Friday, February 29, 2008

How to save our courts – and us as well.

In an extraordinary article for Parade magazine, February 24, 2008, once Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor spoke out about the danger of politicizing our judges. In her work she was required by the Constitution to fairly and impartially apply the law -- not the law as she wanted it to be, but the law as it was. How many present Federal or Supreme Court Justices share that view?

Obviously she was also required to be free of personal prejudice toward those who stood before her. It should not matter what the race, religion, or personal appearance of those who argued their cases was. That's a powerful demand to make of oneself. Every one of us is influenced by those things. But her work was based on the notion that a judge must be above that.

I have a friend who works as a judge in arbitration cases. He is one of those obsessively fair and impartial people we are fortunate to have in that position. He once described to me that the portion of his training that affected him the most was that having to do with impartiality. A judge is taught, and this may be the most important part of his training, that he must subvert ego and his personal prejudice.

Justice O'Connor wrote that she is concerned about the manner in which politically motivated interest groups are attempting to interfere with justice. We have barely survived a period in which the Executive branch has systematically subverted the rule of law and attempted to load the federal bench with severely right wing judges. The Supreme Court has been affected it in a way that we will have to live with for at least a generation.

For the past seven years lobbyists have run amok in Washington, doing all sorts of mischief. The baseline of influencing corporate malfeasance, including interference by a Congressman with our environmental laws, has been raised to such a level that it takes an act of massive corruption to wake us up. The past four years in Iraq, as we tried ineptly to administer a country we have no business being in, have been illustrative of how corrupt we have become. Billions have been mislaid and lucrative contracts were given to inefficient but connected companies.

The American public must accept the importance of having our next president be free from crushing corporate ties and obligations to lobbyists. John Roberts is on the right track, and Senator Obama is not far behind.

The rule of law includes statutes and provisions. It involves precedent. Justice O'Connor says good judging requires taking ingredients and procedures used successfully in the past and adjusting them to the case at hand. Any lawyer will tell you it's what they teach you in law school.

If a judge comes up with a new way to apply the law, or obviously is personally prejudiced, that opinion may be reviewed by appellate courts to ensure that it is correct. Would that were the case. Lawyers tell me, and I have painfully observed that consistent decisions by appellate courts support and uphold decisions made by lower court judges. No matter how cockeyed, prejudiced and irrelevant -- their first inclination is to affirm the lower court judge. He or she has to be totally around the bend to be reversed. This leads to a certain cynicism in the public, which is deadly to justice.

I have been living through a striking example which is the subject of my first nonfiction book. The case, involving striking injustice to a single mother, is in progress, so it's too soon to write publicly about it, but it is a microcosm of everything wrong with courts all across America. Justice is threatened when judges ignore settled law and make decisions according to personal or public preferences. It is further threatened when appellate courts uphold them because of a form of cronyism. The notion that there is a Supreme Court in California is misleading. They are so overwhelmed that only life and death matters will be considered. Read the book when it comes out.

Justice O'Connor writes that the judiciary currently is experiencing unprecedented pressure from interest groups to make decisions based on politics. She says that the majority of law is state law. 95% of litigation takes place in state courts. Unsung, local judges have the greatest responsibility to bring justice to cases about divorce, property rights, employment, product liability and medical malpractice.

Perhaps many of them are just, but more than 89% of state judges are elected. Many of those elections become full-fledged political battles fueled by growing sums of money spent by candidates and special interests groups to attack, defend and counterattack. Where is the poor citizen left in all of this? Standing in court with an often inept lawyer, bewildered at American justice.

Justice O'Connor wrote that Sue Bell Cobb spoke to a reporter the day after she won election to become the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. The first question she was asked was: "How does it feel to be the victor of the second most expensive judicial race in US history? How will you convince the people of Alabama that the campaign's contribution to your election will not impact how you rule?"

