Readers weigh in on Chandra encounters, Medici meals, misinformation, and more.
Chandra close encounters
The tribute to Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar in the Winter/23 Magazine (“It Was Written in the Stars”) brings to mind a memorable encounter I had with Chandra. He occupied one of the four corner offices on the upper floor of the original Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research. The others were occupied by Eugene Parker, Peter Meyer, and John Simpson.
What a quartet! Simpson and Meyer were experimental physicists at the dawn of the space age, probing the atmosphere and beyond. Chandra and Parker, both pioneering theoretical physicists, have space vehicles named after them: the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Parker Solar Probe. Chandra predicted black holes; Parker predicted the solar wind.
Simpson gave me a part-time job as a first-year student helping Edward Stone, SM’59, PhD’64, who became the project scientist for the Voyager probes and director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (Marty Israel, SB’62, introduced me to Simpson.)
Leaving for home one day, I found Chandra standing beside his new Oldsmobile looking vexed. The battery was dead, again. I offered him a ride. He gladly accepted. He lived at the recently built luxury apartment complex at 4800 South Lake Shore Drive with commanding views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, an in-house grocery store, and a doorman. My car, the first I owned, was a 1953 Ford just purchased for $20 from J. J. O’Gallagher, SM’62, PhD’67, a doctoral student of Simpson’s. The car looked pretty decrepit. We pulled up to the entryway at 4800 and the doorman wrinkled his nose. But he opened the passenger door and did a double take upon recognizing Chandra. “Oh, good evening, Doctor,” he intoned as he held the door open. Chandra, ever the complete gentleman, came by my lab desk the next day to say thank you.
Roger Taft, SB’65, SM’68
Laguna Beach, California
Congratulations on livening and brightening up an always great magazine. Really enjoying this issue (Winter/23) as I page through the articles between cleanup tasks from Hurricane Ian (I live in the epicenter of the hurricane’s damage).
I worked at the U of C Press in the book division’s design department, starting with a May Project internship in my senior year of high school and then part time the following year (my gap year). I then worked for three years in the journals division’s design department.
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar lived in the same building as my parents (5825 South Dorchester Avenue) for several years starting in the mid-1970s. He was a lovely gentleman, and one of three Nobelists in that building at the time, the others being Milton Friedman, AM’33 (pleasant), and Saul Bellow, EX’39 (taciturn).
Janet Gottlieb Sailian, LAB’70
Fort Myers Beach, Florida
Deobfuscating the obvious
A key aspect of the wonderful article about Professor Douglas W. Diamond’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics (“A Cut Above,” Winter/23) is the point that the subject matter he won for—that is, transforming “the way we think about banking”—is written in such a way that “the average central banker who is not an economic theorist can understand it.” One might even say that in the best sense, that involves describing some activities and behaviors that sound almost obvious when understood. And that is the true genius of it.
In that sense, Diamond follows in the traditions set by UChicagoans Milton Friedman, AM’33, with his statement of the permanent income hypothesis, and George Stigler, PhD’38, with his development of the survivor technique. Both were absolute geniuses at looking at a complex economic phenomenon and explaining it to the real world in such a way that it had a sort of obviousness to it. But that, of course, was only after they had explained it.
So congratulations to Professor Diamond, and let us use his example to remember how long this kind of thinking has distinguished economics at Chicago.
Richard West, MBA’63, PhD’64
Your article covering the Illinois statute on the availability of high school courses covering “misinformation” was devoid of any examples of instances of “misinformation” that would be covered in such a course (“Critical Consumers,” Winter/23). This is presumably because the authors knew that they could maintain at least a pretense of legitimacy as long as they remained completely abstract, which would disappear as soon as they started listing such instances. These would predictably list very questionable items from the right and ignore the lengthening list of blatant items from the left. The U of C has enjoyed a reputation for integrity at least a little bit above the low standard set by other universities.
Unfortunately, this reputation was undermined by last year’s conference on “disinformation.” [In April 2022, the University’s nonpartisan Institute of Politics and the Atlantic hosted the conference “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy” to explore the spread of disinformation and strategies to respond to it.—Ed.] The barefaced dishonesty of this conference did not go unnoticed in the real world: as noted by one acute observer, given the participants, it was like asking Bonnie and Clyde about how to reduce bank robberies. Everyone realizes, whether they admit it or not, that the misinformation campaign is a cover for censorship.
