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March 2010 Archives

March 1, 2010


Retiring U of C professor Philip Gossett performs at Fulton Recital Hall.

Photography by Jason Smith.

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

For your amusement


QandA_QDrop.jpg How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb?


Whether this punch line makes you laugh, says Ted Cohen, Chicago philosophy professor and moderator of the annual Latke-Hamantash Debate, depends on understanding the context (i.e., surrealists’ love of combining discordant concepts) and having some familiarity with the lightbulb-changing joke form. In his new book, Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters, available for free download from the University of Chicago Press through March, Cohen delves into why some jokes work and others don’t. Perhaps most fun are the dozens of examples he uses as teaching tools. “There is no formula for making up jokes, and not everyone can do it,” he says. “A joke cannot force everyone to be amused, and some people are unamused by some jokes.”

To see what tickles your funny bone, download a copy today.

Brooke E. O’Neill, AM’04

March 3, 2010


“Jon Marvel’s going to be real proud when all this country is black from fire,” says Eric Davis, motioning past his pickup's windshield and the snaking asphalt to the sagebrush and grass on the hillside beyond. A rancher in southwestern Idaho's high desert, Davis has seen, and fought, his share of wildfires—“Our winter range burns about every third year”—and, like most ranchers, he believes in the power of livestock grazing to temper fire’s severity.

Environmentalist Jon Marvel, AB’72, does not.

In the Magazine’s Jan–Feb profile of Marvel, who seeks to abolish livestock grazing on 250 million acres of Western public lands, there wasn't much room to get into wildfires, an issue that, like every aspect of the grazing debate, is complicated by politics, emotion, history, and competing notions of ecological truth. Fire is a subject ranchers often bring up to illustrate how they believe Marvel’s approach would harm the land he means to rescue. Allowing cattle and sheep to clear out the tallest, driest leaves—what ranchers call "decadent" growth—reduces the “fuel load” available to fire. Grazed land, they contend, burns in a way that is more controllable than fields left unmanaged and untended. "The amount of fuel that’s on the ground determines the heat intensity of the fire," says Chad Gibson, a range-management scientist and former spokesman for the Owyhee Cattlemen's Association. "And the hotter it gets, the more impact it has on vegetation."

Inevitably, ranchers' talk turns to the Murphy Complex Fire of 2007. That summer, lightning strikes along the Idaho-Nevada border ignited a blaze that burned unchecked for two weeks. Dry, hot winds blew the fire forward, and the flames became so intense that stands of sagebrush exploded in its path. Before it was over, more than 650,000 acres had gone up in smoke. It was the largest fire Idaho had seen since 1910. Much of the incinerated ground had remained ungrazed for a decade, entangled in lawsuits brought by Marvel. In the fire's aftermath, Idaho Governor Butch Otter and Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo laid the blame at environmentalists’ feet, claiming that more grazing might have meant less disaster.

Davis and his neighbor and fellow rancher Charles Lyons seconded that assessment. “I could have guaranteed you that thing was going to burn, and it did,” Lyons says. “And what was the cost? Who knows. But it invited a whole lot of invasive species,” including, he adds, the highly flammable infiltrator cheatgrass, considered a scourge by environmentalists and ranchers alike. "And hell," Lyons continues, "the sage chicken”—an endangered bird that Marvel has launched a legal fight to protect—“it burned up all their habitat too.”

Marvel challenged ranchers to prove their point, to produce evidence that grazing inhibits wildfires. Soon enough, some proof arrived, although it hardly settled the dispute. In 2008 a study by scientists at the universities of Idaho and Nevada, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Bureau of Land Management found that grazing levels had a “negligible” effect on the size of the Murphy fire. The wind was just too high, the fire too hot. But the same study also suggested that under more moderate weather conditions, grazing can perhaps slow a fire's spread and dampen the intensity of its advancing front line. Meanwhile, a 14-year study released in 2009 by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service found that grazed rangelands recover more effectively from fire than those kept free of livestock.

Botanist Beth Painter believes the definitive data on grazing and wildfires doesn't yet exist. “We don’t have really good documentation,” she says. “When it’s not wind-driven and there aren’t extreme weather conditions, we simply don’t have enough data." Painter, who learned to ride a horse before she could walk, grew up ranching in Wyoming, and her family has been raising cattle out West since the 1880s. When her PhD research began leading her inexorably toward grazing's negative consequences, it came at first, she says, as a "shock to the system." Now she serves on the advisory board of Marvel's environmental organization, Western Watersheds Project.

In the end, Painter says, the answers to the wildfire issue aren't likely to be clear cut.

"Yes," she says, the ground "probably wouldn’t carry a fire if there were no plants out there, if it looked like a feedlot." Or maybe it would: in California's coastal shrublands, where wildfires are common, she has found that the same area can burn two years in a row, before vegetation has a chance to return. "So fuel load is kind of a question.” In addition, the dried leaves that ranchers call "decadent" might actually shield a plant during a fire. "Sometimes it needs that standing material across the top to protect it from the soil overheating," Painter says. "Soils, if they get hot enough, will caramelize."

"It's a very complex question to approach, whether or not cattle have an impact on fire," she concludes. "We have to follow the science."

Lydialyle Gibson

March 4, 2010

Tsar search

Watch Golosá sing "Rasti da Rasti"—which translates to "Grow and Grow"—at the February 13 Folk Festival.

