Malaysian Digest: June 6, 2012
Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim said enforcing laws to block filth on the internet does not mean the internet is being censored, reported The Star.
“Cheating, gaming or gambling, pornography and child pornography and phishing are offences.
“To disregard this purely for freedom of the Internet is not right,” he said after opening the Selangor 1Malaysia Social Media Convention here yesterday.
Rais (pic) was responding to a suggestion by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that Malaysia should enforce some form of regulatory control to block filth and punish those who corrupt the minds of internet users.
Rais said he was happy to accept Dr Mahathir’s view as the former premier had previously guaranteed freedom of the internet, adding that the government is seeking to curb users from abusing the freedom of expression.
“Freedom on the Internet should be used constructively and not to slander others.
“Although a decision has not been reached, the ministry is studying various approaches that may be adopted,” he said.
He said the availability of broadband and the application of social media like Faebook and Twitter must be wisely used.
“We must not slander each other. If we have to criticize, post your tweet or Facebook (message) based on facts,” he said, adding that the people would be more convinced by a certain stand or argument that is based on facts.
May 25, 2012
Department of Mental Health Issues Warning against Exhibitionist Websites
TAN Network: May 24, 2012
The Department of Mental Health has issued a warning against exhibitionist websites promoting indecent public exposures.
There has been an exhibitionist website published on the internet showing hundreds of photographs of women of various ages exposing themselves in public places.
The viewers could also give scores on the photos and post comments to encourage these women to show off even more obscene poses.
Many young women are seen in photos taken inside a BTS train, bus, pedestrian bridge and even inside a Buddhist temple.
Many are concerned that these youth have been lured to expose themselves just to garner some strangers’ attention.
Spokesperson to the Department of Mental Health, Doctor Panpimol Wipulakorn, has warned of consequences to every action, even within the online communities.
She is asking young people to distinguish what is appropriate and what is not.
She said that what seems to be a harmless fun may have severe repercussions in the future, while urging everyone to think carefully before doing something they might regret later.
Wired: May 24, 2012
Over the past two years, more photographs of bare-naked celebrity anatomy have been leaked to the public eye than over the previous two centuries: Scarlett Johansson snapping a blurry self-portrait while sprawled on her bed, Vanessa Hudgens posing for a cellphone in a bracelet and a smile, Congressman Wiener touting a Blackberry and a mirror in the House Members Gym, Jessica Alba, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, Ron Artest, Charlize Theron, Chris Brown, Bret Favre, Rihanna, Pete Wentz, Ke$ha, and dozens more.
This flood of celebrity skin has prompted folks to wonder, ‘Why are so many famous people exhibitionists?’ The source of all this au naturel flaunting lies not in the culture of fame, but in the design of our sexual brains. In fact, research has unveiled two distinct explanations: Female exhibitionism appears to be primarily cortical, while male exhibitionism is mainly subcortical.
“The desire of the man is for the woman,” Madame de Stael famously penned, “The desire of the woman is for the desire of the man.” Being the center of sexual attention is a fundamental female turn-on dramatized in women’s fantasies, female-authored erotica, and in the cross-cultural gush of sultry self-portraits.
Studies have found that more than half of women’s sexual fantasies reflect the desire to be sexually irresistible. In one academic survey, 47 percent of women reported the fantasy of seeing themselves as a striptease dancer, harem girl, or other performer. Fifty percent fantasized about delighting many men.
“Being desired is very arousing to women,” observes clinical psychologist Marta Meana, president of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research. “An increasing body of data is indicating that the way women feel about themselves may be very important to their experience of sexual desire and subjective arousal, possibly even outweighing the impact of their partners’ view of them.”
The source of all this au naturel flaunting lies not in the culture of fame, but in the design of our sexual brains.
The desire to be desired drives young women’s willingness to enter wet T-shirt contests and flash what their mama gave them at Mardi Gras. Whereas male exhibitionism is considered a psychiatric disorder and sometimes a crime, female exhibitionism is rarely considered a social problem. Just the opposite: It’s exploited commercially. Multi-millionaire Joe Francis built his Girls Gone Wild empire by taping college girls stripping down for his no-budget camera crew. How does he persuade young women to disrobe? He offers them a T-Shirt and a chance to be ogled by millions of men.
“Look I’m human, & just like every girl in this world, I admire my body so i take pics,” wrote singer Teyana Taylor after her graphic self-portraits were leaked. International data supports Taylor’s contention that the female exhibitionist urge is universal. In Brazil, Japan, Ghana, and the USA, well-trafficked websites offer galleries of tens of thousands of racy amateur self-portraits surreptitiously downloaded from women’s private MySpace or Facebook accounts or maliciously provided by ex-boyfriends. It’s not just celebrities who share intimate imagery.
