In 1789, when the newly created House of Representatives debated the proposed First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, two sentiments were predominant in regard to its clauses on religion: the necessity of impartiality on the part of government, and the protection of the individual. James Madison initially supported a version of the First Amendment that protected “equal rights of conscience,” understood as a right applying to both religion and moral beliefs. But the House concluded that the Establishment Clause and protection of the individual’s exercise of religious freedom were sufficient. When these are viewed along with their sister clauses guaranteeing freedom of speech, press, assembly, and petitioning, it is clear that all of the amendment’s principles are related to freedom of expression, freedom for any act that involves imbibing or distributing ideas.
Just a week ago, I was in a van for roughly thirteen hours, driving from New York to South Carolina. My job entailed helping with navigation via Google Maps. Although we stayed mainly on highways and freeways, I couldn’t help but look at the rural, seemingly poor towns we passed. As I zoomed in closer on the map, I noticed the recurring presence of McDonald’s, Burger King, Hardee’s (once we reached Virginia), and other fast-food establishments. I thought about Whole Foods and a local health food store back home called Down to Earth, and the variety of fruits, vegetables, and health products one can choose from. Whole Foods and Down to Earth would be anomalies in most rural areas, where fast-food establishments dominate. Often we find ourselves so invested in the outcomes of major domestic and international events that we fail to think about issues like nutritional inequality, an issue that even one road trip can raise.
On June 23, 2016 Britain voted to leave the European Union. This set off a populist wave across the Western world that resulted in, or encouraged, the election of Donald Trump and the success of a variety of right-wing and far-right European parties. After the vote, Britain embarked on a long process of negotiation that was supposed to end by March 29 of this year. Although that allowed Prime Minister Theresa May nearly three years to work with the EU on the terms of a deal, it proved to be not enough time to settle their differences.
The Civil War ended in 1865, but the United States has struggled to cope with its legacy ever since. Who is to be honored, and how should we remember those who fought and led troops on both sides? Recently the conversation over the place of monuments commemorating Confederate generals and soldiers has been prevalent in the news. To truly understand the issue, we must look to the origin of the monuments. Considering the time and place in which they were erected can help determine what to do with them.
Over the centuries, many have come to Rome to stand in the shadow of the ancient monument to the Roman Empire, the renowned architectural achievement – the Colosseum. Travelers and academics often comment, however, that their visual expectations far exceed their first impression of it. Touring the Colosseum is almost anticlimactic. The magnificent amphitheater, faced with gleaming travertine stone three stories high and lined with statues -- a venue that that once hosted gladiator fights, mock sea battles, staged animal hunts, and public executions of Christians, criminals, and ill-fated persons -- now seems a mere skeleton whispering about its former blood-soaked glory, imposing structure, and storied history.
Recently stories of hate, intolerance, and injustice have flooded the media. Most people, out of compassion, rally behind those who have been hurt and take steps to ensure that we don’t allow these types of crimes to occur.
This was my initial reaction when Jussie Smollett, an actor and singer, reported that he had been the victim of a hate crime. He alleged that two men in ski masks had attacked him, calling him racial and homophobic slurs. According to Smollett, they even proclaimed, "This is MAGA country." Smollett originally stated that the two suspects then "poured an unknown liquid" on him and put a noose around his neck.
Our world − saturated by social media and artificial intelligence − has become increasingly public. Ever more willing to share intimate details, Americans young and old post very private, sometimes damning, information online with little regard for consequences. Partly as a result, both the government and private companies have access to unprecedented amounts of information that is compiled into databases and readily available to those willing to pay subscription fees. Given the sheer pervasiveness of technology and data collection, we ought to have an intensive national dialogue on an appropriate legislative response. Before that debate happens, however, we must have a firm theoretical understanding of what exactly we mean by “privacy.”
The United States has had a long, varied approach to the crisis in Syria. Red lines have been drawn and ignored, missile strikes became commonplace, troops entered the region. Now it appears that we are leaving Syria. Contradictions and failed promises marked our time there. But even with the country’s chaotic recent past, it is unwise for the U.S. to leave Syria under Russian influence and the leadership of Bashar al-Assad.
On December 22, the government underwent what turned out to be a 35-day shutdown, the longest in American history. At the center of the problem was a dispute over funding for a border wall. Eager to keep his promises in the 2016 primaries, and doubtful that the incoming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives would support his goals, President Trump insisted that Congress include $5.7 billion in funding for a wall in the new spending bill. Democrats refused to grant any money for the project and Trump refused to sign any bill without such funds, leading to a stalemate. Although a stopgap bill passed on January 25 reopened the government for three weeks, it merely bought time for negotiations and did nothing to resolve the fundamental impasse. With a new shutdown looming, Congress crafted a new compromise bill that would keep the government open, grant $1.3 billion for fencing on the border, and limit the number of people the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) can detain. Although he was reluctant to support legislation that gave him only a fraction of what he wanted, Trump ultimately decided, last Thursday, that he would sign the bill. Simultaneously, he revealed his intent to declare a national emergency so he could try to use his executive powers in order to build the wall.
In the two weeks since Meatless Mondays started, there has been a smorgasbord of arguments for and against: It was an executive decision that in no way represents student preferences. But it can really help to reduce the campus’s environmental footprint. Meat is an important part of a healthy diet. No, meat increases your risk of chronic diseases. Supporting small, local livestock farms is a good thing. But animals have rights too. And so on and so forth. Here is an unappealing argument that is rarely offered: perhaps we don’t even have a right to eat meat.
The electronic cigarette company Juul Labs states its mission as seeking to “improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes.” Unlike cigarettes, their products have not yet been shown to cause cancer, yet they still contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance. Even though the company markets a healthier alternative for adult smokers, the most troubling usage is in a much younger demographic. According to the Food and Drug Administration and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five high schoolers vaped in September 2018, a 78 percent increase from 2017. Shortly after these warnings, Juul Labs announced that it would suspend the sales of most flavored pods (for smoking e-cigarettes) in more than 90,000 retail stores in the United States except for mint, menthol, and tobacco.
Thomas Jefferson and the Comte de Buffon had fundamentally different understandings of the natural world, a discord that stemmed from Buffon’s “individualism,” that is, what Jefferson saw as a hesitancy to categorically classify species. Such an epistemology, Jefferson argued, threatened to return the scientific community to the days of Aristotle and Pliny. It would undo the order that modern science had worked so diligently to instill in our understanding of the natural world. A belief in the importance of such an order was crucial to Jefferson’s very character. A man of science, he devoted much of his life to discovery, categorization, and systemization.