain drugs in different eras (and in this case, the same drug in different packaging in the same era!), read Richard DeGrandpre's _The Cult of Pharmacology_.

Here, Will Hall, co-founder of mad movement group the Freedom Center(full discosure, I'm an organizer and collective member)interviews the author on Madness Radio, our Valley Free Radio show.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

ADD medication or amphetamine--a hit of speed is a hit of speed by any other name

This from Psychiatric Times (thanks to Gianna for the quote):

"Medications used to treat ADHD in children may lead to psychotic symptoms and hallucinations, according to Dr Andrew Mosholder of the US Food and Drug Administration and colleagues.

"The researchers looked at 49 randomized, controlled clinical trials in the pediatric development programs for ADHD products and found evidence of psychosis or mania linked with almost every one of the eight ADHD medications/compounds studied (including extended release variations, tablets and transdermal patches). Although there were no reports of such reactions in patients on placebo, the overall rate was 1.48 events per 100 person-years for those on the ADHD medications.

"In data from manufacturer postmarketing studies, the researchers found 865 unique reports describing symptoms of psychosis or mania; the majority of the cases were pediatric and nearly half were children age 10 years old or younger. Symptom resolution resulted in 25% to 59% of cases after medication discontinuation."

And theLA Times reports

"Just under 8% of U.S. children, ages 4 to 17, have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to a survey conducted in 2003 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of these children were taking a medication for the disorder. However, the research reported today shows that psychotic symptoms occurred even in children who were not considered at high risk for psychosis or mania, such as children who abuse drugs or have other mental illnesses. In more than 90% of the cases, the children had never experienced hallucinations or psychosis. In most cases, the hallucinations were visual and tactile and involved seeing or feeling bugs, worms or snakes. The symptoms typically disappeared after the children stopped taking ADHD medication."

"It's not clear just why some children experience psychotic reactions to the drugs or what causes the symptoms. However, doctors should explain to parents that any psychosis or mania that occurs during treatment could be from the drug itself, said the authors of the report. And, they add, their paper is fresh evidence regarding the limitations of short-term clinical trials. The clinical trials of stimulant drugs showed a much lower rate of psychotic symptoms, but it wasn't until the medications were widely prescribed in a broad range of people that psychotic adverse events became prominent."

Now, why is this such a surprise? Why does the last paragraph have the researchers putting on their best baffled face? We've all been aware of the fact that uppers like cocaine, amphetamine, and meth can induce temporary psychosis in their users for years. In fact, the psychiatrists themselves have an entry in their DSM-IV for drug induced psychosis. Why is it that when the label on the pill bottle says Adderal, when it's prescribed rather than bought on the street, when a difference in learning styles labeled ADD by an American Psychiatric Association committee offers Big Pharma an opportunity to cash in that we see the amphetamine pills in the bottle as somehow benign?

The artificial conceptual division between licit and illicit mind altering drugs does us harm, crippling our common sense. We KNOW how illicit drugs work. In fact, the scare tactics of the drug war have been letting us know about exaggerated accounts of their risks for years. And the harm reduction movement has taught us how to take those risks into account and deal with them. But when the psychotropic drug is psychiatrist prescribed, we tend to treat them as if they're as harmless as candy, and our natural skepticism disappears. It takes journalistic exposes to tell us that Zyprexa causes adult onset diabetes and that Prozac causes suicidality and homocidality in some, even though their makers knew about these ill effects for years. It takes medical journals years to admit that psychiatric drugs make for horrific withdrawals, even when some of the withdrawal effects rival the most atrocious cold turkeys that illegal drugs can provide--Paxil, with its subjective experience of electric shocks to the brain, its aches and pains, its weeks of hysteria, had makers jumping through hoops to deny these effects until finally too many people experienced them

So especially when the illicit drug and the psychiatric drug are the *same* substance--and don't talk to me about meth, because in Europe amphetamine sulfate--yes, Adderal--is the upper of choice, a hugely popular club and lifestyle drug--we need to look past the packaging and the social context and apply what we know about the drug as a recreational substance to its effects as a psychiatric "medication".

And, in the Washington Times, on 3/27/09:

"One principal scientist in the study, psychologist William Pelham, said that the most obvious interpretation of the [longterm] data is that the medications are useful in the short term but ineffective over longer periods.... [Let's not even go into what this article has to say about what this man's colleagues are doing to obfuscate or try to explain away the damninng results of the study]

"...The MTA [the study] was designed to test whether children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, do better when treated with drugs, with drugs plus talk therapy, with talk therapy alone or with routine medical care alone. Children with the disorder have trouble paying attention, are restless and hyperactive, and are sometimes disruptive in school.

