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February 2008 Archives

February 1, 2008

Path to the Peace Corps


A young woman wearing a tie-dyed bandanna digs wells, uses her fingers to spoon food from a handmade bowl, and joins local African women in their washing and sewing. A blond guy with glasses teaches in a schoolhouse, bikes through town, and places large containers of water on villagers’ heads for them to carry. In a promotional video about the Peace Corps, these volunteers and others speak about what they have learned—and taught—during their two-year stints in the organization.

At Monday evening’s informational meeting in Ida Noyes Hall, about 18 students watch the film. If they end up joining the Peace Corps, they’ll continue a popular tradition at the University, which in 2007 sent more graduates than any other school its size to the organization. Clifton Johnson, AM’03, a recruiter in the Chicago regional office, follows the video with more info on the program, how to apply, and his own experience.

For the Peace Corps's 27-month commitment—three months of language and culture training before a two-year stint abroad—the organization “tries to match volunteers' skills with the country's needs,” Johnson, an SSA graduate, tells the Chicago students. His social-work background matched the needs on an island in South Pacific Tonga, where he helped young people find jobs, and Megan Dickie, a biological-sciences major at Cornell who also spoke to the group, did habitat conservation in Ecuador. If you have a college degree or life experience such as farming or starting a business, Johnson says, you’d be a valuable volunteer.

He walks through the application procedure, which includes filling out an extensive online form—“we want to make sure you’re mature enough, motivated enough, and have the skills needed”—meeting with a recruiter, and getting medical clearance. Finally accepted applicants receive an invitation from the Peace Corps. The whole process can take about a year, he says, so interested students should start early.

“How are you held accountable for the work you do?" a young woman asks during the Q&A. Every three months, Dickie replies, volunteers fill out progress reports, and once a year a Peace Corps official visits the site. A local villager is also in touch with the organization, “so if you weren’t doing anything,” says Johnson, that person could report you. “Still, it’s an independent work environment,” and volunteers can forge their own assignments: Johnson, for instance, eventually narrowed his focus to youths with developmental disabilities, and he also taught art classes at the local library.


Photo: Johnson tells the group in Ida Noyes about working in Tonga.

February 4, 2008

Ex cathedra


Last week, the Divinity School’s Wednesday Lunch packed the Swift Hall Common Room with students, faculty, staff—and a liberal sprinkling of Episcopal clergy. Lunch consisted of a salad, cheese plate, lentil soup, and cookies, but many came primarily to hear the day’s speaker: the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

As Div School Dean Richard Rosengarten, AM’88, PhD’94, pointed out in his introduction, Jefferts Schori is also the first presiding bishop who trained as a scientist (her first career was as a marine biologist), as well as the first to hold a pilot’s license. With short, upswept gray locks that suggested a miter and wearing a fuchsia clerical shirt under her black suit jacket, Jefferts Schori temporarily turned the podium into a pulpit: “Why are we here?”

Her own answer came in a mediation, “Theological Education and the Dream of God,” that was a variation on her September address at Union Theological Seminary. “The wags say that preachers usually have only one sermon—we just keep preaching variations on a theme. What dream of God is going to frame your sermons for the next ten or 20 or 50 years?” For Jefferts Schori, God’s vision is of a healed world, a view that by definition requires the presence of injustice and pain.

Homily over, Jefferts Schori opened the floor to a Q & A: “So…why are you here?”


Photo: The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, spoke at the January 30 Divinity School Lunch.

Photo by Marc Monaghan.

February 6, 2008

It's easy being green


Toasting the Class of 2007–08 of named professors with a glass of Tabor Hill wine, Provost Thomas F. Rosenbaum addressed nearly 20 faculty who received the honor this academic year—including Robert Gooding-Williams, the Ralph and Mary Otis Isham professor of political science and the College, and William Wimsatt, the Peter B. Ritzma professor in philosophy and evolutionary biology. "We picked this day on purpose," Rosenbaum joked Monday evening, pointing to the looming gray clouds outside the GSB convention-room window. "You are the headlights of the University...lighting and pointing" Chicago in a new direction.

