Rad Geek People's Daily

official state media for a secessionist republic of one

Death by Homeland Security #3: The Disappeared

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 15 years ago, in 2009, on the World Wide Web.

From Nina Bernstein and Margot Williams, The New York Times (2009-04-02): Immigrant Detainee Dies, and a Life Is Buried, Too:

The hand-scrawled letter from a New Jersey jail was urgent. An immigration detainee had died that day, Sept. 9, 2005, a fellow inmate wrote in broken English, describing chest pains and pleas for medical attention that went unheeded until too late.

Death … need to be investigated, he urged a local group that corresponded with foreigners held for deportation at the jail, the Monmouth County Correctional Institute in Freehold. We care very much because that can happen to anyone of us.

Yet like a message in a bottle tossed from a distant shore, even the fact of the detainee's death was soon swept away.

Inquiries by the local group were rebuffed by jail officials. Complaints forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security were logged, then forgotten. And when pressure from Congress and the news media compelled Immigration and Customs Enforcement to produce the first list of people who had died in their custody, the Freehold case was not on it.

The difficulty of confirming the very existence of the dead man, Ahmad Tanveer, 43, a Pakistani New Yorker, shows how death can fall between the cracks [sic! –R.G.] in immigration detention, the rapidly growing patchwork of more than 500 county jails, profit-making prisons and federal detention centers where half a million noncitizens were held during the last year while the government tried to deport them.

… Even now, most questions about Mr. Tanveer are unanswered, including just who he was and why he had been detained. The rescue of his death from oblivion took a rare mix of chance, vigilance by a few citizen activists, litigation by the civil liberties union and several months of inquiry by The Times. Even as the newspaper confirmed Mr. Tanveer's death with jail officials, and tracked his body's path from a Freehold morgue to the cargo hold of an airplane at Kennedy Airport, immigration authorities maintained that they could find no documents showing such a person was ever detained, or died in their custody.

Not until March 20, in response to a new request by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, did the agency release an internal e-mail message acknowledging that the death had been overlooked. It issued a corrected list that now includes him — his first and last names transposed — among 90 people who died in immigration custody between Oct. 7, 2003, and Feb. 7, 2009.

… In Mr. Tanveer's case, efforts to draw public scrutiny were exceptional, yet went nowhere. The scrawled note by his fellow detainee, a Nigerian who garbled the dead man's name as Ahmed Tender, reached citizen activists at the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee, who were unable to confirm it. Other complaints that Mr. Tanveer did not receive proper care separately reached a former member of the group, Jean Blum, a disabled Holocaust survivor who had continued corresponding with dozens of detainees from her home in Paterson, N.J., even though she could barely afford the postage.

I am very, very aware of the issues that involve displaced people, said Ms. Blum, 73, who was a child when she and her parents, Polish Jews, fled the Nazis. I could not turn my back, because that is my history.

Ms. Blum forwarded a packet of correspondence about the death to the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general by Sept. 20, 2005, seeking an investigation. But within weeks, documents show, the matter was simply passed for internal inquiry to the immigration agency, which is part of Homeland Security, with the notation that it need not bother to report back its findings.

Years after Mr. Tanveer's death, the scrawled note about his heart attack came to the attention of the A.C.L.U., and its lawyers noticed that no such name appeared on the first government list of 66 people published by The Times in 2008. The union added the name to its lawsuit, and eventually obtained the paper trail on what Ms. Blum had sent the government.

The union learned that the inspector general's office had written up a synopsis of the allegations for investigation by the immigration agency, saying that Ahmad Tander, a Pakistani detainee housed at the Monmouth jail, had died from a heart attack whose symptoms were obvious, severe and ignored until it was too late, amid conditions of neglect and indifference to medical needs.

But when the A.C.L.U. pressed for more, government lawyers said no further records could be found.

Early this year, The Times called a spokeswoman for the Monmouth County Sheriff, who confirmed the death and gave the name as Tanver — later correcting the spelling to Tanveer.

In names transcribed from a foreign alphabet, such variations often pose a problem of identification. But the facts matched: Mr. Tanveer had arrived at the jail in immigration custody on Aug. 12, 2005, and on Sept. 9 was taken by ambulance to CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, where he died, the spokeswoman, Cynthia Scott, said. Under the jail's federal contract, she said, nothing more could be disclosed.

A CentraState spokesman initially denied that such a patient had died at the hospital. Later the medical record was found misfiled, and the spokesman, James M. Goss, confirmed the man's death at age 43. But, citing privacy laws and policy, he declined to answer other questions about the case, including what had happened to the body.

