Home In All Lands Why divestment is more symbolic than effective
Home In All Lands Americans abroad should not be forced to pay United States taxes
U.S. alcohol laws are arbitrary and ineffective
Home In All Lands USPS must have autonomy to survive
Home In All Lands Common cents: follow Canada and abolish worthless penny
Home In All Lands: Remembering the best four years of my life
If words were miles, my columns would very nearly wrap around the world. I’ve penned 23,994 words since my first Orient column was published in September 2011, and I have grappled with a wide range of issues, from my hatred of the penny to Swedish trash incineration, the symbolism of divestment and the death penalty. Sometimes I have come across as too harsh in my criticism of the U.S., and it may have seemed as though I was like so many Europeans: convinced that this country should just listen to and accept the wisdom of its Old World cousins. In truth, if I criticized the US it was because I believe this is a country with boundless, untapped potential and it frustrates me to see what I know are wasted opportunities.
It reassures me, then, to know that I will be graduating alongside close to 500 people whose time at Bowdoin has prepared them to do exceptional things. I am also pleased to be graduating with, so to speak, a man who has done a great deal to advance the cause of his college and of the liberal arts education. Barry Mills may not be liked by everyone in the Bowdoin community, but he should be, at the very least, commended for sticking to his principles. Like President Mills, we have gained the skills to challenge preconceptions and advocate for our own knowledge.
As our time at Bowdoin winds down, I find myself wondering how my peers and I will remember the “best four years” of our lives. When we meet again in years to come, what will be the moments that defined “our” Bowdoin? What will we take away from the small liberal arts college with the cult-like sun symbol? We will all be leaving with different memories of this place: some are positive, others less so. I know seniors who couldn’t be happier to be leaving and I know seniors who undoubtedly will be crying at graduation, shedding tears for an end that came too soon. However we may feel about our time at Bowdoin, we are all brought together and separated by the memories we have made here. I can’t say that I will miss the smell of the pines, or a sweaty party in the basement of a social house, or swimming in Greason pool, or the creak of the floorboards in the room on the top floor of Massachusetts Hall; those experiences are not my Bowdoin.
My Bowdoin is late evenings working in the Shannon Room, the musky scent of old LPs in the WBOR studios, a breeze on the quad on a hot September day, going to class on skis, stargazing through a telescope in the fields behind Farley. Each of us has created our own image of Bowdoin: for all the commonalities that bring our graduating class together, it is the differences that have made our Bowdoin exciting.
As Eric Edelman wrote two years ago, there is little use in agonizing about what might have been: so what if I’ve never taken a psych class? So what if you never climbed Katahdin? When we walk up to receive our diplomas in three weeks’ time, we should do so without regrets.
We cannot be burdened by our mistakes: let the past remain there and may our success carry us forward. These four years have given us extraordinary tools to take on new challenges and I am excited to see what the Class of 2015 will make of the confused and chaotic world beyond the Bowdoin Bubble.
Friends, it has been my pleasure getting to know many of you since we first assembled on the quad at the end of August four years ago. I wish you all the very best, wherever you may go. Thank you for making this, truly, the best four years of my life. Good-bye for now, and good luck.
Home In All Lands: U.S. embargo of Cuba is outdated and restricts change, development
For more than half a century, the United States has imposed a commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba in an effort to subvert the communist regime and deprive it of resources. Friday marks the 19,539th day since the Kennedy administration initiated this foolish policy, which has been preserved by every president since.
The embargo—the longest imposed by any country in modern history—is a Cold War anachronism that has no place in the 21st century and one that is cause for national embarrassment. President Obama has started to take action designed to dismantle the embargo’s framework, but it will be an impossible task without the consent of Congress and, unfortunately, the denizens of Capitol Hill will likely be unwilling to get rid of something that has such a long (and proven) track record of failure.
As a tool of foreign policy, the embargo has backfired. It has been a sticking point in Western Hemisphere diplomacy, creating tension with Latin American leaders and stymieing effective regional diplomatic efforts. In Cuba, the embargo has done little to encourage substantive change. It has become a useful scapegoat on which the communist regime can blame many of the country’s economic and social problems.
That Cuba’s present financial difficulties are linked to the dissolution of the Soviet Union (which had been the destination for 80 percent of Cuba’s exports) is scarcely acknowledged in the state-run press. To be fair, blaming the “other” is by no means a feature unique to authoritarian states—American politicians of any political stripe are quick to blame China, Wall Street and/or immigrants for this country’s woes—but a democracy at least has a free press that can analyze and criticize these kinds of diversionary tactics. In Cuba, by contrast, no such freedom exists.
Rather than create conditions that would allow democracy to flourish, the embargo has allowed the Cuban government to castigate the arrogance of American imperialism and present the régime’s endurance as an example of the inherent strengths of communist systems. The embargo has also allowed the government to justify crackdowns on dissidents and political enemies under a policy neatly summed up in the aphorism: “In a plaza under siege, dissidence is treasonous.”
Supporters of the embargo like Speaker of the House John Boehner argue that the embargo shouldn’t be lifted “until the Cuban people enjoy freedom,” yet it is this same embargo that creates the conditions necessary for the communist government to remain in power. Besides, if the embargo exists because Cuba restricts human rights, where then are embargoes against Saudi Arabia and China?
It will come as no surprise that I welcomed Obama’s announcement last December that the U.S. will move to break the political stalemate and resume normal diplomatic relations with Cuba. “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests,” he said, “and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.”
Responding to the planned change, hawkish Florida senator Marco Rubio decried “a concession to tyranny” that “will significantly set back the hopes of freedom and democracy for the Cuban people.” For a man who claims to admire Ronald Reagan, Rubio seems to be oblivious to the historical realities that precipitated the collapse of the USSR and its satellites. Communism in Eastern Europe did not fall apart as a result of blockades or embargoes, nor did it end because of Reagan or Gorbachev. It ended because of shifting economic realities that pushed the eastern bloc to adopt policies of political and economic liberalization that opened those regimes to free market and democratic principles. While the situation of Cuba isn’t exactly comparable to the position of the Soviet bloc in 1989, it is clear that the embargo isn’t helping to bring about the change that needs to happen.
At the recent Summit of the Americas in Panama, Obama admitted that it is “no secret that there will continue to be significant differences between” the U.S. and Cuba. These differences, however, cannot be a reason for Congress to block the administration’s efforts towards rapprochement. Unless the opponents of the president’s plan can show that the embargo has done something to fundamentally change Cuba for the better, there is no other choice: The embargo has got to go.
Home In All Lands: The U.S. must give medical marijuana a chance
After Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, is Maine next in line to completely legalize marijuana? That’s the hope of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, an activist group petitioning for marijuana regulation in this state. Last week, the group filed initial paperwork to get the question on ballot papers in the 2016 election. Whether or not Mainers ever vote on the issue is contingent upon the Secretary of State’s approval and the proponents collecting 62,000 signatures. If current national trends play out here as they have in other states, it seems very likely that Maine will legalize marijuana next November.
