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September 2006 Archives

September 1, 2006

When it's over


Photographer Laura Letinsky admits, “I never know when to throw something away”—like a vase of roses far past bloom. In her Monday evening talk “Free: By, For, and About Home,” at the Hyde Park Art Center, Letinsky explained that this quirk stems from a larger question: “When are things over?”

The body of photographs Letinsky showed along with her talk examined when things are over and what gets left behind. The photos included slides from her recent series, Morning and Melancholia, a study of leftover food and dishes as still life (displayed at the Renaissance Society in 2004). Letinsky, professor and chair of visual arts, also showed slides of her most recent work, photographs of apartments and homes taken soon after their owners moved out. “When you take everything out of a space, what gets left behind raises the question of what home is,” she told the audience of about 25.

The listeners, who had braved a downpour to attend, raised a number of their own questions. More than once an audience member asked how much Letinsky set up her photographs and how much she left to chance. “I want there to be a tension between the possibility of it being a real scene or set up,” she answered. “I don’t know when the contrivance starts and where the contrivance stops.”

Letinsky’s lecture was given in conjunction with the center’s exhibit Home of the Free. As her contribution, Letinsky had left a pile of magazines and free promotions on a table. They looked artistically arranged, yet at the same time they could have been dropped there without thought. Perhaps that was her intention.

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Photo: Letinsky's slide show (top) and her contribution to the exhibit (bottom).

September 5, 2006

The Song of Songs, set loose


“Kiss me, make me drunk with your kisses,” Graham School of General Studies lecturer Stephen Hall reads to about 100 people in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater. The September 1 program, “Song of Songs: Eros and Allegory,” part of the Graham School’s “First Friday” lecture series, examines Song of Songs, a book and poem in the Hebrew Bible about two young lovers’ passionate relationship. “We will laugh, you and I, and count each kiss, better than wine,” Hall quotes the lyrics with eyebrows raised, before addressing the crowd with a smile. “What is this book doing in the Bible?”

Known in the Christian tradition as the Song of Solomon, the Song of Songs presents a love story most commonly interpreted as an allegory to describe God’s love for Israel and the Christian church. But Hall asserts that apart from that meaning, the poem tells a more scandalous story about two unwed lovers, frustrated because social mores won’t allow them to pursue their relationship.

“We can read it and get lost in the drama, like a movie,” says Hall, “but there’s also this sense of voyeurism, that we’re watching this most private experience.” He dissects each verse, illustrating how the woman compares herself to a garden and nature. “My brothers were angry with me,” she tells her lover. “They made me guard the vineyards, but I have not guarded my own.” The man then describes the woman as “a hidden well”—Hall explains, “You want to lower your bucket in it”—and “a sealed spring”—Hall suggests, “You want to break the seal.” After several examples, he proclaims, “If this is not consummation, I don’t know what is.”

He expresses disappointment with how many of today’s churches frown upon the Song of Songs and do not commonly discuss the book. “I want to teach the Song of Songs in Sunday School,” says Hall, an evangelical Christian. “But my wife prohibits me.” Despite the book’s suggestiveness, he says, its basic message is still a testament to what drives believers to faith. “I think there’s something in the human soul that longs for the eternal, for the Divine,” Hall says. “Sometimes it is God pursuing us, and sometimes it is us pursuing God.”

Hassan S. Ali, '07

Photo: The Graham School's Stephen Hall gives his interpretation of the Song of Songs.

September 8, 2006

Divine madness


In the basement of Swift Hall, the gods are duking it out. This week the prophet Muhammad is up against Chuang Tzu, a Chinese philosopher from the fourth century BC, considered by some scholars to be an early anarchist and known for his Daoist writings.

Grounds of Being, the Div School coffee shop, posts the results of its first-ever round-robin tournament on the blackboard behind the counter. Each week patrons vote with their tips, and whichever deity (broadly defined) brings in the most bucks moves on to the next round. As of Wednesday morning, Chuang Tzu was ahead $5.88 to $4. But there was a whole dollar in Muhammad’s tip jar that had yet to be counted in the day's-end tally.

