Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas! The Fight Against Censorship Celebrates a Victory


A Christmas Day movie release seems more like Halloween as the Orwellian nightmares infecting our domestic politics have spread to the realm of international affairs. The Interview, a film starring James Franco and Seth Rogan, set for a Christmas debut, reinvents the recently popular template slapstick comedy films centering on ordinary guys in absurd situations with the added dimension of international politics. Internet Movie Database summarizes The Interview as follows:

 

Dave Skylark and producer Aaron Rapoport run the celebrity tabloid show "Skylark Tonight." When they land an interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, they are recruited by the CIA to turn their trip to Pyongyang into an assassination mission.

 

I was eager to see this movie; excited that someone was branching out from the typical “bro-comedy” to make a piece of meaningful political satire that would appeal to a broad audience. Television shows such as the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report illustrate how comedy is a highly effective way to express political viewpoints. Two famous comedic actors using this technique in a major motion picture would be exciting, fun, and potentially very powerful.

 

Then Sony, the company releasing the film, fell victim to computer hackers. The hackers first leaked several upcoming Sony films to the Internet. Next, confidential company data, including salary numbers, layoff strategies, employee details and 3,800 social insurance numbers (SINs), were made public. On December 8th, the hackers published a statement online, demanding that Sony cancel The Interview’s release. “Stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism which can break the regional peace and cause the War! The destiny of Sony is totally up to the wise reaction and measure of Sony.” More data continued to be leaked, including private eMails between Sony executives. On December 16th, the hackers threatened to harm moviegoers who saw the film. “We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places The Interview be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.”

 

It is the general consensus of experts, including the FBI, that North Korea orchestrated these cyberattacks to prevent the release of The Interview. A hundred years ago, if someone wished to shut down a media outlet, they would smash a printing press or burn copies of a book that was deemed offensive. Today, an unknown number of nameless, faceless people can work from any location on earth to bring a major company to its knees. It is honestly terrifying that the great advances in technology the world has come to enjoy have left people, companies, and even governments vulnerable to such devastating attacks from remote distances.

 

And that is why acts of terrorism are performed. To cause terror. To frighten people into obedience. Unfortunately, in the case of The Interview, it worked. After the attacks, several movie theatre companies, starting with Carmike Cinemas, announced that they would not be showing the film. Sony followed up by saying they supported the decision of the distributors, and that they would be cancelling the scheduled Christmas release date.

 

After these developments, several theatres decided to take a stand against North Korea’s efforts to censor American media by showing Team America: World Police instead. Within a day, however, reports were being released that these screenings were also being cancelled.

 

As this story continues to unfold, however, it is clear that The Interview and the controversy surrounding it are not simply going to disappear. In fact, North Korea may have started many more problems for itself than had they simply left Sony alone. President Obama made a speech this week in which he said that he wished Sony had not pulled the movie, adding, “I love Seth.” He assured the world that attacks like this would not be tolerated, and that North Korea would be punished for its actions, although no plan of retaliation was specified. On a broader note, Mr. Obama stated “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.” He pointed out that attacks like this could have serious implications for our economy, which of course, it can.

 

It is commendable that the President of the United States is taking action to defend a private company that is being bullied by another nation. But the government stepping in isn't enough. Sony may have saved itself for the moment by pulling The Interview, but this could have devastating consequences in the long run. If The Interview is never shown, Sony will probably lose a large amount of money and many Seth Rogan fans will be disappointed. But the cancellation of this film means much more than that. It means that cyberattacks work. It means that if a country dislikes what someone is saying, or a product someone is producing, they can bully them from thousands of miles away and change their actions. This one film cancellation sets a frightening precedent that could have a devastating impact on free speech and on commerce.

Cancelling The Interview sends a message to the world- "If you bully us, we'll give in." So what happens when Sony does something else North Korea doesn't like? Or will they self-censor for all eternity, to avoid future cyberterrorist attacks? What happens if they offend another country? All of these questions apply to other companies as well. If Sony can get shut up through cyberterrorist attacks, will other companies do the same? It's likely that we'll find out, now that the first domino has fallen. (Especially because said first domino is a multimillion dollar company...)

 
 

As more and more people continue to speak out in support of this film, it is quite possible that Sony will stand behind its movie after all. Yesterday, it announced that The Interview will be released on its scheduled release date of December 25th, but only in select theatres (for now). A statement from Michael Lynton, Chairman and CEO of Sony Entertainment, assures viewers "We have never given up on releasing The Interview and we're excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day. At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.” If this is true, I will absolutely find a theatre close to me and go see the film. I will likely see it multiple times to show my support for it. I will write a review and post it here for all my lovely readers.

 

The push to share this film with as many people as possible has led to yet another development. The Interview will, indeed, be getting its Christmas release, primarily online. This is a great way to use technology to promote the spread of ideas, as opposed to the cyberterrorists’ usage of technology to bully people into silence.

 

Several artistic venues have used this entire incident as a way to speak out against bullying tactics and censorship. Secret Cinema, a British film and theatre group, held an event this weekend “with a view to strengthen the resolve of filmmakers and artists against the threat of censorship, and to stand in solidarity with artists whose freedom of expression is routinely curtailed.”  Several theatres in America are planning similar events.

