11/19/15 Final Thoughts

When I was first given the list of all the honors seminars at orientation and had to consider what kind of class I wanted to take, a class based solely on discussions of opinions on hot topics was not something that immediately jumped out at me as something I would want to do for a semester. If someone had told me that I would end up signing up for a class that fit that exact description, I would not have believed them in the slightest. Speaking in front of people has never been my thing, especially when I am talking about my own opinions and beliefs. People say that college is a time to get outside your comfort zone and try new things, however, so I registered for this class. I thought that it would help make it easier for me me to talk in front of people, since that is a very important thing to be able to do, and it fit into my schedule pretty well. This class has made me more comfortable talking in front of groups of people I do not know very well and has been an overall good experience for me and a good way to start my college career.

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11/5/15 Political Correctness

The term “political correctness” gets thrown around all the time, so I decided to look up formal definitions to see if they lined up with my general understanding and the usual usage, as that typically has a negative connotation. Google defined it as “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against” and Wikipedia said it was “a term primarily used as a pejorative to describe language, actions, or policies intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society; in such usage, the people using generally imply that they see these policies as excessive” . These definitions pretty much lined up with what I understood political correctness to be and even mentioned the negative connotation with which it is generally used and helped to deepen my understanding of what political correctness actually is.
I don’t actually have a problem with political correctness in most situations. I think that if something you say or do offends someone, even if it is unintentional, you should try to fix it. Going out of your way to be offensive is a really terrible thing to do and makes no sense in the long run. If someone tells you that the way you refer to their race, gender, sexuality, etc is offense to them, you should take that into account. Where there is a history of violence and/or oppression, the words you use to refer to or describe a person can be very important. The government can’t ban you from using racial slurs, gender-based insults, and offensive terms for LGBT people, but that doesn’t mean that you should use them. Words can really hurt, and “exercising your freedom of speech” by bullying people doesn’t make you a brave defendant of your rights as an American, it makes you a coward and an altogether unpleasant person to be around.

10/15/15 Animal Experimentation

Most people have some amount of love for at least one kind of animal, whether it be dogs, cats, horses, lizards, or your favorite football team’s mascot, and many, like me, love all animals. As someone who is a huge fan of animals in general (I go home to see my dogs, not my family, I have so many snapchats of other people’s pets saved on my phone, and sub-par zoos and tourist attractions with animals make me really sad), I am also a big fan of protecting animals, as they have no voice themselves. I think it’s important to treat animals well and not purposefully abuse pets, mess with turtles’ shells, or feed bears people food. That being said, I am not against all forms of animal testing.

Products tested using animal testing can be divided into roughly two categories –  drug and cosmetic. Testing drugs on animals is very detrimental to the animal in some cases, but necessary to the development of safe drugs for people. Using people in early trials of medicines would be very bad. I like animals a lot, but would not place a rat’s life above a human’s when it come to developing medicines. Testing cosmetics on animals, however, I believe to be cruel and unnecessary. At this point, we have a pretty good idea what can and cannot kill you simply by being put on your skin, so I think that alternatives to animal testing should be used for the manufacturing of cosmetics. Many companies already do not test their products on animals, eliminating the argument that there is no alternative. I enjoy many forms of cosmetic products as much as the next person, but another reason I do not support them bring tested on animals is their lack of necessity. Eyeliner is a lot of fun, but not essential to life in the same way that a drug that cures diseases or symptoms is, and a rat living its life in a lab and then dying to obtain a cure for aids is a lot more forgivable to me than the same situation but with a batch of shampoo gone bad. Basically, I think that animal testing should be used depending on necessity – both of the product and of the testing itself – and that when unavoidable, should be done in the most humane way possible.

10/8/15 Free Community College

One of the best thing Tennessee has done in the past few years is definitely instituting Tennessee Promise, which guarantees two free years of community college to anyone who graduates from a Tennessee high school. I am completely in favor of this plan, as I believe it has huge benefits for people on an individual level and for our state as a whole with the increased economic potential rising education levels bring.

