Letters to the Editor

January/February 2010

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Letters to the Editor

'Wrenching Story'

I'm grateful you departed from tradition providing the wrenching story of Jason Poole, USMC ("Mission Critical," November/December). In so doing you've honored, perhaps unknowingly, all the former Marines who are Stanford grads. In my 1965 pledge class of 33 at Sigma Chi, three became Marine officers: Gary F. Loveridge, Jim Mago and Jon Trachta, all '65. Eight others became Naval and Army officers. At least four or five in each of several preceding pledge classes served as Marine officers: Douglas Haydel, '65, Joe Jennings, '62, John Bessey, '61, William Whiting, '62, among others—and many more from other Stanford groups. Having drunk deeply of Marine officer tradition, it is as lasting, poignant and rewarding as a Stanford education. Some have called it the best MBA program in America.

J. Gary Kerns, '65
Sacramento, California

To an infantry veteran of World War II, the Jason Poole story brought to the surface the images of dead and wounded I had managed to suppress to some extent in the years since that conflict. Sandy Lai, '93, deserves our unqualified admiration for the work she is doing with Jason and the other casualties.

But as I read the story, I was struck by the absurdity that made Poole and many others casualties in the present wars. I read somewhere that nearly half of our battle deaths are caused by improvised explosive devices. The enemy, with no casualties to themselves and using homemade weapons costing probably less than $100, is able to kill and maim our soldiers and destroy a vehicle and equipment worth $50,000 to $75,000. And this happens again and again.

Am I the only one to see the absurdity in this situation? Our leaders, both civilian and military, speak about "winning" in Iraq and Afghanistan. If there is such a thing as winning at war, is there any doubt about who the winners were in the incident that made Poole a casualty?

We shouldn't beat our breasts and proclaim our military as the strongest in the world (which it might well be) when it is asked to do what it is not designed for. It is within our power to stop the terrible things that are happening to our courageous young people like Poole. Do our leaders have the courage to act?

W. Bruce Hamilton, MA '53
Milwaukie, Oregon

Short-term Thinking

The recent article by Mike Antonucci reads like a long press release from the Stanford administration ("Careful Cuts," November/December). While the president and provost may like to see themselves as coming to Stanford's rescue by making tough decisions, what the article fails to explore is that their decision to make drastic cuts to the budget reflects short-term thinking. And short-term thinking got Stanford into this mess to begin with.

The decision to suspend the endowment spending rule, or smoothing formula, is exhibit A in demonstrating the administration's mentality. As quoted in the article, President Hennessy argued before the Academic Council that "blindly applying the smoothing rule" would be a mistake. The article should have pointed out that this is pure rhetoric.

The purpose of a spending rule, which many if not most universities follow, is precisely to combat short-term thinking about how much the endowment payout should be from year to year. The logic of the rule holds that, in relative terms, the payout will under-spend in good times and overspend in bad times. Further, the sound assumption is that the near-term value of the endowment is unpredictable. The spending rule allows administrators to fight the short-term temptation to time the market, because no one—even a university president or financial expert—knows from year to year what the market will do.

The article could have pointed out that rejecting the spending rule was tantamount to rejecting its basis in logic and grounding in history. President Hennessy instead treated the rule as an arbitrary constraint on his ability to make budget cuts. He is the champion of restraint now, but where was his restraint two or three years ago when his administration chased after high-flying returns in risky alternative investments?

Finally, what is President Hennessy's only regret or lesson learned from this crisis? Shockingly, the article says that increasing access to Stanford for more middle-class families gives him "pause." According to the article, Hennessy thinks Stanford's risky investment strategies were fine, but the decision to increase financial aid was a mistake. All the while, the administration says with a straight face that the current round of budget cuts is to protect the core educational mission of the University.

The administration is blind if it cannot see that short-term, high-risk investing has put the educational mission of the institution in harm's way. It is time to abandon its short-term thinking and allocate resources appropriately for the long-term benefit of our great alma mater.

