“You could easily have checked the accuracy of this assertion…”
I was in despair. I leave Monday for 35 hours of flights and airports from Indianapolis to Katmandu. To endure that without a good magazine—despair. The U of C Magazine arrived today. I’ll reach the end of the Magazine before I reach Katmandu, but I’m dreading the flight less.
Jeff Rasley, AB’75
All the lonely people
“The Nature of Loneliness” in the Nov–Dec/10 issue by Lydialyle Gibson was quite an eye opener. After reading it, I remembered a comment made by motivational speaker and writer Wayne Dyer years ago in one of his books: “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.” To me, John Cacioppo’s research illuminates this relevant and growing topic of concern, particularly among people at the upper end of life’s journey in addition to those who have experienced life’s challenges along the twisted and winding roads in earlier years. His comments about the use or misuse of the Internet should be helpful to those trying to raise their children in a complicated digital, visual, and mechanically analytical world while also trying to encourage face-to-face relationships.
The conclusion I reach is that loneliness knows no particular age group, lifestyle, background, economic position, etc. I’m sure his research only scratches the surface of what will become known. In the meantime, you would be doing the University a favor by encouraging the administration to send Mr. Cacioppo out to present his findings, and hopefully some solutions, to each and every Chicago gathering around the country, as they have done with other worthy professors. It could be a lecture on both loneliness and depression (and what to do about it)—twin topics that probably go hand in hand. The payoff for both the alumni and the University could be enormous. Nice work, editor.
Thomas H. Kieren, MBA’68
Jefferson, New Jersey
Congratulations to Lydialyle Gibson on a wonderful cover story for the Nov–Dec/10 issue. I’m so glad to see John Cacioppo’s ground-breaking, game-changing work brought to wide alumni attention.
I first met the remarkable John in May 2009 at a conference he was keynoting in Wilmette, Illinois. I was scouting him as a speaker for the nonprofit I chair, the Family Awareness Network of New Trier Township Schools. I had read Loneliness, loved it, was moved by it, and thought his work would be important to bring to an audience of parents, educators, and helping professionals. After introducing myself, I sat down, utterly unprepared for what the next hour would bring.
Reading Loneliness is one thing; having John lay it all out for you is something quite different. My experience: like stepping inside some sort of 5-D environment, Connectionland—a tsunami of data points, brilliant research, a kinetic, associative, exploring mind. I couldn’t recall experiencing anything quite like it, and certainly not on the topics of loneliness, isolation, empathy, compassion, interdependence—not to mention vagal tone.
John did an amazing presentation for the Family Awareness Network in April 2010 for 550 community members. In the year that we collaborated, I had the privilege and pleasure of experiencing aspects of John that his friends, colleagues, and students know well. He is kind, generous, ethical, loyal, driven, and passionate about his work.
What touches me the most is that with a mind like his, he could do anything, and yet he devotes his time to furthering our understanding of those who suffer from loneliness and its psychological and physical challenges. It’s evidence of a very big heart behind that very big brain.
Lonnie Stonitsch, AB’82
Just opened my University of Chicago Magazine with the article announcing the official opening of the University’s Center in Beijing (“Base in Beijing,” Nov–Dec/10). All those smiling faces, red banners, and official speechifying. Very impressive. Noticed one person who was not there—the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is under sentence for “subversion” by China. Not only was he not there, neither will he be going to Sweden to pick up his prize. Nor will his wife be allowed to go in his place.
I am not suggesting that Chicago give up its plans for the center. The fact that Chicago is there is, I feel, a positive sign, and I support it. Perhaps it can lessen China’s intransigence on many issues. But I wonder if University officials have thought this thing through. Perhaps to the time when someone on the faculty or a student says something that annoys the Chinese government, or when there is a course on Tibet. Is the University prepared for some draconian response on the part of Chinese leaders? And what will Chicago’s response be?
