August 31, 2009

Torture

Most adults would probably define the word "torture" as the absence of hot coffee on a wintry Monday morning. Most teenagers might reference staying awake through Biology or English. Most little children, if they understood the term, would possibly mention early bedtimes or having to eat vegetables...

But do any of us, living our relatively comfortable American lives, know what "torture" truly means?

Waterboarding. Sexual abuse. Kidnapping of relatives. These are things we might hear about on the news concerning detainees or prisoners of war (though of course they're not always called prisoners of war, in a strange show of "respecting" the Geneva Conventions). And, now, we hear that former Vice President Cheney is defending the use of torture, rationalizing it as aiding in the protection of American citizens.

But do we really understand what we're talking about, what the media loves to debate about, what Mr. Cheney is promoting? Think about it. Torture... It's the removal of basic human rights. Do we really want to make that acceptable? If we let our government find or create enough loopholes to justify torture, then we're giving our government rights it shouldn't have.

Yes, it's important to save Americans' (and other countries' citizens'!) lives by learning important pieces of information from captives. But... isn't deciding to rid other human beings of the right to live without being tortured a bit much? Think about it. Torture... the removal of basic human rights.

For one thing, if we grant the government the right to torture (or, rather, tell the government that it's okay, since torture is clearly already being used), then who's to say we won't lose our rights next? Who's to say the government won't take things a step further and arrest us without caring about habeas corpus or the Bill of Rights or any of that good stuff?

Please, let's just keep it clean. We're the good guys... remember?

Tedy Bruschi Retires from NE Patriots

Tedy Bruschi, the linebacker for the New England Patriots (and my cousin, pictured at right with my brother), announced his retirement this morning. At 36 years old, he is a 13-year veteran of the Patriots and has a long list of impressive achievements, not the least of which are his three Superbowl rings. I'll leave the rest of his resume for others to discuss, but I will say that I love him and will eagerly await what amazing things he'll do next. In the meantime, I know he'll want to spend some quality time with his three adorable boys, Dante, T.J., and Rex (pictured below), and his very lovely wife Heidi.



WGR 550 Sports Radio in Buffalo, New York, home of the arch-rival Bills, put up this hilarious tribute to Tedy as only a worthy adversary can.

The Gadson Review's Advice to Freshmen

In less than a month, the ‘13 class will start classes at Dartmouth. As an upperclassman, I wanted to share some advice in the hopes that you can learn from my experience and that of other upperclassmen to make the most of your time in college. I can’t guarantee that everything will be original, but I do promise it will be honest. Here goes:

Explore different disciplines before picking a major

There are people who have known since they were five what they wanted to major in. And many of you probably think you know. But I want to urge you to try something different before choosing your major. If you think you want to major in English, try a class in computer science; you may fall in love with the subject. Additionally, even when you do pick a major, try and branch out. You’ll be a deeper, more educated person as a result.

Keep grades in perspective

Everyone wants to get a good GPA either out of pride, or a desire to get a good job, or into a good graduate school. But at times, I’ve made the mistake of putting too much emphasis on it. For example, when I did an off-campus study program in France my junior year, I judged my time mostly by the grades I got. It seemed infuriating that I was taking classes with people who had studied French since middle school, and that on some level, I was graded against them even though I had only taken one year in college. But upon reflection, I realized that grades were a poor way to judge my time in France. I had gained the ability to speak and read a new language, and experienced a different culture. That is something that will stay with me, long after no one cares what grades are on my transcript. So technically speaking, I probably got the shaft grade-wise. And that’s ok. I’m a better, more educated person for stretching myself and going abroad. So let me urge you to take a long view of your education.

Advice on engaging the Greek system

There is a wide range of opinions at Dartmouth on the Greek system. Some think it’s the best thing since sliced bread; others think it’s a reincarnation of Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m not really here to weigh in on that debate. Whatever its merits or demerits, the Greek system is popular on campus. Upwards of 2/3 of upperclassmen will end up pledging. So in some way, the Greek system will affect your time on campus.

There’s really two pieces of advice I’d give here. First, don’t compromise your values. I know this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people do compromise their values in the Greek system. If hooking up, and drinking until you drop floats your boat then by all means, go for it. But if you object to those things, don’t engage in them just to be accepted. If you do choose to pledge, talk to upperclassmen about which houses might be a good fit for you. And please ‘13s, try and change the Greek culture. Don’t just complain about its flaws. If you join a house, try to eliminate the aspects you don’t like. The only reason the system has some of the same problems it did decades ago is because class after class simply accepts the system, and then passes it along to upcoming ones.

Second, don’t feel compelled to join a house. This will be particularly hard advice to follow Sophomore fall when it seems like everyone is pledging. But maybe you just don’t want to be a part of the Greek culture on campus, and more power to you if that’s the case. There are other social opportunities on campus. Hang out with friends, join an organization, explore the great outdoors. Somehow I doubt that 2/3 of upperclassmen really want to join a house; I think they do so because they feel like that’s the only real social outlet on campus. If more of you ‘13s who don’t want to join a house don’t let yourselves be pressured into joining one, then maybe even more social opportunities will be available for people who aren’t part of the Greek system.

