Johns Hopkins Magazine -- September 1998
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Bad manners are nothing new
An M.D. in manners
Serious defects in "Boors"
What about manners in Asia and Africa?
In defense of "modern mothers"
A genetics-related error
Short-sighted and demeaning
Long waits for transplants

Bad manners are nothing new

I enjoyed reading " Are We a Nation of Boors?" [June] but I had to chuckle over the apparent tone of seriousness. Come on now. [Writer Dale Keiger] and the researchers must be going too fast into early middle age to be so sensitive to the decay of social values. Every generation goes through the same experience. Just ask those who are now in their 60s and 70s what it was like to watch the moral decay exhibited by the youth of the 70s, particularly the resistance to the Vietnam war and the advent of open and casual sexual activity.

Incidentally, you might want to check out a copy of St. Augustine's Confessions. Although written approximately 1,600 years ago, its language condemning the growing insolence of youth and their coarse manners in the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria sounds just like a commentary of our present time.
Linc Smith (Eng. '65)

An M.D. in manners

Professors Forni and Sissa are to be commended for their investigation into the incivility plague. I suggest that, to complete their project, they investigate the manners of medical doctors.

Fortunately, I've experienced some exceptionally courteous and compassionate physicians over the years. But there have been several who have not mastered basic etiquette, like "Hello, I'm Dr. Jones," much less "Sorry to have kept you waiting" (for 45 minutes, clad only in a sheet, in a 65-degree room, with no reading matter). Responding to a reasonable question about my body, an obstetrician patted me on the head, said "There now, my dear, let me worry about that," and changed the subject. The ultimate boor was the gynecological surgeon I first encountered in the examining room as he performed a pelvic exam, while delivering a verbal case history and recommendation to several residents--then left without ever having looked or spoken to me, much less identifying himself.

Most patients need to be treated as people, not brainless objects. Perhaps Johns Hopkins Hospital could initiate a radical national trend by teaching basic first-grade etiquette to each resident. Then Manners would be included in the M.D., and we could expect our physician to be at least as courteous as a penitentiary inmate.
Page S. Williams
Houston, TX

Serious defects in "Boors"

As a longtime reader of the Magazine and one of Judith Martin's myriad fans, I read "Are We a Nation of Boors?" with considerable interest. While many of the sources quoted in the article had illuminating things to say, the author of the article and the editor left many serious defects in it: linguistic, historical, and substantive.

Linguistic: The "from" in "from whence" on p. 35 is redundant because "whence" already has the "from" built into it; hence [from hence?] it should have been omitted. On p. 37 it is said that "[j]ostling may entail"; since the subject is not logic and the verb is transitive, I'm sure "ensue" was meant.

Historical: On p. 36 reference is made to Immanuel Kant's Ethics (I presume his lectures on ethics are being referred to), and a position (or lack of position) on an important ethical question is erroneously attributed to Kant. In 1797 Kant published a famous treatise on the subject (Uber ein vermeintes Recht, aus Menschenliebe zu Lugen [roughly, Concerning the Alleged Right to Tell a Lie for Humanitarian Reasons]) and took a very definite stance against lying even under the circumstances described in the article.

Substantive: A great deal is said at various places in the article about "face" (as in "saving face"), including several in which it is maintained that civility depends upon each member of a society having a concern for his "face" and that of others. However, the prison anecdotes (as well as the "jostling" passage) indicate that such a concern leads to the very opposite of civility. The author (or, if not he, then the editor) should at least call the reader's attention to the inconsistency.

Finally a contribution to the subject, which comes from Epictetus: If you hear that someone has spoken ill of you, he recommends that you not defend yourself (or your face) but respond to the informant that the detractor obviously does not know you very well; otherwise he would have mentioned your other faults (Encheiridion 33). I think that Epictetus had a good grasp of one of the bases of civility.
Dale E. Burrington (PhD '64)
Oneonta, NY

What about manners in Asia and Africa?