At a federal level, by contrast, legalization is a long way off. Under current law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, the category reserved for the most dangerous narcotics that, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, “have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.”
When we talk about marijuana legalization, we should not approach the issue from the standpoint that it will only help people who want to get high. To think about marijuana purely in terms of its psychoactive properties is to ignore the plant’s extraordinary medical potential. Cannabis-derived medicines are used to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea, cancer cells, migraines, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Studies overseas are currently underway to determine the effectiveness of high-CBD strains of marijuana in treating childhood epilepsy; thus far, the results look promising.
Associate Professor of Visual Arts Mike Kolster and his wife Christy Shake have seen the impact of high-CBD marijuana on their son, Calvin, who has suffered from epilepsy since he was two years old. Over the years, they tried different diets and countless drugs, none of which helped to effectively reduce the occurrence of his seizures. When Calvin was on one of his most powerful cocktail of antiepileptic drugs, he still suffered up to 12 seizures a month. Although the drugs help mitigate the worst effects of seizures, they also smother brain activity and in some cases exacerbate epilepsy’s impact on cognitive development. Since switching to a mix of two drugs and two cannabis oils, Calvin suffers far fewer seizures (down to three or four a month). What’s more, Shake says that he now enjoys “improved sleep, improved mood, improved focus and less hyperactivity,” which has allowed her to “wean him off of 70 percent of his benzodiazepine.” While one family’s example cannot compare to the rigors of a thorough clinical study, Shake and Kolster have noted that medical marijuana has had a noticeable impact on their son’s well-being.
For now, however, anecdotes are really the only gauge of medical marijuana’s effectiveness. Because marijuana shares the same schedule as heroin, LSD and ecstasy, research in the United States is highly regulated and in order to acquire research-grade marijuana, scientists have to have their projects approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In August 2014, the New York Times described the byzantine process that researchers have to follow in order to conduct clinical trials, many of which are rejected because they have the potential of portraying marijuana in a positive light.
Despite the popular push for a relaxation of marijuana’s status, neither Congress nor President Obama has an appetite for change. To their credit, Congress recently (and quietly) approved a change to federal marijuana regulations. Under the new law, federal agents are prohibited from raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in states where the drug has been approved for therapeutic use. It is an encouraging move from the federal government, but it is far from what is necessary to expand research into cannabis-derived medicine. Unfortunately for marijuana advocates, the shift in marijuana policy necessary would require changes that neither Congress nor President Obama are willing to make. In a recent interview with Vice News, the President commented, “legalizing marijuana shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority.” Young people, Obama said, should be “thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace.” It’s true that there are many important issues facing our world today and it can seem that the right to light up a joint falls fairly low on the list of priorities. But the legalization (or at least the decriminalization) of marijuana has significant implications that go far beyond just getting high. For every moral or ethical reason that may be presented to maintain the status quo, there are dozens of Calvins, countless victims of PTSD and innumerable people in pain who need the research. For their sake alone, legalizing marijuana is a cause worthy of being a priority.
Home In All Lands: Orient’s comment policy stifles authentic conversation
This edition of “Home in All Lands” is co-authored by Hannah Arrighi ’15.
As you may have read in the pages of this newspaper last week, the editorial board has decided to change the way in which readers can leave comments on bowdoinorient.com.
Where before comments had been largely free, from now on the editors will be the moderators of what deserves to appear at the bottom of each article. It is especially concerning to see that a small clique of editors have elevated themselves to be the lone arbiters of what is and isn’t offensive.
While we acknowledge that the Orient should exercise a certain degree of oversight when it comes to the comment section—as is the case on nearly every news website—we feel that its recent decision will stifle authentic conversation on a campus already too hesitant to speak its mind.
Given that the Orient has always had ultimate control in terms of which comments are shown on the website, you could easily think that this isn’t a significant deviation from previous practice. To the contrary, it is a major shift in accountability.
Under the new guidelines, if the editors find a comment merely distasteful, they can prevent it from entering public discourse. Whereas before oversight was shared between the editors and the readers, we are now faced with an unaccountable process whereby an editor could easily preclude the admission of an unsavory comment on a whim.
Even if this new policy will not have a direct effect on which comments appear on controversial articles, it establishes a symbolic paradigm that the editors—not the readers—are the sole judges of a comment’s worth. The issue is not that they have the final say, but that they’re the only ones who have a say at all.
To be clear, we are not suggesting that commenting on the Orient should be unrestricted. Although freedom of expression here enjoys perhaps the most robust protections of any country, even in the United States it is by no means absolute.
There are limits already in place that prevent people from expressing themselves, including laws preventing the dissemination of military secrets and restrictions on obscene publications. In other words, to suggest that the Orient should have a no-holds-barred approach to comments would be at odds with the realities of free speech both in the public domain and in the media.
What is at issue are the broad terms that the editorial board has established to moderate comments, which essentially describe anything that, broadly speaking, could be termed offensive speech.
As the definition of what is offensive becomes broader, we are at risk of cloistering ourselves amongst voices that only agree with our own; thus isolated, the slightest deviation from the norm becomes anathema. We must not be afraid to be offended. Indeed, we must allow people to be offensive because, in doing so, we protect our own rights.
“Implicit in the affirmation of your right to voice your views is your obligation to protect the rights of others to their views,” noted Ruth Simmons in a speech at Smith College last year. She described the experience of attending a talk by a scholar at Brown University who maintained “that blacks were better off having been enslaved.” Simmons maintained that her “conviction about the absolute necessity of permitting others to hear him say these heinous things” trumped any personal distaste regarding his abominable views.
When choosing between the value of free expression and her personal comfort, “hearing his unwelcome message could hardly be judged as too great a cost.”
So what does this mean for this newspaper and the college community it serves? You always have the right to be offended or to find a statement egregious. And you don’t have to engage with every perspective on an issue in order to gain a reasoned opinion on it. But the broader issue with restrictions on free speech is that we lose the opportunity to engage with views that do not align with our own—views that become offensive by virtue of not being ours.
Our opinions are sharpened through interactions with others, especially those we disagree with. And when the Orient takes it upon itself to regulate what speech is worthy of admission, before the public even has a chance to evaluate it, we are at risk of further isolating ourselves.
Only through open, honest, vigorous debate can you “gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work, and the criticism of your own,” to borrow from the “Offer of the College.” President Hyde recognized that Bowdoin should provide such an opportunity, and the Orient, through its decision, only does this college an injustice.
Home In All Lands: Americans abroad should not be forced to pay United States taxes
At the State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama proposed a change to the tax code that, in his words, “truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy.” Whether or not you agree with the president’s plan, it is clear that America’s tax policy is far too complicated and unfair to millions. Perhaps the most staggering aspect of American taxes is the concept of taxation by citizenship rather than residency. In other words, US citizens and green-card holders must pay the IRS no matter where they live. The US essentially stands nearly alone in practicing this bizarre approach to taxation; Eritrea is the only other country with a similar policy, according to the Wall Street Journal.
