Letters to the Editor

Is it Spike Gillespie who should be restrained? Plus: Michael Lewis' bogus attack on J-schools; art should be about seeing, not theorizing.

By Letters to the Editor

Published November 1, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Life of restraint

My first thought, just skimming her piece, was that Spike Gillespie had
escaped from a nunnery, innocent eyes wide shut, and stumbled unarmed
into the contemporary sexual battle ground: a whirlwind Internet
romance that turned into a nasty marriage. Not so. A full reading
showed that she already had one bad marriage behind her, and one can
only wonder, given that and her hardscrabble history, how she could marry an alcoholic, addicted,
abusive loser who was -- the horror! -- a Republican.

She is careful to tell us, again and again, that she should have
known better and has learned from the experience. How so? When she
announces her abortion plan, her husband responds, "How would you like it
if someone killed Henry?" She interprets this as a threat -- but that sentence strikes me as the only normal,
rational utterance she credits her husband with. And one legitimately
begins to wonder: Given such a radical misapprehension of language, how
much can one credit his other reported behaviors?

There is, of course, a completely different, not nearly so nice,
explanation for this piece. Granju's accompanying book review tells us that, despite
Gillespie's accumulated troubles, she still drinks, get depressed and
occasionally "dates some of the wrong men." One
doesn't need training in psychotherapy to diagnose the problem: She
loves her misery and is defined by it. I say God help that "one perfect boy" she is raising.

-- Gerald Trett

Hitting below the belt


As a woman who has had to get restraining orders
(to protect my life and my children's lives), I
have found it's a painful and rarely successful
process. It is nearly impossible to get a
restraining order unless there is blatant physical
abuse. (This varies from state to state.) As it
turns out, the most toxic abuse is often not
physical abuse, but is verbal and psychological.

My experiences with restraining orders have been in Florida and in Texas. Even when my ex
threatened to "take a gun and blow my brains out," the judge asked me if I knew if my ex possessed a
gun. I had no way of knowing if he had a gun or not. The judge refused my restraining order after
the initial 10-day temporary order because I could not prove the existence of a gun.

In fact, getting a restraining order often infuriates an abusive spouse. If anything, getting
a restraining order ups the possible incidence of violence. Women who seek restraining orders do so
after a great deal of thought about the risks vs. the benefits. I know I did this. (When I
talk about men and women here, I want to acknowledge that women are also abusers.)

The process of getting a restraining order is not one I want to repeat. After my last court
experiences, I was ordered to pay for my ex-husband's psychological evaluation, to pay for
half of the supervised visits he had with our children, and to pay his medical insurance premium. I
was ordered to go to therapy (which I had already been doing for years). The judge also threatened
to take my children away from me, because I had said to my children, "It's not OK for daddy to
rage." She said I shouldn't say negative things about their father in front of them.

I have never met a woman who has successfully gotten a restraining order that had no basis in
reality. I attended battered women's support groups for several years and more often than not,
women's restraining orders were denied. If anything, the truth of domestic violence is
trivialized by judges. Most judges I've encountered truly believe in the myth that two
people in a relationship need only to "work" on the relationship. Most judges are not aware of the dynamics
of domestic violence. I know of a judge who granted sole custody to a father who was caught
masturbating in bed with his three daughters. The mother, who had caught the father in this act, was
accused of being "hysterical" and of "making too big a deal" out of the event.

There may be ways for women to get revenge on their exes; getting bogus restraining orders is not one of them.

-- Diane Fleming

Austin, Texas

Please give my undying gratitude to Cathy Young for writing about the
wrongs of restraining orders and the "women good, men bad" mentality of
some family courts . Unfortunately, I've already experienced the worst of what she describes
and then some. No newly estranged couple comes to a family court judge expecting Solomon, just a
reasonable and insightful, even-handed arbiter. But the fact that this
segment of the judicial system remains so primitive reflects very badly
upon our society indeed.

It confounds me that such little recognition is
given to the fact that unnecessarily depriving children of a parent does
immeasurable harm. With an almost infinite array of studies detailing
how a child's early years affect their long-term development, what's in
the interest of a child should, if at all possible, take precedence over a woman's fears.

