Liberal arts, repatriation, sea level, palindromes
Harvard and Liberal Arts
I am responding to Brian Rosenberg’s “Is Harvard Complacent?” (September-October, page 47). I appreciate his perspective, but I do not share it, at least with regard to Harvard College. He addresses whether studying English, for example, should be organized “in order to prepare students for work they will do and the problems they will need to solve.” I do not believe that undergraduate education should always be so work-focused. While many higher-education institutions (including Harvard’s graduate and professional schools) should be about professional training, there remains an important place for undergraduate liberal-arts education.
Some students—particularly the brightest ones—need to spend a few years studying some very important topics: their values, their hopes, their plans for their lives. That reflection can and does take place while studying English, history, science, etc. (and during summers without study). Valuable skills can be developed during those years, too: critical thinking, writing, numeracy. At its best, liberal-arts education provides these benefits.
The College cannot be all things for all people. I hope that it will consciously choose to be a beacon for the liberal arts for years to come. By all means, let’s constantly evaluate the College’s aims and execution of those aims. But let’s be open to the possibility that what the College can and should do, to the best of its ability, is liberal-arts undergraduate education.
The liberal arts can be messy and diffuse at times, just like life. I suspect that’s why liberal-arts education has served so many so well for so long.
Mark Pickrell ’88
I write as a graduate of Harvard, and as a professor at the University of Toronto, 1968-2004. My time at the College both prepared me for further graduate study in child development and family relations at Cornell—like my undergraduate department, social relations—and led me to pursue an academic career.
I have long been dismayed by Harvard’s decision to abolish the interdisciplinary social relations a few years after I was there. (That undergraduate department included social anthropology, sociology, social psychology, and clinical psychology.) At the undergraduate level, a wider disciplinary net was and is entirely appropriate.
Should the other academic practices Rosenberg questions (academic terms, primacy of research for teachers of undergraduates, etc.) be written in stone? Probably not. They were the working conditions I sought when heading for an academic career. But it may not be best for either undergraduate education or effective research.
Andrew Biemiller ’62
Thanks for the essay by Eric Hegsted (“A Yukon Life,” September-October, page 44). I have been wondering for years about him. I arrived at Harvard in August 1969 from a hunting, gathering, fishing, and trapping life in the northern wilderness of Minnesota. Emerging from the subway at the Square that summer, it was instantly clear I had entered a new and different world.
No one was a better guide to that new world than my hallmate in Hollis. We all have to start somewhere, and it was instantly clear that Eric was multiple incarnations ahead. Sitting in meditation pose and playing a sitar, he explained why he had chosen mythology as his major. Try as I might, the Bhagavad Gita was inaccessible at that time, but I did my best to keep up. Only later did I fully grok what an enlightened bodhisattva he was.
My favorite trip with Eric was a five-day retreat on Martha’s Vineyard. He was very much at peace in nature away from civilization. It's no surprise that he chose to live in the wilderness, or that he continued to share his musical gifts. I have heard him described as the greatest living guitarist. What an evening it would be to hear him play and opine on the White Goddess. Perhaps I could have helped him with some wilderness wisdom.
So two young men met in a meaningful way at Harvard, one coming from, the other going to, the wilderness.
Bill Davidson ‘73
Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Science and Ideology
Daniel Oberhause’s article, “The Clash of Science and Ideology” (September-October, page 15), discusses Naomi Oreskes’s concept that science denial stems from a “perception of science as incompatible with beliefs about God.” True enough, but I suspect that much antagonism to science springs from a more general distrust of authority and expertise. Resistance to authority is in our American DNA. New England was settled by dissenters from the English church, and when the New England church itself became inflexible, it was callenged by the Great Awakening of the 1730s. That movement, and overreach by an increasingly imperial Britain, were the pyschological/philosophical forerunners of our Revolution.
Not that science itself is free of periodic revolutions: cf. Copernicus, Pasteur, Wegener, etc. The general public may see science as a body of fixed knowledge—rather than as an ongoing (and supposedly self-correcting) process—but it is fully aware that scientists constantly disagree and alter theories. The present pandemic offers daily changes in “official” policies and recommendations, which may make sense to scientists, but are seen as confusion by non-scientists.