 

These are the best possible reactions to an attempt to impose censorship. It is unclear what sort of actions the American government will take against North Korea, but it is very possible that small-scale events such as Secret Cinema and Sony’s release (even a nonconventional one) of the film will be even more powerful in showing that a dictator on the other side of the world cannot censor another nation’s media.

 

Until I get the opportunity to see the film in its entirety, I will settle for watching this clip from the end of The Interview. This is just one of the many scenes that North Korea did not want shown. And for that reason alone, we should all just keep on playing it.
 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Traveling With The TSA- An Uncomfortable Infringement on Personal Liberty


Several weeks ago, I went to Vermont to spend a few days with my aunts. I flew both ways (despite my concerns about Ebola...) which led me to have two lovely opportunities to encounter the Transportation Security Administration, better known as the TSA.

Every time I fly, I wear my homemade Fourth Amendment shirt.

 

The Fourth Amendment states:


Many argue that simply choosing to fly on an airplane is not considered "probable cause". Furthermore, the body imaging system used by the TSA has raised many concerns. Is it acceptable for an agent to see a fairly detailed scan of passengers' bodies in the line of duty? How long are these images stored, and how secure is the storage?

These concerns have led many people to choose to opt out of going through the scanner. People who opt out of the scan will instead be patted down manually by a TSA officer of the same gender.

I have always chosen to opt out and have always been treated respectfully by agents. However, many horror stories of uncomfortable pat-downs have emerged, illustrating that choosing between the scan and the pat down comes down to a matter of personal opinion of the lesser of two evils.

On my trip to Vermont, the TSA agent who pushes bags through the x-ray machine stared at my shirt and asked "What's the Fourth Amendment?"

I politely replied, "Protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, sir."

He said, "Oh. I don't remember any of that stuff. I can't remember geography or the Constitution or anything."

Not knowing how to reply, I simply informed him that I would like to opt out of the scanning machine. He called for a female agent to come pat me down. While I waited, he continued his earlier conversation.

"Out of curiosity, how old are you?"

I answered "22," not really sure where he was headed. He looked like he was in his mid-20s.

"And you remember all that stuff from school? I don't remember any of that. I went to college and I was on the Honor Roll and everything. But now I forgot it all. I don't even remember what an apostrophe is. I want to go back to school to remember it all. For my kids." He then proceeded to show me an adorable picture of his sons.

At that point, the officer performing my pat-down arrived and I proceeded through the gate. I was glad that my shirt prompted such a lovely conversation with a very nice man and I wish him the best of luck with his further education.

However, I find it both sad and disconcerting that a government employee does not know basic facts about the US Constitution, and that someone specifically charged with searching people and their belongings doesn't know the rights of people being searched.

As I stepped into the area where I would be patted down, I passed by another male agent. He, too, stared at my shirt, but apparently he knew what the Fourth Amendment is.

"You love the Fourth Amendment, huh?" He asked.

I said, "Yes, sir, I do," in a firm tone and smiled politely.

He smirked back at me and replied, "Well, you should be careful here, then, if you love the Fourth Amendment." I passed through the security checks without difficulty, but the agent’s words made me feel distinctly uncomfortable.

On the return trip, none of the TSA employees commented on my shirt. Like many of the people I have encountered in Vermont, they were both professional and very friendly. They smiled warmly as they requested that I put the fancy soap I had just purchased in a separate tray. Yes, it was bar soap, not liquid. But apparently bar soap resembles some form of explosive material, so it had to be swabbed down and tested for explosive residue. (Well, it'll be a funny story to tell Grammy when she opens the sea salt soap I bought for her for Christmas...)

Another object in my bag caused concern as well. This was a small box of loose tea, still in its original sealed wrapper, that I was very excited to buy because they don't have this type of tea at the store where I usually shop. Unfortunately, it is a type of green tea known as gunpowder tea. (Pause for facepalm). Because the packaging contained the word "gunpowder", it had to be swabbed for explosive residue.

When one of the TSA agents explained this to me, I stared at him in shock for a moment, then said, "It's tea. Green tea. Gunpowder green tea." I then remembered that being difficult with the TSA can get you arrested, so I smiled and said, "I was really excited to find it. They don't sell it at my normal tea store."

The agent smiled understandingly at my annoyance. "Yeah, we just have to check. Did you get it at the little tea store downtown? That's a nice place." After he finished testing it, he handed the tea back to me, declaring, "The tea is tea."

In many ways, the search of belongings creates a false sense of security while still allowing potentially dangerous materials aboard. Gunpowder green tea is considered a potential threat, but I boarded both flights with Size 6 knitting needles in my carry-on bag. The needles are metal, about 10 inches long, and pointy enough that they can easily be used as a stabbing weapon if enough force is applied. (I have proof of this. Don't stick your hand into a bag of yarn if you're not sure what else is in it.)

Furthermore, even though some TSA agents are lovely people, others are not. It is distressing to see some of the people that our government has selected to search through our belongings and pat us down. Men and women who either do not know the laws governing the rights of citizens or, even worse, who know that what they are doing is an infringement upon these rights and think it is acceptable to make jokes about it.

The main lesson I took from my latest experiences with the TSA is that the agents are simply people. Some are friendly, some are not. They have different interests and personalities. They are not villains who enjoy violating our rights and rifling through our belongings.

