Letter slot

(Photography by Samantha Chapnick [CC BY-ND 2.0])

Readers sound off

Letter writers address the risks that come with every medication, affirm the ongoing relevance of public trust doctrine, dive into Promontory Point memories, and more.

As a rheumatologist, I read with dismay Jason Kelly’s statement that “hydroxychloroquine is well understood and known to be safe when used, as it has been for decades, to treat malaria” (“Trials by Fire,” Summer/20). No drug is “safe.” All medications have side effects, and in order to be approved by the FDA the benefit in a given condition has to outweigh the risks (a positive benefit to risk ratio).

The package insert for hydroxychloroquine notes the potential for fatal cardiac events, muscle or nerve damage leading to “weakness and atrophy of proximal muscle groups,” the potential for suicidal behavior, and severe low blood sugar “including loss of consciousness that could be life-threatening.” In addition, most malaria is now resistant to hydroxychloroquine; the Centers for Disease Control notes that “there are only a few places left in the world where hydroxychloroquine is still effective including parts of Central America and the Caribbean.”

My patients often tell me they don’t want to take a drug because “it has side effects.” I try to explain to them that all drugs have side effects, and we have to find the one that has the most benefit balanced against manageable side effects. Statements like Kelly’s only serve to reinforce incorrect perceptions about medications.

Victor S. Sloan, AB’80
Flemington, New Jersey

Of precedents and parks

The University of Chicago has produced unending numbers of distinguished graduates in virtually every field of intellectual pursuit. “Precedent Setting” by Jeanie Chung (Summer/20), about the life work and accomplishments of Joseph Sax, JD’59, in environmental law, honors the genius and the indomitable spirit of such a man.

He graduated from the Law School two years after me. I never had the opportunity to meet him personally, but his great achievement in giving life and meaning and legal effect to the doctrine of public trust in natural resources law has been the foundation of all my efforts in the not-for-profit 501(c)(3) Protect Our Parks, which by chance is presently involved, and using the Sax public trust doctrine, in a lawsuit to protect historic Jackson Park from the efforts to build a private 235-foot-high, 23-story tower in the 127-year-old world-famous creation of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the designers of New York’s Central Park.

“Chicago” is the name used by the Potawatomi who lived here to describe the location where non-Indigenous settlers first arrived and developed the land. It means “stinking weed,” and it has taken hundreds of years of untiring public park creation and protection to change that into urbs in horto, city in a garden.

Descartes wrote, “Cogito, ergo sum.” Sax wrote, “When a state holds a resource which is available for the free use of the general public, a court will look with considerable skepticism upon any government conduct which is calculated either to reallocate that resource to more restricted uses or to subject public uses to the self-interest of private parties.” The Magazine article goes on to comment, “Today the public trust doctrine has been applied in hundreds of federal and state decisions and adopted in 10 countries outside of the United States.”

We shall soon see whether Sax and public trust are honored in the place that nurtured his thinking and inspired his great “precedent setting.”

Herbert L. Caplan, AB’52, JD’57

Carnegie’s philosophic muse

The illustrations of philosophers accompanying “Situational Ethics” (Summer/20) includes Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie (1835–1919) made his fortune investing in the steel industry and then became a major philanthropist, giving millions to charities, foundations, and universities.

But the philosopher behind Carnegie was Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), whom Carnegie admired and promoted, writing that the world “will waken some day to [his] teachings and decree Spencer’s place with the greatest.” Early American economists and sociologists taught Spencer’s Social Statics and The Data of Ethics to justify laissez-faire capitalism.

Spencer coined the term “survival of the fittest” before Charles Darwin co-opted it. Spencer argued that free competition was part of natural law and that industrial society is held together by voluntary contractual relations and by a strong common morality. But who reads Spencer today or includes him among situational ethicists?

Harry Perlstadt, AM’66, PhD’73
Raleigh, North Carolina

John Paul Rollert, AM’09, PhD’17, responds: In my Chicago Booth class Ethics of Business, we read Andrew Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth,” an essay first published in the North American Review in 1889. As Mr. Perlstadt notes, Carnegie was an avowed disciple of Herbert Spencer, whose wisdom he cites in the essay’s most famous broadside against almsgiving: “It were better for mankind that the millions of the rich were thrown in to the sea than so spent as to encourage the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy.” Thus, for better or worse, in spirit at least, Herbert Spencer still haunts University of Chicago students today.

