Thursday, July 31, 2003

ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP: RASKOLNIKOV AND WOLVERINE BATTLE GANDHI AND PHILIP MARLOWE! So someone writes a very silly column saying that superhero comics and movies alienate us from the possibility of our own heroism, and end up discouraging heroism rather than promoting it. NeilAlien has already growled at this silly column, but I'd like to point out a few scattered things I noticed about it, since there are implications for a broader theory of art and "realism" (what a misnomer! Is anything less "realistic" than real life?).

First, the article reminded me of two things: "Marvels" (see below) and a question The Rat was asked when she was applying for a prestigious fellowship in comparative literature. (She won the fellowship, too, because she's supersmart. For a rat, anyway.)

At times, as I read "Marvels," I wondered whether people would really react to the emergence of superheroes the way they react in the book. Are we really so insecure that we would feel threatened simply because others are more powerful than we are? Isn't that just the same cliched adolescent appeal Ayn Rand's worst passages have, the belief that everyone hates us because we are so cool and special, the belief that the world always tries to tear down those who merely want to Help and Save it? In the end, I was fully convinced that "Marvels" showed a pretty realistic reaction, in part because I recognized the invasion/liberation parallel I talk about below. But if I still needed proof that people really would throw bricks at superheroes, the Austin Chronicle column totally provides it. This guy is threatened not by real superheroes, but by comic books about made-up superheroes! For sure, he'd be less than thrilled if Captain America really did wing in and save his bacon.

The fellowship-question example is more important, though. Ratty was talking about how reading Dostoyevsky radically derailed her life. She ended up switching careers (she'd planned to go into advertising, but she couldn't bring herself to push lemon-scented ennui freshener anymore), becoming pro-life, and undergoing a host of other unpleasant changes. She also became a vastly more serious reader of literature.

So one of her interviewers asks her something like, "So my question is--all those characters in Dostoyevsky, I can see they are extremely vivid figures, but people don't really act like that in real life, do they?"

And I can see what he meant, sort of. I mean, I've never killed an old woman just to find out if God is dead. Similarly, I've never worried that my uncle killed my father because he wanted to marry my mother and become King of Denmark. Similarly, I've never found myself in a dark wood, about the middle point in my life, and been taken through the infernal, purgatorial, and celestial realms by various and sundry guides. You see where I'm going with this, no?

The specific situations and actions taken by characters are symbolic representations of actual crises faced by most people. Raskolnikov is like a floodlit, buoy-decked version of the rocks we all smash up on all the time. Yes, he's more garish than we are. But that only means we're less consistent than he is.

Art. Is. Not. Life. It is, when it is doing its job, a selection from life, a snapshot taken with an eye to framing and cropping. What is left out is as significant as what stays in. Art is a high-contrast, sometimes a solarized, photograph of life, not a random Kodak moment. Art uses a language of symbol, allusion, and archetype, in which every red is more crimson than it is in our daily lives, every tree is taller, every wind blows stronger. (Hey, here's Peter David, an actual comics guy, saying the same thing!)

The search for a "realist" art is destined to fail, for two reasons: 1) The whole point of art--right? this is why you make art, rather than writing an article, or a diary entry, or a philosophy article?--is that it isn't the same as random recording of sense-impressions and consciousness-belches.

2) There's nowt as queer as folk. If you wrote a genuinely "realist" novel, nobody would accept it--"That's not how things really happen!" Truth is stranger than fiction, because truth is more ragged, and there's just much more of it, so eventually, like the infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters, almost every random thing happens. The whole point of art is to sift the meaningful monkey-typing from the random clatter of the keys. So art that attempts to hold the mirror up to nature is actually abdicating on its basic responsibility, which is to show not what nature shows (nature does that!), but what nature means.

So there are two basic mistakes--no, wait! three--at the core of the Chronicle article.

1) The lamest one. What'n Ah say what'n is going on with this guy's notion of heroism? I mean, obviously I'm never going to be Philip Marlowe. Duh. Equally obviously, Chandler's description of his hero is stuffed with more bombast than Jenifer Aniston playing Falstaff. (Ick. Scratch that.) I'll defend the "Down these mean streets a man must go..." line any day, since I think it pays for its sentimentality by being genuinely insightful; but do we really have to jam every hero into the "Casablanca" mold?

2) Dude's wrong about superhero comics--and even superhero movies. They just don't do what he thinks they do. They do not show invulnerable, infallible beings saving everybody and never dealing with the consequences of heroism. I mean, for pity's sake, just read one, can't you? "Riot at Xavier's"? "Alias"? "Arkham Asylum" (not one of my favorites, but whatever)? "Batman Meets Houdini" for pete's sake??? Or watch one of the durned movies. Yes, the scene where Nightcrawler tore up the White House was totally thrilling. But check it out: That scene would not have been nearly as powerful without the shots of the President, with his aides' hands on his shoulders, clearly fearing for his life; nor would the movie as a whole have meant anything without the scenes showing its "superheroes" as flawed, struggling critters not so unlike ourselves.

Why does this guy think Rogue can't kiss people? Is it just random, or is it, like, somehow related to, you know, ordinary American adolescence? Is the scene in the first "X-Men" movie where Cyclops inadvertently blasts a hole through Grand Central Station just a SFX flashbangshow, or are we seeing something about self-control and (this is brought out in later dialogue) the way we can feel ashamed even of our most powerful qualities? And these are just within the movie versions, not exactly the places I'd turn for in-depth examination of character.

3) And finally, dude's wrong about what art does. By removing us from our everyday and personal concerns, it gives us a degree of distance we need to come to surprising and challenging new conclusions. And it seeks to find the metaphors that express our condition and dilemmas. Art is a result of the fact that we know we aren't what we should be. So we try to come up with some way of expressing the shadow that falls between the meaning of life and the jumbled, chaotic experience of it. (Even if the meaning is chaotic, that's still something that needs to be clarified for us, because it isn't obvious.)

So yeah, if you're cool with Raskolnikov you can't object to Charles Xavier on realist grounds.
GRATUITOUS: So a commenter at CalPundit's site (following Kevin Drum's quite courteous linkage of the Marriage Debate blog) writes, "What gets me about people like Maggie Gallagher and Eve Tushnet is their intellectual and moral conceit that their opposition to gay marriage has nothing to do with animus towards homosexuality or gay people."

I fear I'm about to be catty, but I can't help replying, "M'dear, even my ex-girlfriends don't think I hate gay people!"

Kiss Kiss,

(PS: I know I've been shanking on this issue--on Monday I should have a couple short, tart posts posing questions about why marriage is honored in our society. I'll also give my position on civil unions, and try to put together the "mechanism" post I promised on how same-sex marriage will degrade expectations of marital sexual fidelity. But for the moment, all you get is cattiness.)
PICTURES AND CONVERSATIONS: I bought more comic books. (First set of reviews here and here.) Here are some mostly-brief thoughts. We'll go in order from least to most fun.

"X-Force: The Final Chapter." Fine as far as it goes. Fun. Some people call this series cynical (since it's about a team of superheroes created to win media attention and earn big bucks), but it consistently chooses drama and (more often) melodrama over cheap cynicism, which I think makes its satirical edge much sharper. The characters are like Agatha Christie's: They're silhouettes, not fully-fleshed-out people, but they're recognizable enough types that you're able to invest emotional energy in them. They flicker from stereotype to archetype, mostly stereotype, but that's all they really need to do in order to keep you hooked into their dilemmas and dramas. So the series hovers somewhere above soap opera but well below art. Anyway, still not sure how much more of this I want, but I don't regret going in for another round.

"New X-Men: E is for Extinction" and "Imperial": The stories in these two books often veer a little too cosmic-scale for me--and I don't know why, exactly, but I'm really very allergic to the Marvel Universe space stuff. I just don't get or like their aliens. Part of it is that it's extraordinarily hard to write an alien character that is both genuinely alien and engaging for the audience. So, I'm anti-alien, and there are muchos aliens in "Imperial." Also, the drawing is still too bulgy, long-leggedy, and blunt. (And I could still use a lot less boob and butt, you know. The fans want pants, but not spray-on pants.)

Anyway, still fascinated by the characters, and interested in these two books as the preludes to "New Worlds" and "Riot at Xavier's," which I liked a lot more. There were very fun moments (between Jean and Hank, or Scott and Logan, etc.) in the caesuras between huge chunks of the world blowing up and similarly boring activity. (Did I mention I'm a chick?)

