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The Literary Issue

)NSIDE,LAMAS NUCLEAREXPLOSIONS AND"UDDHISTROBOTS


04.09.09 vol. xl, no. 19 The Indy dives into the stacks.

independent THE HARVARD

President Diana Suen ‘11 Cover art by CANDICE SMITH

Arts Unraveling the Magic The Sound of Psychology Cambridge Poetry Events The Zen of Robot Maintenance 5 The Meowel 6-7 Picks and Pans Rocking the Cretaceous 8 Po-Mo's New Groove 9 3 4

Special 10

Glittering Slivers Sweep and Break Dean's Expert

Forum 11

Going Nuclear

In the March 19th Housing Day Issue, we described Eliot House late-night snack opportunities as lack-luster, but neglected to report the opening of "The Inferno," Eliot's student run grille. The Inferno is open Wednesday through Sunday nights every week. The Independent is committed to accuracy in reporting. Please e-mail corrections to sjack@fas. 2

staff@harvardindependent.com

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 Business Manager Associate Graphics Editor

Susan Zhu ‘11 Riva Riley ‘12 Pelin Kivrak ‘11 Hao Meng ‘11 Patricia Florescu ‘11 Candice Smith ‘11 Jenn Chang ‘11 Sonia Coman ‘11

Staff Writers Peter Bacon ‘11 Rachael Becker '11 Andrew Coffman ‘12 Caroline Corbitt ‘09 Truc Doan ‘10 Ray Duer ‘11 Pippa Eccles ‘09 Jessica Estep ‘09 Nicholas Krasney ‘09 Markus Kolic ‘09 Allegra Richards ‘09 Andrew Rist ‘09 Jim Shirey ‘11 Alice Speri ‘09 Graphics, Photography, and Design Staff Ben Huang ‘09 Edward Chen '09 Sonia Coman '11 Caitie Kakigi ‘09 Eva Liou ‘11 Caitlin Marquis ‘10 Lidiya Petrova ‘11 Sally Rinehart ‘09 Kristina Yee ‘10

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 (president@harvardindependent.com). Letters to the Editor and comments regarding the content of the publication should be addressed to Editor-in-Chief Sam Jack (editor@harvardindependent.com). Yearly mail subscriptions are available for $30, and semester-long subscriptions are available for $15. To purchase a subscription, email subscriptions@harvardindependent.com. 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.

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The Magical and the Mundane Examining the world of Harry Potter from a practical standpoint. By FAITH ZHANG

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NE OF THE THINGS THAT MOST DELIGHTS

me in life is the application of practical considerations to the fantastic. This leads to questions like: how do four human children hold together the newly freed kingdom of Narnia against both internal and external pressures? Why, in a world that apparently has modern handguns, would one ever choose a sword? How does the economy of the wizarding world actually work? The key to this game is to take it entirely seriously; the assumption is that the given fictional world functions logically and is complete in itself. Or, to explain it another way—there is the Watsonian way of explaining things (“Sherlock Holmes had to go over Reichenbach Falls and play dead so that Moriarty’s underlings wouldn’t attempt to take their revenge!”) and then there is the Doylist way (“Sherlock Holmes had to go over Reichenbach Falls because Sir Arthur was tired of writing about the detective and wanted to focus on his other work, which no one was reading because it was unfortunately tedious.”) The game—and thus, this article—is all about examining fictional worlds (in this case, Harry Potter) from a Watsonian viewpoint, which means that objections like “I’m sure such-and-such exists, J. K. Rowling just couldn’t put it in” are meaningless and irrelevant. That said, we can begin. For starters, the population of the wizarding world seems to be dangerously small. We get the impression of Hogwarts as an immense school, but that is more a matter of space than population. Given that all students of the same gender, year, and House sleep in a single room, the greatest count we have for any such group is five (Harry, Ron, Dean, Seamus, Neville). Assuming that the gender ratio is equal—not necessarily accurate, since there seem to be only three Gryffindor girls in their year (Hermione, Lavender, and Parvati)—and The Harvard Independent s 04.09.09

that the number of people in each House is approximately equal, that gives a total school population of under three hundred. Furthermore, Hogwarts is apparently the sole school for wizarding children in Britain—it seems reasonable to assume that if other such schools existed in Britain, Hogwarts would have Quidditch competitions with them, or they might have been participants in the Triwizard Tournament. So three hundred children, representing the entirety of Britain’s wizarding population between the ages of eleven and seventeen—this is a population small enough to become inbred, were it not receiving infusion of fresh blood from Muggleborns; in fact, one suspects that wizards would be in danger of dying out, should blood purists get their way. Of course, the wizarding world was probably much larger before Voldemort and Grindelwald; the Death Eaters apparently wiped out entire families; the Black family, for instances, seems to have lost a great many members to the war. However, this doesn’t seem to be the only factor in the dwindling of the wizarding population: alone among the purebloods, the Weasleys seem to be thriving, whereas the Malfoys are

apparently down to a single heir, Draco, and the Blacks have no one at all left to carry on their name. The Potters were also presumably an old pureblood family, given the amount of money left to Harry, and yet it seems that not a single member of his extended family has survived, which probably points to a family that had already become rather small and then was further decimated by the war. Again, the only possible conclusion is that the inclusion of Muggleborns is the only thing keeping the wizarding world afloat—reversion to a pureblood-only society is simply unfeasible. Even presuming that the population is skewed toward the older end of the scale, since wizards seem to live longer than Muggles, the size of this population is problematic. For one, it doesn’t seem to be large enough to support much of an economy—where do the forty Hogwarts graduates every year find jobs? Most of the businesses we see appear to be small boutiques rather than chains and therefore probably need to hire only once in a long while, and a significant amount of labor that Muggles would require manpower to do is probably done by magic instead. A fair number of them might be employed by the Ministry of Magic,

