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Things That Happened, Things To Do: Week of May 13

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

dispatch_distressed-300x160Our regular recap of goings on at the College and a look ahead to events on the horizon. As always, we hope to call your attention to items that captured ours and alert you to events that you won’t want to miss. If you have a news item that you think we’d be interested in, drop us a line at middmag@middlebury.edu.

  • If you missed the Narrative Journalism Showcase on Tuesday, you still have a chance to listen to the amazing stories in the “How Did You Get Here?” series on middmag.com. Check out the trailer to get a taste of what’s in store!

  • Not only is Sue Halpern the director of the Narrative Journalism Fellowships, she is also the author of A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher.
    She talked to the folks at the Dish about what surprised her most as she visited nursing homes with her therapy dog, Pransky.

  • The Solar Decathlon team is hard at work on its entry for the competition next fall, Insite. Recently the Burlington Free Press highlighted the students as they worked to deconstruct a historic barn so they can repurpose the wood to use as siding for their house. Check their website to stay up to date on their progress!
  • The school year is winding down, but some athletic teams are still going strong. Both men’s and women’s tennis won their respective NCAA Regionals and are headed to the NCAA Quarterfinals. The women’s lacrosse team is making its 16th trip to the NCAA Final Four this weekend, and the women’s golf team is competing in the NCAA Championship in Destin, Fla.
  • Senior Andrew Ackerman has been working hard on this thesis project and as part of his research, he’s been training in extreme mixed martial arts. Recently he took part in an amateur fight night in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in his first competitive fight ever. And he won!

  • Finals begin on Wednesday, so it’s quiet on campus and things to do other than studying are scarce. Downtown, at 51 Main, good music is available as usual with a Blues Jam Wednesday night and Mint Julep on Friday night, performing an ecletic mix of swing and Latin rhythms.

  • Artist and photographer Edward Burtynsky is receiving an honorary Doctor of Arts from the College at Commencement on May 26. His exhibit, Nature Transformed, will be on display at the Museum of Art until June 9. If you haven’t seen it yet, you still have a few weeks to check it out!

Things That Happened, Things To Do: Week of May 6

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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Our regular recap of goings on at the College and a look ahead to events on the horizon. As always, we hope to call your attention to items that captured ours and alert you to events that you won’t want to miss. If you have a news item that you think we’d be interested in, drop us a line at middmag@middlebury.edu.

  • Midd alum Andrew Forsthoefel ’11 walked from Philadelphia to California, and his story was featured on NPR’s This American Life.
  • Laurie Essig shared her latest take on beauty-product advertising in her blog “Love, Inc.” at PsychologyToday.com, and it ain’t pretty
  • Harvard professor and tour de force political theorist Eric Nelson made an incredibly complex historical concept both graspable and engaging for a packed house during last Thursday’s Fulton Lecture in Dana. You can read about it and see the entire hour-plus talk here.
  • President Liebowitz sent a message to the College community this week reaffirming the College’s support for the construction of the natural gas pipeline project that will come through Addison County.
  • On Wednesday at 5 p.m., the women’s lacrosse team will host Castleton in a first-round NCAA game for its 19th tournament appearance in 20 years. Tickets are $3 for adults, $2 for students.
  • Make time on Friday at 8 p.m. to catch Alexander Twilight Artist in Residence Francois Clemmons for his final solo concert before he retires this month. The beloved tenor will take center stage at the Concert Hall in the Mahaney Center for the Arts, and it’s free!
  • Tuesday, May 14, is Arbor Day, and campus horticulturist Tim Parsons and student volunteers have plenty of activities planned–live music, tree tours, tree planting, food, a kids’ race–spelled out at go/arborday. Can’t make it? Enjoy our ligneous, leafy friends by virtually touring the trees here on campus.
  • Stop by Axinn 229 on Tuesday from 5–7 p.m. and check out this year’s “How Did You Get Here?” audio slideshows from the Narrative Journalism Fellows.

