the college hill independent September 27, 2013 : Volume 27 Issue 3 a Brown-RISD weekly
managing editors David Adler, Doreen St. Félix, Ellora Vilkin news Simon Engler, Joe de Jonge, Emma Wohl metro Megan Hauptman, Rick Salamé, Kat Thornton arts Becca Millstein, Grier Stockman, John White features Lili Rosenkranz, Josh Schenkkan science Golnoosh Mahdavi, Jehane Samaha SPORTS Tristan Rodman interviews Drew Dickerson literary Edward Friedman EPHEMERA Molly Landis, Ka-
THE indy volume 27 #3
tia Zorich OCCULT Julieta Cárdenas X Lizzie Davis list Claudia Norton, Diane Zhou design + illustration Mark Benz, Casey Friedman, Kim Sarnoff Cover Editor Robert Sandler Senior editors Grace Dunham, Alex Ronan, Sam Rosen, Robert Sandler Staff Writer Alex Sammon STAFF ILLUSTRATOR Aaron Harris web Houston Davidson Cover Art Robert Sandler mvP Tristan Rodman P.O. Box 1930 Brown University Providence, RI 02912 & firstname.lastname@example.org & @theindy_tweets & theindy.org Letters to the editor are welcome distractions. The Independent is published weekly during the fall & spring semesters and is printed by TCI Press in Seekonk, MA. The Independent receives support from Campus Progress/Center for American Progress. Campus Progress works to help young people make their voices heard on issues that matter. Learn more at CampusProgress.org.
news fROM THE EDITORS Lists are taking over. Lists make everything a phenomena. Two people look at a thing and that thing is on a list: phenomena. O that thing! It’s on a list. Anthropomorphic houses, cynical pets. People who make “banana noises” in public spaces, and so forth. Generally, the lists are numbered, though the numbers are often secondary. The numbers are just part of the trick: They represent the arbitrariness of the fact that there exists an “all that can be found.” All the prime-numbered lists are evidence of this. The 17 Most Dystopic Kids Shows. In this way, lists are taking over the concept of the plural. More than one is a list. With lists, everything is on its way to being a category. Categories are an incredible beast that Borges took seriously. Now, there are vegetables that can and can’t be turned into chips. This is capacity masquerading as category. Consequence: we label and close the world too quickly. Finally, lists force everything to compete. They size up and rank our cities and institutions. I am told Providence is one of the best “coffee cities,” but not the best. I wonder what the coffee’s like in Seattle. In the face of this I feel small, seized by buyer’s remorse in all things. Lists tell us to miss things that we haven’t seen before. Lists create a communion but somehow it’s a queasy one. It’s a sympathy that comes before the people that feel it. Also, I admit lists have some didactic power. Because the list’s thread (“10 Tricks to Feeling Pure Joy”) is often loose, lists can tell stories and make good points. Yet, I wonder if there is a net loss of meaning between the nodes of the list and the list’s general effect. A kind of wheat-to-beef entropy. In the end, however, not all lists are made because we are scared or because things are scarce. Above the lists, there is a dichotomy and an imperative: lists that help and lists that don’t. Lets please keep that in mind. –HD
2 Week in Review simon engler & megan hauptman
5 Westgate sam adler-bell, doreen st. félix, alex ronan & ellora vilkin
METRO 3 Busting NECAPs emma wohl
9 7 Pillars of al-PVD rick salamé
ARTS 4 It’s Complicated david borgonjon
INTERVIEWS 7 Jeffrey Eugenides
FEATURES 12 What’s CO2 You? daniel sherrell
SPORTS 13 Pain Train sam bresnick
OCCULT 15 ILY Jesus eli petzold
LITERARY 17 Ocean Avenue tristan rodman
X 18 Markdown alex ronan
WEEK IN TRENDY by Simon Engler & Megan Hauptman Illustration by Lizzie Davis HOT TOPICS Dom Pérignon, Glastonbury, and VitaCoco have a few things in common. First: someone leading an extreme life of leisure can enjoy all of them, within a twenty-four hour period, sequentially. Second: they all cost a lot of money. Third—and this should not follow, but somehow it does: they are all cool in 2013. You’re fuming right now. Cool according to whom? you bellow. I thought I was entitled to my own choice of electrolyte drink this year? And certainly, you are. But be careful, because drinking Gatorade might make you a loser. According to the 2013 CoolBrands list, it’s just not in this year. CoolBrands is, by its own description, “an annual initiative to find and pay tribute to the nation’s coolest brands.” By “nation,” CoolBrands naturally means the United Kingdom. By “paying tribute,” it means publishing an online list, to be ogled by consumers and news outlets alike. By “brands,” it means, intentionally or not, expensive, luxurious, and exclusive stuff—like Dom Pérignon, the Glastonbury music festival, and VitaCoco. And by “cool”—well, we’ll leave the definition of that word to those at CB: Cool is subjective and personal… research has shown [that the following factors] are inherent in a CoolBrand: 1. Style 2. Innovation 3. Originality 4. Authenticity 5. Desirability 6. Uniqueness Each year, these factors are considered by an Expert Council of 38 “Influencers”—actors, bloggers, designers, and the like—who help generate the yearly list. Their attractive and well-groomed visages—arranged neatly in a grid of black-andwhite portraits—greet visitors to the CoolBrands website. Mouse over the photographs to get the details. The black-clad man in front of the turntable—that’s Justin Wilkes, the DJ at KISS FM. The smiling woman in the cowboy hat—that’s Melissa Odabash, the fashion designer whose “eponymous swimwear collection” is, according to the CoolBrands, “the ultimate holiday lifestyle brand.” But do not fear: the likes of Wilkes and Odabash are not the only arbiters of twenty-first century taste. CoolBrands reminds us that several thousand groundlings also got to vote for their favorite companies. The online input of about 3,000 adult Britons accounted for 20 percent of the final list; that of the Influencers, for 80 percent. And the whole thing is clean, CoolBrands proclaims: no firm paid for inclusion on the list, or for the vote of an Influencer. The process has finally wrapped up. Over the past few months, votes were submitted and deliberations were held. The Council of Experts hesitated, decided, and hesitated again. Results, in the form of a list, were released on September 23. Last year, Aston Martin, Bang and Olufsen, and Twitter made the top ten. In 2013, this—this—is what the Expert Council came up with. Apple is the world’s coolest brand.
GET ALPHA Secretly longing for the stain-proof khaki slacks of your Sunday school heyday? Well, you’re in luck. Dockers’ classic khakis are now available in hip new colors and styles online, and at their pop-up store in Soho, closing this week. Dockers, formerly the leisure pants of choice for the over-50 crowd, is trying to rebrand itself to appeal more to 18 to 34-year-olds. Enter the “Alpha Khaki” in 2011, with the “rugged attitude and spirit of a jean” in the refined shape of a khaki slack. The Alpha was released in four pre-worn levels, including a ripped and torn 10-year finish, to give younger khaki wearers some more hardcore options. The brand also opened a four-week pop-up Custom Khaki Bar and General Store in Soho last month, with craft beers, organic coffee and Brooklyn-cured meat jerky available to shoppers and perusers daily. The store has also hosted a variety of special one-day promos, including free anchor tattoos and a cronut giveaway. Instagrams of all the store’s events are readily available and hashtagged at dockers.tumblr. com. This isn’t the first time Dockers has tried to rebrand itself for a younger consumer. In 1999, Dockers launched a huge ad campaign aimed at making their image more provocative. The TV ads at the center of the 1999 campaign featured toned men seducing attractive women in seedy carnivals and dark nightclubs; a New York Times article compared the sexifying of Dockers to an ad campaign for Brylcreem hair pomade years earlier: “just as ‘a little dab’ of hair dressing once attracted hordes of willing women, now it takes the right pants.” The more recent rebranding campaign may be a little less overtly sexual, but Dockers is again trying to re-imagine and sell youthful masculinity. The website for the Alpha Khaki describes the pants as “the first of a new generation of khakis for the next generation of men.” Appealing to hip, iconoclastic men with $128.00 to spend on a pair of dark brick slacks, Dockers’ flashy temporary store is only open till September 27th. The khaki brand, trying to move away from their reliable but staid image, has turned to the trendy elusiveness of the temporary pop up store—here today, gone tomorrow. Better buy a pair of hand-dyed purple khakis with customized cuffs before it’s too late. –MNH
SEPTEMBER 27 2013
THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE STANDARDIZED The fight for education in RI
on a saturday morning last march, 50 people sat down with their No. 2 pencils and began to fill in the bubbles on the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, the standardized test used to evaluate students and schools in Rhode Island. Sixty percent failed the test. The test-takers were not high school juniors, who typically take the NECAP across the state each October. Rather, it was a group of adults, including the executive director of the Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, two state representatives, politicians, and lawyers. They were brought there by the Providence Student Union, a coalition of urban high school students, as part of a protest against making the NECAP a graduation requirement, a decision that will, for the first time, affect this year’s graduating seniors. PSU has been opposed to expanding the role of high-stakes testing since its formation three years ago. Deborah Gist, Rhode Island’s education commissioner, has been one of the state’s most vocal proponents of highstakes testing since she took the position last year. She called it “an outrageous act of irresponsibility” for adults to participate in the mock exam. State Board of Education Chair Eva-Marie Mancuso asked community members to focus their energy in a different direction—towards “improving opportunities and outcomes for our students.” After the stunt, students in Warwick tweeted angrily at Gist and were suspended. Radio personality John DePetro, who broke the story of the tweets and drew the superintendent of schools’ attention, addressed the students on the air: “Learn a lesson. Show respect to teachers, coaches, adults. Do not listen to the ACLU.” He added, “Shut off your phone, iPod, and TV. Read a book.”
by Emma Wohl
+++ the mock exam was more a cry for attention than a demonstration of the NECAP’s actual level of difficulty, but its results were not far off from the results of the exam in many parts of the state. Students must rank “partially proficient” on the math, reading, and writing portions of the test in order to graduate. That means that this year alone, about 40 percent of seniors risk not graduating if they cannot pass the math portion of the test on the second or third go-around. At four Providence high schools—Alvarez, Central, Hope, and Mount Pleasant—more than 80 percent of students must retake the test and improve their scores in order to graduate this year. High-stakes standardized tests, which determine whether a student can move up a year or graduate, have been used to hold schools accountable for student performance since 1965, when state achievement tests became mandatory for schools to receive federal funding. More recently, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 required schools to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals or face the consequences: required restructuring of their curriculum, implementation of new tutoring and after-school programs, and loss of students to charter and other schools. Rhode Island has used the New England Common Assessment Program as a state achievement test since 2005, in response to No Child Left Behind’s encouragement of state assessments. The original discussion of making the test a graduation requirement emerged in 2008; the Rhode Island Board of Regents, which was replaced by the newly-created Board of Education this year, originally approved the plan. Gist’s endorsement of high-stakes testing earned her high disapproval ratings among teachers and opposition from the state House and Senate, as well as Providence mayor Angel Taveras. No stranger to extreme measures to improve schools, Taveras laid off all the city’s almost 2,000 teachers two years ago in order to avoid having to choose which ones to fire by a pre-set deadline. In an open letter to Mancuso, Taveras expressed his “deep commitment to improving student achievement,” but said, “I worry that state leaders have imposed a graduation requirement on our students that is tied to a questionable measure of individual proficiency and graduation readiness.” Then, this spring the new Board of Education approved the measure. Cauldierre McKay, a student at Classical High School and a member of PSU, called out Commissioner Gist in a “State of the Student” speech last spring. “She has chosen to point a finger at us with the NECAP graduation requirement.”
