Beat the Clock
"Old age is no place for sissies," quipped Bette Davis. Intrepid journalist Lauren Kessler, who heads the UO's graduate program in multimedia narrative journalism, bravely attacks the aging process head on in her latest book, Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging (Rodale, 2013), an account of her yearlong process of researching—and experiencing—what makes us feel "old" and what we can do about it. From attending a Utah bootcamp in 118-degree heat to taking a cold, hard look at a digitally aged image of her future self, Kessler confronts both the science and the stereotypes of growing older, particularly as they relate to women "of a certain age." In this excerpt, Kessler describes her visit to a hypnotist in an effort to "think young."
Old Oldie was what everyone called her. She was my mother's great grandmother. Her bedroom was up in the attic of the big house, and every morning for as long as anyone would remember, she would wake before dawn, braid her long white hair, coil the braids around her head, and walk down three flights of stairs to the kitchen where she would bake biscuits or rolls or quick bread for breakfast. That's how the rest of the family awakened, to that sweet, yeasty smell. Then one morning, there was no sweet, yeasty smell. Someone climbed the three flights of stairs to her room to see what was going on. She was there, in bed, hair fanned out on the pillow, eyes closed. She had died in her sleep. She was 97. Or 102. It depended on who was telling the story.
This afternoon I am telling the story, sprawled on an oversized, pillowy recliner in Rosemarie Eisenberg's cozy office. Rosemarie is a certified hypnotist and Guided Interactive Imagery practitioner who uses deep relaxation, creative visualization, and hypnosis to get people to stop smoking or prepare to do battle with an illness or conquer a fear. I am here to have Rosemarie hypnotize me to "think young."
I'd been doing a lot of reading in the "you are what you think you are" literature, and I wanted to explore the idea that mindset—that is, what you think you are—might exert a discernible influence on who you are, or become, biologically. What, if anything, would happen if Rosemarie planted the suggestion—which is what she says hypnotism really is—of a youthful mindset? Would I feel younger? Would I be younger? This isn't as far-fetched as it may sound.
The idea that we can think ourselves young, that our minds could instigate changes in our bodies, is what Ellen Langer calls "the psychology of the possible" and what others have called the "biology of hope" or the "biology of belief." Langer is my new hero, a brilliant Harvard psychologist who, for the past 35 years, has been designing ingenious social experiments to test the general hypothesis that our beliefs might be one of the most important determinants of health and longevity. Over the long course of that research, she has come to believe what yogis have known for centuries, what holistic and mind-body practitioners have been saying for decades (but without her good data): "If one's mindset is altered, one's body will change accordingly."
Now suppose what you think is Old is Bad. Suppose, after years of hearing jokes about being over the hill at 40 or 50 or 60, after seeing thousands of commercials for Depends and Ensure and cellphones with three-inch-high numerals, after watching hundreds of movies and television shows with cranky, crabby, asexual older people, suppose you begin to conflate "old" with sick, debilitated, and diminished. With forgetful, slow, weak, timid, and stodgy. Those last five adjectives are the most common negative, "unthinkingly accepted" stereotypes of "old" in western cultures, according to one group of researchers.
What's even worse about stereotypes and older people is that, to a much greater extent than many other groups stigmatized by negative stereotypes, older people internalize and accept society's view of them. Researchers have found that older people view their own group every bit as negatively as they are viewed by others. And so older people think of themselves—or we, the not-yet-old, think of our future selves—as unhappier, less likable, less useful, more dependent. This is, researchers like Langer believe, a self-fulfilling prophesy of decline.
The study that made me wish I could have been one of Ellen Langer's grad students was her famous 1988 experiment where she transported a group of old men to a carefully designed and controlled retreat where they were surrounded by cues to their younger years: magazines, newspapers, TV, radio, music. They were instructed to talk only about "current" events (from the 1950s), speak only in the present tense, to basically play-act that they were living their long-ago lives. They were subjected to a battery of tests before and after. The results blew me away. After their week of Living Young, the men showed marked improvements in: physical strength, manual dexterity, posture, gait, memory, taste sensitivity, hearing, and vision. Yes, you read that right. They got younger.
I'm ready to do the same. That's why I'm sitting here in the oversized pillowy recliner in Rosemarie's office. I had been prepared for her to ask me about my younger self. I thought, under hypnosis, I'd maybe experience this younger self, like those old guys at Langer's Living Young retreat, and awaken from my trance with my clock ticking backward. But Rosemarie, who's been in this business for more than 25 years, has other ideas. She smiles and says let's get started. I lean back to an almost horizontal position, put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones, and give myself over to her soft, lyrical voice and the background music she chooses, that wispy, ethereal stuff massage therapists always play. She asks me to imagine a deeply restful, safe place and asks me to go there. I'm trying, but all I can think of is whether I remembered to set my cell on vibrate and how I am going to write about this experience later if I zone out while actually experiencing it. But the music, her voice, the way she cues my breathing, all . . .
do something. My breathing gets slower and deeper, and after a while I am just, well, floating: peaceful, relaxed, not exactly in the room anymore but very much aware of everything.
Rosemarie asks me to call up a strong, wise person, someone I respect and can talk to, someone, she says, "who might have something to say to you." That's when Old Oldie comes into view, a woman I have never met nor even seen a photograph of. And that's when I tell Rosemarie the Old Oldie story. In case you're wondering if you should trust my account of all this, the account of a woman under hypnosis, let me say two things: First, I actually remember, with great clarity, everything that happened during the hourlong session; and second, Rosemarie keeps wonderful notes that she gives me when we finish.
