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Readers sound off

Readers contemplate Hong Kongʼs future, remember Laura Fermi and Hellmut Fritzsche, take a stand against puns, and more.

Hong Kong in uncertainty

A View from the Tree House of Knowledge” (Winter/19) celebrates the opening of the new campus in Hong Kong, the University’s “largest foothold in Asia.” What a foothold! From the late Bing Thom’s 44,000-square-foot academic and administrative center, students and staff can enjoy breathtaking views of the South China Sea. Proximity to the world’s largest consumer market should spur students in the executive MBA program to explore a myriad of investment opportunities. Study abroad undergraduates residing in a city imbued with the atmosphere of a former British Crown Colony are likely to be drawn to studies of colonialism.

But the hope of this reader is that our curious students will keep a wary eye on the fate of the great city. When the United Kingdom in 1997 turned control of Hong Kong over to China under the “one country, two systems” agreement, Hong Kong looked forward to maintaining an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, and British-based civil liberties. By 2017 it was anticipated that the election of the legislative council and Hong Kong chief executive would be based on near universal suffrage. Indeed, many thought that, as mainland China prospered, it would follow Hong Kong’s democratic path. 

China today is 11 times wealthier than in 1997, but since Tiananmen Square in 1989 it has squeezed Hong Kong with an evermore painful totalitarian grip. Duly elected candidates representing an independence movement have been denied seats in the legislative council. Booksellers have been spirited away to the mainland, where they have been interrogated and sometimes forced into public confessions. In the Umbrella Movement of 2014, tens of thousands of high school and college students, joined by  a broad range of other residents, shut down parts of the city for 79 days to demand free and fair elections. Chief executives CY Leung and Carrie Lam, in apparent obeisance to Beijing, suppressed the movement.

The University of Chicago has opened a new campus in a city with an uncertain present and a fearful future. Our students can learn much by living there. Readings in the Core may have given them a measure of understanding, but in observing the fall of an enterprising, free, and independent city-state, they can experience firsthand what their books call tragedy.

James “Jim” L. Wunsch, AM’68, PhD’76
New York City

Wonder women

The Winter/19 Magazine profiled two of the warmest, strongest, and most intelligent women I have ever known and provided us with photos of each. The appreciation of Soia Mentschikoff (“Legal Light”) did her justice, no small achievement given her spectacular and complex personality, and the photo of Soia is nothing short of wonderful. The story on Chicago’s history as portrayed in the rich tradition of books by and about its people (“101 Citations”) tells the remarkable story of Laura Fermi writing Atoms in the Family, just as she was adjusting to English as a second language, and gives us a photo of Mrs. Fermi that was taken when yet another of her books was published in 1961. Not mentioned was Laura Fermi’s career as a pioneer in progressive civic politics, cofounding a clean air nongovernmental organization in the 1950s and a handgun control effort in the 1970s.

Thanks for the memories.

Franklin E. Zimring, JD’67
Kensington, California

Fermi’s family

My father, Morton Grodzins, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, served as editor of the University of Chicago Press when Laura Fermi’s Atoms in the Family (1954) was published. I supply here a bit of family folklore that may supplement the note about Laura Fermi’s book in the Winter/19 issue (“101 Citations”). At that time, in the ’50s, my sister Mitchell and I were students at the Laboratory Schools, where Laura and Enrico’s daughter Nella, an artist, was teaching art and shop. 

According to my mother, Ruth Grodzins, AB’38, when Laura first came to my father’s office to discuss her book project, she introduced herself not as the wife of the great physicist but as “Nella’s mother.” I know that my father was very proud of seeing her book into print. My mother kept a leather-bound copy and an Italian version on her living room shelf for many years. Ruth and Laura became close friends, and their friendship endured long after both were widowed. Laura—way ahead of her times—involved my mother in her campaigns against air pollution and for gun control. 

When I was a returning undergraduate student and a single parent at the University in the early ’70s, we saw a lot of Laura. She was very gracious and kind to my young son, entertaining him with her magical knack for cutting out long strings of paper dolls holding hands.

Ann Grodzins Gold, LAB’63, AB’75, AM’78, PhD’84
Ithaca, New York

Wrongly omitted

Laura Demanski (AM’94) describes the Caxton Club’s Chicago by the Book (University of Chicago Press, 2018) as “surprisingly exhaustive” (“101 Citations”). A more accurate description would be “unsurprisingly white.” Out of 101 entries, only nine document African American life in Chicago. Of those nine, only six refer to writings by black authors.

This is more than an oversight. It is a fatal misrepresentation of Chicago’s history. African Americans have been woven into the city’s fabric from the very beginning. The first non-Native resident was Haitian trader Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable. So why not include his biography by historian Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum?

