Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

Football fixtures, inequality encore, Richard Wilbur

January-February 2009

COLORFUL CHAMELEON

The exotic panther chameleon whose picture graced the cover of the November-December 2008 Harvard Magazine proved a daring but effective covergirl: the photo captured my curiosity and inspired my interest in the corresponding article. In lieu of an actual visit to Cambridge, the rich photographic display from the Language of Color exhibition was a satisfying substitute. The exhibition demonstrates one of the most endearing facts about the natural world: vast and extravagant diversity across and within species is often functional as well as beautiful. Kudos on an inspiring and enjoyable feature story.

Georgia Wallen, M.P.P. ’98
Washington, D.C.

 

DIABETES DETAILS

It would have been helpful if Elizabeth Gudrais’s “Decoding Diabetes” (November-December, page 50) had, as an aside, mentioned some public-policy changes that could dramatically impact prevention. (1) Get high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other sugars out of processed foods and drinks (there is no justification for HFCS in a can of kidney beans, in spaghetti sauce, or in countless other products, where it is simply a cheap, seductive, and addictive filler). Do to HFCS what we did to trans fats. (2) Public transportation: in addition to multiple benefits as in energy conservation and air quality, re-engineering our urban society for efficient and pleasant public transit would produce a concomitant increase in physical activity that would begin to return most urban dwellers to the normal state of our biological origins. Sidewalks in the ’burbs would help. (3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): why is the CDC so timid in confronting the corporate food nexus in defense of public health, particularly on risk factors for diabetes? This is as scandalous as the free rein of agribusiness and food makers in defining and promoting the American diet.

Robert Park, A.M. ’67, S.M. ’81, HSPH ’82
Cincinnati, Ohio

 

 

UNIQUELY HUMAN?

Why do humans have such a burning need to prove that they are unique (“What Makes the Human Mind?” November-December, page 11)? Perhaps it is this need, in fact, that defines them as human.

Gretchen Becker ’63, G ’67
Halifax, Vt.

 

 

Exemplary Contributors

With pleasure, the editors wish to recognize three contributors to Harvard Magazine during 2008 by awarding each $1,000 for their distinguished service to readers.

Christopher Reed

Stu Rosner

Christopher Reed

The McCord Writing Prize (named for David T.W. McCord ’21, A.M. ’22, L.H.D. ’56) recalls his lively prose and verse composed for this magazine and for the Harvard College Fund. Christopher (“Kit”) Reed qualified many times over during his 39 years of service here—but staff members are ineligible. Now that he has assumed senior status, but continues at the handle of The College Pump, on the Treasure page, and as an occasional feature writer, it is a delight to recognize Reed’s seemingly effortless prose.

Fred Field

Fred Field

Photographer Fred Field, of Portland, Maine, enlivens these pages with informative, humane portraits—for instance, of the scientists whose work was explored in “Decoding Diabetes” in the November-December 2008 issue.

Naomi Shea

Naomi Shea

Illustrator Naomi Shea, of Northampton, Massachusetts, sensitively mines historical materials and portraiture (photographs and works in other media) to create the photomontages that often accompany the magazine’s Vita features—most recently, her work on Albert Gallatin Browne Jr. in the November-December magazine. Congratulations, all.

 

ART ARCHIVES

I was delighted to see that James Cuno was reviewing Old Masters, New World (“Art as Chattel,” November-December, page 31), but then less than delighted to read his claim that the book “is not original research.” In fact, I couldn’t have written the narrative without extensive reliance on unpublished documents in archives at both museums and galleries—the Frick Collection and the Frick Art Reference Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, Villa I Tatti (Florence), Knoedler & Co. (New York), and Colnaghi (London), to name only the most important.

Thanks to these primary sources, I discovered facts that set the record straight about many art-market transactions, including Henry Clay Frick’s purchases of Rembrandt’s 1658 Self-Portrait and Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert, purchases specifically cited by Cuno. In addition, my central contention that Frick’s brilliance as a collector had less to do with his taste than his character and his brilliance as a businessman depended upon my reading of the unpublished transatlantic letters and cables between dealers where they wrote frankly to each other and where Charles Carstairs described his best client as a “born trader, a close buyer & a d..... smart man, much more so in that way than Morgan.”

Cynthia Saltzman ’71
Brooklyn

 

ABOVE-ZERO IMPACT HOUSE

I would be more convinced of the zero impact of the household of that “Zero Impact House” (“Keeping It Green,” New England Regional Section, November-December, page 24I) if they had not commissioned a three-car garage.

Marjorie B. Cohn, A.M. ’61
Arlington, Mass.