Get out of Hanover sometimes

Hanover has much to recommend it, and you’ll be delighted by its charms when you arrive. But let’s face it, the town is pretty small, and there just isn’t that much to do. Sure you’ll be busy with classes and extra-curriculars, but there will come times when you want to do something besides play pong in a frat basement for fun. Get a group of friends together and go to Boston or New York once or twice a year. Plenty of organizations on campus travel to those cities and more on occasion.

Also, I highly recommend studying abroad. My favorite term at Dartmouth was my term on the Beijing FSP. It was a thrilling experience. I made a new group of friends, and went to some cool places. Studying abroad will give you a broader perspective and allow you to really appreciate Hanover when you come back.

Always know you have something to offer

You’ll come into contact with people from all sorts of exciting backgrounds, who’ve done some amazing things. When I started, I felt boring compared to many of the kids I met who seemed so awesome. But remember that you have talents and abilities to share with your classmates, and that you too are interesting in your own unique way.

Conclusion

I hope you ‘13s are excited about starting college—it really can be the best time of your lives. I hope you take the advice here to heart, and start thinking about how to make the most of your time. You may be the worst class ever, but I’m really looking forward to meeting you this fall!

Check out my blog here

Conservatives Embrace Great Society...Finally

Lyndon Johnson must be dancing in his grave. He could never have imagined that conservatives would come to embrace Great society so much...

To read the rest of this post, go here.

August 30, 2009

Hillary: The Supreme Court Decision

Freedom of speech is a tricky issue. For one thing, it's something to which most Americans are rather attached, and something we'll defend vehemently. It's something that, when openly subjected to governmental restraint, makes citizens cry foul and start murmuring about a second American Revolution (...or donating less to political campaigns, which might scare our governmental officials even more). And since this is true, the government attempts to secure our right to freedom of speech, or at least make us think it is secure.

But there are exceptions to every rule, convolutions in every case...

In a soon-to-be-seen Supreme Court case concerning the legality of a negatively-slanted documentary about Hillary Clinton, the convolution is this: If the corporately-financed documentary is ruled to be legal, then corporations could have free reign to distribute propaganda in favor of their chosen candidates or against their chosen candidates' opponents. This would violate and thus make void parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which restricts corporate spending (the idea presumably being to give corporations less control over political campaigns and thus over the country). However, if the documentary (aptly entitled "Hillary: The Movie") is ruled to be illegal, then the right to free speech will have been incredibly restricted-- and according to the First Amendment, that's not allowed. A society in which the government can control the content of movies (and there's talk, though not action, of books and other media being equally restricted) doesn't sound too much like the traditionally all-about-freedom America.

So, the Supreme Court is faced with a quandary: Uphold the corporation's right to freedom of speech, even when it means that elections that change the course of this country's future could be influenced by money? Or quash freedom of speech and allow the elections to progress uninfluenced unfairly by the corporations... but influenced by the government's regulation?

I certainly don't like the idea of corporations pouring propaganda into campaigns already filled with monetarily motivated media; I hate the idea that the rich have a better chance of winning elections. But I'm not too thrilled about the idea of government restriction, either. I mean, just thinking about a country without freedom of speech terrifies me.

All in all, I'm thinking that the documentary should be declared constitutional. At least that way candidates of both political parties have to deal with the added support or opposition of corporate groups. The elections will be influenced by corporations, something I'm not excited about, but I figure the alternative- government control of political speech- is too awful to even contemplate. If the government was given that much control over campaign propaganda, then the political party currently in power could give one party's candidates a very unfair advantage.

What do you think? Is it more important to preserve non-corporate elections-- or freedom of speech? Think carefully before you answer, because though you're only one person, one person's opinion can matter...

And sometime very soon, only nine (very educated, well-informed) people will have the chance to decide the path of this nation.

The Last the Senate Saw of Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy made his last stop at the U.S. Senate yesterday before being taken to Arlington National Cemetery to be buried among his brothers. The late Massachusetts Senator's funeral was held in Boston earlier in the day and attended by President Obama, Former Presidents Clinton, Bush (43), and Carter, Vice President Biden, Former Vice Presidents Gore and Quayle, and Secretary of State Clinton, among others. Awaiting his body on the Capitol steps were around 500 mostly former staffers, many of whom had attended Sen. Kennedy's 75th birthday party and now reconvened here under less happy circumstances. The casket was not originally planned to stop at the Capitol (as evidenced by the complete lack of crowd barriers), but seeing as that was where Ted had spent the majority of his life, it seemed only fitting that it should. The public was not given much notice, but from the DC news I read, I learned that the casket would arrive sometime after 4PM. Since I lived only two blocks away, I ventured out at the appointed hour to see it.