In New Jersey, as in many states, autopsy reports are private. But the county morgue confirmed that an autopsy had been performed. Eventually, two details were shared: the name of the Queens funeral home that picked up the body for burial on Sept. 12, and the fact that the autopsy report was sent two months later to Mark Stokes, an official in the New York office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Yet for more than three years since, the tallies and testimony that the agency submitted to Congress about detainee deaths have not included the Tanveer case.

In January 2009, equipped with confirmation, The Times again requested documents in Mr. Tanveer's death. President Obama had just directed federal agencies to err on the side of transparency in releasing records to the public. But a Freedom of Information officer soon said she was stymied: Immigration record-keepers told her no documents could be located without the dead man's date of birth or eight-digit alien registration number.

And the body? The director of the funeral home, Coppola-Migliore in Corona, Queens, said Mr. Tanveer's New York relatives had it flown to Pakistan for burial, using Pakistan International Airlines. But the funeral director declined to identify the relatives without their permission and said they had not returned phone calls. And the Pakistani Consulate had no record of the case.

Also futile was a search for witnesses among fellow detainees, many since deported. The Nigerian detainee who wrote the urgent letter, an ailing diabetic, was later released pending a deportation hearing. According to social workers at the Queens-based charity that was his last known contact, he is now a homeless fugitive, lost in the streets of New York.

Victoria L. Allred, chief of staff in the financial office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, wrote in an internal e-mail message March 4 that the death had not been discovered until after the chart omitting it had been submitted to Congress for the latest subcommittee hearing, March 3. I apologize for the discrepancy, she wrote.

Yet as of Thursday, immigration authorities still have not released records on Mr. Tanveer's detention or death, which they attribute to occlusive coronary atherosclerosis, nor have they addressed the complaint that his heart attack went untreated in the jail for more than two hours.

On the expanded list, he is the only detainee with no birth date. And in the e-mail message acknowledging the death, his alien registration number has been redacted — to protect his privacy, the government said.

— Nina Bernstein and Margot Williams, The New York Times (2009-04-02): Immigrant Detainee Dies, and a Life Is Buried, Too

Ahmad Tanveer was abducted, caged, deliberately denied medical care and left to die in jail, and then disappeared by the United States federal government’s bordercrats and their hired thugs, who have gone up and down the chain of command denying, declining, misfiling and deliberately blocking disclosure of information about the case at every turn. They haven’t done a damned thing to investigate this man’s murder and they’ve did their best for years to make sure that nobody ever found out much of anything about it. The Times deserves a great deal of credit for doggedly investigating, and ultimately exposing, what has been going on in la Migra’s special prison system. But there’s a deep problem with passing it off as a matter of some poor shmoe falling between the cracks of a patchwork system of government immigration jails — as if this were a matter of disorganization or bureaucratic inefficiency — rather than what it is, an act of administrative murder, followed by a campaign of repeated stonewalling and cover-ups, under the excuse of Homeland Security, or on the outrageous claim that they are doing it out of concern for the privacy of their own victim. Not just in this one case, but over, and over again, to God knows how many people:

We still do not know, and we cannot know, if there are other deaths that have never been disclosed by ICE, or that ICE itself knows nothing about, said Tom Jawetz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been battling in court for months to obtain government records on all detention deaths, including the Freehold case and those named on the first government list, obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act and published last year.

We believe we have accounted for every single detainee death, Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said last week, adding that a death in March was promptly reported to Congress under a policy directive from Dora Schriro, the new administration's special adviser on detention.

Yet even the latest list, which Ms. Nantel called comprehensive, thorough, is missing a known death from 2008: that of Ana Romero Rivera, a 44-year-old Salvadoran cleaning woman who was found hanged last August in an isolation cell in a county jail in Frankfort, Ky., where she was awaiting deportation. Federal officials now disagree whether she was legally in their custody when she died.

There are unverified reports that other detainees may have died unnamed and uncounted. At the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami, for example, directors cite a letter in late July 2007 from a detainee who described an 18-year-old Haitian woman, Mari Rosa, coughing up blood for hours without medical attention at the Glades County Jail in Moore Haven, Fla. The letter said she fell to the ground, had no pulse when she was finally taken to the medical unit and was never brought back, adding, The detainees think she is dead.

The center has been unable to confirm what happened to that woman, said Susana Barciela, its policy director.

… As Congress and the news media brought new scrutiny to the issue, several detention deaths have highlighted problems with medical care and accountability. In one, a Chinese computer engineer's extensive cancer and fractured spine went undiagnosed at a Rhode Island jail until shortly before he died, despite his pleas for help. In another, records show a Guinean tailor who suffered a skull fracture in a New Jersey jail was left in isolation without treatment for more than 13 hours.

