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April 2010 Archives

April 1, 2010

Plea for Peeps


With sunshine and spring descending on Chicago, there’s no excuse not to take your Peeps places. Whether you’re strolling around Botany Pond, the Reg, or somewhere else in the world—entries need not be local—grab your camera, your marshmallow candies, and enter our contest today.

Send pix to uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu with “Peeps Photos” in the subject line, or add photos to our Flickr group directly at www.flickr.com/groups/uchicagopeeps/.

All entries must be received by Monday, April 5. Check out the competition here.

Photography by Hanna Ernst, U-High'04

April 2, 2010

On the write path

students_guide_cover_LRG.jpgThe University of Chicago Press doesn't suffer fools gladly. The Press released the fourth edition of Kate L. Turabian’s Student’s Guide to Writing College Papers on April 1—April Fool's Day—because turning students into good writers is no joke.

Aimed at advanced high school and beginning college students, the Student’s Guide is a step-by-step aid to writing university-level research papers. It offers advice on how to choose a topic, begin researching, plan drafts with a storyboard, find and evaluate reliable sources, cite sources accurately, and design visual aids and graphs. The guide also provides tricks for working through writer’s block and an overview of Chicago, MLA, and APA citation styles, including those for digital sources.

Perhaps most importantly, the manual addresses an insidious problem for rookie researchers: procrastination. Avoid the academic urban myth of the “one-draft wonder,” the editors warn. Nary a student has produced a perfectly developed, one-draft research paper the night before the due date. Steer clear of this approach at all costs.

Here are a few of the book’s anti-procrastination tips:

  • Start drafting as soon as you have all the evidence you think you need. You can always go back and gather more information later if necessary.

  • Write in short bursts instead of marathon sessions that will “dull your thinking" and "kill your interest.”

  • Set a goal to produce a small number of pages every time you sit down to write, even if they aren't very good.

  • Most of all, don’t kid yourself: a short text message, online chat, or computer game will NOT help refresh your brain or motivate you to get back to work in just a few minutes. So do your writing where you'll have few distractions.

The original author of the Student’s Guide, Kate Turabian (1893-1987) was a fixture at the University for many years, serving as the graduate student dissertation secretary from 1930 to 1958. She wrote a short style guide to help doctoral students, which eventually became A Manual for Writers and today has sold 8 million copies in seven editions. In 1963 Turabian published a version for high school and college students—the first Student’s Guide for Writing College Papers.

More than four decades later, an editorial team that includes Gregory Colomb, professor of English at the University of Virginia, and Joseph Williams, a former Chicago English professor who died in 2008, builds upon Turabian’s classic advice, tailoring it to twenty-first century students.

Yet despite today's digital resources and distractions, one constant is the panic that can overcome first-time writers. The editorial team behind Student’s Guide hopes to help.

Emily Riemer, AM’09


Writing in College: A Short Guide to College Writing” by Joseph M. Williams and Lawrence McEnerney (The University of Chicago Writing Program)

Out of the Question,” (UChiBLOGo, Jan. 7, 2009)

In Style,” (UChiBLOGo, Dec. 8, 2009)

April 5, 2010

Foul territory

187_20100405442805.jpg“I believe in rules. Sure I do. If there weren't any rules, how could you break them?”—Leo “the Lip” Durocher

As baseball season kicks off, don’t miss this peek inside the mind of one of the sport’s most colorful characters, player and manager Leo Durocher. His book, Nice Guys Finish Last, cowritten with veteran sportswriter Ed Linn, is now available for free electronic download from the University of Chicago Press. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or just like a good story, the tale of Durocher’s five-decade career, which started on the bench with the 1928 Yankees and took him all the way to a Giants' 1951 pennant win, gives an insider’s look at the feuds and scandals behind the game.

April 6, 2010

Peeps last call


Perhaps they're sitting on your dining room table or languishing in an Easter basket. Wherever your Peeps are, you know you're not going to eat them. Put them to a good use and take advantage of our Peeps in Places contest extended deadline. Submit your pix by Sunday, April 11, midnight to win!

Send entries to uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu with “Peeps Photos” in the subject line, or add photos to our Flickr group directly at www.flickr.com/groups/uchicagopeeps/.

Don't delay any longer!

Photography by Hanna Ernst, U-High'04


Where Peeps come to dioramas (University of Chicago Magazine)

Washington Post Peeps Show IV : Annual Peeps diorama contest

Peeps in Places contest
(National Geographic Traveler)

Around-the-clock theater


Six plays, 24 hours. Those are the important numbers for the fourth annual 24-Hour Play Festival, which graced the Reynolds Club this weekend, challenging more than 40 students to speed from auditions Friday night through writing, rehearsal and stage direction and, finally, to a performance Saturday night.



