THE COLLEGE HILL A BROWN / RISD WEEKLY INDEPENDENT
36 • 02 09 FEB 2018
A BROWN / RISD WEEKLY VOLUME 36 / ISSUE 02 FEB 09 2018
Untitled Kalina Winters
Week in Review: Bad Role Models Eve Zelickson, Ivy Scott, Harry August
Left Out to Dry Chris Packs
After "Autumn" Wen Zhuang
Frame of Reference Zak Ziebell
Building Care Josh Wartel
Boooooooooooo12bv Signe Swanson
The Flour Hour Pia Mileaf-Patel
Not in Anyone's Backyard! Cecelia Tamburro
Trust Issues Hal Triedman
Ideology Exposed Orwa Mohamad
Not Too Close! Bebe Mai & Rachel Tandon
Ground Control Zak Ziebell
FROM THE EDITORS
This past weekend, a flyer mounting racist and xenophobic attacks against city residents appeared
The College Hill Independent is a Providence-based publication written, illustrated, designed, and edited by students from Brown and RISD. We are committed to publishing politically engaged and accessible work. While the Indy is financed by Brown University, we hold ourselves accountable to our readers across the Providence community. The Indy rejects content that explicitly or implicitly perpetuates racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism and/or classism.
in mailboxes and doorways across the East Side of Providence and on Brown’s campus. At a press conference organized by the NAACP in response, Mayor Elorza insisted that “[Providence] is an inclusive city… this flyer is against everything that we stand for.” These abhorrent flyers are not, however, the first of their kind to appear. For months, students at Brown have been finding posters from fascist and white nationalist groups posted around campus—all too often met with a response that echoes Elorza: “this is not who we are; where is this hatred coming from?” The flyers—and the vile ideologies they espouse—are not accidents or flukes, but internal to the institutions and communities we are a part of. Those of us who organize large parts of our lives around the academy have lost the privilege of surprise when we learn that Richard Spencer spent two years in a Ph.D program at Duke or that Curtis Yarvin, an influential writer for the alt-right, earned his bachelor's from Brown. We at the university must not delude ourselves that anti-blackness, fascism, and white nationalism are alien threats, emanating from elsewhere to impinge on our community. To do so is to succumb to a dangerous fantasy that lets us wash our hands of responsibility. Nor should we assure ourselves that it’s ‘a few bad apples.’ No, the flyers demand critical self-reflection; we must hold ourselves accountable, as uncomfortable as it is. We need a relentless critique of the ways that we sustain and reproduce fascism and anti-blackness in our daily lives, our material investments, our entertainment media, our practices
Though this list is not exhaustive, the Indy strives to address these systems of oppression by centering the voices, opinions, and efforts of marginalized people in Providence and beyond. The Indy is constantly evolving: we are always working to make our staff and content more inclusive. Though our editing process provides an internal structure for accountability, we always welcome letters to the editor.
of knowledge production, and the concepts we use to think the world.
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FEATURES Ruby Aiyo Gerber Neidin Hernandez Paula Pacheco Soto SCIENCE Liz Cory Tara Sharma TECH Paige Parsons Olivia Kan-Sperling OCCULT Zack Kligler Gabriela Naigeborin EPHEMERA Maya Bjornson
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WEEK IN BAD ROLE MODELS BY Eve Zelickson, Ivy Scott, Harry August ILLUSTRATION BY Claire Schlaikjer DESIGN BY Katherine Sang
Don’t Drink & Drone The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had until September 30, 2015 to establish comprehensive rules for the use of domestic drones. However, many state lawmakers—aware of the federal government’s tendency to miss deadlines and skeptical of the FAA’s ability to safeguard citizens’ privacy—began developing their own regulations for drones. One of the states on track to adopt drone regulation far before FAA’s deadline was New Jersey, where the FAA had established a drone test site. The proposed bill, A4073/S2702, is otherwise known as your library’s call number for Drones for Dummies, required police, firefighters, and emergency medical services to obtain a warrant before using a surveillance drone except in certain extraordinary situations. The bill also requires law enforcement to discard any drone footage deemed irrelevant to an ongoing criminal investigation within 14 days. The bill was met with overwhelming approval in the New Jersey state Senate and Assembly legislature; an extraordinary example of bipartisan support for a bill by today’s standards. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey made a statement in support of the bill, stating that it would provide New Jerseyans with “some of the strongest civil liberties protections in the nation against abusive drone surveillance.” With such strong support, it seemed impossible to imagine any way the bill would not pass. Enter Governor Chris Christie. On January 21, 2014 at the beginning of his second term, Governor Christie pocket vetoed the drone bill. He provided no comment, no rationale, no reasoning. Perhaps he was too busy working the cones at the George Washington Bridge. Fast forward four years and Governor Christie finally managed to leave a lasting legacy on drone policy in New Jersey before bidding the state goodbye and booking it to the Newark Airport. Forget safeguarding citizens’ privacy from illegal drone surveillance: on Monday, January 15, Christie’s last official day in office, he signed a bill that prohibits flying a drone with a blood alcohol level above .08, a pressing issue of which the Indy can identify only one case—when a drunk government intelligence agent decided to fly a Phantom 4 Quadcopter at 3:00 A.M. onto the White House Lawn in January 2015. As we bid farewell to a Governor who ends his term with an abysmal 25% approval rating, according to the Rutgers Center for Public Interest Polling, we shrug off the rise of unregulated federal surveillance drones and thank God (Christie?) that our sister’s weird boyfriend can’t shotgun a Four Loko then try to get aerial footage of the Prudential Building this weekend.
It’s Best in the West?
The standard to which we hold political leaders around the globe seems to be declining. In the United States, we beg Washington not to turn the government off. In Nagoya, the third largest city in Japan, the mayor’s primary goal is to become “the city with the coolest toilets in the world.” The impetus for this superlative, as Mayor Takashi Kawamura proudly declared at a local assembly last June, is tourism. Specifically, Nagoya is focused on the influx of European and American tourists promised by the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. So how does a city go about obtaining the coolest toilets in the world? To Kawamura and the leaders of many other Japanese urban centers, the answer is clear: Westernization. At present, the standard Japanese public toilet uses a squatting pan (it’s exactly what it sounds like) at floor level, and can either incorporate a flush component, or function as a dry toilet. “Western” toilets, on the other hand, are the haunch-level ceramic fish bowls that Americans know, love, and—apparently—demand to see throughout Japan. Many cities in Japan have already begun “Westernization measures”: nearly 60 percent of public toilets in the country located near major tourist attractions have been converted to a sit-down model, according to the Japan Tourism Agency. However, even that was not enough to sate the beast that is the anxious tourist bladder. Consequently, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government nearly quintupled the amount of money allocated to the Westernization of public toilets for the 2017 fiscal year. The budget allowance was raised from $7 million to $33 million, with a specific focus on parks, subways, and schools. According to the Japan Times, the tourist response to the traditional toilet situation has been a mixture of confusion and disgust, “with many foreign visitors puzzled over how to use squat toilets, and even shunning them as ‘unsanitary.’” This is ironic, considering how often people choose to hold a squat in order to avoid the germy rotation of butt-to-seat-to-butt necessitated by public toilets in the United States. Equally problematic is the Americans’ purported obsession with ‘the authentic travel experience.’ American travellers are desperate to get off the beaten path and live ‘like the locals do’—scouring the back alleys of Tokyo and Nagoya for ‘authentic kimonos’ and ‘real Japanese street food.’ When confronted with an ‘authentic Japanese toilet,’ however, this same enthusiasm evaporates. American travellers unfairly demand tourism on their terms, fetishizing the aspects of Japanese culture that appeal to them while indirectly ordering the erasure of aspects that don’t. There are certainly benefits to the sit-down toilet. Chief among them is the accessibility public bathrooms would provide to disabled and elderly people, who together comprise over 30 percent of Japan’s total population, according to the Statistics Bureau and the AsiaPacific Human Rights Information Center. However, the Indy believes the reason for the switch should be rooted in an effort to make public utilities useful to the entire public, and not determined to appease tourists from a country that deep fries its Twinkies and considers Nickelodeon Slime a leisure activity. A nation with the ability to invent the bullet train, the laptop computer, and ramen has so much more to aspire to than “the coolest toilets in the world.”
“Death solves all problems,” Joseph Stalin once said, according to his New York Times obituary. Stalin never actually said this, but there is still wisdom in these words—especially for Joseph Mollicone Jr., who is facing roughly 3500 years of monthly restitution payments of $300 to pay back the money he embezzled from Rhode Islanders decades ago. As reported in the Providence Journal’s recent “Where are they now?” column, Mollicone was the manager of Heritage Loan & Investment, a bank on Federal Hill— that is, until investigators discovered he had quietly embezzled over $13 million dollars from his customers and fled to Utah. As a result, Heritage Loan & Investment went bankrupt, bringing down the entire state’s banking insurance program and forcing all state-insured banks to be shut down indefinitely. Thus, over 300,000 depositors, around a third of the state’s population, were barred from accessing their money, in some cases for over two years. After turning himself in 1992, Mollicone served 10 years in prison and was ordered to pay $12 million in restitution to the state, one $300 monthly payment at a time, month after month. According to WPRI 12 Eyewitness News, Mollicone can be expected to close his remaining tab of $11,971,702.51 with the state in the year 6613. However, if we factor in the $1.50 a week bonus that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan expects people to receive with the recent tax bill, Mollicone would actually be debt free in year 6588. Following the latest climate models, this means that Mollicone could spend his first day of financial freedom at a tropical beach resort in the arctic circle. It’s hard to imagine that faced with this insurmountable sum, Mollicone isn’t searching for other creative ways to pay off his debts. For example, Mollicone could create a GoFundMe page, using the online crowdfunding website for help with his payments (not wholly unlike a 2015 GoFundMe campaign to bail out the Greek government). While resentment against Mollicone still lingers, it’s possible that Rhode Islanders’ nostalgia for a time when their state wasn’t so anti-corruption would help him out. And speaking of corruption, another way out for Mollicone would be to just run for office on a criminal justice reform platform and clear his debts. While this might seem implausible, it would not be the first time Rhode Island elects a convicted felon to office (RIP Buddy). Furthermore, it would fall into a long history of corrupt Rhode Island politicians, such as Joseph A. Bevilacqua Sr.. Bevilacqua, who got himself elected Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court when he was already Speaker of the House in Rhode Island. Unsurprisingly, Bevilacqua was later impeached for his close ties to famed Rhode Island patriarch Raymond Patriarca. So, while Mollicone faces a long road ahead of him, the Indy has not given up hope that he will find a way to raise the money and clear his name before judgement at the pearly gates. Although, as soon as he does this, the Providence Journal reports, Mollicone must start working on repaying his $33 million in unpaid taxes to the IRS. -HA
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
WEEK IN REVIEW
NO LNG IN PVD BY Cecelia Tamburro ILLUSTRATION BY Dorothy Windham DESIGN BY Mariel Solomon
toxic exposure. In addition to its proximity to I-95, the Port is home to abandoned factories, hulking mountains of scrap metal, and multiple chemical storage facilities that choke Allens Avenue. The Providence Motiva Terminal accepts shipments of petroleum coming into and out of the port, while the Univar Chemical Storage Facility released 1,275 pounds of toxic chemicals into the area in 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And finally, there is National Grid’s liquefied natural gas facility, which poses yet another threat to the well-being of a community already burdened by health disparities. +++
Monica Huertas is a community activist and mother of four. She lives in Lower South Providence, and the health of her family is suffering for it. Her children, aged eleven, seven, three, and one, were all born just down the street at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island. Two of them are now struggling with severe respiratory problems. Half a mile away sits National Grid’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) storage facility, a 127-foot high white steel cylinder that has become the site of a potentially explosive debate between a wealthy energy company and a handful of community organizers struggling to preserve the health and safety of their community. “My oldest daughter, she has asthma,” said Huertas, “But the youngest one is now being affected in the same way…Everybody’s affected. All of the kids in this area.” During her most recent trip to the emergency room, Huertas spent three days in the hospital with her youngest daughter, who was suffering from an asthma attack that she said “just wouldn’t quit.” South Providence borders the neighborhood of Washington Park. Together, these two neighborhoods form one of the state’s worst asthma hotspots. In 2015, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked Providence as the 14th most challenging place to live with asthma in the United States. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, from 2010 to 2012, over 10.4 percent of children between the ages of 2-17 living in South Providence and Washington Park filed an insurance claim for asthma. Of those children, over 15.5 percent had an asthma-related Emergency Department visit. “Cumulatively, the children living in that area do have a lot of health burdens and other burdens that a child living somewhere else may not have,” said Barbara Morin, an expert on environmental toxins at the RI Department of Health.