— Nina Bernstein and Margot Williams, The New York Times (2009-04-02): Immigrant Detainee Dies, and a Life Is Buried, Too

Representative Zoe Lofgren of the state of California, is shocked — shocked! — to find that such a thing would be going on in the government’s special immigration prisons:

How can you overlook a guy who died in your custody? asked Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who has presided over two subcommittee hearings dealing with care and deaths in detention, battling unsuccessfully for full disclosure from immigration officials. Did they forget other people? Was it an isolated, single error, or was it something more sinister?

— Nina Bernstein and Margot Williams, The New York Times (2009-04-02): Immigrant Detainee Dies, and a Life Is Buried, Too

But the answer to these questions are easy. This case — all these cases, and more — happened because of a single error. But not an isolated one. The system itself is the error — there is no possible way to enforce immigration controls without creating special, parallel systems of imprisonment and administrative courts in which basic civil liberties and basic principles of due process are eliminated. There is no possible way for the government to go around trying to detect and exile undocumented immigrants without reversing basic components of due process, like the presumption of innocence. Any system of immigration documentation necessarily places the burden on the documented person to prove to the government’s satisfaction, by producing their documentation, that they have a right to exist where they do — rather than putting the burden on the government to prove that they do not. (The government will no doubt object that they can’t prove a negative. Of course they can’t, which is why they can’t implement a system of border laws within the bounds of anything resembling due process. Which is an argument against border laws, not against due process.) Any system of border laws whatever will always produce special prisons and special courts for the administration of the federal Fugitive Alien Acts, in which those imprisoned and judged will be stripped of basic privileges or immunities, and denied any realistic hope of recourse for crimes committed against them.

When Anarchists speak about a society based on consent, and when we say that we can settle any genuine issue of socio-economic coordination and community life through consensual, grassroots processes of negotiation and free association or dissociation — without government armies, government borders, or government prisons — we are constantly accused, by some sanctimonious know-it-all who presumes that repeating statist chestnuts amounts to hard-nosed realism and some special expertise in history and in the problems of life, of being utopians, whose ideas have no hope of practical workability. But as a matter of fact, we Anarchists have nothing on those who imagine that there can be some right way to run statist institutions, with the right policies in place and with virtuous and competent people to administer them, that will somehow avoid the predictable results that have happened in every other government institution like it. It takes the most naive sort of utopianism, and the cruelest sort of killing negligence, to go on pretending, in the face of both logic and historical evidence, that there is some possible way for government to construct systems of special tribunals in which people are treated as legal non-persons, without bringing along what this sort of thing has always and everywhere produced — effectively unchecked power by the government over its prisoners, who are granted no rights and given no recourse, and, what always follows unchecked power, rampant brutality, negligence, lying, death, and disappearance. There is no way to do it, no way at all. You cannot enforce border laws without constructing a system like that, and you cannot construct a system like that without, eventually, to a greater or a lesser degree, repeating every brutality and every horror that has always come along with every system of legal black holes, special security courts, and concentration camps that the world has ever known.

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35 replies to Death by Homeland Security #3: The Disappeared Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Nick Manley


    How do you ever manage to stay happy? I personally consume less political news right now. There’s only so many times you can read about a crashing economy and yet another violation of civil liberties.

    Nonetheless, I am interested in what gives you immense energy for this.

  2. Bob

    There should be a lot more “disappearances”. Fucking illegals should all vanish without a trace.

  3. Rad Geek



    You say illegals as if there were supposed to be something wrong with breaking the law.

  4. Gabriel

    Yeah Nick it’s pretty hard to bear, knowing you live in a world with this kind of brutality and reckless disregard for life. I’ve been considering not reading Radgeek’s blog anymore, not because there’s anything wrong with it, but quite the opposite: R.G. has done his job too well in exposing the horror of the state we live under. Sometimes this shit is just too depressing.

  5. Nick Manley


    That sounds like a call for murder to me ( :

  6. Marja Erwin

    Oh, no. Murder is such a tawdry little crime. Bob is calling for genocide.

    That, btw, is one of the problems of the paleolibertarians. They attach themselves to movements which are avowed opponents of human freedom, and some paleos are themselves opponents of human freedom, defenders of borders, nationalism, and all the violence inherent in such systems.

  7. Nick Manley

    I was going to call it mass murder, but the word genocide works.

