Archive for November 2003

Chivalry and Chauvinism: Chaucer, Feminism, and the Modern Man

November 25, 2003

The Madonna-Whore Complex is the tendency of men to idolize women who are sweet and innocent in public but wild and adept in the bedroom. One striking example of this discrepancy is Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. While the Knight and the Franklin spin tales of females with perfect chastity and fidelity, the Miller and Reeve portray women as crafty temptresses who delight in the fruits of their sexuality. More realistic characters such as Lady Perletote of the Nun’s Priest’s Tale and the Wife of Bath prove that women are not all of one and all of the other but a balance between the two. The Canterbury Tales show that both sexual double standards and the movement to destroy them were planted in the Western consciousness hundreds of years ago.

The Knight’s swashbuckling Tale features male heroes whose nobility and honor are matched only by the purity and chastity of their women. Hippolyta wields great power, saving men from execution by her tears alone (page 66). She raises no complaints, however, when her fiance Theseus postpones their nuptials so that he can wrest the city of Thebes from the evil King Creon (45). The Lord of Athens is only taking the risk, after all, because he cannot refuse the humble petitions of the oppressed noble women who meet him on the road (44-45). Hippolyta’s beautiful personality is matched, if not exceeded, by her sister Emily. Emily’s beauty destroys the friendship of the brothers Arcita and Palamon; their love for her is so passionate that they question whether she is a goddess or a woman and pledge the remainder of their lives to serving her (47-53). So astounding is her purity that, given the choice between Arcita and Palamon, she prays to Diana to let her marry neither so that she can remain a virgin forever (80-82). Diana, in her wisdom, does not grant this wish, and Emily proves to be an excellent wife. She dissolves to tears over the death of her betrothed, Arcita, a man she has never met (97). Then, as per Theseus’s wishes, she weds Palamon and serves him faithfully her entire life (102). Venus, the Goddess of Love, is a more assertive woman who provides a contrast to Hippolyta, Emily, and Diana, but the knight does not dwell long on the influence of this woman (84-85). For the most part, the Knight’s females are pure and passive and, thus, perfect.

The Franklin provides a similarly sunny outlook of the feminine disposition. The protagonist, Dorigen, is “among the loveliest under sun / And came from kindred of so high a kind” that her knight, Arveragus, lacks the temerity to tell her his true feelings (427). Eventually, though, she takes him as her husband, and the couple live in wedded bliss. When Averagus leaves on a campaign in Britain, Dorigen is so heartbroken that her friends fear she will commit suicide (429). She laments about the rocks off the coast of Brittany which represent the imperfections of life (430-431). Though Aurelius courts her fiercely, Dorigen remains ever faithful to her husband (434). She contemplates suicide as an alternative to faithlessness and is delighted when Aurelius releases her to her husband (443-446; 449). Arveragus and Dorigen, the perfect couple, live in marital bliss forevermore (449). In this tale, the woman is a model of perfection, giving all her love to her husband and receiving the same in return.

While the women of the previous tales are valued for their spiritual gifts, the Miller and Reeve judge women by another criterion: sexual vigor. The “fair young wife” of the Miller’s Tale is as beautiful as Emily or Dorigen and a frequent churchgoer, traits that mask her lecherous eye and carnal appetite (106-108). The wife welcomes the advances of her tenant, Nicholas, and connives with him to humiliate her husband (107-108). She tricks Absalom into kissing her “nether eye” for sport (119; 122). The carpenter’s wife fits the stereotype of a sexually driven young lady whose older husband drives her into the arms of other men; she is the kind of woman that young men love but older women despise.

The Reeve expresses an even lower view of women; his females lack any trace of chastity or intelligence (131-133). The Miller’s wife and daughter are descended not from nobility but from a celibate priest (126). They prove easy prey for college students Alan and John, who give them the best “surprise sex” of their life (131-133). The daughter falls in love with her rapist and returns him his cornmeal, and the wife unwittingly assists the boys in beating her husband. This imbroglio expresses man’s desire for easy sex and gives a veneer of hypocrisy to the sermonizing of the Knight and the Friar.

