Category Archives: Opinion

Canada, You Rock!

by Sarah McCarthy
WHITMAN COLLEGE PIONEER

Alright, Canada. You’re better. Fine. This thought occurred to me an average of 145-160 times a day during the four days I spent there this Thanksgiving break. Canada’s betterness is something that most of the United States’ population is, at some deep and subconscious level, aware of, but spending time in the place really brings it home.

Abstractly, I am aware of the obvious things, like their universal health care (something I debated many times against when I was a debater, never very successfully), the fact that they allow gay marriage, the fact that they don’t have that ridiculous absurd thing we like to call the Second Amendment and thus are able to acknowledge the Earth-shattering fact that guns do, when fired, kill people.

In concrete ways too, though, Canada is just simply superior. At the Vancouver aquarium, for example, the food stand sells things like “yam and feta cheese pannini” and “mozzarella quiche.” You are allowed, in fact, even encouraged, to eat wherever you please inside. There are 32,762,452 Canadians, seemingly all of whom behave admirably at all times. There are 300 million people in the United States, seemingly all of whom have a little trouble with common courtesy and may just try to kill each other in the rush to obtain a new video game console with which to waste their lives.

Canada is also seemingly less concerned that someone will sue them for all their money and run off to the Bahamas, a misfortune that U.S. citizens are constantly trying to ward off. In the entirety of the territory of Nunavat, there is only one lawyer. In the U.S., we have 70 percent of the world’s lawyers but only five percent of the world’s population. We have elementary schools that are actually banning TAG at recess because they’re worried potential lawsuits, apparently from parents whose child is “it” just one too many times. Canadians allow young children to be unsupervised in pools and to work out in gyms, much to both my very young siblings’ delight. It is just generally assumed that you wouldn’t allow your young child to do this, or if you did, that you wouldn’t assume it was someone else’s’ fault if something went awry.

I worked all summer at a law office that was representing the insurance companies refusing to pay victims of Hurricane Katrina for their destroyed houses. I spent a long time poring over pleadings in which the insurance companies argued that the damage had been caused by flooding and not “wind driven rain,” and that as Section 200, line 27 of their policy stated, they wouldn’t cover flooding. Never have I lost more faith in humanity than when I realized that, somewhere, there are people in this world who will actually try to engage in a semantic argument about floods vs. wind-driven rain with someone who has just lost everything. In Canada … well, I don’t actually know what would happen in Canada. But, probably, it would be a little more reasonable, a little more logical, and would make everyone a little happier.

Arriving back in the United States, though, I couldn’t have been happier. I felt confident that if I went to the aquarium back in Seattle I would be served nothing more elaborate than a hamburger, and that I would be attacked with sticks if I tried to eat somewhere other than the designated eating area. I knew, too, that were I really to be attacked with sticks, I could get a very large “emotional damages” settlement out of it. It felt good. It felt comfortable.

Our nation is not perfect, but I can’t help being deeply patriotic in spite of it. Perhaps one day Canada will capitalize upon its betterness, decide that it’s sick of being pushed around by a nation that needs signs on Superman capes telling people that it doesn’t actually enable them to fly. Until that day, we can sleep well, knowing that even though we may have more crime, more poverty, more education problems, more health problems, more obesity, more depression, more lawsuits, more divide between the rich and the poor, and a more inept government, at least we’ve never, never once, finished a sentence with “eh?”

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An open letter: Diversity

To President George Bridges; Treasurer and CFO Peter Harvey; Dean Timothy Kaufman-Osborne; Dean Chuck Cleveland; the students, staff, and faculty that make up the College Budget Advisory Committee; and the general Whitman community:

We are a cadre of concerned student leaders who are enthusiastically in support of the proposal presented by the Dean of Students to create a new position for the 2007-2008 school year: an Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center.

We are diversity club representatives and presidents, current and former Intercultural Center interns, and members of every standing committee on ASWC. We see an assistant director of the Intercultural Center as extremely beneficial to the college and absolutely imperative to our goals as an institution of higher learning.

We watch the current Director of the Intercultural Center, Mukulu Mweu, overworked and understaffed, laudably but sadly doing the job of three staff members simply because she is one of two staff members paid to address diversity issues on this campus—the other being Kris Berry, International Students Advisor.

We see too many minority students feel alienated and dejected because there are only a few individuals at the college who they can turn to when they feel out of place and alone. We watch diversity clubs and organizations on campus go largely uncoordinated and unsupported not for lack of trying, but for lack of resources, time, and energy.

