Monday, April 30, 2007

The Bonzos in Bermuda

Given the depressing news to be found in the earlier posts below, the Bonzos have decided to write about a more cheerful subject, a trip taken during BigU's euphemistically named Spring Break. [Full disclosure: the usual readers may not be interested in this post.]

A Winter Escape from ColdState

The Bonzos in the Bermuthies

The Bonzos have gone to Bermuda previously (2000). They waited until the day after the famous Y2K fiasco. Up in New Brighton they were told not to go anywhere on New Years Eve as well as to know the locations of emergency food and water. It was rumored that planes in the sky at the stroke of midnight might somehow plunge into the ocean.

Being poor academics, for the previous trip they stayed in a B&B and groused about the high cost of food. But Bermuda was to their taste. The B&B proprietress served grapefruit from her garden every morning. The place is quiet, not too hot, very English, and historic.

It is cold in ColdState. Yesterday was Good Friday and it was colder here than it has been since 1939. So the Bonzos decided to take a real winter vacation this season. They took it during BigU’s so-called spring break. This turned out great because Mr. B. did not have to feel guilty about not being available to the undergrads in his lab - they, too, were on break. [Actually Mr. B’s undergrads are very hard working and they used the break to get their ducks in a row, course wise.] No computers were taken on the trip.

There is also a Shakespeare connection to Bermuda via the Tempest.

“ The Tempest, Shakespeare borrowed from a manuscript by William Strachey that detailed an actual shipwreck of the Virginia-bound 17th-century English sailing vessel Sea Venture in 1609 on the islands of Bermuda.”

Wikipedia - Archetypes in Literature

Quoting Wikepedia is not 'pc' anymore but it still a very useful reference. As with all things bardly there is dissent concerning the Strachey connection. If you are interested in authorship debates an introduction is given in David Kathman’s Dating the Tempest. [Full disclosure: Mr. B. once wrote a paper assigning the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays to someone else. He doesn’t remember the name of the lucky person. He no longer cares.]

There is also a Mark Twain connection to Bermuda. Mrs. Bonzo discovered a wonderful book that she brought along and enjoyed very much, as did Mr. B. - highly recommended. It is: 'Mark Twain in Paradise, His Voyages to Bermuda' by Donald Hoffman, published by the University of Missouri Press in 2006. There are many fascinating things about the book and Mr. B., who is a scientist, did not realize what a depressive, cynical, old curmudgeon MT turned into in his old age. Two good quotes, though:

“The task of tracking Mark Twain in Bermuda proved the wisdom of what Richard P. Feynman so happily called ‘the pleasure of finding things out.’ "

“You go to heaven if you want to,” he [Twain] wrote from the islands in his last days.
"I’d ruther stay here.”

But back to the main narrative. Mrs. B. did some research and located a place to stay that was quite reasonable. It was the lower level of a house built for the cowboy writer Zane Grey in the 1920s. The picture at the beginning of the post is from the patio outside the apartment where we stayed. It had kitchen facilities which allowed us to eat some meals at home. It was also an easy walk to the bus connection as well as the ferry connection, so we could get just about anywhere on the island. Public transportation is good and a ticket to ride both bus and ferry for a week is a good deal. There was also an outstanding grocery store within walking distance. And the rental rate was quite modest.

The weather was perfect - cool at night (excellent sleeping weather) & warm during the day but not 'stinky hot.' On the first day Mr. Bonzo hunkered down and refused to do anything but read; this counted as "decompression day." Thereafter we slept late, ate breakfast at home, and then set out to explore - the Botanic Garden, the city of St. George w/ the oldest church in continuous use in the Western hemisphere (it had a Breeches Bible dated 1594), the Bermuda National Gallery, a tiny church from the 17th century where Gregorian chant is sung daily, pristine beaches almost completely empty, historic houses, a Victorian tea-room, etc., etc. In the evenings we ate dinner at home or went to one of Bermuda's fabulous (& pricey) restaurants.

One highlight was a performance by a group of Bermuda's indigenous Gombay Dancers. This has been a tradition since slavery days, when travelling groups of dancers, masked and wearing brightly colored capes and headdresses and accompanied by energetic drumming, performed for money on their 'days off.' Today boys (no girls - sorry) start training around the age of three and Gombay groups perform all over the world. The group we saw was about to travel to Jamestown, Virginia, to help celebrate the 400th anniversary of settlement there. Mrs. Bonzo noted dryly that joining a Gombay group might be a good way to get into Harvard.

But mostly it was just wonderful to be there and be outside in the sunshine. The entire island is a tropical garden, with profusely blooming begonias and geraniums, palm trees and lush tropical vegetation everywhere you look. It was so relaxing to read, wander & do what we wanted with no schedule or requirements of any kind. We plan to go back next year. And the next year. And the next year...

The Bonzos

Saturday, April 28, 2007

OurLeader Comes Clean On The Management
System Behind BigU's So-Called Transformation

Mr. Bonzo had an "aha" moment today when on BigU's website he came upon a powerpoint presentation that OurLeader gave to the BoRe (Board of Regents) last month. He found it enlightening and helpful in understanding what is currently happening with respect to transforming BigU, which is management speak for the process formerly known as reengineering.

BigU seems not to be able to function without expensive advertising campaigns such as Driven to Discover. BigU's administration also seems to be incapable of action without borrowing some flavor of the month management scheme from the business world, regardless of whether it is appropriate for an academic institution. If some great man at the Harvard Business School has a pet theory, however could we fault OurLeader for trying it out?