which gives the impression of a very large bureaucracy indeed; however, this raises the problem of whether the Ministry has a sufficiently large tax base to pay so many employees in addition to performing all its other functions. Some graduates, like Draco or Harry, have enough money that they would not have to work; however, that raises yet another problem. In the past, the nobility were able to tax the peasantry under their control and thus add to their wealth and members of the middle class were sometimes able to become wealthy through business and trade, whereas modern trust fund babies have their money in investments and live off the dividends. In contrast, Harry’s assets seem to be entirely in a pile of gold in a vault in Gringotts—where did the Potters make their money? And how does Gringotts function as a bank? Modern banks do not have a pile of cash in a vault equal to the total savings of all its patrons; they lend out that money and charge interest, which allows them to both cover their own costs and pay interest themselves, whereas Gringotts seems to be nothing more than a giant series of safe-deposit boxes. Draco’s situation is a little more unclear; the Malfoys might have their money in investments, but it seems unlikely the wizarding Britain is large enough to support a real stock market, although the global wizarding world might be. In fact, the questions one could ask about the workings of the wizarding world are endless—these are only a few of them. The world created by J. K. Rowling is a vast and fascinating one, and I mean no criticism by analyzing the ways in which it doesn’t quite seem to make sense, at least on the surface—it is a measure of how compelling it is that these questions can be raised. Faith Zhang ’11 (fhzhang@ fas) may have spent too much time thinking about this. arts@harvardindependent.com

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Is Music Abstract? Morton Feldman argues that it isn’t as abstract as we think. By OLIVER STRAND

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any visual artists of the early twentieth century praised music for the intensity of expression it could engender without relying on mimetic representation. The early non-objective painter Wassily Kandinsky sought an art where the spiritual element could escape the confines of representation, thereby reaching expression on its own terms, not on the terms of its visual referents. Kandinsky saw a correlation between the spiritual expressiveness of an artwork and the degree of abstraction that work achieves. Within this conception of spirituality or expression in art, music is an ideal artform because it represents nothing. Much of the music Kandinsky was familiar with (musique concrète had not yet been invented) was not related to naturally occurring sounds. It was able to contain its subject matter within itself. It could exist, then, on its own terms as a perfectly abstract, non-representational artistic discipline, free from the slavish mimesis painting had been subject to in the nineteenth century. Kandinsky was not alone in these sentiments. Paul Klee wrote pieces that imitated on canvas the process of motivic development and variation in music. Works like “Ancient Sound” and “Visual Music” call on the viewer to interpret as she would a piece of music: without looking for a subject matter external to the work. These “abstract” works of art are able to open the representational and narrative field of the canvas by removing any represented objects from the painting. Other artists who looked to music for inspiration include Stanton MacdonaldWright, Georgia O’Keefe, Mikhail Matiushin and, more recently,

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artists like Leo Villareal. But were these artists on the right path? Is music as abstract as they claim? Certainly non-programmatic music does not try to mimetically imitate the natural world. An example of mimesis in programmatic music would be high flute trills intended to evoke birdcalls, or the taxi horn in George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. A composer who challenges the notion that absolute music is abstract is Morton Feldman, many of whose lectures, interviews and writings are collected in Morton Feldman Says, edited by Chris Villars for Hyphen Press. Feldman pushed back against the tradition formal expectations of classical music. For Feldman, abstraction in music is not taken for granted. In fact, Feldman criticized the importance placed on systematic strategies of musical composition, strategies whose aim was to evoke specific psychological reactions in much the same way representational art seeks to evoke associations with specific objects. Although absolute music does not have to imitate the surface of the world, still it is

often employed to imitate the surface of human psychology. It is this conception Western music’s history that pushes against the early modernist notion that music is a utopia of expressiveness and abstraction. For Feldman, the solution was to go back to sounds. Feldman, like John Cage, wanted music to be composed of sounds, not of ideas. Decades after Kandinsky freed painters from representing objects Feldman and Cage worked to free composers from representing psychological states. And although the history of the twentieth century has shown that abstraction is not the only path to Kandinsky’s “spiritual” art, Feldman’s writings are significant for the freshness of their perspective and the radical nature of their conclusions. Artists and art-lovers of all disciplines will find Morton Feldman Says an invaluable testament, not only to Feldman’s musical oeuvre, but also to his progressive and challenging views on history, philosophy and aesthetics. Oliver Strand ’11 (ostrand@fas) plays a flute to suggest the sound of a taxi horn.

Harvard Poetry Guide A guide to getting lyrical in Cambridge. By SAM JACK

P

OETRY CAN SEEM, SOMETIMES,

like a solitary pursuit, but the fact is that Harvard and the Cambridge area offers myriad opportunities for poets and those interested in poetry to meet, exchange ideas, perform poems, and schmooze. Since April is National Poetry Month, poetry is particularly thick on the ground. There are several regular venues for the performance of poetry around Cambridge. The most venerable is Stone Soup, which has been going every week for the last 37 years. Stone Soup takes place every Monday from 8-10 PM at the Out of the Blue Gallery at 106 Prospect Street in Central Square. Each week, Stone Soup features one poet and then hosts an open mike. Saturday nights at 8:15 PM, also at the Out of the Blue gallery, “Open Bark Poetry,” an open mike event, takes place. On campus, Harvard’s Spoken Word Society provides semesterly opportunities to witness or partake in the performance of poetry. The Spoken Word Society’s next reading, co-sponsored by poetry publication The Gamut and general interest arts publication Tuesday Magazine, is tomorrow at 7 pm in the Kirkland JCR. The Gamut’s yearly issue will be released on May 6; accompanying the release, included poets will read their work from 5 – 6:30 pm in the Woodberry Poetry Room in Lamont Library. The Woodberry Poetry Room hosts weekly “Reel Time” listening sessions most Fridays at 3 pm. Curator Christina Davis selects works each week from the Woodberry’s vast and historic audio archive. Visit the Woodberry’s website to find out more about WPR Recording Sessions; poets add their voices to the audio archive, and the public is invited to listen in. For the ‘Works in Progress’ series at the Woodberry, poets come to Harvard and discuss forthcoming books and projects. The next event, “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Poetry and Disconnectedness in the Digital Era” with Bill Powers is at 3 pm on April 16. Finally, be sure not to miss John Ashbery, the important US poet, as he is honored with the Harvard Arts Medal. Tickets are free; the event is April 30 at 5 pm in the New College Theatre.

