At Last a Unified Front on Sexual Harassment!–Or Not Quite…

Weinstein, Cosby, the heads of corporations, …the list goes on and will continue to grow as more and more women come forward to tell their horror stories of powerful men grabbing them or attacking them. Social media now allows the shaming of even the non-celebrities as women all over the world recount their experiences with the male animal.   In my book I described what it’s like for women riding the crowded subways in Japan or walking down the street in Paris or taking a bus in Mexico City: the groping, the comments, the unending harassment. Women are prey in a perversion of what the relationship between the sexes should be: a divine union of two loving people. Let’s hope this is the turning point, where all of our sisters, daughters and mothers can walk down the street or walk into a room without a predator planning his next move.

But not all women are on board with this. A well-known actress in Austria, Nina Proll, has gone on Facebook to tell us that she finds male attempts to “approach” women “enjoyable” (erfreulich) which could even be translated as “delightful”. She asks, “Why do the feminists always insist that women are victims? I don’t understand that.” She goes on further to say that in the 20 years she’s been an actress, she has never been harassed by a man, but that’s presumably because, she says, she takes their “approaches” as a compliment, and not as harassment. The worst thing she’s felt is pity for the men who were making advances. She’d be ashamed to now go “peddling” those stories to the media, “because what kind of society do we want to live in? Do we want to just denounce each other and drag each other to court?” She asks why we can’t just look each other in the eye and say “no” if we don’t like something. Are we going to forbid men from making sexual advances? Or can we be happy that a man is trying to get us into bed? She ends her tirade by saying maybe we should just outlaw sex, then all the problems would go away.

Not surprisingly, some men have been very pleased indeed to see her take this position. Felix Baumgartner wrote “Nina Proll is simply great!”—calling her a “fearless woman” for standing up to the mainstream. You may remember Baumgartner. He’s the Austrian skydiver who, not content with leaping out of airplanes, decided he needed a bigger thrill so sailed into the stratosphere using helium balloons and jumped.

Proll may be fearless but she’s blind to reality. Or maybe she’s like the guy in that old tale from Grimm who didn’t know what it meant to be scared so they shut him up for three nights in a haunted castle with a bloody ghost. My suggestion is that we lock her in a hotel room with Harvey Weinstein overnight and see how fearless she is. Maybe Baumgartner could parachute in and rescue her for his next thrill.

Based on an article in Die Presse

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Christians Awake! Quit the Cult

The death of Tony Alamo in federal prison this week brought to mind all the damage done in the name of Jesus Christ by charlatans disguised as men of God. Here’s a guy who managed to convince hundreds if not thousands of people that he had a direct line to the Lord and if they would only turn over all their money and assets to the Church he created, they would be able to listen in and salvation would be theirs.

Presto! a cult is founded.

He had a TV ministry back in the late 70s and made a fortune selling, of all things, designer rhinestone jackets to pop stars, jackets that are still being sold online for a hefty sum. Shouldn’t that be a tip-off that all is not right in the New Jerusalem when your spiritual leader is selling both salvation and sequins?

Salvation: it’s what so many are looking for–a way out of the morass that their lives have become, or, perhaps they are just spiritual seekers, looking for a creed, a guru, floating around like chemical ions, waiting for that attraction, that pull that will create a bond to make their lives complete in a blinding flash, and I do mean blinding.

Alamo did a lot of sleazy things, but the worst was using salvation as a threat to get women and girls as young as 15 to sleep with him. He was on the run from the FBI for years and when they finally caught up with him, he ended up with a jail term of 175 years. At the sentencing Alamo is reported to have said “I’m glad I’m me and not the deceived people in the world.”

And there you have it. There are the Tony Alamos and there are the deceived.   But there are also the sons and daughters of the Enlightenment, who (we can only hope) will eventually outnumber both groups and combat hubris and ignorance with Humanism.

You don’t need a guru, you need to recognize that the sacred is all around us and does not involve complete surrender to a charismatic leader.   We all feel the need to belong to something—that’s the Sacrament of the Group. We also need people to guide us through life. That’s the Sacrament of Friends and Mentors. But the Tony Alamos of the world represent the dark side of both of those sacraments, when greed, lust, and ego masquerade as Goodness.

It all boils down to this: don’t abandon reason in your search for the Spirit.

Freedom of Speech on the Internet: the Case of Revenge Porn and Hate Speech

 

Germany has a law in the works that would fine social media companies up to $53 million if any postings with criminal content or offensive material show up on their sites. The companies would have 24 hours to remove the “criminal content” and 7 days for “offensive material”. Apparently youtube does a pretty good job of this already, but Facebook, Twitter, Google, and others do not.

