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Sep 30 2013

Victoria Coren-Mitchell and the sin of ambivalence

Charlie was born in 1934, the accidental child of a 15-year-old runaway. She was already drinking heavily and being used as the sexual plaything of a succession of older men. Charlie’s birth certificate listed him as “no name Maddox.” Nobody was ever quite sure who the father was.  As a toddler, his mother once ran out of money while out drinking and sold the boy to a waitress for a pitcher of beer. This was probably considered a joke, until the young woman finished her drink, got up and left her son in the bar. A few days later Charlie’s uncle tracked him down and retrieved him. Aged 5, Charlie’s mother was convicted of robbery and imprisoned for three years, the boy spent the time being passed around a string of uncaring relatives.

Aged 12 and already displaying a range of delinquent behaviours, his mother put Charlie up to be fostered, but no home could be found. A court placed him in an orphanage which he hated. Ten months later he ran away and found his mother. She sent him away. At 13 he was charged with robbing convenience stores and sent to a juvenile detention centre where he was repeatedly raped and physically abused. Three years later he escaped and went on a crime spree before being caught and detained. Despite testing with a high IQ, at age 17 he was illiterate. He spent his twenties in and out of jail for a succession of petty offences including theft and pimping.

Charlie’s one love was music and while in prison he learned to play guitar. In 1967 he moved to San Francisco and began attracting a small following of friends and admirers to form a commune. They were won over by his charisma and enchanted by the radical countercultural beliefs, informed by a hotchpotch of scientology, Satanism and white supremacy. Under Charlie’s instruction, members of the group went on to commit at least two murders before the evening of August 6th 1969, when the gang brutally slaughtered Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and the heavily pregnant Sharon Tate, young wife of the film director Roman Polanski.

In the roll call of violent criminals of the 20th Century, few have the monstrous status of Charles Manson, and few so deserve it. All accounts of his life, including his own ghostwritten autobiography, portray a wicked, manipulative psychopath who revels in the death and agony of others and who, to this day, shows little sign of remorse or regret for the appalling crimes he committed and inspired. Those same accounts simultaneously explain the pitiably desperate early life experiences that undoubtedly created the monster. Those two interpretations are not incompatible. Anyone who works with the issues of violent crime, in which I include writers and journalists, needs to be able to wrestle with them both simultaneously. They are not balanced on a scale, where the higher one is raised, the lower the other becomes. One of the most idiotic things ever said by a serving Prime Minister was surely the statement by John Major that sometimes we need to “understand a little less, and condemn a little more” as if condemnation was the price to be paid for understanding. It isn’t. It is possible to understand and still condemn.

In yesterday’s Observer, Victoria Coren-Mitchell wrote of the need for nuance in considering cases like Roman Polanski, who in 1977 drugged and anally raped a 13 year old girl, Samantha Geimer. After an immensely complicated, and well-publicised trial process, Polanski jumped the country and has been living in exile ever since. It was immensely disappointing that in making this case, Coren-Mitchell’s own grasp of nuance repeatedly deserted her.

Several other bloggers (and hundreds of commenters) have already picked up on her problematic use of phrases like “had sex with” instead of “raped” and the frankly bizarre suggestion that the issue was complicated by her opinion that “Polanski’s work is filled with beauty and humanity.”   However I think the real problem with her piece is deeper than that. In calling for a nuanced discussion, Mitchell-Coren is attacking a very large and clumsy straw man – the very opposite of a nuanced approach.

Her argument boils down to saying just because Polanski did a terrible thing, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is a terrible man. Who, seriously, devotes more than a millisecond to pondering this question?  Not many of us now believe that individuals carry an essence of pure evil. We all understand that people are products of their environments and their experiences, and when we as a society decide that individuals should face consequences for their crimes, we are punishing not the person, but the deed.

The anger aimed at Roman Polanski is not rooted in a belief that he is a monster. Monster is as monster does, and that is as true of Polanski as it is of Manson or of any of the innumerable rapists, murderers and violent criminals who fill our jails – the vast majority of whom have similarly distressing and heart-breaking backgrounds and childhoods.  The anger aimed at Polanski is rooted first in the knowledge that he committed a horrible sex crime against a child. Secondly, it is rooted in his absconding from due process and punishment, living a life of luxury. Thirdly it is rooted in the shameful behaviour of the Hollywood and media glitterati who would, it seems, grant a free pass to their own to rape children providing they make pretty movies. By failing to acknowledge or discuss any of this, Mitchell-Coren confuses nuance with ambivalence. There are plenty of aspects to the Polanski case that require nuance and careful thought. That does not mean we need to be ambivalent about the crime, or the man who committed it. In calling for nuance, she fails dismally on her own terms.

54 comments

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  1. 1
    Gjenganger

    True enough. And Corens recap of what Polanski actually did made me that bit more convinced that he belongs in jail – if still less than enthusiastic about helping out the overweening US justice system yet again. But is it not part of the problem that people feel they have to choose: Either they decide he is a monster – and then they have to dismiss his films and his artistic worth as trash. Or they continue to admire his work, and then they have to deny that he is a child rapist. This is a dilemma that is limited to a few particularly reviled crimes, (child) rape and nazi war crimes. Althusser kiled hi wife, and Jung sold Orgon life energy to the gullible, but people generally feel they can respect their work without denying their actions.

  2. 2
    Gjenganger

    @Gjenganger 1
    Sorry, that should have been Wilhelm Reich, not Jung – and the spelling should have been ‘orgone’ too.

  3. 3
    resident_alien

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is an excellent rebutal to that rape-apologizing clap-trap which the Guardian should be embarassed to have published.

  4. 4
    carnation

    @ Gjenganger

    Exactly how I feel about the Assange allegations.

  5. 5
    karmakin

    A couple of things come to mind on this, making that it’s going to be a train-wreck, one way or another.

    First, is in-group/out-group privilege, that we tend to view people in out-groups in a worse light than we view people in our groups. This often leads people to defend wrong-doing that they would otherwise condemn.

    The second part is “art”. Or more specifically, the notion that proper art involved metaphor and allegory and emotional self-investment and all that other stuff. So with that perspective, how would people react to thinking that they enjoy the “art” of a child rapist? What does that make them? Thus the denial.

