Showing posts from February, 2010

An interview with the Westboro Baptist Church

Originally @ Fiat Lux

In the wake of the Westboro Baptist Church picketing outside the Hillel House, many members of the Stanford community felt differently. Some felt united, others revolted at the ideology of such an organization, and others indifferent. Articles were written about the solidarity of the student body in the face of the picketing with minor detail on the Church itself. I found myself feeling puzzlement at the event more than anything else. Why would a church dedicate itself to the practices of the WBC? If they seem to stand against everything, what can they possibly be for?

This puzzlement led me to send an e-mail to the WBC asking if I could conduct an interview. Luckily for me, a woman by the name of Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter of the church’s founder, Fred Phelps, responded and agreed to answer all my questions. Below is a transcript of the interview. Mrs. Phelps-Roper is the eldest daughter of Pastor Phelps, who founded the WBC, and its current ‘chief of st…

What are we comfortable with?

Originally @ Stanford Daily

There are currently about 25 armed conflicts actively occurring around the world. That is a lot. In light of the abundance of warfare that continues to plague humanity, an organization should be founded to peacefully resolve such disputes. This association could contain representatives from each country. It could provide a mediation process to arbitrate between warring factions. It could command a military peacekeeping force. We could give it a name that reflects its harmonization of global interests, like “United Nations.”

Independently of cultural or religious association, certain values seem to pervade global society. Basic principles like the concept that mass killing is morally abhorrent, or at least not a preferable state of affairs, are omnipresent across all nation-states. If these few universal moral intuitions are present in all people, why are they not honored? Though many groups are quick to justify killing, no present society is founded on the …

A Case for Compassionate Conservatism

Originally @ Stanford Review

When asked recently to comment on food programs that extend welfare benefits to poor children, South Carolina Lt. Gov. AndrĂ© Bauer quipped, “My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed.”

This insensitive remark and others like it have spurred liberals to begin weaponizing the term “compassionate conservative,” using it mockingly to equate fiscal conservatism with an indifference to poverty and suffering. Luckily, Stanford students show hope for the idea of the compassionate conservative and demonstrate that conservatism is not a rejection of public service.

One would have to look no further than the Stanford Conservative Society to understand the importance of community service to campus conservatives. The group, 243 members strong on Facebook and with a constituency of 550 according to President Tommy Schultz, makes an effort to constantly engage in servic…

Anonymity makes us honest

Originally @ Stanford Daily

There are a lot of smart people at Stanford. I like that. But hey, I’m an intellectual elitist who finds common peoples’ discourse to be banal and irritating. For this reason, I was somewhat surprised to find out about two Web sites: College ACB ( and GoodCrush (

For those who don’t know, College ACB is the extension of the old Web site Juicy Campus, which existed as an anonymous forum for college students to post gossip or initiate slanderous smear campaigns. Because I am a manipulative social engineer, I was thrilled at the prospect of having an Internet source to update me on my campus gossip, and this Web site promised to give me intimate details into peoples’ lives that I could then leverage against them for my own social gain.

Sadly, though, I found that the site was being used for a very different purpose. College ACB essentially offers an electronic format of what is available to students on Stanfor…

Full of sound and fury

Originally @ Stanford Daily

Gee whiz, I hope we go to war with a foreign power or get invaded by aliens soon. Imagine the camaraderie and sense of unity that would emerge: cohesive bonds formed between flagrant abortionists and hard-line Catholics, rural white supremacists and Marxist Black Panthers, vehement feminists and old-boy male chauvinists. The “us vs. them” mentality is a useful tool both for erecting and for overcoming interpersonal boundaries in society.

The sense of the “other” is an omnipresent reality. As people, we find it easier to conceptualize the world broken down into the groups we identify with versus those we do not. As a philosophy major, I tend to overthink these things. As a Serb, this question has a poignantly personal relevance (yes, this column is all about me). I found myself wondering a few years ago exactly how people who live as neighbors for so long become such fervent enemies.

This is not a novel point. Daily columnists probably write this same articl…

Christianity and capitalism: peas in a pod or irreconcilable?

Originally @ Fiat Lux

Is Christianity compatible with Capitalism? Are the two systems based on mutually exclusive ethical foundations that make them incompatible? This was the question asked in the recent debate held between Jennifer Roback Morse of the Acton Institute and Dr. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute.

The debate was sponsored by two groups, each supporting one perspective of the issue. The Catholic Community at Stanford, a collective group of students and faculty dedicated to liturgical programs and well known for their community service initiatives, invited Mrs. Morse. The Stanford Objectivists, a student group dedicated to studying the philosophy of Ayn Rand and perhaps best known for their unsolicited e-mails to students, invited Dr. Brook.

The Debate

The debate followed a very interesting progression, due in part to its format. Similar to Lincoln-Douglas style debate (in which affirming and negating speakers are given the opportunity to present initial points and then…

I probably have more friends than you

Originally @ Stanford Daily

I used to be unaware of how popular I was. Thanks to Facebook, I now know exactly how social I am, down to an exact number! With the advent of Facebook and other social networking websites, we have all become seamlessly connected. I can talk to my friends anytime from anywhere, see what people have been up to and make plans for the future. But the coolest part of all is that, with Facebook, popularity is now a numbers game.

Scoring people is easy: all you have to do is look at someone’s profile. From their page, you can quickly pull up their friend count (arguably the most crucial number for determining how sociable someone is), the number of photos they appear in and other performance stats like number of gifts, bumper stickers, etc. Other variables come into play but are harder to divine, like how many groups someone is in or how many events they are attending. This ability to quantify how social someone is must come as a breath of fresh air to math geeks…