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TUFTS OBSERVER

OCTOBER 7, 2013

VOLUME CXXVII, issue 2

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hidden website agendas ( pag e 2 )

, kanye s GOD-LIKE IMAGE ( pag e 2 2 )

SECRET SOCIETIES ABOUND ( pag e 2 4 )


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BERNITA LING

WILL VAUGHAN

CLOAKED WEBSITES AND THE DARK SIDE OF DIGITAL MEDIA by Nicola Pardy ROBERT COLLINS

THE PRESIDENT’S PLAN FOR TRANSPARENCY by Robert Collins

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CONNOR CUNNINGHAM

COSMOS by Izzie Gall

12 EVA STRAUSS

GOD AMONG MEN by Ellen Mayer

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CREATIVE COMMONS

CLASS ACT by Allison Aaronson The Observer has been Tufts’ student publication of record since 1895. Our dedication to in-depth reporting, journalistic innovation, and honest dialogue has remained intact for over a century. Today, we offer insightful news analysis, cogent and diverse opinion pieces, creative writing, and lively reviews of current arts, entertainment, and culture. Through poignant writing and artistic elegance, we aim to entertain, inform, and above all challenge the Tufts community to effect positive change.

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EDITORS editor-in-chief Molly Mirhashem managing editor Nicola Pardy production director Ben Kurland asst. production director Bernita Ling section editors Anika Ades Justin Kim Aaron Langerman Moira Lavelle Gracie McKenzie Alison Pinkerton Kumar Ramanathan Nader Salass Evan Tarantino Flo Wen publicity director Stephen Wright photography director Knar Bedian photography editor Alison Graham art director Robert Collins lead artists Griffin Quasebarth Eva Strauss lead copy editors Liana Abbott Sarah Perlman copy editors George Esselstyn Eve Feldberg Brett Mele Katharine Pong MT Snyder Nate Williams staff writers Ellen Mayer

CONTRIBUTORS Connor Cunningham Sabrina Ghaus Cecelia Nealon-Shapiro Sofia Adams Alexis O’Connell Madeline Lebovic

COVER BY: Catherine Roseman

October 7th, 2013 Volume CXXVII, Issue 2 Tufts Observer, since 1895 Tufts’ Student Magazine

TABLE OF CONTENTS Cloaked Websites and the Dark Side of Digital Media by Nicola Pardy 2 feature The President’s Plan for Transparency By Robert Collins 5 news Bangladesh’s Textile Industry in Crisis by Brett Fouss 8 news Tufts Thinks Theta by Jen Oetter 10 campus & prose Cosmos by Izzie Gall 12 poetry inset Hiding Places 13 photo & prose Detached by Aaron Langerman 17 poetry Searching for Connection by Julia Malleck 18 opinion & culture God Among Men by Ellen Mayer 22 arts & culture Behind Closed Doors by Moira Lavelle 24 arts Class Act by Allison Aaronson 26 opinion Observer Cartoon Caption Contest 28 cartoon


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Cloaked websites: the dark side of digital media BY Nicola Pardy

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ou are writing an essay about Martin Luther King Jr. Naturally, you turn to Google to begin your online research. On the first page of results you follow the link to a website called www.MartinLutherKing. org. The description of the site reads, “The truth about Martin Luther King: includes historical trivia, articles and pictures. A valuable resource for teachers and students alike.” At first glance—besides the low production value of the website—it seems like just another online tribute to the life and accomplishments of the revered civil rights activist. Subheadings such as “Historical Writings” and “Civil Rights Library” seem promising, so you decide to keep browsing. But by the time you reach some of the smaller links below the major headings—“Black Invention Myths” and “Why the King Holiday Should be Repealed”—the racist theme of the content becomes more apparent. Deeper into the website’s subpages, the anti-MLK stance and racism are glaring. A downloadable poster intended for students to distribute to their communities refers to MLK as a “communist, woman-beater, plagiarist, subversive, adulterer, and sexual deviant.” Another section of the website, titled “Rap Music,” reads “Black

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rappers call on Blacks to murder and rape Whites.” At this point, it should come as no surprise that the website MartinLutherKing.org is run by Stormfront, an American white supremacist organization. Your online research experience has been manipulated by the incognito workings of a cloaked website. It would be comforting to say that even the most undiscerning reader would realize that the propaganda on MartinLutherKing.org has a clear racist agenda. But the very purpose of a cloaked website is to conceal authorship or feign legitimacy in order to deliberately disguise its specific political agenda, and most cloaked websites actually utilize legitimate sources to support their fictional claims. The creators of cloaked websites will use every tool available—from deceptive graphic user interfaces to carefully chosen domain names—to secretly push their agenda forward. A 2003 study conducted by North Carolina State University on trust and the internet showed that internet users trust the domain suffix .org significantly more than .com or .net. The study’s author commented that this finding may relate to users’ experience with not-for-profit organi-

zations with respect to the reliability and accuracy of the information they provide. What’s more, the study found that individuals who use the Internet frequently tend to trust website credibility much more than those who use it only from time to time. This means that for students, most of whom use the Internet for multiple hours a day, the danger of cloaked websites is seriously heightened. It’s almost impossible to determine just how many cloaked websites currently exist. Because of their nebulous origins and aims, collecting data and research about them is no easy task. Jessie Daniels, an associate professor at the City University of New York’s Hunter College, has dedicated her time in recent years to expanding this research, despite the topic’s inherent challenges. In a phone interview, she explained that she has come across about 50 different cloaked sites in her research, but there are likely many more out there of which she’s not aware. What we do know is that the scope and reach of cloaked websites is significant to the everyday Internet user. They range across the political spectrum—from racist right-wing sites like the MLK example all the way over to the extreme left-wing sites,


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and everything in between. Daniels described a left-leaning activist group known as the Yes Men, who use the concept of cloaked websites to critique global capitalism. In 2000, the Yes Men created a World Trade Organization imposter site, www. GATT.org, which featured headlines such as “WTO Announces Formalized Slavery Model for Africa” to draw attention to the alarming effects of free-trade policies in Africa and the economic slavery established under the auspices of this system. The group’s stunts were convincing enough to get them invited to speak at multiple conferences and highprofile talks on behalf of the WTO, reflecting a serious lack of factchecking and critical examination of online sources yet again. GATT.org marked the beginning of a series of “identity correction” stunts, in which the Yes Men took corporate and institutional public identities into their own hands. More recent stunts have involved tying Chevron Oil and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the environmental hazards they create in pursuit of financial profit. The fake

online Chevron ad campaign created by the Yes Men was so misleading that several business branding sites such as FastCompany.com had to publish follow-up reviews after originally treating the campaign as seriously intended advertising and not as parody. Just as the Yes Men disguise their political agenda and authorship from the cloaked websites they create, so too do players on the other side of the corporate coin. The WalMart Corporation covertly created the Working Families for Wal-Mart organization in 2006, with the launch of their site www.ForWalMart.com. The site was intended to appear as a grassroots support group responding to anti-Wal-Mart websites such as Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch, which criticized the company for its poor labor practices. The “About Us” section of the website, which has now been removed from the internet, read: “Working Families for Wal-Mart is a group of leaders from a variety of backgrounds and communities all across America, [with a mission to foster] open and

honest dialogue with elected officials, opinion makers, and community leaders that conveys the positive contributions of Wal-Mart to working families” (Daniels 2009). What the site failed to mention was that its creators were actually members of a public relations firm called Edelman, hired by Wal-Mart to sway public opinion about its corporate practices. The irony of the site’s self-description is morally disconcerting, but technically violating any laws. This brings us to the issue of regulation. Should the law permit the creators of cloaked websites to continue manipulating information under false pretenses? In the American context, Jessie Daniels explained, it would be very hard to regulate this kind of activity. “We just don’t have a precedent for it,” she said. Our society’s core values of freedom of speech make censoring or criminalizing certain types of expression—even deceptive expression—unconstitutional and against the American way. However, there have been moves toward a kind of regulation when it comes to other types of online pro-

which domain suffix do you trust? .edu

People who use the internet: <15 Hours a week >15 Hours a week

.GOV

.org

.net

.com

SOURCE: WWW.SAFETYHUMANFACTORS.ORG INFOGRAPHIC BY BERNITA LING

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RE FE AT U paganda. A closely related phenomenon to cloaked websites occurring on review sites like Yelp.com will be facing responsive crackdown measures as of this year. In September, MarketWatch reported that up to 25 percent of entries on Yelp are false reviews, forged by companies trying to improve their online reputations. The report stated that companies typically paid freelance writers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Eastern Europe between $1 to $10 per fraudulent review. In response, the New York Attorney General, Eric T. Schneiderman, announced that thanks to Operation Free Turf, a yearlong undercover investigation into the reputation management industry, he has struck an agreement with 19 different companies to put an end to fraudulent reviews and deceptive business practices.