"Alias: Come Home" and "The Underneath": These are great. The layouts aren't as evocative and almost Lee Miller-ish as in the first volume, but the characters, storylines, and dialogue are all terrific. The top layer of conceit here is fun enough--write a noir comic with superheroics in the marginalia. But the underlying questions about whether Jessica Jones, PI and ex-superhero, is running away from responsibility or merely pretending to do so are richer than the genre interplay suggests. Also, I like her a lot, and I want her to go on more dates with the (ex-) Ant-Man.

"Marvels." This--is--so--awesome. Quickly, for people who don't know this already: "Marvels" is about the first years of superheroes. It's about how ordinary, non-superheroic people would feel as we saw strange, immensely powerful, often inscrutable beings enter the scene. The story follows a news photographer from 1939 through the early '60s, and shows New Yorkers alternately idolizing, fearing, and despising the superhumans.

The art is intensely realistic. (There's a list of models at the back.) There are beautiful set pieces, like the flood of New York City or the scenes of the Human Torch aflame. But even the quietest moments are beautiful.

Many of the lines struck me as especially poignant in light of Americans' position in the world today. The narration plays on some of the crusading, restless sense of American power that I talked about here, but it also gives you a real sense of what it feels like to be rescued--"liberated," you might say--by forces obscure, unpredictable, violent, and utterly out of your control: "Before they came, we were so big, so grand. We were Americans... We were the ones who got things done. But we'd gotten smaller. ...We weren't the players anymore. We were spectators. ...It was out of our hands. We were only the audience again--and we had no say in whatever was going to happen."

And the general idea of the book--that what is marvelous is as threatening as it is awe-inspiring--is the basis of the concept of the sublime. So you know I liked it.

Sean Collins (who has an intriguing "intro-to-comics" list here) thinks "Marvels" isn't for the general reader, since, in his view, its impact relies on intimate knowledge of Marvel's coral-reef continuity. I can stand as a counterexample: I know virtually nothing about the fictional-history events referred to in the book. I have a very, very attenuated and scattershot sense of some threads of X-Men history, and I know that Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and lost his Uncle Ben, but beyond that I'm continuity-impaired. About the Fantastic Four I knew nothing before I opened "Marvels." (There're four of 'em, right? And they're, like, fantastic?)

In my view, this lack of background knowledge actually enhanced the book, putting me in a situation much more like the situation of the protagonist, who has no clue what the heck is going on when this elf-eared aquatic dude suddenly starts rampaging through his hometown. I think if you want a terrific exploration of some classic themes (you know, power/responsibility, awe/terror/hate, celebrity/infamy, how it feels to think the world-historical situation has spiraled completely out of your control when you were supposed to be at the top of the food chain) you will not need to know anything about Captain America's origin to get a real kick out of "Marvels." (One exception: I would have liked to know which of the Marvel heroes are mutants and how the others got to be superheroes. Is it just the X-Men who are mutants? But that didn't really detract from my reading pleasure, as this rave review should demonstrate.)

Apparently there will be a sequel, taking us through the 1970s. Even though the artist will not be returning, I'm thrilled--after I finished "Marvels" I hopped onto and sought any possible sequels, but came up empty. So I can't wait for more "Marvels."
FLOOD: Why, why, why are all the good old movies showing in the same week??? This week brings "The Birds," "Topaz" (OK, probably not a great movie, but I'm a Hitchcock completist and I haven't seen this yet), "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "Mildred Pierce," "Macao," "Night of the Hunter," "White Heat," "Colorado Territory," and "Five Star Final," plus a few more that I don't need to see again right now ("Marnie," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Double Indemnity," "Notorious"). This will require major schedule-juggling, but I'm going to try hard to make at least five flicks. May see one movie a day for a week, which would be great fun.

You can find showtimes and capsule reviews in your friendly local City Paper. Or if you wait until tomorrow, you can find them here. So much for taking advantage of the speedy Internet.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

See the marketplace in old Algiers,
Send me blogwatches and souvenirs,
Just remember, when a dream appears,
You belong to me...

Making Light: Fascinating excerpts from a crisply-written, vivid memoir of a woman's life from 1831 to the turn of the century in Wheeling.

And two sharply contrasting views of the "If you want your family released, turn yourself in" story, here and here.
"Haven't seen you in a couple of days. How's everything?"

"Living a dream. Aaand... I think I got in trouble again."

"Legal trouble?"

"Maybe. Do you know who J. Jonah Jameson is?"

"Not one of my favorite people."

"I don't think he's one of his favorite people."

--exchange in Alias vol. 3, "The Underneath"

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

MARRIAGEDEBATE.COM: Maggie Gallagher has started a new blog dedicated to the same-sex marriage argument(s). Gallagher opposes same-sex marriage, but she's gotten some of its most cogent defenders to contribute to the site, and right now the content is about 50/50 pro-con. This is going to be the resource for people seeking respectful, passionate, insightful commentary on the cultural, moral, and legal questions surrounding same-sex marriage. Full disclosure: I'm doing some work for the site and may be writing for it. But you should check it out anyway!

Seriously, the site already is feisty, fair-minded, and provocative, and it should become even more so as the posts pile up. Right now the contributors are wrapping up a debate about same-sex marriage's effects on children and families, and are about to start debating Stanley Kurtz's claim that polygamy is the virtually-inevitable next step. Further debate topics will follow in the weeks to come.
"IF YOU WANT YOUR FAMILY RELEASED, TURN YOURSELF IN." And more fiery still, here. You guys know what I think.
WHAT'S A GIRL LIKE YOU DOING IN A NICE PLACE LIKE THIS? Here are some of the best search requests that brought you strange, sick people to my strange, sick blog. Roughly in order of my preference, from least funny to funniest. Not all of them were initially Google searches.

contemporary art sucks
gobs in qatar
passive victims malignant dream cities circumstance
jumbo rat reproductive cycle
Deism is wrong
high heels total slavery immigration
philip roth sleeping pill
stare decisis bad wrong (it's badong)
email addresses of mohammed (have you tried
email address of shoes in kazakh
uber lesbian fiction
mechanical dynamite eve
Michael Moore pentagon stuff bush laden majority peace enchantment busy
the goons romulans treasure
condoleezza saccharine
weird, strange, odd, uncanny websites
duck amuck descartes
Denis Thatcher drinking smoking sleeping
Objectivism carrot juice (twice!!!)
yahoo wring out a proposal
futile nietzsche tasty
science fiction giant leeches porn

Monday, July 28, 2003

ANN COULTER'S LIVING. Harsh but so funny.
PRESERVE US FROM THE HOUSE OF CLOCKS. Now that's a wild link. Especially recommended for Edward Gorey fans. Via Neil Gaiman.
"Ecuador's recent upheaval was intensely anti-market and anti-globalization. It was also an explicitly Amerindian-based movement, led by the National Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), and deeply, angrily ethnic in its mobilizing rhetoric. 'The shamans say change is coming,' thundered Fernando Villavicencio, one of Conaie's leaders. 'They say we are entering the age of the condor; they say that the Red Warrior has returned!'"
--World on Fire; note that I am not endorsing Chua's analysis until I know at least a little bit more about Ecuador

Friday, July 25, 2003

FAIR NEW HAVEN: That's where I'm heading in a few hours. Expect no posting 'til Monday....

Here's a worthwhile if rambly post from an Oxblogger about American-ness and a sense of "mission." I speculated about this in connection w/immigration here.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

HULKING AMBITIONS... PUNY MOVIE. So I saw "The Hulk" (or is it just "Hulk," a la "Madonna"?) yesterday. Some scattered thoughts.

1) It was worth it for me, because I'm really interested in all the nifty directorial tricks Ang Lee came up with. And because I paid matinee price.

2) Very much not recommended for people uninterested in film technique.

3) Did anyone at all understand the ending? Not the very end--the bit with the electricity. Seriously, that may have been the most opaque plot sequence in any movie I've ever seen.

4) Jennifer Connelly had a lot more chemistry with David Bowie.

5) The '60s look so much more like the future than we do! Earlier today, I told Ratty, "The '60s look WAY more like 'The Future' than today does. Because everything is so sleek and space-age and atomic. But it turns out that The Future isn't sleek and space-age and atomic, it's fundamentalist and grubby and chaotic and unpleasant and held together with duct tape and guesswork. And I fit better with that than with space-age atomic, I think." I liked that the Hulk movie captured both moments--the space-age '60s and the wreckage left behind.