+++ the fight was not over. The Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has been a critic of highstakes testing since this issue emerged five years ago. In June, they joined 16 other advocacy groups to file a petition to end the testing requirement. State law required the board to respond to such petitions, either reopening the debate or rejecting the petition’s request. When the Board of Education ignored the petition, the ACLU filed a lawsuit demanding that they respond to it. In response, the board announced that their decision-making would occur in a closed session at a private retreat in August, so the ACLU filed another lawsuit on the grounds that this process violated open meeting laws. The board held a meeting where it announced that its members would debate the petition, but, ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown told the Independent, viewers were “somewhat shocked”: when the board went into a closed room to make their decision, rejecting the petition 6–5. That meeting, held in early September, led the ACLU to file its third and most recent injunction last week, again on the grounds that the Board of Education violated open meeting laws. Brown says he sees the whole system of high-stakes standardized testing as flawed. At the deepest level, “We’re concerned about the impact that testing has on the most vulnerable populations—racial minorities, students with disabilities, and English language learners.” Critics argue that the NECAP was designed as an evaluator of school performance and cannot simply be used to judge students individually—in fact, the company that designed the test has said in the past that it should not be used as a graduation requirement. Critics argue that introducing a standard like this, which uses a single test taken on a single day, overlooks the years of influence that determine students’ level of preparedness.
Some NECAP opponents aren’t categorically against all high-stakes tests. As Tom Sgouros, an engineer and policy analyst said in a March 14 open letter opposing the NECAP on the website RIFuture.org, “There is nothing wrong with ‘teaching to the test’ when the test is part of a well-designed and interesting curriculum.” Rather, he and others point out that the NECAP is badly designed to evaluate the performance of an individual, as it was designed to measure schools rather than individuals’ aptitude. Even Brown said that the NECAP has its uses, as an evaluator of schools’ performance in the areas where they are not educating students fully. “The state assessment…is not the be-all, end-all,” Mancuso wrote in a Providence Journal editorial early this month. “But it is one valid measure that shows us that too many students, despite whatever grades they may earn in their coursework, have not attained the knowledge and skills they will need upon graduation.” Supporters of high-stakes testing point to the fact that students who fail the exam in their junior year can take it again their senior year and only need to show “significant improvement”—they do not necessarily need to score a certain level to be allowed to graduate. Furthermore, students can appeal “any decision throughout the process,” Department of Education spokesman Elliot Krieger told GoLocalProv. But such appeals processes naturally privilege students who are more engaged in the bureaucracy or who have the support of engaged parents. Many other students do not understand the complexities of the state’s education apparatus. The biggest concern may not be that they do not have the opportunity to pass the test but that they are discouraged from even trying after one or more failures. “If I don’t pass it the first time, what can I do to pass it the second time?” Samantha Gobin, an honor roll student at Coventry High School who risks not graduating because she could not pass the math portion of the test, asked GoLocalProv last spring. “Is it going to be the same test? We don’t know. I’ve been stressing about it. They had to know that kids weren’t going to pass it. For two years now, they decided that my class was going to have to have it as a graduation requirement and so far we have no solution.” +++ the necap is certainly not the final step in education reform. In just a few years, Rhode Island plans to revamp its whole testing strategy to better comply with the Common Core State Standards Initiative—a set of standards approved by the National Governors Association and based around the goals of strengthening accountability for schools and students—adopting the same test that is in the process of being adopted in 44 other states. At that time, NECAP will no longer be an issue, but the question of high stakes testing will remain. The new test, the PARCC, “will just raise its own host of issues,” Brown said. It will be computerized and therefore, he argues, privilege students with more access to such technology. And the new test will still be guilty of using “a single test to determine a student’s twelve years of schooling.” For this year’s seniors, the fight is not over, but it’s getting there. The ACLU’s third lawsuit still waits to be heard, but judging by the Board of Education’s prior decisions and statements made by Gist and Marcuso, it seems unlikely they will change their minds. “This just means we have to fight harder,” McKay wrote on PSU’s blog earlier this month, after education policymakers once again refused to hear him and his fellow students speak. “We will be back. And we’ll be back with some escalators because we are escalating. Game time is over.” EMMA WOHL B’14 is E. All of the above.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
when systems are too simple most systems, including brains, societies, and weather, are so massively complex that small inputs can produce complex and unpredictable results. The takeaway for the layperson is that everything is connected, and a butterfly batting its wings in China may lead to a tornado in Brazil. The simple version of Complex Systems Theory is the fodder for a show curated by RISD Digital Media graduate student Steven Pestana MFA 2014, on show at the RISD Museum’s Gelman Gallery until October 27. The works here, whether sculptural, digital, or painterly, treat the beauty of complexity—of “de-centralized, adaptive, sophisticated networks, composed of simple elements,” as the wall text puts it. The works reach forward to a digital sublime and hark back to a romantic nature—in Peeraya Suphasidh’s flat sculpture, for example, winged seeds that seem to have organized themselves into a perfect, fragile square which hangs from the ceiling. Together the curved spines of the seeds trace out mesmerizing swirls. Just like the snow-flake’s hexagonal form arises from ice crystals, these swirls emerge from the individual seeds. Similarly, Ayano Ueshima turns Q-tips into a complex open form—perhaps a dramatic neckpiece—with the digital look of a seashell. In both these works, it’s as if the precise and final form is already inherent in the materials. That’s why seeds are such an apt analogy: The artist only has to watch as it creates itself, like proteins, El Niño, or the American Republic. Systems are sublime. In a system, we are subject to forces beyond our control, but the knowledge of that powerlessness seems a kind of power in itself. A viewer can surrender to these modular constructions, and begin to fantasize that they themselves are assembled as effortlessly, to be undone as easily. When you look more closely, however, this self-creating order dissipates, because you can see what holds it all together. You see the glue, in between the individual Q-tips, holding the winged seeds together, barely. Why did seeing the glue on these pieces feel a little like a betrayal to me? Because I was so drawn to the notion that these works had made themselves—self-organization is a key property of complex systems— I was taken aback by the evidence of a creator, a power exogenous to the system. If many of the works in the show recreate systems, where is the place of the viewer, or of the artist, in those systems? Do we simply disappear into an omniscient, God’s eye view? Are we drawn into, entangled in the dynamics of the system? All of the artists on show have to grapple with these questions as they think through the beauty of complexity. Systems are complex but not contained, triangulated between the work, the artist, and the viewer. Some works focus on the simplicity of the individual elements, producing a pleasant if inane abstraction: for example, in Wangui Maina’s prints, also on view in Complexity, each curlicue in the drawing looks more or less like the others, and together they produce a field or form. In Jordan Taylor’s sinuous brick wall, an alternating stacking process makes for a grand, rolling movement. There’s a soothing quality to this repetition—but also a claustrophobic one. If the high modernists wanted art to be totally autonomous—just itself—the artists in Complexity want it to be itself as well as something else. Many of the works try to get outside of the perfect aesthetic experiences that they produce, and this external reference exists in a queasy tension with the surface pleasure. Though Wangui Maina’s tightly wound drawings at first seem to be just abstract marks, their obsessiveness takes on a new meaning when one reads that she uses “hairdressing tools” to draw them—the curls are probably represent the kinky texture of black hair. This injection of social content into formal abstraction reverses the modernist appropriation of primitivism, Orientalism, and other exotic modes, while evacuating the social meaning of their source cultures. Think
Review of Complexity at the RISD Museum by David Borgonjon Illustration by Lizzie Davis
Picasso’s West African masks, or Pollock’s Native Americans totems. Jordan Taylor’s bricks, on the other hand, mimic geological states of syncline and repose, perhaps suggesting a sympathy of manual labour and deep ecology. What’s notable here is that the works are both abstract and referential. Even though Maina’s curls resemble Cy Twombly’s scribbles, and Taylor’s bricks resemble Carl Andre’s, well, bricks, by inserting an external reference—black hair, stratified rocks—they play a completely different game. A friend once told me why he loved the paintings of Giorgio Morandi—the reclusive painter’s renderings of bottles, shells, bric-a-brac, and light: “Just look at what that bottle does next to that one. It’s incredible! They’re three characters.” Maybe each element is one individual, and the artwork an ideal social form—marks on a wall, blocks in a building, words in a book. It’s almost as if this ideal artwork is a social entity, where there’s no external domination, a perfect democracy: equal parts forming a perfect whole. Gefeng Wang’s three pictures take on what it means to be an internet society. He superimposes faces that Google deems to be similar to one another. The resulting composite portraits have a blurry familiarity, like long-lost relatives, or figures from a book you vaguely remember. I took a photo with my phone for future reference, and interestingly, the phone responded similarly: the photos resisted auto-focus and facedetection and the phone whirred with interest. The experience of looking at Wang’s potraits through the googley eyes of a smartphone is perhaps the closest this exhibition comes to giving a secular God’s eye view. I found the frames of Gefeng Wang’s Google portraits work as revealing as his pictures. The kitschy plastic-wood frames that Wang selected lie outside the rules of the generative work—outside the system he posited. They evoke a cubicle desk, or maybe a lower-middle-class family’s mantelpiece, but the narrative can’t actually come out in a full-bodied way. Other works are more direct in their narrative, or maybe even the problems of producing that narrative within the frame of “systems.” Francesca Capone’s woven books question exactly this process of producing narrative. She presents us with a guide to interpreting her wovens, where color corresponds to noun and adjective, and weave structure to verb. The whimsy of the code—a double twill is “to forget,” blue is “pool,”—hint that connections can be projected as well as discovered. Look, too, to Thomas Zummer’s ironic image of a flock of birds with the possible collisions among them indicated, all in the austere monochrome of early CCTV tapes. Transformed from a photo into a drawing back into a photo, this mediated image suggests that Zummer’s work may be lossy; it might yet drop from its place. Sina Almassi’s work is comprised of concentric circles, triangles, and squares screen-printed in primary colors onto 10x10” panels. The substrates separate these pieces from Op Art—steel, the plywood, perhaps poured resin. She’d polished the metal in large, generous gestures before the printing, and the metal caught the light in a way that set the tightlynested geometry a-shimmer. The intentional activity that the polishing marks suggest, and the systemic passivity that the screenprints suggest, float on two separate, parallel planes. But optically, they interfere vigorously with each other, just like art and science. The complexity of science is not the same as that of art— I even wonder if they are complicated and simple in opposite ways. Work that draws on the aesthetic appeal of complex connections might end up drawings lots of parallels that verge on platitudes. Parallels don’t touch, and art should. The rewarding works force an intersection between self and system, into specific kinds of connections or even conflicts. A scientist would say that a correlation isn’t enough—by focusing just on connections, but not on their particular quality, complexity might be too simple a subject. DAVID BORGONJON BROWN/RISD’14 is in open form.
SEPTEMBER 27 2013
WESTGATE On Saturday September 21, fifteen attackers laid siege on Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. At press time, the official casualty count was 72 dead, 175 wounded. President Kenyatta declared the siege over on September 24. Much is speculated, but this is known: the siege is over. The media cycle is moving on. Teju Cole (@tejucole): “And it’s not over. #Westgate.” His “small fates” project covered small stories of “modernity, full of conflict, tragedies, and narrow escapes” from 2011 to early 2013. For two years, Cole reported the news in brief., tweet-sized narratives.The Nigerian author W was in Nairobi at the time of the attacks. Below, inspired by Cole’s project, we cover the facts after the fact.
Anatomy of a shopping mall complex. Multi-story car park roof and entrance. The attackers entered here. Third floor cinema. The hostages were held here. Escalator to second floor. Second Floor, shops and toilets. The hostages were held here. Stairs.
TrafficAlert. Forces Lane. Closed. Peponi Road. Closed. Mwanzi Road. Closed. Ring Road Parklands. Closed. Only emergency forces allowed through. Stay away for your own good. We are told of the things inside the mall: waterfalls, gardens, golden railings, ornate lamps, marble stairways, escalators and panorama glass. The names of stores we do and don’t recognize: Identity, Converse, Kache by Angie, Adidas, Mocca, Mr. Price, Woolworths, Little Soles.
Found in Germaine Grant’s Mombasa home: acetone, hydrogen peroxide, sulphuric acid. Not found in Germaine Grant’s Mombasa home: Germaine Grant.
They locked themselves in the bank vault. They crammed into a small management office. Holed up in a Burger Place, some dying, some dead. The supermarket cold room.
