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27 OCTOBER 2011 VOLUME XXIII ISSUE VI BROWN/RISD WEEKLY
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
FR O M T H E E DITORS:
NEWS WEEKSCHWIEGERSHAUSEN, IN REVIEW ERICA EUROZONED OUT ALEXANDRA CORRIGAN METRO UNVEILING THE ARMORY GRACE DUNHAM SPORTS ADAM SMITH SLAM DUNKS DAVID ADLER ARTS REPPIN’ REVIEWS EMMA JANASKIE, STONI THOMPSON
EP H E M E R A
OCCUPY MONTAGE PHOEBE NEEL FEATURES GETTIN’ GHOSTLY BECCA LEVINSON
IMPOSTERS BEATRICE PETIT BON OPINIONS SAY NOSTEPHEN CARMODY SHOW 2 DAILY INTERVIEWS PUN-MASTER FLEX JAIMIE BREW SCIENCE BASEMENT BIOMEDICS ADELA WU LITERARY ACHOO! JULIIETA CARDENAS X DIGITAL AUDREY FOX DEBAUCHERY
MANAGING EDITORS Malcolm Burnley, Jordan Carter, Emma Whitford · NEWS David Adler, Erica Schwiegershausen, Kate Welsh · METRO Sam Adler-Bell, Grace Dunham, Caroline Soussloff · OPINIONS Stephen Carmody · FEATURES Belle Cushing, Mimi Dwyer, Max Wiggins · INTERVIEWS Timothy Nassau · ARTS Ana Alvarez, Eve Blazo, Emma Janaskie · SCIENCE Ashton Strait, Joanna Zhang · METABOLICS Chris Cohen · LITERARY Michael Mount, Scout Willis · OCCULT Alexandra Corrigan · X PAGE Rachel Benoit, Audrey Fox · LIST Allie Trionfetti, Gillian Brassil · BLOG Max Lubin, Jonah Wolf · DESIGN EDITOR Mary-Evelyn Farrior · DESIGN TEAM Abigail Cain, Andrew Beers, Jared Stern, Olivia Fialkow, Joanna Zhang · COVER EDITOR Annika Finne · ILLUSTRATIONS EDITORS Robert Sandler, Becca Levison · MEGA PORN Kaitie Barnwell · SENIOR EDITORS Gillian Brassil, Adrian Randall, Erin Schikowski, Dayna Tortorici · MVP: Becca Levinson ‘v’ Cover Art: Annika Finne List Contributor: Gillian Brassil
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT PO BOX 1930 BROWN UNIVERSITY PROVIDENCE RI 02912 theindy.org twitter: maudelajoie
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THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
WEEK IN REVIEW
BROOKLYN BUS SEGREGATION
by Erica Schwiegershausen
Bus segregation is back, and in Williamsburg of all places. Last week The New York World, a Columbia Journalism School publication, asked Melissa Franchy to investigate claims of gender discrimination on the Brooklyn B110 bus, which runs between Williamsburg and Borough Park. Franchy initially found evidence to the contrary, and was undisturbed when she sat down at the front of the bus, although she noticed other passengers leaving her an unusually wide berth. However, as the bus began to fill up, a number of male passengers, most of whom were Orthodox Jews, insisted that she move to the back of the bus. They informed her that she was riding on a “private” and “Jewish” bus, where women must sit in the back and men in the front. When Franchy asked why she had to move, one man reportedly responded, “If God makes a rule, you don’t ask, ‘Why make the rule?’” The bus driver did not intervene, and Franchy eventually moved to the back of the bus to sit with the other women. Signs on the bus doors written in English and Hebrew also direct women to use the back door during busy times. The B110 bus is run by Private Transportation Corporation under a franchise with the city, and is the only unsubsidized route in Brooklyn. It was awarded the public route by the Department of Transportation, and although it does not accept MetroCards, it is open to the public for a $2.50 fare. However, as the New York based Orthodox Jewish news site Vos Iz Neias explains, “Serving a Hasidic clientele may sometimes require special considerations.” According to Vos Iz Neias, the bus company has a board of consulting rabbis which decreed that male passengers should ride in the front and females in the back to avoid physical contact between members of the opposite sex, which is discouraged by Hasidic tradition. The New York DOT, which awarded the route to the bus company through a competitive public bidding process in 1973, has acknowledged that the B110 is subject to anti-discrimination laws. “This is a private company, but it is a public service,” Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the DOT told The New York World. The New York City Commission on Human Rights announced last week that it will look into the issue of the alleged discrimination on the B110 line, and the DOT said in a statement that the franchise may be revoked if such a violation is found. The Private Transportation Corp. has yet to comment. Yet bus segregation isn’t the only form of gender discrimination causing a disturbance in Brooklyn lately. Earlier this month, signs directing women to step aside for men began popping up all over a Hasidic neighborhood in South Williamsburg, where they were nailed to trees along Bedford Avenue. The signs bore a Yiddish message which translates as “Precious Jewish daughter, please move to the side when a man approaches.” City workers have since removed the signs, citing the illegality of posting signs on public trees, although some residents feel the removal constitutes a violation of freedom of speech. Deborah Feldman, an ex-Hasid and former resident of South Williamsburg speculated that the signs were likely posted as part of a crackdown on rebellious behavior by women. This June, the same neighborhood saw a similar wave of Yiddish posters calling on Orthodox Jewish women to stop wearing “tank tops,” “Tshirts,” and “clingy dresses,” which were put up by “members of a neighborhood modesty group,” according to The Brooklyn Paper. South Williamsburg has also seen signs advising women against talking on cell phones in public. “This is nothing new,” Feldman told The New York Daily News. “It’s just getting attention because it’s Brooklyn, and Williamsburg is no longer an isolated bubble.”
by Christina McCausland
Anonymous, the loosely-banded hacktivist collective, began an attack against child pornography websites this month, nicknamed #OpDarknet. The group’s civil disobedience is generally in the interest of internet freedom and freedom of speech— among Anonymous’s other recent targets are Westboro Baptist Church and the government websites of Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia, and Syria this past spring. Their assault on the child porn forums, though apparently in violation of these tenets, is actually an attempt to preserve the integrity of an underground part of the internet prized by certain communities as a space for free speech. The targeted child pornography sites are all operating on the dark net, a network inaccessible to normal internet users. The dark net has grown out of Tor, software that enables users to browse regular internet sites anonymously, useful for activists who need to avoid oppressive governments or corporations requiring confidentiality. According to the Free Software Foundation, Tor was “pivotal in dissident movements in both Iran and … Egypt.” The system operates by creating layers to maintain anonymity. The dark net developed on the Tor network as a sort of secondary level of the Internet where, in addition to many innocuous sites, one can access child-porn forums, the underground drug market known as Silk Road and even “The Last Box,” described as an assassination market. On October 14, members of Anonymous found a list of child pornography websites (in a section called “Hard Candy”) on the Hidden Wiki, a guidebook to sites on the dark net. A screenshot of the page shows a description that reads “this wiki page discusses resources specifically for people who are attracted to children.” After realizing that 95% of the sites were hosted by the server Freedom Hosting, Anonymous launched #OpDarknet, requesting that the hosting server to take down the sites. Freedom Hosting did not comply, and the hackers have since taken further action, including repeatedly shutting down Freedom Hosting’s server. Anonymous wrote in a press release, “the owners and operators at Freedom Hosting are openly supporting child pornography … for this reason, Freedom Hosting has been declared #OpDarknet Enemy Number One.” Anonymous has also directed their attentions toward Lolita City, a site on the dark net that reportedly contains more than 100 GB of child pornography. On October 18, #OpDarknet released the usernames of over 1,500 Lolita City users. Hackers also recently created fake accounts to upload episodes of To Catch a Predator (the reality TV show dedicated to luring and confronting potential sexual predators), disguised as child porn in order to trick unsuspecting Lolita City users. A hacker told Gawker that child porn “tarnishes the purpose of Tor”—pedophiles are viewed as taking advantage of and corrupting the network’s protected space. And though many on the dark net sympathize with the motivation of #OpDarknet, they are also concerned what the additional exposure will mean for the Tor network, which until recently was unknown outside of select Internet communities. As one Tor user notes on a blog, “this will make things more difficult for everyone else as governments seek to destroy the privacy as they see … this type of activity … as excuses to peer into [the Tor network].”
ESCAPED ZOO ANIMALS IN OHIO???
by Kate Welsh
The owner of an exotic animal preserve in Zanesville, Ohio commited suicide last Tuesday after freeing dozens of lions, tigers, and monkeys. He also owed tens of thousands in unpaid taxes. Days before the incident he said that he was “in over his head.” In the 24 hours after Terry Thompson opened the cages of his wildlife preserve, the county sheriff killed nearly 50 of the animals—including 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, and eight bears—in a hunt across the Ohio countryside that has been criticized by many who say that the animals should have been saved.One witness described the aftermath to National Geographic as “Noah’s Ark wrecking.” Thompson was mired in debt. Court records reveal that he and his wife owe nearly $68,000 in unpaid taxes to the IRS and the county. Additionally, he got out of federal prison last month, after serving time for possessing unregistered weapons. Thompson also had run-ins with neighbors and the law over animals that sometimes were found wandering off his property, and an anonymous neighbor told the Columbus Dispatch that may of the animals looked “too skinny.” Most of the big cats and bears had been declawed and bottle-fed by the couple as cubs. Thompson also kept them fed by picking up road kill and collecting spoiled meat from grocery stores.Although Thompson’s Muskingum County Animal Farm was not open to visitors,he would occasionally take some of the smaller animals to nearby pet shows or nursing homes. He also provided a big cat for a photo shoot with supermodel Heidi Klum, and appeared on the Rachael Ray Show in 2008 as an animal handler for a zoologist guest. Only six animals survived, and were taken to the Columbus Zoo. Zoo director Jack Hanna, who was on hand during the nighttime search for the animals, tearily told the Herald Review in Decatur, Illinois that the deaths will stay with him forever, and that he will spend the rest of his life “talking about what happened in Zanesville.” He said he is trying to explain to animal lovers that Ohio authorities had no other option.
27 OCTOBER 2011
n the old co ps ‘n’ robbe rs join t. ///
n Oct 19, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy gave birth to her first child with the sitting French president. Brushing off media paparazzi, Bruni-Sarkozy refused to give details, deflecting the spotlight elsewhere: “It’s just so uninteresting for French people,” she claimed. Nicolas Sarkozy apparently agreed, because at the time of the birth he was meeting with German President Angela Merkel. With Greek strikes violently escalating in October, and the November G20 Summit approaching, European leaders must take immediate and significant action to mitigate the sinkhole that has become the European debt crisis. This Eurozone crisis is testing the longevity of the euro, a nine-year-old currency once hailed as a unifying emblem of trans-national finance. We will soon find out whether the Eurozone (a concentric circle within the European Union—17 nations who have adopted the euro as national currency, not including Great Britain) can continue to share, play nicely and not say mean things about their neighbor’s work-habits. Heads of state and other major financial players (European Central Bank leadership, the International Monetary Fund’s new chief, etc) gathered at swanky Brussels hotels this week, smiling calmly for the cameras, while holding closeddoor meetings. National representatives continue to tease the public with a soonto-come “comprehensive solution” statement, one meant to ease investors’ fears. The meeting in Brussels will be the 21st conference on the debt crisis, and is intended to be definitive. But despite the build-up, as of Wednesday in Brussels, top leaders have maintained the same message: they have a plan to announce a plan. European leadership can’t commit to a plan, or even to each other. OFF-CENTER The sickness—and potentially, the cure— to the Eurozone crisis is the European Central Bank (ECB), which is still deciding what it wants to be when it grows up. In theory, it is supposed to be a limited version of the US Federal Reserve, entrusted with maintaining price stability for the 17 nations of the zone. The ECB operates with private and public bank investments, and is supposed to protect against rising inflation and unemployment, two contagions of global magnitude.
