Publisher’s Clearinghouse

When I was little, publisher’s clearinghouse was BIG. And I was obsessed with winning it. Not just that sweepstakes, but any sweepstakes, and at the time there were a lot of copiers. My parents threw the letters away, slamming them as “junk mail.” To me, they were slivers of hope of a new life I rescued from the trash.

I didn’t realize how tiny these slivers were at the time, however. I filled out those entry forms diligently and turned them around as fast as possible, like they were homework. My parents wouldn’t let me watch TV – just 60 Minutes. One night, there was a segment on a guy who had WON A BUNCH OF SWEEPSTAKES. He had a system.

I remember watching the segment, but I didn’t get a good sense of what the system was. Maybe he was too discreet to say it on television. But I interpolated something. From then on, I’d scribble messages on my entries. In the white space in between the printed boxes for name, address, etc, I’d write to the publisher’s clearinghouse all about my desperate life and how badly I needed the money. I’d tell them how my parents screamed and hit and threw things at each other every night. How I had to defend my mom because l felt our lives were in danger, that I had to lock myself in the bathroom or run away to escape it. I said I thought I might be an abused child and I needed the money to go out and live on my own and support my little sister. I was eight. Do you have to be 18 to win one of these? At the time, that didn’t even cross my mind.

Did I ever win? No. Eventually I stopped trying. Now, I NEVER buy a lottery ticket. I never gamble. And I never enter sweepstakes. I realized a long time ago: hope is for suckers. At least the kind of hope that thinks that your life’s problems are gonna be solved by a packet of money.

Hope is a long game I work at every day. What I hope for most is being present. As I child I needed to delusions to get through. Now, as an adult it’s the opposite. I must have my eyes wide open: if you don’t get your issues they get you.

Still, Publisher’s Clearing House has a special place in my heart. At least for a while I basked in the the hope that the person ringing the doorbell could be Ed McMahon, offering me my new dream life.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


At this time of crisis and division in American politics, when the popular vote and the electoral college vote are so far apart, I am reminded of Ben Franklin’s famous saying, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately.” While this maxim is well known, it is less well known that the advice originally came from the Mohawk Chief Canassatego, who in the early 1740s told Franklin to unify the colonies, counseling, “Our wise forefathers established union and amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable; this has given us great weight and authority with our neighboring nations. We are a powerful confederacy; and by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken you will acquire such strength and power. Therefore, whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another.


Arguably, American federalism has been the foremost political contribution of the United States. The pattern of states within a nation held together not by clannishness or geography but by shared values mimics the structure of the Iroquois Confederacy that many of the founders admired. Since most of the colonies had more contact and trade with the Indians than they did with other colonies, the Iroquois preference for local government made sense to them.


The Iroquois Confederacy was the only living, breathing democracy the founders had witnessed when it came time to Declare Independence and later cobble together the Constitution when the Articles of Confederation were found wanting. Though Franklin and Jefferson were acquainted with the ideas of Locke and Rousseau, there were no examples in the current European continent of democracy in action. In contrast, early colonists imagined that the American Indians were somehow descended from the Ancient Romans, and inherited their democratic traditions from them.


During this time, Ben Franklin, Conrad Weiser, Thomas Paine, William Johnson, James Madison and John Adams all visited with the Iroquois for extended periods to study their government and organization. Their proximity to the Eastern colonies enabled these visits to be frequent and numerous.


The colonists’ first attempt to organize as a cohesive state was at the Albany Conference in 1754, where representatives from each of the colonies attended as well as many Iroquois Indians. Franklin named the organizing body the Grand Council, after the Grand Council of the Iroquois.


In the Iroquois tradition, the Grand Council does not interfere with local tribal matters. Each tribe has its own “constitution” that governs the laws of their land, independent of the other tribes. In addition, they convene regularly with the other tribes to discuss matters that affect all of them, especially the decision to wage war. Otherwise, each tribe’s, and each individual’s, autonomy is recognized and respected as long as it doesn’t hurt another.


