Six Degrees, Hold the Bacon

    He may have taught our friends in Hyde Park, but that hasn’t kept Northwestern from having an enduring fascination with President Barack Obama. If you don’t believe me, just Google “Obama’s Big Ten team.” Of course, he’s not our only presidential object of affection: Our own president has a certain charisma, and the Cult of Morty is alive and well here at Northwestern. But what if there were a way to connect the two?

    Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was closely involved with Northwestern’s campaign to demolish Prentice Women’s Hospital, and he apparently advised President Morton Schapiro to engage in a PR blitz in response to a preservation campaign. Before that, of course, Emanuel was in the White House, serving as Obama’s Chief of Staff.

    Michael S. McPherson, Morty’s longtime writing partner in economics, is now president of the Spencer Foundation, which invests in education research. The Foundation’s former president, Patricia Graham, served on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge for public school reform. Also on that board? Barack Obama, naturally.

    Most academics, Morty included, can be linked to Hungarian mathemetician Paul Erdös through other co-authors and collaborators. It’s called an Erdös number, and it’s easily the most boring parlor game in the world.

    Morty authored a paper about college choice and future wages with Lori Kletzer of Colby College, who later wrote a policy brief with Robert E. Litan on worker anxiety. Dr. Litan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, appeared on a panel together with Columbia’s Joseph E. Stiglitz at the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s 30th annual conference. Stiglitz authored with economist Partha S. Dasgupta, who wrote with Nobel laureate Eric S. Maskin, who co-authored with decision-making pioneer Peter C. Fishburn, who wrote with Paul Erdös. That gives Morty an Erdös number of seven.

    Kevin Bacon needs no extensive introduction. Paul Erdös himself actually has a Bacon number of five, because he’s linked through mathematician Ronald Graham, who appeared in an experimental documentary with choreographer Merce Cunningham. Cunningham appeared in a documentary on composer John Cage with Rutger Hauer. Hauer served as the henchman of evil queen Dianne Wiest in the fantasy miniseries The 10th Kingdom, and Wiest of course played the reverend’s wife in Kevin Bacon’s magnum opus, Footloose. The Baconator himself has an Obama number of two, because he starred with Tom Hanks in Apollo 13, and Tom Hanks was in a documentary about the Obama campaign, which, of course, Barack Obama was also in. All together, that gives Morty an Erdös-Bacon-Obama number of 14.


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