up to 25% of entries on Yelp are

false reviews, forged by companies trying to improve their online reputations “I think it’s going to be a kind of game of Whack-a-Mole,” Daniels said, responding to New York’s regulations. “You need to stay ahead of these sorts of things by approaching them through legislation or law. Policy and regulation are going to be more effective when they have a business outcome, where there is some kind of money exchange.” The definition of a cloaked website is not unlike these fake reviews, which the Attorney General called “intentional deceit across the Internet”—somebody has an agenda they want to disguise by concealing authorship. Perhaps more important than governmental measures are the ef-

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forts of citizens to increase Internet transparency. While there is no easy way to identify a cloaked website, a critical eye and an understanding of media literacy can go a long way. Take for example the highly sophisticated cloaked website www.TeenBreaks.com, which first appears to be an informational website on reproductive health but is really a pro-choice propaganda site. The absence of an “About Us” page should be a first clue for Internet users. This is a red flag for individuals interested in uncovering the hidden agendas of cloaked websites. Forget convincing graphics, “verified” seals of approval, and “real” user feedback; if you can’t find out who made the site and what they want to accomplish with it, chances are you shouldn’t trust it. But as we discovered with ForWalMart.com, even “About Us” sections can be products of complete forgery. These cases call for even more attention to detail. Cross-referencing Google results is one effective tool. Want to know who runs Americans Against Food Taxes (www.NoFoodTaxes.com)? With a little investigation, it’s not hard to discover that a coalition of major restaurant, food, and beverage companies run this front group. There are a host of resources available to the online community, like www.SourceWatch.com, that make cross-referencing and fact checking suspected cloaked websites possible. It’s important to realize that although the democratization of digital media may threaten the legitimacy, accuracy, and transparency of public information, it also provides the public with greater access to a variety of information. It offers us the tools to pursue truth and to determine which sources to trust and which to distrust. Citizens—especially political activists—should not only demand transparency from online sources, but also apply it to their own online strategies, too. Daniels powerfully underscored

the tragedy of a white supremacist group registering a domain name like MartinLutherKing.org. She says, “that domain name went up in approximately 1995, so really early in the Internet revolution. The fact that the far-right white supremacists were prescient enough to register that domain name so early, to me, says that those of us who want to advance racial equality and social justice need to be just as sophisticated and prescient about our own strategies online.” Political and corporate deception is by no means a new phenomenon. But characteristics of the digital era make it significantly harder to discern what is fact and what is fiction. Furthermore, the convergence of the Internet’s vast influential reach with powerful political and economic entities renders the potential of advertising and propaganda more impactful than ever before. Let us open our eyes to the risks that this unchecked power can mean for society’s democratic values. We face a new epistemological challenge as a result of “truthiness” taking place of truth on the web today in the form of marketing ploys and Internet spoofs. The half-truths and manipulated facts of the digital era call for more refined standards of critical thinking and rationality of the modern web user. What is needed, Daniels says, is an “alternative epistemology, which calls on lived experience, ethics and reason as interconnected, essential components in assessing knowledge claims.” Our pursuit of truth can even be taken a step farther: why not take the opportunities of the Internet into our own hands? As an answer to deceptive cloaked websites and cyberracism, we can use online strategies to advance causes of social justice through grassroots blogging campaigns and social media. Let us establish a precedent for transparency, speak to the online community and openly say, “Here we are, and this is what we stand for.” O


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’, The President s Plan for Transparency , Couldn t Beat Bureaucratic Inertia. By Robert Collins

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resident Obama has done more to promote the Freedom of Information Act and government transparency than every one of his predecessors, but the White House has stopped using that fact as a talking point. In light of Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, it’s not hard to understand why. The President has not achieved his goal of creating “a new era of open Government.” The public is increasingly wary of the ominous, ever-expanding shadow of government secrecy. Millions of documents and countless terabytes of data remain classified in violation of the law, or await a notoriously inefficient review process. The Freedom of Information

Act (FOIA), the public’s only legal tool for checking the government’s unprecedented level of access to private information, is badly broken. Many journalists recognize this problem but oversimplify Obama’s relationship with government secrecy in light of the administration’s controversial reaction to leaks of classified information. When reporters see the Justice Department prosecuting leakers under the Espionage Act of 1917, many of them consider it a ruthless attack on the press and the First Amendment. A Guardian columnist, for example, recently called the charges against Snowden “modern-day McCarthyism.” But the se-

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S EW N crecy story goes far beyond the prosecutions and the debate over NSA surveillance. Journalists, the primary users of FOIA, are channeling the debate away from a systemic problem that has festered for decades. With government secrecy, the devil’s in the details.   Thomas S. Blanton, an old hand in the FOIA saga, has a nuanced view of the problem. As Director of the National Security Archive, a small investigative journalism outfit affiliated with The George Washington University, Blanton has been using FOIA to fight government secrecy since the 1970s. “On Obama and FOIA, the story is mixed,” Blanton wrote in an email to the Tufts Observer. “If your baseline is the [George W.] Bush administration, the Obama reality is so much better, it’s night and day. If your baseline is what we hoped Obama would do, or even the pledges and policy changes he made on his very first day in office, the record is much more mixed.” Blanton, who knows government censors by name and has jokingly referred to himself as a “documents fetishist,” is no stranger to bureaucratic inertia. The Archive is the leading non-profit user of FOIA and has been responsible for some of the most important foreign policy disclosures in US history. Many of the releases came only after the Archive had successfully completed one of its 47 lawsuits against the US government. One of those victories led to the 2007 release of the CIA “family jewels,” which revealed a sustained period of illegal CIA actions including wiretapping, domestic surveillance, and assassination plots. Though the law requires agencies to release requested information not more than 20 days after the FOIA request, the CIA withheld the documents for 15 years. This glacial disclosure schedule is the norm among government agencies. In August, for example, 6

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the Archive finally received definitive proof that the CIA was responsible for the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected president, Mohammad Mossadeq. This piece of information didn’t threaten current US national security, nor was it particularly surprising to those familiar with Iranian history. Yet, the government kept it secret for 60 years. This has been the way of FOIA since Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law in 1966. Government agencies have little incentive to release documents proactively, and they have minimal reason to release them at all if not threatened by a lawsuit.   With the election of Barack Obama, however, there was hope for FOIA users. Obama was poised to break this cycle of systematic over-classification at the beginning of his first term. The new president wasted no time. In a memo sent on his first day in office in January 2009, Obama urged the heads of executive departments to begin disclosing documents freely and proactively. He wrote:“In the face of doubt, openness prevails.” This was a call for a radically new interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act. Yet his push for departments to adopt “a presumption in favor of disclosure” never led to systemic change. According to a government-wide audit conducted by the National Security Archive in March of this year, 59 out of 100 federal agencies, including all agencies responsible for foreign policy, have failed to adopt a presumption of disclosure in their FOIA regulations. Still, the president’s new policy had some tangible effects. According to Blanton, documents released in the first two years of Obama’s presidency had fewer redacted segments than those released during the Bush era. Since then, however, redactions have returned to Bushera levels. “Turnover in White House staff after the first two years meant nobody was in charge of the