“Crunchy dissonance” is how Golosá choir leader Tammy Ghattas, AB’03, describes the sound of the group’s pre-Soviet, Russian folk-music repertoire. “Nobody would have written these folk songs down at any time,” she says in February 17 interview for WBEZ’s Worldview. They were passed on orally: “People learn them from their friends and people in villages." Two individuals might sing the same part in a song, but they each interpret it slightly differently. "So if they are singing the same part, and then one person thinks it’d be nice to go up, and the other person thinks it’d be nice to go down, then you get a really tight harmony.”

Started in summer 1997 after cofounder Noel Taylor, AM’99, SM’04, returned from studying German in Freiburg—home of one of the oldest Russian folk groups still in existence—Golosá performs around Chicago, nationally, and internationally. Interviewed on Worldview following the 50th annual U of C Folk Festival, at which Golosá sang, Ghattas and Taylor explain the group’s past and present.

Their next performance is April 9, singing with Georgian-music choir Alioni at an ethnomusicology conference hosted by Chicago’s DePaul University.

Ruth E. Kott, AM'07

March 5, 2010

In an instant

SarahBest-Portrait.jpg More than 60 years ago, the Polaroid Corporation created the world’s first instant camera. What was the most appealing aspect of this new product? Arguably, it was its immediacy, its portability, and the instant access it provided to a picture users had taken just minutes before.

Sarah Best, X’03, understands the appeal of the Polaroid. In her photography exhibit, "Daily Photos," her cell-phone images—of friends in social settings, close-up portraits of faces, and inanimate objects—have that same sense of intimacy and immediacy. The compactness and ubiquity of cell-phone cameras make their presence at a party or social gathering virtually unnoticeable, and this lends Best’s photos an in-the-moment quality that puts the viewer in the room with her subjects. Adding to this sense of immediacy is Best’s preoccupation with movement. She captures a dancer’s twirling skirt as she spins across a wood floor, a cellist in the midst of an impromptu performance, and even the worktable in her kitchen as she rolls out and prepares to bake cookies.


"Daily Photos" is an homage to instant cameras of the past: Best uses the iPhone App “ShakeIt” to give her photos a white border and a square shape, just like a Polaroid. But she also loves that a cell phone allows its user to take a picture and share it instantly by e-mail or via social networking sites. Best encourages visitors at her exhibit to instantaneously capture and share images of her show with their own phone cameras.

Best, a former poetry major at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, was inspired by Frank O’Hara’s poetry collection Lunch Poems (1964) and Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography exhibit “Polaroids” (1973). O’Hara particularly interested Best when she studied him in college a decade ago. “His poems made you feel as if you knew his friends. He caught the light on a building, the song playing on the radio. He made you feel that you were there in the moment. But, they seem more casual than they really are.”
Best’s own work is minimally planned ahead of time, and she allows the process of shooting and experimentation to shape the kinds of photos she takes. However, after shooting, she spends a great deal of time choosing which images to display, often grouping them together in pairs or triptychs around particular themes or subjects, in order to convey a sense of movement over time. Best explains, “Grouping photos together allows me to show images that resonate with each other, or which juxtapose with each other in an interesting way, like images in a poem. I make an intentional effort to create an experience that the viewer can ‘read’ in certain ways.”

"Daily Photos" is on display at the Antena Gallery in Pilsen until March 20. Next, it will appear starting April 30 on the gallery wall at Paper Boy, a retail stationery store in Lakeview.

Emily Riemer, AM’09

"Pictures with bad cameras have such interesting aesthetic qualities,” Best insists. At top, writer Emily Riemer uses her own low-tech camera phone to capture a self portrait of Best displayed at the exhibit.


"Picture perfect" (UChiBLOGo, July 10, 2009)

"Cellphone photography is SO 2010" (Gapers Block, Feb. 3, 2010)

March 8, 2010

Phoenix Pix: March 8-12, 2010


Retiring U of C professor Philip Gossett performs at Fulton Recital Hall.

Photography by Jason Smith.

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

The Great American University (guess who?)

Holding a panel discussion at U of C entitled “The Great American University: The University of Chicago as an Ideal Type" might seem rather pompous. Yet when a campus outsider writes a book extolling Chicago as one of the nation’s superlative universities, a discussion makes sense. That event took place last Wednesday when Jonathan R. Cole, the John Mitchell Mason professor and former provost and dean of faculties at Columbia University, came to campus to speak about his book The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must be Protected (PublicAffairs, 2010).

The University of Chicago story is often told as one of an upstart: a scrappy, TheGreatAmericanUniversity.jpg Midwestern institution that in a few short decades rose to the preeminence of East Coast universities founded 100 to 200 years earlier. Yet Cole tells a different story that begins long after Chicago’s 1892 founding. According to him, the “great American university,” one propelled by academic freedom and meritocracy, truly began with the demise of another great higher-education system: Germany’s.

Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in January 1933 resulted in an exodus of talent from the top German institutions. Hundreds were dismissed for being Jewish or having political views at odds with the Nazi party. Others, like James Franck, who later came to the University of Chicago and worked on the Manhattan Project, resigned from the University of Göttingen in protest. America was by far the greatest beneficiary of Germany’s loss. As a result, Cole writes, “American research universities were poised to become the greatest in the world.” Germany had intentionally violated both academic freedom and meritocracy—values Cole finds in every great system of research and higher education since 17th-century Europe.

