Responses to Our Autumn 2015 Issue


The Green Solution?

In response to Harriet A. Washington’s very interesting article on neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs (“The Well Curve,” Autumn 2015), I am curious as to whether researchers are taking into account traditional foods and medicines. People of average means in the West take for granted that we are well fed, even though we only eat a very small portion of our ancestors’ diverse diet. We have many vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and the same should hold true, only more so, for people in developing regions, where people no longer get a diversity of foodstuffs from a subsistence way of life. Plants have coevolved with many of these disease organisms over millennia, so it would seem only logical that people who have access to these plants—as both food and medicines—would benefit. Couldn’t people with NTDs overcome any resulting cognitive decline by using specific nutrients and substances that would help them excrete the metabolites of these NTDs and recover their gut health?

Leigh Glenn
from our website

Harriet A. Washington responds:

Thank you for your very thoughtful letter. However, as my article briefly mentions, some parasites make it impossible for their hosts to derive the benefit from nutrition. Moreover, the deficits often survive pathogen eradication, and both facts cause me to wonder how effective nutritional strategies might be crafted.

An Easy Target

As a trial judge in New York State Supreme Court, Bronx County, and a practicing Catholic, I had a mixed reaction to Mark Edmundson’s “Test of Faith.” The sexual abuse scandal in the Church was a great tragedy and a largely self-inflicted wound. There is no excuse for the reaction of some prelates to the burgeoning scandal. The scars of that wound will be with the Church well into the future. Nevertheless, there are some things Edmundson left unsaid that need to be brought forth.

As the Protestant historian and sociologist Philip Jenkins points out in his study Pedophiles and Priests, the actual incidence of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and its school system is no higher than in any other comparable institution; in fact, it is less than what exists in the New York City school system. This is not offered in any way as a defense. That such abuse should have existed at all is unforgivable. But this prompts the next question: Why was the Catholic scandal the one that received by far the most attention from the media, public officials, and lawyers?

Besides the usual issues—fascination with religious hypocrisy, the unpopularity in the media of some Church positions on the issues—another one occurs to this old trial lawyer and judge. The Church is an ideal defendant. It keeps good records and has both liquid and real property assets. Unlike public school systems, it does not enjoy special legal protections. To sue the City of New York or its public schools, for example, one must give notice of intention to sue within 90 days and must bring a suit within one year of that period. Plaintiff’s attorneys are well aware of this and, being practical litigators, will take aim at the easiest targets. Thus the plethora of suits against the Church. Another reason for the endless stream of stories is that 40 years of malfeasance hit the media all at once. However, it remains a fact that the actual number of sexual offenders when contrasted to the number of clergy is small. This may explain why, as Edmundson writes, the “villagers did not appear outside the walls of every Catholic Church in America.”

I do agree that penance is required and is being paid. Unfortunately, some of those paying are the innocent, not merely the victims but also the poor who would, like my family did, benefit from the good works of the Church, funds for which are now depleted because of the misconduct of some churchmen.

John A. Barone
Bronx, New York

The Paradoxes of Dementia

Dasha Kiper’s “Hope Is the Enemy” is beautifully written in a way that quietly demonstrates the psychological logic of dementia. A gem, so thank you.

Stan Glaser
from our website

As a part-time caregiver who has taken care of three different patients suffering from severe cognitive decline, I greatly appreciate Kiper’s article. It explains many things I had wondered about. One element, however, is not really covered here, and that is the change in disposition and attitude to others. One patient I cared for started out as a most pleasant and convivial person but in the course of time became angry and accusing, not only toward his caregiver but also toward the closest members of his family. His wife, who was totally devoted to him, became his enemy. A good, kind, and caring person at the outset, he was transformed in time to a kind of monster of hatred, accusation, and fear.

Shalom Freedman
from our website

My mother has lost much of her short-term memory. Although she is at a stage now where she trusts those around her to care for her, and is mostly positive and sunny in her disposition, still, the tension between memory and consciousness, the present and the past, the fullness of her as she was and the diminished in-the-eternal-now of her as she is, colors the days. I already feel a mourning at the loss of her even as she continues to trundle through her days with her characteristic brightness that determinedly imitates who she was when she was whole. Kiper’s thoughtful writing is not encouraging, or soothing, but it is valuable to me, because I recognize the currents of personality and identity and connection and the loss of it that she speaks of. Some of what she writes gives expression to what I have half-recognized but would have been unable to express with such clarity.

Todd Gulick
from our website

Moral Responsibilities

I admire the audacity of Elon Musk’s ambition to settle mankind on other planets (“To Mars and Beyond,” Works in Progress). Musk has launched unmanned craft into the deep stratosphere; however, recent failures testify to the great difficulties inherent in taking the first baby steps toward unmanned space vehicles escaping Earth’s orbit, let alone sending families to colonize and populate distant planets. The technical challenges of interplanetary travel cannot be allowed to overshadow the urgent need to question the moral challenges and responsibilities of mankind deserting a damaged Earth to wreak havoc across the galaxy. It also bears thinking whether we can peacefully coexist with life that already exists on the planets that we successfully land on. We cannot help that our moral barometer pivots around the advancement of our own kind at the expense of our competitors, on Earth and elsewhere.

Joseph Ting
Brisbane, Australia

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Our Readers may send letters to The American Scholar, 1606 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009; or e-mail them to Please include a daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited for length or clarity.


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