Category Archives: Opinions

Assertive and kind — compassionate arguing

By Maria Mostyka

Compassionate arguing is not an oxymoron. It is a tangible and indispensible type of discourse that must be practiced if we are to understand one another deeply. Before making a case for compassionate arguing, I will briefly outline the problems with the way we typically argue.

Listening with an open heart and mind is key when communicating with compassion. (AP Photo)
Listening with an open heart and mind is key when communicating with compassion. (AP Photo)

The goal of a typical discourse is to defeat the opponent by proving him or her wrong. It is all about finding the weak spots and aiming right there. In such talk we don’t listen to each other, and if we do, our listening is selective: what can I prove wrong and what should I dismiss?

How do we feel afterward? From discussing controversial issues to arguing about mundane matters, we so strongly identify with our opinions that our opinions become us and a critique of what we say becomes an assault on who we are. Both victors and losers experience emotional damage: we are left being extremely angry or upset or slightly disgruntled or even just in a bad mood. As Danny DeVito said in the movie “The War of the Roses,” “There’s no winning, only degrees of losing.”

An alternative to this type of discourse is the one filled with compassion. But first, I would like to say that talking with compassion does not mean to agree with everything your opponent has to say. When people engage in what they think is a compassionate discourse, they tread very cautiously, being afraid to offend or stir a controversy. Although this is considerate and nice, such discourse often doesn’t lead anywhere because people end up censoring their opinions and being squishy. We can hug each other and go home while reaching no consensus on topics as global as America’s involvement in the business of other countries or as personal as the existence of God and the purpose of faith.

But how exactly do we engage in a compassionate discourse? The goal is not to “win,” but to enrich our understanding of the issue and to realize the extent of our ignorance. It is to find where we might be wrong—why are we so sure of our position and where are our blind spots? As Donald Davidson, the late professor of philosophy at the University of California Berkley, explains, “If we want to understand others, we must count them right in most matters.”

Such understanding comes from a place of deep compassion. From the very beginning we have to be empathetic to the person while making in our minds at least the possibility that he or she might be right. In the end, we might not agree with their position, but to appreciate their view we must take in the whole context of their opinion.

To achieve this goal, we must listen with an open mind and with an open heart. It means to listen not only to the words, but also to the body language, to the intonation and to the unspoken. Karen Armstrong, a British author, recommends that we pay special attention to angry speeches in order to decode their meaning, making an effort to hear the pain behind the anger and frustration.

Compassionate discourse is assertive and kind, empathetic and honest. It might not be politically correct, it might touch raw nerves, but we must address difficult questions from the place of sincere caring. Instead of looking across, we will look in the same direction — at the issue itself and try to reach a consensus. We will no longer be opponents, but companions. We will emerge from such discourse feeling peaceful and content while having a much deeper appreciation of a different viewpoint.

I hope you will soon have a chance to put these principles to practice, and in any case, I’m open to a compassionate discourse, well, about compassionate discourse.

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The College’s students are good neighbors

By Regina Morin
World Languages and Cultures Department

I read with interest the article regarding problems off campus with the College students and the surrounding community. I teach here at the College and live in Ewing. I know the problems described in the article are real. I have experienced them firsthand at other institutions. However, I would like to come out in defense of the great majority of our students who do not cause problems and are responsible citizens of our community.

Students are great additions to community life and Ewing neighborhoods. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)
Students are great additions to community life and Ewing neighborhoods. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)

There are a number of houses around mine that are rented to our students. In the seven years I have lived in Ewing, we have never experienced any problems.

Today, I had a particularly heartening experience. I was walking my dog, as usual, when a pit bull came out of nowhere and would not leave us alone, jumping up on me and grabbing at my dog. I was scared to death, and truth be told, a little bit hysterical as anyone who knows me might imagine. But the other dog’s owner was nowhere in sight.

A gentleman driving by saw the problem and stopped to help. Four young women from the College, runners, also saw the problem. One came and took my dog out of my arms to carry him, and all four of them surrounded me, putting themselves between us and the pit bull, while the other man distracted him.

They told me they were from the College, and I jokingly told them that so was I, and they might wind up in one of my Spanish classes. But the point is that I have great faith in our young adults in general because of what I see every day in our students.

While there are a few bad apples, students like the ones who helped me today should be commended. I believe that most of our students are like them.

Get your opinion published

Is healthcare a right or a privilege? Should Roe vs. Wade be overturned? How can the relationship between Ewing residents and TCNJ students improve?

