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Letters

Cambridge 02138

Beyond petroleum, medical ethics, the Ed School's purpose

March-April 2004

JUDGING THE DEFICIT DANGER

What's good for short-run fiscal policy is bad for long-run fiscal policy ("The Deficit Danger," by Benjamin Friedman, January-February, page 25). But to project current fiscal policy many years into the future is a mistake. Everybody knows, even the Congress, that the government has made far too many promises on pensions, Medicare, drug benefits, and all the rest. Long before the "long run" appears, that evil day when the promises are supposed to be kept, politicians and the economy will adjust to new fiscal policies.

Peter Gutmann, Ph.D. '57
New York City

 

I could not have envisioned any discussion of the current American economy or politics that did not refer to the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor — the events of September 11, 2001. The resulting war on terror, coupled with an uncertain global economic climate, warrants further discussion and research prior to making any suppositions or conclusions about American economic and fiscal policy. The American economic environment was not optimal prior to the beginning of the Bush administration. All economic indicators pointed to a downturn prior to the events of September 11, 2001, and on that horrific day uncertainty led to further decline. The increase in the deficit is caused mostly by reductions in revenues, as well as the large reforms of Medicare and the high costs of the war on terror. The costs of our military doing their fine work in Iraq are approximately $8 billion per month.

Maintaining democracy involves a delicate balance of domestic and international concerns. The links between Saddam Hussein and well-established terrorist networks are just beginning to be uncovered. If even one of these links is legitimate, our families will be safer from harm.

Marissa Haddad, C.S.S. '03
North Reading, Mass.

 

Friedman's article is just what we need. Writing about the Reagan administration deficit, he observes that "defenders of the president's policy offered a variety of stories about how the saving rate would rise in step with the government's borrowing, or how business could become more productive and wages rise without investment, or how some other break with prior experience would solve the problem. Those ideas were intellectually interesting. But they also proved wrong." Those are the greatest sentences so far in this century.

Donald B. Fleming '55
Needham Heights, Mass.

 

In maligning federal deficits, Friedman argues by implication that government spending is inimical to growth as compared to private borrowing/spending. The cosmetic magic of eliminating deficits will not eliminate pressures driving government spending, and reversal of these pressures will never occur for the purpose of limiting deficits — unless, by luck, increasing deficits act politically to inhibit spending. The latter will not occur so long as taxation is used to mask deficits, which then rather turns loose more spending.

Joseph C. Peden '40, M.D. '43
St. Louis

 

BEYOND PETROLEUM

Craig Lambert's "The Hydrogen-Powered Future" (January-February, page 30) was the most balanced coverage I have seen on Amory Lovins and the controversial concept of hydrogen power. The typical reportage is tainted by an advocacy bias (for or against), with very selective choice of data and expert opinions to support whichever side is being advocated.

I come away with admiration for the vision, yet a sense that hydrogen power is not an immediate solution to the many problems it might ultimately resolve. A convincing demonstration would be a commercial fuel-cell-powered building whose occupants drive fuel-cell cars which generate power while parked inside the garage, thus contributing to the building's requirements. If this proves technically and economically viable, the concept is certain to spread.

Robert F. Loughridge, M.B.A. '61
Albuquerque

 

It is hard to believe that a reputable publication would print an article of fiction and pretend it is real. Solar energy is here today, where cost is no object. Sometime in the future it will be competitive with other sources of energy. Hydrogen will not see widespread use in this century. By the time the practical problems are solved and the massive infrastructure built to distribute it, natural gas will no longer be available to produce it.

Richard B. Winchester, M.B.A. '49
Pacific Palisades, Calif.

 

Hooray for Amory Lovins and a fuel-cell future. We were considering the fuel-cell possibility for off-grid buildings at the Graduate School of Design in the late 1960s but did not put it together with cars as Lovins is doing now, and the costs were not clear then. Platinum's price is now skyrocketing and projected to be around $1,000 an ounce later this year, so for mass production, finding an alternative material for the cell membranes is essential.

