This is the XFL
By George Clessuras '22
Every NFL Sunday, millions of Americans across all generations congregate around their living room televisions to enjoy the unique tradition that we call football. For many avid, passionate fans, football is synonymous with religion, and Sunday afternoon at one o’clock is regarded as sacred time. Football has become ingrained and firmly rooted in American culture, yet year after year we find ourselves spending six long months after the Superbowl anxiously waiting for the new season to finally kick off. A handful of enterprising investors have poured millions of dollars into establishing new leagues to extend this American tradition into the spring, and every year or so another ambitious businessman seems convinced that a new association could challenge the dominance of the behemoth of American professional sports that is the National Football League. The results of these experiments have been dismal. From the United States Football League (USFL) in the mid eighties, to the defunct XFL in 2001, to most recently the American Football Alliance’s (AAF) premature and abrupt ending of a brief eight-week season, no alternative football league has managed to develop a sustainable fanbase, generate adequate revenue, or even come close to contending with the NFL. The long list of failures has given reason for sports fans to wonder if it is even possible for any alternative football association to grasp a stronghold among the most popular American sports leagues and achieve long-term success.
The recent revival of the XFL has caused some sports fans to roll their eyes and prematurely write it off as another expensive, failed start-up, yet the ratings from the first couple of weeks of the season seem to be encouraging indicators for Vince McMahon (the founder of the league as well as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment) and his business partners. An average audience of 3.318 million viewers across four games tuned in to watch the inaugural week of the new XFL. Although viewership took an expected drop in week two, the league still managed to achieve respectable numbers with each game attracting an average television audience of 2.057 million.
Can this young, fledgling league sustain this relative success? In order to assess its ability to maintain decent ratings and ultimately its potential for growth, we must first explore what distinguishes McMahon’s new XFL from its doomed, alternative-league predecessors. For starters, the XFL has a key ingredient that is vital to the survival of any start-up football league looking to achieve stability and longevity: money. At seventy-four years old, McMahon made perhaps the riskiest gamble of his career by committing a hefty $500 million investment into XFL 2.0 and selling roughly $270 million worth of stock in the WWE to support this bold endeavor. The rapid demise of last spring’s AAF was, in large part, due to a failure of investors to exercise financial patience. The upfront costs for such a league are massive, and investors have to be willing to kiss hundreds of millions of dollars goodbye over a number of years before ever seeing any return. Considering McMahon’s strategy to allow XFL games to initially be televised for free by FOX and ESPN/ABC, the league has partnered with two major media companies that give the XFL a national platform at the expense of losing preliminary revenue. Nonetheless, McMahon’s investment ensures that XFL 2.0 will be supported by a financially stable foundation for the foreseeable future, the key question that is yet to be answered is, how much patience is he willing to have? Prior to the XFL’s kickoff, Oliver Luck, the commissioner appointed by McMahon, referenced the financial fortitude required for this tremendous gamble, saying in part, “I’m not sure he has unlimited patience. Nobody does. He probably realizes you can’t snap your fingers overnight and have a brand. But I certainly think we need to have a sense of urgency....”
Luck is another reason why many are optimistic about the future of the league. As a former NFL quarterback, general manager and president of the MLS cup–winning Houston Dynamo in 2006 and 2007, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at West Virginia University, Executive with the NCAA, and father of recent NFL superstar Andrew Luck, Luck certainly has a diverse resumé and a keen understanding of both the financial and strategic aspects of sports operations. The eight head coaches hired by Luck all have impressive resumes of their own and have held coaching positions at the NFL or collegiate level. Former Redskins head coach Jim Zorn was hired as the head coach and general manager of the Seattle Dragons, who fell to the DC Defenders, coached by longtime NFL assistant and former Michigan quarterback coach Pep Hamilton, in week 1. Bob Stoops, the head coach of the Dallas Renegades, is often credited for building Oklahoma into the college football powerhouse it is today and the New York Renegade’s Kevin Gilbride won two super bowl rings as offensive coordinator of the New York Giants.
Despite appointing a competent commissioner and landing multiple experienced, big-name coaches, many have qualms about the on-field product and doubt that the personnel on the gridiron, specifically at the quarterback position, is proficient enough to attract viewers on a weekly basis. Some of these reservations stem from the substandard quarterback play during the eight weeks of AAF football last spring. DC’s home team, the Defenders, have been proven immune to these woes under center in the first two weeks of the season. Cardale Jones, the third string quarterback who led Ohio State to a National Championship in 2014, is leading the XFL with 511 passing yards, guided his team to a 2-0 start, and has looked sharp throughout. The same can not be said for the majority of the other starting quarterbacks. The Seattle Dragons, the New York Guardians, and the Tampa Bay vipers all have recorded a dismal 48% completion percentage. When asked what the offense needed to change after a scoreless first half, Guardian’s quarterback Matt McGloin replied, “we need to change the whole entire gameplan,” and later on the sidelines declared the match, “the worst game I’ve ever been a part of.” McGloin was benched in the fourth quarter after throwing for only 44 yards as well as two interceptions in a 27-0, shutout loss to the Defenders. It has been made clear in just two weeks that a large gap separates the league’s top quarterbacks, such as Jones and Houston’s P.J. Walker, from the rest of the eight-team league.
McGloin’s televised temper-tantrum highlights another feature the XFL has introduced in an effort to create an immersive and engaging viewing experience. With instant sideline interviews after an interception or a missed kick, the XFL has overstepped the caution tape of player privacy and entered the zone that the NFL deems off-limits. The player’s high level of adrenaline makes for some enthusiastic responses sometimes even unsuitable for live television. While many have found the interviews entertaining, others argue that the XFL has gone over-the-top with the extensive mic’d up access granted to viewers, claiming it is invasive and a distraction. Certainly in the case of McGloin, it has already had damaging effects on team chemistry.
