02.05.09 vol. xl, no. 14 The Indy takes on the Senate.
independent THE HARVARD
President Diana Suen ‘11 Cover art by SALLY RINEHART
Sports 3 4
Unseating King Roger Facing Reality
Knowledge 2.0 The Meowel
Forum 6-7 Democracy at Home The Politics of Politics
Editor-in-Chief Sam Jack ‘11
Production Manager Faith Zhang ‘11
Publisher Brian Shen ’11
Technology Director Sanjay Gandhi ’10
News Editor Forum Editor Arts Editor Sports Editor Design Editor Graphics Editor Associate Arts Editor Associate Business Manager Associate Graphics Editor
Rachael Becker ‘11 Riva Riley ‘12 Truc Doan ‘10 Hao Meng ‘11 Patricia Florescu ‘11 Candice Smith ‘11 Pelin Kivrak ‘11 Jenn Chang ‘11 Sonia Coman ‘11
Staff Writers Peter Bacon ‘11 Andrew Coffman ‘12 Caroline Corbitt ‘09 Ray Duer ‘11 Pippa Eccles ‘09 Jessica Estep ‘09 Nicholas Krasney ‘09 Markus Kolic '09 Allegra Richards ‘09 Andrew Rist ‘09 Alice Speri ‘09 Graphics, Photography, and Design Staff Ben Huang ‘09 Edward Chen '09 Caitie Kakigi ‘09 Eva Liou ‘11 Sonia Coman '11 Caitlin Marquis ‘10 Lidiya Petrova ‘11 Sally Rinehart ‘09
Arts 8 9 10 11
The Last of the Bros Stuck in the Suburbs A Curious Love Mollusks at Dusk
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As Harvard College's weekly undergraduate newsmagazine, the Harvard Independent provides in-depth, critical coverage of issues and events of interest to the Harvard College community. The Independent has no political affiliation, instead offering diverse commentary on news, arts, sports, and student life. For publication information and general inquiries, contact President Diana Suen (firstname.lastname@example.org). Letters to the Editor and comments regarding the content of the publication should be addressed to Editor-in-Chief Sam Jack (email@example.com). Yearly mail subscriptions are available for $30, and semester-long subscriptions are available for $15. To purchase a subscription, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Harvard Independent is published weekly during the academic year, except during vacations, by The Harvard Independent, Inc., P.O. Box 382204, Cambridge, MA 02238-2204. Copyright © 2008 by The Harvard Independent. All rights reserved.
11.09.06 11.02.06 s The Harvard Independent 11.06.08
What’s a Few Majors Among Friends?
The Federer-Nadal rivalry and the shape of tennis history. By SAM JACK
FEDERER BE winning if Nadal were out of the picture? Of course it is impossible to know, but my feeling is that if Nadal were not on the scene, Federer would simply be winning everything, barring perhaps the very few flukey flame-outs he has been subject to. If Federer had captured the five Grand Slam events in which he was felled by Nadal, he would currently have 18 titles, blowing Sampras out of the water, and he would have won the Grand Slam three times in a row. In other words, Federer is such a talent that he would be making a mockery of the men’s tennis game if it weren’t for the other great talent that, fortuitously, arrived on the scene just as Federer was getting a bit older and perhaps a bit less sharp. By the same token, one has to think of what Nadal’s prospects might now be were not Federer on the tour. There’s no doubt, in the aftermath of this Australian Open, that Nadal has the upper hand in the rivalry now, but imagine how different things would look if it were not for Federer, nobly struggling to surpass Pete Sampras. It would be Nadal at the beginning of a long, unchallenged ascendancy. Make no mistake, it may be that Nadal is at the beginning of a long ascendancy, but he certainly won’t be unchallenged. I expect (and hope) that Federer will keep playing, keep trying to pick off a few more Grand Slams, until the frustration becomes too great for him; and I hope that he surpasses Sampras in the process. What I expect is to see several more five set OW MANY MAJOR TOURNAMENTS WOULD
JAMES MARVIN PHELPS/Wikimedia Commons
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matches like the 2009 Australian, and for Nadal to win most of them. The shape of Nadal’s career, and the way it has intersected with Federer’s, has affected the public perception of Nadal. To the public, Nadal is still the strong, fast whipper-snapper that has overwhelmed Federer with a brute force game. There isn’t the same level of chatter about the ‘genius’ or ‘beauty’ of Nadal’s game. No one has yet written an article titled “Nadal as Religious Experience” (the late David Foster Wallace wrote a similarly titled Federer paean for the New York Times). Federer possesses, according to Wallace, “beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.” As much as everyone professes to love Nadal, and as much as Nadal is certainly an admirable human being, a fairly large cohort of tennis fans — Wallace was probably among them — sees Nadal as the killer of beauty; as the one that pulled Federer down out of the Land of Eternity, back down to live with the rest of us treading drudges. The human instinct for narrative makes this inevitable, and perhaps there is a little something to it, but to frame the Nadal-Federer rivalry as “brash youthfulness overwhelms mature artistry” is to vastly oversimplify. As Wallace made clear in another tennis article, “The
JAMES MARVIN PHELPS/Wikimedia Commons
String Theory,” tennis played on a professional level requires such superhuman feats of mental calculation and muscle reaction that the efforts involved are barely even comprehensible to us mere mortals. The look of Nadal manhandling the ball around the court while Federer glides wraith-like from position to position is only a surface impression. Really, both operate within such slight margins for error that every movement is, by necessity, exquisite and precise. Nadal is as much a “kinetic artist” as Federer, though I don’t think he’ll ever be perceived that way — however successful he ends up. And it’s too bad. Because it’s hard to forget the look on Federer’s face back in 2003 and 2004 when he was wrapping up his first round of Slams, or, to be more precise, the aura that surrounded Federer around that time. It was an aura of realized potential and a limitless future. At the time, Federer was filling a void; the tennis players who could be considered “all time greats” were retired or approaching retirement. The players Federer was dominating were good, but of no great historical note; players like Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, Mark Philippoussis. Federer was filling a void; he did not