We have heard Whitman College’s goals at fostering diversity on this campus, and then watch it proceed to take half-measures towards this end. Fostering diversity does not just happen in the Admissions office, but must be an all-campus effort. Much like the symposium, the creation of an Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center is a step in the right direction. This person would ideally help to coordinate and mentor student groups to program more effectively, and would be trained in counseling diversity students.

We know that this proposal has been deliberated over by the President, Treasurer, and the members of the College Budget Advisory Committee. We believe that this position is an essential part to truly addressing diversity on this campus, We urge you to support the creation of an Assistant Director to the Intercultural Center.

Signed by: Ajay Abraham, Gabrielle Arrowood, Chris Chamness, Desiree Conti, Nadim Damluji, Griff Lambert, Bryce McKay, Julia Nelson, Brett Rawson, Mike Sado, Shayna Tivona, Cory Ulrich, Eric Wehlitz, Veronica Willeto

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Goodnight, room

by Valerie Lopez
WHITMAN COLLEGE PIONEER

Having to say farewell to relationships is never an easy experience. Unless of course, we’re saying goodbye to relationships that have contributed much damage to our emotional health and psyche.

It’s also another thing when the relationship we’re saying goodbye to is not an actual, living person. And no, I’m not speaking of imaginary friends or such sort, I’ve already said goodbye to mine a long time ago. I’m actually speaking of a room.

Yes, a room. I don’t know about many people, but I’m actually the type of individual that can get quite attached to personal spaces. Therefore, this whole business of moving out and in before finals are over can be quite a sad experience. Be that as it may, I think that moving out can elicit varied responses, depending on the type of relationship we have with our own particular rooms/habitations.

Room relationship a). There are several factors that can contribute to a rocky relationship with a particular space. If our particular neighbors have a certain penchant for hosting dance parties at ungodly hours during ungodly days of the week, if our spaces seem to be the mothership of several species of bugs, if the overall aesthetics of our rooms are not living-tolerable, if we have deep-seated issues with a roommate, then severing this type of room relationship is equivalent to saying goodbye to an asshole of a significant other. Most of the times, it’s very easy to say good bye and move on.

Room relationship b). If you are, then, the type of individual that does not get attached to personal spaces, then moving out is most likely an apathetic experience, generally. It’s most likely even annoying to do, because of all the hassle and everything. But I guess I wouldn’t really know, because as you can most likely predict, I am no such individual. Heh.

Room relationship c). Now this is where I come in. Packing in things can indeed be a sad experience. All the posters and trinkets and random shit you’ve managed to accumulate in your room have become transformed and metamorphosed with the memories you’ve invested in them.

Packing stuff in is also a very retrospective experience—it is inevitable to recount all your memories as you roll down posters, unpin photographs of friends, emptying drawers, putting wine bottles away (relics of funfunfun nights), and all that jazz. Bare walls and empty closets are just plain depressing. And the thought, oh the sad thought, of someone else residing in the room where you’ve had so many life-stuff experiences, is like the cherry to an amazingly depressing ice cream sundae. This severing of room experience is akin to saying goodbye to a good romantic relationship—you pack up your things, you think about all the amazing things that have happened, and then you take one last look and say goodbye. I know, it’s pretty sad.

But hey, there’s always the upside of moving out. It means you get to move in somewhere else, you get to make your mark, and add on to the history of a room where it has seen the glories and heartaches of the individuals living before you. New beginnings can be refreshing and empowering. It’s like getting to know a new friend. While the physical hassle of moving in can get very annoying, making the room your own personal space can be therapeutic. It’s a physical act of rooting yourself to a space, investing your own sense of individuality without fear or hesitation. For me, being open to moving in translates to being open to a new life-stuff experience.

I guess, at the very fuzzy inner core of moving in and out, underpinning such experience is dealing with a form of change. It can get slightly depressing, depending on how we attribute triviality or importance to a situation, but if we’re open to it enough, moving out and into a new place can be a very gratifying experience.

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Pop that liberal bubble

by Lucie Dufkova
GUEST COLUMNIST

My Thanksgiving break on campus gave me plenty of time to reflect on life. As Whitman turned into a ghost town, I became a daily customer of downtown Starbucks, trying to escape the deadly silence of our school. I began to contemplate over my favorite latte about my first few months at Whitman.

Looking at my recycled Starbucks cup with an environmental quote printed on its cover, I thought of a little napkin, which I saw on the message board at Bon Appetit a few days before. Some student expressed a concern about Whitman’s choice to sell Starbucks’ coffee because of their environmental practices. This memory of the napkin made me think of how little I fit into our community with my old-fashioned views. I am not a Democrat and there is very little I know about the environment. I am nothing but the opposite to the stereotypical Whitman student. I am a living proof that conservatism at our college is not yet an oxymoron because I didn’t go around and clap my hands when the Republicans lost the election. It made me sad.