Though men are so eager to gaze upon women’s candid photos they’re willing to risk jail time by hacking cellphones, pictures of men’s private parts usually come to public attention when a recipient is offended; German Olympian Ariane Friedrich, for example, outed a man on Facebook for sending her a photograph of his manhood. These pickle shots tend to elicit protests and consternation. Men do not question why Scarlett Johansson or Jessica Alba might want to sext bare skin to a guy. But women everywhere ask, ‘What are men thinking when they send us photos of their junk?’ The answer is that men may not be thinking at all; they may be compelled by an unconscious, evolutionary urge inherited from our primate ancestors.
Male monkeys and apes routinely display their penises to females to indicate sexual interest. Primatologist Frans de Waal writes in Peacemaking Among Primates:
Since bonobos can sheath their penis, nothing is visible most of the time. When the organ does appear, however, it is not only impressive in size, but its bright pink color makes it stand out against the dark fur. Males invite others by presenting with legs wide apart and back arched, often flicking the penis up and down — a powerful signal.
Men do not share women’s desire to be desired. Instead, they emulate their bonobo brethren: The internet is saturated with penis self-portraits from every nation on Earth. At any given moment, one in four cameras on the webcam network ChatRoulette are aimed at a penis. On the adult networking site Fantasti.cc, 36 percent of men use an image of a penis as their avatar; only 5 percent of women use a vagina. On Reddit’s heterosexual Gone Wild forum in 2010, where users were free to post uncensored pictures of themselves, 35 percent of images self-posted by men consisted of penises.
Though hordes of men pay to peruse amateur photography depicting the anatomy of ladies, not a single website collects cash from ladies interested in surveying amateur photography of phalluses.
Anyone who has seen a koteka, the elaborate two-foot-long penis cap worn by men in Papua New Guinea, can easily believe that men have inherited our hominid cousins’ exhibitionist urge regarding the penis. In fact, male exhibitionism has long been understood by clinical psychologists as a non-dangerous compulsion: Men who flash their organ to strangers rarely seek contact afterward, instead describing a powerful sense of relief from the display alone. Of course, the yawn is also a powerful biological compulsion, but as we learned in grade school it’s always preferable to cover your mouth.
Though hordes of men pay to peruse amateur photography depicting the anatomy of ladies, not a single website collects cash from ladies interested in surveying amateur photography of phalluses. It is this marked gender difference in interest that reveals the dichotomous evolutionary pressures shaping male and female exhibitionism: Women feel the conscious desire to catch the universally attentive male eye, but since women’s erotic attention is rarely ensnared by a penis, the male exhibitionist urge is comparatively vestigial.
There are profitable penis sites, however. They boast an engaged clientele who view male sexting as neither troubling nor distasteful and reveal the universality of male sexual circuitry. Who appreciates leaked shots of The Game‘s well-endowed Hosea Chanchez with the same enthusiasm heterosexual guys show for leaked shots of Mad Men‘s well-endowed Christina Hendricks? Gay men.
May 25, 2012
Cynicism Redefined: Why The Copyright Lobby Loves Child Porn
Falkvinge on Infopolicy: May 23, 2012
“Child pornography is great,” the man said enthusiastically. “Politicians do not understand file sharing, but they understand child pornography, and they want to filter that to score points with the public. Once we get them to filter child pornography, we can get them to extend the block to file sharing.”
The date was May 27, 2007, and the man was Johan Schlüter, head of the Danish Anti-Piracy Group (Antipiratgruppen). He was speaking in front of an audience where the press had not been invited; it was assumed to be copyright industry insiders only. It wasn’t. Christian Engström, who’s now a Pirate Member of the European Parliament, net activist Oscar Swartz, and I were also there.
“My friends,” Schlüter said. “We must filter the Internet to win over online file sharing. But politicians don’t understand that file sharing is bad, and this is a problem for us. Therefore, we must associate file sharing with child pornography. Because that’s something the politicians understand, and something they want to filter off the Internet.”
“We are developing a child pornography filter in cooperation with the IFPI and the MPA so we can show politicians that filtering works,” he said. “Child pornography is an issue they understand.” Schlüter grinned broadly.
I couldn’t believe my ears as I heard this the first time. But the strategy has been set into motion worldwide.
Schlüter’s plan worked like clockwork. Denmark was the first country to censor AllOfMP3.com, the (fully legal) Russian music store, and is now censoring The Pirate Bay off the internet. The copyright industry is succeeding in creating a fragmented Internet.
COLUMN REPOST, UPDATED
This is why you see the copyright lobby bring up child pornography again and again and again. They are using it as a battering ram for censoring any culture outside of their own distribution channels. You can Google the term in any language, together with the copyright lobby organization’s site in that language, and see them continuously coming back to it.
In Sweden, the copyright industry lobbyist Per Strömbäck has publicly admitted it being one of his best arguments. Try Googling for the Swedish word for child pornography on the Swedish lobby site and see if you get any hits in any articles. If there was no direct association strategy, you’d not expect to get any hits at all – you’d not expect them to touch that subject. Instead, you get over 70 hits.
The reasoning is simple and straightforward. Once you have established that someone who is in a position to censor other people’s communication has a responsibility to do so, the floodgates open and those middlemen can be politically charged with censoring anything that somebody objects to being distributed.