Douglas Wood, MBA’75
Back to basics
Illinois has a new “media literacy law” that seems to unnecessarily complicate things, as usual. How about a simple and basic class called Critical Thinking, or would that just be too simple?
Lee Stensaker, MBA’79
An education in action
I received my master’s in English language and literature in 1997. Professor Kenneth Warren taught one of my classes, and in it I read a work by Pauline Hopkins called Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self. This work, in addition to other American realist authors I read in undergraduate school, helped me to envision the common person as a hero worth being inspired by.
I got the latest University of Chicago Magazine and read the piece by Laura Demanski, AM’94, on Professor Warren’s keynote speech for Humanities Day (“Humanities Day, Recapped,” Winter/23). I love the sentence “Writers in the realist tradition … have aspired to a ‘super vision’ describing life at all levels of society and the connections between levels.”
As I reflect on my career trajectory, I can see the impact that my studies of English literature have had on my worldview. Like the realist authors, I exalt the common person to the level of hero, because I recognize the sacrifices worker bees make to contribute to society in making sure needs, wishes, and wants get met for other common people, who also, in turn, help make the society run.
This worldview brings me joy as I serve the community patrons at our public library. And, just as I did in my papers, drawing connections between sections of a text, or between texts, I draw connections between people and the ways they can help one another.
Never before in my life have I seen how my academic studies informed and shaped my professional career. I thank the University and Professor Warren for an exceptional education.
Dina (Mannino) Schuldner, AM’97
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Bob Levey’s (AB’66) essay (“Called to the Game,” Alumni Essay, Winter/23) reminded me of the few occasions when I, as a fellow bridge player, came across Bob in local club matches in the northern Virginia area. I already knew who Bob was from his column in the Washington Post (Bob Levey’s Washington) but hadn’t realized he was a champion-caliber bridge player as well.
It didn’t take long, however, for me to appreciate the skill with which he and his partner of the day played the game. From then on, I was always on my guard when I met the Levey partnership at the bridge table, not that that shielded my partner and me from their tactical skills. It’s quite possible, too, that I exhibited certain “tells” that I didn’t even know I had. No wonder he’s attained a level that I can only aspire to.
Everything Bob reported about the status of the game—declining numbers of players, online bridge replacing club bridge, etc.—has been my experience too. But competitive bridge remains one of the great pleasures of life, particularly as one grows older, has more time, and can still aspire to improving one’s skills. And there’s one thing going for me if I come across Bob in online bridge: there are no visual tells there.
Michael Canes, SB’63, MBA’65
I was impressed with Bob Levey’s achievements at the bridge table. Like his, my bridge life began at the University of Chicago. Perhaps I played more than he did at the U of C. At my 50th reunion a former classmate told my wife that I played bridge for three years instead of attending class, a gross exaggeration. In any case, after graduation my bridge career differed from Mr. Levey’s. His accumulation of over 10,000 master points is indeed impressive. After 60 years of competition, I am now approaching my first 1,000 points. But my regular partner at the U of C had a record comparable to his. The late Monroe Ingberman, AB’54, SM’61, was also a national champion and several times a regional champion.
Mr. Levey notes that his bidding system includes 47 “conventions.” I am sure that one of those 47 was devised by Monroe and called “Ingberman,” which assures that his name is among the best known by bridge addicts. Even in his early days Monroe was devising new conventions and bidding systems.
I remember trying out one of his systems at a local Hyde Park bridge club. As Mr. Levey notes, it is legal to use such private systems, but it is required that when such a bid is used the opponents must be alerted to its meaning. I was new to competitive bridge and was unaware of this requirement. At the end of the game, the club’s director told us that we should not plan on returning.
When a Texas billionaire decided to put together a professional team to compete for international championships, he hired Monroe to coach the team (the Dallas Aces), which won several world championships. I agree with Mr. Levey that bridge is not all mathematics, but Monroe did become a mathematician and taught at New York University.
Paul Horvitz, AB’54
While the request to recollect standard Medici orders is appreciated, the responses will be temporally eclectic owing to the long and colorful history of the brand (“Rye2K,” Snapshots, Winter/23).
I first visited the Medici when visiting Hyde Park as an applicant to the College in the fall of 1970; a first-year student and I “dined” in the old coffee shop (I think there were only six tables) located behind the Green Door Bookstore on the north side at the far end of 57th Street, just before reaching the Illinois Central tracks.
