Once I removed most of the padding from May|June’s cover story, “The Vital Thread of Tom Sugrue” (author Nathaniel Popkin must be paid by the word!), I learned about all I could stomach about Sugrue. Here’s my edited version:
1. He’s a “community activist” and a “progressive”:
Enter Sugrue, who took over [West Mount Airy Neighbors’] presidency in 1996 … He wanted the organization, so seated in progressive ideas and urbanity, to reengage with the wider political process.
2. He attacks safe targets—that is, the long dead and long forgotten who, if they were still with us, would greet his attacks with wide-mouthed-yawning indifference:
Sweet Land of Liberty pushes the narrative of modern Civil Rights … back in time to the “Great Migration” of the 1920s and up, across the Mason-Dixon line, and into the small towns and big cities of the North.
3. He visits wannabe holy shrines:
“Well, you only need to go 10 blocks from Barack Obama’s house on the South Side [of Chicago] to see that racial history is not over in the U.S. We’ve got a lot of overcoming to do.”
4. He and Popkin perpetuate the fallacious assumption that when workers in a given job don’t arithmetically represent the incidence in the general population of a particular characteristic—in this case, skin color—there’s discrimination to be punished:
This lower section of Germantown Avenue is being reconstructed … Construction workers, union employees of a local contractor, swarm the street. Not one, of perhaps two dozen in all, is African-American. It is a bewildering scene, tension palpable. But Sugrue is my steady, and relentless, companion here … “You can’t help but feel the force of segregation, notice it at every level,” observes Sugrue.
Stu Mahlin WG’65 Cincinnati
God Help Us
Interesting cover piece on the majestically educated Tom Sugrue and his apparently brilliant analyses of present Northern urban racial conditions. It caused me to Google his bio, where I was most pleased to discover that he is also capable of smiling warmly. However, his comment that “racial history is not over in the U.S.,” is odd, as if the word “history” should have been “bias” or, perhaps, “discrimination.” Yet, if so, this shouldn’t be breaking news to anyone. Unfortunately it’s the way we humans tend to be at times.
After reading the article, a question remained: What’s the big idea? What is it that Professor Sugrue is implanting in the minds of all those eager grad students? It really wasn’t made clear. We are, therefore, left to guess that it somehow relates to politically organizing urban racial sub-communities according to the Obama “narrative.” If true, we could one day be able to recognize that America’s two-century experiment in individual freedom and self-government is over. If so, God help us and the rest of the Western world.
Philip N. Baker W’52 St. Louis
Gimme a Break
I have a different take on the limo-liberal Sugrue and his view from the lofty three-story heights of his Mt. Airy eagle’s nest overlooking the po’ folks not included in that work-crew mentioned in the last paragraph.
Here’s my two-cents: Gimme a break. Your author paints a fairly inaccurate picture of the City of Brotherly Love, diversity-wise. When I left in 1975 and headed for the southwest, DEEP in Delaware was integrating my children out of our neighborhood school 250 feet from our front door to bus them into an inner city. Black mayors and city councilpeople later proved that ineptitude and cronyism, bad manners and thievery, were as alive in their community as it was in ours. Hallelujah, we are all human.
My neighborhood growing up, far from the lofty climes of Germantown and Mr. Sugrue’s community, was on the 13 trolley line at 2045 S. Redfield Street in Southwest Philly, near 59th and Kingsessing. Back in the sixties, those “White Associations” Sugrue derides forced a black resident family out, fearful of losing property values. Yes, they were wrong, they bungled the whole affair.
But, guess what? Look at that whole city block today—that whole zip code—and what do you find? Low income, bad housing, high rates of police calls. Most of my old friends warn me to avoid the place.
This is not about race. This is about education. The students have to want to learn. When that happens, you will stop race-baiting and start to go back to the grassroots like I did. I spent three years teaching Hispanic kids on the Mexican Border how to speak, read, and write English … a little like herding ducks, but you can do it.