Where is Dempsey J. Travis’s masterful trilogy from the Urban Research Institute, Autobiography of Black Chicago (1981), Autobiography of Black Jazz (1983), and Autobiography of Black Politics (1987)? Or Travis’s biography of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor? Travis describes the breadth of Chicago’s black society, not just its poverty and pathology, and the Washington biography is as seminal a work on Chicago politics as Mike Royko’s Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago (Dutton, 1971).

The truly shocking, absolutely mind-boggling omission is the Defender, the legendary black newspaper that has chronicled black life in Chicago since 1905. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2004), “For its part in encouraging the Great Migration, voicing the discontent of blacks, and revolutionizing black journalism, the Defender stands as one of the most powerful organs of social action in America.”

Yet the Caxton Club didn’t see fit to include it. Apparently they needed more space for “Chicago: That Todd’ling Town.”

Chicago by the Book reinforces the narrative of a hardscrabble white-ethnic Chicago, where non-Europeans are distant and invisible; the Chicago of Saul Bellow, EX’39; Mike Royko; Nelson Algren; and the Daleys. That is part of the story, but it has never been the whole story. The Caxton Club’s Susan Rossen has spoken of producing a second edition; if she does, let’s hope it offers a true reflection of the city, not a work of nostalgia for an all-white Chicago that never existed.

Lesley A. Williams, LAB’78
Evanston, Illinois

The art of second acts

When What You Do Is No Longer Who You Are” (Glimpses, Winter/19) is timely, but I wish there had been one more strategy for retirement. In my experience, starting a second career before retirement is a lifesaver.

I had a 30-year career as a sociologist, but three years before I retired something powerful kicked in, and I started taking classes in bronze casting and welding at a foundry in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Not long after that my work began to sell at a gallery in Key West, Florida, and now in the Berkshires. My recent work includes a bust of W. E. B. DuBois for his sesquicentennial celebration in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

My guess is that a lot of U of C graduates can relate to this because the atmosphere of the College was hardly one dimensional!

Michel Paul Richard, AB’51, AM’55
New Marlborough, Massachusetts

Inspiring alumni

You know a magazine is good when your spouse sees it in your hands and quips, “You’re back in that UChicago Magazine again, aren’t you?” This from the guy who owns more than 50,000 vinyl records and, upon being asked if he ever heard of Rounder Records (“True to His Roots,” Winter/19), replied, “Yes, indeedly do! What do you know about Rounder Records?” I told him about Bill Nowlin, AM’69, who quickly made it into my American Civilization since 1865 course lecture on the Great Depression last week. It was wonderful to learn that Nowlin’s program permitted him to make comparisons between the Poor People’s Campaign and the 1932 march on Washington by World War I vets after he dropped out of school to become an activist.

I also enjoyed your story on American truckers (“The Open Road,” Winter/19). We live near a truck stop and spend a lot of time on the interstate between our home and Birmingham, Alabama. I am increasingly curious about who all is out there on the road with me, with all of the accidents owing to cell phone use. I drove alone across this country twice early this century. I was in my early 30s and fearless then. But I also learned how to stay behind a good truck driver and discovered that some of them actually notice motorists who acknowledge their presence for hundreds of miles (e.g., moving over to let them back in or out to ease the flow of traffic). I appreciated learning more about the demographic changes. My hat’s off to Anne Balay, AB’86, AM’88, PhD’94, for her courage and smarts.

Sharony Green, AM’08
Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Pun-free zone?

This may be a losing battle, but I really wonder if the new-thought-to-be-witty headers for articles (“Goal Digger” particularly offends, but “Legal Light” is another one; Winter/19) are something your readers actually enjoy or something they (as with me) have to endure. I have noticed this creep in the Magazine but also in the New Yorker. Interestingly, the New York Review of Books hasn’t drunk this particular Kool-Aid. Any chance of standing with them?

There were comments about the Magazine’s refreshed design. I’m not against it, but it does seem to be accompanied by a briefer, punched-up quality to the content. This could be just in my paranoid oldster imagination. Hoping to be on the quads for my 50th reunion in June. 

Amey S. Miller, AB’70
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

To the writer’s allegation of sometimes dubious pun-ditry, we plead guilty as charged and will try to set the bar high when flirting with punny headlines. Regarding the effect of the Magazine’s recent design refresh on editorial content, the writer is correct that we are balancing the Magazines longer features with shorter pieces, in response to reader feedback, but we have no intention of abandoning the former.—Ed.

Who’s that girl?

While I was in Chicago getting my master’s, I saw a production of Miss Julie with Ed Asner, EX’48, but I am not sure who played Julie in that production. It might have been Elaine May. The group was then called Compass Players, or perhaps it was already Second City. [See “101 Citations,” Winter/19.—Ed.] Can someone tell me who played opposite Asner? 

Annice M. Alt, AM’54
Southern Pines, North Carolina

In the production of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie staged by the Playwrights Theatre Club, the predecessor to the Compass Players, it was Zohra Lampert, AB’52, who played the title role. Elaine May was the show’s director. Members of the Compass Players, who debuted under that name in 1955, helped form the Second City in 1959.—Ed.

