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July 2010 Archives

July 1, 2010

Printing pride

Two U of C students are covering pride movements in Chicago this summer.

Ever been curious about the Chicagoans doing their best to challenge deeply entrenched structures of sexual power in our society, but, unlike the U of C's Lauren Berlant, haven't felt ready to jump into the thick of it? Not to worry, two student journalists have that beat covered.

Mitch Montoya, '11, has been writing for Time Out Chicago's Gay & Lesbian section, where he recounts what it's like to dance so hard "my quads are on fire" on a float at Sunday's Gay Pride Parade.

And, interning this summer for Newcity, Ella Christoph, also '11, writes this report on the second annual Chicago Cougar Convention, which was definitely not a gathering of feral cats.

Asher Klein, '11

Buy buy buy!

An alum is named one of New York's most attractive traders.

Register him with the SEC and call him a hedge fund, because Jason Mudrick, AB'97, is about to get some sizable returns.

That's because Mudrick was named one of New York Magazine's Foxes of Finance, one of only 14 New York traders to earn such praise. And not only are they attractive and, in our man's case, extremely intelligent; they're not taken!

According to the authors, the magazine basically just called a bunch of places on Wall Street asking around for the most attractive, nice, smart dudes still on the market. (Pun very much intended.) And then they stalked them on Facebook.

NY Mag explains the slideshow: "The rest of America may see the warriors of Wall Street as faceless, greedy jerks, but here in New York, we know them to be a rich tapestry of individuals with thoughts, interests, and feelings. Some of whom, in addition to being very wealthy, are actually quite good-looking!"

We may be biased, but we think Mudrick, who is president and CEO of Mudrick Capital (at just 35!), is the cream of the crop. Look at that smile! Talk about private equity. And he's taught at Harvard. So not only is he more attractive than a squirrel—a perennial U of C preoccupation, or so they say—he's braver, too!

Sigh. Jason Mudrick: he really puts the "stag" in stagflation.

Asher Klein, '11

July 2, 2010

Crime Lab's analysis? The court got it wrong.

U of C’s Crime Lab says the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Chicago handgun ban might make city violence more lethal.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Chicago’s 28-year handgun ban violates the Second Amendment. The decision didn’t surprise anyone—in 2008 the Court struck down a similar statute in Washington, DC. But Harold Pollack, the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration, sees the legal question as only part of the gun-violence dilemma. “I’m very sorry about the decision. There’s no doubt that the widespread proliferation of handguns is a huge public health problem,” Pollack says.

CrimeLab.jpgFar from wrestling with the ambiguities of constitutional jargon, Crime Lab directors Jens Ludwig and Pollack judge public policy with hard numbers. They've used statistics to evaluate pilot programs aimed at reducing gun violence in Chicago and across the country. Ludwig and Pollack believe that systematic, randomized studies of crime-prevention techniques can yield results as reliable as those found in medical clinical trials.

While there’s little definitive data on the effectiveness of Chicago’s handgun ban, Ludwig argued in a 2008 NPR interview that the similar statute in DC may have made it harder for criminals to buy guns. Before the ban, Ludwig said, “If I’m selling a gun at a yard sale, unless somebody comes up with their Rikers Island alumni hat, I have no reason to know that they have a disqualifying record.” Imposing a ban, Ludwig said, makes these informal markets harder to come by, and in the process makes it harder for criminals to buy guns.

But the ruling will hardly send Chicago back to the days of Dillinger—already the city is busy planning to reduce the impact of the ban’s repeal. The court’s decision states that the Second Amendment protects gun ownership for self-defense in the home, leaving a lot of wiggle room for other forms of handgun regulation. Crime Lab Executive Director Roseanna Ander said in a Chicago Tribune article this week that, whatever options the city considers, allowing the proliferation of handguns will only lead to more violence. “It's putting gasoline on a fire," she said. "What we need is more water."

With or without the ban, Pollack says, the city needs to adopt other approaches to the issue. “You can have a great handgun ban in Chicago, but if you have your girlfriend drive a short distance and legally buy a handgun that makes it difficult...we can do a lot to deter people from using or carrying or brandishing the guns that they have.” If gun regulation can encourage citizens to leave handguns at home, Pollack argues that a lethal element in everyday confrontations can be eliminated. “I would much rather that person not have a gun, but if it’s at grandma’s house he won’t be pulling it out when there’s a fight on the basketball court,” he says.

Another U of C professor, economist Gary Becker, AM'53, PhD’55, argued in 2008 (in agreement with respected economist Chris Rock) that a tax of “several hundred percent of the untaxed price” should be applied to lawful gun purchases, making prices in both legal and illegal gun markets surge.

Pollack says his concern with the court's decision reflects a more fundamental question of values. “The ban," he says, "served a very important function in expressing a message that we think guns are a toxic presence in our society."

Burke Frank, '11

Crime Lab directors Ludwig (left) and Pollack (right).

July 6, 2010

A first on the Fourth

U of C students and Hyde Parkers gathered at Promontory Point for its inaugural July 4th fireworks show.

Nothing brings Hyde Park together quite like a summer picnic or a parking crisis, and the first July 4th fireworks show held at Promontory Point gave them a little of both—and added some spectacle, to boot.

Rather than the bombs-bursting-in-air-worthy Grant Park extravaganza held every year since 1975, the city launched fireworks at three locations, including, for the first time, 63rd Street Beach in Hyde Park. The show lasted 15 minutes, and included novelties (heart- and smiley-shaped fireworks) and the perennial favorites (known to pyrotechnologists as bloom-y ones, waterfall-y ones, and sparkl-y ones, we think).

