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August 2006 Archives

August 2, 2006

Star campers


The bleachers are throbbing. “We’re gonna have the best performance ever!” a little boy wearing maroon sunglasses hollers, leaping out of his seat and tearing across the gymnasium floor. It’s “Camp Idol,” a dance competition that caps six weeks of Adventure Kids Day Camp at the University’s Lab Schools. Kids age 6 to 14 fill the stands, drumming their feet, wriggling nervously, and chattering nonstop.

Out comes “Ryan Seacrest” to announce the first act. Camp staffers, high school and college students, are playing the roles of host Seacrest and the three judges on American Idol. A dozen of the youngest campers walk onstage in a wobbly line, wearing Styrofoam props around their neck with bottle caps and wires attached, imitating robots. Pairs of campers leave each end of the line one after another to dance together in the middle. When they’re finished, the judges give them resoundingly positive evaluations—there will be no tears or harsh words here. Even “Simon Cowell,” the notoriously hard-to-please judge, says in his best British accent, “I have to say that I felt a little electricity in your performance.”

Ten groups dance in all. Highlights include the “Great White Sharks,” a group of 10- to 11-year-old boys who dance to a cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” “Paula Abdul” says, “I was a little unsure about your choice of song, but you won me over.” A group of girls age 9 and 10 incorporate cartwheels into their dance to “Stop! In the Name of Love.” When the last performance is over, supervisors and camp directors come onstage. “Are they gonna pick a winner?” asks one mother. It’s not that kind of show, though. “Popsicles will be handed out outside!” says a supervisor, and within minutes, the stage and stands have emptied.

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Photo: Two boys shake their hips to Shakira (top); with judges and host looking on, girls dance to "Stop! In the name of Love" (bottom).

August 4, 2006

Carillon wrestling

Ten visitors arrive at Rockefeller Chapel a half-hour before the Sunday evening carillon concert, part of Rockefeller’s summer series, to hear assistant carillonneur James Fackenthal give a tour of the bells. “Has anyone ever seen a carillon?” he asks. One visitor raises her hand. “Has anyone ever seen a carillon player?” he jokes. “There’s one right over there,” he says, gesturing to tonight’s performer, Andrea McCrady, who hails from Spokane, Washington.

Fackenthal leads the group up a dark, steep, winding staircase that seems to go on forever. As they cross the catwalk, he cautions the visitors to watch their heads for low pipes. The group faces another winding staircase before finally reaching the small, dim room where the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon sits. Sweaty and breathless after climbing 200-plus stairs, these listeners have the privilege of watching McCrady’s hour-long performance up close.

“This is a lot of heavy metal here,” quips Fackenthal, noting that the carillon, given by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in honor of his mother, is the second largest musical instrument in the world—the largest is another carillon Rockefeller gave to Riverside Church in New York City. The biggest bell on the Chicago instrument weighs 18-and-a-half tons.

After a brief introduction to her program, McCrady, wearing a teal T-shirt and a white sweatband to hold back her short red hair, announces that she’s ready “to wrestle this thing.” She uses her fists to play a set of keys at the top of the carillon, and her feet to play a row of pedals along the bottom, attached to the heaviest bells. Her hands zip left and right while her legs stretch to reach the high and low notes on the foot pedals. To sound one of the biggest bells, McCrady, about 5-foot-3-inches, asks Fackenthal to stomp its pedal, which pulls a 500-pound clapper.

Out on the lawn, 20-some people lounge on blankets and in lawn chairs, reading or eating as they listen to McCrady’s first selection, Michael Corette’s “Le carillon des morts.” “Depending on the weather, a dozen to 100” listeners typically turn out, says Lorraine Brochu, AM’88, assistant to the dean for external affairs. This Sunday visitors on the ground enjoy blue sky and beautiful music—but do they know what the carillonneur looks like?

Jenny Fisher, ’07

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Photos (left to right): Rockefeller or Hitchcock's Vertigo?; McCrady at the keys; listeners relax on the lawn.

