Killers among us

Readers respond to a review of "Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago" and an interview about perpetrators of genocide.

Published August 23, 2002 3:42PM (EDT)

[Read the review by Charles Taylor of "Heat Wave."]

Well, I was living in Chicago during the heat wave in 1995. It was disgustingly hot. And it was 120 degrees inside. (I'm also a public health professional and a municipal government employee, not currently in Chicago.)

That said, though, I've got some beef(s) with the book's argument ... Deaths attributable to heat do not have as clear or direct causal linkages as from cold. The numbers the book throws around seem inflated -- especially since those who die from heat are the usual suspects (very old, very young or very sick), and thus singling out heat as the cause of death is a bit shaky. One can certainly get heat stroke, but excessive heat isn't going to kill someone whose system isn't already somehow compromised. I certainly can't say what kind, if any, political pressure was put on the coroner, but to allege that heat alone killed all those people is bunk, and there is absolutely no way the CDC would support any such conclusions.

More than that, though, I think I really disagree with laying such blame on [Chicago mayor Richard M.] Daley and his alleged management style. I recall that the city was trying to do its best to help folks out -- with cooling centers, lots of PSAs to check on elderly neighbors, etc. What the heck else can be done? The city most certainly does not run on a profit, believe you me. There certainly is profit to be made through insider contract deals, etc., but not through city policy, as the book apparently alleges.

City services' response times were not any longer then than they always are. Emergency medical services are unbelievably expensive and no city has the fleet required to reduce the response times cited in the book. Sheesh, look at what NYC had to do on and following 9/11. Now, I have no knowledge of '95 CFD information tracking or how they communicate(d) with area hospitals -- but on "ER" the ambulances always radioed in, didn't they?

What does this guy expect municipalities to do? Buy everyone an air conditioner and mandate their use? I definitely remember the brown-outs that summer and every summer since because Con Ed could not provide sufficient power to the grid to support such high energy usage during heat waves. So what would happen if everyone ran their AC? Complete blackout! Now I admit I have been working in the public sector for a while now and am certainly growing more cynical (as if that were possible), but I'm also a lot wiser about what government and other external groups can do for impoverished, mentally ill, and/or substance-addicted folks. Really, you can lead a horse to water, you can tell him where it is and how to get there and why it'll be great for him, but you really and truly cannot make him drink.

Finally, it is patently obvious that the author has not been to Chicago for many years. The North Lawndale neighborhood has been the targeted focus of numerous foundations and public/private partnerships and is now revitalizing at an exciting pace. The author clearly did not research the Chicago Police Department at all, since there is no mention of community policing and its many obvious successes.

-- Julie Sullivan

No, the Chicago heat is not "different from places like the Middle East or the tropics where ... people have found ways to cope with it." It's still hot, and oppressive, and relentless. And guess what? People survive it.

American wimpiness about the weather is unique on this planet, and our expectation that flipping a switch will bring instant air conditioning is laughable at best, and as the Chicago debacle showed, occasionally deadly.

Bakersfield, Calif., though admittedly an oxter of a city, routinely experiences 100 days of more than 100-degree heat a year. Only a portion of the populace can afford to run air conditioners so they ... open windows! Sit under trees! Work at night! When it gets really hot they wear less clothing!

Fucking duh.

If you can't justify $1,000-a-month electric bills you come up with alternatives ... or else you turn to dim sum. Blaming your own ineptitude on the city government is such a classic urban cop-out, it's no wonder no one takes books like this seriously.

Please don't tax me to pay for this whinefest. Sheesh.

-- ahansen

[Read "Ordinary People, Extraordinary Evil," by Suzy Hansen.]

John M. Chivington slaughtered 200 at Sand Creek, Colo., yet today his memory is honored by the Chivington Friends Church, a Quaker body of the same ilk as produced Richard Nixon's godliness. Those good plains pacifists are no doubt ordinary people, though their deafness to irony is indeed extraordinary.

-- Mark Kind

Thanks for the great article. I underlined a lot, and saved it.

As a minor, curious aside, I am baffled as to why scholar [James] Waller would discuss the Holocaust in such great detail without so much as even a nod to the other 45 percent of the victims (nearly half the 11 million total, who weren't Jews).

This is not to diminish the extraordinary fact of 6 million of one group being exterminated, but surely the rest of the tally is important too, and more people would be aware of the full extent of the Holocaust if scholars, in a detailed discussion of the Holocaust in particular, would at least make a passing reference to the actual total.

-- Larry Hallock

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