George Trone, '92
Flint, Michigan

The $120 million cut in Stanford's annual budget (resulting in hundreds losing jobs, salaries frozen, etc.) is a clear reflection of the hoarding mentality of universities concerning their endowments. After the 27 percent loss in the endowment, the $120 million cut represents less than another 1 percent. How humane and helpful to the economy would it have been to suck it up, spend that $120 million and save jobs, projects, etc.?

Larry Simmons, MS '62
Portland, Oregon

I must say it is a blaring irony to see in one issue of Stanford a self-pity puff piece about the University's deflated endowment juxtaposed with direct feedback (buried in front matter as it was) from deeply concerned alumni about Valerie Jarrett's triumphal cover splash last month ("Careful Cuts," "Cover Story Dismay," November/December). Here's a hint: Maybe there are a lot more people like me who could support Stanford financially but who have long lost patience with the left-wing extreme political monoculture that has a stranglehold on the institution's imagination.

Unfortunately for Stanford, we have all found other ways to foster and stimulate the next generation. Therefore, if Valerie Jarrett really is the best Stanford has to offer, you'd better hope she can swing you some stimulus. (Of course that's the true reason for the cover status, anyway, isn't it?)

Marshall Monroe, '86
Corrales, New Mexico

Her Own Stanford

This is nothing specific, except to say how much I enjoy reading the magazine. I am the missing "filling in the sandwich"—my mother having attended Stanford (Frances Slater, '40), and now, my daughter (Shira Averbuch, '12). So, instead of merely living vicariously through them, I have the magazine!

Gloria Averbuch
Upper Montclair, New Jersey

What About the Golden Rule?

I take exception to Professor Katchadourian's statement that, in Western culture, "Being responsive to the needs of others is desirable, but is not a moral duty" ("Guilty!" November/December). On the contrary, the historical Western standard for moral duties, the Bible, teaches just the opposite. That famous moral duty, the Golden Rule, is found in Matthew 7:12, which is reinforced in Matthew 22:39: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." This Biblical concern for the needs of others is second only to our highest moral duty, found in Matthew 22:37: "You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind."

These commands by Jesus define our obligations to others in positive terms, which runs counter to the professor's statement that Western culture's "obligations to others are defined in negative terms—what they should not do—rather than as positive duties of what they should do." The professor may have the Ten Commandments in mind here, most of which are "Thou shalt nots." The setting for the Big Ten was the Exodus from Egypt, at approximately the mid-15th century B.C. This was the beginning of the Hebrew nation, and they had little or no knowledge of Jehovah. Apparently, it was God's judgment that these undisciplined former slaves would better understand His commandments couched in negative terms. Some 15 centuries later, Jesus would condense these commandments into just two, as quoted above.

Robert Griffin, '63, MS '64
Loomis, California

Favored Races

Professor Bill Durham speaks interestingly about what Darwin "got right" and "got wrong," but he glosses over some key realities ("Galápagos and All That," Farm Report, November/December). For example, Mendel's genetic experimentations and results were both important and poorly published—Darwin was unaware of Mendel's results for many years.

When Darwin finally was given a copy of Mendel's 1866 work by a friend, he had already (1859) published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. It's important to study the full title: Despite not having Mendel's work until many years later, Darwin's concept of "favoured races" is clearly compatible with Mendel's findings for pea variants—each being in fact a favored race.

Durham also raises, uncritically, early comments by Colin Pittendrigh, such as: "The two most important events in the history of life on earth were the emergence of DNA . . . and the emergence of language. . . ." We can forgive Pittendrigh for not knowing RNA was likely the important "molecule," and we may even learn more as science does its work of dispelling our very human ignorance. We may also forgive him for omitting the evolution of molecular photosynthesis in living organisms, without which oxygen-dependent animals would not exist.

But we can't forgive Durham for such oversights, or for homocentric allusions— such as [his statement] that language means there's "something special about us." For a current biologist to write this, when we have so many studies revealing intellects and languages applied by other species, is remarkable. It's even remarkable for someone who understands evolution, since if language is so very important, we'd be surprised if it weren't present in many species, just as teeth are.