Apparently the BoRe eats this up. No surprise given that at least one of them - OurLeader's strongest and most vocal champion - is in the consulting business and for $2000-$5000 will give
inspirational talks on such subjects as: Leaders are Learners, Change or Die, Building a Learning Organization, How Great Boards Work, It’s All About People, You Can’t Win Without Teamwork, Inspiring and Motivating Your Staff, Barriers to Change, Moving out of your Comfort Zone. Mr. B. has previously commented that this BoRe member refuses to move out of his own comfort zone and currently does not reside in the Congressional District he supposedly represents. I guess ethical standards are not very high at BigU given MedSchoolDean's Pepsi association, BigU's Coca-cola partnership, and the little matter of inappropriate manipulation of images in papers and a patent.

So the flavor of the month is? The secret we've all been waiting for?

"Welcome back, Kotter!"

That would be Harvard Business School professor emeritus, John P. Kotter, and his marvelous and apparently foolproof "Eight Step Process of Creating Major Change."

Now it has always seemed to Mr. Bonzo that the transformation program at BigU was inauthentic, top-down with no real faculty input, unrealistic in its goals and expectations, and inappropriate for a university. But it is difficult to argue with someone when you don't know the intellectual underpinnings for their activities, especially when it appears from their actions that they don't have any. Now, properly implemented, it might be possible to transform the BigU using the Kotter system, but clearly anyone with even a primitive knowledge of the system will be aware that BigU has made a major botch of its implementation. Mr. Bonzo is also greatly disturbed by the lack of transparency and the manipulation of opinion that is antithetical to the idea of a university. Where, exactly, did the idea come from that BigU should become GreatBigU? Who, exactly, decided that we are Driven to Discover? An advertising agency, a consultant ? These decisions were certainly not made by the faculty, students, and staff at BigU. Nor does it appear that these stakeholders have bought into the program.

[As an aside, Mr. B. loves the use of the word stakeholder. It brings to mind a vision of Dracula at a crossroad in Transylvania at high noon with a golden stake through his heart. Now there is a stakeholder. ]

Kotter and other beer of the month management types (Covey, anyone) have not been particularly successful at causing meaningful change in the business world, let alone in education. They have, admittedly, made a great deal of money for themselves from the gullibility of managers both in real business and the business that education has become. Mr. B. is a great fan of Chris Argyris, also at Harvard, who dares to criticize both Covey and Kotter. He has written insightfully about the disconnect between theory and practice in change management systems embodied by the cliche "failure to walk the talk" oft used by the late Paul Wellstone.

Mr. B. has more to say on these matters, but not tonight and probably not for a while. A hellish month is ahead including about eight hours of lecturing on nanotechnology for a general audience in BigU's Compleat Scholar program. This will be fun, but a lot of work. The topic, however, has legs. I'll post the stuff somewhere and put a link on the PT. He will also be going to New Orleans in mid-May for a graduation. This will no doubt be a hard trip, because he has not been in NO since well before the hurricane.

Auf wiedersehen,


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Coke or Pepsi? The Age Old Question

BigU is a Coke franchise. BigU's MedSchoolDean serves on the Pepsi board of directors. Mr. B. has previously written on this embarrassing situation. One post is It’s the Ick Factor… BigU MedSchoolDean Sits on the Pepsi Board.

There really are ethical problem here. It is amazing that the administration seems to be ignoring these issues. Usually they are quite interested in having "conversations" on topics related to achieving greatness, but so far not on ethical matters. At least someone at the Minnesota Daily is finally willing to ask: "The question is, does he [OurLeader] have the guts to face these concerns?"

Adri Mehra in today's Daily:

Bruininks must answer for Coca-Criminals

The University must be responsible world citizen

You can't beat the real thing, and in Coca-Cola's case, that includes a tangled web of apparent lies, intimidation and murder that would make the management of Guantanamo Bay sob with tears of joy and envy.

In December 2005, New York University and the University of Michigan banned all Coca-Cola products from their campuses following Rutgers, Oberlin, Bard and Minnesota's own Carleton College in the removal of the company's bloody stain.

It is thus far past time for University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks to address these issues with Coca-Cola, as our school has the largest remaining contract with the corporation.

The question is, does he have the guts to face these concerns?

Why don't we ask him?

Further sordid details are presented in the piece, but you get the idea. I admire Mr. Mehra for speaking out about this. When Mr. B. was young, this is what newspapers did. Doesn't seem to be so popular anymore, either at the local or national level.

And unfortunately, I don't have much hope for Mr. Mehra's question being answered let alone anything done about the situation. After all, we have to pay for a Twin City Federal Stadium and the road to becoming one of the top three public research institutions (in the world) will necessarily be paved with gold. So however could OurLeader afford to end BigU's lucrative financial arrangement with Coke?

Now, let's see - where did I put my tea...

Mr. B.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Trees Do Not Grow to The Sky or, Why the State Legislature Should Not Write a Blank Check to BigU for Biomedical Research Buildings

Mr. Bonzo has been concerned for some time that the money for biomedical research just isn't there, and that the push for a blank check from the legislature for the construction of more buildings for this purpose is a serious mistake. The most recent issue of Science has an article, selections of which are quoted below. This is done in the belief that fair use applies since a direct link cannot be given.


The percentage of research proposals funded by NIH has dropped from 32% in 2001 to a projected 21% this year. Funded grants are routinely cut by 10% or more.

Dozens of investigators interviewed by Science, along with six NIH institute directors and agency head Elias Zerhouni, describe a climate in which young scientists struggle to launch their careers and even the most senior are trimming their research projects. Harold Varmus, a Nobel Prize winner who led NIH from 1993 to 1999 and is now head of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, has had his grant cut, although he won't say by how much.

Meanwhile, research institutions everywhere were breaking ground on new facilities and expanding their faculty. In a 2002 survey, AAMC found that new construction at medical schools had exploded: From 1990 to 1997, schools invested $2.2 billion in new construction, compared to $3.9 billion from 1998 to 2002. But that paled in comparison to what was to come: an expected $7.4 billion in new construction from 2002 to 2007.