6) The political aspects of the movie were... confused. On the one hand, the military-industrial complex was portrayed (watch out for punnage!) with complexity. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure we were supposed to find Bruce Banner and Generic Girlfriend's refusal to give their scientific results to the military heroic. And their reasoning for not turning their work over to the US military was that the US wouldn't share the results with everybody. The relevant military technology involved making supersoldiers, soldiers whose wounds would heal themselves via "nanomeds." Hello?? This was one of several moments when my personal suspension of disbelief un-suspended. I am not thrilled with people who think the US can only have supersoldiers if everyone else has them too. Um... I won't give you supersoldier technology unless the Chinese can have it too? Not unless Iran gets it? Not unless Russia gets it? What the...?!

7) Speaking of, I wasn't upset by the Rube Goldberg-esque explanation for Bruce Banner's eventual Hulkosity. a) I don't buy the idea that gamma rays on their own would Hulkify him, so I'm definitely in the market for a more complicated origin;
b) I'm prepared to believe that something as weird as the Hulk would only arise through a series of the kinds of bizarre accidents and coincidences that happen out here in real reality; but
c) it did kind of annoy me how much of the responsibility for the Hulk's fury was shoved onto his genes. There was a definite tinge of "Gee, Officer Krupke!" for the "Gattaca" age to that stuff. Isn't it more dramatically appealing if he's just, you know, really really angry?

8) I predict that this movie is going to influence a lot of filmmakers. Lee is just super-innovative. He squanders it all--he adamantly refuses to use his odd techniques to enhance the movie's drama or characterizations. But the innovative dissolves, the comic-book stylings, the split-screen effects--I loved them all. I wanted someone to use them right. And soon, someone will, because Lee showed the way. Anyone interested in formal stuff (= how form does or could express meaning) should check out "Hulk." Lee doesn't do it right, but he prepares the way for someone who will.
ARE CONSERVATIVES NUTS? If you read the Yale Free Press, you already know the answer, courtesy of one of the paper's funniest back-page ads.
HEY, NEAT, I'M LISTED ON THE MS. MAGAZINE BLOGROLL. If you came here from there, please check out my post "Can there be a decent feminism?" It's my main statement on Ms-ish stuff.
SHOW US YOUR PAPERS! Important and infuriating story from the San Francisco Bay Guardian (yeah, I know, but this really is important): "When a man who faces certain torture in his home country is faced with deportation using evidence he can't see and facing general allegations of assistance to a group that isn't even now on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations..."

Any comments from Ginger Stampley? Who do we get in touch with about this stuff? I'm thinking maybe Chris Cox's office. Initial link via Hit & Run.
THE ONION HOROSCOPES this week are pretty keen. Via The Rat. You can also get all your New York Times-hating needs met here.
PURPLE TOUPEE AND GOLD LAME/AFTER THE HAIR HAS GONE AWAY...: Tom Sylvester on same-sex marriage and the last days of disco.
POETRY WEDNESDAY HANGOVER: From Philip Larkin, "Talking in Bed":

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.

Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind's incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds about the sky,

And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation

It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.
"There was also the time that the U.S. government hired New York-based Burston-Marsteller, the world's largest public relations firm, to help sell free market capitalism to the people of Kazakhstan. Among other ideas, Burston-Marsteller developed a television soap opera miniseries glorifying privatization. In one episode, two hapless families desperately want a new house but don't know how to build it. Suddenly a hot-air balloon descends from the sky, bearing the name 'Soros Foundation' in huge letters. Americans spring out, erect the house, and soar away, leaving the awe-struck Kazakhstanis cheering wildly."
--World on Fire; the end note clarifies, "The balloon episode was never actually produced, on the grounds that it would be too expensive."

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

AXIS OF EMAIL. My Jewish World Review column for this week--basically an update of my "" piece for the Weekly Standard.
"For the Chinese, luck is a moral attribute, and a lucky person would never be murdered. Like having a birth defect, or marrying a Filipino, being murdered is shameful."
--Amy Chua, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

FUNNY. "The Lord and I are in a shepherd-sheep relationship, and I am in a position of negative need...." Via Relapsed Catholic.
RAPE AND CHILD-BEATING IN BAGHDAD. If you know of ANYTHING that might be helpful here, please email Salam Pax: "Today I have been with Neela to unicef to talk to people responsible for the child protection program, we are trying to figure out what to do and how to help the kid. I will go tomorrow with Zainab and Neela to Sanayra's on an outing, just to get her out of that house, for lunch or an ice-cream and so that I can talk to her sister Fatin and see what could be done to help.

"People I am open for suggestions. I am totally in un-chartered territory for me. Other than Unicef who should we be contacting? I have heard about SOS Save the Children but they are not in Baghdad and I wonder whether an orphanage is really a good idea concerning Sanarya's case."
SOMETHING THE RAT ASKED ME, or maybe I asked her, the other day: Is it ironic that nobody knows what "irony" means?

Monday, July 21, 2003

SPEAKING OF COMICS: Alias is awesomely awesome. Took me a while to get sold on the dialogue (which is the element that everyone had recommended), but I eventually did come around--and the pictures! So nifty! So not-boring! So actually-using-comics-to-do-stuff-comics-do-best!

All kinds of standout pages: the intertwining necklaces of images and speech balloons in the very first meeting between Jessica Jones and her lady client (hey, why are there no page numbers?); the interrogation-scene brick wall made of panels that gets exploded in your face two pages later; the pages paneled like bandages or uneven, vertical Venetian blinds. These weren't just showoffy tricks, but choices that heightened the story's drama and rhythm.

Wow. I was super-impressed. Big thanks to those who recommended Brian Bendis's dialogue; he's great, and he's the reason I picked this up, but honestly I think I would have liked this at least two-thirds as much if the dialogue had been replaced with the birdscratchy things Woodstock says. Will be checking out the rest of this series (the link above goes to the first book), for sure.
THE ROMANCE OF PRODUCTION: I finished The Fountainhead in the fall of 1999, on the Metro-North from NYC to New Haven. I'd been spending a weekend in New York with my father, in the middle of an exceptionally hectic and emotionally exhausting term. I pretty much slept through half the visit--I was just run ragged. And really worried, edgy, stressed, all that fun stuff. We went to the Museum of Modern Art [EDITED: No we didn't! It was the Met of course] and I basically submerged myself in the Arms and Armor wing, because it was the only exhibit engrossing enough to take my mind off my various obsessive worries. I expected to dread the ride back to New Haven, where I'd have to face whatever hideousness had occurred in my absence.

Instead, I had a terrific ride back. (And as it happened, everything had gone wonderfully without me--which was good, though not exactly an ego boost!) I spent the ride completely absorbed in The Fountainhead, not because I had any affection for Rand's worldview (I found it repugnant), but because of the Banner. The scenes showing Gail Wynand's newspaper--the roar and throb of the printing presses, the boycotts and "We Don't Read Wynand" signs--captured my heart, because they so vividly captured what it felt like to make something, to love it, to see it threatened, and to fight for it. The newspaper-business passages had a visceral, vital energy. They made you want to be on Wynand's team.

I was reminded of this feeling last week, when I finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. K&C is a good summer book. Not a great book; Chabon does overwrite, and the book certainly isn't what Kafka called an ice axe for the frozen sea within. But then, an ice axe isn't always what you want at the beach! K&C reads fast and has several themes I found really compelling: Americanization and Jewish assimilation, escape as a theme in American lives, the nexus of homosexuality and friendship and fatherhood (I wonder if Chabon realizes that his sexual politics are much more reactionary than they at first appear...).

And it captures the romance of production. It gets that sense of how exhilarating it is to make something in the world, something that only you can make.

But K&C's understanding of making is much darker, more self-aware, and more accurate, than Rand's. The Fountainhead is a very weird book in several respects; one of its major weirdnesses comes from the way Rand wants to affirm the world while rejecting just about everybody in it. People are horrible, envious crabs in a barrel--but Man is a shining ideal! The world is a good place, uncorrupted by any original sin, that just happens to be, currently, run by fiends who chew up great men and spit them out.

In K&C, on the other hand (be warned that this is one of the more florid passages): "In literature and folklore, the significance and the fascination of golems--from Rabbi Loew's to Victor von Frankenstein's--lay in their soullessness, in their tireless inhuman strength, in their metaphorical association with overweening human ambition, and in the frightening ease with which they passed beyond the control of their horrified and admiring creators. But it seemed to Joe that none of these--Faustian hubris, least of all--were among the true reasons that impelled men, time after time, to hazard the making of golems. The shaping of a golem, to him, was a gesture of hope, offered against hope, in a time of desperation. It was the expression of a yearning that a few magic words and an artful hand might produce something--one poor, dumb, powerful thing--exempt from the crushing strictures, from the ills, cruelties, and inevitable failures of the greater Creation. ...The newspaper articles that Joe had read about the upcoming Senate investigation into comic books always cited 'escapism' among the litany of injurious consequences of their reading, and dwelled on the pernicious effect, on young minds, of satisfying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life."

