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May 2009 Archives

May 4, 2009

Organic farming a long row to hoe

When organic farmer Larry O’Toole began explaining to a couple dozen students and Hyde Parkers in Bartlett Lounge just how hard it is to break away from conventional agriculture, I thought of a farmer I know back home in North Carolina, who converted his family land to organic crops after about 200 years of traditional agriculture. More than once he’s told me that it was about the hardest thing he’s ever done, but worth it.

A city farmer, O’Toole transforms more vacant lots than family farms; he works for Growing Home, a nonprofit that provides job training to homeless and low-income people on three organic farms in Chicago and rural Illinois. His comments came at a lunchtime forum on Earth Day—amid a week of green-focused campus events—and on the table in front of him sat boxes of soy milk, organic cheese cubes, a tub of organic hummus, and someone’s bike helmet. O’Toole shared a panel with Martin Felsen, an Archeworks architect looking for ways to replenish some of the 2.1 billion gallons of water that Chicago removes daily from Lake Michigan. Also in the discussion was Esther Bowen, AB’08, a TA for geophysical scientist Pamela Martin’s class-cum-study crunching the numbers behind environmentally sustainable farming.

All three panelists began on a note of optimism but quickly converged on the reality that altering America’s agricultural landscape will require difficult, fundamental changes. O’Toole discussed the outdated agricultural and zoning policies that made establishing a produce farm in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood nearly impossible, even though “the mayor and the alderman loved the project,” he said. “It took four years of fighting tooth and nail to get the farm going.” Growing Home’s Englewood site finally got under way in 2007.

Then there’s the question, O’Toole said, of ingrained tradition. “Historically, farmers rely for their training on knowledge that gets accumulated and perfected over generations.” Going organic means reversing centuries of momentum and starting over. “It’s like studying for a PhD,” O’Toole said, which was what reminded me of my friend in North Carolina. He lives just outside Asheville on the farm his family has owned for seven generations. He decided to switch to organic about a decade ago. He gave up pesticides and heavy machinery, found a new water source that didn’t require pumps, and figured out how to keep his goats warm all winter without heating the barn. “I feel like I’m studying for a PhD,” he once remarked about all the research his organic conversion required. And although his farm is more rural than O’Toole’s, he still had to clear a few municipal roadblocks. Ten years later, he’s finally making money.

What he and O’Toole both believe is that if organic farming can survive, it will flourish. “The demand from consumers is there,” O’Toole said. His Bartlett Lounge audience nodded their heads. “We could multiply our farms by ten or 20 and still not meet the demand.”

Lydialyle Gibson

Photo courtesy Growing Home.

May 6, 2009

Funky history

What were the three cities where musicians in the ‘70s and ‘80s could make it big? New York, Los Angeles, and Dayton, Ohio—according to Scot Brown, assistant history professor at UCLA and Thursday’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture lecturer with “‘More Bounce to the Ounce’: The Blues Afro-Futurism of Roger Troutman and Zapp.” Troutman and his brothers—who made up the funk band Zapp—lived, played, and recorded in Dayton for nearly three decades, contributing to an African American music scene in the Midwest that was characterized by commercial success, independent record labels and shops, and the fusion of music with black cultural nationalism and social activism.

“Think of Roger as a sound innovator and experimentalist,” Brown says, adding that Troutman’s most noteworthy work was his use of the talk box—which he “translated from an exotic effect to an instrument with lots of capabilities.” The talk box is a technology that transforms human speech into robotic, “futurist” sounds. Prior to the funk revolution, Brown says, the dominant “masculinist style” and “culture of cool” dictated that a man might go out to a club and stand at the wall. “Roger’s task,” Brown notes, “was to get them to take off their fedoras, ask a lady to dance, and get sweaty.”

Chicago’s music and humanities associate professor Travis Jackson, who introduced Brown, had another take. “Part of what makes Roger’s work seem exceptional,” he said, “is the correlation people make between African American musicians and the body, and European musicians and the mind.” He pointed out that Troutman was one person in a long line of sound innovators, some of whom implemented techniques such as rhythm boxes and dub recording. Brown acknowledged the critique, but it had little bearing on one of his favorite points: “You can think of sampling as reaching back to the past, or you can see the past as imposing itself on the present,” he said, “with a chunk of funk so thick that history has no recourse but to double back and make you dance.”

Shira Tevah, ’09

May 7, 2009

From the department of sticklers

By now, the Internet-savvy among you surely have noticed a trend: parodying Facebook news feeds to provide a laugh at the expense of some literary, political, or divine figure. Always good for a chortle, and nobody enjoys a chortle more than me. But look closer; doesn’t something about these strike as you as jarring, dissonant—just plain wrong? That’s right, the feeds go in the wrong direction! All the world knows that you read a Facebook feed in reverse chronological order—from the bottom up. And yet these spoofs are written from the top down! O tempora! O mores! Even the University of Chicago Magazine isn’t immune. What’s next? Will cats marry dogs? Aristotelians become Platonists?