  8. Aster

    People like Bob do those who support the concept of human rights an unintentional service. The purpose of their hate speech is to inflict emotional pain or issue an implied threat in order to terrify their targets and opponents into silence. But every time something like this comes out of their mouths they also identify themselves to all thinking and feeling people. If you find your meaning in life by an obsession with stories which revolve around how evil other people are, then you suck. And given that the slightest intellectual curiosity to look beyond your particular mud puddle will show up these stories as crude lies, you also can’t think. Bigotry is closing your eyes and chasing a stew of unpleasant notions around your own head.

    Bigots bank on the expectation that those who share their bigotry will try to pile on to their collective pseudo-self-esteem game… and on the hope that better people will keep silent because it’s someone else’s problem (‘for I was not a Jew’) or because they misconstrue tolerance as an injunction to silence and complacency.

    The only way to stop them is to make vigorous use of freedom of speech to identify, expose, and condemn them before they get the numbers and cultural momentum and gain the safety of numbers craved by their collectivist souls. If they do grow large enough to gain formal or informal cultural hegemony, the same mentality which leads them to use verbal terror today will lead them to use literal terror tomorrow… ultimately, they will be forced to remove the people whose existence contradicts their fantasy, as well as anyone else who threatens it. Bigots are a threat to everyone, not only because you might be next, but because the ultimate of a bigot is to live in a community which unanimously props up their fake world. No one who thinks wants to live in that kind of society.

    Anyone who values a rational and free society has an interest in refusing to sanction bigotry now. Anyone who feeds their souls with irrational myths of group superiority is by definition at war with reality and puts themselves at war with all who attend to reality as a prerequisite for the pursuit of real happiness in the world.

    Oh, and obvious troll is obvious. I wonder who ‘Bob’ is?

    (personal request to all gentlemen: please come up with more creative pseudonyms.)

  9. Victoria

    Bob, I’m disappointed you haven’t answered any of the questions asked by five readers. Are you real?

    Illegals. I know that’s right-wing code for economic migrants and I feel nauseous to read such blatantly racist sentiments here of all places. You would no doubt brand me an “illegal” in two or three ways, so language such as “fucking illegals should all vanish without a trace” sounds like a gross insult to everyone here and cannot be let pass unchallenged.

    Who is it that gets to decide that any person is “illegal”?

  10. Bob Kaercher

    (personal request to all gentlemen: please come up with more creative pseudonyms.)

    Yes, please, at least as a common courtesy to those of us who share that name and have been known to post an occasional comment on this blog, and are not irrational, narrow-minded, hateful bigots. If ya don’t mind…?

  11. Bob Kaercher

    Who is it that gets to decide that any person is “illegal”?

    Victoria, the technical answer, of course, is the government bureaucrats with the special privilege of making laws out of thin air to serve their narrow interests. The broader answer, I think, is many of the millions of others who are themselves battered to some degree or other by the bureaucrat-lawmakers and other self-styled authorities, but choose to take out their frustrations on other battered people instead of those actually responsible for beating down all of them.

    I suspect that our pseudonymously challenged troll is feeling a bit knocked about these days, especially in these troubled times. His predicament may have been brought about in part due to his own decisions, while also partly due to external forces beyond his control, such as economic ruin brought about as a result of the policies of the aforementioned lawmakers.

    I recently received an e-mail forwarded by a family member of a particularly right-wing bent. He sends out, on a fairly regular basis, these electronic epistles brimming with misinformed, narrow minded opinions about people he neither knows nor would ever bother to take the time to understand. I usually just ignore them and relegate them to the digital abyss.

    In this particular instance he forwarded this charming little missive with a group of links to various articles written by smug, right-wing know-it-alls that taken together pretty much characterized “illegals” as being typically lazy, thieving, welfare-sucking rapists. That’s not an exaggeration. That was exactly the picture being painted for the reader. If you can’t see the full, unvarnished truth that “illegal aliens” are, as a group, lazy, thieving, welfare-sucking rapists, then you obviously must be looking at the world through rose-colored PC glasses. That was the overwhelming impression that I think any reader of this thing would have been left with.

    To make it even more of a knee-slapper, the person who originated this e-mail that my relative forwarded had the unmitigated gall to claim that anyone who said that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the overall “War on Terror” were bankrupting this country was spreading a “ridiculous” bunch of “propaganda.” The “real” costs that are impoverishing this country, according to this economic genius, are incurred by the aforementioned lazy, thieving, welfare-sucking rapists from south of the U.S.-Mexican border and the Middle East.

    Now, I happen to know that this relative of mine was regularly beaten and humiliated by his late father. I suspect that it’s quite easy for him to dehumanize others different than himself or most people he associates with due to his own dehumanizing treatment. I suspect that “Bob” may in some ways have been beaten down and humiliated, but in his case, he perhaps doesn’t quite understand by whom or why. But rather than reflect and try to figure out who really is responsible for whatever unhappiness and misery he may be suffering from–provided that it is indeed someone other than himself–and try to understand the world he lives in and find ways to heal himself, “Bob”, like my relative, would rather spend his scarce time on this planet spreading misinformed, hateful nonsense demonizing and/or wishing ill on people who come from a very different place and culture.