Among American institutions, he says, the University of Chicago most epitomizes those principles. Faculty panelists joining Cole were clearly appreciative of his assessment, yet they didn’t hesitate to delve deeper into the academic-freedom point. Chemist Stephen Berry, the James Franck distinguished service professor emeritus, attributed Chicago’s encouragement of free inquiry to its interdisciplinary culture, citing “permeable departmental divisions” in many, but not all, disciplines. Historian John Boyer, AM'69, PhD'75, dean of the College, acknowledged Cole’s recognition of Robert Maynard Hutchins as “the champion of academic freedom before and during the Cold War,” but added the caveat that the man viewed as “fearless to the outside” was often seen as “reckless to the inside” by faculty who saw his abolition of tenure as a threat to academic freedom. Anthropologist Richard Shweder, the William Claude Reavis distinguished service professor of human development, concluded the session expressing concern that the University is walking a thin line by expanding the role of institutional review boards, technology-transfer initiatives, and offices of risk management, all of which have the potential to restrict research.

During the Q&A, several attendees commented on the relative merits of the University and other institutions, as well as American versus European universities. Appropriately enough, president emerita Hanna Holborn Gray, present as a guest, ended the event by questioning the book’s premise, deconstructing the conversation, and commenting on the self-congratulatory nature of the phrase “great American university.”

Kyle Gorden, AB’00


Racing scholarly values leads author to Chicago (University of Chicago News Office)

Interview with Cole: Great American Research Universities and How They Got That Way (Columbia Record)

"Can American Research Universities Remain the Best in the World?" (The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 3, 2010)

"University of Chicago, a Bright Spot for the City" (The New York Times, January 9, 2010)

March 10, 2010

Lines of duty

TheWagon.jpgChicago police officer Martin Preib is “a born wagon man.” A cop by trade, a writer at heart, Preib gave up his publishing aspirations when he joined the force. But the troubled lives and grisly deaths he encountered while hauling criminals to jail and bodies to the morgue compelled him. There were stories in the wagon.

Now he’s compiled those tales in The Wagon and Other Stories from the City (University of Chicago Press, 2010). Preib’s collection explores race, class, and gender issues, along with the dark corners of the city encountered from his patrol car. There are no stock characters in Preib’s account, John Kass writes in the Chicago Tribune. Instead, “the hero is an intelligent man trying to figure things out.”

The Wagon is part of the U of C Press’s Chicago Visions and Revisions series, which includes The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City and Soldier Field: A Stadium and its City.

Jason Kelly

March 15, 2010

Phoenix Pix: March 15-19, 2010

Track & Field

Second-year Paige Peltzer clears the high jump.

Women's indoor track & field becomes the sixth UChicago team to post a top-four finish in NCAA Division III competition, joining women's tennis (2009), women's soccer (2005, 2003, 1996), and men's soccer (1996).

Photo courtesy University of Chicago Athletics.

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

Style guide

Since 2008, Sadie Stein, AB’03, has been an editor at Jezebel.com, a Gawker Media–owned blog that covers “celebrity, sex, fashion for women—without airbrushing.” It’s not your typical 9–5 job, but it’s one that requires an engaging writing style and wide-ranging knowledge of pop culture, politics, and even 19th-century English literature. Stein, 28, is in charge of the fashion beat, but she also shares the occasional personal story—such as the physical reaction she had last week to her first (yes, first) taste of Diet Coke—and puts her English degree to good use, arguing, for example, against New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s contention that Barack Obama is a modern-day Mr. Darcy.


QandA_QDrop.jpgOn Jezebel.com, you write about fashion, pop culture, and women’s issues. What did you study in the College? Were you planning to be a writer at the time—or a fashionista?

QandA_ADrop.jpgI studied English—and wrote a “creative BA” as we called it then—so to the extent I was qualified for anything, I guess it was writing. In fact, both my parents write full time, so that always seemed like a realistic career option—realistic in both senses, because growing up around anything, you don’t romanticize it and are well aware of the challenges of making a living. As to fashion, I certainly never thought that would be a part of my professional life; in fact, my fourth-year roommate was the real stylish one—she worked at Harper and was known for her wardrobe of vintage suits. I did benefit from her closet.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow did you get involved with Jezebel?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI was working in publishing for a while in New York, and when I left that to work from home and take on a ghostwriting project, I decided to get a part-time job in my Brooklyn neighborhood. A new boutique had opened nearby, and I became their first employee. And that's really how the Jezebel job came about; through the shop, which I loved, I got to know tons of people in the neighborhood, and a bunch of them became friends. A few of them were Jezebel writers. They'd started reading my blog—which I'd been keeping up, just for fun, since Paris [where I spent a year after graduation]—and when the fashion-oriented job opened up, they thought of me and brought me to the attention of the editor. It’s funny; I think because I worked at this store, everyone assumed I knew about fashion. In fact, I didn’t know anything! I liked wearing eccentric getups, but my knowledge of the actual fashion world was nil, and I had to learn on the job. I “auditioned” for about six months before becoming a full-time staffer, and I've been there ever since.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat makes Jezebel stand out among female-oriented blogs?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThe mix of subject matter, from news to social issues to reality TV, is genuinely engaging (I know some people rely on it for their news—and their Project Runway updates), and despite the range the site covers, there’s a distinctive point of view that manages to be irreverent without giving in to gratuitous snark. A lot of this comes from the fact that it’s just a terrific group of people—smart, funny, thoughtful, and I think that comes through. The commenters make a tremendous difference; their contributions are frequently hilarious, and the range of viewpoints is fantastic. It’s such a smart population—but at the same time, it’s a very respectful atmosphere (for the Internet!), which makes an incredible difference. We can actually engage and get to know each other in a way that’s very unusual.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat’s a typical workday for you? Where do you find your ideas for posts?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe all start early in the morning and hit the RSS feed first thing. Then, most of us have scheduled posts—for instance, I do a fashion roundup called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, so I’ll go to the photo sites and review the events from the night before. Our day’s schedule is variable: the editor, Anna, will generally send us ideas that caught her eye and correspond to our respective beats. We suggest our own ideas from things we’ve seen in the RSS or original ideas we might have come up with. We also have a great team of interns who send us links throughout the day. And it’s all subject to change throughout the day, of course, since the whole point of a blog is the ability to respond quickly to the news cycle. We rarely see each other in person—we almost all work from home—but communicate primarily through instant messaging. And once the day gets started, the pace is very fast. None of us breaks for lunch.
People always ask me if I get dressed, shower, etc. I do! In fact, I even put on a little makeup. I need to have a routine where I feel like I’m “going to work” in order to get in the right mindset. I admire people who are so on the ball that they can sit down at the computer and work in PJs, but I think I’d just spend the day on eBay and YouTube if I didn’t hew to my routine.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat advice do you have for aspiring fashion/women’s-issues bloggers?
QandA_ADrop.jpgRegardless of whether you hope to blog professionally, if you like to write, try keeping a blog: it’s a good discipline, it’s fun, and it’s good to be accountable to readers. Plus, it’s the best way to discover your voice. If something interests you, chances are it’ll interest someone else. Find bloggers you like, and read them regularly. Link to them if the spirit moves you. And good writing will win out, if you keep at it long enough.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhy is fashion important?
QandA_ADrop.jpgIt’s important to distinguish between “fashion” and “clothes,” despite how inextricably they’re linked. I’ve always been more interested in the latter—the way people choose to express themselves has always fascinated me. That said, fashion, as an art form and an expression of mores, is pretty fascinating too, especially the way it trickles into popular consciousness. I come from a family that never thought much of fashion and tended to dismiss it as frivolous, but I think, even if you don’t, you know, care about Fashion Week, it’s a bit disingenuous to opt out of the conversation entirely. We live in a time when there are no fixed uniforms anymore; whether you like it or not, you’re forced to make aesthetic choices all the time and define who you want to be in the eyes of the world. It might as well be someone you like. As Mark Twain said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

