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Communications from our readers

The techniques and machinery described by Harbour Fraser Hodder in "Bloodless Revolution" (November-December 2000, page 36) will revolutionize many current surgical procedures, and in the near future we will have gentler and safer methods of dealing with tumors throughout the body. Twenty-five years ago, when I was doing my fellowship training in fiberoptic endoscopy with one of the visionary pioneers in the field, it was difficult to imagine that we could remove polyps and lesions from the intestines without having to surgically open the abdomen. Today, the technique is practiced safely throughout the world.

Sevi Avigdor, M.D.
Long Beach, N.J.

 

 

I have a bone to pick. In her fascinating report, Hodder wrote that "FUS [focused ultrasound] will tremendously improve treatment options for women with breast cancer." Does FUS offer no help for the 1,400 men who will die each year in the United States from breast cancer or the hundreds of thousands of us who will learn in time that we need help?

A little over a year ago, my doctor diagnosed a lump, with attendant suppuration, in my breast. Because the veterans' facility in Salt Lake City cannot justify its own mammography equipment, I was referred to the University of Utah. When I got there I found my destination was the "Women's Clinic." And, of course, the waiting room was filled with women getting service of one sort or another. Everyone was very kind to me, and I got great care, but I did have to have a lumpectomy. I greatly wish that "focused ultrasound ablation" had been available for me.

Now that Harvard includes, thank goodness, the distaff and better half of the population, it is imperative that they remember that there are some males around, too, and that we sometimes need help. Or, as some would say, always need help.

William L. Knecht, J.D. '58
Sandy, Utah

 

 

Hodder's article is fascinating. However, she perpetuates a misuse of the word "noninvasive." For example, on page 45 she refers to focused ultrasound as "the most noninvasive treatment of all." "Invasive" is usually used to describe treatments such as surgery, in which tissue is cut with a knife. "Noninvasive" has come to be used for treatments in which the skin is not broken. The obvious implication is that noninvasive treatments are preferable to invasive ones. Laser treatments are referred to as noninvasive, as Hodder refers to ultrasound as noninvasive.

But the word is enormously misleading. The benefit or the risk of treatment is not related to its being invasive or noninvasive in the sense just described. Removing tissue with a surgical knife incision can be virtually undisturbing to the person having such surgery (it also can be extremely devastating), and a noninvasive treatment such as ultrasound, laser, or radiation can be devastating (or virtually nondisturbing). It is the intensity of the biologic effect of the treatment that is the real issue at hand.

When we hear that a "noninvasive laser treatment of the retina" is being recommended because it is noninvasive, we should remember that lasers have the capacity to blast incoming missiles out of the sky a mile away.

George L. Spaeth, M.D. '59
Philadelphia

 

HOUSING THE URBAN POOR

One of the sillier, more pernicious policy proposals appears in Professor Edward L. Glaeser's "Places, People, Policies: An agenda for America's urban poor" (November-December 2000, page 34). He proposes that "all government-provided public housing should be sold off and replaced with vouchers that allow residents to move freely."

Wow. All of a sudden 1.2 million poor, mainly minority, families are using their vouchers in a rental-housing market that is woefully short (and constantly getting shorter) of decent, affordable units (and still exhibits lots of old-fashioned racial discrimination to boot).

This ideology-driven policy recommendation ignores the fact that even though large, badly designed, poorly located projects exist in many large cities, the vast majority of public-housing developments provide decent, safe, affordable housing, superior to what the private market provides, as evidenced by the huge waiting lists most local housing authorities administer.

In all-too-many cases, vouchers currently remain unused because the voucher-holders can't find places to use them. Adding 1.2 million more seekers can only make the problem worse for everyone. The real answer to our shameful housing crisis--some third of the nation still living in substandard, overcrowded, or unaffordable units, a full half-century after Congress promulgated the national housing goal of "a decent home and suitable living environment for every American family"--is creating more decent, affordable housing, best done by community-development corporations, other nonprofits, and public entities. But it's going to require a vast increase in the nation's housing budget, a very different agenda for America's urban poor than what Glaeser cavalierly puts forth.