Thomas Glynn, AB’58
Brooklyn, New York
A quiet mentor
Thank you for your article on Lorenzo D. Turner (“Legacy,” Nov–Dec/10). Dr. Turner was my phonetics teacher at the very young Roosevelt College in 1947. He used his recordings of the speech of inhabitants of Gullah Island off the Carolina coast to teach us phonetics and remains, after all these years, one of the finest teachers I have had. Terrified in high school by a Latin teacher who threw chairs and hit people with a wooden ruler, I froze when facing any sound that was not Midwestern English. Yet, by his enthusiasm for Gullah and his gentle kindness toward his students, he somehow helped me lick my fear with the excitement of reproducing the actual sounds of these people. When he offered to obtain a scholarship for me to study phonetics and become his assistant, I declined the honor and still feel ashamed. I wanted to write novels, and I’m still doing that.
In lieu of gaining a potential assistant, he wrote a generous reference that helped me to obtain a scholarship to the U of C for my master’s in English. I’ve never forgotten Dr. Turner’s fine mind and teaching abilities. Most of all, though, I remember his quiet kindness and humility despite all the applause he was receiving from the academic world. He was a very nice man.
Betty Carr, AM’48
Suicide terrorism: USSR
Jason Kelly’s article “Suicidal Tendencies” (Chicago Journal, Nov–Dec/10), about the controversial conclusion in Robert Pape and James Feldman’s book Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It, fails to mention what seems the most obvious and currently relevant area for inquiry regarding suicide motivation: what happened during the Soviet grand adventure in Afghanistan in the 1980s. If the book addresses this roughly comparable situation, I look forward to reading about it; if not, their conclusion may need another look.
Jeff Madoff, JD’74
Pape and Feldman do address the Soviet–Afghanistan war. There were no suicide attacks during the Soviet occupation, which supports the researchers’ argument that the key indicator of such attacks is when the occupying country is a democracy, perceived as more susceptible to public resistance in the face of suicide attacks.—Ed.
Suicide terrorism: Hezbollah
In their book, Pape and Feldman fundamentally misrepresent the nature of terrorism sponsored by Iran and other Middle Eastern factions. While Israel’s invasion of Lebanon aiming to fight PLO fighters may have played a role in Hezbollah’s identity, Hezbollah was primarily created as an extension of the radical revolution in Iran. The use of suicide bombings against foreign forces, whether French and American or Israeli, required having the opportunity. Thus it is not so much that Hezbollah is fighting particularly foreign forces in Lebanon; it is rather that they had an opportunity.
After Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, Iran shifted its focus overwhelmingly to Hamas suicide attacks in Israel, which were far higher in number and for a while deadlier than the attacks in Lebanon. These atrocities, like 9/11, are indiscriminate in nature and cannot fairly be compared to smart bombs. The 9/11 attacks were particularly devastating because of a lack of preparation against efforts to use passenger planes as large missiles.
Iranian-sponsored terror’s global reach is demonstrated by its bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Argentina and of a U.S. base at Khobar Towers, both in the 1990s, and probably has been limited only by a fear of American retaliation. In Iraq and Afghanistan various terrorist groups have relatively easy access to areas with American forces, and Iran feels that action in these places is less likely to trigger direct retaliation. While Bin Laden is of course Sunni, he was likely very much inspired by Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed groups. The almost certain involvement of Hezbollah in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is a powerful reminder that, while often a convenient excuse, these groups have a far more extensive and radical agenda than ending alleged foreign occupations.
Michael J. Szanto, SM’01
Suicide terrorism: Cause & effect
I was very disappointed in the article “Suicidal Tendencies” (Nov–Dec/10). The underpinnings of Pape and Feldman’s work appears to be correlation of suicide attacks with the presence of U.S. troops. Such experienced researchers should appreciate that correlation does not imply cause and effect. Did Pape and Feldman study suicide attacks in occupied Germany after World War II? Or did they study suicide attacks in Vietnam when the American troops were in that country? Or did they even study suicide attacks in Japan after World War II? [The article notes that Pape and Feldman cite the 1980s Lebanon attacks as the first suicide attacks since WW II.—Ed.]