According to Daniel Gabor, a postdoctoral scholar at Bristol Business School, the ECB’s track record of price stability had been “utterly impeccable until 2009.” But when the economic crisis reverbrated down from Wall Street, “investors figured out the ECB wasn’t a real central bank, since it had no lender of last resort function,” said Mark Blyth, Professor of International Political Economy at Brown University. Acting as an erratic safety net, rather than the steady hand of Europe, the ECB has actually caused more instability. The ECB’s intended focus on prices hasn’t worked, judging by European unemployment and cost of living increases. Old-world attitudes haven’t been adjusted, according to Cornel Ban, the deputy director of the Development Studies Program at Brown University. “This kind of financial stabilization makes people worse off. It is a crisis of policy learning.” Despite lofty expectations, the Eurozone talks will only decide a few things, if any. These objectives include mandating that European banks raise 100 billion more euros of reserve capital (to hedge against future failures), forcing Greek lenders to accept more pay-cuts (to help un-saddle its economy), and strengthening the bailout fund. Europe’s financial fate waits while its leaders’ settle on a credible, sweeping plan. Reports from Brussels indicate how fractured the talks between nations are. As Goldstone put it, “Stable prices are certainly better for Germany, where unemployment isn’t a big deal. But they’re bad for the ‘fringe zone,’ countries that believe devaluing the currency will create jobs.” The results of the upcoming talks will shed more light on the ability of such different nations to have central banks. PURE TACT French and German officials, who represent the Eurozone’s two largest economies, have set the terms of the debate. The French are heavily exposed to Greek debt, and Sarkozy is aggressively lobbying for an enlargement of the ECB emergency fund (the European Financial Stability Facility, or EFSF)—essentially transforming it into a bank with broad authority.
xandr a Corr igan / // Illus tration by Ro
But despite Sarkozy’s dedication to reform, the Germans aren’t entirely supportive. President Merkel, whose country has rebounded strongly from the recession, feels Germany will be unfairly burdened by such an agreement, and seems unwilling to contribute an outsized amount of more money. The German media projects an ethos of protectionism—a country reluctant to support the “lazy” Greeks, who face staggering 17 percent unemployment. As talks grow more and more tense, plans for a new EFSF emergency fund may get mired in bureaucracy. The ECB’s inability to totally prevent Greece from defaulting will probably result in the continuance of traditional financial methods. Fear of total collapse (i.e. a ripple effect from Greece to Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and Spain) has put everyone on edge, making the talks petty and increasingly conservative. Sarkozy, for one, is taking this all very personally, snubbing both the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron. Harsher words befell Cameron during the October 23 talks, as Sarkozy announced that he’d had “enough” advice from the currency outside. He asked Cameron, “you don’t like the euro, so why do you want to be in our meetings?” After what must have been an uncomfortable moment, Merkel displayed some true German tact by threatening to exclude all non-Euro countries in the talks if they proved too difficult. These eleventhhour talks have stalled investment, shown some petty in-fighting, and have compromised creativity for the sake of conservative measures. ALEXANDRA CORRIGAN B ‘12 sometimes can’t believe when she looks up in the mirror, how she out in Europe, spending euros.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
REGARDING THE GUARD
A new spin on the old cops ‘n’ robbers joint—by Emma Janaskie—illustration by Robert Sandler
by-the-book investigator—is the last person Boyle would want as his partner. But as the two get to know each other, Everett becomes gradually more bewildered by Boyle’s antics and sets the tone for Boyle to play around with the dark and underhanded humor that packs the only punch the film has. Everett is poles apart from Boyle, and it seems like that’s the point. Boyle is devoid of tact, and he is earnest in his blatant racism. Again, it’s not like he loathes black people on principle. “I’m Irish, sir, racism is a part of me culture,” he shrugs. When Everett holds a debriefing session on the drug heist for the local law enforcement officers, Boyle earnestly asks why each of the suspects are white—“don’t only black guys sell drugs?” Shocked but willing to let it pass as a lapse in judgment, Everett—who himself is black—continues the session, but Boyle persists in asking again and again until another officer asks him to apologize. “Apologize for what? I’m just fuckin’ asking!” Boyle drops these kinds of outrageous statements like pennies in a slot machine throughout, and we’re not quite sure what he means by them, or if he realizes what he’s actually saying. But there is something curious about Boyle’s bantering with Everett that implies a keen wit and sharp mind. We think to ourselves, “Can someone really be that clueless?” Or rather, “Is there a method to this cluelessness?” With Everett as a (practically too easy) foil for Boyle, we’re coaxed into loving the brusque yet earnest Boyle despite his racist and gluttonous foibles. As the two are driving together, Boyle offhandedly mentions to Everett that he visited Disney World a year ago by himself. Everett chuckles at Boyle: “You’re either really fucking dumb or really fucking smart.” And Boyle just smiles dimly in reply. It’s clear that the film is much more interested in Gleeson as an actor than it is in its own project as a crime film. Boyle nonchalantly pillages some MDMA off a teenager on the site of a drunk-driving crash at the opening of the film: apparently, his interest in upholding some semblance of justice and righteousness as a police officer is nil. Cheadle confidently walks through the seemingly less-considered role of Everett with control—but the part itself really only exists as a counterpoint to Gleeson. Even the trio of criminals responsible for the
t its core, McDonagh’s The Guard is hardly more than a romp on the old cops ‘n’ robbers jaunt. Brendan Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a fifty something matter-of-factly vulgar and self-important Irish cop who would rather indulge in prostitutes and a pint than attend to any kind of duty as an officer. This isn’t to say that Boyle is a bad guy—he’s just working on his own unorthodox terms. Either way, when a multimillion-dollar drug heist finds its way to Boyle’s hometown and the FBI sends the straight-laced Agent Everett, played by Don Cheadle, over to assist, Boyle isn’t particularly amused. It becomes readily apparent that Everett—a
drug heist is revealed early on in the film in a cursory manner. The premise of the film itself seems like a playground in which director McDonagh clashes Gleeson’s superb acting skills against a bevy of cultural norms and expectations to see what kinds of comedy-as-commentary erupt. Gleeson as the crotch-scratching, beer-swilling cop lends himself well to this experimental endeavor and is, when it comes down to it, the only reason to see the film. The dialogue has its whip-smart moments (that are, however, frequently unintelligible thanks to the thick Irish accents) and the cinematography is conscientious and, at times, stunning—a notable ending scene places Boyle at the bottom right of the frame against the background of a vibrant ivy green wall and a massive painting of a sea ship—but what shines through is Gleeson’s command over Boyle’s manifest blasé attitude. Otherwise, the film itself is quite thin. It shows its cards, and then lets Gleeson rake in all the chips. EMMA JANASKIE B’13 isn’t interested in being a cop either.
HOW TO BE A LESBIAN IN TEN DAYS OR LESS
by Stoni Thompson—illustration by Robert Sandler
upon Hendrix’s personal experience. Hendrix shifts with stunning finesse from the militancy of Butchy McDyke to the delicate aloofness of a self-absorbed performance artist, who represents another stereotype bequeathed to queer women: the rabidly political artist who compulsively intellectualizes gender and sexual identity to the extreme. The humor of these scenes comes from the gaucherie with which she attempts to analyze her work and her identity as a performance artist. That is, her self-consciousness as a performance artist becomes ridiculously excessive. Her clumsy attempt to “make a larger sociopolitical statement” about the “ever-descending bell-jar of oppression” falls comically flat as she distributes Crayola markers among the audience members and demands that they write words on the “canvas of her body” which heteropatriarchy has used to exploit her, a selfdescribed “white, middleclass woman. A lesbian. And a South Carolinian.” TEN DAYS OR LESS-BIANS In spite of this ridicule of the performance artist’s excesses, a sociopolitical consciousness is clearly present in the show. Through her role as the performa nce artist, Hendrix seems to parody the stereotypical second-wave feminists of the 1960s and ‘70s, whose views have often been problematized as privileging the experience of white, middle class women. In turn, this mockery hints, perhaps, at a similar critique of today’s LGBTQ movement, which also tends to centralize the experience of white, middle-class people. However, while Hendrix traces a variety of significant aspects of queer experience ranging from politics to pop culture, her script never settles in one place long enough to become substantially invested in any one of them. After all, Butchy McDyke’s figurative “ten days or less” are ticking away, allowing the ridiculous to plow into the poignant in comical ways. In one part of the show, for example, Hendrix makes a humorous transition from the tender confessions of alienation of a young lesbian coming to terms with herself back to Butchy McDyke, who declares in bawdy triumph, “And that is how I had my first orgasm!” Hendrix focuses on maintaining the energy level of her audience through these unexpected outbursts of raucousness. In the style of the theater company Five Lesbian Brothers, her script seems to make conscious effort to avoid anything which the audience might perceive as didactic, a critique commonly launched at lesbian theater. The scenes of Butchy McDyke and the performance artist, which function as the vigorous satirization of two lesbian stereotypes, place into sharp relief the scenes based on Hendrix’s personal narrative. In contrast to the boldness of previous characters, Leigh comes across as a young woman humbly searching for her voice and struggling with the complexity of sexual identity. Leigh’s scenes range in tone from confessional and poignant to histrionic and wacky, but are always imbued with a sense of catharsis. In her first scene, she recalls the painful confusion of her adolescence as she opens, “When I was young, I was sure I was broken.” In the scenes that follow, Leigh embarks on a healing journey through the performance of memory. With great melodrama she recollects her infatuation with country music star Reba McEntire, and the heartbreak of her unrequited love. Leigh then performs a dance to Reba McEntire’s song Till You Love Me, as “an exorcism” of that obsession’s specter. She also reenacts the experience of giving a speech on National Coming Out Day at her college in South Carolina in which she declares, “I’m telling my story, [and] I don’t care what you think.” This, of course, is just the sort of lesbian battle cry that ButchyMcDyke relishes, who completes her lesbian curriculum by leading her audience of pupilsina collective chanting of “I’m a big ol’ dyke!” at the finale. THEATER OF IDENTITY Yet amid the play’s noise and cheer, Leigh’s statement about telling her own story demands a moment of serious reflection in the context of lesbian theater, which in many respects is what How to Be A Lesbian in Ten Days or Less is about. She uses theatre to explore parts of her own past; she is a lesbian playing a lesbian, training an audience how to play lesbian in the quickest way possible—by performing two ready-made lesbian stock-characters. Acclaimed lesbian feminist playwright Carolyn Gage often notes that one of the greatest challenges of working in lesbian theater is the near absence of a canon from which she may draw. She writes in an essay called “Ugly Ducklings, Or How I Came to Write a Play Where the Lesbian Doesn’t Kill Herself,” “Unfortunately, the narrative and dramaturgical conventions I inherited came from two thousand years of theatre written by, for, about, and serving the interests of men. The lesbian character does not fit into the patriarchal paradigm except as an object of ridicule, pity, disgust, or prurient interest […] Obviously within this paradigm I could not tell the stories I wanted, the stories that reflected my truth.” Leigh Hendrix does tell the stories that reflect her truth, and she does so by transforming the challenge described by Gage into an opportunity for hilarious subversion of conventional theater. That is, she takes the inherited paradigm to a ridiculous extreme by inhabiting two lesbian stereotypes with such ruthless vivacity that the theater of identity is revealed at last, constructing a stage for her own experience. STONI TOMPSON B‘15 is a big ol’ dyke.