Leaving my apartment and nearing the Senate, I saw waves of people converging there, drawn if by magnetism. Residents and tourists. Children and parents. The young. The elderly. A spectrum of all colors. They collectively felt that this was a historic moment and maybe for Teddy or maybe for themselves they wanted to be a part of it. I found myself next to a kindly looking older man with a powder blue Obama hat and holding what appeared to be the only sign in the entire crowd. In felt marker it read "Hail to the Hero of Healthcare" and he quietly held it to his chest as we awaited the hearse.

Just then, a lady wearing a teal blazer and some neck badge I've never seen before came through the crowd and approached the man. She identified herself as a Kennedy staffer, told the man that his sign was disrespecting the funeral, ans asked him to take it down. The kindly man said that he would be unable to honor that request and held it up again. The fact that a congressional staffer asked a man to censor himself hear the capitol deeply troubled me. He wasn't shouting anything or disturbing those around him. The sign he held merely honored Kennedy's championing of health care, and did not directly advocate for anything. What's more, he was holding the sign in a secluded part of a 5,000+ crowd, not on Kennedy's funeral alter or anything. I patted him on the shoulder and we exchanged nods.

"Maybe she's against healthcare," he said to me. The pasty man in front of him turned to him and matter-of-factly said that she's a loyal staffer and was merely enforcing the Kennedys' reasonable request that the event not be politicized. We asked this other staffer what about the sign he found to be partisan and why, given the fact that Kennedy himself said that the pursuit of universal health care was "the cause of my life," it disrespected the event. We reminded him that earlier at Kennedy's funeral, his own grandson, in the church and on live television, said, "that every American will have decent quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privileged, we pray to the lord [lord hear our prayer]." The man seemed to realize that he was not going to look good in this discussion, the way officials arguing with citizens never do. He said something about avoiding the political backlash caused at the Paul Wellstone funeral, and we asked again how a funeral for a lifetime politician can be anything less than political. If Democrats want to turn off voters, they should continue to hire self-righteous staffers like these.

About that time, the 22-year-old woman directly in front of me collapsed. She and her similarly young and attractive husband had been waiting with their 1-year-old baby when heatstroke or dehydration must have got the better of her. Earlier they were frustrated they couldn't get any of the water for their baby that staffers were passing out, and I told them the obvious fact that if they say they have a child, everyone will bend over backwards to give them anything they want. "I have a baby," the father said. Presto: free water.

They had seemed pretty clueless when it came to being in crowds, I had to give them some more advice. "If she's not feeling well, you should shout the word 'medic'." Within 30 seconds the group of middle aged civilian paramedics who had come to her aid were relieved by a platoon of well-dressed Capitol doctors who gave her a full diagnostic and whisked her away. The kindly man turned again to me. "That's government run health care for you." Free and socialized, I thought. And no bureaucrat standing in the way. Within a few minutes, another woman fell, and then another. It became a game watching the young doctors and police man rush from place to place.

Standing in the heat of the Sun, occasionally relieved by a passing cloud, the crowd waited more than two hours, swelling in number all the while. Even the babies remained remarkably calm. The lady next to me remarked that things would have been better if the staffers passed out more water instead of American flags. I told her, "It's certainly not for lack of patriotism that everyone is passing out."

The crowd broke out into sustained applause when the sickly 91-year-old Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) appeared in his wheelchair on the steps, and then again 15 minutes later when the hearse arrived. After some words by a religious official and a representative of the family, a choir led the crowd in America the Beautiful. As the family returned to their cars, the crowd broke into impromptu recessionals of patriotic songs sung in muted and reverent tones. From what I heard there, the singing began with the staffers on the steps and slowly spread like a faint wind onto the gathered crowd so that it too was fully involved by each song's first chorus.

The caravan consisted of a half dozen black sedans, a few black short-buses, and no less than five full-sized Peter Pan tour buses. After a while I started to wonder exactly how many Kennedys there really were. And then they all finally left, the sun setting behind the Lincoln Monument far in the distance, motorcycle engines competing for volume over the din of the cicadas: the Last the Senate ever saw of Ted Kennedy.

August 29, 2009

War, and Why It Seems Like a Stupid Idea

War.

It happens all of the time. It's always happened all of the time. Thousands of years ago the earliest civilizations were at war. Probably millions of years ago the amoebas were at war, too. That's just how it is.

But why? Why is war such an integral part of our existence?

I guess we as humans, or just as living beings, are naturally proud and a bit aggressive. We're territorial creatures and we get defensive- or more likely offensive- very easily. You won't give me this toy? Okay, let's fight. You took my favorite blanket? Let's go, right now. You did this, you did that... you won't give me enough oil to run my country, you ruined my people with your capitalist or communist ideas... let's have another war!

The thing about war, though,  is that generally the people who start them aren't the ones out there getting their heads blown off. It's easy for governments and leaders to start wars now and rationalize them later. It's "for the greater good of this great country" or "to uphold this great country's reputation" or even "to improve this great world." I love that last one. How can killing thousands of people make the world a better place?

