Fill a Giant Hole in Chicago for Cash and Prizes

The Chicago Architectural Club is running a competition for ideas on what to do with the gaping hole in the Streeterville neighborhood thanks to the un-built Calatrava-designed Chicago Spire.

The hole is 76 feet wide and 110 feet deep. Here’s what the hole looks like, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

My suggestion: turn it into a politicians-only prison, with a big sheet of glass over the top, so people can walk by and gaze down at all the Chicago and Illinois politicians who have been convicted of corruption, tax evasion, etc…Though they might have to dig the hole a bit deeper.

[Hat Tip: Gapers Block]


The Great Gatsby (Cover Version)

A woman in Germany named Helene Hegemann, who is 17 years old, published a novel called “Axolotl Roadkill.” It was hailed by critics and made the bestseller list. Then this happened;

[A] blogger last week uncovered material in the novel taken from the less-well-known novel “Strobo,” by an author writing under the nom de plume Airen. In one case, an entire page was lifted with few changes.

As other unattributed sources came to light, outsize praise quickly turned to a torrent of outrage, reminiscent of the uproar in 2006 over a Harvard sophomore, Kaavya Viswanathan, who was caught plagiarizing numerous passages in her much praised debut novel. But Ms. Hegemann’s story took a very different turn.

That different turn is that Hegemann claims her generation is part of a remix culture and apologizes not for plagiarizing but for not being upfront about all of her sources. “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” she says. Hmm…well, we can argue about that, too. People like to go on about authentic Italian pasta, when the Italians got the idea for pasta from the Chinese…

On the other hand, when DJs and musicians do remixes or covers they indicate what pieces of music they have sampled, who wrote the original version, and, most importantly, they pay royalties to the original songwriter. No word yet on whether Hegemann is going to pay royalties to those authors she “remixed.”

(This story has been making the rounds. You can read other commentary here and here.)

It seems I’ve been going about this writer business all wrong. I’m going to do a cover version of the Great Gatsby. I’ll rename it “Party Animals of Long Island,” and claim authorship. Yes, my new book shall be “Party Animals of Long Island” by Richard Hellinga, look for it at fine booksellers near you and on Amazon!

What I Told USC When They Asked Me for Money

The other day I received, yet again, another fundraising letter from USC, where I earned my masters degree. So instead of a check, I placed a letter in the return envelope explaining why I haven’t donated in the past to USC, and why I won’t be able to donate to USC for the next few decades. I’ve included the letter below in the form of JPGs. You don’t have to read the whole letter. I include it to provide the complete context for my response. Though if you’ve seen one university fundraising letter, you’ve seen them all.

Here’s what I said…

University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-7799

Dear Board of Trustees,

Thank you for your recent letter reminding me about a previous letter that was sent regarding the USC Annual Fund for 2009-2010. As always, the USC fundraising letters are filled with wonderful stories of current talented students who appear to have bright futures ahead of them in some cutting edge field. I too recall my days at USC fondly just as many alumni now do, and as I’m sure current students will.

But I must correct you on one point in that letter. I made no such previous gift in the amount of $192. Nor will I be participating in the USC Annual Fund for 2009-2010. In fact, I can not recall having made gifts in any amount to USC since graduating in 2002.


Because I’m still paying to go to USC. I took out over $30,000 worth of loans to attend USC while earning my Masters degree in Professional Writing. (There is no free money for Wannabe Fiction Writers, something I knew going into the program.) I’ll be done paying off my loans in about 17 years. At that point I should have some extra money I can spare to give USC to “help break down financial barriers” to deserving students.

Or maybe not. Both my children should be in college by then and God knows what a college education is going to cost. So my wife and I will most likely be striving to keep their future college debt to a minimum. Which means they’ll be the deserving students I care about most. Maybe in 21 or 22 years I’ll be able to spare some money.

Until then, I think it is only fair to inform you that a fundraising letter to me is a waste of paper, ink, and postage. Best of luck in all your endeavors.

Richard Hellinga (MPW ‘02)