Thursday, July 7, 2011

Yet Another Free Speech Arguement

So much to talk about!

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? Class this morning was fascinating to say the least. Today we went over speech cases involving obscenity, as well as a brief introduction to landmark freedom of the press cases. Its a funny thing, looking at the precedents and watching the jurisprudence (the study of law and the structure of the legal system) evolve over time while the words of the Constitution are not altered in any way. Now, take these next few remarks with a grain of salt, as I freely admit that I am a strict constructionist when it comes to the rather explicitly worded First Amendment, not to mention a libertarian raised in a Democratic household. Yikes. With that being said, I find there to be no Constitutional basis for any of the limits on free speech, which includes obscenity, as its pretty frankly stated that “Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” not “Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, except in cases of obscenity, fighting words, incitement to riot, defamation, or such cases where there is a 'clear and present danger' [Holmes, majority opinion in Schenck v United States] stemming from that speech.” If it said the second part, then by all means, declare certain speech unprotected by the First Amendment and allow the government to make all the laws it likes around those exceptions. But it doesn't say that, does it? So thats where I get confused. If the government makes a law limiting some type, any type, of speech, even if that speech is harmful, the Constitution as it stands now expressly forbids that act, and the Supreme court has a duty to uphold those words and strike down the law as they swore to do to protect the United States Constitution. You've heard this argument before in my blog, and as long as we keep talking about the First Amendment in class, you'll keep hearing it.

The afternoon was a little funny. We met in our normal smaller discussion classes, but we were divided into groups of four within that class. Each group was given a different case and told that the next day they would be arguing their case against another section of the class. The case our group got is, well, difficult. Despite my vehement support of the absolutism of the First Amendment, there is a huge amount of precedent that says the Court feels otherwise. My group is arguing that a federal law prohibiting the transport of obscene materials is in violation of our imaginary client's First Amendment rights, but we have no precedent to back up our arguments (as the only times a Supreme Court has found in favor of the appellant convicted under such speech-regulating laws has been in cases where the material was found to not actually be obscene and was therefore protected) whereas the other side has two hundred years of Court ruling in their favor to cite with confidence. Its going to be a difficult debate tomorrow.

We broke early from class to do research in our groups, and I began drafting the closing statement after we had done some research into obscenity cases. Our argument seems a little shaky: I'll tell you tomorrow if it works out or not. Mrs. L took Eric and I to purchase our textbooks (our instructors weren't kidding: the books are like heavy bricks in shape, size, and color, just as they said it would be. Then came dinner!

Because of a mix-up our first week here, we hadn't gotten a chance to meet with anyone from Vassar College yet, so Beilul organized a more informal meeting with a Vassar alum at a sushi restaurant across the street from Columbia. There we met Brian, and to be perfectly honest, Vassar just jumped up to the top of my short list of colleges. Brian was fun to be around, engaging, had a lot to say about the school (not just the good things, mind!), and honest about everything we asked him, be it about the town, the other schools, or life at Vassar. The food was delicious (heck, it was sushi!) and I know that Beilul and I left dinner grinning from ear to ear, excited about a possible future at Vassar.

After I got back to the dorm, I spent most of the rest of the evening researching for my paper (due Monday!) and my debate tomorrow. I was pulled, only mildly complaining, out of my room by my suite-mates to be hustled down to an outdoor dance at the gazebo, before we all gathered for a late pizza snack (dinner for some) and movie-watching in honor of our RA's twentieth birthday.

My squeaky bed is calling my name; good night to everyone, and more free speech rants tomorrow!

“Journalism is the first draft of history”

I was very excited for our morning session today. We were treated to a question and answer session with journalist Nancy Ramsey. While, we began by analyzing the new coverage of the Jessica Lynch and how the events that made her a national hero were covered in the national press, we quickly moved on to the fascinating story of Nancy’s experiences in journalism. She fell into journalism on accident, she said. Nancy is currently on the web journalism team of and a freelance journalist at the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Sports Illustrated. She also has experience on the Today Show, ABC and the New Yorker.