Think about it, Mr. Sugrue. Beats Mt. Airy.
Roger Fulton W’68 Tucson
Out of Tune
Thanks for the article on Thomas Sugrue. I have found that paying attention to the taken-for-granted can enrich life even in Baltimore. I would suggest, though, that Sugrue and the author of the article, Nathaniel Popkin, take a closer look at a taken-for-granted they present.
Sugrue is quoted as saying of a blind piano tuner, “He has really acute hearing.” This is odd. Why bother saying this about any piano tuner, blind or sighted? Hearing well seems to go with the territory! My blind friends and colleagues would further insist that inability to see creates no greater acuity in the other senses. They would add that because they rely on other senses, they pay more attention to them—but that does not make them better musicians.
Blind people, if musically adept, have been encouraged to become piano tuners in part because of discrimination they face in hiring in other endeavors. While there is nothing wrong with being a piano tuner, your readers should be aware of why the blind are disproportionately represented among them. It is not because blind people are more musical than the rest of us.
Ed Morman Gr’86 Baltimore
The writer is the director of the Jacobus tenBroek Library of the National Federation of the Blind.
There should be a requirement that all magazine photos be identified as to their location! If not, it can drive one crazy.
You think you recognize a location in a movie and then you sit and watch those long credits roll on and on, only to find that nowhere was the location mentioned. Not a happy time!
I grew up in Germantown and studied your May|June cover for hours, wondering if once-upon-a-time I could have scampered along that street. I’ve been unable to identify it, even though I thought I knew most of Germantown.
And the photo on pages 32/33! Could it possibly be the steps of Germantown’s old Town Hall?
Bill Steltzer C’51 GEd’57 West Grove, PA
Our apologies to Bill Steltzer and anyone else who was similarly frustrated. The photo on pages 32 and 33 is indeed the Germantown Town Hall. The cover shot was taken on East Price Street.—Ed.
I am embarrassed that Penn is producing alleged scholars who have the mentality that enjoys and even teaches the crime of boxing to children [“Ultimate Fundraising Championship,” May|June]. Boxing is the only “sport” in which the intention or purpose is to harm one’s opponent.
Harm does come to some participants of other sports, but it is not intentional as it is in boxing. Every blow to the head is another step toward the “punch-drunk syndrome.”
The American Association of Neurologic Surgeons stated that “90% of boxers sustain a brain injury.” In 1959, an editorial on boxing in the medical journal The Lancet stated: “[A]s doctors, we have a clear moral duty to fight for its total abolition.”
As a medical student, my class was shown the brain of a former boxer. The various parts of the brain were peppered with small scars, each one the result of a small hemorrhage caused by a blow to the head, ranging from a minor trauma to a knockout blow. The boxer in your story whose head is described as “bobbling as though his neck were made of springs” may well look for the consequences of that blow in his fifties or sixties.
Benson Krieger C’42 Philadelphia
In Search of Civility
For some reason, Emily Steinberg C’87 FA’87 GFA’91—who wrote and drew “Certifiable Lifer” [“Alumni Voices,” May|June]—received a green-light from the Gazette to drop the f-bomb and include a sketch of a reclining male nude, phallically at ease. That drawing could have fit perfectly into Penn’s 1989 Robert Mapplethorpe photo exhibit—a mixture of porn images and floral arrangements that was both widely acclaimed and lambasted, depending on whom one spoke to.
In “Dancing Against the Stars” [“Notes From the Undergrad”] one encounters such gems as “vomit … [Lizard Girl] was painfully skinny, with a bony face and thin lips that looked like they were hiding a long forked tongue … bitchy … We silently vowed to dance our asses off and be as obnoxious as possible.” Do these tidbits actually provide accurate insights into the thoughts of many of today’s budding women dancing and athletic stars?
If letters to the Gazette are subject to being edited for civility, why not apply the same rule to other contributions as well? One wonders whatever happened to former President Judith Rodin’s Penn Commission on Society, Culture and Community, established in 1998, in which she decried the spread of “incivility” in American life. Perhaps all those striving to achieve the goal of a more civil society might warmly welcome a little touch of editing here and there in the Gazette. It would be a good start.
Cyrus J. Sharer W’44 St. Davids, PA
We Don’t Know What Causes Autism
I was very disappointed by what I read in your article about Paul Offit, “The Vaccine Evangelist” [“Gazetteer,” May|June]. Every mother I know who has a child with autism, including me, has witnessed firsthand the vaccine-autism connection. I believe that we can learn much about autism by pursuing the connection theory. Until Offit can produce actual science that proves that there is no connection, he should stick with the truth. The truth is that we don’t know what causes autism. Until we can determine what causes autism, there is no way to know whether there is or is not a connection between vaccines and autism.
Offit admits that his hypothesis is not backed by science. He then goes on to say that he presents his theory as science, because if he doesn’t, “That does not play on Larry King Live or Oprah.” He admits that “technically the science never allows you to say that,” yet he misleads the public anyway. The vaccine-autism connection theory is very much alive for the families who live with autism every day.
Maureen Cassin ME’80 Ambler, PA
New View on Gross Clinic
I’m looking at The Gross Clinic [“Gazetteer,” May|June] and having this strange reaction to the light coming out of the darkness. It’s very mystical but it also seems to symbolize the idea of education bringing light so that the darkness can be made manageable or less scary.
I tried something with the picture. Turned it upside down. It was no longer a picture of discernible objects. It was a pattern of light and dark shapes, independent of the event taking place. As such, they demanded attention on their own. “Look at me,” said the big white mass at 11 o’clock (the picture is upside-down, remember). And what is this misty, mystical shape at six o’clock? Clearly these are important since they stand out even when there’s not a picture.
David Perelman W’49 Lafayette Hill, PA
College Isn’t For Everyone
Why is Eva Moskowitz [“Alumni Profiles,” May|June] trying to get all of her students to go to college? This country is in desperate need of skilled trade workers. Ms. Moskowitz should be aiming some of her students at vocational-technical education.
Daniel Nussbaum II C’63 New Bedford, MA
Why Grant Ranks High
In his response to the Gazette article about my book on presidential rankings, The Leaders We Deserved (And a Few We Didn’t), Benson Krieger C’42 is correct when he says that General Ulysses S. Grant issued the nefarious General Order No. 11, which expelled Jews from areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi (areas under Grant’s jurisdiction) [“Letters,” May|June]. Lincoln swiftly rescinded the order and Grant apologized on numerous occasions for what he conceded to have been an act of unwarranted prejudice.
But Grant issued his infamous decree before becoming president. Were I to apply Mr. Krieger’s standards, I would have to lower Lyndon Johnson’s grade in the area of human rights considerably, instead of placing him at the top of the list, along with Lincoln. For his first two decades in Congress, LBJ opposed every civil rights bill that had been introduced. The 1964 civil rights bill LBJ signed as president bears a close resemblance to the one Grant steered to passage in 1875. Sadly, the Supreme Court declared Grant’s unconstitutional, delaying equal opportunities to African Americans for yet another century. As president, Grant acted vigorously to destroy the first Ku Klux Klan, protected the rights of recently emancipated slaves, and was the last president before Eisenhower to send federal troops to the South to enforce the constitutional rights of African Americans. Grant was also one of the first presidents to raise his voice against czarist atrocities against Jews. Not a bad record, that.
As to Grant’s drinking, when complaints of it reached Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator” was rumored to have said that he would find out what Grant was drinking and send a case of it to the Union Army’s other generals. Stories such as these do not circulate about commanders who lose many battles.