Schools hired new faculty members to fill the buildings, expecting to recoup their investments from the NIH grants investigators would haul in. "Universities and their leadership did what I would have done too," says Zerhouni. "The government is indicating support for these activities," and the expansion was "exactly what Congress intended."

Yet the numbers fail to convey the gnawing unease and foreboding expressed by scientists across disciplines and at every stage of their careers. "The ripple effect here is amazing and paralyzing," says Steven Dowdy, a cancer biologist at the University of California, San Diego. At Brown University, molecular cell biologist Susan Gerbi, who helps oversee graduate training, canvassed 49 faculty members in eight departments recently, as she does every year, to see how many would take on a graduate student from next year's pack. "In the past, it was a majority," around 90% of those who responded, she says. "This year, only about 25% of the trainers said they would be interested … because they did not have a guarantee of funding for next fall."

Compounding the problem is that most universities and medical institutions rely on NIH money for the bulk of scientists' salaries and overhead costs and are not set up to support faculty members long-term. Traditionally, "bridge funding" could tide researchers over for a few months. But now, more scientists than ever are having to resubmit grant applications, with a gap of 8 months or more in between each submission. At NIAID, the percentage of proposals funded on the first try has gone from 27% in 2001 to 11% in 2006.

What brought biomedical research to this place of financial anxiety? The doubling flooded NIH with billions more dollars over a relatively brief time. Whereas a private corporation might conserve some of this windfall, by law NIH must spend nearly all the money it receives the year it receives it. That provoked a massive expansion in biomedical research, and expectations of federal support surged to a level that could not be sustained when the budget stopped growing. The crash is hitting labs, careers, and the psyches of scientists with a vengeance.

The big bubble

Nine years ago, Congress set out to double the NIH budget and within 5 years sent it soaring from $13.7 billion to $27.1 billion. But everyone knew the golden days would not last. In October 2000, eight senior scientists and policymakers began meeting informally to discuss how to maintain the momentum. In 2002, the group published a commentary in Science presenting different budget models and their impacts on research priorities (Science, 24 May 2002, p. 1401). Its most pessimistic prediction modeled annual increases of 4%. Says David Korn, a former Stanford University dean now at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in Washington, D.C., who helped bring the group together: "We didn't model increases below 4% a year because the tradeoffs and the sacrifices that would have been caused … were too difficult for us to deal with in the model."

At NIH, senior officials found that "no matter what, there will be pain after the doubling," says Zerhouni, who became NIH director in 2002. To soften the blow, in 2002 and 2003, NIH tried to accelerate the pace of one-time expenditures such as construction, to free up money for the following years. But even "in the worst scenarios, people really didn't think that the NIH budget would go below inflation," says Zerhouni, an outcome he attributes to the 9/11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina.

This appears to have helped drive more applicants to NIH. In 1998, fewer than 20,000 scientists sought research grants from the agency; in 2006, that number was more than 33,000, and according to NIH forecasts, the number of applicants is expected to top 35,000 in 2007. The number of applications has grown at an even faster clip, as scientists, concerned about their chance of getting funded, are submitting proposals more frequently. Because growth at medical schools lagged somewhat behind the doubling, many institutions are still expanding. At Sloan-Kettering, for example, officials only recently began filling a new building with scientists. They expect to increase their faculty by almost 50%, says Varmus.

But as requests for NIH money edged upward, NIH's resources began to drop. After a 16% increase in 2003, the final year of the doubling, NIH received a 3% boost in 2004, an abrupt reversal of fortune. Although the general rate of inflation in 2006 was 3.1%, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the cost of goods and services in biomedical research and development rose 4.5%. The number of competing grants NIH funded peaked in 2003 and has been dropping since. The declining value of NIH's dollars and rising demand were "a perfect double whammy," says Zerhouni.

Some schools are beefing up their bridge funding. Dana-Farber, for example, is setting aside $3 million to $4 million this year. Historically, the institute reserved $500,000 to $1 million "and almost never spent it," says Benz, Dana-Farber's CEO.

Even "the senior investigator is turning out to be a challenge for us to support," Benz continues.

Many scientists complain that the tough funding climate is exacerbated by an excessive focus at NIH on costly "big science," such as the Cancer Genome Atlas, which is using large-scale genetic sequencing to decipher the molecular basis of cancer and whose 3-year pilot phase is budgeted at $100 million. Projects like this one, many scientists say, are coming at the expense of grants that sustain individual labs and have been the source of much innovation over the years.

Nowhere does the funding gap seem wider than when looked at through the lens of age. "It's just about inconceivable for a brand-new investigator to get an NIH grant funded on their first submission these days," says David Sweatt, chair of the neurobiology department at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. Sweatt has hired three young scientists in the past year and worries about their future. "I see it as this dark shadow hanging over people who are just starting out their labs," he says. "They're having to spend so much time being anxious over funding, to the detriment of having time to think creatively about their research."

It is time for a serious and honest conversation about this matter at BigU.

Mr. Bonzo

Saturday, April 21, 2007

What a relief ! Babies who die unbaptized
don't have to worry about l
imbo - now that it’s been declared only a dance...

Mr. B. rejoices by dancing the limbo at right.

Last update: April 20, 2007 – 9:16 PM

Vatican: Unbaptized infants who die no longer in limbo Reversing centuries of traditional Catholic teaching, a report says there is hope those babies can go to heaven.

By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

ROME - Limbo has been in limbo for quite some time, but is now on its way to extinction.
A Vatican committee that spent years examining the medieval concept Friday published a much-anticipated report, concluding unbaptized babies who die may go to heaven.

