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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

Ye olde cocaine, philanthropy, loss, inciting the Diploma Riot

November-December 2001

9-11-2001

The staff of Harvard Magazine shares the horror and grief caused by the terrorist attacks of September 11 against New York City and Washington, D.C.--events eloquently captured by Joseph B. Martin, dean of Harvard Medical School, as "the tragedy of lives lost and freedom impugned." A brief report on the University's reactions, and the opinions of faculty experts and others, appears at page 65. Obituary notices for victims from the College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will appear in the January-February issue, and will be posted on the website (www.harvardmagazine.com) then.

~The Editors

RETRO COVER

The September-October cover sports images of two early humans and the headline "Mankind Emerging." Apparently, the staff of Harvard Magazine are unaware that womankind was emerging at approximately the same time. In the United States, anthropology and a number of other disciplines have adopted a more inclusive term, "humankind," which has been in widespread use for at least a decade. Am I to conclude that the prestigious Harvard University is unacquainted with this trend? Perhaps you should have used the words "Boys Emerging."

Sandra Gray
Associate professor of biological anthropology
University of Kansas
Lawrence

The cover is so twentieth century!

Ligia Giese '91
Berkeley, Calif.

 

RADCLIFFE CENTER CONTINUES

Your excellent article about recent changes at Radcliffe ("Radcliffe Ramps Up," September-October, page 58) contains an error, a statement that "the Public Policy Institute will be phased out." The Public Policy Center (not Institute) continues to carry out its ongoing grant work, and we have no plans to eliminate it.

?We are rethinking our engagement in social science and public policy with the intent of strengthening, not diminishing, these commitments. Katherine Newman's arrival as dean of social science to lead these initiatives is part of this reframing effort. She will be developing long-term plans for social science at Radcliffe during the coming year. Part of this process will involve defining what sorts of administrative structures will best facilitate our goals in these areas, and she will be thinking through how to maximize the opportunities for social science that are offered by the Radcliffe fellowship program, the Murray Research Center, and the tradition of public policy at Radcliffe.

We continue to be committed to research that has significant implications for public-policy questions, and we are seeking a new configuration of our efforts that will integrate and maximize our resources in light of our new identity and mission as an institute for advanced study.

Drew Gilpin Faust
Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Cambridge

 

WHAT ELIZABETHANS PUT IN THEIR PIPES

The reference to cocaine in "Shakespeare's 'Tenth Muse'" (September-October, page 16) is mistaken. Cocaine could not have been found by archaeologist Nikolaas van der Merwe and his colleague Francis Thackeray in seventeenth-century artifacts dug from sites in Stratford-on-Avon because it was unknown at that time. The alkaloid cocaine was not isolated from the coca leaf until 1860. It is barely possible, but extremely unlikely, that coca leaves were to be found in England in the seventeenth century. In contrast with tobacco, coca did not become a significant export product, and Europeans never used it until the nineteenth century, when it was incorporated into medicines. At most, a few specimens might have been brought to England by curious travelers in the sixteenth century, and the leaves probably would have lost their potency during the sea voyage.

Lester Grinspoon, M.D. '55
Associate professor of psychiatry emeritus
Boston

James B. Bakalar '64, LL.B. '67
Cambridge

 

Editor's note: Grinspoon and Bakalar are the authors of Cocaine: A Drug and Its Social Evolution.

 

A reply by Nikolaas van der Merwe and Francis Thackeray: Grinspoon and Bakalar are correct in saying that "the alkaloid cocaine was not isolated from the coca leaf until 1860," but this does not mean that the effect of substances derived from coca leaves was not recognized by Europeans in the seventeenth century. The Spanish conquistadors would not have understood the chemistry of coca leaves in Peru at that time, but they would have known the effect of coca leaves.

We were surprised to find cocaine in two seventeenth-century pipe specimens from England, [including one from Harvard House, the home of John Harvard's mother,] and, therefore, repeated the analyses. Our forensic collaborator, Inspector T. van der Merwe, suggested that

the results could be consistent with a practice of smoking leaves of Erythroxylon (coca) in clay pipes in Europe in the seventeeth century.

We were concerned about contamination of the pipe specimens after excavation. The pipestem from Harvard House, however, had been recently excavated and not cleaned in any way. Its bore, from which the analytical sample was extracted with solvent, was clogged with dirt from the garden. We can think of no mechanism by which it could have been contaminated, unless High Street in Stratford-on-Avon has cocaine in its water supply.