Alvin Felzenberg, faculty Philadelphia
I believe James Rosier (not Roser) is the correct spelling of the medieval lit professor’s name to whom Otto Buono C’70 refers [“Letters,” May|June]. I took two English classes with Dr. Rosier when I was an undergrad.
Patricia Witkin C’90 San Francisco
No Women, So What?
How sad that Julie Meranze Levitt found it “offensive” and was “disturbed” that there was no woman in the picture of eight researchers in the Mar|Apr article, “Inside the Cancer-Cell Smasher” [“Letters,” May|June]. Nowadays, it’s impermissible to write, say, or even think anything that might possibly offend someone, somewhere out there, for fear of causing irreparable damage to their tender psyches.
This is why they give trophies to kids who finish seventh in the race and mark papers in school with purple pens instead of red. Anything to protect the little darlings from the realities of life. I hope Ms. Levitt doesn’t feel offended when the Phillies take the field without a female in sight.
Barry D. Galman C’59 M’63 GM’65 Cherry Hill, NJ
Since there are, in fact, women scientists, engineers, technicians, and health-care workers in the world, and no Major League Baseball players yet, Barry Galman’s analogy with the Phillies is less than perfect. I wish we’d thought to ask the illustrator to vary the figures a bit when we saw the initial sketches, to better reflect that reality. I believe Julie Meranze Levitt made a valid point (which is why I asked her to let us adapt the very reasonable phone message she left—which she did not intend for publication—as a letter-to-the-editor).—Ed.
Grateful for Treasures’ Protection
As an undergraduate from the remote backcountry of America’s far West, I first discovered Penn’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library [“Open Treasure,” Mar|Apr] as a freshman in the mid-sixties. I was thereafter a frequent if short-term visitor throughout my undergraduate career at Penn, fascinated by, and content to be around, the antiquity of the collection.
Leaving Penn intent upon pursuing graduate education on the 20th Century Pacific, I did not anticipate that I would become an historian of early America or would be back on campus in the Fall of 2007 on a fellowship provided by the Library Company, with library privileges—graciously granted through the McNeil Center—to read a number of items on the early American China Trade.
I sensed then that the treasures of the Rare Book Library needed to be protected from the merely curious; I know and am grateful now especially for the care taken by the librarians over the past decades to preserve these treasures for the moment when I truly needed them.
Jonathan M. Chu C’67 Boston
Folklorists Celebrated, Folklore Gutted
As a graduate of Penn’s Folklore and Folklife Department, I enjoyed reading about the career of Nick Spitzer C’72 [“Digging Routes,” Mar|Apr] in American music broadcasting and folklore in the public sector. Although Spitzer’s Ph.D. in folklore is from the University of Texas, the scholars mentioned in the Gazette article as helping him find his path as an undergraduate at Penn were Professors John Szwed and Kenneth Goldstein from the Folklore and Folklife Department.
This is the second Gazette article in the past few years to highlight the remarkable accomplishments and contributions of people educated in the University’s Folklore and Folklife Department. The previous article was “Understanding Pashto” [May|June 2006], which described the very important work of Grima Santry Gr’89 in studying Pashto oral traditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with emphasis on women.
Neither article pointed out the fact, which I find bitterly ironic, that the University chose to gut Folklore and Folklife at Penn, indefinitely suspending admissions into the graduate program. Although an undergraduate minor still exists, one can no longer receive a graduate degree in the field from Penn. So these individual scholars are celebrated—quite deservedly—but nobody mentions the University’s decision to throw away the program that prepared them for their careers.
Speaking of things thrown away, that’s what happens to fundraising mail from Penn at my house because of the University’s failure of vision regarding Folklore and Folklife.
Kay Cothran Craigie Gr’72 Blacksburg, VA
Previous issue's column
|We Welcome Letters
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach us by fax at 215-573-4812 or by regular mail at Editor, The Pennsylvania Gazette, 3910 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-3111. Letters should refer to material published in the magazine and may be edited for clarity, civility, and length.