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November 2008 Archives

November 3, 2008

The living enjoy the Day of the Dead

On Sunday afternoon a pink, yellow, blue, and red paper banner draped the door to Hutchinson Commons. Scores of students gathered in the hall, decorated with paintings and drawings paying homage to dead ancestors and friends. Colorful tables bore ofrendas such as bright paper flowers, candles, and sweets, made by students from the U of C chapter of Movimento Estudiantil Chicano de Atzlán (MEChA), who organized the event: a celebration of Dìa de los Muertos. The holiday, celebrated primarily in Mexico on the first and second of November, honors the dead, so loved ones can both mourn and celebrate them. Although many cultures celebrate their dead, many aspects of the Mexican holiday can be traced back to the ancient Aztecs and the Maya, who were mostly eradicated by colonizing Spaniards.

The organizers invited several performers to the two-hour MEChA celebration, including the folk band Fandanguero and the Aztec-dance troupe Mestizarte, who performed in traditional costumes. The students also offered their guests food—beans, rice, fajitas de pollo, and pan de muerto, a traditional holiday treat of sweet glazed bread loaves.

Watch the Mestizarte dance troupe perform in Hutch. Based in Pilsen, the group uses traditional dance to connect with their ancestral and cultural roots.

Mestizarte at Dia de los Muertos from University of Chicago Magazine on Vimeo.

Rose Schapiro, '09

November 5, 2008

Dispatch from a voting expert


Tuesday, 1:52 p.m.:

I signed up to be a polling-place administrator three years ago with recruiters at the Reynolds Club. It’s a good gig for a college student; the Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners paid $500 the first time—now it’s down to $300—for Election Day work and a few hours of training beforehand. It’s a fancy title for a simple job: I’m in charge of fixing electronic problems that the voting machines rarely have. Little expertise is necessary to plug in the ballot scanner or to press the green “override” button on the touch-screen unit whenever something goes wrong. For the most part today, I have done homework and written this blog entry.

This is the first time I’ve served as an administrator for a presidential election, and though my tasks are the same, it feels different. There are three precincts here at the Christ Way Baptist Church on 62nd and Woodlawn, and one other polling-place administrator. The morning brought hordes of people who lined up by 5:30—half an hour after we had arrived and begun setting up—and stood waiting. Ten minutes after the polls opened at 6 a.m., the large room had filled with more than 50 voters, and traffic was steady until 9 a.m.


I feel like I’m at the center of things. More than a few people have had to vote using provisional ballots, and anxiety is high, but so is the excitement. There’s an almost tangible sense of community. “I know most of the people coming in to vote,” one Democratic judge tells me. “I’ve even met Michelle and Barack Obama.” I nod mutely, not allowed to say anything. A young Republican judge has to lend his white sweatshirt to a voter because she’s wearing a bright red Barack Obama “superstar” T-shirt. A discussion ensues about whether voters should be allowed to wear partisan gear to the polls. It’s a tough rule, one judge says, “especially for our people.”

I stand out here—the only white poll worker out of more than 20. Almost all the voters are black too, and my laptop and grapefruit slices don’t help me blend in. Neither does the Magazine’s photographer, causing an uproar with his camera. “Strike a pose!” the women across the room call out. Later they ask why I’m sitting on the floor to type. Turns out this job is a great way to meet my neighbors—I live half a block away. During the slow middle of the day we pass around ham sandwiches that a judge brought, and sugary fruit punch. The day is in fact a procession of food: representatives from 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran's office also stop by with lunch and donuts.

Many of my friends are spending the day canvassing in Indiana and driving voters to their polling places. Others are in class, reading the latest polls on their computers and not hearing a word their teachers say. They’re enduring the day anxiously, promising to catch up on the week’s neglected homework as soon as it’s all over. I may have originally signed up for this job to get paid, but now I would rather be here than anywhere, living this election instead of watching it.

Shira Tevah, '09

Woodlawn's Christ Way Baptist Church (top), watched over by a mural of Consuela York, the current pastor's mother, serves as a polling place on Election Day; as a polling-place administrator, Magazine intern Shira Tevah (bottom) gets a ground-level view of the presidential election.

