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May 2007 Archives

May 2, 2007

Here we come a-carreling

Last spring it was chairs. This spring it’s carrels. Once again the Regenstein Library staff is asking its clientele to weigh in on a major refurbishing decision: the first new study carrels since the Reg opened in 1971.

Make no mistake: at an estimated cost of $1.05 million, it’s a big-ticket item. The figure doesn’t include the cost of removing and disposing of the existing carrels, installing new electrical outlets for them, and repairing and refinishing the library’s 213 wooden study tables. The Reg requested funds for all these projects from the University’s capital-projects budget last fall, and officials hope at least part of the requested funding—enough to renovate an initial floor, say—will come through this June.

After all, the 500 original carrels are coming apart at their aging seams. And built in a pre-computer era, they don’t have the electrical outlets today’s laptop users crave. Enter design consultant Cecelia Mitchell. Starting with comments from a student focus group, Mitchell worked with Chicago-based Agati Furniture to develop a 21st-century carrel. The resulting prototypes—one in drab white, one in drab gray—are on display near the Reg’s main entrance through Friday, May 4.

As facilities manager John Pitcher, AB'73, AM'76, points out, asking for feedback at Chicago guarantees plenty of critical thinking. And, if the first day’s comments prove a guide, says Jim Vaughan, the Reg’s assistant director of access and facilities services, user reaction is mixed.

Some students gave thumbs up to the model’s larger work surface, overhead light, shelf, and general openness. Others found the work surface too narrow, the light too harsh, the shelf too low, and the openness too open. So the Reg will likely go back to the drawing board, creating another prototype for further testing. “Because these will have to last for 30 years," Vaughan says, “we want to get them right.”


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Photos (left to right): Student reviews of the model carrels range from raves to pans to diagrammed suggestions for improvement; College second-year Gwen Moores worries that the built-in light's position might cause laptop glare; Antonio Sotomayor-Carlo, a doctoral student in history, checks out an under-the-table bump.

Photos by Dan Dry.

May 4, 2007

A poet's guilty conscience


Arguably the English language’s greatest poet during the first half of the 20th century and one of the period's most engaged moral thinkers, W. H. Auden was a man wracked with guilt, said Columbia University scholar Edward Mendelson—and much of it was neurotic. On Thursday afternoon Chicago students and faculty crowded into Stuart 101 to hear Mendelson, Auden’s literary executor, president of the W. H. Auden Society, and author or editor of nearly a dozen Auden books, deliver an hour’s worth of insight on the poet’s “inventive conscience.”

Auden's poems, Mendelson said, “allude to some great culpability,” and although the source of guilt changed from poem to poem, the guilt persisted. In “A Summer Night,” written in 1933, Auden ponders an unnamed “doubtful act” that allows “Our freedom in this English house / Our picnics in the sun.” Three years later in “Detective Story,” he declares, “Someone must pay for / Our loss of happiness, our happiness itself.” And "Musee des Beaux Arts," perhaps the Auden poem most often taught in high-school classrooms, describes Icarus crashing to Earth while the rest of humanity carries on indifferently: “And the expensive delicate ship, that must have seen / Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, / Had somewhere to get to, and sailed calmly on.”

"But why," wondered Mendelson, “did Auden feel so guilty?” Standoffish in public, the poet was privately a kind and generous man. He paid for the college educations of two European orphans and corresponded with a convict who wrote to him from prison. For days he slept on a blanket outside a fellow church member's apartment to help her recover from night terrors. Likely, Mendelson concluded, Auden's self-blame stemmed from survivor's guilt: his relatively comfortable middle-class existence during the Great Depression, his escape from military service and from his native England during World War II, and his artistic occupation, which used others' suffering as literary material and inspiration.

What's more, Auden was gay, a “crookedness” that kept him out of the U.S. Army and which, Mendelson said, the poet may have traced back to a miscarriage his mother suffered before he was born. Quoting from a letter Auden wrote to a friend, Mendelson explained the poet's belief that if that other fetus had survived, he might never have been conceived. His life, therefore, came at the cost of another's death; in some sense, it was a “murder.” He considered his homosexuality the punishment. Like the miscarriage, his attraction to men, Mendelson said, “was another crime against childbirth and fertility.”

In his poetry, Auden “transformed his neuroses into ethical truths.”


Photos: Auden scholar Edward Mendelson explains the poet's "inventive conscience"; both faculty and students filed into Stuart 101 to hear him speak.