I personally know people who were only able to go to college because of Tennessee Promise. They worked hard all through high school and made decent grades, but not enough for scholarships to cover four-year colleges. As their families are not financially able to pay the difference, going to a four-year college would not have been possible without taking out massive amounts of student loans, which were preached in our school’s mandatory Dave Ramsey personal finance class as a terrible idea, and actually are a terrible financial decision if you look at the math. Because of Tennessee Promise, they can go to community college for two years for free while they continue to work and save up money to transfer to Tennessee Tech for the next two years to get their bachelors degrees.

In today’s economy, with jobs in the situation that they are, a college degree is a necessity to be competitive and get hired at most decent-paying jobs. Unfortunately, college is ridiculously expensive for anyone who is not very rich, very smart, or very willing to go into a lot of debt. Though there are need-based scholarships and federal grants, these rarely cover all of the cost of college or even most of it. Because of this, programs to guarantee free college to all are important. They will not devalue college education, as admission standards will not change. Unqualified students will not suddenly go to college in large numbers, disenfranchised and poor students will. People say college is easy enough to afford if you are smart, but people from low-income families with parents who are gone all the time working are usually not going to be on a comparable level with people from middle-class families and the early-childhood development and support structure that frequently comes along with those. College is necessary to break this cycle and help people have better lives.

10/1/15 Mandatory Vaccines

Vaccines should be mandatory for everyone except those who have a medical reason to not be vaccinated. This is nor a government conspiracy to fill your children with chemicals and control them, your child is already made up entirely of chemicals. In fact, literally everything is! It’s almost like atoms are the basic building blocks of our universe and everything it it or something. Not vaccinating children at the recommended times has hugely negative impacts on those who are not able to get vaccines and rely on herd immunity to not die of polio or measles or whatever. People who are unable to be vaccinated because they are infants, immunocompromised as a result of various diseases and cancer treatments, or allergic to the vaccine itself have a legitimate excuse for not being vaccinated and someone refusing to vaccinate their child because it’s “not natural” or some other ill-thought-out reason is putting them in danger. Speaking of bad reasons for not getting your kids vaccinated, autism does not cause vaccines. There is no evidence to support the claim that it does other than one study that was retracted and resulted in the researcher losing his license because it was faked. The causes of autism are not entirely known, but it is definitely something in someone’s DNA, not something you can catch. Even if there were a small chance your child could get autism from a vaccine, at least they only have a mild mental disorder instead of a fatal case of measles or polio. Another reason people cite for not vaccinating children is that the diseases are eradicated, so there is no point. This is also incredibly false and ridiculously ignorant.  Many diseases, such as measles, have made small, periodic comebacks over the years and put many lives at risk. Even if you have the strongest immune system ever, you can be a carrier for a disease and put the life of someone who cannot get vaccinated at risk.

9/24/15 Drinking Age

As a resident of a college campus and person with a general knowledge of how the world works, I know how little affect the drinking age has on people actually drinking. I once had a chemistry teacher who said, very aggressively, that your frontal lobe is not developed until you are 25, so drinking before then is a terrible idea. She then followed that statement with a long lesson on how to drink responsibly because she understood, as most do, that people will drink regardless of laws or science telling them they are too young. The current drinking age is seldom followed and even less often enforced, so educating underage people on safe drinking is a more logical approach than just telling them not to drink.

Conversely, as making things illegal tends to make them more desirable because of the air of danger surrounding them, lowering the drinking age might lower the number of underage drinkers because of the loss of those who drank just because of the thrill of doing something illegal. This might not happen though, as the drinking age is similar to speed limits in that they are technically the law and sometimes people get in trouble for not following it, but largely it is not followed simply because people do not view them as real enough to actually follow them.

The inevitable nature of underage drinking and the overall lack of regard for the drinking age make the actual age the limit is set at not matter, as whatever it is legally set at will not actually be cared about or enforced. That being said, a lower drinking age will lead to less 18-20 year olds having underage drinking as another charge against them and, as I previously stated, possibly reduce drinking within this age group. The drinking age being set at 21 does not actually make sense, as it is not 18, the age at which you become an adult who can join the military, get married, and buy tobacco products, or 25, the average age at which your brain is finished developing and when drinking does not have as harmful an effect on it. A better solution would be to educate people on responsible drinking instead of shouting them about not drinking until they reached an arbitrary age.

