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Letters: Who says everyone wants a perfect child?

image:  last issue FLIP SIDE OF EMPATHY

Lydialyle Gibson’s article on empathy (“Mirrored Emotion,” April/06) strikes a sensitive nerve in our society. Just as genius borders on insanity, so it appears do empathy and schadenfreude, and we seem to have developed a culture that allows us to express our schadenfreude to its fullest extent. How else to explain the recent rash of highly successful movies depicting—no, almost celebrating—gore and sadism to a degree unimaginable in my youth? These movies appeal to our youth and train them to enjoy other people’s suffering. I guess we are trying to vicariously outdo ancient Rome in the brutality department, and our government is leading us in that direction. Empathy may be a very human trait, but we seem to be doing our best to eliminate it from our mental vocabulary.

Werner S. Zimmt, PhB’47, SB’47, SM’49, PhD’51
Tucson, Arizona


I was pleased to read in “Hyde Park’s Own Babylon” (“Chicago Journal,” April/06) about the vigor of the study of ancient Greek and Latin in the College and Division of Humanities. They are, you say, “kind of unusual. That’s a U of C thing.”

Ancient Greek and Latin have continued to be a status symbol as well as a key to knowledge of Western civilization. “Greek, sir,” said Dr. Johnson in one of his obiter dicta, “is like lace; every man gets as much of it as he can.” This remark was uttered when men still wore lace. Hurrah for U of C.

Lloyd B. Urdahl, PhD’59
Rochester, New York


I’d like to comment on a couple of aspects of Theresa Reid’s book on adoption (“Arts & Letters,” April/06):

Reid states that “you don’t fall in love at first sight.” Maybe she didn’t, but I sure did, with three of mine. The fourth took a little longer, and my wife only fell in love at first sight with two of our children. But love at first sight really does happen.

The Angelina Jolie factor: I would never offer Hollywood movie stars as adoption role models, or use them as consciousness raisers. Far too many of these A-list adoptive couples (and singles) are too emotionally unstable, with unstable marriages, to be adopters. Adopted kids need love and stability as the most basic components of their lives (many need a lot more than that, of course). And would I be interested in placing a child with someone who got the idea from reading Hello? Probably not. Children are not fashion accessories or ways of advertising broad-mindedness.

Finding the right child: Who says everyone wants a perfect child? Most of us just want one we can love and nurture, recognizing that any child, born-to or adopted, may have problems. While in some cases there are legitimate reasons for not considering certain known problems, if we can’t take a risk we have no business adopting. Many adopters recognize they have particular qualities or experiences they can bring to special-needs children and consciously seek them out.

The cultural pro-biology bias: Here I can agree wholeheartedly with Reid. I simply can’t imagine why people are so obsessed with reproducing themselves biologically. I couldn’t care less, and never have. If people ask me, I tell them I’m glad I couldn’t have biological children because if I did, I wouldn’t have had the four wonderful children I have.

I’m glad to see Reid put “harelip” in quotes. I hope that indicates it isn’t a term she uses, any more than “mongol” or “spastic.” Those of us with cleft lip and palate (CLP) find the term offensive—first because of its animal connotations and second because it is inaccurate. A cleft lip is not medial but lateral or bilateral. And the lip is only the most visible part of a greatly variable syndrome, which often affects the nose, upper jaw, and teeth, and hard and soft palates, with knock-on effects on hearing and breathing.

Roger Fenton, AM’74
Ceredigion, Wales


We read with interest “Due South” (February/06). Considerable progress has been made by the University in the last ten years in building a partnership with the Woodlawn community. This partnership has been helpful in moving toward a much-needed rebuilding of that community. Obviously much more is left to do, and we believe the University is committed to a long-term beneficial relationship.

However, your writer omitted an important fact: much of the progress that has been made has its roots in the work of Jonathan Kleinbard, former vice president of University news and community affairs. He completed a 30-year career at Chicago in the late 1990s, during which he worked tirelessly to lay the foundation for improved relations for the University with the Woodlawn community. This included working with Woodlawn community leaders to found the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corporation and the Fund for Community Redevelopment and Revitalization. The latter has been the vehicle for much of the progress that has occurred not only in Woodlawn but in North Kenwood–Oakland as well. In the latter community, he established an effective partnership with the 4th Ward alderman, the leadership of the NKO Community Conservation Council, and other community leaders to help bring about a dramatic renaissance in that community. Without the exhaustive preparatory efforts of Jonathan Kleinbard, the very good work being done today by the University in partnering with its nearby communities would be much more difficult.