 

Things That Happened, Things To Do: Week of April 29

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

dispatch_distressed-300x160

Our regular recap of goings on at the College and a look ahead to events on the horizon. As always, we hope to call your attention to items that captured ours and alert you to events that you won’t want to miss. If you have a news item that you think we’d be interested in, drop us a line at middmag@middlebury.edu.

 

The Enigma of Alan Turing

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

UnknownEvery seat in the Orchard room of the Franklin Environmental Center was taken, and people were standing against the walls to hear mathematics professor Michael Olinick present the Carol Rifelj Faculty Lecture about Alan Turing—the scientist who helped save the British by breaking Germany’s cyphered codes during World War II, created computer science, and who later died of cyanide poisoning.

Professor Olinick did not disappoint. His multimedia presentation included pictures of Turing as a child in a sailor suit, a song about Turing, and a scene from Breaking the Code, a play about Turing by Hugh Whitemore.

“At the age of 23” said Olinick,  “Turing made the modern world possible.” And yet, until recently, he could have been “easily described as the most important person you’ve never heard of.”

Turing was born in London in 1912. He attended Sherborne School, where he was at the bottom of his class according to Olinick, preferring to study math on his own. He attended King’s College at Cambridge University as an undergraduate and received his PhD from Princeton. And during this time, he was laying the groundwork for computer science and artificial intelligence.

“He published relatively few papers in his lifetime,” Olinick said,  “but almost all of them are considered landmarks in their field.” At a very young age, he conceived of his Turing Machine, which could do possibly any mathematical computation. It used an infinitely long tape divided into squares that would be left blank or encoded with a one or a zero as the machine worked on a problem. Turing demonstrated that “anything computable could be computed by such a machine.” He also developed the Turing Test, which measured machine intelligence, including the ability to learn.

Olinick’s presentation included two artifacts from the WWII era—Enigma machines. These machines, which look like typewriters with an extra keyboard, were used to encipher messages. Tom Perera, an expert on “everything enigma” brought them for audience members to try out at the conclusion of the talk.

The Enigma machines used a series of rotors that could be interchanged and rearranged and were connected to a “plug board.” They could be configured in so many combinations that, for all practical purposes, they were nearly limitless.  When a letter was typed, it cycled through the rotors and emerged as a different letter altogether. To give the audience a sense of how complex deciphering the code was, Olinick tried to explain in terms people could grasp.

“Suppose you had a high-speed computer that could process 100 million configurations per second,” he said. “Imagine that we had a computer this fast that started running the day the universe was created and was running continuously ever since, examining different configurations of this machine, trying to find all of them—and among all of them, finding the correct ones. This machine, which has been running since the dawn of creation, would be 1/800,000 of the way through.” Yet, Turing broke the code.

But for all of his success, “Turing’s life took on the dimensions of a Shakespearian tragedy,” Olinick said. He was an openly gay man during a paranoid, unaccepting time. When he was young, his closest, dearest friend, probably his lover, died tragically just as they were about to go to Cambridge together. In 1952, he reported a burglary, and during the investigation the police discovered that Turing had a homosexual relationship, which he admitted. He was arrested, lost his security clearance, convicted, and subjected to chemical castration (estrogen injections).

Olinick said that the estrogen had a terrible effect on Turing, feminizing him and destroying his sexuality. He died in 1954 of cyanide poisoning. According to Olinick, it’s widely believed to have been suicide, but Turing did not leave a note and had been making future plans; he’d even just purchased new socks. Some speculate that his death could have been a political assassination. And his mother believed it was an accident, because he worked with cyanide.

As appreciation for Turing’s contributions and tribulations has grown in recent years, a “plethora of novels and short stories, five dramatic plays, three operas, a musical now on the London stage, and a monopoly set” have been devoted to Turing. The play Lovesong of the Electric Bear by Snoo Wilson, directed by Cheryl Faraone, debuted at Middlebury College in 2010. It was later performed by the Potomac Theater Project.

In the wake of public demands for restitution for Alan Turing, Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology in 2009. Printed on a handout at the lecture, it read in part, “Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time, and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair, and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. . . . This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality, and long overdue.”