9/17/15 Gun Control

As one of the most prevalent and divisive issues in the country, gun control is bound to show up in every election and after every major shooting and about six hundred times in between. Proponents cite numbers on gun-relate crimes in America and the outcomes of gun control laws in other countries, while opponents reference the second amendment, the dangers of government tyranny, and the feeling of safety they get from owning a gun.

While I do not think that private individuals should not be allowed to own guns, I do think that it should be harder to do so and that people who want to own guns, obtain a conceal carry permit, etc. need more education and training before doing so. Background checks are already in place in most situations, but it seems like in nearly every mass shooting you hear about in the news, the perpetrator shouldn’t have been able to get a gun in in the first place. People say that background checks are an invasion of privacy, but sometimes privacy must be sacrificed for the sake of security, and this is one of those cases. Having the government know basic information about you is definitely worth making sure guns are not bought by people who have committed certain crimes, have a history of some mental illnesses, or are too dangerous to themselves and others to have a gun for some other reason. It is way too easy to buy guns legally in America, and almost as easy to obtain the permits to carry them, whether openly or concealed. Tennessee’s handgun carry permit requires you to go through a class, a written test, and a practical test, but all are far too easy considering that they give a person the right to carry a concealed handgun on their person. I personally know someone who got their permit recently, and they said that the instructors practically gave the class the answers to the test (which was ridiculously easy anyway) and the target practice test could be redone an essentially unlimited number of times. Because of America’s problems with gun violence and other crimes, I think more should be done to regulate the sale of guns and the issuing of carry permits.

9/10/15 Climate Change: It’s a Thing

One of the biggest issues today that people want to debate is global climate change. Despite the fact that over 97% of climate researchers say most climate change is caused by humans, people still bring up the same tired arguments against climate change. People say that it is not supported by any evidence, but the evidence on recent climate patterns overwhelmingly supports the stance that global warming exists and is a serious problem. Every scientific body, national and international, agrees that climate change is real. Satellites show receding sea ice in Antarctica and the Arctic, temperature data shows significant increases in average temperature, land ice is down significantly, and the amount of carbon in our atmosphere has increased dramatically. Some places have showed a general cooling trend over recent years, but the overall trend in temperatures has been a warming one.

A common point against taking action on climate change is that it would cost too much, but transitioning to a low carbon economy has been estimated to save as much as 50 trillion dollars and cost about the same as carrying on as we currently are. Every argument against climate change can be countered easily and logically with concrete data or computer models. Though many myths are present about climate change, the facts can easily be found and show that climate change is a thing and something needs to be done about it.

The biggest problem with the argument to do nothing about climate change is that it is simply not logical. Even if it is caused by some mysterious natural forces, climate change is a real problem. Species have gone extinct and civilizations fallen due to changes in climate, so any action we take regarding climate change may save us. There are no negative impacts of recycling materials instead of adding to landfills, taking public transit instead of a car, or enacting measures to cut back on pollution in the industry except some lost profits in certain cases, but those are preferable to messing up the earth even more than we already have. Basically, if climate change is all a hoax or just a part of the earth’s natural cycles, we will only have benefited from policies intended to curtail the negative impacts of climate change. Inaction can either severely hurt or be neutral, while taking action would either result in the slowing down or even reversal of climate change, or it it’s all natural, we will have a cleaner, more sustainable earth.

9/4/15 Minimum Wage

One of today’s most highly contested issues is the raising of the federal minimum wage. Many states and individual cities have already raised their minimum wage to rates exceeding the federal minimum, which is currently set at $7.25 an hour. The federal minimum wage has not been raised since 2009, and many argue against raising it further, citing the economic costs of doing so. The arguments against minimum wage are linked under Con 1 and Con 2 at the bottom of this post, as I chose to use this post to outline the math in support of raising the minimum wage on the grounds that its set value today has not kept up with the original value in terms of buying power and its feasibility as a minimum wage.

Buying Power

When one looks at money over time, inflation is not the only factor to take into account. Many things factor into how currencies change over time and can change the purchasing power of a dollar or any other currency, which is how much is required to pay for a certain service, buy a certain good, or maintain a certain standard of living. This purchasing power calculator shows how the minimum wage in 1938 compares to the equivalent purchasing power today if you input 1938 and 2014 for the years and $0.25 for the dollar amount. When one takes into account how the costs of commodities and other necessary aspects of life have risen, it is apparent that the minimum wage has not kept up. I will look at the cost of college tuition and rent in this post.