Rosemarie wonders if there's anything I want to ask Old Oldie. Of course there is! Did you really die in bed? What does it feel like to be 97 or 102 or however old you were when you died? And how did you manage to live so long? Were you happy when you were very old? Rosemarie allows me to blather. So, for that matter, does Old Oldie. Finally, Old Oldie says, "I didn't think much about my age. I just got up every morning and lived." When I say, "she says," I don't mean some conjured apparition speaks to me. It's more like the words suddenly pop into my head, but I know they're not my words. Then she says, "There was always something new every day." I tell Rosemarie this, and as soon as I say it, I realize—yes, even in whatever state I'm in, I realize—what Rosemarie is up to. She's not interested in me accessing my younger self. (What does that kid know anyway?) She wants me to learn about aging from someone who's done it with resounding success. She wants me to feel hope about my older self. And she wants me to feel optimism. "There was always something new every day," Old Oldie said. Now that's optimism.
* * *
It's near the end of the session with Rosemarie. Rosemarie has switched gears and asked me to try to imagine my older self, my self at 90. "Tell me what you see," she says gently, her voice soft and muffled through the earphones. After a while, I see a woman up ahead, and I guess that must be me. "What does she look like?" Rosemarie prompts me again. I squint, in my mind, to make out her face. This shouldn't be difficult. I have seen a photograph of my much-older face, courtesy of the folks at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Face Aging Group and their sophisticated computer program. I've looked at that digitally aged photo dozens of times, scores of times. But this woman I've conjured is ahead of me, and she won't look back. I can't see her face. I am trying to gain on her so I can get a close-up glimpse, but she is moving too quickly. I watch her steady, purposeful strides. I see her squared shoulders, her straight back, the rhythmic swing of her arms. She moves with confidence, with a kind of banked energy, with embodied youth. This is the image I've been looking for without knowing it. This is who I want to be, who I will be: a healthy, vital, active, "longer-living" person. Expectation rules outcome.
Web Extra: Read and comment on Kessler's Counterclockwise blog, where the author and readers discuss the hope and hype of antiaging, at counterclockwisebook.com.
It doesn't get much more primal than going one on one with a raging, 2,000-pound bull, as described below in two excerpts adapted from My Best Mormon Life (CreateSpace, 2012), a memoir by Jesse Ellison, JD '05. The book covers Ellison's youth in Blackfoot, Idaho, his education at Brigham Young University and Harvard Divinity School, and his Mormon proselytizing mission in Atlanta, Georgia. Ellison is an attorney in Missoula, Montana. Here, the term "bullfighter" does not refer to a matador, but to what is commonly called a rodeo clown.
When my brothers Jeremy and Josh started riding bulls my father started fighting them. In his mid-forties he learned like other novices, attending schools, working amateur shows, and studying tape, but unlike most of his bullfighting peers he got into ironman shape. The three of them attended all-around professional cowboy champion Lyle Sankey's school, my father spending each evening soaking in the tub after getting trampled on the first day. Every bull rider gets run over by a bull during his career, and bullfighters do, too, and my father completed that rite at the school long before he fought at his first show. He took physical fitness seriously his entire life, and his commitment increased when he began putting on cleats, and hip and rib pads, to step between bulls and the riders. A 40-year-old bullfighter was an anomaly. Heavens, there was probably a 50-year-old fighting bulls at shows somewhere in the Badlands of South Dakota, but we didn't know of anyone close to 50 except Pops fighting them in Idaho.
His first official shows were as one of the bullfighters at junior rodeos where my brothers got their starts traveling around small Idaho towns the summers during junior high and early high school. Rodeo people knew our name as much for the old bullfighter as the young bull riders. My father's life as dentist by day and bullfighter on Saturday afternoons during the spring and summer reached its culmination at two professional events, the Professional Old Timers Rodeo Association show in Blackfoot two summers in a row.
The legendary Montanan Ronnie Rawson entered the Old Timers Show at Blackfoot both years my father fought it. Rawson was legendary not merely for his two bull-riding world titles won in the '60s or for the seven bull-riding titles won on the senior tour, but also for the 53-year-old's being the epitome of tough. He broke his jaw his first year at the National Finals Rodeo, had it wired, and continued competing, and his career followed suit. For generations of bull riders, Rawson was synonymous with the meaning of "cowboy up."
He arrived at the show in Blackfoot banged up, years of injuries having made him more cautious. He drew the bull Tressbraker, a powerful brindle, one of the stock contractor's rankest. He inquired about the bull, and the contractors assured him he would be fine, as numerous high school kids had been on him. Rawson had been in the game long enough to know stock contractors had common interests with bull riders, but not the same interests. Both wanted a bull that would buck, but the rider wanted one that would result in a high score and the contractor wanted one to eject and trample the rider for good measure.
Looking for an objective view, Rawson asked my father what he thought about Tressbraker. Never shy to tell the truth despite backlash, my father told Rawson plenty of high school bull riders had got on, but he never saw one ride him, adding he was the rankest in the pen. Rawson chose not to ride that night. The contractor confronted my father, beside himself with anger a bullfighter would think it his job to dissuade a bull rider from getting on one of his bulls.
The next summer Rawson climbed on and won the bull riding at Blackfoot. He fell off in front of the bull's head, and my father moved in between the bull and Rawson, diverting the bull's attention and averting a likely trampling. A small framed picture of Rawson, hatless and balding at 54, sprawled on the ground beneath the bull with my father in full bullfighter's attire reaching for the bull's head [shown above], sits next to the unchristened silver beer mug commemorating my father's commission as an officer in the Marine Corps. They are nestled among other mementos and nearly hidden in his closet. Saving Rawson was his job, nothing special, but extraordinary.
