Page 1

Backtracks Vol. 27 Is. 2, Winter 2014


Dear Reader,

There have been articles in every one of the five issues I have directed that have taken my breath away. They are electric – always dedicated to fresh language and deep reporting – and, typically, they stand alone in quality as the result of the work and heart of one writer or one editor. But this issue, I believe, rises above these singular pieces because it is the product of the collective. These pieces represent the effort and collaboration of a numerous editors, artists, and writers. Several aspects stand out to me in particular – the art team has managed to create an entire issue entirely of student-produced work, save the few photos of political leaders; the Reports duo channeled enormous energy into the spread on communication and the long form piece on Iran; and the Backtracks "Common App" provided us all a humorous outlet for college frustrations. This board never ceases to amaze me. They have created something phenomenal. Love,

Janine


WINTER 2014 Volume XXVII

THE MAGAZINE / Backtracks is Andover’s oldest general interest magazine. For 27 years, the magazine has served as a creative and intellectual outlet for the Phillips Academy community. Backtracks publishes exceptional non-fiction writing - including essays, reviews, letters and op-ed - as well as outstanding artwork and photography twice a term. Original writing falls into one of our three sections Culture, Notes & Dispatches, and Reports. SUBMISSIONS / Backtracks welcomes submissions of student work from all disciplines. If you are unsure if the content of your piece is suitable for our magazine, send it to us anyway; we are always seeking fresh perspectives. Please e-mail original non-fiction writing, reporting, artwork or photos to backtracks@ andover.edu. Artwork in digital format may be e-mailed to the above address as well . If an electronic version is not available, please contact the Art & Photography editor. CONTACT / Backtracks would love to hear your comments, suggestions, and questions. to contact our editorial staff, please e-mail jko@ andover.edu. We reserve the right to publish letters in future issues of the magazine. SUBSCRIPTIONS / Annual subscriptions to Backtracks cost $50 on campus. Off campus subscriptions carry a nominal shipping fee. E-mail backtracks@andover.edu for more information. DISCLAIMER / Backtracks is printed by Flagship Press of North Andover, Massachusetts. All images, text and other media contained herein, unless otherwise specified, are the property of Backtracks and the Trustees of Phillips Academy. The views and opinions expressed in Backtracks can be solely attributed to the author of the article in which they appear. Flagship Press holds no responsibility for the material printed herein.

BACKTRACKS 2013-2014

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Janine Ko MANAGING EDITORS Caroline Lu Joey Salvo

REPORTS Lily Grossbard Eric Alpert

CULTURE Peyton Alie Nya Hughes

ART & PHOTOGRAPHY Corinne Singer WRITERS AT LARGE Emma Crowe Alexis Lefft Katherine Vega

NOTES & DISPATCHES Brooke Bond Bianca Navarro Bowman

LAYOUT & DESIGN Daniel Kim Molly Magnell CHIEF WRITERS Henry Manning Charlee Van Eijk

BUSINESS MANAGERS Alexandra Barr Daniel Kim COPY EDITOR Mayze Teitler PUBLICITY Meera Patel ARTS MANAGERS Issraa Faiz Austin Robichaud Julia Zell

LAYOUT ASSOCIATES Lara Danovitch Catherine Hoang Jenny Huang Meera Patel Claire Zhong Emily Zhu

©1986-2014 Backtracks and the Trustees of Phillips Academy OUTSIDE COVER PHOTO Eliot Zaeder INSIDE COVER PHOTOS Catherine Hoang

STAFF ARTISTS Sydney Alepa Lila Dolan Camilla Guo Jenny Huang Katie Weaver Ho Eun Lee Sabrina Lu Lauren Luo Scarla Pan Christine Zhang


Notes & Dispatches

6 8 12 16 19 22

Mexico Sofia Barbosa

From Her, For Her (One Day) Emma Crowe

Thoughts on a STarry Night Emily Zhu

With Each Passing Year: The Tragedy of Wasted Youth Grace Tully

The How-To Handbook: From Brother to Minion Sloane Sambuco

Backtracks Applies to College The 27th Editorial Board

Reports

26 28 30 32 37

43

48

22 60

Photo: Jordan Johnson

Backtracks Special Report: the communication complication

CONTENTS

Lily Grossbard, Janine Ko, Joey Salvo & Katherine Vega

Jonathan Alter Joseph Salvo Susan Chira Mike Miller The Divided STates of America Akhil Rajan

The Middle Eastern Mixup: A Brief History of the Complicated US-IRan Relationship Henry Manning

China air Laws Eric Alpert

Peru Joey Salvo

VOL.XXVII, ISSUE II

Culture

66 70 Looking for Alaska: a Review Imperium: A review 71 72 20 songs for a rainy day Gelb Dance Perks, Ed. 2014 74 Frozen: A review 66

Heather Mei

Heather Mei

Cem Vardar

70

71

Isabel Tejera-Sindell

Nya Hughes & Jaeda Sanchez

- 72

- 74

Photo by Ryan Miller


NOTES AND DISPATCHES brings you a crossword

6. Sofia Barbosa gives you Mexico, an ode to the imperfection of a valley with “big cement walls and tiny doors.” 8. Staff writer Emma Crowe writes a letter to herself and her “freckled heart”: From Her, For Her (One Day) 12. Emily Zhu asks us to divide notions by paradoxes and infinity in Thoughts on a Starry Night 16. Grace Tully mourns the echoes of childhood, With Each Passing Year: The Tragedy of Wasted Youth 19. Sloane Sambuco provides us with light, necessary stuff – The How-To Handbook: From Brother to Minion. 22. And finally, the Backtracks Editorial Board applies to college.

Across 3. Walter White broke it 6. What parents call lower left when they want to sound informed 7. _____ hands, the Devil's playthings 8. We still don't know how he didn't get crushed while playing football 11. _____ of the Sith 14. Fridays. 6:30. 15. We eat it. Apparently it's red. 17. Henry's first or last wife 18. Another name for Cupid 19. Adele and pretty much all of 2011 rolled in it 20. Ms. R. _____, your favorite penpal during Spring term

4

Down 1. The sixth cluster, way back when 2. Never fear, grinding’s out, but we still have the right to ____ (If Miley does it, you can, too) 4. The world's greatest editor-in-chief 5. Made our seal 9. A night of performances or a farm pest? Depends 10. Last year's School President 12. F____E 13. Either a place for dead bodies or musical instruments, depending on who you ask 15. The furthest dorm away. 16. Carpe ______

Notes & DIspatches

... and some writing, we guess... Backtracks

5


The Mexico I treasure is beauty and the best kind of imperfection

Mexico Why do I miss the valley that made me so unhappy? Why do I sometimes want to go back? How come I wish I could be here and there at the same time? That city, forever saturated by cars and traffic; car horns and arguing. Truck exhaust and cigarette smoke invade your lungs and literally take your breath away every time you walk along its streets. Smog and trash exist in almost the same quantity as the people that produce them. Daily you spy people with baskets in hand, selling candy and newspapers on the streets; children offering to clean the windshield. How can someone find comfort and warmth in the claustrophobia of a traffic jam? I used to spend hours in traffic everyday, eyes glued on the city houses with their big cement walls and tiny doors. The security guards lurking behind the mirrors and the electric wires snaking on

top of firm walls sneered, their disdain keeping the rest of the world away. Thick-muscled bodyguards and chauffeurs in black bulletproof SUV’s made me feel tiny. And from behind their unbreakable shields, the owners of these cars would glare at me with eyes of stone. How can I long to be back with all of this hostility and arrogance? I yearn for the white sand beaches beyond the valley, where I would crinkle my toes in the sand as the crystal clear water crescendoed with each oncoming wave. I could stand forever, with the sun shining on my face, and look out to where the blue-green sea blends with the cloudless sky like an oil painting. I miss skipping across the burning sand to feel the cool water surrounding me, pulling me in deeper. That is the country I fell in love with. Surrounded by myths, snow-capped volcanoes peek out over the thin white clouds and um

Surrounded by myths, snow-capped volcanoes peek out over the thin white clouds and um brella the city.

brella the city. Ash rains down like a sporadic spring storm and the sky catches on fire behind the volcanoes, the orange-yellow light reflecting off of the city. I would see the silhouettes of large black birds flying free past the pollution and my smog-covered home. Mountains and lakes and paragliding and water skiing became weekend habits. Butterflies with wings the color of sunsets and coal would flutter through the woods under a baby blue sky. I became familiar with fireworks and fireplaces. We’d dance under the stars and enjoy a noontime breakfast of ice cream and Popsicles on a sun-drenched porch. Sometimes, road races on motorcycles occurred. These pastimes, no matter how common, never became tedious. They were comfort; they are home. The strong, self-important desert sun reflected off of the stone pyramids, invading my vision. Hot air balloons tentatively flew up above, afraid of the cacti and embracing the light. History danced in the temples and observatories., stories and legends, fables and myths. The Mexico I treasure is beauty and the best kind of imperfection, dappled with spices, onion, cilantro, mangoes and pomegranates picked right off of the trees, and the real sort of tacos. That Mexico is the bright-eyed people and their beautiful, complex cultures. Their dances, songs, and languages drift through the air unannounced and uninterrupted alongside the smell of corn and of quesadillas.

Why do i miss the valley that made me so unhappy? 6

Notes & DIspatches

Art by Sydney Alepa

Art by Sabrina Lu


Emma

8

Notes & DIspatches

Photo by Lauren Luo

For Her

one (day )

From Her,

Crowe

Know that I write this in the hope of receiving it an entirely different person. There must still remain some hope for that, mustn’t there? Do say so. One might call it a prayer, written by someone with no one to pray to. Perhaps a prayer for someone to find this letter by the side of the road, dropped by something other than coincidence. They read it. Their eyes fill with tears in reading what could be their own memoir, a remembrance of self. I am no longer alone. We are no longer such very segregated minds, drifting away from each other in our little decaying organic vehicles. I anchor myself to something inside of you and like this we float haphazardly through a world growing more entropic with each passing second. We watch the lightshow with popcorn laughter and delight in our mutual security. Perhaps it is something else entirely. A plea, a condemnation, a confession of love. Perhaps it is all of those things. It is so easy to see beauty in this world, if one chooses to try. In the unmade bed, the snow falling backwards, the smell of a new story—and in the harder things, too. The used tissues, a pillow stained black with bitter mascara, the sting of smoke in your throat. Beauty is in the smell of sweat and dirt, the kiss of metal against your skin, the chilly and tangy taste of honesty in each and every sip of water you drink. But only God knows, in his absence, the mitosis our mother must have undergone to regurgitate you. Her eyes are green. Ours are blue. Laughter’s watery and disloyal cousin more often than not stain both pink. I feel her wrinkles sinking into my face. Her scars grace my skin. I watch my father in awe. He navigates her sadness with something like frustration, and his own breed of melancholy. It is not regret. But it may be the acknowledgment of the ease with which he could have loved and lived. I pray it is not so. I pray my own burdens will not become those of others. Simultaneously I desperately hope for them to. Beauty is so easy to see in this world. And yet, for the love of something much bigger and greater than God, I cannot fathom it in you. I would compare you to a flower in your fragility, though you are not so beautiful. And, unlike a flower, you lack the strength to return to spring after even the longest and bitterest of winters. A comparison to a weed would be far, far more accurate. Fatally exact.

Backtracks

9


I began to despise you the day I finally knew we had never suffered, nor did what little trial we’d lived through deserve a name even close to beautiful. Rather, all anyone wants is his or her own misery. In the end, I do believe we merely wish for another to care about our hurts. Grief has none of the romance of a comedy nor the admirable strength of a tragedy. Rather it is miserable in its patheticness, cowardly in its weakness, selfish in its egocentricity and a bastard in its resilience. And we, we are weak. I do not know how to describe the certainty with which we have reached this truth, and our own frustration to ultimately accept it. You and I, we lay in bed at night on sheets stained with blood our lover once overlooked, then loved, now hates. We repeat to ourselves, we do all wish to make a spectacle of our sadness, even as we ache to be recognized for it. I hate you, I do. How easily those words roll off an eager tongue. I hate you, for losing your words when they matter the most. I hate you for failing to disregard your bitterness. I hate you for your inability to smile when a smile is the only thing that will keep people by your side. For the cold grey storm front that I let sweep inside my front door. For refusing to rage, rage against the dying of the light. For your freckled heart, the valleys between your ribs, the mountain ridges of a spine like that of a loved book (there, barely). Your pages have been turned far too often. I hate you when all you have to keep you warm is a confused boy with a fauxhawk, a boy who cries with us in frustration each night that I stain his clothes instead of fucking him like they all think I do. And he is far too forgiving, understanding, loving, for it to possibly last. I see my father’s burden settle onto his shoulders. And you, you weep for everything. You must not weep. Forgive me for any use of cliché but I often find that another’s words roll off my tongue far easier than any of my own. There are so many things I don’t know how to say. How there is no way to bridge stars, how I am ashamed of my hurts, and ashamed of ever being proud of them. How we all just want to be seen, how I learned that we are not our own light. How I longed for your kisses to be like a mother’s and have all the magic in the world for sharing, and how I ached to ask kiss me where it hurts. How I harbor deep and bitter resentment for even my closest friends. How at first I mourned my inability to love him just as I now mourn my inability to let him go. How both beauty and love are seen in remembrance of self, how there is none who I despise more than the man who thinks to measure his own suffering against that of others. How I hope you will find joy in the selflessness you do not yet possess. How we all have parts made of glass, and how we are each desperate to share them with the hope that the light of the sun may shine through and make them diamond. I haven’t forgiven you, not yet. This is not a love letter. But one day, it will be.

