GenePeeks: More Human Than Ever?

Genepeeks

GenepeeksBy Matthew Chan

Genetic modification has long composed the dreams and nightmares of humanity. Now, it’s spilling over into reality too.

GenePeeks is an emerging company that has made a name with its controversial purpose – to apply theoretical outcomes of sperm-egg interactions in a process which sorts potential sperm donors into a kind of compatibility list. With 10,000 hypothetical children per pairing, there is no guarantee of accuracy, but it does mean that donors with less dependable genes, those whose predicted interactions indicate a greater risk of bearing offspring with genetic defects, can be filtered out of the selection process.

For Anne Morriss, founder and CEO, this is an empowering pursuit following her own experience with donor conception. Her son carries the disorder MCADD, an inherited condition which inhibits the ability to process fats into sugars. Fortunately, it was diagnosed before it could turn fatal, but Morriss is aware that had GenePeek technology been available, it could have been prevented rather than treated. And that many other parents are not so lucky.

“My son has a pretty normal life,” Moriss said in an interview with the BBC, “but about 30% of children with rare genetic diseases don’t make it past the age of five.”

GenePeek is set to launch in December of 2013 and is currently awaiting patent confirmation for their gene screening technology. They are one of many such providers responding to the rising demand for genetic prediction services.

23andMe, a company in the same vein, offers an analysis that is perhaps even more comprehensive. A patent received on September 24th allows 23andMe to test for six characteristics: eye color, earwax texture, lactose tolerance, bitter taste perception, whether alcohol will induce facial flushing and whether muscles will be predominantly fast-twitch (and thus better suited for sprinting) or slow-twitch (endurance).

It is clear by now that the capability of genetic screening has surpassed a mere avoidance of defect. Sperm-egg modelling can predict appearance, athleticism, and although mental capacity has yet to be pinned to a specific gene sequence, the research is drawing ever closer.

The act of reproduction has the potential to become a quest to create the perfect combination of genes for a faster, stronger, more intelligent human. The process of sexual selection can now be regulated by science rather than the subtle intuition which guides us in our search for suitable mates.

Within our reach is the technology to rid future generations of disease and imperfection, increase physical and mental faculties and perpetuate a cycle of technological advancement to bring to existence wonders both of our imagination and those far too extraordinary for our minds to comprehend. This is the dream.

But also the nightmare. The supposed purity of nature is at stake. The equality of randomness is threatened. We risk losing the essence of humanity to the mechanical processes of science. There is a cold uneasiness that clings to our thoughts when we broach this subject in theory, let alone in practice. Is it a voice of wisdom which speaks to us? Some divine principle of mankind we would be foolish to dismiss? Or is it simply a stubborn defiance, a senseless rejection of the unfamiliar, the echoes of the inner traditionalist clinging to all that it holds dear?

The answer is neither one nor the other. The sentiment against genetic modification is stigma of a sort, but of a much greater kind than mere displaced emotion and delusional values. It is the powerful product of inborn instincts, biological directives that in times past, may have propelled and indeed ensured the survival of the homo sapien, but now serve only to limit our minds and stifle our potential.

It is no secret that we have outpaced our own evolution. By chance or divine intervention, we have been gifted with the ability to manipulate our environment and create technologies to enhance our survival and ease our living. Humans no longer need biological impulses; we no longer need hormonal secretions to remind us to breed – we are cognitively aware that the act is necessary to perpetuate our species.

Indeed, the evolutionary instincts that once ensured our survival may now be our undoing in a world we have molded to suit our appetites. Our primal ancestors were conditioned to seek and consume high-calorie molecules such as fats and sugars. These molecules were scarce, but they provided the abundant amounts of nourishment and energy that were necessary for hunting, scavenging, and surviving in a world where physical exertion was constantly demanded. Millions of years later, our evolutionary desire for these foods remains intact, but their sources are abundant. Soft drinks and fast foods are some of the most inexpensive and common dietary options available, and they play large parts in the health problems that plague the citizens of developed nations today and shorten their lifespans. The impulses that once kept us alive are, at best, working against us today. At worst, they are spelling out a slow demise in which our rational and primal modes of thought fail to reconcile.

Cholesterol floods the arteries of the overindulgent; obesity rates in developed countries are higher than ever, and cardiovascular disease and diabetes run rampant among their populations.  The world is plunging into overpopulation and has been teetering on its brink for decades, and yet we are still driven by the compulsion to reproduce, some embedded imperative that drowns out any possible voice of reason. In the battle between nature and nurture, it is clear that we are caught in the crossfire.

Perhaps it is not this year, nor the next, nor the dozen that follow, but there will come a time when man and woman must shed their devotion to primal processes and adapt in an unprecedented way.

Genetic alteration is unnatural. It is at complete odds with the base processes that have molded us into what we are. But the opposition ends there. It is an enemy of nature, not man, which beckons.

It will be a road littered with dispute and controversy. Objective measurements of worth will have to be determined and conflicts will erupt as billions scramble for input on the collective future of the human race. But all great revolutions are born with strife, and when this one is transcribed in text and immortalized in history, perhaps it will be examined by minds completely unlike ours, scrutinized by procedures of thought at a complexity we cannot fathom, more human than ever – and at the same time, less.

A Not-So-Great Gatsby

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By Minna Jaffery

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Baz Luhrmann has done some great work, no one can deny that. However, he’s also known for his overdone style. All of this fell flat in The Great Gatsby. As someone who has basically had the novel memorized for years now, I was hoping that Luhrmann’s style would do the Jazz Age some justice, as though maybe all of the pomp and circumstance would set the subtle plot well. Unfortunately, the spectacle of it all just distracted from the plot, which was not at all the focus of the movie.

Between the slow motion, sepia-toned flashbacks and the countless bright, loud party scenes, the subtlety of the characters was lost. The plot was out of order, and because the entire movie was dramatically overdone, poignant scenes got lost in the glitz and glamour. The soundtrack was another sticking point—as a stand-alone album, it’s a great collaboration of very talented artists, but it did not fit with the rest of the movie. By having extras appear to be singing many of the songs, the placement and timing was awkward and made the whole movie seem like a poorly directed musical farce. The cinematography was classic Baz Luhrmann: intense close-ups, super-imposing scenes, and overly emphasized camera movements.

The characters were not at all believable or relatable; it was as if an occult hand had reached down and placed a screen between the characters and the story. When Gatsby is waiting for Daisy to come to tea at Nick’s house, he certainly seemed nervous, but there was an air of awkwardness that tinged the entire scene with the feeling of being forced. DiCaprio failed to bring any charm and personality to Gatsby’s character. The actors didn’t seem to represent anything remotely close to Fitzgerald’s characters. The beauty of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece lies in the complexity of the personalities, but they were flat, static, and unconvincing. As much as I love Leonardo DiCaprio, he was affected and artificial—Gatsby was impossible to sympathize with, destroying the essence of his character.

As for Nick Carroway, I thought Tobey Macguire was born to play the part. Unfortunately, he was the furthest thing from a quiet observer who gets swept up in the heat of the summer. He simply did not fit the part, but in a film of this much splendor, I’m not sure there was any room left for the subtlety that is so necessary in understanding the storyline, and Nick’s integral part in it. Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton suited Daisy and Tom Buchannan well, only because it was easy to dislike their characters, though they pulled off the careless attitudes with ease. Fitzgerald created a masterpiece because of his characters—they propel the plot, their decisions and hedonism are indicative of the times. However, they are so much more than mere products of the society they live in; they have hopes and dreams, and ultimately, The Great Gatsby is a story of dreams. The movie portrayed none of this, and became a film of spectacle. The famous shirts scene, in which Gatsby tosses all of his colored shirts in the air for Daisy felt flat and emotionless; the movie was only able to portray the extravagance of the 1920s, and none of the humanistic desires and motives behind all of the hedonism.

I fell into the trap that many movie-goers are likely to fall into—I wanted the movie to bring the book to life in a new way, highlighting many of my favorite aspects of the novel. However, Baz Luhrmann focused on the grandeur of the Roaring Twenties, which, I’ll admit, was a hugely important part of the novel. I just wanted the characters to carry the plot, rather than the elaborate scenes overshadowing it. The costumes and settings were spectacular, and the movie is certainly one that is worth seeing, just be sure that you watch it with the right expectations.

