Letters to the Editor

January/February 2013

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Letters to the Editor

Humanities Reconsidered

So the unabashed bias against what was termed "fuzzy studies" by my classmates in engineering and the sciences not only continues, but has accelerated these past three-plus decades ("Who Needs the Humanities at 'Start-Up U'?" November/December).

Who needs the humanities, indeed? As someone who majored in drama, I would reply that every technologist who is clumsily and ineffectively communicating his product's value to investors, clients or the press might benefit from having someone with an English degree on staff. Want to make that nifty new innovation sticky and viral? Hire someone with a background in art, film or music to help with your promotion efforts. Need to break into an overseas market? Having someone who understands issues of language and culture on your team may be the difference between a signed contract and a polite "no."

I use the knowledge and skills acquired while studying theater (and later, film) on a daily basis when working in high tech: corporate storytelling, crafting compelling content, visually displaying data, producing large-scale projects, finding engaging ways to connect with customers and the media. I'm guessing many of my classmates in the humanities provide similar benefits for their high tech employers and clients.

Kasey Arnold-Ince, '76
San Rafael, California

I'd like to know if other readers connected the dots between Mike Antonucci's article and the controversy over statements in the earlier Richard Lyman piece to the effect that Stanford in 1958 was "a conservative bastion for affluent students less than fully engaged in the pursuit of academic excellence" ("Man in the Middle," July/August). By the late 1950s, Frederick Terman, the godfather of Start-Up U, had already made Stanford into an engineering powerhouse and sown the seeds of Silicon Valley prosperity within the early phases of the Stanford Industrial Park. Since engineering studies had already attained elite status, one must infer that any pejorative comments about Stanford's academic status in 1958 were necessarily aimed at its laggard humanities programs.

I confess to having observed from afar Stanford's recent ascendancy as a top-rated school with 10 qualified applicants for every freshman class opening. Thus I rather naively assumed that a concomitant improvement in its humanities programs was an inevitable part of the package. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all ships. So my first shock was to discover that over the last two decades Stanford has experienced about a 25 percent decline in undergraduate humanities majors, with far less than 20 percent of undergraduate applicants expressing a primary interest in the humanities. It could turn out that the Fifties and Sixties will be remembered as the golden age of humanities at Stanford. Maybe we didn't study quite as hard as our Ivy League peers. But at least some of us actually enrolled in humanities classes and imagined that the subject matter was somehow worth knowing.

The second shock was more basic: I saw no indication that either the author or the individuals interviewed possessed any appreciation of what the humanities traditionally are about. Since at least the Italian Renaissance, the humanities have been consciously valued as the repository of the essential wisdom of our culture, that which arguably distinguishes Homo sapiens from our less brainy fellow species. It is a collective transmission that dates back in Western history to the ancient Greek, Roman and Biblical civilizations, and in Asian cultures includes Lao Tzu, Confucius and the vast Vedic and Puranic literatures. The traditional rationale for studying the humanities was never simply to become rich, powerful or famous. It was to become insightful citizens of the universe, to develop sensitive moral, ethical and aesthetic judgment, to ponder the vectors connecting the various branches of knowledge and perhaps, with good fortune, to catch a glimpse of humanity's relationship to the cosmos.

Rather, the reasons put forward in support of the current study of humanities at Stanford were purely instrumental. Such study might some day make the student adept at national defense and international policy, enabling her to write more cogent two-page memos to the secretaries of Defense or State. Knowledge of foreign languages or history could possibly impart a useful perspective to a future platoon leader in Iraq or Afghanistan. Studying the classics, linguistics or music could provide a solid foundation for later enrollment in law, business or medical schools. And with a little salesmanship, even someone with a humanities doctorate might hope to find career redemption as a productive mid-level corporate employee. In other words, according to the article Stanford's goal should be to persuade current students that studying the humanities won't disqualify them from becoming rich, powerful and famous—and if done cleverly and judiciously, it might even help a little.

So what is to be done about the chronic dim luster of the humanities in Stanford's academic constellation? Probably not much. The dominance of instrumental education at Stanford is not likely to be reversed now by some humble combination of academic and administrative initiatives. In the end it has probably served Stanford better to excel as a highly sophisticated vocational university than to strive in anonymity as a second-tier liberal arts school. And the critical function of raising large quantities of endowment and research money has been made far easier.

But as an institution at least nominally devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and truth in all their multifarious forms, there must be some intrinsic duty to explore the nature of the profound transformations being experienced by the University, by American society and by the world at large. The University at least owes itself and its students some attempt at tracing the trajectory of Stanford's educational mission as it has emerged and is evolving. If the humanities are to have any ongoing role at Stanford, a modest curiosity about the University's own essential identity needs to be exhibited. The Start-Up U article documents a lack of institutional commitment to this vital existential inquiry.

Stafford L. Smith, '61
Poulsbo, Washington

Your article features faculty with a poor sales strategy. A number of them focus on reasons for studying humanities for personal enjoyment, when students tend to be looking for majors that help with a viable career.

Faculty ought to focus on how a humanities major or minor teaches about timeless human hopes and fears, which helps business people make money creating and selling products. And on how humanities teach oral and written persuasion, which helps business, medical and legal people make money selling things.

I am baffled that faculty think they are going to persuade companies of the value of hiring humanities PhD students. I have never seen data supporting a good return on investment from a humanities grad degree. It feels a bit like law schools marketing LLM degrees, which have dubious returns for students, although high returns for the school. 

