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Kenyon Observer September 23, 2013

My First Ten Weeks at Kenyon

President Sean Decatur | Page 10

Plus: Inside the Tech Jungle: Go Public or Be Eaten? Ryan Baker

Kenyon’s Oldest Undergraduate Political and Cultural Magazine

| Page 14


Illustration by Conor Hennessey


Kenyon Observer September 23, 2013

The Kenyon Observer September 23, 2013


From the Editors


Cover Story President Decatur My First Ten Weeks at Kenyon


Stewart Pollock Paging Mr. Lindbergh

Editors-in-Chief Jon Green, Sarah Kahwash and Gabriel Rom Featured Contributors Ryan Baker, Conrad Jacober, Ryan Mach, Stewart Pollock, Gabriel Rom, Jake Weiner and President Sean Decatur

10 Jake Weiner Obama’s Executive Authority

Layout Editor John Foley

12 Gabriel Rom Flat Allen

Art Directors Peter Falls Ethan Primason

14 Ryan Baker Tech Jungle: Go Public or Be Eaten


Conrad Jacober Living at the Bottom: How Tiered Housing Prices Maintain Economic Inequality at Kenyon

Faculty Advisor Professor Fred Baumann The Kenyon Observer is a student-run publication that is distributed biweekly on the campus of Kenyon College. The opinions expressed within this publication belong only to the writers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Observer staff or that of Kenyon College. The Kenyon Observer will accept submissions and letters-tothe-editor, but reserves the right to edit for length and clarity. All submissions must be received at least a week prior to publication. Submit to

Cover Art by Ethan Primason



Dear Prospective Reader, A new academic year is upon us and we welcome students and faculty back to Gambier, as well as those lucky few who stayed here over the summer. In July, Kenyon lost one of their own when Andrew Pochter was tragically killed during protests in Egypt. The Observer recognizes how deeply Pochter touched the lives of those around him. We hold him, his family and his friends in our thoughts. In light of this loss, on this issue’s back page, Ryan Mach shares a reflection on the way a community grieves. Leading off this issue, President Sean Decatur reflects on his first 10 weeks at Kenyon’s helm. Also in this issue, Stewart Pollock discusses the rise of isolationism in the Republican Party, Jake Weiner examines the pernicious effects of President Obama’s judicial activism, Gabriel Rom reviews Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, Ryan Baker shares thoughts on how rising tech companies decide whether to go public and Conrad Jacober critiques the affordability of Kenyon’s North Campus Apartments. We invite our readers to consider the topics discussed and the views expressed here and to use that knowledge to form their opinions on the matters they find most important. It is our hope that our contributors’ words will provoke debate among students, professors and community members alike. As always, we welcome letters and full-length submissions, both in response to content and on other topics of interest. Gabriel Rom, Jon Green and Sarah Kahwash Editors-in-Chief, the Kenyon Observer



Paging Mr. Lindbergh Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the president is advocating for a military strike against a troubled and ethnically divided Middle Eastern country, ruled by a Ba’athist dictator accused of using chemical weapons against civilians. In this undertaking, he has failed to gain support in the UN, but is backed by at least one major U.S. European ally. Although he faces opposition from his own party, it is the opposition, wracked by a string of electoral defeats, that is offering the most resistance. With the public divided, the secretary of state has been called to provide evidence that Weapons of Mass Destruction have been used. There is widespread belief that the ultimate goal is to put pressure on Iran. Admittedly, the déjà vu does not go as deep as it may seem at f irst glance. Syria is not Iraq, and the Obama administration has been especially vehement in denying that proposed military action against Assad would involve an invasion. A lot has changed in ten years: the president is a Democrat, the ally is Socialist France, the evidence is nowhere near a dubious and—perhaps most interestingly— the opposition is a band of conservative Republicans, claiming to represent the future of their party on issues of diplomacy and national security. The most prominent leader of this group is upand-coming Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Over the past few years, Paul, who is the son of everyone’s favorite cult libertarian, Ron Paul, has taken center stage in the Tea Party movement. Although he shares his father’s rigid libertarian principles, Rand has generally been much more cooperative with the GOP establishment, taking a more traditional stance on social issues and f iscal policy than the elder Paul. Along with Senator Paul, this bloc includes Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Mike Lee of Utah. Behind them stand a group of Senators and Representatives, many of whom are benef iciaries of the Tea Party and its war on “Republicans in name only” (RINOs). This group is f irmly opposed to U.S. intervention in Syria. The Tea Party has always been concerned f irst and foremost with domestic and f iscal issues, so in

