Category: Opinions

Catalonian independence is unnecessary

Ever since Thomas Jefferson’s eloquent Declaration of Independence from England and the war that followed, U.S. citizens have had a simplistic conception of how independence movements form and proceed. According to the American mythos, independence movements arise when an oppressive state tyrannizes a population, leading to the Lockean obligation for that group of people to revolt against their oppressors and form their own government.

The reality of most independence movements is much more complicated, a hard truth recently on display in the semi-autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia. For many years, a sizable number of Catalan citizens have been clamoring for independence from the centralized Spanish government. To that end, disgruntled voters in the 2015 elections empowered a number of small, pro-independence parties that formed a minority governing coalition promising to hold an independence referendum. 

On Sept. 6, the Catalan regional government officially called the referendum, provoking the ire of the Spanish central government and a number of pro-unity Catalans. The government was more than annoyed, however. After the Spanish Constitutional Court declared the vote illegal, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy sent national and regional police numbering 16,000 into Catalonia to arrest referendum organizers and confiscate ballots, a move that provoked massive protests and widespread furor.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was adamant that the vote would be held, and on Oct. 1, an overwhelming 92 percent of voters declared their support for independence. Skeptics of the vote immediately raised objections questioning the vote’s legitimacy. Indeed, the Catalan government’s hamstrung electoral operation did lead to voting irregularities and procedural problems, and the referendum’s turnout was fairly low due to the massive police presence and high abstention among opponents of the referendum.

While the pro-independence faction won the vote, Puigdemont worried about a vicious Spanish crackdown if he declared independence. As such, he chose ambiguity over audacity, proclaiming that Catalonia had the right to declare independence, but would delay doing so in favor of a negotiated solution with the central government. Rajoy rejected this proposal and declared on Oct. 21 that he would initiate the process of dissolving Catalonia’s parliament and holding new elections.

The situation in Catalonia is tense, complex and morally disorienting. On the one hand, a fractured Spain would certainly be detrimental to European stability and economic growth. Businesses in Catalonia have already begun relocating due to the wild political vicissitudes ailing the region. These businesses located in Catalonia based on sound economic reasoning, yet they are now forced to move to less-profitable locales in the face of Catalonia’s uncertain future. An independent Catalonia may also face tariffs and economic isolation from an unhappy Spain and her allies, many eager to quash their own regional independence movements (see: Scotland, Lombardy, Wales, Flanders, Quebec …).

Beyond the economic repercussions, forming a new nation is inherently destabilizing. A sovereign Catalonia would face the monumental challenge of transforming their regional government into a national one, and would face the always-thorny tasks of negotiating trade agreements and diplomatic ties.

Catalonia is not a conventionally sympathetic candidate for independence either. As mentioned earlier, Americans typically imagine independence movements as black-and-white struggles of oppressors versus the oppressed, a narrative conducive to the many anti-colonialist revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet Catalonia is far from a persecuted colonial holding, with a vibrant economy and a fair degree of political control. Their only claim to independence seems to lie in their tax burden, in which they provide 21 percent of Spain’s tax revenue despite accounting for 16 percent of its population. However, Catalonia’s tax complaint is both selfish and irrational: Catalonia is only paying more in taxes because of their high levels of wealth, not because of anti-Catalan fiscal policy. Pro-independence activists also emphasize Catalonia’s distinct history and cultural identity, yet their current semi-autonomous status renders these arguments toothless. Spain is not hindering their cultural expression in any discernible way. 

On the other hand, the Catalan independence referendum does raise a legitimate moral question: to whom does self-determination apply? According the the United Nations charter, self-determination is the right of a people to choose their sovereignty and political status without interference. Under this doctrine, if a majority of Catalans favored independence, they would be morally justified in seceding from Spain.

However, the right of a nation to sovereignty is another moral principle, one that can conflict with self-determination. The principle of sovereignty posits that states have the right to self-governance and territorial integrity, yet self-determination may entail the violation of a state’s territorial integrity if a certain population wants to declare independence and secede.

These two moral principles are based on the idea that people and nations ought to rule themselves as they best see fit, yet these views can and do conflict. In Catalonia’s case, the Spanish central government sees Catalan independence as detrimental to Spain’s prosperity by robbing them of tax revenue, degrading the rule of law and weakening their overall economy and national reputation. Conversely, Catalans view independence as an economic boon and a guarantor of cultural vitality and political autonomy.

