Search Results: lecturehop
LectureHop: The MESSENGER Mission To Mercury
"I remember when I first visited Mercury..."

“I remember when I first visited Mercury…”

Bwog likes to inform our readers of every event around campus, from social justice jamborees to science seminars. We sent our own little Martian Mason Amelotte to space Low Library on Tuesday to learn more about Mercury.

Why do we explore our solar system? It’s a question people don’t often think about. Most would say we explore our solar system to learn more about the planets, comets, and stars around us. However, Sean C. Solomon, director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia, believes otherwise. He believes we explore our solar system to learn more about Earth itself.

On Tuesday night, Solomon gave a university lecture in Low Library titled “Why We Explore the Solar System: The MESSENGER Mission to Mercury.” Solomon is director of the largest research division within the Earth Institute at Columbia, and he is also principal investigator of NASA’s Messenger mission to Mercury, the “most comprehensive investigation yet of the planet closest to the sun.” Solomon is a 2014 recipient of the National Medal of Science, and even has an asteroid named after him, Asteroid 25137 Seansolomon, which is currently in orbit around the sun between Mars and Jupiter.

University President Lee C. Bollinger opened the presentation by giving praise to the University Lecture as a forum that reflects “the ideals of…the university.” Prezbo went on to commend the work of the faculty at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He mentioned that the purpose of the MESSENGER mission was to provide him with “a quick and easy way to escape the students administration,” before handing the microphone off to John H. Coatsworth, University Provost. Coatsworth introduced the audience to Sean C. Solomon, the keynote speaker, by listing off Solomon’s many degrees and accomplishments. One endeavor that stood out was Solomon’s role as principal investigator of the MESSENGER project, which puts him in charge of “all aspects of the mission…from financing to executing.” Coatsworth then welcomed Solomon to the stage.

Click here to learn some neat space facts

LectureHop: Gaza, The IDF Code Of Ethics, And The Morality Of War
The battleground

The battlezone

This week, JTS hosted a panel with Arnold Eisen and Dr. Moshe Halbertal on modern issues with the Israeli Defense Force, its Code of Ethics, and where they stand in Gaza. Max Rettig (GS/JTS ’17) shares the discussion. 

As a student in the Joint Program between GS and JTS, I am incredibly privileged to explore my intellectual interests at both institutions. JTS, perhaps the foremost school of Jewish scholarship in the United States, regularly brings in notable scholars and distinguished professional leaders with Jewish backgrounds to discuss important issues of our time. Such was the case Thursday night, when JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen and Dr. Moshe Halbertal talked about the problems surrounding this past summer’s conflict in Gaza in relation to the code of ethics that governs how the Israel Defense Forces operates.

Halbertal, of Israeli descent, is a professor of law at NYU, of Jewish thought and philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and has taught visiting stints at both Harvard and Yale law schools. In 2000, Halbertal was part of the team that created the IDF’s current code of ethics. Eisen, the Chancellor of JTS since 2007, is a leading scholar of American Jewry and a professor of Jewish thought at JTS. At around 7:32 pm on Thursday night, both sat down to talk about the very real issues the Israeli army faced during its operation in Gaza this past summer, and how those issues shaped how the IDF approached the operation from an ethical standpoint.

He delved into three main ethical principles that directly affect how the IDF approaches wars: Purpose of Arms (Matarah), Distinction (Havchanah) and Responsibility (Achriut).

Let’s talk ethics now

Lecturehop: Bill Drayton, CEO of Ashoka
Bill Drayton holds the world up to see

Bill Drayton holds the world up to see

Entrepreneurship enthusiast Karen Yuan brings word from the mouth of a THE self-styled social entrepreneur, Bill Drayton.

Social entrepreneurship—that’s a buzzword that nobody really understands, but Bill Drayton defines it as any “innovation initiative for the common good.” At 71, Drayton is the granddad of social entrepreneurship, having coined the phrase himself about 30 years ago.

Drayton came to speak at Columbia on Thursday night about Ashoka, the social entrepreneurship empire that he built in 1980, around the same time the very concept of social entrepreneurship began. Ashoka has a network of over 3000 Fellows in 70 countries, with over half of them changing national policy in their first 5 years. Fellow Kailash Satyarthi won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Malala.