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transparency issue, nobody enforced the Obama policies,” Blanton wrote. In the summer of 2009, I was an intern at the National Security Archive. That year, hopes for the new administration’s goal of “creating an unprecedented level of openness” were still high. I spent my days there taking apart secondary sources, looking for references to classified documents on the Iraq War and Bush-era torture policy. At the end of my internship, I helped turn the references into FOIA requests for specific documents. I expected those requests to begin producing documents immediately. Four years later, some of them are still in the FOIA backlog. Blanton wrote that the Archive is “still stuck in pageby-page and line-by-line review.” And with recent large-scale electronic releases, the Archive is having more difficulty keeping up. In the age of Snowden, it’s harder to be a watchdog because there’s so much more to watch. Despite being unable to fix the over-classification problem, the Obama administration has made significant changes in favor of transparency. It established a regular declassification of the intelligence budget, released the Bush torture memos and reports on warrantless wiretapping, declassified nuclear stockpile statistics, recovered tens of millions of Bush staff emails that would have been destroyed, and ordered the release of taxpayer-funded scientific research. These are substantial improvements in their own right, but the administration still stands by as the pattern of over-classification intensifies. In his testimony before Congress during the WikiLeaks uproar in 2010, Blanton said, “We have to recognize that right now: we have low fences around vast prairies of government secrets, when what we need are high fences around small graveyards of the real secrets.” Three years later, the enclosures remain vast. O


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59 out of 100 federal agencies have failed to adopt a presumption of disclosure in their FOIA regulations.

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Confronting the Co

Bangladesh’s Textile I

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extile factories in Bangladesh were forced to close Monday, September 23, due to days of protests from workers demanding a raise in minimum wage. The protests came as the culmination of a number of high profile incidents in Bangladesh’s garment industry. The most notorious tragedy occured a few months prior on the morning of April 24, 2013.More than 3,000 workers filed into Rana Plana in Savar, an industrial district just outside Dhaka, Bangladesh. The decaying factory complex stood at eight stories tall and housed six different garment factories. Around 9:00 am, the concrete walls of the building crumbled, killing hundreds of workers instantly and trapping the rest inside. Over the next two weeks, the death toll would climb to 1,129 as rescue workers combed the wreckage for signs of human life. Later, labor activists revealed that cracks had been visible in the structure for days. However, due to the rush to meet quotas and negligible safety guidelines, factory managers had decided to resume production as usual the following day. With this fateful decision, Rana Plaza became the site of the most deadly incident that the garment industry has ever experienced. 8

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The Savar tragedy marked a turning point in a string of recent disasters in Bangladesh’s garment sector. In November 2012, 112 garment workers perished in a factory fire, raising questions regarding fire safety and emergency procedures. A similar fire occurred in January of this year, but was fortunately less deadly. However, the devastating human toll and dramatic imagery of Savar prompted more scrutiny than any disaster that preceded it. The Awami League, the political party currently in power in Bangladesh, came under fire after media outlets discovered that one of the party members owned the factory. CNN aired a live TV interview with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who offered a defensive explanation of the government’s involvement in the disaster and the disorganized relief effort. “Accidents happen,” she lamented. While the Savar tragedy highlighted the faults of both Bangladeshi government officials and factory owners in ensuring labor rights within the garment industry, the link between international firms and the incident sparked intense debate in the West. Rana Plaza produced garments for brands such as Mango, United Colors of Benetton, and The Children’s Place. Most notably, Walmart was

closely linked to both the Savar tragedy and the deadly 2012 fire. In response to the wave of negative publicity following Savar, companies banded together to form both the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Both these agreements, signed by major Western fashion companies, promised both financial support and inspection guidelines to improve the enforcement of labor rights in Bangladesh. While these acts are indeed steps towards a brighter future, it is also clear that the companies were concerned with their brand image. Walmart has likely been long aware of the deplorable conditions in their Bangladeshi factories; however, it was not until the conditions posed a significant economic threat that the company took action. The Savar tragedy occurred due to irresponsibility on multiple levels: corrupt government officials, overbearing factory managers, and greedy Western firms. To truly evaluate the significance of Savar, however, one must understand the complex garment industry at the ground level. Since Bangladesh gained independence in 1971, its garment industry has become the most established sector in


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the nation’s economy, accounting for 77 percent of foreign exports. The influx of foreign companies into Bangladesh mirrors that of China a decade prior: the attraction of cheap labor and lax inspection policies. The garment industry is heavily instrumental to Bangladesh’s recent economic growth. an estimated four million Bangladeshis are employed in the industry. Furthermore, the garment industry has become an important factor in women’s empowerment in Bangladesh, with women making up more than threefourths of the sector’s workforce. Few foreign firms directly own factories in Bangladesh. Some factories are independently-owned by wealthy Bangladeshi entrepreneurs, but most are owned bylarge local conglomerates,—such as Nassa Group, Jamuna Group and DBL Group. These companies services are contracted by firms such as Walmart, H&M, and the Gap. Factory managers, who are responsible for meeting daily quotas and training employees, spearhead the factories. Competition among local players in the garment industry increases the incentive to exploit workers by denying them basic labor rights. The relative inexperience of many factory workers means that most inspections by Western representa-

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tives involve the quality of manufacturing rather than the quality of conditions. Most factories in Bangladesh must strain to meet Western demand. Still, it is nearly impossible to evaluate Bangladesh’s garment industry by Western standards. Bangladesh is a country of profound poverty and unsound institutions. Educated men and women frequently drop out of school to pursue more lucrative jobs as domestic workers for expats or wealthy businesspeople. Therefore, while a job as a factory laborer means wages of just over a dollar a day, long 12 hour shifts, and uncomfortable working conditions, it also guarantees millions of Bangladeshis a livelihood. For many women in the workforce, textiles provide an alternative to prostitution. While child labor is unquestionably an issue in the sector, the problem is complicated by the West’s failure to realize that compulsory education in Bangladesh terminates between ages 12 and 13. Many teenagers enter the garment industry as laborers to support their families. The Western preconception of the factories themselves must also be reevaluated. Most factories are indeed hot, unsanitary, and overpopulated, but rather than wages and overpopulation, the

question of basic labor rights involves safety regulations and worker benefits. The DBL group, a major conglomerate that manufactures for buyers such as H&M and Esprit, has implemented a particularly effective system. Certain workers are trained both as medics and fire wardens in the case of emergency. Medical, educational and monetary benefits constitute special benefit packages offered to all workers. While American consumers can do little to raise the minimum wage or end poverty in Bangladesh, they can change the way they behave as consumers. While it is unrealistic to assume that fashion brands will forego profit for ethical issues of labor rights, consumers can adjust their purchasing habits. This does not mean consumers should boycott outsourced goods—for Bangladeshi factory workers this would simply mean fewer job opportunities. When choosing which brands to support, asking the right questions can result in significant changes down the line. Consumers must make it economically beneficial for companies to care about the welfare of a common overseas worker. Changing our shopping habits will ultimately have the most profound impact. O OCTOBER 7, 2013

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Tufts Thinks Theta ByJenn Oetter

ou’ve probably seen the bright yellow flyers and the “Think Theta” chalking in front of Tisch. As of September 17th, 77 women pledged the new sorority. Just as Kappa Alpha Theta welcomed its new members, Tufts welcomed a new sorority to campus. Greek life is iconic not only in pop culture, but also on college campuses across the country. The ivy-covered fraternity houses, the Greek letters on sweat-

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shirts, the nervous new members going through recruitment are all part of our popular image of Greek life. It’s what some undergrads look forward to most when arriving on campus. With the growing interest in sororities, Theta enters the scene as a new option for female students looking to pledge. The establishment of Kappa Alpha Theta renders it the fourth Panhellenic sorority to join the Tufts community. The

group started from scratch, gaining 77 members in a matter of days. Unlike the traditional recruitment process for many sororities, where prospective members attend events at each chapter’s house, Theta hosted interviews conducted by alumnae from other universities. On bid day, there were no seasoned members from Tufts to greet the new pledges in a sorority house; the new girls became the founding class. The women who joined are pre-