Now this too is overstated, in the opposite direction from Rand. If art is escape-from, if it's world-rejection, then art (for both creator and audience) is just a slow form of suicide. I don't believe that. I think art can be that--Walker Percy is one of your best guides to that relationship to art, in both his fiction and his Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. But art need not be that. Art can celebrate the shards of beauty that do exist in the world (although if it isn't going to be just another pretty lie, it should show you both the beauty and the fact that it is in shards). Art can be an escape to something, not just from something. It can be a distillation of life, not just either a falsification of life or an attempt to reproduce life exactly as it is.

But any account of art (or the world) that doesn't acknowledge how much there really is to escape from, how great the pressure for escape is, and how fiercely that pressure can drive both creation and destruction, is not so much incomplete as just pointless.
IAIN MURRAY ON MARRIAGE STUDIES. The obvious rejoinder to the study showing that marriage boosts single mothers' income is that it looks at a self-selecting group: The guys who are willing to marry have at least one sharply different personality trait from the guys who balk. They're probably more reliable, or more interested in family life, or something. You're comparing apples and oranges!

There are two perhaps less-obvious responses, both of which ring true in my experience: a) The guys aren't the only ones making this decision. If women demand more of the men they love, those men are more likely to rise to the occasion. Women who don't push for a ring may never learn whether their children's fathers had those marriageable personality traits--they may never even find out whether they were sleeping with an apple or an orange. (Um, forgive the Santorum-meets-Surrealism imagery there.)

b) A related point: People are not trapped in little boxes labeled "marriage material" and "triflin'." Comparing men who marry to men who don't isn't comparing apples and oranges, since no orange is ever gonna turn into an apple. If marriage boosts income, and marriageability is based on various personality traits (like, say, reliability), then maybe it would behoove you to develop those traits or seek them out in the people you date, no? In other words, select yourself into the married group.

Anyway, Murray is a careful stats-chopper, so I'm glad to see his stamp of approval on these studies. Very good news.
SUMMARY OF WHAT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH TEACHES ABOUT MARRIAGE--the overlaps and disjunctions between civil, sacramental, and valid-but-not-sacramental marriage.
NOAH FELDMAN SPEAKING TOMORROW IN D.C.: I really hope I get enough work done tonight that I can legitimately go hear this. Oxblogger Patrick Belton writes:

Several friends have been kind enough to point this out to me: namely, on Tuesday Noah Feldman will be speaking in Washington at the New America Foundation. Given that he's just departed his position as the interim Iraqi government's chief constitution-drafter, and the event is marked on the record, we can perhaps assume that we'll be hearing strong remarks, and criticisms, about the process of building Iraqi democracy. Feldman's departure, it's said, wasn't under the happiest of circumstances, but he's a bright, idealistic young man (and a Yalie Oxonian), so his criticisms, even if laced with a touch of bitterness, will surely be much worth listening to.

The event will be at the New America Foundation at 12:15 pm this Tuesday, and the announcement says, significantly: "A special note to the media, Noah Feldman resigned his U.S. government position last week from his Baghdad position and has much to say on the subject of Iraq as well as on the very broad subject of Islam and constitutional democracy. THIS MEETING IS ON THE RECORD." I'd encourage any of our readers who can, to go, and report back what he has to say.
IS THIS AN RSS FEED OF MY SITE? I have exactly no clue what RSS is or whether this link will get you one. Could somebody enlighten me? Thanks....
PALEOMAIL: Responses to my field report from the America's Future Foundation happy hour on "What the heck is a neocon?" which turned out much closer to "What the heck is a paleocon?" Reader comments are in bold, I'm in plain text.

From Ed Ahlsen-Girard: I LOVED this post. I used to subscribe to Chronicles in the late 80s early 90s, but dropped it as it got not just weirder but hostile to my family weirder (I'm white with adopted black children). I'm glad they're there, sort of, but they got pretty 'blood and soil' and that was too much for me.

The number of people who assume that Ramesh Ponnuru was born in south Asia is amusingly high. And truly hilarious in this context, given a Chronicles article which refers to an incident at the end of the Civil War in which a Union general, a German immigrant with a thick accent, started cheerfully lecturing a surrendered Confederate general that now he could start learning to be a real American. The Confederate general's family came to Virginia in the early 1600s.

From Tom Harmon: Ack! Equation of paleoconservativsm with Buchanan (who is, indeed, creepy and decrepit) is unfair. Buchanan is a sort of paleocon, but, as far as I can tell, has very weird ideas on race, immigration, and foreign policy.

The much more itneresting differences b/t paleos and neos, I think lie
in the realms of religion and economics. To be very brief and therefore not to do practically any justice at all to the differences, neocons seem to have an almost dogmatic trust in the free market, whereas paleos tend toward Cheterbellocianism (if not all paleos are quite so extreme as to be
distributists, they at least lean that way).

Also, neocons seem to have a more instrumental view of religion. Religion is good because it promotes virtue and leads to ordered societies, not necessarily because religion is true. Also, neos seem to have an idea that religion should more or less stay private when talking about how to form society. Sure, the neocons like that religion forms people's moral consciousness, and therefore charges people up to fight against, say, abortion, but as as far as conforming society and government to the Church, that's no good in the minds of the neos (see Novak, Weigel, Kristol, Decter, John COurtney Murray, etc.). The paleos think that religionists should work to make society and the state to look more
like the kingdom. So, basically, neos are implicit secularizers and paleos want religion to inform every aspect of society. Neos are hunky-dory with an enlightenment, liberal, secular state. Paleos are decidedly not. For a fantastic discussion of this, see David Schindler's Heart of the Church, Center of the World.

Actually, I think Schindler has the best discussion of what neoconservatism is and why it is deeply problematic, from a Catholic perspective.

Anyway, my twelve cents.

Me: Couple superbrief thoughts: 1) One of the reasons I was basically on Ramesh Ponnuru's side in this whole kerfuffle was that he emphasized that there's a thing that's not a neocon, not a paleocon, not even a libertarian--just, you know, a conservative. So my post wasn't intended as a defense of "neoconservatism"--whichever of the many, many definitions that word has got today.

2) I always do wonder, though, what people are referring to when they speak of dogmatic faith in the free market. Which market restraints are being advocated... which "neocons" are we discussing here... that sort of thing. Give me specifics and I'll tell you what I think of them; "the free market" is one of those terms (like "conservative") with an immense amount of wiggle room.

3) Relatedly, can't say I rightly understand how distributism, agrarianism, and similar ventures are meant to happen without the Heavy Hand of the State enforcing small-scale property ownership. For so much more, see my posts on Wendell Berry. I have yet to encounter a plausible "how we get from here to there" map to distributism or agrarianism that didn't eventually turn into socialism. Admittedly, though, this isn't something I've read much about.

4) Not sure what "conforming society and government to the Church" and "make society and the state look more like the kingdom" entail. Also sketched on overly-swift assimilation of "society" to "state." But since I don't really know what the two alternative visions here are, I'll keep my yap shut, except to say that if this is about the Establishment Clause I will sign on in favor of the Constitutional order. If it's about something else, what is it?

And finally, from James P. Gelfand: I had wanted to go to that discussion, but was unable to attend -- Ryan Balis pointed me to your synopsis and I had a couple questions. What is a "vichy con", and is it a phrase I should have heard before? Did anyone argue that there were no such things as neo-conservatives? Why did the discussion center on paleo-cons, is it now assumed that all conservatives are either neo or paleo, thus effectively dividing the movement?

I really didn't think many conservatives bought into that -- I thought it
was more just liberals trying to marginalize and vilify conservatives that want to intervene in the middle east and keep rogue leaders in other
places from selling WMD's to terrorists. Thanks for posting the summary though, at least now I didn't totally miss out.

Me again: 1) "Vichy cons"--sorry I was unclear about this--was John Zmirak's term for non-paleocons, whom he charged with selling out to the Establishment. No, there's no reason you should know this term.

2) I seem to recall, although it's been a while now, that Ponnuru argued that the definition of "neoconservative" shifts so much from speaker to speaker that it's difficult to pin down what people actually mean when they say it.