In a fireside chat with Ashoka Fellow Greg Van Kirk, Drayton focused on three major points. His speech was part-lil pellets of wisdom, part-call to action.

1. We’re all living in a turning point right now.

So this got a bit doomsayerly, but Drayton spoke about how everyone was living in a turning point in history right now. “Society is shifting from a system of repetition to a system of change,” Drayton said. “Before, our focus was on efficiency and repetition – assembly lines, school systems, and the like. But this system is failing, and change is the new game.”

According to Drayton, Detroit missed a turning point about 50 years ago, which contributed to its decline from a prosperity to bankruptcy. “If we don’t do anything, we could all become Detroit. But it wouldn’t take 50 years—it’d take 15.”

Do what, though? Drayton said to spot areas for creating value, and, more generally, to start practicing empathy.

2. Give yourself permission.

“Give yourself permission to change things,” Drayton said. He spoke about a 12 year old girl who set up a bicycle system to bring fresh food into the food desert of Oakland. It grew from her practicing empathy: Having an autistic brother, she would intervene in the mistreatment of special needs kids at school.

“The new system of change is inherently equal,” Drayton continued. “Everyone is powerful and everyone can give.” You couldn’t be a good person just by diligently following the rules. The most important skill you needed in this new world of change was empathy, like the young girl from Oakland. “Young people are not children. They’re ready to be change makers, too.”

3. Social entrepreneurship is not business.

Drayton was quick to stress that “social entrepreneurship” wasn’t about making cash. Many people thought of TOMS Shoes as an example of it, but the truth was that social entrepreneurship was basically synonymous with change. “I hate the phrase ‘scaling up’ when talking about an idea,” Drayton said. “If your goal is to double the number of students in your program, for example, then you missed the point. It should be about changing mindsets, patterns, the way things are done.”

Social entrepreneurship was actually more political than financial, since it was often an invisible mechanism that majorly influenced politics, such as activism for equal pay impacting policy in D.C.

Despite his emphasis against business, Drayton still preached teamwork. “The most powerful thing in the world is a big idea…collaborate on them.”

 Social entrepreneurship via YouTube

LectureHop: How To Run A Killer Meeting (with the involvement of vodka) (sort of)
The suit says business. The alcohol is a business. (Together these do not make for good business.)

The suit says business. The alcohol is a business. (Together these do not make for good business.)

At Columbia, we study everything from the intricacies of the world financial market to the sociological basis and implication of normative gender to the driving forces behind cultural development. When we graduate we will be called on to organize teleconferencing and to prepare adequate legal documentation. Exploring one of these real world skills, and bringing a glimpse into our future, correspondent and one day office drone Joseph Powers reports on the School of Continuing Education’s Strategic Communication Workshop: How to Run a Killer Meeting.

The key to a killer meeting is not, as one might expect, arsenic in the complimentary brownies, but preparation, easy communication, and the incorporation of fun.

Offered through Strategic Communication Program in  the Columbia School of Continuing Education, ‘How to Run a Killer Meeting,’ is one in a series of seminars offered throughout the semester as a supplement to curriculum. The audience, almost exclusively mid-career professionals currently enrolled in the Strategic Communication Program, come at the end of their work week to pick up extra skills and to see the theory they are learning applied in relevant examples. Though open to alumni and current students, as an undergrad I found myself more than a little bit out of place.

After a brief introduction, the evening’s presenter, Arabella Pollack, took the floor. Founder and Principle of her own consulting firm, Greystoke Insights, Ms. Pollack works primarily with the beverage industry, with clients ranging from Absolut Vodka to Pepsicola. This little detail is what first drew Bwog; we came for the ambiguous promise of tales from the vodka world and stayed for the insight into strategic communication.

The first half of the evening was conducted in loose lecture style, broken up into three parts arranged around the macabre theme: plotting, execution, and post-doc (or, in more typical jargon: planning, implementation, and review). In each section, Ms. Pollack emphasized the need to promote collaborative exchange over the simple presentation of information. A meeting needs to be more than presentation she explained. There are better ways of sending information; the meeting’s true value lies in the chance to build new consensus, not just recognizing the variety of viewpoints in a room, but finding a way to combine them in a productive way. To accomplish this, Ms. Pollack recommended breaking the room into smaller groups with a number of perspectives before the meeting even starts, avoiding lecture style meetings, and encouraging creativity. Ms. Pollack also described the importance of  understanding the background of different viewpoints both before and during the meeting and of structuring a meeting based on clearly defined objectives.