You could gnash your teeth in woe or spam editors Mary Ruth Yoe and Amy Puma with hate mail. But why not join the U of C Magazine fan page on Facebook? If every one of you joins, perhaps we can show them the folly of their ways.

Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

May 8, 2009

The write way

“How do you teach something that is an art form?” asked Elizabeth Crane, a short-story writer and a creative-writing faculty member at the University. The question set the tone for a panel discussion Tuesday evening featuring some of the city's most prominent authors.

1256494428_5b584ac69c_m.jpgTwo dozen students, professors, and visitors gathered in Classics 110 for the event. The participants were Crane; Aleksandar Hemon, author of two critically acclaimed novels and regular contributor to magazines such as the New Yorker; and Stuart Dybek, known as an expert short-story craftsman, winning a PEN/Malamud Prize for distinguished achievement and an O. Henry award. The three writers have been tag-team teaching an invitation-only seminar for ten advanced fiction writers at the U of C this quarter.

The conversation fluctuated between their methods of teaching writing and their own writing practices. Hemon noted, "You cannot approach it as, 'I'm an expert and these are what my tricks are.'" But the authors did agree that reading—observational, voracious, and broad—is essential to becoming a good writer. Hemon seeks out everything from Nabakov and Chekhov to names in phonebooks and nutritional information on the backs of cereal boxes. "I like the Yellow Pages," he said.

After a few audience questions that prompted the writers to explore associations between academia and creative writing, they explicated how they saw their own work in relation to their readership. "Reading is like dancing," said Dybek, who noted that, aside from popular musicians, writers have the most active audience of any art form. He offered an example: a student writing a dissertation chapter on Dybek's story "Blood Soup" read transubstantiation into the Miracle Whip jar full of holy water that the protagonist empties out. His dying grandmother urges him to empty it and embark on a quest for duck's blood to give to her. Dybek claimed he didn’t intend to make such a connection to the miraculous in the story, "but if I make things specific enough, then a great reader like that will be able to dance with it."

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photo by Silver Tusk (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Hyde Park snark

Yes, it was my idea. But I was still a little freaked out about meeting “Chicago Pop,” a.k.a. David Hoyt, AB’91, the man behind the notorious (his adjective) local blog Hyde Park Progress. Although I graduated in 1991 too and we have at least one friend in common, somehow we never crossed paths.

The blog’s name is pretty bland, and the content could be, given Hoyt’s narrow focus on neighborhood development, his background in urban planning, and his tendency toward wonkishness. But rather than a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, Hoyt prefers oil of vitriol. He has a particular genius for writing offensive, occasionally obscene headlines and photo captions, and his analysis is bitingly funny—as long he’s writing about somebody else. If you live in Hyde Park, that somebody else could be the guy who sells you bagels or who rents you a space in the community garden or who edits the weekly paper.

Because of conflicting work/parenting schedules, Hoyt and I agreed to meet at a local playlot. He arrived with a golden retriever, Ella; his two-year-old son, Isaac; and a shopping cart that Isaac likes to push around.

QandA_QDrop.jpg After college you earned PhD in European history at UCLA. When did you move back to Hyde Park?
QandA_ADrop.jpg In early 2006. I graduated in 1991, and when I came back to Chicago a decade later, the only thing that had changed about Hyde Park was that it had a Starbucks.
QandA_QDrop.jpgIf you had a magic wand, what are the five things you would change about Hyde Park? Put another way, what are the five lamest things?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWow, what a Facebook-y question. I don’t know.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWant to e-mail me later?

[Later, by e-mail.]

  1. We need to get used to the idea of more density. That means more taller and bigger buildings, and more people.
  2. We need to recognize that Hyde Park is not an island, but is part of the South Side and shares many of its challenges, problems, and opportunities.
  3. We need to recognize that the University is not an Evil Empire. Related to #2, the University should be encouraged to develop outside its historic "boundaries" in Hyde Park. Concretely this means Woodlawn and Washington Park.
  4. It should be recognized that the goals of economic development in Hyde Park are inseparable from those of the surrounding, poorer, and primarily African American neighborhoods (which is why #3 is important).
  5. The University needs to be smarter about its opposition, and less solicitous of the opposition when their intentions are obstructionist.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow do you respond to the charge that you make ad hominem attacks?
QandA_ADrop.jpgYou think they’re ad hominem attacks?
QandA_QDrop.jpgThey’ve been described that way.
QandA_ADrop.jpgI define what I do as satire. If people think it’s too mean and nasty, sorry.
QandA_QDrop.jpgIs it fair to write under a pseudonym, when you criticize other Hyde Parkers by name?
QandA_ADrop.jpgYeah, it’s fair. There’s a long tradition of writing under a pseudonym for critical purposes. My identity is known. I write for the Huffington Post under my own name, and Hyde Park Progress is linked to that.

[Isaac, wanting to play in a different area, says, "Train. Train." Hoyt responds, "In a minute Isaac."]

