Skip to main content

Swarthmore in the NewsDecember 16, 2011

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Students staff shelters to get the homeless on track

By Karen Heller; Inquirer columnist

December 14, 2011

On a wicked night, the rain lashing the double doors of Old First Church at Fourth and Race, 30 men file into the social hall for a homemade spaghetti dinner, companionship, and eight hours of rest in a warm, secure place. ...

The men, all homeless, are called "guests" and treated as such. Care and comfort are provided by an exuberant, dedicated, rotating cadre of 200 volunteers from Villanova, Swarthmore, Penn, Temple, and Drexel, who cook, dine with guests, play games, and converse, with three to five students spending the night every night.

Daniel Cho rode the train 45 minutes in from Swarthmore, then skateboarded from Market East. He arrives at Old First drenched, fighting a cold. This is finals week, an intense time, yet he's here to help.

"Homelessness is more of a complex problem than we believe it to be," says Cho, a junior. "Here, we try and make no distinction between the helper and the helped. We're learning from these people how service ought to be performed."

The Old First Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia, SREHUP for short, opened last month, becoming the nation's second such student-operated facility, following the Harvard Homeless Shelter, founded in 1983. ...

Chicago Tribune

Composer's friendship with CSO principal yields special gift, a violin concerto

By John von Rhein, classical music critic

December 13, 2011

How many composers are fortunate enough to have a brand-new work performed by two major soloists with two major orchestras under two major conductors, only a few months apart?

That is the happy situation in which James Matheson finds himself.

The admired American composer's new Violin Concerto, a co-commission by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is to be given its world premiere at this week's CSO subscription concerts in Symphony Center. The soloist will be Baird Dodge, the CSO's principal second violin, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting.

The concerto - which is due to receive its West Coast premiere in March by the philharmonic, with Martin Chalifour, the orchestra's principal concertmaster, as soloist and Pablo Heras-Casado conducting - owes its existence to a friendship that began some 20 years ago when Matheson and Dodge were roommates at Swarthmore College, outside Philadelphia.

Although their interests and backgrounds varied, they shared what Matheson calls "a certain wandering spirit." Matheson studied philosophy and music while playing electric bass in a rock band. A chemistry major, Dodge came from a musical family (his father is the respected computer music composer Charles Dodge) and studied violin and viola from an early age before enrolling in the precollege division of New York's Juilliard School of Music.

That Matheson and Dodge were relatively late entrants into classical music, a field that rewards artistic precocity, gave them "the luxury of approaching music with abundant amateur zeal and little at stake in terms of proving ourselves," says the violinist.

Moreover, Swarthmore's liberal arts environment led them "to be open to exploring what music can do, rather than staking a claim in one doctrinaire approach," adds Dodge, "focusing more on marveling at, reveling in and understanding music than on setting out to make a mark in it." ...



The Philadelphia Inquirer

'Gross Clinic' in 3-D: Students at Swarthmore College reimagine the Thomas Eakins masterpiece with cardboard, hot glue and exuberant teamwork

By Stephan Salisbury, culture writer

December 13, 2011

It rises 16 feet in the air, stretching toward the skylighted ceiling of the studio in Old Tarble Hall on the Swarthmore College campus.

It is black and creepy. Skeletal fingers reach out toward anyone passing by. Beheaded bodies rise from the top and disembodied arms float near the center. A foot-long scalpel thrusts out, arming a confident Dr. Samuel Gross, the same Samuel Gross memorialized in Thomas Eakins' great 1875 painting, The Gross Clinic.

But in this Swarthmore rendering, Dr. Gross has heft and weight. He holds his knife like a weapon, and his demeanor reminds a viewer of George Washington at an unpleasant moment.

... This giant work of art - more than twice the size of the original, now jointly owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts - takes off from The Gross Clinic. Students have replicated, if that's the word, Eakins' imagery and composition, and blown it up into modern space.

"It's more about the feeling of the composition," said painter Logan Grider, an assistant professor of art at the college, and the man who assigned his studio-art freshmen the seemingly impossible task of rendering the Eakins masterpiece in 3-D. ...

The students even had homework: Photocopying their own faces multiple times and then pasting together cutout parts to form Gross images.

The whole thing took about two weeks to model and assemble, different classes working on the same project in the morning and in the afternoon. Sometimes work done at 11 a.m. would be dismantled and reworked at 3 p.m. And vice versa. ...

Grider's classes benefited from studying the Eakins work in Michael W. Cothren's art history class and from being able to see the actual painting....