The notion of personal freedom and liberty also descended from the Iroquois, and most notably from the Mohawks who had the most contact with the British colonists. Many colonists saw Indian way of life as a “recapitulation of Eden.” When the founders tried to capture this in the laws of the New World, they aimed at describing a way of life akin to a state of nature as they observed in the Indians. Hence, Jefferson replaced the right of property that was safeguarded in European constitutions with the right to happiness.


While the Magna Carta also treated the question of inalienable rights (in a more limited way), the last thing Jefferson and the other founders wanted was an imitation of where they had escaped from. They did not want to go back to the European way of life, but to form a new society that was neither civilized nor savage.


To Jefferson, the key to that difference was the notion of property v the notion of happiness. If happiness is defined by the freedom from tyranny and want, then these two ideas are in direct opposition. It is the accumulation beyond what one needs that is the main impediment to liberty for all. This idea came from Locke, but also from the colonists’ direct experience with the Indians. In contrast to European societies, the Iroquois culture was one based on the natural aristocracy of merit, not inherited wealth or religion. Important considerations were how well does a man speak, is a he a good person, can he hunt with mercy and accuracy. The sachems, or chiefs, were public servants, and as such they were supposed to be poorer and more stoic than the rest of the tribe. Indian “kings” never looked toward their own interests before the public good; and they took great pains not to become angry when criticized. To appoint a merchant in charge of public affairs would be scandalous. Not only because of the conflict of interest, but because merchants were known to lie as part of their trade. (Trump is the first dramatic departure from this ideal.) Hence, the Articles of Confederation prohibited public servants from receiving even a modest salary.


The restraint on public servants was reinforced by the Iroquois system of checks and balances. For example, all the sachems were men; but they were selected by the Clan Mothers, who were as the name suggests all women. (Sadly, the social and spiritual equity of men and women among the Iroquois was not echoed by the American founders.)


Moreover, though the tribes (like the colonies) were of varying sizes and thereby smaller or larger presences at the Grand Council, each tribe only had two votes. In this way, the smaller tribes were protected. The American founders adopted a similar paradigm both in Congress and via the electoral college. The Council was a unicameral body, similar to what was proposed at Albany and in the Articles of Confederation by the original founders. (The two party system came later.)


At the Council, each tribe had a role. The Iroquois Confederacy was made up of Five Nations originally; later a sixth Nation, the Tuscaroras, were added. The original Five Nations were: the Mohawks, the Senecas, the Oneidas, the Cayugas and the Onandagas. First, the Mohawks convened and divided into three parties – two to discuss and one to listen for errors. Then, they referred the matter to the Seneca statesmen (older brothers) to consider. On the opposite side of the longhouse, the Cayuga and Oneida statesmen (younger brothers) listened then contributed and voted. Unlike the British Parliament, (and later like the US Congress) there was no interrupting speakers. For final consideration, the matter would be referred to the Onandagas, (the firekeepers). If there was a tie, the Onandagas would break it. It was a system which relied on the consent of the governed, and it was the first that the founders had witnessed.


In Iroquois culture, no man has the right to rule another. Instead, the tribes are governed by the Great Law of Peace for the well-being of everyone. Public opinion and approval was required of any large undertaking. If a sachem acted out of accordance with the public good, there was a process by which he was impeached. This was rare, however, and overall the smaller local governments were less vulnerable to corruption because of their size and autonomy. This also appealed to Jefferson.


When the colonists landed, they did not find a vast empty frontier in the New World, but an ancient civilization spread out across North America. It’s clear that the Indians represented freedom in the colonists mind. In several instances, the colonists expressed their discontent with British rule, most notably the Whiskey Rebellion and the Boston Tea Party, by dressing like Indians. Native American names and imagery dot the United States’ history.


More than any other nation, the US was formed on ideas: the commitment to representative democracy, checks and balances, the notion of freedom and natural rights, the value of public opinion and consent, the sovereignty of the people all derive from Native traditions. Even the language of Franklin’s famous final speech to the Constitutional Convention, titled “A Rising, Not a Setting Sun” echoes the legend of Hiawatha and the influence of Iroquois ideals and beliefs.


