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November 2006 Archives

November 1, 2006

Dressed to sell


Although the University Bookstore was more whimsical than scary Tuesday, its Halloween flavor was clear. Employees took part in the store's costume contest, also open to customers. At the first-floor checkout counter, clerk Mary Cage dressed as a pumpkin, while assistant manager Heather Prescott sported Pippi Longstocking braids. Upstairs in the textbook department, violent royal death was the theme: Michele Joyce donned a gown as Ann Boleyn, post-beheading, while Ana Cabezas was Marie Antoinette—also with some red marks around her throat.

"The best part is trying to do returns with a serious face," said Cabezas, who spearheaded the contest. Throughout the day, as customers in Halloween costumes entered the store, employees took Polaroids, which they posted on a bulletin board. Participating customers received a free tall drink at the coffee shop, and the contest winner, chosen by store managers, would receive a $25 gift certificate.

By Wednesday morning the managers had narrowed their favorites to three people, finally choosing graduate student Jack Stockert, AB'05, covered in silver as the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy. The back of his shirt declared "Bears 2006."


Photos: Foxy Cleopatra from Austin Powers in Goldmember, Pippi Longstocking, and Marie Antoinette worked in the bookstore Tuesday (top); Polaroids of costumed customers adorned the bulletin board (bottom).

November 3, 2006

Welcome to Bollywood


Rochona Majumdar, PhD’03, assistant professor of South Asian languages and civilizations, was pleasantly surprised at the audience who came to hear her Bollywood lecture during the University’s 26th annual Humanities Day last Saturday. “We didn’t know how many had signed up until today,” Majumdar said, apologizing for a shortage of handouts as more than 30 people filed into the Stuart Hall classroom. When she asked if anyone had seen a Bollywood film—a movie produced by India’s Mumbai-based, Hindi-language industry—nearly every hand went up. Majumdar grinned. “Wonderful.”

One of 33 lectures, readings, discussions, tours, and performances offered during Humanities Day, Majumdar’s presentation centered on Bollywood cinema’s song-and-dance sequences, present in nearly every movie the industry produces. An “integral feature” that “turns the mirror back on society,” she said, the “song texts bear the imprint” of social change in India since its 1947 independence. One such change, she said, was the “death of the street” as an open, communal space for Indian people. Showing a song clip from the film Shree 420 (1955), in which the hero is a Charlie Chaplinesque tramp who comes to Mumbai to seek his fortune, Majumdar pointed out, “Here we see the nation comes alive in the street, and the street is the people.” By the 2002 release of Company, a gritty underworld drama, “the street has become a site of strife,” Majumdar said, and it no longer offers a haven for ordinary Indians. “Money for votes, a fraud in a dhoti, a wounded heart: / Meaning your friend fawns on you to your face, then stabs you from behind. / It’s all dirty, but that’s the business,” sing the characters in the Company song “Sab Ganda Hai.”

Comprising the most widely known—although not the only—segment of Indian cinema, Bollywood films today break down into three categories, Majumdar said. First are those like last year’s Bride and Prejudice, produced for Indian expats across the globe and incorporating a huge cast and numerous weddings into stories about happy, wealthy families. Gangster movies like Company, meanwhile, target a domestic audience and offer a grim, often cynical picture of India’s “global economy of crime.” Third—and fewest—are those that Majumdar called “alternate films”—movies that take on issues such as AIDS, sexual harassment, dual-income families, and women’s role in society. “These are the films I find most hopeful,” Majumdar said. “They talk about problems rarely addressed elsewhere.”


Photos: As the Chaplinesque tramp in Shree 420, Raj Kapoor found a haven on Mumbai's open, communal streets (top); the 1955 movie poster for Shree 420 (bottom).

November 6, 2006

Sex, religion, and the Constitution


Standing beneath the carved angels in Swift Hall’s third-floor lecture room and pondering religion’s long reach, legal scholar Geoffrey Stone, JD’71, offered more questions than answers Thursday night at the Divinity School’s annual Nuveen lecture. Focusing on the fate of the Constitution in the 21st century, he previewed two of his forthcoming books: Rights at War (University of Pennsylvania Press), which argues for judicial intervention against restricting Muslim Americans’ rights in the face of a terrorist threat, and Sexing the Constitution (W. W. Norton), which explores court rulings on moral customs that become law. “How do we deal with laws” governing personal behavior like abortion, birth control, and same-sex relationships, he asked, “that arise from sectarian beliefs rather than from public policy designed to serve the country as a whole? … Up to now, the law has been blind to this problem.”

