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March 2008 Archives

March 3, 2008

Dedicated to diversity


Boom! At the loud thumping of African drums, courtesy Chicago-based Funkadesi, the 75 or so people gathered in 5710 S. Woodlawn stopped chattering and began clapping and nodding to the festive beat. When the music ended a few minutes later, University President Robert Zimmer welcomed the crowd to the grand opening of the new Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA), LGBTQ Programming Office, and Amandla Lounge.

The building’s opening, Zimmer said, was "an exciting moment” for the University, not only providing a space for important programming and community events but also symbolizing "the University's expanding and deepening commitment to diversity in all of its aspects." 5710, as users refer to the orange-brick building, will both house "the rough-and-tumble of academic exchange" and offer a home for several registered student organizations, a "place where the communities involved can flourish."

After Zimmer spoke, Kenneth Warren, deputy provost for research and minority issues, noted that it was a group of students who, in 2003, approached the University asking for a space dedicated to diversity. Then Lizette Durand, AB'01, PhD'07, who sat on several student committees that helped make the new facility happen, discussed how minority students wanted a place "to express our individuality without feeling out of place on campus." Vice President and Dean of Students Kimberly Goff-Crews toasted the building’s past, present, and future, and Ana Vazquez, deputy dean of students students and director of OMSA—the “M” officially changed from “minority” to “multicultural” in July 2007—thanked the many people who helped, noting that the office was built entirely with institutional funds. Then Zimmer, along with student representatives from several minority RSOs, cut ribbons to make the opening official.

Free to tour the converted mansion—formerly home to University Publications and Human Resources Management—the guests roamed the three floors while nibbling on popcorn, quesadillas, dessert pastries, and chicken wings. They oohed and ahhed at the sunny lounges on each floor and noted it was, indeed, a place that students and staff of all cultures could call home.


Photos: A member of Funkadesi grabs the crowd's attention; Zimmer and several student representatives perform the official ribbon-cutting honors.

Photos by Lloyd DeGrane

March 5, 2008

Inspired by the original


At the entrance to the Smart Museum exhibit Adaptation, bright white walls frame a reading area stocked with copies of Melville's Moby-Dick, Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and other books, as well as a television to show films like François Truffaut’s L’enfant sauvage (The Wild Child). Once inside, the viewer sees these classics transformed into film installations by contemporary artists. For Guy Ben-Ner's Moby Dick (2000)—produced in silent-film format with dialogue subtitles—the artist recruited his young daughter, Elia, to play "Pip, the little black deck-boy" to Ben-Ner's Captain Ahab. In another installation, Arturo Herrera sets a selection of abstract black-and-white images, drawn randomly from a computer database of Herrera's drawings and collages, to the music of Igor Stravinsky's 1923 ballet Les Noces (The Wedding). As the accompanying notes read, "No dance is ever performed exactly the same way twice."

Assistant professor of visual arts Catherine Sullivan's contribution is twofold: her video installation, Triangle of Need, uses four screens with overlapping films and musical scores; one screen shows Sullivan's interpretation of a common e-mail scam in which an African man named Dr. Patrick Obi invites the recipient to act as next of kin for the recently deceased Harold Bowen, with the promise of receiving a portion of Bowen's estate. The film shows the interactions between "Obi," "Bowen," and a character named "Next of Kin." Sullivan also taught a fall 2007 course, ARTV 24103: Practicum on Adaptation, to correspond with the exhibit; her nine students each chose a work to adapt—including René Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy, scenes from Pride and Prejudice, and letters between Civil War generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Ulysses S. Grant—and made a 45-minute video that weaved their stories into a cohesive whole. "The final work," Sullivan writes in exhibit notes, "demonstrates both collective and individual interests adapting to one another through collaboration."

Adaptation runs through May 4.


Photo: Guy Ben-Ner as Captain Ahab in Moby Dick (2000).

March 7, 2008

Cabaret comeback


This week the Divinity School marked the quarter's final Wednesday Lunch with bean salad, squash soup, and an hour's worth of lively cabaret from the New Budapest Orpheum Society. Led by Chicago ethnomusicologist Philip Bohlman, the group is a music-department ensemble-in-residence devoted to reviving and performing—in the original Yiddish, German, and Hebrew—the Jewish cabaret music that thrived in Austria and Germany in the early 20th century. During the Holocaust, it all but disappeared. Written on broadsides rescued from the Austrian censor's office, the songs, Bohlman explained to a packed Swift Common Room, "take the notion of the carnival and put it on the stage."

Giving a theatrical flair to songs about an adolescent Berlin pickpocket, an Eastern European schoolboy, a fiery-eyed idealist student, and an "irreconcilable optimist," cantor Stewart Figa donned a Sephardic-style yamulke and then a bowler, throwing himself wildly into the lyrics. Mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley, who, waylaid by traffic, whisked into the room just in time for her first performance—Bohlman joked that she was the afternoon's "Sabbath bride"—sang a strident lullaby from father to child. She closed the concert with composer Fredrich Hollander's "Falling in Love Again (Can't Help It)", a song made famous by Marlene Deitrich in 1930's The Blue Angel, the first German talkie.

The repertoire of the New Budapest Orpheum Society, named for a turn-of-the-century Viennese cabaret, includes work by composers who died in Auschwitz and others who went on to Hollywood careers. Although the cabarets vanished, some of the songs—which range from silly to sociopolitical—survived in ghettos and concentration camps.


Photos: Philip Bohlman looks on while Stewart Figa performs "The Irreconcilabe Optimist"; Julia Bentley rises to the climax of "Falling in Love Again."

March 10, 2008

Don’t be afraid of the dark


Set on the Maine coast, with whaling ships, cotton mills, and clambakes as a backdrop, Carousel could hardly seem more American. However, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II took the plot of their 1945 musical (a follow-up to Oklahoma!) from Liliom, a 1909 drama set in Budapest by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár. Nor was Molnár’s plot the standard upbeat fare of American musicals.

Court Theatre’s version of Carousel, directed by Charles Newell with music direction by Doug Peck, balances the light and dark in the story of the doomed love between carnival barker Billy Bigelow (Nicholas Belton) and mill girl Julie Jordan (Johanna McKenzie Miller).

John Culbert’s set—dominated by a rough-hewn backdrop that manages to suggest both waves and boardwalk and changes hues as the play's mood shifts from merry to menacing—meets at the border of land and sea, everyday life and escape to dreams. Carved into the shoreline's curves are moorings for the two parts of the Doug Peck's pared-down orchestra, and the conversation between the stage-right string quartet and the bass, piano, and woodwinds opposite adds to the balancing act.

During intermission, one audience member confessed to another, "I know all the words, and I'm trying not to sing along." Trying not to cry along is harder.

Carousel runs through Sunday, April 13.


Photo: Ernestine Jackson sings "June is Bustin' Out All Over."

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

March 11, 2008

Batting around ideas


Statistically speaking, hitting a 90-mile-per-hour baseball with a bat is nearly impossible, said Steven Small, professor in neurology, psychology, and the College, Monday night at the book launch of Your Brain on Cubs: Inside the Heads of Players and Fans. “It takes about a quarter of a second for a muscle to move, and processing the visual system’s messages and reacting to those messages takes at least a third of a second,” said Small, who coauthored a chapter in the book, at the Cubby Bear kitty-corner from Wrigley Field. The aggregate of each hitting element, he noted, is greater than the time from a pitcher’s release to the ball hitting a catcher’s mitt. “That’s the great enigma.”

Cubs hitters like Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee can make contact with a speeding ball—at least some of the time—because their motor skills, refined through years of practice, set their brains in motion to swing or take a pitch before it's even released. The players "read into the pitcher’s movement,” Small said: “the sweat on his forehead, his eye movement, his grip on the ball, and the windup to figure out what is coming. If I can figure where the ball will come and at what velocity, I can start to swing in less time than it takes to make those calculations in my head.”

Before each pitch, baseball players—like athletes in other sports with intense preparation such as archery and golf—perform idiosyncratic, highly specialized routines that set their motor plan in motion. In Small's study of PGA golfers preparing their shots, the professionals showed less brain activity than amateurs. “Their total brain activity decreases,” he said, “and they’re so concentrated on their task that their brain activity actually becomes more efficient.” But don’t try to ask an athlete to articulate how he or she does it, warned panel moderator Jeremy Manier, a Chicago Tribune science reporter. The reason is simple, replied Small: “Once you master the task, it becomes difficult to break it down into component parts—I mean, can you explain how you are gripping the damn beer in front of you?”


Photo: Chicago neurology and psychology professor Steven Small discusses the science of hitting during a panel discussion that included Northwestern University psychology and neurobiology professor Aryeh Routtenberg (right) and Your Brain on Cubs editor Dan Gordon (left).

March 14, 2008

Restraining force


Could a nation be seen as more powerful in the eyes of the world if it refrained from using force, rather than applying it? At an Alumni Association–sponsored lecture last Thursday Roger Myerson, the Glen A. Lloyd distinguished service professor in economics and the College, told a capacity crowd at the Chicago Architecture Foundation that this counterintuitive idea was true.

To make his point, Myerson, who also holds an appointment in the Department of Political Science and was a corecipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize in economics, drew from game theory—a type of applied mathematics that explains how individuals, corporations, or countries use cooperation or aggression to maximize benefits and minimize losses. Applying these lessons to international relations, he gave an example: a small country, when threatened, might emphasize its resolve to use force because weakness would invite aggression. On the other hand, he argued, a large nation such as the United States should emphasize restraint, lest it be seen as trying to profit from aggression. “For the world to peacefully accept the military dominance of one superpower,” he explained, “its restraint must be manifest to all.”

By this model, Myerson concluded, the Bush Administration stumbled when it invaded Iraq in 2003 without the approval of the United Nations and the international community. Nations are less likely to cooperate with another nation that has been uncooperative with them in the past, he said, and the United States has thus diminished its international influence since the war began.

Benjamin Recchie, AB'03

Photo: Myerson applies game theory to international relations at the Chicago Architecture Foundation last Thursday.

Photo by Dan Dry.

March 17, 2008

After the Anschluss


On the morning of March 12, 1938, the Wehrmacht's 8th Army rumbled across the German border into Austria. Greeted by flowers and salutes from jubilant locals, the Third Reich's takeover of its southeastern neighbor had begun.

In the decades that followed WW II, Austrians engaged in almost no public discussion of what became known as the Anschluss (a word that in German means "connection" and "political union"), and many Austrians preferred to think of their country as one of the Nazis' first victims, not a willing and enthusiastic collaborator. But in a talk at Harper Memorial Library last Wednesday—on the 70th anniversary of the Anschluss—Viennese historian Oliver Rathkolb described how Austrians' attitudes toward their Nazi past are changing. Introduced by fellow historian and Dean of the College John Boyer, AM'69, PhD'75, as a "courageous" scholar, Rathkolb is director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for European History and the Public Sphere and a contemporary-history professor at the University of Vienna. "In 1946," he reported, "only 19 percent of Austrians said yes" when asked if they thought their country bore any responsibility for allowing the Nazis to come in. This, he said, was despite the fact that in a plebiscite held a month after the takeover, 99.7 percent of Austrians voted in favor of the Anschluss. More than a million Austrians joined the Waffen SS and the Wehrmacht, and some took part in Nazi atrocities. Yet as soon as the war ended, Rathkolb said, "Austrians were quick to transform themselves into victims." The international community, led by Western allies more interested in the intensifying Cold War with the Soviets, facilitated the myth.

Over the years, there were several "conflict-laden attempts" by Austrian politicians and intellectuals to transform the "victim's doctrine," Rathkolb said. The turning point came in 1986 with Kurt Waldheim's embattled presidential campaign. A respected former UN secretary general, Waldheim was discovered to have hidden his student involvement with the Nazi movement and his wartime service in the Balkans, where in 1942 his commanding general led an operation slaughtering 60,000 Yugoslav partisans. Waldheim was elected, but the debate "split Austria," Rathkolb said, "and changed international ideas about Austria's contribution to the Nazis."

Polls bear out the results: in 1975 only 24 percent of Austrians were willing to accept responsibility for Nazi crimes, a slight uptick from three decades earlier. But by 2007 that number was 52 percent. This shift has its limits. "If you bring the issue of Nazis to the level of family histories," Rathkolb noted, "co-responsibility for WW II begins to fade away." But Austrians today are much more willing to ask themselves and their elders tough questions about the country's Nazi past. Public-school textbooks have changed to reflect an evolving understanding of Austria's Nazi complicity. International pressure, led in the 1990s by the United States, has focused attention on the Anschluss and its legacy. What's missing now, Rathkolb said, is an understanding among Austrians of how their WW II past fits within the broader European picture. Austrians now know their own Holocaust history, but not "the wider history, not as a part of European history."


Photo: After his talk, Oliver Rathkolb takes questions from the audience.

March 19, 2008

Mismatched at the movies


When Patricia Brett Erens, AM’63, saw last summer's comedy hit Knocked Up, she wasn't particularly amused by the plot (ambitious young career woman Alison Scott and post-college slacker Ben Stone accidentally get pregnant in a one-night stand; Alison decides to keep the baby). But she was intrigued by the film's popularity—and what it might say about American culture.

Are mismatches like Alison and Ben "just a condition for comedy," asked Erens, an adjunct professor of art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, "or do they reflect 21st-century issues?" Are they a species of male fantasy, "a way of reassuring men that they can continue adolescence into adulthood and still get the woman when they're ready?"

During her March 13 lecture, "Modern Romance in Cinema: What Was She Thinking?"—which, sponsored by the Chicago Women’s Alliance, brought 60 people to the School of the Art Institute ballroom—Erens showed clips tracing the genre's trajectory, from 1938's screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, where a wealthy ditz and a nerdy paleontologist find love, through 2007's darker Margot at the Wedding, in which Margot's successful sister marries a less-than-impressive mate.

What did her audience think about the recent films? Erens asked. "Those men in Knocked Up were the worst," one woman of a certain age declared. "I wouldn't have gone out with any of them." Other women gave slackers like Ben the chance to grow up: "I think there's a healthy recognition that there are other qualities besides money and having a degree."

The Chicago Women’s Alliance, an affinity group for women 45 and over who are U of C alumnae, faculty, administrators, and/or research associates, was founded in 2007 (men are welcome to join or attend events).


Photo: What's a screwball comedy without someone ending up in jail? In Bringing Up Baby, both Katharine Hepburn's ditzy heiress and Cary Grant’s sobersided paleontologist end up behind bars.

March 21, 2008

Money, that's what they want


“First we took our classes / then we wrote up our MAs,” sang Joe Grim Feinberg, a fifth-year graduate student in anthropology and Graduate Students United (GSU) member, at March 12's Rally for Grad Funding outside Swift Hall. “Then we took exams / and we proposed to dissertate. / Then we did our research in the field so far away. / Then we looked into our pockets / and we found we had no pay.”

Feinberg's song, “Ballad of the Marooned Dissertation Writers,” kicked off the protest against the University’s exclusion of students admitted before 2007 from the Graduate Aid Initiative. The funding plan, announced in February 2007, gives incoming graduate students in the humanities, social sciences, and the Divinity School $19,000 each per year for five years, plus $3,000 for two summers of study. But for previously enrolled graduate students, who won't receive the funding, frustrations run deep—particularly following the Maroon’s February 26 report noted that the Office of the Provost’s Working Group overestimated the cost of extending the benefits to all students by nearly $24 million.

“Our faculty are the fifth-best paid in the nation,” shouted Eli Thorkelson, a second-year graduate student in anthropology and GSU member, from the stage. “But why don’t we compete with our peer institutions on [graduate-student] teaching pay? It seems clear that they can afford it—Cornell has the best-paid teaching assistants and a lower endowment.”

The disparity between current and future graduate students' funding situations, especially given the working group’s miscalculation, is unfortunate, said Deputy Provost for Graduate Education Cathy Cohen later that day. “Everyone agrees our teaching wages are too low.” To develop a long-term solution, the provost’s office has heeded the working group's recommendation to convene a committee that examines graduate students’ pay structure. The provost's office aims to have changes in place by the 2008-09 academic year. “That’s my hope and expectation,” Cohen said. “But we’re taking a different approach than in the past. Instead of doing something sporadic, we’re going to have an annual review of teaching salaries. … One good thing from this mobilization is that we will attend to teaching salaries in a way so that this problem won’t arise again in five years.”


Photo: Students protest the University’s exclusion of current students from the Graduate Aid Initiative.

March 24, 2008

Magazine heads to the city of New Orleans


UChiBLOGo takes a break this week as the Magazine staff travels to New Orleans for the CASE Editor's Forum. While we're gone, please browse through some of the University's other online offerings:

A site about Arts at Chicago
The Law School's Faculty Blog
The University's new Web site in beta version

Enjoy the week.


March 31, 2008

On your mark, get set, grow

While one might observe that facial hair has always been part of the University of Chicago tradition (see, for example, Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey), it might be more accurate to say the University of Chicago has merely followed in the ancient tradition of bearded classical education (see, for example, Socrates).

The long-abandoned Mustache Race, part of campus life through the first half of the 20th century, exemplifies the connection between the College and facial hair. Members of the senior class would try to grow a mustache over the course of a few weeks, at the end of which judges would crown a victor.

This year the satirical campus magazine Chicago Shady Dealer revived the event. The Shady Dealer gave it a more inclusive twist, adding to the original “mustachery” category “beardsmanship” and “female facial hairitude.” Opening ceremonies took place February 27 at the C-bench. On April 9, six weeks later, the contest will reach its dramatic conclusion. As one of 26 contestants (including four women), here I chronicle my journey.

Day 1: I wake up early for the last shave of the next six weeks, applying a liberal amount of aftershave—my face will not smell this fresh again for quite some time. At registration, the mustachioed judge gently caresses my face to make sure I haven’t gotten a head start. Despite this unwanted contact with my still barren cheeks, I sign a sheet saying that I’ll be growing a beard. I also pledge to steer clear of “performance-enhancing chemicals and treatments” like Rogaine.

Day 12: There’s a little bit of itching now. Until now this realization had only registered at a subconscious level, but I think I have an especially bristly beard. It is also still uneven. Wondering what sorts of things could cause these deviations in facial-hair length, I run through the possible causes: genetics, growing up near industrial plants, work-related stress, not eating enough leafy greens. Some things we may never understand.

Day 27: After all this time, I’ve gotten pretty used to my beard. There are still a few weeks left before the judging, but no matter what happens between now and then, I believe I could go beard-to-beard with the best of them.

Well, maybe not Dewey. Now that guy had a mustache.

Seth Mayer, '08

Seth%202_28_thumb.jpg mar14_thumb.jpg John_Dewey_01_thumb.jpg

Photos (left to right): Seth Mayer goes from bare to bearded. But could he beat John Dewey?

About March 2008

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

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