But the fireworks weren't the only thing bringing people to the Point. It was a wonderful sunny day, so the grills, swimsuits, kites, and low-rider bikes were out long before the fireworks started. As was the Chicago Police Department, which booked only seven people this year across all three shows, down from 30 arrests at last year's Grant Park display.

Everyone seemed to have a good time, but there was at least one downside: it was pretty hard to find parking. Luckily, no one seemed too upset. Below, a slideshow of the excursions and explosions.

Burke Frank, '11, and Asher Klein, '11

July 7, 2010

Tour de campus

Trying out ReCycles, the University's (relatively) new bike-share program.

Tour%20de%20campus.jpgA place where even professor emeritus David Bevington can be seen kickstarting his bike at a trot, the U of C isn't exactly hospitable for cyclophobes. Sadly for them, but happily for those of us who neither fear bikes nor own one, the University's bike-share program recently lost its training wheels, and it's doing well.

The ReCycles program, started last fall under the auspices of the Office of Sustainability, offers registered students, faculty, and staff free bike rentals at any of four campus locations: the Reg, Ratner, School of Social Service Administration, and the NSIT building on 60th and Kenwood.

As of this spring, when the program moved past its pilot phase, there are 22 bikes, 750 people registered, and 100 rentals a week, according to Colleen Christensen, a sustainability program coordinator. "We didn't necessarily know what to expect since it was a brand new program, but it expanded quite rapidly," she said in a phone interview, thinking about the past, present, and future of ReCycles. "It's a matter of knowing how best to expand the program."

I happen to be one of those 750 registered part-time cyclists and I've rented bikes quite a lot, a total of 10 times according to Christensen, who was nice enough to go through the records. After two years humping it around Hyde Park, seeing the neighborhood from the back of a lean, mean, cycling machine made everyday travel feel like...an adventure! (Mostly because I was constantly afraid of being hit by a car, but still.)

Why do I use it? Well, speaking from lots of experience, ReCycles is great if you live off campus and need to get home to print out a paper (or finish the paper, or...start the paper) and get back in a hurry. No longer speaking from experience, but from informed guess, it's even better if you're craving some fresh produce in your dorm room and you've got an hour to kill in the middle of the day. It's also great if you're concerned that it be a step in the green direction.

The program's big issue is that if you're bikeless and living off campus—rather far from one of the program's four pick-up locations—you're in for at least two long walks. Not the end of the world, but it can defeat the purpose of renting the bike in the first place. This is, by the way, the same problem likely to plague the City of Chicago's soon-to-be-rolled-out bike-share program.

So what if you have to be on campus already to rent the bikes, and then return them by 7 p.m. or so? Campus is a beautiful, engrossing place, but sometimes it feels good when you're just Breaking Away.

With that in mind, here's an illustrated list of biking ideas, collected from my latest sojourn around Hyde Park:

Asher Klein, '11

Photography by Asher Klein, '11.

July 12, 2010

Eye to eye

Chicago eye doctor recognizes everyday heroes with Lasik.

Lasik-offer.jpgForget parades and salutes. Ophthalmologist Mark Golden, AB'77, SM'78, has found a new way to honor everyday heroes like police, firefighters, paramedics, military personnel, and teachers: discounted Lasik.

For many of these individuals, particularly soldiers, "extreme physical activity, dust, smoke, and sweat make it difficult for most eyeglass and contact-lens wearers to function properly in their jobs," said Golden in a recent press release. "Freedom from glasses and contacts can become a critical issue." Typically costing anywhere from $2,200 to $3,500 per eye, the state-of-the-art procedure corrects vision problems to eliminate the need for corrective lenses.

To make the service more affordable, Golden's Doctors for Visual Freedom Laser Center is currently offering $1,000 off per eye. "This is an opportunity for us to thank the true heroes in our community," said Golden. "Their commitment and sacrifice is a debt we can never repay."

For more info, call 877.855.5961 or click here.

Brooke E. O'Neill, AM'04

July 13, 2010

Rumors, drawing on science

Unfounded (alas!) rumors had it that Fermilab may have discovered the God particle—the Higgs boson. Plus, some cool particle physics cartoons.

Map.jpgWell, this would have been big news: a University of Padua physicist blogged last week that he'd heard that Fermilab has discovered the elusive Higgs boson particle—the only particle predicted in the standard atomic model that has yet to be discovered.

"It reached my ear, from two different, possibly independent sources, that an experiment at the Tevatron is about to release some evidence of a light Higgs boson signal," said the blogger, Tomasso Dorigo (who has a position at Fermilab), setting off sensationally suspenseful speculation that the notoriously discovery-shy particle was found, despite the fact that Dorigo reported it as a rumor, not fact.

Sadly, we God particle-enthusiasts can't celebrate just yet; Judith Jackson, communications director at Fermilab, smashed the rumors like two protons in a particle accelerator: "The Tevatron is functioning fabulously well and at some point [we hope] experiments will present evidence for the Higgs boson," Jackson said in a phone interview, "but these rumors are completely bogus."

Inside-lab.jpg"Bo. Gus," she added, dream-crushingly. Actually she was very nice about the whole thing, which seems to have been taken as a joke at Fermilab.

"There will be results from Fermilab Tevatron experiments presented at the ICHEP (International Conference on High Energy Physics) Conference in Paris in a couple weeks," Jackson said, but they will refer to limits on what the mass of the Higgs boson may be, not the discovery of the particle itself.

Luckily, the new CERN accelerator in Switzerland, which replaced Fermilab's as the largest accelerator in the world, will perform more and more powerful experiments as it gets up to full speed—hopefully sometime in 2013—and it's the best bet to find the Higgs boson.