While the XFL has certainly made some positive changes, McMahon is tasked with convincing football fans that he has learned from its failures in 2001 and has streamlined his product into a one that is focused purely on good football. The 2001 XFL was criticized for attempting to mesh football and the WWE. The resulting product could be described as “gimmicky,” and fans expecting big-time plays and hard hits were disappointed by the poor quality of football on display. Instead of sewing nicknames such as “He Hate Me” on the back of jerseys, Luck claims the XFL is returning with a renewed commitment to developing the league “the right way with 100% focus on football.” If McMahon and Luck can maintain this focus, continue to be patient with the league’s financial growth, and make swift adjustments to their viewership experience whenever need be, the XFL should have a fighting shot at asserting itself as a viable option for those suffering from post-Super Bowl withdrawal. Whether the XFL will be able to succeed where no other springtime football league has remains to be seen, but for now, Roll Defenders.
To Hell with Donald Trump
By Will Holland '20
The coronavirus crisis has proved that it is time for a real president.
It’s all fun and games until a global pandemic hits. In the past month, President Trump’s usual antics of bashing the media, taunting political opponents, and making false promises have endangered the social and public health of the nation at a time when competent leadership is needed more than ever. His trivial arguments with Democratic governors and torrent of daily falsehoods have revealed the president to be uniquely unprepared for a crisis of this magnitude and have reminded all Americans of his inherent inability to provide responsible leadership.
Because of President Trump’s childish behavior and refusal to combat the virus in its early stages, the United States is currently looking at months of mitigation measures before life returns to normal. Ironically, it was Donald Trump who confidently declared in mid-March that “nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion.” While that may have been true for him, to many members of the scientific community and his own administration, the danger posed by COVID-19 had been obvious for many months.
The Washington Post has reported that multiple intelligence officials had warned the president of the virus as early as mid-January. One official who spoke anonymously to the Post said that “Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were — they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it.” Remarkably, as President Trump was dismissing concerns of the intelligence community, he was praising China’s handling of the virus (a handling that was marked by ignorance, lies, and coverups).
The Trump Administration did make one logical decision during this process. In early February, it imposed severe restrictions on travel to and from China. However, the president soon squandered the extra time provided by this move. For most of the month of February, as the disease spread rapidly in Italy and South Korea, the president did absolutely nothing to prepare the United States for the coming health emergency and subsequent economic downturn. What could have been a period of procuring medical equipment, mandating social distancing, and readying economic stimulus was instead spent by the president reveling in the stock market’s gains, attacking socialism, and calling coronavirus the Democrats’ “new hoax.”
All the while, administration officials made a series of statements that demonstrated their own naïve approach to the issue. Larry Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council, said in February that the United States had “contained” the virus, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said that coronavirus would actually accelerate job growth within the United States (in the third week of April, the number of cases was increasing at an exponential rate and over twenty million workers had filed for unemployment benefits).
When it did come time to at last take decisive action, President Trump gave an Oval Office speech on March 11 to announce his administration’s efforts to halt the disease’s spread. However, the speech only added to the confusion as the president made a series of statements that his advisors soon had to walk back. He said that the United States would ban all goods coming from Europe. That was false. He said that all travelers coming from Europe would be prohibited from entering the country. That was false. He said that health care providers would waive fees for those infected with COVID-19. That was false.
Since that speech, President Trump has continued to over-promise and under-deliver. On March 6, the president said that “anyone who wants a test can get a test,” a claim that was not true then and is not true now. Even though most experts say that extensive testing is required before the country can reopen, the Trump Administration has visibly fumbled its attempt to boost the amount of tests available. For example, the White House pledged to conduct four million COVID-19 tests by March 9, but only cleared that number in late April.
On April 16, the Trump Administration outlined a series of steps to an eventual reopening of the country. Finally, the president seemed to be trying his hand at a unifying response to the pandemic. He allowed for governors to decide when to roll back social distancing guidelines and retreated from his previous assertion that the president’s “authority is total.” Yet, the very next day, after seeing coverage of anti-quarantine protests on Fox News, the president tweeted out to his more than 70 million followers that they should “LIBERATE” the states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia. These three states are alike in that they all have Democratic governors who have imposed harsh restrictions on civilian life in order to stop the spread of the virus. In language that sounded more like a call for insurrection than a logical plan to restart the American economy, the president undermined his own administration’s effort to project stability and potentially endangered law enforcement across the country.
Later that month, of course, President Trump wondered aloud if doctors could inject ultraviolet light or disinfectant, such as Clorox, into Americans’ bodies. This idea was so laughably absurd that it seemed as if the President were parroting a month-old story from the satirical news website The Onion, wherein President Trump suggested that people should drink bleach to fight off COVID-19. After receiving both criticism and ridicule from both sides of the aisle, President Trump backed off his claim and said that he was only being “sarcastic.” Apparently his sense of humor did not rub off on some of his supporters, many of whom called state health departments to ask if consuming disinfectant could indeed yield immunity to coronavirus.
While the president’s behavior is alarming, it cannot be surprising. In 2016, Americans elected to the presidency a failed casino magnate who claimed he knew “more about ISIS than the generals” and called the theory of climate change a “Chinese hoax.” That Donald Trump continues to ignore the advice of experts and eschew scientific findings is in keeping with a pattern of selfish behavior that is tailored for the tabloids of New York City, not the halls of the White House.
Despite the image that he seeks to cast as a strong and formidable leader, the past few months suggest that it would be imprudent to view Donald Trump as anything more than an aging real estate tycoon and former playboy who is entirely out of his league in the world of bureaucracy. He is not up to the task of taking the coronavirus crisis seriously, for he is by nature a very unserious person. One need only look at his record of playing down the threat posed by the virus, making unrealistic promises about his response, and taunting his political opponents as they work to lead the country out of this crisis to conclude that the president is shockingly immature, pointlessly vindictive, exceptionally cantankerous, grossly incompetent, gleefully ignorant, hopelessly narcissistic, and utterly unsuited for the job of Commander-in-Chief.
