« January 2010 | Main | March 2010 »

February 2010 Archives

February 1, 2010

It's not piracy if they offer it for free

piracy-johns.jpgAlthough it's already February, readers have one day more to download the University of Chicago Press's free e-book for January: Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates by Chicago history professor Adrian Johns. Johns, author of the award-winning The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (U of C Press, 1998), here provides an "important reminder that today’s intellectual property crises are not unprecedented," writes Publishers Weekly, "and offers a survey of potential approaches to a solution.”

Johns isn't the first Press writer to take on intellectual property. In Permissions, A Survival Guide: Blunt Talk about Art as Intellectual Property (2006), Press editor Susan M. Bielstein recounts a treacherous journey to find a famed Antonello painting in the remote Sicilian mountains. In a Magazine interview, Bielstein discusses how the Internet has posed copyright problems for editors.

See other free e-books from the Press, and check back there to see February's offering.

Amy Braverman Puma


  • "Piracy" (Inside Higher Ed, Feb. 3, 2010)

February 3, 2010

What will become of the books?


Princeton history professor Anthony Grafton, AB'71, PhD'75, speaks to the American Historical Association about how the digital age is forever transforming libraries and the way scholars use them—for better and for worse.

Like, Tchaikovsky funny?

“Tchaikovsky’s funny because you think the third movement is the end because it’s so big, and then you get to the fourth and it’s just like, ‘Oh.’”

Not exactly my idea of comedy, but that quote from a friend, after Saturday’s University Symphony Orchestra concert, is actually a pretty good way to summarize the 19th-century composer’s sixth symphony, Pathétique.

The orchestra’s third concert of the year—billed as Tchaikovsky’s Tapestry—opened in a big way. Conductor Barbara Schubert, X'79, led with the 45-minute-plus symphony and finished with fanciful and sweet excerpts from Swan Lake. As Schubert explained to the audience, it was too cold to leave with a piece as strong and serious as Pathétique.

Going into the concert, I was nervous. It’s not that I don’t like classical music; I played an instrument in high school just like everyone else at this university. It was the bassoon. Oh, I was good—sort of. Anyhow, I’ve been to my share of Chicago Symphony concerts, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can’t go into a classical-music concert feeling sleepy. And I was sleepy Saturday night; that’s what four weeks of winter quarter will do to you.

Tchaikovsky.jpgI arrived at Mandel Hall a few minutes early, and I was already worried. It was just the right temperature, just the right distance from the bright stage lights, and, in the opening moments of the symphony, just the right amount of bassoon solo to nearly lull me off to neverland.

Fortunately, Tchaikovsky was smart enough to include an alarm clock in the middle of that first movement. A sudden crescendo shook me from the brink, and the rest of the performance passed without the dread of falling asleep.

The program notes provided a full explication of the symphony and the ballet excerpts; I found most interesting Tchaikovsky's general philosophy of wanting to “express something fully” through his music.

Although I’m still well short of being able to understand composers’ intentions merely by ear, maybe next time I’ll be able to catch Tchaikovsky’s jokes.

Jake Grubman, ’11

February 5, 2010

And the winners are...

Illinois voters had their say in Tuesday's statewide primary, and four UChicagoans advance to the general election in November.

  • Dan Seals, MBA'01, won 48.2 percent of the vote, topping two opponents for the Democratic nomination. In November he faces Republican Robert Dold for Illinois's 10th District seat.

  • Toni Preckwinkle, AB'69, MAT'77, received 49 percent of the vote for Cook County Board President, beating three other Democratic candidates, including incumbent Todd Stroger. Her competition in November will be Republican Roger Keats.

  • Mike Quigley, AM'85, and Scott Harper, MBA'85, were unopposed in their campaigns for Illinois's 5th and 13th districts, respectively.

To learn more about these candidates, see "Some red, some blue, all Maroon."

Elizabeth Chan

February 8, 2010

Phoenix Pix: February 8-12, 2010

Just married and already at the Seminary Co-op

For their 2009 wedding, Gabriel Rhoads, AB'01, and Lauren (Lickus) Rhoads, AB’99, made a quick pit stop at the Seminary Co-op.

Photography by Jeremy Lawson.

Submit your best University of Chicago-themed photos to Phoenix Pix.

Programming Doc

Doc Films programming meeting
Doc Films members voted on the Society's spring 2010 schedule Wednesday, February 3, turning in ballots to programming chair Edo Choi, '10 (center).