Chester W. Hartman '57, Ph.D. '67
Poverty & Race Research Action Council
Washington, D.C.

 

Glaeser's article is reminiscent of government professor Paul Peterson's "The Case for Choice" (May-June 1997, page 34), which promoted school vouchers. Glaeser praises Peterson's work in that area although in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and, most recently, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Dayton, it has, under examination, proved variously to be premature, exaggerated, dubious, and unaccountably inconsistent. Glaeser proceeds from the premise that "Nationally, the administration of public housing is generally a disaster," and that therefore depending on private-housing vouchers will "offer potential benefits in terms of administrative costs."

Officials and opinion-makers of all political persuasions support an energetic expansion of the nation's long-established program for housing vouchers, but in the absence of affordable private housing, his proposal to eliminate public housing reveals an idealogue's posturing.

J. Peter Flemming '52
Brooklyn, N.Y.

 

Glaeser's remedies for urban poverty are hardheaded, but a bit chilling to my heart. He is long on Millsian individualism and Benthamite utilitarianism, yet short of Dickensian humanism. He reminds me of Mr. Gradgrind, the archetypal Manchester liberal in Dickens's Hard Times.

As it happens, I spent almost half a century as a "rootless intellectual" following my trade in book publishing. I did enjoy a brief sojourn in Greenwich Village, where I imbibed the communitarianism of Jane Jacobs. For the most part, however, my trade was my community, as it is for much of the professoriate. Only in my retirement, when I have chosen to reside in Albuquerque's North Valley, have I gained a sense of place-based community. Here in the oldest part of our city, with its largely Hispanic traditions, even the poorest citizens would resist being uprooted for mere economic advantage.

Is there not a middle way between Glaeser's person-based strategy and the neighborhood-preservation efforts of, for example, Albuquerque city councilor Vincent Griego, my good neighbor?

John M. Pickering, M.B.A. '43
Albuquerque

 

 

THE WORLD'S POOR

Seldom have I been so disappointed by an article in Harvard Magazine as by the report of the roundtable discussion "The World's Poor" (November-December 2000, page 64). Your experts reviewed the dolorous history of half a century of foreign-aid programs and essentially opted for more of them, with but minor tinkering around the fringes.

Countries become rich when they have honest government administrations, enforce property rights, levy reasonable taxes, and allow an open economy. Nothing more is required. Natural resources are unnecessary: witness Singapore. Education is unnecessary: business will provide training to secure cheap labor. A country following this path will in due course have education, healthcare, and other societal desiderata as surely as day follows night.

With an appropriate business climate, any country can join the developed world. It will attract superabundant investment. Foreign aid is unneeded and may even be counterproductive. Without such a climate, foreign aid will continue to be a hopeless waste.

Your panel could have been refreshed by additions from the "Chicago School," whose recommendations proved to be so successful in Chile.

James W. Needham '53
New York City

 

Your roundtable is a case of "None so blind as those that will not see" taken to the highest level. In Africa, Indonesia, and the Asian subcontinent we have the world's highest birth rates and worst environmental destruction, and here the pundits prate about the relative merits of economic growth versus distribution. The example of (coerced) population control in China is clear; the long-term effects of plagues (1347 is just one example) are recognized; the population explosion and economic disaster that followed the well-intentioned, Rockefeller-funded control of malaria (with DDT) in Sri Lanka after World War II is well documented; but overpopulation as a root cause of poverty gets only passing attention in this learned discussion.

The benefits on poverty of "health measures" are mentioned several times, and if Bill Gates and the World Health Organization had their way, we would have instant "vaccines" for malaria and other endemics. Famine and pestilence are two of nature's controls on overpopulation. What would be the consequences of tens of millions of new malaria survivors in two decades when they reach reproductive age? Economic and health measures to improve poverty, without concomitant, balanced, effective population-control measures, are a bottomless pit.

Joseph W. Goldzieher '40, M.D.
Amarillo, Tex.