“Some people were like, ‘You’re just doing it for the tips, aren’t you?’” says barista Karen Tye, ’07. In fact, she says, tips haven’t gone up noticeably—the contest is simply for fun. That said, some patrons take it seriously. The first week of August, fearing that Rastafarian Haile Selassie would prove more popular than J. K. Rowling, some Harry Potter fans accused the coffee shop of rigging the tournament, says Tye. Rowling won anyway.

Div School graduate students and coffee-shop workers Scot Ausborn and Brian Clites dreamed up the idea and handpicked the contestants. With quarter-finals beginning next week, Mormon prophet and angel Moroni, Michel Foucault, John Lennon, Pythagoras, Optimus Prime (an action figure from the Transformers), Poseidon, and Rowling remain in the running. Grounds of Being hopes to host another such tournament, but next time, says Tye, the shop will ask customers for the godly suggestions.

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Photos: It all comes down to the tip jar (top); gods battle behind the counter (bottom).

September 11, 2006

Spark of genius


Friends of physicist James Cronin, SM’53, PhD’55, say it’s fitting that the Nobel laureate shares a September 29 birthday with U of C physics pioneer Enrico Fermi. More than 300 of Cronin’s friends, colleagues, and family filled Max Palevsky Cinema Friday as part of the Enrico Fermi Institute’s Cronin-fest, a weekend-long pre-celebration of the professor emeritus's 75th birthday.

Attendees came from all parts of the country to mark the occasion, which included seminars on Cronin’s groundbreaking contributions and ongoing work in physics.

While at Princeton University in 1964, Cronin and fellow physicist Val Fitch proved that a reaction run in reverse does not follow the path of the original reaction, suggesting that time has an effect on subatomic particle interactions. The experiment uncovered the CP violation, or a break in particle-antiparticle symmetry, and earned Cronin and Fitch the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physics.

“CP violations provide a window into the early history of the universe,” said Lincoln Wolfenstein, SB'43, SM'44, PhD'49, a former Carnegie Mellon particle physicist whose work has elaborated on Cronin’s discoveries, prior to the event. “There’s a hope we can understand why the universe has more particles than antiparticles,” he added. “Maybe CP violations are why we’re here.”

University of Pittsburgh professor emeritus Eugene Engels, Cronin’s first graduate student as a Princeton University professor from 1958 to 1971, addressed the audience first. “Jim was very interested in seeing what the spark chamber could do,” Engels said, adding that it was Cronin’s achievements that inspired him to pursue spark-chamber research, detecting electrically charged particles. Summarizing Cronin’s seminal 1964 experiment for the audience, Engels hailed the test as “the most perfect spark-chamber event created by the hand of man.” He then reflected on his early grad-student career, calling his working relationship with Cronin “the two most important years in my becoming a physicist.”

Cronin, who retired from Chicago in 1997 and is spokesman emeritus for the Pierre Auger Observatory, sat front-row and center, a rare turn on the other end of the lecture podium.

Hassan S. Ali, '07

Photos: Nobel laureate and birthday honoree James Cronin, left, joined by Cronin-fest host James Pilcher, director of the Enrico Fermi Institute (top); The program participants congregate in front of Max Palevsky Cinema for lecture registration, mingling, and refreshments (bottom).

September 12, 2006

To Egypt and back


On a drizzly and chilly September Sunday, 15 people filtered into the Oriental Institute’s Breasted Hall, ready to be transported to ancient Egypt via the second episode of A&E’s documentary series The Great Pharaohs of Egypt (1997). Although viewing was held up as an OI worker struggled to unlock the projectionist closet door, he finally realized, “It goes in, not out!” and the show went on.

The documentary described the boy-king Pepe II, who ascended the throne at age six and ruled for close to 100 years, from 2278 to 2184 BC. Also featured was Hatshepsut, a royal family member who usurped the throne of her young co-regent Thutmose III, crowning herself pharaoh around 1473 BC. After her death, Thutmose III had her image rubbed from reliefs and had statues of her defaced, in what the narrator called “the ancient Egyptian equivalent of book burning.” Thutmose III's successor, Thutmose IV, was notable for something more positive: clearing away the sand from the Sphinx at Giza in 1400 BC.