"The initial 14-month analysis published in 1999 randomly assigned children to one of four treatment options and showed clearly that those treated with medication did much better than those who got only talk therapy or routine care. The drugs' manufacturers distributed thousands of reprints of the article to physicians at a time when diagnoses of ADHD were spiraling upward. Because children given drugs alone appeared to do about as well as those treated with both drugs and talk therapy, the study skewed treatment in the direction of medication...

"In August 2007, the MTA researchers reported the first follow-up data, which by then no longer showed differences in behavior between children who were medicated and those who were not. But the data did show that children who took the drugs for 36 months were about an inch shorter and six pounds lighter than those who did not.

Now, again, anyone who has taken speed to study, from the first university students in the 50s who sniffed benzedrine inhalers before their midterms, could've told you all this. Speed works at first for what the psychiatric industry labels ADD because it improves short term concentration (and don't talk to me about paradoxical effects, with speed making "normal" people hyperactive and those with ADD calm--it calms *everyone* in a way because it temporarily improves focus.) But the mind cannot sustain this artificially honed concentration for long, and soon enough speed leads one into tangents or mindless rote behavior which makes study and focus just as difficult as ever. Over long term use, the strain on the body becomes quite a problem. These researchers should have known intuitively what it took a study with suffering, young human subjects for them to discover--that children would suffer the worst from that strain because their bodies were not yet fully developed. Stunted growth, to the extent of being an inch shorter and six pounds lighter? I bet these kids would have preferred the extra trouble of organically learning to deal with their difficulties in paying attention in classes that utilized traditional learning formats to the ruin that years of amphetamine they had no choice but to take wreaked on their bodies. If it were not given the lofty name of research, forcing children to take amphetamines would probably have NIDA and other drug war organizations up in arms--thankfully, they save their ire for people of color in the black market attempting to support their families rather than white, respectable research doctors with fancy degrees.

To see how the researchers have "bent over backwards", in the words of one of the more honest among them, to explain away the results of this study so no harm is done to Big Pharma's reputation, here's the original Washington Post article I was quoting from.

drug war SWAT teams take the old homily about shooting first and asking questions later to heart

So, SWAT Teams should wait judiciously before entering a situation.

Up to three hours, if they need to. Hey, a hostage situation can only get better as time goes along, right?

Unless, of course, drug are involved. Then, barge in, and sort out if it's the correct address later.

And feel free to mow down innocents,dogs, and
while you're at it.

Now, one thing we really need SWAT teams for is to curb underage drinking.

(Mentally, I file this case under WTF, But Should I Really Be Surprised?)

As blogger JD Tucille does, let's rephrase this: "Paramilitary police officers trained for high-risk, violent confrontations were dispatched to arrest college students who were a year or three younger than the current legal age for drinking alcoholic beverages." Sounds like an effective use of this resource, doesn't it?

SWAT teams were originally created by the LAPD--the source of so many wonderful things. As the following report on the Symbionese Liberation Army details,they were intended to address "riots," "the sniper," "political assassins" and "urban guerrilla warfare." Their training was "to successfully combat urban violence". Whether you agree with this use of paramilitary forces against our citizenry or not--which I do not, for many reasons, including the fact that the police often conveniently misinterpret protests as riots--this is at least a somewhat reasonable limitation of their use. Yet, nowadays, SWAT teams are being used on nonviolent offenders, that is, they're being used to deal out death in the drug war. And as this frat party attack demonstrates, this is being extended now to underage users of licit drugs.

Here below is a list of botched drug war SWAT team raids. Often, SWAT teams do not identify themselves, so terrified residents utilize the rights given to them by the Constitution and defend themselves against armed intruders, often causing more damage to themselves and their dependents in the process. Those among the wounded and dead include a one year old boy, many grandparents, a mentally disabled boy, a woman seperated from the oxygen tank she required to breathe, an Army reservist, an Alzheimer sufferer who fired back at police in his confused state and was slaughtered for doing so, a man with severe gout and a pacemaker, and a mentally disabled man who was hogtied by seven police officers and died agonizingly in the process. The police handcuffed an 11 year old and a 12 year old in one case. The vast majority of these cases were no knock drug warrants on the wrong addresses. When the police did find drugs, it was usually only a few joints of marijuana. Eyewitnesses report gratuitous violence on the part of the SWAT teams while subjects did not resist arrest--in one case, the team replied to a 68 year old lawyer's pleas that the team had the wrong place by striking him on the head with a police shield and slamming him into a closet door.

In all but one case, the suspicion that led to the SWAT raids were tips that small amounts of marijuana were present. In only one case, police alleged that they believed two small rocks of crack had been sold at the address.