One reason for these health burdens is the proximity of these neighborhoods to I-95. On a cold November day in South Providence, the smell of exhaust from the Thurbers Avenue exit, less than a mile away, is pervasive. Morin herself has worked on monitoring air quality in the communities of South Providence and Washington Park with a study that monitors the air pollutants coming from Thurbers Avenue, a busy exit off of I-95 that cuts through lower South Providence. However, she says, the challenge lies in figuring out the percentage of respiratory problems that are caused by a particular pollutant. While outdoor air pollution is a significant burden, many asthma triggers, such as mold and other indoor allergens, also lurk inside older houses. After the construction of I-95, which divided South Providence from Downtown, wealthier inhabitants of South Providence and Washington Park moved away in search of better housing. Landlords divided up singlefamily houses and took inadequate care of the properties, creating mostly cheap, poorly maintained housing for an increasingly minority and low-income population. Today, 17 percent of the population is linguistically isolated, meaning that they do not speak English. Thirty-one percent have less than a high school education. All of these factors make it much more difficult for people to get the healthcare they need. Dr. James Myers, who works at the free clinic in South Providence, says that these neighborhoods are home to “quite a few people who don’t have access to regular healthcare.” South Providence and Washington Park are situated adjacent to the Port of Providence, which is one of the most heavily industrialized areas in the state, due to its proximity to Narragansett Bay. The people who live in these neighborhoods face a myriad of health threats in addition to asthma, including lead poisoning and potential
Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is a form of natural gas that has been liquefied for easier storage and transport. About 95% of Rhode Island’s energy generation comes from natural gas. Currently, the facility in the Port of Providence only serves storage purposes, and must be filled with LNG by trucks coming from other sites in New England. After 43 years of relying on this storage facility, National Grid now wants to build a facility that can liquefy natural gas itself. Their proposed project would draw in natural gas from the pipelines that lie beneath Rhode Island’s surface, liquefy the gas, and transfer it to the storage facility. According to National Grid, this will reduce the cost associated with importing natural gas from other sources, and make it easier to heat Providence during the coldest days of winter—an estimated nine days a year. The facility would also serve as a source of LNG for the rest of New England. The project, which was proposed in 2015, has met significant resistance from community organizers. In 2005, a similar proposal for an LNG marine terminal was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). At the time, Governor Donald Carcieri stated, “The scheme was riddled with far too many safety, security, and environmental concerns. It was never a good idea to build an LNG terminal in a densely populated city.” In response to National Grid’s latest proposal, the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island published a 32-page paper explaining the dangers of the project. In addition to the health risks of the facility, they say, building an LNG terminal perpetuates environmental racism by concentrating environmentally hazardous conditions in communities of color. Meanwhile, No LNG in PVD, an organization that Huertas leads, has fought relentlessly to oppose the facility as it has tried to get approval from various state agencies. On March 29, 2017, a gas leak at the storage facility spewed natural gas into the air from a ruptured, high-pressure gas line. The leak was so severe that it led to a shutdown of I-95 while the response team worked to minimize the risk of a deadly explosion. In the Port of Providence, concerned residents feared for their lives. “At the time I was so scared,” said Huertas, who had just put her kids to bed when she heard the roar of what sounded like a jet engine. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if I should run out of the house, or if it would be more dangerous to leave the house…do you go to a basement? You go to the attic? What do you do?” With National Grid’s new project, community members are concerned about the possibility of another accident that would have catastrophic effects on the
FEBRUARY 09, 2018
Utility justice in South Providence and Washington Park nearly 80,000 people that live within a two-mile radius of the facility. The state’s only level one trauma facility, Rhode Island Hospital, Women & Infants Hospital, and Hasbro Children’s Hospital are also nearby. In the Port, the project would be near multiple facilities that are so hazardous that they require Risk Management Plans to help manage damage in the case of a catastrophic accident. Community organizers are also concerned about toxic soil that will be overturned as the facility is constructed. They worry that the new facility will increase truck traffic around the area as trucks come in and out to transport LNG, adding to ambient air pollution in nearby communities. National Grid claims that their facility is safe, and that its presence will actually decrease truck traffic in the area, because by producing their own LNG, they will reduce the need to fill the storage facility using trucks. There’s also the question of communication and transparency. National Grid has done a less-than-optimal job of informing the public of their project. When they do hold hearings, these hearings are often difficult for community members to attend, as they are held on the other side of Providence and are scheduled at a time when most people are still coming home from work. As tensions have risen between community members and National Grid, hearings have become more draconian. A meeting this July to discuss public concerns was scheduled in the Providence Public Safety Complex, a heavily policed location that made many minority residents feel unsafe. On November 14, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council held a public hearing to discuss the project. As a state agency, the CRMC holds the power to vote on whether or not National Grid’s proposal meets their coastal regulations. They were one of the only agencies standing between National Grid and their final destination, FERC, which has repeatedly been dismissed as a 'rubber stamp' agency by protestors because of its tendency to admit most proposals that land on its desk. The CRMC is prevented from considering whether a new facility is necessary, and only is allowed to consider the potential coastal effects. “We are also very concerned about coal-based fuels and climate change,” said CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate, “but we cannot consider those issues.” The public disagreed. On November 14, so many people spoke out against National Grid that the CRMC was forced to hold another public hearing. Two weeks later, on November 28, nearly 50 people testified for over four hours against the proposed facility. Nirva LaFortune, a city councilwoman who was raised in the South Side of Providence, gave a particularly compelling testimony. “The area is in the 91st percentile for the state of diesel air toxin exposure and is considered an asthma hotspot. Adding an additional hazardous facility to an already struggling and underserved neighborhood is unethical,” she said. The council members, among them Grover Fugate and CRMC Chair Jennifer Cervenka, often appeared bored, remaining impassive and checking their phones as community members spoke out about their fears. When Washington Park resident Gina Rodriguez called out these behaviors in her testimony, she was met with hostility and chastised by the council. “I am disappointed in each and every one of you, because as a mother I cannot believe that whoever raised you raised you to be a coward,” she said. With
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
that, Cervenka and Fugate left their seats and began to walk out of the room. Police officers began to close in on Rodriguez, surrounding her and turning the microphone away. Members of the audience leapt up and began filming the officers. Rodriguez kept going. “This is about people,” she said, her voice cracking. “Like Monica’s daughter who was in the ICU over the weekend. In and out of the hospital for five days. This is about protecting the health and wellness of the people who live in our neighborhood. It’s for the first graders on their first day of school. It’s for the infants in the NICU. It’s for elders in the oncology unit at Rhode Island Hospital. It’s for the convenience store owner on the corner of my street… This is about people, and no, they might not look like you. But someone does.” +++ The health disparities that affect South Providence and Washington Park are well-known and well characterized. In addition to struggling with asthma, these communities have very high incidences of lead poisoning due to older, lead-contaminated housing. From 2013 to 2015, over 18.4 percent of children under age six in these neighborhoods had blood lead levels above the statewide cutoff for lead poisoning. Lead poisoning has significantly decreased in recent years, thanks to legislation that requires the state to intervene when children come to school with high blood lead levels. However, the potential long-term effects can be devastating to a community. In children, lead poisoning can cause nervous system and kidney damage, learning disabilities, and other mental and physical development issues. And long into adulthood, lead poisoning is significantly correlated with lower IQ, higher dropout rates, and higher crime rates in affected areas. As David Veliz, a member of No LNG in PVD and an organizer with the Childhood Lead Action Project, a community organization that fights to end childhood lead poisoning in RI, said “Health inequity, asthma rates, lead, all of that is traumatic. There’s a level of burden there that is just unfair.” Veliz explained that communities with larger social capital, who are more wealthy or white, have the ability to move away from environmental hazards. “This community can’t move.” Dr. Myers said that he sees many patients at his clinic who are unable to obtain the proper maintenance therapy for their chronic issues. For asthma in particular, people may need an inhaler or monthly asthma shots to soothe their sensitive lungs. “I see a lot of cases like that, where people haven’t been dealt with properly, and then they go to the ER, and eventually into the ICU,” said Myers. And for those who are already vulnerable to asthma triggers, additional insults such as the flu virus, cold air, and bad air quality often send them over the edge. In 2015, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, sent a letter to FERC urging them to conduct a health impact assessment of the proposed facility. Citing existing health burdens, she requested that the impact assessment include analysis related to air quality, emissions, and traffic related to construction and operation of the facility. FERC has still failed to perform the suggested assessment. +++ The LNG plan is not an anomaly. Rather, it follows a common pattern. Cities tend to cluster their environmental
hazards in predominantly poorer neighborhoods, leaving already disenfranchised communities with few choices. Dr. Scott Frickel, the Community Engagement leader of Brown’s Superfund Research Program, called the conundrum a “devil’s bargain.” “The whole benefits from the sacrifice of the few. But then the question is, who are the few?” He also cited the importance of government and corporate action, saying that Rhode Island had the opportunity to take a stand. “We know these people are being poisoned because of where they live,” said Frickel. “We know that. Let’s do something about it.” On December 12, the Coastal Resources Management Council held their final public hearing on National Grid’s facility. As National Grid presented its rebuttal to the public comment, the room swelled with protestors carrying signs. One member of No LNG in PVD handed out signs that read, “No LNG: OUR COMMUNITY, OUR DECISION.” Another handed out toy wooden gavels and sound blocks to the protestors. As the crowd grew rowdier, National Grid spoke only about two issues: the projected lifespan of their facility, and the project’s visual aesthetics. The rebuttal did not address community concerns about fossil fuels, the risks associated with the facility, or the potential health effects. Immediately after the rebuttal, Jerry Sahagian, a member of the council, motioned to decide that the proposal was in compliance with the CRMC’s enforceable regulations. Not one council member dissented. The room erupted with screams and the heavy wooden sound of the protestors slamming down their wooden gavels. Eventually the cacophony settled into a constant chant. “Shame! Shame! Shame!” As Cervenka walked out of the room, members of the crowd continued to excoriate the council. “Would you put your kids next to this facility?” “You’re disgusting!” “Put it in your backyard!” “This is our city. We have to stay here,” Huertas said, tears in her eyes. “I can afford to move, but my neighbors can’t. And that’s why we’re going to keep on fighting. South Providence, we’re gonna keep on fighting every step of the way.” +++ On January 31, protestors had what may be their final opportunity to voice opposition to the LNG project. The Department of Environmental Management held a hearing to discuss whether they should award National Grid a Water Quality Certification that would allow the company to release stormwater into the Providence River. In her testimony, Huertas spoke calmly, more quietly than normal. She wore a red shirt emblazoned with the words “No LNG in PVD.” After explaining how difficult it had been for her to find childcare and pay for parking to attend this hearing, she began, once again, to speak out. “Please consider all the impacts…Because we all need water. We all use it. We don’t want to see another Flint, Michigan here in Providence, Rhode Island. We don’t want to see–” and with that, her three minutes of public commentary were up. Her mic had been silenced. CECELIA TAMBURRO B'18 expects resistance.