 

ON TRUSTEES FOR THE POOR

Responding to my letter on philanthropy (July-August, page 5), David Timmons writes (September-October, page 6) that Andrew Carnegie envisioned a day when "the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor;...administering [wealth] for the community far better than it could, or would have done for itself." Is this an ideal to strive for? Do we also believe that poor people wouldn't know how to handle money if they had any?

Carnegie makes an interesting exemplar. The steelworkers who were the source of his fortune labored in filthy and dangerous conditions for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Their only day off each year was July 4, presumably so they could celebrate their freedom.

Joseph Frazier Wall, Carnegie's biographer, says that he wrote of philanthropy: "and besides, it provides a refuge from self-questioning." Maybe all those libraries helped Carnegie forget that while Pinkerton guards were bashing in the heads of his steelworkers in the Homestead strike, he was fishing in Scotland, conveniently incommunicado.

Not all philanthropists are fueled by guilt. Donors have many motivations, some of them noble. The nonprofit world revolves around these varied interests and desires. But the problem isn't that some people have more money than they know what to do with. The problem is that so many don't have what they need. Charity is not a solution.

Timmons's letter suggests that successful businesspeople can deal with social issues better than the government does with its "various ill-considered public-works projects." Which projects does he mean, I wonder? Head Start? Food stamps? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration? If there's one thing most rich people know absolutely nothing about, it's poverty. Should they really be designing programs concerning something they don't understand?

I don't mean to say that philanthropists are wrong to try to help. There's a role for everyone to play in rectifying the injustices of this world. But poor people, not rich people, should be the ones we listen to about what needs to be done. What the rich can do is clear. They can pay all their workers a living wage and decent benefits, allow them to join unions without interference, and make sure that they share in the profits their labors create.

Ultimately, however, the only solution is deep structural change. The poor aren't doing very well on crumbs from the rich man's table. If we don't create an economic system that gives people what they need, sooner or later they will come and take it.

Jane Sass Collins '71
Medford, Mass.

 

It's all very well to report, as does David Timmons, on the philanthropies of Andrew Carnegie and his view of the duty of the millionaire as "but trustee for the poor." But even Carnegie gave only the things he was interested in--so gifts for public schooling, sewers, municipal police, repairs of fire engines did not generally show up on the lists of private philanthropies. And his great wealth came in large part from the backs of very low-paid workers, many of whom would have benefited more from higher wages than public libraries. Today it is hard to see many trustees for the poor among our current megamillionaires.

The complaint by Burt Kozloff ("Letters," September-October, page 8) raised against the straw man who supposedly says, "I-can-spend-your-money-better-than-you-can" is simply childish. If we accept the premise that each individual alone should have final say about the spending of his money, then there is no central government, no community, and no society. This is the world of the gated retirement homes.

Leonard E. Opdycke '51
Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

 

Timmons's letter mischaracterizes Carnegie's 1889 article "Wealth." Rather than arguing against the estate tax, Carnegie was a strong proponent for it, writing that, "Of all forms of taxation, this seems the wisest." For Carnegie, the estate tax would enhance entrepreneurship by ending the practice of bestowing enormous legacies on an individual's heirs, and giving them instead incentives to create wealth for themselves. Furthermore, the estate tax would be a boon to philanthropy. As Carnegie stated, it "would work powerfully to induce the rich man to attend to the administration of wealth during his life, which is the end that society should always have in view...."

?The estate tax impacts only the very wealthiest of our citizens, while its repeal inhibits entrepreneurship and hurts philanthropy. A U.S. Treasury study estimates that the current repeal of the estate tax, when fully in place, will decrease donations to charitable institutions by $4 billion per year. At this time of need in our nation's history, I would hope that the present administration and Congress see fit to heed Carnegie's words, and reconsider the repeal of the estate tax.

Gregory Matthew Stankiewicz '84
Cambridge

 

DEALING WITH LOSS

I was deeply moved by Kirstin Butler's essay, "Loss" ("The Undergraduate," September-October, page 72). My own beloved mother just passed away in mid July, and, like Butler's, she succumbed to cancer.

Much of this article is about the author's attempt to camouflage her grief from other people in the Harvard community. It is true that even in our oh-so-candid society, bereavement still remains an oddly taboo subject. It disconcerts people greatly. Nevertheless, the greatest comfort I have found lately has come from opening my heart to those around me, many of whom have lost loved ones too. Sharing experiences, asking people what helped them through the worst parts of grieving, and knowing that I'm not alone have all been hugely important pieces of the puzzle I'm putting together. It's crucial to know that we can be accepted and respected by others when we are in the midst of our sorrow, as Butler discovered.

