Rentboy.com and the waste of righteous anger

Rentboy.com
A screen cap of the home page of the Rentboy.com web site, which was shuttered last week in after a raid of the company’s Manhattan offices.

The feds and local New York law enforcement raided the offices of Rentboy.com Aug. 25 in a high-profile police action that has much of the LGBT activist hive mind in a lather — including some LGBT non-profits which are climbing on-board for the cause:

Following the arrests of Rentboy.com chief executive and several employees Aug. 25, national LGBT organizations have called attention to the decriminalization of sex work.

Rentboy.com started in 1997 and allows male escorts to advertise themselves for a fee. Federal authorities seized the website and business and personal assets of seven current and former company executives of Rentboy.com, self-described as the largest male-escort website, for “conspiring to violate the Travel Act by promoting prostitution,” and have deemed it an “Internet brothel.”

CEO of Rentboy.com Jeffrey Hurant, 50, defended his company telling the media, “I don’t think that we do anything to promote prostitution. I think we do good things for good people, and we bring good people together.”

Hurant sounds more like he’s been hawking the feel-good security of life insurance plans than someone who ran a brazenly cheeky escort web site off which he made millions. 

HIs dubious assertion about not “doing anything to promote prostitution” must come as a surprise to those who attended his company’s annual escort awards show “The Hookies” — along with the many other Rentboy parties, cruises and meet-and-greets that were marketed by the site over the course of a year.

He makes them sound like Boy Scouts meetings — only with drug abuse and scouts who steal your wallet when you’re not looking.

Despite that fact, the heart-rending stories have spilled forth on the internet of escorts whose life-long dreams for their profits seem to revolve much of the time toward the equivalent of saving money to open a string of orphanages in rural South America. 

A few of the stories do tug at your heart strings, such as this one from Huffpost Gay Voices, which the web site promoted with the headline “The Unexpected And Powerful Story Of A Sex Worker Affected By The Rentboy Raid.”

In an effort to elevate this conversation, a video editor for Cockyboys.com and nightlife personality Andy Boyce directed, shot and edited this video about Cockyboy model and sex worker Rob Yaeger. 

Yaeger’s story is powerful and emotional, as he uses the resources he makes through the sex work industry to care for his disabled partner of 16 years.

“I think it’s important that people see this film because it provides the viewer a personal story that shows the benefits of sex work in the face of so much intolerance from society’s outdated sense of morality,” Boyce told The Huffington Post.

“I think society is quick to judge escorting as not a ‘real job’ because they are uncomfortable with sex or they think it is purely exploitative. Although non-consensual sex work is completely wrong and should be persecuted [sic], the fact that Rentboy was shut down when it was a consensual platform makes it completely injustice [sic], in my opinion. By taking away a consensual platform for sex workers to conduct business, many are forced to resort to more unsafe methods of obtaining clients. The government needs to realize that not only is sex work a legitimate occupation, but also an occupation that can help people positively.”

Boyce’s assertions aren’t outrageous , although let’s not forget that some of the models on the for-profit Cockyboys.com also advertised on the for-profit Rentboy.com. (The porn industry feeds off prostitution and vice-versa.) So the entire thing sounds like a bit of a, if you’ll pardon the expression, circle jerk.

I’m not sure how “unexpected” Cockyboy model Yeager’s entire sad story should be.

If common tales are to be believed, people don’t become male
hookers because Harvard or Stanford did not grant them undergraduate admission and their hopes of becoming a quant on Wall Street were dashed.male-escort hat

Stories of people in desperate situations who turn to prostitution because they feel they have no alternative are not only expected, they seem to be the norm. Along with the likelihood of being a victim of a crime you feel you cannot report to the police.

As for Yeager’s situation with his sick partner, it is genuinely sad.  

As someone who has helped to care for chronically ill people, I feel for Yeager and his partner. But throwing up our hands and saying, “Well, we’ve hit a wall. We all have to become hookers to make ends meet” seems more like an admission of defeat than it does a worthwhile additional political cause for a severely underfunded LGBT political movement.