When it comes to sex or war, said Stone, the Law School’s Harry Kalven Jr. Distinguished Service Professor of Law, religion plays a powerful role in constitutional law. That role extends beyond the Constitution’s framers; tracing it for Sexing the Constitution, Stone found himself researching the Hebrews and early Christians. “When we look at decisions on contraceptives, abortion, gay rights, it is appropriate to understand them not as momentous steps in our time, but minor steps in a 1,500-year process,” he said. “Western culture is still trying to dig itself out from under Augustine,” the fourth-century saint whose teachings on original sin and salvation were critical to early Christianity.

“Can a law be constitutional when it arises from religious precepts?” he asked. The question is complex, he said. Laws against married couples using contraception, for instance—like the Connecticut statute the Supreme Court struck down in 1965—do not explicitly violate First Amendment clauses on religious free exercise or establishment of a state religion. And although an anticontraceptive law may be rooted in Christian teaching, it isn’t as if “being Muslim or Jewish requires one to use contraceptives,” Stone noted. In addition, faith influences not only pro-life activists or gay-marriage opponents; it also spurred 19th-century abolitionists and 1960s civil-rights leaders. “That doesn’t mean the 13th Amendment,” eliminating slavery, “is unconstitutional.”


Photo: Stone expounds on constitutional law in Swift Hall.

November 7, 2006

Stagg Field's new look

With less than ten minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Maroons were leading Minnesota's Northwestern College by only one point. Northwestern had won its last four games, while the Maroons were in the depths of a four-game losing streak. It wasn't just any game for Chicago's football team, however. It was the season's last home game and the last game on Stagg Field before its renovation. Bernard "Bernie" DelGiorno, AB'54, AB'55, MBA'55, sat in the stands waiting for the ceremonial groundbreaking following the game, which would honor his $2 million gift for the field's makeover.

Quarterback Mike Rinklin, '07, made a 16-yard pass to wide receiver John Kiernan, '09, and the crowd of more than 200 fans erupted in cheers as Kiernan snagged the ball for a touchdown. "You're done, Northwestern!" yelled a Chicago fan when the game ended at 28-20. "Nice try, Northwestern, maybe next light-year!"

As the Maroons slapped high-fives with Northwestern, a small yellow bulldozer slowly rolled to the "C" in the field's center. While the football team sang "Wave the Flag" (a tradition after winning games), the Chicago phoenix led athletic director Tom Weingartner, dean of the College John Boyer, AM'69, PhD'75, and DelGiorno onto the field. The bulldozer took a ceremonial bite out of the "C," and the groundbreaking was officially complete.

Over the next year, all of Stagg Field will go, replaced by artificial turf. The University will resurface the track and add lighting to increase the field's use. In a pre-game reception, Chicago athletes and members of the athletic department gathered to thank DelGiorno, who recalled complaining to Weingartner a few years ago about the quality of the locker-room soap and coming out convinced "that the University really needed lights on the field and artificial turf." Addressing the students, DelGiorno joked, "I hope you get good grades, good jobs, good high-paying jobs—to pay for the electric lights!"

Jenny Fisher, '07

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Photos (left to right): DelGiorno addresses student-athletes before the game; Chicago fans, including the Phoenix, watch attentively; the football team gets mid-game coaching; the bulldozer begins to dig up the "C."

November 10, 2006

Community values


“How can you not be a fan, with his charm?” asked one student. He was talking about third-year Tyler Zoanni, smiling and chatting with audience members before his talk in the bimonthly “What Matters to Me and Why” series. The series, sponsored by Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, encourages active members of the University community to reflect on their values and motivations. Zoanni, peer minister of Lutheran Campus Ministry, cochair of Interfaith Dialogue, and a member of his dorm (Wick House) council, was surrounded by friends and fans during Thursday afternoon’s brown-bag discussion in the chapel’s Interreligious Center as he spoke about finding meaning through the communities in his life.

“What matters to me,” Zoanni said, is a “surprisingly tough” question that people rarely think about. His father, he joked, suggested that “family, friends, happiness, health, and respecting your father” are what really matter, but Zoanni decided to focus on principles: community, decency, and honesty. People “strive to live lives that have meaning,” he explained, and they have a set of commitments by which they live. He has found a source of meaning in communities. After his mother was injured in a car accident and then diagnosed with cancer—Zoanni was in kindergarten—he spent a lot of time with neighbors in his small Montana town: “Without that, I wouldn’t have made it.” The broader importance of community, he said, is that “people who don’t know each other still care about each other.” For Zoanni, Wick House and the Lutheran Campus Ministry have provided food, friends, and an escape from the “rages of the academic world.”