But regardless of how stupid or acceptable the rationalizations are, the fact remains that the people in charge aren't on the front lines. And that makes a twisted kind of sense, seeing as the great strategists and generals can't get killed in the beginning, or- oh horror!- we wouldn't have a war at all. And then where would we be?

I realize that there are some things that just can't be accepted and forgiven. Like assassination, or stealing half a country, or lacking to pay a few million dollars (that one's a pretty common reason, too). Something has to be done about these things. It's just, I don't know, can't we do something other than kill all of the people we were fighting to protect in the first place?

Because that's what wars are supposedly about, right? Fighting to protect the people. Fighting for peace. We've all heard that one before... And somehow the general public accepts that. Yeah, I understand that we had to stop Hitler, obviously, and that someone's got to stand up to the bad guys. But looking at the death tolls...

In all sincerity, looking at the death tolls, tears come to my eyes-- in sorrow for the dead and in sorrow for the sheer stupidity that is war.

August 28, 2009

The Wealth of the Nation-- and Who Has It

In case you haven't noticed, there's still quite a socioeconomic gap in this country. It's between what we call the rich (very technical term, that) and what we call the poor. The middle class fills it in, of course, and since we're a well-established civilization we have plenty of bourgeoisie to connect the dots between rich and poor. But that doesn't mean that there aren't drastically evident differences between the most financially well-off one percent of the population and the bottom, oh, eighty percent or so.

It has always been this way and probably, admittedly, always will be. But sometimes we forget that this is the way it is. It's easy to live our lives forgetting that there are many people living very differently than we do due to economic fortunes, good or bad. Whether we're wealthy, subsisting below the poverty line, or somewhere in between, we get used to where we are and don't bother to look up or down the economic ladder.

And I don't mean to cause controversy by pointing out our economic differences. Far from it; the jealousy caused by looking up that ladder and the condescension caused by looking down are two things we can definitely do without. But we should be aware of the distribution of wealth in this country, and the wide spectrum of economic situations in which American citizens find themselves. According to one study from http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html, the wealthiest one percent of American citizens owns about forty percent of the country. Whoa. And guess how much the bottom eighty percent gets? Only around eight percent of the country.

Table 1: Distribution of net worth and financial wealth in theUnited States, 1983-2004
 Total Net Worth
Top 1 percentNext 19 percentBottom 80 percent
198333.8%47.5%18.7%
198937.4%46.2%16.5%
199237.2%46.6%16.2%
199538.5%45.4%16.1%
199838.1%45.3%16.6%
200133.4%51.0%15.6%
200434.3%50.3%15.3%
 
 Financial Wealth
Top 1 percentNext 19 percentBottom 80 percent
198342.9%48.4%8.7%
198946.9%46.5%6.6%
199245.6%46.7%7.7%
199547.2%45.9%7.0%
199847.3%43.6%9.1%
200139.7%51.5%8.7%
200442.2%50.3%7.5%


That's pretty incredible. And living where I do, in Southampton, New York, I see a lot of the top one percent. I work in retail, so I get quite a few customers who probably own six or seven houses (and, like John McCain, sometimes can't even quickly remember how many they have). It's thoroughly eye-opening to be chatting with someone wearing a ten thousand dollar outfit one minute and the next chatting with someone living paycheck to paycheck. I won't say that it's the system's fault; the economy has to work somehow, and our almost-capitalism seems to be our best bet so far, if we're picking an economic system. But I will say that the system definitely has its faults.

So, the thought I'll leave you with today is this: Where do you fall in those all-important percentiles? Where do our politicians fall? And... will these percentages ever fall to a more even balance?

Distribution of wealth is a tricky thing... and worth pondering.

The lonely, rose-covered Senate desk

Since Ted Kennedy's internment in Arlington Cemetery will be closed to the public, I visited the Senate today with the help of a certain Dartmouth congressional intern to see his desk and pay my respects. Because the Senate is not currently in session, and in such times no pictures or videos are allowed to be taken of the floor, you'll have to rely on my description. As per Senate tradition, his desk is draped in black, and placed on the level top is a bowl of white roses. His desk is rather far in the back, which I found surprising given his seniority. Maybe he wanted it that way. His chair was one of few I could see that had a tan butt cushion, and I'm not really sure what to make of it.

Also on his desk was a single piece of paper, printed with the words of The Road Not Taken by the great Robert Frost. Consulting various news outlets, I can't seem to find out who is responsible for putting it there, or what personal significance it might have had for him, besides the fact that Frost came and spoke at the JFK inauguration. The Road Not Taken is so overused and frequently misunderstood that I find its placement on Kennedy's desk rather curious and worthy of examination. Here are the words:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
What did the placer mean when he put this on the desk? Did he fall victim of the ignorant view that the poem is about individuality and the importance of choices? Was the poem choice suppose to honor the "trail-blazing" leadership of the Kennedy clan, of taking the life path less traveled as described in the last stanza?

