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August 2008 Archives

August 1, 2008

Still life with dinosaurs

A small boy with bowl-cut black hair and a blue shirt dotted with airplanes drew on the white tablecloth, using his clay's mud tracks for ink instead of making the demonstrated pot. He was among the 30 or 40 children, aged 2 through 10, whose parents or caretakers had brought them to the Smart Museum for Wednesday's final installment of the Art Afternoon series, a free summer arts-and-crafts program. The most dedicated attendees said they'd been to all four of the season's previous workshops. Smart Museum docents and the museum's outreach and education-technology coordinator Melissa Holbert supervised and assisted.

This week's activity was making pots and dishes—or, for the more imaginative, miniature chairs—out of clay. The artists could watch a demonstration on the Smart Kids Web site before they began. After viewing it, one mother warned her daughter that she was going to get dirty. “That’s OK,” responded the girl authoritatively from under her pink sun hat. “When it dries you can wash it off.”

Two cousins sat at the end of a table. “He’s making a dinosaur,” one said, pointing to the other, who was using a plastic knife to scratch figures into the bottom of his bowl. “No,” said the second boy, “I’m not making a dinosaur. I’m making a dino-SAUR!” He added a person to the scene. When asked if dinosaurs are extinct, he exclaimed, “There’s no such thing as that. I’ve seen a dinosaur, a real one. But it was in a cage. It was that really big one—what’s that one called?”

Tyrannosaurus rex?”

His eyes lit up. “Yeah, that one. A T-rex.”

Shira Tevah, '09

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Photos (left to right): A girl contemplates her lump of clay; participants watch the demo on a laptop; "It looks like chicken!" says the boy on the left; a mother helps her child.

August 4, 2008

Paper, plain


At first glance, a Pablo Picasso-signed letter inviting a donor to his statue’s dedication in Daley Plaza doesn’t seem to have much in common with a series of decollage coasters—but in the contemporary gallery of the Smart Museum, they hang side by side. In the exhibit On Paper, on display through August 15, the curators examine the properties of paper as a "medium, material, and subject."

The curators are also the artists, and they took inspiration from the Smart Museum's permanent collection, which they culled to create this exhibit, choosing works that fit their thematic idea. Seven rising second-year MFA candidates curated the show, displaying their own pieces next to the ones they chose from the Smart. The students' pieces, hanging side by side with the Picasso letter and works by Kerry James Marshall and Walker Evans, investigate the limits of paper, and also of politics, the circulation of ideas and materials, and how repositioning some objects can make them art when they may not have previously been considered so.

The Picasso letter, for example, was not considered an art object when it was donated to the museum, says collections curator Stephanie Smith, who assisted the students. However, set in a frame and hanging next to a print by 20th-century abstract expressionist Ad Reinhardt on letter paper detailing objections to the Vietnam War ("No Draft/ No Injustice/ No Evil"), and work by MFA candidate Vanessa Ruiz that incorporates four years of her own love letters, Picasso's invitation is seen as part of a tradition that makes correspondence into art.

The epistolary can be art—and in this exhibition, so can a simple brown-painted pedestal, placed in the center of the gallery and titled "Work on Paper." For the students, who also helped to install On Paper in July, physically arranging the art on the walls and producing it themselves allowed them to create a coherent exhibition where paper, and art, can be both made and seen differently.

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photos (top to bottom): Work waiting to be installed for On Paper; MFA students put up their exhibit.

Photos courtesy Erik Wenzel.

August 6, 2008

Business unusual


Twenty students dressed in business attire entered a Charles M. Harper Center classroom in a steady stream, walking purposefully and carrying folders. They murmured to one another as they took their places up front. Some passed materials to the judges, a group of Goldman Sachs representatives who were already seated. Others mingled with the audience—mostly smiling parents.

The students who presented business plans Monday were not MBA candidates. They were Chicago Public Schools juniors and seniors, and the presentations were the culmination of an Elements of Entrepreneurship course offered by the Collegiate Scholars Program and sponsored by the Goldman Sachs Foundation. Professor Waverly Deutsch, who taught the two-week course, told the judges and parents that what they were about to see was “better than the first round of my MBA students' business-plan presentations. For sure.”