I’d rather that we concentrate our already scarce resources on things that truly make the most lives better for the buck: job protections, the prosecution and prevention of hate crimes, activism around HIV and funding for breast, cervical and ovarian cancer care and research. We need to make sure the promise of the Supreme Court’s Obergfell same-sex marriage decision does not diminish or die the slow death of a thousand cuts that will surely come from legislative and judicial challenges strategically started by a well-funded right-wing legal machine.

We have an entire generation of LGBT activists who are reaching or past retirement age. These are the people who built this movement, who laid the foundations that made possible all the progress we now enjoy. Many are single or widowed, estranged from families, and poor because they devoted their lives to low-paid or volunteer LGBT activism, and they face the real possibility of being homeless. Many are being forced into government-funded institutions where they can face homophobic elder abuse and are being forced back into the closet for personal protection. Confronting those issues will be a massive undertaking.

I don’t want to give the impression that I am without logic or compassion for the sex workers themselves. Trans sex workers are being killed in alarming numbers because they are backed into a corner into work they turn to only because being trans limits for them so many other healthier, less dangerous options for making a living.

But the sex workers were not the targets of the Rentboy raid. The pimps who were getting rich off the business were.

There are are plenty of places left online where sex workers can meet potential clients. Rentboy was not the only game in town. Assertions by some that Craigslist and Cruisingforsex.com are inherently more dangerous — none of them seem outwardly concerned with policing customers or escorts for bad behavior — seem dubious.

Sex work is not a noble calling undertaken primarily by cultural anarchists and sexual bohemians voluntarily living authentic lives that fly in the face of the materialistic, corporatist zeitgeist of our times. I know some of those exist because I’ve spoken with, and written about, some of them over the years.

If you listen to those people tell stories, they tell tales that are often funny and touching in the ways some clients can be total freaks or just lonely, lost souls wanting some time with good-looking men who will not treat them like they are invisible. They may not be the most emotionally healthy relationships on earth, but I don’t think they should be a primary focus for law enforcement.

But the other stories — the ones about widespread sketchiness, drug abuse, loneliness, criminality, theft, assaults, homelessness, mental illness, wildly fluctuating incomes and long nights chasing phantom or no-show tricks — those are the norm. 

(To be fair, some say these are all stereotypes — ones based in fact, I suspect. But some articles such as this one on the Nerve web site, present information that claims to prove otherwise. But the Nerve “study” was of only 40 sex workers in places like bars filling out self-reported behavioral surveys. Not the most reliable sample size nor methodologies, suggesting that the Journal of Sex Research, where it was published,  is not exactly the New England Journal of Medicine.)

I want to work toward a society that is economically fair and socially tolerant so that people are not forced into sex work and only choose it because they are crazy, loveable pigs who will only be on non-stop sling tours anyway, so why not make money in the process?

Only when we are approaching those worthy goals will we have the luxury of fighting for the rights of rich pimps along with those of the genetically blessed and well-compensated elite escort few who manage to remain level-headed enough to start a viable business with their profits or put themselves through college or graduate school.

rentboy.com hookies
An advertisement for The Hookies, the not-promoting-prostitution escort awards gala.

Obama, the New York Times and lazy journalism

lazy journalism

I was happy to see an article in this morning’s New York Times, headlined “As His Term Wanes, Obama Champions Workers’ Rights.”  Among the President’s most notable failures has been his administration’s tepid approach and response toward combatting the myriad ways that corporate America and the GOP have continued the erosion of the labor safety net that kept so many of our parents and grandparents in the middle class for so long.

That safety net — essentially a compact that many corporations had made explicitly and implicitly to a large number of American workers through the hard-won concessions championed by the labor movement — has now been decimated by ALEC-coordinated GOP attacks. Corporate disinformation campaigns over more than 30 years haven’t helped. Nor has the movement of jobs overseas to countries with cheap labor and few protections for workers or the environment.