It is not hard to see why the copyright lobby is pursuing this avenue so ferociously.
It doesn’t really matter that censorship at the DNS level – legislating that one particular set of DNS servers must lie – is ridiculously easy to circumvent: it’s just a matter of changing your DNS provider. The idea is to create a political environment where censorship of undesirable information is seen as something natural and positive. Once that principle has been established, the next step is to force a switch to more efficient censorship filters at the IP or even the content level.
News reached us this week that the so-called six strikes arrangement with Internet Service Providers in the United States has been delayed, but is expected to take effect this year. This is a quite unpopular agreement between ISPs and the copyright lobby to police the net outside the realm of the law. The arrangement, it turns out, also stems from the copyright industry’s love of child pornography.
“We pointed out to [the governor] that there are overlaps between the child porn problem and piracy,” Mr. Sherman [The RIAA president] said, “because all kinds of files, legal and otherwise, are traded on peer-to-peer networks.” (New York Times)
Sound familiar? It should. It’s a page right out of the 2007 scene where the Danish Mr. Schlüter talked about the copyright lobby’s policymaking strategy of associating non-monopolistic sharing of culture with the rape of defenseless children.
This association strategy has now worked in the United States, too.
In the United Kingdom, when the courts ruled that the Internet Service Providers must use their existing child porn filter to also censor The Pirate Bay, who do you think gave the courts that idea? When the court didn’t just mandate that The Pirate Bay be censored, but gave the ISPs explicit instructions for what technology to use to do it? That incident is probably the clearest example of the success of this association strategy, yet.
Just when you think the copyright lobby can’t sink any lower, they surprise you again. And it gets worse. Much worse.
In Europe, the copyright lobby succeeded in pushing Commissioner Cecilia “Censilia” Malmström to create a similar censorship regime, despite clear setbacks in these ambitions from the European Court of Justice which defended human rights and freedom to communicate against internet censorship.
But taking one step back, would censorship of child pornography be acceptable in the first place? Is the copyright industry perhaps justified in this particular pursuit, beyond their real goal of blocking non-monopolistic distribution?
There are two layers of answers to that. The first is the principal one, whether pre-trial censorship is ever correct. History tells us that it plainly isn’t, not under any circumstance. End of story.
But more emotionally, we can also turn to a German group named Mogis. It is a support group for adult people who were abused as children, and is the only one of its kind. They are very outspoken and adamant on the issue of censoring child pornography.
Censorship hides the problem and causes more children to be abused, they say. Don’t close your eyes, but see reality and act on it. As hard as it is to force oneself to be confronted emotionally with this statement, it is rationally understandable that a problem can’t be addressed by hiding it. One of their slogans is “Crimes should be punished and not hidden”.
This puts the copyright industry’s efforts in perspective. In this context they don’t care in the slightest about children, only about their control over distribution channels. If you ever thought you knew cynical, this takes it to a whole new level.
The conclusion is as unpleasant as it is inevitable. The copyright industry lobby is actively trying to hide egregious crimes against children, obviously not because they care about the children, but because the resulting censorship mechanism can be a benefit to their business if they manage to broaden the censorship in a follup-up stage. All this in defense of their lucrative monopoly that starves the public of culture.
It’s hard to comprehend that there are people who are so shameless that they would actually do this. But there are. Every time you think the copyright lobby has sunk as morally low as is humanly possible, they come up with new ways to surprise you.
“With time, it becomes clearer that these people will stop at nothing.” — Danish reporter Henrik Moltke, about a (different) recent run-in with the copyright lobby, and who reminded me of this episode and who observed firsthand the next occasion when Schlüter and I met, when I reminded Schlüter of his remarks in front of a silent audience. (Thanks, Henrik.)
April 28, 2012
[CJ Hinke of FACT comments: We can hardly believe this! Thai police are acting using the Computer Crimes Act against “crimes” other than lèse majesté for the first time! We should point out a few points, however. Pornography is made by and for willing actors. It’s a victimless crime. And pervex.com was unblocked at time of this writing.]
Italian charged for porno production
The Nation: April 27, 2012
An Italian man was arrested in Bangkok’s Bang Kho Laem district for allegedly making pornographic films, Immigration Police deputy chief Pol Maj-General Warin Boonyakiat told a press conference yesterday. The suspect denied the charge.
Police say their investigation found that 58-year-old Marco Lazzarini was running the porn website perverx.com from a house in Soi Sathupradit 20. Police say they made the arrest after searching Lazzarini’s house and finding film-making tools, sex props and a computer.
An initial police investigation found that Lazzarini had visited Thailand four times as tourist, had a Filipino wife, and allegedly used Thailand and the Philippines as a base for making porn films. Police have charged him with violating the Computer Crimes Act, punishable by five years in jail and/or a Bt100,000 fine, and revoked his Thai visa.
April 23, 2012
FACTflash: Dems like sex!!!