Douglas Baird, Harry A. Bigelow
Distinguished service professor, the Law School
Toni Preckwinkle, AB’69, MAT’77
4th Ward alderman
Duel Richardson, AB’67
Director, Neighborhood Relations /
Educational and Community Affairs
Shirley Newsome
Chair, North Kenwood–Oakland
Conservation Community Council
Bruce Clinton
Chairman and CEO, the Clinton Companies


With much anticipation based on the cover art of the February/06 magazine, I read with great interest “Beyond Belief” and then found “Pipe Dream or Paradigm Shift?” equally as intriguing. Even when I am not anticipating anything special, I am always well rewarded in my reading of the magazine by being given a new perspective or new insight in an article or note based on the research and interaction of the teachers and students at the University.

Given my study of quantum physics and its potential implications and expanding my perspectives way beyond the limited paradigms of this society studying the “science fiction” of Ashayana Deane in the Voyager books, I have come to see that “critical thinking,” by its constraints and confines to the currently established system-beliefs paradigm, is really just another belief system—no different than a religious belief. Unfortunately, I believe that the arrogance of “critical thinking” prevents paradigm shifts in our world—just as you have so clearly explained in the resistance that Dr. Lee encountered developing poloxamer-188 in the treatment of cell trauma. How many people have suffered and died because other medical professionals’ “critical thinking” was nothing more than disguised beliefs. How much of “critical thinking” is a cover for supporting the existing paradigms of the political and economic structures of this world to the detriment of billions of people?

Until everyone is open and aware of all the possibilities of this universe and doesn’t have to live in fear of the repercussions of exploring all these possibilities, I believe that “critical thinking” is just another belief system—no better than anyone’s religious belief system.

R. A. Cree, MBA’78
Columbus, Ohio


I read with absorption Amy Braverman’s February article on the stress that religious faith can put on free inquiry in the classroom. As a later letter notes (“Letters,” April/06), religious leaders of 50 years ago were tackling this problem of old habits versus new thoughts. And through the ages cheap politicians have pandered to religion; it played a role in Socrates’s demise. Perhaps this is the last step in our evolution, learning how to get our ponderous (and possibly screwed up) new brains functioning sensibly.

So I was excited by some of the other letters in your April issue. I read of a mysterious (to me) endeavor called ID, “intelligent design.” Several letters assure me it’s scholarly and scientific. The study of evolution also deals with this same question, of how we came to be here. Since both are scientific, they must ultimately reach the same conclusions. And so when the day is done, when we see what it is that “designed” us, then we shall finally know what “intelligence” really means.

Am I being facetious? Only for the fun of it. Galileo would have been less famous had the Vatican not kicked up such a dust. Similarly, ID is putting evolution in the spotlight and as we watch the IDers, we’ll learn more about intelligence. Indeed, a basic ingredient of intelligence is the ability to solve problems. For new problems, we rely on trial and error: try this, try that, until something works. Which is precisely what Darwin identified as the first technique of evolution! Of course, we expect more from each. Perhaps the intelligence of Newton, who generalized Galileo’s work to get solutions of many problems, will find its analog in the microbic development of the genome, which seems to guide the way most organisms evolve.

David W. Joseph, SM’57
Lincoln, Nebraska


As an evangelical Christian and professor of New Testament in Europe, I am especially thankful for two things I learned at the University of Chicago: respect for texts and respect for other worldviews.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, in grappling with Homer and Plato in Greek Thought and Literature I was laying a solid foundation for exegeting Paul and the Gospels. The principles that govern the interpretation of texts are the same in both cases. More importantly, my professors were passionate about their texts. They believed that texts mattered, that it was important to listen to what their authors had to say. They believed that certain texts tapped into vital metanarratives that had changed the world and could change my life. To all of that any Christian would certainly be tempted to add a hearty “Amen!”

It was also at the U of C that I came to understand that other metanarratives offered fundamentally different “readings” of the world, some of which conflicted with my own. In the thoroughly postmodern world that has emerged even since my college days, none of those readings, theirs or mine, can expect to receive a hearing if they seek to advance their truth claims without critically and openly examining their own presuppositions. Memo to the scientists: that includes you.

The debate over intelligent design, one of whose most prominent spokespersons, William Dembski, SM’85, PhD’88, also an evangelical Christian and a U of C alumnus, is a case in point. If nothing else, it should force a reexamination of the naturalistic assumptions of many in the scientific community who continue to insist that theistic explanations for life’s origins be excluded a priori from their discussions. Explain to me again: why is that desirable or even necessary?

As a theologian I find myself invigorated by the growing similarity between the pluralistic world I inhabit and the one Paul engaged in Ephesus and Athens. I for one do not mourn the demise of the brooding edifice of Christendom. Like matter, it was never as solid as it seemed, though solid enough to impair one’s view of the cross behind it. The earliest Christians were manifestly aware that their gospel was competing with stronger, solidly entrenched gospels, and they embraced that challenge in the marketplaces, synagogues, and amphitheaters of the ancient world.