In every locality, so long as lawyers contribute to the reelection campaigns of judges there will be questions. Justice O'Connor wrote that Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeir won the most expensive judicial election in American history in 2004. That race cost the candidates $9.3 million. How can people have faith in such a system?

At 28 years old, by mutual agreement, I separated from my first wife. We had had two small children, who I was able to see frequently. At first, other than missing my children, and them missing me, everything went fine. We created a simple separation agreement with the help of two lawyers, who never met. Everything was done on the telephone. My lawyer, who didn't even charge me, was a friend impressed by my rising film career. Before signing, I noted in the paperwork there was no provision preventing my wife from taking my children out of state.

I had been enormously affected when my uncle, Mende, lost his children to an ex-wife who took them to California. A fall down alcoholic, she was the sister of a prominent show biz celebrity. My nieces were brought up by their grandmother and I am certain abused by their uncle or others in that fleshy California household. For most of their childhood Mende saw his daughters only for two months in the summer, when he took them to Fire Island. I only became aware of the abuse when I got to know them as adults.

But even before that, seeing my uncle’s profound distress and disappointment, I determined that would never happen to me. One day my wife told me she was taking the children to California with her new, younger boyfriend. In hindsight I realize this would never have happened, but at the time it panicked me.

Then my older daughter, who was around six called to tell me that the witless boyfriend had shown her and her sister his genitals. That's not the word she used or how she put it, but I drove in a panic to see them and chased the guy out of the house. It was actually sort of funny; we danced around pretending we had achieved a great victory. I then waited with them for hours until their mother came home.

My older daughter had developed asthma and my wife seemed unable to keep the house dust free. My younger daughter broke her arm and I received another panicky phone cal,l because apparently their mother was unable to take her to the hospital. I rushed over and even though it wasn't my visitation time, I picked both children up. We had the arm x-rayed and placed in a cast. I asked my daughter what she wanted to do. She said she wanted to come back to my apartment and rest. Late that evening their mother showed up with her brother and took the children back.

I had been seeing a highly trained and recommended psychiatrist, discussed in a previous blog. After these experiences this guy, who had no children, convinced me that I must, as a good father seek custody of my children. No matter how bad things were, it soon became clear that involving children in the court system of New York City was unconscionable.

It did have some good results. Child Protective Services entered the equation. Their mother had to be a lot more careful. The downside was it drove her into a panic -- she might lose her children. My psychiatrist recommended quite possibly the worst lawyer in New York City. Here is the danger -- a young man under the influence of an ignorant therapist, no matter how fine his training or intention, can make terrible mistakes. Though I thought I had good reason, the trial put terrible stress on the children and their mother.

I had by that time placed both children with superb child therapists, but since their mother would not take them, we only went on my weekend. Later on, as I remember, she relented. This is a long-winded way around to tell you about two amazingly incompetent judges in the Supreme Court of New York City.

Our first judge was named Telesford. My lawyer didn't tell me we could bypass the guy. His reputation was that the Adam Clayton Powell machine in Harlem had cruelly arranged for him to be a judge because of his race. The poor man literally did not understand a single thing said to him. Perhaps at one time he had been sort of a lawyer, but by the time he became a judge his mind had completely failed. Trial days were partially taken up by sycophantic lawyers parading through showering the dim witted judge with flowery praises. He ate it up.

The judge made our lives a nightmare. His insane decision -- almost as if he was responding to another case entirely, and perhaps he was -- was reversed, after months, in the Appellate Court. The many cases Telesford had reversed cost the citizens of New York a fortune. Again I took someone's bad advice about hiring an appellate lawyer, and got two lunatics in the middle of dissolving their partnership. Somehow we prevailed. In those pre-Internet high-speed copying machine days, one had to literally publish a book of the transcript of our trial.