Fortunately for the American people, and for the cause of democracy, there will be a referendum on his job performance this coming November. President Trump enters his reelection fight the weakest incumbent in modern political history, trailing his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, by an average of six points. Donald Trump has beat the odds and defied conventional wisdom before, but never before has this country been immersed in a hellacious crisis reared on the shoulders of its president’s own ineptitude. For this reason, it can be hoped that the American people will render a clear verdict on Donald Trump’s presidency by removing him from the office he was never fit to hold.
The Everyday Deeds
By Ilyas Talwar '20
If you have some free time over the coming weeks I would recommend that you watch The Hobbit movies. They’re well-made, entertaining, feel-good movies. Some say that they don’t live up The Lord of the Rings films, but I think they’re enjoyable and fun to watch, which is really all that matters with movies. That being said, this article isn’t really about The Hobbit, but instead, it’s about a quote from the first movie. When asked why he chose a Hobbit, a small creature, for such a big adventure, Gandalf replies,
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.
I think this is a great quote. The world is full of unhappiness and evil deeds. We don’t have to look far to find stories of terrible atrocities, not to mention the many cruel acts that play out in everyday life that go unreported, remembered only by the victims and perpetrators. In fact, if you go to news sites or turn on the TV you’ll find headline after headline about a dozen different things that are going wrong. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the world was a terrible, depressing, and violent place where kindness and joy are in very short supply.
I think this is very far from the truth. In fact, I believe there is kindness and joy everywhere, you need only look more closely. The child who spends an afternoon playing with their dog is not newsworthy. Nor is the kind stranger who gives the homeless man some money for food. But you must still agree that they made the world a kinder and happier place. There are so many small acts of love that go unnoticed, yet, as Gandalf says, “they keep the darkness at bay.” It is easy to be angry at the world and view it as a terrible place full of nothing good and everything bad. And, there are many times when that anger is warranted. As I said before, the world is rife with injustice and cruelty. But it is also a place of love and kindness, and all we need to see that is to look a little closer at the “small everyday deeds of ordinary folk.”
Should Sports Stars Be Political? Yes.
By Sophie Andersen '21
It’s evident that today’s political climate is very polarized and divisive. In contrast, sports have long been regarded as a unifying force that can coalesce communities and countries behind a team or a particular athlete. Those who have chosen to transcend their roles as athletes and advocate for political issues they feel passionate about have garnered mass amounts of attention, both negative and positive. The outrage at these athletes has illuminated a controversial question: should sports stars be political?
In response to a question regarding Trump, Megan Rapinoe said on CNN: “Your message is excluding people. You’re excluding me, you’re excluding people that look like me, you’re excluding people of color, you’re excluding Americans that maybe support you.” Rapinoe had just emerged triumphant from the Women’s World Cup, a victory for America in the sphere of soccer. This direct critique sparked controversy among the President’s supporters, and Trump accused Rapinoe of disrespecting America, the White House, and the Flag. Despite rampant opprobrium, Rapinoe has held her ground and continued, unapologetically, to fight for social justice. Rapinoe also kneeled during the national anthem in 2016 before a soccer game, a calculated move inspired by Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, protested police brutality and the widespread injustice against minorities by taking a knee during the anthem, a song meant to evoke pride for one’s country. In an interview with NFL media, he said "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." However, after his protests became a prominent topic of discussion in the media, Kaepernick was not offered another contract, leading him to file a grievance against the league. He asserted that he shouldn’t have been punished for protesting peacefully.
These athletes are merely exercising their first amendment rights, but the subsequent media frenzy has illustrated how many people feel politics doesn’t belong on the field. This belief that the sports industry should stay about sports shows that supporters who don’t agree with an athlete’s political views might feel alienated or uncomfortable. However, politics have permeated almost every aspect of our daily lives. Those who can merely disregard the issues plaguing our country are the ones who are privileged enough to not be affected by the very discriminations Rapinoe and Kaepernick fight against.
News Briefing 5/12/20
By NM '20 & Will Holland '20
End-of-Year Accoutrements Go Virtual
STA Prize Day, along with Senior Chapel, Alumni Day, the Cum Laude Service, and Graduation (i.e the conferring of diplomas and recognition of satisfaction of graduation requirements) will be virtual, a recent note from Mr. Robinson confirmed. The cherished ceremonies join Signing Day as end-of-year accoutrements that have already migrated to cyberspace. However, Mr. Robinson is committed to offering an in-person Commencement—with full regalia and grandeur—as soon as the virus situation allows. In his recent note, Robinson announced a three-day period of celebration for seniors in early August (August 4–6) that will include “Dinner with the Seniors and the Headmaster,” a “Gathering for Seniors and Their Parents,” and, of course, Commencement. Robert Musslewhite, chair of the STA Governing Board, was announced as commencement speaker. The note also unveiled several new, virtualized rituals to come, including “The Passing of the Mantle,” Faculty Lunches (which began today, to great acclaim), a “Time Capsule,” and lasting memorials to the Class of 2020.
Questions Linger Amidst New Grading System, Exams
After taking input from students, both STA and NCS unveiled parallel grading systems for the Upper Schools that prevent students’ fourth quarter grades from falling below their third quarter averages and give seniors the option of opting into pass-fail grading. However, questions remain: Students have complained of unclear criteria and guidelines surrounding pass-fail and imprecise wording in the official rollout of each policy. One oft-repeated question is whether the Q3 benchmark applies to number or letter grades. Additionally, STA has yet to establish a firm policy on what sort of end-of-year examinations will be permissible, stating only that exams will not be “administered in the traditional manner,” eliciting widespread concern.