Pape and Feldman argue that the common strategic objective is not religion but “to compel a democratic state to withdraw combat forces from territory the terrorists consider their homeland or prize greatly.” Why haven’t we observed suicide attacks in all occupied states? General George Patton said, “No poor bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making other bastards die for their country.” This is the rationale of most people in time of war.
One must consider why someone would intentionally take his or her life. Simply killing yourself to take a few of the enemy with you hardly seems rational, unless you believe in an afterlife and that you will be rewarded for your ultimate sacrifice. I can accept that there is likely a cause-and-effect relationship between terrorist acts and occupation by foreign troops. But I doubt there is a cause-and-effect relationship between suicide attacks and foreign occupation. Is there a correlation between suicide attacks and religion? My guess is that using Pape and Feldman’s own data, the correlation between suicide attacks and Muslims would be very high. It is important to remember that most countries with a predominantly Muslim population are also theocracies. How can we separate national loyalty from religious fervor in such societies? All religions have their radical fringes. Why should we shy away from recognizing that radical Muslims commit radical acts?
Peter Hanik, MBA’87
That Brooksian prose
I came to the U of C with the preparation of a lifetime in a family whose parents prided themselves on voting a straight Republican ticket by only marking the box on the top of the ballot. After three years on campus, simmered with another ten years of reflection, I realized the error of my ways.
I think that New York Times columnist David Brooks, AB’83, is the class of person with whom I had grown up—very personable and soft-spoken (David Brooks Column Parody Contest, Nov–Dec/10). Unfortunately, after some 27 postgraduation years, with his Buckley experience, I rather doubt that there is much hope for him to reform and switch to the party of the people, rather than the party of the wealthy or would-be wealthy.
I certainly prefer hearing from him than many of the strident voices now pushing the R agenda, whatever that is.
George S. Lundin, JD’54
More on Sambo’s story
Contrary to Bruce W. Tennant’s (MBA’57) letter in the Nov–Dec/10 Magazine, Little Black Sambo’s racism has nothing to do with “liberals ... [having] opportunities to level accusations of racism.” The story is racist because of the underlying assumptions Helen Bannerman used when she wrote this story for her children.
It was written on a train, as Carrie Golus’s piece indicated, but the trip was in England. As was the custom in British India, she had brought her children from India, where they were born, to go to school in England. They missed their friends, almost all of whom would have been South Asian children of the family’s servants. Her message in the hero’s and his parents’ names and in her depictions of them in the original illustrations was that no matter how smart their friends in India were, as Little Black Sambo was in the story, they were still not as good as her children. Her children were British, and their friends were Sambos, Mumbos, and Jumbos!
As the retired, founding director of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University, I would encourage a visit to the museum’s website for a deeper appreciation of the racism in this story.
John P. Thorp, AM’73, PhD’78
The Magazine’s own fact-checking has yielded different answers to some of the points above. Our research indicates that Bannerman might indeed have written the story on a train in India, and that her children were educated in Scotland.—Ed.
And then there’s the emperor...
Little Black Sambo, one more time (“Sambo’s Subtext,” Sept–Oct/10): Yes, stereotypical characters, such as the British golliwog and the American boy-eating-watermelon, can be denigrating (note the word!), but wise old Uncle Remus is presented as a Southern-style Aesop. As a liberal, I would like to say a few words in favor of Little Black Sambo. He comes from a happy home with two loving parents, an employed father who can afford to buy presents for his son, and a homemaker mother who can cook and sew. Sambo himself is a bright, resourceful kid, unfailingly polite even under duress, and able to outmaneuver the tigers without losing his cool. Not a bad example for anybody’s child.
Clothes are important in fairy tales. Little Red Riding Hood is known only by her favorite garment, Cinderella gets a gorgeous dress and the glass slippers, and every superhero must wear a cape, regardless of its practical inconvenience. Children like Little Black Sambo. They admire his strategies, celebrate the recovery of his clothes, and find the pancake feast a most satisfactory ending. For clothes as a mockery, I nominate the “Sunday Styles” section in the New York Times.
