Author: Brooke Janusz

Facebook Paris filters fail to show empathy

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Facebook gave its users the option to add a French flag filter to their profile picture. The purpose of these filters was to show support for the French as they grieved. A tremendous amount of people took advantage of the opportunity to show their support. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this public sign of compassion for Paris, I think the filters minimize not only the violence of the terrorist attacks, but also neglects the many other acts of violence occuring around the world.

Many Facebook users with no connection to Paris whatsoever mindlessly changed their profile pictures solely because everyone else did. People wanted to jump on the Paris sympathy bandwagon because they didn’t want to be viewed as heartless or uninformed. While the idea of the whole world coming together in solidarity with Paris is nice, it is short-lived and superficial.

Similar to the trends I saw when people changed their profile pictures to show support for the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage, Facebook users changed their picture back after a couple of days. Once the hysteria over the attacks died down, people reverted to their old pictures because they felt that they had “done their part” in showing their support.

This tragedy will never feel like old news to those personally affected, and it is wrong to belittle the attacks as a social media trend. The whole fad seems quite perfunctory. Changing your picture is an easy action for anyone on Facebook. It is a mindless action that lacks meaning.

I am aware that no one consciously tried to minimize these attacks, but it seems like many are only changing their profile pictures to make themselves look like they are both informed and sympathetic. This global effort to support Paris isn’t supposed to be about Facebook users improving their own personal image; however, it appears that in some cases desire for social capital movitated many participants in the social media trend.

The filters also minimize the other tragedies that occurred near the time of the Paris attacks. Hearing about terrorism, violence and oppression that result in huge casualties, such as those in Beirut and Russia. The constant reporting of violence in our world has desensitized us to tragedies such as these. However, as soon as we hear about violence happening in the Western world, people freak out. We live in a world where constant violence and turmoil persist, and while it may be impossible for every individual to support or acknowledge every tragedy, we must be conscientius about which instances of violence we privilege.

But my question is, why single out Paris? Why is Paris worthy of a special filter while Beirut, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tunisia, Iraq, Syria and countless others are not? Because the Facebook filters focus solely on Paris, they indirectly create the illusion that everything else happening in the world isn’t as important as events in the West.

Rather than attempting to make a filter for specific tragedies, which could be used for superficial means, it would be preferable to provide filters allowing users to support global issues rather than select countries.

Brooke Janusz ’18 (janusz1@stolaf.edu) is from Thousand Oaks, Calif. She majors in economics.

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Admiral Stavridis examines American security

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the Political Awareness Committee’s (PAC) fall speaker, Admiral James Stavridis, spoke to several hundred students in Boe Memorial Chapel. The audience was captivated by his lecture, which showcased his extensive knowledge of foreign policy and his humor. Stavridis spoke about the national security challenges facing the United States and possible solutions to those challenges.

PAC chose to host Stavridis because of his national security and foreign policy expertise. Unlike past events, PAC wanted to host someone who would speak about a larger political issue rather than strictly liberal or conservative topics.

“In the past few years, [PAC] had one conservative speaker for the fall and one liberal speaker for the spring and vice versa. But this year we wanted to sway away from the traditional red versus blue, and [bring] more views into politics. Politics isn’t just about Republican vs. Democrats, it’s also about international affairs, it’s also about stuff happening elsewhere besides America,” PAC Event Coordinator Yishu Dai ’18 said.

Stavridis began his lecture by examining some of the failures of 20th century security, including the number of human casualties in World War I.

“Why did 20th century security fail? Many reasons, but the principal one is that we tried to create security by building walls,” Stavridis said. “Walls will not create security. Bridges create security.”

Stavridis then spoke about many of America’s larger national security issues in the context of today’s world, including the threat of ISIS. Stavridis described ISIS as a top priority security threat for a number of reasons.

“This group is different and more dangerous than anything I’ve described up to now. Why? Because they are extremely effective at raising money, selling humans, selling antiquities, smuggling hydrocarbons, extortion and bank robbery… and secondly, because of branding – creating a global view of themselves through a whole series of violent incidents,” Stavridis said.

While Stavridis believes that ISIS poses the largest terror threat to the United States, North Korea is the country that America should be most concerned with right now.

“Their young leader is very emotionally unstable, medically challenged, very much driven to contain power and has a really bad haircut. But worst of all, he has the means to deliver nuclear weapons,” Stavridis said.

Stavridis also emphasized the threat of cyber warfare. He argued that it is one of the biggest security threats of all because it will quickly become a popular weapon in coming years and it has the ability to affect millions of people personally as well as do millions of dollars in damage.

