As the U.S. fights over judging a judge…

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With the United States tearing itself apart over sexual allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s pick for a vacant place as one of the Supreme Court justices, today’s guest blogger, veteran NAMBLA activist Peter Herman, gives us his take on dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee public hearings in which the stakes are huge. The outcome will potentially tilt the balance on the court in a way that could have massive implications for the future of gender relations and sexual mores in America – and even the wider western world – for a generation or more. Peter watched at length the testimony given by Kavanaugh’s main accuser, psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, and the embattled judge’s self-defence.

 

WHEN THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST

“What goes around comes around.” Those are words that Brett Kavanaugh used in anger as he lashed out at some of his questioners during Senate confirmation hearings. Though he meant these words in a different context, they have further significance, which I will come to.

As of this writing, no one knows whether the candidate for one of the highest judicial posts in the United States will get a pass. In either case, it will be bad for him. As with Justice Clarence Thomas, who was also accused of sexual misbehaviour, the taint will always remain.

I have strong feelings against Kavanaugh; but as for whether his appointment to the US Supreme Court will be a good thing for the country, I cannot predict. Again, I will come to that.

I watched almost all of Ms Ford’s and Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony, and it would seem that almost any reasonable person witnessing both accounts cannot but see that the judge is either lying outright or lying to himself. Most telling was his refusal on several occasions to agree to an FBI investigation where at one point there were several seconds of silence as he could no longer rely on the canned responses he had been giving to these requests.

Of course, the FBI has done a lot of underhanded things in the past, especially under the tutelage of Edgar Hoover, but with the glare of responsible news media it is unlikely the agency would prevaricate. It is almost impossible to believe that Kavanaugh did not fear the uncovering of very uncomfortable events in his life.

He could not hide his past heavy drinking, but what he could try to hide was the strong likelihood of his belligerent demeanour while drunk and his inability to remember his behaviour while drunk. People who drink know that there are “mean” drunks and “mellow” drunks. Under the influence of brain-altering chemicals, there is no way of choosing the type of behaviour you will succumb to. Such people most often have no or little memory of their actions while drunk. It is a real life Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation.

What is most likely is that Kavanaugh did have some memory of what he did but was so horrified of behaviour he would not otherwise do while sober that he could not face the reality. As an adolescent, he had to deal with a strict Catholic environment and parents who had high ideals for him. This may be why as a jurist he has employed a large number of women all of whom report exceptional kindness on his part. It may be that he is like those Calvinists who, faced with a predetermined choice by the God they believe in, lead virtuous lives to prove to themselves that they are indeed the ones whom God has determined to save.

This is why I earlier said I could not predict whether, in my own view, Kavanaugh would be good for the country. Like the composer of Amazing Grace, a sinner can, when facing his own terrible sins, make amends. Kavanaugh, in his testimony, said very partisan things that would show him not to be the impartial and measured jurist needed for the highest court in the land; but that could have been a desperate move to save himself from the precipice of shame. Though no one can predict what kind of Justice he would be, I personally would not take a chance with him.

There is great irony in the predicament that Kavanaugh finds himself in. For decades now, lawmakers at all levels have whipped the flames of hysteria regarding sexual behaviour, and judges have obliged by imposing outrageous sentences. As awful as Kavanaugh’s alleged act against Ms Ford was when both were teenagers, a more understanding culture would have provided a way for the perpetrator to apologise, somehow make amends and not be labelled for life. This did not happen then, and it is surely not happening now. How long will it be until sufficient chickens come home to roost?

There is a further irony, at least for those who love boys and are persecuted for it, in that we may side in this case with the “Me Too” movement. Too many women who have been truly abused have erroneously projected their hurt onto those truly loving and consensual relations between men and boys. The answer to those who are therefore hostile to undifferentiated feminism is that we, male and female, boys and girls, men and women are one species and often subject to irrational conclusions.

Anger, confusion, shattered lives… and love

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Footage of a disgraced teacher’s banishment to a bleak, cramped, lonely existence in an isolated caravan in the middle of nowhere after an offence of downloading “child sexual abuse images” provided a 90-minute Channel 4 TV documentary this week with the perfect visual symbol.