For a more balanced opinion about the feminine mystique, Chaucer turns to Lady Pertelote, spouse of Chanticleer, and the Wife of Bath who display both the sexual and spiritual aspects of her gender. Pertelote enjoys both physical and emotional pursuits with her husband (238, 242). She is “discreet and debonair” and influences Chanticleer to do whatever she wishes (234-236). The Wife of Bath’s powers are similar, if not superior, to Pertelote’s. She is a flashy dresser, clad in tight scarlet red hose, new shoes, and ten pounds of kerchiefs on her head (31). She respects virginity but sees no purpose in it and hypothesizes that the only way a man can repay his woman is by using “his silly little instrument” (280). By extorting her husbands into giving her money and land in return for sexual gifts, she is just like a whore (284-287). The Wife is no mere sex object, though; she is also a person with fond memories and intense emotions. She marries her fifth husband for love, not money, and enjoys a reasonably happy existence with him (290). Though he is at first frightened of her independence, reads anti-feminist literature, and beats her, Johnny finally comes to love her and live peacefully with her (293-298). According to the Wife of Bath, what women most desire is neither purity nor pleasure but control over their husbands and, thus, a voice in the world (309-310). This moral is simple yet revolutionary; the Wife of Bath’s feminism is hundreds of years ahead of its time.

A man wants a wife who is both a perfect mother and a perfect lover. For his spiritual standards he uses his own mother, or perhaps Mary, the Mother of God; thus, the qualities of purity, tranquility, and sweetness present in Emily and Dorigen most appeal to him. For his physical standards, he plunges into the caverns of his imagination and gravitates towards women who are sexpots or “man-eaters” such as the carpenter’s wife and the Miller’s wife and daughter. Instead of forcing their Madonna-whore complexes onto the women in their lives, men would be best-suited to settle for a woman who is balanced in her spirituality and sexuality such as Pertelote or even the Wife of Bath. The psychological struggle between man’s higher and lower impulses detailed in The Canterbury Tales is still relevant today. Feminism did not suddenly materialize in the 1970s; equality and understanding between the sexes have been goals of humanity for hundreds of years.

AP Government Supplementary Reading Report

November 15, 2003

Our supplementary readings were the treatises “Intro and ‘The Mighty Middle’” by John B. Judis, “Perspectives on American Political Parties” by Martin Wattenberg, and “Divided We Govern” by David R. Mayhew. The topics therein, political parties and elections, dovetail with Chapters 5, 7, and 8 of American Government by James Q. Wilson and John J. DiIulio, Jr. Some of the excerpts, like the book, precede their material by remarking that political parties in the United States are quite weak and growing weaker (Wilson 149; Supplement 40, 46). Judis, Wattenberg, and Mayhew’s perspectives all coincide with different sections of the book about the nature of political parties.

Judis’s “The Mighty Middle” is a commentary on the 1998 congressional elections. He says the theme of the election was voters’ rejection of extreme candidates and a movement towards the center (Supplement 41). This dovetails with Wilson and DiIulio’s assessment that party identification by voters is weakening and assisting the decline of political parties (Wilson 149-150, 152). Tables 5.3, 7.5, and 7.6 in the book also signal that party leadership is much more ideologically solid than the average American (120, 173, 176). Judis and the book both mention that the Democrats are gaining strength in the middle class (Wilson 113; Supplement 44).

Wattenberg’s eleven roles of political parties fit inside the three areas described by the book: they provide a label in voters’ minds, an organization for recruitment and campaigning, and leaders to run the government (Wilson 150-152; Supplement 46). He also asserts that party decision-making has become more centralized in recent years as the book did (Wilson 151; Supplement 47). Wattenberg disagrees with Wilson and DiIulio about the strength of state organizations; he says they have become more powerful while the book says they have withered (Wilson 161; Supplement 47).

In “Divided We Govern,” Mayhew says that a government divided between parties can function effectively and did throughout the twentieth century (Supplement 48-55). In his thought, he echoes such luminaries as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, and Wilson and DiIulio. Madison thought that separation of powers would best safeguard the people’s liberties by keeping factions from taking all the power in the government (30). Furthermore, in Federalist No. 51 he said that a coalition of rival factions would best safeguard the people’s liberties: “A coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good” (34).

Megan, Charlie, Deepak, and Amanda wrote, produced, and starred in the video in a few hours last Sunday. Amanda then edited it. After the video, Megan and Amanda gave a short speech on the topic. Luobei and James wrote the report.

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Dynamic Defense Diplomacy

November 13, 2003

1. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was a climactic event for the United States, Soviet Union, and Cuba. Security, self-preservation, prestige, ideology, and power, the national objectives that forced the countries into the conflict, also provided them impetus for getting out of it. As the imbroglio deepened, the countries shifted their goals from victory to mere survival.

