Letters to the Editor

AUTISM'S UNKNOWN

I applaud the cover article for shedding light on a topic that has deeply impacted my life ("Breaking Through," January/February). As the father of twin 4-year-old boys diagnosed with autism, I need to underscore how little is known about this condition. Our sons are intelligent, affectionate little boys with distinct personalities and senses of humor. Yet, virtually everywhere we go, we are misunderstood. When we appear at the playground, other parents suddenly come up with reasons why it's time for their children to go home. When we go to the doctor's office, we receive dirty looks for the commotion made by our children. Even nurses become haughty when we try to explain that our children cannot tolerate being weighed or having their vitals taken. Worst of all, autism professionals treat us as delusional when we report that far from being mentally retarded, our sons are exceptionally intelligent.

I also believe the article at times oversteps the bounds of what is truly known. A callout section headline tersely concludes that vaccines are not the cause. Yet, the article itself acknowledges that the etiology of autism is unknown. There is no definitive marker, only a collection of behaviors grouped together as a condition. If there may be "many autisms," one can only conclude that evidence has not been found to substantiate a connection with vaccines. We may still behave as if there is no connection, but we overstep the analytics if we arrogantly conclude there in fact is none.

Why the distinction? I asked my children's physician about the autism risks before vaccines were administered to my sons at a very early age. The response I received was emphatically that there was no connection, that any suggestion otherwise was propaganda. I don't know what led to my sons' autism, but I can tell you that that particular physician will not have to live with it.

Policy makers and medical professionals ought to be more motivated by a true desire to know more, rather than ideology. Mainstream medicine offers very few biomedical interventions for people with autism other than antidepressants and antipsychotics. The ailments associated with autism span a wide gamut of biological issues including gastric problems, severe allergies, sleep disorders and chronic pain. As a consequence, many parents turn to "alternative" physicians for interventions that have yet to gain acceptance. Unfortunately, institutions such as the NIH refuse to even research heavy metal chelation, an alternative therapy that, while sounding suspect, has been reported by parents to have made the most difference in their children. Similarly, measures to enable research on the possible connection to vaccines is blocked by members of Congress who view the adoption of universal vaccination to be their legacy accomplishment. As a parent, I don't care about ideology; I just need research to help me choose between therapies that work and those that don't.

I end with one plea to Stanford parents. Before coming to conclusions when you come across a disruptive child babbling aimlessly, keep in mind that you may know very little about this child. My children are the ones who cause the annoying interruptions, and who parents fear will damage their child in some mystical way. Yet, they are also two boys who are not only loved and loving. At age 4, they can read and know world history from Babylon to the present. They deeply comprehend multivariable calculus, differential equations, abstract algebra, real analysis and quantum mechanics. No, I am not crazy. I know the difference between substantiated conclusions and delusions.

Steve Su, PhD '99
Washington, D.C.


ON-SCREEN AND OFF

(What) were you thinking?

I just settled down for a quiet hour to read "Separation Anxiety," about people who are constantly attached to their computers and other screens, to the detriment of their real-life interactions (January/February).

At the end of the article I turned the page, only to see a full-page ad: "Introducing the digital version of Stanford magazine for iPads, smartphones and computers."

Jo-Ann Scott, '61
Washington, D.C.

Since moving from Palo Alto to the hills above Ithaca, N.Y., 26 years ago, I have had to re-educate myself to the joy of outdoor work in all weather—something I learned on my family's farm before I arrived at Stanford in 1969.

In the face of the new plugged-in, "always-on" culture, one thing parents can do for themselves and their children is to foster the natural love for the out-of-doors that lives within each of us. This, of course, can be done in little steps or big gulps; if it is worked at, however, it does counter the hours spent with electronic devices.

My wife operates Earth Arts of Ithaca, an outdoor earth education and appreciation program. Children in her programs are, of course, not strangers to the now all-encompassing world of devices. But on the days when they come to Earth Arts, every class, winter and summer, is outside. Recently, I recall lessons in animal tracking; bird spotting and identification; fire building without matches; firing their clay pottery pieces in an outdoor fire pit; making, through use of a very hot fire, hunting knifes cut from steel strips; learning Native American songs and the Native American thanksgiving prayer; setting up and taking down a 25-foot teepee, and choosing and sitting once every session in each one's own "sit spot" (under a tree or on a knoll somewhere) for the "quiet thoughtfulness" that Stephanie Brown of the Addictions Institute says might be missing in a plugged-in culture.