Alex, a teacher for 15 years and father of two young adult daughters, found himself exiled from a six-bedroom, well-appointed family home in the face of his wife Kate’s anger, bloodcurdling online abuse and frosty hostility from the neighbours in their respectable suburban location.

It is with these neighbours that Married to a Paedophile begins. Or rather their houses. We see Kate braving an outing to her front garden to give the film makers a quick briefing on what had become mainly enemy territory. Pointing to the house opposite, she said the lady there had been “lovely” to her since the news of Alex’s downfall. The other houses were a different story: This one: nasty. That one: horrible. Over on the right: enemy. Across to the left: enemy.

Then there were the social media messages: “Gotta wonder about the wife. She’s gotta be a whore.” That was just one of the milder ones.

None of this will be at all surprising to my fellow heretics here at Heretic TOC. It is an agonisingly familiar scenario, even if most of us haven’t had a female spouse’s point of view as our starting point. Reading this, the first thought coming to many here may be that Channel 4 did a comparable doc not so long ago called The Paedophile Next Door, from Testimony Films. With the honourable exception of a fine contribution from our own Ed Chambers, it turned out to be a dreadful compendium of shock-horror clichés.

But really there is no comparison. The latest offering is from a different outfit, Brinkworth Films, and is of vastly higher quality in every way: the time and care taken over its production, the presentational style, the absence of clichés, the refusal to be judgemental. It is a work of integrity that enables its participants to express themselves at length and in depth, giving breathing space to the issues, doing justice to their complexity.

Director Colette Camden’s achievement owes much to the fact that she focused on just two families in which the husbands were convicted of downloading and followed what happened to them for 18 months, from the wives’ immediate reactions to the arrests to longer-term repercussions over this lengthy period, as the shock-wave spread to children and grandchildren.

As for the husbands, their views and feelings were also explored. My reaction was in large part to see them as co-victims of brutally oppressive and unnecessary police and legal processes, but realistically we must suppose that most of the audience will take a different view. That’s fine. I am just happy the programme doesn’t thrust any particular interpretation down our throats.

It shunned that easy resort, the holy wrath of an outraged presenter; it even spared us the tears that our emotionally incontinent times seem to demand at every turn, not just from the recently bereaved but from those who have simply won a tennis championship, or a singing contest, or even merely earned some praise for baking a cake. The participants in this particular programme really do have plenty to cry about, God knows, and we may be sure there has been no shortage of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But what we see is calm reflection. We know, as any sensitive audience would, that these have been traumatic times for all concerned. It needs no emphasis. What we see instead is the longer term reality: the unavoidable stoicism of just having to get on with things; the mental struggle of coming to terms with the bald fact that nothing will ever be the same again; and the gradual rebuilding of shattered lives.

A key innovation that enabled people to speak and be shown freely was that the participants did not appear in person. Instead, their names have been changed and their actual spoken words were lip-synched by actors, who did a superb job: I would not have known they were not the actual families if I hadn’t been told. It also meant that everyone could be represented visually, including the little grandchildren of the second family, without them being hideously defiled by censorious pixilation.

As for that “perfect visual symbol” I mentioned at the start, I suspect a lot of artifice went into its depiction. Just as actors have been used as stand-ins for the people, stand-in locations have also been deployed, so that the families cannot be identified by their houses or neighbourhoods. So what we get is supposed to be similar to the original but not identical.

In the case of the caravan, my hunch is that artistic licence was taken. But any “cheating” was in a good cause: rather than taking us away from the truth it compels our interest in it. The beat up little old van is just a tad too humble; and its picturesque isolation, not on a caravan site but set in a scene of otherwise unblemished rural loveliness, at once blesses the eye and burdens the heart. How, we cannot help but ask, can it have come to this?

What, then, do we learn? What do these dramas tell us?

It would be unwise to generalise too much based on a sample of only two families but some clear points of interest emerge that our own prior knowledge will surely tell us are widely applicable.