  • 6:30 p.m. (Hour Minus-1.5): Auditions
    Prior to the festival, the event's curators accepted registration for actors, directors, writers, and crew. After announcing the six writer-director teams (most featured two writers and one director), the actors perform short skits to introduce themselves. For example, Charna Albert, '13, sings an a capella rendition of "I'm On a Boat" by the Lonely Island, while Amanda Fink, '12, reads the caption of a coloring-book picture of penguins.
  • 8 p.m. (Hour 0): Writing
    After writer-director teams agree on casts in an "arbitration" meeting—the actors were not present and found out their roles later on—the writers head to the Woodlawn Collaborative to work on scripts, which each run about ten minutes. Around 3 a.m., the writers convene to discuss and critique their pieces with dramaturg Chloe Johnston, AB'99. Says cocurator and writer Sara Tamler, '10, of early-morning writing: "There's a lot of creativity that comes out at 5 in the morning that wouldn't come out at any other time."


  • 9 a.m. (Hour 13): Read-throughs

    The writers hand scripts to the directors and discuss ideas during the first cast read-through. After the writers depart, the six teams split up for rehearsals around campus, with one group staying in the Reynolds Club's First Floor Theater for in-space rehearsal. (Each play got roughly an hour to work in the space.) With an alley set (meaning that the audience sits on both sides of the theater, facing each other), groups have to account for unique spacing issues. "We really do try to change something every time," cocurator and actor Ethan Dubin, '11, says. "We very much think of it as an experiment in a laboratory."

  • 4:30 p.m. (Hour 21.5): Tech/Dress Rehearsal

    The teams come back together for the final dress rehearsals to figure out blocking under the lights and sound cues, including transitions between plays. While some feature very few cues, "Denver," written by cocurator Tamara Silverleaf and Aileen McGroddy, both '10, includes multiple light changes, musical accompaniments, and announcements mimicking an airport PA.
  • 8:00 p.m. (Hour 24): Curtains

    The show begins. With about 120 students in the audience, including several seated on the floor on each side of the stage, the hour-long performance keeps the flash-theatergoers laughing throughout.

To see more of the on-the-ground experience, check out our festival pix and video.

Jake Grubman, '11

April 7, 2010

Stress test

Stress.jpgIf I were a poet or a poetry scholar, I'd have something insightful to say about English doctoral student Michael Robbins's (AM'04) "Lust for Life," which appears in this week's New Yorker—his second poem published there this year. Impressive, but not my area.

Something I can comment on is stress. In the Daily Beast's "50 Most Stressful Colleges," Chicago ranks No. 11. As Ana Marie Cox, AB'94, tweeted: "#UChicago is so stressful they're probably relieved to be just #11 on this list." I don't know if a university's cost factors into a student's stress level at 35 percent, as the Daily Beast weights it. Seems to me that, although many students work to pay off student loans and other debt, the day-to-day schoolwork is more of an immediate stress inducer. And I'm not sure that having a rigorous engineering program deserves 10 percent of a school's stress-level indicator. Chicago has no engineering school, but have the Beast editors seen students in the Reg wrestling with Human Being and Citizen readings?

What do you think about these rankings? Or do you have a stressed-at-Chicago story to share? Please use the comment form below to commiserate.

Amy Braverman Puma

Photography by Lloyd DeGrane

April 8, 2010

Artistic impulse


“Creativity isn’t a matter of ‘which color do I pick’ or ‘which word do I use.’ It’s an act of the mind which dares to ask ‘How do I take what I have and turn it into the message I want to communicate? ... Computer programming, regression analysis, means, medians, and standard deviations. Not exactly the colors of the rainbow, but they’re the colors on my paintbrush.”—Mark Desmarais, AB’06

Whether you’re a mathematician or a professional artist, everyone has creative insights. As part of 60 Days of UChicago Art, a campus-wide celebration of music, theater, dance, cinema, creative writing, and artistic thought, the UofC Theater Blog is collecting personal impressions of creativity with its 200 word project. Share yours today!

Your mission:

1. Please consider ONE of following in 200 words or fewer:

  • Tell us about an encounter with the arts that profoundly moved you or changed you.

  • How do you experience creativity in your work?

2. E-mail your submission to coleman@uchicago.edu with “200 word project” in the subject title. One entry will be posted each day April through June.

Entries are welcome from all University of Chicago students, staff, faculty, and alumni.

April 9, 2010

SASA's got talent

Last week the South Asian Students Association (SASA) hosted its 23rd annual cultural show, Jashan ("celebration" in Urdu), at Mandel Hall. Included in the price of the ticket were an Indian meal and a T-shirt—and a whole lot of singing and dancing.

From Bollywood dancing...


...to Michael Jackson tributes...


...and even an a cappella rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”...


...SASA put on quite a show. And if you can’t believe you missed the fun, the wonders of technology will make you feel like you were there. (We can’t help you with the Indian food, though.)

Elizabeth Chan

April 12, 2010

Chicago Molière Theater

ChicagoMoliereTheater1.jpgYesterday Court Theatre closed its production of The Illusion, Tony Kushner's adaptation of Pierre Corneille's 1636 L’Illusion Comique. The show marked Court's return to one of its strengths: the French Baroque. Exemplified by the works of its most renowned writer, Molière, the genre is considered a major pillar of the Western classic theater canon. Yet it is not Molière, but his English counterpart, William Shakespeare, whose name is often synonymous with “classic” theater in America.