Is this a good idea? Let’s break it down into its parts:

Freedom of Speech   Free speech advocates will deplore this law, but let’s get real. What the Founding Fathers wanted was not the freedom to say anything. As I’ve written before, the German term Meinungsfreiheit (Freedom of Opinion) is a better way to describe what any free society should be aiming for.   We want a marketplace of ideas and opinions, but that does not mean we can say or publish anything we want.   We live in an age where some people have slipped so far into the Dark Side that they are getting their kicks from posting naked shots of those who have spurned them, or even filming and uploading rapes. How low can we go in our race to the bottom? Images like this have nothing to do with opinions.  It turns the Sacrament of Sexual Union into a societal sickness.  Making sure the sickness doesn’t spread should be a high priority.

Enforcement  Is it possible to police this? Yes.  The big dollar amount is meant to get the attention of these companies that are making criminal activity possible. That makes sense.   If there were a TV network that allowed criminals to conduct their dealings on the air, or a newspaper that published revenge porn, they would be sued, put out of business, and their owners sent to the penitentiary. If it’s going to exist at all, Facebook should make sure it can police itself—hire more staff, whatever it takes to ensure that we don’t have to live in a world where the pseudopods of the Dark Side gradually engulf us all.

Who will decide what is criminal content? The companies themselves will have to set limits. If they want to play it safe, those limits will err on the side of caution, and that would not be a bad thing. Social media is so powerful– a good idea or an uplifting moment can reach millions instantaneously.  But so can a bad idea or a propaganda piece urging jihadists to go lone wolf.  This “platform” is so powerful, that far from being a soapbox on a street corner, it’s a stage as big as the world itself. Someone has to edit the scripts that are being read on that stage.

Who will decide what is offensive? The companies again will have to decide what to delete, and, again, as I’ve written before, the gauge should be respect. Many are offended by much of what Donald Trump says, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be able to say it. But if the utterances are couched in scurrilous or scabrous language or images, –it’s trash talk, send it to the trash.

The larger point here is this: yes, it’s censorship!  Embrace it–we need it.   We don’t need a tool that allows us to upload pornography, rapes, torture, or beatings onto the internet. We could get along fine without it.  So if we’re going to allow it to exist, it should only be under strict conditions.  If you’re going to argue that we need to be free to put anything we want out there for public consumption —no, we don’t. Because the yahoos of the world will take that freedom and use it to abuse others. We need a law like the Germans are proposing in order to protect ourselves from ourselves.

For more on this subject:  Freedom of Speech in Germany? Up to  a Point

Free Speech Crisis in Germany

Our Sexual Emergency: Watch out, World

I just nominated “sexual emergency” as the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year for 2016 in the category of “most euphemistic.”   For those who missed it, there was an appalling case out of Austria where a 20-year old man at a public pool grabbed a 10-year old boy in a changing room and raped him. The man then went back to the pool and was practicing on the diving board when the boy notified the lifeguard who notified the police who arrested this guy.   This horrible story made headlines around the world because although he admitted he’d made a huge “mistake” and scarred the boy for life, his defense was that he had had a “sexual emergency”: he was a refugee from Iraq and had not had sex for four months. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to 4 years in prison, but in a development out of the Twilight Zone, on appeal the verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court because it wasn’t clear if the boy had agreed to the encounter.   Fortunately, when the case was then re-tried, the justices found that consent had indeed not been given, and ended up handing down an even longer sentence.

For the moment, let’s ignore the fact that he was a migrant from Iraq, and the bizarre twist in the verdict.   Let’s focus on that word.   “Sexual emergency” (sexuller Notstand) is new to English, but has been around for a while in the German language.   There was a women’s punk band that had a top-selling song of that title back in 1981. I tried to listen to the lyrics, but because it’s hard to hear and because the song itself is not something you’d want to listen to more than about zero times, I gave up. However if you google the term “sexueller Notstand” you come up with a lot of chat rooms where women are trying to figure out what’s going on with their men. Sometimes the term refers to women whose sex lives have dwindled to nothing, and sometimes it refers to men who are desperately in need of sex.

So sexual emergency is another way of saying you haven’t had as much sex in your life as you’d like to. But to try to excuse what this man did … What next? Would we excuse all those attacks in Cologne last New Year’s Eve in the same way? Or just a few days ago in Innsbruck? Viewed that way, life itself is a sexual emergency.   We’re programmed by our DNA to want sex, and in fact not just to want it, to crave it desperately and do just about anything to get it at certain times of our lives.   Our hormones go berserk and our animal brains seem to demand we give in to the reproductive urge.