The Exchanged Celebrates the Founding of Rome
Three weeks ago, the staff and editors of The Exchanged celebrated the 2,772-year anniversary of Romulus’s foundation of the city of Rome on April 21, 753 BC. “Even today, Rome lives,” Editor-in-Chief NM ‘20 commented. “She lives in the hearts and minds of her disciples; she lives in the institutions and technologies she birthed; and she lives in the collective ethos of our Western society. Roma aeterna est.” For a comprehensive history of the eternal city, check out Musslewhite’s ongoing ten-part series, “A Brief Survey of the History of Rome.”
STA Seniors Excused from Last Week of Class; NCS Seniors Expected to Attend
In a note addressed to seniors, Dr. Labaree unveiled the following policy for STA seniors: “I am… writing to let you know that you will be excused from attending STA classes during the four days after Memorial Day on Monday, May 25. As you know, we added classes on those days after we decided to cancel traditional exams and partly to help compensate for ‘Respite Wednesdays’ in May. As many of you have noted, that week would have featured a special exam schedule, and few seniors would have been asked to take an exam given our allowances made for seniors and May exams.” He noted, however, that STA seniors enrolled in NCS classes are expected to attend those lectures during the final week, as NCS is not excusing their seniors in the same way.
Affinity Groups Unveiled at St. Albans
In a recent Zoom symposium, the Affinity Groups Task Force unveiled its plans to institute affinity groups—groups where membership is restricted to those who identify with a particular group—immediately. Though overall viewed as an important development, students largely criticized three particular aspects of the new program: the rollout, involving a lengthy school-wide meeting and several school-wide emails, which many supporters felt over-represented the change being implemented; the lack of transparency in the lead-up to the rollout; and the vagueness around which types of affinity groups would be allowed—requests for religious, political, and other affinity groups were dodged in a student panel discussion that followed the rollout. Additionally, LGBT students have expressed concern that the relevant affinity group, as currently constituted, seems to require students to be “out” to join.
Interest in Gap Years Spikes Amongst Close Seniors
As starting college on campus looks to be no guarantee, more seniors than usual at both NCS and St. Albans are considering a gap year to partake in service projects, travel to exotic destinations, or exploration of potential careers, The Exchanged has confirmed. Expect the Class of 2025 to include more Close faces than the current crop of juniors.
Performances Get the Green Light
The show must go on! So said the Theatre Department, which still plans to go ahead with its usual fourth quarter productions. In the coming weeks, both the One Act Play Festival and Dance Gala will be hosted in a virtual environment, providing faculty and students across the close with much needed entertainment.
Euro Challenge Team Advances to Competition Semifinals
After winning the regional round, the STA Euro Challenge Team—made up of Theo Baker ‘22, Evan Daneker ‘22, Theo Sotoodehnia ‘22, Henry Brown ‘23, Alexander von Kumberg ‘22, and Rishi Kanna ‘23, and advised by Nolan Musslewhite ‘20 and Mr. Keith Mills—has advanced to the semifinal round of the nationwide, EU-sponsored competition. Usually held in New York City, the round will be held virtually on May 18.
AP Exams Get off the Ground… Barely
The coronavirus was no match for the College Board, which has made numerous changes to its AP exams so that students can take them from home. The tests are open note, shorter, and available on any technological device. They are also optional, allowing students to “drop” an exam without incurring the usual financial penalty. However, there have been several reports of complications with submission in the first days of testing, which is certain to concern students and teachers alike. Furthermore, some colleges have said that they will not be granting credit for certain modified exams, and will instead require all students to take placement tests upon arrival at campus. That the new exams have been already plagued by technical difficulties and dismissed by many colleges has led to them garnering an even more lackluster reaction from students than in years past.
Government Club Goes Virtual as Raucous Email Chain Angers Heads
Government Club has gone virtual with debates featuring a mock presidential election, the political philosophy questions of abortion legislation, and party caucuses. One club email spawned a lengthy “reply all” email chain that featured jokes, memes, and references to Hume’s philosophical ideals, angered the party heads. “O tempora, o mores,” they might have exclaimed.
STA Offers Respite; NCS Holds Firm
St. Albans’ newly-instituted “Respite Wednesdays”—the day off each Wednesday—has proven popular among both students and faculty. NCS is yet to offer similar respite.
Dear Members of the Close Community,
These have been trying times. Our beloved enjoyments—church, friends, recreation, and more—have been swept away by the global firestorm that is COVID-19. Our liberties and civic institutions are under threat. Lives and livelihoods are at stake. Our classes are virtual, our sports are cancelled, and, for seniors, what was looked forward to as a uniquely celebratory time in our lives on the Close has migrated to cyberspace. At The Exchanged, we have felt these absences especially acutely. Yet, we present this Spring Edition to you out of hope, not heartbreak, celebrating our community’s joys and triumphs and not bemoaning its uprooting. We eagerly await the day when we can reconvene as a Close community. In the meantime, though, we hope you enjoy!
Four History Paper Topics for the Overzealous Sophomore
By Will Holland '20 & NM '20
It’s never too early to start on your junior year history paper! If you’re an overzealous sophomore who wants to use quarantine to get started on his paper early, this is the article for you. We at The Exchanged have helpfully compiled four, never-before-used history paper topics that are sure to delight and excite. Without further ado, here they are:
1. The Cause of the Civil War: A Definitive Answer
Finding a clear answer to what caused the Civil War has puzzled many of America’s leading minds, and also the current president of the United States (“Why was there a Civil War?” ~ Donald Trump). If you’re looking for a quick paper topic that will shock your history teacher with its nuance and originality, this one’s for you. Just make sure your thesis nails down a single cause—succeed where the best historians have failed! The research should be quick and the grade should be good.