The NYT article, written by The New Republic (TNR) alum Noam Scheiber, starts predictably enough, mentioning Obamacare and other standard-issue labor movement expectations to come out of the last presidential campaign, and how Obama has not met many of those expectations:

Once in office, Mr. Obama delivered on that implied promise in a few critical ways, particularly his signature health care legislation. But throughout much of his first term, he disappointed supporters with his inability to pursue a larger progressive agenda and with what they saw as an insufficient focus on the balance of power between workers and their employers.

Labor unions complained that he failed to throw his energy behind a measure that would have made it easier for workers to organize by requiring employers to recognize a union once a majority of workers had signed cards, rather than allowing employers to insist on a secret ballot election.

Liberals criticized the pace at which Mr. Obama put judges on the federal bench, including the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which has enormous influence over federal regulations. And they complained that he failed to move quickly in placing appointees at agencies like the National Labor Relations Board, which went without two of its three Democratic members until well into the second year of his presidency.

Excuse me? Liberals did what?

I don’t know to which “liberals” Scheiber has been speaking, but none of the ones I know were, to my knowledge, calling the White House to complain about unfilled judgeships.

Perhaps that’s because it was the Republicans who were gumming up the appointments process by delaying, obfuscating and placing senatorial holds on Obama nominations. If the liberals Scheiber knows were calling the White House to complain about this they aren’t all that bright.

Scheiber’s memory must be shot, too, because it was all over the news. And he worked at TNR, which has more than a passing interest in all things political and Washington.

The NYT article goes on to note:

“They were very weak on getting people into their positions in the first term,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning research and advocacy group. “They lost many years of potential fruitful activity.” (The White House says that the president was prompt in naming appointees, whose nominations then became bogged down in the Senate.)

“The White House says”?

Not only did Scheiber work at The New Republic, but he now writes for the New York Times.

All he’d have to do, in case his time at TNR somehow escapes him, was search the Times archives for ample proof that the U.S. Senate stymied Obama appointments at every turn. Then the White House wouldn’t have to “say” anything.  The proof is self-evident. He could also have just used Google to find out the same thing. From the New York Times.

Scheiber might then write these things himself as true reporters are allowed to do — which would be no more editorializing than, say, calling the Economic Policy Institute a “left-leaning” group. 

I love the New York Times and mostly it’s excellent. But things like this make me wonder where it is headed.

Study: Truvada PrEP effective at stopping HIV infections

PrEP

At first, many were skeptical toward the notion of giving HIV uninfected gay men a drug that would, in the minds of some, give them the green light to have unsafe sex.

Then more rational heads prevailed with this simple question: If the ultimate goal of HIV prevention campaigns was to prevent new HIV infections, wasn’t a drug that prevented new infections the magic bullet for which the HIV prevention community had been waiting?

Not only could such a drug, if effective, prevent many people from becoming infected in the first place, but it would also also prevent the many infections that followed through their sexual contacts and their sexual contacts’ sex partners. The domino effect that had been driving much of the epidemic could be slowed or halted starting with the people taking the drug.

If it worked.

We are beginning to have answers.

Truvada, a daily pill that holds the hope of drastically reducing or eliminating the risk of contracting HIV, appears to be living up to its promise:

In the first real-world study of the prescription drug, Kaiser researchers found no new HIV infections among the more than 650 people they followed over nearly three years, beginning just after the drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012.

A clinical trial leading up to the FDA approval had shown that Truvada, made by Foster City’s Gilead Sciences, nearly eliminated the risk of getting infected by the AIDS virus. But no evaluations of the drug, also known as PrEP, for pre-exposure prophylaxis, had been published outside the tightly regulated clinical trial setting.In the new study, participants were sexually active. Many did not use condoms for prevention, and half of them were diagnosed with other sexually transmitted diseases within a year of starting the study. But no new HIV infections turned up, researchers said.