Our next judge, Irving Saypol, had been the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the Chief Prosecutor of the Rosenbergs. Saypol graduated from Brooklyn Law School and quickly rose through the ranks of the United States Attorney's office. He was an experienced prosecutor of Communists, as he had convicted Alger Hiss, William Remington, Abraham Brothman and others. Our judge arrived on the bench a celebrity.

Part of his success was attributable to a sincere belief that he was punishing evil. His success in the Rosenberg trial accelerated his career, and he was appointed to the New York Supreme Court just months after the trial. He was proudly part of the government team that fabricated evidence against the Rosentbergs so they could be murdered by our government. That exemplar of honesty, Roy Cohn, was a junior member. I was to later encounter Roy Cohn face-to-face. That's a story for my book.

Sorry to digress, but this is irresistible. In my early twenties, before I got the courage to go out on my own, I worked for my father as a dramatically underpaid cameraman/director/editor, shooting little documentaries. When my parents divorced, more than ten years later, I learned the already wealthy man had made a substantial profit on my labor.

One day I was called upon to shoot with a Judge Irving Kaufman. When I got to his office with my father – that was our crew, my father and I – I learned from a plaque on the wall, Judge Kaufman had presided over the trial and sentenced the Rosenbergs to death.

The seemingly wise and gentle judge observed my useless father’s bullying, as I set up. He saw what was happening -- I worked, my father badgered. Finally he told my father to shut up and leave me alone. I was stunned. That was the first time anyone had protected me against the man. But in another life, Kaufman, Saypol and Cohen, was a team made in hell.

People said Saypol had at least one homosexual son and lived in a nightmare marriage. While I was painfully testifying, he interrupted and asked if I loved my children so much, why I was getting a divorce? I stuttered too badly to tell him that our divorce was not unilateral. It wasn’t a whim or that we were in love with others. With a Judge like that the case could not turn out well, and the result was that I and my children were worse off after than if had done nothing. Regrettably my children had been damaged.

Toward the end of his career Saypol behaved so badly that he was indicted for taking bribes and removed from the bench. Years later when my leg was badly broken in motorcycle accident, my visiting nurse was also attending to Saypol in his last months. She thought he was a great man.

This country can only remain great if the principle which sets it apart from the world remains intact. We must keep religion completely separated from government and we must choose our judges based upon their capacity to be fair and impartial. This is a matter for each individual state. In Colorado and Nebraska an independent commission of knowledgeable citizens recommends candidates to the governor who appoints one of them as judge.

After several years the judge's name is submitted to the electorate who vote on whether he should keep his position. This method decreases the importance of money and politics. We must also educate our citizens about what makes a good judge. We must come to value their ability to be fair, impartial and competent. We must not choose the judges based upon race to fulfill some notion of equal opportunity. We must we weed out the obvious egomaniacs who once they don the black robe lose their humanity.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It happened again!

On Valentine’s Day, at 3 p.m., a former graduate student at Northern Illinois University, Stephen Kazmierczak, pulled a gun from a guitar case and fatally shot five students, then himself. The florid details have been emerging in the news, so there is no need to repeat them.

It was the fifth fatal shooting in a week in United States. Like many shooters, the man was walking time bomb. One professor's comment was telling. "We are surrounded by corn. I am shocked that this happened on our campus."

There had been a week of graffiti, including racial slurs posted on dorm walls. A scrawled note was found which described last year shooting at Virginia Tech, which left 32 students and faculty dead, as unfinished and warned of major changes to come at Northern Illinois.

When the assailant was found dead by his own hand, both of his handguns still had ammunition in them. Gun magazines were scattered across the floor. At one point his rage ran out and he had nowhere to go.

On the previous Friday a woman shot two students to death and killed herself at Louisiana technical College in Baton Rouge. On that same day a man shot his wife, a teacher, in an elementary school in Portsmouth, Ohio. A few days later a high school student in Memphis, Tennessee was shot, allegedly by a classmate, during gym class. A15-year-old, who had recently proclaimed himself gay, was shot at a junior high in Oxnard, California and has been declared brain dead. The murderer, apparently the child of an angry alcoholic father, has been charged with premeditation.