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhy do you do it?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI see the blog as community service. I don’t get paid. I don’t get anything out of it. I’d like to stay in Hyde Park, but if I’m going to stay here, it’s got to change.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat about your contributors, Elizabeth A. Fama, AB'85, MBA'91, PhD'96; Peter Rossi, MBA'80, PhD'84; and Richard Gill?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI don’t think it’s any coincidence that three out of four of us have PhDs. In graduate school you don’t think it’s impolite to point out that someone is full of it.
QandA_QDrop.jpgAnything else you wanted to say?
QandA_ADrop.jpgNot really. I hope I didn’t offend you.

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

May 11, 2009

Scav Hunt Valhalla

Most participants in the annual University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt are College students, but there’s no rule saying they have to be. Witness GASH, the Graduate Alumni Scav Hunt team. In its second year, the group is the brainchild of Sam Friedman, AB’04, who wanted to play with his friends and fellow alumni. When I dropped by GASH headquarters Friday afternoon—inside a former preschool with papered-over windows on Hyde Park Boulevard—to see how the team was faring, Friedman and a few fellow alums were pondering if and how they would attempt item 46: “Give us a new Alma Mater we can all be proud of and perform it in front of President Zimmer’s Admin office.”

Like Friedman, each person in the room had been involved in their own dorms’ Scav Hunt teams, often against each other. (“I used to hate Sam’s guts,” volunteered GASHer Alan Mardinly, AB’06.) One described GASH as a kind of “Scav Hunt Valhalla,” where the great heroes of Scav lore lay down their old rivalries and play together.

The GASHers filled me in on a few of the items they were working on. Item 11 (building a moai statue on the quads): they salvaged a steamer trunk left in the alleyway behind their HQ to serve as the body, then added onto it. Item 47 (a classical quartet on the “L”): after a short discussion they decided they could create a respectable quartet from two violins, a cello, and a slide whistle. Item 235 (“The Ark of the Covenant. Ark must be to specs, within reason.”): Clara Raubertas, AB’06, quickly determined that the phrase “within reason” meant that a scale replica would be acceptable.

As I bade the team good day and good luck, I opened the door, illuminating the artificially lit space with glorious sunshine. “Aaaghh!” Friedman winced. “Sunlight!”

Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

The results are in: The Snell-Hitchcock team took home first place, and GASH tied for sixth place.

Slideshow photos by Eric Allix Rogers, AB'05, AM'07 (CC-BY-NC-SA)


  • Audio: Item 8 ("Your success as a Scavvie and a U of C student implies a certain discerning and critical sensitivity for bullshit: you know the best of the worst. Demonstrate your peerless taste by finding the perfect submission for The Annoying Music Show and getting it played on the air. The show broadcasts on Saturday, so you’ll want to get your entry to AnnoyingMusic@aol.com by Friday night. And remember, when the competition is fierce, music that is merely bad will not be good enough." 13 points, Shoreland team submission)

  • Video: Item 43 ("Render the Sox/Cubs rivalry in the guise of up to ten iconic commercials." 2 points, Maclean Hall and Pierce Tower team submission)

  • Video: Item 51 ("Nothing is worse than a mismatched music video. Re-record the lyrics, keeping the tune, so that they explain what the hell the director was thinking." 8 points, Breckenridge House team submission)

  • Video: Item 105 ("Holy Mackerel! Proselytizing wall fish." 12 points, GASH team submission)

  • Video: Item 111 ("Make and drink a glass of chocolate milk as dramatically as possible." 2 points, Burton-Judson Courts team submission)

  • Video: Item 209 ("Build a vending machine. Vending machines must be coin operated, with multiple button-selected options to choose from. In addition to whatever sugary goodness you choose, machines must vend three other List items when you type in their item numbers." 250 points, Burton-Judson Courts team submission)

  • Video: Item 239 ("Perform the Scav Hunt Theme Song ("Under Pressure") on the greatest instrument of all time: The Mario Paint Composer!" 13 points, Breckenridge House team submission)

  • Video: Item 243 ("Have the Bad Horse Singers deliver a message to your favorite Evil MacArthur Genius." 20 points, F.I.S.T. team submission)

  • Video: Item 267 ("You know that game Labyrinth, where you try to navigate a little ball through a wooden maze? It's fun and all, but not quite deserving of the name. Construct a game of Labyrinth truly worthy of the Goblin King, using dials to navigate a bowling ball through the maze and avoid the pitfalls." 200 points, Burton-Judson team submission)


May 12, 2009

Smart kids

burning_house.jpgThe big idea behind the University of Chicago’s model for urban elementary schooling is that every child should be engaged in ambitious, intellectual work. Students of all ages and in every school—public, charter, or private—should pose questions, scrutinize answers, and explore new ways of thinking. Last week, tagging along with third-graders from Beasley Academic Center on a tour of the Smart Museum of Art, I saw theory in action.

On this, their third visit to the museum through its Art in Focus program, 29 neatly uniformed boys and girls from the South Side public magnet school began with a review of earlier material. Constance and Caitlyn, Chicago student docents, asked and got quick answers to basic questions: What are the elements of art? What’s the difference between a three-dimensional and two-dimensional piece?

