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Western media took little notice when Russian nationalists complained about the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics. The spectacle, largely produced by non-Russians, celebrated aspects of the culture typically noted by outsiders but little known by ordinary Russians, and out of sync with Vladimir Putin’s campaign to return to “traditional values.” Professor of Government Peter Rutland, writing in the Moscow Times, noted that “nationalists complained Putin had contracted out the country’s national narrative to a cosmopolitan intellectual elite.

“Indeed, Vladimir Gomelsky, deputy director of state-controlled Channel One, explained that ‘Our ceremony was designed for an international audience.’ Producer Konstantin Ernst, general director of Channel One, insisted that the show was an ‘expression of love for our homeland’ on behalf of  ’real Russians, untainted by decades of propaganda and the Cold War.’ ”

“It turns out that Ernst relied on international experts to script and stage much of the show,” Rutland writes. “They included the New York-based George Tsypin, production designer for ”Spiderman: Turn off the Dark,” who presented a tableau of dancing puppets at the 2002 Venice Biennale. Costumes were designed by Kim Barrett, another “Spiderman” veteran. Two producers had worked on the London Olympics ceremony, three aerialist experts came from the Cirque du Soleil and a director of the Shanghai circus choreographed the gymnastics.”

The debate over the content of the opening ceremony, according to Rutland  ”may be little more than a storm in a samovar, but it does illustrate the continuing ambiguities around Russian political identity.”

 

Theaster Gates has been dubbed “the real-estate artist,” “the opportunity artist,” “an anthropologist, urbanist, activist — the 21st-century artist,” “the poster boy for socially engaged art,” #40 in Art Review’s “2013 Power 100, A ranked list of the contemporary art world’s most powerful figures,” and even “the Mick Jagger of social practice.” Associate Professor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse writes in the Huffington Post that she “believed the hype, but still wasn’t sure what to expect” when she went to the “activation” of See, Sit, Sup, Sing: Holding Court (2012) at the Studio Museum of Harlem.

This event was billed as a performance: “designed as an experience for learning created by the people assembled in and around it, the installation will be a site for engaged conversation and dynamic interaction.”

“While, the potential was there for this moment to be more communal and interactive, ” Ulysse writes, ” in the end, it was about Theaster’s way; a Whitmanesque “song of myself” from a man who unquestionably contains multitudes (conceptual artist, urban planner, performer, etc. etc.) and is currently negotiating, or “leveraging” as he says, the value of his capital with keen awareness of the temporality of this moment.”

She ponders the “illimitable want” of the artist.

“Indeed, for those among us who have inherited sacrifice, the tools and stakes of the trade have never been quite the same. Thus, illimitability even as a prospect is not only seductive and worthy of exploration, but also potentially transcendental. I dare to wonder just what would this Gates do without the burden or constraints of being what the late poet June Jordan so aptly called a “representative other.”

The exhibit is on at the Studio Museum through March 9.

 

 

The influence of evangelical Christianity is starting to erode support for the traditional Haitian practice of vodou, according to Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister. She tells Public Radio International (PRI) that: “the evangelical movement desires to reduce vodou entirely, if they could they would have a Christian revival and transform the country to a Christian majority.”

Still, McAlister, a Haiti scholar, also points out that even many Haitians feel the vodou religion and culture is something they would rather leave in the past.

“Among educated and other people who see vodou as always having been denigrated, always having been insulted, the discourse on vodou are either that it’s an illegal practice or it’s a practice of superstition done by the ignorant,” she says. “Meanwhile, so much of the culture is infused with the principles of the form. So it creates a tension, psychologically — how does one represent the culture, and how does one come to terms with being from this culture which is so saturated with this religion?”

That tension is the subject of the PRI story, which features Josue, a friend of McAlister’s who works as head of Haiti’s  National Ethnology Office.

Ground zero for the tension is Bwa Kayiman, a site in northern Haiti. A late-night meeting there in 1791 set in motion what would become one of history’s most successful slave revolts. It’s essentially where the country of “Haiti” was born — as a union of different tribes, faiths and languages.

“It was the moment the slaves said, ‘We’ve become Creoles today; we’re no longer African. We won’t fight to return to Africa, but for this land,’” Josué said.

These days, Bwa Kayiman is a mess. On a visit with a team of ethnologists, Josué found a handful of historical sites unmarked and decaying. This is supposed to a heritage site, but buildings have been built illegally, including Protestant churches.

 

 

 

 

Because the chairman of the Federal Reserve is often described as the second most powerful person in the country, we should curtail his or her ability to hold onto that job indefinitely for the same reason, argues Professor of Economics Richard Grossman in the Athens Banner-Herald and other newspapers.

In an op-ed circulated by the McClatchy-Tribune News Service, he writes: “As Janet Yellen prepares to replace Ben Bernanke at the head of the Federal Reserve and as that institution commences its 100th year of operation, it is time to enact one simple reform: the chairman of the Fed should be limited to serving two full four-year terms.