While Catalans do not have legitimate grievances, they ought to have the right to at least negotiate with the Spanish government through a third-party arbitrator. In light of competing moral principles, a negotiated compromise seems to be the only viable solution. Above all else, Mariano Rajoy must reign in his dictatorial impulses and respect Catalonia’s right to self-determination. Meanwhile, Catalans must acknowledge how brazenly illegal and self-interested their independence movement is, and should prepare themselves psychologically for a final political status short of independence.

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Starbucks Reserve Bars up the coffee game

It is a little ironic that a small coffee shop in hipster Seattle with a bare-breasted mermaid as its logo has become an integral part of “mainstream” culture. 

Perhaps a desire to stay ahead of the curve was an impetus for launching the Starbucks Reserve Bars, with select stores in cities around the country and world. 

According to the Starbucks Newsroom, Reserve Bars are “an interactive space, where customers can relax near the amber glow of the Siphon brewer or watch the slow, steady pour of Nitro Cold Brew cascade into a glass.” 

The pictures in the accompanying article show stores with spacious interiors finished with wood, black walls and hanging light fixtures.

The reserve coffee itself is described with words like small-lot, single origin, unique, limited edition and microclimate.

Sound pretentious? Absolutely. Does the minimalist black and bronze logo do anything to assuage this? Nope. But hear me out, because these stores are nonetheless a cause for coffee lovers to rejoice. 

Due to how new the bars are and how few locations are open, there are unfortunately none close to Northfield, but I recently attended the New York Coffee Festival where Starbucks had a Reserve Bar stall. 

I sampled their siphon-brewed coffee, which is created with a fancy apparatus that siphons liquid between two chambers via heating and cooling during the brewing process. While the whole production was more involved than a simple espresso machine or pour-over, the resulting coffee was incredibly smooth, which the friendly, beanie-clad woman making the coffee told me was a result of this particular brewing process – that, and a characteristic of the certain type of bean they were using. 

Another drink they were sampling was a combination of espresso and ginger beer, which was surprisingly delicious. It was new and different, and I got the distinctly hipster feeling that I had discovered something before it was cool. A feeling that only slightly abated when the Stumptown Coffee stall gave me an almost identical sample. 

As showy as these new drinks and techniques are, the product is tasty and the passion of the people driving the bars is genuine. 

I think it is great that Starbucks is continuing to try new things and improve customers’ experiences instead of resting on their laurels. 

By opening new stores, they are creating a space for people to access innovative ways of consuming their favorite caffeinated beverage while holding onto the long time favorites of the original stores.

One good thing about Starbucks getting to be such a major presence is that it made good coffee accessible to the masses. Places around the country where before the best cup of coffee available was watery drip coffee from the closest diner now likely have a Starbucks somewhere nearby.

Reserve Bars have the potential, to some extent, to mimic that idea. To give people access to a place where they can experience things like nitrogen infused cold brew and siphon-brewed coffee.

It is unlikely Reserve Bars will ever be as ubiquitous as regular Starbucks, but I hope that they are successful enough to continue to expand. 

Because while some of the drinks they are offering may sound kind of out there, I don’t think they are anymore outrageous than spiced gourd flavored coffee used to be, and look how popular it is today. 

Through things like the pumpkin spice latte and other seasonal and limited time specialty drinks, the regular Starbucks stores have shown that every day coffee drinkers are excited about new ways of drinking coffee too. It’s not just for connoisseurs. These drinks may not always be successful taste-wise (think unicorn frappuccino) but they are more times than not, and they are always fun.

By thinking so far out of the box, Starbucks is taking the experience to a whole new level, and that is absolutely somthing to be excited about.

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Call to fire Jemele Hill an abuse of presidential power

Jemele Hill is an American sportscaster and taxpaying citizen. On Sept. 11, 2017, she tweeted, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” Upon sending this tweet, Hill sparked the old debate on what ESPN has the right to comment on regarding political issues. 

One side says that sports and spectators should stay out of politics, and the other says that sports are inherently political in nature. Despite the fact that all of this culminated in public outrage, it was by far not the most surprising thing that has happened. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, said that what Hill did was a “fireable offense,” effectively making the government ask for the firing of a private citizen. This action led to questions about the amount of power the government should hold, if this is just the beginning of what Trump could do with his presidency and how it would have been perceived in previous presidential eras, primarily the Obama presidency. 