"No child left inside," my wife and others like her insist. Surely, this could help counter the negative aspects of plugging in.

Joseph Eller, MA '73
Spencer, New York

The article on virtual life raised serious issues. A few years back I attended the World Technology Network and had a vigorous debate with a designer of virtual games who insisted that riding a virtual bicycle down a hill at 35mph was the exact same experience as riding a real bike. I pointed out that there is no reset button when you crash your real bike.

I live in Manhattan and am becoming increasingly concerned with people's disconnect from the real world in both subtle and real ways that are reshaping societal norms and behavior, and not always for the good. The article reinforced the concern.

As for me, I will take a real bike ride over a video game anytime.

Lou Rubin
New York, New York

I had to wait 24 hours to write this and thank you for the article by Joan O' C. Hamilton about our overconnected online culture. After reading it, I decided to take an Internet "sabbath" and covered up the monitor for all of Saturday. What surprised me was that my two kids, 9 and 12, seemed unfazed, and it was I who kept instinctively walking towards it, with a Pandora or Facebook impulse. But I have to say it was a very peaceful 24 hours; thanks for prompting it. It may become a habit.

Jordan R. Winer
Berkeley, California


JUST THE FACTS, MA'AM

Your article on Gretchen Carlson was very interesting ("Up and At 'Em," Planet Cardinal, January/February). Quite a gal!

However, your author, Corinne Purtill, '02, should know the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan. It would be nice if we had had a positive "turning point" in Afghanistan. The only Bush surge was in Iraq, and it was a turning point for which Gibbs should have [credited Bush].

William R. Lang, '57
Holladay, Utah

The punchline of the story is [an indirect] quote from Carlson that "news will never go back to its just-the-facts approach, nor should it." Whoa there. This glossy profile in a magazine representing an education institution I worked hard to get through is a little embarrassing to me.

Several Pew studies have shown political opinions of large groups are correlated with their news sources.

"Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up."

Greg Lovato, '93
Reno, Nevada


FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The article on the recent campus Food Summit neglected to mention that the study of global food issues has a long and distinguished history at Stanford ("Scholars Join Forces Over Food Issues," Farm Report, January/February). Established in 1921, with Herbert Hoover among its founders, the Food Research Institute focused its research and teaching on the "production, distribution, and consumption of food" throughout the world. Last housed in Encina Hall, the Institute contributed an enviable list of publications and counted over 150 PhDs among its graduates. Many considered its closing in 1996 ill-timed—just as considerations of climate and rising demand in such countries as China and India were coming to the fore.

If the collaborative effort among faculty mentioned in the article moves forward, why not resurrect the title or better still the entity?

Thomas T. Poleman, MA '57, PhD '60
Hendersonville, North Carolina


ANOTHER MARKET QUESTION

In her excellent, temperate, thoughtful exploration of the consequences of having a free market for the sale of kidneys to potential recipients ("Brother, Can You Spare a Kidney?" Farm Report, January/February), Professor Debra Satz asks: "Do we want the organs of the poor to be resources they will need to use to purchase other opportunities?"

She doesn't ask why what she wants should exercise force over what I can do with my organs. If, however, she wants us to be concerned about markets and the poor, wouldn't it be good to ask: "When someone can use a resource they own to purchase an otherwise unavailable opportunity, who are we to prohibit that transaction?"

David Altschul, MA '76
Berkeley, California


WHAT WE DIDN'T KNOW

The era of Flicks begins earlier than the '60s ("What You Don't Know About," Farm Report, January/February). We had them in the '50s. One memorable Sunday evening, The Man Who Never Was, featuring Clifton Webb, was shown. The subject was the cadaver the Allies dumped off the coast of Spain with a satchel of fake invasion plans to divert the Germans from the Normandy landing site. Webb was dressing the cadaver (never in view) and was pulling on his underwear shorts. At the appropriate moment, some fellow yelled out from the balcony in Mem Aud, "Now, cough!" Every guy in the place exploded in laughter, and all the gals looked around trying to figure out what was so funny.

