Category Archives: Opinions

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.

Atheism’s bad rap in the United States

By Frank Stabile 

There is no doubt religion has a powerful grip on American politics and society. Nearly every high-level politician is ostensibly a member of some religious organization. The President ends every speech with the words “God bless America,” and the official motto of the United States has been “In God We Trust” since 1956. The prevalence of religion in American life makes it easy to forget that many people do not subscribe to any faith. In fact, atheism is the most rapidly growing group in America.

Despite the growing number of atheists, Americans still have a distrust in atheists. (AP Photo)

Despite the growing number of atheists, Americans still have a distrust in atheists. (AP Photo)

Despite this increase, atheists have a surprisingly poor reputation. In this article, I describe some recent data on religion and public opinion and consider the implications for atheism in America.

Before I begin, let me be clear about my views. I am an atheist and an anti-theist, which are two distinct categories. As an atheist, I do not believe in any god. As an anti-theist, I am opposed to the influence of religion in society, particularly the monotheistic faiths that predominate in America. It is important that I spell out my position here because it colors this discussion.

First, the good news: atheism appears to be on the rise in the United States. In 2012, the Gallup International Association (GIA) repeated a series of polls it conducted in 2005 and published the results in a report called the Global Index of Religion and Atheism. In interviews, the GIA asked participants if they were a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist. Between 2005 and 2012, the number of Americans who identified as religious dropped from 73 percent to 60 percent and the number that identified as convinced atheists rose from 1 percent to 5 percent.

Although the United States still ranked as one of the most religious countries in the world, it experienced one of the largest drops in religiosity. As the number of nonbelievers increases, my hope is that atheists can garner political strength and a better reputation.

And (if you will allow the phrase) God knows atheists need a better reputation. Gallup, Inc., conducted a telephone poll in 2012, asking participants if they would vote for a qualified presidential candidate who happened to fall into one of several different categories. For most groups, the numbers were strongly positive, over 90 percent yes. The bottom three groups were homosexuals at 68 percent, Muslims at 58 percent and atheists at 54 percent. A little more than half of the participants would consider voting for an atheist candidate. Thankfully, this number has been continually increasing (from 18 percent in 1958), but it is still dishearteningly low and makes one wonder why an atheist candidate is so unappealing.

In 2011, researchers from the Universities of British Columbia and Oregon examined this issue in a paper titled “Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust is Central to Anti-Atheist Prejudice.” As the title says, the main reason behind atheism’s sour reputation is distrust. This conclusion is best illustrated in the second part of the study, involving a scenario in which a man gives false insurance information after a car accident and then steals the money from a wallet he finds on the street. Participants were split into four groups and asked if it was more likely that this man was a teacher or a teacher and something else. Each group was given a different second category: Christian, Muslim, rapist or atheist. In each of the first two groups, less than 20 percent of participants chose Christian or Muslim. In each of the last two groups, around 40 to 50 percent of participants chose rapist or atheist. No significant difference occurred between the number that chose rapist and those that chose atheist.

This seems to indicate that, in the eyes of the participants, the moral compasses of a rapist and an atheist are comparable. If atheists do as well as rapists when it comes to trust, then it is fair to say that atheists have an image problem.

Obviously, data like these are discouraging for a grumpy atheist such as myself. Nonetheless, I am optimistic about the future of atheism in America. As the number of atheists grows, their influence will also increase. Simultaneously, people will begin to realize that their distrust is unfounded. If more people are open about their atheism, others will see that atheists have been lurking around them all along without causing harm. For these reasons, I encourage atheists interested in a secular society to be vocal about their ideas. After all, being a heathen is not so bad — we have one less meeting during the weekend.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery

By Matthew Newman 

The date was Jan. 1, 1863, and Abraham Lincoln had just signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This executive order declared all slaves in the rebellious confederate states to be free and laid the groundwork for the 13th Amendment, which eventually made slavery a federal crime. Slavery, in the legal sense of the word, was abolished, and abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison were rejoicing in their success over injustice.

President Lincoln’s words can still inspire students to take action and help to end human trafficking or modern-day slavery.  (AP Photo)

President Lincoln’s words can still inspire students to take action and help to end human trafficking or modern-day slavery. (AP Photo)

Fast forward a century, and a man by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous “I Have A Dream Speech” on a march on Washington, attempting to gain equality for all people, regardless of color, race, sex or any other differences one man might have from another. This same man also once said the words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Today, there is a threat to justice everywhere that people refuse to acknowledge or simply know nothing about, and it is what I call “Modern Day Slavery.” 150 years after slavery became illegal by law, slavery still thrives, and it is in fact growing. The United Nations estimates there are approximately 27 million people enslaved in our world today. That is a startling number on its own, but it is even more startling to hear that this amount is the largest it has ever been in history — even when slavery was completely legal around the world.