 

 


GAY HARVARD

Perhaps most gays at Harvard in the 1960s and ’70s—and earlier—felt a “profound sense of loneliness and isolation” (“Coming Out at Harvard,” November-December, page 70) and perhaps most thought as Andrew Tobias did that there was no gay activity at Harvard (“Gay Like Me,” January-February 1998, page 50).

They were naive. In those decades and, in fact, in all decades, as William Wright’s Harvard’s Secret Court witnesses, there has been an active, albeit underground, homosexual life at Harvard. It bothers me that this side of homosexuality is not written about. What is stressed is the isolation and shame and guilt that homosexuals of these earlier decades felt. It bothers me that young gays today will get the impression that all gays of these earlier decades were unhappy, guilt-ridden closet cases.

I wish someone—besides me—would set the record straight. I was at Harvard in the late ’40s and found a very active underground homosexual life. We had gay cocktail parties and late-night orgies, cruised the many gay bars of Boston as well as the gay-friendly Club 100 and Casablanca in the Square. Some of us cruised the Lamont Library bathroom. We had affairs and breakups and did a lot of gossiping—just like today.

Yes, in the early ’50s there was another witch-hunt similar to that of the ’20s. Boys who were suspected of being homosexual were summoned by the dean and if found guilty of that horrendous activity were expelled. (A lover of mine, a brilliant freshman, was one.). But despite the hazards, we had a good time and I, as well as many of my friends, did not feel shame or guilt at being gay.

I want to let the young gays know that there have always been men who loved men and were well-adjusted to their difference, some of us rejoicing in it. We were ahead of our time in believing homosexuality was not evil and it was the world that was wrong, not us. I’m glad the world has caught up with us.

Arthur P. Clarridge ’49, Ed.M. ’63
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

 

 

FOOTBALLERS’ LUXE LOUNGE

It was disturbing to read your report (“Living Large,” November-December, page 79), which described the “opulently refurbished” football locker room at Dillon Field House, especially in these troubling financial times. Perhaps this makeover was planned when the University’s endowment was at $36.9 billion, but even so, it just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do even if we could afford it. The locker room has “114 cherrywood lockers with crown moldings” and columns encased in “Shaker-design custom hardwood,” along with “46-inch flat-panel TVs.” This is a locker room, not a reception room where President Faust meets visiting dignitaries. Custom cherrywood for a locker room? Should the University be proud [of] this display of opulence? The timing is embarrassing, just as Faust announces we must be more prudent in our finances.

William Cain
Harvard Employment Services and Operations
Cambridge

 

 

I do not understand why Harvard is requesting donations when they are spending money on plush locker-room facilities. Too late, of course, to do anything about it. Still, it rankles, and shows a poor sense of judgment as to what is important. I’d rather have seen an upgrade to some community-outreach program, or some initiative to help the city of Cambridge.

Griffin J. Winthrop Jr. ’58
Captain, Harvard Swim Team 1957-58
Deltona, Fla.

 

 

INEQUALITY, ENCORE

Re Marguerite Gerstell’s letter (November-December, page 6, on “The Economic Agenda,” September-October, page 27) faulting Lawrence H. Summers’s view that healthcare is a “moral imperative,” I suspect that many Harvard alums share her conclusion that “We need a reasonably healthy workforce to compete in the world. We already have that.”

How cold. How impersonal. Our “reasonably healthy workforce” means that many millions of families are uninsured or underinsured. It means that most of the rest of us are paying more, yet losing our lives younger, than we need to. It means that our spouses, children, and grandchildren are deprived years too soon of our companionship, love, and wisdom. Call these observations “bleeding heart” if you will. “Bleeding heart” is what people who don’t care call people who do.

Other nations’ experiences teach us that Americans will live longer at less cost if we go to a single-payer system—say, by extending Medicare to all and by reducing the role of the largely superfluous though politically powerful health-insurance companies to simply providing Medicare-type supplements. And we would take a sensible step toward curing the pervasive American sickness of placing private profits ahead of people.

Malcolm Bell ’53, LL.B. ’58
Weston, Vt.

 

Stefan Schreier’s anecdote about Lord Rothschild (Letters, November-December, page 8, on “Unequal America,” July-August, page 22) was meant to deflate egalitarianism. But it merely illustrated Rothschild’s lack of moral imagination. Rothschild assumed that the man who “berated him for having an unfair share of the world’s wealth” was (like Rothschild) only out for himself. Suppose Rothschild had instead responded generously and intelligently: “You’re right. But since even I can’t rescue the whole human race from needless misery, I will rescue 10,000 struggling fellow citizens, who have just as much right to a modicum of happiness as I do.”

