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WHAT’S NEW: Bovard Reborn

A refurbished Bovard Auditorium.

Photograph by David Fukumoto

IT IS USC’S MOST venerable performance hall, built in 1921. Often the first facility that entering freshmen experience when they attend welcoming ceremonies at orientation, Bovard Auditorium “gives them a sense of the grandeur and awe of being a student at USC,” says Michael L. Jackson, vice president for student affairs.

Shuttered since last May, Bovard Auditorium has been brought back to its artistic glory through a renovation that enhances the lighting and acoustics, triples the size of the lobby and adds a second-floor lobby for pre- and post-event receptions.

The $10 million renovation, one of the university’s capital plan projects, focused on the improvement of seating, handicapped accessibility, sight lines and acoustics, as well as the restoration of some of the significant architectural details of USC’s oldest performance space.

Overhauled from top to bottom, the remodeled facility features restored woodwork, a refinished ceiling and a more robust sound system, in addition to new carpeting, upholstery and lighting.

Improvements included replacement of balcony-level seating and new balcony fronts, a new elevator, stage floor and curtain, and improved dressing rooms for performers. The frosted-glass windows, which were covered over with fabric panels in the last renovation in 1979, have been opened up and lit. An improved ventilation system and upgraded safety protection systems also were installed.

Built by architect John Parkinson, the opulent auditorium is named for USC’s fourth president, George Finley Bovard, who served from 1903 to 1921. Through the years, it has hosted a wide variety of events, including musical and theatrical performances, large lectures, high-profile speakers and touring shows – as well as rallies, convocations, commencement programs and community events. Presidents and world leaders have trod its boards, from FDR and JFK to Desmond Tutu and Shimon Peres.

For Joe Singer, the director of performance venues for student affairs, high on the list of renovation priorities was the comfort of the audience.

“The whole point was to get people to flow into the building, and to be able to find their seats easily,” Singer says.

In addition to replacing seats that had seen better days, more legroom was added.

“Before, there was a very large stage that came out to accommodate the USC Thornton Symphony and other ensembles,” says Lars Hansen, executive director of USC’s Office of Cultural Relations.

But when a lone speaker stood on stage, Hansen says, the space was overwhelming. Now there’s a more intimate ambience. The control booths also have been integrated into the audience. In the process, Bovard’s seating capacity was reduced from 1,542 to 1,300 seats, although 14 seating spaces were added for wheelchair access.

Instead of a traditional box office, the lobby has customer-friendly reception desks for will call and ticket sales.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” says Hansen. “There was no physical space to install a functional box-office window, so we created a reception counter like that in a five-star hotel.”

The lobby, which has tripled in size, also is equipped with a sound-and-light lock that will shut out exterior sound when the inside doors are closed.

“There’s a fine attention to detail that people will notice,” says Singer. “There will be a sense of grandeur they haven’t seen before.”

“It’s always terrific when you can bring a building back to life,” says Hansen.

“Restoration and renovation efforts of historic buildings have made great strides over the last 20 years. There’s much more sensitivity to detail, to colors, to the intent of the original architect.”

The university hired outside experts, including the architectural firm Smith Group Inc., theatrical consultant Auerbach Associates and acoustical consultant Kirkegaard Associates to design the improvements. These same consultants successfully executed the transformation of the former Hancock Auditorium into Alfred Newman Recital Hall, an acoustical gem.

Bovard Auditorium was on display at a formal rededication event March 7, when the President’s Distinguished Artist Series welcomed world renowned cellist and former USC faculty member Lynn Harrell performing with the USC Thornton Symphony.

“The Thornton Symphony is perhaps the best student orchestra in the country,” says Robert A. Cutietta, dean of the USC Thornton School of Music. “I’m pleased to have them perform in a quality hall, and I believe it will also enhance the overall experience for our audiences.”

All Over Tan


Fans of Amy Tan got a standing-room-only tête-à-tête with the popular Chinese-American author at the January President’s Distinguished Artist Series. The sold-out event had to be moved from Newman Recital Hall to the larger Town & Gown to accommodate the 500-plus crowd. Tan spoke candidly about the inspiration behind her novels The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Bonesetter’s Daughter, sharing private details of her life and explaining how her personal experiences are woven into her stories. The San Francisco-based author described the trials of growing up the only child of Chinese immigrants whose Old World beliefs and superstitions were at odds with American culture. (Her name, Amy, is a variation on the Chinese “An-mei” meaning “blessing from America.”) She also told stories of her mother’s sayings, drawing laughs from Chinese speakers in the audience.

