What Are We Doing? Coronavirus Edition

We asked the Law School’s distinguished faculty to tell us about what they have been up to while at home. Unlike our annual What Are We Reading list, the answers here extend beyond books to encompass movies, opera, pizza, and more.

Albert Alschuler

Julius Kreeger Professor Emeritus of Law and Criminology

I bragged shamelessly after biking 75 miles on my 75th birthday, but the number 80 is coming up and I couldn’t come close to doing it now. So I bought an e-bike. You probably know about this gizmo.  You pedal and shift as before, and you feel as though you’re doing all the work. But the electric assist makes you go faster and farther than you would without it. It gives you a safe way out of the house, and it’s fun!  (Do carry a mask, gloves, and sanitizer in case you need to interact with someone.) Also: The television show The Detectorists with Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones is a stitch!

Douglas G. Baird

Harry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor of Law

Julie and I have started watching old Perry Mason episodes. I had not seen any of them since before I was in law school. Back then they epitomized what was magical about the law. My views about the law have changed a great deal, but the characters and the ambiance of 1950s California have aged well.

William Baude

Professor of Law, Aaron Director Research Scholar

Ama: A Modern Tex-Mex Kitchen by Josef Centeno and Betty Hallock

I'm spending a lot more time cooking these days, which means I need inspiration. I've found lots of it in this book, by two chefs who run a Tex-Mex restaurant in Southern California, thus combining three of my favorite cuisines. I've been especially impressed by their use of vegetables, like "broccolini torada" (grilled vegetables tossed with nuts, cilantro, lime, anchovies, chilis, and a little cheese), cauliflower with pecan-cilantro pesto, and a "tortilla soup" rich with tomatillos, tomatoes, and four different kinds of peppers. I've started buying cilantro in bulk.

Omri Ben-Shahar

Leo and Eileen Herzel Professor of Law, Kearney Director of the Coase-Sandor Institute for Law and Economics

Everybody is baking breads; I decided to perfect my pizza. See below. (Not fair: I have a pizza oven in the backyard; but happy to share a wonderful recipe for pizza dough I learned when “interning” in an Israeli sourdough bakery a while ago…).

Pizza on a wooden peel

Emily Buss

Mark and Barbara Fried Professor of Law

My husband, 17-year-old daughter, and I have taken to gathering every weeknight at 10:00 to watch Trevor Noah’s Daily Social Distancing Show (“From Trevor’s couch in New York, to your couch somewhere in the world”), which includes his usual satirical coverage of the news, with additional serious substantive interviews with a great line-up of “guests” including several governors from both parties, the usual suspects (Anthony Fauci, and Bill Gates among them) and others, including economist Thomas Piketty (commenting on the impact of Covid-19 on inequality throughout the world), Chef Jose Andres (who has organized restaurant distribution networks to bridge the gap between farmers who have food surpluses and millions of people who do not have enough food) and, my favorite thus far, Avi Schiffman, the 17-year-old who developed a website that allows people to track covid-19 spread, which he began to set up in December, 2019 (yes, indeed).  We learn a lot, laugh a lot, and feel more connected with the rest of the world when Trevor signs off with his usual “Moment of Zen.” 

Mary Anne Case

Arnold I. Shure Professor of Law

I took from my years practicing law into academic life the concept of the billable hour. When one's academic assignment is the study of the regulation of family, sex, gender, or religion, much streaming entertainment can fairly be characterized as billable. I've therefore been putting together lists of films relevant to each of my classes, in case students looking for something to stream want quasi billable options. For all these subjects, the possibilities are endless and my lists are long and growing, but, balancing educational and entertainment value, among my favorite documentaries relevant to Religious Freedom are Wild Wild Country (on the Rajneeshees) and Hail Satan (on the Satanic Temple); for both Regulation of Sexuality and Family Law my favorites include Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement (on the plaintiff in the same-sex marriage case of U.S. v. Windsor and her spouse) and Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family (on a polyamorous thruple's navigation of life and the law of marriage and parentage).

Richard A. Epstein

James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Law, Senior Lecturer

I have been on a bit of a Churchill binge, having read both Andrew Roberts' massive biography on the man, and (less profound) Erik Larson, The Splendid and the Vile. Extra idle time brings for TV serials, of which the most recent that I have watched is The Restaurant, where somehow the Swedish plus subtitles does not get in the way of these various plots, and A Place to Call Home, the Australian mega series. There is an eerie similarity between the two in which spouses long thought dead in the Holocaust come back to light years later, with immense complications.  The shows are pretty strong, but very melodramatic. But oddly enough it is harder to work when there is so little structure to so much of the time, and these shows help fill that gap. Normally, I would rather talk and go places than watch, but there is no choice.

Claudia M. Flores

Associate Clinical Professor of Law, Director, International Human Rights Clinic

I’ve been inadvisedly watching a series of zombie apocalypse movies—most recently a Korean film called the Train to Busan in which a genetically created virus turns people into flesh-eating zombies. An estranged father and daughter fight to escape while trapped on a train with zombies. It is an interesting movie with a number of themes: modern parenting (he’s divorced and a workaholic), redemption (he’s made some mistakes in his life and is trying to reform) and class stratification (various undercurrents in the sub-plots of class distinctions and differential access to information).

Activities with family:  My daughter and I have been making quarantine collages (our experiences of quarantine) with photos from my New Yorkers. Which has also been forcing me to catch up on my New Yorker reading. We’ve also been audio booking Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume. Finally, we’ve been identifying a county/national park each weekend in Illinois (which we’ve never been to) and taking socially-distanced hikes with my parents. They walk 10 feet away from us and we talk on walkie talkies.

Tom Ginsburg

Leo Spitz Professor of International Law, Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Research Scholar, Professor of Political Science

I’ve been trying to read through my mountainous pile of books, expanding beyond those that I “have to” for immediate professional gain. Two items stand out.

Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval is an amazing account of the lives of African American women in northern cities in the decades after the Civil War. It is brilliant in form and argument, fluidly moving between storytelling and data, and making a powerful case for this time and place as a major source of personal, sexual and social liberation that changed our culture.

Susan Schulten’s A History of America in 100 Maps is a beautiful University of Chicago Press book telling our national story through maps. I’m a map collector, but I’ve recently decided that I have enough material stuff so am reading into cartography instead.

I also recently inherited, with grave sadness, my Uncle Joe’s record collection. He introduced me to music when I was young and that shaped everything else about my life. I’ve been listening to his old piano blues, Fats Waller, Memphis Minnie and others; amazing bluegrass, of which the Blue Sky Boys have always been my favorite; and jazz including Pharoah Sanders and Charles Lloyd on heavy rotation right now. And the Rolling Stones’ Out of Our Heads, and I could go on a while.

I’ve also been drinking through my wine collection on the theory that I could get coronavirus and die tomorrow. Outstanding bottles include 2003 Cos d’Estournel, 1995 Chateau Climens Sauternes, and a rare 2007 GInsburgundy Syrah, of which there are only 3 bottles left on the planet.

On Friday nights we dress up, talk with our families via Zoom, and count our many many blessings, among which the University of Chicago Law School figures very prominently.

R. H. Helmholz

Ruth Wyatt Rosenson Distinguished Service Professor of Law

In my unwelcome free time yesterday and today, I have been reading an entertaining book by Max Rodenbeck called Cairo: The City Victorious. So far the most riveting thing I have learned that there was a 16th century tax on baldness. But there is a lot more besides. 

William H. J. Hubbard

Professor of Law

My family has started watching the Netflix series Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. We are only a couple episodes in, but it has been a deliciously tart treat. Neil Patrick Harris plays the story’s primary antagonist, Count Olaf, and can barely contain his glee at playing such a despicable character. And Patrick Warburton’s performance as the narrator, Lemony Snicket, elevates keeping a straight face to an art form. All in all, the juxtaposition of darkness and silliness is fun and almost therapeutic in our current times.

I just re-watched the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, based on the fifth book in the Harry Potter series. I read the book many years ago, and I’ve seen the movie before, but watching it this time was different. Like the excellent pandemic drama Contagion, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix tells a story that looks eerily prescient from the vantage point of the current day. Unlike Contagion, of course, it is not a disaster movie about a virus. It is essentially a political drama. But one lesson of economic history, such as Amartya Sen’s famous work on famines, is that “natural” disasters are often joint ventures between nature, which creates the conditions for crisis, and humans, who misapprehend and thereby amplify the danger. Then again, some of the apparent parallels to the present day in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix are quite literal—there is even an order requiring social distancing!

Saul Levmore

William B. Graham Distinguished Service Professor of Law

I just finished the 8th season of Homeland.  The whole series has been gripping and it felt real. The downside is one feels like an expert on the Middle East and our National Security strategies, meaning one forgets this is fiction. The upside is there almost 100 episodes over 8 seasons, with excellent acting and good plots.

As for reading, I really liked Kingdom of Nauvoo (early LDS history) and the nearly non-fictitious We Were the Lucky Ones (a family in which many survived the Nazi era). And for fiction, Blindness (by Jose Saramago) was different and thought provoking. I must confess that nearly all of these recommendations have almost-happy endings.

Martha C. Nussbaum

Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics

I think it is very important to laugh. I have been focusing a lot on reading and watching comedies, some of which I've seen before. I love the novelist Anthony Trollope, and there is a marvelous BBC miniseries of his Barchester novels called The Barchester Chronicles, available on YouTube, starring the great Alan Rickman (who later played Snape in Harry Potter) as the hypocritical priest Mr. Slope. Trollope's humor is humane; he doesn't hate anyone. So the series is both hilarious and somehow soothing. In a different mode, but to similar effect, I've been watching the great series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (streamed on Amazon), which is set in New York in the late 1950s, and concerns a gifted young woman who makes a career for herself as a standup comic. The acting is superb, and the humor, once again, is both hilarious and gentle, loving even. It includes one of my favorite actors for the presentation of gentleness and love, the Arab-American actor Tony Shalhoub (who also plays Monk in that old TV series).

Also, as a tremendous music lover, I am listening to a lot of music, especially opera, and have gone through relistening to most of Mozart's operas and am now doing the same with Verdi. I listen during my morning workouts on the treadmill or bike and with weights (luckily the Chicago winters caused me to build a fine home gym), and I play the opera several times through before moving to a different one. Last week I was listening to Aida, and that means I hear it in my head as I go to sleep at night. That might seem a little exciting for sleep! But actually what Verdi and Mozart have in common is a very great compassion for human beings in all their variety and imperfection, and that is truly soothing, even when the plot may be tragic. I'm now listening to A Masked Ball, and reading about its subject, Gustav III of Sweden, a remarkable enlightened monarch—who was probably gay, and who was a huge supporter of theater and opera. With it I've been reading a terrific article (available online from JStor) by my old friend Ralph Hexter, Provost at UC Davis, who was long ago the very first openly gay college president; the article addresses the theme of masking in the opera.

There is also streaming: the Metropolitan Opera has been doing nightly broadcasts, and last weekend they held an "at-home gala" where about fifty top artists sang arias from their homes. Wonderful, because you can get to know the artists in their homes and also study their vocal technique up close. And although my favorite arts organization, Lyric Opera of Chicago, was forced to cancel the three Wagner Ring cycles that had been scheduled for this spring, your readers would enjoy reading the program book online with an essay by me about the role of philosophy in the Ring! (In the end, I say that Wagner took both Feuerbach and Schopenhauer very seriously, but the Ring's key insights about how love overcomes hate belong only to him.)

John Rappaport

Assistant Professor of Law, Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Research Scholar

I just finished The Americans. It’s a great series—a mix between a spy thriller and a family drama, with some Cold War history thrown in.  And unlike many contemporary series, it finishes very strong.  (You do have to give it a few episodes to get going, though.)  Highly recommended!

Geoffrey R. Stone

Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law

Actually, I've been surprisingly busy over the past two months. I'm teaching both a course (Con Law II) and a seminar (Constitutional Decisionmaking) this quarter, so that keeps me pretty well occupied. In addition, Lee Bollinger (the President of Columbia) and I are in the midst of putting together our third book together, this one on National Security, Leaks and Freedom of the Press. Beyond that, though, I've had more than the usual amount of time to enjoy shows on television. In particular, I've enjoyed (or am currently enjoying) The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, After Death, and A French Village. All three of them are excellent—in very different ways. In terms of non-law-related reading, the novel I've most enjoyed is The Nickel Boys by the two-time Pulitzer Prize Winning author Colson Whitehead. Like his novel The Underground Railroad, this book is terrific. Oh, and one other thing that's been keeping me busy is helping my wife, Jane Dailey, a professor in the History Department who also teaches occasionally in the Law School, who's putting the finishing touches are her new book, White Fright: The Sexual Panic at the Heart of America's Racist History, which will be published next year by Basic Books. It's about the white fear of interracial sex and miscegenation and the role that fear played in supporting racial segregation. That's been what I've been up to.