Monday, February 22, 2010

Rain, rain go away...

I look at this and I die inside a little. There will be lots of mud wrestling with the bike this week.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Less than full faith and credit

  • The freedom of speech
  • The freedom of the press
  • The freedom of religion
  • The freedoms of petition and assembly
  • The right to keep and bear arms
  • No quartering of soldiers
  • Protection against unreasonable search and seizure
  • Probable cause for warrants
  • The right to a grand jury
  • Protection against double jeopardy
  • Protection against self incrimination
  • The right to due process
  • Protection against property seizure without just compensation
  • The right to a speedy and public trial
  • The right to an impartial jury of peers
  • The right to be confronted with witnesses
  • The right to counsel
  • The right to trial by jury
  • Protection against excessive bail or excessive fines
  • Protection against cruel and unusual punishment
  • The enumeration of Constititutional rights
  • Other rights to the people and to the states
  • The right to privacy (implied by others)
  • The right to citizenship for all persons born or naturalized in the United States
  • The right to life, liberty, and property through due process
  • Protection against the State infringement of the rights and privileges of citizens of the United States
These are the civil liberties guaranteed to the people by the Bill of Rights (plus that sticky 14th amendment). In my Law, Science, and Society seminar last week our professor asked us which of our civil liberties we would be willing to give up in the name of "security." I put security in quotes because it is such a relative term. It is one of those things that you can only really be sure of when the worst happens. But I digress.

Civil liberties. It's a very politically charged phrase. The funny thing is, how many of us can really say that we even know what our civil liberties are? When my professor asked the class to start naming them we came up with the first amendment (speech, press, religion, petition, assembly; they roll off the tongue quite nicely in that order. I figured that out when memorizing them for AP Gov). One or two more got put on the table. In typical Columbia fashion, someone tossed out "The right to bear arms," snidely and pompously. But really, those of us with an internet connection were furiously googling the Bill of Rights to find the decent portion of them that we had forgotten.

I thought to myself, "It's pretty great to have so many rights so ingrained in the system that functioning citizens studying American politics (there are several poli sci majors in my class) at a top tier university in this country don't even feel the need to know them offhand." A part of me died inside knowing that there was no way I could name all of the rights enumerated in the first ten amendments. Past number three they get a little fuzzy. Just because I've never needed the luxury that is due process doesn't mean that I shouldn't have my civil liberties down pat. So I listed them above.

Now on to the fun part. The question we were given on which to ponder this week was which ones we would be willing to give up, even a little bit, for the promise of enhanced governmental security. My initial gut reaction was none of them. Someone decided to get smart and threw out "quartering of soldiers." But would you really? What's the definition of a soldier? How would you like to be forced to board FBI agents in your home? Or soldiers traveling between bases? I treasure my right to live in privacy.

Other liberties get even more philosophical. Part of this question goes back to another question, which our professor asked us closer to the beginning of class, "How many of you trust government?" I was amazed at the amount of hands that shot up into the air; at least half of the class. On a side note, I don't think any of those hands were the poli sci majors...

Me, I am a registered Democrat. It's not a secret. I like Obama. I voted for him. I traveled hours and stood in sub-zero (Celsius) temperatures for hours on end to see him speak at his inauguration. But do I trust government? Absolutely not. Sure, I believe that it has a function, and I believe that it's a necessary establishment, and that it can do good things, and that some governments are better than other governments. But I in no way would use the word trust. Government is too big to trust. I don't trust bureaucracy. And I don't think that there is anything wrong with that. It wasn't made to be trustworthy. 5th grade social studies vocab word: checks and balances. Our government was designed to be too bulky to function properly. That is what keeps our Constitution in place.

But my distrust of government stems not only from its bulk, but also from its extensive history of stepping over the line and denying its own citizens their rights. The historical record isn't so kind to the US government. Just looking at the history of the last century I don't see how anyone could possibly trust our government. There was the first Red Scare, the second Red Scare, Japanese internment camps, McCarthyism, Cuba and the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Watergate, the Smith Act, Iran-Contra, the list goes on. I understand that this is a country of 300 million people. When something threatens the security of the nation in one way or another, it is politically advantageous for those in power to take action. They need to look like they are handling the situation. Unfortunately, "handling" the situation in the past 100 years has involved putting a lot of innocent people in jail for doing things as innocent as throwing Communist leaflets out a window on the Lower East Side of New York. It has criminalized simply advocating support for political enemies or ways of thinking that run counter to our particular brand of democracy.

The more that I study, the more that I realize that America is not about right and wrong. It's not about morals or evils or righteousness or even the people. It's about the legal process. That is what has kept the country together for 200+ years. The Constitution and the common law. So as I think about giving up rights, I think about the blow to the legal process that it represents. And that to me is the greater security threat than any terrorist attack that I could ever imagine.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tortilla Flat

You may or may not know that I come from Southern California. You also may or may not know that I love tacos. Not this kind of taco, but real tacos made with seasoned pork or beef or fish, a little cilantro and onion, some spicy salsa, and a fresh tortilla. These are tacos. The kind you can get on the side of a dusty road in Baja.

I have long lamented the lack of good Mexican cuisine in New York. Mama Mexico on 100th St. and Broadway just doesn't cut it for me. So when I read about Nixtamal in Queens, making tortillas out of freshly ground corn masa rather than harina, I was immediately obsessed. Unfortunately, I was also about to embark upon a road trip with my dad, then a quick turnaround packing for Paris.

Today I finally made the journey out to Corona. And I think the photos speak for themselves. It was better than a trip to Rosarito Beach.

Monday, February 15, 2010


My hatred for Monday morning is as of yet unsurpassed.

...until I discovered this (thanks for the tip, Bwog). Mmmm. Coffee-gasms make even the worst Mondays bearable.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Proving that when I used to tell people that the blog was cool to write for I wasn't lying through my teeth

Weekend Romp is back! For several different reasons, I don't write my weekend column for the Spec anymore. I do still occasionally write terrible long-form journalism for them. But I am trying to cut down on that, too. Despite my attempts to cut myself off from Spectator, after less than a month back in the city I realized that I can't live without Weekend Romp. It gives me an excuse to do crazy things on the weekends and go to random corners of the city that I otherwise can't really justify going to when I've got 3 papers to write and a test on Monday (hypothetically). It also keeps me from becoming a regular at 1020. So Weekend Romp lives on in the SpecBlog realm. Rumor has it that some grand web redesign is coming down the tubes. But some grand web redesign is always coming down the tubes at Spec, and hopefully it won't mess with my ability to post. The carpet's been the same for 25 years, but the website changes annually.

On the plus side, now that I am no longer writing my columns at 10 pm on Thursday nights before they appear in Friday morning's paper, I can now take some time to think about them and not come up with something like this, but go with something more like this. The moral of that story? Don't talk about clothes. Talk about lack of them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thoughts on the semester

I decided it is finally time for a decent post. I did promise my grandmother to keep updating the blog.

The school year has begun in full. I am nearly finished with all of the administrative stuff that is required to come back from study abroad. I am back on my bike, training 6 days a week. I am creating my own training plan.

This is the first time in my life that I am taking 5 courses that I really enjoy (read: French requirement, done!). As much as I complained about having to take PE, I am really enjoying squash. See above: training 6 days a week still doesn't qualify to get out of PE because my sport is designated "club." Though, to be fair, most club sports have a drinking:training ratio that is quite a bit higher than the cycling team. So I am taking squash, which is an hour twice a week with the tennis coach, getting sweaty in a little white box. The first day that we played I went diving for balls and got really competitive. I then ended up ramming myself into the side walls and could barely walk for the next three days. I have since learned to control myself and sometimes just let the point go.

I am also taking the history of western music, which is one of my last core requirements; my professor is great and it's virtually the same material from the music appreciation class I took at VC during high school. Then there is the science for sustainable development. Climate and carbon and global systems, oh my! My two favorite classes are Law, Science, and Society as well as a seminar on the first amendement and censorship.

However, the best thing about this semester so far is quitting Spectator. I no longer have to be cooped up in the Spec office 4 nights a week dealing with difficult writers, attempting to make witty headlines, and worrying about how to make our page sound at least half-way intelligent. My last obligation to Spec for now is finishing an article that will be running in tomorrow's magazine. It has been my nightmare for the last three weeks. I learned something in writing it, though. I learned who really has the power at a volunteer organization. And it isn't the people who spend their nights slaving away to put out the paper. When I was one of those people, I didn't want to see it. I spent hours upon hours coming up with ways to better organize the paper, to train writers, to attempt to get something more out of the institution. But now that the tables have turned and I am just some writer, I realize why all of the planning is more or less fruitless. When you require work from dozens of volunteers every day to turn out content, you have to work on their schedule. You can try to impose requirements. You can ask. But the volunteer editors have absolutely no leverage over the volunteer writers.

It is sad, but totally true.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gad-get excited!

As I sit here tapping away on my new netbook, listening to Vampire Weekend on the new speakers, I am very much feeling like Christmas came months early this year. Then I remembered--that's right, Christmas came really late this year. But it is still pretty awesome. Pretty pretty too, actually.

And as an added bonus for the day that I don't actually have to go to class/outside, IT'S SNOWING!