Still, the system of airport screenings requires major improvements. People are automatically treated as potential criminals simply because they have chosen to fly on an airplane. Invasive scanning methods must be reevaluated to protect the dignity and privacy of customers while still ensuring safety. The constitutional rights of individuals still apply, even when there is a potential safety threat. In fact, it is for times of danger that these safeguards on liberty were established.

Although the 5th of November is long past, I’m still in the right month, so I will close this post with a quote from one of my favourite movies, “V for Vendetta”, a quote that perfectly illustrates the flaws of the TSA’s scare tactics.

People should not be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Oppression in the Name of Fairness: A Disturbing Trend on College Campuses


Summer has officially ended and the new school year has begun. Students are buckling down for another year of studying, planning their extracurricular schedules, and catching up with old friends. Unfortunately, the atmosphere of the educational community is becoming increasingly hostile, and we feel we must remind our readers that school is not always a safe place to exchange ideas.

Last year, this site published two articles discussing ideological clashes at Vassar that resulted in members of the student body feeling stifled and afraid.

Pro-Palestine sentiments on campus last spring reached a point where they had become anti-Israel. Shouting down dissenters and blocking students from class have occurred on more than one occasion. Pro-Israel groups nationwide, as well as Vassar alums were shocked at the aggression exhibited on campus.

This tension was not isolated to a conflict between pro-Palestine vs. pro Israel. The school’s efforts to promote racial diversity seem to have swung to the other extreme and resulted in white students being painted as oppressors. During last year’s freshman orientation, an event entitled “Who Is Vassar?” was held. Although it was not an official part of the freshman orientation, faculty members were present. The presentation consisted of poetry readings, most of which described Vassar as a racist, homophobic, sexist, and unfriendly environment. White incoming freshmen reported that this made them feel very uncomfortable, as if they were already coming into school with a strike against them.

Earlier in the year, an article published on this site discussed how falsified incidents of bias and questionable disciplinary methods promoted a culture of inequality and fear on campus. Specific female students, as well as the college disciplinary policies as a whole victimize male students while portraying them as villains.
 
At another college, a student who has asked that both he and his school remain anonymous, reported that he was fired from his post as a teaching assistant after he attended an internship with the Ayn Rand Institute. The school reportedly told this student that Rand’s ideology was so vastly different from theirs that they felt he was no longer a suitable candidate to work with their students.
 
One post that I wrote regarding this topic has not yet made it onto this site, but was published on Watchdog Wire. This article discussed The University of Scranton, where I myself experienced ideological discrimination. I found that the school’s Honors Program was less about encouraging academic growth and more about forcing a left-leaning ideology on the students. Those who offered differing viewpoints were ostracized and even openly attacked by their professors.

After I posted this piece, I found that several teachers became increasingly hostile toward me. A future post will discuss my full experience at the University of Scranton and the challenges I spoke as an outspoken libertarian student.
 
School, especially colleges and universities, should be safe havens for ideas; places where different viewpoints can be freely and respectfully shared and debated. Unfortunately, our institutions of higher learning are becoming increasingly stifling. Far from encouraging new ideas, teachers have been seen to go out of their way to destroy them. Students who dare to speak up are silenced, ostracized, bullied, and in some cases punished.

This blog will never encourage people to hide their beliefs or refrain from speaking up against injustice. But students must use caution. Remember that there could be serious consequences for students who disagree with the ideology set forth by their school.

**NOTE**
 If you or someone you know has faced repercussions from your school based on your ideology and would like to share your story, eMail me at ladygrantaire@gmail.com

Friday, September 12, 2014

#WhyIStayed: A First Step Toward Ending Stigma and Silence


The latest hot topic in the world of football is more than the typical chatter about a player being traded to a new team. This week, TMZ released a video of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punching then-fiancé Janay Palmer in the face and dragging her out of an elevator. Rice has been fired from the Ravens and put on indefinite suspension from the NFL.

This incident has raised many questions about violence among football players and the NFL’s role in keeping such incidents quiet. But some people have been asking a very different question: After that level of abuse, why did Janay Palmer still marry him? Why did she stay?

This is quite possibly an important question for Janay’s friends and family to ask, so that they may better understand her situation and evaluate if she requires assistance or protection. Media outlets and football fans who ask this, however, are twisting this story to place at least some of the blame on the victim. Questioning why she stayed implies that it is somehow her fault, because she did not leave sooner.

Writer Beverly Gooden found this completely unacceptable and bravely chose to speak out. In an interview with Mic, she explained:

When I saw those tweets, my first reaction was shame. The same shame that I felt back when I was in a violent marriage. It's a sort of guilt that would make me crawl into a shell and remain silent. But today, for a reason I can't explain, I'd had enough. I knew I had an answer to everyone's question of why victims of violence stay. I can't speak for Janay Rice, I can only speak for me.

Thus began the hashtag #WhyIStayed, and its companion #WhyILeft. Thousands of people have shared their stories on social media, explaining the various reasons why they felt trapped in abusive relationships, and the reasons why they left. The ‪#‎WhyIStayed campaign is a powerful movement drawing attention to the issue of domestic violence and emphasizing that it is not the victim's fault.

But as I was reading through #WhyIStayed posts on Twitter, I realized that this movement to decrease stigma is, in itself, steeped in stigma. Many compilations of these tweets have been constructed and shared, often under the heading “Abused women share their stories”. Are women the only ones sharing? Did the person creating the compilation only include the stories of women? If so, why?