2. Out-Lawed: How Lawyers Plan to Rule the World
Have you ever wondered why you have to sign a waiver to go on a field trip? Or why you have to “look for another spot” instead of parking on Garfield? Well, little did you know that the reason for your logistical headaches is part of a global conspiracy stretching back centuries. Since the dawn of civilization, lawyers have subverted empires and democracies alike, all in hopes of subjecting mankind to a dystopic future of bureaucratic processes and unnecessary regulations. This topic is daunting, no doubt. It is sure to bring down some very important people. However, the reward of uncovering this grandest of schemes makes it worth your while. Word on the street is that a first draft should go straight to the Headmaster’s office, although others say that Ms. Woods would like an initial read!
3. Biased, Bad, and Bossy: The Devolution of the Study of History
Sure to please your teacher, this topic deals with the implicit (or at times explicit) liberal bias in the history departments of American universities and preparatory schools. Examining the advent of the postmodernist movement and its effects on current day academia, this paper is likely to yield novel insight into the decline in quality of historical pedagogy in classrooms across the country, especially in northwest Washington, D.C. Worth looking into: Michel Foucault and “Wie ist Eigentlich Gewesen!” At the same time, examine how far history teaching has fallen: real-world examples from your US History classroom—primary sources!—are sure to especially delight your instructor.
4. The Wild Grasses of Rock Creek Park, 1891–93: A Comprehensive Survey
Picking up where many dedicated researchers have left off, this riveting paper topic gets at one of the most pressing questions facing 19th century poaceae studies: what caused the explosive growth of switchgrass seen in Rock Creek Park in 1892? While some, including the Harvard Center for Grass Analysis, contend that it was the extensive rainfall that year, new findings from the Stanford Institute of Lesser Botanical Studies cast doubt on this assertion with evidence that it was in fact a decrease in the level of nitrogen runoff that facilitated the unprecedented growth. With access to reams of newly released archival records, a daring St. Albans sophomore can now tackle this fiercely controversial subject head on and deliver a groundbreaking paper to his delighted U.S. History teacher. Your teacher will advise you to stick to a page limit, unless your paper is exceptional enough to merit the extra length. Well, this is sure to be one of those papers. Lively, nuanced, and of immediate concern to the global historical community, this topic is your chance to leave your mark.
Book Club #1
By Theo Baker '22
Hey guys, it’s your resident book nerd here to give some recommendations while we’re all stuck in quarantine! Since The Exchanged has begun moving toward a more regular schedule, a regular selection of books will follow that discuss a wide variety of topics and include fiction and non-fiction. This first round will be an experiment to gauge demand and hopefully spark some conversation. Without further ado, this week’s book theme will be the human mind.
Number 1: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This is one of my favorite books of all time, but be warned—if you are a human, you *will* cry. Paul Kalanithi, whose memoir this is, was a young Stanford neurosurgeon—the up-and-coming star of his generation, newly-married, and clearly brilliant beyond measure. Unfortunately, a shock diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer at the age of 37 left Paul and his wife reeling; feeling as though they never actually got to their real lives. This book was Paul’s answer. He spent night and day frantically writing about life, death, and our own humanity. The voice of a dying man shines through at the forefront of one of the most beautifully written works ever, and you hear desperation creeping into his voice the closer you get to the end (which was just barely completed before Kalanithi’s death). Please read this if you need to feel something or need to think about what matters more in life (beyond the all-consuming but ultimately meaningless high school work experience). I wish my description could do it justice, but there is nothing that can possibly capture the gripping, heart-wrenching tale laid out in the book.
Number 2: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
On a lighter note—this is one of the most famous works of neurology ever published. Oliver Sacks, a pioneer in the field, wrote prolifically for the New Yorker about the oddball patients he encountered in his work, and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is the collection of some of his most intriguing cases—drawn together with lighthearted yet constantly-enthralling writing and a general commentary on the strange inner machinations of our mind. Read this if you want to have some fun while also learning a surprising amount about how we all work (and why that results in some wacky outcomes).
Number 3: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
This is the most factually-oriented book I’ll recommend on this list, but it still manages to retain the page-turning aspects of the other two because it represents a new, totally novel way of understanding humans and how we act. Daniel Kahneman’s formative work, this book compiles all of the research he did to literally create the field of behavioral economics (and win a Nobel Prize) and gives incredible insight as to the weird hardwiring of our brains. Everything, from his division of the brain into the quick-working, intuitive System 1 and the longer-moving, more conscious System 2 to his evaluation of primers on the choices made by humans, represents a massive step forward in conventional thinking about the brain, and the things one can take away from this book will legitimately help to decipher the often-crazy world we live in.
A Brief Survey of the History of Rome (Part IV of X)
By NM '20
Welcome back to our journey through the annals of Rome. We concluded last with Rome’s fourth king, Ancus Marcius (known for his building), dead, and with him the reign of the Latin-Sabine kings. Before him ruled Tullus Hostilius (the warrior), Numa Pompilius (the pacifist and priest), and, of course, Romulus (the founder). Next came the Etruscans.
An Engineer, a Slave, a Tyrant: The Final Kings of Rome
During the reign of Ancus Marcius (640–616 BC), a talented man named Lucomo arrived from Etruria, a civilization to the north of Rome, with his wife, Tanaquil. Lucomo brought his peoples’ skill in engineering, stonework, and logistics; Tanaquil, their prowess in omen interpretation. According to tradition, this power couple was destined for greatness from the moment of their arrival at Rome: As they approached the city, an eagle swooped down, stole Lucomo’s hat, and quickly replaced it. Tanaquil, the “impartial” wife and observer, deemed this an omen of his future greatness.