I'm sure Durham is aware of the mounting evidence of intelligence and communication within many species' populations. The question is: Why do we think we're so uniquely smart when bigger brains in whales and smaller brains in crows perform amazing tasks and use languages we, the Great Humans, can't yet decipher? Fortunately, real science proceeds when we simply admit ignorance and work humbly to dispel it by studying reality. That's what Darwin and Mendel "got right" that counts.

Alex Cannara, Engr. '66, MS '74, PhD '76
Menlo Park, California

While it is encouraging that Bill Durham has fun talking with people who both enjoy an active spiritual life and find room in their worldview for evolution, he seems to have missed the point that there is actually no conflict between humans having dominion and also "being part of the big picture," as he puts it. The beauty of a Biblical understanding of man's place on Earth is precisely that it consists of both roles. Separately and specially created, we were indeed instructed by God to take dominion over the Earth's creatures and land, but from Genesis through the New Testament there is also a clear command for us to serve as good stewards of all of God's creation, or in Durham's words, stewards of the tree of life. I hope most of us would agree that our position as the "smartest monkey" (to steal a line from the band XTC) only heightens our responsibility to the rest of the planet.

Patrick Rutty, MS '91
Highlands Ranch, Colorado

Memories of Eunice

I couldn't resist responding to "She Got Games" (Examined Life, November/December) remembering the late Eunice Mary Kennedy Shriver, '44. To me, most memorable was the night of Senior Ball '43. Granada was converted to guest quarters for off-campus ball dates. Lagunita directors gave me Eunice's room for that night. I opened the door to find items as personal as the large framed photo of her brothers taken at their commissioning as Ensign USN beside the bed. How many times these have been seen in print! My glimpse has lasted a lifetime.

Jane G. Flynn, '44
Walnut Creek, California

Missing the Point

Reading Sean Lim's letter about Professor Barton Bernstein made me extremely angry ("Embarrassed by 'Tirade,'" November/December). Lim misses the whole point of the disagreement by calling it a "personal vendetta," and I cannot believe that Stanford printed such an ignorant and overtly nasty letter. If getting the facts right about an important part of Stanford's history makes Lim "embarrassed to have graduated from Stanford," then he shouldn't be reading Stanford magazine or feeling any kinship with the University.

Justin L. Brooke, '10
Stanford, California

McCarthyism Revisited

The letters to the editor attacking Valerie Jarrett, '78, Van Jones and Stanford for publishing the cover article on Jarrett are a reminder that Stanford's alumni are diverse and include some who probably wish for a return to McCarthyism and look for Communists even in the soup ("Cover Story Dismay," November/December).

Jarrett is an able and honorable public servant who needs no defense from me. Van Jones has been recognized widely, even internationally, for his leadership in solving societal and environmental problems. When I was practicing law in the 1990s, I knew him to be the most able and brilliant civil rights lawyer in San Francisco. He is not a Communist, though it would not detract from his stature if he were.

The four letter writers published by Stanford manifestly have no personal knowledge of Jarrett or Jones. They appear to have drawn their inspiration for invective from ideologically driven sources, perhaps from a common source, Glenn Beck, who launched the attack against Jones on his television news program. I hope the editor's decision to publish the first paragraph of one letter in large type was not a concession to pressure brought by irrational political forces represented by the four letters published.

Thomas H. Crawford, '59
San Francisco, California

How interesting and timely that I am helping my high-school-age daughter compile a report on McCarthyism in America. Ward De Witt's letter epitomizes the fear-mongering anticommunist rhetoric that cost so many Americans their livelihoods and dreams. To be frank, I could insert this letter into one of Sen. McCarthy's tirades, and no one would be the wiser. De Witt's letter could almost be funny, except that it shows how profound an effect the red scare of the Cold War era has had upon our nation. Thankfully, in our current educational system, to base an argument on data gathered "with a few mouse clicks" will not earn a passing grade. Even in high school the teachers are well aware that the search for truth on the Internet is like digging for diamonds in a cesspool—and I can attest to that as I help my daughter work through her paper's reference materials. I can find any number of politically biased websites that spew forth the same fanatical chum on any political figure one would care to name, but none of them takes me any closer to the truth. One would hope that a Stanford graduate would know this.

