December 02, 2005

Quake Interview

I've just returned from an interview with Philadelphia's CN8 News regarding Quake magazine. The interview will air tonight (Friday) at 7 and 10.

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November 30, 2005

Quake response

I want to draw your attention to a comment on my previous post on Quake magazine which provides this link to a post on Caveat Lector, a blog by Alex Perkins, a friend of mine from Greek class, written in response to the discussion of this topic by Andrew and I. I very much appreciate the calm and rational tone of the post and the fact that Alex has decided to address the topic intellectually rather than emotionally. I have posted a lengthy comment on the subject there. I reccomend that all of you read Alex's original post and my comment.

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November 29, 2005

More on Quake magazine

The Daily Pennsylvanian has published an editorial by Andrew Rennenkamp discussing Quake magazine (which I discussed previously here). As far as I can tell, they have decided not to publish Phil's letter, but I was unable to find out for certain as they do not seem to post letters to the editor online. If you look at the comments to Andrew's editorial, you will find that it is drawing quite a bit of flack, with a lot of criticism (a large percentage of it ad hominem) and relatively little support. This is, of course, typical of the attitude to sex in just about any university environment.

Now, Andrew is a personal friend of mine and on the whole I agree with him, but I can't say I'm 100% in support of Andrew's comparison of pornography to heroin, or of his decision to completely ignore Quake's claim to be "literary erotica" as something distinct from porn. The latter may be attributed to the limited space he has to make his point, but without this discussion commenters may be correct in claiming that Andrew's general discussion of pornography has little to do with Quake. His argument would be much stronger if he successfully collapsed the distinction between "literary erotica" and pornography in the case of Quake, but I'm not sure he can, and the issue isn't even addressed. As to the other issue, the comparison between pornography and heroin, I think that Andrew is correct that pornography is highly psychologically addictive and damaging, and the editorial page isn't a bad place for a bit of hyperbole. But is comparing porn to heroin just a bit of harmless (perhaps even helpful) hyperbole, or is it a gross misrepresentation of the issue? I'm honestly not sure.

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November 21, 2005

Ivy League Elitist ... Porn?

Clarification 11/22/05: At one point in the post below I question whether pornography is protected by the first amendment. Obviously, as a libertarian, I believe in the right of consenting adults to create and exchange pornography, commercially or non-commercially. My doubts are about whether the language of the first amendment actually protects these rights, whether pornography counts as "speech," whether the government might be justified in placing restrictions on its public exchange in ways that wouldn't be justified with other types of publications (since my rights would be violated were I somehow forced to view pornography), etc. Lest the clarification should need a clarification, allow me to explain that, while I believe that pornography is bad/immoral/evil/etc., I don't think that this is the type of morality it is permissible for the government to legislate. The below is, however, not about the government, but about a private institution, and it is not about permitting or not permitting an activity, but about funding it.

This September, the Student Activities Council of the University of Pennsylvania approved the funding of Quake, Penn's "literary erotica magazine," and the first edition of the magazine was distributed on Penn's campus last Friday. Phil Gommels, the chairman of the SAC executive, is a devoted Christian and a personal friend of mine. He has publicly stated his opposition to the funding of Quake and plans to submit a letter to the editor for publication in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the campus newspaper, in the near future. I have obtained an early draft of his letter, which reads as follows:

To the Editor:

On Friday afternoon, I was deeply dismayed to see the contents of Penn’s “Literary Erotica Magazine,” Quake. As Chairman of the student government body that funds this magazine I am deeply ashamed to be associated with this pornographic publication, and as a student of the University of Pennsylvania I am outraged that my money pays for it.

Last spring when Jessica Haralson and Jamie York came to the Student Activities Council (SAC) Executive Committee for recognition—the precursor to funding—they also had a feature article about their future publication running in the weekly 34th Street Magazine. In that article the founders of Quake noted that the notion that their magazine is pornography was a “misconception … they’ll have to deal with.” To rely on Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 Supreme Court definition of pornography, “I’ll know it when I see it;” regrettably this is it.

