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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

Energy, divestment from Israel, dance, Harken, Hutchinson

March-April 2003

ONLY IN AMERICA

"Simple Hosts" (January-February, page 48) was most enlightening.Author Patricia Thomas achieved a journalistic tour de force in dealingwith the complex subject of host defense mechanisms against infections.What also struck me was that the scientists involved came from differentparts of the world and disciplines, funded by both private andgovernmental sources at a private university. I can't imagine thishappening anywhere in the world except in the United States, where wehave the freedom to pursue ideas and the willingness to take risks.

 

Thomas writes that "thereis no florist in the lobby of Shriners Hospital for Children"because "soil—whether in a decorative pot or clinging to thestems of cut flowers—is very likely to harbor Pseudomonasaeruginosa, a bacterium that can cause life-threatening infectionsin the severely burned youngsters receiving treatment." The articleprompts the question, should flowering gifts be disallowed in anyhospital/patient setting? Given the increasing incidence and treatmentcost of nosocomial infections, as well as the plethora ofantibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, wouldn't this be the simplest,most cost-effective preventive policy?

Robert G.Denmark, D.M.D., M.P.H. '92
Lafayette Hill, Pa.

 

THE HEART OF THE CURRICULUM

It is goodto know that Harvard is taking a hard look at an apparently largelynonexistent Core curriculum ("College Studies," January-February, page61). If Professor James Engell's observation is correct that there is nocommon undergraduate exposure to the Western tradition in literature,philosophy, religion, science, and even political and economic history,then we had better review the Commencement-day welcome of Collegegraduates to the "company of educated men and women."

Only from suchexposure will emerge the ability to think, to analyze, and tocommunicate effectively over a broad range of subjects and issues,abilities that are a necessity for the preservation of our democraticsociety. Should student course choice not take a second seat to Corerequirements—or does Harvard prefer to let the barbarians set itscivilizing agenda?

Gunther K. Rosinus '49, A.M.'51
Potomac, Md.

 

OPPOSING VIEWS

"Hertzberg of the New Yorker," by CraigLambert (January-February, page 36), is an interesting example of "oneman's meat is another's poison" in political writing. For HarvardMagazine editor Lambert, for some of Hertzberg's sophisticatedNew Yorker readers, and for stylish, liberal Cambridgeites,Hertzberg is apparently a cultural icon who speaks for a readership thatis recently marginalized and increasingly out of touch with the centerof things.

For others, Hertzberg is a broken record: repetitive,redundant, whiny. His vicious anger about the current political state ofaffairs is hard to relate to in large weekly doses. And his views in thecolumn are as rigidly predictable as an antique religious ritual. Thereis also the frighteningly totalitarian, perfectionistic quality ofradical chic in his sermons, replete with liberal, elitist,upper-middle-class trappings (we know best, we have the most enlightenedviews, we ought to be in charge).

Jerome A. Collins'57, M.D.
Kennebunkport, Maine

 

Thanks for recognizing Hendrik Hertzberg's contribution at the NewYorker. The public conversation obviously needs him—yes,cruelty is worse than hypocrisy; yes, we should probe for the good inour enemies; and, yes, the political system begs continual review andcanny tweaking to diminish "occasions of sin." Hertzberg'sso-lucid expression of civilizing liberal instincts resonates stronglywith my own liberal Presbyterian heritage. In his perch in theCondé Nast building, sweating diction and syntax, pullingall-nighters, he is our watchman in the night. He is an educator as wellas a graceful writer with his own beautifully measured, distinctivevoice.

Whatever our varied individual politics, the class of '65 isproud of him. He makes us look good.

Kevin Lewis'65
Columbia, S.C.

 

RELIGION IN A PERFECT WORLD

I had to smile when I read lawprofessor Alan Dershowitz's description of a perfect world as one thatwas "less religious" ("Open Book," January-February, page 25). Theperfect world for many people I know would be less litigious. Itcertainly would have less need for lawyers and those who produce more ofthem.

It is very hard to sense whether the suffering and fearinspired by religious fanaticism, which we learn most about from ourTVs, outweighs the more invisible and ordinary kindness that I see insoup kitchens and hospital chaplaincies. Still, I did find compellingDershowitz's vision of a world in which people are free to be differentand are motivated by love for others rather than by heavenly rewards. Myprayer is that our religious lives can be regarded as one of thebeautiful differences that Dershowitz idealizes.

Malcolm Young, M. Div. '94
Christ Episcopal Church
Los Altos, Calif.