How much do we pay him to work with one hand? [ASTV-Manager] Idle hands, the devil’s playground. [Khaosod]
Thailand’s Democrat Party has proven a vigourous defender of moral virtue in the Kingdom. They’ve supported no alcohol sales around election days and Royal events, public sales of alcohol restricted to evening hours, bars and pubs in three designated areas in the capital, the establishment of early closing hours for “entertainment” venues.
Moreover, they declared war on pornography, discovering and destroying hundreds of thousands of illegal disks, banning and blocking more than half a million porn websites. The Dems pursued sexy dancing to holiday events and temple fairs in the provinces and even censored fine art depictions of bare-breasted women from Buddhist murals.
The Dems were such upright morals policemen that we thought they might not know where babies come from (or at least not want to tell the rest of us).
The Dems’ choices for prime minister and party leader looked so wholesome that we thought he might be slick everywhere, you know, like a Ken doll. He certainly carried his jewels in a box for his entire term of office, relying on others to crush his Redshirt opposition.
After all this puffery, we discover that not only must Dem pols know what sex is (or at least MP Nut Bantadtan) and have an appreciation for women’s endowments but know where to find it on the Internet! Hmmm…think the Parliament’s Internet connection is uncensored by MICT???
The thought of sex with a politician, frankly, makes us choke on our lunch. We certainly don’t want to see any of them breeding more of their mutant spawn now they’ve discovered s-e-x… Ewwww!
April 23, 2012
The Future of Sex? 5 Trends That May Completely Transform Our Sex Lives
Pornography, prostitution, online sex — in the future, it’s all one thing. But is it a better thing?
AlterNet: April 18, 2012
“Picture a world without pornography,” adult film actress Allie Haze pointedly asks viewers in a 5-minute spoof segment titled “Porn Stars against Santorum.” Haze, in conjunction with Vivid Entertainment, a pornographic film production company, filmed the segment to speak out against former GOP candidate Rick Santorum’s proposed crackdown on commercial sex.
With or without support from people in power such as Santorum, the commercial sex industry is able to transcend even current political debates. A future without sex work is difficult to fathom because of the global, widespread scope of commercial sex.
A recent study conducted by Extreme Tech magazine estimates that pornography, which comprises only one aspect of the commercial sex industry, now makes up 30 percent of Internet traffic. In 2006, the commercial sex industry contributed approximately $13.3 billion to the United States economy — without accounting for prostitution. In fact, some estimates indicate that the U.S. commercial sex industry had 2006 revenues that were larger than the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball combined. Commercial sex is not only pervasive in the US, but it also has a global reach that extends beyond its borders.
Societal and technological changes have set the commercial sex industry on a trajectory to become more conventional and normalized. Below are five trend clusters shaping the future of the commercial sex industry:
1. The commercial sex industry will expand the definition of sex. Augmented reality coupled with advances in robotics will allow sex add-ons to supplement traditional offerings. Future of Sex editor Meg White points to three emerging areas of commercial sex including virtual sex worlds, remote sex and robot sex. For instance, online sex workers increasingly will link their movements to remote sex toys or even robotic look-alikes. In effect, these new areas may reduce the risks associated with sex workplace violence and STIs, modernizing the online sex marketplace globally.
On the other hand, artificial intelligence capabilities may add heightened levels of social interactions with non-human machines. As our non-sexual needs are increasingly fulfilled by robots, avatars or digital communities, our sexual needs may follow along. Further, distinctions between virtual and real interactions will blur in the future. The accessibility of technology will create a greater demand for sex-based products and services. “Sex-ond” lives will redefine what it means to be in a relationship, have sex, and be in love. Couples will seriously discuss whether sex with robots constitutes cheating; and policy makers will debate what rights exist for sex workers in online communities.
2. Tech innovations will raise the intimacy level of commercial sex. Passive sex industry consumption will be replaced by greater sex intimacy in the future. Successful sex workers from prostitution, pornography and adult entertainment will integrate technology into their workplaces in order to differentiate themselves. An actress in adult entertainment could create a realistic “girlfriend” add-on experience complete with anniversary gifts and love letters.
A high level of personalization would be achieved by monitoring how a user acts in both sexual and non-sexual spaces throughout the virtual and real world. According to a study conducted by UK researcher Jon Millward, the “girlfriend experience” — the sense that the client has a personal, ongoing emotional relationship with the sex worker — ranks above the “porn-star experience” in online escort advertisements and ratings. As technologies advance, sex workers may sell not only traditional sex, but also value-added services such as personal relationships with levels of sociability that transcend machines.
Sex-based technologies already intersect with the dating industry. Long-distance couples use technology to create remote sex lives for themselves. One start-up company appropriately named Pillow Talk simulates the intimate experience of lying in bed with a partner by mimicking a heartbeat in a large pillow. Another tech application known as Pair allows couples to share pictures, messages, videos, sketches, and locations privately. FakeGirlfriend invites male singles seeking female companionship to create a unique “girlfriend.” Men using FakeGirlfriend receive computer-generated text messages to fool others into thinking they are in a serious relationship.