As a follower of Jesus, I eagerly give up obsolete claims to a privileged cultural status for my gospel in exchange for a place at the table. My first faltering steps toward viewing this transaction as a gain rather than a loss were taken in the quads, at the Regenstein Library, and not least at the weekly meetings of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, some of whose current members you interviewed. I agree with them: my faith is stronger because of my experience at Chicago.

Joel White, AB’84
Giessen, Germany


As a proud believer in the intellectual robustness of a University of Chicago education, I was deeply disappointed to read letters (February/06) from two alumni regarding the contrived evolution “debate.”

Suzanne Scherr Steger falls hook, line, and sinker for the “two sides to every debate” rhetorical trick when she laments that “evolution is presented as the only position of the scientific community.” If the members of every biology department (and I’ll throw in chemists and physicists) at the top 200 universities were polled regarding the legitimacy of evolution, the numbers would be so skewed in favor of supporting evolution that the word “overwhelming” would be inadequate. Does she honestly believe that some “bright” undergraduates see some “break in logic” not obvious to all these professionals? That conclusion beggars the imagination.

In his letter, Philip Massey refers to the two big guns of the ID movement, William Dembski and Michael Behe, to paint it in a more credible light. Dembski is a mathematician whose work is too esoteric for most nonmathematicians (myself included) to understand. However, if one conducts a quick search for reviews of Dembski’s work by respected mathematicians, it’s not difficult to find opposition to his theorems that purport to distinguish between objects that have been “designed” versus objects that have arisen through random processes.

Behe is a biochemist who made the big mistake of appearing as an expert witness for the ID camp in the Dover school board trial. The manner in which he was embarrassed by the “evolution” lawyer was eerily similar to the thrashing of William Jennings Bryan at the hands of Clarence Darrow. After a series of devastating questions, Behe was forced to admit that his definition of science would have to include astrology if it included ID.

As a high-school biology teacher, I tell my students that if they have a religious belief that precludes them from believing in evolution, then they need to acknowledge that and not waste energy on pseudoscientific arguments. If you resort to hollow arguments such as the two letter-writers have done, you are simply broadcasting the fact that you view material phenomena through a religious lens rather than a scientific lens, but you aren’t comfortable admitting that fact.

Peter Konen, AB’89
Miami Shores, Florida


As believers in God, we were moved to respond to derogatory comments “Letters,” February/06) by an evolutionist supporter—a PhD in the sciences—about the evolution/intelligent-design debate. He described ID supporters’ beliefs as inane and a clear example of “fuzzy thinking.” He also referenced two supporters of ID that also happen to be Chicago MBAs, stating that these two MBAs were “not properly schooled in science...,” implying anyone who wasn’t a science doctorate is a mental Neanderthal. We can assure you that virtually all GSB graduates have exceptional analysis and critical-thinking skills, sufficient enough to understand that there is no “new math” as postulated by evolutionists, that there must be a catalyst—in this instance God—for an event to occur.

Perhaps this evolutionist’s memory is a little “fuzzy,” or at the very least selective. What about Ptolemy’s earth-centric universe, the flat-earth theory, and that the moon is made of cheese? Let’s also not forget science’s former cure for all ailments—a good old fashioned blood letting! Subscribers and practitioners of these fallacious beliefs were deemed at the time to be “properly schooled in science.”

Even today science is constantly reassessing previous arguments, such as Stephen Hawking refuting key aspects of his dark-matter theory, the health benefits or detriments of consuming eggs or vitamins, and whether the universe is expanding or contracting. In their zest to discredit any potential links to a deity, evolutionists tried to reject the hypothesis that the Shroud of Turin was the burial shroud of the Christ utilizing flawed carbon-14 dating methodology.

In many instances science is based on unproven theories—or “faith”—about things such as cause and effect. We have faith that there is such a force as gravity and the existence of black holes—yet we can’t see gravity but only its effects, and we can’t directly observe black holes. Evolutionists argue that there isn’t sufficient evidence that would support the existence of an “intelligent designer.” We ask them: how can you watch an awe-inspiring sunrise or the miracle of childbirth and come to the conclusion there’s not?

Couldn’t Genesis be describing science’s “big bang” when God ordered, “Let there be light”? Couldn’t God forming mankind from the dust refer to science’s claim of the single cell evolving from the “primordial ooze”?

Evolutionists are constantly searching for the “missing link” between humans and great apes. The link that they’re missing is the “initial link” that never wavers and is definitive as expressed in Genesis: “In the beginning, God created...”

Steve Avary, MBA’05
New York
Daniel Hatcher, MBA’05
Lockport, Illinois


The silence from the University about the recent working paper by Professor John Mearsheimer and his Harvard colleague Stephen Walt, “The Israel Lobby,” is approaching the bizarre [see “Birdwatching”]. I wrote to President Don Randel asking for his view of the controversy and have yet to receive even a boilerplate re--sponse. It is also odd to look at the University’s News Office Web site and find absolutely no comment about the controversy—there is, however, an update on a U of C study’s findings, headlined “Austria on top in sexual satisfaction,” so one can’t fairly accuse them of not keeping up with the important news.