Organizer extraordinaire

Thank you for the outstanding feature on Heather Booth, AB’67, AM’70 (“Organizing Principle,” the Core, Winter/19). 

Heather and her husband, Paul, were both major influences during the campus anti-war movement of 1965–70, Heather having brought her super credentials as a civil rights activist and organizer. Paul, of course, as a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society, had amazing political skills. 

Jerald B. Lipsch, AB’68
Elgin, Illinois

Correcting the record

In the otherwise wonderful article on my life in organizing in a recent issue of the Core, the credit line for the picture of me on a picket line in Mississippi did not acknowledge Wally Roberts as the photographer. It was credited to me.

Wally recently died, and I am hoping full credit will be given to his work. He was also the head of the Freedom Summer project on which I worked that summer.

Thank you for considering this request and recognizing the important contribution that Wally made.

Heather Tobis Booth, AB’67, AM’70
Washington, DC

We regret the omission and thank Booth and Jerald Lipsch for providing the correct photography credit.—Ed.

Heather Booth on a picket line in Mississippi in 1964

Booth on a 1964 picket line in Shaw, Mississippi, in support of voter registration. Soon after this photo was taken, she was arrested for the first time. (Photography by Wallace I. Roberts, courtesy the Roberts Family)

Dog-given talent

My wife and I were amazed and amused to see your article on Cora the “soccer dog” (“2019 World Pup,” the Core, Winter/19). 

It turns out that Cora has a Spanish counterpart (twin?) who lives in my childhood town of Palacios de la Sierra, Burgos, Spain. She loves to play soccer in the town plaza with the kids, and we photographed her last summer heading the ball and cooling off in the fountain between games.

Eugene “Gene” C. Somoza, SB’61
Cincinnati, Ohio

Relatively speaking

I read with pleasure “Ethics Class” by Ted Cohen, AB’62 (the Core, Winter/19), with whom I studied aesthetics. The character Max reminded me of Cohen in some ways. His love-hate relationship with the Germans, for example. Cohen taught us to respect Kant—I’ve now been teaching Kant for more than 30 years—but not to revere him. I remember him quoting the last line of the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (“While we do not comprehend the practical unconditional necessity of the moral imperative, we yet comprehend its incomprehensibility”) and adding, after a pause, “This is the beginning of the German madness.” 

I remember hearing a story very much like the interchange with the diehard relativist student. I can’t remember where, but it could well have been in Cohen’s class. I’ve been telling it ever since. It goes to show that one can’t consistently be a relativist in the first person.

Michael W. Howard, AB’74
Bangor, Maine

A mentor remembered

I was saddened to read that Hellmut Fritzsche, the Louis Block Professor Emeritus in Physics, recently passed away (Deaths, Summer/18). In 1983 Fritzsche was chair of the physics department, and at the beginning of my fourth year, I made an appointment with him to ask his advice on physics graduate schools. I found him in his office, smoking a pipe, and he proceeded to go through a list of prestigious schools, first extolling their good points in his German accent, then taking a long drag on his pipe, and finally giving me their negative aspects. At the end of his list, he came to Stanford. He suddenly got a twinkle in his eye and said, “Stanford—you have the beautiful campus, the beautiful weather, the beautiful women.” He paused and inhaled deeply from his pipe while I waited to hear the downside. Then he added, “You can’t go wrong.”

As it turns out, I did go to Stanford and got my PhD in applied physics. And though I don’t think Dr. Fritzsche’s advice influenced me very much, I did in fact meet my wife there. I have had a long and varied career, very little of it in physics. But now that my children, including Adam Gruenbaum, AB’18, have grown, I am taking the time to make a career change and bring physics back into my work, and appreciating all the faculty who helped me along the way.

Peter E. Gruenbaum, AB’84 
Seattle, Washington

Both sides now

Until Barack Obama was in office, I was a proud alum of the U of C. Now I don’t let it be known until I first know someone understands I am a capitalist and very opposed to government takeovers of anything except our defense and critical infrastructure.

I send this note only to suggest there are many of us out here like this. At this time, Chicago Booth economics professor Austan Goolsbee is probably your most well-known spokesman. Until he or your university’s major spokesmen start to make sense to conservatives, it is likely you will see little (or very reduced) support from people like me. 

I’m not against U of C. I just can’t spend either my time or money supporting you until you return to a path more consistent with Milton Friedman, AM’33, and the other greats from the university I attended.

Michael J. Sanders, MBA’74
Lenexa, Kansas

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, clarity, and civility. To provide a range of views and voices, we encourage letter writers to limit themselves to 300 words or fewer. Write: Editor, The University of Chicago Magazine, 5235 South Harper Court, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60615. Or email: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.