Elizabeth Chan

All’s fair in love and gore

University Theater’s production of Big Love is, above all else, fun. Sure, 49 people die in the play, and most of the cast is soaked in blood by the time final bows come around. But with an upside-down set, a soundtrack featuring Drake and Lady Gaga, and a colorful cast of characters, this year’s winter-quarter production brings out a smile a minute.

Big Love, written by Charles Mee and first performed in 2000, tells the story of 50 sisters—represented by three women who enter and exit the stage in ragged wedding dresses—and their arranged marriages to their 50 cousins. Set in the present day, Mee’s production combines Aeschylus’s influence with a modern flavor, plus a distinct sense of self-awareness and frequent crowd interaction. (At one point, one of the sisters said, “Surely there’s a sociopath somewhere who wants to make a deal,” and pointed at my roommate in the front row.)

UT’s rendering of Big Love lets the audience know what it’s in for right from the beginning, as the audience—walking into a set that takes the form of an upside-down house—is warned of the possibility of blood and cake splattering into the few rows surrounded by stage on three sides. The first action on stage is one of the sisters entering and promptly stripping down to her underwear and taking a seat in the upside-down refrigerator.

The soundtrack also plays a role, with Billboard hits generously sprinkled throughout. Drake’s “Forever” escorts the cousins on stage for their tremendously cool entrance. During the wedding, the cast breaks it down to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”—at least until the brides start murdering their grooms.

It’s not all death-by-axe, though—one of the sisters does find love. When that comes around, the audience just has to try to forget that her groom is also her cousin.

Jake Grubman, ’11

March 16, 2010

Glorious Homilius


Two weeks ago I slipped away from my desk and stepped inside Rockefeller Memorial Chapel to cover Tea and Pipes. A regular Tuesday event, the afternoon concert pairs music from University Organist Thomas Weisflog, SM'69, with tea and baked goods, all gratis.

With a cup of peach tea and two cookies—one dotted with sugar crystals and another iced in chocolate frosting—I walked toward the front of the chapel. Concertgoers of all ages were scattered throughout the pews. I settled into the second row and took in the imposing arches, the altar spires, the flower-motif stained-glass window.

Weisflog approached the microphone to introduce the afternoon’s "eclectic" program. He started with the strong, sharp sounds of Bach’s Prelude in C Minor, BWV 546, and ended with Louis Vierne’s dramatic, almost earth-shattering Carillon de Longpont. Nestled in between were lighter selections, including the chorale prelude to Gottfried August Homilius’s Durch Adams Fall Ist Ganz Verderbt for organ and oboe.

An 18th-century German composer who studied with Bach and taught Johann Adam Hiller, Homilius also played organ for the Dresden Frauenkirche church, which collapsed during World War II and was later reconstructed. In the Treasury of Early Organ Music, E. Power Biggs describes Homilius’s Durch Adams Fall: "As Bach learned from Pachelbel, so did Homilius from Bach. ... Originally for solo oboe and organ, the prelude has been adapted for organ alone by giving the chorale melody to the pedal."

Weisflog called the composition “a lovely little gem,” and I can’t think of a more apt description. Experience it for yourself above.

Katherine E. Muhlenkamp

March 17, 2010

Manny about town

Manny.jpgWho can’t relate to stories about a three-year-old who likes to squat down and pee in the floor vents, a toddler who hides mommy’s tampons in the stereo speakers, and tender film footage of an exhausted dad dealing with midnight tantrums and visits to the ER? John Hildreth, AB’00, (below) doesn't have any kids of his own, but that didn't stop him from directing a new play called The Manny Diaries at Chicago's Gorilla Tango Theater.