BY Hal Triedman ILLUSTRATION BY Sophia Meng DESIGN BY Ella Rosenblatt Every internet user leaves crumbs of data behind—clicks, scrolls, advertisement views, website visits, location check-ins—a mountain of information, compounding every day. Sitting in server farms (the massive warehouses filled with miles of hard drives), this data provides billions of tiny glimpses into users’ lives. With proper analysis, tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter can use anyone’s data to predict their actions with a shocking degree of accuracy. In China, much like in the US, a handful of tech companies have near-monopolistic control over data. WeChat is a messaging and social media service with nearly 1 billion users, offering integrated money transfers, food ordering, and ridesharing. Alibaba, China’s equivalent of Amazon, sold $25.3 billion worth of goods on a single day in 2017. Baidu is a search engine akin to Google, handling 76 percent of all internet searches in China as of last year. Recently, a partnership between these (and other) major tech giants and the Chinese government has been testing the bounds of what people’s data reveal about them, and is raising questions about social, moral, and economic worth in the digital age in the process. +++ Compared to the post-industrial United States, developing countries have historically had a very different, far more tenuous relationship to credit. Poor and rural people are often shut out of traditional credit markets due to their lack of collateral, and informal credit networks fill the void. These credit networks finance things like farmers’ yearly expenditures on seed, machinery, and labor. Yet these loans often depend on unreliable verbal contracts, charge high interest rates, and cannot fully meet the needs of borrowers. While China’s economy continues to grow rapidly, its informal credit networks still mostly rely on cash, debit
cards, and mobile wallets. These smaller, more personal services are now handling record numbers of transactions. Out of the 1.4 billion people in China, only 320 million of the relatively well-to-do have credit histories and access to credit. For everyone else, owning a credit card or taking out a large loan to buy a house is nearly impossible. Besides problems surrounding credit, the Chinese government is also looking to tackle questions of trustworthiness among individuals, businesses, and corporations. In 2008, for example, tens of thousands of babies were hospitalized and several died after eating compromised baby formula. In 2013, 16,000 dead pigs, presumably struck down by disease, floated down the Huangpu River in Shanghai, which supplies drinking water for the city’s 26 million residents. The global market for low-quality counterfeit goods is worth almost half a trillion dollars annually, and as of 2013 about 85 percent of counterfeit goods worldwide were manufactured in China and Hong Kong. Lacking an index of trustworthiness, the Chinese government doesn’t have an ability to crack down on corporate misconduct and counterfeit goods; organizations can commit fraud or malfeasance, slip away quietly, and re-establish themselves elsewhere with relative ease. Authorities in China have been searching for better ways to regulate their economy by keeping tabs on businesses and instituting systems of reward. Enter the Social Credit System (SCS). In 2014, the Chinese government issued a policy outline which asked major tech companies to develop systems that take in users’ online data—drawn from social media activity, financial records, networks of friends, consumption habits—and output a single number as your social credit score. After a prolonged period during which the government closely watched the progression of these pilot programs, the system was adopted by the Chinese government and set to expand to all Chinese citizens by 2020. Companies will be obligated to share users’
financial and social media information and the government will do the calculation of credit scores. The idea is that the score should act similarly to the American system of credit: a number representing your past behaviors that can potentially let you take out a loan on a house purchase or get a credit card. However, the system also takes the user’s pattern of online behavior into account. Li Yingyun, the spokesperson for a potential SCS, noted that "someone who plays video games for 10 hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person, and someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility." The scope and goal of the SCS goes beyond establishing standards of financial trustworthiness, although that is a primary goal. According to the 2014 policy direction, the system was established “to strengthen social sincerity, stimulate mutual trust in society, and [reduce] social contradiction” as well as to build “a Socialist harmonious society.” In other words, social credit makes judgements about people's morals: “an idle person” versus one with “a sense of responsibility.” The SCS is one of the first attempts in the world to codify social mores taking social media content and online data as its source, and the effects of its internet-based calculation are far-reaching. Because tech companies have served as the incubator for this soon-tobe-nationwide policy and will continue to figure it into their products after it becomes mandatory in 2020, many of its effects take place on social media. Baihe, a major dating site, uses a matching algorithm that favors people with high scores over those with low scores, and posting scores publicly has become a symbol of status and desirability among its users. As it exists today, a social credit score of 600 lets you take out a loan of about $790 for online shopping on Alibaba sites. At 650, you get VIP check-in to major airports and can rent a car without leaving a deposit. Once you reach 666, you can take out
FEBRUARY 09, 2018
A FUTURE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN China and the advent of the Social Credit System
a cash loan of $7,900. In many ways, the SCS acts similarly to a society-wide loyalty rewards system. Come 2020, however, the Chinese government will enter the social credit score market, rewarding those with high credit and punishing those without credit. First, the rewards: a score above 700 lets you travel to Singapore with ease, and one around 750 puts you on the fast track to a rare European visa. There’s a historical precedent in China of restricting freedom of movement by blacklisting dissidents and ‘undesirables’ from taking trains, planes, and travelling internationally. According to the head of the Executive Department of the Supreme Court in China, Meng Xiang, “44 government departments” have agreed “to limit 'discredited' people on multiple levels” based off of their social credit score. Moreover, this score is not derived solely from financial or online activity alone. One key factor is your online social circle. If a friend or family member is caught protesting or posting objectionable material online, your score goes down as well as theirs. +++ On a basic level, the whole world monetizes data on the internet in the same way: a user creates data by clicking on things, sending messages, changing locations, et cetera; that data is stored by the computers running the website, sometimes used to redesign the website and make it more appealing, finally, that data is sold to advertising firms, who use it to create hyper-targeted ads. People are then more likely to buy the advertised products; this purchasing activity creates new data, and the cycle continues on and on. For Americans, this is pretty much the extent of the process. The government can surveil online communications routed through private companies, but that depends on a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant. There is at least an assumption of privacy, although it is based on shaky ground. While most Americans continue to browse with this assumption, Chinese citizens have no pretense that their internet use isn't being watched and censored. For instance, the “Great Firewall of China” has existed since the late '90s and blocks Chinese people’s access to Google, Facebook, most Western new outlets, pornographic websites, and any other content considered immoral by the government. In many ways, broad internet censorship, with the intent of policing morals, was the first digital link in the chain that has led to social credit. The underpinning principles of social credit also rely on the fact that the internet is monitored in China. In the 2014 policy directive outlining the SCS, little mention is made of government processes to actually retrieve peoples’ data in the first place. Instead, there is a well-established precedent that sharing user data with the government is an obligation of major tech companies in China.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
Although hyper-targeted social media advertising makes the idea of social credit more conceivable to Americans, most of them are unnerved when confronted with the reality of this system in China. Many Western media sources jump to paint China as a monolithic, authoritarian dystopia. For instance, one Wired headline about the SCS read: “Big Data Meets Big Brother.” And yet, how different are these practices from Google, Facebook, and Amazon’s ability to predict your actions, or the monitoring of the silent surveillance state run by the NSA? Five years ago, Edward Snowden leaked the details of PRISM, which allowed the NSA to mine American data through back doors in social media. Only a few weeks ago, Congress voted to renew article 702 of FISA, which allows for the bulk data collection of foreigner citizens and sweeps up many communications of Americans in the process. The ethical and moral questions raised by the SCS apply to the modern age of 'Big Data' generally, and stretch far beyond the borders of China. Take, for example, the increasingly integral role algorithms play in US court systems. Many state court systems have adopted privately-developed software that, much like the SCS, takes in points of data about an individual—education, income, zip code, past crimes—to assign them a score. This score is then used by judges to make decisions about bail, parole, and sentencing. A 2016 Propublica investigation compares the stories of Brisha Borden and Vernon Prater, who were both arrested at the same time in the same Florida county for petty thefts of about $80. When their data was fed into a 'risk assessment' algorithm that gives people a risk score from one to ten, Brisha (an 18 year-old Black woman with no prior record) received a score of eight, and Vernon (a 41 year-old white man with a prior five year stint in prison) received a score of three. Two years afterwards, however, Vernon was the one serving another eight year prison term and Brisha had committed no other crimes. Not only did the algorithm get it wrong, but an aggregate investigation into these practices showed their inaccuracies and tendency to perpetuate racial disparities. Considering factors like race and gender is usually strictly prohibited in these algorithms on the grounds of being discriminatory practices. But this often fails to account for high levels of spatial segregation and inequities in access to resources like education—in other words, your residence and level of education can be proxies for race and gender. Some supporters of these systems, pointing to studies about how judges have a 65 percent chance of granting parole early in the day and after lunch breaks and a near zero percent chance of granting parole right before lunch and at the end of the day, say that automated sentencing algorithms provide a measure of safety and consistency against the natural variations of judges' decisions. Detractors point to an over-reliance on seemingly objective numbers as dehumanizing and ultimately
misleading, as the systems are trained on past data that contains inequalities. As of yet, the formal definition of how these systems should be used by judges in American courtrooms is undefined. +++ Increasingly around the world, the power of the state can hinge on reducing someone’s life to a single number through a process that is perceived as objective. This reductive process is often opaque, conducted in the inaccessible realm of programmers at private companies who are under no obligation to share their code. And so in the digital age, people are considered to be users, a set of data points within a digitally atomized world, their agency is deterministically reduced from human to a system of equations. China’s SCS is more a symptom of unsettling times than a cause of them. All over the world, small groups of unelected programmers are effectively writing policy in the form of code. This process raises questions about the role of the government in our society and within online spaces about whether morality can or should be hardcoded into our lives. The era of big data also raises questions about individuality. These questions are not new; the tension between desires of the individual and desires of larger social formations is as old as organized human society. However, the fact that computer models can distill the world (and people within it) into analyzable and malleable numbers represents a scaling-up of society’s ability to predict (and influence) individuals’ behavior. Obviously, a single score can’t represent the complexity and depth of a person. And yet, still, scores are being used to inform critical decisions about people’s lives; freedom of movement, incarceration, economic mobility, as well as many other important issues are increasingly falling under the purview of 'objective' computer models of the world. It’s uncertain how technologies like those used in China’s SCS will proliferate in the years ahead. However, we can be sure that the process of big data analysis is unlikely to stop anytime soon. As we continue to allow these processes to spread to realms of our lives previously reserved for the state, we are quietly assenting to new uses (and potential misuses) of our data. The Social Credit System is in the midst of construction, and in many ways is indicative of the future—yet it’s a future which we may already occupy here in the West. HAL TRIEDMAN B'20's Social Credit Score is 666.
BY Pia Mileaf-Patel ILLUSTRATION BY Katya Labowe-Stoll DESIGN BY Bethany Hung
BREAD, SLOWLY, PAINSTAKINGLY I’ve started talking about bread like some people talk about finding a particularly inspiring spinning instructor. Nobody talks about finding religion, but perhaps this analogy works, too. I talk about my sourdough starter all the time. I drop a line about it into a writing sample. I document the process on Instagram and gleefully receive direct messaged tips and recipes from those with more bread experience. I become addicted to a Youtube channel called “Alex French Guy Cooking.” I hear of a new texting antic—diet ghosting, if you will—called “breadcrumbing,” where instead of cutting contact, you wait too long, then finally respond with a one-word answer. My first sourdough happened in the snow, which made for trouble rising. And since the only thing bread really does in order to become bread is rise, I’m not sure what to call the compact, flaxen rock of dough that I pried from our dorm-kitchen cubby-oven. That’s what I get for trying. Fermentation hates the cold, and the only thing sourdough does in order to be sourdough is ferment. Ideally, mixed with flour, the starter breathes, expands, and pushes air up to the surface, desperate to break into the warm air. Lactobacilli multiply. A good starter rises bread into bread. Mine sat in the cold. No air bubbles gravitated to the cold room. The lactobacilli shivered. At first, once a day, you discard half the starter and stir in a fresh cup of flour with half a cup of water. Warm water if you have a cold kitchen, and cool water if the kitchen runs hot. “It sounds like you’re holding an animal hostage,” I was told. It does, but the starter won’t die if I feed it a little late. That take-out container of hissing bubbles is a thing of pretty resilient stuff. Fruity is the proper word for its sour aroma. ‘Fruity’ is the baker’s word to describe the starter, which is also called a mother sometimes. After the third day, it is ready to be fed every twelve hours. My friends made fun of me the week my starter was brand new. “I have to go home and feed it.” Then it became her. Then her became Ursula. 9:00 AM. I talked to my friend at home on the phone—squished between my shoulder and my ear so I could stir down the starter with my other hand while I listened. She told me her favorite author died the day before, on January 22. I didn’t know that she was her favorite author. “Can I name the starter?” she asked. Can you spray water into an electric oven? Thinking about it now, the answer seems to be ‘no.’ Anyway, I did because the author of King Arthur Flour’s web page said to spritz some on the bread at the end of thirty minutes of baking. Makes for a softer chew. King Arthur’s instructions are nice, but I used Gold Medal flour because they sell it at MiniMart, and MiniMart is 34 steps from my door, and it is snowing, still. I looked into the dangers of spraying water into an electric oven. You can, and in fact, it’s recommended to counteract the drying that an electric oven does. Bread hack: Steam the oven. I have this idea of myself: that I am the type of woman who bakes her own bread. The idea is bigger than I am, the individual, or bread, the food. The idea comes with an idealized escape scheme. There’s a farmhouse and brambles of blackberries, and my aunt’s
plant-derived hand-dyed fabric, and jars of deep pink beet pickles in Door County, Wisconsin. And successful sourdough. I’m in a cinder-block-walled dorm, which thwarts the warm, moist conditions bread-making needs, according to the web. But cinder blocks seem warm when the room smells like baking bread, even if that’s usually an instant pumpkin loaf with Crisco-brand canola oil and 100 ingredients ending in ‘–ose’ that I can’t pronounce. Just like that chapter in Fast Food Nation that is just a list of the ingredients in a McDonald’s strawberry milkshake. I love strawberry milkshakes, though, and I dream of a test kitchen with endless ingredients, chemicals, and possibilities. When I tasted the lump of undercooked cracker dough, my imagined jars of pickled beets shattered, soiling my idea of self with salty pink juice. I was farther from homemade than I’d thought. The type of woman I want to be was backtracked—one more bread-attempt away than she was before I held the heavy, sourdough failure in my hands. When choosing to grow a sourdough starter in a cleaned container that once housed some take-out Thai, a lot of flour is consumed. Two cups a day. The bread kick manifested even before I came back to Providence. My dad, prescient as ever, and aware of how obsessive I can get, nudged me gently to focus on schoolwork. After observing ninth-grade-me make 23 batches of French macarons until the ‘pied’ curled up just right and the tops were glossy and un-cracked (fold the meringue 17 times exactly before mixing in powdered sugar and almond flour), he predicted, somehow, me leaving an information session to feed my bubbly aromatic friend on time. 9:00 PM. I feed Ursula and then I go to a party with sourdough starter caked on the wrist of my bodysuit. Bread happened well before high-power dough hooks and high-tech kitchen scales that bump between ounces and grams at the touch-screen tap of a finger. But I still wish I had those modern-day bread making tools here. The last thing that happens to the risen dough before it goes in the oven: you score it. Quick, confident, and deep, you drag a knife through the surface. This started back when towns had one, central, communal oven, and all the loaves were fired together, rising together, in real flames. Scoring was how bakers identified their loaves— once a signature, or an enforced bready birthmark, now decoration, ornament, choice. Nonetheless a maintenance of tradition. My forearms hurt from kneading the dough with the heart-sinking realization that it was not rising as the Youtube video showed it would. Bread happened before Youtube, too, but “Alex French Guy Cooking” seems to know what he’s talking about. His sourdough starter is wholesome and grainy, with organic rye flours, and tap water sans lead. He stores it in a glass jar with a metal clasp. There are no congealed Thai leftovers in his carefree kitchen. “Alex French Guy Cooking” rolls up the sleeves of his black-and-white-striped boat-neck tee and gets to work kneading by hand. His palms work the dough into a pliable, stretchy mess, and his starter gleefully does what it’s meant to—it raises the loaves with big, tart bubbles that come from nothing but time and proper care.
My bread, frankly, sucks. I wouldn’t call it sourdough. Sour, sure, and dough, definitely, but nothing I’d serve to people. Barely cooked, even. It simply didn’t rise. January snow, first attempt at sourdough. “Bread is bread, though,” my roommate said, and we chip away at the warm rock, naming things it reminds us of as we chew for research: pretzels, goldfish, hardtack. Wikipedia says hardtack is inexpensive and long-lasting, a good cracker choice if that is your criteria. In the crisp base bits, where the dough touched parchment paper and turned golden-brown—the only part that had any color at all—you can taste the rise. Tart, chewy, crunchy. It tastes right. I made it from nothing, and now it’s savory, and we enjoyed it. We really did. But it’s also so clearly wrong. It’s heart-sinking, as if the loaf-brick were sitting in my stomach, dragging me—an edible example of how you can do all the right things and get crushed by the outcome. I dream of bread, and on the plate see Play-Doh, eat my words, wish I could conjure up the sweet maple-oat bread with a crackling wood-fired crust from the farmer’s market, spread with raspberry jam and salted butter. Or conversely, a can-risen hot Pillsbury biscuit from the oven on a Saturday morning, drizzled with honey and all mixed up with peppery scrambled eggs. My supremely sucky sourdough was, as I found among the Instagram hashtags of real bakers, a perfect example of a “fucked loaf.” But it tasted like it was getting there. Not quite bread, but not quite bad. Honey whole wheat loaves are easy, pleasing. A gluten windowpane or a poke test is all you need to know they’ll rise, sweet and light, with the help of added yeast from the supermarket. Whip two up in an afternoon, read a book during the short rise. I dream of honey whole wheat loaves as, twice a day, I discard half the take-out container of beige goop, waiting for it to look like the photos. The starter is not ready yet, but I’ll coax it there with dry, February hands to match my cold toes and nose. So, sourdough, I’ll start you again. Until then, I’ll see you twice a day to feed you with an Ikea fork, stirring flour into you and waiting. You’ll stay warm in the little cabinet of this dorm that sits adjacent to the rigorous, temperamental heating system that makes us so hot and miserable in here. You’ll bubble, and double, and test the limits of the plastic lid with poked holes that once let steam out of soup. Your name, scribbled in Sharpie, already fades on the lid. PIA MILEAF-PATEL B’20 is naming her next sourdough Sherman Alexie.
FEBRUARY 09, 2018
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
DAY ZERO BY Chris Packs ILLUSTRATION AND DESIGN BY Gabriel Matesanz Last week, in the Cape Town suburb of Newlands, a fight broke out on a typically quiet cul-de-sac. The instigator, who was ultimately arrested, had been waiting in line at a local water station for their daily ration of 25 liters of water when tensions flared. These stations, now guarded 24 hours a day by police, have come under increasing strain as Cape Town gears up for what local officials have dubbed “Day Zero.” Set to occur sometime in May, Day Zero refers to the point at which Cape Town’s reservoir system will fall below 13.5 percent capacity, triggering a water crisis management plan that will shut down taps and, in their place, establish 200 water stations scattered around the city. “Water will still be supplied to hospitals, clinics, ‘essential services,’ and standpipes in informal settlements,” Citylab reports. Day Zero may sound like a single apocalyptic event, but it is not the beginning nor is it the end of South Africa’s water troubles. The South African Weather Service, for example, cited the long history of research that has anticipated Day Zero for decades: “Blaming the weather‚ or climate and the weather service is a cop-out for policy inaction and ineptitude in the implementation of multidisciplinary research and reports that have long pointed to the water challenge in the country‚ the Western Cape and in Cape Town.” Indeed, at least in public discourse, Cape Town was first considered at significant risk of water scarcity in 1990, when the Cape Times published an article arguing that Cape Town “will run out of water in 17 years.” It thus rings hollow when JP Smith, member of the city's mayoral committee, is quoted saying “it would be catastrophic if we end up having to collect water at [collection points] ... We must not think that it is a viable solution for long. It is, at best, an emergency solution, and should be avoided at all costs.” Water scarcity has been a chronic problem for years. Government mismanagement of resources is especially politicized in Cape Town, which is governed by the Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s center-right opposition. The DA is leading the fight to #DefeatDayZero, and has been accusing the African National Congress (ANC) of neglecting Cape Town’s ecological precarity at the national level. In response, the ANC decried the 'sensationalist' rhetoric surrounding the dire situation and any attempts to profit off it politically, calling it “a DA invention that translates to nothing more than an unnecessary tool of rattling residents on a pseudo-judgment day rhetoric.” The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), South Africa’s revolutionary socialist party, has similarly criticized the DA: “Never can we as EFF allow that a Constitutional right, like the provisioning of clean water, be allowed to settle political scores within the Democratic Alliance, or be violated because of lazy thinking.” Beyond political fragmentation and this escalating blame game, structural environmental, racial, and class forces are driving this crisis. Cape Town has suffered from a historic, once-a-millenium drought for nearly three years. Since 1995, Cape Town’s population has grown by 79 percent, while water storage only increased by 15 percent, according to the Guardian. As the population
has grown, water has not been distributed equally: a July exposé from GroundUp, a South African news outlet, shows that 65 percent of the city’s water went to houses (half of that percentage used for nonessential purposes), while only 3.6 percent went to underfunded and crowded informal settlements. “Apartheid may have ended 20 years ago, but here in Cape Town the sense of apartness remains as strong as ever,” writes Oliver Wainwright in the Guardian. “After decades of enforced segregation, the feeling of division is permanently carved into the city's urban form, the physical legacy of a plan that was calculatedly designed to separate poor blacks from rich whites.” Indeed, spatial segregation remains a controversial living legacy of South Africa’s apartheid government, which lost power to the ANC in 1994. “Cape Town was conceived with a white-only centre, surrounded by contained settlements for the black and coloured labour forces,” writes CityLab. Despite a number of successful affirmative action programs, like Nelson Mandela’s Reconstruction and Development Programme—which built millions of free homes for working class (particularly non-white) South Africans—informal settlements and townships surrounding major cities (originally all-white metropolises) remain crowded, racially homogenous, and economically disadvantaged. For example, 55 percent of Black adults lived in townships where more than 40 percent of residents are working-class, according to a 2007 report by FutureFact. These areas are hit hardest by Day Zero, and have historically received inadequate amounts of water. As EFF leader Julius Malema writes, “Black people have been living without water for a very long time. They are still without water today. They don’t know what is Day Zero because they’ve never had day one in their lives.” While the drought persists and Cape Town increasingly looks like it will be the world’s first major city to run out of water, shortages are straining the city’s economic and social fabric. Day Zero may sound like an equalizing, universal phenomenon, assuming that everyone in Cape Town will bear the responsibility for the drastically reduced water usage and a lack of tap water. However, the drought has already aggravated the racial and class inequalities that determine how water is distributed in Cape Town. This means that working-class communities of color will shoulder the burden of resource depletion in a world devastated by climate change. +++ Water scarcity is a relatively recent phenomenon. Large-scale water shortages first appeared in the 19th century, but they did not become a global threat until the last decade or so, according to Matti Kummu of Aalto University in Finland. “Water shortage increased extremely rapidly from 1960 onward, with the proportion of the global population living under chronic water shortage increasing from nine percent, or 280 million people, in 1960 to 35 percent (2,300 million) in 2005,” Kummu told the Environmental Research Lab. This is largely a result of exponential population growth (especially in areas with already strained water access) and erratic weather patterns brought on by climate change. As the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) notes, accelerating droughts, deforestation, pollution, and wasteful
What happens when the taps run dry?
