Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I'm Back From Europe Again!

So I ended up going back to France for the second set of exams and then I went to Bath and relaxed at the Jane Austen Festival!

I have so many things to post from this summer and my two trips to Europe this year. Now that the exams are over, I should have more time soon to catch up again!

Here's a teaser:

Cat, Ali, and Me after the Promenade at the Jane Austen Festival!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

And I'm back!

Dear Readers,

So many things have happened lately! I don't even know where to begin!

I've spent almost three weeks in France and England a few weeks ago studying for and taking exams at the Sorbonne, made so many new friends, and had a lot of fairly life-changing revelations and good conversations.

Due to the stress and the craziness that hasn't yet completely settled down, I have been quite delayed and remiss in my blog writing.

Very shortly I plan to write blog posts on:

  • Travel stories from England
  • Travel stories and French family reunion in France... including visiting Lille and running into a protest
  • Exams and awesome classmates I met while at the Sorbonne in Paris

Here are a couple pictures from my trip from DC to London to get us started:

This is a sculpture in the American Airlines terminal at JFK

If you look closely you will see the world's only MasterCard airport lounge! Apparently all you have to do is show your MasterCard and they will let you use their wifi and sofas. Staff are really friendly too!
You can barely see it: the TSA agent is excited about a drone that Brookstone is selling... (look closely between the salesman and the TSA agent). I was amused at the irony.

Panoramic shot during the flight... got to see some really beautiful sunset/sunrises 

And I arrived at Heathrow!
I also plan to catch up on the last 10 months of events I haven't yet gotten to writing about, while potentially interspersing more details about my previous European adventure in 2011. 

I also happen to get my grades on Tuesday, so either there will be lots of celebration or travel planning for another visit to Paris in September! 

Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Life Updates: 2013 Edition

Dear readers,

I want to update you on a number of developments as of late that are exciting in the last few months! I know that of late I've been very busy and haven't been keeping this as up to date as I would like to.

First, I've started a really interesting law program with the Sorbonne in France. Their law program actually starts in undergrad, so to get an LLM, I will end up doing about 5 years worth of classes. Conveniently, I managed to navigate the French educational bureaucracy and not only properly apply for the program but also get accepted. What I can tell you is that this isn't exactly a simple task. FYI, if anyone needs help understanding how the French system works, please shoot me a message... with enough research it's usually possible to sort out anything and figure out what they want. (My strategy is to always go for overkill and send them more stuff than they probably actually need.)

Some of you are probably wondering how I can study in France if I'm still living in Maryland. I'm taking classes offered by the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne by way of their distance law program called CAVEJ (Le Centre Audiovisuel d'Etudes Juridiques). More confusingly, I'm actually doing that program through the national distance learning administration (CNED... Centre national d'enseignement à distance).

To register for this was a multiple step process:

  • Logged in online to the Sesame site and started the registration.
  • Printed the copy of the Sesame documents and mailed in translated copies of my high school diploma and college transcripts, French legal papers, passport/ID card, etc.
  • Waited for their response... which happily was that I was accepted!
  • Then I had to complete the Administrative registration with the University of Paris.
  • Once I sent in documents relating to my acceptance and a photo of myself, I received a student ID card and various related resources.
  • To register for classes, I registered with the CNED, my proxy for dealing with the CAVEJ, which provides the distance learning classes.
    • Why use CNED? When using CNED, you can do everything remotely, including signing up for classes (CAVEJ normally requires students to attend orientation in Paris) and you get more flexibility on turning in homework.
    • In order to register with CNED, I needed to include the proof of acceptance at the the University of Paris and payment in Euros.
  • I also had to fill out my report card with my information and mail it back to France along with stapled pictures and copies of all the acceptance documents again.
  • To accomplish the classwork, I have a DVD of MP3 lectures, books that contain the handouts for the classes, and a reading list of background reference materials. Additionally, the CAVEJ has an online site with recordings of student seminars and additional materials from the professors and forums to discuss the subjects.
  • The biggest difference from the US educational model I've been used to, is that the only grades that count are the final exams. The homework is merely a tool for you to practice, not something that is held against you. 
  • In order to take the exams, I actually have to travel to Paris for the time of the exams. I will have to report back later to let you know how they are. There are 3 hour written exams on the main subjects (Things like Constitutional Law, Civil Code, etc.) and 1 hour oral exams on most of the other materials.
  • Because I tend to be busy with all the things going on, I have a pattern of spending way too much on FedEx for priority international shipments... I've probably spent at least $250 in shipping stuff to France now... but I just recently discovered that as a USAA member, I can get a discount on this of potentially up to 36% on international shipping!
  • You'll be annoyed to know that after spending all this money on shipping, red tape, books from Amazon.fr, and flying to Paris to take exams... I will probably still be spending less than the amount of money for a semester at a community college here in the US.
Anyhow, I'm fairly excited about this! As disorganized as I am, I'm listening to the lectures and I keep learning all sorts of random interesting tidbits about French and European law. Some of these include such things as:

