Readers sound off
Readers weigh in on climate change, breast-feeding, and last issue's letters about immigration.

The University hired whom?

I read with wonderment the appointment of Mayor Richard II (July–Aug/11) and of Henry Paulson (July 12, 2011, UChicago News for Alumni and Friends e-newsletter) to the Harris School of Public Policy Studies in an effort to reinforce the great American tradition of "failing up." Surely, it will be hard to beat Daley's destruction of Chicago's system of taxation by means of slushy tax increment finance districts. Surely, it will be hard to beat Paulson's record of conflicts-of-interest-ridden looting of the US economy. Yet there are even more soon-to-be-unemployed autocrats that the University should pursue to burnish its brand. Muammar al-Gadhafi would make a great addition to the newly aggressive department of fine arts. He could start a fashion major, since he seems to be so adept at millinery and capes. Bashar al-Assad of Syria is a dictator-ophthalmologist, a perfect addition to the medical school in these days of scary health-insurance reform. I predict that this very magazine would then have an essay by some fossilized immoralist of the Chicago school of economics describing how these change agents epitomize laissez-faire andlaissons détruire principles (if that is what they are), even though the defense of Friedmanite economics is becoming quaint, antique, and malign. Yet it's a win-win-win-win situation, don't you think

Donald Gecewicz, AB'76

Kudos to health-disparities doc

A remarkable and uplifting story. I'm very glad to know that Monica Vela, MD'93, is out there ("Course of Treatment," July–Aug/11). She's doing work in medical education that's desperately needed. Thank you, and please convey my best wishes with tons of encouragement to Dr. Vela.

Mike Lawler

Questioning climate change

A glaring error occurred in the Investigations article "Smoke Signals" (July–Aug/11)—the accompanying photo of smokestacks. Carbon dioxide is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. The two smokestacks show other products of combustion. By implication, carbon dioxide is seen as a pollutant. It is not. Science? Politics?

Are Raymond Pierrehumbert's mathematical/computer models validated? What is the assurance that they are correct and useful? We are squandering huge investments (recent estimates $100 billion) if the dire predictions fail to materialize.

Consider: would a public-employee pension fund today lock up securities for decades based on an invalidated computer model and receive the expected return? Our world uses a comparable model to explain climate change. The correlation between anthropogenic carbon dioxide and rising temperatures is very poor; 1935 to 1970—scientists forecasted a new ice age. Before the Little Ice Age, temperatures were higher than today without the presence of anthropogenic carbon dioxide.

The scientific reality of the carbon cycle is ignored. Without carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and photosynthesis, everything green dies. Minimizing CO2 is nonsensical; meanwhile, natural carbon continues to increase.

Water, 140 million square miles of earth's surface, generates water vapor constantly. It traps the earth's warmth, like carbon dioxide. Clouds (water vapor) reflect the sun's energy back out into space, never reaching the earth. He points out that "the atmosphere is a fluid" and that "fluids yield 'all sorts of … intricate behavior.'" Carbon dioxide as the only cause of climate change is absurd. A better approach might be a study of the cyclical nature of the sun and its impact on the oceans.

Richard C. Janzow, MBA'63
Wilmette, Illinois

Nuance of stroke treatment

I enjoyed Lydialyle Gibson's article "Forward Stroke" (Next Generation, July–Aug/11). As someone who does neurovascular research, I thought it would have been interesting if the author had mentioned that other methods of using tissue plasminogen activator (for example, by IV) are contraindicated in hemorrhagic stroke. It's remarkable that a drug used in a certain way can be lifesaving and in another way be deadly for the same condition.

Samantha Schoeneman, AB'08

When breast is best ...

Whoever selected that photograph to accompany "Mother's Milk" (Arts & Sciences, July–Aug/11) betrays the bias of writer Ruth E. Kott, AM'07, and Joan Wolf, AM'92, PhD'97—a mother who isolates herself in the corner of her child's segregated room to feed her baby. This mom has more problems than breast-feeding. "Not all mothers enjoy breast-feeding" is a meaningless statement that has nothing to do with Kott's assertions. It's not about enjoyment of breast-feeding or motherhood.

The fact is that artificial feeding products, aka "formula," are inferior in every way to breast milk. Even given Kott's and Wolf's assertions, the fact remains that babies who are not breast-fed get sick more and exhibit other deficits (lower IQs, higher rates of obesity, etc.). Kott may not think that's important. Many people do.

And enough with the protest that sometimes moms need help to get breast-feeding going. Meaning what? That having to consult a health-care provider renders breast milk unimportant? How scientific is that?

