Letters to the Editor

Some time ago, I reserved the Seelye common room for a party. After my party ended, a few incidents of vandalism occurred in the dorm. The next weekend, I went home to New York, and over that weekend, another party caused damage in my dorm. In neither case was I responsible for the damage, yet, in both cases, I was charged (everyone in my dorm was charged in the latter case). Why? Because I followed the College’s policy on party registration, which, I now realize, provides an economic incentive to ignore the rules.

According to the College’s current policy on party registration, if you register a party, nothing good can come of it: you are held responsible for any and all damages occurring in the dorm that night, whether or not you or your party has anything to do with the damages. If, on the other hand, you don’t register a party, there is no way you can be held responsible for it, unless someone turns you in-an unlikely scenario, given the fact that you have just treated the witnesses to a night of drunken revelry.

Moreover, the charges attached to these damages are exorbitantly high, as the damage charge often includes not only the cost of the repair but a punitive fine as well. While there is no doubt that, in all cases, there is someone at fault who should pay for the damage, in a system that almost always fails to blame the right person, it is impossible to justify charging $100 to replace the pin in a fire extinguisher or to clean up the vomit on the steps outside a dorm. Not only does this punitive fine punish the wrong person (and therefore cannot be justified by moral desert), it can also hardly be said to deter, unless the administration expects students to stand sentinel outside their dorm after their party, diligently warding off potential drunken perpetrators until sunrise. In fact, it seems the only action being deterred is party registration.

These problems only ensure that parties will continue to go unregistered, especially as more and more students realize that not registering their party is a dominant strategy. The most obvious solution is not to blindly charge people for damages without some minimum amount of evidence. Whether or not this means the real perpetrator escapes punishment, it avoids blaming the one person responsible enough (dumb enough?) to give his name to the RC. Besides being downright rude, the current policy creates a clear disincentive to follow the rules.

Benjamin Softness ’06

Churches reflect Maguire’s thoughts

Thanks to Jacob Maguire ’07 for thoughtfully reflecting on the spectacle of national leaders who claim moral superiority while they debase the core values of the Christian tradition they purport to serve (“Political Christians have overlooked Christ’s true teachings,” March 9). As Jacob concludes, “Ultimately, the world of Christian politics will never reflect Christ himself until it takes up his mantle of justice and provides for the ‘least of these.'”

Jacob’s argument, in turn, echoed a rare joint statement a day earlier from the heads of five mainline Protestant denominations. These leaders denounced the 2006 budget proposed by President George W. Bush as “unjust,” and they called for political action to oppose it. Representing more than 20 million Americans in the Episcopal Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church, the leaders bring attention to the 300,000 people who will be moved off food stamps and the $45 billion cut to Medicaid.

They write that “These cuts would be alarming in any circumstances, but in the context of the 2006 budget, they are especially troubling. For even as it reduces aid to those in poverty, this budget showers presents on the rich. …. If passed in its current form, it would take Jesus’ teaching on economic justice and stand it on its head.”

The statement counters the idea that “faith-based” initiatives can replace government support. “Neither we, nor our Evangelical brothers and sisters, nor our friends of other faiths have anywhere near the resources to turn back the rising tide of poverty in this country.”

It concludes with a call for political action: “We urge the members of our churches, of other churches and other faiths, and all whose conscience compels them to do justice to join us in opposing this budget. Write to your representatives. Write to your local newspaper. Join the organizations working to obtain justice for the 36 million Americans living below the poverty line, the 45 million without health insurance and the unknown millions struggling to keep their families from slipping into these ever increasing ranks. Together, let us pledge ourselves to creating a nation in which economic policies are infused with the spirit of the man who began his public ministry almost 2,000 years ago by proclaiming that God had anointed him ‘to bring good news to the poor.'”

The complete joint ecumenical statement is available at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_59750_ENG_HTM.htm. You’re in good company, Jacob. I hope you keep living your faith as it grows with you and I hope you keep writing.

Advancement Information Systems

Director, Lee Barstow

Compassion and condemnation

In the March 9, edition of The Amherst Student, Jacob Maguire urges American Christians to “move away from the politics of condemnation and move toward the politics of healing and provision.” Why do we have to choose?

Compassion must arrive in the form of nourishment for the body. Whether tragedy strikes near (9/11) or far (the Bengal Tsunami), Americans seem to grasp quite clearly-with little prodding-the part their generosity can play. The reluctance of some (Christian and not) to channel that generosity through the federal government­­-call it misguided, if you will-is rooted in serious questions about means and ends. To chalk it up to callousness or indifference misjudges them.

As any Christian knows, though, we are more than bodies. Compassion cannot truly be so that ignores the hunger of the soul: To love its divine perfectability. The body preordains weakness and error. But knowledge of a higher power-a repository, however remote, of perfect knowledge and understanding-assures us that the better angels of our nature can answer weakness and error.

The Talmud tells us that to be kind to the wicked, shows wickedness to the kind. Common sense agrees. Millions cry out for relief from woeful suffering and misfortune. They need an active, tangible love. But those whose hearts truly stray far from Christ, or from the good, need love too. They need a pointed, arresting love that opens the path to overcome their faults and teaches others by their (sad) example. Sweet words of “healing and provision,” while preferable to “angry sermonizing,” can’t be all we rely upon.

To minister solely to the materially destitute ever speaks to good intentions-but it enshrines the body at the expense of the soul. The spiritually destitute, sometimes rich in worldly belongings-sometimes even Republicans (lest we forget Pope John Paul II’s many condemnations of the Bush Administration’s policies)-need ministering. And being the least likely to seek it out, condemnation and reprimand may be required to find their ears.

