By Wynn Van Dusen ’15

You know that commercial, in which that creepy sounding dog goes insane for Beggin Strips? Those bacon flavored dog treats? He’s drooling, his pupils are dilated, and he’s going on and on about how excited he is for his food. It’s an annoying commercial, but it’s way easier to watch than those 45 minute Sarah McLaughlin ASPCA ads (I know, I know, it’s a great cause, but there is no one on planet earth who enjoys watching those. No one.) But, I digress.

So, yeah, you know how excited that dog is for his Beggin Strips? I tend to get the same way when I sit down to eat. Food is one of my greatest loves, and it’s an obsession that I have a hard time keeping to myself. Long story short, I started writing this food blog. Every week, I’ll pick one or two things I’ve consumed and enjoyed, and tell you all about it! Sound good? Ok great!

This week, I thought I’d start out by telling y’all about a cupcake I ate (sometimes I slip into a Southern vernacular because I like to pretend/wish I was Paula Deen.) Anyway, back to the cupcake. Before I even got my hot food, I spotted this cupcake from across McEwen, grabbed it, set it at my table, and collected the rest of my food in peace, knowing that the most important part of my meal had been secured. Now, McEwen is incredibly accommodating, and displays a wide variety of frosting/cake combinations: vanilla/chocolate, vanilla/vanilla, chocolate/chocolate, you get the idea. As someone who has a strong preference for chocolate, but was curious to try something vanilla-y, I went for the chocolate cake with vanilla icing. It was a good call. I rushed through my dinner, and then the experience began.

I tend to hate the word “moist,” but there is no other way to describe this cupcake other than to use it. Please, bear with me. This cupcake was just perfectly spongy and moist. Not to mention, the chocolate flavoring was spot-on. I think a good chocolate cupcake (the cake part, of course) should be able to stand on its own, and this one certainly did. It was nice and chocolate-y without being overpowering, and I could have happily devoured it, even without the frosting.

ImageThe vanilla frosting was also tasty. It was fluffy, which was nice, because I think when frosting is too heavy, the entire cupcake experience becomes a little overwhelming. You don’t want the cupcake and the frosting to compete, because they need to work together and complement one another. Also, as an added touch, it was topped with bits of shaved white chocolate, which was super classy.

The whole cupcake was light enough, in fact, that I actually thought I’d be able to shove ¾ into my mouth at once. Unfortunately, this resulted in me choking on the cupcake a little, spitting some of it up and then decorating my face with a frosting mustache. I think it was when I picked up a piece that fell out of my mouth, thanked some higher power that it didn’t hit the floor, and then re-ate it, that every single boy in McEwen fell in love with me.

And by “fell in love with me,” I mean didn’t.

So, yeah! That was my cupcake experience. It was incredibly tasty, and a wonderful way to end to my meal. And, the good news is, these cupcakes are in McEwen all the time, so you can probably swipe your card right now and go satisfy that craving.

by Sam Silverman ’14

One component of the ACC program is that every student is assigned a host family. While we do not live with our families, we meet up about every other weekend to have lunch, chat, and do fun activities together. The host family is really a chance for students to practice Chinese and to learn about what an “average” person’s life is like in China. I put average in quotes, because all of the host families are relatively well off and have very western-friendly attitudes.

Originally, I was not very keen to the idea of having a host family. I am a little shy, and the idea of going over to someone’s house and them focusing all their attention on me is NOT something I was excited about. Yet, after meeting with my family this past weekend, I really have started to enjoy the host family component of ACC and am very excited to meet with them again soon.

Here’s what happened:

My “dad” collected me, and the other ACC student I’m paired with, at the school gate. At first it was definitely a little weird for me but after about a minute of silence, he started asking questions. It was just small talk but it was not awkward in any way. That, and the faux fur seat covering in their car, definitely put me at ease.

Once we were outside their apartment building, my “little sister” ran outside to greet me and had the biggest smile on her face as we walked inside together.

