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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