Especially after the Declaration of Independence, the founders were scrambling to form a government, and undeniably looked primarily to the Five Nations for positive examples. Ben Franklin attested, “Happiness is more generally and equally diffused among Savages than in civilized societies. No European who has tasted savage life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.The idea was to incorporate the best of both worlds, at least until the Constitution was revised in twenty odd years. It’s already lasted far longer – perhaps under Trump that will change.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Just Five Percent

Disaster relief specialist Todd Shea has been living and working in Pakistan for the last decade since he first traveled there to help the victims of the Kashmir earthquake in 2005. His most recent humanitarian mission, starting in July 2014, has been providing medical services to IDPs fleeing the Pakistan Army’s operation to clear the Taliban and Islamist militants in North Waziristan. The Taliban have said this attack on schoolchildren was revenge for the Army operation.


CKB: What’s the mood on the ground right now?

TS: Everybody is just heartbroken. [Every parent is] wondering when the next market is going to get blown up or when the next attack is going to be at their school. I mean Pakistanis are used to the Taliban and their allies stooping very low and they have kind of learned to live with it and accept it in some ways, but this marks a change. It has just struck a nerve that even the children are not safe in their school from somebody that could just come in and start shooting them all. This is a new phenomenon in Pakistan.


People don’t know, children  were hacked to death. They didn’t just shoot kids at point blank range, they slit some of their throats to scare the other kids and did all kinds of demonic and disgusting and perverted things.


CKB: The Taliban is a party for sadists. There’s a theory that the Nazis were also a party for sadists.

TS: Yeah, it attracts people who are sadists and psychopaths, or crazy nuts. And they’re given the weaponry, the opportunity and the money to do these kinds of things. So people, my staff included, are heavily affected and just sick and heartbroken. They’re sharing photos of these children. There’s one that really struck me that had four boys in it. Four buddies together. It said. “They lived together, they played together, they studied together and they died together.” (cries). They’re in their school uniforms and there’s a picture of them on their cricket field or something in their nice uniforms and they’re all dead.


Everyone was expecting some kind of terrorist act as a result of the military operation in North Waziristan. People were braced and ready for an attack on army HQ or police HQ, but nobody really thought that anyone would stoop this low, even the Afghan Taliban has condemned it. (It’s a different organization but they have close ties.) So when you have some of the worst of the worst condemning it, you know how bad it is.


CKB: How did you hear about it?

TS: I was on the airplane getting ready to fly to Denver [for a fundraiser] and I checked Google news like I always do. It just devastated me. I was crying on the plane. I couldn’t stop.


CKB: What is CDRS doing on the ground?

TS: We’re partnering with an organization in Karachi, Naya Jeevan, that usually does insurance for catastrophic injury or catastrophic illness for domestic workers, waiters, waitresses, maids, security guards, drivers, cooks and gardeners. The segment of society (low caste) that works for the elite in society (upper caste). We’ve worked with Naya Jeevan before, and some of their employees have worked with us as volunteers so we’re close already. We have undertaken a large effort to bring mental health professionals into Peshawar to help primarily the children who survived the attack but were injured or severely traumatized, and then the mothers and fathers and siblings of the dead children and the families of the nine adults who died as well. The idea is to do some mental health intervention without really calling it that. That’s how you have to do mental healthcare in Pakistan. There’s such a stigma attached to it – worse than in the US. You have to disguise it as something else, like we’re here to talk to you about your problems and how we can help. That gets people talking. You can’t go in and say we’re psychiatrists and we’re going to counsel you, you’ve been traumatized, you might need PTSD treatment. That doesn’t usually fly.


We want to make sure no one falls through the cracks after the initial rush of aid. We are identifying families with kids that may be needing long term medical care, scholarship funds or financial assistance. Students and staff. We’re looking at identifying the special cases to make sure everyone is covered and also to make sure we don’t duplicate services. We don’t want to help somebody who is already getting help. We want to find those who aren’t getting help who need help. And then identify how much help, because they may need additional help. I’ve been up all night talking to people and just catching sleep when I can during the day.