Bull riders knew Rawson because he was tough, but they also knew him because of his character, central to one of the most well-known stories of rodeo lore. Rawson ran a bull-riding school, like many former world champions did, and a young boy was killed there. Rawson sold all that he had, gave it to the boy's family, and hit the road, leaving many to speculate the boy's death was the reason for his inimitable extended bull-riding career. A month after winning the Blackfoot show, Rawson made another winning ride at an Old Timer's show in Rocky Ford, Colorado. He dismounted, and the bull kicked him in the chest. Two hours later Rawson died. Few lived like Rawson, doing what they loved for so long and doing it the best.
* * *
The Blackfoot Fairgrounds, home to the Eastern Idaho State Fair, had bleachers rising over an elliptical arena with freshly groomed dirt. The bleachers faced bucking chutes, with the announcer's booth above them. I sat in the bleachers and could see my brother Josh sitting on the bull setting his rope. Since my first rodeo, I opted for holding my breath for run-on prayers from when the bulls ran into the chutes to my brothers' running from the arena. I never made a more sincere plea to God throughout my life than to help keep them safe, and if it humored him to help them ride well.
The chute-help popped the gate and swung it open, and a large black bull lunged out with Josh fixed on it. The bull lunged from side to side without committing to turn back, not spinning (a bull that spins is hard to ride and fun to watch and more likely to produce a high score), fading to the right then making a strong move to the left that whipped Josh down onto the bull's head, knocking him silly, if not out. His body fell to the right with his left hand still in his rope. A bull rider with his hand caught in the rope was said to be hung up. Damn accurate. No bull rider wanted to be hung up, but when he was, the foremost rule was to stay on his feet.
Half unconscious, Josh flipped atop the bull to his side. The bull threw his head back, hitting Josh's flimsy body; Josh slipped under the bull, and the bull's strong hooves stepped over and over Josh's body. The bullfighters leapt onto the bull trying to free Josh's hand, one moving in on the bull and twirling around with only a second to reach for Josh's tied hand before the back end of the bull swung around and bounced him off to the ground.
My father jumped over the chutes and headed at the bull, jumping at its back for Josh's hand, but bouncing off unsuccessful like the others. An eternity of seconds passed with the bell on Josh's bull rope heard deep into the sky when a chute-helper jumped on Josh's tied arm, wrenching it from the rope and bull. Josh lay in the arena for minutes until the medics carted him away to an ambulance headed to the hospital.
[While the bull had broken several of Josh's ribs and ruptured his spleen, the teenager was back in the ring his senior year, qualifying for the national bullriding finals.]
What does the presence of the University of Oregon mean for the state of Oregon and the people who live here? While it is difficult to put a price tag on a student understanding a sonnet or a chemical formula, or to value the self-confidence or passion for learning that a student might gain from such an accomplishment, it is possible to gather hard data that illustrate how the UO is a key driver of the Oregon economy. Some of those figures are presented here.
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The Aesthetics of Shadow (Duke University Press, 2013) by Daisuke Miyao, UO associate professor of Japanese film and cinema studies. In this intriguing exploration, Miyao analyzes how shadow "became naturalized as the representation of beauty in Japanese films" during the early 20th century.
American Sexual Histories: Second Edition (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) by Elizabeth Reis, UO associate professor of women's and gender studies and history. This collection of essays and historical documents investigates issues related to human sexuality in America from the colonial era to the present. Each chapter offers "illuminating insights into the complex evolution of sex and sexuality in America."
Blind to Betrayal (Wiley, 2013) by UO psychology professor Jennifer Freyd and Pamela Birrell, PhD '73, MA '85. In this "powerful, illuminating, and disturbing" book, Freyd and Birrell explain "the many different forms of betrayal, finally revealing why its victims can endure mistreatment, sometimes for years, without seeming to know that it is happening, even when it may be obvious to others around them."
Oregon Geology: Sixth Edition (Oregon State University Press, 2012) by Elizabeth L. Orr, collections manager of the Condon Collection at the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History; and William N. Orr, UO emeritus professor of geology. Offering a comprehensive treatment of the state's geologic history, this text closely examines the features of each region of Oregon, addresses current environmental challenges, and details tectonic hazards.
Domestic Subjects (Yale University Press, 2013) by Beth (Hege) Piatote, MA '97. Weaving together an analysis of literature, law, history, and gender studies, Piatote documents how American Indian households "became the primary site of struggle for indigenous families against the forces of U.S. and Canadian" assimilation campaigns in the late 19th century.
Escape from the Pipe Men! (Clarion Books, 2013) by Mary G. Thompson, JD '02. Thompson's young adult novel—"a fast-paced adventure"— follows the exploits of Ryan and Becky, two alien kids from an intergalactic zoo on a quest to save their accidentally poisoned father.
Love at First Flight (Astor + Blue Editions, 2012) by Captain William S. "Bud" Orr '65 and Fran E. Orr. "With soaring aerial combat, steamy romance, heartfelt loss, and a silver lining of humor," this memoir, written by a career naval pilot and his wife, is "a captivating thrill ride."
The Price of Justice (Times Books, 2013) by Laurence Leamer, MA '69, the best-selling author of such titles as King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson and Sons of Camelot. This nonfiction legal thriller chronicles the true story of the 15-year legal struggle against Don Blankenship, a "coal baron" and head of Massey Energy in the 1990s. "Greed, arrogance, injustice, corruption—it has it all, and, sadly, it's all true," writes John Grisham.