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dominantly sophomores, with about 25 juniors and seniors, all looking to start fresh with a group of girls to call sisters. As sophomore Kelly Souza said, “This a huge opportunity to make some lifelong friends and start something big on the Tufts campus. It’s like a custom-made sorority.” The plan for a new sorority has been in the works since last fall, when junior Alex Horvitz took charge and initiated the conversation about extending offers to national sororities to start a chapter at Tufts. Horvitz said, “I compiled information about the history of sororities and Greek life on campus into an advertisement of sorts for other sororities’ national offices to know that Tufts was open for extension. This meant that we were accepting applications.” We’re all familiar with the high admission standards to enroll at Tufts as a student; it’s no easier for new sororities to gain acceptance. Horvitz explained that the process included building a committee of sorority members in current chapters, reviewing applications, and inviting select sororities back to campus to give a presentation to interested students. One of the main goals of this process was to align the values of the new chapter with the values of the Tufts student body. This was exactly what new Theta members like Souza were looking for. After going through rush in the spring, she felt a void in her Greek life options on campus, and said, “You can’t fit every girl [on campus] into just three categories.” Tufts’ expanding Greek scene is atypical compared to comparable schools in the NESCAC. Wesleyan and Trinity are the only other schools in the conference that host an active Greek life. Hamilton still has Greek life in the form of “private societies,” but individual chapters are prohibited from having houses on campus. The other seven NESCAC schools banned Greek life from their campuses in the 1980s and 90s. Despite the prevailing stigma against Greek life at many other likeminded liberal arts colleges, Tufts has been able to build a brand new sorority with current

students eager to join. Which makes it easy to wonder: Why is Tufts expanding Greek life as our neighboring schools deem the organizations unacceptable for the student body? Theta may not be the only sorority establishing new roots on campus. We can expect other additions to Tufts’ Greek community in the near future. Horvitz explained that current chapters have seen pledge classes grow larger as more women join the recruitment process. The committee that welcomed Theta has also invited Alpha Gamma Delta to join in

Kappa Alpha Theta started from scratch, going from zero to seventy-seven members in a matter of days. upcoming years, when the fit seems right and the demand is present. The effects of this shift will not be limited to the Greek community, they will have an impact on the entire student body. Souza sees this as a positive change, saying: “A new sorority is going to do great things for Greek life. It gives another option for potential new members to find their best fit, and it improves the fraternity to sorority ratio.” One thing that will not be altered, however, is the role of Greek life at Tufts. With only 13 percent of Tufts undergraduates active within the Greek community— and many other social opportunities available—it remains only one of many options to become involved on campus. The exclusivity that seems prevalent at other schools doesn’t exist here; friendships cross the Greek life boundary, and

the student body is not segmented into dramatically different stratospheres. Despite the addition of this new sorority, Tufts Greek life continues to be an optin process, allowing those who have want to be a part of the community to do so, while others have the freedom to find their own niche on campus. So what’s next for the new members of Kappa Alpha Theta? The chapter has been relying on guidance from other sorority members on campus and contacts from Boston University’s Theta chapter as they transition from bid day into fall semester activities. This includes homecoming merriments, sisterhood events, and support for the Theta philanthropy. The national cause for each Theta chapter is CASA, an organization that helps to provide abused or neglected children with a trained and caring advocate. As a key component of sorority life, their philanthropy will have a role in distinguishing the Theta chapter from others on campus. The new members have the opportunity to host their first charity event this year to find the best way to support the CASA foundation. In the meantime, the new sorority members are focused on getting to know each other. Having their own place to call home on campus is a long-term goal, but in the meantime these women are forming bonds with one another, as well as finding the impression they want to make on Tufts. Souza says, “Our goal is to be running as smoothly as any other sorority on campus by spring recruitment. By next year, I expect that we will have established ourselves as a strong group of women on campus.” As Thetas join the Greek community at Tufts, it will be interesting to see how the campus landscape changes. We have all seen the subtle shifts as fraternities move on and off campus, facing probation, or recovering from it. Now we will watch as Theta sets up an official address, and Alpha Gamma Delta accepts new members. These recent efforts prove that Greek life is not extinct in the NESCAC and continues to be a presence on Tufts’ campus. O OCTOBER 7, 2013

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COSMOS

By Izzie Gall

The distant stars gleam steadily No quaver to their voices The space between grows readily They don’t regret their choices And yet when Luna rises bright I feel the loneliness of night The glowing cosmos, blank abyss Is closer than your kiss And what of Luna and her flame Her hunter bold, of ancient fame Their longing never comes to much They reach so close but never touch The cosmic distance I don’t bear But solitude begins to tear There comes an hour when light is dim These specks of light are deeply grim And all this space is far too vast The dark is far too deep But when eternity has past Perhaps I’ll finally sleep

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Detached

By Aaron Langerman

KNAR BEDIAN

Bump ahead. To the left. Pedal. One. Two. One. Two. Even pace. Rhythm. Making along fine. Moving through space, racing along the tracks of time. The gears—rusty. Need oil. Why is she jogging in the middle of the path? Keep to the side. Bird, jogger, sun reflecting off the river. Glistening. Wind whisking. Breath. In, out, in, out. Clarity in these racing moments. Escape from books. Philosophy, history, literature. An endless journey. As if words will help me discover meaning. Ideas: all they do is distance me from the world. I just want to experience the world for what it is. Red light ahead. Slow down. Turn right. Watch for cars on the left. Clear. Pedal. Breath. Heart racing. Could die in a moment, racing between these cars, buses, and pedestrians. Moments like these make me appreciate being alive. Yes, existing. Experiencing is existing. Experience is the moment. I am a series of moments. Hill, switch gears. Almost there. The grass—so vibrant in this late afternoon summer sun. On the bike path now. Pick up speed. Wind through my hair. Breeze rustling trees, bushes. Squirrel. Barely time to perceive anything at this speed. Life in flux. How different would this path look if I were walking? Always a matter of perspective. Never an objective view. Always within a specific time and space. Thirst. I’m thirsty. Water. Camelback, yes, life-giving substance. Breathe through nose, sip water. Breath. Sip. Rejuvenating. My body—feel my heart beating, lungs expanding, quads pumping, calves flexing, arms keeping bike steady, back straight. Feels good. Alive. Clarity. Truth: just words. Unanswerable riddle; elusive, always barely out of grasp, slipping further the closer we get. The limits of language. Stop-sign! Brake. Car. Could’ve died. Detached. Distant from the now. Pay more attention to the road. All clear? Yes. Go. Thoughts: endless circles. Words. Their meaning hollowed out before the pen leaves the page. Language can never describe genuine experience—feelings, perspective, the moment, the present. Symbols detached from reality. Meaning, an illusion of philosophers and fools. Shit, lady! Swerve. Too sudden. Falling. Tumbling. Grass. –“Are you okay? Goodness, I’m sorry!” –“Yes, I’m fine. Didn’t see you there.” Almost crashed into her. No cuts. Nothing broken. Lucky. Adrenaline pumping. Deep breaths. Sit here a moment. The grass is soft. Drink water. Yes. Stretch while I’m down here. Yes. Good. Stand. Mount the bike. Time to head home. Nice and easy – pedal slow. No need to race. Cruise. Slowly. Mind could use a rest. Body relaxing. Endorphins, yes. Inhabit the moment. Watch the path. No need to worry. I’m here. Now. Grass. The sun. Yes.