– Doris Gallan

Choir Babies

Illustration by Bryan Leister

When Handel wrote the Messiah, he could count on boys singing the soprano parts up to the age of 15 and beyond. Modern choirs have had to adapt to modern times. Today’s choir boys really are little boys – some not yet 8 when they chant their first “Hallelujah.” That’s because boys’ voices break “much earlier now than they did even 50 or 100 years ago,” USC biocommunications expert Hans von Leden told the Los Angeles Times. It may be bad news for choirmasters, but it’s good news for boys. Leden, who is founder of the Collegium Medicorum Theatri, an organization of physicians focusing on singers and actors, says antibiotics and better nutrition are the likely causes of puberty’s early onset, yielding well-fed, infection-free boys with, alas, deeper voices.

Scanned in Stone

Amman Citadel Inscription, ca. 9th century BCE, Archaeological Museum, Amman, Jordan.
Archaeological Photo by Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman, West Semitic Research. Courtesy Department of Antiquities, Jordan

Working in a dusty library, a museum basement and even the Sahara Desert, scholars photograph ancient inscriptions from biblical times.

Locked away in the leaky basement of Beirut’s war-torn National Museum, they lay covered in dirt, dust and several feet of water – ancient stones bearing the first known Phoenician inscriptions and some of the earliest known alphabetic texts.

The 3,000-year-old stones had been sealed up with concrete in the basement for nearly two decades. After the conflict ended in 1990, it took 10 more years for the water-damaged artifacts to be recovered and restored.

Then last summer, Bruce Zuckerman and Marilyn Lundberg showed up to produce the first detailed photographic documentation of these precious artifacts.

Based at USC’s West Semitic Research Project, Zuckerman and Lundberg are international experts on the use of traditional and digital photographic and advanced computer imaging techniques to record, reclaim and decipher ancient inscriptions. In Beirut, they worked with Phoenician language expert Christopher Rollston of the Emanuel School of Religion.

“Photographing these stones was a fulfillment of a dream I’ve had for 30 years,” says Zuckerman, an associate professor of religion. “These are some of the most important early inscriptions that we have.”

The inscriptions mostly commemorate the achievements and ancestry of Phoenician rulers. One text, written in ancient Aramaic, records perhaps the earliest known West Semitic treaty.

The three-week expedition placed the USC team in extreme work conditions. Besides heightened security, the researchers had to contend with high humidity, temperatures soaring to 113 degrees and frequent power outages. “Working with only one electrical outlet, we were plunged into darkness many times,” recalls Lundberg.

Set up in the dark corners of the museum’s cave-like basement, the researchers used a hand-cranked forklift to move the massive ancient stones and large format cameras outfitted with bellows and hoods to capture the finest surface details.

Zuckerman and Lundberg’s work has taken them to Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Russia, London, Paris and Berlin.

Their accomplishments include photo-documentation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Leningrad Codex (the oldest complete Hebrew Bible), and the oldest known alphabetic inscriptions from Wadi el-Hol (in the Egyptian Sahara).

While photographs – some dating back to the early 1900s – already exist of ancient artifacts, the quality is “generally very poor,” explains Zuckerman.

Texts based on substandard photographs are often misread by scholars, which in turn results in academic books being published based on incorrect information. “It’s our job to substantially improve that data,” Zuckerman says.

Last fall, the researchers visited the British Library to discuss a biblical manuscript project there.

“We always seem to end up in the basement of some museum or library every summer,” Zuckerman says, laughing.

– Gia Scafidi

Budding Artists

Jasmine Uribe’s art projects normally get displayed on the refrigerator, mounted by magnet. This time, however, the creative talents of this third-grader from Foshay Learning Center were showcased in an entirely different manner. In January, museum professionals from the USC Fisher Gallery sifted through paintings, drawings and mixed media created by Jasmine and dozens of other schoolchildren in search of that certain “je ne sais quoi” – the seeds of a budding artist. The Fisher Gallery provided the raw materials and invited students to create art on a specific theme. The museum pros then curated and professionally installed 30 of the best pictures, hanging them for a weeklong special exhibition open to the public in University Village’s food court.