Of course, the boson may not exist, in which case science will have to come up with a new theory of the atom. Sad, perhaps, but as New Yorker and Scientific American cartoonist Roz Chast illustrates in these three delightfully unscientific cartoons on particle physics, laymen don't really need to, and probably shouldn't, think too hard about the nitty-gritty of these things, and leave it up to the professionals.

Asher Klein, '11

Check out an aerial view of Fermilab, not (yet!) the site of the Higgs boson's discovery (top), as well as Fermilab's DZero detector, which records the results of high-energy particle collisions, but has not (yet!) detected the Higgs boson. Photo credit: Fermilab.

July 14, 2010

Checking out history books

Mansueto may be the shiniest of our libraries, but a look through the archives reveals some surprising facts about other collections when they were new.

RegInterior.jpgI’ve heard it called the Librodome and the Egg, the Greenhouse and the Blister, but only time will tell how we’ll be talking about the brand new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library in a decade or two. And while the reception of the new library will certainly be different from those that already populate campus (never was there a HarperCam during its construction) it’s impossible to tell now what will stand out about the library in the future. But, thankfully, there’s a long history of placing a premium on the stored word—the second appointment President Harper made to the new University was of an assistant librarian: Mrs. Zella Allen Dixson in July 1891. (The first appointment was of a Latin professor, which I’m sure seemed urgent at the time.)

In that historical spirit, I decided to take a look through the Magazine archives to see what stood out about our libraries when they were built.

Harper Memorial Library was completed in 1912, to the great relief of everyone involved—before that it shared space with the University Press and the gymnasia (one for men, another for women) in a one-story brick building on the site of today’s Hutch Courtyard. It was full of high-tech gadgets, at least by the standards of its day: a Magazine contributor extols “electric book-lifts," “pneumatic tubes for the conveyance of book orders and charge-cards," and “speaking tubes and telephones which facilitate viva voce communication.” Real Flash Gordon stuff, if you ask me. And history really is cyclical—the massive Automated Storage and Retrieval System in Mansueto is a simply a modern, scarier version of that book-lift technology. (Maybe soon robots can read my Derrida?) Fun fact: apparently the University of Chicago seal is carved in six places around Harper. Can you find them?

Eckhart Library was built in 1930 amid a flurry of construction projects across campus for $725,000 (about $9.5 million today). At the time, Eckhart was seen as more modern-looking than the blockish Cobb and Ryerson Halls: according to a July-August 1931 Magazine article by art instructor Hugh S. Morrison, “[they] seem slightly old-fashioned now, rather bald in their lack of refinements; but the masonery is sound, and they have a bold picturesqueness of mass often lacking in the newer buildings. Perhaps the best of them is Ryerson Laboratory, now set off in all its ruggedness by the more feminine elegance of Eckhart.” I can’t imagine what the author would think of Mansueto if limestone Eckhart is the picture of airy femininity—to put it in 1930s terms, it’s a future much more Buck Rogers than Metropolis.

The D’Angelo Law Library, and the new law quadrangle it accompanied, were ushered in with a year of celebration and high-level recognition: a Supreme Court justice, British nobles and ministers, and Vice President Nixon all spoke at the ceremonies. But for all the fanfare, D’Angelo’s opening was overshadowed in the Magazine by a three-page article profiling the U of C Parapsychology Society in anticipation of a contest with Cambridge University. EckhartFeminine.jpg

The School of Social Service Administration (SSA) Library moved from Cobb Hall, the oldest building on campus, to the newest, a Mies van der Rohe steel-and-glass enclosure housing classrooms, offices, and research rooms for the School. This must have come as a shock to the faculty used to working in a block of limestone—I wonder how Regenstein staff in Mansueto will feel about unfettered access to the sky.

The inimitable Regenstein Library. Much was made of its location on the old Stagg Field, a symbolic gesture of academic supremacy noted in the Magazine in mythical proportions: “In the winter of 1969-1970, the destruction crews came in and the Stagg Field wall came tumbling down, to reveal, full-fledged from the head of Zeus, the new Regenstein library.” Whether you see it as a masterpiece or an eyesore, the Reg is the most massive building on campus. Much of the discussion surrounding the library's completion in 1970 was not simply about its brutalist architecture but the monumental task of moving two million books in the space of two months. Originally the senior architect for the project wanted to place the new library smack in the middle of the main quadrangle, which would have made it possible for some committed students never to cross 57th Street. Originally each floor had its own color of wall-to-wall carpeting: the first floor was gold, the second and third orange, the fourth green. “I feel a sense of elation when I enter in the morning,” one librarian said.

Crerar Library, the newest collection on campus, was built in 1984 as part of the new science quadrangle. A Maroon editorial fretted that the new quad would split up the undergraduate student body between science and humanities majors, but it seems that the absolute silence in Crerar draws like-minded agoraphobes from across the academic spectrum. Originally established downtown in 1894, the library was founded with very specific instructions from benefactor John Crerar. “I desire the building to be tasteful, substantial, and fireproof,” he wrote in his will. “I desire the books and periodicals selected with a view to create and sustain a healthy moral and Christian sentiment in the community, and that all nastiness and immorality be excluded. I do not mean by this that there shall not be anything but hymn books and sermons, but I mean that dirty French novels and all skeptical trash and works of questionable moral tone shall never be found in the Library.” If I ever find a dirty French novel in your library, Mr. Crerar, I'll be sure to let you know.

