“Leafing through my purloined copy of the Magazine...”

Mummy’s the word

What a fantastic form of communication (“Meresamun: A Life in Layers” interactive feature)—layers, pictures, audio, etc. Fabulous and fascinating. You are all to be commended for a fabulous way of educating. I am in awe.

Chuck Patton, MBA’68

Orlando, Florida

On principles

On page 22 of the Mar–Apr/09 issue (“Passion Discovered,” Chicago Journal), under the picture of Emmy Noether, reference is made to “physics’ and mathematics’ least-action principle.” More accurately, this is known as Hamilton’s principle of stationary action, meaning that the action in a natural process may be minimum or maximum, but the principle does not say which.

Surprisingly enough, in most processes the action is maximum, not minimum, so it would be more accurate to refer to Hamilton’s principle as a principle of most action, not least action.

“Least action” attributes lazy ways to God and nature, in accordance with the old saw, “Nature doth not in many steps what can be done in few.” However, things are not that simple, and in fact get so complicated that a Rube Goldberg design could fit the universe better than intelligent design.

This leads naturally to “Method in the Madness” on page 48 (Arts & Sciences, Mar–Apr/09) and the Nobel Prize–winning economics thesis of Princeton professor John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) who, not satisfied with imaginary numbers, introduced imaginary people. Stephen Hawking, arguably the most brilliant physicist of the 21st century, was criticized for introducing imaginary time. It’s no wonder what happened to Nash for introducing imaginary people.

Iván Werning’s (AM’99, PhD’02) reference to economics as an addiction is again consistent with a most-action principle. Seeking simple solutions to world economics leads down increasingly labyrinthine ways that would test even Rube Goldberg’s imagination. Researchers should not be surprised to find that nature—including human nature—doth not in few steps what can be done in many.

Kenneth J. Epstein, SM’52


Close reading

I enjoyed the article about Srikanth Reddy’s poetics (“Found Poetry,” Investigations, Mar–Apr/09) and was especially interested to learn of his doctoral work on digression in American poetry, from Walt Whitman to Frank O’Hara and John Ashberry. The photograph of Reddy in front of his bookshelf also contained some excellent supporting evidence of his interest. Although the shelf was slightly out of focus, I was happy to be able to make out a copy of O’Hara’s Collected Poems. But even better was the volume just to the left of it: Joe LeSueur’s Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O’Hara. Way to tie it all together.

Anne Lovering Rounds, AB’04

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Gang up on gangs

The article “Test of Violence” (Investigations, Mar–Apr/09) by Brooke E. O’Neill, AM’04, was interesting and insightful. It cited Jens Ludwig’s work at the University of Chicago Crime Lab. However, there was one statement with which I strongly disagree. Ludwig says the killing of young people in Chicago and other cities across America has no clear solution.
The solution I advocate: wage an all-out war on gangs. Why our political and community leaders as well as the media are afraid to tackle the gangs as they tackled organized crime is the great unanswered question.

Ned L. McCray, AM’61

Tinley Park, Illinois

In “Test of Violence,” Jens Ludwig’s title should have been given as the McCormick Foundation professor of social service administration, law, and public policy in the School of Social Service Administration and the Harris School of Public Policy Studies. We regret the error.—Ed.

True original source

As a non-alum and former faculty, I was leafing through my purloined copy of the University of Chicago Magazine when I felt a shock of recognition as I came upon the poster that I had drawn in 1968, “First Winter Quarter Meeting of Radical Women” (“Equal Opportunities,” Investigations, Mar–Apr/09). The poster announces a meeting of the organization that Heather Booth, AB’67, AM’70, and I called WRAP—Women’s Radical Action Project. Reading the poster up close, there is an agenda item, “Chicago 1968 Summer Organizing Project: Women in the City.” It was, of course, to be part of the protests at the Democratic National Convention that summer. Further close reading will show us rejecting the “shitwork” to which the male Left consigned us and marching toward the barricades in our boots and miniskirts in our own organization—which would then become part of the emerging Women’s Liberation Movement.