Innovations such as these will create new types of commercial sex intimacy that use technology, yet are still personal and customized. Sex workers will borrow from relationship innovations to enhance their own client interactions. For instance, sex workers may offer their regulars a paid personalized video or text service option in addition to a monthly romp. These personalized tech-driven services will make consumers believe they are engaged in actual relationships rather than economic transactions with sex workers.
3. Commercial sex will converge with pop-tech. Currently, the commercial sex sector is repurposing pop-tech (mainstream tech ideas) to make it sex-specific. Innovators within commercial sex are connecting current platforms to sex in everyday life. For instance, Offbeatr is a crowd-funding platform akin to Kickstarter, a funding company for adult projects. Snatchly, recently launched, is the adult pornographic version of Pinterest, a virtual pin board that allows for the social sharing of content. Both ideas evolved because mainstream platforms currently reject adult content. Popular technology will adapt to accommodate commercial sex needs that are not currently being met.
In the future, the line between mainstream and underground sex work will blur to the point of non-existence. Personalization technologies, artificial intelligence and privacy settings will make it easier for users to apply pop-tech platforms to meet their sexual needs. In fact, mainstream pop-tech will partner with sex- based services in order to create alternative revenue streams. Ratable and shareable online content available through popular technology will allow users to customize their own sex-based content. Individuals will get increasingly enhanced user experiences and personal security. At the same time, they will be able to see and store all of their favorite NSFW material on one platform that’s accessible from anywhere.
4. Sex work will be dependent on region. Even though technology has created digital bridges across the globe, sex-based services will continue to be different in the developed and developing regions of the world. In developed nations, technology will move sex work off the streets and into entrepreneurial ventures. This change will provide a safer and more stable work environment for sex workers, who will be empowered by technology to take ownership of their careers by using collaborative networks and online promotion for personal marketing. Sex workers will use tools to position themselves as businesswomen. They’ll be able to personally connect with potential clientele in a specific niche, instead of relying on a third party. By cutting pimps out of the loop, the sex workers will make more money — and increase their own freedom and safety as well.
Conversely, in developing regions such as Southeast Asia, men will continue to travel abroad to leave traditional Western “female empowerment” behind. The inequities between the developed and developing world that fuel the dark side of global sex tourism are unlikely to change any time soon. According to the Commission on AIDS in Asia, men who buy sex are driving Asia’s HIV epidemic. As a result, Asia stands to be the first region in the world in which governments will get serious about regulating working conditions for sex workers; and international organizations will make AIDS and STI prevention in developing regions such as Asia a priority.
5. Mainstream organizations will realize the economic value of commercial sex. Mainstream brands, governments and investment firms are aligning with commercial sex to not only attract consumer attention, but also to raise revenue. In 2011, PETA announced plans to launch an .xxx site to promote vegetarianism. In the past, the organization commissioned porn stars to film racy advertising segments about “Veggie Love.” Actresses were filmed engaging in naughty behavior with an assortment of veggies from celery to beets. Though the short was banned from the Super Bowl, the campaign went viral online.
Recently, Sony Entertainment partnered with Playboy’s Cybergirl Jo Garcia to launch its new PlayStation Vita, which is a handheld gaming device that can be used in conjunction with a PlayStation 3. Sex-specific investment firms like Ackrell Capital will continue to attract investors who want to reap the financial rewards associated with the commercial sex industry.
The International Labor Organization reports that the sex industry accounts for 2% to 14% of economic activity in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. It also estimates commercial sex is worth 4.4% of Korean GDP — which is more than forestry, fishing and agriculture combined. In the early 1990s, tax revenues from phone sex calls in San Tome increased so significantly that the government was able to construct a new telecommunications system with the funds. In addition, private and public organizations of all types will openly support or engage with the commercial sex industry to increase revenue and gain attention.
In the future, the public face of the commercial sex industry will change dramatically. The traditional definition of sex will be redefined by not only technological innovation that expands the ability to create intimacy online, but also by popular technology platforms that will help users meet their sexual needs. Sex work will be dependent on region with developed nations accepting sex work into the mainstream, while developing nations will continue to accommodate the darker side of the industry. Mainstream organizations will seek economic growth through commercial sex affiliations and governments will realize more tax revenue from these pursuits.
With or without mainstream support, the commercial sex industry will move ahead as an established and essential industry because of these technological and societal trends. As a result, sex work is already beginning to move out of the back alleys and onto Main Street. Views towards sex, specifically toward the sex industry, will be debated instead of ignored, stigmatized or generalized by the global masses. The implications of commercial sex will be considered alongside the complex web of faces and experiences associated with sex work.
Technology won’t replace sex workers; but it looks like it’s leading to the creation of a new industry that augments our current experiences with sex, and could eventually take us to new and fantastic places where no human has gone before.
Emily Empel (@localrat) is a trend spotter, marketing disciple and futurist.
April 23, 2012
Devil’s Work: The Fascinating History of America’s War on Masturbation and Porn
Here’s a look at the absurd moral crusade to ban pornography in America.
