The UW campus and state capitol are located on an isthmus between two lakes with confusingly similar names, Mendota and Monona. My brain keeps translating both into “Mendoza.”
In April, a single day can feature three full seasons worth of weather, going from freezing rain to collar-loosening sunshine in the space of a few hours. To adapt, many students have set their minimum temperature threshold for cargo shorts and flip-flops at roughly 15 degrees Fahrenheit.<
UW students and faculty are interested enough in higher-education policy to not only show up in good numbers for my lecture but indulge a lengthy analogy between the educational practices of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th and 16th centuries and America in the present day. And let’s face it, I’m not exactly David Sedaris when it comes to wit and drawing a crowd. The WISCAPE program here does a lot of interesting work and they’re not afraid to ask tough questions, even when those for whom the questions are tough include the Madison campus and UW system itself.
The good local CD store (you know the one I’m talking about) is still in business! I buy a Rodriguo y Gabriela live album that I didn’t know existed, which of course is the whole point of the good local CD store.
Students today: more socially aware or more debauched than ever before? Judging by the place I had coffee, both. On the one hand, the woman sitting next to me laughingly tells her friend an alcohol poisoning-related story from last weekend that was so outrageous I can only assume it’s entirely true. On the other hand, here’s a verbatim sample of restroom graffiti:
WE NEED: (not prioritized numerically)
1) A vast, new deal-type public works program2) Stop wasting $10 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan3) Increase the tax burden on $250,000 plus incomes4) Repeal tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs abroad5) 5 million TRULY green jobs.
The “not prioritized numerically” qualifier makes this twice as awesome.
Judging from what stores on State Street are selling, here’s what today’s college students like to buy: Beer, coffee, used books, sandwiches, posters, ice cream, university-themed T-shirts, video games, CDs, sneakers, elaborate paraphenalia for smoking “flavored tobacco,” beer.
Get up early and you can watch the crew team practice on Lake Mendoza Mendota. This is so pleasingly collegiate that I think all colleges should subsidize crew, if only for purely aesthetic reasons.
I spend a free hour in the campus art museum, which is first-rate. Highlight: Peter Gourfain, “Fate of the Earth Doors,” and contemporary sculpture generally, as well as Dutch painting from the 17th Century. I pretty much had the place to myself until 70 local high school students arrived to learn in small groups, one of which was conducted in French. Clearly they didn’t get the memo about No Child Left Behind outlawing art and foreign language.
The campus contains not one but two buildings that were designed to repel violent assault by people pursuing a progressive agenda. The “Red Gym” opened in 1894 as a combination gymnasium/armory. In 1886, a Chicago rally in support of striking workers turned into a deadly confrontation with police, which became known as the Haymarket Affair (or Riot, or Massacre, depending on your point of view). Nervous about worker uprisings, the Wisconsin legislature (located less than a mile away) decided that the thing to do was train male college students into a local militia and house them, along with their weapons, in a massive, medieval-style castellated fortress, complete with those little slots in the top of the walls, presumably so laborers advocating for an eight-hour work day could be shot down with crossbows and the like. (Later, the gym hosted key meetings of the Wisconsin Progressives led by Robert LaFollete.)
Similarly, the Mosse Humanities building was constructed in the brutalist style in the late 1960s, when Madison, like many campuses, was wracked by demonstrations against the Vietnam war. The windows are narrow, shielded, and 20 or so feet off the ground, above concrete embankments tilted in a sharp, hordes-of-students-repelling angle. (Fears of violence weren’t entirely unjustified; on August 24, 1970, a group of anti-war activists exploded a huge car bomb outside Sterling Hall in an attempt to destroy Madison’s Army Mathematics Research Center, killing a research scientist (and father of three young children) named Robert Fassnacht who was working late at night in a non-AMRC part of the building.) The Mosse building is unpopular and hasn’t aged well and they’re thinking about tearing it down.
Vitamin D is naturally produced when people are exposed to sunlight. Without it, they’re prone to rickets and other diseases. In 1923, a UW-Madison professor named Harry Steenbock discovered that Vitamin D could be produced in food, including milk, by irradiating it with ultraviolet light. After patenting the process with his own money, Steenbock was offered a huge payout from the private sector. Instead, he helped found the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the first such “technology transfer” entitity, which splits revenues between researchers, industry and the university. Vitamin D soon found its way into cereal bowls everywhere and rickets was cured. Steenbock’s original work has been extended and refined by Madison researchers over the decades, and Vitamin D has generated literally hundreds of millions of dollars for the university.