Economists Separated at Birth?

JoshRush3What would you do if you were shipwrecked on a Caribbean island frequented by cannibals, all on your lonesome except for the captain’s dog and two cats? Well, if you were Robinson Crusoe this would not be a hypothetical question, and you would dry grapes into raisins and hunt with handcrafted tools until you were rescued decades later. But in John Rush’s awesome Economic Principles & Problems class, our man Crusoe has much to teach us about the “utility function” that is the bread and butter of economic theory.

Okay, in case you’re just catching wind of this, John Rush is Marlboro’s new economics professor, joining us from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (so he has some tips to share on island survival), where he received his doctoral degree. According to John, economics is all about “choices,” and how we make choices to maximize our good friend the utility function. What is it worth to us to eat mac-n-cheese every day, for example? To sled down library hill on a dining hall tray? To hang out with friends and watch Game of Thrones? None of these things are options if you are shipwrecked, of course. However, Robinson Crusoe made many other choices—like, should he kill the marauding cannibals who don’t know they are committing an abomination?—and John’s class is reading this timeless classic to get at the heart of economics.

patrickBut the real economic question on everyone’s mind is whether John Rush and recent Marlboro graduate Patrick Magee ’14 are twins separated at birth. I mean, not only is there a marked similarity between the two gentlemen, they are both economics scholars with uncanny knowledge about things like resources and actors and scarcities and market equilibriums and the like. Sure, Patrick’s Plan was about the impact of U.S. agricultural policy on small farms, and John’s work has focused on natural disasters and inequality in developing countries, but they are both unusually kind and sensibly dressed. I wonder if they both include mac-n-cheese in their utility function?

Students Thrash Faculty

2014-09-05 03.58.29-1It’s that time of year again, the bright dawn of an awesome new semester at Marlboro, and I’m not talking about any old convocation, or registering for classes, or the first yummy community dinner. I’m talking about that most august of September rituals known as the students vs. faculty/staff softball game. That breathtaking event where community members put aside their Dostoevsky and their vector fields and their epistemological solipsism to pit their lofty brains against six ounces of kapok stuffing.

2014-09-05 04.25.37In case you didn’t know, Princeton Review ranks Marlboro as #18 among colleges for “Nobody Plays Intramural Sports,” and a whopping #10 for “There’s a Game?” When it is not broomball season, the pinnacle of Marlboro sportsmanship, most students prefer to get their exercise hiking up to the science building or seeing how many can fit on the OP stone bench. But somehow these particular students didn’t get that memo, because they turned out the most fearsome and strapping team of softball ringers that had ever pummeled a ball on Person’s field.

2014-09-05 05.19.03-1At least, that’s my feeble explanation for the resounding defeat of the faculty/staff team, with a final score of 8 to 20-or-30-something. John “physical capital” Rush, Marlboro’s new economics professor took a productive turn on the mound, but could not exert a normative influence on the supply of (or demand for) soaring hits by the students. Philosophy professor William “epistemology” Edelglass led the team with a competitive edge that would have made Emmanuel Kant blush, and chemistry professor Todd “kinetic energy” Smith made his mark with a three-run homer that had everyone’s electrons excited for a moment. But the faculty/staff team never quite rose to the students’ challenge, despite a generous allowance of extra outs and the rousing solo cheerleading of Kathy “pom-pom” Waters, alumni director. There’s always next year.

Most Dangerous OP Trip EVER

IMG_7589Imagine a white-water rafting trip that ends calamitously with two participants suffering from hypothermia, one with a sprained ankle and howling like a coyote, one with a dislocated shoulder and broken wrist, and one mysteriously wedged between two trees with a broken leg that is grotesquely gushing blood. The only participant temporarily smart enough to escape injury is heating up cocoa for her friends when the stove blows up, leaving her with third-degree burns on her face. I know you’re thinking I have some whacky, morose imagination, and I do, but this would all be very easy to picture if you were part of the Wilderness First Responder training workshop taking place on campus this week.

IMG_7596Compound fractures, anaphylactic shock, heat exhaustion: you name it, you can find it in Marlboro’s verdant woods this week. Run by the Wilderness Medical Association, with support from our very own Outdoor Program, the weeklong WFR workshop is awesome training in first aid, leadership, and gory special effects for anyone who works in remote locations. A bumper crop of 21 outdoor educators, guides, and other kinds of nature-loving professionals are learning to splint, staunch, bandage, carry, and console outdoorsy victims in the most desperate straits. Seven participants are stalwart Marlboro students, preparing for their role as Bridges orientation trip leaders next fall.