  • The third French republic was designed to be possibly turned into a monarchy, and as a result the President had fairly broad powers. (Actually, there wasn't even really a constitution... but that's a whole other topic.)
  • There are a plethora of different levels of laws and regulations in the EU and France and an equal number of different types of courts. (Civil, Penal, Administrative, Business, Constitutional Council, EU treaty, EU Human Rights, etc.)
  • France doesn't have one supreme court like the USA... it's actually got at least 3, depending on the subject of the dispute.
  • The appeals process is completely weird. 
    • Every person has the right to have their case judged a second time if they don't like the outcome.
    • You can also appeal the judgment.
    • If it's possible that the judge misinterpreted the law, the case can be referred to the Cour de cassation... they are the closest thing to a Supreme Court. However, they only rule on the interpretation of the law. If they disagree with the previous court's interpretation, they issue their own interpretation and refer the case to another lower court. That court doesn't have to follow the opinion of the Cour de cassation... so if you don't like their ruling, you can go back to the Cour de cassation and see if they disagree with the other court. If they do, they'll issue another opinion and refer the case to yet another lower court, which this time is required to follow the opinion of the Cour de cassation.
  • Personal privacy is a core right and publishing personal details or even taking a picture of a person could land you in serious hot water if you don't have proper permission.
    • For example: if a magazine gets an interview with a person, we can presume that they have permission to post details based on that interview and a picture of the individual. However, let's say they wish to do an article five years from now... they can't reuse previously published material from that first interview without fresh consent from the individual in question.
    • If they don't, they can be fined (even punitively), the magazines could be confiscated, or the judge could require them to print a statement in a future issue based on a court order.
These are just a few things I can think of off the top of my head (and many of them are as a result, loose approximations). Honestly, I come up with something new and intriguing every time I listen to the lectures. A lot of the time my head is spinning because of the amount of exceptions or peculiarities to each subject. Apparently, it's not just me though... France actually has a court that exists to settle jurisdiction disputes between the civil and administrative courts. However, thankfully, the more I'm listening to courses, the more things are starting to turn into a system that makes sense and I'm looking forward to having a more complete knowledge in the next few months and years as the classes continue to progress.

The second piece of exciting news, is that I've started working for a really cool web design firm. I don't do anything coding or art related, but I help make sure that computers are running smoothly. I've been extremely busy since the day I walked in, because there is always something to do and it seems there is a new project every direction I look. I'm really enjoying being surrounded by art and design creatives, because to me that means a breath of life and fresh air. Also, there are many people who understand fashion and find it interesting. (In case you can't tell, I'm rather happy about this whole thing!)

Third, I'm continuing to grow as a person and have really been appreciating the efforts of my peers who grew up under similar fundamentalist backgrounds in helping me realize lies that I've believed for a long time and working on sorting out the truth from the pernicious legalism that seeks to make life a prison. I'll probably be blogging more on this and potentially doing some activism to help make sure the next generation has a better experience! I want to give a special shoutout to my friends Rachel L., Hännah, Caleigh, etc. whose blogs and personal conversations off the record have been extremely meaningful and enlightening to me. Also, my girlfriend has some very balanced perspectives, as she grew up outside the crazy bubble. While my experience was fairly non-extreme compared to many, a lot of similarities exist and I'm only now fully realizing how bizarre my sense of 'normal' has been warped with the proper comparison to common sense. I find that I'm also meeting all sorts of exciting new people and running into other blogs that are really brilliant!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Problem with 'Wedding Style'

Dear Readers,

As you well know, I enjoy good quality style and follow a number of different sources. Probably my best source of inspiration is pinterest, where I follow about 985 people at the moment. As a result, I get to see a lot of content that people are posting in what is effectively a social cross-section, ranging from ordinary people, to businesses selling their products, to magazines and fashion editors.