Domestic abuse is not always man to woman. Women abuse each other. Men abuse each other. And yes, women abuse men. A man is not weak or a "sissy" because he is abused any more than a woman is. He needs help and protection the same as any victim of abuse.

WebMD states that more than 830,000 men experience domestic violence annually. The site BatteredMen.com estimates a much higher figure: 5.3 million men. Often, people dismiss this type of violence, claiming that the man should be able to fight back or stand up for themselves. This is a dangerous double standard that leaves these men even more at risk.

Many are using this campaign as a springboard to promote women’s rights. One Twitter user (who will herein remain anonymous) posted:

#INeedFeminismBecause people are faster to ask why an abused woman stayed than they are to ask the man why he hurt her. #WhyIStayed

The general sentiment is spot on. Don’t blame the victim for staying; blame the abuser for their actions. But making it gender specific is only increasing the differentiation between genders. Perfect equality between genders would not stop people from asking this question. “People are faster to ask why an abused man stayed than they are to ask the woman why she hurt him” is just as valid a concern.

Other posts have encouraged parents to raise their daughters to stand up for themselves and their sons to respect women. Again, good advice that should not be gender specific. Everyone should stand up for themselves and everyone should respect each other. In fact, gender specification in this case actually implies that women are somehow weak and require the protection of men, which seems to directly oppose ideas of gender equality.

Promoting the assumption that domestic abuse is perpetrated by men against women simultaneously paints women as victims and men as villains. Many men who would otherwise be sympathetic to an anti-abuse message are put off by the idea of being seen as a potential threat. This blog post emerged from a Facebook conversation, wherein one man voiced the following opinion:

Everything I've seen has been very [gender] specific too. I agree that what Ray Rice did was despicable, but it makes it harder for me to jump on the bandwagon and support it as I should as a male if I feel the whole gender is being attacked.

The #WhyIStayed campaign is a wonderful first step toward shining light on a terrible problem that is too often hidden. However, by promoting gender stereotypes, it obscures its message. Even worse, by mostly ignoring men who experience domestic abuse, the campaign is unintentionally contributing to their silent shaming. Domestic violence is not a feminist issue; it is a humanist issue. It can happen to anyone and everyone experiencing it deserves support and help.

**NOTE** If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to one of the many wonderful organizations available to help you.


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Activism Idea For Independence Day


For the past two years, my friends and I have performed a fun activism event on the Fourth of July. We have invaded the Fourth of July parade of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and reminded the good citizens exactly why they were having such a nice party.



As we walked in the parade, we handed out pocket Constitutions and fliers reminding people exactly what the main message of the Fourth of July should be. The booklets, which also include the Declaration of Independence, contain the words on which this country was built. Far too little attention is paid to these words in today’s age, and on the Fourth of July especially, people would do well to look over them and think about their role in all of our everyday lives.

 Dressed head to toe in red, white, and blue, wearing home made sandwich boards bearing the statements “Remember the System We Fought to Create” and “Honor America: Read the Constitution”, and carrying our handouts in American flag tote bags, we joined the parade. Though we were not sanctioned by the town, nobody minded our impromptu entrance. In fact, the other participants really liked us! The second year we did it, people even called out to us, “Hey! It’s the Constitution girls!”
 
 

 All in all, this event was great fun and relatively inexpensive to put together. The supplies for the sandwich boards, foam poster board and yarn, cost less than $10 at the local craft store. If you want to get fancy and have American flag tote bags, buy a few flags for 99 cents and pin them onto your book bag. Several hundred copies of the fliers can be printed at a store for around $25 (or for free if your mom’s boss is really nice!)

 Below is the text of the flier that I wrote. Feel free to use it, to tweak or add to it, or to get creative and write your own!
 

Happy Independence Day!!!
 
Hope you're enjoying the parade!
 
But have you taken a moment to really consider what we're celebrating today?
 
We're celebrating the start of something very special and unique; the birth of a country founded on the idea of liberty.
 
The courageous men and women who built America were motivated by the desire to escape from an oppressive centralized government. The system they created for their new nation clearly reflects these desires. The Constitution of the United States is a set of rules designed to keep central government small. Most issues were meant to be decided by the states or the people.
 
Obviously, the founding fathers had a lot of faith in the American people. They expected everyone, not just politicians, to be up-to-date on important issues, knowledgeable of the laws, and ready to act in the best interest of the free society in which we live.
 
So let’s not let them down! This Independence Day, get familiar with the documents that created the country. Only by knowing the foundations of our government can we understand what its best course of action should be today.


The most difficult thing to acquire is the Constitutions themselves. Many student groups such as Young Americans for Liberty have great pocket Constitutions that they will supply to people who are members of their campus clubs. If you are a member of one of these groups, ask them. They may be able to set you up with some free or cheap ones if your club chooses to do this event. Otherwise, you can purchase pocket Constitutions yourself from the National Center for Constitutional Studies: A box of 200, which is about how many I used each year, costs $60.

Since July 4th is less than a month away, it’s time to start planning and ordering your Constitutions. Even if you cannot afford the Constitutions, you likely can do the event anyway. Make your signs colorful and your fliers informative. Engage in discussions and remind your fellow citizens that the fireworks and hot dog eating contest are not the main focus of Independence Day. On the Fourth of July, we celebrate the start of the great experiment in Freedom and self-governance known as the United States of America.