Interested in sharing your opinion about a TCNJ, State, or National issue?  Or would you like to respond to an article already published in The Signal?  The opinions section ofThe Signal welcomes writing submissions from students, alumni and faculty.

If you would like to learn more or submit your opinion, contact our opinions editor, Courtney Wirths: wirthsc1@tcnj.edu.

humans

Humans vs. Zombies takes off at the College

We saw them this past week, creeping around corners, dueling outside of Green Hall and sometimes walking on campus like average students, albeit equipped with foam swords and mischievous grins: the players of the “Human vs. Zombies” game are a great mid-semester reminder of how important it is to let off steam and relieve anxiety.

Participants in Humans vs. Zombies use the game as a great way to bond as a club and relieve some mid-semester stress. (Photo courtesy of Jared Sokoloff)
Participants in Humans vs. Zombies use the game as a great way to bond as a club and relieve some mid-semester stress. (Photo courtesy of Jared Sokoloff)

More and more College students are participating in this campus-wide game every semester, which is essentially an elaborate version of manhunt. All but one of the players are humans at the beginning, identifying themselves with strips of cloth, while a lone zombie kick-starts the game going by “killing” — or touching — humans. Once a human is touched, they are infected and must try to turn the remaining humans to win the game. Humans win by avoiding zombie contact for an entire week.It’s not unique to the College — hundreds of campuses in the U.S. have adopted “Humans vs. Zombies,” with varying rules and contestants — nearly 2,000 people regularly participate at University of Georgia, while it’s a sport of its own at host school Goucher College — and there are other fantastical clubs out there. At Middlebury College, for example, dozens of students flock to on-campus fields each Sunday to play Harry Potter-inspired games of quidditch.These games are easy to dismiss, but there’s a reason they’re so popular: it’s important to relieve stress, even if that entails dressing up (down?) a little and laying traps for your friends in Bliss Hall. Last week, The Signal published a phenomenal piece on “Generation Y” being the most depressed generation, called “Generation Y and the infinite sadness,” and it was just another piece of evidence on the seriousness and worsening state of mental health in the U.S.

This is the most anxious country in the world — it’s not even close, according to a 2012 study by the World Health Organization — where 80 percent of college students frequently suffer daily stress, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. There’s so much to feel anxious about, from looking good every morning to wondering how you’ll convince an employer you’re worth being paid real, non-Monopoly money. It can be easy to feel weighed down by the pressure that comes hand-in-hand with college life, and it’s essential to find a release.

That’s why it always brightens my day to see humans and zombies in a not-so-epic battle on campus, three feet away from where I’m walking. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the game, and I understand why it’s not for everyone. But if it helps some people completely escape the stresses of college life for a few hours, more power to them.

Hollywood still cuts women’s screen time short

While accepting her Oscar for best actress, Cate Blanchett proudly stated that, “those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them, and, in fact, they make money.”Cate Blanchett

This year’s Oscar-winning films were refreshing — filled with powerful women in many leading roles.

The film for which Blanchett earned her Oscar was “Blue Jasmine.” The film starred two sisters played by Blanchett and Sally Hawkins.

Disney’s “Frozen” won an Oscar for Best Animated Film. It featured another sister duo as its heroines with the leading male as simply a sidekick.

“Gravity” was a revolutionary film that took home a total of seven Oscars, including the Oscar for Best Director. For the majority of the film, there is only one character, Ryan Stone, the protagonist played by Sandra Bullock.

Sandra Bullock was the only character on screen for the majority of ‘Gravity.’ (AP Photo)
Sandra Bullock was the only character on screen for the majority of ‘Gravity.’ (AP Photo)

Two of Hollywood’s greats, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep, paired up to take large roles in the drama “August: Osage County.” Other female powerhouses who received nominations or Oscars were Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle.”While she didn’t have the lead, Lupita Nyong’o took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “12 Years a Slave.” The film was also the winner of Best Motion Picture.

This year’s Oscars represented a big night for women in the film industry, but Hollywood still has a long way to go before it can be considered a place of gender equality.

The New York Film Academy took a look at how women are portrayed in the top 500 films between the years of 2007 and 2012. The results are alarming.

According to their data, only 30.8 percent of speaking characters are women and only 10.7 percent of films have a balanced cast — meaning 50 percent of the cast is female.

Roughly a third of women are shown in sexually revealing attire or nude, according to the Academy. In contrast, only 10 percent of men in movies are shown in “sexy” attire or are partially nude.

The statistics do not get any better when it comes to children’s and family films. In fact, the ratio of men to women in family films hasn’t changed since 1946.