What Ms. Pollack believed most crucial to the success of a meeting, and the theme she came back to most frequently over the course of the night, was the incorporation of fun. Fun, she argued, not only inspires greater participation and engagement, it temporarily breaks down hierarchies and promotes the collaboration and free communication that are so vital. She gave a number of different examples of ways fun could be brought into a meeting, including icebreaker games, quite literal sketching out ideas in group brainstorm, and most graphically, the use of an Elmo doll to represent “enough, let’s move on,” casually tossed up when off topic discussion threatens to overwhelm momentum.

I have to confess, I was a little skeptical of this point. While I could accept the principles behind the idea, I couldn’t imagine the execution outside of some hip tech firm. I couldn’t picture, for example, a group of buttoned up JPMorgan executives tossing a plush red toy.

Will our skeptical correspondent change his tune? Will vodka ever actually make an appearance? Find out, after the jump! But yes.

LectureHop: Fireside Chat With Eric Schmidt
Eric Schmidt, smiling, in 2004

Eric Schmidt, smiling, in 2004

Last Thursday, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt chatted to a small crowd by the side of a fire on the top floor of the IAB. Googly-Eyed Goblin Maud Rozee was there to bring you the story.

Eric Schmidt and a few Google colleagues have recently published a book, How Google Works, about the management techniques used at Google. The fireside chat began with a discussion of how companies can foster creativity and identify talent. Schmidt focused on the need for companies to find the best idea. To do that, he said, “we need to protect the divas,” identifying and listening to passionate and pushy employees. He also emphasized the need to seek out every idea, saying that often the team members who never say anything have the most creative, most innovative ideas.

Schmidt noted that managers at Google have high expectations and set impossible goals, which helps to improve products and ideas as much as possible. He said that they never think about being the “first mover” or the “last mover” in a market; all that matters is having the best product.

Next, Schmidt discussed Google’s role in the wider world. Google’s decision to end their operations in China came after a 3 hour meeting, during which the board discussed attacks by the Chinese government, debated what they should do, and finally voted. Schmidt emphasized the importance of having a formal and considered process for such a big decision.

Schmidt said that privacy was a priority for Google. He noted that end-to-end encryption was soon to be the default for Android devices, and that Google also encrypts information at rest with encryption so strong that “it is not breakable in our lifetimes.” “If you have information you want to keep private, the best place to keep it is Gmail,” Schmidt said. According to Schmidt, Google keeps its users information so private that the FBI have complained, asking for back doors. Schmidt said “our job is to protect our users from illegal snooping and back door attacks, and we have done that.”

Schmidt called the European Union’s controversial Right to be Forgotten ruling a “clever decision” because it made Google the ultimate decision-maker on requests, instead of politicians. He asked how many audience members would opt to take down unflattering Google search results if given the option. Many of us raised our hands. He said that the response showed “we have a lot of work to do”. He said that he thought tinkering with the internet was a rough road to go down, noting how difficult it was to enforce laws like Right to be Forgotten, as well as anti-pornography laws in certain countries, without practicing censorship.

The interviewer asked how America can create an environment which encourages innovation. Schmidt suggested immigration reform: “just staple the green card to the PhD” He also called for better STEM education, recommending that college first years be required to take a introductory data analysis class. Schmidt said that laws which allow for competition and do not protect incumbent businesses were necessary to create experimentation and innovation. Schmidt also predicted that gloomy forecasts of dwindling jobs would be proven false. “Google is working to make everyone smarter,” he said. He predicted that, as it always has, our society will adapt to new types of jobs and markets.

 “The zoom on my Nexus 5 wasn’t good enough to take a good photo at this event” via Wikimedia


LectureHop: Is Science Keeping Up With The Demands Of Ebola?
If you see this, you should probably run

If you see this, you should probably run

As Ebola continues to strike West Africa and other areas of the world, doctors, including several at Columbia, are stepping in and looking for a solution. Two of those doctors held a panel as part of an all day conference on Monday, and epidemiology expert Christina Clark was there to hear what they had to say. 