If you do decide to do the event, please send me pictures! I would love to do a follow-up post in July advertising all the groups who tried this. Also, eMail me if you have any questions. (Ladygrantaire@gmail.com)

Good luck all, and Happy Independence Day!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Intellectual Debate Stifled Via Fear Tactics at Vassar College


Several months ago, the truth behind several incidents of racism, sexism, and homophobia at Vassar College caught the attention of the national media. It was, in fact, a transgendered student named Genesis Hernandez, (the Vice President of Student Life and a member of the Bias Incident and Response Team), and his girlfriend who carried out these “bias” incidents to draw attention to the fact that they felt Vassar College and its students acted in a discriminatory manner.
 
This blog released an article discussing the falsified bias incidents as well as the broader context of prejudice on the Vassar campus. It seems that Vassar College has a history of showing support for minority groups on campus by belittling and suppressing others. Since the original information came to light in November, further incidents have been brought to the public’s attention. One student, a freshman at Vassar College, related a disturbing incident to this author in an interview last month. During his freshman orientation this past summer, an event entitled “Who Is Vassar?” was held. Although it was not an official part of the freshman orientation, faculty members were present. The presentation consisted of poetry readings, most of which described Vassar as a racist, homophobic, sexist, and unfriendly environment. The freshman stated to this reporter that there was then a question and answer session, where he asked, “What goal do you guys have for the campus?” The panel, including Genesis, immediately pounced on the freshman’s word choice, saying that “you guys” was an offensive term. They proceeded to publicly berate him for over twenty minutes. This gross overreaction was nothing short of bullying and intimidation of a student who was only trying to help promote equality on campus.

 After the true nature of the “bias” incidents came to light, Genesis was asked to leave Vassar College. A current student at the school stumbled upon his most recent bid for attention and forwarded it to this blog. Apparently, Genesis has started a GoFundMe page asking people for money to help him defray the costs of transferring to a new school after leaving Vassar College. The page, of course, does not mention why he had to leave.

 In recent weeks, Vassar College has found itself in the news again, this time for repeated incidents of anti-Israel sentiment that have been carried too far and bordered on threatening. Shouting down dissenters and blocking students from class have occurred on more than one occasion. The behavior has prompted a flurry of articles through multiple news outlets, including two articles in the Daily News as well as Legal Insurrection.

 Unfortunately, these are not the only incidents of aggressive and inappropriate behavior from Vassar students attempting to suppress the beliefs of others. Last Spring, a group of students began a fossil fuel divestment movement, encouraging Vassar to take Vassar’s investments out of oil-based companies. Julian Hassan, then a Junior at the school, disagreed with this plan and attempted to promote an alternative viewpoint. He arranged for a speaker from the Center for Industrial Progress, Alex Epstein, to give a lecture entitled “Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet”.

The response from the Vassar Greens student environmentalist group was rage. A large poster that Mr. Hassan was using to promote the lecture was ripped and hung upside down in the College Center. Members of Vassar Greens actually posed for photographs tearing up fliers for the event. No administrator stepped in to put it right side up or make things right. Mr. Hassan felt that Campus Activities’ attitude seemed to be “It’s best not to get involved.” That did not work well. The day before the lecture, Mr. Hassan was bribed to cancel the talk by student editors of Vassar’s newspaper The Chronicle. At the lecture, a group of students staged a walk-out, wearing Dick Cheney masks and denouncing the speaker as they left. Other plots to disrupt the lecture were discussed and posted on Facebook, though they were not carried out. One student, Robert Rohan, threatened to harm himself at the lecture. A screenshot of his “really surreal protest idea” is posted below. (Warning: language)

 
 

Several online sources, including National Review, wrote articles discussing the divestment controversy and Epstein’s lecture.

Another topic of contention among students and faculty is the idea of white privilege and discrimination of minority race students. One outspoken voice regarding this topic is that of Kiese Laymon, the co-director of the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence at Vassar. He is known to be romantically involved with Acting Dean of the College, Eve Dunbar. Dunbar will only be in this position until the end of June, and Mr. Laymon was reported to have stated at an event on racial profiling that when Dunbar steps down, the college will return to white supremacy.

 In addition to his position at Vassar, Mr. Laymon is an author who frequently writes on topics related to racial inequality. A video taken at a book reading held at Oblong Books and Music contains the following excerpt: “Five years after getting kicked out of school I was offered a teaching job at Vassar College...What the alumnae house lacked in televisions it made up for in the spooky pictures of little beady-eyed white children....I called grandma from the room, and told her that Vassar didn’t feel like home. I didn’t like the way the white kids were looking at me, and I didn’t like how Vassar felt like a guarded castle. Grandma said the northern, rich white folks loved to put ghost-looking pictures of white children on the wall...”

 Many students at Vassar have read Mr. Laymon’s books. These words are doing nothing to fix any sort of racial inequality that exists on campus. On the contrary, this is the sort of language that makes enemies, creates resentments, and deepens racial divides. Continuing on the same theme, Mr. Laymon recently posted a Facebook status that describes how he feels about the racial inequality at Vassar.