The presentations were polished—students introduced the germ of a business idea, proof that their idea would have a market, and financial projections for at least the first fiscal year. Presenting in groups of four, they used PowerPoint slides to exhibit their message and defended themselves against tough questions from the ten-person panel (which included five U of C alumni, from the College and the GSB).

First was WRAP (Writing, Reading, Arts, Politics). The project, a nonprofit magazine and after-school program, would provide a forum for students to discuss and write about issues pertaining to their lives and communities. Next came uGo, a campus bike-rental service; Super Squad, a handyman and companion service for the elderly that would hire only honor-roll students with a community-service background; and Third Degree, a college search and networking Web site for high-school students. The final group presented All Star Athletic Productions (ASAP), which would film and edit videos for high-school athletes looking to be recruited by colleges. Presenter Cory Wilkins, a soccer player, noted that when he had asked his mother to shoot a highlight reel, “there were really no highlights there," just shaky footage of grass and sky.

In deliberation, open to the audience but not the teams, the judges were initially torn—both Super Squad and ASAP had presented financially feasible plans with what the judges considered a large potential for market growth. But after more than 30 minutes, they deemed ASAP the winner. The four students in the group, beaming broadly, celebrated their victory by shaking hands with Professor Deutsch—and each accepted an HP laptop computer, the surprise prize for winning the competition.

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photo: ASAP presents its plan.

August 8, 2008

Hotel uproar

“This is everything I was afraid it would be,” an elderly man lamented as he looked around Bret Harte Elementary's auditorium, packed with more than 100 people. The windows were open but did little to alleviate the tension in the sweltering room. Posters of modern hotels lined the walls—all built by White Lodging, the Marriott-affiliated company whose executive came to Hyde Park August 5 to update the community about its plans for a hotel on the old Doctors Hospital site. The U of C purchased the shuttered building at 58th Street and Stony Island in 2006 and later leased the property to White Lodging, which hopes to replace the hospital with a hotel including a full-service restaurant and 15,000 feet of meeting space. Individuals and organizations including block clubs, neighborhood associations, preservation activists, and labor unions have objected to the plans. Tuesday's meeting was called by 5th ward alderwoman Leslie Hairston, U-High'79.

Scott Travis, vice president of development for White Lodging, began by emphasizing that the company is a family-owned developer. “It’s bullshit,” a woman in the audience muttered. Travis noted that Hyde Park is not a prime location for a hotel. “The return is marginal at best,” he said. “Building in a residential community comes with some risk. The truth is that the owner’s father received much-needed surgery at the U of C hospitals, which is part of why he’s willing to make this investment. We want to build in Hyde Park. We want to understand the community. And we think a hotel will be a great benefit for the community.”

When Hairston opened the floor to questions and comments, many Hyde Park residents voiced concerns, though some applauded White Lodging’s effort. For example, in response to questions raised at last year's meeting, the company will provide parking for 75 percent of the rooms, Travis said, “way more than typically needed,” as well as an off-site lot for employees.

Residents wanted to know about White Lodging's labor practices and whether it would hire from the community (Travis said they did not discriminate), the effect on local rents (Travis said they didn’t know), the fact that the hotel would serve alcohol (Travis noted, “Our primary role is to put people to sleep”), and possible “synergies”—the word used by the Woodlawn Organization's executive director Carole Millison—between hotel and community.

As the meeting wore on , the atmosphere became increasingly combative. When a member of Unite Here, the textile- and service-workers labor union, asked for a meeting with White Lodging and did not receive an immediate affirmative, members of the crowd began to chant: “Yes or no! Yes or no!”

White Lodging does not plan to use the old structure, but rather to build a hotel “contextual with the neighborhood,” according to Travis. Preserving the building, he said, is “not economically feasible.” He projected 390 rooms, ten more than previously reported by the Maroon, the Hyde Park Herald (text of the July 30 article available here), as well as uchiBLOGo and the U of C Magazine. In discussing the plans, Travis referred to an environmental-impact study, an analysis of the feasibility of preserving the old building, and demographic information about employees. “All of that info is available," he said. "We’re glad to share it.” Hairston suggested that White Lodging bring the studies to the next open meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.