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Buddha Amongst the Machines Masahiro Mori ponders Buddhism and technology. By BRENDAN QUINN

S

CIENCE AND RELIGION ARE OFTEN TREATED AS COMPLETELY

disparate subjects. Some try to combine the two, but usually separation remains. It is rare that anyone tries to integrate the two on every level. Masahiro Mori, a Japanese robotic engineer, does exactly that in his book The Buddha in the Robot. Translated into English by Charles S. Terry, The Buddha in the Robot reflects Mori’s Buddhist observations about robots and conveys his beliefs about what robots and natural mechanisms can teach us about morality. Mori compares humans to machines directly. He notes that “human beings have both instinct and will,” but machines do not. Nonetheless, both are similar in many ways, such as the fact that both humans and robots are working systems comprised of many parts, and both, according to Mori, have “Buddha-nature.” Because humans and robots share the potential of attaining Buddha-hood, then, we can learn a great deal about ourselves from robots. One area this in which this comes across most clearly is in our perception of who we are. Following the Buddhist tradition, Mori claims that we delude ourselves in believing in a permanent “self.” As he notes, our bodies change all the time — oxygen and water enter our bodies, and various wastes exit our bodies at any given moment. When can we say that any of these materials are every truly ours? Mori’s materialist view of the world fits his Buddhist perspective. He argues that we should accept the fact that we do not have a permanent “self,” and as a result, we will become selfless beings. We should recognize that, like robots, we are not fixed but impermanent and that we are acted upon just as we act. With this realization, we develop a greater sense of responsibility to the world that affects us just as much as we affect it. The Buddha in the Robot also covers a topic directly relevant to Mori’s audience: Japan in the early 1980s. Many of his comments are tied to ecology, dealing with the pollution caused by large companies and the overuse of natural resources. He also deals with then-current

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Japanese corporate and consumer culture, arguing that more is not necessarily better and pointing to the Buddhist doctrine that suffering is caused by desire. Mori also points out that living in a mechanized world gives us a great deal of power and that such power is dangerous unless we use it the right way. He justifies the often didactic nature of his work by arguing that we must become more moral people to use technology the right way. The machine in itself is neutral, but human desires may lead us to use machines for wrong purposes. The book does have its issues. For instance, contrary

to the title, Mori spends fairly little time treating robots in this work. He refers to a great deal of science, but only a frustratingly small part has much to do with technology itself. The implications of technology play a role but usually only through the implications of 1980s Japanese consumer culture. Mori can also frustrate the reader with his tendency to jump from one example or parable to a loosely related one. He can appear whimsical, giving each point a somewhat shallow treatment. But it may be that part of Mori’s method consists in only briefly covering a subject and then allowing the reader to make his or her own discoveries. Nonetheless, he often spends too much time on tangential points, such as when he cites evidence from psychology studies determining that humans can stand very little isolation. This was in response to an outrageous suggestion that, if one had the money, one could avoid danger by staying inside a protected space for all one’s life. The reader would doubtless recognize the absurdity of this idea without Mori’s explication, yet he expounds on this anyway. Overall, The Buddha in the Robot does not establish any new ground, at least for readers familiar with Buddhism. It does, however, suggest new ways of applying Buddhist principles to everyday life. Moreover, it provides many observations on Japanese society in the early 1980s and provides a glimpse into Japanese life and concerns in its boom years. Robots and machines play a small, directed role in this work, but technology and modern life, both of which incorporate robots and machinery, are strong themes in Mori’s work. He may extend the reach of The Buddha in the Robot far beyond what he initially suggests, but he does challenge the reader to think about the world in new ways, or at least new ways to think about the old ways to think about the world. Brendan Quinn ’12 (bcquinn@fas) likes the old ways of thinking about new ways of thinking about the old ways of thinking about the world.

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The Indy R

Indy staffers choose some of their

Anathem

by Neal Stephenson

I Three Cups of Tea

by Greg Mortenson

G

M ORTENSON LIKES TO CLIMB mountains. He was trying to climb K2, Everest’s neighbor, when he got lost from his group. He was rescued by the people of Korphe, a Pakistani village. While recuperating, he realized that the people of Korphe, more than anything, wanted a school for their children. So he came back to the United States and started the Central Asia Institute. The book chronicles that journey, his multiple rejections, his nights sleeping in his car to save money for the school, and his travels back and forth to Pakistan to build the Korphe school. Now, CAI is building schools all over Pakistan and Afghanistan, proving to be an effective weapon against the Taliban that no military force could equal. To donate, visit www.ikat.org - Susan Zhu REG

T IS THE FUTURE : FOR THE LAST

thousand years, in the wake of vaguely remembered “Terrible Events,” the creative class has been systematically herded into a system of monastic “concents,” only allowed to emerge for 10 days every 10 years to interact with the “Saecular” world. But when “Geometers” from another planet (or another universe?) visit Arbre, the age-old system breaks down. Before I read Anathem, I couldn’t even conceive of a philosophy-based thriller, but Neal Stephenson pulls it off with aplomb. Actually, all of Neal Stephenson’s books are highly recommended. - Sam Jack SEVERAL

