Taking in a Tour of the Mead

Submitted on Thursday, 10/17/2019, at 3:12 PM

Asking the question, “What exactly defines contemporary art?”, The Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Steve Pfarrer recently accompanied a tour of the Mead Art Museum led by David Little, the Mead’s director and chief curator, viewing the exhibit sampling the recent gift of more than 170 works of contemporary art.

Pfarrer notes the works exhibit “a dark sense of humor — as well as some more serious commentary on current social and political issues such as climate change and immigration.”

Little told Pfarrer and his other guests that contemporary artists often “don’t necessarily think that art must be sacred … There’s the idea of the artist being a scavenger [for materials] and testing and blurring boundaries between mediums.”

For instance, there’s the example of “Good With Houseplants,” by Amherst sculptor and installation artist Sarah Braman: a piece made from pieces of Plexiglass, acrylic paint and tape.

“It’s not bronze, it’s not marble, it’s not made of any of the typical materials we associate with sculpture,” Little said. “The kind of haphazard way it’s put together goes against the traditional type of sculpture. But here you could take it apart, make it smaller, put it back together in a different way, and it would still work … I think it speaks to where a lot of [contemporary] art is going.”

Martin Lowy '61: Capitalism For Democrats

Submitted on Thursday, 10/17/2019, at 3:10 PM

Grady Harp, writing in the San Francisco Review of Books, recently praised the Capitalism for Democrats: Why The Country Needs It Now, the latest book by Martin Lowy ’61 as “one of the finest explanations of capitalism available.”

“By combining insights with anecdotes and historical references, Martin opens an exploration of not only the economic definitions and variations of capitalism, but also an overview of the difficulties and defects of capitalism, a fine discussion of that often misunderstood term of socialism – its impact on governance, mindsets, ethics, and social issues – and a survey of ‘European democratic socialism’ that deserves close attention,” he wrote.

“It is true that the Great Recession and Great Financial Crisis of 2007-09 revealed defects in capitalism that have persuaded many Democrats—and particularly young Democrats—to reject capitalism as the proper foundation for America’s economic system,” Lowy writes in his preface. “Those reactions are understandable. And if the choice is between a Trumpian crony capitalism or a ‘free market’ capitalism on the one hand, and some other, apparently fairer, economic system, maybe called socialism, on the other hand, maybe it would be right to reject capitalism. Fortunately, those are not the only choices.”

Justice Ginsburg: This Era is an "Aberration"

Submitted on Friday, 10/11/2019, at 3:30 PM

A simple question put to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and her simple reply to Joseph Flueckiger, director of dining services at Amherst, became the takeaway quote in much of the press coverage of Justice Ginsburg’s recent visit to our campus.

Many news outlets —including CNN, The Boston Globe, New England Public Radio, and The Washington Times, as well as outlets in the Amherst region— covered the recent historic visit to campus by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and reported her comments made in “A Conversation with President Biddy Martin.”

While the coverage dipped into much of the discussion, including Justice Ginsburg’s love for opera, her friendship with the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and her role as a trailblazer for equal rights for women, many stories chose to lead with her simple response to Flueckiger’s query, "How do you think people will characterize this period in American history?"

To considerable applause, Justice Ginsberg replied, "As an aberration.”

Recognizing Patterns in Latin American Politics

Submitted on Friday, 10/11/2019, at 3:21 PM

Recent political turmoil in Ecuador and Peru brought journalists calling on Javier Corrales, Dwight W. Morrow 1895 professor of Political Science, for insights into the dynamics behind the machinations.

Reporting on Ecuador, where President Lenín Moreno recently moved his government out of the capital in the face of a growing protest movement against austerity measures, The Washington Post quoted Corrales on how the Ecuador situation, where Moreno has withdrawn a fuel subsidy and increased taxes on large businesses, mirrors a pattern seen in other countries in Latin America.

“States pursue expansionary policies that are unsustainable but which consumers like,” he said. “And eventually they’re followed by restrictive policies that are inevitable but which consumers dislike.”

Meanwhile, in Peru, President Martin Vizcarra recently dissolved Congress and called for fresh elections. Bloomberg News reported that Peru’s Congress responded by dissolving Vizcarra’s presidency and making a failed attempt to install a new president: “Now one of Latin America’s most prosperous nations has a legislature in limbo, its leader behind guarded palace doors, and Peruvians in the streets celebrating a revolt with no endgame.”

Corrales spoke about how this seems to be a variation on a familiar scenario, usually involving a rogue executive branch trying to pack the courts.

“We know it’s a red flag when a president tries to control the judiciary,” he said. “But now we have a case of a legislature misbehaving. It would be nice if we could say that too is undemocratic. We’re not used to calling for holding Congress in check.”

Examining "Unbelievable" with Susannah Grant '84

Submitted on Wednesday, 10/2/2019, at 3:50 PM

The Boston Globe recently spoke with Susannah Grant ’84 about her new Netflix series Unbelievable, which the Globe described as “one of the most complexly nuanced studies of sexual assault and its aftermath ever made.”

About Marie, a survivor initially charged with lying about her rape before two female detectives uncover a string of eerily similar crimes, the series “dramatizes real events in order to mount a larger exploration of what exactly happens when a survivor goes to police,” the Globe wrote.

“A lot of people are familiar with the concept that the investigation often feels like a second assault,” said Grant, co-creator/showrunner of Unbelievable. “But if you haven’t been through it, it’s hard to know and feel exactly what that means; this was a great opportunity to make that [idea] real for people, to take that from an abstract concept to something tangible.”

