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May 2011 Archives

May 2, 2011

Raiders of the lost cornerstone

Just what did Enrico Fermi put in that time capsule, anyway?

By Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

The University campus is about to lose a long-time fixture, the Research Institutes building at Ellis Avenue and 57th Street. The RI, as it was called, was built just after World War II as a home for the children of the Manhattan Project: the Institute for Nuclear Research (now the Enrico Fermi Institute) and the Institute for the Study of Metals (now the James Franck Institute). But now more than six decades old and obsolete, the building is coming down this year to make way for the shiny new William Eckhardt Research Center.

In razing the RI, a minor campus mystery will be solved: just what did Enrico Fermi put in the cornerstone time capsule in 1949? Secrets from the Manhattan Project? Laura Fermi's meatball recipe? A singing cartoon frog? Maybe nothing at all?

You can find out during Alumni Weekend (you are coming to Alumni Weekend, right?) on Thursday, June 2, at 4 p.m., when the Physical Sciences Division will ceremonially open the time capsule. But in the meantime, write your best guesses in in the comments below or at our Facebook discussion. Anyone who gets it right will earn themselves a bit of U of C swag, courtesy of the Magazine.

Photo courtesy of the Archival Photographic Files, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

May 3, 2011

After bin Laden: now what?

UChicago terrorism expert Robert Pape and PhD candidate Jenna Jordan discuss the implications of the al Qaeda leader’s death.

By Amy Braverman Puma


The afternoon press conference had begun about five minutes before I slipped into the Gleacher Center lounge. I missed the statement by suicide-terrorism expert Robert Pape, PhD'88, about what Osama bin Laden's death could mean (if it was anything like what he had told several news outlets Monday morning, it was that bin Laden's death offered an opportunity to seriously scale down the war against terrorism). Now Jenna Jordan, AM'03, one of Pape's doctoral students at the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, was addressing the handful of local Chicago reporters and TV cameras. Jordan, who studies how "leadership decapitation" affects terrorist organizations, said killing a group's leader "rarely brings about the demise of a terrorist group."

Jordan's research (pdf) has shown that terrorist organizations that are more than 20 years old, have more than 500 members, and are religious (rather than separatist or otherwise motivated) are the most stable and the hardest to dismantle. Al Qaeda, she said, fits the bill, indicating that in the case of bin Laden, "decapitation alone is not likely to be effective." (Read Jordan's editorial from today's Chicago Tribune. —Ed)

In fact, targeting such an organization's leader "can actually increase their resilience" and retaliatory attacks, Jordan said. In 2004, for example, when Israeli air strikes killed high-profile Hamas leaders, the group retaliated and gained support, winning Palestinian elections soon after. (So the answer, to get back to Pape's point that I missed but was now implied, is to pull out of Afghanistan quickly.)

After the two researchers' brief statements, they opened the floor to questions. Pape, the author of Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It, argued that getting American ground forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan would decrease attacks. Keeping troops there fuels anger and helps terrorist groups recruit. "If we can lessen hostility toward the US," he said, "we lessen support for the organization itself." Because suicide organizations by nature always need more members, they "depend on the next generation," Pape said. "Walk-in volunteers are motivated by anger about the presence of ground forces." In Iraq, he noted, as the United States has withdrawn troops, the number of attacks has fallen.

Finding bin Laden, Pape noted, was "an intelligence problem," not a military one. "Once you have accurate intelligence, you don't need lots of people on the ground." The United States should take this opportunity, he argued, to get much of the military out and keep a smaller, smarter presence in place.

Robert Pape and Jenna Jordan speak with reporters at the Gleacher Center.

Q&A with the bassist of Squat the Condos

Alan Mendelsohn, '12, talks to UChiBLOGo about college life as a rocker.

By Asher Klein, '11


One of a few University of Chicago bands currently playing on campus, Squat the Condos is very excited for you to hear their second EP, We Should Be Together, which they've put online for download.

The line-up is Coby Ashpis, ’13, guitar and vocals; David Crespo, ’12, guitar; Etan Heller, ’13, drums; and Alan Mendelsohn, ’12, bass. They’ve been playing for a year-and-a-half, since they formed in the basement of Max Palevsky, and claim that no other band plays as many shows in Hyde Park as they do—from house parties to official University events, like a Green Campus Initiative's "No Trash Bash."