The United States’ three primary goals post-World War II were world peace, human rights, and national defense. The five national objectives mentioned above were paramount to achieving these goals and determined the US’s behavior during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Since the Soviets’ nuclear missiles had the capability of killing 90 million Americans, security and self-preservation were the US’s primary concern throughout. The country’s executives soon realized, however, that they could not defuse the situation without compromising some of its prestige and power. John F. Kennedy floated a trial balloon about removing its missiles from Turkey in return for a removal of missiles from Cuba, but his administration and the public overwhelmingly rejected this idea because it would seem like appeasement and make the US look like a weak ally, greatly damaging its prestige among First and Third World nations. Kennedy’s promise that the U. S. would never invade Cuba compromised the policy of containment by assuring the existence of a new Communist nation within a hundred miles of the U. S. border. Finally, the US’s military power helped push the USSR from the brink of war. The US achieved two of its three primary goals during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It avoided armed conflict, advancing the cause of world peace, and convinced the USSR to remove its missiles from Cuba, a clear victory for national defense. By letting Cuba fall to the Communists, the US allowed Castro to commit human rights abuses and oppress his people for decades to come, but a government rarely achieves all of its objectives in an international dispute, so the Cuban Missile Crisis was a success.

Winston Churchill said that Soviet foreign policy was “a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma,” but the key was Russian national interest. The Soviet Union had one clear objective during the Cold War: the survival of Russia. Khrushchev placed missiles on Cuba because he felt threatened by the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion and the increasing technological advantages of America over Russia. Putting missiles on Cuba would insure Cuban self-preservation, and in the Russian mindset, more territories meant more buffer zones and would enhance Russian security and self-preservation. The survival of a Communist Cuba would also spread the worldwide Communist revolution, an important part of Marxist-Leninist ideology. Finally, the ability to deploy missiles from within 100 miles of the US would greatly increase Russian military power. The treaty that the two superpowers finally made was a draw for Russia; though it advanced its security, self-preservation, and ideology by winning the existence of Cuba, its prestige and power in international affairs decreased because of Soviet lies about the existence of the missiles and the removal of weapons from the island.

Cuba was even more desperate for national preservation than the Soviet Union. The Colossus of the North was the biggest threat to the nation’s security and self-preservation, so Castro and his diplomats clung to the USSR and followed its lead throughout the missile crisis. Prestige and ideology were not as great of a concern for Cuba, though it gained sympathy because of the US’s embargo and won legitimacy for its regime during the crisis. Though Cuba was, and is, a relatively powerless nation, the nation won grudging acceptance from the US and thus gained the power to do whatever it wished with its people.
The US, USSR, and Cuba had different goals but similar objectives during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The nations’ opposing ideologies and similarity in power made the incident very intense, but eventually the common goals of self-preservation led them to an acceptable compromise. The movie 13 Days closes with the sentiment that if the sun rises, it is because there are still good men in the world. The major players of October 1962 were able to put aside their differences, strike a compromise, and allow life to move on.

The President of the United States has total access to information and the privilege of receiving advisors at his leisure. The National Security Act of 1947 established the National Security Council, which includes the elite members of the Cabinet and the National Security Advisor. For help with the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy convened the “Ex-Com,” which included the NSC and other advisors of his choosing, and for his final decisions, he consulted his brother, Robert Kennedy, and his Special Assistant, Ken O’Donnell, according to 13 Days. The support provided to the executive branch allowed Kennedy to virtually ignore Congress during the ordeal, allowing for smooth and efficient foreign policy-making.

The Ex-Com included some of the foremost talents in the United States, but not all the great minds thought alike. The younger and less experienced members of Kennedy’s staff, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and speechwriter Ted Sorenson, favored compromise and peaceful solutions to the crisis. These executives often butted heads with the older, more warlike members of the council, including former Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Joint Chiefs members General Maxwell Taylor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Curtis LeMay, Air Force-JCS, and Admiral Anderson, Navy-JCS. The third party in these debates was Adlai Stevenson, Ambassador to the UN and a member of the unpopular dove school. Kennedy listened to their advice, but he was not beholden to their opinions and made the final decisions himself, a power that proved necessary when he realized the military generals were hell-bent on starting a war with the Soviet Union.

Kennedy, disappointed with the acrimonious attitudes in the Ex-Com, turned to his brother Robert Kennedy and his close friend Ken O’Donnell for personal support. The two were not foreign policy gurus, but they provided Kennedy with the unequivocal personal support he needed. The support of Robert Kennedy and O’Donnell were vital to the preservation of John Kennedy’s confidence and sanity during the ordeal of October.

