Letters: The Wild West
June 1, 2011 |  by Johns Hopkins Staff

Americans and guns: Mass insanity

Your spread on gun control [The Big Question, “Is America Culturally Capable of Controlling Its Guns?” Spring] caught my interest, which lasted just long enough for me to read it. Interest quickly turned into dismay.

All my European friends think when it comes to guns we Americans exhibit a mass insanity, and I must agree with them. In fact, I think it is a criminal insanity given that over 2,000 of us have been killed by gunfire just since the Tucson shootout. It’s one of the more rebarbative aspects of our society, but I’m sure my friends will be comforted to learn that we are doing a lot of research on the subject.

I have long wondered why we can’t treat guns the same way we treat automobiles. The same testing, licensing, insurance, safety checks, registration, and so on should apply. All renewable every year or so. Just like cars, you could own as many as you had space for. Big ones, little ones, whatever. Who could possibly object? Oh yeah, I forgot the so-called conservatives. Well, never mind.

Michael M. Stroup, A&S ’66
Waimanalo, Hawaii

No common ground in the gun control debate

I was looking forward to seeing some fresh ideas in “The Big Question.” Surely here, I thought, we would be presented with more than the usual clichés and half-truths that revolve around the use of guns in America. Sadly, it was the same old liberal mishmash. The attempt to portray [New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Engr ’64] as standing on some common ground between the camps was especially ridiculous. When Bloomberg is not riding one of his many hobbyhorses, he is leading the charge of the anti-gun nuts. It was sad to see a respected Hopkins professor so butchering the truth.

Dennis Armstrong, A&S ’74 (PhD)
Norwalk, California

Is gun research impartial?

Daniel W. Webster’s attachment to the Bloomberg School of Public Health leads me to question the impartiality of any research he might present in answering the question, “Is America Culturally Capable of Controlling Its Guns?”

In Mayor Bloomberg’s New York City, it takes months and costs hundreds of dollars to obtain a handgun permit, and the application can be refused for any reason or no real reason at all. The disappointed applicant can then spend more hundreds to go to court, where he will face an experienced city attorney, and chances of success are slim. In the meantime, New York City does not even recognize the permits issued by New York State.

I have yet to hear the mayor suggest that the laws prevailing in his domain would be a fine idea for the entire nation. Even if Webster shares that opinion, I do not, and I suspect that most gun owners do not either.

John Gorman, A&S ’61 (MA), ’67 (PhD)
Miami, Florida

Africa’s “resource curse”

Dale Keiger explored some interesting questions in the Spring issue [“The Curse of the Golden Egg”]. I, too, have wondered why Africa’s natural resources have not led to widespread prosperity for its inhabitants.

European countries colonized Africa in much the same way as they colonized North America. Both continents were rich in natural resources. Yet somehow the natural resource wealth of North America has been spread to a wider segment of the population rather than to a few socialist dictators, as is generally the case in Africa. The vibrant economies of Canada and the United States have resulted in great infrastructure improvements (roads, rail, communications) and abundant energy has led to excellent public health (water, sewer, reliable electric power, etc.).

There are at least two factors that may explain the difference between the two continents: No. 1, strong constitutions have produced stable governments with peaceful transitions of power; No. 2, free competition and private enterprise have enabled the natural resources to be developed in a manner that benefits the broader society.

While the goals of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative sound credible, I fear that the basic governmental models in Africa will still prevent significant trickle-down to the people from the wealth of their natural resources.

Bob Vaughan, SPH ’84 (ScD)
Lutherville, Maryland

JHU Center for Africana Studies

“African Studies” [Spring] was a thoughtful account of the challenges in Africa and the innovative ways our university is helping to address them. Especially given my own research there, most recently in South Africa, I read it with great interest.

I would like to add to the magazine’s feature the remarkable work JHU’s Center for Africana Studies is conducting, not just to solve Africa’s practical dilemmas, but to research and document the complex cultural, political, intellectual, and social histories of African people.