 

Brainpower in Action: 2013 Spring Student Symposium

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last week ended on an impressive note, with more than 350 students sharing elements of their intensive and individual research at the seventh annual Spring Student Symposium. Like show-and-tell on steroids, the intellectually charged event showcases a year’s worth of work by students, including plenty of first-years and sophomores in addition to juniors and seniors. And their presentations showed immense maturity as well as facility of the topics at hand.

As things kicked off on Thursday evening at the Mahaney Center for the Arts, students, faculty, and staff enjoyed musical presentations, dance and theater performances, and a keynote address with actor and activist Cassidy Freeman ’05 (listen below).

On Friday, the Great Hall and adjacent classrooms of Bicentennial Hall were packed with the day’s full schedule of poster sessions and oral presentations, capped off with an evening reception and more music and theater performances.

Below is a slideshow that briefly captures the excitement of the event, followed by an audio clip of Freeman’s keynote address in its entirety.

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The 2013 Student Symposium kicked off the weekend in the Mahaney Center for the Arts Concert Hall with welcoming performances by a cappella groups the Mountain Ayres and the Mamajamas (pictured above).

Hear what actress and activist Cassidy Freeman ’05 had to say about Middlebury, creativity, and writing your personal mission statement:

The Conundrum of Jewish Identity

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

An expert in American Jewish studies, Professor Stephen J. Whitfield of Brandeis University, explained at the Hannah A. Quint Lectureship in Jewish Studies that two paradigms “and only two paradigms” have defined the place of Jews in the United States since the 1940s.

Professor Stephen Whitfield

Professor Stephen Whitfield

The first is the force of anti-Semitism that endured until the late 1960s, and the second is the rise of multiculturalism in the 1980s—a movement that continues today, Whitfield said, as Americans of the 21st century embrace diversity as a source of national pride and strength.

American society has changed over the past 70 years, and the Jewish people’s place in that society has evolved along with it. Making references to American literature (Richard Wright), theatre (Arthur Miller), film (Otto Preminger), music (Louis Armstrong), sports (Jackie Robinson), and journalism (Look magazine), the guest speaker took the audience on a scholar’s tour of the Jewish-American experience over the past seven decades.

Whitfield was at Middlebury College on April 14 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Quint Lectureship during the day-long symposium on “The Jews in America: Past and Future.”

The Max Richter Professor of American Civilization at Brandeis—a chair he has held since 1985—Stephen Whitfield is the author of eight books, the writer of 60 articles, and the recipient of Fulbright teaching professorships in Israel and Belgium. And while Whitfield’s C.V. says his “curricular and research interests are primarily in the intersection of politics and ideas in the 20 century,” it is clear from his scholarship and his talk at Middlebury that his expertise also extends into civil rights, foreign languages, modern American and European history, philosophy, and of course Judaism.

Whitfield was one of four speakers invited to give presentations at the conference. The others were: Riv-Ellen Prell, professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota, speaking about “Women, Men, and Families: The Axes of Jewish Cultural Change”; Ted Sasson, professor of international studies at Middlebury and visiting research professor in sociology at Brandeis, on “American Jews’ Changing Relationship to Israel”; and Michael G. Holtzman, rabbi of the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, on “The ‘Joining’ Paradigm and the Future of Communal Life.”

Historian Stephen Whitfield (l.) greets Adam Jones '13 (r.) and faculty member Larry Yarbrough.

Historian Stephen Whitfield (l.) greets Adam Jones ’13 (r.) and faculty member Larry Yarbrough at the symposium.

Professor Whitfield, in the Sunday afternoon lecture delivered in McCardell Bicentennial Hall, equated the anti-Semitism of the post-war era with the racism that was prevalent in America at the time, and yet he said there was always a sense that intolerance was at odds with American values.

Bigotry in America was “seamless” in the years immediately after the Second World War, Whitfield said. “Prejudice was seen to spring from a single psychic source or distortion, even if the targets might be multiple. Who the minorities were was fluid because the hostility toward them was sometimes generic.” This tendency demonstrated historian John Higham’s theory of the “unitary character of prejudice,” the guest speaker said.

