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Opera LectureHop
From the Met to the IAB

From the Met to the IAB

This past Thursday night, Russian could be heard echoing through the halls of IAB. This was not a simple run-of-the-mill discussion on the Cold War or the Russian geopolitical threat. It was something much classier! Up and coming opera sensation, Anita Rachvelishvili, was there to discuss her life and what it’s like to be a star. We sent Bwog’s very own opera enthusiast, Claire Friedman, to work on hitting her high C#.

When I first sat down, I had a split-second “what have you gotten yourself into?” moment. The room – a poorly labeled IAB conference room that took me an embarrassingly long time to find – was filled with glamorous people all speaking Russian. Probably the youngest person present by at least ten years, I took my seat next to a woman who looked to be the carbon copy of Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday.

Anita Rachvelishvili herself is exactly as divalicious as one would expect. With dark hair and bright red lipstick, I could easily imagine her belting out Carmen on the Met stage. But Anita has much more than the hair of a Disney villain. Her voice is so spectacular that she is one of the youngest opera singers to ever take on the role of Carmen. However, youthful vigor can come with drawbacks. Rachvelishvili says that she plans to stay with Carmen for a couple of years because her voice is not yet mature enough for other roles.

Anita’s rise to operatic fame started at the age of seventeen. Born in Georgia and coming from a musically inclined family (her father was a composer, her mother a singer and ballerina), Anita has been singing her whole life. Surprisingly, though, Anita wasn’t originally interested in singing opera; instead, she spent the formative years of her life obsessed with rock music. Led Zeppelin, she says, is still her go-to music choice. When Anita turned seventeen, her father brought her to her first opera lesson. Like nothing she’d ever heard before, Georgian opera instantly enchanted Anita. Within months, she was well on her way to becoming an opera star.

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LectureHop: Fedspeak
AMERICA

Woodford

Columbia’s University Lecture was held on Monday at 6 pm in Low.  Michael Woodford, John Bates Clark Professor of Political Economy, gave a lecture entitled “Fedspeak: Does It Matter How Central Bankers Explain Themselves?”  Syntax and grammar enthusiast Alexandra Svokos heard the answer.

Much as Michael Woodford cares about how bankers explain themselves, he cares about how he explains himself.  From an essayist’s perspective, this was a lovely structured lecture, with clear and rational movement from section to section for highest effectiveness.  First, Woodford explained “Fedspeak”–a favorite of Greenspan–vague statements given by the Fed.  Recently, however, the Fed has opted instead to actually explain their decisions and have higher transparency.

Under Bernanke, the Fed has given frequent press releases and conferences and meeting minutes have been made public. Notably, according to Woodford, the Fed has explained future policies–including the August 2011 announcement that the federal funds rate would be kept around zero until mid-2013.  This has since been adjusted to benchmarks rather than specific years: it will remain at that low rate as long as unemployment was above 6.5% and inflation below 2.5%.

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LectureHop: Holy Smokes, Batman!
shutterstock_19633159

Quick! Somebody call generic-superhero-man!

Holy nostalgia, Batman! Give us a minute while we try to contain our childhood nostalgia. If you ever attempted to shoot webs from your fingers, wore a cape everyday, or jumped off a jungle gym thinking you could fly, you would have found kindred spirits at Monday’s “Picture This: The Art of Comics Adaptations” Lecture. Bwog’s Arbiter of Intergalactic Justice, Josh Dillon, reports on the surprisingly complex world of comic books.

At approximately 5:58 pm Monday night, I sauntered into 523 Butler for “Picture This: the Art of Comics Adaptations.” My sauntering was on the account that I consider myself well acquainted with comics and comic books. I have dozens at home, I Wikipedia the abilities of different comic book heroes instead of sleeping, and I have attended the New York Comic Con.

Needless to say, I was completely under qualified for this event.

I was expecting to see undergraduate students wearing sitting excited in their chairs. Not nerds (hey this is Columbia), but rather, casual students who like to forsake going out once in awhile to read a new comic book. Instead, I was greeted by so many well-dressed (so many scarves!), eloquent socialites. I took to a seat in the middle and pulled out a small moleskin to take notes in.

