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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

The humanities, the Internet, Alzheimer’s care, and more

November-December 2013

Self-Fashioning

I enjoyed Nannerl O. Keohane’s “Self-Fashioning in Society and Solitude” (September-October, page 42) with a friend and fellow Harvard graduate (class of 2003). We thought Keohane nicely described the tension between the life of action and the need for solitude.

We disagreed, however, about her use of “self.” My friend thought it helpful; I didn’t. I don’t see myself as a fashioned “self.” By using the reflexive, do I contradict what I just said? No, because I think when the Oracle enjoins one to “Know thyself,” the reflexive includes the inner being of the knower: the sum of memory, imagination, and inner talk. The Greeks, Rousseau, and Montaigne called it the soul.

Keohane does not use this word. Its use is not in fashion. Quoting approvingly from Stephen Greenblatt, she defines the self as an order, a mode of address, and a structure of bounded desires. Of its contents we are told nothing. Her notion of self-fashioning prompted me to wonder whether at each new stage of one’s education the individual needs a teacher, as Emile and Sophie did when they became parents.

Early in Emile, Rousseau directs his readers to another account of education, one that enriches the inner life, and one that speaks to me:

Do you want to get an idea of public education? Read Plato’s Republic. It is not at all a political work, as those think who judge books only by their titles. It is the most beautiful educational treatise ever written.

My friend and I compared thinking of education as iterative fashioning to thinking of education as receptive deepening. We asked ourselves what was at stake in each approach.

Paul Dry ’66
Philadelphia


In “Self-Fashioning in Society and Solitude,” Nannerl O. Keohane argues that, except in religious orders, it has been easier for men than women to enjoy the benefits of occasional solitude. Another and simpler exception—no creeds, no celibacy—is the Quaker meeting, where women and men have been equal for centuries. Solitude in a group? The key is the silence. The idea is to put aside immediate concerns and “wait upon the word of the Lord,” which, for many of us, means listening to our best selves. Everyone has a best self, though not everyone can stand an hour’s silence.

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


The September-October article “Self-Fashioning in Society and Solitude” by Nannerl O. Keohane is shockingly arrogant, superior, and out of date. I was amazed to read that the author proposed being “a much better conversationalist” as a student goal. Another proposed goal is “developing the ability to maintain with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” These sound crazy even to an old grump like me.

I trust that administrators and faculty are not as distant from today’s students, so out-of-date that they espouse the author’s attitudes and goals. Indeed, in my view, it is a pity this article was awarded so much space in your wonderful Harvard Magazine.

Richard W. Kirschner, M.B.A. ’51

 

On the Humanities

Regarding “Invigorating the Humanities” (September-October, page 54): One wonders if the group studying the 50 percent drop in humanities concentrators considered, as a possible factor, the oft-noted, significant liberal-left bias in university faculties.

How that affects Harvard specifically I don’t know; but the virulent reaction to a hypothetical question posed by then-President Lawrence Summers in 2005 regarding possible gender differences, as well as the furor evoked by his insistence on minimal academic responsibilities on the part of professor Cornel West, would raise suspicions.

Could it be that undergraduates are smart enough to distinguish education from indoctrination? One should at least ask that question.

Peter Heiman ’64
Bronx, N.Y.

 

Dean Diana Sorensen says, “The point of an undergraduate education in the humanities is to develop…a sense of how to reason rigorously, how to express ideas in a compelling way, and how to write well.” If that were true, those pragmatic goals could be achieved as well or better just by providing courses on logic, English composition, and (perhaps at the Business School) salesmanship or advertising. Few students, moreover, will likely be attracted to what she describes as a humanities curriculum designed to answer such questions as “how do you build a meaningful life, what do you think about war, or what is the meaning of love?” These are nice questions to discuss over coffee at Starbucks, in more cozy settings, or with a venerable guru at his mountain cave (remember all those cartoons about the meaning of life?). But they are not topics to convince bright students that humanities courses offer more than bull sessions for credit. I hope Sorensen will find more compelling ways to invigorate the humanities.