UChiBLOGo sat down with Mendelsohn to find out what it’s like to be in a UChicago band, how they balance school and music, and where their name comes from.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow did you guys find each other?
QandA_ADrop.jpgMe and David were suite-mates our freshman year, so the University found us.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow would you describe your sound?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe always say on our description, “fresh and dynamic,” but it is kind of like that. It’s kind of like power-pop. It’s hard to classify genre-wise; it’s always dangerous to do that. We have kind of a fun, energetic, lively sound. ... I was thinking about this recently, and bands just have a sound. It comes naturally. I can’t think of a band that I listen to that doesn’t have their own sound, like the Strokes have that Strokes sound, the White Stripes have their sound. Coby writes the songs, and he’s a really distinct and good songwriter ... and everyone in the band puts their own two cents in.
QandA_QDrop.jpgDo you have any inspirations?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe usually say the Pixies, early Weezer. We like the Flaming Lips a lot.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhen did you first start playing shows?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe practiced for the first couple of months [in Fall 2009] to try to get a set in order to play. We started to play shows by winter quarter, I think, infrequently. We played a house party at [fraternity] AEII once, I think we played a birthday party or something. A couple things here and there, and then we played the Battle of the Bands in the spring, some other shows in the spring. At some point we played off campus. We played at Cal’s Bar.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow do you guys balance schoolwork and music? Is it tough?
QandA_ADrop.jpgEveryone at UChicago has to devote most of their time to doing their schoolwork, so Monday through Thursday we’re generally working. Friday night is usually when we practice. Sometimes we’ll have a show one of those nights, and we’ll practice sometime during the week to prepare for that. One practice a week for a couple of hours is not really that much. Recording was a little bit more time. It’s a sizeable time commitment, but now that we have our 15-song set list and we know our songs, it’s not an ongoing time commitment, now it’s just fun. We get to play.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhere’d you play April 15-17?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe played at the Pepperland [an apartment building on 57th and Harper], which is one of our favorite shows yet. Every time we get invited to play a show, we look at the Facebook event and there’ll be 300 people attending and we’ll say, “Aw yeah, this’ll be our best show yet!” And there’s no one there. ... [At the Pepperland] Coby had this brilliant idea to run this surge protector and strip through a [basement] window and into another surge protector—essentially an extension cord. So we set up all of our stuff out in the courtyard, and there’s 150 people surrounding us. There’s no stage, just us. ... I think live bands should be more a part of parties.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhere did your name come from?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe were struggling so hard to come up with a name second year. There was a long time where we were not named, and it just got to a point where it was ridiculous. We wanted to be serious, we needed a name. Finally, Coby saw graffitied somewhere, “Squat the condos.” Originally when you Googled it, there’s some kind of anarchist rap artist in Chicago named Squat the Condos. You can find it, but I’ve never listened to it. (It’s the name of NY rapper Propaganda Anonymous’s album. —Ed.)
QandA_QDrop.jpgYou mentioned being serious about the band. How do you do that here?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThat is tough. We try to play as many shows as we can. We recorded our EP at the beginning of the year. We wanted to get good recordings of all our stuff. ... We spent like three full days on it. That was A Ghoul since Lollipop EP, but it didn’t really do much. We weren’t happy about it. This year we had all these songs, and we wanted to do a more serious recording. We were going to do it ourselves, but all of a sudden we got an e-mail from Eric Mayer of Lakesigns. They have a house in Pilsen where three of them live, and in the basement, they have a recording studio setup with an 8-track cassette recorder and a huge mixing table, all stuff they bought on eBay. It was pretty fantastic. ... That’s what we did all of last quarter. We basically played no shows—only two or three—and we recorded every weekend. We’d go up to Pilsen every day, and Friday night. It was a freezing basement. It was us, Eric Mayer, and his dog.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow do you guys plan to make it get big?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThat’s the problem. Putting out the EP and then sending it out to everyone we possible can. ... At the same time, it’s been pretty successful, in terms of being able to play shows on campus. It’s a lot of fun. We didn’t really start it to become famous, and we’re all working on getting internships and applying to law school. If something were to happen between now and when we graduate that made it seem like it would be worth investing more time into it, then we would do that.

Catch Squat the Condos Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on Bartlett Quad for a campus battle of the bands, and at the Elbo Room on May 4 for a city-wide battle.

Squat the Condos squatting an elevator.

Photo courtesy of Squat the Condos.