  6. 6
    Ginkgo

    This is where she goes off the track:

    “Then you read about the life of Roman Polanski. How shameful and how pointless to punish him with violence, even in the imagination.”

    This isn’t some kind of balance sheet. A person isn’t being judged, his actions are, and the context only matters to the extent it influenced those actions. What does Polanski’s past have to do wiht sodomizing a 13-year-old girl?

    karmakin @ 5 – “The second part is “art”.

    The religion of art. That’s really all this special pleding comes down to.

    In the end all she is doing is dehumanizing Polanski. Well, that’s not all – she’s working hard to erase that girl’s rape too.

  7. 7
    Jacob Schmidt

    So with that perspective, how would people react to thinking that they enjoy the “art” of a child rapist? What does that make them?

    I remember an interesting picture I saw a while back. It was a series of pleasant paintings; neat little house, pretty forests, that kinda think.

    The end caption was, “You just enjoyed Hitler’s paintings.”

    In the end all she is doing is dehumanizing Polanski.

    I find that people view “positive” dehumanization in good light.

  8. 8
    kacyray

    That was interesting reading about Manson’s mother… didn’t know all that.

    And it makes me wonder – how culpable is such a person for the fallout of unleashing what was destined to be an dangerous animal on society? Should we view such irresponsible behavior as no different than the behavior of someone who raises a baby crocodile or Bengal tiger in their apartment, only to abandon it to the streets when it becomes too angry, too unruly, and eats too much?

    Human beings have the potential to be the most dangerous animals alive. To raise one, therefore, is an enormous responsibility.

    There’s a lot here to think about.

  9. 9
    Ally Fogg

    And it makes me wonder – how culpable is such a person for the fallout of unleashing what was destined to be an dangerous animal on society? Should we view such irresponsible behavior as no different than the behavior of someone who raises a baby crocodile or Bengal tiger in their apartment, only to abandon it to the streets when it becomes too angry, too unruly, and eats too much?

    Or the people who (presumably) brutalised her, neglected her, sexually abused her when she was still a child? Or the people who possibly did the same to them?

    This is the point. The arguments about free will vs determination lead us down an endless tunnel. To have any kind of functioning moral society we have to be able to separate the individual’s responsibility for their own acts and their consequences from society’s responsibility to ensure as few people as possible are pressed into those circumstances, those upbringings in the first place. And we have to do both. Acknowledging one does not preclude acknowledging the other.

  10. 10
    summerblues

    I think the issue with Polanski is that folks believe he wasn’t punished enough. He did admit his guilt and was sentenced, a sentence that he served.

  11. 11
    Roisin

    @summerblues – Polanski did NOT admit his guilt. He accepted a plea bargain on a lesser charge – NOT a rape charge, I might add, but one of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor – and then he skipped the country when he realised that he was still facing some kind of incarceration for this. He did not serve a sentence. He was detained in Switzerland for a short time, but this is not the same as serving his sentence. It’s not a case of not being punished enough.

  12. 12
    summerblues

    http://richardbrenneman.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/roman-polanski-it%E2%80%99s-a-simple-matter-of-law/

    I’m not condoning what Polanski did. But there is more to it than “he just skipped town”.

  13. 13
    kacyray

    To have any kind of functioning moral society we have to be able to separate the individual’s responsibility for their own acts and their consequences from society’s responsibility to ensure as few people as possible are pressed into those circumstances, those upbringings in the first place. And we have to do both. (Emphasis added)

    As a libertarian-leaning individual, I cringe any time I hear any sort of reference to “social responsibility”, but it’s only a reflex. The more time goes by, the more I begin to realize that an effort to make the world a better is an effort to make the world a better place – whether that effort is individual or collective doesn’t matter much.

    With that said, what measures would you propose for “ensuring as few people as possible are pressed into those circumstances”?”

    I’ve long contemplated the merits of the automatic right to reproduce. Even thinking down these lines goes against everything I believe in regarding personal freedom, but when I look at it from a macro level, here’s what I see:

    - Every citizen born in my country (USA) has an entire laundry list of inalienable rights. And these cost society nothing – they are basic rights all individuals should have.
    - In addition, every citizen born here rates a plethora of safety nets and resources available to them – resources that are made available to them by the compulsory contribution of the working citizenry. We are forced, on pain of criminal charges, to provide these resources by paying taxes and giving up certain freedoms.
    - This means that any woman with the capacity to bear a child literally has it within her power to saddle us all with as many Charlie Mansons as they wish. After she pops them out one by one, we are now obligated to feed them, clothe them, and provide for their defense and their medical care. We are also faced with having to deal with the results of their neglect.

    Is there a way to take that means away from irresponsible neglectful women and men without directly limiting their right to reproduce at will? If there is, I have not heard it. And if one were to concede that such a measure is necessary, how does one reconcile such a concept with personal freedom and reproductive autonomy?

    One idea is to guarantee every citizen the right to produce as many children as they can demonstratably support. And no more.

    And, even if one can demonstrate the means to support a child, one’s right to create them would be suspended if one were to neglect to actually do so.

    In this way, right would be tied to responsibility, as they ought to be. Because right now, people have the right to make something OUR problem, and that ain’t right. The story of Manson is a textbook case.

    Does that sound draconian? I don’t know… it might. But what are some better ideas? How else do we tie the right to reproduce to the responsibility that comes with raising that child?

  14. 14
    Lelapaletute

    The arguments about free will vs determination lead us down an endless tunnel. To have any kind of functioning moral society we have to be able to separate the individual’s responsibility for their own acts and their consequences from society’s responsibility to ensure as few people as possible are pressed into those circumstances, those upbringings in the first place. And we have to do both. Acknowledging one does not preclude acknowledging the other.

    This! It’s amazing how many people can’t get that clear in their minds – that asking ‘what has happened in this person’s life that they would do such a terrible thing?’ is not the same as saying ‘they’re not to blame’ – that ‘explanation’ is not syonymous with ‘excuse’. You see it whenever something atrocious happens, the murder of children, rape, acts of terrorism etc. The refusal of many people and, more critically, the media, to take a nuanced approach, preferring the rhetoric of ‘evil monsters’, is the key reason we make so little progress curing society of its ills.

  15. 15
    Lelapaletute

    Is there a way to take that means away from irresponsible neglectful women and men without directly limiting their right to reproduce at will? If there is, I have not heard it. And if one were to concede that such a measure is necessary, how does one reconcile such a concept with personal freedom and reproductive autonomy?

