A new science building at Penn

I’d actually like to walk up the staircase here (you may have to scroll through the slide show to see what I mean). 

There’s been a lot of thought over the last decade or so about how buildings can encourage serendipitous collaboration. Hanging the little seating areas along side the staircase? Interesting idea. I suppose the architect sold it as “you bump into someone on the staircase, he asks you a question, you offer to sit down and talk about your answer.”

I’m starting to look at science buildings — our next capital campaign had better be for that!

Corrupting the admissions process

The University of Texas is a big school and can absorb a lot of sub-average students. But when the corruption seems to be driven by the president, that’s pretty bad.

Of course, the old Rice joke was that UT was the best faculty a student body had never deserved. I’m sure that was very mean of us, and not nearly true. But one wonders what percentage of the law school were legislative admits?


My father would never have let me get away with that . . .

I threw away TWO (2) containers of honey mustard dipping sauce from a take out meal today. He would have been appalled. My mother said “oh, fine.”* But here’s the real question — is frugality like that really why there’s so much money in TIAA CREF?

*However, she is resisting letting me give an unopened case of pre-packaged mandarin orange slices (I’ve never seen her open a container!) to the poor. I may have to sneak. I’m gradually emptying the shelves of the upstairs bathroom (stuff which they abandoned in 2006).

The Final Presentation came with a view!

The last presenter wanted to visit Castel Sant’Angelo – so we finished with a great view of Rome!


Kim Giegerich, Katie Cornell, and Nic Stewart listen to Annabel Cryan describe the final scene of Tosca, when Tosca throws herself off the top of Castel Sant’Angelo. I’m glad Katie was there, because she gave the first of these presentations, and described the first act of the opera during her presentation at Sant’Andrea della Valle. Nice bookends – and a great place to finish the course.

Things I dislike . . .

Here’s an example. I send out a email to the faculty list serve about a burning issue on campus. A professor of philosophy (you know, those people who hide behind the pretense that they use language more precisely than everyone else) sends me an individual response with the phrase “I’m confused about the claim . . . .” Maybe he disagrees with my claim, but I find it really hard to believe that he’s so clueless that he is confused.

Gosh, I hate the rhetorical tricks philosophers play in class and with adults. In my (individual email) response, I compared his move to the standard Freudian tactic of declaring their opponents to be in denial.

I wish academics could play more honestly. But I fear we can’t – weaseling seems to go with the territory. Most of my interventions in this email stream are in the spirit of mockery. Maybe the earnest philosopher is indeed confused? Other folks have been appreciative.

Fixed Semester + Moveable Feasts + National Holidays = Problems

Easter is always a problem for the Rome semester. This year seems especially acute! We should have started a week earlier, I expect.

Here’s the problem – Easter Monday (Pasquetta) is a national holiday in Italy, but falls in different weeks every year. April 25th, which falls on the Friday after Easter this year, is Liberation Day – a national holiday (the end of the Nazi occupation). Next week is our last week counted by weeks of the semester – and we lose TWO days. Yikes. Now we can do some things, but not others. But nothing much will be open Monday. And a lot of our students – against our counsel – are using the 4 day weekend to travel (would you go to Spain the weekend before finals?).


San Carlino and Sant Andrea

S Carlino domeBorromini – San Carlo alle quattro fontane – dome. Teaching under this . . . life doesn’t get much better.

Tuesday I got to do one of the great comparison questions live. Borromini’s San Carlo alle quattro fontane and Bernini’s Sant’Andrea al Quirinale are a five minute walk apart. So we visited both of them. I prefer San Carlino, but there’s is lots that is great about Sant’Andrea – especially the broken pediment with St Andrew being carried up to heaven on a cloud. Still, the interlocking coffers in decreasing size as the eye runs up the dome at San Carlino? Magic.

S Andrea DomeThat second opening close to the bottom of the photo – a little cupola designed to light the altar. One of Bernini’s habits – and quite a good one.