On Monday afternoon, I attended the last panel of Columbia’s conference on the Ebola crisis, titled “Is Science Keeping Up with the Demands of Ebola and Challenges to Come?” The featured speakers were Stephen Morse, PhD (a professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health) and Robert Klitzman, MD (Professor of Psychiatry at the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies).

Dr. Morse was the first to give a speech, opening with a joke about how he felt like “the guest that you didn’t want to invite to the party,” given the reason for his talk. However, one of his first points was relatively positive; the fatality rates in this epidemic are 50% or less, while in previous instances rates have hovered closer to 90%. He believes that the biggest reason for this success is a greater emphasis on oral rehydration treatments in African hospitals and clinics.

Morse next began to discuss efforts to create a vaccine. While he predicted one would be available by the end of the year, he was concerned about how a vaccine would be distributed. Since Ebola outbreaks are unpredictable, it would be difficult to determine which areas have the greatest need for preventative measures. Another interesting treatment that he discussed was Zmapp, an antibody treatment produced using genetically engineered tobacco plants. Zmapp is a promising option, but has not been subjected to rigorous studies and is also difficult to mass produce.

What did Dr. Klitzman have to say, though?

LectureHop: Priscilla Ferguson Talks Food
But what is she really talking about

tl;dr everyone should take “Food and the Social Order” with Professor Ferguson

What do you think you talk about when you talk about food? Do you even know what you should be talking about when you talk about food? Bwog didn’t know either, so we sent hungry correspondent Ross Chapman to get answers.  

A crowd with a median age of somewhere around 60 gathered in the East Gallery of Buell Hall, home of the Columbia Maison Française, to hear a talk about culinary conversations. Air France and Culinary Historians of New York (CHNY) hosted Columbia professor of sociology Priscilla Ferguson (GSAS ’64 & ’67 (French)) as she gave a lecture loquaciously titled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Food.” Also included in the night was the presentation of CHNY’s Amelia Award, which honors significant contribution to culinary history. CHNY Chair Cathy Kaufman introduced the event and advertised Professor Ferguson’s new book, Word of Mouth, before bringing the speaker on stage.

Ferguson’s lecture, also called “Food Talk” by the speakers, focused on Haute (pronounced like “oat” because of French!) Food, a culinary movement and perspective that disdains convention and praises creativity and incongruity. The defining characteristic of Haute Food is its novelty. Filling a chocolate with nuts or raspberry was once rare and new, but is now old hat. (Ferguson praised Mondel Chocolates for staying true to these culinary staples). Now, the Haute Food chefs who want to stand out fill chocolate with wasabi and cheese. The combination of unusual and ordinary ingredients is one way to effect “Hautification.” A normal and plainly prepared hamburger paired with foie gras (as one NYC chef dared to do) would be Haute. Putting a traditionally luxurious food in a mundane location (here’s looking at you, McLobster) would be Haute. The goal is sometimes not to make the best tasting meal. “Are you even supposed to like them?” asked Ferguson about some items on a four-hour long tasting menu. Some chefs would say, “I really don’t care.” The goal is to be new and artistic.

The reaction to the Haute Food movement has been variable. Food critics (and readers of those critiques) have had a terrible time devising a good way to objectively grade food in a movement that promotes individuality. This has led to a decreased importance on stars and a greater weight on the text of reviews and the reader’s relationship with an individual critic. In American culture, the deformalization of public events has led to a clash with fancy dining. Some restaurants have learned to deal with the “smart casual” dress code (and some gourmet chefs in food trucks don’t care if customers wear anything at all), while others thrust sport jackets onto casually dressed patrons. The fascination that comes with the development of new culinary techniques has led to tables popping up in the middle of kitchens and television cameras gravitating towards celebrity chefs. “Today,” Ferguson explained, “cooking is part of the meal” much more than it once was. And a sort of jadedness has come over the eating public. While 1970’s French critics had no idea what to say about Japanese food, some college students today make it a weekly staple of their diet.

Answers to the big questions coming up(?) after the jump

LectureHop: Governor Lincoln Chafee (And His Winning Political Advice)
Regardless of your political views, please give Mr. Chafee props for his scarf choices.