3) As I said above, Ponnuru also argued strenuously that the paleo/neo split does not exhaust the possibilities of conservatism. I think the discussion panned out that way largely due to the speaker list, really, rather than reflecting a major current in contemporary inside-conservatism discourse.
RESPONSES TO MY JEWISH WORLD REVIEW COLUMN: Nine people wrote in to defend Wwasps programs. I asked the authors for permission to print their letters here. The ones below are the ones where I received that permission. My own (very brief) response follows in the next post.
I am a parent of a 15 year old son named Tony. Up to recently he was a student at the Academy At Dundee Ranch in Orotina, Costa Rica. He is now in Tranquilty Bay in Jamaica. I am going to endeavor to keep this brief, however, I am not sure that I can do that. There is nothing more important to me then the health, happiness, and well being of my child, and I truly want you to understand my feelings and my position.

I will start by telling you some of what I was dealing with as a single parent of a 14 year old prior to making the heart wrenching decision to place him in a "program." At 14 years old he was drinking, smoking pot, dropping acid and huffing freon and other lethal chemicals on a regular basis. He was expelled from school for fighting and was getting ready to go back to the 7th grade for the 4th time when the next school year started. He was already in "alternative" education when he was expelled. I was at the end of my options. I had been researching programs and such for a year prior to his placement at Dundee. In the beginning I did not know how I could possible afford to do this. I looked at "boot camps" and decided against them. They are dangerous and why would I pay someone 15 thousand dollars to yell at my kid for 3 months. I had yelled at him for 3 years for nothing and accomplished nothing. Short term program.. Short term results. I had a kid who I loved dearly, who was headed for either the morgue or the Juvenile Justice System and he didn’t seem to care which one it was. I had to do something and I finally came to the realization that I could not afford to do it immediately.

When I came upon WWASP I looked at their program outline and finally started to see some hope. Of course I did my research and talked to other parents. David, my initial contact at Teen Help was the best. He was very up front with me and my questions of "how long and how much." As much as we would like to believe that our children are extensions of ourselves, the truth of the matter is that they are unique aspects of the creative energy with the god given free will that we all possess. All kids are different. Some will take longer to "get it" and there are no guarantees. I choose WWASP and Dundee Ranch because of their commitment to family healing and the outlines of the seminars offered to the kids and to the parents.

I fully and completely reviewed the program rules and disciplinary policies before I voluntarily signed the guardianship of my child to the staff at Dundee Ranch. As a 20 year veteran of the Correctional System I understood more then most parents the need for "restraint" clauses. I also knew that a program where adherence to rules is stressed is right where my child needed to be. Like I said, I have worked with convicts for many years. In my educated opinion, the main reason that someone winds up in prison is because they just do not see the correlation between their choices and their consequences. Everything that happens to them is someone else’s fault. That is the attitude that makes a convict and it is really scarey to have a 14 year old child with that attitude. And knowing the system the way I do, I knew that if my child wound up in the Juvenile Justice System I would have no control over what happened to him. He would be subject to rape and assault by the other inmates and as much as the staff may try to do the right thing, the facts are, they are understaffed and undertrained. There would be no treatment there for him. In the system we refer to Juvie as "Gladiator School." All they teach them is how to grow up to be real convicts. I could not, would not, or will not, allow that to happen if it is in my power to prevent it. Until this child is 18 years old I am legally, morally, and financially responsible for his actions. And I will always be emotionally involved in his outcomes. Even tho the local School Board, School Principals and Police want to shave the kid’s head and look for the 666, I know my son. Underneath all that anger and belligerence is a good kid. I will do whatever I have to, to help him find his own light again.

In the year that my son was at Dundee Ranch I saw some wonderful changes in him. We are actually able to communicate again. I have done my parent seminars and he had done his. We are both busy working our own program and when we had the opportunity in our first Parent Child Seminar to practice our new communication skills it was truly an AWESOME experience. Altho it had been seven months since I had seen him, it had been four years since I had seen my child show his authentic self. I knew then and there that all the sacrifices I had made to place him at Dundee were worth it. Words can not even express the joy that I felt. He has made the choice to take the long road in his program. But that is his choice and I cannot make it for him. He is well aware of the fact that he could make his level three in a couple of months and we could have bimonthly phone calls. I have also had to take the firm line that until he make a level that he can have off grounds visits I will not bear the expense of the travel to go see him. These are his choices. I can only hope and pray he will get moving soon, cause I miss him so much.

Lets talk about observation placement or "OP" for a minute. I know a lot of people have a problem with this. Here is my experience of OP. In the correctional system we have Special Housing, commonly referred to as the "hole." Most inmates never go there. Of those that do, most only go once. Solitary confinement is not a lot of fun. But there is a need for it. If you go there, it is for a reason. As a correctional officer, I do not just snatch someone up for no reason and send them to special housing. Their actions create that event. If you don’t like it there, you will stop doing whatever the obnoxious behavior was that got you their in the first place. It is all about choices and consequences. Tony decided that in his first few months at Dundee that he would go to OP. That was his choice dictated by his behavior. He was well aware of the rules and the consequences of his actions. Of course I hated it for him, but I could no more get inside his head and make these choices for him then I could keep him from cussing out his teachers and the local cops when he was home. But here is the rub. One day when my family rep was not available for our weekly phone call, another staff member took my call in his place. This incredible human being is one of the guys who supervises OP. In the 45 minutes that we spoke , I learned so much about what was going on inside my kid’s head. Even tho my child was kneeling on a tile floor with his nose on the wall, there was someone sitting behind him who really cared about him, talking to him, and letting him talk. Someone who saw him for who he really was and didn’t just write him off because of his actions. Someone who was willing to look deeper then the surface. And when I was at the school for the second time at our first Parent/Child Seminar, my son would not let me leave before I met this person because he was "so cool." And when Tony finally found him, he did not greet him with a handshake, he greeted him with a big hug. I also got a big hug too! Was he tramatized by this? I seriously doubt it as he was so excited to show me the OP room and his "pose" while we were doing the school tour. He was laughing and joking about the time he spent there in the early stages of his program.

Altho I could go on for a few more pages about the Blessing that Dundee Ranch and WWASP have been for me and my son, I did promise to try to be brief. I am firmly committed to my son, WWASP, and the owner and staff at Dundee Ranch. The fiasco that preceded Dundee’s temporary closing should not have happened. I have faith in a higher being that the wrongs will be righted, and I am doing my level best not to focus on the financial hardship that this has created for me. I have been to Costa Rica twice. The country is very beautiful and the people are warm and friendly. I do not blame the whole of the Costa Rican government for the actions of a few of their representatives. One of the reasons why I decided to send Tony to Dundee Ranch was because I admire the politics of the Costa Rican Government and have wanted to visit there. I think that a large part of this current situation is because the Costa Rican people do not have the same problems with their kids that we face here in the States. Their frame of reference does not allow for an understanding of why the program operates the way it does or why I felt like I had to send my child away to save his life. If anyone believes that I did this on a whim or to just get rid of my problem they don’t know me very well. And anyone who believes that I have somehow been brainwashed really doesn’t know me very well.

With Love and Light,

Kathleen A. Crozier

I am attaching a copy of an ariticle written for the King County Journal
which is balanced and fair.

Please take note on the fair and balanced part!!!!! Other articles to date seem to be slanted one way and give a biased direction. These programs save lives and those journalist who chose to not report the truth are literally causing lives to be lost needlessy. I sure would not want this on my shoulders. Or are you just trying to sell newspapers.

Lewis Wiedewitsch

P.S. One thing the program teaches is accountability by all---Are you really accountable for your actions?????.

[Wiedewitsch later added:] Thanks for the response and yes I would be proud to stand behind the e-mail I sent you. I am a proud program parent of a child who graduated the program after 24 1/2 months at CASA by the Sea and Bell Academy. This program has saved his life and the lives of many more. Today he is a highschool graduate with a 3.57 GPA and has aspirtations of working at another school before entering
the navy next Spring. This program helps the whole family and only those who chose to not work theirs derates the program. I assure you that I have visited two of the schools and have staffed at CASA recently and found it to be a great place for kids to overcome their behavior problems. Tyler was on medication (Prozac and Ridlin) before the program and during the first 3 months. After that time it was withdrawn since it was no longer needed or required. Those Professional people (shrinks) could not see that he was manipulating them for over three years. They just kept giving more medicine and he just kept getting worse as time went along. Tyler had flunked out of his first semester at a private church highschool and was doing drugs, stealing, drinking and smoking and was sexually active. In addition he had tried suicide. It was when he could not manipulate anyone anymore that he chose to begin making good choices for himself. Today we have our son back who is a joy to be around and what's most important is that we have our entire family back again. Its " Whole, Healthy and Happy' once again thanks to the WWASP Program. This program was for us and thats what

Submitted Respectfully

Lewis Wiedewitsch

To Whom It May Concern:

I searched for help or assistance from Police Departments, Social Services and other state and federal governmental agencies, which produced neither a remedy to our problems nor any course of action until the child committed crimes for the juvenile court system to step in. Our 20 year old son is currently serving his second prison sentence. This was what we were trying to prevent in the first place. What we wanted was a child who was respectful, honest and have good values that would be a great asset to society and his community. The peer pressure at elementary, middle and high school was greater than what we could produce. His lack of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-respect created the need for him to fit in and be accepted by one of his peer groups which out weighed any attempt by us to keep him in alignment with our family values.

His 16 year old brother has been in two different schools associated with the World Wide Association of Specialized Programs (WWASP). We were determined he would not follow his brother so he began his journey at the age of 14 years old when we drove him to Casa By the Sea. This was on 18 Aug 2001. We have been on that campus many times. This school provided the structure needed to reinforce the values for him to be successful in today’s world. During the 17 months that he was with Casa By the Sea, we were finally relieved to know that our son was safe and out of harms way. We watched him change from the disrespectful child he was to a calm and strong individual with his own values. He graduated High School one week after his 16th birthday and produced a 3.75 GPA. We made friends with the family representatives and administration that were there and they supported our family during these troubled and frustrating time in our lives. They offered us hope and produced results that have not only changed our son’s life but ours as well. We can only thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

We moved him to Spring Creek Lodge on 12 Feb 2003. This move was originally for his transition back into our family. We recently had him home for his first five-day home pass. He now has a really positive attitude and has a vision of what he wants to do in his future. These changes are contributed to the amount of responsibilities and trust that have been given to him and by the type of leadership that has been entrusted in him by the facility. This is done in a very structured environment, which allows him to take risks by making choices and acting upon them. He is awarded for working choices and receives consequences for non-working choices. His ability to communicate and articulate his discussions has improved to the point that he is truly a joy to sit down with and talk about almost anything. He demonstrates the confidence in himself by his demeanor and this is a truly blessing. We have gained enormous trust with the family representatives and administration and thank each and every one of them from the bottom of our heart for their willingness to do what they do for our children and my family.

He has thanked us for loving him enough to put him into these two schools. He also admitted that if we have not of made our decision to intervene with intervention, he would most likely have been dead by now.

Our story is similar to many other parents who have children who were juvenile delinquents, using drugs, drinking alcohol, running away from home, skipping school, violating curfew, taking our car to go on pleasure rides, disregard of house rules, sneaking out at night to party with friends, stealing, destroying personal property, disrespectful to parents, disrespectful to teachers, having unprotected sex and being totally disrespectful to girls.

I can only say that these schools have been a Godsend for my family and I would recommend either of them for any family that has children that are out of control. I only wish that there were more facilities available so more children and families can get the help that they need. In my opinion, if the United States of America would use this type of education system, there would be a greater number of success stories for many young men and women today and a significant decrease in crime by our youth…and there would be no more Columbines.

I have met many graduates of all of the schools with WWASP who have no reason to lie about any abuse at the schools. I would strongly state that I would not want my son’s process or school to be disrupted, disrupted or interfered with because of the opinion of some disgruntled individuals or by bad publicity by the press. To do so would be a great disservice to my family and the multitude of parents who are seeking help for their precious teen. I ask that before any reporter publishes half truths, that they confirm and confirm again before they print harmful stories.

Richard Causer

I have a daughter that has been a student at Tranquility Bay for nearly one year. I have visited the facility and was very impressed. We had complete access to the grounds and the students. It is clean although spartan.
The decision to send our daughter to TB was very difficult, the most stressful in our lives. I have a degree in psychology and my husband has a MA in education so we are educated in many aspects of human behavior. We tried everything to help our daughter gain the skills that she needed to overcome abuse from her early childhood (from her birthfather) including 4 therapists, 2 shrinks, 2 types of medications, help from our church, etc. Her school was willing to help but their responsiblilies were to her education. The mental health system was not appropriate as she was not mentally ill. The criminal justice system was not helpful. Despite every attempt on our part, she began experimenting with alcolhol, drugs, sex, and was flunking out of high school despite being a gifted student. Our home was a war zone. We had to put a lock on her brothers' bedroom door to protect them from her. We took our car keys and wallets into our bedroom with us at night. We could no longer leave our home.
I came upon the WWASP during one of many sleepless nights. We got many parent referrals that were helpful and positive. We had her escorted in July of 2002.
The change in her has been nothing short of miraculous. She doesn't like being away from home, but thanks us for "giving her this opportunity", and for saving her life. She has stated that she probably wouldn't have been alive by early 2003 had we not done this.
One of the wonderful differences between the WWASP and other schools that we looked into is the level of parent and family support that is required. Seminars attached to her school that we have attended here at home have changed our lives and marriage in ways that I never dreamed of.
Please feel free to contact me for more information. My fear is that because of your slanted and biased article, that some desperate parent somewhere who was considering this program will change her mind because of you, and her child will die. Mark my words.
Deborah Stilwell

[And two letters from the Freedman family, one from mother Anita and one from her son Martin:]

June 24, 2003

To Whom it May Concern:
It is with pleasure that I am writing this letter to discuss my experience with The Academy Dundee Ranch and the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs. I am a parent who had the make the most difficult decision of my life to place my son in a program school. We ran out of options here and found that there was little, in fact no assistance from any local authority or hospital; in fact, there was no program like this available to assist my son and my family through this very difficult journey that would allow for us to stay together while we were going through this difficult time.

My son was unmanageable at home. We were in therapy on an on-going basis, psychiatric hospitals and special camps to assist defiant teens. We found that our whole family was affected and the behaviors that my son was exhibiting were carrying over to his little sister despite our steadfast efforts to maintain a home with a strong value system. I am not a stay at home Mom, but I was able to work my schedule around the school and therefore was home by the time my son returned home from school. He did not go without constant supervision, but we still were not able to manage his behaviors. We could see that he was slipping away and were very concerned for his future. I looked at many different types of boarding schools and finally decided on a school that specialized in working heavily with the entire family and not just the teen who was in trouble. That school is the Academy Dundee Ranch in Costa Rica. I must say that I feel that not only my son's life was saved, but that all of our lives were saved and have became more meaningful than I could have ever imagined. I attribute all of this to my son’s work at The Academy Dundee Ranch and our work as a family through the programs and seminars provided by ADR and the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs.

Anyone who has not been through this experience or has a relationship with someone who has been through this experience may have a difficult time understanding how we could take such "extreme measures". It may seem that way to those who are not in a situation like ours, but let me assure you that my experience is that the best parents are those who will do absolutely anything and everything in their power to help their children. I speak with parents almost each day who have a troubled teen or teen in trouble, and they are afraid for their teen's life and future. In cases like this, how can we not make the choice to get our teen into this program or a program like this. On the other side of the coin, one would certainly pass extreme judgment on us as parents if we DID NOT get our teen into a safe environment where they could not hurt themselves or someone else. I guess one would have to ask the question, "just how dead do you want your kid to be?" We must all wake up and see that there is a serious problem in this and other countries. I don't think I would be too extreme to classify the growing problem with troubled teens as an emergency that needs to be addressed by all- not just the families who are in crisis.

My son’s work at The Academy Dundee Ranch was comprised of many different facets all designed to create the motivation for change. Martin was given the opportunity to be involved in leadership roles at the school, participated in several plays in the Drama Department, acted as a hope buddy for newer kids, graduated the Discovery, Focus, PC1, Breakpoint and Accountability seminars and overall gained many tools designed to assist him is a successful and meaningful life style. As a result, Martin achieved a 3.71 GPA and was scheduled to take the SAT’s at the age of 16. He now has fewer than 3 ½ credits left to graduate high school and has decided to become an Aerospace Engineer. I can safely say that his level of self confidence is higher than ever and he was soaring as a result of the work he has done in this program.

For a long time Martin was one of the kids who was in heavy resistance to change and the caring staff at ADR worked tirelessly to get him to a place where he could discover his unlimited potential and begin to tap into it in a working way. He was never mistreated and always given the opportunity to start over when it was necessary. I was able to see Martin at PC1 in January and then again in May of this year for 7 days. I received mail regularly both from regular mail deliveries and also from email at least once if not twice and sometimes three times a week. It was clear that Martin was free to write whatever he felt by virtue of his letters which were always open and expressed his feelings. My son reports that not only have NONE of the allegations about the facility ever happened to him, he wishes to return to ADR to continue his program. I know that there are many students who feel the same way. My son was thriving, his self esteem was back as well has his smile that I had not seen in years!

