Whiplash, written and directed by the 2003 Princeton High School (PHS) graduate Damien Chazelle, playing at the Princeton Garden Theatre on Nassau Street through December 11, is also scheduled for a special showing there next Wednesday, December 17.
The 6 p.m. screening and the 8:15 p.m. reception that will follow in the PHS Performing Arts Center, will raise funds for the PHS music program that was so important to Mr. Chazelle as a drummer in the award-winning PHS Studio Band. The reception will feature a live video discussion with the director, who now lives in Los Angeles, and a performance by the current PHS Studio Band. Town Topics’ movie reviewer Kam Williams will moderate the discussion.
Whiplash, which won this year’s audience award and Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, is Mr. Chazelle’s second film; he also wrote and directed Guy And Madeline on a Park Bench. The new film is a drama about a young jazz drummer in a music conservatory who butts heads with his tyrannical teacher, the film has received wide critical acclaim. It is loosely based, and the word “loosely” bears emphasizing, on Mr. Chazelle’s experience as a member of the highly competitive PHS Studio Band.
Whiplash took some time and a great deal of effort to get to the screen as a full length feature. It was first produced as an 18-minute short soon after Mr. Chazelle’s screenplay was listed on the 2012 Black List, an annual selection of the best un-produced movie scripts. Shot in three days with a budget of $23,000, this version won the Short Film Jury Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and the project was picked up by Bold Films, which funded a feature-length version with a budget of $3.3 million.
Shooting on video in order to save costs, the director has turned the medium’s limited color range to advantage in highlighting yellow hues of gold, browns and ochres as well as blues and greens.
Actor Miles Teller plays Andrew, a 19-year-old jazz drummer and first-year student at the country’s top music school, the fictional Shaffer Conservatory of Music in Manhattan. A huge fan of drummer Buddy Rich, Andrew thinks and breathes drumming; he is consumed with ambition and a desire to be the best.
Andrew is picked to become part of Shaffer’s top-ranked jazz band by a revered teacher, Terence Fletcher, played by actor J.K. Simmons. According to one reviewer, Mr. Fletcher is “a cross between R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket and Alec Baldwin’s a-hole salesman in Glengarry Glen Ross.” He is, in other words, a perfectionist given to extreme motivational tactics.
During one intense episode, Mr. Fletcher makes Andrew play so hard that his hands bleed and his drum sticks and set are covered with blood. Similar images include bandages, sweat, and bloody hands dipping slowly into buckets of ice water. By all accounts, the acting is astonishing, with Mr. Teller performing the drumming himself, including the jazz standards “Whiplash” and “Caravan” and some pretty impressive drum solos.
According to Damien’s mother Celia Chazelle, the teacher in the film is very loosely based on Princeton High School’s award-winning music teacher Anthony Biancosino. Known affectionately as “Dr. B,” Mr. Biancosino, who died in 2003, was a dedicated teacher who led the PHS Studio Band to repeated success at Boston’s Berklee High School Jazz Festival. Damien Chazelle played the drums in the PHS Studio Band. Led by Joe Bongiovi since 2007, the band has been described as being “on par with any professional jazz ensemble.”
Unlike the teacher in the film, portrayed by actor J.K. Simmons, Dr. B. was not given to throwing insults or chairs. As Ms. Chazelle is quick to point out, “The teacher isn’t based on any teacher that Damien had but rather a expression of his own anxiety and need to succeed. The film is an externalization of his own experiences in the PHS Studio Band.”
As Ms. Chazelle explained, her filmmaker son is very self-driven. “He wanted to excel and to please the band director and he was always anxious about the quality of his performance.”
A decade later, Mr. Chazelle has reflected upon those feelings and experiences to dramatic effect. Whiplash examines the questions “how far should one push oneself in order to achieve greatness and how far should a teacher push a student in order to achieve great art.” In other words, when is the line crossed between inspired motivation and abuse? What is excessive and when can means be justified by an end goal?
Mr. Chazelle grew up in a family of achievers. His father, Bernard Chazelle, teaches computer science at Princeton University; his mother Celia Chazelle, teaches history at The College of New Jersey.
“As a child he was always making films,” said his mother. “He wanted to be a filmmaker since the age of three; when he was very little he would ask his father to film him but as soon as he figured out how to use the camcorder the was making his own films — he’d gather his friends and they’d make up a story.” He would also draw in his younger sister Anna Chazelle, now an actress in New York City. “Anna was always in his movies, very often cast as the dead body, she’d be murdered quite early on,” recalled Ms. Chazelle, who claims that her son didn’t get his musical ear from her but rather from his French father who always had jazz playing in their Princeton home. The couple moved to Princeton in 1986 and both Damien and Anna went to Princeton schools.
To purchase tickets for the film and reception (adults $30, students $15), call (609) 683-4656, or visit: www.thegardentheatre.com; to purchase tickets for the reception only (adults $20, students $5), call Mr. Joseph Bongiovi at (609) 806-4280 ext.3091, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
HiTOPS, the Adolescent Health and Education Center on Wiggins Street, has announced that it will no longer provide clinical services for young people. After examining its resources, the center has decided to focus on educational outreach and support programs, which are expected to continue and expand in the future.
“Any time there is change or when you stop doing something it’s a bittersweet moment,” said HiTOPS Executive Director Elizabeth Casparian. “But this is a healthy choice for the organization and we will continue to be here,” she added. “If we were to maintain the services we currently have it would mean significant changes in our infrastructure and so we looked at our resources and decided that our educational outreach and support programs have the most significant impact on the lives of the youth we serve.”
According to Ms. Casparian, the decision also reflects an increase in the number of choices available to young people today and the changing landscape of health care. In the last few years, HiTOPS has seen a significant drop in client numbers at the clinic, probably because the population served — largely 18 years and older — increasingly has greater access to parental insurance. Today’s adolescents and teens are also more comfortable with their parents knowing that they are seeking reproductive health care services than in the past. Young women are being taken to the gynecologist by their mothers, and walk-in clinics and pharmacies are able to provide vaccines, sports physicals, and emergency contraception.
“Our clinical care was unique and very, very special, but it was also tremendously expensive,” explained Ms. Casparian. “HiTOPS was only taking one type of health insurance from clients. Without the infrastructure to take other insurances, which include electronic medical records or a dedicated billing office, HiTOPS felt that it was not the most efficient use of resources in the face of diminishing client numbers and increased options for clients.”
Going forward, HiTOPS plans to expand its educational outreach to communities throughout the state where there are high rates of unplanned teen pregnancies, HIV, and STDs — particularly in areas of economic adversity where schools and youth-serving agencies are struggling to provide necessary comprehensive sexuality education programs.
“HiTOPS is very successful in getting young people to postpone or safely control their sexual behavior,” said Ms. Casparian. “We’ve been doing this for over 25 years now.”
A longtime Princeton resident, Ms. Casparian has given hundreds of lectures, workshops, and presentations on all aspects of sexual health, parenting, and adolescent development to audiences nationwide. She was an early volunteer with the organization and a client of the FamilyBorn Birth Center, the organization that preceded HiTOPS.