“This is really compelling data that shows that PrEP works in a real-world setting,” said Dr. Jonathan Volk, a San Francisco Kaiser physician and epidemiologist and lead author of the study, which was published Wednesday in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Truvada, which contains the antiviral drugs emtricitabine and tenofovir, was originally created as an anti-retroviral drug used to treat HIV, but it has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92 percent when taken consistently, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, the drug, which costs Kaiser patients about $50 a month, is not without controversy. PrEP was criticized early on by health providers and other advocates over concerns that the drug would encourage unsafe sex because of a false sense of security. In fact, the Kaiser study did find a significant decrease in condom use among the participants.

One of the loudest critics has been Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles, who has publicly called Truvada a “party drug.”

While PrEP may be an option for high-risk individuals who don’t use condoms, he said last month, it should not be used as community-wide public health intervention strategy.

But the CDC and public health advocates disagree.

Let us be thankful that Weinstein (a media gadfly who has been accused of grandstanding to further his still murky, ill-definable goals) was not the person to make the decision to approve the drug for PrEP. 

When I have spoken with audiences about the issue of unsafe sex and HIV, someone nearly always asked during the Q&A afterward, “Why don’t you just tell people to stop having sex or never have unsafe sex?”

I always pointed out society’s experience with syphilis as a useful example of what is wrong with the Just Say No To Sex approach. 

It is thought by some that syphilis was first introduced to the New World by Christopher Columbus and his crew, although it most certainly has been around much, much longer than that.

Prior to the first effective treatment being discovered in 1910, it was often debilitating and could be fatal once it moved into the tertiary phase of infection. It caused horrible disfigurement and drove many people insane. It was one nasty bug.

The U.S. military in World War I knew all about syphilis and its dangers, as did just about everyone else, and military leaders worried about the effects of syphilis on troops. Many of them would contract the disease during their tour of duty. 

The military tried everything to stop troop infections, including scare campaign advertisements warning the troops of certain doom if they contracted the disease.

Their efforts had little effect. Why?

PrEP
Military efforts to stop sexually transmitted diseases in U.S. troops were dismal failures.

There are so many answers to that question I could fill this post with theories as to why people still have unsafe sex when it is dangerous to do so.

Sex in the heat of the moment. The search for intimacy. Lack of planning.

But one of the chief reasons has been: it will never happen to me. You play the odds and worry about the consequences later when you are in bed thinking about it and trying to sleep.

It’s human nature. It’s one of the reasons why people still begin to smoke cigarettes despite the dangers.

So if we bring this back around to our original topic of HIV we can ask this question: If medicine suddenly developed a pill that people who smoke could take to prevent nearly all cases of lung cancer and pulmonary diseases, can you imagine the looks you would give the person who objected to making the drug widely available because it might encourage cigarette smoking?

That person would be laughed out of the room, and lung cancer is not even transmitted person-to-person like HIV. But because PrEP involves sex and sex makes people feel uncomfortable or causes them to abandon rational thought processes, we end up with crazy people who would try to stop medicine from doing one of its jobs: to prevent disease.

There are possible problems with PrEP, including drug resistance if not taken properly and side effects for some from both short- and long-term use.

But for the time being, if these study results hold up, it is the most promising thing available.

Source: HIV-preventing drug holds up under study – SFGate

PrEP
Syphilis once wreaked havoc on many who contracted it, including disfigurement and insanity.

Rising murder rates more nuanced than just numbers

murder rates

“Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities”

It’s nice to see the New York Times covering the senseless killings taking place in cities across country, but there is one major problem with the article that buries one of the most salient bits of information.

Cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines, and few places have witnessed a shift as precipitous as this city.

With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year — after 86 homicides in all of 2014. More than 30 other cities have also reported increases in violence from a year ago. In New Orleans, 120 people had been killed by late August, compared with 98 during the same period a year earlier. In Baltimore, homicides had hit 215, up from 138 at the same point in 2014. In Washington, the toll was 105, compared with 73 people a year ago. And in St. Louis, 136 people had been killed this year, a 60 percent rise from the 85 murders the city had by the same time last year.