 

 

It must be noted that every time the N-word was used (5 times, by the way), it was in all capital letters. Clearly, the man’s point is that he feels Vassar treats minority race students as inferior, but if he intends to be taken at all seriously, this in not the way to make his argument. It bears repeating that Mr. Laymon is the co-director of the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence. If this is how he promotes inclusion, it is likely that this committee will not be very effective.

 With each of these incidents, Vassar College is making its message very clear: Do not disagree with the popular sentiment on campus. Intellectual discussion of differing opinions is not encouraged. Instead, scare tactics are used to ensure that all students keep in line. While the administration has stepped in to address some incidents, such as that which resulted in the expulsion of Genesis, the general atmosphere of suppressing dissent has been largely tolerated.

The problem at Vassar College is not one of gay rights or anti-Semitism or environmentalism. It goes much deeper than that, and is much more sinister. Vassar College has become an environment where intellectualism has been cast aside in favor of mob rule.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

“Race to Heal Haiti” Scheduled for May 17th


** This is a special announcement for all my readers in the Scranton area! **

On Saturday, May 17th the first annual Race to Heal Haiti will be held at Nay Aug Park in Scranton, PA. The 5K run/walk will begin at 11am; preregistration will take place from 8:30am to 10am. Money raised from this event will be used to assist nursing students in Haiti attend school to receive their RN degree.

This reporter had the opportunity to speak to the event organizer, Valarie Lucas, who is a Junior year Nursing student at the University of Scranton. Ms. Lucas first became interested in Haiti when she had the opportunity to apply for the International Service Program, offered by the University. She was struck by “the sense of human connection and the community of people” that she experienced there, which she described as “the most raw form of love”. Ms. Lucas stated that the ideas of faith and community that she learned on this trip could be summarized by a quote from Mother Teresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”



A month later, Ms. Lucas returned to Haiti, this time accompanied by her two brothers. The importance of education became apparent, especially as Ms. Lucas conversed with aspiring nurses. They told her that it was often difficult to save the money required for a four year Registered Nurse degree. When she found out that tuition costs $360 a year, she knew that she could make a real difference in the lives of these students.

From her desire to assist these students, Ms. Lucas developed the idea for the Race to Heal Haiti. All proceeds from the event will be used in assisting students pay their nursing tuition. The impact, Ms. Lucas assures her supporters, will be ongoing. “That one person has the ability to change things. You just have to follow your heart.”

Individuals interested in participating in the event can sign up that morning or preregister online at http://www.racetohealhaiti.com/ .

Updates about the event will be posted on the Facebook groups:


Sunday, April 6, 2014

State Senator Mike Folmer Promotes Free Markets at Pennsylvania Leadership Conference


This weekend, the 25th annual Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, Pennsylvania’s version of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC, was held just outside of Harrisburg, PA.

The speakers ranged from motivational, encouraging attendees to participate in pro-liberty activism within their communities, to entertaining, comically describing the left-right paradigm that overwhelms our political system. Many big names in both state and national politics were in attendance, including PA Governor Tom Corbett and former United States Senator Rick Santorum.

One of the most well-received lectures was the panel entitled How Free Market Capitalism Raises All Boats. The panel participants discussed how many left-leaning Americans erroneously view the Conservative movement as uncaring or insensitive, especially with regards to people in poverty. The movement does not have an ideological problem, but a public relations problem. The speakers discussed how Free Market capitalism, far from being harmful to the poor, is the system that provides the most opportunity for upward mobility and financial growth for all individuals.

One of the speakers on this panel, State Senator Michael Folmer (PA-48, which includes areas of Dauphin and York Counties and all of Lebanon County), is working diligently to strip away the roadblocks that Big Government has established to obfuscate their actions and maintain control. He supports several important pieces of legislature that will promote transparency and fiscal responsibility in the Keystone State:

Senate Bill 195, Voters’ Choice Act
This bill promotes equal and fair opportunities for third-party candidates, making the requirements for number of signatures equal for major and third-party candidates.

Senate Bill 7, Taxpayer Protection Act
This bill “requires increased fiscal accountability in state budgets”. 75% of state surpluses would be returned to taxpayers, while 25% would be stored in a “rainy day fund”.
 

Senate Bill 279, Taxpayer-Funded Advertising Transparency Act
Under this bill, any advertising paid for by the state must include the statement “Paid for with Pennsylvania Taxpayer dollars.”
 
Senator Folmer also stressed the importance of bringing careers, not jobs, into Pennsylvania. Establishing factories and other large businesses in the state would produce job opportunities that included the possibilities for growth and stable careers. He also reminded the audience that, in order to move forward toward freedom, legislators and engaged citizens must master the internal domain of integrity; people must do what is right simply because it is right. If this is lost, government will grow to protect its own interests by infringing on the rights of its citizens.

I had the opportunity to speak with Senator Folmer after the panel. He felt the most significant message to send to our readers was the importance of a free market. “To protect our other freedoms, we need economic freedom.” Specifically, he stated, “Right to Work legislation will raise the standard of living, not tear it down.”  By repealing legislation that regulates businesses, Pennsylvania can improve the economic opportunities for its citizens, and bring businesses back into the state.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Everything About The Lego Movie Is Awesome


WARNING: SPOILERS!!!!

