Responses to Our Winter 2018 Issue

Foreign Farm to Table

In his Winter 2018 cover story (“Here’s the Beef with Chicken from China”), James McWilliams reports on concerns about the safety of chicken imported from China. Here in Europe, there are similar concerns about chicken produced in the United States. As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, hopes for a U.K.-U.S. free-trade deal are tempered by worries that Britain may be required to accept imported chicken that has been washed in chlorinated water, a practice that is not permitted by strict E.U. food safety rules because of fears that it may be used to mask poor hygiene standards in poultry-processing factories in the United States.

The European Union also bans imports of American beef and pork treated with growth hormones. There are three reasons: uncertainty over the dangers of such chemicals to human health, the adverse effect of growth hormones on the welfare of the animals, and concerns about the chemicals finding their way into the environment via animal effluent. British farmers also worry that they may be put out of business by a flood of cheap imported chicken and meat from the United States. I am sure that your readers will appreciate the irony.

David Harper
Cambridge, England

I was very disappointed with the scaremongering tone of James McWilliams’s article. He tells us that every governmental agency that has worked on this issue for the past 15 years now agrees to the importation of cooked chicken from China. Any importation is unlikely to rise to more than one percent of the U.S. chicken market, and inspections of the farms of origin will be made as needed and tax revenues allow. This puts the risk to the population down there with the odds of becoming a lottery millionaire.

Yet McWilliams’s article is full of dire warnings, unspecified dangers, and unanswered questions. He presupposes that all corporations are greedy, all Chinese are corrupt, and all government workers are either venal or stupid. The unknowing consumer therefore has to be protected. Fortunately all this has little relation to reality. The current system is certainly not perfect, but the good people who make it run seem to have gotten the risks down close to the irreducible minimum. I will continue to make chicken nuggets for my grandchildren with a light heart.

D. Pariser
Brooklyn, New York

James McWilliams responds: Apparently D. Pariser reads as carefully as he eats. My piece actually proposes a potentially beneficial outcome for the importation of Chinese chicken into the United States—that is, a world with safer chicken for all, including the Chinese. The ultimate failure to meet this potential is, as I demonstrate through a careful analysis of USDA inspection reports, due to a consistent regulatory failure. That’s not scaremongering. It’s the documented reality. Meanwhile, with the Bush and Trump administrations having colluded as actively as they have to allow importation without proper regulation, I truly hope that as the writer continues to serve chicken nuggets to his family, none of them wins the lottery.

Suffering and Joy

Phil Klay’s “Tales of War and Redemption” is an astounding piece of writing. I can’t really remember what it was like to follow a religion, so it’s rare to come across a story that gets me closer to understanding why people might retain their faith even when they’ve witnessed the cruelty of warfare.

Richard Pendavingh
from our website

Blowing the Whistle

“Tuskegee Truth Teller” by Carl Elliott is an excellent piece on a forgotten hero. It reminded me of my own experience in the early 1970s, when I was exposed to a city jail that an Ivy League university had annexed for an array of human experiments. The culture of acceptance and following orders was pervasive; just asking questions put one in jeopardy. Years later I delved into the sorry history of using prisoners as guinea pigs, and my book Acres of Skin was the result. Without Peter Buxtun’s efforts to illuminate Tuskegee, abuse in the guise of research might still be occurring.

Allen Hornblum
from our website

After the Diagnosis

“We’ll Do Everything We Can” by Patrick Tripp is an engaging account of a daily life-and-death struggle that many doctors endure. However, as a medical professional who also faces frequent death and dying, I find the essay a bit myopic. Dr. Tripp’s comment after diagnosis—“Right. I’ll call the wife, treat him today”—seems somewhat disconnected from any choice the patient or his family may have had regarding the course of treatment. There is presupposition that the doctor’s opinion is the obvious and only way. Granted, the situation was urgent, yet once the surgeon stabilized the patient, shouldn’t there have been a more in-depth discussion among family regarding side effects, survival times, and prognosis? These matters, as well as alternatives to treatment, should be part of any diagnosis. It must always be remembered that attached to every disease there is a human being.

Ronald Hirschberg, M.D.
Boston, Massachusetts

The Lineage of Conscience

May I suggest that the historiography that Marilynne Robinson calls for (“What Is Freedom of Conscience?”) has already been inaugurated in Nicholas Miller’s The Religious Roots of the First Amendment (2012)? Miller traces the development of religious liberty through a chain of influence stretching from Luther to Locke through the dissenting Protestants, and then through more dissenting figures down to Madison. It fits very well with Robinson’s genealogy of the freedom of conscience. Of course, there is more historical work to be done, but Miller has made a promising start.

David Hamstra
from our website

Operation Dizzy

The article about Dizzy Gillespie (“The Chief of Entertainers”) was superb, and I congratulate David Grogan. Having been a jazz enthusiast for most of my life, I truly appreciated this very complete assessment of the master’s life. While reading the account of the six-hour surgery Gillespie underwent at Englewood Hospital, I knew that the only surgeon who could have performed the procedure was my mentor, colleague, friend, and hero, Herbert Dardik. So today, I called Dr. Dardik, and lo and behold, I was correct! At the time, Gillespie presented with an advanced, six-centimeter pancreatic tumor. There was no hope for a cure, but there was the possibility of palliation to give him some valuable time, which Dr. Dardik well knew. As surgeons, we are grateful when we can prolong a patient’s life to let him or her have a few more precious moments.

Richard Lynn, M.D.
Palm Beach, Florida

David Grogan’s article brought back fond memories of my having lunch with Dizzy in 1981. I was traveling aboard a cruise ship, and Dizzy and his group were the featured entertainment. I introduced myself, saying that I was a musician and a singer but professionally a psychologist. I also mentioned growing up in his hometown, Englewood, New Jersey. Immediately Dizzy invited me to join him, and for the next two hours, we had a delightful conversation. He was very friendly and shared many stories. It was of interest to him that music was in my background. At one point in the conversation he said, “You know it’s not too late for you to get in the music business.”

After savoring a massive amount of food, Dizzy stood before a revolving cake machine, gazing at the various choices. After about five minutes, realizing he had eaten enough, he commented, “I ain’t gonna mess with this.” For the remainder of the cruise, Dizzy was most cordial every time we chanced to meet. I treasure the experience.

Kenneth Herman
Wyckoff, New Jersey

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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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