Search Results: lecturehop
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.

LectureHop: The Particulars Of Corruption
The sweater checks out for him being a good lecturer.

The sweater checks out for him being a good lecturer.

Every week, tons of speakers grace Columbia’s campus and make us all a bit smarter, which we chronicle in Bucket List. Corruption Cognoscente Amsal Lakhani went to “Maximizing Illicit Profits: Understanding How Corrupt Officials Choose How Much to Charge for Bribes,” on Thursday, and has a lot to say about it.

Thursday’s lecture was prefaced by a couple of introductions. Acronyms like CGEG (Center on Global Economic Governance) and CAPPI (Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity) were tossed around, in true Columbia fashion, before the main act, Professor Ben Olken of MIT, took the stage.

His lecture began with the question: why do we even care about corruption? The economist deals with the efficiency costs of corruption, and Professor Olken made it clear that he wasn’t dealing with moral issues in this lecture; rather, he was concerned with how corruption distorts the efficacy of government activity, and how it limits the government’s ability to combat inefficiency.

He then limited the scope of his lecture to three types of corruption: graft (theft of government funds), extortion (extracting money using threats), and bribes (taking money to turn a blind eye).

He first focused on the individual decision maker: do corrupt officials respond to incentives and punishments? To answer this question, Olken travelled to Indonesia. It turns out that graft in road projects is a huge problem there, as some Indonesian bureaucrats’ ingenious way of skimming off funds is to literally skim off the road. While the top layer looks as fresh as any newly-laid bed of asphalt does, the inside remains emptier in substance than your Lit Hum essay. This makes the road deteriorate much quicker, and as an economist would tell you, reduces the efficiency of road-building significantly.

But do corrupt officials respond to changes in policy? Jump to find out.

LectureHop: When Journalists Are Targets
James Foley

James Foley

Lectures around campus have already begun for the semester, and Media Maven Max Rettig went to check out a lecture on conflict journalism and the late James Foley.

“I wish we had a more upbeat topic for you, but we don’t want to hide the truth from you” was the opening line of this panel on reporting in conflict zones, setting the tone for both frank discussion and sobering statistics on the state of conflict journalism today. The official title, “After James Foley—Covering Conflict When Journalists Are Targets,” also says a lot about how the night’s talk would unfold.

The discussion featured five extraordinarily experienced panelists—David Rohde (Reuters, formerly New York Times), Rukmini Callimachi (NYT, formerly Associated Press), Phil Balboni (CEO/co-founder, GlobalPost), Nicole Tung (freelance), and Joel Simon (exec. director, Committee to Protect Journalists)—who each talked of their experience with Foley and their work in journalism.

Mr. Simon was first to speak. He described this period of journalism as “deadly and dangerous” and went on to cite stats that could make your stomach turn: 232 journalists were imprisoned by the end of 2012 (an all-time high). Around one-third of all journalists killed last year were freelancers. In Syria, 71 journalists have been killed and 80 have been kidnapped. Almost 90 percent of all journalists killed since 1992 have been local journalists working in their own countries. Technology is one of the biggest factors in facilitating both freelance journalism and the spread of terroristic messages, notably the videos by ISIS.

As it stands right now, three American and two British journalists are at risk of death. We hope that they are supported, saved and rescued as quickly as possible.

More panelists speak about Foley and conflict coverage

LectureHop: Guns, PMCs, And Steel
Looking stately

Roosevelt president and VP with their panelists, looking stately

Last Thursday was the Roosevelt Institute’s annual policy forum on the topic of the future of the U.S. defense industry. Never one to miss a good panel discussion, we sent defensive defenestrator Julia Goodman to report.

In case you’re unaware, the Roosevelt Institute is a nonpartisan think tank with chapters on college campuses across the nation. The Columbia chapter, among other things, knows how to put together a good panel discussion–they organize at least one forum a year. This year’s focus was the American military-industrial complex, which Eisenhower famously warned against in his 1961 farewell speech before leaving the White House.

The panel was an interesting group of people, and considering that there were only three speakers, the Institute leaders did an impressive job of capturing the diversity of experience within the defense industry. The speakers were Austin Long, a professor and consultant for various defense engineering companies; Ken Nevor, an executive from one such company; and John Schiffer, a GS student who served in the Marines. The dynamic between the three was quite interesting–as the youngest (and lowest-ranking) speaker, Schiffer seemed to carry less respect with the two older panelists, who frequently whispered loudly over him. Nevor, meanwhile, insisted on reading from a prepared sheet of responses. (He initially said this was because he was tired, but then said that he “ha[d] to,” which added to the sense that he was toeing the company line.)

Nevertheless, all had insights to share. Responding to questions about how they view the relationship between the military and private companies, none of the three speakers seemed to have any moral qualms with it. Nevor explained that, from his perspective, Eisenhower was warning against a nation in which the government would spend all of its time and energy on military technology (as Soviet Russia was perceived to be doing at the time) and thus outsourcing such work to private companies is actually in line with what Eisenhower would want. He also pointed out that side the military is “designed and tailored to meet the needs” of the U.S. government, outsourcing work to private companies does not mean the military will suddenly be doing things the government, or taxpayers, wouldn’t be okay with.

Long had a less uniformly positive perspective, saying of private defense contractors, “Sometimes they’re helpful, sometimes they’re not, sometimes they’re just really weird.” To corroborate this statement, he shared the story of the private contractor whose job it was to make all the keys on one base Long worked on. When he needed a new key, Long had to go to the edge of the base to visit this man, known only as “The Keymaster,” and listen to him tell strange stories for a while before eventually getting his key. Schiffer added that because private contractors are nonmilitary personnel, they can technically choose not to work whenever they want, and can’t be ordered to go into the field. He occasionally witnessed significant problems with this, especially when private translators in Afghanistan would refuse to accompany a mission.

But there must be pros to contracting private labor, too?

LectureHop: Drew Houston
Things got shakey out of excitement

Things got shakey out of excitement

Friday, as keynote speaker of their #StartupColumbia entrepreneurship festival, CORE hosted a conversation between Walt Mossberg (JRN ’70), editor of Re/Code and  Dropbox founder Drew Houston. We sent Artur Renault, our reporter with his head in the clouds, to cover.

Houston, pronounced like the street downtown, not the city in Texas, could be a GS student in your introductory CompSci class from his informal demeanor and long-sleeve shirt; you’d never guessed that he created Dropbox, the world’s largest file-sharing platform. In fact, when Mossberg asked the room how many of us used Dropbox, you’d be hard-pressed to find an arm that wasn’t raised. “What, nobody uses Google Drive or OneDrive?,” he asked next. When a few hands went up, Houston shrugged—“Nobody’s perfect.”

Being that this was an entrepreneurship event, many people were interested in how Dropbox came to be, so Houston told us the story in detail. He was waiting for the Feng Wah Chinatown bus in Boston’s South Station and realized he had forgotten his thumb drive containing all his work. He also didn’t have any Family Guy episodes left to watch on his laptop, and he didn’t feel like the lady next to him, who may have been carrying a bag of crabs, would be interested in much conversation. Realizing that his four-hour trip had been doomed to boredom by the simple misstep of forgetting a thumb drive, Houston began coding what would become Dropbox on that very bus ride.

And the rest was history?

LectureHop: Jeffrey Eugenides
"What my life has come to: sitting alone on a Friday night, listening to Soundcheck on NPR.”

“What my life has come to: sitting alone on a Friday night, listening to Soundcheck on NPR.”

In case you didn’t hear, the entire universe has been in New York this past week. Wednesday night was graced with the presence of Jeffrey Eugenides, author of The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex, and The Marriage Plot. Bwog daily Tatini Mal-Sarkar saw him speak and proceeded to fangirl for hours/days/probably years.

I rush to Schapiro at 6:45, having skipped a solid three quarters of my Lit Hum class, but alas, to no avail: the room is already packed entirely to capacity. The crowd is full of MFA students (all smelling of smoke, naturally), some of whom are, for lack of space, sitting cross-legged on stage, quite literally at (what will soon be) Jeffrey Eugenides’ feet. The doors are impeded by would-be lecture-goers willing to stand in the doorway if that means hearing him speak, but somehow I’m one of the last six people to get a seat and, by pure luck/force of elbows, manage to secure a seat in the second row. I can’t help but think that the universe is on my side, and I’m hyper-aware of both my unreasonable expectations and the extraordinarily high chance that they’ll be wildly disappointed.

The program coordinator speaks very briefly—“I’ve been dreaming of this for years” (same)—and a student, dressed in (what else?) a sport coat and Keds, gives the real introduction. He talks about the metaphoricity of Eugenides’ work, and how it speaks simultaneously to the tendency of self-loathing, the inability of knowing oneself, and the capacity for love. After perfectly synthesizing Eugenides’ great gift for taking common things and making them uncommon, he exits the stage, and on comes the man of the hour.

Pauses for laughter, and self-deprecation.