For this and wind power to be implemented at large, with a government now so locked in to oil, it seems to me there has to be a sea change in political will at the highest levels — at the very minimum with substantial tax credits.

In the meantime, we can and should continue to promote and use solar panels and collectors for power and heat. But for these to become more acceptable, I believe we architects and builders cannot just plunk them down on roofs, as it appears Lovins has done on his own digs. With their struts, pipes, and open space beneath, they are ugly. Homeowners will likely resist them until designers offer a more built-in, integrated look.

This harkens back to the first decades of the introduction of indoor plumbing, with the pipes and stacks exposed on the building facades. The next stage of maturity was built-in pipes hidden in walls. For solar to happen sooner, we again need to move toward design maturity. Some manufacturers have already started to show how their panels can be integrated on sloped roofs. For flat roofs a simple thing like closures at the ends and backs of the panels would be a start.

But, technologically speaking, solar panels/collectors are somewhat primitive, probably temporary for the next decade or two, until the more mature fuel cells— or another technology we don't anticipate —become cost effective.

Neil J. Pinney, M.A.U.D. '70
Prescott, Ariz.

 

MONEY MANAGERS' PAY

The Boston Globe reported on December 11, 2003, that two Harvard money managers may take home nearly $40,000,000 each this year. That's more than the $76 million the Commonwealth of Massachusetts spent last year to educate 12,000 students at UMass-Boston, where I put my Harvard degrees to work. So UMass-Boston's fundraising appeals appeal to me much more than Harvard's.

Ethan Bolker '59, Ph.D '65
Professor of mathematics and computer science, University of Massachusetts
Boston

 

Editor's note: For more about money managers' compensation, see "'Extraordinary' Bonuses," page 69.

 

LIBRARY STAFF LAYOFFS

A question for my fellow alums: I work for the Harvard College Library (HCL) and am a member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. Widener Library is now in the last stages of a massive renovation project. Some staff are about to receive layoff notices due to budget shortfalls. When we've asked HCL management why they are able to reconstruct the building but not to pay staff, we've been told that the renovation project was sponsored by generous donors. Donors are not interested in supporting library function, we are told. Donors want physical objects that can carry brass plaques.

Not being at the moment in a position to know such things, I thought I'd ask some of you who might be. Is it really true that there is no one among us who sees the functioning of College libraries as worthy of support?

Mary R. Hopkins '79
Somerville, Mass.

 

FACT OF LIFE

I am concerned about the misleading nature of the published exchange in the article "Doctored Research" (November-December 2003, page 15) and the letter "Not Commercially Funded" in response (January-February, page 6). Dr. Ridker is correct in criticizing the original article for its shallow handling of important issues related to medical research. On the other hand, though the specific study mentioned was supported by the National Institutes of Health, many other important studies conducted by medical researchers are sponsored by the industry. It also remains a fact, as in this case, that researchers are named co-inventors on patents filed by their institutions and stand to profit from the success of their research.

This discussion is flawed, because it avoids the critical issues. It is important to recognize that a large portion of medical research, which led to advances in modern medical care, has been commercially funded. There are few viable alternatives for physicians and scientists interested in testing new medical treatments. Almost all of this research and development has been and is continuing to be sponsored by the industry, leading to substantial improvement in medical care. Clearly, obvious and relevant questions arise when a researcher who is perceived to be an independent scientist has a financial stake in the outcome of the investigations. Yet, as in any industry, it is apparent that profitability of drug development drives the versatility and quality of the products available to us as consumers (in this case of healthcare). Many talented individuals seek effective approaches to this complicated issue of policy and ethics.

Sam Ferdinand
New York City

 

More than a few graduates of Harvard have worked in earnest for drug companies. Have they sold their souls for greed, rather than remain within the purity of the academy? Not!

But then we all know that the academy is free of plagiarism, free of falsely reported data, free of any pressure to publish, to receive grants, to achieve or retain tenure. Also, Not!