One trend I've observed is that we have created a special category of clothing for weddings. What exactly is it that makes something a wedding dress, bridesmaid's dress, or attire specifically reserved for the best men? As far as I can tell, these are artificial inventions. This is why I do not have a specifically 'wedding' pinterest board.

Style is infinitely subjective, of course, but my gripe is twofold: the limitations on what weddings look like and secondly, the limiting of clothing appropriate for ordinary life. Just a few generations ago, most of the dresses available in wedding ranges would have been considered insufficiently formal and with good reason--most clothing sold under the guise of 'wedding' is not actually formalwear... most of it is cocktail attire or badly put together semi-formal attire.

Additionally, I personally find the whole bachelor/bachelorette party and excess wedding attendants as highly obnoxious, especially when they all wear matching clothes that often look clownish during the wedding ceremony.

Our first problem with understanding the situation is to recognize the traditional functioning of formalwear. The second problem is to understand the purpose of the wedding industry.

Formalwear descends from historic royal courts and people of visionary fashion design. Throughout the last few hundred years, seamstresses and tailors worked to improve their craft, producing elaborate and elegant attire for full court dress. Over the years, partly due to a shift in power from monarchies to democratic regimes, the goal of making life more elegant and beautiful was set aside in favor of the practical. Whereas dressing nicely in the royal system was seen as an honor, today it is considered by most as a burden, regardless of comfort. This has contributed over the last two centuries to a decline in formalwear. Additionally, if anyone has watched Downton Abbey, you would know that formalwear was eventually codified so that certain codes of dress could be adhered to in order to create a well ordered look. These dress codes have come to the present day in multiple forms that relate to the level of formality and/or the time of day. As a result, we have Morning dress until 6pm and Evening dress after 6pm. Additionally, we find that we have semi-formal and formal. Semi-formal does not mean cocktail, incidentally--it means black-tie. Formal similarly actually relates to white-tie and full court dress.

When a person goes to a wedding shop, they are confronted with a myriad of decisions. There are entire magazines and plenty of blogs online with an equal number of opinions. When you walk into a store, you are confronted with even more options, and a sales staff whose main goal is to sell you a product--which is usually whatever trends are being parroted by the industry. My goal here is to sort out what is what from a high level in order to create the opportunity to take a step back and rethink the whole concept. Why do people need to know what the industry expects them to buy? I personally believe, it is due to our overly casual lifestyles. In most circles, you will find that the overall majority of people have no clue how to put together a formal outfit. When people are instructed to dress up, with their experience often primarily in the jeans and t-shirt area, we find ill-fitting suits, shirts that have collars that don't lay flat, ties that look cheap, and all manner of other problems. You will usually notice certain executives, lawyers, and a few informed people as being the exception. (However, I believe that it is possible to dress well on a lower budget, as well.)

I therefore theorize that the wedding industry exists to inform the uninformed and collect their money. Because people usually don't know the first thing about dress, the wedding industry has the bar set fairly low. As a result, it is basically selling people a slightly upgraded version of prom wear and/or cocktail attire. Prom wear is not true formalwear: it is a modern mashup of things that were never meant to be put together. A man's formal waistcoat should never have 5+ buttons: this belongs on a lounge suit, which most people would know under the name of a 'business suit'. Formal waistcoats since the late 1800's have been supposed to be low-cut, in order to daringly show off the man's well-pressed and well-starched formal shirt. Additionally, these jackets, since the end of the Victorian era have been generally intended to be of a quiet color in order to crisply show off the black and white uniformity of men in a social gathering. Now of course, there is room to discuss ways to reintroduce color in formalwear for men, something that was the norm up until the mid 1800's. Unfortunately, I find the way the wedding industry has done it is completely cheesy.