As evening fell in Northern Illinois local police officers were frenzied. While more than a foot of snow fell, they were shooting at ghosts, searching for bombs that didn't exist, and stopping anyone who looked suspicious.

People reacted in horror when Seung-Hui Cho attacked Virginia Tech University last April, and grief gripped the nation for several days. On this Valentine’s Day almost no one batted an eye. It felt like a bad horror movie we had seen before. Some took note; a few grieved and a lot just didn't notice. As time goes on, and this becomes more common, more people will ignore it more.

We don't know much about Kazmierczak He wasn’t as helpful as Cho, who made a video of his hatred and rage. On February 16 Stephanie Simon, a mother, published an article in the LA Times about her “quest for answers.” She detailed a series of mass murders from Columbine High School in 1999. The only similarity between incidents was the use of easily available guns.

I wrote Ms. Simon and she replied she would watch this blog to “read my insights.” Only one matters. Look to violence and abuse in the pre-verbal history of the shooters. This is a tough answer, because those who know about pre-verbal abuse to these unfortunate killers are likely to have been the perpetrators.

There are 280 million guns in the hands of civilian America. The Constitution grants this right, and though many of us have no interest in guns the political climate makes it unlikely there will be any change in our laws. A country that is flooded with guns has to be particularly careful about violence to children. My “insight” is that those abused children will soon become our next shooters.

A recent article reports that Mel Gibson’s twin sons, like their father, have recently been in expensive rehab. They reportedly also have fought violently. My first thought is that they had been assaulted in their childhood by their father, much as Gibson was probably assaulted by his. Only their mother can answer this. An answer would help us all.

Tatum O’Neil writes that her father beat her brother and at least once, hit her full in the face with a closed fist. She seems to take such violence as a matter of course, and seems unable to connect it to her abusive marriage to John McEnroe and her subsequent life with men. We know that Ryan O’Neil’ son was involved in and perhaps responsible for the death of Frances Ford Coppola’s son. Violence travels far from the hand of the hitter.

After reading her heartbreaking book, I wrote Ms. O'Neill, suggesting that she try to get into some kind of therapy which would deal with post traumatic stress disorder resulting from what I believe to be early childhood sexual abuse by her father, or someone else. She has all the symptoms. I received no reply.

Anderson Cooper appeared on CNN seemingly totally bewildered as to why for the second or third fourth time in a year, someone has picked up guns and randomly shot people in a University. He says with great assurance we will never know what drove him. Andersen, we know.

This kind of irrational behavior does not respond to rational understanding. It is significant that these men killed themselves. It is significant they are men. The recent explosion of rage lasted only two minutes, during which the killer injured many and killed five. When the infant’s short term rage was spent, he killed himself. Almost all the shooters participate in acts of public suicide, as protests against wrongs buried deep in the psyche of the shooter.

The killer was also calling attention to himself – as Cho did in his videos. Unable to tell the world how he had been tortured, he acted out what had been done to him. Parents who have been treated violently are often violent toward their children. It takes a monumental effort to change this. But change we must.

At thirty, in the midst of a painful separation, with two small children, I began therapy with a world famous Psychoanalyst. He was English, older, elegant, smoked filter tipped Benson & Hedges cigarettes, rode on the back of my motorcycle, and was entirely clueless about what had happened to me.

He did ask to see my parents and encouraged me to tell them about my childhood. Amazingly they joined us. When for the first time I confronted them with how I had been brutally beaten in my childhood. They said they were “surprised.”

My father, of course denied all knowledge. He “hadn’t been around” after all. Too busy making a fabulous living, which benefited mostly him. I have a letter from this period in which he apologizes for my mother’s crazy behavior, saying if he had known about it he would have done something. Not likely. The beater, my sister’s nanny, was also his lover – and quite likely my mother’s also.