I repeat. The confrontation with the terrorists at the Westgate Mall left 240 casualties. I repeat. The confrontation with the terrorists at the Westgate Mall left 240 casualties. I repeat. The confrontation with the terrorists at the Westgate Mall left 240 casualties.
In White Mzungu Borana, a 2011 short film, the French actress Anne Dechauffour plays a hostage. In last week’s attack in Nairobi, she was killed well before she could become one.
“You’re a bad man, let us leave.” Elliot Prior, 4, scolded the terrorist. His mother who had gone to buy milk was shot in the thigh. His uncle, who was not there, told the Sun: “He was very brave. The terrorists even gave the kids Mars bars.”
05 █ NEWS
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
Read, teacher, read from your poems and your stories. No—not on This Earth, My Brother, Night of My Blood. There will be no storytelling festival in the evening; Teacher Kofi Awoonor, 78, stopped writing poems this afternoon.
Ground Floor. Nakumatt Supermarket, where the attackers barricaded themselves. A children’s shoe shop, where three bodies were found.
0202724154, 020310225, 0203226771, 0203532198, 0203556780 are the nos. you can call for information on family, friends, and relatives.
On Sunday, President Uhuru Kenyatta asked Kenyans to donate blood for the victims of the Westgate attack. Next month he will appear before the International Criminal Court for not asking in 2007.
They decided to caption them: A policeman carries a baby along with his machine gun. A crowd holds its arms up to catch a Kenyan woman as she jumps out from the air vent. A woman sobs as she is brought out in a shopping cart. Mrs. Adatia, who was expecting her first child, was shopping for baby clothes.
They call her the “white widow,” and she is both. Her parents having been bred from old English stock. Her husband having blown himself up in 2006.
Shocked Aylesbury neighbors remember young Samantha Lewthwaite as an ordinary British girl. Pleasant and courteous. Lacking in confidence. A follower, they say, not a leader. Al Shabab says she is a “brave lady.” To them, Dada Mzungu is a brave lady.
September 24, 1:11 pm (EAT): Siege “over,” three floors collapsed. “Several bodies still trapped in the rubble including the terrorists,” according to President Kenyatta, and there will be three days of national mourning starting now.
One of Kenya’s premiere malls. The attackers may have operated a storefront for months before.
“Walk out with your hands up!” The Kenyan Defense Force ordered. Hostages hiding in the mall walked out with their hands up. The mall contained several clothing stores. Hostage-takers may have walked out with their hands up.
Breaking. Explosions heard in the Northern Kenyan town of Wajir, night of September 24. One person dead, four injured after a grenade was hurled. We would like to urge all Kenyans to be patient as investigations are done to enable us [sic] answer all the questions. Please.
The three-year-old asks, “Sasa tukiona cartoon, Daddy atatokea wapi?” If we watch cartoons, how will Daddy be rescued?
SEPTEMBER 27 2013
NEWS █ 06
IN LOVE WITh
by Drew Dickerson Illustration by Edith Young jeffrey eugenides b‘83’s third novel came out in 2011, my own sophomore fall. Nearly everyone I know owns a copy of the loudly jacketed hardcover and has at least thumbed through it. The book is a very different animal from either of the author’s previous works, Middlesex or The Virgin Suicides; in both form and content, it is a much more conventional novel. I feel like I’m too close to the subject matter to write cleanly or clearly about it. I asked a friend of mine what he thought of the book, and he thought that bipolar disorder was well realized in the character of Leonard. This is a sharp takeaway. Mr. Eugenides and I talk here about genetics and Roland Barthes. There was a long pause in our conversation as he went to answer the door for a man who came to help him move his things. The College Hill Independent: I was hoping to talk about the importance on place in your work. In your three novels we have the suburb of Gross Pointe, MI, as well as Detroit and Providence. You also deal with San Francisco, Berlin, and India in these works—all places in which you’ve lived. How important is location in your work? Jeffrey Eugenides: I think most novelists have to draw on memories of places where they’ve lived in order to create any kind of fiction that’s credible. Sometimes you can write about places you’ve never been. In The Marriage Plot I set part of the book in Monaco and I’ve never been to Monaco. So it’s certainly possible to write about places where you haven’t lived. But it’s more natural and easier—and often more beneficial—to write a book about places that you know well because you can be accurate about them. You know how people behave in those places and how they sound. And that kind of goes with the territory, obviously. I’ve always felt that, at least in terms of Detroit, that I was fortunate to grow up there. As the world is coming more and more to understand, it’s an extremely important place. If you write about Detroit you are able to concentrate on many major issues that have been going on in the United States. So I’ve never seen a reason to write about another place. Detroit seems to be the place I know.
The Indy: I wonder if the anxieties aren’t the same though. The sentence in your book, which is what I take to be the thesis statement: “Madeleine’s love troubles began at a time when the French theory that she was reading deconstructed the very notion of love.” That’s not the Gardner argument exactly, but the thrusts seem similar. You’re very sensitive to people who might call certain formations of something like love outmoded. JE: I arrived at Brown wanting to be a writer and was promptly told that the author was dead. I certainly resisted the idea that there was no longer a possibility of telling stories or of trying to have narrative in a piece of fiction. So that’s a little bit of a traditional belief. I think what I’ve tried to do in my career is satisfy that traditional belief while trying to move the project of the novel forward, in keeping with some of the things I learned about postmodernism without abandoning some of the central energies and pleasures of the novel. In terms of love, though I was talking about a young woman at college having romantic difficulties, I might have been talking about the predicament the contemporary novelist finds himself or herself in—that of being in love with storytelling and narrative at a time when those things are under threat. I don’t really think they’re under threat out in the wide world but I think they’re under threat at least in the seminar on Semiotics. To be in love in Madeleine’s way is a little bit to be in love with storytelling, I think.
The Indy: I think Detroit is especially interesting. As a Rust Belt city it seems to occupy a certain place in our imagination as to what post-industrial life might look like. Representation and coverage of the city has a political importance.
The Indy: You do seem to have a definite concern for the history of the novel. As I look at Middlesex, there’s a progression of style and convention from a sort of prosaic magical realism through to something that, by the end, looks very much like a contemporary social realist work.
JE: Many cities in the United States are facing the same situation, sometimes to not such an extreme extent. I was just in Indianapolis and there are many things about Indianapolis that reminded me about Detroit. Lots of places in the Midwest are in the same predicament. So it’s something that America needs to face up to. We have a big country and we tend to abandon cities and move somewhere else when they run into trouble. Whereas in Europe, where they have more limited space, they tend to have to learn how to reinvent cities and keep them going because they just don’t have the space to move away. I think at some point that’s going to be the same situation in the United States. We just can’t continue to abandon cities and huge amounts of our population to those kinds of conditions and that kind of under-performing economy.
JE: The scheme of the book was to try to contain the DNA of the novel itself in hopefully not too overly-dramatic a way, but to begin with some of the oldest forms of storytelling—epic storytelling, in the case of Middlesex mock-epic storytelling, but still nevertheless epic—and then to move through the book and end up with a more psychological treatment. So the book is about genetics, it’s about something passing down through history and mutating and containing the past in the present. So I wanted the book’s style to shift, in a subtle way, through all those different possibilities.
The Indy: I saw in my research that your first moneyed prize was for a poem about Fox Point. JE: It was. That’s true. The Indy: I’m very interested in your treatment of Providence and your treatment of Brown more specifically. I understand you went to Brown in order to study under the writer John Hawkes—and you came to the school in 1978, the same year that John Gardner’s polemic against Hawkes and his contemporaries (Coover, Barth, Gass, etc.) “On Moral Fiction” was released. It seems to me that the Brown of The Marriage Plot is a highly combative intellectual environment, although in the novel the major camps are Poststructuralism and New Criticism. Do you think the Gardner characterization of conventional, moral fiction as exclusive to “postmodern” writing at all colored your experience of Brown and, in turn, your representation of that experience? JE: I remember when Gardner published that book “On Moral Fiction.” I don’t think most of the professors with whom I studied at Brown were on board with that at all. Nor were they big admirers of Gardner’s fiction. I think we dismissed that idea. It seemed rather prescriptive, telling people how novels should be and that they should only be written in one way. Hawkes was a somewhat experimental writer, but he wasn’t the kind of writer who only believed in one school of writing. He just knew that he had to write in a certain way. He didn’t force us or even encourage us to write in a certain mode. I think the Gardner idea was just a little bit limiting. There’s so many different ways to think of what morality is in fiction. You can look at the books of Robert Coover and find them to be extremely strong and strident in their moral points about democracy and the American project—though they wouldn’t construct their morality in the rather old-fashioned way that a John Gardner would. So, it remains to be seen what is moral. Sometimes I think writing well and keeping the language pure is a kind of demonstration of morality. But the big issue on campus was, as you correctly described it, the one between New Criticism and Semiotics. There was a battle going on between those two camps and when I was there it was certainly raging.
07 █ interviews
The Indy: Would you describe your relationship to literary history as a genetic one? JE: I think so. You certainly bear traces of everything you’ve read before and the different centuries of writing. If you’re writing today you’re not free of that. You’re conditioned to a certain degree by what’s come before, and then you’re trying to write something about your own time. You’re trying to maybe mutate into something that hasn’t been seen before. But you certainly do contain a blueprint of a lot of literary genetic material. The Indy: I feel like the way you deal with influence is different than that of some of your contemporaries. Where Jonathan Lethem might take something from Raymond Carver and bring it to bear on something else lifted from Raymond Chandler, you’re at something different. You seem more interested in problems of convention. You’re interrogating classical forms like the marriage plot. It’s a different formation of your own place with respect to book culture. JE: I would have to say it depended on the book I was writing. I don’t think I have a project that I am prosecuting from book to book. I am writing short stories now which are very different from The Marriage Plot and The Marriage Plot is very different from Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides. So I don’t have a methodology that I’m repeating. I think I’m constantly adapting my style and my narrative manner depending on what I’m interested in at the moment and what I’m trying to work on. Certainly, in The Marriage Plot I was trying to reinvent or investigate the idea of the traditional marriage plot and make it valid for today, or to see what part of that lingers on. I decided that the marriage plot still operates in our heads, and operates in our world in terms of forcing women to get married and never to get divorced. It still conditions a lot of our expectations. In that way I could agree that I was dealing in a literary tradition. But that won’t be the case for all of my books.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
STORYTELLING An Interview with Jeffrey Eugenides
The Indy: You just seem to be tapping into something older than somebody like Lethem or Colson Whitehead or Michael Chabon, who might be concerned with the magazine or television. JE: That’s true. I’ve never been into cartoons. I’m not into all of those things, so it wouldn’t appear in my work very much. The Indy: In your interview with the Paris Review ’s Art of Fiction column you say, “My entire career so far has been an attempt to reconcile these two poles of literature, the experimentalism of the modernists and the narrative drive and centrality of character of the nineteenth-century realists.” I was curious whether or not you still agree with that statement and whether or not you could be said to have a project in that case. JE: That interview came out not so long ago, and it would be folly for me to disown it completely and say I no longer believe that. But one is encouraged in an interview to come out with grand statements like that. And as soon as you make them you start to wonder how true they are or how true the will remain. The thing about fiction is that I think it’s quite a shape-shifting medium. You’re constant getting new ideas and trying new things. These kinds of statements, while they may be true, they’re rarely in the front of your mind while you’re writing. You never sit down and think “today I will try to reconcile experimentalism with the traditional novelistic approach.” That never occurs to you. You just kind of do what you’re interested in. Maybe later, in a more analytical mood, you come up with these sorts of statements about your own work. It doesn’t mean they’re not true, but they’re certainly not the driving force behind one’s daily labor. The Indy: I was wondering if maybe—you say also in an interview with Jonathan Safran Foer for BOMB Magazine “you don’t create your originality, it creates you”—I was wondering if you don’t agree with Barthes on the idea of the death of authorship a little bit more than you realize. It seems like the thrust of both the above line and what you were just saying is that genius doesn’t precede art but is constituted alongside it. It’s pretty well in keeping with your thought that you don’t have a grand authorial mission, that you’re interested more in the text and the craft. JE: As I said, I remain influenced by a lot of the literary theory that I read while I was at Brown. So I wouldn’t be surprised if things I say conform to a Roland Barthes idea. When you’re writing a book or any kind of text, you do interact with the text. You write things and then you look at it and you get different ideas about what to do next from the text itself. So there’s a moment where, in a sense, the text is telling you what to do next or giving you ideas. You begin to interact with it, which I think is probably the same in many artistic media. If you’re painting, you look at the paint and get ideas and begin to interact with what you’ve done before. It’s part of the creative process. So in doing that, you’re no longer entirely in charge of what you set out to do. The work gets better and deeper and more surprising the more you interact with it. Part of your brain needs to be working with the sheer intellection, the intellectual force, and part of it has to be working with the intuition. You go back and forth between those two modes of thought. The intuitional part is the part where maybe the text begins to speak back to you. I think that’s necessary and has been necessary in all kinds of writing. It doesn’t matter what kind of writer we’re talking about.