t 8PM on Friday September 30, the doors of Artist Exchange’s Black Box Theater in Cranston closed, sequestering a tightly-packed, 27-person audience from the heterocentric world for what would be an evening of quintessential Sapphic instruction. At least, that is the implicit promise of the play’s title, How to Be a Lesbian in Ten Days or Less, a solo show written and performed by Providence-based theatre artist Leigh Hendrix and directed by Peter Deffet. Yet for all of its campy absurdity, How to Be a Lesbian in Ten Days or Less earnestly surveys the unwieldy processes of selfdiscovery and self-expression with which queer women may contend in a culture that, today, offers them limited and highly stylized representations like those in The L Word. Hendrix draws upon her skills as an improvisational performer to engage her audience with refreshing dynamism. The show opens in an explosion of absurdity when motivational speaker and expert lesbian Butchy McDyke struts before the audience in a sharp, grey blazer and asks with all the cocksure zeal of a high school basketball coach, “how many of you are here tonight because you want a lot more lady in your life?” She goes on to assure the audience that her patented method of becoming a lesbian in ten days or less has transformed the lives, and sometimes the sexual orientations, “of literally tens of people”—83 to be exact. As the tongue-in-cheek embodiment of one classic lesbian stereotype, Butchy McDyke presents herself as the ultimate guide to the “cutthroat world of lesbianism,” the gatekeeper to all things gay lady. More importantly, the tutelage of McDyke also provides the framework through which Hendrix artfully weaves the narratives of two other lesbian characters: an unnamed and awkward performance artist who fancies herself a radical feminist, and a developing young woman named Leigh, whose scenes are based
27 OCTOBER 2011
CASTLE for the people
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE PROVIDENCE ARMORY
by Grace Dunham
THE ARMORY IS A TREASURE... I’VE BEEN HERE 15 YEARS AND SOMETIMES I FEEL HUGELY BURNT OUT, BUT I CAN’T LEAVE UNTIL WE FIND WHATEVER HAPPENS TO THAT BUILDING. I HAVE TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM BEFORE I LEAVE
enry Degaitas still remembers gym class in the Providence Armory. Every day he and the other kids of Bishop McVinney, a nearby Catholic school, would march over to the corner of Cranston and Dexter, walk through the Armory’s big wooden doors, and make their way to the great drill hall—a 90 foot high, 45,000 square foot room over twice as wide as two football fields. Inside, they ran laps and played touch football while National Guardsmen in full uniform trained alongside them. Henry owns John’s New York System Wieners, the West End diner famous for its hot dogs. His father, John Degaitas, immigrated to Providence from Greece, and opened the restaurant in 1948. In 1968, John moved the restaurant to its current location, on the southwest Corner of Cranston and Dexter, directly across the street from the Armory. Henry remembers going to boxing matches there, sneaking in through the side door and pushing through the crowd to try and get a glimpse of the ring. He remembers the annual Halloween Ball—or, rather, he remembers walking by it. He was too young and too scared to go inside. He remembers swinging on the ropes that hung down from the flagpoles until “Military guys came runnin’ out, just yelling and yelling at us underneath the flags while we’d run and keeping swinging.” As a kid growing up on the West End in the 1970s, the Armory was the center of Henry’s universe. The Armory’s two towers loom over the West End—six stories high, their crenellated turrets are trimmed in blue-green copper. In between the two towers is a stretch of building as long as a city block—something like a medieval airplane hangar, with battlements and arrow-slit windows below a vast expanse of black roof. The lower half is built in blocks of rough red granite, and upper half in yellow brick. It feels almost mythical, a castle standing tall against the sky. The Armory sits on the Southern end of the Dexter Training Grounds, an 11-acre park willed to the City of Providence in 1824 by Ebenezer Knight Dexter, an eccentric businessman and Providence aristocrat. At the time, state militias trained on village greens and fields, so when Dexter willed West Side property to the city he requested that the land be used for military purposes. The Training Ground was
the sight of a skirmish during the Dorr War (a short-lived 1841 labor insurrection in Rhode Island), and was used by militias and volunteers during the Civil War as an encampment and drill field. During the Industrial Revolution, state militias began constructing armories— buildings in which they could store weapons and ammunition, run drills, and have a place to gather instead of bars, storefronts, and town halls. The majority of the men in militias were middle-and-upper class and feared the wrath of angry unionists and laborers. Many of the armories were designed to look like castles, the logic being that their fortress-like appearances would stave off revolts and deter class warfare. The Providence Armory was built during a second wave of armory construction following the Militia Act of 1903, which reorganized the state militias of America into the National Guard System. Completed in 1907—after nearly six years and a cost of $650,000—it was billed as the brand new home of Rhode Island’s recently formed National Guard. The structure was designed by William R. Walker & Son, a well-known architectural firm responsible for four other Rhode Island armories and dozens of other noteworthy public buildings around the state—among them what is now the Trinity Repertory Theater and Avon Cinema. It is the largest of Rhode Island’s 18 Armories, measuring 165,300 square feet. For a long time, the drill hall was one of the largest indoor spaces in New England. Though the National Guard initially opposed the use of the Armory as a public space, a resolution was passed in 1909 allowing the first public event to take place in the drill hall: “The Booming Providence Banquet for Rhode Island Small Businesses”. Over time, it became a de-facto civic center for the entire state. The drill hall was the sight of dog shows and poultry shows, dance performances and political rallies, track meets and circuses. When John Chaffee—Lincoln’s father—was elected Governor in 1962, he threw his gubernatorial ball in the Armory. In 1981, after supposed structural problems rendered the building unsafe for public use, the Armory’s days as a Civic Center ended for good. The Guard remained in the Armory until 1996, when legislation was passed granting National Guardsthe funding to relocate to new facilities. Apparently, the economic burden of the
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
Armory was too great for the Guard to handle. The building was severely in need of repairs—among them a new roof—and in the five years prior to 1996, the Guard’s operating budget had been more than cut in half. After occupying the building for nearly 90 years, the Rhode Island National Guard moved to a new building in East Greenwich. “You lost customers who had been coming for 20 or 30 years,” Henry says, “In a sense, you know, you lost part of your family.” With the Guard’s departure, the Armory was left empty. Kari Lang fell in love with the Providence Armory when she was 27 years old. She is the executive director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association (WBNA), an organization founded in 1983 by a group of West End residents who, according to Lang, “didn’t feel like this side of town was getting the attention from the city and state that it deserved.” Its headquarters are in a converted Texaco gas station on the corner of Westminster and Sycamore, across the street from a row of artfully restored Victorian homes. The forces of gentrification—which have changed the face of the West End over the past decade—are visible at this intersection. Lang started working for WBNA in 1996, the same year that the National Guard vacated the Armory. “Here we have this huge, amazing, nationally renowned castle-like structure,” she says, “and it was being totally vacated because of some federal policy that was giving money to National Guards to build new facilities. 90 percent of my job was working with a committee in the state department properties division finding a reuse for the building.” In 1998, after Rhode Island passed legislation offering film companies tax credits of up to 25%, the Armory served a brief stint as a soundstage. Two Hollywood movies, Underdog and Outside Providence, filmed both in and around the Armory. Michael Corrente, the director of Outside Providence and a Pawtucket native, spearheaded efforts to permanently turn the Armory into film studios. Due to financial reasons, these plans never materialized. According to Lang, that’s a good thing: “To me it was almost like raping and pillaging the building. They’d set a fire for a film scene or something…that should be in a tin warehouse…that should not be in a nationally renowned landmark.” Without a tenant to look after the
structure—already in fragile condition after decades of insufficient funding and maintenance—Lang’s biggest concern was keeping the Armory from falling deeper into disrepair. In 1997, she managed to get the Armory placed on the National trust’s 11 Most Endangered Places list. Lang’s hope was that the building would be used as state offices. “Not hugely sexy,” she says, “But it gets people in there to look out for it and it saves the state a huge amount of money.” Proposals were made both to relocate the state police headquarters to the Armory and to turn it into a storage space for state archives, but nothing ever came of either proposal. A few years ago, the state Fire Marshal began using parts of it for offices and storage. While these tenants were a positive alternative to the empty decade that came before them, the Armory still hasn’t found its way out of limbo. 32 people currently work inside the Armory. The building is shared by the Fire Marshal and the state Bomb Squad, and-in striking opposition to its history--is now almost completely off limits to the public. The great drill hall is sealed off behind a set of wooden doors. Inside, the space is as astonishingly immense as ever; the towering ceiling—supported by a thick latticework of metal beams—curves over the vast wooden floor. Ornate wooden balconies—where sergeants used to sit and watch drills—are fixed to the walls at either end of the hall. Today, the hall seems to serve as a repository for miscellaneous items. Old safes are stacked under one of the balconies. A long metal fence separates tall piles of containers and storage units from the rest of the space. According to Chief Fire Marshal Richard James—a rosy-cheeked man who keeps his badge pinned to the right lapel of a tan suit jacket—the containers belong to the Department of Health. A dozen evenly-spaced suitcases of varying size and color run the length of the hall, lined up in front of the fence. Three bomb-sniffing dogs—German Shepherds named Aiko, Mira, and Sam—use these suitcases for practice. The bomb squad keeps its equipment in the basement. In an evidence room, tables are scattered with confiscated goods: boxes of shotgun shells, outdated flares, a few grenades, a pipe bomb, and a couple small rockets. Vehicles sit parked in a low-ceilinged garage with the same footprint as
the drill hall: a couple trailers, three shiny red trucks, and a brand new “total containment unit” equipped with a $250,000 fast attack robot. The vehicles were all purchased with grant money given to the state of Rhode Island by the Department of Homeland Security. “All this has happened since 9/11,” explains James, “That’s when they realized there was a need. Money was always tight in Rhode Island. We wouldn’t be able to buy any equipment without these grants.” For the most part, James is guarded about how much use the equipment is being put to. “We work with the FBI,” he says, “Covert Operations. It’s a thankless job. People don’t know how much we do.” The Fire Marshal offices are on the first floor of the Parade St. Tower. Chief James’ office is high-ceilinged and oakpaneled, with a view down Parade Street. Before working for the Fire Marshal, James was Fire Chief of West Warwick for thirty years. The walls of his office are hung with plaques displaying his many honors and awards—among them, “1991 Rhode Island Firefighter of the Year.” A sticker on the wall behind his desk reads “King of the Castle”—James’ nickname since he started working at the Armory. Above the offices, the upper floors of the tower are abandoned. Desks and chairs litter former classrooms. Paint peels off of the walls in long white strips. Birds are often found dead on the floor after flying in through holes in the windows. In 2004, a statewide bond issue vote that would have funded a massive renovation and restoration of the Armory was placed on the ballots. Despite WBNA’s lobbying efforts, the bond issue failed. In part, Kari Lang attributes this to statewide misperceptions of the West End. “We’ve been working for over twenty years,” says Lang, “and there’s still a negative perception of this neighborhood, like, oh that neighborhood.” In the 19th century, the West End was prosperous and stylish—a highly respected residential area connected to downtown by Providence’s first streetcar line. Wealthy merchants and industrialists populated the neighborhood, lining the streets with grand Victorian homes. The Armory would have been the area’s “crown jewel,” says James Hall, President of the Providence Preservation Society, “If you were prosperous or had aspira-
tions of being prosperous in a city the size of Providence, you looked to the civic architecture as an outward and visible sign of the growth and success of a city.” By the mid-20th century, the neighborhood had left its prosperous past behind. Following the widespread urban decline of the 1930’s, the majority of the West End’s middle class residents relocated. Crime rates went up, and the neighborhood’s reputation went down. Though the past decade has witnessed widespread gentrification efforts, James Hall agrees that the West End had retained a certain stigma: “The neighborhood has been marginalized…I think that’s one of the problems. It’s hard to get people from outside Providence to be excited about the Armory, because it’s in what they think of as a ‘transitional’ neighborhood.” Fifteen years after beginning to work with the Armory, Lang feels that much of the momentum has been lost. “As the state budget has gotten worse and worse,” she says, “and as some of the devoted people have kind of been forced into retirement... it becomes easier to almost forget and it becomes more of a white elephant.” Though Lang is grateful for the Fire Marshal’s presence, she is far from content. “The armory is a treasure,” she says. “I’ve been here 15 years and sometimes I feel hugely burnt out, but I can’t leave until we find whatever happens to that building. I have to solve this problem before I leave.” More than anything, Lang is set on the building being opened back up to the public. When she was fighting to pass the 2004 bond issue, she managed to get permission to host a fundraiser in the Armory’s drill hall. It was the first—and only—public event in the space since its vacancy in 1996. At most, a WBNA event generally gets up to two or three hundred people. Over 700 people showed up to the fundraiser. “People love this building,” she says. “That central drill hall has not been maintained for 45 years now at least… but there were poultry shows there, dog shows, Rudolf Vallentino danced in there, every high school in Rhode Island ran track there. My dad ran track there. Governor Chafee’s father had his gubernatorial ball in there. It was supposed to be a public place. It was supposed to be “The Castle for the People.” GRACE DUNHAM ’14 lives in an armory replica.