May 6, 2007

The faces behind the gifts

The Graduate School of Business Rothman Winter Garden looked more swank lounge than study/social area Friday. Bright red and orange tables, bar stools, curved sofas, and ottoman seats decorated the light-infused space during a late-afternoon reception at the fifth annual Chicago Convenes, a day to thank University friends and supporters who have contributed to the Chicago Initiative's progress. At the reception President Robert Zimmer and GSB Dean Ted Snyder, AM’78, PhD’84, made the second big announcement of the day: the business school's Hyde Park Center had been given a naming gift. Charles M. Harper, MBA’50, former head of ConAgra Foods and RJR Nabisco, had made one of the largest cash donations in the school's history, and the 2004, Rafael Viñoly-designed building would now be known as the Charles M. Harper Center.

As a Chicago student, Harper said, he "learned about the power of markets, the power of people, and the difference between responsibility and accountability." He thanked Zimmer, Snyder, and other GSB staff members he'd met in recent weeks for helping to make the naming gift happen—a gift whose amount Harper prefers not to disclose. As of Friday, noted Chicago Initiative chair Andy Alper, AB’80, MBA’81, the University’s capital campaign, officially launched in 2002, had raised $1.84 billion, with more than 95,000 friends and alumni contributing.

Earlier in the day Zimmer had announced more big news. At the opening ceremony in Max Palevsky Cinema he greeted guests with the announcement that a new campus arts center had also received a naming gift. Art enthusiasts and philanthropists David, AB’39, JD’41, and Reva, X’43, Logan and their sons and grandchildren had given $35 million for the Reva and David Logan Center for Performing Arts, expected to open in 2011.

During the afternoon Convenes participants chose faculty panels and classes to attend, including sessions on the Federalist Papers, computational science, and China, and a tour of Chicago’s Donoghue Charter School. That evening, continuing a Convenes tradition, more than 400 guests dined in a dramatic spot: in Rockefeller Chapel, at tables placed on a temporary platform covering the pews. Before dinner 21 individuals and organizations were inducted into the Founders Circle, recognized for cumulative gifts of $1 million or more to the University. The evening culminated with President Zimmer awarding the University of Chicago medal to Gwen and Jules F. Knapp.


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Photos (left to right): David Logan, AB’39, JD’41, chats with President Robert J. Zimmer; Charles M. "Mike" Harper stands in the GSB’s Hyde Park Center, which now bears his name; University of Chicago Medalists Gwen and Jules F. Knapp share a kiss.

Photos by Dan Dry.

May 9, 2007

Team spirit

Waiting for the meal to arrive at the Women's Athletic Association (WAA) awards banquet Tuesday evening in Ida Noyes, the student-athletes began to grumble a little. "Shouldn't the people who had practice today get served first?" one woman muttered. At the table next to her, another wanting faster food wished for McDonald's.

When everyone had finally been served with chicken and wild rice, WAA president Petra Wade, '07, began the ceremony honoring varsity women. Although the banquet recognized statistics, scores, and records, Wade said those things weren't what really mattered to her about Chicago sports. "The reason I play softball," she said, "is because of my team," eliciting cheers and "awww"s from the softball player's tables.

As the women picked at chocolate pastry deserts, coaches, WAA members, and alumni athletes announced the awards. Cross-country and track-and-field star Jackie Kropp, '07, won the Patricia R. Kirby Multi-Sport Athlete Award, given to the senior athlete who received the most varsity letter awards. Kropp had 11. Another star runner, Dilshanie Perera, '07, won the Mary Jean Mulvaney Scholar-Athlete award, given to the fourth-year athlete with the highest junior and senior grade point average. The Gertrude Dudley Medal, given to a senior athlete who demonstrated outstanding leadership and skill, went to pitcher Wade and basketball player Korry Schwanz, '07.

Between awards, the night's entertainment showed the team aspect of sports. Members of the track, volleyball, and soccer teams performed dances. The soccer players were the highlight, bringing out jumpropes to demonstrate their skills. Two jumped at once, another rolled under the ropes and leapt up to start jumping, and another did dance moves as she jumped.

Jenny Fisher, '07

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Photos (left to right): Wade gives the opening remarks; track athlete Nellie Movtchan, '07, listens to the awards; volleyball players show off their moves.

May 11, 2007

Air today, gone tomorrow


According to the exhibition notes that accompany the Renaissance Society’s current show, “Katharina Grosse’s site specific paintings/installations are a phoenix from the ashes of late modernism. Since 1998 Grosse has been using a compressed-air spray gun to apply garish swaths and splashes of undulating color directly to gallery walls with sublimely spectacular results.”