Companies specializing in classic works often go so far as to include the bard’s name in theirs, from Chicago Shakespeare Theater to Washington, DC’s Shakespeare Theater Company and innumerable Shakespeare festivals in nearly every state. Yet few of these companies, despite their names’ implications, produce only Shakespeare's plays. Most, such as New York’s famed Shakespeare in the Park, make it a policy to include at least one work from “the canon” in each season. Their remaining plays vary widely, from the “Shakespearean” to the Shakespeare-inspired, and from generically “classic” works to productions of Willy Wonka and A Christmas Story. Nonetheless, these companies are considered Shakespeare specialists, and the actual Shakespeare plays are typically the highlights of their seasons.

From the beginning, the University of Chicago’s resident theater company and classics specialist has been different. Court Theatre’s inaugural 1955 season was made up entirely of plays by Molière. During its 55-year history, the theater has put up some 17 productions of 12 Molière plays, likely the most of any American company. As a result, although its history actually includes far more Shakespeare productions—44 in all—Court is known in theater circles as America’s Molière expert. And, like all those “Shakespeare” theaters producing not-quite Shakespeare plays, Court has frequently ventured into the Molière-ish, from its 1995 production of Celimene and the Cardinal and 1999 production of La Bête (modern works inspired by Molière’s style and characters) to plays by some of his successors in French theatrical history, including Marivaux and Voltaire. In fact, The Illusion is Court's second consecutive production of a non-Molière French Baroque play; in 2002 the company presented Jean Racine's Phèdre, aggressively adapted and directed by Joanne Akalaitis, AB’60.

As for The Illusion, Corneille described the play as “a strange monster,” “a bizarre and wild invention,” and “a caprice,” to which the Chicago Reader’s Tony Adler added “a calculated hodgepodge—a funny, sad, tricky fairy tale/melodrama, chock-full of high aspirations, low comedy, and unapologetic magic.” The Chicago Sun-Times’ Hedy Weiss wrote that “the work here is so good on every front…that you wish it could be airlifted whole onto the stage of the Comédie-Française.” What else would one expect from Chicago’s Molière theater?

Kyle Gorden, AB'00

Photography courtesy Court Theatre


The Illusion: Corneille to Kushner (Court Theatre)

Chicago Sun-Times review

April 13, 2010

Phoenix Pix: April 12–16, 2010


A student cuts through Hutchinson Courtyard at sundown.

Photography by Dan Dry.

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

April 14, 2010

Gene shorts

"You keep calling me Mr. Mozaffar in your e-mails. Not to be cliché, but that's my father's name. And his father's before him. (But interestingly, not his father's. Apparently, the name only goes back two generations. Hmmm, maybe I should look into a DNA test)."

Khurram Mozaffar, AB'95, has DNA tests on the mind. A lawyer by day and an actor by night, Mozaffar recently appeared in The DNA Trail, conceived by Jamil Khoury, AM'92, and produced by Khoury's Silk Road Theatre Project. The show consists of seven original short plays, inspired by DNA tests taken by the playwrights (the play closed April 4). Mozaffar, who is Pakistani, took on a different identity in five pieces—including a generic "Arab Man" in Khoury's WASP: White Arab Slovak Pole, a ninja in Tony Award—winner David Henry Hwang's A Very DNA Reunion, and a son who never lived up to his dead father's hopes in Phillip Kan Gotanda's Child is Father to Man.

Despite his very busy schedule, Mozaffar took some time to talk with UChiBLOGo about his heritage and about playing several different parts within the span of about two hours.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat was it like to switch between so many roles?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI can't take too much credit for that. The writing is so distinct for each of those characters that, by the time we opened the play, it was easy to slip into different skins. During rehearsal, we spent a good amount of time creating the particular nuances of each personality—everything from the way they would use their hands (Ninja Dude envisioned his arms almost like swords) to the amount of personal space they needed (Arab Man was a close talker). By the time the curtain opened, the characters were so specific that transitioning was pretty easy.
QandA_QDrop.jpgDid you relate at all to any of the characters you played?
QandA_ADrop.jpgNinja Dude.

Ha. Actually, my role in Child is Father spoke the most to me. During the rehearsal process, it was often noted how oddly similar the lives of the character, the playwright Philip Gotanda, and myself were. Both myself and Philip made the effort at a "respectable" career in the law. The character speaks of being told by a psychic that one day, he would have three sons. I actually have three sons. But more than the coincidences, I think the anxieties the character voices rang true to me. The uphill battle in choosing a career in the arts rang true to all of us involved in the show.

QandA_QDrop.jpgIs it difficult to go from lawyer by day, to actor by night?
QandA_ADrop.jpgIt has its challenges. But the acting is actually a nice reprieve from the mundane nature of my day job. For two hours a day, I just get to play.
QandA_QDrop.jpgDid acting in the show bring out any hidden questions about your own heritage?
QandA_ADrop.jpgIt's interesting. I know for some of the actors, the show did bring up questions about heritage. But not for me so much. My extended family is so ginormous that keeping track of those living is difficult enough without bringing in ancestors.

I am less interested in the genetic history of my family than I am in the personal experiences my elders have had. I am utterly fascinated by tales my father tells me of his delicate relationships with his parents and siblings. Or stories of my maternal grandfather as a rabble-rousing young man. That stuff, to me, is much more rewarding to learn about.