Funded in part by a USC Neighborhood Outreach grant, the “Art in the Village” program is open to youngsters attending the USC Family of Schools (seven area schools “adopted” by the university). Six such competitions and shows are scheduled during the year, and each exhibition is unveiled at a reception honoring the student-artists. “Children need art,” says USC Fisher Gallery education and outreach coordinator Jeanette La Vere. “Looking at art and creating it is fun, and it inspires creativity and confidence. The arts make learning easier and more meaningful.”

– Katharine Diaz

No Silence, Please!

Intellectual Commons
Photo by eric mankin

Writer and law professor Susan Estrich opens Doheny Library’s new Intellectual Commons with a discussion of women and power.

Borrowing a leaf from the Borders and Barnes & Noble superstores, Doheny Memorial Library recently unveiled its new Intellectual Commons to an overflow crowd who came to hear USC law professor Susan Estrich speak.

Designed to be “a place where you will never see a sign asking you to be quiet,” says dean of USC libraries Jerry Campbell, the Intellectual Commons serves as a congenial meeting place for informal and scholarly activities.

“Because graduate students and faculty spend a lot of time these days on the Internet, in isolation, we wanted to provide a space for you in this library where you can see your colleagues or mentors face to face,” Campbell said at the Commons’ grand opening in January.

Comfortable couches and chairs, vending machines in adjacent rooms, wireless connectivity for laptops and the conspicuous absence of silence are the space’s dominant features. Shelves have been filled with the library’s latest acquisitions and recent faculty publications.

Kicking off a series of intellectual events in the new commons, Estrich discussed why, after decades of equal access to education and jobs, women remain scarce at middle and highest echelons of power. Elaborating on her 2000 book, Sex and Power, she related how she had assumed when she began her career in the 1970s that things would be different for women who came after. Thirty years later, she says, “I don’t understand why I’m still talking about this.”

Estrich, who managed Michael Dukakis’s 1987-88 Democratic presidential campaign, has a glittering list of “first woman” credits, including the first female president of the Harvard Law Review, as well as the youngest woman ever to receive tenure at Harvard Law School.

In addition to her USC teaching and research, Estrich writes the “Portia” column for American Lawyer Media and a nationally syndicated column that appears in the Washington Post, Boston Herald and Houston Chronicle. She is a member of the board of contributors of USA Today, a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times and a corporate consultant. Other books by Estrich include Real Rape; Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System; and Dealing with Dangerous Offenders.

– Eric Mankin

Bland and Biased?

Is there a liberal media bias? Or a conservative one? Pundits aplenty will punt for either position, but USC’s Neal Gabler says the question misses the point. The vast majority of today’s reporters and editors may indeed vote Democrat, notes the senior fellow at USC’s Norman Lear Center, but their politics rarely trump their sense of professionalism. “The dirty little secret of network newscasts, and of most major newspapers … is that they are trying to attract the widest possible viewership, or readership, and that doing so necessitates that they be as inoffensive as possible,” Gabler wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece. “That is why investigative reports seem so toothless …. That is also why both network TV news and the major newspapers seem so bland compared with cable news or the tabloids.”


Shelf Life

A Psychiatric Switch
The mentally ill can make reasonable decisions about their own welfare. So let them, says USC legal expert.

Refusing Care: Forced Treatment and the Rights of the Mentally Ill
by Elyn R. Saks
University of Chicago Press, $35

The majority of the nation’s psychiatric patients are mentally capable of making decisions when it comes to their own health care – and they should be granted the right to do so, according to USC law and psychiatry professor Elyn R. Saks.

Her latest book, Refusing Care: Forced Treatment and the Rights of the Mentally Ill, is the result of a careful analysis of numerous case histories, but it also comes out of Saks’ personal experience with the mentally ill.

A chaired law professor in the USC Law School, Saks is also a research clinical associate at the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. As an attorney, she has represented psychiatric patients in court cases involving such issues as medication refusal, civil commitment and special education.

“In a world of limited resources, it makes sense not to impose treatment on those who should not be treated against their will,” she says. “Dollars inappropriately spent on these people could instead be used to deliver services to people who truly want them or ought to get them.”

