SAS in the News - Spring 1996

The New York Times recently reported on the new appeal of the Asian model of government in Africa. In hopes of bringing economic progress to the area, many countries are calling for a government based on the tightly-controlled Asian model, with its limited accountability and authoritarian overtones. Political science professor Thomas Callaghy believes this trend is "maintaining the formalism of democracy while gutting it of its substance" and faults this model for favoring the rulers over the ruled.

Peggy Reeves Sanday, professor of anthropology, wrote about the perception of women plaintiffs in a recent edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Sanday believes that for years, myths such as "the scorned woman" and "the congenital liar" have prevented women from receiving fair trials, particularly in sexual harassment and/or rape cases. Sanday cited Anita Hill and Patricia Bowman (of the William Kennedy Smith case) as examples of women who were personally demonized for bringing their cases to court.

While others have attributed the rise in unwed teenagers having children to a breakdown in moral fiber or a lack of education, Sociology Professor Frank F. Furstenburg, Jr. offered a different view in a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal. Furstenburg cited peer pressure as an important factor. Teens may choose to have children, Furstenburg believes, based on social norms which change as often as "the width of ties or hemlines."

Martin Seligman, professor of psychology, recently published the results of a survey on mental health care in the journal American Psychologist, reports The New York Times. According to Seligman, those patients who received mental health care treatment for longer than six months had better outcomes than those with shorter treatment periods.

Professor of physics Larry Gladney was recently profiled in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Gladney teaches a Saturday morning science class for high school seniors in North Philadelphia. The program is designed to teach students that, in Gladney's words, "all the technology we have, you can understand." The students have responded enthusiastically to difficult subjects and sophisticated research tools (such as the Internet). Gladney says, "I can do things with seventh graders that are supposed to be too difficult for college kids, because they don't know yet how hard these subjects are supposed to be."

English Chair Wendy Steiner's new book The Scandal of Pleasure: Art in an Age of Fundamentalism was favorably reviewed in a recent edition of The New York Times. In her book, Steiner upholds the notion that art is representational, not literal, and contends that an important function of art is to allow the audience to have "virtual" experience of ideas and lifestyles without necessarily approving of them.

Penn researchers have worked out the three- dimensional structure of one of the most famous proteins in the history of molecular biology, reports The New York Times. The protein, isolated by Drs. Ponz Lu and Michael Lewis (and research associates), called the lactose repressor, attaches itself to DNA and physically blocks access to a set of bacterial genes needed to break down milk, sugar or lactose. The protein has become the model for studies of how genes are turned on and off.

Professor emeritus of English, Paul Fussell discusses the use (and non-use) of irony in the words of songs on the best-selling album of pop singer Alanis Morissette in an article in The Washington Post. The album itself is called "Ironic" but Fussell found very little irony in the lyrics. Fussell had never heard the record but liked some of the lyrics after they were read to him. "Those are some pretty nice words," he said. "It's good for what it is. It's sardonic, and very little pop culture is." As for irony, Fussell found some situational irony in the songs but no rhetorical irony. "Rhetorical irony requires immense intellectual self-respect," he explained, "you have to be more or less brilliant to get rhetorical irony."

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