Side note: my ‘little sister’ is literally the cutest little girl in the entire world. She’s ten.

So we go inside to see my “mom” and “aunt” preparing lunch. The last time we met, my “mom” said that she could make me literally anything to eat. She wasn’t exaggerating. As a fun little activity, we all wrapped the dumplings together, which, it turns out, I am very good at. After wrapping up about 40 dumplings we sat down for lunch. There were about 7 dishes on the table aside from the dumplings, and they were all delicious. I’m completely stuffing my face, and my “mom” won’t let me stop eating. Any time I put down my chopsticks to talk, she would say, “talk and eat, talk and eat”. And then she would but more beef and cabbage on my plate. After stuffing myself to the point that it was uncomfortable, we all stopped eating and rested a little.

Also, to go off of my last post, my “mom” could not believe how good my Chinese had gotten since the first time we met. The first time that we met, the language barrier was definitely a factor but this time I was pretty much fine. She kept saying to my “little sister,” “See how good ‘big brother’s Chinese has gotten? That’s because he studies hard.”

After lunch, we go and sit down in their living room after lunch and start drinking tea heavily. After my “dad” poured out the tea, my “mom” calls my “little sister” in to give out presents.

So, my “sister” walks in with this:

This is a Chinese landscape paining.

I was so floored. I literally did not know how to voice (in Chinese) how grateful I was. Then, after being overwhelmed at the fact I was given such an incredible gift, my “sister” said this, “My Grandma painted this.”

At that point, I literally did not know way to say.

To rewind a little, me and the other ACC student showed up to their house with fresh fruit as a present. A basket of fruit. My host parents decided to take it upon themselves to teach us how to give a proper gift in China. After regaining composure, my “parents” and I continued to talk for a few more hours, until they took me home.

It was definitely a great Saturday afternoon, and I can’t wait to get another call form my new “family” soon.

by Peter Cannavo
Associate Professor of Government

In the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down, on the grounds of privacy, a Connecticut law banning the sale of contraceptives (  Griswold of course took place during the 1960s, when American society, and industrialized nations in general, experienced a massive social revolution – affecting individual liberties, sexual norms, gender relations, and racial equality – that basically created the world we live in today.  The legacy of the Sixties continues to be fought over, particularly around issues like abortion and equal rights for gay people (though of course abortion is legal and full LGBT rights are becoming more and more of a reality), but practices such as the use of birth control or the right of women to participate as full citizens and enter the workforce have won widespread acceptance in society at large.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, “Virtually all women (more than 99%) aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.”  (

Though the Catholic Church has officially opposed contraception, there has been widespread reporting that 98% of Catholic women have used contraception.  This is actually misleading, as the Washington Post’s Fact Checker reports (

However, the more meaningful figure, as reported by the Guttmacher Institute and noted by Fact Checker, also substantiates the acceptance of contraception: 68 percent of sexually active Catholic women who are not pregnant, post-partum or trying to get pregnant have used “highly effective methods” of birth control: 32 percent relied on sterilization, 31 percent relied on the birth control pill, and five percent relied on the IUD (

Given the widespread acceptance of contraception, it is rather jarring that one of our two major political parties may very well nominate a candidate, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who is not only well-known for his opposition to same-sex marriage but also has some strong positions on birth control.  Santorum has said that he will use the Presidential bully pulpit to inveigh against contraception (, and he is OK with individual states outlawing contraception (

Santorum’s candidacy for the Republican nomination of course resonates with those voters angered by the Obama Administration’s efforts to require health insurance plans to cover contraceptives without a co-pay. Obama had earlier issued a requirement that religiously affiliated charities and higher education institutions pay for their employees’ birth control.  He revised this plan by requiring that health insurance companies, not the employers themselves, pay for contraceptives (, though admittedly in the case of self-insured institutions, like the Catholic hospital my wife Helen works for, there may be little difference in the end.

This compromise was not enough to mollify Catholic Church authorities, other religious officials, and political conservatives.   The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is urging support for a bill sponsored by Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt (, along with Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), that would allow private insurers to opt out of the requirement if “providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan.”  The measure would not allow the Federal government to “require an individual or institutional health care provider, or authorize a health plan to require a provider, to provide, participate in, or refer for a specific item or service contrary to the provider’s religious beliefs or moral convictions” (  Sponsors and supporters of the proposed legislation, including many Republicans, argue that it would protect freedom of religious exercise and conscience from intrusion by the government.  The bill itself cites Thomas Jefferson’s championship of religious freedom.

The religious liberty argument has been oft repeated of late.  However, it is deeply problematic for several reasons.  First of all, what if a woman employed by a religiously affiliated institution is herself not a member of the institution’s sponsoring denomination or belongs to that religion but disagrees with its official policy?  She has to either bear the cost of birth control herself (and some highly effective methods are expensive – in the case of the pill, the cost runs from $160-600 per year, and an IUD involves an upfront cost of $500 to $1,000; see, or she must either forgo such birth control methods or find another job.  She therefore faces what might be a serious imposition on her own fundamental beliefs and practices.  Moreover, the proposed legislation, as a number of critics have pointed out, might go beyond birth control, as it opens the way to employers denying coverage for various medical services because of moral or religious objections to such things as blood transfusions.

More interestingly, the right of religious liberty is itself not absolute.  I first want to turn to John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher who is one of the founders of the liberal tradition, was an early voice for religious liberty, and was also a direct inspiration for the U.S. Declaration of Independence and many of our own conceptions of rights.

In his 1689 Letter Concerning Toleration (, Locke argued that the state should largely stay out of religion and tolerate most Christian faiths, as well as Jews, Muslims, and pagans, so long as religious groups do not threaten public order or seek to violate the rights of others.  However, he advocated denying tolerance to atheists, because their lack of fear of divine retribution made them untrustworthy in oaths and contracts; denying tolerance to Catholics, because of their adherence to the Pope, at that time a foreign “prince” with considerable secular power; and, ironically, denying tolerance to the religiously intolerant themselves.  Whatever the merits of Locke’s positions here, his underlying argument is correct, namely that that in certain cases of compelling state interest, religious liberty could be circumscribed.  For example, though Locke saw no problem in tolerating animal sacrifice, as we tolerate the killing of animals for other reasons, he laid down an important exception:

But if peradventure such were the state of things that the interest of the commonwealth required all slaughter of beasts should be forborne for some while, in order to the increasing of the stock of cattle that had been destroyed by some extraordinary murrain, who sees not that the magistrate, in such a case, may forbid all his subjects to kill any calves for any use whatsoever?

The state could therefore prohibit all killing of cattle, for religious or any other reason, religious objections notwithstanding.  Again, a compelling state interest.

State interests of course must not be invoked lightly, and the courts give close scrutiny to any infringement on religious liberty.  Indeed, religious practices are generally given additional latitude.  Yet, I would argue that there is indeed a compelling state interest in ensuring that women have access to contraception on a par with their access to other medical services.  Access to contraception prevents unwanted pregnancy, it allows parents to properly space their children, and it reduces the frequency of abortion.  Moreover, birth control pills may be used for medically necessary reasons other than contraception.  But most importantly, the role of the state, as Locke and the liberal tradition have suggested, is to protect the basic liberty of the individual.  As more recent political theorists like John Rawls have argued, the exercise of individual liberty includes not only freedom of speech, assembly, and conscience, but also the freedom to formulate and pursue one’s own plan of life, consistent with a similar liberty for others.  Such freedom rests on a strong measure of individual autonomy, as well as access to basic material resources that make such autonomy possible.  A woman’s autonomy surely includes the ability to control her own sexuality and fertility, to decide if and when to be a parent, and to have access to medical devices or services that make such control possible.