many ways it is unsurprising that their foreign policy stances are only now being tested. It is very easy to get people to don colonial garb to protest higher tax rates and the prospect of universal healthcare. It is somewhat more diff icult to get them to learn the difference between an Algerian and an Alawite. The old fashioned brand of neo-conservatism of the Bush years has been quietly swept under the rug. It’s remaining advocates, including Senator John McCain, have awkwardly found themselves in the President’s camp. While the Obama administration moves for action against the Assad regime, Paul and company have quickly moved to stop any such intervention and, more broadly, to advocate for a massive drawdown in U.S. commitments abroad. To be fair, these arguments are entirely consistent with the rest of their small-government beliefs. Unlike the neo-conservatives of the last decade who embraced massive military budgets abroad while also gutting social programs at home, Senator Paul is at least consistent in his penny pinching. And after spending years watching billions in aid failing to win any friends in Egypt, or to prevent the brutal murder of American diplomats in Libya, his arguments have a great deal of popular appeal. Over the past decade the U.S. has lost thousands of lives and spent trillions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan with little to show for it. There is no right answer when it comes to intervening in Syria. All of the options—those offered by the president, Senator John McCain and the congressional opposition—are all fraught with peril. Attack, and we risk another quagmire, or inadvertently throwing our lot in with al-Qaeda. Do nothing, and our reputation plummets, emboldening Iran and Hezbollah. However Congress votes, there will be those who justif iably react with anger and condemnation. But, as is the case in most debates, all sides are partially wrong, but some are more wrong than others. While there are many valid reasons to avoid a strike, those being offered by the non-interventionist wing of the GOP are not among them.

“Conservatives define themselves in terms of what they oppose.” — George Will

7 Isolationism is a dirty word, and for good reason. The most famous American isolationist was the great aviator, Charles Lindbergh. Although not commonly recognized, prior to Pearl Harbor, isolationism was the rule, and not the exception, in American politics. The Founding Fathers hoped that America would avoid costly foreign entanglements, and Thomas Jefferson assigned to Americans a self-suff icient, almost insular character. When he tried to spearhead the formation of the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson found that the American people and Congress lacked his enthusiasm, and faced humiliation and defeat. The America First Committee, which championed opposition to American involvement in the affairs of Europe prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, included everyone from socialist Sinclair Lewis to Frank Lloyd Wright to Walt Disney. Although hindsight has presented them as naïve ostriches (as depicted by young Roosevelt supporter and cartoonist Theodore Seuss Giesel) it would be an unfair comparison. These men and women, much like the neo-isolationists of today, believed sincerely that the United States had no role in foreign affairs. Many were anti-imperialists who saw cynical motives in U.S. foreign policy. Others had vivid memories of the brutality and ultimate pointlessness of the Great War. Until Pearl Harbor, they held tremendous sway on both the Right and the dissenting Left, united in opposition to war. But sincerity should not be confused with wisdom. It is one thing to advocate a responsible drawdown in American commitments based on sound reasoning. But present day isolationists are not as judicious. Senator Paul has made it clear that he believes American aid should be cut across the board. This includes f inancial and military aid to Egypt, our presence in the Gulf States and, most radically, aid to Israel. This last point is in sharp contrast with mainstream Republican sentiment. Senator Paul seeks to tap into conservative resentment of the power of the “Israel lobby”, the group of lobbyists and activists who campaign for continued U.S. support of the Jewish State. He is playing a dangerous game—he may soon f ind, like his father and Pat Buchanan before him, that some very unpleasant people share his sentiment, albeit for reasons that have less to do with f iscal overreach, and more to do with “the Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. Indeed, an undercurrent of bigotry and conspiracy mongering has always permeated the isolationist movement. Whether it was the otherwise tolerant William Jennings Bryant’s failure

to condemn the Klan, or Lindbergh’s oftentimes Anglophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric in the lead up to WWII, non-interventionism has often veered close to nativism. During the Civil War, Copperhead Democrats opposed the continuation of the war, not because of a moral commitment to pacif ism, but because they disliked the idea of white men dying for black ones. There is an ugly self ishness and ignorance to this sort of isolationist rhetoric. Worse, however, is the irresponsibility of the isolationist stance. Whether or not the U.S. intervenes in Syria, a great many people will continue to die. If the rebels win, even the relatively moderate Free Syrian Army instead of the hardcore jihadists, it is still possible that there will be brutal reprisals against Alawites, Christians, and others, followed by years or decades of poverty and instability. But this is the exception, not the rule. American aid to Israel remains vital to propping up the region’s only functional, secular democracy. It is true that Israel has a disproportionate inf luence on American politics, and that many of the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are both irresponsible and unethical. But if the U.S. simply gave up on its close allies because it didn’t like their democratically elected leaders, then we would never have survived the Chirac years, let alone Bibi. In essence, the Tea Party is advocating the school yard strategy of international relations; when you don’t like the game, take your ball and go home.The truth is that the toothpaste is already out of the tube. We have enormous foreign commitments, in terms of money and manpower, from Tokyo to Tel Aviv, and reducing them to the degree advocated by Senator Paul is not just irresponsible; it is insane. The Tea Party has managed to latch onto popular discontent with a potential attack on Syria, but it does not understand or care about this issues at stake. The risk is that those opposed to the President’s policy for other reasons will be drawn to Senator Paul’s blanket isolationism. The elder Paul drew support from those disillusioned with the government’s f iscal policy. But rather than offer realistic solutions, he believed that obliterating the Federal Reserve would cure America’s ills. It seems his son feels the same way about the State Department. TKO

