It’s piquant to think of Roman Polanski, a Polish Jew whose mother died in a concentration camp, being dragged back in chains to the US at the age of 75 to face the music, passing in the airport terminal some even older German being hauled out of the US to stand trial in Europe for the crimes buried in his past as a concentration camp guard.
Putting the distant past on trial is, in terms of ratings, a chancy business. These days the 85-year old bit players in the Final Solution don’t arouse the passions they used to. So far as old Nazis are concerned, geezer renditions now prompt a certain embarrassment at the trouble and expense involved. Why not leave the ancient camp guard to rot in his nursing home in Cleveland, goose-stepping into oblivion, arm-in-arm with Herr Alzheimer?
Not so Polanski. The passions his case arouse here are vivid because sexual tolerance has shriveled so fiercely since 1977 when Polanski fatefully crossed paths with the 13-year old Samantha Geimer.
Is it possible that today in the United States lawyers for a 44-year old film director would be able to negotiate 45 days in jail on charges of rape of a 13-year old girl, admitting to vaginal, anal and oral invasions after feeding the young woman champagne and Quaaludes? Polanski signed a court document admitting to these activities at Jack Nicholson’s house on Mulholland Drive. Defense and prosecution lawyers agreed he could avoid trial, and Ms Geimer be spared courtroom interrogation, if he pleaded guilty to one charge of unlawful sex with a minor. It’s surmised that a hefty pay-off was also made to Ms Geimer’s family.
The answer is that money can still talk persuasively but such a deal would be next to impossible, particularly if the charges slithered into public view.
Back in 1977 Polanski’s fear was not so much that Superior Court Judge Lawrence Rittenband (now dead) would throw out the plea agreement and force him to stand trial, but that he might tack on another 45-days on top of the 45 he had already served in the prison hospital where he’d been held for psychiatric observation. For the second six weeks he might be put in the general prison population, where “short eyes” – as child molesters are called – get very rough treatment from other inmates, are often raped and in many cases don’t get out of state prison alive.
Websites here featuring internet commentary on the Polanski case tilt 99 per cent ferociously against the Polish film director. Many citizens openly express the hope that he will be brought back for prolonged incarceration, with punishment as described in the preceding paragraph.
Savage denunciations of “left-wing Hollywood” – now rallying in support of Polanski — indicate that this is all part of the ongoing demonization of the Sixties and all that ebullient decade spawned. Caught in the line of fire is Samantha’s mother, retrospectively savaged for letting her daughter go alone into a modeling session with the director of Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown.
Samantha herself, married with three children, says she’s no particular interest in seeing Polanski put away, and is now in a different space. But she does add that she would like the moral concerns aroused by the case should be focused on similar exploitation of young girls now.
A case that often comes up is that of Neal Goldschmidt, the youngest mayor in the history of Portland, Oregon. In his single term as mayor in the mid-70s, when he was in his 30s, he initiated an affair with his 14-year old babysitter that lasted three years, with many years of hush-money payoffs thereafter. Goldschmidt never faced charges because details of the relationship only came to light in 2003, when the statute of limitations had come into play. But disclosure did finish off Goldschmidt’s career in public political life beyond bottom feeding as a lobbyist.
Not so lucky have been several female school teachers in the past few years, given savage sentences for initiating sexual relations with students, one of them a sixteen-year old fortunate enough – so many an American man ventured to admit, if only to himself or boon companions – to have been waylaid by a spectacularly attractive pedagogue in her middle thirties.
Many states have reverted to moral/legal postures that would be the toast of seventeenth century Puritans with parents racing to lawyers and prosecutors as soon as they hear their teenage child might have been involved in some sexual activity. The exceptionally wimpish Obama White House, thoroughly cowed by the crazed Beck is no doubt about to succumb to the right-wing assault on Kevin Jennings, who runs the Education Department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Jennings will be tossed to the wolves, just as surgeon general Jocelyn Elders was swiftly axed by Bill Clinton after she said masturbation wasn’t such a bad way of relieving sexual frustration. Given the timidity of the Obama crowd, over the counter sales of vibrators will probably soon go the way of ephedrine or placed on the same level as Schedule 1 narcotics, with prescriptions and parental permission required.
The new prudery is in full swing in the court room and the day time tv shows, even as teenagers swap pictures of their breasts and genitals on their cellphones. If only Polanski and Samantha had I-phones back in 1977 perhaps he would not be sitting in a Swiss jail right now. But no. Polanski wouldn’t have settled for mere imagery. After all, he did have John Huston say in Chinatown, “Most people never have to face the fact they are capable of anything.”
I write here as one of only two lads in the history of my Scottish public school faced with expulsion for heterosexual activities, having been caught in the headmaster’s study, having a sadly blameless tea party with Warden Barlow’s two Swedish aupair girls and my schoolmate, the late Freddy Fitzpayne. Warden Barlow had returned early from some weekend headmasters’ conference. These days I probably would have had to endure years of compulsory counseling. The school has since gone coed, as I note from the brochures I occasionally get asking me for money or inviting me to reunions.