The reception also marked a new path for the University's special-events team. It was the first University-sponsored gathering to incorporate an "aggressive amount" of environmentally friendly practices, said event coordinator Beth McCullough. "Everything is organic or locally produced," she said, including cheeses from Wisconsin and a bar stocked with beers and wines from nearby microbreweries and wineries. Instead of plastic cutlery and plates, which "sit in landfills forever," said McCullough, all forks, knives, and dishes were rented. Simple ways to cut down on waste, she explained, included sending out electronic invites and reusing plastic name-tag holders. The University is becoming more aware of and open to conservational practices, McCullough said, noting two more green events planned for the spring.


Photos: Top: Faculty honored this academic year with named professorships gather in a GSB convention room; bottom: abiding by green practices, the reception's hor'dourves were either organic or locally produced.

February 8, 2008

With a song in their hearts and a frog in their throats


Ten minutes before yesterday’s Noontime Concert Series: Vocal Showcase was to begin, a group of performers chosen from Chicago's three choral groups gathered just outside Fulton Recital Hall. The topic of discussion: three out of the ten singers were sick and couldn’t perform. “Is everyone sick?” asked one performer. Several nodded, including one woman gripping a bag of Ricola Herb-Honey Swiss Herb Drops.

Inside the hall, accompanist Thomas Weisflog, SM'69, who also serves as the University organist, adjusted the piano bench as the 28 people in the audience quietly chattered. Then right on time, James Kallembach, the music department's director of choral activities, rose from his chair next to Weisflog and announced, “The program is pretty much scrapped.” But, he said, two students would step in to perform in place of those too ill to take the stage, giving listeners a “net loss of one.”

While the crowd was small, the singers' voices filled the room. David J. von Bargen, JD'07, kicked off the concert, belting out Jules Massenet’s "En fermant les yeux" and Gaetano Donizetti's "Quanto è bella" in his rich tenor. And third-year Kate Lipkowitz performed Luigi Arditi’s "Il Bacio." As she raised her hands upward during a final, drawn-out note, the hour ended.


Photos: (top) David J. von Bargen belts out Jules Massenet's "En fermant les yeux" from Manon; (bottom) Kate Lipkowitz sings Luigi Arditi's "Il Bacio."

February 11, 2008

Stream of music


On Saturday night the Vltava River swept away Mandel Hall's audience as the University Symphony Orchestra performed 19th-century composer Bedřich Smetana's ode to his native Bohemia, Má Vlast. Not to be outdone, American pianist Edward Auer followed with Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 2.

The orchestra performed three of Smetana's six symphonic poems about his fatherland, then under Austro-Hungarian rule. A student of Franz Liszt, Smetana is best-known for his tribute to the Vltava (in German, the Moldau), which runs through Prague.

Auer brought to life Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 2 following intermission. Completed the year after the final installment of Smetana's Má Vlast in 1881, the work received immediate and wide acclaim from 19th-century audiences.

Upcoming music-department performances include the University Chamber Orchestra's presentation of Dvořák's Czech Suite at Fulton Recital Hall Saturday, February 9, 8 p.m. Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and pianist Julius Drake perform Franz Schubert's song cycle, Winterreise, at Mandel Hall Friday, February 15, 7:30 p.m.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

Photos: Conductor Barbara Schubert leads the University of Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

February 13, 2008

Music and the mind


How does the human brain turn music into mental pictures? This was the question of the hour at the February 6 Chicago Humanities Forum lecture by Lawrence Zbikowski: “Birds, Spinning Wheels, Horses and Sex: Painting Images with Music.” Despite the snow outside, the talk managed to draw almost 20 people to the Gleacher Center.

The U of C music professor began by playing a short, lively guitar piece by Argentine composer Julio Salvador Sagreras. Displaying a portion of the score on a large screen, he pointed out that the nature of the piece seemed unclear because the fast, repeated notes included characteristics of both a musical study—written for guitarists to practice their technique—and a performance piece meant to impress an audience. Paired with the work’s title, “The Hummingbird,” Zbikowski said, the music aims to conjure images of a hummingbird in flight.

He then played and discussed three more examples of “program music,” composed to evoke specific images in listeners' minds. “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel,” from Charles Gounod’s Faust, imitates the repetitive motion of a spinning wheel. Franz Schubert’s setting of Goethe’s poem “Erlkönig” summons the pounding of horse hooves on a wild ride through the night. And Giaches de Wert’s seven-part madrigal based on Giovanni Guarini’s poem “Tirsi morir volea,” about an encounter between a shepherd and a nymph, suggests images of making love.

Our ability to interpret these images, Zbikowski explained, is linked to our capacity to make analogies, an idea he began to explore in his 2002 book, Conceptualizing Music: Cognitive Structure, Theory, and Analysis, and continues to develop in his current research. In the same way that we understand the equivalent characteristics of two different situations—electrons orbiting an atom’s nucleus and the planets orbiting the sun, for example—we can imagine the quick, constant movement of a hummingbird in flight when we hear the rapid succession of notes in Sagreras’s piece.

Sarah Yatzeck, AB’01

Photo: Professor Zbikowski responds to audience questions after his lecture.

Photo courtesy Mai Vukcevich.

February 15, 2008

And the bands played on


This past Saturday, the second day of the U of C Folk Fest ended the same way it began: with skirts whirling and heels kicked high. Closing out a four-hour concert that sold out Mandel Hall and included performances by bands in five distinct styles—bluegrass, Irish traditional music, blues harmonica, old-time banjo, and Cajun—the Lafayette Rhythm Devils invited audience members to grab a partner and get out of their seats. “Pretty much all Cajun music is dance music,” admonished accordionist Yvette Landry as she led the band into another rollicking number. Two by two, listeners took to the aisles and the open space at the back of the hall. Some ascended to the stage and danced along its edges. Festival volunteers came spinning out from the wings, two-stepping and waltzing as the Rhythm Devils played song after song, until it was well past 11 p.m.

More than 12 hours earlier, the festival’s daytime schedule had kicked off at Ida Noyes with a Scandinavian dance lesson and a waltz workshop. The Rhythm Devils were on hand in the early afternoon to lead a 90-minute Cajun dance session in the Cloister Club. Leaving shoes by the door, participants also turned up to learn English country dance, Irish Céilidh dance, Balkan dance, and clogging and flatfooting. Meanwhile, button accordionist Pat Cloonan and tinwhistle player Kevin Henry led an hour-long Irish session that filled the Ida Noyes library with listeners and players, and multi-instrumentalist Gary Plazyk taught a workshop on the hurdy gurdy, a hand-cranked stringed instrument invented in medieval Europe. Junior Sisk and Rambler’s Choice, a band from Virginia and North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains who gave the opening performance at Saturday night’s concert, took listeners through a few bluegrass fundamentals.

Sometimes, though, the biggest commotion was caused by the impromptu jam sessions that sprang up in hallways, staircases, empty rooms, or any out-of-the-way spot. Folk Fest participants who brought their banjos, guitars, fiddles, and mandolins met up between workshops—or during them—to play a few bluegrass or Irish tunes.

Organizers of this year’s Folk Fest, the University’s 48th annual, dedicated the weekend-long event to late Chicago psychology professor Starkey Duncan, PhD'65, who served as the festival’s faculty adviser for 40 years, until his April 2007 death. At Saturday night’s concert, mathematics grad student Edward Wallace, copresident of the campus Folklore Society (which organizes the Folk Fest), told the audience that Duncan’s influence still guided the event’s volunteers. "We miss him very much.”


Photo: Every Folk Fest features plenty of dance lessons and jam sessions. Images from the 2007 festival by Dan Dry.

February 18, 2008

Speaking of DIY...


During college Dorothee Royal-Hedinger and Hassan Ali (both AB'07) found time to make short films for such media companies as Al Gore's Current TV. Ali, a former Maroon editor and Magazine intern, has produced and directed videos for Current TV's "What's Wrong With..." and "Joe Gets..." series, and Royal-Hedinger's credits include the film Sun-Powered Purses about an environmentally friendly bag-design company.

Now, the two have joined forces to start their own culturally aware online video production company, Fresh Cut Media. Launched in January, Fresh Cut focuses "on unique content that is often overlooked by the mainstream media," and its shows include Dropping In, short profiles of interesting people and places, and DIY. "These people got off the couch and did it themselves," reads the site's explanatory blurb. Much of the content comes out of the Chicago area—one of the Dropping In videos, "Avant Gaudy," features Deborah Umunnabuike, '09, and Vincent Choi, AB'06, who run an online fashion boutique of the same name.


Photo: Fresh Cut Media posts online videos featuring non-mainstream art, culture, news, and commentary.

February 20, 2008

Beta vision


Chicago’s Web site took on a new look Monday, when the University launched a test version of its new design. The new site aims to draw visitors to a slew of continuously refreshed content, most of which focuses on storytelling, including photographs and video that detail faculty research, alumni projects, and student activities.

The redesigned site also aims to provide more intuitive paths to information and to improve its accessibility to those browsing on devices such as smartphones. In April the new site will replace the old one. Until then, site administrators are seeking feedback and potential story ideas to feature.


Photo: Chicago's new Web site features multimedia content such as videos and photographs.

February 22, 2008

Pushing forward and giving back


Computing innovations promise to "blow open communication," Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told an audience of more than 400 students who gathered at the Graduate School of Business on Wednesday. Many more watched Gates's talk, “Bill Gates Unplugged: On Software, Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Giving Back,” on video simulcast at locations across campus.

In particular, Gates said new ways of controlling computers will combine with Web-based software to give users greater access to information. "We don't even realize how information-deprived we are," Gates said, noting that computer files and programs will soon be accessible by touch- and voice-controlled mobile devices.

"With all these rapid innovations," Gates said, "we should really not just focus on what these mean for the richest." He spoke of his growing involvement in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as he transitions out of full-time work at Microsoft. The foundation aims to make technological advances "relevant" to people worldwide who lack access to electricity, schools, and health care, Gates said. In the United States, the foundation has pledged $6 million to the University of Chicago's Center for Urban School Improvement to help establish model high schools across Chicago.

During a question-and-answer session, many students expressed interest in Gates's philanthropic work, asking about his foundation's activities in eradicating malaria and boosting educational opportunities. Others asked how Microsoft could provide software to better meet the needs of University researchers. Ultimately, one student asked Gates to name his most difficult moment. While Gates acknowledged that he is "not in a position to complain," he discussed his decision to drop out of Harvard College in 1975 to establish Microsoft.

Chicago was Gates's third stop this week in a five-campus tour that also includes Stanford University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Waterloo, and Carnegie Mellon University.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

Photos: Bill Gates addresses University students at the GSB on Wednesday.

Photos courtesy Dan Dry

February 29, 2008

Misunderstood Madison


Modern academics and lawyers use James Madison to justify the rule of governing elites, such as the Supreme Court’s power to interpret the U.S. Constitution. Such power was actually an anathema to Madison, argued Stanford Law School dean Larry Kramer, JD’84, at a talk last Thursday in Harper Hall. “Madison was not as undemocratic as people want to make him out today,” but rather was “centrally concerned with securing popular government.”

Too many scholars, Kramer argued, emphasize particular passages by Madison in the Federalist Papers, written between 1787 and 1788 with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay to advocate ratification of the Constitution. Scholars consider some of Madison’s passages the source of American separation of powers, which ultimately justified resting constitutional authority in the hands of the Supreme Court and limiting citizens’ role in government.

But interpreting the Constitution, Kramer said, was not part of Madison's vision for the Supreme Court. In fact, over the course of his lifetime Madison consistently fought against those who supported the idea of "judicial supremacy," that the court was the supreme arbiter of constitutional issues. Madison's positions, Kramer said, held that judging the Constitution was "between the people and their legislatures."

The talk was sponsored by the Center for Study of the Principles of the American Founding as part of its yearlong lecture series that brought David Armitage of Harvard University earlier this month. On April 10 Yale political scientist Steven Smith will discuss Lincoln and his writings.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

Photo: Last Thursday Larry Kramer, JD’84, dean of Stanford Law School, addressed students, colleagues, and former teachers.

Photo courtesy Stanford University

About February 2008

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in February 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2008 is the previous archive.

March 2008 is the next archive.

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

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