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Searching for Connection by Julia Malleck My Profile hate Facebook”: this was my motto in seventh grade. While my classmates were eagerly creating Facebook accounts, I looked the other direction and laughed. The origin of this stance is a little muddled in my mind—a rebellious teenage stage was certainly part of it. In retrospect, I think I saw the social network as a forum for ego-building, a place that pandered to the lowest in human thought and capability. I remember the drama and the catty fights, the profile pictures of girls staring wide-eyed into the camera, the blue

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screen reflecting palely on their faces and their crimson-glossed lips. In my middle school mind I always imagined Facebook as a sinister spider, with each little person pinned to its web connected by sticky, gossamer threads. Since then, my relationship with the website has been rocky at best. During my senior year of high school I finally made a profile, despite my militant anti-Facebook streak. I justified my 180-degree turn with a dose of Ralph Waldo Emerson, that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” I promptly deleted my account

two months later. I revived it again freshman year of college, then deactivated it. It’s now nearing a year later, and I’m back on Facebook again. The reasons behind this off-and-on behavior have been many—some easily identified: the superficiality, the popularity contest, the feigned cheeriness and kindness. But some causes were less clear. By college, my middle school rebel-with-acause phase had somewhat faded. In its place was introspection—why were so many people on this social network? What value was it bringing to our lives? ART BY ROBERT COLLINS


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The Economics of IT umans are going through another period of flux. After the preceding “ages” of hunting and gathering, then agriculture, then manufacturing, we’re now entering the information age. With the dawn of the information age comes the information economy. This nebulous and encompassing term is difficult to define. In layman’s terms, the information economy is one in which knowledge has acquired value and is traded. Information technology (IT) is used to disperse, receive and store this information and knowledge. One of the greatest and most powerful aspects of this new age is that much of this information is free. Many associate this freedom with egalitarianism, as undermining the typical hierarchical structures of government and business by giving everyone access to information. Freedom. Democracy. Equality. Capitalism. Since I was a child, these have been the words I’ve associated with everything American, and thus everything that is good and right. The dominant social networking sites—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and others—seem to embody all of these characteristics. I asked several kids around the Tufts campus if they thought it was a good thing that Facebook was free. The answer was always an unequivocal and resounding yes. I agreed, until I discovered Jaron Lanier, an American computer scientist with a boyish voice and thick head of dreadlocks. I listened to several of his interviews and found he was a wealth of information—articulately and prolifically delivered, sometimes at breakneck speed, and at times so technical and obscure that I had to rewind the videos or reread the words to truly comprehend his points. In the simplest of

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terms, he argues that Facebook and other social networking sites are hurting our economy more than they are helping it. Jaron Lanier argues that free isn’t always good. The world of information is what many say is now controlling, powering, and influencing our global economy. But because a lot of that information isn’t monetized, it isn’t actually part of the economy. Lanier calls this relationship between free information and economy an “epiphenomenon,” or a secondary phenomenon that occurs parallel or in conjunction with another. In Lanier’s world, the “technologists,” like Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, or David Karp, founder of Tumblr, have become the elite. Don’t let their flipflopped, hipster-plaid-shirt demeanors fool you into thinking they are for freedom and equality. They are the kings. Behind these social networking sites are “siren servers,” a term Lanier coined. These supercomputers are gathering vast amounts of our information from us for nothing at all. Because on social media this information isn’t monetized, the economy is actually shrinking, which concentrates power around the lucky few who have the largest and the smartest supercomputers. Lanier argues that we need to monetize more. Right now, our information economy operates through what Lanier calls “one-way links”; someone can simply look for and take your information without referring to you. We give up our information to these “siren servers” willingly, sometimes without even scanning the terms and conditions, but Lanier says we should value that information more. Giving it up so freely creates an asymmetrical power balance, and we, the users, are subordinate. He argues that establishing a “two-way link,” or an agreed exchange between information provider and information-taker, would shift the power distribution in a more symmetrical direction. Otherwise, the economy and the middle class will continue to shrink. Although Lanier sees the information economy veering in a negative direction, he remains an optimist. He believes that we can still remedy the situation and set the information economy back on the right track. While most of the information economy is not monetized today, he

believes that as we move farther from this tumultuous period, we’ll begin to do so. “Originally the American West was viewed as a place where land was free,” he said in an interview with the Wharton School. “It bears some similarity to the situation today, and there was a similar romance about it. Everyone ultimately became content that we moved away from free land and monopolized railroads to more of a real economy where more people function as first-class citizens in transactions with each other.” I’m not going to veer off into a Cyber Punk, dystopian vision of the world à la Bladerunner, but I can say with certainty that a company of Facebook’s size contains vast amounts of people’s information. Facebook legally owns your photos. They know what you post, where you live, and who your friends are (or at least who your Facebook friends are). Why has no one protested? All of the students that I interviewed raised some issues they had with Facebook, but for them, those issues were negligible, a minor mosquito bite or a blister. No one was impassioned enough to call for a change, nor was anyone alarmed by the possibility that they could later be manipulated by this collected information. Many raised eyebrows at me. Their communication: this is already a reality.

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If we were to use economic terms, we’d say that Facebook, as a social networking service, has utility. It gives something in return to its users—namely connection, communication, reputation, and status. My paradox was that I wasn’t feeling I was getting much value. For a while I was tempted to simplify the matter by calling myself a Luddite, as many of my friends did with slightly amused smiles. That would have been an easy answer, but it didn’t quite pinpoint my exact feelings.

The Antisocial Network any contend that it is even easier to socialize with people—whether near or far—thanks to the technology that is now traveling around in our pockets and backpacks. With Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, forums, and more, everyone is talking and writing and sharing. But more and more I find when I’m chatting with someone face-to-face, they pull up their smartphone in the middle of my sentence and start typing some desperately important thing that has to be communicated. I’ve felt a twinge of irritation on one or two occasions, and asked myself when this became the norm. Today, people sit in groups with people and type to other people who are also in groups typing to other people. Friends used to duel on each others’ behalf. Now, friends text next to each other. To put it plainly: I don’t think social networks are connecting us meaningfully.

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In fact, social networks can be isolating. Social ability no longer lies in tête-àtêtes, facial expressions, hand motions, body language, tone of voice, or laughter. These things have crumpled into crippled, formulated language: “lol,” “omg,” or the dreaded Facebook “like” button, in all its lukewarm blah-ness. “Lol” cannot replace the crinkling of eyes and the burst of laughter you experience when with an actual human being, but Facebook’s 1.15 billion users are willing to make this sacrifice, this trade-off, for the sake of what? Convenience? Practicality? And, above all, why did I, with all of my objections, still feel the need to have a Facebook presence? I’ve heard various answers to this question along the same vein: I can keep in contact with my camp friends or high school sports team. I can see photos of my baby cousin. It’s easy to organize real-life events or find out what is going on next Saturday night. I think ultimately it comes down to the fact that we all want to be recognized and acknowledged, and to have access to the ease of social networking communication. The group of sophomores I talked to agreed. The light banter of “Hey, what’s up?” or “How have you been?” or the use of the “like” button (which is peppered all over Facebook) is what one girl called the equivalent of “small talk.” Nobody wants to be left out or lonely, and Facebook offers what appears to be an alluring solution. This is where I began to identify my feeling of emptiness after Facebook—I don’t want small talk. Yes, on Facebook I can stay connected with some middle school friend from summer camp circa the early 2000s, but it’s a feathery, cosmetic connection. The exchange of happy “How