SEPTEMBER 27 2013
AAC H A M A A Finding Middle Eastern Food in Providence by Rick Salamé
i bike past as220, go around the cathedral, cross the overpass, take a left against the traffic of i bike past as220, go around the cathedral, cross the overpass, take a left against the traffic of a one-way street, pull into a tiny parking lot, and enter the back door of a squat building made of cinder blocks. The front door of Oasis leads to the restaurant, but the back door opens to the market section. Back here I find shelves stacked with teas, spices, extracts, canned beans, bagged lentils, packaged cheese, thick yogurt and a counter, where there sits a mustached man named Abu Wesam. He smiles. When I told him I wanted to write about him and other Middle Easterners living in Providence, he told me I better ask his brother-in-law, Sami. I wandered towards the restaurant and overheard Sami, whose tan and unwrinkled skin makes him look younger than it probably is, taking an order. He came around to the butcher’s counter at the market and began carving up a lamb leg. I asked him if I could come back later and talk to him and he agreed. I wandered around the market aimlessly and started examining a Rhode Island Department of Health poster written in Arabic, which I can’t read. Abu Wesam approached me and asked me what my article was about—first in Palestinian Arabic, then in English. I only understood the second time. I told him, in English, my story is about what it’s like working in a Middle Eastern restaurant in Providence. “It’s good!” he said, and laughed. “Lhamdillah,” I told him in a Lebanese accent. “Hamdilleh,” he agreed, very much the same, yet different. +++ paul boutros was born and raised in Syria, but now he and his entire family live in Rhode Island. His falafel shop, East Side Pockets, is not too far from Oasis, but it feels worlds away. It’s on Thayer Street, in the heart of the College Hill student bubble. At East Side Pockets, it’s hard to find any pattern to the ethnicities, but easy to notice all the students. The first thing I asked Paul was a question to which I already knew the answer: “Who are your customers?” “Over 80 percent are American,” he told me. We were talking on the phone while he watched his son’s football practice. He also gets Arabs, he said, but those are mainly students, too. With the exception of students living away from their families, “Arabs,” he said, “cook at home… For us, you and me, family structure is very important. Thanksgiving? That’s every Sunday.” Maybe it’s a coincidence, but in my house in Connecticut, Sundays were always the big cooking days. In the morning, my father would squeeze the water out of store-bought Greek yogurt over the kitchen sink to make lebne, a thick and salty yogurt. In the afternoons my American mom and Lebanese dad would simultaneously cook mujaddara, taboule, mmsa’a, fasolia, fatoosh, and, if we were extra lucky, loobye bil-zeit. The rich smells of roasting eggplant,
steaming lentils, onions frying in olive oil to take the edge off, and fresh-cut tomatoes filled the kitchen. After dinner that night, we’d put everything into large bowls covered in clear plastic wrap and play Tetris with the fridge, cramming to fill every open space with food for a week. Michel, Paul’s brother, owns Mike’s Calzones, a shop just a few storefronts away. With the exception of shawarma, his menu is Italian-American. Michel, who sold his share in East Side Pockets back in February 2004 so he could co-found Shanghai (which he has since also sold), seems to be something of a chameleon. Confronted with a market demand that calculates more on the basis of price and quality and doesn’t necessarily reward cultural self-expression, distinctions between Syrians, Italians, and Chinese can be nullified and nuances obliterated. Michel, for example, goes by Mike. +++ jawad sefiani, owner of tea in sahara, is a big man—tall and solid, but not at all fat. He’s from Rabat, the capital of Morocco, and is studying for a master’s at Rhode Island College. Sitting in a quiet, intimate space decorated with North African geometric patterns and listening to Fayrouz, the ultra-famous Lebanese singer, the juxtaposition of Levantine and North African culture would be jarring, if one ignored the iced tea. Iced tea of any sort is much more American than Moroccan, but Jawad’s iced Moroccan mint tea is one of his biggest sellers at his Moroccan café. Yet despite his concession to local taste buds that prefer their leafy infusions cold, Jawad has striven to maintain as much authenticity in the product as possible. He uses traditional ingredients, implements, and methods prior to cooling the tea, something which he says gives him more of a right to use the name Moroccan on his product than other establishments in Providence that aren’t willing to go the extra mile to do it right. “You can’t just call your product Moroccan mint tea because it sounds exotic, there’s a lot more to it than that.” Less obvious, he has also had to make concessions to American notions of what Middle Eastern food is—a set of assumptions that can overlook important cultural and culinary differences within the region. “We don’t really have hummus in Morocco. I actually had to get the recipe from Sami.” Which brings us back to Oasis. Oasis is a place where you can practice your Arabic if you are so inclined. There are plenty of labels, tags, and posters to read and everyone will understand you if you address them in Arabic. According to Sami Almuhtaseb, about half of the restaurant’s customers are Middle Eastern. It reminds me of a Lebanese restaurant in Stamford, Connecticut that my family used to go to. That small place was full of Lebanese and other Middle Eastern people and there was something comforting about that. It was just around the time of the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel and we weren’t sure when we’d go back to Lebanon. The owners were also
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
AL A AY L E preoccupied with calling relatives that July. Eating, we were all engaging in a familiar ritual that obliterated some of the national, sectarian, and class differences that would have divided us had living in America not reduced us to this unified block. And we were safe from the kids at my school who would rather go hungry than eat the food at my house when they came over for the first and last time. Solidarity, mutual understanding, and a side of kibbeh. Kibbeh is solidarity. Or as Jawad said, “Native-born Americans have their foods which bring them closer together and we have our food that brings us together and makes us feel comfortable.” In early 2008 our family friends opened up a second location in Greenwich, CT but ended up losing both restaurants when the recession hit later that year. All of a sudden it seemed like all the Middle Easterners in our area disappeared. When a demographic group is only one percent of the population, they really need to be in the same room for you to remember that they exist. But Sami Almuhtaseb, the Palestinian owner of Oasis, knows a lot about serving both his community and his neighbors, and about navigating the grey areas of blurry cultural distinctions. In addition to Oasis, Sami also has started seven pizza shops in the area, including Golden Crust Pizza near Providence College and a new one that’s going to be up north on Charles Street. But Oasis has become a space for both Middle Easterners and non-Middle Eastern Muslims from the local South Providence community who worship at the recently opened mosque just down the street. Tariq Wasim—a “revert” to what he sees as everyone’s birth religion, Islam, and a member of the growing African-American Muslim population in Providence—said that Oasis is one of the only places in the city that offers halal food. As such, it has become a meeting place for a differently defined, faith-based community. “Does this connect me with brothers from other countries?” Tariq said, referring to eating at Oasis, “Yeah, it’s different from the mosque where we just exchange salaam and things like that. It’s more social.” When I met him, Tariq and his friends were eating pepperoni pizza, which Oasis offers in addition to halal burgers, meatballs, and pastrami sandwiches, along with chicken tikka masala. Yet for guys like Michel, there is something about his own sense of identity that is sheltered from his surroundings. As I sat across the table from him in Mike’s Calzones, a young European-American man in a pink polo shirt walked in and called out, “Hey Mike!” Suddenly feeling awkward, I asked Michel if he feels connected to a Middle Eastern community in Providence and he said, “Definitely. You cannot forget your culture or your language. I go to my mother’s house for lunch three times a week and eat home-cooked Syrian food. I’m sure it’s the same for the Chinese people and the Italian people [working on Thayer]. I bet they don’t eat at their restaurants.” Don’t get him wrong; he likes calzones. But for what it’s worth, he says, “I like being ‘the falafel guy’ better.” I held my breath, looked over at the polo-shirt-wearing customer and asked him, “Do you like being Mike?” “I prefer Michel,” he confessed, “It’s my name.”
SEPTEMBER 27 2013
+++ l’artisan, a lebanese-owned bakery and café in Wayland Square, is in many ways so European in appearance that Middle Eastern products such as lebne, manaeesh, halloumi, and baklawa look somewhat out of place nestled among the espresso, baguettes, and Greek salads in its display cases. The first time I walked into the café, upon discovering the manaeesh, I remember feeling like I had just found cash in an old jacket pocket. I also remember wishing that I really had—L’Artisan is a little pricy. It is a hybridity that exists in the comingling of shawarma and subs at Mike’s Calzones; the iced tea that is still Moroccan at heart at Tea in Sahara; the halal pizza at Oasis; and non-Middle Eastern employees at East Side Pockets who corrected my friend, a native Arabic speaker, on his pronunciation of falafel. Each of these deviations from what could be called “traditional” adapts these businesses to their local markets. While all of the men I spoke with for this story have had the experience of maintaining two distinct cultural identities, much of the western influence on Middle Eastern restaurants in Providence is no different than what one would find in the Middle East itself. As Jawad put it, “Even back in Morocco I was exposed to American culture. Speaking English was the cool thing to do.” Personal experience proves that you can find yourself listening to Nora Jones and eating harissa in both Providence and Tunisia. And you can see a sign like the one outside Mike’s Calzones advertising shawarma with a side of coke and fries outside nearly every shawarma shop in Jordan or Lebanon. The only difference is that, in Jordan, the sign would be written with two lines of text—first in Arabic, then in English. Whether they are serving the young and casually dressed on College Hill, the skinny and tattooed of Fox Point, the yoga-pant wearers of Wayland Square, the robed men of South Providence, or a kid on a bike, scouring the city, looking for Middle Eastern food in an attempt to feel more connected to home—Middle Eastern restaurateurs are the ministers of a secular religion, enabling rituals that unify all Middle Easterners living in Providence—and are open to anyone who desires admittance. You might not see it, but you just have to pay attention. RICK SALAME B’16 can never tell if he’s homesick or hungry.