Moving into the Asia gallery, a small group contemplated some early Ming Dynasty sculpture. “What do you guys see?” asked Constance, pointing to a row of Buddhas. “What’s going on here?” Hands shot up. “It looks like they’re meditating,” said a boy.

Seated cross-legged on the floor, the kids defined and discussed—in that halting, quiet, third-grade way—the difference between representational and nonrepresentational art. They had questions of their own for Constance: Who made this art? When did they make it? How do we know? (Answer: read the label.)

Jumping ahead to Reg Butler’s Machine, a mysterious, modernist, cast-bronze sculpture, a girl wondered, “How come he made it like that?” “He just wanted to put something out there,” suggested a classmate. Constance told them the artist produced the piece just after World War II. That prompted more thinking. “I learned that they dropped a bomb in Japan,” a boy said, “so maybe he is trying to build a plane to get away.”

Last stop was a wood, glass, and tin sculpture called Burning House, featured in Your Pal, Cliff, the Smart’s exhibition of works by H. C. Westermann. What’s going on here? “I think someone set the house on fire to get payback,” said a boy. Why did they think Westermann gave his future bride the piece as a wedding present? “He’s burning in love with her,” smiled a girl.

The kids were excited to see a photo of Westermann’s studio and a reproduction of the wooden crate that Burning House was shipped in. The crate prompted more discussion: What’s the difference between fine and functional art? Can a crate be considered art? Does it belong in a museum? The group was divided.

After an hour in the galleries, the third-graders began to get fidgety, and so did I. Constance invited them to come back with their parents for an open house next week. Beasley Academic Center is a couple miles west of the Smart Museum—on South State Street and 52nd—but it’s not a world away. Something tells me these kids will be back.

Elizabeth Station

Photo of Horace Clifford (H. C.) Westermann's Burning House, 1958, courtesy of the Smart Museum of Art.



May 13, 2009

Phoenix Pix: May 11-15

Scav Hunt 2009

Burton-Judson's team members attempt item 36 (pull a wagon across Scavegon Trail)
on the first day of Scav Hunt.

Photo by Avi Schwab, AB'03.
Schwab posted more than 70 additional photos of Scav Hunt 2009 on Flickr.

Submit your best University of Chicago-themed photos to Phoenix Pix.

Neighborhood vacancy

SSA's Community Economic Development Organization dinner

Foreclosure filings in Chicago rose 100.5 percent from 2006 to 2008, according to a flyer that greeted students and community members at the entrance to the SSA’s Community Economic Development Organization dinner last Tuesday. At the dinner, representatives from the city and four neighborhood organizations shared strategies for foreclosure relief. While the city is buying abandoned units—widely considered harmful to neighborhoods—community organizations also emphasize foreclosure prevention through workshops and homeowner assistance.

In January Chicago received $55.2 million in stimulus money from the federal HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) to buy foreclosed properties in 25 “areas of greatest need”—identified using the program’s rules, explained Ellen Sahli from the city’s Department of Community Development. Chicago's abandoned properties were recently valued at $1.2 billion, Sahli noted, so the city must spend the stimulus money strategically because it “will not be enough to tackle all the vacant properties.” City officials will work with Mercy Portfolio Services to connect with neighborhood developers to rehab the properties, ensure they are up to code, and find occupants. “The role of the city is convener,” Sahli said, “and the role of community partners is to get properties into productive use.”

The other side of foreclosure relief—prevention—has been taken up by organizations across the city. Bruce Gottschall of Neighborhood Housing Services and Reverend Rodney Walker of Teamwork Englewood described their organizations’ work, such as mediating between lenders and homeowners and advocating in Springfield for legislation like HR 0521, which would authorize state funds for foreclosure-prevention counseling. Guacolda Reyes of the nonprofit Resurrection Project described a March workshop in which some 600 families met with potential lenders face-to-face. Reyes was frustrated that Resurrection Project’s neighborhoods aren’t on the city’s list—instead it has turned to statewide NSP funds—but condoned the city’s decision to work with Mercy Portfolio. “The city’s strategy of having one negotiator will have a good effect on the rates people get from lenders for their homes,” she said.

Chicago is addressing the foreclosure crisis through federal funds, city planning, and local organizations. Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors director Mattie Butler even sees an opportunity for her community to end up better off than it was “before the bottom fell out.” The city-community partnership, she believes, will help reinstate the area’s affordable housing. Woodlawn “lost a lot of affordable units during the area’s upward mobility to condos that are now empty,” she said. “We’re going to recapture those and make them affordable again.”

Shira Tevah, ’09


May 18, 2009

A Misérables marathon

lesmis.gifStudents and faculty milled about ex Libris last Thursday, exchanging greetings while pouring glasses of Bordeaux and filling their plates with bread and cheese. The evening was à la mode française, and appropriately so: the minglers were there to kick off a marathon reading of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, a benefit running through tomorrow, with proceeds going to Fonkoze, a nonprofit providing micro-credit loans to destitute women in Haiti.