10

Notes & DIspatches

Backtracks

Art by Camilla Guo

11


THOUGHTS ON A

STARRY NIGHT written by Emily Zhu

Take any notion you have and raise it to the power of a paradox, divide it by all of your intuition, and let me know if you can still explain how the world works. 12

Notes & DIspatches

Backtracks

Art by Ryan Miller

13


Our time has been short- a smidgen compared to the reign of dinosaurs. Splayed against the history of the universe, it’s essentially nothing. Yet, most of us feel like we’ve come close to knowing the truth behind it all. Plates from the first run of the “Off-Duty,” “Review,” and “Mansion secTonight, I want you to glance up at the night sky. You might find a constellation; the tions. Big Dipper or Cassiopeia. Call the stars by their names, tell me how bright they are, which galaxies they call home, or how they are composed.

We look up at the stars and planets in our sky and pin facts to them, but sometimes that star we see is actually two stars, or three. Sometimes what we think is a star or planet isn’t even one at all. All that blackness isn’t truly black; it’s filled with brilliant stars and galaxies that never truly rise or set, but always watch us overhead. The majority of the time, what we’re looking at isn’t what we think we see at all. Take our planet and zoom out by a factor of a hundred and you’ll have our solar system. If you do it again, you’ll see a sect of our galaxy. Already, our sun’s only a speck of light amidst millions of others. Zoom out once again and see all these stars orbiting a black hole. Zoom out one last time and you’d see our galaxy slowly drifting on a collision course with the galaxy Andromeda. If you kept going, things would begin to seem like science fiction: planets composed of diamond, stars smashing through space at hyper velocities, quasars (highly energetic galactic nuclei) emitting enormous amounts of energy and possibly containing black holes, and maybe even life beyond Earth. The universe is made of extremes, both the incredibly cold emptiness and the searing heat of forming stars. It’s made of black holes and brilliant supernovas; we barrel through space at hundreds of thousands of miles per second while feeling absolute stillness at sunrise. Numbers and signals and tell stories of wrinkles in space, wormholes and black holes, but we still don’t know what creates matter and provides energy. We may claim to understand our place in the universe, but think of what we sacrifice to control our planet. We live on just a fraction of a dot, one pixel of blue indistinguishable from the next in the expanse of our universe. Our time has been short- a smidgen compared to the reign of dinosaurs. Splayed against the history of the universe, it’s essentially nothing. Yet, most of us feel like we’ve come close to knowing the truth behind it all.

14

Notes & DIspatches

Look down at your hand and tell me what it’s made of. You may say carbon, or something more fundamental, like protons and neutrons. Your mind might jump to something even more miniscule, like quarks. Now, look again and consider the very smallest bits we are made of. All of a sudden, we are forced to consider things at a quantum level, a level so complex and absurd that Einstein refused to believe it existed. Here, particles seem to have decided “Why be just one thing if you can be everything?” Here, you can find circuits going clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time, particles that can exist in two places at once, matter that is both a wave and a particle, or energy creating mass (and vice versa). For every type of matter, a corresponding antimatter exists. Zoom in close enough, and the rules you use to evaluate the “real world” simply don’t exist, because here, negative and imaginary probabilities are normal and what something “is” is not its “state” but its “likelihood of being.” Being is indefinite, infinite, but also precariously unstable and unpredictable. Even when we go back to things that should make sense, the atoms we see are mostly empty space. A nucleus is just a grain of rice centered in a football field of emptiness. Take all the atoms buzzing around the universe and force their fundamental particles close together and you would have a dice-sized amount of matter. Take any notion you have and raise it to the power of a paradox, divide it by all of your intuition, and let me know if you can still explain how the world works. So, don’t think of names or numbers tonight. Don’t tell me your facts and figures. How can we explain the universe if we can’t even explain ourselves? Just try and fail to comprehend everything that exists, the infinite galaxies and planets and stars. We cannot comprehend the laws that govern these bodies; we can barely grasp the forces at work here on Earth. I suggest that we sit back, stare at the sky, and imagine.

Zoom in close enough, and the rules you use to evaluate the “real world” simply don’t exist, because here, negative and imaginary probabilities are normal and what something “is” is not its “state” but its “likelihood of being.” Backtracks

Art by Laurent Joli-Coeur

15


With each passing year The Tragedy of Wasted Youth By Grace Tully

O

f all the bizarre, unfathomable mechanisms whose existence we have noted in this world, time is perhaps the most mysterious and inexplicable. Enigmatic, fleeting, and indescribably potent, it is as rousing and ephemeral as a lightening bolt sundering a storm-darkened sky. Intertwined with this vastly ambiguous notion comes the concept of age: a physical embodiment of that which we would otherwise perceive as entirely intangible. The enormously influential nature of age comes as a result of our understanding that age is a measurement of time, or more specifically, a measurement of the impact time can have. To understand this is to recognize the terrible, dangerous beauty of experience and growth, and the price at which they come. To be a toddler is to be spirited, unapologetic, and entirely carefree: to love the people around you unconditionally, and to remain blissfully oblivious to their faults. Morning consists of cereal, laughter, and cartoons, while night time is reserved for ice cream, warm blankets, and the comfort of a mother’s voice. I still remember my mother sitting beside my bed for what seemed like hours, reading to me softly until I finally drifted off to sleep. Children have an unbridled enthusiasm and the freedom to explore whatever intrigues or excites them at any given moment. The life of a toddler is secure and dependent: blissfully unaware of the dangers and disappointments of the world. Despite the safety and comfort of childhood, however, something else is brought on by the passing years. It takes root in your soul and spreads slowly: an unshakable, inexplicable longing for the sophistication of age, which gnaws away at nonchalance and extinguishes the innocence of youth. The exact, pivotal moment where one truly becomes a teenager is impossible to define. All we know for sure is that people tend to find themselves more and more immersed in their irritability and petty differences. They often lose whatever sense of innocence or compassion they once had and indulge themselves instead in their selfish, competitive natures. Life becomes unbearably monotonous as creativity and passion are overshadowed by obligation,

16

Notes & DIspatches

Art by Camilla Guo

Backtracks

17


responsibility, and apathy. To put it into its simplest, most generalized terms, the moment when someone leaves his or her childhood behind is the same moment during which their eyes are opened to the excitement and danger of the world around them. Be it a throat hoarse from screaming, a sour sip of alcohol, the bite of a razor, or the rushed, uncertain fumbling in the backseat of a car at a Friday night football game in early November, the nature of this discovery remains irrelevant. The pain of maturity is found not in years, but in the experiences that those years bring. In a final act of the innocence and reckless abandon that are the very trademarks of youth, we fling away the precious remainder of our childhood for the enticement of adulthood and maturity, and this is our fatal mistake. A time comes when the hands that once gripped crayons begin to cramp in the middle of the night, as they clack against the keyboard of a laptop and the work is nowhere near finished. The dog that you begged your parents for, with promises of daily walks and endless affection, is now lucky if she receives five minutes of attention between the time you shuffle through the doorway, ill-tempered and dragging a bag full of textbooks, and the time when you crawl exhausted into your bed. All of the carefree indulgences of childhood wither and eventually die, devoured by numbness and obligation. It seems, in fact, to get worse with each passing year: further proof that certain forms of innocence are unattainable once lost. This is perhaps the most terrible consequence time can have: because with age comes experience, with experience comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes an inability to go back. Of course, there is great value to the wisdom that maturity can bring, but it seems poor compensation for the radiance and enthusiasm that we lose in the process. It simply could not come at a higher price. The other night, I had a dream that I was five years old again: carefree, laughing, and drenched in sunlight. My skin had never known a razor; my heart had never known a loss. For just a few precious moments I was blissfully unaware, and therefore unafraid, of the terrors that the world can bring—but then the dream slipped away from me, as intangible as moonlight, and the harsh beeping of my alarm told me that it was time to prepare for another day. The sun had not yet fully risen in the sky when I locked the bathroom door behind me and stared hard at my reflection in the mirror. Echoes of the dream still whispered through my mind on that cold grey morning; and as I slowly took in the guarded eyes, halfshaved hair, and scarred skin of the girl standing before me, there was nothing left to do but wonder what the hell had happened to her, and when.

18

Notes & DIspatches

The How-To Handbook: From Brother to Minion By Sloane Sambuco Maybe you need a massage. Maybe you’ve dropped something and can’t reach it. Maybe you really want a glass of water but the kitchen is a whole twelve steps away from your molded spot on the couch. No matter how burdensome your problem is, there is always a way to get it done without lifting a finger.

You will need 3 things: - a voice - willfulness - and, most importantly, a little brother.

Photo by Julia Zell

Backtracks

19


Step 4.

Step 1.

Ask politely. Maybe your little bro is in a good mood and will be compliant without your having to ask twice. Do not smile- this will reveal your deviousness. Creep your eyebrows together to create a dimple of concern and to present a visage of thoughtfulness and altruism. Then, in a careful tone, ask “Will you pick that up for me?” Eye contact is optional. Repeat Step 1 four to ten times until your subject begins to exhibit signs of frustration. If Step 1 does not work, proceed to Step 2.

Bribe him. Take note of what he really is yearning for in that moment. Has he been talking about a new video game? Are his eyes lighting up as the Reese’s Cup commercial comes on? Does he want cash? Your flip from hostility to apparent considerateness will have him more confused than ever, making him more vulnerable to your control. No religious text explicitly states that unfulfilled promises to your little brother are sins, so your conscience and soul may proceed untainted. Remember: First the deal, second the deed, and last the donation. Perhaps one day you realize that your shoulders are tight and propose a 20-minute massage for $20. You cross a few limbs and fingers to once again relieve your conscience (because crosses, of course, always count). He agrees, but his small hands and weak pressure barely alleviate any pain in your back. You feel his warm little fingers squeeze and pinch at your skin and yet you remain as tense and as rigid as ever. You begin to wonder if this lame shiatsu is worth your $20. Then you deviously chuckle and attempt to enjoy the rest of your massage. When he finishes your back rub, he asks for his payment. Yes, you said you would pay him $20, but you never specified in which currency the payment would be made. So when you say, “Here’s your $20… in hugs and kisses!” and begin to douse him with your affection, his face scrunches up and turns scarlet with anger. This is why you first make the agreement, then receive the service, and lastly give the payment. His reaction is of no consequence to you, because you achieved your goal about 30 hugs and kisses ago.

Step 5.

Blunt force. While some siblings may immediately go to this step, I am a firm believer in energy conservation. If you’re physically fighting or wrestling to make your younger brother do something for you, you will end up expending more energy than if you just did it yourself. Therefore, this step is highly discouraged.

Photo by Corinne Singer

Step 2.

Make your little brother have an uprising of guilt. “I am just asking for one favor,” “I would do it for you,” and “Why don’t you love me?” are three great examples that you should and will use. Bonus points if you can make your eyes tear up. Do not be afraid to get creative, guilt is a momentary sensation and will not cause permanent damage. If your brother is still unresponsive, repeat Step 1 or continue on to Step 3.

Step 3.

Threats. Make sure that you know what makes your brother upset. Target this weakness. Was he really excited to walk to the park with you? Cancel plans. Was he sneaky about that extra scoop of ice cream last night? Threaten to tell your mother. Be careful while choosing your threats, though, you do not want to end up getting in trouble with your parental guardians. Between Step 3 and Step 4, make sure to take a two-minute break so as not to send mixed messages. Stretch if you need to.

Photo by Jessica Ho Eun Lee

These steps are tested and proven effective by millions of older siblings around the world. If none of the above tactics work, even after practice and repetitions, consider reevaluating your authoritative capacity or selling your little brother (recent rates have been around 50¢). Even though some of these strategies seem harsh, know that your little brother, no matter what you have put him through, will always love you so very much.

20

Notes & DIspatches

Step 6.

Use his unconditional love to your advantage.

Backtracks

21


Backtracks Applies to College

Questions We Answered What is your favorite smell and why/how would that make you a good member of a community? My favorite smell is the smell of fear. That would make me a good member of the community because I can easily distinguish the people in the community whom I can manipulate. What is your favorite quotation from a work of art such as a book or film? “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” “We think you’re crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are.” “Stop trying to make “fetch” happen.” “The top 3 wealthiest people in America did not go to or dropped out of college.” Why are you interested in applying to this university? Because it’s really selective, and has a huge endowment. Lots of people have told me that it’s an excellent school to apply to, and I think they’re right. Also I’m hoping that the school’s reputation will help me get a really good job without trying too hard. It was rated #1 on Forbes’s “Best Looking Colleges of 2013” list. I’m not. It’s my safety. But you should feel honored you made the cut! Good for you! List the books (if any) you’ve read this year for pleasure. I resent the insinuation that I haven’t read any books over the past year. For your information I read the entire Harry Potter series. When Dumbledore died, I felt really sad. The Great Gatsby reassured me that there were, in fact, people even more pretentious, entitled, and unhappy than I am.

Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities that was particularly meaningful to you: My favorite extracurricular activity would probably be mimicking other people’s laughs. My own natural laugh sounds a lot like a donkey, so I spend a couple years studying other people’s laughs trying to pick which I’d make my own. I wasn’t able to change my laugh, however I did get really good at copying other people’s! My best friend’s laugh sounds like a dying hog, so I mimic her into silence whenever she finds anything funny. I feel that I could bring this talent to college by perhaps joining a stand up comedy group and mimicking people’s laughter in the audience. One of my favorite extra-curricular activities is running one of the largest crime rings in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. It’s hard to find that balance between doing well in school, kicking butt and taking names, and money laundering. I don’t really want to pursue it in college, but I think some people will be after me if I don’t, so I don’t really have a choice. Good thing it says “briefly.” I’ve already said too mu--

Questions We Would Have Liked to Answer Briefly explain an event in your life. It may be about a hardship that you overcame or about that one deep dark secret that even your family doesn’t know because as college admissions officers, we have the right to know. Please answer this question in (100-450 words, but you can upload a PDF so we won’t use word count anyway) How many pets do you have and how old are they? Describe yourself as if you were a superhero. Please copy and past the essay you wrote for that other school here. Remember to change the name of the school to us!