The government labels this crime as human trafficking, and although they are fully aware of the issue, they can only do so much to stop it. This is because most of the public, including a large majority of the people viewing this article, know nothing about this injustice occurring every day.

As college students, we have a history of shining light on important social issues of our day, such as the collegiate abolitionists of the 1860s, the civil rights advocates of the 1960s and also the fight against the Vietnam War in the 1970s. All of these events were influenced heavily by passionate college students, just like you, who understood that it was up to them to change the way their generation and future generations would view the issue in front of them. It is now our turn to be the ones to change our world around us.

I have started a club here at the College called Project Stay Gold, which is dedicated to fighting the injustice that is human trafficking. As modern-day abolitionists, we raise awareness for the issue and empower others to take action alongside us to stop this crime from stealing the innocence of children all around the world.

If you are interested in being a modern-day abolitionist, join us at our first meeting of the semester on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the couches on the second level of the student center, or email us any questions that you may have at tcnjpsg@gmail.com.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This issue truly matters — so don’t allow yourself to be silent about it.

Some trouble with the English language

By Frank Stabile
Senior biology major

Throughout his life, British author Eric Blair wrote a substantial body of critical literature under the pseudonym George Orwell. Although the dystopian stories, “Animal Farm” and “1984” brought his name to posthumous prominence, Orwell’s other novels and essays are of comparable significance.

In 1946, Orwell published “Politics and the English Language,” an essay criticizing the English of his period for its carelessness and vapidity. Unfortunately, this problem has not abated in the almost 70 years since Orwell’s death, despite his efforts to highlight the issue. In this article, I argue that the English language has continued on this trend toward sloppiness and offer several examples and possible solutions.

First, it is important to be clear about what is meant by sloppy English. Rather than concise and plain language, English is littered with obtuse words and redundant phrases that are designed to embellish simple ideas. As Orwell warned, this pattern impairs the language, leading to vague prose and shoddy speech.

A mindless language then promotes careless thought, creating a cycle of decline. This subtle but pervasive trend is what I summarize with the word sloppy. I do not mean basic problems, such as confusing their, there and they’re, or using an inappropriate synonym suggested by Microsoft Word. These mistakes, though irritating, are not as serious and typically reflect minor misunderstandings. Nor do I mean the introduction of new terms, like the long list of words that has appeared thanks to the Internet. Such changes are interesting and contribute to the modernization of English. Sloppiness, on the other hand, makes the language less clear and the ideas more muddled.

Three examples of sloppy language remain prevalent in modern English. The first is the verbal false limb, a problem described by Orwell in his 1946 essay. A verbal false limb is an unnecessarily long verb construction that replaces a simple and direct verb. Even though Orwell’s essay is more than 60 years old, many of the phrases he listed are still common, such as “give rise to,” “make contact with” and “have the effect of.” These false limbs use extra words to describe straightforward verbs like generate, connect and impact.

More recently, comedian George Carlin criticized “soft language,” or the substitution of clear-cut descriptions with multisyllabic, fluffy phrases that suck the life from the language. In his 1990 special “Doin’ It Again,” Carlin analyzes a long list of euphemisms that plague the English language. Some examples that persist to the present are the use of “pass away” instead of “die” and “senior citizens” instead of “old people.” However, the case that most irritated Carlin was “shellshock,” a word originally used to describe the trauma soldiers experienced in World War I. Over time, the name switched to “battle fatigue,” then “operational exhaustion,” and finally “post-traumatic stress disorder.” Although the diagnosis of this condition has obviously changed since the early 1900s, Carlin’s point is that the original, simple word “shellshock” has been replaced with a multisyllabic, stale and complicated alternative.

Finally, I regularly notice a linguistic problem that is not specific to the present, but is far too common in modern English — tautology, the unnecessary repetition of an idea using different words. Many instances of tautology are obvious, such as the ability to be able to, but most are easy to miss. For example, I have heard several ambassadors refer to Roscoe West as the building that “used to be the old library.” In this case, the language is repetitive and also reverses the meaning of the sentence. To be fair, these may be slips of the tongue, but tautologies occur even in formal settings. I have seen commercials for two separate technical institutions seeking “eligible candidates who qualify.” Since eligibility and qualification are hardly mutually exclusive, phrases like this are repetitive and confusing. The blend of verbal false limbs, euphemisms and tautologies leaves English speakers with a fatty and sterile language detached from the ideas it is meant to convey.