August 7, 2006

Admissions unscripted


For about three seconds after assistant director of admissions Austin Bean, AB’04, asks the audience of close to 300 prospective students and their parents if they have any questions, there’s an awkward pause. Yet that brief moment of silence is the only one during the 40-minute student panel held in Ida Noyes at Friday’s Summer Information Day. Jenny Connell, AB’01, another assistant director of admissions, says the audience and the panel of five student tour guides often sound “like they’re scripted, they work so well together.” They’re not, of course—“sometimes they say things where you’re like, whoa, that was totally unscripted.”

Here’s an example. One father asks panelist Mitch Salm, ’09, who had introduced himself as a potential religious-studies major, why Chicago is such a great place for that interest. Salm hedges, saying, “Well, I’m still not sure,” and, “Technically, I haven’t taken any religious-studies courses yet—but I’m sure it’s great!” The audience eats it up. Another panelist chimes in: “He just likes this one religious-studies professor who looks like Gandalf.”

The panelists generally agree that it’s the people who drew them to this campus. Jeffrey Crane, ’09, says, “For me it was really the academic atmosphere—the nerdiness, if you will.” Salm waxes romantic about his peers. “I’m just constantly impressed by my classmates . . . There’s just this constant drive and desire to share ideas, this passion that so many people have here.”

Are the prospects buying it? While it’s too soon to tell, Bean says, “People who attend are very likely to apply.” Session over, about 30 students and parents stick around to talk to the admissions staff one-on-one in the Ida Noyes courtyard. Kelly Hofer, a rising senior at Phillips Exeter Academy who hails from Memphis, says the panel was “pretty telling.” Her next stop? Lollapalooza.

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Photos: The crowd listens to the panel at Ida Noyes (top); Prospies and parents enjoy refreshments afterward (bottom).

August 9, 2006

War and peace

“On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Chicago, it is difficult to put ourselves in places that are not so beautiful,” says Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, to a crowd of nearly 60 peace activists gathered in front of the Henry Moore sculpture Nuclear Energy on Ellis Avenue. They’ve congregated for the annual Hiroshima Day commemoration, sponsored by Illinois Peace Action, remembering 61 years since the United States dropped the world’s first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Rothschild, the keynote speaker, parallels the 1945 events to current international hostilities. “This government of ours today is more eager to drop a nuclear weapon than any government in United States history since the early days of Ronald Reagan,” he says. “We must do everything we can to make sure that another 61 years go by without another nuclear bomb going off on a population, so that our children’s children’s children can look back and say that this is the generation that overcame madness.”

Some activists, such as Hyde Park resident and U.S. Pacifist Party member Bradford Lyttle, AM’51, caution against casting blame solely along partisan lines. “This is not a Democratic or Republican issue,” he says. “It’s a human issue.” Lyttle, in his late teens in 1945, recalls that the attack inspired him to pursue a political-science degree and join anti–nuclear weapons development efforts. “There are one of two things that can happen,” he says. “Either the human species is going to end war, or war is going to end the human species.”

The audience includes a couple in their 20s who’ve never before visited the campus monument. Recent immigrants from Hiroshima and self-described “rough English” speakers, they have no trouble understanding the messages behind each speech.

“I am actually really surprised that American people have such a ceremony for the victims of the A-Bomb,” says Tuji Uchida, who moved to suburban Northbrook with wife Kaori. “I thought that the issue of the A-Bomb is not that big an issue for American people, but now I know at least some people take this issue seriously.” Their home city, they recall, commemorates the August 6 anniversary at 8:15 a.m. local time, the exact moment of detonation. All of Hiroshima stands still to remember those who perished.

Hassan S. Ali, ’07

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Photos (left to right): Matthew Rothschild keynotes the event; the crowd at the sculpture; the Uchidas mark their first Hiroshima Day in the States.

August 11, 2006

Music for a summer night


In the sea of concertgoers packing Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion lawn Wednesday evening, a small maroon-colored banner dots the landscape, marking the spot where more than 30 University of Chicago alumni have gathered for an evening at the Grant Park Music Festival.

“I come to many of these [events] to mingle and meet different alumni,” says Sandra Roth, X’52, joined by two friends around a folding picnic table. Before the concert begins, the trio pops open a bottle of Pinot Grigio over a Mediterranean assortment of baba ghanouj, grapes, and hummus.