As for women, we have decided somehow that white dresses are only for weddings (white used to be one of the most popular colors for dresses in all situations in the early 1800's) and that bridesmaids should all wear identical dresses, often shorter than the bride. This actually makes no sense. Dress length is directly related to the formality of an event... if your wedding is a formal event in the evening, why ever would anyone wear a gown that wasn't the proper length? It just looks awkward. When the maid of honor wears a floor length gown and the rest of the bridesmaids wear short ones, I find this especially tacky. While I agree it has become customary for wedding dresses to be the longest, there is no real reason why if the wedding is intended to be formal that the rest cannot also be full length. Continuing this, I believe there should be no such thing as a bridesmaid's dress. How is this any different than any other dress? Why would you only buy such a thing to participate in a wedding?

Why have we let an industry tell us that a particular set of garments are only for weddings? Why is it that we only dress up for weddings nowadays? Why can't we choose to enjoy elegance everyday and have more events that are capable of using these same clothes? Personally, I feel it is a huge waste to only wear nice clothing during weddings, since we could reuse many formal items if we held more balls and formal parties. I would also add that if we regained a habit of formal events, no one would put up with the rubbish that the wedding industry sells, because people with taste would want things that are actually worth wearing.

Moving on, if a wedding is a certain level of formality, why does the wedding party subscribe to an entirely different dress code oftentimes? I assume this is because it is more cost effective, but it actually doesn't make much sense. If the wedding party is wearing white-tie, why are the guests attending in cocktail attire? Cocktail attire isn't even actually formalwear. This happens regularly!

Returning to the definitions of formalwear... does anyone in North America know what Morning dress is? Most formal weddings in the United States wear tuxedos during the daytime. A tuxedo should NEVER be worn before 6pm. Instead, if the wedding is formal and during the day, the guests and wedding party should be informed to dress in Morning Dress. For men, this means wearing striped grey trousers, morning coat (aka cutaway coat), waistcoat (often double-breasted), and a necktie or formal ascot. Of course there are plenty of stylish variations on this, color being something that is celebrated in Morning Dress waistcoats and ties.

The reason I bring up these points, is not as much to offer a specific prescription to rigidly fix wedding dress. Instead, I write this because I want everyone to take a step back and think about the look they are trying to achieve. Don't fall for a cheesy stereotype, rather allow weddings to be natural and beautiful. Additionally, I think finding ways to make clothing useful for events throughout the year is important because it creates ownership, sustainability, and provides constant practice to help everyone improve their taste and understanding of clothing.

I want a world in which people are better dressed, more elegant, and better understanding of each other. Beauty is not something to be afraid of, instead it is something we learn and become through our practice of its principles. I encourage people to be more tastefully creative in putting together outfits when creating new/unique looks, or alternatively to stick with the models that have stood the test of time across the last 150 years: Morning Dress, Black-Tie, and White-Tie. Don't rent your formalwear: research and buy it so that you feel comfortable in it, find or create events to use it throughout the year, and in doing so you will make life here on earth more beautiful and glorious in the process.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Europe 2011: Part 12, Harington's Hotel, Review

I've stayed a good many places in Bath, England as I have the tendency not to plan my trips ahead of time. I often book the rooms the same day because I haven't made up my mind if I want to go visit another part of the country or stay in place. As a result, I usually end up paying more than the rooms should cost, but not hugely (I've usually gotten rooms for £70-140/night in doing this). I also find that I end up being unable to book more than 2-3 nights in one place, which means during a week I have managed to stay in as many as 3-4 different hotels and guest homes.

Thanks to this experience, I feel I can somewhat authoritatively discuss the pros and cons of different establishments. Over the next few years I will attempt to review all of the places I have stayed, in order for you to get a better picture of what is available in the city.

Entrance to Harrington's Hotel, as seen on Google's street-view.
Harrington's Hotel is a really cute place which stands out because of its good service, chic decor, and good location. Depending on the price in a given week, I would say that you will be getting a very well rewarded experience from the very friendly concierge, included amenities, and walkable nature of its location in central Bath. On average, however, I expect this place to run more expensive than some less-featured establishments, but they do run sales and promotions through the VisitBath website, which is how I booked it for two nights.