Thankfully, the first step in reversing these trends in the English language is drawing attention to them. After one thinks about tautology, for example, it becomes difficult to avoid noticing repetitive phrases. Luckily, thinkers like Orwell and Carlin make understanding and detecting these linguistic pitfalls that much easier. The next step is to actively correct these problems both in one’s own speech and writing and, finally, in the speech and writing of others. In doing so, we can move toward a more precise and effective English language of the sort Orwell imagined.

US funds allocation favors senior citizens

Our children are the future. So is an impending debt crisis that requires chokehold austerity measures, according to Congress, advocacy groups, big-government antagonists and everyone’s grandma. That last member of the fiscal phalanx is no joke.

As post-2008 recession America points to class warfare between the wealthy and the poor as our chief economic priority, that assumption belies an even deadlier reality: our generation has been given short shrift in favor of the elderly. Ironic for a nation that pretends to invest in future generations, today’s Facebook youths receive less government spending than the oldest Americans — not by dollar decimal points, but in the thousands per capita. And as social welfare programs are called out by belt-tightening conservatives around the country, it’s the safety nets supporting young and underprivileged kids, let alone the money they’ll need in the future, that get the axe first.

The concept of having your financial stability pickpocketed from you at this very moment might seem abstract. But it should mean something to you. If it doesn’t, we’re screwed.

2014 is not the intergenerational environment of 30 years ago. The Baby Boomers are finally retiring with gusto — the Pew Research Center estimates that about 10,000 geezers hit 65 each day, meaning our retirement population will approximately double by 2050. That’s a 100 percent growth. At the same rate, the working population — us, if a reminder is necessary — will only increase by 17 percent. The imbalance resembles an epileptic seesaw holding the young and old of American society on either end, your Social Security, Medicare and general array of entitlements then being flung far out of reach. Be mindful in the meantime that you’ve been paying into these programs as young, working adults. If these trends continue unabated, that money you’ve pumped into the system is likely never coming back to you.

Even if you’re privileged enough to come out with only minor scratches, plenty of your peers won’t be so lucky. Consider deep education cuts being made across the country. Consider poorer school districts and urban areas having to scrap their Head Start programs due to insufficient funding, the subsequent widening in income gaps and social advantages, even the more fortunate kids being inescapably tied down by rising student debt. Consider the grossly disproportionate $12,164 spent on children in 2008 with the $27,117 spent on retirees of the same year, according to the Urban Institute. Something’s not right here. Perhaps we could cut some more from the leaching kids in Detroit.

The fact that our generation isn’t mobilized doesn’t help. We have no central lobbying core — no AARP to protect our interests. We are not considered a crotchety voting demographic that requires keen political pandering, if our generation chooses to vote at all. Instead, the paradoxically childlike adults that run Congress hold our future checkbook, and our relationship is akin to asking for an allowance — Congress dictates the terms and we suffer the consequences.

But we don’t have to. Attend a speech on the tour of superstar investor and youth-advocate Stanley Druckenmiller and consider the inevitable: that unless this generation voices their opposition now, we accept a future that fiscally bleeds us dry, handed down to us so callously by Generation X. If Druckenmiller’s free-love generation could scale back America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, it’s embarrassing that we can only muster a protest for Facebook interface changes.

This is not a plea to wage war on grandma. We’re a society that takes care of our own. What we’re not is a hypocrite going belly up on our promises to provide for both our retirees and our kids — that’s not a choice we have to make. But at present, we’ve been too docile to notice. Congress has been protecting the interests of kids by teaching them to carry the burden of their ancestor’s blunders. Well, the kids grew up, but we can’t carry the load alone.

Students’ evolutionary misconceptions

By Frank Stabile

(AP Photo)

Evolution is often touted as the greatest theory in biology. Decades of experiments and observations have consistently supported evolutionary theory. Despite this success, public understanding of evolution is patchy at best and nonexistent at worst. The biological community has put much effort into explaining evolution, but many misconceptions remain popular. Some are blatant and silly, such as the suggestion that monkeys should not exist today if humans evolved from monkeys (which is wrong at least twice).

Thankfully, this type of extensive misconception is rare. Most misunderstandings tend to be more subtle and complex, and consequently more important. Here, I briefly examine three misconceptions that are particularly incorrect and painfully prevalent.

Evolution is only a theory. This statement is actually true. The problem lies in the word choice and the tone in which this sentence is typically delivered. The use of words like “only” or “just” implies that evolution is more uncertain because it is a theory. This insinuation stems from a difference between the colloquial and scientific meanings of the word “theory.” Locally, a theory usually means one possible explanation for a group of facts that may or may not be true. With this definition, all theories are roughly equivalent. Scientifically, a theory is a substantiated explanation that has withstood experiment after experiment and successfully models an aspect of the natural world. In this way, the scientific definition is far less egalitarian. The existence of a scientific theory entails that most if not all other explanations are significantly weaker. Thus, highlighting the theory portion of evolutionary theory reveals a foundation of concrete rather than sand. As many have said before, gravity is only a theory, too.