This weekend, I finally had the opportunity to see “The Lego Movie”. After my last, less than pleasant experience seeing a children’s movie, I must admit I was a bit wary. However, my fears were completely unfounded. Once again, I find myself compelled to review a film, but this time for the delightful reason that I want to encourage people to see it.

 The hero of the film, Emmet, is at first a painfully ordinary person. He reads books that teach him how to be well-liked. He likes the most popular television show, drinks overpriced coffee, and cheers for the local sports teams, because that is what people are supposed to do. When they are interviewed about him, Emmet’s coworkers describe him as rather dull, since he simply agrees with everything everyone says. One Lego man states that “We all have something that makes us something and Emmet is… nothing”. Emmet does not have original thoughts; he only knows how to follow the rules. These rules include the instructions “If you see anything weird, report it immediately” and “Destroy everything weird”. Complete conformity is expected, and Emmet is happy to comply.

 From time to time, Emmet notices that there is something wrong with the society in which he lives. While watching TV, he hears a message from the President warning the citizenry to follow the rules or they will be “put to sleep”. For a moment, Emmet worries about the implication of those words. But when an ad for the popular sitcom “Where Are My Pants?” begins to air, Emmet exclaims “Hey, sitcom!” and loses his previous train of thought. While explaining the company Octan to the audience, Emmet eagerly states that this wonderful company produces everything: music, television, surveillance systems, history books, voting machines… He then trails off, noticing that there might be a serious problem in this system. A moment later, he shakes off the feeling and returns to comfortable complacency.

 When the villain was introduced within the first several minutes of the movie, I was deeply concerned that I was in for a very uncomfortable cinematic experience. His name is Lord Business. I was horrified that I might be about to watch a film that centered around the idea of businesspeople as evil. I realized that the movie was taking a very different path, indeed, when “8 Years Later” he was reintroduced as “Lord Business- or as you know him, President Business”. At no point in this film is the idea of legitimate moneymaking endeavours portrayed as mean or bad. What is wrong is the idea of using power to control others. President Business, through his company, Octan, creates and controls everything in the Lego world. He wants to keep everything exactly the same and perfectly within his control. To achieve this, he seals off the different worlds so that people from different Lego sets cannot communicate. In an even more drastic step, he employs Bad Cop to arrest all of the Master Builders. These are the creative minds of Lego World who develop the best new ideas and, in the words of President Business, “they’re always changing everything”. They are imprisoned in a dimly lit, spooky room called the “Think Tank”, where they are forced to divulge their ideas for President Business’s use.

 Even this is not enough control for President Business. He has stolen the Kragle (Krazy Glue) and plans on spraying it on everything, preserving all of Lego World in a state of unchangeable “perfection”. The only thing that can stop this all-powerful weapon is the “piece of resistance”, which is lost and must be found by a Master Builder. A prophecy states that this Master Builder, known as the Special “will be the greatest, most talented, most interesting, most important person of all times. And it’s true.  Because it rhymes.”

 Emmet’s mundane existence is turned upside down the moment he disobeys one of society’s rules: “Don’t touch strange pieces”. Although the strange piece he has discovered below his job site is definitely strange, Emmet feels compelled to touch it anyway. With this single action, he is jerked out of his mindless life and forced to face the reality of President Business’s oppression. His new colleague, Wyldstyle, is horrified that he is the man described in the prophecy. Emmet is boring and mundane, certainly not exciting like the Special is supposed to be. Although Emmet builds thing at his job as a construction worker, he cannot build anything without instructions. Wyldstyle laments that he will never be able to be a Master Builder. Vetruvius, the leader of the resistance movement, calmly remarks, “Of course he won’t. Not if you keep telling him he can’t”.

 Throughout the course of the movie, Emmet learns that he should not worry about what everyone else is doing or try to match his work to theirs. He should embrace what is special about himself and try new things, even if they turn out to be weird. Emmet brings a very different skill set to the group of innovators. He notes that they are often so focused on their own inventions that they overlook the benefits of working as a team in certain situations. Because he had previously been so completely consumed with following the rules, Emmet is very familiar with the system he is now trying to overthrow. He suggests that they work within the system to get close enough to change it, a very useful strategy that many people attempting to effect change can employ.

 After Emmet has gained both self confidence and the trust of his peers, a shocking truth is revealed: Vetruvius made up the prophecy. There is no Special. Rather than allowing this news to shatter his confidence, Emmet makes a powerful realization. The things he has achieved since believing himself to be the Special are very real, even if this title is not. He knows now that “the only thing anyone needs to be special is to believe they are”. President Business is stifling new ideas to retain control. To fight this assault on freedom, the Lego people must all act on the ideas in their heads and build new things. Everyone can be special because everyone has unique ideas.

 Perhaps one of the most impressive features of “The Lego Movie” is the fate of the villain. He is not run out of town or jailed or killed. Emmet simply reasons with him calmly. He explains to President Business that he doesn’t have to be the bad guy. Like everyone else, President Business is special because he has his own ideas. Emmet explains that new ideas do not negate old ones. “People are inspired by each other.” They take what others have made, alter or improve it, and make something new out of it. Finally, Emmet urges President Business to put the cap back on the Kragle and allow everyone the freedom to be creative. Swayed by Emmet’s reasoning and persuasiveness, President Business agrees.

