Readers sound off

(CC0 Public Domain)

Readers sound off

Readers applaud class correspondents, debate health policy, ponder the merits of reflection and regret, and more.

Support your class correspondent

One of the thankless tasks that your fellow alumni who are College class correspondents perform is to compile class notes about what folks have been up to. We all know that this task can only be fulfilled to the degree that we provide support to these volunteers. I would like to address the Class of ’58, but the message carries well across all classes.

This is, thus, a personal note asking you to support your class correspondents’ appeals for your stories. Even though my class was a small group, many of us do not know one another. Still, regardless of prior acquaintance, folks from all classes enjoy their classmates’ updates. So please contribute to your class narratives and our shared history while we can.

Speaking personally, I have enjoyed my correspondent’s (Bob Bloom, SB’58) reports. Good luck, Bob, and many thanks for what you do.

Norm Schulze, SB’58
Clifton, Virginia

Lost in memory

“Well, you’ve done it again,” as Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers used to say, “You’ve wasted another perfectly good hour.” Except it wasn’t wasted devouring, almost as it arrived, the Spring/18 issue of the Magazine, which proved yet another slam dunk for which kudos are in order.

Special “thanks for the memories,” including a superb piece about Hanna Gray (“The Long View,” UChicago Journal), whom I had the privilege of meeting, not at the U of C, but at the unveiling of her portrait in the grand promenade of Woolsey Hall at Yale during my graduate work. A good U of C friend had her as his doctoral adviser, so I no more than mentioned his name and she was right on subject.

That same quality personified Ed Levi, LAB’28, PhB’32, JD’35, one of her predecessors as UChicago president, with whom she’s pictured in the story. On the occasion of his presidential installation, I carried the University banner, nearly taking out a window in the chapel entry while lowering the heavy, awkward pole in passage. Mortified, I wrote a letter to Levi apologizing for any delay or anxiety resulting from my mismaneuver. Within a few days came a handwritten note on presidential stationery thanking me for my service and assuring me he hadn’t been aware of a near mishap. Talk about putting a third-year at ease. If that wasn’t enough, years later I saw him briefly in Washington, DC, when he was Gerald Ford’s attorney general. He not only remembered my note but said he’d kept it in a file as an example of unusually good manners and penmanship.

Another outstanding contribution to the Spring issue was a letter about Jonathan Z. (“JZ” as we knew him) Smith. The writer described JZ’s unique storytelling, teaching, and mentoring so well that I felt again how profound was his adopting me as an advisee upon Henry Rago’s untimely death. Though the ordeal was crushing, JZ’s steering me to apply to Yale for graduate school redeemed it. I’m so glad I got to thank him personally at my 40th reunion. “Oh, think nothing of it,” he gushed, as only JZ could. “You were the perfect candidate for that spot,” which happened to be a Rockefeller Fellowship for a trial year in seminary. It both saved me from Vietnam and opened the door to my happy career as priest and seminary professor.

Yes, hindsight is 20/20 vision. Thanks for providing quarterly occasions to “see more clearly, love more dearly, and follow more nearly, day by day” (Richard of Chicester, via Stephen Schwartz’s song from Godspell) in the paths we were set upon by UChicago’s exceptional administrators and faculty. Oh, and “Let’s Get Lost”—here’s to never sacrificing serendipity! Edward Tenner’s (AM’67, PhD’72) The Efficiency Paradox just went on my summer reading list.

Michael Tessman, AB’70
Kingstown, Rhode Island

Constitutional context

In “The Long Founding Moment” (UChicago Journal, Spring/18) Alison LaCroix points out, “There isn’t an optimal distribution of federal versus state power,” and further notes, “There might be an optimal one, but you can’t find it in the Constitution.” With these words she understates the many problems our country has with an 18th-century constitution and accompanying political system as it confronts a 21st-century commercial and technological world.

Indeed, one could take the Constitution line by line and show quite conclusively that when its context is ignored (i.e., the Second Amendment written when only muskets and other primitive firearms were available, and those in limited quantities) its words can be and are interpreted to give us “wrong answers in constitutional law.” An example to illustrate my point: the equating of money with free speech. It is hard for me to believe that anyone making prudent judgments could possibly have come up with that “answer.” I have come to the conclusion that one of the most serious flaws in our Constitution is to allow 5–4 decisions of the Supreme Court justices to become the law of the land. I take as precedent the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, a legislative initiative proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to add more justices to the Supreme Court. An alternative to “packing” the court would be a constitutional amendment to require that any decision that would become the final law of the land would need the concurrence of a large majority, perhaps 7–2, or better yet, 8–1.

At 81 I have lived in an era when the son of a former migrant farm worker from Eastern Europe/factory worker could have the opportunity to attend the University of Chicago because of the sacrifices of his parents, their understanding of the value of education, the preparation of a Catholic educational system, and my own hard work. Those days seem to be long gone. Would that we, as a country, strive to interpret the Constitution in such a way as to bring back into reality a 21st-century version of that time.

Ernest A. Dorko, SM’61, PhD’64
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Information, please

Measuring Medicaid” (UChicago Journal, Spring/18) oversimplifies complex issues.

The expected outcome of increased access to medical care is not to prevent the use of emergency rooms but the abuse of them. There was no discussion of whether the case mix seen among the groups is different. If there is no difference in the case mix that would be a positive change. Increased use of preventive care will not prevent emergencies from occurring. People will continue to get shot and stabbed, fall from elevation, have auto accidents, and otherwise encounter the slings and arrows to which flesh is heir. Moreover, people will encounter the same risks regardless of insurance status because they still live in the same place and have the same lifestyles as before.

The actual hope is—and there was no statement to contradict this—that visits by those few people who come into emergency rooms in true crisis that could have been prevented by a trip to the doctor’s office a few weeks before might be reduced or even eliminated. That would mean a financial savings to the health system but also the saving of lives that are unnecessarily shortened.

People who have not had access to doctors because of financial reasons are not going to suddenly acquire the habit of making an appointment to see about a cough or any of the other conditions that they have been conditioned to live with because they couldn’t afford to do anything about them. How, in such a short space of time and with no teaching or habituation, could it be expected that the newly insured and the never insured would change their habits?

Journalists and researchers in this country have substituted asking a question for asking the right question and getting an answer for getting the real answer. Have all the editors died and gone to hell?

Lonnie L. Sorrells Jr., AB’81
Brighton, Michigan

The letter writer raises a good question about the types of emergency department visits analyzed by the researchers. The authors did indeed analyze the effect of insurance on emergency department visits for different types of care and circumstances. They found that Medicaid caused bigger increases in discretionary or preventable emergency department visits than in non-preventable emergencies.—Ed.

Title trouble

The headline “Driving Up Wages” (Fig. 1, UChicago Journal) and chart labeled “Average hourly earnings, US” in the Spring/18 issue surprised me. Curious that men’s and women’s earnings would be as close as depicted, I read the article only to discover that the chart and article were about Uber drivers’ compensation, not all US workers. I’m glad to have learned that pay inequity persists even when wage rates are equitable, but was drawn into reading about it by my confusion. Please be precise when describing your charts.

Michele Beaulieux, AB’82

We agree with the letter writer and apologize for the misleading labeling.—Ed.

Jazz records

I was intrigued and perplexed by the caption on page 51 of your Spring/18 issue, which described jazz musician Hanah Jon Taylor as having been the director of the University of Chicago Jazz Ensemble in 1992.

I enrolled in a doctoral program in the fall of 1992, and I know there was no University-sponsored jazz ensemble in the 1992–93 school year, nor in 1993–94. In the fall of 1994 signs appeared announcing auditions for a new jazz ensemble. I was one of the 10 musicians selected by director Mwata Bowden for the maiden edition of what he christened the University of Chicago Jazz X-Tet (the X originally having been intended as a Roman numeral), which is still going strong under his direction decades later.

But, in my X-Tet years, I had never heard any suggestions that there had been another incarnation of a University jazz ensemble as recently as 1992; and while a number of guest artists played with the X-Tet, Taylor’s name is quite unfamiliar to me. My understanding had been that Ingrid Monson, assistant professor in the Department of Music from 1991 to 1995 and now a professor at Harvard, had been the driving force, not just in creating a jazz ensemble where none had existed previously, but also in finding a major figure from South Side Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians movement, Bowden, to lead it.

I hope you can elucidate on what role he did or didn’t play in the history of jazz performance at the University.

Rowen Bell, SM’94, MBA’05

According to a February 2, 1990, Chicago Maroon story, the University of Chicago Jazz Ensemble was a registered student organization formed that year by Josh Sinton, AB’94, with Hanah Jon Taylor as its musical director. The 25-member ensemble had its first performance on April 4, 1990, at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago.—Ed.

Looking back (to the Winter issue)

As a longtime formal and informal student of regret, I read “Looking Back” (Winter/18) with great interest. The fascinating “conversation” between Martha C. Nussbaum and Saul Levmore, excerpted from their recent book, Aging Thoughtfully: Conversations about Retirement, Romance, Wrinkles, and Regret (Oxford University Press, 2017), reminded me of many works in the large literature on regret I read as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, including Woulda/Coulda/Shoulda, by Arthur Freeman and Rose DeWolf (William Morrow, 1989), and What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking, by Neal J. Roese and James M. Olson (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995). Looking forward to more looking back with Aging Thoughtfully!

Karen Matlaw Steinberg, LAB’71, AB’75
Pacific Grove, California

The Winter/18 issue contained quite a few articles that intersected with my life. “Looking Back” struck so very many chords. My wife and I live in an age-restricted community, Sun City, Arizona. When I started at the University in 1959, my mother, Oberlin ’33, would come to some of the open HUM 101 activities. Her intellectual spirit was renewed. She applied to the School of Social Service Administration to work toward a master’s degree. Despite her Phi Beta Kappa credentials, she was told that she was too old to be admitted to a degree program, and that those slots were reserved for younger students. She could, of course, pay tuition and take courses. She did not. Sara Paretsky, AM’69, MBA’77, PhD’77, is not alone in having mixed feelings about UChicago (Glimpses, “Criminal Mastermind”).

I read “Urban Legend” (C. Vitae) and noticed a curious omission. Having joined the US Air Force while attending the University of Chicago medical school, I noted that although the text reveals that the GI Bill helped Herbert Gans, PhB’47, AM’50, complete his first two degrees, under “milestones” there was no mention of his military service.

William Sloan, SB’63, MD’67 was not only a classmate but a friend (UChicago Journal, “String Theory”).

J. Curtis Kovacs, AB’63, MD’67
Sun City, Arizona

Tale of the pile

I worked at Argonne National Laboratory in the summer of 1959. Chicago Pile-1, or what was left of it, was in a warehouse attracting little attention. It was a stack five feet high of about 25 graphite blocks, each the size of a cinder block. I could easily have touched them. Also at Argonne was CP-5, still actively used by researchers.

Norman Hilberry, PhD’41, director of Argonne, spoke at a welcoming meeting of interns like me. He was in the squash court on December 2, 1942, and sent to the grandstands with an axe. He was to cut a rope and lower a safety rod into the reactor in case things got out of hand. He was later told that if the worst had happened it would all have been over in a microsecond.

Bill Brainerd, AM’63
Media, Pennsylvania


In “Babyography” (Spring/18) we misstated the surname of a great-grandmother whose family has long used Our Baby’s First Seven Years. Her name is Pat Brend. We regret the error.

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