Saks suggests a new approach to caring for the mentally ill: be more protective of their rights and autonomy yet allow for greater intervention in some cases, such as following a first episode of psychosis.

Years of teaching and studying mental health law, as well as her training in psychoanalysis, have led Saks to believe that the forced treatment of the mentally ill should be severely limited as a common practice.

“In most cases, talk is better than force,” says Saks, who has written extensively on standards of competency for the mentally ill.

“I found that when I represented psychiatric patients, most of them were pretty reasonable, contrary to popular opinion. They could listen and, even though some people may be somewhat in denial about their situation, most ended up agreeing to seek help,” she says.

In Refusing Care, Saks argues that civil commitments, or forced hospitalizations, should be reserved only for those who pose a serious danger to others or are very disabled. Furthermore, she contends, most patients should be allowed to refuse medication or other treatment, absent an emergency – after all, medical treatment is not forced on the non-mentally ill even if they clearly need it.

“Generally, we believe that people know themselves best and care about themselves the most,” Saks says. “So honoring someone’s competent choices and protecting their autonomy serves a lot of values we hold dear.”

In the same vein, Saks believes psychiatric hospitals in the United States should do away with their frequent use of seclusion and mechanical restraints: the psychological and bodily injury done to patients far outweighs the limited benefits.

In rare cases Saks agrees that violating someone’s autonomy is justified. In general, however, society should strive to treat the mentally ill without bias or discrimination – that is, no differently than other patients.

“Our treatment of the mentally ill frequently swings between over-intervention and utter neglect,” says Saks.

“We sometimes force treatments on those who do not want them, and at other times, discharge mentally ill patients who do want treatment without providing adequate resources for their care.”

– Phat X. Chiem

Courses of Action
Afrocentrism and creationism share a common goal: both want public schools to accept their canon.

Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools
by Amy Binder
Princeton University Press, $35

At first blush, Afrocentrism and creationism don’t seem to have much in common. The former argues that black Egyptians founded Western civilization. The latter, meanwhile, claims that evolution must be “qualified” in science classes.

But closer examination reveals the two camps share some basic goals and tactics. Both are fighting for influence in school systems, notes USC sociologist Amy Binder in Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools.

Binder looked at how both local politics and a school system’s structure can help or hurt a cause, documenting various Afrocentrist and creationist challenges in Atlanta, Ga., Washington D.C., California, Louisiana and Kansas during the 1980s and ’90s.

The book maps out similarities and differences between the campaigns. Although both groups made similar arguments about “righting historical wrongs taught in American public schools” and of “protecting their children from propaganda and falsehoods,” educators responded quite differently to the claims.

“Race was a big asset for Afrocentrists,” Binder says, while the constitutional injunction against church-state entanglement was a major stumbling block for creationists.

Afrocentrists also got a better response because their ideology seemed to offer a solution to the problem of urban school failure. “They could argue that generations of black children had been disadvantaged by sub-optimal education, and professional educators were forced to agree,” she says. Afrocentrist advocates could also accuse white educators who opposed them of “racism,” and black educators who rebuffed them of “race treason.” Many administrators feared these labels.

Christian conservatives tried to use similar arguments, but their appeals fell on deaf ears. They didn’t convince school administrators that Christian children had long been discriminated against, or that creationism would improve their intellectual and moral growth. Nor were educators afraid of being labeled “anti-Christian.”

However, despite Afrocentrists’ ability to make greater inroads into school systems, in the end both ideologies lost the war. Educators remained skeptical of the intellectual claims of each movement, and opted to shield curricula from the challenges.

– Gilien Silsby

Marriage, Violence and the Nation in the American Literary West
by William R. Handley
Cambridge University Press, $60

William R. Handley of USC’s English department examines histories and fiction by Wallace Stegner, Zane Grey, Willa Cather and Joan Didion, exploring the role of marriage in chapters with titles such as “Marrying for Race and Nation” and “Polygamy and Empire.” He argues that 20th-century American fiction tells a story of intra-ethnic violence surrounding marriage and families.

Prism
by David St. John
Arctos Press, $22
David St. John’s poetry melds with 17 color photographs by Lance Patigian. St. John, a professor of English, offers a collection of more than 40 verses, each with a reference to color, with luscious titles such as “Peach Fires,” “Blood Oranges” and “Saffron.” “This is a book of miracles,” writes fellow poet Norman Dubie of Prism. “The gestures … alone belong to some knowledge Rilke learned from Rodin.”

Joaquin Rodrigo: Complete Guitar Works, Vol. 2
CD by Scott Tennant
GHA Recordings, $18.98

In the second installment of his ambitious project to record all of Rodrigo’s solo guitar music, virtuoso and USC guitar faculty member Scott Tennant arranges and coaxes beauty from obscure and familiar works by this major 20th-century composer. From Rodrigo’s flamenco-flavored dances to graceful sonatas, a pastoral and a romance, Tennant gives fiery and soulful performances that pay homage to the maestro’s excruciatingly difficult (and neglected) repertoire.


Science News

Brotherhood of Man
We’re more genetically similar than scientists dreamed, according to a new study that chips away at the relevance of race.

Human populations from different parts of the world are genetically more alike than scientists previously thought, according to a major study by an international team of scientists published in the journal Science.

“It was surprising to see just how similar different populations were,” says USC molecular and computational biologist Noah Rosenberg, one of the study’s key contributors.

Yet the study also demonstrates that individuals’ geographic ancestry can be accurately inferred from DNA.

One of the largest studies of its kind, this project examined nearly 1,100 DNA samples from 52 populations in Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, America and Oceania. Populations were defined by geography, language and culture, and only participants with several generations of ancestors known to have lived in the same locale were used.

The researchers focused on 377 segments of the human genome – the same DNA sections commonly used as inheritance markers in medical and evolutionary studies. Each of the 377 sections contained four to 32 distinct genotypes (DNA sequence types).

“Most of the genotypes were found in people from several continents,” says Rosenberg. This suggests that only a small fraction of genetic traits are unique to specific groups. In fact, the genomes of all humans are more than 99 percent identical.

In the less than one percent of the genome where genetic differences do exist, it would seem likely that two people from different regions would have many more differences than two people from the same region.

On the contrary. Rosenberg and his colleagues found that 94 percent of genetic differences were among individuals from the same populations, an estimate considerably exceeding previous ones of about 85 percent, based on studies with less data.

Despite humans’ genetic similarities, DNA can play a vital role in identifying the geographic region from which one’s ancestors came.

“While most genetic types are widely distributed geographically, the frequencies of these types vary around the world,” Rosenberg explains. “Combinations of types across many parts of the genome may be frequent in one group but rare in most others.”

To demonstrate this, Rosenberg applied a powerful statistical technique. The geographic labels of the individuals were removed, and individuals were placed into “clusters” using only their DNA genotypes.

The team found that people from Eurasia, the geographic region that includes Europe, the Middle East and Central and South Asia, were among the most difficult populations to assign ancestries.

“This is most likely due to a complex history of migrations, conquests and trade over the past few thousand years,” says Rosenberg.

– Gia Scafidi

LEARN MORE ABOUT IT

Disease and Ancestry

Because different populations experience varying disease rates, is grouping subjects by ancestry more useful in medical research than grouping them according to genetic similarities? Both are equally sound gauges, says Noah Rosenberg. “On the one hand,” he says, “grouping patients by genetic similarities will benefit forthcoming studies that will scan the entire human genome

for potential genetic causes of disease. On the other hand, when you ask someone about his
ancestry, you also get information about cultural differences and behaviors, which may be associated with risk factors for certain diseases.”


Making a Meal of Metal
Introducing Shewanella oneidensis, a newly sequenced bacterium that may hold the key to a cleaner environment.

One day we could have bacteria to thank for a cleaner Earth.

Shewanella oneidensis, to be specific. Genome sequencing has begun to reveal the genetic secrets of this bacterial species that has the potential to remove toxins from contaminated water.

Knowing an organism’s genomic sequence creates opportunities to modify its behavior, perhaps causing mutations that make it do what it already does, only better and faster, says USC earth scientist Kenneth Nealson. He has been studying S. oneidensis for years with colleagues at the Rockville, Md.-based Institute for Genomic Research.

So what does S. oneidensis do? It and other Shewanella species excel at breaking down chromium, uranium and other pollutant metals.

Chromium – some forms of which have been linked to cancer and digestive ailments – was the focus of a major environmental case in the 1990s. (Remember Erin Brockovich?) Uranium is a harmful radioactive element.

“If not cleaned up, chromium and uranium could cause monstrous health problems,” says Nealson. Both metals remain at the top of the Department of Energy’s most-wanted list.

Shewanella is naturally found throughout the world, particularly in nutrient-rich sediment in lakes and rivers.

“If, down the road, we were able to use this bacterium for specific clean-up projects,” says Nealson, “we wouldn’t be altering the environment by adding it because Shewanella is already naturally there.”

In the course of deciphering Shewanella’s genomic sequence, the scientists also discovered a bacterial virus, known as a phage, which may be the linchpin to genetically manipulating and designing new strains of the bacterium.

“Ideally, we would want to use Shewanella’s phages to transport its genetic ability to reduce toxic metals,” explains Nealson.

Water treatment processes – which involve pumping contaminated sources from the ground and chemically treating them – can be extremely expensive and slow. Harnessing bacteria to do the same job could reduce the cost of cleanups while improving their effectiveness. “These organisms,” says Nealson, “work thousands of times faster than industrial pumping and treating ever would.”

Nealson isolated Shewanella in 1988. “From the beginning, I could tell this microbe would keep us busy for at least the next 15 years,” he says. “But I never imagined that this little bug could offer so much potential.”

He predicts environmentalists will be performing bioremediation of metals on demand in the next 10 to 20 years.

“Hardly a month goes by anymore that researchers don’t discover a new metal-reducing bacteria,” Nealson says. “I am quite optimistic that, eventually, we will have a variety of different bacteria cleaning up a variety of different environments.”

– Gia Scafidi

Labor in Haste

Today, one in five babies is born after labor has been induced by a drug – that’s double the proportion seen in 1990. In about half these cases, there isn’t any medical problem with the mother or her unborn baby. “Most women just want to get their pregnancies over with,” USC obstetrics expert Deborah A. Wing told the New York Times. “They consider it abnormal if they go one day past their due date.” But doctors should know better, shouldn’t they? “Obstetrics has become very consumer-driven,” says Wing. “When a woman can’t get what she wants from one doctor, she’ll go to another, so economics is driving the issue a bit.” Rushing Mother Nature has a price, though. “The Caesarean section rates are doubled anytime you try to force the process along,” notes Wing. Labor in haste, repent at leisure.


People Watch

Bel Canto Bytes
Se vuol cantare, Signor Computer: An opera-singing computer scientist pines for a virtual duet partner.

Lewis Johnson is a former member of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, a seasoned baritone who has sung with the L.A. Philharmonic and Los Angeles Opera. “I sing,” he says, “because there is something about those few minutes on stage that make up for all the effort of preparing.”

Among his favorite arias are the duets from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Someday he hopes to sing these with a soprano of his own creation.

Johnson’s day job as a computer scientist at the USC School of Engineering’s Information Sciences Institute gives him the tools to breathe life into “agents.” These computer programs spring to action as animated characters on a monitor. Perhaps the most advanced – certainly the one Johnson and ISI co-worker Jeff Rickel have been developing longest – is an agent called Steve, a robotic flight instructor. Trainees put on virtual-reality goggles and gloves to interact with Steve, who lectures the students, poses questions, corrects and praises them – all in a robotic monotone.

In recent years Steve’s face has become more expressive: able to smile, frown, raise eyebrows, roll his eyes. Sadly, programming expression into his voice isn’t so easy. Steve’s voice is assembled from recordings (or “samples”) of a human voice making various sounds, which the program synthesizes into speech. “We’ve been able to create voices that convey intent – commanding, informing, requesting – and emphasis,” says Johnson. But there has been little progress getting agents to spontaneously modulate sounds to convey interest, warmth, curiosity, irritation, amusement or any of the countless emotions humans effortlessly inject into words.

“My training in vocal music has made me sensitive to breadth of expression that the emotions convey,” says Johnson, who studied voice at Yale, the Music Academy of the West and UCLA. “But to convey such expression in a computer-generated singing voice is still beyond the state of the art.”

Until Steve learns to sing, his creator will have to settle for singing with other humans. In March, Johnson performed his latest role, as Olin Blitch in Carlisle Floyd’s opera Susannah at Ventura College.

