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April 2006 Archives

April 3, 2006

Receiving line


With portraits of past leaders looking on, incoming Chicago President Robert Zimmer greeted University staff members Thursday morning in Hutch Commons. Although at times the line stretched 20 deep, Zimmer spent a minute or two with each person. Shaking the hands of two O-Week staffers, who insisted they wouldn't keep him long, Zimmer asked, "So you feel like it's in good shape? Everything's going OK?" Yes, they assured him. O-Week preparations were going well.

"I've just been talking to people about what they're doing," Zimmer told a Magazine editor who reached the front of the line. An hour-and-a-half into the event, he hadn't grown weary of the handshaking. "How could I be tired? It's only 9:30 in the morning." Staff members, grabbing up the coffee, doughnuts, muffins, and scones after their presidential chats, were equally enthused.


Photo: Zimmer talks with a U of C staff member Thursday morning.

April 5, 2006

The hills are alive


Recalling songs and stories passed from “generation to generation and from hut to hut through time and distance,” Zamira Sydykova, Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to the United States, kicked off last Tuesday’s crowded Noruz celebration at International House. A Persian holiday coinciding with the vernal equinox, Noruz welcomes both spring and the New Year. At Chicago, however, Noruz had to wait for the end of spring break. Presented by the University’s Central Asian Studies Society on March 28, the three-hour festival began with music and poetry. Soloist Akylbek Kasabolotov played traditional Kyrgyz flutes and jaw harps, and Kyrgyzstan national laureate epic singer Rysbai Isakov gave a riveting half-hour recitation—in Kyrgyz—from the Manas, one of the world’s longest epic poems.

Independent anthropologist Helen Faller, meanwhile, offered some cultural context for the concert. A Silk Road country and former Soviet republic, Kyrgyzstan is 97 percent mountainous and its societies are historically nomadic, Faller said, explaining the compact portability of Kasabolotov’s instruments. Introducing Isakov’s performance, she noted that Manas singers are called to their occupation by a vision. Those who ignore the vision succumb to “mental illness”; called at age 12, Isakov suffered crushing migraines, Faller said, until he devoted himself to reciting the Manas ten years ago.

After intermission, the five-man Tuvan throat-singing ensemble Alash brought listeners to their feet. Led by jovial virtuoso Kongar-ool Ondar (a celebrity and member of parliament in the Republic of Tuva, situated between Siberia and Mongolia), Alash breezed through a repertoire of humorous, catchy, and lively songs. Interpreter and band manager Sean Quirk explained the practice of throat-singing, in which the singer sustains a low, thrumming note while simultaneously humming one or two notes in a higher pitch. Tuvan traditional songs come “from nature,” Quirk said. “These are the sounds of the lifestyle”: water rolling downstream, feet in a horse’s stirrups, rushing rivers. The musicians played traditional jaw harps, drums, flutes, and stringed instruments to accompany their singing, and they also incorporated more modern influences, Quirk said, pointing to an accordion borrowed from Russian culture. “Tradition is not something that’s encased in a crystal box and doesn’t change,” he said. “It’s something that’s alive.”


Photos: Akylbek Kasabolotov (top); Master throat-singer Kongar-ool Ondar, of Alash (bottom).

April 7, 2006

Sit down and vote


There is a clear favorite in the Regenstein Library's recent election, but Jim Vaughan, assistant director for access & facilities, doesn't want to publicize it until all votes are counted. Chicago students, faculty, and staff have displayed strong preferences in the 2,377 ballots they've entered, as of Thursday, for the next generation of library chairs. Early on in the March 27–April 7 voting, says library facilities manager John Pitcher, "people were waiting in line" to try each chair and fill out a ballot.

Given $895,000 in capital funds to replace 1,983 reader chairs (purchased in 1989) and to reupholster about 125 club chairs, a library committee narrowed down the choice to three chairs and has left the final decision to Reg users. "It's the students who sit in these chairs seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day," Pitcher notes. Democratic as the process sounds, he's seen evidence of "voting irregularities," such as "bundles of ballots plainly inserted all at once, in the same handwriting, all for the same chair." Still, in true Chicago fashion, they're counting every vote.

All three chairs have black fabric with goldish specks. Number 1 has a cushioned back and a metal seat frame instead of plywood; Number 2, also with a cushioned back, is the "more traditional" style, Pitcher says; and Number 3 has a leather back.

Select voter comments:

Number 1:
"Yay, lumbar support!"
"I think 1 is a bit too prone to letting one fall asleep."
"Style #1 pitches me forward—it’s uncomfortable."