President Kennedy, as chief executive of the United States, had access to the best information and the best advisors the country had to offer. The advice of his Cabinet helped him to formulate a realistic policy, but the support of his friends was just as important. The United States furnished Kennedy with solid support in his time of need.

3. The factionalism within the Ex-Com in 1962 was a microcosm for the diverging attitudes of the American people during the Cold War. When he considered the views of the Hawks, the Doves, and the Moderates, President Kennedy also saw the views of the American people, who he presumed would be voting on his administration during the 1964 election. The arguments between statesmen during the Cuban Missile Crisis often exhausted Kennedy, but they also helped him to craft a reasonable policy that ultimately proved successful.

Of all the groups in the Ex-Com, the Hawks were the biggest thorn in Kennedy’s side. These men were staunch supporters of national security, but they thought it could only be achieved through war with the hated Russians. Kennedy’s staff had to keep close tabs on the military, even encouraging soldiers to lie to their superiors, in order to keep the situation from flying out of control. Even so, the Defense Department still made mistakes that heightened the tension of the missile crisis, including testing two different nuclear weapons within a week and firing on a Russian ship that tried to run the blockade. The military did fulfill its duty in giving Kennedy accurate estimates about the costs of a war and the potential of success, but controlling it tired Kennedy almost as much as negotiating with the Russians did.

Adlai Stevenson, the chief proponent of the Dove School, received pity rather than respect for most of the debates, but he provided much-needed balance to the aggression of the Hawks. He was the first to suggest giving up the US’s military presence in Turkey in exchange for Russian retreat from Cuba, and though Kennedy flatly rejected this overture at the time, he contemplated it often. Stevenson’s most important contribution, however, was his speech to the United Nations proving the existence of missiles in Cuba. This last, and perhaps most important, political act of Stevenson’s career turned the tide for the United States. Stevenson was a boon for the Kennedy Administration.

Kennedy considered the points of the Hawks and Doves and chose a middle route through the crisis. His friends, the moderates Robert Kennedy, O’Donnell, McNamara, and Rusk, helped to support him and carry out his policies. Robert Kennedy and O’Donnell provided personal support to the President, and the two reached a compromise over the missiles in Turkey (secretly remove them in six months) that was acceptable to all parties. McNamara was instrumental in keeping the Defense Department under control, and Dean Rusk helped to keep the State Department cooperative with the President. The moderates, Kennedy’s political appointees, helped him achieve his goals.

The coming election in 1964 loomed large in the Kennedy Administration’s mind and pushed him to take a harder stance with the Soviets than he would have liked. Appeasement was a swear word in the 1960s, and each administration was judged by how tough it was on Communism. Kennedy knew that his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis had to be successful to insure the survival of his nation and his own political future. He lost his trust in the military after of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and this gave him the strength to stand up to it in October of 1962. Kennedy’s ability to accept the best advice from all his advisors was pivotal in these two weeks.

4. The centralization of the Soviet government freed Nikita Khrushchev from the need to win a re-election campaign. Lenin’s concept of democratic centralism assured that the party would follow the Chairman in whatever major decision he made. Khrushchev’s failure to pay attention to the forces within his party, though, would facilitate his downfall. Hardliners who felt he’d let the US off easy dumped him soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The rank and file of the party already disliked Khrushchev for his “Secret Speech” against Stalin and his 1962 division of the party into industrial and agricultural sectors. As long as he was Chairman, diplomats like Zorin, Gromyko, and Dobrynin were obligated to follow him and lie for him until the bitter end. The Chairman, who believed after the Bay of Pigs Invasion that he was personally superior to Kennedy and could do whatever he wanted, received free reign to establish missiles in Cuba. His rambling first letter to Kennedy, in which he offered to remove missiles from Cuba for a promise that the US would never invade the country, incensed the Politburo so much that they wrote a second letter making more demands of the Americans. The final agreement with the US kept the countries out of war, but the hard-liners perceived that Khrushchev had been too easy on Kennedy.

Prestige was very important during the Cold War, and the USSR lost too much of it for the CPSU’s liking during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1964, the party finally gave up on the moderate Khrushchev and replaced him with the more conservative Leonid Brezhnev. He, and Dubcek, Kosygin, the “three-horse chariot,” ran the country for the next 18 years and exerted all their energy to keeping the status quo. The three kept the USSR out of serious trouble, but they also caused the stagnation of the country, which ultimately proved more fatal than Khrushchev’s risk-taking and appeasement. Khrushchev could have accomplished much more in Russian government had he worked in tandem with the forces around him.