For further accounts of being female at the U of C in those years, see transcripts of my oral-history interviews at the U of C Center for Gender Studies. The center’s magnificent work begins to atone for the University’s shameful past on this front, including the firings of Marlene Dixon and me. (For more of my political cartoons in Chicago in 1968–69, see selections from the Voice of the Women’s Liberation Movement at www.cwluherstory.com/CWLUMemoir/Naomi/naomi.html.)

Naomi Weisstein

New York

Can’t figure it out

Fig. 1 (“Health-care Heads Up,” Investigations, Mar–Apr/09) is a strange way to obfuscate the data presented clearly in the article on page 26. Rather than a simple bar graph, the figure changes both the length and width of the spotted color bars and does not connect the numbers to the bars or connect the bars to any axis. This chart violates several of the principles in one of the Edwin Tufte’s books on the graphic presentation of quantitative data. USA Today regularly presents artistic charts to hide the data, but this chart lacks both artistic interest and clarity of data while overflowing with colored ink.

James T. Bradbury, MBA’70

Knoxville, Tennessee

The energy to crunch numbers

This will probably be one of a number of letters on the same subject, but here goes.
Halbert Fischel, SB’59, states in his Mar–Apr/09 letter (“The Energy Problem Solved”) that “it will take at least 40 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity to motivate an electric automobile as far down the road as it would have traveled on a gallon of gasoline.” I’m no professor, but I can get that number if I use the 1 hp = 746 watt conversion and assume that a 30 mpg car will go that far in half an hour using 107.2 hp.

But once a car gets going, it doesn’t need or use all that horsepower. Wikipedia’s entry on the General Motors EV1 (electric vehicle) lists a range of 55–75 miles for battery units between 18.7 and 26.4 kWh. If one assumes the battery unit still has 10 percent of its energy left after a full-range trip, that’s about 3.21 miles/kWh, or 9.35 kWh for the 30 miles. This turns Fischel’s $12 for electricity into $2.80, comparable to the price for a gallon of gas we’ll be seeing again real soon. Electric cars—if we can live with limited range—are a good thing.

Although I disagree with Fischel on the economy of electric cars, I totally agree with him on the main solution to the energy problem. Nuclear is the only realistic option. Nuclear waste can be stored safely, and power-plant sites can be made secure.

Harold Finn, SB’57

Pleasanton, California

Halbert Fischel provides incorrect information regarding electric vehicles (EVs). The first error is in claiming it takes 40 kWh to move an EV the same distance as one gallon of gasoline. A gallon of gas does represent about as much energy as 35 kWh of electricity. But Fischel’s assertion is true only if EVs and gasoline-powered cars have the same energy efficiency. EVs, however, are far more efficient. 

Real-world examples illustrate the point.  In 1996 General Motors’ EV1 went 34–62 miles per charge with an 18.7 kWh battery pack, or about 2–3 miles/kWh. EVs today can achieve 3–6 miles/kWh. This is an order of magnitude better than Fischel’s number.
(Note a misstatement in the letter: Fischel’s figures yield an electricity requirement of 16 billion, not trillion, kWh per day.)

Secondly, driving 15 miles in an EV will cost less than 40 cents, not $12. In the past two years, electricity in the United States ranged from less than 5 to rarely more than 15 cents/kWh.

As for solar photovoltaic systems, they have no moving parts and require almost no maintenance. Panels do not need replacing after ten years; they carry warranties of 20–30 years. They can function long beyond that but might lose some efficiency.

If all U.S. vehicles were electric and powered only by solar electricity, the required area of solar panels is nowhere near the claim of “most of Southern California or Arizona,” even using Fischel’s inaccurate result of 11,200 square miles. The areas of California and Arizona are, respectively, 163,700 and 114,000 square miles. The Mojave Desert is 25,000 square miles.  Using realistic values for the kWh needed to power EVs and using Fischel’s low-end estimate of photovoltaic power generation, the total needed area of solar panels would be 700–1,400 square miles.

Of course, not all the electricity would come from photovoltaics, nor are solar panels concentrated in one spot. Many EV owners can rely at least in part on their own rooftop panels to charge their cars. And wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and concentrated solar thermal power can contribute substantially to the electric grid.

Yes, wind and solar currently rely on federal subsidies. But coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants have been receiving billions of annual subsidy dollars for years.

I agree these kinds of calculations are critical and sometimes overlooked, and I’m glad Fischel inspired me to take a closer look at the feasibility of cleanly powering EVs. When the numbers are accurately represented and empirically based, the prospects are not so dire at all.

Gillian Zaharias Miller, AB’98

DeWitt, Iowa

More energy solutions

The recent correspondence about energy (wind, solar, and biomass versus nuclear) is both heavy-handed and outdated. Regarding the energy sources mentioned: if the first are inadequate, the second is deadly—given the threat of proliferation, the outlandish expense, the concentration of (political/industrial) power involved, and the insolubility of the waste-disposal problem. And in any case, it is too late: nuclear projects begun tomorrow would take some 15 years to come online; while the best advice now is that we have only 100 months—eight years—before the tipping point into runaway climate change.

There are no simple, blanket solutions. What is required are not only imagination, vision, and detailed analysis of possible strategies, but also a public education campaign that recognizes both the urgency of what we face and the opportunities it presents. Solutions exist both in the realm of conservation and of resource—solutions with the potential not only for ameliorating (even solving) the climate/energy crisis, but also for a better life for all, including the poorest countries.

At home, we could start to reverse the damaging story of sprawl and waste by prioritizing public transport, powerful new building codes, and retrofitting older buildings. We could imagine a return to the humane and lively possibilities of decentralizing and relocalizing our lives—with the democratic increment entailed. We could begin a thorough re-examination of commercial practices that regularly shift private costs onto the public and onto the environment.

As for new energy sources, I am shocked that your most recent correspondent goes into such detail about the costs/benefits of conventional solar without having noticed the breakthroughs in accessing concentrating solar power (CSP), through which global electricity needs could be met by only 1 percent of the world’s deserts. As well as being almost endlessly abundant, accessible, and nonpolluting, CSP provides fresh water and potential income to countries currently most threatened by climate change.

In Europe, CSP is being championed by both the EU and the most well-informed environmental lobbies. Google “Desertec” for an update. Here’s hoping.

Judy Hindley, AB’63

Marlsborough, Wiltshire, United Kingdom

Historical perspective

Regarding Michael Brant’s letter in the Mar–Apr/09 issue (“War and Remembrance”), is it too much to ask that the editor screen out obvious lies in published letters? Trying to claim moral superiority, Mr. Brant asserts that during the Vietnam War, “thousands of others, mostly of a different color and economic class [from David Booth], were being maimed and killed.” In fact, however, of 58,000 U.S. casualties, 50,000 (86 percent) were Caucasian, and I doubt that Mr. Brant can prove that “mostly” these casualties were of a “different class,” whatever that might mean. (And if he’s counting Asians, he should have said so and provided evidence.) ...

Letters-vetting resources are undoubtedly limited, but why does such an obvious canard get published?

Darrell Dvorak, MBA’70

Lake Forest, Illinois

The front lines

On August 28, 1963, when Dr. King gave his now extra-famous speech, I was standing 50 feet away, though I’m not sure I was listening (“Color Lines,” Jan–Feb/09). Fred Goldfrank, SB’64; Dona Richards, AB’63; and [then-Chicago PhD student] Mendy Samstein were all there. Dona would marry Robert Moses, the mathematics teacher and arguably the second most important person in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Richards, Samstein, and I were all paid staff members there. Bill Zimmerman, AB’63, PhD’67, drove me from campus in his VW bug into Mississippi to find Moses in the fall of 1962. The day after we visited, a bomb blew apart the SNCC office.

It was not a membership organization, as CORE was. Thus, it had few members. A staff of 20 in 1962, the number had grown to 60 when I joined the day of my graduation. There were also Friends of SNCC based outside the South, where supporters raised funds and at times visited the South. The city of Chicago had the largest Friends of SNCC anywhere. The most important person in SNCC was Executive Secretary James Forman (1961–66), a Roosevelt University graduate.  

My involvement began in the summer of 1962. Learning of demonstrations from another student, Linda Perlstein, AB’64, who had already been arrested in Cairo, Illinois (not Mississippi), I traveled south. My journey ended in a jail cell in Albany, Georgia, looking through the bars at the ubiquitous Dr. King, an inmate on the colored side of the jail. I developed and printed my pictures in the darkroom in the basement of Ida Noyes Hall. The Maroon ran a double-page interview about my adventures, along with my photographs. The negatives I would make, many while still a student, are the largest single body of pictures made by any individual of the movement. I made them for many reasons, but one was certainly my ancient-history teacher, Stewart I. Oost, constantly hammering away at the significance of “original source material.” Much of the above is recounted in my Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 1992), now out of print.

These events occurred 47 years ago. I was 20. There is plenty to be done today by our young historians.

When President Obama embraced Rep. John Lewis on the steps of the Capitol moments before he was ineptly sworn into office, he was embracing the former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, my roommate in Atlanta in 1963. He was publicly acknowledging SNCC and all the mostly young people, some of them University of Chicago students, who walked through the fire that created our present world.

Danny Lyon, AB’63

Bernalillo, New Mexico

Final sign-off

The delightful article about Studs Terkel (“Studs: A Lifetime of Listening”) in the Jan–Feb/09 Magazine would have been even better if it had included his WFMT sign-off: “Take it easy, but take it.” Words to live by.

Clarissa Flint Dillon, AM’60

Haverford, Pennsylvania

Close look at the income gap

Her story—maybe—but not the story.

Although I was not surprised, the University of Chicago Magazine promulgating myths and fallacies about women’s income (“Her Story,” Investigations, Jan–Feb/09) shows a remarkable deviation from scientific rigor.

As an undergraduate I recall reading Emil Durkheim’s Suicide and his demonstration through a series of examples the danger in placing too much unexamined value in numerical data. The $0.77 income for every male dollar earned has been repeatedly debunked in scholarly publications. If one compares unmarried women who work continuously with men, incomes are identical. If the incomes of women after the childbearing years are compared to those of men, again one finds no difference. Those women tend to work continuously. Male-female differences in incomes varied directly throughout the 20th century as women’s age of marriage and childbearing changed.

Examination reveals that the prime factor in income is the age of marriage. Women fell behind in the mid-20th century as marriage age decreased. A greater proportion of American women held high-level occupations in the first half of the 20th century than in the middle. Even in my field, medicine, the apparent difference in income disappears when hours worked is factored.

I would refresh your memory with an article in the University of Chicago Magazine (“Women in White,” Oct/00):

“Because study after study has shown that men get paid significantly more than women for the same work, the committee decided that its first concern was salary. The members launched their own semi-scientific survey, selecting ten female assistant professors and ten associate professors and matching them up with men of equivalent rank and accomplishments. At the assistant professor level, they found no difference in salary. At the associate professor level, six of the women actually made slightly more than the men.”

The academic performance of women similarly shows no relation to the feminist movement. In the early decades of the 20th century, there were two times the number of women in Who’s Who in America than men. Women also earned more advanced degrees than men, even in scientific and technical fields. As far back as 1969, women who had never married earned higher incomes than men and became tenured professors at a higher rate.

That these facts might carry little weight for social crusaders is to be expected, but that they would be unknown or ignored by the University of Chicago is intellectually indefensible and offensive.

J. Curtis Kovacs, AB’63, MD’67

Sun City, Arizona

The sentence immediately following the passage that Kovacs quotes from the Magazine’s October/00 article “Women in White” reads: “‘We were relieved to find apparent parity in salaries,’ says [U of C Medical Center Women’s Committee chair Funmi] Olopade, ‘but troubled that there weren’t enough women at the upper levels to compare full professors.’”

See Fig. 1 for more on the gender salary gap.—Ed.

Committed to paper

I use a Levenger Circa address book (“Last-Known Address Book,” Editor’s Notes, Jan–Feb/09) now. I have the “home” version and also a “to-go” version. The Circa system is like a next-gen version of the older Recordplate address book, in which each entry is on a separate, removable sheet. The Circa system has a large family of record-keeping products, which all fit on the same type of binder disks. The basic covers are translucent plastic, but you can buy various other covers and jackets for more eye appeal and functionality. You could also make your own for the most personalized art.

Although I have no qualms about entering address-book-type information into the electronic devices I use, I don’t want to commit this information solely to a gizmo that can go kaput or run out of battery power by surprise.

Jean SmilingCoyote


Franklin’s reach

I delivered a personal message to John Hope Franklin in 1967 (see DeathsEd.). At the request of my mother-in-law, I told him about the death of their mutual friend, the head reference librarian at the University of North Carolina’s Wilson Library, who helped him with his doctoral dissertation, “The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790–1860.” Their friend had made space for Franklin to work in her office and retrieved materials for him when, by law, he wasn’t allowed to use the library’s materials.

After reminiscing, Franklin asked about my studies, and I told him about my research in Czechoslovak history. He asked why I chose this area, and I told him that after the betrayal at Munich in 1938, Czechoslovaks were referred to as “a people of whom we know nothing” by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and I did not want that to happen again. As a Southerner—from North Carolina—I wanted to understand racism in the American South. But I did not think that as a white Southerner, I could be objective. If I could understand racism in East-Central Europe, I decided, I could understand it everywhere.

After this first meeting, Franklin recommended me in 1970 for Chicago’s doctoral program, and ten years later I completed my doctorate in East-Central European history.

The second time I met Franklin was at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte at a 2007 event. He was there to speak about his autobiography Mirror to America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). He signed my book, and I thanked him for his recommendation at the U of C. He was gracious, and we spent time catching up.

Looking back, I am one “redneck” who is grateful and proud that Franklin’s reach was broad enough to include me.

James A. Rogerson, AM’69, PhD’80

Charlotte, North Carolina

I returned to the University of Chicago’s graduate program in the fall quarter of 1976, after spending five years as a naval officer. I began in the fall of 1970, but due to the Vietnam War and my prior military obligation, I had to drop out after the spring quarter of 1971 to enter the Navy. The U of C gave me a leave of absence to do this.

On returning I was utterly lost. I had extreme difficulty making the transition from being a naval officer to becoming a history grad student. I believed the profession had passed me by, and quite frankly I did not know what I was doing. I went to Professor Franklin to moan about my adjustment problems. He was very brief and to the point. He said not to worry. He wasn’t worried about me. I then felt that if the top man in my field wasn’t worried about me, then I had nothing to worry about. His confidence in me and belief in me (when I did not believe in myself) enabled me to earn a 4.0 GPA that very same quarter. Had he not said what he said, I would have dropped out of the U of C with disastrous consequences to my future.

Because of John Hope Franklin’s initial boost and his subsequent encouragement, I am today a tenured associate professor at Virginia Tech. In my career I have always encouraged and believed in my students as Professor Franklin believed in me. It has paid off, since I am proud to say that two of my students are now Ivy League professors with quite a few more on the faculties of Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Mary Baldwin College, and Slippery Rock University, among others. In that as well as my scholarship, I have tried to carry on Professor Franklin’s legacy.

Hayward “Woody” Farrar, AM’71, PhD’83

Blacksburg, Virginia

The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters about its contents or about the life of the University. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space and clarity.

In order to provide a wide range of views and voices, we encourage letter writers to limit themselves to 300 words or fewer. Write: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 401 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60611. Or e-mail: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.

Return to top