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Al Jazeera // 3 Voodoo // 9 Fur // 11


Last summer, I had occasion to drink alcohol in a bar. I was with a friend of mine, and two of her friends, and they had just come from a stand-up comedy performance. I opened with what I thought was a totally reasonable rhetorical question: “Doesn’t stand-up make you feel uncomfortable? Like, isn’t it just people up there trying *so hard* and like, kind of being funny, but mostly struggling?” Turns out both of the new friends were aspiring stand-up comics. I was embarrassed. On Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to watch Michael Ian Black, Kevin Allison (both alums of MTV’s hit-and-miss 90s sketch comedy show “The State”), and sundry Brown University personalities perform at something called “RISK!”, which was not a board game event. Instead, it was like a comedy inflected version of The Moth; everyone got up and told stories. It was kind of cool. Kevin Allison’s impression of Michael Showalter (another “The State” veteran) was the best part. But I had an epiphany as I watching. Over spring break, in Portland OR, I had an opportunity to go to a ‘cool,’ ‘progressive’ strip club. Allegedly (i.e. don’t fact-check this) Portland has the most strip clubs per capita of any city in America. So there’s cool ones. The epiphany at the strip club—it wasn’t about feminism—was that watching someone strip was a lot like watching stand-up comedy. It’s kind of awkward. And to do it well just means that your audience is so affected that they don’t notice you trying really hard. Which is fine, unless you’re not that good at it—stripping, or telling jokes. When someone’s not good, at least for me, I am just thinking about what the person is feeling, and not happily objectingfying/laughing at them. I write this because, after sitting in an auditorium watch people telling jokes to try to make me laugh for 1.1 hours, I ended up in front of a computer, where I noticed that one of the trending topics on Twitter right now is #YouLookedGoodUntil, yielded such delightful tweets as: Diibbz305 #YouLookedGoodUntil I found out yo ass can’t cook! or WHOsDiamondMind #YouLookedGoodUntil you hit from the bong and coughed the bong water+your spit all over me. . .or JaeThaAlien #youlookedgooduntil the next morning! i turned over n all i saw was BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!!!! LOL. Then I actually lolled, all without having to worry about whether Jae Tha Alien is trying too hard, or feels insecure about his performance as a comic/stripper. –EJS

THE ISSUE: News WEEK IN REVIEW by Emily Gogolak, Anna Matejcek, and Ashton Strait


MANAGING EDITORS Gillian Brassil, Erik Font, Emily Martin • NEWS Emily Gogolak, Ashton Strait, Emma Whitford • METRO Emma Berry, Malcolm Burnley, Alice Hines, Jonah Wolf • FEATURES Belle Cushing, Mimi Dwyer, Eve Blazo, Kate Welsh • ARTS Ana Alvarez, Maud Doyle, Olivia Fagon, Alex Spoto • LITERARY Kate Van Brocklin • SCIENCE Maggie Lange • SPORTS/FOOD David Adler, Greg Berman • OCCULT Alexandra Corrigan, Natasha Pradhan• LIST Dayna Tortorici • STAFF WRITER Erica Schwiegershausen • CIPHRESS IN CHIEF Raphaela Lipinsky • COVER/CREATIVE CONSULTANT Emily Martin • X Fraser Evans • ILLUSTRATIONS Annika Finne, Becca Levinson • DESIGN Maija Ekey, Katherine Entis, Mary-Evelyn Farrior, Emily Fishman, Maddy Jennings, Eli Schmitt, Joanna Zhang • PHOTOGRAPHY John Fisher, Annie Macdonald • SENIOR EDITORS Katie Jennings, Tarah Knaresboro, Erin Schikowski, Eli Schmitt, Dayna Tortorici, Alex Verdolini COVER ART Fraser Evans X PAGE Myles O’Donnell Lawson The College Hill Independent receives support from Campus Progress/Center for American Progress. Campus Progress works to help young people — advocates, activists, journalists, artists — make their voices heard on issues that matter. Learn more at

Contact for advertising information. //



by Emma Whitford

Metro EYE SPY by Alice Hines



UP TO SPEED by Belle Cushing

p.7 p.13

Arts A MAGIC OPERATION by Annika Finne




p.9 p.11

Occult THE ONENESS OF BEING by Alexandra Corrigan and Dia Barghouti


Opinions FOOD FIGHT by Fraser Evans, Jared McGaha, and Wilson Foster


Literary A CONTRAST, A KENNING OR UNTITLED. by Robert Sandler


A SEX COLUMN: Tryin’ to catch me riding dirty Dirty talk comes in many forms, and no two people sexy-babble alike—so whether your mouth is a fountain of filth in the bedroom or as tightly sealed as a zippered gimp mask, don’t worry, because you’re normal. Whether you’re naughty or nice, you can spice up your boudoir routine with some linguistic encouragement. “Dirty talk” often springs from a well-liquored tongue revealing raw sexual desires you might not usually share or unusually obscene enthusiasm, but to become a Zen sex master is to meditate on the internal source of these desires and proclaim them with confidence. So if you’re trying to get down and dirty, own your urges and keep in mind that sexy babble is a form of semi-serious intimacy requiring comfort and a level of trust from all parties involved. Take it slow, keep it real, and let your creative juices flow. Bediquette: It is polite to express one’s pleasure during a sexual act. It is advisable to use caution, however when boldy proclaiming your darkest fantasies, especially with new partners. When asked to talk dirty or reveal your secret fantasies, always start vanilla and work your way to chocolate—or even a banana split… If you want to tell me your secret fantasies or have a burning question eating at your soul, email and someone will get back to you shortly.

Metro editor Malcolm Burnley reporting on “Hypocrisy at the Home Show” (4/7/11)






by Emily Gogolak, Anna Matejcek, and Ashton Strait

SOMEONE STICKS UP FOR IMMIGRANTS, FINALLY “I think things are going to go crazy on this,” Utah Republican state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom told USA Today in March about the recently passed state laws concerning illegal immigration. Sandstrom had proposed a bill similar to Arizona’s infamous SB 1070, whose anti-illegal immigrant sentiment caused the federal government to sue the state to prevent its enforcement. Sandstrom’s bill passed through the Utah legislature at the same time as the guest-worker act, a bill which would allow illegal immigrants who currently lived and worked in Utah to receive guest worker permits—essentially legalizing their residency in the state, though they would remain subject to deportation by federal immigration officials. Yet in this reddest of red states, it was the guestworker act that passed with all its key provisions intact. In fact, Sandstrom was so appalled by the wateringdown of his proposal’s measures that he skipped the signing ceremony in protest. Utah has a long history of leniency towards illegal immigrants that might have predicted this political upset. For example, illegal immigrants in Utah can get “driving privilege” cards to obtain car insurance, and they are also allowed to pay in-state tuition at public universities. Despite the overwhelmingly conservative political climate of the state, the Latter Day Saints church’s compassionate stance on immigration as well as the large, imbedded immigrant population have combined to foster relatively liberal attitudes toward immigration reform issues. Unfortunately, Sandstrom’s predictions of controversy may still ring true. There are many Republicans gearing up to oust those legislators who supported the guest-worker act in the next election. The guest worker bill is also still awaiting federal approval, a necessary step because the law violates the federal government’s mandate that it is illegal to knowingly hire an illegal immigrant. Still, what Sandstrom is calling “an absolute tragedy for the state of Utah” has been hailed by many as a welcome step forward in the immigration debate. Republican state Sen. Chris Bramble told the LA Times, “Something has got to break the gridlock on immigration policy in the United States. If we’ve done nothing more than push the debate further down the road than a year before, it’s hard to say that’s bad for the country.” –AS

A HANDFUL OF CHERRIES MAKES THE MEDICINE GO DOWN The next time you open your medicine cabinet and reach for the Advil, you may want to take a look in your fruit basket instead. A report presented at the Experimental Biology annual meeting in DC this week added a new topping to the standard list of painkillers: cherries. Researchers at Michigan State University, where the study was conducted, found that the cherry is not only full of anti-oxidants (and great with vanilla), but is also an anti-inflammatory powerhouse. What makes the cherry, well, the cherry may in fact be the culprit; the report reveals that anthocyanins, responsible for the fruit’s bright red color, are also responsible for its pain-relieving properties. Dr. Muralee G. Nair, lead researcher and Professor at the University, was confident in what he calls “the cherry effect.” His lab results show that consuming 20 tart cherries would reduce pain. “It is as good as ibuprofen,” he said. In fact, it may be better. Recent research has revealed unsettling statistics on the serious side effects from common pain relievers or “non-steriodal anti-infamatory drugs’ (NSAIDs) According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, NSAIDS—which include over-thecounter options like ibuprofen, Motrin, Aspirin—are responsible for an estimated 7,600 deaths and 76,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. every year. So if you’re hurting, grab a handful, think of George Washington, and remember that killing pain is a whole lot sweeter than it used to be. –EG

GOODBYE, GLENN BECK! Last Wednesday, Fox News announced that it will drop Glenn Beck’s TV program—appropriately titled “The Glenn Beck Show”—by the end of this year. Known to some as a brave defender of American freedom, and to others as an erratic, gloom-and-doom conspiracy theorist, Beck has filled the network’s 5pm slot since early 2009. At the peak of Beck’s popularity last year, over three million viewers tuned in each evening to hear him criticize Obama and voice his suspicions of social justice—something Beck believes to be a “code word” for Communism and Nazism. TV’s conservative wunderkind, however, appears to have reached the end of his golden years. Beck’s viewership has dropped to approximately 1.6 million over the past year, and his credibility, already considered shaky by many, has been seriously undermined. A series of inflammatory statements made by Beck in late 2009, in which he labeled Obama a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred of white people,” prompted both Fox News and the larger conservative political community to begin re-evaluating their relationships with Beck. In response to the TV host’s incendiary criticism of Obama, Color of Change, an online advocacy group dedicated to strengthening the political voice of AfricanAmericans, organized an advertising boycott of “The Glenn Beck Show.” The boycott has since convinced more than 300 advertisers to deny Fox News their advertising dollars, costing the network millions and, according to Color of Change, pushing Fox News’s TV executives to view “Beck’s increasingly erratic behavior as a liability to their ratings and their bottom line.” In addition to the revenues Beck’s provocative statements have cost Fox News, several conservatives have raised questions about the effect this debacle might have on the conservative movement at large. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin claims that “Beck is out of fashion in a time of increasingly mature conservative leadership. Now is not the time for rants and conspiracy theories.” While it is not surprising that Beck’s conspiracy theories and unfounded accusations have irreparably damaged his credibility among both Democrats and Republicans, it does seem premature to assume that this will tone down rhetoric among the American conservative leadership. From snide comments about Obama’s masculinity made by the “Republican Mean Girls,” to the conservative—and potential GOP candidate—Donald Trump’s refusal to recognize Obama’s birth certificate, it looks like the red-herrings and rhetoric are here to stay, for conservatives and liberals alike. –AM



Why popular opinion towards the Arab world’s leading news network is shifting by Emma Whitford

AL JAZEERA the arab world and popular opinion in flux by Emma Whitford design and graphics by Mary-Evelyn Farrior


l Jazeera is Arabic for ‘The Island’—a reference to the Arabian Peninsula, which is broken up into Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The news network and satellite channel is funded by the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar; it broadcasts news and current events 24 hours a day. While few Americans have access to Al Jazeera through their cable providers, the network’s YouTube channel has a huge following here. In fact, it’s the most watched channel on YouTube, receiving 2.5 million views per month. Over the course of the last fifteen years, while the network’s mission has been consistent, its reputation in the West has fluctuated drastically. Labeled the voice of terrorism by the Bush Administration, Al Jazeera has experienced a major upswing in Western favor in recent months. Between February 7 and March 4, viewership of Al Jazeera English increased by 450 percent, drawing about 100,000 additional viewers. The station’s patron is the Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind described the Emir of Qatar in a phone interview with the Independent: “The Emir is this giant guy, and he loves coming to the West. He rents out floors of hotels.” Al-Thani launched Al Jazeera in 1996. It was not an immediate hit in the Arab world. Suskind recalls, “The other countries in the region were calling up the al-Thanis all the time, saying ‘Tell Al Jazeera to withdraw. Add a correction here.’” Many regimes were upset by coverage that cast them in a negative light. From the beginning, Al Jazeera was something new to the region: a largely independent news source with no apparent stake in preserving the status quo. But only recently has the world come to realize how significant a departure that really is. As revolutionary fervor sweeps through the Middle East, Al Jazeera is in the middle of it, with coverage that inspires as much as it explains. “The demonstrators in various squares—Tehran, Cairo, Tunisia, Syria—are the viewership

Al Jazeera has right now,” says Suskind. “The images of the protestors are being mirrored right back at them, and people are saying, ‘Wow, that could be me too!’” Two years ago, an amateur journalist was jailed for showing film of an uprising in the small Tunisian city of Gafsa. The event wasn’t covered on Facebook or Al Jazeera, so the news didn’t spread to other towns. Al Jazeera’s willingness to incorporate social media, acting on the opportunity posed by the proliferation of access to documentation equipment, is a key to its success. “Al Jazeera is a really fascinating hand-and-glove fit with self-determination movements,” says Suskind. “And we know how central a free and independent media is to the nursing of social action and informed consent. I would be hard-pressed to imagine what is happening in that region without Al Jazeera. How would it happen otherwise? The folks in Egypt would never be getting dispatches from Tunisia on the old Egyptian state-controlled TV.” Many Al Jazeera reporters and producers speak with pride about the catalytic role their station has played in recent events. Mhamed Krichen, a newscaster for Al Jazeera, told the New York Times in January, “I mean, we shouldn’t think that our role is to release the Arab people from oppression. But I think we should also be careful not to avoid any popular movement. We should have our eyes open to capture any event that could be the start of the end of any dictator in the Arab world.” NOT AN EASY JOB But many in the West still don’t trust Al Jazeera. Late last year, evidence surfaced that Al Jazeera might be tailoring its coverage to support Qatar’s foreign policy agenda. WikiLeaks released a memo from the US ambassador to Qatar, Joseph LeBaron, that stated: “Al Jazeera’s ability to influence public opinion throughout the region is a substantial source of leverage for Qatar, one which it is unlikely to relinquish.” LeBaron speculated that Al Jazeera’s “more favorable coverage of

Saudi Arabia’s royal family has facilitated Qatari-Saudi reconciliation over the past year.” Wadah Khanfar, director-general of Al Jazeera, immediately dismissed the claims that his network is beholden to the Emir. He explained in an opinions piece for Al Jazeera, “[The skeptics] focused on the source of our funding rather than our reporting, in an attempt to tarnish our work.” It’s true that Al Jazeera receives its funding from a government. However, “Qatar’s prime minister openly criticizes Al Jazeera, and has talked about the ‘headaches’ caused by our independence,” Khanfar insists. “We subject the state officials to the same hard questions and journalistic standards we have for everyone else… one only has to look at the screen to witness this.” By giving precedence to on-theground coverage, Al Jazeera counters what Khanfar identifies as the “simplistic version of events” echoed by Western outlets, especially during the Bush administration. (In the words of The Nation, “Virtually all we heard about were the ubiquitous terrorists, the omnipresent bearded radicals.”) As Suskind points out, “The images [presented by Al Jazeera] are so important, and the people are getting that. They are playing to the cameras. It’s really interesting [to see these] protestors offer a statement of purpose, all this stuff that moves and persuades people.” In the upsurge of revolutionary fervor, grievances expressed on Al Jazeera are resonating with viewers across national borders. Al Jazeera brings international coverage to a region that has long suffered from strict media curtailment. Tony Horwitz B’80, who covered the first Gulf War for the Wall Street Journal and later won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, described the difficulties he encountered reporting from the region between 1987 and 1993 in an e-mail to the Independent. “When we talk about Al Jazeera,” Horwitz wrote, “it’s important to remember what a steady diet of propaganda and censorship citizens of the Middle East

have been fed for many years. Whatever one thinks of the content, it’s liberating for people to actually have information independent of the state, from an Arab source—a scarce commodity for many decades.” WHAT COVERAGE IS ‘GOOD’ COVERAGE? Abderrahim Foukara is the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic. He admitted in a recent interview with Time, “To be honest, I don’t know what objective journalism means. The environment in which you broadcast obviously colors your coverage. If you are an American network broadcasting from the US, you will be broadcasting with a sensibility which may not look necessarily objective to an audience in another part of the world.” American audiences can get on board with a station that gives voice to democratic revolutionaries, but in the aftermath of 9/11 the US government voiced its distrust of a news network that was the first to receive and broadcast messages from Osama bin Laden. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Al Jazeera’s reports about US military actions in Iraq “vicious, inaccurate, and inexcusable.” The shift in Western favor towards Al Jazeera can also be credited to the fact that the network, especially its English version, is a lot less overtly radical these days. Al Jazeera English was launched on November 15, 2006, and became the first international English-language news channel to broadcast across the globe from the Middle East. Al-Jazeera English’s mission, as stated on its website, is “to provide independent, impartial news for an international audience and to offer a voice to a diversity of perspectives from underreported regions.” In recent months, it’s been the go-to network for international news in the United States. Suskind attributes this to its level of journalistic professionalism: “They’ve evolved. Sometimes at the start the coverage was […] a little tendentious. It took them a while to un-


derstand that you want to go with what is most judicious. [This is] one of the reasons they are so instrumental now.” According to McClatchy Washington correspondent William Douglas, the White House, Congress, and Embassy Row all currently consider Al-Jazeera to be reliable coverage of what’s happening in “foreign hot spots.” Hillary Clinton said in March, “Viewership of Al-Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock.” The coverage of revolutionary events as they take place in the Middle East has drawn media analysts to refer to Al-Jazeera’s “CNN moment.” Its coverage of uprisings has contributed to its current popularity and prominence, just as CNN’s coverage of the Persian Gulf War did back in 1991. The network’s increased viewership can also be attributed to a decline in international coverage by United States cable and network news organizations. There has been an overall dip in ratings for TV networks in recent years, and as a result, networks have closed many of their foreign bureaus. REVOLUTIONS IN THE SPOTLIGHT On January 14, Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled his country, marking the culmination of the Jasmine Revolution, a sudden wave of street protests that erupted on December 17 when Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed, university-educated Tunisian, set himself on fire. Tunisian authorities had confiscated the produce he was selling—the only means he had of sustaining himself and his family. Al Jazeera’s on-site coverage spread Bouazizi’s story across the nation, and around the world. Al Jazeera was officially banned in Tunisia, but Lutfi Hajji, an independent journalist, worked undercover in Tunisia as Al Jazeera’s eyes and ears on the ground. Hajji was constantly tracked and harassed by secret police, but local contacts still managed to send him amateur videos of police violence via Facebook. These grainy cell phone videos ended up in official Al Jazeera broadcasts. According to the New York Times, Hajji’s reporting methods “blew the seeds of revolt across the country.” A March installment of Al Jazeera’s bi-weekly current affairs program “Peo-

ple and Power” analyzed the current revolution in Yemen in the context of the general revolutionary fervor in the Middle East. The protests to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh officially started in Yemen on January 26, in the immediate aftermath of the success in Tunisia. The episode opens with a Yemeni woman explaining to a reporter, “The young people and students breathed the Jasmine-filled air of Tunisia, and started their protests immediately.” As the program continues, dramatic footage of protests, the effect amplified by swelling music and the shaky handheld cameras, is juxtaposed with a detailed profile of Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni mother of three and head of the organization Women Journalists Without Chains. Al Jazeera puts a spotlight on the gravity of the civil rights violations in Yemen by depicting peaceful protestors being beaten by the police. It also provides Karman with a wide audience for her analysis of the oppressive nature of the Yemeni government. Karman explains that part of her revolutionary effort is to establish a free and independent press. As it now stands, foreign press materials are regularly confiscated and Arab and Yemeni reporters are often beaten. Saba Net, Yemen’s official news agency, published on Saturday April 9 that, “In view of the overt and repeated interventions in Yemen’s affairs by suspicious media, Al Jazeera’s office in Sana’a [the capital city of Yemen] was closed with sealing wax.” Authorities withdrew the license granted to Al Jazeera by the Yemeni Ministry of Information, accusing the network of implementing “a sabotage scheme aimed to inciting strife, hatred and fighting in a number of provinces of Yemen.” Last Friday, just before revoking his envoy in Qatar, President Saleh made a speech before tens of thousands of supporters that was broadcast on national television. In the speech, he listed Al Jazeera among the primary threats to Yemeni power and sovereignty. According to Al Jazeera’s correspondent on the ground, “He singled out Qatar and Al Jazeera and said, ‘We don’t have to follow their agenda.’” A statement released by Al Jazeera English details the correspondent’s treatment by Yemeni police and Saleh supporters: “They took my phone; they started shouting saying that I was a

spy…the soldiers told me that I was not allowed to film […] they held a gun to my stomach. It was a very threatening environment.” Saleh’s administration has not undermined the threat posed by Al Jazeera’s onthe-ground footage and detailed profiling of revolutionary platforms. OPPOSITION FROM THE RIGHT The only cities that provide Al Jazeera on their basic cable are Washington, DC; Toledo, Ohio; and Burlington, Vermont. Al Jazeera English went into talks with Comcast at the network’s Philadelphia Headquarters in February and sent out a press release announcing that it had handed over 13,000 letters from Comcast subscribers who want access to Al Jazeera English. However, Comcast has yet to announce any sort of agreement. Al Jazeera English lacks clout with media giants such as Time Warner, Scripps, and Discovery Networks, which own most of the channel listings on Comcast. Fast Company describes them as companies that run an “old boys’ network.” They’re not interested in a channel with small potential market shares. They also have conservative investors to please. Cliff Kincaid is president of the conservative America’s Survival, Inc. (ASI) and director of the Accuracy in the Media (AIM) Center for Investigative Reporting. He explained in an interview with the Independent, “Cable and satellite providers ought to consider that they might be creating a situation in which homegrown Jihads will decide to wage Jihad. We’re not calling on the channel to be banned, but cable should be wary about giving them more access.” In an article on AIM’s website in March, Kincaid points to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a correspondent with Al Jazeera Arabic, as a threat to American audiences due to his “anti-American and anti-Semetic diatribes.” Kincaid warns that, “Cable systems like Comcast that are considering carrying al-Jazeera need to know that… [Qaradawi] is poison and hate in the media market and a threat to ignite more cases of home-grown Jihadism.” AIM is less overtly partisan than ASI. The organization describes itself as “a citizens’ media watchdog whose mission is to promote accuracy, fairness and balance in news reporting.” It cites the WikiLeaks documents about Qatar as evidence that


Al Jazeera is a tool for Qatar’s foreign policy agenda. Kincaid explained in the interview, “Al-Jazeera is not an independent news network. The government of Qatar pays the bills and picks the personnel. Al-Jazeera is not an independent news station, but follows the government line.” Kincaid also argues that the perception that Al Jazeera is always on the ground covering breaking news is false, especially when it comes to reporting on revolutions in the Middle East: “It’s like an arsonist who starts the fire and then invites everyone over to watch the inferno.” In terms of Al Jazeera’s mission, Kincaid claims that “it has nothing to do with democracy at all; it has to do with a radical agenda.” SHAPING THE FUTURE Al Jazeera is still a novelty. It also doesn’t have much competition. The West never has to contend with one unchallenged media perspective, simply because the public has a vast number of options. Suskind explains, “People are drinking only from their favorite water fountains—I have my set of facts, you have your set. There is no shared set.” In the Middle East, where Al Jazeera currently dominates, there is an opportunity for this expansion to take place. Populations of the Arab world, South Asia, and North Africa—regions where Al Jazeera is firmly established— have set “the first, second, and third stanzas of a new relationship with media that they didn’t have before. And in the last ten years that’s been a big change, as people in that part of the world now have choices. With Al Jazeera as their primary source, many of them are ready for some competitors.” And maybe that’s where Western media outlets come in. After all, many of them are looking to expand economically. “They’re always looking for new models, right?” Says Suskind. “They’ve got [potential] advertising dollars there too, in the developing part of the world.” Suskind speculates that five to ten years from now, “There will be media outlets from other parts of the world that will have footholds in the Arab part of the world. People get to a certain point [and say], ‘Okay. I’m ready for choice now. I’m ready for variety.’” EMMA WHITFORD B’12 isn’t losing sleep over the Emir’s headaches.

Tony Horwitz B’80 on the nature of Mideast reporting before the Internet I reported from the Mideast from 1987 to 1993 and in terms of information technology, it was often closer to the 19th century than the 21st. The Internet didn’t yet exist (at least out there), I never saw a cell phone (satellite phones started to appear in about 1991 among some of the well-heeled TV correspondents covering the first Gulf War) and even landline phone service was crackly and unreliable, or nonexistent in troubled places like Sudan. I often sent my news stories by telex, and sometimes by hand (giving hard copy to someone who could carry the story out of wherever I was and transmit it).

On top of that, what technology was available was closely monitored by the governments of the countries I was reporting from. In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and other police states, your dispatches couldn’t go out until a censor from the Ministry of Information had a look at it […]. The citizens of these countries had almost no access to true information. The media outlets that existed, print and radio and TV, were all state-controlled and offered a steady diet of state propaganda. In some countries, they jammed the BBC World Service and other foreign news services. It was very weird, even then—before we were ac-

customed to constant access to information. I’d go to Iraq and turn on the TV or open the newspaper and there would be nothing but images of school kids singing the praises of Saddam. I was stuck in the bubble and had this weird sense that a nuclear bomb could drop somewhere and I wouldn’t hear about it. For weeks at a time I was almost completely sealed off from the outside world. While Iraq was the extreme, some other countries weren’t much better. In Saudi Arabia, they not only censored any politically sensitive news, but also anything they judged Islamically inappropri-

ate. You could sometimes find an International Herald Tribune, but it would be literally scissored to excise any mention or images of alcohol, uncovered women, Christianity. Even in Jordan, which was very open by Middle Eastern standards, any mention of Israel was verboten. The weather report would refer to the “Western Heights,” which meant the occupied West Bank just a short drive from the Jordanian capital, Amman.




wear rt of eye ing the a

A WIND IN FALL RIVER Lee Allen is the only company in New England—and one of three in the US—that designs and manually produces its own line of eyewear in-house. But for nearly two centuries, RI and Southern MA were worldwide hubs of eyewear and jewelry manufacturing. Nehemiah Dodge, a Providence jeweler who opened his store on North Main Street in 1794, invented the technique of rolling and plating gold around less expensive metals, birthing what would later be called costume jewelry. In the twentieth century, the thriving industry produced everything from brooches to cigarette lighters, sunglasses to casino dice. In the 1980s and 1990s, the industry inevitably headed towards East Asia for cheaper labor, where it remains today. In this sense, the Fall River studio, with its high ceilings and 24-pane mill windows, is something of a time-warp. Most of the surface area is taken up by pieces of bulky, army-green machinery, dating from the 1950s or earlier. To the untrained eye, the machines seem more suited for bolting together car engines than whittling delicate eyeglasses. The machines are literally the relics of optical industry giants. Before they belonged to Lee Allen, they belonged to BK Optical, a family-owned eyewear manufacturer in Attleboro. Before that, the machines belonged to Martin-Copeland, one of the largest jewelry and eyewear manufacturers in the US. When founded in Providence in 1880, Martin-Copeland made eyewear and gold chains from the Manufacturer’s building, where the Dunkin’ Donuts Center currently stands. In 1982, Martin-Copland employed 600 people in the RI region.

EYE reenvisio n

lasses are art to hang on the wall of your face. Of course, they help you see—but as anyone who has ever purchased nonprescription would know, it’s more about how others see you. Glasses can enhance the brow, reduce the nose, match a bikini, hide a hangover. Chinese judges of the Ming dynasty wore colored spectacles to hide their eyes and emotions, as well as to appear distinguished. Glasses are the difference between Jackie K. and Jackie O., Harry Potter and Terry Richardson. Lee Allen Kuczewski looks good in glasses. Standing behind the counter in Providence Optical on Weybosset Street, the 28-year-old New Bedford native is surrounded by frames hanging on walls and stacked in drawers—classic tortiseshell, blue ‘80s flat-top sunglasses, delicate cat-eyes. But his thin plastic frames, circular silhouette fading from warm bark to clear, look like they were made for him. As it turns out, they were. A gold foil stamp on the inside of the temple reads Lee Allen, the name of the company Kuczewski started last year with his friend and bandmate Declan Halpin. In their factory on the third floor of Border City Mill, a former textile plant in Fall River, MA, they sculpt vintage plastics into funky yet subtle frames with cool gradients and iridescent details. This is New England jewelery and eyewear, version 2011. If their glasses are modern takes on retro shapes, Kuczewski and Halpin are the new faces of an industry that once employed thousands in the region, but has been in steady decline since the early ‘90s. Before becoming an optometrist, Kuczewski was an anthropology student at UMass who studied Ghanaian drumming and Javanese Gamelan. (He and Halpin became friends through drumming.) While apprenticing at an optical store in Taunton, MA, he began taking apart eyeglasses. Tinkering lead to collecting, customizing, and eventually, creating. Before starting Lee Allen, Halpin was a full time artist. A painter with a technical background in boatbuilding and metalsmithing, he is also a Computer Aid Design consultant for the jewelry industry, a skill he now applies to eyewear.

When Martin-Copeland shut its doors for good in 1993 due to competition fom overseas imports, one of its head engineers, Attleboro native Andy Cloutier, purchased the old equipment and started BK Optical, teaching his family how to make the products. Kuczewski apprenticed at BK from 2009 to 2010. “I basically stalked [Andy] until he agreed to take me on. I would come whenever I had time. I would run around and clean stuff up and get to know what the machines did, writing down model numbers and trying to research.” In January 2010, Cloutier died unexpectedly of complications from a brain hemorrhage. A few months later, his widow and daughter liquidated the factory and auctioned off the remaining inventory and machinery. Naturally, Kuczewsky and Halpin got first pick. It was everything they would need to start a business for a very minimal investment. “It was both unfortunate and lucky,” Kuczewski

says. In addition to the machines, they acquired vintage cellulose acetate plastic, custom rivets, and thousands of pieces of of hardware still in boxes, most imported from Europe and of higher quality than is easily found today. Of course, the windfall also brought about creative constraints. Most of the plastics they use in their line are the same ones that BK used in the ‘80s and ‘90s. And while they are a rare find, some of the crazier patterns--for example, amn iridescent green feather texture--have e to be handled with care. “We’re not trying to break the design that no one will wear,” Kuczewski says. “It has to work on someon’s face.” The real challenge, though, was setting up the factory. Many of the machines were still in BK’s basement, unused for years. After moving from Attleboro to Fall River (no mean feat with multiple pieces of



by Alice Hines


goes fuzzy when we use this.” Halpin says. “We hope it’s not giving us cancer...” Kuczewski laughs. Most East Asian factories today use automated equipment that makes eyewear production cheaper, easier, and more standardized. However, this production style doesn’t allow for certain materials like tortishell, buffalo horn, or cellulose acetate plastic. Or for the creative freedom that comes from being able to test one’s ideas and manufacture small quantities. While certain places in Germany and France have continued to produce eyewear in a similar way to Lee Allen, New England and the rest of the US have all but abandoned this kind of manufacturing. “In this region, old machines like the ones we found were mostly sold for scrap when factories closed, Kuczewski says. With such small overhead costs (and such few competitors in their small market), the team expects they have a good chance of getting their line sold in stores and eventually expanding. The next step will be traveling around the country to show samples to optical stores. The collection will be available in Providence Optical some time in the next few weeks, selling for about $250 a pair.

photos uthor

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by Joan

2,000-pound equipment), the two spent from June to November rewiring and testing machines. Nothing came with manuals. “We’d find old pieces of paper scattered around the basement about how to contact [someone] in France if there were any problems,” Kuczewski says. “So we went thorough everything in the inventory, looked at every single part, and tried things out.” “It was playing on the verge of fighting,” Halpin says. “But once we figured it out, most of it worked. The stuff is steel--it’s not from Ikea.” They managed to get some machines running that they still don’t quite understand. For example, one refrigerator-sized machine uses electromagnetic X-ray current to shoot tiny slices of metal into a molten hunk of plastic that will later become the temple on a pair of glasses, or one of the stems that rests on the ear. “The graphic designer up the hallway’s computer

A COLLECTOR’S EYE Above the black cases of samples in the studio, a display of vintage frames hangs on one wall for inspiration. One pair of thick tortoiseshell Emmanuel Kahns with clear plastic cut-outs in the temples catches my eye. Kuczewski, who also collects eyewear, has just come across a whole lot of the classic ‘70s-era French designer. Kuczewski won’t tell me where he found the Kahns. As with any kind of collector’s item, there are places, people, and forums to know. Kuczewski’s favorite eyeglasses to collect are those of the 1720s—the first time someone decided to attach temples—and the delicate wire frames of the 1830s (which he suspects may soon regain popularity). Some of the bespoke pieces that Lee Allen produces may well become collectors’ items. The two are in the process of designing and producing a “murder series” for Stevie Boi, fashion personality and stylist. One resembled a nine millimeter pistol with the trigger guard repeated in the lens, held up only by the support of the hand. The pieces are for editorial spreads, never to be sold or worn outside the pages of a magazine. On the opposite side of the lens, Kuczewski and Halpin’s other bespoke project is a pair of frames for a client with a medical problem that prevents his eyes from producing tears. As of now, the client goes to work in onion goggles that create a micro-climate around his eyes but don’t at all resemble normal glasses. “We think we can do better in coming up with something that is both refined and functional.” When every pair of glasses was manufactured in an atelier, the building that currently houses Lee Allen, Border City, was becoming a booming textile mill. Today, garment sweatshops have relocated, as have ateliers and manufacturers. Lee Allen is what emerges in the ashes of industry, once mass production has been shaken up enough to be recreated. ALICE HINES B’11 has perfect vision.








Our whole social environment seems to us to be filled with forces which really exist only in our minds. –Émile Durkheim All art is a magic operation, or, if you prefer, a prayer for a new image. –Charles Simic

We begin by using knives and carpet tacks to stretch muslin over small wooden frames. The room is full of tapping. There are about ten of us, a combination of adults and students from Brown and RISD, sitting in the basement of the Rites and Reasons theater learning how to bead Vodou flags from Haitian artist Myrlande Constant. Upstairs, Constant’s flags hang alongside the flags of her students and colleagues in a kaleidoscopic array of sequins and beads. She wears loose clothing and quietly commands the room. Professor Katherine Smith, a friend of Constant’s and a director of the exhibition, translates her answers to our questions. As she is teaching us, the language barrier becomes meaningless—it is watching and copying that count, not our combined Creole and English vocabulary. The beading itself is so slow and meditative that it is easy to forget the extraordinary nature of our situation and the extraordinary nature of

Constant herself. These flags were traditionally made by male priests within Vodou temples—not for the art market, and not by women. They came to Brown not in secured cargo planes but in duffel bags and suitcases. Constant’s work is part of “Reframing Haiti: Art, History, and Performativity,” an exhibition that is running in the Haffenreffer Museum, the Cohen Gallery, and the Rites and Reasons theater at Brown, as well as the Ewing Gallery at RISD, until April 21. The darkness of the Haffenreffer Museum houses an altar to Lasirene (consecrated by Vodou priestess Manbo Marie Evans) that overflows with abundantly sequined dolls next to Goya champagne cola bottles. The Cohen Gallery in the Granoff Center bursts with paintings hung Grand Salon style. Everyone smiles in awe and appreciation in front of Constant’s flags, bending close to see the beading, moving back and forth to see the way that light plays across the sequins. Knowledge about the purpose and context is not necessary for appreciation. That being said, the work provokes all kinds of questions: how does an artist working in a traditionally

religious medium navigate the contemporary art market? How does Haitian art represent Haiti today? How can we possibly make Vodou flags under the fluorescent lights of the Rites and Reason basement? As a medium, vodou flags have a loaded history. Vodou’s origins has many parallels to that of Christianity: the single God Mawu lived amongst humans until quarrels drove the androgynous deity into divine realms, leaving the lwa spirits behind as go-betweens. There is a vast pantheon of these lwa, and in Haiti the lwa have become conflated and merged with Catholic saints through the religion’s translation of Catholicism into its own vernacular. Papa Legba and St. Anthony are interchangeable, as are St. Patrick and Danbala. Vodou flags are usually dedicated to a specific lwa. They couple imagery of that spirit with the spirit’s vèvè, or linear pattern imbued with divine energy. A flag dedicated to Danbala will include both an image of the snake-spirit and corresponding vèvè. Temples generally have at least two flags that are used ceremonially to invoke the spirits they represent. It is implicit that, as the flag is waved, the spirit follows in its wake. The imagery of the flags is inclusive: they bear the influence of French cavalry banners and even reflexively use the vèvè patterns to reference their own patterns. In the 1970’s, increased global exposure of Haitian art led to the emergence of a commercial market for the flags, encouraging progressively more complex patterning. In this tradition Constant is a pioneer. She and her mother established the use of beads instead of and in conjunction with sequins, treating the beads as pigments in a way that enables more painterly tableaux with subtly undulating waves of color, perspective, and depth. We are offered a glimpse into the complexity of the flags’ subject matter in Constant’s description of the narrative in one of her larger flags, casually folded next to us on a corner table. The scene is a cemetery. The central figures are the lwa spirits of the dead, Baron Samedi and his wife Maman Brigitte. They guard the sleep of the dead. In this flag, they have left briefly and on their return find sorcerers attempting to raise zombies. On rearing horseback, the lwa drive the sorcerers from the cemetery. In the upper left hand corner an angel’s hand points to a version of the Ten Commandments tablets. Implicit in the flag is the fact that Maman Brigitte is simultaneously the Catholic St. Brigid and Baron Samedi is St. Expedite. There must


be ten thousand beads on this flag, five thousand sequins. The exuberant detail of the work is harmonious with the exuberant detail of the religion, the form harmonizing and amplifying the content.

A Haitian student of Constant made two flags that hang at the back of Rites and Reasons. Both depict the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Constant is not convinced that the flags are successful. It is too soon, she says; the student does not understand the event yet, and that makes the flag itself confusing and difficult to read. These things need to be thought about, sat with, for some time before depicting them. The earthquake flags show chaotic scenes of figures being saved by the lwa and figures already dead. Compared to the other flags, which are more concerned with spirits and their attributes, these flags seem journalistic. Yet when asked about whether this reflects a topical shift in the content of Vodou flags, Constant seems confused that I would even ask that question. The lwa spirits are everywhere, in everything inexplicable; they are absolutely of this moment. The inclination to place the spiritual in a realm removed from the present does not exist in Vodou. Constant assumes the role of teacher with ease and authority as we begin to bead, moving from flag to flag and fixing our frayed string and dropped beads with a deftness that is expected but still astounding. We work in intense silence; it is only on the second night of the workshop that we earn the right to listen to some music. She shares with us a book of vèvès that was owned by her grandfather, a Vodou priest. Constant does not comment on the content of our flags, though as we are considering our designs she does demand at least one of us to do a vèvè pattern for Papa Legba, the lwa intermediary between the divine and humanity. We relax a little, as her request makes explicit the fact that it is all right for us, as white Westerners—in Haiti all foreigners are considered white regardless of actual skin tone— to bead these powerful symbols. For a religion that draws power from exuberant incorporation of other religions and general bricolage mentality, our free interpretations of vèvè designs and labored beading seemed somehow right. Even the way in which this commercialized flag making has developed seems to be more a Vodou-like embrace of capitalism than “selling out.” Constant is refreshingly happy about the money she is making with her work; she shares none of the angst embodied by our beloved concept of the starving bohemian artist. Tied to this hesitancy over whether we are really allowed to create our own Vodou flags is the question of how these flags made for a commercial audience are really meant to be displayed. Can you really have a sacred flag hanging over your couch? Constant seems to find the question inconsequential. Over the couch is fine, she responds. You can treat the flag properly and sacredly, you can give it rum and offerings, and it will have the power it was made to have—but if you want to have it as a decorative item, then that is all right, too. The attitude is consistent with the whole practice of Vodou, the whole ethos”the world is strange and mysterious. We acknowledge its mystery and our inability to change it, our powerlessness in face of natural disaster or any other of the myriad inexplicable things in our lives. “Reframing Haiti” celebrates power and mystery in our world. Even though Providence may be more corseted in the grand tradition of East Coast coldness than Port au Prince, the sequined lwa live here just as much as anywhere else. As Andre Pierre said, “We are made by magic. All of us in general are magicians.”

Design by Annika Finne Flags by Myrlande Constant Vèvès of Danbala, Papa Legba, Gran Bwa, and Marassa Jumeaux

11 |ARTS



by Maud Doyle Graphic by Emily Martin

Houston, we have a Body: Stop talking about smartphones and lie on a shag


n 1936, when Europe was deeply invested in improving industry, urbanization was rampant, and a dehumanizing division of labor was being established as the norm, Méret Oppenheim covered a teacup in fur. Now, culturally knee-deep in realtime screens and programmed to sleep metaphorically with our Blackberries, we are, contrary to critical belief, demanding a Renaissance of the body. When we artificially release seratonin and we are happiest and most comfortable with ourselves, we don’t tweet about it: we lie on fur naked and talk to people. More than the orbital pleasures of Google Earth, we crave the visceral, the textured, the hairy. Supposedly, Oppenheim’s objet-terrible (entitled Object1) was inspired by a conversation in a Paris café with Pablo Picasso. Admiring Oppenheim’s fur bracelet, Picasso said that one could cover anything in fur, to which she replied, “Even this cup and saucer.” André Breton invited Oppenheim to participate in the first Surrealist exhibition dedicated to objects shortly after, so she bought a teacup, saucer, and spoon at a department store and covered them in the fur of a Chinese gazelle, transforming the demure objects of female social decorum into a notorious, sensual, Venus fly-trap. The contemporary artist Jenny Holzer—who, at the opposite end of the spectrum, generally uses text in neon and LED lights—said of Oppenheim’s Object: “It’s sinister… I like that the fur would be a way to muffle sound. It’s like she killed off the chit chat part of the tea ceremony.” Object is resonant––it speaks not intellectually but rather bypasses consciousness; visceral material engenders visceral reactions in generations of human viewers.

March, the Arts section of the New York Times ran a story on the Museum of Natural History’s initiative to make 20-somethings tweet about “The Brain: The Inside Story” (#AMNHtweetup). The full-length Times article included only 151 characters describing the live event, and none on the exhibit, so the museum can only hope that the 318 tweets by participants covered the event adequately. On the other hand, there has been a quieter, but consistent cultural move in the direction of tangibility. Everyone seems to be growing beards these days, and the very people for whom Facebookstalking is easier than conversation wear wooly sweaters, fur skirts, and leather pants, not gore-tex. Michael Pollan has become one of today’s leading cultural critics by writing on food, rather than on Hollywood or Reality TV or the Internet. And while Tron: Legacy was a total disaster, Anne Hathaway was lauded for the simple act of being naked,2 because, in the end, we’d still rather see human skin.

You can “get” Arcangel’s work in description––it doesn’t need to be seen to be understood. There is, however, another vision of art-making that has returned to the New York art scene from history. The first retrospective on Lynda Benglis in New York, and the first retrospective in 20 years, is currently on view at The New Museum,5 and engages the empathetic as well as the intellectual mode of receiving meaning. Benglis, who rose to prominence during the ‘60s and ‘70s, takes color off the walls and pours it onto the floor in glowing frozen waterfalls of foam and rubber. Her vision is moving whereas Arcangle’s is only intellectually stimulating. Occupying the same physical space as a work of art makes it immediately accessible not just to your mind but also to your sensory body, and you feel the humanity of the gesture of pouring paint.

Today, as we know, online arts platforms and archives proliferate, has a “special” arts section devoted to the twitterization and GPS-mapping of the museal experience, and the cyberization of our lives has been widely trumpeted from all directions and hailed as The Future. Often this harkening cites a digital future to be feared, or at least critiqued, but one that’s nonetheless inescapable. Older cultural critics and institutions, not to be left behind, have embraced this Future in the fight to stay relevant, but in so doing they may miss the point. In

In 2007, Tara Donovan’s show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was extended for nearly a year by popular demand, revealing a collective desperation for a texturization of the dull minimal walls of the white gallery space. The clouds of masking tape that mutated across the walls of the Met used a banal material to transform the desolate white space we’ve become accustomed to––Donovan’s work does not intellectualize the nature of pencils and pins and masking tape through blow-ups or repetition but instead implies the universality of organic form.3 Of course the popular digital art of today makes valid points about our cultural investment in the digital, in the web, in new media. Cory Arcangel’s massive photographic works, like his blow-up images of Photoshop color gradients, are right on target when it comes to cultural criticism.4 He points out, in large-scale, something everyone sees on their computers when they’re juicing up their digital photographs, suggesting the programmation of the way we see and interpret images, the new iconography of the digital imagemaking processes, the tendency we have to mediate the world we live in and colorcorrect it (and yes, even if you’re “antiquing” a Facebook photo, you’re engaging in new-age mediation).