Through the student organization Interfaith Dialogue, a group that brings together people from different religious backgrounds, Zoanni works toward creating “a community of communities” at the University. He suggests rethinking the partisan model, where a person espouses strong beliefs while “casting aside” others who may disagree; rather, a community should be a place for openness and vulnerability. It is valuable, Zoanni concluded, to remember how small one is in the grand scheme, and that listening to other people’s convictions can help a person “figure things out” in a messy, complicated world.

Ruthie Kott

Photo: In Rockefeller's basement, Zoanni tells friends and fans about community.

November 13, 2006

The divine world


Praising the “grandeur” and “power” of her colleague William Schweiker’s 2004 book on theological ethics, Divinity School professor Kathryn Tanner couldn’t help chuckling at the “movie review” he’d slipped into a chapter comparing the Cain and Abel story with Natural Born Killers. While listeners polished off carrot cake and coffee during a Swift Hall lunchtime forum last Wednesday, Tanner—critiquing the book before the author took the podium—said Schweiker, PhD’85, put “religious stories to the test” of “the moral demands of the day” in his “analysis of the global cultural scene and the moral challenges it poses.”

With chapter titles like “Reconsidering Greed,” “Love in the End Times,” and “On Moral Madness,” Theological Ethics and Global Dynamics: In the Time of Many Worlds (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers) argues for a realignment of ethical principles. It hails environmentalism on theological grounds and finds benefit in religious pluralism. As myriad cultures homogenize humanity—often to good effect but sometimes wreaking violence— “one can no longer make God, humankind, or nature the center of reflection from which to see everything else,” Schweiker said. Instead, he urged, “think toward the ‘integrity of life,’” which he defined as the union of “natural, sentient, social, human, and I would even say divine life.” Theological ethics has a duty to help preserve that union. “Christian stories and texts help us perceive and understand the world in a way that might transform,” he said. “They pay a debt to enhance and respect that integrity of life.” A “massive problem in Christian teaching,” he said, is its focus on sin, redemption, and heaven—all human-centered concerns that offer little guidance on “how to relate to the natural world.”

Jewish-studies professor Michael Fishbane, who also took part in the forum, compared Schweiker’s conclusions to those of philosopher Martin Heidegger, who thought of technology, Fishbane said, as a “Promethean and violent assault on nature,” and physicist Werner Heisenberg, who denounced “exploitative technology but [didn’t] see technology itself as a danger.” Schweiker, Fishbane emphasized, asks his readers to “think beyond our specific life to the world as a divine realm and to preserve its resources for all life.”


Photos: Kathryn Tanner looks on while William Schweiker answers questions about his book (top); Michael Fishbane also takes part in the forum. (bottom).

Balcony scenes

What better way to raise money for an undergraduate trip to a Shakespeare performance than to stage a benefit where Chicago undergrads perform scenes from Shakespeare?

So this Sunday night, in a classic “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” move, Lee and Michael Behnke (she’s director of the undergraduate Latin program and teaches in the Core humanities sequence Human Being and Citizen (HBC); he’s vice president and dean of College enrollment) will turn over their Hyde Park apartment for “Cupid’s Pageant,” a one-shot benefit that—as you might expect when the theater is a living room—is already sold out.

The cause? Subsidizing ticket prices so that as many of the 300 HBC students who want to can attend a spring performance of Troilus and Cressida at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

They’ll be a knowledgeable audience. The play is part of this year's HBC syllabus, and the 13 students running the show—11 actors, costume designer, and graphics designer—have chosen ten scenes exploring Troilus and Cressida themes found in five more-celebrated Shakespeare plays, including Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo and Juliet.

Prefaced by an introduction from Shakespeare scholar and English professor emeritus David Bevington, the program focuses on aspects of romantic love: pining, wooing, betrayal, and the making of pacts. The curtain closer is from Troilus and Cressida (III.ii), in which the title pair plight their troth. What better way to end a benefit than with a pledge?


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A dress rehearsal gave Ryland Barton and Anna Christine the chance to peer out windows and over balconies. The invitation and program were designed by art-history major Simone Martin-Newberry, ’07, who drew a parallel between theater and the effect of entering France's Cathedral of Chartres, "where the contrasting darks and lights, shadows on the stone, and warm colors of the windows gave me the feeling of being transported to a place very separate from my regular world."

Rehearsal photos by Michael H. Behnke.

