Good Stories, Bad News

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A heads-up for readers with dental phobia: associate editor Trey Popp’s cover story, “House Dentist,” includes some fairly graphic descriptions of tooth extractions and related procedures.

Perhaps even more shocking, the article’s subject, Alisa Kauffman D’85, performs those procedures not in the controlled environment of a dental office but in the homes of her patients—elderly men and women (average age 90, she estimates) who for reasons of illness or infirmity can’t make the trip to see her.

Kauffman clearly thrives on the ingenuity demanded by her unique practice, whether that involves figuring out how to work in confined bedroom and kitchen spaces or convincing patients—many of whom suffer from dementia—to cooperate when she’s treating them. (“I have to do a lot of lying,” she told Trey.)

What also comes through is Kauffman’s generous and sincere curiosity about her patients’ lives and what they can teach the rest of us. One lesson for longevity: “don’t let life aggravate you” seems to be the key, which Kauffman has taken to heart. As for her practice, she says, “as long as my back stays strong, I’ll be okay.”

Speaking about his mentor, Lewis H. Lapham, Peter Struck credits the now 82-year-old former Harper’s magazine editor’s “curiosity with a very broad reach” as being “of a piece with the thing that made me want to be a professor.” Struck, who chairs the Department of Classical Studies, is profiled by Jamie Fisher C’14 in “Peter Struck’s Odyssey.” The article provides an engaging snapshot of Struck as a teacher and details his advocacy for liberal arts education at Penn and in the wider world, his scholarly collaborations, and the views of colleagues (“he’s just cool”) and students (“the most professorial professor”).

Strucks’ 2016 book, Divination and Human Nature, draws connections between the ancient practice and what we might call a hunch or sudden flash of insight—and the sort of conspiracy theories that proliferate on the internet.

In “When Lies Go Viral,” senior editor Samuel Hughes examines the phenomenon commonly described as “fake news,” though Annenberg Public Policy Center Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson prefers “viral deception,” or VD. Jamieson, Annenberg Dean Michael Delli Carpini C’75 G’75, and other experts weigh in on how VDs are created and disseminated, how they worm their way into our consciousness and resist fact-checking, and some ways to counter them.

The piece also takes a longer view. Technology aside, the Founders might have had an easier time recognizing today’s party-biased, fact-challenged free-for-all than the monolithic media environment of a few decades ago. Back then, centralization was the “primary complaint,” Penn provost and Annenberg professor Vince Prince noted to Sam: “Sometimes you get what you wish for.”

Before reading “The Serene Strategist” by Dennis Drabelle G’66 L’69, I had not known that Alice Paul G1907 Gr1912 was the first activist to stage a protest at the White House, posting pickets with banners demanding, “MR. PRESIDENT, WHAT WILL YOU DO FOR WOMAN SUFFRAGE?” I also hadn’t realized how brutally the suffragists were treated.

By the time the 19th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1919, Dennis writes, the protestors’ “final tally … was 2,000 pickets, 500 arrests, and 168 jail sentences.” Paul herself was arrested multiple times, and suffered months of force-feedings. Dennis quotes her on the process—speaking of graphic descriptions. He also writes that there was some fear that the effects of the forced feedings would damage her health, but Paul lived to be 92.

She would have had some great stories to tell Alisa Kauffman.

—John Prendergast C’80

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