Under the leadership of Franklin Knight, Ben Vinson, and Floyd Hayes, the center spans diverse academic disciplines and offers important programs for our students. For example, Siba Grovogui, a professor in our political science department, has extensively studied African sovereignty. Working in conjunction with Lori Leonard of the School of Public Health, Grovogui is currently researching the recently introduced global governance of Chad. Or consider the history department’s Pier Larson, whose research focuses on slavery and the slave trades in eastern and southern Africa. Just as importantly, some of the center’s associated faculty, like sociologist Pamela Bennett, aim to address the African experience here in the United States. Bennett’s latest research draws attention to the trends and consequences of racial residential segregation among African Americans.

Outside of research and course work, the center conducts a study-abroad program in Ghana; the Critical Thought Collective, where regional Africana scholars gather to exchange ideas on the African experience; and a lecture series that examines the triumphs and tragedies of Africans and African Americans around the world.

Over the long term, the Center for Africana Studies’ broad intellectual exploration leads to the kind of cultural understanding that effects true, transformational change.

Katherine S. Newman, Dean
Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Teach with Africa

The Spring issue showcased important and exciting programs currently conducted in Africa. Another program that may be of interest to readers is a reciprocal education venture between the United States and South Africa that was founded in 2007.

Along with my wife, Marjorie, we created Teach with Africa (www.teachwithafrica.org) to respond to the dire shortage of teachers in South Africa and the education disparities that continued to exist post-apartheid. This rapidly growing nonprofit organization has funded multidisciplinary teams (teachers, mental health workers, and MBAs/social entrepreneurs) who assist schools in the townships and rural areas of South Africa each summer and then return to the United States to assist in our own challenged communities.

Teach with Africa depends on highly skilled and passionate volunteers for its projects. We are unique in that we fund expenses for these volunteers, and we would welcome Hopkins students, faculty, and alumni as participants.

Larry B. Schlenoff,
A&S ’68
Founder, Teach with Africa
San Francisco, California

Peak oil, peak population

The most compelling issue in this very interesting article [Wholly Hopkins, “Running on Empty?” Spring] is that the public health community has done such a wonderful job in the last century that the world population has exploded. Just as there is a Hubbert peak for oil production, there are certainly peak points for many other commodities critical to human vitality. With the current emergence of China as a mega-consumer and with the rapidly advancing India joining China, this seems a certainty.

Although the article’s focal point was oil, I think it is just an example used to open the door to a much bigger picture, which is: There must be some point at which population growth becomes a huge issue, big enough to threaten the overall quality of life—indeed life itself—for almost all humans excepting the wealthiest segments. There has to be some population number that, when exceeded, will result in a global community that just cannot cope anymore. This leads to the real issue: At some point, the public health community will be fighting not only oil and other commodity shortages, but they will be fighting the legacy of their own success over the last century.

John Convey
Roslyn, New York

Moth beauty

Your brief article about the “Audubon of moths,” John Cody, Med ’49 (Cert), was very welcome [Alumni News & Notes, “Moth Fancy,” Spring]. Readers should be aware that 15 of Dr. Cody’s original moth paintings are on display on the third and fourth floors in the new Wilmer Eye Institute’s Robert and Clarice Smith Building. They are gorgeous beyond words and need to be seen to be believed.

Morton F. Goldberg, M.D.
Professor of Ophthalmology
School of Medicine
Director Emeritus,Wilmer Eye Institute

Old Shatterhand

Nobody could have been more surprised to see an article about Karl May in Johns Hopkins Magazine [Essay, “Lost in Translation,” Spring]. It brought back wonderful memories of a friend’s backyard, sitting on the grass with a bunch of kids smoking a peace pipe (with tobacco and dried oak or maple leaves—a wonder we did not all get sick). Everybody our age group read Karl May; Chief Winnetou and Old Shatterhand were a part of our childhood and we talked about our heroes for hours on end. What great adventures we shared with them!

Karl May was not a great writer in the classical sense nor a good role model (we did not know about his past), but then other writers did not belong on a pedestal either. He kept our imagination alive, kept us wondering about that far, far great place—the American Wild West. It might even be more important that he kept us reading.

Ever since I could read, I have enjoyed authors from Homer to Goethe, Shakespeare to Voltaire, Mark Twain to Kleist, Schiller to Steinbeck, Tolstoy to Gogol and Dostoyevsky, etc., but no book would compare to the youthful joy I got out of Karl May.

If there are Karl May festivals in Germany, I hope his fans enjoy him as much as I did so many, many years ago.

Helga Dajani
Manteno, Illinois