I urge you to sign the form letter has prepared to urge decisionmakers to limit the use of SWAT team raids, occasioned by the murder of a mother and a child by a SWAT team a little more than a year ago:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

narcotic units as craigslist pimps?

I'm not reporting all of the below as fact except what I cite specifically as such. I'm simply stating my opinion, which is that a rumor I've been hearing sounds like a pretty plausible scenario to me. And the implications of the rumor, if it is true, are pretty infuriating.

I created a bad call list some time back, for area escorts and erotic masseuses to take down the numbers of what we term "bad calls". This label can include all sorts of clients providers want to avoid--anything from potential rapists and stalkers to men who attempt to scam you out of your money or call repeatedly to book appointments they never keep, to customers that are simply rude and don't respect our boundaries. The list has grown beyond me to a collaborative project run by the 15or so escorts and erotic masseuses on it. Most of the women there (we haven't attracted any callboys so far, though I have e-mailed them offering to participate) advertise on Craigslist. Yesterday, I heard a disturbing rumor on the list from a craigslist erotic masseuse, which she heard from multiple clients she's seen with connections to law enforcement, that PDs across my region are using fees that providers pay to put up ads in Craigslist's erotic services section to help fund their narcotics departments.

Given what we know has been happening recently re: Craigslist, this sounds like more than some off base conspiracy theory. Let me explain:

Some of you may be aware of the recent crackdowns on Craiglist--Bound not Gagged,the acclaimed sex worker's rights blog, keeps a bust tracker, and recently almost every single bust story has to do with craigslist advertising providers being taken into custody. Craigslist has always been a hunting ground for vice cops, even years before all this--over the years I have heard of many cases where an acqaintance's second or third call from craigslist has resulted in a bust, even when the person has operated without any problems for years advertising through other venues. (This is why I've never advertised on craigslist myself, though even with the new policies, it'd be much cheaper than the advertising venue I currently use.) But over the last year, as vice cops finally caught on to the fact that a huge percentage of sex workers were advertising on craigslist, while print ad escort and erotic masseuse ads dwindled and even former street workers started to use the technology instead of working redlight districts the old fashioned way--thankfully for us, the cops are always a little slow on the uptake--the craigslist busts have grown almost exponentially.

As the true workings of modern prostitution finally dawned on vice departments, Craigslist has been pressured to cooperate with law enforcement, and has instituted new measures to appease them, entering an agreement with 40 District Attorneys across the nation, claiming that it is working to prevent child exploitation but truly focusing on culling spam and some adult sexual service providers. While before craigslist postings in the erotic service section were free and anonymous, the company has now implemented a phone verification service, making those who advertise post real phone numbers that will be called before they can publish their posts, and allowing craigslist to blacklist the numbers of those who post "inappropriate" ads (that is, those are not subtle enough in how they present the services they offer.) More relevantly, on a service in which the majority of ads can be posted for free, Craigslist now requires a small credit card fee of $5. It has also agreed to provide this credit card information to law enforcement should they subpoena it.

For more information on these policy changes, take a look at these news stories. They're written from an abolitionist perspective, but they'll confirm the facts I've given you.

(The hysteria over child prostitution in the second story is just that--irrational hysteria. Sure, there are a few horror stories, as there are in any form of prostitution, but prostitution raids across the country have consistently shown that underage prostitutes make up a tiny, tiny minority of the adult sex workers caught in the net. Why target all sex workers because of this fear? Under decriminalization, with some form of licensing, one could eliminate child prostitution much more easily using the same regulations that prohibit child labor in most professions, and begin to work on the root causes of underage sex work--violence in juvenile institutions, abusive homes, and the foster care system, as well as homophobic parents who throw their queer and trans kids out into the streets.)

Of course, none of these things will truly strike a blow against prostitution. Despite the fact that Craigslist has cited that erotic services ads have fallen off by 80%, the majority of that number is probably composed of erotic spam that cannot pass the phone verification test, as the first news story notes. Many providers will choose to stay on, becoming more cagey with their client screening and wording their ads more carefully. Even if their numbers are blacklisted b/c of an explicit ad, they can always get a cheap new trac phone and a pre-paid credit card and just try again. But these new policies will drive out the most powerless among us: " 'Craigslist, because it was free, was a forum for escorts who didn’t have money to market themselves — escorts who are, in many ways, the most vulnerable,' " UNLV sociology professor and prostitution researcher Barbara Brents said."

What this sociologist doesn't realize is how much more vulnerable this population is without craigslist. Many low income sex workers, to whom craigslist has until recently been a boon, allowing them to advertise for free and come in off the streets to work in a safer environment, will simply be forced into the street market again, where they are prey to police brutality and predators who see sex workers, especially lower class street sex workers, as disposable people.

Viniagrette laments this fact eloquently in this post.