    They make convenient punching bags.

  12. Victoria

    The real Bob! Glad to hear from you. You have identified a major contributing factor in bigoted behaviour, that bigots have been abused and beaten down by one or both of their parents, and have no motivation for self-awareness as long as a convenient scapegoat is available to act out upon.

    Alice Miller, a psychoanalyst from Switzerland, writes about these psychodynamics around parental abuse; Aster dropped Alice Miller’s name the other day in a similar instance. Alice Miller says she gets a lot of denial and resistance from some people about the very existence of cruelty to children, but this very denial is what accounts for much of the cruelty and bigotry in our culture. I re-read ‘Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self’ after another friend mentioned it with much appreciation. Alice Miller truly does speak the truth.

  13. Aster

    The Ogre does what ogres can, Deeds quite impossible for Man, But one prize is beyond his reach: The Ogre cannot master speech.

    About a subjugated plain, Among it’s desperate and slain, The Ogre stalks with hands on hips, While drivel gushes from his lips.


    Anyone recommend more perfectly trollcentric poetry?

  14. Bob Kaercher

    Victoria, I’ve read about Alice Miller through Arthur Silber’s blog. He’s written quite a bit about her and her ideas. I seem to recall that he once cited her study of dominant parenting methods in Germany at the time Hitler was a child. Turns out that a very authoritarian method involving a lot of spanking and other types of physical punishment was very popular when little Adolf was growing up.

    I’m pretty sure Silber’s cited the book you mentioned. I’ll have to check it out sometime.

  15. Nick Manley

    Bob “the nice Bob” K,

    Arthur’s most recent essays expand on his earlier Miller influenced work. I highly recommend them!

    Unfortunately, Arthur went to the emergency room…I am not sure if he’s still alive ~ hasn’t posted in awhile. We were in brief contact a month ago or so — something like that. As long as he might still be alive, I won’t divulge any details. His last post speaks for itself:


    Note what poor care he received in the government hospital. After all the money Arthur’s paid in into the system, the system only tosses him a penny’s worth of attention. His situation is also a testament to the fact that dying due to lack of health insurance or other means of paying high medical bills can happen in America.

    What sane nation would let a man of his intellect and spirit die?

  16. Bob Kaercher

    Nick, it’s been awhile since I’ve hit his blog, so I had no idea he went into the hospital. I hope he’s OK.

    The thought of him dying is depressing as hell.

  17. Nick Manley

    I still remember being a young idealistic 17 year old anarchist-libertarian emailer — sending my writer hero a link to my own blog. The praise he heaped upon me was golden ( :

    And my friendship with Chris Sciabarra came out of that…

    Indeed: I owe Arthur Silber quite a bit!

  18. Aster

    “What sane nation would let a man of his intellect and spirit die?”

    One which believes that the arts and the intellect are useless parasitisms upon upright society- that he who does not suffer and toil, produce and reproduce, is unfit for the world. One which will only let a person survive if they operate within social structures which torture creativity and independent thought. One which educates its young away from their dreams and calls this love and guidance. One which says: if you do what you want, rather than what society needs from you, then you shall not eat.

    I hope that if Arthur must rely on the state to survive, that he do so without guilt or apology. A society which cannot find a use for someone with his mind and passion has forfeited all right to complain about ‘burdens on the system’. Someone like Arthur Silber has a thousand times more to offer his ‘community’ than the average American- and yet he would be hated by the average American because he demanded more of life than they were willing to settle for.

    When Arthur worked as a lawyer, doing what he did not believe in, his society rewarded him with wealth and status. When he started speaking his honest mind- and saying things that ought to matter to everyone- his society rewarded him with poverty and obscurity.

    His writing has unfortunately been erratic and angry beyond recognition of reality for many years. It was brilliant at first- and more benevolent. As anyone who has met him knows he is an incredibly gentle and kind-hearted individual in person. His public voice has been that of someone fighting for his life against a world which lacked the decency to serve him with its declaration of war.

    God Damn America.

    He will be avenged- and that avenger will be reality. A society which has no use for those who follow their own passion and judgment will eventually find itself operating without ideas and without spirit- and will find itself ruled by those with contempt for these qualities. If you do not value an Arthur Silber then you will find your culture’s ideas provided by a Michelle Malkin or a Bill O’Reilly. The result will be- and has been- a nation of fools, a nation which damns the kind of man who could have saved them- and wanted to, and tried, but not for any reason they would care to respect.

    If you do not want dictatorship in the United States: protest the culture and value system which destroys Arthur Silber.

    Il lume si era spento.

  19. Nick Manley


    You remind me why I like Arthur’s writing…its very similar to your own style.

  20. Nick Manley

    I like his passion.

    Anyhow, to all concerned:

    I am not sure Arthur will take more than what he’s offered. He seemed pretty determined to disconnect himself from the grid — out of a principled resistor mindset. He hinted he might be eligible for government programs in the past, but he wouldn’t take them for the above reason. Nonetheless, I conveyed to him my support for his doing so, but he didn’t respond to my email. He’s difficult to have a sustained back and forth with.

  21. Nick Manley

    This is public record, BTW. I am going off his blog posts.

  22. Victoria

    Bob K., I read Arthur Silber’s Alice Miller essays with much interest and appreciation, after reading ‘For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty In Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence’ and http://www.alice-miller.com.

    I feel deeply saddened to hear of Arthur’s health problems, and angry as Hell that America’s economy seems to have no place or sustenance for his mind or commentary.

  23. Soviet Onion

    Well, if I owned a newspaper I’d make him a columnist. HINT HINT, CENTER FOR A STATELESS SOCIETY.

  24. Nick Manley

    Damn. We could use Arthur at the center.

    Good thinking, Soviet.

    By the way, there is a sex worker event going on nearby!!! Woo hoo. I’ve recently discovered what physical attractiveness does for you in the social sweapstakes — it’s sad, because I know I am probably too personality “crazy” for some of these people lol. Anyhow, I’ve been experimenting with an adult personals site to try my hand at swinging. I’ve gotten quite a bit of attention. I am apparently the gorgeous popular guy.

    Makes me feel like a pretty boy nerd!

    Nonetheless, on a “otherworldy” contemplative level: it does make human sexuality seem incredibly monistic and vulgarly materialistic.

    This is a big reason for me not wanting to go into prostitution. I’ve even swerved dangerously close to agreeing with Rand on its “irrationality” before, but I can’t really justify that position. And a part of me is drawn to it — but on an exalted plateau of achievement. Alas, I am a child of Emma Goldman: when we lose our dreams, we die.

    Plus even if I thought there was no objective worth to it: I’d want to maintain my sex worker friendships — just the thorny issue of how personally its taken.

  25. Aster


    I don’t know what I think about prostitution right now.

    What I previously wrote in celebration of prostitution was meant more than I’ve meant anything else I’ve ever tried to say. But it was also written in sheltered ignorance- not that I wasn’t previously aware of the sexism and exploitation, but it just wasn’t emotionally real to me. I’ve since seen some unpleasantness in New Zealand and it is simply impossible for me to regard sex work, or sexuality, or human nature, in the same way as I once did. But I would prefer to reserve my judgement on the issue until I’ve been able to make a second try at the Life.

    I do think that the orthodox Randian opinion of prostitution is usually ignorant and deeply classist. One would expect at least more nuance from a philosophy so deeply grounded in romanticism. I deeply respect a refusal to compromise one’s values, but a linear equation of prostitution with compromise is unimaginative. In this world, where courting less than ideal circumstances is for most a necessity, it reeks of privilege and double standards. This is especially true if we remember that Rand herself started out as an actress, in a time when the formal separation of prostitution and the theatre was a fairly recent phenomenon.

    On Gus diZerega (sorry to jump threads, but ’tis related)-

    I’m still a regular reader of Gus’ blog, but I liked him much better before he got his current gig on Beliefnet. He is a very intelligent, perceptive, and original writer, and he has a wonderful aesthetic sensibility that I wish was more often conjoined with careful analysis. On political issues I’m generally in close agreement with him.

    I tend to agree with him on the facts and science surrounding environmental issues (he helped nudge me out od the standard Randian stance), but I strongly disagree with the morality and sense of life he brings to them. And he’s recently been beating up on a straw image of ‘sociopathic’ egoism which is blatantly unfair to real egoist philosophers. He seems to think that Evangelical tartuffes are Randians or Stirnerites at heart- which is simply absurd given the hyperaltruistic cultures and institutions which the Falwells and Robertsons of the world come from.

    And as a former (?) Pagan, I find much of what he describes as a Pagan worldview to more accurately reflect the stance of his conservative Gardnerian Wicca, which he correctly sees as very close to the traditional teachings of the prominent religions which have been dominant in most pre-Enlightenment societies. The trouble is that I see moral pluralism as inherent in polytheism- or, more precisely, I think that polytheism shows us that the Divine (if there is any such thing) is prior to human moral concepts, and that if there is any Divine, any ethical quality of religious experience is something we bring to that experience. In any case, there are any number of ancient and modern Paganisms whose practice is contrary to conventional altruism- or indeed to any ethics I could imagine intelligently defending. One can find a god in any deep human experience, and the claim that these experiences point to an eternal and crowning morality feels more theosophical than Pagan.

    DiZerega draws his Paganism close to mainstream religions at the price of drawing a sharply dualistic line between the Divine and secular worldliness- to the point of making sheep and goat divisions between good (altruistic) and bad (egoistic) Pagans and joining with Christians to advocate the social exclusion of practitioners of individualistic witchcraft(!!!). This seems characteristically Christian, and while most Pagans I’ve met have come from (often abusive) Christian backgrounds, I think it’s fair to say that quite a number would differ with this dualism and that more than a few would disagree with the altruism. DiZerega’s views on the relation between spirituality and reason, or spirituality and commerce, are also hardly intrinsic to Paganism. I have known many people who have described Pagan religious experiences, and they are as different as the world’s gods.

    Gus clearly articulates the principle of the separation of spirituality and public reason and as such I fully respect his right to his beliefs. But I wish he would more clearly distinguish his own orientation from Paganism as such. Not all goddess are mother goddesses. Not all Pagan worship is centered on nature. Not all spiritualities emphasise community. Indeed, in some polytheisms, such partiality has been considered both discourteous and extremely imprudent.

  26. Nick Manley

    Yes, Aster. You identify why I am not a partisan of Rand’s critique — although, I did not think of the point about everyone living in less than ideal circumstances. I don’t feel emotionally comfortable rendering such judgment over such an intimate individualized matter. I can’t imagine how I could twist it to not sound hurtful to my escort friends. Of course, my concern is to discover truth. Nonetheless, I would sound rather pompous — thus concern about class issues.

    As for Gus, I have similar issues with his understanding of egoism. Nonetheless, he has a pretty interesting article:


    And no other classical liberal thinker is making the claim that liberal democracies are not states — whilist trying to move towards non-coercive voluntary democratic polities.

  27. Nick Manley

    Further thoughts for all,

    Another thing about prostitution: people charge a lot and end up only seeing CEOs or middle brow managers or someone similar to pay high costs of living. It seems there’s a pecking order. I once ran across an ad for a supermodel quality esque escort who was also highly educated — a nice integration of what evolutionary biology has driven men towards and intellectual flair ~ although, I hope she isn’t unhealthily underweight.

    300 dollars an hour…

    I don’t blame her for making a comfortable living. Still: there should be discounts for broke Bohemians ( :

    Escorts are missing out on us. It’s much more cost effective to go swinging at those prices.

    Alas, I intend to stay culturally Bohemian but become not so broke in the future. I’ve had enough of the “poor man’s” romanticism.

  28. Aster


    Please understand that prostitution is work. It often took me two hours to prepare myself and my apartment to receive an incall client when I worked in San Francisco. Hair and nail care, beauty products, vitamin supplements, drycleaning, throwaway thigh highs, and cab fare get expensive very quickly- and this keeping in form can take a lot of time. Plus, escort-style sex can easily take a physical toll. Try spending a few hours in a corset, push-up bra, and 4″ pumps and you’ll see what I mean. And then look at the price tags for the slutware- I spent a lot of time scrounging for once-used and discount clothes in San Francisco.

    I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it- for if you care about what you do and enjoy it, and you’re free, then stress and trouble is just part of the job. But it is a job. I would certainly very much prefer a society which rewarded more interesting people than the corporate status-seekers. But if you admire sex workers, I think you should be aware that treating us as businesspeople is necessary for the respect which is a prerequisite to friendship. And while there are certainly many kinds of success, success as a category is sexy. It was very hard for me to learn this, but the truth is that if you wish to understand and respect sexuality one must understand and respect wordly success- even in the context of a world which so unjustly and irrationally distorts the concept.

    One of the ways by which patriarchy harms women is the creation of a moral metaphysic which divides females into ‘good’ wives and ‘available’ whores. This does all sorts of bad things, but one which is particularly offensive to sex workers is the notion that sex workers are simply ‘loose’ women which men have some greater degree of ‘right’ to have. It is hard to express how demeaning it feels to have a potential client call you on the phone and then try to tell you that ‘love ought to be free’, and I imagine every sex worker with even moderate experience has learned to personally hate that line. Imagine how it would be received if you tried walking into a restaurant with a similar argument- and then consider how much more personal sexual service can feel. A lot of men think that when a woman becomes a prostitute this means that she’s lost some degree of right to her personal boundaries. A lot of rapes begin this way.

    I know you don’t intend to do harm, and I know your respect for sex work is sincere, but I don’t think you realise how entitled these kind of words can come across. And there’s a history- and I do mean a history- a long tradition of male poets and authors painting the beauty of a prostitute who makes an unsustainable exception for their sake. I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that the sex workers in these stories often wind up very tragically and beautifully dead. That’s not exactly empowering- it’s actually yet another version of the same game which puts a man’s story in a woman’s mouth(+). I’ve found real romance in sex work, but after a certain number years as a woman it started to become clear to me that these romanticisms were written from someone else’s perspective, and needed to be changed if they were to work for me. Some versions of the tradition can get pretty ugly- the Beatniks, for instance, had a ‘code of honour’ which made it a virtue to pay a sex worker as little as possible, by any means neccesary. But if to them it was hipster cred, to sex workers it’s exploitation and fraud. One of the reasons so many sex workers sadly lack the spiritual beauty they ought to have is because years of dealing with this &#@% can really get to you. Wishing away the economic aspect of life, as Rand understood, implies that someone is expected to give something for nothing. And whatever Christians say, this is not a formula for genuine love.

    Sexuality is among other things a matter of expense and effort. That’s precisely why it’s so unfair when society sets tacit sexual-appearance requirements for nonsexual female employment- it’s asking for someone to do extra and irrelevant work just to get in the door. One of the first things I noticed when I came to New Zealand was that women working behind shop counters were usually not wearing makeup- New Zealand certainly has its own patterns of sexism, but this still says a great deal. I’m not saying the expectations are fair for men either- when I was a guy I utterly loathed the expectation that men become suit-and-tie cybermen. But if someone chooses to spend special time on their appearance it’s just that- a choice, with a cost, which should be acknowledged and not taken for granted. One doesn’t expect people to live for others in an individualist society. TANSTAFL- even if Heinlein was a total hypocrite on the issue when it came to women.

    And again, what I write here is from the experiences of my own mistakes. For me, it was feeling entitled to advice and training. It didn’t work. I learned. That’s unfortunately how people do learn, and improve. I know I have much work to do.

    (+) There’s another version of this in a lot of Pagan goddess worship, when male authors worship woman as the ‘giving tree’ of fertile Mother Nature, spilling forth indiscriminate and unmeritied love. Real women have interests, pains, and passions- and they have consciousness and purpose. I find images which reflect this far more respectful of women than smiling abstractions placed on green pedestals.

  29. Nick Manley

    Charles doesn’t want me to go so off topic, so I’ll just briefly say something. After that, I don’t think it fair to him to continue the discussion.

    Well, I already agreed you with. That’s why I mentioned not blaming people for making a living — later on, a wise friend reminded me of all the work that goes into it. Those comments above don’t reflect my best — written hastily and without enough sustained reflection.


    You’re free to delete this distracting exchange — with Aster’s consent.

  30. Laura J.

    You’re free to delete this distracting exchange — with Aster’s >consent.


    I’d really prefer that he didn’t; Aster wrote powerfully and well on a subject that was bothering me as well as I read your comments, but which I did not feel I had a sufficiently well-developed perspective on to comment articulately at length at the time. If you’re a bit embarrassed about what you said earlier here in light of subsequent conversations and contemplations elsewhere and being called out on it here, I recommend you simply take the licks you were dealt and chalk it up to experience. Your previous expression of a partially ill-informed but correctable position based on good intentions was a positive contribution to the thread in giving Aster a good opportunity to say things that needed to be said somewhere. There’s something to be said for attention to original thread topics, but only insofar as it facilitates conversations that need to be had, rather than preventing them.

  31. Nick Manley

    Indeed, I thought Aster’s writing was powerful too — that’s why I tried to find a way to resolve it that took account of her own desires to have her thoughts visible.

    I confess this is partially a product of my battles with anxiety. Those who know me well on here will attest to the difficulties I have with imperfect analysis — usually rush to make my persona 100 percent ideal.

    I did tell myself to relax after this though ( :

    I guess I didn’t want to be known as the entitled patriarchal bohemian in the future. Nonetheless, the record can stand — unless Charles has an objection. After all, it’s his blog — not mine.

  32. Laura J.

    Imperfect analysis is forgivable, so long as acknowledgment of the results leads to better experiments in the future. Keeping a record of such conversations and debates retains data on which to base future analyses. Behold – SCIENCE! :D

  33. Nick Manley

    I consider myself a couch potato scientist ( :

· May 2009 ·

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