Egypt’s Silver Lining

Egypt Refugees

By Marika Van Laan

Egypt Refugees

Over the last couple of years, Egypt has been making headlines due to its political and economic instability. Tourism has reached a record low as foreigners consider the country too dangerous for vacation and foreign investment has screeched to a halt. However, as the popular press depicts Egypt as being perpetually on the brink of disaster, journalists seem to ignore the fact that this nation remains a haven for tens of thousands of refugees.

Straddling the Horn of Africa, Asia, and North Africa, the country has always been a crossroads for migrants fleeing economic and political pressures. The relative stability of the Mubarak era made Egypt a popular destination for those fleeing violence in Sudan and Somalia. Despite the recent upheaval, the nation remains a preferable alternative and is currently a refuge for close to 100,000. This population includes Libyans, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Syrians, and is the largest of any country in the Middle East and North Africa..

These details may seem confusing considering what we know about Egypt. How can a nation with such political turmoil be in a position to help so many? How does the economic crisis allow for these refugees? What’s more, over the last two decades, the national population has skyrocketed, leading to housing shortages and overcrowding of an already weak infrastructure. Ironically, many of the issues beleaguering the country create a silver lining for those seeking asylum.

Before 2011, during the corrupt yet relatively stable Mubarak era, Egypt was home to a large number of refugees, especially Sudanese. Many seeking political asylum were lucky enough to enter Egypt yet life was harsh. Governmental policy barred the vast majority from obtaining jobs, causing many to face poverty or even turn to crime. There was often no way out of this situation since most were unable to return home. Desperate migrants risked their lives by trying to reach Israel, where Egyptian border guards have a “shoot on sight” policy for such a crossing. In addition, tensions that stemmed from the economic burden of these immigrants caused periodic clashes between police and refugees. In one famous incident in December 2005, police violently dispersed a group of protesting refugees that resulted in at least 28 deaths.

However, the chaos that has recently crippled the nation has in fact improved living conditions for some refugees. One harmful side-effect of the revolution has been the slow breakdown of infrastructure. In large cities like Cairo basic services like trash collecting and traffic directing have almost disappeared. Such a lack of organization has allowed refugees to make some gains by slipping through the cracks. The diminished police supervision post-Mubarak has eased entry for more illegal immigrants and decreased police brutality against these evacuees. Furthermore, the failing of government oversight which has hindered most Egyptians has actually benefitted overall refugee employment.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has always recognized the plight of Egypt’s displaced people and provided vital resources. However, Mubarak limited such activities to prevent foreigners from competing with locals. Now, with less oversight, the council can more easily disguise its activities and connect refugees with the job training and education they need.  Such changes have allowed thousands to become closer to independence and well-being.

Thus, the gains made by these various groups seeking calm and safety greatly juxtapose the overall catastrophes we commonly associate with Egypt. Although this nation has faced countless struggles since the Arab spring, this population of immigrants keeps their situation in perspective. Egypt still remains a relatively stable nation with low crime rates and luckily lacks the violent disturbances prevalent in nations such as Syria and Somalia. In addition, the improvement in the lives of refugees reminds the world of a fact one often forgets: Mubarak is gone. Despite the hardship Egypt now faces, they are no longer an authoritarian state. The relief enjoyed by Egypt’s displaced populations is perhaps simply the tip of the iceberg of overall improvements to Egyptian society. Maybe this period of uncertainty will soon pass and eventually seem worth it. InshaAllah.

India’s Tourism Drop: How “Eve Teasing” Brings Down a Tourism Industry

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By Jacqueline Nesbitt

Each day a new rape case surfaces in India. Last Monday a 5-year-old girl was raped found gagged and tied with foreign objects found inside her, on Wednesday a 2 1/2 – year-old girl was found in a canal in Southwest Delhi, raped as well.