“This tablecloth is from Provence, France,” says one of the friends, who supplied the picnic arrangement. Though not University alumni, the other two women accompany Roth to most Alumni Association programs, which are open to guests. “All of this folds and packs up very nicely,” she says. “I took it on the bus this morning when I left home.”

Entitled “Sagrado y Profano” (Sacred and Profane), the program gets under way and the crowd quiets down. Roth’s guests ease back in their folding chairs and take in the music. “Let’s just listen now,” one says, putting the conversation on indefinite hold.

Conductor Carlos Kalmar, music director of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, leads the Grant Park Orchestra’s performances of works by South American composers Heiter Villa-Lobos, Ariel Ramirez, and Antonio Estévez. Meanwhile, Roth points to an Alumni Association flyer promoting its next event, an August 27 polo match in suburban Oakbrook. She whispers to her companions, “Are you going to be there?”

Hassan S. Ali, ’07

Photo: A sea of concertgoers at the Pritzker Pavilion (top); Roth, her friends, and their spread (bottom).

August 14, 2006

Believe it or not


University Theater’s inaugural summer-residency program required students to lie—at least half the time. The two-week workshop culminated Sunday night with True + False, a performance featuring actors who recited two autobiographical stories, one true and the other false. The production team told the roughly 30 people on hand at the Reynolds Club’s Francis X. Kinahan Theater to “figure out for yourselves which is which”—the audience never learned which stories were authentic.

Eight college-age actors took the stage to put their stories’ veracity to the test. In “Mature,” Amber Robinson reflected on her recently widowed grandfather, explaining how he used an Internet-dating chat room to begin a relationship with a woman 30 years his junior. “He did not care, this was the women of his dreams,” Robinson read. Although he originally told the woman he was 50 instead of 85, Robinson said, the two had been dating for several months.

Tim Dunn’s “Feel My Pain” detailed his hypochondria during college. He recalled taking weekly home-pregnancy tests to check for testicular cancer (pregnant women produce the same hormone as men with testicular cancer). His girlfriend stumbled upon the test strips and confronted him before getting the whole story from Dunn’s roommate, after which, he said, they all had a laugh.

“It’s been a remarkable and invaluable two weeks here,” said Big Picture Group artistic director Roger Bechtel on behalf of his team, parked behind a giant control board orchestrating a wall of nearly 20 television monitors that displayed live and pre-recorded footage complementing each story’s plot. The Big Picture Group production company was among eight local drama groups that participated in the summer program.

Following its successful development at University Theater, Big Picture Group announced it would take True + False on the road in January, at a venue yet to be determined. And that’s no lie.

Hassan S. Ali, ’07

Photos: Amber Robinson reads her true-or-false tale (top). The screens showed taped and live video matching the stories (bottom).

August 16, 2006

Leaves of verse


Indigenous to the Paroles region of Upper Volta, the fabled Story Bush derives its name from the text-like mottling that occurs on its leaves beginning in late May. During the growing season individual lines emerge on a plant. In autumn local story gatherers collect the fallen leaves and arrange them into a tale that will entertain villagers through the long dark days of winter.

The placard stuck into the pot holding Hugh Musick’s (AB’84) artwork Story Bush (magnolia fabula), at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, adopts the authoritative, encyclopedic tone of other conservatory text, but like Story Bush itself, the paragraph combines imagination with reality.

A magnolia displaying an original 255-line narrative poem inscribed on the leaves, Musick’s Story Bush can’t be read in linear fashion, he points out. And that’s part of its magic. This past weekend children and adults alike touched the branches and leaves, circling the plant while reading such lines as:

unexpected heiress to a great aunt’s fortune
low-hanging cloud of discontent
thus the unprobable became possible

In a phone interview, Musick offers the analogy of a Magic 8 ball to explain how he hopes the phrases will affect viewers. “That’s the way music lyrics stay in my head. A turn of phrase can have certain substance and it can roll around in my head. If people are able to take away a bit or piece, maybe that seed will become inspiration to them.”