    One idea is to guarantee every citizen the right to produce as many children as they can demonstratably support. And no more.

    And, even if one can demonstrate the means to support a child, one’s right to create them would be suspended if one were to neglect to actually do so.

    In this way, right would be tied to responsibility, as they ought to be. Because right now, people have the right to make something OUR problem, and that ain’t right. The story of Manson is a textbook case.

    Does that sound draconian? I don’t know… it might. But what are some better ideas? How else do we tie the right to reproduce to the responsibility that comes with raising that child?

    In my blacker moments, after a run of particularly grim stories in the news, the idea of limiting fertility seems appealing. But while the theory might seem reasonable at times, the practice would inevitably be draconian. Look at China’s one child policy; many beneficial effects for the country, but also brutalisation and abrogation of human rights in many cases. You can’t stop people reproducing, without denying them their human rights. Can’t be done. The Tory solution of ‘no benefits for more than one child’, or no benefits at all, simply punishes the child for their parents’ recklessness.

    I’ve always been in favour of the notion of incentivising contraception rather than penalising conception. The practicalities are a little sketchy, but for young people, people with financial problems or a history of behaviours that marks them as unsuitable to parent at that point in their lives, if some sort of benefit could be conferred on those who choose not to reproduce, it might at least reduce the number of children born by accident or apathy to parents who can’t or won’t care adequately for them. Might do something about global overpopulation too. But there are ethical and practical concerns to even a voluntary incentive scheme, as it involves targetting particular groups (you couldn’t just give money/other rewards to everyone who didn’t have kids that month/year) which leads to potentially discriminating by the back door (how ‘voluntary’ are paid for organs in countries where they are practiced?)

    Not the topic of this thread (again!) but an interesting ethical area.

  16. 16
    Lelapaletute

    Buggered the formatting there, should be in quotes up to “In my blacker moments”.

  17. 17
    Prairie Bob

    We don’t need to go so far as making birth control manditory here in the US yet. There are still a lot of people for whom, because of bad education or taboos, it isn’t even an option yet.

    There are still people here who would subject a 14 year old girl with substance problems to unwanted motherhood out of some twisted version of “morality”. There are still politicians and preachers who would say something about it being God’s will and a blessing.

  18. 18
    Ginkgo

    kacyray @ 8 – “And it makes me wonder – how culpable is such a person for the fallout of unleashing what was destined to be an dangerous animal on society? ”

    Have you ever seen “Tsotsi”? It deals with this very directly. The basic plot is that there’s this kid who has become a thug in a township. he was driven away form home, where his mother was dying of AIDS. He carjacks a Merceds, cripples a woman, and then finds he has inadvertently kidnapped a baby. The process of caring for that baby puts him in touch with his lost humanity, and in the end he turns himself in.

    The point is that it is completely immaterial how hos life got so fucked up, the salient fact is that his life is fucked up, and the only important question is what does it take for him to get it back on track.

    As for blalme and who’s to blame and how much blame should there be – that’s all bullshit, it’s all an invented problem, a construct, and it helps the situation not at all. What helps is making the corrections. After all, what is better – being “exonerated” or actual healing?

    And that’s the standard we should all hold each other to.

  19. 19
    Ginkgo

    lela @ 14 – “This! It’s amazing how many people can’t get that clear in their minds – that asking ‘what has happened in this person’s life that they would do such a terrible thing?’ is not the same as saying ‘they’re not to blame’ – that ‘explanation’ is not syonymous with ‘excuse’”

    This is a very important point and I can see how what I just said could seem to ignore this. I don’t mean that at all.

    What you are arguing for is a diagnostic approach. What happened here, what is this person’s actual probelm? Because of course without getting that clear, there won’t be any real healing.

  20. 20
    QRG/ Elly

    ‘We all understand that people are products of their environments and their experiences, ‘

    Hi – no ‘we’ all don’t understand that. A lot of psychology, including psychopathology, is based on the assumption that some people will be ‘evil’ or some approximation of that (unable to empathise, violent, etc), regardless of their upbringing and experiences. It’s mainly known as ‘personality theory’.

  21. 21
    QRG/ Elly

    I disagree with the epistemological (how we know what we know) and ontological (how we are who we are) assumptions of ‘personality theory’ btw.

  22. 22
    Ysanne

    @kacyray

    And, even if one can demonstrate the means to support a child, one’s right to create them would be suspended if one were to neglect to actually do so.
    In this way, right would be tied to responsibility, as they ought to be. Because right now, people have the right to make something OUR problem, and that ain’t right. The story of Manson is a textbook case.

    There’s so much wrong with this reasoning, it’s hard to find a good place to begin.
    Probably the libertarian approach to responsibility of trying to find an individual to blame and then try to punish them by saddling them with all kinds of difficulties disguised as “consequences” is the main one. This completely misses the aim of trying to make the best of a situation for everyone — the blamed person, other people directly involved in the situation, rest of the population. Ginkgo in @18 is exactly right.
    People live in a society and interact, that’s just how we are as a species. We all directly and indirectly profit from good things done by and happening to individuals, and conversely bad things done by/happening to individuals affect others as well. If we want to keep the negative effects contained, we need to invest in mitigating consequences and helping people out: It’s absolutely rational for a large mob of starving people to cut the few rich people’s head off, so even in the absence of empathy it’s in rich people’s best interest to keep everybody fed, and a bad idea to try lecturing the poor how it’s all their own fault.

    In the case of reproduction, while it’s the parents who produce the children, the problems that need mitigation are the living conditions of the resulting children. Instead of dreaming up scenarios of limiting people’s right to reproduce and ways to enforce it, the focus should be on making sure all children grow up in reasonably good conditions, even if their parents are unable to provide those. Holding the parents responsible for how they treat their children is quite independent of that.

    In the practical example of Charles Manson, his childhood (and his mother’s life) clearly shows that basically nothing was done to help them with their “own” problems: poverty, getting exploited, no access to education, being raised by a mother unfit to do so etc. So they dealt with them the way they could, and were occasionally punished for it. No one gave a damn how Manson grew up, so no one noticed that he was turning into a murderous psychopath. Sometimes you just get what you pay for.

