Monday, February 27, 2012

Let Us Fight Better: American Muslims and the War on Radical Islam

Sean Ewart
We need to stop pretending that radical Islam is not a threat. The whim of Islamist extremists poses a potentially devastating threat to the world, including other Muslims. In an age of nuclear proliferation and increasingly accessible biological and chemical weapons, the ability of “one angry man” is amplified to the extreme. This ability is exponentially increased by organizations, like Al Qaeda, which are well funded, endorsed, and protected by a larger network of Islamist governments and sympathetic Muslims. Even in America, 13% of Muslims believe suicide bombings carried out against civilians are often, sometimes, or rarely justified (rare suicide bombings also cause ample destruction). In New York State, the location of the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 and their eventual destruction by Al Qaeda in 2001, the fear is especially acute – and not at all unfounded. Revelations that the New York City Police Department has been spying on Muslim organizations across the Northeast, therefore, come as no surprise. America, including American Muslims, is at war with radical Islam, and has been for decades. Let us fight better.

Friday, February 24, 2012

God or Country: The Fight for Church and State

Sean Ewart

I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write. – Voltaire

In the ongoing debate over government mandated reproductive healthcare and its intrusion on the freedom of religion, my co-nontheists and social liberals seem to have forgotten the words of Voltaire. The conflict over the rights of religious institutions verses the rights of employees is indeed only a proxy battle which is indicative of the larger war between secularism and theism which is becoming increasingly bellicose in our society. In the past, conflicts relating to religious freedoms were contained to differences between people of faith. Today, as roughly 16% of the nation now identifies with no religious organization, the war is being fought between those who believe and those who do not. As a proud member of the atheist camp, I recognize those constitutional protections which have allowed us to grow so large in a nation once so deeply religious. It is true that even the religious are now acting largely with disregard to their professed faith. But as we are growing in representation, and thus, in power, we should be vigilant to ensure that we do not violate those same constitutional protections which, to this very day, still provide a platform from which to voice our opinion. I say to my religious opponents, in the spirit of Voltaire, that I detest what you believe, but I would defend to the death your right to believe.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cosmetic Psychopharmacology Part Two

This is the second of a multiple part series exploring Cosmetic Psychopharmacology. It includes the text of Joe's thesis and will culminate in a reanalysis and break down of the piece. Read Part One here Part Three here Part Four here

Joe Chiarenzelli

How Can We Differentiate Morality and Policy in Regards to Cosmetic Psychopharmacology?
            An important aspect of any moral inquest is to clearly show where morality and legality diverge. When we engage in moral reasoning we must be unencumbered by the context of legality. This is of the utmost importance because it allows us to move from legality, which is determined by both time and place, to morality, which attempts to be unbounded by both (even it if is questionable whether morality achieves this). For example, take the period at the dawn of the 20th century—prohibition— when alcohol was illegal in the United States. The federal government enacted and enforced this law for a period of roughly ten years until prohibition was ended. While within this ten-year period it was illegal to possess alcohol, on either side of this ten-year period it was not illegal. Take for example a laborer in New York City: in 1918 he could sit in his home and drink whiskey to his heart's content. Now, suppose, unbeknownst to him, he is suddenly teleported 7 years into the future. He is now performing an illegal act, but the act itself has not changed only the legislation regarding it. According to the letter of the law, this man could be carted off to jail. Suppose he hops through time again, 10 years into the future, after prohibition. Again, he is performing the same act with the same set of circumstances that 10 years ago was illegal and 17 years ago was legal. This illustrates how legality is bound to time; things can become illegal or legal as time progresses. We can see this same situation relative to place. Suppose the man, instead of moving through time, at the height of prohibition is transported to France. His actions are no longer illegal because at that time the French had no restriction on alcohol consumption. If he moved suddenly back to the United States, he would again be performing an illegal act.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chance Encounters of the 1,387,438th Kind

Pierce Smith

So, I was in Hinman Dining Hall eating my lunch solo. I was trying to eat kind of quickly because I left my Management Information Systems homework to the last minute, and I needed to head back to the library to finish it. It's always so crowded in the dining halls during lunch. So, this kid walks up to my table, and asks if he can sit across from me. I didn't really hear what he said through my headphones, but I just said, "Yeah, yeah, sure." I kept working on my macaroni, and listening to my music. After about a minute, I decided I'd take off my headphones, and talk with the kid. It's just weird for me to sit across from someone in silence like that.