My own views tend somewhat less toward liberalism than toward civic republicanism, but here there is also a strong argument for a compelling state interest in making birth control available to women.  Civic republicanism emphasizes the importance of citizens to have the virtues and the opportunities to actively participate in the collective self-government of the community and, through political deliberation, determine and promote the common good.  One of the foundations for republican citizenship is the freedom of individuals from personal ties of dependence on powerful political or economic interests.  Earlier republicans argued that a citizen whose livelihood is dependent on an employer or landlord, or on the good graces of a particular government official, would not promote the common good of the community but the interests of his or her patron.  Such a dependent citizen would not exercise civic virtue.  Partly for this reason, republicans like Thomas Jefferson favored a society of small, independent property owners as a safeguard of civic virtue and the common good.  Nineteenth century republicans also opposed wage labor and instead favored self-employment.  Now, some of these views are quaint or outmoded in a modern, industrialized society, but the importance of personal independence still resonates.  That independence will not likely come from owning a small farm and need not involve self-employment, but one could argue that control over one’s own body – and perhaps especially in the case of sexuality and procreation, where one could otherwise become subordinate to the wishes of a spouse or partner – presents an analogy to the earlier ideal of economic independence.  Moreover, if women are to participate in the workforce and the public square as full citizens, they must be able to determine when and if they will bear children and become parents.  And the same goes for their procreative partners.  Any attempt to infringe on the access of a woman to birth control and other family planning services is basically a recipe for second-class citizenship.  Some may have strong religious objections to such services, but I would argue such objections should not carry the day.

by Sam Silverman ’14

First let me introduce myself. My name is Sam Silverman, and I am studying with Hamilton’s ACC (Associated Colleges in China) program. I love China, long walks on the beach, breathing smog, and haggling in Chinese so I can save myself about ¢35.

Today I’m celebrating an anniversary of sorts. Today is my one-month anniversary of living in Beijing. No English, no Facebook, no problem. I have absolutely loved every moment and my Chinese has gotten a lot better. In only the first month, ordering food has become second nature; I can tell if a taxi driver is just driving around aimlessly trying to jack up the price; and, maybe most importantly, I can haggle like the best of them.

Top five reasons I know my Chinese is better:

  1. Ordering in restaurants is no problem at all. In China, when a waiter hands you a menu, they also expect you to order within the next 30 seconds. The first few weeks it would take 15 minutes to just figure out that my food had beef in it. Now, I’m telling them that I want it medium rare.
  2. I’m literally a subway master. This isn’t so much about Chinese as it is my general knowledge of Beijing. In Beijing, the subway is 2 kuai, which converts to about ¢25. It is super easy and convenient, and you can literally go anywhere in the city. The first few weeks I was struggling. Hard. Now I would rather ride the subway for an hour across town than shell out for a taxi.
  3. I see heads turn when I walk by. While I am devilishly handsome, what Chinese people can’t get over is my Chinese. If it’s on the subway, bus or walking around the markets, whenever fellow ACC students and I speak Chinese, I see jaws drop and just looks of shock on people faces. Before, they would laugh at us struggling through a conversation but now, people just look at us with than expression of, “Oh s***, they are learning our language now, and they are good.”
  4.  Certain Chinese words are becoming part of my English vocabulary. When I talk to my parents on Skype, there have been multiple time when I have said dui (correct) in stead of “okay” or said hao (good) instead of “sounds good”. I’ve realized that when I am not reading or writing in English (which is pretty much all the time), that I am thinking in Chinese.
  5. People no longer think that I am American. In China, if your Chinese is not very good or if you just seem like an obnoxious tourist, people will think that you are American. In the past two weeks, people keep guessing England or France, which shows that I seem pretty normal and that my Chinese is fluent. Aside from this compliment, when people think your are American, prices go up by about 20%. Now that I am a poor Englishman, prices start off pretty low and I’m able to bargain them down even further to get the biggest bang for my buck.

by Peter Cannavo
Associate Professor of Government 

Teaching Government 117: Introduction to Political Theory, makes me think about political labels and the standard left-to-right spectrum.  Political theory can be either deathly dull or extremely intimidating for the newbie and I try to bring it alive by connecting it with contemporary political debate.  I also try to introduce my students to a range of political perspectives, including a perspective that most of them have probably never heard of – civic republicanism.