Presiding over the Doc Films planning meeting is programming chair Edo Choi, and he runs a tight ship. A representative for each film series proposal is allowed to make a one-minute pitch, and Choi cuts off any that run too long. Some pleas are emotional: "This is the last time I'm going to propose this series, because I'm leaving,” says Nick Tell, '10, of his list of French films from the 1970s and 1980s. Some pleas are pragmatic: "Considering how expensive the other series are [$3,000-5,000], this is incredibly cheap—only $1,100," says Joe Rubin of "Cinevangelism," a series of films with evangelical Christian messages.

Programming a series for the longest continuously running student film society in the country is not easy. Doc Films must maintain ticket sales while upholding its reputation for innovative film programming.

This challenge comes to a head on Wednesday of Week Five, when roughly two dozen members of Doc Films—including undergrads, grad students, alumni, and even a few faculty—cram into an Ida Noyes conference room to eat noodles catered by Chant and to vote on a ballot offering 14 themed proposals to fill the spring quarter's six programming slots.

Each proposal includes a list of ten films and at least two alternates, the official distributors for each print (usually in 16 mm or 35 mm format), fees for rental and for shipping and handling, and any on- or off-campus organizations helping to fund the series. The students also write 100 words summarizing the merits of each film and a longer essay to run in Doc's quarterly newsletter detailing the series' purpose.

breakfast-club.jpgOne of the few rules is that a film cannot have been shown as part of a regular series in the past four years. Although there have been some radical proposals over the years, Choi is reticent to criticize them. "I would hesitate to call any series...outlandish or crazy, because at Doc we encourage such ideas and take them seriously. The outlandish, for us, is closer to a virtue than a guilty pleasure. Even mainstream films like Avatar are pretty outlandish, after all."

The ballot for spring 2010 features the avant-garde (art-house auteur Stan Brakhage's films of 1980-2003), the generic (postwar westerns, proposed by Choi), and the populist (a retrospective of John Hughes movies and a collection of Spike Lee "joints").

In addition to voting for their six favorite series, members must also choose one "marquis" selection. The marquis series was implemented when Choi took his post in 2006, just after the club had gone through what he describes as a "near financial disaster." Choi and his cohorts decided that among the rare prints and oeuvres d'art on offer, they needed to program a weekly series that would help boost sales of season passes. In winter 2009 the marquis series was a popular collection of Coen Brothers films, and this winter features "Lynch and Cronenberg: Just a Couple of Daves."

After counting all of Wednesday's votes, including six absentee ballots cast by e-mail, Choi and general chair David Levari, '10, released the results last Thursday afternoon.

Doc Films’ official lineup for spring 2010 will be:

  • Urban Encounters: The City in Middle Eastern Cinema
  • Stage to Screen: Cinematic Visions of the Theatre
  • Cinevangelism: Christian Feature Films from the '70s and '80s
  • A Nos Amours: French Films in the '70s and '80s
  • British Cinema After the Death of British Cinema

The marquis selection is the John Hughes collection.

Emily Riemer, AM'09


February 10, 2010

Crafts renaissance

In the documentary Typeface, filmmaker Justine Nagan, AM'04, offers an ode to a definitively analog technology: the wood-type letterpress. The film, which made its Chicago premiere on January 29, centers on the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in the sleepy tourist stopover of Two Rivers, Wisconsin (self-proclaimed birthplace of the ice cream sundae).

Typeface reflects a growing do-it-yourself crafts movement, which over the past decade ushered in a return to one-of-a-kind items produced with hand-operated technologies, such as knitting, sewing, and paper and book arts. The movement sparked events such as Chicago’s Renegade Craft Fair, featured in the 2009 documentary Handmade Nation and in Typeface. At the same time, online crafts marketplaces like Etsy.com, founded in 2005, continue to grow in popularity annually.

Despite DIY's popularity, Typeface documents some of the potential problems in reviving an outdated technology in the 21st century. For instance, though Greg Corrigan, artistic director of the museum, espouses the joys and virtues of wood type at the start of the film, he grows increasingly wearier of his job, complaining of boredom, of a lack of visitors, and of a lack of income. Finally, Corrigan quits his post as director, saying, “Life’s too short not to do what you want to do.” Meanwhile, the older generation of Hamilton's skilled workers have all retired, leaving the factory almost entirely empty. A viewer wonders if these occurrences signal the modern movement’s demise: once the novelty of the crafts renaissance wears off, will people tire of the expense, labor, and time required to make items like hand-printed paper products? Will there be anyone left who's willing to carry on these techniques?

Though Nagan depicts these challenges, she chooses to conclude Typeface with an optimistic epilogue of sorts. Jim Moran of Minnesota’s Blinc Publishing has replaced Corrigan as museum director, and a busy Hamilton is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its modern museum. A former Hamilton employee has come out of retirement to return to work, continuing the techniques and traditions of the industry. All this seems hopeful and promising, but a nagging doubt insists that the problems that arose at Hamilton before can and will surface again. What is to stop the next director from tiring of his post, and what is to ensure that a new generation of skilled workers will choose to learn the trade of wood typesetting? Nagan's optimism may be justified, but only time will tell.

Typeface is Justine Nagan's directorial debut at Kartemquin Films. Domestic and international screenings of the film will continue throughout winter and spring 2010.

Emily Riemer, AM’09




Snowflakes may have fallen throughout the day and late into the night Tuesday, but Chicago students remained unfazed. Magazine photographer Dan Dry caught them navigating the quads on foot and bike, as well as seeking warmth inside the bright-lit sanctuaries of Regenstein Library, the Reynolds Club, and other campus hangouts.

Brooke O'Neill, AM'04

February 11, 2010

First comes love...

The U of C may be where fun comes to die, but it’s also where love blossoms. Whether locking eyes across Hutch Commons or bonding over Human Being and Citizen readings, countless couples have found themselves tumbling head-over-heels on the quads. As Valentine’s Day approaches, we take a stroll down the exhilarating—and often rocky—road to romance.

1. Find love at first, second, third sight

For Gabriel Rhoads, AB’01, and Lauren (Lickus) Rhoads, AB’99, getting from “Hello” to a Rockefeller Chapel wedding photo (above) took a few missteps. Although they were introduced through a mutual friend, Merrick Schaefer, AB’99, during Gabriel's first year, Lauren has no memory of the meeting. When they “met” a second time, again through Merrick, the two became fast friends. In January 1999 Lauren showed up at Gabriel’s dorm room with wine and a foreign film—her idea of a perfect first date—only to find him completely oblivious to her romantic intentions. After much ado, they finally got on the same page and tied the knot last year.

2. Pucker up

Knowing when to make that first move is always complicated, but for ancient Greeks and Romans, says classicist Donald Lateiner, AB’65, kissing was an especially tricky affair. “It’s a behavior where errors can be fatal,” says the John R. Wright professor of humanities-classics at Ohio Wesleyan, who spoke about kissing protocols. After all, he says, romantic kissing is only one form of the activity; kissing can also show deference. In Homer’s The Odyssey, for example, Odysseus’s servants kiss their master’s shoulders upon his return, but they wouldn’t dare kiss his eyes or lips. Romans were even more cautious about who and how they kissed, as evidenced by first-century poet Martial, who suggested people avoid others’ kisses by smearing a salve on their face to feign mentagra parasitica, a potentially deadly facial disease. Of all the things he's learned about smooching, this "connection of kissing with personal catastrophe” was the most surprising, says Lateiner, who confesses that despite his research on the topic, his wife still “doesn’t think I’m a very good kisser.”

getting-hitched.jpg3. Get hitched

After surviving the tribulations of courtship, it’s time to say “I do.” For some guidance, couples can consult Getting Hitched: The Rough Guide to Weddings for Girls & Guys (Rough Guides), cowritten by Sean Mahoney, AB’00, and Nadine Kavanaugh, AB'99. Released earlier this month, the 250-page primer explains how to organize a ceremony that fits your personality, pick a bridal party that won’t drive you crazy, and, perhaps most importantly, weather the emotional storms that come with planning the big day.

Brooke E. O'Neill, AM'04

February 15, 2010

So you think you can dance?

One January evening in Mandel Hall, students pulled off their coats as they settled in to watch performances from Rhythmic Bodies in Motion, the campus's largest dance RSO. Part of the second annual Winter Arts Festival—sponsored by student literary mag Sliced Bread—RBIM members presented two back-to-back routines. The first, “Broken,” was a lyrical piece choreographed by Cassandra Harrison, AB’09. Think ballet sans pointe shoes. Nine barefoot performers donned black button-down shirts and matching shorts. Gliding onstage to Sia’s ethereal ballad “Breathe Me,” their eyes peering into the distance, they spun on relevé, floated through split leaps, eased through cat-like floor movements, and slipped offstage as the music faded. Seven new performers immediately took the spotlight, striking a hands-on-hips pose before launching into "Get Right," an energetic hip-hop number complete with stomping feet, undulating hips, and staccato break-dancing moves. The routine was choreographed by third-year Barbra Kim and second-year Kevin Lee.