But would anyone dispute the idea that one of the most important things in life is to learn to control this urge? It’s called “civilization.” You don’t just follow your desires, your appetites unless you’re some medieval barbarian warlord.   Those strands of DNA inside of us are tyrants, demanding that we yield to their decrees if we want to survive. But Reason has elevated us to a different level of being. We’re not beasts anymore, though the veneer of civilization is spread pretty thinly over our lizard brains.

The “emergency” around sex is that we are not treating it as something sacred, something greater than a mere appetite, or vehicle for continuing the race.  Until we can figure out how to teach every individual on this planet self-control,to respect women, girls, boys and not treat them as “objects of desire” then stories like this one will continue to plague us. We need to get onto this universal education project urgently.  Either that or develop the artificial sex partner, Gigolo Joe and Gigolo Jill, at a price anyone can afford.  The faster the better for everyone.

Respect for Women!

Whatever else we take away from the 2016 election season, I think everyone will agree that it’s a whole new world as far as how we’re talking about women—and by that I mean, how they have been talked about in public forums. Women have always had it rough : sized up by men in those infamous locker rooms and harassed by anonymous cat-callers on city streets.   But now things have taken a dive deeper into the slime. The soon-to-be leader of our country is on record as not only publically laughing at women he finds unattractive, but of bringing taboo words and taboo subjects out in the open.   Whatever he said the media covered, ad nauseum.  The green light is now on to say any crass thing you want in any forum at any time and we need to turn it off.

These words and subjects have to do with what I call “the sacrament of sexual union”. The sanctity of this beautiful experience has been verbally violated many times in the past few months. Making this violation commonplace has created a culture that is, …yeah, let’s say it!–deplorable.   We might as well be cavemen, leering at women we find appealing and jeering at those we don’t. Forget the meek, it’s the internet trolls who have inherited the earth in 2016.

We need taboo words to remain taboo!  The original meaning of “taboo” in the South Sea Islands was “sacred”, and in that sense “forbidden”—more like the Greek root of the word “Mystery”—”that which is not spoken of.”   Sexual union is a Mystery in this capital-letter sense, a thrilling, private, after-dark intimacy, but to subject it to the harsh light of day and the thoughtless, crass, drooling language of the troglodytes among us is to lose any chance of experiencing something greater than a momentary spasm of pleasure. The opportunity is there for transcendence, for a union not just of bodies, but of souls through the body.  To get there, we need to approach it with respect.

So lets slap down our lizard brains whenever they want to break the taboo in public forums.  Parents, teach your children to always speak respectfully of women and the mysteries surrounding  intimacy!

For more on this subject go to The Sacrament of Sexual Union

Sick of the Election? Here’s the Cure

What a ride 2016 has been! From the Heights of Hope for a renewed encounter with Democracy at its best, to the roller-coaster of the primaries, watching major candidates stumble and rise again, state-by-state, spattered with mud, dishing the dirt, but still chugging along until only two were left, bloody but unbowed—wow! Now into the final stretch, the plunge into the darkness of dirt and tweets and rants and leaks and lechery. Turn on your favorite news or comedy hour and it’s more of the same. Whether they’re simply reporting on or roasting the next president it’s a descent into the ooze.   Holy Mudbath! We’re as covered with slime as they are! What’s a citizen to do?

My mother, bless her soul, had a simple solution to all this. In my youth when America used to be great, my parents, brothers and sister all sat around most evenings together watching TV—shows about families with amusing problems brought about by some childhood escapades that the TV Mom and Dad would eventually sort out.   Then came the change: 1968—Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.   Women in bikinis gyrating to crazy music, their bodies painted paisley, presumably in psychedelic colors that our black and white TV could not discern, double-entendres from the leering cast, one-liners that crossed the line of decency as it was drawn then. My mother was horrified. After a particularly glaring off-color “joke” she uttered the words that became famous in our family: “Shut the Thing Off.”

It was not the only occasion that phrase resounded in our small living room. The late 60s was a time of enormous change, and Mom was not going along with it quietly. She would protect her family from the Crass, the Degenerate.   The yahoos could smirk and jibe as much as they wanted on that cathode tube, but the sexual revolution stopped at our front door.

Now the time has come once again to employ this useful phrase. When you can’t turn on the TV or radio or look at the news online without hearing an ever-more tawdry accusation, denial, reprisal or threat then Shut The Thing Off.   Get away from it now and just go vote on Election Day. You’ll be a healthier human being if you do.