Evolution has a goal. Unlike the previous misconception, this error takes two forms, both of which are surreptitious. The first form is language. The words used to describe evolution frequently imply agency or volition. Even in scientific settings, one often hears sentences that begin with “Evolution wants” or “Evolution will not allow.”

The second, more obvious form is the idea that evolution has a goal, like the formation of the human brain. Talk of this kind also ascribes a will to evolution. The problem is that the process of evolutionary change is just that — a process, unconscious and unfeeling. To say that evolution has wishes or goals is to attribute to the theory traits it inherently lacks. To steal from physics again, discussions about the desires of gravity, would be obviously absurd. Yet somehow, this type of error persists with evolution. One argument is that explaining evolution in this way makes it easier to understand. I posit, however, that language and ideas of this kind do more harm than good and are best struck from the vocabulary of evolutionary biology.

Humans are special. This final issue is linked to the previous one and is not so much a misunderstanding as it is a resistance. Most people have probably heard some form of the following idea: There are animals and then there’s us. Humans and animals exist on separate planes, with humans clearly elevated thanks to our intelligence and rationality. Although those qualities may be debatable, the main idea is that humans are exempt from membership in the animal community. Evolution, on the other hand, says exactly the opposite. Humans are a part of the natural world and are affected by evolution like any other organism, from bacterium to fern to bird. In this way, we are not at all special.

This conclusion, which directly contradicts the conventional wisdom about humanity, naturally leads to resistance and discomfort. However, such feelings suggest that humanity’s place in the tree of life is a form of degradation. Rather, evolution simultaneously reveals our connection to the natural world and reminds us that we are susceptible to the same threats and behaviors that our animal counterparts experience.

The theory of evolution is much more than good science. It is a beautiful depiction of the connections between all life on the planet. Unfortunately, misconceptions prevent many people from seeing this beauty and the biological community has a responsibility to continue to explain evolution to the public. The three problems described here are only a few examples of the misunderstandings that still plague evolution. Hopefully, with persistent effort and enthusiasm, the understanding of evolution will continuously grow as crazed attempts to remove it from the public sphere deteriorate.

Graduates get creative in a tough job market.

Lessons learned from college experience

A conscientious student has undoubtedly heard it a million times: Unemployment and student loan debt are rising for undergraduates.  The paranoia invoked by this reality is often exacerbated by another often repeated cliché: Do what you love and don’t worry about money!

Graduates get creative in a tough job market.

So what should I do, drop everything and jump into a technology or engineering major — two of the fastest-growing employment sectors — or should I drop out of school and travel the world as a freelance writer? These paradoxical tidbits of advice that adults love to repeat can leave a student mired in doubt about what they should be doing to prepare for life after graduation.

As a senior who is at the end of a three-month job search, I have some thoughts for underclassmen:

• It’s not as dry out there as the media make it seem. According to the Washington Post, real unemployment rates are around 17 percent. The good news is that 83 percent of you will have more luck/qualifications than those who are unemployed. The better news is that, according to career services, 95 percent of the College’s students were employed within a year after graduation.  Personally, after an earnest search, I was able to find several opportunities and many of my classmates already have locked down great jobs. If you are industrious, there will be opportunities.

• Paying your dues. I know it’s oftentimes lost on our generation, but you might not be served your “dream job” within a year of graduation. In fielding applications, I applied to several places that wouldn’t qualify as my “dream job,” but I could see how working my tail off in those opportunities could eventually get me to where I wanted to be.  If your first options aren’t available, don’t hesitate to take the opportunities you do have and make something of them, reinvent yourself or teach yourself new skills.

• Don’t hate your Humanities and Social Sciences major! For the longest time I was upset at myself for picking political science as my major. I thought that the whole claim that liberal arts majors teach you how to think was a crock and I’d be giving up an advantage to business majors. However, looking back on my professional experience, I can honestly say the hours of reading, analyzing and writing have helped me to think outside the box and offer solutions to problems I definitely wouldn’t have thought of four years ago.

The bottom line I learned was — regardless of major, if you extend yourself in college, try new things and work hard to master them, you will have a suitable job for you by the time graduation rolls around. If the job isn’t what you had hoped for, don’t be afraid to prove yourself in the opportunities that are available to you, reinvent your skill set or start your own business.

I’ll close by using another cliché. This is America, the land of opportunity, and you are students of the College, a top-ranked regional school. If you work hard, think outside of the box and extend yourself, you will have success upon your graduation.