The American Night

Chris Hall

From the sweat soaked hollow scenes of the American Night, in hazy painted monochrome, dead fingers clutching onto the hallowed prizes, seething instinct, dulled brain ache, heavy foot falls, sticky floors in black walled dance halls, bodies pressed against walls and other bodies, hard encounters of hip bones and denim grinding, swift retreats, the tepid swarm of alcohol in fertile minds, like a virus, like a self inflicting bleeding, bleeding vision, colors bleeding into the brownout frames absence, warm deft selves locking pieces together, and synapse, deadening formation, in formation, in lockstep breathing masses and swarmed presence, there existed the beginning of a temporal switching sequence, like lever throws, or streams of focus under retinal dream sequence, in fervid encounter, in visceral dead-pan: what series of these Nights would lead to anything besides the new morning, where leaves of grass unstick from their tension, twitching into sky-reach, into posture, this body, now sought after, and controlled––hands will grind dust into plastic, into ergonomic rapture, the lure of cybernetic fusion, this body, its wet matter, its slow wending of breath and congealing blood––now formed in the Night under some organizing dream of thermodynamic symphony, one unit, one agent of dreamed agency, it seeks.

Now we are at the critical junction, as we always were, not adjusting but being, in this box of cheap tricks––combustion on the highway growls across miles––we can now camp in the Night as if destitute, we are now in the desolate calm of the relaxation response. It has given us all it can give. The rest is up to us.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Clarifying Cosmetic Psychopharmacology

This is the first of a multiple part series exploring Cosmetic Psychopharmacology. It includes the text of Joe's thesis and will culminate in a reanalysis and break down of the piece. Read Part Two here Part Three here Part Four here

Clarifying Cosmetic Psychopharmacology

Joseph Chiarenzelli
            The last one hundred years have brought with them a great deal of advances in humankind's knowledge of its own biological functioning. Along with this increase in scientific knowledge have come new ways to intervene and effect change in hopes of abating illness and other life threatening conditions. This field is limited to practitioners of the medical sciences, who use their discretion to treat patients suffering from any number of maladies. Medical treatment typically takes the form of reactive countermeasures to rectify biological malfunctions. For instance, if an individual is having an allergic reaction he or she will go to a doctor who, typically, will supply them with a prescription for an antihistaminergic agent that will counteract the elevated levels of histamine in the blood. However, there are notable exceptions to this reactive model, one of the most well-known is the use of vaccinations to create immunity to viruses that could potentially be encountered in a person’s life time. Doctors are now pushing more and more for proactive personal efforts to remain healthy such as diet and exercise. This reduces the number of cases that need reactive intervention to correct problems.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Does God exist? - a dialogue between Freud and C.S Lewis

Saiful Saleem

Lewis and Freud
Does God exist? Sigmund Freud and C.S Lewis give us two fundamentally opposing answers which have been displayed extensively by two groups of people throughout time.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Conflict Between Salvador Dali and Immanuel Kant

Joe Chiarenzelli

Salvador Dali’s painting Soft Construction with Boiled Beans flies in the face of Immanuel Kant’s theory of aesthetics; as such it provides evidence that Kant’s theory is not applicable in modern times to assess the quality of aesthetic endeavors. This can be demonstrated by several elements. Firstly, the painting is inseparable from the topic of the Spanish civil war and the political rending of Spain. Secondly, the painting is not classically beautiful because of the inclusion of grotesquery and decay. Lastly, (and most importantly) the rendition of a metaphorical painting of this degree clearly does not allow Kant’s theory to hold, seeing as Kant believed meaning behind a painting stopped its aesthetic appreciation.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Curious Case of Whale Enslavement