There is no compelling argument that justifies penalizing Americans who have made the decision to work and live overseas. A large number of US citizens abroad are ambassadors for American enterprises, researchers at the forefront of their fields or retirees enjoying their post-work years. They are not all, as the Democratic Party would have you believe, fat-cat billionaires seeking to use offshore havens to hide their money. There seems to be an illusion amongst the political class, both left and right, that the sole purpose of moving abroad is tax avoidance. Now, I do not dispute that Americans who reside permanently in the United States should pay taxes based on their wealth, no matter where it may be held in the world. But to suggest, as this policy essentially does, that a tycoon is somehow analogous to a middle-level manager at a major international firm is laughable.
Americans who live overseas are unnecessarily burdened by a tax bill twice over: once from their country of residence and once again from the IRS. In some cases, treaties between the United States and other countries help to mitigate the yoke of double-taxation. But this does not change the fact that these hard-working Americans are subject to a financial cost greater than that of their neighbors and of their compatriots stateside. Unfortunately, a recent law has only made their lives more difficult. In 2010, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed FATCA, the “Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.” Ostensibly, the law sought to prevent US taxpayers from concealing their wealth in offshore accounts and shell corporations. This is, in and of itself, an entirely reasonable proposition. If you live in a country, you should pay the taxes that are required of you. But the law has had an unintended consequence: Global News has reported that this act has made it more difficult for millions of Americans to open bank accounts, begin mortgages, or take out loans overseas. Indeed, FATCA includes extremely harsh penalties for banks that, in the IRS’ determination, have allowed Americans to avoid paying taxes, an issue The Economist has reported on. Again, I wish to emphasize that Americans residing in the United States have to pay their fair share, and the financial institutions that enable them to dodge their due should be rightly punished. By making it tougher for overseas Americans to support themselves, Congress has essentially said that Americans should just stay home. What kind of message is that for the small startup that wants to expand? Or for the young woman recently promoted to her company’s head office in Singapore?
In response to these growing challenges, many Americans have decided to follow a drastic path: renouncing their citizenship. As the vice has tightened, more and more Americans are casting aside an important part of their identity. At U.S. diplomatic posts in several countries, the waiting lists for renunciation are many months long, according to Forbes. Rather than recognize that an idiotic tax policy is at the heart of Americans coming to this painful decision, the government recently increased the fee for renouncing citizenship by 422 percent from $450 to $2,350; which strikes me as a cynical attempt to squeeze out every last dime before you stop feeding the IRS. In recent years the number of renunciations has exploded, from only hundreds annually in the 1990s to a record 3,000 in 2013, according to the Washington Post. It is unreasonable and cruel for the government to place so many Americans in such a difficult position.
Some may argue that paying taxes is a sign of continued patriotism to the United States. But if we are going to be using tax payments as a metric for loyalty, then quite a few individuals and corporations should probably be charged with treason! And besides, if you are not using the fruits of taxation on a regular basis, why should you have to pay for them? Except for Eritrea, every other country on Earth knows that this is too much to ask in our modern, interconnected world. It is time that the United States realized that as well.
Home In All Lands: Why everyone should be allowed to donate blood, including gay men
Thirty-five million people around the world live with HIV, including over one million Americans. One-tenth of global patients are children, the majority of whom contracted HIV in the womb. Although anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) have significantly reduced annual mortality rates, HIV/AIDS is still responsible for a staggering number of annual deaths.
In 2013, an estimated 1.5 million people died from AIDS-related causes; that’s greater than the population of Maine. Thirty years after French and American researchers identified HIV, the retrovirus that causes AIDS, we are still far from finding a cure. With World AIDS Day just ten days away, we have an opportunity not only to take stock of HIV’s massive toll, but also to pledge ourselves to fight the disease and the discrimination that has accompanied it since its discovery.
One of the biggest problems facing AIDS awareness campaigners is getting the message out about the devastating impact of the disease. According to my calculations based on information from the Center for Disease Control, on average more people die from HIV/AIDS in a week than have died in all of human history from Ebola, SARS, avian flu and swine flu combined. However, the attention-deficient media industry only focuses on “exciting” illnesses. These diseases deserve coverage, and we are right to be concerned about the latest pandemics. Media coverage of pandemics, unfortunately, is not driven by public interest. It seeks out the flavor of the day to the detriment of illnesses such as HIV, hepatitis and diabetes.
Take Ebola, for example. The likelihood of contracting Ebola in the United States is 1 in 13 million. By contrast, the CDC estimates that the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, depending on the type of contact, varies from six in 1000 (from sharing needles) to one in 100 (for unprotected anal sex) to one in 1000 (unprotected vaginal sex). I suspect that part of the media aversion to discussing HIV has to do with its primary mode of transmission, sexual contact.
When doctors first noticed that gay men in San Francisco and New York had compromised immune systems, they treated it as a “gay-only” disease. In the press, the term GRID (gay-related immunodeficiency) gained traction. As a response to the prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM), the FDA prohibited blood donations from homosexual males beginning in 1977. Eventually it became apparent that anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, could get AIDS.
In spite of this, the FDA has not reversed its ban. On November 13, a panel advised the US Department of Health and Human Services (the parent agency of the FDA) to partially reverse the ban for homosexual males, provided they were celibate for at least a year.
Although this was hailed in some circles as a step forward, it is anything but. As Human Rights Campaign Director David Stacy remarked, the policy change “continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men, preventing them from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation.”
I can understand the FDA’s caution: after all, MSM are statistically more likely to contract HIV. “The problem is that ‘high-risk’ should not be defined as ‘gay,’” commented Jamie Weisbach ’16. Indeed, high-risk behaviors do not permanently exclude heterosexuals from giving blood. Why should the opposite be true for MSM?
Given that we can now identify HIV much more quickly, it is not beyond the capacity of medical technology to “quarantine” blood while testing for disease. The standard HIV tests used to determine the presence or absence of the virus take up to of 3 weeks, well within the 6-week period that blood can be refrigerated. In addition to screenings for diseases like malaria, TB and typhoid, the American Red Cross also screens for HIV. Thus the fear that MSM may donate blood that is infected is already accounted for in standard donation procedures.
To be blunt, allowing MSM to donate blood won’t solve frequent blood shortages faced by hospitals across this country. It will reverse a discriminatory practice that is medically unsound and provide an opportunity to educate people about HIV/AIDS. Without a reliable supply of blood donations, nine people would die every minute in the US alone. By opening blood donations to people of all sexual orientations, we can help save lives now.
Home In All Lands: Why divestment is more symbolic than effective
As you may have read last Friday, the Orient investigated irregularities in the petitions circulated by Bowdoin Climate Action (BCA), a student group “dedicated to climate justice by campaigning for fossil fuel divestment.”