As the Sphinx faded from the screen, the audience quickly cleared out. Among the mostly older men and women, a tiny girl in a red raincoat and pigtails emerged from the first row, holding her father’s hand—the U of C version of early education.

Jenny Fisher, ’07

Photos: Egypt-fans await the film in Breasted Hall (top); Thutmoses III fills the screen (bottom).

September 15, 2006

Flood of knowledge

Pouring off the bus parked outside Ida Noyes Hall came rain-coated women (and more than a sprinkling of men), headed for the Wednesday symposium kicking off the 58th annual Know Your Chicago program.

"We're very proud of all of you for swimming here today," Know Your Chicago chair Jean Meltzer welcomed the hundreds of participants who soon filled the Max Palevsky Cinema. Fortified by coffee and tea, their cellphones turned off and their notebooks pulled out, they sat ready for three morning lectures, a break for lunch, and two afternoon talks. Each presentation introduced one of five day-long tours of local venues (from a Hindu temple to a children's advocacy center) scheduled for September or October. Because each tour (repeated on consecutive days) is limited to approximately 120 people, everyone who registers for the introductory symposium enters a lottery to earn spots on one or more tours.

The day's first presenter was Bryan Samuels, AM’93, whose talk, "DCFS 101: Foster Kids are Our Kids Too," provided background for "Children at Risk: Safe Havens," a tour of social-service agencies with which the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) works. Samuels has directed the DCFS since 2003—the average tenure for a child-services director in the United States, he told the group, is just 18 months. Continuity is also an issue, of course, for kids in substitute care, a population that this year includes 16,700 Illinois children 18 or younger and another 1,500 youth between the ages of 19 and 21. That’s down from 51,000 in 1997, when the DCFS caseworker-to-child ratio was 50:1; today it’s 14:1.

Taking a “kid-based focus” and emphasizing its role “as surrogate parents,” Samuels said, DCFS works to “build bridges for these young people back to the community, so that they have a support system when they leave us.”

Begun in 1948 by Chicago civic leader Mary Ward Wolkonsky as a lecture series to encourage more women to participate in the city's life, Know Your Chicago is now sponsored by the University's Graham School of General Studies and organized by a 50-woman volunteer committee. Planning begins "at the end of the tour season," said vice chair Jean Berghoff, "when we evaluate the past year, brainstorm ideas, list them all, and vote." The aim "is an eclectic mix—we try not to have all education, all social service, or all city politics." The 2006 season is a case in point, with "Chicago Museums: Relevant and Reinvented," "Mystical, Magical India," Rejuvenating the Brain," and "Argonne: Science for Today and Tomorrow" filling the schedule—and the tour buses.


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Photos (left to right): Jean Meltzer welcomes old friends and new faces to the 2006 Know Your Chicago; Terese Zimmer, wife of University President Robert Zimmer, is Know Your Chicago's newest member; DCFS's Bryan Samuels, AM'93, sees opportunities in the substitute-care numbers.

Photos by Hassan Ali, ’07.

September 18, 2006

Reinventing the wheels


Orientation Week 2006 kicked off early Saturday morning with every first-year’s rite of passage: moving in. As much an endurance test for parents as for students, the process of moving into residence halls has been typically marked by a frenzied scene of bewildered freshmen, outnumbered orientation staff members, and a long line of cars and trucks waiting to be unloaded. And yet the scene at Shoreland Hall looked nothing as expected.

“This was the fastest move-in ever,” said house orientation aide Mitcho Erlewine, ’07, during one of the many lulls in front of Shoreland. “Every year we try to tweak things that aren’t working,” added Paul Ryer, assistant director of housing, who helped supervise the Shoreland operation. With Class of 2010 numbers comparable to recent years, Ryer attributed the improvements to smarter scheduling and better tools. Saturday’s move-in started an hour earlier at 7 a.m., and the orientation staff introduced so-called “purge bins,” large, wheeled, bright-orange, plastic containers to transport a student’s belongings to his or her dorm room.

Whereas orientation aides previously steered small, rickety shopping carts that required several trips to and from the car, the student helpers could now unload an entire minivan’s worth of gear into a single purge bin, which “improved things tremendously,” according to Ryer. In addition, because the purge bins were too big to fit inside the rooms, movers were quicker to shift items out of the hallways and into their rooms.