But it was my mother who stunned me. She said I was an overactive little boy who needed to be beaten to bring me under control. This seemingly loving woman covered up her guilt with an insane rationale. We never spoke of it again. On her death bed she swung wildly, still trying to strike back at those who had abused her so long ago.

Our problem as a nation is that we believe in violence to children. Many religions encourage it. Ask your neighbors. Most likely they believe it's okay to hit their kids. A good smack once in a while keeps them in line. A good parent disciplines.

A national dialogue is necessary because we have not publicized the connection between child abuse and violence. We abuse and torture animals routinely, because we have been deadened to the suffering of other creatures and our fellow humans -- in the same way Nazi concentration camps were run by deadened soldiers.

I propose the government spend a couple of bombs worth to do research through our vast prison population and find out what percentage of inmates has been beaten or abused. What would it cost? A few million dollars? The result would absolutely show us that virtually everyone in prison has been tortured as a child. Those who commit violent crimes have ALL been victims of violence themselves.

Publicize this. Eliminate it. And our society will profoundly change.

To that end we must move toward greater ethical standards. We have been deeply damaged by a government which lied to get us into an illegal war. This too reflects in growing public violence. Colin Powell, if he would stand up and become a national hero, could tell us what happened. Hundreds know about the creation of the deadly falsehoods that at least one presidential hopeful still stands behind, and are silent.

There is hope -- but it’s late. A message of accountability for Bush/Cheney has finally resonated on Capitol Hill. The House of Representatives took a major, tangible step towards holding them accountable. A vote on the House floor demanded action to enforce the law and our Constitution, and hold former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in Contempt of Congress. This is the same Meyers who our president wanted to nominate for the Supreme Court.

Bolten and Miers have amazingly ignored congressional subpoenas for nine months and thumbed their noses at Congress and the American people. Executive privilege does not permit officials to avoid appearing altogether when subpoenaed. This behavior is unprecedented and outrageous. Now, these two renegade officials must face up to their blatant disregard of the law and constitution.

Pending legislation allows Congress to bypass the Attorney General, who stated that he would not enforce contempt, and immediately take action in the courts. Congress finally defended the Constitution and its rights as an equal branch of government. But don’t hold your breath. Did you read about this in the news?

Either of the Democratic candidates is going to make immediate, sweeping changes in the moral basis upon which our country is run. We need a justice department that is not politically biased -- that serves justice -- not some perverted version cooked up in the minds of a coupole of wealthy old men in power.

Lawlessness by top officials is reflected in the rise of incompetent and corrupt judges all over America. Corruption among lawyers is typified in jokes by virtually every comedian. We detest lawyers and yet seem helpless to create a society that is not so dependent on them. They represent the single greatest waste of our resources. The law is set up to allow them to churn cases endlessly, and an incompetent judiciary encourages this.

I recently was the recipient of a demand letter from a law firm that was based on falsehoods that were all easily punctured. Lawyers should be held responsible for what they do and write. It is their responsibility to make sure their client can demonstrate to them that he is telling the truth. Bar associations must enforce this sense of morality among lawyers.

In order to hold Judges accountable we must remove laws that prevent citizens from suing them. Judges must be liable for cruel and inhuman treatment. One cannot count on our Appellate Courts which often seem to be there to protect the Judges and not the petitioner. Bar associations have to become more than a rubber stamp for incompetent lawyers.

I take it as a good sign that we are elevating someone entirely fresh and new to the position of possibility being president. I like it that his wife honestly says this is the first time she has felt proud of being an American. As an old soldier, I am proud also. We appear to be standing up and taking our country back. Maybe it took years and years of harm and cronyism to become so frustrated that we will take a chance on a man untested and untainted by a past in Washington.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

There is no such thing as an “accidental drug overdose.”

The Sunday, February 10, 2008 LA Times Calendar section opened with an article about the death of actor Brad Renfro on January 15, 2007, at age25.