Mistake.

Almost every person in the small gathering had some sort of leather bound, tiny notebook. But rather than fitting in with my name-brand, I stuck out. These notebooks were filled with fantastic drawings and, to my amazement, audience members sketched the presenters throughout the next two hours. One girl to my left was able to accurately capture a presenter mid-word, making me wonder, “WHAT AM I DOING HERE?”

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Lecturehop: Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell obviously plagiarized nature

This Wednesday, renowned author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell graced Columbia with “A Few (Un)scientific Thoughts on Backlash” as part of the Psychology Department Colloquium Series. Bwog’s autograph-seeking John H. and photo-seeking Artur R. teamed up to skip class and explore the realms of the “unscientific.” 

For the less-well-read, Malcolm Gladwell currently writes for the New Yorker and speaks for TED. He has written four incredibly successful books, The Tipping PointBlinkOutliers, and What the Dog Saw, whose central theme is to challenges common preconceptions via humorous anecdotes and surprising statistics.

It deserves mention that the event was moved last minute from Schermerhorn to Uris in anticipation of a larger crowd. We believe that this was, in fact, a ploy to weed out the overly-analytical psychology students. Regardless of the move, Uris 301 was still packed with more people than the bustling Package Center. The only reason that Public Safety did not bust the party (NSOP anyone?) was due to the presence of distinguished professors there.

“Never talk about something that the audience knows better than you do,” Gladwell started off. He offered the disclaimer that he is not an academic. In fact,  he came to consult Columbia’s collective intelligence for answers to put in his forthcoming book, David and Goliath.  Gladwell goes on to discuss the concept of the “inverted U-shaped curve.” (Also known as the straightened Bell Curve, or in math language, the Gaussian curve.)

Read Gladwell’s redemption from stating the obvious

LectureHop: There’s An App For That

Bwog Tech Extraordinaire, Bijan Samareh, headed over to DevFest to report on all the student innovations that came out of last week’s event. To see who the winners were, check out the Application Development Initiative website.

Behind every iPhone game or restaurant search engine is a team of entrepreneurial programmers who work tirelessly to make functional and appealing software. For those who wish to avoid large companies and work intimately with their colleagues or friends, the “App” niche of start-up culture attracts many bright twenty somethings who not only know a thing or two about computers, but also carry skills in self-finance and design. This new trend in the tech world made its way to Columbia last year with the inception of DevFest— a week long application development program where students can develop an app and showcase it to industry professionals for rankings and prizes. Put together by the ADI (Application Development Initiative), the event is a prime opportunity for students to have their work evaluated. Saturday was the 2nd annual showcase, and almost twenty new apps made it to the stage.

Among the panelists were Fred Wilson— VC and Principal of Union Square Ventures, Dave Jagoda of Andreessen Horowitz, and Tarikh Korula of Uncommon Projects. All seasoned professionals in the field, they offered insight and suggestions into each of the apps presented. Chris Wiggins, Associate Professor of Applied Math at Columbia and Co-founder of HackNY, also judged entries, while Ryan Bubinski (CC ’11), Co-Founder of Codecademy, passed down fresh wisdom as a recent graduate who has found success in the app world.

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Lecturehop: “A Moment of Singular Danger”

Lawrence Summers, former Director of the U.S. Economic Council under Barack Obama, believes his policies are crucial for mending the woes of the world’s economic climate. Without the implementation of his plans, he believes that the risk of a global depression increases significantly. Lunchtime Thursday, he stopped by  IAB’s penthouse for a discussion of fiscal stimulus and economic calamity.  Bwog’s Chief Supply and Demand Correspondent Grant D’Avino was there to give you the scoop.

Pensive

At Thursday’s Gabriel Silver Memorial Lecture, Lawrence Summers laid out a vision of the economy similar to the one he held while serving as Director of President Obama’s National Economic Council. His firmly Keynesian explanation for the industrialized world’s economic woes were summed up in one sentence, “There is too little demand.”