Law enforcement experts say disparate factors are at play in different cities, though no one is claiming to know for sure why murder rates are climbing. Some officials say intense national scrutiny of the use of force by the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals, though many experts dispute that theory.

No doubt many white people and wingnuts — very often the same thing, but not always — are looking at the headline above on Google News, FOX News and at news boxes and are thinking they will soon be under siege by hordes of black and brown killers ready to murder them as they sleep in suburbia.

Then, later in the same NYT article, we learn this:

In Milwaukee, most of the victims and the suspects in their killings are black men under 30, police data shows, who come from neighborhoods where foreclosures, joblessness and poverty are also high. Most involve guns and people — both victims and suspects — who have been arrested before. The most common motive in the slayings was not robbery or gang rivalry but an argument, according to the data.

It’s not just in Milwaukee where the killings are young black men killing young black men. It’s that way across the country. These are not people going after white middle class people. They are young people with no jobs and no hope killing each other because it’s better to join gangs and sell drugs or guns than it is to follow the rules and possibly get killed anyway.

That might not make total sense, but it doesn’t have to make sense to you. It makes sense to the young residents in run-down blighted neighborhoods where gangs offer camaraderie and protection.

As for the notion that this is all somehow because police are seen by citizens as less aggressive because they are skittish in the wake of protests and media coverage surrounding the Michael Brown killing and other incidents of alleged police misconduct:

  1. If that is the cause, why is there not a commensurate rise in white people killing white people?
  2. Many of the most notorious cases of police brutality which have come into the public eye do not appear to stand up to scrutiny regardless of whether people respect the police less than they once did.
  3. Many incidents of police misconduct have not involved gang members with criminal records and a bad attitude toward cops, but rather have been innocent citizens just going about their business or caught up in bogus police actions.

Of course, none of this is stopping the right-wingers around the country, including some GOP presidential candidates, from whipping up white hysteria around these statistics.

Source: Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities

murder rates

Robert Wright and the evolution of compassion

Altruism, compassion, empathy, love, conscience, the sense of justice—all of these things, the things that hold society together, the things that allow our species to think so highly of itself, can now confidently be said to have a firm genetic basis.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, although these things are in some ways blessings for humanity as a whole, they didn’t evolve for the “good of the species” and aren’t reliably employed to that end.

Quite the contrary: it is now clearer than ever how (and precisely why) the moral sentiments are used with brutal flexibility, switched on and off in keeping with self-interest; and how naturally oblivious we often are to this switching.

In the new view, human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse. The title of this book is not wholly without irony.”

Robert Wright, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology

The quote from above is from the researcher who is also in the TEDTalks video in this post.

I think the topic is both interesting and relevant to the times we are in, where politicians openly gain support by expressing rank bigotry and so many of the rest of us seem more concerned about whether the poor and the downtrodden are somehow gaming the system rather than ways to make their lives better.

Robert Wright is not the first to observe that The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — is fine in theory but much harder to observe in practice in a society where survival of the fittest is the driving ethos in our corporatized culture and we are so enamored of the politics of resentment.

This is one of those interesting TEDTalks that is a mixture of serious academic research and commentary about how that research can be viewed through the prism of pop culture. 

Of course, that is the basic recipe for most TedTalks — research + pop culture = TEDTalks. But this one contains a bit more of the serious research. If you can get into that sort of the thing, it’s worth it.

Robert Wright

Great moments in marketing. Looks comfortable.

dog carrier

As of the time of this posting, this was the product picture on Amazon.The marketing department needs some help.

Just a meeting with Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al Yankovic
When Weird Al Yankovic gets together with friends, you know what it’s not going to be: it’s not going to be normal.

Life of a dog

LIfeOfAdog

Get a room!

DogLovesKitty
I’ve never met a dog like you before. The feel of your fur. The smell of your ear. Pay no attention to that camera….

Kirk Cameron vs. Stephen Hawking

wingnuts

Perfectly sums things up, does it not?

An idea that is not dangerous is not worthy of being called an idea at all. — Oscar Wilde