“One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time.” — Robert Kennedy



Kenyon After Ten Weeks

Since the announcement of my appointment in March, I have been asked three questions many times (by students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff ): What do I think of Kenyon? What are the challenges Kenyon faces?What are my plans for Kenyon? The past ten weeks have been a blur of activity as I have begun the process of learning about Kenyon. I have not focused on just the information or data from fact books, the materials produced and published by the College, or even the many wonderful histories written by George Franklin Smythe and Thomas Boardman Greenslade. Rather, the most valuable components of my crash course in Kenyon have come from walking the campus and listening to a range of perspectives. I’ve visited many off ices and divisions (including Campus Safety, Maintenance, the Recycling Facility, the Registrar’s Off ice, LBIS, among others); had lunch several times in Peirce; met with students who were spending the summer working on campus; toured every residence hall; and, of course, I’ve walked Middle Path, hiked to the BFEC and jogged on the Gap Trail. So what have I learned? First and foremost, Kenyon is a place committed to education and student learning. I have heard this from every sector of the institution and community – from alumni who cite classroom experiences and connections with faculty as key touch points that transformed their lives, from administrators who work hard to maximize campus resources available for student learning, from faculty who commit evenings and weekends to work with students outside of the classroom and from staff around campus who see themselves contributing to the education mission. And students do indeed learn. Kenyon students ask great questions that prod and challenge, ref lecting both an underlying curiosity and a refusal to accept statements not fully supported by facts and a well-reasoned argument. They work to solve problems of all types, from analysis of f iddler crab arm lengths to the failures of the juvenile detention system. Kenyon students and faculty communicate both in clear prose and in beautiful poetry (something made very clear to me at last week’s emotionally moving studentorganized ref lection on the life of Andrew Pochter). The

Kenyon community is committed to serving others, from the many students who volunteer in the local schools; to those who serve as volunteer f iref ighters and emergency workers; who volunteer at the BFEC (which hosts hundreds of elementary school children each year); who work on issues of sustainability and agriculture in Knox county; and who work with social organizations in Mount Vernon. Kenyon is a place of great civility. We greet each other while walking along Middle Path. We care about our friends and neighbors. We respect the opinions of others while simultaneously challenging and testing those ideas. All of these characteristics of members of the Kenyon community – inquisitive challengers of convention; practiced problem-solvers; clear, concise and passionate communicators; civically engaged and welcoming community members – serve graduates of this institution well when they leave the Hill. These are the characteristics that are essential to the development of creative leaders in all f ields, with entrepreneurial spirit that changes the world. So, I f ind that I have become the leader of an institution remarkable in both its history and its present. These strengths must be understood in the context of the challenges facing Kenyon, and indeed all liberal arts colleges. Politicians and pundits question the value of a liberal arts education and have proposed policies that favor narrow, pre-professional education over the liberal arts experience. New technologies, such as massive-open online courses (MOOCs), promise a high-quality educational experience in transient, virtual communities, without the costly infrastructure of a physical campus. While family income has stagnated in the past decade, the cost of the education we offer continues to rise, due to pressures of external factors such as rising costs of energy and employee health insurance. All of this in an environment where the competition for attracting students to campus will become more f ierce than ever, as the number of high school graduates in the US begins a post-millenial generational decline. This, of course, is in addition to the daily challenges we face: maintaining our campus facilities, continuing to attract and hire outstanding teacher-

“If he’s at Kenyon, he’s going to be okay and don’t worry about him.” — E.L Doctorow ‘52


scholars and preparing our students for post-graduate success. I wake with these challenges on my mind every day, along with a more general, over-arching question: what will we do in order to make Kenyon a stronger institution, to ensure that its legacy endures in the wake of these challenges? The answer does not lie in radical change of our values or mission. In fact, research on the question of the value and impact of liberal education indicates that the data are on our side: employers seek to hire graduates with the broad skills and experiences that Kenyon cultivates; our students gain admission to professional and graduate schools, and f ind success there; and liberal arts graduates take on leadership roles in business, government, the arts and the sciences. To strengthen these connections further, we must challenge ourselves to bridge the core liberal arts education with experiences outside of the classroom (and off the Hill), we must challenge ourselves to better integrate and connect the full range of educational resources (curricular and co-curricular) that Kenyon offers. The return on investment for a Kenyon education is high, and while we must take every measure to control the growth of our costs and our tuition, we also must maximize this return and articulate our true value to the larger world. Simply put, there is a great deal here that is excellent, but we can always challenge ourselves to improve further. I believe that the f irst steps in this process are for us to articulate a vision for the Kenyon of the future, and to develop a clear and focused plan to guide us towards that vision. These two steps will be the major work of the next 12 – 18 months. Beginning this fall, I will be leading conversations among all of the Kenyon constituencies (faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, and trustees) aimed at bringing forward a vision for Kenyon College in the year 2020. I have thoughts and ideas about how Kenyon can face the oncoming challenges and thrive in the future, but I want to hear from others in the community as well and work together to arrive at a collective understanding of our strategic priorities for the next six years. These priorities will be accompanied by a plan that will guide our decision-making. To some, the notion of a multiyear plan may sound like a straightjacket on our creativity, something that risks stif ling creative, nimble and responsive change.

