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May 2005 Archives

May 2, 2005

Observing Yerkes

Amid news reports of the University possibly selling Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, the 1897 building still brimmed with activity this past Friday.

At 1 p.m. a local junior-high-school group stands outside the ornate, brick and terra cotta structure, awaiting a tour and a build-your-own-telescope class with public-affairs officer Richard Dreiser. Meanwhile observatory manager Jim Gee, MBA’81, leads another visitor down a tile-floored, marble-walled hallway and up two flights to the west end, where a 90-foot-diameter dome holds what remains the world’s largest refractory telescope. Astronomy & astrophysics professor Kyle Cudworth, Yerkes’s director, still conducts research with the telescope, whose mammoth blue base, 60-foot-long tube, and history—it was first displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition—inspire awe. It’s cold inside the brick-faced dome. “The temperature must be the same as outside,” Gee explains, or the heat would scatter the light waves and cause optical illusions.

Through dusty library stacks and several doorways, Dreiser has taken the school kids to a darkened room, where they sit on an old solar optical bench. “If you cover the moon with your finger,” he says, as he and the studens hold up their thumbs toward a poster of the moon, “and you know the size of your finger” and the angle, you can figure out the moon’s size.

On the ground floor engineers work on the NASA project SOFIA/HAWC—short for stratospheric observatory for infrared astronomy/high-resolution airborne wideband camera. When it’s done, Gee says, the camera will mount on the end of a telescope, which scientists will bring aboard a 747 and, from 40,000 feet, study celestial objects at infrared wavelengths. It’s likely the last engineering project at Yerkes, whose mission has moved away from research and toward education and outreach, which is why the University may sell it—or, as Gee prefers to say, “change stewardship.” After working at Yerkes for 15 years, he’s found the place “has a way of endearing itself to people.”


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The Great Dome holds the world's largest refractor telescope (left); public affairs officer Richard Dreiser teaches about the moon (middle); the outside is brick and terra cotta (right).

May 4, 2005

Eye of the storm


One could say that Darcy Frey, the University’s Robert Vare visiting writer in residence, puts himself in stressful situations. But that would be an understatement. For a New York Times Magazine story, which he read from yesterday at the Franke Institute, Frey spent a month observing the newborn intensive care unit at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

While reporting the 1995 piece—“Does Anyone Here Think This Baby Can Live?”—he daily witnessed doctors deciding the fate of babies so small they could be “held like a bunch of grapes in a nurse’s hand.” The doctors, he told the audience of about 15 students and staff, tended to premature babies, “lying froglike and immobile,” with the “precision of a man building a ship in a bottle.”

Laughing, Frey recalled how the New York Times sent him to the air-traffic-control center that governs Newark, La Guardia, and Kennedy airports—“for a lighter piece.” The staff he encountered there wore a “savage, bug-eyed look,” so they appeared “like men on the verge of drowning,” constantly asking themselves if this would “be the day of the their unmaking.”

Poised at a podium, he gave the impression he’d be good to have around in a chaotic situation. Frey, who’d watched 30 high-risk births in 30 days and air traffic controllers “curse and twitch like a bunch of Tourettes sufferers,” maintained a calm presence as he made his characters and imagery come alive.

Meredith Meyer, ’07

May 6, 2005

Salon de Scav Hunt

Thursday afternoon, 12-plus hours into Scav Hunt 2005, competitors carried out No. 108 on the 15-page list of items to get and deeds to do, posted online at midnight:

“Le Salon en Plein Air, aux Quads, Jeudi et Vendredi, 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Mes cheries, your locks are in terrible shape! Et mon Dieu! Who let you out of the house with that outré mascara? Coral and taupe are très 2004. And toes without a manicure francaise are simply dégoutante. Un bouffant charmant, s’il vous plaît. Aussi, those pauvre étudiants deserve une masseuse to rub away the stress of their day. Voilà, la haute école de beauté!”

The Snell-Hitchcock contenders responded by blaring the Amelie soundtrack and, along with other teams, offering free manicures and pedicures, haircuts and styling, and massages to passersby.

The hunt continues Saturday with the ScavOlympics and ends Sunday with the final judging.

C’est bon!


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May 9, 2005

$1.25 billion and counting

This past Friday the institution that offers, as President Don Randel often proclaims, tongue only partly in cheek, “the best education in this or any neighboring galaxy,” thanked some of its stellar supporters—with programs across the disciplines, dinner in Rockefeller Chapel, and a progress report on the $2 billion Chicago Initiative.

University Trustee Edgar D. Jannotta welcomed the guests with an up-to-the-minute fund-raising total. At the three-year mark, the campaign has reached $1,250,495,216.33. “The 33 cents is a joke,” the Initiative’s chair confessed, “but we are counting every penny.” Having already made its mark on the campus landscape, the campaign now must meet its human-capital goals, Jannotta said, announcing a new, $17 million Trustee Scholarship Challenge: a group of trustees will contribute $1 for every $2 in contributions to undergraduate scholarship endowment.

