Week In Running

by Harry August, Ella Comberg & Lucien Turczan-Lipets

published September 28, 2018

Uptown Rats, Not So Whitebread World

Billy Joel pointed out that the differences between the girls of the Upper East Side and the grittier guys from the backstreets downtown never seemed greater than in the musical imagination of the 1980s. According to a study released by Fordham University last fall, however, hordes of vermin in New York City’s subway system have actually developed a far greater social divide than Joel could have anticipated. While those uptown girls from their white bread world today might venture south of 14th street, the newly discovered genetically distinct variant of uptown rats probably never will.

Since the first European colonists in New York, their quasi-mythical rat friends were assumed to be a monolithic species: large, ubiquitous, and revolting. While the rats of the city that never sleeps will probably always retain those characteristics, Matthew Combs, a graduate researcher at Fordham University, released a study that found genetic divisions in the rats, suggesting distinct ‘Uptown’ and ‘Downtown’ varieties.

While the result of this research seems too wild to believe, the methods were extremely serious. Combs conducted his two-years of research by traversing the island using data from a crowdsourced “rat map” to trap the animals at locations across the city. According to the Atlantic, the research team used a “potent bait of peanut butter, bacon, and oats, placing their traps near places where rats had clearly crawled.” These spaces indicated on the map were eagerly identified by residents of each neighborhood by the residue of a quotidian rat existence: sebum, rat poo, chew marks, and holes dug in the ground. The team then collected one-inch samples from the rats’ tails, and analyzed their DNA.

Combs found that rats that share a common ancestor from the mid-18th century in lower Manhattan had expanded northward with the growth of the city’s population, eventually acquiring genetic characteristics that differed from their downtown counterparts. This phenomenon was encouraged by the relative lack of rats in Midtown, creating a buffer zone between the cousin rats. This means that, unlike humans, rats rarely traverse the boundaries of their own ‘neighborhood,’ and may even be distinct within uptown varieties.

All jokes aside, this research has important implications. New York is facing a health crisis that has prompted Mayor de Blasio to create a 32-million-dollar plan to address the rats and their accompanying diseases. The Fordham research team will potentially play an important part in this plan, informing the monumental challenge of addressing the rat problem in a city famous for its rat problem.

While the date of the rat’s genetic separation is unclear, what is apparent is that the social division unfolding above ground in Billy Joel’s 1983 Manhattan might have had a nastier mirror image hiding just below the surface. While the rats can obviously still mate, the genetically distinguishable populations extend far beyond an ‘uptown’/‘downtown’ binary. Each neighborhood has an identifiable population of rats, and Matthew Combs is to thank for this discovery.



The Enemy of My Enemy is Not My Friend

A man attending the North Smithfield Town Council meeting last week had a simple request of Council Chair John Beauregard: “Shut up! Shut the fuck up!”.

From his chair among the council, Beauregard retorted back: ‘Who said that? Who said that?’

‘I did!’ said the older man, shaking with rage. ‘OUT!’ rebuked Beauregard. (Transcript from local journalist and legend Steve Ahlquist).

In the end, it was the man from the crowd who got the last laugh. That night, North Smithfield rescinded the transparently racist resolution it passed a week earlier, which banned any town official from purchasing Nike products. The resolution was a response to Nike’s partnership with Colin Kaepernick, who was effectively blacklisted from the NFL after publicly protesting police violence.

Beauregard, who authored the resolution, drew national condemnation for the original bill, which said that Colin Kaepernick “has compared police to modern day slave patrols” and “fans the flames of the endless fallacy that police are nothing more than inhumane tyrants.” The resolution states that 102 police officers have been killed in the line of duty so far this year, but notably does not mention that 723 people of color were killed by police in the same time period, according to the Providence Journal.

While we here at the Indy fully condemn this overtly anti-Black legislation, we have to admit that Beauregard has one thing right—what policy-wonks might call “the horseshoe hypothesis.” That is, a resolution so far right, it starts to border on anti-corporatist leftism. That’s what we do best, after all.

11 Nike executives left the company this year for “rampant sexual harassment” and “over complaints of an uncomfortable workplace that discriminates against women,” according to NPR.  Could North Smithfield’s proposal be taken to stand in solidarity with these executives? Or with Naomi Klein’s 1999 anti-corporate branding book “No Logo,” which attacks Nike so fiercely for its numerous corporate misdeeds that the company had to publish a point-by-point rebuttal? Maybe, Beauregard is acting as a sleeper agent for United Students Against Sweatshops, who notably brought attention to Nike’s exploitation of Vietnamese workers in 2017.

Nike is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad corporation. Out of context, Beauregard's initial resolution states that “Nike’s values do not reflect our values and Nike should not financially benefit from our business.” Here at the Indy, on this at least, we can agree.

Several protesters who, according to the Providence Journal,  attended the North Springfield meeting to protest the original resolution “wearing new Nike T-shirts.” How this resolution put Nike on the side of the justice makes us weep for this world.

- HA & EC


Personal Effects

- Liby Hays