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University events and lectures preview/review

A preview and review of U events and lectures, Feb. 28-March 10

Compiled by Adam Overland

Ben Franklin 100 dollar bill
This year's John Brandl Lecture featured Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of the recently released book, Franklin's Thrift: The History of a Lost American Virtue.

February 23, 2010

"The Lost Virtue of Thrift," with historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Feb. 18, 4 p.m., Cowles Auditorium, Humphrey Institute. Since I began this preview/review column a couple of months ago, it seems that every time I go to a lecture, I walk away having bought another book. The events so far have been free, but still--they're getting expensive. Fortunately, in the spirit of Barbara Dafoe Whitehead's lecture on thrift, the book was discounted $4, and I had only to cough up an even Andrew Jackson.

This year's John Brandl Lecture featured Whitehead, director of the John Templeton Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values in New York, and author of the recently released book, Franklin's Thrift: The History of a Lost American Virtue.

Notable were those in attendance, including former governor Al Quie, Saint Paul police chief John Harrington, Met Council chair Peter Bell, former chair of the Republican party Ron Carey, and more--many of whom were involved in a spirited discussion after Whitehead's talk. Fortunately, the event had a nonpartisan reception of cookies, crackers, and cheese, and if there is one thing people agree on, it's that cookies, crackers, and cheese, on the whole, are good.

Franklin loved cheese, and he equated thrift, says Whitehead, with freedom--freedom from the servitude of debt. Today, it's pretty obvious to anyone not living under a rock that we, as a country, are living under a mountain of debt. In contrast, Whitehead recalled a seemingly incomprehensible time in our nation's history (post-WWII) when Americans would save 25 percent of their income, after tax, and put down 20 percent on a house!

Keep in mind here that thrift has not always been considered something only for penny-pinchers and cheapskates. It was an integral part of a socially constructive culture, says Whitehead. The mutual savings banks, credit unions, savers' clubs, and school savings-bond programs of old have now been replaced by payday loans and state sponsored lotteries like this one in Colorado, that actively sell to Americans the idea that massive amounts of money will fall from the sky and liberate you from your dreary, debt-ridden life and humdrum domestic responsibilities.

Whitehead suggests that our fast-cash, free-money society needs to re-establish a public education campaign, challenge consumer spending as a main solution to economic problems, and build new thrift institutions. For Benjamin Franklin, who personified and promoted the idea, thrift meant working productively, consuming wisely, saving proportionally, and giving generously. It's fitting that he should now be on the $100 bill. And were I to abide by more of Franklin and Whitehead's advice, perhaps I could have afforded five books instead of one.

The lecture was the second annual celebration of John Brandl, who served as a dedicated member of the University of Minnesota faculty from 1968 until his death in 2008. Brandl, who was dean of the Humphrey Institute from 1997 to 2002, was an active member of his community, a splendid scholar, and a valuable public servant. Much of what Whitehead spoke about can be gleaned from this article at The American Interest Online.

Common Sense: Art and the Quotidian, through May 23, Weisman Art Museum.--Review by U teaching specialist Camille LeFevre
Warhol Campbell's Soup"Quotidian" is the smarty-pants word for "daily," "everyday," "commonplace." Since Marcel Duchamp turned a urinal upside down and called it art in 1917, the bold re-contextualization of the everyday (even the banal) into the elite echelons of artistic expression and enterprise has been hotly contested. Transforming the everyday into art has no doubt contributed to the democratization--the great flattening and leveling--of our culture at large (reality TV anyone?). When it comes to what gets hung on a gallery wall, the results, as the Weisman Art Museum's new show Common Sense: Art and the Quotidian demonstrates, range from iconoclastic innovation to reflections of soul-deadening conformity.

Curator Diane Mullin assembled the show from the Weisman's formidable archives and loans from local collections. The works range from Walker Evans's haunting photographs of the disenfranchised and the working poor of the 1930s to Luke Dubois's recent "eye charts" created from common words used in the State of Union addresses by U.S. presidents. Three particular images stayed with me from a walk through last week.

One was Andy Warhol's 1968-69 screen print New England Clam Chowder. Warhol's re-contextualization of commercial grocery products (and their designs)--particularly the Campbell's soup cans--was arguably every bit as revolutionary as Duchamp's ready-mades (like the urinal). Hung next to James Rosenquist's 1964-65 Spaghetti and Grass--which resembles a mess of SpaghettiOs® on its top panel with artificial turf grass below--the two works sum up the processing and mass production of both new foods and nature for the general public that began to take hold in the mid-20th century.

By the time visitors get to Anthony Marchetti's photograph Apartment for Rent, the processing of our very humdrum lives into generic, utilitarian living space produced for the masses is on display. Within the bleak, beige-walled box--with a single Venetian-blinded window--the décor is limited to multiple electrical outlets, an air conditioner embedded in one wall, and a long length of cable cord winding spaghetti-like (or perhaps umbilical cord-like) along the floor. In this image is an existential question that leaves me feeling bereft, grieving for the souls that find themselves there, and for a culture that allows such places to be.