This will not be that type of plan, nor that type of process. A good plan establishes both clear direction and mechanisms for measuring our progress towards our goals and for making adjustments along the way. The plan, and the process, will focus our attention on our goals and ambitions for Kenyon, the challenges we face and the strategies to overcome them. Because our resources are not unlimited, and because we must also work to control our costs, we must make wise decisions and choices on investing our resources. There will be room for innovation, creativity, and improvisation, but, the planning process will keep us moving in the right direction (if you are a jazz af icionado, think be-bop instead of free jazz). The f irst ten weeks have been a thrill (pun intended), and I am certain that the remainder of this academic year will be as well. I’m looking forward to the upcoming conversations. TKO

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” — Will Rogers


President Obama’s Executive Authority The summer of 2013 has been a time of intense scrutiny regarding sexual assault in the ranks of the United States military. On May 7, the Department of Defense released a report aimed at examining the extent of the problem. The results were f looring. The Pentagon estimates that in 2012 alone, approximately 26,000 men and women serving in the ranks of the military were sexually assaulted, a number that has risen dramatically from the 2010 estimate of 19,000. The scope and gravity of the issue has been widely acknowledged by the media, the public and the military itself. It seems a stroke of cruel irony, then, that a few ill-placed words by the President of the United States have signif icantly impeded the military’s capacity to prosecute cases of sexual assault within its ranks. On the day the Department of Defense released its report on sexual assault in the military, President Obama held a White House press conference, where he declared that: “If we f ind out somebody’s engaging in [sexual misconduct], they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, f ired, dishonorably discharged—period.” President Obama’s sentiment is an admirable one, and the intended political message is clear: a vow to take a tough stance on sexual misconduct in thee military’s rank-andf ile. The problem is that Obama is not simply President of the United States; he is also Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, which means that his comments on sexual assault in the military are not just political rhetoric, but can also be construed as “unlawful command inf luence,” or an illegal attempt by a military commander to inf luence the outcome of a court martial. And the results of the President’s comments have not been limited to the world of legal nitpickers; the New York Times reported in August—only three months since Obama’s comment—that “dozens” of military defense counsels in sexual assault cases had cited the President’s remarks as unlawful command inf luence, leading judges to dismiss sexual assault charges in many cases. This stum-

bling block to prosecuting military sexual assault is serious enough that both the White House and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have issued memorandums requesting that the military essentially disregard the president’s comments as it goes about its judicial proceedings. Their intentions are good, but their efforts may be coming too little, too late. Richard Scheff, an attorney who is defending an Army Brigadier General accused of sexual assault was quoted in the New York Times as saying that President Obama was “trying to unring the bell.” Were Obama’s remarks about punishing sexual assault in the military just a gaffe? The president, who holds a law degree from Harvard University, has never practiced law, after all, and it seems reasonable to write off this whole situation as an unfortunate consequence of an off hand comment by a well-meaning executive whose only fault was lacking an intimate knowledge of a legal f ield.But that seems overly generous. It is decidedly narrow-sighted to consider the president’s remarks on sexual assault in the military in isolation. Rather, they should be viewed in the context of a larger trend in President Obama’s public persona, a trend of “executive activism.” Since the start of his second term, President Obama has waded into the crossf ire of high-prof ile social issues, using his executive platform for public speech to broadcast personal sentiments on def ining national issues. There seems to be nothing wrong with the president taking a public stance on contentious issues. In fact, one could reasonably argue that the holding the off ice of President of the United States comes with an obligation to lend a voice to germane national issues. A problem might be seen to arise, however, when the President chooses to offer an opinion on issues that are in the process of being decided in the nation’s judicial system. In theory, of course, the separation of executive and judicial powers should prevent even an individual with as great a media platform as the president from being able to exert inf luence over the outcome of a court case. This check on presidential power seems to work under certain conditions. Supreme Court cases, for example, seem to

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” — Bill Cosby


be effectively impervious to presidential inf luence. The lack of a jury and the transparency involved in publishing Justices’ opinions virtually eliminates the possibility of any extra-judicial forces affecting the Court’s decisions. This is not always the case, however. In the event of a highly publicized trial, for example, it is increasingly diff icult to maintain a controlled judicial environment wherein jurors are subjected solely to evidence and opinions permitted by the court. Take the George Zimmerman case, for example: in a trial surrounded by such immense public scrutiny and opinion, it is nearly impossible to imagine that the jurors were not subject to inf luence by information outside the courtroom. Public trials are legal in the United States, for the most part, and public speculation and opinion-making are part of human nature, even if social media magnif ies their effect. That being said, a special burden seems to fall on the President to refrain from publicly commenting on ongoing trials. The President is not a

private citizen, after all, and the tremendous reach of his media platform seems to demand a greater level of scrutiny and accountability. A White House press conference obviously has greater potential to illegally inf luence court proceedings than does a private citizen using Twitter, no matter how many followers she might have. In the future, the President ought to exercise greater restraint before allowing his idealism and his desire to be a leader of social change to impede the process of justice. His July 19 comments following the acquittal of George Zimmermanat at least had the virtue of being voiced after the relevant trial had concluded. This was not so in the case of the President’s comments on sexual assault in the military, where his words have obstructed the operation of legal justice already, and will most likely continue to do so into the future. Idealism tempered with a dose of restraint and practical perspective would serve the President well. TKO