National data on the benefits of Comprehensive Sexuality Education show significant promise in addressing adolescent risk taking and health behavior. HiTOPS will be working with high-risk middle school and high school aged adolescents in four distinct areas: Pregnancy, HIV, and STI prevention; reduction in sexual and intimate partner violence; LGBTQIA support and bullying prevention; and professional development for adults who work with youth living with trauma, poverty, and violence.
As for the clinic on the HiTOPS’s site, Ms. Casparian said that the organization was “looking to rent the space to a health care provider. “Depending on who is selected, there may be services similar to those formerly provided by HiTOPS at the site, but under the umbrella of another entity, possibly a Federally Qualified Health Center or a private practice.”
According to its website, last year, HiTOPS taught 7,889 adolescents and young adults life-saving, health-enhancing skills and information. It responds to increasing demands to reach young people at highest risk for HIV/AIDS, STIs, unplanned pregnancies, and who suffer the highest incidences of harassment, physical assault, self-harm, and relationship violence.
On last Wednesday’s Today Show, NBC’s chief medical editor and Princeton resident Dr. Nancy Snyderman apologized for “scaring my community” by violating a self-imposed quarantine after being exposed to the Ebola virus.
“I am very sorry for not only scaring my community and the country, but adding to the confusion of terms that I think came as fast and furious as the news about Ebola did,” she told Today host Matt Lauer in her first television appearance since breaking the 21-day quarantine.
In October, after one of her cameramen had been found to have the Ebola virus, Ms. Snyderman and her team returned from Liberia where they had been reporting on the crisis. Ms. Snyderman had agreed to a voluntary 21-day quarantine at her home in Princeton. But after she and members of her crew were spotted in a vehicle outside the Peasant Grill restaurant in Hopewell as they waited for a take-out lunch order, the quarantine was mandated by the State and members of the public were outraged. The news prompted calls for Ms. Snyderman to resign.
As Mr. Lauer pointed out, “It wasn’t about what was medically right to do, it was about breaking a promise.”
Asked by Mr. Lauer, to respond to criticisms that her behavior was “unacceptable,” Ms. Snyderman explained: “I wear two hats. I have my doctor hat and I have my journalist hat, and when the science and the messaging sometimes collide, and you leave the optics, in this case a hot zone, and come back to the United States, good people can make mistakes. I stepped outside the boundaries of what I promised to do and what the public expected of me, and for that I’m sorry.”
Ms. Snyderman explained that she had failed to appreciate how frightened Americans were of Ebola. ”We knew the risks in our head but didn’t really appreciate, and frankly we were not sensitive to, how absolutely frightened Americans were,” she said.
Ms. Snyderman also spoke of the tragic scenes she had witnessed in Liberia, including the sick being delivered to hospitals in wheelbarrows and women giving birth in the middle of the street. “I would go back tomorrow and so would my entire team,” she said. ”My concern is that this has been a distraction from the real issue at hand. We can’t afford to not concentrate on West Africa.”
The veteran medical correspondent pointed out that the Ebola epidemic is ongoing and that in future there may be viruses that will jump from animals to humans. “We have to remember that we live in a smaller world day by day and this may be a big lesson for all of us in how we treat epidemics in the future and how we message better and how we keep our promises.”
According to Princeton’s Health Officer, the Nassau Inn’s Yankee Doodle Tap room restaurant received a visit from health inspectors and the health nurse on Monday, December 1 after 30 individuals reported gastrointestinal illness (GI) over the weekend following Thanksgiving. The individuals had eaten at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room.
The inspection revealed only minor issues, which Mr. Grosser said did not cause the illnesses. About 70 percent of all norovirus outbreaks are spread by food workers.
“While we can’t say definitively what virus caused the outbreak, based on the symptoms and time of onset, we suspect that it was a norovirus,” said Mr. Grosser. “One specimen was taken to a lab as part of the investigation but since it is almost impossible to pinpoint the source of the virus, which can be spread through food or by a fork, it’s important to reinforce cleaning practices.”
The norovirus is the most common cause of gastrointestinal illness (GI) and is especially common during the winter months. Because of the incidents, the health department has increased its surveillance of retail food establishments and sent out a press release with advice on ways to avoid coming in contact with noroviruses: “The Princeton Health Department has been receiving reports of increased gastrointestinal illness, which has resulted in increased surveillance of retail food establishments. Laboratory testing has not yet confirmed a specific organism at this time. Due to the nature of the symptoms and rapid onset of illness, norovirus is suspected in the majority of reported cases. Norovirus also happens to be the most common cause of gastrointestinal illness and is especially common during the winter months.”
Interviewed by phone Friday, Mr. Grosser said that “While we can’t say definitively what virus caused the outbreak, based on the symptoms and time of onset, we suspect that it was a norovirus. At this point, the issue has been taken care of at the Nassau Inn but we felt it prudent to remind people in the community that these viruses are out there and of the cleaning practices that should be in place to make sure they don’t spread.”
Asked for comment, Nassau Inn’s General Manager Lori Rabon provided a response by email: “This was an unfortunate incident and one without precedent for our organization. The Nassau Inn had well over 1000 people pass through the Tap Room during the holiday weekend, so it is difficult to identify where a virus originated. However, upon learning of the situation, we immediately worked with the Princeton Health Department towards swift action.”
According to Ms. Rabon, the hotel implements stringent food safety management systems and has numerous employees who are “ServSafe® certified,” by the highly-recognized food and alcohol safety training program of the National Restaurant Association.
“We have also implemented every suggestion given by the Princeton Health Department, and have been vigilant in disinfecting every surface that may have been contaminated throughout the restaurant and common areas of the hotel,” said Ms. Rabon. “I am very proud of how my veteran management staff worked with the health department, staff, and the public during this urgent situation, as well their efforts this past week working with the health inspectors and nurse on reminding our employees of precautions and practices.”
The most important message is one that most mothers have instilled for decades: wash your hands with hot water and soap. “For restaurants we recommend the good old fashioned practice of soap and hot water, just like your mom told you,” said Mr. Grosser. Asked about the efficacy of antibacterial hand sanitizers, he said: “Hand-sanitizers are great for moms and dads out with their kids with no access to hot water and soap but they are not effective against most GI causing organisms, including norovirus. The best way to decrease your chance of coming in contact with such stomach viruses is by washing your hands frequently, especially after toilet visits and before eating or preparing food.”
The Health Officer advises thorough cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner and immediately removing and washing clothing or linens that may be contaminated with a virus after an episode of illness (using hot water and soap).
According to Mr. Grosser people can become infected with the stomach virus in several ways, including: ingesting contaminated food or drink; touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus, and then placing their hand in their mouth; or having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms (for example, when caring for someone with illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill).
Persons who are infected with a stomach virus should try to minimize their contact with others while they are ill and should not prepare food during their illness. Food that may have been contaminated by an ill person should be disposed of properly.
For more information about the norovirus please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/norovirus/. Anyone who has had symptoms of gastrointestinal illnesses after eating at a Princeton restaurant recently should call the health department to report the illness at (609) 497-7610.