Judith Bass '80
Stoughton, Mass.

 

ROCK PRIDE IN VERMONT

"The Doris Stone" ("Ball of Mystery," July-August, page 92) is a pale echo of the fabulous UVM Boulder. The University of Vermont here in Burlington has long possessed a perfect granite sphere of natural origin. Evidently the product of aquatic rolling in a glacial hole, the boulder is not booty from a third-world country: it was unearthed during nineteenth-century railroad construction in the Green Mountains. Not cloistered in a small garden, as is the Costa Rican rock at Harvard's Peabody Museum, the boulder is instead a prominent fixture on College Row in front of the Old Mill, which was dedicated by Lafayette.

Samuel H. Press, M.P.A. '97
Burlington, Vt.

 

NOSTALGIC IDEALIZATION

Professor Svetlana Boym's recent work, The Future of Nostalgia ("Hypochondria of the Heart," September-October, page 15), seems to underemphasize one major role of nostalgia: that of idealization. The longing for times bygone or an idealized homeland, for example, plays a vital role in the historical construct of those who are separated, through age or exile, from a desired context. The exact nature of the role of that idealization is a subject for an entire thesis in itself, as recent research on exile diaspora demonstrates.

Oral historians, too, have provided ample material from their research that nostalgia is closely interwoven with idealized invention, which has its social and cultural uses--even though Boym sees this "restorative nostalgia" as monolithic and dangerous. Nostalgia, although essentially rooted in the past, can act, in its complicated "future" manifestations, as an agent for change and progress.

Roxane Zand '75
London

 

PREFERENCES RE: APPLES

I certainly agree with the main point of "Purse Strings of the Heart" (September-October, page 11): economists surely should take into better account the psychological variables that impinge strongly on economic behavior. However, the illustration of Professor David Laibson's theory of hyperbolic discounting seems wrong. He posits that given the choice, people prefer a single apple today over two tomorrow, but prefer two apples in 100 days over a single one in 99 days. He ascribes this preference to a greater value assigned to an apple in the short run than in the long run. A more plausible explanation is that two days is twice as long as one day and is clearly perceived as such, whereas 100 days is only a bit over 1 percent longer than 99 days. Hence, the same one-day delay is perceptually much more salient for the short than for the long wait. In general, the ratios of perceived magnitudes are more important than their differences. This notion is embodied in what is probably psychology's most general and most widely accepted law. Weber's law states that the just-perceived difference between two perceived magnitudes is proportional to their absolute value: it takes less of a difference to see which of two noses is longer than to see which of two lamp posts is taller.

Bertram Scharf, Ph.D. '58
Brookline, Mass.

 

You fail to mention a significant step in the development of Laibson's model. The behavioral research leading to it was primarily done by George Ainslie, who worked in Richard Herrnstein's pigeon lab at Harvard; Howard Rachlin, who received his doctorate under Herrnstein; and Herrnstein himself. Let me add, on this seventh anniversary of his death, that the popular press associates Herrnstein only with his work on IQ, but he contributed to numerous other areas within the science of psychology, including the history of psychology, the psychology of crime, concept formation, and choice.

William Vaughan Jr., Ph.D. '76
Chebeague Island, Me.

WELLES'S CAESAR REMEMBERED

In his memoir of his first years as a graduate student, 1933-34, Daniel Aaron mentions his delight in Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar ("The 'Great Good Place,'" September-October, page 47). No one who saw that production will ever forget it, but Aaron did not see it during the period of time he was writing about. The Mercury Theatre was not founded until 1937, the year Julius Caesar opened.

Jerome Shipman, A.M. '63
Potomac, Md.

 

SCRUPLES ABOUT ANIMALS

L. Kemmerer expresses "a deep moral conviction against manipulating--let alone killing--other creatures for education or science" ("Letters," September-October, page 9). But why is his/her expression of concern limited to only those two domains?

I see two possibilities. The first is simply that education and science were the topic of "A Life with Lycaenids," the article that prompted Kemmerer's letter-- and hence were directly germane. In this case, Kemmerer's opposition to manipulating or killing creatures also includes a revulsion against eating meat, dairy products, eggs, or fish; wearing leather or wool; setting a mousetrap of any sort; and sterilizing a pet. Kemmerer specifically criticized the scientific study of insects, implying an equal dismay toward eating honey, using a flyswatter, or combating a cockroach infestation in your apartment. It is an entirely self-consistent point of view based on deeply held principles that the rest of us must tolerate, listen to, and respect. Nevertheless, it is very much on the fringe. While fringe ideas do sometimes take over the mainstream, it is rare, and your readers should be aware that Kemmerer's condemnations might extend to much of their everyday lives and cultural practices.