Finding a George Bush supporter at Whitman is like looking for a needle in a pile of hay. It seems funny that a President elected through a democratic process has so little respect in such a diverse community, especially when there are so many states represented in the student body. We do not even have a Young Republicans Club to challenge the Young Democrats in a school debate. Sometimes it seems to me that our college reached a common consensus that what is Republican is simply wrong. Speakers who visit campus are often very liberally oriented and most of our professors take our liberal viewpoints for granted. It even says in the Princeton College Review that Republicans are almost dead in our community. Our school takes pride in this label.

I often find myself in the position of George Bush’s sole defender. No matter what mistakes he made in Iraq, I still see him as a man of great values. I see his failures, but I am not willing to overlook his positive contributions to freedom in general. I am distressed that most Whitman students do not think that there are reasons why the President is worth their respect. Bush sometimes reminds me of Ronald Reagan during the Cold War era. As a kid, I used to know Reagan’s words by heart because they gave me hope that my country could reform. In the same way, Bush makes me believe that America will always fight for democracy around the world. By this, I am not arguing that Whitman students should not criticize Bush for some of his actions. I hope that Whitties did not simply adopt the notion that being liberal is synonymous to being educated and broad-minded, because this kind of labeling is faulty.

Although most college campuses have a large liberal student community, Whitman far exceeds this standard. We go to extremes. Liberals on campus promote environmental care to such extent that I often wonder whether it is truly necessary to live so green. I find it cute that in the middle of wheat fields, we feel the necessity to invest money in reducing Whitman’s air pollution. Moreover, there is quite a large movement for animal rights on campus, which often raises questions about meat consumption.

I did not care about this trend in our community until I had to look at a picture of a dead animal during my dinner time. Putting this emotional picture in front of me could not possibly suppress my natural appetite for meat, but it made me think that Whitman is one of the few schools where vegetarianism receives such great attention.

What is even worse, Whitman promotes the vegan diet, although many doctors think it entails certain health problems and can lead to malnutrition. I knew a girl at my school who tried it for a year and then her doctor refused to give her medical treatment until she stopped. Her blood test yielded severe results. Knowing what she went through, I feel that Whitman should educate about veganism instead of simply promoting it.

Another issue, which makes me think about the Whitman liberals, is gay rights. I find it quite fascinating that in the last few years, our Western civilization accepted the gay movement as our key problem. At home in Prague, the gay and lesbian issue is never at the top of any party’s agenda, but in America, it seems to be the defining split between Democrats and Republicans. Concerns about gay rights are so widespread that I think they exceed the level of appropriateness. I totally agree that our society needs to make some legal changes, but isn’t gay marriage a bit too much? Should it have the same value as a marriage between a man and a woman? The truth is that if our society comprised purely of homosexuals, there would be no society at all in a few decades because we would fail to reproduce. I certainly hope that by promoting homosexual rights, we will not bring up a generation of young people questioning their sexuality because being homosexual sounds “cool.” The traditional family should always remain on top of our society’s values, although I agree we must learn to accept homosexuality as part of our culture.

At Whitman, I am sometimes suffocating with an overdose of liberalism, which makes me wonder whether our school does not need a conservative injection. I often think that our community fails to reflect America as a country of two separate political stands, which does not prepare us for the reality outside of the bubble.

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Packer’s The Assassin’s Gate is a vital read

by Ari van Schilfgaarde
WHITMAN COLLEGE PIONEER

George Packer’s “The Assassin’s Gate” is a wonderfully crafted and insightful look at the Iraq War from its idealistic beginnings. What makes this book so relevant and insightful is the great care that Packer takes to analyze issues with depth and sensitivity.

As opposed to many in the popular media, Packer takes care to trace the origins of neoconservative who eventually came to form Bush’s Iraq War planning group were all coming from the same ideology who looked back at America’s foreign policy since 1970 and saw a consistent thread of timidity. This, argued the neoconservatives, is a betrayal of America’s values as a nation and its practical foreign policy goals.

The advent of the second Bush and his black-and-white views of the world and messianic view of American power gave the neoconservatives, with three decades of policy proposals and the rhetoric and views to match the new President, an opportunity to test the might of their theoretical discussion with the full backing of the American military.

Packer masterfully paints a picture of the early war as an intellectual exercise mugged by the reality of a country that no one had bothered to study. As tacticians, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz brilliantly planned the first phases of the invasion, but then when it came time to plan for the reconstruction completely ignored the issue.

Packer describes the bureaucratic infighting between the White House and the Coalition Provisional Authority that created second, shadow planning groups within the executive branch. He describes in vivid detail how these other groups kept the people in the reconstruction portion completely away from any sort of decision-making ability. It is this sort of clear and incisive analysis that makes this book such a wonderful read.

With the intellectual history of the Iraq war and its practical implications effectively woven throughout the first section of the book, Packer turns to the real substance of his reporting: his experiences during the early parts of the Iraq reconstruction. Here and in the ensuing sections describing the development of the insurgency from the muddled dreams of idealism that came with the fall of Saddam Hussein, Packer shines as both a reporter and an author.

Although he inserts himself and his voice periodically throughout the book, never once does there seem to be the rancor and hysteria that so often accompanies such editorializing. In fact, his addition of his own struggles is a welcome humanizing note that leaves the reader better able to empathize with a completely foreign world.

Through Packer’s broad number of contacts within not only the American diplomatic and reconstruction corps but also myriad Iraqis, we are left reading anecdote and after anecdote of the gathering tangle of inefficient leadership and the desperate attempts of the people affected to sort it out.

George Packer’s unique contribution to the growing body of literature surrounding the Iraq War is his ability to lead the reader through a complicated web of ideology and political theory and then accurately express the implications on the ground without once attacking the very idealism that brought us the war.

Packer manages to show the quintessential problem that the Bush Administration found in Iraq. By removing itself from the detailed work of rebuilding a fractured and unstable government and “leading” by demanding ideologically acceptable progress reports, the neoconservatives in Washington were assured that the theory which guided America’s involvement in Iraq was bound to fail.

“The Assassin’s Gate” is a detailed and careful history of the first few years after the fall of Saddam and disintegration of hope that accompanied the possibility of a free and democratic fully functioning Iraqi state.

Throughout this triumph of a book, Packer deftly weaves personal narrative, actual reporting and political theory to show the beginnings of the current debacle, its ferment in vacuum of leadership in the country and its eventual distribution across the country in the wave of violence that now sloshes throughout the country. As with the best history lessons, Packer shows us not only what we did wrong, but also what we could realistically do better.

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Distributing away the breadth of education

by Sarah McCarthy
WHITMAN COLLEGE PIONEER

When plotting my schedule for the coming semester, I first, carefully, make up a bizarre-world schedule—one full of classes that I am unqualified for, that I would not like, and that I would sooner drop out of school than take. This spring’s schedule includes: LIB 100: Use of the Library, SSRA 250-A (Intercollegiate Basketball-men), Advanced Printmaking, and, most importantly, Honors Thesis—BBMB. Once I finished cackling with delight at my bizarre-schedule’s bizarroness, I realized two important facts about my real schedule: first, that I am nearly done with my distribution requirements and second, that by all rights I should not be. To act truly in the spirit of distribution requirements, one must make up a bizarre-world schedule and then actually take one of the classes on it. I have desecrated this spirit in the most shameful of ways.

My first act of desecration was to take Astro 110 as my science with a lab. Astro 110 was, may I say, a delightful class taught by an extremely delightful person. It moved my soul, made me want to cry for the sheer beauty of the universe, and taught me the most important fact I’ve ever learned: that on Saturn, the rain is liquid helium. The class was many things, but a science with a lab was certainly not one of them. No labs occurred. It is impossible to exaggerate the extent to which there were no labs. Indeed, unless the word “lab” has been redefined to mean “worksheet,” not a single lab happened.

I tacked on my remaining two science credits by taking an even more tricky class, “Seminars in Nutrition.” The class met once a week, included no papers or a final, and, trickiest of all, it appeared as the impressive-looking Bio 427 on my transcript. The actual students in the class were an ungodly hybrid of both classics, theatre, and English majors hungry for distribution and, strangely enough, people going for honors in BBMB who needed a few more upper-level Bio credits. Mostly, we just stared at each other in confusion as BBMB people presented on the science behind macrobiotic diets and the classics majors talked about instances of feasting in “The Odyssey.” We were united, however, in our desire to use fats, oils and sweets sparingly. At the end of the semester, we had an awkward but nutritious potluck. Rarely has there been a more amazing class.

Perhaps my best trick of all has been fulfilling my alternative voices with a class that teaches me the foundation of Western civilization—Latin. Latin, like astronomy, is a great, maybe even a perfect class. In simply no way, though, are the voices of ancient Rome “alternative.” Have the voices of Ovid, Cicero, and Virgil been too long silenced? In upper-level Latin and Greek, both of which count for alternative voices here, you essentially just read things you did in Core in their original languages. This is all well and good, of course, but “alternative” it is not. I plan to take one of the “women” classes—women as composers, maybe, or women in ancient Greece for my next alternative voices. I will take them and not worry very much about whether a group that comprises 52 percent of the world’s population can really be considered “alternative.” To carry the logic further would mean that being a woman is really just a less-favorable alternative to being a man, but the course catalog cannot be blamed—it states that those classes are alternative and I blindly believe it.