Pope Francis on Marriage: Get it Together, People!

Pope Francis is in hot water with conservative Catholics.   He recently responded to a question on marriage by saying that most (later changed to “many”) marriages were invalid because the couple didn’t understand the sacrament of marriage. They did not, he said, fully comprehend what they had agreed to as they exchanged those vows. His antagonists began piling on, saying that he was making the entire Catholic community wonder if their marriages were legit, and “muddying the waters” of the Roman Church even more than he already has with his liberal attitudes towards gays, divorcees, and others living beyond the pale (their pale, that is). You could almost hear the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments as they proceeded to excoriate the Pontiff, as if he were an ordinary Joe off the street instead of the Vicar of Christ.

But Francis is on to something important.   Marriage doesn’t mean as much as it used to. It’s been plutoed. The Pope’s point is that those contemplating marriage are not being prepared properly for its demands, and that’s why there are so many seeking annulments (the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce).   They are too willing to call it a day and go on to the next partner on their dance card.

There are two things going on here. The first is the need to recognize that there are going to inevitably be some bad marriages and those people need to split up.   Maybe it’s nobody’s fault, maybe you can lay the blame at somebody’s feet, but every marriage is not going to be forever. People change. They get married too soon, too young, too unaware, blinded by passion and then one day they open up their eyes to a different person than the one they thought they knew.  They should be able to go their separate ways and start over.

But the second point jives with what Francis is trying to tell us. There is a sanctity in marriage, and not just for the Christian Faithful, but for everyone. Our partners in life, those with whom we beget our children should be our best beloved, and in that deep, ineffable affection and the intimacy of sexual union we find the Divine.  Call it God, call it whatever you want, it’s sacred.  Marriage should  ideally be for the long haul. But we live in a world of refunds, retooling, redecorating, and regifting. We have even invented the word “trial marriage”, an irritating phrase if ever there was one.

Forget for a moment the annoyance you may feel at celibate men of the Church ordering you around in this realm of intimacy and domesticity.  The world would be a better place if marriage were viewed as a sacrament instead of a tax benefit. The Pope is doubtlessly correct that many of us are woefully unprepared to be good spouses. But what is sacramental about the union of two souls, is not what happens in front of an altar as a priest utters some magic words. The sacrament lies deep in the heart of the bride and groom if they really care about each other and are willing to make sacrifices for each other and work together to make the marriage more important than either of their own individual lives. It is that depth of feeling that unites them, and makes them married in a spiritual sense. It is Divine. But you have to work at it.

 

Pope Francis Does It Again!

In a new “Exhortation” entitled “On Love in the Family” the Pope has broken new ground in humanizing the Catholic faith.   So much of this is desperately needed that it bears repeating, so here’s some of what he had to say:

1) Get it Together, Men! The Pope goes after domestic violence and verbal abuse of women as the antithesis of what a loving union should be.  Absolutely!

2) Not Sex Ed, …Love Ed: he warns about the danger of encouraging adolescents to “toy with their bodies and desires” treating the other person as a means of blithely fulfilling their own needs. They need to be taught that sexual union is based on a profound love, not personal gratification.

3) Treat Gays Kindly: we must respect the dignity of all, regardless of sexual orientation, and treat everyone with consideration

4) Stop Dissing the Divorcees: far from ostracizing those who get divorced, we must encourage them to be part of the community

A lot of this comes down to that best of all Bible passages: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” It also emphasizes the need for a serious education, starting in childhood, on what this whole range of mysteries is all about: sexual attraction, marriage, and sexual union.  Too often we’re doing a bad job of this right now.   Mother Jones recently published an article on the “Abstinence Only” sex ed laws in Tennessee, which got their start when the daughter of a legislator in that state came home to announce that her instructor in AIDS prevention had illustrated the use of condoms by rolling one onto a vibrator—with her mouth!

Yes, that would do it.

We desperately need to let our children know that sexual union is sacred and it all ties in with how we treat each other as sexual partners and how we regard the sexual orientation of others. This needs to be taught in the home and taught at school, no matter what you think about God.

On the other hand, there are some things in Francis’s exhortation that are problematic, even for the most devoted Catholics. Take the Pope’s unhappiness with birth control, for example. Francis jumps on the fact that we call contraception “protection,” as if a future child were an enemy.

Semantics can be such a problem.

Even in the most Catholic countries, couples are ignoring the Church’s teaching on this point and using birth control in massive numbers.   If they were not, there would be millions of unwanted babies. The “enemy” if there is one, is not the child, it’s Want, Poverty, Starvation and all the social ills that come with them. The Pope and his men seem unaware of the dangers of the Population Bomb, or if they are, apparently they would address it by having us buck up, strengthen our self-control, and simply refrain more often from sexual activity to avoid the 12-child family.   They are dreaming. We are programmed to procreate–the urge is too great for most to resist.  Without contraception famine, wars over scarce resources, and mass migrations of peoples would overwhelm the earth even more than they already are.

So Two Cheers for Pope Francis, and thank God that Catholics around the world are using their common sense where it’s badly needed to keep Poverty at bay.

More on Sexual Attacks in Germany

Some of my German students returning to the US from their holiday break told me firsthand about the frightening events that occurred on New Year’s Eve.   One young woman said she was out with friends at a club and found themselves surrounded by 20 men, threatening them, some with knives. This happened not just in Cologne, but in Stuttgart, Bielefeld, Hamburg,… The most disturbing thing about these events is that they seem to have been planned by Muslim men from North Africa and the Middle East, some of them refugees who recently entered the country.

The German newspaper Die Welt reports that in Arab countries something called “taharrush gamea” is common. It means “coordinated sexual harassment” or sexual harassment planned and carried out by groups of men, ranging from molestation to rape.   It has never before been found in Germany. Now it is.

In the wake of these events, the German press is trying to get a handle on what is behind all this.  What is it like for women in their homelands? Die Presse from Austria interviewed four women from various parts of the Middle East. One woman from Iran recounted how at 16 she was accosted by a man on the street near her house who grabbed her breast. She ran home in tears but her family decided they wouldn’t take it to the police, because in all likelihood it would end up being worse for the victim than her attacker.   A woman from Iraq said the best part about living in Austria was that she could walk around freely, without men constantly in her face, badgering her, demanding her cellphone number.  In Baghdad she had to be home by 5 PM for her own safety. Others in IS-controlled Syria spoke of the fear of Islamist fighters killing them if they did not cover themselves with the hijab.

In short, these women are not free to live their lives.   Fear follows them wherever they go even if they are encased in their prison clothing.   Now women in Germany are afraid too.   Sales of pepper spray are up. Right-wing protestors are in the streets. No one knows how it will end.

 

 

Sacrilege in Köln (Cologne)

There is a song I’ve always liked by Georges Brassens, the unofficial poet laureate of France, called “Le Grand Pan”  (“Pan, the Great”). In the second verse he tells us how in the old days, the gods would rush to the aid of two lovers as soon as they heard a single “I love you,” and with their aid….

La plus humble amourette était alors bénie

Sacrée par Aphrodite, Eros, et compagnie.

L’amour donnait un lustre au pire des minus,

Et la moindre amoureuse avait tout de Vénus.

 

Even the most humble romance was blessed

Made sacred by Aphrodite, Eros and company.

Love gave a lustre to even the worst of losers,

And the least of women in love had all the qualities of Venus.

This is the sacrament of sexual union.   To sense those mutual feelings of attraction swirling, forming, taking over two “imbéciles heureux” as Brassens says, is to know what the Divine is all about.  And it’s there for everyone to experience, even the most humble of us.

But the important word here is “mutual.”   Those supernal energies that send us to the farthest reaches of happiness only operate when love is requited. Failing that, love withers and dies, or leaves only lust, and lust can lead to the Dark Side.  Men are programmed by their DNA to look aggressively for partners, and in the not-too-distant past, they took them by force if necessary. Civilization gave us romance and a moral compass, empowering women by diverting the genetic drive of the male to reproduce.  (I know, I know–women have this drive too, but the danger comes primarily from men).

The veneer of civilization washes off quickly, especially when lubricated by alcohol, and especially when people turn into packs. The horrific events in Cologne, Germany on New Year’s Eve illustrate yet again how frightening life can be for women, even in the most civilized of countries. We don’t know all the details yet, but what we do know is bad enough: hundreds of drunken men encircling women, groping them, assaulting them, making them fear for their lives. It calls to mind events in our own country in 2000 when at the Puerto Rican parade in New York City the same thing happened, or the so called “Eve teasing” in India that can lead to the most terrifying sexual assaults imaginable.

What do we do about this?   Mothers and fathers! Your first duty to your sons is to teach them that sexual union is sacred to whatever gods you serve, or if you have no gods, sacred to what it means to be human, sacred to all that life on this planet means, sacred period.  Women are reflections of the goddesses and in motherhood they are heroes, bringing new life to the world at the risk of their own.   We owe women so much. They need our respect.  Teach your boys!