 

"The world's poor" provided an excellent overview of the problem of alleviating world poverty, but it could have benefited from the inclusion of experts on science policy. Peter Timmer was right in calling attention to priorities when he stated: "Let's come back to some things that the international community ought to be doing, first and foremost. That's providing international public goods: the vaccines, the research that leads to the vaccines, the agricultural research, the funding for that from the world donor community." Few additional examples of international public goods were cited.

An important omission was the subject of water and salinity. One aspect of that problem deals with genetically modifying crops to be salt tolerant--a topic being researched by Ben Gurion University in the Negev, Israel. A related problem deals with improving drinking water, which is often contaminated by metals and disease organisms. A third problem is partly political and partly technical--how to reallocate fresh water to the various nation states and how to provide poor communities with pure water. The subject of agricultural research that would specifically benefit subsistence economies deserved elaboration. Also worthy of fuller discussion was the possibility of providing electronic and computer teaching aids for children in poor areas.

Monroe Burk, M.B.A. '40
Columbia, Md.

 

The roundtable discussion had many thoughtful ideas. However, in an article covering 16 pages, occurred only a sentence or two (by Mathews) on the interrelated problems of environmental protection and population control. It is the quality of life, not GNP per capita, that should be maximized. Many of the discussants praised China's rapid growth. But this growth has led to a host of environmental problems that are adversely affecting both the cities and the countryside. America, with less than five percent of the world's population, uses more than 30 percent of its energy. China, moving on this same trajectory, would create a national and world catastrophe if they ever achieved our per-capita energy use.

We need a multifaceted approach in which we simultaneously reduce poverty, educate women, increase the availability of birth control, and develop less environmentally degrading technologies for the world's underdeveloped countries.

Allan Lichtenberg '52
Berkeley, Calif.

 

THE H-R SORORITY

I read "The Sorority Scene" by Elizabeth Gudrais '01 (November-December 2000, page 87) with an arched eyebrow. I very briefly flirted with the idea of joining Alpha Kappa Alpha's Wellesley chapter back in 1984. Why didn't I join AKA, when anyone who knows me says I'd be a great fit: snooty, perfectionist in mindset, and decidedly ambitious? Precisely because of those qualities, and also because of a rebellious slant to my personality that unconsciously rejects the idea of conformity in order to be included. As a naive and wide-eyed 18-year-old, I somehow realized that membership (not to mention the commute) would change my Harvard-Radcliffe experience in ways I didn't want. It was much more important to me to be immersed in what many people around the world consider the most exclusive of clubs--a Harvard-Radcliffe freshman class.

AKA and other African-American fraternities and sororities are unique in that members put a lot of time into volunteerism. I wanted (and still want) my community service to come out of some deep personal conviction, and not out of a need to stay included in a particular group. So I dropped out before getting too deep into the rush process.

Gudrais might be interested to learn that her larger membership--in the Harvard-Radcliffe community--will give her friendships, professional connections, and notoriety that sorority membership currently affords her, and I'd argue that the H-R membership ultimately will mean more to her life than sorority membership ever will. No matter where she goes, there will be an H-R alumni chapter waiting to provide friendship, intellectual stimulation, and an opportunity to serve both the University and the community. There will be professional connections that graduates of other schools can never access. Most important, I would hope she would come to see that as a daughter of Radcliffe, she already has access to a community of women who are more than happy to share their lives and interests and can see beyond the next paper or problem set.

Rosiland Jordan '88
Washington, D.C.

 

MISNAMED MUSEUM DIRECTOR

The director of the Worcester Art Museum in the thirties was Francis Henry Taylor, not "Franklin" as you report ("Antioch Revealed," November-December 2000, page 50). He was a giant among American art museum directors, both at Worcester and at the Metropolitan.

Michael Churchman, Ed.M. '64
Kansas City, Mo.

 

RESTORER OF LOST CHILDHOOD

While I was growing up in the 1950s, I would spend each August vacationing on Cape Cod in a rented cottage with my mother and two big sisters. On Friday evenings our father (George S. Speare '23, M.D. '25) would join us for the weekend, chugging in from Boston on the Cranberry Special. Watching for the train to pull into the Hyannis station was an eagerly awaited culmination of the week's pleasures.