With the world economy in what he called “a moment of singular danger,” Summers explained some of the central lessons of economics and teased out their implications for successful policy. “It is not true that what is good for one person is good for everyone,” he said, turning to a concise explanation of the paradox of thrift. The problem, he continued, is that what makes sense for one person—like saving money for the future—can result in economic disaster if everyone does it at the same time, given the right conditions. Summers followed with a point he has made before, “It is the central irony of financial crises that while they are caused by too much confidence, too much borrowing and lending, and too much spending, they can only be solved through more confidence, more borrowing and lending, and more spending.” The failure of many policy makers to recognize these issues, central tenets of Keynesian economics, has contributed substantially to the continued stagnation of the world’s industrialized economies, Summers alleged.

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Lecturehop: Bloomberg Means Business

This morning Columbia, the World Bank, and New York City Global Partners convened to discuss the role of global cities in promoting business innovation, entrepreneurship, and job growth. While some students protested the event, Bwog’s Entrepreneurial Expert Alex Eynon attended to bring you the low-down.

Michael Bloomberg

Suits, government officials from twenty-one nations, and of course, Columbia students, streamed into Low this morning. They came for the 5th Global Partner Summit, on the topic of “Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship: City Strategies” and to bask in the glow of Mayor Michael J. Bloomberg and GE CEO Jeffery Immelt.

The Bloomberg and Immelt portion of the conference began with an introduction by Robert Kasdin, the Senior Executive Vice President of our own university, who listed the salient accomplishments of the speakers and underlined the vital role that research universities play in economic growth. Then he introduced Meyer (pronounced “mayor”—you can imagine the jokes) Feldberg, who, in addition to being in charge of a lot of important sounding stuff, like New York City Global Partners, is the Dean Emeritus of the Columbia Business School. He served as the moderator of the “conversation” between Immelt and Bloomberg which turned out to be more of a “sitting in adjacent armchairs and taking turns answering questions” set up. Still, their conversation yielded some insight into the relationship between city governments and businesses, and on the way they can work together to strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life. (more…)

LectureHop: Not the President of Haiti

An anonymous tipster sent us such a goofy and curt chronicle of yesterday’s scheduled event, we thought it was too good not to share…

Man of mystery

President of Haiti Michel Martelly did not arrive to speak at his scheduled WLF event. Around 3 pm, half hour after event [was] scheduled to start, introductions and comments by Jeff Sachs and Earth Institute director for Haiti cut off by Bollinger saying President would not arrive, [and that] they had hoped foreign minister would arrive, but didn’t. Many people leave.

Jeff Sachs continues fielding questions about Haitian recovery and development.

Around fifteen minutes later, foreign minister arrives and gives speech while Jeff Sachs and ambassador to Haiti/Fugees member Wyclef Jean, stand behind him. Speech focuses on bringing investment to Haiti. Wyclef Jean then summarizes minister’s speech and talks about how he used to sneak into Columbia dorms as a teenager. Jean and Sachs hug awkwardly after Jean calls him ”the original rock star.” Foreign Minister then talks about the last time he was at Columbia, 1971, when he came down from Boston and partied.

Foreign minister then fields a few questions about Haitian agriculture and court system, as well as investigation of former president Duvalier before Sachs says that he needs to wrap up the event.

Haitian president via Wikimedia

LectureHop: This Is My Jerusalem

Photo via the Gruber Foundation

Bwog’s Infrastructural Warfare Correspondent Megan McGregor braved the snowstorm on Wednesday to report on Prof. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkia’s lecture in the IAB.

On Wednesday evening, as we all know and enjoyed, classes and campus activities were cancelled due to the severe winter weather.  Still, 707 IAB was packed with many shivering and damp individuals.  Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkia, visiting from Jerusalem, braved the storm to deliver her passionate lecture, “My Jerusalem: Tense Politics of the Everyday,” to an eager crowd.