“From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law or politics. In these films, 80.5 percent of all working characters are male and 19.5 percent are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50 percent of the workforce,” according to a study done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

Women are underrepresented behind the scenes as well. In 2012, only 20 percent of editors, 15 percent of writers, 9 percent of directors and 2 percent of cinematographers were women, according to the New York Academy of Art.

Women purchase 50 percent of movie tickets every year. Each movie ticket is similar to a vote from a consumer. So while things are looking up for women in film, viewers should show support for quality films with strong female leads and balanced casts.

 

The many forms of compassion

By Maria Mostyka

What is compassion anyway? It is hard to imagine an easier question. We think we do know what it is, and we know how to be compassionate — be good and kind, help someone in need. It is also the basis of the Golden Rule: “Do not treat others as you would not like to be treated” or “Treat others as you would like others to treat you.” Compassion is often associated with religious doctrines, and observing the Golden Rule makes you a good (insert your religion here) follower and, generally, a good person.

While all this is undoubtedly true, compassion is more than that. It is the ability to be fully present with the other person. It is the willingness to let yourself be seen — to show a glimpse of that protected and armored “you,” those raw thoughts and emotions. To be compassionate is to cherish the present moment and to stay with the suffering or distress of the other person.

In order to be compassionate, you have to make a genuine connection and you have to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the core of compassion. The core and the stumbling block as well. The difficulty arises because we often imagine ourselves doing an act of kindness for a stranger. Why would I open up to a stranger? The good deed is done, and we walk away feeling nice about ourselves. And hey, I did help that fallen lady get up, I did volunteer at the soup kitchen and I did donate to charity.

While these acts are immensely valuable, when we are deeply compassionate, we are willing to be vulnerable in order to truly see and feel the suffering of the other person in his or her most distressful moment. Moreover, compassion is something that should extend to all of our relationships. Surprisingly, it can be hard to be compassionate with the people we love precisely because we need to be uncomfortably honest and open in order to make a stronger connection, to have a “me-too” or an “I-feel-you” moment, to face the fear of messing up the relationship. Yet, without this raw openness and vulnerability, it is very hard to make a connection and be deeply compassionate.

The hardest act of compassion is the one toward ourselves. Self-compassion. Unfortunately, people often confuse self-compassion with selfishness: self-compassion is not selfishness. Selfishness is actually not loving yourself and consequently trying to snatch the attention, the pleasures and all the possible and impossible things to fill the void created by the neglect of self.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, is the ability to be kind and non-judgmental toward yourself. It is an understanding that you do not have to be perfect, that you are enough. Self-compassion is a very counterintuitive notion because we believe harsh criticism is motivational and character building. Nothing can be further from the truth. According to Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and a lecturer at Stanford University, when we harshly criticize ourselves, the parts of our brain responsible for action shut down, and the brain goes into a protective mode. But most importantly, we cannot be genuinely compassionate toward others if we are not compassionate toward ourselves.

As I have attempted to show, compassion deserves a second look because it is complex and multifaceted — it is intricately tied with vulnerability, honesty and ability to stay in the moment, and even our relationship to our selves. Ultimately, compassion deserves a second chance because it is up to us to dare to be compassionate and to find out what it is.

 

Blue bins, please

By Andrew Samuel

I am writing in complete and utter agreement to the editorial piece from Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2014 about the lack of recycling on campus. When the Campus Facilities survey comes out every year, I write in my comments that there needs to be more recycling readily available around campus. I should not have to walk halfway across campus to find a blue bin to deposit my bottles or old newspapers. The latter is probably the hardest to find a place to recycle. I live in Townhouses South, and while I always say the College learned from its mistakes with previous townhouses in South, it did not learn that having a dumpster is a necessity.

There also is little publicized about why this campus does not recycle. An alumnus of the college informed me why there is little recycling — when they pick up the recycling, they search a portion of it to look for things that cannot be recycled by the system, and if any of that is present, the whole batch is landfilled. This is not discussed, and while the dumpsters have labels on them, we are not going to search through our recycling to confirm what is in there once we trek to the dumpster.

And finally, as a civil engineering major, I have taken an environmental engineering course and studied the management of solid waste. The culture we have, both on campus and across the country, of landfill it and forget about it is unsustainable. Between styrofoam containers that will never decay to plastic bottles that will be sitting in those landfills for another 10,000 years before they are close to gone, we cannot ignore recycling any longer. A recent proposal for a waste-to-energy incinerator in Mercer County was immediately trashed (pun intended) when the proposal put it near Trenton and there was fear it would pollute the city and the county, and that nobody wants a trash smell in their county. Have these people been to Elizabeth? Or driven through Middlesex County when the wind blows the cover off part of the landfill in Edison? Europe incinerates most of their waste for energy to ensure maximum land utilization, I think it is time the U.S. did the same. Maybe the College could make part of the power plant an incinerator, but that is pushing it a little too far right now. Let’s try to get recycling bins first before an incinerator.