Ruthie Kott, AM'07

Photography courtesy of the Silk Road Theatre Project

April 15, 2010

The envelope, please...

book-peeps.jpgIt’s not always easy being a Peep, as our Peeps in Places Contest proved. While a few lucky chicks and bunnies rubbed elbows with celebs like Donald Duck, others toughed it out in the peep-eat-peep world of campus life. All of the 60 entries we received made us laugh, but a few really caught our attention. All winners will receive a copy of Magazine photographer Dan Dry’s coffee-table book of University photographs. Our thanks to everyone who participated.

So, without further ado, the winners:





Cured meat cure-all

Bacon-pix.jpgIt makes anything taste good. And it adds a little bit of crunch and saltiness to things that already taste good, whether sprinkled in chocolate or wrapped around filet mignon. At Saturday’s Baconfest—Chicago’s first annual, started by Andre Pluess, AB’96; Seth Zurer, AB’99; and their friend Michael Griggs—the honored foodstuff was featured in everything from Bloody Marys to doggie treats. Chefs from local big-name restaurants showcased their pork skills, creating masterpieces like bacon tacos, by David Burke's Primehouse chef Rick Gresh, and chicken-fried bacon with homemade pickles, by one sixtyblue chef Michael McDonald.

Serious Eats blogger Daniel Zemans snagged one of the 600 tickets and describes the event in excruciatingly tantalizing detail. Most intriguing thing on the menu: Dragon Turds, jalapenos stuffed with Italian sausage and fig, all wrapped in (you guessed it) bacon. File that under “Putting ThisIsWhyYou’reFat.com to shame.”

Ruthie Kott, AM'07

A delectable sampling of Fest offerings includes a bacon waffle with brown-sugar bacon ice cream, garnished with candied dehydrated bacon from Longman and Eagle chef Jared Wentworth; the bacon Bloody Mary from the Fifty/50; and bacon-covered chocolate from Bleeding Heart Bakery. Photos by Annette Janik.

April 16, 2010

Obama's Chicago way

Remnick-book.jpgDavid Remnick spoke Tuesday at the Harold Washington Library, describing how Chicago shaped Barack Obama, including the influence of his future wife Michelle Robinson’s tight-knit, striving family. With the caveat that he wanted to avoid psychoanalyzing his subject, Remnick waded into Obama’s head. The Robinson family represented everything his childhood lacked. With his father absent and his mother often abroad, Obama found in the Robinsons an example of what he might be able to achieve.

Obama followed a help-wanted ad to Chicago, lured by fate and newsprint to the city that would propel his political life. “Chicago is, if not everything to Barack Obama, the key arrival spot for him,” said Remnick, the New Yorker editor and the author of a new biography that traces the unlikely route from Honolulu to the White House.

In The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama (Knopf, 2010), Remnick details how a rootless, searching “man without a country”—just a figure of speech—developed an identity in Chicago. “Almost everything that he could find in life, he had to find here,” Remnick said, “especially on the South Side.” As a community organizer, a Law School lecturer, and an office-seeker, Obama established a stability he never had in his youth while retraining his ability to inhabit diverse worlds. It would become a potent political cocktail.

His own ambition emerged at Harvard Law School, Remnick said; in fact, Obama might have been too anxious to advance in Chicago. Already a state senator, in 2000 he challenged incumbent congressional Representative Bobby Rush—“an act of enormous impiety,” Remnick said. “Everybody around him, including his wife, says don’t do it. And he lost. He lost beyond his wildest dreams.”

After that loss, Obama discovered talents that translated beyond the district, revealed in campaign-style visits to farm towns and VFW halls throughout Illinois. “His uncanny ability to inhabit certain worlds and move one to another and translate them to each other” awakened bigger aspirations, Remnick said. “Connecting with people around Illinois suggested a political career beyond big-city mayor or majority African American congressional district.”

Political savvy and demographic appeal took him a long way, but Illinois Republicans inadvertently boosted his career too. Obama benefited from good fortune that even his closest advisers could not believe, particularly the revelation of 2004 Senate candidate Jack Ryan’s salacious divorce papers. Ryan dropped out of the race, leaving Obama with the equivalent of a winning electoral lottery ticket. When they learned Alan Keyes would be Ryan’s replacement, campaign manager Jim Cauley told Obama, “You are the luckiest bastard on earth.”

Jason Kelly

April 19, 2010

A year of YA lit

Book-YA.jpgAs a Chicago undergraduate, Jennifer Barnes, AB’05, tutored a sixth-grade Lab student who devoured young-adult literature—everything from Carolyn Mackler novels to the Gossip Girl series. The student loaned her books to Barnes, who became hooked too.

Barnes graduated with an English literature degree, earned a master’s in library science from Boston’s Simmons College, and worked for three years as a teen librarian at Homewood Public Library, 25 miles south of Chicago’s Loop.

This month she moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she is searching for a new librarian post, working on a personal creative writing project, reviewing manuscripts for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest, and serving on the 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee (BFYA). Sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association, BFYA draws up an annual list of recommended YA fiction titles. Committee members can receive up to 80 books a month from publishers who hope their titles will nab a spot on the list.