IMG_7628Did I mention that one of the paddlers with hypothermia is also diabetic and not responding to treatment because he is in hypoglycemic shock? And the youth who brought the rescuers to the scene is breaking out in hives and having trouble breathing? I tell you, this is any trip leader’s worst nightmare, short of a zombie apocalypse, and these WFR trainees handle it all with the confidence and composure of seasoned first responders. I would put my compound fracture in any of their hands, as soon as I get over the impression that they are all a little accident-prone.

The Nature of Art

IMG_6471 edEvery so often, and this time of year actually quite often, I see a student’s Plan work and it literally blows my mind. I mean, not in the way black holes, metaphysics, jazz, restaurants that advertise “home-style cooking,” and other things I just don’t understand “blow my mind.” I’m talking about students that show so much more intellectual curiosity and integrity and maturity in their little pinky than I can muster with all my cerebral cylinders firing—certainly way more than I ever exhibited as a college student. This time it was two students who had particularly perceptive little pinkies exhibiting their art in Drury Gallery at the very same time, hence the blustered brain.

IMG_6478 edKatie Lyon did her Plan in biology and visual arts, especially exploring biomimicry and ecological design. She approaches art exactly like a brilliant scientist, with an attention to method that would make Francis Bacon do backflips, and the result is beautiful. Like, she did 100 awesome little sketches of zooplankton (above) collected as part of a semester at sea program. The object of the collection was to index species diversity, but Katie lovingly turned the result into something so much more colorful and rewarding. She also documented the first 36 galaxies in Charles Messier’s catalog (left), and then created, I’m not kidding, 36 bright colored cards that represented the numbers in the New General Catalog for each of these galaxies. I mean, I can hear my neurons boggling just thinking about it, and that’s before looking up at Katie’s ethereal, light-catching, sculptures hanging above, or her grid of paintings demonstrating a multivariate analysis of art movements, media, and seasons, oh my!

IMG_6494Ayla Mullen did her Plan in politics, especially environmental political thought, and ceramics. Her installation of a table set with finely crafted plates, each depicting beautiful vegetables, resting on a bed of green seedlings, was somewhere between Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party and Thoreau’s vegan dining room in heaven (right). Each setting was complemented with a “seed pot” a ceramic vessel with a tiny hole for safely storing seeds until the next season, when it is broken open like Mother Nature’s piggy bank. Ayla’s work is all about reconnecting with nature, and her own intimate understanding of this connection, displayed in eye-popping etchings, trunk-like ceramics, and delicate drawings of branches and leaves and pinecones on porcelain sconce lights, is enviable. Like Katie, Ayla has found a truly bodacious, artistic way to complement her other academic interests, in this case the challenges and rewards of ecological citizenship. With mind-blowing students like these, who needs black holes?

Beethoven and Bartok Up Close

heath2Imagine it is the bleakest hours of World War I, and you are traveling through Algeria with brilliant Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, sitting at an outdoor café, drinking black coffee that makes your hair stand at attention, and listening to local folk music that will put mojo in the second movement in our man Béla’s Quartet No. 2, opus 17. I’m not kidding, that’s what it felt like listening to the award-winning Heath Quartet, last weekend’s “Music for a Sunday Afternoon” offering in Ragle Hall. Okay, it didn’t hurt that yours truly was sitting right on stage, just a café table away from these champions of chamber music.

heath3cAhem, let me explain. This was the debut U.S. appearance of the Heath Quartet, a young ensemble that has rocked houses all over Europe with crazy names like Sage Gateshead, the Musikverein, Vara Konserthus, and the Kissingen Winterzauber and Spitalfields festivals. They’ve won more awards than you can shake a baton at, including the 2012 Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artists Award and the 2012 Festspiel Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Ensemble Prize. I mean, they are like rock stars of the chamber music world. Their Marlboro premier launches a U.S. debut tour that includes the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C, and Weill Recital Hall presented by Carnegie Hall.

heath3The reason they started at li’l ol’ Marlboro is that retired sociology professor Jerry Levy is an absolute groupie. He saw them perform in England last year, and followed them all over Europe to see them again and again and again, kind of like Phish but without the “super-extended grooves.” He parted oceans like Moses to bring them here to Ragle, then moved mountains like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to let people know they were here. In the end, this included moving chairs around to accommodate the absolute overflow crowd on Sunday, for which Jerry received a hearty round of applause. Because I was one of the fashionably last people to squeeze through the door, I got seated in the ring of seats on stage, behind the quartet.

heath4bOkay, I admit it, the first thrill was having a packed house watching the stage (including yours truly) with rapt attention, and clapping like maniacs as the ensemble took their seats. But as soon as the musicians all chimed in with the lively Allegro con brio from Beethoven’s Quartet in B Flat No. 6, opus 18, all self consciousness flew out the window and I was transfixed by the music that was so close, so close to me. My heart was pounding to the rhythm of the music, and as each phrase was carried from cello to viola to violin, and on and on, I felt like they were coursing through my veins. I was so close that I was driven absolutely mad by a loose hair on the bow of violinist Cerys Jones, and was tempted to lean forward and nip it off during a pause. That probably wouldn’t have gone over too well, but by the time the Heath Quartet had rocked their way through Beethoven, Bartok, and Mendelssohn, I totally felt like a roadie for the band.