Atoms Inside Balloons—a work the artist describes as “acrylic on wall, floor, and latex balloons”—lives up to its “spectacular” billing. Looking like gigantic bunches of tie-dyed grapes (or a flotilla of oversize beach balls), the clusters of spray-painted balloons seem to cast colorful reflections across the Gothic room’s white walls and light-gray floor, though the surfaces are actually painted. It’s like being at a birthday party.

And like birthday-party balloons, Grosse’s globes of air are subject to the laws of physics. Since the show opened April 29, several balloons have popped—with, Ren staffers report, rather loud bangs. At first the artist planned to let nature run its course, but now Grosse (back in her native Berlin) has asked the gallery staff to fill in the more easily reached gaps with unpainted balloons.

The exhibition, which runs through June 10, features a series of related events, including a May 12 concert, a June 3 lecture on Grosse’s work, and a June 10 lecture on modern color and architecture.


Photos: Katharina Grosse’s Renaissance Society installation piece, Atoms Inside Balloons (top), behaves as atoms inside balloons generally behave, shifting shapes and occasionally going bust (bottom).

Photos by Amy Braverman Puma

May 14, 2007

Survival of the Scavviest

On Saturday at 1 p.m., Scav Hunt teams took over the northeast corner of the quads. The Scav Olympics events included: "RPS-25," or Rock, Paper, Scissors with 25 possible hand gestures; limbo for two people, tied together at the ankles; a footrace in which "your feet are watermelons"; and "four-person telephone Pictionary."

At five past one, teams of Scavvies were anxiously scooping out watermelons, practicing the two-person limbo, and doling out duct tape. One girl wearing a prom dress held a bullhorn under her arm, gave frantic directions on a cell phone in one hand, and caught a bright red plunger from a teammate preparing for the "plumber's luge" with the other hand. Prom dresses—worn by women and hairy-chested men alike—distinguished team captains.

Soon head judge Jim Ryan, '08, announced the beginning of the competition and admonished the Scavvies: "All watermelon feet must be watermelon shoes—not watermelon ankle bracelets."

The first event was the plumber's luge. Contestants—dressed as Nintendo's Mario at the judges' whim—lay down on skateboards and propelled themselves with plungers in each hand, racing from 58th and University around the quads' center circle toward the finish line at Hull Gate.

Scav Hunt concluded with Judgment in Ida Noyes on Sunday. The Snell-Hitchcock team emerged victorious, with Max Palevsky's team taking second and the Federation of Indepedent Scav Hunt team in third place.

Jenny Fisher, '07

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Photos (left to right): Head judge Jim Ryan, '08, announces the beginning of Scav Olympics; a competitor in the plumber's luge; two Scavvies practice the limbo.

What's a six-letter word for fast?


In the hushed corridor leading to the Reg's Special Collections Research Center, a handful of students hunched over a row of wooden tables, bookbags at their feet, pencils scribbling furiously, while two timekeepers watched from a few feet away. Midterms? No, a crossword-puzzle contest. Between 2 and 4 p.m. Monday, students dropped by the library to dash through a creation by New York Times puzzle master Will Shortz. Contestants took the exercise seriously—one shooed away a reporter with a camera, scolding, "You can't take my picture, I'm being timed!"—and scorekeepers grading early returns noted their expertise, whispering that many puzzles had only one or two wrong letters. Half an hour into the contest, librarian Julia Gardner, who organized the event to coincide with a Special Collections exhibit on dictionaries, wondered if she'd chosen too easy a puzzle.

After turning in their entries, students helped themselves to cookies and juice and perused the exhibit, The Meaning of Dic'tion·ar'ies, which traces the texts' history from their Enlightenment origins to the digital age. "We think of dictionaries as an authoritative, objective source," said Gardner, who curated the display, "but at different points in history, dictionaries have reflected the different societies that produced them."

A day after the contest wrapped up, Gardner finished checking the entries. Five students got perfect scores, so winning came down to speed. Finishing in seven minutes, 12 seconds, Harris School grad student Jessica Manvell took first prize, a $30 University Bookstore gift certificate, while third-year Laura McFarland won a $20 gift certificate, and third-place winner David Richter, also a third-year, won his choice of five Special Collections exhibit catalogs. "We hadn't planned on awarding a third prize," Gardner said, "but the third-place finisher was so close to second." McFarland completed her puzzle in 11 minutes, 17 seconds; Richter turned his in nine seconds later.