Images courtessy of The Common Application

Hurry up, Houdini! (the latest magic tree house book). I want to go on adventures like Annie and Jack. School sucks.

22 Notes & DIspatches

Backtracks

23


REPORTS

Backtracks Special Report: The Communication Complication Lily Grossbard, Janine Ko, Joey Salvo & Katherine Vega

Jonathan Alter - 28 Joseph Salvo - 30 Susan Chira - 32 Mike Miller - 37 The Divided States of America - 43 Akhil Rajan

The Middle Eastern Mixup: A Brief History of the Complicated US-IRan Relationship- 48 Henry Manning

China Air Laws - 56

Eric Alpert

Peru - 60 Joey Salvo

24

Reports

Backtracks

Art by Sydney Alepa

25


*

*T

he following four articles are a spread on communications and technology in the 21st century, inspired by “The Communication Complication: Taking on the World Bit by Byte,” a panel hosted by Joey Salvo ’14 in the fall. The panel featured Susan Chira, Jonathan Alter, and Joseph Salvo, “experts in journalism, politics, and computer science.” Preceding the panel, Backtracks had the incredible opportunity to interview the three panelists, producing two profiles, on Alter and Salvo, and a fascinating Q-and-A session with Chira. Also included is the text of an interview with Mike Miller, who, while not a panelist, adds enormously to conversation presented here. As space constraints prohibit Backtracks from printing the entire texts of the following interviews, we have made omissions for brevity and clarity. No text has been added or rearranged, so the interviewees’ words remain very much their own. All four individuals are leaders in their fields and have an incredible vantage point of experience and knowledge on the subject of communications and technology, and all were fascinating interviewees.

reporting by Lily Grossbard, janine ko, joey salvo & katherine vega 26

reports

Photo by Emmie Avvakumova

Backtracks

27


Jonathan Alter*

Jonathan Alter, an award-winning journalist, best-selling author, political correspondent for MSNBC, and producer, started out small. The first in his family to attend prep school, the Chicago native matriculated to Phillips Academy as a new Upper in the fall of 1973. Ever since, he’s been looking for his next big story, first at The Phillipian, followed by The Harvard Crimson, Newsweek, Bloomberg, and now as the author of three best-selling books on American politics. In September, Alter took part in a panel hosted by Phillips Academy to discuss the impact of digital technology on the spread of information. The following is an exclusive interview with Backtracks about his time at Andover, his career, and his plans for the future.

*A

lthough bright, Alter did not immediately find success at Andover. In his first terms, he struggled with the balancing act that is the life of many Andover students today. “I wasn’t sure what to expect at all, and I found that I was almost a kid in a candy shop; I had so many things, especially extracurriculars, to stimulate me,” says Alter. “I got involved in The Phillipian [the school newspaper], drama, and WPAA [the school radio station] a little bit— so much so that my first trimester my grades suffered, especially in math.”

28

reports

Photo by Emmie Avvakumova

He did manage to make some time for his studies, and particularly enjoyed History. “I found that the history department in particular had the effect of deepening and changing what became a life-long interest in history,” he acknowledges. “[My teachers] left me with ideas and questions that have been very important in my life… I remember a lot of things I was told in those classes…I think Andover’s greatest impact on me was in history, feeling that you could bring history alive, and live history.” His time as Editor (at the time, second in command after the President) of The Phillipian also proved incredibly influential in his life. He fondly recalls his time spent working on the paper in the basement of Evans Hall (now torn down and replaced by Gelb Science Center). “We worked very hard but also had a great time, and I have great memories of working [on the paper].” At the time, The Phillipian was printed using The Harvard Crimson’s presses, and Alter met many of his future companions during late-night trips there. “We would have to spend a long evening at The Crimson, kind of fixing the paper… That was how I first met some people who, after I graduated from Andover, I became lifelong friends with...” he recalls. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in History, Alter began to branch out. In 1983, he began working at Newsweek, a job he held for almost 30 years, and at the same time became more involved with television. “In the 90’s [I] learned how to do a television piece… a different kind of journalism. [This] was very invigorating for me at that time in my career,” said Alter. “I’d been at Newsweek for a long time and it was a good experience to have to reinvent myself a little bit without leaving my day job.” Becoming more comfortable on screen, Alter covered larger and larger stories— in 1992, he appeared on ABC’s Nightline to cover the Clinton campaign, and in 1996, he appeared on a newly-established network called MSNBC, the brainchild of NBC and Microsoft, now the second-highest rated news channel on television. Alter’s decades of experience reporting on American politics have helped him to observe trends and make astute observations. He still believes that his biggest scoop was his prediction that the 2000 presidential election (the closest in US History) would be settled

in court, an idea that he was the first to publicize on election night. “At nine o’clock [on election night], the networks moved Florida from Al Gore’s column to ‘too close to call,’ and I wondered what was going on in Florida. I called the Palm Beach Post and a guy answered the phone…he said ‘well we have a bunch of … voters who intended to vote for Al Gore, but because of a confusing butterfly ballot they voted for Pat Buchanan by mistake.’ So two minutes later I was telling the nation that there was this thing called a butterfly ballot, which after the election became a big deal. And then later in the evening around 2 o’clock in the morning I was the first one to say that this was all going to court and [that] this [was] going to be a wild recount. And that’s indeed what ended up happening.” In 2004, Alter made another incredible call, writing a feature piece on Barack Obama, a confidant and longtime companion, whom he believed to be a rising star in American politics. Nonetheless, Alter says journalism isn’t a profession based solely on intuition. “It’s not really a hunch business. Generally you need to separate reporting from analysis. First thing was always reporting,” he says. Alter’s dedication to reporting the facts is evident in his books. “...[For each of ] my books about recent years in American Politics, I interviewed around 200 people,” he discloses. “Very often painstaking, meticulous, persistent reporting over a long period of time [is the norm], and that’s how you build a mosaic. You get maybe one good thing from each interview and then you build a picture based on that...” So what’s next for Alter, whose most recent book, The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, was a New York Times best seller? “I’m amid an adventure in show business. I’m an executive producer of a television show that will air on Amazon starting in November,” says Alter, of the new show Alpha House. Of course, Alter can’t stay away from politics completely—the show centers on four Republican senators who live in a “man cave on Capitol Hill.” But besides Alpha House, much is up in the air for Alter. “I have no idea whether the show will get another season,” he says of the new project. “I’m also continuing to write political pieces. I’ll probably do a couple of longer political pieces next year and start on a new book, [though] I haven’t quite settled on the topic yet.”

“"It's not really a hunch business. Generally you need to separate reporting from analysis. First thing was always reporting," Backtracks

29


*B

*

Joseph Salvo

Dr. Joseph Salvo ’76 completed his undergraduate studies at Harvard University and earned his Ph.D at Yale. Since 1999, he has been with the General Electric Global Research Center, where he manages the Complex System Engineering Laboratory. Over the years he and his team have developed a series of internet-based digital communication systems that have tracked millions of objects ranging from wind and aircraft turbine components and hundreds to entire tractor-trailer fleets, as well as millions in cargo, in real time. Since the advent of cloud computing technology and crowdsourcing platforms, Salvo has been working to further democratize the flow of information, computation, and ideas to reshape the manufacturing paradigm. Most recently he has begun work on the “Industrial Internet,” where he expects intelligent machines will soon form networks creating unprecedented value for consumers and businesses alike.

30

reports

Photo by Emmie Avvakumova

orn and raised in nearby Lawrence, Massachusetts, Joe Salvo started at Andover in 1972, graduating class of ‘76. Salvo was a day student, though he spend a great deal of time on campus. “I used to come and eat three meals six days a week,” Salvo remembers. He recalls a tension in the community, not just a result of the recent addition of girls to the student body. “Young people and old people had plenty to talk about other than boys and girls in the classroom. We were really worried about where the world was headed, and [whether] our government [was] doing the right thing, and could we trust them.” At that time, the Vietnam War was just winding down, and the feminist movement was gaining steam. Andover, as always, seemed to be ahead of its time. “We were much more casual and...were unisex. I mean everybody pretty much looked the same. We had jeans and baggy shirts and long hair. Everybody had long hair.” As a senior, Salvo was captain of the track team, but his passion for sports didn’t prevent him from pursuing other interests. “I was really into science” he says. In addition, he worked for a brief time on the Phillipian. As a day student with a car, he “used to drive the galley-sheets with a couple of colleagues into the Harvard Crimson every week [to be printed].” The printing technology was very different: “We used a compu-graphics, photo-type setting system which was state-of-the-art. I think it cost probably $60,000 in its day, which is just a fabulous amount of money, and it was just beautiful.” Everything, including the sizing of photos, was done by hand in a process that reamins a fond memory for Salvo. “I saved more [finished plates] than I want to admit,” he mentions. At Harvard, Salvo studied math, chemistry, physics and biology under the then new umbrella of “biochemistry.” Later on, he worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysics center, building high vacuum systems, and studying x-ray crystallography. At Yale, his path shifted when he was required to participate in a wet lab and for molecular biophysics, and found gene manipulation to be fascinating. So fascinating in fact that “I decided I would basically switch fields.” After earning his Ph.D, Salvo went on to work

for General Electric where he continued similar work under the direction of nobel laureate Ivar Giaever. “I worked on [renewable resource plastics] with a very large team, and we successfully created some very unusual polymers using...feed-stocks. Unfortunately the program was cancelled before its time...but by then I had moved into the Internet...” Salvo began in earnest his work with large data systems, and began incorporating GPS technology, then still very new, into his projects. He realized early on that it is important to use a satellite system with satellites that collectively cover a large region by constantly moving. “If you’ve ever tried to do GPS fixing on a narrow street in New York, you’ll see the value of having satellites moving around you.” Today, Salvo’s work reflects his interest in multiple fields of study. “What we’re really interested in [right now] is creating platforms that allow us to democratize the access to both information and tools that most people don’t have any access to.” Salvo points out that large projects require collaboration between people with vastly different expertises. “What this [project] allows you to do, in theory, is to increase the number of people that could be on your team by orders of magnitude.” It’s Ford’s assembly line theory to the extreme, and it’s already being applied to real-world problems. “One of the first public results that we just announced...was a global contest [where]...people were free to submit their ideas and their designs [to G.E.] It’s just such a greatly simplified and superior way to exchange information and create a collaborative workspace. It’s a compelling way to do work.” Dr. Salvo continues to innovate and push the limits of science. Currently he is involved with a project to redefine the Internet, known as the “Internet of Things,” and his dream is impart machines with humanity’s ability to learn and to be conscious. “That is a special gift that we’ve been given with this self-reflection, self-awareness consciousness. I would love to try to augment that as much as I can with intelligent machines, intelligent systems, because it’s a beautiful world, and I encourage everybody to try to experience it.”

Backtracks

31


ferment. I think a lot of people thought that girls would ruin the special character of this place, and this was not fair, but there was a perception that the Abbot girls weren't as smart as the Andover boys, that girls had lower academic standards. That got changed pretty quickly, because girls were immediately very successful here, but I didn't quite realize coming in that I was entering a slightly fraught environment. Lily Grossbard: Did male teachers or older male peers treat you differently? Susan Chira: I'll tell you my bad story. In the first trimester that I was here… one of my teachers came to my house counselor – and this was the '70s, so I didn't wear a bra. Many girls didn't then –­ and complained that I was a distraction in the class. Of course, here I was, 15 years old, and I don't think, in hindsight, anyone questioned why he was sort of putting it as that the other boys were distracted, but I suspect that wasn't all that was going on. It was weird, and they didn't really know how to handle things very well, to be honest. It was a whole new world, [Andover] was mostly so great that these were not the predominant experiences. I felt I was coming to this extraordinary academic wonderland, which it is. Janine Ko: What do you think was the biggest lesson that you learned at Andover? Or most important?

susan

* chira

Susan Chira ’76 is the assistant managing editor for news for the New York Times. For nearly eight years, from January 2004 to September 2011, Ms. Chira was foreign editor at the Times, supervising foreign correspondents around the globe. She has held a range of editing and reporting positions in her 30-year career at the Times, including editor of the Week in Review, deputy foreign editor, Tokyo correspondent, national education reporter, and several reporting assignments in the Metropolitan and Business Day sections. She is the author of “A Mother's Place,” (HarperCollins, 1998), an examination of working motherhood.

*

Susan Chira: I was admitted with the first group of girls when Andover went co-ed. It was a huge change for the institution, and I was naive about that. A lot of the teachers, particularly older, male teachers, were very unhappy about it. A lot of people did not want Andover to go co-ed, and if you consider the social context – it was as women's liberation was coming more to the fore [and] colleges had just, in the late '60s and early '70s, gone co-ed – it was a time of a lot of

reports

Janine Ko: So what is a typical day at the Times like for you? Susan Chira: Editors have their lives defined by meetings, essentially, and the Times's day has changed a lot. It used to be that you were very much wedded to the rhythm of the print paper and its deadlines, and everything was organized around the one big deadline of the day. Now we're on deadline all the time. We had to

Janine Ko: What was Andover like when you were here? Anything that stands out as a particular change?

32

Susan Chira: There are kind of two tracts, because there's a whole set of academic lessons that work very hard on writing, and analysis, and very rigorous class discussions. But I think socially, you get a lot of independence. You get a lot of self-sufficiency. You form really intense friendships. It gave me an enormous amount of confidence that I could handle myself in totally new, strange situations.

completely change our structure so that people weren't overly focused on page one. The way it used to be is that you'd get in in the morning, and you'd be completely focused on convincing the editors that your story should be on page one, refining it so it's worthy of being on page one, and so on. Now, the homepage is refreshed constantly. We have to set up systems so that we’re always updating. The challenge is how to be deep and fast [with reporting]. Our currency is to be deep. We were not as good at being fast, and now we have to be both. We had to set up all kinds of changes to make sure that we were really curating the website the way we curated the print paper, that we had a way that people could both write quickly, and find a way to report deeply, and write even more analytically as time went on. The current structure is that we have a 24-hour web operation, which basically uses our offices in Hong Kong and Paris and New York as a kind of hand-off. Essentially, you can start the day wherever you want. Someone gets into the New York office at six o’clock A.M. to start reading the news and making sure that we have a website that is as current as possible. My particular job is focused on the news stories of the day, as opposed to the very big, investigative projects. As soon as I get up around 6:30 or so, I start checking the website, and making sure that it's where I think it should be. We move towards a 10 A.M. meeting. By 10 A.M., we want to have a sense of the major news stories developing that day, what have we positioned ourselves well to do, what might we be behind on, deployment that needs to be done, breaking news, [if ] we need to consult with the people who run the actual desks. [The meeting] is attended by the executive editor, the managing editor, myself and a few other people at my level, the desk heads or their deputies, the photo editor, the video editor, the social media editor, and so on. That first meeting is supposed to be very web-centric, to make sure that we have our web coverage deployment and priorities correct, which are set by the two top people, the executive editor and the managing editor, with all of us. That meeting starts with the news of the day, and we go around and talk about what angles we might pursue. We also use it as an early head's up for each of the desks to present what they think their non-news strongest stories might be. We need to make decisions early enough in the day to figure out that we have enough space to run something that might take up

"The challenge is how to be deep and fast. Our currency is to be deep. We were not as good at being fast," Photo by Emmie Avvakumova

Backtracks

33


a page. Then there’ll often be different kinds of meetings if we're brainstorming about a particular project or theme. A lot of my day is making sure that early in the morning I read a major competitor very thoroughly, before I get into work so I have an idea of what's out there, what we might need to keep in mind, what we might have missed. Then during the day, I'm conferring with the various desks about how the stories are shaping up, or continuing to look at the news. The page one meeting in the afternoon is at four, and that is more focused on the print paper, what's going on the print page one, how the print paper [is] going to look, we choose photographs, and there's a layout. But the thing is, you have to keep going with the web. If someone is saying to you, "We have this exclusive story," the question is well, "Are you ready to put on the web?" because you don't wait anymore. It continues all night, and we have a whole night crew, who takes it through the night, breaking news, hand off to Hong Kong, then hand off to Paris. Janine Ko: You worked in Tokyo for many, many years right? Susan Chira: I was a foreign correspondent. I majored in East Asian studies, Japanese history. Then I went to Japan, lived with a family and then I was also lucky enough to also be an intern in the Tokyo bureau of the New York Times. The Times allowed [me] to work in their office, and then when I was done with my year in Tokyo, I went back to New York and I got a job there. Now I have worked my whole life at the Times, which is also unusual. The way I did it is no longer the way most people do it. That’s probably for the best in some ways, because it’s probably better to get some experience before you get to a place like the Times. You’re able to experiment more, and you’re able to try out more things, but it was a great experience for me. Janine Ko: How do you think the way you moved up the Times ladder is different from how someone who’s interested in journalism today would move up? Susan Chira: The whole ladder that I knew and my cohort knew, [was] that you start[ed] at some small,

regional paper, more typically, and then you built your way up to a larger, more national paper. But those small regional papers are very few and far between now that have any kind of journalistic ambition, so online is an enormous area of opportunity for a young, would-be journalist. What you need to know is different now. The kind of experience you need to be a valuable employee is different now. You’ve got to be, as I’m sure you all are, completely conversant in how to handle all the new ways in which you can gather information and disseminate it, including video, including audio, including social media, and understanding how we reach new audiences, which us old people had to learn painfully. Janine Ko: So you think a reporter nowadays needs to have the complete package, since it’s all on your phone? Susan Chira: Yes. It doesn’t substitute for the core things that you need, which are really rigorous reporting ability, and clear and eloquent writing, and sometimes subject area knowledge. My husband is actually a professor of journalism and he always says to his students, reporting is the central fact. But they’ve changed their curriculum at a pretty prominent journalism school to recognize that the way they used to prepare journalists isn’t really as efficient. They have a reporting core class, but they’ve added alternative forms of storytelling. They now have a unit on video, and they have a unit on infographic kind of things, so how do you represent data, and how do you use it, report it, collate it. Those skills are expected now of people and it doesn’t mean that you’re not primarily a writer or a reporter, but you need to think that you can tell that story in multiple ways at the same time, or in alternative ways. Janine Ko: …How has social media changed the way the New York Times has been reporting? Susan Chira: … Social media is a marvelous tool for us. Of course, it’s a tool you have to use intelligently, but… social media can be a wonderful way of gathering information, and I’ll give you an example. One of my colleagues, Elizabeth Rosenthal… [is] doing this series in which she looks at the high cost of common [medical] procedures… and why are the prices… so high in

"we reward people who take risks. The photographer who gets closer gets the best picture, the journalist who stays longer gets the best story. It's a very morally ambiguous kind of situation."

34

reports

the United States visa-vi Europe or other industrialized cultures…. For every one of her pieces, [she has] put out a solicitation, “did you save your medical bills, would you be willing to come talk to me about how it was broken down.” In the presentation of the stories on the web, we embedded questions, like at the beginning of the story, “how much did you think this pregnancy would cost?”… so there’s both an interactive component and a solicitation… Rosenthal has, in fact, recruited almost all the subjects for her piece via social media as an initial point of contact. Then you follow that up with face-to-face meeting and a lot of discussion. You have to use the same kind of rigor… Obviously we all know if you see something on Twitter, you have to see if you can confirm it, but… I see it on Twitter first… I have, like many editors, my Twitter feed right here, on my main screen, and I glance at it, because it becomes an early warning system. Again, you don’t put something in the Times on the basis of Twitter, but it gets you going fast… We have a… social media team [that] has several components. They help advise… If we want to solicit reporting, they help us shape the questions. They help us devise a social media strategy if we have a particularly interesting story… Lily Grossbard: Where does the Times get it’s stories from, because it can’t have writers at all locations at all times? Who do you follow on Twitter? Susan Chira: There’s no one answer, because we have so many different subject areas. I’m constantly trying to broaden my Twitter feed. I follow a lot of news organizations, but I also follow people. You also look at blogs. I have a very big blog reading list, and that can vary by subject. You kind of trust the reporters to know their specialty, and you kind of build up a sense of what’re the most reliable sources of information, who are the most creative people, who tends to hear about things, conferences, papers, people call you. My job, at this stage, is really to watch what’s going on out there and make sure that something big isn’t being missed. I’ll be part of the alarm system, but I’m not initiating reporting the way I did when I was a reporter or… when I was an editor running a desk. Janine Ko: Do you have a biggest scoop or your favorite story? Susan Chira: My favorite job was being a foreign correspondent. I spent a lot of time in Japan and Korea, and the very exciting story was that­– this was in ‘86 - ’87 – South Korea had a military dictatorship, and it was essentially overthrown by a very big protest movement, which I covered. I think the most interesting thing is

trying to get a sense of what you’re going to write about a society, and how you’re going to cover it. The idea that over a period of time, your work could touch and try to illuminate all aspects of a society, an economy, a culture. Lily Grossbard: Did you ever find yourself in dangerous positions? Susan Chira: I had a few. I want to say very clearly that I was foreign editor during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so nothing I went though is anything near the experiences of the people I supervised, who were putting their lives at risk everyday in war scenes, but there were some hairy moments during the protests. We were tear-gassed a lot. Then there were a few moments where there were battles between the police and the protesters, and at one point I was in a car, and there was a lot of hostility towards the foreigners, so the car was attacked, but these were really not big deals. I don’t want to exaggerate them because I’ve spent a lot of my professional life working with people who were kidnapped, taken hostage, in war zones, watched people die, and so on. As foreign editor, I had the responsibility to protect and help those people, which was very demanding and to me, important. Janine Ko: So how do you balance the need to get the story versus the safety of the individual? Susan Chira: This is a very difficult question. When I got the job, I talked to everyone and I said “I just need to make it really clear, you are always able to say to me it’s too dangerous. I’m never going to tell you to go anywhere that you’re not comfortable with. You need to be able to say no and there’re not going to be any repercussions.” Then you learn it’s more subtle than that, because people who cover wars, who are very good at it, also are drawn to it, and they don’t always want to tell you when it’s too dangerous, they don’t always recognize when it’s too dangerous, and second-guessing them from afar is not an easy thing to do. So you have to make sure that you believe their judgment is OK. There have been a few times when we conspired to get people out because we felt that they were under too much strain, they weren’t protecting themselves sufficiently, their risk-taking appeared to be excessive. But we were very, very careful. Some news organizations would have very strict rules. We felt that wasn’t right. Each situation is different. But you get to recognize sometimes when people are a little too dulled to risk, and you need to really see if they maybe need a breather, or they need some counseling. We did a lot of training about post-traumatic stress, trying to understand the symptoms.

Backtracks

35


"Like many of these things, there are a lot of subtle cultural questions that we still need to examine. I think it's still difficult to be aggressive as a woman, and not have pople think you're obnoxious or pushy or react in a way that is discouraging.” Covering war is an incredibly traumatic thing for the people who live through it. On some level, we reward people who take risks. The photographer who gets closest gets the best picture, the journalist who stays longer gets the best story. It’s a very morally ambiguous kind of situation. I don’t want to let myself of the hook, but I think they heard from me very loud and clear, “Get out of there when you need to get out.” But I also think we all get excited about good stories. Right now, no one’s going into Syria [and] the downside is that people are getting slaughtered, and if you don’t see it close-up, you’re not able to write about it with the power that can make the world care. A lot of the journalists want to go in because they want to bear witness. I worry about some of the people who have put themselves forward, the damage that it’s caused their personal lives, or their emotional lives, but I also think there’s work that made a difference, and helped people see what was going wrong in the Iraq War. I think having people close to the ground helped to show the problems in a very vivid way that the government was not revealing to its people. Janine Ko: To get back to how the Times has changed, do you think the Times has become, since your time there, more conducive to women rising up the ranks? Susan Chira: [When] I was young there, there really no women in leadership at all, at all, at all, when I started out. It changed a great deal, there’s so much more opportunity. Like many of these things, there are a lot of subtle cultural questions that we still need to examine. I think it’s still difficult to be as aggressive as a woman, and not have people think you’re obnoxious or pushy or react in a way that is discouraging, [but] I think it’s enormously better. And Jill is extremely committed to recognizing, promoting, and fostering the careers of women, extremely committed. There are many, many things to think about, and we’re making progress, but like all institutions, we have a ways to go. I think it’s very important, having a woman running it, that’s a sea

36

change for us. Lily Grossbard: Have you noticed any obvious changes since the shift from Keller to Abramson? Susan Chira: Bill was very, very receptive to strong women. He liked them, he was completely unintimidated by them, I think that he gave many opportunities to them. There were a lot of women running desks when he was executive editor. I think Jill is just trying to continue pushing it forward. It’s not that there were blockages, but I think it’s just a question of continuing to dig deeper to understand what might stand in the way. And Jill is a very strong advocate for making sure that women are represented across the ranks, not just of management, but in senior reporting positions. Janine Ko: What was it like when you were just starting out at the Times? Susan Chira: There were a number of talented women, but they had sort of gotten thwarted. And there was much more overt sexism, much more sort of talk that wouldn’t be tolerated today. The idea of a workplace that was freer of innuendo or flirtation was not as advanced as it is now. I think a lot of people meant no harm, but nonetheless, I think we’re all more aware. I will say that the executive editor of the Times was a great mentor to me, and a wonderful man, but it was natural for a lot of the guys to pick out, as promising people, young guys who reminded them of them. And I think some of us women didn’t really have someone to say, “You’ve got promise, you remind me of me when I was your age,” and… that became clear as time went on and began to change after people began getting more organized and vocal about it.

reports

Mike

* Miller

Mike Miller is the Deputy Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal, and is based in New York. He oversees the Journal's features sections, including Personal Journal, Arena, Mansion, Off Duty, Review, WSJ Magazine, and sports. Miller first worked for the Journal as a summer intern in the New York bureau in 1983 and the following year joined the paper’s San Francisco bureau as a reporter covering technology. He returned to the New York bureau in August 1986 and continued to cover the technology industry. He became a senior special writer in September 1993 and covered health care and mental health. In December 1994, he was named a news editor for the media and marketing group, and in July 1997, he was named Marketplace editor. He became Page One editor in April 2000 and was appointed to his current position in July 2007.

*

Lily Grossbard: When did you first become interested in journalism? Mike Miller: As soon as I was interested in anything. I was the editor of my third grade newspaper, fourth, fifth, sixth, all the way on up. My third-grade newspaper I wrote by hand, I copied everything out, and then I don’t know if you’ve ever even seen or heard of these machines called rexigraphs. You’d write on this kind of stencil-y thing, and then you’d peel off the top page, very much like car-

Backtracks

Photo courtesy of Mike Miller

37


"Digital technology has obliterated the boundaries between all these different media like video and audio and print" sudden, you’re not just competing with the Times or the Globe, you’re competing with… major T.V. [networks].