A study in contrast, the two routines reflect RBIM’s commitment to practicing and performing different dance techniques. Founded in 2003, the group also promotes what they call “diversity in dance skill.” Any undergraduate or graduate student who wants to bust a move can do so; evaluative auditions are held in the fall, but no cuts are made. The company has a whopping 208 members, all of whom will perform in RBIM’s annual on-campus spring show in May. “We had 94 company members in last year’s show,” says third-year Nadja Otikor. “The audience must have enjoyed it, because this fall we had double the number of people auditioning.”

The 2010 show will feature approximately 15 student-choreographed performances, each representing a different dance style: lyrical, street jazz, belly dance/hip-hop fusion, flamenco, tap, Jamaican dancehall, African, Irish, and more. Fourth-year Katie Bailey, choreographer of the Irish piece, encourages all students, faculty, and staff to check it out, even if you're not an avowed dance aficionado: “All of our members put in a lot of effort and share their excitement with the crowd. And each year, the audience feeds off that excitement.”

Count us in.

Katherine E. Muhlenkamp

February 16, 2010

Are you ready for some broomball?


The students from Crown and Alper houses streamed across the Midway early, boisterous to a level usually reserved for Scav Hunt. The two houses—Crown from the new dorm, Alper from Max Palevsky Commons—were converging on the ice rink for a match-up in intramural broomball, a favorite of College students since the rink’s 2002 construction. But this was no ordinary game: it pitted the house named for Board of Trustees chair Andrew Alper, AB’80, MBA’81, against the house named for former chair James Crown. Dubbed the first annual Chairman’s Cup, the match was given extra weight with the attendance of the two namesakes; Dean of the College John Boyer, AM’69, PhD’75; Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students in the University Kimberly Goff-Crews; and a half-dozen other administrators. More important, the rink’s warming house held tables of hot cocoa and cookies, no doubt a byproduct of the special guests’ attendance.

broomball-2.jpgSimilar to ice hockey but with balls and brooms replacing pucks and sticks, broomball is played without ice skates. Deputy Dean of Students for Housing and Dining Services and Assistant Dean of the College Cheryl Gutman, one of the most vigorous spectators, noted that it is also played with no protective gear besides helmets. “Protect the brain at all costs,” she remarked. “You can break a leg, but don’t hurt your head. It’s very U of C.”

With the Alper House Penguins in red and the nameless Crown House team in black, the game began, accompanied by the raucous cheers and heckles of their housemates. After a period-and-a-half of spirited, if often chaotic, play, the score remained tied at 0-0. Several spills elicited groans from the spectators but had yet to cause any injuries. Happily, the fisticuffs often associated with ice hockey seem to have been among the aspects omitted from the invention of broomball. Then, with less than a minute remaining, Crown House got the ball past the Penguins’ goalie, bringing the score to a 1-0 advantage that held until the buzzer.

Both houses, and their patrons, streamed onto the ice for the presentation of the large Chairman’s Cup trophy, to be displayed in the Crown House lounge until the teams meet again next year. A smaller trophy topped with a miniature broomball player and engraved with “Chairman’s Cup, Alper vs. Crown, Established 2010” was also made to pass between the two men. Crown seemed delighted to receive the momento but unsure about where to display it. “I think any place I could put it, people will ask about it,” he mused, “and I would probably need to provide an explanation of each and every word of the inscription.”

Kyle Gorden, AB’00

Photos by Dan Dry

February 17, 2010

Hairy tales

Artist Barbara Siegel, AB’69, is inspired by extraordinary people. Her installation “Women with Beards,” for example, focuses on 12 real-life bearded ladies, most from the 19th century: “This was the heyday of uninhibited exploitation of these women by men—often their husbands—for financial gain,” says Siegel. But the mystique of female facial hair persists: “Women with Beards” also features two contemporary bearded ladies (one performs in a Coney Island sideshow), whose audio interviews supplement the show. A member of New York City’s A.I.R. Gallery, the first women’s cooperative gallery in the country, Siegel is showing selections from this project as part of Locks in Translation, an exhibition that explores hair from 11 female artists’ points of view. Through March 10, Locks in Translation is showing at Suffolk County [NY] Community College’s Gallery West.

In an interview with UChiBLOGo, Siegel talks facial hair and wonders what it means to be a “freak.”