The Diaries is a one-man show written and performed by Bob Wiltfong (left), Hildreth's former student at the Second City. Combining wry anecdotes with videos from the parenting frontlines, Wiltfong tracks his travails as a stay-at-home dad with three small kids and "zero idea what he’s doing." Getting acquainted with the "manny" lifestyle was fun for Hildreth (right), who worked with Wiltfong "to make sure that his material would have universal appeal—not just to suburban parents." The audience at the show's March 6 premiere included several people who had babysat for Wiltfong's kids, but the jokes also hit home with urban sophisticates.

hildreth.jpgHildreth may be the hardest-working man in Chicago theater. This week, he is directing an evening of radio theater at Columbia College—where he also teaches—and a long-form improvisational piece called Momma’s Medicine. An artistic ensemble member at Lifeline Theater, he has won Jefferson citations for his stage adaptations and has performed and directed at The Second City and other venues.

"When I was at U of C, there was no theater department," says Hildreth, who studied chemistry. "Pretty much anyone who wanted to put up a play would form a theater group, get a faculty adviser, and just do it. I’m sure it’s much more organized and professional now."

Elizabeth Station

March 18, 2010

Will freelance for food


Wake up at noon, enjoy a leisurely coffee, then get to work in the comfort of your home office. You’re in the middle of a writing project you’re deeply passionate about. You’re thriving emotionally, creatively, and financially. Best yet, you’re wearing pajamas—because what else does one wear in her freelance fantasy life?

For those who’ve never done it, the thought of freelancing tends to elicit one of two things: the cliché described above or abject terror. The Graham School's March 4 freelance editing and writing panel discussion tackled both. Held at the Gleacher Center, the panel featured University of Chicago Press managing editor Anita Samen; freelance editor Sonia Fulop, who earned a Graham School editing certificate in 2006; and freelance theater, arts, and cultural critic Monica Westin, AM’08.

The panel gave some useful tips. The first set below comes from Ruthie Kott, AM’07, the Magazine’s Alumni News Editor and aspiring freelancer who wants to balance a full-time job with writing gigs on the side. The second comes from former Magazine staffer Brooke O’Neill, AM’04, a full-time freelancer since 2008.

So you’re wondering how to get started...
Ruthie Kott, AM’07

Avoid procrastination With constant temptations like Facebook, Bejeweled (my personal favorite), or even some old-fashioned Solitaire, this can be a hard rule to follow. But to freelance right, says Fulop, you need to be “very self-motivated, to be able to get work done without schedule and deadlines enforced in the office setting.” Westin agrees: “You do not want to get a reputation for being someone who turns copy in late.”

Get your foot in the door
A clip is all you need to break in, says Westin. “As soon as you’re writing for some publication, you have credibility to other editors.” She also recommends doing informational interviews with editors at publications you want to write for. And when you send a story pitch, she says, don’t just say that you’ll call and touch base within the next week; do it. Make contact with the people you want to work with.

Take advantage of the Web
In late 2009 Fulop started a Web site, which she has found useful when courting new clients. “I have found that, when I have my Web site at the bottom of an e-mail, people will go to it.” But Westin cautions against sending potential editors links to your personal blog. Some editors would consider it unprofessional; at best, a personal blog can help you connect with other writers. “I wouldn’t rely on any editors taking you seriously because you have a blog,” she says.

Get connected
Networking doesn’t have to be a terrifying experience. Westin imagined networking to be “a bunch of sleazy people, really fake and artificial,” but instead she's found that it’s “a community of people you can talk to and get advice from.” And the U of C connection was helpful; her editor at Newcity, where she is a regular arts writer, is Brian Hieggelke, AB’83, AM’84. Fulop also recommends LinkedIn and other professional social-networking sites.

So you’re already a freelancer (and wondering if you’re doing it right)...
Brooke O’Neill, AM’04

Hustle and flow The longer I freelance, the more I realize that no matter how many clients you woo, there’s never an end to the hustling. “You have to be persistent without feeling like you’re stalking people,” says Fulop. Stay at the top of editors’ minds by pitching story ideas regularly. After all, says Westin, “you’re going to have to make a case for your writing for the rest of your life.”

Fear not the long-distance relationship
When I moved back to Chicago from the West Coast a year ago, I fantasized about forging lifelong connections with editors over cocktails à la Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. Yet right now only two of my major clients are Windy City-based. With every e-mail sent off to another faceless individual halfway across the country, I wonder what I’m doing wrong. Nothing, it turns out. U of C Press editor Samen revealed that most of her freelancers live outside Chicago, and Fulop confessed that she’s never met most of hers.

Be formal
I sometimes worry that I’m excessively formal in an informal age. My e-mails to clients start with a proper salutation and end with a sign-off (“Sincerely,” “Best Regards,” “Best Wishes”). Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve never quite gotten used to the brusque one-sentence missive that leaves out both. And according to Samen, formal is the way to go. ”The way I’m approached makes a huge difference,” she says. “Err on the side of honorifics.” A new writer who addresses her by first name raises a red flag for Samen. After all, if they're too casual with her, they might also be that way with her authors, who could get offended.

Find friends
“Often as a freelancer you feel isolated,” says Westin. For many writers, this solitude can come as a shock. After all, don’t many of us pursue this profession because we grew up as quiet children prone to reading in private and scribbling our ruminations in diaries? OK, maybe just me. Regardless, my latent extrovert is never more loud and irritating than when I’ve worked alone in my apartment all day, speaking only to a small, withering houseplant. Make sure you’re “someone who will not go crazy working from home,” advises Fulop. Coffee shops, lunch dates, and any other form of human contact can ease the pain.