The 74-year-old Jannotta also announced that on July 1 he will step down as chair, to be succeeded by fellow trustee Andrew M. Alper, AB’80, MBA’81. Board of Trustees vice chair and cochair of the GSB campaign, Alper, noted Jannotta, “is the right man for the job.”

Then it was on to a celebration of human capital. Lectures, seminars, and tours gave everyone something to talk about during a pre-dinner reception in the GSB’s Rothman Winter Garden. At dinner in Rockefeller Chapel, 49 new members were inducted into the Harper Society Founders Circle, recognizing cumulative gifts of $1 million or more, and President Randel conferred the University of Chicago Medal on Gerald Ratner, AB’35, JD'37. In addition to his support for the 2003 Gerald Ratner Athletics Center, Ratner was honored for 70 years of advocacy for the College, the Law School, and campus athletics.


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Photos (from left to right): The pre-dinner reception in the GSB’s Rothman Winter Garden; Ratner accepting his award; Rockefeller in its evening best.

Photos by Dan Dry.

May 11, 2005

God on whose side?


When pundits talk about the role that faith-and-values voters played in the Republican presidential victory last November, they’re really talking about white voters, noted Melissa Harris-Lacewell in a panel discussion Friday. Author of Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought (2004), Harris-Lacewell looked at black faith-and-values voters and found a different story.

Blacks are among the most religious Americans, said Harris-Lacewell, yet only 11 percent of African Americans voted Republican—up from 7 percent in 2000 but down from 12 percent in 1996. If their religious beliefs have made it hard for blacks to vote Republican, those same values, she predicted, may make it hard for them to keep voting Democratic. If it comes to a choice “between Jesus and the Democratic Party,” she said, “they will stay home.” Whatever they do, “they’re sure not going to vote against Jesus.”

Harris-Lacewell also factored black Americans into the red-state/blue-state paradigm, arguing that “[t]here are no blue states, there are only blue cities.” This fact presents a pressing problem for the blue team, she said: “The only people left in the Democratic Party are black people, brown people, and the white people who live around them.”

Harris-Lacewell was one of four Chicago faculty—two political scientists, two Divinity School professors—who spoke on “God in American Politics: The Making of the President 2004,” as part of Chicago Convenes.


Photo: Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

May 13, 2005

Common knowledge


Want to find out where in Chicago to get a $1 milkshake, free museum passes, and discounted movies tickets? Check out Factoids, a Web site run by fourth-year Jeremy Guttman and the Student Government Campus Services Committee, where students share campus and regional secrets. The site presents the inside scoop in six categories: arts & culture, food, good deals, history, tech & Web mail, and miscellaneous. Among other tidbits, visitors learn that there’s a large computer lab in Harper Library, that a U of C baseball cap costs less at the Gerald Ratner Athletic Center than at the University bookstore, and that Jackson Park has “an awesome Japanese garden.” Those already in the know can submit their own helpful hints. Let knowledge grow!


Photo: Maroon caps are cheaper at Ratner.

Photo by Lloyd DeGrane.

May 16, 2005

Changing of the quads

University staffers swarmed the main-quads tulip beds this morning, holding open plastic bags for groundskeepers to toss in the bulbs that would otherwise be tossed out. “I get them every year,” said Martha Sykes, office manager for the Office of Graduate Affairs. Bulbs in hand, Angela Stoddart, a hematology/oncology PhD in the Department of Medicine, asked Sykes for planting advice. “I plant them now, just like this,” Sykes said. “Really? Not in the fall?” Stoddart asked. “They die down a little bit,” Sykes admitted, but then they come back.

Gardeners from Clarence Davis plant the tulips every fall, and in spring they dig in the summer greenery. This year the quads will bloom with blue salvia, Cape Town blue daisies, dove wings lantana, and marguerite sweet potato vine.


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May 18, 2005

Comics Stripped

Clicking through some old and recent work on Cobb 301’s large screen—coaxed to life after 15 minutes of fiddling—cartoonist artist Ivan Brunetti, AB’89, ran through his biography and philosophy in a Tuesday evening talk. Comics, he variously explained, are like calligraphy, Buddhist doctrine, music, life, math, and B-movie making.

“We’re working with the least dignified thing there is,” he said, comparing comic artists to 1940s horror-film producer Val Lewton—the subject of an upcoming strip— “and we’re just trying to give it some dignity.” Brunetti, who is teaching Writing the Graphic Novel this quarter, has also tackled strip bios of Kierkegaard, P. Mondrian, and Erik Satie, finding confluence between the artists’ often hermetic lives and his own. In fact, much of his work is autobiography. “My comics are about me,” he said. “Or people that I think are like me. Or animals that are basically me.”

Such autobiographical examples—published in his weekly Chicago Reader strip—include “Cartooning Will Destroy You” and “The Horror of Simply Being Alive,” exploring writer’s block and the dissolution of his marriage. His work, much of it dark humor, is about “putting people into my head and hoping they’ll understand it.”


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May 20, 2005

Design and Dionysus

Last Friday the Festival of the Arts (FOTA) kicked off its 2005 season at the Smart Museum, where an assortment of French wines and grape leaves greeted several hundred buzzing students, primed for the evening’s fashion show. Promptly at 10:05, with the Smart lobby packed, second-year fashion designer Andrea Fjeld’s student models got the party started, introduced by one of several well-built, shirtless men wielding billboards.