The efficiency relieved the orientation staff, who had been unsure if the new measures would help or hurt matters. “I was here from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. last year, unloading the entire time,” said orientation aide Andy Eisenberg, ’08, of Shoreland’s Fallers House. “But now I’ve been on a break for an hour and a half.” He added, “We haven’t even had a U-Haul truck yet.”

Hassan S. Ali, ’07

Photos: Orientation aides unload a first-year's car with the help of new "purge bins" (top); The Shoreland lobby stands clear of long lines and crowds waiting to move in (bottom).

September 19, 2006

Net gains and losses


The chants and cheers resonating from Ratner Athletics Center’s Competition Gymnasium this weekend signaled the start of the inaugural Gargoyle Classic volleyball tournament. The University of Chicago hosted Lake Forest College, North Park University, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, Illinois College, University of Dubuque, Defiance College, Concordia University, and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges for two days of intense competition in the first four Maroon home games this season.

The Maroons (2-12) faced Concordia (3-2) and Wisconsin-Eau Claire (9-1) on Friday in front of about 50 cheering fans, some chanting “C-H-I-C-A-G-O” from the stands, and others donning T-shirts that read “Bleed Maroon.” Despite leading performances by the Maroons’ Diandra Bucciarelli, ’10, and Erin O’Neill, ’08, both Concordia and UW–Eau Claire defeated Chicago in three games.

Saturday morning was equally tough for the Maroons, who lost to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (5-3) after several close games. But Chicago turned matters around against its final opponent, defeating Illinois College in three games and snapping the Maroons’ seven-match losing streak. Middle hitter Koryn Kendall, ’08, marked a season high of 15 kills to lead the Maroons to a 1–3 record for the weekend.

With the Gargoyle Classic behind them, first-year players such as Bucciarelli said they had just one more challenge to take on: Orientation Week.

Hassan S. Ali, '07

Photos: First–year Diandra Bucciarelli takes to the air for a return shot against University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire (top); The team celebrates after third-year Erin O'Neill (No. 8) scores a critical point (bottom).

September 22, 2006

Unexpected echoes

After a month of pouring concrete and waiting for the forms to set, Dutch artist Avery Preesman opened his exhibit with a reception at the Renaissance Society last Sunday. Dozens of black-clad guests examined the series W68/Westpunt 68 (2000–06), a group of photographs crudely painted over with thick black ink, and circumnavigated Staketsel Floor Sculpture (2006), a massive, concrete-filled installation of unfinished plywood boards, before moving on to other installations and three silver paintings with raised designs.

The geometric angles of the floor-sculpture plywood mirrored the lines in the painted-over photographs and the angular projections of Choir (2006), a sand-cement sculpture extending across the windows. The lines of the artwork even seemed to reflect the scaffolding holding up the gallery’s lights. In a public talk with curator Hamza Walker, AB'88, Preesman admitted the motif was unintentional. “All these works function for myself as autonomous,” he said, but “for me that is something to see now, that this thing echoes.”

Resisting questioners who described his sculptures as "neutral toned," Preesman made a case for the suggestive quality of gray, arguing that "the color of concrete expresses something different than the weight." As to whether he was truly a painter or a sculptor, Preesman replied, "you should have your own rules, otherwise you cannot conceive anything."

Jenny Fisher, ’07

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Photos (left to right): Choir extends from the windows above Staketsel Floor Sculpture; a closeup of Staketsel Floor Sculplture; Preesman (left) and Walker (right) discuss the show.

September 25, 2006

You can go home again

Raisin, Court Theatre's revival of the 1973 Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, has a Hyde Park backstory. But along with a local angle, Raisin—which runs through October 22—has universal appeal.

Hansberry's plot centers on what happens when a black working-class family buys a house in a restricted neighborhood. The story is semiautobiographical: in 1940 the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of Hansberry's father and against a University-supported neighborhood association, opening up more than 300 properties in the Woodlawn neighborhood to African Americans.

The themes are heavy but the mood, under Charles Newell's direction, is joyous. A jazz band plays on an onstage platform, and the actors all wait for their cues while sitting onstage—half audience, half gospel witnesses.

