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Incidents on 57th Street

Those who are "the ones who they've been waiting for" descended on the Midway Plaisance on October 30th to self-energize, cheer, lament, and breathe in the mixture of self-congratulation and dread, thick in the mid-autumn air. Yes, three days before the 2010 Midterms, President Barack Obama and his admirers needed to come to Chicago's South Side to get out the vote. This begged the question, "If he cannot rely on urban blacks and the professorate to vote early and often, then who can he rely on?" and the corollary question, "What's worse than a thumpin', a throttlin'?" Still, the crowd was treated to an old-fashioned leg-tingling, the kind they've craved since Barack told the girls they were getting a puppy. The hip-hop artist Common performed, Ransom Notes sang the National Anthem, and Nero fiddled. We certainly hope President Obama comes back soon—in two years, and for good.


Although we at Counterpoint remain some of the strongest supporters of building the Milton Friedman Institute—we went as far as to argue in our inaugural issue that we need a Milton Friedman Memorial Stadium—it is with great sadness that the development of this important institution must come at the cost of one of the finest Hyde Park landmarks, the Seminary Co-op Bookstore. What the Co-op lacks in amenities and spaciousness, it more than made up for in its voluminous selection, labyrinthine layout, and decidedly dungeon-inspired entrance. Eschewing modern conventions, the Seminary Co-op always offered the bare minimum in services—no comfy chairs to sit in, no chic coffee shop serving gourmet fair trade Colombian coffee. It was a bookstore for bibliophiles: it boasted easily the best selection of academic books this side of the Library of Congress. Thankfully, the Seminary Co-op is simply moving, not being destroyed, but with talk of a "spacious," "modern," "user friendly" bookstore being its future, one simply has to feel sorry for those students at the U of C that will never know the joy of the appropriately austere Co-op.


The success of Davis Guggenheim's latest documentary Waiting for "Superman" has reinvigorated the education reform movement. For the first time ever, broad consensuses have been drawn between liberals and conservatives over the terrible state of our public school systems, and the compliant nature of the teachers' unions in this problem. Charter schools and voucher programs are cropping up across the country, with strong support from urban Democrats and conservative Republicans hoping to supply our moribund school system with some much-needed dynamism and choice. The University of Chicago, we can proudly say, is leading the way on this initiative by sponsoring our very own charter school, right here in Chicago. And last spring this charter school graduated its very first homegrown senior class. We certainly wish the best for the students coming from this school, but given their strong success already—over 96% of the student body has been accepted to college—we can be assured that they won't need it.


For those hip to it, the publication of the 2010-11 course offerings invited a chuckle and a groan.  John Mearsheimer, the author of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, who recently graduated from publication in Pat Buchanan's American Conservative to publication on Hezbollah's Al-Manar website, will be conducting a course next spring entitled "Zionism and Palestine."  The course will cover Zionist theory, early emigration, and Israeli history.  We believe that Professor Mearsheimer is rightfully granted the great degree of academic freedom to study and teach what he will, even if it is in areas like political theory and comparative politics in which he has not published.  We hope this course will give him a chance to bone up on Zionist theorists and political actors like Jabotinsky or Ben-Gurion and the complicated legacies of their thinking. Perhaps he will even revise a few misbegotten theses about the agenda of the Jewish state. But in all likelihood, through his lecture will percolate the very animus that caused him to declare the heads of the major Jewish-American organizations "New Afrikaners" and to insinuate that deputy-level Jews with dual loyalty were misdirecting Bush foreign policy. This is the University of Chicago, so we can rest assured that there will be better classes to take.


The University of Chicago is a place built upon an idea of the unity of knowledge.  Scientists and philosophers are meant to cross Ellis Avenue and so we require biology majors to read from the humanities and English majors to demonstrate competency in mathematical, natural, and physical sciences.  Recently this ideal was diminished by one researcher's reaction to the decision of a federal judge that President Obama's executive order expanding the funding of embryonic stem-cell research violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, an annual act of Congress prohibiting federal funding for embryo destruction.  A professor whose research includes pediatric stem-cell transplantation, John Cunningham told local public radio, "As we go through this process of stopping and going and stopping and going, it really retards our ability to make decisions based on science."  Scientific discovery, while engaged in the generally positive interest of easing man's estate, is not an ultimate good.  Rather, human ingenuity should serve humanistic aspiration. Whether nascent human life should be treated as a natural resource is a question of deep importance for any nation and should be answered by the best political mechanisms we have: legislation and litigation.  This is imperative, lest we retard our moral agency


Whether it is due to the opacity of the topics covered, or the difficulty of the texts themselves, academic presses rarely publish books that appear on bestseller lists. Therefore when Friedrich Hayek's classic The Road to Serfdom, originally published by the University of Chicago Press in 1944, shot up to the top of the Amazon.com bestseller list earlier this year, the only person who could say he was not surprised was Glenn Beck. Beck, known as one of the more inflammatory and conspiratorial conservative talk show hosts, did a series of shows on Hayek's classic work, relating Hayek's message about the totalitarian nature of command economies to "President Obama's attempt to socialize our nation." Now while Beck's hyperbolic message may be confused, we at Counterpoint applaud any force that convinces 156,000 people to purchase any book by Hayek, who taught on the Committee on Social Thought from 1950 to 1962. Now all we need to do is convince the University to insert The Road to Serfdom back into the Core…


From Milton Friedman, MA '33, to Gertrude Himmelfarb, MA'44 PhD'50, to Robert Bork, AB'48 JD'53, some of the great (conservative) intellectuals of the last half-century have been tutored at the University of Chicago. Those gigantic names sometimes seem to be from a UChicago of a different age, and perhaps even a conservatism of a different age. But to those who allege the end of conservatism, that intellectual conservatism has evaporated and been replaced with a populist program, there is a simple rebuttal: Yuval Levin, MA'01 PhD'10. The editor of National Affairs, fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and former Bush domestic policy advisor completed his dissertation at the Committee on Social Thought last May. He delivered a splendid public lecture on his topic, "Burke, Paine, and the Great Law of Change", arguing that the origins of the modern partisan divide are in the debate over the French Revolution—a convincing case about the power of pure reason and the wisdom of tradition whose outline is found in Dr. Levin's recent book on the American science debates, Imagining the Future. We wish Yuval Levin a career marked by successes. Already, every time Dr. Levin shows a rare Washingtonian ability to see past the policymaking weeds we are proud to call him a Chicago Boy.