Paul K. Alkon ’57
Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.


Divine Origins

“Life’s Beginnings” (September-October, page 29), by Courtney Humphries, is most interesting. Great research. But many Harvard alumni who respect and appreciate science also believe in God, believe that He created this world (and many others), and man in his image, endowing him with divine potential as sons and daughters of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Understandably, however, the article omits any reference to God in relation to the creation.

Our nation’s founding fathers believed in God and that an ongoing commitment to Him and His commandments is essential to our prosperity and preservation. We’ve all read their statements. And Bible believers among us (which includes Dr. Francis S. Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and now the National Institutes of Health; see his book The Language of God concerning God-directed evolution) believe that God put into man “the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).

The study of ancient documents, which burgeoned after the 1940s discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Egyptian Nag Hammadi Library, has produced many documents parallel to the Bible, some of them describing God’s “creation” of the cosmos (“organization” of matter and energy, better said) and His creation of life through the instrumentality of light, the “spark” of life. Let good research continue. In the end it should lead to a greater understanding of God and His creations.

Marvin R. VanDam, M.B.A. ’68
Holladay, Utah


I read with interest the article “Life’s Beginnings.” I was quite curious about several things. The “scientific,” evolutionists’, investigation into how life started on earth has been progressing, if that’s the appropriate word, for over 100 years. The author notes that how life started remains an unsolved question. She mentions that a study at Harvard, the “Origins of Life Initiative,” with seed money from the University, is being tackled by a bevy of scientists from various scientific fields.

Some may say that having failed to explain evolution and the beginning of life on earth, scientists now intend to broaden the inquiry and to look to outer space to get the answer as to the origin of life on earth. In this economy, I am certain that there are many scientists who would be pleased to have a well-paid position with this Initiative. I do wonder if any of the scientists will be required to visit a planet to ascertain if any fossil remains or other evidence exists.

I am certain that a great deal of money will be spent on this project: which money could have been used to reduce tuition fees. Instead of visiting outer space, perhaps a visit could be made to a local bookstore to obtain a book called the Holy Bible, which contains the answer to many questions. I doubt if it would cost more than five dollars. Perhaps a few of your readers have heard of the Book.

Walter G. Bilowz ’52
Chatham, Mass.

 

Life began at the moment of the start of our Universe. It is all-pervading and present in every grain of the Universe, dark or visible, and very importantly defies any distinction between Living and not-Living. That is why humans are at a loss as to what constitutes Life and where it goes or what happens to it when something dies. Nothing dies. Life merely continues in another form, like it has been doing from time immemorial and throughout the Universe. Our scientists can research to death (no pun intended) to find the origin or even the nature of Life but they cannot find it any more than they can find what happened just before the moment of the Big Bang. Both are impossible. They should be honest and humble enough to admit human limitations.

A.N. “Shen” Sengupta, M.Arch. ’64
Smyrna, Ga.

 

Internet for All

Judging from Elizabeth Gudrais’s discussion of The End of Big (“Rise of the Little Guy,” September-October, page 13), author Nicco Mele tries too hard to make a case for the obvious: the Internet can be used for good or evil. So can every other form of human communication. Yes, modern technology makes it vastly easier to quickly reach huge numbers of people, and obviously that calls for certain protections. But the irony in some of Mele’s examples is breathtaking: “who will produce reliable journalism if all the newspapers die?”; “the Internet…could lead to the election of demagogues”; “who will guarantee the safety of products such as aircraft and pharmaceuticals?”

With his background in journalism and politics, Mele should be well aware of the abysmal failure of the major news sources to fully and accurately inform the public; the frequent failures of the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and other government regulators to protect the public when profits are at stake; as well as the enormously uphill battle good candidates face against massive infusions of cash into elections from corporate interests. The Internet is the only real way for fair-minded people to stay informed and fight back…and now it is under attack as well.

Yes, illegal and harmful activities are conducted online, but if would-be consumers of contract killings and sex slavery can find the purveyors, so can law enforcement.