The other possibility is that Kemmerer's opposition to manipulating or killing other creatures really is limited to just education (meaning science education) and science. Thus, it's okay to castrate a calf, feed it rich grains to fatten it, kill it, grind up its flesh, and eat it--all because you like the taste of hamburger-- yet it is somehow immoral to test the safety of a new AIDS medicine on rats before giving it to people. The only consistent theme here would be antiscience. It deserves no respect. It is merely thoughtless anti-intellectual bigotry.

Kevin Jon Williams '76, M.D.
Wynnewood, Pa.

 

RANDALL THOMPSON'S HARD LINE

Randall thompson, the subject of your "Vita" for July-August (page 46), earned Igor Kipnis's gratitude, Kipnis tells ("Letters," September-October, page 6), for permission to perform on the harpsichord in class. But Thompson did not think that Harvard students should be given time and support for professional training in performance.

He wrote that "playing a musical instrument is nothing more or less than a social grace." This was in a letter responding to my expression of concern that Harvard was ending its agreement with the Longy School of Music in Cambridge under which music majors could take a reduced course load in order to continue their performance preparation, extend their undergraduate years from four to five, and earn both a Harvard or Radcliffe A.B. and a soloist's diploma from Longy. I had written because I was both a recent Harvard graduate and husband of an undergraduate then finishing her studies of cello at Longy, Judith Davidoff '50, one of the few undergraduates who successfully completed this demanding but rewarding regime. Regrettably, Thompson's decision stood and this valuable program ended.

Sumner M. Rosen '48
New York City

 

OVERSTATED EMINENCE

Reading "A High-Priced Product," Alvin Kernan's review of the book Making Harvard Modern: The Rise of America's University (September-October, page 22), I was struck by the repeated emphasis on Harvard's preeminence. This might lead one to believe that Harvard has no peers and that only its graduates are the most accomplished. Then I read Time's issue profiling America's best in science and medicine (see page 81). Not one of these individuals received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, including the distinguished University Professor E.O. Wilson.

Thomas Warren '64
Sherborn, Mass.

 

OWG NOT AMUSED

You report ("New Direction," September-October, page 81) that Karen Spencer Kelly "opened her first speech as Alumni Association president-elect with, 'I know what you're thinking...I was expecting an old white guy.' " Ho, ho, ho.

As an old white guy who was a little late in finishing up at Harvard because of an interruption called World War II, I'm getting tired of this sort of crap. Harvard has leaned on its old white guys for lots of money over the years, and the OWGs, fools that we are, have responded to the point where Harvard evidently thinks it can spit in our face and get "Thank you, sir" in return.

Let's see how much more money Kelly's new approach brings in. I, for one, am making a few changes in my will.

James B. Patrick, Ph.D. '52
Staunton, Va.

 

THE RABBLE-ROUSER'S SPEECHWRITER

In 1961, as a first-year law student, I became an associate member of the Signet Society. One fine spring day while I was lunching there, someone announced that Philip Stone, whom I then knew only slightly, would be willing to deliver an oration on the steps of Widener Library at a "riot" protesting the change from Latin to English in Harvard College diplomas, the oration John Sando recalls in his letter (September-October, page 10), but only on the condition that someone else write it. There was considerable discussion about who might undertake such a task. Then someone said, "David, you know Latin, don't you?" "Yes," I replied, somewhat immodestly since, though I had been a Latin major in college, I had not formally studied the subject for six years. The next question, of course, was, "Can you write this?" Compounding immodesty with foolhardiness, I said yes, but muttered something about not wanting the Law School to find out about this extracurricular activity.

I returned to my apartment and in the course of a few hours, did what I had said I would. I cannot recall to whom I gave the finished product; there was apparently enough time for someone to transcribe my handwriting onto something that looked like parchment. That evening I went to the Yard and listened. When the oration finished, Phil was besieged by the press. Someone asked him whether he had written the oration himself, and he answered that David Berman, a graduate student, had written it. My phone rang constantly for the next week. I was more than a little afraid to answer it. Though I frankly enjoyed the notoriety connected with being the author, I had no idea what Dean Griswold would think of a law student who took any part in fomenting an undergraduate riot.

David Berman, J.D. '63
Belmont, Mass.

 

SPEAK UP, PLEASE

Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to "Letters," Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or send comments by facsimile to 617-495-0324, or by e-mail to [email protected], or use our Internet site, www.harvard-magazine.com. Letters may be edited to fit the available space.