For more great advice, check out the complete panel on video.

Ruthie Kott, AM'07, and Brooke O'Neill, AM'04

March 19, 2010

Enemies of art—and science


"It is not a coincidence, in my opinion, that the enemies of science also tend to be the enemies of art," says Jamil Khoury, AM'92, artistic director of Chicago's Silk Road Theatre Project. Learn more about the common ground between art and science as he and other playwrights discuss Silk Road's current production The DNA Trail. Inspired by genetic DNA testing, the eclectic piece, made up of one-act plays by seven different playwrights, explores how the double helix interacts with culture to shape identity.

Swab Stories (University of Chicago Magazine)

DNA Trail playwrights discuss the writing process. (YouTube)

DNA Trail Roundtable at Columbia College (YouTube)

Phoenix Pix: March 15-19, 2010



Sidewalk "book structure" outside the Reg and Bartlett marks the beginning (top) and end (bottom) of finals week.

Photography by Mary Ruth Yoe and Lydia Gibson.

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

March 22, 2010

Go medieval


Students in Chicago's south-side branch of the historical reenactment group Society for Creative Anachronism—Shire of Grey Gargoyles—have been "practicing any and all medieval arts, from broadsword combat to glassblowing to dance and everything in between" since the 1970s. In an e-mail interview with UChiBLOGo, SCA member Nicole Ridgwell, '11, talks about doing research in the Reg to pick her medieval name, attending the Rockefeller coronation of Midrealm's king and queen, and learning to sew so that she could construct her own period dress.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow did you come up with your medieval name?
QandA_ADrop.jpgMy last name comes from a small town in England that is recorded in the Domesday Book. After some Internet research, I went to the Reg and checked [out] a book of all the personal names mentioned in the Domesday Book. I choose three that I really liked, and after some debate I decided on Alwynn, which can mean either noble friend or elf friend in Old English.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat was your first SCA experience like?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI attended a Sunday fighter/sewing practice my first year. At that first practice I was able to choose some very nice fabric and a simple pattern to make my first costume. Caitlin, the student SCA group president at that time, helped me construct the dress and taught me the basics of sewing. I got to wear my newly made dress at Stone Dog Inn, a local annual event held at Ida Noyes. I played medieval gambling games using specially cast medieval-type coins and met a large group of friendly people who shared my enjoyment of medieval history.
QandA_QDrop.jpgDescribe your best SCA experience.
QandA_ADrop.jpgThis past fall our local group hosted the 40th anniversary of the Midrealm (a kingdom composed of the northern midwest) and the coronation of the king and queen of the Midrealm. The coronation was held in Rockefeller Chapel and around 600 people in medieval garb attended. The elaborate procession into Rockefeller was an amazing sight that I will never forget.
QandA_QDrop.jpgIf you had a friend interested in joining, what would be your pitch?
QandA_ADrop.jpg SCA is a fun way to explore whatever you want in medieval or even pre-medieval history. Unlike a history class you don't have to write papers or take tests. You can immerse yourself in history through crafts or fighting or dance instead of looking at history through the more objective, external lens of strict research.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat's the best way to get started?
QandA_ADrop.jpgCome to Sunday practices at Ida Noyes. Spring quarter practices start April 18, 2-5 p.m. We will be out on the Midway or in Ida Noyes' West Lounge on the second floor. Check our Web sites (http://www.midrealm.org/greygargoyles and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GreyGargoyles) for more information about upcoming events. We can even loan you garb.

Joy Miller

Nicole Ridgwell (in green) with members of the UChicago SCA student group at Midrealm's 2008 Crown Tournament of Their Majesties Ullr et Annelyse. Photo courtesy of Ridgwell.


March 24, 2010

Silver screen

Lifelong activist Carol Ruth Silver, AB’60, JD’64, has placed herself at the center of many social-justice causes, from the 1960s Freedom Rides to, more recently, helping Afghanistan set up schools. In San Francisco she served, alongside Harvey Milk, on the Board of Supervisors (1977–89), and when the 2008 movie Milk was being filmed, she found herself even at the center of the production:

DJD_5640bw.jpg"Harvey and I were good buddies. We were elected together to the Board of Supervisors, and he and I were the anchors of the liberal consensus. We wrote things like rent control and condo conversion limitations. And of course our signature legislation was prohibition of discrimination by reason of sexual orientation, which was passed by a strong majority in San Francisco, just because the lesbian, gay, et cetera, community was so strong that there was no politician in San Francisco who could say no to it—and also because it was so right.

"And then along came these people who were making a movie of Harvey Milk's experiences, and I was recruited. I went to the casting event where they were casting my character. In the movie, as it finally was done, there's very little of my character [the person who played me] that actually shows. She got mostly cut out in favor of other things. But there was a sense that this was going to be an important character in the movie. So they had a casting thing where a whole bunch of actresses came and did their stuff in front of the director, Gus Van Sant, and the producer. … So I wandered in and met all these people. And somebody said, "Well, here. Take this number and go stand over there, and we'll take your picture. And maybe you'll get a job as an extra in this film." And I said, "All right. Sounds like fun." So now they had me on record.