CKB: Do you think this will be a turning point for Pakistan, that once and for all they’re going to get the Taliban out of there and the government’s not going to continue distinguishing between good terrorists and bad ones?

TS: That remains to be seen. The initial appearance is that yes, it seems that people are standing together and fighting back more. The leaders are saying the right things, and there have been civil demonstrations in Karachi and Islamabad including at the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) which is a bastion of Taliban extremism. They’re talking about taking further action: doing more demonstrations, forcing their leaders and officials to do something about the madrassahs that are teaching hate and are funded by Saudi Arabian money.


And there are even people who are denouncing Saudi Arabia which I have never seen before.


CKB: That sounds hopeful.

TS: Yeah because Saudi Arabia, in order to keep the snakes out of their backyard, allows this ideology of hate [extreme and violent interpretations of Wahabbism and Salafism] and spends money to export it around the world in Islamic schools. They look the other way because they want to maintain their own peace. It’s a dictatorship wherein they let extremist elements have their way outside of Saudi Arabia. That’s how they keep people pacified and stay in power. They know absolute totalitarian control only goes so far, but being able to appease the snakes in your backyard and let them loose elsewhere, they feel like that’s going to help them from getting bit. Of course it probably won’t. It will play itself out.


CKB: You used the same metaphor Hillary Clinton did.

TS: I disagree with a lot of what Hillary Clinton has said, because I also know we helped put some of those snakes in their backyard. We trained the Taliban and sent them back. But she’s also saying hey, you can’t expect the snakes in your backyard to just bite your neighbors. It’s true. It’s a very good analogy.


CKB: Is there leadership in Pakistan that can make a change?

TS: The government of Pakistan is more of a musical chairs than it is a battle between good and evil. No matter what the elites or pseudo-democrats do, no matter what the army or dictators or the US or its allies do, it’s always been, at least since the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, that the people of Pakistan, the common man continually gets crapped on. In my decade in Pakistan, this is what I’ve seen as the only true constant.


CKB: What I’ve been reading is that even if people want things to change, there’s no infrastructure in the society to accommodate it. What do you suggest in terms of effecting real change?

TS: Unfortunately, the NGO business is different than actually doing what’s right for the poor.   We need to focus on helping the poor rather than conducting the business of helping the poor.


If people around the world really want to get serious about Pakistan and really want to do something that is going to change the reality in Pakistan and [subsequently] the stability of the world, this focus must shift. Right now, most of the money goes to elites who don’t have a vested interest in large social change. The US and the West have helped put these people in power who are little more than dictators themselves. They talk the democracy game in order to woo the West but in practice what they do is keep people poor and oppressed and uneducated so they don’t know how to stand up for their rights. So that things can stay the way they are. Everyone wants things to stay the way they are when they are on top.  It’s human nature. They’re doing fine, their friends are doing fine, their businesses are good. So they’re not concerned with the whole country.


If we actually take care of the people of Pakistan, then you will see a stable state emerge. We won’t have to put so many resources into dealing with militancy and terrorism. I very much believe that if people are reasonably fed, have access to justice and economic opportunity, some healthcare and education, then the extremists won’t have fuel for recruitment. If the US is really serious about these things, we can do it. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it seems to me that the people who profit off of bombs and bullets don’t necessarily want that. That doesn’t fit with their financial interest. I mean how are you going to unload the next shipment of weapons if no one wants them anymore.


I think that demonizing Pakistan without being introspective and looking at our country’s leaders and other country’s leaders, what they did, doesn’t serve any purpose. It doesn’t make things any better. It’s not true.


CKB: I think this incident highlighted the fact that the most vulnerable victims are inside the country.