water consumption have exacerbated our world’s water crisis, welcoming a rhetoric of panic and apocalypse. “Fresh water is overtaking oil as the scarcest critical resource. In the same way, oil gave a shape to geopolitics and the environment and our daily lives in the 20th century, water is starting to do so in the 21st century,” writes Steven Solomon, author of Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization. The tendency of Western media outlets ranging from Al Jazeera to the Huffington Post to sensationalize distress has resulted in floods of images of the “Age of Scarcity” or the “Age of Thirst.” While water scarcity remains a pressing issue, media fantasies of Hunger Games-esque “water wars” undercut the need for global solidarity in a world of unequal access. Sensationalism aside, water scarcity does represent the largest global risk over the next decade, according to a 2015 World Economic Forum (WEF) report. The report states that one-third of the world’s population now dwells in “water-stressed areas,” and nearly a billion people live without access to safe drinking water. Water scarcity not only threatens drinking water, but also agriculture (particularly California and India, whose economies and food sources depend on large-scale irrigation), energy (with more water needed to produce electricity), geological integrity (Jakarta sunk four meters in a decade from overdrawing water), and conflict (e.g. how drought has intensified the Syrian civil war). WEF has posited that because the crisis affects everyone, water scarcity will likely bring the world together. But water scarcity varies drastically in impact based on a country’s wealth, geographic location, and class systems. Such international inequalities related to water scarcity play out acutely in Cape Town, where deep-seated class disparities dictate who has access to water. Formally, the successful implementation and enforcement of the city’s water management plan would result in a democratization of access across all races and classes. After Day Zero, each resident would be limited to 50 liters a day—roughly the amount a standard washing machine uses in one cycle—and everyone would wait in line to receive their daily rations. To foster this sense of togetherness, online water consumption maps allow neighbors to monitor each other's usage, maintaining discipline through shame. Similarly, as the Guardian reports, some sports clubs (though hardly economically diverse institutions) have installed buzzers on their showers in order to “embarrass people who linger under the water for more than two minutes.” As each day passes, the potential for cross-class solidarity proves increasingly unlikely, as rich Capetonians are both permitted and encouraged to sustain a privileged class consciousness that is not feasible for the poor. Already, some Capetonians have begun to dig private boreholes—a water collecting technique akin to wells–– in their backyards, according to the Guardian. Similarly, reminiscent of Harare (Zimbabwe’s capital which has suffered from water shortages for years), middle and upper class residents have scrambled to buy thousands of liters of disposable water bottles, an option out of reach for many. “You go to the shops and see people buying 20 bottles of water. It’s a ridiculous increase of disposable plastic,” David Gwynne-Evans, a local botanist, told the Guardian. Contentious local reports have found that some wealthy residents have continued to water
FEBRUARY 09, 2018
their lawns and fill up their swimming pools, despite the current 87 liter per-day limit. Poor Capetonians are bearing the brunt of water scarcity. For those who live in townships and informal settlements, Day Zero restrictions—compounded by poverty, lack of sanitation, and food insecurity—pose “an existential threat … As it is with every crisis everywhere, poor people will suffer the most,” writes Citylab. Broader trends of economic inequality beyond segregation exacerbate the water crisis and allow rich South Africans to continue to exploit ecological resources at the cost of the working class. This exploitation is most evident in the country's agricultural industry, which uses vast amounts of water and was built along sharp racial boundaries. In fact, undoing agricultural hierarchies has been one of the most contentious elements of post-apartheid racial conflict, as historically exploitative and violent white farmers have maintained a tenuous grip on much of the arable land in South Africa. This has resulted in decades of resistance by guerrilla forces staging attacks on (disproportionately white) farm-owners across the countryside. Some analyses have placed the cause of farm attacks on robbery fueled by economic inequality, a lack of government oversight, and the disbandment of the South African Commando System, which protected farmers until 2003. Meanwhile, leftist leaders of the ANC and EFF, such as Julius Malema, have forged campaigns around their deep criticism, and vilification, of white farmers, which some international NGOs have deemed an incitement of ethnic violence. The controversy and divisiveness of this issue intensified once more in Fall 2017, when #BlackMonday protesters demonstrated on behalf of murdered (particularly white) farmers, while simultaneously brandishing the apartheid flag and other racist symbols. A 2013 report from Africa Check illustrates the statistical ambiguity of measuring farm and racially motivated murders, and reveals that white Afrikaners are the least likely race group to be murdered, despite the current uproar and claims that they are being killed “like flies.” These racial dynamics, solidified and complicated by histories of apartheid, colonialism, and material inequality, play a central yet underreported role in Cape Town’s water crisis. Agricultural irrigation alone accounts for around 60 percent of water usage in South Africa, over twice as much as municipalities, according to 2013 statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. In light of the racial implications of water-intensive agricultural production, Day Zero takes on new dimensions as a symptom of an economic system that benefits the wealthy and exploits the larger population––to the point of turning off their taps. Cape Town resident David Gwynne-Evans, in response to expanded vineyard operations during the drought, told the Guardian, “Wine is a luxury. We shouldn’t be using water for that, yet even now new vineyards are opening.” The question remains as to whether vineyards will cut back production in the future. As Day Zero approaches, several other questions also remain unanswered. For one, where will the 200 water distributions stations be located, and how will they map in relation to the country’s entrenched race and class lines? Additionally, although city officials have deliberately downplayed their deployment of military and police personnel (to guard water distribution centres, reservoirs, and other strategic areas), the possibility of state
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
intervention and over-policing in low-income communities remains, especially considering that, according to the Guardian, the city will allocate its military forces according to a given area’s “past history of protest or gang activity.” A similar situation occurred during São Paulo’s 2015 water shortage, in which military leaders, fearing social upheaval, secretly plotted plans to take control of water resources. While this may not occur in Cape Town, the spectre of state repression through resource scarcity management looms. +++ No major city like Cape Town has ever resorted to cutting municipal supplies before, and this event signals a critical moment in our climate history. In the midst of the Western media frenzy around Cape Town’s water shortage, which feeds into popular panic, local and international climate leaders are scrambling to negotiate how to best prevent Day Zero. Meanwhile, some less sensationalist stories are not getting told––specifically, the impact of South Africa’s racial divides on water distribution, and the smaller moments of local resilience and mobilization. For instance, “the small town of Stellenbosch, which is part of the greater Cape Town area, has developed local groundwater resources, and has been so successful in reducing its water consumption levels that it will disconnect from the main City of Cape Town water supply system in April,” Seth Schultz, Director of Science & Innovation at C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, told the Independent. “The residents of Stellenbosch (some 156,000 people across all income groups) do not face Day Zero as a result of the town's proactive approach, but are obviously still under severe water restrictions.” In this sense, perhaps Cape Town, with the help of the international attention it is receiving, could serve as a broader model for global scarcity solidarity and mobilization. After all, across the world, 845 million people already lack access to clean water, in ways that expose the extreme racial, social, and political inequality built into the continual battle for resources in a world wracked by climate change. At the time of publication, experts estimate that Day Zero will occur on May, 11, 2018.
CHRIS PACKS B’20 forgot to watch Day Zero.
ON SCROLLING Scrolling is the single gesture–besides maybe walking or blinking–that I perform most in my everyday life. Two fingers, or maybe just a thumb, sliding across frictionless glass, panning the screen downward. Just looking at your fingers, it seems like you’re indulging in an anxious tick, or furtively shepherding the data out of your machine. As automatic as breathing, as pervasive as air, it has become hardwired into our metacarpal musculature. Research indicates that most users begin scrolling immediately— sometimes before a page has even loaded. Scrolling is so ingrained as to seem part of the natural order of our interfaces, but it is no more natural than any of its potential alternatives. The history of scrolling reveals several internets that could have been, each resting on a different solution to the simple problem: How to fit all of that data on one screen?
scrolling on a computer screen requires a certain suspension of disbelief: the flat plane you are gazing at must be understood as a virtual space that can be navigated. This is best illustrated by a classic debate surrounding scrolling: Are you, the viewer, moving your perspective through an imaginary space? Or is your perspective fixed while the document moves in front of you? This question dates back to the early 1980s, when the Xerox Star chose inward-facing arrows for its scrollbar, while its competitor, the Apple Lisa, chose outward-facing arrows. In each case, the mechanism is exactly the same—the top arrow scrolls up, the bottom arrow scrolls down—but the premise is inverted. Xerox’s scrollbar proposes that its handles control the document, which you are pulling downward when you scroll up,
Genealogy of scrolling There are two different frameworks through which one can understand the lineage of scrolling. The first treats scrolling primarily as a technology for reading, comparing it to other historical reading interfaces such as the wax tablet, the codex, or its eponymous paper scroll. The second frames scrolling as a visual phenomena, comparable to other developments which have occurred on the picture-plane in Western visual culture. As the erratic blend of image and text on any contemporary newsfeed demonstrates, neither approach is fully sufficient. Everything that can happen on a screen is within scrolling’s purview, and its mechanics are indifferent to the type of content displayed. Scrolling is a fundamentally visual phenomena in that its basic action is a simple geometric transformation, yet its function is identical to that of the page turn and other physical gestures that retrieve information; this becomes obvious when you consider that it has largely replaced them.
Scrolling as seeing Many elements from the Western artistic canon have left their traces in computer interfaces. Both the screen and the painting are flat, rectangular surfaces which contain an enframed virtual space. Furthermore, as in painting,
and upward when you scroll down. Apple’s scrollbar implies that you are in control of your own perspective, which you can move along a rigid path. Although desktop computers tended to adopt the Apple scrollbar, smartphone interfaces moved toward the Xerox system. Touchscreens allow us to push and prod rectangular frames—even, sometimes, to fling them offscreen. Apple’s 2011 OS X Lion, in turn, imported another of the smartphone’s scrolling characteristics back to the desktop environment: it made the scrollbar invisible. On smartphones, there is often no on-screen indication of scrolling other than its effect. Your thumb is doing the
BY Zak Ziebell DESIGN BY Laura Kenney
visual labor here. For users of an Apple desktop or device, the scrollbar is now ghostly. It might sometimes materialize, briefly, but always fades out of view as soon as the gesture closes. Its default state is complete transparency.