Shira Tevah, '09

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Photos (left to right): Scott Travis from White Lodging discusses the hotel plan; Hyde Park residents listen to his presentation; Alderwoman Hairston moderates during a turbulent moment.

August 11, 2008

You had to be there


The audience at the last summer performance of Off-Off Campus started cackling at Alex Yablon’s Australian accent soon after the nine-member troupe took the stage Friday and laughed, often uproariously, well past the 10 p.m. ending time. The performers managed to keep straight faces throughout the show, cracking smiles only as they took their bow.

The show, directed by Drew Dir, AB’07, an Off-Off veteran, featured a parody of the opening sequence of Disney’s The Lion King and continued with more irreverent skits. The cast lampooned the U of C scene with a sketch in which an eager suitor (Dave Maher, AB’06) offered a specific list when queried about his interests (“semiotics, otters—when wet”) to his paramour (Sarah Rosenshine, ’09), who responded by saying, “You just recited my Facebook profile!” In another sketch, Melissa Graham, ’09, portrayed a man at a bar. Resisting advances from a waitress, Graham deadpanned, “You don’t want to get involved with me. I’m awkward. Real awkward.”

Framed by musical interludes, brief skits about replacing the characters on popular television shows with babies, and another about variations on the word “Google” (goo, gull, ghoul), the show continued with two sketches about clueless radio hosts. Yablon, AB’08, played a grumpy public-access host who objected to establishing a pizzeria in town, claiming that it “suggests intravenous drug use” among the youth: “You may as well have an opium den.” Kit Novotny, ’09, played host of a program called Meet History, and her stilted Midwestern accent made her sound, as one audience member pointed out, like “an android running out of batteries”—and made the crowd crack up.

After the show, when cast members could loosen their faces, they spilled out onto the front steps of University Church, giggling, to greet their adoring public, many of whom had gathered on the stoop to congratulate the performers.

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photos (left to right): Off-Off spells "google"; the troupe takes a bow.

August 13, 2008

All yours, naturally


Set apart from the Hyde Park Art Center’s other exhibits in two connected second-floor galleries, Catherine Forster’s They Call Me Theirs examines the bond that humans feel to nature, and how that link is manufactured and distorted. Forster, a School of the Art Institute graduate exhibiting at HPAC for the first time, titled her installation, up through October 3, after a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem in which the Earth asks, “How am I theirs / If they cannot hold me, / But I hold them?”

The first gallery contains what the artist calls a “hanging garden” of inkjet prints from digital film stills of flowers and trees. Forster magnified and painted the images, then digitized them again. She printed the images on the kind of aluminum panels usually used for street signs. They hang in a white gallery, with two park benches arranged to view the art on the walls. Huge in scale, the prints depict a nature vibrant with colorful flourishes and stand out from the white wall.

Beyond the first gallery’s blatantly manufactured image of nature, another room beckons—speakers project the sound of a cityscape, and a cabin built with sturdy solid pine (salvaged from the 1905 Chicago Sears building at 3333 W. Arthington Street) looms in the middle of the black-box room. The small structure has wide windows on its sides and a door that swings open to reveal a nearly bare interior. After entering, a visitor hears the sounds of a field or a forest, and in the center of the room a small monitor shows digital film footage of flowers and trees from all four seasons. The peaceful cabin attempts to contain nature neatly, and its purpose, Forster writes, is to “question the distinctions we make between the natural and mediated worlds."

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photos: The cabin stands in the center of the second gallery; the monitor projects image of spring.

Photos courtesy the Hyde Park Art Center.

August 15, 2008

As the earthworm turns


Lucinda left hers alone for three weeks. “They’re fine for that long,” she said. Phil’s were thrown out by someone who thought—correctly—that they were garbage. Kelin’s “disapparated.” Andrew had “ceased upkeep” of his. Eve was on the waiting list; Jennifer never got any either.