Jay W. Rea, '57
Cheney, Washington

Editor's note: We haven't been able to find out exactly when Flicks began. If anyone knows, please tell us.


DIVIDING THE PIE

President John Hennessy's January/February column, "To Save Innovation, Tame Entitlements," was the height of unseemliness. His argument is that America's poor, disabled and elderly should sacrifice so that the richest university in America can receive more tax dollars for research. What he derisively refers to as "entitlement programs" are in fact the bare minimum that a just and decent society owes to its members. They also constitute the basic human rights enumerated in the International Declaration of Human Rights: food, clothing, housing, medical care, unemployment insurance and social security in old age.

The inspiration for these programs goes back to the great American patriot and revolutionary Thomas Paine, who first proposed them in the 1790s in Rights of Man and Agrarian Justice. To repeal or reduce them now would be the beginning of the end of our prosperity and our freedom.

It is not as if America does not have the wealth. In the last few decades our riches and productivity have expanded more dramatically than at any time in history. The problem is that our system of distributing that wealth is now fundamentally broken. In fact, the only part that still works is precisely the Medicare and Social Security programs that our corporate apologists in their wisdom now want to dismantle.

If this article is any indication, it appears that what Stanford really needs is not more research, but more classes in basic humanity, ethics and religion.

Sandy Perry, '71
San Jose, California

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, we are rapidly approaching a collision between the dependence of our and other nations' economies on sustained economic growth and the inexorable decline of availability of nonrenewable resources and the needs of an increasing population for renewable ones on our finite planet.

The large majority of people are supplied their essential resources (energy, water, food et al.) by corporations over which they have minimal control. Thus they are highly vulnerable to restricted supply and increased cost. Most supplies are transported long distances from their sources by vehicles powered by fossil fuels whose production is reported to have peaked globally. Agricultural land is being consumed by development, and ocean sources have been highly depleted by unsustainable rates of harvesting. Climate changes threaten production from both sources. The current situation is simply unsustainable.

Localizing economies and conducting them in renewable ways are keys to the survival of future generations and to more satisfying lives. There is hope because that was the mode of existence of humans before the advent of urbanization. Moreover, research has shown tribal persons generally to be happy, have considerable leisure time and a rewarding sense of community.

Continuing our growth-based existence will mean the demise of most, if not all of us, irrespective of any scientific advance or innovation. I believe fervently that the world must find a way to live renewably in this century.

Stanford's research budget is best put to bringing that about.

John Otter, '59, MS '61
Santa Fe, New Mexico

To assert that there is some perspective from which government spending on entitlement programs and spending on research and development have a meaningful (and a "win-lose") relationship with one another, independent from all the other programs that the government spends money on (war, prisons, education, infrastructure, transfers of wealth through tax policy), is an entirely fallacious argument, one for which absolutely no support is present in the column. Both social entitlement programs and spending to support research and development are in competition with every other area of government spending. In what sense is there a link between the two that is special? I assert that there is none, and that the entire premise of this column has no basis in reality.

Ronald Long, '74
Woodinville, Washington


UP WITH CONTROVERSY

I disagree with critics who urge the editor not to print controversial letters, as do Sloane Citron and others ("Contrary Opinions," January/February). Stanford has not shied away from controversial personalities or opinions in the past, and consideration of controversy is good not only for students to practice their analytical skills but also for alums to see if they still have them.

Citron comments on a previous correspondent's comparison between the Holocaust and climate change. I doubt there's serious disagreement about the Holocaust, but about climate change there may be. As a species, we are running an experiment whose outcome some consider uncertain. Citron cites a variety of such "bright people—scientists, educators, climatologists—who absolutely believe that climate change is nonsense."

But talk is cheap. Let's test commitment to controversial opinion. To those bright people, or perhaps to Citron, I offer a wager that will allow them to put their money where their mouths are and perhaps to profit from a climate change believer, me. I propose a $1,000 bet, with the money to be held by a mutually agreeable, trusted person. If next year isn't one of the 10 warmest years on record, as assessed by NOAA, those bright people win; if it is, then I win.

John Schaefer, PhD '74
Arcata, California

As usual I enjoyed reading the letters to the editor in the latest edition. Several writers criticized you for the letters you publish, particularly about climate change and health care.

I, for one, approve of your choices. Letters with which I agree would get boring fast. Please keep printing letters that make me angry.

Warren Redlich, MA '92
Albany, New York

I have seen a significant number of comments in the Letters to the Editor column to the effect that certain articles in Stanford should not be included because of their content. It should be noted that the magazine does not restrict its coverage and articles to matters that everyone finds socially acceptable on an intellectual basis. To do otherwise would obviously affect its obligation to present a variety of philosophies and attitudes. All the best.

Draper B. Gregory, MS '75
Chico, California


NEVER FORGET NEVERS

As your well-written article implied, Jim Plunkett was and is a football standout and an admirable guy ("Heart of a Legend," November/December). But he was not—in your words—"The most celebrated figure in Stanford football history."

That honor, of course, goes to Ernie Nevers, named by Sports Illustrated in 1962 as the best college player of all time. Pop Warner, who coached them both, picked Nevers over Jim Thorpe, because the former went all out on every play. Stanford was 21-5-1 during the era of the all-America fullback, who capped his career by outgaining Notre Dame's Four Horsemen while playing on two badly injured legs in the 1925 Rose Bowl.

Nevers also was the key figure in the young National Football League's battle to survive a challenge from a rival Red Grange-led league. Nevers joined the Duluth Eskimos, who played all their games on the road. Nevers, also an all-time linebacker, played all but a few minutes for the entire season before large, enthusiastic crowds, and the NFL was off and running. He was a Chicago Cardinal in 1929 when he scored all 40 of his team's points in one game.

Nevers was our best. It may take a lot of Luck if we ever hope to see a Stanford player of such ability again.

Mike Hudson, '53, MA '57
San Francisco, California


TRUE NORTH STRIKES BACK

The "Golden State" image under 1000 Words (November/December) "produced by blending multiple exposures to capture a wider range of intensities seen by the eye" is pretty, but the admonitory comment to "Take that, Vermont!" is laughable. Anyone who's seen the fall foliage in northern New England or Quebec knows that one can get a far more impressive image than yours by simply snapping the shutter once.

Karl Raab, Gr. '62
Vancouver, British Columbia

 


 

The following letters did not appear in the print edition of Stanford.

RESEARCH APPRECIATED

I have just finished reading "Breaking Through" by Kristine Sainani (January/February). I have a 5-year-old granddaughter with an autism diagnosis. She is gifted in art and music but definitely has social limitations. This is the first time I have heard of Timothy syndrome. Thank you for your continuing research.

Sue Laing
Norman, Oklahoma


EMBARRASSED

I really cannot believe you wrote a story on Gretchen Carlson ("Up and At ’Em," Planet Cardinal, January/February). She’s promoted fear and bigotry while reinforcing the notion of simple-minded women. I recall being so embarrassed and dismayed when I discovered she was a Stanford grad. Rachel Maddow, ’94, presents a thoughtful and enlightening program that should make all Stanford grads proud. She leads with her intelligence rather than playing dumb.

Chrichelle McCloud, ’97
Cupertino, California


OTHER WAYS TO CUT

During my 50 years as a member of the Stanford Alumni Association, I have observed that Stanford University presidents traditionally take a politically neutral stance in their public pronouncements. Until now. I was shocked and dismayed to read the column by John Hennessy in the January/February issue ("To Save Innovation, Tame Entitlements"). 

In making his case that entitlements need to be cut, Hennessy cites an assumption that tax revenue will be "the same fraction of GDP it is today." He allows no other assumption. Then he touts a book by right-wing Hoover Institution luminaries for proposals on how to cut entitlements and save the budgets for defense, research and education. He does not acknowledge progressive proposals to solve our national problems.

In 2009, federal, state and local income taxes consumed 9.2 percent of all personal income, the lowest level since 1950. The OECD Center for Tax Policy and Administration studied the ratio of all taxes to national GDP. In 2007, the United States was 27th in the ranking of the 30 OECD member countries. Due to the Great Recession and the Obama tax cuts of 2009, the United States fell to 28th, with only Turkey and Mexico having lower ratios of taxes to GDP. Do we really want to be like Turkey or Mexico? If our tax ratio were at the same level as Germany, in the middle of the OECD ranking, we would not have such a difficult problem balancing the federal budget. And note that Germany now has a lower unemployment rate than the United States. 

President Obama as well as congressmen on both sides of the aisle agree that the U.S. government has a budget deficit that is unsustainable in the long term. The question is how to bring the budget into balance in a manner consistent with the long-term interests of all our citizens. A plea to protect the federal research and education budgets is certainly appropriate for a university president. However, the way it was stated, with the inference that we are Taxed Enough Already, is a political statement that does not belong on the editorial page [sic] of the alumni magazine.

Burwell Goode, ’60, MS ’66, PhD ’71
Weston, Connecticut

The plea of President Hennessy for safeguarding the funding of research is something we can all agree with, but I was puzzled that research grants were pitted against entitlements as a zero-sum game. What about the military expense of a war of choice? What about the cost of a blameworthy recession? What about insufficient taxes, especially for the rich?

Robert Price, ’49, MD ’53
Pelham, Massachusetts

President Hennessy managed to write a whole page about the threat to research dollars without mentioning the Department of Defense as a candidate for spending cuts. Instead, he points the finger at social spending. Programs that directly benefit people should be cut so that we can do research that will benefit people, but let’s not mention programs that spend trillions of dollars to kill people. In fact, he says that unless we cut social spending we won’t have any money for the military at all. Horse, meet cart.

Schultz and Shoven avoid saying "Cut Social Security" with the clever phrase "the removal of disincentives for long careers." I wonder how many focus groups it took to come up with that. Why is Social Security on the spot? Because it’s an easy target, the whipping boy du jour, the bête noire of decent mouth-breathing Americans? You’re talking about robbing a program that is paid for (even without changes, Social Security is financially secure for the next 30 years) in order to avoid cutting a program that is not (military spending). All that boilerplate about better efficiency and slowing the growth of spending would be a whole lot more persuasive if you included $10,000 hammers and billion-dollar jets on the hit list along with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, mental health spending, unemployment benefits and so on.

In short, I find the opinions in this article ethically challenged and economically risible, and I am very deeply disappointed to see them under the president’s name.

Charles Bragg Jr., ’67
Pacific Palisades, California


BIAS, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE

Professor Rhode’s description of "the beauty bias" as "the last bastion of socially and legally acceptable bigotry," implying, as it does, that society is making steady progress toward a kinder, more civilized world, is a lovely idea, but the legal part is questionable ("Fair Enough?" September/October). We have made a little progress toward recognizing the human rights described in the Declaration of Independence, and government itself may not discriminate, because it’s a denial of equal protection; but the Bill of Rights "rights" are merely limitations on what government can do to control the people. In theory, they can’t make people not discriminate—which is not to say that people have a right to be mean to others. If "rights" are supposed to have been given by a Creator presumed to be just, where would a right to be evil come from?

However, our notion of noninterference in private choices has evolved—because of an extreme situation, the aftermath of slavery—to an understanding that institutionalized private discrimination can have the same effect on the community as government action and also explode into criminal violence. The force of discriminatory custom can dictate whom you sell your house to, whom you serve in your restaurant, who may work for you. With this understanding, the bishops of South Africa labeled apartheid not as a sin, but as "heresy," a challenge to the entire belief system. Discrimination also stunted commerce, as we can now see by comparing the cities of the South today with their life 50 years ago. Consistent abuse of some of the members affected the entire society in the same way as it affects members of a dysfunctional family, but the overt manifestation—denial of full participation in the commercial life of the society—all by itself hindered prosperity. All those sit-ins at the lunch counters? The chief beneficiaries were the lunch counters.

Private discrimination has its reasons. Surely a woman may choose a mate who is willing and able to support her children; preferably one she finds attractive. And those women with the shoes stumbling across London? They got the jobs that put them there by their willingness to demonstrate through their suffering that they believed in a society where money and social standing were paramount. I don’t believe that, so I won’t wear the shoes; ergo, I won’t get those jobs. That’s not a problem; that’s free choice. Public discrimination is a horse of another color.