Something extraordinary was going on in the 1950s and 1960s that made the nation more democratic, something Whitfield called “a tectonic shift in the definition of the American identity.”

“An awareness of the heterogeneity of the pot increasingly gathered momentum. The American way of life that was so frequently invoked in the 1950s, increasingly needed to be expressed in the plural. The republic was increasingly appreciated as a collection of groups.

“The pot had not melted,” Whitfield noted. “It meant that all sorts of changes would be taking place, and it also meant that the place of Jews in American society could rise to extraordinary influence and conspicuousness.”

By the 1980s, the differences between peoples ceased to be a cause of divisiveness in the United States. Diversity became a source of national pride for minorities, and thus did multiculturalism provide the framework for Jews to strengthen their place in society.

Whitfield, who mentioned earlier that his family’s name was originally Weissfeld, or “white field,” concluded with remarks about the “conundrum of Jewish identity” in America today where “prejudice has been replaced by popularity, hostility has given way to hospitality.” In this context Whitfield related a remark by Elvis Presley who apparently had taken to wearing the Star of David around his neck. Elvis explained his choice of jewelry saying: “I wouldn’t want to be kept out of heaven on a technicality.”

So where Jews in America had once been subject to widespread anti-Semitism, today they live in a pluralistic society in which they are appreciated for cultivating their heritage in ways that could not have been anticipated in the 1940s or 1950s.

The Quint Lectureship was established at Middlebury in 1987 by the late Hannah A. Quint and her son Eliot Levinson, a member of the Class of 1964. Its purpose has long been to provoke thought at the College and within the community on issues of Jewish history, religion, and culture.

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg delivered the first Quint lecture in 1988 on the topic “Israel and Palestine: A Battle of Two Rights.” Since it was founded, the lectureship has always been delivered by a different speaker, with one exception: Rabbi Hertzberg, a prominent scholar and activist, was invited back in 1997 to mark the 10th anniversary. His subject: “The Future of the Zionist Movement.”

 

Things That Happened, Things to Do — Week of April 15

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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Our regular recap of goings on at the College and a look ahead to events on the horizon. As always, we hope to call your attention to items that captured ours and alert you to events that you won’t want to miss. If you have a news item that you think we’d be interested in, drop us a line at middmag@middlebury.edu.

  • Jay Parini weighed in at CNN.com on whether paper-grading software could replace the human, professorial version. The D.E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing drew on his 40 years of teaching (and paper grading) to limn the difference.
  • With a Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in the wings, Professor of Political Science Erik Bleich wrote in Atlantic.com that “A collective, nationwide effort by private institutions can transform the debate about affirmative action.”
  • Cold stone seats and leaden skies fit the occasion. On Tuesday, April 16, Middlebury joined 300 venues worldwide marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” with public readings.  The lunchtime audience sat in the wind at Gifford Amphitheatre as theatre professor Dana Yeaton first read the letter from the eight white Birmingham ministers who scolded that the freedom march was “unwise and untimely.” A tag team of 26 student and faculty readers then delivered the fruits of King’s mighty pen. Read the letter here.
  • The Spring Student Symposium kicks off Thursday evening with a keynote address by actor and alumna Cassidy Freeman ’05 and performances of all kinds. Friday is filled with visual art and architecture exhibits, oral presentations, and poster sessions. The range and sophistication of student work is mind-blowing. Plus it’s all very fun. The full schedule is here.
  • Boston Globe jazz critic Bob Blumenthal calls him “a jazz treasure.” Now a Middlebury resident, sax and trumpet master Miles Donahue will bring his quintet to the Town Hall Theater Friday evening. Everyone gets a free CD, too.
  • Earth Day is Tuesday, but since many Earthlings gotta work, the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op will host a party on Saturday from 12-3 pm at the store on Washington Street. Live music, a seed and seedling exchange, stuff for kids. Not to mention our planet’s signature contribution to the Milky Way—food.