Scrolling as reading During the first four thousand years of Western written language, reading and writing took place on tablets, pieces of animal skin, and rolls of papyrus. The first major break with these technologies occurred with the invention and eventual widespread adoption of the codex, which we are familiar with today as the book. The codex offered several advantages over the scroll: it permitted use of both sides of the page, allowed the joining of smaller texts into a single volume, and facilitated use through pagination. Ultimately, this allowed for easier movement through the text, and more effective forms of organization. While these advantages soon led to the ubiquity of the codex and the relative disappearance of the scroll, the scroll never vanished entirely—rather it was subsumed within the logic of the codex. In Augustine’s City of God, for instance, the entire book is understood as a singular codex while its interior divisions reflected the quantity of text held on a single roll. Representations of a text in painting and sculpture consistently appeared as scrolls. A similar infolding of previous technologies is visible in digital infrastructures today: as early computer interfaces replaced the traditional office, they also absorbed its accoutrements as icons so that familiarity could engender ease of use. Most shifts in the reproduction and presentation of text, however, have occurred without any significant alteration of interface. Gutenberg’s revolution progressed without disturbing the form of the book. Thus the transition to digital scrolling is truly unprecedented, as it involves a shift not only in the physical means of reading—as the adoption of the codex did—but also a radical alteration in the production of materials, and, arguably, a change in the way we read. This shift in reading style has precedents in two other transitions: one from oralized to silent reading, the other from intensive to extensive reading. In late antiquity, reading and writing were extremely technical acts which
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required specialized knowledge. Early Christians did not easily glean information off a page like modern readers; reading was more like a “decoding” that required two distinct scans: an oral sounding of the continuous string of syllables that revealed words, followed by another oral recitation of the text after words had been identified. Reading here is akin to a software demo, in which spectators gather while a trained specialist handles interactions with the data. The advent of silent reading both condensed and individuated the process—one now could read alone with no witness. The other major shift, from intensive to extensive reading, occurred in the latter half of the 18th century as paper goods became more accessible and printing was standardized. Intensive reading, in which a reader deals with a small canon of established texts, gave way to extensive reading, in which a reader rapidly consumes a wide breadth of materials. Expanded access to text and, with it, new reading habits helped catalyze revolutions across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, as political pamphlets transported information at an unprecedented speed.
If the revolutions of early modernity were kindled with printed pamphlets, our current revolution in social media has been delivered to us conveyor-belt style through an infinite scroll. Introduced on the internet in the late 2000s, infinite scrolling—in which new content is loaded dynamically as the user scrolls downwards—has become the primary method of consumption for almost every social media platform. There is no 'bottom' to speak of on your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feed. This technique has attracted criticism hinging on everything from the minor annoyance of losing your place in the endless feed to more serious charges of fueling internet addiction. What kind of content propagates under the logic of the infinite scroll? What are the political ramifications of holding public debate in a constant free-fall? Compact, disposable media has always tended towards the bombastic and hyperbolic, as the political pamphlets and yellow journalism of past centuries will confirm. But what happens when the shelves of the print shop are outfitted with conveyor belts? This continuous scroll of text, a frameless deluge, expands access to raw information, but can equally leave one overly extended, flooded with data and deprived of context. Scrolling succeeds in quantity, but it fails in complexity.
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Alternatives There is also a dark lineage of reading revolutions—those that never truly materialized, yet still dwell at the peripheries of our digital experience. In 1986, Berkley Softworks released GEOS, an operating system for the Commodore 64 personal computer. Short for Graphic Environment Operating System, it adopted many of the features of its competitors—windows, a desktop, icons—with a key difference. Instead of navigating through the contents of a window by scrolling, GEOS users clicked a dog-eared corner to flip through a metaphorical stack of pages. While GEOS never took off, stacking has continued to lurk in the background as the main alternative to scrolling. In fact, the first hypermedia system, HyperCard, a precursor to the modern internet, was constructed with a card-stacking metaphor central to its design. The system revolved around stacks of virtual cards that could be flipped through, much like a Rolodex. Empowering the user was a central aspect of HyperCard: stacks were user-generated and customizable. Scrolling is a gesture tasked with retrieving more information for the user within a document, while a hyperlink retrieves more information from outside the document. In HyperCard, these two gestures were one and the same. Traversal within documents and meta-traversal of documents employed the exact same atomic gesture of flipping to the next card in a stack. While it anticipated many features of the modern internet, HyperCard was limited to files on a user’s local hard drive. This key limitation led to the project’s cancellation in 2000.
Books, scrolls, clay tablets, and webpages are all essentially means of structuring documents—providing an ordered interface through which we may access their data. Libraries, hypertext, and the internet are means of structuring relationships between documents, so that we might interface with their network. HyperCard was unique in that it offered novel solutions to both problems, recognizing that documents and their networks now shared a single visual plane. One remnant of stack-based interfaces still lingers in social media, however, which largely function as
information retrieval services; you browse Facebook or Twitter to gather novel information about friends, the news, or just to absorb content. As a user, your main power is to navigate this content visually by traveling along a one-dimensional path, the order of which is typically curated by an algorithm. In Facebook this arrives in the form of a newsfeed, which is populated by a linear thread of card-like posts. Tweets similarly adopt a cardform. Of course, both services work to distinguish their platforms from the content that fills them. That is, no one would ever consider Facebook itself to be a post, or Twitter to be a single tweet. Your movement here extends both through scrolling and card-flipping, yet the greater milieu is fixed as something entirely different. But what if, as in HyperCard, traversal within webpages and between websites was accomplished through a single gesture? Can a web be envisioned in which services that aggregate content become archaic? In which the atomic navigational step carries the range of a search engine and the specificity of a scroll? In the mid-1990s, Douglas Engelbart—credited with the mouse, networked computers, and the window— proposed Open Hyperdocument System (OHS), a “knowledge ecosystem” that would encapsulate the information of the world. Some of its basic elements—a hypermedia system much like HyperCard, in which any point of any piece of media could link to a different point in another, and view control, in which all documents could be displayed according to a flexible choice of options—remain largely unrealized. Similarly, in 1960, Ted Nelson—who coined the terms “hypertext” and “hypermedia”—proposed a “global hypertext publishing system” known as Project Xanadu. While Xanadu also failed to materialize, Nelson has since criticized the modern web as “an imitation of paper” that oversimplifies many of hypertext’s possibilities. Indeed, both Englebart and Nelson have gone on to lament the web’s fixation on linking and scrolling; for both, it fails to live up to the potential of the human mind, which elegantly leaps from concept to concept, fluidly traversing across levels of semantic reasoning and drawing new patterns along the way. Apart from these faltering glimmers of a different form of digital movement, the prevailing paradigm, largely based on linking to a file and then searching and scrolling through the files, has remained. A gesture which misses the true promise of new media to more closely align with how our brains think and connect ideas. Our minds do not think inside of pages, files, or apps. We think in concepts, we dart around fluidly at whatever level of detail suits the moment, connecting the dots, sparking moments of insight. These strange and failed alternatives remind us of the extent to which present information technology has only served to automate and adapt us to a linear, paperbased world.
ZAK ZIEBELL B/RISD '19 still lurks the forums.
MARK MY HEIGHT, I’M TALLER THAN I WAS YESTERDAY BY Wen Zhuang ILLUSTRATION BY Kalina Winters DESIGN BY Ella Rosenblatt
“Someone should let them know. Someone should be sent, scramble back to, wherever it is.” — Autumn, Ali Smith
1. Recollect Picture: She’s seven. Seven, and her eyes are in highgear dashing left right left right, interspersed with some ups and arounds, tracing the tip of all of Patrick’s arms, wishing she had that many arms—wishing she looked like a star. They’re breaking down the word FRIENDS today, beginning with the letter F. You break recollection and think of the word F-U-C-K. You return again. Aware it’s been said—though only with authority, a certain kind—maybe only that which is attainable by someone much taller, with much larger hands. The letter F, even on its own, has the power to command an entire subsequent sentence. The sixth letter of the English alphabet. Till now, power of this kind felt vested only in what came First.
2. Affect Fifteen—a year before the world ends (for the first time)—fifteen, she’s just read Jane Eyre; fifteen and one end of the thread is snipped, the other to be gathered later; knowing all that she’s sure she wants, gleaning over all that she wants to want. The end lets loose a string of forthcoming twists, she braces for the turns. She evaluates and awards herself points for character, for its effect, for its attraction; all that is to know, all judgment still rests solely with her. This power comes for the first time and if it keeps, it won’t be the last, believing this power will remain and that all forthcoming evaluations will be judged by herself too. The First Time. The Only Time, that on the Teeter-Totter, uncertainty from one’s inexperience, faces off with unfiltered excitement from one’s naivety. This first snip of the string is a sturdy bite; it comes with the realization that one might claim all faces—no side of the die is less than the other. All roles, though once leading, grow and sit as supports. Jane as the wife of Rochester. As Bertha in the attic. As young Jane, in love for the first time with her best friend Helen. In love for the last time with Currer and Charlotte and Jane. Sauntering down the stairs, daydreams disseminate and unfettered confidence meet it to make a whole once more. She asks her parents for double doors to be installed, so that both your right arm and your left might withhold equal responsibility—so that the doors that open might be wider, might let in more air, might allow you to see greater, further. You cite the reason as a possible decline in slammed doors, leading to a possible decline in angry faces, quarrels, the threshold for understanding may widen. You try out lying for the first time; you shed guilt for the first time.
3. Neglect Twenty-one—horizontal now, no longer vertical— twenty-one and she is dealt a similar lesson, this time nostalgia lives close by, having taken the place of fascination. She attempts to think of letters again, the way they used to build words and command a sentence all on their own. This time with H. H for Harrowing, O for Over, and W for Wake. Lying dormant, the weight of their meaning, and all the more that are possible—their meanings—compounds her. Each letter warrants countless associations; weight she happily carried with both arms, balanced on both legs, now seems all too heavy with little to zero of their prior enchantment. Scowling at each word—Harrowing, Over, Wake—and the sentences that might follow, remember what has been taken away. She defaults to cowardice amid all that is now present, possible. Blinking twice in hopes that the second blink brings the disappearance of the associations she cannot yet face, might never be willing to. Past counting sheep, she starts with the most pubescent form of words: dirty, stained, unkempt, indecent. Second blink, you wait for the necessity of a third. So on, and so on, until eyes closed.
remain ceaseless. With that same right arm, a load is stacked and that other (but same) left arm carries the weight of the next, balanced on both legs. Each shift in position commences the same process: upper-set to place and carry, lower-set to stand and balance. She takes earlier words, unkempt for example, and begins to stack U, followed by N, followed by K, E, M, P, T. Stopping at each letter, the weight of each doubling over, tripling even. At times, taking days to balance out just the letter U: Unable to be there on one side. And Understanding my place there on the other. A lot of energy is needed for one to attain balance. Until that alignment clicks, you accept that rest is given to those who sleep.
6. Director Left Pinky finger on shift—Right Middle on i. Left Pinky on a; right Index on m. Left Index on t; left Pinky on a; right Ring on l; right Ring on l; left Middle on e; left Index on r. Left Index t; right Index on h; left Pinky on a; right Index on n. Right Middle on I. Left Ring on w; left Pinky on a; left Ring on s. Right Index on y; left Middle on e; left Ring on s; right Index on t; left Middle on e; right Index on r; left Middle on d; left Pinky on a; right Index on y.