Prudence may dictate the tone, but the message can hardly be in doubt: Love means, on occasion, having to say “no.”

Jordan Edwards ’05

The Court is the real problem

In three of the last four issues of The Student, the Point/Counterpoint discussion has involved major legal issues. In each of these columns the main point of contention-whether over the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance or the “right to die”-has been the constitutional basis of these issues. In each case, the arguments address how the United States Supreme Court should rule on these issues.

I will not dispute the relevance of these issues, nor do I believe that the U.S. government should ignore them. Still, I think that these columnists have missed the biggest problem in the matter: the Supreme Court itself. What is both most upsetting and most dire about these cases is that they are being “decided” by a court with little power and even less will to use it.

Historically, the Supreme Court has been revered as the highest seat of law in the country. In the 20th century alone, it has heard such monumental cases as Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade. But today’s Supreme Court is not the progressive and effective force it was. The country’s executors no longer feel the need to comply with the court, and the court itself is hesitant to involve itself in real and significant cases.

Take, for instance, the 2002 Atkins v. Virginia ruling that executing the mentally challenged is a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Justice Antonin Scalia noted prior to the ruling that there would be “no coming back” from such a ruling. Since then, however, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has attempted to prevent borderline handicapped inmates on death row (there at least 12 as of the June 2002 ruling) from receiving testing. This has effectively allowed Texas, and any other state that chooses to follow suit, to circumvent this ruling.

This problem may be attributable to the executive branch’s unwillingness to cooperate with the Supreme Court. That being said, the Court seems to recognize its own impotence. In a startlingly disappointing move, the Court dismissed the Pledge of Allegiance debate of Elk Grove Unified School Dist. v. Newdow in June of 2004, saying simply that Newdow was not the legal guardian of the child in question, so he could not legally bring charges.

The Supreme Court has yet to resolve the question of church and state in the current conservative administration. It is completely incapable of upholding its rulings on human rights. These examples are only two of many. The Court cannot make the executive branch comply with its rulings, past or present, and it lacks the will and power to resolve the questions plaguing our legal system. It has not been able to compel states to repeal sodomy laws, and it has not heard a case about gay marriage. As an institution designed to serve the people, the Supreme Court is failing miserably.

Justin Blanset ’07

Satirical humor misunderstood

The Hamster never fails to live up to its reputation, and letters in the March 9 edition of The Student were evidence that this past issue kept to the trend. But I can’t help thinking that charges that the magazine was racist and undeserving of school funding are less the product of the publication itself, and more the product of the social climate at Amherst.

The offending article in The Hamster was titled “Tsunami Devastates Asian Culture House.” Upon actually reading the article, it becomes clear that it was not making fun of the tsunami-specifically referring to it as “unquestionably tragic”-but was only using it as a foil to make a broader point: to satirize ignorant racism. Far from promoting the notion that Asian-Americans are “interchangeable,” the article was plainly deriding stereotypical portraits of Asians.

It is nothing short of pure irony that an article ridiculing those who persist in their racism is itself being accused of being racist. Such claims may be the product of ignorance as to the nature of satire or even a desire to cripple an already struggling publication, but regardless of the motivation, the result is simply to quash all discussion of minority status on campus. At the point when any mention of race in a satirical article is grounds for bringing arms to bear (and subsequently for the Budgetary Committee to recommend that the offending publication no longer receive any funding at all), we obliterate the already tenuous line between political correctness and censorship.

Whether or not The Hamster succeeds in being humorous, it certainly succeeds in continuing the conversation on a variety of issues that still need to be addressed. The function of satire in society has long been to tackle issues that others will not, and to try to get people to consider them critically. To deprive the Amherst community of its only satirical magazine because of some limited misinterpretation of one article is to let sensitivity trump intellectualism on campus.

Andrew Gehring ’06

The Hamster is not a racist publication

I sincerely regret that Justine Chae ’05, the ASA and other people whom I deeply respect were offended by the article “Tsunami Devastates Asian Culture House.” However, I believe accusations of “racism” are misplaced. I have even heard from Asian students that some thought the article was “hilarious.” Just because Asian stereotypes were depicted does not mean that The Hamster endorses them-just as “Silence of the Lambs” does not endorse cannibalism. Amherst students are smart enough to be exposed to these stereotypes, laugh and reject them.

First of all, The Hamster mocked the stupidity of those who employed the stereotypes, not Asians themselves. Secondly, as far as stereotypes were concerned, only the most harmless (i.e. love of sweet and sour sauce) were used. Third, The Hamster by no means singled out Asians in the issue as a whole.

As someone who lives in the Asian Culture House and who is traveling to China this summer, I have a deep respect for Asian culture. I also have no doubt that Chae and the ASA are motivated by the noble goal of eradicating racism, and I am sorry to have caused distress to such good people. But joking references to “Yin and Yang” in a satire publication do not constitute “racism.” If you are one of the many people who enjoyed the article, there is no need to feel ashamed.

Jay Buchman ’07

WAMH listeners are supportive too

I was pleased to learn in the March 9 staff editorial that crowds at men’s basketball games have been robust, particularly this postseason. However, I bristled at the suggestion that the support for the College of those who listen to broadcasts on WAMH is in any way “lesser.” By tuning in to WAMH, students are supporting the efforts of both those who play in and those who report on the games. Radio listeners are not as conspicuous, or as loud, as those who attend the games, but they should not be made to feel that their contribution to the Amherst community is “lesser.”

Greg Dworkowitz ’04