Counterpoint Press: April 18, 2012
The following is an excerpt from Sex and Punishment: 4 Thousand Years of Judging Desire, by Eric Berkowitz, published by Counterpoint Press. Click here for a copy of the book.
The crusade against pornography in the United States was dominated by one outsized character: the Brooklyn dry-goods salesman and Olympian busybody Anthony Comstock. The United States’ most intrusive antiobscenity law was named after him, and for decades he held a powerful position with the government in order to enforce it. His strict and often bullying methods also earned him a place in the English lexicon with the word “Comstockery.”
During his forty-year career as an antismut crusader and protector of American youth, Comstock proudly claimed to have confiscated sixteen tons of “vampire literature,” organized more than four thousand arrests, and caused the conviction of enough people to fill sixty train coaches. He also caused the suicide of about fifteen people. As a young Union soldier during the Civil War, Comstock quickly earned the enmity of his peers for pouring his whiskey rations onto the ground and needling officers to sanitize soldier entertainments. “Seems to be a feeling of hatred by some of the boys,” he wrote in his diary, “constantly falsifying, persecuting, and trying to do me harm.” The hostility of his fellow soldiers only fanned Comstock’s desire to do God’s work.
When he returned from the war, he set himself up in the dry-goods business, but that never went very well. His true métier was prying into the lives of others and getting them put in jail. At this he excelled more than just about anyone. As soon as he moved to Brooklyn, he went to work on closing saloons that were doing business on Sunday. He also developed a lifelong obsession with pornography, and set it as his personal mission to end the trade by any means necessary.
Comstock did reasonably well and bagged several convictions, but two things were holding him back: money and the law. Bringing down an entire industry was not cheap. Purchases had to be made, raids organized, and lawsuits pursued. He needed an underwriter. He also needed to surmount the pesky civil rights of citizens. Federal obscenity law was already restrictive, but it excluded newspapers and, to Comstock and his fellow moralists’ horror, did not ban traffic in “rubber goods,” contraceptive information, or advertisements by abortionists. Even worse, federal law did not mention search and seizure. As described, British law had already been changed to allow authorities to nab and burn obscene materials almost at will. Comstock wanted the U.S. government to adopt similar laws.
In 1872, he found the perfect partner in the New York YMCA, which had money and was no less driven to purge society of immorality. The match could not have been better. The YMCA had long been in the smut-bashing business. While Comstock was irritating his fellow Union soldiers with his moralizing, the YMCA was pushing for a ban on the use of the U.S. mail to send “vulgar” or “indecent” materials to military camps. In 1868, it had also lobbied for a stiff New York state law against trading in pornography. Comstock went on the YMCA payroll, taking in twice what he had earned in his day job, plus expenses. They also worked together to charter the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1873, with Comstock as its secretary and public face. Comstock was only twenty-eight years old when the society was formed, but he had already found his place in life. He would remain there for forty-three years and would soon become a nationally known—if often reviled—figure.
The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and Comstock put their efforts in terms of saving the nation’s youth from the devil. In his monumentally tedious manifesto, Traps for the Young, Comstock declares: “Satan is more interested in the child than many parents are. Parents do not stop to think or look for their children in these matters while the arch-enemy is thinking, watching, and plotting continually to effect their ruin. Thoughtless parents, heedless guardians, negligent teachers, you are each of you just the kind that old Satan delights to see placed over the child. He sets his base traps right in your very presence, captures and ruins your children, and you are all criminally responsible.”
Comstock’s ideas did not come out of the clear blue sky. The fear of pornography was closely related to the ongoing mania against masturbation. Comstock himself had masturbated so furiously in his youth that he believed he might be driven to suicide. His own experiences seem to have strongly influenced his later work. In his book Frauds Exposed, he wrote that obscenity is like a cancer: It “fastens itself upon the imagination . . .defiling the mind, corrupting the thoughts, leading to secret practices of most foul and revolting character, until the victim tires of life and existence is scarcely endurable.” He warned: “Every new generation of youth is sent into the world as sheep in the midst of wolves. Traps are laid for them in every direction . . . [O]nce in the trap, the victim will love it and press greedily forward.” Few at the time disagreed that masturbation caused insanity, sickness, and death. Well-meaning parents everywhere were warned to look for signs of self-pollution in their children, including bashfulness, acne, and pencil-chewing. Among the profusion of “authorities” on the subject was Sylvester Graham, who advocated a sex-drive-diminishing diet of coarsely ground grain combined with molasses or sugar—the same ingredients that later went into his signature Graham cracker. John Harvey Kellogg promoted his Corn Flakes as antimasturbation fuel as well.
Comstock and the society were not interested in improving diets. They saw only one course of action, to “[h]unt [smut dealers] down as you hunt rats, without mercy.” They wrote a new bill, which they offered up to the government, to give them almost complete freedom to move against the pornography industry. The plan was to use federal control over the mail—through which most commerce passed at some point—to seize Satan’s handiwork and imprison smut dealers.