have to be very conscious of thwarting any other players chance at history; none of the top players of the time were really at history-making caliber. Nadal, on the other hand, even in victory, has been perpetually in the shadow of Federer’s historic quest to win more than any other winner ever won. In every major except his first French, it has been Federer on the other side of the net, vanquished. And as Nadal’s English language skills have rapidly improved, the effusiveness of his praise for Federer has increased. Already Nadal’s repeated, ritualistic assertions that Federer is the greatest player ever feel strained. Perhaps it’s true that Federer is the greatest ever, but is that really something Nadal should be saying after driving Federer repeatedly towards defeat? Is it appropriate for Nadal to call Federer the greatest player ever when Nadal himself is, indisputably I think, the greatest player now? In the aftermath of the Australian Open, it was uncomfortable for Nadal to repeat the assertion; in the future, if Nadal continues to beat Federer, it may come to seem like humiliation. Tennis is a gladiatorial sport, and the gentility and restraint Nadal and Federer have shown in this rivalry is a strange thing to behold. In a way, everything would seem more natural if Federer and Nadal would make a show of “talking smack” and disparaging one another, following the convention in other sports like boxing and, err, competitive Scrabble (seriously). Federer’s involuntary weeping on the Australian Open court is a poor substitute. Who can blame him, but it really is too bad that the conventions of tennis don’t allow two standup guys like Nadal and Federer to frankly acknowledge that they are standing firmly in the way of one another’s hopes and dreams. Sam Jack ‘11 (sjack@fas) nearly made it onto the tennis team at his middle school. Yes, he was that good. email@example.com
Strictly Amateur Why we can kiss our pro aspirations goodbye. By ANDREW RIST
T ’ S BEEN PRETTY ICY OUT LATELY , AND
sometimes when I’m walking over icy ground I’ll slip. The other day, my foot slipped right out from under me, but I got my other foot down, got a hand down to steady myself and kept right on walking. Inspired, I thought to myself, “Hey, look at that balance; I could be a running back.” At that point I stopped my thoughts in its tracks and instead, recalled a joke by the stand-up comedian, Dwayne Perkins. He said, “You grow up, you watch sports, they’re all older than you. You’re a little kid you want to be like them. You want to be like Mike; you want to be like Magic, until ‘90, ’91 or so. Then one day you turn on the TV and you’re older than all of them, and you have to come to terms with the fact that maybe you’re not going pro.” And guess what, we’re all getting to that time where we have to accept that we are not going to go pro. Pretty much all of you reading this (excluding a few, and by no means a majority, of Harvard’s athletes) currently face this as a reality. When I was in middle school, I had a dream of playing power forward for the Houston Rockets; I had hit my
growth spurt early, so I was one of the taller kids my age. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I just didn’t have a nose for the basket. Dwayne Perkins obviously thinks that this is the reason why some adults lose interest in sports as they get older. Me on the other hand? I still like sports just fine. The trick is to shift the burden from wishing you could play sports to wishing you could have played sports. You can live vicariously through your favorite teams as though they were your children. That’s how I do it. Only a very small number of us have even the slightest chance of going pro, but that’s no reason to get bitter and stop watching for spite as Perkins suggests. The real reason we watched sports in the first place may have been because we wanted to be like Mike, but we can be like Mike without playing basketball. The values of excellence and hard work aren’t just narrowly applicable to sports. Every year Harvard puts out hundreds of people who want to be the best investment banker they can be, several hundred more who want to be mediocre i-bankers, and dozens of other people
who want to do other things well. For all these people, (excluding the mediocre i-bankers), the opportunity to identify parts of themselves in the athletes on TV definitely exists. Besides, there are some advantages in being the best investment banker over being the best at a sport. Illegitimate children and drug problems are much bigger problems for athletes than for other, less visible professions, so that’s something to think about. You don’t have to run laps all the time, although you probably don’t have to do that to be a professional golfer either. But then again, what small child ever dreamed of being a professional golfer? The main advantage is that you can sit in your
recliner on game day and watch other people do the hard work of sports, and even though you couldn’t do any better, you can blame all the problems your team is having on a coach or a player, and there’s really nothing you can do about it. Just ask Rex Grossman. So most of us are going pro in something other than sports, as the cheesy NCAA commercials say, and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s better to keep that unfulfilled dream of being a power forward for the Houston Rockets bottled up inside of you, pure as the day you conceived it. Andrew Rist (arist@fas) ’09 keeps it real like Dwayne Perkins.
HARVARD UNIVERSITY EDMOND J. SAFRA FOUNDATION CENTER FOR ETHICS
LESTER KISSEL GRANTS IN PRACTICAL ETHICS AVAILABLE FOR UNDERGRADUATES SUMMER 2009 Harvard College undergraduate students are eligible to apply for a Lester Kissel Grant in Practical Ethics to support research and writing that makes contributions to the understanding of practical ethics. A number of grants, each up to $3,000, will be awarded on a competitive basis for projects to be conducted during the summer of 2009. The projects may involve research for senior theses, case studies for use in courses, essays or articles for publication, or similar scholarly endeavors that explore issues in practical ethics. The deadline for receipt of applications is March 16, 2009. For further information contact Stephanie Dant, Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, tel: 617.495.1336; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit the Center’s website, www.ethics.harvard.edu.