    Oh and it’s just too funny that a libertarian would be so happy speculating about severely restricting others’ basic bodily functions while in the same breath complaining about how paying for communal services through their taxes curtails their freedom.

  23. 23
    kacyray

    Ysanne@22

    There’s so much wrong with this reasoning, it’s hard to find a good place to begin.
    Probably the libertarian approach to responsibility of trying to find an individual to blame and then try to punish them by saddling them with all kinds of difficulties disguised as “consequences” is the main one.

    I’m a practical-minded person. I have little interest in blaming or imposing artificial consequences. What I am all about is discovering the causes that lead to certain undesirable effects in an effort to perhaps mitigate those effects in the future.

    If we want to keep the negative effects contained, we need to invest in mitigating consequences and helping people out

    I understand this. Do you understand that there are people who do not want to be helped? Do you understand that there are people that are quite content to bilk whatever support system is available to them for all it’s worth? Is this something you are able to acknowledge?

    Do you understand that there are plenty of people who are simply irresponsible parasites that will not be helped by anyone?

    In the case of reproduction, while it’s the parents who produce the children, the problems that need mitigation are the living conditions of the resulting children.

    This is true in many cases. Not all. None of us can say for sure how Charlie Manson would have turned out if he had grown up in a healthy, nurturing, functional household. I am trying to allow for the idea that he would’ve been a happy productive citizen. Further, I am fully aware that his mother may have been (likely was) a product of abuse and neglect.

    Now are you ready to allow for the possibility that she was, perhaps, simply an irresponsible parasite that had no concern for the consequences of her actions? Do you allow for the possibility that no amount of help or support would’ve been enough?

    In the practical example of Charles Manson, his childhood (and his mother’s life) clearly shows that basically nothing was done to help them with their “own” problems: poverty, getting exploited, no access to education, being raised by a mother unfit to do so etc. So they dealt with them the way they could, and were occasionally punished for it. No one gave a damn how Manson grew up, so no one noticed that he was turning into a murderous psychopath. Sometimes you just get what you pay for.

    How do you know this? How do you know that no one tried to help? You say this with such certainty, but nothing I’ve read about Manson supports this contention. I’ve personally known quite a few people that were hell-bent on self destruction despite the best efforts of their heartbroken parents and closest friends.

    Oh and it’s just too funny that a libertarian would be so happy speculating about severely restricting others’ basic bodily functions while in the same breath complaining about how paying for communal services through their taxes curtails their freedom.

    I’ve given this issue a lot of thought over the last few days, and I’m beginning to think that the solution I’ve proposed might be the *only* way to free people from the consequences of bad choices of others.
    If people are granted the unquestioned, inalienable right to reproduce at will, without restriction or with any responsibility attached, then this means that children are literally being put into a vulnerable, disadvantageous position by force. Due to no fault of their own, they are being forced into a life with a high probability of misery unless someone else, out of the goodness of their heart or through government compulsion, intervenes. This is unacceptable.

    If people’s right to reproduce is limited to a specific number, then their liberties are being directly infringed upon by government force. This is unacceptable.

    If people’s right to reproduce is tied directly to their ability to provide for their children *and* their demonstrated responsibility in doing so, only then do we free society from the consequences of neglected children, and children from the consequences of neglectful parents.

    You must remember – no child ever asked to be born. Creating a child is, in a literal sense, an act of force toward another human being. You are forcing a child to exist, and you’re forcing them to grow either in a situation that is able to support them, or a situation that cannot or (will not).

    To force someone to exist in a situation that is unable (or unwilling) to provide for their most basic needs is an act of aggression.

    So to give people the unfettered right to create as many human beings as possible with no responsibility tied to the process is, in a literal sense, permitting them to commit unlimited acts of aggression towards the most vulnerable among us.

    So while I appreciate all consideration for the rights and liberties of citizens in all capacities, it should not surprise you that a libertarian also considers the rights of the most vulnerable among us. A child is a human being, and as such he or she has the right not to be forced into a situation that does not provide for his or her most basic needs.

    Just remember that if you support the right of any person to reproduce at any time, regardless of the immanent consequences that said reproduction will mean for the young human being that will have to live with the fallout, you are arguing in favor of limitless acts of aggression toward the most vulnerable among us.

    Charlie Manson was a victim of this aggression. Then, he became an aggressor, and more victims were created.

    (P.S. Although I call myself “libertarian”, I am not registered to any political party and I do not swallow any ideology whole. I only use it as a shortcut-description because it runs closer to my actual beliefs than any other description I’ve found so far. I suspect I’d be run out of an actual libertarian gathering if all my beliefs were considered.)

  24. 24
    TMK

    >Who, seriously, devotes more than a millisecond to pondering this question? <

    Oooh, me, me, can i please name the few millions who do that? ;)

    I noticed that Hitler came up in the comments. The interesting thing is that he also had quite miserable childhood, at least if one is convinced by Alice Miller. She is also close to psychohistory, which is about the endless tunnel you mentioned above. Interesting stuff IMO.

  25. 25
    mildlymagnificent

    What I am all about is discovering the causes that lead to certain undesirable effects in an effort to perhaps mitigate those effects in the future.

    There are two things that are known to reduce the kinds of bad outcomes you’re focusing on here. The first one is a focus on prenatal care and assistance to families with very young children. The other one is good, school-based education on sex and relationships. If you look at the outcomes here http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/component/content/article/419-adolescent-sexual-health-in-europe-and-the-us it certainly looks as though the USA has a lot to learn in this area.

  26. 26
    summerblues

    If what I’ve read about Manson is correct, he didn’t want out of prison. He wanted to stay. No one listened. Maybe that was the only stability he ever had in his life?

  27. 27
    summerblues

    I just read the piece written by Victoria. I did not read it as you did, Ally. This was a piece written about the book by the victim herself and all the victim and the author are trying to do is bring the humanity back to Polanski. Are you sure your own biases are not in the way as you read Victoria’s piece?

  28. 28
    Ally Fogg

    all the victim and the author are trying to do is bring the humanity back to Polanski.

    I have no issue at all with Samantha Geimer, haven’t read her book but by all accounts she is an admirable woman and her take on what happened is extremely intelligent and, yes, nuanced.