In a scathing editorial, the Orient editorial board questioned the circumstances under which BCA was able to meet with the Board of Trustees earlier this year. Although in a subsequent statement BCA denied ever claiming a “mandate” from the students, the group nevertheless used its petitions as leverage to meet with the Trustees.
I am not saying I oppose the idea of BCA meeting with the Trustees. We certainly have the right to petition the highest decision-making body at the College when it comes to important issues. What I challenge is not just BCA’s methods but also the very cause for which it stand: divestment.
To be clear, like BCA, I believe that the effects of climate change have been worsened by human activity. Like BCA, I also believe that reducing atmospheric pollution and seeking ways to remove existing pollutants is the best approach to facing this challenge. We differ, however, when it comes to how to meet these goals.
Divestment proponents argue that divesting from fossil fuel companies will put pressure on the industry to act more forcefully against climate change. Although the basic logic behind divestment is valid and has been tested in other cases before (big tobacco, apartheid in South Africa), the financial clout of energy companies reduces the impact that divestment would have.
According to a report from the University of Oxford, “of the $12 trillion assets under management among university endowments and public pension funds—the likely universe of divestment candidates—the plausible upper limit of possible equity divestment for oil and gas companies is in the range of $240-$600 billion.”
For the average person, this amount of money is staggering. But it isn’t for the major fossil fuel companies of the world. Companies like ExxonMobil, BHP Billiton (the world’s largest mining company) and BP have $400 billion, $191 billion and $133 billion, respectively, in market capitalization (total value of shares).
If Bowdoin divested its fossil fuel holdings tomorrow, the impact on the College would be far greater than the impact on the energy companies concerned.
“[Bowdoin] would need to redeem from almost 40 percent of [its] portfolio investments [because] the endowment [is invested] in commingled funds, not individual securities,” Paula Volent, senior vice president for investments, wrote to me in an email this week. Essentially, commingled funds are collections of assets derived from various sources, which allows investors to diversify beyond individual securities.
Ultimately, this distinction is important. Although BCA argues that “Bowdoin should [divest] the Bowdoin way,” the group cites Stanford University as one example of successful divestment. However, Stanford was invested directly in coal companies, whereas the College’s investments are indirect.
Another difficulty for divestment is that finding commingled funds free of fossil fuel revenues is tricky, in part because oil, coal and gas companies provide good dividends and good return on investment, making them attractive prospects for many investors. This complexity explains why divesting could cost the College “upwards of $400 million” over the next ten years, according to an estimate made by Volent.
In a study of Pomona College, investment advisory firm Cambridge Associates found that Pomona would have to reduce endowment spending by at least $6 million annually and would lose endowment value to a degree similar to Volent’s estimate. These numbers aren’t just conjecture or fear-mongering; they are based on sound financial assessments. Instead of supporting all-out divestment, the College should consider other ways to tackle climate change.
For example, Associate Professor of Economics Guillermo Herrera proposed last week that the College should consider a self-imposed carbon tax, which would encourage us to reduce our emissions. The money collected from such a tax could be used to fund research into green technology like tidal electricity and carbon capture, or local, environmentally friendly projects. These are concrete steps that the College and the community can take to tackle climate change. Divestment, by contrast, is a largely symbolic gesture. We will not find the change we need by hurting the health of this College. No matter how small, tangible efforts to reduce emissions are the way forward in this long fight against climate change.
Home In All Lands: Approach danger calmly and rationally
“Life is hard,” goes the saying, “and then you die.” It’s a succinct and blunt way to express that life is dangerous. In the last year (thanks to the highly excitable media) you may have gotten the impression that life is more dangerous than it used to be.
Ebola, the sudden rise of Daesh (more commonly called ISIS), the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, the conflict in Ukraine: all these give the impression that our world is more fractured, violent and deadly than ever before.
To be honest, I’m somewhat unsure as to why everyone is freaking out. For one thing, the world isn’t necessarily more dangerous. More unstable, certainly, but death hides amongst everyday occurrences.
The daily commute to work puts you at risk of being one of the approximately 34,000 killed on U.S. roads every year. Death by scalding, falling or drowning can await you in the bathroom. Forgetting to empty the lint filter on your dryer could lead to a fire that destroys your house and you with it.
I don’t mean to be overly moribund, but we have to face the facts: even the most humdrum facets of our lives can bring about an untimely demise. After all, on average two people a year die from being crushed by vending machines.
So why, if death is so ubiquitous, are we so afraid of the “Ebolas” of this world? It may have something to do with something called “the safety paradox.” Essentially, we are afraid because we are no longer accustomed to danger, to death.
As Hans Boutellier describes in his book, “De Veiligheidsutopie” (“The Safety Utopia”), the safer a country and society, the more frightened its people are. We are scared of Ebola, of Daesh, of terrorism because we have no control over their outcomes.
Although, for example, driving puts you at risk of being killed, you feel safer in a car because there are many factors that you can control to reduce the likelihood of death. You can buy a car that performs well in crash tests. You can put your seatbelt on before you set off. If the weather turns for the worse, you can adapt to the changing conditions.
In other words, as Carola Houtekamer and Arlen Poort explain in their article “A safe country is a scared land,” we take solace in being able to control a small part of our fate. “Terror,” they suggest, “is like having a dark thundercloud above you. You cannot help but ask yourself if you will be struck by lightning.” (Lightning accounts for about 30 deaths a year in the U.S.) Like dying in a terrorist attack, the likelihood of being struck by lightning at any point in your life is infinitesimally small (1 in 12,000). Getting hysterical about odds that small is meaningless and will do nothing to improve your chances of controlling the outcome.
You could, of course, quit your job, pack up your house, and move to a remote corner west of nowhere in the hope that nothing bad will ever happen to you. Aside from the fact that your house is essentially a death-trap, you could be pretty safe. And even if you survive, quip Houtekamer and Poort, “That’s a sure-fire way to ruin your life.”
When it comes to terrorism, organizations like Daesh thrive on the confusion and violence of fear. According to Edwin Bakker, “terrorism-induced hysteria is itself an invitation to be terrorized.” Unfortunately, this particular symptom is readily apparent in the U.S., where the specter of 9/11 still looms large.
This does not mean to say that we shouldn’t be vigilant about terrorism. We should anticipate the worst but, in our actions, show that we expect the best. The same should be said for Ebola and other calamities. Needless worry benefits no one—calm, careful and considerate thought is what we need in a time of crisis.
Home In All Lands: Improving the viability of the Amtrak Downeaster by expanding services
If you sit on the Quad around six on a cool evening, you’ll hear the languid horn of the Amtrak Downeaster announcing its southbound departure. After half a century without rail service between midcoast Maine and Boston, passenger trains returned to Brunswick two years ago.Ridership on the Downeaster has increased steadily, exceeding Amtrak’s expectations of 100 daily passengers from Freeport and Brunswick. However, I do not expect these figures to increase much until Amtrak expands its schedule as planned.