Are the Federal Drug Administration and the pharmaceutical industry in cahoots? I doubt it. Are physicians required for the conduct and safe management of clinical trials? Are they to be paid for their services? Certainly. Does the money for drug research by drug companies come from the sale of currently marketed medications and devices? Of course (with small amounts of federal funding for so-called "orphan drugs" to treat rare diseases). Do physician researchers skew their patient data and results to favor the research sponsor? I hope not, and not on my watch when I supervised clinical research. Most of us in medical care have similar goals — patient health, better treatment, and patient safety during therapy. Is there money involved? Yes, as it is with what most of us do.

Jonathan B. Rosefsky, M.D. '64
Haverford, Pa.

 

RALPH BUNCHE'S DISTINCTION

Bunche
Courtesy of Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, New York

In his biographical sketch of Ralph Bunche ("Vita," November-December 2003, page 42), Benjamin Rivlin states that Harvard University "offered [Bunche] a tenured professorship in 1950." It was more than an offer.

The Corporation voted his appointment as professor of government on January 16, and the Overseers confirmed it on April 10. At Bunche's request, Harvard did not announce the appointment until October, since Bunche felt his position at the United Nations might suffer if it were known he had accepted a post elsewhere.

The situation abroad led him to request a one-year leave of absence, following which he planned to teach Gov. 170: "International Law" and a course in colonial administration in the 1951-52 academic year. In the spring of 1951 he worried about leaving the UN to come to Harvard when Harvard men were being taken out of college to fight for the UN.

Harvard granted him an additional year's leave, during which he turned down the presidency of CCNY, saying that "unless peace can be established through the UN, no academic job will be worth anything." In February of 1952, Harvard announced that Bunche had resigned as professor of government.

All this is important because, although he did not in the end teach any courses, Bunche has the distinction of being the first black person to hold a professorship in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Caldwell Titcomb '47, Ph.D. '52
Auburndale, Mass.

 

ON GLOBALIZATION

President Lawrence H. Summers wants us to search for veritas as we consider complex issues such as corporate globalization ("Economics and Moral Questions," November-December 2003, page 63), but I didn't find his excerpted address on this issue to be very truthful or considered. By simplifying the hard work of many activists and organizations to put an end to exploitative working conditions, and by suggesting that the profit motive is the best system for promoting justice and altruism, he diminishes the real work of building equity, prosperity, justice, and peace in the world.

Summers is correct that there are people who are willing to work for meager wages and under horrendous and brutal conditions (for lack of better alternatives), but this does not mean the system is not oppressive and cruel. Nor does it absolve us of responsibility when we purchase cheap sweatshop-made clothing and products. That's too easy a way to assuage our guilt in participating in others' suffering. Boycotts of multinationals to pressure them to offer fair wages and non-abusive working conditions to employees allow us to put our money where our values are and to compel these corporations to do the right thing (while at the same time supporting companies that practice fair trade). There are many alternatives to either letting free-market capitalism dictate the conditions of workers or resorting to socialist economies. Veritas is to be found along a middle path that recognizes self-interest while placing restrictions on the exploitation of poor, disenfranchised, and desperate people.

Zoe Weil, M.T.S. '88
Surry, Me.

 

SKIP THE JOKE

Karen Bergreen's bravery in tackling the standup-comedy circuit ("From Courtroom to Comedy Club," January-February, page 79) is truly admirable. In the spirit of this bravery, perhaps she will reconsider making jokes about "being so bored at parties, [she] slips [herself] a roofie." Rohypnol (streetname: roofie) is one of many illegal drugs used to facilitate rape, and is commonly used by sexual predators in campus environments. While we are working diligently to raise awareness about this sinister trend, Harvard students are not immune to the dangers of these drugs. In recognition of the silent suffering endured by young people who have been victimized in this way, I hope Bergreen will reconsider this type of "humor" and the impact it has on our collective ability to effectively combat these life-changing crimes.

Susan Marine
Director, Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Cambridge

 

EARLY WARNER

Dean Barry Bloom's thoughtful, cogent article "Bioterrorism and the University" (November-December 2003, page 48) was excellent. He reminds me of Paul Revere.