Conspirators — a bone of contention

By Frank Stabile

Of the many things that regularly annoy me, one of the less frequent but more irritating subjects is conspiracy theories. Last year, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy caused a resurgence of conspiracy talk. As the stories go, some combination of Lee Harvey Oswald, the mafia, the Cubans, the Soviets and the Central Intelligence Agency were responsible for Kennedy’s death. Oddly enough, there seems to be at least one of these theories for every major national event. The attacks of Sept. 11 were actually a series of controlled explosions coordinated by the Bush administration. The Apollo moon landing was taped at a Hollywood set, the government stores aliens and their aircraft in Area 51, and everyone knows that the Illuminati are close to establishing a New World Order. These ideas are ridiculous, but somehow manage to persist and capture the minds of surprisingly large portions of the population. In this article, I describe recent data and studies on conspiracy theory in America and discuss the implications of such unfounded ideas.

The killing of JFK is one of the most popular topics for conspiracy theorists. (AP Photo)
The killing of JFK is one of the most popular topics for conspiracy theorists. (AP Photo)

The latest polls on belief in conspiracy theory are somewhat reassuring, but mostly alarming. Two polls conducted in 2013 by Public Policy Polling asked participants if they believe in a series of well-known conspiracy theories. For the most part, less than 15 percent of respondents accepted these nonsensical theories, such as the faked moon landing and the existence of Bigfoot and Sasquatch. However, 37 percent believed that global warming is a hoax, 21 percent believe that the government covered up an alien crash at Roswell, 20 percent that vaccines are linked to autism, and 28 percent that a secret society is planning for the New World Order. This means that one in every four or five people in America probably believes in at least one of these conspiracy theories.

The numbers are even worse for the Kennedy assassination. Gallup, Inc., has conducted nine polls since 1963, asking participants if they believed other people besides Oswald were involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the president. In the years immediately following the assassination, about 50 percent of participants believed in a conspiracy. This number increased steadily and peaked in 1976 and 2001 at 81 percent. The percentage has dropped since then, but still stands at a high 61 percent. Many people identified the mafia and the government as probable co-conspirators. Despite a huge body of official and independent work that agrees on the lone gunman explanation, more than half of Americans believe that a conspiracy killed the president.

Pollsters are not the only ones interested in conspiracy theory. In 2010, psychologists Viren Swami and Rebecca Coles of the University of Westminster published an article summarizing recent studies of conspiracy theory. The piece, titled, “The truth is out there,” shows that belief in conspiracy theory is often linked to a lack of trust in the government and feelings of frustration and isolation. The authors suggest that conspiracy theories provide answers in a world of uncertainty and catastrophe and give the theorist some sense of control. In this way, adherence to a conspiracy theory against all evidence seems to be a reflection of a negative worldview, rather than a strain of lunacy.

With an understanding of the scope and origin of conspiracy theories, it is easier to consider the implications of such ideas. Many people are distracted by conspiracy theory and invest tremendous amounts of effort in stories that have little or no evidence. But, unfortunately, the consequences do not stop at wasted time. While people sit at their computers watching the planes fly into the World Trade Center over and over again, they miss the actual conspiracies. I often wonder if the 9/11 truthers or Bigfoot hunters care about the National Security Agency’s massive spying programs. Are they interested in conspiracies that really occurred, like the assassination of Abraham Lincoln or the Watergate scandal? I’m worried that the answer is no, and that conspiracy theories distract intelligent and otherwise reasonable people from truly important issues.

The solution, of course, is to embrace a more rational way of thinking. Instead of assuming the mainstream is wrong and finding the facts to match, people must start with the evidence and decide from there. This holds true for the argument I make here. All of these poll data and studies are available online, and I urge interested readers to examine the information themselves. A more critical approach is vital. The future will continue to bring new crises and there is no time to waste on fairies and gremlins.

A new battle in the war on drugs

By Jason Klosek

$51 billion is spent annually to fund a war within this nation’s borders. This war has resulted in the uprooting and deaths of this country’s citizens. The counterproductive effects of this conflict have shown us that the war on drugs is clearly not working.