The Downeaster operates a limited schedule from Brunswick: the southbound train leaves early (7 a.m.) or late (6 p.m.). Northbound trains leave Boston at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The first departure south and the last departure north allow you to spend a full day in Boston, but the current schedule limits the possibility of an evening in the city.
The schedule hasn’t changed over the last two years because of agreements between the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), which operates the Downeaster on Amtrak’s behalf, and Pan Am Railways, the company that owns the tracks. According to the NNEPRA, these agreements cap the number of daily trips at six, forcing the company run an empty trainbetween Portland and Brunswick twice per day.
These trips burn 45,000 gallons of fuel every year and leave a train idling near Union Street five hours every day. To mitigate the waste, the NNEPRA has proposed building a layover facility—essentially, a train garage—on tracks between Church and Stanwood Street in west Brunswick.
Trains stored in the facility would be switched off, eliminating the noise and air pollution caused by idling engines. Constructing the garage would also let Amtrak expand its daily service to Boston, thereby improving the Downeaster’s viability.
Though the project seems simple enough, the layover facility plans are embroiled in a complicated dispute that involves local residents, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the NNEPRA and Governor Paul LePage. Some local residents, including Professor of History Patrick Rael, claim that the environmental impact of the layover facility was not properly assessed.
In a letter published in the Times-Record on 28 August, Rael criticized people who “wish the facility to be built regardless of whom it impacts, and how.” But Rael isn’t opposed to the train service itself. He supports Amtrak as “an alternative to carbon-heavy transportation modes such as cars.” While I sympathize with Rael’s muted pro-train attitude, he stands opposed to a project that is essential to preserving Amtrak service to Brunswick.
By contrast, Bob Morrison, the chairman of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition, demonstrates open contempt for the train line. In an article published on seacoastonline.com, he attacked the Freeport-to-Brunswick segment of the Downeaster line and suggested that further investment in the service would be a waste of money because of low ridership. This is mistaken.
For one thing, the numbers aren’t low. In an article in the Portland Press Herald on Monday, Tom Bell reported that Brunswick is the fourth-most popular station on the Downeaster route. An increase in services from Brunswick to Boston should increase ridership.
Emotions in west Brunswick have not gone unnoticed. In March, Governor LePage intervened, calling on the Federal Rail Administration to require the NNEPRA to undertake further environmental assessments.
The governor’s interventions reveal how LePage sees this as a political opportunity above all. He is using this local disagreement to portray himself as a defender of “the little man” against big government, all while using the tools of big government to hurt local businesses.
His actions have alarmed businesses in Freeport and Brunswick, where the train has proven important to local economic health.
“It is vital to our community that Amtrak be able to continue providing our only public transportation service,” said Kelly Edwards, the executive director of Freeport USA, an organization that represents over 155 Freeport businesses. “The Downeaster service is an asset to [Freeport] and important to the future growth of our community.”
In a letter sent to Governor LePage last month, the Brunswick Downtown Association (which represents nearly 300 businesses and individuals) wrote, “that further delay and disruption in improvements to NNEPRA services is harmful to local businesses, the Town of Brunswick and the region.”
The issues raised by the facility’s opponents shouldn’t be sidestepped, but it’s galling to see how the governor and some of the residents ignore the economic benefits that come with an increase in Amtrak services. With an increase in investment and improvements in infrastructure—such as the construction of the layover facility—can help build the future of railway travel in America.
Home In All Lands: Vox populi: defending the world’s most undervalued instrument
If it were an ordinary, artificial instrument, the humble larynx wouldn’t be well loved. It’s a complicated organ, a dense nexus of muscles, cartilage and nerves, flanked by bones. As vocal scientist Ingo Titze notes, were the larynx to be arranged by size against other instruments, “it would be grouped with the piccolo, among the smallest of mechanical music makers.”
The larynx’s unassuming size, however, belies its power as a musical instrument. Some of the greatest pieces of music ever written wouldn’t be half the works they are if the human voice were erased from the score.
Remove the voice, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony becomes a shadow of itself. Without voice, the musical numbers in Bollywood just become garishly colored dance sequences, robbed of any meaning. Remove the voice and Ave Maria is just silence.
Don’t get me wrong, I like John Cage’s 4’33’’—a composition performed in the absence of noise—as much as the next man, but a world without singing is one that I don’t want to imagine and, I suspect, neither do you. And yet, for its importance as an instrument in so many genres of music, the mighty larynx is seldom perceived to be a legitimate music maker.
I cannot begin to count the number of times I have had some permutation of the following conversation, with other musicians and non-musicians alike:
“So tell me, do you play an instrument?” they ask.
“Yes,” I reply “I sing.”
(Laughs) “No, but seriously, do you play an instrument?”
When I ask these people why they don’t think the voice is a legitimate instrument, they point to the fact that everyone has one and we use it more often for speaking than we do for making music. Their ignorance aside, these folks do have a point.
The voice is common: there are, roughly, seven billion larynxes out there and they are primarily used for speaking, not singing. Yet the commonality of the voice and its use for something other than music making shouldn’t discredit its value as an instrument.
Although everyone has the tools at their disposal to sing, it takes years of training and plenty of hard work to build up the vocal strength necessary for singing. In the same way that picking up a 500 kg dumbbell on the first attempt is all but impossible, you can’t expect to sing an aria without first practicing.
Titze says that singers ask the vocal cords to do something “no other string instrument can do: vary the length and tension of the vibrating material simultaneously to change frequency.” And thankfully, all that precise control doesn’t go to waste—just come to the Chamber Choir concerts in the Chapel, this Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m., to find out what voices can truly do!Judging by complexity and range alone, the voice box clearly meets the definition of “instrument.” But I’m not all about merely checking boxes. Technical considerations are great pieces of evidence, but they cannot be the only determining factor. Clearly, something more ethereal is needed.
Again, vocal music is up to the task. If you were to draw up a top 10 list of the best works of music in history, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if some (if not the majority) of pieces included a voice. As the universal instrument, the voice is a unifying experience. While our tastes in music differ and the ways that we produce song differ as a consequence, humans can still be united by our voices. Because it requires no external aids, no knowledge of musical notation and no experience in music whatsoever, the larynx is the perfect equalizing instrument. Yes, some people may be more adept at using the voice than others, but that should not discourage you from trying to master your larynx as well. Go out there and sing!
Home In All Lands: Assumed guilty: the challenges of passing through U.S. customs
As I write this, I am over 38,000 feet in the sky, 600 miles south of Iceland. In front of me, to the west, the setting sun is turning the sky a light shade of orange. Below me, as far as the eye can see, clouds spread out and hide the sea from view. The meal service has come and gone. Now we are at the part of the flight where the cabin becomes silent as people sleep, hoping to overcome jet lag.