Regardless of your political views, please give Mr. Chafee props for his scarf choices.

Governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee came to speak to Columbia’s student body of poly-sci/econ joint majors, and political junkie Christina Clark was there to check it out.

One of events hosted by Columbia’s Voting Week was a conversation on Wednesday titled “Dilemmas of Campaigning and Governing in the United States”. Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island was the featured guest, with SIPA professor Esther Fuchs as his interviewer.

Professor Fuchs’ questions traced the path of Governor Chafee’s political evolution, as he served as a Republican politician for years before running for governor as an independent, and finally joining the Democratic Party last year. His experience with politics began when he was eleven and accompanied his father (governor of Rhode Island at the time) to the Republican National Convention in 1964. Chafee followed his dad’s footsteps by becoming involved in Warwick, RI politics in the 1980s. He was a city council member and then the first Republican mayor of the town in 32 years. When asked how he was able to convince voters to vote against their party, Chafee cited his willingness to “stand up to the machine”, a trait that he brought up many times throughout the interview.

Read about Chafee’s rise in national politics after the jump

LectureHop: We Are What We Remember
The man himself, Dr. Eric Kandel

The man himself, Dr. Eric Kandel

With so many opportunities to choose from, and work overwhelming them all, it’s easy to miss the chance to hear a Nobel Laureate discuss their groundbreaking research. Fortunately correspondent Anastasiya Vasilyeva has you covered, bringing back the highlights of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Brain Insight Reception and Lecture.

Tuesday night the Miller theater filled with a melting pot of science nerds, ranging from acclaimed researchers and doctors to wide-eyed froshes. The whole spectrum seemed to exit gleefully in the end, admiringly discussing the advances in Alzheimer’s research.

After a charming introduction by biochemistry and molecular biophysics professor Tom Jessell, involving a graph depicting the speaker’s 16000+ word autobiography, the highly distinguished Nobel Laureate–Eric Kandel–appeared on stage in a red bowtie. “That is the most remarkable introduction I have ever received,” the neuroscientist began humbly.

“Memory is the glue that holds our mental life together.” Thus, Kandel introduced his lecture, “We Are What We Remember,” following with a general summary of two famously tragic cases, in which this glue fails: H.M. and Clive Wearing. Like in the film Memento (which I highly recommend), both men lost the abilities to form new memories, a condition called anterograde amnesia. After sufficiently saddening the audience with short clips of these patients, as well as briefly summarizing some older research within the field, Kandel went into his recent work.

Graphs, the gym, and a message of hope, coming up after the jump.

LectureHop: Kicking Off Romare Bearden’s “A Black Odyssey”


Romare Bearden

Just in case you slept through the NSOP LitHum lecture, you’re in SEAS, or you’re not a freshman, Hannah Kramer went on her own odyssey to learn more about Romare Bearden’s exhibition, “A Black Odyssey,” by reporting on the first of his lectures, “The Sirens Song: Women and Gender in Bearden and Homer

If you haven’t heard already, prepare yourself: Columbia is hosting an exhibition of Romare Bearden’s “A Black Odyssey” starting in November, and it’s gonna be a big deal. It’s gonna be a big deal not only because Romare Bearden’s pieces are amazing, vibrant collages in an exhibit curated by the Smithsonian, but also because there are going to be poetry readings, lectures, plays, and all sorts of events all year surrounding the issues and themes that Bearden used in his work. Bearden translates Homer’s texts into a visual language, using the story of Odysseus to depict the journeys of African-Americans and weaving African culture into the poems that serve as a foundation for Western culture.

The first of these discussions, “The Sirens’ Song: Women and Gender in Bearden and Homer” started the series off on Friday afternoon. Inside Buell Hall, while observers watched on from stylish but child-sized seats, five professors from Columbia, Barnard, and Princeton served as panelists in discussing their own interpretations of Bearden’s work and his transformation of Homer’s epics to suit his life and work as an African-American in Harlem. For those of you who couldn’t fit in those ridiculously small chairs, here’s a summary of what you missed:

Professor Marcellus Blount, who teaches English and Comparative Literature here at Columbia, started the lecture by asking a question: “What does this dead white man think about race and gender?” He went on to discuss feminism in The Odyssey, particularly focusing on Penelope’s role as a leader in Ithaka while Odysseus is away, noting that the peace she created came from unity and coexistence, unlike Odysseus’s violent reassertion of his own power. He then noted that his “quarrel” with the Lit Hum texts has to do with the “convention of reading through the lens of Western exceptionalism,” suggesting a new reading that is more culturally diverse and with a broader lens.