    My problem with VCM’s article is precisely that point about “bringing the humanity back to Polanski” as if he were portrayed unequivocally as an inhuman beast or “monster” – in the way that, for example, Charles Manson usually is. You don’t often see newspaper columnists writing pleas for nuance, sympathy and understanding for Manson, for Peter Sutcliffe, for whichever non-rich, non-famous child rapist is in the papers this week.

    The real issue with Polanski – what makes people angry and upset about this case – is precisely the opposite. It is that for 40 years the great and the good of Hollywood and the media have been making excuses for him, playing down what he did, talking about “not rape-rape” and all the rest. So the effect of Coren’s plece is simply to amplify and echo all the excusers and apologists.

  29. 29
    summerblues

    “..40 years the great and the good of Hollywood and the media have been making excuses for him,..” This is where I’m wondering if you’re biased against Polanski and all of his work. The public’s anger isn’t so much about what he did as it is about vengence. Did you read what I linked over? There’s a question about how this was originally handled. That’s it. There’s no question that he did it, no question that is was and is illegal and repugnant and probably to this day he himself doesn’t think he did anything wrong. And yet, he has not been extradited (sp?). Has the FBI ever been in on this case? Surely after 40 years of knowing where he’s been and what he’s doing that he could have been handcuffed and shipped back to the US. But there is reasonable doubt. Then settle the matter, produce all the documents, call all witnesses back, etc. and prove that there isn’t any reasonable doubt. It’s been 40 years and no one thought to do this? Or they’ve tried..and then what happened? There is reasonable doubt, Ally.

    Charles Manson actually has talent. I despise him but kind of liked his music. However, he is a cult leader, charismatic and charming and not bad looking, who took young people and broke them down. Then he built them back up the way he wanted. He formed his own religion with himself as the savior. And he ordered his followers to murder innocents on his behalf. Charlie’s hands are technically clean. He would have let his followers go down…and they would have done so with a smile and a song.

    You can keep the murderer. I’ll take the unattractive, egotistical chickenhawk who isn’t likable. It’s not about their talent, either, for me. I like some of Roman’s work but don’t like the way he treated Sharon at all. He was a lousy husband to her and he still is a lousy human being. I’d still rather have him than a manipulative, soulless murderer.

  30. 30
    Ginkgo

    Ysanne @ 24 – “There’s so much wrong with this reasoning, it’s hard to find a good place to begin.”

    You ain’t a -woofin’.

    Specifically:
    “And, even if one can demonstrate the means to support a child, one’s right to create them would be suspended if one were to neglect to actually do so.”

    Pray who determines at what point the parents effrots are so inadequate that they become neglect? And “be suspended” – ah, the ever useful passive voice, ever usueful to haide the agent of the action. Just who would be suspending these people’s parental rights, which by the way is a basic human right?

    Ally @ 28 – co-sign, every word. Isn’t funny how selective people can be in their compassion?

    This is supposed to be libertarian? It’s as totalitarian as it gets.

  31. 31
    Ginkgo

    aaaaghhh….

    Pray who determines at what point the parents effrots are so inadequate that they become neglect? And “be suspended” – ah, the ever useful passive voice, ever usueful to haide the agent of the action. Just who would be suspending these people’s parental rights, which by the way is a basic human right?

    This is supposed to be libertarian? It’s as totalitarian as it gets.

    Ally @ 28 – co-sign, every word. Isn’t funny how selective people can be in their compassion?

  32. 32
    Raging Bee

    This is where I’m wondering if you’re biased against Polanski and all of his work.

    His “work” is irrelevant — he committed some violent crimes, so he should be punished for them, work or no work. His “work” doesn’t place him above the law.

    The public’s anger isn’t so much about what he did as it is about vengence.

    No, it’s about lawful punishment for what he did. Are you at all familiar with the concept of “equal justice under law?”

    Has the FBI ever been in on this case? Surely after 40 years of knowing where he’s been and what he’s doing that he could have been handcuffed and shipped back to the US. But there is reasonable doubt.

    He’s not still in France because of “reasonable doubt” — he pled guilty to one offense and fled to France to avoid serving his sentence for that one offense. There’s no “reasonable doubt” there. He’s still in France because the French chose not to extradite him — and because of fawning apologists like you who sing his praises because he’s “cultured” and you want to feel superior to us brutish Americans with our laws and our refusal to recognize Polanski’s inherent wunnerfulness that makes his drugging and forcible rape of an underage girl so minor and excusable.

  33. 33
    Raging Bee

    I’d still rather have him than a manipulative, soulless murderer.

    What’s wrong with wanting BOTH of them to be punished for their respective wrongdoings? Why do we have to choose one or the other?

  34. 34
    Raging Bee

    The real issue with Polanski – what makes people angry and upset about this case – is precisely the opposite. It is that for 40 years the great and the good of Hollywood and the media have been making excuses for him, playing down what he did, talking about “not rape-rape” and all the rest.

    THIS to the nth fucking power! Of all the things I find despicable about the entertainment industry, this is the worst: the sheer relentless uncaring spinelessness with which supposedly cultured and civilized people automatically make excuses for one of their own, and completely ignore the reality of what he did. Oridnary shmoes are vilified and ridiculed without mercy for doing what Polanski did (whether or not they’re actually imprisoned); but when one of their own does it, these elite twits (who never have to worry about being victimized by such violence themselves) suddenly change their tune and sing the perp’s praises, without showing even the slightest sign of thinking about what they’re saying.

  35. 35
    Ginkgo

    Raging Bee @ 32 – “His “work” is irrelevant — he committed some violent crimes, so he should be punished for them, work or no work. His “work” doesn’t place him above the law.”

    Quoted for truth. His crimes are the only relevant matter when it’s a question of criminal prosecution.

    Raging Bee @ 33 – Thank you. A false choice.

    Raging Bee @ 34 – Yes and it gets worse. Something else even more disgusting is that they probably imagine this is a principled stand – they are pulling for him on the basis of “past work” because “after all, he’s and artist” rather than how bankable he is now. That’s how crass they are. That’s what counts as “having principles” with them.

    That’s all pretty disgusting but it’s his actual crimes that disgust me the most. My God, a 13-year-old child.

  36. 36
    summerblues

    I cannot believe the BS comments I received in return here.