4. Lie detector
Dealt her second lie. This time, it’s one-against-one. This time, the results rest far from her favor and she comes away with neither riches nor answers. She leaves puzzled, and, ironically, doors slam shut this time. Though now she’s hiding with the runner, the staircase, and all else exterior to the doors. No doors might have been smarter, thinking back to requests from an earlier time. With the opening, either single or double, comes a shutting. Forgiving herself at age fifteen; double doors meant that space for more light might open, realizing now that doors meant the same could be shut off. Now that you’re on the outside, you meet eternal light, boundless space, but you stand paralyzed.
Subject line of email from this week’s newsletter: “What is your literary flaw?” It’s comforting; a flaw seemed to be over-arching, all-encompassing until now. Flawed so nice try, flawed so come back, flawed so maybe not this time. Elated by the possibility of multiples now, she figures she can forget trying to balance. Too many to fit, wanting more, more so that all will fall. You can’t wait to have your Flaw be divided by x and for x to be Venn-diagrammed into what you can live with, what you cannot, and what you might be able to.
5. Film Projector Each image passes fast now, torn by static. She extends her arms as her feet fall behind, hoping to stay. That Teeter-Totter, having shown what it needs, is futile now. It goes without saying that the max load a Teeter-Totter can handle comes in twos; the only consistent factors in her life are still those two arms and those two legs. Well-oiled still, though fumbling occasionally when used simultaneously. Loads seem to multiply at light speed now that all else has sped. She takes her time balancing, believing all things with patience prove fruitful and thus
8. Objecter Third lie. She’s trashed this quest for balance, sneering at wanting to have it happen all on the stage of a TeeterTotter, on any stage. With those (still) same two arms and those respective two legs, she stacks everything in a frenzy and they stand tall and apart and she sits back and far, wondering how long this might stand. You hope what stands tall now might rid itself in time, with agronomy. Left foot kicks the dirt. Before it falls, you stomp ahead. Clacking louder than the last step. Final lie, you hope. Fourth blink, eyes shut, you wait. WEN ZHUANG RISD ‘19 wishes someone would narrate her life in first person.
FEBRUARY 09, 2018
I’M NOT GOING
Architecture, Columbus, and the possibilities of caring
BY Josh Wartel ILLUSTRATION BY Eve O’Shea DESIGN BY Amos Jackson
In 2009, Texas Monthly published a long story recounting the relationship between a mother, Ann McClamrock, and her son, John. John became something of a national sensation in 1973 after it was reported that a junior varsity football practice had left him paralyzed. Phone calls and letters arrived from all over the country; players from the Dallas Cowboys paid him a visit, and everyone hoped that John would be able to walk again soon. But John never did move any muscle below his neck. The press stopped paying attention, John came home from the hospital, and the long period of care began. From 1974 until his death, John relied on his mother for care. The Texas Monthly article, by Skip Hollandsworth, gives us some idea of Ann’s daily routine: To prevent bedsores, she turned him constantly throughout the day, rolling him onto one side and holding him in place with pillows, then rolling him onto his back, then rolling him to his other side—over and over and over. Over and over and over. The days becoming months, and then years. The repetition revealing a twin terror of unceasing labor and, worse, its opposite: stillness, paralysis, death. When John died in 2009, Ann had nothing else to live for. “She wandered through the house, always holding onto a wall, not sure what to do,” Hollandsworth writes. “At one point, she picked up the phone and asked [her other son] Henry for the number of a Dallas department store that had been closed for decades.” Ann’s recollection of a closed department store reveals a nostalgia that has tilted over into cognitive paralysis, her mind searching for the past exactly where it was buried so long ago. This frozen matter of personal history is embedded in Hollandsworth’s writing, including the decision to begin and end his piece not with memories of John’s life, but with observations of place and real estate. The very first paragraph describes the McClamrock home: “Compared with the glistening two-story mansions that surrounded it, the house looked like something from another time... Its redbrick exterior was crumbling, and its gutters were clogged with leaves.” Thousands of words later, the story closes with the surviving son and brother, Henry, taking ownership of the family home. “The visitor noticed that Henry had started remodeling, pulling out the old shag carpet and repainting the walls. Henry shrugged. ‘I don’t know if I can ever leave,’ he said. ‘This has been a good home. It’s been a very good home.’” Architecture, even in its solid and stationary state, is not exempt from care. +++ What relationship does care have with forms of creative storytelling? Perhaps for the Texas Monthly piece, the answer is just in the title, “Still Life,” which connotes not only John and Ann’s will-to-live, but also a genre of painting that takes as its subject matter “anything that does not move or is dead.” John’s story has already offered that there is a world of difference between what “does not move” and “is dead.” Yet this is a difference that is difficult to capture in writing, because writing is immobile. The desire for movement is nonetheless one of the latent dreams of the text, a dream that Hollandsworth
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demonstrates when he recounts a conversation between John and Henry. “‘You know, I never had sex. I’ll never make love to a woman.’ [John] gave his brother a look. ‘Is there any way you can tell me what it feels like?’” Here, the impossible movements of John’s own body and the text unite into the promise and disappointment of narration. Where spatial movement is impossible, there is only temporal motion or narrative. The question of care grows between the movements of Ann and the stillness of John. This relationship between stillness and movement often becomes even clearer to us in film. Columbus, written and directed by the pseudonymous video essayist Kogonada in 2017, provides the viewer with a series of care-based relationships to navigate against a backdrop of high architecture. When a distinguished architecture professor collapses in the first scene, his son, Jin, flies back from Seoul to learn if his father will recover or die. Jin meets a young woman, Casey, who has left college so that she can stay in Columbus, Indiana to help her mother, a recovering meth addict. What forms between Jin and Casey is a persistent dialogue that forgoes erotic potentials and tensions in favor of conversation and friendship. This possibility is conditional on the very place where Jin and Casey meet: Columbus, Indiana—an architectural wonder full of modernist churches, banks, a conference center, and a gas station. The crown jewel of Columbus’s architectural heritage, and Casey’s favorite, is the 1953 home of J. Irwin Miller, a business executive who sparked the modernist building boom in Columbus by personally paying the fees of architecture firms. Casey’s goal at the outset of the film is to become a Columbus tour guide, a job that encompasses both education (not many people study architecture) and stewardship (keeping the cultural memory of Columbus alive). As Jin recognizes, Casey’s interest in architecture would have delighted his father, who preached a doctrine of “modernism with a soul.” “He would have loved you,” Jin tells Casey, in a moment that carries its sadness in what is not said—that his father had not loved him much, if at all. He doesn’t hang around the hospital bed waiting for signs. In fact, he actively fears the recovery of his father from the coma, as the professor would expect to return to Korea, where Jin would be burdened by the long-term work of caregiving and performing grief and mourning. “So you don’t want him to get better?” Casey asks. “Maybe not.” The film ultimately leaves Jin still waiting on his father for some kind of end to arrive or for their relationship to begin again. The indeterminacy of Jin’s relationship to his father is emblematic of the unstable ethics of care. The uncertainty that we can never predict a relationship’s duration or effects is tempered by the certainty that a relationship of care must come to an end, that Jin’s father’s death was always just a matter of time. This same uncertainty innate to care can equally be witnessed through the journalism of “Still Life,” where John understands that his death will leave Ann alone, a state she would find unbearable. Before Casey can leave to study architecture in New Haven, a series of goodbyes reframes the concept of the end that is essential to any caring relationship. Casey’s goodbye with her own mother reflects the complications of the caring relationship that preceded it. Throughout the film, Casey cares for her mother through the same
type of labor that defines Ann’s relationship to John. We see Casey preparing food before virtually all of her interactions with her mother. The goodbye dinner is no different and is even punctuated by Casey leaving her with a collection of recipes. Her mother’s gratefulness is supplemented by a realization of regret, specifically relating to a lack of travel and movement, a regret that also flows through “Still Life,” where Ann and John rarely left their house for decades. Casey’s mom wishes that “[she] had done more things [with her daughter], like taking a trip.” Through her tears, Casey’s reply is a struggle for words. Eventually she offers a sense of presence: “I loved being with you.” Can Casey’s mother continue the process of recovering from her drug addiction without her? We don’t know. In a reversal of traditional parentchild roles, it is Casey, the symbolic parent, who must move on and leave her mother behind. As we arrive at the last scene of Columbus and Casey’s goodbye to Jin, her exhaustion is visible. Kogonada surprises us by staging this final parting not in or around a modernist setting, but on the side of road, in a clearing. It is only when Kogonada cuts to a wide image that we see Jin and Casey are surrounded by trees, clearly angled in the same lean and hunched posture as the embrace between Jin and Casey. Contrasting with the straight lines of modernist architecture, these crooked angles bring into question the relationship between our damaged bodies and selves, and the forms of art that strive for wholeness and unity. Before the credits roll, Columbus concludes with a montage of the places Casey has lived. The stillness and silence of these places now, without any people, reminds us of the contradiction of life that is both vibrant and still. Everywhere where there is life, there must be movement. The cinema knows this, as did the McClamrocks. John was paralyzed, but never completely. He would spend hours reading newspapers and encyclopedias. On weekends, John would shift his head so that he could watch on television the very sport that destroyed him. His friends from long ago would come by and John would tell them, “Come on back, anytime you want. Believe me, I’m not going anywhere.” These two narratives demonstrate the life that can, and must, exist within the paradox of stillness and movement. Against the limitation of paralysis or the static strength of architecture, the depiction of caring specifically features the qualities of life that must remain in motion. As narrative moves forward, systems of care expose the subtle dynamisms within situations rooted in uncertainty and consequence. When John finally did pass away and Ann was left all alone, with no one to care for her, her hallucinations did not neglect the persistent ideal of movement. She would stand in the doorway of John’s bedroom, staring blankly at his bed. “Johnny?” she said. “Johnny, are you walking?” The memory of a living John, beyond death, beyond stillness, still wanders on. JOSH WARTEL B’19 has never been to Indiana.
