The University of Chicago Magazine

October 1997



German and Jewish

From early Yiddish literature through the work of Heinrich Heine, Sigmund Freud, and Franz Kafka, the Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture, 1096­1996 (Yale)-edited by Jack Zipes of the University of Minnesota and Sander L. Gilman, a U of C professor of the liberal arts in human biology, Germanic studies, comparative literature, the Committee on Jewish Studies, and psychiatry-chronicles nine centuries of the German-Jewish intellectual and cultural experience. Examining political and social events, cultural debates, and literary movements, as well as German-Jewish writers themselves, the book's 119 contributors explore the uniqueness of the Jewish contribution to German thought and ask what it means to be the "other" within mainstream German culture. Discussing themes of exile, achievement, identity, and the relationships between cultures, the essays analyze everything from Renaissance Jewish mysticism to West Germany's 1979 broadcast of the American television series Holocaust.


Calculation Reevaluation

Just what is the size of the federal deficit? Not as great as it seems, according to U of C economist Thomas Sargent, who says the amount consists mostly of interest costs on the federal government's borrowing, and those costs are overstated by the U.S. Treasury. In the July/August issue of Economic Perspectives, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Sargent-who consults for the bank-and George J. Hall, an economist at the bank, write that the official calculations ignore "the effects of inflation and changes in interest rates on the value of the outstanding federal obligations." And they note: "Compared with the official numbers, the true figures are much more variable, and lower on average."


Comfortably Numb

Though doctors have used anesthesia for 155 years, they did so without understanding how it numbs pain. But with recent research that could help in designing new medications and provide insight into the genetics of alcoholism, scientists from the U of C Medical Center, the University of Colorado at Denver, and the University of Pennsylvania are beginning to understand anesthesia's effects on the brain. Their study, published in Nature, shows that both alcohol and anesthetics increase the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA, which prevents nerve cells from sending sensory information to the brain and causes the unconsciousness and amnesia associated with anesthetics. The re-searchers are now developing mice with mutant GABA receptors to verify that the effects of alcohol and anesthesia change when the receptors are altered. Says study director Neil Harrison, a U of C associate professor of anesthesia and critical care, "This allows us to begin the process of designing and synthesizing new anesthetics based on where and how they work, rather than on serendipity and sheer dumb luck."


Baby Birds and Bees

Puberty may actually start at age 6, according to U of C psychologists Martha McClintock and Gilbert Herdt. The two say that the hormones responsible for initiating puberty come not from the testes and ovaries, but rather from the adrenal glands, which are usually associated with stress hormones. In the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, McClintock and Herdt write that the body's levels of the adrenal androgen DHEA begin increasing at age 6, reach a critical level at 10, and arrive at adult levels at 18. That corresponds with their idea of sexuality as a developmental process: Initially, the androgen seems to cause changes in complexion and a growth spurt, while sexual attraction first appears at 9 and 10, turning into desire two years later, and action another two years after that.

Also in Investigations:

Town and Country

Oriental Institute researchers Tony Wilkinson and McGuire Gibson, AM'64, PhD'68, uncover ancient Arabia.

Secondhand Smoke The effects on pregnant women and their children.

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