QandA_QDrop.jpgHas any particular story stuck with you?
QandA_ADrop.jpgLady Olga Roderick was the bearded woman who performed in Tod Browning’s 1932 classic horror movie Freaks. This movie—which I first saw when I was an undergraduate at the U of C in the ‘60s—made a lasting impression on me. In researching contemporary narratives for my project, I discovered that even though the film portrays the “normal” characters as monstrous and is sympathetic to the plight of “freaks,” Lady Olga felt exploited and hated her role in the film. Her words, “If the truth was known, we’re all freaks together,” are a concise reminder that underneath it all, we are fundamentally very much the same.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat media did you use for each piece?
QandA_ADrop.jpgAntique fabrics seemed appropriate because most of the women lived in the 19th century. I embroidered the names and dates of these women onto the fabric because embroidery is a skill associated with women of an earlier era. The “beards” are made of steel wool and copper wire because, though hair-like, they are clearly phony. Jennifer Miller, one of the two contemporary women in my project, told me that drunk and rowdy members of the crowd at sideshows would often harass bearded ladies by coming up and yanking on their beards to try to prove they were fake.
QandA_QDrop.jpgDo you feel a connection with the bearded women?
QandA_ADrop.jpgDefinitely! As an adolescent, I suffered from the usual massive array of body-image problems. I was also an artist and therefore a total outsider in a high school where football players and cheerleaders ruled. Finally, I am a member of A.I.R., founded 35 years ago because at that time, women artists were largely belittled or dismissed.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow would you describe your own hair?
QandA_ADrop.jpgLong, thick, and curly. I really appreciate it now, but when I was in college, the preferred look was long, straight, bohemian hair. Many girls I knew ironed their hair to achieve this look. My own method was to wind my wet hair around huge, round rollers that made me look like Minnie Mouse.

Ruth E. Kott, AM'07

February 18, 2010

In which Benjamin channels Variety

Just in time for the Oscar kudocast, and following up on Emily Riemer’s (AM’09) post from last week, I’m pleased to present you with last quarter’s Doc Films box office winners and losers.

A few caveats about the numbers: the recent H’w’d pictures Doc unspools on weekends get three or four showings each, while films from the weekday series get only one. Attendance includes individual ticket buyers and season-pass holders, but not people who sneak in through the back door of Ida Noyes.

The leadership of Doc Films had a few comments about the hotsy biz (or lack thereof) done by a couple of the pictures.

Five most boffo titles by attendance:

  1. Up (731)
    “Kids loved it, old people loved it. Pixar is one of the only companies that can reliably make a film just as appealing to our entire audience, ages 9 to 90. Sort of like Sesame Street, but more expensive.”

  2. Star Trek (481)
    “Not only was this a rare franchise reboot that was actually entertaining enough for a second viewing, it capitalized on the traditionally political science-tinged reputation that attracts U of C undergrads in a way that Star Wars can't.” (As perhaps the only old-line Trekkie who didn’t like this movie, I’m going to reserve my vitriol for another day and move on.—BR)

  3. Inglourious Basterds (445)
    “Fetishized Nazi-killing provides the sort of cathartic release (particularly in advance of finals week) that no other film on our calendar can.”

  4. The Hangover (362)
    “Two frat boys puked in the cinema during the 11 p.m. screening. Appropriate, if disgusting."

  5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (352)
    “For every undergraduate secretly wishing that our school was actually Hogwarts.”

Five worst floppola films by attendance:

  1. The Kitchen Presents Two Moon July (17)

  2. Selected Works I & II (18)

  3. Home of the Brave (26)

  4. Dirigible (28)

  5. Ellis Island and Book of Days (29)

“All of the bottom five titles are from the Downtown 81 series, except Dirigible (from Frank Capra). It's a shame that these sorts of series don't exactly hit it out of the ballpark in terms of attendance, but we still feel a duty to showcase them for the Chicago community regardless of the attendance, and we do gain a few converts to less-than-mainstream cinema with every passing quarter. That won't be changing anytime soon.”

To join the audience of a mainstream or not-so-mainstream showing, Doc’s Winter 2010 sked can be found here.

Benjamin Recchie, AB'03

February 19, 2010

Meet the folks

It’s Saturday afternoon, and famed fiddlers like the New Mules and Liz Carroll are sitting on stools in a half circle, sharing stories and songs with several dozen of their closest friends. The atmosphere at Ida Noyes Hall feels that friendly, anyway, which is what brings people back year after year to the University of Chicago Folk Festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this past weekend.

“The cool thing about the University of Chicago Folk Festival is that it’s very intimate,” says Paul Lucas, a software technician on weekdays and a folk enthusiast the rest of the time. The musicians are “very accessible,” Lucas says. "They’re very generous with their time and sharing their musical knowledge and ability. All festivals try to do that, but because of either location or because of sheer size—there was a good number of folks [this year] but it wasn’t overwhelming—it just seemed like a more intimate venue to have a folk festival.”