Students look for practical solutions to drug policy. (AP Photo)
Students look for practical solutions to drug policy. (AP Photo)

Current drug policy seeks to eliminate the problems caused by drug abuse by incarcerating individuals who possess or are involved in the sales of illicit drugs. By doing so, billions of dollars are spent to keep these people in jail and illegal drugs off the street. Despite these attempts, drugs are cheaper and of better quality and availability now, more than ever in the past.

It is imperative that we treat drug abuse as a health issue rather than treating it as a criminal justice issue.

We must promote the scientific education and sociological implications of drug use, not blanketed ideals that clump and label drugs altogether as bad and wrong. These actions are some of the goals of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). This international organization neither condemns nor condones drug use, but strives toward finding practical ways to reasonably reform drug policy.

SSDP – TCNJ Chapter and the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey will be hosting a screening of the movie, “The House I Live In,” on Wednesday, March 5, at 7:30 p.m. in the Science Complex Room P101 to illustrate the economic and social toll caused by the war on drugs. SSDP is looking for members and strongly encourages those who wish to see change happen in current drug policy to attend the screening.

Students find their place in campus Greek life

By Bina Ramesh

I waited until my sophomore year to rush, because I knew I could not handle taking on any extracurricular activities as a freshman. Let’s just say I went to parties a little too often and did not do my very best with academics.

Greek life is a way to get more involved in activities around campus and to find a group of individuals who accept you for who you are. (Courtney Wirths/ Photo Editor)
Greek life is a way to get more involved in activities around campus and to find a group of individuals who accept you for who you are. (Courtney Wirths/ Photo Editor)

When I finally got control of my academics in the fall of sophomore year, I realized I really wanted to get more involved on campus. I was super involved in high school activities, being a member of many clubs, volunteering in schools and even founding a chapter of the Future Educators Association at my high school. I felt incomplete without joining some kind of organization here at the College.

Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of friends, regardless. I have made tons of close friends that I know will be with me through thick and thin. I am that annoying person who says hello to absolutely everyone when I’m walking to Eick. I just love meeting new people, and I am fairly good at remembering names, which is a lethal and powerful combination at a small school. I knew that all of these people weren’t my best friends, but I couldn’t help that I just genuinely enjoyed talking to many completely different types of people.

I had acquaintances and friends in every sorority and fraternity on this campus. I had heard the stereotypes and stories of Greek life, and I had seen my friends rush. I knew that rushing was something I would regret not trying.

A lot of my friends rushing as sophomores were like me — they had friends already in these organizations, which makes rushing so much harder because you can’t look at any group without associating your friends with them. However, since I had friends in every sorority and fraternity, I was determined to keep an open mind.

I went to every sorority interest session there was before recruitment, ultimately going to an interest session for every sorority. By the end, I had talked way too much about myself and watched way too many of the same videos of compiled facebook pictures of all the sisters smiling and having fun, set to a generic pop song. It was exhausting and exciting all at the same time. I met awesome people, looked at those videos and the unity of the group, heard about their philanthropy and saw such amazing qualities in each organization.

When it came time for formal recruitment, I was so pumped. Orientation came and hundreds of girls were split into random groups and given our recruitment counselors. I was lucky enough to have one of my close friends in my group and two really sweet girls as my counselors. I was given a white T-shirt that I could dress up and style as I pleased.

If I could describe the first day of rounds it would be like Welcome Week on steroids. Everyone is trying so desperately to stand out, yet fit in at the same time. The amount of times I complimented girls on their gorgeous accessories would probably make you want to vomit.

When we had to rank our preferences of the sororities at the end of the first day I started to feel so stressed. I really could not do it. I saw such great things about every organization that I couldn’t make a decision. My recruitment counselors talked me through it, and I finally made my decision. Then, the waiting began to see who had called me back for the next day of rounds.

If I could compare hearing back from the sororities to anything, it would be like my senior year of high school college decisions. The question of the day everyone was asking was if you got your top choice.

I swear it was like déjà vu. l consoled some girls on not getting called back to the sororities they wanted and congratulated others on getting all six of their top choices.

The way I saw it is you can make the best of wherever you are placed. The College was my absolute top choice for a school. However, after talking to so many people here, it’s not surprising that for so many the College was not their top choice, especially because it’s a state school. They somehow landed up at the “CONJ” and love this school to pieces. Some even could not see themselves anywhere but here.

That’s how I feel sorority recruitment is. Even if you don’t get your top-choice sorority, you can make the best of wherever you are because, let’s face it — it doesn’t matter where you are placed. These organizations that bond you were founded on quality values and philanthropy.

