Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Cat Power: Review of Some Key Points

Cat Power/Chan Marshall: 
  • is releasing her new album on October 5th, the same day that she is playing Boston
  • is probably a pretty complicated person of the kind that Hilton Als and I both tend to adore, perhaps sometimes in an exasperated sort of way
  • might turn her back to the audience when playing sometimes but also knows that sort of thing is absurd
  • and through it all represents some kind of navigation marker for my inner life
  • because she is a genius who writes songs that get under my skin


Saturday, June 16, 2018

sex work, trafficking, and... and... I just hope you can stay alive out there, ok?

A woman in charge of a program for victims of human trafficking came to my clinic for a grand rounds talk recently. She discussed the nature and current definition of human trafficking, and she expressed skepticism about the notion of “sex work”, suggesting that all such work is inherently exploitive. 

In the lives of my disenfranchised patients, desperate in the midst of the demands of extreme poverty and addiction, “trafficking” is a framework that often fits better than “sex work”. I don’t see trades of sex for money working consistently well for the people on the sex side of the exchange. My clinic doesn't see a lot of creative writing majors getting some side money with genteel hotel gigs. And some of my patients have been involved in trafficking situations that are truly horrific, the unique contours of which are, frankly, worthy of more legislative and law enforcement attention than they get.

On the other hand, there are some exceptions. An easy example might be when strippers have organized into unions recognized by law as collective bargaining units. That’s “sex work” by any measure. (And the progenitor of “always look for the union label” jokes by sex worker advocates.) And there are independent sex workers who don't owe their earnings to anyone else but themselves: are they victims?

It’s sometimes tempting to think that sex workers who don’t use a "trafficking" frame are just fooling themselves—allowing their rhetoric to conceal the systems of exploitation (direct and indirect) around them; or, even more commonly in this debate perhaps, using empowerment rhetoric as a way of justifying their involvement in an economy that is inherently disempowering. It’s hard to argue against the idea that the economy of sex work is mostly built on attitudes that are inherently exploitive. 

But I liked this article from The New Yorker, following some sex worker advocates at a protest recently. People using the “sex work” frame are angry that people using the “trafficking” frame have shut off one way that sex workers could regulate and control their economic lives and their physical safety, with laws that are aimed at internet trafficking.

I’d consider myself a feminist or at least an aspiring feminist, but I’m no feminist theorist. In this space, the tangles of political philosophy and difficult choices about regulation, safety, and societal values are deep and difficult. But being
from San Francisco—where union strippers and others schooled me in a “sex work” frameI can at least stay in the space of, its complicated. And I hope we can let the experiences of the people with whom we work—whether they are sex workers, victims of trafficking, or both—guide how we think about the economics of sex. 

I know of cases where the internet has been used as a tool of brutality. But I also have heard people's stories of getting into cars or trucks and finding themselves in mortal danger, where my inner reaction has been, maybe a web site might be a better way to do this? Some of the stories I’ve heard from street work have made me want to start internet skills classes for people who are "doing sex work" or "being trafficked", or both. Which is why I worry about whether a law to go after traffickers might instead be endangering the people whose bodies are actually on the line.

I missed the SOSTA/FESTA debate until it was too late to make a difference. With a 97-2 vote in the Senate, clearly a lot of people missed it. Most of the people arguing against this approach were people who cared about the rights of tech companies and internet sites, not sex workers. But now we're left with the world we're left with, which, websites or no websites, continues to be violent against women. Websites or not, the system continues to be stacked more heavily against people who do sex work, or are trafficked, or both, than it is against the people whose money creates markets for sex.

At least some of the people who are operating in a feminist philosophical framework but describing sex work as "trafficking" have a utopian end goal: the end of exploitation and of exploitive sexual and economic relationships. On larger goals like that, I am a pessimist. On small goals--like the idea that by slightly modifying elements of a terrible world, we can make it slightly less horrific--I am an optimist. I find that this inclination, more than any greater philosophical framework, gives me a particular sympathy for the "sex work" frame. 

And at the same time, where I actually work and live, my patients who find themselves in the sex economy (primarily because of their relationship to the drug economy) are, in fact, much more "trafficked" than employed. In my small corner of the world, I don't presently know any "sex workers", and I do know a number of "victims of trafficking." A change in jargon alone won't transform that brutal reality. 