Janet B. Kaye, AB’48, AM’67
Sante Fe, New Mexico
See above letters
What’s all this fuss about my most beloved Little Black Sambo story? It was just a simple story about a sweet, kind, and generous little boy who is at the mercy of a world that wants to eat him up. Sound familiar? For me it had a special meaning—I was a mixed-race little child, East Indian and American, and this story took place in India. At first I never noticed that sweet little Sambo was black, and when I did years later, it just added fascination, flair, and international flavor to my special story.
Vera Shadi, AM’71
Zionism in class
Having been in Israel twice, including a semester of teaching at the Hebrew University, I witnessed the fact that apartheid has become the norm in Israel. There really is no way of denying that the Israeli government continues to engage in the illegal and immoral occupation of Palestinian land. I have heard Professor John Mearsheimer lecture on several occasions and believe that far from voicing propaganda, he has studied a painful situation, which, however, controversial, needs to be confronted.
Peter Selz, AM’49, PhD’54
I do not know Professor John Mearsheimer, although I had a roommate who studied with him and spoke highly of him. But as an American Jew, I found the letters by Charlotte Adelman, AB’59, JD’62, and Herbert Caplan, AB’52, JD’57 (Nov–Dec/10), to be disingenuous at best, slanderous at worst, in that they imply that Professor Mearsheimer is an anti-Semitic propagandist whose classroom is not a “safe environment” for those who might be supportive of Israel.
I have read the essay in question by Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt of Harvard. It is not an anti-Semitic tract, nor is it a polemic. Whether or not one agrees with its conclusions, it is hardly akin to the blatantly anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Can the researchers’ conclusions be misappropriated by those who are anti-Semitic? Certainly, just as Nietzsche was misappropriated by the Nazi Party in Germany in the ’30s and ’40s. But I was glad to have been exposed to Nietzsche at the U of C and would have considered it a tragedy for his work not to have been taught simply because others misused or misconstrued Nietzsche’s writings.
Ms. Adelman’s objections include the fact that Professor Mearsheimer “pays ‘considerable attention ... to the plight of the Palestinians.’” I’m curious how that constitutes “advocacy of one view” rather than an objective reality. By any standard, the Palestinians live under a longstanding occupation that is often brutal. And it’s neither unreasonable nor anti-Semitic for me to question Mr. Caplan’s views that Israel is a “vibrant” democracy and that Professor Mearsheimer’s course on Zionism and Palestine is a “proxy voice advocate of the anti-Jewish, anti-Israel ideologues that seek the final solution of extinction of Israel.” I notice an allusion to the Holocaust that is evident from Mr. Caplan’s choice of terminology (“final solution”), and as the descendent of Holocaust victims, I am not supportive of any misappropriation of that genocide. Criticism of Israeli policy should not be equated with anti-Semitism.
The bottom line is that both Ms. Adelman and Mr. Caplan have a primary objection to Professor Mearsheimer’s course because he does not necessarily echo the standard teaching that Israel is a vibrant democracy that is endangered by its neighbors. The historical narrative of Israel and Palestine has been misused by all sides in the ongoing conflict. I cannot comment on the content of Professor Mearsheimer’s course any more than can Mr. Caplan or Ms. Adelman, since none of us are currently students at the U of C. And if his course were indeed propaganda, then I would be among the first to criticize the University on that account. But I’m not seeing any objective evidence that the course is anything more than an exploration of the political history of Zionism and the Israel/Palestine conflict. I’m disappointed that the mere act of teaching and discussing the Middle East conflict is condemned unless it is clear that Israel is depicted along the standard model of an endangered, vibrant democracy.
Recent events in Israel, such as requiring a “loyalty oath” for non-Jewish applicants for citizenship, invite scholarly debate as to the nature of Israeli democracy. That neither makes one an anti-Semite nor a propagandist. Back when I was a student, I would have thought that constituted scholarship, as the responsibility of any intellectual is a willingness to explore the truth regardless of how popular or unpopular it might be.
David Toub, AB’83, MD’87
Does green cost too much?
I am distressed by my fellow alumni (Letters, Nov–Dec/10) who seem to have forgotten the training we received in both discernment and analysis. They suggest that “Green Evolution” (July–Aug/10) makes economic sense. Sadly, the decades of operating data illustrate this is a dream.
More than 27 years of operating data from California wind farms, both those on Altamont Pass and at Tehachapi, demonstrate they are producing power, on average, only 27 percent of the time. Similarly, the extensive data from the various forms of solar energy capture, both thermal and photovoltaic, covering more than 20 years of operation, demonstrate these units are producing power on average for only 5.4 hours per day. Furthermore, experiments in harnessing tidal power have either met with storm-caused disaster or economic reality. The practical geothermal sites are both very limited and unusually corrosive.
In all these scenarios, a large, base-load, electricity-generating plant is required to provide the steady, reliable electric power so crucial to our economy when the “green energy” is off-line. This plant would have to be sized to carry the entire load because the “green energy” is so unreliable. What would Milton Friedman say about that scenario?
The rational conclusion is obvious: “Green energy” is far more expensive than its promoters acknowledge and, furthermore, is unreliable. The unreliability is an inherent consequence of the variability in the primary source of the energy, either the wind or the sun.
The generation of electric power is the largest single use of energy in the United States, so minimization of our CO2 footprint can be maximized by base-load nuclear power plants. “Green energy” is too expensive, too disruptive to the environment, and a poor choice.
Charles R. Greene, SB’49, SM’50, PhD’52
Santa Rosa, California
A pedal ahead
I am writing in reference to Frank Tangherlini’s (SM’52) letter (Sept–Oct/10), especially his suggestion to use “pedal-powered electric generators mounted on stationary bicycles” for recharging batteries on Chicago students’ devices. In our rural community in northern California, at Humboldt State University in Arcata, is located the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT), where this suggestion is already in practice. Students pedal exercise bicycles to generate power.
The center is a live-in demonstration home and educational center for appropriate technology and resource conservation. It began in 1978 when a group of students, with the support of faculty and community members, renovated a dilapidated house on the university campus and initiated an experiment that continues today. The center works with more than 15 Humboldt State classes a year to incorporate new, appropriate technologies in sustainability into this living laboratory. The center uses less than five percent of the energy consumed by the average U.S. house, produces almost no waste, and serves as a national model for appropriate technology.
Three students live in the house and direct the program for one-year periods. Eighteen student employees keep operations going. Being directed, staffed, and funded by students makes CCAT a place where young adults become leaders; it nurtures creativity and hones professional and technical skills. Take a virtual tour of this remarkable place.
Aiko Uyeki, AB’50
No discussion of the history of green (“Green Evolution,” July–Aug/10) at the University of Chicago can even begin without acknowledging the individuals who first worked to establish and institutionalize environmental awareness and action on campus in the early 1990s through the Environmental Studies Program, the Environmental Concerns Organization, the Environmental Center, UCRecycle, and The Green Pages.
They are: biochemistry and molecular-biology professor emeritus Ted Steck; Betsy Braun Mendelsohn, AM’95, PhD’99; Eric Mendelsohn, AB’94; former UCRecycle recycling coordinator Jamie Cahillane; Naomi Swinton, AB’93; and Dave Aftandilian, AM’95, PhD’07, with special mention of the first graduate of the University of Chicago environmental-studies major—Laura Nobel, AB’95.
Jennifer Schriber, AB’96
How the Civil War began, take 2
Bert Metzger’s (JD’61) letter on the inception of the Civil War in the Sept–Oct/10 issue rather begs the question when he writes of the peaceful withdrawal of South Carolina (et al). The issue then was whether that withdrawal from the union was legal. There were a good many contemporary partisans who argued that it was, and a great many others who argued that it wasn’t. (I’ll grant that there were only partisans on one side or the other back then.) The argument was that after South Carolina explicitly and openly agreed that the union would be perpetual when she ratified the Articles of Confederation, she, implicitly and without anyone noticing, took it back when she ratified the Constitution with its clause stating that federal laws were superior to state laws and constitutions.
Whatever one thinks of this argument, it is inarguable that Fort Sumter was federal property, the state of South Carolina having agreed to that explicitly. It was as much U.S. property then as Guantanamo is now.
Lincoln’s position was that secession was not treason but was merely void—as any other unconstitutional act by a state legislature would be. Lincoln was willing to talk as long as it took for the errant states to abandon their claims. Instead, they chose to fire on federal officials on U.S. property. The result was a bloody disaster.
Frank Palmer, SM’67
The costs of marriage
I found the quotations attributed to Nobel prize–winning economist Gary Becker (“A Rational Choice,” Sept–Oct/10) somewhat startling. In his Nobel lecture he said that his approach to economics “does not assume that individuals are motivated solely by selfishness or gain. ... Behavior is driven by a much richer set of values and preferences.” Yet in the very same talk, speaking of such intensely personal choices as marriage, divorce, and having children, he said that his fundamental assumption is that individuals make such decisions by comparing benefits and costs. “So they marry when they expect to be better off than if they remained single, and they divorce if that is expected to increase their welfare.” This seems to me a glaring inconsistency. I would be interested to learn how Professor Becker reconciles this apparent contradiction.
David Urman, X’71
The examples above amply illustrate the problem with excerpting quotes out of context. Also in his Nobel lecture, Becker says that assuming selfishness or gain “is a method of analysis, not an assumption about particular motivations.” Later, in his discussion about marriage, he asserts that “intuitive assumptions about behavior,” such as the assumption that people marry or divorce when it would “maximize their utility,” are “only the starting point of systematic analysis.”—Ed.
Not “trained” but educated
In the Sept–Oct/10 “Talking Points” (Chicago Journal) about new Divinity School Dean Margaret Mitchell, AM’82, PhD’89, she said, “We train students to be able to speak about religion in a way that is informed and critical and reasoned and respectful, but unflinchingly honest.” I often brag that I was not “trained” but educated for ministry and teaching. People are trained by repetitive rehearsal, usually of methods.
At U of C Divinity School I earned two degrees and am proud of my preparation for teaching and ministry. I never was trained in how to do pastoral work, funerals, weddings, baptisms, visiting hospitals, etc. I often had these experiences in ministry and knew in depth what to do with the resources in my mind and spirit from my many courses in Bible, church history, ethics, etc. Professors such as James Luther Adams, Sidney Mead, Daniel Day Williams, Bernard Meland, and Seward Hiltner never told me how to do anything but prepared me to understand and act. They were not trainers. Leave that to animal husbandry.
I once was asked by a physician friend when discussing a deep issue in religion and ethics: “How were you trained on this?” Physicians and mechanics are trained by repetitive observation, try this and that, and repeating treatments with observing instructors. We never had any of that.
For example, I am proud of having talked with many dozens of couples, in detail, about the meaning of each part of a marriage ceremony, what it means to love. Clergy are responsible to teach about relationships with meaning, but not probing into the privacy of couples by questioning or even an exam about knowledge, habits, or “orientation.” Couples often depart telling me, a parent, or friend that they were scared to come but greatly appreciative of the experience (counseling) afterward.
I am proud of the U of C reliance on original sources and that I never had a textbook. Such secondary sources are not what graduate school and professional school should be using or relying on. Education is not accomplished through textbooks, much less workbooks.
Commentaries and interpretive materials are important, but I am proud of educators who did not talk down to me.
Charles O. Erickson, AM’50, DB’51
Doug Wood, MBA’75, in the Sept–Oct/10 Letters section, is glib with his guilt by association, but his logic and consistency are puzzling. He says, “It is true that Allende came to power democratically. Big deal; so did Hitler.” Yet a few lines earlier, as an apologist for Pinochet, he notes “that Pinochet only narrowly lost the referendum on whether he should remain in power, so somebody must have liked him.” Should that not have been accompanied by noting that Hitler won some elections? So what?
Ravi Rau, PhD’71
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Friedman’s antipoverty program
Allow me to add one more letter to the two fine letters in the Sept–Oct/10 issue defending Professor Milton Friedman, AM’33, against his alleged, and totally untrue, support of the reprehensible Pinochet regime of Chile. Indeed, Friedman approached economics as a science and, like Adam Smith, sought reasons why nations increased economic welfare (“the wealth of nations”) within the recognized need for governments to provide essential services (“defense is superior to opulence”).
Transforming a private property system into a state-owned economy under Mao, apart from the accompanying violence and deaths, seemed simple—expropriate private property. The reversal, however, was hugely complicated and had no precedent, particularly because wage and price controls would have to be removed. At the start of reforms in 1980, the Chinese leaders invited Friedman, the most noted proponent of free markets and the author of Capitalism and Freedom, for consultations on the transition. Later in 1988 he again was invited by Zhao Ziyang, secretary of the Communist Party and second to the paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, to come quickly to provide advice on how to control and reverse the rising double-digit inflation. The communist leaders understood that their 1949 victory was largely due to the inability of the Chiang Kai-shek government’s inability to control hyperinflation. It was well known that Friedman was the most prominent monetarist and that he and his students had researched the causes of inflation in more than a dozen countries.
Thus, it is no surprise that Zhao Ziyang, in his recent memoir, Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang, stated that “Friedman’s ideas and advice played an important role in shaping economic policies in post-Mao China.” There is no doubt, then, that Friedman’s advice was essential to what is now recognized as the greatest antipoverty program in history.
Bertrand Horwitz, AB’49, AM’51
Asheville, North Carolina
Cell phones and cancer theories
The article “Roaming Crusader” (Sept–Oct/10) reports on Devra Lee Davis’s conclusion that brain cancer is linked to exposure to microwaves, based on the observation that brain cancer is 40 percent more likely in people who talk on cell phones more than 30 minutes per day.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to have an injury-causing accident. Automobile insurers have found that drivers who talk on cell phones are more likely to be involved in a serious accident then those who don’t. This likelihood is sufficiently high that many state legislatures have banned the use of a cell phone while driving.
Most people attribute the increased likelihood of an accident while talking on a cell phone to the driver being distracted from his primary task of driving safely and not to the effect of microwaves on his brain. I would think that a person who talks on a cell phone for more than 30 minutes a day experiences many more accidents than people who use cell phones less frequently. Such a person spends 30 minutes a day not giving his full attention to the task at hand. How many minor concussions would such a person suffer, and might they be more likely to contribute to brain cancer than low-energy radiation, which penetrates only millimeters beneath the skin?
Narcinda Lerner, SM’59, PhD’62
Realities of the Melting Pot
Brief backstory: My father’s parents emigrated in 1908 from what we now call Lebanon (a part of “Syria” under the Ottomans) and settled in Oklahoma, along with many other members of their community. They brought with them their particular brand of orthodoxy (Antiochan), their language, their cuisine, and their tribal marriage rules. Outside home and church, they vigorously assimilated, but they never escaped the tension between their brand-new desire to become—or to be seen as—genuinely American and their old-world tendency to define their community and customs as distinct from, and superior to, the dominant culture. When my father eloped with a non-Lebanese woman, my grandparents wore black and referred to my mother as an “Amerikanee”—a word that, spoken with the right inflection, could only be defined as a racial slur. A self-defense tactic, no doubt, and one that was only partially successful.
So when I read “Swab Stories” in your Mar–Apr/10 issue, it was inevitable that someone with my family baggage would be brought up short by Brooke E. O’Neill’s (AM’04) parenthetical portrait of Jamil Khoury: “(His father is Syrian, his mother American.)” At first I felt a bit of déjà vu. Substitute Lebanese for Syrian, and the distinction comes right out of my community’s us vs. them discourse. But then I had to pause. Both the article and Khoury’s work are all about race, not citizenship, and I could only conclude that O’Neill’s “Syrian” referred exclusively to Khoury’s DNA, and that “American” was a, well, careless, and I trust innocent, substitute for a more accurate term for Khoury’s mother’s non-Syrian (I’m guessing central or northern European) racial heritage.
But I urge O’Neill and the editors of the U of C Magazine to refrain in the future from the use of the word “American” as a quasi-racial label. Children will listen, as Sondheim’s Into the Woods drives home. And as a child, I listened. It took me many years to unlearn the lesson that my racial difference from the then-dominant WASP culture I grew up in did not constitute a deficiency, and to understand that my identity as an American could seamlessly absorb that difference.
Daniel Massad, AM’77
Women in history
A letter from Lawrence Lerner, AB’53, SM’55, PhD’62, in the Sept–Oct/10 issue claims that William McNeill’s The Rise of the West does not contain “a single mention of any woman—not Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, not Catherine the Great, not any woman at all.” Although you could easily have checked the accuracy of this assertion, it goes uncontradicted. In fact passages discussing such women as Hypatia, Jane Austen, and—believe it or not—Catherine the Great are clearly identified in the index.
Christopher Clausen, AM’65
Women in science
The fall/winter issue of the Physical Sciences Division (PSD) newsletter Inquiry arrived recently, its front page boasting pictures of 12 new PSD hires—a bunch of dudes, mostly of European heritage, and one woman. Quelle suprise, I know. But what did come as a surprise were the articles to follow. The lead article is a profile of Barbara Perkins, long-serving secretary to Chicago astronomers and astrophysicists. The remaining articles profile the work of six PSD scientists—all male—and some new telescopes. I mean no disrespect to Ms. Perkins—she has clearly played a role in the success of Chicago science—but really? The message in this juxtaposition between male scientists and a female helper is all too familiar to women in science. Women are not part of the popular mental model for science and nobody notices when we are left out of the picture.
Christina Hulbe, PhD’98
Despite the content of the division’s most recent newsletter, women faculty, staff, and students play an active role in the Physical Sciences Division. An overview can be found at womenpsd.uchicago.edu.—Ed.
In the November 16 e-newsletter, UChicago News for Alumni and Friends, you note the opening of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis and provide a link to a story in the Chicago Tribune online that states only that “Vonnegut spent about two years in Chicago where he studied anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked at the City News Bureau of Chicago.”
My understanding is that Vonnegut’s (AM’71) celebrated Cat’s Cradle was submitted (and accepted) in partial fulfillment of the requirements for his master’s degree from U of C’s Anthropology Department. If this is true, and you could fact-check it easily, it speaks volumes about the creativity of the U of C faculty.
Richard M. Gottlieb, AB’65, MD’69
Mr. Gottlieb has the story partially correct: Chicago’s anthropology department rejected Vonnegut’s original master’s thesis, but in 1971 his novel Cat’s Cradle was declared to have fulfilled his thesis requirement.—Ed.
I am writing to thank everyone at the New York City UChicago Committee and particularly David Nirenberg, the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta professor of medieval history and social thought, for an engaging and impressive talk at the November 4 Harper Lecture in Manhattan (“Medieval History Meets Geopolitics: Judaism, Christianity, Islam”). I wish to express my tremendous Maroon pride that a decision was made to confront what is a sensitive topic these days, and to approach this topic with an intelligence and sagacity that is a hallmark of our great university.
As a New Yorker, a University of Chicago alumnus, a senior manager in a global nonprofit educational organization, and as an American Muslim, I thank you for increasing nuance, wisdom, and most of all knowledge around the topic of how scriptural traditions and the interpretation of these sacred texts has evolved and changed throughout time, and how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities have existed, coexisted, and interacted over centuries. It is a vitally important conversation for our nation and for New York City. I brought a few colleagues and friends to the lecture, and they were equally impressed by the University’s willingness to ask hard questions and challenge baseless assumptions.
Rahim S. Rajan, AB’93
Forest Hill, New York
Department of corrections
We attributed a letter in the Sept–Oct/10 issue to Richard S. Stein, AM’64, of Sandy Hook, Connecticut, instead of to Richard S. Stein, AM’64, of Oak Lawn, Illinois. We apologize for the error.
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