May 6, 2011

Rated R for nonviolence

A new documentary on the Freedom Rides, set to air May 16 on PBS, makes its Chicago debut at the DuSable Museum

By Lydialyle Gibson


It was just a few minutes before showtime when I arrived at the DuSable Museum's cavernous auditorium on a Saturday afternoon last month. The museum was screening a new documentary, Freedom Riders, about the hundreds of young activists who boarded southbound buses in 1961 to challenge segregation in interstate transit and met with violence along the way. The place was packed, but I found a seat up front next to an African American woman and her son, who was perhaps 7 or 8 years old. “Now, be still,” she told him as the lights darkened. “Pay attention.”

He did. His eyes were wide as saucers when the Freedom Riders’ bus was burned near Anniston, Alabama; when they were attacked at a bus station in Montgomery and the police stood by; when the Freedom Riders were sent to prison in droves at Mississippi’s infamous Parchman Farm.

The documentary, which airs May 16 on PBS’s American Experience, follows civil-rights activists’ path into the Deep South aboard Greyhound and Trailways buses. (Chicago alumna Carol Ruth Silver, AB’60, JD’64, was among them.) The film doesn’t shrink from the breathtaking savagery of the racism they faced. More than once, the DuSable Museum's audience recoiled or gasped or shook their heads in unison.

After the film, University of Chicago historian Adam Green moderated a Q&A with director Stanley Nelson and three of the Freedom Riders: Thomas Armstrong, Genevieve Hughes Houghton, and Dan Stevens. They talked about their earliest awakenings to racial prejudice and the experiences that motivated them to activism. “Any individual can do good,” Stevens said. “I’m not anybody special.”

They talked about school-age bullying, economic inequality, and how the recent nonviolent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia mirrored 1960s civil-rights struggles. “Once again you see the power people have to make change,” Nelson said. Stevens called nonviolence a tool that Americans should redeploy for social justice. “I don’t think nonviolence abandoned us; I think we abandoned nonviolence,” he said. “And I think once again we’re going to need it.”

“Being raised up in Mississippi,” added Armstrong, who helped register black voters there between 1958 and 1961, “it made absolutely no sense to use violence. Because it meant you were dead the next day. Nonviolence to me was not a tactic; it was a way of life. If you stepped beyond those boundaries for blacks at that time, there were consequences.”

Toward the end of the Q&A, Nelson started talking about his children, and about the importance of helping them understand their own history. “We have to figure out how to talk to our kids,” Nelson told listeners. “One thing that happens, especially with African Americans, is that we want to shield our kids from the racism in this country, but then when they get old enough, it’s too late.” They don't want to hear about history.

“Uh-huh,” chimed more than one audience member. “That’s right.”

“And also,” Nelson continued, “we have to say, ‘It’s up to you all now.’ All revolutions are made by young people. They just are.”

The final question of the afternoon came from a young boy, perhaps 12 years old, at the back of the auditorium. Standing on his toes to reach the microphone, he asked: “Did you guys ever lose hope, or ever think of giving up?”

There was a pause. Then Armstrong said, “Yes. Progress is not as fast as you wish it to be, and you can become disenchanted about it. But in Mississippi, we opened up a closed society, a closed education system, and a closed political system.”

Added Stevens: “Hope never gave up on us.”

After the screening, director Stanley Nelson and Freedom Riders Thomas Armstrong, Genevieve Hughes Houghton, and Dan Stevens (left to right) take questions from the audience and from U of C historian Adam Green.

May 13, 2011

Pipe dream comes true

Acclaimed organist Paul Jacobs performs at Rockefeller Chapel.

By Kyle Gorden, AB'00

Paul Jacobs is one of those people whose name can’t be mentioned without using superlatives. The New York Times called him a “wizard”; the Wall Street Journal said he had “mental clarity, stamina, and virtuosity…in abundance”; and the Atlanta Journal Constitution described him as “an artist of boundless talent.” But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Jacobs is his instrument: the pipe organ. As Gramophone put it, “If there is such a thing as an organ prodigy, Paul Jacobs seems to be it.”

On Sunday, May 15, Jacobs takes the reins of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel’s restored 1928 E. M. Skinner organ for a concert in the Brian Gerrish Organ Performance Series, performing Maurice Duruflé’s Suite Op. 5, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Gigue Fugue, Max Reger’s Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue, Op. 57 (Inferno), and the Chicago premiere of Reverie by contemporary American composer Wayne Oquin.