– Eric Mankin

Deadly Game theory

How to combat terrorism? Conventional approaches might include careful surveillance, vigilant security, employing tipsters and following the money trail. USC economist Todd Sandler adds a new dimension: game theory. Sandler, along with researcher Walter Enders of the University of Alabama, has spent years studying transnational terrorism using game theory and time-series analysis to document the cyclic and shifting nature of terrorist attacks in response to defensive counteractions. Their findings have been used to evaluate anti-terrorist efforts by the CIA, the State Department, the Canadian Mounties and other agencies. “Our research demonstrates that even the best counters to terrorism have unintended negative consequences,” Sandler says. “For instance, installing metal detectors in airports, one study showed, decreased skyjackings by 13 percent, but other kinds of hostage-takings and assassinations rose by 10 percent during the same period.” Such research may lead to more effective strategies for fighting terrorism, the researchers believe. Their work recently garnered a $20,000 National Academy of Sciences prize presented once every three years for “behavioral research relevant to the prevention of nuclear war.”

Wait, Don’t Vaccinate

Smallpox Soothsayer

Thomas Mack wants to take the paranoia out of the nation’s concerns over smallpox. The disease is “not as infectious as its reputation would suggest,” he told the Baltimore Sun in December, just as the Bush administration’s sweeping vaccination policy was making waves. The White House plan calls for all military personnel in high-risk areas to be inoculated promptly, and about 450,000 civilian health-care workers soon thereafter. The public will be offered the vaccine starting next year. The USC professor of preventive medicine thinks this is overkill, literally, with a vaccine that produces life-threatening complications in 15 out of a million cases. He recommends instead vaccinating just 15,000 health care workers – a program he detailed last January in an attention-getting article for the New England Journal of Medicine. Mack had firsthand experience with smallpox from 1966 to 1968, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent him to Pakistan to study it. The CDC used his findings to plan the eradication campaign. The last known case of smallpox was in 1977. Unless the nation faces specific, repeated threats, the dangers of mass vaccination, Mack argues, outweigh the potential lives saved. An emergency team of specialists could care for victims and isolate their contacts who have been exposed. Only these workers should receive vaccinations, he says. – Alicia Di Rado

Total Recall
A computer scientist takes on the vagueries of memory.

Maybe Leana Golubchik has seen too many Arnold Schwarzenegger films. How else to explain the following remark?

“I think it would be great,” she says, “if I could remember every conversation I’ve ever had and every place I’ve ever visited and have the ability to play it back, or recall it, for myself and for others.”

Coming from anyone else, that might sound like errant nonsense. In Golubchik’s case, it’s the stunningly ambitious research goal of her Total Recall project.

“It starts with the use of personal sensors – like a microphone array in my glasses or a camera in my necklace – and other sensors, all used to record ‘my’ version of the world,” says Golubchik, a computer scientist based at USC’s Integrated Media Systems Center.

Providing this kind of all-encompassing recording and playback capability is just one goal of her Total Recall project. She’s currently concentrating on IMSC’s 2020 Classroom Project, another effort that sounds like science fiction: the goal is to bring together students and teachers by peer-to-peer high-resolution video and immersive audio in 3-D shared environments.

Golubchik is contributing to a system for recording and playing back previous lectures in their original settings – to be saved in a massive online distributed archive of interactive presentations and simulations. She’s making headway on techniques to process and index the audio.

She envisions other possible Total Recall systems with health care applications: a microphone array placed on a hearing-impaired person’s glasses that collects audio, converts it to text, and displays it on a personal digital assistant in real time. Or a system that recalls a patient’s food intake and sends a warning signal if, say, a diabetic reaches for a doughnut; or allows doctors to review a patient’s vital statistics before and after a heart attack.

The way Golubchik sees it, technology’s purpose is to improve the quality of human life – and that includes improving human abilities that can diminish, are missing or need enhancement, such as memory.

“Some people’s first reaction is fear when they hear about a system that records everything, every moment and everywhere you go,” she says. “But the reality is this is already starting to happen around us. There are cameras everywhere.”

Someday if not now, we will live in a world that is constantly recording, she predicts. “And it is up to us, researchers and technology developers, to make sure that it is done right, with proper security, privacy and integrity measures.”

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