Crossword contestants scribble furiously; a 1937 title page proof from volume three of the U of C Press's Dictionary of American English, part of the exhibit.

May 18, 2007

Where ears and eyes met


The abandoned catwalk from last Saturday’s Festival of the Arts (FOTA) fashion show became the site of Wednesday night’s FOTA Open Mic. Gone were the bright lights, special effects, and bumping bass of the opening party, as the festival tent in Hutchinson Courtyard also housed the release of photography RSO Glass Eyeball’s Iris magazine.

Sawgrass (also known as James Moore, ’07) kicked off the open mic with a half-hour set on electric guitar, playing a mix of original tunes and classic covers, including Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and Jackson Browne’s “These Days.” After stopping mid-song during his “Yellow Trees” because he “knocked the guitar out of tune,” Moore shook his head at the speaker, saying, “I need acoustic. I don’t like using electric—this is kind of a departure for me.”

Multiple guitarists took the stage, as well as a sax- and keyboard-duo—Tommy Gonzalez and Thomas Manganaro, both ’09—who decided to “try some jazz,” playing Duke Ellington’s "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and Luiz Bonfa’s "Black Orpheus.” As a change of pace, Erik Born, ’07, read original stories and Jonathan Cowperthwait, ’07, tried his hand at stand-up, asking if it was “too soon to make dead Jerry Falwell jokes.” Between acts, students circled the tent looking at photography and munching on Chinese buns provided by Glass Eyeball.

A ten-day annual event begun in 1963, FOTA transforms the campus into an art gallery and performance space, showcasing paintings, plays, films, dance, and other works created by University students, faculty, and staff. Run entirely by students, the festival was spearheaded this year by Kristine Khouri and Hannah Kushnick, both ’07.

Ruthie Kott

Photos: Photographs on display by Chris Salata, '09, (top) and Marco Mambelli, research scientist at the Fermi Institute (bottom); James Moore performs for fans as Sawgrass.

May 21, 2007

Gone with the breeze

Saturday may have been Summer Breeze, the annual carnival on the quads and concert in Hutch Court, but for Magazine photographer Dan Dry there was work to do. Dry captured students and others enjoying the daytime games and food and the evening jams with Spoon and the Roots. With lots of sun and temps in the 70s, it was hard work indeed. Sunday was back to normal: cool, damp, and gray.


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Photos (left to right): It was a lovely day to barbeque burgers (beef and veggie); a student works the cotton-candy booth; concert goers cheer on Spoon.

A student navigates the mouse maze; another affixes herself to the Velcro wall; the winning chariot-race team rides from Harper Library to Hull Gate.

Photos by Dan Dry.

May 23, 2007

Beauty in the eye of the camera


For her senior-thesis project, cinema and media studies major Claire Gilbert, '07, focused on something she knows and loves: her family—specifically, her younger sister Holly, who competed in the 2006 Miss Kentucky beauty pageant last July. Shown at Doc Films Tuesday night, "My Sister the Beauty Queen" fulfilled the creative component of Gilbert's BA project.

About 150 people gathered outside the theater at 9:30, waiting for the doors to open. Twenty minutes later (and 20 minutes late), the audience poured in. Gilbert stood diminutive before the giant screen, and the crowd—full of her friends—cheered loudly. "I'm sorry you had to wait so long," she said, "but I promise you it's worth the wait."

The documentary opened with a scene of Holly, 19, and youngest sister Ellen singing along to Switchfoot's "Meant to Live" in the Gilberts' home in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Wearing a pink Transylvania University shirt, Holly hams for the camera, singing, "We were meant to live for so much more / Have we lost ourselves?"

Gilbert gives a complex picture of Holly, who ultimately finished among the top ten in the pageant: she bickers with her mother and despairs at not having close friends; she snaps at the camera and at Claire after a six-hour rehearsal—"please don't exploit me with your filmmaking"; and she says, "You're beautiful" while signing the notebook of a little girl wearing a tiara after the pageant.

In the final scene, Holly sings along to the radio again. Ellen says, "Claire, you know if you turned off the camera, she'd be sane," prompting Holly to consider how she reacts to being filmed. She sounds self-mocking but thoughtful when she says, "It's like being in front of a crowd of people, a nonexistent crowd of people that you've conjured up in your mind through a logical train of reasoning." The audience laughs, not because they think Holly is being facetious, but because it sounds like something they might say themselves in Hum or Sosc.

Jenny Fisher, '07

Photo: Holly Gilbert sings for the camera.

Movie still courtesy Claire Gilbert.

May 25, 2007

Color me indigo

Brick red, cerulean, fuzzy wuzzy brown—these Crayola crayon names are only infants in a long history of color production. Color names originally described the material from which the color was made and its region, but in the early 1900s "the development of fanciful, descriptive names" led to a system of standardization, said Elizabeth Long, curator of Crerar’s Origin of Color exhibit. Wednesday's exhibit talk in the library's atrium drew more people than expected; as late guests walked in and curious onlookers stopped to listen, Crerar staff members grabbed chairs from nearby carrels to accommodate them all.

The earliest uses of color for artistic purposes dates to Paleolithic times, Long explained, "most just made from straight pigment." Digging up clay or minerals, grinding them to "a relatively fine state," and then adding a medium—gum arabic, for example, was used to create watercolors—produced the pigments. Because natural materials decayed quickly and tubed paints did not develop until 1841, early painters needed to process their own paints in the studio.

As opposed to pigment, which "sits on top of whatever surface you use," Long said, dye is soluable and "completely penetrates the thing you put it on." Indigo dye, named for the plant from which it was produced, originally went through a long and smelly process before it would permeate cloth. Dye makers dried out the plants, molded them into "things that looked like little rocks," Long explained, and then stirred them in a vat to oxidize—the color is insoluable unless it touches air. After the cloth was dipped multiple times and exposed to the air, the rich blue color emerged. Today nearly all indigo dye is produced synthetically; the most famous use of the color, Long said, is the "ubiquitous blue jean." Contrary to popular belief, she revealed, denim doesn't fade; rather, "the dye is only applied to the outside threads," which eventually wear away to the white core.

Synthetic colors developed in the 19th century, when chemist William Perkin, attempting to cure malaria, discovered that chemicals derived from coal tar created a light-purple color, which he called "mauve." Mauve's earlier counterpart, Tyrian purple, was rare and expensive to produce, Long said. Made from the shellfish secretions, the dye required 12,000 mollusks to produce one gram. Purple was considered the color of royalty—a conception echoed in 1858 when Queen Victoria wore a mauve dress to her daughter's wedding. Because of its easy production and availability to the masses, Long said, the color then became "all the rage."

Origins of Color runs through October.

Ruthie Kott

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Photos (left to right): Two guests explore collections of natural and synthetic colors; Curator Elisabeth Long shares the secrets of medieval dye works; processed plants and minerals on display.

May 30, 2007

Nature's guard and gardener


"What we know about plant diversity is very restricted indeed," Chicago botanist and evolutionary biologist Sir Peter Crane told a Women's Board audience downtown last Tuesday, "but of what we do know, the statistics are discouraging." Speaking on the International Day for Biological Diversity, which happened to fall one day before Carolus Linneaus's 300th birthday, Crane listed the myriad threats closing in on plants worldwide: habitat loss, invasive species, land exploitation, environmental changes brought on by fertilization, pesticides, and global warming. "Every place on the planet, even remote ones, is impacted by human activity," he said. "If it isn't cultivation or changes to the soil, it'll be climate change." Perhaps as many as 400,000 plant species exist on Earth, but scientists have documented only a fraction of them, and some they've seen only once. "Many are already rare when we find them, already fragile," he said. "The slightest perturbation causes problems, and we're perturbing the environment all the time."

Seven years after leaving the Field Museum's helm to become director of England's Kew Gardens, a job that earned him knighthood in 2004, Crane returned to the Field last year to study plant science and conservation. He also joined the U of C's geophysical-sciences faculty in part because, as he noted last week, conservation is increasingly linked to global physical forces like climate change.

But Crane did not come to the podium with only bad news. In the developing world, where rapid cultivation threatens whole landscapes, seed banks are helping to preserve native species for future propagation, and institutions like the Field Museum are working to produce quick inventories and conservation strategies in botanically rich regions such as South America and southern Africa. Crane also praised triumphs like Illinois's Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, a reconstructed ecosystem an hour southwest of Chicago. "That, frankly, is the future of conservation," he said. "It's a very interventionist approach. Unfortunately, the days when we could put a fence up" and count on the land remaining untouched "are waning." Conservationists, he said, will have to become gardeners.


Photo: Sir Peter Crane gives Women's Board members a slide-show tour of botanical biodiversity.

About May 2007

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in May 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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