“The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.” — Andrew S. Tanenbaum



Flat Allen In Woody Allen’s 1986 classic Hannah and Her Sisters, his character Mickey Sachs is so anxious at the prospect of killing himself that his finger slips on the trigger of a gun and he misses his head. He then wanders New York’s Upper West Side and finds himself in a movie theater that is showing an old Marx Brother’s film. The movie rejuvenates Sachs and brings him back from the brink of existential abyss. In the movie he finds meaning—an affirmation of his humanity—that there might be a god after all. But Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine lacks anything resembling that compassionate, transformative moment. What has made Allen’s past work so wonderful is that, even in the depths of his characteristic anguish, (“Do I pull the trigger or not?), he finds humor and pathos—the gun goes off, a mirror shatters and the neighbors come knocking. But not in Blue Jasmine. We are offered no wisdom during this bleak 90-minute drama, nor any insight into the human condition. It is a repackaging of age-old stereotypes with a lazy ripped-from-the headlines conceit that better suits Law and Order: SVU than it does old Allen. Jasmine French, a former New York socialite, is a Xanax-guzzling mess whose former husband was a financial crook who eventually got busted by the feds and killed himself. Now in San Francisco and living with her working class sister and her husband Augie, Jasmine is reduced to delusions of past parties thrown while navigating the quotidian world of The Working Man ™. She only thinks she is saved when she meets a vacuous diplomat who is almost as obsessed with status as she is. Of course, Jasmine’s insanity undermines the relationship and the film ends as brutally as it began. Every trope from Augie the working class schlub (Andrew Dice Clay) to Jasmine’s sociopathic, womanizing husband (Alec Baldwin) falls flat and hard. These caricatures never dissolve into something more fraught and complex that might resemble real human interactions. Allen’s fictional world goes unchallenged since the clichés command him rather than the other way around. Blue Jasmine critiques a culture of superficiality and in

the process becomes its own worst nightmare. The film is thin and full of lazy characters, as if this is how Allen really thinks mentally disturbed individuals and lower class Americans might act. The themes of the movie are nothing new: attraction to money, class-divides, deceit and insanity, and as the movie’s defenders are wont to point out, somewhere deep in the cobwebs of Woody’s brain A Street Car Named Desire and Blanche DuBois may have been rattling around. These are powerful themes if wielded by a director who has an understanding and affection for the characters he creates. But Allen’s lack of empathy makes his treatment of them shallow. Characters do not have to be relatable to be compelling, but they must at least resemble human beings and not two-dimensional sketches. As Stephanie Zacharek writes in The Village Voice, “Allen wants to examine human beings without actually touching them.” Allen tiptoes the line between tragedy and farce, twisting his playful cynicism in service of a deeply serious theme— only he does not have the finesse to make it work. The sourness of Allen’s world carries over into his characters. They are vehicles to make a point: the world is fucked and everyone is damaged, isn’t that funny. Cate Blanchett, skittish and fragile, plays Jasmine wonderfully. But Allen has forced her to wear an emotional straitjacket. She hardly has an inch of space to change, to surprise, to challenge. The film begins and ends with scenes of Jasmine muttering to herself in bouts of psychosis. In the interim, her character does not progress; in fact, she hardly even regresses. She remains frozen without even the semblance of an interior life. The film opens with scenes of a first-class air cabin and closes with posh Madison Avenue. Putting Jasmine’s mental illness against the backdrop of elite America is an interesting concept, but Allen never pursues it—as if just the germ of a good idea suffices for a director who releases a movie a year. As Chris Orr writes in the Atlantic: “There are hints of an interesting meditation on class in America, but they’re held back by cartoonish caricature:

“Woody Allen helps to make us feel comfortable with nihilism, to Americanize it.” — Allan Bloom


Cartoon by Peter Falls


working-class goombahs on one side, and the wafting, billowy rich on the other.” What is ironic is that some of the supporters of the movie, like David Denby of the New Yorker, believe that Jasmine is a stand-in for the millions of Americans who have suffered financially over recent years. Yet Jasmine is so out of touch with American reality that she represents little more than Woody Allen’s own upper-class cluelessness. By imbuing her character with social significance Denby gropes to justify a director he practically calls family. Interestingly, one of the few voices of critical dissent came from John Podhoretz who is the film reviewer for the conservative magazine the National Review. Podhoretz argues that in Jasmine’s character there is a well-worn strain of misogyny from Allen. And if one looks at Allen’s

past female characters, it’s difficult to refute. He writes, “Allen seems to have derived his ideas about mental illness from the melodramatic plays of the 1930s rather than the way people who suffer from it actually behave…Blue Jasmine is practically designed to win Cate Blanchett an Oscar this year…And why not? She’s the most hateful character of Woody Allen’s career. The deeper question is why so many people find Allen’s remorselessly hostile depictions of women so alluring.” Jasmine treats no one, not even herself, with an ounce of compassion, and so when she is thoroughly destroyed by the film’s end there is no sadness but there is also no happiness, there’s just nothing. TKO