My Best Mormon Life a memoir by Jesse Ellison (CreateSpace, 2012)
Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging by Lauren Kessler (Reprinted by permission of Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098)
News, Notables, Innovations
For the fall 2010 issue, Oregon Quarterly received a class note from Eric Benjaminson '81, sharing the news that he had been confirmed as ambassador to the Central African Republic of Gabon and to the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe. Eric and his wife Paula Benjaminson, a career foreign service officer, would be headed to the region in a few weeks. OQ passed the note to John Manotti, an assistant vice president in the University Development office; he thought it would be of interest to professor of political science Dennis Galvan, codirector of the UO's Global Oregon Initiative and a veteran researcher in West Africa. As it turned out, Manotti was right.
Late last year the Gabon-Oregon Transnational Research Center on Environment and Development was established, funded by a $20 million investment from the government of Gabon. The money will be used to set up centers at the UO and in Libreville, Gabon, where researchers from the two countries will work together and collaborate with Gabonese partners in the transition from an oil-based economy to one based on sustainable natural-resource management and ecotourism. The many new partnerships between Gabonese and UO researchers will also contribute to the development of the nation's educational system and support increased entrepreneurial endeavor.
The UO is a natural choice for this partnership, according to Gabon's president Ali Bongo Ondimba. "The University of Oregon is a leader in the fields of natural resources management, sustainable development, green technology and architecture, and urban planning—the foundations on which we aspire to build in Gabon," he said during the signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., last June.
A country of just 1.6 million people, Gabon has been living off income from its enormous reserves of oil since gaining independence from France in 1960 (current annual oil revenues amount to $14 billion). But the oil is expected to run out within 20 to 30 years. "They need to diversify," Benjaminson says. "It is not a healthy economy in the long term." Fortunately, oil is not Gabon's only resource. Eighty percent of the country is covered with relatively pristine rainforest, and there are also rich deposits of minerals. "The forest is a smaller version of the Amazon forest—the way it used to be," Benjaminson says. "They also have wonderful marine and riverine environments, and good offshore fisheries." Effectively managing these resources is a challenge. While Gabon has the world's largest population of forest elephants, for example, their numbers have declined dramatically due to poaching for ivory. Similarly, the rainforest is also under pressure from logging and agriculture.
The Gabonese government has pledged to work on a host of issues, including sustainability, climate change, education and housing reform, land use, and infrastructure such as roads, sanitation, and telecommunications. "This is the Camelot period in Gabon," Galvan says. "They have a relatively young president who has a small group of close, young advisors around him who are the country's best and brightest."
In 2003, then-president Omar Bongo Ondimba (Ali Bongo Ondimba's father) put more than one-tenth of the country's landmass into 13 national parks. Gabon now has the most protected rainforest of any African nation, Galvan says, but the parks are fairly inaccessible due to limited roads and lodging. Park management is complicated by the fact that many Gabonese have traditionally hunted and gathered in those areas. "We need to consider the needs of conservation alongside the needs of people facing poverty," Galvan says.
Collaboration will be a key element in devising, refining, and carrying out research projects. "Every project will have Gabonese partners," Galvan says. "If I come up with a research topic, my topic will change as it gets infused with the Gabonese sense of what a good research project is and how to go about doing it."
Enhancing Gabon's education system is also a strong component of the program. The country's only university has an extremely limited PhD program and is "underresourced," Benjaminson says. UO professors will have the opportunity to create partnerships with professors in Gabon and train students who can then come to the UO for graduate study, he says. At the same time, all of the center's activities will include community outreach, turning research into lessons for primary school kids, with special emphasis on girls and women.
While the UO will lead the program, a number of other Oregon campuses will also be members of the Oregon African Studies Consortium, including Oregon State University, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland State University, and Willamette University. Possible areas of research include everything from forestry and environmental studies to ethnobotany and parasite-destroying drugs to antipoaching initiatives and economic modeling. "Across all the campuses, we have many types of expertise," Galvan says.
Brendan Bohannan is one of several UO professors looking forward to collaborative research in Gabon. "We hope to help broaden their economy by working together to include low-impact ecotourism, sustainable use of the forest, and bioprospecting," he says. Bohannan, a professor of biology and director of the UO's Institute of Ecology and Evolution, has been studying the effects of deforestation on microbial biodiversity in the Amazon Basin for many years. Tiny forms of life such as bacteria and fungi have extremely important biological functions. "The vast majority of bacteria don't cause disease," he says. "Many are necessary to our health." Besides working with the Gabonese on issues of rainforest management, Bohannan also sees potential in rainforest bioprospecting—looking for novel organic compounds that could have medical applications.
"We hope to establish a long-term research site and exchange students between the two countries," Bohannan says. "UO students could train in Gabon and better understand the rainforest, and Gabonese students would have the opportunity to come here and be trained in the environmental sciences."
Seven Gabonese students are already attending the UO. Gleen Landangoye is majoring in business administration, with a focus on green business and tourism. He plans to put his studies to use at home in Gabon. "We've been counting on the forest for our economy," he says, "but we have never known that we should protect the forest as well as use it. The whole point is to learn to use our country's resources more wisely."
Galvan couldn't agree more. "Hopefully this collaboration can produce a whole generation who think like Gleen," he says.
The Gabon-Oregon program is under the auspices of Global Oregon, one of five Big Ideas established in 2009 to help guide the future direction of the university. Global Oregon is a strategic initiative to make the student experience, faculty research, and the university's outreach more international. (To learn more about the Big Ideas, go to provost.uoregon.edu/content/big-ideas.)
Of the $20 million Gabon has invested, $5 million will cover setup costs for the program, including creating the centers at the UO and in Gabon. The remaining $15 million endowment will be managed by the UO Foundation, with distributions from the fund financing operations and research at the two centers.
"Resources will be pumped into both sides of the relationship," Galvan says, "and we'll have the opportunity to learn from each other. I'm excited about this opportunity."
—Rosemary Howe Camozzi '96
Molecular gastronomy drives the menus at some of the world's finest (and trendiest) restaurants. A UO chef and chemist enlist its principles to illuminate concepts of chemistry.
Say it's a sultry summer night and a tomato sounds like the start of a tasty supper. A gastronome might take that tomato, quarter it, drizzle it with fragrant olive oil and piquant balsamic vinegar, and serve it studded with fresh mozzarella and peppery basil. A molecular gastronome, on the other hand, might take the same tomato, boil it together with the algae extract agar-agar, stuff it inside a silicone tube, ice it, and squeeze out a spaghetti-like ribbon of tomato gel.
You say tomato . . . a chef like Doug Lang says reconstructed tomato soup. Lang, head chef of the UO's central kitchen, speaks the specialized language of molecular gastronomy. He has teamed up with Randy Sullivan, a lecture demonstrator in the chemistry department, to spread the good word of chemistry through the scientific side of cooking.
Coined at an experimental cooking workshop in Sicily in 1992, the term "molecular gastronomy" refers to the process of taking ordinary ingredients, such as carrots and beets, and shape-shifting them with a chemist's potions, supplies, and techniques, changing their molecular structure. In the kitchens of high-end restaurants that feature such cuisine on their menus, dehydrators, immersion circulators, and centrifuges share counter space with more traditional cookware, like roasting and soufflé pans. Sodium alginate, Ultra-Tex 3, and hydrocolloids such as agar-agar and maltodextrin share pantry shelves with flour and sugar. And bubbling in the corner? That's a cauldron of –195°C liquid nitrogen, for flash freezing.
Molecular gastronomy informs the cuisine at some of the world's finest restaurants. Perhaps you've noticed chefs fizzing up plates with all manner of flavored foams. Well, you can thank Spain's Ferran Adria, the "father of foam," for that. As chef of the now-shuttered El Bulli, Adria came up with the idea of mixing highly flavored liquids, such as tomato water, with gelatin and shooting them through a whipped-cream charger. Stateside, Chicago's Grant Achatz has put his own mark on avant-garde cuisine at Alinea, named one of the 50 best restaurants in the world by Restaurant magazine.
UO chef Lang has the Alinea cookbook flipped open on the counter of the demonstration kitchen at the recently opened Global Scholars Hall one evening, part of the set for a Lang-Sullivan molecular gastronomy demo. Sullivan's demos are a hit with students because they bring abstract scientific processes dramatically to life. In a previous demonstration, for example, he created an "ethanol cannon," using the spark from a Tesla coil to ignite ethanol in a bottle and shoot out the cork. To demonstrate the power of atmospheric pressure, he poured a bucket of water into a 55-gallon steel drum and boiled it until the drum filled with steam, then sealed the drum and doused it with cold water, causing the steam inside to condense. The audience gasped as the steel drum collapsed like a flimsy soda can. "Science is fascinating," says Sullivan. "There's color, there's sound, there's smell. It's a sensory extravaganza. But we're usually talking about it in a classroom, which is kind of like talking about swimming."
For this evening's demonstration in the residence hall, Sullivan, Lang, and sous chef Shawn Savage, also of the university's central kitchen, have planned a three-act menu. Dinner begins with a plate of salad greens dotted with caviar-like spheres of carrot and beet juice. To create these spheres, Lang adds calcium lactate and agar-agar to the juices, then pipes drops of the liquid into a sodium alginate bath—"reverse spherification," Sullivan explains. The result is a gel capsule that pops in the mouth, releasing the vegetable juice. The finished salad is dressed with spheres of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of olive oil given the texture of wet sand with the addition of tapioca maltodextrin. It tastes like a carrot and beet salad, but the texture is entirely unexpected.
Shawn Savage, sous chef in the UO's central kitchen, offers this basic recipe as a simple and succulent introduction for DIY molecular gastronomes. The ceviche is delicious on its own, but if you're feeling adventuresome, recipes for the dish's other components—avocado espuma and LN2 dust—may be found at OregonQuarterly.com.
1 pound bay scallops, cleaned and chopped
2 shallots, minced
½ jalapeno, minced
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
¾ cup orange juice
cilantro for garnish
Mix all ingredients together and marinate in the refrigerator for four to six hours. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve chilled. Serves four to six.
Savage takes over during the second course, making a straightforward scallop ceviche (see recipe) while Sullivan describes the chemical process that allows lime and orange juices to denature the scallops' long chains of molecules, "cooking" the seafood without heat. Savage then whizzes together a mixture of avocado, milk, and agar-agar. He pumps the mixture through a nitrous oxide-fueled whipped-cream canister, creating an avocado foam that makes guacamole look like a country cousin. Then, he uses liquid nitrogen (LN2) to freeze slices of Roma tomato, orange, and lime, which he grinds to a fine, pastel palette of garnishes for a "scallop ceviche with avocado espuma and LN2 dust" that would make the father of foam proud.
For dessert? The menu promises "cryogenic custard." The chefs dunk chocolate Pirouette cookies in brandy, and Sullivan obligingly flambés them with a blowtorch. Lang uses liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze a vanilla custard base, and the resulting ice cream has a silken-smooth texture from setting up so fast.
Lang and Sullivan put on the first of these science shows in 2011, their presentation one of several Community Conversations, a series of events brainstormed and organized by students and held in the UO's many residence halls. Sullivan is a faculty fellow with the program, which is intended to bring intellectual experiences directly into student housing.
This evening's demonstration is a far cry from Lang's usual duties overseeing 35 cooks as they slice, dice, and steam $3 million worth of groceries every year for the university's dining halls. His kitchen produces 80 gallons of ranch dressing and 90 gallons of teriyaki sauce each week, contributing to the 15,000 meals served daily on campus during the academic year. "I have a lot more experience with egg cookery than reverse spherification," Lang says.
While the new kitchen probably won't include liquid nitrogen caldrons or nitrous-oxide espuma canisters, it will allow the university to increase its purchasing of local produce and introduce efficiencies expected to save about $500,000 per year. And that's an appetizing thought indeed.
How do you replace a legend? That's the question the Oregon Bach Festival faced a few years back when founding artistic director Helmuth Rilling announced he'd be retiring in 2013 (when he would turn 80) from leadership of the world-renowned institution he and Royce Saltzman, a professor in the UO School of Music and Dance, created in 1970. Over the course of those years, the festival had grown from a small workshop for choral conductors and organists to one of world's greatest classical music gatherings.
Now it was time for that most delicate of operations: a smooth transition from a charismatic founder to a successor with a different vision to suit different circumstances. This transition is especially important to Rilling. "I think the most impressive thing we've had over the years is the continuity," he says.
Maintaining that continuity wouldn't be easy. Because the Bach Festival is a university institution, Rilling himself could no more play a role in choosing his successor than could any dean or president.
But change was in the air. In the decades since Rilling had come to musical maturity, Baroque music had been revolutionized by new scholarship that resulted in historically informed ways of performing the music of Bach, Handel, their contemporaries, and even later composers like Mozart. Several generations of performers and conductors have adopted the use of period instruments as well as tunings and performance styles close to what the composers intended (generally referred to as historically informed performance or HIP), resulting in more agile and expressive interpretations.
Meanwhile, although his approach evolved significantly over the years as well, in many ways, Rilling continued to embrace the mid-20th-century style featuring modern instruments, choral forces far larger than the composers would have known, and other techniques that, by the beginning of the 21st century, most major Baroque interpreters had left behind.
Maintaining continuity while effecting change seemed a tricky balance. "If we didn't change it enough, that would just be trying to replace Helmuth, and that would never work," says UO senior vice president and provost James Bean. "If we changed it too much, we'd lose that heart of what made Helmuth's festival what it was."
Fortunately, the university had an important advantage in negotiating a delicate course. The search would be led by the festival's executive director John Evans, a former BBC executive who filled the post when Saltzman became director emeritus in 2007.
"We were lucky to have John, who was so well connected internationally, to be able to pull this off," Bean explains. "First, he communicated with Helmuth and other close friends of the festival to determine what values had to be maintained, and then where there was room to grow and try new ideas."
Crucially, Evans kept Rilling informed throughout the process. And when, in 2011, the festival announced the choice of British conductor and Baroque keyboard specialist Matthew Halls as Rilling's successor beginning in 2013, the value of that preparatory work became evident.
The leader of England's Retrospect Ensemble, the 35-year-old Halls clearly represented a new—or rather old—approach to Baroque music. Skilled and engaging, Halls had grown up with historically informed interpretations and had performed on period instruments with some of the legends of the genre, including Monica Huggett, the English violinist who leads the Portland Baroque Orchestra.
Evans, in fact, had begun preparing the way for a transition to the now-standard style of Baroque interpretation by bringing Huggett's group into the Bach Festival. And the two-year overlap between Halls's selection and Rilling's departure gave festival audiences a chance to gradually adapt to the new sound. A Portland performance at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall during the 2011 festival (only weeks before the choice of Halls as the new director was made public) featured a sort of baton passing, with each conductor directing half the performance. "It's been reassuring for Rilling to be able to see Matthew conduct Mendelssohn, Bach, Tippett, and others at the festival," Evans says. "He can feel the festival is in safe hands."
Last summer at the UO's Beall Concert Hall, Halls performed some of Bach's keyboard concertos in a HIP chamber setting, while Rilling led orchestral performances of some of the same works using modern instruments. Each attended the other's concerts. This year's Bach Festival will include a Passing of the Baton concert July 6 at the Hult Center in Eugene when Rilling and Halls will take turns at the podium conducting Brahms and Mendelssohn; Halls will conclude the program with Brahms's Schicksalslied, "Song of Destiny."
"This transition has gone in a very natural way," Rilling says. "I'm glad Matthew was interested in this position. The beautiful thing is that he comes from the same musical tradition. You can say in some ways he has the same musical faith."
While noting that the festival henceforth will indeed see a greater presence of period instrument players in residence, Halls finds unexpected commonalities between his approach and Rilling's, despite their different generations and backgrounds. "It's not as simple as saying Helmuth represents a particular school of interpretation and I another," he explains. In listening to Rilling's performances, he says, "I'm constantly fascinated by the extent to which Helmuth has arrived at some of the same answers to questions about the music as I have. To preserve the integrity of a performance, I have to be honest to myself. But I'm a product of all sorts of influences on me—including the music of Helmuth Rilling."
Another sign that the transition from Rilling to Halls may be equal parts continuity and change lies in their top priority for the festival itself—and it's not, as might be expected, the many memorable concerts or premieres of new works. In fact, it's not about performance at all.
"The activities which we have had in Eugene these many years are twofold," Rilling explains. "On one side we have had wonderful concerts, tours, performances at the Hollywood Bowl, and so on. But the most important thing for me personally and for the idea of our festival is the teaching. Thousands of people have been taught choral conducting in Eugene. The conducting class over the years with so many conductors gave the Oregon Bach Festival great influence on the choral musical life of the United States. This is one of the most important facets of the Oregon Bach Festival."
Halls, too, emphasizes education as the most exciting part of the festival's future. "We shall be announcing some major educational initiatives, including an entirely new course centered on the organ music of Bach," he says. He also says fundraising is underway for a prestigious orchestral academy similar to the European Baroque Orchestra. By "attracting the best students and supporting the post-OBF careers of young conductors around America," Halls explains, "We are ensuring the long-term health and future of our festival."
So while the Bach Festival will evolve under its new director, it seems likely to retain much of its character, particularly as an educational institution.
"We have already had many conversations about the programs of the future," Rilling says about Halls. "I think there will be a lot of continuity between what happened in the past and what will happen in the future."
That includes Rilling's continued appearances in Eugene during the summer. "I will stay connected with the festival," he says. "I will conduct and teach at the festival in years to come." He'll also continue guest conducting around the world; this year alone, he's conducted in Moscow, Warsaw, Los Angeles, Milan, Budapest, and beyond. "I'm very grateful that I'm strong enough to do that and my work is appreciated," Rilling says, "and I hope this will also continue in the future as long as I am able to do it."
Halls, meanwhile, is looking forward to the shared concert this summer during the farewell celebrations for his predecessor. "I can't think of many occasions when the outgoing director has offered to pass the baton in the middle of a concert," he marvels. "We will relish Helmuth's continued presence, and we will always find a place for him at the festival."
—Brett Campbell, MS '96
For detailed information about the 2013 Oregon Bach Festival, June 24–July 14, visit oregonbachfestival.com.
The Elephant Within
As cable news, Internet punditry, talk radio, and even this magazine's letters to the editor page demonstrate, it often seems that when it comes to politics, values, and beliefs, much more divides us than unites us. But Jonathan Haidt, New York University's Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership and the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, believes a more understanding society could await us all . . . if we learned to understand our inner elephants.
Haidt, who has spent more than 25 years studying the psychological roots of morality, says that humans rely heavily on intuition, emotion, and automatic processes when making moral judgments. Our conscious reasoning is used to justify initial intuitive conclusions, Haidt says, rather than to empirically make up our minds. He compares the intuitive mind to an elephant, and conscious, rational thought to a rider trained in public relations perched on the elephant's back. The elephant lurches in one direction, and the rider provides reasons for why this is clearly the best direction in which to travel.
The direction in which our elephant leans is based in part on our cultural upbringing, but also has much to do with deeper moral programming. Based on his observations of cultures around the world, Haidt developed Moral Foundations
Theory, which states that, for a variety of evolutionary reasons, humans as a species innately value care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Of course, these common ideals get mixed and reinterpreted by each culture, religious group, and political party, until the underlying agreed-upon value is far from apparent to members of groups that interpret them differently. On the American political spectrum, for example, valuing sanctity can be seen in both abstinence pledges and environmental activism: same moral, vastly different interpretations.
Haidt will visit both the White Stag Block and main campus in late May to discuss how these principles shape our current political climate in the 2013 Oregon Humanities Center Kritikos Lecture. A better understanding of why we think and feel the way we do is just the beginning, Haidt believes, but it is a crucial first step to a more cooperative, civil, and productive society.
—Mindy Moreland, MS '08
Jonathan Haidt Lecture | "What on Earth is Happening to Us? Polarization, Demonization, and Paralysis in American Politics"
May 30, 7:00 p.m., White Stag Block
Watch live-streaming video of his talk at: ohc.uoregon.edu.
The Oregon Bach Festival's annual Portland concert series, including artistic director Helmuth
Rilling's farewell performance as he conducts Bach's Mass in B Minor.
More information: oregonbachfestival.com/pdx.
Asian–Pacific American Chamber of Commerce 2013 Diversity and Cultural Awareness Workshop
Learn how ethnicity, geographical resettlement, recent migration, cultural development, and the labor force impact social and economic formation in the greater Portland area. More information: apacc-or.org/events-list.
Design Camp 2013
High school students spend a week exploring careers in architecture, digital arts, and product design amid Portland's vibrant art and design scene. For more detailed information: aaa.uoregon.edu/designcamp.
Few things taste as sweet as a ripe tomato I've just picked on a sunny Saturday morning at the University of Oregon's Urban Farm. Taking a break from turning a potato bed, I lean on my shovel, only to spot a succulent fruit hanging enticingly off a nearby vine. I reach in among the plant's bitter-smelling leaves and pluck the yellow Sungold off its vine. As I bite down, it tastes like pure summer. While tomatoes are bountiful year round in the supermarket, here at the Urban Farm they're a special seasonal treat.
Students and community members have tended the Urban Farm's soil and nurtured its beds since it was established 30 years ago just across Franklin Boulevard from the main campus. Walking beneath a trellis draped with ivy and morning glories, a visitor can see rows of garden beds, overflowing with leafy veggies. Farther along the path stands a harvest table piled with produce, a rickety tool shed, an arbor of fruit trees, and the heart of the farm, a ribbon-wrapped Maypole surrounded by a hay bale circle.
Vigorously turning clumps of soil and breaking them up with well-placed stabs of our wood-handled shovels, the other volunteers and I discover delicious red potatoes still hiding in the bed alongside nature's aerators, earthworms that quickly retreat back into the loose earth.
Working in the garden for the past two years, I've become more attuned to the timing and labor of the art of eating. During early July, one gathers plump blueberries that, by midsummer, give way to meaty zucchini. In late August, the Eugene sunshine will reach its zenith, providing the final ingredient for crisp autumn apples, Asian pears, and the heirloom tomatoes.
Caring for these beds reminds me of the pleasures gained from hard work and the sometimes forgotten practice of social eating. After completing our garden tasks, we gather around the harvest table to share slices of an exotic melon and exchange favorite recipes. Tasting the fruit is the best reminder of the simplicity of preparing a meal, and that the recipe for happiness is to find delight in the things we eat together.
"The Best . . ." is a series of student-written essays describing superlative aspects of campus. Brenna Houck is a graduating senior (in journalism and anthropology) who spends her days immersed in editing Envision and Ethos magazines.
The first few lectures in a course taught by Alexander Murphy can sometimes be a little intimidating for students. The renowned University of Oregon political geographer says that students often come into his classroom the first day believing they are there to memorize place names, but soon he manages to "change their views." With his aid and expertise, students discover that the political map is something more than just borders, capitals, and colored spaces; the subject encompasses information on a vast swath of human activity, from population density to religious affiliation. This new understanding gives students tools to embark on a journey of discovery, asking questions about their world—and no longer taking maps for granted.
One example Murphy likes to use is Timbuktu, a place that is synonymous with an isolated, faraway destination. This West African city is an important case study in how location can influence economies and politics through history. While Timbuktu seems distant to us today, Murphy says, in the 12th century it was an important caravan trade center on the edge of the Sahara. Then, as shipping became more prominent, coastal cities emerged as the new trade powers, and Timbuktu slid "from the center of activity to the periphery." Today, the city is making headlines, as the once stable nation of Mali has fallen into the throes of civil war. Timbuktu's changing geographic significance illustrates "a world that is different from one year to the next."
Having visited more than 100 countries, Murphy is often jetting to the farthest reaches of the globe. But whether he's traveling to Northern India or crossing the Peruvian-Chilean border, Murphy is always on the lookout for a tale or insight from his adventures to bring into his discussions and enliven his courses. On one recent 10-day expedition, he traveled to Tabriz, Iran, and addressed the Fifth International Congress of Islamic World Geographers. During the visit, Murphy sat down with a candidate for the post-Ahmadinejad presidency, an individual who might someday stand at the helm of one of the most strategically important countries on the planet. With the world's geopolitics ceaselessly churning, the subject remains ever fresh. "I look forward to the next time I get to teach political geography," Murphy says.
Name: Alexander B. Murphy
Education: BA '77, Yale University; '77–78, Graduate Program, Universität des Saarlandes; JD '81, Columbia University; PhD '87, University of Chicago.
Teaching Experience: Joined the UO faculty 1987. James F. and Shirley K. Rippey Chair in Liberal Arts and Sciences '98–present.
Awards: Thomas F. Herman Faculty Achievement Award for Distinguished Teaching, 2012; David M. and Nancy L. Petrone Scholar Award, 1996–98; James F. and Shirley K. Rippey Fund Award for Teaching Innovation, 1995–96; and many more university, national, and international accolades.
Off-Campus: Murphy enjoys hiking and, occasionally, downhill skiing with his graduate students at Willamette Pass.
Last Word: "I want my students to begin to see some connections and interactions that will help them to make sense of the world and their lives."
PHOTO COURTESY SIMON SANCHEZ AND TREVOR TILL
Bird's Eye View of Campus Digital Arts students Simon Sanchez and Trevor Till attached a tiny camera to a helium-filled weather balloon, set it aloft over campus, and maneuvered it with tethers of high-test fishing line. The resulting photos provide an unusual perspective on some familiar campus landmarks from an altitude of up to 300 feet. See more photos.
The UO has selected the city of Medford for a yearlong partnership focusing the university's most valuable assets—motivated students and experienced faculty members—on real-world projects, from bicycle routes to industrial redevelopment proposals. The Sustainable City Year Program has previously established collaborations with Gresham, Salem, and Springfield. In a typical year, more than 400 students spend 60,000 hours on projects that enhance livability, conserve resources, and generate economic development—all while reducing environmental impact.
The Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA) has named the UO's summer field school (the Northern Great Basin Prehistory Project) one of nine RPA-certified programs in the United States, and the only one in the Pacific Northwest. Program students study archaeology, geoarchaeology, and paleoethnobotany and practice survey, excavation, mapping, and record-keeping skills as they work at an active research site.
Starting in the fall, five students per year will receive full-tuition, four-year scholarships, including room and board, as well as up to $12,000 in enrichment funds to help them pursue study abroad, unpaid internships, research, or other experiences. A total of 20 students will be awarded the merit-based scholarships from the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation. Similar to the process employed with new scholarship athletes, the UO has hosted "Signing Day" events in Bend, Lake Oswego, Pleasant Hill, and the Portland area to honor the incoming scholars in their hometowns.
Across-the-board budget cuts ("sequestration") mandated by the federal government—the UO's largest government partner—began nationwide implementation on March 1. The university has established a website to track sequestration's effects on research programs and other areas of the university. Visit the site at oresearch.uoregon.edu/content/sequestration-impact.
UO biologist Jessica Green is among 175 North American scholars, artists, and scientists to be named 2013 Guggenheim Fellows. The award honors recipients for their achievement and exceptional promise. Green, an ecologist and engineer who codirects the Biology and the Built Environment Center, specializes in biodiversity theory and microbial systems.
Tim Gleason, dean of the School of Journalism and Communication, will receive the 2013 Charles E. Scripps Award as journalism and mass communication administrator of the year. Gleason, who holds the position of Edwin L. Artzt Dean of the journalism school, has served as dean since 1997. He has been a member of the UO faculty since 1987.
The Peace Corps' 2013 Top College rankings placed the UO at number eight, up two spots from 2012. Currently, 82 undergraduate alumni are serving overseas; the UO has produced a total of 1,165 Peace Corps volunteers.