Princeton professor of Art and Archeology Rachael DeLue addressed questions of why Bearden made his pieces, and looked into his methods and their effects on the meaning of the piece. She noted the use of collage as a method that created a “rustling, fragmented world of pattern,” and discussed the insistent appearance of Bearden’s silhouettes and the striking effect they have in making his figures stand out. She spoke in particular about the piece “Return of Odysseus: Homage to Pinturicchio and Benin”, showing Pinturicchio’s (an Italian Renaissance painter) painting of Odysseus’ return, and how Bearden transposed it not only into collage, but also into African culture.

Continue reading about gender and race in the Odyssey after the jump

LectureHop: Bill Deresiewicz

A Spectacular Sheep

Last week, an anonymous sheep Bwogger attended Bill Deresiewicz’s lecture on campus. Deresiewicz, author of the widely-read “The Disadvantages of An Elite Education,” is well known for his anti-Ivy-League stance (or, rather, his anti-sheep stance), making his visit to Columbia especially intriguing. Below is an open letter from a self-proclaimed “spectacular sheep,” addressing many of Deresiewicz’s main points.

Dear Mr. Deresiewicz,

Alright, I have to admit it. You’ve got serious balls touring almost all eight schools of the Ivy League telling students that their nearly 60k education is ultimately not worth it. We worked exceptionally hard to get here, and while that may have taken exceptional “hoop jumping,” it also took exceptionally spectacular motivation and drive. Life is a series of hoops and to be “successful” one undoubtedly has to be original and decently intelligent, but they also must master a certain element of manipulation of the game or “hoop jumping.” I do not think your overall argument is unfounded; in fact, I agree with you completely, and probably more than most. However, I think your question is more one of how do we balance “succeeding” at this sick game of hopscotch while also holding on to the ideals that founded these Ivy League institutions in the first place: learning, not only how to learn, but also for the sake of learning itself.

I think the question of how to derive meaning from education and, by extension, life, is an important one, but perhaps one that is above both of us. I also am unsure whether this was what you intended to say in your talk at Columbia. But I am not here to chastise you; that would be neither my place nor intention. I am here to applaud you. The issue you are tackling is one that could be argued to be direly in need of address. I think your issue, as mine and everyone’s should be, is with the institutionalized, bureaucratic secondary educational system. We unquestionably should have the opportunity to attend prestigious schools that have strong humanities backgrounds and extensive exposure to many diverse fields. We should be encouraged to pursue the arts and music and philosophy to make us better thinkers, better inventors, better humanitarians, better lovers. We especially should be more globally oriented with today’s society, learning more languages, more history and more global politics and economics. We should be given more time to realize our niche while we find ourselves mentally, spiritually and emotionally. But how do we create an exceptional education system that provides for both those who want a well-rounded educational experience to shape their future careers and also for those who are passionate and dedicated to fields they are sure they want to pursue?

Mr. Deresiewicz, I implore you: go into politics. Fight for that change you and I and countless Ivy League students want to see. You are raising such prevalent and progressive questions. However, I think telling someone they’re drowning when they’ve already started swimming is somewhat counterintuitive and unproductive. Everyone should be forced to question their actions and motives; introspection is healthy and sometimes necessary even though at times it may be difficult or unwanted. All, and maybe especially Ivy League students should be reminded of their commitment to being spectacular well-rounded scholars and not just hoop jumpers, but they most definitely should not be shot down because of their accomplishment of making it here. I know you’ve received mixed reviews on your book and talks, but the negative feedback is a natural defense mechanism for the realization of Ivy League students – and sometimes their parents — that you are right. But that that would also entail our own inadequacy and inferior education, something we’ve vested serious time, effort, and money into.