Finally, I found Alexander Muir, ’09, a biology major who was still caring for his composting worms, handed out mid-spring quarter during Earth Week. Composting worms digest plant and vegetable peelings and produce fertile soil; they help the environment both by reducing the amount of trash that ends up in landfills and by assisting plant growth. Muir, who considers his earthworms a “fun science experiment,” intends to grow all of his herbs and spices in soil they produce, and has started with potted basil.

“Technically only half of the worms are mine,” Muir said. The rest belong to a former roommate, gone for the summer. Muir was speaking figuratively: the hermaphroditic worms reproduce like crazy and the current residents of the 2-by-1—foot plastic box will not be those that Muir’s friend reclaims in September. The earthworms are similar to those in a backyard, but, because composting is best with a highly efficient worm, Zoe Vangelder, ’09, purchased special wrigglers—40 pounds of them at $20 per pound—to distribute at the workshop she coordinated on vermiculture. Her supplier was Cecelia Ungari, the Shedd Aquarium’s conservation programs coordinator known as “the Chicago worm lady.”

Even while housed in boxes, the worms created problems for some of their hosts. Muir and his worm-venture partner never informed their third roommate about the worms, Muir explained, because they knew she might be averse to sharing the house with vermin. They placed the box under the kitchen table and slipped their apple cores and carrot tops in while she was out.

But in the chaos of moving, she found and opened the box, probably thinking it contained books and clothes. Seeing the creatures, she “screamed so loudly," Muir said, "the upstairs neighbor called 911.”

More vermiculture workshops are being planned for the fall. Check the new sustainability site for updated information.

Shira Tevah, '09

Photo: Alexander Muir shows a few of his composting worms.

Photo by Dan Dry.

August 18, 2008

"Jump up" on the Midway

Heavy beats competed on the front lawns of the Law School and the SSA Saturday as several deejays played calypso, soca, reggae, punta, zouk, and "jump up," a drum and bass subgenre intended to encourage crowds to dance. The dozens of people needed little encouragement at the Chicago Carifete, an annual festival put on by the Chicago Caribbean Carnival Association and one of the City of Chicago's neighborhood festivals.

Carifete, according to the Carnival Association's Web site, is a "masquerade on the street representing a kaleidoscope of colors, cultures, and artistry and a celebration for people of every age, race, and creed." Modeled after the carnivals that take place in the Caribbean, the festival is a day of music, dancing, and food. As promised by the site, the Midway was "blazin'."

Shira Tevah, '09

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Photos (left to right): Capoeiristas prepare for a dance in front of Jamaican tent; the dancers compete; vendors sell soaps, oils, and incense; Ms. Chini's kitchen serves Belizean food; carnival tents line the Midway; promenaders join the crowd after the parade; a listener enjoys the tunes of the Haitian Cultural Group's deejay; a line forms at Maxine's Caribbean Spice tent; dancing continues throughout the afternoon.

August 22, 2008

Ivory tower’s weather station

One night last winter, Joe Cottral, ’10, camped out on a cot in the attic-like Ryerson Astronomical Society office on Ryerson's fifth floor. He was the support team for a group of students who brought the RAS’s telescope to the middle of a field in central Illinois to watch an occultation, which Cottral describes as “one astronomical object passing in front of another astronomical object.” Cottral was on the computer that night, with electronic maps in front of him to guide the students in the field. His other task was to stay alert in case they needed assistance. I met him in that same office on Monday to discuss the latest RAS project: a new weather station.

The RAS is one of the oldest student groups at the University, with records dating to the 1950s and a telescope in use since the '30s. The club has an observatory on Ryerson's roof, an antique-looking transit telescope that may soon be moved to Crerar for display, and the weather station.

The weather station—a term used for any location where meteorological data is gathered—has been up for a few months. Last fall the Student Government Funding Committee gave the club $1,000 to buy a weather-gauging instrument, which RAS members installed themselves on a Ryerson turret. They filled an old computer box with cement to hold the station's base. The solar-powered station measures temperature, wind speed, and humidity, and it uploads automatically every minute or so to a remote server that graphs inches of rain per hour, solar radiation, and UV index. The server archives the information, which could be used for research.