5. President Kennedy, as the chief diplomat of the United States, was one of the most pivotal figures of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Deriving his powers from Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and his status as political leader, Kennedy steered the US out of this dilemma with a draw, choosing to return to a near status quo ante bellum rather than sacrifice thousands or even millions of lives by walking directly into a tripwire. Kennedy did not work miracles, but he did give the US peace. The legacy of the Cold War, including the establishment of the red phone to the Kremlin and the removal of Khrushchev, has validated the President’s decisions far more than pundits of the past ever could. Kennedy managed his official and unofficial powers well in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Among the President’s constitutional privileges are the powers to appoint and receive ambassadors, make treaties, and receive foreign diplomats. Though none of these powers had a direct hand in the crisis due to the immediate nature of the threat, Kennedy’s diplomats and his reception of diplomats were important in keeping the sides from reaching an impasse. His manipulation of the mass media was also important; by calling organizations and keeping his press secretary in the dark, Kennedy allowed the situation to take its due course without inflammation from the public. The president’s powers of recognition and non-recognition were central to the Crisis; guaranteeing the existence of a Communist Cuba was a thorn in the side of the US but a necessary loss for the cause of freedom. Castro has not proven as disruptive as proponents of Containment feared he was. The decision to “quarantine” Cuba was not constitutional, as a blockade is an act of war and the power to declare war rests with Congress, but it proved to be a good middle path of diplomacy. Kennedy used his powers much better in the missile crisis than he did in the Bay of Pigs.
Kennedy’s use of executive agents and executive agreements was his most important move. He appointed Robert Kennedy, a man he could trust, to make 11th-hour negotiations with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin. Robert and Dobrynin agreed that the USSR would remove its missiles from Cuba if the US promised never to invade the country with a secret caveat that the US would remove its missiles from Turkey within six months. Congress did not approve the agreement, but it did not need to. Kennedy used the powers of the executive branch to bring peace to America.

President Kennedy used his Constitutional and assumed powers well in the Cuban Missile Crisis. I would have taken the same path as him. His treaty was neutral, but that was all he needed. I would not have told the public I was considering removing my missiles from Turkey, as this lost prestige for the nation, but I approve of the president’s strategy otherwise.

6. Chairman Nikita Khrushchev instigated the Cuban Missile Crisis and made the final decision to end it. This event highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of his administration: he was a basically good man and an effective politician, but he tended to act rashly and did not hold the party line that Stalin had strengthened so much during his 30 years in office. If I were Khrushchev, I would never have put missiles on the island of Cuba, and I would not have shown as much weakness to the Americans in my first letter as Khrushchev did in his. I would have held a stronger line with the United States and tried to win more in the deal. Nevertheless, the CPSU’s general secretary made a wise choice in averting war, and he deserved more support from the hard-liners of the party.

Chairman Khrushchev established missiles in Cuba, with the consent of the country’s government, in 1962. He feared another US invasion of the country following the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco and also wanted to counter the United States’ growing weapons advantage. He did not anticipate the capabilities of the US’s intelligence, and after the Americans discovered the weaponry, Soviet policy seemed confused and disorganized for the remainder of the campaign. In public, the USSR denied the existence of missiles in Cuba and blamed the United States for the furor. The Soviets had the support of the world community and the UN Secretary General, U Thant, until Adlai Stevenson provided damning photographical evidence on October 25. The Soviets pushed the US to the brink on the military front, then stepped back; they turned their ships around in the Caribbean Ocean, respecting the US’s “quarantine,” and gave up its weapons program in the country in exchange for a promise that the US would never invade Cuba. Khrushchev used many front-channel and back channel communiqués in his increasingly desperate efforts to keep the USSR out of war. He succeeded in achieving peace but lost the respect of his party and in doing so gave up the power of the party to the conservatives.

Khrushchev was occasionally rash in his actions, but his first letter and the installation of the red phone showed a willingness to communicate that might have greatly leavened the tensions of the Cold War. Khrushchev’s humanity was a blessing and a curse to him; I would have been more logical in my actions, but I generally approve of his intentions and behavior and believe that Brezhnev never should have replaced him as leader of the CPSU.