"About two weeks later I got a call from somebody saying, “We've cast you as Thelma in the movie.” I said, "Who is Thelma?" And he said, "Thelma is a composite character representing all of the little-old-lady volunteers who used to come to Harvey's camera shop and help him with his political campaign." And so that is who I am in the Milk movie. I have one speaking part. I come on from the left and hand Sean Penn a piece of paper saying, "Harvey, Harvey. You have to look at this." And it's the death-threat letter that is an important item in the film. So that was my big Hollywood experience."

Amy Braverman Puma

Photography by Dan Dry

March 25, 2010

A presidential drugstore revisited

Kevin Crowley does not understand why I am calling him. A year ago, when the Hyde Park Walgreens he manages was the self-proclaimed “Barack Obama Headquarters,” he was kind enough to walk me through the store’s expansive selection of Obama-themed products and even let me shoot some shaky video.

But now, more than a year after Obama's inauguration, he doesn’t get it. I keep trying to explain my interest isn't a political thing. He keeps trying to refer me to corporate communications.

ObamaPen.jpg“I had a lot of stuff in the run-up to the election,” he says, too nice to hang up. “It’s like when the Bulls win the championship. You gotta wait until they win another one.”

I ask if the prices of Obama gear have dropped more or less than Obama’s approval rating (61 percent last March, according to Gallup, compared to 50 percent now). “I don’t think his approval rating is down in Hyde Park,” Crowley points out.

So I stop hassling him (I can’t afford to be banned from my local Walgreens) and a few days later stop by surreptitiously to do my own inventory. Ah, how the mighty have fallen. The post-election Obama extravaganza at the store’s entrance has shrunk to an end-of-aisle display between the shopping bags and the strapping tape. The clothing selection is now just a messy, multicolored pile of sweatshirts (marked down to a bargain-basement $4) and hoodies ($6.25), some with the presidential seal, others that read "Obama 44th President."

There are only a few remaining non-clothing items: stainless-steel portable Obama coffee mugs ($7.99); red, white, and blue Obama banners—“car flags,” reads the tag (two for $10); and a small charcoal drawing of the first family on the White House lawn ($3.99, or three for $10). This saccharine image is mixed in with various others of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and a furious, finger-pointing Malcolm X, all of which are labeled “Obama prints” on the price tag. Perhaps this collection is intended to get at his shape-shifting nature: when you look at Obama, you see what you’re expecting to see.

Just two Obama products rate a location at the front of the store. In the Chicago souvenir section, there’s an Obama shot glass ($1.99), unless you prefer the skyline or Al Capone. Then there’s the one remaining register-worthy impulse buy: the talking Obama pen.

I’ll admit it: I own three of these. A year ago, I bought one at the full price of $7.99. By Christmas, they had been marked down to two for $10, cheap enough so that each of my kids got one in their stockings. Obama no longer shops at the Walgreens, Crowley says. But apparently Santa still does.

Carrie Golus, AB’91, AM’93

Peeps...outside the box

PeepsatPond.jpgIt must be spring: we’ve started to hear a few peeps from readers clamoring for a reprise of last year's Peeps Diorama Contest.

This time we want you to take your marshmallow creatures out into the world. Our inspiration: the National Geographic Traveler’s Peeps in Places Photo Challenge.

Your mission:

  1. Check out entries on the NGT site for examples.

  2. Walk around the quads, Rockefeller, or any other campus site that strikes you as the perfect place for Peeps. If you're not near a University campus, put your Peeps in a place where Chicago peeps feel at home—or Photoshop them there.

  3. Shoot your pix and send to uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu with “Peeps Photos” in the subject line, or add photos to our Flickr group directly at www.flickr.com/groups/uchicagopeeps/

Although Peeps last forever, this photo opp has a shorter lifespan. All photos must be received by midnight on Monday, April 5.

Look for our favorites on UChiBLOGo next week. And, yes, there will be a prize. As soon as we peep one up.


Washington Post Peeps Show IV : Annual Peeps diorama contest

March 27, 2010

Proportion control


In the five weeks Albie Sachs spent on campus as a visiting professor, lecturing and teaching on South African constitutional law and what it has to say about same-sex marriage, torture, terrorism, and socioeconomic rights, it was hard to resist comparisons to the United States and how those same issues have been handled here. In his classroom discussions, Sachs—who helped write the South African constitution in the 1990s before becoming a constitutional-court justice—invited students to explore those comparisons. What is the American concept of justice? What does the constitution say about housing rights and religious freedom and the societal role of criminal punishment?

In a late January class on the second floor of Cobb Hall, Sachs laid out one fundamental difference he sees between South Africa’s constitutional philosophy and America’s: “proportionality.”

“It’s the theme of balancing,” he said. “Years ago I met a judge from Denmark, Isi Foighel, who was on the European Court of Human Rights. He said, 'You know, there's a very interesting thing you’ll notice on that court: the judges of southern Europe think their job is to distinguish between justice and injustice, right and wrong, lawful and unlawful. But the judges of northern Europe think that their main function is to regulate competing claims of right, when the case is not between right and wrong, but right and right.' Neither claim is invalid, but you have to find balance. It’s a very different crisis of reasoning.”

A similar difference exists, Sachs explained, between South Africa and the United States. In this country, he said, judges look to decipher right and wrong, lawful and unlawful. South Africa's judges think more like northern Europeans. He pointed to two cases as examples: a Rastafarian lawyer in Johannesburg denied admittance to the bar unless he swore off marijuana, and two Oregon Native Americans denied unemployment after being fired for eating peyote. Both filed suit, claiming the drugs as an important ritual elements of their religious exercise. Each claim went all the way to its country's high court, and in the end each was denied. Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion in the Oregon case, arguing that religion doesn't give a citizen the right to disobey generally applicable laws: "To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

In South Africa, the Constitutional Court's justices took a slightly different approach. They would not have been unhappy, Sachs said, to recognize Rastafarians' marijuana usage for religious reasons, but they determined that regulating the drug was unfeasible. (Sachs, who wrote the minority opinion in the case, disagreed on the issue of feasibility; he saw a way, he said, that it could have been done.) But their calculations were not so simple as figuring out who was wrong, which claim was outside the law.