Biased as it was, Tanaquil’s observation soon came to fruition. At Rome, Lucomo took the name “Lucius Tarquinius” (“Priscus,” meaning “Elder,” was later added—we shall soon see why), gained access to the city’s high society through favor and courtesy, and, eventually, became a friend of the aging Ancus. So close an associate of Ancus’ was he that the king named him guardian of his two sons, both mere youths. But this was a decision that would prove fatal for the line of poor Ancus.
With old Ancus on his deathbed in 616 BC, crafty Tarquin (or, more likely, the ambitious Tanaquil) sent the two sons on a lengthy hunting expedition. When Ancus died shortly thereafter, Tarquin leapt into action, making a case for his own election to the kingship before the Curiate Assembly (the thirty-tribe popular assembly presided over by the king), a case he bolstered with bribery. Needless to say, he succeeded: The two sons, away on their jolly hunt, were exiled, and Lucius Tarquinius Priscus—Tarquin the Elder—became Rome’s fifth king.
L. Tarquinius Priscus: The Engineer (r. 616–579 BC)
Scurrilous accession aside, Tarquin oversaw a period of necessary construction, military success, and effective reform in the Eternal City. Though often overtowered by the whirlwind of reforms wrought by Servius Tullius, his successor, Tarquinius Priscus’ successful and productive reign ought not be overlooked.
Many of his engineering projects became the defining monuments of Rome. He built the Circus Maximus (a chariot-racing arena) at the base of the Palatine hill; he laid the foundation for the Temple of Iuppiter Optimus Maximus (the High God of the Roman pantheon) on the Capitoline Hill, to be completed by his son; and he constructed a massive sewer, the cloaca maxima, to drain the swamp between the Palatine and Capitoline hills, which would later become the site of the famous Roman Forum. He also continued the construction of walled defenses around the entire city.
On the military front, Tarquin initiated a war against the neighboring Latins, seizing the town of Apiolae and a great deal of booty, instituting annual games as celebration. (He would go on to take and assimilate additional Latin cities in subsequent offensives.) He then weathered an Etruscan-supported Sabine assault with exceptional difficulty—fighting spilled into the streets of Rome, and the Sabines were only barely repelled. Following an initial surprise attack that inflicted heavy losses, the Sabines withdrew to prepare for another offensive. Livy recounts the dramatic second skirmish:
Hostilities with the Sabines were now resumed. The striking-power of Rome had been increased by the expansion of the cavalry [which Tarquin had completed during the Sabine respite], but in what followed it was a strategy that played the decisive part. A stack of dry timber which had been lying on the bank of the Anio was set alight and the blazing logs thrown into the water. A good wind kept them burning, and many were carried down by the stream and became lodged amongst the piles of the bridge, which they set on fire. This was alarming enough for the Sabines while they were fighting, but worse when their resistance broke; for the burning bridge prevented their retreat, and large numbers of them escaped the enemy only to perish in the river. Their equipment floated down the Tiber to Rome, where it was recognized for what it was and brought the news of victory almost before a messenger could get through. (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita tr. Aubrey de Sélincourt, I.37—an edition from the Heritage Club that I heartily recommend)
As terms of the parlay that followed, Rome received the Sabine town of Collatia, in which Tarquin placed his nephew Egerius as commander of the Roman garrison. Following the victory over the Sabines, Tarquin celebrated a triumph, or general’s victory parade, on September 13, 585 BC. However, this conflict poked the Etruscan bear, for they had supported the Sabine effort; twelve Etruscan cities banded together and seized a Roman outpost at Fidenae, a town to the north of the city. This seizure kicked off a bloody conflict that saw Tarquin lead the Romans against his native civilization. Rome was victorious, subjugating the truculent Etruscan cities and gaining great wealth.
Tarquin’s remarkable successes carried over into the social and political realms. To stave off the Sabines (see above), he expanded the number of cavalry centuries from three to six—thus doubling the size of the equites, or knight class. He increased the Senate by one hundred members—importantly, among whom was a man from the gens Octavii, the family of Rome’s first emperor 600 years later. He introduced many Etruscan military, political, and religious rites that later became hallmarks of Roman rule.
Tarquin went as he came, surrounded by divine phenomena and urged on by his ambitious wife. I leave it to Ragan to report the strange story:
A very unusual event occurred one night in the royal nursery. The woman watching the sleeping children (both royal and household children were there) screamed when the hair of one of the children, a slave-woman’s [Ocrisia’s] son, seemed to be on fire. This brought Queen Tanaquil who, when she saw that the fire was not harming the child, took this as a sign of destiny for the child. She convinced her husband that the child, Servius Tullius, was thus designated by the gods to succeed to the throne. Some years later, Tarquin’s earlier treachery against Ancus’ sons caught up with him. One day, as the king was giving audience to citizens, a foreigner asked to speak to the king in private, on a matter of great importance. The king agreed and, when alone, the man (hired by Ancus’ exiled sons) took an ax to the king’s head and escaped. Tanaquil, wanting to secure the succession for Servius, carefully managed the situation as the king lay dying. She would give out daily reports about this recovery—knowing full well he was dead—all the while securing the support she would need to gain the kingship for Servius. This done, the death of Tarquin was divulged, and Servius Tullius, formerly the son of a slave, became the sixth king of the Romans. (W.B. Ragan III, Survey of Roman History: The Kings)
And so Servius Tullius, once a slave boy, took power at Rome.
Servius Tullius: The Slave (r. 578–535 BC)
Servius was a king who knew his origins—his allegiances lay with the Plebs, the people, rather than with the aristocratic Patricians and noble families of the old order, to whom he seemed a mere “populist demagogue” (Ragan). Indeed, throughout the reigns of Servius and his successor, Tarquin the Proud, the Roman citizenry came into its own, earning participation in government and power in administration. Perhaps, though, the collapse of the old order brought the state down with it—the excesses and exiguities, triumphs and trivialities, virtues and vices of the Roman Kingdom crumbled under Tarquin the Proud. But all that is to come.