That would certainly be a moving tribute if the poem didn't directly contradict that interpretation in the second and third stanza, when the paths are revealed to be equal in wear and leaf cover. Only in the projected future will the narrator amend reality to romanticize the decision. And further, in the immediate present of the decision, the speaker knows that he will speak of his decision later in time not with with defiance but with a regretful sigh.

Instead the poem illustrates the irony of a sentimentalist, knowing he will regret a meaningless choice, wishing perhaps to see where all roads lead before taking a step in either direction, and, once he does, inflating the story beyond what it actually was. Doesn't sound very fitting. Doesn't sound very Kennedy.

Instead I'd suggest putting a different Frost poem on Kennedy's desk, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
First, the poem is set in the cold and snowy night of winter, alluding to the cold, the darkness, and the somberness of death. Second, the narrator is in isolation, as Kennedy now is in death. His only company, a horse (which for political purposes might as well be a donkey), expresses a desire to keep progressing to their objective (health care?) before turning in for the night. Last, the ending quatrain hearkens to the yet daunting amount of unfinished work to be done, the unfinished destiny of "the dream", the endurance of "the hope". And in all these things we find our Teddy Kennedy and are reminded of why we'll miss him so very much for so very long.

Hanover one of the best college towns in America

The blog, Hotels and Travel Reservations ranked Hanover on its list of best college towns in America. Hanover, you may recall, is also one of CNNMoney's 2009 best places to live, the 2007 "best [town] of the east" (#2 overall), and the #8 best place to retire young.
Another diminutive Ivy League jewel makes the cut in the form of Hanover, New Hampshire. The venerable home of Dartmouth, a world class institution by any measure, is a quiet, peaceful community in the scenic Connecticut River watershed.
Also on the list: Lawrence, Kansas; Athens, Georgia; Amherst, Massachusetts; Berkeley, California; Boulder, Colorado; Princeton, New Jersey; Madison, Wisconsin; Oxford, Mississippi; Austin, Texas; Eugene, Oregon; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

In Soviet Poland, photoshop learns YOU!

Dartmouth Comp Sci Professor Hany Farid offers a quick snippet on NPR discussing the common practice of using photoshop to alter the racial composition of photographs, specifically in the glaring example below from Microsoft in Poland.

Why Do Black People Believe Crazy Conspiracy Theories?

Do you remember the Jeremiah Wright Reverend Wright controversy last year? If not, here’s a youtube video of his famous “God damn America sermon” that forced Obama’s race speech last year....

To read the rest of this post, go here.

August 27, 2009

Equality

America is the home of the brave. America is the land of the free. America is the country of the good, the just, the fair, the honest, the equal...

Back it up, there, and let's take a look at that last one.

Two hundred and thirty-three years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, one hundred and forty-six years after the Emancipation Proclamation was decreed, ninety years after the Twentieth Amendment became law, forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed... After the writing and publication of all of these landmark documents, after all this time, are all Americans finally equal, in rights as well as in truth?

I'd say not.

Look at the treatment legal immigrants receive in this country, especially those of Arab descent; all too often they are greeted with suspicion. Look at the treatment gay and lesbian citizens receive, or disabled citizens, or minorities, or women; all too often they are greeted with disdain, or condescension, or even hatred... the list goes on and on. We've made progress toward equality, that's for sure- but just how far have we come?

Sure, the positions of power are no longer entirely occupied by old, white, rich men. President Obama is African-American; Speaker of the House Pelosi is a woman. And these facts reassure me a bit in that the old hierarchy is falling, slowly but surely (and, hey, if we want to break the rise-and-fall cycle all the empires have gone through, if we want to survive as a civilization, then we need to change something, so that's a good thing in more ways than one).

But when I stop and think about it, I'm astonished at just how similar everyday prejudices remain. Take pay rates, for one (and how important they are in these tough economic times!). Women still don't receive the same salaries as their male counterparts. President Obama, in his words upon signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 in January, acknowledged the inequalities that women in the workforce face: "Women across this country still [earn] just 78 cents for every dollar men earn-- women of color even less-- which means that today, in the year 2009, countless women are still losing thousands of dollars in salary, income and retirement savings over the course of a lifetime." And that piece of legislation- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law- should help to rectify that situation; but progress, as usual, is slow.

As always, I encourage you to think. Today let's ponder how equal we think we are in this day and age, and just how equal we actually are. I use women's pay as an example but there are countless prejudices still in place across the nation. And here's an important question: What can we do to fight those prejudices?

And here's an important answer: Let's live our lives without those prejudices, as best we can; let's challenge the pay gap between genders, or the automatic assumptions we make based on race or sexual orientation. Let's think about judgments we make about people based on the way they look or which socioeconomic category they fall in. Let's remove the casualness from these prejudices...

And move forward to a better day.

Goodness Gracious!