Mr. Vargus and the PANI staff who came into the Academy and stated that the kids were free to leave the school and did not have to follow the rules of the school or the instruction of the staff which I gave full authority to act on my behalf as a parent, caused a great deal of harm not just to my child who was progressing so nicely but also to so many other students and their families. Mr. Vargus, whose position it is to carry out the laws, actually knowingly endangered the life of my minor child. He did this without any warning and certainly usurped my authority as a parent. This willful act was in direct violation of Article 5 of the United Nations Convention on children. He went into my son’s school and stated that the minor students did not have to be there and did not have to follow any rules set forth by the school. Not only was my son put in direct danger by out of control students who were acting on the directives of Mr. Vargus, only time will tell of the emotional damage that has taken place as a result of Mr. Vargus’s actions. So far, there is substantial damage, both emotional and financial and it continues to unfold. Additionally, Mr. Vargus stood by and watched as laws were being broken by said children that he was charged to protect. Some of the children were not only endangering their own lives, but also the lives of others. The staff was remanded from doing anything to offer direction and protection and as a result, there was physical destruction to the school, students were injured and my son personally witnessed other students breaking the law, engaging in illicit acts among many other things. My son and the staff members were powerless to do anything to protect themselves based on Mr. Vargus’s clear directives and armed law enforcement to back him up.

To sum up, I can safely say that my son was progressing towards a future filled with love, happiness and success as a result of the work he has done at The Academy Dundee Ranch. His work was disrupted in such a negative way. He would be most willing to return to The Academy Dundee Ranch when it re-opens and would love to continue his program there.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for any additional information.


Anita G. Freedman

Before I came into the program, you might have called me a problem child, but most likely you would call me a terror of the house. I did no drugs, never had sex, and never drank alcohol. I was never out of the house late partying and I never got charged with any crimes or got in trouble with the law. BUT that wasn’t my area of terror. I never listened to anything my parents told me and almost never followed the rules of the house. I was never out of the house late into the night, but rather downstairs at 2:00 in the morning buying things on E-Bay, with my mom’s money. I never showered or took care of myself. I never ate with the family and when told not to do something, I would do it behind their backs. Of course it never worked and I always got caught. If nobody was home, you could count on me doing something that I wasn’t supposed to be doing. And many times, even when they were at home, I would be doing something that I was not supposed to be doing. Several times, the police were called to come to my house because of the physical abuse that I would sometimes cause to my parents, specifically my mom. This and more behaviors led me to be sent to a program in South Carolina, called Carolina Springs Academy. It is the sister program to Dundee. There I continued my old behavior for 9 months. I was in huge resistance. I ran the same patterns that I did at home. I refused to follow the rules and was always in trouble. After 9 months of doing nothing, my mom sent me to Dundee.

At first, I was reluctant and did not want to go because of all the stuff, bad stuff that I HEARD about it. But when I got down there, my viewpoint completely changed. Even though I was in worksheets and observation placement the first week I was down there. But then, after that, I finally started to become accustomed to the program and understood what it was all about. I soon realized what a great place it was and that it was so much better than C.S.A. (not that C.S.A. is a bad place, but Dundee is better for me). I soon learned that all of the rumors that I had heard were nothing more, and that most of them were either exaggerated or not true. In fact, in my opinion, the program part of Dundee was so good that it actually gave me a chance to start anew. From then forward, I worked hard, the wonderful Costa Rican mountain environment, the caring staff, and the quite humble atmosphere that was definitely out of my comfort zone definitely gave me a booster with which I could continue to learn and grow. It enabled those of us who really wanted to work a completely out of the way (it sure was out of the way, it was out of the country), secluded area with which to change our ways. Most of the staff there were there because they wanted to be and not because they had to. The clear indication of this was evident due to the language barrier involved. You see, I could easily tell that most of the staff wanted to be there because they tried to learn English and help us learn Spanish. The staff and administration there have been more willing to help us than any of the other 2 programs I have been to. There were of course several problems that would always lurk around. Several problems that needed fixing but let me remind you that taking care of the facility was a big job. But I am almost 100% assured that the problems would be addressed. All Dundee needed was enough time to address it, that which the government of Costa Rica did not give them.

That brings me to my main point: the intervention at Dundee by PANI and District Attorney Vargus. I would like to say that the intervention by those 2 parties at Dundee was completely inexcusable and I did not like the way that they did it. I think that the way they came in and kicked all of the staff out was completely irresponsible. I would have been completely in agreement with them if they had just done it in the right way. First of all, the way that they used the police to block off the staff was completely ridiculous. The way that they came in was such that the students felt that they could do whatever they wanted with complete disregard for the program and its rules. I feel that all rioting that occurred after 12:00 PM May 20th for the next week was a result of the way that the government officials handled themselves that day. And I suppose that we will never know whether or not the outcome would be different if the government had not intervened. All that I know is that without the actions of PANI and District Attorney Vargus, Dundee Ranch Academy might have been able to remain open while making any changes imposed by the Costa Rican government. But now, to those whose lives were a part of the Academy, May 20th will be known not as a good day at Dundee where problems were fixed and improvements made , but rather (and I quote from other students at Dundee) as “A day that will live in infamy.” It is the day that the program at Dundee shutdown.


Martin M. Sirull

A Student From Dundee Ranch Academy
VERY BRIEF RESPONSE RE WWASPS: Two parts: 1) I strongly recommend that anyone interested in this subject do a Nexis search for "wwasp" or, if you don't have access to Nexis, at least check out the Observer piece here. Nexis will find for you a host of reports from a wide range of credible news sources--it isn't just one biased reporter finding problems with Wwasps schools.

2) That said, even pretty bad "boot camp"-type programs can transform lives for the better. Virtually all such programs have graduates who laud the program and say it saved their lives or their families. People are complicated. I am sure that many parents and graduates who praise Wwasp programs are 100% accurately reporting their experiences and the effects on their lives and families; that does not, in my view, make the programs overall a good idea.

3) Finally, I'd like to stress that my initial piece also includes suggestions for places where parents of troubled teens can receive advice and aid. It would have been irresponsible of me, I think, to have written a piece that appeared to leave desperate parents with nowhere to turn.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

BLOGROLL STUFF: Assuming I can edit my template, I will be adding/returning the Yale Free Press blog, Ishtar Talking (from Basra), Letter from Gotham, and Sed Contra.
GLENN REYNOLDS'S ADVICE FOR THE DEMOCRATS is quite good--probably the best such compendium I've seen so far.
THE PRIVATE LANGUAGES OF A LARGE FAMILY. Shamed says you need to have at least three children, "so there can be factionalism."
I COULD SLEEP FOR A THOUSAND YEARS: Fun piece in today's Washington City Paper chronicling the countless uses of the "In [year X], sleepy, Southern Washington finally woke up and became a metropolitan city" cliche. Virtually identical language has been used to describe "awakenings" from 1865 through sometime in the late 1990s.

Only flaw is that the piece doesn't do much speculating on why this particular cliche has attached itself to my hometown. Possibilities include: D.C. is always sleepier than real big cities, but faster than Southern middle-size cities, thus it confounds expectations; D.C. goes through brief periods of fast, moneyed cool, before sinking back into magnolia-scented torpor; D.C. is a Southern city with several Northern wedges jammed in at odd angles, and as people move from wedge to wedge their sense of the city's tempo changes; or, a variant on the previous theory, people who grow up here but then enter politics move from a slower, more Southern city to a faster, more glamorous one. Not sure which of these, if any, is the most accurate. The "wedge" one sounds most like my own experience.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

THE BIRTH OF BLELVIS: Julian Sanchez learns the origin of D.C.'s Black Elvis.

...The resignations of Regina Ip, the secretary of security, and Antony Leung, the financial secretary, represent a very public humiliation for Beijing because the two had the reputation of enjoying particularly close ties to top communist officials.

Mrs. Ip was widely seen as Beijing's enforcer, sending police and immigration officers to perform sometimes politically controversial raids. Mr. Leung is a former student radical who married Fu Mingxia, China's Olympic gold medalist in diving, last summer.

After Tung Chee-hwa, the chief executive, Mrs. Ip and Mr. Leung attracted the most vehement criticism at a march on July 1 that drew a half-million people, most of them to protest a stringent internal-security bill that Mrs. Ip had championed.

...Mrs. Ip said this evening that she was resigning for unspecified personal reasons. Mr. Leung, whose resignation came three hours later and seemed to catch the government by surprise, said that he felt that he had completed budgetary and economic stimulus plans that he wanted.