The Kissel Grants in Practical Ethics are made possible by a gift from the late Lester Kissel, a graduate of Harvard Law School and longtime benefactor of Harvard's ethics programs and activities.
02.05.08 s The Harvard Independent
7HY 7IKIPEDIA 7ORKS If it really was an “encyclopedia of everything,” it’d soon be an encyclopedia of nothing. By SAM JACK
IKIPEDIA IS POPULARLY PERCEIVED
as a free-for-all, especially by users of the site who have never taken an interest in its internal workings. Its motto gives some credence to the notion of anarchy: “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” While the motto is literally true, it contains an implication of anarchy that is no longer accurate. It is true that “anyone can edit” Wikipedia, but the set of people that can have a meaningful influence on the content of Wikipedia is very constrained. The small size of the cadre of users who create the bulk of Wikipedia’s content is a consequence of another misconception embedded in the motto: Wikipedia is not “free”— at least not for the people who create the encyclopedia. Becoming a contributor imposes real costs, and Wikipedia has limited resources with which to repay the costs. The divvying up of costs and benefits is one function of a governing institution. Since Wikipedia has sophisticated means of accomplishing the “divvying up,” one can conclude that it is not an anarchy. After eliminating other candidates, the form that fits best is that of bureaucracy. A bureaucracy is an organization which carries out the wishes of some sort of institutional body. In the case of the United States government, the bodies which do the decision-making are largely separate from the bureaucracies that carry them out. Wikipedia does not have any such separate and independent body. Instead the basic tenets and goals of Wikipedia are decided by broad consensus. While in theory every aspect of Wikipedia is subject to change, in practice certain
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tenets marked as “policies” never change. The policy pages as a whole mark out the goals of Wikipedia; a self-sustaining majority forces out contributors that don’t share them. One policy page marks out boundaries for the mission of the organization. The page consists of a list of the things Wikipedia is not — Wikipedia is not a dictionary, a directory, a venue for original research, a soap box, a crystal ball, and so on. Another page, in “WikiProject Poker” explains what makes a pokerplayer notable for Wikipedia purposes. Similar dicta proliferate all over Wikipedia. Of about 13 million pages on Wikipedia, fully 11 million are non-article pages; these pages lay out guidelines, accommodate discussion of articles, discussion of guidelines and policies, categorical organization of articles, and so on. It is fair to say that a huge amount of the effort people put into Wikipedia is directed towards things other than the composition of articles. The rules set out by the poker enthusiasts who have taken responsibility for “WikiProject Poker” seem like a reasonable guide for what encyclopedia readers might be interested in. But why should the scope of WikiProject Poker be limited at all? If WikiProject Poker were a conventional bureaucracy, budget would be the limiting factor. But budget is not a factor on Wikipedia; no one is being paid. And contributors who are rebuffed in their attempts to write articles about their favorite obscure poker players might decide not to contribute at all. To broaden, why should any of the restrictions on Wikipedia’s content apply? If someone wants to write an article about the gas station on the corner down the street
from their house, the argument goes, they should do it. After all, the information could be of conceivable use to somebody. And yet contributors are proscribed from writing about things like corner stores and individual gas stations. This debate, under the heading “Deletionism and Inclusionism” is constantly raging on Wikipedia and in surrounding media. The debate does not need to be carried out, though, in a vacuum. Other services have no notability restrictions, and we can look at how they perform. Users of Yahoo! Answers ask a question, which is posted, and then other users simply answer the question as best they can. The usefulness of answers varies wildly. A question such as “What was the cause of the Anglo-Zanzibar War?” would be unlikely to find a good answer unless someone copy-pasted the content from Wikipedia. On the other hand, if you need some quick help with your math homework, Yahoo! Answers is superior. The reason that Yahoo! Answers and Wikipedia cannot provide the same services is that they allocate their resources differently. Comparison of Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers makes clear that both enterprises are working with a limited resource: prestige. Prestige and status are finite resources because by definition they value one person over another. Therefore, the more status given out, the less there is to distinguish one individual from the next, and the less value is attached. Yahoo! Answers allocates prestige on an extremely indiscriminate basis, gives “points” to anyone who inputs text to answer a question; since “prestige” is common, it is less desired. Thus, Yahoo! Answers lacks a dedicated user base.
Since Wikipedia wants and needs a large, dedicated user base, it must be much more careful and selective in the way that it distributes prestige and status. If the contributor who writes an article on a subject no one cares about is valued on the same level as another who writes on a topic of great importance, then the latter will have less incentive to continue productively. Wikipedia has only so many capable writers, and their efforts must be directed towards the most important material first. Because prestige and status are limited resources, a great deal of effort goes into allocation of those resources. To have one’s article awarded the status of ‘Featured Article’ or ‘FA’ is one of the highest markers of status on Wikipedia, and the process of awarding that status is very involved. An equally elaborate construction governs the deletion of articles On May 1, 2008, for example, no fewer than 106 articles were proposed for deletion, and the debate on these articles generated a total of 60,000 words. Featured Articles (FA) and Articles for Deletion (AfD) are only the most visible processes related to the granting of status. WikiProjects, such as the Poker WikiProject previously mentioned, exist not only to bring together people interested in a subject area, but to regulate the awarding of prestige within the community of interested people. The awarding of status is so important in motivating editors of Wikipedia that the commonly cited figure of 25 percent of all activity on Wikipedia being directed towards activities other than article writing begins to seem a bit less unreasonable.
