Readers sound off

Alumni and friends weigh in on tolerance, sweatshirts won and lost, executive power, application numbers, the end of Pierce Hall, and more.

Professorial advice

I saw that my great, great squirrel/gargoyle joke did not win me a sweatshirt (“A squirrel and a gargoyle walk into Jimmy’s …,” Lite of the Mind, Sept–Oct/12). I cannot handle that rejection; it set my psychotherapy back six months. Also, last night, whilst walking my dog, I sure could have used a sweatshirt. Here in San Diego the temperature was 65 degrees, and the wind-chill factor took it all the way down to 64.

But seriously, folks: it was good to read the rebuttal from Helen E. Hughes, PhD’70, regarding Professor Ward Campbell Halstead (Letters, Sept–Oct/12). I, too, was a student of his, first taking his course Higher Brain Functions as an undergraduate, and that course, and his approach, spurred my interest to pursue psychology as a career. It was Halstead who encouraged me when other professors said things like “you don’t need a PhD—you can get a job at the YMCA right now” and “why are you wasting your time auditing courses in Baroque and Renaissance art?”—the latter squelched when I pointed out that I received an A in the professor’s course, and was both his research and teaching assistant.

Halstead must have subscribed to the writings of the anonymous author of ancient India who wrote in the Panchatantra about 2,000 years ago of pupils admiring their teacher “whose wisdom had been so clearly marked by his dexterous mingling of amusement with instruction.”

A. M. Charlens, SB’58, PhD’63
San Diego


Jimmy’s to Jalisco

Greetings from south of the border. Just want to let you know how much we appreciate receiving the University of Chicago Magazine here in Guadalajara. It keeps us up to date on issues and events and always brings back pleasant memories of our time on campus.  The July–August issue reminded me of the Co-op and searching out the many books I had to read (“Shelf Life,” July–Aug/12). And then there was the touching tribute to Bert Cohler (Letters, July–Aug/12), whom I deeply admired and whose classes I valued so highly. Also, I should mention the photograph of Jimmy’s (Peer Review, May–June/12), reminding me of my many visits to the Woodlawn Tap. We look forward to each new issue.

Albert L. Furbay, MLA’06
Maria A. Tasson, MLA’10
Guadalajara, Mexico


Learning curve

In “Creative Energy” (UChicago Journal, Nov–Dec/12), Michael Turner and Philip Glass, AB’56, emphasize that how much or how little you know is a critical factor in how well you can do at something. However, knowledge or lack of it is not really the critical factor. The critical factor is how fast you keep learning new things. If you keep on learning, you’re bound to get new ideas and find fault with old ideas.

As an example of this, for a long time I neglected to learn as much as I could about the spinor connection, a basic concept in theoretical physics. When I finally got around to correcting that deficiency, I realized that something was wrong. The spinor connection, long thought to be an essential part of physics theory, is optional. It can be eliminated from the theory.

I verified this by publishing articles in the Journal of General Relativity and Gravitation. In doing this, I got an opportunity to refer to articles by Michael Turner and Adam Riess on dark energy and particle astrophysics in the expanding universe, where everything is connected.

Eliminating the spinor connection might seem more destructive than creative, but the procedure is reversible. Anyone who has use for this mathematical artifact can reintroduce it at will and use it in the usual way.  It just is not the essential entity that it was once thought to be.

When Einstein eliminated the luminiferous aether from physics theory, he replaced it with his far more creative theory of relativity but got the Nobel Prize for his contribution to quantum mechanics, an equally creative but more down-to-earth theory whose predictions are easier to verify than the cosmic conclusions of general relativity. All this occurred in the 20th century, so when Time magazine chose Einstein as Man of the Century, they conferred a monumental title upon him.

If Einstein slowed down later on, it was because the rate at which he learned new things slowed down, due to his preoccupation with a unified field theory that still has scientists stymied. Yet, just as Sigmund Freud said that dreams are the royal road to the unconscious, it is generally agreed that Einstein’s dream of a unified field theory is the royal road to quantum gravity and a theory of everything (the El Dorado of modern science).

Kenneth J. Epstein, SM’52


Tell me, O Muse

On Mark Eleveld (MLA’10) and Ron Maruszak’s (MLA’10) researches on Homer (“Iliad Out Loud,” UChicago Journal, Sept–Oct/12), if they haven’t, they should be sure to read up on Milman Parry’s study of the illiterate troubadours of Yugoslavia who sang Homer’s two great sagas and how they did it, memorizing not the whole work, or verbatim, but only the oft-repeated catchphrases, like “the wine dark sea,” etc., that make up a full third of the Odyssey text, and weaving their own versions of the stories around these key phrases, in their own words.

Andrew Tempelman, AM’66, PhD’72
Nashua, New Hampshire


Threatened veils

While I agree with and support Martha Nussbaum’s advocacy of religious tolerance and diversity (“Faith Healer,” UChicago Journal, Nov–Dec/12), I have problems with her argument regarding the veiling of women and the introduction of Sharia law in the United States. The United States is based on laws that are applicable to all and, therefore, there is very good reason to ban Sharia law being introduced to only certain segments of the population. In addition, some of the laws disadvantage women. Nussbaum claims that banning burkas is a “denial of Muslims’ fundamental human dignity.” I think she needs to investigate more deeply the reasons behind the veiling of women. My reading of the Quran, some Hadith, and research among Turkish Muslims in Turkey and elsewhere has revealed that the practice covers over outmoded notions of female sexuality based on an outdated and erroneous theory of procreation. Education, rather than supporting received ideas and practices, is needed. 

Carol Delaney, AM’78, PhD’84
Providence, Rhode Island


Squirrels and sweatshirts

The University of Chicago sweatshirt arrived, very well packed and in “mint condition.” Thank you very much. The contest was fun (“A squirrel and a gargoyle walk into Jimmy’s …,” Lite of the Mind, Sept–Oct/12); the winner was very creative and clever. Both the winner and the other runner-up were very U of C—intellectually challenging.

May I make one small suggestion? I would like to see with each major article a small photo of the writer and perhaps a bit of information about these authors—nothing personal—perhaps where they went to college, their major, maybe their home state, and what interests them most (music, art, history, politics, etc.). In this age of electronic gadgetry and “robo phone voices” when information comes with no intellectual umbilical cord, I, for one, would like to know that a real human being is giving me the information, skillfully written, in the article. Maybe this is just a quirk of an old English teacher who knew her students. And maybe not.

Judy Culley Rehnquist, AB’54
Downers Grove, Illinois

Short biographies of the staff are available online.—Ed.


The plot thickens

Paper Trail” in the Core (July–Aug/12) brought back numerous memories, including of the sometimes hilarious “personals” in the Maroon of my time at the University of Chicago. Two memories are of particular note, one motivated by your last story, which fails to provide some necessary context.

The drug bust described was no one-off; far from it. At the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s, the narcotics squad of the Chicago police made a habit of targeting U of C students living in apartments (80 percent of upperclassmen at the time), several friends of mine among them. Memorably, one of my roommates at 5412 Ingleside and I were carted off after such an illegal bust in June 1970 for a rather longer adventure than that described. The rank incompetence of the officers making those busts, the bogus character of the warrants, and the flimsiness of the “evidence” procured resulted in no convictions that I am aware of.

The goonish behavior of police on some campuses against Occupy events last year prompted positive memories of the close relationship of U of C students to the campus police of our era, whose purpose was to protect us as well as the University in a much less corporatist time. Indeed, one friend being busted managed to call the campus cops, one of whom showed up at his request to make sure that nothing was planted on him.

Speaking of illegal acts against University of Chicago students, that same apartment was subjected to a warrantless entry and interrogation of one roommate at home by FBI and Chicago Red Squad agents participating in what must have been a huge, nationwide dragnet in search of Kathy Boudin and Kathy Wilkerson, survivors of the explosion at a Weatherman bomb factory that demolished Boudin’s parents’ New York townhouse on March 6, 1970. Nary a soul in that apartment was involved in organized activities of the student left, so that net must have been cast very broadly indeed. Many of the rich and sometimes strange aspects of student life of the period are unlikely to feature in any University chronicle.

In the wake of the 1969 sit-in, shattering to everyone in the University community irrespective of their views of those events, conventional school spirit (always in short supply in the College of those days) was at a low ebb. Thus the question arose whether a yearbook for 1970 was a viable proposition. The graduating class was polled, and only 36 students could be found willing to commit to buy it, so none was published. As I recollect, Roger Black, X’70, and David Travis, AB’71, of the Maroon stepped into the breach, producing the “Yearbox” instead. Images of graduating students were represented as perforated sheets of stamps (one group shot encompassing nine stamps), plus a memorable suite of photographs by Travis produced in softcover, a Hyde Park game, and President Edward Levi’s (U-High’28, PhB’32, JD’35) mug on a balloon. This was in the spirit of the times, and we had a souvenir far more memorable than the usual yearbook, thanks to the Maroon.

Jeff Spurr, AB’71
Cambridge, Massachusetts


Early and often

The news that the College received a record number of early action applications does not make me happy (“Early Rise,” UChicago News for Alumni and Friends, November 20, 2012). It suggests to me that UChicago is caught up in the rankings frenzy and trolls for applicants to reject in order to artificially inflate its status. It also tells me that the pressure on high school students is increasing, even beyond the dreadful level of three years ago when my daughter applied. Nothing about this statistic bodes well for education in general, the University, or its students.

K. A. Pool (parent)
Portland, Oregon


Booth vs. Booth

The subject line of your e-mail, “Gift lifts Chicago Booth’s entrepreneurial spirits” (“Venture Capital,” UChicago News for Alumni and Friends, December 5, 2012) intrigued me. But then disheartened me. More emphasis on money, not learning.

I was intrigued because I thought you had in mind Wayne Booth (AM’47, PhD’50)—distinguished Chicago scholar and former dean of the College when I was there.