Servius’ great triumphs were social. In a reform known today as the Servian Constitution, he organized the Roman citizenry into five classes according to wealth, rather than to birth. The specific mechanism of this system—divided according to the armor each man could afford in wartime—relieved the poorest of their military duties. To accomplish this feat, he instituted the first census, or counting of Rome’s citizens and property. This division resulted in the Comitia Centuriata (the Centuriate Assembly), a body consisting of 193 “centuries” into which all Romans were sorted. However, while theoretically granting the Plebeians a voice in governance and law, the Comitia Centuriata did little to ease the Patrician [the moneyed elite] chokehold on Roman administration—180 of the 193 centuries consisted of the wealthiest estates, granting 5% of the Roman populace deciding power in all matters of state. (This unbalanced representation was accomplished by a crafty grouping of the classes: While the lowest estates had hundreds or even thousands of members, the highest ones had very few—think of a radical version of the electoral college.) Though seemingly unbalanced, this division aptly reflected the contribution each class made to the Roman military: The highest classes were expected to contribute vast funds and troops to the city’s military endeavors, while the lowest ones contributed nothing at all. A democracy? No. But an accurate reflection of the relative weight and import of military matters in ancient societies? Yes. Before we leer at this classist system with a modern eye, perhaps we ought to recall Burke: “A true natural aristocracy is not a separate interest in the state, or separable from it. It is an essential integrant part of any large body rightly constituted. It is formed out of a class of legitimate presumptions, which taken as generalities, must be admitted for actual truths.” Nonetheless, Servius’ reforms laid the political, legal, social, and ideological bases for the Roman Republic.
The Servian Wall and the Seven Hills
Class questions aside, the developments under Servius extended beyond his Constitution. Legend has it—though archaeologists, perhaps, don’t—that he constructed the Servian Wall, enclosing 608 acres and all Seven of the famous Hills of Rome (Servius had expanded the city onto the Quirinal, Viminal, and Equiline). For the pauper, he was a prince: He eliminated debt imprisonment and eased the tax burden on the lowest classes, albeit in exchange for a paucity of political representation (see above). Furthermore, he entrusted the precariat to its land, labor, and liberty, dividing public land and letting the poor farm and tend to themselves. He divided the people of Rome into four tribes and the country into 31. He founded a massively important shrine to Diana on the Aventine Hill, a shrine that became the administrative center of a critical alliance between Rome and the Latin League (an alliance of neighboring tribes and communities aligned against Roman expansion). For the first time, Servius energetically delineated the bounds of citizenship: His Constitutional ukase placed freedmen within his classes, thus enfranchising former slaves and bolstering the citizen base. Additionally, Servius established several religious festivals, most notably the Compitalia (celebrated in early January each year).
Before we recount the pitiable end of old Servius, let us recap Rome’s status at the end of his reign. Rome had expanded territorially, occupying all Seven of the famous Hills. Her citizenry was divided by wealth, not birth. The Servian Constitution had laid the basis for the Republic that was soon to come. Rome’s geopolitical situation was strong, with alliances secured with the Latin League and the Etruscans. Freedman and poor alike were newly protected and empowered.
Alas, Servius’ humble origins returned to haunt him. I once again defer to Ragan to recount the death of Servius and the ascendency of his successor, Tarquin the Proud:
Servius’ origin, however, continued to plague him as the Roman aristocracy felt demeaned, being ruled by a former slave. Thus, Servius Tullius married his two daughters, both named Tullia, to two sons (or grandsons) of the former King Tarquin [Tarquinius Priscus], Tarquin (called Superbus, “the proud, arrogant”) and the younger Arruns. That Servius knew the characters of his daughters and his sons-in-law is shown by his matching. Tullia the Younger, married to Arruns, was as ambitious and conniving as her true love, the man she most admired, Arruns’ younger brother; Tullia the Elder, a devoted, if simple, wife was utterly unlike her conniving, ambitious husband. [i.e The ambitious and conniving Tullia the Younger was married to the simple and devoted Arruns; the simple and devoted Tullia the Elder was married to the ambitious and conniving Tarquinius Superbus. Tullia the Elder pined for Tarquinius Superbus (and vice versa), and was bound to get her way, a marriage from Dante’s Hell; trouble stewed in each couple’s nuptial hours.] Livy puts it rather succinctly: “Two deaths soon followed,” and the surviving Tullia and Tarquin joined in marriage and conspiracy. Working long behind the scenes, when Tarquin decided it was time to act, he boldly went into the Forum to the Curia (Senate House), sat on the royal throne, and proclaimed himself king before the shocked populace. Tullia shamelessly appeared in public and, from her carriage, heralded her husband’s usurpation. Hearing the clamor, old Servius came into the Forum (the Regia, or royal palace, was nearby) and attempted to resist Tarquin. The younger man hurled his father-in-law down the steps and, as he was led home, wounded, sent assassins to finish him off! Livy adds a gruesome touch: As she was coming home in her carriage, Tullia saw the body of her father deserted in the street. She ordered her driver to drive over the body, splattering the carriage with blood, and taking the curse home. The street where this happened was called thereafter Via Scelerata, Street of Crime. (W.B. Ragan III, Survey of Roman History: The Kings)
Scandal, shock, scurrility—these were the accoutrements of Tarquinius Superbus’ accession. Where Tarquinius Priscus had pomp and pageantry, Superbus had profligacy and perfidy; where old Numa had decorum and decency, Superbus had depravity and debasedness; and where Romulus had valor and vigor, Superbus had vanity and villainy. The blood splattered on the wheels of Tullia’s cabriolet betokened more than the death of a helpless elder; it presaged the end of a mighty chapter in Rome’s history. The tale of Tarquin the Proud is one of crime for all ages.