Bilingual advantage

Jillian Kramer’s article “Talk Is Deep” (Summer/20), about psychology professor Katherine Kinzler’s language research with babies and young children, brought back memories of my own bilingual upbringing. I grew up speaking German and English. Kinzler’s research, Kramer writes, “has shown that children who are exposed to linguistic diversity at an early age, or raised in a multilingual environment, are better at listening to and understanding the perspectives of others than children who are not exposed to another language.”

My bilingual upbringing gave me an appreciation of different cultures, which I’m convinced continues through adulthood. I also feel that a multilingual background draws one to people who have a similar background. I have friends who have grown up with one language, but I would venture to say that growing up speaking more than one language increases the probability that your circle of friends also grew up bi- or multilingually.

My husband is from the Netherlands, and I decided to learn to speak Dutch before we got married, because I felt it would help avoid possible misunderstandings. The fact that I can speak Dutch has helped me understand my husband better. I’m certainly not implying that we would no longer be married if I had not learned the language! However, I am convinced I would have misinterpreted things, and would have gotten upset by something he said, but didn’t mean, if I couldn’t speak Dutch.

For me, multilingualism in the context of Kinzler’s research is not about agreeing with everything someone from a different linguistic background says and thinks, but it is about the ability to listen to and be open to another perspective.

Should Kinzler want to conduct research with adults, then I am very happy to participate!

Jacqueline Klaiss Brons, MBA’94
Bern, Switzerland

Ahead of his time

The picture of the career advising bulletin board (Alumni News, Winter/20) triggered a memory of a bulletin board at UChicago that played an important role in my life and career. It was the enormous one in the Social Science Research Building, which was always filled with announcements of visiting lecturers (J. Robert Oppenheimer was one I saw); films (there were five film clubs at the time—I first saw The Birth of a Nation then); and events and educational opportunities of all kinds. To me, that bulletin board was a symbol of the vibrancy of UChicago, and I would check it at least once a week.

At the time (spring 1949), I was finishing up my AM in history and wanted to go for my doctorate. Much as I loved Chicago, it lacked two things I wanted: (1) a much broader background in the social sciences, and (2) evaluated teaching experience at the college level. But then, every other graduate school I examined had the same gaps. “Know more and more about less and less” and “If you know your subject, you can teach it” were the mantras of the day. What was I to do?

And then—wonder of wonders—there appeared on the bulletin board an announcement of an integrated social science program with guaranteed college teaching experience, the only such program at the time. And so, off I went to the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, ending up with a doctorate, three years of evaluated teaching experience, and 40 years of university teaching and administration. Thanks, U of C.

(I’ll be 99 on March 30. I don’t believe it myself.)

Harold Lieberman, AM’49
St. Cloud, Minnesota

Remembering Frank Ellsworth

It saddened me to read of the death of Frank Ellsworth, PhD’76 (Deaths, Winter/20). Some professors leave an indelible mark on their students. Frank Ellsworth played a strong role in that formidable freshman year of mine at the U of C.

I arrived on campus in the fall of 1977 feeling apprehensive and questioning if my high school had prepared me for the rigors of the University of Chicago curriculum. Mr. Ellsworth taught my social science class, Political Order and Change. We read, discussed, and debated the political philosophies of Plato, Karl Marx, Alexis de Tocqueville, and others. Mr. Ellsworth captivated my interest in the material. He helped us interpret and formulate our ideas on these diverse authors.

I found term papers particularly challenging. In grading each paper, Mr. Ellsworth offered constructive criticism but always with words of encouragement. If he felt I was capable of something better, then perhaps I was. I gradually realized that I could perform in this academic institution.

The extra interest that Mr. Ellsworth took in his students was best manifested by his sherry hours. Often, if we needed extra time to understand the concepts, Mr. Ellsworth would reserve a room at the Law School in the evening, supply sherry, and invite us to join in a discussion of the text. Whether it was the informal setting, the effects of the sherry, or his friendly approach to teaching, we all were less intimidated to express our thoughts. I learned a lot from these discussions. After two quarters of Frank Ellsworth’s classes, I not only had a greater appreciation of the complexities of society but also learned to argue logically and concisely. These skills would serve me in future courses.