Mele’s closing note of optimism seems sadly empty. Yes, the Internet could be part of a rebirth of democracy; but the sad truth is that power coalesces, grows, and corrupts. If ’Net neutrality takes a dive, so will our aspirations of ever having a fair and democratic society. Not all stories have happy endings.

John Broussard ’49
Kelly Pomeroy
Kawaihae, Hawaii

 

Alzheimer’s Amendments

There are several significant errors in an otherwise excellent article on the challenges of caring for Alzheimer’s patients (“Coping with Alzheimer’s,” New England Regional Section,” September-October, page 28J).

Medicare does not cover long-term care in nursing homes. This type of care is covered by Medicaid for patients who have insufficient funds to pay privately. Medicare only covers rehabilitation care up to 90 days following a three-day hospitalization. In addition, the costs for assisted living- and nursing-home care are reversed. Assisted living averages about $30,000 a year while nursing-home care costs $7,000 to $9,000 a month: $84,000-$108,000 a year.

Because Alzheimer’s patients now often live several years in a nursing home and the number of patients with this problem has increased so much, Alzheimer’s is approaching heart disease and cancer as our most costly disease.

Karl Singer ’63, M.D. ’67
Kensington, N.H.
The correspondent is medical director of a 220-bed nursing home and board-certified geriatrician.

Nell Porter Brown replies: Due to incorrect information provided to Harvard Magazine, the article implied that Medicare covers housing costs in nursing homes. Medicaid covers these costs for those with “insufficient funds.” Medicare also pays for preventive and other aspects of healthcare for people in institutional settings who have dementia. Regarding the cost of dementia care, information provided to the magazine, and published in the print version, was more fully explained: “Currently, regional high-end assisted-living facilities with dementia care can cost as much as $7,000 or $9,000 a month, and rely primarily on private payments that only a small fraction of Americans can afford. Nationwide, the average cost of Alzheimer’s care at an assisted-living community is about $4,800 a month and between $6, 400 and $7,000 a month at a nursing home, according to a 2010 MetLife Mature Market Study. However, prices range widely.”

 

Fan Mail

Upon receiving the September-October issue, I scanned the cover. “Nothing good inside, I can whip this off quickly, in the brief breaks I’m taking” (from lawn-mowing at noon on this much too hot and bright day).

Leafing through it, the heading Energy Divestiture caught my eye: letters by Gitlin & Strassman pushing President Faust and Harvard Corp. to be leaders for climate change, not be politically cautious. Then more on Monro’s impact. Then “Rise of the Little Guy,” with the amazing powers and dark side of “Davids vs Goliaths” on the Internet, sobering me on our new reality. “Global Whitemanism” showed an amazing parallel world that could have arisen from imperial elements of the antebellum South, complete with a print. A dark side, again. I was ready for something lighter, so I got into goat-cheese production for which Sandvoss ’02 abandoned theater & Hollywood, which was juxtaposed with the Zimbabwe refugee story. Rewarding myself for finishing the lawn, I gave in and read “The E-mail Investigation,” which, unlike prior stories, told me little I didn’t know already, except that none of the principals involved even knew there was an FAS policy for them to address. After all the politics, I again withdrew to the personal. Inspired by Henry Beston’s Thoreau-like existence with his wife on Cape Cod and in Maine, I tackled maybe half of “Self-Fashioning in Society and Solitude” before my chores called me, resolving to print it off for a mentee. I wondered how hard it was for Harvard to possess so much of Allston, and found I underlined a lot of that story. I was totally awed by the class of ’14 writer, “Dear Younger Self,” wishing I’d had a fraction of that wisdom at her age, and maybe now as well, and I noted the two ’14 Ledecky fellows just entering into this amazing magazine.

I was totally awed by the quality of what I had read, and the personal and political depth of it, and the writing skill from letters to brief sidebars—which I happened to find while avoiding all the cover stories and most of the major ones. The print & pictures pulled me further into the articles as well. This must be the full magazine, not the truncated one that you threatened to send to those of us who never sent in money. I am so renewed and thankful that I am writing my first check now. Where is it appropriate I submit this letter? Who knows? I’ll try out my Middle Tennessee Harvard Alumni Club, you at the Harvard Magazine so you know how grateful I am, and my two dear former roommates, Mike Hattwick and Doug Shapiro. You at the magazine are welcome to use this letter in any way you wish; I’m just delighted that I had the time (I didn’t) to discover your radiance. I can’t say enough, keep it up!

Ironically, “The Persistence of Print” just came to me in another form: e-mail, threatening the creative destruction of print on paper, even as it discusses the physicality of print for Ashbery’s poems.

Hampton P. Howell ’63
Nashville


Harry Parker

No one should be surprised that many oarsmen consider Harry Parker to have been their most important teacher at Harvard (September-October, page 63). They spent far more time with him than with anyone else. He certainly was the dean of American coaches.

Hayden Hawthorne, M.B.A. ’65, Yale ’56
Norton, Mass.

 

New HGSE Dean

It was great to read about James Ryan, the new dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in your September-October issue (“Education and Opportunity,” page 52).

His ideas of revamping this nation’s public education system by eliminating the “privilege barrier” between suburban and inner city schools probably merits a full feature article in Harvard magazine—Harvard IS education, after all. Using a legalistic and constitutional strategy for creating a single system of public education out of a seriously bifurcated, ill-matched, and very distorted separation of power depending on where you happen to live, is probably the best if not the only hope we have for achieving a really first-class system of public education in this country.

It reminds me of what the Kentucky Supreme Court tried to do in its 1989 decision (Rose v. Council for Better Education) which overturned years of legal and de facto discrimination between the state’s 176 local school districts with wild variations in per-pupil spending. It looks like we need to come to a similar conclusion at the national level. If we aren’t one nation in our primary and secondary schools, how can we expect more of the society at large?

Please, Harvard—and Harvard Magazine!—we need to hear more from Dean James Ryan.

Dan Adams ’67
Big Cove Tannery, Pa.

 

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]. Letters may be edited to fit the available space.

 

Energy Divestiture

From my Virginia hilltop, I have appreciated your articles on climate change for a number of years.

Last week’s fifth IPCC report has made abundantly clear the untenability of “climate denial,” and the urgency and likely irreversibility of our current trajectory. This global trajectory is powerfully driven and maintained by fossil fuel interests located in the United States. Credible accounts of rising economic costs attributable to climate change have been provided in recent months by Stephen Chu, Munich Re, and others.

Climate change is the central issue of our time, and history will critique our intelligence, morality, and effectiveness in relation to our response to this one challenge. The planet will survive, but human economies and civilizations, as we now know them, likely will not. A strong statement, perhaps, but unfortunately not difficult to defend.

Humans respond much more effectively to “clear and present danger” than to slow-moving events, however serious. The real magnitude and consequences of climate change are simply beyond the grasp of most ordinary people, including most of the Harvard community. It requires an understanding of history, geophysical and biological sciences, and a mind able to receive and integrate traumatic factual information.

Where is Harvard in the epic struggle of our time? Where is Harvard Magazine’s voice in exposing the culture of ignorance and doubt (see “agnotology”) embraced by mainstream U.S. media, preventing effective mobilization of thought and action? The stakes are high, and Harvard has a terrific opportunity to grasp the torch of leadership. A small but determined band of students and alumni have coalesced under the banner of Divest Harvard (see “Energy Divestiture,” September-October, page 5), but yesterday’s statement from President Faust reflects a diffident response to the climate challenge on the part of the University. Though “greening” the campus is commendable, it is a trivial and disingenuous effort by itself, in relation to Harvard’s great and urgently needed potential for leadership.

I encourage you to step back and consider carefully where the University, and Harvard Magazine, fit into the unfolding drama of irreversible climate change on our planet. What is the role of the University in upholding scientific knowledge and mental fortitude against the sea of ignorance, disinformation, and shortsighted vested interests in which we and our powers of thought and action now drown? We can collectively lead our fair nation out of its present darkness and dysfunction, but there is little time. We need your help!