Tarquinius Superbus: The Tyrant (r. 535–509 BC)
And so we come to Tarquin the Proud, as all histories of the Roman Kingdom must. His cognomen, “Superbus,” (translated as “proud” or “arrogant”) tells all. Ragan aptly characterizes his rule: “That bloody and inauspicious act was only the beginning to what became a despot’s reign of terror. As is the case with all tyrants, no class or individual was spared from Tarquin’s jealousy or cruelty.” It is little surprise that Tarquinius Superbus was the last of the “Great House of Tarquin”—the triad of rulers defined by cupido regni, or “kingdom of lust.” Indeed, so wretched was the rule of Tarquin that he made the title of rex, or king, forever hateful to the Romans, inscribing his name with blood on the tapestry of Roman descent. As Cicero questioned in his Republica, “Are you not aware that it was the insolence and pride of one man, Tarquinius, that made the title of king odious to our people?”
Ambition, wealth, and disregard make a vile combination. Tarquin began his reign with a murderous romp. He refused to entomb old Servius, and executed any senator whom he deemed a “loyalist” supporter of Servius, seizing their property for his own and reducing the Senate. He mustered a bodyguard to facilitate his haughty uninhibitedness. Livy captures his philosophy on governance: “Without hope of his subjects’ affection, he could rule only by fear; and to make himself feared as widely as possible he began the practice of trying capital causes without consultation and by his own sole authority.” He ruled as a tyrant rather than as a king, refusing to consult the Senate on any matters of military or state. His proto-Machiavellian foreign policy was just as brutal, as when he summoned a meeting of local leaders and proceeded to execute one (by drowning him to death, no less) under a manufactured charge, a blatant violation of Rome’s notions of justified foreign aggression. He used mercenaries for matters of war, a massive faux-pas. One particular event recalls his military cruelty, the famous skirmish with Gabii:
Unable to defeat the town of Gabii in battle, Tarquin contrived to have his son pretend that he was fleeing his cruel father—something easily believed. Established in Gabii, Sextus secretly sent to his father asking what to do next. While the messenger awaited, Tarquin silently went into his garden and with his walking stick lopped off the heads of flowers that towered above others. This “object lesson” was not lost on the son; many noble heads were lopped off, and Sextus gained power in Gabii only to hand it over to his father. (W.B. Ragan III, Survey of Roman History: The Kings)
In religious matters, Tarquin the Proud was equally inept. When the Cumaean Sibyl, a priestess of Apollo, came to Tarquin to offer him nine books of prophecy about the future of Rome (albeit for a hefty sum), he declined. The Sibyl, a crafty saleswoman (who knew!), burned three of the scrolls, and offered the six left for the original price. Tarquin yet again refused—and yet again the Sibyl set three alight, leaving only three from the original nine. Finally, Tarquin paid 6,000 talents of silver—an exorbitant sum (about $99 million in today’s prices!) for a third of the original offering. These books, which came to be known as the Sibylline Books, were housed in the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus and were consulted by the Roman Senate during national emergencies.
Despite its many disasters, the reign of Tarquin the Proud had one area of success: infrastructure. Tarquin, though deranged, understood the mind of the Roman populace; when kept busy, the people had little time to foment discontent. Accordingly, he imported Etruscan engineers and began several massive and lavish construction projects: the Temple of Jupiter and the excavation of the Cloaca Maxima, in particular. Ironically, however, it was the very area in which Tarquin found limited success that effected his downfall: His incredible infrastructure expenditure left the Roman coffers depleted and himself in need of more funds. And so he laid siege to the rich town of Ardea. I once again turn to Ragan for the downfall that followed:
The end of the Tarquins, and of monarchy at Rome, occurred with a tragic element. Away at a local siege [at Ardea], some young officers, including the king’s son, Sextus, his cousin Tarquinius Collatinus, and a friend, the (supposed) fool Lucius Junius Brutus (his name means “dull”), were one night discussing their wives. Whereas the other men bragged about their wives’ beauty and love of luxury, Collatinus spoke of his wife Lucretia’s great beauty, faithfulness, and diligence in keeping the house—at all hours. Finding this claim hard to imagine, the young men headed back to Rome late at night to find the situation exactly as Collatinus had asserted. Sextus was deeply struck with lust for the beautiful and noble woman. He later returned secretly with a sword to force her to lie with him. When at first she refused, preferring death to dishonor, he threatened further to kill her and leave a dead slave in bed with her. Rather than face public disgrace on herself and her family, the noble woman submitted to her shame. Some time later, overcome with remorse, she confessed the crime to her husband, Brutus, and others [including her father, Spurius Lucius Tricipitinus—a question in the St. Albans Certamen last year!]. The horror related, she committed suicide in their presence. Aroused to mutiny by such an outrage, Brutus threw off the mask of foolishness he had cultivated to survive under a tyrant, and with many nobles, roused the senate and people against the Tarquins. The king was with the army; when he returned, demanding to be admitted to Rome, the gates were shut in his face, his property was confiscated, and the Tarquins were banished forever. Curiously, Sextus sought refuge in Gabii, where he met a just fate by the people he had betrayed. The exiled Tarquin sought the help of the Etruscan king Lars Porsenna to restore his throne. Failing in his attempt, Tarquin died in exile some ten years later. (W.B. Ragan III, Survey of Roman History: The Kings)
And so the Roman Kingdom began and ended with rape: It initiated 241 years prior with the Rape of the Sabine Women, the famous snatching that furnished the hooligan hillpeople known as Romans with women, and it concluded with the famous Rape of Lucretia. Rome was now to be a Republic, ruled by two annually elected magistrates known as consuls.
Thus we conclude our fourth chapter of Roman history. The year is 509 BC, 244 years after her founding in 753, and Rome has entered a new era, with two emergent leaders at her helm.
Special thanks, as always, to Mr. Ragan.