All of the data, along with charts from the National Weather Service and other organizations, is available at the UChicago weather Web site. The next closest weather station, Cottral says, is at Midway airport, but the Ryerson one is more accurate for campus because the lake can dramatically change nearby weather. “We still rely on NOAA for forecasting,” Cottral says, referring to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but he hopes that students will increasingly use the site to check current conditions—especially for planning a night to watch the stars at the club’s observatory.

Shira Tevah, '09

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Photos (left to right): Close-up of the new weather station; the Ryerson turret that holds the station; the transit telescope in the Ryerson Astronomical Society office.

Photo on far left by Joe Cottral, '10.

August 25, 2008

The fine art of redevelopment


The lights dimmed in the small room off the Hyde Park Art Center's lobby, and a black-and-white photograph of a glowing amusement park appeared on the wall. The park, built in 1899 at 60th and Cottage Grove, is an example of the huge-scale commerce and recreation that have all but disappeared from Woodlawn. The purpose of the program, presented on Tuesday evening by HPAC and the Terra Foundation’s American Art American City series, was to discuss the history and future of 63rd Street, and how its redevelopment relates to Chicago's creative community.

Architectural historian Lee Bey opened a brief description of 63rd Street’s history using the amusement-park image, and throughout the evening both he and Woodlawn-based artist Theaster Gates, who teaches in the U of C's department of visual arts, pondered the factors, such as economic downturns and shifting demographics, that “caused change” on the once-prosperous commercial strip. Citing air-conditioned stores and huge, glamorous theaters, Bey said that at one time 63rd was “the most profitable business district between downtown and Denver.”

Bey grew up around 20 blocks south of 63rd, which "felt like a main street" when he was a kid. He recalled going with his father to pick up work boots at one of the many stores that lined the sidewalk. Now an architectural critic and urban planner, Bey recounted 63rd Street’s history, from its commercial heyday to its current state—mostly residential homes and empty lots, “a double-sided boulevard of housing and not much else.”

The room was overflowing by the time Bey finished his presentation, and conversation turned both to memories of the street and what could be done to restore and advance its legacy. Audience members remembered restaurants, theaters, “wall-to-wall nightclubs” with lavish bars, and “beautiful old buildings,” now torn down. Some hopes were buoyed by recent developments such as the restoration of the Grand Ballroom at 63rd and Cottage Grove, and an upcoming project involving the Hotel Strand.

Gates thought the South Side’s artistic community could be well-equipped to help revitalize 63rd Street and its empty spaces—battling a commercial force that often “assumes heaven to be outside the South Side.” After the talk a group of U of C undergraduates gathered in the back of the room to discuss the presentation. Some had taken Gates’s spring-quarter visual-arts class, Intervention and Public Practice. For their final project they installed an apartment floor plan and furniture in an empty lot on 63rd. Others, like Luke Joyner, ’09, attended because of an interest in urban design and planning. After hearing about the recent redevelopments, he noted the importance of “how community can be created and imagined.”

Rose Schapiro, '09

Images, top: Theaster Gates (in pink shirt) after the presentation at HPAC. Bottom: The Tivoli Theater (located at 6325 S. Cottage Grove, demolished 1963) in its prime.

Tivoli Theater image courtesy of Jazz Age Chicago. Source: "Main Foyer, Balaban & Katz Tivoli Theatre, Chicago," postcard, Max Rigot Selling Co.: #428 (n.d.), cropped.

August 27, 2008

Fifteen minutes of wisdom

A statue of Aristotle and a large, bold, red question mark took the place of a graphed line on a PowerPoint slide in one of the Gleacher Center’s conference rooms. The x-axis was the year and the y was labeled “global wisdom"; the question was what the line would look like. “I don’t think we’ve seen the same increase in wisdom as we would expect,” said Barnaby Marsh, director of strategic initiatives for the John Templeton Foundation, comparing world wisdom to technological progress. “How do we advance our understanding of wisdom?”