“People would ask me when I was the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, what kept you awake at night? Afghanistan, the Balkans, Syria, piracy? No, what I worried about most is cyber. As nations develop these cyber weapons, we have the potential for very large incidents going forward, and that’s what I worry about more than anything else,” Stavridis said.

Stavridis outlined a few possible solutions to world security problems, including turning to fiction as inspiration for peace and policy, encouraging more women to become involved in international affairs, increasing world literacy rates and striving for energy independence. He remains confident that the United States has the ability to face its threats.

“I don’t think we can or should be the world’s policeman. I don’t think we should drive every event that happens. But, I do think the United States does have a great deal of capability that, if applied well, can create security,” Stavridis said.

Some students felt that some of the solutions that Stavridis proposed were lacking in substance and specificity.

“He didn’t flesh out specifically how any of his solutions would be implemented. I believe his talk was foundational for understanding the situation but never delved deeper into a specific area of study,” William Seabrook ’16 said.

Dai thinks that this is because Stavridis had such a short time to cover such a large topic. She got a different impression of his ideas during a discussion PAC had with Stavridis beforehand.

Stavridis enjoyed speaking at St. Olaf and came away from the talk with a favorable impression of the student body.

“I do a lot of public speaking, and I found that the questions I was asked tonight by the St. Olaf students were the highest quality that I have heard in a year, both in terms of the breadth of questions, in other words the various topics, but also in the level of sophistication of the questions. So I go away very impressed with the student body.”

janusz1@stolaf.edu

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Faculty in focus: Meet Anthony Becker

Behind the desk in office 414E of Holland Hall sits Professor of Economics Anthony Becker, well-known in his department for his rigorous but fascinating classes. Countless books, papers and files cover the tabletops, walls and floor of the office.

“He thinks it makes him look like he’s a busy person,” his wife, Professor of Economics Rebecca Judge said. Nevertheless, he has certainly accomplished a lot in the field of economics.

Before coming to St. Olaf, Becker graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in economics and obtained his PhD from Duke University. He specialized in econometrics, industrial organization and public finance. After graduating from Duke, he taught for two years at Northeastern University but left to start teaching at St. Olaf in 1987. Becker enjoys teach- ing at St. Olaf and particularly likes that he can work beside Judge.

“One of the real attractions to the job here is that we get to work together and do research together,” Becker said.

Becker has taught a number of different classes in the economics department, including microeconomic theory, game theory, principles of economics and previously offered classes such as sports economics and business and government. His favorite class, however, is econometrics. Becker enjoys teaching time series econometrics, which studies how certain variables,

such as prices, change over time in a dynamic system.

“Once you have mastered time series analysis, you can do really interesting things like forecasting, and analysis of macro- economic policy, fiscal policy, monetary policy and looking at the effects of, let’s say, oil prices on the macro economy or the Federal Reserve policy on unemployment and inflation. Things

you can’t do with just normal statistical analysis,” Becker said. Outside of class, Becker’s research interests vary from the effect of US agricultural policies on agricultural production in countries such as Costa Rica and Argentina to studying why there is such a great disparity between the number of women

studying economics and the number of men.

Alongside Professor of Economics Ashley Hodgson, Becker is looking to investigate this gender disparity further through a project called the Undergraduate Women in Economics challenge.

“St. Olaf is pretty typical in that 35 percent of our [economics] majors are women. Of course, at St. Olaf about 54 percent of the student body is female and so we have a real underrepre- sentation, and the question is why,” he said.

Becker and Hodgson are hoping to answer that question and change this imbalance. Through their project, funded by the National Bureau of Economic research, Becker said that they hope to “look at maybe changing some of the ways we do things and adding some interventions to try to encourage more wom- en to major in economics.”

Becker also published a research paper last year that he had been working on for several years with his wife. Becker and Judge investigated whether or not the Unites States’ farm sub- sidy program influences output.

“And that’s an important issue, because the World Trade Or- ganization says you can’t have subsidy programs that are distor- tionary and affect output. We claim that our subsidy programs don’t affect output, but our findings were very strong in sug- gesting that in fact they do,” Becker said.

They also studied the effect of American subsidies on Costa Rican agricultural production, and they are continuing to look at the effects on Argentinean agricultural production.

“There was a big controversy about imports of agricultural products to Costa Rica from the United States. Because of the subsidies, they could underprice the Costa Rican farmers. Sev- en years later we were in Argentina for a semester and looked at the effect of the US subsidies. Because US subsidies affect the world price and the world price affects Argentinian production of corn and soybeans. That’s really where the research is head- ing now – to look at Argentina, their production and how our agricultural policies influence Argentina.”

janusz1@stolaf.edu

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