In addition to concerts Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening, this year’s festival featured 34 daytime workshops Saturday and Sunday, ranging from Scandinavian dance to 19th-century parlor music to the history of the hurdy gurdy. Lucas held a workshop on Piedmont-guitar stylings, featuring a wide-reaching history of the genre paired with some hands-on instruction in the art of Travis picking. The Piedmont blues, coming out of the Washington, DC, area, is characterized by finger picking and an alternating bassline, creating a jazzy, ragtime feel that's more upbeat than some of its folk counterparts.

Lucas, a Highland Park resident who has founded three folk-music Web sites, has a simple mission: help other people enjoy the Piedmont style as much as he does. He spoke to a group of a few dozen on Etta Baker, the first female Piedmont guitarist ever recorded, and hopes that festivals like the University’s will help continue the Piedmont tradition that started in the ’20s and ’30s, as well as “inspire someone to pick up Piedmont and bring it in a new direction and take that to a new audience.”

He’s not selfish about drawing attention to his preferred niche of folk music. The festival organizers "try to give you a wide block of music from Americana. They’ve got old-time, bluegrass, country blues, Cajun; the only thing they’re missing is maybe jazz from the ’20s and ’30s and maybe gospel.”

Jake Grubman, ’11

Photo by Lloyd Lee, ’11



February 22, 2010

Phoenix Pix: February 22-26, 2010

Snowy Hull Gate

Snowflakes may have fallen throughout the week, but Chicago students remained unfazed.

Photography by Dan Dry.

Submit your best University of Chicago-themed photos to Phoenix Pix.


hindsight-freeman.jpgThe plot twists that shaped the narrative of Mark Freeman’s life were not instantly recognizable as important moments. Consider the car ride home from college with his father that still resonates 35 years later. Their four-hour conversation only took on such significance two months after it happened, when Freeman's father died of a heart attack.

Today Freeman, PhD’86, considers that road trip a central episode in his life story. He finds comfort in the recollection of time they had together but also a melancholy shadow of what their relationship might have become. “What my dad’s death seemed to do was activate the poetic function of memory, such that I would return to that ride home and try to disclose what was there, waiting," Freeman writes in Hindsight: The Promise and Peril of Looking Backward (Oxford University Press, 2010).

When his daughter suffered a serious illness, the memory of that ride and his father’s death shortly thereafter sharpened Freeman’s awareness of moments with her and heightened his sense that life could be cut suddenly short. “What we are doing is remembering and narrating,” Freeman writes, “which means situating the experiences of the past in relation to what has happened since.”

A psychology professor at the College of the Holy Cross, Freeman explores how hindsight, often dismissed as a biased view of the past, also offers a path to insight, a way to create order from the messy course of events. Those events can be matters of life and death, or as trivial as a baseball game, as Steve Bartman discovered when he became a character in one such narrative in 2003.

Bartman’s fateful lunge for a foul ball was a minor incident among many that contributed to the Chicago Cubs losing in the playoffs that year. Yet it became a central storyline, symbolic of a cursed franchise’s suffering fate. Had the Cubs won, Bartman might have been forgotten, like Freeman’s car ride might have been had his father lived longer.

Many Cubs fans made Bartman an immediate villain, targeting him with beer cups and other projectiles, but the historical significance of his action depended on the outcome of the series. Although Freeman describes Bartman as a victim of the human craving for narrative, he argues that there are truths revealed in those retrospective stories that cannot be identified in the chaos of the moment. In Bartman's unfortunate case the "truth" about his role transcends the "fact" that many on-field mistakes contributed to the outcome.

Freeman insists that the public singling out Bartman, despite the many other factors involved, is not a distortion. "[T]he question of What Really Happened is not a matter of facts alone. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that we do not, and cannot, know What Really Happened until there is an ending. This is the way of narrative, and it is every bit as real as the events that happen along, clock ticking all the while."

Bartman's greatest mistake might have been losing himself in the moment. As he noted in his written apology to Cubs fans, if he had been conscious of his potential to cause harm, he never would have reached for that foul ball. Such hindsight—if only I had thought it through—can be a mechanism to prevent more than fan interference; it can lead to insight that encourages more ethical behavior.

Acting first and thinking later often exposes moral failings, leading to regret that is more private but no less profound than Bartman's. In that realm, Freeman writes, the act of "narrative reflection" becomes more than a way to shape the stories of our lives. The process "emerges as a potential vehicle not only of truth but goodness," adding perspective that helps produce better endings.

Perceived "endings" are themselves subject to change. Information gleaned years later can alter a person's experience. Life stories are not static, Freeman writes, even in retrospect. “We are neither the archaeologists of our histories, unearthing what had been there all along, nor their inventors, fashioning them ex nihilo, out of nothing. Not unlike poets, we are creators, fashioning and refashioning the work that is our lives, through narrative, via hindsight.”