A lot of people just don’t want to be told what to do, especially when the sources they trust tell them not to do it. They prize autonomy over security. So when egghead experts and a reputedly illegitimate administration tell them to wear masks and get vaccinated, they stand on their rights and dig in their heels. It ain’t smart, and it’s tough to argue against, but it’s very American.
William B. Saxbe Jr., M.D. ’67, M.P.H. ’71
In response to “The Clash of Science and Ideology,” I offer this example of what I call “motivational interviewing.”
A local reporter was working on an article about the reluctance of some to get their COVID-19 vaccinations. She heard many excuses as to why they had not gotten the shot. To write a more balanced article, she called me to learn about reasons to get vaccinated. She had done her homework and had several very pointed questions:
“Dr. Welsh, did you get vaccinated as a child?”
I had to say, “Yes.”
“Did you have a choice?”
I had to say, “No, it was required to go to school.”
Then she really got snarky and asked, “Did you ever get smallpox and go blind?”
I answered, “No.”
“Did you catch diphtheria and asphyxiate?”
“Did you get whooping cough and wear out coughing and develop pneumonia?”
“Did you contract tetanus, seize and suffocate?”
“Did polio paralyze you? Did you have mumps and go deaf or sterile?”
“No, no, and no.”
She pressed on, “I see you served in the military. Didn’t they require shots?”
“Well, yes,” I responded. I had to be frank. I think she was just showing off and, indeed she drilled on:
“Did they give you a typhoid shot before going abroad? Did they give you yellow fever vaccine before going to Central America? A Hepatitis A gamma globulin shot,a hepatitis B vaccine and booster before being sent to the Middle East?” Winding up she asked, “Did you ever get typhoid, yellow fever or hepatitis ?”
“Well no,” I had to admit.
“Do you get flu shots every year?”
“Oh yes,” I said.
“And how often do you get the flu?”
“I can’t remember the last time,” I said honestly.
“Well doctor, I must say you’ve certainly been soaked—with vaccinations. Any side effects?”
“Only a sore arm once in a while,” I admitted with a chuckle, “especially after the typhoid shot. I’m glad they now give it by mouth.”
The reporter concluded by saying: “My goodness, now I am going to have to go back to those who hesitate to get their Covid shots and ask all these questions and at least one more: “What on earth are you thinking?”
Frank Welsh, M.D ‘66
Regarding the Daniel Oberhaus article discussing Oreskes’ clash of science and ideology, and several other articles in this edition relating to COVID, I observe not only the typical arrogance found in this magazine, but a concerning trend of assumptions confidently stated as fact. Religious people who oppose the poorly tested and largely experimental mRNA vaccines, religious anti-science reasons might be one of these. Given where the Covid unvaccinated reside and who they are statistically (a broad swathe of people who would never, in other circumstances, be religiously or politically lumped together, makes me wonder if, in a hurry to convert the resisters, the authors skipped the solid research in favor of repeating from CDC talking points. Resistance to the shifting and sometimes shifty mandates of a highly corrupted federal health bureaucracy (via the longstanding and profitable revolving door between big Pharma, FDA, CDC, and Congress) is logical, not unscientific. Government has proven itself at nearly all levels to NOT be overly concerned about citizen health—and this magazine has written about it frequently in articles about BLM, police and prison mistreatment, torture of prisoners, CIA domestic efforts to manipulate public opinion and lives via illegal drugs and psychiatric programs, and years of unsafe water in places like Flint and many other urban areas—the list goes on.
The COVID story is certainly not over, and it would be nice if this magazine with its abundance of gifted writers and researchers, would get on the right side—the objective side. Whistleblowers in areas of foreign policy or corrupt towns and cities seem to be welcome here; why not look into what some of the Covid dissident doctors and virologists are saying from around the world? If you want to examine the science, then please do so. I don’t consider what you have done so far on this topic to be very fruitful or scientifically acceptable. One might suspect from reading this magazine that we have entered an era of extreme dullness, exaggerated fear, and ideological totalitarianism.