Court's paying audience, meanwhile, is witness to some powerful performances, including one that offers another homecoming of sorts: Ernestine Jackson, who plays family matriarch Lena Younger, appeared in the original Broadway cast, playing Lena's daughter-in-law Ruth.


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Photos (left to right): Ernestine Jackson, who was nominated for a Tony for her performance in the original Broadway production, as Lena "Mama" Younger; Malkia Stampley as Beneatha, David St. Louis as Walter Lee, and Harriet Nzinga Plumpp as Ruth; The cast of Raisin.

Photos by Michael Brosilow.

September 26, 2006

Supply and demand

The quads filled up Monday for the first day of classes as students zigzagged across the paths, coffee cups and laptops in hand. In the University bookstore, student after student asked, “Is this the line?” as their eyes followed a queue that stretched through the bookshelves, past the calendars, and halfway up the stairs.

For the ever-popular Introduction to Microeconomics, more than 160 students crammed the first-floor lecture hall in Cummings, some sitting on the stairs. First-year Natalie Doss, who was hoping to pink-slip into the class, said simply finding the building had been an ordeal. Everyone she asked for directions said, “Oh, you’re totally in the wrong place,” Doss said, then pointed her to a different corner of campus. Finally, someone said, “It’s in the hospital,” where Doss eventually got the right directions.

Once she arrived, Doss faced a second trial. Economics senior lecturer Allen Sanderson asked the class how he should fill the 20 remaining spots in the course, capped at 120. Students suggested using seniority, an exam, or seriousness about economics as criteria for entry. Sanderson jokingly added violence (throwing 20 chips on the floor and letting students duke it out) and divine intervention to the list. “I could pass the list to Alison Boden, dean of the chapel, and say, ‘Here are the 20 names—who does He want in?’” In the end, Sanderson said he would take those students who had e-mailed him beforehand. Doss thought she would make the cut.

Jenny Fisher, ’07

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Photos (left to right): Students avoid construction between Rosenwald and Swift, make their way to Cobb, and start on homework already in Regenstein Library.

September 28, 2006

Flower power


At the first Divinity School Wednesday lunch of the academic year, the Field Museum's William C. Burger wowed this week's crowd with heroic tales of flowers. Yes, said the animated, white-bearded curator emeritus in the Field's Department of Botany, flowering plants have changed the world. Without nice-looking and -smelling flowers, insects wouldn't be attracted to and pollinate them, creating the extremely diverse set of plants that make up, say, rainforests.

Even primate evolution wouldn't have occurred the same way without flowering plants. Primates, originally insectivores, climbed trees to eat the bugs gathered near the fruits and flowers, developing long limbs to reach their prey. Over time, as primates began eating fruits, bending wrists and fingers evolved to examine the food, and the monkeys' eyes moved to the front of their heads for better three-dimensional vision as they jumped the trees. The resulting flatter face meant monekys couldn't see behind them to ward off predators, so they lived in small groups and looked after each other.

Another unsuspecting flowering plant, grass, brought primates out of the forest. First appearing 25 million years ago in South America, grasslands expanded as Earth dried and cooled. Eventually, Burger said, summarizing millions of years in a sentence, "one of the apes got up on its hind feet and moved to the savannah," where herbivores grazed. Here primates found beef. Eating meat literally beefed up mother's milk with proteins and nutrients that helped infant brains grow bigger. So grasslands, he said, "allowed us to become who we are."

Ending on a not-so-high note from his book—Flowers: How They Changed the World (Promethius Books, 2006)—Burger warned of hazards to flowers and the rest of the earth. "There are 6 billion people on the planet, and no one's talking about pulling the brakes," he said. Such overpopulation, he writes, strains water resources, agricultural soil, urban environments, and declining fisheries; and more than half the human population is malnourished. "Clearly, human beings are not living in sustainable harmony with the biosphere that supports them."


Photos: Burger in Swift Hall (top); An amateur photographer, Burger shot this beetle visiting a wild geranium (courtesy Prometheus Books).

About September 2006

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

August 2006 is the previous archive.

October 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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