Number 2:
"Style #2 was an ergonomic and truly sensual experience. Loved every second of it."
"#2 is good, others suck. Bring us #2."
"Give me cushion or give me death."

Number 3:
"#3 is light, stylish, and modern."
"#3 is comfortable and light, but the back seems like it would wear out pretty quickly."
"#3 has no back support."


Photo: Fourth-year biology major Leila Vaez-Azizi tries out the options. "I prefer the old chairs," she says. Voting ends today.

Photo by Dan Dry.

April 10, 2006



An estimated 150 prospective students flooded into Hyde Park last Wednesday through Friday for a sneak peek of the one-year Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS). The prospies—all of whom have been accepted—visited classes, toured campus, and dined with current students to help them decide whether to join next year’s cohort. The Campus Days agenda kicked off with a welcome and Q&A with MAPSS director John MacAloon, AM’74, PhD’80, current preceptors, and staff. Department chairs from history, political science, human development, anthropology, and psychology also spoke with interested students.

On Thursday prospects gathered in the Pick Hall lounge for a wine-and-cheese reception with MAPSS staff, executive committee, and students. Although the would-be students have until May to accept the offer, many seemed impressed by the program’s interdisciplinary focus. “I’m worn out from the past two days,” confessed one woman taking a sip of wine, “but I’ve definitely made up my mind to come here.”


Photo: Potential MAPSS students mingle in the Pick Hall lounge.

April 11, 2006

Delivery from DelGiorno


"I didn't realize that many people read the Wall Street Journal," joked Bernie DelGiorno, AB'54, AB'55, MBA'55, at a champagne toast to celebrate his $5 million gift, announced this past Friday in the paper's "Gift of the Week" feature. Already he'd gotten e-mails and phone calls, he said, from recent graduates, student-athletes, and students who'd interned with him at UBS Financial Services, who said they too would like to do something for the University some day.

DelGiorno, whose gift will fund Stagg Field's lighting and artificial turf and also be used toward a new dormitory and an arts center, "is a leader among College alumni in getting us to think about other facets of University life," College Dean John Boyer, AM'69, PhD'75, told the Harper Library gathering of students, deans, administrators, and staff. DelGiorno "represents the spirit of the institution in all the best senses," added President Don M. Randel. For a glimpse of such spirit, one need only see DelGiorno at the annual Interfraternity Sing each Reunion weekend. "Anyone who believes we're all nerds at the University," Randel said, "should go to that event."

For entertainment the student a capella group Voices in Your Head performed two songs—Natalie Imbruglia's "Troubled By The Way We Came Together" and, from a U of C songbook that DelGiorno gave the group, the alma mater. As the students sang the 1894 tune, DelGiorno mouthed the words.

The formal presentation ended with DelGiorno's plea that students enjoy the diversions his gift would help produce. "Don't study all the time."


Photos: President Randel and Bernie DelGiorno chat before the toasts begin (top). Campus a capella group Voices in Your Head sings the alma mater (bottom).

April 14, 2006

Hot for sandals

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Many times I said: stay at your level sandalmaker.
But ideas and words around me buzz like a beehive.
The immaterial swarm drinks the blooming soul’s dew.
And the poetry’s honey is made to give life.

The Harvard and Oxford libraries house his poetry, which he began writing in 1953 and which has gained international fame. But from 1954, when he took over the family business from his father, until his 2004 retirement, Stavros Melissinos—poet, playwright, essayist, and translator of great literary works into his native Greek—never gave up his day job: designing and hand-making leather sandals.

Melissinos may have retired, leaving Melissinos Art to his son Pantelis, but his reputation as the poet–sandal maker of Athens continues to attract visitors from all over the world to the tiny shop at 2 Aghias Theklas Street, next to Monastiraki Square, a shopping district near the Acropolis. Celebrities have flocked there and occasionally have been commemorated by sandal designs bearing their name, such as the Jackie O. and John Lennon models.

This past Saturday three U of C students studying abroad in Athens stepped into this tourist tradition. Though the walk back was somewhat precarious given Athens’s second garbage strike in a month, it was still quite comfortable in brand-new Aristotle, Hermes, and Spartan/Sophia Loren sandals.

Hana Yoo, ’07

Photos: Annie Toro, Cara Clifford, and Hana Yoo, all '07, show off their new foot dressings (top). Sign outside the poet-sandal maker's Athenian shop (bottom).