That could reverse centuries of Roman Catholic traditional belief that the souls of unbaptized babies are condemned to eternity in limbo, a place that is neither heaven nor hell. Limbo is not unpleasant, but it is not a seat alongside God.
Limbo, the commission said, "reflects an unduly restrictive view of salvation."Our conclusion," the commission said in its 41-page report, is that there are "serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness."

The commission added that while this is not "sure knowledge," it comes in the context of a loving and just God who "wants all human beings to be saved."

In the 5th century, St. Augustine declared that all unbaptized babies went to hell upon death. By the Middle Ages, the idea was softened to suggest a less severe fate, limbo.

The document published Friday said the question of limbo has become a "matter of pastoral urgency" because of the growing number of babies who do not receive the baptismal rite. Especially in Africa and other parts of the world where Catholicism is growing but has competition from other faiths such as Islam, high infant mortality rates mean many families live with a church teaching them that their babies could not go to heaven.

Catholic conservatives criticized any effort to relegate limbo to oblivion. Removing the concept from church teaching would lessen the importance of baptism and discourage parents from christening their infants, said Kenneth J. Wolfe, a Washington-based columnist for the traditionalist Catholic newspaper the Remnant.

Mr. Bonzo remembers the concept of limbo from elementary school. Scary. He wishes the ability to change position on limbo extended to the ordination of women and the possibility of a married clergy. Ah well, if St. Augustine’s teachings can be softened then perhaps there is hope, but the timescale is a little depressing.

Ciao, Bonzo

Friday, April 20, 2007

Wolfie, we hardly knew you...
(Or, you've done a heckuva job, Wolfie)

Sameer Dossani nails Wolfowitz:

Over the years, the World Bank’s hypocrisy has been so extreme as to be taken for granted. The ironies of talking about ending global poverty, interest rates and export policies while staying at five-star hotels and attending lavishly catered meetings do get a bit tiresome for Bank-watchers like me to keep pointing out. But the latest developments involving World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz and his former partner, Shaha Riza, take this everyday hypocrisy to new heights.

The World Bank Staff Association itself, which represents more than half of the Bank’s employees, called for Wolfowitz’s resignation last week. In an unprecedented move, Alison Cave, the Chair of the Staff Association said that Wolfowitz “must acknowledge that his conduct has compromised the integrity and effectiveness of the World Bank Group and has destroyed the staff's trust in his leadership. He must act honorably and resign.”

Since Wolfowitz’s appointment, about half of the Bank’s senior managers, either unhappy with Wolfowitz’s style or under pressure, have left. These and other developments leave Wolfowitz open to the claim that he is “neo-conning the Bank”.

Wolfowitz hasn’t left yet but it’s unlikely he will last more than a few weeks longer. Whoever takes the job next will inherit an institution that has failed basic standards of accountability and transparency, and has not made a dent in its supposed mission of poverty reduction. The new president will certainly have work to do. Some good house cleaning, including implementing real accountability and transparency measures—for the bank and not just the countries that borrow from it—would be a good start. One more step may be to start talking about how the Bank can make reparations for its past sins, especially those of pushing a failed economic paradigm onto developing countries.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

The arrogance of power and the sense of entitlement that people like Wolfie demonstrate is both an embarrassment and a stimulus to action at both the local and national level.

One disgusted Bonzo

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The BigU Regents Selection Process is Partisan Mr. Bonzo is Shocked, Shocked...

Mr. Bonzo has written earlier about the partisan election process for new members of the Board of Regents (BOR). Today the Daily has an article about the matter, below are selected excerpts. See the full article for amplification.

April 18, 2007

An Experiment Gone Partisan
Although the board of regents is not political, the new regent selection process is that and then some.

At the Capitol, everything's political. Even things that shouldn't be.

As Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty weighed in on the process for the first time, the Capitol erupted in controversy over what lawmakers found to be a newly politicized process.

Ultimately, this new method raised questions about lawmakers' roles in regent selection and whether they have the University's best interests in mind or their own political ideologies.

Outgoing regents included Peter Bell, a Republican in Pawlenty's administration and chairman of the Metropolitan Council.

"The regent selection process has politicized (the board) to a degree that could be problematic," Bell said.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, criticized Pawlenty for not taking the authority granted to him. He never met with any of the candidates, which meant legislators didn't give much consideration to his selections.

The governor could have had a better chance of getting his selected candidates - including Bell and outgoing Regent Cynthia Lesher, who lost reappointment to former DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson - through the process had he personally interviewed them, Kahn said.

Kahn said the governor should have sat down with legislative leaders to negotiate the "regents' slate," compromising to allow both Johnson and Bell appointments to the board.

After a speech on campus Monday, Pawlenty said the regent selection process "was designed to be better, but it really was a disappointment."

"Without casting any aspersions on this year's finalists or appointees, I would say we have to do better at getting higher-quality regents for the University of Minnesota," he said. "This year's process doesn't look like it was any better in that regard than the last (one)."

Mr. Bonzo would also like to correct an apparent error. Regent Metzen, formerly the chair of the Board of Regents is listed as being from Congressional District 4.

The Daily should know better as
they have previously published

August 10, 2005

Regent lives out of range

David Metzen has lived outside his district since the 2002 redistricting.

Two years after promising to move to the district he represents, a member of the Board of Regents still lives in his old residence.

David Metzen, the former board chairman serving his second consecutive term for the 4th Congressional District, currently lives a few blocks outside his district.

Metzen was first elected to represent the 4th Congressional District in 1997. But the 2002 redistricting left him on the outside looking in when his term expired in 2003.

Unable to win legislative support in the 2nd District, where his home is now, Metzen promised to move to a new home if he was re-elected to represent the 4th District.

Metzen has said he would be willing to step down from his post if that's what is called for.

But Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, of legislative District 54, which is within the 4th Congressional District, said such a move would be a little drastic.

"It's not like this is scandalous," [sic] he said.

[Our standards are apparently not that high here in BigState, at least for political appointments like the BOR.]

Marty said he and other legislators would like to see Metzen make a serious attempt to move into the 4th District, but asking him to step down would be too much.

[Two years have passed - how long is this going to go on? Or are some pigs more equal than other pigs?]

Mark Rotenberg, general counsel for the University, said the University is not legally liable for anything relating to David Metzen's living status.

"It's not a problem for the University, it's a problem that arises from the Legislature's selection of individuals, none of whom are currently (residing) in the 4th Congressional District," Rotenberg said.

Given his current address, it appears that he still lives in Congressional District 2:

Metzen, David
273 Salem Church Rd
Sunfish Lake, MN 55118

Members of Congress Representing ZIP code 55118-4742

A search was done for members of Congress representing residents of the following address:


Residents of the 55118-4742 ZIP code are represented in Congress by 2 Senators and 1 Representative.

Senator Norm Coleman (R- MN)
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D- MN)
Representative John Kline (R - 02)

In addition to his service on the BOR, Regent Metzen is also a motivational speaker who lists his regent service as one of his qualifications for giving lectures (at $2000 - $5000 a pop) on such topics as:

Leaders are Learners
Change or Die
Building a Learning Organization
How Great Boards Work
It’s All About People
You Can’t Win Without Teamwork
Inspiring and Motivating Your Staff
Barriers to Change
Moving out of your Comfort Zone

Sounds like Regent Metzen may want to move out of his comfort zone so that we can all learn how great boards work. After all, building a learning organization is all about people and you can't win without teamwork. Inpiring and motivating your staff involves removing barriers to change.

A shocked and awed Bonzo
Why are Rain Drops Round,
What's the Right one Baby,
What is the Structure of H
2SO4 + HOH ?

Mr. Bonzo walked over to Coffman Union today at about 3 pm. There was an eery quiet although students were doing homework and sitting around outside Coffman strangely subdued. Across Washington Avenue on the mall at BigU the students who normally would have been there on a nice April day were nowhere to be seen. There were numerous police cars with flashing lights and yellow plastic tape could be seen in front of Kolthoff Hall, Smith Hall, and the Library. A copycat bomb scare earlier in the afternoon had required evacuation of many of the buildings on the mall. There were no students outside on the mall because of an email, posted earlier, requesting that they not congregate there.

Mr. Bonzo thought back to the early seventies when he was a rookie TA in the O-chem lab. One afternoon there was an explosion during his lab session and he had to do a forced evacuation. He had to manhandle one particularly uncooperative student in order to accomplish this. For some reason the student refused to leave and wanted to keep working. There had been a bombing of the Math Department at Wisconsin around that time - with loss of life - and so everyone was on edge. At first we thought that a bomb had been set off, but we later learned that the explosion was the result of an accident in one of the labs. Fortunately no one was in the lab at the time this happened.

Also around that time Mr. B. witnessed, from the top of Kolthoff Hall, what was later characterized as a police riot. The Minneapolis cops beat student demonstrators unmercifully, even if they were just lying on the ground trying to protect themselves. Demonstrators had blocked Washington Avenue and the Minnesota equivalent of rednecks were trying to drive through the demonstrators at high speed - not a pretty sight.

So Mr. Bonzo was pretty pensive and wigged on the way to Coffman Memorial Union to see about a hundred and fifty posters describing the research efforts of BigU undergraduates. Now Mr. Bonzo is a science wienie and nothing cheers him up more than the cultural and practical implications of science, particularly chemistry and crystallography. One of Mr. B's students, Derek Straka, presented on his work doing drug docking on the HIV protease and tyrosine kinase inhibitor systems related to cancer. There were numerous other excellent presentations, many of which Mr. B. could barely understand since he is not a biologist. Chemistry, he can understand. He was impressed by analyses of mercury in locations around the state, because of his interest in the possible connection of mercury to autism. Some other interesting work had to do with biodegradable plastics. Good stuff. Finally he had a nice chat with a young lady who was doing computational chemistry on the sulfuric acid water complex. This work actually has a connection to the real world but it reminded Mr. B. that we used to be a lot more tolerant of stuff that was really "neat," even if it didn't have any practical applications. Mr. B. left Coffman feeling a lot better about life and the future having talked to these wonderful, optimistic, bright students.

He also remembered a science fair - at a lot lower level - that he once attended in Tucson when AlexBonzo was an undergrad English major. There were the usual posters on genetic engineering of cows and so forth. But one kid had studied the effect of wind, dirt, and sand, on the shape of raindrops as they fell from different heights. Either the kid had a very smart teacher or (s)he was quite creative. Another kid tried to answer one of Mr. B's favorite questions: What's the right one, baby? He went to the dump and counted Coke and Pepsi cans. In the end a lot of science is not rocket science. It consists of having an idea and doing experiments to confirm or refute that idea. Once you understand the game, you really can't lose. And often if you refute your own idea, you have to come up with a better explanation. Success in doing this is incredibly satisfying if your mind is bent in the Bonzo way.

As Nabokov said in his Lectures on Literature:

After all, there are other thrills in other domains: the thrill of pure science is just as pleasurable as the pleasure of pure art. The main thing is to experience that tingle in any department of thought or emotion.

An oddly peaceful Bonzo after a hard day at BigU

And Now the Inevitable Copy-Cat Phase...

University of Minnesota (April 18, 2007)

Seven buildings on the East Bank campus are in the process of being evacuated due to a bomb threat. They include: Kohltoff, Smith, Frasier, Johnston and Morrill Halls as well as Walter Library and the Science Classroom Building. All classes and meetings in these buildings have been canceled for the remainder of the day. Students are asked to return to their residence halls or their off-campus housing. Please do not congregate in the Mall area.