Please watch your language.

A. B. Paulson, AB’66, AM’67
Portland, Oregon


Pierce unlamented

As a one-time inmate of Pierce Tower, I applaud the decision to tear down this ill-conceived structure and replace it with something—anything—else (“Pierce’s Replacement,” UChicago News for Alumni and Friends, November 27, 2012). May I suggest that if the University decides to demolish it by explosive implosion, it might earn millions for its endowment by selling grandstand tickets to former occupants? Perhaps you might make it a featured event of a future college reunion.

Shorey House, comprising the top two floors of Pierce, was, in my time in the College, notorious as the crazy, anarchic house where we undergraduates dropped hundred-pound, sand-filled concrete ash stands from three feet off the floor at two in the morning and sat in on the 50-yard line to prevent the University’s return to varsity football and blared Wagner’s Götterdämmerung at 100-decibel volume out the dorm windows for the pleasure and aesthetic elevation of our Hyde Park neighbors. Some practiced prairie mountaineering on the roofs of the twin elevator cabs or climbing around the outside of the ninth-floor bay windows without rope or harness. We had our rat-warren Pierce Tower accommodations to thank for at least some of the manic energy that led us to such ecstatic celebration of the life of the mind.

I would be churlish not to mention the Friday afternoon Shorey Sherry hours and the Coffee Plus evenings, when we managed to persuade the likes of Saul Bellow (X’39) and Bruno Bettelheim and Norman Maclean (PhD’40) to submit themselves to the attention of half-soused male undergraduates, which some did more gracefully than others. Shorey was a state of mind more than a physical dwelling—but Pierce still sucked.

Martin Lubin, AB’68
Jackson Heights, New York


Presidential powers

It is nothing short of a dangerous threat to our constitutional democracy that Eric Posner would cast aside the separation of powers as a “historical relic,” that he believes that the “erosion of checks and balances has promoted national welfare,” and that existing law is “neither here nor there” (“OctoPOTUS?,” Sept–Oct/12).

Posner is all too willing to replace fundamental judicial and legislative restraints on unbounded presidential power with the influence of public opinion. If “the public generally approves unilateral executive action,” that’s good enough for Posner, regardless of whether such actions violate individual constitutional rights. In Posner’s world, all that matters is whether presidential actions are “popular.”

But slavery and segregation were once popular.  And torturing terrorists to find ticking bombs is popular. And censoring offensive speech is popular. But just because a majority of people approve of something does not make it legal or constitutional.  That’s why we have a Bill of Rights.

Posner would do well to heed the Supreme Court’s wise holding that “The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political contro-versy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”

Stephen Rohde
Chair, ACLU Foundation of Southern California
Los Angeles


According to Jason Kelly’s story (“OctoPOTUS?,” Sept–Oct/12), law professor Eric Posner claims in The Executive Unbound that there are “democratic forces constraining the president as much, if not more, than the constitutional framework.”

Are we therefore to conclude that “torture, indefinite detention, warrantless surveillance, targeted killings” are acceptable because they enjoy popular support?

Before we reject the restraints on executive power in the Constitution we ought to consider what Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts said during the Constitutional Convention in 1787 about unbridled popular will: “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue, but are the dupes of pretended patriots.”

John K. Taylor, AB’68
New York


Equal opportunities

In “Women’s Work” (Nov–Dec/12), Lydialyle Gibson lists various areas that restricted women in the ’50s and ’60s. Sports were certainly restrictive, but when it came to education, she is mistaken. Top-notch undergraduate education was available for the enterprising woman well before Title IX. She says that Harvard didn’t admit undergraduate women in the ’50s. Funny, that’s where I received my AB in 1956 and my mother before me received hers in the 1920s.

My diploma is signed by Nathan Marsh Pusey, president of Harvard University. Harvard began to instruct women in the 19th century, calling the women students Radcliffe College of Harvard University. Women were always taught by the same faculty as the men at Harvard College of Harvard University, and by the 1940s everything was integrated except the dorms. Famous 19th-century Radcliffe/Harvard grads include Helen Keller, Gertrude Stein, and Josephine Hull of Arsenic and Old Lace. I believe that Columbia had the same setup with Barnard, and Brown with Pembroke, and as for Yale, Williams, etc., sure, they were still all male, but why not consider Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Wellesley, Mt. Holyoke?

I loved my undergraduate years at Harvard, and my graduate years at UChicago.

Joan Mickelson Lukach, AM’66
Plantation, Florida


Department of Corrections

Milton Friedman’s lecture “Capitalism and the Jews” was given in 1976, not 1978 (Perspective, UChicago News for Alumni and Friends, November 6, 2012). It was moved to the Law School because he had just won the Nobel Prize in Economics, which greatly increased the number of people who wanted to hear his address. In another address-related correction, Jean O’Leary Brown (Letters, Nov–Dec/12) lives in Oakland, California, not Frankfort, Illinois. We regret the errors.


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