Friday, July 31, 2009

Fire destroys two Nassau Street restaurants

A three-alarm fire destroyed a Nassau Street building that housed two restaurants, the Princeton Packet reported Friday morning.

The blaze at 354 Nassau St. was reported around 1:30 a.m. Friday morning. The structure was home to popular Thai restaurant Tom Yum Goong and Chinese take-out joint Sultan Wok.

The cause was not immediately known and no one was injured, the Packet reported. Firefighters battled the blaze for two hours before it was completely under control.

This was the first three-alarm fire in Princeton since a fire gutted faculty housing on College Road back in January 2008.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Trader Joe's coming to Princeton

Good news for all the fanatic Trader Joe fans on campus: When you return to campus this fall, a brand-new TJ's will be opening its automatic doors just three miles from campus.

The Princeton Packet reported over the weekend that the California-based specialty grocery store will open in the old Sleepy's mattress store in the Square at West Windsor shopping center on Route 1.

But no "Two Buck Chuck," folks. A company spokeswoman told the Packet the store will not be selling alcohol.


Bradley named women's tennis coach

Megan Bradley has accepted an offer to become the next women's tennis coach, Director of Athletics Gary Walters '67 announced late last week.

replaces Kathy Sell, who resigned last month to move to North Carolina to be closer to her boyfriend and immediate family.

A graduate of the University of Miami, Bradley was serving as an assistant coach at her alma mater before being tapped by Walters to head north. Before Miami, Bradley spent a year at, and played for, UCLA.

After college, she played professionally-- cracking the world's top 200.


In recession, Dinky cuts service

As it chugs through the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the Dinky is now running a little less often.

And folks making their way back from the Big Apple on Saturday (or Sunday) night won't be able to hop the 1:13 a.m. Dinky anymore. It doesn't exist.

Neither do six other Dinky's. But there is good news for students: unless you are an early riser on Saturday or Sunday morning, that's the only change you're likely to notice.

On July 12, NJ Transit also cut all Saturday and Sunday morning Dinky trips before 9:27 a.m. To be more specific: no more Dinkys at 6:01 a.m., 7:01 a.m., 7:27 a.m., 8:01 a.m., 8:27 a.m. and 9:01 a.m.

Yet another reason to sleep in on both days.


Is Dean Cain '88 smarter than a 5th grader?

We will find out at 8 p.m. Friday night, when Cain takes on a group of elementary school students on national television.

Cain is best known for his role as Clark Kent in the 1990s TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. But before he hit the small screen, Cain was a Tiger. He turned down 17 athletic scholarships to head to Princeton in the fall of 1984, and went on to play for the volleyball and football teams.

A member of Zeta Psi and Cap & Gown, Cain dated Brooke Shields '87 while the two were on campus together. A history major, Cain wrote his thesis on "The History and Development of the Functions of the Academic of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences."


U. just misses being Top 20 party school

OK, that's not true at all.

But Old Nassau did make it on to a few of the 62 rankings that the Princeton Review (which is NOT affiliated with the University) announced this week after interviewing more than 122K college students around the country.

So where does Princeton fall among its collegiate peers? Some of the rankings might surprise you.

#2 Best College Library (behind Harvard. Ouch.)
#7 Most Beautiful Campus (7th?!)
#8 Great Financial Aid (Didn't we used to be the best?)
#9 Students Who Study the Most (What...)
#14 Schools Run Like Butter (Yeah administration)
#18 Most Politically Active Students (Princeton students fight for things)


Sotomayor '76 receives committee backing

No shocker here, folks.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor '76 with a 13-to-6 vote on Tuesday morning. All 12 Democrats and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted "aye" for Sotomayor, leaving only a Senate floor vote next week between her and becoming the nation's first Latina justice.

Sotomayor's confirmation is a virtual certainty, as she is expected to enjoy support from the entire 60-member Democratic caucus and a number of Republicans.

Associate Justice Sam Alito '72 received a 10-8, party-line vote from the Judiciary Committee -- which was controlled by the GOP -- on January 24, 2006. Seven days later, Alito was confirmed by the full Senate by a vote of 58-42.

This morning's vote marked the first time in their careers that Judiciary Committee members Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) opposed a nominee to the high court.

Several Republicans, including Graham, Susan Collins (R-Maine), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) have all announced they will vote for Sotomayor when her nomination comes to the Senate floor.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Eisgruber '83: Republicans have nothing to gain by opposing Sotomayor '76

University Provost and Supreme Court scholar Christopher Eisgruber '83 told LegalNewsline that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor '76 is all but assured confirmation in a piece published yesterday. Sotomayor, whose hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee were completed last week, faced questions about her judicial record as well as comments made in a speech delivered outside the court. In addition, the Supreme Court overturned her ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano shortly before her hearings. Despite this Eisgruber noted that he did not beleive that the Supreme Court's reversal of her decision would hurt her chances of confirmation.

"For example, [the Supreme Court] is not bound by Second Circuit precedent and it is free to reconsider its own precedent. Judge Sotomayor may have been quite right as a matter of Second Circuit law," he said.

Yesterday also saw further evidence to support Eisgruber's prediction that Sotomayor would be confirmed. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-GA) announced that he would vote in favor of confirming Sotomayor, joining fellow Republicans Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). None of the 60 senators who caucus with the Democrats have announced plans to vote against her confirmation.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Karlovy Vary Film Festival Highlights Pt. 1

The Monolithic Hub of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

The travel book writer Brett Atkinson claimed that the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is full of B-list celebrities "wondering how their invitations to Cannes got lost in the mail." With little context, this remark seemed especially cutting in its definition of the Czech event as a poor man's Cannes. Spending time at Karlovy Vary, however, illustrates just how disingenuous and off the mark Atkinson's assessment is. The purpose of Karlovy Vary was never to emulate any of the glamorous aspects of the Cannes experience rather its aim seemed simpler - to provide the public with an opportunity to see a breadth of world cinema. To that end, this year's Karlovy Vary was a resounding success offering surprising films from across the globe and across a wide spectrum of genres. Out of the 40 films I saw during the eight-day festival, here are some of the highlights:

Best Film - Love Exposure dir. Sion Sono (Japan)

Few films initially seem as audacious and risky as "Love Exposure." Far more unique than its bizarre subject about a voyeur who falls in love, is its sheer length - 237 minutes. If the production was at all clumsily put together, such a running time would surely be a recipe for disaster. Before the film was screened at Karlovy Vary, a representative of the Tokyo FilmeX international film Festival attempted to assuage the suspicious audience. She said that the filmmaker intended his four-hour movie to feel like 90 minutes. To my surprise, director Sion Sono easily achieves this lofty ambition creating a manic epic that throbs with a bizarre energy as it explores the strange world of voyeurism and the passionate love the obsessive gaze inspires.

Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) is a pious Japanese teenager whose innocent existence is troubled when his pious father, a newly appointed Catholic priest, falls in love with a troubled and promiscuous member of the congregation. Once this woman leaves the priest, he becomes increasingly severe demanding that his once beloved son confess his every sin. To reconnect with his father through the act of confession, Yu realizes that he must shed his straight arrow ways and live a life of sin. Swiftly, he progresses from committing such terrible crimes as stepping on some ants and failing to help an old woman across the street to leading a gang of thugs around Tokyo to snap panty shots of unsuspecting girls. In his determined effort to become ever more sinful, the ever faithful Yu becomes known as "The King of the Perverts." During his covert escapades, the master voyeur falls in love with his ideal Virgin Mary, Yoko. Much to the delight of the wide-eyed Yu, the thought of Yoko sparks his first erection. Unfortunately, the presence of a malevolent Christian cult Zero Church plus Yoko's love for Yu's transvestite alter ego Madame Scorpion stand in the way of his true and pure romance!

Pop star and first-time actor Takahiro Nishijima delivers an enthusiastic performance as the "high school voyeuristic photo maniac" Yu Honda. Although Nishijima effectively emotes genuine pain as circumstances tear Yu farther away from his love, its the actors infectious glee that dazzles making Yu's journey down the road to perversity into a joyous liberation. Staring down at his first erection caused by the sight of Yoko, the actor has an ecstatic expression illustrating his characters' sheer pride at this arousal. So much of the film pivots on the star's ability to express such strange passions sympathetically, and he never disappoints.

Director Sion Sono employs a variety of visual techniques to ensure that the four hours move at an unbelievably brisk pace - a feat that speaks to the artist's craftsmanship. To create dramatic tension, much of the film's first-half features inter-titles that countdown to an eventual miracle in Yu's life. Every few scenes, a clock appears announcing the inevitability of the miracle in increasingly shorter spans of time from days to minutes to seconds. The film thus expertly creates an intriguing sense of anticipation. The style of Love Exposure is just as dynamic veering from that of an intense kung fu movie to a melodrama. Sono captures Yu's panty snapping as an acrobatic and kinetic spectacle straight out of a deranged anime which lends an exhilarating edge to the hero's peeping. Sono occasionally strips all ornamentation from the action replacing such over-the-top stunts with more hard-hitting moments of violence. Although the film defies categorization as it moves between genres, the sheer length of the production allows for an aesthetic complexity without the risk of incoherence. Indeed, the filmmaker’s creativity seems unbridled as he constructs a unique hyper-reality defined by both innocent and sometimes dark desires.

Beyond its visceral qualities, Love Exposure has a thematic complexity rarely reached in popular cinema delivering a complex view of today’s Japanese society. In the film's comedy, it examines the odd perversity of Japanese popular culture that eschews the explicit for the taboo. When a porn company forces the hero to meet with the fellow outsiders that worship his every move, the film becomes a series of confessionals with increasingly deranged characters. Strikingly these figures expound upon of obsessions that are less explicitly sexual and more innocently fetishistic including interests in feet as well as nurses and doctors. Such a hilarious scene succinctly highlights a society that continues to reconstitute the erotic. The film's more subversive focus on Catholicism and a fringe Christian cult brings to light a culture haunted by its own unstable identity. While Love Exposure is often humorously exaggerated, its portrait of contemporary Japan is devastatingly bleak.

Love Exposure director Sion Sono

In addition to its cultural specific conclusions, Love Exposure explores the more universal attraction of voyeurism. It depicts a world where different forms of surveillance compete from the traditional Peeping Tom (belonging to the Rare Window and Blow-up tradition of film) to another stratum of individuals who watch the watcher. The sheer amount of surveillance provides a compelling meditation on a moment where the boundaries of privacy are being effaced due to the sheer ubiquity of the camera in the digital age. Orwell, Powell, manga, and a dash of Kill Bill collide in this one-of-a-kind exhilarating film that continually surprises while making a convincing case for the merits of the four hour narrative film.

A Cannes Surprise - Looking for Eric dir. Ken Loach (England)

Besides showcasing unique films like Love Exposure, Karlovy Vary was also the perfect place to catch films that won audiences over at Cannes (or in the case of the also-featured Antichrist, disgusted them). One of the major films I missed in competition was British auteur Ken Loach is Looking for Eric. Like his fellow Brit Mike Leigh in last year's Happy-Go-Lucky, Loach has inserted a sense of optimism into his social-realist style with similarly sublime results. Loach’s film is an affecting story about overcoming despair that harnesses the inspirational beauty of an absurd meeting between a broken man and his football idol.

The aging postman Eric lives a lonely life with his distant children who have little respect for their father. Eric cannot seem to get past mistakes he made in life prompting his peers to find new ways for their friend to regain his confidence and joie de vivre. One exercise the group performs involves imagining a figure who each respects and could emulate. Some say icons like Gandhi and Sammy Davis Jr. while football fanatic Eric cites, "the greatest footballer who ever lived" Eric Cantona. Soon afterwards the footballer suddenly appears in Eric's home dispensing sometimes obtuse but always sincere advice. With the sage Cantona by his side, Eric attempts to follow his idol's example and rebuild a shattered life.

Actor Steve Evets plays the pathetic Eric with laudable range moving convincingly from a state of crestfallen impotence to one of confident strength. As Eric mumbles "I'm sorry" in his sleep during the film’s opening, the actor fills his voice with a soft anguish. Cantona's presence changes the character - a shift marked by Evets' more boisterous and bold demeanor. After the football star declares that his apprentice needs to stop living a passive existence and learn to say "no," Eric begins to chant the word. With every repetition of the phrase, the actor sheds his past reserve until his last furious bellow of "no" becomes a testament to his rekindled masculinity.

Cantona is likely a figment of the older Eric's imagination, a narrative conceit that allows the athlete free reign to portray himself as a mythic caricature. The footballer exudes a larger than life charisma with every confident declaration. After Eric happily admits that sometimes the public forgets that such famed athletes are simply men, the footballer adopts a serious expression and sternly replies, "I am not a man! I am Cantona!” For all his winning bravado, Cantona effectively handles rare moments of vulnerability as well. Once these wide-eyed fans asks him how he felt hearing thousands chanting his name, he replies that he was always afraid people might stop cheering. The athlete’s usually unshakable façade gives such glimmers of humanity an added resonance.

Director Ken Loach accentuates the perfect chemistry between the postman and his personal God by sporadically inserting clips of Cantona's finest moments into the film. The older Eric narrates each of these excerpts of perfect goals and beautiful passes with breathless excitement. These moments of sublime sportsmanship succinctly reinforce the footballer's powerful hold on the British popular imagination. Loach's fusion of jubilant sports clips with his often understated visual style underscores how figures like Cantona let the public dream and, to paraphrase Eric, allow people an opportunity to forget all the troubles of their lives.

The magical atmosphere the scenes with Cantona contrasts with the very real difficulties of contemporary society such as gang violence and more personal challenges like familiar estrangement. Oddly, the mere presence of the athlete in the narrative lends a gentle optimism to the stark issues which Loach confronts head-on. Looking for Eric exalts the power of the modern myth of the perfect athlete and, more broadly, all fantastic dreams to energize and inject a bright spark of hope into the sadness of the everyday.

Reevaluating a Cannes Sensation - Samson and Delilah dir. Warwick Thorton (Australia)

For the American viewer, Australian cinema can be particularly resounding. The country's film often deals directly with issues that have long been repressed in the American psyche - the untamed landscape and the indigenous question. I experienced firsthand just how central the plight of the aborigines is within Australian life at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra two years ago. I expressed concerns about how little exhibition space was devoted to the Stolen Generation - a period where the government adopted a policy to forcibly separate aboriginal youth from their families in the hope of assimilating them into Caucasian Australian society. In response, the tour guide expounded on how the museum liberal minded curators clashed with the conservative government of John Howard that discouraged discussion of the state's extremely racist past.

This ideological battle came to a head on the exterior of the museum. In large Braille font, messages read "Sorry" and "Forgive Us For Our Genocide." Upon hearing this, Howard's government ordered that the Braille be changed to simply meaningless babble. This version was far different from the innocent official perspective given during the tour which stated that the braille read "G'Day Mate" and "Welcome to Australia." This experience highlighted how a portion of Australian culture seeks to place such troubling history within a forgotten oblivion.

Given this cultural divide, Samson and Delilah seems particularly audacious in its harrowing view of aboriginal life within a sharply acted love story between two aboriginal youths. At Cannes, the film was a sensation winning the Camera d'Or award for the best film by a first-time filmmaker; however, the film's profoundly desperate depiction of modern-day aborigines sparks a fear that the outraged aboriginal filmmaker Warwick Thorton creates an overly caricatured reality that too often exploits rather than challenges the worst stereotypes of indigenous populations.

Teenagers Samson (Rowan McNamara) and Delilah (Marissa Gibson) live in a dilapidated village in the middle of the Australian outback. Even though they rarely speak with each other, there lies an attraction between the lay about Samson and the more industrious Delilah.. Their bond causes Delilah's aging grandmother to jokingly refer to the 14-year-old boy as Delilah's husband. This connection serves as the one bright spot in the rut of their lives which moves at an achingly slow pace. Samson's existence can be measured by the periods between his substance abuse while Delilah clings to the routine of taking care of her sickly relative. As circumstances isolate the pair from their village, the two must learn to rely on each other.

The young actors who play the titular characters share an undeniable chemistry. They express their fondness not in moments of overt affection but rather ones of playful strife. To catch the attention of his girl, Samson throws a rock at Delilah as she walks in the midday sun. With superb understatement, each effectively expresses the profound sorrow and sometimes quiet joy of their troubled lives. 14 year old actor Rowan McNamara plays the substance abuser in a convincing muddle that briefly fades into lucidity when Delilah has Samson's attention. His counterpart Marissa Gibson puts up stern façade that gives way to motherly affection as Samson minds begin to deteriorate. Together, largely in silence, the actors expose a facet of modern teenage courtship that is devoid of romantic gesture, yet remains utterly romantic.

While the leads are often a paragon of subtlety, Warwick Thorton's direction is disappointingly heavy-handed. A scene where Samson inhales gasoline under a bridge encapsulates his overt style that forsakes any subtext. In a characteristic long take, the camera lingers on the teenager who sits in the center of the frame. With every inhalation, the afternoon scene grows darker and darker. Finally, the only object clearly visible remains the plastic container in Samson's hands underscoring the presence of such devastating substance abuse within aboriginal life. Because the film captures such moments with all the nuance of anti-drug public service announcement, its pronouncement on the dire straits of the indigenous people appears far too simplistic. This framing, which brings to the screen the stereotype of a drug addled aboriginal population, does nothing but insult the audience's intelligence instead of provoking it.

This oddly offensive distillation of aboriginal society manifests itself not only within the film’s direction but also in the narrative written by Thorton. The film presents the central village as a mere confluence of oppressive, backwards beliefs and sloth-like attitudes. The elders are shown to be violent and overbearing while the various youths do nothing all day. In their dealings with kids, the adults resort to violence beating them with batons. Out of the village, the film defines the relationship between the native and Caucasian Australians exclusively as one of exploitation. At one point, Delilah finds a tableau made by her grandmother at a native art store sold for over $20,000 even though it was bought from the artist for a mere $200. Like the depiction of Samson's drug abuse, Thorton articulates exploitative dynamic so clearly that it rings patently false remaining at a distance from a more complex reality.

Samson and Delilah director Warwick Thorton

Even more severely, the film posits that any integration between the different aspects of Australian culture is not merely difficult but impossible. A drunken homeless aboriginal man who befriends the two initially has no discernable past outside of his vagrant lifestyle. Digging into his suitcase, Samson discovers a photo which shows the same figure clean-cut with a broad smile as a white child, presumably his own, hugs his leg. The model for cultural integration has since devolved into a crazed, babbling character unable to bridge the societal divide. As dire a fall as it is unbelievable.

Speaking on his work, the filmmaker testified that he personally witnessed such scenarios growing up in a similar social mileau to the lead characters. By creating a composite of these struggles into a single narrative, the film's depiction of modern Australia alienates. His indignation at the uncaring system completely colors the films, and yet Thorton expresses his angle in the shallowest of terms painting his own populace as mere victims. While Samson and Delilah delighted many at Karlovy Vary, with one festival programmer dubbing it a masterpiece, its view of ethnic disenfranchisement in modern day Australia completely fails to illuminate.

Next Up - A Genre Take on Karlovy Vary

Your reporter enjoying a delicious Karlovy Vary wafer.

Even though I covered three highlights from Karlovy Vary, there are still 37 films left to discuss. To illustrate the breadth of the selection, I will look at the festival offerings through one genre. Stay tuned for comedy in the next Karlovy Vary blog update!


Money, money, money (Life after Princeton)

Should you have attended Dartmouth instead of Princeton? PayScale, a website that collects salary data, has released its 2009 data of median starting salaries and mid-career salaries of college graduates and Dartmouth grads earn a larger median mid-career salary than Princeton grads.

ivy league schoolsivy league schools
Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have 2 years of experience; mid-career have 15 years. See full methodology for more.

Princeton has the highest starting median salary among the Ivy League at $65,000, but comes in third behind Dartmouth and Harvard when mid-career salaries are compared with a median of $124,000. The highest median mid-career salary in PayScale's data is $129,000.

These numbers reflect the economic downturn when compared with the figures published by PayScale in 2008. At that point the median starting salary was $1,500 more at $66,500 and the median mid-career salary $2,000 reaching $131,000.

There are several problems with their data, for example it only includes salary information of graduates whose final degree is a Bachelors. Moreover, the data is not from randomized surveys.

Outside of these problems, what do PayScale's findings really tell you about whether or not you should have attended Dartmouth? Not much according to the New York Times, who cited Princeton professor Alan Krueger's research. Krueger found that the difference between attending one elite school instead of another, Dartmouth over Princeton for example, is small, and that it really comes down to the student.

Answer, no, you shouldn't have gone to Dartmouth instead.

You should however, have chosen to be a MAE major.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

From the Film Review Archives: In the Shadow of the Moon

On this anniversary of the moon landing (Italian time), few space documentaries are as well-executed and relevant as David Sington and Christopher Ray’s In the Shadow of the Moon.

The film was a stand out at the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival. Here’s an excerpt from my festival recap:

"In the British documentary, directors David Sington and Christopher Ray make the story of the Apollo space missions fresh by focusing on the very human triumphs of the astronauts who made the journey to the moon. Each interviewee speaks in poetic terms about their adventures, with one astronaut saying that looking back on Earth made him realize that "We are the guardians of Eden." By juxtaposing insightful dialogue with pristine shots of the cosmos, the film captures the excitement and awe of this landmark event in human history.”

During a week where news media has resorted to clichéd platitudes to describe the first moon landing, In the Shadow of the Moon captures the Apollo endeavor in a fascinating new light.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Music for athletes...and everyone else

Sergei Prokofiev, the composer of Music for Athletes, which was premiered for the first time ever last night in Richardson auditorium, composed his greatest works when his life was most precarious. 1939 in Russia, at the height of Stalin’s Great Terror, was certainly not the friendliest place to be for an artist, and indeed the musical director who commissioned the piece, Vsevolod Meyerhold, was arrested, shot and killed before it could ever be performed. But it was at this time that Prokofiev produced works that still delight audiences around the world, most notably his famous crowd-pleaser, Peter and the Wolf.

This piece was also performed last night, as part of the sixth annual Goldandsky Institute’s Summer Symposium and International Piano Festival. But the main attraction of the evening was Music for Athletes, a work that has lived in archives ever since Meyerhold’s death, and was only recently revived by Princeton Music Prof. Simon Morrison.

Though the piece was meant to accompany 30,000 athletes in an “All Union” spectacle of acrobatics and gymnastics, last night’s production of the piece was, unsurprisingly, much more modest, featuring only 4 dancers (members of the class of 2009 and 2010) and an excellent Ilya Itin on the piano.

Originally intended to celebrate the glory of the Stalinist state, Jennie Scholick, the choreographer of the piece, somewhat boldly changed it to a salute to Shirley Tilghman. The dancers all wore black shirts with orange stars, and at various points waved Princeton University banners. The producer of the performance, Adrienne Sirken, told me after the show that the choice to include Princeton in this way was a “tongue-in-cheek move because Shirley Tilghman is obviously not Stalin”. No arguing with that, but the decision still did seem like a commentary on the role of the institution; while it can do many great things, it also inevitably must advertise its greatness to the world. This gives even the most august institution a certain artificial and commercial flavor, which is indiscriminately unappealing.

However, the dancers were so completely at ease on the stage, that this became only a distant, though distinct, part of the show. Unlike the classical beauty of Greek statues of Olympic athletes, the piece is a celebration of youth with all its flaws. We are not meant to rejoice in the perfection of the youthful body, but rather in its liveliness, and its ability to enrapture us precisely because it does not try to.

There is something irresistible about this complete lack of self-consciousness. And the performers in Music for Athletes skillfully managed to capture that state, even if there was always a sense that it was not quite genuine.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Marie Claire: The "brainy beauties" of Princeton

Photographers from the French magazine "Marie Claire" made their way to campus last semester to shoot 10 "brainy beauties" for the August 2009 installment of its "What I Love About Me" feature.

The photos come with a short but sweet ode to our Orange Bubble:

"WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT PRINCETON: Gothic architecture. Palmer Square. Hoagie Haven. Witherspoon Street (yes, as in Reese's relative). Back of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. One-hour drive to the Jersey Shore. Fictional home to Indiana Jones and Dr. House. Michelle Obama and Brooke Shields are alums of Princeton University. Authors Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, and Paul Muldoon are professors there. Impromptu a capella concerts under arches. Cute boys in polo shirts."


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Princeton in St Petersburg: How to Kill Time in St. Petersburg (with an axe, of course)

Two weeks now remain in the eight-week marathon of language-learning that is Princeton in St. Petersburg. I can safely say that this is not the best time to ask my opinion of the program. I strongly advise that you wait a couple of weeks, give me a few days of blissful idleness on the beach, and I am sure what I have to say will be completely different. And so about the program itself—the twenty hours of grammar, conversation, and reading class plus the fun and exciting exercises assigned as homework each day—I will hold off on passing any judgments on that component of my study abroad experience at this time.

What follows are the words of a weary, sun-deprived beachgoer longing for the warm, comparatively tropical, climes of her native Long Island. Here in Russia I have been soaked, chilled, pounded with hail, covered in urban grime, and slammed by the doors leading to the metro on a remarkably frequent basis. I have eaten more cabbage in a matter of days than in the rest of my life combined. I have seen wet afternoons and gray expanses of time stretch like saltwater taffy, reaching unheard of lengths.

And what exactly do I do with myself? While perusing my Oxford New Russian Dictionary one evening, I came across the ideal word with which to answer this question--бродить (pronounced bruh-deet). The verb is imperfective, which as all students of Russian know, indicates that the action denoted by the verb is frequent or habitual, with the emphasis on process as opposed to result. Defined as “to wander, roam, stroll; ferment,” бродить really is all about the process—of roaming the city without a definite destination, and seeing all the sights in between the ones marked out in my Lonely Planet guidebook.

As any dedicated flaneur knows, the well-beaten path is a necessary evil. No matter how hard I try, I always end up on Nevsky Prospekt, the main artery of St. Petersburg, or in front of the Hermitage, where the crowds of tourists pouring off of tour buses and cruise ships flock like a miasma of fruit flies over a slice of watermelon. But are all the palaces, museums, picturesque canals, and glittering fountains that make St. Petersburg the tourist destination that it is what I am most fond of in this fantastic city? Of course not. What kind of flaneur would I be if all I cared about was the postcard-perfect sights that abound here?

Perhaps the imposing, aged brick walls of Kresty Prison or the crumbling, classical archway of New Holland Island will be what I remember most vividly from this trip. I rejoice in the antiquated architecture of the backstreets, the sepia-toned alleys, and the dilapidated courtyards, all of which are becoming harder and harder to find in a city where restorations and new construction sites are popping up everywhere. But the hours (and hours and hours) I spend strolling St. Petersburg, camera in hand, are well worth all the blisters, calluses, and worn-out shoes. In any case, it fills the time I would have spent on my laptop. If I had my laptop. Two weeks left.

-Alexandra Hay '12


Biden criticizes Princeton (in January 2006)

Princeton might not be a hot topic during the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor '76, but it was getting a lot of play during the hearings of Sam Alito '72 in January 2006.

During his round of questioning on Jan. 11, then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) decided to tell the world that he "wasn't a big Princeton fan."

"I didn't even like Princeton," he said, to laughter from the gallery. "I mean, I really didn't like Princeton. I was an Irish Catholic kid who thought it had not changed like you concluded it had," referring to an earlier statement by Alito that the University had changed its traditional ways before he got there.

Those comments were basically opposite of what Biden said when he gave a speech at the Wilson School in 2004.

"It's an honor to be here," he said at the time. "It would have been an even greater honor to have come here."

There was more...

At the 2006 hearing: "One of my real dilemmas is I have two kids who went to Ivy League schools. I'm not sure my Grandfather Finnegan will ever forgive me for allowing that to happen."

In the 2004 speech: "I have three children who have mercifully all finally completed undergraduate and graduate school. And I tried to get all three of them to apply here."

But since they didn't, he said he was "counting on his grandchildren."

After Biden's original comments caused some controversy, he arrived at the hearings the next day and announced he wanted to "set the record straight."

Donning a Princeton baseball cap, Biden said he was proud to wear it -- "after being on campus as much as I have at Princeton" -- because minorities represented 28.7 percent of the Class of 2005 and women made up 47 percent.

But there was one more zing: "A pretty widely known debate that in the Ivies, the one, sort of, last holdout, fighting to not admit as many women and fighting not to admit as many minorities, was Princeton."


Cardin: Princeton a better place because of Sotomayor '76

Princeton finally got some (brief) airtime during the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor '76.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) brought up Sotomayor's alma mater during his first round of questioning of President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court.

Cardin was discussing diversity and the progress of women in America when he touched on Sotomayor's undergraduate years at the University.

"You attended the school that F. Scott Fitzgerald, 90 years ago, called the "pleasantest country club in America," with very restrictive policies as to who could attend Princeton University," Cardin said. "By 1972, your freshman class, it was a different place, but still far from where it should be."

"And I admire your efforts to change that at Princeton," Cardin said. "And you were actively involved in improving diversity of that school. And Princeton is a better place today because of your efforts."

They always gotta slam us with the "country club" line.


Slaughter '80 'labored' over Wednesday's big Clinton address

Anne-Marie Slaughter '80 will have something of a coming out party this afternoon with a big speech given by her boss.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will give a long-anticipated address to the Council on Foreign Relations in what called a "muscular first address" in her new job.

Slaughter was the speech's primary author, Politico reported Tuesday morning:

"One official said the speech has been long in the making and has been labored over by the Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter -- a former academic who has emerged as a key Clinton policy adviser -- along with speechwriter Lissa Muscantine."

In the address, Clinton will speak (and Slaughter theoretically wrote) of a "clear-eyed" US of A:

"You should know that our focus on diplomacy and development is not an alternative to our national security arsenal," she will say to those she'll call 'foes and would-be foes.' "You should never see America's willingness to talk as a sign of weakness to be exploited. We will not hesitate to defend our friends and ourselves vigorously when necessary with the world's strongest military. This is not an option we seek. Nor is it a threat; it is a promise to the American people."

Clinton will highlight six top priorities:
* Reverse the spread of nuclear weapons
* Isolate and defeat terorists
* A comprehensive peace in the Middle East
* Global economic recovery and growth
* Combating climate change and increasing energy security
* Standing up for human rights

HRC has been busy since the Obama administration took office on January 20th. She's traveled 100K miles and been to 24 countries (some of them two or there times). In the near future, she's headed to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia, as well as countries in Africa and Asia.


Friday, July 10, 2009

College News Round-Up 2: Personality Edition

Wendy Kopp '89 talks to the New York Times about running Teach for America (TFA), including her ideas on hiring, a issue of interest on a campus where more than 100 members of the class of 2008 applied for TFA position.

Kopp said, "Are these people who operate with a relentless pursuit of results, and with a sense of possibility and disciplined thought and respect and humility and integrity? I’ll just dive into people’s pasts and try to look for evidence of that. And then if it seems like someone would be a fit here, based on that, then we’ll actually try to simulate the job."

ETS debuts the Personality Potential Index, a new set of test scores for graduate school admissions. It allows professors to grade a student's character on subjects such as teamwork, integrity and creativity which are then converted into numerical scores.

Peter Winn, Sonia Sotomayor '76's senior thesis adviser, writes about teaching the Supreme Court nominee through her years at Princeton.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Final Cannes Thoughts, and a look at the Anti-Cannes

More than a month has passed since the 2009 Cannes Film Festival came to a close
awarding Michael Haneke’s "The White Ribbon" the Palm d’Or. In the sun drenched Riviera setting, world cinema had its annual collision with the glamour of Hollywood. Now that the hubbub surrounding the festival has died down, I can more fully consider whether or not Cannes lived up to its reputation as the world's best film festival. Watching over 31 films at Cannes revealed a surprisingly inconsistent film festival that, despite several stand outs, too often flirted with mediocrity.

To gain an insider’s perspective on the Cannes experience, I sat down with Semaine de la Critique Selection Committee member Pierre-Simon Gutman. The Semaine de la Critique, or Critic’s Week, is a side bar of the festival that runs alongside the main competition. Gutman said, "The purpose of the Critic’s Week is very simple. We are there to find the new guys who will win the Palm d'Or in four years." Critic’s Weeks participants have included acclaimed directors like Bernardo Bertolucci and Jacques Audiard (director of 2009’s “Un Prophete”). To program the annual series, the selection committee watches over 900 movies from around the globe.

Gutman explained that the film festival provides an unparalleled and exhaustive look at the full breadth of contemporary world cinema. At its core, Gutman described Cannes as “a marriage of disparities, a strange mix between glamour and cinema which is not glamorous at all." He stressed that the more chiq aspects of the festival such as celebrities and big name films are not superfluous but vital in helping draw the world’s eye to smaller films that would otherwise never find a global audience. Gutman asserted that this confluence of artistic and commercial interests, what he called “a truly delicate alchemy,’ will always define the festival.

Regarding this year’s films in competition, the programmer felt that there were,”Too many famous directors, not necessarily the best pictures." His ambivalence towards the films in the official competition echoes my view that Cannes was far too enthralled with already established names. It became clear that Cannes prided its love for the single artistic vision during a revealing moment of meta-commentary in Quentin Tarantino’s bold reimagining of WWII, “Inglourious Basterds.” After being lauded by a Nazi for presenting German directors at her Parisian cinema, the French film enthusiast heroine coldly remarks,”France respects its directors, even the Germans.” Hearing this, the theater erupted in applause delighting in Tarantino’s clear homage to a French festival where the auteur rules. Both the merits and pitfalls of this artistic philosophy became apparent during the competition.

Some cinematic heavyweights like Von Trier delivered in a big and enormously shocking ways. In its masterful exportation of the violence inherent to the horror genre, Von Trier's darkly beautiful "Antichrist" stands as a cutting meditation on the darker aspects of his artistic philosophy. Other well-known directors seemed entirely devoid of this ambition producing works notable only for their stunning mediocrity. Italian director 's sixth film in competition "Vincente" depicts Mussolini's Fascist Italy with all the subtlety of a propaganda film. Even worse than its shallow take on history is its maudlin narrative about the Italian dictator's estranged wife that unfolds like a cloyingly melodramatic TV movie.

The sharp disparity in quality existed even in competing films created by less prolific artists. Jacques Audiard’s "Un Prophet" feature encapsulates what Gutman described as the ideal Cannes film - one which has critical merits but remains viscerally entertaining. Adding spark to this well trodden genre, the film deftly melds the familiar prison setting with a bizarre reality where supernatural forces linger. This unconventional marriage of tones gives the work an exhilaratingly fresh ambience. Underneath the narrative about one man's rise through the ranks of the prison lies a thorough exploration of the sharp cultural tensions at the heart of an increasingly heterogeneous French society. "Un Prophete" never ceases to engross or transcend the boundaries of its genre.

Another revelation by a competition newcomer was Spanish director Isabel Coixet's “The Map of the Sounds of Tokyo”. The film, which unfortunately flew under the radar of the mainstream press, focuses on a young Japanese girl (Rinko Kikuchi) whose quiet exterior hides a surprising secret- her life as a hitwoman. The noir tale allows the director a chance to fully explore the eccentricities of Tokyo and Japanese life. A subplot of a sounder engineer obsessively following the heroine gives the director free reign to tweak the frequency of urban life and explore the mystique of a city balanced between the modern and ancient, the urban and natural.

Handedly matching the film's direction is the superb Rinko Kikuchi who creates a demure woman that pulsates with a quiet ruthlessness. This ensures that the film's bizarre premise remains surprisingly believable. In the hands of a lesser actress, the combination of quiet femininity and steely reserve would make for a schizophrenic character, and yet Kikuchi achieves a balance between the two sides of her character’s personality refusing to play her with a Jekyll and Hyde duality. The very sharp film exposes the sensuality of a city and the allure of silence.

These riveting features clashed with lesser films that utterly lacked such bold and confident execution, none more disappointing than “Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky.” Focusing on the liaison between the famed French designer Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) and Russian composer Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelssen), the French film appears to have the ingredients of an absorbing biopic. The narrative explores the period when these artistic luminaries where on the cusp of their greatest successes. Lazy performances, however, create a film that lacks any compelling dramatic tension.

Actress Anna Mouglalis transforms the fashion phenomenon that created the iconic perfume Chanel No. 5 into an easy caricature of a frigid woman. To express Chanel’s self-confidence, Mouglais seems only capable of gazing coldly at the camera. When Chanel talks about the perfume that will make her name, Mouglalis speaks with all the conviction of a disinterested telemarketer. As with every facet of the production, there lies no sense of passion or fire in Mouglalis’ Chanel. That the empty and lifeless “Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky” closed the festival only reinforced how many of the films in competition were blasé rather than innovative.

Coming out of the screening of Ang Lee’s unremarkable comedy “Taking Woodstock,” I stumbled on a sight that was uniquely Cannes. Stretched before me was the blue Mediterranean Sea glistening under the mid-afternoon sun. My eyes’ adjustment to the piercingly bright environment magnified the vistas’ beauty. With its ideal Riviera setting, marble interiors, and red carpets Cannes certainly lived up to its reputation as the most glamorous film festival out there.

But was it the best in the world? Cannes could not claim this title. After all, this was the year where the Palm d’Or winning film “The White Ribbon” which finds disturbingly simple causes to the horrors of the Second World War beat out far more challenging works like Von Trier’s “Antichrist.” The competition of Cannes 2009 will be remembered less for its myriad successes than its decidedly safe, unmemorable choices that revealed a film festival with a disappointing lack of audacity

Visiting the anti-Cannes- Karlov Vary International Film Festival

Although Cannes has come to a close, there are still many festivals taking place on the continent. Over the course of July, I will be covering two decidedly different European film festivals - Karlov Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic and the more niche Giffoni Film Festival in Southern Italy. This film-oriented excursion through Europe should put the Cannes experience in perspective while providing a thorough look at often unsung national cinemas.

For the past week, I’ve been staying in the quaint spa town of Karlovy Vary near the Czech Republic’s border with Germany. Unlike Cannes which was only open to press and industry professionals, the Czech festival is completely open to the public. Due to its lack of any sparkle and glitz, The Hollywoood Reporter dubbed the town’s film festival as the anti-Cannes. The laid back city sharply contrasts to the bustle of Cannes and the roar of traffic has been replaced by quiet sound of a passing river. The French city’s taut and tanned denizens are gone; instead, hordes of the elderly roam the streets sipping the restorative elixir of Karlovy Vary’s famed hot springs.

Whereas Cannes seemed to have been imprinted with the presence of cinema, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival has had negligible impact on the town’s aesthetic. The Czech getaway has such a strong 19th century feel that the monolithic 70s style festival center feels glaringly out of place. Karlovy Vary can be defined, at least in part, by this strange disconnect between the festival and its very quaint setting.

Although the glamour of Cannes is nowhere to be found, at least one thing hasn’t changed, the mid-afternoon snack. Whatever the quality of the films in France, I could always rely on a fortifying crepe filled with sugar or sweet, sweet nutella to get me through my next slate of films. What could Czech cuisine offer that was as compact, as delicious? Apparently, the very same thing! Every Czech restaurant has a dessert dubbed in the English menu as Pancakes. This dessert is typically slightly thicker than its French variant and, in the case of the example photographed below, filled with surprisingly tart custard. Many a screening has been supplemented by this deliciously different though familiar treat.

So far I have been able to catch 28 films, and will identify some highlights in forthcoming blog posts. Stay tuned for the latest from British auteur Ken Loach and one 4 hour epic about a Japanese Peeping Tom that just might be the festival’s most original and best film, “Love Exposure.”


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Annual Giving raises $44.6M, $11.4M short of goal

The Great Recession has claimed it's latest victim inside the Orange Bubble: Annual Giving.

The University's annual push for unrestricted funds brought in $44,597,633-- $11.4 million shy of the campaign's $56 million goal. And 57.7 percent of undergrad alumni took part, shy of the participation goal of 61 percent.

The news is certainly not surprising given the severity of the economic downturn over the last 18 months. Even last March AG officials said they knew this year's campaign would be a tough one...especially compared to the successes of the last two campaigns.

Last year, AG raked in $54.1 million from 59.2 percent of alumni, while the 2007 campaign brought in $49 million with 58.5 percent alumni participation. The 2006 drive raised $40.4 million from 58.2 percent of alumni.

Participation was high among the most-recent alumni classes: 90.7 percent of the Class of 2009 pledged to support AG for the next four years. The Class of 2008 recorded 75.2 percent participation-- the highest ever for a first Reunion. The Class of '07 saw 73.7 participation, also a record for the second Reunion.


Fmr. White House CoS Bolten '76 to become Wilson School prof

Former White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten '76 will join the University faculty for the upcoming academic year as a visiting professor in the Wilson School.

A graduate of the Wilson School, Bolten will teach an undergrad course on the federal budget this fall. Next spring, he'll teach two graduate seminars, most likely ones related to politics, international trade and international financial regulation.

Bolten, 54, served as George W. Bush's chief of staff from April 2006 until he left office on January 20 of this year. Before that, Bolten spent almost three years as director of the Office of Management and Budget (that position is held by Peter Orzag '91 in the Obama White House).

Before stints as deputy chief of staff for policy and as policy director for the Bush 2000 presidential campaign, Bolten was executive director for legal and governmental affairs for Goldman Sachs International.

From the Archives: The insider makes a quiet exit (January 21, 2009)


Monday, July 6, 2009

Lawsuit filed against Kindle pilot program

There could be legal trouble on the horizon for the University's Kindle pilot program, Inside Higher Ed reported on Monday morning.

In May, introduced the Kindle DX and announced it was launching a pilot digital textbook program with Princeton, Arizona State University, Pace University, Case Western Reserve University, Reed College and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.

But two organizations (the National Federation for the Blind and the American Council of the Blind) filed a lawsuit against Arizona State University on June 25, arguing the pilot program is illegal because blind people cannot operate the device.

It seems that while the device has a number of accessories that will prove helpful to those who are visually impaired, the only way to turn them on is through the on-screen menu...that is not accessible to blind people. The complaint argues that while the software exists to use audio or keyboard shortcuts to fix that, Amazon has chosen not to incorporate that technology into the device.

The two groups also asked the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to review the pilot programs at the other five institutions, alleging they are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Princeton's pilot program will include 60 Kindles, spread between students and professors in three courses during the upcoming academic year. The device, which costs $489, can hold up to 3,500 books that are downloaded from Amazon's online store via a wireless connection.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Not Quite "National Treasure"

Happy Independence Day! Princeton is a town steeped in early American history. Not only is it the alma mater of the 4th President of the United States and also the site of a Revolutionary War battle, it served as the nation's capital from June to November 1783.

Just recently Princeton made another addition to the history of early America. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson received a coded message from a regular correspondent at Penn. He was unable to crack it and was so impressed that he considered using it for state business. As far as historians are aware, no one has cracked it.

Enter Princeton resident Lawren Smithline. His neighbor worked at The Papers of Thomas Jefferson project at the University, which is preparing an edition of Jefferson's correspondence and papers and informed him of the cipher.

Smithline solved it.

What lay hidden for over 200 years?

"In Congress, July Fourth, one thousand seven hundred and seventy six. A declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled. When in the course of human events..."


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Prefrosh pack their bags for India, Ghana, Serbia and Peru

The students have been selected. Their host countries have been picked. And the kickoff for the inaugural first bridge year is just eight weeks away.

Twenty members of the Class of 2013 will defer matriculation and spend the next academic year in Peru, Ghana, Serbia and India, the University announced earlier this week. The group was selected from 54 applicants, chosen for their "openness, maturity, flexibility, courage, resourcefulness, eagerness to be challenged and commitment to service abroad."

Among the students: four hail from California, three from North Carolina, two from New York, Virginia, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey, and one from Wisconsin, Oregon and Turkey.

The chosen 20 will gather at Princeton during the last week of August for a "pre-departure orientation" before splitting into groups of five and heading to their specific country. One year later they'll return, joining what will then be the incoming Class of 2014.


Annual Giving ends with U. well short of goal

June 30 marked the last day of the University's 2009 Annual Giving campaign, and it looks like the University came up short in its effort to raise $56 million.

While the numbers on the U.'s giving website lag a few days behind actual results, the site shows the "AG Campaign Status" at $43,558,969 for a fundraising drive that ended two days ago. It also shows that 57.4 percent of alumni have contributed, shy of the participation goal of 61 percent.

Last year, AG raked in $54.1 million through contributions from 59.2 percent of alumni. The difference comes almost entirely from contributions from undergraduate alumni. Last year, that group contributed $43.6 million, but this year's total is just $32.7 million.

The 2007 campaign brought in $49 million with 58.5 percent alumni participation, while the 2006 drive raised $40.4 million from 58.2 percent of alumni.

The Prince reported back in March that officials were concerned this year's goal would not be met because of the economic recession.

Stay tuned to the Prince homepage for a story on final numbers when they're released by the Development Office later this month.