From (The Customer is) Not Always Right:
Me: “That will be 17.50, please.”
Customer: “Are you a Christian, dear?”
Me: “Why do you ask?”
Customer: “Are you?”
Me: “Well, no. Why do you want to know?”
Customer: “Oh. I would like to be helped by someone else, please.”
Manager: “Good morning ma’am, I hear you’ve been having a problem with the clerk?”
Customer: “Oh, she didn’t make any trouble, it’s just that I don’t want my money to be handled by someone not of the faith. You should be careful, she’ll probably nick from the till when you’re not looking.”
Manager: “You’re right, ma’am, I shall definitely have to reprimand her.”
Me: *surprised* “What for?”
Manager: “For failing to notice that the lady was not planning on paying for the three Mars bars and the map of Europe she must have put in her bag while you were fetching me.”
(The customer freezes for a second, then looks at her bag.)
Customer: “Good heavens! I must’ve been so distracted I didn’t even notice the devil putting them there!”

The good, the good, and the ugly of Dartmouth mentions today.

(1) In Indian Country Today, Don Rains, the 45-year old member of the Dartmouth class of 2013, continues to have one of the most inspiring and philosophical life stories I've ever heard. The highlights:
[Rains] hopes to inspire other American Indians and to be an activist and advocate for preventing the tragic loss of teenage lives to drunk driving... His mother did not die of natural causes or even an overdose; she was murdered... Rains’ father was serving the third year of a 10-year prison sentence for using and selling heroin... Shuffled into the foster care system, Rains ended up with an alcoholic couple. When he turned 18 he joined the Navy, serving from 1982 to 1989, and during that time he began to read voraciously... His “ultimate favorite” book is “Remembrance of Things Past,” a semi-autobiographical novel in seven volumes by Marcel Proust... His painting and a chance encounter with Jon Moscartolo, the owner of the Visions Toward Wellness Gallery in Stony Creek, Conn., led him to Dartmouth.

(2) The Liberian Daily Observer profiles Mahmud Johnson '13 and his address to his classmates, encouraging them to study hard, use the library, and explore the internet if they want to make the most of their lives. Facts obvious to westerners, but perhaps novel to those in other corners of the world. Johnson's resumé includes: valedictorian of his high school class at B. W. Harris Episcopal High School, host of the youth program, Let’s Talk About Sex (LTAS), and a Public Affairs internship at the Liberian Ministry of State. The article includes a nice photo of Johnson with Liberian President Sirleaf, who was recently honored by Dartmouth herself.

(3) In the Huffington Post, Julia Plevin '09 pens an almost stunningly naive piece about how giddy she is to be experiencing everyday life in Vietnam. With the simultaneously uninformed and slightly condescending tone of a Dartmouth freshman writing about their first foray into a fraternity basement, the wide-eyed Plevin remarks on how cheap, quaint, and no-longer-war-torn Vietnam is. Her special-interest piece is without any argument and would be better suited for the depths of the Dartmouth Mirror than the HuffPo. Even her opener about her inability to find a conventional internship falls flat and petty outside of a Dartmouth readership. College students have a bad enough reputation for being annoyingly ignorant about the world as it is. We don't need any help.
It is apparent that Vietnamese people are tough and resourceful. When an American friend mentioned that he lost in tennis to his Vietnamese opponent even though the American had all the right gear and the big forehand, I joked casually that that was just like the war, when the Americans, for all their learned skills and equipment, could not overcome the Vietnamese. While I was able to casually joke, I know there are some people for whom the war here is still so real. I respect both Americans and Vietnamese who had hard war experiences and I am grateful that I can be part of this new generation that has lost sight of the war and wants to form friendships and alliances.
ugh.

Are We Living in the End Times?

This is a question I’ve pondered some in the past few days. Recently, I read Are We Living in the End Times? by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins, the authors of the popular Left Behind series. In the book, the two men assert that sin has increased substantially in recent years, and as a result, the end times are nearly upon us.

To read the rest of this post, go here.

August 26, 2009

Faith, or Justification?

Ah, religion. It seems that many Americans pick it up when they need it-- when baking cookies for the church's charity sale will boost their popularity, when their wives or husbands are sick and suddenly prayer seems like a good option. And when it's not needed? When everything is fine and dandy? ...What happens to religion?

These are the half-hearted believers. They don't really know or even care if they believe, but they follow religious rules (drop a buck in the collection basket, choose to give up carbohydrates for a few specific days) because that's just how life is. These are the people who don't even notice the hints of religion in their daily lives- printed on our currency, included in our Pledge of Allegiance- because they just follow the structure their respective religions have set out for them. And that's fine. If religion can sit on the back burner and these people are happy, that's fine (though a few priests and religious officials might take offense).

But sooner or later these people use religion as a justification...

Why can't she be our daughter-in-law? Well, she's not Catholic. Why can't my cousin marry his true love? Well, he's gay. God wouldn't approve. Why can we start this war? Well, God would appreciate it. How can we get elected this November? Well, God is there for us... as a political tool. As a social tool. As a way to keep out the people we don't want to associate with, to keep down the people who have always seemed below us.