Perhaps most remarkably, the students visited the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute near Washington to observe and sketch open-heart surgery.

"They drew from a double-bypass surgery," said Grider.  ...

The relief is made from a week's worth of the college's cast-off cardboard boxes and containers. Hands, heads, and body parts are constructed from pieces held together with hot glue. One arm alone could be composed of as many as 500 or 600 bits of paper. ...

Now the giant relief is heading to the Dumpsters from whence its materials came. The experience of creation was the point.  ...



The New York Times

Everyone speaks text message

By Tina Rosenberg

December 11, 2011

When Ibrahima Traore takes his sons to a park in Montclair, N.J., he often sits on a bench and reads. He reads English, French and Arabic, but most of the time he reads N'Ko, a language few speakers of those languages would recognize. N'Ko is the standardized writing system for Mande languages.... N'Ko looks like a cross between Arabic and ancient Norse runes, written from right to left in a blocky script with the letters connected underneath. Traore types e-mail to his family on his laptop in N'Ko, works on his Web site in N'Ko, tweets in N'Ko on his iPhone and iPad and reads books and newspapers written in N'Ko to prepare for the N'Ko classes he teaches in the Bronx and for his appearances on an Internet radio program to discuss cultural issues around the use of N'Ko. ...

For many tiny, endangered languages, digital technology has become a lifeline. ...

Heritage languages like N'Ko are taking on new life thanks to technology. An Internet discussion group, Indigenous Languages and Technology, is full of announcements for new software to build sound dictionaries and a project to collect tweets in Tok Pisin, a creole language spoken throughout Papua New Guinea, or Pipil, an indigenous language of El Salvador. ...

Whether a language lives or dies, says K. David Harrison, an associate professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, is a choice made by 6-year-olds. And what makes a 6-year-old want to learn a language is being able to use it in everyday life. ...

For the vast majority of the world, the cellphone, not the Internet, is the coolest available technology. And they are using those phones to text rather than to talk. Though most of the world's languages have no written form, people are beginning to transliterate their mother tongues into the alphabet of a national language. Now they can text in the language they grew up speaking. Harrison tells of traveling in Siberia, where he met a truck driver who devised his own system for writing the endangered Chulym language, using the Cyrillic alphabet. ''You find people like him everywhere,'' Harrison said. ''We are getting languages where the first writing is not the translation of the Bible -- as it has often happened -- but text messages.'' ...

(This story also ran in The International Herald Tribune)


New York Magazine

Reasons to Love New York: 3. Because these little one-percenters are standing with the 99 percent

By Jessica Pressler

December 11, 2011

When Sophie Hagen ['10] graduated from Swarthmore last year, a friend gave her a book called Classified: How to Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use It for Social Change, by members of a group called the Resource Generation. It turned out to be an eye-opener. "It was like, 'Have you ever lied about a second home that your parents have?' " she says. " 'Or dressed in thrift-store clothing because you didn't want to appear rich?'!" Hagen grew up in a Park Slope brownstone her family owns and attended Brearley in Manhattan. "I had never really thought about my situation," she says. "Living in New York, it's very easy to lie to myself, to say, 'I grew up in Brooklyn.'!" But as college came to a close and her peers began to worry about finding jobs, Hagen realized how lucky she was that she could afford to travel and take unpaid internships. "I thought, I need to really think about the gifts I've been given and how I can use them."

Occupy Wall Street presented her with an opportunity. When Hagen went down to Zuccotti Park this fall, she sometimes wore a sign that read, "Rich Kid for Redistribution. Tax Me!" ...

From the beginning, when Robert S. Halper, a former vice-chairman! of the New York Mercantile Exchange, donated $20,000 in seed money to help Adbusters kick off its project, the idea of Occupy Wall Street has been embraced by people from all points on the socioeconomic spectrum. ...


The Atlantic

Prepare for War: The insane plan to outlaw diplomacy with Iran

By Dominic Tierney, assistant professor of political science at Swarthmore College

December 6, 2011

Working its way through the congressional digestive tract like a poison pill is one of the worst ideas in modern legislative history: a bill that would make it illegal to conduct diplomacy with Iran.

In an almost unprecedented move, the Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011 (H.R. 1905) includes a clause that reads, "No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that ... is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the Government of Iran."

The notion of outlawing contact with Iran is one of those ideas that at first glance sounds merely awful -- and then upon reflection, seems truly dreadful.

The law would allow only one exception to the "zero diplomacy" rule. If a president believes there exists "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States," the White House can speak to Iran -- but only after giving 15 days advance notice of any contact to Congress. ...