Incidents on 57th Street

On Thursday, October 15th, the Harris School of Public Policy invited Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to lecture in Mandel Hall as part of the King Abdullah II Leadership Lecture. Olmert, never to be confused with a competent man, prepared twenty minutes of remarks but took an hour and a half to deliver them because of an orchestrated effort of local pro-Palestinian groups to disrupt and delay his speech with regular outbursts. About twenty-five people, mostly non-University of Chicago students, were led out of Mandel Hall by the security personnel. For anyone curious about the modus operandi of the campus and local pro-Palestinian groups, that Thursday was a revelation. Their aim: their outdoor theatrics included the chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”—a geographic distribution suggesting the elimination of Israel. Their tactics: disturbance, speech suppression, histrionics, and dumb catcalls like, “Your face is ugly!” Most disturbing, a video of the outdoor protest surfaced on Youtube in which some protesters heckled the few (Jewish) counter-protesters with “I have a shiny penny” and “I love Hitler!” Yes, it is probably a mistake for the University to invite a man who will soon undergo a corruption trial as part of a leadership lecture series—that is but a minor concern. Unfortunately, the event set a precedent for an embarrassing and raucous spectacle every time a high-profile Israeli attempts to defend his country to the students at the University of Chicago. The life of the mind indeed.



In the Olmert event’s aftermath, President Zimmer and Provost Rosenbaum sent an email to the entire University community citing the University’s legacy of commitment to free-inquiry and calling the disruption of Olmert’s speech “disturbing.” We commend them for reaffirming the investigative role of the University in a political world and for using their weight and prestige against the forces of hectoring. In response, campus and local anti-Israel activists made the argument that an environment of free-inquiry is closed to war criminals. While the place where free speech ends is an interesting debate, it is irrelevant to the discussion of whether or not their behavior was correct. Ehud Olmert is not a war criminal. He launched two wars of self-defense against an enemy that tried to maximize the deaths of his innocent countrymen. The Israeli Defense Forces used expensive, precise missiles and often forewent the element of surprise in order to minimize innocent deaths. As free-inquiry suffers, so too does moral clarity.




In early December 2009, University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Director Barry Alvarez stated that the Big 10 athletic conference will begin the process of adding a twelfth team. While Missouri, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Rutgers figure to be the most likely additions, there is another possibility. Perhaps we are just reveling in the seventy-fifth anniversary of Jay Berwanger’s Heisman Trophy but we think the University of Chicago would make a fine return to the Big 10, seventy years later. Already larger than Division I-FBS schools Tulsa, Rice, and Wake Forest, the University of Chicago needs only the facilities before the original Monsters of the Midway are revived. Of course, there would be heavy opposition to any perceived diluting of campus nerdiness by the humorless, “Keep Chicago Weird” sort who decry the micronationalism of team sports. In the interest of having something to do on Saturdays and making the Northwestern rivalry an actual rivalry, we support all efforts to add the University of Chicago to the Big 10. We would also like to see the building of Milton Friedman Stadium to draw the further ire of the expected opposition.



On January 20th, Professor Michael Walzer gave the John Dewey Lecture in the law school on trying political leaders.  In it, he covered four types of trials: revolutionary trials, show trials, victor’s justice, and election trials.  We agree that show trials are categorically bad.  As for revolutionary trials and victor’s justice, Professor Walzer claims that such trials “may be legally dubious, but politically and morally right.” For example, Professor Walzer mentions the trial of King Louis XVI as an example of a legally dubious trial that was good, since it brought the king under the rule of law.  As for election trials, Professor Walzer is against them since they threaten the dynamic of democratic opposition.  Even if a President commits a crime—like he claims President Bush did through his “torturing” of terrorists—he should be exempt from being tried due to democratic expediency.  It is hard to disagree with Professor Walzer’s basic conclusions—trying leaders after an election is a recipe for the destruction of the health of a republic.  However, his reasoning is an “ends justify the means” approach—the expediency of human rights trumps due process.  Such a utilitarian approach may be good for a Robespierre, but not for a law professor in a nation in which the rule of law plays such an integral role in preserving our liberty.



It appears the communists in our midst don’t have day jobs. The late fall brought posters proclaiming “Everything you have ever heard about communism is wrong!” and advertising a lecture by Maoist political-economist, Raymond Lotta. This January saw a barrage of middle-aged pamphlet distributors urging “Revolution: Spread It” to those exiting Cobb Hall. Mr. Lotta took his moment to defend the Great Leap Forward and justify the Cultural Revolution. That he would endorse each should be unsurprising. He cites his enemy as a pervasive capitalist “logic” and his mission as the mobilization of students to act on behalf of a new system. The Cultural Revolution unleashed vicious student mobs, cajoled by a little red book. It is the dream of the demagogue like Lotta to see subversive power emanate from his pen. Fortunately for our nation, Mr. Lotta is of the vitiated sort. For Mr. Lotta and his advocates who believe they are so committed to bettering the lives of their fellow men, we have one word of advice: get a job!



We cannot be indifferent to the way our society entertains itself and so, when a fourth-year undergraduate, Jackie Todd attempts to revive Vita Excolatur, the campus sex rag, now defunct for two years, we take notice. Ms. Todd claims a desire to seriously explore sex and sexuality and has chosen the venue of intellectual-themed amateur porn alongside taboo-free columns, Masters and Johnson meets Mother Jones. Yet, if the magazine’s history and Todd’s inferences are any indication, the exploration of human sexuality will treat questions of sex from a geometrical lens more often than from a moral lens. Indeed, the guiding moral principle of such endeavors is that, so long as the woman may transcend her generative nature, the activity is moral. “Vita Excolatur,” taken from the school motto, translates into “the life well lived.” We hesitate to equate a “life well lived” with a never ending Bacchanalia.



Speaking of how we entertain ourselves, Twitterature has already hit bookstores nation-wide. It is, in the words of the publisher, a “re-imagining of the classics as a series of 140-character tweets” put together by two University of Chicago second-years. When it is sold almost like a dumbed down Cliffs Notes and yet retains the air of detached sophistication we are (in)famous for at the U of C, one knows we have stumbled upon something quite instructive. While we doubt the status of The Da Vinci Code or Twilight as classics, what is important is that this is the epitome of hipster meta-humor. It is a concept about mocking a medium while mocking a subject all the while parodying its very existence. At some point Twitter will no longer provide hipsters with an adequate avenue to express their faux disinterest, and then Twitterature, like trucker hats and Kanye West sunglasses, will be forgotten. Until then, we thank the authors for their tutoring in the perverse ideology of irreverence.