Letters & Comments: March 11, 2010 | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Letters & Comments: March 11, 2010

"Outside the hothouses of college campuses, political correctness is generally recognized as short-hand for the cult of victimization and attempts to rewrite history as a series of class, race, and gender power struggles."


The Hyde Park and Kenwood Issue

Please see page seven in this issue for the story behind the March 4 cover of the Reader.

Permit me to correct one misconception in Deanna Isaacs's fine history of Hyde Park and Kenwood ["The 800-Pound Gargoyle"]. Hyde Park residents were not "mostly opposed" and "swept along" to annexation to Chicago. Having spent the past year writing a book about the overall annexation leader, future Chicago Mayor John P. Hopkins, I can assure you that the majority of Hyde Park voters approved annexation not once but twice. On November 8, 1887, Hyde Park supported the referendum by a plurality of nearly 1,000 votes. The town trustees filed suit and succeeded in getting the Illinois Supreme Court to overturn the result on a technicality. Annexation proponents fixed a flaw in the applicable legislation and mounted a new effort, picking up even greater support in the community. On June 29, 1889, Hyde Park voters said yes by a margin of more than 2,000. In the same referendum, the towns of Cicero, Jefferson, Lake, and Lake View also voted to join Chicago, increasing the city's population by 239,000 and its square mileage by 131,000.

John F. Hogan

W. Stratford Place

Deanna Isaacs replies:

It looks like Mr. Hogan is referring to pluralities in the township of Hyde Park, as opposed to the village of Hyde Park. According to Glen E. Holt and Dominic A. Pacyga's Chicago: A Historical Guide to the Neighborhoods, and as my article stated, the township voted for annexation; the village was swept along.

Thanks for mentioning my late dad, Marshall Patner, in your piece on the influence of Hyde Park politics and activism in your piece ["An Island in the Swamp," by Ben Joravsky] and in such august company!

No one mentioned that he opened the original Medici Coffee House & Gallery —which quite probably had the first genuine espresso machine in Chicago outside of private Italian "social clubs"—in Hyde Park in 1958 and sold it to Hans Morsbach (for change), a young German emigrant, then a newly-minted U. of C. MBA, in 1962. Morsbach was a natural businessman and entrepreneur and of course built a hugely successful business which he's had for 48 years now. The original Medici was on 53rd Street. Not long after it opened, the space behind the Green Door Bookshop on 57th Street near Harper became available and my dad moved it there. That was the space that Hans bought and later expanded when the bookstore left to fill the storefront, and where he introduced pan pizza, burgers, and other cooked food. Later, when Morsbach lost that lease, he moved a few blocks west along 57th Street to the Medici's present location. But the idea of a European-style coffee house and gathering place, with espresso coffee, hot chocolate, Italian flavored-syrup drinks, real continental pastries, was my dad's with the help of a few of his friends and my wonderful, long-suffering mom!

Andrew Patner

Yet Another Meaning for the R Word

Re: "Human Care Bears," by David Wilcox, February 25

Regarding the use, and misuse, of the word "retarded," by Rahm Emanuel and others: In my experience as a physician, "mentally retarded" (or "MR") is still a legitimate term, used without disrespect, for the condition of people otherwise referred to as mentally disabled, mentally challenged or developmentally disabled.

But I want to give some attention to an aspect of the Emanuel controversy that has been mostly ignored: not the political incorrectness of his words, but the incorrectness of his political position. Emanuel appears to have been undermining the effort to get a meaningful public option in the health care reform legislation since the effort was undertaken over a year ago, and his recent remark was apparently directed at those progressives in the Democratic Party who were still working towards this important goal. Now that the Democratic leadership has discovered that they can pass a bill in the Senate through "budget reconciliation" by simple majority (a path advocated for a long time by Dr. Howard Dean and many others), I have to wonder why legislation with the public option, and other progressive measures that have been watered down, wasn't passed months ago, instead of waiting for 59th and 60th votes from the likes of Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. Emanuel appears to have supported this "filibuster-proof" approach, and his reasons may have been ideologic as well as tactical.

I think [Emanuel's] use of "retarded" should actually be applied to himself, given the near-debacle of attempted health-care reform by the Obama administration where he has so much, in my opinion unfortunate, influence. Perhaps "retarded" should have a new, political meaning, opposite to "progressive." Emanuel would seem a logical choice to lead the retarded wing of the Democratic Party and to represent its corporate backers. Let's just hope he doesn't again return to Chicago to run for mayor, or any other office.

Peter Draper

This is a really fascinating article that really captures a lot of the way many marginalized groups feel. As a gay man, I don't necessarily like it when teenagers describe things as "gay" and would like them to stop. At the same time, I find myself rolling my eyes at a lot of Human Rights Campaign or GLAAD talking points—campaigns that make it seem like all gay men and women are doing something heroic by living their lives.

I think the most accurate part of this article was the very end. We do live in a segregated society from adults with developmental disabilities—and we do so because difference makes us uncomfortable.


The Problem at Shimer

Re: "Who's Buying Shimer?" by Deanna Isaacs, February 25

I'm Joe Bast, the person who came up with the "Tired of Political Correctness?" slogan for the Shimer ads, one of the newer trustees on the Shimer board, and a person who urged Marsha Enright to offer a class on capitalism at Shimer. At the risk of causing some heads to explode, I'd like to respond to some of the statements made by others in earlier comments.

I'll start by thanking Deanna Isaacs for correctly quoting me in her article. But as others pointed out, in this article and her previous one on Shimer, she is mis-framing the conflict at the school. There is no "conspiracy" to take over the college, only an infusion of new trustees and new funding to attempt to grow the college and improve the educational experience for its students.

New trustees were elected by current trustees and are well qualified. President Lindsay is a highly qualified administrator and a scholar in his own right. Shimer's donor base is healthy and growing.

Current students and faculty obviously do not like what is taking place, but the president has devoted many hours to talking with them and their opinions have influenced his decisions, including the wording of the mission statement. Sometimes, dialogue doesn't result in your getting everything you want from the other party.

The "political correctness" ad that the Reader chose to reprint has been running for free in one of the Heartland Institute's five public policy newspapers, "School Reform News," for the past three years or so, before President Lindsay came on the scene. I picked the title, the text came from a Shimer flyer, and a graphic designer picked the photo of students.

Outside the hothouses of college campuses, political correctness is generally recognized as short-hand for the cult of victimization and attempts to rewrite history as a series of class, race, and gender power struggles. William Lind called it "cultural Marxism" and traced its roots back to the early 1900s in an interesting 2000 essay, [quoting] Marxist theorist George Lukas saying in 1919, "Who will save us from Western Civilization?" Lukas, according to Lind, "theorized that the great obstacle to the creation of a Marxist paradise was the culture: Western civilization itself." Which suggests to me that political correctness is an ideology at odds with what the Great Books College of Chicago should be teaching.

If current students don't recognize the difference between political correctness and Western Civilization, then there is some basis for worrying about what is being taught at Shimer. The fierce opposition to the new mission statement, apparently because it identifies individual liberty as one of the most important themes of Western Civilization and the American founding as an important event in history, is further evidence of a problem.

President Lindsay and many of the trustees have considerable knowledge about the texts that belong in a Great Books curriculum, more indeed than students who have just begun what will be a life-long learning process. To label their considered opinions and suggestions as some sort of plot to add, rather than remove, politics from Shimer classrooms is clever rhetoric, perhaps, but untrue.

A comment asked for the readings assigned for Marsha Enright's "Morality of Capitalism" class. It's a long list of authors that includes Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith, Mill, Marx, Engels, Carl Menger, Max Weber, Herbert Croly, Veblen, Schumpeter, Hazlitt, Mises, Rand, Rawls, and Nozick. As survey courses go, this one may try to cover too much too fast. But nobody can say the list is stacked in favor of one perspective.

Student opposition to Enright's course is just one more piece of evidence that something is amiss at Shimer, and it's not to be found in the office of the president.

Joe Bast

Mr. Bast: Your organization, the Heartland Institute, has received over $1 million from the Barre Seid foundation, Shimer's former anonymous donor. Apparently, he's your largest all-time donor. He's also a major donor to many of Lindsay's recent trustees, as well as the employer of two. If connections like these don't compel your imagination that there's a conspiracy, perhaps we should talk instead about "conflict of interest." Did you, perchance, acknowledge this conflict when you filled out your disclosure forms for becoming a trustee at Shimer College? Are you capable of independent judgment while so powerfully beholden to to such an interest?

I'm not interested in your arguments on the subject of political correctness. To me they are simply a smoke screen for the real issue Shimer faces: Tom Lindsay and his radical trustee cronies' attempt to remake Shimer to suit their particular ideological image with no concern for the character, history, traditions, and community which have defined Shimer until now. Lindsay can have as many open meetings as he'd like, but until he learns to listen to the community rather than his pre-established ideological vision of higher education, he will fail as Shimer's president.

As a Shimer alum I've had classes with people like Lindsay: people who thought so highly of their own opinions that they were unable to hear what others were saying; people who couldn't help but reinterpret everything anyone said through their own narrow ideological lens. If they were too stubborn, they would eventually quit the college as it became increasingly clear that they were boring their classmates and nobody was interested in hearing their repetitive, predictable comments. Many times, typically by the second or third year, they'd learn to question their own opinions and presuppositions, and thus open the door to a more substantial and authentic understanding of what it means to dialogue. They'd cultivate a sense—dare I say like Socrates?—of humility and, therewith, the ability to really learn.

The reason Lindsay has failed as Shimer's president is because he doesn't understand this. He has and continues to arrogantly disregard the opinions of the faculty, students, and alumni, making it impossible for him to manage the institution effectively. This might not matter somewhere else. But at Shimer it does, and it should.

Shimer Alum

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