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are you?”s and “You’re so pretty!”s left me exhausted. I wondered, is a superficial connection really better than no connection at all? Maybe I’d prefer to forget that particular friend’s birthday, middle name, or haircut so that one day I could bump into them on a corner on a rainy Tuesday and have a euphoric moment of double-take, then reconnection. The dribble of Facebook fluff would dilute the power of that moment. I think we have to seriously examine whether we’re socializing with our friends on Facebook or socializing with Facebook friends. These are two utterly different universes. When you’re interacting with a Facebook friend, the feeling of the presence, their voice, a certain something, is altered. Facebook profiles are not genuine. I’m calling myself on this too—everything on Facebook is sugarcoated. Facebook pictures can be painfully staged, with crisp, white smiles, with the riotous merriment of the-party-you-definitely-missed simultaneously frozen and blurred in the frame. Nobody is their Facebook self. Where’s the picture with spinach stuck in your teeth? Your eyes half-closed? Wearing your least favorite pair of pants? One of my friends once joked that she had 876 Facebook friends, but just three real friends. Most troubling of all, for me, is that people are no longer looking at the world. Instead we’re opting to look at a screen with colored lights. When I visited family in Taiwan this past summer, they informed me that there is a new word for this phenomenon: 低头组, or the “lowered head group,” referring to the bowed angle of the head when people are looking down at their phones. I asked several Tufts students when they decide to go on Facebook. Their responses: while “standing in line,” for “two minutes” at a time when they’re bored, or as a “time buster.” Social networks like Facebook are not only helping us to block out the world more than ever, but are beginning to fill up those in-between bits of time in life: the 10-minute walk between classes, the 30-minute subway commute, or served as a side with a morning bowl of cereal. The question is at what point does this social networking communication stop being useful and start becoming filler? Here’s my point: I don’t want filler. I want empty space. I want silent walks and

commutes where I can stare dreamily out the window. Those moments of alone are good. There is very little time now that is simply vacant. So often we’re plugged-in, signed-on, or tuned-in, and in the end there’s not enough time for your brain to simply get a rest. You think you’re resting with your iPod plugged in? Nope. You’re still injecting stuff into yourself to fill up empty space. Let’s Disconnect eing around technology all the time wears me out. Sometimes I don’t feel like Facebook-ing, texting, e-mailing, Skype-ing, tweeting, Morse code messaging, or smoke signaling with anyone. The problem is that I’m obligated to for pretty much the rest of my life. Why? Because I have a cell phone, a Skype account, an email, a Morse code transmitter and a giant pyre of wood stacked on top of my house next to a flaming torch. Another reason is that I am a supposedly responsible young adult at a particular age where I should be able to communicate with other human beings. I should be able to keep up good relations with people, to stay in touch, to organize meetings and give cheery callbacks and say “See you soon,” and “Can’t wait,” and “Sorry, I can’t,” on various call storage systems. But sometimes I would love to be unresponsive. I’d like to receive an e-mail and ignore it. I’d love to end my internal bickering over whether to choose “regards,” or “warm regards,” as my e-mail sign-off. I have seesawed with Facebook over the years. I can say that my year away from Facebook was refreshing (though not Eat, Pray, Love life-changing), and my time with Facebook was at times all-consuming and time-sucking. Now that I’m back on Facebook, I’m still “meh.” I still wonder if I’ve capitulated in a way, if my switch back to Facebook was a failure of willpower. I think this doubt will be something that will forever bother me. Again, I looked to Ralph Waldo Emerson for advice and found this quote: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” After living at both ends of the spectrum, I’m still searching for that balance. O

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A response to Aaron Langerman’S article “Give Life Back to Music: Why Daft Punk’s Album Matters” James Davis

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s someone who listens obsessively to electronic music but is not at all drawn to the big festivals and all night raves, I truly agree with Langerman’s point that commercialism has sucked the life out of a lot of mainstream dance music. However, I believe that his analysis of the current state of electronic music was a bit one-sided. First off, the article groups two producers, Deadmau5 and Dada Life, together, a comparison that I find quite irrelevant. First of all, Deadmau5 does not even regard himself as a DJ. DJs are people who create sets by playing other people's records as well as their own. They are entertainers more than artists. Deadmau5 is far closer to what the article refers to as a "real musician." I can think of no other producer who has a more advanced knowledge of sound engineering than Deadmau5. He experiments constantly with his music and doesn't churn out records for the sake of staying relevant, but instead selectively releases tracks that he deems musically acceptable. Though as a person his attitude is sometimes questionable, he is an artist in every sense of the word. Dada Life, on the other hand, are complete entertainers and do their job exceptionally well. They have fun, and so does their audience. They produce records to play at parties and festivals, not to be finely critiqued for their musical value. Their records are like auditory

energy drinks: designed to get a person moving. They don't pretend that they are making high art, and, to be honest, I respect them for it. Though I find much of the raving/raging part of dance music quite unattractive, Dada Life have never once been untrue to who they are as performers, and to be fair to them, their tracks can be a ton of fun to listen to. There is often a big difference between beautiful music and hype music, and though I agree that they can be connected, one shouldn't criticize one for being what it is intended to be. All that being said, I do agree that a lot of recent dance productions have fallen flat. Popular tracks like Hardwell's remix of Krewella's "Alive" and W&W's remix of Armin Van Buuren's "This Is What It Feels Like" tend to sound hollow, designed to be blasted at massive crowds of festival-goers. It's almost as if the musicians are trying to shock the listener into feeling something. When it comes to electronic music in 2013, actual musical creativity appears to be at quite a low point. Despite this lack of musical originality, innovation does live on outside of the walls of Daft Punk's studio. Artists like Eric Prydz, Deadmau5, Madeon, Alesso, Pretty Lights, and even Avicii have demonstrated that being a producer of "EDM" (a frustratingly general term) should not act an excuse to create boring, soulless music. Even sampling—which the article seems to frown

upon—is an art form in itself, though often thoroughly misused. The art of using digital instruments to create music is just as sophisticated as the art of using physical instruments; the process simply involves different skills. Making a synth sound nice takes a lot more work than doing so with a physical instrument. To people who appreciate music as art rather than as party noise, it is easy to be put off by the highly entertainment-based productions that dominate the mainstream market. However, one shouldn’t write off the entire medium just because of what's readily visible. In my mind, there is a distinct line between “listening music” and “dancing music.” Though these two categories are not mutually exclusive, there is no denying that people would be a bit put out if a DJ dropped Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” in a modern dance club on a Friday night. Daft Punk should be admired for producing a broadly-appealing album in a genre that has recently been frustratingly unoriginal. Rather than pushing the rest of electronic music community aside, I hope Daft Punk’s massive success will open up a new avenue into electronic music for the average music listener. Ideally, this avenue will swerve around the current stigma of dance music as merely drunkenness and popping molly, and instead will focus on what actually sounds good—which is really what music is all about. OCTOBER 7, 2013

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EVA STRAUSS

GOD AMONG MEN by Ellen Mayer 22

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or the better part of a decade, Kanye West’s remarkable creative output has been largely overshadowed in popular culture by indictments of his personality and supposedly oversized ego. But Kanye is certainly not the first rock star with an ego, and it’s doubtful that any performer can reach such stratospheric levels of superstardom without stratospheric self-confidence. What sets Kanye apart is his identity as a black man. In a popular culture that produces images of blackness that are more violently negative than positive, Kanye’s so-called vanity has radically political implications. That was West’s argument when he sat down for a rare, candid interview with BBC 1’s Zane Lowe on September 23rd. However, he first framed the question of selfesteem in less politically freighted terms. “I always feel like I can do anything,” Kanye told Lowe. “That’s the main thing people are controlled by. They’re slowed down by the perception of themselves. I was taught I could do everything. And I’m Kanye West at age 36.” It’s hard to argue with the rapper. He has released six game-changing solo albums and has produced some of his contemporaries’ best work. Talking to Lowe, Kanye reframed his whole discography as a kind of self-help guide. “Go listen to all my music, it’s the codes of self-esteem,” he tells Lowe. “If you’re a Kanye West fan, you’re not a fan of me, you’re a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself. I’m the espresso. I’m just the shot in the morning to get you going, to make you believe you can overcome the situation that you’re dealing with at the time.” It’s actually quite an endearing way of looking at the rapper’s music. But the fact is that Kanye is wrong. Not everyone can be Kanye West by age 36. Self-esteem—no matter how stratospheric—only goes so far in the face of abject poverty, police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline, and countless other social injustices which combine to keep so many black men in a permanent underclass. But our country’s systematic attack on blackness is precisely why Kanye’s very public displays of self-love are actually significant. And they extend from a tradition that is embedded in hip-hop culture. This theme of braggadocio has been inherent to hip-hop since its inception, a direct extension of “toasting” in Caribbean music. To the extent that rap lyricism is often