Stories of rape, attempted rape and gang rape in India have swept the globe. Foreign and native women alike have been victims. These stories have warned and scared tourists from choosing India as their next vacation. Bright colored Saris are no longer flying off the wooden stall shelves for thousands of rupees.  Women travelers and families are opting out of vacationing in India for Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

A few weeks ago the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) stated that overall tourist arrivals were down 25 % year-on-year, with a 35% drop in tourism specifically among women. I wish I could say I was surprised, but unfortunately, I cannot.

But rape is not the only assault that has dissuaded travelers from once-popular Indian destinations.  The different assaults are placed under the innocent name of Eve teasing, a phrase that originates from the temptress Eve and denotes a form of sexual aggression, while blaming the woman as a tease.

Legally, Eve teasing is a variety of activities, according the Indian Penal Code XXII 509 as any word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman.  Many women will attest that they have been harassed in a variety of ways, from persistent unwanted photography to groping, and more.

Foreigner and Indian women are bombarded with photography from cell phones, cheap point-and-shoot cameras and video cameras. The devices were quick to appear and slow to recede.

At times, the photographer would be incognito, other times they would walk right up to your face and “click”. However, when caught all that can be heard is laughter as there is no shame and there is no retribution, despite the government’s feigned attempts to resolve the issue.

Physical assault can be blatant like being hit with a branch by a man riding on a motorcycle or a waiter brushing his hand against your body or a man groping you on a bus. Men of authority, airport security guards, that are meant to protect brandish their large overcompensating guns and demand photos of young women at the airport.

For many years guidebooks and tour guides have stated that the only solution is for tourists to dress modestly and protect themselves. Women are asked to dress in long sleeves and trousers; rarely venture out of hotels after dark; being friendly, but not too friendly, to men; and trying to find Indian women for company.

Indian hotels and the government have instituted new measures to help women feel safe, like designating rooms near elevators, a dedicated women’s wing or floor, and an increase in female staff, including butlers.

That’s all great for the temporary vacationer, but how about the women who have no choice but to live in India? The government has yet to apply any initiatives to prosecute these perpetrators. All of the new initiatives, like increasing a female staff and creating and women’s wing or floor in hotels, are directed to appeasing women by making them “feel safe”. Simultaneously these “feel safe” initiatives are directed towards limiting all women in such a manner to make any form of assault the fault of the victim. The victim is assigned blame because she was not dressed modestly or was walking alone while shopping for dinner groceries or souvenirs. A woman will face Eve teasing not specifically because they are Indian or a tourist, but rather because she is a woman.

Lastly, none of the Government’s initiatives are directed towards fixing the problem of Eve teasing, which is the basis of these rapes. Eve teasing is a mild form of rape, at times called “little rape”, but is still a means of asserting power, producing the same result by asserting power over women’s lives that live in fear of Eve teasing. Eve teasing serves as a nonverbal action declaring, “As a man, I have a right to treat you this way, you are my property.” Therefore, the government promotes a mindset that often leads to the mindset of rape without an intervention from the Indian government. The sexual offenses are both crimes to ascertain power, one that is now beginning to hurt their tourism industry.

Women in India are also often afraid to report any kind of sexual crimes as a result of hurting family relations, dishonoring one’s family, or even face more lethal actions from the perpetrator. In a culture where the virginity of a woman is directly related to her worth in society, women are afraid to come forth and report sexual crimes. The acquisition of direct evidence is difficult to obtain because of the lack of DNA testing and tasks forces available to pursue these reports.

As a result lawyers have to rely on conjecture to state the woman’s case. The data shows according to the National Crime Records Bureau in 2011, 24,206 rape cases were reported of those 93.8% were charged and only 26.4% were convicted. In the same year, 42,968 molestations cases were reported of those 96.5% were charged but only 27.7 were convicted. Women in India know that the chances of the perpetrator being convicted are so low that the consequences they will face by the community outweigh the possibility of justice from reporting the case.

As long as the law against Eve teasing is not fully enforced from officers taught how to obtain and handle evidence and victims, and extra measures added to find and prosecute the perpetrators, the debasement of any woman in India, foreign or native will continue. In India there is no retribution for crimes because of the lack of proper enforcement. Women are not willing to put themselves and their family through the terrors of the weak justice system because of the low conviction rate. As a result, Eve teasing and rape have become plight for all women, foreign and native because of the government’s unwillingness to crackdown on the problem.

