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5 FRIDAY Nowadays "courtesan" is just a fancy way of saying "hooker," but centuries ago it referred to a prostitute distinguished by her beauty, refinement, and artistry. This weekend's conference on The Courtesan's Arts brings together historians, anthropologists, musicologists, and others to examine courtesan cultures such as those that thrived in ancient Greece, precolonial India, and Renaissance Italy. Sponsored by the University of Chicago and the Newberry Library, the three-day event includes talks illuminating the connections between the rise and fall of courtesan cultures and other forms of social change, such as industrialization and colonization. There'll also be a performance of Italian courtesans' music by the Newberry Consort and a demonstration of north Indian nautch dance by the Chitresh Das Dance Company. The conference starts today at 9:30 AM at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton, and runs through Sunday, with other events at the U. of C.'s Franke Institute for the Humanities (in the Joseph Regenstein Library, 1100 E. 57th) and Fulton Recital Hall (in Goodspeed Hall, 1010 E. 59th). All the lectures are free; tickets to the Newberry Consort's performance (tonight at 8) range from $10 to $35; call 312-255-3700. Call 312-255-3514 or see music.uchicago.edu/courtesan/index.html for more information.

Fans of lurid, inhuman, and overblown art take note: tonight's Curious Terrors exhibit features artists who share a wicked sense of humor about their work. Held in conjunction with the Chicago installment of the Electronic Puppenhorten Festival, a carnivalesque program of noisy electronic music that emphasizes costume and setting, the one-night-only installation includes macabre drawings from the 70s and 80s by the late Jim Osbourne, grotesque paintings by Gregory Jacobsen, optical effects by Jayme Kalal, a dress made completely of Band-Aids by Cat Chow, and medical-themed photography by Reader contributor Suzy Poling, who organized and curated the event. The free exhibit opens tonight at 7 at Chicago/Ashland Office Space, 755 N. Ashland. The Electronic Puppenhorten Festival--featuring Chicago's Metalux, Pretty Boy Bludgeon Theatre, and Dr. Glob Muta Physician as well as like-minded musicians from Baltimore and San Francisco--starts at 10. Admission is $8; call 773-671-6085 for more information.

The avant-garde Japanese dance form butoh is often characterized by striking visual imagery and painfully slow movements. In Hobo Love Stories, a multimedia performance piece by Canadian artists Shirka Urechko and Erin May, Urechko aims to fuse the rigors of butoh with the freestyle pops and spins of break dancing. Inspired by the train-tagging graffiti subculture of the teens to the north, the piece includes spoken word by May, an original score, and a "virtual fashion show." Its U.S. premiere is tonight at 7:30 at the Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph, with additional performances Saturday, April 6, at 7:30 and Sunday, April 7, at 4:30. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by phone at 312-742-8497.

6 SATURDAY Stem cell therapy is tricky business. While it's been employed successfully to rejuvenate diseased portions of mouse hearts and evidence suggests it could replace insulin injections for those with diabetes, the ethical questions raised by the harvesting of preembryonic goo--the preferred source of said cells--have engaged everyone from priests to politicians. Today a half dozen experts, including Ron McKay of the National Institutes of Health and former Tenth District representative John Porter, will lecture and participate in a free panel discussion on Human Stem Cell Research: Problems and Promise. It runs from 9 AM to 12:30 PM at Northwestern University's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 1977 South Campus Dr. in Evanston. Call 847-491-5521 for more information.

7 SUNDAY Hard Time, a best-selling V.I. Warshawski detective novel from prolific Hyde Parker Sara Paretsky, revolves around the case of a global media conglomerate and the glamorous movie company that owns it. The subplot, however, deals with the abuses and injustices of the penal system. Today at 2 Paretsky will speak about her research on torture and women's-prison conditions in Illinois at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington in Evanston. Her talk, which is sponsored by Amnesty International, will be followed by a screening of Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experiment, a 1988 film on the classic 1971 psychological study that placed volunteer "prisoners" and "guards" in a mock prison and documented how their treatment of each other deteriorated over just six days. It's free; call 847-475-7264 for more information.

8 MONDAY Roads are congested and crumbling and the airline industry has been battered by labor unrest and the threat of terrorism. But a healthy economy depends on efficient transportation, which explains why the High Speed Rail Investment Act was proposed to the U.S. Senate last year. Today Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. will speak about the social and economic benefits of a superfast rail network connecting the 48 contiguous states: for one thing, supporters argue, construction would put a lot of unemployed steelworkers back to work. The free community forum starts at 6 at the Chicago Public Library's South Chicago branch, 9055 S. Houston. Call 773-968-9814 for more information.

9 TUESDAY E-mail is the fastest and cheapest way to exchange information without straining precious vocal cords, but according to Margaret J. Wheatley, holding simple, face-to-face conversations is key to social change. Wheatley's the president of the Berkana Institute, a research organization that, according to its Web site, "serves the vision of a world where all people can experience themselves as whole, healthy, sacred and free." Tonight at 7 she'll speak about her most recent book, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, at Old Saint Patrick's Church Hall, 700 W. Adams. Admission is $15; call the Crossroads Center at 312-831-9350 for more information.

10 WEDNESDAY The Autonomous Zone, a nomadic eight-year-old anarchist community center, organizes such activities as bus trips to antiglobalization protests in other states, how-to seminars on bookbinding and making your own feminine hygiene products, film screenings, music recording workshops, and vegan potluck dinners. Now the center has designated Wednesday evenings as Queer Space, a forum for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered radicals to come together. Tonight at 6 the first planning meeting will be held at the center's most recent encampment, 2129 N. Milwaukee, and everyone is welcome to come brainstorm. It's free; see www.azone.org for more information.

11 THURSDAY If the strategic placement of objects, chimes, colors, and fragrances in our homes can help bring peace and prosperity, why not try it in the yard and see what happens? According to Pam Kai Tollefson, founder of the Feng Shui Design Institute, environment affects us just as much as personal actions; the more balanced our surroundings, the more calmness in our lives. Tonight at 6:30 she'll lecture on The Enchanted Garden at Bacino's, 118 S. Clinton. It's $35 if you register in advance or $40 at the door; pizza will be served. Call 312-527-9919 or 847-845-8088 to register.

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