“A critic is the construction of his errors, his silliness, his sincerity, his doubt.” — William Logan



Tech Jungle:

Go Public or Be Eaten Shortly before leaving for Kenyon at the end of the summer, I went with a friend to see the movie Jobs. The f ilm follows the life of the late Steve Jobs, with Ashton Kutcher portraying him from his late college years to his return to Apple as CEO in 1997. The f irst reaction I heard when we were leaving the theater was, “It was good I guess, but I just wish it wasn’t almost all boardroom scenes.” The criticism draws a poignant parallel to the realities of the tech industry today. We wished the movie had more of Steve Jobs in his secret lab, hoped to get a glimpse of what that process of collaborative genius felt like. Instead, we saw a movie detailing the CEO vs. Investor feud, backroom deals, corporate undercutting, and high-stress meltdowns. In other words, an accurate portrayal of the years that led to today’s modern tech industry. Apple is one of the world’s titans of technology today, but would the late 80’s start-up seen in Jobs have survived in today’s industry? In today’s tech industry – one shaped by Jobs and his aff iliates – the most popular get-rich-quick strategy for tech specialists is to tap the all-encompassing app store. Develop an app that is useful or fun and has not been done before, upload it to the app store, gain renown for your app, and either get bought or go public. The strategy has proven sound for such developers as Waze, which was bought by Google over the summer for $966 million to bolster Google’s already formidable Maps app. Many considered this a bargain for the crowd-sourced navigation app, which was rumored to be selling at around $1.3 billion. On the IPO (initial public offering) track, success stories such as open-source software f irm VA Linux have shocked the markets into recognition. In 1999, the f irm opened at $30 a share… and closed at $239.25. While many dismiss this record IPO’s 698% jump as an anomaly of the dot-com craze, it ref lects the allure of the tech industry to investors. In a globalized economy constantly competing to stay on the cutting edge, cutting edge tech companies can appear as a silver bullet in the search for new return-generating prospects. This relationship between developer and investor is a well-established symbiosis, offering the developers vast amounts of capital

and resources in turn for public sharing of prof its--- and autonomy. At f irst glance going public may seem heavily weighted in favor of the IPO at f irst glance. Most corporations involved offer a specialized product inside the tech industry: microprocessors, software development, and integration services, among others. By specializing they make themselves more valuable individually, able to provide a service that distinguishes them from the other grass-roots tech f irms. This also boxes them into providing that service and that service only when it comes to public inf luence. If offered publicly, such f irms often go on to f ind that the majority of investors often do not favor branching into new industries when the tried and true method of generating revenue has worked in the past. The tech giants also frequently acquire such specialized f irms in order to bolster their own products’ capabilities. Over the years, Apple has acquired 48 different specialized f irms and incorporated their work to derive products like iTunes (Soundjam LP, 2000) and Siri (Siri, 2010). This is not to say that Apple didn’t design amazing products or have a hand in their development. Their products are a result of their own work, but in snapping up these smaller f irms they both augment their own products while also eliminating potential competitors in the future. Google has had an even longer reach into the smallcap talent pool; to date, the company has acquired approximately 128 companies to benef it their own projects. Google’s ability to buy out even well known and rising tech f irms such as the aforementioned Waze has allowed it to form into a tech empire. It has acquired f irms to assist with projects in daily products such as wireless devices and operating systems, to the experimental or even fantastical, such as airborne wind turbines (Makani Power, 2013) and deep neural networks (DNN Research Inc., 2013). While the relationship that develops between investors or buyout f irms and small start-ups is inarguably a highly lucrative one, one has to wonder if it’s the most lucrative one. The effect of this hierarchy of technology is that consumers begin to see ahomogenization of the products they’re receiving. When these tech giants competeviciously

“Your shareholders have spoken.” — Daniel Loeb


over the a few percentage points in market share, they also end differing from their competitors by roughly the same margin. When you look at the line-up ofsmart phones produced each year since the iPhone, do any seem particularly different? The focus is often on the smallest of innovations, such as new pixels for the camera, touch vs. type keyboards, and similar eye-grabbing gimmicks. When small f irms with the potential to create new products, ones that are new and inventive, are bought or go public they are often subjected to these same market and investor pressures to focus on what their competitors are doing. This can also affect the price that consumers see in their products, both positively and negatively. In certain cases consumers benef it from competing price cuts against similar products. At the same time, generating more revenue from higher prices helps lure investors to the table. A perfect example of this dichotomy is the current console wars between Microsoft and Sony over the Xbox One and PS4, respectively. The two products have grown increasingly similar in hardware, policies, and aims over the past several months since their public announcements. Yet while the products are very similar, the PS4 is selling at $100 less than the $499 Xbox One. This price undercut is a shrewd move by Sony, which has received high praise from its followers for it. But when selling games for these consoles, major development f irms are able to seriously overcharge. One veteran game developer Warren Spector even criticized the arguments against digital rights management by saying, “Hey, if we didn’t overcharge for games, people wouldn’t have to buy used ones.” Part of the reason that games end up costing so much is that developers need to collaboratewith the console developers and in turn their investors, who demand a certain hare of the prof its of these games, driving the price up. Given the power structure of the technology industry, is it even a realistic goal for f irms to stay private? The diff iculties involved appear insurmountable, but private f irms do have advantages that public enterprises do not. In fact, these advantages derive from the very institutions that hold up the industry. Smaller start-ups are much more nimble when it comes to both their product design and business goals. They have the ability to take risks that publicly traded or subsidiary f irms do not, which allows them to f ind and f ill market niches that these larger f irms would be unable or unwilling to branch into. They frequently offer more competitive prices for their products in an effort toincrease their following, and can f ind much more sustainable growth at this pace. Whilethese advantages for private f irms hold true in every industry, the area they come intoplay most strongly in the technology industry is product development.