“Grant, an Oscar nominee for writing Erin Brokovich, focuses the first hour of Unbelievable on this grueling process, which eventually undermines Marie’s faith in her own memory enough that she recants her story,” the Globe wrote. The series was adapted from the Pulitzer-winning ProPublica investigation “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.”

Sarat on Impeachment and Election

Submitted on Wednesday, 10/2/2019, at 3:47 PM

With the nation now facing the launch of an impeachment inquiry concerning President Trump, Austin Sarat, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science examined, in The Conversation, the unique situation where Trump faces possible impeachment even as he gears up to run for a second term.

Three previous presidents —Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton –  faced formal impeachment inquiries. The Senate convicted none of them, but none were re-elected. Johnson lost his party’s nomination, and Nixon and Clinton were in their second terms.

“A little-known wrinkle in the Constitution might allow Trump to be reelected president in 2020 even if he is removed from office through the impeachment process,” Sarat wrote, pointing out that the Founders, when crafting the Constitution, “only required that an impeached and convicted official ‘be removed from office’ – but did not mandate that the person also be disqualified from holding a future office.”

“Nowhere does the Constitution define the standards for disqualification. Moreover, the Senate has declined to establish a standard,” Sarat wrote. “Senate procedures require separate votes to convict someone of an impeachable offense and to impose a disqualification penalty.”

“The Senate should, if the president is convicted … disqualify him too,” to avoid the even more divisive situation of a conviction occurring during the election itself, he concluded.

Genius: Andrea Dutton ’95

Submitted on Wednesday, 9/25/2019, at 11:24 PM

Andrea Dutton ’95, one of this year’s recipients of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowship, told the Wall Street Journal that a tricky algebra problem at Amherst would send her on a career path that now has her studying coral reefs.

“I wasn’t used to failing at math, so I dropped the course,” said Dutton.

“She switched into geology because she thought it would be easier, but instead found her passion,” the Journal wrote. “Now, Ms. Dutton, a 46-year-old geochemist and paleoclimatologist, studies ancient coral reefs for clues about the interplay of climate change and sea levels.”

An associate professor of geology at the University of Florida, she is leaving for a new post at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and plans to spend next year in New Zealand.

The no-strings-attached grants of $625,000 are given annually to a small number of individuals (26 this year) across the country, who show exceptional creativity in their work, a track record of accomplishments and promise for the future. They can’t apply for the awards, but are instead nominated anonymously.

Speaking with the Wisconsin State Journal, “She said she is still deciding how to spend her award. Part of the money will go toward taking her own research to the next level, but she said she also wants to lift other women in science, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds.”

While her work, dealing with coral reef systems falling victim to climate changes, can be very sobering, she told the Wisconsin State Journal she finds hope in her work, too.

“It’s not like the Earth is warming and we don’t understand why,” she said. “It’s not like we’re moving closer to the sun and we can’t do anything about it. Having this knowledge is empowering because we know what to do. We just need to develop the social and political will to do it.”

Candidate Cites Joshua Hyman's Education Study

Submitted on Wednesday, 9/25/2019, at 11:16 PM

In a Sept. 12 debate, presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris touched on the topic of education, referring to a 2018 paper co-authored by Assistant Professor of Economics Joshua Hyman.

"If a black child has a black teacher before the end of third grade, they're 13% more likely to go to college. If that child has had two black teachers before the end of third grade, they're 32% more likely to go to college,” she said.

National Public Radio recognized the source —which Harris did not identify in the heat of the debate— and tweeted an earlier piece they did on the paper, “The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers.”

Hyman co-wrote the 2018 paper for the Cambridge-based think tank the National Bureau of Economic Research, with a team of  scholars from American University, UC Davis, Johns Hopkins and the Urban Institute.

Reyes: The Fallout of Notre-Dame

Submitted on Wednesday, 9/25/2019, at 11:13 PM

For a piece looking at the public health impacts of the April fire at Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral, the New York Times spoke to an array of experts including Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, a professor of economics at Amherst known for her extensive studies on the health hazards of lead.

The fire, which destroyed the cathedral’s roof and spire, incinerated 460 tons of lead tile, resulting in lead-laced dust settling on buildings, squares, parks, and plazas in the city, and possibly into open windows, air-conditioning ducts and other building ventilation systems. The experts consulted by the Times all said that the city is safe to visit, provided people take the correct precautions. Families with young children should take particular care.

“If I could tell parents one thing, it’s that they should leave shoes at the door, keep the house really clean of dust and make sure everyone washes up before they eat,” said Reyes told the Times.

Harvest Time at the Book & Plow Farm

Submitted on Wednesday, 9/18/2019, at 11:44 AM

Autumn means harvest time at the Book & Plow Farm, and the Daily Hampshire Gazette spoke with Maida Ives, manager of farm operation and education, about the merging of the academic and agricultural years.

“It is peak vegetable and peak student season,” she told Noah Baustin, communications coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture), writing in the Gazette.

“Many farmers race to be the first to market with crops as they come into season. At Book & Plow, however, summer is the time to lay the foundation for when campus is flooded with students in the fall,” Baustin wrote.

“This is the moment when everything converges, and our brains split into two,” Ives said. “We’re continuing crop care, field prep, and cover cropping. But we’re also welcoming new students to the farm, hosting orientations, and even having pizza parties while the weather is good.”

“Each autumn, Ives hires on 25 Amherst College students to work on Book & Plow Farm. Many of these student employees have little to no experience with the type of physical labor required on a farm. Ives finds it rewarding to see how the students grow and learn from the work throughout the semester,” Baustin wrote.

“I have a lot of students express pride that they were able to do it. They feel themselves get stronger, more capable of doing the physical work, and more confident understanding the decision-making that happens on the farm,” Ives said.