Letters to the Editor

Photo: Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service

Good Going

Readers responded to a series of articles in our July issue devoted to the notion of exploration.

The piece on Dennis Bird is a beautiful reminder of what makes the Stanford community unique and so poised to help solve the problems of our modern world. Professor Bird’s integrated studies on earth sciences, his winsome mentoring of students in work and life, and his connection to the land are essential elements of how education can transform our view of the world and our willingness to take part in its stewardship. So much of what we need to know happens outside, after we have grown in our understanding of what we are seeing through masterful guidance in the classroom. 

Having seen a few barn owls in my time, I’ll think of this piece the next time they call my name. Thank you for the accompanying pictures. I wish I had met Professor Bird in my time on the Farm.
Elizabeth Archer Klein, ’85
Tacoma, Washington

Best ever. Read from cover to cover.
Kim and Tarik Hadj-Hamou, MS ’78, Engr. ’81, PhD ’83
Huntington Beach, California

I enjoyed Kathy Zonana’s article [“In Defense of the Comfort Zone”] in your July issue. I would agree with her that a person can choose to compartmentalize risk-taking and exploration of newness. In her case, “Intellectual and professional risks? Sign me up. Financial and physical ones? Not so much.” Surely one doesn’t need to bungee jump in order to think of great magazine articles.

One case of successful compartmentalization comes from Sigmund Freud. Whatever you may think of his theories, they went against the common wisdom of his time. Freud said his conventional bourgeois life gave him a foundation for radical discoveries at work.

Constructing a comfort zone is a huge achievement, not to be lightly tampered with. However, creativity often requires that we venture beyond what feels comfortable.
Craig K. Comstock, Gr. ’82
Ashland, Oregon

In my opinion, high on the list of Stanford explorers was the late Nick Clinch, LLB ’52. 

He was known to members of the Stanford Alpine Club as our teacher of rock climbing, and was widely known as the expedition leader of two “first ascents” of mountains in the Karakoram. The first was in 1958 to the top of 26,510-foot Gasherbrum I (Hidden Peak). The second was in 1960 summiting 25,600-foot Masherbram. Exploring trade routes throughout the Karakoram, Clinch was known as a consummate team player with infinite patience, diligence and humor. He was the president of the American Alpine Club from 1968 to 1970, was “inducted” into the organization and received its treasured Gold Medal.
Bill Poppino, ’56
Schenectady, New York

I smiled at the coverage of Scott Stillinger’s Koosh ball, and the mention of how he cofounded OddzOn Products in 1987. The other cofounder, Mark Button, was my uncle. I remember visiting them as a kid in the mid-1980s after they’d made the prototype but before they had settled on the name Koosh. We sat around their tiny apartment in Redwood City while Uncle Mark wrote down a list of possible names on a yellow legal pad. (“Koosh” refers to the soft sound the ball makes when it lands.) Today I live in the United Kingdom and I still sometimes give out Koosh balls as unique gifts for my children’s friends. But I buy them online; I’ll never part with the originals!
Lauren Hall-Lew, MA ’07, PhD ’09
Edinburgh, Scotland

Dividing Lines

Our May issue featured a series of faculty essays about American political polarization.

I thought your articles of various perspectives from multiple learned Stanford intellectuals were very effective in explaining the unsettling and conflicting feelings raging through the minds of educated voters, including myself. I am a lifelong Republican who feels increasingly embarrassed by my party, and for the past 10 years I have voted more Democrat on both issues and candidates for major offices. Most of my friends are Democrats (as is my wife), and while I remain close with my Republican friends, I rarely discuss politics with them, and find it hard to understand how they can justify many of the views they hold. 

And like many who were described in your articles, I am profoundly dissatisfied with both parties and most politicians in general. As your writers captured, my biggest irritation is the inability of politicians to look to the overall good of the nation and find compromise on important issues that languish and negatively affect everyone. While I am in the lower part of the top 1 percent who have benefited greatly from capitalism and the new tax laws, I believe we are ignoring the damage to the middle class, which is shrinking and has always been critical to moderation in the country. And, if we want to avoid an escalation of civil conflict, we need government to fund major programs to educate and create jobs for the increasing segment of the population whose decently paid jobs have disappeared because of globalization, which isn’t going away.
Russell A. Goodman, ’68
Lake Sherwood, California

Thank you for the last issue of the magazine discussing the current state of the United States.

I grew up in Mexico, son of an expat American family. All my life I have been so proud of the United States because, as the name United States suggests, it was one of the very few countries in the world where citizens are united, where many things originate—music, art, culture, innovation in business—and where things work, as simple as that sounds. 

People from all over the world looked to the United States for guidance and leadership. That is now gone. By fighting internally and showing the world we are no longer united, we are no longer the reference country. We have given up our leadership in climate change issues and in the United Nations Human Rights Council, and we are now giving up on being a global trade leader.

We are polarizing ourselves from the rest of the planet, polarizing ourselves from all of our allies. We are our own worst enemy.
Carl Rianhard, ’81 
Mexico City, Mexico