Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blashphemy Day!

Today is International Blashphemy Day. It's not official, but hopefully it will be eventually. September 30th was chosen because it is the anniversary of the publishing of the Danish cartoon depictions of Muhammed that caused such a stir. I'd never seen the cartoons until today.

I know that Islam has rules about depicting the human form, though I can't remember what they are (it's been a long time since my junior year of high school when I took a class in which we learned about Islam, and we never went into depth about that particular rule). I got the link to the cartoons from someone else's blog. He seems to post a lot about the cartoons, and in honor of blashphemy day, I'm going to quote him.

"Late December I got curious about all the hubbub about these cartons. Everybody talked about them, but nobody had seen them, so I wanted to see them for myself in order to form my own opinion - and let me tell you: They were hard to find! I searched for days, and being stubborn and technically minded I did at last succeed in finding them. But the point is: If you wanted to become offended back in December 2005, you had to work hard for it!

Having found the cartoons I then decided to post them in Danish to show my fellow Danes how harmless and bland these cartoons were - half of the so'called Mohammed cartoons don't even show Mohammed. I actually believed, that displaying them would defuse the anger. Yup, naïve."

You can find more of his blog here.

I do not have much else to say, other than we need to stop appeasement of religions who get offended by blasphemy. I can say whatever I want about your religion, and I shouldn't have to worry about my safety. Personally, there are lines I won't cross and things I won't say, but just because something offends someone doesn't mean it should be illegal. When you start to limit what we can say about things, you give those things more power, potentially power to cut off free thought and inovation of ideas. I think Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, tribal religions and any other religion that follows any amount of "higher powers" or gods are bad for people's minds. I especially hate it when one of those religions somehow convinces the rest of the world that saying that the religion is false should not be allowed. I'm sorry my thoughts may seem a bit unorganized on this. It's hard to think about this issue without getting angry. I guess I'll try to sum up what I think: just because something I say offends you, doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to say it.

Happy Blashpheming!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Going Deaf Because They're Dumb

According to an article by Nate Anderson on, there are many growing concerns about personal music players, and they go beyond the risk of deafness. Anderson listed five main issues that are raised about what are, in my opinion, wonderful inventions.

The first concern is that they're destroying music. Anderson quotes the chief music critic for the UK Times as saying, "recorded music that has been turned into a computer file, squeezed down the internet and then scrunched into a tiny part of your zillion-track iPod is more compromised than most." I have to say that I find this argument lacking in rationality. The critic seems to think that unless music is live, it's not worth listening to. I completely disagree. Live music has positivie qualities, which vary depending upon which type of music it is. But live music also has negative qualities, like the propensity of people to screw things up. Personally, when I hear a band or performer of some sort hit a wrong note I cringe. I very much dislike hearing mistakes in music, even though I understand the occurrence (very well, having made many while performing in my high school orchestra). I love that you can hear every little detail of a song with a personal music player. There are no background noises like that of a crowd or coughing, and no mistakes because every part of it is recorded to perfection. What do you loose in a music file?

The second issue is that personal music players make us all into narcissists. I find this to be completely off base, and probably the result of the older generation taking issue with the differences of the younger. Narcissists think everything revolves around them and that they are the most important people in the world. Personal music devices do not make me think like that. I happen to prefer music to the sound of cars driving by me, so what? It doesn't mean I won't stop to chat with someone I know, like the article postulates. The suggestion that people talk less in public places is also funny to me. I typically do not talk to strangers, it's not contingent on whether or not I'm listening to an iPod. Also mentioned in the article is that people only have to listen to songs they like, but what's wrong with that? What possible good could come of forcing myself to listen to something I hate? You wouldn't go to a concert of a band you don't like, would you? How is the level of selection on an iPod that much different?

The third "problem" with personal music players is that they are killing the music business. I disagree. I think they are changing the music business in a way that the big music companies do not like. The existence of digital music files that can be downloaded from the internet is lessening the need for music publishing companies and putting more power in the hands of the artist. In fact, it looks to me like artists now mostly need big music companies for their ability to supply recording studios.

The fourth issue brought up applies much more to Europe than the United States. There is an idea that players may be confiscated at borders and checked for illegal music content. Anderson supplies a good response to this saying, "This never made much sense—agents don't have the time, nor do they have any reliable way of knowing if particular tracks are legal copies."

The final issue is deafness. I do not have much of a response for this. I am not a doctor or scientist who could evaluate how valid worries about deafness are. All I can say is this is not a new issue. Before mp3 players came mini disc players, portable compact disc players and portable tape players, often with radios built in. These have been around for a long time, they are not going anywhere. Anyone who does not realize that there is a potential to damage their hearing if they listen to the music too loud, too long probably deserves to lose some of their hearing. The issue here is not the portable music players, but rather authorities trying to protect humans from their own stupidity. If you do that, they will never learn. Perhaps we just need to let that run its own course.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Is It Really Religious Discrimination?

Abercrombie & Fitch are in legal hot water over alleged religious descrimination. They did not hire a 17 year-old girl who is Muslim, allegedly because of her head covering. She was told that her hijab did not comply with the company "Look Policy." Read about it on ABC news, the Guardian,, or msnbc.

