Letters to the Editor

BEAUTY BIAS

Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode is right to point out societal discrimination based on standards of appearance ("Fair Enough?" September/October). On the other hand, how can anyone possibly believe that "prejudice based on appearance is the last bastion of socially and legally acceptable bigotry"? This may appear to be true on the Stanford campus, but it is not the case in America as a whole.

Try telling the average black person that racial discrimination is a thing of the past, while the American "prison-industrial complex" has disenfranchised one out of four young black men.

What about discrimination against sexual minorities? Most of America opposes gay marriage; gay soldiers are forced to lie about themselves; and openly homosexual politicians only dare run for office in a few liberal enclaves.

And how would Rhode explain away the current hysteria about Islam? It's infinitely easier for an "unattractive" woman to become a senator or Supreme Court justice than for a Muslim.

This "last bastion" business is a nice way to promote one's own book, but serious researchers should avoid taking their favorite problem and holding it up as somehow paramount or unique.

James L. Freudiger, '66
Seattle, Washington

I do not dispute that discrimination based on looks exists. But I disagree that this is equivalent to racial or sexual discrimination, or that it is necessarily a bad thing. We do use attractiveness in a very fundamental way, for something more important than a job or college admission, when selecting a mate with whom we plan to share the parenthood of our children. Also, attractiveness is not totally inborn. Everybody can improve their appearance—and they do; and people can and do neglect it. To the extent that attractive people have better prospects, there is an incentive to improve. Any manager—or academic institution for that matter—that places attractiveness over real talent would soon find itself at a competitive disadvantage.

Let us celebrate diversity not just in a racial or cultural sense, but also in the ways we are trying to make ourselves more attractive.

Tom Klein, '70
Saratoga, California

Your September/October exposé on beauty correctly reports that this element of natural selection has been applied to employees as well as to mates. Professor Rhode recommends "localities adopt ordinances forbidding appearance-based discrimination"—presumably, for now, only for employee selection. Apparently it is unfair, in all but a few professions, for employers to consider grooming, attire or weight control in employee selection; the government should control company style and culture in how the company is to be represented.

It would be interesting to learn how such ordinances are to be structured and enforced. Unlike race, gender or religion, appearance is subjective. Perhaps a local board is to be established to rate each individual's appearance, say from 1 to 10. And how should appearance be factored in with other government bias restrictions? Does appearance trump gender, age, religion or sexual orientation? Does the plaintiff have to prove he/she is uglier than the successful applicant or is the employer guilty until proven innocent?

Alexis de Tocqueville said, "Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom." We do not need to further encumber businesses in these times with more senseless restrictions and excessive government bureaucracies that we can ill afford.

John C. Freytag, MS '76
Newport Beach, California

Kara Platoni's article raises irrelevant, possibly false, issues about the nature of discrimination. To me, beauty is a simple factor of preference in employment. Attractiveness is a far more complex measure that may not include beauty.

First, we can no longer use the classical standard of beauty established by the ancient Greek sculptor Phidias. In our wider world, there are other standards as well.

Second, there are very few employment opportunities where beauty may be added informally to a set of qualifications. I am thinking of transcription typists in a highly impersonal pool. Specific qualifications, such as typing speed and accuracy, should govern the choice where the aim is immediate productivity. Beauty may be a distracting factor in such a work situation.

Third, even when beauty is the obvious selection criterion (I am thinking of Paris, the Trojan prince, giving the apple of discord to Aphrodite), it should not be considered in isolation of other factors. (One may get to the Trojan war!)

Fourth, beauty cannot be important in most other choices. Ceteris paribus situations do not exist in practice. It is more likely that the qualifications come in variously balanced different sets. They probably do not include beauty in a Phidian sense, but may properly include attractiveness as desirable factor. In the selection of a faculty member, traditional measures of promise are important. They are the academic record, research publications, teamwork experience and, in our school, previous student ratings of the candidate's performance. The latter may well include attractiveness as an element of performance in a social setting. Looking back to 25 years as a dean [of Pacific Lutheran University School of Business], my selection tasks were most related to the assessment of the applicant's performance in both the short and the long term. They [focused] on the applicant's projected value to our school in a forever changing organizational and educational environment.

Gundar J. King, MBA '58, PhD '63
Tacoma, Washington


AARP AND HEALTH CARE

First, it was the cover-story valentine to Valerie Jarrett (September/October 2009), now it's a paean to AARP's A. Barry Rand and his support for the fiscal time bomb of ObamaCare ("Gray Matters," September/October). Well, this Stanford grad has created thousands of jobs in the private sector, with only interference and opprobrium from government at all levels. We currently employ 300, mostly ethnic minorities, and have had a good health care (and 401k) plan for decades. ObamaCare is a disaster for companies like mine and will cost our country millions of good jobs in the next few years. God help us.

Doug Glant, '64
Mercer Island, Washington

I was one of the 120,000 or so who dropped my AARP membership. I believe that many more will do the same after reading about how AARP was told by the president that ObamaCare would not have made it without AARP's endorsement.

Richard Brewster
Cutchogue, New York


CHEERS FOR AL JAZERRA

I especially enjoyed the short piece on Al Jazeera's English-language service ("News from Another Side," Planet Cardinal, September/October). In the long winter and short spring of 2007, I spent an academic term on a Fulbright teaching law in Lviv, Ukraine. The TV in our apartment was linked to hundreds of satellite channels, and in the evening after dinner my wife and I would diligently surf the offerings in search of news in English from the outside world. Voice of America was dullness incarnate, and BBC, alas, a mere shadow of its former self.

Turns out the liveliest and best news channel by far was Al Jazeera. Unlike the alternatives, it had correspondents like Casey Kauffman in the field almost everywhere—not just the Middle East, but African hot spots like Zimbabwe as well. Al Jazeera ran circles around the competition. And its editorial slant, while evident, was no more egregious than anyone else's. So every night after a bowl of borscht we would faithfully watch the news on Al Jazeera and finish up before bed with The Merchant of Joseon, a marvelous historical drama series featured (with English subtitles) on Arirang, a South Korean channel.

Our world has become odd and unpredictable; you find gems in the most unlikely places.

Stafford Smith, '61
Poulsbo, Washington


FLAWED PHOTOS

The comparison pictures provided by the researchers and shown in the September/October Farm Report story "Biased Buying" place the iPod nanos in very different light, focus and condition, as well as in different hands. Either the magazine needs to apologize to the researchers for a misleading presentation of their pictures, or the researchers need to apologize for the quality of their study. Not controlling obvious and controllable variables would not, I hope, pass in a high school science fair. Nor should it be acceptable at Stanford. Of course, their hypothesis may still prove to be correct.

Robert Melosh, '72
Palatka, Florida


PREVENTING EMBOLISM

It is an irony that a valuable Stanford scientist [Stephen Schneider] would be felled by a pulmonary embolus on his way to London ("He Lived to Teach," Farm Report, September/October). Another Stanford scientist had done his best to prevent this from happening. In 1951, pulmonary embolism was halved after major surgeries because Richards Lyon, originally trained as a Stanford engineer with a particular affinity for fluid flow as described by Bernoulli, made the leg's venous flow go twice as fast, leading to support hose becoming a standard part of surgical care. Applied to the traveler on long flights, snug stockings [enable] heel and toe exercises [to serve] as the preventive, eliminating the need for difficult ambulation in a crowded plane. Obviously, the word is still not fully out. Can we do something about this before another valuable being is lost?

Richards Lyon, '38, MD '44
Napa, California


THE GIFT OF SERVICE

President Hennessy's tribute to Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the public service tradition could not be more welcome and timely ("Public Service—a Stanford Tradition," September/October). The Stanford in Government program, inaugurated in 1963 in response to President Kennedy's call to service, has sent upwards of 4,000 Stanford students to Washington. Each year SIG awards nearly 40 fellowships and organizes a wide range of speakers and other programs on campus. SIG will celebrate its 50th anniversary of service to the University in 2013; surely it has already changed Stanford for the better. Twenty-five years ago, with distinguished leadership from President Don Kennedy and his able assistant, Catherine Milton, SIG's excellence and impact led to the establishment of the Haas Public Service Center, Stanford in Washington campus and John Gardner Fellowships. Together these programs enable Stanford to provide the leadership our country and world will need to cope with the demands of the 21st century. For me, SIG led to a 33-year career in public service, a tremendous gift for which I will always be grateful.

Chuck Ludlam, '67
Washington, D.C.


MORE IS LESS

Fred Crowe's letter ("'Planetary Peril'", September/October) hits the nail on the head. His point about overpopulation describes the root cause of many of the world's problems. More people: more overcrowding/congestion, more consumption, more natural resources used, more waste products produced, more water shortages, more deforestation, more wildlife extinctions, more "greenhouse" gases produced, more melting ice packs, more coastal flooding, and a trade-off. More people, lower quality of life.

Phil Rogers, MS '58
University Place, Washington

I see that the magazine has decided to allow its Letters to the Editor section to be a forum for climate change denial (for example, Victor Abadie's statement that "Anthropogenic CO2 does not cause global warming"). Can we next expect letters denying biological evolution or the second world war Holocaust? It is certainly to be hoped, rather, that this issue reflects an isolated lapse of judgment. Nevertheless, it would be prudent to note that Stanford has a large faculty of internationally distinguished scientists, a respectable number of whom would no doubt be willing to volunteer a little time in a review capacity to help prevent repetition of such embarrassment to their employer. I urge you to avail yourself of this evidently pertinent resource without delay.

Drew Keeling, '77
Kuesnacht, Switzerland


FOUNTAINS AND DESERTS

What a surprise it was to learn that Mark Fuller, MS '78, was the architect behind the Dubai Mall Fountain, which is situated in my adopted city ("WH2OA!" July/August). As the founder of the Stanford Alumni Club in the UAE, I would be pleased and honored to host Mark at one of our upcoming functions to discuss his magical work and how he got there. He has—unknowingly—already greatly contributed to our club's (and by extension Stanford's) mission to make meaningful and long-term contributions in the UAE. More important, he is an inspiration for Cardinal alumni and students everywhere to realize that anything is possible if you pursue your dream with the motivation to "make people feel more glad to be alive."

Ned S. Jaroudi, MS '87
Dubai, UAE

Abundant waters bring joy, but fountains in dry climates should be made illegal. Not to address the question of sustainability was a truly breathtaking omission from Ann Marsh's story extolling Mark Fuller's work in Las Vegas and Dubai. All the more since the July/August cover story, "Keeping Reefs Alive," was about a slim hope of partial recovery from worldwide coral death. Fountains in Las Vegas suck billions of gallons of fresh water annually from critically depleted aquifers and spring-fed wetlands that provide not just wildlife habitat but also refreshing recreation for human beings. Not to mention a hope for the future of those who wish to live in those areas. Similarly in desert Dubai, fresh water is a serious issue, and (as best I can inform myself) deep freshwater wells supply Fuller's lakes and jets. Can he not deploy his love of the spirit of water and his engineering talent to design a new kind of fountain that isn't an emblem of insane waste? Water is widely predicted to be the defining crisis of the 21st century. The thrill is definitely gone from watching it evaporate into a stark, blue desert sky.

Kate Wheeler, MA '8
Somerville, Massachusetts


SCHNEIDER'S LEGACY

Thank you for publishing [the late] biology professor Stephen Schneider's wake-up call on global climate change ("Facing the Heat," July/August).

Coal and petroleum burned to generate electricity and power transport on land, air and sea result in greenhouse gases changing the climate. To get coal, nearly 500 mountaintops have already been toppled, choking 1,500 miles of streams in Appalachia alone. New destructive fossil fuel technology is being tapped—from tar sands in Canada, to "fracking," which pollutes groundwater in the extraction of natural gas.

Alternative energy needs emergency development now. But not corn ethanol grown by internal combustion tractors plus pesticides and fertilizers derived from petroleum "feedstocks."

U.S. selfishness has already cost precious time in controlling greenhouse gases. In 1997, the Senate, led by West Virginia's Robert Byrd, voted 95 to 0 against accepting the responsibility of the United States, as the No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases, to cut back. Last December, meaningful progress at Copenhagen was derailed by claims made by climate-change deniers that greenhouse gas research had been faked. Just last month the market-based "cap and trade" bill, despite weakening amendments made in an effort to secure coal and oil interests' acceptance, was put on hold.

The excellent biology and geology courses I took at Stanford six decades ago helped prepare me to become a citizen activist on the environment over three decades ago. . . .

How will Stanford alums act to promote Stephen Schneider's legacy?

Lois Deimel Whealey, '51
Athens, Ohio


TOURS DE FORCE

The article about Stanford's tour guides brought back memories of my days as a guide from spring 1969 through 1971 ("What You Don't Know About Tour Guides," July/August). Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., '71, and I met as tour guides in 1969, and we've worked together ever since.