Civic republicanism, which focuses on civic virtue, political engagement, individual economic independence, a strong sense of community, and a willingness to sacrifice for the common good, was a prominent perspective in the United States during the Founding and early Republic.  Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams were profoundly influenced by the republican tradition, which goes back to Rousseau, Montesquieu, Machiavelli, and Aristotle.  So were later political leaders and public intellectuals like Frederick Douglass.   Two famous Britons, Mary Wollstonecraft, the founder of feminism, and Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, disliked one another, but they both drew on the republican and Aristotelian idea that a healthy political society should cultivate a certain type of character in its citizens.  (The political philosopher Michael Sandel is probably one of the most prominent and articulate proponents of republicanism, particularly in his 1995 book, Democracy’s Discontent.)

What’s interesting is that civic republicanism defies familiar political labels and the standard political spectrum.  Civic republicans are like conservatives in that they favor a strong sense of community and emphasize the importance of private property ownership (because it enables someone to be more empowered as a citizen), but they are like liberals or progressives in that they favor a more egalitarian distribution of wealth, are willing to combine private property rights with government regulation, and can see civic value in the extension of marriage to include same-sex couples.  In fact, some republicans emphasize their common ground with conservatives, while others emphasize common ground with liberals or progressives.  Since republicans have also favored a strong role for local government and local political participation, they even have some commonalties with some libertarians.  Civic republicans, however, are not enthusiastic about an unfettered free market and its disruptive effects on society. One can find in Jefferson’s writings a defense of private property and local government as well as a suspicion of capitalism and a call for progressive taxation.  It perhaps surprises my students that there is a political perspective that can simultaneously support marriage equality and higher taxation on the wealthy and also government support for faith-based charities.

I finish the semester with civic republicanism and also relate it to environmentalism, which shares lot with the republican tradition and similarly defies the standard political spectrum. My environmentalist students may be surprised that their heroes Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold drew heavily on republican themes.  It may surprise them that Burke, the conservative, offered a powerful rationale for sustainability.

I bring all this up to say that our various traditions of political thought are a lot richer than the typical left-right spectrum.  Casting everything in terms of liberal or conservative tends to dumb down our political discourse and, worse, polarize it to the point that every issue involves a zero-sum game in a Manichean struggle between good and evil.  Does your position on hydrofracking mean that you also need to have a certain position on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan?  On my Facebook page, I engage in this very same silliness by identifying my politics as “left,” which reflects many of my positions on economic and social issues, but doesn’t capture my interventionist foreign policy or my more conservative temperament on topics like community and place, or on the issue of reproductive cloning, which may become quite significant in a few decades.  I’m also an environmentalist.  To many people that seems left-wing, but if Burke were alive today, he might tell us that “conservative” and “conservation” are more than etymological cousins.  Professor Robert Paquette recently gave me a list of conservative agrarian writers with environmentalist sympathies.  At the same time, some strands of the left are hostile to green values.  So, I better edit that Facebook page.

Writing in the New York Times recently, University of California philosopher John Perry offered a more complex political metric than the usual left and right.

See  Perry tries to categorize the current crop of Presidential candidates by expanding the standard spectrum with the addition of views on issues like the Bill of Rights and foreign intervention.  His discussion is useful, though it ignores some key issues like the environment or the importance of community and he doesn’t talk about traditions that defy standard categories.

Unfortunately, the Hamilton community has at times fallen into simplistic political polarities.  There have been vitriolic attacks by some alumni (see, who caricature the College as a bastion of leftist ideology; at the same time, conservative students have told me of being treated with hostility by some faculty members.  Controversies over Susan Rosenberg, Ward Churchill, and the Alexander Hamilton Institute haven’t helped.  To some people it probably seems inconceivable that one could support the work of both the Days Massolo Center and the AHI.  Yet I have also heard people from both institutions (both of which have profoundly enriched the lives of students on the Hill) show a keen interest in working with the other.  This fall, I had the pleasure of helping guide a discussion, sponsored by the Days Massolo Center and the Publius Society (which includes many students involved with AHI), involving students with highly diverse views on the Occupy movement.  At times it was a tense discussion and perhaps nobody’s mind was changed, but, thanks in part to both Days Massolo Director Amit Taneja and the students connected with both organizations, the dialogue was completely civil and revealed some more nuanced positions.  I pointed out that both the Occupy movement and the Tea Party draw on the republican tradition’s distrust of centralized power, whether economic or political.

Events like this might lead us to see political perspectives and ideologies in more complex and nuanced ways, get past the polarization, and also realize that we might have some profound points of agreement with those on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

by Charlotte Hough ’14

In his Nov. 14 lecture here at Hamilton on “Winner-Take-All Politics,” Yale professor Jacob Hacker commented that a criticism of his book (co-authored with Paul Pierson) upon its release in 2010 was “Who is going to care?” The issue he raised – rising income inequality in America – was a relatively new one, with little presence in the media at the time.

I have to admit that last semester as I read Hacker’s book as a part of my American Political Process class, a related question went through my mind: “Where’s all the chatter? This seems like kind of a big deal.” The American public lacked a stance on the issue. Now, with the Occupy Wall Street movement in full swing, the opposite could be said.

With these new circumstances in mind, Hacker reframed arguments from Winner-Take-All Politics in the context of Occupy. He began by showing a photo of a protester holding a sign displaying a CBO graph that illustrated the rise of incomes within certain classes. Joked, When has an American protester ever used a CBO visual aid to start a riot? He makes a valid point.

Hacker discussed the dramatic rise in the income gap since 1979. From then until 2007, the top one percent of income-earning households experienced a 281 percent rise in income as opposed to the 25 percent change in the middle fifth of the income bracket. This unequal change, he said, has occurred due to politics.

Specifically, Hacker noted policies aiding the top one percent. They include decreases in tax rates for the top-earning 400 down to 16.5 percent in 2007, a rate lower than that of many middle-class taxpayers; decreased regulation of executive pay and compensation in the financial industry; and out of date stock options regulations. Hacker emphasized that a lack of policy changes, or policy drift, on some of these key issues should be considered concrete policy changes. In this way, policy drove inequality.

Refusing to become partisan in his analysis, Hacker acknowledged that this policy drift occurred under both Democratic and Republican presidents. The driving force behind it: the mass organization of business interests beginning in 1979 as retaliation to recent gains made by environmental lobbyists. Simultaneously, labor unions lost stamina, leaving the middle class with no economic issue group to voice its concerns. Instead, Wall Street became the jockey driving the whip into the backs of politicians.

Hacker ended optimistically; bad policy decisions were made in the past, but we can right them. Is OWS the first step to doing so? Indeed it’s brought about the public awareness absent at Hacker’s book’s initial publishing. Said Hacker, OWS will only succeed if it leads to a movement that fosters more public confidence in the government, which with it, might be able to change. Is that possible? Where does the blame lie?

Hacker clearly places it on Washington, yet as Hamilton student noted during Q&A, OWS has rooted itself not there, but in New York at the jockey’s racetrack. Now that protesters have been kicked out of Zuccotti Park, where will they go? A march to the nation’s capital might be appropriate.

A diverse movement united around the slogan “We are the 99 percent,” OWS screams loudly but without demands. What should they be asking for? Says Hacker, a government that represents the middle class, not just the top one percent. Elections that take into account the vote more than the dollar out of the millionaire’s pocket. More progressive tax codes at the top, and stricter financial regulations.
So what happens next? I suggest a few things for the disgruntled OWS protesters:

1. Go to Washington.
2. Bring Hacker’s list.
3. Demand change.

After all, it’s about time someone be held accountable. Let it be our political system.