 

POWER PLAYS

"The Great Global Experiment," by Jonathan Shaw(November-December 2002, page 34), makes a case for immediate actionthat should convince even our oil-company administration. What can bedone? Mandate scrubbers on all energy producers immediately. Raisefuel-economy standards to the point that we'll all be driving hybrids.Stop subsidizing the oil companies and put money into wind, waves,geothermal, and solar. Localize energy production to minimize the grid.

What we should not do is build more nuclear power plants [an issueraised at the end of the article, and advocated by Berol Robinson '48,"Letters," January-February, page 2]. Our nuclear plants are, like ourairliners, replete with safety devices and redundancies. But no oneshould be persuaded that the chance of accident is zero. At some pointwe are going to have our very own Chernobyl. Evacuation plans can nevercope with the reality of thousands of people all trying to use the sameroads, and a large section of the nation might be uninhabitable forever.Add to that the newest threat, the possibility of terrorist attack, andthe idea of a nuclear salvation should give us pause.

Joseph Nash '54
Honolulu

 

Shaw's article is an excellent exposition of the problem and adisappointing treatment of the solutions. It provides an unbalancedperspective on the costs of action versus inaction and cursory treatmentof the opportunities of alternative energy technology and improvedenergy efficiency.

Most troubling, the article gives credence to asimplistic analysis of the politics of the environment, suggesting thatinaction is due to public indifference or resistance to action, withlittle or no mention of the role of economic interests. The articlequotes one commentator as saying we don't take action until weexperience the equivalent of witnessing a child hit by a car and onlythen do we put a streetlight on the corner. Missing from the account ismention that most citizens are worried about that street corner,but there is a problem in city hall, where they seem to be ignoring thecalls and letters from the neighborhood and devoting their attention toputting special interests ahead of the public interest.

 

The article is an important statement ofcurrent science that could be improved only by identifying a strangelyelusive response strategy: closing our massive efficiency gap.Underutilized technologies can reduce energy use and pay for themselves,often rapidly or many times over, in energy savings. The potential iscertainly more than a third of total consumption, and perhaps more thanhalf, not assuming any improvements in technology or reductions in costover the several decades it would take to install these products andprocesses.

The most efficient way to make this happen is directfunding of efficiency, which has been proven in many states by utilityefficiency programs, but never funded adequately. Such a program wouldamount to creating a grant program that would make payments based on thecost-effectiveness of proposals. If designed properly, it would notattempt to determine the means, but would allow ingenuity andentrepreneurial spirit to produce whatever it takes to cut carbonemissions while saving money. After several decades, it might becomenecessary to start funding actions which actually cost more than theysave, but by that time we would have several renewable technologies thatwill be cheaper than fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Revenues wouldcome from a fee on energy. Less than 5 percent of the price ofelectricity would be enough to establish a long-term net reduction inelectricity consumption of 2 percent or more annually, after offsettingnew growth in consumption and expected nuclear-plant retirements.Typical carbon-tax proposals are 25 percent to 50 percent of the priceof electricity, but use revenues to offset unrelated taxes, rather thanto facilitate carbon reductions. This severely reduces potentialeffectiveness.

Any energy efficiency that makes economic sense inthe United States makes more economic sense in most of the rest of theworld. Our policy changes to promote domestic energy efficiency willhave a direct impact in lowering expectations for fossil-energy-usegrowth in China.

Energy policy as defined by the White House EnergyStrategy would raise the total cost of U.S. electric service over 20years by 50 percent. The same capital investment made in efficiencywould reduce total electric service costs by 16 percent over 20 years.Reductions in CO2 would be proportionally greater, but arehard to define because of the need to make some assumptions about bothcases, and could be much greater. None of this is hard to demonstrate.

Ned Ford
Cincinnati

 

DIVESTMENT FROM ISRAEL

President Summers didnot accuse all critics of Israeli policies of anti-Semitism ("RaisedVoices," November-December 2002, page 52, and "Letters,"January-February, page 7). Instead, it is the obsessive, selective, andextremist singling out of Israel, alone among all nations of the world,for divestment that caused him to question the underlying motivations ofthe campaigners. A divestment movement challenges the legitimacy of theIsraeli state, and joins forces with a widespread Arab propagandacampaign of vicious race-hatred, the most vitriolic seen since NaziGermany. In a region filled with brutal dictatorships and corruptmonarchies, why does Israel, the single multiethnic, multireligiousdemocracy, deserve such contempt?