Sunshine

by Robin McKinley

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TWILIGHT—THIS IS HOW should be done. In an alternate world in which magic mingles with the mundane, Rae Seddon is a baker—this book is also glorious if you like detailed descriptions of delicious pastry— who accidentally gets caught up in the power struggles of vampires. McKinley dispenses with the endless fetishization of bloodsuckers and makes them into real menaces, and both her characters and her world are vividly drawn—she realizes that that purple prose does not actually mean good characterization. - Faith Zhang ORGET

The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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HAT’S A TRUE WAR STORY? IN THIS MEMOIR ABOUT HIS

experiences in Vietnam, O’Brien crosses the line between reality, memory, and imagination, weaving elements together into a chilling and touching story that teaches us that there is no such thing as a heroic war story. There’s no glory in war, there are no heros, certainly not any clean-cut, moralistic ones. War stories aren’t about saving people, not about fighting for your country, not about keeping on for love. They’re dirty, with heroin-shooting, cussin’, dirty soldiers who are scared to death of killing and dying. - Susan Zhu

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VAMPIRES

Briefly Mentioned - Pride and Prejudice - the quintessential love story! It teaches you to fight for love, to move on from disillusionment, to accept that you can be wrong, and to not settle for less than you deserve - Le Petit Prince - “all adults were once children (but few among them remember it)” - a great book that teaches us to remember a child’s perspective naive and innocent, maybe, but far better than too serious, arrogant, and corrupt - The Last Lecture -- A beautiful read on the important things in life from Randy Pausch, former professor at Carnegie Mellon who passed away from cancer last year. The lecture itself is available as a web video; just Google “last lecture.” - 1984 - Scary, scary (political) stuff. Don’t you ever forget it. - The Lorax – This book made an environmentalist of me at the age of seven. We must all speak for the trees - Breakfast of Champions - Not one of Vonnegut’s more well-known books, but a hilarious and oddly touching book and searching for yourself when the world is really, really messed up - A Lesson Before Dying - Set in Louisiana, the book tells the story of a smart, young black man trying to lead (or escape) the poor black community around him, centered around his relationship to a black student charged with murder. It’s extremely beautiful in its transformation of the characters, with real emotions and lessons on dignity. - Susan Zhu

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Recomends:

r favorite and least favorite books.

And Be a Villain

by Rex Stout

A

NY GOOD FICTIONAL DETECTIVE HAS A

few personal quirks to keep readers engaged, but Nero Wolfe has more than most: he’s a snooty, overweight gourmand and orchid devotee who refuses to leave his Manhattan townhouse. And yet, due equally to the legwork of Wolfe’s sidekick Archie Goodwin and Rex Stout’s incisive prose, these mysteries are fascinating pictures of life in New York through four decades (from 1934’s Fer-de-Lance to 1975’s A Family Affair). And Be a Villain, published in 1948, is a snapshot of radio’s golden age as well as an excellent whodunit. A talk show guest keels over on-air when a sponsor’s soft drink is laced with cyanide – but was he the intended victim, or one of the station’s media personalities? - Adam Hallowell

Not Recommended: - The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne: Here’s the Secret! Now you don’t have to buy the book. Wish really hard! And think happy thoughts! If the “Law of Attraction” hoodoo that Rhonda Byrne has somehow managed to sell to mobs of the gullible actually worked, the Miss America Pageant would have resulted in the end of all suffering decades ago. - U.S.A., by John Dos Passos: “It’s so modern!” they all said. Well, maybe it was modern for the time, with it’s intercalary bits of news headlines and poems, but the formal innovations seem modest by today’s standards, and the main plotlines are a total drag. Still relevant as part of US literary history, certainly, and as a precursor to more daring work in the future, but you’d be better off with Upton Sinclair or John Steinbeck if you’re looking for something in this vein. - A Night Without Armor, by Jewel: Poems, by Jewel. “A father and son bond/by ogling my breasts.” - Sam Jack

Shoeless Joe

by W. P. Kinsella

I

n which Ray Kinsella first builds a baseball diamond and then goes on a road trip with J. D. Salinger at the prompting of a mysterious voice. I confess that I am ordinarily an aficionado of neither baseball nor Americana; and yet I loved this book, which is about precisely those things. It’s a book about summer and baseball and a bright shining mythical America—archetypal America, that land of fertile soil and endless skies, and equally endless possibility—and loving something that makes you happy deeply and uncomplicatedly. Kinsella (both the character and the author) loves baseball so much that you can’t help but fall a little in love too, at least for the length of the book. The story gets weaker as it goes on, which is unfortunate, but this is mainly because the first section is by far the best. If you build it, they will come—it still gives me shivers. Made into a feature film in 1989 under the much better title Field of Dreams, which I have not seen but hear is quite good. - Faith Zhang

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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200TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH IN FEBRUARY, BUT DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN’S best – and gained extra cachet when it made Obama’s reading list during his transition. Ambitious in scope, the book follows Lincoln’s career alongside those of his three rivals for the Republican nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. After his convention triumph, Lincoln invited his former opponents into his Cabinet, skillfully utilizing their talents and reconciling hostile political factions. Filled with primary sources as well as perceptive insights about the complex personalities involved, Goodwin’s quadruple biography strikingly shows how Lincoln’s gift for interpersonal communication enabled him to provide effective leadership during the Civil War. - Adam Hallowell INCOLN BIOGRAPHIES FLOODED BOOKSHELVES FOR THE RANKS AMONG THE

SONIA COMAN/Independent

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Mastodon Treads Water Atlanta metal band needs to come back to Earth. By STEVE RIZOLI

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T’S EASY TO HOLD HEAVY METAL IN CONTEMPT.