Because they're not like us. They're not the ones who follow the holy words of God (-ahem- the ones we only listen to at Christmas and Easter, the ones we block out so that we can plan ahead to where we'll seat Aunt Esther at the dinner table).

And if religion wasn't the justification, we'd find something else. I'm not knocking religion, and I'm especially not knocking faith. But it just strikes me how very convenient religion is as an excuse, a backup, a solid reason to do whatever we like. No one can say anything against God, of course, and of course God isn't about to let us know what He really thinks... So in the name of religion and the name of God, people kill and speak hatefully and alienate unalienable rights... without retribution.

There's no way to stop this relentless use of religion as rock-solid justification; all I can do is draw our attention to it and hope that we'll realize that perhaps religion has become a way for us to not be entirely accountable to ourselves. Lack of accountability is nice sometimes, I must admit... But using religion as an excuse for our own actions is not. (If we're going to pretend that we do everything because God is watching, can't we at least make it a positive thing? Let's use God as an excuse to do good, not evil... Let's be more accountable to ourselves, not less.)

And so I leave you with this thought: Is your religion about faith, or justification? Solace of the soul, or of the insecure human mind? If your answers are the former, God bless you; but if your answers are the latter, something needs to change.

Joe Asch '79 at Dartblog

My good friend and all round Dartmouth patriot, Joe Asch (class of 1979) is now regularly contributing to Joe Malchow's DartBlog. Joe (Asch) has always been involved in campus events and supplements his opinions in The D and elsewhere with an impressive amount of journalistic research. Take a look at his new work here.

101 Ways to Go Green in (Dartmouth) College

Over the last decade, Dartmouth has made pioneering advances in environmental sustainability (apparently they are even making an academic major out of it). But for you serious environmentalists coming to campus, you might want to go one step above. Take a look at the 101 Ways to Go Green in College (tip to Amber Johnson) for a collection of interesting ways to reduce your environmental impact while in Hanover. Now I'm no environmental radical myself, and a few of the suggestions struck me as a bit much, but I think there are a lot of great ideas to consider. My favorites:
  • Recycle paper (and used recycled paper: Dartmouth loves to use printouts and at the end of each term, I always have an impressive stack.)
  • Repurpose items: Use empty cans for pencil holders, turn old shoe boxes into storage, and more.
  • Carry a refillable water bottle (e.g. your nalgene from freshman trips)
  • Use cold water: Cut down on electricity and heat damage to your clothing by using cold water in your washing machine.
  • Use plants instead of air fresheners
  • Get used textbooks
  • Avoid disposable cups and plates (looking at you, frat basements)
The more intense/questionable:
  • Donate supplies to artists: Give paper towel tubes, rubber bands, even oven doors to artists who can use them.
  • Handwash: Conserve electricity and water by hand washing your clothes.
  • Line Drying: Cut down on costs and save energy by drying your clothes on a line. (maybe at home, but this is pretty unrealistic for college. Dartmouth would look like a Hooverville if closelines suddenly sprung up all over the green)
  • Use an e-reader: With an e-reader like Kindle, you can download books instead of buying paper items. (did Amazon.com give them a sponsorship? Paper books are my only reprieve from glowing rectangles)
  • Shop at thrift stores/Go vintage/Swap Clothes/Avoid chasing trends/Shop indie (nice try hippies, you can't trick us into donning your uniforms)
  • Eat Raw: Cut down on the energy of preparing food by eating fresh, raw foods
  • Support local business (This always struck me as being a bit protectionist, though after watching Food Inc. I've started to reconsider the merits of buying organic, which is often only available locally).

Preposterous Woman 2

The conservative columnist Peggy Noonan offers this wonderful column in the Wall Street Journal on the walking, winking, mouth-breathing failure that is Sarah Palin. It's a must-read on its own, mercilessly debunking every myth in the 'Palin narrative', but it includes this little bit that flagged it for special recognition here at LGB.
I think intellectuals call her working-class because they see the makeup, the hair, the heels and the sleds and think they're working class "tropes." Because, you know, that's what they teach in "Ways of the Working Class" at Yale and Dartmouth.

Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy (1932 - 2009)


Ted Kennedy, the longest serving brother in one of the greatest political families, died early this morning of brain cancer, exactly one year to the day of his surprise appearance at the Democratic National Convention. He was a son of privilege in a family that championed the poor. He sought the glory in life that his brothers were denied in death. He was the Lion of the Senate and he became an institution onto himself. And his alter flame will be the guiding light to a new generation of change-makers, our current President included.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that Ted never lived to see the health care plan, largely of his inspiration, pass congress. Now, in the proposal's greatest hour of need, its champion is dead. And for that, America will miss him so very much.

I've always been fond of Ted's oratory, and I'd like to share a clip from his eulogy of Bobby Kennedy, who was slain during his 1968 Presidential Campaign.