Photos by Annie Toro

April 17, 2006

The eye of civilization


As director of the Oriental Institute Museum, I’ve recently been in Syria, exploring the possibility of constructing a special OI exhibit on the world's earliest cities. Although archaeologists have long known that cities had developed by 3500 BC in southern Mesopotamia (now southern Iraq), in the past ten years several scholars’ work has converged to show that cities of another culture had developed independently in northern Mesopotamia (now northeastern Syria, still between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers) by the same time. This recently discovered northern culture has been illuminated by OI archaeologists McGuire Gibson, AM'64, PhD'68, and Clemens Reichel, AM'94, PhD'01, at the site of Hamoukar, as well as by work I directed at the largest known of these northern settlements, Tell Brak.

After meeting with officials in the Directorate of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus, I took a pleasant four-hour bus ride north through the plain of the Orontes River to Aleppo, to visit the storerooms of the Aleppo Museum. Tell Brak was first excavated by Max Mallowan in the 1930s (his wife, the mystery writer Agatha Christie, wrote a charming account of their time there, Come, Tell Me How You Live), and he found a temple in which thousands of small stone figurines had been left as offerings. The figurines depicted an amazing variety of animals, including lions, bears, frogs, monkeys, hedgehogs, and goats. Most famous, however, are a series of enigmatic “eye idols,” which may represent the deity being worshipped.

We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to show these pieces, along with many more recent discoveries, in an exhibit in 2008—that should give us just enough time.

Geoff Emberling
Director, Oriental Institute Museum

Photo: Animal figurines displayed at the Eye Temple in the Aleppo Museum.

April 19, 2006

Legal writ


Ever wanted to get in on conversations between some of Chicago's top legal minds? The Law School's faculty blog features daily posts on current affairs by the likes of Cass Sunstein, Saul Levmore, Geoffrey Stone, Randy Picker, Judge Richard Posner, his son and professor Eric Posner, and more. In yesterday's post, for example, Sunstein wonders why more economists don't advocate animal welfare. (For details on Sunstein's passion for his dog, and his prolific TV-interview career, see the April 21 Chronicle of Higher Education.) And people are reading. Sunstein's April 9 post about presidential declassification of materials prompted 45 comments. Other recent topics include teens and guns, Barry Bonds, detaining "enemy combatants," and online March Madness.

Begun September 28, 2005, the blog is meant to be "a forum in which to exchange nascent ideas with each other and also a wider audience, and to hear feedback about which ideas are compelling and which could use some re-tooling," the Law School's welcoming post says. Mission, it seems, accomplished.

Photo: Sunstein and his Rhodesian Ridgeback Perry.

Photo by Lloyd DeGrane.

April 21, 2006

End not with a bang, but…


Poems may be precious, powerful, and skillfully constructed, but even the best of them aren’t always perfect, poet C. K. Williams told a room of students Wednesday in a lecture sponsored by Poem Present. With latecomers still filing into Rosenwald 405 and refreshments waiting in the hallway, Williams, a Pulitzer Prize winner and creative-writing professor at Princeton, took the podium to dissect the “unsettling, dubious, unsatisfying” endings to four of his favorite poems: William Wordsworth’s "Michael,” Robert Frost’s “Out, Out,” Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies, and T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. These poems—much-admired efforts of canonized authors—“fail to deliver what they promised, or in the way they promised it,” Williams said. Wordsworth’s pastoral gives short shrift to what would seem the poem’s narrative and thematic climax, while Frost ends his lyric about a tragic accidental death with what Williams called a “shocking, dismaying” shift in tone. At the end of their long poems, Rilke drifts into “mawkishness” and Eliot trades “metaphysical urgency” for “perfunctory, plaintive music.”

Still, Williams insisted—careful to allow room for his own misinterpretations—these poems’ flaws are “incidental to our affection” for them. “Odd endings” don’t diminish great poems; they remind readers that the poets are human. Recalling the advice of a master-carpenter friend who once said, “Nothing’s easy,” Williams told students: “Well, perhaps not nothing is easy,” but ending poems is certainly hard.

The next afternoon, Williams followed up his lecture with a reading of his own verse. With a volume of his collected poems due out later this year, he read both old and new works, including two (called “Shrapnel” and “Cassandra Iraq”) about “our new life at war” and one concerning global warming. “These days,” he said, “I have trouble writing about anything else.”


Photo: Williams greets admirers after Wednesday's lecture.