...Mr. Leung is the third-ranking official in the government, after Mr. Tung and Donald Tsang, the chief secretary. ...

...Mr. Tung did not announce successors for Mrs. Ip, 52, or Mr. Leung, 51. As minister-level appointments, their successors must be approved first by Beijing. Filling both jobs could be difficult, as talented people with political futures may be leery of joining an unpopular administration.

...Children as young as 11 are claimed to be among those locked up for 24 hours a day in rooms with no light, or held in overcrowded tents in temperatures approaching 50C (122F).

...One of the most disturbing incidents concerns Sufiyan Abd al-Ghani, 11, who was with his uncle in a car that was stopped near his home in Hay al-Jihad at just after 10pm on May 27. The boy's father heard a commotion and rushed outside to see him sprawled face down on the road with a rifle muzzle pressed against his neck and US officers shouting that someone in the car had shot at them.

Sufiyan was made to stay on the ground for three hours, while more than 100 soldiers poured into the neighbourhood, searching houses and cars. Eventually he was taken away with his hands trussed behind his back and a hood draped over his head. No weapon had been found. The boy said that soldiers dug rifle butts into his neck and back and that the first night he was handcuffed and left alone in a tiny room open to the sky.

The following day he was moved to the airport, where he said for eight days he shared a tent with 22 adults, sleeping on the dirt, with no water to wash or change his clothes.

Sufiyan said that he was pulled from the tent one morning, hooded and manacled again, and driven to Sarhiyeh prison, to be kept in a room with 20 other youths aged 15 or 16 --regarded as minors by the Geneva Convention.

A woman inmate took his name and details and when she was released she alerted Sufiyan's family. On June 21, the family obtained an injunction from a judge ordering the boy's release, but they were told at the prison that the signature of an Iraqi judge no longer had legal authority. Even when an American military lawyer demanded his freedom, US troops refused to release him until the lawyer appeared at the prison. Privately US military lawyers say that they are appalled at how some of the arrests are being carried out.
IN CASE YOU MISSED THIS ON INSTAPUNDIT, here's a very useful roundup of a) military bloggers in the general Iraq area, and b) Iraqi bloggers. Includes Ishtar, a new one to me, a woman blogging from Basra.
COMIC RECOMMENDATIONS seem to be centering on Brian Bendis. Hmm hmm hmm. Will check him out, though not for a little while as I need to work work work (I sound like the Swedish Chef). Thanks very much to everyone who's recommended stuff.
THE COMIC BOOK PERIODIC TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS. See all your favorite elements featured in comics! This is fun. They recommend Oxygen so you can see the wide array of pix they've truffled up.
GOOD BLOGNEWS: Diana "Letter from Gotham" Moon is back! And Ted Barlow may have a job!

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

THE MUSIC STOPPED AND SHE DIED. WHAT HAPPENED? And more mystery-riddle fun. Feminist angle. Good grief, I too have given hours of my life over to these puzzles.
PROVING THAT I DO NOT ONLY THINK ABOUT ONE THING. In between writing articles about same-sex marriage (which I personally would prefer had a shorter name, like "bronk" or "sprudge"--am getting sick of typing it), I have been reading comics. Since, as I said a few days ago, I really don't read any current comics except "Love and Rockets" (I love the first four "ElfQuest" books but pretty much loathe everything after that), this is new stuff for me. Here are my quickie reviews of the recent reads--if anything I say here provokes you to think, "Hey, I bet she'd really like [INSERT TITLE HERE]," definitely shoot an email my way, since I'm having fun and looking for further fun.

First, I should note that I entered the comics shop with a big ol' list of things to look for, and ended up not buying most of it. Partly this is because I must spend my money on things like fixing my $#@! cell phone and dealing with Health Insurance Madness. But also, comics that had initially sounded really cool turned out to contain many things I dislike.

I want faces to have features. I want the ratio of "people talking" to "stuff blowing up" to be very high. I want the art to have something at least vaguely resembling a style; failing that, I want the writing to have ditto. I have a high tolerance for melodrama but a very, very low tolerance for a) lame dialogue and b) anything that looks like mystery for its own sake. As far as I can tell, lots of the more indie-like comics are addicted to b), and I don't think I need to tell anyone about the cornucopia of a) to be found in the local comics store.

The thing with the faces was a real disappointment. I thought being able to show people expressing their reactions through, say, their noses, or the crook of their smiles, was a prereq for drawing comics. Apparently not.

Anyway, I ended up getting stuff from four series: Ariel Schrag's high school autobiography comics; "Love and Rockets" (though only one of the several new titles they had--the others seemed kind of, erm, content-light); "New X-Men"; and "X-Force."

Ariel Schrag, Definition and Likewise #2: Eh, reviewing these feels very weird, since I'm tangentially related to her. I will just say that I am glad that my high-school relativism, "sex-positive" feminism, and general wig-ness was much more theoretical than practical.

Schrag sometimes comes off as a less (pick your word) pretentious or self-conscious version of Jay McInerney, describing the angst, recklessness, self-indulgence, and purposelessness of a very particular and privileged time and place. I should note that this isn't a bad thing necessarily; Brightness Falls is a good, basic novel. And Schrag has smart, implicit commentary on family ties, the recklessness that is a natural product of privileged security, and building an identity based around pop icons. (The story begins in "Awkward," which hits especially hard on that last point.) For me it was more sociology than fun, but your mileage may vary.

"L&R: Dicks and Deedees": Haven't read yet. Will report back if I have anything interesting to say.

"New X-Men: New Worlds" and "Riot at Xavier's": I'm liking this a lot, despite a huge, horrible, distracting flaw.

I like this because the storylines are wild. They flow naturally from the characters' personalities, rather than being imposed from without due to the author's or the franchise's needs; and yet they're unexpected and provocative. The dialogue could be better (would absolutely be substandard in a novel, but is well above average for the comics I browsed the other day) but there are several nice moments. This could become an addiction, I fear.

The problem is the art. The colors are good--lush--but the people--eugh! Everyone looks very glum all the time, for no good reason, and everyone is very elongated. It's like Giacometti-for-klutzes.

Also, Emma Frost needs to stop dressing like a skank, or at the very least she needs to be drawn as a somewhat more realistic skank. I know it works with her character to some extent, but not if she just looks like the kind of thing you'd expect a teen to draw in calculus class. (Speaking of: Does anyone ever cross his or her legs in the Marvel Universe???)

"X-Force: New Beginnings": Fun! X-Men as media criticism. Garish colors, which really work given that the story is about superheroes living in the television fishbowl. Good storylines--not great, but some good twists and moments between characters. Much, much better facial expressions than in "New X-Men." I enjoyed this, but the plots weren't as imaginative as NXM's. Not sure if I will read more. Still, definitely a good time. This series is called "X-Statix" now.

I've been thinking about what I like about comics. The main things are: 1) obviously, the same things everyone likes about movies--the high-impact collision of word and picture. Since I only write--no drawing, no music (after my short-lived stint as a punk singer...)--I'm really intrigued to see the details and compositions artists come up with to convey plot and emotion. Writers can learn an immense amount from trying to think visually. You learn what to focus on, for one thing.

2) I really, really like the idea of the series. I like that the story never ends. I like the element of time that comics can draw on--how do older characters relate to newer ones? How do you clear the stage when you need to? When and how do you disrupt long-established reader expectations? This is one reason I strongly prefer that dead characters--no matter how much I like them--stay dead. If you want to show us more about dead characters, do a flashback story. Otherwise you're just fudging the fourth dimension, when really the fourth dimension is one of the key attractions. At least for me.

In some respects comic series, especially "superhero team" series, remind me of my college debating society (OK, yes, I know, everything reminds me of my college debating society...)--a tradition has to figure out how to adapt and stretch as team members leave and enter. That's why I want things that change to stay changed, rather than being explained away or simply ignored.
AN I.O.U.: Eugene Volokh asks opponents of same-sex marriage to describe the "mechanism" by which same-sex marriage will weaken reg'lar old marriage. I'm working on a piece on this very topic, which I hope to be able to post shortly. Here are the five premises which I hope will help illustrate one of the mechanisms (though only one) by which same-sex marriage will affect marriage-in-general.

I. People make lots and lots of their decisions based on self-image and role modeling.
II. Marriage is still glamorous and still thought to include, as an aspiration, lifelong sexual fidelity.
III. Same-sex couples have much less reason to insist on sexual fidelity than opposite-sex couples do.
IV. "Straight" people are not especially heroic.
V. People are more likely to do difficult and even heroic things when those choices receive praise from society.

More to come; this is my reminder that I promised to post an explicit description of how this particular mechanism operates.