27 OCTOBER 2011
(STOP) WATCHING JON STEWART
NARRATING HYPOCRISY AND POLITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS
by Stephen Carmody Illustration by Robert Sandler
and 2010, the advent of the Tea Party. But then, after introducing the Occupy Movement, Cantor is quoted again, this time from October 7, 2011: “I, for one, am concerned with the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and other cities across this country.” Stewart stares at the camera, as if shocked. Playing dumb, Stewart asks why this protest is any different. The answer, from the next waterfall of clips, is that Republicans feel that the Occupy movement is pitting Americans against Americans. And when Cantor accuses “some in this town [Washington]” of supporting protest against other Americans, Stewart can only yell incredulously, “Yeah! It was you! When was that? It was a minute ago, remember?” The 2009 Cantor runs again. After highlighting that 74 percent of Americans are in favor of raising taxes on the rich, a goal of the Occupy protests, Stewart triumphantly concludes, in a mock address to Cantor: “It’s gotta be tough to love America so much, and hate almost three-quarters of the people living in it.” It may not be that all Republicans see unions, liberals, poor people, and progressives as enemies of America. It doesn’t matter whether the political discontent of the Tea Party can be compared to that of the Occupy movement. Rather, Stewart’s point was to portray Cantor as a hypocrite for denouncing what he had earlier said. The hypocrisy arises from a fundamental difference in perspective between liberals and conservatives. Both sides do not hear each other, which leads to the “echo chamber” of our political discourse. Jon Stewart has been performing this very same deconstruction of national politics for years (in the segment after commercial, he will ridicule Occupy Wall Street for its distasteful public image). It is funny, widely effective, and leads to a similar set of conclusions: political figures and pundits are inflammatory, hypocritical, and detached from reality. COMING OF AGE As someone in his early twenties, the raising of my political consciousness came about with a series of psychological events: the central trauma of September 11, the post-traumatic stress of the Bush administration and two foreign wars, and the depression that is the Obama administration. I glanced over newspapers, flipped on television news, and tuned into the radio. But they didn’t guide me through the past decade. Instead, the scene was weekday nights at 11 o’clock: my parents and I gathered around the television set, usually with bowls of ice cream in our laps, and devoured Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show in January of 1999. He revised Craig Kilborn’s half-hour of celebrity potshots to a locus of critique on politics and national media. At the time, Jon Stewart was a youthful, dark-haired anchor in an oversized suit. In the 12 years since, he has aged in a way I can only compare to the aging of America’s presidents: expedited graying and wrinkles borne of stress and responsibility. Stewart, now 48, is only nine years younger than my parents. Recently, some of my parents’ friends were visiting, and I sat in a dining room in Watertown, MA, listening to liberals discussing national politics. It was almost as if Jon Stewart— along with David Brooks, Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, and the rest of the New York Times’ Op-Ed staff—was sitting alongside us in the room. Arguments I had mostly read about filtered into a space filled with nodding heads. That cathartic feeling—the same one felt when Jon Stewart stares incredulously at the camera or bellows to the heavens— resonated as the parents recounted the ways in which conservatives have blatantly distorted the truth. It’s the claim to the truth that makes me uneasy. I was left with one unanswerable question: “Are there things we liberals say that conservatives, from their opposite vantage point, could rightly point out as blatant distortion of the truth?” ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE Recently, Cornell West and Tavis Smiley appeared on the O’Reilly Factor, to promote Smiley’s new PBS documentary on poverty in America. Bill O’Reilly begins the segment with “the facts,” noting how 15 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, how 9 percent of Americans suffer from substance dependency, and how many drug-addicts cannot make a living. O’Reilly poses poverty as “not exclusively an economic problem” to be handled by the government, but also a “personal responsibility problem.” West responds (in a narrative similar to the Occupy message) that the top 1% have disproportionately gained wealth, have crippled the US Treasury with the bail-out, and have generally been “too greedy.” Smiley notes that poverty may be a social problem, but this debate is about justice, rather than demonizing the poor. The whole segment eventually runs haywire, with both sides interrupting each other constantly, and West and Smiley erupting in outcry when O’Reilly injects that the bankers “didn’t violate any laws!” Neither side heard the other. The divide between liberals and conservatives seems to be whether you believe in social justice or not. Institutional injustice (including racism, classism, and economic injustice) is so difficult to comprehend because its complexity far outstrips any political narrative. So responses to it usually look to place the blame on someone or something. Conservatives mostly favor a narrative of personal choice and responsibility. It goes well with a stress on civil liberties and the American can-do attitude. So in the case of poverty, it’s the fault of the poor person. The agents responsible in the liberal narrative, are the CEOs of Goldmann-Sachs and the like. But bringing them to justice based on who made what decision will not fundamentally change the situation. No group of leaders ever got together in a room to maniacally construct an unjust system in the US. Leaders just tried their best, based on their own ideas and perspectives. Unjust systems are so over-determined, and yet the winners and losers seem so obvious. A narrative of these figures being greedy, or being racist, or being stupid, does not hold up (there’s a reason many radical liberals fall prey to conspiracy theories). And this liberal discontent with the unjust system does not translate to a conservative language. In part, this is what Stewart draws attention to every weekday: Cantor’s “take back democracy” does not mean Occupy’s “take back democracy.” Stewart is right in defining just how wide this gap is across which we try to speak. POST-SCRIPTING But Jon Stewart has also delivered a narrative of politicians’ hypocrisies with such neatness and triumph that his viewers tend to accept the narrative wholesale. It’s not that Cantor is a hypocrite, or is too narrow-minded to understand liberal protest. Rather, Jon Stewart’s viewers are convinced that all politicians and pundits are hypocritical and narrow-minded. The Daily Show’s waterfall of clips blurs all conservatives (or all liberals) into one talking mouth. Listening to liberals talk about conservatives, I do not hear much generosity. Watching Jon Stewart has become so easy. Viewers don’t have to listen anymore. And they end up seeing the same thing in everything. The people responsible for this political mess seem so clear, frustration can only be salved at eleven o’clock on weeknights, and we cannot say much new. STEPHEN CARMODY B ’12 is going to watch Colbert instead.