So I would admonish my fellow alumni: Be careful using terms like "radical leftist" and "self-avowed communist" to describe someone, without first providing proof that the label is appropriate and represents something distinctly wrong. You haven't proved your case, and your message is hurtful. People like Valerie Jarrett, who I honestly believe want to make this world a better place, do not deserve to endure such disrespect from anyone. I'm all for people saying what they feel, but this magazine is the wrong place for your letters. Luckily for you, such forums do exist, a few mouse clicks away.

Curtis Wilbur, '74
San Diego, California

How extraordinarily sad it is to read the letters of Ward De Witt, '62, Pete Holzmann, '79, and Thomas Keiser regarding the profile of Valerie Jarrett. I am left to ponder how a Stanford education managed to leave [two of] them with an inability to think critically, delve into nuances and consider opinions other than their own.

For letters meant to object to Jarrett, all three focus their first paragraphs on the recently departed White House appointee Van Jones, trotting out the label "communist" to decry both Jones and, by association, Jarrett. (Guilt by association is a time-honored tactic of radical left and right). The substance of Jones's more recent writings on the green economy, and his work with corporations, labor unions and the government, would to a thinking person indicate that his political and economic philosophy might be more subtle than the "communist" label suggests, but this doesn't seem to enter the letter writers' consideration.

De Witt's letter does highlight a truly appalling story, relating to a property managed by Habitat Co., the corporation Ms. Jarrett headed. Is De Witt fearful of communists infiltrating the executive suite of American corporations? As detailed by the Boston Globe reports he cites, the conditions of Grove Parc Plaza sound dreadful. However, Grove Parc Plaza appears to be one of close to 75 properties managed in the Habitat portfolio (not including the unnamed property co-managed by them and cited in his letter). Since we haven't heard about the other 98.3 percent of Habitat properties, it may be reasonable to assume that their condition is not newsworthy.

There is at least a touch of irony that De Witt attacks Jarrett by associating her with a "self-avowed communist" and simultaneously going after her conduct as a CEO of a major corporation. If he's simply annoyed by federal subsidies in the private sector, I do hope he protested as loudly at Halliburton's contracts with the federal government during Vice President Cheney's tenure (and their arm's-length subsidiaries' dealings with Iran and other proscribed countries). One of the social policy successes of the past 20 years of Republican and Democratic administrations (despite the recent foreclosure crisis) has been in federal support of housing, where the government has sensibly figured out that working with private industry to leverage private sector expertise and capital to build and manage low-income housing can be effective. Is Jarrett a "radical leftist" for working with such programs? Obviously not. I suggest that De Witt return to Stanford to study with whomever has taken over Professor Robert Flanagan's public sector economics course at the Business School—it would be far more edifying than his character assassination.

One can certainly disagree with Jones and Jarrett, but a Stanford graduate should be able to do so with more than one-word labels. Does Holzmann really believe that Jones, who writes and lectures extensively on greening the economy, bringing private sector investment into inner cities, is a "communist," and if so, what does being a "communist" mean to him? Is being a "communist" a crime? Perhaps in Mr. Holzmann's world, but thankfully not in the United States.

As for Holzmann's reaction to Jones's opinions on the case of convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jones has worked extensively on police misconduct cases, including many which are less controversial. I can understand how someone living in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains in Black Forest would have no personal experience to comprehend that police conduct in urban America might ever be suspect in criminal matters, but the realities of inner-city crime and police conduct are far more complex. My Stanford education taught me to investigate and consider these difficult subjects. Should Holzmann not be able to return for a refresher course, my recommendation would be to venture beyond Black Forest and volunteer with a social service organization in Pueblo or Denver, where these troubling issues are sadly present.

[These] letters are emblematic of an increasing incivility in our society, and a move away from reasoned discussion and debate. Even in Missoula, Mo., Black Forest, Colo., and Wexford, Pa., there must be individuals with opinions and backgrounds different from these authors. I hope they treat them with greater civility and consideration than they treat their fellow alumna, Valerie Jarrett.

Derek Brown, MBA '91
Baltimore, Maryland

It is telling that all of the letters that attempt to demonize Ms. Jarrett for her connection to Van Jones use the same unvarying talking points, all of which could have been cut-and-pasted verbatim from the Fox News website or from Michelle Malkin's blog. For instance, three of these letters use exactly the same phrase or variants of it: Van Jones is either a "self-avowed communist," a "self-proclaimed communist," or an "avowed communist." One thing's for sure: Mr. Jones is evidently not a shrinking violet communist.

The guidelines for submission of letters to your magazine call for clarity and civility. These letters fail both tests.

Frank Lester, '88
Nashville, Tennessee

I am alarmed by the Red-baiting contained in the letters regarding Van Jones. The comments were chilling, reminding me of the vitriolic attacks on progressives during the McCarthy era. The smear campaign against Jones was led by Glenn Beck of Fox TV, a right-wing fanatic. I can't let these hateful statements stand.

Van Jones has spent his life championing the causes of civil, economic and environmental justice. After graduating from Yale Law School, Jones founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996, working for alternatives to violence. In 2005, in response to the disgraceful inaction of the federal government following Hurricane Katrina, Jones co-founded Color of Change, an advocacy group for African Americans. In 2007, Jones founded Green For All, a national NGO dedicated to "building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty." As for Jones's support for Mumia Abu-Jamal, he is joined in that support by millions of people around the world who believe he was unjustly convicted.

Jones wrote a book entitled The Green Collar Economy, which reached No. 12 on the New York Times Best Seller list. In 2008, Time magazine named Jones one of its "Heroes of the Environment." Van Jones is a person of good conscience who is working tirelessly to improve our environment and the lives of those less privileged in our society. I strongly support his efforts.

Sandy Boddum Thacker, '68, MA '70
Oakland, California

It was dismaying to discover Van Jones crudely Red-baited in the three letters responding to Stanford's profile of Valerie Jarrett.

If those readers had bothered, a "few mouse clicks" would have revealed the article Glenn Beck selectively quotes (East Bay Express, November 2, 2005) and discovered that far from declaring himself a "self-avowed," "avowed" or "self-proclaimed" communist, Jones was actually renouncing his youthful "ego-driven romance" of more than a decade before, stating that he had realized "there are a lot of people who are capitalists who are really committed to fairly significant change in the economy, and were having bigger impacts than me and a lot of my friends with our protest signs."

The gospel Jones has been preaching for years can be found on YouTube, and it is that progressives and conservatives should work together to find common ground and create a clean energy economy: "We are not promoting welfare. We are promoting work. . . . We are not expanding entitlements. We are expanding enterprise and investment. . . . We are not trying to redistribute existing wealth. We are trying to reinvent an existing sector, so that we can create NEW wealth—by unleashing innovation and entrepreneurship. This should be common ground."

If that's the Red Menace speaking, then Adam Smith has been shacking up with Karl Marx.

Grif Fariello, '73
San Francisco, California

The three letters on Valerie Jarrett's support of Van Jones each featured the same damning description of Jones: "self-avowed communist," "avowed communist," and "self-proclaimed communist."

Is it curious that we don't commonly see descriptions of the "self-avowed capitalist" or "self-proclaimed environmentalist?"

This thoughtless phrasing is part of the language of demagogic hatred, echoing in this case the McCarthy era. It is dehumanizing language that stereotypes and condemns people not for their character or their works but for the alleged implications of their beliefs.

That this objectification would come from Stanford grads is disappointing enough, but that Stanford would present the letters without catching the mindless repetition is perhaps evidence of how thoroughly the dogma permeates our perspectives. It appears you may not even have noticed it.

Lawrence Michael Jacob, '69
Oakland, California

Posthumous Correspondence

The letter from "Frederick Bastiat" of Paris published in the November/December issue contains interesting historical background and provocative free-market suggestions ("Another View of Leland"). The author cannot be the well-known economist and writer Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) who was a favorite of President Reagan, but perhaps he is a direct descendant.

M. Lester O'Shea, '59
Walnut Creek, California

We read of past notables rolling in their graves over current events. It was more practical of Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) to express his opinions in Stanford. Perhaps other deceased economists will add their advice.

Charles W. McCutchen
Bethesda, Maryland

I was astonished to encounter Mr. Bastiat's Parisian diatribe against not only the cornerstone of our nation building—the transcontinental railroads—but also against the bulwark of our higher education, the land grant college system.

