August 18, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 20

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    In the News

    The Chronicle’s biweekly column In the News offers a digest of commentary and quotations by a few of the University faculty members, students and alumni who have been headlining the news in recent weeks. Chicago faculty members are some of the most frequently quoted experts, so space allows publishing references to only selected examples. To read many of the full newspaper articles mentioned in this column, visit the In the News column at the University News Office Web site: http://www-news.uchicago.edu/.

    Writing on President Bush’s Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts Jr. and the popular notion that judges shift their views once they are confirmed and are serving on the court, David Strauss, the Harry N. Wyatt Professor in the Law School, noted: “The idea that judges change their basic philosophical views once they are on the bench is a myth.” Strauss wrote in a Sunday, Aug. 7 Chicago Tribune op-ed that historically, whenever a president has had a specific agenda in mind when making an appointment, the appointee almost never disappoints the president who chose him. He argued that often it is the issues that change, and as new members have joined the bench over the court’s 216-year history, few justices have shifted their views. Strauss concluded that the labels of “conservative” and “liberal” are what shift, based on which justices make up the court at any given time. “If any justice who disagrees with Scalia and Thomas becomes, by definition, a liberal, then Scalia and Thomas begin to look more moderate. But it is the court that has changed, because of new appointees.”

    Allen Sanderson, Senior Lecturer in Economics and the College, wrote an op-ed that explained why Mayor Daley’s proposition of bringing the 2016 Summer Olympic Games to the city of Chicago is economically unsound. Sanderson argued in the Wednesday, Aug. 3 Chicago Tribune that building new Olympic facilities would come at the expense of other civic projects; that Chicago-area taxpayers would pick up the greatest portion of the tab through higher taxes; that the next American city to host the Olympic Games will have to prepare for a much greater security risk than in years past; and that the city would find the International Olympic Committee able to “extract every last dollar from the successful bidder.” Sanderson added: “Neither the immediate revenue nor the long-term spillover benefits ever come close to meeting expectations.”

    Jon Trowbridge (A.B.’91, S.M.’92) and Eric Elshtain, a doctoral candidate in the Committee on the History of Culture, were featured in the Chicago Reader Friday, Aug. 5. Trowbridge and Elshtain have designed a computer program that generates poetry based on popular texts, such as Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species or Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The human element comes in when the person creating a composition decides which texts and what percentages of them to use in generating the resulting poem. The program allows the person to choose from these poetic forms: haiku, renga, tanka or blank verse. “Haiku machines have been around for a while,” said Elshtain. “Within the parameters of Gnoetry, I have a very conservative view of poetry. I think that I want people to immediately see the machine’s output as poetry, and syllabic verse forms like blank verse mark the poems with the banner ‘See—this is poetry!’”

    Research conducted by Bruce Lahn, Assistant Professor in Human Genetics and Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology, was mentioned in the Science Journal column published in the Friday, Aug. 5 Wall Street Journal. Lahn and a team of researchers at the University completed a study in which they found that in the process of natural selection—when gene mutations that help a plant or animal survive become part of that species’ genetic makeup, while other harmful mutations die out—the higher the mutation rates, the higher the percentage of mutations being accepted. According to the column, Lahn’s discovery is “counterintuitive and controversial,” challenging the presumption that the fraction of retained mutations depends solely on how beneficial they are.

    Deborah Burnet, Associate Professor in Medicine and Pediatrics, was quoted in a Thursday, Aug. 4 Chicago Tribune article that reported on the obstacles urban neighborhood residents face when attempting to drop pounds and fight off obesity. Unsafe streets in neighborhoods with high crime rates make walking for exercise too dangerous, and too many fast food restaurants, as well as too few grocery stores that stock ample or fresh produce, abound in these neighborhoods. All of these factors make it more difficult for people living in these areas to follow a healthy lifestyle. Burnet, who has studied obesity on the South Side of Chicago, said: “This isn’t just a matter of individual will power. There are a lot of other influences out there.”

    Robin Scheffler, a third-year student in the College, was quoted in a Tuesday, Aug. 2 Chicago Sun-Times article that reported on a group of students who are examining letters written by soldiers who served in the Civil War. Scheffler received a Gilder Lehrman Scholarship to study the documents with 14 other students at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York. Scheffler was studying the writings of John Nugent, who was around age 21 when he enlisted in the Confederate army. Scheffler said: “They are powerful letters, and no one had ever looked at them before. It was really interesting.”