Most Americans do it. They label the genre and its fans as either weird and childish or angry and dangerous. I’m not writing this article to preach and talk down to those who do this. In fact, I feel this way myself. Most contemporary heavy metal is trite, unoriginal, and abrasive; in short, bad. Its musicians and fans are often blatantly easy targets for ridicule and scorn. However, I do want to defend metal to some extent. For one thing, it is music. Nothing irritates me more than people who don’t like the genre, despising its harshness and lack of melody, and react by saying that heavy metal is not music. It is; it is simply music whose goal is not to please the ear. Second, I must confess that I belong, to some extent, in the spurned subculture of metal and its fans, for I do like some heavy metal. To be specific, I like one metal band. In my opinion, only Atlanta’s Mastodon rises above the slag heap of contemporary heavy metal. Mastodon has differentiated itself from the pack in several ways, starting with its first release in 2002. Remission may at first seem like average metal to the untrained listener, but in fact, it is far more than that. While most heavy metal is artificial, contrived, and fantastic, Mastodon’s first album is powerful, gritty, and real. It is clear through the music that the band members are neither nerdy nor melodramatic; they are intense, intelligent, deep, and dark. Their subject matter deals with real and terrible issues like the threat of nuclear apocalypse and the hellish conditions, physical and mental, of slaving away

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in an early industrial factory, in strong opposition to other metal’s fascination with ridiculous topics like mystical elves and worshipping the devil. This and their working class roots give street cred and justify their anger, pain, and adrenaline. The instrumentals on Remission are most important. Quite simply, the guys in Mastodon are amazing musicians. They play extremely complex and well written songs with astonishing speed and precision, led by innovative drummer Brann Dailor. Mastodon’s vocal style on Remission solved heavy metal singing’s traditional problems for me. The vocals kept the seminal harsh, abrasive, and incomprehensible part so crucial to the genre, but made it a low, growling roar rather than an annoying, laughable scream. Blending into the music, Mastodon’s singing is of tertiary importance. In fact, it becomes part of Remission’s loud, intense, and carefully sculpted instrumental storm. Two years later, the members comfortable with themselves as musicians, Mastodon diverged from their initial style with Leviathan. It is a truly innovative and unique piece, a concept album about the novel Moby Dick. Its musical style is creative, a distinct half step away from metal and towards the mainstream. Leviathan is not as loud, intense, harsh, or unrelenting as Remission. The vocals are the most significant change; they move away from being used as another instrument, becoming more understandable and more melodic. In moving away from its original blueprint and style of traditional metal, Leviathan was a big risk for Mastodon, but the sophomore album justifiably won praise and started to get the band some recognition with the mainstream media.

This new, progressive musical path continued with 2006’s Blood Mountain. It is another concept album, set in a fantasy world ripe for parody. In fact, Mastodon could not have picked a better way to get mainstream critical recognition. Starting with the title and throughout its content, Blood Mountain is a half-joking farce of much of contemporary heavy metal’s subject matter. The music is still solid, moving even further from Remission. This allowed critics to easily access the band. They saw it as a typical metal band sticking to its original subject matter but moving away from its traditional musical style into something more acceptable to them. This is why I awaited last week’s new album, Crack the Skye, with apprehension. Mastodon had moved so far from its original self, and was in danger of completely reinventing itself in the mainstream, getting commercial success but betraying its roots. As it turns out, Crack the Skye is not a sellout, not that I was expecting a sellout from guys like them. It is an experimental album, a (well-earned) musical indulgence and exploration for the band. Mastodon has loosely applied an elemental theme to all their work, with their first three albums representing fire, water, and earth respectively. Crack the Skye however, based on the mystical, extraterrestrial element of aether, is the first album in which the element is the central theme. Indeed, ethereal is the best way to describe the album. The music and lyrics are swirling, supernatural, confusing, and intangible. Right from the start of the opener, “Oblivion,” it is clear from the mystical themes and extraordinarily complex musical arrangements that this

is a group of talented musicians exploring and experimenting deep in the spiritual world. Crack the Skye is nominally another concept album, about the last days of Imperial Russia. This theme however is mostly absent and forced when it is present, as in the clumsy lyrics of “The Czar.” For the most part though, this is a good album. It’s deep, well written, compelling, and more melodic than anything the band has ever done. The lyrics are actually harmonious at times, and the instrumental arrangements are downright beautiful at some points. Yet in the narrative of Mastodon’s career, this is not a great album. It is an impressive artistic statement, but after their previous work none could doubt they were capable of it. Crack the Skye is a continuation of Mastodon’s alternative, progressive theme over the past three albums, a path allowed by the initial, credible Remission. At this point, Mastodon is dangerously far from its roots. This new kind of music they have been exploring is impressive and groundbreaking, but the commercial success and artistic changes is has brought may have changed what the band initially was. To reassert its hardcore inner self, Mastodon needs to go back to the blueprint of Remission. Crack the Skye is a good album, but it is at heart an experimental, indulgent sidestep, not a groundbreaker like Leviathan. Another release like it will mean that Mastodon is definitively no longer the bunch of tough, hardcore, working class, Atlanta dudes they once were. Steve Rizoli ‘11 (srizoli@fas) is the salt of the earth.

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Llama at the Lectern A paragon of post-modernity. By LEVI DUDTE

I

T BEGAN INNOCENTLY ENOUGH.

THE first half of the 20th century was an especially tough one for the human race. We had just finished putting ourselves through two world wars. (The first turned out to be inadequate.) Intellectuals everywhere found themselves clambering out from under the wreckage of war, that collective human mechanism of ultimate irrationality: self-destruction. In stepping back into the light of day, these thinkers, be they physicists, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, novelists, painters, poets or otherwise, remained irrevocably covered in the soot of memory, sullied by a common past as humans that somehow all had managed to play cogs in their own demise. So, understandably, they tried to brush themselves clean, to shake free from the debris and detritus of a global rupture in the (teleo)logical progress of humanity and to begin anew. The dust of conflict, however, would simply not wash out of the relatively innocent ideas they had fancied before a pair of international wars. Physics had frightened itself at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sociology in Germany, and philosophy across the entire European continent. Art resumed its attempts to craft the aesthetically pleasing or interesting, pasting together the broken fragments of postwar newspapers and photographs, texts and images, and calling these new creations collage and pastiche, Dada and surreal. Our collective memory could not erase the pain we had inflicted upon ourselves. Our ideas became permanently dirtied, splintered and afraid of their own reflections. But what better way to emerge from such a shattered scene than to embrace its very causes? Here we witness the birth of postmodernism, a word that can smirk even with the full knowledge of its roots in collective trauma, in modernity. Embrace the inevitable chaos and irrationality that constitute your existence, postmodernism whispered, and you too can laugh again. Do not fear collective demise. Simply The Harvard Independent s 04.09.09