No More Senate Appointments
If democracy is good enough for Iraq, why not try it right here in the US?
Objections to th
By SAM JACK
ROD BLAGOJEVICH MELODRAMA MAKES A CASE NOT ONLY for giving some kind of psychological screening to potential public officials, but also for finally abolishing the archaic patchwork system of Senate appointments that the states utilize. In case you haven’t kept up, or more likely have been blocking it all out, I’ll recap the situation, in all its ridiculousness. Obama resigns early (on November 16) from the Senate to devote himself fully to the presidential transition. Hope and change resound through the land, et cetera. Less than a month later, at 6:15 AM on December 9, America — and the people of Illinois more particularly — discovered that they had accidentally elected another psychopath to public office. Whoops! How does that keep happening? “It’s a fucking valuable thing,” Blagojevich was discovered to have said of his appointment power, “You don’t give it away for nothing.” When confronted with his obvious sins, Blagojevich was incoherent, comparing his plight to that of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Jane Eyre, Christopher Reeve, and Jesus Christ. So okay, we have this guy in the governor’s office who’s proven himself to be not only amoral but also an idiot. Now surely he’ll do the right thing and refrain from exercising his power to appoint someone to President Obama’s vacant Senate seat. After all, everyone agrees that Blagojevich shouldn’t make the appointment. It’s obvious that the public-minded thing to do would be to turn the matter over to the State Senate. And since old Milorad is our most publicminded governor, he’ll do the right thing, yeah? Hah. Well, no. While elected officials local, state and national, blustered indignantly, Blagojevich apparently went about preparing to exercise his “valuable” power. Roland Burris was the natural choice for a couple reasons. For one, it’s obvious now that Burris made an advance commitment to Blagojevich that, once he had the appointment in hand, he would refrain from criticizing Blagojevich. For another, he has a long enough resumé that his appointment didn’t seem immediately indefensible on the merits (indeed, his resume is carved in granite already, on his ridiculous tomb). And the final reason became obvious at the press conference where the official announcement was made, when black Congressman Bobby Rush was carted out. “I would ask you not to hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer,” Rush said. In general, HE
the public is too quick to complain about the “race card,” but if there’s such a thing, this was it. The issue of Burris’s race was dragged in, where really the issue was Blagojevich’s conduct. Senate leaders and the Illinois Secretary of State promised to block Burris from being seated, but finally had to conclude that they had no legal standing to do so. So now, after all that, Roland Burris is a United States senator. He almost certainly would not have received the appointment if the Blagojevich scandal hadn’t blown up. Perhaps he’ll be a fine senator, but he hasn’t had an auspicious start. Burris also seems terribly egocentric and self-absorbed. Why does the American people put up with this sort of thing, and why do they put up with lesser outrages like the serious considerations given to otherwise under-qualified dynasts like Caroline Kennedy? I’m inclined to agree with Russ Feingold, who is introducing a constitutional amendment to require special elections in the case of Senate vacancies. “In 1913,” Feingold said in a statement, “The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators. They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people.” Though transgressions as egregious as Blagojevich’s are an anomaly, the media takes it as granted that governors will consider their own political interests when making Senate appointments. For example, the speculation that Governor Paterson would pick Mario Cuomo for the senate vacancy was fueled by the fact that putting Cuomo in the Senate would remove a powerful primary contender vying for Paterson’s own job. Even in relatively innocuous forms, and even if fine public servants end up being selected, the politicking that goes into gubernatorial senate selections is unnecessary. The system of special elections used by the House works fine, and there is no reason it shouldn’t be adopted for the Senate as well. Sam Jack ‘11 (sjack@fas) actually thinks that manatees should be making all these sorts of decisions. Manatees have integrity.
– KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND IS NOT CAROLINE Kennedy. So that’s a point in her favor. I say this because, no matter how much affection one might have for the Kennedy family (and I’ve got truckloads of it), Caroline is not a great intellect or a political mover; she is about as appropriate a choice for the U.S. Senate as Joe the Plumber. Or his pet turtle (I am assuming here that Joe the Plumber has a pet turtle. I see no reason to assume he doesn’t). So just in appointing someone to the Senate that wasn’t Caroline Kennedy, Gov. David Paterson already covered the spread. He managed to overcome the deafening media whine she kicked up, an impressive achievement in and of itself for an unelected, politically undefined governor looking ahead to 2010 reelection. He bucked both the Kennedy family and, perhaps more bravely, the Cuomos (in overlooking the notoriously ambitious Andrew Cuomo for the seat). Why then has the Gillibrand pick been so problematic, especially for liberals and among the mainstream media? What is all the fuss about? The fuss, ostensibly, is about Kirsten Gillibrand being so gosh-darned conservative. At the time of her appointment, her record portrayed her as pro-gun, severely anti-tax, and lukewarm toward gay rights, all of which is unsurprising given that she represented a rural district in upstate Eastern New York. Worse, she’s vocal about it, and about her intent to succeed politically – to the aggravation of her Capitol Hill colleagues. Boy, did she ever grate on them. “Nobody really likes her,” a New York City congressman anonymously told Politico last month; “she’s smart and capable, but she’s rubbed people the wrong way.” Obnoxious in both her centrism and her ambition, Gillibrand reportedly was nicknamed “Tracy Flick” (after the 1996 Alexander Payne movie Election – rent it) by fellow Congressmen; the backwoods moderate with her IRST THINGS FIRST
02.05.08 s The Harvard Independent
ense of Senator Gillibrand
he Senate appointment are rooted in elitism and regionalism. By MARKUS KOLIC
eyes always on the prize clearly offended their delicate sensibilities. This in turn made her a controversial, and widely criticized, choice for Senate. There are two strands to this argument; let’s tease them out. The first is the ideological part, the argument that she’s too conservative for statewide office. Because these are politicians we’re talking about, this argument can be easily dispensed with. Gillibrand is already performing the usual backflips that come with transitioning between a rural electorate and New York State’s; she announced a newfound support for same-sex marriage on the day she was appointed to the Senate, and told Al Sharpton she’d moderate her NRA-endorsed pro-gun stance shortly thereafter. It may not be enough for her to stave off a 2010 primary challenge from Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, the brave and tragic Long Island figure whose political raison d’etre is gun control — but a single-issue campaign, absent some external calamity, probably won’t have the oomph to knock Gillibrand off. In fact, a quantitative analysis by Nicholas Beaudrot (at Ezra Klein’s blog, 1/25/2009) showed that Gillibrand’s voting record was not so conservative as her public image suggests; relative to her district’s electoral history, Gillibrand’s votes in Congress were marginally more liberal than one would otherwise expect, making her what he called “a generic Democrat.” By this reasoning, once she settles into her statewide role, she’ll be among the Senate’s most liberal members. Presumably at least some of Gillibrand’s ideology is ingrained rather than calculated, of course, and she’s liable to infuriate the left on any number of issues regardless, but her positioning in Congress and her actions after the appointment suggest a pragmatic streak which will likely motivate her to leave her “centrism” far behind. Within a matter of months, I think, she’ll be indistinguishable from
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any other New York Democrat. So what about the second strand of the argument, the more nebulous one: that she’s too nakedly ambitious, too socially tone-deaf, too annoying? Leaving aside the obvious and unnerving sexism of the “Tracy Flick” remark — the problem of gender and ambition was well-examined during the 2008 Clinton campaign — there is still an extraordinary arrogance in the idea that someone shouldn’t go to the Senate because they’re too direct in their ambitions, or worse, because they make their elders feel uncomfortable. As if Caroline Kennedy and Andrew Cuomo were entitled to that Senate seat, and Gillibrand jumped the line, and as if the proper way to succeed politically is just to stand quietly, looking dignified, until money and votes simply appear at one’s outstretched hands. The classist assumptions here should be readily apparent. (Ironically, Gillibrand is hardly a political upstart – her parents were well-connected Albany lawyers, and her grandmother was a confidant to the machine mayor of Albany for 40 years. But when it’s the Kennedys setting the pace, everyone else is basically a dirt farmer.) There is also a geographic element to it – an annoyance on the part of New York City that the job went to someone from, heaven forfend, upstate. Upstate New York is a huge and complex area, mostly economically depressed but with a diverse economy and population, including several major urban centers (yes, it’s true); but to New York City it’s little more than an annoying rural tag-along, resented when it uses the City’s tax revenue and generally mocked or ignored otherwise. Gillibrand, emerging as she did from the northern fog, was undoubtedly viewed with condescension and disdain by her urban colleagues; after Governor Paterson, himself a Brooklyn native (traitor!), sent her to the Senate over any number of qualified city-dwellers, there must have been a level of frothing rage in New York City’s political circles not unlike that of the white office worker who watches a presumed affirmative-action candidate take his promotion. The political media, socially and institutionally attuned more closely to New York City than to anywhere else save
Washington, couldn’t help but feel that anger. The subtext to both the classist and regionalist discomforts with Gillibrand is fundamentally that she’s perceived as being on the wrong side of the culture wars; hence the myopic focus in the press on her attitude toward guns and gays, but not on, for instance, her support for the Bush tax cuts. (Had you heard about that? I hadn’t, until I looked it up.) It’s fallacious, of course; she is a Democrat responding to her district, nothing more, and she is hardly the Kennedys’ class enemy. Fears and criticisms surrounding her appointment really stem from an elitist inability, or refusal, to understand her personality and background, which leads to a discomfort or fear and quickly results in hostility. But just because New York City’s political elites — both the Godfather-esque family dynasties and the Huffington Posttype media liberals — can’t see a rural newcomer as a credible liberal doesn’t mean New York State’s voters won’t. These worries about Gillibrand and the endless TV roundtable discussions about her “controversial” appointment, in context, amount to exactly nothing. I have this mental picture of Paterson and Gillibrand as an improbable crime-fighting duo, in the style of 1980s television, running around scaring the bejesus out of yuppies and engaging in amusing cross-cultural banter while bringing about progressive change [Naturally Paterson would be the Daredevil. -Ed.]. I admit that I’m a little ambitious in this interpretation. But keep an eye on Senator Gillibrand, and on her patron, Governor Paterson; if anything they will draw strength from the opposition of the Big Apple’s old political oligarchy, as it bumps up against Gillibrand’s independence and tenacity. At minimum, she will be an interesting addition to the Senate and to the Democratic cast of starring characters – and not, I warn, one to be taken lightly. Markus Količ ‘09 (markus.kolic@gmail) actually is a dirt farmer. Don’t tell the Kennedys.