Photos by Dan Dry.

November 7, 2008

Applause, applause




By 4:50 yesterday afternoon, the Rothman Winter Garden teemed with chattering MBA students, invited only a few hours earlier to hear a special 5 p.m. announcement from GSB Dean Ted Snyder, AM’78, PhD’84.

The elbow-to-elbow crowd—faculty, staff, former deans, GSB Council members, University administrators and trustees, and alumni added to the mix—waited patiently, jockeying politely for a better view of the dais where photographers and videographers jostled for their own sight lines.

“Good afternoon.” Dean Snyder had the crowd at hello. When the applause died down, he introduced three people sitting front-and-center: Chandler Booth, a fifth-grader from Austin, Texas, who likes basketball and China; Erin Booth, an art-history major at Georgetown University; and Suzanne Deal Booth, an art conservator who directs Friends of Heritage Preservation. “Now, let me tell you about David Booth.”

Beginning with the first, “life-changing” course that Booth, MBA’71, took from finance professor Eugene Fama, MBA’63, PhD’64, Snyder traced the success of Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA), which Booth founded in 1981 with Rex Sinquefield, MBA’72, and which based many of its investment strategies on ideas flowing from Fama and others at the GSB. Booth, a GSB Council member and University trustee, has long credited DFA’s success to a way of thinking he learned at Chicago. And now, said Snyder, the Booth family was demonstrating that gratitude—and confidence in the school—in a very tangible way.

One by one, Snyder revealed the details of the gift—which had been, until this moment, a phenomenally well-kept secret: “The largest ever to our school” brought whistles and applause. “The largest to any business school” increased the volume. “The largest to the University” turned it up a notch. And then: “300 million!” Could the sound-o-meter go higher?

In recognition of the gift, Snyder announced, the University’s trustees had voted that afternoon to rename the business school. With that, a new banner was unfurled above the dais. The noise soared. Chicago GSB was now “CHICAGO BOOTH: The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.”

Calling his gift “a partnership distribution,” Booth told the students, “Clearly we have the best business school, and it will continue to support all of us.” Fama described his student’s intellect and humility, and University President Robert Zimmer praised Booth as an exemplar of Chicago ideas and ideals in action.

And because a new name demands new gear, boxes of long-sleeved tops emblazoned with CHICAGO BOOTH suddenly opened around the room—just in time for a mass photo op.


A Thursday afternoon reception (top) fills the Rothman Winter Garden at the Harper Center; finance professor Eugene Fama, MBA'63, PhD'64 (left) and University President Zimmer applaud the GSB's new namesake, David Booth, MBA'71; and MBA students show their Booth colors in new Chicago Booth gear.

Photos by Matthew Gilson

November 10, 2008

Nectar of the Babylonians


Students socializing at Jimmy’s over a pint of beer know that they’re participating in an age-old practice, but few likely realize just how old. Even before the dawn of recorded history, beer-brewing was widespread throughout the ancient Near East. In a presentation at the Oriental Institute last Wednesday, Kathleen Mineck, a PhD candidate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, coupled a lecture on beer in the ancient world with a tasting of her own home brews, prepared in the Sumerian manner.

Beer’s basic ingredients—yeast, water, and barley or wheat—are the same ones used to make bread, and ancient bakers often made the two side-by-side.. The Greek soldier of fortune Xenophon recounted finding that “barley-wine,” as he described beer, was made in every home in Armenia. No bacteria or pathogen could grow in beer because of the alcohol, making it safer to drink than water. Sumerians considered beer a gift from the gods, Mineck said, and many artifacts show people drinking it both recreationally and ritually.

Mineck, whose husband was a home-brewer long before she began her research, attempted to recreate the beers using the same or similar ingredients available in ancient Mesopotamia. The process required some guesswork: while the basic brewing process of the ancients is well known, the precise spices and flavorings used are obscure. In the end, guests sampled beers flavored with dates, with grapes (“wine-beer”), and with honey. Drinks were served in Mesopotamian-style ceramic mugs made for the occasion and stamped with the symbol of the goddess Inanna, patroness of love and fertility.

Anheuser-Busch and Heineken needn’t worry about their market share being threatened by a flood of Assyrian ales: this blogger thought the beer tasted weak and flat (partly because of the absence of hops, an innovation of the past millennium, and partly because the beer was served at room temperature.) The date-beer and wine-beer both had too much fruit, though the honey wheat beer was, as Xenophon wrote, “a very pleasant drink to those accustomed to it.”

Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

OI staffer Kaye Oberhausen pours a sample of honey wheat beer; Kathleen Mineck shares her home-brewed beer with the crowd.

November 12, 2008

Art break

It’s easy to tell when the halls of Cobb will be bustling and when they will be bleak. From about two minutes before one class session ends to about four minutes after the next begins—11:48 a.m. to 12:04 p.m., for instance—Cobb floods with students loudly stomping up and down the five flights of stairs.

Many students who stream in and out don’t know about the Renaissance Society, located on the fourth floor, which showcases cutting-edge contemporary art. But for those who do know about it, what’s a better place to spend a half-hour before class than in one of the Midwest’s premier galleries? It’s a great way to decompress with a few moments of something different.

The Renassiance Society’s current something different is Francis Alys’s Bolero (Shoe Shine Blues), on exhibition through December 14. The large installation features a room—a box, really—made of rough-hewn, industrial-building wood. Inside the box hang hundreds of drawings of a shoe being shined by a pair of skilled hands. Alys also turned the drawings into an animated film, which a visitor can watch by climbing external stairs to the top of the box. Five huge floor pillows sit in front of the video screen, which shows the animation, accompanied by music and lyrics that Alys composed.


I spent my break watching the film, which empathizes with society’s relegation of the shoe shine to hierarchical invisibility—curator Hamza Walker, AB’88, notes in his exhibition essay that Bolero “converts animation into a site where drawing is not only privileged for harboring artisanal skill, but for translating that skill into a display of labor that, like that of its subject matter, has been marginalized.”

At 1:18, like clockwork, the sounds from Cobb’s corridors began to pervade the quiet gallery, and Alys’s haunting clarinet was joined by elevators grinding and students chattering about Plato in the hallway. And I was reminded that it was time to go to class—luckily, right downstairs.

Rose Schapiro, ’09

The inside of the Bolero installation.

Image courtesy the Renaissance Society

November 14, 2008

Drawing power



More than 50 students crowded into the Smart Museum’s lobby Thursday night for “Make Your Mark,” an opportunity to sketch from a live model and enjoy sushi and music. The Smart provided drawing materials, but I arrived late and there was only newsprint left. I haven’t done any sketching since the Core art class I took as a first-year, so I thought the finicky nature of newsprint might put it out of my league. Instead, somewhat relieved, I took out my camera, pen, and notepad. The students' skill levels varied widely: a friend of mine had a blank page by the hour's end, while others had produced multiple detailed sketches.

The event was both relaxing and lively, with classical music and a brightness that contrasted the rain outside. People were courteously quiet but not oppressively so, and no one frowned on chatting. The “live model,” a heavyset man with reddish hair, was in fact clothed—this had been a topic of some pre-event discussion, especially for those of us unaccustomed to figure drawing.

Sue Donovan, ’09, cochair of the Smart Museum Activities Committee, which planned the evening along with the museum’s Director of Education Kristy Peterson, told me that this year’s event was “even better” than last year's debut. “We thought it would be nice,” she explained, “to do a combination of art gallery and constructing art.”

The aura was so creative, in fact, that Alaina Valenzuela, '11, became an impromptu model for her friends who sat on the stairs near the entrance and couldn’t see the model across the lobby well enough to draw him. She had no prior experience modeling, Valenzuela told me, but her friend Ainsley Sutherland, ’11, pointed out that she is a dancer so her pose—standing with both arms above her head—came naturally. “It was a lot easier for me at least,” Sutherland said. “We could tell her what poses we wanted.”

Shira Tevah, '09

Students filled the Smart's lobby; Noelle Barber, '10, sketches from the model.

November 17, 2008

Fundamentals: Issues and Sketch

“So, what are you all interested in?” asked Scott Sherman, AB’04, to the three dozen students nestled in seats in the Francis X. Kinahan Third Floor Theater, waiting to hear him speak. Sherman, who has written for The Onion, Comedy Central, Saturday Night Live, and several projects in development, stopped by campus while on a tour promoting his second book, The Devious Book for Cats (a parody of the popular The Dangerous Book for Boys, cowritten with four other former Onion staffers). But he wasn’t in the Reynolds Club on a Friday afternoon to talk about feline fancies—the subject of the workshop, sponsored by University Theater, was “Writing (for Money!).”

Writing for money, Sherman stressed, “is not Proust. It’s not like I will be able to write when the tea absorbs into the biscuits.” Students asked questions about subjects from getting an agent to balancing an academic workload with getting writing experience.


Attendees, mostly undergrads, hoped for writing careers covering a slew of media—from sketch comedy to print journalism to online outlets. “That’s probably a smarter take,” Sherman nodded, adding that print media, in his opinion, probably wouldn’t be viable for much longer. He described his own career trajectory, spurred by interning and then working as an assistant to the producers at Second City while a student, and by his Fundamentals: Issues and Texts major, in which he focused on definitions and permutations of comedy throughout history. After college he went straight to satiric newspaper The Onion before landing at Comedy Central, where he’s a writer for a sketch series starring comedian Demetri Martin. It will have its premiere this winter. “I hope you watch it,” Sherman said, “and tell your friends to watch it, and we’ll get a second season. The Emmys will come, and I’ll thank you all.”

He advised the students to take writing seriously. “If you don’t have a work ethic, it’s just not going to happen.” Although Chicago doesn’t offer a lot of formal preparation for the intense grind of being a professional writer, he said, “you’re all way ahead of 90 percent of the people on the road you’re going down,” simply because students at Chicago are used to being challenged. “The only difference between the three all-nighters I pulled to do my Fundamentals exam and the three all-nighters I just pulled to finish [writing] a pilot for Fox was that during one I was surrounded by giant puppets.”

Rose Schapiro,’09

Sherman speaks to his audience.

Photos by Dan Dry

November 19, 2008

Which road to automaker solvency?

As GM, Ford, and Chrysler ask Congress for a bailout, University of Chicago scholars have their own opinions on what should happen to the Big Three automakers.

On the Becker-Posner blog economics professor Gary Becker, AM’53, PhD’55, explains why he believes the companies should be allowed to go bankrupt: "Bankruptcy would help GM and Ford become more competitive by abrogating significant parts of their labor contracts with the UAW."

His blog partner, senior Law School lecturer Richard Posner, disagrees. The auto companies, he writes, "should be kept out of the bankruptcy court until the depression bottoms out and the economy begins to grow again." It would be similar to what happened with United Airlines after 9/11.


Law School professor Douglas Baird, meanwhile, said on NPR it's possible that neither solution will help GM. The company has had problems paying creditors and retirees for decades, he said, "so why do we think that if we give them a month or two months' breathing space, somehow it's going to magically figure out the solutions to its problems?" He added, "There's nothing about a government bailout or Chapter 11 that's going to fix the underlying economic problems that a firm faces."


November 21, 2008

From death, light

Rockefeller’s bells were ringing as 50 people entered Bond Chapel for Amadou Cisse’s service of remembrance Wednesday evening. “Assalamu alaikum,” Professor Mahmoud Ismail began. “Peace be upon you.” Cisse, a 29-year-old chemistry graduate student from Senegal, was shot and killed November 19, 2007, shortly after completing requirements for his PhD; four men await trial for his murder.

“I prayed many times with Amadou,” Ismail said before reciting the Sura al-Fatiha, the opening verses of the Qur’an. “We’re here today to celebrate his life. He was very well trusted by his friends and very well liked by all who had moments with him. We Muslims believe that you go from this life to another life, where you wait until the resurrection. May Allah make his grave a garden full of light, and may he make his life in this stage as pleasant as possible.”

Czerny Brasuell, director of multicultural affairs at Bates College, spoke of Cisse’s time as an undergrad there, where he became a member of her family, she said. “There was no self in Amadou. There was devotedness and kindness to others.” He intended to mentor a group of West African students at Bates this past fall, she said. Instead he became “the role model they never met.” The students have all been inspired by Cisse to take extra courses and declare early majors, saying, “If he could, we can.”


The speakers encouraged the audience to act to honor Cisse. Mumtaz Champsi, MBA’86, from Hyde Park Muslim Families, said Cisse’s friends should “challenge the violence” that took his life. “Let’s start by being peaceful,” she said, “and then let us reach out: to each other and to our neighbors. May God make America dar al-salaam, the land of peace.” Omer Mozaffar, MLA’03, who first met Cisse at Friday prayer in Bond Chapel, made three requests of those present: first, “look at your relationship with yourself, the world around you, and the divine”; second, “introduce yourself to someone in this room”; and third, “work to solve the problems in our society.”

“Find a cause that you can give to,” Mozaffar said. “Make life come from this death.”

Other speakers included Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students in the University Kimberly Goff-Crews; Student Government President Matthew Kennedy, ’09; Muslim Students Association Vice President Enal Hindi, ’10; and Cheikh Balla Samb, president of the Senegalese Association in Chicago. Muhammad Hossain, ’11, sang verses from the Qur’an.

George Vassilev, an international-relations graduate student and president of the International House Residents’ Council, and the council’s representatives closed the ceremony by lighting candles and reciting the I-House pledge: “As light begets light, so love, friendship, and goodwill are passed from one to another…”

Shira Tevah, ’09

International House Residents Council recites the I-House pledge.

November 24, 2008

The adventures of Augie Kleinzahler


Latecomers to the warm fourth-floor lecture hall in Rosenwald sat eagerly on the floor, packing themselves against chairs and sofas, waiting for the poet to begin. The occasion was a Thursday afternoon Poem Present reading by August Kleinzahler. With works that are often tightly constructed and complicated but written in a stark vernacular, Kleinzahler has been prominent in the poetry community for decades and is considered a protégé in style and form of both modernists like Ezra Pound and Basil Bunting and American beats like Allen Ginsberg.

English professor Robert von Hallberg introduced “Augie,” offering the titles of the 11 Kleinzahler books he owns: simple, evocative phrases like Sleeping It Off in Rapid City and Red Sauce, Whiskey & Snow. Von Hallberg noted how even in the colloquial poetry for which he is known, Kleinzahler’s use of the strange, complex names of chemicals and drugs creates a sense of the bizarre.

In “Retard Spoilage,” he uses this strangeness to describe the familiar. The poem features a couple sleeping even as the long list of foods in their refrigerator rots away: “mephitic flora” and “ladders of polysaccharides” in a “fetor of broken proteins.”

In his reading, Kleinzahler barely paused between poems, starting each one a beat after the last. He maintained his flow of speech through poems both short and long: a portrait of his mother in New Jersey in January, a monologue by an older dying poet, an ode to the workers who ride the corporate bus that runs from the bottom of the San Francisco hill where he lives to Silicon Valley’s Googleplex. Introducing the long poem that forms the centerpiece of his recent retrospective anthology, “Sleeping It off in Rapid City,” Kleinzahler asked if anyone in the audience had been to the South Dakota town. “It’s a weird town,” he added, and then let his poem explain how. He describes the city, which once housed the U.S. government’s missile defense program, and its truckers, hotels, and tourist attractions like the (relatively) nearby Badlands and Mount Rushmore. Kleinzahler paused in the poem’s middle: “I should have also told you that Rapid City claims to be 60 miles south of the center of the United States. If you count Alaska.”

Rose Schapiro, ’09

August Kleinzahler offers some of the finer things in life.

Photo courtesy Poem Present

November 26, 2008

Six days till 60 Seconds

The Chicago Studies program has extended the deadline for its CHICAGO IN:60 SECONDS contest. Any Chicago undergraduate or grad student can enter the competition to make a one-minute video exploring the University’s "relationship to the city, its role within it or other unique cultural aspect that can only be attributed to being embedded in urban Chicago." The winner gets $500.

See some of the submissions on YouTube.

Ready, set, action!


"John D. Rockefeller" invites students to make their own videos.

About November 2008

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

October 2008 is the previous archive.

December 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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