College

The cost of college tuition alone has skyrocketed in the past thirty years. The average cost of a public four year college has gone up by as much as 34% in a five-year period. In 2014 dollars, tuition has experienced an increase of 225% from $2,810 in 1984-85 to $9,139 in 2014-15. The minimum wage in 1984 was $3.35, and assuming 16 weeks in a semester and two semesters, one would have to work 23 hours a week to cover the cost of tuition. This a lot to work as a full-time student, but not as bad as the 40 hours a week needed in 2014. Keep in mind that this estimate is based solely on tuition, and not on room and board, books, or other expenses. In today’s world, college is fundamental to getting competitive jobs, and though scholarships, financial aid, and student loans are available, the fact remains that the price of college tuition has far surpassed the minimum wage, which is what most college students earn.

Rent

In Tennessee, the median cost of rent in 1940, two years after the establishment of a minimum wage, was $15 a month. Since the minimum wage was established at $0.25, one would have to work 60 hours a month just to pay for rent. In 2000, Tennessee’s median rent cost was $505, and the minimum wage $5.15 an hour. This means that one would have to work for 98 hours a month to pay for their rent. These numbers do not take into account income taxes or the hours needed to pay for everything else a person needs to support themselves (and others in most cases). All rents are taken from the US Census Bureau.

All past minimum wages are calculated using CNN’s Minimum Wage Since 1938 graph

History of the Minimum Wage was my basis for the history of the minimum wage in the US.

College Tuition Over Time

Rents in the US

Con 1

Con 2

Pro 1

Pro 2

Pro 3

8/27 Confederate Flag

In my research, I learned that the Confederate flag that is flown, worn, and put on license plates and t-shirts today was not even one of the three official flags of the Confederacy. Rather, it is a rectangular version of a flag flown by several Confederate Army units, including Robert E Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. I also learned that the flag was not used very much after the Civil War (except in events to commemorate fallen soldiers and on graves) until the Dixiecrat Party, a pro-segregationist party formally known as the States Rights Democratic Party, formed in 1948 in response to President Truman’s speech on civil rights and used the flag heavily in their unsuccessful campaigns. The flag was also taken up by their supporters and spread throughout the south, becoming widely used by everyday people, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy,various state and local governments in the South, and the KKK. The new version of the “Confederate flag” quickly became a widely used symbol of Southern pride and heritage on the eve of the centennial of the Civil War, which coincidentally coincided with black people’s audacious demands for equal rights.

Many argue that the Confederate flag is a display of heritage and display it proudly alongside the American flag on their t-shirts, private property, and pickup trucks. The Confederate flag is a part of the South’s history and important to our nation’s story, but the flag seen today is not that flag. Today’s version of the Confederate battle flag was resurrected with racist intentions or, at the very least, as a reminder of a time when one region of the United States declared itself a wholly different country because of disagreements stemming from slavery. If you make the statement that the South seceded based on states’ rights, you must also acknowledge which rights. These are, overwhelmingly, the rights they thought they had to own other human beings based solely on the color of their skin. Additionally, the states’ rights they argued for in the fifties and sixties, when a resurgence of the Confederate flag was seen, were the rights to have their own laws regarding segregation and voting policies. The rights of the states to establish their own laws is not more important than the equal rights of the people in the states, which is why I do not agree with the display of the Confederate flag on government property. Freedom of speech is an important part of America and one of our fundamental rights, so I do not believe that the government has the right to force people to stop flying the Confederate flag, but I do think that the flag should be taken down from government buildings and removed from state flags. The historical connotations of the flag in all of its versions make it more than worthy of a place in a museum, but also make it unfit for any official part of government.

  1. http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/06/22/416548613/the-complicated-political-history-of-the-confederate-flag
  2. http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/24/us/confederate-flag-myths-facts/
  3. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/8-things-didnt-know-confederate-flag/
  4. http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/dixiecrats.html
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flags_of_the_Confederate_States_of_America
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_display_of_the_Confederate_flag