This hotel is conveniently located near:
  • Vintage shop (scarletvintage, across the street as of 2011)
  • Dry Cleaners/Laundry
  • Jane Austen Centre (3 minute walk)
  • Bookshop (Paragon Books)
  • Food (5 minute walk to Sainsbury and restaurants in every direction)
  • Bath Spa Railway Station (10 minute walk... unfortunately it is uphill, like everything else in the city from the railway station)
  • Circus and Royal Crescent
  • Theatre Royal (2 minute walk)
  • Shopping (literally a block away from Milsom Street!)
  • Pump Room and Roman Baths (3 minute walk)

Click to see enlarged map of location
Sitting at a small table in the bar area enjoying some quiet in the afternoon.
The hotel also offers wifi, which as you can see is extremely convenient!

The bar area has a very elegant, modern, and cozy feel to it. I have not sampled the drinks, but the convenience of an on-premise bar is something that not all places share in Bath. Should you wish to go out, there are plenty of walkable options nearby!

View from the bar looking into a lounge room that opens into the reception and concierge area.
Dining Room
Breakfast is served in the dining room which has vibrantly colored walls and modern leather seating. My recollection is that the food was quite enjoyable and the menu had most of the traditional breakfast items on it, British and otherwise. If you sit in the front room, you will find yourself looking at a cute vintage shop across the street (As of September 2011). Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit Scarlet Vintage during their store hours, but the display was certainly quite enticing!

scarletvintage shop in Bath, England
I believe my original room was upgraded when I arrived, because the room I received was much larger than I had expected. However, I anticipate that all the rooms are of similar elegance and refinement.

Bed with seat in front of it. Highly convenient setup.
More accessories, including chairs, dresser, and vanity.
This window opens out to the following view, which is a fairly quiet street removed from traffic:

Bathroom includes a heated towel rack radiator.
Also included,  bathtub with separate shower head on detachable hose.
In conclusions, I have no real complaints as I do not happen to be a demanding hotel guest and the hotel more than satisfied my needs when I was in residence. Neither the price nor the experience is exactly cheap, but I feel you will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Consent Culture, Modesty, and Femininity

Dear Readers,

Please allow me to return to an issue I have covered before: modesty. While my more conservative circles of friends are still focused on the issue of ensuring female modesty, my more progressive friends are asking why there is no talk about consent, abuse, and respect of women.

Because I feel concerned about this discussion and because I do not want past posts to be considered lopsided on this blog (especially as my views have also changed through time... see here and here for older views), I want to cover this topic in a more holistic fashion. Most people discussing these issues have not bridged modesty and consent in a positive way... it's almost as though lack of modesty is seen as, 'asking for it,' when it comes to abuse or rape. From this and other behaviors we get the term, 'rape culture,' which suggests that we live in a society that marginalizes women, renders men irresponsible for their actions, and attempts to normalize objectification.

Let us begin by clearing up something: no matter how a woman or girl dresses, she is not asking to be hurt. Even if she is inviting our eyes she still has the right to be undisturbed in her person should she be uninterested in the advances of another. If a woman enjoys teasing men, it does not give anyone the right to abuse or coerce her into any act. (In a previous post I wrote, "A lady should never suggest that she is available for untoward purposes all day." For clarification, my intended meaning was to illustrate said attire as tasteless, rather than incitement for rape.) Furthermore, consent does not end at marriage: if a woman refuses a man's advance, he must wait. Women are not objects to be bought or sold, they are not the property of their husbands or fathers. Instead, I hold that women are beautiful, if perhaps fragile, creations that God has blessed the world with. It is in our respect of them that we men become worthy of our call to stand up for truth, beauty, justice, and creation. Men of worth are those who treat women, children, the elderly, the weak, etc. with honor and compassion.

Currently there is a good deal of confusion about gender roles and sexuality. I will cover the fashion elements of men's sexuality in a future post (the idea that men dress badly in order not to appear gay), but it does relate tangentially to this topic. Today's man often feels uncertain in modern society with the rise of women with more advanced degrees, the suggestion that more men lost their jobs during the recession than women, and the fact that some writers have questioned the utility of men. The wrong reaction to today's social trends is to attempt to instate patriarchy and control of women. Women are not to be feared, they are to be praised and encouraged! What we need to discover, is the answer to the meaning of the soul of man. That's why I believe that those who think that the definition of manliness is found entirely in sports, fitness, dressing poorly, GTL (Jersey Shore), military service, fighting/blowing up things, subjugation of the weak, objectification of women, etc. have it completely wrong. It's in the discipline of the soul, the discovery of beauty and the protection of the innocent that real strength and manliness is found. It is in this understanding of masculinity that we can work together with women to create a better, fairer society for all of us where we seek to encourage opportunity and success for everyone. Putting others down does not make us the better person, all that does is make us bullies; let's be above that!