Maybe that stark slap of reality is garnering the attention you were intending, and if that’s the case, well done. So ultimately, Mr. Deresiewicz, thank you. Thank you for raising the issue, and I hope you succeed in bringing about effective change. As for me, with all this in mind, I am going to set out to be a spectacular sheep; one that is wide-awake and making the most of my Ivy League education.


A Spectacular Sheep

woolly goodness via Shutterstock

LectureHop: Talking The Tiger’s Wife With Téa Obreht
Téa Obreht

Téa Obreht

Last night, Téa Obreht spoke at the Maison Française about her critically-aclaimed book The Tiger’s Wife, her writing process, writing as part of the healing process, and her new works. Our writer Karen Yuan was there to get us the details.

Téa Obreht, award-winning author of The Tiger’s Wife, spoke at Columbia as part of The Heyman Center for the Humanities’ The Writing Lives Series. Dressed in leggings and in relaxed conversation with Mark Mazower, professor of History here at Columbia, Obreht set a casual, intimate mood in which she discussed her novel and other writing. Afterwards, she read from The Tiger’s Wife and answered audience questions.

Opening with a joke – “I’m sorry I sound like I have the plague” – Obreht then began to address The Tiger’s Wife in, on the contrary, a clear and crisp voice. It was a reading voice. Her novel, about a young Balkan doctor and her relationship with her grandfather and his fantastical stories, includes war in the backdrop. “I wanted to write something war was a part of but not the center of,” Obreht said. “Small, everyday atrocities.”

What about the tiger itself in the novel? One of the grandfather’s stories is about a village girl who befriends a tiger that’s escaped from the zoo. Obreht laughed and confessed that while she was working on her MFA at Cornell, she would binge-watch National Geographic during the long winters. One day she saw a special on tigers and wrote a short story concerning a circus trainer losing a tiger in a Balkan village. “It was terrible,” she admitted. But she felt compelled to keep writing – that strange image of a tiger in snow haunted her, a lost and foreign thing – and soon her short story was looking more like a novel. When she told J. Robert Lennon, whose workshop she attended at Cornell and who read her “terrible” short story, he only said, “Okay. It won’t be perfect but it’ll be yours. And you’ll have to live with it.”

Her writing process for The Tiger’s Wife became stringent. She wrote from around 8 PM to 4-5 AM on a desk facing the wall. “I disappeared,” Obreht said. “Friends would text me and ask if I were alive.” She’d enter a stage of writing in which everything else ceased to exist. When she wrote, she’d still read other works, but only “safe” books that wouldn’t “warp” her writing. She named Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and the Margarita as favorites.

Read more about her upcoming works after the jump…

LectureHop: Barnard Women Poets

This past Wednesday evening from 7-9, Women Poets at Barnard hosted a public reading where the winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize read her poetry. Possible poet Caroline Lee was in attendance.

Sandra Lim

Sandra Lim

Since 1986, the Barnard Women Poets Prize has been awarded biannually for exceptional books of poetry written by female poets. This year, the prize went to Sandra Lim, a South Korea-born professor at UMass Lowell, for her collection The Wilderness. One part of the prize is a monetary reward and publication by W. W. Norton and Co, and the other is the honor of reading your poetry at a free, public event at Barnard.

While the event was hosted on the Barnard campus and by a Barnard organization, it was open to the public. Columbia students stood in a ring around the room, because by the time they arrived the seats were all taken. Once everybody was comfortable and silent, the introductions began. Of course, there was the obligatory mention of Barnard’s 125th anniversary and the lesser-known  30th anniversary of these public poetry readings. Louise Glück, former poet-laureate of the United States and judge of the 2014 Barnard Women Poets Prize, would be reading her own poetry before Sandra Lim read hers, but first, Barnard tradition dictated that they must be introduced by Barnard poets.

The Barnard poet chosen to introduce Glück had high praise for her, and specifically spoke of Glück’s manipulation of scope in her poetry, which moves from telescopic to microscopic images of the word. When Louise Glück took the podium, her work had been rather thoroughly analyzed and recommended. She spoke of her role in judging the Barnard Women Poets Prize and recommended Sandra Lim’s The Wilderness “with a passionate praise,” saying that “it was one of the highlights of [her] past year.” She read some of her own poetry, and then turned the mic over to the Barnard poet who introduced Sandra Lim by describing the images of thawing and rebirth in The Wilderness. Then, Sandra Lim finally took the podium.