If Rothschild were a U.S. citizen in 2009, his net worth would be, at a conservative estimate, $10 billion. Let us leave him $9 billion, so as not to scandalize anti-egalitarians, and redistribute only a paltry 10 percent of his wealth. That would put $100,000 into the hands of each of 10,000 Americans who are about to lose their houses or jobs or to declare bankruptcy as a result of unpayable medical bills or who are unable to retire because their pension fund or medical coverage has evaporated.

Does Mr. Schreier—does any Harvard Magazine reader—really suppose that the extreme economic inequality of contemporary America is unavoidable or irremediable?

George Scialabba ’69, L ’72
Cambridge

 

 


RICHARD WILBUR’S WORLD

Thanks for Craig Lambert’s thoughtful account of Richard Wilbur (“Poetic Patriarch,” November-December, page 36). We have fond memories of meeting the Wilburs with our parents, Anya and Peter Viereck (S.B. ’37, Ph.D. ’42), and appreciated Wilbur’s remarkable reading of his favorite Viereck poems and translations on the occasion of our father’s Legacy-Memorial Service at Mount Holyoke College in November 2006.

In 1961, as part of an extraordinary cultural thaw during the Kennedy era, Wilbur and Viereck, both former GIs and Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, were appointed by the State Department as the first Americans to represent their country in the then-USSR as part of a cultural exchange program, hosted as guests of the Soviet Writers Union. Russian translations of Wilbur’s and Viereck’s poetry also appeared that year in the Literaturnaya Gazeta, along with Yevtushenko’s unprecedented “Babi Yar,” prompting both aesthetic freedom and human rights.

The popularity of this exchange helped to prompt Khrushchev’s November 1962 decision to authorize the uncensored publication of Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The influence came full circle when Harvard invited Solzhenitsyn to campus as its 1978 Commencement speaker, where he championed “the integral spirit” shared by all humans. The opening of Lambert’s article recalls how Wilbur became a poet instead of writing seventeenth-century European history, but we should remember that Harvard’s poets have played no small part in changing the course of world history.

Valerie Viereck Gibbs, M.T.S. ’72
Columbus, Ohio

John Alexis Viereck, ’68
Culver City, Calif.

 

 

Lambert made a common error: incorrectly labeling Wesleyan University as Wesleyan College. I had the privilege of taking Richard Wilbur’s Shakespeare course in the late ’50s at Wesleyan, one of the highlights of my undergraduate experience. I can attest that his teaching was as expressive and precise as his poetry, and that I learned to enjoy reading Shakespeare as much as watching it performed. Thanks for reinforcing the memory.

David V.B. Britt, M.P.A. ’67
Amelia Island, Fla.

 

VICTORIAN TREACLE

Just to note how people can react differently—I was quite surprised to read of President Faust’s selection of “All things bright and beautiful” as a hymn to commemorate (“Morning Prayers: All Creatures,” November-December, page 65). The song takes an absurd view of evolution both biological and geological, and with its verse about ordering the estate of the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate, it is a classic example of the use of religion in justifying inequities in society. To me as a young person in England where the school day started with a Christian service—and the rest of the day was spent learning about the marvels of nature in a rational way—this popular and pretty song symbolized much of what was wrong about official religion.

Stephen Pordes, Ph.D. ’76
Glen Ellyn, Ill.

 

President Faust is right to say that the hymn is steeped in Victorian romanticism. But it also shows another side of the Victorian era. The 1840s were the time of the Chartist movement and great unrest among working men. The third stanza of the hymn is this:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

William C. Waterhouse ’63, Ph.D. ’68
State College, Pa.

 

 

President Faust put the matter so eloquently. She reminded us of our place in, and our responsibilities to, the creation around us. I would add only that to put into practice our desire to preserve creation, we need to think carefully about our material consumption and its impact on the living natural resources of the planet. The only way to consume and have economic growth while preserving the natural earth is to make sure it is done in a sustainable way.

John F. Schivell ’63, Ph.D. ’68
Princeton, N.J.

 

 

AMPLIFICATIONS

Robin Pressley-Keough of Animal Adventures points out that the Texas coral snake (“Animals Speak Color,” November-December, page 42) is venomous, not poisonous.

Amplifying the same issue’s “Errata and Amplifications” (page 10), David French, Ph.D. ’74, notes that Ethiopia was colonized, by Italy, from 1936 to 1941. Also in the same issue, “Slavery’s Sway” (page 20) attributed a database of shipping records to Emory professor David Eltis; Barbara Solow, then a researcher at Harvard, was also a principal investigator.

 

SPEAK UP, PLEASE

Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, send comments by e-mail to [email protected], use our website, www.harvardmagazine.com, or fax us at 617-495-0324. Letters may be edited to fit the available space.