I thought her presentation was incredibly fascinated, especially because I have been toying with the idea of becoming an education reporter. She shared a lot about her experiences in the field, discussing the fast paced nature of a 24 hour news cycle and validity of majoring in journalism vs. a liberal arts degree. Life as a journalist is never static.

Tonight, we went out for sushi with Brian Farkas, a Vassar alum. I must say, I thought he made Vassar sound even more amazing than it already did – a difficult task, in my opinion. He was incredibly enthusiastic about his alma mater recounting stories of his triple majored roommate, praising his accessible professors and the community feel of a school Vassar’s size (2,000 students).

Today was a fantastic day. I heard from two people about a career I am considering and a college that I really love.

Tomorrow, our rough draft of our paper is due and we will have a presentation about presidential campaigns.

Butler Library

I am currently sitting in Butler library with Eric, trying to focus on writing my 20 page paper as Eric tries to concentrate on his essay. I keep getting distracted whenever I look up at the ceiling and see the beautiful architecture.

Today as I was walking down the stairs of Butler library after my PM session it hit me that I could really picture myself going to Columbia. Earlier, I had thought this is a great school but maybe not the school for me. But, finally realized that I would really enjoy going here and studying.

Today our morning session had a guest speaker, Nancy Ramsey. She is internationally known and has written for the LA times, the NY times, Sports Illustrated, and the New Yorker. It was really interesting to learn about her stories as a journalist. She told us about how she travels to write different pieces for different papers. The story she told us about how she became a journalist was rather surprising. She did not intend to be a journalist at all. Her college degree was in English and History and happened to run into journalism by chance. She enjoys it a lot and encouraged us to try different subjects to really know what we want. Her and Dr. Z. encouraged us that by the end of high school if we're not sure what we want to do to take some time to think about it. There's no rush in deciding what we want in life. They also told us that we shouldn't look for colleges that have the exact major we want, rather a school that would fit us the best. Nancy told us what to look for in journal articles or newspaper articles to make sure they are a reliable source. If the author tends to say that most of his sources are not certain, then maybe that article isn't the best one to be using as a source in our papers. She gave us advice on how to follow the upcoming presidential elections, by not only listening to the news on TV but reading newspapers like the Washington Post. The TV is very convenient but does not give you all of the information. It mostly just give you an overview and skips over the details. I enjoyed listening to Nancy Ramsey. I had never met a journalist before and it was amazing to see someone so passionate in what they do, even thought it was not what she had originally planned on doing with her life.

After class we went to Vine Sushi Bar down the street to meet with Brian, and alumni from Vassar. He was different from the other alumni that we had visited. He was passionate about his school but he was not afraid to tell you the downsides about the Vassar, like the surrounding geographical area. He also gave us some insight in what he went through when he applied and decided to attend Vassar. He said that he liked how everyone at Vassar had a variety of things they liked to do. They were not focused on just one particular subject, but two or even three. The information that I found the most helpful was what he said about the application process. He mentioned that colleges might say certain parts of the application are optional but they really aren't. It's just a way for the college to see if you are willing to go above and beyond when filling our your applications.

As I said earlier in my blog, I am currently at the library. Tomorrow we have a 12 page draft of our paper due. I have pretty much everything done except my bibliography and footnotes which I am working on right now and hope to finish tonight. If I do, then I'll be worry free and can start on my weekend homework early. Thank goodness there is a Starbucks down the street! I'll need the caffeine.

Debate Prep., Sushi, And Research

With our class more than half-way completed, our instructors decided it’s time to put our reasoning skills to the test. We were assigned groups of four to prepare for our debate tomorrow afternoon. Also, we had to pick a topic for our five to six page legal argument due Monday.

The debate should be interesting seeing that the two topics that my afternoon session received related to what we has just covered in class; the first amendment. The mock case that my group was given involves a leader of an anti-abortion organization who distributed pamphlets that encouraged individuals to band together to stop abortion. This was then followed by the names and home and clinic addresses of the doctors who perform abortions. Not long after the pamphlets were distributed, one of the clinics on the list was bombed and the leader of the anti-abortion organization, Lisa Stewart, was brought into custody. My group’s job as the prosecutors is to prove that the publications incited people to take action against the clinics and the doctors that perform abortions.