understand our recent brush with apocalypse and relinquish responsibility. Now fast forward about fifty years. Postmodernism is a richly developed framework for understanding our state in history, our position relative to our past. Its scope spans virtually all knowledge. One genealogy of this span begins with philosophy (from Frenchmen with names like Jacques Derrida), passes through literature, and extends to film. What film have you (you educated and affluent Harvard student, you) seen that best embodies this sweeping Zeitgeist that must surely frame your entire existence? The answer, which also happens to be the punch line of my thesis, is The Emperor’s New Groove. Though it appears to be a children’s film (released by none other than Disney in 2000), this ostensibly simple tale with a single moral arc can probably teach you more about postmodernism than most anyone can.

(This thesis is not hyperbole, but it may be deceptive. So let’s work through a solid counterexample that you might propose before we proceed to examine The Emperor’s New Groove in light of my claim. The mind of seminal postmodern author Thomas Pynchon is more thoroughly steeped in the ideas and experiences of a postmodern world, we can assume, than a gaggle of children’s movie script writers. However, Pynchon’s mind, being so saturated in the confusion and chaos that is postmodernity, defeats itself in the process of attempting to offer such an understanding to others. Ask anyone who has been tempted by the mystique of his Gravity’s Rainbow and they will unanimously urge you to flee from its illegible and endless pages. We can say assuredly, then, that the more any mind grasps postmodernism, the less it is able to impress such an understanding upon others. We need a shallow, playful mind to introduce us to this massively illogical system. Cue the talking llama. Or myself,

as the case may be.) The film’s plot, a short moral arc that traces the em otional development of an Incan emperor-turned-llama-turnedemperor-again named Kuzco, houses schematic discontinuities that combine with an layered, non-linear narrative perspective to inculcate the unsuspecting mind to the endlessly flexible conundrum that is postmodernity. Kuzco narrates his own tale, exhibiting as the narrator the same emotional construct present in his on-screen character. His voice opens the film, introducing us to a story that we assume will produce the narrator’s present state. That is, Kuzco’s role as narrator presumes an awareness of the conclusion of the film and thus necessitates that he be a developed version of the character we see on-screen. Not so here. Kuzco the narrator attempts to predispose our opinions of the characters on-screen in accord with his own, a conflation of subjective and the objective voice. But Kuzco has fun with the duality, interceding in the action of the film when evidence arises that might lead the viewer to place blame rather than praise on his bad llama self. The climax of the film is conditioned upon another impossibility: the survival of Kronk and Yzma, Kuzco’s foes. Kuzco stares, bewildered by their presence at the very moment of his possible salvation (changing back into a human). Kronk concludes that he and Yzma probably had died early in the film, but that this problem did not change the fact of his renewed presence. An illogical but motive storyline. Postmodernism. I first saw the film soon after it was released and it remains a personal favorite. Its flexibility and humor are illogical, but somehow intuitive, an endlessly explored postmodern paradox that is surely the foundation of the film’s comedic appeal. But don’t think too hard. I’m just a talking llama. Levi Dudte ’11 (ldudte@fas) took Miss Narca’s postmodern interpretive dance – two semesters. arts@harvardindependent.com

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indy special Glittering Slivers

A short story for the Literary Issue. By SONIA COMAN

S

HE DIDN’T FEEL LIKE TAKING OFF HER CLOTHES IN THE

scorching sun. The old skirt was swollen by the breeze, but she kept it in place, pressing it against the knees. Her long shadow augmented the gesture. She scattered the broken shells and sat on the sand. A man was lying on the beach, next to a heavy book. He had his eyes firmly closed. She tried to smile to the salty smell of the sea – the smell of her wishes. The smile raised her dark sunglasses, sinking the reflection of a far away ship. She looked at the sleeping man, his toes touching the horizon. Her blouse had the color of his skin. She unbuttoned it, revealing a white belly like a rolled piece of paper. A stone scratched her and the sleeping man crouched. It was two o’clock in the afternoon, the time when she would go back home from work. On weekends, however, that hour lost significance and turned into an empty cup. She took off her hat and stood up, looking for the porcelain walls of time. Her eyes met the rocky cliff which hid the world she had just left. Children were playing in the water, but she could not hear their voices. “I’m terribly sorry, but nobody taught me to walk when I was old. Now it can be too late, I’m a teenager, after all…,” whispered the sunbathing man. The breeze brought his words to her, disheveling her skirt. She let the familiar silk caress her body, trying not to turn her head. A page was torn from the heavy book and she knew who the man was; she might have seen him before at the post office. “It couldn’t be him who spoke,” she thought. “He is sleeping. He is crouching when a stone hurts me. He is having a dream.” She took off her blouse and folded it, looking at the abandoned book. Her sunglasses slipped, blinding her for a moment. A sudden wind started reading the book, slowly turning the pages. She realized his skin was lighter than her blouse. She tried to wash off the fabric, while the man’s

