Tag Archive for alumni publications

Bean ’78 Offers Insider’s Portrait of Congressional Oversight in Book, WESeminar

Elise Bean ’78, author of Financial Exposure: Carl Levin’s Senate Investigations into Finance and Tax Abuse, will offer her insider’s perspective on governmental oversight in a WESeminar on Saturday, Sept. 29, during Family Weekend. (Photo courtesy of Elise Bean)

On Saturday, Sept. 29, during Family Weekend, Elise Bean ’78 is offering a WESeminar titled: “Congress’ Constitutional Duty to Investigate: One Senator Who Got It Right.” The Washington co-director of the Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School, Bean is the author of Financial Exposure: Carl Levin’s Senate Investigations into Finance and Tax Abuse.

At a time when congressional investigations have taken on added urgency in American politics, Bean offers an insider’s portrait of how the world of congressional oversight operates. Drawing on more than 30 years on Capitol Hill, the last 15 at the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations working for Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Bean will explain how Congressional oversight investigations can be a powerful tool for uncovering facts, building bipartisan consensus, and fostering change, using actual Levin inquiries as proof. She will describe Levin-led investigations from 1999 to 2014 into money laundering, offshore tax abuse, and banks behaving badly; explain how, despite rampant partisanship and dysfunction, they achieved policy reforms; and invite the public to demand fact-based, bipartisan, high-quality oversight from the next Congress. The seminar, sponsored by the Wesleyan Lawyers Association, will take place in the Taylor Meeting Room (108) of the Usdan University Center.

She discusses her work in this Q&A with the Connection—and offers tips for better bipartisan communication.

Q: You were a government major at Wesleyan. Was there one perspective, class, or piece of advice at Wesleyan that you found particularly helpful in your career path?

A: While majoring in government at Wesleyan, I was inspired by a course called the Moral Basis of Politics, taught by [Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Professor in the College of Social Studies] Don Moon. A mix of politics and philosophy, it examined the interplay of values, governments, and the public. While the subject matter seemed theoretical in class, it took on a lot more substance when I left school for a semester and worked as an intern in the U.S. House of Representatives, getting my first real look at how politics play out in Washington. It was then that I decided to accept the challenge of becoming a public servant fighting for better government. It’s been a wild ride ever since, full of fun, surprises, hard work, and deep satisfaction.

Boyden ’95 Awarded NEA Fellowship for Poetry Translations

Ian Boyden ’95, an artist, writer, translator, and curator, recently received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship to continue his work on translating the poetry of Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser. (Photo credit: Gavia Boyden)

Ian Boyden ’95 received an NEA Literature Translation Fellowship of $12,500, one of only 25 such grants for 2019, to support the new translation of poetry and prose from 17 countries into English.

Boyden’s fellowship will support his work translating from the poetry collection Minority, written in Chinese by Tibetan poet Tsering Woeser, considered one of China’s most respected living Tibetan writers. In 2013, John Kerry of the U.S. State Department honored Woeser with an International Women of Courage Award. In 2010, the International Women’s Media Foundation had given her a Courage in Journalism Award.

Boyden, an artist, writer, curator, and translator, has been working on her poems since 2016. His translation of “The Spider of Yabzhi Taktser ” was declared the most-read translation of a Tibetan poem in 2017, the NEA reported in their press release.

Tsering Woeser, born in Tibet in 1966 and “reeducated” during the Cultural Revolution, writes poems that explore themes of alienation and loss of heritage. Her poetry also confronts the wave of self-immolation in Tibetan society that began in the last decade. Translating these works, Boyden notes, is “particularly complex, as Woeser is conveying the Tibetan experience using Chinese language.”

New Book by McIntyre ’84 Explores How We Arrived at a Post-Truth Era

Did you ever wonder how we arrived in a post-truth era, where “alternative facts” are substituted for actual facts and feelings are given more weight than evidence? In Post-Truth (MIT Press, 2018), Lee McIntyre ’84—a research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an instructor in ethics at Harvard Extension School—explores the long history of the phenomenon . . . and what’s different this time around.