In essence, the Mear-sheimer-Walt paper is a variant of the “dual-loyalty” charge made against the Jews that has been a staple of anti-Semitism since the very beginning of the Jewish nation. In this case, however, the impact is likely to be greater because of the academic stature of Professor Mearsheimer as a result of his connection to the University. It is because of this that the University must disassociate itself from “The Israel Lobby.”

Mark Herskovitz, AB’78
Passaic, New Jersey


In regard to your article about CIA recruiting on the campus (“Chicago Journal,” February/06), I was particularly struck by the statement by Susan Mayer, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy Studies: “We train our students to the highest standards of intellectual rigor and ethical standards. I would want them [the CIA] to recruit a higher proportion of their people from us.” It is my understanding that the CIA is more than an agency for gathering intelligence by electronic means. It employs spies, has a reputation for often using and condoning torture to extract information, and, in past decades, has organized invasions of other countries and supported revolutions and counterrevolutions.

In order to carry on these clandestine activities, much of its budget is hidden in the budgets of other government agencies. If the CIA has two certain characteristics, they are faith in military force as the ultimate arbiter of human affairs and the belief that the end justifies the means. These are not characteristics that display either intellectual rigor or ethical standards. Rigorous intellectual analysis shows that the continuing pursuit of security through military force almost certainly will lead to nuclear war, and the doctrine that the end justifies the means is completely amoral and unethical. It seems to me that the CIA’s presence on the U of C campus, other than being an object of scientific study, is a profound violation of the principles of scientific inquiry and academic integrity that should be at the center of all the University’s activities.

If CIAs are part of virtually all governments—including China, Great Britain, Iran, Israel, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Syria, the United States, etc.—as Dean Mayer says, and all of them operate on the same principles as the United States’s CIA, this provides insights into why torture, other forms of inhumanity, and war are so widespread, and everyone in the world is so terribly threatened by destructive violence.

Bradford Lyttle, AM’51


As the mother of a student (Laarni Quimson, AB’06), I read with sadness the 1911 entry in “From Our Pages” (February/06): “Noting an influx of American teachers moving to the Philippines—including Frank R. White, a 1901 graduate serving as director of education there...the islands’ Baguio Teachers’ Camp, where teachers gathered for some R&R...because they thought they might have freedom for irregular love with attractive maidens for a weaker race.”

I grew up close to the Baguio Teachers’ Camp. Famous for its perfect weather and the John Hay Airbase, the place attracted many Americans. As a child, I loved watching them parade up and down the streets, their free spirit evident in their crumpled shorts and T-shirts, their sense of fun and easy laughter—even their food was easy: burgers, fries, cokes—and their language! Their English flowed freely and unrestricted just like Batman’s and Superman’s from my comic books. There was something egalitarian and attractive in the way they moved and talked.

I became an American in 1974. But in my own parents’ time, they knew to be wary of the white men. The locals who worked in the gold mine, including my father, were called monkeys by their foremen. To this day after more than 20 years, they still could not think of themselves as Americans.

Epifania Cruz Quimson
Putnam Valley, New York


I loved “Good School Hunting” (“Lite of the Mind,” February/06) by Ted O’Neill, AM’70, director of undergraduate admissions—a riff on the comedian’s insider “family act” joke, the punch line of which is always “the aristocrats.” This unlikely finale to its escalatingly gross obscenities is so ridiculous that one can’t help but laugh.

What shines through this amazing essay by your own admissions director is the pathos he sees in the process, his empathy as well as sharp commentary on its absurdity, and his seasoned caveats to all those who dare fall prey to these temptations. I write this knowing that it is easier for me to comment on O’Neill’s welcoming speech to the class of 2009 because my own son was privileged to be among them. We were in stitches even as we acknowledged the seriousness of his message, grateful that it was laced with humor. The deep irony of O’Neill’s punch line—“The Meritocrats”—is a welcome counterpoint on many levels, and a good sign for the future of University’s “Lite of the Mind.”

Candace Falk, AB’69, AM’71
Berkeley, California


In the April/06 feature on newly named U of C President Robert Zimmer, we should have noted Robert Pippin’s full title: he is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef distinguished service professor in the Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College. In the February/06 feature “Eight Gables,” the Walker Museum was identified as a precursor to the Oriental Institute, but it was designed as a natural-history museum. We regret the errors.

The Magazine wel-comes letters about its contents or about the life of the University. Letters must be signed and may be edited for space and clarity. To provide a range of views, we encourage writers to limit themselves to 300 words or less. Write: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 5801 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637. Or e-mail: