Posted by: Dan | April 21, 2019

February and March Reviews

Hastily discussed and poorly treated in this post: 12 Books (The Extended Organism; Testo Junkie; The Practice of Everyday Life; Social Reproduction Theory; Policing Black Lives; The New Faces of Fascism; You Know You Want This; Kintu; Baho!; 100 Days; Sleepwalking Land; and White and Black); 3 Movies (Custody; The Endless; and Sicilian Ghost Story); and 5 Documentaries (Makala; Matangi/Maya/M.I.A; Leaving Neverland; Won’t You Be My Neighbor?; and Alt-Right). I apologize that these are especially rushed. Two large writing projects took up my writing time and I’m a month behind on these reviews and trying not to fall further behind!

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Posted by: Dan | April 9, 2019

Sex Work is Real Work: A Guide to Taking Sides

[What follows is a Position Statement pertaining to sex work in Canadian-occupied territories. In addition to the Position Statement, I have provided a considerable amount of context and research to assist others in negotiating what (initially, especially to outsiders) appears to be a very confusing, complicated, and contradictory terrain. This is a live document, meaning that I may still be altering it based on feedback received from sex workers, sex worker led and organized groups, and others whom I trust and respect (just as voices from all those groups provided feedback on earlier draft versions of this Statement). Feel free to copy and share this as you see fit. I can also email you a PDF version of the document, if you provide your contact information in the comments.]

Position Statement

This paper proposes that individuals and organizations take something akin to the following public position pertaining to sex work in Canadian-occupied territories:

We believe that sex work is real work and, although any form of labour that is determined by the dynamics of capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy, is necessarily exploitative and harmful, we believe that sex work is not any more inherently violent or oppressive than the other forms of labour that are available to those who are not born rich. Therefore, we believe that workers who choose sex work are just as free (or not free) as workers who choose any other form of real work. By recognizing this, we distinguish sex work from human trafficking and affirm sex work while opposing human trafficking. In our affirmation of sex work, we recognize that the overwhelming bulk of evidence-based research demonstrates that full decriminalization (of both supply and demand) consistently produces the best outcomes for sex workers, victims and survivors of human trafficking, and the community more broadly. By affirming this, we stand in solidarity with sex worker led and sex worker organized collectives who, like other organized and organizing workers’ groups, are fighting to determine the conditions, supports, and protections they need in order to do their jobs.

Therefore, although we recognize that the Canadian State and most State-sponsored social services are heavily invested in perpetuating capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy, we urge the Government of Canada and those who offer support services to people who engage in sex work, to abandon the harmful Nordic Model and, instead, to learn from New Zealand’s much more successful (but still somewhat problematical) Prostitution Reform Act, and enact the full decriminalization of sex work. In the meantime, we will refuse to contribute to or participate within the surveillance, oppression, and abuse of sex workers that is currently sponsored by the Canadian State and its juridico-political and carceral apparatuses, we will refuse to support non-governmental organizations that equate all sex work with human trafficking, and we will follow the lead of sex worker led and sex worker organized groups and do what they suggest is best for finding our way forward together.

In order to unpack and defend this position, this paper will proceed in three sections. First, a number of dynamics that complicate the conversation around sex work will be explored. These include: setting out the basic terms of the conversation and how various parties deploy them, examining whose voices are prioritized and how or why those voices are prioritized by various parties, and highlighting further contextual factors related to capitalism’s exploitation of labour, the context of Canadian settler colonialism, and the ways in which men who engage in sex work are often overlooked (and why that might be the case).

Exploring these dynamics paves the way for the second major section of this paper wherein I will examine the two main positions taken on sex work, prostitution, and human trafficking. Here, I will begin by looking at the abolitionist position (sometimes also referred to as the “prohibitionist” position), its equation of all “prostitution” with “human trafficking,” and its support for the Nordic Model, which criminalizes consumers and third-party managers rather than the direct suppliers of sex as a market commodity. We will then look at criticisms of the Nordic Model and the full decriminalization approach advocated for by those who are personally involved in sex work or who are motivated by research pertaining to health, safety, de-stigmatization, and the lessons learned from the Prostitution Reform Act that became law in Aotearoa (so-called New Zealand) in 2003.

Finally, in the third part, I return to examining contextual factors and briefly comment on the notions of “root causes” and “upstream interventions” as they pertain to the discourse on sex work.

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[On March 28, 2018, I was invited to both moderate and participate in a panel discussion about Trauma at an event hosted by a group called Sarnia Speaks, located in Sarnia, ON. What follows is the transcript I used for both my introductory moderator remarks, and the presentation I did as a panelist. It was a wonderful evening and I am very grateful to those who invited me to participate.]

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Posted by: Dan | February 27, 2019

A Love Song and a Lament


Sometimes, I think we valourize brokenness.  We romanticize it, ennoble it, and tell beautiful stories about it but, baby, I’ve been broken, really really very broken, and the truth is that it just hurts.  All the time, everywhere, it hurts.  And the heart that is broken weeps in a million ways that words can never touch or reach.  It just weeps. All the time, everywhere, it weeps.