At 8:45 p.m. Robert Morrissey, the Benjamin Franklin professor of French literature, welcomed the crowd. “The idea for this exercise came out of a course I am teaching this quarter on Les Misérables," he said, "out of a rare confluence of life and literature, of text and our current economic context. No one has more deeply, more durably, and more magically explored the subject of human misery than Victor Hugo. We wanted to make this event not just an opportunity to read and listen to this wonderful work, but also an occasion to reflect on the values and morals of our society and a means to help others.” He thanked student organizers as well as the University Community Service Center, the Library, the College, and the France Chicago Center, all of whom teamed up with the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures to cosponsor the event.

Then Morrissey introduced Daniel Desormeaux, a Haitian native and scholar of 19th-century French literature who will join the Chicago faculty next fall. In town looking for a new home, Desormeaux asked if he could participate in the reading. Morrissey replied, “Well, you can inaugurate it.”

Desormeaux opened a tattered, faded-red text and delivered the novel’s opening lines:“En 1815, M. Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel était évêque de Digne. C'était un vieillard d'environ soixante-quinze ans; il occupait le siege de Digne depuis 1806.” (In 1815, Monsieur Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of Digne. He was then about seventy-five and had presided over the diocese of Digne since 1806.) Desormeaux passed the book to his wife Magda, followed by a series of current faculty, each of whom read a passage. Then Morrissey introduced the first student reader and announced that the event would move upstairs to the Regenstein outer lobby.

Since then the marathon has continued, starting at 9 a.m. weekdays and noon weekends by the C-Bench, moving to the Regenstein lobby in the evenings, and concluding at midnight. The student and faculty readers sit beside water jugs doubling as donation depositories. Tomorrow morning's readers will include Jean-Luc Marion, the John Nuveen professor in the Divinity School, philosophy, and social thought—and recent inductee to the Académie française. Marion happily agreed to participate, says Morrissey: “His only request was that he be able to smoke his pipe while reading.”

Katherine E. Muhlenkamp

May 19, 2009

Not quite a cakewalk

The students rustled into Rosenwald Tuesday evening, making louder conversation than one usually hears at campus readings—greeting each another, asking questions about spring quarter classes, scoping out the book-shaped layer cake on a table by the doorway. “Congratulations!” the cake read in ornate yellow script. The occasion was the English Department’s annual BA-thesis reading. Ten students had volunteered to read from their newly finished works (due at the departmental office April 27 at 5 p.m.—and believe me, it was tight).

English majors are not required to write BA papers; they do so only if they want to receive honors in the major. So the projects are, for the most part, labors of love. Students who write theses tend to love what they are writing about, whether they manage to actively love what they are writing. We could write either a creative piece (a collection of poems, essays, or stories) or a critical thesis. My BA was the latter—a 38-page argument about the function of subjects and objects in Gertrude Stein’s literary portraiture.

As the audience settled down, Christina von Nolcken, the undergraduate chair in English, addressed us. She noted the incredible number of projects—50—turned in this year. “There were more than I’d ever had before, and they were wonderful,” said von Nolcken. She then distributed the annual departmental prizes—honors in creative writing and two awards for outstanding BA projects, one for criticism, one for a creative thesis. The first reader was Rachel Lewin, ’09, who began by explaining the books she analyzed for her paper, “Classical Friendship: Cicero, Bacon, and Cross-Dressing in The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia. “I’ll assume you haven’t read the book,” ventured Lewin, “because almost nobody’s read it.”

The reading continued with an alternation of creative and critical theses. Critical prizewinner Greg Conti, ’09, read from his “Spectatorial Thinking and Thoreau’s Ethics of Solitude,” explaining that for Thoreau, interacting with society was “secondary to figuring out oneself.” Conti wanted “to connect this to Thoreau’s economic and political thinking," he said. "Solitude is not socially or economically indifferent.” Creative prizewinner Luke Rodehorst, ’09, read from “Shape Notes,” his collection of poems about embarking on journeys. Rodehorst completed his second creative thesis this year—the first, a nonfiction essay, was awarded the same prize in 2008, when Rodehorst was a third-year. Elizabeth Block, ’09, elicited chuckles when she read from her creative thesis. Block’s poem about her hometown, “I Worry for Atlanta,” apologizes for her lack of Southern drawl, noting she was raised by transplanted Midwestern Presbyterians. Her kinship with the city, she explains, came from “a dogwood tree in my backyard and a vague sympathy with Margaret Mitchell.”

I abstained from reading my paper. Afterward, we finished off the book-shaped cake and tea sandwiches. “I don’t want any food left over,” said von Nolcken. We lingered in the hallway, exchanging jokes and library horror stories with friends to whom we knew could relate. There’s nothing like writing a long, somewhat scary paper to ensure solidarity with your classmates. And there’s nothing like a cake shaped like a book to get English majors to cheerfully show up to an event.