And so we return to our futuristic bubble, the Mansueto Library, and students such as myself look forward to many hours of solitary and communal misery inside the transparent belly of the beast. While it might have fewer gargoyles than its predecessors, a bold, expensive, titanic book cellar sure says University of Chicago to me.

Burke Frank, ’11

July 15, 2010

The target shoots back

Magazine photographer Dan Dry caught up in cricket mayhem.

When Dan Dry takes photographs, personal safety is only a passing concern. So maybe it’s not surprising that he got hit by the ball while shooting the cricket club—but rather that he got hit only once.

“It came fast and hard, and I sure didn't see it coming,” Dry says. The ball struck his left arm (Dry is left-handed) just above the elbow. “What started with a slight sting and a thud quickly became burning pain. I kept shooting, and no, I didn't cry.” The impact resulted in “a blackish-purple lump and bruise,” which “turned to a darker shade the next morning and mellowed out to a sunshine yellow within a week or so.”

Aside from the ball, Dry was also hit by one of the bowlers, Rohit Naimpally AB’09, AM’10. (In cricket, the bowler—the rough equivalent of a pitcher in baseball—takes a running start.) “He may be a small guy,” says Dry, “but he had the strength of a Bears lineman.”

Dry is accustomed to abuse. While taking photographs, he says, “I’ve been bitten by a multimillion-dollar racehorse, gotten shoved to the ground by a striking union worker, run into on the sidelines by members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and fallen off the edge of an oil rig when the cap blew, spraying oil everywhere, only to be saved by my safety harness. I have stood waist-deep in the snake- and alligator-infested waters of Florida’s Everglades, been run over at half court by an All-American basketball player, and been screamed at, hit, pushed, and kicked by people on both sides of the busing movement in Louisville.”

On that scale of pain, being struck by a cricket ball, says Dry, “is pretty much at the bottom of the list.”

Read more about the cricket club in the summer issue of the Core.

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

July 16, 2010

Laughing all the way

Comedy writer and performer Tami Sagher, AB’95, wasn’t always funny. Oh wait—maybe she was.

Check out Sagher as straight-woman in this 1998 video, "Dirty Hole," filmed back when the former UChicago math major was an ensemble member at Second City:


If that isn’t gynecological enough, watch the sketch she co-wrote for MadTV in 2005, about a feminine hygiene product called (presciently enough) the iPad:


Sagher, a Brooklyn-based improviser and television writer, takes center stage in the latest edition of the Core. The article has a few jokes; we promise. But this woman is serious about comedy.

Elizabeth Station

July 19, 2010

Fed of state

The ideological origins of American Federalism—still important in America today and the title of a new book by a U of C law professor.

LaCroix.jpgThe federal government won't be taking Arizona's new law allowing police to inquire about immigration status lying down, filing suit instead. Asserting that "a state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with the federal immigration laws," the Justice Department's July 6 filing references the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which says that federal law trumps conflicting state law.

The United States of America v. The State of Arizona is the latest flare-up in a long line of conflicts between the states and Washington, a history that doesn't just go back to the drafting of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, but, as assistant law professor Alison LaCroix argues in a new book, to ideological debates in the 13 colonies as early as 1760.

The Ideological Origins of American Federalism covers the era from 1760 through though 1810, charting how Americans developed the country's unique brand of government out of struggles for self-representation, rather than developing political philosophy on the spur of the moment at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, as others have written. This approach shows just how resistant many of the colonists were to a strong federal government and that it's a mistake to think of state governments and their federal counterpart as being at odds, said LaCroix last Tuesday during a talk at the Quad Club.
Book-cover-LaCroix.jpgAs politicians continue to cite the founding documents as proof that their positions are right and others' are wrong, LaCroix advocates a much less rigid approach, arguing that there was no clear consensus among the nation's founding fathers on who should have more power. Take the federal government's supremacy over states, for example, which is outlined in the Supremacy Clause as such: U.S. laws and treaties "shall be the supreme Law of the Land." While the government may see that as clear-cut and in favor of the federal government, states might have a more expansive view, LaCroix says. "Where does it say that federal power is exclusive?" There could be more of a role for shared power, even if the federal government is supreme, or more delegation of power.

There's another reason politicians shouldn't name-drop the founding fathers for partisan gain—it's not in the spirit of the founding. "A lot of the participants [in today's debates] are focused on who wins," LaCroix says. "I think early federalist thinkers were willing to postpone the question [of who wins]; the background principle that they were really committed to was this multilayered government."

Nevertheless, LaCroix argues that at least the history of American federalism was pretty clear in the Arizona case. If you asked people in the 18th century what they thought federalism means, she says, they would have said that authority of the federal government is bound up in foreign affairs, "so that seems like something that you would cede to the federal government."

Asher Klein, '11

July 20, 2010

Down the rabbit hole and onto the quads

Students and U of C families gather on Bartlett Quad to watch Alice in Wonderland.

It’s summer at Chicago. The air is muggy, the pace slower, and birds chirp well into the evening. For those of us here in town, the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities is sponsoring a series of al fresco movie screenings. Films are shown after dark on an inflatable screen.

The selection for July 1 was Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton’s 2010 blockbuster. Moviegoers—undergraduate, graduate, and summer-program students as well as faculty, staff, and their children—started arriving at Bartlett Quad around 7:45 p.m. and plopped down on a sea of patterned and solid-colored blankets. When dusk descended, the film began rolling as some 70 attendees munched on self-supplied treats: candy, popcorn, assorted take-out.

Did Alice slay the Jabberwocky? We’re not telling, but we will reveal the dates of upcoming Movie on the Quad screenings. All are on Bartlett Quad, and begin at dusk (8:00 p.m. or shortly thereafter).