Musick has created hundreds of collages accompanied by short imaginative stories, but, he says, this is “the first time I’ve worked with a plant.” A few years ago he was walking in Lakeview when some hyacinth bushes, their leaves turning a brilliant red, caught his eye. “The image of someone writing a whole novel onto their bush came to me,” he recalls. Musick hopes Story Bush “will just stop you in your tracks and make you think, and reevaluate the potential of what things can be.”

In the fall Musick will play the role of story gatherer himself. Every day he will make a trip to the conservatory to collect the fallen leaves. He plans to transcribe the phrases in the order they have fallen. The resulting poem will be “decided entirely by the change of seasons.”

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Photos: A boy checks out the poetry leaves (top). Musick's phrases can't be read in linear fashion (bottom).

August 18, 2006

Define "ranking"


If the U.S. News and World Report rankings were the World Series or the Super Bowl, police would clear Hyde Park’s streets while a Maroon phoenix led rowdy fans back from today’s game, as the University of Chicago recaptured its No. 9 spot (last held in 2002)—leaving cross-town rival Northwestern at No. 14.

In the 2006 rankings, published in the August 21 issue and released today, Chicago tied for ninth best national university with Dartmouth College and Columbia University. The triumph didn’t result from new power-hitters or quarterbacks. Michael Behnke, vice president for University relations and dean of College enrollment, says the jump from last year’s No. 15 ranking has two main causes.

One factor is a rise in graduation rate, from 87 percent reported in U.S. News last year to 91 percent this year. To explain this increase Behnke points to student surveys the University has conducted for the past several years, which show more students participating in extracurricular activities, foreign studies, and internships as a result of the University’s increased “investments in student life.” The University’s efforts resulted in “higher levels of student satisfaction,” which, Behnke says, translates into a higher graduation rate.

A second factor, according to Behnke, has to do with how the University fills out its forms. “We’ve paid attention to how U.S. News & World Report defines things versus how we do.” Now the U of C’s Common Core writing program counts as a writing seminar, increasing the University’s percentage of small classes. In previous years the University also underreported its per-student spending by filing library expenditures in a category other than educational expenses. This year library spending was taken into account.

Despite the U of C’s leap, Behnke says that College applicants are too “sophisticated” to simply rely on one number when judging colleges. Although overall rankings are “not helpful,” he says, subcategories like percentage of classes with less than 20 students and graduation rate do provide useful information.

Perhaps the first challenge for future Chicago students is figuring out the ratings game. And even though rankings don’t matter, here are this year’s best national universities, according to U.S. News:

1. Princeton University
2. Harvard University
3. Yale University
4. California Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Stanford University
7. University of Pennsylvania
8. Duke University
9. Columbia University
Dartmouth College
University of Chicago

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Photo: Graduates high-five at the 2006 ceremony.

Photo by Dan Dry

August 21, 2006

Noontime Noise wakes up crowd


Last Wednesday afternoon brought a lunchtime treat to Hutch Courtyard—Chicago rock band Odium Nation. Marking the conclusion of ORCSA’s summer Noontime Noise series, the band entertained about 50 lunchers with an hour of songs from its new album, The Greater Good.

“We’re an interesting blend of hard rock, hip-hop, and R&B rhythms,” said Odium Nation guitarist John O’Brien after the set. “I think we’re hitting a middle ground that no one’s touched yet.” That “interesting blend” landed the band’s flagship song, “Wake Up,” a spot on Erin Carman’s “Local Music Mondays” show on The Loop radio station earlier this month.

The Noontime Noise event marked a new step for the band, which welcomed two fresh faces to its lineup. “We’ve been a band for four to five years now, but incorporating a DJ is new to us as of the U of C show,” said O’Brien of DJ Justin Faubion, who, along with the band’s new drummer, Mark “Coco” Phillips Jr., joined the group earlier this month.

The band consists of seven Chicago-area musicians in their late 20s, all committed to a common mantra: freedom. “Each member of this group was carefully selected for not only their musical ability but also their ability to think freely,” reads the band’s Web site. “Freedom stands at the very heart of why this band will succeed.”