It referred to Heath Ledger, Brittany Spears, River Phoenix, Eva Mendes, Balthazar Getty, Ben Affleck and Juliette Lewis; asking, “Has Hollywood become an incubator of [drug] abuse or a mirror of society? Or are we all just more aware of its troubled denizens because of the hyper 24/7 coverage?"

The article quotes Dr. Drew Pinsky, who appears on VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew.” "I think what we see in young Hollywood is reflective in what we see happening in young America -- the pandemic of drug addiction." He says we are losing ground to pharmaceutical drug addiction. Apparently overdoses kill more people than guns and are second only to car accidents. The man is unquestionably an expert in pharmacology, but his input offers no answers about why Heath died.

The article contains intimate details about Renfro's life just before he died – but nothing about why. “Why” seems to have mystified the writer. I tried, but could bear to watch only a few minutes of some Dr. Drew shows. They hovered in a misty area of group therapy, concerning the recent past. Unlike Dr. Phil, he is free of rant and rage, and seems like a humble physician with a genuine desire to heal.

But I saw on his show nothing of what I would call "treatment," just a lot of painful and convoluted talk. I wanted to step in and ask questions which might at least lead the participants on the terrifying journey back to where their addiction began. As did the writer of the LA Times article, he offered no actionable idea about why so many attractive, talented and successful people are falling prey to “accidental" drug overdose.

Heath Ledger was videotaped at a party taking drugs. According to Dr. Drew, who saw the video, Ledger seemed highly intoxicated, extremely guilty and agonized -- concerned that his wife and daughter were upstairs. This speaks again to the non-accidental nature of his death. He was out-of-control, and no one was helping, because no one really understood what was going on. I can find no information anywhere about the nature of Ledgers early childhood.

Dr. Drew says he has a treatment for drug addiction and his treatment works. He says he's treated 10,000 patients and can absolutely cure addiction. He sounds like he knows what he's talking about, but how many of the 10,000 remain cured? You cannot cure addiction with drugs. But that seems to be all Dr. Drew understands. I know a young man hooked on legal methadone -- as addicted to that as to heroin. How is he being helped?

Perhaps there are people, otherwise mentally healthy, who become addicted by mistake, who have no abuse history or personality tendencies towards being drug addicts. Perhaps those are the ones Dr. Drew can cure. Perhaps using more drugs will cure patients from needing to take them. But I believe any such cure is only superficial. You cannot treat addiction without treating the underlying cause. The premise of these blogs is that it arises as a result of early childhood abuse.

By my definition an accident is something entirely unforeseen and unpreventable. The recent Heath Ledger tragedy was no accident -- any more than it would be an accident if any of the satellites revolving around Britney Spears or the star herself, were injured or killed. Heath died from a combination of powerful prescription drugs, painkillers and tranquilizers that suppressed his respiration -- drugs he should never have been taking together. It was a willful act of a man in terrible pain.

The Veterans Administration is finally waking up to the fact that soldiers abused in their early childhood are subject to far more powerful, and difficult to cure, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than those raised in a supportive, loving environment. Though we are not in combat this fundamental medical finding applies to each of us. Our ability to surmount loss of love, unpleasantness, disorder, frustration and disappointment seems to be directly related to the conditions of our early childhood.

There is no way to prevent job failure, relationship breakup or divorce. But my belief is that our reaction to severe emotional stress as adults, which none can avoid, is conditioned by our prenatal environment and first six years of life. When I physically absorbed and mentally understood and what had happened to my mother while she carried me, my ability to cope with a challenging life path dramatically improved. In a lifelong process of healing I've encountered only two therapists, thankfully recently, who understood this.

There is no way to have an automobile accident without getting in your car. There is no way to overdose on prescription drugs unless doctors prescribe them, or you get them illegally. In Ledger’s case no one doctor could have prescribed what he took. He apparently did not take the trouble to understand how the combination of drugs, possibly prescribed by more than one doctor, might have affected him. He apparently had a drug abuse history. Others knew about it. Does a sane Doctor prescribe powerful and dangerous drugs to someone who also has or had a major drug habit? Again -- no accident.

Did any one of these doctors consider before prescribing poison, that this young patient consider a safer course of treatment? Probably not. It is much easier to arrogantly prescribe a miracle drug custom designed to put a bandage over a festering wound -- than to seek inside and laboriously heal it.

If a doctor decided there were other treatments available for a young man who could sleep only an hour at a time and thought he required heavy-duty painkillers, where would he turn? How many therapists are able to treat emotional disorders like the one that probably was the underlying cause of Ledger’s death? The training most therapists receive precludes their understanding the importance of early life emotional injuries, or being able to treat them. How many doctors are aware of the usefulness of Somatic Experiencing, Craniosacral, EMT and Acupuncture therapies?

Even now the therapy most therapists must receive in order to become therapists rarely deals with their early trauma. From the days of Freud therapists have been unwilling to look at their own pre-birth and early life conditions. Updated versions of "The Drama Of The Gifted Child" carry Alice Miller's reaction to this common therapeutic failure. She is furious that her therapists consistently tried to talk her out of memories of childhood abuse -- convincing her they were fantasies.

Perhaps emotionally and psychologically oriented prescription medication is not dangerous of itself. Perhaps there are reasons dangerous drugs must be prescribed by an ingrained and blind medical community, with an eye cocked to the bank account. Sorry to be cynical, but I've been on the receiving end of too much careless medical treatment based on doctor’s money hunger. I do not believe FDA approval of dangerous drugs makes them safe. Too much lobbyist’s money changes hands. Clearly the pharmaceutical industry, in its greed, killed Ledger.

You will not find Dr. Drew saying this on television. By the time a severely damaged adult, without a clue to what is driving him, arrives at the psychiatrist's office he is desperate for anything to ease the pain. And it must work quickly. So it falls upon the prescribing physician to make sure he is not subjecting his patient to unnecessary risk. Used with care, guided by consistent and informed medical attention, and other competent therapy, psychotropic drugs may be lifesavers. But experience tells me there are other ways that produce a satisfactory results without risk.

Is an investigation underway to determine how many doctors were involved in Heath’s death? Did each know about the prescription medications of the others? Did they consider the possibility that this troubled young man might take a lethal combination, and warn him strongly? I've been the victim of many doctors with troubled emotional equipment, who were in too much of a hurry. The waiting room was full and the cash register was clicking.

Heath must have been in unbearable emotional pain, unable to sleep, and struggling to survive each day. He was young and suddenly famous. No one could say no to him. That’s intoxicating in itself. He had separated from the mother of his child. Perhaps this was the first time he had encountered the psychological material which produced the overwhelming feelings he was trying to suppress with drugs. I've been in such pain and I know how difficult life becomes from minute to minute. Just breathing in and out seems impossible.

It did not matter that my films were successful, I had plenty of money and glamorous friends, or that every day was filled with excitement and adventure. It did not matter that I was tall, attractive, and physically fit. I had beautiful, custom-made clothes, motorcycles, fast cars and airplanes. I moved fast and with style! Yet my soul was crushed and still. It did not matter that I derived enormous satisfaction from talents that were gifted to me from birth. It did not matter that virtually every film I made received praise. I would go outside my door in the morning and find storyboards for fabulous television commercials, with no-bid offers, outside my door.

But I derived no pleasure from any of this. I was half dead. Crippled. My hidden inner self was in excruciating agony, struggling back in the time when I was being physically tortured and in actual danger of being killed. I was in therapy with an eminent therapist, who made it worse. The therapist, I later learned, was so caught up in his own ancient wounds that he could not heal.