July 22: When In Rome
August 5: The Goonies
August 12: Shutter Island

Crowds start to gather.

Nightfall approaches.


Katherine Muhlenkamp

Photography by David Muhlenkamp

July 21, 2010

Robots, celebrities wreak havoc downtown!

Transformers 3 takes up, and rips up, Michigan Ave. Luckily, two interns have photos!

looming.jpgOne thing many don't know about the University is that it has a set of offices on Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River, right next to Tribune Tower and across from the Wrigley building, on the very spot Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable built the log cabin marking the first, humble settlement that would one day become the city of Chicago. It's a nice place to work.

And it was even nicer on Friday, when we had some new neighbors—the cast, crew, and fiery hulks of wrecked cars of Transformers 3, which filmed right off the Michigan Avenue Bridge through the weekend.

If you've seen either of the previous Transformers movies, or, for that matter, any of the director Michael Bay's other work (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor), you'll know what kind of bananas destruction it entails, and this film will clearly be no different. That little bit of Chicago looked like it was body-slammed by an industrial-waste dump: mashed-up cars stacked at the bridge entrance, steel girders sticking out of cratered cement, and even a weirdly out-of-place and dirtied fruit stand abandoned in the middle of the street.

This was as off-the-wall as a film shoot gets, but it was incredibly efficient as well. (Actually, we should say of-the-wall, since some of the wreckage, with faux-terra cotta and green molding, imitated the Wrigley Building façade and hinted at great feats of CGI, or computer-generated imagery, to come.) Certain shots took only minutes to set up, and they were pulled off with a number of different cameras, including one mounted on a crane perched atop an SUV. Production assistants lit newspapers and cars on fire for most takes, then extinguished everything when the director yelled cut, over and over again.

The film's stars were just as efficient, running around in sweaters and heavy make-up despite the 90-degree heat. Shia LaBeouf (whose surname we can't help but pronounce LaBeoaeoeuaoeaeuf) looked like he stayed in character all day, spending time between takes stalking through the heat like his life depended on it. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who plays his love interest in Megan Fox's place, attested to her modeling past when she fixed a fierce gaze on us as she passed us in the lobby.

We couldn't tell what was going on in the scene besides some kind of scary Transformer fight that meant LaBeoaeoeuaoeaeuf and New Megan Fox had to hide in an overturned car, but it was clear that the film spent at least a few million dollars to capture what had to be no more than a minute of film. Amazingly, it was all cleaned up by Monday morning, when the shoot headed off to Upper Wacker Drive, where it will roll tape until Thursday.

Sadly, we missed most of the explosions (the crew saved those for the weekend, presumably to increase nearby office workers' productivity, a courtesy that seemed to have minimal effect) but we did take some shots of Friday's filming, which we thought were cool enough to share with you.

Still, we couldn't help but feel that these images were missing something, something sort of integral to the Transformers experience. Which is why you'll find University-cron, the U of C's very own Transformer, hanging out on set! He may not be the real deal, but we couldn't bear to look at pictures of Transformers without at least a little bit of animation. Call it nostalgia for the cartoons of our childhoods.


Asher Klein, '11
Photography by Asher Klein, '11, and Burke Frank, '11
Illustrations by Asher Klein, '11

July 22, 2010

Lost and found

Rebecca Wolfram brings back her Museum of Objects Left on the Sidewalk, a community endeavor.

Museum-sign.jpgI wasn’t sure how I was going to find artist Rebecca Wolfram’s late-June museum opening. Given what seemed to be a home address in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I turned left down 21st Street and headed toward the sound of jingling bells (turned out to be an ice-cream truck). Some abandoned lots looked like they could hold a lot of people—but they were abandoned.

Sweating (and already 30 minutes late for the 5 p.m. opening), I turned around and walked in the other direction. Crossing California, I suddenly noticed about 10-15 people gathered on the sidewalk, huddled around four or five others holding beer bottles. Finally, I spotted the photographer I was supposed to be meeting there, Lloyd DeGrane. Bingo.

I got there at just the right time, DeGrane said. Wolfram, AB'71, wearing black sweats and a T-shirt with a very angry bear on the front, was about to start the official opening of her Museum of Objects Left on the Sidewalk. A chorus of whistles and low-pitched hums echoed from people blowing on beer bottles, as Wolfram tried to organize people according to the note they were playing. A young boy, about six or seven, was having trouble making the right noise, so a couple of people gave him tips on how to get the best sound out of the bottle. “Put it to your lips, sweetheart,” one woman said.

After a few more tries, the boy gave up. I barely had a chance to look around at the quirky collection of recycled objects (like the wooden chair that had been turned into a planter) crowding the lawn outside Wolfram’s house before she called on me: "Can you blow a bottle?"

I laughed nervously. "I'm an observer."

"Can you blow a bottle though?"

I gave in. But a few unsuccessful huffs led to a flurry of advice from the onlookers, Wolfram's neighbors and friends: "You just gotta blow out." "Like, right over the top." "Below the lip. It's almost like blowing in the bottle." "Like, right in between your lip."

"Oh, I think I just got it," I said, before not getting it at all. Wolfram looked at José, her next-door neighbor, who was standing next to me. "You have the same note, right?" José nodded, covering for my incompetence.

Museum-objects.jpgThe musical ceremony marked the opening of Wolfram's museum, a reincarnation of a 2007 project she started after finding some abandoned shelves in an alley—formerly "the head of someone's bed," she said—and attached them to the fence in front of her house. People could stop by and leave any objects they found on the sidewalk. Once, someone left a giant, ant-infested dead toad. Another time, Wolfram discovered on the shelves "this most beautiful coat-hanger wire sculpture that somebody, I don’t know if they made it or they found it, but it was a shark." After about a year and a half, the shelves "completely disintegrated," she said. "It was getting very trashy," so she closed the museum.