This summer's Noontime Noise series also brought some U of C–centric rock bands to campus, such as Gamine Thief, which includes Renee Neuner, AB'06, and The Cathy Santonies, led by Raedy Ping, AM'05.

Hassan S. Ali, ’07

Photo: A Hutchinson Courtyard flyer previews Odium Nation's Noontime Noise performance.

August 23, 2006

Au revoir, foie gras


In the two weeks leading up to Chicago's disputed ban on foie gras—the French delicacy made from force-fed duck or goose liver—Hyde Park's La Petite Folie restaurant has never served more orders of the dish. "We've gone through five loaves this week," said La Petite Folie co-owner Mary Mastricola, AB'93, August 9, adding that the restaurant would normally serve two loaves per week.

"We haven't really had 'parties,'" said Mastricola as she prepared that day's foie gras, referring to some downtown eateries' lavish "outlaw dinner" events that drew national media attention. Instead, the Hyde Park restaurant and its patrons commemorated the now-illegal dish in more subtle ways: diners ordered as much foie gras as their stomachs (and wallets) could handle. She referred to an example from the previous weekend, when each person at one table ordered four servings of foie gras.

At the restaurant Tuesday, the day before the ban would be enforced, Alma Lach said she spoke for most of her fellow gourmands in calling the policy "the most stupid thing." "I'm so mad about it," said Lach, a La Petite Folie regular and former Chicago Sun Times food editor. "If we give up goose liver, are we going to give up beef, lobster, or turkey? Thanksgiving's coming up." Author of Hows and Whys of French Cooking (U of C Press, 1974; Castle Books, 1998), Lach said she'll order her family's foie gras supply from the suburbs, Wisconsin, or Indiana.

Officially making Chicago the first U.S. city to outlaw the dish, the ban's first day of enforcement represents a sharp divide between City Hall and the city's higher-end culinary community. Mastricola said she thought the City Council, which passed the ban this April, had "better things to do."

A "memoriam statement" will fill the void left on the menu, Mastricola said. "Foie gras will no longer be served by order of the City of Chicago," the menu will read. "Contact your local alderman."

Hassan S. Ali, '07

Photos: La Petite Folie co-owner Mary Mastricola prepares one of the last legal foie gras servings (top); The dish that has stirred so much controversy (bottom).

August 25, 2006

Sunset blues

“Turn it up! Let’s go!” shouts a group of women sitting atop the Warming House overlooking the Midway Plaisance ice-skating rink. They’re waiting for the Willie White Blues Band, playing for the Park District’s “Midweek at the Midway,” a free series of summer concerts and movies. Despite a stiff breeze and ominous clouds, the ladies have lawn chairs and a picnic table stocked with food. Down on the rink, small children race each other, and about 15 people dot bleachers and seats. Another 30 or so lounge on blankets in the grass.

Shortly after 7 p.m., as a golden sunset begins to fill the western sky, singer and bass guitarist Joe Pratt introduces the band. The women on top of the Warming House form two lines, turning in rhythm and counting, “Back, step, two, three,” as they execute steps and twirls in perfect unison to the blues songs.

As it turns out, they've practiced—these ten women are all students of Marva Childress, who teaches line dancing for the Park District. “This is not our kind of music,” says Childress, 70, “so we just sort of improvise.” The women, aged 60 to 80, according to Childress, sway easily to the beat in colorful shawls with fringe. Why do they look so youthful? "'Cause we all dance!”

Pratt calls out, “Folks in the back—how you doin’?” The line dancers return the greeting. “These ladies have been here for a long time,” Pratt says, “and we’re gonna dedicate this show to them.”

Jenny Fisher, ’07

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Photos (left to right): Line dancing to the blues; the guitarist and saxophonist; a couple dances while their baby watches.

August 28, 2006

Horsing around


It has been called the king of games and the game of kings, but for many of the roughly 100 University of Chicago alumni and their families in suburban Oak Brook, Sunday's polo match was a new experience.