Publicly traded f irms need to consider investors, dividends and f inancial disclosures when considering their business model. However, private companies can allocate resources at their own discretion. This is why these f irms can take risks with products that no one else is providing. If successful, they have both the long-term advantage of private autonomy and full ownership of their prof its.I had the opportunity over the summer to work with one of the world’s larger private corporations, Bloomberg LP. Founder and current Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg started the company in 1981, with three other individuals. Today, the company is worth roughly $8 billion, and 83% of that prof it is owned by Bloomberg himself. The rest of the ownership is split between several board members in the company. The company started out with only one main product: the Bloomberg Professional Service, commonly known as the Terminal. The Terminal is a data and analytics suite on a private network that provides anything a f inancial professional could need. However, over the course of its development, the company was able to branch into several different industries such as news, law and government, all while incorporating these into the core Terminal service. This has evolved into a highly comprehensive company that is able to provide value to almost any professional in the world. The effectiveness of their private status was displayed during the 2007 recession. When most other f inancial services f irms began laying off or consolidating, Bloomberg LP invested back into itself and has hired nearly 6,000 more employees since that time. Even as a large private f irm, it had the ability to take risks that others could not, and those risks paid. The allure of the public market for any technology f irm is strong, and understandably so. Yet there are clear and distinct advantages for private enterprise, and that path is often overlooked in the industry today. As has always been the case, the most successful companies are ones that have a passion for their products. Those companies which thrive under their own autonomy and f ind motivation in innovation are often hindered in their development by having an investor looking over their shoulders. As diff icult as it is to turn down the capital these investors bring to companies, one has to wonder what our technology would look like today if private entrepreneurs and developers chose independence. The harder road might have led to some astonishing results. TKO

“When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” — William Wrigley Junior



Living at the Bottom:

How Tiered Housing Prices Maintain Socioeconomic Inequality at Kenyon Whether through wealth, family connections or geographic location, the circumstances of one’s birth have a direct and powerful effect on the course of one’s life. What we f ind is that the higher the socioeconomic class of one’s family, the greater one’s access to the best educational, monetary, experiential and social assets that cannonf ire any individual into higher education. Some do break the iron chains of their lower socioeconomic class, but this happens far less often than our ideological climate would suggest. There is nothing in college admissions to compensate for the lower class’ unequal access to necessary educational and social assets. What exists in admissions is rather the opposite: aff irmative action for the wealthiest students contrasted with intense competition for the poorest. Schools with f inances that are less than certain into the next decade, like Kenyon, must admit students who pay full tuition to ensure its f inancial stability. This means that Kenyon has far lower admissions standards for wealthier students, who can pay full tuition, and far higher competitive admissions standards for poorer students, who are beholden to Kenyon’s f inancial aid package. Our “need awareness” ought to aid those born into precarious living conditions and with fewer opportunities, but it instead serves to ensure that the college is not burdened by the f inancial aid necessities of too many poor and lower-middle class students. There is much more Kenyon can do to right this wrong, but here I wish to focus on another problem: even after gaining admission, stark inequality persists at Kenyon in the most egregious forms from the day you arrive until the day you leave.

Financial aid at Kenyon accounts for no more than a dorm double, meaning that students from lower class families cannot afford to live in more expensive housing. Even when the option for living in an apartment or a single opens up to juniors and seniors, lower class students must opt for dorm doubles or triples, lest they increase the already-heavy burden on themselves and their families. The explicit requirements for the NCA/Morgan lottery process are “seniors or juniors in good academic standing…good judicial standing [and] a cumulative GPA of 3.3 or higher.” These requirements are far from the real barrier to entry: wealth. The implicit requirement to live in these suburban communities is to have been born to a moneyed family; birthright decides your entry, far from the notions of merit and seniority. There are many examples of this inequality playing itself out, but here I will focus on one example: there are currently no international students living in International House, and there have not been for the past 2 school years. This is not the fault of the people living there now or of international students not stepping up; rather, the families of most international students simply cannot afford the extra thousands of dollars required each semester to pay the tax of living in a Kenyon apartment. Like the rest of the lower class students on this campus, most international students live in dorm doubles and triples, the only places that are affordable. Lower class students at Kenyon are simply not afforded the same opportunities as their peers born into wealthier families. This is but one injustice that lower class students face; the solution, however, is simple. Many