I suggest that wise governments eschew control of private behavior unless there is a compelling public purpose involved, and that assessment of what is "compelling" give first priority to public discrimination and the creation and maintenance of the level playing field—withholding public resources from those who discriminate.

How can you even think about shoe discrimination when we have "Don’t ask; don’t tell"?

Stephanie Muñoz
Los Altos Hills, California


MORE REBUTTALS

I feel compelled to write in response to your publication of Bill Wright’s weak rebuttal ("Contrary Opinions," January/February) to the letters of Rogers and Keeling  ("More Is Less," November/December) concerning global climate change. To cite a single author and fly that in opposition to the entirety of the climate science community as reason to discount the origins for observed changes in global climate trends is simply childish. Climate change has been politicized in this country, and as a result the so-called debate is now confined to only political discussions. Outside of one political party in one country (this one), the worldwide debate on the origins of climate change is over. By choosing to publish poorly defended drivel written by politically motivated crackpots you are only perpetuating the myth that debate still exists. The First Amendment covers speech; it says nothing about having to print garbage.

Michael C. Matelich, PhD ’91
San Diego, California

In response to Bill Wright’s letter, my purpose in writing about overpopulation was to state some facts related to the subject that I think everyone should be aware of.  I hope when solutions to some of the world’s major problems are confronted, these facts will be taken into consideration. As for a solution to overpopulation, I have none. However, I am not turning myself in as a population reduction of one.

Phil Rogers, MS ’58
University Place, Washington

As someone who lost many relatives in the Holocaust, I was particularly offended by the accusation [by Drew Keeling] that my carefully researched position on human-caused global warming/climate change is similar to that of a Holocaust denier. But I am always encouraged when an adversary in an argument, rather than citing the facts or the data, resorts instead to ad hominem slurs: It can only mean that I am winning the argument.

The theory that human emission of CO2 and other "greenhouse gases" is causing global warming/climate change is one of the greatest frauds in the history of science. That Stanford through some of its faculty, and that the U.S. government through its EPA, are major parties to that fraud is tragic beyond belief. The so-called "greenhouse effect" on which the fearmongering is based is a fraudulent concoction that is devoid of physical reality. The Earth’s infrared emission absorbed by atmospheric gases is re-radiated to free space as soon as it is absorbed. The notion that the colder atmosphere above can re-radiate that energy to heat the warmer Earth below violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. For a comprehensive analysis, see the recently published book Slaying the Sky Dragon—Death of the Greenhouse Gas Theory, co-authored by myself and six other scientists. An electronic version is available on Amazon.com, and a print version will be published shortly.

In order to convince the public of the threat of global warming, a cabal of scientists whose nefarious activities were exposed in the "climategate" e-mails had to fabricate two "hockey sticks": one for temperature and another for atmospheric CO2. Both had the shapes of hockey sticks, flat for previous centuries with a sharp rise during the last few decades. Both were deliberate frauds. For details, go to my most recent lecture at www.youtube.com and enter "climategate" and "hertzberg" in the search column.

Knowledgeable scientists know that changes in atmospheric CO2 do not correlate with human emission of the gas; that human emission is a trivial fraction of natural sources and sinks of CO2; that the oceans contain 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere; that the gas is continuously recycled from the Tropical oceans where it is emitted to the Arctic oceans where it is absorbed. As oceans warm, they emit the gas and as oceans cool they absorb it.

I can only urge [correspondents] Phil Rogers and Drew Keeling to look at the totality of the data available rather than be swayed by the anecdotal fearmongering of environmental lobbyists, journalists who have failed to exercise due diligence, and power-hungry politicians. The real data for recent decades is available at www.climate4you.com and are updated monthly. The data show nothing extraordinary—just the normal variability in average temperatures, rates of sea-level rise, ice area coverage and snow coverage.

Martin Hertzberg, PhD ’59
Copper Mountain, Colorado

Editor’s note: We are now closing this discussion both in print and online.


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