Sean Ewart

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” – the 13th Amendment

These are the words which, upon ratification on December 6, 1865, abolished slavery in the United States of America. A truly momentous occasion for a nation whose brief history had been scarred by the racial injustice which was the bonded servitude of one race to another. Yet a California court has recently heard, and thrown out, a case involving accusations of slavery. It wasn't human trafficking Mexican Coyotes or even pimps pushing prostitutes to politicians who were on the receiving end of the lawsuit, however, rather it was SeaWorld. And it wasn't custodians working around the parks for minimum wage who were being exploited at slaves, according to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), but five killer whales. Seriously.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Demolition of Democracy: NDAA 2012

Jacob Sherretts
There is something ominous on the horizon. On December 31, 2011, President Obama signed a bill that will seriously infringe upon the rights of United States citizens. Over the next month, Congress has the ability to make changes to this dangerous bill as per the President’s signing statement. The public at this present time, in general, has not grasped the gravity of the legislation that is the National Defense Authorization Act for the year 2012. Although a defense budget is passed annually, the Act for 2012 contains wording that allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens as well as other dangerous possibilities. Furthermore, the bill’s controversial components have many aspects within them that may actually hinder the government’s ability to deal with legitimate threat. For these reasons, it has become clear that the bill was crafted by those who fear the growing dissidence in our nation. If the United States is truly the land of the free, something must be done to repeal NDAA.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Singularity is Near for Artificial Intelligence and Man

Joe Chiarenzelli

Ray Kurzweil has been at the cutting edge of technological and scientific exploration since his graduation from MIT (Kushner 2009, 56-61). In a time of global strife it is necessary to look to our leaders in fields of high practicality to help us envision and plan for the future. Ray Kurzweil’s model of information acceleration followed by a singularity is very accurate and can be compared to historical and current data to prove that, if no other factors come into play, the current path of technology, and artificial intelligence specifically, will continue in correspondence with Kurzweil’s model. This process can be mapped by discussing the theory behind the acceleration of information, the data that currently points to a trend very similar to an exponential acceleration of information, and what constitutes a valid prediction about the future of technology and science.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Racism and the Illegal Arrests by the New York City Police Department

Sean Ewart

The New York City Police Department currently has in place a system of institutionalized racism which disproportionately targets, on a massive scale, blacks and Latinos for marijuana related crimes. By now well documented, though under-reported, the systematic perpetration of illegal arrests by NYPD officers is widespread. This not only costs the City and state millions of dollars a year (the language of the Legislature) but it is also an affront to the ideals of America. Not be overly optimistic, but is it too much to ask for our nation's leading police force to follow the law and not revert back to Jim Crow-era discriminatory practices? Apparently. There is, however, a growing outcry, and this article is intended to fuel the fire.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Abbas's Deal with the Devil: the Fatah - Hamas Coalition

Sean Ewart
Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Mashaal

When Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in 2006 the world was, understandably, concerned (what's wrong with Hamas). Hamas, a militant political and religious organization which seeks the destruction of Israel and is funded, in part, by Iran, has held the reigns of power in the Gaza Strip ever since the Palestinian Civil War in 2006-07. As the situation in the Gaza Strip deteriorated following the blockade and sanctions placed upon the isolated region took their toll, largely on the civilian population, the question remained: what to do with Hamas? Recognized by many nations as a terrorist organization, they are responsible for thousands of mortar and suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilians and are rather 14th century in their attitude towards... everything. The Palestinians were thus split between Hamas, a terrorist group elected by the people of Palestine, and Fatah, a more moderate political party which is often seen as, and often is, corrupt and ineffective. But now the head of Fatah, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, has agreed to head an interim government, including Hamas, before another election which is scheduled for... well, no one knows when. This move is merely the continuation of the same cycles which are destined to retard the Middle East, including Israel, and any so-called 'peace process' for years to come if they are not derailed. Abbas' deal with the devil is nothing more than his (hopefully failed) understanding that he has no other option: he must either work with Hamas, or be defeated by it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Obama, Bush, Reagan, and Jesus: a Love Story