“Call and Response,” an exhibition of digital collages by Andrew Ellis Johnson opens at the Bernstein Gallery on Saturday, December 13 and runs through January 29. There will be a public reception for the artist on Friday, December 19, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
“Call and Response” presents two series of digital collages by Mr. Johnson. One series is in the scale and language of miniature painting, and the other of storefront advertisements. Each portrays the breakdown of communication, the rupture of cultural continuity, the inaccessibility of both shared and remote experience, despite (or due to) technological advances.
The title of the series “And Gazelles? And Gazelles,” is itself a call and response. As such, it emphasizes connection between parties, and direct causal relationships between events. It evokes the 1970 Art Worker Coalition’s My Lai massacre poster entitled “Q. And Babies? A. And Babies.” While this cycle’s images are more topical and allegorical, featuring attack helicopters in the Middle East and the quick and elegant animals for which they are named, their call is no less clarion.
“Airborne” visualizes call and response in the language of glossy cell phone advertisements, emphasizing communication by visualizing its lack through the muzzling motif of masks. Dust masks, common in Seoul and other cities, are social shells that conceal and reveal collective contamination and individual sacrifice. Indicative of social challenge when worn by protesters, personal vulnerability or pandemic infection when worn by the sick (as in the case of Avian Flu or Ebola), the mask is permeated by fear floating freely between peoples, countries, and continents.
Since 2004, Andrew Ellis Johnson has been an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon School of Art. Some past exhibition topics include: the Haitian grass roots movement; homelessness; predatory economics; hemispheric hegemonies; unabated sowing of land mines; crises in the Middle East; cultural eclipses; and meditations on labor and myth.
Venues for Mr. Johnson’s work have included museums, galleries, electronic arts and video festivals, public collaborations, conferences, books and journals in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
Recent events across the nation involving racial discrimination and police brutality, particularly a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, have prompted protests, comments by municipal and academic officials, and other reactions throughout Princeton in recent days.
Last Thursday, a silent protest took place on the Princeton University campus. On Monday of this week, members of the Princeton Theological Seminary community marched on Princeton streets to express their opposition to the decision. Princeton University president Christopher L. Eisgruber issued a statement on Monday urging commitment to equality. And at a meeting of Princeton Council on Monday night, Councilman Lance Liverman read a statement expressing his views.
The Seminary march began on the campus and proceeded along Mercer Street to Nassau Street. The marchers walked in silence at first, stopping at the intersection of Nassau and University Place to hold a rally. Speeches were given by students about their own experiences with racial discrimination. The protestors walked to Palmer Square before continuing to Vandeventer Avenue, stopping along the way to lie down in front of the shops on Nassau Street.
The protest was planned by the Seminary’s Association of Black Seminarians and the Community Action Network. Seminary President Craig Barnes was among those participating in the march.
In a statement before the protest, Jacqueline Nelson, a Seminary student and moderator of the Association of Black Seminarians, said prayer is not enough of a response to the police violence against people of color. “Our faith compels us to declare that all lives have value,” she said. “Regardless of our background, color, and social status, we as a church must stand on the side of justice for all and proclaim that enough is enough: we will no longer tolerate racist and oppressive systems.”
Mr. Eisgruber’s statement was made during a meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community, a group formed during the turmoil of the Vietnam War more than 40 years ago. “Our Constitution’s promise of equal protection of the laws remains unfulfilled, and the American people’s dream of justice remains unrealized,” he said. “Protests across the country and on our own campus testify eloquently to the anguish caused by the unfairness that persists within American society.”
Mr. Eisgruber said he was charging the executive committee of the Council to develop recommendations for improving policies and practices regarding diversity, inclusion, and equality on campus. “I am also asking the executive committee to propose events in the upcoming months that will enhance public dialogue about racial equality, diversity, and other topics critical to the future of our University and our country,” he said.
Mr. Liverman made his statement at the opening of the Princeton Council meeting. “This past week my nine-year-old daughter asked me why the policeman could not let Eric Garner up when he said he ‘could not breathe,’” Mr. Liverman said. “My daughter also said other people could have helped. My heart is full and broken over what seemingly appears to be excuses for police brutality You don’t have to be a brain surgeon like my sister-in-law or a nuclear space physicist to understand that our system of justice for all is in trouble.”
He went on to praise Princeton’s police department “for being light years ahead of so many other police departments. “This Council understands and respects our police department,” he said. “We are lucky and blessed to live in Princeton during these troubling days.”
A vote on whether to approve an ordinance restricting business hours for establishments located near residential neighborhoods was postponed at Monday night’s Princeton Council meeting due to the absence of Council president Bernie Miller. Mayor Liz Lempert urged the governing body to wait until the December 15 meeting, when Mr. Miller is expected back, and Council members agreed to wait.
A controversial issue between merchants, most of whom oppose the measure, and residents, most of whom are in favor of it, the ordinance was introduced last month with Council members Heather Howard, Lance Liverman, and Mr. Miller voting for it, and Jenny Crumiller, Jo Butler, and Patrick Simon against. Mayor Lempert broke the tie by voting in favor of the introduction.
The measure, which would require businesses to close between the hours of 2 and 5 a.m., would apply to businesses in or directly adjacent to homes in residential zones. Originally, establishments within 200 feet of the homes were affected, but that buffer was removed following talks last summer. Pharmacies and restaurants with liquor licenses would be exempt from the ordinance.
Merchants opposing it included Robert Bratman, who owns the property that formerly housed the West Coast Video store on East Nassau Street. The site has stood vacant for several years. Mr. Bratman wants to bring a 7-Eleven convenience store to the property, and 7-Eleven’s business model is for stores to remain open 24 hours. In response to residents’ concerns about crime and security, he said the store would be well lit and include security cameras.
Steven Schultz, a resident of Pine Street, said the ordinance would hopefully prevent incidents such as one in which a late-night drunk driver hit a car, which landed in his driveway. Local resident Marty Schneiderman spoke in favor of the measure. “The ordinance, as it is, is reasonable, mild, and wide in its current arrangement,” he said. Also hoping to see it pass was resident Wendy Ludlum, who called it “a really good compromise” and said “it takes into the consideration the rhythms of our town.”
But Maple Street resident Gail Ullman, who is on the town’s Planning Board, urged Council to use caution in proceeding with the ordinance. “My concern is the reason for this ordinance. None of these circumstances [loitering, littering] exist at the moment,” she said. “I believe the ordinance is in response to fear, rather than reason.”
Lou Carnevale, who owns the property next to Mr. Bratman’s, said, “This ordinance is looking for a problem that does not exist. If there is a problem, you have the ability to change it. Why pass a law before it’s necessary?”
Clearly unhappy with Council’s decision to table the ordinance was resident Joe Small, who called the issue “an imaginary problem” and called the move to postpone the vote unprofessional. He complained that the ordinance shows special consideration for Princeton University by making the University Store and the Wawa convenience store on campus exempt from the regulations. “It favors the Wawa over 7-Eleven and it favors the University as a landlord over Mr. Bratman,” he said, also questioning whether Ms. Howard, who lectures at the University, and Mayor Lempert, whose husband teaches there, should exempt themselves from the vote.
The ordinance is now scheduled for a vote at the December 15 meeting, which will also allow for further comment from the public.
An ordinance that did pass at the meeting was the one that merges previous Borough and Township regulations related to historic preservation. The measure was introduced last month and was referred to the Planning Board, which recommended its passage by Council. Members of the governing body voted unanimously in its favor.
As the demolition of the former Princeton Hospital progresses, so do complaints by residents of the neighborhood about noise, air quality, contaminants, and debris. While members of the municipal staff have responded courteously to many of the residents’ problems, there is a concern that the town’s actions are more reactive than proactive.
“It really shouldn’t be for the neighbors to make recommendations,” said Anita Garoniak, whose Harris Road house is close to the site. “But that’s what’s been happening.”
Ms. Garoniak was referring to a communication between another resident and the municipal staff about spraying down only the lower level of the building while the upper level was being demolished. The problem was corrected. “It’s concerning that this has to come from somebody in the neighborhood who’s keeping an eye on things,” Ms. Garoniak said.
A report by a resident who said she experienced a metallic taste in her mouth and an irritated throat and nasal passages when walking by the site was taken seriously by the town’s health officer Jeffrey Grosser. After investigating, Mr. Grosser said he is not overly concerned but will continue to look into the situation.
“We spoke to one individual who had the symptoms, but nothing told us it was actually coming from the site,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons to have a metallic taste in your mouth. Some are environmental. Based upon interviewing different people at the site as well as checking the monitors, and asking around, we didn’t have any reason to believe there was a problem. But we haven’t ruled it out, either. We’ll continue to check the air monitor reports.”
Mr. Grosser and other members of the staff visit the site every Monday morning and do spot checks during the week. Some neighborhood residents have suggested that those checks be stepped up, with someone be on site at all times to anticipate problems.
Noise is another source of complaints. AvalonBay, the developer that plans to build a 280-unit rental complex on the site, has an acoustical consultant there during the demolition and the repair work to the parking garage. Monitoring has revealed that noise has exceeded acceptable levels. Bob Kiser, Princeton’s engineer, said the Mercer County Health Department has been asked to take additional noise measurements.
“They have the ability to enforce the noise requirements,” Mr. Kiser said on Monday. “We expect them to take measurements within the next few days. They have been out twice but we’re hoping to get them back very soon.”
Ms. Garoniak said the noise can be deafening on her property. “It is very disruptive. It’s tiresome to keep calling and complaining about it,” she said. “And when somebody on Moore Street is calling the day after Thanksgiving to say they are being disturbed by it and they can do nothing, something is wrong.”
Mr. Kiser said that acoustic measurements are now being taken at the residential properties abutting the demolition site. “One of the things Jeff [Grosser] has asked for is that these measurements be taken right at [Ms. Garoniak’s] property line, and other locations as well,” he said.
Tom Rooney of Jefferson Road was walking his dog on Franklin Street on a recent windy day when he noticed a lot of debris flying around “like confetti,” he said. “They had guys picking it up, trying to keep track of it all. It was some kind of fire retardant from the walls. But my concern was that a piece of sheet metal could come down on a windy day. And if it did, it could be like a guillotine.” Mr. Kiser said in his weekly report on work at the site that AvalonBay is having staff walk through the neighborhood each day to pick up any litter that may be present.
There are four dust monitors at the demolition site. Mr. Kiser said levels have not exceeded 50 percent of the standard. “There is no need to do additional testing beyond that, and there is not an issue on the abutting streets,” he said, adding that concerns were brought to the town on the Friday and Saturday after Thanskgiving. “It was warm, and people were home and outside a lot,” he said.
After he reported at Monday’s Princeton Council meeting on the progress of the demolition, Mr. Kiser was asked by Council member Jo Butler that the workers scale down the work during the days surrounding the Christmas holiday.
The removal of the adjacent two-story building along Witherspoon Street is planned for Wednesday and Thursday of this week, weather permitting. The entire demolition project is expected to take an additional two months to complete.
A march by more than 350 students, faculty, and staff from Princeton Theological Seminary on Monday included a stretch of Nassau Street, where protestors lay on the ground for 4.5 minutes to symbolize the 4.5 hours that the body of black teenager Michael Brown was left on the street in Ferguson, Missouri after he was shot by a police officer last August. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Theological Seminary)
After investigating the reports of an intoxicated, freshman girl performing a sex act on a senior at the Tiger Inn, one of Princeton University’s eating clubs, the Princeton Police Department has closed the matter. “After conducting a thorough investigation that included the interviewing of all involved parties, the police department found no evidence to support criminal wrongdoing and we have closed the investigation with no criminal charges,” reads a statement issued Friday afternoon. “The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office was consulted in this matter.”
The police department had been investigating whether there was an invasion of privacy. Princeton University has not yet concluded its own investigation of the matter. Since the eating clubs are private property, they fall under the jurisdiction of the local police.
Last October, a photo taken of the act was circulated by email to club members by the club treasurer. New Jersey law dictates that it is a criminal offense to distribute a photo of a sexual act without the person’s consent. The club treasurer and another officer have since stepped down.
Students, faculty, and members of the Princeton University community gathered Thursday afternoon for a “walk-out and die-in” a day after a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer on Staten Island for the “choke-hold” death of a black man, Eric Garner. Hundreds lay for 45 minutes — to symbolize the 4.5 hours that Michael Brown, the man gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this year — on the ground in front of Frist Campus Center. Others stood silently along the sidelines. The protest was organized by students who are part of the “Post-Ferguson at Princeton” movement organized by the Black Leadership Coalition, made up of student leaders representing the Black Student Union, Princeton African Students Association, and other campus groups. (Photo by A. Levin)
Several hundred soldiers clad in Continental military dress will reenact George Washington’s daring crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day, and even more viewers will be there to see the event. For those who find the outing a daunting prospect on the day itself, the dress rehearsal scheduled for Sunday, December 7 at 1 p.m. provides a less crowded alternative.
Essentially identical to the Christmas Day reenactment, the full dress rehearsal boasts a few extra activities and demonstrations for the public at the historic village on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Unlike the Christmas Day reenactment, however, there is an admission fee for the dress rehearsal: $8 for adults, $4 for children age five to 11. The Christmas Day crossing is free and also takes place at 1 p.m., although it’s necessary to arrive well before that time to find parking and a good spot along the viewing line either on the New Jersey or the Pennsylvania side of the river.
The reenactment, which has been going on for some 60 years, celebrates Washington’s original crossing in 1776 and now has a history of its own since it was first attempted in the first half of the 19th century. After history enthusiast John Davis gave a speech about the importance of Washington’s crossing, reenactors were inspired to try their hands at the oars in 1844. According to newspaper reports of the day, the event descended into a “sham” with “rowdy, drunken behavior.” At the next attempt, in 1876, behavior was not much improved. About 100 participants marched from Philadelphia to Taylorsville, with the Civil War General W.S. Truex portraying Washington. They crossed the river — although it’s unknown whether they boated or walked across the ice — and continued on to Trenton to take on the Hessians. As in Washington’s time, the weather was brutally cold and the reenactors encouraged themselves with alcohol. One critic noted “too much conviviality” and it looked like the end of the event.