Rose Schapiro, '09

May 20, 2009

Phoenix Pix: May 18-22, 2009

Hubble's basketball on Atlantis, 2009

During his last trip to outer space astronaut John M. Grunsfeld, SM'84, PhD'88, e-mailed astronomy & astrophysics professor Michael Turner a photograph he took of the century-old basketball Edwin Hubble, SB 1910, PhD 1917, tossed around in a 1909 game with Indiana University.

Photo by John M. Grunsfeld; courtesy Michael Turner.

Submit your best University of Chicago-themed photos to Phoenix Pix.

Intestinal fortitude

Joseph KirsnerIt is a truth universally acknowledged that when celebrating someone's 100th birthday, it is not unwise to start a little early. Doctors, especially, know this.

So on May 29, Joseph B. Kirsner, PhD’42—also known as "GI Joe" and as "Papa Bowel"—will celebrate the prospect of turning 100 with his friends—even though he was born September 21, 1909.

The American Gastroenterological Society is making him jump the gun. So are the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. All these gastro-groups and more will gather in Chicago at the end of May to discuss fecal incontinence, debate the fine points of inflammatory bowel disease, and investigate restaurants during Digestive Disease Week, the "largest and most prestigious meeting in the world for the GI professional."

Kirsner, the Louis Block distinguished service professor of medicine, has served on the University’s faculty since 1935. After more than 70 years in practice, he has seen a lot.

During World War II Kirsner was an army doctor in Europe, where he consulted on the difficult issue of refeeding those who had nearly starved in the Nazi concentration camps. Soon after VE Day, he was shipped off the Pacific theater, where he advised on the rehabilitation of more prisoners of war, including a group of Dutch prisoners held captive in Nagasaki by the Japanese army in August 1945, when the second atomic bomb obliterated much of the city.

Tight patient bonds were a hallmark of Kirsner's career. Early on he was recognized "locally and nationally for his successful and compassionate care of patients,” says gastroenterologist James L. Franklin, the author of GI Joe, a 305-page chronicle of Kirsner’s first 100 years distributed by the University of Chicago Press. "The love and devotion his patients felt for him was celebrated and admired." Although he no longer sees patients, they still call him for advice. The key to this lasting connection, says Kirsner, is "competence with compassion."

As competent and compassionate as ever, Kirsner no longer has the energy that enabled him to put in 12-hour days for weeks on end, well beyond the standard retirement age. The problem with turning 100, he says, is "having an active mind trapped in a body that's just too old." He looks forward to his 101st birthday, which he plans to spend "in my office, catching up on the literature."

John Easton, AM'77

May 21, 2009

Looking for Hyde Park in London

London, Hyde Park

Most travelers know there’s a Hyde Park in London; it’s the former hunting grounds of King Henry VIII and the modern city’s 350-acre green lung. But on a recent visit to London, I might have been the only person looking for signs of Chicago’s Hyde Park there.

En route to the Woolgate Exchange building—home to the European campus of the Booth School of Business—the biting wind and gray sky were reminiscent of a May day in Chicago. Tucked away on side streets near the drab cement canyon of banks and office blocks were some real (rather than Collegiate) Gothic buildings, including at least one with gargoyles.

Chicago Booth occupies a light-filled, modern space that evokes the Harper and Gleacher centers, in the heart of the City of London financial district. Students in the executive MBA program were off for the week, and the evening’s networking event hadn’t begun, so the empty classrooms and vacant lounges gave the place a bit of a ghostly feel.

London, Nobels wall

Is the global economic crisis affecting enrollment in executive programs? “Actually, I’ve been surprised at how well we’ve done,” said Arnold Longboy, MBA’08, director of Chicago Booth’s executive education and student recruitment for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The number of inquiries about nondegree and degree programs is comparable to last year at this time, he said. “People tell me, ‘I’m working on fewer deals now, so I have more time for personal development.’”

Chicago Booth’s London-based MBA program draws about 90 students annually, two-thirds of whom receive some funding from their employers. For one week each month, about three-quarters fly in for classes, some from as far away as South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. Some 43 countries will be represented in the class beginning in June, said Longboy, and a near-record 24 percent will be women.

One of the program’s biggest selling points, he added, is that it connects students to the University of Chicago in a broad sense. Events featuring visiting faculty from Chicago Booth and other departments have drawn well. In April alumni and students turned out to meet Laura Letinsky, professor and chair of visual arts, and attend the London opening of Likeness, her latest photography exhibit. Dean of Humanities Martha T. Roth will be in town in July to give a talk about Hammurabi’s code.

London, Hyde Park

“We invite the whole University of Chicago community to events,” said Longboy, although “whenever the faculty make references to Hyde Park—meaning the campus—we do have to remind them that there’s a Hyde Park in London.”

Elizabeth Station

Chicago Booth was the first and only U.S. business school with permanent campuses on three continents: Asia, Europe, and North America. The Chicago Booth campus in London is located in the financial district. The Woolgate Exchange, a modern office building, is close to the Bank of England; The Nobel Wall on the London campus honors the achievements of some of the University's greatest minds; Between classes students can enjoy the calm of the pleasant lounge, chat with classmates, or perhaps check in with colleagues back at the office or the family at home during a break.



Kalven calling

Almost from the moment they sat down, the three panelists at last Friday’s discussion on free speech on campus waded into what law professor Geoffrey Stone, JD’71, called “uncomfortable” issues for universities navigating the murky waters of academic freedom: professors at anti-abortion rallies, students in T-shirts with provocative Biblical passages, Communist petitions, antiwar movements, civil-rights marches, the Holocaust, genocides, and questions about divestment—not only from Darfur but also apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany.

“It seems that issues of free speech and free expression are always with us in the University, and the past couple of years are no exception to that,” said social-sciences dean John Mark Hansen, who moderated the discussion among panelists Stone, Div School Christianity professor Margaret M. Mitchell, AM’82, PhD’89, and historian Ramon Gutierrez. Free speech on campus discussion“There is always the question of how one maintains an environment where free speech and free expression can flourish,” Hansen said, “in a community that deeply values openness and mutual respect as well.”

Held in Social Sciences’s first-floor auditorium, the 90-minute conversation revolved around the 1967 Kalven Report governing public expression at and by the University. As they walked in, audience members picked up copies of the three-page report, and Hansen posed a series of hypotheticals based on its rules. “Suppose a faculty member criticizes key tenets of Islam in class,” Hansen said. “What if he also characterizes Muslim believers as ignorant and bloodthirsty?” Or, “Suppose an academic center sponsors an event at which all speakers assail the government of Turkey…for unwillingness to characterize the actions against the Armenians in 1915 as a genocide.”

The panelists’ frequent answer to these and other scenarios was, in a nutshell: it depends. But when in doubt, err on the side of freedom. “The University doesn’t want to be in the business of drawing lines” about what constitutes appropriate discourse, Stone said. “Academic freedom should reach at least as far as the First Amendment.” More than once Gutierrez pointed out that what might look like provocation or even harassment might in fact be “a teaching moment.” Mitchell, who was hard-pressed to find any situation where she would sanction speech, urged listeners to remember the difference between “invective” and “argument.”

Then Hansen opened the floor to audience questions. Listeners pushed for answers about handling professors’ openly held political views, the strength or weakness of faculty governance, divestment from Darfur, and the University’s historical actions in the world. Time and again, the conversation came back to the notion of neutrality. “Look,” Stone said finally, “no person or institution can ever be wholly neutral.” As a business, the University must make decisions, and decisions involve judgments and consequences. “I don’t think the claim is that the University is absolutely neutral, any more than any of us are absolutely neutral. The claim of the Kalven Report is that the University should aspire to be as neutral as possible in taking positions itself—knowing, intentional positions—on matters of public moment. And that is an aspiration that I think is perfectly credible.”

To see how the discussion unfolded, watch the video.

Lydialyle Gibson

From left, Mark Hansen, dean of the Division of Social Sciences, was moderator of a panel that included Geoffrey Stone, the Edward Levi distinguished service professor in the Law School and the College; Margaret M. Mitchell, professor in the Divinity School; and Ramón Gutiérrez, the Preston & Sterling Morton distinguished service professor in history and the College.

Photo by Jason Smith.

May 22, 2009

Same ‘old-old’ story

Based on “official nomenclature,” economist Robert W. Fogel, who turns 83 in July, is not yet “old-old.” Only people 85 and up qualify for that status. “I’m just old,” Fogel said.

It’s not a trivial distinction. In the B. Peter Pashigian Memorial Lecture May 13 at Chicago Booth, Fogel presented his working paper, “Forecasting the Cost of U.S. Health Care in 2040,” exploring the complicated economics of an aging population. The Nobel laureate and Charles R. Walgreen distinguished service professor of American institutions offered “tentative answers” about the course of physical and financial well-being, assuming many more old-old people will be around a generation from now.

That safe assumption comes from the steep upward curve in life expectancy during the 20th century, from 45 to almost 80. A decrease in the prevalence of chronic diseases, delays in onset age, and more effective treatments also promise improvements in the quality and quantity of life. But at what cost? “Advances in both surgical and drug therapies have significantly reduced the rate in which chronic conditions turn into disabilities that severely impair functioning,” Fogel said. “However, many of the surgical procedures are quite expensive, and the cost of new and more effective drugs is increasing sharply.”

Fogel’s analysis indicates that demand, more than aging, will drive costs higher, perhaps to as much as 29 percent of GDP by 2040. Public policy, he believes, should not attempt to restrain that increase. “As people get richer,” he said, “they want to spend a larger share of their income on improving their health.” Between 1875 and 1995 that share grew from 1 percent to 9 percent while dwindling for other necessities like food, clothing, and shelter.

Governments and businesses, he said, need to provide basic, affordable coverage, but more expensive policies and private savings accounts for health services should be available for people with the means. “Health care is not a homogenous good, all of which is essential. There are large luxury components in health services that may appeal to some tastes but that are not necessary for sound basic health care”—for example, private rooms, shorter waiting times, expensive alternative treatments, and physicians nationwide.

“And if you want to,” Fogel said, “you can throw in 200 channels of TV.” Kids today.

Jason Kelly

Look at all the lonely people

cacioppo_john.jpgSocial neuroscientist John Cacioppo is kind of a big deal in his field. Without his own work, Cacioppo couldn’t even be called a social neuroscientist. His 1992 American Psychologist article coined the name of the discipline, which examines how the brain and social behaviors affect each other.

It was his groundbreaking research on loneliness that earned him this year’s Ryerson lecture. Loneliness, Cacioppo explained to a near-full Max Palevsky Cinema, is an evolutionary biological response to perceived social isolation. It has nothing to do with whether a person is alone or surrounded by people—the relationship quality is more important than quantity. (In fact, he said, those Facebookers aiming to collect the most virtual buddies may in reality be quite lonely.) Like hunger, thirst, or pain, loneliness triggers an impulse, telling a person that something is wrong. Loneliness “protects you as an individual body,” and engaging in social behaviors, said Cacioppo, “helps an organism survive, reproduce, and carry offspring.”

In the 30-minute lecture (plus a Q&A), Cacioppo detailed his findings on how loneliness affects emotions, biology, and health. His longitudinal studies have shown that, overall, chronically lonely people are at risk for more health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and stroke, than those who feel less socially isolated. "Loneliness is actually a very virtuous feature," Cacioppo concluded. "Chronic loneliness is not. But if you didn’t have physical pain as a process in your body," he said, "you wouldn’t survive because you wouldn’t know if you were harming your own body. Loneliness contributes to our own humanity because it motivates us to connect and do things for others."

Three findings in particular surprised Cacioppo and his colleagues:

  1. Collectivist cultures, like Italians, are lonelier than individualist ones: “When are people in America at their very loneliest? It’s not during the busiest of days—it’s during the holidays when the social norm is that everyone’s with friends and family.”

  2. “Loneliness is just as characteristic of popular kids as it is of unpopular kids.”

  3. "How lonely you feel on a particular evening predicts that night’s sleep efficiency."

Ruthie Kott, AM'07



May 29, 2009

UChi Bizarre-ketplace: May 2009

Daft punk

When you’re thinking about spending $100 an hour—especially for help with something you really don’t want to screw up, like a work visa—you want to make sure the person offering assistance is actually qualified, right? Especially if the listing itself is a bit less than persuasive.

Visa Filing Help to help you deal with daft American employers

Having trouble getting your daft American employer (or daft Americans in general) to figure out the subtle nuances of the convoluted work visa process?

Reluctant to shell out thousands to scamster immigration attorneys who are probably as clueless about this as your boss or supervisor anyway?

Then contact me for informal assistance - I'll get you started up, & walk you through the whole process and the mounds of paperwork so that you always stay a step ahead.

$100 an hour for consultation.

Hmmm, okay. I guess in some cases, xenophobia can be an effective marketing tool. Perhaps it would be best to check out some of the seller’s other listings before forking over that C-note.

White Window Drape

This one has trouble coming down – and when it does it runs back up with a vengeance! In fact the harder you drag it down, the faster it runs back to the top! Pent up tensile acrylic rage you think? - I suspect it’s just a small catch somewhere in the bar’s rolling action, but I can’t be bothered to investigate.

Sometimes I play with this for hours on end when I have nothing better to do - just an experiment for my personal amusement, you understand? - winding it over and over again till it can't take any more - hey, everyone needs a hobby!

It’s true, hobbies can be a positive thing. But now I’m even less convinced of the seller’s claim to be non-daft. On to another listing.

Wittner Super-Mini Taktell Student Metronome

You know what's worse in music than being out of tune? - it's not keeping proper time.

That's why I use this Wittner Super Mini Taktell metronome:

It does not care.
It conforms.
It is ruthless.
It is relentless.
It is remorseless.
It is unwavering.
It is inexorable.
It does not compromise.
It does not yield.
It does not retract.
It does not resile.
It does not negotiate, nor has it, nor will it ever.
It is contemptuous of anything and everything contrary to its singular purpose.
It treats inferior garbage the way inferior garbage deserves to be treated.
It is scornful of irrelevant background noise.
It is indifferent to any opposition.
It does not bow to your whims.
It is as certain as death itself.

If you can handle that, then consider contacting me.

Wow. As Nietzschean prose poems go, that’s impressive. And resile? Very nice. But then, what’s this listing about?

Aquafresh Anti-Cavity Fluoride Triple Protection Toothpaste

Like the title says. Left behind by a former roommate. Never cared much for fluoride, so it's free if you pick it up. Used it once to try it out - just a small squeeze.

Check it out here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRHTUswauQ4

Luckily, I am one of those daft Americans who can live and work in this country legally as it is. But if I weren’t, I think I’d call an immigration attorney.

Carrie Golus, AB’91, AM’93

For more from UChi Bizarre-ketplace, check UChiBLOGo the last Friday of each month and the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of the Core, the College supplement to the University of Chicago Magazine, available in early June online.

About May 2009

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in May 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2009 is the previous archive.

June 2009 is the next archive.

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

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