Soon thereafter—either just prior to or just after my matriculation in the fall of 1971—the bookstore closed, and the Medici became more of a restaurant. Since Burton Judson’s dining plan did not serve dinner on Sunday nights, and since there was no such thing as a food delivery service in those days, it was not uncommon for a pickup group from B-J to make the trek, irrespective of the often-inclement winter weather.
The best Medici dinners were, of course, those with the woman I would later marry (Barbara Ann Zehnbauer, SM’77, PhD’79). Our standard order: a Garbage Pizza, followed by a dessert called Vaguely Reminiscent. The latter—a delightful frozen coffee mousse in a chocolate cookie crumb crust—fortified us for the walk home.
Timothy G. Buchman, SB’74, SM’74, PhD’78, MD’80
I went to the U of C to get my MFA in painting, studying in the Committee on Visual Arts (COVA, now the Department of Visual Arts, DOVA) as a mom, dragging along two school-age children and an early telecommuting husband. We drove from Anchorage, Alaska, four times with two cats and a dog. Our son Nicholas Bundy, AB’96, had graduated from the University a few years earlier. We lived in the grad dorms where the children’s hospital now resides. We ate pizza and burgers at the Medici at least once a week. We loved sitting in the balcony eating jalapeño poppers. Husband David and I returned in February 2020, a few weeks before COVID hit, and had a burger for lunch—alas, poppers were off the menu.
Jean Bundy, MFA’02
The best bills
The cover of the Fall/22 University of Chicago Magazine, featuring the Cobb billboard, reminded me of one of the best UChicago lectures I ever heard, maybe the best ever. I have applied it and referred to it many times in my long life. It is super accurate.
Morton Grodzins was the lecturer. His lecture, as I recall it, was not part of a course but a stand-alone event. The subject was how to tell if a university is any good. After discarding several tests, Grodzins hit the ball out of the park, so to speak, with the billboard test. Of course, the University of Chicago’s billboards scored highest, and Cobb’s billboard the very highest.
Some universities have no billboards at all. They are always among the worst.
William Josephson, AB’52
New York City
John W. Boyeriana
I’ve never met Dean John W. Boyer, AM’69, PhD’75, though I’ve always enjoyed reading his monographs on College history (“Pipe Dream,” Snapshots, Fall/22). I do, however, have one story that indirectly connects me to him. In 2004, when my son was visiting colleges, we toured the University of Rochester and chatted with a dean (whose name I can’t recall). I mentioned in the course of the conversation that I had graduated from UChicago, and the dean told me that Boyer had sent his daughters to the University of Rochester. That information caught my attention and made me even more favorably disposed to Rochester as a promising option for my son. I doubt the connection to Dean Boyer impressed my son, but he did end up enrolling there and had a very positive experience as a linguistics major, which put him on the path to his current career as a successful computational linguist.
Ilene Kantrov, AB’70
In the rainy summer of 1980, we gathered around the great table in a Harper seminar room and John W. Boyer took us through the Greeks to the ancien régime. It may have been one of his early assignments; he was given only two sections, the third being taught by a Marxist fellow who took us through the revolutions. Professor Boyer was methodical and composed, sitting placidly at the great table. The Marxist paced around and sat on the table, smoking. I have been forever grateful to have been at the great table with Boyer and carry today a fascination with and love for history.
Mark Breithaupt, AB’80
Social sciences dean Amanda Woodward recently announced the creation of the Committee on Environment, Geography, and Urbanization (CEGU), a program with more than 30 associated faculty, extensive undergraduate course offerings, and the promise of a CEGU doctoral certificate. This is a solid step toward recapturing what the University once enjoyed.
UChicago established the nation’s first geography department with graduate studies in 1902–03. Rosenwald Hall was completed in 1915 for the department, as the faces and names on the building attest. Initially the faculty were the famous geologist Rollin Salisbury and the geographer John Paul Goode. Goode was a leader in cartographic research and developed the interrupted Goode homolosine projection, used today as—unlike the Mercator projection—it does not distort sizes. Goode’s student Henry Leppard, PhD’28, became part of the University’s faculty and created the educational Goode’s World Atlas, still published by Rand McNally.
The department continued to develop and expand the discipline of geographic research. In the 1960s the faculty was an outstanding collection of pioneers: Gilbert White, LAB’28, SB’32, SM’34, PhD’42, flood plain management; Wesley Calef, PhD’48, geomorphology; Norton Ginsburg, AB’41, AM’47, PhD’49, Asian cultural geography; Chauncy Harris, PhD’40, Russian cultural geography; Harold Mayer, PhD’43, urban geography; Marvin Mikesell, cultural geography; and Brian Berry, statistical modeling and analysis. It was regarded as one of the best geography departments globally.
With budgetary pressures on small departments, several of the faculty retired or moved to other universities. The geography department was removed from Rosenwald Hall. In 1986 it was eliminated and replaced by the Committee on Geographic Studies. Soon after, the committee no longer supported graduate training.
I confess that I received my three degrees from the University’s geography department. I hope that the University will continue and expand support for CEGU and soon anoint it as a full geography department with a wide range of courses, students, and research as we once had.
Philip Lankford, AB’67, AM’68, PhD’71
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Of cards and comps
Recently I opened one of those boxes that lurk in the backs of closets or in attics for years, decades: personal time capsules. Among the browned and musty contents of the box, I found an envelope addressed to me from the U of C Board of Examiners, postmarked Chicago, August 3, 1956.
Inside were two punched Hollerith cards and a booklet titled “Diagnostic Reports on Comprehensive Examinations Spring, 1956.” It was explained that “the cards and this booklet represent an attempt to report in some detail your performance on certain of the comprehensive examinations.”
Who among you, reading this letter, remember comps? Is it only we who attended the University in the ’40s and ’50s who remember these tests of memory, determination, and endurance?
The two cards in the envelope were marked Hum III and Soc III. The booklet explained that the punched rectangular holes in the cards were the autopsies of my performance on those exams, telling me how I had done, from Very Good to Very Poor, on the 11 sections of each exam. The booklet was the decoder ring, telling me what I had been tested on: Knowledge of the subject, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.
For those who unfortunately missed out, the comprehensive exams were given at the end of the year for the required College courses. The three-hour Hum III and Soc III comps included essay and multiple-choice questions—lots of multiple-choice questions. The grade on the comp was the grade for the course for the whole year. Quarterly exams, essays, homework, and wisdom and passion shown at the classroom roundtable discussions all counted for nothing. Give it your best shot.
What do you think? Were these truly the good ol’ days, as I believe they were? Or were comps just an aberration of the times, annual sweatshops dreamed up by sadistic faculty? One thing for sure: I wish I had known about that little booklet before I took comps!
Edmund Becker, SB’58, PhD’63
Fort Myers, Florida
Correcting the record
In “Doc at 90” (Winter/23) we noted the incorrect release year for the film Do the Right Thing. It should have been 1989. We regret the error and appreciate those who called it to our attention.
Blast from the past
It is generally with some dread that, upon receiving your magazine each quarter, I turn to the department called Deaths appearing as a regular feature in the Magazine. “No news is good news” is the line that comes to mind each time as I peek at the list, daring myself to scan the column with the horrendous possibility that I might some day find the name of one of the many people who were dear to me when I was at the University of Chicago.
Recently, however, I have become aware that there is an even more disconcerting possibility associated with the department: as alarming as it would be to see a friend’s name on that list, it would probably be worse to see my own name on it. I have noticed that this type of incident has occurred more than once, as noted for example in the correction that appeared in the current issue of the Magazine: “Through an error Susan Pearlman Kagan, EX’49, was reported deceased in the Winter/88 issue. She lives in New York City.”
It was suggested to me by another University of Chicago graduate that perhaps this is one way to force from underground those alumni whom you have been unable to locate during your fund drives. The ploy: you print the news that the graduate has died, and when they recover from the shock of reading the news, they are quick to notify you that they are alive and living in Anytown, USA.
The other possibility is that people are sending in false information as a malicious prank. In the event that I should become the object of such a “joke,” I am writing to let you know that l am alive and well, and my address appears on the upper right-hand corner of this letter. Should I die, my family has been instructed that the University of Chicago Magazine will be the first to be notified. As an added precaution, I will be sending under separate cover a Code Word that they will send as well.
Cathy G. Lipper, AM’78
Vol. 82, No. 1, September 1989
Updated 05.17.2023 to correct the name of the bookstore mentioned in the “Vaguely Reminiscing" letter from Green Bookstore to Green Door Bookstore.
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