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Swarthmore in the NewsOctober 21, 2011


The Philadelphia Inquirer

Organic: The old college try

By Virginia A. Smith; Inquirer Staff Writer

October 21, 2011

Nicole Selby vividly remembers the first time she saw the fuzzy yellow larvae of the Mexican bean beetle, a sight that would send most folks screaming to the sidelines.

"It was so interesting," she says, eyes wide.

No wonder, then, that this urban-farmer-turned-lawn-alchemist can't wait to show off some fungi and nematodes "rockin' and rollin' " under a microscope. They live in Selby's compost, a key ingredient in the organic experiment she's conducting on the lawn at Swarthmore College.

For the last year, Selby has been putting down that campus-generated nutrient-rich compost; spraying its microbe-rich liquid counterpart, compost tea; aerating or making small holes in the lawn to let it breathe, and planting vigorous new grass seed, as needed, on five acres of the 25-acre rolling landscape in front of Parrish Hall, the college's signature building.

...In other words, Selby's experiment has nowhere to hide, which explains why people are forever asking, "Is your experiment working?"

Her truthful, if uneasy, response: "I don't know."

The 2011 growing season has been extreme - hot and dry, then wet and wetter - making it difficult to know. At the moment, the conventional and organic lawns all look the same - green.

Selby, 31, a Swarthmore alum and full-time campus gardener since 2006, is eager to know, too: "Will the organic lawn live up to the beautiful image of the rest of the campus?

"There has to be some allowance for the expectation of the visitor," she explains.

Jeff Jabco, Swarthmore's grounds director and horticulture coordinator, thinks another season or two will provide answers.

"We really need to see some stress, see how the organic lawn looks compared to the turf around it," he says, "but since August, all it's done is rain. Nothing's under stress."

So bring on the stress! Meanwhile, the soil is definitely healthier, "teeming with microbes," as Selby puts it, in ways lawns treated with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides cannot be.

Swarthmore is not the first college to experiment with organic lawns; in fact, two pilot projects at the University of Pennsylvania were so successful in 2010, the program is now campuswide.

...Of her lawn experiment, which cost $10,000 in new equipment and involves time over and above her regular duties, "I don't know if there will ever be a moment of 'answer,' " she says.

And that is OK.

"To me, this is not just about the ecological value of what I'm doing," she says. "It's about people being able to touch the grass."


Targeted News Service

In New Exhibit, Philadelphia Artist Captures Images of Personal Hardship

October 19, 2011

The University of Virginia issued the following news release:

Philadelphia artist Daniel Heyman states on his website, "The choice of subjects is the most important moment an artist has for expressing himself - it's the moment when he says, 'This is what I am about.'"

An exhibit of his work, "Bearing Witness: Daniel Heyman," curated by Dean Dass, a studio art professor in the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences, opens Oct. 28 at U.Va.'s Ruffin Gallery and runs through Dec. 2.

Heyman's portraits depict images of great personal hardships - portraits of former Abu Ghraib detainees, homeless veterans, African-American fathers who have been in and out of jail, a homeless Vietnam veteran, a survivor of military sexual assault and new immigrants to the U.S. Heyman incorporates the subjects' words in his compositions.

"What gives Heyman's portraits their quiet power is an unexpected juxtaposition: Lips are sealed shut on every face, as if the temporal flow of speech has been silenced, replaced by a steady and immovable gaze; yet, excerpts of the sitter's testimony, sometimes jittery and disjointed and invariably horrifying, swirl around his head in ornate scrolls of looping language and blunt blocks of text," wrote Christopher Knight in a Los Angeles Times review of a version of the show at the Laband Art Gallery in January.

...Heyman is a 2010 Guggenheim Fellow in fine arts and a 2009 Pew Fellowship in the Arts recipient. He has lectured and given workshops at the Rhode Island School of Design, Tyler School of Art, Fashion Institute of Technology, Centre International des Arts Contemporain in Pont Aven, France, and Philadelphia University. Currently, Heyman teaches at Rhode Island School of Design, Princeton University and Swarthmore College.

Heyman earned an M.F.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and is a cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Planet of the Apes: Scientists probe DNA for clues on modification

By Faye Flam; Inquirer Columnist

October 17, 2011

...While some look for answers in Genesis, Yale biologists Gunter Wagner and Vincent Lynch are looking in DNA. There, they have found what may be a genetic underpinning of one of the most striking leaps in our own evolutionary journey - the invention of pregnancy.

The key to this change, by which marsupials evolved into placental mammals, was not a random spelling error. Instead, a whole swath of DNA apparently invaded our mammalian ancestors' genomes 100 million years ago and copied itself thousands of times. Where this invader came from is still debated.

...There are many ways that whole chunks of genetic code can be rearranged, moved, turned around, copied and pasted, and otherwise altered.

...Viruses, for example, allow DNA to move between different species. They may account for the origin of some of what scientists call parasitic DNA - strings of code that appear to have invaded our chromosomes and started copying themselves.

Some of this parasitic stuff takes the form of defunct viruses that get stuck inside our cells. About eight percent of our DNA is made of these so-called endogenous retroviruses, which used to be able to incorporate their genetic code into those of their hosts, but somewhere along the line lost the ability to get out of our cells and infect others.

About 40 percent of our DNA comes from another type of genetic parasites called "transposable elements." These are pieces of DNA that can copy themselves within our own genetic codes, sometimes thousands of times. Their origin is murkier, but some think viruses transfer them between species.

Some parasitic DNA might have been harmful initially. In other cases, it triggered change that offered some advantage. ...

