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July 2008 Archives

July 2, 2008

Reduce, reuse, recaffeinate

Everything starts somewhere—and in the Backstory Café’s case, almost everything started somewhere else. Opened in Woodlawn last week, at first glance the place seems like any other coffee shop around the U of C. On a Monday afternoon the shop isn’t particularly busy, but a half-dozen patrons type on laptops or murmur conversations over single-serve coffee from Metropolis (all brewed to order using a special slow-filter method—no big pots of drip in this establishment) or fresh soup. One undergraduate pores over a stack of books on the ancient Near East. Photographs depicting couples in stark landscapes from the series The Imp of Love by Rachel Herman, MFA’06, decorate the brick walls. Near a shelf in the corner, which holds used books gleaned from Powell’s and available for perusal and purchase, two other students leaf through Slavoj Žižek’s Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle (2005), discussing the chapter titles. But in Backstory, the books aren’t the only things reused.

Almost everything in the café is recycled and sustainable. The interior was designed by members of the Experimental Station, which hosts the café, and Material Exchange, a collective including several recent Chicago MFAs that repurposes cast-off materials from art exhibits, museums, and other cultural venues for both functional and artistic practices. Material Exchange recycled some of the tables from a Museum of Science and Industry exhibit and built others using leftover pine panels from the Art Institute’s Sharp Building—the same pine was used for the huge storage cabinet tucked in the corner. Maple from tabletops at a South Loop factory became the trash receptacle and part of the wood trim around the windows and doors. Even the decorative blackboards—which bear the scribbles of children and phrases like “if you want to go somewhere, come here!”—are recycled from a 2007 Hyde Park Art Center exhibit.

Backstory, which bills itself as a “café, infoshop, bookstore,” offers a place to gather, eat, and learn for both Woodlawn and Hyde Park by virtue of its 61st and Blackstone location. Owners Sara Black, MFA’06, and Saadia Shah are planning events to introduce Backstory to its community, including a film series—specific details to come. In its first week, says employee Chris Willard, the shop has drawn patrons including community gardeners and construction workers on projects south of the Midway. Backstory has hosted “a mix of customers from Woodlawn and from Hyde Park,” he notes, “the most relaxed, most friendly customers” he’s ever served. Maybe it’s the sustainable environment—or maybe it’s the prospect of a steady supply of fresh-roasted, hot coffee.

Rose Schapiro, '09

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Photos (left to right): Customers check out the used books; visitors have decorated the blackboard; the café offers tons of treats.

July 7, 2008

Three professors, three views

Ate too much over the long weekend? For some food for thought, check out these professors' opinions.

Read Geoffrey Stone's op-ed in the New York Times about the need for a "civil liberties adviser" to the president.

Listen to Jens Ludwig's NPR interview about the D.C. handgun ban.

Watch the "always entertaining" Richard Epstein discuss the administrative state at a Chicago's Best Ideas talk.

Shira Tevah, '09

July 9, 2008

Quick slips of the tongue


At the start of Monday’s class, the 18 undergraduate, graduate, and visiting students in French 10100 seem nervous—they have two quizzes to take before the lesson commences, and it’s already the last week of the course. The instructor, Céline Bordeaux, also a French department program assistant coordinator, hands each student two sheets of paper, which ask questions like “Comment on dit en français?” (translate phrases like “She’s as tactful as them” into French) and “Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire en anglais?” (offer English counterparts to French adjectives).

The course meets at 6 p.m. for two or three hours, four times a week. Next week French 10200 begins for most of the students, who are condensing an entire year of language lessons into the nine-week summer quarter. Their final exam is this Friday.

Bordeaux collects the quizzes, then turns to the day’s lesson. She cues a video showing a young French woman named Adèle on the large classroom television. Adèle begins, “J’aime bien beaucoup de choses…” and goes on to describe the music she enjoys, like jazz and French songs. The vocabulary lesson includes types of music—“le blues, le disco, la musique pop”—and before the two-hour lesson is over, students have also learned the vocabulary for television-show genres and objects one might find in a bedroom. Other topics include the difference between definite and indefinite articles, how to agree and disagree in casual conversation, and the conjugation pattern for verbs that end in “–er.” The last is important because the same pattern applies to verbs from “parler” (speak) to “trouver” (find): “Over 8,000 French verbs have this infinitive and will conjugate the same,” Bordeaux says.

Chicago’s summer language classes, offered in 17 different tongues, may be fast-paced, but they are also a draw. Ari Bookman, for instance, a graduate student in English at Northwestern, commutes from Evanston four times a week with several friends who are also taking Chicago language courses.

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photos: Some of Monday's French exercises in the notebook of Ari Bookman, a visitor from Northwestern.

July 11, 2008

Students rally for labor


More than 50 people crowded the corner outside the Friend Family Health Center (FFHC) last Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. A handful of students joined union members of Teamsters Local 743 to demand a new contract and pay raises for clerical staff. Camera shutters snapped, flip-flops slapped the sidewalk, and cars and city buses honked as they passed, adding to the cacophony that filled the air. "What do we want?" shouted the group. "A contract!"

Although FFHC is only blocks from the U of C Medical Center, it has its own board, according to John Easton, the Medical Center's director of media relations. "Our pediatricians see clients there," Easton said, "but the University has nothing to do with the management."

Despite FFHC's independence from the University, some students feel connected to the situation. “The issue,” explained Robin Peterson, '11, a member of Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL), “started two years ago when the contract expired.” Negotiations for a new employment contract between FFHC and the 11 Teamsters who work there have stalled, she said, over points of contention including merit-based raises and relations between supervisors and their subordinates.

Peterson has been involved with SOUL since last September. A writer for the student-run Chicago Weekly, she covered the workers at FFHC for the paper. Activism and journalism are compatible, believes Peterson, who became dedicated to the FFHC issue while reporting her article.

The workers and students marched in a mock picket line to the front of the building and then back to the corner, where speakers included Richard Berg, president of Local 743; members of the organization Interfaith Worker Justice; and former alderman Leon Despres, AB’27, JD’29, in a wheelchair and shiny black 743 hat. Despres, 100, raised the bullhorn with hands trembling from its weight. “I want to tell you a brief story," he said, "from ancient times."

The story, from the Old Testament, described a tree branch that was weak by itself but strong with six other branches. “My wish for you,” he said, “is that you be so strong that you cannot be broken.”

A week after the rally, Friend Family CEO Wayne Moyer told the Hyde Park Herald that FFHC will continue contract negotiations through a federal mediator.

Shira Tevah, '09

Photos: Students, workers, and community members rally at FFHC; former alderman Leon Despres, AB’27, JD’29, applauds their efforts.

July 14, 2008

Dancing with dips

"Lloro en el espejo y me siento estúpido, ilógico," Marc Anthony’s passionate cries from the song "Ahora Quien" filled the room—"I cry at the mirror and I feel stupid, illogical." But instructors Annmarie Micikas, ’09, and James Martin, ’10, looked neither stupid nor illogical as they demonstrated dipping techniques in a Latin-dance workshop. The July 7 class was part of a summer series for intermediate-level dancers, offered by the U of C Ballroom and Latin Dance Association. The series also includes lessons in Cuban salsa, Rueda, musicality, styling, and several unannounced topics.

The class began with a chance for the dancers to warm up: ten women stood behind Micikas; behind Martin were half as many men. Attendees formed couples and women rotated partners every few minutes. Micikas and Martin demonstrated the dips and explained how to do them step-by-step. "It's more of an optical illusion than anything," Martin told the men. "Make it look like you’re leaning more than you are."

But dipping wasn’t as easy as Martin made it look or sound. Most of the dancers didn’t know each other, and the teachers had to remind them to get up close and personal. "I can still see between your bodies; you’re not doing the dip right," Micikas admonished one couple. Learning with strangers comes with a risk of social discomfort—Vanessa Copeland, ’09, was initially told by one partner that she was "a below-average dancer." When she informed him that it was only her second class, he rescinded his judgment. The two even found common ground: they’d both learned to dance ballroom, not Latin, and were having similar difficulties with the transition. "Then," Copeland recalled, "he taught me a bunch of new steps."

Shira Tevah, '09

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Photos (left to right): Annmarie Micikas, '09, and James Martin, '10, teach a cross-body lead and dip; math instructor Alexey Cheskidov dances with Katharine Bierce, '10; Micikas explains what not to do; IIT student Imran Bashir sends Allison Ross, '09, to her next partner.

July 15, 2008

Alive and kicking


“I can’t believe I just struck out in kickball!” exclaimed Cheryl Luce, ’09, as she watched her fourth foul land resolutely out of bounds. At the top of the fifth inning, Luce’s team trailed her opponents by several runs—but who’s counting?

Not most of the players. Instead, the two dozen kickballers gathered at Stagg Field were more intent on the pleasures of the game and less intent on winning. They clapped when the other team scored and high-fived as they reached bases. Low-level strategizing abounded among teammates—“Kick it slow and straight at the center.” “Try to get it down the third base line.” “Run no matter what!”

The informal summer league, which meets weekly, was organized in June by Amy Martin, Alejandra Mejia, Helen Gregg, and Luce, all ’09. They invited friends via Facebook and urged them to invite others. Mixed-gender teams are picked at the start of each game; intensity depends on who shows up and how much they remember about a game that most haven’t thought about in nearly a decade. Requiring only a set of bases and a rubber ball, the organizers realized that kickball could be played almost anywhere and enjoyed by even the least athletic college students. Mejia, who pitched for her team through several innings, claimed that she could not “run, kick, or catch.”

Around the seventh (and second-to-last) inning, after some haggling about how many innings had been played and the number of runs scored, the competition level intensified. Despite Mejia’s disavowal of athletic prowess, she made the play that decided the game. The bases were loaded, and as Bailey Scott, ’09, was speeding toward home plate to score a tying run, Mejia tagged her out. At the pitcher’s mound Mejia attempted to scoop up the ball with her foot, but instead kicked it away—and right at Scott, who looked surprised as it glanced her leg a few yards from the plate. “Does that even count?” asked Scott. It did. The game was over. The teams shook hands and headed off into the late-afternoon sun.

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photos: Cheryl Luce takes the plate.

July 18, 2008

The trouble with TV


For 48 hours Chad Broughton’s Consumerism and Popular Culture students did not watch TV, use the Internet (they were allowed to check e-mail once per day), read magazines or newspapers, or listen to the radio.

“You said there are other things to do,” said Michael Hirsch, ’11, during the class discussion after the media-starvation exercise, “but I wasn’t in the mood to read a novel or exercise after running around all day.” The eight students came to a consensus: nobody who reads for school wants to read for pleasure. Broughton, AM'97, PhD'01, wanted them to get a sense of their dependence on media through abstaining from it. “One of the criticisms of media,” Broughton explained, “is that it leads to less development of social capital and relationships.” But for Debbie Ao, ’09, who asserted that she spends time with her family while watching TV, it can have the reverse effect.

The class took an online PBS “media literacy” quiz and learned: the average American seventh-grader watches three hours of television per day, children view an average of 40,000 commercials a year, and excessive TV watching is associated with obesity. The students also took a quiz to evaluate their own relationships to media, which, in an ironic twist, turned out to be a marketing tool for a book about TV-free life. "Yikes," the site warned those high scores, "you probably have a serious addiction problem." But never fear, it continued: we have the solution for only $11.95!

During the class's second hour, students analyzed race perceptions in mass media through clips from Peter Pan, Pocahontas, and the 1986 documentary Ethnic Notions, which argues that the end of slavery led to popular-culture images of African Americans as threatening. “Psychologists say there are two primal emotions: love and fear,” Broughton said. “Love can sell some movies, some popular culture, but not as much as fear.”

He urged the class to consider today’s equivalent media images. “The constructed gangster rapper really is the polar social other” from the suburban residents who constitute a majority of rap consumers, noted Kendall Ames, ’10. Broughton pointed to connections between perceptions mass media help create of African Americans and policies regulating things like welfare and incarceration. “Conspiracy isn’t a helpful word,” Broughton said about the connections between media and policy, “but loop is. There’s a feedback loop.”

Shira Tevah, '09

Photos: Kendall Ames, '10; Debbie Ao, '09; Liz Baker-Jennings, ‘09; and Michael Hirsch, '11, watch Ethnic Notions with instructor Chad Broughton; the film shows a popular media image of blacks from the slave era.

July 21, 2008

Be our Guest


Poet Barbara Guest’s play "The Office” uses three scenes and six actors to satirize an office environment. As the office workers are quietly killed off over the course of the 20-minute play, the characters express themselves through increasingly disturbing quips—"Memo. A skeletal staff will remain."

One of the workers attempts to compose a note to a dead coworker’s wife. “Dear Madam: the death of your late deaf husband—deaf to no one but me. Now dead to all.” A surreal work, “The Office” was staged at the Experimental Station on Thursday, at the release party for the latest issue of Chicago Review. The play was originally produced in New York in 1961 but remained unpublished until the quarterly Review printed it in this month's triple issue. With a page-count of three magazines and taking three-quarters of a year to publish, the special issue is devoted to the work of Guest, who died in 2006. "The Office" closed out the night at Experimental Station, following readings by three poets whose work also appears in the issue: Dan Beachy-Quick, Ed Roberson, and Eleni Sikelianos.

The Barbara Guest edition of Chicago Review, a 62-year-old literary magazine edited by U of C graduate students, collects three of her plays and several unpublished poems along with critical and personal responses to her work by scholars and writers she influenced, including Charles Altieri and Andrea Brady. The editors hope, they write in an editor’s note, to "confirm Guest's importance to the history of postwar American poetry and demonstrate her continuing influence." Guest is one of the only women associated with the New York School of formalist, painterly poetics. She is also considered highly influential for the language poets, and her later work focuses more on the power of the word and less on Imagism.

“The Office” concludes with a conversation between the last remaining office worker, now "the boss," and a woman who heretofore had remained mute. When the woman notes, “You’re the boss,” the man replies, "Me? I've never had a glass of champagne. / I've never eaten an oyster. / I've never made a beautiful voyage…. / I’ve never seen you before.” For Guest’s work, the “never seen” can now be read, repeatedly, in Chicago Review.

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photos: From Barbara Guest's "The Office": A strange game of tic-tac-toe; workers consult their papers.

Photos courtesy Robert Baird. See more here.

July 23, 2008

May I have this job?


“How do you do?” inquired a man dressed in navy slacks and a striped tie as he shook my hand at the door. I was struggling to locate a response to the unexpected greeting when he asked, “Did you sign up in time for a sandwich?”

The man was Brian Flora, the foreign-service recruiter for the Midwest; the sandwiches were provided by CAPS at a July 17 information session at Ida Noyes Hall about State Department jobs. Twenty-five students, many in suits and ties themselves, attended the session. Vinayak Ishwar, ’09, admitted that he had begged his supervisor at Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office—where he has a summer internship—to allow him to attend the presentation.

“The Foreign Service is for people who are extroverted,” Flora said, “and don’t like to get stuck in a rut. It’s for people who don’t mind packing their stuff—their junk, their lives—and sending them around the world at the government’s expense.” The benefits Flora listed included good pay, health insurance, and the fact that the government will ship your dog anywhere with you.

But the jobs are easy neither to attain nor perform. “You don’t waltz into it,” he warned. He stressed the advantage of being at least 25, having graduate education, and speaking critical languages such as Mandarin and Arabic. You can take the Foreign Service exam once a year until age 58, he said, “but most people give up before then.”

The government sends first-time employees to the locations they request. But after spending time in “fun” places like Western Europe, he explained, “the computer spits out your name for hardship and danger tours,” which include regions that are isolated, impoverished, at high risk for disease, or under dictatorships. Flora, whose tours included time in Vietnam, where he’d been stationed during the war, as well as in Chad and Romania during violent revolutions, emphasized that danger and hardship tours are higher paid and last for only one year.

“Have you ever been in a position when your personal ideas conflicted with what the government told you to do?” asked Joy Wattawa, who is receiving her degree from the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences in August.

“You are expected to defend U.S. foreign policy,” Flora answered. “And usually that’s easy to do.” But, he added, “Most of us thought Iraq was the wrong thing to do.” Officers who disagree with U.S. policy make use of official rhetoric, Flora explained, pointing out that “for Vietnam and Iraq there were very good justifications.”

“And,” he said, “you always have the option of resigning.”

Shira Tevah, '09

Photos: U.S. Department of State official seal.

July 25, 2008

Radio casts broader

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Moira Cassidy's radio show, National Public Rumpus, is heading out of its first hour, with two more to go. The program broadcasts on WHPK from 9 a.m. until noon every Tuesday during the summer—during the academic year shows are only two hours long, but the paucity of summer deejays means more work for those who stick around.

Cassidy, '11, who is also WHPK's station manager, is ready to take it on. "You're listening to WHPK, 88.5 FM, the pride of the South Side. It's 9:53 in the studio, so I hope that means it's 9:53 out there as well," she quips. "Sometimes I get worried that there's this radio time warp." After a plea for requests from “the real world” Cassidy cues her next song, experimental-pop band Deerhoof’s “Kidz are So Small,” and goes to pull albums from the station’s record library.

The WHPK record library, with its thousands of vinyl records and cds, looks predictably lived-in—deejays peruse the area 24 hours a day to find tunes for their jazz, rock, hip-hop, classical, folk, and international shows (WHPK also has a public-affairs format). To fill her additional summer air time, Today has been designated for J, K, and L, so she only plays songs starting with those letters—from All Girl Summer Fun Band’s manic “Jason Lee,” about nursing a crush on the actor, to the sweet, simple “Like Castanets” by Bishop Allen. Though some deejays manage to play 20- or 30-minute tracks, the challenge for Cassidy and her pop-inclined taste is finding 50 or 60 songs a week. She says, “I’m getting through it.”

The station’s rock-devoted hours, midnight until noon on weeknights, require students to give up sleep in favor of playing music through the wee hours of the morning. The effect is a station with a diverse group of rock shows ranging from indie-pop metal to experimental stoner rock. Having so many deejays with different tastes has earned the station accolades. In June alt-weekly Chicago Reader named WHPK as the city’s best college radio station. The Reader joked that WHPK “‘broadcasts’ from the University of Chicago on 100 watts of sheer willpower.” While the 100-watt station doesn’t even reach Chicago’s North Side, the station does stream to the entire world on its Web site.

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photos: Moira Cassidy pulls albums from the library; during her show she plays a 7-inch record in the studio.

Photos by Dan Dry.

July 28, 2008

Sundaes for service


A woman in a bright pink Greater Chicago Food Depository T-shirt ran up to greet David Hays. The University Community Service Center (UCSC)'s assistant director was standing with a group of students outside Margie’s Candies in Bucktown, waiting for a table. “Are you here for the intern get-together?” Hays asked. She wasn't: though Esther Del Valle, AB’05, is a Summer Links alumna, she and her family just happened to be at the ice cream shop last Tuesday night.

Summer Links is an 11-week paid internship program run by UCSC that places students in nonprofit and public-sector organizations throughout the city. It also has a social component: the program fosters relationships and discussion between current and former interns—with the help of amenities like ice cream, which, Hays says, “has been an integral part of Summer Links” during the eight years he's worked with the program, now 11 years old.

When a table opened up, Del Valle joined the Summer Linkers and introductions were made. “You’re my girl now,” Dana Kroop, AB’07, exclaimed upon discovering that they had both had Summer Links placements at Cook County hospital. “Trauma!” they cheered, referring to the hospital ward they worked in, and exchanged a fist bump across the table. Others included Annie Roberts, AB’06, who helped manage a mortgage fund at the Illinois Facilities Fund and now works at the Boston Consulting Group; Erin Franzinger, ’09, who interned previously with the Lakeside Community Development Corporation and is now a Summer Links coordinator; Hannah McConnaughay, AB'08, who worked at the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture; and Hannah Snyder, ’10, whose internship this summer is at World Relief.

“Basically I spend all of my time at public aid and the doctor’s office,” Snyder said of her internship experience. Working for case managers and employment counselors helping refugees resettle, she estimates the cases she's seen at 45 percent Iraqi, 35 percent Burmese, and the rest a mix of Congolese, Somali, and others—prompting a discussion over turtle sundaes about the patterns of immigrant and refugee influx to the United States.

Shira Tevah, '09

Photos: From left to right: Dana Kroop, AB'07, joins David Hays and Esther Del Valle, AB'05, at Margie's; Hannah Snyder, '10, Erin Franzinger, '09, center, and Hannah McConnaughay, AB'08, settle the tab.

July 30, 2008

Whole lotta Shakespeare going on

As noon approached last Wednesday, a troupe of actors descended upon Hutchinson Courtyard, bed sheets and instruments in tow. They began to prepare—draping themselves in the linens, tuning a violin, and testing their microphones. The ladders, speakers, and benches they had set up became castles and ships, and Pericles, Prince of Tyre began.

At ORCSA's request, the Dean’s Men, a student group devoted to performing Shakespeare on campus, was to present a Shakespeare play over four consecutive summer Wednesdays. The series, “Shakes and Shakespeare,” also features free milkshakes for attendees—which in this case spanned grad students to grade-school summer campers, who teemed on the courtyard's grassy slopes, awaiting the treats. Last Wednesday marked the first installment, and the final chapter runs August 13.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre features incest, famine, shipwrecks, magic, murder, and prostitution. While it may not be Shakespeare’s best loved or most performed comedy, director Benno Nelson, AB’08, chose the play because its episodic nature lends itself to easy serialization. The cast of seven undergraduates plays dozens of characters.

In the first scene, King Antioch (a spot-on menacing Greg Brew, ’10) and Pericles (a brooding Griffin Sharps, ’09) admire the beauty of Antioch’s daughter, whom Pericles intends to marry. Antioch says her “face, like heaven, enticeth thee to view her countless glory, which desert must gain; and which, without desert, because thine eye presumes to reach, all thy whole heap must die.” Hearing “dessert” for “desert,” one excited camper assumed the actors were offering him a shake. “Yes, I’d like my ice cream now!” he exclaimed, scooting closer to the stage.

Rose Schapiro, '09

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Photos (left to right): Ryland Barton, '09, as Gower, the narrator; Greg Brew, '10, and Griffin Sharps, '09, discuss Pericles' dilemma; children watch the performance and drink their milkshakes; Brew, Evan Cudworth, '09, and Anna Aizman, '08, play fishermen.

About July 2008

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

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