At just 33, Jacobs has long since taken the organ world by storm. He joined the faculty of the Juilliard School in 2003 and became chair of the organ department in 2004, one of the youngest faculty appointees in the school’s history. His performance awards include first prize in the 1998 Albert Schweitzer National Organ Competition, and he is the only organist to receive the Harvard Musical Association’s Arthur W. Foote Award or a Grammy Award for best instrumental soloist performance (without orchestra).

Known for his virtuoso marathon performances of the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen (spanning nine hours) and of Bach (at an astounding 18 hours), Jacobs is also noted as an expressive performer. “Smooth, sinuous, flowing, tender: Those are not adjectives always applied to organ playing, but they fit when Jacobs is the one doing it,” wrote the Washington Post in reviewing a Kennedy Center performance that “show[ed] the open passion of a young man intoxicated with music, longing for big statements, lovingly lingering over a golden fugue and ending with a gentle chord of submission, like a bowed head.”

Tickets for the 3 p.m. concert Sunday will be available at the door: $10 for general admission, $5 for seniors, free for students. For more information visit the event’s page or call 773.702.2100.

May 18, 2011

The May Day myth

No, Dialogo doesn't cast a hammer and sickle shadow on May 1—or on any other day of the year.

By Benjamin Recchie, AB'03

Dialogo sketchAs part of this year's Scav Hunt item #277, a kind of Scav-within-Scav (pdf) designed to set the world record for biggest scavenger hunt, contestants were asked to find which building on the quads has a Ferrari out front. It was a trick question, of course: the building is Albert Pick Hall for International Studies, and the "Ferrari" is not an exotic sports car but the 1971 statue Dialogo, by then-University artist in residence and professor of art Virginio Ferrari. As a generation of U of C tour guides have pointed out, Dialogo is the abstract sculpture surreptitiously designed to cast a shadow of a hammer and sickle, the international symbol of communism, on Pick's east wall on May 1—a kind of leftist finger in the eye to the University's famously capitalistic Economics Department. It's a compelling and much-retold story, the only problem being that it is not true.

The debunker of this myth is Will Vaughan, a fourth-year in the College, president of the Ryerson Astronomical Society, and self-described sundial enthusiast. Vaughan has long been suspicious of the hammer-and-sickle story. "The sun's altitude at noon changes very slightly from day to day, even near the equinoxes, so Dialogo's shadow should still resemble a hammer and sickle on April 30 or May 2," he point out. Also, the sun in the same place in the sky at noon twice a year. Since May 1 is 52 days before the summer solstice, the sun would shine at the same angle 52 days after the solstice as well. Thus, he says, "Dialogo should cast the same shadow at noon on August 14 as it does at noon on May 1." There's also the question of what "noon" is. Is it 12:00 local time, or is it solar noon, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky (which is at 12:48 PM on May 1)? Finally, he says, he saw the shadow for himself: "The sickle's OK, but the hammer's not right at all!"

While proving that the statue didn't cast such a shadow in practice may have been good enough at some universities, Vaughan decided (in true UChicago fashion) to prove it couldn't work in theory, either. First, he built a simple model of the statue in Google Sketchup, then verified its accuracy by simulating its shadow for May 1 and comparing that to his observations. He started building a more detailed model "when I realized that the geometry of the sculpture ruled out the possibility of its shadow ever looking much like the Communist hammer and sickle."

"There are three problems with the shadow," Vaughan says. "The sickle curves too much at its end, the hammer's handle crosses the sickle too close to the sickle's handle, and the hammer doesn't really look like a hammer. The third problem is the important one—the geometry of the hammer arms of Dialogo makes it impossible for these arms to cast a more hammer-like shadow." Instead of a hammer and sickle, the shadow resembles...well, I'm not sure what, exactly. (A sickle and two crossed golf clubs? "Duffers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your bogies!")

Vaughan says that if Ferrari had really wanted the shadow to resemble a hammer and sickle, all he would have had to do was swap the short element on the northeast corner of the sculpture with the tall hammer-like one on the northwest corner. He has helpfully provided a more detailed explanation with diagrams (PDF).

If you're still not convinced by Vaughan's research, then maybe you'll believe the words of the artist himself. In the May/June 1971 University of Chicago Magazine, Ferrari says:

"What I want to call to mind in this sculpture are the four corners of the world. Three of the four forms emerge from strong, geometric elements, representing the diversity, pain, and depression in the life on any continent. They rise up slowly and become soft and delicate; two of the forms almost touch in the center in a caressing manner. The third, almost a circle, hovers over the two, to suggest protection and security for the life of tomorrow. The fourth form represents a big wave, symbolic of the water that surrounds and unites all the continents."