Jason Kelly

February 23, 2010

Here’s to you, Judy Blume

It's not easy being a teenage girl. Between crushes, popularity contests, and training bras, junior high and high school can be a minefield of blush-inducing embarrassments. To make sense of the chaos—and hopefully to mitigate some of the disaster—it helps to have a good guide. For myself and thousands of other girls who came of age during the '80s and '90s, that guide was Judy Blume.

"They may never become classics," wrote author Joyce Maynard of Blume's honest coming-of-age books in a 1978 piece for the New York Times, "but they are among the first juvenile books to abandon happy endings, the notion of perfect parents, and images of children whose most serious problems are getting a horse or a paper route."

In honor of Blume’s 72nd birthday month and the 40th anniversary of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, I pulled out my copy of Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume (Pocket Books, 2007), edited by Jennifer O’Connell, MBA’96. In the book O’Connell and 24 other contributors reveal how Blume’s stories helped them survive the challenges of puberty—and occasionally those of adulthood. Check out some of their insights:

Beth Kendrick on Tiger Eyes, Forever, and Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself
"When I read Judy Blume in middle school, I skimmed right over the mothers' dialogue. At that age I viewed parents as an obstacle that kept the heroine from attaining her dreams. ... In the fine tradition of stubborn suburban girls, I spent my adolescence rebelling. I enrolled in a college two thousand miles away from home. I made dating choices based on weighty criteria such as 'coolness' and 'hotness.' ... I did everything I imagined my mother wouldn't have wanted me to do. And, of course, I turned out just like her."

Meg Cabot on Blubber
"I don't know if there's something that happens to some adults—especially once they've had children of their own—where they selectively forget what being a kid is really like. ... Only Judy Blume never lost sight of the fact that girls are not made of sugar and spice and everything nice."

Kayla Perrin on Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
"Ask any sixth-grade schoolgirl, and she'll tell you that size matters. Like majorly. ... When you're eleven going on twelve, like Margaret in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, it's the thing that matters most in your life. You want more than anything to fit in. Like Goldilocks trying out the Bears' hospitality, you don't want a chest that is too big or too small. You want one that is just right."

Joy Olivia Miller


Think global, read local

There’s no Starbucks brewing, no plush toys for sale, no Brazilian jazz to provide a smooth soundtrack to browsing. Proudly intellectual, hidden in a basement, and member-owned since 1961, the Seminary Co-op is no mainstream bookstore. And when you compare the list of what sells best at the Co-op with popular titles around the country, quirks emerge.

There are specific differences—like the fact that Sean Hannity is No. 3 on Amazon.com but Howard Zinn occupies the same spot on the Co-op’s list. And that The Lost Symbol and The Lovely Bones have topped recent Chronicle of Higher Ed surveys of college book sales but fail to register with Co-op customers.

What distinguishes Seminary Co-op book-buyers? First, they favor volumes with UChicago connections, from the newest Baffler (brainchild of Thomas Frank, AM’89, PhD’94) to Superfreakonomics to Twitterature. Second, they like to get the reading done before lectures, or at least buy the book: works by Joseph Stiglitz, Martha Nussbaum, and Jonathan Cole sold briskly before their February and March campus appearances.

On the Co-op’s list, “there are always some national best-sellers, some books tied to the media, and some things of local interest,” says Jack Cella, X'73, general manager. “I always tell people the best bookstores are ones that are really local and fit well into the neighborhood, but I hadn’t thought about how the sales reflect the neighborhood as well.”

Here are the Seminary Co-op’s top ten sellers for the three weeks ending February 16. Because of ties, 19 books make the list.

  1. Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, Michael Pollan

  2. The Baffler (Volume 2, No. 1), Baffler staff
    Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

  3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
    A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn

  4. From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law, Martha Nussbaum
    The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University, Louis Menand

  5. Just Kids: From Brooklyn to the Chelsea Hotel, Patti Smith
    Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less, Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin

    36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, Rebecca Goldstein

  6. Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy, Joseph E. Stiglitz
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

  7. The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
    The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

  8. Crescat Graffiti, Vita Excolatur: Confessions of the University of Chicago, Quinn Dombrowski
    Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, Tracy Kidder

  9. The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected, Jonathan Cole

  10. Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
    Why Evolution is True, Jerry A. Coyne

Elizabeth Station


Continue reading "Think global, read local" »

February 25, 2010

A voice that carries

How many blogs are there in the world? Seventy million? 112 million? Even my six-year-old kids have a blog. Let’s just say there are a lot.