IMAGINING, TOGETHER, THE END What we think about when we think about climate change by Daniel Sherell Illustration by Aaron Harris
washington dc, 2002 atmospheric co2: 373 ppm Climate change was invented in 2002 by a man named Frank Luntz. Global average surface temperatures had already risen almost 1°F above 1980 levels, but it was winter in Washington and no one could feel the difference. Luntz had convened a congress of trusted pollsters to address the most urgent threat posed by “global warming”: it was wrecking, absolutely wrecking Bush’s environmental poll numbers. The President needed new words to address the problem he wasn’t addressing. The job was given to Luntz, because Luntz made words. Frank Luntz is a semantic alchemist, what he’d call “a message creator.” He gets paid by embattled politicians to create persuasive vocabularies, words that will win arguments and shift public opinion simply by virtue of their subliminal import. “Eighty percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect,” Luntz wagers. “I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think.” Luntz et al. helped perpetuate what we might call the American politics of feeling, a non-debate between competing lexicons, a discourse that relies less on our capacity for rational evaluation than on our patriotic adherence to gut reactions. They took effective words and made them wholly affective. They engineered languages made up entirely of signifiers. They didn’t convey messages; they created them. And they were phenomenally good at it. Every Luntz-word got triple-distilled, rendered flawless in the crucible of representative focus groups from Middle America. Oil drilling became “energy exploration;” the estate tax became the “death tax;” Newt Gingrich’s legislative vendetta against petty felons and unwed mothers became, miraculously, “The Contract with America.” After the words were manufactured, they were fed to the press. They appeared first on the TV, and then they were inside our heads, and then they were coming out of our mouths. Of course we weren’t powerless in all this; -it’s just that most
of the time we didn’t even know it was happening. Once in a while, though, Luntz would step briefly into the limelight to bait his critics, pulling the sort of self-aware media stunt that would set their teeth on edge. In 2007 he went on NPR’s Fresh Air and tried to redefine the word “Orwellian.” “To be ‘Orwellian’ is to speak with absolute clarity, to be succinct, to explain what the event is, to talk about what triggers something happening…and to do so without any pejorative whatsoever,” he told Terry Gross. And then, we have to believe, in an almost rabid display of sinister genius, he winked. 2001, the year before Bush commissioned Luntz, was a big year for global warming. Scientists wrote it into their grant proposals; Time slapped it in big yellow font on the cover of their April issue, andeven President Bush threw it into a few speeches. But the phrase polled poorly with the focus groups—it rang too frightening, it sounded infernal in the strict sense. If Bush wanted to uphold his program of ExxonMobil concessions and EPA deregulation, he had to start calling it “climate change,” and he had to claim it wasn’t real. “The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science,” Luntz wrote in a secret memo dated to early 2003. “Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.” By 2003, the phrase “global warming” had all but disappeared. The planet was no longer undergoing the most precipitous temperature increase since the Paleocene. Things were just changing, and nobody knew why. The doublespeak had been fullwise successful—our national bellyfeel did a 180. We were finally safe, from everything but the problem.
+++ north carolina, 2010 atmospheric co2: 388 ppm Winter falls hard on the Outer Banks. Halloween brings high winds and storm waves, and Thanksgiving augurs the start of the floods. Roads are washed out and bridges submerged, twenty-room vacation homes crumble off their pylons and into the surf. The islands’ residents worry about their beach access, about their basement rec rooms, about what this might do to tourist numbers come spring. The coastal insurance companies worry about hemorrhaging clients when they jack up their prices. And the geomorphologists worry that the whole place is very soon going to sink. The barrier islands arc like spindrift off the coast of North Carolina, a fragile line of sediment left here when the glaciers retreated north 18,000 years ago. The islands are thin, barely a quarter-mile wide at some points, strung out along ill-fated NC-12 like beads on a necklace. Every year for a decade, sections of the road have had to be rebuilt. In the spring, an army of backhoes parade down toward Cape Hatteras with sand from the mainland, patching up holes and fortifying sand dunes, trundling through the marshland on treads. But every year the tides grow higher and the storms get worse and the islands become even more anemic. The Outer Banks are on geologic life support. By 2010, bold action was needed to fight the rising tides, so the government of North Carolina scrambled the jets and commissioned a fifteen-page report. Several months later, the state-appointed Science Panel on Coastal Hazards came back with the news that everyone was secretly expecting but no one wanted to hear. Not only was sea level rising, it was accelerating. By 2100, North Carolina could reasonably expect about three feet of sea level rise, enough to submerge whole towns and dice up the delicate islands.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
Coastal developers and business leaders were irate. Not at the government, at the scientists. The findings seemed unavoidably to call for a whole slew of new maritime zoning regulations, regulations that would cost them millions of dollars to implement. Assimilating these truths was deemed too expensive, and so they lobbied the State Senate to have them revoked. In 2012, the Republican-led Senate complied, ratifying House Bill 819, which forbid the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission from taking into account future predictions of sea level rise acceleration in its development planning. Projections for sea level rise had to based on a steady, linear trend, in defiance of every major computer model of 21st century global warming. The Senate had made sea level rise illegal. Now, before you jump in and critique the asinine logic of trying to legislate physics, consider for a moment how amazing that is. North Carolina is forestalling disaster with political will, a nearly unprecedented feat of state-sponsored eschatology. Never mind that Dr. Stanley Riggs, the head geologist on the initial panel, told the press that the decision displayed “a criminally serious disregard for science.” Never mind that people were still in danger of losing their homes, that the storm tides would soon disregard the instructions of the NC Coastal Resources Commission and continue their exponential advance. HR 819 was a perfect distillation of the legal, cultural, and semantic acrobatics we’ve begun to perform in the face of an ecological ultimatum. North Carolina is playing chicken with the planet; the Outer Banks are their ante. It’s difficult, in all of this, to discern who was actually in denial, and who was subverting the long-term economic and environmental well-being of their state to make some money. What’s clear is that there is a kind of crazy inversion going on. We are no longer adapting ourselves to global warming; we are adapting global warming to ourselves. This cognitive counter-offensive impels incredible, and incredibly tortured, acts of imagination. Skeptics blame it on the moon and the sun, on “cosmic rays” or the wrath of God (passive guilt and divine retribution being, in this case, far easier to swallow than the responsibility for a specific and knowable human error). In the same year that North Carolina ignored science, South Dakota preempted it, passing a resolution confirming that CO2 is not, in fact, a pollutant but rather “the gas of life.” “There are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological…and ecological dynamics that can effect [sic] world weather phenomena,” it said, as if global warming, by some fluke of galactic alignment, was simply in the cards for Sagittarius this month. In some ways it’s easy to sympathize with the deniers; global warming is a terrible thing to have to admit. If someone had paid our dystopian futurists to invent a crisis that would be difficult for humans to solve, they may still not have come up with something as pernicious and intractable as global warming. It molds beautifully to the contours of our political and ethical shortcomings. Everyone is both its victim and its perpetrator. All of us emit CO2 and all of us will, eventually, feel the heat. The diffusion of responsibility is absolute. What’s more, the potential impacts are too extreme and
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wide-ranging, too much like science fiction for us to really take seriously. In a century, global temperatures could increase by 6°C. The last time Earth was 6°C hotter, there were crocodiles in Greenland and you could have jet-skied over the surface of Manhattan. Talking about global warming candidly makes you sound like a sidewalk doomsday prophet with a cardboard sign and a scepter made of tinfoil. The problem is so massive and unprecedented that all the realists begin to look unavoidably like alarmists. But the most dangerous element of global warming may be its pacing. Though the planet is warming at a geologically astounding rate, it’s still proceeding too slowly and complexly to provide the sort of human drama that could precipitate a visceral collective concern. Our cognitive evolution has likely been limited with our longevity—humans have little innate capacity to worry about, or even fully imagine, problems that will take longer than a human lifespan to metastasize. We need overnight glaciations, we need giant, instantaneous tidal waves, we need Jake Gyllenhaal trekking down Broadway in snowshoes to remind us of how intensely, intensely worried we should be. +++ climate denial is the most egregious symptom of a socioenvironmental psychosis. As with most psychoses, its power is predicated on our failure to imagine the reality we’ve been saddled with, or rather, on our gift for imagining realities that are subtly but crucially different. The deniers have transformed this failure into a willful disbelief, and are girding it with their own complex and often impressive scaffolding of alternative imaginary. But as the scientific consensus accrues, as Luntz’s “window of opportunity” inches closed, the feats of imagination required to sustain outright denial appear more and more absurd. The “solar-wind” theorists are being shunted toward the manic fringes of talk radio, and they’re being replaced by pundits who peddle not incredulity but inaction. The switch has gone largely unnoticed, obscured by oil-lobby public relations dollars. But as you track the rationalizations across the ’90s and into the ’00s, you can discern the outlines of a premeditated retreat. First global warming wasn’t happening, then it wasn’t caused by us, and by the time it was caused by us it was too late to do anything about it. The impacts will be “manageable,” claimed ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. “We will adapt to this.” CNN’s Erick Erickson echoed the non-stance: “It’s a problem we probably have to get used to as opposed to something we can cure.” This doctrine of climate inertia refuses to imagine potential solutions, and, more worryingly, fails to imagine the likely consequences of its refusal. Some researchers now blame the Nobel Prize-winning International Panel on Climate Change with perpetuating a similar kind of indolent wheel-spinning, taking up millions of scientific man-hours to churn out predictions that are proven again and again to be wildly conservative—a gross imbalance in our division of labor between action and prediction. Prediction itself is an act of informed imagination, born perhaps from an urge to narrate our undoing, to understand it precisely even if we can’t prevent it. Death, we assume, is easier for the thanatologist.
At the risk of being reductive, we can map these imaginative feints onto a scaled-up version of the Kubler-Ross “stages of grief ” hospice-heuristic (Žižek’s Living in End Times does approximately this). In the face of a totalizing environmental collapse, we reject the facts, we grasp desperately for more information, we lapse finally into resignation. Except that our reaction to global warming has been far less tidy: the stages don’t proceed sequentially, they’re all happening at once, and they each have spokespeople who compete on Election Day— the denial candidates, the bargaining candidates, the acceptance candidates. The grieving consciousness has been painted onto our politics; ExxonMobil as id, Frank Luntz as ego, Al Gore as bumbling, sporadically-bearded superego. They war among themselves with drills and bills, but most importantly with words. And between the volleys, we are beginning to find out what happens in a society staring down the barrel of an ecological gun. We can catalogue the cultural spasms and flares (this essay included) born of our imaginative grappling, our attempts to come to terms with the largest ever threat to our species. We are, all of us, both purveyors and subjects of an unprecedented public experiment—even as the laboratory goes up in flames, we glean new insights. +++ in 2010, frank luntz switched sides. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) was in desperate need of some fresh ideas, so erstwhile president Fred Krupp got on the phone. Luntz would joke later about the conversation: “When Fred asked me to do this with him, I asked, ‘Do you know who I am?’” Of course Krupp had chosen Luntz specifically—he needed a mercenary. How, he asked, can we frame global warming to make people actually start caring about it? Luntz summoned the pollsters. It was all familiar: the amoral zeal, the focus groups, the patronizing disregard for public discourse. All except for that this time, not that it mattered to him, Luntz was on the right side of history. The resulting report was unambiguous: to fight global warming, the EDF had to stop talking about global warming. People weren’t interested in hearing about “melting glaciers and polar bears,” they cared more about the old patriotic maxims like “energy dependence on the Middle East,” and “creating jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.” The public was ready to act on global warming just so long as it was couched in other terms. The environmental establishment threw up its hands. The voters, it seemed, would carry on in their ignorance, imagining global warming as primarily an issue of terrorism and quarterly job reports. Luntz was decried as a coddler and an enabler. No one seemed to be giving the American public any credit. Despite Luntz’s insistence that he had found broad, bipartisan support for climate legislation, the results of the report were taken as further evidence of our inability to speak honestly about what scares us. For the public to begin talking about it, global warming had first to be sublimated into the more conceivable crises of war and poverty, problems that have a historical legacy, that can be dealt with by nation-states, that return with comforting regularity to our list of political grievances.
But maybe this emotional triage was demonstrative less of avoidance than of resilience. Could we blame anyone for wanting to act without being forced to envision, in full and devastating detail, the consequences of not acting? Doesn’t it make sense to want to solve the problem while being shielded from the stakes? In this case, Luntz argued, realism was the enemy of pragmatism. In order to take action, we needed an imaginative buffer against the brutality of our predicament. Maybe, then, our psychosis wasn’t just delusional. Maybe it was also strategic. +++ washington dc, 2013 atmospheric co2: 395 ppm It is Arctic-circle cold outside and every third person is supposed to be a polar bear. The crowd is enormous; it seems to shiver in unison as the wind huddles everyone closer into a thicket of signposts and ear-muffs in the center of the lawn. People bounce on the balls of their feet and chant slogans. You can see their breath when it comes. The polar bear hats are made out of velour, and look, honestly, more like white rabbits than anything. It has been a morning of chilly milling, and tens of thousands of people pull them low over their ears, distending the polar bear smile into a sort of fabric grimace. But now a man with a microphone is launching over the wind into a speech, and all the bear-heads turn to face the stage. There is a sense among those gathered, gloveless and chapped, numb in the ears, that the cold is something to relish. Global warming rallies make sense in the cold. The cold is the point. The cold is what they’re fighting for. The man on stage is Bill McKibben, maybe the country’s most famous environmentalist, and also possibly its least fashionable. He wears a Patagonia and Reeboks, he fist pumps too often, and his speech is riddled with clumsy-clever metaphor (“you are the antibodies, kicking in to fight the planet’s fever”!). He looks and talks like your un-hip dad. McKibben cuts an incongruous figure at the head of the crowd, made up mostly of well-informed 20-somethings and older, dreadlocked women who look like they’ve spent weeks at a time handcuffed to bulldozers. But everyone loves him anyway: he is well-spoken and earnest, and he is deeply non-polarizing. He is talking about the pipeline. Five thousand miles away it’s already being built, snaking south from Alberta to the Montana border. It begins in the Athabasca tar sands, where oil companies have figured out a way to distill crude from the dug-up soil and make it viscous enough to transport. A region the size of Delaware has been strip-mined into a moonscape and poisoned. All sorts of nightmares have come to plague the watershed of the Athabasca River: salmon with fin-sized tumors, moose with puss bubbles under the skin, 12-year-olds with lymphoma. The whole thing is immensely profitable. The backers of the pipeline are hoping to extend it into the US, all the way to the Gulf Coast, where it will be refined and distributed, helping guarantee our continued reliance on fossil fuels for at least the coming decades. They’re calling it the Keystone XL, and to the people gathered on the Mall it
has come to represent the fault-line between two competing futures. In the first, we build it—the oil gets drilled, pumped, and burned—and we drive a long, hollow nail into our carbon coffin. In the second, we hold off, we buy ourselves time. A giant, white replica of the pipeline is being hoisted above the crowd, like a Chinese New Year dragon with no head. On the side it reads “Separate State and Oil.” Everyone holding it is dancing. Maybe in spite of themselves, people here are having fun. Which is weird, until you consider what it is that makes a global warming rally unique. Few here, apart from a small contingent of native Albertans, have suffered any ill effects from the pipeline. Unlike with Civil Rights or Vietnam, global warming rallies are, for the time being, preventive rather than reactive. They rely not on the immediacy of present harm, but on the imagined approximation of its onset. Which lends a levity to the morning’s speeches that seems at times to belie the gravity of the problem. And maybe this is just another buffering, a variant of the central psychosis, but it propels the rally forward. A US Senator stands up, then a billionaire hedge fund manager, then an elder of the Alberta Cree First Nations, and between the acts they pump Top 40 across the Mall and a guy dressed as a moose high-fives everybody so hard it stings. The president of the Hip Hop Caucus comes onstage in a patent “NOKXL” black fitted hat and tells everyone on Capitol Hill to “Stop Being Chumps,” which seems to resonate deeply. “NO CHUMPS!” at least three very loud men shout over the heads of their neighbors. Someone blasts Rihanna through the speakers, and then Gangnam Style, and suddenly Rosario Dawson is on stage saying something about “leakages, spills, bad health, um, contaminated air,” and people are cheering. The kid from Modern Family is here too, apparently, and later on, the program says, Eve (of Eve-Olution, also of “Barbershop” and “Barbershop 2: Back in Business”) will be emerging from R&B purgatory to give a free concert. Above the crowd the Washington Monument is a granite gnomon, tracking a faint and unthreatening sun. It looks impossibly large and it casts no shadow and if you stare straight up at the clouds shuttling past the whole thing feels like it’s about to tip. The 50,000 people who have supposedly come to the rally barely fill up one corner of the Mall, a space designed to accommodate public assembly and then dwarf it. Near the back, behind the line of green port-o-potties where the grass has been trampled to mud, people prowl around holding clipboards. The ratio of activists to non- is so high that they’ve resorted to organizing each other, adding their names reluctantly to redundant email listservs, pinning pins to the straps of each other’s messenger bags. There are hangers-on too, the DC eccentrics who drag their pet issue to every rally, broadcasting esoteric principles via megaphone, taking part in elaborate and inscrutable displays of political semaphore. There’s a guy on a 60-day hunger strike for veganism, and another guy in a long, white robe who claims to represent something called the Universal Church of the Essenes. On line for the port-o-potty an older man in an American flag blindfold is reading the Constitution out loud with a lisp. Most people, though, are united in their understanding of the rally’s purpose. Before the Keystone XL pipeline can be approved for construction, the State Department must first issue a waiver allowing it to traverse an international bound-
ary. In the coming months, President Obama will have to decide whether or not to sign off on the waiver. The crowd is very much aware of this legal bottleneck; they’ve come out specifically to cork it. Here, if anywhere, is the climate vanguard, the people who are facing facts and taking steps, who tread the liminal ground between denial and resignation. On a picket sign, white with black text: “What good is money on a dead planet?” The woman holding it is beaming. Drowned out by the music and swaddled in bear-wear, there is definitely an urgency here. Even if it doesn’t translate viscerally, it can still be digested rationally and transcribed onto poster-board. And even if the event does feel a little saccharine, most of the protesters are trying hard not to sugar-coat. These are serious, hopeful people. Toward the end, an aging Civil Rights leader gets up to the podium and looks the thing straight in the eye. “This time is bigger. Much bigger. Last time we were fighting for equality. This time, we are fighting for survival.” It should have been terrifying. That was the moment. Everyone at the rally should have felt it—a piercing clarity, the end of the whole world. When we reached into ourselves, all we should have found was grief. We didn’t. What happened instead was that no one got scared. People cheered after the survival line, just like they cheered when Eve finally came on to sing “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” in a leather bustier. Then they all marched to the White House. Rounding the corner onto Pennsylvania Ave., the place looked empty and small, and it was dusk on the wide lawn. The protesters marched by without stopping, glancing sideways now and then as if expecting someone to come out from behind the columns and greet them. An older lady with a walker shuffled up to the fence and looked through briefly. A sign around her neck read, “Fuck your pipeline.” The protest was over. Later on, word would get out that President Obama had been down in south Florida for the day, on a golf-date with a group of influential oil executives. But as people sank back into the DC metro, sheepishly doffing their polar bear hats and scrolling up their signboards, it seemed they had a right to feel proud. It had been the largest climate rally in US history. It had to have mattered. +++ global warming will never scare us because we’ll never be able to fully and unflinchingly imagine it. This is true for everyone. The psychosis allows Frank Luntz to sabotage science, and North Carolina to dismantle it. It allows 50,000 people to plead for the future of our planet and have it be kind of a fun time. It will allow you, once you put down this essay, to compartmentalize and move on with your week. Global warming is too big and too far-off; you were never wired to care about it. Which is fine, maybe even good, maybe even the only thing still allowing us to fight stubbornly against the odds. There was one more important point made at the rally, repeated over and over again in the press, re-tweeted into the ground. “We are in the last minute of the last quarter of the most important game humanity has ever played.” We’re losing but we haven’t lost. It might even be close. DANIEL SHERRELL B’13.5 is kicking in to fight the planet’s fever.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
no days off Medicine, Fitness & the Modern Athlete by Sam Bresnick Illustration by Casey Friedman
on an overcast day in Mexico City in October 1968, Jim Hines ran 100 meters in 9.95 seconds. Hines walked away from the 1968 Olympics with a gold medal dangling from his neck. It was the first time in the history of the sport that anyone had run that distance in under 10 seconds. Fifteen years later, Calvin Smith ran a 9.93 in Colorado Springs. And it would be another five years before Carl Lewis ran a 9.92. In 20 years, sprinters could only improve Hines’s time across 328 feet by three hundredths of a second. Fast-forward 21 years to 2009. Usain Bolt—in all likelihood the fastest man to ever bound across the Earth—ran the same distance in 9.59 seconds. How could Bolt make this staggering improvement in such a short race over a comparatively short time? How could a human perform this superhuman feat? As consumer fandom has exploded over the past twenty years, so too has the money in sports. Athletic apparel companies like Nike and Adidas—as well as luxury goods manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz—have picked up on the global appeal and marketability of top athletes. Alongside the rise of the Internet and its social media, advertising has transformed sports icons into global celebrities, creating a demand for athletes to reach incredible levels of performance. And the scientific world has taken notice, working to improve the durability and capability of athletes. The keys to Bolt’s virtually inhuman performances— shattering, time and again, the historic world record in 100M with ease—lie in the emerging sciences of sport. +++ today’s athletes take better care of themselves, train harder, and therefore jump higher, cut quicker, and run faster. This is the age of the nonstop athlete. Gone are those lazy summers when professional hockey players raked in some extra dough by selling used cars. There is no more off-season. Today, most professionals embark on seemingly impossible exercise routines after their seasons end. Roy Hibbert, the 7’3’’ behemoth of the Indiana Pacers, journeyed to San Antonio in August to flip tractor-trailer tires in 105-degree heat. In the past 30 years, this offseason training has led to extraordinary improvements in athleticism. Take, for example, Kobe Bryant, basketball’s best shooting guard for the past fifteen years. His fearsome competitiveness, reptilian agility, and prodigious skill have been etched into hardwoods across the globe. Behind the scenes, Bryant’s offseason workouts have become legendary. Operating alongside trainer Tim Grover, the man Michael Jordan credits with helping him achieve his rare levels of greatness, Kobe has popularized his “666” workout regimen. Bryant’s normal routine involves two hours of flying around a track followed by all sorts of agility drills: jump rope, ladders, box jumps. He then proceeds to mechanically drill shots from all over the court, from hitting layups to pouring in endless 3-pointers. Sweat dripping and muscles bulging, Bryant finishes with an hour of endurance cardio and Olympic-style weightlifting. Included in these maniacal physical exertions are military-style plyometric sets and exercises on underwater and zero gravity treadmills. On top of it all: he starts this regiment at 6AM. This is, needless to say, a far cry from the early summers of Wilt Chamberlain’s career, when he used to work as a bellhop at Kutsher’s, a Jewish resort in the Catskills. +++ as athletes continue to get bigger, stronger and faster, they put more force through their joints. Muscles are growing, bones, tendons, and ligaments are not. Stronger muscles, which put more stress on ligaments, are a big reason for the rash of injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in
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recent years. Watching footage of professional basketball from the 1980s, it is obvious that the style of play was much different. The “Showtime” Lakers depended on Magic Johnson slinging passes and Kareem posting up to create scoring opportunities. Athletes did not move as quickly or as explosively because they weren’t as well-conditioned. The Miami Heat’s modern offense, on the other hand, is predicated on Lebron James and Dwyane Wade juking and wiggling their way into the paint in order to create open shots for themselves and others. The heightened pace of play makes basketball incredibly fun to watch, but it is also responsible for countless knee injuries. Before advances in surgical techniques, severe leg injuries equaled a one-way ticket out of the NBA. New York Knick Bernard King was leading the NBA in scoring at 32.9 points per game in 1985 when he tore his right ACL. The ligament runs diagonally through the knee and acts to stabilize the joint by restricting forward motion of the tibia during movement. It is one of the few ligaments that will not heal on its own, and its position deep within the knee makes it difficult to operate on. King’s doctors told him that he would never play again. Ignoring his prognosis, King opted for surgery and extensive rehab. Dr. Norman Scott cut an incision from King’s thigh to the top of his shin, took his kneecap out of place, and then fashioned him a new ACL out of tendon tissue that was still attached to muscle. He then put the kneecap back in place and closed the wound with 40 metal staples. Scott kept King from bending his knee for weeks, which led to muscle atrophy and acute knee stiffness. It took King almost two years to get back on the court, the first instance of someone conquering an ACL tear in professional sports. He said during his Hall of Fame induction speech that “My personal legacy is what I did for five hours a day, six days a week, to come back from an injury that players were not coming back from.” These days, an ACL injury necessitates between 6–12 months of rehab before resuming play. No giant scar running down the knee—the only signs of surgery are tiny marks left by arthroscopes, surgical instruments that have cameras, detachable saws, claws, and shavers. Danish physician Severin Nordentoft invented the arthroscope prototype in 1912. His creation was deeply flawed, as the tiny video cameras that allow doctors to see inside the knee did not exist. The 1990s saw the first consistent use of arthroscopy for repairing ACLs. The procedure revolutionized sports medicine, as most surgeries can be done without having to cut athletes open; surgeons can perform entire operations within the joints themselves. Patients often come back stronger, not weaker, from ACL tears. Adrian Peterson was back on the field nine months after a 2011 ACL tear. In 2012, he scrapped his way to within eight yards of the NFL single season rushing record. Peterson is the gold standard of ACL recovery. What was once a careerender is now only a short intermission. Players who overwork themselves in order to become elite have the security of knowing that, if they hurt themselves, they will soon be back on the field. This holds true for most ligament and bone related injuries. Concussions and other types of head trauma, on the other hand, are impossible to properly treat or prevent. Post-surgical procedures designed to promote healing have also improved. Regenokine, a procedure invented in Germany, is one of the most successful systems for shortening recoveries. Doctors remove a patient’s blood and spin it in a centrifuge before putting a number of glass beads into the solution. The glass induces white blood cells to release IRAP, a natural anti-inflammatory. The solution is then injected back into the patient’s damaged joint. The futuristic treatment was solely intended to treat arthritis, but it was found to aid in most post-surgical joint injuries as well. Following surgery, the body’s natural inflammation response revs up, not so much for the sake of healing as for the sake of protecting the injured area. Regenokine shortens this phase, enabling the
healing process to start earlier, while also promoting healing. Even Pope John Paul II, has had the procedure. +++ there has never been so much money in contracts and endorsements for those at the top of their sports. The difference in earning power between the best player and the 100th best player in any given sport is monumentally larger than the difference in their skills. Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked men’s tennis player, made 20.6 million dollars in prize money and endorsements during the first half of 2012, according to Forbes. Michael Russell, currently ranked 81st in the world, recently told The New York Times that he made $300,000 in his best year. The difference in earnings only helps to further enlarge the gap in skillset. Djokovic can afford to employ a crack team of trainers and coaches and put them in the comfiest hotels. He can also spare $75,000 for an egg-shaped pressure chamber that increases circulation, stimulates blood cell generation, and expels lactic acid. +++ but it’s not only about training. It’s also about genes: LeBron James is a genetic freak. He has more fast twitch muscle than just about every person alive, reaching unprecedented levels of success due to the combination of hard work and genetic near-perfection. What, then, would happen if scientists could isolate the best of LeBron’s DNA, and combine it, say, with the cream of WNBA MVP Candace Parker’s genetic crop? Geneticists are getting closer to making this a reality. Parents will soon be able to pick which genes they want their children to inherit. This applies not only to eye and hair color but also to height and percentage of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers. If the technology continues to develop, there could be a whole litter of little LeBrons running this way and that. And if, at the same time, training keeps improving, we may just be scratching the surface of what is within the realm of athletic possibility.