Earlier this year, however, she applied for a grant to reopen it. She had been trying to get grants for her painting, but unsuccessfully. "I was so sick of it," she said. "I never get anything." But then she saw an opportunity from the Puffin Foundation. "They fund, I don’t know, things that have to do with the community or something or other." So she wrote up a proposal, and got a $350 grant. She hired her neighbor Edward to construct the shelves.

At the opening, she called him her "partner in crime" and asked him to stand beside her while she cut the "wimpy red ribbon." José led the countdown from ten, and, at one, Wolfram made the cut, announcing, "The museum is officially reopened! And thanks to the Puffin Foundation. Thanks to Edward for his excellent work." Throughout her short speech, someone (not me) blew a beer bottle in the background.


Ruthie Kott, AM'07

Wolfram brings the Museum of Objects Left on the Sidewalk back to Little Village. Photography by Lloyd DeGrane.

Summer sales

The UChicago Bookstore doesn't die during the warmer months.

Freakonomics.jpgSales still happen during the summer at the U of C Bookstore on East 58th Street, even if they're a little slower. People still need their T-shirts and polos, says Kai Douglas, who was working at the checkout counter when I stopped in yesterday. The maroon, gray, and white tees with the University seal are popular, she says, as are the cream-colored quilted zip-up vests. Older customers seem to buy a lot of polos, and campus visitors must have heard things about Chicago winters, because the sweatshirts on the clearance rack are pretty hot too.

Lest you think the U of C is all about fashion, people are still buying those things called "books" (even though there's a whole counter up front selling e-readers). Employee Eric Cioe, AB'09, showed me a list of the bookstore's best-selling faculty and alumni books from the past month:

1) Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by econ professor Steven Leavitt (Interestingly, his follow-up, SuperFreakonomics, is selling much fewer copies than the original.)
2) How Judges Think, by Richard Posner, senior lecturer at the Law School
3) Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy, by Chicago Booth professor Raghuram G. Rajan
4) Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, by Charles Wheelan, PhD'98; and Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Chicago Booth professor Richard Thaler
5) The Ideological Origins of American Federalism, by assistant law professor Alison LaCroix; and Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need For Social Connection, by psychology professor John Cacioppo

Ruthie Kott, AM'07

July 23, 2010

Accents sketchy, according to science

Study finds we're prone to distrust foreign accents, confirming what we all learned watching Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Count.jpgPerhaps complicating the fact, well-known in comedy-research circles, that accents are always silly and endearing, research by Chicago psychologists shows that we tend to mistrust those who speak differently. In the study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers asked participants to listen to pre-recorded trivia statements and rate them on a scale of truthfulness. Participants ranked heavily accented speakers at an average 6.84 on the scale, compared to 7.5 for native speakers. A subsequent experiment showed that even when participants were informed about the nature of the testing, their trust of the heavily accented speakers was unchanged. “Accent might reduce the credibility of non-native job seekers, eyewitnesses, reporters, or people taking calls in foreign call centers,” says Shiri Lev-Ari, a psychology postdoc at the University and lead author of the study.

This contempt of cadence might not surprise those of us well versed in American popular culture: all the best villains have accents, and many of them are quite hard to understand (frankly I find these two completely incomprehensible.) Some of them can even be quite finicky about their own style of pronunciation.

But we live in a modern age, one in which it's important to bridge gaps in understanding rather than perpetuate stereotypes. I, for one, think we need to begin healing the deep wounds of mistrust towards accented speakers. Let's take some positive examples of Englishly-challenged figures in the popular media: Count von Count, for instance, who routinely cooperates with his puppet-American castmates for mathematical justice. Or the Terminator who, in spite of the Austrian-inflected evil for which he was programmed, shows that he has the capacity for change in Judgment Day. So let's put our prejudices behind us and focus not on whether we can trust accented English speakers, but on what they have to teach us.

Burke Frank, '11

A leading mathematics expert whose credibility may suffer as a result of the study.

July 26, 2010

Shorts sighted

Armed with video cameras and ideas, Digital Media Academy teens use UChicago's campus as a backdrop for their short films.

Almost Unexplainable



Joy Olivia Miller

July 27, 2010

Optimum deliciousness

The secret behind the hilarity that is viral video "Jones' Good Ass BBQ & Foot Massage," from its maker, Ramiro Castro AB'06.

I discovered Tobias Jones and his unlikely business ventures when strolling through Scav Hunt's Judgment Day, where one team was streaming "Jones' Good Ass BBQ & Foot Massage" in answer to a clue: "My dinner’s too beautylicious for you, babe. Head on over to the Hyde Park establishment where you can both order a meal and receive a cosmetic procedure. Get the procedure done, and show us before-and-after photos of your sad and scraggly, and newly beautified, selves. [12 points]."


With its Harold's Chicken Shack look and improbable if nose-crinkling allure, it may come as a sad surprise that Jones' doesn't really exist (except, of course, in the hearts of the 1.5 million viewers who've seen it). But it isn't the only improbable combination of services Tobias Jones offers online; the video is the follow-up to another successful viral video produced by Big Dog Eat Child, a sketch-comedy troupe that includes Off-Off Campus alum Ramiro Castro, AB'06.