Mr. Bonzo has not been so wigged since an explosion - initially, but incorrectly, thought to be a bomb - went off while he was TA'ing a chemistry lab during the anti-war protests of the early seventies...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

BigTime Athletics - PROFANE (Michael R. Davidson)

A new blog made of the right stuff has appeared. A sample follows:

Monday, April 16, 2007
Grats to the Nittany Lions/Graduation Rates

Many congratulations to the Nittany Lions of Penn State on making the home advantage stick, and taking their NCAA-high 12th National Championship in Men’s Gymnastics. They defeated Oklahoma, Stanford, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota in the team finals at State College on Friday. This came on the same weekend when police descended upon the campus to interview football players suspected in a burglary and assault. No points for guessing which story received more press.

Penn State also commands a respectable 78% graduation rate in NCAA sports ‘Other’ than Baseball, Basketball, Cross-Country/Track, and Football. It is no great shock that Stanford is tops amongst the participating teams at 89%, followed by Illinois and Michigan at 88% and 81% respectively. Minnesota at 61% and Oklahoma at 60% post respectable graduation rates, but considering the shenanigans that continue to proceed in both athletics departments, it is not surprising that they lag the other schools.

Mr. B. will be following this site with great interest. Hopefully the Athletic Department at BigU will also give it some attention.

My first PhD student was an undergrad at Virginia Tech. Our flags are at half staff at BigU.

A still stunned Bonzo

Friday, April 13, 2007

Valuing Honesty
OurLeader’s State of the University Address

From an Editorial in the Minnesota Daily today:

April 13, 2007

Valuing Honesty in State of the U

The University address should be honest and open and should address problems we face.

Last week, University President Bob Bruininks gave his State of the University address at Coffman Union.

He began his speech by speaking of the challenges of the 21st century and the University's three-fold mission that is inscribed on Northrop Auditorium.

Many such addresses ignore problems and issues, and sway toward optimistic outlooks and inspiring words alone. However, it can often be more valuable for the speaker to remain honest and address problems the institution or organization is facing head-on, especially in regards to solutions to these problems.

In his speech, Bruininks did this a few times.

The rest of the time, he focused on the University's plan to become one of the top three public research universities in the world, on how the incoming 2010 class is the best-prepared in history, on University partnerships, on the coordinate campuses and how well they're doing, on the University's academic goals and on our "exceptional faculty and staff," to name a few topics.

The value of an address such as this is apparent. It's meant to be informational and uplifting, but we do believe that University community members receive the most value from openness and honesty, especially when tackling tough subjects such as the problems the University is facing.

Mr. Bonzo has earlier addressed some of these tough subjects. Previous relevant posts include: Speaking of Rankings and
OurLeader Gives 2007 State of the University Address, Ambitious Aspirations to Greatness or Can BigU become GreatBigU?

Further relevant rants include: It's the Ick Factor and Photoshop Manipulation of Scientific Illustrations and One Can Only Marvel.

Perhaps OurLeader can speak to some of these issue in next year's State of the University of Minnesota address?


Image is All?
Further Bumps on the Road to (Football) Greatness

Mr. Bonzo hates to kick our boys while they are down... But he would feel negligent after posting earlier on this topic if he did not post the start of an article from today’s Daily.

April 12, 2007

U football program battles bad image

Recent allegations of a rape and a new recruit's suspension soured the new coach's arrival

By Mark Remme

Just one week ago, optimistic talk surrounded the Minnesota football team.

After all, first-year coach Tim Brewster's motivational tactics, such as bringing in former Gophers standouts and clumps of sod from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, made team members comment about a new attitude and swagger surrounding the program.

But the encouraging signs soon gave way to controversy.

After three players were arrested on Friday in relation to an alleged sexual assault, and news broke that 2006 recruit Robert McField pleaded guilty to two reduced counts of second-degree robbery and one count of armed criminal action, a less flattering image is surrounding the new-look Gophers.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut gone
Mr. Bonzo is feeling old, very, very, old.

On Saturday night, Mr. and Mrs. Bonzo stepped out to the Heights to see a wonderful movie, "The Lives of Others," which got the Academy Award this year for best foreign film. The film is in German with subtitles. If you have ever taken German in college, you will love it. Very highly recommended. Mr. B., having had a birthday recently, got his first senior citizen discount to see the movie. But tonight, reading CNN, he got a further jolt about his limited time on the earth with CNN’s announcement that his second god (Shakespeare is first) had departed.

Vonnegut was born on Nov. 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, a "fourth-generation German-American religious skeptic Freethinker," and studied chemistry at Cornell University before joining the Army.

Ah, chemistry, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Mr. Bonzo will never forget Slaughterhouse-Five or the story (Cat's Cradle) about Ice Nine - a polymorphic form of ice that was stable above 0 (C) or 32 (F). His brother worked for GE and knew a thing or two about polymorphism. Kurt knew chemistry from his Cornell days, of which I was unaware until today. Vonnegut also worked briefly as a GE flack. I gather he did not like it.

Requiescant in pace, Kurt Vonnegut.

A sad Bonzo, who is grateful that people like Vonnegut exist and write to inspire us.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The evil that men do...
A new collection of Primo Levi stories on the twentieth anniversary of his death

Life causes all of us temporary bouts of cynicism. Even Shakespeare succumbed: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

Mr. Bonzo had a hard day. The forces of evil at BigU today manifested themselves in their full horror. But then a Turner-like moment occurred, a new Levi collection of stories. This review has some problems, but its appearance is a sign from God or Nature, depending on your persuasion, that ars is, indeed, longa:

Primo Levi's Defiance

April 4, 2007

Born in Turin in 1919, Levi earned a doctorate in chemistry and spent most of his life as an industrial chemist, helping to formulate enamels and varnishes. Before 1943, he had done little more than dabble in writing, and if his life had continued on its normal course, it is possible that he would have remained a literary amateur.

But at the end of that year, as every reader of Levi's great memoirs will remember, he and the other members of his hapless partisan group were surprised in the mountains and taken prisoner. In the past, Fascist Italy had shown little interest in Nazi-style racism, and even when it followed Germany in promulgating anti-Semitic edicts, they were enforced without fervor. But now, with the northern part of the country under German occupation, the SS had a free hand in dealing with Italy's Jews. In February 1944, Levi and the other 600 Jews at the prison camp in Fossoli were loaded on transports to Auschwitz. Five hundred of them — the old and sick, women and children — were gassed immediately on arrival. Of the remaining able-bodied men, about 20 survived until the end of the war.

Levi was one of the survivors, making it back to Turin and his family at the end of 1945. He went back to work in a factory, resuming as best he could the interrupted course of his professional career. But what really possessed him, as he would later explain in "The Periodic Table," was an overwhelming need to write. "The things I had seen and suffered were burning inside of me. … I felt like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, who waylays on the street the wedding guests going to the feast, inflicting on them the story of his misfortune."

"By writing," he remembered, "I found peace for a while and felt myself become a man again." This was the crucial step that turned Levi from a victim of the Holocaust to its chronicler and interpreter, and thus, in some small metaphorical way, its master.

The book that resulted from Levi's first burst of recollection was "If This Is a Man" (its unfortunate American title is "Survival in Auschwitz"), brought out by a small Italian publisher in 1947. At the time, with Europe still recovering from the war, the book made little impact, selling just 1,500 copies. Not until 1958, when it was republished by Einaudi, did "If This Is a Man" begin its life as one of the best-known and most powerful documents of the Holocaust. It was this delayed success, Levi once said, that allowed him to "see a future for my writing." It gave him the confidence to produce his second book — "The Truce" (known in America as "The Reawakening"), a sequel to "If This Is a Man" that told the story of Levi's trek home from Auschwitz.

Even as his reputation grew, however, Levi continued to work as a chemist. It was not until 1975, when his memoir "The Periodic Table" won prizes and acclaim in Italy, that he was able to retire from the factory and write full-time. In his last decade, he produced his fourth major work, "The Drowned and the Saved," a reconsideration of the Holocaust from a distance of 40 years. Yet his other writing — a novel, short stories, newspaper articles — never won as high a reputation as his memoirs. Even today, 20 years after his death — whose anniversary comes on April 11 — we tend to think of Levi not as a writer who had been through the Holocaust, but as a Holocaust writer.

The publication of a new collection of Levi's short stories, "A Tranquil Star" will not do much to change that; but to admirers of Levi's major works, it will nonetheless come as an unexpected gift. The book includes 17 stories, most of them about five pages long, that have never before appeared in English. A handful are directly autobiographical, based on episodes that Levi went on to treat at greater length in other works. The majority, however, are parables in a science fiction vein, little provocations that sometimes connect to Levi' s largest themes.

Readers of "The Periodic Table" will find the first two stories in "A Tranquil Star" familiar. "The Death of Marinese" is a brief, realistic narrative of a captured partisan's last moments, as he works up the nerve to pull the pin from his captors' hand grenade. It is a wishfully heroic variation on Levi's own experience. Writing about his capture in "The Periodic Table," he recalls, "I could easily have lifted the safety pin [of his guard's grenade], pulled the cord, and done away with myself and several of them, but I didn't have the courage." Marinese has that kind of courage; but, of course, his glorious death means that he never has to test the different kind of courage, moral and psychological as well as physical, that Levi displayed in Auschwitz.

The second story, "Bear Meat," is the tale of a mountain climb gone wrong, spoken here by an anonymous narrator by a campfire; but readers of "The Periodic Table" know it is Levi's own story. Getting lost at night on a freezing mountainside, for Levi, was a frightening but necessary trial, an early proof of his ability to survive. "Eating bear meat" is his friend's slang expression for being in trouble, but it is the kind of trouble that is good for you: "the taste of being strong and free, which means free to make mistakes."

[A link to the story in the New Yorker]

The best stories, however, use this sort of far-fetched premise to explore deeper, more searching questions. "In the Park," the longest piece in the book, is a jaunty description of a heaven where literary characters go after their authors die. Levi pokes gentle fun at literature's preference for the unusual, in landscape and in character. In this heaven there are several spectacular sunsets a night, and "you'll look in vain for a plumber, an electrician, a welder, a mechanic, or a chemist, and I wonder why."

But Levi has something more serious in mind when, in a list of the inhabitants of the "park" — "Kim with his sword, Iphigenia in Aulis," and so on — he includes Mordo Nahum, whom readers of "The Truce" will remember as the Greek black marketeer Levi encounters after leaving Auschwitz. If you put a real person in a book, Levi leaves us to wonder, do you somehow falsify him? And if posterity lets the book be forgotten, does that mean that the original might as well never have lived? It is a question that Levi, who spent his life memorializing "the drowned" of Auschwitz, must have asked himself many times. It seems typical of the man that he would ask it in such a playful and genial story. Here, as in all his work, Levi believed that writing must confront the most painful subjects, but never surrender to them.

A tribute to Primo Levi will take place tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the South Court Auditorium of the New York Public Library. Joan Acocella, Alessandra Bastagli, Ruth Franklin, Ann Goldstein, and Mr. Kirsch will speak about Levi's legacy, as well as discuss the stories collected in "A Tranquil Star." The actress Maria Tucci will also read from the collection.

So perhaps Shakespeare, Mr. Bonzo’s god, was correct after all. “Oft” is not the same as always and exceptions to generalization are crucial.

A sad but comforted Bonzo.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Speaking of Rankings -
(Or not Speaking If You Are OurLeader)

The First Annual BonzoSummary (BS08) of BigU's Progress Toward Greatness

The US News 2008 Edition of America’s Best Graduate Schools (2008 ed.) has appeared. [The numbering scheme is a little odd, because the report issues in 2007 for data that was presumably collected in 2006. But we will stick with the US News numbering scheme.] These are the rankings that university administrators like to dismiss as meaningless - except of course, if their school does well, then the rankings are very informative or even valuable research. A perceptive article on this topic, "Law Deans Hate Rankings, Love Ranks," has appeared in the Pioneer Press.

The Annual BonzoSummary (BS) will keep track of how BigU progresses along the road to greatness as we are re-engineered, er transformed, into GreatBigU. This will serve to monitor our progress toward becoming one of the three top public research universities in the world.

Disclaimer: The BonzoSummary will track medical schools, law schools, business schools, and engineering schools. There is (quite) a bit more to a university than these parts, but it is unlikely that one will be in the “top three” without strong performance in these areas. Having said this, some of the best universities in the world do not have medical schools, e.g., Caltech and MIT - despite what the Arizona/Florida rankings claim.

University of Minnesota - tied for 23 overall
U.S. public universities above us:

3. Berkeley
4. Georgia Tech
5. Illinois
9. Michigan
11. Texas
12. Purdue
13. UCSD
14. Texas A&M, Wisconsin (tie)
16. UCLA, Maryland (tie)
19. UC Santa Barbara
21. Penn State
23. Minnesota, Washington (tied)

Thirteen public research universities ahead of us in Engineering

Schools of Business
University of Minnesota - tied for 25th overall
U.S. public university business schools above us:

8. Berkeley
11. Michigan
12. Virginia
16. UCLA
18. Texas, North Carolina (tied)
22. Ohio State, Purdue (tied)
24. Indiana
25. Georgia Tech, Maryland, Minnesota (tied)

So in the US there are 9 public university business schools ahead of us.

Schools of Medicine
Minnesota - tied for 39

6. Washington
10. Michigan
13. UCLA
14. UCSD
15. Pittsburgh
19, UT Southwestern
20. University of North Carolina
23. University of Virginia, University of Colorado (tied)
27. University of Alabama/Birmingham, University of Wisconsin (tied)
30. University of Iowa
31. Ohio State
32. Oregon
39. University of Minnesota

Fifteen above us in research

Medical Schools - Primary Care
University of Minnesota - 13 overall

Above us

1. University of Washington
2. North Carolina
3. Colorado
4. Oregon
5. Michigan State
6. East Carolina
7. Vermont
9. Wisconsin
10. Nebraska
11. U Mass
13. Minnesota

Eleven above us

Law Schools
University of Minnesota - tied for 20 overall
Higher Ranked Public Universities

8. Berkeley, Michigan (tied)
10. Virginia
15. UCLA
18. Texas
20. University of Minnesota

Five above us

So what's it all about (Alfie)?

It should be painfully obvious by now that the administration declared goal of being one of the top three research universities in the world is inappropriate, given any reasonable estimate of our current ranking against US institutions. The "whole world" part smacks of hubris and just makes things worse. Sure one can argue that these rankings don't mean anything or that there are better rankings (Arizona/Florida, anyone?). However, the US News ranking is very important and is consulted by students and faculty for unbiased information about relative strengths of graduate programs. Google "university rankings" and see what pops up.

Mr. B. is not particularly upset about these rankings and in some cases they are quite impressive - go Law School ! [BigU's law school has actually gone down one place since last year - but such small fluctuations are meaningless in the rankings game.] There are some hints here as to how we can improve. Perhaps we should consider them rather than going off on a vainglorious crusade to becoming one of the "top three research universities in the world?"

It will be interesting to see how things progress at BigU in the coming decade, the time frame OurLeader has given for BigU's achieving Greatness. The Bonzo Summary (09) will appear next Spring in the third year of the Great March.

More snow, the real thing, is predicted tomorrow at BigU.

Ciao, Bonzo

Monday, April 9, 2007

Big U football players released from jail

From the Strib Website:

3 Gopher players suspected in alleged rape freed from jail

Three University of Minnesota football players suspected of being involved in the alleged rape of an 18-year-old woman are being released from jail today, pending further investigation.

Last update: April 09, 20071:19 PM

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Funding Woes - at BigU and Elsewhere
The Disease-Causing Organism is the Federal Government?

From CJ, the Strib Gossip Columnist

(Easter Sunday)

Big exposure for U prof

In the April issue of Men's Health, U pathologist Dr. Leo Furcht essentially says that the disease-causing organism, to so speak, in the U.S. health care system is in Washington, D.C.

It's the federal government. "Federal money? Federal involvement? In the American health care system? Hah!" magazine writer Bob Drury quotes Furcht as saying in the article's first sentences.

Because of a lack of government funding, "the climate for biomedical research is ominous," Furcht told the mag. And our prospects for retaining U.S.-trained docs and researchers, who can return to their native countries where medical science is more of a funding priority, is grim. "If the United States is to retain its preeminent position in biomedical research, we'll need to provide an attractive career path for young people. That's not the case right now," Furcht told the mag.

Drury wrote that Furcht "leans forward in his chair and stares at me, his eyes loaded with thunder" when speaking about the funding woes of established researchers who have made major discoveries.

Mr. B. thanks Mrs. B. for calling this item to his attention. He does not ordinarily read the gossip column.

Happy Easter if that is your persuasion.

A painted Bonzo