Drone with the Wind

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 10.08.16 AMMarlboro can’t just sit quietly on its peaceful little hill and let the world of international controversy sweep by. I mean, if the U.S. is being charged of war crimes for using drones in Pakistan, and people of Afghanistan live in terror from the daily presence of spy drones, and citizens of Deer Trail, Colorado, are voting on a hunting license for drones, then Marlboro wants to be right there in the thick of it, probing the legal and ethical limitations of this new technology. I’m talking about the testing of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) right here on picturesque Potash Hill. On a bright, sunny day recently, Caleb Clark of the educational technology master’s program and Tobias Gelston of registrar fame sent a sporty quad-copter unit mounted with a camera aloft, well, most of the time.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 10.18.33 AMTheir maiden test voyage not only captured beautiful aerial footage of one of the prettiest campuses this side of the hanging gardens of Babylon, but it also raised some interesting questions about drone ethics. Sure, a similar UAV could be used to follow Wendell-Judd Cup racers across South Pond, or to monitor habitat use by deer on the college’s 300 acres of woods. But could drones also be used to see if students are really reading Proust, as assigned, instead of trolling through their favorite Instagram posts, or to discover if a certain faculty member is using more than their share of 100 percent Vermont maple syrup? Will community members live in constant fear of their privacy being invaded, just when they fall inelegantly on the ice, or scratch themselves in an uncouth fashion, or make a bum call on a four square play? There is no telling where this will lead, but—you know how we love a debate, up here on the frozen hill—I have no doubt that hunting licenses will at least be mentioned.

Sochi Schmochi

Starting-LinecropI mean, why travel thousands of miles to stay in half-finished hotels with double toilets and get accosted by three-legged dogs, only to see skiers race through their event before the snow turns to fog, when you can enjoy winter sports in Vermont? I’m talking about that pinnacle of winter sports, the Wendell-Judd Cup, where skiers from around the world but especially from within a 10-mile radius come to compete against each other and the elements and—in my case—against a general sluggishness caused by eating too much mac’n’cheese.

Race-BeginsThanks probably to the long lines in Sochi and to near-nirvana conditions in Vermont, there was a record turnout at the Wendell-Judd Cup this year, with a multitudinous 76 skiers and snowshoers registering and another estimated 20 sneaking onto the course for the shear fun of it. The fastest skiers, or as I call them, “the show-offs who did not eat too much mac’n’cheese,” were led by Brattleboro Outing Club skier Tim Whitney, at 43 minutes and 21 seconds, soon followed by alumnus Dwight Holmes ’94 and Lilac Ridge farmer Ross Thurber.

The fastest woman on skis was Diana Whitney, who gave her hubby Tim a run for his money at 47 minutes and 9 seconds, followed by the OP’s first lady Debby Dorsett and student Liza Mitrofanova. In the youth category, Nolen Holmes, lightning lad of Dwight Holmes and Bonny White ’85, came in at 55 minutes 47 seconds, or faster than you can say “the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Yours truly and the rest of the “comfort food” category came in generally after people with watches were paying close attention. I intimated that skiers came from around the world, and I wanted to give special recognition to Abdel Izem, representing Morocco, who broke both of his poles trying to extricate himself from the deep snow on South Pond and skied the rest of the way without poles.

IMG_3734 copyBut that’s not all, because while this snow-spangled fun was happening in Marlboro, a stalwart team of Marlboro students traveled to Putney for a much-anticipated game of basketball against rival Landmark College. With only one sub on the Marlboro team, and the first full-court game they’ve played this year, they managed to tie Landmark at halftime, 22 to 22. The fans were going wild, and the Marlboro team showed them what fancy footwork and dribbling and pump fakes could be achieved with the benefit of a demanding liberal arts curriculum, but in the end they “lost” by two points, 48 to 46. All this olympic-style glory and clean drinking water too.

Arab Winter

IMG_7910Did you know that Morocco is the world’s greatest producer of phosphate, or that it was the location for shooting the original Star Wars? Did you know that it was the first nation to recognize the United States? Don’t worry, neither did I before I went to an informative talk by energetic Fulbright Arabic language fellow Abdelhadi Izem about his native land. The inimitable Abdel shared his views on the impact of the Arab Spring, the tsunami of revolutions that has swept countries in North Africa and the Middle East in the past two years, on Morocco. Now, you know as well as I do that everyone at Marlboro loves talking about revolutions, second only to talking about the lack of mugs in the dining hall. But Abdel upped the ante and brought amazing Moroccan sticky date treats rolled in coconut to assure an excellent turnout in Apple Tree.