Still... maybe a web skills class?

Thursday, June 7, 2018

mu receptor mixtape: music for the weight room of the residential treatment facility

K.D. LANG constant craving

LAURA MVULA overcome


SOLANGE cranes in the sky


RUDIMENTAL not giving in



IBEYI river

LIZZO truth hurts

MISSY ELLIOTT i'm better

STORMZY blinded by your grace


bonus track, off theme:
IBEYI me voy

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Where love lives

At its best,
house music aspires to become the pop music of the beloved community
--an insistently multicultural and welcoming space.

After Chicago-born house music and its Detroit cousin, techno, had migrated to Europe, they merged into "electronic dance music" (EDM). Along the way house and techno were being shipped back to the United States for consumption by white kids. Big raves and festivals full of kids high on Ecstasy (MDMA) kept some of the utopian aspirations of original house music, but in the service of high-priced tickets sold in white areas of the country.

From living in the Bay Area in the late 80s and early 90s, I remember both strains of this movement: the more-straight-than-not "rave" scene that eventually morphed into Burning Man and EDM festivals and dot-com money; and the gay clubs, spreading the original house music faith that had grown and flourished in the gay world without having to migrate to Europe and back.

But in San Francisco's gay world, during the time I was there, the sweet house music eventually morphed into something else as users' experience of MDMA was wearing off and some started migrating to crystal meth. The music became less hopeful.

Both the "rave" world and the house music of gay clubs kept an optimistic "love the world" vibe for a while, but utopian music doesn't translate to utopian economics. What I always heard, back in the days that I knew people who knew such things, was that if the club promoters weren't dealing drugs directly, they were taking a percentage from the dealers. Since there would be dealing in the club, some promoters reasoned, they might as well reduce conflict and unpredictability by granting a monopoly to a particular vendor, and getting some of the money back. Everyone wins, right? And whether in the gay world or the straight world, house music was never a liquor-heavy scene. So you either had to make money from high admission fees, or some other way.

MDMA lost its luster for people after repeated uses; and crystal was there as the next step. That's the economics of neurotransmitters. MDMA just wore off eventually, meaning that people developed a tolerance and couldn't keep getting pleasure from it. Most drugs do that. But a drug like crystal (aka methamphetamine) keeps some people going back to it, hungry for it. It starts owning people. And that means they keep paying, and paying, and paying. Financially, a club that's all about MDMA-fueled happy vibes isn't going to survive when the scene, and the money, has moved on. If the drug economy has moved on and you're getting a cut from the revenue, your DJs better follow suit.

I think about all of this when I listen to house classics like "Good Life" or "Where Love Lives", music that is so sweet, made for a dance floor that is happy and embracing. There were promoters, and drug dealers; like everywhere else, there was money changing hands. Every flowering utopia carries within it the seeds of its own harsh replacement.

But before that happened, there were people on a dance floor, happy. And you can't take that away from the music, or the DJs, or the people who were there.

*  *  *

One of the things I adore about The Black Madonna is that her tatooed-librarian exterior extends to a nearly scholarly sensibility about house music and dance music generally. Check her Spotify playlist, "History of the World", for instance.

And listen to this late-eighties/early-nineties pair of house music classics; in my own personal history, this is what the clubs in San Francisco sounded like before meth hit. Before the darkness came.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018

While Hilton Als has Culture, you're just reading stuff on the internet

Hilton Als might be my favorite critic. 

I love not that he loves Tiffany Haddish (who the f*** doesn't? what are you, some kind of freakin Nazi? do you hate America? Tiffany Haddish, everyone!) but the way he loves Tiffany Haddish, the way he breaks down what makes her work.

And I love that he loves women like Rickie Lee Jones and the point at which he decides he likes her is this album called Ghostyhead

This was when Rickie Lee Jones decided to use hip-hop beats and tour with a DJ. The only time I saw Rickie Lee Jones in concert was when she was on the Ghostyhead tour, and most of her fans seemed like they were like, uh... huh? And my reaction was: holy crap! Rickie Lee Jones! 