And, as arstechnica, in the first news report, astutely states:

"Of course, prostitutes who are in business online all already have working phone numbers, credit cards, and code words for what they're up we're unsure how these changes will ultimately reduce the prevalence of those activities by any significant margin. In fact, the reduction of spam postings may actually make it easier for those people to operate business through Craigslist, since customers won't have to sift through as many fake ads before getting to the real thing."


This link gives us more information on why strong arming craigslist to change its policies will have gotten abolitionists nowhere:

"...working girls expressed disappointment that Craigslist seemed to be growing hostile to their trade, but said that if the popular classified site cracked down on the business, they would simply move to other sites." In fact, many of the women on my listserv are already banding together to move en masse to another advertising site.

But hey, let me finally get to the point. If pressuring craigslist to change its policies is not going to significantly reduce prostitution--just in case you abolitionists haven't caught on yet, going after suppliers will not decrease demand, and puritanical attitudes and prhobitionist zero tolerance policies around prostitution that are only a century and half old has had no real luck over the years eliminating or even slowing down a practice as old as time--how do the policies police deparments have pushed craigslist to adopt help law enforcement? We are told on a craigslist site and many other sources that quote it, that 100% of the fees that craigslist collects from erotic service ads goes to charity. We are never told which charity.

Is it so crazy to consider that given that law enforcement influenced Craigslist to institute this fee in the first place, they could be the non-profit that Craigslist is so generously donating these fees to? And if these funds are going to narcotics departments, as rumor has it, how hypocritical and corupt can the police be? Profiting from one type of nonviolent offender in order to collect more monies to arrest another sort of nonviolent offender? Compromising their stance on their crusade against prostitution to further their war on drugs?

(Not to mention the waste of taxpayer money, potential funds for true charity benefiting from the craigslist funds, and most importantly the waste of people's lives and ability to work legitimate careers that all this activity represents. I'm sure most of you are aware of the billions of dollars spent on the failed war on drugs and the mandatory minimum drug laws in many states that require drug offenders to serve a certain amount of years, independent of a judge's discretion and regardless of the context of the case, a certain amount of years that often ends up longer than the sentences of murderers and rapists. Recently, in LA, $50,000 was spent on prostitution raids. In the meantime, 11 sex workers have been murdered in that city since 1982, and none of these cases have been closed. In general, the murderers of prostitutes are very rarely brought to justice--the police seem to prefer to arrest sex workers rather than protect them. There used to be a useful model called community policing, in which police officers became friendly with people in high risk--that is, poor neighborhoods---and earned their trust, so that people felt comfortable helping them track down violent criminals. Now, as tolerance for drugs and sex work has reached an all time low with politicians garnering votes with tough on crime bluster and Guilliani-esque fervor, and with more and more people forced to take to black market activities to survive in depressed inner cities, no one feels safe confiding in the cops since they know that they themselves, despite having hurt no one, are always automatically suspect. Thus, the police's ability to actually protect citizenry from violence dwindles, and they focus their energies on busting nonviolent offenders who are just feeding themselves and their families the best way they know how. Police in inner city neighborhoods do not protect and serve their denizens. They merely serve the interests of middle and upper class quality of life NIMBY dogmatists in more affluent nearby neighborhoods who want to keep the streets "clean" of the people they see as human debris.

Meanwhile, the prostitution abolitionists declare that they want to help sex workers get out of the business. But crackdowns just lead to bad criminal records that are almost impossible to seal, and make it practically impossible to get a legitimate job given the rising prevalence of criminal record checks by employers. And arrests lead to exorbitant fines, and legal fees for those who, with good reason, don't expect an overworked, jaded public defender to defend their interests well. And how exactly do policy makers, law enforcement and the courts expect sex workers to procure these funds quickly except by practicing their professions? Finally, those caught up on drug charges, which are almost always felonies, are even less likely to be able to enter the legitimate job market, and in many states, they even lose the right to vote.)

And don't tell me that the police assume that the women they profit from are all the few legal sex workers that advertise on craigslist--the ads for "legal conduct between consenting adults" that craigslist cites on its wesbite, such as phone sex, private erotic dancing, and adult webcams. If that were the case, the pds would be vetting each ad before they accepted revenue, and yet we can infer that they receive 100% of the erotic service ad revenues.

This actually technically puts narcotics officers in this area in the legal category of a pimp--one who derives income from the earnings of a prostitute, since most of these ads are payed for with what these providers earn from their work. I was also told that in some towns in this area, the narcotics units also take over vice unit duties--thus, these law enforcement officials have it both ways. They pimp in order to arrest prostitutes.

I'm going to investigate this tip so that I can confirm or deny it with finality. In the meantime, even the possibility of it having some truth to it disgusts me.