One evening our dad emerged from the train cradling an object of wonder: a bright red-and-yellow toy Ferris wheel. It was about a foot across, made entirely of tin, and was a miniature version of the authentic one I loved to ride when the carnival came to Mill Hill in West Yarmouth. This windup toy was a gift for me.

The tin treasure gave me years of enjoyment, and a succession of small dolls and stuffed animals rode in the swaying cars, circling endlessly around the circumference. I don't remember what became of the Ferris wheel, but eventually it disappeared along with the other trappings of my girlhood.

Imagine my surprise several months ago when I walked into Leavitt and Pierce in Harvard Square and spied a collection of colorful tin toys with my beloved Ferris wheel (albeit in a smaller size) displayed among them! Fifty years slipped away as I bought it on the spot. Now this replica holds a place of honor in my own summer cottage on Cape Cod, and is a nostalgic reminder of those idyllic mid-century vacations. Yes, it is a Schylling toy ("Paid to Play," November-December 2000, page 94), and I owe a debt of gratitude to Jack Schylling for restoring a portion of my lost childhood.

Diane Speare Triant, Ed.M. '71
Wellesley Hills, Mass.

 

BE REALISTIC ABOUT ARMS

I read with sorrow the last sentence of Molly Hennessy-Fiske's letter on nuclear terrorism in the November-December 2000 issue (page 6). She wrote: "As many should have in the case of McCarthy, I say question the premise, struggle for a truly free world; destroy the bombs."

Detestation for McCarthy and all his demagogic ilk did not delude most thinking citizens into ignoring the dangers posed to the world by Stalin's paranoid tyranny, backed not only by the hydrogen bomb but also by the Russian armed forces that had beaten Hitler. McCarthy's vile slanders of the innocent did not turn Brezhnev, Khrushchev, and other Russian leaders into woolly lambs to whom we could entrust the world's future.

We would not be serving the "struggle for a truly free world" if we beat our swords into plowshares unless and until we have an effective world government strong enough to keep the peace. That's why I have been a World Federalist for more than 50 years. We will have to give up sovereignty and make substantial financial and political sacrifices to that end.

There is no logic in Hennessy-Fiske's citation of McCarthy as a reason to "question the premise" of guarding against terrorism and other enemies of humankind. Her plea that we "destroy the bombs" shows ignorance of history as well. In the mid 1930s, while Hitler was rearming Germany, the peace initiative swept England. The Oxford Union resolved that "Under no circumstances will we fight for King and country."

A.A. Milne was equally specific. He proposed that Germany and Italy were amenable to reason. Each nation should take an oath to renounce both aggressive and defensive war and to submit all disputes to arbitration. If the worst happened, conquest by a pledge-breaking Germany, Britain would be amply rewarded by having kept its pledge of honor in suffering "a defeat which she has deliberately risked for the sake of the world."

To reconcile this fatuous innocence with the Nazi death camps or with genocide in Africa, Timor, or the Balkans is like expecting Winnie-the-Pooh to stand up against a Nazi panzer division. We need hard-nosed realism. Not only the will to strive for peace, but also the means to defend against armed evil, are indispensable prerequisites to building one world, a better world, a world without war.

John L. Shurtleff '46
Morristown, N.J.

THE DAWN OF REUNION GIVING

May I correct a two-base error in my article on the Harvard College Fund ("An Instrument of Good Will," November-December, page 58)? I stated that the class of 1877's gift for the construction of Harvard Stadium began the Harvard tradition of twenty-fifth reunion fundraising. Wrong. I'd forgotten that the twenty-fifth reunion class of 1872 had raised funds to equip the Memorial Hall tower with clocks in 1897. And--wrong again--it was the class of 1879, not 1877, that made the Stadium gift.

John T. Bethell '54
Manchester, Mass.

 

 

SHOES AND HARVARD

 

Thank you for the delightfully eclectic piece by Edward Tenner on shoes ("Lasting Impressions," September-October 2000, page 36). Its mix of fashion and economic and University history illuminated in such a clever, sophisticated way the morally complex matrix of innovation, exploitation, beneficence, and cruelty that shapes the evolution of a privately funded university and its relationship to surrounding communities. The handsomely photographed collection of exquisite shoes-we-wouldn't- want-to-walk-a-mile-in was an ideal accompaniment.

Lynn Phillips '66
New York City

 

AMBASSADOR WINANT

I was delighted by James O. Freedman's "Vita" on John Gilbert Winant (November-December 2000, page 48). I was living in England during the Second World War and can vouch for the fact that his appointment as U.S. ambassador, replacing the defeatist Joseph P. Kennedy ['12], did indeed lift our spirits at a time when the British Empire was fighting all alone, and it held for us the hope that sooner or later the United States would join us.

A small historical correction: If Winant arrived in England in 1941, the Battle of Britain, which usually refers to the 1940 air battles, had already been won by the Royal Air Force, and it would be more accurate to say that it was during the Blitz that he "walked the streets of London, ablaze from the aerial bombardments...."

Francis de Marneffe
Cambridge

 

 

ON-LINE HEALTH ADVICE

To supplement "Harvard Takes Health On-Line" (November-December 2000, page 80), the Neurology WebForums maintained by affiliated-institution Massachusetts General Hospital are deserving of mention. The URL is www.braintalk.org. These forums provide comfort, information, and support to patients, care-givers, family, and friends.

Walter Nathan, LL.B. '62
New York City

 

 

CELL PHONES AND DRIVING

As a walker, I find the greatest danger in suburbia is from drivers using cell phones who are trying to maneuver 4,000-pound vehicles--usually SUVs-- while driving around corners, rushing to pick up school children or meet the next customer. My research into this problem is less scientific than the work reported on by Barbara Beckwith in "Ring of the Road" (November-December 2000, page 15), but it points toward a quick solution.

If each state's division of motor vehicles added one new component to its qualifying test for drivers--a test to determine the driver's capability of driving with one hand--then the problem would become moot. Failure to pass the test would not disqualify new drivers from receiving a license; they would be prohibited only from driving with one hand. Violators would be subject to fines and penalties.

For those currently licensed to drive who wish to drive with one hand while using a cell phone, drinking coffee, shaving, et alia, it would be necessary to complete the new qualifying test, and that accomplishment would be noted on their licenses. With this change, a driver expert enough to drive with one hand could do so secure in the knowledge that he or she would be breaking no law.

I suspect the lines at the various divisions of motor vehicles would be very short.

Harris I. Cohen '47
Montclair, N.J.

 

HARVARD MAGAZINE AWARDS TWO PRIZES

The editors are delighted to confer two prizes--each carrying a $1,000 award--recognizing articles published in Harvard Magazine last year.

The McCord Writing Prize, named for David T.W. McCord '21, A.M. '22, L.H.D. '56, recalls the high standard he set in prose and verse during his years of service at this magazine and at the Harvard College Fund. It is a pleasure to have this year's prize highlight the work of Jorge I. Domínguez, Dillon professor of international affairs and director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. His essay, "Your Friend, Fidel: A Letter from Cuba" (July-August 2000, page 35), elevated the opinion article from its usual earnestness to a memorable and highly effective level of humor and irony, without sacrificing a scintilla of fact--a rare triumph of craft.

 

The Smith-Weld Prize honors the memories of A. Calvert Smith '14, formerly associate editor of the magazine, secretary to Harvard's governing boards, and exec utive assistant to President James Bryant Conant; and Philip S. Weld '36, former president of the magazine. It is meant to celebrate both distinguished work in general and--of particular interest to Weld--thought-provoking journalism concerning the University. Harbour Fraser Hodder's November-December 2000 cover story, "Bloodless Revolution," on the transformation of surgery, succeeded on both counts. It combined detailed reporting, clarity of expression, and deep insight into the collaboration across disciplinary boundaries that is transforming research and learning throughout the University. Her November-December 1997

cover story on assisted reproduction, "The New Fertility," was of the same high quality, so it is doubly rewarding to honor her now.

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