Comstock went to Washington, D.C., in 1873, where he lobbied hard for the new federal antipornography law. He brought with him fifteen thousand letters purportedly “written by our students of both sexes . . . ordering obscene literature” and set up an exhibition of pornographic materials students had received by mail. This popular “chamber of horrors,” set up in Vice President Schuyler Colfax’s office, included “lowbrow publications and their advertisements, gadgets purportedly designed to stimulate sexual potency, and ‘fancy books’ and . . . other abominations which were sold through the ads.” The bill’s official sponsor, Rep. Clinton Merriam of New York, argued that the fate of the country was at stake, and claimed that “low brutality” threatened to “destroy the future of the Republic by making merchandize of the morals of our youth.” The New York Times joined in, expressing its disgust at the sexual materials “sent by post to the girls and boys in our schools” and lionizing Comstock for having already seized tons of “the most loathsome printed matter ever sent into the world to do the devil’s work.”
After months of effort, Comstock and the New York Society got exactly what they wanted. In 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant signed an act for the “Suppression of, Trade in, and Circulation of Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use.” The law, commonly known as the Comstock Act and modeled on the United Kingdom’s 1857 Obscene Publications Act, empowered the U.S. Postal Service to seize just about anything its new special agent—Comstock himself—thought was indecent, and to arrest the senders. As worded, the law was unbelievably broad, prohibiting erotic, contraceptive, and sometimes purely medical materials: “That no obscene lewd or lascivious book, pamphlet, picture, print or other publication of an indecent character or any article or thing designed . . . for the prevention of conception or procuring of abortion, nor any article or thing intended or adopted for any indecent immoral use or nature, nor any written or printed card, circular, book, pamphlet, advertisement or notice of any kind giving information directly or indirectly, where, how, or of whom, or by what means, either of the things before mentioned may be obtained or made . . . shall be carried in the mail.”
Comstock was off to the races. In the law’s first six months of operation, he claimed to have confiscated massive amounts of bad stuff, including fifty-five hundred sets of naughty playing cards and 31,151 boxes of pills and powders (mostly aphrodisiacs). However, as much as Comstock loved to quantify his achievements, numbers alone do not say enough about the effects of his crusade. It involved living, breathing individuals, many of whom did not fit the demonic image of the smut dealer preying on American youth.
The reach of the Comstock Act beyond the erotic became clear when Comstock put a physician on trial for disseminating birth-control information.
Dr. Edward B. Foote had already sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his physiology book Medical Common Sense when he came out with the popular Plain Home Talk. The edition of the book that Comstock bought in 1876 suggested that readers could obtain birth-control information from another Foote pamphlet called Words in Pearl. The pamphlet merely contained advice to married couples on how to prevent conception, but the judge ruled that it was obscene—so much so that he did not let the jury look at it. As many courts would later rule, the judge in Foote’s case refused to let the case record be “polluted” with “obscene matter.” The fact that the book was medical and not meant to arouse its readers made no difference. The judge ruled that even medical advice given by a doctor could be illegal if it was mailed. Foote received a ten-year suspended prison sentence plus a big fine.
The following year, Comstock bought a twenty-three-page mail-order pamphlet called Cupid’s Yokes, written by the socialist and free-love advocate Ezra Heywood. Predictably, Comstock hated Heywood and thought the book “loathsome” and “too foul for description.” In reality, it was a rather clumsy polemic for keeping the government out of marriage and letting individuals regulate their desires as they pleased. “If government cannot justly determine what ticket we shall vote, what church we shall attend, or what books we shall read,” Heywood argued, “by what authority does it watch at key-holes and burst open the bed chamber doors to drag lovers from sacred seclusion?” Nothing erotic there, but it was too much for Comstock. As he sat in the audience of a Boston free-love rally at which Heywood and his wife spoke, Comstock saw the horror of “lust in every face.” He stayed to the side of the stage, silently praying to God for the strength he needed to stop this “horde of lusters.”
As soon as Heywood left the stage, Comstock had him arrested and charged with mailing an obscene publication. The Boston judge, Daniel Clark, made no secret of where his sympathies lay. He told the jury that Heywood’s ideas would transform Massachusetts into a vast house of prostitution.
Refusing to let the jury see Cupid’s Yokes during the trial, Clark read just two bits of the pamphlet for the record and then asked jurors: “What could be more indecent than those?” “Nothing,” it seems, was the jury’s reply, although Heywood won in the end: President Rutherford B. Hayes later pardoned him because the U.S. Attorney General failed to find anything obscene in the little book.
Unmoved by this setback, Comstock pressed his campaign against Cupid’s Yokes. He trained his sights on one of Heywood’s friends, D. M. Bennett, who published a freethinking newspaper called Truth Seeker, which advertised the pamphlet. Bennett was convicted at trial and given thirteen months’ jail time. This time, the president was not forthcoming with a pardon, and Bennett was forced to take the case up on appeal. The higher court not only affirmed the conviction, but also issued a written opinion that, along with Hicklin, would help define what was “obscene” in America for about fifty years. Comstock could not have written the definition better himself. Under the Bennett opinion, an entire book could be censored if only a small part of it—even a few sentences—tended “to deprave and corrupt” the most susceptible readers. In other words, a work could be outlawed and its sellers put in jail if any part of it could arouse an excitable adolescent boy.