TS: I hope so. But I’ve seen people speaking, I’ve seen the op-ed pieces, the CNN interview with Musharraf over this. The American media still doesn’t get it, and the American people aren’t getting the information. There is no sense of collective responsibility. How can there be? Everything has been presented in such a distorted fashion. It’s irresponsible journalism, lies of omission, sensationalism. The coverage is politicized and opportunistic. Everyone’s talking and squawking about casting blame elsewhere. But the fact is, we helped create the Taliban, we helped keep it there. We recruited people from all over the world to go train there and go back to their countries where this ideology of hate has grown and spread like a cancer. This violent interpretation of Islam can be found in cities from Iraq to Syria to Afghanistan to Pakistan – and in smaller groups all over the world. In the 80s, we helped fund it and feed it. We weaponized it. We armed it. We loved it. We had it in our little cage like a pet and it got out of the cage.


The Saudis continue funding it, and we allow it as long as they keep us in cheap oil. So I’m sick and tired of Pakistan being the only scapegoat. It’s not that whatever’s being said about their leaders isn’t true, —

CKB: But people aren’t really blaming the Pakistani people. Have you heard that?

TS: Yes! Unfortunately, if you talk to your average American, they hate Pakistanis. They think they’re all terrorists. Because that’s the narrative they see and hear.


CKB: You’ve seen that in recent coverage?

TS: They don’t look at them as victims. American people are so uninformed, though they somehow believe they’re the best informed. In the last decade I wouldn’t be alive if the Pakistani people were mostly bad, or if they hated all Americans. People in Pakistan come up to me and say we love the American people we just don’t agree with the policies of their government. But we know your people are basically good and decent people. Even they say they know they don’t know the whole story. You talk to most Americans, they think they know the whole story. They think every Pakistani is a terrorist. They don’t have the same empathy in judging Pakistanis.


I talk to people here and I talk to people there. I know what the reactions are when people hear I’m helping in Pakistan. [I hear] the things they say. I know what the attitude is. I read it. I see it. I hear talk radio. In Denver, Houston, I couldn’t believe the things I was hearing on talk radio about Muslims, Pakistanis all this hateful stuff. The Pakistan depicted on Homeland doesn’t exist except in the minds of bigots. It’s so ignorant and so sad. The only thing that’s gonna work, that’s gonna make the world a better place, is if somehow we figure out what our role has been and what we’ve done wrong. We always want to deflect blame. It’s weak not to admit any wrongdoing or blame. And it’s always framed as a dichotomy: it has to be one or the other. Either you are waving the flag saying we do no wrong, or you’re anti-American. I love America, but this is a blind spot in our national policy and public relations. Thank God Malala has become an icon and a household name. For the first time, Americans are starting to realize all they don’t know. There are millions upon millions of beautiful children just like Malala who live in Pakistan. As the lone superpower, Americans must ask, are we truly on the right path? Are we going to keep allowing the most evil and greedy among us to bully the rest of the world with a big stick and all the latest spying technology? It’s not making us safer. In fact, it’s making us less safe.


We are ready to get into big brawls and act in the worst ways in front of children over a football game with the team from the next town over. We are ready to riot and demand sweeping systemic change over a referee’s bad call. We fall apart when, God forbid, our beloved team gets knocked out of post-season play. I’m asking please, give me five percent of the passion that you feel when the Cowboys and the Redskins play each other to the people of the world that are suffering. Just five percent.


You can donate to CDRS on their website:


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Alien

My sister and I were lying on her bed on another hot summer afternoon in the Palisades. It seemed like we were always lying around when our parents weren’t home and we were done masturbating with my father’s Penthouses and reading and doing our homework. We had a lot of time on our hands because when I was ten and she was six it was 1979 – TBC. The time before cell phones. Usually, we performed plays I had written, going house to house on our mostly empty suburban street. Sometimes the neighbors would give us grapes or candy or quarters. Or sometimes we’d hide in our two story backyard and pretend we were the only members of the Swiss Family Robinson. We’d dig behind our treehouse and find abalone shells we thought were buried treasure or eat baby guavas or swing in our hammock. We were lucky my mom left us home alone all the time because she was having an affair. It was our only respite from our parents’ daily, constant fighting.

