Search Results: lecturehop
LectureHop: Decoding The Soviet Press
he stares into your soul

Professor Tom Kent

Bwog’s Sports Editor and amateur Russian Ross Chapman hit up Professor Thomas Kent’s lecture at the Harriman Institute’s 12th floor offices in the International Affairs Building yesterday morning to hear the reporter and Russian scholar present “Decoding the Soviet Press.” As it turns out, the newspapers and radio of the time were way more that “just propoaganda.”

While some people just stumbled into 1219 IAB for the six trays of free Indian food at lunchtime, the room was pretty packed regardless to listen to the usual round of Monday lectures. Tom Kent is an adjunct professor at the School of Journalism and holds a number of posts with the Associated Press. He showed up today to talk about his specialty in Soviet media, which he credits to his six years as an AP correspondent in Moscow. Professor Kent wanted to debunk the idea that the Soviet press was all propaganda. “Once you get past the turgid writing” of the official sources, he said, there’s a lot to be found that exposes day-to-day and political issues in the Soviet Union.

The structuring of the Soviet press varied as the leaders did. Lenin considered himself a journalist and saw no problem with being simultaneously in charge of the government and the media. He said that the Soviet press “is a collective organizer of the country,” as it all espoused certain thoughts and worked towards certain goals. Contrarily, he referred to western media as “the depot of ideas,” a useless warehouse where ideas were stashed without purpose.  In this era, the press was, as Kent called it, “a guardian and cheerleader” for the ideals of the country. But once Stalin took over, everything became stricter. There was a mood of fear among editors, and one piece that could be construed as anti-Soviet could have untold consequences. This continued until Khrushchev took over and “the Thaw” began in 1956, but returned with Brezhnev in 1964. This was a “stolid, gray period” for the Soviet media, where it felt like everything was “just getting by.”

Now, the media largely served two purposes. It informed and propagandized the public while also serving as a means of intraparty communication. A popular means of propaganda was presenting failure as something good. Professor Kent used the example of “Fish Day,” a new once-a-week plan from leading Soviet doctors to feed everyone fish for medical benefits. Of course, the real reason was that the country was having well-documented meat shortages. The newspapers also pulled quotes from even the smallest tabloids in foreign countries to create whatever international appearance they wanted, such as unity in support of Brezhnev. Actual problems would be relegated to the back pages, but Kent didn’t think everything that deserves the front page in America would fit in the USSR. A plane crash, for instance, “in Soviet proportions,” is nothing compared to the still recent losses of war, and most people in the country didn’t always want to hear about crises. Of course we’ll see some media practice as confusing or wrong if we view it from 40 years and 5,000 miles away.

“The Truth about Untruth” after the jump

LectureHop: Literature And Philosophy And Quarrels, Oh My!

thinkin’ about how philosophy and literature will inevitably spar for eternity :/

Tuesday Daily Editor/ultimate renaissance woman Briana Bursten put her incredibly extensive knowledge of philosophy and literature to the test when she attended a lecture entitled “The Ancient Quarrel: Philosophy and Literature” on Monday night. So who cares if she only took one intro philosophy class last semester and now calls herself “Yung Aristotle”? Who cares if she only skimmed read select passages of the Odyssey during her First Year English class? This girl is BACK and ready to share her academic mastery with all of you plebeians Bwog readers. Bow down, bitches. 

Barnard alumna and former Assistant Professor Rebecca Goldstein returned to her alma mater on Monday night to give a lecture detailing the convoluted relationship that philosophy and literature share. As she took the podium in the Diana Oval, Goldstein gave her personal history regarding her academic career at Barnard and her professional evolution from philosopher to novelist. Though the lecture began a bit after its set start time at 7pm, it became clear that this talk would be an excellent addition to the alumni lecture series commemorating Barnard’s 125th anniversary.

But we’re only getting started!

LectureHop: Ethical Issues in Ebola and Beyond
I sure wouldn't

Would you turn down Ebola advice from a face like this?

While he usually lives by the motto, “ball is life,” Bwog’s Ross Chapman hopped over to a lecture about Ebola and beyond, and reported back. 

A group of experts, mostly Columbians, gathered in the Satow Room yesterday to hold a panel on the ethical responsibilities and questions that arise when responding to a crisis. Using Ebola as a case study, the doctors and policymakers discussed the perceived incompatibilities between capitalism and the public health agenda, autonomy and the greater good, and science and politics. The panel was headed by Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Earth Institute, and included Jeff Schlegelmilch, a managing director at the same Center; Arturo Brito, a deputy commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Health; and Robert Klitzman, a director of several ethics programs at Columbia.

While it was arranged as a panel, it felt more like each speaker delivered their own ideas for twenty minutes, with a little interaction saved for the very end. Irwin Redlener spoke first with the aid of a few Powerpoint slides. He posed a lot of questions without many answers. Are there crisis situations where we can call for reduced standards of care? Where should we allocate our scarce resources? And who prioritizes certain lives over others? Redlener focused more on these issues, which other speakers would address further. He believes that disaster is inevitable, and so prevention cannot be used as a complete replacement to response. He ended his speech by noting that “no decision is a decision” in a crisis. Decisions imply thought beforehand, and it’s impossible to do that in a crisis unless there was adequate planning in years prior.

Nex, Robert Klitzman put out the idea that disasters are often unanticipated consequences of technological advancement. Epidemic diseases spread the way they do today because of our complex transportation infrastructure, for example. He then moved on to talk about the politics of fear. At what point do we quarantine people, and how necessary is it, really? He remarked that fear makes governors press for medical response to something like Ebola “for the public health,” but that same reasoning can’t make some states mandate vaccines for children. Part of this fear is media coverage, which, when it comes to disease crises, often mongers fear for domestic but not international causes. Most interestingly, he called for a better social scientific approach to disease response. Anthropological studies are necessary to know how people will react to treatment. Cultural barriers can make people think that pills will give them disease, and lingual issues can make populations believe that experimental, 30% effectiveness treatments is a cure-all. This is all to say, there’s more to epidemics than just the disease itself.

More speeches and discussion after the jump

LectureHop: Justice Poetry
Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine, a poet and professor at Pomona College, was one of the speakers at Tuesday’s presentation

Whether it’s attending drunken FroSci lectures or showing up to Tunisian talks, Bwog loves to learn in the classroom and beyond. We sent Poetry Professional Briana Bursten to check out Justice Poetry: Readings and Discussion with Claudia Rankine, Dawn Lundy Martin, and Messiah. Read about her evening of learning and listening below!

A genuine feeling of reverence was evident as individuals from various ages and backgrounds crowded the Schapiro Center’s Davis Auditorium this past Tuesday for Justice Poetry: Readings and Discussion with Claudia Rankine, Dawn Lundy Martin, and Messiah. The evening of sharing and dialogue began with opening remarks from Barnard Associate English Professor Monica Miller. Miller explained that each poet would read pieces that thematically center on issues of justice, and that readings were encouraged to be broken up by anecdotes and explanations by the poets themselves.

The first poet was Claudia Rankine, a graduate of the MFA Poetry Program at Columbia and a current English professor at Pomona College. Rankine is the author of multiple collections of poetry, and she spoke with sincerity as she read three pieces from her latest book, entitled Citizen. Rankine’s attention towards racial issues and current injustices was particularly evident through her anecdotes, which were inserted between her readings. One of my favorite stories that Rankine shared had to do with a discussion that she had with one of her friends during a walk through their California neighborhood. Rankine spoke of a time when she asked this friend when she has “felt the most white.” Her friend told her of experiences on the East Coast when taking public transportation and how every time she boarded a subway or a train, there would almost always be a black man with an empty seat next to him. Rankine explained that her friend would always “feel the most white” when she consciously made the choice to take this seat. This anecdote was followed by the Rankine’s final reading of the night— an incredibly powerful poem about the symbolism of this “empty seat.” Rankine remained seated on stage while the two other poets shared their work.

Dawn Lundy Martin and Messiah Ramkissoon after the jump!

LectureHop: His Excellency Mehdi Jomaa
President Bollinger looking down upon baldness

President Bollinger looking down upon baldness

Yesterday morning, Mehdi Jomaa, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Tunisia, gave a lecture through the World Leaders Forum event series. We sent Maghreb maniac Mason Amelotte to Low Rotunda to report on the lecture.

The morning began the same way most World Leaders Forum events do: with overbearing security guards scattered throughout Low Library and a coat check that assured I felt like a child for not wearing my finest Emenegildo Zegna suit. After taking my rightful seat in the very last row, however, my deflated feelings were relieved as the woman who checked me in at the entrance kindly asked me to “move forward a row because there were too many chairs.” (Why am I even forced to register for these things then?)

At precisely 11:00AM, President Bollinger came out alongside Former Prime Minister of the Republic of Tunisia, His Excellency Mehdi Jomaa, followed by both of their wives and a delegation of Tunisian officials. PrezBo described how it was his honor to be introducing Former Prime Minister Jomaa as a speaker in the World Leaders Forum event series before going on to give a brief account of Tunisia’s history over the course of the past four years. With all that said, President Bollinger opened the stage to His Excellency Mehdi Jomaa, who would speak on “Leading Tunisia’s Democracy Start-up.”

The Former Prime Minister was greeted with a round of applause, to which he responded by first wishing the audience a good morning. He boasted the fact that this was his fourth interaction with Columbia, though he simultaneously exuded a sense of humility as he described how lucky he was to be speaking here. He explained to the audience how during his lecture, he hoped to answer the questions “What makes Tunisia’s newly formed democracy difficult?” and “What impact will Tunisia have on its surrounding region in the future?”

Tell me more about Tunisia!

LectureHop: Hanging Out With Andy Cohen
Andy Cohen

Andy Cohen

Last night, the LGBT+ Journalists of Columbia hosted a talk and Q&A session with the King of Bravo, Andy Cohen, in the Journalism Lecture Hall. We sent Bravo Stan Courtney Couillard to check out the event and see what Andy had to say.

I don’t know how any true Real Housewife franchise fan could have missed seeing Andy Cohen speak at Columbia last night. While I mostly gawk at him through my tv while watching episodes of Watch What Happens Live on my DVR, I would never pass up an opportunity to watch the man that makes the magic that is Bravo happen on a daily basis. Some may know him as the Executive Producer of the Real Housewife franchise; others may better recall when he was pushed by Teresa Giudice in her shining television moment. Regardless, Cohen has become a household name in regards to pop culture and reality television with his work on the Bravo network.

Students (and outsiders) packed the lecture hall to get a chance to feel like they were actually in the Bravo Clubhouse. A student introduced Cohen as the crowd clapped for his accomplishments and one person squealed over the mentioning of Kim Richards. Cohen began the lecture reminding us why we watch his show religiously: he makes conversation easy and he’s quick to entertain.

He began his quick talk about his rise to broadcast fame by confessing he was “very hungover” from attending the SNL after party the night before. After apologizing in advance, Cohen began to recall his ascent in the journalism world. Cohen explained how he has been in the business for 25 years, and he made his start working with CBS NY after graduating from Boston University. He confessed how he always wanted to pursue broadcast even though a superior at CBS broke to him he was cross eyed. Cohen would go on to spend ten years with the network before moving on to ultimately run production for Bravo.

Find out more about Andy Cohen next.

LectureHop: Spanish Sexual Identities Through Film
Yes, yes it does

Does this look like the face of a man who wrote “Cannibal Man?”

In an addition to the series that shows that Bwog is intellectual and likes to learn outside of the classroom, we dispatched Sports Editor Ross Chapman to write about his experience sitting in on a lecture entitled “Eloy De La Iglesia and Emerging Gay Identities During the Spanish Transition.” Read about Eloy De La Iglesia and the lecturer, Dr. Alberto Mira, below. 

In a quiet Milbank Hall last night, a few dozen students, teachers, and miscellaneous queer theory aficionados gathered to listen to Doctor Alberto Mira’s quest to “throw new light on an under-appreciated filmmaker.” After a quick introduction from the head of the Spanish language program, Dr. Mira (a professor at Oxford Brookes University) got right to discussing the straightforwardly named lecture topic, “Eloy De La Iglesia and Emerging Gay Identities During the Spanish Transition.”

Eloy de la Iglesia isn’t very well known in America, or many other places in the world. However, according to Dr. Mira, he was “probably the most popular filmmaker” in Spain in the late 70s and early 80s. He was just as synonymous with shocking film as he was with radical portrayals of social issues. His biggest hit in America might be the 1973 cult classic, “Cannibal Man,” but his films about juvenile delinquency and the emerging Spanish queer identity hold more public worth in Spain. On the question of whether or not he was a “good filmmaker,” Mira said that he had points of view and ideas, and was able to communicate them through the medium. He was “inelegant but interesting,” a style that unfortunately didn’t do him much help with art critics.

The period in question, the “Spanish Transition,” refers to the switch from dictatorship to democracy in the nation. The changing politics coincided with a serious relaxation of censorship and a major upswing in the public presence of marginalized identities. The political side of it officially began with the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, the beginning of the Spanish Transition for gay identity politics has murkier origins. Many place it in 1973, when articles and magazines on homosexuality entered circulation, but the movement was small and easy to ignore until the late 70s. Gay politicians began to get involved with Spain’s left wing, and a lot of the rhetoric of the time was very close to modern queer theory. De la Iglesia went to meetings and engaged with gay politics, which prompted him to discuss the realities of the gay community in his films.

But what were those realities?

LectureHop: How Social Services Win Votes In India
Tariq Thachil

Tariq Thachil

Yesterday, Tariq Thachil lead a lecture in Knox Hall called “Elite Parties, Poor Voters: How Social Services Win Votes in India.” We sent Bwogger Ari Malik to check out what Thachil had to say and report on the night’s lecture. 

I entered the room covered in mahogany furniture. At least I thought it was mahogany – it smelt rich and academic. At the front was Tariq Thachil, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Yale, and he was surrounded by old distinguished professors. I felt as if I had made it in the academic world – all I needed was my monocle and fountain pens.

Once everyone had settled down, Professor Thachil began his presentation about the ways in which political parties in India appeal to the public. The fundamental crux of the issue was how to balance pleasing the poor demographic, appeasing the rich and attracting ideologues. It was all very House of Cards.

After disproving the idea of social engineering – the placing of lower caste individuals in positions of power to appeal to a wider demographic – Thachil began to prove why the “service strategy” provides the best solution for political parties to garner votes. A “service strategy” involves providing communities with benefits, like basic medicines and books, in order to generate popular support for one’s party.

He indicated that providing services to individuals could directly influence them to voting for your party due to the “tangible benefits” that comes along with the strategy. Citing the state of Chhattisgarh, Thachil proved that while the quality of the service was irrelevant (basic medical care was more than sufficient), the very notion of aiding the public drastically improved the popularity of the party.

Having suggested that it creates a “social network” of binding relationships, the service strategy was the most productive way to garner votes in India. This once again proves that very rarely does politics depend on who you are as a human being, or what you stand for, but what you do for me.

Tariq Thachil via Yale’s PoliSci website

LectureHop: The Cultural Politics Of French Hip Hop
Elle me dit, "Danse!"

Elle me dit, “Danse!”

French fanatic and fastidious Bwogger Rachel Deal brings coverage of French hip hop, with an emphasis on both hips and hopping.

Last Thursday evening, The Maison Française hosted a talk about French Moves, a book by Felicia McCarren on urban dance practices of minorities in France. The speakers were McCarren herself, who is a French professor at Tulane University, Barbara Browning of The Tisch School, and Columbia’s Madeleine Dobie.

Although the lecture was entitled “The Cultural Politics of French Hip Hop,” the speakers made it clear at the beginning that “le hip-hop” refers almost exclusively to dance—not music (which was a little disappointing, because French music is pretty cool).

After an introduction by Dobie, McCarren gave a slideshow presentation on dance and identity politics in France. She discussed how in the United States we focus on individuality, but the French focus more on universalism and joining together. Because of this, visibility of minorities and their experiences is a difficult topic to discuss. She later clarified her idea of identity politics, saying that in talking about hip hop in France, she prefers to use the term “identity poetics.” Because the roots of hip hop are in the United States, she said, French hip hop is a citation—while hip hop in the United States often functions to empower, hip hop in France tries to not just say something, but to say something different—to articulate difference.

She showed different images and clips of dancers using their art to tell their stories. One dancer in particular named Yiphun Chiam told the story of her family’s experience during the Cambodian Genocide and as immigrants in France. She showed another clip, too, of a dance group named Paname (slang for Paris and its suburbs) dancing hip hop to old French music.

The presentation ended with questions from the other panelists, Browning and Dobie, and from the audience. One topic they covered was the recent terrorist attack in Paris on the magazine Charlie Hebdo. The panelists discussed how dance could “play a part in the response,” and McCarren also expressed her discomfort in how the French media tried to portray one of the attackers as representative of “hip hop aesthetic” by broadcasting a video of him rapping. They wrapped up the talk by discussing the power of dance—how it responds to current events but can also offer new ways of thinking—and McCarren expressed her belief that minority politics in France will continue to develop.

Pourquoi tu gâches ta vie? via Shutterstock

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?