The divestment campaign singlesout Israel for extremist criticism, while ignoring the brutal atrocitiesdeliberately committed against her civilian population, and her right toreasonable self-defense. President Summers was right to lambaste theadvocates of divestment.

Jonathan H. Segal '75
Palo Alto, Calif.

 

In letters to theeditor, Jules Rabin and Giulio D'Angio claim that PresidentSummers's statements on divestiture from Israel and anti-Semitism aredesigned to inhibit free speech. I could not disagree more. I believethat President Summers wanted to call attention to some of the strangebedfellows present in the Israel divestiture movement. This movementconsists of a broad range of opinions, ranging from those who would beagainst divestiture if Sharon were not prime minister to trueanti-Semites. If advocates of divestiture want to present themselves aspart of a dialogue in the Middle East, they must be scrupulous indistancing themselves from anti-Semites. As of this writing, they havefailed to do so.

Jack L. Arbiser, M.D.-Ph.D.'91
Atlanta

 

PROTECT THE DANCEPROGRAM

What you call the "Rieman Gym" in"Reconfiguring Radcliffe" (January-February, page 64) was actuallydedicated as the "Amelia Tataronis Rieman Center for the PerformingArts" in 1998, and by then had already been dedicated to dance for manyyears, and substantially and intelligently reconfigured to be theprimary class, rehearsal, and performance space for dance at Harvard. Itis unique as a space with the necessary width to stage a danceperformance with wings, depth to house a large audience, height to mountproper stage lights, and floor which is built safely for dancing. It isnear dressing rooms and administrative support offices, and is a lightand airy space perfect for dance classes and rehearsals. I am extremely disturbed by the assertion that sixyears is plenty of time for Harvard to find an equivalent space for itsundergraduates' excellent and extremely active dance program and studentcompanies. Harvard simply does not have another adequate space for dancecurrently, and its failure to start looking for a new space until lastyear has exacerbated the time crunch. If dancers are kicked out of theRieman Center in 2005, they will end up in a temporary, inadequatespace, possibly for several years, and the dance program will bedecimated. It would be ironic indeed if building the Radcliffe Institutemeant destroying one of the few programs at Harvard that almostexclusively serves undergraduate women.

I hope that Harvard willcontinue its effort to locate and remodel an alternate space with thegreatest possible speed and dedication, and that Radcliffe will find theflexibility to allow undergraduate dancers to use the Rieman Center forthe time it takes to create an equivalent space. I am an enthusiasticsupporter of Radcliffe's new mission as an institute for advanced study,but it must not be created at the expense of women undergraduates'experiences at Harvard.

Lara Freidenfelds '94
Berkeley, Calif.

 

THE HARKENMATTER

I always enjoy your magazine. However, theJanuary-February issue left me shaking my head over an apparentdisconnect. You profiled the late banker Paul Cabot ("Vita," page 34),emphasizing his criticism of insider misconduct in the financialindustry, and you also reported on the state of the University's budgetand endowment ("Tighter Times," page 58).

You did not, however,mention anything about a troubling episode in the management of theHarvard endowment that came to light in the past few months involvingmanipulation of the stock of the Harken Energy Company between 1990 and1993. That company, at that time the business home of the son of thesitting president of the United States, spun off various liabilities toa partnership set up by our own University's endowment, a majorshareholder. With those liabilities off its books, Harken's stock went,temporarily, from $1.25 to $6 a share; our endowment then unloaded 1.6million shares. (The president's son likewise sold.)

I am unable tosee how the conduct of Harvard's endowment managers in this episode wasanything other than dishonest and unethical. I am frankly very desirousof seeing Harvard's endowment act in an ethical and honest manner, evenif it must forgo profits from insider stock manipulation. That's the waymy father, Leon Levinson, raised me; he was not a graduate of this, orany other college, but he would not touch a dishonest dollar.

 

Jack R. Meyer, president and chief executive officer of Harvard Management Company Inc., replies: As indicated inLevinson's letter, a number of articles appeared last fall criticizingthe involvement of Harvard Management Company (HMC) in Harken Energy.While the press initially pursued the story energetically, allallegations against HMC were found to be either false or pointless andultimately the story died. A brief summary follows.

The initialcriticism was that HMC purchased George W. Bush's shares at an inflatedprice in 1990, apparently in an attempt to curry political favor. Thisallegation is false. HMC did not purchase Bush's shares. The allegationis also absurd. HMC has no reason to curry political favor with anyone.Our mission is to invest well on Harvard's behalf. The performancerecord of HMC speaks for itself.