I loved my sister very much but she seemed young to me. When my parents fought, she hid out in her room. I was the one who had to defend my mom all the time. I was the one who got the brunt of my father’s wrath. I was always happy the times she did fight on my side, my mom’s side, but mostly she stayed out of it. She liked to map her whole life out on paper, all her dreams: the perfect car, the perfect house, the perfect husband. I thought she was crazy. When I got out, I would be free of family. The last thing I wanted was another family. I just wanted to be left alone. I just wanted to be responsible for myself.

But when I was ten, I was responsible for my mom and my sister. I defended everyone from my dad. He said he hated my getting involved in his fights with his wife. He screamed for me to go into the other room, to leave them alone. He screamed at my mom to get me out of there. He even screamed that I would hate her one day for what she had done.

I didn’t know what he was talking about. There was a fight, he would scream at my mother and my mother would come crying to me to do something about it. She couldn’t handle it she said. Even though I was three when it started, I thought I could.

So in I went, screaming, yelling, fighting. Putting myself, at mom’s behest, in the line of fire. Then we were both running from him, both slamming doors, both locking ourselves in the bathroom. My father would switch his anger from her to me. He could twist my arm without fear of retaliation. He could run me down and push me to the ground knowing I couldn’t get up. My mom would still be yelling, but he’d be going at me.

Compared to all that, lying around alone felt pretty good. Like being in the trenches when the gunfire stops: a moment of respite. But because we couldn’t really leave, it was limited respite. And because I still had to take care of my sister, it was even more limited for me.

I explain all this because I don’t know exactly what spurned me that day to do what I did, to say what I said. I really prided myself on my righteousness and bravery. My honest commitment to a cause. I never lied. But that summer day I told my sister I was an alien.

At first she didn’t believe me – who would? But I dug in deeper. I told her that I was sent to this planet for just a brief period of time to help out the people in this family. As I had just had my tenth birthday, it was time for me to go. Back to my planet. I had completed my mission.

She was a smart kid, even at six, so she shrugged it off. But I began packing a small knapsack. A knapsack she knew was meant for running away. We had tried running away a few times, using this knapsack to pack in money, food, clothes, books. Whatever we thought we’d need on the road. We left the house without our parents noticing – they were always fighting, as I said, but our plan usually broke down a couple hours in. We’d get into town or hide in someone’s yard. Then the unfeasability of living on our own struck us. I couldn’t get a job – I was only in fourth grade. I knew kids could work in the old days, but I thought there were laws against it in 1979. Too bad, I thought. A law meant to protect children was actually hurting me.

Then, how would we sleep outside? We lived in sunny So Cal, but I was haunted by the word “exposure,” and I knew you could die from it though the details were fuzzy. And soon our food would run out. We couldn’t live on guavas and tree-picked fruit forever. Or someone might kidnap us. (This I kind of hoped would happen, but there never seemed to be anyone around in our sleepy little burg.) So usually by the time it got dark, we would trudge home. Our parents would still be fighting – they never even noticed we’d left – but the end of day, dinner, bedtime – broke it up a little and made it finite.

Today, however, I packed my knapsack alone. Before she asked if she could come I said I couldn’t take her to my planet. She asked if she could come. Very maturely, I said, “No. I’m sorry.” She started to panic and demanded to know if I was telling the truth. I stared her in the eyes, and totally against character, lied to her, telling her, “Yes, it’s true.” She said she didn’t believe me, but when I zipped up the knapsack and headed for the door, she faltered.

“Don’t go! Please don’t go!”

“I have to,” I said. And I turned the doorknob, opening our front door. I walked outside into the hot sun. She ran after me. Now she wasn’t pretending not to believe me. Now she was crying, trying to hold onto me, trying to make me stay. I shook her off. “I can’t,” I said firmly. Our house was at the bottom of a steep driveway on either side. I took my knapsack and headed up the driveway, leaving her crying at the bottom. I made one last wave when I got to the top and headed down the street and out of sight.