In the United States, Sachs said, the term "proportionality" isn't often used. But increasingly it may be. “In a modern, diverse, pluralist society, those are the cases”—right versus right, not right versus wrong—“that are coming before the top courts. You’re not simply classifying, establishing a rule through classification. You’re not saying, ‘The rule applies or doesn’t apply.’ It’s balancing; it’s proportionality. It's weighing up, for example, the state interest in controlling the supply of drugs as against the intensity of the religious belief and its meaning for the adherents.”

Lydialyle Gibson

Photography by Dan Dry

March 29, 2010

Errand of mercy


It was close to 7 p.m. that I got word we were going to fly. I had been waiting since dawn to go on a run with the University of Chicago Aeromedical Network helicopter, but an unusual fog had kept the helicopter grounded most of the morning, while a lack of beds at the University of Chicago Medical Center’s intensive care unit had kept us from flying through the afternoon.

Finally, the call came in: a man in Community General Hospital in Munster, Indiana, 23 miles away, with an unidentified illness required transport to the U of C, whose expertise in complex cases was needed. We traveled to the rooftop helipad of Mitchell Hospital, then boarded the helicopter in the gathering twilight.

My crash helmet blocked out most of the noise of the turbines and the rotors. I could hear the pilot talking to air traffic control as Aeromed One, identifying our origin, destination, and fuel load, as well as “four souls on board.”

Lifting off was gentler than an amusement-park ride, gentler even than an elevator. No one spoke or pointed out the sights on the eight-minute trip to Munster. After no time at all, we touched down gently at Community General. A policeman led us from the helipad to the patient, in the intensive care unit.

I stood back as the doctor and transport nurse hooked the patient up to the helicopter’s portable life-support equipment. I had never felt so superfluous in my life. Here were people racing against the clock to save this man’s life, and all I could do was try to stay out of their way.

The hospital nurses wrung their hands and looked on. One turned to me and said, “We want him to come back and visit us—you know, to walk in the door, healthy.” Another lamented softly, “We just don’t know what’s wrong with him.”

Eventually, the crew got him squared away and ready for transport. It took at least half an hour to do this, but it seemed like five minutes. I followed the gurney as we met the pilot and processed to the helipad. Finally, I got to be useful, holding an oxygen tank as the semiconscious patient was loaded aboard the helicopter. We climbed aboard, the pilot spun up the engines, and, within a few minutes, we were off. The pilot contacted air traffic control again: “This is Aeromed One. Five souls on board.”

Someone finally broke the silence. “This guy is a lot worse than they made him sound over the phone.”

Before I knew it, we were over the Midway. The helicopter slowly landed in a tight spiral and powered down again. I followed the gurney back to the ICU. Twelve hours of waiting paid off. In the end, I got my helicopter ride, and he got a fighting chance to live.

Benjamin Recchie, AB'03

Photography by Dan Dry

March 31, 2010

Baby, I don’t care

Out%20of%20Past.jpgWho’s that? What just happened? I thought she was dead. Are we supposed to know what he knows?

Robert Pippin got a big laugh with his approximation of what goes through many viewers’ heads when watching classic American film noir, with its labyrinthine plot lines and broken links between cause and effect, intention and action. Those of us who had recently screened the film at the center of his March talk, “Trapped By Oneself in Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past,” could relate.

In the 1947 film, Robert Mitchum plays Jeff Bailey, an ex-hood who’s trying to lead a new, clean life in a new, clean town. In the opening scene Jeff is discovered by a former associate and, like Michael Corleone after him, pulled inexorably back into a world of crime and double-crossing. Doing most of the heavy pulling is Jane Greer as Kathie Moffat—the femme fatale without whom no noir would be complete. During the key San Francisco sequence, keeping track of the rapid succession of plot twists is all but hopeless.

So are the destinies of film noir characters, which seem ruled by an ancient form of fate. Grim urban settings, cold-blooded murders, official corruption, bitter irony toward the American Dream, a sense of predetermination: this is what film noir is made of, said Pippin, the Evelyn Stefansson Nef distinguished service professor of social thought, philosophy, and in the College. He focused on the disconnect between noir characters’ motives and their actions. The first noir line, he said, might be one in Oedipus at Colonus: "I suffered those deeds more than I owned them." “In this genre,” Pippin observed, “people say over and over, ‘I’m not going to do that,’ and then they do it.” Or they plan an action, meeting the formal requirements of agency, but don’t follow through.

If they did, they would be acting within the American philosophical tradition of reflective action; but in American noir nobody fits this model. When Kathie, whom Jeff suspects of treachery, protests her innocence, he responds with the famous line “Baby, I don’t care” (also the title of Lee Server’s first-rate Mitchum biography). Moments later they’re kissing, but Mitchum’s back to the camera prevents us from reading his character’s motivation.

Pippin's talk was the first of three in a series, “Fatalism in Film Noir: Some Cinematic Philosophy,” analyzing the philosophic condition of noir heroes or antiheroes. The two subsequent talks looked at Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai and Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street. Pippin will deliver all three again next week as the 2010 Page-Barbour lecturer at the University of Virginia.

Laura Demanski, AM’94

About March 2010

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

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