In early April UChiBLOGo interrupted Barnes’s reading marathon to ask about her BFYA appointment:

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhen did you become part of the committee? What does your position entail?
QandA_ADrop.jpgMy one-year term started in late January. The committee will convene in June and again next January. We’ll meet 9-5, five days in a row each time. Committee members nominate books throughout the year, informing other members of their picks. We’ll vote on the nominated books when we convene, and the final list will be released in January. Last year approximately 120 titles made the cut.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow many books have arrived so far? Have you read them all?
QandA_ADrop.jpgBecause I’m moving to Cambridge, I arranged to have the books sent to my parents’ home in Massachusetts. My mom has been e-mailing me the titles that come in—so far I’ve received 98. I enter each title onto a spreadsheet and then go to the library and check out the ones I want to read. We aren’t required to read each book we receive, but we are expected to read each book that is nominated. Last year, there were 224 titles nominated. And we don’t have to limit ourselves to the books we receive from publishers. We can nominate any piece of YA fiction published between September 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow are you pacing yourself?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI’ve been trying to read a book a day, but so far I’ve fallen a bit short of that goal. At first, when I didn’t have a big stack of eligible books to read, I also read some books from the previous year to become accustomed to the pace. I’ve read 48 books since my term began, and I’m also trying to chronicle the process on my blog.


QandA_QDrop.jpgHow are you organizing everything?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI started with Excel, but that drove me crazy. Now I’m using a program called Scrivener. I’ve created virtual corkboards to which I add note cards that state the title and author of a particular book. Then I color-code each card to indicate whether or not I think it should be on the final list.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat do the different colors mean?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThe point is to go along the traffic-light color spectrum from “go” to “no.” Dark green is a strong yes; light green is a weak yes; yellow is undecided; pink is a weak no; red is a strong no. And blue designates a book that I nominated.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHave you nominated any books yet?
QandA_ADrop.jpgFive so far. Just today I nominated Fat Cat by Robin Brande and Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhy those two?
QandA_ADrop.jpgFat Cat is an excellent book within what’s known as the “Fat Lit” genera. It’s about a girl who’s competing in her school’s science fair. She adopts the eating habits of a cavewoman for her project and loses weight as a result. I think the author handles the weight theme well. Brande never specifies how much the protagonist weighs or the number of pounds she loses. Sometimes these sorts of books state over and over that a character is overweight. It’s shoved down your throat, and you can’t tell where the author is going with it. And that’s a small gripe I have with Will Grayson, Will Grayson. The book has two protagonists, both of whom are named Will Grayson. One of them is described repeatedly as “fat.” Once someone’s physical description is established, there’s no need to restate those characteristics—unless you're Stephenie Meyer.
QandA_QDrop.jpgBut you liked the book enough to nominate it?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe need to be honest in our nominations. You can acknowledge that a book has a certain weakness, but argue that all the strengths outweigh that one weakness.

Katherine E. Muhlenkamp

Barnes (top) surrounded by books vying for a spot on the list, all of which eventually make their way into her color-coded organizing system.

April 20, 2010

Phoenix Pix: April 19–23, 2010


During his April 20 visit to campus, Bill Gates met with the University’s group of Gates Millennium Scholars.

Photography by Dan Dry.

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

The face of evil


Being a celebrity look-alike has its ups and downs. For Mounir, a fictional Saddam Hussein body double, the resemblance—right down to the mustache—brings plenty of grief. As the protagonist in Mr. Sadman, director Patrick Epino’s (AB’98) new feature film, the Iraqi gets attacked in the line of duty in 1990, loses his job, and then struggles to carve out a new life in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for Mounir, his personal upheaval occurs just as the real-life Saddam invades Kuwait, making the dictator the world’s most recognizable face of evil.

The dark comedy, coproduced by Harry Min Kang, AB’98, was screened April 9 at the Gene Siskel Film Center as part of its Asian American Showcase. Epino took some time for a quick e-mail interview with UChiBLOGo last week.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat was the inspiration for a film about a Saddam double?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI had this idea of taking this un-American face of evil and making him as American as possible. The film was a critique of something you see often in American or modern society: the dearth of soul, the alienation from the self, the lack of meaning, and how we comodify our lives and senses of self. ... If the main thing that gives you meaning in life, whether it be religion, art, philosophy, ideology, etc., is negated, somehow proven false or taken away from you, then how do you come back from that? How do you take bits and pieces of the world that is so readily available at our fingertips and create a new foundation to stand on? In Mounir's case, he goes to exaggerated extremes.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat was the shooting process like?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe shot the film in 17 out of 19 days starting August 4, 2007. Slept about three hours a night. It was exhausting and intense because of the number of cast members [around 70-80] and locations. ... We had a few primary production locations, but also had to dress a lot of spaces to be somewhere else entirely. ... Combining all of those variables in a compressed amount of time can get gloriously interesting. Also, trying to shoot something that takes place in 1990 when Toyota Priuses are cruising by every 30 seconds is absurdly difficult.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat kind of budget did you have?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe were an "ultra-low budget" production. It's a Screen Actors Guild term for anything under $200K, and we were definitely under that amount.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat’s next for Mr. Sadman?
QandA_ADrop.jpg[It’s] screening opening night in Eugene, Oregon, at the DisOrient Film Festival on April 23, and at Boston College soon, but this is where we're kind of taking a divergent path. ... In an effort to get as many eyeballs on the film as possible, we're making the film available as a download and on DVD. ... The idea is to make it easy for people who want to watch the film to watch it.