This year the student general fee charged to every student was $2,572. A portion of the general fee is allocated each year through the office of the Vice Provost of University Life (VPUL), and the Undergraduate Assembly (UA) to the Student Activities Council (SAC) to fund student groups. The Student Activities Council has a responsibility to the student body to spend their money in a way that is fair, responsible, and appropriate. I believed when they requested funding, and I maintain now, that funding Quake magazine is not an appropriate expenditure of student funds.

It is important that I am clear that, though I wish that these students did not desire to publish this sort of lewd publication, I do not desire to infringe on their right to do so. The first amendment guarantees them the Constitutional right to print this insofar as this constitutes speech. I also understand that the University of Pennsylvania has no mandate against the sort of content displayed in this publication, and so I do not dispute the ability of Quake to publish within University rules (however I wish those rules were different). My issue is regarding funding. That my money and the money of my likeminded classmates (and their parents) is funding this smut is a travesty.

As Chairman of SAC, I waive the right to vote in order to fairly moderate discussion, and vote only in occasion of ties. The other eight members of SAC-Exec vote on all funding decisions in closed meetings, and we present our decisions as a recommendation to the SAC General Body as a united front. I therefore, out of respect for the institution of SAC, enforce the decision of the SAC General Body. This article is my dissenting opinion. The views expressed here are my own personal views and are to be taken as such. They in no way reflect the views of the SAC General Body, SAC-Exec, or the members of either organization.

Quake was earlier reported on by 34th Street and Philadelphia Weekly. According to the 34th Street article, published at the time of Quake's initial recognition by SAC last April, Jessica Haralson, one of the magazine's founders, claims that "erotica" differs from pornography in that "erotica [not only] turns you on physically, but more than that leads you to question and challenge your perceptions about what it means to be a sensual person." She goes on to claim that it "stimulates the mind as well as the body." However, in addition to opposition to the publication of "erotica" with student funds, many Penn students are skeptical about the degree to which Quake has lived up to this statement and so differentiated itself from ordinary pornography.

I am of the belief that Quake's statements regarding the nature of "erotica" are sufficient that, if followed, the magazine would be unequivocally protected by the First Amendment, whereas true pornography - that is, material which does not communicate any ideas (and so is not speech) but has sexual arousal as its sole or primary purpose - may or may not be so protected (certainly it's protection is not unequivocal). I have not looked (and will not look) at the magazine, so I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt as regards their obedience to their stated standards. However, I am nevertheless opposed to the university money being spent on the publication of "erotica."

The SAC funding policy states, in provisions 1-3, that funding will not be denied to groups based on opinions they express, but groups that support certain religious or political ideologies may not be funded. Chairman Gommels has often suggested in meetings of the SAC executive that it may be improper for SAC to deny funding to religious groups while granting funding to, for instance, LGBT groups which have as part of their purpose the promotion of an ideology (namely the belief that homosexual marriage is acceptable and/or that sexual contact between members of the same gender outside of marriage is acceptable) which is in direct opposition to the traditional forms of all three major western religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - all of which are well represented on Penn's campus. This would create an extremely one-sided debate were it not for the fact that organizations like Hillel (the Jewish campus ministry) and Campus Crusade for Christ receive substantial contributions from outside the university. (Note that Hillel represents a wide variety of Jewish traditions, including that of Reformed Judaism, which does not necessarily oppose homosexual practice, so it is not necessarily entirely on the other side of the debate from the LGBT groups, although it is certainly the case that many observant Jews - and all orthodox Jews - would consider Penn's LGBT groups to be in opposition to their religion.) It is also worth noting here that Penn has a substantial Muslim Students Association, which in my experience has never had significant publicity (their annual "Islam Awareness Week" aside).

Like the LGBT groups, Quake exists to promote an ideology antithetical to those supported by these religious groups, which are denied funding. Furthermore, Quake does not merely provide arguments (e.g. from psychology) that the "repressed" nature of traditional sexual ethics is wrong, or damaging, or whatever they think it is. Instead, they go so far as to present a medium which uses graphic depictions to increase the difficulty with which those who believe in traditional moral standards live according by them - and this task is already difficult enough! Ethically conservative students, parents, and donors are now paying for a publication designed to systematically undermine their moral values. This must be stopped.