UnknownOf course everyone has heard about major protests and cheeky rulers forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and, okay, Egypt again. Meanwhile, more quietly, Morocco also had a wave of demonstrations in 2011 and 2012, calling for political reform and a new constitution curbing the powers of King Mohammed VI. The king, who claims descent from none other than the Islamic prophet Muhammad, won a referendum on a reformed constitution, which has quieted down the protests considerably. But Abdel ably pointed out that the protests were not so much about liberty, freedom, and other highbrow ideals as they were about poverty, unemployment, and the lack of opportunity. While the new constitution has placated the people for now, he suggests Morocco is experiencing more of an Arab winter than a spring, or perhaps a mud season?

AbdelIzemAll I can say is that Marlboro is so fortunate to have visiting scholars like Abdel, with first-hand experience in distant lands that we can learn from. It makes our little community on this snowy ol’ hill feel very connected to the world in a tangible way. Abdel is also a total gazelle on the soccer field and a broomball tornado. Did I mention the amazing Moroccan sticky date treats?

New Math

imagesFor those of us who are not officially enrolled students but are certifiably nosy, there is no more satisfying time of the semester than “intro classes.” This is when each professor gives a half-hour, hypersonic, lickety split, college-on-coffee run-down of their whole class. If you spent two solid days going to intro classes, you would probably be totally exhausted but smart enough to score in the 95th percentile on your GREs. Some of the classes that jumped right out at me this semester were Sex and Gender in Late Medieval Europe, Philosophy of Poetry, and Agroecology Seminar. Senior Justin Harrison is teaching a class called Nobody Loses All the Time: Obsession and American Crime Film, and the new anthropology professor Rebekah Park is teaching Introduction to Human Rights and Anthropology, which is sure to be popular. So which intro class did I willingly chose to go to? Topics in Algebra, Trigonometry, and Calculus—yes, math.

julie_rana_lrNow, as the two of you who read my blog regularly will know, I am no Pythagoras myself, preferring less mathematically rigorous activities like thumb-twiddling, navel-contemplating, and watching lichen grow. Seriously, differential equations give me hives, but this class was different. Math fellow Julie Rana, who graduated from Marlboro in 2006 as math professor Matt Ollis’ first Plan student, has totally revamped the class to be more accessible and flexible and…well, more Marlboro. I mean, students can choose from Julie’s carefully crafted units to meet their needs, whether that’s preparing for the GREs, incorporating some math into their Plan, or just getting back onto the ol’ math horse after being kicked off in high school by teachers with the social skills of an avocado. Julie is just so excited about the course, the new units she has developed, and math in general, and that excitement is contagious. You know, not contagious like the flu or dysentery or even like a yawn, but like laughter. Julie is teaching another contagiously exciting class called Math and Art, which sounds so cool it could make me get over my math allergy for good.

Clean Water in Cambodia

photoMost college students think of winter break as a special, snowy time to catch up on their sleep, watch bad television, and commune with boredom, right? Well, a handful of Marlboro students took the time to do something way beyond their couch-potato comfort zone, traveling halfway around the world to Cambodia to participate in service learning projects. For the past two weeks, art faculty John Willis, Cathy Osman, and Tim Segar and five students have visited communities, participated in ESL classes in local schools, and helped with water projects. I mean, you can’t find this kind of adrenalin-pumping, eye-popping, intercultural-feel-good thrill on television, no matter how late you stay up.

photo-1This is the third service-learning trip Marlboro has taken to Cambodia in the past five years, building on relationships already forged with sustainable development groups in Cambodia and in the U.S., such as the Amherst/Cambodia Water project. The group is visiting schools in Champon Chhnang, Ang, Pursat, Siem Reap, and other communities where they are participating in service projects, testing water quality and supporting clean water efforts. They are also visiting the busy capital of Phnom Penh, the temple of Angkor, and memorials to those killed during the Khmer Rouge period.

photo-5But perhaps the most rewarding part of the trip has been the amazing people that they’re meeting along the way, people they were not so likely to find on ol’ Potash Hill or at ol’ Mocha Joe’s or shopping for socks at ol’ Sam’s. Like Buddhist novices in saffron robes at Monk Ang Pagoda, colorful merchants at market, stately elders in the villages, and of course the kids. Wherever you go, nothing like adorable kids to bring out the cultural relativist in all of us. I leave you with one of their young students in a village ESL class, below: