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Showing posts from December, 2015

Gender Inequity on Local Boards and Commissions

In a recent commentary on Hillary Clinton’s highly-publicized bathroom break, Soraya Chemaly observes: “The male-centeredness of our opinion making and public space continues to reflect the male-centeredness of our understanding of the world.” 
It would appear at first glance that women are well represented in local government in Northfield, Minnesota. There are 4 women and 3 men on the Northfield City Council. There are 4 women and 3 men on the school board. But on city boards and commissions the situation is markedly different. I looked at the membership of thirteen city boards and commissions and found that 58% of current appointees are men (as of December 2015). Here’s the breakdown:
Board or Commission# of male members# of female members Arts & Culture Commission 5 6 Charter Commission 4 0 Economic Development Authority (EDA) 9 0 Environmental Quality Board (EQB) 3 8 Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) 6 2 Hospital Board 6 3 Housing Redevelopment Commission(HRA) 4 6 Human…

Second Self

One of the highlights of 2015 for me was having the opportunity to return to my alma mater, Oberlin College, to participate in a symposium to honor Professor Thomas Van Nortwick on his retirement from the college. This is what I said on that occasion.

In 1986, the year I graduated from Oberlin, Tom entered a new and important phase of his life as a classicist. That was the year he published “Travels with Odysseus” in North Dakota Quarterly. With that essay, he began a long and fruitful journey of self-examination using the classics as guides. He began to ask himself how the stories of the ancient heroes—Achilles, Odysseus, Aeneas, Oedipus—might illuminate his own life and relationships. How could reading the Aeneid help him work through his own sense of loss? What could reading Sophocles’ Oedipus plays tell him about the cycle of his own life?
Looking back twenty-five years after the publication of that first personal essay, Tom reflected on the effect this mode of engagement with the …

Reading, Empathy, and Solipsism

A handful of recent studies have demonstrated a connection between reading fiction and the development of empathy and “theory of mind,” that is, the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of other people. Several of these studies have even shown that reading fiction acts upon the brain at a neurological level: reading about an experience activates the same parts of the brain as actually participating in that experience.
But the connection between fiction and empathy is not a recent discovery. In his 1970 essay “Fiction as Truth,” for example, British novelist Richard Hughes addresses the case of a man who considers it “proof of his serious-mindedness” that he never reads fiction. Hughes criticizes the man’s refusal to read fiction as “a solipsistic retreat into the fortress of his own ‘I am.’” It is a refusal to face “the fact that other people are not ‘things’ but ‘persons’”:
Not mere machines mass-produced on the genetic assembly line complete with built-in obsolescence, bu…