My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.

As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:
"Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not."

Harry Reid in Trouble

It’s hard to believe, but Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) might lose his seat in next year’s midterm elections. A recent poll saw him losing to either of the two Republicans who might emerge from a primary to take him on.

To read the rest of this post, go here.

August 25, 2009

Freeing the State from This Governmental Decree... Sure

So there's this blog site called "Free State Blogs." Its description is "chronicles of progress toward freedom in New Hampshire." Sounds nice. And there's this guy named Steve Mac Donald who posted something. The subject? ...My blog post, apparently. Thank you, Steve. I'm flattered. (For those of my readers who are curious, see this link. I want this to be an open debate in which everyone's voice is fairly heard, so please do take the time to check it out.)

Mr. Mac Donald seems intelligent and brings up some questions about my position that are worth answering. A few that I'll argue with, sure, but good points, generally speaking. Good enough that I will now take the time to rebut or qualify some of them.

Steve accuses me of being under the sway of the "collective unconscious of entrenched liberal thought about governments role in regard to rights and religion." By this remark it seems he means to discredit this "collective unconscious of entrenched liberal thought" as some kind of propaganda indoctrinated into good, redblooded American citizens. Thank you for being concerned for my welfare and vulnerability to scary liberal propaganda, Steve, but I have a mind of my own. This debate isn't about automatically following the liberal agenda. This debate is about doing the right thing- about making it possible for American citizens to pursue happiness, in this case through the option of gay marriage.

Mr. Mac Donald also states that marriage is not a right. Well, to answer this point I'll simply ask a question: Wouldn't you object, Steve, if you couldn't get married due to a governmental decree? I think you would. I think all we heterosexuals would. Marriage is something heterosexuals take for granted. Why deny this right to other citizens?

As for what seems to be a very controversial point, even in this very controversial debate: Quite a few commentators have remarked on this illustrious site that they object to my qualification of marriage as a religious construct. Steve, however, seems to agree with me in that "marriage is... a religious ceremony." He takes the view that since it is religious the officials of religions (priests, etc.) should have the right to refuse to marry gay couples. And, well, we'll deal with that part of the argument when we come to it.

Steve misleads readers here, or perhaps is simply misled himself. He insists that a governmental decree on this subject would be a horrible thing. And I agree. Because the ban on gay marriage is that decree. So, lift it!

My point at this time is not that the government should decree that gay and lesbian couples are allowed to get married at any church they like. My point is that the government should not FORBID gay and lesbian couples to get married at any church they like. That way, no one is forced to do anything. I'm not advocating a governmental decree! I'm advocating its absence! More freedom-- not less.

Mr. Mac Donald is a bit unclear at several points, one of which admittedly makes me a little angry. He responds to my assertion that gay and lesbian couples should be able to enjoy their rights and not have them infringed on with this:

"homosexuals should just enjoy their right to civil marriage if they have it (one they share with heterosexuals) and stop infringing on my protected religious right to decide who can be joined before god"

I'm sorry, Steve, but it is NOT your protected religious right to decide who can be joined before God. That right would belong to God, if anyone. Why are you so all-fired important that you can decide who is allowed to get married and who isn't? Shouldn't that right belong to, well, someone a little more heavenly?

Talk about assuming authority where it isn't due-- I don't want either Steve or the government telling me I can't get married. Let's lift the ban on gay marriage. It isn't fair and it isn't right... And you can tell me that I don't know what's right but, hey, can't we err on the side of happiness? Gay marriage won't hurt you. The ban on gay marriage, though, will (and has!) hurt many people.

Please, just let gay and lesbian couples be happy...

Merit Pay For Teachers?

School is starting back up across the country. So now is a good time to consider the quality of America’s teachers. Reformers have been touting merit pay for teachers for some time now. Would it help?

To read the rest of this post, go here.

August 24, 2009

What's in a Name?

"That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." So says Shakespeare. And perhaps it would. Perhaps a person, by any other name, would feel as happy. Perhaps the person named "lower" or "second-class" would have just as much self-esteem as one titled "beautiful" or "upper-class." But- I doubt it...

The idea that different names don't change the true essence of an object may be valid. But different names do change the way we view that object, or that person, or that institution... And the way others view us can change our lives. This is because we humans are fragile. We wish to belong, to be accepted, to be loved for who we are. If we are separated from the crowd, we feel hurt. Degraded. Lost.

This is why the word "marriage" is so important.

Some say that a civil union is equal to a marriage. Economically, perhaps this could be so, assuming people entering into civil unions were granted the same rights as married couples. But socially? Truly? Separate but equal is never equal.

Dignity. Pride. Happiness. This is what's in a name. Why is there any reason for us to deny gay and lesbian couples the use of the world "marriage"? The only difference it would make is their happiness... and why deny them that? According to, yes, Thomas Jefferson himself, the pursuit of happiness is their right.

That is something you can't change, no matter how many words you say...