To the editors:
As the Subject of a jab in The City File of 11/10/89, I have to point out that Mr. Henderson is wrong on three counts.
First, he labels the item "Dangers of Liberal Education." The information which led to the quote Mr. Henderson cited came from a news radio or network TV news broadcast, I recall, not from any U of C course.
Second, while I confess to inexactness of terminology, I, an alumni of North Carolina's predecessor to the Illinois Math & Science Academy, refuse to let anyone say unchallenged that I think "smoking creates matter." As Cecil could probably have told him, burning things transforms matter; tobacco and paper are transformed into (among other things) ashes and into particles, which, in the air are part of "visible smoke" and when they come to rest on a body such as an airline seat or the wall of an airliner, imbedded "soot." If he doesn't believe soot isn't matter or doesn't have mass, he ought to speak to a chimney sweep.
Finally, he uses my case to perpetuate the stereotype that all of us on the Quads in Hyde Park are bookworms with no sense of reality. In fact, the item is taken out of context from a viewpoint column stating (with the quote being by far the most hyperbolic of several examples) that addictions to alcohol and nicotine have financial, health and emotional impacts on people other than the addict. Thus, those who crunch numbers to say that legalizing cocaine is a solution to our nation's "drug war" are impractical because they greatly underestimate the harm to numerous non-users' lives that would result from greater prevalence of addiction.
I know it's fun to pick on the U of C; even A.J. Liebling called us "the greatest magnet for neurotic juveniles since the children's crusade." Yet we are not wholly impractical nor do we always have our noses in the books. Flip back through this summer's issues to find the one about the report on "hypersegregation" your Neighborhood News writer described. The authors of that report and I played on the same summer softball league championship team. Or just go by some of the clubs advertised in Section Two; you'd be surprised how many customers have U of C ID cards.
In short, I confess to failing to take accurate footnotes and to hyperbole (two faults President Reagan expressed far more often than I), but I am innocent of thinking that "smoking creates matter." For myself, and for the U of C as a whole, I plead innocent to impractical nerdiness.
Mr. Henderson, however, is guilty of reinforcing stereotypes and apparently of failing to consult with Cecil Adams on matters of science.
Keith Privett Hyde Park
PS: If you still think Hyde Parkers are all impractical, note that I learned from the mistakes of Dukakis: that a false attack requires a prompt response.
Harold Henderson replies:
OK, OK--the charred remains of the smoked cigarette stay on the plane, while the unsmoked cigarette is carried away by its owner. Mr. Privett beat me to that point, and I apologize for missing it. But without any animus against the U. of C., I think the original jab is still in order on grounds of triviality. Surely the horror of inefficient aircraft propulsion has yet to drive any emphysema-defying nicotine addict to reform. And the case is even less relevant to drug legalization. If cigarette ash is indeed an airline problem, the solution is to regulate in-flight smoking, not to make tobacco an illegal substance. Both our current experience with cocaine, marijuana, etc, and our past experience with Prohibition should teach us the folly of entirely outlawing something lots of people will insist on having anyway.