In that this long saga of my schedule there is a point, and it is this: Distribution is silly. The fact that you are made to take SIX credits in every area is un-called for and simply bad manners—it’s a bit akin to the restaurant manager in “Office Space” demanding that people wear more than the minimum amount of “flair.” If you want us to take two classes in every subject, mighty Whitman, then just say so; but don’t make this dreadful policy that spawns two-credit quasi classes in which little to no learning occurs. Or better yet, realize that if you have to bend the rules enough that you can weasel your way out of as many requirements as I have, the rules need a change. The change is not stricter requirements but fewer of them. Change the number of credits to four per subject area and allow people to opt out of at least one of them. If they’re careful enough readers of the course catalog, they’ll manage to opt out anyways. Leave bizzaro-world schedules for bizarre world—allow people a little more time to take what they actually want.

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Curing sickness by the spoonful

by Valerie Lopez
WHITMAN COLLEGE PIONEER

Aside from dispelling my irrational fears of having bronchitis or pneumonia (a big middle finger salute to whoever got me hacking phlegm for two weeks now), my friends provide a necessary anodyne relief to an irreverent strain of cold: spooning. Yes, hold the Nyquils, the Dayquils and the Robitussins. At this time of the year, cough syrup isn’t enough to get you well, when the culmination of school work and stupidlifeshitdrama consequently leads to psychosomatic detriments. Spooning is necessary.

(For those who are not entirely literate in “this generation’s” vernacular, spooning entails a horizontal hug where at least two individuals lie back to chest, and fit into each others’ nooks like little spoons in a drawer—source: urbandictionary.com.)

Because I unfortunately can’t pack my mommy into a suitcase and have her at my convenience, I unfortunately can’t receive mommy-love, therefore no mommy-spooning. Mommy-spooning is a category of spooning all on its own. Naturally, this doesn’t necessitate a biological mother but anyone you consider being mothered by. Being mommy-spooned entails a very childhood sense of comfort and safety, a physical reassurance that, despite all the mean kids in the play ground, the horrible math teachers, and the childhood fevers, everything in the world is going to be alright. The orientation of mommy-spooning resembles a fetal like position, physically depicting a deep sense of connection between a mother and a child. Man, I miss my mom.

Now, back to my college supplement to cough syrup. Friend-spooning is just as necessary to physical and emotional health as mommy-spooning because it provides an atmosphere conducive, but not limited, to the following: a. a comforting silence shared by all parties involved, b. DMCs (deep meaningful conversations), c. exchange of hilarious personal narratives, d. an opportunity to orchestrate bodily noises, e. tickling matches, f. much lovin’. You secretly know there’s nothing more delightful than playfully fighting your role in either being the Big Spoon or the Little Spoon, and in this realm of spooning a 200-pound guy is just as likely to be Little Spoon as is a 90-pound lad. The major advantage to this type of spooning is the unlimited number of individuals that can partake in the activity and—sometimes—the more the merrier. Friend-spooning is a platonic way of showing your friendly affections and care, which is most necessary when your friends are experiencing a virulent strain of life experience.

And then there’s the significant-other spooning. I am certain that most of you already know the merits of this category (although I really would like to say that spooning isn’t spooning if it leads to something else—that’s called foreplay). It provides a different sense of comfort; it physically reflects the romantic relationship shared by the two parties involved. And that’s fun too.

Obviously there’s no possible way I could trace the genealogy of spooning, but it’s not very difficult to understand its importance. Firstly, from the aforementioned categories of spooning, we can deduce that the delicate mechanics of spooning (as in platonic vs. romantic displays of physical affection) not only reflects the type of relationship you have with others, but, more importantly, the level of trust and affection you possess for the other individual(s).

The world is consistently in flux, unstable, and precarious as it bombards us with strains that permeate our emotional beings. Although we do need our allotted alone-time in order to recuperate, I believe that loneliness further aggravates us. Most of the time, a direct physical contact or a firm sense of physical presence of others is needed in order to remind us that we’re not alone and that we have other people who do care for us. Underpinning all spooning is warmth and security; when time becomes anachronistic and the harsh realities of the world dissolve.

Now that I think about it, it may be entirely possible that a poet was slightly misquoted: “Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast, / To feel for ever its soft fall and swell, / Awake for ever in a sweet unrest, / Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath, / And so live ever—or else spoon to death.”

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