Post-Truth book cover

Q: Many people think that post-truth is a new idea, borne of Brexit and the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but in your book, you explore the history behind the concept. Historically speaking, when did the idea first arise?

A: The word “post-truth” first started to be used in the 1990s, in a political story in a magazine. But the real interest here is that in 2016 the Oxford Dictionaries named post-truth their word of the year. This was due to a 2,000% increase in usage from 2015! So the word post-truth is of fairly recent origin. But the roots behind it, as I explore in my book, go back to science denial in the 1950s and cognitive bias that has been with us since the dawn of human civilization.

Q: As you note, the idea of a single objective truth has never been free from controversy. If this is true, can it be argued that post-truth is really just an alternative view of the truth? Can there be such a thing, in your opinion? 

A: An alternative view of truth—or the claim that there is no such thing as objective truth—is the bread and butter of epistemology. Philosophers debate the meaning of truth all the time: what is the appropriate concept of it, what its relationship is to knowledge, belief, certainty, etc. In the political context, though, things are different. Post-truth arose not from some philosophical quarrel, but from politicians who wanted to impose their reality on others. Here I draw a distinction with something like “spin doctoring” where everyone really knows that the person is lying and shading the truth, e.g., “my candidate obviously won the debate last night,” versus claiming that obviously false things are true, e.g., “the murder rate went up in the USA last year.” I see post-truth as the first step toward authoritarian rule.

Q: You argue that when we set forth a statement as fact with the intent to manipulate someone into believing something that we know is untrue, we have crossed the line from interpretation to deliberate falsification. Is this, for you, where post-truth begins?

A: Like lying, post-truth is intentional. It is a strategy. There are many different tactics that one might use in post-truth (lying, propaganda, selective exposure to information, etc.), but the intent is what matters. The analogy with lying is telling: A lie has to be made on purpose. One cannot accidentally lie. Similarly, post-truth is the deliberate attempt to see information through a political lens before it is shared with the public. That is when post-truth begins. When political expediency is more important than telling the truth about reality, we have crossed over into post-truth.

Q: We talk about political spin and how its intent is to influence others. But you see post-truth in its purest form to be when one thinks the audience’s reaction to the lie told actually changes the lie to truth. Can you give an example, from both sides of the political aisle, of this phenomenon of a lie “becoming” truth?

Q&A With Novelist Kate Greathead ’05 on Writing Laura & Emma

Kate Greathead ’05, who majored in English at Wesleyan, is the author of Laura & Emma: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2018).

Laura & Emma, the debut novel by Kate Greathead ’05, was reviewed by Wesleyan magazine books editor Laurie Kenney, who wrote: “Nine-time Moth StorySLAM champion Greathead’s debut novel offers an insightful and witty exploration of class, family, and privilege in New York blue-blood society in the 1980s and early ’90s, as told through the eyes of Laura, an Upper East Side single mother born into wealth, and her daughter, Emma, conceived during a one-night stand. Filled with an eclectic cast of supporting characters and told in vignettes that span more than a decade, Laura & Emma offers a fresh take on the mother-daughter bond and the struggles of trying to find oneself. Booklist says, ‘Greathead’s smart and original take on the mother-daughter novel impresses and charms.'”

In a follow-up conversation with the Connection, Greathead reflected on the writing process, including her work with Wesleyan mentors, and offered advice for those still working toward publication.

Q: How did your work at Wesleyan influence this book? Any great writing advice you received?

A: I wasn’t a confident person when I arrived at Wesleyan. I had some very kind and generous professors—Anne Greene, Phyllis Rose, Roxana Robinson—who helped me develop confidence in my writing, which made me take myself more seriously as a student and a person. One of my most valuable writing experiences was writing my senior thesis, a collection of personal essays, under the guidance of Elizabeth Bobrick [then a visiting professor in English]. Every two weeks we’d meet and discuss my work. The craft of writing can be taught, but of equal importance, the substance of what you write, can’t unless the teacher tries to get to know you. The best teachers find gentle ways to push you towards your most fertile material. Elizabeth took the time to do that and I benefited greatly.