November 17, 2006

Like mother, like daughter


Generations converged at the Oriental Institute on Wednesday afternoon. Not only did the “Embroidering Identities: A Century of Palestinian Clothing” talk pull an audience mixed with older adults and students, but exhibit curator and tour guide Iman Saca’s mother was also among the listeners. Both mother and daughter had a hand in the exhibit, which takes viewers on a colorful tour of regional clothing in pre-1948 Palestine: Iman, chair of the Middle Eastern studies program at Chicago’s St. Xavier University, was digging through OI storage facilities when she found a room full of Palestinian dresses that had never been displayed. She combined the dresses with garments, jewelry, and headdresses from the Palestinian Heritage Center in Bethlehem, founded in 1991 by mother Maha Saca, to create the exhibit.

Iman Saca began the OI tour with dresses from Palestine’s central region, noting that each region—central, southern, and eastern—has a common theme. “Villages had distinct styles,” she explained, and individual dresses “highlight aspects that represent identity.” A woman’s clothing revealed her marital status (or, as Maha added, “if she likes to have a lot of babies”), age, and social position. The “bridal dress of Bethlehem,” for example, known for its ornate and costly embroidery, was coveted by women from surrounding villages, though most could only afford a single side or chest panel, which they would sew onto a homemade dress. In the Bedoin Sinai Desert, a dress embroidered with blue thread meant the woman was a widow; if she later added red thread, it was a “signal that [she] was ready to be married again.” Women also wore jewelry and coins to flaunt their dowries, so “people could see how much [her husband] paid for her.” Even the act of embroidering itself held significance. Saca explained that a young girl would learn the patterns and techniques that her “grandma was familiar with,” and she would be deemed a good marriage partner “based on her stitch.”

After the 1948 partition, with its shifting of boundaries and resulting wars, Saca said, the craft of dress-making faltered. In the 1980s, however, the Palestinian nationalist movement led to its revival. One dress from this period is embroidered with the word “Palestine” encircling the sleeve and a Palestinian flag.

Ruthie Kott

Photos: Mother-daughter team of Iman and Maha Saca (top) lead Wednesday's exhibit tour; embroidered Palestinian dresses tell much about the identity of their wearers.

November 20, 2006

The distant beloved


Introduced by associate music professor Berthold Hoeckner as “a true performer and scholar,” someone who has the 19th-century composers “at his fingertips,” University of Illinois professor and pianist William Kinderman explored the musical relationship between Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert Schumann. Focusing on Schumann’s “most discussed composition” at last Friday’s music-department colloquium, Kinderman traced the evolution of Fantasy in C major, op. 17. The 1839 work, Kinderman explained to an audience of about 40, was a “musical monument” to Beethoven, who had died more than a decade earlier.

To demonstrate Beethoven’s influence on the younger composer, Kinderman played snippets of Schumann’s piece and showed a film clip of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, where political prisoner Florestan is rescued by his wife Leonore. In letters to his future wife, pianist Clara Wieck, while he was writing the Fantasy in C, Schumann compared himself to Florestan and his beloved to Leonore. The Beethoven work, explained Kinderman, was a “part of the personal mythology of Schumann and Wieck,” that served as creative inspiration. As much as he wanted to sit and talk with her, wrote Schumann in one letter to his distant beloved—he was in Leipzig, while she had been ordered to Dresden by her father, who wished to keep the two apart—he dreamed also of “overcoming space and time through artistic means.”


Photos: Kinderman lectures on the connection between Beethoven and Schumann (top); Kinderman plays a section from Schumann's Fantasy in C major, op. 17 (bottom).

November 22, 2006

Cornell outside the box


It’s possible to enjoy Hotel Cassiopeia—the Charles Mee, Anne Bogart, and SITI Company production playing at Court Theatre through December 10—without knowing that its subject is the reclusive but observant American collage artist Joseph Cornell.

It’s possible—but the more you know about the Surrealism-influenced artist, who lived with his mother and ill brother in Queens and worked a series of mostly drab day jobs, the more you can experience the Cornell-like pleasure in seeing how bits and pieces of his life and art come together. Even the play’s title combines two well-known assemblages or “Cornell boxes,” The Hotel Eden and Cassiopeia.

While the play’s text, which focuses on Cornell’s interior journeys and questions, doesn’t always cohere, the same can’t be said of the staging: Bogart has translated Mee’s suggestions for the set design—

A wall of stars:
the constellations
or the moon
or a vast star map of the cosmos covers the back wall
[or should it look like a Pollack painting?
splashes and droplets of white paint].

—into a fluid backdrop that melds Cornell’s collections of objects with his love of movies, ballet, and filmmaking.


A wall of stars provides the backdrop for Joseph Cornell’s assemblage of fascinations (birds, ballet) and responsibilities (mother, brother). Photo by Harlan Taylor.

Praise the lard


If you don’t know from latke (or hamantash), don’t look here. Read a book. Better yet, as was pointed out several times during last Tuesday’s annual Latke-Hamantash Debate, buy the book. Or, if you’re blessed with a short attention span, read some excerpts.