I’ve decided to take this time to discuss something that is preoccupying me as I sit here, high above the waves, aboard LX52 to Boston. Given the news of the past month, I will forgive you for thinking that this is going to be an article about Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. To tell you the truth, that saga isn’t what’s worrying me.
Instead, I am nervous about something that awaits me (and every other person aboard this flight) when I arrive at Boston Logan Airport in a few hours’ time: immigration. Of all the things that are involved with my travels to and from the U.S., nothing makes me more anxious than the five or so minutes I have to spend dealing with an officer of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
As a Swiss citizen, I have travelled considerably and have had to deal with immigration idiosyncrasies in countless countries. My worst experiences upon arrival have invariably been in the U.S. This has always struck me as being somewhat at odds with the image that America portrays to the rest of the world.
As you queue up at Logan Airport to be processed by a CBP officer, you cannot help but notice the saccharine “Welcome to the United States” video, which plays every five minutes on the TV screens in the immigration hall. It shows people of all races and national origins looking up at the camera and smiling, while a peppy tune plays in the background. Every so often, we’re enticed with a flyover of a beautiful landscape out west, a bald eagle, or happy people being served coffee in a diner.
It’s an attempt to distill the essence of American hospitality into a short clip to make arriving foreigners feel more at ease in the country. If only the immigration procedure that follows could match the friendliness that exudes from those TV screens.
As a foreigner, when you are finally called up to the desk, you are “greeted” by a CBP officer. In my case, she may then ask me what the purpose of my visit is, where (and what) I study, as well as a host of other questions that are fairly typical of immigration procedures in countries the world over. In contrast to the rest of the world, CBP officers have the dubious distinction of consistently behaving towards foreigners as if we are either (a) all out to destroy America, (b) intent on spying for our insidious—Communist-Fascist—masters, or (c) planning to defraud the Social Security system.
The fact that CBP officers may look upon foreigners with suspicion is excusable enough—border agents the world over have the same attitude. What is less acceptable is the incongruity of the cheery video welcoming us to America and the attitude adopted by the CBP officers that screams “Get out, you filthy scum, we never want to see you here again.”
I have visited totalitarian dictatorships where the entry procedure was less antagonizing than anything I’ve experienced in the United States. When I visited the same country that Dennis Rodman has been frequenting of late—which I cannot name for legal reasons—the immigration official just took my passport, stuck it into an ID scanner, grunted and then stamped my travel documents. That was it.
In contrast, during a visit to Atlanta (a city which I called home in the 1990s) a few years ago, the immigration officer asked me, dead serious, “Why would you ever want to visit Atlanta?” Talk about bad publicity. And I’m not the only foreigner to have noticed the gruff attitude of the men and women who protect America’s borders.
Last year two European children were detained for many hours for the “crime” of travelling alone to visit their grandmother, who lives stateside. Cyprien, one of the most popular YouTubers in the francophone world, made a video a few years ago about his travels in the United States. He loves many things about this country, as I do. But he was less than enthusiastic about the cold welcome extended to him by the CBP officers when he arrived at JFK Airport, and he made a point mentioning the experience to his viewers. An experience with CBP officers gets any visit to the United States started on a bad note. It also may have a negative impact on the amount of travel to this country; there is little reason to visit a country if you’re going to be welcomed (and treated) like a common criminal upon arrival.
But has the U.S. done anything to resolve this image problem? No. When the head of the Department of Homeland Security met with the leaders of several major travel companies, including American Express and Carlson Wagonlit, the men and women present were unequivocal in expressing that the U.S. immigration system was discouraging clients from choosing to visit or even fly through the country. Not only were the policies hurting their businesses, they said, it would also have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. The meeting (which took place under the Bush administration) ended on a sour note. No such meeting has taken place since President Obama took office.
There is no reason for the people who protect America’s borders to be so caustic in their interactions with the visitors who have decided to come for all that this exceptional country has to offer. When people visit the U.S., they should feel welcomed—from the moment they step up to the immigration counter, right up until the moment their return flight takes off.
Home In All Lands: Studying abroad: U.S. politics must learn from U.K.
Although the next presidential election was over four years away, the whisperings about 2016 started on the Sunday political shows in the weeks following President Obama’s reelection in November 2012.
Thankfully, more pressing matters soon turned the attention of the TV folks elsewhere. Last year was, after all, quite agitated from a political perspective: important elements of the Affordable Care Act began to be implemented; the government shut down; and key sections of the Defense of Marriage Act were ruled unconstitutional.
But in the new year, the media has already turned its gaze to the next election drama. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, host David Gregory asked Mitt Romney if he intended to attempt another run for the Oval Office in 2016. Some days earlier, former Florida governor Jeb Bush also hinted at the possibility that he might run for the highest office in the land, following in the footsteps of his father and brother. Several Democrats, too, have expressed an interest in making a move for the White House.
Home In All Lands: On the media: the tabloidification of American news
Broadcast news networks have set a standard of partisan media, giving a public seeking objective news coverage little option but to turn to foreign television outlets.
Over the course of my nearly three years at Bowdoin, I have become used to many things about life in the United States. Midway through my junior year, I’m pleased to report that I have a basic understanding of temperatures in Fahrenheit (although I admit I still prefer Celsius by far). I am no longer baffled by heights in feet and inches, nor are pounds and ounces as mystifying as they used to be. But while my understanding of the various systems of measurement has increased, there are still aspects of American life that confuse me and will continue to do so. As you may have read in my columns over the years, these are questions as far ranging as the dearth of decent public transportation, the widespread (and continued) use of the death penalty, the preposterously high drinking age—not to mention the continued existence of my nemesis, the penny.
I have the good fortune to write for an apolitical newspaper, which allows me considerable leeway when it comes to choosing topics for my columns. The same is essentially true for columnists who write for major newspapers like the New York Times. But you don’t read the Times or USA Today for the opinion section. You do so for the quality of the reporting. If only the same could be said of television news. It is a tragedy that in America today there is no major news channel that actually broadcasts news.
The four biggest news channels are, according to variety.com, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and HLN (a network affiliated with CNN). Of these, Fox News and MSNBC are the least concerned with broadcasting objective news. Instead, both channels—which cater to conservative and liberal audiences, respectively—are populated by talking heads who use news stories for the sole purpose of making political comments. Fox News obsesses over being outraged about anything that President Obama does. The MSNBC modus operandi seems to be based around being outraged about almost anything the Republican Party does. This is not to say that their outrage is misplaced. Every person is undoubtedly entitled to his or her own political views. But it is certainly a stretch to characterise either MSNBC or Fox News as “news” channels. A news organization should be as apolitical as possible and should report the news objectively.
Home In All Lands: Helmet head: your brain is worth the investmentWhenever I see groups of visitors being led around campus on admissions tours, I wonder about the kinds of things that they must notice as they walk around Bowdoin’s campus. What do they think about the Quad? Do they think—as I do—that Smith Union is a little too bright and its colors a little too garish? Are they frightened by the thunder of basketball being played in Sargent Gym? They inevitably will start thinking about the cost of going to a school like Bowdoin. Going to college in the United States isn’t cheap; Bowdoin is certainly no exception. So you will forgive my surprise when I see people racing around campus at breakneck speeds, endangering the brains they have invested in so dearly: helmet-wearing cyclists are few and far between at Bowdoin. “Well if they don’t need to use their brains, they don’t need helmets!” quipped one professor who always wears a helmet when cycling. If we assume that the cost of a Bowdoin education is related to the value of your brain, then your cerebral matter is quite valuable indeed. For argument’s sake, let’s say that four years at Bowdoin costs $200,000. And let’s just say that this represents the approximate value of your brain. If you owned something of a comparable value—say, an expensive car, a house, a small yacht or a light aircraft—I’d guess that you would try to protect your property. So why can’t you afford the same protection for your head? There’s no denying that helmets are effective. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that wearing a helmet reduces “the risk of head injury by 85 percent and brain injury by 88 percent.” Injuries to your legs and arms can often be healed. But severe trauma to your head is far more dangerous. According to a report from 1996-2005 by the New York City Department of Transportation from, 97 percent of cyclists who died following an accident weren’t wearing a helmet. Every year, across America, hundreds of people die because “helmets are too expensive.” Because “helmets are uncomfortable.” Because “helmets can’t protect me.” I don’t mean to say that a helmet is some kind of panacea. Like wearing a seatbelt when you’re driving, donning a helmet will not immunize you against injury or prevent you from dying. Yet it is clear that wearing a helmet largely increases your chances of surviving an accident. Cycling accidents happen all the time and not just out on the street. Last year, I witnessed a student from Brunswick High School hit a squirrel while cycling at some speed across the Quad. He flipped over the handlebars and landed on the path. By some stroke of luck, he walked away with only a few scratches. I shudder to think what might have happened had he not been wearing a helmet. Let me be clear: I have nothing against cycling, nor do I wish to force helmets onto your heads. There’s nothing wrong about not wearing a helmet. You are all adults and are quite capable of making your own decisions. But all of you have exceptional minds: you are Bowdoin students after all. Wouldn’t it be an incredible shame if it all went to waste?
Whenever I see groups of visitors being led around campus on admissions tours, I wonder about the kinds of things that they must notice as they walk around Bowdoin’s campus. What do they think about the Quad? Do they think—as I do—that Smith Union is a little too bright and its colors a little too garish? Are they frightened by the thunder of basketball being played in Sargent Gym?
They inevitably will start thinking about the cost of going to a school like Bowdoin. Going to college in the United States isn’t cheap; Bowdoin is certainly no exception. So you will forgive my surprise when I see people racing around campus at breakneck speeds, endangering the brains they have invested in so dearly: helmet-wearing cyclists are few and far between at Bowdoin.
“Well if they don’t need to use their brains, they don’t need helmets!” quipped one professor who always wears a helmet when cycling. If we assume that the cost of a Bowdoin education is related to the value of your brain, then your cerebral matter is quite valuable indeed. For argument’s sake, let’s say that four years at Bowdoin costs $200,000. And let’s just say that this represents the approximate value of your brain. If you owned something of a comparable value—say, an expensive car, a house, a small yacht or a light aircraft—I’d guess that you would try to protect your property. So why can’t you afford the same protection for your head?
Home In All Lands: Speak about it: the importance of multilingualism in America
If you took a trip back to 1920s-era Brunswick, things probably wouldn’t look all that different. Sure, you’d have to contend with the loud honk of the tin lizzies driving around—not to mention the clanging of streetcars motoring up and down Maine Street—but at the most superficial level, the Brunswick before you is fairly similar to the town you know today.
Down on the street, however, things would not be so familiar: if you decided to walk down to Cabot Mill, not only would you find the place working optimally, you would also have strolled right into the heart of Brunswick’s now-forgotten French quarter.
Up until the middle of the 20th century, speaking French in Brunswick was a part of everyday life for a large segment of the population. Yet, as with so many of the linguistic and ethnic enclaves that defined the American social landscape a century ago, you would be hard-pressed to find modern remnants of the Franco-American community beyond family names like Michaud, Levesque or St-Pierre.
Home In All Lands: A call to break our nation’s dual-party system
Earlier this year, Rand Paul—the junior senator from Kentucky,—did something that has seldom happened in the Senate in recent memory: he filibustered. For 13 hours. That is, he actually filibustered, rather than just stopping the Senate through procedural trickery. I would certainly commend him for his stamina and verbosity were it not for the fact that his long speech was a disheartening reminder of the increased polarization of the American political scene.
Paul’s speech highlighted what I feel to be one of the great idiosyncrasies of the American political scene—that this multi-faceted nation has been dominated by a dual party system. The longevity of this highly flawed system has done more damage to the cause of democracy than anything else: more than Super PACs, lobbyists or special interest money. It all but forces many Americans to vote for parties that do not necessarily best represent their concerns. This is no doubt an important factor in the disillusionment with government and politics in America today.
A greater spread of opinions is needed on the political scene to account for the 30 percent of voters who don’t identify with either of the two big political parties. It is time to rethink the system and to strongly consider an alternative that has been ignored for too long: multi-party democracy.
Home In All Lands: In defense of small theater: save the Eveningstar Cinema
My columns tend to require the reader to dig through layers of fluff, verbosity and nonsense (such as this) to get to the core idea. This week’s column, however, is no rant. It is a plea for help. Not for me but for a downtown institution fighting for survival. I want to tell you about its history, why it has to be saved, and how you can help its campaign to stay in business.
The Eveningstar Cinema, located at the back of the Tontine Mall on Maine Street, has been at the heart of Brunswick since it opened on Friday, November 2, 1979. The first film it screened was “Heaven Can Wait,” a comedy about a football player who dies and then is sent back down from heaven to live in the body of a millionaire. The theater been a part of Brunswick life for more than three decades and its name refers to the earliest years of this town’s existence.
When fisherman settled what they called Pejepscot in the 17th century, they received considerable assistance from the Native Americans who inhabited this area, such that the names of the local chief and his wife can be found in early town records. The wife’s name—according to a history of the theatre written by Greg Melick, its builder and designer—translates to mean “Eveningstar.” The cinema is much more than a recent arrival in this town; indeed, its name speaks to Brunswick’s long history.
Home In All Lands: One man’s trash: Sweden solution
Sweden is not producing enough trash, and that’s a problem.
To the environmentally-minded members of the Bowdoin community, that statement may well have struck you as odd. Surely, in a world that we know to have finite resources, reduced waste production should be a good thing—not so in Sweden.
Whereas in many countries, household trash is unceremoniously dumped into landfills, the Swedes have become the world’s foremost experts on efficient—and environmentally friendly—incineration.
Home In All Lands: Common cents: follow Canada and abolish worthless penny
As you may have read in my previous columns, I dislike the poor state of the railways in this country and I dislike the endless mischaracterizations of Europe by politicians on this side of the Atlantic. I think the laws on alcohol over here are out-dated and that the USPS shouldn’t be left to die.
