Los Angeles literati converge by the hundreds to discuss how to “end the balkanization” of Southland intellectual life.
“We introspect, therefore we are” might be our civic motto, State Librarian and USC historian Kevin Starr quipped in his remarks kicking off the inaugural public symposium of the USC-based Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities. The two-day talk-fest in April – momentously titled “Los Angeles at the Millennium: Identity and Community in the 21st Century City” – attracted hundreds to USC’s Davidson Conference Center, where a lineup of literary and cultural heavyweights engaged in a “conversation with the city about the city.”
While keynote speaker Mike Davis – author of the incisive Los Angeles histories City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear – lambasted the modern-day immigrant mecca of Los Angeles as a place of “Dickensian poverty,” hip-hop poet Mike Sonksen gave a recitation on the city’s charms and blemishes accompanied by body-slapping percussion. KPCC radio host Larry Mantle steered a free-wheeling panel discussion on “Boomtown Blade Runner: Los Angeles and Its Multiple Futures,” while former L.A. Weekly editor Harold Meyerson revisited the early ’90s recession, observing that “the bottom didn’t drop out of the L.A. economy, the middle did.”
Novelist James Ellroy, who now lives in Kansas City, told of his hometown clutching him like “a hungry pit bull” though he can’t even read the signs anymore in his old Koreatown neighborhood. “L.A. is a life sentence,” the author of L.A. Confidential concluded.
The L.A. Institute for the Humanities, which meets bimonthly at the USC Faculty Center Pub, was founded in 1998. Its 75 fellows run the gamut from columnist Arianna Huffington to human-rights activist Stanley Sheinbaum. The institute is co-directed by USC history professor Steven J. Ross and Los Angeles Times Book Review editor Steve Wasserman.
Ross describes the “Los Angeles at the Millennium” conference as an attempt “to end the balkanization of intellectual life in L.A.” It’s also a gathering, says Wasserman, “that wants to trace the curious trajectory from Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and from Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust to James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential.”
A major Chinese collection, including volumes from the Ming and Qing dynasties, finds a permanent home at USC.
Acquiring the Chow Collection “is an amazing coup” and a real draw for Chinese studies scholarship at USC.
USC’s Asian studies community celebrated a leap forward with the arrival of historian, poet and cultural leader Chow Tse-Tsung’s personal library. Chow’s 10,000 volumes of Chinese literary and critical works, lovingly acquired over a lifetime of scholarship, are now a part of USC’s East Asian Library collection.
“This is an amazing coup,” says anthropologist Eugene Cooper, a specialist in south Chinese culture.
The Chow collection includes 7,500 titles, some in editions printed 300 years ago. Perhaps most significant are the more than 200 editions of and commentaries about the 18th-century epic The Dream of the Red Chamber, widely considered to be the finest novel ever written in Chinese. (Chow is himself a noted University of Wisconsin critic and Chinese etymologist whose history, The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China, is regarded as definitive.)
“This collection will be a real draw for Chinese studies scholars and should make it much easier to attract quality graduate students in Chinese literature and history,” says East Asian librarian Kenneth Klein.
A seminar room in the library now bears Chow’s name.
A five-year, intercontinental effort led up to this major acquisition, beginning in 1997, when Dominic Cheung, now chair of USC’s Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, learned that Chow planned to leave Wisconsin’s faculty and might be looking for a place to donate his famous library.
USC East Asian bibliographer Lillian Yang, a longtime friend of Chow (both were members of the White Horse Chinese Literary Society in New York in the late ’50s) helped Cheung make contact. In 1998, Chow agreed to donate the books, which his wife, Nancy Wu, says had expanded “from his study, to the living room, to the dining room, until they filled the whole house.”
To accept the collection, a complete and accurate listing had to be made.
A USC student with a laptop computer spent months scanning, indexing, translating and transliterating title pages from the collection, carefully handling rare volumes from the Qing and even Ming (1368-1644) dynasties.