Douglas H. Hendren ’72, G ’78, M.D., M.B.A.
Harrisonburg, Va.

 

Geoengineering and Climate Change

David Keith (“Buffering the Sun,” July-August, page 36) sparked our interest—can human efforts avert alleged climate change when human actions are the underlying cause of the perceived problem? But readers’ comments avoided the fundamental fact behind the concern, and strayed into many areas lacking substance. (Reader Satinover did acknowledge that climate systems are of massive complexity.)

The basic fact is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is approaching 100,000,000 tons per day. Alternatives (unstated) for energy production yield minuscule reductions in that total. Reader Haas states the root cause is population growth, yet the country leading the rise in CO2 emissions is China, which has no population growth. One should add that about 1,000,000,000 people now on earth are without a reliable source of electricity, and “renewables” will not be a major factor in their being connected to electricity. Yes, another billion people will be added to our population over the next couple of decades, and they will add to carbon-based energy demand, but “root cause”?

Hydrocarbon sources provide a real bargain for the world’s energy supply. Small increments of alternatives will appear, and the issue of external costs will be cited as supporting “sustainables.” But when looking for example at wind, the cost of the area required, birds killed, and its intermittent nature can also be cited expensive “externals.” Technology will produce viable alternatives some day, but divestment of the fossil-fuel industry by Harvard does not mean it would be taking a moral high ground. Somehow, the words of reader Gitlin come to mind, “Cynical denial, ruthless myopia...and stupidity prevail.” These are apparently meant to describe current corporate boards, but are more apt to describe the view that fossil fuels should be eliminated in our use and in our investments.

Robert Baker, M.B.A. ’57
Darien, Conn.

 

Animal and Human Welfare Concerns

Steve potter’s coverage of the Sandvoss brothers’ cheese industry (“A Fever for Chèvre,” September-October, page 18) neglects to mention the ethical quandaries that arise when we drink the nursing milk of other species—what happens to the kids for whom the milk was intended? I have been reading about a growing and thriving trade in goat meat in the U.S. I suspect the young of the Sandvoss brothers’ lactating goats are snatched from their mothers, perhaps very shortly after birth, just like veal calves, whose mothers are caught in the dairy industry. I wonder, are these kids raised in the same deplorable conditions as veal calves, and slaughtered before adolescence? Do their mothers cry out, and struggle to protect their young, even as they are snatched and carted off on behalf of other capitalistic human enterprises, as do cows? These details are not mentioned in Potter’s article. Nor does he note that the nursing milk from other species (and any products made from the nursing milk of other species) is entirely unnecessary for human health, and is instead implicated in deadly health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and consuming animal products is much harder on the environment than choosing healthier, more compassionate food options.

Lisa Kemmerer
Billings, Mont.

 

Old Quincy Vignette

I’ve been reading about the remodeling and reopening of Old Quincy, in which I spent a depressing year in 1965-66. Here’s a lighter recollection.

Tuesday, November 9, 1965. Studying. The lights go out in B39, our room. (In fact, all over the Northeast, we later learn.)

I open the door. The squinting, mole-like face of an older man pokes out of B38. Robert Lowell, our neighbor, housed there for a term as a visiting lecturer. First time I’ve seen him. He shuffles into the hallway and down the stairs. I hear the front door open and close.

A voice rises from the first floor: “Poets aren’t supposed to say, ‘What the hell happened?’ ”

Michael Pollak ’68
Shenorock, N.Y.

 

Diversity Concerns

I just read your September-October issue. (I read the magazine because I spent two years at Harvard on a postdoctoral fellowship and my wife has a Ph.D. from Harvard.)

I was struck by the fact that virtually all of the photographs in your magazine were photos of white people (meaning European ancestry). I decided to count these, just focusing on photos where the person was named (I thought that would be a better measure of which people you think are important). Of those 44 photos, 40 were clearly photos of people with European ancestry. Three were photos of East Asian ancestry people. The one photo of an African American involved a stereotypically black activity—playing the saxophone.