Find out about Sandra Lim’s speech and more after the jump!

LectureHop: An Evening With Peter Thiel
More logos than a NASCAR driver

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel is a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook. Yesterday night, he came to campus to promote his new book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build The Future. Armchair Analyst Kevin Chen went to see what it was all about.

As an audience consisting mostly of well-dressed B-school students filed in, songs from the Mulan soundtrack played over the speakers. The line to get into the event stretched across 114th Street and past Butler. But if you thought that was long, the list of event co-hosts was even longer: Columbia Organization for Rising Entrepreneurs, The Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center at Columbia Business School, and Columbia University Entrepreneurship.

After promising Vincent Ponzo, Director of the Lang Center, that we’d give Thiel a “warm New York City welcome” (if such a thing even exists), we finally got to see the man himself.

According to Thiel, Zero to One is about the unique moments that happen when someone creates a new product for the first time: maybe the first airplane, or the first iPhone. Do these events have anything in common with each other that can be applied again and again? Thiel says yes—and that’s the question the book tries to answer.

“We’re living in a world where courage is in even shorter supply than genius,” Thiel likes to say, meaning that people are more afraid to deviate from what they’ve been taught, keeping them from pursuing new ideas they come up with. The book focuses on what Thiel calls “contrarian answers”—challenges to conventional wisdom. Most people believe this, but that’s not the truth. Most people believe capitalism is synonymous with competition, but Thiel claims they are opposites. Google is a capitalist (making a lot of money) because it has no competition. There’s a ton of competition for NYC restaurants so none of them are making that much money. “The people who have monopolies don’t talk about them”—Google defines itself as a technology company competing in many areas against the likes of Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft, to draw attention away from its monopoly in search.

People seek competition because there’s a sense of safety in crowds. Thiel takes this opportunity to talk about his background. He started out as your stereotypical Ivy Leaguer: after graduating from Stanford (shush, it’s the Ivy League of the west coast), he went to law school and worked at a NYC law firm. Through a “quarter-life crisis,” he realized that he hated how his coworkers always tried to one-up each other. Thiel moved to California and started PayPal during the tech boom of the late 1990s.

Thiel wraps up his prepared statement by touching on the trade-off between globalization and technological innovation. In the last 40 years, the world has been focused on copying and globalizing at the expense of innovation—for instance, we aren’t seeing many solutions to the energy and transportation problems. It’s even reflected in our language: the developing world is supposed to copy the developed. “When we say we live in the developed world, we say that there will be nothing new. We should be asking how we can develop the developed world.”

Questions for Thiel: monopolies, SpaceX, and Star Trek, coming up after the jump.

LectureHop: Twyla Tharp
Twyla Tharp

Tharp in 2004

This past Monday evening, dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp BC ’63 was at Barnard where she talked dance, her college years, and her book. Anastasiya Vasilyeva was there to report on the talk and how it was received by the students.

Twyla Tharp–an acclaimed dancer, choreographer, and now writer–returned to her old turf of Barnard College to lecture eager fans and students, as well as to conduct a signing for her book, The Creative Habit (2002). She began with a yo-yo and and closed with an advertisement, radiating with pride throughout the talk.

After a brief introduction about her humble education, since at the time Tharp attended school Barnard’s dance classes were just a part of the PE department, Tharp went chronologically through her works. She worked from first to most recent, delineating main points, successes, and failures, and showing brief clips of the dances, meant to match the chapter titles of The Creative Habit. Murmurs filled the Event Oval at the end of the seemingly helpful Q&A session, proclaiming the book to be far more interesting than the lecture. “It contained more art history,” one attendee whispered, “It was more on her creative process.”

The clips progressed from blurry, black and white videos to modern HD, demonstrating the length of her successful career, all from her self-advertised website. Tharp described her humble beginnings as having “No music. No production. No administration. No men.” During the majority of the clips, Tharp narrated the routine, or just counted and nodded along, illustrating her clear memory of these performances, despite the sometimes tens of years that have passed.

More on Tharp’s new class and some Barnard lovin’ after the jump.