USC librarians enlisted the aid of students at the School of Engineering’s Center for Software Engineering, who created special software to ease the process. The collection arrived, to quote a Chow poem read at the dedication, like “a life-force rising / Connecting ... to a timeless / And solid tranquility.”
– Eric Mankin
Gateway to Korea
Jerry D. Campbell (left), Moon-Hyu Choi
USC has become the exclusive digital gateway for the Korean equivalent of the U.S. Library of Congress – the first institution so named outside of the Republic of Korea. Dean of university libraries Jerry D. Campbell (left) signed the one-year agreement in April with Moon-Hyu Choi, director of the Korean National Assembly Library. The deal makes USC the gateway for the substantial digital holdings of the library – more than 3 million documents of all kinds, amounting to 32 million pages. Included are government papers, dissertations, seminar presentations, historic newspapers and old books, periodicals indexes and other records.
“This is another indication of the growing influence of USC in Korean studies in North America,” says USC Korean Heritage librarian Joy Kim. USC is already home of the Korean American Digital Archive, a substantial collection of images and texts documenting the history of the Los Angeles Korean community. In May, Campbell accepted a check from local Koreans bringing the Korean Heritage Library endowment to $1 million.
– Eric Mankin
Reading the Tea Leaves
Green or black, with milk or sugar, tea’s natural chemicals seem to protect against stomach and esophagus cancers.
The leaves of Camellia sinensis contain some of the most powerful antioxidants known.
People who drink tea may be doing more than calming their nerves – they might also be preventing cancer, according to Mimi C. Yu, professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and doctoral student Can-Lan Sun.
A group of regular tea-drinkers studied in Shanghai turned out to be about half as likely to develop cancers of the stomach or esophagus as others who rarely drink the soothing brew.
For 16 years, a team of scientists from USC, Rutgers University and the Shanghai Cancer Institute has followed more than 18,000 middle-aged men from the Chinese coastal city. Among these study participants are 190 men with gastric cancer and 42 with esophageal cancer. The researchers recently compared these cancer patients with a control group of 772 men without cancer.
Yu, Sun and their colleagues measured levels of polyphenols, chemicals present in tea, as well as polyphenol by-products, such as epigallocatechin (EGC) and epicatechin (EC), in both groups of men.
The presence of EGC in urine, they found, was associated with a lower risk of gastric and esophageal cancer – after adjusting for smoking, alcohol drinking, carotenes (natural chemicals found in carrots, spinach and other vegetables and fruit) and H. pylori (a type of bacteria linked to peptic ulcers). Statistically, the odds-ratio for EGC and gastric cancer was 0.52 – meaning for every 12 people with gastric cancer who drink tea, another 23 healthy people drink tea.
Cancer-protective effects were mostly seen in people who had lower-than-average levels of carotenes in their blood. Carotenes themselves are believed to reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases.
“This study provides direct evidence that tea polyphenols may act as chemopreventive agents against gastric and esophageal cancer development,” says Yu.
All varieties of tea come from the leaves of a single plant, Camellia sinensis. This evergreen contains some of the most powerful antioxidants known. Called catechins, they scavenge and seize oxidants – rogue molecules that, having lost an electron, are extremely unstable and chemically reactive. Catechins have been shown to be as powerful as vitamins C and E at protecting proteins and DNA from oxidative damage. Green tea contains the most catechins, followed by oolong and black teas. In studies, catechins have been shown to halt tumor cell growth as well as to protect healthy cells from damage.
– Alicia Di Rado
Racquel Rivas was in her mid-20s when she was diagnosed with cervical carcinoma. It could have meant the end of her life. It could also have meant the end of her reproductive future. Thanks to surgeons at the USC/Norris Cancer Hospital, it meant neither.
Most often, cervical cancer is treated with a radical hysterectomy – the removal of the entire uterus. At 25, Rivas wasn’t ready for such a life-changing operation. Luckily, USC gynecologic oncologist Lynda Roman offered an alternative: a way to banish the cancer but retain fertility. The procedure, called radical trachelectomy, involves removing the cervix while preserving the uterus. Three years after she underwent the surgery, a cancer-free Rivas gave birth to twin girls.