    “Hollywood elite, cultured and civilized”?! What planet do you live on? Most if not all are as common as one can get. Who cares anyway? Your comment, Raging, sounds more jealous and spiteful than anything important.

    Lawful justice, hmmm, let’s see. What other “violent crimes” is Polanski guilty of, please? He took a plea bargain; wow, that’s just so…normal. I’ve (not) heard of murderers taking plea bargains, oh no.

    You know what, I’m just going to stop here with the sarcasm. There’s more to this than just “he ran”. Yes, he did. He raped (sodomized) a 13 year old girl. This is not the issue. The issue is did the justice system jerk him around, as he claims and his victim now wants looked into, or did he just run from the law. Each time this corpse case gets resurrected the US looks more foolish. There is reasonable doubt about how Polanski was treated, not about what he did.

    Stop reading only what you want to hear in what I’m saying. Why Polanski. Think about it, look into the history. His work is relevant in the way he is perceived. He didn’t treat Sharon well from what I’ve read. He’s a womanizer and likes little girls. His self-pity and arrogance show in his interviews. He is not a sympathetic character nor is he likable. I’ve already said this. Again, why Polanski, why is he still the whipping boy.

  37. 37
    Thil

    @Raging Bee

    “who never have to worry about being victimized by such violence themselves”

    I could name several famous Actors, directors or writers who were abused as children.

    Off the top of my head:

    1) at 13 Stephen fry was once ordered to come up to the room of a head boy at his boarding school so he could sodomise him

    2) Billy Connolly was molested by his dad

    3) John Hurt was molested by the head of his prep school

    4) Chris Langham …..claims to have been made to suck a family friend’s pines on camping trips

    5) Frankie Howard was molested by his dad

  38. 38
    Paul

    Roman Polanski is a nonce and those who can’t or won’t acknowledge that are in effect apologists for his crime.Children are precious and adults who abuse them either sexually,emotionally or physically are the ones with the problem.

    I accept that some adults who abuse children were abused themselves when they were children. But that doesn’t excuse them repeating the cycle of abuse as adults and subjecting children to the same or similar abuse that they themselves suffered as children. For surely an adult who is sound of mind and body should be able to tell the difference between right and wrong. And drugging and anally raping a 13 year old child is wrong and should be seen exactly for what it is.So those who resort to nuance when describing what Polanski did to Samantha Geimer should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

  39. 39
    kacyray

    Ginkgo @31

    Okay…

    who determines at what point the parents effrots are so inadequate that they become neglect?

    Our representatives in the legislature. The question merits enormous amounts of deliberation, expert consensus, and sober moderation. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth considering.

    Just as we use the age of 18 as an arbitrary cut-off point between adolescence and adulthood, there’s no reason we can’t come up with some sort of consensus on what would be a minimum baseline of provision for a child. “If you bring a child into this world, you’d damn-well better be willing and able to provide it with at least this: [insert minimum provision here]“

    Are you seriously arguing that an adult has no fucking responsibility, when conceiving a child, to plan for the provisions for that child? If that doesn’t enrage everyone who reads it, it freaking well ought to.

    If not, then you advocate at least *some* minimum baseline of responsibility. And if that’s the case, then it’s just a matter of establishing that baseline. But nothing will piss me off more than the idea that someone believes that adults should be able to thrust vulnerable young children into this life with *absolutely no responsibility* as to what happens when they do so irresponsibly.

    And “be suspended” – ah, the ever useful passive voice, ever usueful to haide the agent of the action. Just who would be suspending these people’s parental rights, which by the way is a basic human right?

    Ah… the invocation of “Basic human rights(TM)”. And you are the arbiter of what “Basic Human Rights(TM)” are, I take it?

    How about the basic human right of a child to be provided for with basic human needs when it is in its most vulnerable state? I don’t hear you breathing a word about those rights. It’s almost as though… you don’t give a shit! (Imagine that).

    This is so typical of the anti-responsibility crowd. And that’s why you hold libertarianism in contempt, right? Like you, libertarians want all those rights. Unlike you, they believe that each right is accompanied by a degree of personal responsibility.

    And unlike libertarians, I believe that when the responsibility is abdicated, the right goes away. If you can’t provide for a child, don’t freaking have children!

    Because as I’ve pointed out (and I notice you didn’t address at all), to bring a helpless child into a situation where his or her basic human needs (physical and psychological nourishment, basic education, material support) are not going to be met is an act of aggression. It is an act of force against that child. It is forcefully inserting that child into a situation of misery with a high probability that the child will not recover and live a healthy life. It is forcing that child into a terrible situation that he or she had no control over and did not ask for.

    It also puts society at a greater risk of having a bunch of Charlie Manson’s running around.

    This is supposed to be libertarian? It’s as totalitarian as it gets.

    Right… unless you think of an infant as a human being.

    Because once you do that, you realize that advocating for the idea that some crack whore should have the “basic human right(TM)” to spawn 10 of these unfortunate, miserable, doomed-to-almost-certain-failure, disadvantaged children into a dangerous world that they did not ask to be born into might be the exact antithesis of compassion.

    My parents adopted 4 children from such a woman (no, I’m not one of them). One of them is legitimately handicapped, the other three are varying degrees of slow and learning disabled. They are all adults now, and they’ve all done the best they can, all things considered. Two of them are living lives that are as close to normal as could be hoped for. One of them (the handicapped one) will be on government assistance for her entire life. The fourth… I’m not sure where she’s at or what she’s doing, but she lives life on the dark side for sure.

    The only reason they are living lives that even resemble normal is because my parents basically gave their lives to these kids.

    But what if my parents hadn’t come around? What if no one with their generosity and sense of compassion came along? I’m quite sure at least two of them would be dead or incarcerated by this point. The rest would certainly be living miserable hand-to-mouth lives, hopelessly resigned to the animalistic state of survival at any cost. Ghetto life awaited them all.

    And their natural mother? She spit out child after child until she finally died. And she gave them away like candy on halloween.

    THIS is what you’re calling a “basic human right”

    I’m calling bullshit. And yes, it’s personal.

  40. 40
    kacyray

    So those who resort to nuance when describing what Polanski did to Samantha Geimer should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

    I know and care almost nothing about the Polanski situation, but I know that considering nuances is never wrong. I also know that refraining from making a final judgment about a situation prior to digging in and understanding it is not the same as apologizing for it.

