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     Volume 7 Issue 31 | August 1, 2008 |

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Boston and Beyond

Nader Rahman

When I think of Boston, the first thing that comes to my mind is the Boston tea party. Blame my badly malfunctioning brain for thinking of nothing other than a group of white men dressed up as native Americans dumping tea into the sea. My sixth grade history teacher should be proud of me. But running a close second to the thoughts of the tea party are a trio of movies, which only goes to show that maybe I don't spend my time as productively as I should. I am a consumer of American pop culture and no matter how much I try to fight it, almost all of my references to American cities, people and history is guided by what I have seen on television. New York is Godzilla and Frank Sinatra for me, Washington is Murder at 1600 and the Washington Wizards and Martha's Vineyard is Jaws. The list is endless and when it comes down to Boston the references that stick out are three academy award winning movies, Good Will Hunting, Mystic River and The Departed. I was not quite sure what to do with that knowledge as I made my first trip down there, maybe if nothing else I'd pick up that decidedly Boston accent.

Inside the John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum.

The drive to Boston from Vermont is not very long and with thick green trees lining most of New England roads it is about as scenic as a journey as one might take in the US. The drive took me though New Hampshire, a name I had heard over and over again as the start to the presidential primaries took off from there. Its motto is 'live free or die' and in a state where taxes are no taxes it is often said that the people who live there, live free and die. This got me thinking about the upcoming presidential race, and which way New Hampshire would swing. It is said that 44% of the voting public in the state are independents and that they would vote for the candidate who would continue to let them keep their tax free status. As it so happens it may just be that John McCain holds the advantage over Barack Obama, as Obama has clearly shown a policy to tax and spend on an increased, larger and more powerful government. Boston on the other hand seemingly does not face the same problem as they are firmly Democrat.

As one enters the cradle of liberty there is a distinctly old feeling to the city and it is easy to see why. It was home to some of the first settlements in the history of the US and it has played a central role in the revolution that led to the creation of America. There seems to be a red tinge to the city as often rows and rows of beautiful red-brick houses are interrupted with a smattering of modernity as huge buildings sprout out of thin air. There is also a sense of culture and haughtiness which T.S. Elliot claimed created a caste of “Boston Brahmins” who were wealthy and influential. Beyond the scope of the average American. And just as one is getting serious about the topic it is also easy to forget that Jack Kerouac, the famous beat writer, came from Boston as well, and he was anything but stuck up.

Any trip to Massachusetts would not be authentic without a tour of Harvard, which lies just across the city on the other side of the Charles River in Cambridge. Hearing about the most important seat in education is simply not enough and a proper tour is what is needed to really immerse oneself into the land of academia. Being the oldest university in the US and probably the best in the world it has more than its share of stories and anecdotes which my tour guide was more than happy to indulge in. Some were interesting and some were downright bland, but what she could not take away was the aura of the imposing institution. In the middle of the tour a campus policeman rolls up to the group and calmly says in a typical Bostonian accent, “you must already be feelin smaarder woking 'round haarvad awl day.” He was right.

When talking about higher education in Boston and its surrounding areas it is also impossible not to mention the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). One of the finest institutions in the world, the university holds a special place in my heart as Noam Chomsky, the father of modern day linguistics and firebrand political writer still remains a full-time teacher there. I took a train there and as it so happened it was only two stops away. When I got down all I could think of was Chomsky, I wanted to go around the sprawling campus looking for his room even if nothing else than to take a picture outside his office. It was a tough decision but I decided not to, I was on a tight schedule and needed to leave just as fast as I arrived. On my way back from MIT over the Charles River towards downtown Boston I pondered over the imposing power of the American higher education system and its potential. Fareed Zakaria in his recent book The Post American World claimed that it would be the higher education institutions of the US that would continue to retain some clout as other aspects of the mighty American façade faded and in a way I agree with him. Institutions like Harvard and MIT will continue to draw the best and the brightest from around the world and the power to educate them is just as important as any foreign policy or army will ever be. As America retreats, its higher education system will continue to play a major role in international affairs.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

So far my trip had been pretty successful aside from the fact that the Red Sox lost two games in a row to the Yankees at Fenway Park. One of the last places to stop off at on short trip to Boston was the Kennedy Presidential Museum and that proved to be just as interesting and intriguing as Harvard and MIT. It is impossible to talk about Massachusetts without talking about the Kennedy's and their legacy. The museum is beautifully placed on the banks of the river and is an immaculate shrine to one of the few great leaders America has had. His legacy and life have come under the spotlight yet again as this year Barack Obama is being touted as a sort of Kennedy that can guide America out of troubled waters. They both studied at Harvard, they are both extremely young to be running for president, they both speak brilliantly and they are both seen as good looking, debonair and change makers who will really make a difference. Obama is yet to prove himself, yet the hype that surrounds his candidacy is measurable to that of Kennedy in 1960 and he is seen, like Kennedy, as a person who will get the democratic party back on its feet.

As I wandered through the halls of the beautifully well-kept museum, I thought of Kennedy's historic speech in Berlin, a move which Obama emulated this week in a speech that was full of the rhetoric of Kennedy and Reagan. Both speeches were ground-breaking and revolutionary, now all that remains to be seen is if they were both made by presidents.

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