Big Dog Eat Child began down the metaphorical road to Internetical glory in 2006, when Castro came up with the character, Tobias Jones, played by stand-up comedian Robert Hines. The first Jones video, "Jones' Big Ass Truck Rental & Storage" took a while to become popular after its 2008 debut on YouTube, but after the comedy group began e-mailing bloggers, viewership began to rise, as did its reputation. And how could it not, with gems like, "Now friends, you ask yourself, how in the hell can he store this stuff for such a cheap price? ... The fact of the matter is, I'm pretty drunk right now...and this is a drunk discount sale." The video got 300,000 hits on the day YouTube promoted it on its front page. It now has 2.9 million views.

The group went on to film a second Truck Rental & Storage spot, the BBQ & Foot Massage spot, and "Jones' Cheap Ass Prepaid Legal and Daycare Academy"—the films have amassed a combined 6 million or so views—and scored Castro and Big Dog Eat Child interviews, t-shirt orders from around the world, an inquiry from Oprah's people (they wanted to know if Jones' was real, as did many others), and enough money to incorporate Big Dog Eat Child. The videos, especially "BBQ & Foot Massage" have also been screened at film festivals, including last Thursday's Chicago Short Comedy Video and Film Festival in downtown Chicago, which Castro told us about in a phone interview the next day.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow was the festival?
QandA_ADrop.jpgIt was a lot of fun. ... Basically we, because it's an internet video, we don't get a lot of feedback besides hits and comments, and those are all over the place. ... They'll say "lol" or whatever, but to hear people laugh and enjoy your film makes you feel great.
QandA_QDrop.jpgAnd it's not the first festival you've been in, right? What others has Jones...worked over?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThe LA Comedy Shorts Festival. That was a wonderful festival because it wasn't just, "Hey, let's show your movies and be done with it." They showed your films over a period of three days. They would have Q&A sessions. ... They had people from the film industry give advice on your films, people from Funny or Die, people from College Humor, people from Comedy Central. ... Oh, and there were parties every night.
QandA_QDrop.jpgSo how did the Jones character get created?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI did Off-Off campus at the U of C and I have a big improv background. I take the train a lot, the red line, and there are so many characters you meet on the South Side, so many characters. People will tell you anything on the train.... I was actually Toby Jones in the original sketch, but it just didn't work. We met Robert Hines, he's a stand-up comedian. This was 2005. I wrote the sketch in 2006 or 7 and when we said we should make videos. We were like, "Oh shit, this guy's awesome, this guy's perfect for this role." ... We had a lofty goal of getting 100,000 hits in a year, and we were like, "No way, that's not going to happen," but we put it out there.
QandA_QDrop.jpgOne detail that stands out is that it looks like it was shot in a Harold's Chicken Shack...
QandA_ADrop.jpgNot the Hyde Park one, although that was my first Harold's, my first love. There's one over by where I am on the Southwest Side, on 119th and Western. We would literally go there every week or every other week, especially if things were going well for us...We were just sitting there eating chicken and said, "Why don't we do something here? This place is awesome. We literally don't have to do anything to it."
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhich video is your favorite?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI do like "BBQ" a lot, because it was almost the one we struggled with the most. ... Right now what I really like, we just released something called "Twenty Something Ninja Turtles." It's a little more episodic. ... I'm in the dinosaur outfit and it was just a ridiculous time.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhy is it that the Jones videos are so funny?
QandA_ADrop.jpgA lot of it is timing. We just sort of, the timing we've been working on is: tell and outline this joke and get the hell out, just go away, move on to the next thing. "Truck Rental" is just a long version like that. Here's the premise: don't explain it, just let people figure it out. We're just going to have a machine gun of funny come at you. ... We like to just assault the audience with our jokes. We just want to have crazy things, crazy things, outlandish things, something that hasn't been done before. ... There are places on the South Side. ... There are pieces of reality thrown into the crazy. We're just taking what we know to be real and amplifying it a ton.
QandA_QDrop.jpgCan we expect any more videos from Tobias Jones?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe are making more videos of Jones. ... We took a break because we were wondering what to do with the character, but this year, we're going to make a foreign-language video spot, have Jones appeal to a Spanish-speaking audience, and have Jones basically hock his services as a spokesmodel.
QandA_QDrop.jpgAre you proud that the video showed up as an item in Scav Hunt?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI am! I think that there's a lot of U of C lore and part of the lore is, "Hey, Second City got its start at the U of C," and I was in Off-Off Campus. ...I was thinking about the legends that have come out of the U of C and of course I want that kind of fame. ... I know the level of detail that they [the Scav Judges] put in to go through that list and I was so proud that they put us in that. Popular culture, I guess.

Asher Klein '11

July 28, 2010

Poetry rocks

This fall former indie rocker Hadji Bakara joins the U of C's Department of English Language and Literature as a PhD student.

Photo-1.jpgIf there was any debate over whether or not indie-rock band Wolf Parade's lyrics were good poetry, Hadji Bakara has totally killed it:

Bakara = was in Wolf Parade; Bakara = English PhD student; English PhD student = appreciates good poetry; and ∴ Wolf Parade lyrics = good poetry.

My logic is flawless.

Bakara, the band's former keyboardist, didn't write the lyrics on Wolf Parade's 2005 and 2008 albums, but, if you look at some of them, it's pretty obvious he craved intellectual stimulation. I've taken the liberty of reworking some Wolf Parade lyrics into a poem that truly* expresses how Bakara must have felt.

It's in this language that I've found

In my head there's a city at night

So I got a plan

Gotta keep thinking, things, hunters and kings

And I don't sleep, I don't sleep, I don't sleep 'til it's light

And I'm content, I'm content, I'm content to be quiet

Some will sink, some will get called to the light

I spend boring hours in the office tower

I ain't quite the beauty

I might be here all the time

And I share no body, no mind

Oh follow me

Allow me to play the voyager

And I could give you my apologies

By handing over my neologies


But the fields are beyond belief

From tower out to where I can see

The band has just released its third album, Expo 86, minus Bakara.