The Bromance is Gone Or, the Bro in American culture and its influence on Harvard. By PETER BACON
A BRO IS AN eighteen to twenty-four year-old male who wears Birkenstock sandals, watches Family Guy, plays Ultimate Frisbee, and wears an upside-down visor or a baseball cap with a pre-frayed brim. You know…a bro.” This concise definition from Derrick Comedy’s “Bro Rape” identifies a cultural phenomenon that undoubtedly all of us have experienced: the bro. You see bros everywhere in pop culture nowadays. For those with the opportunity to watch television (the lucky few there are here at Harvard), some have perhaps seen Brody Jenner’s quest for a new “bro” to join his entourage on the show Bromance. On Collegehumor.com, one finds paeans to bros, either in “The Bromance is Gone” or “Brohemian Rhapsody.” Specialty websites such as Brobama.com opened up whole new worlds to bros; Brobama.com explains politics in language the average bro could understand. One might argue, as well, that shows such as Tool Academy, websites such as HotChicksWithDouchebags. com and internet clips such as “My New Haircut” expand the definition of “bros” by including the frosted-tipped, Armani Exchange-wearing individuals who commit “douchebaggery” on the Jersey Shore. American culture has been inundated with “bro-ness.” My own life has seen constant encounters with bros: back in my home state of Maryland, the typical “bro” reveled in his love of Dave Matthews, lacrosse, and Abercrombie and Fitch. I recall, for example, a party where roughly 200 mini-cans of Axe Body Spray were passed out to the people there and sprayed in the air. The thick scent of cheap cologne intermingled with the smell of spilled Natty Light to create the perfect accompaniment to the garish sight of pink party polo shirts, otherwise known as “triple p’s,” and popped collars. I still have nightmares about that night. Of course, bro-ness comes in different
HAT IS A BRO ?
forms: bros from Maryland differ from bros in Louisiana, or perhaps California. Beirut may become beer pong (FYI it is called Beirut — beer pong is played with paddles), or the sport of choice may go from lacrosse to football to rowing. Despite these differences, the bro can usually be found in fraternities and college dorms nationwide, shot-gunning Keystone cans while chilling with his “broskis.” Except he does not seem to be at Harvard. Perhaps one of the more interesting phenomena of our school has been the lack of bros on campus. Granted, we do have conditions that would seem conducive to bro-ness: there are fraternities near campus, the traditional home of the bro, and the final clubs do offer an opportunity for broing out, though under much different circumstances. However, the classical bro, and classical bro conceptions of “raging,” seem absent from campus, or only appearing sporadically. “Bro-ing out” seems to be an event in a final club or in a frat, rather than the norm: the Sigma Chi house or the Spee may have ridiculous parties, but they cannot compare to the hedonistic destruction wrought on college campuses ranging from USC to Arizona State to even Dartmouth. Why is this the case? Granted, we do have our bros, though they are far less visible on campus than the average individual. This could potentially be explained by the lack of a vibrant party culture on campus. We live at a college where “Thirsty Thursday” is virtually non-existent and parties are significantly constrained by the lack of off-campus housing. Additionally, the draconian limitations Cambridge puts on partying (i.e. 10 PM-2 AM) and the constant specter of the Cambridge PD make “broing out” incredibly difficult. Perhaps, though, it may be due to the professional nature of Harvard’s social climate: we are ingrained even from our initial arrival on campus with an almost business-like approach to academics and extracurriculars. We stay away
from the frivolous things that could be embodied within “bro-ing out” in favor of a higher level of sophistication. To an extent, this can be beneficial: we do not have the same degree of drunken revelry that marks some campuses. But I also find myself missing the bros. The lack of bro-itude creates a stifling environment on campus. In all our social activities, there is some restraint on the part of people as they think what else they could be doing in order to get ahead. Decorous rules of propriety prevent anyone from letting loose. Thus, even in our parties, we
seem to hold back and remain uptight about things. So we could easily learn a lesson from the bros. We do live in a campus suited to Type A personalities, focused on charging ahead into the worlds of business or politics. However, we should allot some time to “bro” out, even if it means to simply chill or have a beer with your friends. While it may not help you get into McKinsey, it certainly will allow you to relax a bit more. Peter Bacon ’11 (pbacon@fas) is a proud member of the broletariat.