Marguerite Herman, MAT'73
Cheyenne, Wyoming

... and when it's not

Finally, some common sense in the breast-feeding debate. I was under tremendous pressure to breast-feed while living in Maine with my first child, now starting college. I tried everything from a nuclear-powered breast pump (a truly loud and terrifying contraption resembling my dairy-farming neighbor's milking machine) to the La Leche League, who assured me that "everyone can breast-feed, if she is truly committed."

After three weeks my scrawny baby was howling, and I was ready to be committed. On New Year's Eve we were in the Eastern Maine Medical Center's Emergency Room, and the poor thing would not stop crying, and I was nursing 24/7. But nothing came out of my breasts. The pediatrician on call gently convinced me to try a bottle of soy milk, that I wouldn't "ruin everything" by supplementing. The baby grabbed at it and sucked it down immediately. She was practically starving.

The guilt was overwhelming. All the water I drank, the warm showers I took, the hand and machine breast pumps I tried ... I simply could not produce enough milk. But if we look at history, there have always been wet nurses, and babies have been traded around in villages when women could not feed them—wet nursing was not just for the upper classes. If a woman could not feed her baby, arrangements were made, goat's milk was used (which was easier for infants to digest than cow's milk).

And yet today, or at least when my 14- and 17-year-old daughters were babies, I received dagger looks and some biting remarks from some granola-headed women who insisted that I had not "tried hard enough." They soon regretted interfering, as I was born in New Jersey and had no problem setting them straight. I described the blossoming of my scrawny infant into the beautiful, fleshed out toddler who was clearly thriving on soy formula.

I am glad the bad science is being exposed for what it is—politically correct garbage. I understand that there is some truth to the antibodies received in the early days and weeks of nursing, and if it's possible for the infant to get some of the colostrum the mother produces, that would be wonderful. But that means two to three weeks of some nursing, if at all. Our entire generation of 40- and 50-somethings were brought up on formula, and most of us seem to have turned out fine—except for those who seem to turn out bad science.

Amy Lesemann, AB'85
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Elegy for Gray

When the July–Aug/11 issue arrived with news of Charles Gray's death, I immediately stepped into the living room and sat down. I first met Professor Gray taking his course on Macaulay's History of England. I wrote my essay comparing David Hume's History to Macaulay's, and Gray's comments were sharp, thoughtful, and generous. Some time later I arrived unannounced at his office to ask if he could supervise my thesis. My first adviser had left the University. My subject, a relatively obscure philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment, was not on any other faculty member's radar. Professor Gray was as kind, patient, and honest with me that day as he would be every subsequent time we spoke. He listened to my anxious stammer of ideas, asked a few questions, and then warned me that he had only a basic acquaintance with the great books of 18th-century Europe. I remember my surprise at his expression of humility. He then followed up, "But if that does not seem a great hindrance to you, I'd be happy to supervise your thesis," or something like that. I shook his hand, expressed my sincere gratitude, and left.

Over the next two years I also had the privilege to teach a section or two of Western Civ, so I joined the other instructors for the weekly lunch meetings to debate how best to teach Pericles's "Funeral Oration," Abelard's History of My Calamities, or to argue with Karl Weintraub, AB'49, AM'52, PhD'57, about whether Foucault was appropriate, useless, etc., for such an undergraduate course. I often talked with Professor Gray about the course and my goals, choices, and ideas. Again he listened patiently, asked careful questions, and offered gentle but firm advice. I soon learned that he took his Civ course as seriously as anything he taught, reworking the readings and the assignments with almost obsessive attention.

I completed my thesis and graduated primarily because Charles Gray gave me his time and guidance. He read every word through every molasses-like chapter I gave him, sometimes the same chapter more than once. He chased the point of every paragraph and each chapter, I imagine, like someone chasing a fish in a flooded basement. But he never complained, never shooed me away, returned each chapter with his trademark penciled comments and suggestions. He once told me, "Michael [always "Michael"] you have a strikingly impressionistic way of reading a text." I didn't know what he meant, and the mystery of his claim brought me up a bit short. But over the years I've come to understand how savvy he was at evaluating my abilities. He had paid attention to me, he told me the truth, and there was never a moment when he was anything but patient, kind, and armed with a gentle humor.

I loved him for that. I often think of him when I stand in front of a class, meet a student, and try my damnedest to be a good teacher. I mourn his death.

Mike Kugler, PhD'94
Orange City, Iowa

How immigration shapes families

I was struck by the overwhelming number of vicious attacks, in the July–Aug/11 Letters section, on the article about Joshua Hoyt, AM'95 ("Dream Deferred," May–June/11). Immigration is a complex issue, particularly as it relates to intrafamily relations. My grandmother "followed the rules" and, fleeing the pogroms as a teenager, escaped from Pinsk to Chicago just after World War I. Her own mother and several siblings were not so lucky due to quotas imposed in the early 1920s, so they—also "following the rules"—had to go to Argentina instead. My grandmother's life, and thus those of her children and derivatively my own, were surely affected by this lack of a family support network.