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Posted by: Dan | February 17, 2019

January Reviews

Discussed in this post: 9 Books (Meeting the Universe Halfway; Hitler (vol. 2); God’s Being is in Becoming; Kingdom Cons; The Transmigration of Bodies; Area X (The Southern Reach Trilogy); and The World Goes On); 2 Movies (The Favourite; and One Cut of the Dead); and 2 Documentaries (Surviving R. Kelly; and Missing Mom).

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I once read a book by some guy named Cormac about this guy who likes to fuck dead people.  He would kill them when they were parked in cars up on some lover’s lane or lookout or whatever and then take them down to this cave where he stored all the bodies of the people he liked to fuck.  Cormac is all into telling us that this corpse fucker is human like you and me and that guy who fucks watermelons in another story Cormac wrote, but he doesn’t describe the actual corpse fucking.  Like does the guy use lube or does he fuck ‘em dry?  Where does he fuck ‘em?  Just the usual orifices or does he fuck the holes he made when he stabbed his victims up, like a bed bug engaged in traumatic insemination (“male bedbugs have saber-like penises, that they use to stab females in the abdomen. The male releases sperm into the females [sic] circulatory system, not into their reproductive tract” as The Smithsonian Mag tells us) or like that when James Spader fucks the gash in Rosanna Arquette’s leg in that Cronenberg movie?  Cormac never actually describes much fucking in his stories, which is a pretty good thing, I guess, because, for Cormac, it seems like fucking always has to do with horrible or violent things – like fucking corpses, or that little kid with the Judge in that other book about the sunset, or the watermelons I already mentioned, I suppose, but I think that’s supposed to be funny.  Come to think of it, I think the watermelon fucking is the closest thing Cormac gives us to a sex scene.  I’m not sure I can trust a guy who only talks about sex in this way.  But anyway, yeah, this corpse fucker is supposed to be a child of god just like you or me or whatever, for whatever that’s worth, and maybe it’s worth something and maybe it isn’t, in which case it’s all the same anyway, but I don’t know if I buy that.  I mean, I don’t know, but if we want to blur the lines between all of us – corpse fuckers or just regular fuckers or people who aren’t fucking at all and who are fucking mad about that or whomever else – in order to suggest that, well, we’re all just human, and we’re all just specks of dust, and we’re all just equally loved or abandoned by god (take your pick), I mean I guess I get your point but, yo, isn’t that a little played out?  And where has that gotten us?  And, really, don’t we still want some lines in the sand somewhere?  Because isn’t that rapist anthem by Robin Thicke called “Blurred Lines”?  Don’t we want to say, hey, sorry Cormac bro, this dude ain’t just like me?  Come on.  It’s like when Sufjan sings that sweet, sweet love song to that guy who dressed like a clown and raped and murdered adolescent boys.  When Sufjan proclaims that “in my best behaviour / I am really just like him / Look beneath the floorboards / For the secrets I have hid,” I don’t think, “Man that’s a really profound post-Evangelical point about the universality of sin and the fallenness of man [sic].”  Instead, I think about how R. Kelly openly sang, for years and years, about all the adolescent girls he kidnapped and raped, and I think, fuck me, better start digging up Sufjan’s floors.  Because maybe it’s provocative or sweet to relate to all these horrible men and say, “don’t we really have more in common than not? should we not all say, ‘there but for the grace of God, go I?’” but if we don’t draw some kind of line and say, yo, that ain’t me, I ain’t like that and I never will be, what all do we let slide?

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Posted by: Dan | February 1, 2019

On the Occasion of our Fifth Anniversary


There are a lot of evenings in my life now when I sit quietly on the couch–while Ruby is sleeping and Charlie is reading with a flashlight under his sheets, and Jess is getting ready for bed–and I feel happy.  It’s a gentle happiness — not the ecstatic joy one feels upon hearing especially good news, or the excitement one feels while visiting new and beautiful places — just a slow steady contentment that adds to itself a little bit more each day and, once it gets inside of you, it feels like it’s going to stick around for a while.

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Posted by: Dan | January 5, 2019

Black Hole Sun


Two or three nights ago, the following thoughts came to me while I was dreaming:

We are composed of the component parts of stars that have died, and all the energy we use in order to stay alive comes to us from light (usually light that has been converted to glucose and then modified to produce adenosine triphosphate).  In other words, we are stardust and it is a star (in our case, the sun) that keep us alive.  This reminded me of Peter Wohlleben’s observation that when a tree is cut down, the children and peers of that tree will sometimes keep the stump alive for a hundred years or more by sending it food through the fungal network connecting their roots.  We are like the stumps of stars, kept alive by other stars that continue to feed us.  Regardless of what you make of that, we are, quite literally, children of light.

The domain of light is also the domain of electromagnetism.  Everything from the light waves we see to the sound waves we hear to the shape molecules take to the amount of radiation that reaches the surface of the earth to the transfer of electrons in the Calvin-Benson Cycle, takes place because of electromagnetism.  In fact, of the four fundamental forces (so-called because, as far as scientists can tell, they exist all the time, everywhere), both the strong and weak nuclear forces increasingly seem to be elements of electromagnetism.  The only remaining fundamental force – gravity – seems to be very different and it is the inability of bring electromagnetism and gravity together that continues to prevent the formulation of a super theory of everything.