Professor Nadera is, among many things, a therapist, social researcher, feminist activist, senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the director of the Gender Studies Program at Mada al-Carmel in Haifa. She visited from the Old City of “her Jerusalem” not only to promote her new book Militarization and Violence against Women in Conflict Zones in the Middle East: A Palestinian Case Study, but “to share with [us] the day to day events” that affect the lives of Palestinians living in Jerusalem after the erection of the Israeli West Bank “wall of separation.”

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LectureHop: A Beer Between Mayors

 

Columbia’s Low Rotunda played host yesterday to a couple of really nice chaps—the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and our very own big-wig, Mike Bloomberg.

Before saying anything else about the World Leaders Forum, what the mayors said, how they said it, and what they meant, it is crucial that you know two things. The first is that these guys are chums. Both mayors directed plenty of professional praise, gentle jokes, and playful (but manly) competitive spirit towards each other.

And though Bwog assumes that most of the conference attendees would have laughed at a joke about city tax policy, the second thing you must know is that Boris Johnson is hysterical. Boisterous, big-shouldered, with a good-hearted British sense of humor and blond hair flying everywhere, Mayor Johnson’s personality filled the Rotunda as easily as Mayor Bloomberg’s elegant rhetoric.

Bloomberg’s best moment came perhaps with his commitment to provide housing and services for “the people who come here and stay here… because they are casting a vote of confidence for our city.” A touching moment.  Johnson’s high point, by comparison, described “the spirit of trans-Atlantic cooperation” as follows: “After all, we gave you Billy Eliot, you gave us Hairspray. We gave you mad cow disease, you gave us swine flu. You gave us the housing crisis, we gave you a plan to spend millions to bail out the banks…” You get the idea. 

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LectureHop: Hamid Al Bayati

So the U.S has been fighting this war for the past few years– you may have heard of it. It’s taken a lot of lives, cost a lot of money, and generally spiraled into a mess of civil war, religious strife, torture, and global disapproval. Listening to Ambassador Hamid Al Bayati recite his government’s policy on Tuesday night during an International Relations Forum (formerly Towards Reconciliation) event, however, I felt blissful waves of revisionism washing over my mind as he allayed our concerns with his Panglossian assertions. The U.S. had no motives but human rights in going to war, he told us. There was a direct link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, who was scheming the take over the world by invading oil-rich states one by one. Saddam either destroyed his WMDs while the UN was investigating or covertly smuggled them out of the country. The majority of Iraqis love America’s actions. Violent insurgents and terrorists are from outside of the country. “It’s a transition period.” Don’t worry– things are better than ever, and “eventually [time frame not provided] Iraq will be stable and secure.”

Was I the crazy one for believing all the dreadful things I’d heard about the Iraq fiasco? Here was the ambassador himself, telling us that no matter what the United States has done “we’re all human, we make mistakes.” Because Abu Ghraib is kind of like that time I forgot my sister’s birthday.

Of course, Bayati is not in control of his phrases and memorized statements, as anyone would be quick to point out. A Google search reveals that the ambassador himself was formerly associated with the Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) and a die-hard anti-Saddam agitator, which may explain his repeated exhortations against the deposed despot and also why he skirted questions about U.S. criticism of Iranian interventions in the conflict, given that Sciri has an armed guard funded by Iran. No matter! Bayati toed the line, and toed it well, giving us all new insight into what a puppet regime looks like.

-KER (more…)

LectureHop—Steven Pinker

When I arrived at Jerome L. Greene Hall last week at 6:20 for a 7:00 lecture, I found a large mob already milling around the doors. This can’t be for Steven Pinker, I thought, although he is psycholinguist with, as some linguists would have me say, an emphasis on the “psycho.”

But by the time the doors open, the Harvard psychology professor had indeed managed to fill the entire room and half of a second—as it turns out, the lecture would be projected onto a screen. But my disappointment quickly vanished, as Pinker’s high-pitched voice and sheer glee proved entertainment enough.

Pinker, author of The Blank Slate: the Modern Denial of Human Nature, has made his name by arguing against the Lockean notion of tabula rasa, which dictates that all men are born blank and are shaped by their environment. We are not all born blank, nor are we born equal, claims Pinker-our behavior is the sole product of the genes we are born with, unalterable by parenting or environment. A tricky idea to introduce to a public raised on behavioral psychology.