The visitor's center and guide service were located in the Hoover Tower lobby. The service was run by a crotchety Smith College grad. There was no test to get the job: Jane just had to like you. I think there were about 10 of us, not the 80 of today. And all the tours were walking tours—no golf carts. There was no formal training, and all of us led the tours a bit differently.

Trips to the top of the Tower were the most popular. We had to police behavior while up there. This was difficult when Professor James Adams's engineering classes were designing raw egg carriers. They would try to sneak them up to the top of the Tower and drop them.

Antiwar demonstrations were the biggest challenge. Hoover Tower was a prime target. One of our jobs was to close the venetian blinds to stop rocks from coming through and breaking the display cases full of Hoover memorabilia. One day Ron and I chained up the front door from inside as several of our classmates stormed the door from outside.

Times change, but one thing remains the same. It was the best student job on campus then, too.

Gail Achterman, '71
Portland, Oregon


COMMENCEMENT LESSON

I enjoyed Ambassador Susan E. Rice's Commencement address ("'Remember That Little Boy,'" Farm Report, July/August). It gave one much to think about.

Slavery is not limited to how others treat and think about us. Slavery can also be self-inflicted—how we think about ourselves and our fellow man. We can be slaves to theories of health and well-being, food, exercise, climate, weather, finances, what we think we look like, and be dependent on matter for our sense of joy and satisfaction.

Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "Legally to abolish unpaid servitude in the United States was hard; but the abolition of mental slavery is a more difficult task." Ambassador Rice said of her son and the little boy she met in Angola in 1995: "They are both children of God, of equal worth, equal consequence and equal rights."

The only way to overcome and destroy slavery is through the demonstration of Divine Love in our individual, daily lives.

Jackie Leonard-Dimmick
Atherton, California


CORPORATIONS' "RIGHTS"

It is with trepidation that I challenge such a distinguished jurist as Professor Michael McConnell, but his statement, "For every purpose you can think of, corporations have always had the same free speech rights as everyone else," is flatly false ("Inside the Supreme Court," Farm Report, July/August). In the early years of American democracy, corporations were chartered by states and given only limited rights to conduct specific activities. These "rights" were gradually expanded through [court] decisions, beginning in the 19th century. These rights previously had been exclusively those of natural persons—Professor McConnell's "everyone else."

If Professor McConnell had said that corporations always had the same free speech rights as everyone else in his own mind, or perhaps in his lifetime, he would have been on more solid ground. The distinguished professor also might argue that such corporate rights were "always" there, inchoate, even though they weren't recognized by courts until Americans had enjoyed almost a hundred years of democracy.

The foregoing may be just a quibble. Corporations now enjoy many of the rights, including political speech, that flesh-and-blood Americans enjoy, and in theory these rights are practiced on behalf of their owner-shareholders. Whether it makes sense for corporations to have such rights in a world in which control of corporate actions is completely beyond the capability of the vast majority of its owners, and where those owner-shareholders aren't necessarily even Americans, is another question. My hunch is that Professor McConnell thinks that this is just fine. Others might disagree.

Lee Daneker, MBA '86
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico


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

GOOD COMMUNICATORS

I share Stacy Holander Gleixner’s concern about stereotyping of engineers and about uninformed conjecturing with regard to engineers’ communication skills (“Stop Stereotyping Engineers,” Letters, September/October). Surveys of our engineering alumni reveal a very different story than the one implied in your article. When asked about their use of communication skills, our engineering graduates tell us that their work requires extensive communication. More than 80 percent of our alumni report that they depend on communication skills “frequently—on most days” or “pervasively—for most everything I do.” Teamwork skills are comparably important for them.

The idea of an engineer working in isolation is as far out of date as a slide rule. Engineering today is intensely interactive. Successful teams, our data suggests, depend heavily on communication among colleagues and with customers and their  stakeholders just as they depend on creative thinking, analytical reasoning, risk taking and continuous learning.

Engineering requires a mix of introverted and extroverted behaviors. The ability to engage a community in defining a problem and the ability to focus intensely on solving that problem are comparably important. The engineering students that we see, and I suspect those at Stanford, are, taken as a group, quite good at both of these.

Warren Seering, PhD ’78
Weber-Shaughness Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Systems
MIT
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Address letters to:

Letters to the Editor
Stanford magazine
Arrillaga Alumni Center
326 Galvez Street
Stanford, CA 94305-6105

Or fax to (650) 725-8676; or send us an email. You may also submit your letter online. Letters may be edited for length, clarity and civility. Please note that your letter may appear in print, online or both.