02.05.08 s The Harvard Independent
The Brutality of Banality Revolutionary Road is genuinely tragic and amazingly compelling. By PELIN KIVRAK
RICHARD YATES’ CULT NOVEL of 1961, Revolutionary Road is not merely a rendering of the unhappy marriage and dashed dreams of a handsome young couple in suburbia. The movie is a touching reflection of the futile self-consciousness of its main characters who are slowly being suffocated on the very road they choose for themselves. The novel, obviously not a cheerful one, details the agonies of Frank and April Wheeler, who suddenly realize that their intellectual potentials, dreams and fantasies are being destroyed by the dull and predictable moments of everyday life in the suburban community. They firmly hold on to the idea that they are different from everyone else and this acute self-consciousness is the source of their undefined emptiness. They want to change their lives and end the dissatisfaction swirling around them. However, as the story unfolds, their unsuccessful attempts to cut loose from their surroundings cause them to lose sympathy for each other, and ironically results in their eternal imprisonment in their ordinary suburban lives. Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio), who once believed that there was a place in the world where everyone was content with everything they had, plays a young father and a husband who works for an office supply firm and has an affair with a flirty secretary. April Wheeler (Kate Winslet), on the other hand, is responsible for looking after two kids and deals with regular housekeeping issues in their decent suburban house in Connecticut. In their early 30s, Frank and April start to realize that, despite its peacefulness and decency, this is not the life they want to lead until they become old. But the moment they speak out and admit the truth about their dissatisfaction is the moment that gradually drives them apart both from each other and from their own lives. Towards the tragic climax of the movie we see a couple that gave up the ideas of self-revolution and that falls into a vicious cycle of blaming each other for the things they’ve never done and will never be able to do. It is not surprising to see Sam ASED ON
The Harvard Independent s 02.05.08
MOVIE REVIEW Revolutionary Road
Mendes, who is the director of the Oscar winning satire of the American suburbia American Beauty, choosing this particular story. Revolutionary Road, more than being the story of two people in extreme emotional pain, inflicts pain on the viewer. Mendes takes the simply dissatisfied characters from the novel and turns them into hysterical characters that are visual emblems of what leading an average American suburban life can do to individuals either by choice or by circumstance. Almost like a clinical psychiatrist, Mendes presents us two characters who are infected by a form of social illness. He depicts the pain with great detail, carefully pinpoints the reasons, finds the deepest roots, yet leaves the watcher with the impossibility of curing them. He makes wonderful use of the deadly quite and seemingly peaceful suburban scene that is primarily dominated by nature in order to hide the personal dark corners and resentments of individuals who are subservient to their misfortunes and raw fantasies. Kathy Bates, as a real estate broker who sold the great house to “The Perfect Wheelers” and Michael Shannon, as her son John, who recently got out of a mental institution occupy small spaces in the plot
but play major roles in bringing out the internal conflicts of The Wheelers. Kathy desperately requests Frank and April to spend some time with John, attempting to cure him by showing the optimum family life that normal people of the same age would have. The thorough observations and disturbing critiques of cynical John serve as messages of truth for The Wheelers on the Revolutionary Road or the“revolutionaries on a wheeler.”
With their performances in Revolutionary Road, DiCaprio and Winslet completely kill off the ill-fated romantic couple stereotype that was associated with their names after Titanic. Ultimately, the performances of DiCaprio and Winslet emerge as more involving elements than the story itself. The unsavory bitterness of the mood and the undeniable significance of the portrayal of mutual loathin are the actors successes .Still, it is not DiCaprio but Winslet who gives the movie its depth and emotional intensity. DiCaprio impresses us but can never truly move us. The movie is very difficult to watch primarily because of the heart-rendering, silent screams of April Wheeler behind the veil of heavy cigarette smoke in every scene. Mendes tries to take us closer to the emotions of the characters and he is so successful at doing it that I somehow had more compassion for them than they had for themselves. As a result I could not help but to befriend them in their search for not who they are but who they really want to be, although we know that this struggle is unlikely to reach an end. Pelin Kivrak ‘11 (pkivrak@fas) is not currently being crushed by suburban ennui.
Life in Rewind Benjamin Button explores the pitfalls of youth. By CAROLINE CORBITT
CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN Button, directed by David Fincher, is an extraordinarily imaginative work of cinema that convincingly portrays the sorrows and rewards of a life lived in reverse. Despite these achievements, the movie is weighed down by its flashback structure and the unexpected inclusion of a natural disaster. Ultimately, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button disappoints, the promise of its premise never quite realized. At or very near the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, a baby is born in New Orleans. However, he is far from a newborn; rather, Benjamin Button has the appearance of a very old (albeit very small) man. Benjamin’s despondent and horrified father abandons his son on the doorstep, where a kindhearted worker at a home for the elderly takes him in. Benjamin, played by Brad Pitt, ages in reverse, growing younger with each HE
passing year. After a decade or so of life, he meets Daisy, the granddaughter of a woman at the nursing home. Benjamin has met the love of his life, and the stage is set for tragedy: a romance between two people who can only “meet in the middle.” Though Benjamin sets out to sea once he reaches young adulthood (or, in physical appearance, late middle age), he soon reencounters Daisy, who has become a professional ballerina. The two drift in and out of each other’s lives, drawn together despite their incompatible physical ages. The Curious Case of Benjamin is a visually stunning film, full of exotic locales and beautiful people. The aesthetic appeal of Pitt and Cate Blanchett, who plays Daisy, is undeniable. The two lead actors both give excellent performances; Pitt, presented with the challenge of portraying a man who is both naïve and an old soul, particularly shines. Benjamin’s curious case, inspired by a
short story by F. Scott Fizgerald, is one of the most intriguing stories put forth by a movie this year. No doubt the film’s creativity — along with its achievements in cinematography — is why it has been nominated for an array of awards, including an Academy Award for Best Picture. Still, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seems unlikely to win Best Picture when in contention with such strong projects as Milk and Slumdog Millionaire. The screenplay has a few lines that truly resonate, such as “I was just thinking about how nothing lasts, and what a shame that is.” Still, the plot suffers from a contrived flashback structure. Daisy lies in a hospital, dying as her daughter reads Benjamin’s diary aloud. This device seems intended to tug at the audience’s heartstrings; instead it frustrates, as Benjamin’s story is far more interesting. Daisy has a strained relationship with her daughter, played
by Julia Ormond — tension that is never really explained, adding unnecessary complication to the movie. Bizarrely, Hurricane Katrina approaches as Daisy dies. No doubt the filmmakers intended to lend The Curious Case of Benjamin Button greater gravitas, but in fact the inclusion of a cataclysmic and politicized natural disaster in such an offhand manner distracts from the narrative. Despite these flaws, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is well worth seeing. Whether or not a man’s body ages in the normal fashion, he must grow older with each passing year in the sense of accumulating more experiences and forming new relationships. The movie considers the rewards and pitfalls of an age-old human dream: to be young when one can truly appreciate youth. Caroline Corbitt '09 (corbitt@fas) is aging the normal way.