    I don’t know you Paul, but I’d bet a plug nickel that you’re the type that would call someone a rape apologist at the drop of a hat. Am I right?

  41. 41
    Paul

    @40 kacray

    Am I right?

    Nope you’re wrong.

  42. 42
    kacyray

    Paul – Good.

    The “apologist” accusation has gotten on my last nerve. Glad to hear that you are not one of those who frivolously fling it around like a sledgehammer.

  43. 43
    Raging Bee

    summerblues: I mention what Polanski did that was wrong, and you call me “jealous?” Seriously? How old are you — twelve?!

    The issue is did the justice system jerk him around…

    Are you fucking kidding me? No, “the issue” is that the “justice system” let HIM jerk THEM around.

    Why Polanski.

    Same question back to you: why are YOU spending so much time attacking Polanski’s critics, even after admitting he’s as vile as we say he is? Why are YOU asking “why Polanski” and not “why Manson?”

  44. 44
    Ginkgo

    kacyray @ 39 – “Our representatives in the legislature”

    That’s not how it works. Legislatures make the laws but they are not the ones who interpret and implement them. That’s left to the agencies who enofrce these laws, and there have been some really horror stories in Britain recently.

    “And “be suspended” – ah, the ever useful passive voice, ever usueful to haide the agent of the action. Just who would be suspending these people’s parental rights, which by the way is a basic human right?

    Ah… the invocation of “Basic human rights(TM)”. And you are the arbiter of what “Basic Human Rights(TM)” are, I take it?”

    No. The UN, a long time ago. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

    “This is supposed to be libertarian? It’s as totalitarian as it gets.

    “Right… unless you think of an infant as a human being.

    Because once you do that, you realize that advocating for the idea that some crack whore should have the “basic human right(TM)” to spawn 10 of these unfortunate, miserable, doomed-to-almost-certain-failure, disadvantaged children into a dangerous world that they did not ask to be born into might be the exact antithesis of compassion.”

    And you are the epitome of compassion. You care so much more deeply than their mother does. You know better than she does. Yes, I admit she’s all fucked up – as fucked up as your nostril-flaring, spittle-flecked hypothetical. I’m just saying you are too, on this question of taking children away from parents.

    And just remember, this is not happening without historical context. The state has a very nasty record – many different governments – of taking children away fomr parents fo rthier own good – Australia with the Lost Generation, the US with deacdes of Indian schools, and I can name, Nothing has quite the same capacity for doing evil ands a high-minded person trying to do good.

  45. 45
    summerblues

    “I mention what Polanski did that was wrong, and you call me “jealous?” Seriously? How old are you — twelve?!”

    No. I’m just wondering why adults are spendng their time being enraged over the “rich and famous” of Hollywood and what they say and do. Who cares.

    “Are you fucking kidding me? No, “the issue” is that the “justice system” let HIM jerk THEM around.”

    No, they didn’t. Did you read the link I put up above? Have you watched the 2008 documentary? The prosecutor, the defense attorney, the victim Samantha (remember her?) and her attorney are all in it. They were there. They would know. I’m going to listen to them rather than an irrational public who have co-opted this case and made it about them; their hatred, their rage. Not even Samantha, the victim who this happened to (remember her?), is even human anymore. This has haunted her since she was 13 and is revictimized every time this gets brought up. It would be better for her and her family for the public to let this go.

    I don’t even know what to say about your last paragraph. I will say that you are skirting too close to being an apologist for a murderer. In my world, murder is much worse than rape. Victims of rape can heal and go on. The dead don’t come back.

  46. 46
    Ginkgo

    summerblues @ 45 – “No. I’m just wondering why adults are spendng their time being enraged over the “rich and famous” of Hollywood and what they say and do. Who cares. ”

    Exactly. Good point. It’s just that that isn’t the issue we we talking about. We are talking about what the authorities are doing or failing to do in this case. This is about the authorities giving someone a pass. That’s the issue.

    A secondary issue is the behavior of Hollywood types, trying to excuse his crime.

    As for Polanski, there isn’t much to talk about. He’s a slimy pedophile. That’s about all that’s relevant about him.

  47. 47
    summerblues

    Polanski wasn’t given a pass, Ginko. And he was not diagnosed as MSDO, a deviant. He is not a pedophile.

    Reminder, for what little you’re going to put into it: Charles Manson ordered his followers to the house that Tate and Polanski were renting. They were new renters. The previous tenants were actually the targets. But instead the innocent victims in that house were slaughtered save for the groundskeeper (they just didn’t find him). Sharon Tate was Roman’s wife. She was 26 years old and two weeks away from giving birth to her first child. Susan Atkins killed her and left the child to die in Sharon’s womb.

    That is the connection between Polanski and Manson. This “human face” article is despicable and insulting. What other depths will you reduce yourself to just to prove that your opinion is right.

  48. 48
    Gjenganger

    @summerblues, Gingko
    This is getting a bit circular. Can I try for a comromise?

    Summerblues link is pretty convincing that Polanski actually has fulfileld the conditions of his plea bargain, and so has paid his debts. Anyway, it is easy to check. It is on record that he made a plea bargain. All the US has to do is to release the precise terms of that bargain and let us judge for ourself. If they refuse to do so, (or if such an important agreement was never written down), the claim for extradiction sounds pretty hollow. Justice systems get extremely huffy about not being shown proper respect, but apart from that there is not much left to be outraged about here.

    On the other hand he was accused of child rape, and got his plea bargain because the victim preferred not to testify, even at the price of letting him get a light punishment. I do not want to be categorical in the absence of a court decision, but it does sound like he got off very, very lightly. We are entitled to judge him for his actions. Still, he can hardly be the only one who got a sentence 35 years ago that we would find unacceptable today.

  49. 49
    Sasori

    As Chris rock said, http://www.hark.com/clips/crblfnxvrz-chris-rock-slams-roman-polanski
    “Even Johnnie Cochran don’t have the nerve to go ‘Well did you see O.J. play against New England?’”