Karen Kwiatkowski, ALM ’91
Mount Jackson, Va.
Shame on me! There I sit on the rooftop of my house surrounded by water, stupidly plugging my ears because I must be a science denier! Oh, wait...Actually, I just have a healthy skepticism and I question the “party line” from experts, whether scientists or not. Why would I not submissively bow to these hallowed and unassailable purveyors of wisdom? Because they are often wrong, they flip-flop, and some believe that their intellect and their deep understanding of a scientific sub-field qualifies them to set national policy. They also fall prey (like anyone else) to the lure of fame and fortune.
The world is not binary. People do not consist of just rational science disciples vs. science-deniers. Just because I question chicken-little predictions of climate change does not mean that I do not believe in Newton’s laws, human genetics, or that there is some truth in the hybrid wave/particle theory of light. The best scientists have been skeptics...And many were people of deep faith. Newton, Maxwell, Faraway, Boyle... These people knew the difference between truth and helpful theories.
Slavery, Tolerance, Synagogue
Thank you for Nell Porter Brown’s “There’s More to New Bedford than Moby Dick” (Harvard Squared, July-August, page 12F). I learned much about New Bedford’s rich history, particularly the town’s influential role in the abolitionist movement, its sheltering of fugitive slaves, and its encouragement of Black entrepreneurship.
Brown’s article would have been all the more compelling if she had included mention of another significant, and seemingly incongruous, part of New Bedford’s nineteenth- century economic history. Like many whaling ports along the northeast coast of the United States, particularly as whaling became less profitable, New Bedford played an important part in the slave trade. As A.J. Connors, A.L.M. ’97 describes in his Went To The Devil: A Yankee Whaler in the Slave Trade, ships would leave New Bedford fitted for whaling; then, having passed through federal customs control, repurpose themselves for the slave trade. The ships would travel to Africa to gather human cargo and finally return to the Americas to sell that cargo. It’s not a laudable part of New Bedford’s history—especially when the town prides itself on precisely the opposite impulses and activities—but, then again, from a modern perspective, I’m not sure slaughtering leviathan for odorless candle wax is either.
Ultimately, however, all these stories need to be told if we are to have a true understanding of where we come from and a clear vision of where we want to go. Why not have Harvard Magazine lead the way?
Reverend Bob Bergner, ALM ’18
New Haven, Conn.
The interesting article about the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island (“America’s Oldest Synagogue,” Harvard Squared, September-October, page 16F), mentions that it is “a testament to principles of religious tolerance in America.” It is worthwhile remembering what President George Washington famously and importantly wrote about equal rights vs. “tolerance” in his 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.”
Susan Dunn, Ph.D. ’73
As an ancient double alumnus, I applaud the carefully balanced treatment of the issues surrounding the daunting task of complying with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (“The Spirit of the Law,” September-October, page 21). As a former college president, I know how difficult a task the Peabody faces in classifying and properly returning thousands of the remains it holds, and while 2021-2031 seems a bit late for Harvard to comply fully with a 1990 law, the process now underway seems serious and energetic, and reporter Juliet Isselbacher appears to have given full voice to those in the Native American community who are impatient with the University’s response to date.
I also was grateful for “edX Exit” (page 25). I have taken many of those free non-credit courses and am delighted the University will use the proceeds of the sale to endow at least some of those offerings going forward. Continuing adult education is an important mission for Harvard that I hope it will continue to nurture.
William Cotter ’58, J.D. ’61
Sarasota, Fla., and Concord, Mass.
Ice and Sea Level
I am sure I (A.B. ’89, physics) am neither the first nor the last to point out the error in the first paragraph of ”Higher Seas Ahead,” by Nancy Walecki (September-October, page 14).
The volume of the water displaced by a floating object has precisely the same mass as that object. Ice is lighter than liquid water because it expands when frozen. The extra volume is above the surface—the volume of ice below the surface is exactly the volume of liquid water having the same mass as the ice. As the ice melts, converting itself into liquid, it loses volume. That lost volume makes room for the ice that was above the surface before melting.
It is true that between 4°C and 0°C liquid water is slightly less dense, but this effect would only be observed at the layer directly in contact with the ice: this water would flow to the top and quickly mix into the the water already in the bowl, and get more dense very quickly.
Ice caps melting are a problem because glaciers are sitting on top of land (Antarctica, Greenland, etc.). In these cases they are not floating. They are the equivalent of ice cubes being dropped into the proposed bowl from the outside. They will definitely overflow the bowl. Or, flood lower Manhattan.
I am all in favor of simple examples to explain complex phenomena. This one is simple, but incorrect.
Layne Ainsworth ’89
I enjoyed and agreed with the article in the September issue, “Rock Shock: Higher Seas Ahead” by Nancy Walecki, but I want to raise a small nitpick about her analogy. A melting ice cube will not change the water level in a bowl—try this experiment at home!—because ice is less dense than liquid water, but melting does not change the total amount in the vessel ( or ocean). Sea levels are rising because of melting of ice masses on land, like Antarctica, Greenland, etc., which are not floating in the oceans(yet)! Perhaps Harvard will need to plan its next development phase in the Berkshires?
David Whitcomb ’72
Nancy Walecki responds: While it is true that when floating ice melts, that does not raise sea level, the ice in this case—both in the “bowl” analogy and in the actual West Antarctic—is not floating. Instead, the ice sheet is resting on solid bedrock below sea level, or on the “bottom of the bowl.” When using this bowl analogy, Professor Jerry Mitrovica emphasizes the bedrock placement because it means the solid earth will rebound slightly as the mass of the ice resting on top of it decreases. This in turn forces more water into the open ocean—raising sea level further.
Excess Wind Energy
Using "free electricity" when wind power production exceeds the demand from the power grid presents a growing opportunity. Jacob Sweet cites Michael McElroy who suggests this surplus be converted into hydrogen. But there's a catch. Large investments are needed for hydrolysis of water and for storage of the hydrogen produced. These hydrolysis units will be idle perhaps 80% of the time. Some figures are needed before you seek a willing investor.
Robert C. Baker M.B.A. ’57
Michael McElroy responds: Our paper on renewable energy did not simply consider use of curtailed wind energy to meet current and anticipated future industrial demand for hydrogen in wind-rich regions of Western Inner Mongolia (WIM). Rather we envisaged deployment of a combination of curtailed and grid supplies of power for precisely the reason noted by Mr. Baker: to enhance the overall utilization of the electrolysis system. The conclusion was that current and projected future demand for hydrogen in WIM could be met at a cost competitive with the present coal derived source with important related reductions in emissions of CO2. A follow-up study, in press at Nature Communications, explored prospects for supply of green hydrogen from China to meet projected future demands for the commodity in Japan. That study explicitly considered costs for storage and transport. It concluded that expenses for production were responsible typically for more than 50% of the total expense.
I greatly enjoyed reading the article on Mark Saltveit and the art of the palindrome (“Backward and Forward,” Septemer-October, page 54).
It might be appropriate to point out that palindromes are more than just a literary curiosity. There are palindromes at key places throughout our genetic code, using nucleotides in a DNA sequence instead of letters in a word or series of words. For example, last year the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D. ’89, for their discovery of a key genetic engineering tool called CRISPR, which stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.” So palindromes were around even before we had written language.
Allan R. Glass ’67, M.D. ’71
Mark Salveit responds: Thank you for your kind words and that very interesting observation. Issue 4 of the Palindromist (back in 1997) included an article on DNA editing at palindromic sequences (and on the cloning of Dolly the sheep), some years before CRISPR was developed. Despite the silly title ("Ewe Clone with Palindromes, Ewe See"), it was written by Dr. John Askenas, a genetic scientist and freelance writer, and I think the technical details hold up.
Furthermore, the trick I employed to keep the long "Ode to Evita" somewhat cogent is essentially the same technique applied to text, though it was pioneered by my mentor Howard Bergerson, an Oregon sawmill worker with a grade school education. He discovered that if you find an adjectival suffix that reverses a name—such as -ative and Evita, or in his case Nita and -ating—you can build many short palindromes from words ending in that suffix, and then splice them together in any order at the joints between. This is why the final palindrome contains so many phrases like "ameliorative Evita" and "deviative Evita." With normal palindromes, you can only add to the ends or (with difficulty) in the exact middle, so they quickly get very random as they grow.
Dean Brown-Nagin, explaining the need for “Harvard Radcliffe Institute” (September-October, page 6): “The data were clear: if we did not offer a concise name, others would supply one for us. We were unwilling to have Radcliffe’s identity erased....”
Agreed. “Radcliffe Harvard Institute.” Apologies to the late Tom Stemberg ’71, M.B. A. ’73—that was easy.
A. Michael Ruderman ’81
I read President Bacow’s review (“President Bacow Reviews Harvard Climate Actions," September 9) and I was disappointed—I thought he was hired to lead not follow the crowd.
What is he suggesting that we do about all those coal-fired electric power plants being built in China, India, and Africa that won’t go away because they hire the unemployed, are cheap energy, and are needed as their economies grow? Until those undeveloped countries have the same access to cheap electrical power that the U.S. has, they will keep building a lot of coal-fired power plants for their billions of people.
The Chinese are also rapidly building atomic powered electrical power plants that do not pollute and, with their economies of scale, will soon be selling them around the developing world at prices U.S. manufacturers will find difficult to match. Is President Bacow encouraging the U.S. to resume building atomic power plants on a large scale? Since 1945, how many people have actually been killed as a result of the operation of an atomic power plant? Americans don’t understand how atomic power plants work and, as a result, are frightened of them. What is he doing to educate Americans about atomic power plants and the safeguards built into them?
Aren’t you glad that President Bacow was not visiting Louisiana in a Tesla when Hurricane Ida shut down the electrical grid there? How would he recharge his batteries?
The details of the report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that if the U.S. got rid of all the pollutants generated in the U.S. that cause global warming today, the reduction of global warming would be imperceptible because of the growing pollution from developing countries. Of course, the fall in our standard of living would be quite perceptible.
President Bacow could also have explained that, for much less money than his environmental proposals would cost, humanity would be better served by providing clean drinking water where it is not available, getting rid of malaria, and the like.
I am disappointed that President Bacow is not getting out in front explaining what the U.S. should be doing to effectively reduce and adapt to worldwide global warming rather than spreading less helpful information.
Bob Armour, M.B.A. ’67
Virginia Beach, Va.
I take issue with some of the points [President Bacow] make[s] in [his] letter. Scientists disagree about how many extreme weather events are due to global warming, even if we have more extreme weather than in the past century. I did not accept the idea of human-induced global warming for many years because of unscientific statements ascribing chance weather events to global warming. It was only after reading articles by people who do not have an axe to grind that I accepted the fact that science indicates humans are helping to cause global warming.
As an academic, you can see there are many pressures to exaggerate global warming, just as some others have incentives to minimize it. The grant-making function of the federal government places much more credibility on those who promote the idea of severe global warming than on those who are less alarmist. Failure to recognize the distortion caused by government funding is a serious error.
When our government dramatically increased funding for cancer research, we received an avalanche of studies that claimed many substances were carcinogenic. We now know that many of these studies cannot be replicated and that some were fraudulently conducted in order to receive funding. I repeat; I am not saying the science of global warming is bunk. I am saying that attributing every severe weather event to global warming is not justified because we don’t yet know enough to make these connections.
Some forms of global warming beliefs are so exaggerated that they can be viewed as religion instead of science.
I submit to you that there is an issue more threatening than global warming: our nation’s insolvency. The combination of the official debt plus the unfunded liabilities of Social Security ($30 trillion) and Medicare ($80+ trillion) mean our nation is over $140 trillion in debt. Nations have gotten into much trouble in this scenario. We are risking our financial well-being and even our republic.
Few people want to admit their contribution to the debt problem. I am elderly, as you can tell from my class year, and I acknowledge that subsidies for the elderly in such programs as Medicare are the largest share of the problem. Institutions of higher learning are not exempt from benefiting from government largesse, such as easy student loans that in turn have allowed universities to increase tuition much faster than inflation. Will you recognize that Harvard is part of the problem?
Frederick L. Miller ’67
New York City
In the September-October 2021 edition of Harvard Magazine, Jacob Sweet writes (“Time Is Money”) that the Harvard Observatory in 1839 was established “in Dana House (where Lamont Library now stands).”
However, alumni who were students in the 1960s may remember that a frame house across Quincy Street from Lamont (between the Faculty Club and the Freshman Union) used to have a small sign on the lawn saying “Dana-Palmer House.” This house, known variously as Dana House, Dana-Palmer House, and Dana-Peabody House, was built in 1822 on the site of Lamont Library and was moved across Quincy Street to make it possible to build Lamont Library in 1946.
A few years ago I tried to urge the university to replace the sign identifying it as Dana-Palmer House, with no effect. Because I have not been to Cambridge during the pandemic, I don’t know if a sign has been added more recently. In any case, Google Maps, with historic consciousness, has clearly labeled it “Dana-Palmer House.”
Edward Tabor ’69
Editor’s note: Dana-Palmer House is so identified in lettering above the front door.
I spoke to some friends today to find out that either they or a family member have gotten infected. The Delta variant has an R0 = 6 to 8. Simply put, this thing moves like wildfire through human populations, especially in crowded ones.
I was teaching about this and it occurred to me that we all get “infected” with this and other pathogens. That’s not the issue. The issue is how does our immune system handle the infection. In some people the response is so radical that the virus doesn’t even have a chance to replicate. So they continue to test negative.
In others, the virus can establish a foothold and replicate (thereby being detected and possibly being transmitted). How much damage it does depends upon the size of the inoculum and the strength of the immune system. Most of these individuals remain asymptomatic. Sometimes they develop mild symptoms. In individuals with a weakened immune system, even if vaccinated, the virus has a much greater chance of establishing a foothold and doing damage. These are often individuals who are on the edge from the standpoint of their health. Luckily, the mortality rate (as reported so far) in individuals who have been vaccinated is 0.001%.
Unfortunately, in those without any immunity (the unvaccinated and those with severely compromised immune systems), the virus can do quite a lot of damage. So far, they are still reporting about an 80% rate of individuals who get the infection doing well. “Doing well” means not being hospitalized or dying. It does not rule out the possibility of long Covid or symptoms down the road. The sites it hits are not just pulmonary. It can affect the heart, brain, blood vessels, GI tract and kidneys.
To make matters worse, the virus does seem to infect some people more than once. So having a bad case of Covid doesn’t mean you won’t get it again. This is not unusual. Influenza does the same thing. I strongly suspect that we will be doing the same thing with Covid vaccinations as we do with flu shots. They will probably start by mixing up new batches of vaccine which contain all of the known antigenic variance at the time of production. This is going to be important because the virus is going to continue to mutate. Eventually, one of the mutations will be able to get around the current vaccine completely. Again, this is not unusual. It’s why we get the influenza vaccine every year. Waning immunity and antigenic variation are the ways in which microbes counterattack our impressive immune system.
Long story short, if you’re vaccinated right now you’re probably going to be OK. If you’re eligible for a booster I would get it especially if you have significant medical problems. My 101.5 year old mother did. (She’s fine by the way). The new vaccine will hopefully be out sometime around the winter with updates on the variants. I hope.
And most importantly, vaccinations for children should be available hopefully by late fall or early winter. This is imperative since the Delta variant seems to like eating kids. I have not seen widely quoted statistics on childhood mortality from the Delta variant, but I strongly suspect it is going to be significantly higher than it had been in the past.
The estimates that I’ve seen so far are bone-chilling, since the millions of children in the 0 to 12 age group have not been vaccinated and are certainly going to get this variant before the end of the year, especially if they are in school. Take the number of children who are school-age and unvaccinated and multiply it by the mortality rate that we’re seeing so far. That’s how many children we may see die if the vaccine does not get into their arms.
I have been guilty of wishful thinking. I (and many like me in the healthcare community) were convinced that we had turned a corner when infection rates started to drop like a stone with vaccinations in June. Unfortunately we did not take into account that almost half of the country (for whatever reason) would not get vaccinated. The impact of this glitch is obvious. Not only does it throw the idea of herd immunity out the window (pockets of individuals who are unvaccinated are no longer safe since they cannot hide behind the vaccinated. There are too many unvaccinated, asymptomatic carriers that can reach them). Worse yet, each infected individual provides Covid with a “research lab” to turn out deadlier more resistant strains. The more people who get infected, the more likely you are to see something worse come down the road. And of course even if vaccinated, if you are in an area that is saturated with COVID-19 and you are exposed for a long time, the inoculum of the infection is so high that it may overcome your immune system‘s ability to defend itself.
The clock is ticking on our current vaccinations. Their protection will not go on forever, but updated vaccinations are on the way. If we are going to be successful right now we need to get as many people as possible vaccinated with our current vaccine, get children vaccinated as soon as their vaccine is approved, get folks booster shots when appropriate, and use the mitigating measures we have in high prevalence areas to try and reduce the spread (Masks, visors, and social distancing).
Stay safe. This is a moving target, but we can and are fighting back. Remember, the influenza epidemic of 1918 actually went from 1917 to almost 1920.
We will learn to live with this thing. But as I said before, it has already joined a pantheon of diseases that hunt our species. They’ve always been there. But we are still here.
Let’s keep it that way.
Michael C. Payne ’77, M.D. ’81, M.P.H. ’82
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Attending Cambridge Health Alliance
Memory Lane, in Verse and Prose
Even as we can be cautiously hopeful about the 2021-22 academic year, throughout the dark times, the magazine has done much to support the enduring Crimson spirit of inquiry, adventure, and occasionally painful self-examination. Visiting Harvard on occasion over the last 59 years since my undergraduate days, I am always flooded by memories of all kinds, day and night, such as the stillness of the small hours crossing the dark yard towards Mower Hall as a freshman. However, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, most surprising was my experience when I visited two years ago.
I visited the Harvard Yard its people for to see.
A mist of soft dark quiet enshrouded every tree.
It seemed as if the bats did haunt each lawn and each pathway…
And this was odd because it was the middle of the day!
Jim Lichtenberg ’62
Having just passed my 97th birthday, I want to make sure to thank all the people who have furthered my progress through life. I am sad that I never had a chance to thank my teacher, the poet Delmore Schwartz who gave me a passing grade for English A at Radcliffe even though I could not manage the major book for the course,
I left my home country of Austria and with it the German language in 1938, and left my refugee country, France, and with it the French language at the end of 1942. Capricious fate had allowed me a narrow escape from Hitler, and landed me, thanks to my wealthy relative, Edward Bernays, in February 1943, in the middle of the war, at Radcliffe College. English A was a required course in that first semester. The book that our teacher, Delmore Schwartz, assigned for that course, The Education of Henry Adams, was completely out of my reach. I was overwhelmed by the mass of the book, did not comprehend its sophisticated politics or vocabulary, did not grasp the culture of Boston Brahmins at that time. Had professor Schwartz not given me a passing grade, and without my having mastered the English language, I might have become a College dropout, a disheartening beginning for a new American and my entire life might have taken a different turn.
I was totally surprised many years later, when I found that my indulgent, engaging professor had mentioned my name twice in his correspondence. Teaching an introductory English class was not Delmore Schwartz’s idea of an interesting pursuit, but the prospect of having perhaps one interesting student seems to have cheered him a bit. “The Navy is here and I must teach two Radcliffe classes to justify the deferment the University gave me.…The one note of promise that Morrison told me that the granddaughter of Sigmund Freud is to be one of the students. She is probably neurotic.” In a second letter he revises his assumption about me. “I went with zest to my new Radcliffe class, having been told that Sophie Freud, the granddaughter of the Viennese was to be one of my students. She is probably neurotic I said to myself, but on the contrary she turned out to be a veritable butterball, full of assurance and when the class read The Turn of the Screw and I asked Sophie what [she] thought of it, she said ‘A clear case of paranoia.’”
Delmore Schwartz went on to have a dark life and an early death. I wish I could have thanked him for the difference he had made to my life. Let his understanding kindness towards me become a tiny footnote to his tragic biography.
Sophie Freud ’46
Thank you for publishing my comments concerning “disinformation.” With respect to your editors’ note, it appears that you have an incomplete knowledge of the “CO2 greenhouse hypothesis” and its history.
As you say, Fourier and Tyndall determined that CO2 absorbed infrared radiation at certain frequencies. The “glass greenhouse” metaphor, however, originated only after the turn of the century and was shown to be invalid in 1909 by R.E. Wood.
In 1990, when the IPCC began its climate studies and reports, the greenhouse metaphor took on a new and different meaning. One of the lead IPCC authors, Kevin Trenberth, produced a chart portraying “greenhouse gases” as creating “back-radiation” that was “absorbed by the surface.” Gerlich and Tscheuschner falsified that erroneous concept, among many others. The computer climate models employed by the IPCC, nevertheless, are still programmed on the assumption that man-made CO2 is the primary driver of current and future warming.
You say you are unaware of any Harvard scientist who disputes the phenomenon. I know of at least two: Sallie Baliunas, Ph.D. ’80, and Willie Soon, who were astrophysicists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In 1995, Dr. Baliunas disputed the IPCC Second Assessment Report. Since then, she and Dr. Soon have been harsh critics of the “anthropogenic global warming hypothesis.”
Don W. Crockett, J.D. ’66
Poco and Antisemitism
My thoughts on reading “The Poco of Pocos” in the September-October issue (Vita, page 42): There is something wrong here.
I can understand the author’s fascination with the primary source material, but her piece is troublesome. In my view the piece doesn’t sufficiently acknowledge—and to some extent simply repeats—the anti-Semitic prejudice directed at this Harvard “character.”
Surely in the twenty-first century there is a more thoughtful way to present this bit of Harvard history.
Elizabeth Dobell ’83, JD ’88
New York City
Editor’s note: Hanna Rose Shell’s text noted the “explicitly antisemitic language” of the time, and that the subject of her feature was “often mocked” for his Jewish identity, among other references to the discriminatory ways of referring to “Hebrews and Israelites.” In bringing to light today the casual, and pervasive, antisemitism of Harvard then, the feature was and is useful and appropriate.
In his opinion essay “Afghanistan Will Be What It Always Was” (see harvardmag.com/parker-afghanistan-21), Professor Kit Parker correctly reminds us that the mission to transform Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy was doomed from the outset and that going forward we must heed the lessons learned from this failed experiment so as not to repeat it in the future.
However, I must take strong issue with the inference that the naive thirty-something-year-old Foreign Service Officers clad in bright Patagonia garments, described in his piece, are typical of Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) graduates. I have had the privilege of knowing many HKS students over many years and have followed closely their impressive careers in government and in the nonprofit sector. I have also admired the careers of the many HKS active-duty military officers and decorated veterans. None of the HKS graduates I have known fit the profile of the “fashionably coiffed“ fops whom Parker describes.
Unfortunately, the insinuation that these clueless individuals are typical HKS graduates tars all of its alumni with the same brush. This seems to me a grave disservice to both the school and its graduates, which I trust was entirely unintentional.
Senior Associate Dean and Director of Degree Programs (ret.) Harvard Kennedy School
Fossil Fuel Investment
Harvard’s endowment will no longer invest in fossil fuel companies such as Exxon, a victory for activists, but not necessarily for the Harvard community at large. Of course we need to move to net-zero and non-carbon to save our ailing planet. BUT, at the same time it seems cynical and hypocritical while 13,000 Harvard employees, not to mention thousands of students, will depend on fossil fuels for the next 20 years in order to fill their automobile gas tanks, heat their homes, and make electricity. Natural gas and coal together provide 59% of U.S. electricity generation from coal (19%) and natural gas (40%). https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3
This will end over time, but ending it tomorrow would ruin our economy while plunging it into darkness. Please help me understand how trying to put companies out of business which make products upon which we depend is a solution. Isn’t there a better way?
James Bogin ’79
For the Magazine’s latest coverage of Harvard’s investment in fossil fuels, see harvardmag.com/climate-divestment-21.