I’m truly happy and proud of who I am, and that’s why this process has been so fun. I have met so many amazing people and had some great conversations over the last couple days of recruitment. I feel bad for the girls who are not as comfortable with themselves going through this, because let me tell you, rejection is hard to handle and it sucks. However, no one should ultimately look at this process as rejection.

I know the cliché, “When one door closes another one opens,” is severely overused during the recruitment process, along with, “Everything happens for a reason.” As much as people are probably sick of hearing both of those phrases, I promise they really are true. If I could give every person who goes through recruitment advice it would go a little like this: Do not obsess over rejection — be proud of your acceptance. But most importantly, keep an open mind and just be yourself, because honestly, you’re pretty awesome in your own way, just like everyone else.

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Effectiveness of firearm laws questioned

This article was written in response to Jacqia Scotton’s article,“Time to change the way we view gun control,” published on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014.

By Alexander Kamm

Guns in America
Purchasing a gun in NJ is harder than many citizens think. (AP Photo)

The article on the same subject published in The Signal last week, while well-written, had some inherent flaws. In this piece, I will do my best to address what I believe to be flaws and explain how “easy” it is to get a firearm.

When researching the subject, one looks to gun control utopias, such as Detroit, and finds a murder rate that is over 10 times that of New Jersey, one has to wonder if more restriction actually combats the problem. Last week’s article suggests that this discrepancy can be explained by bordering states having lax laws.

I can speak from personal experience that when buying a firearm in another state, one must adhere to the laws of the state that they live in. Most Federal Firearms License holders who are licensed to sell firearms for a profit are not going to risk losing their business to sell a firearm illegally.

Furthermore, the sale of a firearm across state lines between unlicensed individuals is strictly prohibited.

Last week’s opinion piece on the same subject also reported that the U.S. experienced 88 deaths for every 100 people in the country, but the actual murder rate in 2012 was much much lower — 4.7 per 100,000. Despite what news stories may lead you to believe, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report reports that violent crime and murder as a whole are down to almost half of what they were 20 years ago.

Despite the ever-dropping violent crime figures, gun control remains the very opposite of “the elephant in the room.” The list of over 65 gun-related bills slated for discussion in the N.J. senate for early 2014 suggests that it is quite the opposite. Despite their efforts, many of the laws passed in the N.J. Congress’ previous session have had little impact on crime.

One such example was passed through the N.J. House and Senate in 2013: S684. In an attempt to combat urban crime, the bill banned a class of rifles that are large and cumbersome, cost over $10,000 and have never been used in the commission of a crime in New Jersey ever. Somehow, I wonder if the bill would have impacted any type of crime in N.J. had it not been vetoed.

But you are right about one thing: Guns aren’t the only factor in violent crime. So if one wishes to combat the problem of violent crime in America, they must be willing to address all of the factors. One often over looked factor was recently highlighted by “60 Minutes.”

The state of mental health facilities in the U.S. are on a continual decline. “60 Minutes” reports that even while the population rises, the number of beds in mental health facilities has dwindled from over half a million to under 100,000.

Perhaps if facilities were available and the system more comprehensive, clinically ill people would have been able to get the treatment they so desperately needed before tragedies occurred. For example, the man responsible for the Washington Navy Yard shooting had previously reported to the police that he had been hearing voices and had unfounded suspicions that he was being followed.

Even while violent crime is at one of the lowest points in history, I agree that we as Americans can do more to reduce the figure. Despite this, I do feel that restricting the freedoms of law-abiding citizens will not produce the desired results.

The people who commit these crimes are not like you or me. The threat of an illegal weapons charge and its 10-year sentence ensure that you or I will not break the law. On the contrary, to someone who is set on murdering, causing mayhem and accepting multiple life sentences in jail, the risk of an illegal weapons charge does nothing.

In that sense, all that many of these laws serve to do is restrict the freedoms of law-abiding citizens, but at the end of the day, we were never the problem to begin with. And so as I sit here typing, I wonder then if these tragedies say less about America’s gun control policies than they do about America as a whole.

Creationism causes biology lessons to suffer

By Frank Stabile

When it comes to religion in the United States, Christianity is the obvious powerhouse, both historically and presently. Nonetheless, America is not a Christian nation, no matter how often religious pundits say otherwise. In fact, the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees exactly the opposite. On paper, America is a religiously neutral, secular country. Unfortunately, in practice, it has allowed religious influence to seep into the government.

One area where this occurs again and again is education, in particular the teaching of evolution. Unlike much of Europe, America is entrenched in the so-called debate between evolution and creationism, or the idea that life and the universe are the creation of a supernatural being. More recently, creationism has been repackaged under the name intelligent design, but the results are the same.