The DREAM Act, which involves improving opportunities for those who came to this country as children and consequently before they were capable of controlling their actions or destinies fully or at all, poses unique questions of human agency, responsibility, incentive, and policy optimization. Given the Magazine's readership, one would have expected a balanced and nuanced assessment of the relevant arguments and conundrums from a host of perspectives: ethics, sociology, law, history, domestic politics, international relations, religion, and so forth. ...

Please accept this letter as a belated effort to weigh in for the proposition that the Hoyt piece raises interesting, complex, and perhaps unanswerable questions and was therefore an appropriate item for publication in the Magazine.

Andrew S. Mine, AB'81

Civil action

It's always a good corrective to one's own worldview to read the letters in the University of Chicago Magazine. No matter the subject, one's sensibilities are likely to be abused by one's fellow curmudgeons, and the sensitive soul is taken aback to discover not all fellow graduates of said university hold the exact same opinion as oneself. If one allows, and is in the proper mood, it is both sobering and entertaining.

Nonetheless, reading the many letters (July–Aug/11) excoriating theMagazine's article concerning Joshua Hoyt, AM'95, and illegal immigration, I was appalled to find one fellow alum reduce support for amnesty to vote grubbing and the "perverted racial calculus" that assumes Mexicans will vote Democratic, and another withdraw his legacy support of the University owing to the Magazine's "distinct irreverence for those of us who are still dedicated to the notions of honor, duty, truthfulness, and love of freedom and justice."

One can only hope that they will see their words in print and shake their heads at their own folly. It is one thing to experience discomfort with the content of an article in an alumni magazine, or with the inherent bias that may seem to appear in what is essentially a profile of a person with whom you may, quite justly, disagree. It is another matter entirely to impugn the honesty and character of one's intellectual or political opponents based on one's disagreement with them.

Martha Hoffman, AB'87
Brooklyn, New York

A healthy dose of partisanship

I would like to thank the University of Chicago Magazine and, indirectly, Joshua Hoyt, AM'95, for providing regular entertainment from the Letters section. I wasn't disappointed by the July–Aug/11 issue's crop responding to your article on Hoyt and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. They included the usual Milton Friedman, AM'33, acolytes rehearsing their catechism, tea party MBAs trying out theirs, Malthusian prophets of doom, and alums with fond memories of the good old days when immigrants like "Diana," the undocumented student activist described in the article, probably wouldn't have been let in to the U of C in the first place.

The letters excoriating Hoyt were a good reminder of the intellectual diversity of the institution, which as I recall made for combative classroom discussions. They're a good reminder, as well, of the point that a liberal education by itself doesn't necessarily produce particularly thoughtful, compassionate, or intellectually honest people. (Or even ones with a basic command of geography: for example, Mexico is in North America, not Central America.) So, in one letter we learn that low-paid immigrant agricultural workers drive down wages all by themselves, as if declining rates of unionization and Wall Street have had nothing to do with it. By this letter writer's logic, by the way, women should be deported too, since they are also paid less for equal work.

Then we get finger wagging at immigrants who didn't "follow the laws," as if the immigration laws alone are sacred, fair, and unbroken. ... And in another letter, we get statistics culled from far-right nativist websites (cis.org) innocently presented as impartial facts. All these statistics purport to prove, of course, is what xenophobes already think they know about Latinos: that they are lazy, sexually promiscuous, unintelligent, and disloyal. Then come the denunciations of the "Marxist disease" that may motivate pro-immigrant campaigners from one letter writer who forgets that all Chicago undergrads are repeatedly exposed to the virus for their first two years.

I'm not writing to excoriate the Magazine for printing the letters, and even if I made enough money to make alumni donations, I wouldn't threaten to withdraw them just because I disagree with so-and-so from the business school. So thanks all around—to the subjects of your article who are putting their education to work for equality, and to the letter writers for reminding us of the obstacles in the way. And for the laugh.

John Patrick Leary, AB'01

Plato's republic

The letters responding to the article about Joshua Hoyt impelled me to read it again. The subtitle clearly states the nature of Richard Mertens's story: "Joshua Hoyt Leads the Fight for Immigrants' Rights in Illinois."

One correspondent found it to be "grossly one-sided and overly suggestive." He continued, "Frankly, the failure to edit this piece properly is appalling." In effect, he is challenging the right of the Magazine to publish the article as written. The paradox is that this letter writer is exercising his First Amendment right to speak his mind, and at the same time wanting the editor to limit the right of Mertens to accurately portray the lifework of Mr. Hoyt.