Broadly, the story on the wives’ side is of mixed emotions: lingering loyalty to the partner they loved, but also anger and a deep sense of betrayal. As for why this had happened to them, there was very little to be seen but puzzlement, confusion and incomprehension. Lucy and Jes, Alex and Kate’s daughters, were far more sympathetic towards Alex than Kate was. Lucy, especially, made a valiant attempt to explain away her father’s transgressions in terms of mental illness and depression.

Kate took umbrage in a far more personal way: her partner had committed a criminal offence, she insisted. Worse, he had insulted her.

“I’m really angry that he would want to look at that stuff when he had me,” she protested. “What was wrong with me? Why not stick to what was right, what he should have been looking at, which was me?”

It would have taken a paedophile to explain that she need not have felt bad on that account. A paedophile could have pointed out that sexual attraction to children is an ever-present and powerful orientation, not a trivial seeking after novelty; nor does it imply lack of loyalty towards a sincerely loved adult partner.

Sadly, no such paedophile was available to say this. There was Alex, of course, but he turned out to be in deep denial. Kate tells us the first thing he said when he was arrested, and kept repeating, was “I’m not a paedophile. I’m not a paedophile.” Same with the husband in the other featured family, Robert. According to his wife, Helen, he too insisted he had no sexual interest in children. He told her he didn’t watch the videos, he just liked collecting them!

The fact is that both of these guys had been caught bang to rights with multiple images showing children, some of them very young, sexually engaged in “pretty much everything”, as Kate put it, while some of Robert’s images were clearly very extreme. Mere curiosity? A magpie-like collecting compulsion? I don’t think so. Alex got off relatively lightly with a 12-month community service order, whereas Robert served a prison sentence and was behind bars for 16 months. Both men, I think it is sensible to conclude, were definitely paedophiles.

It is more than understandable, of course, that they felt unable to admit it to their wives and families. As Alex dryly admitted, “You can see why people can go off you.” Clearly a man of easy charm, he reminded me of former politician Neil Hamilton, disgraced in the parliamentary cash-for-questions scandal back in the 1990s. One senses that, like Hamilton, Alex will bounce back. Even by the end of the programme he was able to talk of finding a certain happiness, despite all the heartache his family had been through: life is simpler now, he said philosophically.

Robert, by contrast, is in prison when the programme starts and we hear about him through his immensely loyal wife, who visits him inside frequently and is ready to meet him at the gates on his release date. “I’ve loved him for 44 years,” she says, “you can’t just switch that off.”

Ultimately, though, as time moves on, so do Helen’s sentiments. She has her little pre-school grandchildren to think about, and her daughter-in-law has strong feelings on the matter. Also, a nice new man, Richard, comes into her life. She’s still friendly towards Robert but is haunted by the knowledge that one of the images in his collection was particularly extreme, showing a man masturbating over a baby’s face…

It is a triumph of the programme, I suggest, that it is content to present Robert as a much loved and plausibly lovable man despite this damning revelation. His little granddaughter, we hear, was angry because no one would explain to her why her beloved granddad had gone to prison and why she couldn’t see him again. The kids, of course, are usually the last people to have their views taken into account…

 

AMERICAN CIRCUMCISION

Has anyone seen this documentary, just out, called American Circumcision? It is available through a range of outlets on a paying basis but there is a free trailer. It is getting good customer reviews at Amazon, such as this one, from Dave JP, on 31 August:

A highly informative documentary exposing the myths (or lies) about the alleged “benefits” of the elective surgical mutilation of male babies that goes back only to the late 19th century in the USA, done for a variety of changing rationales but until recently (whatever the irrational pretexts) solidly embedded in the cultural milieu to the point that it had become sheer routine custom. The film explores the revulsion and anger of men who were damaged physically and emotionally, as well as the regrets of parents and health care professionals for their complicity in perpetuating this tragedy, which is still dismissed by some with offensive comments such as “Get a life”. Fortunately, as the film shows, people are waking up, questioning, protesting, and even suing the practitioners who engaged in this barbaric non-therapeutic ritual.

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