Returning to modesty, it is true that the way a women (or in fact a man) dresses will affect the perception of those around them. It is for this reason that I encourage all people to dress with good taste. However, as I have stated in other articles, I hold the principles of beauty and elegance above the arbitrary conservative concept of modesty as merely involving covering up oneself to prevent lust.

To view modesty as a matter of preventing men (who apparently have no control over their actions) from lust is completely and utterly perverted. This suggests that men are debased animals without self-control, which directly implies that men are not responsible for their actions. If men are not responsible for their actions, then they need not worry about the protection of the their fellow human beings. In effect, this removes all expectations that a man should build his internal character like I discussed earlier. This is completely stupid and the most insipid amount of nonsense imaginable. Like I said in the beginning, no woman or girl deserves to be hurt.

Furthermore, why are we working so hard to prevent 'lust'? The only reason I could consider justifying the whole 'women must cover up to prevent sin' concept is if we were actually preventing a primary danger to society. The problem is that the concepts of beauty and lust have become so confused lately that out of fear of lust we have also blocked out beauty. God created us to enjoy beauty and he created men to desire women. To go against this is to fight against the natural order of creation. To desire that which is beautiful is not wrong in and of itself; however, to act upon said desires in a way that hurts others is definitely wrong. If a man seeing a beautiful woman becomes attracted to her and wants to have her physically against her will, the issue was not that she was attractive: the problem here is that he had no intention of respecting her in the first place because he does not see her as equally valuable. This goes back to my paragraph about what it means to be a man: appreciating beauty and protecting the innocent. Additionally, as a man I can assure you that choosing to enjoy what I see is much better for the soul than constant condemnation and guilt over concerns of 'lust':
I feel less confident I can accurately 'draw the lines', but I care less about this nowadays. My main goal is to treat women with respect and to enjoy beauty generally. As long as men aren't abusing women, are treating them with respect, and being careful to remember that women are equally important to men, I think we can stop worrying whether or not people are being caused to 'stumble'. In short: I'm done with the guilt-based culture that does not lead to any greater actual holiness. (Source: Recent facebook comment I made on a related subject.)
Returning to the concept of beauty, I would also add that personally I believe women are the most beautiful of all God's creation. As a result, the tasteful display of the human form is something that is quite enjoyable to look at. Again, tasteful is a concept that is difficult to entirely explain. Like I said before, décolletage is an example where some would see immodesty, but I see beauty. For reasons of taste, it is generally advisable to be careful that the overall 'skimpiness quotient' of a garment is not inordinately high. However, lower necklines, tight pieces of clothing, shorter skirts, etc. can all be at times part of very classy and tasteful outfits. The difference between inappropriate and appropriate, I believe has to be one of discernment and carefulness to pair the right situation and body-types with the right outfit at a given time.

Lastly, I want to briefly touch on the feminine. While I have become quite progressive in some ways as can be seen above, I still retain some vestiges of the past. My philosophy has been to let all ideas face the challenge of alternate viewpoints in order to determine if they stand up. There is no point in holding to an idea that is indefensible. As a result, I would volunteer that at least personally, when women dress in more traditionally feminine ways I find the contrast with men and the elegance resulting from good taste to be highly attractive. Is this a moral imperative? Will a woman go to hell for not having long hair and a skirt? Certainly not! I do not believe that God is judging people in that way. However, as an aesthete, I definitely enjoy the classically elegant woman. For this reason, I encourage all things that are feminine and pretty, partly because they are delightful and partly because I'm jealous that God didn't make me a woman to enjoy them myself. Let men have their own clothes... skirts, dresses, and all manner of feminine clothing look so lovely; to discard them in favor of traditionally masculine attire is to create a much more boring wardrobe!

To conclude: consent is the beauty of the practice of mutual respect, modesty should be the use of good taste in dress (not covering up simply to prevent lust), and femininity is lovely and delightful.