Sean Ewart

Obama, leading the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Feb. 2, said that he believes the rich should pay more because: “I actually think that is going to make economic sense, but for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” This statement immediately caused a political and religious scandal that reeked to high heaven. I will admit to a certain (high) level of frustration at the statement, though not for the reasons typically being offered. Jesus, it would seem, tended to look more favorably on the poor who gave everything they owned to him (well... or to god, who Jesus claimed to be), and only chided the rich when they would not so easily part with their treasures for promises of heavenly rewards. Tying your political beliefs to your religious beliefs is about as common as it is ridiculous, however, and this is what I want to point out: Obama is by no means coming out of left field with this statement – and anyway, I suppose that if religion is going to be used as a pillar of public policy, justifying progressive taxation is at least “good.”

Do What Thou Wilt is the Whole of the Law

A reflection on ethics.

Joe Chiarenzelli 

           Aleister Crowley, an early 20th century occultist, asserted that “Do what thou wilt is the whole of the law.” (Crowley 1978). Crowley’s statement is the closest maxim I have found to be representative of human ethical theory. By acting upon this maxim, each individual is forwarding the well being of all humanity. This is because, through the process of competing forces, the most useful for that specific set of circumstances will arise as the victorious force. However, this does not mean that any issue contains any inherent ethical meaning, rather in the context of the specific “game” that is being played pragmatic value can be assigned.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Portrait of the Hipster as a Young Man

Taylor Paul Smith

Sitting on a bench in Rochester’s Amtrak station, Kerouac’s On the Road in my hands, I stare up at the clock. 11:45pm; it should have been here by now. Tired, hungry, and sex deprived, I wish that the family behind me would stop being so obnoxious.
“The train will be arriving in 30 minutes. Sorry for the inconvenience,” the intercom crackles out.  I consider eating my sandwich, but think of the twelve hour ride ahead. How do trains even fall behind schedule?

I scurry onto the train and find my seat by the window. A man in his mid-twenties takes the seat beside me. Baggy pants, a bright yellow t-shirt, and thick-rimmed glasses. Visibly a hipster, and not the pleasant type.
The train creeps forward as the conductor makes his rounds. He stops in front of my seatmate and I. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

*Updated* Susan G. Komen Foundation Declares Religious War

Sean Ewart,0,6257433.story

*UPDATE* 2-7-12
Karen Handel, the Vice President of Public Policy for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, has announced her resignation over the controversy with Planned Parenthood. Again, this only proves the power of citizen engagement. Well done. The Washington Post

*UPDATE* 2-3-12
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation has reversed its decision to withdraw funding to Planned Parenthood after the efforts of activists and politicians demonstrated the gravity of the mistake. This proves the power of citizen engagement and, more cynically, the power of threatening funding bases. Keep up the good work! CNN

It just has to be said. The recent decision by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation to cut its funding for Planned Parenthood is a part of the on going war against reproductive rights in this country; a war being brought by the religious right. I have previously written about attempts by the GOP to overthrow Planned Parenthood (The Abortion of Title X), and of the bellicosity of the religious zealots who make up the Tea Party (TheTea Party Hates America). The guns are aimed, once again, at Planned Parenthood, yet this time the religious right is attempting to enforce their theocratic demands from a remarkable platform: one of the most respected organizations working on protecting and caring for women with breast cancer. This is a despicable move, and one which highlights the true fissures in American society. There is no war on religion in America. However, religion has declared war on America.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Redistricting Democracy

Sean Ewart

Before observing the political firestorm of redistricting, I never fully understood what makes up that other pillar of democratic inaction. Obviously the overt and covert political power of money is an obstacle to functioning democracy; political inaction, due to ignorance, feelings of futility, and apathy is another, and specifically public, ill; but the actual process of representation itself is a mind blowing example of just how political power is maintained. I am not speaking as someone who is unsupportive of the general process of American democracy. Indeed, even in the face of absolute and often inscrutable stupidity, I press on in my belief that this is the best working process in the history of the human species. But let us be honest about just how well the process is working. As with all aspects of our existence, only by confronting our reality will we be able to successfully deal with it.