02.05.08 s The Harvard Independent
Shucks Over intersession, I ate a living animal — and it was delicious. By DIANA SUEN
O THERE ONCE.
WALK AROUND, enjoy it, but never return,” a random man warned me
ominously. My boyfriend and I were on our way to Provincetown, the town at the very tip of the Cape. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably echoing similar sentiments as that mysterious man. “Cape Cod in the winter? Really?” Well, in my defense, the New York Times had just published an article about Provincetown on its “Frugal Traveler Blog” just a few days before we would arrive so there had to be something to make up for the fact that the city’s practically a ghost town in the winter. The article offered advice on enjoying the scant food, lodging, shopping, and entertainment available, but what really caught my eye was the oyster shucking. On his visit to Provincetown, the “Frugal Traveler” had bought eight oysters at the local Provincetown Stop & Shop and shucked them himself. And yes, he swallowed them raw. I had never eaten oysters raw before. It seemed uncharacteristically violent — when people say they ate raw oysters, they actually mean they ate live raw oysters — and just generally gross. Back home, my family occasionally eats steamed oysters with black bean and scallion sauce, and even then, it’s quite an adventure. My mom and I used to fight for the oysters with the smallest bulges. Less nasty digestive stuff, we reasoned. I figured if I thought cooked digestive stuff was bad, raw digestive stuff had to be just plain disgusting. Plus, I could imagine the oyster sliding down my throat, squirming and convulsing in its struggle for life. Sometimes, though, if you want to be a bad ass, you need to make some sacrifices. I sent that article to my boyfriend and we agreed. We’d walk around and enjoy the view, but to really enjoy this intersession, we knew we had to shuck some oysters ourselves. When we arrived at Provincetown, we looked up grocery stores in the area. The bad news was that none of the Google results listed the Provincetown Stop & Shop. And the even worse news was that most of the stores weren’t even open and wouldn’t be for another four months. The Harvard Independent s 02.05.08
Forget oysters — this was now a struggle for survival. Luckily, when we called stores to check for hours (and, more pertinently, months) of operation, we found out that one of the grocery stores was actually still open, and it had a new name. There it was, our Provincetown Stop & Shop. Crisis averted. We made the trek over and found our greenish-black, calcified oysters in the seafood counter. After debating how many to purchase, we decided that half a dozen would be a good amount. At three each, it would be enough to give us the full oyster-shucking experience but not so much that we would feel ridiculous in case we really hated them. We prepped ourselves on the proper oyster-shucking technique by watching a how-to video by a Legal Sea Foods chef we found on YouTube. He advised to use an oyster knife, dish-towel, and a protective glove. Dish-towel, we had. Oyster knife and protective glove? Well, we figured we could improvise. Now, the process for shucking an oyster is actually remarkable simple. You orient your oyster so that its bulge extends downward and you hold it down on the other side. You then wiggle your oyster knife into the “natural hinge” of the oyster – the pointed end of the oyster – and turn your knife, working it like a lever, until the oyster pops open. Oysters are connected to both the top and bottom shell of the oyster though, so you have to run the knife all around the shell, making sure to separate it at the top. Once you’ve done that, you can open it all the way and there’s your juicy oyster, sitting in its porcelain shell and clear, salty brine. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t have the special oyster knife that would make the process easy. Instead, heeding the advice of the man behind the seafood counter, we tried using a butter knife. The butter knives we had were much thicker and larger than the oyster knife we saw in the video but still, we enthusiastically set ourselves upon the task of forcing the knife into that natural hinge. It didn’t work. Instead of opening up the oysters beautifully, we found ourselves breaking off chalky pieces of the oyster shell and not in places that
could help us reach the oyster either. The chalky pieces that fell off were the excess side parts of the oyster shell, and our oysters remained as tightly shut as ever. We rummaged through the kitchen drawers and imagined using steak knives, corkscrews, and spatulas to open the oyster, but none of those seemed useful for the task at hand. Then we remembered that we had brought along a Swiss Army knife. The blade was sharp and pointed, much like the oyster knife. The only downside was that it was retractable and therefore slightly more dangerous. We quickly tried prying open one of the oysters. The blade slipped into the natural hinge quite easily this time, and when we turned it, the oyster popped open just as the video had said. It was tougher to separate the oyster from the top of the shell than we imagined – we
ended up accidentally slicing the top part of the oyster – but there it was, our gorgeous, glistening oyster, just waiting to be consumed. We added a bit of lemon juice and Tabasco, stared at each other with determination, and swallowed it whole. Delicious. We went through the rest of the oysters like they were nothing, and when we were done, we felt so satisfied. We had overcome the ultimate battle of man versus nature. We had shucked those oysters, we had eaten those oysters, and I had gotten a battle scar to prove it. (Much to my finger’s dismay, the retractable blade did, in fact, retract.) It was worth it though – the oysters were that good — it was an experience worth repeating. Diana Suen ‘11 (dsuen@fas) returned for a dozen more oysters the next day.
CAPTURED AND SHOT