I think it would be time for you to pay more attention to the representations of people in your magazine. These send an important signal as to which people Harvard thinks are doing something important. In fact, it would have been time to improve those representations of people 50 years ago, at the time of the March on Washington. Are you planning to wait until the 22nd century before you produce a magazine whose images are a representative mirror of American society?

Mike Burton
Professor of anthropology, University of California
Irvine, Calif.

Editor's note: We take the point. But we commend to you, among recent issues, the cover story featuring a woman of color (January-February), the feature on ill-cared-for children in India (November-December 2012), and others. We no more balance the contents and images numerically in any one issue than we cover, by formula, the University's schools, or humanities, social sciences, sciences, and professions in any single issue. You might find William Julius Wilson's feature on minority unemployment, in May-June, interesting. Please look at a larger sample of the bimonthly issues. We can do better, always, but judging by one issue is a small data set.

 

Children and Same-Sex Marriage

I was disappointed that you elected to publish another misleading letter on children and same-sex marriage by Scott FitzGibbon (September-October 2013, online letters). In it, Mr. FitzGibbon falsely writes that I gave “no credence to the view that same-sex marriage may create an undesirable context for childrearing.” I never wrote anything like this at all. What I wrote was that Mr. FitzGibbon’s own assertion that “strong evidence indicates that” children “stand to be harmed” by same-sex marriage is a complete falsehood. I then justified this by noting that numerous professional organizations, including the American Pediatric Association, had performed analyses of the studies on the effects of same-sex marriage on children and concluded that there is no evidence that children are harmed by same-sex marriage.

Mr. FitzGibbon then claims that a recent study by sociologist Mark Regnerus justifies “pessimism” about the effects of same-sex marriage on children. You add a footnote describing that this study “compared 18-to-39-year-old Americans who had a parent who had a same-sex relationship with those who had heterosexual parents.” This summary of the two study groups is incomplete. The first group included almost exclusively children whose parents separated, and one parent was in a same-sex relationship at any time, no matter how brief, during the child’s rearing. It did not distinguish as to which parent actually raised the child. The second group included only children raised by opposite sex parents that stayed together. Not surprisingly, the children from stable relationships did better.

The national organization for sociologists like Mr. Regnerus is the American Sociological Association. In a brief to the Supreme Court in favor of same-sex marriage they write that the Regnerus study “did not specifically examine children raised by same-sex parents, and provides no support for the conclusions that same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes.” “If any conclusion can be reached from Regnerus’ study, it is that family stability is predictive of child wellbeing.” They also write, “Scholarly consensus is clear: children of same-sex parents fare just as well as children of opposite-sex parents.” See http://www.asanet.org/documents/ASA/pdfs/12-144_307_Amicus_%20%28C_%20Gottlieb%29_ASA_Same-Sex_Marriage.pdf

As in my prior letter, I argue for a focus on facts in important policy debates.

Stephen Sussman, M.D. ’88
Haiku, Hawaii


A Downside to Antarctic Adventuring

I read with awe and inspiration The College Pump’s acclaim for Alan Nawoj’s triumphant run on the Antarctic Continent (“How to Beat the Heat,” September-October, page 68). However, I shuddered to think what might have happened had he met with accident—independent of his extensive marathon training and experience.  (Frostbite, dehydration or severe falls on the ice are a few of the mishaps that can happen, but there are more.)

Let me explain: Each year there are hundreds of well-intentioned, passionate, cause/goal-oriented adventurers who attempt Antarctic endurance events that are, for the most part, well-planned out. These athletes are seasoned and have trained extensively. They have purchased or rented proper cold-weather gear and, in the case of some Antarctic marathons like the one at South Pole, have allowed for acclimation because the Pole towers more than 10,000 feet above sea level. (Nawoj ran on King George Island so this wasn’t an issue.) Often the athletes/marathon tour operators have a support system and infrastructure—although many solo adventurers do not—that allow them to succeed in such extreme cold and icy terrain.

However, what most people don’t know is that there are weather changes that can occur rapidly and without warning. (Katabatic winds that are extremely likely and difficult or impossible to predict are one example. White-outs at certain times of the year are another.) It is then that problems result quickly for the adventurers, and more importantly, for the National Science Foundation if one is near any of the three U.S. Antarctic bases.