Creationism in schools creates limitations. (AP Photo)
Creationism in schools creates limitations. (AP Photo)

Students across the country receive a poor biology education thanks to the efforts of a small number of very intense religious groups and an idle government. In this article, I describe recent reports of creationism in the public school system and argue that the teaching of creationism weakens American education.

First, let me say this: I am not in the business of driving out any educator who mentions creationism. Classes in history and politics should focus on creationism where relevant. Courses on the history of science are practically obliged to discuss it. However, I resist any attempts to teach creationism in place of or alongside evolution using government money. Private institutions are free to do as they please, but when the government is involved, creationism does not have a place in the classroom.

Yet somehow, it still manages to creep through. In a recent piece in Slate titled, “Texas public schools are teaching creationism,” Zack Kopplin reveals that Texas charter schools supported by the state are actively teaching intelligent design and attacking evolution. These schools serve more than 17,000 students, all of whom will graduate with a warped understanding of biology.

Slate followed up this piece with an article by Chris Kirk detailing the publicly funded schools that can teach creationism. His piece includes a map showing that hundreds of schools in Texas, Florida, Ohio, Indiana and Georgia currently teach creationism and laws in Louisiana and Tennessee allow schools to “teach the controversy.” These articles reveal the degree to which religion permeates science education in America.

Unfortunately, public universities are also vulnerable to this problem. One prominent case occurred recently at Ball State University, a state college in Indiana. An assistant professor at the university was teaching a class focused on intelligent design and Christian explanations for the origin of the universe that counted as a science course in the curriculum. Although the legality of this situation is less clear, the fact remains that a publicly funded university offered a course espousing one religious viewpoint in place of an actual science class. Professor Jerry Coyne from the University of Chicago thoroughly covered this affair on his site, “Why Evolution Is True,” where more details can be found. The point is that religious ideas, especially creationism, have leached into the American education system at multiple levels.

While it is undeniable that creationism is present in American schools, one may ask why these religious viewpoints are a problem. As mentioned above, one reason is the law. Americans enjoy not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. The government cannot advocate one religion (or atheism) over others — either all get support or none do. Keep in mind that intelligent design is a Christian doctrine and that other religious ideas are absent from public schools. In this situation, the teaching of creationism amounts to the government inadvertently or directly promoting Christianity. Such bias is unconstitutional and betrays the laws that guarantee every American freedom from religion. However, the problem goes deeper than the law. Teaching creationism instead of evolution is a disservice to American students, who leave school with a fundamental misunderstanding of biology that they may carry for their entire lives. When huge swathes of the population receive mediocre science education, America as a whole suffers.

Thankfully, all is not lost. Organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union have done excellent work in defense of evolution and quality science education. Individuals concerned about the influence of religion on education should support these groups and stay informed and vigilant. How hard could it be? After all, as Christopher Hitchens once said, the only intelligent thing about intelligent design is the way they keep changing the name.

A sense of community found in the local library

Over winter break, I drove a couple of miles down the road to my local library. It’s a beautiful brick building, complete with a fireplace, comfy chairs and most importantly, a huge selection of books. Inside, I was greeted by the usual post of librarians. Despite being occasionally over -zealous about library rules, they mean well. We quickly chatted about school and they asked if I needed help finding anything. I smiled and wandered over to the biographies section.

Public libraries are a way to rent books, movies and music without having to pay.  (AP Photo)
Public libraries are a way to rent books, movies and music without having to pay. (AP Photo)

Local libraries are still crucial to American towns. Even in the age of the Internet, libraries serve as a place for learning, socializing and serving the community. Unfortunately, funding for local libraries is continuously cut to make budgets and citizens often doubt their value in an age of computers.

There are a total of 119,987 libraries in the United States. Of those, 7.5 percent are public and the others are all considered school, academic, government, medical and other topic-specific libraries, according to statistics from the American Library Association.

Last year, 56 percent of Americans over the age of 16 used a library. 40 percent of individuals said they used the library for research, while 36 percent said they used the library to check out books. Interestingly, women are much more likely to check out a book from the library than men are, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2012 study on library usage.

I suppose I fall into that category. I check out almost every book I read for pleasure, and I am not the only one. Americans check out, on average, around eight books per capita and, as of last year, 171.07 million people in the United States have library cards. I have had my library card for almost 15 years, and I don’t plan to stop using it anytime soon.