With the passage of the Comstock Act and the Bennett opinion, the U.S. government became, in the words of a proud prosecutor, “one great society for the suppression of vice.” During the 1880s, Comstock won 90 percent of his cases, but eventually the public began to tire of him and came to regard him as a monomaniacal buffoon. Even The New York Times, which had supported him strongly at first, began to express reservations:
“Our voluntary associations for the prevention of various evils resemble vigilance committees, regulators or lynch policemen.” Comstock’s crusading also earned him enemies when he moved against popular amusements such as Sunday concerts in Central Park, which he claimed were violations of the Sabbath. Yet his zeal never wavered.
In 1902, a shorthand teacher and self-described “divine science” authority named Ida Craddock slashed her wrists after being sentenced to five years in jail under the Comstock Act. Her crime was selling a pamphlet she wrote called Advice to a Bridegroom, which counseled young men on attaining “sweet and wholesome” satisfaction with their brides. Craddock’s previous work, The Wedding Night, had also brought a prosecution by Comstock. Her lawyer’s appeal for mercy in that case—that “no one in her right mind would write such a book”—had done Craddock no good, and she was convicted. As soon as she was released from jail she found herself under indictment again. This time it was even worse. The judge found Advice to a Bridegroom so “indescribably obscene” that he also kept it from the jurors, who convicted her without ever leaving their seats. She ended it all the day before she was to report to prison, leaving a note: “I am taking my life because a judge, at the instigation of Anthony Comstock, has declared me guilty of a crime I did not commit—the circulation of obscene literature.” Craddock was not the only person to die under such pressure, but she was probably the last.
Among the fallen who preceded her was the wel-known abortionist Ann Trow Lohman, known professionally as “Madame Restell.” In 1878, Comstock went to Lohman’s home and told her he needed birth-control devices for his wife. When she supplied them, he arrested her on the spot. On the morning of her court hearing, she slit her throat. Comstock’s reaction: “A bloody ending to a bloody life.” Neither marriage counseling, birth control, nor abortions had anything to do with pornography, nor did they bear on the corruption of youth, which was the original rationale for the Comstock Act, but focus always gets lost in morality campaigns.
Click here for a copy of Sex and Punishment: 4 Thousand Years of Judging Desire.
April 13, 2012
Iran Denies It’s Shutting Down the Internet in August, Merely Building a New One Next March
Gizmodo: April 10, 2012
Iran has issued a strongly worded statement denying reports from yesterday that the country planned to shut itself off from the rest of the Internet. Quite the contrary—Iran is just building its own, closed version. Totally different!
Iran’s Communications ministry published a statement on its website (which isn’t available outside of Iran) that the original story was the work of “the propaganda wing of the West and providing its hostile media with a pretext emanating from a baseless claim.”
Communications Minister Reza Taghipour did confirm via the statement that while the government isn’t going to shut itself off from the rest of the Internet, it will instead build an Iran-only national intranet—the so-called Clean Internet. This network would reportedly operate much like a large corporate intranet—that is, easy to control and monitor—though Iranian officials have not commented on whether or not the Internet access will be cut once the national network is in place. [AFP via Mashable]
April 13, 2012
[FACT comments: The eyes of the beholder must be concealing some really dirty minds!]
Agence France-Presse: April 5, 2012
Authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia have abruptly cancelled a show by a Singapore ballet troupe amid concern that their costumes would be too revealing, a dance group said Thursday.
Bilqis Hijjas, president of Malaysian arts group MyDance Alliance, said performers from the Singapore Dance Theatre were denied visas for the performance scheduled for this weekend due to the “indecency of their costumes.”
Officials with the Information Ministry and a Malaysian government agency that handles performances by foreign artists could not immediately be reached for comment.
But Janek Schergen, artistic director of Singapore Dance Theatre, told AFP he did not know why the performance was cancelled.
“There has been some speculation about the reasons for the cancellation but I really don’t know why (approval) was not given… There can’t be any issue of costume or content because the performance is perfectly respectable,” he said.
Malaysian Islamic groups frequently oppose performances by Western artists whom they accuse of promoting promiscuity and corrupting youths.
In February, authorities banned a concert by American singer Erykah Badu after a photo of her with body art including the Arabic word for “Allah” was published in a Malaysian newspaper.
The Singapore dance group was scheduled to perform a selection of classical ballet works including “The Nutcracker.”
All of the costumes for women included long skirts except for “The Nutcracker”, which was to be performed in ballet’s traditional short tutu and tights, Bilqis said.
Bilqis, whose group promotes dance, called the move “deplorable” and warned it would make Malaysia appear an unreliable host for cultural performances, scaring off foreign arts investors.
She also took authorities to task for inconsistency, noting that ballet performances in tights have been approved many times before, including earlier this year.