Paraplegic yoga instructor Matthew Sanford lecture: "A Mind-Body Approach To Healing and Recovery." Feb. 24, 5:30 p.m., Coffman Union Theater. Matthew Sanford, a nationally recognized author, yoga teacher, and expert on integrative medicine, has been a paraplegic since age 13. His book Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence is an emotional account of his recovery.

Fisch Stories, a reading and book signing with Robert Fisch. Feb. 25, 4-5 p.m., U of M Bookstore, Coffman Union. Holocaust survivor, author, and retired University of Minnesota professor Dr. Robert Fisch will discuss his new book, Fisch Stories: Reflections on Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Fisch, a native of Budapest, Hungary, delivers a collection of stories based on his reflections of the Holocaust, the Hungarian revolution, his journey to America, and his work as a doctor, artist, and humanitarian. Each of the stories showcases the presence or absence of his six guiding values of: compassion, equal treatment, children, humor, suffering, and the value of remaining human even in inhumane circumstances. At times funny and solemn, humane and barbaric, historical and philosophical, Fisch Stories captures the universal desire to sustain life.

The Viking in the Wheat Field book coverAuthor Susan Dworkin will discuss her book, The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist's Struggle to Preserve the World’s Harvest A reading and book signing with Susan Dworkin, author of The Viking in the Wheat Field, March 3, 4 p.m., U of M Bookstore. Author Susan Dworkin will discuss her book, The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist's Struggle to Preserve the World’s Harvest. Dworkin takes us into the world of Bent Skovmand, a brilliant Danish plant scientist and U graduate, who fought to preserve the world’s wheat supply. Skovmand helped create the "doomsday vault," a massively fortified cavern to safeguard millions of unique crop seeds against catastrophe. The Viking in the Wheat Field chronicles the efforts of Skovmand, Norman Borlaug, and other agronomists--many with University of Minnesota connections--on their crusade to save and preserve lost strains of wheat and other crops, and breed them into stronger, more disease-resistant strains.

Headliners: The Curious Culture of Wall Street. March 4, 7-9 p.m., 135 Continuing Education and Conference Center (Cost: $10). Fat Wall Street bonuses are back in the news, with reports of staggering compensation packages for the very people who helped cause the nation's financial collapse. While the average American worker faces frozen wages, furloughs, plundered retirement funds, and double-digit unemployment, top Wall Street producers stand to reap millions. Anthropology professor and former investment banker Karen Ho, author of Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street, will provide a fascinating portrait of the curious culture of Wall Street.

Kenneth Weiss of Penn State University presents: "How complicated is life…and how did it get that way?" March 5, 3:35 p.m., 131 Tate Lab of Physics. In the 150 years since Darwin’s Origin of Species, thousands of investigators have studied the phenogenetic relationships, between genotypes and phenotypes, in plants, animals, and unicellular organisms. Interestingly, despite the greatness of his contributions, some of Darwin’s most important questions remain problematic even today. The nature of genetic causation is one of them.

First Fridays: Virtue and Vice in the Stacks--Kindness and Envy. March 5, noon-1 p.m., 120 Elmer L. Andersen Library. History has revealed an enduring desire to feel chic and dress luxuriously. Objects from the Goldstein Museum of Design's collection will be used to highlight the power that clothing can have over our senses, the status ascribed to those who dress richly, and the envy that others' clothing can elicit in us. Also happening: Kathy Allen will share the range of beauty contained in AHL's historic nursery and seed catalog collection, one of the largest in the country.

Around the World in 180 Minutes, March 10, 9 a.m.-noon, 210 Donhowe. The University is host to many students and staff from other parts of the world. In this lively session, International Student and Scholar Services will provide a whirlwind tour of the globe by addressing a series of questions:

  • What is the U of M's largest international population?
  • What's the difference between the Arab and the Muslim world?
  • Are there significant cultural differences among our Asian students and scholars?
  • What are international students' impressions of the U.S.?
  • Has the U of M changed with the breakup of the Soviet Union?
  • Where are the Europeans on campus? Where are the Africans?

From Hybrid Corn to HoneyCrisps: University Agricultural Success Stories, runs through May 9, Bell Museum. For more than 100 years, the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station has improved food and food production in Minnesota and around the world. Since 1978, David Hansen has documented these experiment station success stories through his vivid and award-winning photography.

University events and lectures preview/review is a periodic column (about every two-weeks) highlighting events and lectures recently past and soon-to-come on the UMTC campus. Faculty and staff are invited to contribute. Preview submissions should be no more than 500 words, reviews 150 or less, and are subject to review by the Brief editor.

Find more Twin Cities events using the U's events calendar.