The amount of power the government should hold is a question the American people have been debating since the founding of this country. After all, we broke away from the British because we felt they had too much power over us. Throughout history, we have fluctuated between having a “Big Government” or a “Small Government.” In recent years, however, we have been leaning towards a bigger government, more involved in the daily lives of citizens. Although this has generally been a trend for the better, with the government offering assistance to people who are in need and keeping big businesses in check, the government singling out one citizen purely because she stated her opinion is a gross overreach of power. One of our greatest privileges as American citizens is our right to freedom of speech. 

Jemele Hill was purely exercising her constitutional right to express her opinion and the government itself infringed upon her private life simply because the opinion didn’t sit well with the President. 

This step could be seen as one of many steps to an almost dictatorial level of power that Trump is seeking to establish. The government getting so deeply involved in what is simply an opinion frankly shows how deeply insecure and petty the president is, but on a much more serious note, it also shows how susceptible citizens are to being crushed by the raw power of the U.S. Government. The abuse of power committed by Trump and his administration is astounding, but even if we were to ignore that, this entire ordeal is full of hypocrisy. As a private citizen, Trump himself tweeted several times expressing his disagreements with the way former president Barack Obama was running the country. The difference between these situations is that the government didn’t call Trump out on his comments, they didn’t attempt to force any kind of sanctions upon him even though he was disrespecting their establishment. 

Obama understood the power balance between the people and the government and understood that every citizen has the right to an opinion, no matter what it is. 

Trump is very unique in his presidency. He won with arguments based on hate and despair. He has continually done outrageous things with no repercussions and has somehow slid past everything without a mark on his million dollar suit. An interesting thing to analyze is how citizens would have reacted if Obama had done the things Trump has done. What if Obama had said “grab ‘em by the pussy” or continually made disparaging comments against minorities? In the context of this situation, how would the people have responded if someone called Obama out and the Obama administration called for the firing of that citizen? I believe that the outrage would have been far more significant because Obama was always put under the microscope in a way that Trump has never been in his life. Obama would’ve been called a racist and a dictator by Republicans everywhere. Obama would’ve been accused of breaking constitutional law because he would’ve been infringing on freedom of speech. Obama would’ve been relentlessly torn apart by the media and people would’ve actively been searching for other instances Obama has done anything even remotely similar to anyone else, in order to prove that he’s an authoritarian bigot. 

Why would this happen to him and why didn’t it happen to Trump? For the simple reason that Obama was the first black man to be president. The rich white man would never be put under the same duress that a black man would be put under because of our society’s underlying prejudicial views towards black men.

Jemele Hill is only one of many examples of Trump’s abuses of power, and I doubt that it will be the last. We have to be more adept at looking out for these abuses of power and calling the government out when it’s needed. If we don’t, it could be far too late.

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Female masturbation is an outdated taboo

Have you seen the poster put up around school by Students for Reproductive Rights (SRR)? Yes, the A4 piece of paper with a vibrator on it. If you think you saw a public display of a sex toy, you’ve got it right. This past Tuesday, Sept. 26, SRR, in collaboration with Smitten Kitten, a “non-toxic, body safe sex toy store,” held a seminar on the meaning of sex toys, how to shop for sex toys and gave a rundown of sex toys materials, types and uses. How do you feel about the poster now? Are you less disgusted when finding out the educational purposes of this seminar? Or are you still weirded out by it? 

Interestingly enough, the first event hosted by SRR on birth control and presented by a Planned Parenthood staffer was approved by the Wellness Center to be swiped for SPM credit. However, the talk on sex toys was not. Information from Sydney Spreck ’18, co-chair of SRR, revealed that Smitten Kitten was hosted as an organization two years ago and was Wellness Swiped then as well. Does this point to the fact that female masturbation is still viewed as a taboo in our society today? 

Bashing the candle, flogging the hog or teasing the weasel, we young adults all know what it is. Many of us masturbate in our free time, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. But whenever the word “masturbation” is brought up, what gender did you immediately think of? Of the ten people that I asked this question, all ten said “male” in a matter of seconds. Our minds seem to immediately connect to the image of a satisfied man and not of a contented woman. This puzzling realization led me to do some research into the matter. According to the infamous Gossard Big M Survey, around 92 percent of women say they have touched themselves. Also, vibrators and other sex toys used for female masturbation are now mass-produced by condom companies. There is even an app for females who enjoy self-sex called “HappyPlayTime,” which features a floating vagina that gives anatomy lessons and techniques. 

