Smile Politely

Listen Up: Speakers in C-U from November 10 – 16, 2008

You live near a major university. There are smart people that come here every week to talk to the general public about interesting topics. Perhaps you were not aware of this fact, or were overwhelmed by the sheer number of opportunities for possible transcendence. If that’s the case, Smile Politely understands and is here to help. Here are five speakers that will be on campus this week, and three of them took the time to answer a few questions about their area of expertise. Check one or more of them out if you have time.

Monday, November 10 @ 12 noon: Sustainability Seminar Series – “The University of Illinois Business Instructional Facility: What we know and what we don’t yet know about the Campus’ First Green Building”, Jean Ascoli, local architect, Stephen J. Warner Conference Room, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (Waste Management and Research Center Building), One E. Hazelwood Dr., Champaign

Smile Politely: Were you involved in the design of the building?

Jean Ascoli: Yes, I was responsible for managing the project for the University from the beginning of design through bidding. My responsibilities included communications liaison between the College of Business and the Design Team as well as lots of other University staff (e.g. Facilities and Services engineering and trades representatives, CITES and Classroom Technology staff, etc.). I was also responsible for managing the $62 M project budget for the University.

SP: What are some things that we don’t yet know about the building?

JA: There is a lot we don’t know yet and won’t know until the building is fully commissioned and has been occupied for a year or so. For example, we don’t yet know whether it will perform to the level of energy efficiency that the computer models have predicted. We also don’t know what impact the building users will have on its overall performance as a sustainable building. How the building is used will affect all aspects of it sustainable performance – from the type of cleaning products used that can potentially have adverse affects on indoor air quality to the mechanical unit programming and maintenance that can affect the building energy consumption to how the grounds crews handle maintenance of the native and adaptive plantings around the building.

SP: How do you think that “green building” practices have affected architecture? Do they stifle creativity in any way?

JA: First I would say that the advent of the “green revolution” in architecture has not stifled creativity but in fact has challenged architects to reach for and attain much higher levels of creativity. It has also taken a profession that in many ways has been practiced in isolation from the other professions related to building design and construction and forced those professionals to work more collaboratively throughout the design and construction process. The most successful green projects have been done with deep and continuous integration and collaboration across the design disciplines and included contractor input during design as well. This is a change in the profession – but one that will result in better projects, better buildings.

I’ll be talking about the highly successful collaboration and integration of the design process on the College of Business building – but I’ll also be talking about some of the “green” elements that were included in the original design but which had disappeared by the time the building was completed. The explanations for this vary but they mostly have to do with the difference between the way buildings go together in reality vs. the ideals that are communicated on paper by designers.

Tuesday, November 11 @ 3:30 p.m.: “Putting the water back into forested wetlands: bottomland birds benefit!”, Dr. Jeff Hoover, Illinois Natural History Survey, Section for Wildlife and Plant Ecology, I-Building,
1816 S. Oak St., Champaign, Room 1005

Wednesday, November 12 @ 12 noon: “Was Rashid Rida Really a Religious Pluralist?: Reassessing Rida’s Discourse on Salvation”, Dr. Mohammad Hassan Khalil, UIUC Professor Religious Studies, Lucy Ellis Lounge, 1080 Foreign Language Building

Smile Politely: Not to give away too much, but why do you feel Rida’s discourse on pluralism requires reassessment?

Mohammad Hassan Khalil: Muhammad Rashid Rida (d. 1935) was a prominent and influential Muslim Arab thinker. His views regarding salvation, particularly as it relates to the fate of ‘Others’ (i.e., non-Muslims) has been appropriated by more than one modern scholar to justify a pluralistic interpretation of Islamic scripture. Meanwhile, others regard Rida as an exclusivist. My goal is to reassess these various claims; my findings are quite interesting! (How’s that for a teaser?)

SP: What is the atmosphere toward Muslims like in C-U compared to the cities in Michigan that you lived in previously?

MHK: I’ve spent my entire life in diverse college towns (East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Chambana), and so I haven’t really noticed any major differences in terms of attitudes toward Muslims. On the whole, I’d say that people are open-minded in this neck of the woods (although you always have your exceptions).

SP: How did you become interested in Rida’s work?

MHK: My study of Rida is part of a larger project of looking at the various views of prominent medieval and modern Muslim scholars regarding salvation and the fate of ‘Others.’ (And the very fact that we find a wide variety of perspectives problematizes what is all too often taken for granted in modern treatments of Islamic thought.)

SP: Would a non-academic be interested in your talk? If so, what would they hope to gain?

MHK: I think so. The topic will probably interest individuals interested in religion, history, and the debate over whether we are headed toward a “clash of civilizations.”

Thursday, November 14 @ 4 p.m.: “Stalin and Mao: New Light from Russian Archives”, Dr. Alexander Pantsov, Capital University, 101 International Studies Building

Friday, November 15 @ 3 p.m.: “Why it Matters that Some Are Worse Off Than Others: An Argument Against the Priority View”, Dr. Michael Otsuka, University of London, 213 Gregory Hall

Smile Politely: Not to give away too much, but why does it matter that some are better off than others?

Michael Otsuka: Suppose that you’re a decent, compassionate individual who is considering the predicament of one badly off person in isolation from the fate of others. When deciding what sort of benefits you ought to provide this person, it is reasonable to accord equal moral weight to equally large increases in her welfare, independently of how badly off she is. By contrast, in cases involving many people in which you must choose between benefiting some people or benefiting others, empirical data indicates that we regard an increase in the welfare of someone who is less well off as of significantly greater importance than an equally large increase for someone who is better off. My co-author Alex Voorhoeve and I argue that this shift in the moral weight that we accord to increases in welfare when we move from the case of an isolated person to the case involving many persons is inconsistent with a well known and powerfully attractive theory about how we should distribute goods called the Priority View (about which see more below). We explain why such a shift is justified by an appeal to moral views that are essentially comparative in nature insofar as they either appeal to the badness of unfair inequality or assess each person’s claims in the light of the comparative strength of the claims of others. We argue that the Priority View is mistaken because, in ruling out such essentially comparative considerations, it ignores the moral significance of the fact that we are distinct individuals, each with his separate life to lead. That last remark is a bit cryptic, and you’ll have to attend the talk if you’d like to have it decoded!

SP: What would you say that a non-academic could hope to gain from attending your talk?

MO: (1) A greater understanding of why it is that we should come to the assistance of the badly off. Is the strength of our reason to come to their assistance simply a function of how badly off they are? That’s what the Priority View maintains. A defender of this view advances the plausible claim that the strength of our reason to come to the assistance of someone who is badly off should not depend on whether there are others who happen to be better off than that person. We show that this claim is false. (2) An exposure to the methods of analytic philosophy, in which, in the words of the late Robert Nozick, ‘there are elaborate arguments, claims rebutted by unlikely counterexamples, surprising theses, puzzles, abstract structural conditions, challenges to find another theory which fits a specified range of cases, startling conclusions, and so on’. A handful of those who attend philosophy talks become utterly hooked to this way of thinking, as I did the first time I stumbled upon lectures in philosophy as an undergraduate.

SP: How are you liking Pittsburgh?

MO: I second the following remarks by Barack Obama to a New York Times reporter: “I’ve been struck by how many beautiful places there are in the country that you don’t necessarily think of as beautiful. Pittsburgh, for example, is a really handsome town with the rivers and the hills.”

SP: What do you think the election of Barack Obama means for the cause of left-libertarians in the U.S.?

MO: As the title of a book I’ve written called Libertarianism without Inequality suggests, I believe in a form of egalitarianism that is also libertarian. There is some evidence that Obama does as well. Recall the clashes he had with Hillary Clinton over health care during the primaries. Clinton claimed that Obama’s health care plan fell short of universal coverage because it did not include a mandate that everyone be covered. This was how Obama responded in a debate: ‘My belief is that if we make [heath insurance] affordable, if we provide subsidies to those who can’t afford it, they will buy it. Senator Clinton has a different approach. She believes that we have to force people who don’t have health insurance to buy it.’ Obama’s approach is egalitarian because he would subsidize insurance to make it affordable. But it is libertarian because he would not force everyone to purchase such insurance.

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