For more from Epino, check out his Q&A from the Siskel Film Center screening.

Brooke O'Neill, AM'04

April 21, 2010

Proof of faith

JamesOssuary-1-.jpgNina Burleigh, AM’87, was amused when she first heard about what Israeli authorities called the “fraud of the century,” a forged limestone box that was believed to have been the first evidence of Jesus’s existence. Reading the New York Times “from cover to cover” while procrastinating writing her book Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt (Harper, 2007), Burleigh, a journalist, was drawn to the story about four antiquities dealers and collectors who had been arrested for “taking real artifacts and altering them to make them more valuable and appear to relate” to biblical tales and characters. It was late 2004, soon after the presidential election that was a blow to people of her “political persuasion.”

“One group credited with the reelection were the evangelical Christians,” Burleigh told an Oriental Institute audience in early March, and she read the Times article trying to imagine the kind of person who would try to fool believers. “I have to admit that my original motive was to amuse myself, I guess, by thinking about this.”

Her imagination--and months of research--led to a 2008 book, Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land (HarperCollins), about the world of biblical archaeology and its contradictions. Archaeologists are the "natural enemies" of dealers and collectors, said Burleigh, who make money off people willing to pay for something that can be considered biblical proof. People of faith travel to the Holy Land in droves, she said, to visit John the Baptist's cave or the Jordan River, where John was said to have baptized Jesus. There, they can rent white garments and wade in the water. The tourist economy, said Burleigh, is a reason why looting and forgery is such a problem in biblical archaeology.

The limestone box, called the James Ossuary (of unknown provenance), was announced to the public in 2002 at a press conference cohosted by the Discovery Channel and the Biblical Archaeology Society. Inscribed with the words, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" in Aramaic, the ossuary had belonged to well-known Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan. Many scholars who knew Golan didn't trust him, Burleigh said, because they knew he often bought looted artifacts. But still the ossuary was exhibited at Canada's Royal Ontario Museum for a couple months in 2002-3.

Eventually the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA)--a tiny, underfunded government agency responsible for protecting some 30,000 archaeological sites in Israel--claimed that the box was a forgery, discovered through an analysis of the patina, a film that builds up on an object naturally over time. After further investigation, IAA officials believed that Golan had made other forgeries as well, and he was one of the four arrested in 2004.

The trial is still going on today, and Burleigh believes that Golan is probably going to get off. The problem is that the prosecution put a lot of archaeologists on the stand who are not used to being "grilled by the most expensive lawyers in Tel Aviv." They've never had to defend their work within the constraints of a courtroom. What might look like compelling evidence to one archaeologist--like writing dated to a particular time period--could be shut down by another expert who claimed that, for example, the length of the leg on a particular letter signified an earlier time period. There's no compelling evidence on either side.

Many people still believe that the James Ossuary is real. Evangelicals, said Burleigh, are not interested in what those who suspect forgery have to say. And even with scholarly work, she said, it's hard to find disinterested biblical archaeologists. "Faith and science--they work together here. In the end, it really is what you believe."

Ruthie Kott, AM'07

The James Ossuary was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum from November 15, 2002, to January 5, 2003.

April 26, 2010

Stand up and be counted

Group-photo.jpgSylvia Puente, AM’90, holds a degree in public policy from the Harris School. Her training as an activist began at age 13, when she joined her mother, a former migrant worker, on Chicago picket lines to support the United Farm Workers. Puente’s 25-year career as an advocate for the local and national Latino community took a new turn in 2009, when she became the executive director of the Chicago-based Latino Policy Forum. She spoke with UChiBLOGo in mid-April about the 2010 Census, immigration reform, and other issues affecting Illinois Latinos.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhy should Latinos participate in the 2010 Census?
QandA_ADrop.jpgCounting Latinos in the census is important so we can truly reflect the diversity of the population of Illinois. Since 2000, Latinos have been responsible for 90 percent of the state’s population growth. If all the nearly two million Latinos in Illinois are counted, it will bring $30 billion to the state’s economy over the next decade. We need an accurate count so the state can capture its share of federal dollars for everything from roads and transportation to education to human services. Finally, it’s really important because we know that the count is used as a basis for Congressional redistricting.
QandA_QDrop.jpgIs undercounting expected to be a problem?
QandA_ADrop.jpgDefinitely—it hasn’t received a lot of public attention, but there have been more deportations of undocumented immigrants during Obama’s first year than there were during Bush’s last year. People have neighbors whose families have been torn apart, and this instills a sense of fear about the government. So far, the unfortunate reality is that the turnout for the census in the Latino community has been remarkably low and not what we would have hoped for, especially given all the outreach and door-knocking that many groups did to try to educate people about the census.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat other issues is the Latino Policy Forum working on?
QandA_ADrop.jpgAccess to early-childhood education is a key issue for us and critical to reducing the educational achievement gap. One in three newborns in the Chicago metropolitan area is now Latino. Statewide, one in four children under age 5 is a Latino child, but we haven’t opened up enough early-childhood facilities in Latino neighborhoods and in areas where the population has grown. Another big issue is the state’s devastating economy, which has implications for the delivery of a whole array of human services for communities. And immigration, of course, is a huge issue.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat are the chances that this Congress will approve comprehensive immigration reform?
QandA_ADrop.jpgIt’s going to be tough. It’s really going to depend on how much capital President Obama is willing to invest in it. Locally, Senator Durbin has been an ally and there’s been a renewed call for him to take leadership on the issue. There’s never been a more cohesive, organized strategy for promoting comprehensive immigration reform in this country—but whether or not it will move forward at this time, we just don’t know. If federal legislation isn’t introduced by the end of the month, immigration reform activists are prepared to have mass mobilizations go to the next level to call attention to the issue.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat specific reforms would the Latino community like to see?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThe reforms being talked about are how do we regularize the status of the nearly 12 million undocumented people in the United States today? What is going to be the path to citizenship? Most of the proposed legislation is calling for fines and penalties, because people have entered the country in an unauthorized manner. We understand that, but there really has to be a way of allowing people to no longer live in the shadows.