But then my dream self thought the following:

If all of life as we know it is the product of light, what if there were forms of life that lived from an energy generated not by light but by darkness?  As children of light, we tend to see darkness as a void –as the absence of light – but what if darkness itself is a pleroma—an overflowing full of the presence of something we are not equipped to sense or identify?  If that were the case, then isn’t it possible that black holes, rather than being bottomless pits, are simply dark stars?  Of course, from the perspective of creatures of light, they appear to consume everything that we know of and that we associate with the light—but from the perspective of the darkness, wouldn’t our stars look the same?  From the perspective of the dark, doesn’t the sun look like a hole devouring everything associate with darkness?  This caused me to pause and wonder more about the possibility of a shadow biome.

Yet if such a biome exists, if the darkness is a fullness rather than an emptiness, how could creatures of light possibly know that or make contact with that?  This is where gravity re-enters the picture.  It is gravity that reveals to us the presence of dark matter within the universe.  We can only explain the movements of the stars if we posit large quantities of matter that we cannot detect– we can only detect the influence of that matter on other things (and so we posit the existence of dark matter, not because we can access it but because it explains movements that otherwise make no sense to us).  So for creatures of light, electromagnetism explains everything but gravity.  But gravity reveals dark matter to us.  So what if we have been approaching gravity the wrong way?

Generally, gravity is described as an attractive force that exists within matter – that is to say, objects with mass are attracted to other objects with mass and the more massive an object, the more it will attract other objects to it.  But what if, instead of gravity being a force intrinsic to the matter that we know, gravity is an extrinsic force?  What if gravity is a force that is pushing (rather than pulling) massive objects together?  What if, in other words, electromagnetism is the force that goes with light matter, and gravity is the force that goes with dark matter?   Electromagnetism would be the fundamental force of our world, as we know it and gravity would be the force that reveals that our world, as we know it, is not all that there is.  Gravity, from this perspective, would be the way in which that which feeds off of darkness interacts with that which feeds off of light.

And, at this point, I awoke from my dream.

Posted by: Dan | January 4, 2019

A Christmas Story


The colony of Escherichia coli (E. coli) nestled comfortably within the mucin glycoprotein covering the epithelium in the cecum of #2633148 at the new $660-million poultry processing plant in London, Ontario, was struggling. The niche it had carved for itself within the gut microbiome was increasingly being reduced in size due to incursions from neighbouring Peptostreptococcus, Propionibacteria, Bacteroides, Lactobacillus, and Eubacteria. To make things even worse, a recent invasion of Campylobacter jejuni caused a minor inflammation and brought a surge of beta-defensins—macrophages and heterophils—to the colony. While highly evolved, the beta-defensins don’t always discriminate and this, too, caused the loss of some E. coli lives as the permeability of their cellular walls were disrupted and lysis was induced. In layperson’s terms—they bled out.

It was a lot for the colony to take, although #2633148 seemed unaffected (the mucin layer of gallus gallus domesticus is better equipped than the mucous membrane of homo sapiens sapiens, and it is able to prevent Campylobacter jejuni from adhering to epithelial cells).

The members of the colony looked back to brighter days and cried out to God for help:

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
look, and see our disgrace.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless,
our mothers are widows.
We must buy the zinc we absorb;
our glucose can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels;
we are weary and find no rest.
We submitted to Bacteroides and Eubacteria
to get enough adenosine triphosphate.
Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us,
and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives
because of the sword in the desert.
Our peptidoglycan layer is hot as an oven,
feverish from hunger.
Women have been violated in the gut microbiome,
and virgins in the epithelium.
Princes have been hung up by their membranes;
elders are shown no respect.
Young men toil at the millstones;
boys stagger under loads of D-mannose.
The elders are gone from the mucin;
the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our hearts are faint,
because of these things our eyes grow dim
for our cecum, which lies desolate,
with Campylobacter jejuni prowling over it.

You, Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
renew our days as of old
unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure.

And on December 25, 2021, God heard the prayers of the E. coli and he sent his only begotten Son to dwell as one of them within the cecum of #2633148. He was named Emmanuel, which is God With Us. And he came and he spoke of peace, and of love, and of caring for one another. But when #2633148 was stunned, bled, scalded, picked, decapitated, and eviscerated, he died.

But this was not the end. A memory of Emmanuel survived in the E. coli bloom that took place in #2633148’s final fecal deposit. A competitive exclusion culture was drawn from this fecal deposit and fed orally to chicks that had been born in incubators at the plant. This helped them to develop a healthy gut microbiome in an otherwise rather sanitized environment, but it also allowed the story to be passed on about the Escherichia coli who, although he existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grapsed but took on a slave-like nature and the likeness of a bacterium, and who humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death in a processing plant.

Posted by: Dan | January 2, 2019

2018: Reviews in Review

This year I read 90 books, watched 49 movies, and 32 documentaries.  Here are the best of the best and the worst of the worst.  Enjoy!

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