To make matters worse, the Indian government continues to deny the fall in tourism stating that the study was independent and therefore not reliable. However, Indian citizens in the tourism industry know the truth. In places where tourism is the main form of income like the golden triangle consisting of New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur or the spiritual city of Varanasi sitting on the banks of the Ganges are feeling the economic pressure. Less and less travelers are buying from their stalls, and there are fewer women to buy the iconic Indian Sari.

Though Eve teasing and rape are not equals, they are derived from the same cause and effect equation for ascertaining power by breeding a rape culture. Within this same equation is the fate of India’s tourism industry, and now the question stands for the future to answer. Will the risk of loosing India’s vital tourism industry bring gender equality to democratic India?

James Holmes and Our Hypocritical Use of the Death Penalty

James Holmes

By Laurie Beckoff

Debate about capital punishment has been ongoing for years around the world.  Many countries abolished it entirely in the last century, yet it remains extremely common in others.  Thirty-one states still have the death penalty, albeit not without protest from some corners.  The arguments against it are not unfamiliar: degree of doubt and the possibility of executing an innocent person, the immorality of killing, death as a tool for revenge rather than justice, discrimination in sentencing based on socioeconomic parameters, and the justice system’s potential status as overly punitive rather than rehabilitative – just to name a few.

In the case of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater mass shooting, there is no doubt that James Holmes perpetrated the crime, a crime that is most certainly deserving of a serious punishment.  There is no lack of evidence, no withdrawn testimonies, and no other suspects.  Because of the magnitude of the crime, no one is expecting, or even hoping for, rehabilitation for Holmes.  The massacre was part of a series of killing sprees that took place around the country in 2012, including those at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, sparking a conversation about the gun culture and prominence of violence in the United States.  Politicians, educators, and activists were speaking out about the need for change in the form of stricter gun laws, more mental health services, and reduced violence in media.

It became clear that the country has a serious problem.

How can a government emphasize the need for reduction in violence and commit murder itself?  Capital punishment only perpetuates the troubling culture that has become a major topic of discussion in the face of these horrific incidents.  We are constantly telling society that it is wrong to kill, yet our justice system does so.

Aren’t we supposed to be better?  Do we not have superior solutions?  While we espouse the idea that violence solves nothing, it is presented as an option for responding to crime.  Holmes is condemned both legally as a criminal and morally as a villain, yet our government, with some degree of public support, can end lives with no consequences.  Many legislators are calling for increased gun control, while the National Rifle Association is trying to shift blame to violent video games, but the brutality performed by the state is ignored and sometimes promoted.

If we are supposed to feel some compassion for our fellow members of the human race, and such humanity should naturally deter us from harming others, why is it so easy and acceptable for the state to take the life of a citizen?

Perhaps both the public and the state respond too aggressively to being wronged.  Action is called for and taken out of pain and anger as passion and retribution overwhelm reason and justice.  It is the American spirit, which refuses to be broken by hardship, that is determined to fight back in every way possible.  People are horrified by Holmes’ crime.  An element of fear has come to pervade the country – the fear that we are not safe even in a casual environment like a movie theater, school, or place of worship.  But we cannot let the fear and outrage crush our respect for human beings and the fundamental rights that they have, throwing us into a vicious cycle of inhumane punishment rather than learning to overcome and focus on rooting out the causes of violence.

Sentencing James Holmes to death will not immediately get rid of him.  He will not be brought directly from the courtroom to an execution chamber.  Convicted criminals spend years on death row, and in that time there are constant trials and appeals as lawyers try to change the sentence or move the time of execution.  Holmes will get press coverage and public attention for years during this process, continuously involving the survivors and families of victims.  If he gets life in prison without parole, he will be hauled off to jail and stay there, unable to harm anyone and out of the public eye.  His being placed on death row will not make matters easier for anyone.  He may even gain some amount of pity.