My thoughts are still in a jumble about this. On the one hand, it certainly looks like religious discrimination. On the other hand, initially I felt inclined to side with Abercrombie & Fitch. I think that companies have a certain amount of freedom to tell their employees what they can and cannot wear, but I'm not sure how far that should go. The foremost thing on my mind, though, is why on Earth did this girl want to work at Abercrombie and Fitch?

Part of working at A&F is sporting their look, which is far from modest. A main tenet of Islam is modesty in dress and behavior, in fact, that's where the whole hijab thing comes into play. I have no religious rules or tenets influencing me, but I consider myself to be relatively modest in the way I dress, though not nearly so modest as the ideal Muslim. I would never want to associate myself with that store. I guess it just surprises me that she wanted to work there at all.

Anyway, feel free to read about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It certainly seems like Abercrombie is in violation Title VII. What about a hijab would prevent the girl from doing her job properly? Furthermore, referencing one of the articles about this story, what would prevent a (different) girl who wanted to wear her hemline below her knees from doing her job properly?

Then I come back to how I usually think. Abercrombie is not discriminating against these people because of their religions, but rather how they dress. They are marketing a product, after all, and their sales team is part of the marketing strategy. Would we force them to hire a model who refused to remove her hijab or wanted them to alter their clothing so the hem of a skirt hit below the knee? Absolutely not. In fact, I think any model who tried to pull that stunt would be laughed out of the fashion world. A better argument might even be found: would we force them to hire a girl with a "goth" style if she refused to stop wearing her combat boots or spiked dog collar?

I cannot decide how I feel. Where's the line between religious discrimination and choosing an employee based on their ability to fulfill the previously set requirements of the job? Ultimately, I do think I side with A&F on this one, though their "Look Policy" should probably be investigated further.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nonsensical Sizes

While walking around campus today, I found myself continually pulling down and straightening out my shirt. It was not because the shirt was too short, nor that you could really call it too small for me. I had to adjust the shirt repeatedly because the shirt itself (a simple tank top) is not made for my body type. To identify the problem, you would have to either classify my hips as too big or my waist as too small (a classification I would resent since I am mostly content with both measurements). My problem is that my shirts are either too loose where my natural waist is, or they are too tight around my hips and therefore tend to bunch up to my waist. If the ideal form of a woman is an hourglass shape, then shouldn’t at least some shirts accommodate that shape? It seems to me that most shirts are definitely not tailored to this body style.

Conventional ways of sizing and manufacturing women’s clothing are silly. My problem may seem frivolous to some, but I am going to venture a guess and say that a lot of girls know how I feel, if not about shirts, about some piece of clothing. The way jeans and other pants are sized fares even worse than shirts when looked at critically. Sizing for women’s clothing does not account for the variety of shapes of women in today’s world.

Being tall, being short, pretty much being any shape or size can present some serious clothing issues. I can never find inexpensive jeans that fit me correctly. I have to buy “long” jeans, but those never seem to be available in the less expensive stores, and when I can find them they are often still slightly too short. For a while I was spending at least $65 on every pair of jeans (resulting in having very few pairs to wear since I did not have a lot of money), buying “extra-longs” at the Buckle. Why are jeans sized like this for women? Men have waist-inseam sizes, but for women pants are sized by a number that is poorly regulated and has changed numerous times in the last 50 years as well as a descriptive “size” of “short,” “regular,” and “long” (and sometimes “extra long”).

The Buckle offers a slight improvement on conventional sizing along with a few other, typically more expensive, stores. At the Buckle jeans are sized with a waist measurement and a descriptive length. Still, though, the Buckle fails us. My perfect jean length is somewhere between the Buckle’s “longs” and “extra-longs,” so I never got a perfect fit. Furthermore, the waist measurements are not measurements of the waistband of the jeans, but rather of your natural waist. Girls with less typical waist-hip ratios will have a harder time finding the right size, and different styles and brands of jeans have completely different waistband-waist measurement ratios.

All of these issues resulted in my turning to the internet for a solution. There are various sites that sell custom made jeans; the least expensive of those that I have looked at is Still, though, I think it is crazy that I had to result to that. The clothing industry’s treatment of men versus women is laughable. I typically think of women as the bigger advertising target, yet in terms of sizing, the industry favors men!

I wish the world of women’s clothing were more accommodating to the different shapes and sizes of women’s bodies. While certain improvements would be difficult, others would be relatively simple (granted retooling may be expensive). Changing the sizing of pants for women just makes sense. After all, our legs don’t fit into three lengths, and the waists of three people who are considered size 6 can be three different numbers. As for shirts which don’t look either baggy or scrunched up, I doubt that dream will ever be realized for me, but one out of two industry changes would still make my life easier.

The Talented & Ignored Youngest Sister

All my life I have been an avid reader. Never satisfied with what I learned in school, I would read book after book on my own to learn more. At some point this turned into a desire to be “well-read,” a goal I feel I shall always pursue, but never actually realize. Throughout the years my book choices have moved through different phases, my favorite of which is nineteenth century British literature. It is a phase I never quite moved out of, though it now coincides with others.