Leading off with yesterday’s news—a dress made of old Maroons—Fjeld featured everyday products in her designs, including playing cards, electrical tape, and garbage bags. She wrapped up with her most crowd-pleasing numbers: a slender dress made entirely of neckties and a revealing ensemble featuring a white fluffy skirt and a Saran Wrap top.

Next up, first-year Elizabeth Shaeffer favored bold colors, including an aqua-green corset that one fan termed “gorgeous.” Then second-year Lila McDowell offered a short, dark assortment, set to Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus.” Part of an eccentric, hula-hoop heavy collection, Asta Hostetter’s (AB’04) most popular piece was a bright pink ruffled dress, though the enthusiastic response likely owed more to the model’s decision to expose her knickers than anything else.

With her name scrawled across the final hunk’s chest, second-year Alta Buden presented the show’s last set, an eclectic compilation featuring the classic T “Where Fun Goes to Die,” an 80s-style ripped yellow top with blue knee-highs, and a man in a sarong. For the grand finale, two of Alta’s models staged a mock fight.

When the spectale ended, the models took a bow, sending the crowd outside to finish off the last of the grape leaves, and, of course, wine.

John Fitzgerald

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Photos (from left to right): Andrea Fjeld's playing-card number; Asta Hostetter's ballerina; the models take a curtain call.

Photos by Lila McDowell

May 23, 2005

Spring's palette

As campus fluffed its May plumage, unusual blossoms sprouted in unexpected places: collaged birdhouses stood sentinel along walkways, framed photos drooped from Botany Pond branches, and pinwheels paraded outside the Reg. FOTA 2005, the latest iteration of the annual Festival of the Arts, transformed the quads into a gallery of student art, blooming with a May 13 fashion show and closing Saturday with the all-day carnival and concert Summer Breeze.


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Photos (from left to right, top to bottom): Alta Buden's Spirit Houses; Emma Bernstein's site specific fashion photography; penguines (artist unspecified); Monica Herrera's Pinwheel Timeout; David Pickett's Lego Play Area.

May 25, 2005

Utopia in the park with Claire

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“I think this is casual enough,” Claire Pentecost says as she negotiates herself into a chair at the Franke Institute, forgoing the podium prepared for her. Pentecost, associate professor and chair of the photography department at the Art Institute of Chicago, takes off her denim peacoat, adjusts her beaded bracelets, slips off her loafers, and sits cross-legged in front of 30 or so students.

Beginning her lecture, Insert Utopia Here, part of the Big Problems series, she declares, “I used to be allergic to the idea of utopia—it made me think of Brave New World or something.” The term seemed to connote “a predictable and coercive kind of situation,” filling her with the “horror that the idea of perfection gives.”

Yet Pentecost offered a more palatable kind of utopia—the city park—where “the ideals of the social contract are given a theater.” Parks, for her, are true utopias because they are “creative and political” spaces that reflect “the people, the history, and the desires” of a community. She showed a slide of her own “idea of paradise,” a Paris public garden where the plants are marked with their common and Latin names, making it “like a library.”

Other visions of utopia find their expression in parks. Pentecost displayed slides of a Paris park in an unused railroad depot, a Barcelona one surrounding a former leper’s hospital, and a Hamburg park in a once abandoned area—where local teenagers have proposed that a room be built for community members “to exhibit their hidden talents.” It struck Pentecost as “a gorgeous idea.”

Meredith Meyer, ’07

Photo: Claire Pentecost.

May 27, 2005

Photos of the Week: May 2005 (Postcards from the Quads)

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Continue reading "Photos of the Week: May 2005 (Postcards from the Quads)" »

An affair of honors


“All University of Chicago students are above average,” President Don M. Randel proclaimed at the 49th Annual College Honors Awards Assembly, held Wednesday afternoon in the Ida Noyes Cloister Club. “That means that you,” he told the crowd of undergraduate honorees, “are the above average of the above average—which makes you above average to the nth degree, where n is some very large number.”

As part of a tag team with College Dean John W. Boyer, Dean of Students in the College Susan Art, and University Marshal Lorna P. Straus, President Randel handed out an eclectic array of awards, from the J. Kyle Anderson Award, “presented to the senior baseball player who best exemplifies character, leadership, integrity, and dedication to the team, while distinguishing himself with accomplishments on the field,” to the latest class of Student Marshals, “who assist the Marshal of the University with the dignified conduct of official ceremonies,” and who “are appointed by the President in recognition of their excellent scholarship and leadership in the University community.”

The formal ceremony ended with an invitation to walk over to the President’s House for refreshments—and then an especially spirited rendition of the “Alma Mater,” inspired in part by President Randel’s observation that “singing in full voice and knowing all the words” just might be a prerequisite for receiving another above-average honor: a U of C diploma.


Photo: Magazine intern Sam Gill, '05, receives his certificate for Student Worker of the Year.

About May 2005

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in May 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2005 is the previous archive.

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