Q: Any significant discoveries you made as you wrote about mother/daughter relationships?

A: I can’t speak for all mother/daughter relationships but I suspect in most there’s a volatility that’s just as intense as a romantic one, an undercurrent of jealousy, resentment, hurt, contempt, and neediness complicating the love. It might rarely erupt, but it’s there, simmering beneath the surface.

Lobel ’97 Produces Empire on Blood Podcast

Empire on Blood, a new seven-part serialized podcast from Panoply, is produced by Mia Lobel ’97. The series investigates a 1992 double homicide in the Bronx, exploring the judicial process that led to a conviction. That conviction has now been overturned after Calvin Buari spent more than two decades in prison for these murders, which he did not commit.

The show, says Lobel, is the result of veteran journalist Steve Fishman’s six-year quest to determine the facts of the case.

“Steve brought us this incredibly complicated story he’d been working on,” recalls Lobel. “He had courtroom papers and 80 hours of taped interviews with all the key players. It was so exciting for me as a producer. The show takes a really deep look at the moral complexity of the criminal justice system: What happens if you are, actually, a criminal—but convicted of a crime you didn’t commit?”

An anthropology major at Wesleyan, Lobel earned her graduate degree in journalism, specializing in audio formats—“radio, at the time,” she says. She marks 2014 as the year the general public began to share her excitement for audio productions—podcasts—when Serial came out and smartphone technology made it accessible.

“People are being reintroduced to the power of sound alone—where you make all these pictures in your head,” she says.

Mastrogiovanni ’79, Lala Pettibone and the Writing While Female Tour

Heidi Mastrogiovanni ’79 speaks on the Writing While Female 2017 Tour with her friend and fellow author, Teri Emory, whose book is also published by Amberjack. Mastrogiovanni notes that they frequently receive similar questions—on juggling career and home life—but observes that she does not believe John Irving, for instance, is regularly queried on this by his readership.

“The title character is, of course, a Wesleyan graduate,” says author Heidi Mastrogiovanni ’79, of her debut comic novel, Lala Pettibone’s Act Two (Amberjack Publishing, 2017). The novelist herself is also a comic actor, an animal welfare advocate and a screenwriter—and her second novel, sequel Lala Pettibone: Standing Room Only, will be available in August. To celebrate, she and a fellow Amberjack author—with similarly titled books, both with a reference to a second act—visited bookstores and venues across the country to talk about the writer’s life and the ways in which a book written by a female is perceived, welcomed and marketed.

In a question-and-answer interview, Mastrogiovanni speaks about her journey from Wesleyan to cross-country author’s events.

Q: You were a German and theater major at Wesleyan. How did this translate into a career in writing?

H.M.: Looking back, the connection is clear. It was at Wesleyan where I really grew to love spending time in the company of words. We read so much wonderful German literature, it was almost impossible to not be inspired. And being an actor in the Theater Department provided a solid foundation for developing an ear for dialogue—absolutely essential to a writer in any medium. Both majors shared an appreciation for the profound power of words.

After college, I moved to New York (back when you could still get a one-bedroom for less than $500 a month: AKA, the Stone Age) and formed a sketch comedy group with people I met at Manhattan Punch Line Theater. That’s when the urge to write really hit. We needed new material all the time, so I started writing sketches with another performer in the group. I discovered that saying a line and getting a laugh was addictive, and especially compelling when I’d also written the line.

Q: Where did the character of Lala Pettibone come from—how did she arrive in your head?

H.M.: Lala had such an unexpected arrival. My ideas for stories often come from an observed moment, a snippet of thought, a piece of overheard dialogue. Lala had two distinct phases in her journey to the forefront of my mind. It began with the first dog my husband and I adopted together, a wonderful, 12-year-old Beagle we named Eunice Petunia, because it just fit. Eunice had a lot of nicknames, among them “Baba Ganoush” and “Lala.” I have always believed—to borrow from T.S. Eliot’s words regarding the naming of cats—that a dog should have at least three different names.

