Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mini University 2011: Day 4

Like any conference, Mini University sometimes serves up a dud -- a session that doesn't hold my interest and/or doesn't meet my expectations in some way. Today, though, I lucked out with three great sessions in a row (and a Bloomington Bagel lunch in between).

This morning, Jess and I both headed to "Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and All the Rest: Great Jazz Singers," taught by legendary professor and musician David Baker. Every year this seems to be the best-attended session of the conference, and I always feel sorry for the other presenters in Baker's time slot.

We started by talking about Crosby, who was really the first "pop" star, Baker said, because he appealed to listeners in a wide range of musical genres. The microphone was invented at that time, and Crosby invented the new, more intimate singing style that was quickly copied by everyone else in the industry. The result: 43 No. 1 hits, more than Elvis and the Beatles combined.

We also talked about Armstrong, who styled his voice after the rhythms of his trumpet. Many tried to copy this singing style, too, but no one really succeeded, Baker said. Armstrong also helped transition jazz from an ensemble genre to one that accommodated soloists. As always, Baker played us a number of Armstrong hits, including "Hello, Dolly" and "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."

After lunch, Jess and I headed to "WikiLeaks and the Future of Journalism in America." Professor Hans Ibolt explained Julian Assange's background (including his legendary reputation -- and criminal conviction -- as a hacker), and we discussed the WikiLeaks milestones from its founding in 2006 to its massive recent release of State Department documents.

The journalism community is divided on WikiLeaks, so we weren't sure where our professor would land. He did point out a few questions we should be asking about WikiLeaks before giving it our full support:
  • What criteria guide WikiLeaks' decision to release specific documents? What weight (if any) is given to concerns of privacy and/or national security?
  • Who is funding this nonprofit organization and why?
  • Who are the "accredited" journalists on the WikiLeaks staff, and why do they insist on anonymity?
  • What process does WikiLeaks use to vet/verify the documents it receives?
Another issue with defining WikiLeaks as a media outlet is its motivation. We typically expect our journalists to be unbiased, but WikiLeaks apparently has a clear anti-establishment bias. Does that affect whether we are willing to call this a journalistic enterprise?

On the other hand, the U.S. government is considering charging Assange with crimes under the Espionage Act of 1917 -- which has never in history been used to prosecute a publisher. Even if you disagree with what WikiLeaks does, you have to admit this is a troubling slippery slope.

End result: I need to think about this one a bit more.

My final class of the day was "'Merchant of Venice' and Early English Antisemitism," with professor Ellen MacKay. I really enjoyed this one, and I'll post a more detailed analysis later today over on the Shakespeare blog. Key takeaway: Shakespeare was working in a culture rampant with antisemitism, and he created a character who reflected some Jewish stereotypes but refuted others. He also allowed Shylock to introduce some biting critiques of society, taking him beyond the usual Jewish caricature.

I can hardly believe it, but tomorrow is graduation day here at Mini University. We have one more session in the morning, followed by our graduation ceremony -- where Jess and I are likely to be the only two people singing the proper ending to the fight song. Oh, well. These 398 retirees already think we're strange.

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