However, on January 23, 1947, the forerunner of today’s reenactment took place. A group of Rider College students recreated the feat for pledges wanting to join the Phi Sigma Nu fraternity (a non-hazing initiation back in the day). This time 40 pledges crossed the river in four rowboats and then, after refreshments, motored on to Trenton. An article about the event appeared in the February 17, 1947 issue of Life magazine and gained national attention.
In 1952, National Geographic Magazine featured a story about Washington Crossing Historic Park and the historic crossing. The story included a photograph of park superintendent Granville Stradling rowing six young people across the river — one held a flag and one portrayed General Washington.
Perhaps the most famous of the Washington impersonators was St. John “Sinjin” Terrell, a fire-eating circus man and actor with a penchant for showmanship. In a presentation to a women’s organization in 1953, Mr. Terrell expressed his hope of someday reenacting the General’s famous crossing. After a half-scale Durham boat costing $800 was constructed, Mr. Terrell and six others crossed the icy river in what would become the first dress rehearsal for the reenactment. That was on December 20, 1953. Five days later, on December 25, 1953, Mr. Terrell and his crew made their way across the river in about eight minutes. After the crossing, “George Washington” signed autographs before packing up the boat and heading home. More than 700 people came out to witness the event and an annual tradition was born.
This year, General Washington will again take a Durham boat across the river, weather permitting, from the Pennsylvania bank of the Delaware River to the New Jersey side, at Washington Crossing Historic Park, at Routes 532 and 32 (River Road).
For more information, visit: www.WashingtonCrossingPark.org.
With two LEED-certified houses located on the same side of Linden Lane, Princeton’s “tree streets” neighborhood is taking the lead, no pun intended, in the town’s efforts toward sustainability.
Architect Kirsten Thoft’s home at number 45 earned the coveted LEED platinum certification this past fall. Just down the street at number 85, a home designed by David Cohen of DEC Architect is being built by Baxter Construction, and platinum designation is anticipated.
“This neighborhood will become the hub of green building in Princeton by virtue of having these two projects,” said Mr. Cohen, who led several “Behind the Drywall” tours of the house under construction earlier this month. More tours are planned for this Saturday, December 6.
The house is being built as a duplex attached to the client’s existing home because the site is too small to subdivide and is zoned as a two-family dwelling. The project is participating in both the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification process and New Jersey’s Climate Choice Homes program, to make it so energy efficient that “you can heat it with a toaster,” said James E. Baxter of the construction company.
“The idea of the tours is to educate the public about green building,” he added. “I probably had four or five people who came up and thanked me for providing this to the folks in Princeton. They weren’t necessarily interested in a job, but just in learning about what is green, what is LEED, what is platinum, and so on. So it was a lot of fun.”
Mr. Cohen wasn’t surprised by the enthusiasm for the tours. “I had been involved a number of years ago when the Princeton Environmental Commission sponsored green home tours,” he said. “The turnout at that time was really amazing. My own home was on it. I know the level of interest in Princeton is really high.”
The tours of the Linden Lane home are more structured and specific than the earlier ones to which Mr. Cohen referred. On the November 22 tours, many people expressed interest in the basement system, a waste water heat recovery unit that reduces the piping diameters and conserves the energy used to heat water. “I had people coming up and asking if they could put one of these in their houses that were already built,” he said.
Another attention-getter has been the windows, which are triple-glazed Energy Star that maximize daylight on the north and south, and minimize heat gain on the east and west.
The goals of the project are to improve energy use, make use of recycled resources, and have a healthy impact on the building’s users and the larger environment by reducing pollution and the use of toxic materials. While the site had its challenges, its orientation was actually favorable, according to Mr. Cohen. “The existing trees were fine for solar considerations. And the location is considered desirable because it can support and encourage walking, mass transit, and biking.”
“Other advantages are that you’re using existing infrastructure rather than building new, which leads to resource efficiency,” said Mr. Cohen. “And then there is open space preservation, because you’re on a site that is already being used. There are points for all of these things.” The U.S. Green Buildings Council requires 80 or more points for platinum status.
Additional features of the house include a sleeping porch for the master bedroom, allowing outdoor sleeping during warm months; walls with more than twice the conventional insulation; a photovoltaic array for on-site energy production; and the use of LED bulbs in nearly all of the light fixtures.
“I love talking to people who are interested in this,” said Mr. Baxter, who added that his company’s project for the Whole Earth Center was the first commercial project in Princeton to get LEED silver designation. “It just makes sense.”
To register for this Saturday’s tours, call (609) 466-3655 or email email@example.com.
Oxford mathematician Andrew Hodges will discuss his classic 1983 biography of the mathematical genius and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing (1912-1954) as part of the Thinking Allowed series co-sponsored by the Princeton Public Library and Princeton University Press in the Library’s Community Room this Thursday, December 4, at 7 p.m.
Currently on a U.S. book tour, Mr. Hodges is the authority on his subject. His 500-page biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma has been re-issued with a new preface and a foreword by Douglas Hofstadter, timed to coincide with the new British-American movie on Turing’s life that has just come out.
But don’t ask Mr. Hodges to comment on the movie. He’s in Princeton to talk about Alan Turing rather than Benedict Cumberbatch.
Nonetheless, the new film, which also stars Keira Knightley and Charles Dance, is causing quite a stir. Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson has interviewed the actors about their work. Titled The Imitation Game, the film combines elements of tortured genius, gender, and romance against the backdrop of World War II and the race to break the German Enigma code at Britain’s Bletchley Park.
Its unlikely hero is the British mathematician, codebreaker, and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, the man Winston Churchill said had made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany. Given Mr. Turing’s accomplishments, one might wonder why he is not a household name.
Mr. Turing, who gained his PhD at Princeton University before the war, is considered the father of theoretical computer science for his model of a general purpose computer, known as the “Turing machine.” His ideas formed the basis for the pursuit of artificial intelligence (AI) which makes the film’s title especially apt, “imitation” being the key question in AI, as in “can a computer simulate human behavior?”
In addition to being a mathematical genius, Mr. Turing was also gay, at a time when homosexual acts were subject to criminal prosecution. In 1952, he was charged with “gross indecency.” Rather than go to prison, Mr. Turing agreed to be treated with estrogen injections, a chemical method of castration. He committed suicide two years later.
In 2013, Mr. Turing received a Royal Pardon for his 1952 conviction. According to Michael Saler, writing in The Times Literary Supplement, the pardon was largely the result of Mr. Hodges’s “superb biography.”
If the film sends people to Hodges’s richly detailed and carefully researched book they will discover “one of the best scientific biographies ever written.” Britain’s The Guardian newspaper has listed it as one of the essential 50 books of all time and John Nash biographer Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind, called it “one of the finest scientific biographies I’ve ever read: authoritative, superbly researched, deeply sympathetic, and beautifully told.”
Alan Turing: The Enigma has also been described as a “perfect match of biographer and subject.” Like Mr. Turing, Mr. Hodges is a mathematician; he is also gay. His book draws from primary sources and interviews with those who knew Turing. Hodges is able to explain Turing’s intellectual accomplishments in plain terms without recourse to heavy mathematical symbolism, explaining how Turing’s revolutionary idea of 1936 laid the foundation for the modern computer, realized in 1945 with his electronic design that helped to break the German Enigma ciphers. He also explores Turing’s sexual identity with understanding and compassion. In short, Hodges brings a mathematical genius to life, from his beginnings as a young man fascinated by science to his tragic end.
