I’ve been so busy it it’s hardly comprehensible.

This past week was jam packed full of intense, brain-smashing knowledge acquisition. I’ve been doing my best to take advantage of studying at a big-name university, and that includes attending as many talks as possible. This is one of the greatest assets of any university–aside from instruction, of course–there are resources to be had in the university community, resources that bring important people to discuss things at your doorstep. (Or in the house of I-House residents, inside your house.)

Here’s just a little diary of my life as of late.

[October 3:] Justice John Paul Stevens, an alumnus of the University of Chicago,

came to speak at International House. The lines were out the door an hour before the event. He was promoting his new book by having a ‘public conversation’ with one of our law professors here. It was a really interesting talk, primarily because I was intrigued to know what kinds of questions are asked of men of the law. Though I was pretty amused when one particularly “radical” undergraduate decided to ask the Justice if he believed trees were allowed to stand in court. Considering that the Justice reacted kindly to this question, I pegged him a good man in general.

[October 6:] Symposium on “God, Freedom and Public Life”

This talk turned out to be really above my level of understanding. It was highly theoretical on what the role of the individual citizen is in the public, civic community–as according to Catholic theology. I wanted to find it interesting, but honestly a lot of it I simply didn’t understand. It was a symposium on the Archbishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George’s, new book God in Action. He posted the question: “Is religious truth a threat to personal freedom?” Three University of Chicago professors had the opportunity to respond to him: the renowned Professor Martin Marty, sociology professor Hans Joas, and Professor Jean Bethke Elshtain, whose focus on public religion makes me want to take classes from her. It was a real serious dialogue about the book–problems with it, values in it–and while I think a lot of great academic discourse came out of it, what really came out of it for me  was one of the best arguments for gay marriage (on the part of Professor Joas) that I’ve heard as of yet: “If marriage can be described as a holy relationship based on love, in which you grow into truth so that you can give yourself totally to God, do we not want to extend those values to other relationships?”

[October 11:] Global Voices Lecture: Susan Herman, President of the American Civil Liberties Union

The Global Voices Lectures are held at International House and they are one of the great perks of living here. Last Tuesday, President of the ACLU, Susan Herman, came to discuss her new book, Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy. For the most part, I felt she said everything that I expected her to.  She focused a lot on how “ordinary Americans” are affected by the fear of terrorism: children stopped at the airport because they have similar names to those on the “no-fly” list, a college student detained for five hours because of Arabic-English flash cards, other stories of bad airport experiences. Whether or not this is accurate, I consider air travel a privilege, and although it is becoming less like a privilege (because the searches and the process can be so annoying), I don’t feel that my liberties are being terribly infringed on. However, I’ve never been stopped at an airport before. What she was really concerned about, however, are the uses of the Patriot Act, which make it possible for the FBI to search all your telecommunications under the “library clause.” Those who comply (librarians and telecommunication providers) are banned by the law from ever speaking about it. She was most distressed about this point: The government gets to know everything about you, and you are never informed or speak out about it. The checks and balances instated by the judicial system are null. She discussed the way that the United States Government systematically ruined and froze the assets of major Muslim charity organizations (for funding terrorists) without sufficient evidence or any due process. Her arguments were primarily legal in nature: she was concerned with why we were going against our own laws, rather than the morality of the actions taken.

Her conclusion was a response to one of the many op-eds that argued that these measures were necessary to make us “feel safe”. In response to those who state “It’s just tremors, nothing more”, she stated:

“Once you start to feel tremors, you know you live in an earthquake zone.”

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