Be yo nd
e v i ct e sp a cu r e ltural relativist p
BY Orwa Mohamad ILLUSTRATION BY Dorothy Windham DESIGN BY Amos Jackson
Rising nationalist sentiments in Western countries have put religious freedom under attack. With President Trump placing a ban on the entry of nationals of several Muslim countries, including Iraq, Syria, and Iran, and the increasing prevalence of far right and anti-Muslim rhetoric in Western Europe and the US, activists have mobilized to protect the religious freedom of those under attack. Muslim residents and citizens of these countries are feeling increasingly unsafe in practicing their religion. While the entire Muslim population bears the brunt of this discrimination, Muslim women in particular have struggled with wearing the veil in public settings, as it is a clear visual representation of religious identity. As women in the West struggle for the right to wear a veil, Iranian women protest against the restrictive practice of wearing the same piece of clothing. Last week, Iran witnessed a large protest movement against the mandatory Hijab law, resulting in the arrests of 29 women. By no means did these women renounce Islam in totality, but they protested the strict imposition of Islamic law on Iranian women, as part of a greater wave of anti-government protests that began at the end of
December 2017. To put this in perspective, Iranian police have warned, arrested, or sent to court over 3.6 million women on charges of ‘bad Hijab’ in 2017 alone. These contrasting politicizations of the veil are worth studying. While the Hijab has become a symbol of anti-imperialist, Muslim resistance in the West, it still embodies a system of state-sponsored patriarchy to many Iranian women. The prevalent Western depiction of the Hijab as a symbol of oppression is rooted in the West’s history of imparting an Orientalist gaze on Eastern subjects. Orientalism is a complicated concept, with a range of differing meanings. First, Orientalism is a Western discipline of scholarly work, that encompasses the study of languages, religions, art, law, philosophies and cultures of Eastern nations. The discipline was established in the early 18th century by British, French and later American scholars because of their countries' colonial interests in these regions. Second, it is a worldview, a set of representations of ‘The Orient’ by ‘The Occident,’ or to quote postcolonial scholar Edward Said, “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and (most of the time)
‘the Occident’”. Third, Orientalism is a powerful political tool for domination. While these three understandings are different, they are also products of one another. The colonial interests of Britain and France in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia sparked a movement of scholarly work to understand these regions. Orientalist writings of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century were influenced by the colonial interest itself. This prevented an objective study of these cultures, and instead created a misguided perception of the East. This perception, which is rooted in political intellectualism, is defined as the psychological process of self-affirmation of European identity in contrast with the fictional image of ‘the Orient.’ Rooted in European supremacy and eurocentrism, Orientalism depicts the Orient as being primitive, irrational, violent, despotic, and essentially inferior to the West. Hence, Orientalism suggests that progress can only be achieved through the adoption of “progressive” and “modern” ideas that are a product of the West’s “enlightenment.” Although significant steps have been taken to counter Orientalist views in academia, this progress has
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AND WHAT IT HOLDS mainly occurred through the adoption of cultural relativism, resulting in an apologetic, highly sensitive, and weakly critical analysis in an attempt to understand these cultures. Cultural relativism states that one’s beliefs, values, and behaviors are highly influenced by one’s own culture and must be understood as such, rather than being judged according to some external criteria. The principle of cultural relativism was created as a method for conducting an objective academic analysis of non-Western cultures. It promotes a self-critical approach towards one’s own pre-existing biases to avoid the imposition of Western cultural, moral, and academic paradigms on non-western peoples. Following September 11, 2001, a number of Western scholars expressed their concerns regarding ways in which Muslim women have been portrayed to be oppressed by their own culture. The veil became a symbol of women’s oppression in the Middle East and the Muslim World. Muslim women have been called “women of cover” to allude to the similar status of oppression as “women of color.” For example, in 2001, Laura Bush claimed that Afghan women were “rejoicing” for American liberation. The West has instrumentalized Orientalist tropes to promote and rationalize Western intervention in the Middle East under the mission of rescuing Muslim women from their culture. Media representations of Muslim women are saturated with images of difficult living conditions, as they focus on extreme cases of women’s rights abuses. These representations attribute the abuse in large part, if not solely, to Muslim culture. This has constructed an image of the East as the antithesis to the progressive, liberal West and its emancipated women. In response, cultural relativists, such as anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod, argued that it is misguided to assume that these images and representations of Muslim women are sufficient to understand the various realities they experience. Furthermore, Abu-Lughod claimed that it is even more misguided to attribute these supposedly oppressed realities to some cultural influence. Out of this approach, and triggered by the rising misrepresentation of Muslim women in Western media, some culturally sensitive scholars undertook cultural relativism to explain the veil as a socially significant object, rather than a sign of oppression. Abu-Lughod points out that women in Afghanistan did not throw away their veils once the Taliban was gone; the burqa was not invented by the Taliban, and instead was a traditional garment symbolizing modesty. The burqa, like some other forms
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
of ‘cover,’ has, in many settings, marked the symbolic separation of men's and women's spheres. This separation posits that women belong at home with family, not in public spaces where strangers interact with one another. Anthropologist Hanna Papanek explains the veil as “portable seclusion,” allowing women to enter a public sphere that was once restricted to men only. However, it is crucial to understand how the veil functions in relation to patriarchal ideology. What distinguishes ideology from other apparatuses, French philosopher Louis Althusser explains, is that it conceals itself to those working within it. No one can ever understand or recognize their ideological position from within but can only recognize the ideology in which others are placed. As Althusser writes, “ideology never says, ‘I am ideological.’ It is necessary to be outside ideology, to be able to say: I am in ideology.” He also notes that “the accusation of being in ideology only applies to others, never to oneself.” It is precisely for this reason that it is important to scrutinize and criticize the role of the veil. The veil functions as a structure of ideology that enforces and maintains a patriarchal social structure, that in turn enforces specific power relations. Such understanding of the veil is absent from culturally relativist discussions, as they seems to be much more critical of Western perceptions of the veil than they are of the veil itself, strictly defining it as a cultural object and disregarding its ideological function. The veil is undeniably a cultural object, but it is precisely because the veil is so prevalent within Middle Eastern societies that we must question the ideology behind it. Due to their focus on cultural significance, anthropologists such as Lila Abu-Lughod fail to be critical of the veil. In the essay “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?,” Abu-Lughod seeks to counter the narrative that the veil is an oppressive apparatus, and explains its function as a highly practical cultural object. In the Pashtun region of Afghanistan, Abu-Lughod claims that the veil functions as portable seclusion. Later, referencing an article in the New York Times, she quotes an Afghan female refugee street vendor in Pakistan, who said: “If I did [wear the burqa] people would tease me because the burqa is for ‘good women’ who stay inside the home.” Abu-Lughod interprets this as a sign of the cultural significance and connotation of the burqa as a symbol for respectability and social status. However, the quote clearly implies that the definition of ‘good women’ in this society is a sexist one that deprives women from the right to seek work and
be active members of their society. This ideological function is concealed under the guise of symbolizing a higher social status. This is a perfect example of Patriarchal ideology concealing itself under the guise of culture. Abu-Lughod also references Egyptian women “pulling the black head cloth over the face in front of older men” as a “voluntary act by women who are deeply committed to being moral and have a sense of honor tied to family.” Indeed, it is a voluntary act; but because the ideology of the veil is so deeply embedded in the culture, and because these women are within this ideology, they are often not able to recognize the system of oppression they are being subjected to. Culturally relativist accounts fail to expose ideology because cultural relativism is inherently unable to do so. In order to conduct a study of a foreign culture, cultural relativism requires one to understand the values, beliefs and traditions of the culture and work from within its context. If the study is conducted from within the culture itself, adhering to its social and cultural conventions, the culture’s ideological state apparatus becomes inescapable. If we recall Althusser’s analysis of ideology, one cannot realize one’s own position in ideology, but can only realize the position of others. According to this, most culturally relativist analyses will inevitably fail to consider culture’s ideological underpinnings. The women who rose in protest against the imposition of Islamic law in Iran are aware of the ideology that the veil embodies. Wearing a veil is not a voluntary act rooted in ideology, but a practice that is necessary to undertake, or else face harsh consequences. Conversely, many Muslim women still wear the veil voluntarily. This is not to say that the solution to dismantling this patriarchal system of oppression is to ban the veil. Instead, the solution is to learn to live within this cultural framework while exposing the patriarchal nature of its ideological underpinnings. ORWA MOHAMAD B'20 thinks Laura Bush is wrong.
UNTITLED POEM ABOUT NAZBOL *** yekaterina volkova: singer, actress, former lover of eduard limonov back in his day he dedicated many poems to her they all dealt with approximately the same thing— how sweet she was, he having tired of revolution, of jails and political war, how sweet it was to fuck her, put her nipples in his mouth, put his dick in her mouth, fuck her passionately all over (some men call these sorts of relationships with women ‘a soldier’s rest’) some of these poems appeared in his book “the ussr is our ancient world” about which, back in the day, i really wanted to write a critique for the literary journal “vozdukh” but i still haven’t found the right words everyone was talking about their breakup but i’m pretty sure they still have a son (i still haven’t happened to find out just how all that attention complicated the kid’s future) and then limonov died right after the authorities finally agreed to allow a rally on the thirty-first on triumph square and one of the homes in the center of moscow memorialized him with a portrait and after the russian forces invaded the people’s republic of donetsk, soaking everything that once was in sewage, then they marched over the european side of ukraine, (after all, no sanctions have ever stopped the russian government before!) in the east they founded the russian national-bolshevik world (that same russian paradise) and not so much as one leftie bastard has yet been able to lay claim to the land (and overall the majority of them set off on a specially-organized steamship, and the corpses of the rest fertilized the very same land about which i spoke a few lines earlier)
BY Nikita Sungatov,
translated from Russian by Signe Swanson ILLUSTRATION AND DESIGN BY Gabriel Matesanz
they say that, before his death, limonov widened his eyes and tried to tell us something he used gestures to ask for a pen and paper but a mere macbook ended up in his hands they say, limonov could not write anything under these conditions, managing only something sort of like “bobbbbbbbbbbbbbbb12bb” likewise yekaterina volkova singer actress former lover of eduard limonov why do i remember her? oh yes not long ago when i was in one of our capitals on a diplomatic trip i caught a little excerpt from one of her songs from a car racing by at a tremendous speed i remembered that i’d heard that song once before, in my carefree youth when i was going to school at the gorky institute of world literature these are some words in this song: she knows that she’ll come back to you. she will touch you with fresh breath –– she. through the window like you just met she. like another singer once sang (edith piaf? or marilyn monroe? i don’t remember) i don’t feel sorry about anything yeah, i don’t feel sorry about anything when all this commotion started up i followed in the footsteps of the poet ochirov and left for a deaf village, where, after many years of selfless labor, i founded a small independent republic and even managed to obtain international legitimacy for us with barely any bloodshed
we live normally even prosperously we have been called “a new economic miracle” and we have such a vibrant culture, god grants everyone access to the best poets, musicians, playwrights, artists, film directors internationally recognized (the first time i heard that song it was in a sergey solovyov film 2-assa-2 which we watched in some dorm room at 4 a.m. during the last happy summer of my life) but whatever it’s time to finish this letter today i have a lot of work of importance to our state and i certainly must be present, as there will be three, no four (or three after all? — i don’t remember) executions
FEBRUARY 09, 2018
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
2.9 FRI Femme in Public: A Performance by Alok Vaid-Menon 7:30-8PM, Rites and Reason Theatre (155 Angell St) Writer and artist Alok Vaid-Menon will perform a collection of poems about their experiences as a transfeminine person in public. Keep your eyes glued to the Facebook event for ticketing details. 2.10 SAT Pondering, Sam Mayer, Bochek, and Nick Owen 9PM–12AM, JSB (52 John St) Come for the rock & roll music, stay for Sam’s chiseled jawline. $5–10 donation <3 2.11 SUN Medical & Herb Supply Drive for the L’eau est la Vie Camp 10AM–8PM, the FANG Collective (545 Pawtucket Ave, Pawtucket) Support indigenous activists in Louisiana fighting yet another breach of Native sovereignty by Energy Transfer Partners. A list of supplies to donate can be found on the group’s Facebook event. 2.12 MON New England Boat Show 1–9PM, Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (415 Summer St) I mean, you’ve probably lived in New England for a while at this point. Might as well look into buying a boat. Free for children 12 and under, $16 for the rest of us mariners. 2.13 TUES Beginning Runner Group—Info Session 6–7PM, 657 N Main St. My New Year’s resolutions never involve cardio, but if yours do, check out this info session hosted by Rhode Runner. Reserve a free ticket on Eventbrite. 2.15 THURS Too Much Of A Good Thing: A Shakespeare Shorts Festival Performances 7–9PM, afterparty 9PM, AS220 Black Box Theater (95 Empire St). Opening night of a three day Shakespeare festival. Several short performances followed by a party. $15–25 sliding scale, or $5 if you’re skipping the drama and going straight to the party.
Space is looking pretty cool right now! The planets are kind of all clustered close together, so things aren’t too “balanced,” if you will, but you’re probably used to that by now. But! There is a solar eclipse on February 15; [if/when] Valentine’s day is filthy, you’ll be able to cleanse the prints of its sticky little fingers off of your furniture. And then, Venus will be in Pisces, which is so cute and sweet! But probably not messy because Aquarius is keeping our sun nice and cold! THE LIST