I mean, I'd associated some of her songs with the coffee shop and then the used bookstore where I used to work, when growing up in the same neighborhood where Lady Bird works at her coffee shop in Sacramento. And she was always a wierdo--great used bookstore music, really--but on Ghostyhead she turned into a completely differently wierd and awesome experimenter. And Hilton Als, you look this up on the Internet and he says, 
Sacrifice is a somewhat antiquated notion as it applies to the contemporary artist, but I use it defiantly in regard to Ms. Jones; she could not have recorded this album without having given something up and survived it, with wit.
Hilton Als is a man who believes deeply in Culture; he believes in people who take art seriously, and take making art seriously. As a critic should. I've stopped having that faith apparently, because when was the last time I actually finished a fiction book, but, I love Hilton Als for keeping the faith.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Tiffany Haddish, and Culture:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Naloxone paper response

I'm posting a response to Doleac and Mukherjee's paper on the moral hazard of naloxone. I think the paper is wrong, but I tried to be smarter about it on my second look at it than on my first. (Which inspired irrationally inflamed tweets; now I'm sticking to rational inflammation.)

Here are the links to the files:

Main response: a lengthy discussion of the paper.

Appendix: a brief discussion of the idea of "moral hazard" and why, even though it's a jargon term and not a description of a person, it still bugs me in this context.

* * *

And because it would not be a Mu Receptor Mixtape post without a musical addition, I attach:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The universe you're looking for when you're shooting dope, maybe.

"Try to imagine another planet, another sun. Where I don't look like me; and everything I do, matters." Rickie Lee Jones, "Gravity"

(Also, in a postscript please note that Hilton Als wrote the bio for RLJ on her website.)

Monday, February 5, 2018

homeless census

The volunteers gathered at 8:45 at Boston City Hall, that local masterpiece/monstrosity of the architectural style that proudly declared itself as Brutalism. People standing in the area just past the metal detector pointed us to our team area.

The homeless census was framed as a local event, but in truth, every city that gets federal money to shelter homeless people is obligated to do this kind of "point-in-time" count. Whatever the flaws of this approach, don't blame your mayor. There are better ways to count homeless people if you're concerned about estimating the number of actual homeless people. But it's the perfect policy for counting homeless people if your concern about homeless people starts with those who are visible to others.

"Homelessness", as an idea for folks who aren't poor, mostly amounts to a category that translates to the visibly desperate, the obviously impoverished. I hear this when I explain what I do for a living in well-to-do social settings. There is sometimes this strange fumbling on the part of the person I'm talking to, where they end up blurting out some story like "I talked to a homeless person once" or "I bought a guy a sandwich" or "I see people with signs on my drive home from work." That's OK. I understand that when I say the word "homeless" that this pokes right into an until-then-healed-over confusion and anxiety that people feel when they actually see other people's desperation. What they feel in that moment when somehow the desperation connects to them, and they know that it's both simple and complicated at the same time.

Homelessness isn't just the man sleeping in a doorway in a wealthy neighborhood. The "homeless lady" who is seen in the park with her bags and her inner voices. This is mostly who people at parties I go to are thinking of. And those are important people too. But, I learned from my boss when I started doing this job, you can get all kinds of answers when you ask, what are the causes of homelessness?--and you can offer a very simple response in return. Homelessness is caused when the cost of having a home exceeds the ability of people to pay that cost. The rest--that's just details.

And this might remind you that there are some other homeless people you'll never count, people whose suffering is immense but not visible, not recalled as a "social problem" because it doesn't enter into the social urban space:

  • A woman who regularly must inhabit a treacherous ever-shifting zone between a man's simply selfish sex and his outright rapes in order to stay in an apartment.
  • A man who is sleeping in a storage unit, in a warehouse storage facility.
  • A woman and her child who won't leave her boyfriend's house because he really might kill them if they do.
  • A transgender woman who gets one kind of abuse in women's shelters and another in men's, and so stays outside to avoid both.
  • A man who has to stay out of his sister's house a few nights each week so she doesn't lose her housing for having people stay in her apartment.
  • A man, just out of prison, taken in by a woman who wants to fix him, to save him, and he's not sure that he's fixable or that he wants to be saved, but he knows he wants to be inside.

And there are so many more.

Even, almost, a small group of women in an ATM vestibule in a corner of the city I won't identify, women we didn't see at first, looking wary. We did count them, luckily. But we didn't count any of the others. And if it was easy to get an affordable place to live, all of them would have their lives changed. If we made housing a priority. If we thought it was what our fellow human beings deserved. If we could count them all, and they all counted.