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thematically circular, rappers distinguish their work by finding new ways to elaborate common themes. So when it comes to rap as a competition, the better MC is not just the rapper with the nicest rhymes, or the tightest flow—it’s also the rapper who can think biggest, who can construct the most outsize version of himself, restyled as head hustler, as a king, and even as God. Long before Kanye West dropped his most recent album, Yeezus, the rapper Nas named his sixth album “God’s Son” Rakim was often called the “God MC” for his virtuosic skill. And Jay Z has always laid a claim to godliness; his nickname HOVA derives from the Hebraic Jehovah. What emerges is a pantheon of rappers as earthly demi-gods, jockeying for domi-

the rapper's naysayers miss the point and simply see in yeezus the delusions of a megalomaniac nance through album sales, swagger, and of course sheer lyrical skill. But Kanye’s every move seems to incite more than its share of controversy, and Yeezus is no exception. When the album dropped this summer, the rapper’s blatant self-deification became a media event. In part, this is certainly because Kanye is a master of insta-memes. He doesn’t merely spit verses, he crafts powerful soundbytes that instantly embed themselves in American cultural consciousness. Though Jay Z is arguably a better rapper and more complex lyricist than Kanye, his summer release Magna Carta Holy Grail doesn’t have anywhere near Yeezus’ punch. When Jay raps, “You’re in the presence of a King/scratch that you’re in the presence of a God,” the line falls with a thud. But on the track “I Am a God,” when Kanye snarls, “Hurry up with my damn croissants” the line reverberates outward in all its combined fury and humor. Never before has a rapper’s claim to godliness been delivered with such force as these crudely powerful soundbytes, set

against Yeezus’ dark and industrial soundscape. Kanye is baiting his critics with songs like “I Am a God.” But the rapper’s naysayers miss the point and simply see in Yeezus the delusions of a megalomaniac. But no one called John Lennon crazy when he said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. The difference is that the Beatles were white and Kanye is black. And when he declares himself a God, Kanye is clearly thinking much bigger than the rap game pantheon. As an international celebrity with multiple hits, Kanye is declaring dominance over white popular culture as well. That’s why Yeezus is more controversial than an album like God’s Son. “Would it have been better if I had a song that said I am a gangster? Or if I had a song that said I am a pimp?” he asked Lowe. “But to say you are a God—especially when you got shipped over to the country that you are in and your last name is a slave owner’s—how could you say that? How could you have that mentality?” Kanye knows the mentality he is supposed to have. Four years after the fact, he is supposed to feel bad about interrupting Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards. He is supposed to be self-deprecating. And he is supposed to make his music and public persona palatable and comfortable for a white audience. But instead he’s doing something radical. In a culture that constantly depreciates the value of black men, he proclaims his value to the world, in the most extreme and powerful ways he can. Even Kanye’s biggest fans have a tendency to laugh at his ego, treating it like an endearing idiosyncrasy. Certainly the rapper’s ire often feels misplaced—railing against designers like Hedi Slimane rather than the prison-industrial complex, for example. But the culture that mocks Kanye West for his confidence and ambition is the same culture which stereotypes black men as lazy and criminal. Both thematically and musically, Yeezus is supposed to come at you like a punch in the gut. Kanye put it best when he told Lowe, “This is what frustration sounds like.” The album is an indictment of Kanye’s critics and his fans, and all of popular culture. Maybe we keep laughing to defend ourselves from Kanye’s fury. But I think it’s time we let ourselves take the punch. O OCTOBER 7, 2013

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behind closed doors

GRIFFIN QUASEBARTH

Early this September, citizens from Tuscaloosa, Alabama filed a case of voter fraud in the City Board of Education election. A young law school graduate who had never been to a school board meeting before won Tuscaloosa’s District 4, predominantly with support from University of Alabama students. Local residents claim a secret society called the Machine publicized the election on campus and brought in ineligible voters. The Machine consists of a small group of Alabama students involved in Greek life, yet locals and alumni express concern that the group may soon spread its influence even further and push a privileged white agenda. The Machine is one of dozens of secret societies across college campuses that influence various aspects of college life. More importantly, the Machine is miniature compared to the large-scale undercover operations across the world. Humans have an obsession with exclusion; hence our love for secret societies. From the clubs we created as children with covert handshakes to large-scale interna24

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tional online hacking organizations, these societies are everywhere. Clandestine clubs are abundant, and we have long believed in their hegemonic power. With groups like Anonymous and the Illuminati, societies like Skull and Bones or The Machine, and undercover government groups, it seems as if there is at least one secret society in all spheres of today’s world. These covert groups and traditions even influence life here at Tufts. Secret societies date back as far as human history does. In ancient Greece, the mysterious Pythagoreans came together over mathematics and cosmology. The ancient Romans also had religious mystery cults—to this day historians do not know the details of the rituals or beliefs and are left guessing at the meanings of the frescos left behind. The history of the Middle Ages is just as rife with secret societies. The Freemasons were a secretive group of stonemasons and other craftsmen who shared information about their trade. The group used secret handshakes to identify mem-

Moira Lavelle bers and met in private, member-only lodges. The Freemasons became suspected of conspiracy and violence and were eventually condemned by the Catholic Church in 1738 out of fear that they would soon gain control of all the European governments. The Heaven and Earth Society, or Tiandihui, of China was a secret society rumored to be a violent and revolutionary force similarly on the very brink of complete authority. The Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, the Ordo Templis Orientis, Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn, and many others were all secret orders dreaded for their supposed incredible power and influence over their time. According to various sources on Internet forums and beyond, these ancient secret societies still have memberships today and have covert influence over every aspect of modern life. The Illuminati are cited as the masterminds behind deaths of John F. Kennedy and Tupac and are the supposed reason Barack Obama and Kanye West rose to fame. The Illuminati were founded during


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the European Enlightenment by a group of radical free thinkers. They grew in number and were largely outlawed in the late 1700s across Europe. Yet many people today believe that the group has members such as Barack Obama, Kanye West, the Pope, Queen Elizabeth II, Jay Z, Bob Dylan, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Jim Carrey, and Willow Smith. Conspiracy theorists argue the group is trying to establish a “New World Order” and that many of today’s pop stars and politicians derive their success from ties to the Illuminati. What differentiates today’s Illuminati from the renaissance-era group is that they are thought to have expanded their influence from Europe to the whole world. With the power of the Internet and the ability of immense efforts such as the NSA’s surveillance program to remain undercover, it does not seem too improbable. It is interesting to note that both Tea Party fanatics and young, urban African-Americans are in the demographic that believe in the Illuminati’s inevitable world domination. Typically these demographics oppose each other in all other sectors; it seems the Illuminati are not merely a fringe conspiracy. Most interesting are the undercover organizations that demonstrate real and irrefutable power. Anonymous is a modern secret society with just as much conspiracy theory clout as those from the Middle Ages. Anonymous is an informal collection of internationally-based hackers who have met in the depths of the Internet on forums such 4chan and Reddit. The group is known for attacking certain organizations they disagree with, though sometimes the group seems to hack a site as a show of power. What they’ve been able to do so far is impressive: they’ve hacked the websites of Sony’s PlayStation

network, Fox television, PayPal, and the C.I.A. Last year, Anonymous began attacking Israeli government and business websites, forcing the sites offline, posting usernames and passwords publicly, and deleting some online information. They slowed the working of many important internet sites and tossed thousands of unsuspecting civilians’ usernames and passwords online to the public. No members of Anonymous have been identified, and thus far the hacking targets and plans of the group have largely been kept secret. At present, the group has no identified leader. The presence and power of Anonymous makes theories about the Illuminati seem only more reasonable. Today’s pop culture is similarly obsessed with secret societies and their current or potential power. Popular books such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code or Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight unveil secret societies that have supposedly existed for decades. Movies such as Inglorious Basterds, The Avengers, National Treasure, and the Bourne movies reveal furtive government workings. T.V. shows such as Covert Affairs, Castle, Homeland, Boardwalk Empire, Bones, and Game of Thrones have plotlines that revolve around these concealed organizations. In today’s world, where it is easier to make something public than it is to keep something private, the value of a secret has skyrocketed. The ability to remain concealed gives undercover organizations the illusion of more power than those that are out in the open and equates to worries of worldwide hegemony. But rumors of the Illuminati have been around for thousands of years, and thus far we have avoided succumbing to the “New World Order.”