As for the rumor that the sculpture scared the Economics Department out of the new Pick Hall, Vaughan debunked that, too. With the help of the University of Chicago Library's Special Collections, he determined that the Economics Department was never based in Pick Hall, and never planned to move there. In any case, stressing the unity of the four corners of the world doesn't seem as Marxist as it does internationalist, which makes sense when you realize that the building's namesake, Albert Pick Jr., was the former chairman of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. So much for that.

May 19, 2011

What a circus

Chicago arts supporters stepped right up for a night of female-produced entertainment.

By Katherine Muhlenkamp

On a rainy April evening in Humboldt Park, I arrived at the Kimball Arts Center for the annual Ag47 arts showcase. An arts-mentorship program founded last spring by Virginia Killian Lund, AB’04, Katie Hottinger, AB’05, and Cara Clifford, AB’07, along with five other local women, Ag47 sponsors art workshops for Logan Square girls ages 11 to 16.

In addition to improv sketches and other live entertainment, the circus-themed showcase featured artwork by the women and girls of Ag47, including colorful paper-mâché animal masks, an exhibit of assorted “healing potions” in a wooden medicine cabinet, and postcard collages described in the Winter 2011 Core. All the art was for sale, and I snagged a marvelous mixed-media portrait of a half-zebra, half-woman. “Ugh, I wanted that one,” someone groaned from behind.

Gloating over my acquisition, I hustled off and caught a few scenes from the event:


The most popular “circus booth” was Poetry Kapow! Participants shared facts about their lives, which the Ag47 scribes used to create personalized poems.


A visitor contemplates the postcard collages, created out of red and yellow tissue paper and black-and-white images of circus animals and performers. On one collage an elephant sported a long, rolled-up piece of gold paper extending from his trunk and small paper flowers tucked behind his ears.


Paper-mâché animal masks lined the wall.


May 20, 2011

Maroon Lens: Ben Kolak

Maroon Lens is an occasional column about alumni filmmakers. In this installment, Ben Kolak, director of Schizcago, discusses experimental comedy, anarchy, and Valois.

By Ruth E. Kott, AM'07


Ben Kolak, AB'06, was one of three alumni filmmakers to produce Scrappers, a heart-warming documentary about two men making a living scavenging Chicago alleyways for metal. Now he's cowritten and directed an "experimental-comedy" film, Schizcago (pronounced _skĭts'-kä'gō_), about a group of privileged friends in Chicago who spend their days "fak[ing] their way into clinical trials" and promoting themselves as "corporate youth consultants," and their nights partying. Don't watch the trailer at work or in a public library: one second in, you see bare nipples.

On May 20 and 21 the film has its first public showing—a preview, Kolak says in an e-mail, "mainly for those involved in making the film and to get some press," and to "drum up interest for online distribution and a rock band-like tour of the film at artist spaces, bars, etc, this autumn (which are cheaper/smaller/easier to book than movie theaters.)" If you're in Chicago, stop by the Building Stage (412 N. Carpenter Street) at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights to see the film.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow is making a fiction film different from a documentary?

QandA_ADrop.jpgI’ll begin by saying that risk-taking makes for good cinema: straying from traditional expectations of how projects are conceptualized, made and marketed. Documentaries usually involve small crews, so the main task is a personal one, of finding and relating to novel subjects and differentiating one's vision. On the other hand, since fiction films require a lot of people to make, the task is more a pragmatic and communal one, of teaming up with skilled collaborators who are up for working 14-hour days at minimum wage yet who are also committed to the nature of the experiment.
In terms of marketing, documentaries have an instant claim of educational and cultural value and an appeal to truth, reality, and intelligence, which can be used by cultural institutions and media outlets to market them, in contrast to studio films or television shows; whereas fictional films are more apt to be dismissed as entertainment, even when they engage serious issues with artistic legitimacy. In my experience, until one is able to get an agent or studio, marketing fictional films is really, really hard, which is why with Schizcago we're sticking to small venues (art galleries, bars) to build a base audience for online distribution and garner enough attention to make possible bigger projects in the future.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat does "experimental comedy" mean in the context of this film?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe took a lot of risks, and we failed a lot, but I think the moments where the film works more than justify the strike-outs. One of the main risks in Schizcago was genre-mixing: changing, without any cues, from romantic comedy to science fiction to avante-garde modes of address. This made for some funny moments, which are also really hard to describe in an interview.