When such emergencies happen, it is easy to lose one’s way. Since everything on much of the Continent is white and blue, it is especially difficult to remain oriented. There have been several life-threatening incidents to which the National Science Foundation has had to respond because there are few options. There are no inhabitants on the Continent—except penguins and seals—thus no EMS system.  Antarctica is used exclusively for peaceful, scientific purposes per the ratification of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, now signed by 48 countries.

Therefore when rescue is needed, the NSF must devote valuable financial resources and precious time and effort to costly rescue flights, airlifts, and maneuvers so adventurers can be rescued. Unfortunately, the rescues occur at the expense of research pursuits already strapped for funds.

Adventurers cannot be prevented from flying, sailing, or swimming to Antarctica. They cannot be prevented from running, skiing, hot-air ballooning, or snowshoeing across the Continent. (They are prevented from bringing animals, however, such as might be used in dog-sledding.) Few who begin these excursions and those who fund, watch, support, and applaud their efforts realize that NSF must use valuable manpower and resources and risk their lives to provide rescue services if they are needed. Sophisticated, expensive scientific instruments which are difficult to maintain in the extreme-cold conditions lie idle while the few scientists and support staff present are pulled from their work to become the rescue team. Time-sensitive experiments are interrupted and delayed—always an overarching concern when the only time to work is during the Antarctic summer, since the winter provides 24 hours of darkness and no flights occur because of the darkness, the extreme cold, and the unpredictable wind and weather conditions.

The next time brave well-trained athletes embark on physical challenges in Antarctica—especially near the South Pole, Ross Ice Shelf, and Anvers Island, where the NSF maintains bases—it would be good to think about the research institutions’ resource limits. To compromise scientific endeavors because of unplanned diversion bears close scrutiny—and beforehand.

Janet F. Regier, G ’77, M.D. ’81
Former NSF physician, Washington D.C., 2002-2012
Cambridge

 

Universities and Federal Debt

The May-June issue contained an article by Drew Faust wherein she wrote “the United States sequester seems like a self-inflicted wound.”

I wonder how large government spending would have to get before she would concede we need restraint.

I receive government largess as a result of being a senior citizen and advocate ending it because I don’t want to bankrupt my own daughter. Can university administrators admit they too are part of the problem and acknowledge the need to rein in their special-interest entitlements? “We have met the enemy and he is us” as the Pogo cartoon said.

Frederick Miller ’67
New York City

 

Honors in Death

I was stunned to realize that Harvard Magazine now designates the deceased members of our community with honors designation (or not). In what world is this relevant? Should we mourn a classmate’s passing a bit more if she has an scl attached to her name?

Lynn Burke ’94
Boston

Obituaries editor Deborah Smullyan replies: I have been writing the obituaries in the magazine since 1993 and inherited the style component alluded to from a long line of predecessors. We haven’t seen any reason to change it. First, please know that there is no judgment involved; it’s not like the obituaries of people who graduated with honors get preference! It’s just that this is the alumni magazine of Harvard College, and the degrees that people earned there are front and center.

Moreover, as someone who graduated with no honors whatsoever, I feel that those little notations do mean something. It says something about a person if he or she graduated magna or summa: it takes great intelligence and hard work to earn those honors at Harvard College.

I suppose I would ask, in return, what good reason is there for not including them? Why ignore an achievement—of all places, in an obituary!—that all the readers of this magazine will instantly comprehend? Why should being an all-Ivy lineman on the football team, or an editor of the Crimson, or a mainstay of the Glee Club, be more worthy of mention than the earning of scholastic honors?

Thank you for writing.

 

Errata

Helen Vendler reported that we misquoted George Herbert, who brought “thoughts,” not “poems,” to church (“A Nearly Perfect Book,” September-October, page 34); Christa Kuljian wrote that the photograph accompanying “Open Book” in that issue (page 19) was taken by David Goldblatt (not David Goodman). We regret these errors.

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