April 24, 2006

New ambassador on the quads


On a "listening tour" of America, new Saudi ambassador Prince Turki Al-Faisal on Friday visited campus, giving a lecture and answering questions as a guest of the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies. "I spent 30 years of my life in the intelligence business, without speaking to anybody," the 60-year-old told his Breasted Hall audience of students, staff, and faculty, "so you can imagine how grateful I am to be able to talk to you all today." In his first 100 days as Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, following the 22-year term of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Al-Faisal has traveled to Texas, Arizona, California, Washington State, Michigan, Kansas, Georgia, and Illinois—with more trips to come this summer. The Americans he's met, said Al-Faisal, who studied at Georgetown University in the 1960s, have been "open and curious" about Saudi Arabian people and culture.

Although "right now government relations between our families are very strong," he said, last November the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing called "Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe in the War on Terror?" "I felt that was an insult," Al-Faisal said. For 60 years "we have always seen ourselves as friends of the United States." After the hearing he spoke with committee chair Arlen Specter about the committee's concerns.

After a few more observations Al-Faisal answered questions. On his country's attempts to create jobs for the poor, he said, the recent economic boom and reforms, along with education investments, have helped. Literacy, meanwhile, has increased from 7 percent 50 years ago to 85 percent today. Women in particular have made strides, he said, and today more women graduate from universities than men.

On whether his country sponsors terrorism, Al-Faisal detailed his own attempts, as head of intelligence, to detain Osama bin Laden and called Saudi Arabia a "victim of that terrorism even before the U.S." When asked his views of America's efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East, he responded, "In our view reform and political development should be driven by the wishes of the people themselves." Imposing a system, he said, only creates a backlash.

Photo: Prince Turki Al-Faisal speaks at the OI.

Photo by Dan Dry.

Grand finale


On Sunday afternoon the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra sat, instruments at the ready, on the Mandel Hall stage, poised to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth by performing his final three symphonies. But first University of Chicago Presents director Marna Seltzer introduced the group’s third, and final, concert of the season by listing all the other ways the orchestra, in the first of a three-year residency program, had enriched musical life in Hyde Park: coaching and teaching master classes, playing the works of composition students, performing in the public schools. Seltzer promised “more of the same—and more” for the 2006–07 season.

Then conductor Roberto Abaddo brought down the baton on Symphony No. 39, the least known of the trio, composed in summer 1788. As he led clarinets and bassoons, horns and trumpets, strings, timpani, and flute through the score’s twists and turns, Abaddo drew some phrases out like taffy, snapped others off minutely, sometimes leaning into the players, sometimes standing back, hand to his side, listening. There was no place for standing back in Symphony No. 40—hands flew and heads nodded as conductor and musicians moved through the four movements. “Beautiful sound, beautiful sound,” said an audience member through appreciative applause.

Beautiful sound continued after intermission with Symphony No. 41, the “Jupiter” symphony. The gods, or at least Apollo, seemed to be smiling on the performance, as afternoon sunlight moved center stage, spotlighting Abaddo (at the end of the first movement, he grinned and mimed the need for sunglasses). Again Mozart’s music took over the room, leaving the audience wanting more.


His hands floated and flashed as conductor Roberto Abaddo (top) led the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (bottom) through their final Chicago Presents concert of the year—the first of a three-year artists-in-residence program. Photos courtesy the SPCO.

April 26, 2006

Sweet dreams are made of this

The new Ellen and Melvin Gordon Center for Integrative Science, Ellen Gordon announced at the April 26 ribbon-cutting that formally opened the $200 million facility designed to cross traditional boundaries between physics, chemistry, and biology, “will be a place where ideas—and, of course, Tootsie Rolls—are shared.”

She wasn’t kidding. Gordon, president of Tootsie Roll Industries, and her husband, Melvin, the firm’s chairman of the board, have asked that the building—two wings encompassing 400,000 square feet at 929 E. 57th Street—be stocked with Tootsie Rolls and other company candies.

It’s a sweet footnote to a major science story. When the Gordon Center is fully occupied next fall, it will house 100 senior scientists as well as 700 students and other researchers, taking advantage of state-of-the-art instrumentation including a $600,000 scanning electron microscope, a $270,000 electron paramagnetic resonance instrument, and a $208,000 time-resolved luminescence spectrometer and microscope. The technology is great, the speakers agreed, but just as important will be the interdisciplinary connections made in hallway and lab conversations. Punctuated, of course, by Tootsie Rolls.


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Photos (left to right): Under the skywalk that connects the east and west wings of the Gordon Center, President Don M. Randel welcomes guests; Melvin and Ellen Gordon gave a $25 million naming gift; after tours and lectures, guests dined in the Gordon Center's Kersten Family Atrium, named in recognition of a major gift from Priscilla and Steven (JD'80) Kersten.

Photos by Dan Dry.

About April 2006

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in April 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2006 is the previous archive.

May 2006 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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