A second criticism of HMC was thatthe Harken transactions were similar to the partnerships set up byEnron. This comparison does not hold. First, all aspects of the Harkenpartnership were fully and completely disclosed in Harken's SEC filings.Second, there was a legitimate business purpose to the partnership. Bysegregating the Harken Anadarko properties, HMC was able to gain controlover the properties, including the right to sell. Finally, Harken'sliability for the debt transferred to the partnership was fullydisclosed and extinguished soon after the partnership was formed.

Athird criticism was that the formation of the partnership artificiallyboosted Harken's stock price, allowing HMC to sell. This allegation isfalse. Harken's stock price actually fell slightly over an eight-monthperiod following public announcement of the partnership in the fall of1990. Harken's price did rise in the fall of 1991 due to sharply risingnatural gas prices and the possibility of exploration in Bahrain. HMCsold approximately 10 percent of its Harken holdings during the fall of1991 in strict compliance with SEC regulations. Another price increaseoccurred in the beginning of 1997 to mid-1998. HMC sold 50 percent ofits holdings during this period, again in full compliance with allregulations. There was absolutely nothing wrong with these sales. It isour job to sell when prices are high and regulations permit.

Afinal, catchall criticism was that HMC lost tens of millions of dollarson its Harken investment so there must have been some sort of "hankypanky." Again, the allegation is false. When all the pieces of theHarken investment are summed, HMC made a modest profit. Harken certainlywas not one of our better investments. The original premise turned outto be a decade premature. Nonetheless, hard work by HMC kept theinvestment in the plus column.

I wholeheartedly endorse Levinson'sassertion that the endowment must be managed in "an ethical and honestmanner." I believe we have met that charge.

For those interested inlearning more about the Harken story, I would suggest reading thearticle by Jennifer Steinhart in the November 21, 2002, issue of the Harvard Crimson (http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=255426)

 

ANNE HUTCHINSON'S MIDWIFERY

Nothing illuminates a culture so well as the light cast by themartyrs it burns. Anne Hutchinson was a strong, intelligent, andarticulate woman whose society could not accommodate her gifts. TheReverend Peter J. Gomes's "Vita" of Hutchinson (November-December 2002,page 32) made excellent points about the character of this formidableAmerican foremother, and the companion illustration is a wonderfulexample of visual polemic. A few counterpoints are in order.

In atheocratic oligarchy such as seventeenth-century Massachusetts (comparemodern Iran), religious authority and political authority areinseparable. Hutchinson challenged both aspects of the establishment.The overt issue may have been one of belief, but the underlying issuewas power. We now reject the ad feminam arguments of someof her opponents, but if we think that "she bested the best of theMassachusetts Bay Colony's male preachers, theologians, andmagistrates," we are weighing her arguments and their counterargumentson a modern scale. In no sense did she best them in the General Court orin the court of contemporary public opinion. She put up a good fight,but she lost her case in Massachusetts.

Opponents of the status quoreadily cast themselves as "courageous exponents of civil liberty andreligious toleration," and we generally accept their self-assessments. Isuggest that we cannot really judge such individuals until we see howthey handle power when they gain it. History abounds with examples ofliberators whose nature was changed or revealed when they had the upperhand: Napoleon, Lenin, Mugabe, etc. Hutchinson's extraordinary statementthat "...laws, commands, rules, and edicts are for those who have notthe light which makes plain the pathway..." is elitist, and should raisehairs on the back of any neck sensitive to intolerance. Gomes'ssuggestion that "Anne Marbury Hutchinson, ironically, would be more athome at Harvard today than any of her critics" may contain more ironythan he intended.

The colony's decision to home-school its clergy(i.e., found Harvard College) had less to do with Hutchinson's challengethan with the increasing conservatism of the English church, which putthe future supply of ministers from the home country in doubt. IfHutchinson can be considered Harvard's midwife, it is because hercontroversy thrust into prominence one of her adversaries: ThomasShepard, the young minister of Cambridge. As Cotton Mather said, inMagnalia Christi Americana, "It was with a respect unto theenlightening and powerful ministry of Mr. Shepard, that when thefoundation of a colledge was to be laid, Cambridge, rather than anyother place, was pitched upon to be the seat of that happy seminary."

 

REUNIONS GIVE GOODVALUE

As co-class secretary, I was disappointed toread Barbara Jaffe's criticism ("Letters," January-February, page 12) ofour class of 1977 twenty-fifth reunion. Our reunion committee hasreceived nothing but praise for its year of planning in conjunction withthe most dedicated alumni association in the business, the HarvardAlumni Association.

I hope readers realize that the price ofadmission to a twenty-fifth reunion is excellent value when viewed as avacation retreat for you and yours to rekindle old and initiate newfriendships. And for you hoteliers in our midst, you already figured outthe secret sauce—that these benefits could not be provided withoutthe generous support of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Radcliffe,which subsidized the five days and allowed us to provide financial aidto more than 25 families who joined us from around the globe.


VIOLENCE LEADS TO VIOLENCE

Iread the review about the gluttonous, self-satisfied, and utterlysuperficial scribblings of Jeffrey Steingarten ("Life on the CulinaryEdge," January-February, page 23) with a sense of disgrace that Harvardcontinues to focus on the "success" of its graduates more than on theirethical, moral, or compassionate natures. Poor Steingarten, in thepursuit of pleasure he "becomes nauseated and dizzy at the sight of thestruggling pig, held down by four strapping Frenchmen, and is especiallyhorrified by the hoarse cries and grunts of the doomed animal. But hegets over it. He is there for the sausage...." Now, imagine someday, asSteingarten pursues an elusive culinary morsel in some dark corner of amarket in a poverty-stricken, overpopulated, hungry nation, imagine hishoarse cries and grunts as the doomed man is held down by four strappingterrorists who view Americans as no better than pigs...don't worry,they'll get over it.

Violence against animals necessarily leads toviolence against our fellow humans. If Gandhi judged the greatness andmoral progress of a nation by the way its animals are treated, so shouldHarvard judge its graduates.

Anne O'Leary '73
Clancy, Montana

THE DEBATE ABOUT ROTC

Many ardent opponents of military activity would likely accept atleast some of the sentiments underlying Garrett Graff's "Crimson, White,and Blue" (November-December 2002, page 72) concerning Harvard'srelations with the military, if not necessarily his position thatHarvard should welcome ROTC and recruiters with open arms. (I, for one,find my desire as a parent to encourage my sons' freedom to freely thinkand choose tempered with a disinclination to see their lives lost as aresult of a decision made, in Samuel Johnson's words, "towering in theconfidence of 21.")

Nor is there anything very controversial aboutthe views stated or implicit in most of the letters in yourJanuary-February issue approving of Graff's piece, such as that one maybe proud of one's military service, feel that it made one a betterperson and citizen, and have no inclination to apologize to any who mayimagine there is something inherently disgraceful about it.

One neednot bear the military any irrational or sweeping animus, however, to bedisgusted by the sentiments expressed in Colonel Richard Williams'sletter (page 6), to the extent it is not immediately dismissed asbuffoonery, or suspected of having been planted by an antimilitaryideologue. A decision not only to decline to support Harvardfinancially, but to disavow one's Harvard affiliation, simply becauseHarvard accepted funds from Jane Fonda to endow a chair in genderstudies, reeks of an infantile insistence upon holding a 35-year-oldgrudge. Moreover, Williams's self-righteous indignation is born of acontroversy in which Fonda's fundamental views, right or wrong, wereshared by millions who merely lacked the celebrity to do what she choseto do. Does Williams find similarly objectionable Harvard's acceptanceof contributions from any who do not share his views of America'sactions in Vietnam? His characterization of such people as insane andun-American merely adds support to the efforts of some to parodysoldiers as closed-minded, right-wing fanatics, and does little toencourage the larger Harvard community to embrace a greater militarypresence on campus.

Paul H. Achitoff '77
Honolulu

 

Putting aside my idlecuriosity concerning how much Harvard sacrificed by forgoing Williams'scontribution to the Harvard College Fund in favor of Fonda's endowmentof a gender studies center, I suggest that the colonel read RobertMcNamara's chilling mea culpa, In Retrospect, which describes hisand others' machinations and miscalculations in pursuit of the war.These confessions make Fonda appear now to be even more prophetic andprescient than she seemed to be at the time of the conflict. Futurehistorians will most certainly regard our involvement in Vietnam as thisnation's most evil enterprise of the twentieth century. That "HanoiJane" arrived at this understanding earlier than did most Harvard mensuggests that a Harvard education does not always confer the wisdomneeded to navigate our increasingly complex world.

Richard Davenport '45
Major (ret.), U.S.A.F.
Boston