Secret societies of a different type play a large part in college life. Every group on campus has secret rituals. Fraternities and sororities have secret handshakes and make pledges swear to keep the pledge process private. Every club or sports team has undisclosed initiation rituals and traditions that are hidden from newcomers or the whole populace at large. One could even argue that the most furtive traditions of these groups are the most coveted. Tufts even had its own secret societies in its history. The Mathetician Society, which discussed philosophical topics of the day, dates back to Tufts’ beginnings. However, almost immediately the group split and the Walnut Hill Society was formed. These two societies existed before fraternities came to Tufts and then died out with the advent of fraternities. The PT Barnum society was another undercover group of students who used to pull pranks around campus and sign their misdeeds. But they too seemed to have died out. In the 1950s there was a resurgence of the Mathetician Society, and it flourished for 10 years before dying out again. But who’s to say it doesn’t still exist undercover, covertly influencing the current Tufts experience? We certainly think societies like the Matheticians or the Illuminati or the Machine maintain a stronghold on our lives. They rig our elections, choose our favorite musicians for us, and threaten those who rise to power without them. Yet perhaps the greatest source of their power is our belief in them. The fact that we acknowledge their existence legitimizes these clandestine organizations. Their greatest strength may be our interest in them and our fascination with their ability to stay in the shadows. Our worries about the existence of secret societies may be what keeps them alive. O

In today’s world, where it is easier to make something public than it is to keep something private, the value of a secret has skyrocketed.

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N IO PI N O

CLASS ACT by Allison Aaronson

S

exuality, religion, politics, and drugs are becoming common topics of conversation, yet one taboo still remains: money. Despite a penchant for materialism, Americans appear exceptionally uncomfortable when discussing wealth. It is considered impolite to ask questions about the cost of someone else’s belongings, and downright rude to discuss income. While the motivation behind this silence might not be malicious, the consequences of our unwillingness to discuss wealth could prove to be dire. While many politicians insist that we are “losing the middle class,” most Americans continue to identify themselves as such. Even those with incomes high above average prefer to call themselves “middle class” or, at most, “upper-middle class.” According to a 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center, 46 percent of Americans with incomes exceeding $100,000 a year consider themselves a part of the middle class, regardless of the fact that median household income for this period was $51,017. The upper class are not the only ones who misread their financial stand-

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ing—on the opposite end of the spectrum, 35 percent of people with incomes below $30,000 also see themselves as being “middle class.” Somehow, in a society where uniqueness and individuality is increasingly encouraged, our biggest secret has become our economic status. In a world dominated by consumerism, it is surprising that appearing rich has become unfashionable. Flaunting wealth is considered tasteless. This summer, the new film adaptation of The Great Gatsby was an unexpected flop, turning only a mild profit at the US box office and receiving much negative criticism, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 49 percent. CNN’s Tom Charity criticized it for being “audaciously, passionately artificial.” Charity’s opinion was echoed by many critics, as audiences seemed to flinch away from gaudy depictions of unrestrained extravagance. So is great wealth no longer the American Dream? The Pew Research Center reports that 56 percent of adults rate wealth as “very” or “somewhat important,” yet we certainly seem to be rejecting outward projections of materialism. Ripped jeans and thrift shop finds have become ward-

robe staples. While many businesses have suffered in the past few years of economic downturn, sales within resale establishments have been rising rapidly at a rate of 7 percent per year, according to the Association of Resale Professionals. In high fashion, pauper is the new black and styles like “homeless chic” and “grunge” grace the pages of magazines. Yet it is equally common that these new designs are just as expensive as the rejected elegant ones; they only appear to be less ostentatious. This trend even extends to the class of celebrities-turneddesigners—Kanye West recently released his “Hip Hop T-shirt,” a plain white shirt priced at $120. It sold out immediately. In this age of consumerism, we don’t actually wish to have less money, but no one wants to be perceived as excessively rich. Even the word “rich” is often preceded by “disgustingly” or “absurdly.” To be “rich” is often considered something to be ashamed of, and the term is often evaded with euphemisms like “welloff,” “wealthy,” “upper-middle class,” and “affluent.” The shame associated with discussions of money has led some to drastic


O PI N IO

enormous anxiety for me. “I got it as a gift,” or “I can’t remember,” I’d squeak. I couldn’t figure out why, but I felt ashamed—guilty, even. It was as if my personal financial situation made me culpable for global economic inequality. This may be a bit of an overstatement, but I cannot deny that I feel trapped in a system dependent on poverty. Simply in virtue of living and participating in society, I find myself complacent with sweatshops, unfair labor practices, environmental degradation, and a host of other atrocities. I cannot buy clothing, coffee, food, or pretty much anything without the transaction trickling down to affect someone negatively. I think this is why we feel so uncomfortable when we discuss wealth; our guilt about our privilege is more than just a lack of understanding of our luck. It is the realization that we are rich because others are poor. This is not to say that the wealthy are to take full blame for this predicament. But in avoiding questions of wealth, we are consenting to the silent perpetuation of our current system. Wealth is not the first controversial issue our society has been hesitant to discuss. Until recently, sexuality was a forbidden topic, and those lying outside of the norm were encouraged to keep quiet. While perhaps uncomfortable at first, discussions of sexuality have proven incredibly beneficial. With many states passing same-sex marriage laws, these discussions eventually promoted equality. Similarly, a greater overall promotion of sex education and consent culture has led to improved public health. Wealth is something that we hate to love. It is shiny, easy, and utterly seductive. Yet, deep down, we know it is something that can only exist at the expense of others. Avoiding the question of wealth will do nothing to lessen these inequalities that make us so uneasy. Opening up the conversation on the topics of race, gender, and sexuality has provoked enormous positive social change. We must use this model to inspire our discussion of wealth; if we are ever to move towards equality, we must be vulnerable

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measures in efforts to conceal their wealth. On September 18, Powerball announced the winning numbers for its $400 million dollar prize, the fifth-largest sum ever awarded by a US lottery. The winner chose to remain anonymous. Was his motivation to maintain his lifestyle without intrusion from the press or jealous acquaintances, or was the reasoning for hiding his wealth more complex? The ostentatiously wealthy among us experience a great amount of antagonism from the public, and movements like Occupy Wall Street might make someone hesitant to admit to being a part of the 1 percent. Many pass judgments based on how individuals spend their money. We often defend our favorite celebrities on the basis of their philanthropy and the extent of their charitable donations. It is almost as if the rich must be redeemed by giving to charitable causes, as if their wealth were something to be counteracted. So why are we so uncomfortable with wealth? I, myself, am not immune to this phenomenon. I have often skirted the question of my own economic status, and constantly tried to convince myself that I was only on the high end of middle class. I’d gotten my definition of wealth from watching Gossip Girl and reading magazines. My perspective was only further skewed by my participation in competitive horseback riding. The girls I rode with had backyard pools, beach houses, and private school educations, so my own relative privilege was hard to recognize alongside theirs. One of my horseback riding friends once complained about her budget while on a trip to buy a new horse, exclaiming, “50,000 dollars! My mom is cheap!” I was half-horrified and half-captivated. While I lusted after the luxuries that my riding peers enjoyed, I knew that at my school, my class status was abnormally high. I attended an extremely diverse public high school, and I found myself feeling ashamed of my position on the relatively higher end of the financial spectrum. Questions of “I like your dress; where did you get it?” provoked

How

AMERICANS

PERCEIVE their own CLASS

INFOGRAPHIC BY BERNITA LING

LOWER LOWER-MIDDLE

lower 6th percentile

MIDDLE

25th percentile

UPPER-MIDDLE

78th percentile

$7,626

$19,375

$93,165 97th percentile

UPPER

$290,860 99th percentile

$506,553

If they were right, the so-called ‘upper-middle’ and ‘middle’ classes’ income would span from $19,375 to $290,860. In 2012, the actual US median income was $42,327.

Sources: Pew Research Group & US Census Bureau.

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Fall 2013 - Issue 2