Responses to our Spring 2011 Issue


How Many Neandertals Does It Take … ?

Priscilla Long in her essay “Interview with a Neandertal” (Spring 2011) says: “About 140,000 years ago, some catastrophic event wiped out most of the founding population of Homo sapiens. This calamity, whatever it was, decimated a population of 12,800 individuals down to a remnant of 600. We today—all of us—descend from those 600 survivors.”

This is so completely contrary to information I have been examining that I sent these sentences to two of the leading experts, both of whom were quite definite that this is wrong. According to Francisco Ayala, former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and author of the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on evolution, “The ge­netic evidence overwhelmingly indicates that our ancestral populations were never smaller than several thousand breeding individuals.”

Owen Gingerich
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Priscilla Long replies: The source of my information, regarding the numbers being questioned by Professor Gingerich, is Lucy’s Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins by the paleoanthropologist Donald C. Johanson and Kate Wong, page 267: “Geneticists believe that sometime about 140,000 years ago, the founding population of modern humans underwent a catastrophic event that slashed their numbers from around 12,800 breeding individuals to a mere 600.

“These 600 people gave rise to the modern humans who would one day leave Africa and colonize the rest of the world. In other words, they were the ancestors of every human alive today. What was it that nearly drove our species to extinction so soon after it first evolved?”

My Name Is Bill

Kudos to William Deresiewicz for his article “The True Church” (Spring 2011) praising Alcoholics Anon­ymous. The organization has a rich history of being the answer to the prayer of its millions of members for a better life. As a clinical psychologist I can attest to many of my patients crediting AA for their return to a respectful and meaningful life.

Alcoholics Anonymous provides its members an opportunity to gain insight and strength in an atmosphere of friendly accep­tance and to be continuously rewarded with praise for maintaining sobriety. That rates it high in being praiseworthy when compared to the aims of any church.

Kenneth Herman
Wyckoff, New Jersey

AA and its offspring dealing with other addictive and compulsive disorders call themselves spiritual rather than religious so that those who need them aren’t discouraged by a knee-jerk aversion to religion. AA does have roots in organized religion as well as Jungian psychology and the socially cooperative anarchism of Kropotkin. But the extraordinary transformations that take place there can’t be boiled down to any formula.

Elizabeth Zelvin
New York, New York

Rome Was First

Sam Kean in his review of The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick errs in claiming that the Royal Society, chartered by Charles II in 1660, is “the world’s first scientific organization.” He’s off by a number of years: 1603 saw the founding in Rome of L’accademia dei lincei, which numbered Galileo Galilei among its members. The Florentine Accademia del cimento, 1657, also comes in ahead of the Royal Society. Granted, there are problems of continuity with each of these accademie. However priority, not continuity, is in question here.

Charles Donovan
Los Osos, California

World Series Error

I wish to call your attention to an error in Doug­las Goetsch’s “Baseball’s Loss of Innocence” in the Spring 2011 issue: “Prior to the very first World Series, Rube Waddell, the ace of the Philadelphia pitching staff, was offered $17,000 by gamblers not to play.”

Whether or not Waddell was offered a bribe to sit out a World Series is controversial, but whatever the truth, it was certainly not the first one. That occurred in 1903 and the teams that played were Pittsburgh and Boston. The series that Waddell sat out was the second one in 1905 between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Athletics. There was no series in 1904 because the Giants, the National League pennant winner, refused to play.

Steven A. King
New York, New York

Douglas Goetsch replies: Mr. King is correct: it was in 1905, the second World Series, that Rube Waddell was offered money not to play. I went back and checked the source I used, Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out, which confirms that it was 1905. So the mistake is all mine. Here’s what Asinof wrote: “Horace Fogel [former president of the Philies] recalled how, in 1905, a group of New York gamblers, headed by little Tim Sullivan, approached Rube Waddell, star pitcher of the A’s, and offered him $17,000 to stay out of the World Series against the Giants.”
My apologies!

Ninety and Counting

This nonagenarian plus two appreciates very much the wit and wisdom expressed by Doris Grumbach in her essay “The View from 90.” It makes my growing old a challenging pleasure.

Stanley I. Adelstein
Pepper Pike, Ohio

Here is another version of old age (mine) to somewhat modify Doris Grumbach’s essay in the Spring issue of the Scholar.

Old age can be beautiful, even after the doctor explains to you that you are old. You need to have an infinite amount of good luck. It also helps if you have inherited good genes, an amazing immune system, and a strong survival instinct that makes you take care of yourself, obeying an inner sense that walking after 80 is overrated, especially in your own home after you fell the first time.­ Then you easily stay interested in watching new bridges being built, meeting new people who come from all over the world, cheering at your favorite ball games, always reading books and enjoying poetry.

Last but not least, you must help to make a better world. You are allowed impossible dreams, not of an afterlife, but just up to the very end. Let there be no mourning for me.

Frances K. Geballe
Woodside, California

Peaceful Montana

Adam Goodheart’s “Civil Warfare in the Streets” (Spring 2011) explains in part a puzzle in my wife’s Montana family. We had wondered why her paternal ancestors, the Sparlins, from the far southwest corner of Missouri, and her maternal ancestors, the Lays, from the far northeast corner had migrated to Montana. The violence related to the Civil War was terrifying, and it spread out from St. Louis.

Gerald A. Gronert
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cheap Shots

As an American Scholar subscriber for approximately 12 months now, I recently read your “Editor’s Note” introducing the Spring edition and am most disappointed. I felt it was too cheaply partisan for what I thought was a very wise journal. Taking shots at “crackpot” Supreme Court justices and “history challenged” Tea Partiers does not, in my opinion, advance the public discourse.

When I became increasingly captivated by the current events and public-policy opinions of our best and brightest, I gave myself the task of amassing six to eight journals that would fully encircle the spectrum of thoughtful opinion.  The American Scholar made my cut, and I have been enjoying it ever since. Not once in four issues have I felt that the journal unfairly ridiculed a certain constituency—until the Spring note.

Wes Anderson
Little Rock, Arkansas

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