“I’ve never been to a polo match,” said Elizabeth Hoffman, AB’83, over a glass of red wine, joined at a table by several Graduate School of Business (GSB) alumni. The sold-out event, sponsored by Chicago GSB Pakistan Club, Chicago GSB Club, and the University of Chicago Club of Metropolitan Chicago, brought College and GSB alumni to the Oak Brook Polo Club, the nation’s second oldest polo grounds.

“I’ve seen polo on TV, and I think it’s a ‘gentleman’s game,’” said Hoffman. “But it can be kind of rough too.” In fact, polo is the second most dangerous sport in the world, behind Formula One auto racing, explained local polo historian and game announcer Kirk Struggles to the group before the afternoon’s match. “Horses travel anywhere between 35 and 45 miles per hour, and the ball can reach speeds of up to 150 miles per hour,” Struggles said, adding that heavy Iranian, Pakistani, and Indian influences have forged the game’s 2,000-year history. The crowd also received a pamphlet, “A Spectator’s Guide to Polo,” which outlined the game’s rules and history.

Then the game began, with the Michigan-based Catamount team competing against the Morgan Creek team from Oswego, IL, for the Morgan Creek Cup title. Both teams featured professional players from Argentina and Mexico, among other countries.

During the relaxing afternoon with traditional Argentinian food, including asado (beef barbecue) and empanadas (stuffed pastries), alumni noted a change of pace in store for the GSB Alumni Club’s next program: a Chicago White Sox game.

Hassan S. Ali, '07

Photos: Alumni and guests take their seats for lunch and the polo match (top); An Argentinian Morgan Creek team member sizes up a shot (bottom).

August 30, 2006

Strawberry yields


Friday afternoon Herbert Baum walked across the Rockefeller Chapel chancel to accept his PhD in economics—55 years after leaving the University “ABD,” or “all but dissertation.” At 79, Baum, AM’51, PhD’07, is the oldest person ever to earn a doctorate from the University. Perhaps more notably, three Nobel laureates sat on his dissertation committee: James Heckman; Gary Becker, AM’53, PhD’55; and Milton Friedman, AM’33.

Before returning to the U of C to discuss economics with Nobel laureates, Baum spent 33 years as CEO of Naturipe, a California company that sells strawberries. Elected twice as chair of the California Strawberry Commission, Baum helped transform the business: once available only locally and during a short season, California strawberries are now shipped all over the country, year-round. All the while, “I always had in mind that I was one of the many ABDs around,” Baum said in a phone interview. “I always wanted to finish my degree but needed an adequate dissertation. So that I could write about it intelligently, not as an abstraction, I accumulated boxes and boxes of data” about the strawberry business.

After retiring in 1991, Baum approached the University’s economics department about writing a dissertation on the strawberry industry. “They said it was certainly a suitable subject.” Baum set out to transform his boxes of data and years of experience into what became The Quest for the Perfect Strawberry, published by iUniverse in 2005. The book, he says, “analyzes the California strawberry industry from the point of view of pomology, horticulture, and marketing.” The new varieties developed by the University of California and new horticulture techniques created since 1972, Baum explains, contributed most to California’s dominance in the market.

“I did want to write a book anyway,” says Baum, but “I wrote it always having in mind that it might suffice as a dissertation.” He sent an advertisement for the book to James Heckman, who replied, “Please send copies.” So Baum and his wife packed up and moved from their home in Depoe Bay, Oregon, to Hyde Park for the summer, staying in the Regents Park apartment building. “We brought our desktop computer and laptop,” Baum says, because “we didn’t know what kind of changes we’d have to make.” On July 10 Baum appeared before the economics faculty at a public seminar. “They said, ‘Congratulations, Dr. Baum.’ It was pretty exciting.”

For now, Baum is still hard at work. Back in Depoe Bay, he teaches social studies and economics at a junior college. He's also inspired by Heckman’s call for investment in early-childhood education. “I’m trying to use his work in Oregon to emphasize early-childhood education there.” First, however, Baum is scheduled to meet with Milton Friedman in California.

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Photo: After the ceremony, Baum chats with a fourth-year Pritzker medical student and her grandparents.

Photo by Lloyd DeGrane.

About August 2006

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

July 2006 is the previous archive.

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