Months after Eunice joined our family, the phrase “Lala Pettibone, Journalist to the Stars,” popped into my head out of nowhere. That was the first time Lala’s full name appeared to me—although she didn’t end up being a journalist to the stars.

Lala Pettibone is a lot like me in many respects. We’re both Wesleyan graduates, we were both widowed at a young age and found love again in our Act Two, and we both overuse ellipses in our writing. . . .

Artist/Designer Marowitz ’81 Rocks A Grammy Nomination with Best Recording Package

Independent designer for music Gail Marowitz—here with singer-songwriters Jonathan Coulton and Aimee Mann—says that with its resurgence, vinyl recordings have brought “a little kick” to her schedule. “I recently spoke at a conference about vinyl and I pointed out that nobody really invited anyone over to listen to iTunes on your laptop, but you will invite friends over to hear a record on your turntable and pass around the album jacket. Kids are seeing value in what I saw when I was their age. I say that I have a misspent youth in record stores—but I guess it wasn’t misspent. I guess it panned out.” (photo by Sheryl Nields.

This year the list of Grammy nominations includes work by Gail Marowitz ’81. Founder of The Visual Strategist, a company devoted to designing for music, Marowitz is not a first-timer on the coveted list. Her work has garnered her three nominations in the Best Recording Package category, with a win in 2006.

Now in the running is Marowitz’s work on Jonathan Coulton’s Solid State.

Marowitz, who claims “a misspent youth, looking at albums in record stores” and sends e-mails under the name “childorock,” says that her fascination with album covers began when she was 6 and her older brother brought home the Beatles’ Revolver. “There was so much to look at—drawings and collage. I remember staring at it for long periods of time.”

Davis ’17 Pens Debut Novel, “Everything Must Go”

Jenny Fran Davis ’17

Jenny Fran Davis ’17 recently published her first novel, Everything Must Go, with St. Martin’s Press. 
(Photo by Taina Quiñones)

Since graduating just last May, Jenny Fran Davis ’17 has become a published author with the fall release of her debut novel, Everything Must Go. The story revolves around Flora Goldwasser, a teenager from New York City who has just transferred to a rural, Quaker boarding school in her junior year. Through a collection of journal entries, e-mails and other archived materials, Flora pieces together her experience and lets readers into her tumultuous period of adjustment.

Davis wrote the book in her freshman year of college and spent the next few years editing, before landing a contract for two novels with St. Martin’s Press in 2016. In this Q&A, Davis discusses how it feels to be a published author, in what ways her time at Wesleyan has impacted her writing and what readers can expect from her next book.

Williams ’89 Reads, Sings, Signs at Bookstore Event

Singer-songwriter Dar Williams '89 performed, and read from her new book, at Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore on Oct. 10.

Singer-songwriter Dar Williams ’89 performed—and also read from her new book—at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore on Oct. 10.

Dar Williams ’89 read, sang and signed copies of her new book, What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities—One Coffee Shop, Dog Run & Open-Mike Night at a Time (Basic Book, 2017), for an appreciative audience made up of members of both the Wesleyan and Middletown communities during an appearance at the Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore on Oct. 10. The book is a journey through America’s small towns, where the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter has toured over the past 20 years,

Fraser ’82: When Fat-Shaming Precludes Medical Care 

Laura Fraser's sister Jan, smiling, with her arms around her dog, Sunny.

Laura Fraser’s sister Jan. with her dog, Sunny, at her home in Colorado, several months before Jan died of endometrial cancer, Jan had sought medical attention earlier but her symptoms had not been met with attention they warranted, says Fraser ’82.  (Photo by Cynthia Fraser Taylor)

“My sister’s cancer might have been diagnosed sooner — if doctors could have seen beyond her weight,” wrote Laura Fraser ’82, in an article that detailed how medical personnel ignored her sister Jan’s serious symptoms as the whinings of “a fat, complaining older woman.”