In addition to books, libraries also allow cardholders to rent movies or music. While Redbox, Netflix and Spotify may be great deals, I guarantee your library is a better one.

In Wantage, N.J., my hometown, the library goes beyond the traditional function of checking out books. To the left of the main library is an open room that serves as a meeting place for several Boy Scout Troops, a few classes on the local wildlife, and coffeehouses organized by the high school.

Additionally, the library offers free computers and wireless Internet access to all cardholders. This allows low-income citizens to file for unemployment and do research to sign up for training or search for job openings. Over 62 percent of public libraries in the United States reported that they were the only source of free computer access in their community and 91 percent of public libraries are currently offering free Internet access, according to the ALA.

I strongly believe that libraries contribute a large amount of good to every community they are a part of. If we do nothing else, simply stop by and have a look around. There is no other place where we can both read books for free and feel like a part of our community.

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Time to change the way we view gun control

By Jacqia Scotton

When I began writing this editorial, 11 school shootings had been recorded this year. Four days later, that number has already increased.

The issue of gun control has become one based almost entirely on politics with many activist groups on both sides of the argument. (AP Photo)
The issue of gun control has become one based almost entirely on politics with many activist groups on both sides of the argument. (AP Photo)

Liberty Technology Magnet High School, Hillhouse High School, Albany High School, Widener University and Purdue University are some of the schools on the growing list of 2014 school shootings.

Schools are not the only place experiencing gun violence. A Columbia Maryland Mall was attacked by a lone gunman that ended in the deaths of two innocent shoppers, and the suspected gunman himself.

In Omaha, Neb., a 5-year-old was hit by a stray bullet and killed while eating breakfast before a school day she would never attend.

Gun-related deaths due to home invasions, accidental shootings, domestic disputes and even suicides have killed countless more, just a month into the new year.

So, I must pose the ever present (and controversial) question lingering on the lips of lawmakers and citizens alike: What does this say about the United States’ current gun control policies?

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the second deadliest mass shooting in American History (after Virginia Tech in 2007), there have been over 9,900 gun related deaths in the United States.

However, according to Slate, this is a gross underestimate. The news outlet reported that with suicides, the estimate is closer to over 30,000 gun-related deaths since the Newtown tragedy. This works out to about 90 people per day.

During the 2013 memorial service for the 12 people killed at the Washington Navy Yard, President Obama acknowledged his failure to get new gun control laws passed and vowed to “work as hard as possible for the sake of our children.”

It remains painfully obvious that he will be met with extreme force from the National Rifle Association and their proponents.

Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive director, feels that gun control is not the answer to this problem. In a recent interview, LaPierre was quoted saying that “We can’t lose precious time debating legislation that won’t work … the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

However, there is all too much evidence that shows there are too many “bad guys” with guns in the first place.  So why not try for some restriction on guns?

Based on an analysis of 2007-2010 gun-related homicides and suicides, CBS reported that states with the most gun-restrictive laws had a 42 percent lower gun rate than states with the least number of laws.

Although some gun advocates argue that strict gun laws have failed in high-crime cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., state laws are not as effective when neighboring states have lax laws.

Beyond looking at laws across state lines, we should take notes from other developed countries with strict gun laws.  The United States has more guns and gun deaths than any other developed country in the world.

Per 100 people, France had 31.2, Israel, 7.3, Turkey 12.5 and Japan, which had the lowest, saw just 0.6 deaths per 100. The United States had 88. Just behind the United States was Switzerland with 45.7 deaths — almost less than half of what we did.

When countries come out with fast cars, new computers and sleeker electronics, don’t we long for them? So why not long for reform that has proven to work?

Whichever side you decide to take, U.S. gun facts are painfully clear.

On average, 32 Americans are murdered by guns every day, and 140 are treated for gun assault in an emergency room. Eight of these are children and teens under the age of 20.

A gun in a home is 22 times more likely to be used in murder, unintentional shooting or suicide than to be used in self-defense. One in four Americans have witnessed a shooting.

Don’t we regulate cars, medicine and toys? Why shouldn’t we take steps to regulate gun violence?

Unfortunately, the argument behind gun control has become more and more of a political agenda and less of a concern of protection of American citizens.

The issue behind gun control has morphed into the figurative elephant in the room. We keep saying, “it’s not the right time,” and continue to sweep it under the rug.

But it cannot be any clearer, and it’s extremely vital that we press for gun control before more schools and malls and homes become morgues.

Guns are most certainly not the only factor in these shootings, the person behind it obviously contributes — but if we can restrict their access to these deadly weapons, it may be the first step in decreasing the violence our country knows all too well.