-- David Heide

This is only one facet of the anti-male bias present in today's family
law. (Let's not even begin to go into the child-support issue.)
A critical element of the success of feminism to date was in the moral
authority expressed by the simple line "It just isn't fair."
Unfortunately, today the issue is not about fairness; it is all about
power. Women's organizations have it, they like it and baby, it's payback
time. I know there are many women who actually are accepting the burdens and
freedoms of equality and acting accordingly, but their voices are being
drowned out by the hypocrites.

-- Lawrence Kreitzer

Cathy Young seemed to base her article on the abuse of restraining orders on
physical abuse, and either neglecting or ignoring psychological abuse. While
the later is much harder to convict on, or gather hard data, the
implications and fear should not be ignored. If someone came off the street
yelling, who was half a foot or more, taller than you, and weighed 50 to 80
pounds more, would that not intimidate you? Now what if that person also had
access to your home?

The simple fact is that it's required to make reasonable attempts to locate
the person who is being served with the restraining order. A John Doe
order is for special cases such as an unknown stalker. If the person, such
as a husband or ex-husband, is unaware of the restraining
order, it's the problem of the lawyers/police for not implementing existing
procedures -- not of the woman who asked for the order. If someone is served
with an order, it's not too difficult to comply with: Just stay away.

There's far more cases of restraining orders being ignored, or not enforced
by the police (since they often will state, true or not, that they have to
observe the perpetrator violating the order before they can cite a
violation) than a restraining order being used for nefarious purposes.

I, for one, would much rather have them in place than not.

-- Aaron Propes

Roseville, Minn.

Both men and women can be equally abusive in their own ways.
I lived with a woman who would slam and break drawers. If I said
it was unsettling I would then hear something like, "Oh, I suppose a 175-pound
man is frightened by a 105-pound woman!"
Violence and aggression has nothing to do with size or gender. In the long run, the children are the victims.

-- Fred Raleigh

Welcome back, Lewis



One can debate the merits of journalism schools, but I'm clear
about the merits of Michael Lewis as a journalist -- very few. He's fun
to read, but he sucks up to rich people and only kicks people if he is
sure they can't kick back. In addition, he never lets facts get in the way of a point he has decided to deliver.

Case in point: Columbia Journalism School. In his
New Republic article a few years back, he used Columbia as an example of
journalism schools that were irrelevant, fuzzy-headed,
ivory-towered, etc. But Columbia is the leading example of a journalism school that is
relentlessly skill-based, where students are sent out into the streets,
where they write and report endlessly. In fact, the school is condemned
by many if not most other journalism schools, which lean toward "media
studies." Columbia is the leading journalism school in the country, but is quite isolated from most other schools both philosophically and in institutional ties. Lewis ignored
all this. His article on Columbia was one of the most inaccurate and
misleading ones I have ever read. I have trusted little Lewis wrote since.

-- Alex Marshall

Columbia Journalism School class of 1988

Not only was Lewis' claim a blatant piece of marketing savvy,
but it was dangerous advice to pass along to the next crop of media shapers and players.
While it may be true that many talented, skilled journalists can do
good, honest work without journalism school training, it is equally true
that the profession is choked with journalists who are self-centered,
unprofessional, unethical glory hounds. What the profession needs today are
well-trained, highly principled practitioners: people who know how to, and
insist upon, presenting the news in the fairest, most accurate and skilled
way possible. If anything, J-school curricula don't go far enough in
conveying to students the importance of such basic skills.

Cable news anchor punditry, the dissolution of the wall between
advertising and editorial departments, the trend toward "event journalism,"
and Tabitha Soren are all products of a profession ignorant of its
history and its role in a democracy. Journalism won't be saved by waiters. And it definitely won't be
saved by insincere, platitude-dropping hypocrites. It will be saved by
people who know what the fuck they're doing, and who care about how what
they write affects their readership.

-- John Giuffo

Astoria, N.Y.

Art history 101

Sorry, Philip Yenawine, but figuring out how Chris Ofili's "version of
sacred/profane plays into the classic Madonna/whore dichotomy" sounds more
like a tedious exam question for Intro to Critical Theory than a compelling
example of what contemporary art has to offer the general public. It does,
however, indicate the self-serving academic devotion to the primacy of
rhetoric and theorizing above all other aspects of the visual arts.