The danger to people like Heath Ledger and Britney Spears is: connection to “forgotten” old abuse can pop up unexpectedly, out of nowhere. In order to become a reasonably successful adult I had to suppress all memory of my first three years and most of the subsequent three. Every therapist I saw early in life failed to treat the original wounds. The recovery process, even under guidance of a skilled and compassionate therapist, later in my life, was arduous and debilitating.

This is what happens. One marches along, superficially happy and successful. Heath fell in love with his costar, fathered a child, acquired dozens of fascinating friends, was on his way to a huge acting career. Then events triggered old, suppressed memories. Memories his parents, those who were there and experienced with him, are not likely to bring forth. The physical feelings and images lie in waiting, hidden under the soil of every day life, like a land mine. Then fate intervenes.

Fairly recently circumstances led me to a woman, a control freak, who had suppressed bisexual tendencies. We had a short, unpleasant relationship. After we broke up, she began sleeping with women. To my shock it tore me apart. I had feelings associated with her that didn't exist while we were going together. I didn't love her. We had known each other only briefly and had, I thought, almost no emotional relationship.

Soon after, in the middle of writing “Backlight” 10 or 12 hours each day, I was at the dog pound in Camarillo (a place that brings out the most vulnerable in us all) wandering around in terrible pain, talking to myself for hours while my new girlfriend and I chose dogs to foster. Compassionately, she acted as if nothing was happening. I was experiencing a full-blown psychotic break during what should have been a joyous and productive time.

Within days, events I only dimly remembered came to me. When my sister was born, I was a year and a half old. My parents hired a nurse for her, who sexually assaulted, beat and tortured me. I was black and blue half the time and my mother "didn't notice." I recovered these memories while writing “Backlight,” and because I could flow them out through my fingers and voice (and was seeing a properly trained and compassionate therapist), they passed. The agonizing experiences found their way into the novel and give it some of its power.

When I was four or five the nursemaid took me to see her girlfriend, leaving me alone on a dangerous street. I looked into the window and saw them doing something. I only realized later they were making love. I recovered this memory this while writing the scene for the book. From this raw material I recreated my childhood abuser, and placed her in “Backlight.” Before then I had been creating out of dim memory. She was someone foggy, who never came across as a real character. Now I had her (she even had a name) – and she leapt from the page, alive as she was then.

I continue to experience abnormal stress around being a creative person, who, as most of us have, has passed in and out of relationships. I have never been able to do it without enormous psychic distress. My career has been impacted because none of my artistic films were realized with my full, willing psyche. I only succeeded at making TV commercials, because, as I now understand, that did not conflict with the notion of my father being the only genius in the family.

So I sympathize with Ledger -- but am infuriated that apparently no one really sought to help him. Prescribing dangerous drugs and abandoning him is not help.

Ledger said his art came from a place of discomfort. "I like to do something I fear. I like to set up obstacles and defeat them. I like to be afraid of the project. I always am. When I get cast in something, I always believe I shouldn't have been cast. I fooled them again. I can't do it. I don't know how to do." Sounds familiar.

Facing the unknown, the film artist feels helpless. He must produce an ephemeral result, on-demand, on a schedule determined by hundreds of people, whose income depends on the success of a mysterious process. Famously, a painter or novelist who feels blocked can walk away and wait for the inspiration to arrive again.

Most artists feel helpless and uncomfortable, and perhaps it is what drives them to excel. One of the jobs of the director is to comfort, providing a stable, safe place from which to work. Elia Kazan understood this well. Creating anything original is a high wire act. We will probably never know, but the notion that Ledger was lethally distressed because of a part he had played in a film is absolute nonsense. More likely his separation from his wife and child and other relationships triggered an old and terrifying in him he was not able to contain.

My guess is that Michelle Williams could provide many of the answers, if she were willing to tell. In the interest of preserving everyone's privacy we can only assume. I write so you may consider what might have happened to Heath Ledger if someone capable had been allowed access to treat his original wound.