That's what may have happened with the origin of pregnancy, said Wagner, whose latest findings were published in Nature Genetics. That's noteworthy because it addresses the invention of a new type of cell, said Swarthmore College biologist Scott Gilbert.

New species can arise by changing the way existing genes are turned on and off in different parts of the body, he said. A turtle, for example, repurposes bone cells to make a shell. "But the origin of a new cell type, a much rarer occurrence, makes possible a new mode of existence," he said.

Mammalian pregnancy is such a new mode of existence. Until about 100 million years ago, all mammals were marsupials or egg-layers such as the platypus, but then our group branched off and flourished, so today there are more than 5,000 species of placental mammals and only 300 marsupials. ...


The Washington Post

A Son's Hard-Won Lesson in Pride

By Jonathan Yardley

October 16, 2011

Now in his mid-50s, Mark Whitaker has had an impressive journalistic career. Fresh out of Harvard in the late 1970s, he went to work at Newsweek and rose steadily through various assignments, eventually becoming its editor. In 2006 he moved to NBC, at first as "the number two executive in the news division," then as chief of its Washington bureau. Now he is executive vice president and managing editor of CNN Worldwide, an immensely influential position given that CNN reaches into almost every nook and cranny of the world.

All of which makes for quite a resume, but it also makes for the least interesting part of My Long Trip Home, Whitaker's memoir. It's worth reading because it's a thoughtful account of growing up biracial at a point in this country's history when racial identities are in flux and when people of mixed race are ever more common.

...His father, born in Pittsburgh in 1935, was christened Cleophaus Sylvester Whitaker Jr., a name he so passionately detested - he thought that it smacked of slavery - that he insisted on being called Syl, the nickname he kept throughout his life. His mother, born in Cameroon in 1926, was named Jeanne Alice Theis; her French parents were in Africa because her father was a missionary. They met at Swarthmore College in the mid-1950s; she was a teacher of French and he, nine years her junior, was a student. They fell in love and married in France, two months after his graduation in the summer of 1956.

...Mark Whitaker was born a year after his parents married, and his brother, Paul, arrived two years later. Then, five years later, their father announced "that he wanted to separate." Soon thereafter "they went through the grim motions of divorce."

...Relations between father and son remained testy to the end of Syl's life, which came not long after the election of the first African American president of the United States. Gradually, though, Whitaker began to understand that nursing his anger was fruitless and damaging:

...He was able, indeed, to recall the good things his father did for him: setting a model of gregariousness and ambition that proved invaluable in his own career, and "the model of a black man who was proud of his racial identity but determined to never be confined by it." He also was able, in his father's last days, to let him know "that his sons loved him despite everything that had occurred between us," knowledge that no doubt helped his father die at peace with himself.

My Long Trip Home is not a confessional memoir of the sort so popular these days, especially among younger memoirists who have nothing to confess except the cruelties allegedly inflicted upon them by others or simply by life itself. For the most part Whitaker's tone is objective, almost reportorial, which permits the reader to see his story clearly rather than through the mists of hyperventilated emotion. It's a good book.


The Morning Call (PA)

Easton exhibit reveals Lenape secrets;
Display features heirlooms, artifacts of tribe that made home at Forks of Delaware.

By Samantha Marcus of The Morning Call

October 15, 2011

The grand opening of the Lenape Nation Cultural Center's "Fulfilling a Prophecy" exhibit in Easton marks a sharp departure for Carol Kuhn, who spent the better part of her life obeying her grandmother's strict lesson: Show one face to the world and another in private.

...For more than 200 years the Lenape of Pennsylvania, many of whom had married German immigrants, hid in plain sight, forbidden by the government in the late 1700s from practicing their religion or speaking the language.

The exhibition at the year-old Lenape Nation Cultural Center, curator Shelley DePaul says, tells that long-hidden story conceptually in four parts, from their time before European settlement to the Lenape descendants' renewed commitment to the environment and reviving their heritage.

"A lot of people don't realize that the Lenape stayed here," said DePaul, assistant chief of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania. "It's an important exhibit because it contains primary history of the Lenape in Pennsylvania. And it corrects a lot of history that is not correct in textbooks."

..."Fulfilling a Prophecy," as described by Chief Robert Red Hawk Ruth, who curated the Penn exhibition, tells the story of the Lenape through a traditional tale of the flights of four crows. Each part of the exhibit represents one of the flights, beginning with the time before European settlement.

...The fourth crow speaks to restoring the Lenape culture and salvaging the endangered language, efforts led by DePaul, who is collecting oral histories and researches Lenape bloodlines in Pennsylvania.

She's developed a curriculum on conversational Lenape, and was invited to teach it at Swarthmore College -- the first time the Lenape language has been taught at a college.

"It's looking better that we may be able to save the language," she said. "All that had really existed were dictionaries compiled by linguists who collected our language. But you can't put together a language by dictionaries."



The Business Insider (Blog)

Occupy Philadelphia Is Starting A 'People's Law School'

October 14, 2011

The Occupy Philly site is currently a sea of tents. When the scheduled $50 million renovation of Dilworth Plaza is scheduled to begin in approximately three weeks, the protesters will be forced to move unless they want to face arrest.

...Occupy Philadelphia has partially become a pedagogical movement. One of the protesters, Aaron, has been arranging for speakers to inform the crowd about the issues. The schedule of events is posted on a big calendar. Last night's lecture, "Financial Inequality" was given by a Swarthmore College professor. The public relations team is offering "Harvey's Homeless Reality Tour" at 4pm daily.

Next week, Occupy Philadelphia is starting the "People's Law School." ...