Not saying he’s superhuman, but SAM BRESNICK B’15 once ran 100 meters in 14.2 seconds.
KISSING CHRIST by Eli Petzold
CONFESSION i’m falling in love again, finally, slowly, carefully. he’s thin and gangly and kind of scruffy. oh, and he’s an anarchist which, of course, is a total plus. it’s really just beginning, though, and i’m not sure how he feels, but i hear he likes me, but i don’t want to jinx it, so i won’t talk too much about it. but it’s just soi just might There’s a delightful tension in mystic Christian literature between the desire to be Christ and the desire to be with him. Christian mystical experience is rarely all unitive or all relational. More often than not, it’s somewhere in between. This tension plays out in the Gospel of Thomas, an apocryphal collection of 114 Jesus-sayings from the first few centuries of the Common Era. Though Thomas is a compilation of seemingly disparate oral traditions, certain clues throughout the text reveal that its third- or fourth-century editor had some cohesive principle, a consistent mystical framework, tying it all together. The text begins: “These are the secret words that the living Jesus spoke, and that Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. And he said, ‘Whoever finds the meaning of these words will not die.’” “Didymos” and “Thomas” mean “twin” in Greek and Aramaic, respectively. A clue hides behind layers of dead languages, but, once uncovered, it unlocks much of the text. We’re not supposed to believe for a moment that someone named Twin Jew Twin wrote Thomas. This incipit is the innovation of a clever editor, a clue to the readers that Thomas’s mystical framework has something to do with twinning and mimesis. But to whom is Didymos Judas Thomas a twin? Clues scattered throughout Thomas point us towards the answer, but nowhere is it more clearly stated than in Saying 108: “Jesus said, ‘Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am; I myself will become that person, and what is hidden will be revealed to him.’” Drinking from Jesus’s mouth is a relational mystical process: there is a distinct subject and object which enter into a relationship. The reader comes into Jesus’s presence and is with him. Through this relational process, however, the reader has a unitive mystical experience: the lines of identity between
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the reader and Jesus are not just blurred; they completely disappear. The reader becomes like Jesus, Jesus actually becomes the reader, and secret knowledge about the nature of reality is unfolded to him. A fundamental paradox underlies Saying 108: how can the reader be Jesus and be with Jesus at the same time? Philosophers may scratch their head and parse it out into a rigid philosophical “framework.” But mystics are not philosphers. Their logic does not have to be sound, their language need not be consistent. The language of the mystic is evocative, not necessarily descriptive. LOVE-LETTER/RIVER i’ve been writing your name in my journal with little hearts around it. you’re in my dreams, too. a grey, muggy day. we walk out to the river on the edge of town. we take each other’s sandals off and skinny dip in cool water. the clouds part. a dove flies between us. pleasant. What does it mean to drink from Jesus’s mouth? Metaphorically, to drink from Jesus’s mouth is to hear and internalize every word of his teachings. The meaning is so transparent that we almost ignore the shocking image used to convey it. We are invited to imagine our own lips pressed up against Jesus’s lips. Yes, we’re making out with Jesus. All of us: women and men alike. The eroticism of Thomas is hardly unique and actually quite tame compared to other texts in the Christian mystical tradition. Women and men have recounted mystical meetings with Christ and God in erotic language for nearly all of Christianity’s two thousand year history. Female virgins seem to have had no problem conceiving of their relationships with Christ in sexual and romantic language (consider the angel penetrating St. Teresa of Ávila with a fiery arrow of God’s love). Likewise, Christian men unashamedly wrote about sexy encounters with Christ or the masculine God. Perhaps the most famous of these accounts is St. John of the Cross’s 16th-century Spanish poem, “La Noche Oscura del Alma” (Dark Night of the Soul). In it, St. John imagines his soul climbing down a secret ladder and sneaking out of a sleeping household to cross a dark night into the caresses of a beloved male God: “Upon my flowery breast, / Kept wholly for himself alone, / There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, / And the
fanning of the cedars made a breeze. // The breeze blew from the turret / As I parted his locks; / With his gentle hand he wounded my neck / And caused all my senses to be suspended.” Orthodox apologists for St. John will point out that he writes from the point of view of his soul, which in Spanish is grammatically feminine (alma), but such authorial crossdressing only makes it queerer. MOUNTAINTOP we walk home through post-industrial deserts. tired, hungry, sustaining each other on more than just bread. until finally we reach the park, children’s birthday parties all around; mexican polka blasting from speakers somewhere; orthodox jewish mothers in wigs and full-length jean skirts, and tennis shoes, briskly pushing strollers. there you are at the top of a hill, speaking loudly over the noise. loud but gentle. your words are song and you sing onto my heart. the song is about love, but it isn’t a love song. “come up to the hilltop,” you say. did you reach your hand for mine or did i reach for yours? “this is where i learned and this is where i teach.” we’re lying alone in grass. “but now this is just a mountain for us. look.” a single cloud floats by lazily. pleasant. We don’t need Georges Bataille to tell us that mysticism and eroticism go hand-in-hand. But Christian mysticism and homoeroticism may be a little more surprising given the centuries of homophobia in institutional Christianity and Western culture. And yet, it makes perfect sense, for it plays into the wonderful tension between uniting with Christ and relating to Christ. It allows the mystic to both be Christ and to be with him. The male mystic seeks the love of the male Christ. The two distinct entities meet in an intimate embrace. Two male bodies come together, at once distinct, but at the same time similar. There is, after all, a two thousand year tradition of imitating Christ. The idea of imitatio Christi is not limited to mystic Christianity. It takes many forms and occurs at various
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
levels. Martyrs took imitatio to its literal and extreme end through willing, stoic suffering. For St. Augustine, imitatio was about living a humble life in imitation of “the lowly God.” St. Francis of Assisi followed Christ’s model of radical simplicity and humility so faithfully that he received stigmata, the five wounds of Christ’s passion on his own body. Thomas á Kempis understood imitatio as an internal exercise practiced in the spiritual inner-mind. GARDEN it’s getting late. we get a drink. red wine. one glass is enough. let’s drink it together. to the last drop. we stay up all night. i want to be with you, i want to be through you, i want to be in you, i want you to be with me, through me, i want you to be in me. i’m not really into bondage, but i’m down with domination. i’ll call you king. then you’ll deny it, of course, and call me king instead. then i’ll deny it. then finally we get naked and sweaty. limbs in all directions. and this is just the foreplay. i want to nail you and i want you to nail me. for hours on end and then you’ll say, “why have you left me?” and then i’ll say, “i’m right here. my heart’s in your hands.” and then you’ll say, “i’m thirsty.” and then we’ll finish and so we’ll both die at the same time for each other and for everything. one of us will tear the sheet. the sun will set and we’ll sleep til three pm.
SEPTEMBER 27 2013
There can be something very queer when we consider imitatio Christi in the context of relational mysticism. The mystic yearns for the embraces of a man, while simultaneously imitating him to the best of his ability. He has a big fat gay crush on Jesus. I think of my own crushes, the most consuming ones. They fill me with the same tension that runs through Christian mysticism. I want to be with the object of my desire, but, to a certain degree, I also want to be my crush. We all take or borrow the hobbies and tastes of our crushes because we think it will make us more like them, and, in turn, make them like us more. It can be hard, however, to draw the line between courtship and imitation. The line is even blurrier when the crusher and crush have anatomy and gender in common. The gay crush is both a mirror and a magnifying glass. Sameness makes me scrutinize the differences all the more. How often does he go to the gym and what does he lift? I’ll lift that. Does he have less chest hair than I do? I’ll trim it. These worries can be debilitating and embarrassing. Through a strange paradox, the relative similarity of body type and gender presentation makes it easier to look at our crushes as wholly other, as gods, worthy of imitation. Though my crush may have “divine” abs and an “otherworldly” smile, I can’t actually look at him as a god. This is where similarities between gay crushes and male mystics’ love for Jesus end. Crushes are real people. Imitation blurs identity. Christ is an archetype. When we conceive of him as a real human, we project personal interpretations on our understanding of him and construct our own image, our own version of Christ. HELL where did i lose you? three days of living hell hungry and alone. and i didn’t even ask for your number.
Christ is equally human and divine in most orthodox theologies. His dual nature is precisely what makes mystical musing so exhilarating; this doctrinal tenet is precisely what causes the tension we’ve seen in Christian mysticism between union and communion, imitation and relation. The mystic aspires to unite and commune with Christ’s divinity. But divinity is an abstract concept. Jesus is a literal, human model of the perfect man. The mystic can imitate Jesus’s example of perfection as laid out in the Gospels as a way to attain divinity; he may identify as Jesus and read the Gospels as his own autobiography. But the humanity of Jesus also allows the mystic to conceive of divine communion erotically: divinity can be passed through kisses, caresses, penetrations. I don’t mean to suggest for a moment that Christian male mysticism is inherently gay. Rather, I think the eroticism of Christian mysticism provides gay men a unique way of considering and reclaiming both sexuality and spirituality. For centuries institutionalized Christian doctrine has done a good job estranging “unrepentant” queer folk from their spirituality by denying them their sexuality. At the same time that institutions condemned homosexuality, they embraced homoeroticism directed toward Jesus, creating a fundamental disconnect between queer sexuality and queer spirituality. Now, as the religious landscape continues to change, as Pope Francis keeps surprising us with his comments on homosexuality, I can’t help but see a perfect opportunity for the merging of these two fields. If a male mystic writes about kissing Christ, it should not be scandalous if he wants to kiss other men. GRAVEYARD and on the third day dorothy woke up and ascended to kansas. there’s no place like home but i’ve never been so alone. i biked north to the cemetery to sit by the riverside. a stranger asked me if i was looking for someone, for a grave, i shrugged and looked back down at the water.
OCCULT █ 16
DEEP SEA by Tristan Rodman Illustration by Casey Friedman
when I first heard that the deep ocean contained most of the earth’s habitable space, I didn’t really believe it because I didn’t know anybody who lived there. But about six months ago I was having coffee with Rick, and he said that two of his best friends from college had just moved there because the rent was cheap, and that a brunch place had opened up that they were all hoping would “really transform the neighborhood.” After that afternoon I started to hear about it everywhere I went. I would come into work on Monday morning and hear my coworkers giggling about how fucked up they were on the train ride back from a loft party down there, and how the dj was spinning records from the mid 2000s that everybody totally loved but had completely forgotten about, even though it wasn’t all that long ago. Girls started changing their location on OKCupid to “deep ocean” as opposed to the more traditional boroughs, which made it seem like maybe it was a burgeoning community. I’m not old yet, so when my lease expired in September, I started to consider the idea of moving down there. I took one afternoon off work so that I could feel out the commute without having to worry about being somewhere on time, and I was surprised at how easy it was. It was a long trip, but it was a straight shot without a transfer, and I found it peaceful enough to maybe get some good work or reading done. On the walls of the train they had posters that read “Take the C train to the deep sea!” in mid-century style that made them look like they were telling you how to get to an exhibition at the World’s Fair. I felt like I was rediscovering a neighborhood that was part of the city’s rich history, even though in reality the subway extension had only been built two years earlier, not in the mid-century at all, but as a direct result of some irresponsible funding and one haywire housing development. I got off the train and looked around. Only about half of the people walking around looked like I did, and the other half were just fish, which initially made me uncomfortable, but then I realized that I could get probably get a lot out of a culturally diverse neighborhood and that it likely meant there were already gourmet grocers and maybe a bakery or two. The train station hadn’t even started to rust yet, which I figured was pretty remarkable considering. The water was a lot colder than the water I was familiar with from swimming at beaches on the surface, but the idea of a place with its own climate identity was appealing. Maybe everybody would be united under the weather. I met up with my sister Abby, who told me she’d show me around and introduce me to her friend who had a bedroom opening up, and not to judge too quickly when he insisted on calling his part-time barista work “freelancing” for Cafe Jed. Abby’s friend Sandro had a long face and the kind of stubble that made it clear he spent at least a couple nights a week sleeping somewhere other than his apartment, which I couldn’t place as either a good or a bad thing. We walked along the main avenue for about five minutes talking about shows we’d seen recently, and Sandro mentioned that he sometimes used the apartment to host live-audience recordings of his radio soap opera El Bandido Borracho, the name of which I recognized because its title character had a really strong presence on Twitter (@bandidoborrachopodcast). We passed a couple of cafes that looked nice, and one grocery store that had a poster for sea-salt caramels in the window, but I didn’t understand why you would buy them there when you could get better and more authentic ones from any number of storefronts down the block. when we turned onto sandro’s street, I noticed that all the buildings looked really consistent, settled in a row with patches of moss in front and bay windows facing out. I’d never seen a neighborhood that felt so cohesive, but then Sandro pointed to his building, which was two stories taller than all the others and had a stainless steel facade with a garden on the roof. It also hadn’t seemed to develop any rust yet, and I began to wonder whether the salt water prevented stainless steel from oxidizing, because all the new buildings seemed to be made of that and panes of glass with a slight green tint. We walked up Sandro’s steps and into the apartment, and right before we entered Abby gave me a look of “Hope this works out for you!” I’d seen the look before every time she tried to set me up with her best girlfriends, but I’d failed sequentially and then she stopped trying, so I thought it was really nice of her to help me find a place and I hoped I wouldn’t fail sequentially at that also. Sandro gave me “the grand tour,” which really just consisted of the kitchen/living room, his room, which had a bed vaulted above a desk with a bulbous silver microphone with an attached mustache that made it look like a nose, and the empty room, which was spacious enough but unfurnished so I had to imagine my way into it. In my imagination, the walls were all off-white except for the one behind my bed, which would be the color of the Connecticut/Oriental/Vermont Monopoly spaces, which I always thought were blue but my parents told me they were gray so I still don’t know what exactly to call it. There was a table by the side of my bed with a lamp on it and the lampshade had a steam train going across. I had a floor rug with a stitched portrait of a dog in a bed so that I wouldn’t be sad when I thought about my childhood dog. By the time I could really imagine the room as my own, I noticed that Sandro and Abby had gone into the other room. When I asked them why, they said they wanted to leave me “alone with [my] thoughts.” I looked out the living room window and into the deep sea, watching the bioluminescent fish swim past and light up the sunless waters in the places the streetlights didn’t quite reach. A pair of anglerfish floated across, their antennae tethered together. One bristlemouth chomped idly on kelp. Sandro split because his shift at Cafe Jed was about to start, but he left me and Abby the key and told us to take as much time as we wanted exploring the apartment or the neighborhood. We walked outside and made our way slowly toward the train station. “Remember when mom and dad would drive us places,” she said, “and we’d look out the window and dad would let me punch you every time we saw new buildings going up?” “And you’d yell so loud, and after a while dad had to stop because we’d have drives where you were punching me the whole way.” “I haven’t played in such a long time,” she said as we swiped into the train station. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in a place where it’s actually a game if you choose to play it, and not just a,” she paused, “a perpetual motion machine.” “We could play now, I wouldn’t mind.” Abby and I got on the train, and she punched me lightly in smaller and smaller intervals all the way back to the surface.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
Friday, September 27 Free Massages
Monday, September 30 The Wizard of OZ in IMAX 3D
12PM-1PM // Faunce 229, Brown University, Providence // For Brown students and staff
11:30AM // Providence Place Cinema, 10 Providence Pl, Providence // $14/adult 13/kid
Being touched might be important for your emotional health! Brown University Relaxation Project is offering 5-7 minute massages every Friday until reading period—come get it.
Worth a shot.
Karen Green Reads
5:30PM // Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute, Brown University, Providence // Audience limited to 50—first come first serve Sea Shadow is an Emirati film about two Emirati young people navigating emotional isolation and ‘traditional norms.’ It will probably be good—but not for your typical reasons. Go see this movie if you’re interested in how film is produced and received in the Arab Gulf. Put on your media studies hat and partake in a group discussion facilitated by Sa’ed Atshan, Postdoc in International Studies at the Watson Institute after the screening. This film will be presented by the Middle East Studies Film Series and was written by Mohammed Hassan Ahmed and directed by Nawaf Al-Janahi.
6PM // Burnside Park, 2 Kennedy Plaza, Providence Bring your bike and a bad attitude.
8PM, 10PM // AS220, 95 Empire St., Providence // $6/each, $10/both At 8:00 short films of Joe Quinn and Damon Packard will screen. At 10:00 Damon Packard’s Foxfur premiers in Providence (plus selected shorts). Prizes will be available.
Friday, September 28 Demo & Discourse: Taylor McKenzie-Veal on Experimentation in Design
2PM-3PM // RISD Museum Contemporary Art Gallery, 224 Benefit St., Providence// Free with museum admission ($12/adult, $5/student) Come listen to the guy who re-molded Gatorade bottles into piggy banks and made a 3 pound structure of reeds that can support over 400 pounds when weight is evenly distributed. I promise you won’t be dissapointed— unless your weight is unevenly distributed.
Kids’ Stuff Yard Sale
8AM-1PM // Community Church of Providence, 372 Wayland Ave., Providence Find some gently used items at The East Side Nursery School’s annual yard sale. It is unclear if this is the 36th year of the event, or if the yard sale was organized by 36 families. Either way, rain or shine!
Sunday, September 29 Beyond Good Intentions: Cultural Competency, Communication and Resilience 5PM // South Side Yoga Center, 19 Elmwood Ave., Providence //$25, tickets available online. Sale ends 9/29.
Tuesday, October 1 2:30PM-3:30PM // Lyman Hall, Brown University Karen Green is an author, visual artist, and widow of David Foster Wallace. She will read from her book, “Bough Down,” an account of her life with her late husband. This lecture is presented by the Writers On Writing Reading Series and sponsored by the department of Literary Arts.
Time Management Workshop
7PM-8PM // Rm 310, J. Walter Wilson, Brown University, Providence There will be tips about “how to get it all in.” There will also be food.
Media Arts Lecture Series: Simon Slowinski
7:30PM-8:30PM // AS220 Industries, The Mercantile Building on Lucie Way, Providence Simon Slowinski is a RISD Printmaking graduate (2011) and wants to talk about screenshots, loops, fragments, and piles. His lecture looks into a small slice of emerging computer/Internet based art. If you’re not sure you want to attend, just remember: as the digital landscape expands, images are generated, appropriated, collected and consumed in an accelerating loop.
Wednesday, October 2 Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers’ Voting on Women’s Issues 12PM-1PM // Taubman Center, Brown University, Providence
Yale University economics professor Ebonya Washington will present evidence that child gender can impact a variety of behaviors and discuss why this finding is important for policy. Come listen and eat a light lunch like a little girl.
Colleges and Coal: Should Brown Divest?
11:30AM-2PM // Sayles Hall, Brown University, Providence Founder of 350.org Bill McKibben, author of “The Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence” Christian Parenti, and former CEO of Duke Energy James Rogers discuss university divestment from energy companies and the stragegy’s effectivness in protecting the environment.
Thursday, October 3 Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular
Admission 6PM-10PM , trail closes at 11pm. Saturdays extended to 11PM admission and 12PM close// Roger Williams Park Zoo, 1000 Elmwood Ave., Providence // $12/adults, $9/kid Mon-Thurs. $15/adults, $12/kids Fri-Sun.
Diversity is messy and it provides both challenges and opportunities for The trail is open Monday-Thursday nights until November 3rd. How do teachers to explore in their daily practice. Rhode Island College professors they make the pumpkins last so long? Dr. Gerri August and Dr. Lesley Bogad will lead an interactive, professional development workshop designed to help teachers with the daily practice of connecting to and addressing the learning needs of students with varied backgrounds. Participants will draw upon their own In the know? E-mail email@example.com. ce viden c Pro histories, learn from one another’s best practices, and acquire new tools, Exoti he Week: t of y resources and vocabulary. entuck
Protestant Church Tour
9:40AM-? // Meet at Faunce Arch, Brown University, Providence 13 churches, 1 morning. You do the math.
Black Market Flea Box
11AM-3PM // Empire Black Box, 95 Empire St., Providence // $10/table for selling Want to barter for magical junk at the Black Box Flea Market? The guy in the picture on the website looks pretty cute. You may buy, sell, and barter illegal items and other items. If you buy a table, arrive by 10 so they don’t give it away. (Tables are provided.)
Railway, Dougas, Eric Axelman
6PM-10PM // Fête Lounge, 103 Dike St., Providence // $11 advance, $13 door Catch the Independent’s very own Tristan Rodman and David Adler play as Railway, alongside Dougas and Eric Axelman. Get drunk on a Sunday; nobody’s watching.
K ce ence, Provid ne, Providen Ju ival ry e v E al Fest es, o C a hosts es, rid ng gam st. featuri eauty conte b a d an