In those days the Swedish girls were the only available and in any way desirable targets. There was regular direct sexual contact with Matron, whose task it was to seize our genitals at the start of each term in an icy grip and ask us to cough. Probably some boys found in later life that this procedure had become an essential preliminary to any sexual relations. Mostly it was a matter of finding solace in the school library, where a dog-eared copy of Psychopathia Sexualis was in hot demand. I remember the case of the man who went to Krafft-Ebing and described once walking along a steep cobbled street in Vienna when a violent thunderstorm broke out. Suddenly a runaway horse and cart came barreling down the hill. The horse’s shoe struck a cobblestone and drew a spark at the precise moment of a lightening flash. “I experienced an orgasm,” the man told Krafft-Ebing. “Your problem?” asked the famous author of Psychopathia Sexualis. “I am finding it hard to reduplicate these conditions.”
Three Interesting Letters
From: Richard Greener
Subject: Obama’s “Ghost” Ayers…
(This was prompted by an item in last week’s Diary noting a claim made in Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage by Christopher Andersen, that in preparing Dreams from My Father Obama had made taped interviews with relatives about his family history, and, according to Andersen, those “oral histories, along with a partial manuscript and a truckload of notes, were given to Ayers”.)
As an author and novelist (The Knowland Retribution, The Lacey Confession), I know the process for deducting a writer’s expenses when figuring taxable income rather than simply paying tax on gross advances and royalties. Obama’s tax returns have been made public and they show no deduction for a “ghostwriter” and no future royalty payments to one either. Since Obama has now reported more than $8 million in book earnings, one would have to believe he has either paid his accused ghost – Ayers – nothing whatsoever, or that he has paid taxes on 100% of his earnings when he had a perfectly legal deduction for whatever he paid to a “ghostwriter.”
As a point of comparison, look to John McCain who deducts 50% of his book earnings — the money he paid to Mark Salter – and Hillary Clinton who also reports deductions of more $2.5 million for her “ghostwriter.”
It’s more than just silly to say William Ayers wrote Obama’s books. It’s absurd. In addition to the financial evidence, I can tell you for certain that if Ayers was that good — he’d be cashing in to the tune of millions writing similar books for others. I’m sure my agent would love to have such a successful “ghost” on her client list.
If the “Birthers” are idiots and morons… the “Bookers” are so stupid maybe they neglected to deduct things as simple as mortgage interest on their own IRS tax returns.
From: Martin Murie
I agree wholeheartedly with your [gloomy] assessment of the anti-war organizations. However, there are still local gatherings that are and have been solidly anti-war during this long honeymoon period. Just recently at the Yellow Springs, Ohio demo. we had a visitor from a town, population 800, who stood with us for a while, just passing through. He has an anti-war demo going in his village. The great thing about these spontaneous uprisings is that they usually don’t have big names, nor meetings to attend, nor dues, nor a reach into the mainstream. But the advantages outweigh all that: honks amd V-signs from a good fraction of passing vehicles, even from motorcycles and big trucks.
I think there is a new wind struggling to be born: local demos. For a long agonizing period of months Alison and I endured the ending of the Malone, New York village’s anti-war protests. They simply stopped. But now, a few protesters have begun showing up at Veteran’s Park in Malone & plan to keep it up on a weekly basis. It’s finally sinking in: the Obama presidency simply keeps the wars going. And the mish-mash that Obama gave a few days ago, on health care, was a dead give-away.
I know, it’s hard to keep track of local anti-war protests across this beautiful land, but I wanted to speak up for local demos. They are the little kernels that might lead to greater results. We can keep up the struggle, even manage to get local coverage by local media. Big statements by big outfits suck energy from localities. They ought to be supporting protests at the grassroots level, instead of huge marches into the heart of oblivion, Washington, D.C. These are barely mentioned in mainstream, corporatized media and then forgotten. Meanwhile, we contact citizens, challenge them, every week.
From: Jordan Bishop
This morning’s Ottawa Citizen (Sep 21) has a story to the effect that the Canadian government will “fast track” Canadian citizenship for Afghans who worked with Canadian troops. This is apparently official, coming from a statement by a minister (Stockwell Day). And as it is well-known here, no minister in the present Canadian government is allowed to say anything without direction from the PMO.
You wrote that with mercenaries the US now has more troops in Afghanistan than did he Soviet Union. Yes..but! With the Soviets largely conscript army there was much rotation, which had the effect of publicizing the disaster more widely within the USSR. John C. Griffiths says that some 600 000 Soviet troops had experience in Afghanistan. The US runs a much tighter ship.
The Wal-Mart Model of Education
In our latest newsletter, hot off the press, you can read Danny Weil on the latest big chapter in the smash and grab saga of neo-liberalism: privatizing Public Schools. Goodbye unions; hello “private contractors”. Now it’s Los Angeles’ turn. But, yes, we can fight back. Weil tells how. Also in this exciting issue, Eamonn Fingleton on how the SEC helped Madoff steal $50 billion and has now covered its tracks. First the Swindle, Now the Whitewash. And P. Sainath reports from India. “All I ask is that the poor family I give the cow to promises never to send it to the abattoir.” Meet Lachchu, the man who saves cows. Get your new edition today by subscribing online or calling 1-800-840-3683
ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at email@example.com