eople should probably stop watching Jon Stewart. The Daily Show on Comedy Central has been self-described on numerous occasions as “throwing spitballs” from the back of the room of American politics. This pronounced separation from the political debate has exonerated Stewart (at least in his mind) from being pegged simply as a partisan, or simply as a news source: he’s a comedian doing fake news. Stewart places those who wish to criticize him in a tricky spot: to take a court jester too literally, or to not listen for the hidden message, is to become a fool oneself. But perhaps the difficulty falls most on Jon Stewart’s young, liberal-minded audience who have honed their critique of national politics on The Daily Show. For good or bad, Jon Stewart has altered the political consciousness of a generation of viewers who cannot all be court jesters. DECONSTRUCTION CIRCUS In the 2008 New York Times article “Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America?” Michiko Kakutani noted that a huge number of liberal Americans watch Jon Stewart, often for political news. Further, a Pew poll found Jon Stewart to be the fourth most admired journalist in America. As Kakutani points out, the power of The Daily Show comes from the “deconstructions” performed during each half hour. Take the episode from October 18 in which Stewart spends eight minutes picking apart Eric Cantor, Republican House Majority Leader. Stewart turns to his audience and remarks, “tonight I want to talk about something serious,” barely able to hold a straight face. The audience is already cackling: they know the joke that’s coming. Beside a graphic of “Scorn in the USA,” Stewart announces that there is a battle for the soul of America’s democracy. Clips run, mostly of Cantor, but also of conservative figureheads like Newt Gingrich and Allen West, urging Americans to “take to the streets to take this country back.” These clips all come from 2009
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
A CONVERSATION WITH FRANK LESSER
by Jamie Brew Illustration by Robert Sandler
Factor for inspiration? FL: No, luckily—and this could just be bad work habits on my own part—you can get a lot of that stuff from clips. We have researchers who watch stuff. INDY: When was the hardest you've ever laughed? FL: I have a lot of friends who enjoy watching really awful movies and somebody had seen this movie called Sleepaway Camp. It’s this horribly-made -- yet adequately comepetenet -- movie that just goes on. At one point they show this scene of twelveyear-olds playing softball that goes on literally for like several innings. You're sitting there, and it's about three or four minutes of them just playing ball without any kind of narrative advancement in any way. The ending of that movie is so unexpected. It's horrifying but also hilarious, and it's not really a scary movie in any way. I almost threw up I was laughing so hard. INDY: Is there a level of hilarity that unintentional comedy can reach that intentional comedy can't? FL: I think so. I wonder how much of it has to do with some sense of schadenfreude or something. It's similar to improv in a way. I'm not a huge fan of improv, but improv laughter's a little different from planned stuff because partly you're laughing at, "Oh, they didn't expect that" or "Oh, they just thought of it at the same time. If you take that even further it's like, "Oh, here's a movie that didn't think it was being funny but actually was." For me it’s partly the horror of thinking , “Oh my gosh, what if I'm the person who made this movie?" What if I'm M. Night Shyamalan after making Lady in The Water, and I thought I was making this big intense thing? But that’s a hilarious movie. INDY: What’s your take on stand-up comedy? FL: I have a love-hate relationship with stand-up. I tried it once or twice at Brown [class of ’02] and kind of enjoyed it, but I don't think I like telling the same joke over and over, which is why even when I'm talking about my book, I'm blanking because I'm like, "Oh god, do I have to tell this joke again?" I prefer to keep writing new stuff or to write sketches where you have actors performing the stuff. INDY: You’ve just released a new book, Sad Monsters. How did that come about? FL: For whatever reason, I've always been interested in monsters. I think I find a lot of humor in the pathos of the hideous creature. I had written a few pieces about monsters that had appeared on Slate and then decided to write a few more. My manager sent it to a literary agent and asked, “Hey, do you think there could be any market for this?” I definitely felt like people would accuse me of capitalizing on the whole monster humor thing. But I think I am doing something different in this book, where they are sort of self-contained little narratives that usually have more than just humor. INDY: When you write jokes, are you going for something more than just making people laugh? FL: I prefer to just write something that's entertaining to me and funny to me. And depending on what the piece is, there could be a bigger point. I think if you analyze stuff too much, it stops being funny, it stops being entertaining. I was a semiotics major at Brown, so I know a little about analyzing things too much. And I do feel like if you analyze your own process, that's where writer's block comes from, that's when you get stuck. Sometimes it's better to just say, "Oh, I got an idea: what if, um, what if I write about a werewolf whisperer?" INDY: What’s the difference between TV jokes and book jokes? FL: The main thing is that no one really changes the jokes in your book. No one asks you to rewrite the joke. I had an editor who had some really good input, but it was a really nice experience to just say, "Everything in here is something I worked on." Also, television is incredibly collaborative so we're usually writing with someone else: there are head writers who are giving input, and Stephen's giving input. And this book was just a fun nice thing where it sinks or swims on its own and I can sit there and obsessively read the reviews. INDY: Ah, the solitary life of an author. FL: People I trusted or friends of mine who had similar senses of humor, I would show them pieces and ask, "What do you think of this?" And I would take some criticism and ignore other stuff if it didn't make any sense. I feel like that's very helpful and something that you sort of get from workshops at Brown. If anybody's reading this and wants to buy the book, they should do that, and then give it a five star review. JAMIE BREW ’12 received a tepid reaction when he read Moby Dick for his stand-up comedy set. INDY: And the jokes grow out of what they find? FL: Well, what's really great is that we're also allowed to do very goofy things on the show. It's nice when you get to make a satirical political point, but sometimes it's fun to just have Stephen fight a giant Styrofoam cup. I think that humor can definitely have a point, but I also do like the really goofy stuff; I think you can entertain people with the goofy stuff. INDY: Are professional comedy writers fun to work with? FL: Comedy writers aren't known for being social, but I've found that about a third of them in the real world sort of are. You're working sort of long hours in close quarters with other people. The toughest thing is figuring out how to tell somebody you just met that you're not crazy about their joke, and that takes a couple months, but that's an interesting part of the job. INDY: What's your opinion on puns? FL: If you'll read the book, you'll know that I am somewhat pro-pun. I am not crazy about them always. They're fine for titles. I think it's bad if the pun is the only joke, but sometimes they're funny because they're so stupid, you sort of have to laugh. I'm just reading this on Wikipedia: "Samuel Johnson disparagingly referred to punning as the lowest form of humor." But I would say eighteenth-century humor is the lowest form of humor. The only thing worse than a pun is an aphorism. INDY: Who was the funniest person from before the twentieth century? FL: That's the terrifying thing: how long does humor last? Actually, I think Herman Melville is really funny. Bartleby the Scrivener is a very funny short story. It's weird and weirdly human and I'm pretty sure it was written to be funny. And the first third of Moby Dick is hilarious. I think Moby Dick is this strange book that gets gradually worse as it goes along. It has the most famous opening sentence in all of literature; the whole first page is absolutely amazing; the opening, where he talks about standing on the edge of Manhattan and looking out to sea and feeling an urge to get out there, is absolutely amazing; and when he meets Queequeg it's absolutely amazing. For me, it fell apart when he started talking about the whale.
here are four kinds of people in this world. There are those who do not yet know Frank Lesser. Then there are those who wish they were Frank Lesser. After that there are those who know Frank Lesser but are comfortable with who they are; these are exceedingly rare. And finally there are those who are Frank Lesser. I interviewed the last living member of this elite fourth category. Frank Lesser is an NYC-based, Emmy-winning writer for The Colbert Report, an avid producer of short films and the recent author of Sad Monsters, a book of humorous short stories (illustrated by Willie Real) about emotionally tormented monsters, from a mummy with body image issues who wishes she had been wrapped vertically because it’s more slimming, to Godzilla wondering whether destruction has lost its meaning. We talked about his experience on Colbert, his new book, and the early history of modern comedy. The Independent: How did you end up writing for The Colbert Report? FRANK LESSER: It was the lowest point of my life. I had just been mugged, I had injured my back and the girl that I was dating at the time went to California for a month and a half to work on a pot farm. When she got out there, she was like, “Yeah, I think we should see other people.” I met somebody who had just been hired as a writer's assistant on Colbert. She invited me to a taping and asked what was up. I told her this whole sob story ending with, "I was at the lowest point in my life," and she said, "Oh well, you know that they’re hiring," and then sort of didn't say anything. And then a month later they hired me, although she did say after I got hired, “Yeah, give it a month and a half, you'll be complaining just as much as you were before.” I think she really nailed the comedy writer mindset. INDY: What’s it like writing for Colbert? FL: It’s wonderful when the person who's in charge is a brilliantly talented, hilarious person. And so in some ways, you don't feel as bad when they cut your jokes because you're like, "Okay, well this person knows what they're talking about," and in other ways you're like, "Why doesn't Stephen Colbert like this joke?" INDY: Do you watch a lot of the O'Reilly
WHO ARE THEY?
WHAT DO THEY WANT?
you almost miss it from the subway stop, the skyscrapers obscuring the view, but for the newspapers (The Occupied Wall Street Journal) left behind; the echoes of faraway drums, until you come upon it there, squashed between streets: humanity, overflowing. “first of all, it is not zuccotti park, it is the peoples’ park
WHAT DO THEY THINK THEY ARE ?
there’s no amplificat check – someone who sation it’s chanted. it’s the kitchen, the librar the MIC CHECK – MIC CHE LAUNDRY – MIC CHEC MIC CHECK, I JUST WA
FIND EACH OTHER ATTACH YOURSELF TO WHAT YOU FEEL TO BE TRUE. BEGIN THERE
-THE COMING INSURRECTION
OCCUPY EVERYTHING: welcome back
what if we gave up demanding that others made the right choices
and built a world where those choices were no longer necessary?
what if we offered no answers, but instead offered ourselves?
occupy wall street seeks reclamation instead of concessions, rewriting our past and our present, together. to create a world – even within the realm of a park – where no one goes hungry: for food, for community, for art, for warmth, for nourishment of all kinds. eight seminary students who heard about the protests now commute in to serve as “occupy chaplains,” or to be an explicit presence of faith. “you see something missing, you make it,” says one woman, screenprinting OCCUPY WALL STREET on a tourist’s I Love New York shirt. “I’ve only been doing this three hours, and now I’m the expert. here, let me teach you.”
to what was already ours
MIC CHECK – MIC CHECK HUNDREDS OF THOUSAN
WILL RISE UP WILL RIS WE WILL DE AND TAKE TO THE STRE I BELIEVE A BETTER WO
AND IT IS AWAKENING THIS IS ALL HAPPENING T AND SO MUCH MORE IS P AND SO MUCH MORE IS P BECAUSE WE ARE WIN BECAUSE WE ARE WIN
tion allowed in the park, which leaves - Mic check– mic check – mic o wants to speak has started it, and through the light patter of converheard in front, where the general assembly meets, or echoes through ry, the arts and crafts area; the bedding, the medic, the drum circles, communications area. Anywhere peopleneed help ECK – CAN EVERYONE IN THIS AREA HELP CARRY THESE TARPS FOR CK, THE FACILITATION WORKSHOP IS BEGINNING BY THE RED CUBE – ANT TO SAY HOW PROUD OF EVERYONE I AM. HOW MUCH I FUCKING LOVE YOU ALL.
Last Thursday, the call went out first over twitter that they would shut the park down the next day at seven am, with cleaning crews. in response, occupiers cleaned the entire park the day before– renting storage units for the kitchen, medical, and art supplies, and the personal belongings of hundreds of people. “within hours, thousands of people were defending the facebook event to defend ows; by four am, despite downpours, a couple thousand people had gathered, from other boroughs, from other states. mic check – mic check – we are expecting the police and cleaning crews in just a few hours, can we continue mopping this section of the park and mic check – mic check – can we do this out of love?”
THE LIBRARY OVERFLOWS, CAREFULLY SORTED BOXES WITH EVERYTHING FROM CANADIAN LESBIAN EROTICA TO TATTERED ZINES ABOUT TRAINS TO MICHAEL CRICHTON TO ONE, VERY PRECIOUS COPY OF A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. IT IS SLATHERED IN RED SHARPIE: DO NOT REMOVE. “YOU CAN BORROW IT,” A GREYED FIFTYISH MAN, CALLS, THIN, SOMEWHAT TIRED. PAST MIDNIGHT, HE IS DRINKING COFFEE AROUND ONE SIGHING LIGHTBULB,WITH OCCUPY WALL STREET’S SELF PROFESSED “MORAL FAGS.” THEY MAINLY TALK SHIT AND PHILOSOPHY. A PERSON WITH CAT-EYE GLASSES HAS A SMIRKY GRIN FOR OCCUPY WALL STREET– (“SEE, THE PROBLEM IS, WE’RE NOT ALL ANARCHISTS…”) AND YET, “WE MAKE IT WORK. EVERYONE’S COMING IN TO THIS DIFFERENTLY. MANY PEOPLE HAVE VERY DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS WITH LIVING COMMUNALLY AND IDEAS ABOUT STRUCTURE AND DECISION-MAKING. AND THAT CAN BE FRUSTRATING. BUT WE’RE LEARNING.”