Besides the most recent movie, Alan Turing: the Enigma was the basis for the 1986 play Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore and starring Derek Jacobi, who reprised the role on British television in 1996.
Mr. Hodges’s book tour will include New York’s 92nd Street Y on Friday, December 5, before he travels to California and Washington. For more information, visit: www.turing.org.uk.
McCarter Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has become a welcome holiday treat for families across the region. This year’s child actors include (top row, left to right) Andrew Davis, Hope Blair, Russell Clark, Noah Hinsdale, Reyna Bae, Christopher Levine, Neha Kalra (bottom row, left to right) Madeline Fox, Aynisha McQuillar, Ivy Cordle, Jonas Hinsdale, Troy Vallery, Priyanka Nanayakkara, and Sophia Telegadis. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
Princeton Public Library hosts a free screening of the documentary Girl Rising on December 11 from 7 to 9 p.m. The film is directed by Academy Award nominee Richard E. Robbins and features narration by Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Selena Gomez, Liam Neeson, Priyanka Chopra, Chloe Moretz, Freida Pinto, Salma Hayek, Meryl Streep, Alicia Keys, and Kerry Washington. Girl Rising tells the story of nine girls from nine different countries (Sierra Leone, Haiti, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Peru, Egypt, Nepal, India, and Cambodia). The stories reflect their struggle to receive an education, which often violates local social and cultural barriers. Get involved in the Girl Rising community by visiting http://girlrising.com.
On Tuesday, December 24, Santa will arrive at 11 a.m. at Princeton Airport. Parents are advised to bring the children prior to then, as the Princeton Airport Flying Tigers will be serving cocoa and cookies, and local folk singer Pat McKinley will be leading the audience in holiday songs during the wait for Santa.
Parents who would like to have a gift waiting for their child should bring a wrapped gift with the child’s name on it in large print to the Princeton Airport lobby. Gifts should be no larger than 12 inches to accommodate Santa. If parents have more than one child participating, the gifts should be wrapped in the same paper and tied together to speed up the distribution.
In order to have their child participate, parents need to bring a gift for the less fortunate as well. This is the most important feature of this event. These gifts must be new and unwrapped, and will be collected by the Mercer County Board of Social Services. Personal checks made out to the “FoodBank Network of Somerset County,” as well as canned or boxed food will also be collected at the airport. Donations from non-participants are accepted as well.
Once Santa’s plane lands, he will head into the hangar, along with all the participants, to distribute each gift individually.
There is no charge for this event. The Princeton Airport is located in Montgomery Township, 3.5 miles north of Princeton on Route 206. For further information, call (609) 921-3100 or visit www.princetonairport.com.
The gallery at Princeton Brain and Spine Care is showcasing portraiture by eight Princeton area artists. Shown here is Paul Matthews’s 24 by 32 inch oil on canvas painting, “Anne and Peter.” The exhibition, titled “Face to Face,” runs through next June and there will be a public reception on Friday, December 5, from 5 to 7 p.m. Curated by Madelaine Shellaby, the exhibition also features work by Mic Boekelmann, Johanna Furst, John Hayes, Jeannine Honstein, Judith Lavendar, Walter Roberts Jr., and Gill Stewart. The artwork is for sale with a portion benefitting the Spinal Research Foundation. “Face to Face” can be viewed by appointment at Gallery ArtTimesTwo located at the Princeton Brain and Spine Care Institute, 731 Alexander Road, suite 200, Princeton, N.J. 08540-6345. For more information, visit: www.arttimestwo.com. (Image Courtesy of the Gallery).
There was more trouble at the Tiger Inn this week as the Princeton University eating club forced two officers to resign following the sending of inappropriate emails to members last month. The two men have resigned as vice president and treasurer of the club, one of several that line Prospect Street and the last of the clubs to admit women.
One email included a photo of an intoxicated freshman female, referred to as “an Asian chick,” performing a sex act on a senior on the dance floor. According to Planet Princeton, to which the story was first leaked, and The New York Times, the email was sent to all undergraduates who belong to the club.
Another email that went out to club members the same day referred to an October 13 talk on the campus by Sally Frank, who gained notoriety as a student when she sued the eating clubs to force the admission of women.
“Ever wonder who we have to thank for gender equality? Looking for someone to blame for the influx of girls? Come tomorrow and help boo Sally Frank,” the email read.
Last month, the words “Rape Haven” were sprayed on the stone wall in front of the eating club. They were quickly removed. According to University spokesman Martin Mbugua, an investigation by the school is underway.
“The safety of our students is our top priority and we take such cases very seriously,” he said in an email Tuesday. “When information is received, we investigate the matter thoroughly and carefully in accordance with our sex discrimination and sexual misconduct policy, after which we determine if and when action should be taken.”
Mr. Mbugua said the University began its investigation of the incident as soon as it received a report. “This is an unusually complex situation that involves multiple elements and participants,” he said. “The investigation is ongoing and we have made significant progress.” The Princeton Police Department is also looking into the photo incident.
The emails were made public one day before it was announced by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights that it had finished an investigation of Title IX complaints against the University in 2010 and 2011. According to the results of the investigation, the school violated Title IX by favoring the rights of the students accused of misconduct over those who made reports against them. The University revised its policies and came to an agreement with the agency on the concerns. Last week, the University hired a full-time Title IX Coordinator.
The incidents are not the first to put Tiger Inn in the news. Earlier this year, most members of the club’s undergraduate board resigned following a party at which proper security issues were not followed.
Visitors to the new Dinky station will have noticed the covered bike stand at the entrance from the campus side of the platform. A peek inside reveals ten shiny new white bikes available for rent courtesy of the bike sharing service Zagster.
In conjunction with Princeton University, Zagster has launched Princeton’s first bike sharing program. For an annual membership fee of $20, members of the University community and Princeton residents will be able to rent bikes by the hour. The bikes are free for the first two hours and then $2 per hour after that. They can be rented by the hour or by the day for up to $20 for a maximum 24-hour rental.
Zagster members must be at least 18 years old. Bikes can be accessed by creating a Zagster account via the Zagster Mobile App, (available for iPhone and Android), or online at: www.zagster.com/princeton.
Designed to offer a convenient and healthy way to get around town, the bike sharing program was inspired by similar programs in Europe. “When I was a student at Imperial College in London, I took a trip to Paris and saw the advent of the VЋlib’ program there; I wanted to do something similar in the states,” said Zagster co-founder and CEO Tim Ericson.
Launched in 2007, the Parisian system is now the world’s sixth-largest bike sharing program, second only to those in China.
Zagster was founded in Philadelphia in 2007 as CityRyde and is now headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mr. Ericson began talking with Princeton University about the possibility of a program in Princeton. “We were one of the first bike share companies in the country and we helped bring the concept of bicycle sharing to the United States,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We don’t normally launch a new program in November but the University wanted this to coincide with the opening of the new Dinky station and that made sense. We hope that by the spring, the bikes will be there and people will know about the program. This is a great first step in a broader campus and community-wide bike initiative.”