I started with Jane Eyre, followed by Wuthering Heights, then every single Jane Austen book except Lady Susan and her unfinished works, which I am currently in the process of reading. Knowing my love of Jane Austen, my aunt gave me a book recommended to her as something a Jane Austen-addict may enjoy. The book was The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontё, the least well-known and least-celebrated of the Brontё sisters.

I had previously read Agnes Grey, Anne’s first novel celebrated as a social commentary on the life of a governess. After reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I was enthralled by Anne’s writing style and highly disappointed to discover it was her second and last novel. Having to date read every Brontё novel except Charlotte’s Shirley, I feel my opinion is well-formed. I do not understand Anne’s relative lack of celebration in comparison to her sisters.

I would not argue with someone who said that Charlotte deserves the most attention for her novels, but Emily’s relative fame to Anne I do not understand at all. My recollection of Wuthering Heights is lackluster, to be honest. When I read a book that truly impresses me, I can look back on the book with clear memories of numerous scenes, sometimes seemingly unimportant ones, but my memory of Wuthering Heights has no such impressions. Wuthering Heights pales in comparison to Jane Eyre, The Professor (a work that was rejected by publishing houses and only published after Charlotte’s death), and Villette. Furthermore, Wuthering Heights becomes pathetic in the shadow of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, a powerful story that is both a social commentary, mystery and love story (although the love story is the least well-accomplished of these themes). Why, then, does Anne not get more attention?

I would not advocate less celebration of Emily Brontё, but rather more celebration of Anne. I have spoken to people who actually did not know Anne existed. They speak of the Brontё sisters thinking there are only 5 novels to be read, written by only two sisters. The overlooking of Anne is a great loss to the world, as was her premature death at the age of 29. Any book or reading collection would and should be enriched by Anne Brontё’s novels.

I have yet to turn this one in. I figured I'd save it in case I can't come up with anything to write about.

Pondering Capital Punishment*

September 7th, 2009

I read an article today in the New Yorker called Trial By Fire, and I have to say it moved me. The article is about Cameron Todd Willingham, a man convicted of homicide by means of arson. His three infant daughters died in a fire in December of 1991 in Corsicana, Texas, and Willingham was accused of intentionally setting the fire. Willingham was sentenced to the death penalty, which was carried out in early 2004.

Willingham insisted upon his innocence from the day of the fire right up until his death, which is listed as “homicide” on his death certificate. Before his case went to trial, he was offered a plea bargain. Pleading guilty would have resulted in a lifelong sentence in prison, but he insisted on his innocence and refused to plead guilty. His neighbors, the police, the firefighters, and even his lawyers had decided he was guilty long before he went to trial; the guilty verdict was basically a foregone conclusion.

It appeared open-and-shut to the public, despite the lack of a motive, and only later inquiries showed the many weaknesses of the prosecution’s case. Indeed, even after many of these came to light before Willingham’s execution, several appeals courts and other means to achieve stays of execution continued to overlook the gaping holes in his conviction. I cannot sufficiently convey the feelings evoked by the article, but I can convey the ultimate effect it had on me.

My opinion on capital punishment is not something I typically share, but I considerate it a rather moderate view. In the vast majority of cases I feel that capital punishment is too extreme, but there are a small number of offenses in which the death penalty is conceivably appropriate (these being only the most heinous and cold-blooded of murders: the best example being serial killings). Ideologically, my opinion is that some people deserve to die for their crimes.

Today, my opinion diverged from itself. As I read the article, I realized the truth is that while some crimes truly deserve to be punished by death, we cannot possibly allow the death penalty if there are cases in which innocent people are wrongfully convicted. You cannot take back taking someone’s life, and this case study did more to affect my opinion than any argument consisting of racial statistics, costs of capital punishment or the wrongfulness of taking a life. If even once a death sentence has been carried out against an innocent man in our modern society, it is too many times.

Our justice system (indeed, every justice system in the world) needs to be reevaluated and changed. Until that happens, the death penalty should be entirely suspended. Operatively this has led me to agree with the argument for abolishment of capital punishment. When could we ever be sure that an innocent person absolutely could not be convicted? Therefore should we not take the possibility of killing an innocent person entirely off the table?

*this is not actually my title, the opinion editor of the Dickinsonian picked it.

An Introduction

This year, I decided I need to be more involved with things on campus. I'm currently trying to start a secularist group for Dickinson College students... A seemingly monumental task that I'm afraid may not pan out. I'm also writing for the Dickinsonian. Unfortunately, there are apparently a LOT of writers, and my editor informed me that I only need to write every other week. It's disappointing: I was starting to enjoy coming up with ridiculous topics to talk about each week. I decided I would start a blog to provide an outlet for myself. I'll probably publish whenever something occurs to me, but it will be at least once a week. Don't expect anything amazing. I also plan on posting the articles I've already written for the Dickinsonian(the two I turned in and the one that I wrote but did not turn in...). I hope you enjoy, and if not no one is forcing you to read it, so don't blame me for wasted time.