After a few seconds, I stopped. I took pity. I couldn’t do this to her. If I were an alien I’d have to take her with me. I ran back down to the house. She was still crying in the driveway, alone. I rushed up to her and hugged her and told her I was just kidding, it was just a joke. She didn’t believe me at first. She looked up at me with her tear-stained face, her eyes searching mine. I swore on my life. Quickly her disbelief yielded to anger and she stormed into the house, slamming the door. For a moment, I sat outside alone. I looked up at the hot sun, squinting as it burned my eyes. Then I looked at the front door of my house; and up to the top of the driveway. For a moment, I believed my own mythology. Maybe I didn’t belong here. Maybe I was an alien. And maybe my ship was out there, waiting for me, just beyond our driveway.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

SEX IN THE COUNTRY: Dylan Farrow’s Open Letter

I’m actually really busy working on two other projects, so I didn’t want to write about this.  But I have to.  Too many issues close to the heart here, and people’s reactions to the letter have been eye-opening as well. Let me first say that as a victim of child abuse (not sexual, but physical, mental and emotional), I believe Dylan. It’s a gut feeling. Up until this letter was published, I believed Woody was innocent of molesting a small child, though I always bumped on his marrying Soon-Yi. Still, I was willing to forgive that.  I love Woody Allen’s movies and because of that, as Dylan so aptly points out, I chose to give him more than the benefit of the doubt.

Dylan’s letter, however, cannot be ignored. Its passion is stirring; the details arresting in their authenticity. I’m so impressed by Mia Farrow who torpedoed her career to protect her daughter. My mother used me as a human shield, causing me to catch the brunt of the abuse. I know how brave it was for Mia to do what she did, and hope her story inspires other mothers who are too often complicit in the abuse.

There’s no motivation for Dylan to lie. Being a victim of sexual assault is stigmatized – somehow talking about it is even more so. In my own life, I’ve been date raped countless times.  I didn’t even realize it was “date rape” until last year when I joined a women’s therapy group for a different reason entirely. Date rape, like molestation from a family member, is so confusing because you trust that person. You know that person, you probably like that person. And then that person does something to you that doesn’t feel right. What do you do? Cut yourself off from them and admit to yourself you were wrong? Or do you try to believe the best and give them another chance, the truth being too painful. Even Mia had a learning curve – it took a while for her to digest fully what Dylan said, and by her own admission she didn’t want to believe it. But thankfully, her desire to protect her daughter overcame the fear and sadness she felt facing the truth. She still woke up in the middle of the night feeling guilty for bringing Woody into her children’s lives at all. Sadly, the people who hurt us most are often those closest to us, those we also love and want to be with. So arguments that Dylan still loved her father and wanted to see him are completely consistent.  We have to face these things, painful as they are, because they are also incredibly common. Statistics say one in five women have experienced some kind of sexual assault, but I put the number much higher.  Anecdotally, it’s closer to four out of five.

Another disturbing facet of this case has been watching people’s reactions.  Some of course are wonderful and inspiring (see Aaron Bady). But others reflect the culture of rape we live in. The mythology of false memory has arisen again. There seems to be a type of man (like Stephen King, Alec Baldwin) who is outraged by Dylan’s letter. As they rail against the “palpable bitchery” of sexual assault victims everywhere, may I gently suggest “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Woody’s response to the allegations has always been a brief, blanket denial that blames Mia and even Dylan. That doesn’t surprise me.  His failure to take any responsibility for the incident, even as the father of a delusional child (if we are to believe him which we don’t) illustrates his lack of compassion and scapegoatism.  Does Woody ever take criticism without reacting in a burst of anger and blame? My guess is no, because the ability to examine himself doesn’t seem to be in his repertoire. We thought he examined himself in movies – maybe he does. But that examination appears completely divorced from his day to day behavior. Otherwise, he would understand that even if he were completely innocent (for argument’s sake) he would still be responsible for his minor daughter’s anguish to some degree.