Stanford [is] possibly the worst example of liberal, isolationist thinking: no ROTC permitted, no plans for an ROTC, and no, or maybe just a little, academic credit for military courses taken at nearby land grant colleges such as UC-Berkeley. Without the land grant college system, I doubt we would have much of an officer corps, and therefore we would not have much of a military umbrella of safety.

Donovan Jacobs, '51
West Linn, Oregon

Editor's note: Our faces are red. We were had.

Feeling Better

While reading "Coming Through Cancer" (September/October), I realized with surprise that I fit the definition of "cancer survivor." It's true enough, but fortunately I've stopped thinking of myself that way. After radiation for prostate cancer, I fretted for two years about how slowly my PSA was falling. Then I read a newspaper article about a woman with multiple sclerosis who said, "I refuse to let a disease define me." It made me realize that I did think of myself as a lump of cancer, and this was as debilitating as thinking of myself as an old man. The truth is that I'm me. I may be 74 and have high frequency hearing loss, an arthritic knee and quiescent cancer, but these are just things I have; they aren't who I am. And that's made me feel a lot better.

Alan Ames, '56
Portland, Oregon

Few Notes Needed

"Teachable Moments" in the September/October issue included many quotes that were both provocative and amusing. (Can we have more?) The quote from my sociology prof, Sanford Dornbusch, just can't sit there unanswered, however.

My counterpoint that follows will first deflate Dornbusch's balloon a bitmore, and then pump it back up to where it belongs.

According to Dornbusch, a past student told him during a chance meeting that his courses had "changed her life," but that she "can't remember a word [he] said." This apparent paradox reminded me of the first course I took from Dornbusch—which certainly changed my way of thinking and hence my professional life. Nevertheless, I remember distinctly, at the close of one of his lectures (performances?), the woman next to me complained that her notebook for his course was nearly empty. (Implication: few memorable words.) My answer to her was that mine wasn't overly full either, compared to other classes, but that in Dornbusch's case notes on a page missed the point.

"In my mind, Dornbusch is not that kind of a teacher," I said. "He's teaching us to think sociologically—it's not about facts or phrases that can be noted down."

Looking back, I would go even further. Sandy Dornbusch taught me basic analytical skills and a sociological imagination, both of which I have been building on ever since. Words? Schmerds!

Chuck Kleymeyer, '66
Arlington, Virginia

While perusing the September/October issue, I was struck by a huge dose of nostalgia, if not déjà vu. In "Teachable Moments," I saw at least four of the professors who made huge impressions on me while I was at the Farm. I entered the human biology program with the very first Hum Bio 1 taught by Colin Pittendrigh in winter quarter 1970. The article also included professors Donald Kennedy, Herant Katchadourian, Sanford Dornbusch and William Dement. In his first class on Sleep and Dreams, Dement said, "If you recall anything from this class, remember that the eye is like a battery, and the Battle of Hastings was in 1066." He later said that 1066 was the only historical fact he could ever remember.

In the first lecture of Human Sexuality (which was held at Mem Aud because it was so wildly popular), Katchadourian started with a photograph of a skeleton, saying dryly, "This is the picture of a freshman who masturbated too much!"

The embryonic human biology department also exposed us to people like Joshua Ledenberg, Linus Pauling, Jane Goodall and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza.

Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.

Tom Weed, '73
Houma, Louisiana

Writ Too Small

I was fascinated by the "Big Idea, Writ Small" (Red All Over, September/October). This article mentions two concepts that were absolute impossibilities during my school days in the late '30s and early '40s: subatomic particles and "four times smaller." Of course the fallacy of the first of those absolutes was proven shortly after my high school days. Now, I find my other absolute seems to have been disproven. We were, and I still am, sure that one times smaller than any number is equal to zero. Now your article states that there is a real size greater than one times smaller.

If the article meant something other than "subatomic script one fourth the size of IBM's," would you please explain to this old out-of-touch-with-today's-world octogenarian what "four times smaller" means?

Richard H. Phillips, MS '65
San Antonio, Texas

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