Granted, entire artist’s careers have been made on reproductions (see last week’s article on bestseller Richard Prince), or on the masculine minimalist smoothing of surfaces. But the massively popular retrospective of 1960s New York artist Paul Thek at the Whitney, which ran from October 2010 to January of this year, again suggests a different trend. Thek’s nod to the contemporary fad for masculine minimalism in the late ‘60s––colored plexiglass boxes that acted as vitrines for sculptures of bovine hunks of meat––occasionally grew hair. While everyone else was painting comic strips and silkscreening Brillo boxes, Thek was modeling beeswax into hunks meat. By the time Thek died of AIDS in 1988, he had already been forgotten by art history. Though he had just one solo show during his lifetime, the recent “Paul Thek: Diver, a Retrospective” reinstated his deeply personal and peculiar handson work in art historical memory. At the same time, the mass production of stainless steel balloon animals is finally falling out of fashion (that is, Jeff Koons’s current solo show is in Atlanta,6 not in Manhattan).7 The wild success of artists like Maurizio Cattelan and Damien Hirst, too, has to do with bodies: bodies are universally comprehensible, universally compelling. Suspending the body of a horse from a wall, its head swallowed by the immaculate drywall, as Cattelan did in “After

1. On view in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. 2. Love and Other Drugs, featuring Hathaway’s nude body, was released on DVD and Blu-ray in March. 3. Donavan’s show at The Pace Gallery in New York City closed Saturday, April 9.

4. “Corey Arcangel: Pro Tools”, an exhibition of new work, will be at the Whitney Museum May 26 - September 11, 2011 5. Lynda Benglis is on view at The New Museum through June 19, 2011 6. “Moustache by Jeff Koons” is showing

at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, through May 29, 2011 7. Jeff Koons’s work made record sales for a living artist in 2008 (including a 25.7$ million magenta balloon flower (Balloon Flower, Magenta)). But in 2009, during the recession, the auctions sales

Nature” at the New Museum in 2008, is compelling even before you think about it (though we could possibly agree that, unlike Object, you shouldn’t try to think about it too deeply). And everyone loves a tiger shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde because, well, everyone loves a tiger shark. Easily one of Hirst’s most famous works, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living8 (that is, the tiger shark) has mesmerizing rough, greying, sagging skin and a cavernous mouth of teeth—and yes, standing in front of all those rows of teeth is an embodied experience. Still, these artistic initiatives in the world of skin-to-skin contact are usually discussed in terms of market value (Hirst and Cattelan), the 1960s New York canon (Thek) phenomenology and MacArthur genius grants (Donovan), geology and Jackson Pollack (Benglis). It is easy to write about intellectually stimulating and critical work––the texts of Jenny Holzer, or the digital images of Cory Arcangel, or the reproductions of Richard Prince. On the other hand, writing about Oppenheim’s Object is hard––because ideas and emotions that drive it are felt rather than stated. But that doesn’t mean that we should stop trying. In the digital age, thinking about humanity is more productive than worrying about the possibility of losing our humanity. As we fall deeper down the cyber rabbit-hole, and our eyes become increasingly mediated by the inches-small screens to which we constantly refer, we must also recognize that we crave texture. We are still sensory humans, with hair, and toenails, and teeth, and emotional instincts, and we want to feel things. 2001 has come and gone, and there was no space odyssey, the machines did not take over the space ship, and the universe did not dissolve into floating, abstract shapes. Instead, when a volcano erupted in Iceland, ashes spread out against the sky in a funeral for science, and no amount of technology could predict where or when the ash clouds were going to move next, and we find ourselves very much tied to this material world. MAUD DOYLE B’11 lies on fur naked and talks to people.

of high-value works plummeted by 50 percent. 8. Nearly always on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is one of their most popular contemporary works.



THE ONENESS OF BEING Sufism in downtown Manhattan by Alexandra Corrigan and Dia Barghouti Illustration by Alexandra Corrigan


ast fall, controversy poured out of a block less than a mile from Ground Zero. News agencies voraciously covered the tension following the announcement of an Islamic Cultural Center in downtown Manhattan. But the abandoned Burlington Coat Factory whose renovation caused a media outcry had already been home to an overflow of devoted Muslims. Every Friday since 1985, the Masjid Al-Farah houses a Muslim congregation in Tribeca. Sandwiched between two trendy bars on Broadway, the townhouse-turned-devotional center had become so popular that spiritual leader Feisal Abdul al-Rauf raised funds to expand. He began housing services in the abandoned factory blocks away and generated plans for a proposed redesign. The proposal, named Park 51, would serve as a community center for the arts and offer faith services on Thursdays and Fridays. The stylistic debate of intention, content, and predicted use in Manhattan dominates the narrative. Months after the media explosion, who lies behind the continued effort? And why? The center, staffed by various religious leaders both from Turkey and America, continues to grow in spite of the rhetoric of tension. Blocks from a traditional Mosque, the Masjid al-Farah caters to an esoteric branch of Islamic thought named Sufism.

The Sufis in the Masjid al-Farah gather on Thursdays in a hollowed-out townhouse on West Broadway covered with Persian rugs. The center is uniquely open to the public, allowing not only observers but an embrace of the dilettante interested party. Men and women arrive around eight, then mingle before the ceremonies, sipping tea, until the female Imam begins to gather about thirty mostly twenty-something adults on their knees. She calls out a blonde couple’s names near the back of the center, announcing their newborn’s first visit to the center. Colloquially known as the “mystical” practice of Islam, Sufism inspires images of whirling dervishes chanting the name of Allah in divine revelations. The beliefs often are conflated with Hinduism, Buddhism, Kabballah, and Christian Gnosticism. In America, literature is its biggest prophet—Rumi is the best-selling poet for the third year in a row; the original Turkish devotee to the spiritual practice joins Ibn Arabi, a poet and philosopher, in rising popularity, especially as Islam continues to be the fastest growing religion in America. There’s little mystery why when one experiences the center’s open warmth. The Imam, after informally greeting and setting

the intention for the ceremony on Thursdays, gathers the mostly-young, mixedethnicity congregation to sing passages from the Qur’an and other Sufi poets. The songs are mostly in English, save for the most important first chapters of the Qur’an. An elder of the center for years, a man by the name of Tom from New Jersey, explained the rigid adherence to accessibility and openness, in opposition to centers adhering to formality and the Arabic language. “We focus entirely on complete equality and Sufism’s true essence rather than form.” The holy Imam, throughout the singing ceremonies, alternated names for Allah with Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, and other forms of the divine. Sufism’s true essence, as named by its poets and philosophers, is a belief in the “oneness of being.” Sufis often claim, resultantly, that not only “all is God,” but, further, “I am God.” This claim has led to nearly constant political persecution since the formalization of the branch of Islam in the eleventh century. In the era of new age-y tolerance, the center has still met its share of controversy for its “unabashed espousal of love.” The nature of this community’s practices have inspired a strong reaction globally, but what remains least investigated seems to be the

truly shocking confirmation of the divine in the perceivable world. Instead of focusing on an afterlife, Sufis confirm mystic, magical experience in everyday life. The second half of the ceremony on Thursdays morphs from a singing chant into a fully realized Dhikr, where participants and observers link arms and begin to dance to their chants. Forty congregants, intermingled regardless of gender, age ,or status, perform the sacred bodily ritual of chants and communal dances in order to inspire revelation. Often, the chants returned to a repetition of “Hayy,” or “Life”—interpretable as confirming our oneness of life in this moment, or as the life of Allah. These practices differ from center to center, but generally align themselves with an all-pervasive new understanding of love and selfhood. Sufism, according to Ibn Arabi, attempts to destroy the ego-based conception of the individual self. Through the creative imagination, one reach a new understanding of a more “real” intermediary world of concepts and equanimity. Overall, the universe consist of three worlds: the first apprehended by intellectual perception, the second by the senses, and the third through imagination. The third world is an intermediate world that consists of “idea images.” In the intermediate world, the image and imagination are utilized for spiritual experience. This intermediary space for creativity translates, perhaps, into the continued impetus to create the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center in Manhattan. Sufis attempt, through their practices and studies, to discover hidden meaning that can only be accessed through revelation. Revelation of the esoteric meaning of all parts of reality are achieved by Sufis through “Ta’wil.” Ta’wil translates to the understanding of the world through symbols—both by using them and transforming all aspects of reality into symbols. But the symbol can never be fully explained; it must be re-deciphered constantly. In the unveiling of this oneness, non-dualist understanding of the universe, the Sufi congregation in Manhattan attempted, as Tom explained, to “relentlessly unveil love.” The imaginative spirit, so stamped out in the hyper-capitalist downtown, produces this radically different experience and knowledge of a reality. Perhaps instead of asking the architectural form or publicity statements to provoke unity, the ongoing ceremonies of the Islamic Cultural Center could provoke some similar inquiry.

DIA BARGHOUTI B’12 and ALEXANDRA CORRIGAN B’12 must be re-deci-




n China, a businessman reaches speeds of 220 mph en route from Beijing to a meeting in Tiajin. Weekenders pop down from Paris to Marseille in three hours and twenty minutes. Trains in Japan don’t even touch the tracks, floating an infinitesimal distance above magnetic rails at 360 mph. High-speed trains are defined by the European Union as capable of reaching at least 124 mph; America’s closest attempt, the Acela Express, which connects Boston to Washington, is lucky to surpass 100 mph. With an increasing global trend toward speedy train travel, and federal funding and support for the construction of high-speed rail at home, America finds itself at a critical moment in public transport. A century after the rise of cars and planes transformed the American economy and lifestyle, trains are making a comeback. BACK ON TRACK The US is a latecomer in the international trend toward high-speedization. We do not merely lag behind other nations in our development: the others are completely lost from view. Worldwide, high-speed rail is becoming a priority for the future. Brazil is currently undergoing plans to open a line between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro by the 2016 Olympics; Spain has over 1000 miles of track in construction; there are even talks of a route linking Europe and Africa under the Mediterranean Sea. The first true high-speed Shinkansen ‘bullet’ trains took off in Japan just in time for the 1964 Olympics. France followed the trend with the introduction of the TGV (train à

grande vitesse) linking Paris to Toulouse at speeds of 125 mph. Part of the reason for this discrepancy stems from different regions’ responses to World War II. Europe and Asia focused their rebuilding efforts on improving national rail systems, while America indulged in big cars and glamorous planes. Highways and airways received national attention, and the railroad system was forgotten. America’s landmark rail system, which facilitated much of the industrialization of the Northeast and the settling of the West, is now struggling to remain relevant. In 1981, with the founding of Amtrak, America began to slowly wake up its long-dormant rail system. Initially formed as a governmental organization, Amtrak was meant to become independent of federal subsidies within a few years of its founding. But the company has yet to become entirely independent and relies heavily on government funding, a reflection of the difficulties in profitability faced by inter-city rail. AMERICA IS NOT EUROPE While proponents of high-speed rail have often cited European rail networks to demonstrate America’s untapped potential in the field, critics denounce this view on the grounds that America is, simply, not Europe. As a country, we are too sprawling, too reliant on automobile and air travel, and too attached to our tax dollars to commit to the high-speed investment, critics say. Proposed high-speed systems would not be organized around American suburban sprawl from coast to coast, but

rather in terms of corridors of interconnected urban centers called megaregions. As defined by America 2050, an infrastructure and policy research initiative, megaregions represent the emergence of large metropolitan areas encompassing multiple cities that share infrastructure and economic concerns, where “most of the nation’s projected growth will occur,” according to America 2050’s report. High-speed rail has been slated as the only efficient method of serving such regions, which are too large for travel by car, and too small for travel by plane. Initiative cochair Robert Yuro sees the potential for a future national rail “to provide the same kind of backbone for a 21st-century national mobility system that the interstate highways did in the late 20th century.” These megaregions include the Great Lakes, Texas and the Gulf Coast, and California and the Southwest. Plans for a rail to connect northern and southern California are already underway, but the mostcited megaregion, according to America 2050, is the Northeast, comprising Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia. The Acela system that currently serves the area is slow and expensive compared to foreign trains. For many traveling from Providence to New York, the prospect of paying at least a hundred dollars more to reduce travel time by no more than an hour is rarely worth it, even when the alternatives are a gridlocked I-95 or a hair-raising trip on a discount bus. “Northeast high-speed rail would transform the economy of the region,” insists Yuro. “We should get on with it.” Still, though America is having diffi-

culty firing its first bullet train out of the station, it is not for lack of trying. President Obama has emphasized the implementation of a national high-speed network as a major part of his administration, with goals of making fast trains accessible to 80 percent of Americans within 25 years. This pipe dream faces major barriers, however, as demonstrated by the recent cancellation of the federally funded highspeed train imagined between Tampa and Orlando. Mirroring actions of governors in Wisconsin and Ohio, Florida Governor Rick Scott shot down the proposal due to fears that signing up for high-speed rail gifts from the government would mean getting roped into future costs to be paid by the state. The United States Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) initial choice to fund fast trains in Florida was an odd one. USDOT pursued this option mainly because of the possibility of rapid implementation, a feather in the Obama administration’s cap that would demonstrate America’s high-speed capability by 2015. The funds were fought for and won by former Florida governor Charlie Crist, and the proposal was chosen over perhaps more effective investments, despite the fact that someone getting off the 168 mph train in Orlando or Tampa would be stranded in cities almost impossible to navigate without a car. The $2.4 billion that had been pledged by the government to finance the endeavor is now up for grabs. THE LITTLE STATE THAT COULD Rhode Island is among the group of twenty-four states, the District of Columbia,


The fast track to America’s future in transport

and Amtrak who have submitted an application for the use of the funds by the April 4 deadline. In a letter sent to USDOT Secretary LaHood in February, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) referred to the plans as “critical investments in our nation’s transportation and economic future.” The letter went on to detail the proposed projects to improve current regional and commuter rail service while facilitating high-speed Acela travel on existing rails. The money would also grant the Providence train station, which drowsily yet determinedly funnels passengers through to Washington and Boston, refurbishment and safety modifications. Put bluntly by Charles Saint Martin of the RI Department of Transportation, the current station is in “rough shape.” “Florida’s loss should be Rhode Island’s gain,” says Senator Reed. “We can quickly put this money to work creating jobs, improving our infrastructure, and expanding high-speed rail service to more Rhode Islanders.” Saint Martin, however, seems unconvinced of the necessity of high-speed trains. For him, the important part of the proposal includes the extension of the commuter rail to T.F. Green Airport, North Kingston, and Warwick, “providing in-state rail service for the first time in a very long time.” In regards to the prospect of a high-speed route, RIDOT is “glad Rhode Island is part of that [highspeed] linkage.” However, the long-term goal is far removed from the state’s current focus on improving existing transit, expanding the commuter rail, and lessening highway congestion where possible within the state.

Senators Reed and Whitehouse brought Secretary LaHood to Providence in the fall to show him first-hand the state’s rail potential, but as Rhode Island is up against ninety other proposals, the competition remains stiff. NEXT GENERATION Another contender for the funds is Amtrak, which has endorsed the research put out by America 2050 in January of a complete report on “High-speed Rail in America.” The company hopes to launch a route connecting Boston and Washington with trains running at speeds of over 200 mph. Passengers would be able to make it from New York’s Penn Station to Boston’s South Station in 84 minutes, about the same amount of time as the commuter rail from Providence with its crowded tracks and habitual delays. The realization of such an ambitious project, though estimated to eventually earn an annual profit of one billion dollars, would in the meantime cost about $140 billion, to be paid for by Amtrak and federal (read: taxpayers’) funds. Though Providence sits within a megaregion, it is small enough to be overlooked for inclusion in the rail routes in favor of the larger cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia. Providence nearly lost out to unlikely Woonsocket for a space on Amtrak’s Next Generation plan, but following discussion with government officials, it was put back on the projected high-speed map. Cliff Cole, a manager of Amtrak, defines the proposed route as “one that permits true high-speed operations—at least 200 mph.” The possibility of a trip

by Belle Cushing

to New York in less than an hour would make Providence a simultaneous suburb of both Boston and the Big Apple. We could see an increase in commuters, far more frequent weekend trysts in Manhattan—and, perhaps, a return the city’s onetime industrial prosperity. ALL ABOARD? The benefits of such long-term investment are not limited to the international prestige that would come with inclusion in the high-speed race. High-speed rail is becoming increasingly relevant because of the need for environmentally sustainable practices and independence from foreign oil. Train travel offers a more efficient means of transportation than air or highway, and does not rely on increasingly costly imported fuel. Amtrak claims that the gas saved simply by diverting passengers away from automobile and air transport could reach up to 40 billion gallons. (While trains running on electricity would burn a significant amount of fossil fuels, planners are considering the prospect of renewable energy resources.) Rail systems reduce congestion of airways and highways, are less dependent on weather conditions, and offer an alternative option for the reluctance to fly that has gained hold since 9/11. The success of such a route would depend on ticket pricing. Amtrak would be competing with the likes of MegaBus and the Fung-Wah, and would have to consider their ridership seriously, since many potential ticket buyers already have cars. Planners can look to systems in France and Germany, which feature affordable ticket prices, including special rates for


illustration by Alexander Dale

families and students. Beyond the benefits of rail in general, the attraction of specifically highspeed trains remains questionable. Aside from the sleek aesthetic of futuristic bullet trains propelling America forward, the costs may outweigh the benefits. Given the current budget crisis, perhaps the billions of dollars needed to invest in high-speed infrastructure would be better spent somewhere else. And where are we going that we need to get there so fast anyway? High-speed connections are catered toward professionals who conduct business in other nearby cities, facilitating day trips without requiring an overnight stay in a hotel. These routes are currently only considered functional in corridors with multiple employment centers. As of now, plans for a transnational system are not feasible, and high-speed routes would remain limited to megaregions. Ideally, however, proponents view the initial infrastructure as an investment toward an eventual comprehensive system that would connect multiple, disparate cities. Whether or not we make the 2050 goal, a future of fast trains is the inevitable light at the end of the tunnel. BELLE CUSHING B’13 is a girl à grande vitesse.



Seasoned debate on local by Jared McGaha and Wilson Foster


t the beginning of the year, a few of my housemates approached me with an invitation to participate along with them in a local produce delivery program. As a member, I would receive a weekly assortment of vegetables, all grown on local Rhode Island farms. At first this sounded great, but when I looked at the service’s online order form, my enthusiasm quickly waned. While the selection was significant, it was primarily composed of obscure and specialized ingredients, things which hardly lent themselves to standard weeknight cooking. Moreover, the options were all restricted by complex schedules of seasonal availability. In the end, I declined the offer, opting instead to stick with my local Stop and Shop. Prior to this offer, I had never dedicated much thought to where my food came from, nor had I ever felt that I ought to. Most of the food in my grocery store is the product of Big Agriculture, grown and distributed by large corporations using methods of mass production. I understand the reflexive distrust of food produced in such an industrial and anonymous way, but the more I considered it, the more natural it seemed that my food would be purchased at a grocery store rather than delivered to my doorstep by a local farmer. Ever since humans stopped chasing our meals from place to place and started trying to grow them in the ground, we’ve been on a trajectory moving from many people exerting great effort to produce very little, towards few people using refined methods to provide great quantity; it’s this very trajectory of efficiency that is directly responsible for everything we call civilization. After all, there is not much time for arts and culture, let alone science and economic development, if the entire population must toil in the fields all day simply to survive. Viewed in this light, the history of agricultural innovations is in many ways a chronicle of liberation. In ancient times, improvements in irrigation and the domestication of animals allowed some members of the community to leave the fields and establish a rudimentary econo-

my by becoming merchants and artisans. Even so, the majority of the population was still relegated to laborious farm work; it wasn’t until the industrial revolution and the invention of motorized machinery that the common man was finally given the option of a non-agrarian life. The advent of refrigeration opened up huge swaths of previously uninhabitable land to large-scale development. And with the application of pesticides and genetic enhancements, harvests have become more reliable and efficient than ever. Modern

jected to this fruitful but counterintuitive suggestion. Yet if anyone had protested on the basis of a mystical dedication to the purity of the dirt, he would have justifiably wound up on trial for witchcraft. Frostresistant oranges and blight-immune potatoes produced on mega-farms are not causes for paranoia, but miraculous solutions to real dangers. When viewed critically, the local food movement is essentially a small group of people conflating their personal notions of what is natural with an objective standard, and imputing a norma-

agriculture, far from an unnatural aberration, is the logical product of millennia of progress, and in many ways a crowning human achievement. Members of the local food movement, however, find this state of affairs deeply troubling. Admittedly, locally grown produce is often marginally fresher than more distant alternatives, and the sensationalized image of pesticidedrenched, genetically mutated, and assembly-line-packaged food is disturbing. Given the constant refinement of agricultural production throughout history, however, it seems puzzling to draw the line at modern efficiencies. When Native Americans advised the Pilgrims to slip a fish head underneath their corn crop, no one ob-

tive ethic onto the geographical origin of their neighbors’ dinners. Proponents of the local food movement are eager to attack the agricultural industry for the environmental impact of transporting food over long distances and the alleged health effects of pesticides and fertilizers. While these predictable arguments might be valid observations— and although Big Agriculture is far from perfect—the fundamental impossibility of local food as an alternative renders them an irrelevant sideshow to legitimate scientific and economic debate. If local food activists were to consider their own demands seriously, they would be forced to acknowledge the unsustainability inherent in their supposedly sustain-

Illustrations by Annika Finne

able utopia. To create a society in which every person’s food was grown within fifty miles of his home would require enormous sacrifice—specifically, the diminution of the lives of a third of the population to the very form of menial farm work that people have been struggling to escape for centuries. As a consequence of the inefficiencies inherent in small-scale farm operations, many more farmers would be required to feed the same number of people, not to mention the fact that farming in many regions is completely unproductive. Since there is simply not enough land surrounding most urban areas to feed existing populations, a realization of the local food dream would have to be accompanied by mass resettlement campaigns. While there may be something quaint in the image of a humble farming class, few people are volunteering for the role. The local food movement is so myopically transfixed on its arbitrary criteria that it has failed to comprehend the extent to which its principles are incompatible with our most treasured personal freedoms. Not surprisingly, the local food movement seems mostly comprised of members of the relatively privileged classes. After all, there’s not much time to worry about your avocado’s SkyMiles if it takes two jobs just to put dinner on the table. Only those who are economically protected from the implications of a truly agrarian economy are capable of launching complaints against the innovations that have empowered so many. While locally-grown produce is indeed local, and not subject to some of the treatments of mass-produced food, consumption of it is a personal taste and not grounds for a political movement. Though members of the local food movement are well-intentioned and admirable in their passion, the nature of their project remains in many ways, artificially oversized.

WILSON FOSTER B’11 and JARED MCGAHA B’11 drink DDT for breakfast.



farming and big agriculture by Fraser Evans


ur food system is designed to produce a great quantity of inexpensive calories and is extremely good at it. Efficiency and mechanization are directly responsible for our modern civilization, including our reliance on genetically uniform crop production and fossil-fuel use. The food industry requires consistency in raw materials, which leads to a loss of agricultural biodiversity. But biodiversity sustains production and maintains agroecosystems in the long run. How we feed ourselves is profoundly intertwined with a dependence on artificially cheap energy. Many people will be faced with the responsibility of growing their own food if we aren’t prepared when fossil fuels run dry, which at current consumption rates is roughly estimated to occur in 50 to 120 years. Colin Campbell, a geologist with over 40 years of experience in the oil industry, analyzed the discovery and production of oil fields around the world. In his book The End of Cheap Oil, he wrote that “within the next decade, the supply of conventional oil will be unable to keep up with demand.” Cheap energy promoted the integration of oil and natural gas in farm practices and removed the need for diversity in plant life. Cheap energy removed the need for diversity in animal life, creating feedlots—confined animal cities that separate the fertilizing benefits of farm animal droppings from farmland and create pollutants. Cheap energy led to government-subsidized grain that sells for much less than it costs to grow. Cheap energy means that food often travels incredibly long distances. The economical mindset in the food industry encouraged the production of chemical fertilizers, which are made from natural gas, and pesticides, which are made from petroleum. Pesticides encourage high crop yields and prevent diseases, mosquitoes, lice, and bedbugs, and some pesticides are thought to be safe for humans. But the chemicals you might find on food in a grocery store are complicated and toxic when combined with certain

substances. Potential reactions are so complex that the effects of the pesticide are virtually unable to be tested. A lack of information concerning our food system encourages the less-informed to buy from chain stores that sell tomatoes picked by farm workers receiving wages and undergoing working conditions that meet the legal standards of modern-day slavery, as documented by the Coalition for Immokalee Workers. Worst of all, it

Mexico, a farm in Arroyo Hondo catches 45,000 gallons of rainwater a year and uses little water drawn from streams or aquifers. The food system is reparable with policy change. Large-scale agriculture needs to end its dependence on exploiting treasured resources and specializing in one product and start considering decentralization, improving workers’ rights, promoting public health, and en-

encourages the view of food as a commodity and not as a life-sustaining necessity. Some might argue that farming in a place like New Mexico, which lacks rich soil and abundant water, would require excessive amounts of resources—but agricultural studies have indeed come a long way. Farmers learn to use what they have, after taking the time to learn from other growers and to research the science behind farming in their area. There are techniques to conserve water in a desert, such as capturing it in abundance during a monsoon. Farmers can exercise their creativity and intellect by designing rainwater catchment devices, especially during idle seasons. In New

couraging communication between the farmer and the consumer. It would be advantageous to subsidize farmers who use cover crops, compost, and have a variety of crops. These activities decrease erosion and promote a closed system that requires less input of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Grazing animals enrich the soil and harvest their own feed. Properly subsidizing farmers will encourage people to pursue the career and ensure a prolific food supply. There are healthy options for growing more food on a large scale and in smaller spaces. Unused pieces of land, especially in abandoned urban areas and on flat

roofs of buildings, may require clean up and owner permission, but are goldmines for food production. Many crops grown today are processed into inferior calories of fat and sugar. Livestock consume 40 percent of the world’s grain output, and cars and trucks consume 11 percent of the world’s corn and soybean crop. If we can reduce that, there should be space to grow enough food for human consumption. This requires larger rural communities and more people growing more food. There are many people willing to grow food for people who don’t enjoy manual labor, but these people are being discouraged to continue by large companies with money, time, and patenting power. Monsanto, a world leader in the genetic modification of seeds, is a corporation taking over our food supply. Since the 1980s, the company has won 674 patents on seeds, the life forms required for food production. Monsanto hires private investigators to obtain information about farming activities, going to great lengths to prove infringement of their genetically modified seeds. Violations are accidental in some cases— patented seeds can blow into farmers’ fields or be carried in by animals—but Monsanto makes sure those who don’t want to use their products are at a commercial disadvantage. In most cases, the accusations bring Monsanto more money and practically force farmers to use their product. Though anyone can make a comfortable living wage as a farmer, these sorts of obstacles discourage people from considering the farming career. It may be impossible to create a just and healthy food system if negative attitudes and outdated laws remain.

FRASER EVANS B’11 is in Sustenance and Sustainability.



The College Hill Independent: April 9, 2011  
The College Hill Independent: April 9, 2011  

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