 Since the release of “The Lego Movie” in February, the main song from the soundtrack, “Everything is Awesome” has received great acclaim. The tune is catchy, something that would fit in at a dance club. Many people think that the song’s real appeal is its lyrics. It is a song about teamwork, and having fun in life by working hand-in-hand with each other. Unfortunately, those who have not seen the movie are missing a very important piece of information about the song. It is satire. The song is the anthem of the society built by President Business, designed to energize people to do their work while encouraging complacency. Wyldstyle is appalled when Emmet tells her it is his favourite song, even though she finds the rhythm catchy. It is the theme song of all she despises, of complacency and obliviousness. And it is playing on our radios. Ladies and gentlemen- irony.

 This film is exactly the sort of inspirational entertainment that I would love to one day show my children. It encourages creativity and individualism within society, not conformity. Growth of a civilization can only occur if people have the opportunity to try new ideas. True, some of them will fail, but it is a risk that the creators of these new ideas are willing to take. A parallel storyline with a parallel plot runs alongside the societal lesson. This story is of a parent stifling the creativity of a child to keep things neat and orderly. Parents are reminded to give their children the opportunity to get messy, to change things up, to make something new, and to explore their minds fully. This important lesson is often lost amongst standardized testing and structured after school activities. It gives me hope when stories such as “The Lego Movie” and Harry Chapin’s song “Flowers Are Red” address this very real concern.

 In addition to the important lessons contained in the movie, it was an exciting adventure story with clever and amusing dialogue. On all levels, this move was a home run, and definitely worth seeing. (Even if you don’t have children to take!)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Religious Intolerance- A Dividing Force Within the Conservative Movement

Next weekend, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)  will be held just outside of Washington, DC. I had the great opportunity to attend this event last year, and it was truly a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, this year, I will not be able to attend, but I won’t be the only one. A group called the American Atheists had their invitation rescinded.

In the past, my favourite part of the event has been the auditorium where different organizations have representatives standing at tables. Conference attendees can walk around, gain helpful information on hot topics and activism strategies, receive lots of free stuff (I love my Tea Party lapel pin!), and network with people. Last year, simply by taking the time to explore the tables, I was talked into applying for the Ayn Rand Institute’s summer internship program. Later, I was accepted, and had an amazing experience in Irvine, California this summer. I also made lasting friendships and valuable business connections.

Since I had such a positive experience with CPAC I was very excited to see an article posted on Politico on Tuesday that announced that the group American Atheists would have a table at CPAC 2014. I, myself, am not an atheist, but my religious beliefs have no bearing on my political views. Conservatives are often labeled as fiercely Christian. While this is true for many, it does not represent the entire conservative demographic. I had hoped that the attendance of American Atheists would be a positive step in showing the rest of America that we are a diverse group.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Within 24 hours of the original article, Politico revised their post. CPAC had uninvited American Atheists.
At first, I was angry at CPAC. By turning away people of other faiths, Conservatives are doing themselves a great disservice. I then heard the reasoning behind the decision. After receiving the invitation, David Silverman, the president of American Atheists gave the following statement to CNN:

“I am not worried about making the Christian right angry. The Christian right should be angry that we are going in to enlighten conservatives. The Christian right should be threatened by us.”
Ladies and gentlemen, here is a perfect example of what not to do when working with people who hold opinions that differ from your own. This was a great opportunity to bridge the unnecessary and harmful gap between atheists and Christians who are working toward the same end goal of restoring Liberty in America. Threatening to try to convert your new allies is an incredibly bad move.

Although disappointed, I understand why CPAC uninvited American Atheists. Some people believe that even this action wasn’t enough. The president of Media Research Center, Brent Bozell, made the following statement:

“American Atheists is an organization devoted to the hatred of God. How on earth could CPAC, or the ACU and its board of directors, and Al Cardenas condone such an atrocity? ... No conservative should have anything to do with this conference. If you do, you are giving oxygen to an organization destroying the conservative movement.”

Yes folks, we have reached the two-wrongs-don’t-make-a-right portion of the discussion. Not believing in a higher power does not mean hating God. Working with people who hold beliefs different from your own is not a betrayal of your beliefs.

CPAC is organized by the American Conservative Union. On their website, they have a page entitled “What We Believe”. It gives a great explanation of the beliefs of the conservative movement, closing with the following reassuring statement:

“The American Conservative Union will welcome all Americans who are prepared to fight for the realization and preservation of these principles through political action at the local, state and national level.”

The last time I checked, atheists were included in “all Americans”. I am therefore unsure why making an attempt to have an atheist group is “destroying the conservative movement”. It is also important to note that a lot of atheists already come to CPAC. Previously, I mentioned the wonderful conversation I had last year with a representative from the Ayn Rand Institute. CPAC is happy to have Rand’s philosophy represented at their event. Yet Rand is the poster-child for atheism. The Ayn Rand Lexicon lists several of her most powerful statements on religion.

This specific opportunity for cooperation between Christians and atheists did not work out. We must, however, continue these efforts. Divisions amongst ourselves will cause us to lose sight of our main focus- the fight for Liberty. For those of you who are attending CPAC, I encourage you to bridge these gaps on your own. Christians- go talk to the Ayn Rand Institute. They’re some of the best people I’ve ever met. Atheists- go talk to some of the more religious groups. Find common ground and think of ways you can use your differences to reach a wider audience.

And have a great time! Hope to see you all at CPAC 2015!