    I think this brings up an interesting issue, the role of social standing/status in peoples reaction to stuff like this. I know it’s frowned upon in this blog, but I can’t help thinking that Coren’s article is basically saying (among other things) that this man is part of a wider social circle of big time film people, that he is considered to have a sympathetic life history and that he’s made lots of great films.
    These things seem to mitigate what he did and humanise him, he’s not like the faceless monsters that you see on the news. I can’t help but think of Ray Lewis and other American (and other) Football players who’ve been involved in terrible crimes but who’s social standing makes them celebrated and admired. People seem to be more likely to empathise with those of higher social standing who ‘do something’ for them.

    I also think that the way the controversy has been treated has been terrible, I think on of the best things about Swedish ‘Lagom’ way of dealing with this kind of crime, not treating it as a special kind of evil, is that it seems to be better for people who are victims of it, and also for society as a whole not to think of people as monsters.

  50. 50
    karmakin

    @Sasori: Re: Ray Lewis and other similar tragedies. Am I the only person who thinks that it’s a much bigger tragedy involving the reality of concussions and their impact on behavior?

    Actually speaking of that, I wonder if anybody ever examined OJ Simpson for similar types of brain damage. Something to think about.

  51. 51
    kacyray

    Ginkgo @44

    Okay, first you asked me @31 “who determines at what point the parents effrots are so inadequate that they become neglect?”

    Then you answered your own question @44 “The UN, a long time ago. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

    This is extracted from the page you linked me to:

    Article 25.

    (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
    (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection

    So even if I momentarily grant that “basic human rights” are decided by committee, you seem to be making my point for me. If a person cannot provide these basics to their child, then they should not be permitted to have a child.

    But I can plainly see what’s going on here. You are very concerned with the right of a person to commit acts of aggression against the most vulnerable among us. And when I make a case that no one should have such a right, you start accusing me of wanting to deprive people of their rights. Cute.

    And this, because you clearly don’t think of an infant as a human being with basic rights.

    And you are the epitome of compassion. You care so much more deeply than their mother does.

    You’re talking someone whose family raised four children because their crack-whore mother gave them away one after the other. She kept getting knocked up, and then handing the kids off. So while your sarcasm is noted, you’ve inadvertently blathered a true statement.

    You know better than she does. Yes, I admit she’s all fucked up – as fucked up as your nostril-flaring, spittle-flecked hypothetical.

    My sisters and brother aren’t hypothetical. And you can quit it with the polemic demagoguery. I’m a patient person, but if you continue to get insulting I’m going to reciprocate.

    I’m just saying you are too, on this question of taking children away from parents.

    I’ve never spoken a work about taking children from parents. On the contrary, I’ve been speaking of parents who either can’t or won’t take care of their children and wind up pawning the responsibility off on society at the child’s expense. And ultimately, at society’s expense.

    Why don’t you quit being a perfect wanker and try having a civil conversation? Has it occurred to you that disagreeing with me doesn’t necessitate insults and contention?

    Oh, I forgot.. .this is FTB, where civility goes to die. Way to perpetuate the sterotype.

    You could start by reading Tauriq Moosa’s excellent essay on charitability during online discussions.

    Then you could go on to actually address the argument I made for why bearing a child that you have neither the means nor intent of supporting is an act of aggression. Either concur, or offer a counter-argument.

    If you concur, then I’d like to know how you justify supporting giving grown adults the unlimited prerogative to commit unlimited acts of aggression against the most vulnerable among us.

    If you don’t concur, I expect that you are able to demonstrate the weakness in my argument.

    How about we start there?

  52. 52
    Ginkgo

    kacyray @ 51 – “So even if I momentarily grant that “basic human rights” are decided by committee, you seem to be making my point for me. If a person cannot provide these basics to their child, then they should not be permitted to have a child.”

    I agree that’s a possible readng,actually it’s a good reading.

    And please don’t think I think kids shouldn’t be taken away from crack whores. I was addressing the origianl broad comment about taking kids away from parents deemed unfit and just saying how horribly that has been abused in the past. Wanting to raise your kid speaking an American or an Australian language, or to be a hunter-gatherer, does not make you a bad parent. Addiction and all the dysfunctions that flow from that do.

    “But I can plainly see what’s going on here. You are very concerned with the right of a person to commit acts of aggression against the most vulnerable among us.”

    So no, you don’t see shit.

    “And when I make a case that no one should have such a right, you start accusing me of wanting to deprive people of their rights. Cute.”

    Yeah, because unlike you, I think everybody has rights.

    “And this, because you clearly don’t think of an infant as a human being with basic rights.”

    No, because unlike you, I think everybody has rights.

    And you are skirting very close to “Won’t anybody think of the children!!!”

    “I’ve never spoken a work about taking children from parents. ”

    ORLY?

    “On the contrary, I’ve been speaking of parents who either can’t or won’t take care of their children and wind up pawning the responsibility off on society at the child’s expense. And ultimately, at society’s expense.”

    So there you contradict yourself in your next sentence. Pray by what magical mechanism do these children levitate out of these bad families? It comes down to a decison by a low-level bureaucrat. Ther eis no other way that happens.

    “Why don’t you quit being a perfect wanker ”

    Why don’t you quit with the man-hating, sexist insults and jam them up your nasty crack? See you don’t like it either when it’s turned around on you.

  53. 53
    kacyray

    “I’ve never spoken a work about taking children from parents. ”

    ORLY?

    “On the contrary, I’ve been speaking of parents who either can’t or won’t take care of their children and wind up pawning the responsibility off on society at the child’s expense. And ultimately, at society’s expense.”

    So there you contradict yourself in your next sentence. Pray by what magical mechanism do these children levitate out of these bad families? It comes down to a decison by a low-level bureaucrat. Ther eis no other way that happens.”

    Okay… I’m not sure if you’re actually this dim or if you’re yanking my chain. You understand that “pawning the responsibility off ” mean to hand it away, not to have it taken from you, right?

    The “magic mechanism” is that they give their kids up for foster care.

    Why don’t you quit with the man-hating, sexist insults and jam them up your nasty crack? See you don’t like it either when it’s turned around on you.

    Aaaaand, with that, you’ve just excused yourself from this conversation.

  54. 54
    summerblues

    Karmakin @ 50

    Regarding OJ and brain injury, that’s a good question. I found the following:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronic_traumatic_encephalopathy

    http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/22/science/la-sci-sn-cte-concussion-nfl-proteins-20130122

    I have OJ pegged as a rich, egotistical control freak who lost control of his wife and killed her for it. Maybe he isn’t.

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