I still love Woody’s movies but already I am seeing his struggles with right and wrong, criminal behavior, love of younger women through a different prism. Like most of us, Woody is deeply flawed and I hope he gets the help he clearly needs. Mostly, however, I worry about those two young adopted daughters of his, especially Bechet. Check her Twitter – she sounds confused. Like Dylan and I, she may not even know the definition of sexual assault – but she’s learning about it now. It’s highly unlikely Dylan’s his only victim. Did he marry Soon-Yi because it was a misdemeanor and a distraction from a crime?

Posted in SEX IN THE COUNTRY | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SEX IN THE COUNTRY: Pressuring Girls for Sex is not Cool

The depressing coverage of the systemic sexual assault problems in the military, recalled for me some of my own past experiences as a civilian. I recently asked my little brother, who is 27, if he ever pressures girls to fool around after they say no.  I was so impressed when he responded, somewhat offended, that he would never do something like that.  He’s not interested in convincing a girl to do something against her will – he’s above that.

Would it be that all men were the same in that regard.  I, and most of my friends, recall many sexual experiences wherein we wished someone had listened. I’m not talking about pushing someone’s hand away.  I’m talking about when you’ve sat up and said no and he tries to convince you that you owe him “something.”  Do some men get off on the coercion factor or are they really that desperate?

The irony is that you have to make yourself vulnerable to go out on a date in the first place. We do that because as humans we are desperate to connect to each other. When we find someone we like, we want to hold on. So we go out, and often enjoy ourselves.  Enjoy making out too.  But the experience is completely ruined when he starts a hard court press for penis in mouth/vagina/ass after you’ve said no.  It makes it seem like everything that came before it was just a means to an end. And often, these are the same guys who never call again after.  Hopefully it’s because they’re ashamed. Once the sexual offensive starts, it begins to look an awful lot like date rape, especially if he tried to get you drunk first.

We are well into the 21st century.  The sexual revolution has happened, people. Men trying to guilt and shame women into sex are out of excuses. If you want sex, and you never want to talk to the person again, you have an option: pay for it.

Posted in SEX IN THE COUNTRY | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A DAY IN THE COUNTRY: Obama Most Disappointing President in US History

We are well into Obama’s second term now, so anyone waiting for him to take the gloves off can stop waiting.  Did everyone think he was going to be an incredible humanitarian, just because he was the first black President? Remember, he got the Nobel the day he was elected. He spoke a lot about “hope” on the campaign trail – a suspiciously vague platform in hindsight – but ironically I feel more hopeless than when he took office.

In fact, it may be that my hopes were up for an Obama presidency, and that’s why it’s felt worse than Bush 2, whom we all knew was kind of a jerk. Obama had a very short political history before attaining the highest office, and many argue that’s why he doesn’t have friends on Capitol Hill.  Still, he had questionable relationships with bankers and pharmaceutical companies when he was a senator, and he has rewarded both interest groups with half-hearted reforms that will only guarantee their success and protection in the long run.

He’s also been surprisingly cocky.  He clearly doesn’t understand much about economics or our financial system, but he’s chosen not to listen.  Instead, he puts trust in his Harvard cronies to shape policy and doesn’t think more about it. The result is status quo. In fact, he doesn’t reach out to people generally – not diplomats or leaders from other countries, or people within his own party. Journalists report that he’s confident making his own decisions. He tells people he meets with what he thinks – he doesn’t inquire about their concerns or ask for their advice.

And speaking of journalists: he’s come down on them much harder than Bush, doing secret wire-tapping and email raids in the service of detecting “leaks.” In other words, spying on American citizens for “security reasons.” He has aggressively prosecuted whistleblowers, most notably Thomas Drake, the case against whom has since collapsed. He’s also responsible for stepping up the drone strikes, both in this country and abroad.

Further disappointments include: stepping up the raids on legal medical marijuana shops and encouraging publicly funded universities to give money to for-profit Silicon Valley startups to replace classes with cheaper online derivatives, helping rich people get richer, and poor get dumber. It’s crazy that much of what Obama has done has widened the gap between the haves and the have nots. I understand that you sometimes have to join them, to beat them. But do you have to beat yourself too?

Posted in A DAY IN THE COUNTRY | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment