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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

Mary Sears, Gen Ed, football concussions

September-October 2015

Infrastructure and Olympics

I have long felt that a large, modern city cannot function efficiently without free public transportation (see “Why Can’t We Move?” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, July-August, page 42). The key words here are “efficiently” and “free.” A large building wouldn’t function efficiently without vertical transportation, yet we do not charge a person a nickel for each ride on an elevator or a penny for each ride on an escalator. Why should we expect a large city to function without similarly free horizontal transportation?

Of course there is no free lunch, and the vertical transportation in a building is free to the users only because it is paid for by the tenants as part of their rent. Similarly, the city’s horizontal transportation should be paid for through real-estate taxes. Some will say they shouldn’t have to pay for public transit if they don’t use it, but every city dweller does “use” public transit even if they don’t “ride” on it. After all, the city wouldn’t exist as we know it if it didn’t have public transit.

Recall what happened when public transit was unavailable during last winter’s storms. The disaster goes beyond city limits, so even state subsidies for free city public transportation should be used. Illinois would not be what it is without Chicago, or Massachusetts without Boston, or Georgia without Atlanta.

Ethan Jacobs ’62
Chicago

The U.S. infrastructure? Apparently George Bush thought it more important to rebuild the infrastructure of Baghdad. Then there were the lost billions on similar ventures in Afghanistan.

No political will, no way.

A.E. Santaniello, Ph.D. ’61
Dana Point, Calif.

Professor Kanter presents memorable and interesting stories to raise public awareness of the obviously poor condition of our transportation infrastructure. Although she pinpoints “chronic underinvestment” as the culprit for the condition of Boston’s T and, by association, the country’s infrastructure, she offers no specific funding solution other than a “national narrative.” More discussion is not the catalyst to provide the “will” to invest in infrastructure. “Will” would follow if a specific long-term funding plan, i.e., a tax beneficial to all constituencies, were offered that generated the $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion needed to repair and enhance our bridges, roads, and water systems. Such a tax, unlike the regressive fuel tax, would take, like Robin Hood, from those most able to pay, invest in infrastructure, create millions of new high-paying jobs, and result in enhancing the investable assets of those who pay the tax.

Here’s how it would work. First: remove the cap on the payroll tax (currently 6.2 percent, capped at $118,500) for earned income of $500,000 and greater—which, according to the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at UMass Amherst, would yield $120 billion per year. Second: invest the $120 billion along with the current $40 billion generated from fuel taxes to produce a world-class infrastructure. This investment would create three million jobs, based on PERI research. Third: the three million new jobs would decrease the unemployment rate 1.9 points, to 3.6 percent. Economic research reveals that a one-point decrease in the unemployment rate increases the S&P 500 by 3.4 points. Thus the three million jobs would increase the S&P 500 6.46 percent. Fourth: According to Fidelity Investments, people with earned income of $500,000 or more have investable assets of $5 million. Removing the payroll tax for these people will increase their investable assets by 6.46 percent or $300,000—which would more than offset their tax increase of $24,000. Not a bad trade!

Goodbye to potholes, congestion, and middle-class wage stagnation. Hello to world-class infrastructure and improved fortunes for all Americans. Given Kanter’s communication skills, I hope she would become an advocate of this plan, or of some variation, to give it “will” through public and political exposure.

John A. Simourian
Needham, Mass.

The effort to inject common sense into the current Olympic fever in Boston (“A Faustian Fiscal Bargain,” by Andrew Zimbalist, July-August, page 39) and the informative article “Why Can’t We Move” are both outstanding and offer an all-too-neglected dose of realism. Many thanks to the authors and the magazine.

John T. Hazel Jr. ’51, LL.B. ’54
Broad Run, Va.

Editor’s note: Boston’s Olympic run ended on July 27.

I found Professor Kanter’s article on America’s infrastructure problems quite informative, a genuinely good read. However, I noticed an omission that to some extent lies at the heart of the problem: the failure to mention that the system of units we use in daily life is part of the infrastructure, the software, so to speak. She contrasted our relatively slow train systems with those of Japan, France, and Germany, and she might have included the new bullet trains of China as well; all of those nations are on the metric system. This is in contrast with ourselves, who join with Liberia and Myanmar as being the only nations left on earth not on the metric system. Ironically, part of the reason we are not on it is that major educational, scientific, and engineering institutions and societies are too reticent to join together and say loudly that our nation should make the conversion. This is a great opportunity for public leaders and students at Harvard to speak up on the need to make the conversion, as, for example, presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee (Brown, B.A. ’75) has done recently—the only one.

Frank R. Tangherlini ’48
San Diego 

I wanted to thank you for the excellent article on infrastructure funding.  I hope that alumni who read it will be inspired to support much-needed congressional action on comprehensive, long-term renewal of this nation’s transportation policy and funding—and that they tell their friends.  I’d like to add a point: under federal law, metropolitan planning organizations play a little-known but key role in developing long-range transportation plans and the political consensus that is essential to their realization.  Examples of MPOs include the Boston Region MPO, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and the Southern California Association of Governments.

Nancy Pfeffer ’81
President, Network Public Affairs, LLC
Long Beach, Calif.

I was dismayed when reading Kanter’s article in the most recent issue of the magazine that she refused to identify two very critical reasons for our infrastructure woes.  First, one major political party has spent the last 30 years trying to convince the American public that government can’t handle big projects and is largely full of waste, and has managed to convince enough people of this falsehood to gum up the political works.  Second, despite the fact that we do not live in a direct democracy, our environmental review process acts like one, where we elect and/or hire staff to ensure strict environmental review but then use litigation if the finding isn’t one we prefer, dragging project timelines out to infinity.  Solutions to these problems do not require business buzzwords such as “public-private partnerships” but simply a press corps that is willing to call people on it.

Josh Seeherman, Ph.D., P.E.
Civil Engineer
Berkeley, Calif.

 

Oops. You did it again. This time, in one single issue with the cover “America’s Ailing Infrastructure.”

First, President Faust practically bragged about welcoming “five busloads of children from Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a school in Brooklyn’s poorest neighborhood.” $1.4 million was raised (dwarfing the $100,000 requested) by outside donors to arrange a visit to the Yard, where they could imagine attending. That must pass for reality among the left. And it raises the question: if it was President Faust’s “pleasure to witness” it, why not petition to allocate some of the $30+ billion endowment for such lofty pleasures, instead of requiring further outside donation (otherwise known as a subsidy for the wealthy endowment)? Not that I endorse such a move. Just asking.

Later in the magazine, we discuss “Dealing with Debt” on a macroeconomic basis, then “Surgery for All,” and finally “Why Can’t We Move.” Can we spell non sequitur?

It is not that difficult. First, we spend money we do not have on things we do not need; then the things we do need go underfunded. Second, we confiscate other people’s property to give to a select group (elderly, poor, unionized pensions that are mismanaged, “green billionaires,” and government bureaucrats to oversee it all). Third, we claim we need things we do not; we just want it all. And right now, please.

 Finally, we make up stories to support our myths. Our infrastructure is not ailing. We, the electorate and our elected officials and our non-elected administrative minions have made the choice all homo economicus beings must make: money and wealth is finite—therefore, we must allocate to those we prefer. We have chosen not to improve our infrastructure. Forget that much of it was built with private money; but that was a different national mind-set.

The inconsistency, the illogic, the irrational belief in myths, the self-congratulation of our ethical superiority is highlighted with clarity in this issue. The genie is out of the bottle, the ship has left the dock, the train has left the station…Whichever cliché you prefer, these are the reasons we have physical gridlock.

Mitchell Levin, G ’77, M.D.
Orlando

Speak Up, Please

Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or send comments by e-mail to [email protected].

Mary Sears

As the intelligence briefer for the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, I have more than once uttered words to the effect of, “Admiral, the hydrographic survey ship USNS Mary Sears is currently conducting operations in the Western Pacific....” To my shame, I knew almost nothing of the ship’s illustrious namesake until I read Peter Denton’s wonderful pocket biography of Commander Sears (Vita, July-August, page 46). As one of a relative few Harvardians currently on active service, I am always eager to talk up Harvard’s many contributions to the national defense, particularly involving the Navy. My thanks to Mr Denton and Harvard Magazine for illuminating for me yet another fine example of Harvard’s links to the Naval Service.

Lt. Ben Click ’06
Pearl Harbor

While taking nothing away from the wartime contribution of Mary Sears and her Oceanographic Unit (OU) in preventing another World War II amphibious assault disaster after the one at Tarawa, some mention ought to have been made of the courageous men who, while reconnoitering the beaches and destroying defensive obstructions, often under fire from the islands’ defenders, actually collected the data that was later analyzed by the OU. These men were the U.S. Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT), founded and led by Draper L. Kauffman, who were the forerunners of today’s Navy SEALs.

G.W. Schmidt, M.B.A. ’79
Willow Street, Pa.

If nobody from the Greatest Generation has indicated that the B-29, not the still-in-service B-52, was the bomber used to bomb Japan, I wish to do so.

Eugene Lipkowitz ’60
Wyckoff, N.J.

Editor’s note: Mr. Lipkowitz was the first of many correspondents to correct our obvious historical error. The B-52 entered service in the 1950s.

Mr. Denton states that the capture of Saipan enabled “daily B-52 bombing of Japan itself.” The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, an eight-jet bomber still in use by the U.S. Air Force, was not developed until the late 1940s, after Japan’s surrender, and not put into active service until 1954. It was used extensively in the Vietnam war, as well as in the Persian Gulf war, and in Afghanistan.

The bomber that was used in air raids on Japan, from Saipan and other Pacific island airstrips, was the propellor-driven Boeing B-29 Superfortress, powered by four piston engines. It was the B-29 that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The B-29 also saw heavy use in the Korean war.

Allen Hopkins ’65
Rochester, N.Y.

Undergraduate Education

From the far-off “Fifties,” superstars Reuben Brower, John Finley, and John Conway (former masters of Adams, Eliot, and Leverett Houses), Edward Purcell (1952 Nobel Prize in Physics), Sam Beer, and others would salute Professor Louis Menand’s critique of the sad state of what Harvard Magazine describes as “the College’s flagship general-education curriculum…” (University News Briefs, July-August, page 32). In those distant days, every Harvard and Radcliffe first- and second-year student was required to complete one full Gen Ed course in each of three broad areas: only 18 (not 574) two-semester courses qualified for “Humanities,” “Social Science,” or “Natural Science” credit, plus a two-semester Gen Ed A writing course required of virtually all entering freshmen.

Memorable was “Hum 6” (literary classics), taught in my freshman year by humanist Ben Brower, an English professor like Menand; Brower’s edition of Alexander Pope’s translation of The Iliad in rhyming couplets is on my shelf. Ed Purcell’s Nat Sci 2 brought physics, astronomy, and history of science to nonspecialists; John Conway’s Soc Sci 6 discussed the English, American, French, Industrial, and Russian Revolutions through the eye of a gravely wounded Canadian World War II hero. (Conway was described in his New York Times obituary as “a scholar and teacher who sees no gulf between his life with books and his life with students.”) John Finley in Hum 2 and Sam Beer in Soc Sci 2 were campus-wide idols. The list goes on.

Those scholar-teachers would not have imagined Menand’s description of faculty views that Harvard College “[d]epartments don’t normally generate courses for the nonspecialist, or…prepare students for life after college.” For three close friends who pursued careers as classicist and educator, as international banker (with Harvard Ph.D.), and as international lawyer-manager, everything started in Hum 6 with Ben Brower and with the other senior faculty who—in only 18 Gen Ed courses—“prepared students for life after college.”

Terry Murphy ’59, O.B.E.
Bethesda, Md.

Football Injuries

I had one concussion playing college football, but that one was a doozy. My class notes only became legible and minimally coherent on the Friday after the Saturday game. And, like Chris Borland, I’ve read League of Denial.

So I found “Tackling Football Trauma” (July-August, page 7) perplexing. Why is Harvard taking money to help the National Football League change the subject and evade the issue for another 10 years?

The subject is concussions in pro football; repeated hits to the head damage players’ brains and ruin their lives. The issue is how to stop the hits to the head. None of Harvard’s NFL-funded studies address the issue.

What’s needed is to stop the hits to the head. Abolish pro football? No. Change it.

Two suggestions: Let every player on offense receive a forward pass. The 300-pound athlete with braces on his knees would re-emerge lighter and faster. The game might somewhat resemble ultimate Frisbee, but it would still be football. And penalize any hit to an opponent’s head—purposeful or not—with immediate ejection from play. Lower-on-the-body tackling would result, with more grabbing and wrapping up instead of smashing. Lower blocking, too. The game might somewhat resemble rugby, but it would still be football.

When they abolished the flying wedge, it didn’t kill the game. Same now. Given radical reforms of the sort I suggest, pro football would be a more wide-open game. More, and more varied, offensive and defensive strategies would be possible. Thrilling to watch, but with far less damage to brains.

The NFL, with its 10-year, $100-million Football Players Health Study, is investing in delay and evasion. Unfortunately, Harvard is helping.

David Berger, M.B.A. ’55
Madison, Wisc.

Editor’s note: The project is in partnership with the National Football League Players Association; the union won annual funding for medical research, among other benefits, after fractious contract negotiations with the NFL in 2011. After the article was published, the Medical School advised that the study duration and cost are in flux and have not been publicly revised since the project was announced in 2013, and that the goal of the study, since it launched in 2014, is to reach as many of the estimated 20,000 former NFL players as possible; the originally announced goal was to recruit “at least 1,000 retired athletes.”

In the mid 1970s two prominent Washington, D.C., area basketball players suffered sudden cardiac arrest on the court for undetermined reasons. The only common thread was abnormal heart wall thickness. In response, the University of Maryland conducted a study of over 100 D.C. area strength athletes. As I recall, subjects included players from the area’s college football and basketball teams, and the area’s prominent competitive Olympic and power lifters. I was included as a subject. We each took a stress EKG and underwent some form of imaging to determine heart wall thickness.

The results were conclusive. All but one of us showed perfectly normal heart wall thickness. I believe any further research efforts by Dr. Baggish will confirm that the observed thicker heart walls in conditioned strength athletes are a natural and perfectly healthy response to increased training loads. Like any other muscle, the heart will quickly regress to “normal” in the absence of a challenging training environment.

Joe Gano ’64, M.B.A. ’71
Reno

Online Education

Kudos to Harvard for innovating in on-line education, and kudos to Stephanie Garlock for her thoughtful article on the progress of Harvard’s early experiments in that area (“Is Small Beautiful?” July-August, page 48). Unfortunately, however, Garlock goes astray when she contends that “SPOCs” (small, private, on-line courses) are some kind of new innovation, growing out of mixed success with MOOCs (massive open on-line courses). In fact, SPOCs, some with participation by both on-line and resident students, have been used for years by institutions such as the University of Southern California, Georgia Tech, Columbia, Pennsylvania State University, and others, to teach engineering and other disciplines to distance students. These courses may not always “communicate the complex skills taught in college classrooms” (to quote her summary of Harvard’s ambitions), but they certainly have succeeded in providing high-quality education to many people for whom it would not have been easily available otherwise. That record should not be overlooked.

Mike Foreman-Fowler ’91
Cambridge

T.S.E.

T.S. Eliot was a close Harvard friend of Conrad Potter Aiken (see “The Young T.S. Eliot,” July-August, page 54). Both were grandsons of distinguished Unitarian ministers: William Greenleaf Eliot and William James Potter. The latter’s son, Alfred J. Potter, was a librarian at Harvard College. He was notoriously shy and uncomfortable in society. Eliot and Aiken were frequent visitors in the Potter home on Fayerweather Street. Eliot saw much of Uncle Alfred. Alfred J. Potter; J. Alfred Prufrock?

Ironically, as an adult Aiken discovered that Uncle Alfred had a rather raucous secret life.

Rev. Richard A. Kellaway, B.D. ’61
Dorchester Center, Mass.

Vitamin D Dosages

I am not a healthcare specialist, but read “Is Vitamin D a Wonder Pill” (May-June, page 14), by Sophia Nguyen, with interest. My wife and I have received repeated pleas from doctors to consume more of this wonder substance. New Englanders are often told that we cannot get sufficient exposure to sunlight in these “northern latitudes” for our bodies to make sufficient vitamin D in winter. Readers were spared this, and a quick look at the atlas would show that most people in Britain live at the latitude of Labrador and many Norwegians and Swedes live even further north. I am one of these northern types and have never experienced a broken bone and do not know of one in my family. Furthermore, of my many relatives who have become older than 90, I know of none with osteoporosis.

This is not to say that vitamin D is unimportant or does not play a role. Lifestyles have changed, as have diets. But I was pleased to see the qualifying note of caution in this article about the use of vitamin D supplements. It seems that the medical profession is in search of a number to define a “normal” vitamin D level. Perhaps this is a false search, because it assumes that all humans have the same requirements. Needs may vary, and the impact of a vitamin supplement may vary, too.

Ivor P. Morgan, D.B.A. ’80
Lexington, Mass.

Scarcity and Poverty Redux

Surely the letter in your July-August issue from Dr. Mitchell Levin was a joke, right? His comments are so Dickensian (“poverty is a choice”) and his recitation of the “overwhelmingly broad safety net” suffers only by its omission of workhouses and prisons. Yikes.

Lee Bishop ’72
Louisville, Ky.

The notion that poverty is a “choice,” as Mitchell Levin, G ’77, M.D., claims, is a misinformed bias shared by people with no sympathy for or understanding of the constant struggles of those who are poor or near poor.

Poverty is no one's choice.  It is a condition that people who are underprivileged and disadvantaged become trapped in, or fall into, all too easily in America—through lack of resources, support networks, decent physical or mental health, proper insurance, quality education, mobility, or access to decent, secure jobs. 

Add to that the unrelenting stresses of money, food. and housing scarcity, as well as economic isolation, predatory debts, poverty wages, long work hours, zero job security, dilapidated neighborhoods, crime, racism, sexism, anti-poor bigotry, violent and overzealous policing, and an excessively punishing justice system—it's amazing anyone is able to escape. 

A statistical and geographic analysis of poverty in America underscores my point. Economic mobility in the United States is as low as ever.  Children born into poverty in America are more likely to be stuck there than in most other industrialized nations—especially those nations with more robust social spending.  Twenty-two percent of all U.S. children live below the poverty line, and 45 percent live in low-income households. More than 35 percent of all poor people in the United States are children.  Another third hold low-paying jobs.  The rest are unemployed, elderly or disabled.  How is any of that a choice?

Thirty plus years of trickle-down Reaganomics, poor-bashing, rich-worship, and the continual dismantling of the social safety net have given our country growing poverty, shrinking wages, and the most economically insecure generation since the Great Depression—the Obama economic recovery notwithstanding. 

The fact that so many Americans are mired in poverty is a national disgrace.   Poverty in America is a systemic failure.  It results from the failures and injustices of corrupted government, austerity ideology, and ruthless corporate capitalism.  It is certainly not the fault of each individual man, woman or child living in poverty, most of whom were underprivileged and disadvantaged from the day they were born.

Ricardo Hinkle, M.L.A. ’90
New York City

Editing Lapse

My wife’s July-August issue arrived today, and I was perusing it casually when my eye fell on this passage near the foot of page 76 (“Mystery Solved,” The College Pump): “Saunders [curator at the Harvard Club of New York] cares for a collection of more than 2,000 items comprising about 100 painted portraits of Harvard men and women and some 50 mounted taxidermy specimens,….”

Rather gave me pause.

Bob Kittredge, MIT ’66
Newtonville, Mass.

Sorry, editors, Jaqueline Lapidus is correct: “born of” or “borne by” (“Born to Write,” Letters, July-August, page 83).

However, in the context, “borne [carried] by” doesn’t make much sense, whereas “born of” does make sense, although it a bit weak. Your response in the “Letters” column of the July-August issue is lame and looks like butt-covering.

Katherine Scott ’68
Falmouth, Mass.

Editor’s note: While drafting the sentence in question, the author consulted usage guidelines in the Oxford English Dictionary, which suggested that the word should in this case carry a terminal e. The copyeditor, having questioned that spelling, consulted the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, which this magazine uses to settle such issues. She concluded at the time that “borne” was correct, but after further discussion and interpretation, now believes that “born” would have been the right choice in this case because the focus of the sentence, in her reading, is on the metaphorical “offspring,” rather than on the “mother.”

Investment-Manager Earnings

For the past 10 years or more, Harvard Management Company has significantly underperformed the Standard and Poor’s 500. Yet their officers are paid like superstars—10 times what the president of the University is paid. Does the Board of Overseers not have access to the same data as Harvard Magazine (Brevia, July-August, page 33), or do they choose to ignore it?

Charles Resnick ’48, LL.B. ’50
Longboat Key, Fla.

The Foremost Rabbi?

The July-August obituary for Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein (Ph.D. ’57) characterized him as “a rabbi considered to be the foremost intellectual and spiritual guide of Modern Orthodox Judaism.” Although he certainly ranked up there among the leading lights of non-haredi Orthodox Judaism, I seriously doubt that he would be universally regarded as the foremost among them. Indeed, there are even some who would not associate him with the “Modern” strand of Orthodoxy altogether. What, then, was the basis/source/rationale for this exalted wording?

Stanley Cohen, G ’81
Baltimore

Obituaries editor Deborah Smullyan replies: I fear I accepted uncritically the appraisal of the gentleman who submitted Rabbi Lichtenstein’s obituary. He did refer me to two websites for corroboration, containing the obituaries in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, which certainly didn’t cast any suspicion on his exalted assessment. But I must remember to be cautious in accepting the opinions of others. Thank you for keeping me honest.

Dealing with Debt

In the article “Dealing with Debt” by Jonathan Shaw (July-August, page 10), it is interesting that the subject paper never mentions what should be the obvious flaw in the debt problem. That is that all “money”—medium of exchange—is created by lending it at interest (usury) but the interest is never created, making it impossible to repay the debt with interest.

Rather than employing the suggested solutions of default or “Restructuring” as suggested in the article, governments should use the method used by the U.S. Treasury in 2004 when it employed its power to make payment merely by a bookkeeping entry. The Treasury canceled its promise to pay interest on these particular bonds simply by announcing its intentions to do so (or by fiat, as they say in French). Then it paid the principal with an accounting entry.

Here is the January 15, 2004, announcement:

TREASURY CALLS 9-1/8 PERCENT BONDS OF 2004-09.

 “The Treasury today announced the call for redemption at par on May 15, 2004 of the 9-1/8 % Treasury Bonds of 2004-09, originally issued May 15, 1979, due May 15, 2009 (CUSIP No 9112810CG1).

“There are $4,606 million in bonds outstanding, of which $3,109 million are held by private investors. Securities not redeemed on May 15, 2004 will stop earning interest.

“These bonds are being called to reduce the cost of debt financing.

The 9-1/8 % interest rate is significantly above the current cost of securing financing for the five years remaining to their maturity. . . .Payment will be made automatically by the Treasury for bonds in book entry form, whether held on the books of the Federal Reserve Banks or in Treasury /Direct accounts”

Source: Department of the Treasury, ‘Public Debt News’, Bureau of Public Debt, Washington, DC 20239 (January 15, 2004) 

Can it be that authors Reinharts and Rogoff are not aware of this method of reducing the federal debt? Isn’t it apparent that the entire debt of over $18 trillion could be managed in the same way, saving billions of dollars each year in interest? The holders of the debt would then have on deposit in the Treasury accounts denominated as direct deposit, the equivalent of cash.

Obviously the adoption of this method would stimulate the economy by eliminating the federal debt burden, resulting in the reduction of taxes, possibly eliminating the need for an income tax.

Jerre G. Kneip ’55
Kerrville, Tex.