Working on such a tight budget and schedule, I gave total freedom to the art director, Daniel Evans, to forge his own style of hipster/drifter aesthetic, and I encouraged the talent to go with their first impulse in regards to performance style. So as director I was more charged with making sense of their art rather than directing it. We worked with what we had ready to hand in closets and dumpsters and through contacts to get props and access to locations. To move more quickly I had the cinematographer respond to the action as though it were a documentary rather than working through explicit storyboards and camera moves. All this gives the film a raw, often laughably amateur look and style, and that's a big part of where we want the comedy to come from: the audience ought to have a good chuckle making sense of how and why this film came to be.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhere did the idea come from?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThe film is a mock-ethnography of privileged urban youth who participate in clinical trials and work as youth consumer consultants to pay their rent and support their art projects. I thought about the project as a documentary about how my friends got by and gave meaning to their lives, but twisted to be even more uncanny and socially relevant. We were striving for a surreal aesthetic: to create a world similar enough to our own to elicit empathy and reflection from our audience but different enough to seed new possibilities for thought about wage relations, the pharmaceutical industry, retail marketing, and the social experience of contemporary American youth. My most explicit consideration of the issues in the film began with two classes at U of C: Professor Jean Comaroff's Medicine and Culture and Professor W. J. T Mitchell's Theories of Media. But my biggest influence was U of C alum David Graeber, AB'87, PhD'96, who was kicked out of the anthropology department at Yale a few years ago for being an anarchist. I had the cast read and deliver reports on two of his books: Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology and Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat was the casting like?
QandA_ADrop.jpgCasting took a few months, we saw a lot of great people from DePaul’s Theater School (two of which we cast, Christina Nieves and Zach Kennedy) as well as Northwestern, Columbia College (one of whom we cast, Molly Plunk), and many other established folks in Chicago’s theater community, including Ricardo Gamboa, who plays one of the leads, Morris.
QandA_QDrop.jpgDid you know Angeline Gragasin, AB'07, who plays Lacey in the film?

QandA_ADrop.jpgRicardo had worked with Angeline Gragasin at Redmoon Theater, and while I had known Angeline from U of C, I didn’t think she would be nerdy/sheepish enough to play Lacey, who was supposed to come off as kind of the third wheel of the sexy lesbian couple Renee and Sandy. But Ricky said I had a skewed vision of what nerdy was, coming from the U of C, and that Angeline was more than nerdy enough and would be perfect for the role. After having been really involved in University Theater, Angeline had kind of stopped acting to focus on being a web guru, but when I met with her and told her about how unconventional the project was, she was really into it, particularly the fact that she would be playing a character who got eyeballs implanted in her wrists as part of a military experiment and had cubist vision, and that she would get to do some of this cubist cinematography herself.

QandA_QDrop.jpgThere's a scene in the movie that takes place in Valois. What happened in that scene?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThe scene in Valois involves three of the characters, Renee, Sandy, and Lacey, who wait for patrons to get up and leave, and then run to tables to eat the leftovers before the busboys take the food away. They’re broke because they’ve recently spent all their money making LED throwies and setting up pirate radio broadcast antennas. While in Valois, Renee and Sandy convince Lacey to partake in a new caper.

May 24, 2011

Daley show

Braced for more urban-policy fights, the former Chicago mayor begins a five-year Harris School appointment July 1.

By Jason Kelly

Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, whom President Zimmer introduced Tuesday as a new distinguished senior fellow at the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, will coordinate ten guest lectures about urban issues. Daley put the University's task, and his impending part in it, in more pugnacious terms: "to combat these problems that gnaw at the fabric of cities."

He has come to the right place to continue the urban-policy fights that marked his political career. "The tradition of the University is to have vehement and sometimes destructive argument about every topic that's raised," Harris School Dean Colm O'Muircheartaigh said. "We feel that [Daley's] training as mayor for the last 22 years has equipped him well to participate in our discussions."

Saying he only hoped the University could offer the sort of bracing confrontations that Daley took on as mayor, O'Muircheartaigh added, "I feel confident, having been dean for only a couple of years, that the faculty and the students will provide all the trouble he could ever hope to face."

Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley addresses a gathering of scholars, researchers, urban planners and other City of Chicago leaders for the first Future of the City event held Feb. 1 at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Photo by Dan Dry

Writing on the stall

A graffiti list of undergrad dreams.

By Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

Unlike Quinn Dombrowski, AM’06, I am an amateur graffiti appreciator. I only occasionally read it. I never document it.

Until last week. I found the following “Before I die” graffiti, scribbled on the back of the door of the first-floor women’s bathroom in the Reynolds Club, to be oddly moving.

This bathroom is used almost exclusively by young people, and their collaborative bucket list reflects that. Some of the dreams listed are grandiose. Some are small and reasonable. A few are just really, really bad ideas.

I stopped at 24. There were more. I had sat in the stall, fully clothed and audibly scribbling, long enough.

I had to make a second trip for the photo.

I remain merely an amateur.

Before I die, I want to…

  1. Publish a play
  2. [Sleep with] Charlie Sheen (later commentary added: "Rethink this one")
  3. Find inner peace
  4. Finish a play
  5. Be thanked in an Oscars speech
  6. See the Earth from space
  7. Fall in love
  8. Recover
  9. Love my job
  10. Swim w/ dolphins
  11. Have there be the world I want to live in
  12. Feel like I’ve lived the dreams I have today
  13. Make a pilgrimage
  14. Purchase a $12,000 camera
  15. Have a Wikipedia page on me
  16. Save a life
  17. Earn a Pulitzer, a Guggenheim, and a National Book Award
  18. Travel the world
  19. Transition
  20. Give birth
  21. Make the Dean’s list
  22. Figure out what I want
  23. Plant a garden
  24. Get a pet lizard

May 26, 2011

Waiting for super-cops

In South Africa, public fear of violence feeds a popular obsession with crime.

By Elizabeth Station

“Our ideas about crime cannot be separated from our idea of truth,” anthropologist Jean Comaroff argued in this year's Ryerson Lecture. In contemporary South Africa, many citizens believe that the country has turned into “a Hobbesian war zone.” Post-apartheid, said Comaroff, there is the widespread conviction, “especially among whites and the new black middle class, that policing is ineffective, that an economy of violence and corruption has taken root, that civil and moral order can no longer be presumed.”

Comaroff based her remarks on The Truth About Crime, a book-in-progress that explores South Africans’ fixation with crime and detection in both their personal lives and public culture. She is coauthoring the study with her husband, John Comaroff; both are distinguished professors of anthropology who divide their time between Chicago and the University of Cape Town.

“South Africa exhibits high rates of lawlessness, to be sure,” Comaroff told listeners in Max Palevsky Auditorium. Yet statistically, violent crime kills fewer South Africans than do AIDS, heart disease, and car accidents. Stoked by sensational headlines, blaring car alarms, and TV crime shows, the public’s fear of rape and murder is disproportionate to risk. “South Africans are captivated by images of law and disorder, the more dire the better,” she said. “Many remain convinced that democracy has, with tragic irony, deprived them of their basic right to safety and protection.”

As anxiety grows, citizens have also embraced unconventional crime fighters and policing techniques. "Diviner-detective” and police colonel “Donker” Jonker, for example, created an occult-related crimes unit in 1992 to investigate homicides stemming from witchcraft. Next came the Scorpions, a now-defunct, FBI-trained police force that investigated smuggling and government corruption and staged televised raids on the homes of African National Congress politicians like Jacob Zuma. In the rural northwest—far from the national spotlight—the Comaroffs studied a case in which local police investigated a poor family’s complaint of assault by a tokoloshe, which, “as all South Africans know, is a squat, hairy, witch's familiar." Police didn’t solve the crime, but they called on both the media and a prophet-healer to help.

Such cases “bespeak a loss of trust in the will or the capacity of the state to enforce order,” Comaroff argued. Yet South Africa is not the only place where the public is obsessed with crime and detection—or where “the complex interplay of the state and the market has rendered authority ambiguous, inscrutable, ghostly.” In present-day Egypt—and previously, in post-socialist Central Europe and nascent Latin American democracies—political change ushered in "periods of moral ambiguity, legal uncertainty, and social disorder," said Comaroff. "In this light, South Africa is decidedly unexceptional."

The super-cop, or diviner-detective, "may be an apt embodiment of the paradoxes of law, order, and sovereignty in places and times rapidly outrunning the logos of modernity," she concluded. "But this figure also personifies a persisting faith in the possibility of a legible world."

On May 27–28 Jean and John Comaroff will participate in UChicago's African Studies Workshop spring conference, “Time, Place, and the Problem of Uncertainty in Africa." See the conference website for details.