There are several other cases like the one we were presented that went to the Supreme Court. We argue that her publication was meant to inspire people to act violently against clinics and doctors. Her actions resulted in a clear and present danger for a violent act to occur, which sure enough did. My group believes that by referencing similar court cases which the Supreme Court ruled against the likes of Stewart in addition to our arguments, we can win our debate.

Now for that paper… Before I engulfed myself in research, Beilul, Milani, Irene and I had dinner with Vassar alum Brian Farkas at The Vine, a local sushi restaurant. Brian was extremely helpful because he really explained what Vassar was looking for in an applicant. One of the points he stressed was that on the supplemental part of the common application for Vassar, we should never leave the “your space” blank. Having worked in the admissions office, he told us that we could add anything from pictures to an essay as long as we put something there. The admissions officers sort through the applications by putting the applications without anything in the “your space” into one pile which they glance at and the applications with something in the “your space” and actually read them. Brian was an extremely informative guest, and I’m glad that we got to meet with him.

With a full stomach, I’m ready to indulge myself in the immense resources the Butler library will offer me!

Words From A Weary Mind, Pt. 2

The chasm of difference between high school and college is just as deepened socially as it is academically.

For better or for worse, both institutions present certain opportunities and yield given consequences. It cannot be said what those opportunities or consequences are until you reach them, but it can be said that both institutions, though separated by the expectations and thoughts a youthful generation, will change the student fundamentally, and both will change that student for the better from at least some perspective. At least, that's how I view things.

In college, just as in high school, friends and allies are to be made. Enemies and rivals are to be made. Bonds which will last for decades after they are initially created will occur just as relationships that fail within mere moments of forming will. The student will still be a sum of that which surrounds him. I can proudly say that I myself push myself toward success, whether socially or academically, not only as a product of my personal determination, but because I know where I've come from--Richmond High School--and I know that it needs a better name. It needs to be recognized for the good is produces as much as the bad in which it is suffocated. And, in college, I know that I will, on a similar plane as high school, strive for excellence, but, perhaps the context will differ. Whether I push myself because of the shear competition of the classroom or because I meet or am with someone who simply convinces me to make myself better, I will succeed--I will attempt to succeed.

My point is that, while both institutions provide us with principal contrasts, the roots from which their separate trees grow are from the same Earth. I am saying that both educational outlets are built upon a similar foundation, yet fabricated differently.

That is not to undermine the more superficial benefits of a college atmosphere. I realize that apathy is replaced by attraction, that complacency is replaced by conviction. But I also realize that independence is static, that ability is mobile. What I mean by that is independence will be as heavily sought after in college as in high school. The context, however, the sum of, if you will, is different. When I think of independence, I think of a dam.

Independence itself is the water; it's always there; it's always at a certain level. And, restriction is the floodgate. Perhaps, a student's parents grasp a tighter leash on a given high school student, and the gate nudges open. But, that same student who attends college unwraps the leash from which he was previously bound, and that body of independence--that accumulated water that has always been there--is unleashed much more tremendously than in the past, for the floodgate of restriction is released.

Essentially, college students are different from high school students, definitely, but that is not to deny the commonalities they do share, those themes of which they are both defined.

The college student compared to the high school student is like a refined essay, where the focus of the piece remains unscathed, but the organization and details depicting the core of the paper vary exceedingly.

As I said in the first part, I am still excited for college for all that I will become. But, I am also excited for college for all that I will show I am already, and that is high school's product.

I figure I've done these past two blogs from a comparative, yet abstract standpoint because I've always heard my peers when they exalted departure from high school, as if it was purposeless--as if skipping that educational step on the ladder of knowledge would be better, and going to college straight out of middle school would be fine. I just find that to me a rather moot, not to mention ignorant, point.

What I've also come to realize in these past two blogs is that when I do analytically process these types of things, whether in assessment of education or something completely different, I tend to clear some space in my cramped mind. Ideas that have always been there but have never been screened are able to be sorted through. Indeed, it's kind of cool to philosophically ponder some of these instances; the blog is a good place for them.

And, yet again, those are my disorganized, rambled thoughts for the day.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana tonight; Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana review tomorrow. I'm definitely excited.