The new Arts and Transit neighborhood has been the draw. “With great new transit connectivity via rail and bus, and with students on campus who prefer two wheels to four, the Zagster program will enable sustainable, healthy, and convenient transportation options for all,” said Mr. Ericson.
To rent a bike, riders simply log in to their account, enter the unique ID number of the bike they wish to use and the app provides an access code for the lock box mounted on the back of the bike. Riders can use the code throughout the duration of their rental to lock and unlock the bike anywhere along their trip. Once the bike is returned to the Zagster location at Princeton Station, the touch of a button ends the rental and releases the bike for the next rider.
“At the moment there is just one pick up and drop off location and so a bike might sit around outside your office all day but we’ve priced the rental so as to take this into account. As the program grows, more stations will be added around town,” said Mr. Ericson. “That’s how it has worked in other cities — we started with 50 bikes in Detroit and now have three times that number with more locations for pick up and drop off. Lyon, France, a city that had no infrastructure for bicycles, now has one of the largest bike share programs and we are confident that bike sharing will take off in Princeton and you will see a lot more Zagster bikes in the coming year.”
The Breezer Uptown bikes are made in Taiwan and assembled in Philadelphia. They are known for being lightweight and of durable construction, specifically designed for city riding. All bikes come with carrying baskets and an attached flexible lock.
“The addition of Zagster to our transportation options will help us make progress in meeting the University’s sustainability goal of 500 fewer vehicles on campus by 2020,” said Kim Jackson, the University’s director of transportation and parking services, in a press announcement of the new program. “When people have options like Zagster, it makes it easier to leave a car at home, which reduces congestion, pollution, and emissions on and around campus. We’re pleased to offer the bike rental program and we hope to expand it in the future.”
Currently, Zagster has hundreds of bikes deployed in more than 30 cities/towns in more than 20 states. Zagster has partnered with leading brands, including General Motors, Hyatt, Novare Group, Quicken Loans, Yale University, Duke University and others. For more information, visit: www.Zagster.com.
In a memorial service of music, readings, and recollections, Princeton philanthropist William Hurd Scheide was remembered last Saturday not only as a champion of civil rights and a patron of the arts, but also as a loving father who enjoyed making his children laugh and reading Dennis the Menace comic books.
Nassau Presbyterian Church was nearly full as friends, family, and colleagues came to pay their respects to Mr. Scheide, who died November 14 at the age of 100. Among those in attendance were Mayor Liz Lempert, Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber, Representative Rush Holt, and McCarter Theatre Artistic Director Emily Mann.
“He was a registered Republican but we all knew in his heart he was a classic liberal Democrat,” said Louise Marshall, Mr. Scheide’s daughter. She recalled her father’s appreciation not only of J.S. Bach but of jazz greats Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbecke, and Benny Goodman. Ms. Marshall’s younger sister Barbara Scheide, who joked that her father referred to her as “opus two,” recalled a portrait of Bach that hung in the house.
“That is the man who writes my Daddy’s music,” she was known to say as a small child, a statement that amused Mr. Scheide. He used it, she said, when promoting the Bach Aria Group, which he founded in 1946.
The Scheide house was filled with books “in every room,” Ms. Marshall said. And while her father was a strict grammarian, “he could always make up nonsensical syllables that always made us laugh,” she said, reciting a few to laughter from the audience. “As a father, we knew we had a very funny man in the house.” Among the favorite memories of Mr. Scheide mentioned by his children were his attempts to balance on two rafts at Lake Dunmore in Vermont, where the family had a summer home.
Mr. Scheide’s son John, who not only spoke but played the recorder during the service, was visibly moved as he thanked members of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players for their performance of a movement from a Schubert string quintet. The service of readings and music, which was planned by Mr. Scheide some two decades ago, included music by Schubert and Bach, played by the NJSO ensemble and several other musicians.
The Rev. David A. Davis, pastor of the church, spoke of Mr. Scheide’s “stunningly generous and lasting philanthropic life” and quoted Mr. Scheide’s wife Judith as saying he was “Presbyterian in his bones.” Ms. Scheide’s brother, the Reverend William Dalglish, noted that the wealth Mr. Scheide inherited from his father and grandfather was used not to lead a privileged life, but to help others.
“He was created by God to be a faithful manager of everything that God had trusted to his care,” Rev. Dalglish said. “And Bill understood that his responsibility was to manage it — manage it responsibly.”
Mr. Scheide was a 1936 alumnus of Princeton University. The service included one verse of the school’s anthem, “Old Nassau.”
Mark Laycock, former conductor of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra and a favorite of Mr. Scheide, spoke of him as “a courteous, honorable, and faithful man,” adding, “A great man never really dies, but always lives on. Thank you, Bill.”
The Palmer Square tiger sported a festive garland for the annual tree lighting ceremony on the green Friday, November 28. Captured for Town Topics by photographer Charles R. Plohn, Princeton’s iconic feline exudes quiet dignity against a backdrop of 32,000 colored lights on the 65-foot Norwegian spruce. Santa Claus and characters from American Repertory Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” were on hand to celebrate as members of The Princeton High School Choir sang. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)
In an age when four year-olds have their own handhelds and their grandparents are Facebooking and Tweeting, it’s astounding to think that the digital revolution has come about in just the last four decades. And it’s inconceivable to imagine future scientific progress without computers.
In the past few decades many natural processes in biology and physics have been viewed as “information processes.” Examples include the workings of the cell and the immune system, even the flocking of birds.
A day-long conference at the Institute for Advanced Study on Sunday took a look at the impact of computational methods on a range of scientific disciplines including economics and social science. Titled “Lens of Computation on the Sciences,” it was hosted by Avi Wigderson, the Herbert H. Maass Professor in the Institute’s School of Mathematics.
According to Mr. Wigderson’s introduction in the conference brochure, “Interactions with biologists, physicists, economists, and social scientists have found that this computational lens on processes and algorithms occurring in nature sheds new light on old scientific problems in understanding, e.g., evolution and markets.”
Top theorists in computation from Harvard and MIT joined their IAS peers in examining the impact of their youthful discipline and to discuss the challenges and benefits of interactions between computation and other fields of study.
In turn, each speaker first paid homage to the founding fathers whose work brought about the current revolution: the British mathematician, code-breaker, and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing and the Hungarian born polymath John von Neumann.
Alan Turing (1912-1954) gained his PhD at Princeton University and is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science for his model of a general purpose computer, known as the “Turing machine.” During World War II, Mr. Turing worked at Britain’s code-breaking center, Bletchley Park. Winston Churchill said that Turing had made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany.
Prosecuted as a homosexual in 1952 and treated with estrogen injections as an alternative to prison (homosexual acts then being a crime in Britain), Mr. Turing committed suicide two years later. His life is the subject of a new film, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
John von Neumann (1903-1957) needs little introduction in Princeton where he was one of the first faculty appointed to the Institute for Advanced Study. He is celebrated for his electronic computer project there, and the IAS Machine it developed. Mr. von Neumann was a principal member of the Manhattan Project and a key figure in the development of game theory and the concepts of cellular automata. His mathematical analysis of the structure of self-replication preceded the discovery of the structure of DNA.