“The obvious precedent for this measure is the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which imposes a similar term limit on the president of the United States. The president is restricted in this way to prevent one person from accumulating too much power and influence over our national institutions.”

Grossman, who is also a visiting scholar at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, recently published  ”Wrong: Nine Economic Policy Disasters and What We Can Learn from Them.” (Oxford University Press).

 

Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies Leah Wright is featured in a new PBS  ”American Experience” documentary on the year 1964. That year, which saw the Beatles come to America and Cassius Clay become Muhammad Ali, was also when three civil rights workers were murdered in Mississippi. It was the year when Berkeley students rose up in protest, African Americans fought back against injustice in Harlem, and Barry Goldwater’s conservative revolution took over the Republican Party. In myriad ways, 1964 was the year when Americans faced choices: between the liberalism of Lyndon Johnson or Barry Goldwater’s grassroots conservatism, between support or opposition to the civil rights movement, between an embrace of the emerging counterculture or a defense of traditional values.

“This explosive year,” Wright says in the documentary, “(was when) people were forced to say what they mean, mean what they say, and follow up on it.”

The film premieres on PBS stations on Jan. 14. Check local listings for details.

 

The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel featured a story on recent work by Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem shedding  new light on a Nazi general currently honored as an anti-Nazi by the German Federal Armed Forces.

Hans von Sponeck  has been celebrated in the post-war era as an example of moral courage, defying orders under difficult circumstances. The general was imprisoned for his refusal to follow Adolf Hitler’s orders in December 1941, saving the lives of many thousands of his soldiers. He was later executed following the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944.

Von Sponeck came to embody the West German military’s ideal of an officer with moral conscience and courage, a concept known in the German military as “innere Fuhrung” or inner leadership, and intended to remedy the problem of blind obedience in the Wehrmacht of the Third Reich.

But Grimmer-Solem’s work, as reported by Der Spiegel, uncovered evidence that von Sponeck was involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity during the German invasion of the Ukraine in 1941.

The research was originally published in a German scholarly journal and can be read here.

 

 

 

In the lead op-ed in The New York Times Jan. 9, Kennedy Odede’12 described the despair and desperation of growing up in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums. He writes movingly of his childhood friends succumbing to lives of crime and terror as they sought a way out of crushing poverty.

“These are more than singular tragedies; they contribute to the psyche of being poor,” Kennedy writes. “This psyche inculcates hopelessness, dispels a belief in the possibility of tomorrow’s being better than today, compels a resignation to the fact that you may suffer the same tragic fate as your peers, and fuels anger because there is no escape and you did not choose this — you simply drew life’s short straw.   This, perhaps, is terrorism’s fertile ground. Because if you grew up as I did, self-protection requires coming to terms with violence and terror. Violence becomes a vehicle of survival. “

Terrorism is bred  in places like Kibera, he argues, calling for “new systems of urban promise” in Nairobi and elsewhere.

Odede is the founder of Shining Hope for Communities, and was a 2013 New Voices fellow at the Aspen Institute.

Taxes sounded worse than environmental catastrophe in the politics of 2010, but ironically one of the more persuasive arguments that climate change is real—persuasive especially to anti-tax conservatives—is how changing, unpredictable and severe weather is increasingly exacting a tax on all aspects of life in America. On the WNYC’s  “The Takeaway”, Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Gary Yohe explored the unseen costs of climate change.

 

Wesleyan junior Lily Myers stunned an audience and won slam honors last winter break with her heartbreaking, funny and authentic poem “Shrinking Women.” The poem, which expresses Myers’ frustrations about family dynamics involving gender, body image, and food, has now attracted more than three million views on YouTube.

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted the video this week on its Say Something podcast.

 

A story by the Associated Press says that Wesleyan has joined a growing list of Connecticut universities and colleges offering for-credit courses during winter break. During the initial year, four classes are being offered, in foreign policy, data analysis, computer programming and the graphic novel. About 45 students have signed up, according to Jennifer Curran, the interim director for continuing studies.

Tom Dupont, 18, a  freshman from Cheshire, Conn., is taking the foreign policy course.  His class meets from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day with an hourlong break at noon.

“I’m trying to take advantage of every opportunity I have to get ahead,” he said. “I also want to get as many major credits as I can, and it will allow me to explore in depth something that I’m really, really interested in.”

Curran said that while some students, like Dupont, want to get ahead in their major, others just like the more leisurely pace of winter at Wesleyan, which allows for greater concentration on academics.

“They like the idea of smaller classes, a calmer campus where they can really focus on their classwork,” she said. “Students are usually involved in activities and performances and taking multiple classes. There is something so satisfying about delving into one single topic and focusing really hard.”

 

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