shadow was cooling her struggling hands. Those were the hands of her drawing teacher, who taught her how to render the roundedness of an apple. “She was guessing their names. She thought she could learn them from their eyes…” She looked up at the old woman who was singing and dragging her grandson by the hand. The coarse voice stopped when the two of them went past her. The boy looked at the wrinkled blouse she was rinsing, trying to reach it. With a guilty look, she hid it in the folds of her skirt. The grandmother frowned, hurrying her steps. She let her blouse be taken away by the waves and returned to the lying man. She wanted to touch him. At a stronger gust of wind, the book closed, imprisoning silvery threads of sand. The waves were carrying dead seaweed to the shore, darkening the foam. From among the children, a dwarf swam back to the beach and crossed it with a swinging gait. “They are all dwarfs,” she giggled, breaking her sunglasses. “Even if it dazzles me, I’ll face the light as bright as it is.” The glittering slivers fell to the ground, where they mixed with the shells. She put the slivers in a circle, like the petals of a daffodil. He opened his eyes, staring at the glass flower. His fingers found the pieces and crushed them. Thin streams of blood colored the sand. The sea turned red. “Why don’t you look at me?” she whispered. Her words were salty. He came closer. Locks of dark hair covered her face. She wanted to blink, but she forgot how to do it. She wanted to laugh, but she knew she had never done it before. His fingers were heavy, like sun-drenched flagstones on a park alley. She started dancing and he followed her closely, his hand covering her eyes. Children were watching from the sea. “You remind me of love.” His words melted, dripping on

Sweep and Break

I

Psychedelic suggestions about abstraction and art. By SAM JACK

SHOULD NOTE THAT THIS PROSE PIECE CAME OUT OF A LONG

discussion I had with several members of the Harvard Glee Club on a trans-atlantic plane flight. Seven hours trapped in a metal tube gives rise to these sorts of leisurely discourses and also perhaps goes some way to explaining why my prose style here is so extravagant or perhaps decadent. Oliver Strand (see his much more informative article on a similar subject) was also in on the discussion. If you’d like to skip the single huge explanatory sentence that follows, feel free! With certain activities one learns how to switch over into an altered mental state. Different sorts of liminal events assemble themselves in an orderly way, or at least a definite way-Or else one might say that in the under-mind one designates the sweep of an emotional object across a high and low place, for instance, and then whatever it is that stands above the under-mind but below intentionality (the intentionality that moves across the hours, breakfast cereal and tying shoes and paying the bills and whatnot) brackets it at the corners--at the highest point and the lowest point, and then at the one or two places where it curves or breaks-but in only one of hundreds of possible ways that are all immanent, and some such ligatures are brittle and only touch the sweep at one point, and others are broad and could divert the whole course of it into incoherence, but others only rise so high as the sweep and only so low as the sweep and curve back and forth in just the right places and

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those are the ones that catch it: like a tin can ship floating above submerged tar pits you may dredge something from the muck and into the sunlight which, though it must be clipped at either end, because it surely goes on and on and weighs a million tons, is at least cleanly cut and readable, as far as these things go; at least you’ve pulled up five words or notes or strokes that can go next to one another in the grand scheme of things--though I don’t really believe in one single grand scheme of things-but anyway that’s not the same thing as saying that you’ve pulled up the sweep; it is like those supremely frustrating triangular tile puzzles where everything matches--the one I own has lizards on it--so all the tails match with the lizards and all the tongues are coming out of the right mouths until you get to the last tile and it doesn’t work; a torso is attached to a tongue and a tail is on the front side of the torso, and so the entire ordering that has been constructed must be discarded; and it seems to me that, since I’ve never managed or bothered to solve that puzzle it must go, too, for the way of assembling liminal things, that one always has to throw away the last piece, if one can even find it, or else yawn towards the inevitable break and draw a circle around it and hold it up in front of the face very close so that we’ll all see the inadequacy--see for example how the circle of fifths is a downwards spiral--or else count the break among the citizens of a country that is momentarily at peace-have the break at the low sweep and fullness at the high, and then take the triangular tiles and draw a laborious angular arc between them (with all the tails and tongues

the sand. The abandoned book grew thicker and thicker, its pages merging with the sea. A stream of violet ink flooded on the beach. He took her hand and treaded the violet mud. “Leave me,” she begged. “The pages poured into the beach. Too many words drip violet handcuffs to detain you.” Her voice was clear and her dragonfly wings were whisking his chin. Their laughter filled the nightfall, like a falling dry branch breaking the whirlpool. “We almost read it all! Oh, but…the final line is missing,” she cried out, stretching her arms on the gargantuan book. “Will you write it?” Her salty smile left her lips and soared into the air. He is still writing the line, scratching the woman’s skin with violet slivers. Whenever her eyes meet his, a thin glass curtain falls between them. Their glances break it silently. They never run out of slivers.

Dean’s Expert By OLIVER STRAND

Did you read it? /Oh—really? / No, that’s actually a fair question to ask, ask at the tree line those who call to us through teeth mountain air births in secret every night. Come summer, they won’t look like plastic bags flapping in the wind. They are dawns ready for whatever executions I bring. Now the trashcan is capsized and Switzerland sends its best! I got cash for my old car. My grandfather’s books were not so lucky. Did you read them? The two children have so much in common. In the lamps a touch of home. Are we culturally aware? /Oh, really?/ They will agree to stay in line—where? In the cemetery waits a man. He is a staircase that buys all types of scrap metal. and torsos matching up) so that at the high sweep there is an insular, luminous, whole world and at the low sweep or at the turn there is the break, and a sort of high-lighting around the Pythagorean comma, the place that proves that you can’t bring a perfectly whole thing from out of the imaginary world into the world where things are never in super-position-so then you have the village and the sea, the castle and the forest, the statues that are perfect except that they never weep. Whether one hides the break (in the landscape somewhere before the work starts or after it ends), presses it insistently into the face, or tries to put it in orbit, as it were, around a perfect star, says a lot about intention, I guess, and sentiment. But the real trick of it is is to think about the break and the sweep without becoming a philosopher who must have bullet points, subpoints, premises and conclusions, and also to keep in mind that whatever one makes will not only be about the -material- it is made from--mornings, nights, wetness, dryness, conversations, sounds--but also about what I’m calling the sweep (the anima mundi, whatever— this isn’t about God, keep in mind, this is about effective realities) and the break (which is the fact that we’ve fallen short of unity). If you can identify what literary theory Sam Jack ‘11 is describing, please e-mail sjack@fas. 04.09.09 s The Harvard Independent


forum

indy

SURVIVAL 101: NUCLEAR ATTACK How to survive in the case of a nuclear attack in downtown Boston. By JOHN BEATTY