We need to look at family reunification and how we manage future flows of immigrants. Should we create guest-worker programs, or programs that are tied to the economic needs of this country, so that people can come in and go back to their homeland? We’ve made it very difficult to regulate the flow of circular migration, so when people come to the United States they really feel like they’ve been forced to stay here.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat about securing our borders?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThat needs to happen, but it’s also important to point out that only half of unauthorized immigrants cross the border illegally. It’s a false issue to put all the attention on border control, because many people have arrived on a plane, on a visitor’s visa, and just never went back. Yes, people have come into the country in an unauthorized manner, but we need to understand that they wouldn’t have come if there wasn’t a labor market and an employer willing to pay them. We need to consider what the labor needs are in this country—and the vital role that low-wage labor has played in sustaining the quality of life that we as Americans have enjoyed.

Elizabeth Station

Puente (top, center) with Latino Policy Forum colleagues; Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood is one of the communities in which they work. All photos courtesy Latino Policy Forum.

April 28, 2010

Vested intellect

DJD_8090.jpgIt was about 5:30 p.m., more than 90 minutes before Bill Gates would appear at Rockefeller Chapel. The line for free, general-admission seating stretched from Rockefeller’s front door to 59th Street; west to University Avenue, where it turned north; and extended at least halfway to 58th. Standing four or five deep in places, people tried to calculate the crowd size and guesstimate the chapel’s capacity.

Including a couple hundred reserved-ticket holders, there was room for about 1,700, so the people along University did not wait in vain—but they did wait. After the doors opened and the pews filled to capacity, an hour still remained before Gates’ scheduled talk. But he was virtually there already.

The Microsoft founder’s admirers passed the time with the products of his life’s work, tapping at laptop keyboards and video chatting; one person held up his computer and rotated it to give his remote companion a 360-degree view of the digital-Gothic scene.

Large monitors spaced throughout the chapel gave the audience in the back a better view. When Gates walked into the room, right on schedule at 7:15, heads bobbed and cameras flashed. For a moment, at least, the televised image wouldn’t do.

As rock stars go, Gates seemed modest, pacing as he spoke—never standing behind the lectern—and often clasping his hands as if in prayer. The ambitions he spoke of, on the other hand, were anything but modest. Out of the software business for a couple of years now, he directs his influence, intellect, and a lot of that Microsoft income toward other goals. Goals like saving the world.

That’s what brought him to Chicago, one of five stops on the Bill Gates College Tour (along with visits to Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, and MIT). His tour’s stated intention was to inspire the smartest people to use their talents to combat the globe's biggest problems. Gates referred to a recent conversation with friends who spoke with passion and insight about the NCAA basketball tournament and the stock market; it made him wonder how to direct that intelligence toward more pressing concerns.

For the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the immediate concerns are global health, education, poverty, and climate change. Those issues, Gates acknowledged, were not on his mind when he began building his corporate empire. As he traveled and learned, his increasing awareness at first served only to make them seem intractable. “You’re kind of set back by how daunting it is,” he said.

With the targeted action of people who have the advantages of health, wealth, and education, Gates is confident in major progress. He cites improvements in the last half-century as proof. In 1960, for example, 20 million children under five died; today it’s 9 million. But solving big problems, he said, depends on cumulative effort focused on them—as opposed to basketball brackets or derivatives—pooling the intellectual capital of the assembled crowd and their peers.

The audience spent half of the hourlong session asking Gates questions, but he in fact was hoping to hear answers from them. After discussing his philanthropy and technology—and declaring that he does not recommend dropping out of college, as he did—Gates left the crowd with three questions of his own, soliciting answers on the tour’s Facebook page: What problem are you working on? What draws you to it? How will you draw other people to it?

Submit your answers here.

Jason Kelly

Photography by Dan Dry

April 30, 2010

Keep watching the skies


Yerkes Observatory has a special place in my heart. It was there—the University’s beautiful, historic, and underused observatory in Williams Bay, Wis.—that I decamped after graduating from the College, intent on hunting killer asteroids. I spent the better part of a year living and working in the building, battling a balky telescope and Wisconsin’s none-too-mild winter. I made little progress—and no money; I volunteered my labor—but, as an engineer pointed out to me one day over lunch, it sure beat sleeping on my parents’ couch.

In terms of science, the observatory and its famous 40-inch refracting telescope became outclassed years ago. The University has been trying to figure out what to do with the facility for years. (I won’t rehash the debate here; just go read this and this.) Since I’m fond of the old place, it always makes me happy to see someone putting the observatory equipment to good use—such as when I learned that my old telescope was being prepared to join Skynet, a network of robotically operated telescopes located all over the world.

To learn more, I called up Vivian Hoette, the observatory’s educational outreach coordinator and point person for Skynet, whom I had known from my days in Williams Bay. Skynet, she explains, was founded in 2006 by an astronomer at the University of North Carolina, U of C alum Dan Reichart, SM’98, PhD’00; Hoette was part of the education plan for the original grant proposal. The Skynet software controls telescopes remotely, as well as prioritizes observations and processes images online. Soon, it will link more than 20 telescopes on four continents, including two of the smaller telescopes at Yerkes.

The 41-inch and 24-inch reflectors are in fine operating condition, but are too small for the kind of research that goes on at the University today and so are underutilized. Adding them to Skynet increases their scientific utility considerably. The 24-inch already uses Skynet's image processing functions, but can't be remotely controlled. Meanwhile, my old 41-inch will have its telescope control system integrated with Skynet and the controls for its protective dome automated.

Skynet was designed to research gamma-ray bursts, flashes of high-energy photons from the distant universe that often last less than a second. But the ability to control a telescope remotely also made it perfect for educational outreach—which is where Hoette steps in. Now, she uses Skynet telescopes to show students in Wisconsin how astronomy is done even when the local sky is covered with clouds.

The University’s internal debate about what to do with Yerkes doesn’t have an easy resolution. (If it was easy, it would have been resolved by now.) But as an admittedly sentimental fan, it’s good to see this old dog can still learn new tricks.

Benjamin Recchie, AB'03

From surprise to revelation

DSC09939-STRAND.jpgEven after the room was full, people kept coming. They lined the walls, crammed into odd corners, and bumped into each other every time the door squeaked open and another person crept in. Up at the podium, in front of the spot where several students sat cross-legged on the floor, the former poet laureate Mark Strand, looking strong and straight-shouldered just days after his 76th birthday, was reading his poetry aloud:

I think of the innocent lives
Of people in novels who know they'll die
But not that the novel will end. How different they are
From us. Here, the moon stares dumbly down,
Through scattered clouds, onto the sleeping town,
And the wind rounds up the fallen leaves,
And somebody—namely me—deep in his chair,
Riffles the pages left, knowing there's not
Much time for the man and woman in the rented room,
For the red light over the door, for the iris
Tossing its shadow against the wall...

Occasionally Strand looked up to smile and take in a few faces, but mostly he seemed apart, pleasantly and politely focused elsewhere. A former professor in the Committee on Social Thought who now teaches at Columbia University, Strand is one of the country's most famous living poets and Chicago's current Sherry poet-in-residence. On April 21 he gave an hour-long reading in Classics 110.

I had an English professor in college who told us never to miss the chance to hear poets read their own work. Listening to them, she said, you can pick up things that no amount of analysis will teach: intangible evidence of how a poem works, how the parts move together, and how an idea arises from that motion. In the years since then, I've listened to Mark Strand read half a dozen times (more by coincidence than design) and every time, I hear something in the poetry that I might never have seen in the printed lines. What struck me this time was the contrast between his poems' evanescent, fantastical meanderings—into dreams and waking visions, into Death's living room, onto the riverbank where Orpheus wept and sang and died, into a foreign land with a singing man and camel—and the concrete, even emphatic, endings those poems often have. Introducing Strand, Chicago poetry scholar Richard Strier noted his "measured, circuitous stalking of the subject, turning surprise to revelation." Strand's poetry is both substantial and insubstantial, surreal and sharply real.

After 50 minutes or so of reading, unperturbed by the listeners shuffling in and the buses wheezing past on 59th Street, Strand looked at his watch, glanced up at the wine and cheese waiting on the table at the back, and promised one more poem before the reception. "Actually, it's more like a song," he said. "More like a song written by a Spanish poet in, say, 1925." He paused. "Maybe García Lorca." Then he read:

Black fly, black fly
Why have you come

Is it my shirt
My new white shirt

With buttons of bone
Is it my suit

My dark blue suit
Is it because

I lie here alone
Under a willow

Cold as stone
Black fly, black fly

How good you are
To come to me now

How good you are
To visit me here

Black fly, black fly
To wish me good bye.

Lydia Gibson

Strand shares his verse. Photo by Lydia Gibson.

About April 2010

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in April 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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