If you are a Penn student, parent, or donor who opposes this publication, you may contact the SAC executive to express your opposition at The Penn administration has the authority to overrule the student government in this matter, so you may also wish to write to university President Amy Guttman via email at or via conventional mail at:

Office of the President
University of Pennsylvania
100 College Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6380

You may also call President Guttman's office to register your protest at 215-898-7221.

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January 25, 2005

Penn For Life in the Christian Science Monitor

This morning WorldMag Blog is linking to an article in the Christian Science Monitor on the explosive growth of Penn For Life (of which I am not a member, due partially to lack of time and partially to their anti-death penalty demonstration last year). Now, I'd provide this link anyway, just because it made me happy to see Penn's name in the WorldMag headlines on my desktop, but as though that wasn't enough, the article quotes Penn Crusade's own Natasha Mooney! And as if that wasn't enough, she has wonderful things to say:

"Natasha Mooney, a soft-spoken freshman whose roommate is 'very much pro-choice,' says the two remain friends because neither believes she will convert the other.

"But Ms. Mooney does plan to speak up, if gently, should the classroom conversation turn to abortion. 'I feel this is the truth, and I feel called to uphold truth in any way I can.'"

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January 19, 2005

DP Columnist Jenny Weiss on "Defending Christianity"

Once again, a liberal friend of mine (ok, so it's really more of a casual acquantance this time) has written an incredibly insightful opinion piece in the DP about a very relevant topic. The article, by Jenny Weiss, is entitled "Defending Christianity" and shows an impressive clear-mindedness and impartiality in looking at the recent political conflicts between Evangelicals and secularists in the United States. Some highlights:

"I must disagree with Alex Koppelman's piece that appeared last Thursday ("Stealing Christmas"), in which he claimed that Evangelical Christians were violating Americans' rightful freedoms. Although I admittedly don't agree with all of Christian doctrine, I feel the views Koppelman expressed ultimately reflect anti-Christian prejudice and support Christians' assertions of discrimination."

"[General discomfort with Christianity among liberals] has resulted in legitimate discrimination against Christians... Does this anti-Christian discrimination represent an increase over past years? Honestly, it's hard to say. However, as liberal-minded people, we must not tolerate even low-level discrimination, regardless of the target."

"Clearly [the First Amendment] does not guarantee anyone the "freedom" not to see a Christmas tree at their local library."

"Since there is disagreement over what makes a better America, let's aim for a freer America. And because a freer world permits the greatest diversity of views, it gives us our best shot at a better one."

Read the whole article here.

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October 31, 2004

Underground Marlowe Company?

The Underground Shakespeare Company's main fall production, Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, featuring yours truly, opens this Thursday at 8PM in the rooftop lounge of Harnwell College House here at Penn. Click here for more info.

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September 27, 2004

Penn HumanitiesForum/Class Schedule

A long overdue update on factors which will determine the content of my non-political postings over the next semester/year:

  1. The first meeting of the Penn Undergraduate Humanities Forum was today. I was awarded a year-long research fellowship with the Humanities Forum last spring after submitting a research proposal. This year's theme is "Sleep and Dreams" and I will be doing research on my favorite philosopher, George Berkeley to determine how his philosophy of immaterialism ("To be is to be perceived," roughly equivalent to Schopenhauer's "To be object is to be object for a subject," but easier to understand since he is an 18th century English philosopher instead of a post-Kantian German philosopher) can deal with the fact that we perceive things in dreams which we would like to say are not real. Here is the text of my proposal:
          In an attempt to rebut the atheism and skepticism of his contemporaries, the early 18th century British philosopher George Berkeley proposed a theory he referred to as “immaterialism” (others would later call it “idealism”) the physical world is made up not of matter as an independent entity but of ideas, and as such exists only so long as there is a mind perceiving it. This solves all sorts of philosophical problems, but raises several of its own. One of these is the question of false perceptions. In dreams, for instance, we perceive many things which we want to say are not actually real and, as Descartes had pointed out earlier, we often have difficulty distinguishing between dreams and waking life. Berkeley's answer to this, in brief, is that we would not even pose the question unless we somehow perceived the unreality of dreams, and this perception, like all others, is part of that stuff of which reality is made. Berkeley also suggests that the perceptions we have of the real world are ideas impressed upon our minds by God, whereas dreams might be considered to be internally generated.
          While this is the beginning of a solution, it is by no means complete. If we perceive a difference between dreams and waking life, what is that difference, what faculty of the mind is responsible for our perception of it, and why is it not always accurate? In those cases where it is not accurate, and we do not know correctly whether we are asleep or awake, what has caused this failure? How can Berkeley explain these failures within the framework of his immaterialism? Is he forced to concede that dreams have some degree of metaphysical reality? If so, what makes waking life more real than the world of dreams? Is it really even coherent to say that one thing is “more real” than another?
          These questions only scratch the surface of the inquiries required in order to create a complete philosophical theory of dreams consistent with Berkeley's metaphysics. To this end, I propose to delve further into this topic under the title “Are Dreams Real?” The intention of this research will be to examine George Berkeley's own philosophical writings and the writings of his contemporaries as well as those of later idealists in order to arrive at a functional neo-Berkeleyan metaphysics of dreams. By terming the theory I am looking for “neo-Berkeleyan” I understand a number of restraints to be placed upon it, in order to make it consistent with Berkeley's own principles. First, it must not posit matter as an inert, non-thinking substance existing outside of any mind. Second, it must be consistent with basic Christian doctrine and a simple, straightforward interpretation of the Christian Scriptures (however, my research will center on the writings of modern philosophers and especially Berkeley himself rather than on the Bible). Finally, the theory must be consistent with “common sense,” which is to say that upon having constructed our theory we must be able to continue speaking about dreams in the way people ordinarily do without contradicting the theory – when we dream we must leave reality, and when we wake we must return to it.

  2. My class schedule. I should have posted this sooner but didn't. I'm taking two philosophy class, Intro to Ancient Philosophy, and Formal Logic II. I'm also taking Greek and two courses in computer science, but it is unlikely (though not impossible) that these will inspire anything posted here. In fact, it's probably also unlikely that I'll post anything about formal logic. It is, however, quite likely that I will post on ancient philosophy periodically. For instance, right now I am posting the observation that Parmenides of Elea holds very similar views to Immanuel Kant and I don't understand how it could be possible that my TA doesn't see that.

Once the political season is over, these are the things that will likely be determining the content of my posting. Enjoy :)

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April 30, 2004

Penn Humanities Forum

Good news! I've been selected as an Undergraduate Fellow of the Penn Humanities Forum. As part of the humanities forum, I will be doing research on metaphysical idealism generally and George Berkeley specifically to determine how such theories can deal with dreams, and whether or not an idealist must consent that dreams have some degree of reality. I'll be working on this beginning next fall and presenting my research next spring.

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March 24, 2004

RIAA vs. Penn Students

Have you seen this morning's Daily Pennsylvanian? On the heels of my decision to blog (for the first time, I think) about this RIAA crap, it seems, coincidentally, that the RIAA has decided to sue some Penn students! Check out the EFF's Let the Music Play campaign to sign petitions and stuff to stop the madness.

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September 08, 2003

Up and Running and in Philadelphia!

So this site is finally back up again, after about two weeks fo downtime. During that time I've moved to the other side of the country, and am now up and running on my brand new computer from my dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania. I moved in on August 28 and classes started on September 3. It's great to be here, and good to have this site up and running again!

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August 18, 2003

Site Downtime/College/etc.

This site is going to go down sometime soon, probably Friday, and it may not come back up for a while. I am leaving next Tuesday (August 26th) for the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where I hope to enter the Computer and Cognitive Science program, through which I would get a degree from the School of Engineering and Applied Science in computer science and a degree in philosophy from "The College" (the arts and sciences school). I'm getting a new (much faster) computer when I get there, and it may be a little while before I get everything transferred. I'll move in and get my computer and stuff on the 28th, so look for the site to be available again any time after that. Hopefully it won't be too long.

As for the move, I could sure use some prayer. As I'm going off to college on the other side of the nation, I will, right at the same time, be removed from everything that's familiar, be temporarily without a church or any kind of accountability structure, and exposed to new temptations. Please pray that I can, as all of the Church should, influence the world around me more than I am influenced by it. The Church must infiltrate the world, rather than the world infiltrating the Church. I want my life to be true to this. Your prayers are appreciated.

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