Rather than indoctrinating the masses to believe that the most important
function of art is to make people think about arcane aesthetic issues,
it would be better to teach young artists that the most important function
of the visual arts is to literally make people see. No matter how much
contemporary art is "designed to make you think,"
it will always be an elitist medium if few people are able to find sensory interest or pleasure in the work without intensive grounding in art theory.

-- Karen Winterton

The Jasper myth

I am not surprised that Ashley Craddock is able to find signs that racism is alive and well in Jasper and other parts of Texas. Racism, defined as feelings of superiority to other races, does go on here -- and elsewhere as well. A more interesting story would be to tell us about those whites in Jasper who don't use the "n" word and whose views toward others are more gentle and accepting. All she has to do is look. I grew up in South Carolina a long time ago -- and not everyone there and then was racist. The myths she describes are mostly generated by journalists, mostly from somewhere else.

-- Richard Walker

Austin, Texas

Don't look back


According to David Horowitz, his friends on the left "created an empire
of inhumanity," but managed to "survive the catastrophe of their
schemes" ... while "ignoring the ashes of their ideological defeat" only
to "emerge unchastened and unchanged in pursuit of their destructive
illusions" ... while being "'rewarded for their misdeeds with a cultural
cachet and unprecedented influence in the country most responsible for
the worldwide defeat of their misguided hopes."
Are we witness to a hyperbolic seizure here? Or am I too left-leaning
to appreciate a solid thought clearly expressed?

-- Norman Lear

The question I have for Horowitz is not why he rejects the
hard-left position he grew up with; there seem to me perfectly obvious
and good reasons for doing so. But why embrace the right? We are talking about people who have
designed at least as much human horror as the left . Why not strike
out in a new direction instead? Surely there are more than two choices?

-- Randolph Fritz

Eugene, Ore.

The horrors inflicted by those of any political persuasion are less
tied to those persuasions than to other, more fundamental, human failings.
Weak egos feel impelled to seek some kind of recognition. But a politics
that conceives of itself as nothing more than everlasting conflict between
the progressive impulse and the conservative tendency is inevitably
self-annihilating and useless.

-- Tim Klay

Why is it not surprising to learn that David Horowitz equates "the Left"
in America with his own, very narrow, radical experience with the Black
Panthers? It is a hard-learned historical lesson that extremist,
militia-style "activism" is equally dangerous whether it springs from
left- or right-wing ideologies. It is an indication of his own
intellectual weakness, not the ideological weakness of the left, that
this lesson was for him learned too late.

-- Bruce Thompson

Santa Fe, N.M.

The odd couple

Let's hope Soulforce can actually engage Falwell
and not just use him as an object of attack. Gays and lesbians should rise
above scapegoating and move toward an understanding of the Christian right.
As Andrew Sullivan stated in his recent New York Times Magazine piece on the nature of hate, we will never banish hatred from the human animal. But perhaps Falwell's followers and gays and lesbians can reach a point of toleration if not full tolerance. We may never agree, but
standing under a church roof together without blowing it off is a serious
step toward toleration.

-- Tim Kirby

New York

Onward, Christian filmmakers


Given the nearly universal negative reviews for "The Omega Code," the real
test will be whether the seemingly miraculous box-office numbers reported
for the opening can be sustained for longer than a single week. Adding a
paltry 100 screens while at the same time avoiding large population centers
sounds more like a campaign designed to skew the numbers to their benefit,
while avoiding the obvious negative consequences of getting hammered in the
major markets -- where it really counts. If Fundamentalist congregations in
Bible Belt, Ala., think this is a good use of their collection-plate
offerings, then who am I to argue?

But I don't think I'd be throwing money away by betting that per-screen numbers
will plummet to the bottom of the gross revenue list faster than Jonah
through the krill-encrusted baleen of an Old Testament leviathan. At the
same time, it is my fervent hope that Messrs. Van Dien, Ironside and York
et al. were smart enough to insist on front-end participation, and are
collectively laughing themselves to their tax shelters, while Providence/TPN
mavens scratch their heads in confusion next weekend as they watch their
Armageddon-fueled dreams of a cinematic crusade tank into obscurity.

-- Chris Comte

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