Gary Gagliardi, AB’81
Greenwood, Indiana

A football classic

Bernard Wax’s (AB’50, AM’55) letter and Philosophy Bowl article reminded me of my participation in that event (Letters, Spring/20). I played left end on the Aristotelian team and caught one of the three passes mentioned in the article. I was quickly tackled by my roommate Bernard Wax, the defensive back for the Platonists. Our dormitory floor, the fourth in Coulter House of Burton-Judson, was a close-knit group. We held a well-attended reunion for several years after graduation, and I am still in close contact with Bernie and Art Aronson, AB’50.

The game was covered by the Chicago Tribune, which took every opportunity to comment on University chancellor Robert Maynard Hutchins.

Gerald H. Brody, AB’51
Framingham, Massachusetts

To the Point

In the early 1970s I lived on 55th Street, just two blocks from the Point, while attending graduate school. The Point was a magnet for meeting people, relaxing, and swimming off the rocks (Alumni News, Summer/20). I regularly swam from the Point to the seawall at 57th Street and back again. It was then I learned that my slim body could not tolerate water temperatures below 63 degrees.

Sometimes English Channel swimmers would come to the Point to train. They would swim from the Point to the Michigan shore and back again. Amazing. I seem to remember there used to be an abandoned underground antiballistic missile silo on the grounds. Once I witnessed the Chicago shore patrol pluck a young couple from their sailboat just as it sank due to a storm.

I also witnessed a man steal some money from a woman’s purse as she was sunbathing. I shouted, “Hey!” and he slipped away. I told the woman what I saw, and she checked her purse. She said she was missing $20. I asked if she wanted to call the police. She said yes. The police came, and we spotted the thief soon after. He had just been released from the clink and went back in for 90 days.

You never knew what to expect at the Point, but it was a great place to hang out.

Larry Gordon, AM’71
Greenville, South Carolina

A Point in time

Your note asking for comments about what we called simply “The Point” evoked fond memories of my years spent in graduate school (1968–75) and swimming off the rocks at Promontory Point. On a one-mile round-trip lap that ran from the rocks on the Point to the corner of the steel pier at the south end of the 57th Street beach, marathon swimmers from the University and elsewhere trained from March through November.

Among the University-related group of swimmers were faculty from the psychology department and graduate students from economics, the business school, and the physics department. At least four English Channel swimmers were included with those who swam with us U of C faculty and students.

Perhaps most notable among the U of C group were the number of “leftovers” of families from the Manhattan Project who were still living in Hyde Park. Just counting Nobel laureates’ offspring, these included Eugene Wigner’s daughter, James Franck’s grandson, and Paul Dirac’s niece. Other notables included John von Neumann’s brother, who sometimes came by for a brief swim, and once Laura Fermi, Enrico’s wife, joined us for a dip off the rocks on the south side of the Point.

The group of marathoners was led by Hyde Parkers Ted Erikson and his son Jon, both of whom held records for English Channel swimming. My training with the group led to my successful crossing of the channel with the fastest time of the year and my winning the “1970 Channel Swimmer of the Year” award. The 50th anniversary of my swim coincided with my receipt of the Summer/20 issue of the University of Chicago Magazine.

Michael A. Paesler, SM’70, PhD’76
Cary, North Carolina

Ice cream dreams

It’s no wonder that the Medici is still around, because it had some of the best food in Hyde Park when I was a student in the ’60s (Alumni News, Summer/20). Because good food and good books always were, and still are, two of my favorite things, the Medici was a perfect place for me.

What I remember best is that I loved the combo of a scoop of very good vanilla and a scoop of very good chocolate ice cream, proof that the adolescent is mother of the woman. While the Medici was then known for its excellent burgers, I still preferred ice cream to them.

Of course, nothing was as good as the scrumptious Valas vanilla ice cream (from the Co-op on 55th Street) with thick chocolate fudge and pecans, packaged in the colorful container that was almost as delightful as the ice cream. But that’s another story.

Sharon Kapnick, AB’69
New York City

Hyde Park is burning

I was at the Law School in the late 1980s and frequently ate at Medici, as I lived on Blackstone Avenue and loved the place. For a while the older 57th Street location was closed while the new location was completed. I suffered for a few months without their terrific pizzas.

I was in within a few days of the new location’s opening and sat happily reading a paper while I waited. I didn’t notice that smart table candles had been added. Within seconds, my New York Times burst into flames. The staff and I stomped the flames out, pizza was served, and the Medici survives to this day. But it could have been so different.

