Showing posts from October, 2012

Haguenau, One Year After (Une année après)

Exactly one year ago - October 28th, 2011 - it was a Friday, and I took a day trip to Haguenau, Alsace. I was living in Strasbourg at the time, of course, with my homestay located just one block from the train station. I don't remember for sure, but this may have been the trip where I missed the train time that I had bought my ticket for that morning, so I worriedly went to the counter and asked about what I could do (expecting that there would be a fee or something, like with an airline ticket). Of course, they told me to just take the next train, (thank you, SNCF!) so I did.

Unbalanced Ideas of Liberty: Accentuate the Positive

There are two concepts of liberty called negative and positive liberties. In simple terms, negative liberty means freedom from something, and positive liberty means freedom to something. Put another way, negative liberties must be protected from government action, while positive liberties must be protected by government action.

Unfortunately, I don't think many Americans understand these concepts. The Bill of Rights is largely made up of negative liberties, and most of the well-known freedoms therein - freedom of speech, religion, press, petition, the right to bear arms, protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and cruel and unusual punishment - are freedoms that are by and large guaranteed by the absence of laws, not the presence of them (beyond the Bill of Rights itself).

Granted, there are some positive liberties in the Bill, such as the rights to due process and a speedy, public, and civil trial by jury. On the whole, however, the Constitution was written by rich …

Finding The Epoch Times

Last Monday I was returning home with a fellow Hoya. We had just gone to an after-school program in the North Capitol Street neighborhood of DC and done an activity with a few kids on malnutrition in India. We walked to Mt. Vernon Square and waited at a bus stop for the Circulator. After a while of waiting, I gradually realized we had entered Chinatown; I should have realized this a lot sooner, considering that we were looking at a FedEx across the street with Chinese characters, but I had never gone to Chinatown from that direction before. As we were still waiting, I looked at the nearby newspaper bins (or whatever they're called) and only found one free one that looked like it had news: The Epoch Times. As far as I know, I'd never seen this paper before, and on the long bus ride home, I read it and discovered a very interesting publication.

Wordles of Famous Speeches

I have mentioned Wordle previously on this blog - nearly three years ago in fact, when I used it for Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Wordle is a tool to create word clouds, often making words different sizes in order to emphasize their relative prominence. For "I Have a Dream," I put in the text of the speech and Wordle picked out the 100 most common words (excluding common words like "of" or "and"), changing their size according to their frequency. I even created an image with state abbreviations shown by their state's geographic size (right). Right now, though, I want to return to speeches, and use the same method as with "I Have a Dream." Without further ado, here are some Wordles of other famous oratory:

The Six Towers Across the Potomac

Living in Rosslyn, Virginia, I travel across the Key Bridge every time I have to go to Georgetown, and most of the time I walk. Doing that, I'm given a whole lot of opportunities to look across the Potomac at the Georgetown skyline, and every once in a while I take pictures, like the one that's currently the header for the blog.

Just two weeks ago, though, I went up onto some pedestrian skywalks, where I hadn't gone before. (Rosslyn's Wiki article talks about the system.) What I found was my best view yet of six towers: The two towers of Healy Hall, the two towers of Lauinger Library, and the two towers of the National Cathedral.

Where's the Outrage, Evangelicals?

I don't understand why more conservative evangelicals aren't outraged by this presidential election. Out of the four men on the two major party tickets, only one of them is a Protestant - Barack Obama! Romney is a Mormon and Ryan and Biden are Catholics: The President whose faith and origins so many on the religious right have questioned is actually the only candidate in their theological corner! Look, I've freely admitted I'm an atheist, but having been raised a Protestant, even I am a little outraged by the lack of representation in this election. Over half of American adults are Protestants, and I'm sure it's an even larger proportion among Republicans. If conservative evangelicals are so deeply defined by their religion, why haven't I heard of more of them up in arms over the Republican nominees?

Coming Out of the Atheist Closet

There are way too many people in the atheist closet. I used to be one of them, and it might even be a little risqué to come out as an atheist here on this blog, although I pretty much already have in other contexts. Now, don't get me wrong - this post isn't trying to draw a parallels between stigma against atheists and the sort of intolerance and hatred faced by homosexuals and other people who don't comply with hetero-normative culture. I think those issues are far more important for us to challenge than issues of religion - but that goes along with my being an atheist. I think it's about time that being an atheist stopped being a big deal and stopped being treated as negative. I think it's also an identity that many more people need to own up to.

The Library of Congress - Worth Getting to Know

Last Friday I went back to the Library of Congress for the first time in nearly two years. The last time I went was in 2010, which was the first time I got a reader card and went into the main reading room - the huge rotunda of bookshelves and study desks that tourists can only see from above.

To enter the sacred reading room, you have to get that reader card - which wouldn't be such a big deal, except that it's a bit like getting a passport. As far as I can tell, it seems like the Madison Building is entirely devoted to housing the reader card process, strung out through a long line of different stations and tasks. Luckily, when I went through it I was the only applicant there, so I think it went much more quickly than it could have. In any case, after you get your card, a magnificent institution is open to you, and it's really worth getting to know.

The Redskins: Still a Racist Team Name

After going to the Library of Congress on Saturday, I picked up a free copy of the The Washington Examiner, just to have some reading material. I'd never read it before, and while going through it I realized that it's totally a conservative rag. Its Wikipedia article confirms that as the Examiner's intent, and its owner Philip Anschutz also financed the horrible propaganda movies Waiting for Superman and Won't Back Down, both of which I've condemned on this blog.

Crazy billionaire aside, however, a newspaper having a conservative bent is no reason for it to support racism. And yet, that's what I saw just on the second page.

Living on One Dollar and the First Presidential Debate

This evening I had two very different viewing experiences: First, I attended a film screening at Georgetown about four college students who tried living on one dollar a day for eight weeks in the rural highlands of Guatemala. After that, I went home and watched the first presidential debate of 2012. In many ways, the perspectives shown in these two events could not be further from each other.