K LET THE WHOLE WORLD HEAR LET THE WHOLE WORLD HEAR NDS OF PEOPLE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE SE UP WILL RISE UP EFEND OUR HOPE WE WILL DEFEND OUR HOPE EETS AND TAKE TO THE STREETS AND TAKE TO THE STREETS ORLD IS POSSIBLE I BELIEVE A BETTER WORLD IS POSSIBLE I BELIEVE A BETTER WORLD IS POSSIBLE IN OUR MIDST AND IT IS AWAKENING IN OUR MIDST THIS IS ALL HAPPENING THIS IS ALL HAPPENING POSSIBLE AND SO MUCH MORE IS POSSIBLE POSSIBLE NNING BECAUSE WE ARE WINNING NNING
AT TWO AM SOMEONE IN THE NEXT SLEEPING BAG IS PLAYING GUITAR, HER VOICE A SOFT SORT OF MEMORY. WALKING THROUGH THE MAZE OF BODIES SPRAWLED IN SLEEPING BAGS ACROSS WALKWAYS, UNDER TREES, PACKED INTO ROWS, PEOPLE STRETCHING EVERYWHERE VISIBLE. EVEN LATE, HUDDLES OF PEOPLE TALK; MUSIC BENDS; THE LINE IN THE MCDONALD’S BATHROOM DOWN THE BLOCK IS SHORTER BUT STILL FULL LONG OF SLEEPY-EYED OCCUPIERS.
27 OCTOBER 2011
DON’T CALL IT A
Ghosts have been here for eras
Written and illustrated by Becca Levinson
few years ago, a Brown University custodian saw something strange at University Hall. While working after hours in the Corporation meeting room, he heard a low muttering sound behind him – but upon turning around, he saw that the room was empty. When he started working again, a few minutes passed before he heard the sound again, louder than before. Still nothing to see. Unnerved, the custodian continued working until mumbles grew into yells; finally, the voice shouted the custodian’s name. Terrified, the man dropped his things and fled the building screaming. This janitor’s story is a classic spook encounter, and a tale supported by numerous Brown faculty members and alumni who attest to having confronted the paranormal in University Hall. Their shared experiences have become nightly entertainment to patrons of the Providence Ghost Tour, an hour-long walk through the city that combines creepy Rhode Island lore and active on-tour ghost hunting. The weekend before Halloween,
I follow Elyse, a drama student outfitted in black lipstick and a colonial bonnet, as she tells these stories to me and about twenty other people. Some of us have previously encountered the supernatural, others just saw the tour on Groupon. Whatever the intrigue, everyone meets in Prospect Park at sunset and the tour begins with a tale about Rhode Island’s founder. “This park is the spot where Roger Williams’ corpse is buried,” Elyse begins, gesturing toward Williams’ enormous stone likeness at the park’s edge. “But this wasn’t his first resting place.” Turns out, Williams was originally buried at his home under an apple tree whose roots ate through his coffin and, subsequently, his entire body, eyeballs first. “The feet came last,” Elyse jokes, “the bark curled around his toes and now he’s got little wooden shoes.” After this first teaser, she leads us through four spots on Brown’s campus and two on RISD’s before looping around Benefit Street, past the armory by Geoff’s Sandwiches, and back up to Prospect Park for a final recitation of “The Raven.”
A huge cast of characters turns out. Annmary Brown’s ghost was only once seen, conjured through séance by a Brown librarian and a psychic, who collaborated to console Annmary after her tomb was raided in the 1970s. A Victorian debutante – the “Ke$ha of the 19th Century,” as Elyse describes her -- occasionally returns to the Brown Faculty Club years after death in a long white ball gown. While on the Main Green, Elyse points to a bench outside of University Hall. “I was leading this tour once, when a woman shrieked and grabbed her husband’s elbow. When I stopped talking, she swore she saw a Revolutionary War soldier sit here and vanish. I like to think he was waiting for his estranged sweetheart.” We’re encouraged to take pictures at each site, in hopes that one of these strange figures might appear as an orb in our photos. The Providence Ghost Tour is the undertaking of Courtney Edge-Mattos and Mike Gertrude, who began the project five years ago when they started hunting ghosts together for fun. Recent graduates
of the University of Rhode Island, feeling unhappy in work, they were anxious to take on something a little riskier. On a whim, they decided to go to a graveyard just to scope out the territory. “I don’t even remember what led up to it,” EdgeMattos says, “we were just talking about Rehoboth, Massachusetts, where there’s a lot of ghostly activity, so we went walking around cemeteries just to see what we could see. And it was really fun.” It was a couple thrilling nights like this and a Myspace conversation until the two consolidated their occult interests and officially took on a paranormal business venture. Ghost tours seemed intriguing, and Edge-Mattos had a little background through working at the Newport Ghost Tour as an undergrad. They started playing around with ideas and dabbling in local research. Now, the Ghost Tours have a set of stories entirely different from the inaugural group. With every new story, Edge-Mattos and Gertrude gather testimonies, do on-site field work, and obtain background about the ghost before giving
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
those who have a slow progression toward death.” “Between Mike and I, I’m the barometer for haunted activity,” she says. “I tend to be a little bit sensitive.” Her particular attentiveness to ghosts has led to some onsite encounters. Nonetheless, they rely mostly on the testimonies of residents. “We sent out hundreds of letters across the city, mostly on the East Side,” EdgeMattos remembers. She followed up on the areas with the most frequent or most concentrated hauntings, many of which proved to be on college campuses. “College students were able to hand down many people having experienced the same thing,” she explains, “because the buildings are populated by a lot more people than a single-family home.” Even if students don’t have identical experiences, some buildings have attracted repeated hauntings across generations. Multiple RISD personnel who guard the WoodsGerry gallery, for example, have given separate accounts of sighting a red-haired man appear in the security camera, only to vanish moments later. That kind of repetition is helpful, since Edge-Mattos and Gertrude feel that they can only substantiate their stories through similar accounts from the same site. Brown professors’ accounts have added color to the Ghost Tour’s research. One professor recalled being slapped in the face by a ghost who haunts MacFarlane House, the Classics department building. “She doesn’t like it when people ignore her, [so] she’ll flush the toilets in the house, or stand and stare at you to give you a jolt,” Edge-Mattos says, sharing the professor’s experiences matter-of-factly. “As Mike was talking with this professor I saw a black figure drift in the upstairs hallway. I was spacing out, but when I started listening to the professor he was talking about a woman in a long black dress who haunts this particular building. So I was like, ‘Wait, there’s a lady in a black dress?’ And he said yes. And I said, ‘I just saw her.’” Providence’s new ghost tour is part of a larger wave of paranormal tourism that’s been rapidly gaining momentum across the US. According to the ghost tour Directory, an online database of Ghost Tours around the world, 43 out of 50 states now host at least one ghost tour, with the highest tally being 27 tours in Georgia. Some people, the website says, will travel the world specifically to go on ghost tours. Edge-Mattos herself has only been on a few others outside Rhode Island. “I think the ghost tours probably run the gamut,” she says of the tours’ reliability. “You probably have some really authentic tours that work really hard. I like to think that we work really hard. And I think that there are other people who just slap something together for entertainment value.” Edge-Mattos attributes the success in some part to the rising ‘paranormal industry’: increasingly successful TV shows like Ghost Hunters, Paranormal State, and Celebrity Ghost Stories have lately spawned a larger cultural interest in the supernatural, making such beliefs newly acceptable to vocalize. “Whereas before you were perceived as crazy for believing in ghosts, they [these shows] made it accessible,” Edge-Mattos says. “The Atlantic Paranormal Society, [a group that] grew into the Ghost Hunters on the Sci Fi channel, that
really pushed the industry. If you turn on the television you can see a whole lot of paranormal stuff that’s out there.” Not just acceptance, but curiosity about ghosts grows with the industry, and it shows in the variety of audiences that come to the Providence ghost tour. Participants run the spectrum from rigid skeptics to “hardcore believers,” but mostly, they’re people who want to be made believers through genuine convincing. Edge-Mattos believes that such openmindedness ties directly to the occult’s new credibility in the mainstream. The tour allows participants to address their own experiences non-judgmentally, and Ghost Tour audiences frequently share their own supernatural encounters with their guides after the tour is over. “These shows open that door,” Edge-Mattos explains. The paranormal niche extends beyond TV, however; the whole market feeds into a developing field known as paranormal science. Researchers in the field focus on temperature and sound frequencies to pinpoint the supernatural through atmospheric indicators. Supposedly, a cold spot 15 or 20 degrees below a room’s temperature suggests a ghostly presence, while a reconfigured tape recorder could project voices otherwise indiscernible. The Providence Ghost Tour uses some of this technology itself: throughout the tour, I’m designated to hold my group’s K-2 meter, a gray plastic bar that measures electromagnetic frequencies with a row of lights that blink according to atmospheric charge. The higher the charge, the more lights blink horizontally from green to red. When it’s red, a ghost is nearby. Though the devices block charges from actual electrical sources, my tour guide warns that cell phone signals also set the meter off. “I take it with a grain of salt,” she says, “but it’s at least worth at least a glance.” So would you believe a student who told you that, while washing her face in her dormitory, she heard a bloodcurdling scream outside the door -- but no one was there when she opened it? And then 20 years later, an RA tripped and broke his neck in the same hall? This saga supposedly occurred in a RISD dorm, and it illustrates an important distinction in paranormal stories: events that are eerie individually become “haunted” when certain elements overlap, such as place (as in the RISD hauntings) or recurring objects (a t-shirt that always brings bad luck). That way, we can relate the events to one another, and seeming coincidences become more loaded with meaning. In a recent article for the Daily Beast, Sharon Begley explained some psychological bases of belief and skepticism, attributing much to evolutionary adaptations. In earlier stages of humanity, “failing to make an association could get you killed,” Begley argues, “There is a clear survival advantage to imputing aliveness and asking questions later.” The same instinct applies to imagining sounds in an empty house: belief in ghosts is the byproduct of our adaptation to “respond to the slightest hint of agency by assuming there are living things present.” While our “hypersensitivity” to the environment used to protect us from carnivorous animals, it can still suggest “false positives” such as ghostly faces, especially
when we’re alone. Even if those reflexive fears are purely psychological, Begley argues, our mental realities may supercede whatever environmental evidence can prove fear arbitrary. We are so psychologically conditioned to find meaning in the environment that empirical facts pale against our internal system of reasoning, as they should, if panic can help us evade actual danger. Still, the ghost tour’s whole premise is a non-starter for some. “We have absolute skeptics,” Edge-Mattos says, “They don’t believe a single thing.” That doesn’t bother her, but she and Gertrude work hard to bolster their credibility whenever possible. For example, they will not describe a historical figure if they don’t feel they have adequate resources on the person; they also avoid including stories based on a single person’s testimony, acknowledging that one’s mental state is never necessarily trustworthy. On the other hand, they concede that their facts aren’t airtight. “You know, you have to put the disclaimer on it,” Edge-Mattos says, “Most people don’t have that much out there about who they were, so all we can talk about is their death and the reported haunting.” But she feels that empiricism may be beside the point of her enterprise. After all, the organization never claims to be academic. “I think people connect to it because it’s storytelling,” she says. “We have these beautiful romances, and stories from people’s childhoods, and people can attach to that. It’s common experience.” Organized ghost-hunts are relatively new, but ghost stories are literally ancient, and apparently maintain their fascination now. Ghosts populate the writings of Pliny, Homer, and Shakespeare. Magicians like Houdini have shaped the spectacle of popular entertainment. Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln even held séances in the White House after losing their son to typhoid fever. Implausible as they may be, ghosts are inescapably embedded across cultures, not only as literature or belief, but as a tradition that grows from death and community. On some level, their appeal shows something profound: our ways of finding reassurance in grief, comfort in mortality, alternatives to the things we can’t know or control. But there’s also something absurd to the idea that that meaning could come through tales of a headless guy showing up while you brush your teeth. What’s more powerful is that those two sides of the supernatural coexist: ghosts are absurd because we find them profound, and they’re profound because their absurdity shows how human our imaginations are. To Courtney EdgeMattos, ghosts capture that subtle complexity, offering a personal connection to the unanswerable questions. “Storytelling is our oldest form of history,” she says. “The more people can attach to the stories, attach for the ghosts, they can find an appreciation for it and be enchanted for a night. That’s what we hope to do.” REBECCA LEVINSON B’12 is alternatively known as the Ke$ha of the 19th Century.
it a place in the tour. “We spent about nine months really just doing research, nothing else,” Courtney recounts before starting a tour at Prospect Park, her blood-splattered lantern leaning at her side. She speaks very quietly about the Ghost Tour’s early beginnings. “Our initial research was really based on the history. We wanted to really follow a timeline,” she explains. With that, they focused on local ancestry, keeping an eye out for unusual deaths that didn’t add up, looking at police records, as well as birth and death records, at the Providence Public Library. Eventually they compiled a “death database,” a huge Excel document charting names, dates, locations, and causes of death of ghostly candidates that they still use today. They hoped that, with this information organized, they could get further leads on ghosts. According to Edge-Mattos, “Our theory was that if we could find someone who died suddenly, those locations would be more likely to be haunted, because people who died very quickly tend to haunt more than
27 OCTOBER 2011
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
MAKING IT, STILL FAKING IT
One woman’s acceptance of Impostor Syndrome
by Beatrice Petit Bon Illustration by Cecilia Salama
(I expect not just an A, but at least a 99%). Kay Deaux, a professor of psychology and women studies at the CUNY Graduate Center sheds light on another possible source of Impostor Syndrome: le deuxième sexe. She claims that the treatment of women by a patriarchal society has allowed for the development of “sex-role stereotypes”. In the results of an anagram test, “men were more likely to claim ability as a cause of their success than were women,” she says of research on the Syndrome. The women, unlike men, could not equate either luck or effort with inherent ability as the “woman who succeeded was more likely than the man to attribute her success to luck.” AN IMPOSTOR IN PROVIDENCE I share my high school alma mater with Rachel Johnson of Financial Times, along with her feelings of self-doubt. Like the women in Deaux’s study, I attribute my success to pure chance. Despite her expectations, she had successfully gotten into Oxford, and has felt guilty about it ever since, while my guilt stems from getting into Brown as a transfer in the spring of 2010. I didn’t have Ivy League SAT scores nor the best grades in high school, but somehow Brown admissions let those slide. I consulted my friends who had also gone to colleges like Harvard, Yale and Cambridge; they too believed their successes were lucky strikes. A few studies into my frantic research, I came to the realization that I had been feeling such inner anxiety all along, and that I wasn’t the only one. A 2004 study by psychologists Castro, Jones, and Mirsalimi tested 213 graduate students from a private, southern university, of which 85% were female and 15% were male aging from twenty to fiftynine years old. At the end of their study, they concluded that as many as 80% of these graduate students displayed “moderate levels of impostor feelings.” I was convinced that these were the signs of a pandemic. As I continued my research, I started seeing impostor syndrome everywhere. Dr. Margaret Chan, the former director general of the World Health Organization, prevented H5N1 from becoming a global disaster in 1997 by managing Hong Kong’s SARS investigation, and yet continues to attribute her achievements to external factors. When a New York Times reporter asked her in 2007 how she had become one of the highly regarded public health officials, she responded by saying it was due to “being in the right place at the right time.” These women, when asked to explain their success, denied it every time. Michelle Pfeiffer, an Academy Award nominated actress, has expressed exactly those feelings of fraudulence. In a 2002 interview, she revealed her difficulty in overcoming her irrational fear of abilities, saying that, “I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented, I’m really not that good. It’s all been a big sham.” SELF-DIAGNOSIS, SELF-HELP However this could all be part of the new and more cynical theory brought to the fore by Benedict Carey in the New York Times in 2008. He argued that most impostors are “phony phonies.” Many self-diagnosed ‘impostors’ vocalize the belief that they are a fraud as a means of lowering others’ expectations, thus “getting credit for being humble.” Carey judged most expressions of impostor syndrome not as a bold confrontation with a self-destructive mental problem but a dishonest social strategy to win over an audience. I knew I wasn’t exploiting my feelings of impostorism for social gain. These were genuine, which only hastened my sense of urgency in finding a cure. Where to turn, but to the notorious self-help aisle. I hoped that one of these self-help books would actually say something along the lines of, “feeling like an impostor is all in your head, take a break from paralyzing self-consciousness and get outside of yourself” or, “Take a step back and realize that everyone has also felt some sort of self-criticism, social anxiety, depressive tendency and over-achievement.” Instead, John Graden’s book The Imposter Syndrome: How to Replace Self-Doubt with Self-Confidence and Train your Brain for Success stared out at me through the eyes of a plastic-looking woman holding a Venetian mask. She was clearly a fellow sufferer. “See the world in varying shades of gray,” Graden’s words crooned. I sure didn’t want my “lingering self-doubt [to] cast a gray cloud on [my] clear blue future,” but despite the book’s encouragement and 21 points to address my self-confidence, the forecast still looked partly cloudy. So I traded in self-help for the selfdeprecation of Tina Fey. In a 2010 interview with the British newspaper, The Independent, Fey shared her wisdom on the condition: “Ah, the impostor syndrome!? The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania, and a complete feeling of 'I'm a fraud!... Seriously, I've just realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.” BEATRICE PETIT BON B’12 is the real thing.
es, I read the Financial Times. But, ashamedly, only for Vanessa Friedman’s articles on fashion. However, one time I came across another article in the Life & Arts section written by a girl who went to my high school. The article was entitled “The Impostor Syndrome.” Instantly, I knew I had it. Impostor syndrome is the internal belief that one’s own achievements are false illusions. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, two clinical psychologists, first described the syndrome back in 1978. They posited that the syndrome could be defined as the feeling that one is not smart and that one has “fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.” Even though the women participating in their studies had plenty of objective evidence from their professional careers that pointed toward success, they continued to believe that they were frauds, attributing their success to an overestimation of their intelligence by others. By 1991, researchers were able to explain the evolution of this syndrome. Kolligian and Sternberg, two Yale psychology professors, identified that those who suffered from impostor syndrome were also those who displayed the inherent personality traits of social anxiety (I worried people would think I was pseudoposh because of my British accent), depressive tendencies (I do prefer to drink red wine alone), self-monitoring skills (I tend to measure myself against the twelve year-old I babysit) and over-achievement
This week on Mega Porn: learn to solve a Ken-Ken, the only number puzzle worthy of the New York Times. To play: ¬Each row and column contains each digit only once (for the first two puzzles, the digits 1-4; for the third, 1-5). Inside the top left corner of each boxed-in group of numbers, there is one number and one operation. The operation tells you what the digits that belong in those boxes will do, and the number tells you what they’ll equal. For example, the middle top of the first puzzle reads “6x.” This indicates that the two digits within the boxes will multiply to equal 6; we know the only ones that fit the bill are 2 and 3. Now you know that the only options for the top corners are 1 and 4. Keep building…
K B bbyy K aatti iee B aarrnnwweellll
15 S C I E N C E
27 OCTOBER 2011
by Adela Wu Illustration by Becca Levinson
here’s no need for state-of-theart research facilities that cost upwards of a half billion dollars when an innovative scientist can set up a personal lab in the living room, the kitchen or on the porch. This is exactly what Dr. Hugh Rienhoff, a graduate of Johns Hopkins Medical School and a founder of two biotechnology companies, is doing. The walls of his library, bedroom, and attic are lined with shelves of research journals and printouts of genomic codes. Even the basement is transformed into a fully functional research space with vials, flasks, and other laboratory paraphernalia. Several years ago, he left his clinical practice, and he now focuses on collecting and testing multitudes of DNA samples at home. It has become his personal mission to discover the mysterious basis of his seven-year-old daughter Beatrice’s crippling congenital disorder. Beatrice is an adorable, blonde-headed girl who loves to wear brightly-patterned clothes. The youngest of the Rienhoffs’ three children, she hobbles around the living room, leaning on her metal braces to help her walk and to support her fragile ankles. In the weeks following Beatrice’s birth, Hugh Rienhoff, to his alarm, could already see that his infant daughter was not following a normal progression of joint or bone growth. Beatrice stayed underweight and strained to keep her head upright when she sat. At first, physicians suggested Marfan’s or Beal’s syndromes as explanations for Beatrice’s twisted joints and warped bones. Marfan’s and Beal’s are both classically dominant genetic disorders that require only one dose of the pathological allele to affect an individual. These syndromes are commonly characterized by elongated limbs and abnormal facial features, but Beatrice has distinct symptoms. She does not exhibit the blood vessel defects that fit the complete profile for these diseases. As the family shuttled Beatrice from doctor to doctor only to receive a series of inconclusive diagnoses, Rienhoff quickly became a frustrated father and began to delve deeper. After consulting with physicians who suggested conditions even rarer than Marfan’s syndrome—such as mitochondrial disorders and LoeysDietz syndrome, which affects structural proteins in the body and could be identified by a forked uvula in the back of the mouth— he suspected that Beatrice’s ailment was related to her inability to build new muscle. With this hypothesis in mind, he began to scour dozens of research journals and to take genetic samples from himself, his wife, and his daughter. Drawing his own blood and running the tissue sample through his lab’s machines, Rienhoff analyzed his genome through comparisons to human genetic references on Genbank for possible aberrations to explain Beatrice’s illness. Information and data from Rienhoff’s studies can be found on the website mydaughtersdna.org, where he also maintains a global forum on genetic conditions and the ensuing efforts scientists have made to crack the code and uncover explanations within the human genome. On the website, anyone can post queries about, and even share personal experiences, with rare congenital syndromes. Rienhoff uses his site to connect patientsand parent advocates like him around the world and to promote understanding and support. HACK Hugh Reinhoff isn’t the only one conducting novel research outside a sterile, steel-lined lab. Ever since the days of Gregor Mendel and his pea plants, scientific knowledge has advanced in
large part from work done by “DIYbiologists”—experts and amateurs independently exploring and expanding the frontiers of research. Lately, the so-called “biohacking” movement—described as such to distinguish it from institutionallysupported bioengineering research—has grown quickly across the globe. Biohackers are able to find and purchase a variety of equipment and parts available on Amazon and eBay and to construct functional research tools—such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines for gene amplification—for as little as 100 dollars from their homes. In fact, Kay Aull, who graduated with a biological engineering degree from MIT, converted an empty closet in her apartment into her personal E. coli laboratory for approximately 500 dollars. While a manufactured PCR machine costs at least 2,000 to 8,000 dollars for one unit,“biohackers” can furnish a complete lab space for merely a fraction of that price. Through online communities, budding “biohackers” can also easily find peer support for their ideas and connect with others in their fields. For students, there is also iGEM, the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition. iGEM first started at MIT in 2003, expanding since then to 165 teams in 2011, including teams from Brown University as far away as Slovenia. Each year, teams around the world compete in the field of synthetic biology, creating an array of biological machines for different purposes using “biobricks”—specialized genetic sequences supplied by MIT scientists. Using a provided kit of biological materials like promoters and plasmids, participants devise their own experiments and mechanisms for completing a team goal. Take, for instance, some previous winners of iGEM who created a vaccine against common H. Pylori infections and ulcers that can conveniently be mass-produced by genetically modified E. coli bacteria. The “biohacking” movement has the potential to produce remarkable solutions and discoveries in areas as varied as immunology, alternative energy, and pathology. Through low costs and open accessibility to equipment and materials, even scientists and students without institutional funding and state-of-the-art facilities can contribute to scientific progress. Biological research has been “democratized … [into] an enterprise accessible to anyone who wants hands-on scientific experience”, according to Ellen Jorgensen, founder of a community-based laboratory called Genspace in New York, in an interview with Discover Magazine. Jorgensen and the 11 other members of Genspace are currently pursuing a wide variety of projects, such as creating biofuel from algae and conducting science outreach at local elementary schools. In the future, “DIY-biologists” around the world might discover on a new method to detect contaminants in drinking water or the next remedy for a widespread disease. Hugh Rienhoff is just hoping for a resolution to the unanswered questions about his daughter’s affliction. Recently, the Rienhoffs decided to put her on a drug trial for treating high blood pressure to prevent Beatrice from developing vascular disease later in life. Shealso now has slight improvement in muscle mass, able to walk up a few steps without assistance. Rienhoff keeps a watchful eye on Beatrice’s progress. In his home laboratory, he continues to comb through the latest research and genetic databases for that one gene and that one mutation to finally explain everything. ADELA WU B’13 wants to be a closet scientist.
WHEN SCIENCE IS BROUGHT FROM THE LAB BENCH TO THE LIVING ROOM
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
THE NBA IS BLEEDING
ADAM SMITH AND THE ECONOMICS OF PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL
by David Adler Illustration by Alex Corrigan
n The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith professed the importance of “public diversions.” These diversions, he argued, are central to the health of a capitalist state: by amusing the public through “gaiety and good humour,” spectacles of sport can help divert the attention of the masses away from the ills of capitalism and direct their attention toward camaraderie and enjoyment. As a result, the public dismisses the curmudgeonly spirit of revolution, and the state remains safe. In Rome, there were gladiators; in the United States, there is the National Basketball Association. For over three months, the owners of the NBA and the union officials of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) have butted heads in a labor dispute that threatens to cancel the NBA season. Players want more money; owners want more money. Rich teams want to stay rich; poor teams want to a chance to compete against their rich neighbors. Today, the players union and the NBA owners remain locked in a stalemate. Delayed negotiations have forced Commissioner David Stern to cancel the first two weeks of the season—the first time the NBA has lost games in more than 10 years. In a press conference earlier this month, Stern pointed out that the success of the negotiations would determine “whether they have a season or not, and that’s what’s at risk.” Since then, the NBA has assigned George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, to help end the dispute. Cohen is a veteran when it comes to large-scale negotiations—he is largely responsible for the end of the NFL lockout earlier this year—yet even he has not managed to push the NBA closer to resolution. Over the course of the dispute, the NBA has inadvertently provided a rare window into the inner workings of its capitalist structure. For the most part, fans and analysts turn a blind eye to the money that floats around in professional basketball. But every once in a while, the very mechanism that capitalism employs to “divert” its masses falls victim to the capitalist system itself, and the dark underbelly of professional sports is made visible. MO MONEY, MO PROBLEMS Between the larger-than-life stadiums, the over-the-top commercials, the corporate endorsements, and the $10 nachos, it is obvious that professional basketball is not a poor man’s game. Teams profit from lucrative TV contracts, expensive tickets, and a whole host of merchandise—last year alone the league collected over $4 billion in revenue. Yet even this amount of money is not enough to keep the league afloat:
the NBA reports that 22 of its 30 teams are in the red. Altogether, the NBA had a net loss of $340 million in the 2010 season, a figure harped on by owners. With these astounding losses, it is clear why conflict might arise. The current labor dispute is twopronged—Players vs. Owners, and Teams vs. Teams within the ownership circle. The first is a matter of dividing income. Players currently receive around 57 percent of the team’s revenue; owners receive 43. In order to correct the balance, owners have put forward a 50/50 proposition. The players have haggled, submitting a 53-47 split as their compromise without surrender. But the owners, unsatisfied, have merely upped the ante, increasing their demands to a 47-53 split in their favor. Concessions of two or three percent may seem minor, but a five percent drop by the players would put over $200 million back in the pockets of the owners, making up for most of the losses of the past season. The other major conflict between owners and players centers on the possibility of strengthening the salary cap from the current “soft” cap—which enables teams to spend over the cap under certain circumstances—to a “hard” cap, which does not. A salary cap is exactly what it sounds like: with a cap, teams cannot pay their roster more than a certain amount, which is decided upon by the league administration. Such a policy, owners argue, would help shift the balance of capital back to the organization, preventing teams from paying players beyond the means of the organization. For fans and analysts outside of the player-owner division, it’s unclear where sympathies should reside. On one hand, the hardline stance of the NBPA sends a progressive message that reverberates far beyond professional sports. As unions all over the country fight to maintain influence in the workplace, the NBPA has the opportunity to show solidarity with all American workers struggling in the postRecession economy, themselves shuttered from employment. Moreover, many would argue that basketball players who compose the NBPA are merely trying to make a living. Unlike most workers with careers that can last many decades, an NBA player sacrifices most of his working life for only an average of 4.7 years in the league. And when he finishes his career, he cannot fall back on professional training because many basketball players never finish college. Considering the fast-paced and short-term nature of an NBA career, the NBPA’s lack of compromise seems justified. On the other hand, owners have to account for much more than their own sala-
ries. They are responsible for the financial well being of the franchise staff and management—who all suffer from losses to the team—in addition to the hundreds of workers that maintain the stadium, from vendors to ushers to janitors. And the losses of these teams are very real: whereas players are still making an average of $5.5 million with a median of around $2 million, the bleeding economy of the NBA poses a far more immediate threat to the livelihood of many workers involved with the organization. If fighting the salary cap means the purchase of another MercedesBenz for LeBron James, the owners may have it right. Most importantly, for teams with smaller markets—Oklahoma City, Toronto, Minnesota, for example—the salary cap would not only provide monetary reprieve, but also a step toward a more balanced distribution of talent. This is the second prong of the conflict: wealthier teams can outbid the others and accumulate the best players. This is a problem that pervades most major league sports— certainly the Yankees have been hearing about the unfairness of their big wallet for decades. Yet among them, the NBA is perhaps most egregious: since 1984, only eight teams out of the league’s thirty have won the championship—Tim Duncan’s San Antonio with four, Michael Jordan’s Bulls with six, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers with a total of eight. This is why the NBA is often described in terms of dynasties. Good teams can accumulate star power and dominate the league for very long stretches of time. Today, dynasty building is more evident than ever, with Lebron James’s noisy decision to join two other superstars in Miami, and the Knicks’ acquisition of both Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. We are in the era of the “Superfriends”—stars teaming up to generate a dynasty. However, this system, many owners argue, is only able to survive because of the vast economic disparities between teams. The amount of money the Miami Heat pays its three super stars alone—upwards of $47 million—is almost the exact amount of money that the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise pays its entire roster. Thus, the salary cap that players argue has been a source of oppression is quite the reverse; it is a means through which players themselves have come to oppress teams starving for a championship. In a more fairly distributed system, the NBA would arguably become a much more exciting league for fans—with every team having a chance—and the ensuing increase in fandom might very well result in the increase in revenue that the NBA seeks. THE REIGN IS OVER
Every month the lockout continues, the league loses around $350 million. Every day that the lockout continues, more and more players leave the league to join teams overseas, where they can make money during the 2011-2012 season. Tony Parker, J. R. Smith, Deron Williams, and over 60 others—from rookies to all-stars, the NBA lockout is pushing its talent to places like China, Turkey, and other European countries. Even if negotiations finish in time for an NBA season to take place at all—which remains a major “if”— it is hard to imagine that the league will ever be the same. Beyond the players who have actually left their teams, there are hundreds more who have expressed interest in leaving the league as a result of the lockout. And after years of living underneath the NBA, Euroleagues now yield lucrative contracts and field competition barely below the US, standing by to steal away our talent. The international basketball community will continue to bombard NBA players with overseas offers throughout lockout, and siphon our homegrown labor supply. That is just basic Adam Smith economics: when a domestic market has a shortage of labor demand, the international market will be willing to import that talent, at a going wage for hungry ball players. Thus, it appears that fans have more to worry about than a one-year hiatus. It is very possible that the current labor dispute—and the entirely unsustainable economic system that caused it—has finally burst open the floodgates. DAVID ADLER B’14 is locked out.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
by Julieta Cárdenas There is absolutely nothing in the world. There is nothing in the world. There is the world. The world. It is sometimes to the benefit of a sentence to leave out all adjectives, verbs -- or really any general attachments to the subject itself-- for these ornaments, gilded and heavy, may not only distract from the subject but like a small man with a large hat creates an imbalance; confusing the brain and forcing it to operate through winding turns, each turn more distracting than the next, after a while you forget to let the subject tell you what it is because the verbs, adverbs and adjectives have been speaking for it. While travelling on twisty roads it is easy to forget that you are trying to listen to the thing, the subject, and all that has made it possible for it to exist in the first place. Tiny Tony Emeritus Professor in the department of BigThings fell down the steps of his two story walk up one rainy September. The obituary blamed his loss of balance on a surprising sneeze the man had while wearing a ten gallon hat he had just bought from his pal Stetson, and included in a follow-up article a formal apology from the manufacturer and a promise to pad the inside of his model-1 thinking caps from then on. But what was left unmentioned was the coronor’s description of Tony’s really big head. (It is suspected that his pituitary glands were in some mysterious way redirected to his hippocampus creating a pushing force from the inside of his skull outwards.) His was a heady fall. His death was taken as a martyrdom by the academic community; for they believed it to be the case that only the good die young(ish). Tiny T.’s university needed no encouragment to ensure that the man’s legacy outlived him. They published his diaries five years later from a local press with funding raised by his collegues. It soon became a thinking man’s game to parse from the anecdotes in the volume just what exactly Tony’s last thought must have been. To fall down a flight of steps gives you about three and a half seconds for thinking. Two of which are spent in shock, blank and dumb and one right at the end which brings you to what we can only assume is the entryway into the sublime.