The emotion I may reserve for those topics—while great—is nothing compared to my unbridled hatred for something that many of you might not even consider deserving of attention: the penny.
Now, I should make it clear that there isn’t anything intrinsic to pennies as objects that make them worthy of anyone’s ire—after all, they are little more than discs made out of an alloy that is a trifling 2.5 percent copper (the rest is zinc). But the relatively low price of zinc cannot compensate for the fact that it costs 2.4 cents to make a single penny.
Home In All Lands: Ignore Mali at the peril of its total collapse
In a week marked by an ongoing Bowdoin divestment debate, a papal resignation, the State of the Union address and a surprise nuclear test, it’s no small wonder that the situation in war-torn Mali isn’t getting much coverage. After the sudden spike in interest last month following the launch of France’s intervention in the North African nation—“Opération Serval”—foreign news coverage of Malian affairs has largely returned to the way it has been over the last decade: essentially non-existent. Only reports of kidnappings and the occasional piece about the increasing influence of Islamist groups are enough to pique the interest of the media on both sides of the Atlantic. Mali is seen, wrongly, as being no different from any other failed African state, when in fact the repercussions of its collapse would have a significant impact far beyond its borders. In Mali, like in many former colonies, the borders were drawn without any regards to geographical, ethnic or political considerations. This partly explains why the some of the Tuareg—a people known for their nomadic lifestyle and stunning blue robes—have rebelled against the governing power in Mali five times in the last century. Until last year, each effort of the Tuareg people to create an independent nation, Azawad, resulted in a stalemate or was successfully suppressed by Mali’s army. Yet something changed in January 2012, when the most recent rebellion was launched.
Home In All Lands: USPS must have autonomy to survive
Recently, it seems that not a week goes by without some news outlet trumpeting the imminent demise of the United States Postal Service (USPS). The USPS—along with the likes of Kodak and Hewlett-Packard—has been accused of failing to deal with the realities of the 21st century: the world is becoming increasingly dependent on modes of communication that exist beyond the physical realm. Some commentators argue that the USPS has had its day and should be allowed to die. These assessments base themselves upon the cold, hard mathematics of the marketplace while wholly failing to consider the disastrous consequences should the USPS collapse. I wouldn’t dispute that the postal service is hemorrhaging money: every day the USPS loses up to $36 million and annually it loses billions (last year alone, it reported a net loss of nearly $16 billion).
Home In All Lands: AIDS awareness is as important as ever
Tomorrow is World AIDS Day, an opportunity to unite against the pandemic. It’s a chance to show our support for the 35 million people currently living with HIV, and to remember the nearly 30 million people killed by AIDS since the day it was first recognized in 1981.
Home In All Lands: Vote ‘Yes’ on Question 1 for equal rights
This week, in spite of the pouring rain and the howling wind, Bowdoin students headed into town to participate, often for the first time, in the most important element of any democracy: they went to vote.
Home In All Lands: In the midst of bloody civil war, Syria requires more effective diplomacy
Friday marks the 83rd week since the Syrian Civil War began, and neither side is anywhere close to victory. In spite of overwhelming odds, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) now operates in all but one of Syria’s provinces. It has gained power through a series of bloody attacks; FSA forces are assumed to be behind the murders of captives and unarmed loyalists. And the Syrian armed forces continue to relentlessly attack rebel positions. Every day, new reports and videos are released of airforce strikes against villages and towns that support the rebels, although both sides are responsible for many civilian deaths. Since it began, the conflict has made refugees of over 300,000 people, and has claimed the lives of nearly 26,000.
Home In All Lands: Release of Apple’s iOS 6 shows some stagnation in innovation
Following the official launch of the hotly-anticipated iPhone 5 last week, Apple Inc. released iOS 6, the latest iteration of its operating system for mobile devices. The update includes many useful new features, and improved older ones. The most talked-about changes are those that transpired after Apple’s recent divorce from Google.
After Troy Davis, students should continue fight against death penalty
As a fresh arrival to Bowdoin a year ago, I was struck by the passion exhibited for the case of Troy Davis, a man convicted of killing a police officer in Savannah, Ga. Davis was held on death row for 15 years and maintained his innocence throughout. Countless people across this country and around the world protested on his behalf, but all of these voices did not stop his execution, which went ahead on September 21, 2011.
Your Foreign Correspondent: Overfishing threatens global fish industry, solution: buy locally
A few weeks ago, acclaimed film director James Cameron descended to the deepest known point in the ocean, making him only the third person in history to do so. In an interview after the record-breaking dive, Cameron reminded us that our oceans are truly the last frontier.
Your Foreign Correspondent: GOP’s perception of Europe is inaccurate
Lately, the Republican presidential candidates have taken it upon themselves to collectively portray Europe as a nightmarish fantasy world. Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have all made allegations that Europe is in the chokehold of socialism, burdened by large welfare systems and high taxes, an anathema to their vision for America.
Your Foreign Correspondent: 60 million would benefit from funding Amtrak
A few years ago, I took the night train between two cities 1,038 miles apart. It was meant to be a fairly quick journey, but the train arrived late at our departure point and left nearly an hour behind schedule. Its delay then added up through the night and we arrived at our destination almost three hours later than we had expected. There were no mechanical issues, and on paper, this was nothing more than a simple journey from Denver to Chicago, delayed even before the train entered the station.
Your Foreign Correspondent: Awareness wanes although World AIDS Day continues
Yesterday was World AIDS Day, a yearly event intended to unite people from all around the world in the difficult fight against this disease. It's an opportunity to show support for those living with HIV and to remember those who have died of AIDS. Yet beyond this yearly day of remembrance, it seems that AIDS is mostly forgotten by the world.
Your Foreign Correspondent: Voting reform bills threaten democracy
On November 8, Maine voters, including many Bowdoin students, chose to reject a blatant affront to democracy: a ballot initiative that aimed to prohibit same-day voter registration.
Your Foreign Correspondent: Qaddafi’s regime finally over, no thanks to the U.S.
After being on the run for nearly two months, Muammar el-Qaddafi was found in a sewer outlet in his hometown of Sirte.
‘Like’ is, like, such an unnecessary filler word
I've been getting sick these past few weeks. Not from a virus, fungus or flu. Instead, my illness is verbal and it has only one symptom: "like."
U.S. alcohol laws are arbitrary and ineffective
The other day, I was reading through the Office of Safety and Security's crime log when I came across a report that an underage student had used a fake ID, bought alcohol, and provided it to other minors in Osher Hall.
Supposedly American problems aren’t limited to America after all
As I flew south over the Appalachian mountains toward Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport this past July, I looked upon a familiar sight. I have visited this nation more times than I can count; I have been to 22 of the 50 states and I have lived in two. I have travelled across half the country by Amtrak and I have taken road trips through the arid southwest.