Summary of Book XI of “Paradise Lost”

November 3, 2003

Book XI of John Milton’s Paradise Lost continues the resolution that began in Book X. It begins with Adam and Eve’s prayer for forgiveness from the Father, which wafts “Dimensionless through heavenly doors” to His Throne (xi.17). The Son realizes the beauty of the Father’s plan for Mankind; He proclaims that the prayers of the contrite are far sweeter and truer than the prayers of the innocent and becomes the intercessor for Adam and Eve. The Son asks the Father to forgive the humans of their sins and offers His life as the sacrifice that will perfect mankind. The Father assents to the Son’s wishes but decrees that the humans must leave Paridise and will have neither Happiness nor Immortality again until Death takes them. The Father then sends Michael and the Cherubim to execute His wishes.

While Adam awaits God’s judgment, he consoles Eve and reminds her of God’s promise that their seed would one day crush the Serpent’s head. Michael’s news crushes the couple, but he lifts their spirits by telling them that God’s presence is not confined to Eden, and He will always look out for them. Michael then takes Adam to the top of the highest hill in the world, the same slope which Satan and Jesus would ascend years later, and shows him several visions of the future. Michael shows Adam many troubling things: the murder of Abel, various types of diseases, the seduction of good men by pagan temptresses, war, and the flood. Adam, seeing the imminent sins and destruction of mankind, laments his existence: “Why is life given / To be thus wrested from us? who, if we knew / What we receive, would either not accept / Life offered, or soon beg to lay it down, / Glad to be so dismissed in peace” (xi.503-7). The Archangel continually reassures Adam that the world is a good place and that good men will inhabit it as well, including Noah, whom God will save from the flood. Adam rejoices “for one man found so perfect and so just / That God vouchsafes to raise another world / From him, and all his anger to forget” (xi.876-8). Michael assents and notes that in his sorrow and his mercy, God will promise to never destroy the world again. Here ends Book XI; Michael’s speech continues in Book XII.

Essay for Duke: How My Brother John Has Changed Me

November 1, 2003

I received help in writing this essay from my father on earth and my father in heaven. My earthly father helped me to focus my thoughts and encouraged me to determine who I am, what is important to me, and how I have matured over the years. He also edited my essay. I incorporated his suggestions.

Before I wrote my essay, I prayed to God for wisdom and eloquence. He helped me to open up and see the world with new eyes. I defer to God for important personal decisions, and He has not let me down yet.

I want to matriculate at a school where I can learn and enjoy myself. Duke is a perfect match for me because it is strong in both of these areas. It is a strong academic institution with a real commitment to education and discovery. Duke’s hiring of nearly 100 new faculty members shows that the University, though it is already one of the best schools in the country, is always striving to make itself better. Student life at Duke is also excellent. The University has excellent Division I-A sports programs and provides many other opportunities for growth with its music program and clubs. Students enjoy attending Duke, and I want to have the same opportunity.

The advent of long-distance communication has been a mixed blessing for Western society. The distances between states and nations becomes smaller every day, but our relationships with the people and places closest to us are becoming more and more insignificant. The modern family often reflects this paradox: cellular phones and the Internet leave parents and children no more than a dial away, but the numerous opportunities for personal entertainment distract them so easily that family members can spend entire days in the same house without ever seeing each other. As a result, people often muddle through a nugatory existence where they meet everyone but grow close to no one. My family might have suffered the same fate if not for my youngest brother, John. He is autistic. This condition could have torn us apart, but instead it had the opposite effect. My experiences with John have brought my family together and made us more patient, forgiving, and compassionate.

John is 9 years old. He had many ear infections as a baby, so my parents were not concerned when he didn’t start talking. Time passed, however, and my parents became cognizant that something wasn’t right. He was very irritable and uncommunicative, and he often seemed to be in his own world. Eventually, he was diagnosed with autism, a behavioral disorder characterized by withdrawal from reality, repetitive behavior, and language disorder.

The news completely changed the complexion of my family. Finding a cure for John has become one of our top priorities. My parents tirelessly search for a cure, and in the meantime, we have done the best we can to reach out to John and make his life better. We’ve developed a lot of patience thanks to the mischief he often involves himself in, and communicating with him requires us to get out of our comfort zones and our busy lives and focus on him as a person.

Having an autistic brother is an experience that has helped make me a unique person and shaped my view of the world. John is a beautiful person. Thanks to him, I have much more respect for the handicapped, and I am always reminded of how blessed I am and how much I can do with my own gifts. His purity of spirit is inspirational; he is equal to, if not better than, “normal” people. John has had a positive impact on me and my family.