Mr. Mom

Erin O’Donnell’s “The Mr. Mom Switch” (Right Now, May-June, page 11) was informative and provocative. But…

How would Mr./Mrs. Rat deal with mother’s inability to breastfeed baby? How would Mr. Rat deal with circumcision of baby boy rat by reason of religion or medical advice. And would Mr./Mrs. Rat cope with diapering, toilet training, cleanliness, clothing? Could they cope with the onset of schooling, neighborhood choice, tutoring for the “slow” child?

Raising an infant, juvenile, adolescent, young adult, requires know-how and social conformance to societal standards. Can Mr. and Mrs. Rat cope? It seems unlikely.

It seems that, as stated by Catherine Dulac, “push the right button in the brain in both males and females and animals know how to take care of their young.” This may well be true for the neonates. But as they grow and mature, the socal learnings enter the picture in the cae of human beings. Again and again, the same principle holds: genes (and brains) do interact with physical and social/cultural envrironment to create the final human being.

Leo Shatin, Ph.D. ’51, B.D. ’69
Charlottesville, Va. 

Altering Course

As a fellow physicist, I was delighted to see Professor Prentiss’s approach to creating a clean, prosperous, and secure U.S. energy system (“Altering Course,” May-June, page 46). Readers seeking a detailed and rigorous roadmap, disguised as a business and design book, may enjoy Reinventing Fire (Chelsea Green, 2011, www.reinventingfire.com), which 60 colleagues and I wrote with much help from industry. It’s summarized in a TED talk at www.ted.com/talks/amory_lovins_a_50_year_plan_for_energy.html, a Foreign Affairs article at www.rmi.org/Knowledge-Center/Library/ 2012-01_FarewellToFossilFuels, and an American Institute of Physics paper at http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4916173

Reinventing Fire shows how to run a 2.6-fold bigger economy in 2050 than in 2010, using no oil, coal, or nuclear energy and one-third less natural gas, but instead tripling efficiency and quintupling renewables (all at historically reasonable rates); cut carbon emissions 82-84 percent; cut cost by $5 trillion in net present value (assuming all externalities are worth zero); need no new inventions nor Acts of Congress (the needed policy changes can be administrative or state-level); and be led by business for profit. The United States is now roughly on that track and ahead of target for renewables.

An equivalent Chinese analysis to inform the 13th Five Year Plan, in collaboration with two top Chinese energy teams and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s China Energy Group, will be released 25 August and is even more surprising, partly because China is building so much infrastructure and can more easily build it right than fix it later.

Amory B. Lovins ’68
Co-founder and chief scientist
Rocky Mountain Institute
Snowmass, Colo.

Editor’s note: Read this magazine’s feature article “The Hydrogen-Powered Future” (January-February 2004, page 30), for an earlier perspective on Lovins’s work. 

 Legal Olympian

In the January-February issue (“The Legal Olympian,” page 43), Professor Cass Sunstein doesn’t realize that his “nudge” strategy could be construed as arrogant. His point is that people should be led into the bureaucratic state for their own good.

As a distinguished Harvard professor, Sunstein knows that more government control of your life is good for you.

Is it possible that he believes most people are not smart enough to understand the benefits of federal government control of their lives?

Rather than remind you what happened in Germany and Russia, with their more forceful nudging, his strategy is designed to sneak up on you with gentle nudges to lead you toward a totalitarian state, controlled by elites. But remember his policies are being pursued for your own good.

In his view we are lost sheep that need to be nudged in the direction he believes is best for you.

David Scott ’51, M.B.A. ’53
Dover, N.H.

Errata

“SURGERY FOR ALL” (July-August, page 26) misidentified the affiliation of Lars Hagander, who is at Lund University, in Sweden.

Susan C. Seymour writes that the Off the Shelf item describing her biography of Cora Du Bois (July-August, page 68) incorrectly stated that Du Bois conducted fieldwork in Sri Lanka; that work took place in India. In addition, although the Zemurray chair that Du Bois held was funded by Radcliffe, the professorship was at Harvard.

The title of a work in “The Young T.S. Eliot” (July-August, page 54) should have been The Complete Prose: The Critical Edition; the text inadvertently rendered it as the “Collected Prose.”

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