It’s a rare blog that can make itself heard against that much background noise. Hyde Park Progress is one. The Empowerment Experiment, written by Maggie Anderson, JD’98, MBA’01, is another. It’s inspiring, crushing, optimistic, pessimistic, angry, funny, dark, and personal, sometimes all in one 400-word entry.

For my University of Chicago Magazine story about the Empowerment Experiment, due out in mid-March, I had room to quote only a line or two. Here are a few more snippets from my favorite entries:

April 7, 2009
"To be or not to be"

Topic: Reggio’s Pizza, a black-owned business

So why is it that I can only find his pizza in the Black Walgreens? Are Black people the only people who like pizza?...

I want to boast, as I chomp on this unbelievably scrumptious pizza, made with that awesome, one-of-a-kind butter crust..., “John Clark is an extraordinary man, with an extraordinary plan, who has the work ethic and quality product required to guarantee success!” Y’all know I want to shout that from the mountain top!


Wait a minute. I just have to finish this slice. Damn, it’s good!

March 29, 2009
"EE does not stand for Embarrassing Entertainment"

Topic: National news programs interview the Andersons

Yeah, they tried to make us out to be some militant, fringe, new-millennium racists on a mission to do something that’s not gonna make a difference anywhere. ... the STORY was ‘Meet the crazy lady driving 18 miles to buy eggs...’

So guess what happened.... We stuck to our positive message. We were not buffoons. We did not embarrass our families or our cause.

So will you still listen? Will they continue to cover EE? As Russell Crowe said in Gladiator, “Are you not entertained?!”...

I'm out.

February 7, 2009
"Windows and corridors"

Topic: Black-owned dollar store that hung photos of the Andersons in the windows

...the tears welled because I saw that Michelle and David, the owners of God First, God Last, God Always Dollar and Up General Store had posted pictures of my family on the windows and doors of their business. They had also printed copies of our Web site to distribute as flyers they were placing in every bag. I did not ask them to do that.

When was the last time you cried after shopping at Family Dollar or Kmart? When was the last time the owners of those stores took the time to get to know your family and talk to you about the issues that matter to you and your community?...

This is just such a thrill, such a revolutionary period in my life. ... It's tough to contain the joy and stay coherent!

Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93

February 26, 2010

Lost in translation


Although there may be an extremely limited number of things I’m a low-level expert on—brewing a perfect cup of Earl Grey tea, planning a fantastic road trip, and procrastinating come to mind—19th-century Italian opera is not among them. So Monday night at a Mandel Hall recital featuring internationally acclaimed mezzo-sopranos Joyce DiDonato and Vivica Genaux, held in honor of retiring U of C professor Philip Gossett—widely recognized as the world’s preeminent scholar of 19th-century Italian opera—and attended by opera experts from around the globe, I felt a little out of my element.

gossett-3.jpg"If there were such a thing as a Nobel Prize for musicology—and there should be,” said Chicago Opera Theater’s general director Brian Dickie as he introduced Gossett, “he would add to the luster of Nobel laureates.” Known for his critical editions of Rossini and Verdi opera, Gossett has worked with some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses, including New York’s Metropolitan. In 1998 the Italian government awarded him its highest civilian honor, the Cavaliere di Gran Croce.

I, on the other hand, speak not a lick of Italian, so I was relieved that translations were provided. As Genaux launched into the first piece, an aria from Rossini’s "La Cenerentola" ("Cinderella"), I tried to follow along. Yet even on a bare stage, save the piano and two music stands, Genaux’s soaring vocals made it difficult to concentrate. Who wants to read when you can listen to sound like that?

gossett-2.jpgI looked around at the rest of the audience. Few were reading; I suspect many already knew the lyrics. Rather than be intimidated, I put down my sheet, closed my eyes, and let the lament of the girl "born to pain and tears" wash over me. DiDonato’s rendition of Beethoven’s "Four ariettas, Op. 82," which followed, was just as powerful. The pain in her face, the forlornness in her eyes, the melancholy in her voice revealed everything: she's a woman in love. Perhaps not a good love or the right love, but love nonetheless.

Sure enough, when I skimmed the lyrics, it was exactly that:

I hear you well, my heart/
Beating so very hard,/
Expressing your complaint, I know,/
That you are now in love.

As the evening continued, I barely glanced at the translation sheet. From Verdi’s "Stornello" to Sullivan’s "The Mikado," the stories were universal: love pursued, gained, and lost. When the recital ended, I wiped a tear from my eye and joined in the standing ovation. Turns out, you don’t have to be an expert to be touched by opera. You just have to be human.

Brooke E. O’Neill, AM’04

About February 2010

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in February 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2010 is the previous archive.

March 2010 is the next archive.

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

Powered by
Movable Type 3.31