The article, published on Statnews, a site focused on medicine, health, and science journalism and produced by the Boston Globe Media, received more social media shares, Fraser said, than anything else she has written.

Fraser’s first book Losing It: America’s Obsession with Weight and the Industry that Feeds on It (Random House, 1997) had given her a background knowledge of the biases that work against those with obesity and what she saw in her sister’s quest for help. “Sometimes I think fatness is the last bastion of acceptable prejudice in the United States,” she reflects.

Fins ’82 on Civil Rights for Those With Brain Injuries: NYT Op-Ed

Joseph J. Fins ’82, MD, MACP, is a professor of medical ethics and the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medicine, and a co-director of the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury. He is the author of a recent opinion piece in the New York Times calling for deeper consideration of the civil rights for those with traumatic brain injury. (Photo: John Abbott, New York Academy of Medicine)

Writing in a New York Times opinion piece, Joseph J. Fins ’82, M.D., The E. William Davis, Jr., M.D., Professor of Medical Ethics and the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medicine, describes the startling case of a young woman thought to be in a vegetative state but later able to communicate through the movement of one eye.

In “Brain Injury and the Civil Right We Don’t Think About,” Fins says that many seemingly vegetative individuals are misdiagnosed and suffer a loss of personhood and civil rights when they do have some conscious awareness and are, in fact, in the minimally conscious state.

Because minimally conscious patients can feel pain while vegetative patients can not, a misdiagnosis of a patient’s brain state can lead to a lack of pain medication administered during a medical procedure, a horrifying possibility. So too, says Fins, is “segregating” these patients in “custodial care” facilities without offering them rehabilitative opportunities to foster their recoveries. He writes:

I use the verb “segregated” deliberately, to invoke a time when separate but equal was the law. In the wake of legal advances like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Disabled, which call for the integration of people with disabilities into civil society, how is the pervasive segregation of this population justified?

Part of the problem is that when these laws were written, the notion of reintegration was focused on physical mobility … When we restore voice to these patients we bring them back into the room and the conversation.

I often speak to university students brought up in the era of L.G.B.T.Q. rights who can’t understand how my generation did not appreciate that people could love those they chose to love. … I caution against smugness, suggesting that their own children may well ask them how they allowed society to ignore conscious individuals and deprive them of their rights.

Fins, a co-director of the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury, is the author of Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics, and the Struggle for Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and the Solomon Center Distinguished Scholar in Medicine, Bioethics and the Law at Yale Law School. He spoke on these topics at Wesleyan in 2015 as the Kim-Frank Visiting Writer.  A trustee emeritus of Wesleyan, he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the university in 2012.

 

Oppenheim ’02 Urges Cooperation, Preparation for Pandemic Threats

Ben Oppenheim ’02, a senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, as well as a consulting scientist with the start-up Metabiota, writes about the importance of international collective action for pandemic preparedness.

Ben Oppenheim ’02, a consulting scientist with Metabiota, a start-up focusing on epidemiological modeling and epidemic risk preparedness, was recently invited to participate in a workshop at the National Academy of Medicine. As a result, Oppenheim and his colleagues wrote an article published in Lancet Global Health titled “Financing of International Collective Action for Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness,” based on these meetings. Also writing for the Brookings Institution, Oppenheim further explored the challenges of responding to global outbreaks, offering a four-point plan to protect the global poor during pandemics, with co-author Gavin Yamey.

“Post-Ebola and Zika, there’s been increasing worry—and debate—about how to prepare for epidemics and pandemics that threaten global health,” notes Oppenheim, who is also a senior fellow and visiting scholar at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. “Cracking the problem means thinking through the ways that policy, economics, health, and other factors all intertwine. In the workshop, we were thinking about how to build incentives to improve disease surveillance and outbreak detection, as well as how to improve the legal and economic architecture to speed up the development of vaccines and therapeutics. All of this demands attention to everything from epidemiology, to financing, and to politics.”

Oppenheim also discussed the economic impacts of pandemics,