“It all began with Turing’s 1936 paper ‘On Computable Numbers with an application to the entscheidungsproblem,’ said Mr. Wigderson. “Turing gave birth to the computer revolution but unlike physics, computer science was born with the knowledge of its own limitations,” he added before introducing guest speakers: Leslie Valiant, Tim Roughgarden, Jon Kleinberg, and Scott Aaronson.
Such scientists study the mathematical foundations of computer science and technology. But it wasn’t fancy devices that were being discussed at the conference, rather it was the power and the limits of solving natural computational problems in fields such as cryptography (the field that gives us the Internet and E-commerce) and machine learning (the science that enables “big data” applications).
According to Leslie Valiant, the author of Circuits of the Mind (Oxford University Press, 1994) and Probably Approximately Correct (Basic Books, 2013), the idea that computation has its own laws and limitations emerged in the 1930s. “Some of the early computing pioneers, most notably Turing and von Neumann, already understood that this idea had far reaching implications beyond technology. It offered a new way of looking at the world, in terms of computational processes.”
Speaking on “The Computational Universe,” Mr. Valiant said that since Turing and von Neumann had pursued this new way of looking at the world in such areas as genetics, biological development, cognition, and the brain, there has been much progress. “The question now is how to exploit this increasing knowledge to obtain insights into the natural world that cannot be obtained otherwise,” he said.
Addressing the connections between computer science and biology, Mr. Valiant said: “Some natural phenomena are actually computational,” and went on to describe ways in which computation can be used to understand natural phenomena in the same way as physics, and with its own laws too.
Referencing the 19th century question of how evolution, which Darwin described as a slow process, could have achieved so much in so short a time, Mr. Valiant described machine learning to explain how complex mechanisms can arise by a process of adaptation rather than by design.
Tim Roughgarden of Stanford University looked at points of contact between theoretical computer science and economics with details of the challenges of auction design. He cited a flawed example from New Zealand which had brought in just $36 million when it had been expected to yield $250 million.
Social media and the possibility of gaining insight in social science from studying collective behavior was discussed by Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University. “The emergence of cyberspace and the World Wide Web is like the discovery of a new continent,” said Mr. Kleinberg, quoting the late 1998 Turing Award Winner Jim Gray. “The online world is a phenomenon to be studied with new computational perspectives on social science questions; online social systems are partly organic, partly designed,” he said.
“The collective behavior and social interactions of hundreds of millions of people are being recorded at unprecedented levels of scale and resolution. Modeling and analyzing these phenomena computationally offers new insights into the design of online applications, as well as new perspectives on fundamental questions in the social sciences,” said Mr. Kleinberg.
Scott Aaronson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology amped up the fun in his talk titled, “Computational Phenomena in Physics.” A popular blogger (www.scottaaronson. com/blog) Mr. Aaronson has written about quantum computing for Scientific American and the New York Times. His quirky style captured the IAS audience, even if this reporter was not always “clued-in” on the insider humor.
“I am a theorist not an engineer and this is one of the few places where I don’t have to apologize for that,” said Mr. Aaronson as his first slide showed cartoon images of some scientific advances that are the stuff of science fiction. “Why don’t we have Warp Drive, the Perpetual Motion Machine, or the UberComputer? Well, we know why we don’t have the first two but why can’t we have the third?” he asked, and launched into the quest to understand the limits of efficient computation in the physical universe. The quest, he said, has been giving us new insights into physics over the last two decades.
And questions such as “Can quantum computers be built? Can they teach us anything new about physics? Is there some new physical principle that explains why they can’t be built? What would quantum computers be good for? Can quantum computing help us resolve which interpretation of quantum mechanics is the right one?,” he said, would yield further insight.
As the last speaker of the day, Mr. Aaronson ended with panache. Something about Alice (yes, Lewis Carroll’s Alice) and black holes that brought the house down. To know more, see Mr. Aaronson’s first book, Quantum Computing Since Democritus, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013.
The conference talks can be viewed on the IAS website at www.ias.edu/computationconference/2014/.
With her thesis advisor, historian Sean Wilentz, seated only a few feet away from her spot on the Richardson Auditorium stage, Elena Kagan was nervous — or so she joked. Since graduating in 1981 from Princeton University, where she was a history major not necessarily planning a career in law, Ms. Kagan has amassed a stellar legal resume culminating with her appointment four years ago to the United States Supreme Court.
Last Thursday, Ms. Kagan took part in a conversation at Richardson with University president Christopher Eisgruber. “I’m nervous he’ll take out his red pen,” she said, eyeing Mr. Wilentz in the audience. This was Ms. Kagan’s first visit to the University since her 25th reunion. “Don’t worry,” Ms. Eisgruber responded. “We’ve repealed the grading process.”
So began a congenial discussion about justice, equality, and human rights that ended with a question-and-answer session between Ms. Kagan and students in the audience. “I loved Princeton,” she said. “I think all of you who go to Princeton are incredibly lucky, at least if it’s anything like it was then, and I suspect it’s better. I had fantastic professors.”
After graduating from the University, the native New Yorker earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Oxford in 1983, and then graduated from Harvard Law School in 1986. She was Harvard Law School’s Dean from 2003 until 2009. Along the way, she served as Solicitor General of the United States, Associate White House Counsel to President Bill Clinton, Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, and professor at the University of Chicago Law School.
Ms. Kagan said her colleagues received her warmly when she joined the court, where she had clerked as a young lawyer for Justice Thurgood Marshall. At 54, she is the youngest of the nine Supreme Court justices. Writing skills are important in the job, which she called “a good gig,” and she attributes her proficiency to her Princeton education. Not surprisingly given the average age of 68, the court isn’t the most technically savvy group, she said.
Asked to characterize her judicial philosophy, Ms. Kagan said, “I don’t think of myself as a philosopher. The way it works is that it’s a very back and forth kind of thing. I’m a big precedent person. I think really hard about how due process has changed over time.”
Ms. Kagan said that despite their different political leanings, the Supreme Court justices actually agree more than people might think. “Last year, 60 percent of our opinions were unanimous,” she said. But the 10 or so high-profile cases of the approximately 80 they take on are split “on pretty predictable lines.”
Ms. Kagan is often part of the liberal end of the court, with opinions sometimes splitting 5-4 along conservative to liberal lines. “Four of us think one thing and then four of us think the other thing. And then we wait and see what Justice (Anthony) Kennedy does,” she said, to laughter from the audience. Mr. Kennedy has often been the swing vote in decisions.
When Mr. Eisgruber asked Ms. Kagan if justices think about how their decisions can create political backlash, she responded, “It’s super rare that justices do or that they should. For the most part, you have a job to do, and your job is to apply the law as best you can.” She added that judges do have to think about how their decisions will be taken and avoid making them too hastily.
Asked whether there is corruption in the Supreme Court, Ms. Kagan said, “There is not a day in my job when I have ever thought anybody was not doing everything that they do in utter, complete good faith. You can disagree with people, and you will disagree with people, but everybody is trying to get it right.”