An early version of the “Mansion” section for Friday, November 29, still in layout, compared with the actual version that ran in the paper.

Photos by Lily Grossbard bon paper, but it was like super steroidal carbon paper, because then you’d put this thing on a drum that you could crank by hand, and it would print multiple copies not just the one of carbon paper. So that was the dawn of newspaper technology for me, in the third grade at P.S. 84, handwriting and rexigraphing the news, which was that the hamsters died in our classroom. When I was in college and then when I got to the Journal as a summer intern in 1983, and then joined the staff in 1984, we were still on manual typewriters. Lily Grossbard: How would you say journalists start out today? Do they do online magazines? Mike Miller: It’s interesting. Technology has meant that there are many more entryways into a big news organization like the Wall Street Journal, and many other ways to show what a star you are. The core way is still to be a great reporter and a great writer, but if you are a great programmer, that is suddenly very helpful. Being on video is [also] a very compelling way to burnish your

résumé now. Digital technology has obliterated the boundaries between all these different media like video and audio and print, so suddenly we are in the video business too, like every news organization, and it can be really helpful to have a great reporter who’s fantastic on video. You don’t want to ever compromise on the writing and reporting that are the core requirements of being a great journalist, but I think of it as all these extra ways to excel. There are different ways to tell stories now, and it might not only be a linear narrative from beginning to end. There’ve always been different ways to excel as a journalist, and they’re in tension with each other. You could break news, you could be a great writer, you could be great on video, you could be great on social, you could be a techie. We still want you to be good at all those things, but technology means there’re many new ways to become a star. Lily Grossbard: So how would you say, in terms of having video, having an online component, having the print Journal, that you’re competing? Because now all of a

"That was the dawn of newspaper technology for me, in the third grade at P.S. 84, handwriting and rexigraphing the news, which was that the hamsters died in our classroom" 38

reports

Mike Miller: Right, so everybody is now in the same pool, because we’re doing video, the historic T.V. companies like CNN or the broadcast news organizations all have their own websites with print on it, and, even more we’re competing with a guy in a basement who’s blogging. The barrier to entry for all these media is vanishing. You used to need satellites and a giant truck and crew and team to be a player in video, and now you need your phone and a decent Wi-Fi connection. So yes, that makes our head hurt when you think about all the ways we’re competing and with all the different people. We used to look around, once upon a time, like when I got to the paper, we were a business newspaper, and we were really the only one. [Then] everybody started competing with us on business news, then we all broadened, so suddenly we’re competing with every other news organization, and yes, every news organization is competing with every human being with an iPhone. We’re on both ends of that drama. On covering the news, we suddenly have lots and lots of competitors that we didn’t use to have. On the other hand, in something like video, which isn’t our strength, we’re taking advantage of the fact that there’s a low barrier to entry. Just as the rest of the world has become a news player and competed with us, we’ve become a video player and we can compete with the rest of the world by literally standing in the middle of Tahrir Square in Egypt with a cellphone, and putting it on the site a couple minutes later. Lily Grossbard: So how do you think the fact that everyone can suddenly produce video, can Tweet, has affected citizen journalism, especially as we saw with the Arab Spring? What exactly does the rise of citizen journalism mean for the Journal? Mike Miller: It is a threat and an opportunity, like all these new phenomena. The threat is that the Journal is not the only journalist in the middle of Tahrir Square, there’re thousands of them. The opportunity is, in some ways more than ever, you need a trusted professional team to tell you what’s going on. You don’t know whom to trust of the thousands of people posting from Tahrir Square. Actually, what we’re able to do is filter, make

judgments, harness the best of them, say “check out this one person” and maybe even profile them, write about them… It’s scary and bewildering that there are so many sources of news, but I think it’s helping us, and we see this online as our traffic continues to grow, that people still want help, and you still want a filter, and a grown-up guide to what’s really going on there. Lily Grossbard: So what about the issue of quality over speed, breaking the news versus being sure that it’s accurate, being sure that it’s well-written and well-produced? Mike Miller: We struggle with that. The pressure to be fast is growing with each passing day. In business journalism, which is our specialty still, the value of speed is actually measurable and real in money, because if we tell you that a deal is going to happen before our rivals do, investors can respond to that and actually literally make money. It has been true for us always that our stories move markets, and shape fortunes. We care about speed, and we know that our customers and readers literally make a living from speed, and yes that makes it harder and harder to have layers of editors and [to check for] accuracy, and we have adapted very well, although it’s never perfect. We have a new, real-time news desk, we’ve restructured to build a desk that is specifically about breaking fast news that is going to go out in seconds, and they have come up with a whole structure that still puts a couple of eyeballs on everybody’s stories, but doesn’t gum it up in layers that slow it down. We tell our reporters over and over and over again, that it’s better to be right than to be fast. We’re talking about accuracy, but fairness is the other big issue, too, that is at risk in a world of speed. And Twitter makes it even harder to do, because we don’t review reporters’ tweets, and we sometimes wish they weren’t tweeting. Lily Grossbard: What is your typical day like, then? Do you do much online [management]? Mike Miller: My current job here is a little out of the frontline of real-time news because what I do at the moment, and for the last five or six years, is oversee the features sections of the Journal. We’ve been expanding from our base as a business newspaper into broader and broader coverage as a general interest paper. We’re still

Backtracks

39


the dominant business paper and that’s still our red-hot core, but we made a strategic decision five-plus years ago that we couldn’t exist anymore as a second newspaper. For all those years that we were just a business newspaper, you’d read your local paper, and then if you were interested in business, you’d read your Journal, and we were the second read. We didn’t have to cover a lot of the big things going on in the world because you’d get that from your first paper. When our bosses realized, “Well, God, it’s hard enough to make a living as a first newspaper anymore, and it’s really going to be hard to make a living as a second newspaper, that’s not a viable model,” we started broadening and broadening and adding all these other things that newspapers have that readers really love, like sections about arts and culture, and food, and fashion, and travel, and design, and real estate, and books, and sports. I’m working on those sections now. It’s now a four-section paper most days, and the fourth section is usually a lighter feature section. Most of the time, those sections are not right on the frontlines of breaking stories, although from time-to-time they are. Our art reporter was tweeting live from the Christie’s auction where the Francis Bacon triptych of Lucian Freud set the record for art sold at an auction. The world of breaking news overlaps.

brass, [for example].” We did a cover on why everyone is using brass in their homes. One of our editors heard that enough times in just his conversations, and at parties, and in things he was reading online, that he said “We’re going to make a big call on brass,” and that was a huge story for us. Lily Grossbard: Looking at the website specifically, how has having the online Journal affected subscriptions? Mike Miller: We were one of the first papers that charged for online access, and at the time, when we did, back in the 80’s, everyone said, “Oh, you guys just don’t get the internet, the internet’s not about charging, the internet’s free,” and “you’ll never get traffic if you’re charging,” and we’re really glad we did, because now every newspaper on earth, including the 99 percent of them that put up their websites for free, wish that that was a source of revenue. What’s stressful about all of this, and fascinating, and a great challenge, is how do we present all of these stories online, and what do they look like, and when do we put them up and if we put them up online before the print section runs, does that hurt the print section’s readership.

Lily Grossbard: Where do you find stories?

Lily Grossbard: Maybe it’s a little early to judge, but would you say that thus far, the Wall Street Journal has weathered the shift pretty well?

Mike Miller: [Twitter] turned out to be an incredible tool. That is one way we all hear about things. My job is not intensely about finding stories, because the best stories are coming from the writers and beat reporters who are out there in the world and hearing about things and proposing them to us. I think they would answer that Twitter and social media are increasingly a helpful way to find stories. But they’re also running around the world, talking to people. In the course of writing one story, you hear something about ten other things, and you file it away, and suddenly you start making connections. “Well, in my last three conversations, everybody mentioned

Mike Miller: It is early to judge, but we think we have weathered it quite well thus far. We’ve been early and successful on each digital platform, and we’ve been early and successful in building a business model that works. The thing is, it just keeps changing. The pace of adaptation is so fast. You just can’t be complacent and say “We’ve gotten it.” The whole web industry is watching the shift to smartphones with amazement. It’s scary for all of us because these trends come and go so fast, especially trends among young people. Anyway, it’s very clear that people are moving, at the moment, to mobile phones, and we see surging traffic there. Our mobile

"The barrier to entry for all these media is vanishing. You used to need satellites and a giant truck and crew and team to be a player in video, and now you need your phone and a decent Wi-Fi connection." 40

reports

Plates from the first run of the “Off-Duty,” “Review,” and “Mansion sections. phone app is fantastic, but if you ask how we’ve weathered the change, we are racing to keep up with the move onto mobile, and who knows if mobile is going to be the tool everybody uses? I was playing with Google Glass the other day. Is that going to replace the phone for how we get the news? It’s hard to imagine, but if you had said ten years ago “Oh, your phone is going to be how you get the news,” I would have laughed.It changes very fast, which means that all our fixed ideas of what a newspaper story looks like have to change fast too. Lily Grossbard: Back to formatting things online, users expect so much more multimedia content. What are the differences between say, a feature that runs in the paper and a feature that runs online? Mike Miller: This move to digital is creating a demand for more content. There is this expectation that there will be other formats online, that we won’t just run a story, we’ll run videos, we’ll run slideshows, we’ll run audio, and not only that, but we’ll think of beautiful new ways

Photo by Lily Grossbard

to present stories online that have nothing to do with the way they appeared in print. You just have to be imaginative, and it’s really tough. You have to be ingenious. You have to push a lot of the ingenuity down to the ranks of the reporters. The good reporters are doing more themselves. And then like other newspapers, we’re experimenting with deluxe ways to do this. If you go look at www.wsj.com/trials, we did a great big ten-part multimedia extravaganza project online that was really beautiful, that harnessed digital tools in a very creative way to tell the story. A reporter had spent six years with a group of families whose kids were all dying of the same obscure, incurable disease, as these families raced to take it upon themselves to get a drug developed that would treat this disease and shake loose the medical establishment and the regulatory establishment to solve this problem. It was incredibly moving, and it was a great reading experience because you’d meet a new character, and there was either a video of them talking, or there was a great use of these sort of Harry Potter-like picture, these photographs in motion. So you’d meet a character

Backtracks

41


The pace of adaptation is so fast. You just can’t be complacent and say “We’ve gotten it.” The whole web industry is watching the shift to smartphones with amazement. and you’d see this person sitting there, but it wasn’t a still picture, they were moving around, and you felt like you were in a room with them, and you’d come to a part of the story that says they’ve all got this interesting disease that has to do with how the body processes cholesterol, and this beautiful graphic would appear that explains it much better than words could’ve, and you can see exactly what’s going on in the cell. It’s great for a big news organization that has resources and that has fantastic talent to put behind a giant, deluxe extravaganza like that. What’s harder is to figure out how to do that day-to-day.

Then what’s interesting about workflow is something will break, we’ll put it online Like [when] Walmart named a new C.E.O, the story we put out there is very bare bones, so what we try to do then is improve it during the course of the day, so that by the time you get your print paper, here’s the definite story that says what’s happening. But that’s still hard, because the Walmart reporter that used to just spend the day reporting and would write it all up at the end of the day is now writing constantly while still reporting and writing multiple versions of the story.

Lily Grossbard: I’m assuming that having online has really affected workflow? Mike Miller: Totally. Because we used to have very quiet mornings, and we were staffed to have editors starting in the afternoon, and everything came to a clattering finale right on deadline at around six o’clock or so. Now we’re staffed round-the-clock, and we have an editing desk in Hong Kong and an editing desk in London, our Asia headquarters and our Europe headquarters, so that at a certain point, when they all turn off the lights here at one in the morning or so, they hand it over to Asia, and when Asia turns off the lights, they hand it over to Europe. Even if you’re a U.S. reporter and something happens at three A.M. our time and know there’s nobody here to edit your story, someone’s there in Hong Kong, or someone’s there in London. 99 times out of 100, when they’re done editing the story, they’ll put it right online, and they’ll send a note to our social media team so that they’ll start tweeting it if it’s a really good story. That’s a team that didn’t exist a few years ago and are suddenly a huge part of the workflow. If we have an amazing scoop that will be a front-page exclusive in print, we’ll talk about if it will hold until then. But more often than not, it can’t [wait for print], because in the real world, people will hear about it, and it’s perishable, so we want the credit for it.

THE DIVIDED STATES OF AMERICA

Why Congress is So Hated by Akhil Rajan

W

ith a 9% approval rating, according to Gallup, Inc., as of November 12, the popularity of the United States Congress has reached a new low. This October, however, Gallup found that 43% of people approved of their representatives. The vast majority of Americans are dissatisfied with Capitol Hill’s leadership, yet they elect the same congressmen year after year: in the 2012 election, Congress fielded a 90% re-election rate. The real reason behind this is that America’s current political system promotes the concept of party politics over ideological unity. Nowadays, a candidate owes allegiance to his or her political party, rather than his or her constituents. What’s worse is that in today’s politically fractured Washington, this shift in political values has dire consequences for America’s legislation; this is why a bill with widespread support can still fail. The majority of poll respondents cited party gridlock as the reason for their Congressional disapproval. This gridlock is likely caused by the fact that voters want their representatives to make states’ needs

a priority, whereas they believe Congress as a whole should represent the needs of the nation. According to a June study by the Pew Research Center, most respondents to a poll agreed that, theoretically, senators should vote in the interests of the nation over those of their respective states. When asked about real issues, however, respondents repeatedly preferred the option in which a senator’s supposed voting records aligned more closely with the the interests of his or her state. Thus, friction and gridlock results because states’ priorities and national priorities do not always align. Another hurdle for the Senate in passing Another hurdle for the Senate in passing bills is the filibuster, a mode of debate where senators speak at length, sometimes for entire days, to continue debate on a bill and avoid a vote. To end a filibuster and close debate, obtaining a three-fifths majority is necessary, a process known as cloture. In the 112th Congress, there were 115 motions for cloture, indicative of the unprecedented rates at which senators are turning to filibusters to promote their agen-

“The vast majority of Americans are dissatisfied with Capitol Hill’s leadership,yet they elect the same congressmen year after year.”

every news organization is competing with every human being with an iPhone. 42

reports

Backtracks

43


“Nowadays, a candidate owes allegiance to his or her political party, rather than his or her constituents.”

da. Filibusters are increasingly conducted along party lines, to frustrate the opposition so that it does not have time to pass necessary legislation, and have sent the Senate entirely out of control. The fact that there are some issues on which state and federal government largely do agree highlights this issue of party allegiance within the current political system. For example, 73% of the American populace is in favor of ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which works to prevent LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace. The bill recently passed in the Senate, but it is unlikely that it will even be voted on in the House, because Speaker John Boehner, who, as a hardlining Republican, is adamantly opposed to it, can use his position to ensure the bill is never up for debate. In this scenario, it clear how Boehner, in being true to his party’s values, is not paying enough attention to his constituents, who are calling for ENDA’s passage. With all of these roadblocks to a bill’s passage, it’s no wonder that Americans find Congress ineffective. The current system promotes the notion of successful politics as dependent upon backroom deals and voting favors, and completely takes away from the democratic process. What exists now is a two-party system of factions representing polar opposites on the political spectrum. Parties play an increasingly important role, to the point where the voice of a representative’s constituents no longer matter. As Democrats and Republicans fight to determine who will win the next round in the game of politics, the nation’s needs are increasingly ignored, and the people’s voice isolated. It is frivolous procedures, like filibusters, withholding

Photo by Corinne Singer

44

reports

Backtracks

45


“With all of these roadblocks to a bill’s passage, it’s no wonder that Americans find Congress ineffective. The current system promotes the notion of successful politics as dependent upon backroom deals and voting favors, and completely takes away from the democratic process.”

voting on motions, and the fact that congressional debates all center on partisan politics that drive up congress’s disapproval rating. These policies still exist because they were once effective, in the early days of the United States. They no longer are, however, and only detract from the legislative process. The United States Congress is at a historic low in terms of unpopularity, and has reached a crossroads. It has already taken some steps to enact desperately-needed reform: in November, the Senate passed a bill that will allow cloture for filibusters on executive and judicial branch nominees to pass with a simple rather than a three-fifths majority. What remains, however, is for Congress to instigate the widespread political and ideological reform that will aid America in the long term.

Photo by Corinne Singer

Art by Lila Dolan 46

reports

Backtracks

47


The Great Middle Eastern Mix-Up:

A Brief History of the Complicated US-Iran Relationship By Henry Manning Staff Columnist

O

n Sunday, November 24th, multilateral discussions in Geneva coupled with secret bilateral dialogue between Tehran and Washington concluded with Iran and the Security Council P5 nations (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China), as well as Germany, signing a six-month interim nuclear arms deal. It addresses tensions between the international community and Iran over its nuclear program and the crippling sanctions that the United Nations, following the United States’s lead, imposed on the nation. Iran will halt all enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade purity for the next six months, while the United States will give Iran access to a small fraction of its confiscated foreign assets and will not impose further sanctions in the next six months. The terms are not exceptionally ground shattering; US officials have described their relief package as “limited, temporary, and reversible,” and the same is true of Iran’s concessions. However, international officials herald the deal as a landmark event in US-Iranian relations, as it is the first formal agreement between the two nations after more than three decades of hostility. It could signify the beginning of renewed peace in the relationship, or, as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu termed it, a “historic mistake.”

Photo courtesy of photo.worldisround.com

48

Reports

Backtracks

49


Roots of Conflict: 1951-1978

Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, who nationalized the Iranian oil market, drawing the fury of the CIA

To understand the significance of this diplomatic breakthrough, consider the history of political tension between Iran and the United States. In the wake of World War II, nationalist movements spread throughout the region. Many hoped that Iran’s history of rule by absolutist, monarchical Shahs might transition into a future of constitutional monarchy and, eventually, democracy. The events of 1953 ended these illusions. The democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh nationalized the lucrative Iranian oil market. At the time, a British company (now British Petroleum) enjoyed a near-absolute monopoly over the market, courtesy of an earlier Shah. In response, the Central Intelligence Agency and MI6 (the British intelligence agency) instigated a coup that overthrew Mosaddegh, killed between 300 and 800 Iranians, and re-installed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as absolute ruler. It is unclear whether America’s primary motive was to protect the economic interests of Britain, its ally, or to contain perceived Soviet influence in the region, but it was likely an amalgamation. Iranians saw the coup as a hypocritical and imperialistic violation of their sovereignty. Over the next twenty-five years, America’s extensive support for the Shah’s oppressive reign would only deepen Iranians’ distrust of the United States.

A Revolutionary Shift: 1979-2001

In 1979, the Iranian people overthrew the Shah in the popular and non-violent Iranian Revolution. The movement began as a largely secular, democratically-inclined uprising but was soon hijacked by more organized religious groups. The result was the theocratic Islamic republic that is Iran today, headed by a Shiite cleric known as the Grand Ayatollah. This new government expressed hostility towards Western nations, probably because of lingering tensions over the 1953 coup. Needless to say, the United States was surprised and disturbed by the fall of the Shah and ascendance of a revolutionary, theocratic, and anti-American regime. The subsequent Iranian Embassy Crisis and President Carter’s failed rescue mission damaged already tenuous relations, and, in 1980, Iran and the United States broke diplomatic relations, which to this day remain unrestored. In subsequent decades, Iran indirectly supported groups that the United States considered to be terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and Hamas. Throughout the 1980s, the United States also armed and assisted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq War, even facilitating the use of chemical weapons on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, whom the United States armed and assisted against Iran

50

Reports

Iranian soldiers. Iran saw friendly American-Iraqi relations as not only hypocritical, but as an attempt to undermine its anti-American regime. In 1988, the United States even attacked the Iranian navy for mining in the Persian Gulf, and later that year, an American ship shot down an Iranian passenger plane, killing nearly 300 civilians, having negligently mistook it for a warplane. The behavior of the United States following the Islamic Revolution reinforced the Iranian suspicion that America’s ultimate goal was a regime change.

Modern Relations: 2001-present

After 9/11, it seemed possible that the United States and Shiite-majority Iran might work together to fight Sunni extremists, including Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Iran supported the invasion of Afghanistan and campaign against Al Qaeda with extensive intelligence, and there was hope that the presence of a common enemy might ease diplomatic tensions. However, in his 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush destroyed such progress when he labeled Iran as a member of “Axis of Evil” (along with Iraq and North Korea). At this time, the CIA accused Iran of developing a nuclear program (Iran maintains that its nuclear activities are solely in the pursuit of “peaceful nuclear energy,” a right granted by the United Nations’ Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). Iranian grievances against the United States grew with frequent border incursions and naval altercations between the two nations, and increasingly strict US sanctions that devastated Iran’s economy and population (in addition to UN and EU sanctions). Meanwhile, the US denounced Iran for its support of terrorist networks in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and Iraq, its rampant humanitarian abuses (namely the brutal repression of the 2009 Green Revolution, a se- President George W. Bush ries of popular protests in response to a rigged election), and its flaunting of UN declared Iran a member of the mandates to halt its nuclear program. The occasional threats by Israel to preemp- “Axis of Evil” in his 2002 State tively strike Iran further alienated the nation, while the inflammatory rhetoric of of the Union Address. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (including his denial of the Holocaust) fed Western perceptions of Iran as irrational and untrustworthy with nuclear capabilities. This image of Iran as a volatile, destabilizing power dedicated to the spread of Islam may be outdated and exaggerated. The Iran-Iraq War dimmed many of Iran’s of these once-real aspirations, and though it remains a formidable regional power, its stated goal is self-protection. Radicals like Ahmadinejad frighten the world with their talk of the America as the “Great Satan” and of eliminating the “Little Satan,” Israel. Behind them, however, is a more rational leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In contrast to many Iranian hardliners, Khamenei is not fundamentally anti-West or anti-American, though he does fear what he believes to be the U.S.’s goal of deposing his theocratic regime. He is not a rash ideologue but rather a (somewhat) justifiably paranoid leader. Newly elected president Hassan Rouhani ran with a platform dedicated to international nuclear transparency.

Backtracks

51


Iran Right Now

The dynamic of US-Iranian relations took a dramatic turn when, in June 2013, the pragmatist Hassan Rouhani was elected president, his platform being that he would repair Iran’s international reputation through nuclear transparency. These sentiments mirrored those of Barack Obama towards Iran, who had advocated reconciliation his 2008 election. Rouhani’s ascendance was not a change in Iranian leadership, because the Ayatollah still holds absolute power. It does, however, suggest a shift in Khamenei’s own attitudes towards the US, as he demonstrated when he allowed Rouhani to initiate peace talks with Secretary of State John Kerry and representatives of the P5+1 countries. The result of these talks was the interim deal that is currently an international focus. Iran has agreed that for the next six months, it will enrich uranium only to 5% (the amount necessary for peaceful energy production), will dilute or dispose of all uranium enriched beyond that margin, and will allow the international community to carry out rigorous inspections of its nuclear facilities to ensure it is following the agreement. In return, the international community will ease some sanctions, returning to the nation an estimated seven billion dollars. More importantly, the US will refrain from adding new sanctions while the interim agreement is in place. Arguably, the deal’s most significant aspect is that it implicitly recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful ends, and for its unprecedented steps towards reconciliation and President Barack Obama insists that away from conflict and war. he will “turn off the relief and ratchet In the immediate aftermath of the deal, one question is obvious: what up the pressure” should Iran fail to do both parties hope to gain? In his essay on US-Iranian relations, “Time comply with IAEA inspections. for Détente with Iran,” Ray Takeyh, an Iranian-American Middle East scholar, gives one possible answer from the US perspective: Washington’s only realistic option is to normalize diplomatic relations with Tehran. He posits that Cold War-style containment has not and will not work, because Iran exercises influence indirectly through uncontainable terrorist and proxy groups, military options are unfeasible, and sanctions do not hamper its nuclear development, yet strengthen its resolve to deter a hostile West. The Islamic Republic is here to stay, and the US must learn to peacefully coexist. Takeyh recommends that the US resume diplomatic (and eventually economic) relations with Iran, thereby giving Iranian moderates the upper hand in domestic politics and sidelining radicals. Besides the potential for a better relationship, the US and its allies have an immediate interest in slowing the growth of Iran’s nuclear program. Current estimates put its breakout time (the time necessary to build a nuclear weapon on short notice) at between one and two months; analysts predict that restrictions on enrichment could double or even triple that time. The US will also benefit from the deal’s stipulation that Iran give inspectors from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) full access to ensure that it is fulfilling its side of the bargain. And the US benefits for relatively little cost: Obama has repeatedly assured skeptics that this is a trial for the Iranians; if they do not comply, he says, the US will simply “turn off the relief and ratchet up the pressure.” What you think Khamenei and his government’s motives are

Publicly, Iran has always maintained that it does not want atomic weapons. 52

reports

for accepting the deal depends on whether you believes they genuinely desire reconciliation or not. Perhaps Khamenei is still fixed on building a nuclear weapon and this concession serves to weaken America’s bargaining position while the Iranian nuclear program bides its time or even continues in secret. Some have denounced the deal as too easy on Iran; true, the toughest sanctions remain in place, but Iran’s stockpiles of low-enriched uranium (enough for 5 bombs) are unaffected, many of its 19,000 centrifuges are untouched, and its potential route to a nuclear weapon through plutonium-enrichment is not even addressed. If Iran takes notes from other recent dictatorships that engaged in nuclear activities, it will note that Gadhafi gave up his nuclear program and Hussein was unable to complete his, and both were the victims of Western military interventions; in contrast, North Korea, which is perceived as potentially being armed with a nuclear weapon, has survived nearly seven decades. Some in Iran believe that the nuclear deterrent is necessary to defend the country against nuclear-armed Israel and America. If Khamenei believes that having attaining a weapon is worth the risk then this deal may be an overture to stall for time. Alternately, Iran may genuinely want to improve its legitimacy by proving to the world that its nuclear program is legitimate, and in doing so begin to reverse the devastating sanctions. Publicly, Iran has always maintained that it does not want atomic weapons. International embargoes have resulted in an unemployment rate of 24%, periods of hyperinflation and food shortages, and an annual loss of more than $60 billion. Perhaps the international pressure and isolation have convinced Khamenei that it is time for Iran to come in from the cold and take its place as a legitimate regional power. Rouhani’s election and policies make this seem likely. The interim deal also removes the threat of an imminent strike by Israel. Iran will take advantage of spreading its influence in the region, especially through trade and diplomatic revivals with friendly Gulf States, to make it more difficult to revert to the old status quo after six months. Whether Iran is sincere or not, it will benefit greatly from the modest relief, the break from new sanctions, and the recognition of its right to nuclear energy that it has gleaned from this deal.

Reactions to the deal

Of course, other nations and groups have had varying reactions to the deal. The chief extra-regional players have been largely supportive with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The EU, which organized the talks in the first place, praised the cooperation and determination of the negotiators and expressed optimism that the deal could ease global tensions. President Vladmir Putin of Russia agreed that the pact was a positive development but warned that it was only a first step of a long road to reducing tension. China mirrored its neighbor and urged those involved to move ahead quickly so as not to lose momentum. Several of Iran’s regional neighbors are not as optimistic. A Saudi official said, “the Saudi government has been very concerned about these negotiations with Iran and unhappy at the prospect of a deal.” This response may be due to the fac that Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have been longtime rivals for a variety of reasons. Saudi Arabia is dominated by the ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism, while the vast majority of Iranians practice Shiite Islam, which some Wahhabi clerics regard as heretical. The Saudi Arabia sees the Islamic Republic as a challenge to its regional hegemony. Ever since the 1979 Iranian Revolution the two nations have been politically opposed as well. Saudi Arabia had supported the Shah’s oppressive rule and went on to aid Iraq (the aggressor) in the Iran-Iraq War, allegedly providing Saddam Hussein with $1 billion every month. The Kingdom also maintains extremely close relations with Iran’s nemesis, the US. Another point of tension is that, if oil sanctions were removed, Iran’s oil reserves could challenge Saudi Arabia’s dominance of the market. So Saudi Arabia’s denunciation of the deal must be taken with a grain of salt, given its self-interest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the Iranian-US deal as a “historic mistake.”

53


some of the greatest opposition to the White House’s deal comes from just down the road, in the Republican House.

in the matter. That being said, its concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and support for terrorist proxies are legitimate. Even more opposed to the interim deal than Saudi Arabia is Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the deal as a “historic mistake” that would fail in controlling Iran’s nuclear ambitions and ultimately help it in its quest for a bomb, putting the entire region in jeopardy. Israel is another archrival of Iran for historical, religious, and political reasons, and accordingly it feels extremely threatened by the notion that Iran (whose leaders have publicly vowed destruction to Israel) could develop a nuclear device in mere months or weeks. Netanyahu and his government contend that the region will not be safe until Iran is forced to demolish all of its centrifuges, remove its enriched uranium, and dismantle its heavy water reactor that could enrich weapon’s-grade plutonium. Pointing out that Israel was excluded from the Geneva deal and thus is not bound by its terms, the Prime Minister has declared his government will work relentlessly for the next six months to produce a permanent deal that more fully limits Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons. If the deal fails and Iran continues its program, Israel reserves for itself the right to strike preemptively and even unilaterally. The Israel position is essentially that Iran intends to continue the program and thus this deal is nothing more than an “Iranian deception and a world self-delusion.” Like many critics, the Israeli government holds that the world should have let the sanctions force Iran into a more permanent deal. However, some of the greatest opposition to the White House’s deal comes from just down the road, in the Republican House. Many congressmen raise the same issues as Israel, with the added accusation that the Obama administration orchestrated the deal to distract from the problems of the new healthcare laws. Some also fault the administration for abandoning “our allies,” Israel and Saudi Arabia. To obstruct the deal, House Republicans are considering enacting legislation that would create new sanctions against Iran in violation of the deal, a prospect Iran has stated it would respond to by withdrawing from the pact. Some of the Republicans’ criticisms appear legitimate while others conspicuously resemble blind partisan opposition. Regardless of what one thinks about the Republicans’ reasons, their interference illustrates an important point; though the Iran deal is an international issue, much of what the governments of the nations involved can do is constrained by domestic politics. A rational leader can only lead as far as his not-necessarily-rational constituency will follow him. Woodrow Wilson learned the hard way that an international agreement reached among foreign delegates is useless if, when that leader returns home, his citizens reject the agreement. Obama may wish for extensive reconciliation, but strong domestic opposition by the Republicans and unfavorable public opinion of Iran limit him considerably to more modest advances than he would prefer. Netanyahu campaigned on his resolve to challenge the Iranian ascendance that he likened to the rise of the Nazis, and now he must use such strong rhetoric and appear tough to maintain control at home. For its part, Saudi Arabia’s leadership gets its religious legitimacy from anti-Shiite Wahhabi clerics for whose sake it is obligated to oppose any Iranian victory. Most important, Iranian leaders like Rouhani and even Khamenei are restrained somewhat by the hardliners; they cannot pursue complete reconciliation to quickly for fear of being branded traitors and unpatriotic. Hence, Rouhani must declare false victories to the public like that the deal “explicitly stipulated” Iran’s right to enrichment or that “all sanctions will be lifted.” International politics are partially subordinate to domestic politics, and with irrational and emotional publics this problem will continue to hinder progress in efforts at détente between the West and Iran.

54

reports

Possible Outcomes

How these situation will unfold is nearly impossible to predict accurately, however there are several general outcomes that seem possible. The first outcome is that either the US or Iran violates its terms and diplomacy fails spectacularly. This could occur either if Republican obstructionists and Israelis win out and impose new sanctions or Iran does not comply with the nuclear regulations or refuses full access to the IAEA inspectors. In a scenario in which one or both players err, hardliners would have the opportunity to accuse the moderate leaders of being too weak and seize power. That would be catastrophic because it would resoundingly discredit diplomacy for the future. This episode could also end inconclusively if both parties comply with the terms of the deal but after six months they are unable to reach any further agreement. In this case, diplomacy would be marginalized but not permanently abandoned. Moderates could retain control with a measure of political jockeying, the status quo would resume, and negotiations could be reopened in the future. The third and most exciting potential outcome is that after six months of cooperation, the US, the P5+1, and Iran are able to forge a permanent agreement tolerate by Israel that further limits Iran’s potential to build nuclear weapons but also begins to dismantle the system of sanctions. This outcome is admittedly idealistic, but it would be impossible if these nation’s leaders had not come together and agreed upon this interim deal. From a Western perspective there are certainly some risks involved in the Geneva agreement, but the potential gain, a lessening or end of tensions with Iran, is invaluable. In the years to come, November 24, 2013 may be looked upon as the turning point in the course of our long, difficult relationship with Iran.

Art by Scarla Pan All other photos courtesy of WikiCommons

International politics are partially subordinate to domestic politics, and with irrational and emotional publics this problem will continue to hinder progress in efforts at détente between the West and Iran. Backtracks

55


CHINA AIR LAWS By Eric Alpert 56

reports

On the morning of January 29, 2013, citizens of Beijing, China woke up and took a deep breath of some of the dirtiest air in the world. The air quality index, as measured by a device atop the United States Embassy in central Beijing, had reached 517. To put that into perspective, the United States rates 100 as the minimum national standard of air quality, and anything above that could be dangerous. In fact, 517 does not even register on air quality index charts. Levels above 300 are considered a serious health threat, and above 500, it is unsafe for individuals to even leave their homes. So how did China’s air quality reach such critical levels? Over the past several decades, China economy has been growing rapidly, the cost being massive fuel consumption and harmful environmental impact. China is responsible for 87 percent of the total global rise in coal use since 2011, it’s consumption growin 9 percent, or 325 million tons, since then. This all results in 47 percent of the global coal consumption. Since 2011, Chinese have come out en masse to protest the environmental damage. Thousands of people took to the streets during the past two years in cities such as Dalian, Tianjin, and Xiamen to oppose the construction of new chemical plants, while protesters have stalled or stopped the construction of coal-fired power plants in southern provinces.

Backtracks

57


the government will actually enforce the new laws, especially considering that the last round of regulations produced in 2010 went largely unnoticed. The people of China want better air quality standards, as they have demonstrated in the streets of major cities. Foreseeing such mandates, some companies, including Honda, included elaborate wastewater management systems in new auto plants. Company representatives reasoned that in the event China did impose tougher standards, it would be cheaper to build with stricter standards in mind than to retrofit plants according to the new policies. The true question is whether or not China’s new policies will be enough. Critics maintain that all will be ineffective if the nation’s factories and plants continue to pollute at their current rate. The inevitable fact is that more damage will be done before the effects of these regulations will change anything.

The most frightening aspect of the whole situation is that the extent of the problem, and the fact that the government has only recently admitted to its chronic avoidance of the issue. On the worst days, visibility can be reduced to as little as a fifty meters. Since 2000, China has been attempting to amend it’s air pollution laws, but was met with little success. Even after the government brought U.S. experts to help in 2008, pollution has continued to build due to the rapid expansion of industry, trading enforcement of the laws for economic growth.

It is alarming to see that pollution could ever be this bad, but even more so after considering that it took thousands of angry citizens before the government paid the issue any attention. Chinese citizens turned to American reports of air quality and pollution levels because their own government does not require companies to report emission levels. The new acts show promise, but only time will reveal the extent of environmental and social damage, and if such damage is under control. Until then, facemasks and high-powered ventilation have become necessities in the middle of China’s biggest cities.

Now, face masks are increasingly common as people go about their lives, and parents choose schools based on air filtration rather than academics. 1.2 million individuals died prematurely in 2010 as a result of air pollution. The fact that the Chinese State Council, the Chinese equivalent to the American cabinet, is forcing cities to create emergency response plans for heavy pollution, as it did in June of this year, is indicative of a serious problem. One major concern is that air pollution is especially mobile and cannot be contained to one region or another. The environmental damage will continue long after stricter regulations are in place. Fortunately, to deal with its air quality problems, China has proposed and put into action a number of plans. The first is the removal of all cars that failed to meet the Euro 1 Emissions Standard by 2015. Most of these are vehicles that were registered before the end of 2005 (about 180,000 vehicles). The government has also been closing rare earth refineries all over China until they install new emissions control equipment, as well as ordering factories to reduce their emission by 30 percent for each unit of economic output by the end of 2017. China has also pushed for multinational corporations operating within their borders to adopt cleaner operations. Though these acts should push China towards a cleaner future, many question if

58

reports

Backtracks

59


peru JOEY SALVO

Last summer I took a trip to Peru

with 11 other Andover students to study archaeology. Prior to setting out on the Inca Trail, a 26 kilometer path that would take me to Machu Picchu, our group stayed for a few nights with a family of farmers living in the countryside, in order to get a feel for life in the Peruvian countryside. For the most part, the land and the people seemed to fulfill the picturesque stereotype of a very rural existence. The house was a somewhat ramshackle structure of adobe bricks, and, with the exception of a road that passed by the chicken coop, we were surrounded by nothing but fields. There were a few anomalies, however, in the cultural

60

Reports

Backtracks

Photo by Alex Westfall

61


One lonely desert highway I traveled on was flanked on either side by nearly identical billboards, different only in that one proclaimed “Coca-Cola” and the other shouted “Pepsi.”

landscape. In the main room of the house, the kitchen and dining area, a modern radio and CD player rested incongruously in the window next to open electrical wires. There was even an iPod connector. At night, I would see my host-mother or host-father walking around with a battery-powered flashlight, and almost every twenty minutes I would hear my host family’s cellphone make its presence known with its tinny version of “Ride of the Valkyries.” I thought back to some of the other, more urban, towns I had seen on the trip thus far. Advertisements for presidential candidates and Justin Bieber were plastered side-by-side against the crumbling walls of local shops. Donkeys carrying bundles of grain stepped on loose flyers sailing along in the dust. Even in this relatively remote setting, the arm of a different society had reached in to influence the culture and way of life. One lonely desert highway I traveled on was flanked on either side by nearly identical billboards, different only in that one proclaimed “Coca-Cola” and the other shouted “Pepsi.” Is it fair to also label conveniences such as flashlights and cellphones merely infiltrators from a different culture? Ultimately I would argue no. The CD player and radio were for playing Peruvian pan-flute music, so that the local children (and sometimes adults) could practice traditional dances. The flashlight was for ensuring that the animals were safe in their pens every night, and the cellphone was to communicate with workers in the fields and at the local market. Each piece of technology had a purpose. Flyers for American celebrities were impractical and therefore irrelevant to the farming lifestyle, and so were not present. Anthropology uses the words “transformation” and “rebirth” to describe cultural changes when two societies interact. If a culture is transformed, it means that it is altered significantly, usually to emulate outside notions. A reborn culture, however, changes its methods while retaining its underlying purposes. Rather than forcing a transformation of the rural Peruvian culture, these modern conveniences act more like agents of rebirth. Inevitably some regions in Peru will transform their culture in such a way that the consequences are disappointing. Such is the case of the more urbanized towns I visited, where the people are beginning to suffocate on foreign notions. And while these situations are unfortunate, we as outsiders have neither the responsibility nor the right to interfere in the way these people choose to run their lives. On the other hand, as modern technology and urbanization continue to threaten older Peruvian lifestyles, some Peruvians, like the family I visited, are finding ways to strike balances between their own culture and the conveniences offered by an others. Perhaps it is too late to fully rescue the ways of the past. But by choosing cultural rebirth these people are preserving key traditions for the next generation.

Photos by Alex Westfall 62

reports

Backtracks

63


CULTURE Frozen: A review 66 Heather Mei

Looking for Alaska: a Review 70 Heather Mei

Imperium: A review 71 Cem Vardar

20 songs for a rainy day - 72 Isabel Tejera-Sindell

Gelb Dance Perks, Ed. 2014 - 74 Nya Hughes & Jaeda Sanchez

64

culture

Backtracks

Photo by Laurent Joli-Coeur

65


Heather Mei reviews Disney’s

FROZEN

Frozen,

the latest Disney movie, features a cast of loveable characters, a decent soundtrack, and of course, enough snowflakes to last you through the winter season. The story starts with two royal sisters: Elsa and Anna. Elsa, the older sister, was born with winter powers providing her with the ability to create icicles and snowmen; however, Anna is an ordinary girl. When Elsa accidentally hits Anna in the head with her snow powers, the family is forced to keep the gates of their castle locked to make sure Elsa’s power is hidden, and Anna’s memories of Elsa’s powers are erased. This plan goes to waste, however, when Elsa’s powers are revealed on her own coronation day. She then runs away, while Anna follows not too far behind in an attempt to make things right. Despite the movie’s structured plot arc, one of the most prominent qualities of the film is the scenery. There are several scenes in which ice and snow swirl together in one beautiful, awe-inspiring mess.The beauty and sophistication of the snow only makes the story’s setting, action, and characters that much more realistic, and the plot more compelling. The movie’s aesthetic beauty also serves to hold the attention of its young target audience, and makes the story’s magic come to life. Frozen also has exceptional character development throughout the film, which only highlights its magical realism. Although children’s movies can at times present oversimplified, flat characters, each character in Frozen is given a complex backstory. The audience gets to sees the different perspectives of Elsa, the misunderstood queen, Olaf, the naive snowman, Kristoff, the lonely boy, and many more

“Disney has finally chosen to tackle more mature content, rather than creating another one of its happygo-lucky films.” 66

culture

Art by Lila Dolan

Backtracks

67


characters. It was Olaf, the small, amusing snowman, that stood out to me the most. He initially serves as the main source of comic relief, introducing himself cheerily with, “Hi, everyone. I’m Olaf, but I like warm hugs.” His character is ever-hopeful; as one of the driving forces of the movie, he dreams of summer, not realizing that he’ll melt in the heat. His naivety and innocence make him a loveable character for all, and many parents or older siblings will be reminded of their little ones while watching the movie. Witnessing Frozen as the oldest of the children in the theater, I think Olaf, although funny, brought the younger children in the audience one step closer to growing up. They were all giggling about how Olaf would melt and were making fun of how clueless Olaf was, although they used to be as naive as he is, fantasizing about summer, while still stuck in the snow. While watching the movie, they recognized the flaws in this innocence, helping them develop a newfound sense of awareness. Watching Frozen, I was able observe the growth of the audience along with the growth of the characters. Elsa’s power, and the ostracization it caused her, was another such teaching moment in the movie. At first, I could hear audience members “ooh” and “ahh” over the magical snowflakes that shot out of Elsa’s palms. Yet later, Elsa was shown as one of the loneliest people in the kingdom as a consequence of her power. As I left the theater, I heard one young child say, “Momma, I don’t want Elsa’s power.” Though little kids often fantasize about superpowers, Frozen showed that power is a double-edged sword that can separate one from the rest of the world. Despite the movie’s sophisticated themes and scenery, Frozen was not flawless. There were some minor setbacks – at times, its overly-musical nature made me wonder whether it was a movie or a musical, and some of the humor made no sense at all. Yet these small drawbacks held little weight as the themes pulled together nicely to create a timeless children’s film. There were all the usual themes of a good Disney movie– being selfless, loving someone no matter what, and most importantly, adventure– but the film distinguished itself through its handling of darker, more nuanced, themes of rebellion, loneliness, and the dangers of power in the form of Elsa. It seems that Disney has finally chosen to tackle more mature content, rather than creating another one of its happy-go-lucky films. Through its complex animated cast of characters, beautiful winter scenery and more grown-up subject matter, Frozen manages to combine a little bit of everything into one film. I’m already trying to figure out how to get to the movie theater a

“His character is everhopeful; he dreams of summer, not realizing that he’ll melt in the heat.”

68

culture

Art by Sabrina Lu

Backtracks

69


Imperium

LOOKING for ALSAKA a book review by Heather Mei

“It's very beautiful over there. I don't know where there is, but I believe it's somewhere, and I hope it's beautiful.” -Thomas Edison’s Last Words Alaska: 1. One of the fifty states in the United States of America 2. A girl who is trapped in a metaphorical labyrinth named Society. There are two kinds of people in life: the Alaskas and the non-Alaskas. The Alaskas have something about them that’s larger than life. Their charisma and bright personalities are often constricted by their so-called “friends,” who simply don’t understand them. Non-Alaskas are everyone else. Such is the strength of the character on which John Green has centered his 2005 novel Looking for Alaska. She is larger than life, but also rebellious, funny, vivacious, and an enigma to everyone, but herself. The book kicks off with protagonist Miles’s first day at Culver Creek Boarding School. Miles, with an obsession for famous last words, seems preoccupied with seeking his own “Great Perhaps.” Despite being ironically deemed “Pudge” for his tall, lanky build, Miles seems to find his place second time! at Culver Creek for the first time in his life. He finds a place next to Alaska, idolizing her and crippling his own self-esteem in the process. He remarks after their first meet, “if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

70

A Review by Cem Vardar It soon becomes apparent, however, that Pudge is in love with a girl he only thinks he knows. What Pudge doesn’t realize is that Alaska is more than just the mask she wears. Emotionally conflicted, Alaska feels like she is only a shard of a person. She continually tries to show Pudge the girl she really is, but Pudge doesn’t understand, only loving his idealized version of Alaska, despite the numerous times she tries to connect on a deeper level. Alaska tells him that “[w]hat you must understand about me is that I’m a deeply unhappy person,” but Pudge continues to ignore this imperfect side of her. Looking for Alaska’s coming of age narrative deals with finding one’s own identity, separate from society- something that all teens can relate to. Simon Bolivar’s last words“Damn it! How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?”- haunt Pudge throughout the book. Initially puzzled by Bolivar’s meaning, he eventually realizes that the labyrinth is not life or death, but suffering. Pudge finally decides that “[y]ou spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you'll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” Looking for Alaska argues, perhaps, for an escape from the labyrinth generated by society that eventually destroys Alaska. Both entertaining and profound, it’s overall an excellent read that should be on every teen’s bookshelf.

culture

O

n the surface, Imperium, by renowned Polish author Ryszard Kapuscinski, is a travel narrative that relays the writer’s journeys throughout the former USSR and the Eastern Bloc. However, it also provides reflection upon some of the most monstrous and shameful crimes committed against humanity in recent history, revealing the disastrous changes in the inner workings of a society left to the mercy of ruthless totalitarian leaders. Nevertheless, the idea that the desire for freedom and equality eventually overwhelms tyranny and authoritarianism is ingrained at the heart of Kapuscinski’s work. One of the more intriguing aspects of the book is its portrayal of the Soviet government’s dehumanizing effect on its own people. Imperium depicts Russian citizens as overwhelmingly apathetic towards the crimes against their countrymen. Physically devastated by poverty, Soviet communities were often haunted by desperation and competition that came with this economic hardship. Prisoners’ personalities begin to take irreversible turn to become animalian, dehumanized in their captivity, and, recognizing the possibility that they might be imprisoned for dissent, Soviet citizens maintained their silence. Imperium chillingly portrayed the reality that even massive groups succumb to psychological pressure, allowing their own voices to be taken from them. Strangely enough, however, Imperium also provided a spark of hope. This period of oppression

didn’t last forever, and republics such as Ukraine went on to declare their independence from the USSR. Kapuscinski’s narration of Ukraine’s proclamation of independence is forceful, underscoring the power of like-minded, resolute people striving to achieve a mutual goal. Ukraine’s rapid development and steps towards modernization provided a sharp contrast with Russia’s decline. Kapuscinski’s depiction of this serves as an vitalizing reminder that tyranny cannot stand in people’s way when they truly believe in what they are fighting for and have faith in their potential for victory. The inescapable grip that Imperium has on the reader lies with the directness and honesty of the language Kapuscinski uses. His narration compels the reader to face some of the most horrific incidents in the history of mankind, Kapuscinski himself at times seems shocked by the narrative unfolding. Kapuscinski portrays the enormous extent of the power of the Soviet government as a formidable force capable of destroying anyone that dares stand in its way. By peppering his narration with reliable facts about the militaristic power of the Soviet government, Kapuscinski provides a credible understanding of the Soviet government that could so skillfully spread fear within the nation, twist the will of its people, and subjugate its citizens. Imperium is a book that takes the reader to the depths of the kingdom of fear.

Strangely enough, Imperium also provided a spark of hope.

Backtracks

71


Isabel Tejera-Sindell brings you

20 Songs for a rainy day It’s that time of the year again when the weather gets colder, the clouds turn a menacing grey, and the sky decides to ruin our good hair days by showering us with rain. Yes, it’s easy to become miserable during this time, peeking from behind our piles of books to watch the raging thunderstorms outside the library. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be the case, there is a panacea: music, the universal remedy. So, ladies and gentlemen, here is your medicine – take it accordingly.

1.

Banana Pancakes- Jack Johnson: If you only listen to one song on this playlist, this is the one.

ments, so just slow it down and let Wesley Schultz’s voice help you say what’s on your mind (or not, but still listen to the song).

2.

11.

Upside Down- Jack Johnson: For those who want to mentally journey away from the gloom and doom of New England this winter, this song may be what you’re looking for. Its perfect mix of drums and soulful guitars give it an upbeat island air, and since it’s Jack Johnson you know it’s going to be perfect. Something Like Olivia- John Mayer: A very John Mayer-y song, and yes, it will get stuck in your head.

3.

4.

13.

Open Your Eyes- Snow Patrol: A good song for those I’m-going-to-listen-to-this-song-in the-carwhile-staring-out-at-the-raindrops-on-the-windowand-pretend-I’m-in-a-movie moments (let’s face it, we all do it).

5.

14.

6.

I Will Follow You Into the Dark- Death Cab For Cutie: This song is romantic in a creepy, Tim Burton kind of way, so it’s perfect for those rainy romantic daydreams.

Slow Dancing In A Burning Room- John Mayer: Oh man, this is a sad one, but very appropriate for the weather.

Skinny Love- Bon Iver: This one has compelling lyrics and is just an overall amazing song. Bon Iver’s soft, high-pitched vocals echo in your ears well after the song has finished.

7.

First Day Of My Life- Bright Eyes: This warm love song was made for those days snuggled under your covers while it pours outside. The music video only adds to the song’s “aw” factor.

8.

Somewhere Only We Know- Keane: Listen to this under your umbrella or hood while you jump over a puddle. It will make you happy. Trust us. This is the Last Time- Keane: How do adorable guys with sweet, high voices manage to make breakups sound so good? Answer: bouncy melodies and simple lyrics. Use this upbeat song to turn that rainy day frown upside down- you won’t be sorry.

10.

Slow It Down- The Lumineers: Rain has a habit of making us feel melancholy, and then all of the sudden, we think we’re all deep and we start writing bad poetry for our exes. This song is for those mo-

culture

Photo by Lauren Luo

12.

Big Jet Plane- Angus and Julia Stone: Just please listen to these guys, whether it’s raining or not. A big jet plane ride has never sounded so fabulously indie.

9.

72

Just A Boy- Angus and Julia Stone: Disregard what I said about “Banana Pancakes.” This is the song to listen to. It has good drums and is incredibly catchy.

Trouble - Ray LaMontagne: Amazing vocals. Enough said. Also, I’m pretty sure everyone has heard this song at least once and there’s nothing like a throwback to brighten up your rainy day. Run- Daughter: Wait for the chorus before you judge it. You may not like it at first, but it will grow on you.

15. 16.

Pompeii- Bastille: A relatively new band, but it’s definitely worth giving them a chance, especially when they produce such great upbeat music.

17.

Only Love- Ben Howard: A nice mix of pop, acoustic, and indie.

18.

One Headlight- The Wallflowers : A rock song good for downpours.

19.

Stay- Rihanna: Listen to this one in private, where you can sing out loud and not be judged when you go really off key.

20.

Home- Phillip Phillips: If you haven’t heard this song already, RUN! You’ll want to grab a friend and go jump around in puddles together while belting out the chorus.

Backtracks

73


Gelb Dance Perksed. 2014: Nya Hughes and Jaeda Sanchez present: Top 5 Reasons Why Any Sane Person Should Go to the Gelb Dance Despite the New Rules Set by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named

1. Now that there’s no grinding allowed, there’s no pressure to follow through with

that guy your friend set you up with. You know the one.

2.

You don’t have to freeze on your way over, so it’ll be much easier for you to slow down, grab the wall, and shake it like you wanna make your blank fall off. Note: If you do not understand this reference, then it might be best for you to stay away from the third floor.

3.

Chances are some unlucky souls will not read this list and decide to skip the dance because of the new rules, in which case there will be more room to bust a move, which will lead to points four and five:

4.

No more condensation on the windows. No more condensation on the windows. We repeat: no more condensation on the windows. Are we the only ones who were completely grossed out by that? No? We didn’t think so.

5.

No longer will you get slapped in the face by the foul stench of B.O., or as we like to call it, the fragrance of those who believe they are exempt the rules of basic personal hygiene. Now you can have fun and smell good. Amazing! Despite all these extremely valid and persuasive reasons, everyone should go to the dance because . . . well . . . what else is there to do on a Saturday night in Andover?

74

culture


Welcome to P.A. Now Come Visit Andover’s Other Landmark

ALPERS FINE ART

At the Award-Winning Alpers Fine Art,

Here’s What You’ll Find: An eclectic collection that ranges from the traditional

We’re at 96 Main Street, an easy walk down the hill toward town, or a two-minute drive with abundant parking nearby.

to the contemporary

and plenty in between,

ALPERS FINE ART

HOURS

(978) 760-1829

W, Th 11 – 6

alpers2@verizon.net

F 11 – 8

alpersfineartonline.com

Sat 10 – 6, Sun 10 - 1

Acquire a painting. Nourish your soul.

all priced at exceptional value.

But don’t take our word for it. Come see for yourself.


Backtracks Vol 27, Is. 2  

Backtracks Vol 27, Is. 2 Winter 2014