“I only have one life, and I don’t want to spend it in a sewer of injustice.” — Wallace Shawn


colleges have turned to f lat-rate housing to combat this problem. These peer colleges recognize that a student has no choice over the wealth of his or her family, and they do not punish their lower class students for this fact of life. It is time to bring this same recognition to Kenyon. If we can afford to spend “over $300,000” (The Kenyon Collegian, Sept. 12) to place K-Card access systems on academic buildings or thousands on luxuries like iPads and giant TV screens to display energy f luctuations, we can afford to ease some of the deep-seated inequalities between students of wealthier families and students of lower class families. Lower class students at Kenyon will likely work multiple jobs. They will worry every year over

the results of their f inancial aid package. They will have long conversations with their family and friends about how it is going to turn out in the end, about how they will pay off tens of thousands in loans. And they will be conferred not one bit of recognition for the struggle and worry that constitute their years at Kenyon. While my friends speak with excitement over where we will all live together our senior year, I share the same burden that many students face here. I will be living exactly where I am now, unable to put in anymore work hours to afford living anywhere else. The wall that towers over the many Kenyon students like myself is one that cannot be scaled; it is one that must be lowered. TKO

Comments? Complaints? Differing Opinion? Get your voice in print by submitting a Letter to the Editors or full-length article to

“Sheer ability, spelled i-n-h-e-r-i-t-a-n-c-e.” — Malcolm Forbes


The Last Word fellow students. It is regrettably implausible to assume that “I didn’t know him that well.” This statement can of- such people do not exist, but at a place like Kenyon, it’s far ten be heard on campus in reference to student Andrew from unreasonable to conjecture that they are few and far Pochter, who passed last July at a protest in Egypt where between. Even if such an accusation is in any way merited, it spends he was teaching English. In the wake of a death, especially energy that might have been spent on serious ref lection on the death of someone so well known and well loved, it feels pettiness and discord instead. In the interest of healing as natural for us as individuals to have to qualify our own rea community, the least we can do is to give the members of actions, almost out of ref lexive sensitivity to those who may our family in Gambier the benef it of the doubt and accept have been closer to the deceased than ourselves. We don’t all forms of grief as legitimate. want to appear presumptuous in front of people whose grief For my part, I believe that my grief at Pochter’s death might be more immediate and more intense than our own. is something slightly more complex than simply missing But there is no reason for us to have to excuse ourselves his presence at this school or at home. During times like for what we are feeling: doesn’t the passing of a person so these, a very common piece of consolation that is very true, close to us, even geographically speaking, justify any and all if a bit trite, is that Andrew shared our alma mater, and feelings of grief, sadness and loss? The fact is that we should that grieving his death is much like grieving the loss of a not have to minimize our feelings at a time during which we brother. A huge aspect of the immense sadness of this occamost need to be and feel together, and that these qualif iers, sion is the shocking loss of a whether we intend them to or young and healthy person, not, imply a kind of distance the intrusive reality that between our experiences that death will take people from “doesn’t actually exist. DURING TIMES LIKES THESE, A VERY us whom and when we least If we were asked why we so often preface our expressions COMMON PIECE OF CONSOLATION expect. The sudden and violent this way, we might reply that THAT IS VERY TRUE, IS THAT ANDREW disappearance of somewe are attempting to be selfSHARED OUR ALMA MATER, AND THAT one so familiar, young and aware, to make it clear that healthy is jarring to us bewe know (or know that others GRIEVING HIS DEATH IS MUCH LIKE cause it simply isn’t the way believe) that some people are GRIEVING THE LOSS OF A BROTHER. things work: older people more entitled to feelings of are supposed to suddenly grief than others and that we die, or people far away that are not trying to invade those we don’t know, or people people’s space. But Kenyon from places where this happens all the time. Not someone and nearly all other communities mourn such a loss within we know. Not Andrew. Not us. the public sphere, through memorials and vigils, sharing Andrew was neither a distant stranger to me, nor my stories and elegies. If the people closest to the deceased reclosest friend. I will leave it at that. Regardless of our relaally thought that the grief of others was invasive, would they tionship, he was a young person who had so much ahead of be inviting others to share their feelings openly? It’s more him, and now he’s gone. I still have trouble understanding likely that our motivations are rooted in fear of an uglier that. I don’t think there is a single one of us who doesn’t. phenomenon common during tragedies such as these. These things happen, and the only way we can approach an Somewhere in our mind, many of us who intentionally understanding of them is by trying to express how we feel emphasize our distance from the deceased are afraid that when they do: this world offers so much to be afraid of, and someone will accuse us of using a death to bring attention to ourselves. Grief leaves us with many conf licting emotions, the last of these should be speaking our minds. TKO and one of them, especially in response to a violent death, is anger, anger that we are unsure what to do with or where to direct. As natural of a feeling as this is, it is utterly imperative that we keep ourselves from directing it towards

TKO 9.23.13  

September 23rd issue of the Kenyon Observer

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