*Truly = Probably


Ruthie Kott, AM'07

Rocker Hadji Bakara, student-to-be. Photography by Joey Silberhorn.

Pledge drive

Help Woodlawn's Blackstone Bicycle Works collect a cool $20,000 toward educating youth.

Bike-pic.jpgAnonymous donors can really kick-start a community into donating to a worthy cause, like bike repair and educating youth. This press release will get you up to speed on just such a specifically-worded cause: "An anonymous foundation has just awarded Blackstone Bicycle Works, the Experimental Station's youth education program, a $5,000 matching grant for each of 2010 and 2011! To receive the grant, Experimental Station must bring in at least $5,000 in donations from NEW donors each year." Sweet!

Blackstone Bike Works employees, volunteers, and kids aged 9-16 from Woodlawn (who earn a bike of their own with 25 hours of work) refurbish and sell old bikes and repair or tune up others at its workshop on 61st Street and Blackstone Avenue, as well as on campus each fall and spring. The bikes they sell are inexpensive and sturdy and repair is cheap, too, and the Blackstone Bike sticker is common on bikes parked outside University buildings.

What more do you need to know to kick this fundraiser into high gear? Here's the link again: Donate!

Asher Klein, '11

July 30, 2010

On the air

Or, .-. --- ... -. . .-. .----. ... .-. .- -.. .. --- .-. . -.. --- ..- -... -

Rosner.jpg“There’s a radio teletype station on in the Persian Gulf,” observes Jonathan Rosner, the professor of physics who’s showing me around the oversized closet in the Research Institutes (RI) building that houses the University of Chicago Amateur Radio Society office. “Let’s see if we can decode something.” A computer translates a bewildering series of beeps into an equally bewildering string of characters. Rosner points out a few of the relevant details: an operator with call sign W3CC is calling a station from Oman, A41OO. Another American operator, KK5OQ, joins in.

This is the world of amateur radio, where hobbyists transmit radio signals of every conceivable variety—Morse code, teletype, voice signals, even television—to each other around the globe. In a world where the Internet has made Dakar as easy to contact as Dayton, the appeal isn’t just the ability to communicate. Amateurs—or hams, as they’re often dubbed—enjoy the challenge of finding just the right frequency and weather conditions to make contact with strangers in another state, or on another continent. Getting a license isn't hard; just pass a written test and pay a small testing fee, and the FCC will give you a call sign. (Having earned my license just last month, I can say that anyone can do it, though it does help to know some physics; by coincidence, Rosner was one of my physics professors in college.)

Rosner has been a radio ham since he earned his first license in 1953 when he was 11 years old. Using the antennas atop the RI, he’s contacted other hams operating as far away as Estonia—by bouncing a signal off the moon's surface—and as close as Ryerson Labs on the main quadrangles. In 1993 he used the amateur radio bands to establish a communications link with University astronomers in Antarctica.

Over the past two decades, Rosner’s been part of the University of Chicago Amateur Radio Society. The club, though intermittently dormant, has a long provenance—it was ejected from its original location in Eckhart Hall to provide space for the Manhattan Project. Today, though, you can count its members on one hand.

Rosner takes me up to the roof, where the club’s antennas are mounted. Incredibly, there are 11 of them up there, each designed to take advantage of a different wavelength. “Well, that’s all going to end,” he says matter-of-factly. The RI is slated to be emptied this year and demolished the next, to make way for the new William Eckhardt Research Center. In the meantime, the radios will be moving across the street to a temporary office in the Kersten Physics Teaching Center. The quarters will be even tighter, access to the office will be more restricted by building hours, and the loss of some of the antennas means giving up transmitting on certain frequencies.

So if you happen to be listening to the amateur radio frequencies, keep an ear open for Rosner, who might be using his own call sign of WO9S or the club’s call sign, N9UC. And if you hear a tentative transmission from a KC9STH, that’ll be me, trying out my new radio license.


Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

Rosner (top) searches the radio spectrum for other transmissions; a display of QSL cards—each confirming a successful two-way radio contact with the U of C Amateur Radio Society—from around the world. Photography by Benjamin Recchie.

Something's cooking at the White House

Having taken the heat of what might just be the hottest kitchen in America, White House chef Sam Kass, U-High’98, AB’04, just got a promotion.

sam-kass_1.jpgWith a history degree from the University of Chicago and no formal culinary training, Sam Kass isn’t your typical presidential chef. But cooking isn’t all he’s brought to the executive branch—in the year and a half since he first joined Obama’s administration as an assistant White House chef, Kass has forged a role for himself as a key adviser of nutrition policy, especially for children. So Kass’s quiet promotion to Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives wasn’t a huge surprise; he’s already been helping Michelle Obama design her ambitious food-policy agenda, including the Let’s Move! campaign to fight childhood obesity.

Kass's career with the Obamas started when he became their personal cook in Chicago roughly two years before the family's move to the White House. Since then he's founded a private-chef service, reshaped the White House garden, and even appeared on Top Chef to advocate healthier school lunches. And, incidentally, People magazine confirms that he's gorgeous, calling him one of "Barack's Beauties." ("The halls of power never looked so good!") It seems the U of C might be establishing itself as a hotbed of good looks.

Burke Frank, '11

Kass, presidential chef—and so much more. Photography from inevitabletable.com.

About July 2010

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

June 2010 is the previous archive.

August 2010 is the next archive.

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

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