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LectureHop: Sebastián Piñera
Sebastián Piñera discussing Chile's way to development

Sebastián Piñera discussing Chile’s way to development

On Monday, the president of Chile breezed onto College Walk in a motorcade full of bodyguards and aides. Those of us arriving early to hear him speak were hurried along by the public safety officers on the scene. Inside, the stage was set with two podiums – one for President Piñera, and the other for Provost John H. Coatsworth.

Coatsworth took the stage first to speak about Columbia’s relationship with Chile, noting the Global Center in Santiago as evidence of strong ties between the two. After a brief introduction, he ceded the stage to President Piñera.

Piñera was a compelling speaker, alternately delivering political buzzwords with precision, and dropping charming metaphors, such as one that compared Chile, based on its speed of development, to a hare (and then a tortoise, and then a hare again). He described Chile’s main challenge as that of reaching the World Bank standard of a developed nation, one “without poverty.”

His vision was laid out for us in color-coded charts: here is a nation that easily outstrips the rest of Latin America in GDP per capita, yet still trails behind developed nations such as the U.S. and Japan. Piñera’s desire to join the ranks of “what is called the first world” was palpable, and his commitment to this goal cannot easily be called into question.

Where President Piñera lost the audience a bit, however, was his use of political language, which he used to talk very complicated issues into single bullet points. As he spoke of his need to “transform a dream into a project,” his fist was clenched, pushing against the air in a symbol of the tension surrounding this transformation. Though the sentiment is exactly right, it was hard to feel that this list of goals was quite as concrete as it could be.

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Sustaining Peace Lecturehop
Look, she glows

Look, she glows

This past Thursday, Elizabeth Self, lover of all things peaceful, attended the Sustaining Peace lecture held at the Teacher’s College. Bwog is sure that there were tons of lovely and accomplished speakers present, but we zeroed in on one of our favorites: the ridiculously flawless Leymah Gbowee, who happened to be Barnard’s Commencement speaker this past Spring

Sustaining Peace: Interdisciplinary Perspectives was a program about conflict resolution, violence prevention, and sustaining peace held at Teacher’s College on October 24, 2013. It lasted 9 hours. I hate to disappoint you, but, even in the name of journalism, I am not that dedicated.

I in fact slid in right before the keynote speech, feeling somewhat like a kid who only read the Sparknotes (back in the eighth grade when people actually generally read the book before class). Fortunately, there was a cheat sheet to be found in the program, so I decided to clue myself in about this “Leymah Gbowee” while the speaker before her talked about some experiments in abstract terms that I didn’t understand.

Some super inspiring quotes after the jump

LectureHop: Lydia Davis On Translation

LYDDIAAAAAOn Tuesday night in 413 Dodge, Susan Bernofsky, director of Literary Translation at Columbia (LTAC), held a conversation with Lydia Davis.  At a Columbia Summer Program in high school, Alexandra Svokos was told to read Davis, fell in love, and natch was there on Tuesday.

There’s no way to say it without sounding pretentious: I saw Lydia Davis do a reading at Shakespeare & Co. last summer.  I was in Paris for a wonderful writing course and Davis was reading her characteristic short short stories to a massive crowd that extended out to the street, all clamoring to see her.  To me, Davis is almost strictly a writer, but on Tuesday, for a crowd of LTACers, she was in pure translator form.  She speaks with careful word choice, but honestly, with a voice like a whisper.  It was fascinating to hear this side of her work, which relies on respect for and dedication to another author, rather than letting her own inventiveness take over.  She spoke mainly about her translations of Proust’s Swann’s Way and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

The conversation opened with Davis explaining her psychological analysis of why she so loves translating.  Her family moved to Austria when she was 7.  She sat in class, with German all around her, and watched the language slowly begin to gain meaning.  Moreover, Davis has always loved word puzzles.  “A Proust sentence is like a long, elaborate word puzzle,” she said.  A Barnard alum, Davis’s first published translation was actually in the Columbia Review.

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