I

N THESE HECTIC TIMES, IT’S EASY TO LEAVE

things to the last second, or even ignore them completely and hope it’s not a problem. Sometimes making a plan doesn’t even seem worth the time, but in the case of catastrophic events, a little planning can go a long way. Who among us hasn’t at least paused at the thought of what they would do if a War of the Worlds/Independence Day-style alien invasion actually occurred: would our weapons be of any use? Would they target major urban centers first? Would they use their no doubt overwhelming space and air superiority to bombard the planet before landing ground troops or would they resort to biological weapons to eliminate us without harming the existing planetary infrastructure? All good questions, and if the boy scouts taught me anything, it is this: be prepared. In most of these cases, even a little planning can go a long way come crunch time. Take the example of a nuclear attack on the Boston metropolitan area. Say al-Qaeda sneaks a nuclear weapon in an U-Haul sized truck into downtown Boston and detonates it. In this case, time is of the essence, and making the correct decisions off the bat can have huge effects on your probability of survival. For the sake of this discussion, we will make several simplifying assumptions. First, any nuclear attack on Boston will be a one-time event, i.e. not part of a broader nuclear exchange. This means we need only concern ourselves with Boston and the surrounding area, not with broad societal issues and federal civil defense protocols and response. Second, and in keeping with the earlier assumption, the nuclear weapon would be somewhere in the range of 5-15 kilotons, roughly the size of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. Smaller yields do not require the creation of complex fission weaponry and so would most likely be created via conventional, albeit powerful, explosives. On the other side, higher yields, in the range of 350 kilotons (the yield on W78 warhead, used on U.S. Minutemen III ICBMs), would make this a relatively short article, as any such explosion would kill 50% of the people in Harvard Square and the surrounding area, badly wound 30%, and mean almost certain death from radiation, as well as be impractical to transport in a U-Haul truck. With a 10 kiloton surface burst, as would be expected with an truck or van delivery system, the primary danger is in fact the fallout, not the blast or The Harvard Independent s 04.09.09

shockwave. The blast radius only would extend over the center of Boston, while the main pressure waves, 12 and 5 psi, would not even extend across the Charles River. However, due to the low altitude of the blast, considerable amounts of soil would be made radioactive and dispersed over a relatively large area. There are over 100 different elements released by a nuclear fission weapon, the most notable being Strontium 90, Iodine 131, and Cesium 137. Given our assumptions about the group perpetrating this act, the weapon will most likely not be plutonium-based, another commonly used radioactive element with negative health effects. These radioactive isotopes cause a wide range of maladies and negative effects, from destroying bone tissue to irradiating internal organs. Unfortunately, the damage is relatively irreversible and unavoidable if a person is exposed to the elements. That is why

avoiding exposure to radioactive fallout is the most important aspect of surviving any nuclear blast, assuming you survive the initial pressure waves and thermal radiation. Three minutes. That is most likely how long it will take for the first contaminated particles to begin sifting down from the atmosphere. Those first three minutes make an enormous difference in survival chances in a fallout scenario. Ninety percent of radioactivity from a blast dissipates within one hour of the explosion. Avoiding the ionizing radioactivity, the extensive gamma rays, and neutrons emitted by the fission reaction, assuming you don’t live in a lead-plated house, is basically impossible. Therefore, finding shelter before the airborne radioactive particulates begin to reach the ground must be your essential goal. While public fallout shelters have become woefully rare and dilapidated

following the end of the Cold War, there are several locations that can be relatively easily made to serve for the couple days required before ambient radiation levels fall to manageable amounts. It is worth noting that the question is not really about the manageability of the outside amount of radiation, but rather about at what time the radiation buildup in the enclosed space of the shelter begins to pass the decreasing outside radiation levels. Regardless, the rule of thumb for fallout shelters is the deeper the better, with the corollary, the bigger the better; getting turned away from a fallout shelter is rather disheartening. With these two simple rules, the ideal fallout shelter in Harvard Square is the T-stop: it offers ample space, is about 10 meters beneath the surface, and offers the tunnels (as the tracks will be dead due to power outages) as wonderful travel conduits as well as a way to get further protection from airborne particulates. This may seem a little overwhelming, all the facts, figures, and suggestions. When you see the bright glare of a nuclear explosion, will you have the time to really consider all these items? No. That is why most authorities suggest using the simple acronym SWFR (pronounced swiffer) as an easy memory aide to help you remember the four things to remember in case of nuclear attack: Shelter, Water, Food, Radio. Just remember SWFR, and drafting a survival plan for the case of a small-yield nuclear detonation in downtown Boston is one thing to cross off the long to-do list. For those of you who are curious about more details on the subject, here is some extra reading: 11 Steps to Nuclear Fallout Survival http://www.ki4u.com/survive/index.htm What To Do If A Nuclear Attack is Imminent http://www.nukealert.net/guide.htm 2 great tools: Federation of American Scientists Blast & Fallout Calculator http://www.fas.org/programs/ssp/ nukes/nuclear_weapon_effects/ nuclearwpneffctcalc.htm http://www.fas.org/programs/ssp/nukes/ nuclear_weapon_effects/falloutcalc. html And of course, Wikihow: www.wikihow.com/Survive-a-NuclearAttack John Beatty ’11 (jbeatty@fas) jumps at the sight of U-Haul trucks. forum@harvardindependent.com

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PATRICIA FLORESCU/Independent

Captured and Shot


The Literary Issue (04.09.09)