Marsh wasn’t searching for the answer alone. The Templeton Foundation and the U of C's Arete Initiative have collaborated to create the Defining Wisdom Project, which gathered 40 young anthropologists, economists, geneticists, philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists in an August 22 symposium, where they competed for grants. The project hopes to fund research that will create a coherent body of knowledge about wisdom, which Marsh sees as having been "elided from public discourse" in recent history. Those 40, termed “candidates” by Howard Nusbaum, chair and professor of psychology and the College and one of the initiative's principal investigators, were selected out of 631 applicants who each submitted a three-page letter of intent and a three-page summary of their qualifications. Finalists presented their proposals for 15 minutes followed by questions. The 20 winners will be announced later this week.

“Our purpose here today,” Nusbaum said, “is to take the first steps in the development of the field of research of wisdom.” He and Marsh are members of the Project Council, which selects the winning research proposals—to be funded up to $2 million total—and is composed of professors from the U of C and other universities.

In his opening address Marsh discussed changing definitions of wisdom throughout history and in the modern world. He argued that the “anti-free market atmosphere in much of the academy” is detrimental to progress. “All systems have advantages and disadvantages,” he said, and people should use the wisdom of the free market to solve problems like world poverty. He touched on the relation between wisdom and personal choices, decision-making, and values. Wisdom has the potential to be dangerous, he said, “without values and ethics,” referring to the examples like Da Vinci's killing machines and the Manhattan Project.

The selected scholars will look further into the topics Marsh presented, connecting with each other through a Web site and quarterly conference calls led by Nusbaum. “Our goal,” Marsh said, “is to create a nexus of people who will be creative, imaginative, and open to creating ways of defining wisdom in the 21st century. We’re hoping this catalyzes something new,” he concluded. “It’s up to all of you to make this successful.”

Shira Tevah, '09

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Photos (left to right): Scholars from around the world gather at the Wisdom Symposium; presenters listen to opening remarks by Howard Nusbaum; Barnaby Marsh demonstrates concepts related to wisdom; John (Jack) M. Templeton Jr.—son of the late Sir John Templeton and president of the John Templeton Foundation—joins the audience.

August 29, 2008

A temporary freedom

On August 15, 1967, poet Gwendolyn Brooks presented a dedication at the large Picasso sculpture’s unveiling in Daley Plaza. “Art hurts, art urges voyages,” she read. Through October 4 those words are printed on the wall of the DOVA Temporary Gallery in Harper Court—next to vibrant screen prints, photographs, newspaper articles, campus flyers, comic books, and underground pamphlets—collected by U of C art history professor Rebecca Zorach and her students as an addendum to a winter-quarter course, to give gallery visitors a sense of Chicago’s artistic landscape in the late Sixties.

The year following the Picasso dedication would be a tumultuous one, especially for Chicago. Forty years later, Zorach taught a course called Chicago 1968 about the cultural and political upheaval of that time and the art that it produced. Aware that some of her students wanted to go further with the complicated material, Zorach offered them the opportunity to help design and curate an exhibit based on the class.

For the resulting exhibition, Looks Like Freedom, Zorach and the undergraduate students selected works that were meaningful, she said, both in “the broader landscapes of Chicago” and on the South Side. One room is devoted to flyers collected by the U of C administration (and thus preserved in Special Collections) on campus in the late Sixties and early Seventies—advertising everything from women’s and worker’s rights to Black Panther recruitment.

Many of the prints are on loan from the South Shore Cultural Center and have been framed for the first time here. Bright screen prints by artists in AfriCOBRA (Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists) urge African Americans to join together and assess themselves as a community. Text in the works, such as ”Unite!” and “Relate to your heritage” (the pieces bear the same titles as their messages) asks the viewer to contemplate the underlying messages. Freedom and self-consciousness pervade all of the art, from the African American heroes on the Wall of Respect, a mural at 43rd and Langley, to the flyers that urge student action. As one essay from the underground newspaper The Chicago Seed reads, “We have only to recognize that we are free.”

Rose Schapiro, '09

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Photos (left to right): A collection of work by The Hairy Who, exhibited at Hyde Park Art Center in 1968; a poster by Barbara Jones-Hogu, a member of AfricCOBRA; the Gwendolyn Brooks inscription that opens the exhibit; A view of flyers and posters in DOVA Temporary Gallery.

About August 2008

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in August 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

July 2008 is the previous archive.

September 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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