It is fair to say that from the statistics and data collected from surveys and studies, female masturbation happens and is not a new thing. As a matter of fact, college is long deemed to be the place where we can be more open about sex as it provides space and the so-called “permission” for sexual honesty. Then why is it still a recreational activity that is so hard to accept in our modern society today?

Personally, I think it all comes down to perspective. As an international student coming from a Southeast Asian country, I should be made uncomfortable by just the thought of writing this article. Keep in mind now that growing up in a conservative Vietnamese household, I learned about sex through my 12-year-old peers, all the while finding out the “horrifying” truth that babies don’t come from their mother’s armpits. The word S-E-X, in general, is rarely heard of, let alone M-A-S-T-U-R-B-A-T-I-O-N. As a result, fresh off the boat and coming into a liberal arts education, my beliefs and prior knowledge are constantly challenged as topics like this are frequently mentioned on campus. 

Never in my life had I thought so much about the mere act of one sexually satisfying herself before knowing about SRR’s Sex Toys seminar. Of those whom I approached on this issue, some said that the thought of it makes them feel dirty, or even “morally unclean,” but I say it shouldn’t be that way. It has been scientifically proven that masturbation helps you release sexual tension, sleep better and even make you become a happier person. Female masturbation is a bust worthy taboo in the world today, and it should be applauded, not ashamed. 

Let’s say it is a hot summer day and you are itching for some cold, refreshing ice cream; you’d go to the local ice cream shop to satisfy your craving. A similar situation would be it is a hot summer day, and your sexual need is screaming at you, you’d grab a toy, or just use your hand and satisfy that need. Female masturbation is as simple as that. And the act of touching oneself when she feels the need to should be considered as normal as male masturbation.

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Trump’s tweets increases tension between US and North Korea

Twitter may be the worst thing to happen to this country as of late. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Twitter, the social media platform that brings you funny memes and connects people with the most recent events from around the world. This care-free, escapist platform changes drastically, however, when the President of the United States uses it as his main tool for

communication.

On Monday morning, amid the heightening conflict with North Korea, the Foreign Minister of North Korea, Ri Yong Ho, claimed that President Trump has declared war on the nation. This claim directly results from a typical 10 p.m. Trump tweet which read; “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!”

Underneath the name-calling and reactionary sentiments, the phrase “they won’t be around much longer” was interpreted as a threat of war by the North Koreans. Upon elaboration, Ho stated that any U.S. plane flying over North Korea will be shot down, this would be a direct act of war.

This simple 24-word tweet has major implications. This could mean the deployment of thousands of American soldiers to a nation that prides itself on militarization and the opposition of western values.

Now, President Trump has not constitutionally declared war through Congress, and there may be a process of deescalating in the future, but this should serve as a message to the President and his staff: Trump’s tweets can cause serious problems.

The President cannot continue his 140-character tirade attacking everything from Hillary Clinton to the NFL. The medium on which he chooses to communicate his domestic and foreign policy plans is accessible to anyone around the world with a Twitter account. This not only sends a message of carelessness and amateurism within the reputable role of the President of the United States to the world, but undermines the safety of our country.

The President is an elected representative of the people, and should convey and

express the interest of the people, not personal agendas. As entertaining as President Trump’s tweets can be, there is a certain selfishness in advancing overtly personal and propagandist sentiments through tweets. While for some Trump’s tweets and the ideas he demonstrates accurately reflect their views, this is not the case for many Americans.

At some point enough has to be enough. Maybe it is Trump’s apolitical background or his incessant need to boast of his achievements and put down those he deems “losers,” but his Twitter account is doing nothing to help the growth and security of our country.

North Korea will jump at any opportunity to display its military might against the United States, and Trump is giving them plenty. President Trump needs to realize the severity of a possible war and acknowledge that the forceful message he has tweeted is being taken literally. 

For the safety of the United States and the world, these condescending and blatantly provocative tweets have to stop.

The immaturity with which President Trump has been treating the office of the President is starkly visible within his Twitter account, and must be discontinued if our country is to steadfastly and peacefully progress into the future.

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