In "Are We a Nation of Boors?" the study by professors Pier Massimo Forni and Giulia Sissa seems to be exclusively centered on European origins of manners. That leaves out 90 percent of the rest of this globe. This is important to point out because we are experiencing a massive experiment with "diversity." Having a working knowledge of "Homer, Euripides, Aristophanes, Boccaccio, Freud, the anthropologist Erving Goffman, and the sociologist Norbert Elias" is great. But where are the histories on manners in the continent of Africa and Asia, and what did [these] add to "(O)ur modern idea of what constitutes proper behavior...?"
H. Randall Miller Jr.
Ocean View, DE

In defense of "modern mothers"

While reading your article on boorishness, I was surprised to see the sidebar wherein a woman complains of a "Modern Mother" who "kept up a running stream of (mostly one-way) conversation at top volume" [p. 35]. As the mother of a young child, I feel it necessary to point out that such conversations are directed at the personal development of the child and not, as the author interprets, evidence of "modern parents who seem to want everyone to know they have an especially brilliant child and they are marvelous parents." Numerous studies have shown children can understand speech and its nuances long before they can coherently speak and it would seem that the advantages of these "one-way" conversations outweigh the initial discomfort [on the part of parents].

In an article dealing with civility, there is a certain irony in the author's rush to judgment of the mother as overbearing, arrogant, and offensive. Where is the civility in assuming another's intentions are rude instead of granting the benefit of the doubt?
Erica Nemser '93

A genetics-related error

I am writing to point out a major error in " When Life Imitates Science" [June]. [Premature infant] Faith Richstmeier was not at risk for cystic fibrosis as a result of her surgery or a possible brain bleed. CF is a genetic disease, autosomal recessive, as you probably know. It is never environmental or acquired in origin.

As Johns Hopkins is the embodiment of modern medical genetics (and I was a fellow under [Victor] McKusick in 1961!) it is surprising to find a genetic error in the text. Surely, tell me, it was put in to find out how carefully we read the magazine.
Hope Punnett

Your careful reading did, in fact, catch us in error. We meant to say cerebral palsy, rather than CF. --SD

Short-sighted and demeaning

I was thoroughly disappointed to see Wayne Smith on the cover of the April issue of your fine magazine ["Candid About Cuba"]. Having been a student of Mr. Smith while at Hopkins, and having followed his career in political science, I have come to the conclusion that he is a self-serving impersonator, whose convictions regarding Cuba are short-sighted and demeaning to American politics and the citizens of Cuba.

As even the most amateur political historian can explain, the most prominent enemy of life in this century has not been war, famine, or disease, but rather communism and communist dictatorship. The numbers killed by Stalin, Pol Pot, and Chinese communist regimes dwarf the tragedy of the Holocaust; and the killing has been equally meaningless.

If you ask the people of Tibet and those worldwide who have suffered at the hands of communism, perhaps you would be less likely to gladhand a man who leans his success on the foundation of the proliferation of communism.

While in Mr. Smith's class, The Cuban Revolution, Hopkins students were required to purchase Mr. Smith's book, which includes pictures of him barefoot enjoying a barbeque with Castro. We endured canceled classes while Mr. Smith enjoyed visiting Cuba, while boasting about his methods of aiding individuals to circumvent American laws designed to prevent such visits. Even on your cover, he is smoking a Partagas cigar made in Havana, and contraband in the United States. Though once a dedicated civil servant, Mr. Smith has found it more lucrative to flout the laws of the United States and undermine our government's policy decisions.

Mr. Smith, in your article, cited the Pope's visit and the acceptance of religion in Cuba as a demonstration of the people-friendly approach of the Castro regime. But, try as he might, Mr. Smith cannot take credit for a newfound tolerance of religion in Cuba. For over 30 years Castro's regime deplored religion, and imprisoned religious leaders.

Any softening of those policies can be attributed in part to the pressures of American embargos. The diplomatic policy of the United States government regarding Cuba, though slow, is effective. I can only hope, for the sake of the Cuban people, that Mr. Smith changes his mind and retires with haste to some mountain meadow.
Rakesh Sharma '95
New York, NY

Long waits for transplants

This is in reference to the article, "All is not equal for transplant patients" in the June 1998 issue of the magazine. I believe the information concerning the days waited for an organ transplant is very misleading and may discourage some readers from becoming organ donors. People wait for years, not days, for an organ transplant and many die while waiting. This was not mentioned.
Patricia A. Lavenstein
Baltimore, MD

Hopkins researcher Ann Klassen responds:
"The waiting times for liver transplants presented are medians, the time at which half the patients in a given group have received a liver. Some patients wait many fewer days, while some wait longer. The reader is correct in stating that some patients wait as long as several years for a transplant. However, this is more common for patients on the kidney waiting list, who can receive dialysis while waiting.

"In addition, the median waiting time for liver transplant has increased by approximately threefold since 1992, the time of my study. The most recent statistics on waiting time for all types of organ transplants are available from the United Network for Organ Sharing's website at"