Ralph F. Sortor '49
Hales Corners, Wis.

 

SCHOOL OF ADJUSTED VISIONS AND ADAPTIVE TOOLS

I confess to some twenty-first-century astonishment at the letters of Robert Hecker '69 and Shane Riorden '46 (January-February, page 4) in response to the "Rethinking Education" article (November-December 2003, page 61). All the more surprising is that these disparaging views of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), and of its genus, come from education professionals. Both respondents might avail themselves of the tool of close textual reading to digest the first overlooked fact: HGSE denominates itself a school of education, not a school of teaching, not a teachers' college, not a Pedagogy Tech.

I might agree with Riorden that the most basic qualifications of a classroom teacher are "know your subject, love your subject, and have the irrepressible urge to share your enthusiasm...." In an ideal world that might be necessary and sufficient qualification. But we live in the empirical world of imperial contingencies. We start to encounter contingencies in his last clause with adjective ("irrepressible urge"), verb ("to share"), and noun ("enthusiasm"). That is just Alice-in-Wonderland talk. The irrepressible urges of 20-year-olds become the lost ideals of career employees. Sharing falls victim to the political impediments of access, school-financing legislation, redistricting, and red-lining. Enthusiasm atrophies in the face of the ever-present spectre of school-dropout syndrome, resulting from the grinding nonschool social forces that impinge on learning and access to learning: market forces, mass-media culture, immigration demographics, labor-market forces in a globalized economy, technology, socialization with respect to parenting skills and gender roles.

The study of these issues, which are all exogenous to classroom teaching per se, is sufficient justification for the continued existence of schools of education. It is in these specialized think-tank retreats that patterns are identified and quantified, that statistics and arguments are assembled, that strategies of remediation are conceptualized for the purpose of advocating policy adjustments within the ever-changing socio-economic dynamic of the capitalist superpower, with its legislative finance committees and budget allocations.

We know that public education, and the public/private-system polarization, have served to disenfranchise, discourage, and de-educate generations of low-income, working-class, rural and urban youth. We know that the macro function of schooling is the socialization, indoctrination, and enrollment of successive age-group cohorts in the role of consumer-patriot as the onward soldierly march of capitalism continues. Now that working-class roles have been displaced to peripheral holdings of the empire, the need for a class of the great unwashed here at the center — the reserve army of the unemployed — has become obsolete, and perhaps undesirable for its destabilizing potential. This creates a problem for education and schooling officials, and for national domestic policy planning. Do we plan to maximize the development of human capital and educate for broad access to all levels of technology, management, training, and productivity? Or do we continue to enforce, tacitly, a class and caste system — through primary reliance on an intentionally dysfunctional public-education system that serves as a national screening and filtration mechanism? The status quo ante of the twentieth century is a policy of nondelivery of educational services to those families who cannot (or choose not to) purchase the access to learning that they thought came to them with their citizenship, residency, or birth in an ostensibly rational body politic. These areas of policy study, finance, management, and deployment fall under the research purview of HGSE and its sister academies. Education is a process of negotiation between individual consciousness and social context. Education is not a human activity defined by the preparation and delivery of lesson plans within a classroom. Schools such as HGSE empower education workers with adjusted visions and adaptive tools that enable them to irrigate obsolete social stratifications and to perforate destructive structural impediments so that capitalism's deathwish of erecting a New Jerusalem on the foundation of a social stone age does not go unchallenged.

The primary distinction between the school of education and the schools of law, medicine, business, architecture, and government (apart from the fact that it is not an Aristotelian category, which may be in its favor since Aristotle was tutor and adviser to Alexander, the ur-vector of European imperialism) is that its students and alumni have neither the goal nor intention of reaping from the harvest of surplus production that remains disproportionately sequestered in the smooth hands of those who have enjoyed private or privileged educations in the U.S.A., K-20. HGSE actually cultivates students, alumni, and faculty who want to help fellow human beings and to mend the social fabric, without thought of gain. Imagine such a thing in the twenty-first century.