The 60th incarnation of the Hillel event honored the traditions: mock academic procession, snarky introductions by U of C philosophy professor Ted Cohen, AB’62, and musical entertainment. And, as always, at debate’s end the attendees moved to Hutchinson Commons to vote their appetites.

But, as is also traditional, there were fresh twists. A cappella group Chicago Rhythm and Jews startled the crowd by bursting into the opening bars of “Silent Night,” then reverted to repertoire. Marianna Tax Choldin, AB’62, AM’67, PhD’79—daughter of debate cofounder and U of C anthropologist Sol Tax, PhD'35—recalled how her father "invented the Food Channel," accompanying his pro-latke lectures with latke-making demonstrations. And Daniel J. Libenson, executive director of the Newberger Hillel Center, called for papers for the new Journal of Latke and Hamantash Studies—manuscripts and ideas for consideration are due February 14, 2007.

Psychiatry professor Elliot Gershon took the long view of the primal and primate conflict, going back to the Olduvai Gorge (aka the Garden of Eden) and a series of clashes between the chimps (projectile weapon of choice: hamantash) and humans (latke). Meanwhile Assistant Professor of Philosophy Yitzhak Melamed resorted to pure if convoluted reason to prove a) there are no equilateral triangles; b) therefore there are no triangles; and c) therefore there are no hamantash. End of argument.

You should live so long. Rockefeller Chapel Dean Alison Boden, channeling a small-town pastor who was part Church Lady, part televangelist, carried the hamantash banner by going straight to primary sources. Make that the primary source: “The Bible is the Word of God. It says so.” The New World potato makes no appearance in those pages, she pointed out, but Haman does. Recapping the story of Esther and Mordecai's victory over the villainous vizier, Boden took time for a cautionary aside prompted by the break-up of the King of Persia and Esther’s predecessor, Vashti: “Ladies, if your husband wants you to take off your clothes and dance for his pals, it’s time to rethink the relationship.”

Then it was back to praising the Purim "cookie": "Do I have a witness?" She did.


Let the debate begin: participants in the 60th Latke-Hamantash Debate march into Mandel Hall. Photo by Dan Dry.

November 29, 2006

Darfur debate

"What do we want?" shouted Michael Pareles, '07, bullhorn in hand. "Divestment!" responded the crowd of about 50 people, mostly students. "When do we want it?" "Now!" Tuesday afternoon the U of C's chapter of Students Take Action Now: Darfur (STAND) held a rally in the center of the quads. Donning bright green armbands, the crowd marched toward the Administration Building. In silence, students walked up one by one to post photographs of Darfur victims on black posterboard taped to the building's doors. "This is but a small memorial," Pareles said, then encouraged the protesters to visit the group's Web site and sign a petition urging the University to divest from companies that do business with the Sudanese government.

According to the Sudan Divestment Task Force Web site, created by activist group Genocide Intervention Network, more than 20 colleges and universities (pdf) have divested, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and the University of California system, as well as several states and cities. Typical targets for divestment, among others, include Chinese oil companies such as the China National Petroleum Corporation and Sinopec.

Chicago’s investment policies, guided by the 1967 Kalven Report (pdf), suggest neutrality, but STAND members point to a passage stating, “In the exceptional instance,” the University’s corporate activities “may appear so incompatible with paramount social values as to require careful assessment of the consequences.” They cite past University decisions, such as requiring sweatshop-free labor for University of Chicago Bookstore clothing and removing a Taco Bell franchise from Hutch Commons after students protested against unfair labor practices, as proof that the University has made exceptions.

To that end, Pareles and fellow group members Aliza Levine, '09, and Lauren Goldenberg, '08, met with President Zimmer, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives David Greene, and Board of Trustees Chair James Crown on November 7, asking that the University divest from all companies supporting the Sudanese government. The students emphasized the symbolic weight of divestment and argued the University could be a model for other schools and organizations. Divestment is important, Goldenberg said in an interview, because “it is the only act the University can do right now.”

Since the meeting, Pareles said, he and other STAND members have sent Crown information on how divestment might affect the Sudanese government and how divestment compares to diplomatic action and humanitarian aid. According to Greene, quoted in the November 10 Maroon, the meeting “was intended to be part of an ongoing discussion of the issues.” Meanwhile STAND waits, bullhorn in hand.

Jenny Fisher, '07

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Photos (left to right): Last Tuesday Levine (right) and Rebecca Abraham, '08, chalked a message to President Zimmer in front of the Administration Building; protesters brought handwritten signs to the rally; students taped photos to the building.

About November 2006

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

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