Sean Carney, JD’90

A fresh page

By the way, O’Gara’s Bookstore, formerly of Hyde Park, can currently be found in Chesterton, Indiana, as O’Gara & Wilson Ltd. Antiquarian Booksellers (Letters, Summer/20). I visited in 2013, after it first opened in Chesterton (just an hour’s drive from Chicago), and it remains as wonderful as it was in Hyde Park.

Mike Kearns, MBA’75

Creative non-violence corrections

Edward Comer’s (AB’71) letter (Summer/20) mentions a Committee for Creative Non-Violence. He was probably referring to Students for Violent Non-Action, which was active on campus around 1970.

William Green, LAB’70
Beloit, Wisconsin

A letter in your Summer/20 issue referred to a Committee for Creative Non-Violence, and the editor’s note indicated the Magazine found no record of such a group. Perhaps the letter writer was thinking of SVNA, or Students for Violent Non-Action, which entertained us in the late ’60s and early ’70s with amusements such as spiked punch ladled out on the quads from 20- or 30-gallon metal garbage cans.

Alice D. Leiner, AB’74

The reason you can find no record of the Committee for Creative Non-Violence is that it didn’t exist; I presume Edward Comer, AB’71, was misremembering SVNA, Students for Violent Non-Action, a sort of floating performance art project that lasted for perhaps three years, 1969 through ’72.

Kelly Kleiman, AB’75, JD’79

I’ve just received my copy of the Magazine and read it with great interest. I do need to correct one historical fact, though. While I am fully in agreement with creative non-violence, there (as far as I know) has never been a student (dis)organization by that name. Alas, the sands of time have a way of wearing off the interesting rough edges of the moment. What you’re actually referring to was Students for Violent Non-Action, which, in turn, spawned (Sired? What’s the right word these days?) the Lascivious Arts Ball (not the Lascivious Costume Ball, which in its way sounds less ambiguous and threatening). Just to set the record (more or less) straight.

Steve Simmons, AB’72, PhD’95
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

There was no giant kazoo in evidence in autumn 1971 when we of Upper Rickert House, then in Woodward Court (later demolished to make way for Chicago Booth), showed up with our normal-sized kazoos to cheer for—well, buzz at—the Maroons’ first football game of the season. We thought we were the first. Thanks to other writers for putting our happily noisy afternoon in perspective (Letters, Summer/20).

The editors could find no record of the Committee for Creative Non-Violence because it was actually SVNA (Students for Violent Non-Action).

Basically that period’s instigator of campus hijinks, SVNA may have been best known to our class for its O-Week or first-week bash between Woodward Court and Ida Noyes. Returning students warned/promised us that SVNA punch would be flowing freely. Finding myself standing near a full-sized plastic garbage can, I soon learned the recipe for that potion as I watched a batch being assembled: a few dozen bottles of Everclear (180 proof, or near enough), almost as much of an off-brand variant of Hawaiian Punch, enough of some cheap brand of clear soda pop to make the concoction fizz, and a few half-gallon cartons of the cheap sherbet then available from Walgreen’s.

This glop was stirred with something immense—a canoe paddle? a shovel?—before the mixologists scooped it out into large paper cups and passed it out to everyone in sight. “Passed out” also fairly describes the condition of the several partiers who couldn’t get enough of the stuff.

Joan Pederson, EX’75

Strawberry statement

You have been in the city too long. No one has yet come up with a strawberry like the wild strawberry (“Strawberry Yields,” Winter/20). Mostly about the size of a small fingernail, the wild strawberry is a morsel of unrivaled sweetness.

Margaret Brenneman, AM’64
Sheridan, Wyoming

The tutor period

I wanted to write you a letter about SWAP, the Student Woodlawn Area Project (Alumni News, Spring/20). I was the only U-High student involved in the tutoring project (1964–66 were my years). I tutored grade-schoolers in the Oakland neighborhood, and I even appeared in photographs published by Ebony and the Chicago Defender in their articles on SWAP.

Ann Landers came to visit us one day. Ann Cook, AM’66, and Herbie Mack, AB’59, MAT’66, both came to my U-high graduation in 1966.

I have a button that SWAP produced: Pergite pergere (“Keep on pushin’” in Latin). I couldn’t find my physical button, but the image is up on the web. (Hooray for technology!)

That office in Ida Noyes was my refuge, as it was for my friends from various South Side high schools.

Victor A. Friedman, LAB’66, AM’71, PhD’75, Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Humanities

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. While the Magazine staff works remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, please send letters via email: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.