Taylor Ayres McLean '65, Ed.M. '81
Jersey City, N.J.

 

PEAKS OF INSIGHT

I take exception to the review by Robert and Ellen Kaplan of some mathematics books ("On Mathematical Imagination," January-February, page 16). Not to the books, but to the Kaplans' description of typical mathematics teaching as "oases of horror in a desert of boredom."

In all subjects that prepare people to operate in the real world, a certain amount of routine — even occasional unpleasantness — comes with the territory. Teaching good manners is an obvious example. I have spent my life teaching mathematics and statistics. One cannot please everybody, nor did I try to do so, but I know that many of my (and others') students found our investigations of these subjects to contain mountain peaks of insight in a terrain of increasing competence.

Robert M. Kozelka, Ph.D. '53
Chapel Hill, N.C.

 

RADCLIFFE GOES TO WAR

Charles Thompson '47 didn't include in The Harvard Class of 1947 and World War II accounts of Radcliffe women in the military ("War Stories," January-February, page 82). I was class of '46 at Radcliffe. During my freshman year, the men were still at Harvard, in the ROTC or Naval Reserve. When they were called into active service the following year, the nature of the two colleges changed. Thus, in my second year, trying to remember bits of literature from Beowulf to Thomas Hardy to identify in an English 1 exam seemed not important.

I left school and joined the Women's Army Corps (WAC). So did a good friend from freshman year, Sarah (Sally) Ames. I am sure there were other 'Cliffies.

At my father's insistence, my two brothers and I had each studied typing in high school. Therefore, I was sent to typing school in the WAC. I liked it; we learned to type rhythmically as someone in front played an accordion. Then I spent the rest of my time at Fort Sheridan, outside of Chicago, typing payrolls. I was no hero, but I played my part (in my GI-issue khaki slip and bloomers). And I learned to keep my cool as thousands of recent returnees from the Pacific theatre yelled, "Quack, Quack!" as I walked down the army-post road.

Mary Fitton Fiore '46
New York City

 

PLESCH AND RICKETS

The medical methods of Janos Plesch ("Vita," January-February, page 28) remind me of some I experienced in 1930s Berlin. One in particular, the exposure of children to a sun lamp during the winter, had a valid medical motivation beyond the prevention of spring sunburn, namely the prevention of rickets. Rickets is caused by a vitamin D deficiency. Milk is now fortified with vitamin D to prevent rickets; it was not in Europe in those days. Rickets was a common problem in Northern Europe with its long winter nights and sunless days. The standard, unpalatable solution was cod-liver oil. My father, a physician, also preferred the sun lamp. It is worth noting that there is currently some concern that the overuse of sun-block might lead to a recurrence of rickets.

Gunther K. Wertheim, Ph.D. '55
Convent Station, N.J.

 

GINGERICH IN MIND

Thank you for your update on Professor Owen Gingerich ("The Copernicus Quest," November-December 2003, page 44). Like everyone who experienced it, I remember the vivid sight of Gingerich exiting class on that rocket sled. (It was especially effective because he wasn't quite cool enough to convince us it didn't scare him.) I remember his obsession with astronomer Harlow Shapley, and the Keplerian amount of time spent on Shapley's exegesis. I remember the yearly cockfight Gingerich staged in the garage of Allston Burr lecture hall between primatologist Irven DeVore and MIT physicist Philip Morrison over the question of whether there is life on other planets. But most of all, I remember his amazing sense of perspective and humor. (He described himself to us, kind of — perhaps clearly— tongue in cheek, as the world's authority on the Messier classification system of celestial bodies. And he took the laughs this got as a kind of encouragement.)

When I think about my time at Harvard, Gingerich is one of the first things to come to mind. And I spoke to him maybe twice. He spectacularly displayed a sense of humanity about how science was always, in its most important moments, human. He took me, an art guy, and made me forever aware of this. My life has been so much better for it.

Jeffrey A. Goodby '73
San Francisco

 

 

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ELECTRONIC ENHANCEMENTS

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