Another writer took the position that "we do have a democracy in this country, and the voters in this democracy get to decide who deserves citizenship and who does not." The implied subtext here is that the voters already have decided this question. But what about Mr. Hoyt's right to "lead the fight for immigrants' rights," and to organize immigrants to petition the government for changes in current laws? Speaking of "democracy," we might consider Plato's Republic and recall that our country was organized as a republic, relying on elected representatives to exercise their best judgments to decide important matters, such as how one becomes a citizen. Several years ago—with the rise of political television personalities—as Congress considered an immigration reform bill, we shifted (during a legislative break) from a representative form of government to one where the people directly rule the government. Plato ranked the democratic form of rule just one step above being ruled by a despot—both inferior to the representative rule of a republic.

Paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin, we had a republic—and have not been able to keep it.

But Joshua Hoyt is not deterred. "The culture has to change," he says. Mertens writes that his coalition aims "to build connections between immigrants and nonimmigrants and to bridge the cultural divide that has made immigration reform so difficult."

Richard M. Janopaul, AB'52
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Diatribes dissected

I don't recall if I read your May–June/11 cover story "Dream Deferred," about Joshua Hoyt's (AM'95) work on behalf of those who immigrated to this country illegally. Maybe it got lost in the avalanche of reading material that crosses my desk. But I did read the resulting diatribes in your July–Aug/11 Letters section. The alumni who attacked you forget the purpose of an alumni magazine. You have a very different mission from the Economist or Businessweek.

In their apparent zeal to ship immigrants back to their countries of origin—no matter how oppressive their regimes or impoverished their citizenry—these alumni also ignore the source of America's greatness. Economists now predict that immigration will help America escape the graying of the population afflicting Western Europe and Japan. Because of what they indicate about the Magazine, your publication of these critical letters increased my pride in having graduated the University of Chicago and my admiration for our alumni magazine.

David Sobelsohn, AB'74

Re immigration: ditto

A quick note to affirm the letters regarding the Richard Mertens piece ("Dream Deferred," May–June/11). A very bad and disturbing bit of propaganda.

Mark R. Aschliman, MD'80
Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

Seeing not necessary for believing

In their July–Aug/11 letter, Jane R. Shoup, PhD'65, and Stefan P. Shoup, AM'64, discuss interactions between ecological, political, and sociological concerns. Certainly we are faced with a situation of unprecedented complexity. Certainly unsustainable human activity (particularly the profligate waste of Earth's built-in resources) is starting to produce catastrophic consequences. In relation to their claim along the way that "One is either blind or in a state of cognitive dissonance not to recognize the onrush of severe ecological and economic problems." I would like to assure them that blindness does not prevent recognition of the mess that our planet is in; I am not in a position to speak to cognitive dissonance.

Julie B. Lovins, AM'70, PhD'73
Mountain View, California

Urban rainbows

The images in Amy Puma's article on Eric Fischer's (AB'95) work ("Points of Interest," May–June/11) do graphically what few in the media have done either graphically or verbally: they make older cities look good. Contrast the vivid reds, blues, greens, and golds in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York with the washed-out monochrome paleness of their suburbs. Is there perhaps some deeper symbolism here?

And as a native New Yorker, I was pleased, though not surprised, to find the strongest colors (density) and richest mix thereof (diversity) of all five cities mapped in my hometown. Although the patterns show somewhat more segregation than one would like, the map still reminded me of former mayor David Dinkins's description of our city as a "gorgeous mosaic."

John L. Gann Jr., AB'64
Madison, Wisconsin

Civil War redux

I have enjoyed the letters about the causes of the Civil War greatly. Here is my view, which I expressed in a column in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin ("How the US Constitution Caused the Civil War," April 13, 2011). The cause was three sections of the US Constitution. First, as is generally known, slaves were counted as "three-fifths of a person." This gave the slave-holding states a disproportionate influence in the US House of Representatives.

Few people have realized that this gave the slave states disproportionate power over federal finances and over election of the president. Because "all bills for raising revenue" must originate in the House, the slave states had a greater say over federal finances. The biggest federal finance issue was the imposition of tariffs on imported goods, which was a major, often the major, source of federal revenue in the 19th century. The North, where slavery had virtually ceased early on, supported tariffs, while the South opposed them.

Finally, the Electoral College elected the president and vice president, both then and now. Because the number of electors a state has varies by the number of US Representatives it has, the South also had disproportionate influence in the election of the president.

Even those Southerners who did not own slaves benefitted from this system. Why should the states where there were many slaves want to give up slavery or change the system?

Ann M. Lousin, JD'68