And she’s not alone. Roman estimates she and her USC/Norris colleagues have performed more than 20 radical trachelectomies in the past six years; at least one of those patients has since given birth. The procedure was developed in 1987 by a surgeon in Lyon, France. Previously hysterectomy had been the preferred approach, presenting a relatively uncomplicated way to get at both the cancerous cervix and the surrounding lymph nodes, which need to be examined for potential spread of the disease. In radical trachelectomy, the removal of the cervix is followed by laparoscopic removal of the lymph nodes – the latter requiring a fair amount of skill and patience. “There’s a steep learning curve,” notes Roman.
In 1998, while on sabbatical in Lyon, Keck School professor of obstetrics and gynecology C. Paul Morrow mastered the technique. He has since trained his entire department – including Roman – making USC a magnet for the fertility-sparing surgery.
– Lori Oliwenstein
Drugs that offer a ‘perfect’ fit for each individual may be a lot closer than you think, according to USC pharmacists.
“In the next decade, you will see drugs designed for compatibility with different cellular proteins.”
Imagine taking a prescription drug with no risk of side effects or adverse reactions. One perfectly designed for you and you alone. One that will cure whatever ails you.
Sounds like science fiction, but this milestone is a lot closer than you might think. USC School of Pharmacy researchers like Austin Yang are uncovering ways to design so-called “perfect” drugs by studying the structure and function of proteins in cells – a discipline called proteomics.
Yang is an expert in mass spectrometry, a key proteomics technique. “Within the next decade,” he predicts, “you will see drugs designed for compatibility with different types of cellular proteins, usually determined by ethnicity or gender.”
An ensemble of proteins determines how a particular drug is transported to the brain, where the compound acts to create a response in the body. “Each person has the same type of cellular proteins, but not all of them are identical copies,” explains Vincent Lee, professor and chair of pharmaceutical sciences.
USC’s Genomics Initiative has given researchers cutting-edge tools to study the human genome in relation to disease prevention and drug design. Now pharmacy investigators are perfecting techniques to profile protein changes essential to drug response and anticipate their timing. With this knowledge, they’ll be able to determine the risk involved with toxicity in certain people and reduce the rate of drug recalls.
– Alexis Bergen
The ‘Oy’ of Laughter
What goes into that elusive thing, the Jewish joke? Centuries of East European experience, the vaudeville tradition and a shrewd self-defense against anti-Semitism, according to USC sociologist Barry Glassner, who played straight-man to master comedians Jerry Stiller, Shecky Greene and Shelley Berman at a workshop on the subject. Jewish jokes almost always contain wordplay, personal grief and a dash of alienation, reported a Los Angeles Times article on the meeting. Berman, who teaches humor writing at USC, demonstrated with this classic about a dying man who smells wonderful honey cake baking in the oven. He sends his son to get a slice. The son returns empty-handed, explaining: “Ma says it’s for after.”
An Excise Exercise
Mirror, mirror on the wall, what’s the fairest tax of all? A consumption tax, argues a USC legal scholar.
“We can repeal the death tax for the simple reason that dead men don’t spend.”
Fair Not Flat: How to Make the Tax System Better and Simpler
By Edward J. McCaffery
University of Chicago Press, $28
To all Americans who hunker down with reams of paper in that painful rite of spring known as filing federal income taxes – Edward J. McCaffery would offer a bonfire instead.
“The current system is too messy and onerous,” says the USC Law School professor. “And because it is wage-based, it hits the middle class the hardest, and the very rich can avoid it almost altogether. In a word, it’s unfair.”
Both George Bush senior and Bill Clinton have done their parts to complicate an already complex system, McCaffery says. The most recent law isn’t much better.
“The younger George Bush’s Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act has so many phase-outs and phase-ins that it makes Enron’s off-the-books shenanigans look simple,” he quips.
McCaffery’s solution? Stop tinkering. Scrap the whole system, and tax spending rather than work or savings.
McCaffery, director of the USC-Caltech Center for the Study of Law and Politics, puts forth this argument in Fair Not Flat: How to Make the Tax System Better and Simpler. His plan rests on the basic accounting idea that people either spend or save everything they have.
If income equals consumption (spending) plus savings, he reckons, then subtract savings from income, tax the remainder and you have a national consumption tax.
Progressivity is built into his plan. He illustrates with a hypothetical family of four: The first $20,000 they spend would be tax free. The next $60,000 would be taxed at 10 percent. Above that, the rates would go up progressively so that families spending more than $1 million annually would be taxed at a rate of 50 percent.
This is tantamount to a national progressive sales tax, McCaffery says, and is similar in its basic premise to a plan proposed in the mid-’90s by Senator Pete Domenici and then-Senator Sam Nunn. Unlike the senators, though, McCaffery would also adopt a 10-percent sales tax to replace the lowest (10 percent) bracket.
And here’s the most appealing part of the plan: Only those spending over $80,000 a year – or 5 to 10 percent of families – would have to file and pay at all.
To replace the “zero bracket,” McCaffery suggests mailing those people a rebate check for $2,000 (or 10 percent of $20,000). McCaffery would also eliminate the much-debated estate tax. “We can repeal the death tax for the simple reason that dead men don’t spend,” he says. “Tax the heirs when they spend.”
The plan shouldn’t have a chilling effect on consumption, he argues, because many lower- and middle-class Americans would actually pay less taxes, freeing them to spend more. Government coffers shouldn’t be affected either. “The plan is roughly revenue-neutral,” McCaffery says.
He characterizes his book as “a public intellectual project.” Whether spending on education or health is taxable consumption, he says, “these kinds of complex philosophical and moral questions that attend the specifics I leave to a national debate.”
– Inga Kiderra
“Jazz recordings are like snapshots, or family photos – a moment of time, captured for eternity.”
by Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua, Dave Carpenter
Fuzzy Music, $15
What started as a casual warm-up leading up to five nights of recording sessions at Peter Erskine’s home studio, turned into a three-hour groove that laid down half the tracks for “the best album of our lives.” So says the great jazz drummer of Badlands, his new release with bassist Dave Carpenter and pianist Alan Pasqua – all of whom are on the faculty of the USC Thornton School of Music. Two-and-a-half hours more on the “official” first night of recording, and Badlands was finished.
“Jazz recordings are like snapshots, or family photos – a moment of time, captured for eternity,” says Erskine, whose recording career spans some 400 albums.
“Sometimes a smile might seem a bit crooked, or one person’s eyes might be closed at the moment the shutter is snapped. We really like this ‘picture’ of the band!”
Critics do too. “The long-term relationship of these three veteran artists shows in every beautifully integrated note of this superb album,” writes Los Angeles Times reviewer Don Heckman in breathless praise.
The new release is a follow-up on the trio’s 2000 two-CD set, Live at Rocco, which became an instant classic. This time around, says Erskine, “we wanted to capture the growth of the band – a growth which has resulted in freer expression, more interplay between us than ever before, and a higher level of abstract thinking.”
Erskine’s career as a leading drummer on the jazz scene began with the 1972 Stan Kenton Orchestra and has spanned the seminal fusion ensembles Weather Report and Steps Ahead. Erskine himself has been described as a drummer who “can get 99 distinct shadings out of every skin and cymbal,” in the words of one reviewer. “You could synchronize naval chronometers to Peter Erskine’s drumming,” wrote a London Guardian jazz critic who caught the trio’s European tour in March.
Besides recording and touring, he’s also an award-winning composer for dance, theater and animation. Equally comfortable in big band, fusion and be-bop combo, Erskine is no stranger to classical: two years ago, he world-premiered a percussion double-concerto by composer Mark-Anthony Turnage with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and last year, BBC commissioned Erskine’s “Music for Brass and Percussion.”
The new CD takes the road less traveled, with a playlist of 10 songs, nine of them original compositions. Erskine and Carpenter wrote two cuts each, and Pasqua composed the remaining five. But it only takes one listen for this music to get under your skin. “Any question regarding the unfamiliarity of the material becomes irrelevant. The interaction among the three players is stunning,” writes the Times’ Heckman.
It’s quite rare that all three players are also composers, notes Erskine. “We not only write most of the material we play, but we also play all of the material in a compositional way – as opposed to playing merely as players,” he says. “To me, this means that the construction of the music always has an architectural logic, a sort of mathematical purity and a passionate sense of discovery, both private and communal.”
– Diane Krieger
Words and Music
In Other Los Angeleses: Multicentric Performance Art
by Meiling Cheng
University of California Press, $24.95
Performance art uses the living body as its central medium and occurs only in the here and now. In this handsome volume – featuring 64 black-and-white photographs – critical studies scholar Meiling Cheng brings it to life. Cheng analyzes the work of individual artists such as Suzanne Lacy, Tim Miller and osseus labyrint, and offers a way of thinking and talking coherently about this elusive, ephemeral art form.
CD by Anne Farnsworth
In her debut album, USC Thornton School jazz studies faculty member Anne Farnsworth plays piano and sings classic, straight-ahead renditions of jazz standards like “Autumn Leaves” and “Moondance,” backed by jazz veterans Doug Webb on tenor saxophone, Trevor Ware and Tim Emmons on bass, and Joel Alpers on drums.
The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics
edited by Robert B. Kaplan
Oxford University Press, $75
In the first reference work of its kind, applied linguist Robert B. Kaplan distills the essence of his discipline. Drawing from a range of related fields – among them education, language policy, bi- and multi-lingualism, literacy, language and gender, psycholinguistics, language and computers, discourse analysis, language and concordinances, ecology of language, pragmatics and translation – Kaplan and his collaborators offer a panoramic and comprehensive look at this complex, vigorous subject.
About Sir, With Love
Grateful USC students show appreciation for neuroscientist Bill McClure in nomination letters for a new teaching award.
When Erika Kula was a high school senior, her admissions counselor arranged a meeting with USC neuroscientist Bill McClure. Kula expected a pro-forma meeting; instead she got a three-hour marathon that spilled into lunch. Three years later, the USC
political science major realizes what a rare teacher she encountered that day.
In April, McClure won USC’s first Teaching Has No Boundaries Award, sponsored by the Academic Culture Initiative. The prize honors outstanding teachers who engage students outside the classroom and energize academic life at USC. In all, 12 professors were honored this year, but McClure towered over the rest.
“Meeting Dr. McClure is one of the best things that has happened in my life,” wrote biochemistry major Danielle Goeden in her nomination for the $1,000 prize. Letter after letter echoes the same awe: “He truly lives for the students and enjoys helping them to find their own voices and talents,” wrote neuroscience graduate student Anita Nagypál, from Hungary. “There is no man or woman who is a more consummate teacher,” said premed student David A. Cohen, who turned to McClure after his brother had been in a serious car accident. “I felt secure opening up to Dr. McClure and telling him my deepest feelings.”
A professor of biology and neurology and director of the psychobiology program in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, McClure is also a member of the Program in Neural, Informational and Behavioral Sciences and a fellow of the Center for Excellence in Teaching. He advises USC’s chapters of Mortar Board and Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, and even manages to make his 500-student intro to biology class intimate: student YiShuan Chen recalls the time McClure invited everyone to an impromptu sheep-eye dissection after his lecture.
History major Joseph Karim Aoun tells of five-hour sessions with McClure coaching him on statistics. “I know very few teachers who’d take that amount of time to work with just one student, but what is even more amazing is that there are at least 10 other students every semester who he spends just as much time with in the lab,” Aoun says.
– Diane Krieger
Syma Iqbal MD ’95 has all her ducts in a row. Specializing in malignancies spanning the esophagus to the rectum, this assistant professor at the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center is trying out a promising treatment for gall bladder cancer and carcinoma of the bile duct – both rare, intractable diseases. Nationwide doctors diagnose 3,000 bile duct and 7,000 gallbladder cancers a year. But Iqbal sees two to four new cases a month – a frequency she attributes to L.A.’s big Latino population. (Latinos run a greater risk of gallbladder cancer than others, she explains.) So when Iqbal designed a trial of two new chemotherapies for both cancers, she included analysis of tumor genetic patterns to see which drug works best based on patient DNA. So far, so good. “I received a call from an extremely ill patient who we put on the regimen, and now she’s doing very well,” Iqbal reports.
– Alicia Di Rado
Kings, presidents, prime ministers and some of the developing world’s more colorful rulers have paid homage to USC petroleum engineer George V. Chilingar. Arab princes and the late Shah of Iran have lavished him with gifts of ceremonial swords, 300-year-old Russian iconography and museum-quality tapestries. In Iran, there’s an oil field named for him. The common element in Chilingar’s celebrity is light sweet crude – and an ingenious method of identifying the rock formations wherein it lies. The Russian-born engineer grew up in Iran, son of the Shah’s personal physician. Educated in America (he earned bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees all from USC), Chilingar came up with a way to find oil-rich rock by analyzing the ratio of calcium to magnesium in core samples; it led to the discovery of one of Iran’s largest oil fields. In Thailand, where land drilling efforts came up dry, Chilingar spotted natural gas bubbles in the Gulf of Siam and redirected exploratory efforts offshore, boosting that nascent oil industry. Next up for the geo-sleuth: earthquake prediction based on the migration of subterranean gases.
USC dietitian serves up information on healthier choices.
If new students gain the dreaded “freshman 15,” they just aren’t paying attention. From day one, Patrice Barber floods them with food facts, lures them to nutrition-related events and gluts them with good diet dogma. But the USC Hospitality Service’s registered dietitian can only do so much. “I’m not the food police,” she says.
Petite and soft-spoken, Barber preaches balance, variety, moderation and enjoyment – which is why she’ll dish up ice cream at “Wonderful Wednesdays” in the EVK dining room, in between pushing whole-grain breads, fruits and vegetables.
A clinical dietitian with more than 15 years experience, Barber has developed a slew of programs to get students to think before they binge. “Habits they form at this age may determine whether they have heart disease or diabetes or other nutrition-related illnesses later in life,” she warns.
Seated at her “Ask the Dietitian” table, she’ll opine on everything from vegetarianism to the Zone diet. Come finals, she’ll give dietary tips to raise energy levels; after New Year’s, she’ll weigh in on weight loss. Her nutritional labels lay bare every cafeteria offering, her information cards deck every dining table, and her computer kiosk lets diners do their own math. Her newsletter and Web site spread the gospel of good nutrition beyond the dining halls.
Barber’s ministry isn’t always successful. “At this age, they think they’re invincible,” she sighs. Luckily, they’re also “fun, open-minded, and like to try new foods.”
– Melissa Payton
USC finance professor Larry Harris was appointed chief economist for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Harris, a professor of finance at USC’s Marshall School of Business, is taking a two-year leave from teaching. The SEC works closely with the securities industry and with other government agencies to ensure that markets work well. The economists at the SEC play a central role by helping the commission and its staff better understand the many economic forces that affect markets.
Economist and University Professor Richard A. Easterlin has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Membership in the academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a scientist or engineer. Easterlin has written extensively on the worldwide spread of industrialization since 1800. His research exposed the role of economic conditions in determining large-scale shifts in populations, including rates of birth, death, marriage and migration around the world.
University Professor Michael S. Waterman is one of eight recipients of the 2002 Gairdner International Award., which recognizes outstanding contributions by medical scientists. Among the past 255 Gairdner winners, 56 have gone on to win a Nobel Prize. Waterman is often called “the father of computational biology” – a field blending computer science, statistics and molecular genetics in search of biomedical breakthroughs. His notable achievements are the Smith-Waterman Algorithm, the keystone of computational genetics; and the Lander-Waterman Algorithm, crucial in the effort to sequence the human genome.