There is also the question of Holmes’ mental state.  His lawyers plead that he is mentally ill, in which case he cannot be executed.  The argument against this is that he knew exactly what he was doing, consciously purchasing arms and ammunition and carefully planning his attack.  Still, mental illness can be hard to define, and it seems that anyone would have to be deranged to commit such a crime.  No one in his or her right mind would do it – an interesting thought, considering the fact that the state is willing to dole out death. Perhaps it would even be beneficial for the psychiatric and legal fields to be able to observe Holmes for the rest of his life in prison.  Being mentally unstable does not free him from blame, but we cannot send a message to the country that people who are not sound of mind will be killed.

Although some opposed to capital punishment argue that it is too harsh a punishment, others feel that it is too lenient.  It provides an escape, an easy way out, for the murderer.  Many perpetrators of mass killings, such as in the cases of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook, committed suicide immediately afterward.  Death was exactly what they wanted. In prison, criminals have to live with their crimes in incarceration.

James Holmes’ death will not bring back the people he killed or heal the physical and emotional scars of others affected.  His time on death row may just extend the pain.  There has been quite enough violence and killing in the country recently.  How can we hope to curb it by participating?

Legacy of the Sexless Individual

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By Michaela Cross

The legacy of the sexless intellectual is one that has dogged American history and has colored entirely the reputation of the University of Chicago. Blame the Puritans, Descartes, or John Wayne, but at some point America came up with the idea that sex had to be separated from intellectualism at the expense of both sides. When sex is spoken about in an intellectual setting, it is in the form of uncovering a repression: the narrator is gay, the gun is a phallus, etc. etc. Sex crops up only when it shouldn’t, and never when it should (because it never should). What you end up with are weird interpretations of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – and following this, a great silence.

But then Sex Week came to the University of Chicago, and everything got a little better.

The obvious jokes were made: “Sex Week: the one week UChicago students have sex!”; UChicago’s reputation is, if anything, reinforced by our own self-deprecation. But Sex Week turned out to be exactly what it was supposed to be: a series of events that united the fierce intellectualistic curiosity of our student body, with discussions of sex: the physical act, the political implications, the social constructions, and a number of sjdlfjkd.  Univerisity of Chicago, after all, is always best when it unites the theories we read and write about with the practices of the world. And sex, after all, is one of the most intense, personal ways in which we can interact with the world.

At the “Sex in Paradise” panel, three religious experts spoke: a Hindu scholar, a Muslim lawyer, and a rabbi. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg spoke about the teachings of Audre Lorde, on how eroticism is the most basic form of physical power, one that can come in the form of not just a lover’s touch but the sun on one’s face. Hindu scholar Wendy Doniger spoke about the difficulty translating the Kamasutra into English, a language that renders sexual language into something either clinical or pornographic. Doniger spoke too about how the narrow perception of sex in English-speaking culture has rendered a text that discusses magic, interpersonal politics, courtship and marriage into a book on sex positions.

On the other end of the spectrum there was speaker “Cliff”, writer of “The Pervocracy”, a blog on “Sex. Feminism. BDSM. And some very, very naughty words.” Cliff spoke mainly about the illusion that sex was something you were supposed to be good at, and supposed to be able to perform with success on any single person, no matter who they were. Rather, Cliff maintained that sex was a consciously constructed dynamic created between two individuals with its own set of rules and rituals. These rules and rituals could be anything from vanilla to downright weird, but ultimately they were ways of forging human connection.

In the events I was able to attend I saw many other perspectives within the topic of sex: I listened to people who used sex as a means of living, who saw sex in terms of economic history, and who forged relationships with more than one partner of more than one gender. I got a glimpse at the numerous perspectives of a number of audience members, who spoke about everything from being asexual in the kink community to exploring polyamory within marriage. It was an intellectual environment unlike many I’ve experienced at University of Chicago: one in which people were open to learning from others rather than teaching, one in which people were exposing themselves rather than protecting themselves from being judged.

The complexity of the dynamics discussed during Sex Week ultimately expose the danger of seeing sex as an embarrassing-but-necessary penetrative act. When we limit our understanding of sex to a choice between holes and the person whose hole it is, we limit our growth as intellectual beings, as well as our respect for the intellectual perspectives of others. The lines we draw between the life of our minds and the life of our bodies should be drawn in pencil; we should be able to redraw them, to smudge them, to erase them altogether. Sex Week served as a reminder that our texts are not meant to take us out of life but brighten its colors, to give it sound and scent. And this, ultimately, is the seal to our education at the University of Chicago. We shouldn’t be looking at the world from within a bubble, but through a microscope, examining the smallest units so that we might understand the world at large. This is what makes intellectualism not an indulgence, but an act.

I look forward to next year’s Sex Week, and the new perspectives it will bring.

The 85th Academy Awards: Who Will Bring Home an Oscar?

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Osita Nwanevu

The Oscars are upon us and it is once again time for amateur critics everywhere to send in their (largely arbitrary) predictions. Overall, the night promises fewer surprises than years past but will still be well worth watching…for the last hour or so anyways. Here are my picks.

Best Picture

Despite the crowded field, the Best Picture category is actually slated to be one of the least surprising of the night. Most observers expect Argo to take the prize, especially given the outcry from industry insiders after the Academy’s snubbing of Ben Affleck for a Best Director nod.

Best Director

So who will win Best Director, then? It’s a tossup. If Lincoln fails to win Best Picture, this award could be the latest addition the Spielberg empire. But Ang Lee also has a strong chance given the technical wizardry and ability to adapt difficult source material displayed in his direction of Life of Pi, a 3D film based on a critically acclaimed 2001 novel. Each has a 50-50 chance.

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis will probably earn his third Best Actor award for his masterful performance in the titular role of Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln. However, the perception that Lewis’ award is a given might have affected voters, convincing voters to give less likely candidates a chance. If an upset does happen, it’ll probably be a win for Joaquin Phoenix who turned in a visceral and memorable performance as Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence are the two obvious frontrunners in this category. Most observers think Lawrence, a second time nominee who won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress, will take home the prize. Chastain’s star is rising far and fast however and her breakout turn as the intrepid CIA operative Maya in the provocative Zero Dark Thirty might have been buzzworthy enough to earn her the award. This category is the closest of the night and an upset by second time nominee Naomi Watts (The Impossible) or Emmanuelle Rive (Amour) the oldest nominee ever in this category, is entirely possible.

Best Supporting Actor

Another tight race. All five nominees have won this award before and the other major awards (SAG, Golden Globe, BAFTA, Critics Choice, etc) didn’t offer a clear consensus. Some think that DeNiro’s heavy campaigning will win him his third nod for his patriarchal role in Silver Linings Playbook. I agree – voters likely took the fact that DeNiro hasn’t won an Oscar since 1981 into serious consideration.

Best Supporting Actress

Critical consensus is that Anne Hathaway has this category locked up for her in Les Miserables – specifically her impassioned single-take performance of I Dreamed a Dream, already hailed by many as one of the greatest scenes in musical film. Although Amy Adams and Sally Field delivered more nuanced and complex performances in Lincoln and The Master respectively, Hathaway will win, no contest.

Let’s Bring Back Lupercalia

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By Laurie Beckoff

The traditions of Valentine’s Day are wonderful to some and obnoxious to others: pink and red, hearts everywhere, cards, cheesy poems, flowers, chocolate.  If nothing else, you have to like the chocolate.  But I propose that this year we celebrate a much more enjoyable holiday that coincides with February 14.

Friends, Romans, countrymen—I present to you the festival of Lupercalia.  The ides of February, the thirteenth to fifteenth, were a crazy time in ancient Rome—just the sort of crazy that college kids would like.  Who needs a frat party or flowers when you can run around naked with a whip?

The ceremonies begin in a cave on the Palantine Hill, called the Lupercal, in which it was believed that a she-wolf nursed Remus and Romulus, the founder of Rome.  (Lupus is the Latin word for wolf.)  Priests called the Luperci sacrifice goats and a dog.  This ritual would be far more entertaining today since there would surely be a protest by members of PETA.

What’s happening now?  Is a priest slicing two boys’ heads open?  No, he just dips a sword in the sacrificial animals’ blood and touches it to the foreheads of two young men from noble families. The blood is then wiped off with wool dipped in milk.  At this point, the two youths are supposed to let out a big laugh. Given the absurdity of the ceremony, it seems like it would be hard not to.

Now things get really exciting.  Like every good holiday, there is a big feast with lots of wine—and cursing, vomiting, and all that a good banquet should entail.  Once everyone is full and drunk, the goats’ hides are cut into strips known as februa.  The Luperci, dressed in nothing but a few bits of the hide serving as a loincloth, run around gleefully whipping everyone they see.  Imagine the Polar Bear Run during Kuvia, plus whips.

Women, especially those who have not yet had children, eagerly line up for the honor of receiving a lash from the whip, a practice that was thought to increase fertility and ease childbirth.

To summarize—everyone gets drunk and rowdy and naked and playfully violent.  There is more likely than not some…intimate activity at night to further encourage fertility, if you get my drift.  It’s better than a toga party or a romantic dinner.  The origin of Lupercalia isn’t completely clear, as the festival is associated with a few different deities as well as the productivity of both humans and crops.  But do we really need a reason to have a wild party with strong sexual connotations?  Those without Valentines should start to get into the Lupercalian spirit each year—let’s start with the Classics majors.

A Short, Bitter Guide for the Loneliest Valentine’s Day

broken heart

Osita Nwanevu

Valentine’s Day is upon us.  For most people, this is a day to celebrate lovers and loving. I, however, and others like me, choose to celebrate loneliness. For Valentine’s Day is a day owned as much by the melodramatically sad as it is by couples. Moping, sighing, crying into pillows – these are sacred traditions as integral to every February 14th as hand-holding and chalk-dust-candy hearts.  Loneliness is an art-form. It is our right and responsibility as individuals with the honor of being unattached on Valentine’s Day to preserve and refine that art-form – and, of course, to be as whiny and insufferable to the people around us as possible. To that end, I’ve composed a list of items, a kit, if you will, sure to make any loner’s Valentine’s Day a truly pitiable affair.

1 Very Large Box of Chocolates

Chocolate on Valentine’s Day is exactly as ubiquitous as the miniature American flag on the Fourth of July and twice as mandatory. You simply must have it, whether you’re alone or not. Chocolate’s cathartic properties, however, present a problem for those of us trying to be sad. The damned stuff is all but guaranteed to make you feel better in practically any form (bar, cake, ice cream, etc.) The solution? A heart-shaped, Valentine’s Day box will be a jarring reminder of what (or, rather, who) could have been. The gaudier, the better.

Romantic Films

Few things can be more unbearable for the lonely than watching other people be in love. This is good. On Valentine’s Day couples are particularly visible – until you get back home. Why limit your exposure to your daily walks and haunts? We live in a miraculous age, an age in which beautiful, envious couples can be beamed straight into your dorm, in high definition, for your viewing displeasure. Romance films are a must. There’s at least one for every type of person. A sampling:

  • For the Hip – Breathless, dir. Jean Luc-Godard (1960): A petty criminal and a petite American journalist pose and say opaque things to each other. In French.
  • For the Creepy – Blue Velvet, dir. David Lynch (1986): Violence. Sex. Violent sex. Nitrous oxide. And a severed ear. Basically a chick flick.
  • For the Precocious – Moonrise Kingdom, dir. Wes Anderson (2012): Intelligent, innocent kids run away to do things that are neither intelligent nor innocent. Sweet, colorful, and borderline creepy in places.
  • For the Pathetic – Titanic, dir. James Cameron (1997): Something about a ship.

The Smiths

Stephen Patrick Morrissey is the reigning Poet Laureate of Miseryville. He and his band, the Smiths, recorded some of the most militantly woeful music ever written. As such, their discography has been a gold mine for the artfully sad for three decades. Really, almost any of their songs would do, but these ones fit the occasion particularly well.

  • “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”
  • “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me”
  • “Never Had No One Ever”
  • “I Want the One I Can’t Have”

The titles are rather self-explanatory.

1 Moleskine notebook

Self-pity and longing turn the functionally illiterate into poets and novelists on a regular basis. You will want to write. Both good taste and good sense will demand that you don’t. Ignore them. The sight of your own maudlin drivel will drive you deeper into your pained psyche. Again:  This is good.

2 boxes of Tissues (2 ply or higher)

Obviously.