Photo by Dan Dry

May 27, 2011

Pierce II (and other phantom buildings)

Part six of our Paper Campus series.

By Benjamin Recchie, AB'03

Welcome to another installment of the Paper Campus, in which I dig into the University of Chicago Library's archives for designs of buildings that were rejected, modified, or otherwise never were. This week, let's look at the unbuilt buildings of the north side of campus, starting with this gem:


Yes, it's Pierce Hall's long-lost twin. Pierce II, as it was semi-officially known, may be the most obvious unbuilt structure on campus, since its absence is so conspicuous: the exterior of Pierce's dining hall terminates in a blank brick wall abutting a parking lot where the second tower should have gone. The plan for a second building also explains why the entrance to Pierce is sited halfway into the block—it would have served as a central entrance to both towers, as this view, looking north to 55th Street from University Avenue, shows.

(As an aside, Pierce was built as a men's dormitory, at almost the same time the University was building an all-female dorm in the form of Woodward Court. But that topic deserves an entire blog post to itself.)

Why was Pierce II never built? A 1960 feature on the new dormitory in the University of Chicago Magazine stated it was the University's intention to eventually build a second tower at the time. In fact, we can glean a few clues about Pierce II from a completely different proposal by the architect Edward Barnes, in 1967, for a new set of quadrangles north of 56th Street:


In this view, 56th Street is in the foreground, and a pedestrianized Ellis Avenue runs through the center. A 1967 Magazine article describes three components to the proposed North Quadrangles: a Student Village, with 800 beds and commensurate study and dining space; a Center for the Arts, consisting of a theater, music building, arts center, and the then-new Smart Museum; and a new athletic facility, complete with a gym, athletic fields, tennis courts, and a natatorium. (The latter part isn't quite visible in this picture, so you'll just have to take my word for it that the athletic fields are at the left of this model.)

Now, here's how this relates to Pierce. This model clearly shows the Pierce II tower at the far right. (You can tell it's the unbuilt tower because the dining hall is barely visible to the right.) It's safe to assume then that it was still the University's intention to build Pierce II in addition to the North Quadrangles dorms as late as 1967. (The same Magazine article I referred to above mentions that there was a pressing need for dormitory space at the time, since urban renewal had eliminated much of Hyde Park's stock of student tenements affordable housing.) But the University gradually became less enthralled with the idea of a second tower: in 1970, a memo from University President Edward Levi stated bluntly "Architects admire Pierce Tower, but students don't."


Note in this overhead view the four central buildings cocked at 45 degree angles to the rest of our otherwise rectilinear campus. Also note the rooftop gardens—a very cool idea that was unfortunately never implemented and perhaps ahead of its time.

Nothing quite like this plan was ever built, which is a bit of a shame. The new gym and swimming pool were put off for more than three decades, although the relatively inexpensive athletic fields were built as promised. By 1970, spiraling cost estimates for the North Quadrangles prompted the University to send Barnes back to the drawing board for a more modest proposal for an arts complex:


Parts of this 1972 rendering of the Center for the Arts look familiar. There's the Smart Museum to the left, and the Cochrane-Woods Art Center is recognizable as part of the large central building. But the upper floors were never built, and the theater is much larger than the facility eventually built for the Court Theatre.


Here's a closer view of the complex, which the University had, in hope of a gift from Everett Kovler, named Marjorie Kovler Center for the Arts. (The name Kovler should sound familiar, since the family has given generously to the U of C; you might have heard of the Kovler Diabetes Center, the Marjorie B. Kovler Viral Oncology Laboratories, the Kovler Gymnasium at the Laboratory Schools, or the Everett Kovler Café in Chicago Booth’s Harper Center.) The construction of the Center for the Arts was divided into two phases. The first phase was CWAC and the Smart Museum; the second phase would have included a theater (again, in anticipation of a major gift from Albert Pick, called the Corinne Pick Theater), as well as an art library and music rehearsal spaces cantilevered over Cochrane-Woods.

The planned gifts from Kovler and Pick never came through; this, coupled with the tightening of the University budget in the early '70s and the inflation of the era meant that the University never completed phase II of the project. Only next year will some of the Center for the Arts' goals be realized, with the construction of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

Finally, what about the new dormitory space promised in 1960 and 1967? Nothing ever came of it. The U of C wouldn't commission a newly built dormitory until 2001.

Images courtesy of the Archival Photographic Files, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

About May 2011

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in May 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

April 2011 is the previous archive.

June 2011 is the next archive.

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

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