Richard Castanon, '96
Arlington, Virginia

I was moved to reread the notes I took during a lecture about engineering and the humanities given by Professor Ronald Bracewell to incoming graduate electrical engineering students in the fall of 1980. The theme of Bracewell's lecture derived from his unhappy experience as one of two scientists who had served as faculty members in Stanford's Western culture sequence, then required of all freshmen. Engineering, he told us, is concerned with soluble problems, whereas the humanities are concerned with insoluble ones. Engineering teaches students what they don't understand, while the humanities teach them what they'll never understand.

Bracewell explained that there are two types of students for two types of disciplines. The humanities have uncommitted students for immature disciplines. By "immature" he meant the absence of agreement on any basic issues, as evidenced by students still reading authors such as Homer, Plato, Machiavelli and Hume in the original. Engineering, by contrast, has committed students for mature disciplines. By "mature" he meant consensus on basic issues, as evidenced by students reading textbooks, rarely more than 10 years old, instead of Ohm, Volta, Coulomb, Faraday, Siemens, Henry etc. The student workload is designed to screen uncommitted students out of engineering, Bracewell reminded us, whereas term papers are employed in the humanities as a face-saving technique for assigning a grade on the basis of one night's work instead of weekly work that students refuse to do.

Sad to say, I didn't find anything in [this article] reflecting a commitment to reform the humanities in a manner that might reduce this cultural contrast. Instead, I read about introductory courses, promotional material and online courses. One can only shudder at the prospect of yet another generation with humanities-honed skills helping to shape world events.

Lyn Bowman, MS '82, Engr. '88
Athens, Ohio

I just wanted to thank you for your wonderful magazine this month, which features the importance of a humanities education. At Thomas Jefferson School here in St. Louis—we're a college prep day/boarding school of 91 students in grades 7-12—we pride ourselves in teaching a college prep classical education. That program includes teaching two Shakespeare plays every year in English class (my eighth graders are busy memorizing "Friends, Romans, Countrymen") and following a reading and writing program called Outside Reading. In OR, students read a book outside of class—approximately 10 to 15 pages a night—about which they write a 30- to 35-word summary. Teachers correct grammar and content and return for rewrites. OR even goes on during vacations and summer.

I'm so pleased to be able to share your article "How to Be a Successful Human" (First Impressions, November/December) with the TJ community. I'm also going to use part of Michael Antonucci's article. As director of college counseling and a teacher of history and English, I value the comments you've both made about the humanities. Educating lifelong learners is TJ's hallmark. Kids leave here quoting Greek and Thomas Jefferson along with Shakespeare, but they can also do AP calculus. Having sent several students to Stanford over the years, I encourage you to keep up the good work stressing the value of this kind of education. I will use your words in my college counseling advice, reminding the engineering-bound student to keep reading Shakespeare, and to consider a liberal arts education as well.

Karen Fairbank
St. Louis, Missouri

[The article] provokes the following thoughts: We need to continue to question "why," in addition to "what" and "how"; focus on values rather than things; and emphasize quality rather than quantity. Why is the view down Palm Drive exceptional and why are the mosaics in Memorial Church effective? Why do we care? Why did the Bing family want to enhance presentations of music on the Farm and the McMurtrys believe that visual art deserved support? 

Interdisciplinary studies could include the relationship of music and chemistry, movement and war. Start-up programs should promote humanities at all levels in education and stimulate ideas rather than dollars.

Dorothy Manes Pierce, '52
Santa Rosa, California

The article raises a good point. To [borrow from] the late George Santayana, those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. A technical education is fine for paying your rent, but people need to be able to make informed decisions. The recent national elections are a case to consider. It was necessary to evaluate opposing candidates and determine, to the best of one's abilities, which one would follow domestic and international policies that would give us the best results.

So it is helpful to have some knowledge of history and economics, particularly in regard to past economic cycles of recession and recovery—how political leaders dealt with the problems, and what seemed to work or not work. A little background in literature might also help your judgment: I would recommend novels such as Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime and others. Some knowledge of philosophy would be helpful—most certainly Aristotle's Ethics.

In regard to foreign policy, it might be helpful to have studied a little political science, including Mao's little book On Protracted War. (I am left with the impression that most of our political readers have not read that one.) To understand international involvement and interactions with diverse populations, it might be helpful to have taken a course in comparative religion. It can be difficult to deal with other people if you don't understand how they think.

At one time I thought about majoring in history; but considering how best to pay the rent, I majored in engineering. I have read a lot in other areas, and continue to read history out of general interest.

Fred E. Camfield, MS '64, PhD '68
Vicksburg, Mississippi

Thoughts on Relevance

I enjoyed "How to Be a Successful Human" (First Impressions, November/December). I have two things for you. First, a book called How Will You Measure Your Life, by a Harvard guy named Clayton Christensen. He talks about what happens to our lives when they are committed strictly to achievement at work, without effort to develop relationships with friends and family. That's not the entire subject of the book, but it does touch on your point about humanities "being irrelevant," as developing relationships at home and at work are "irrelevant" to success. Second, a quote [from Francis Bacon] I have remembered since high school: "Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man" (or woman). I was an English major who ended up going to law school. I somehow survived and became a successful D.A. up here in Sonoma County. I used more of my experiences in my humanities courses in my career than anything I learned in law school. Incidentally, one of my favorite fictional characters was Rumpole of the Bailey, a barrister known for quoting Wordsworth in court. He kept a copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse on his nightstand. You get what I am saying. There is a place for humanities in our human condition.

Greg Jacobs, '70
Sebastopol, California

I read your column with considerable interest; I have been trying to tell myself and my sons just how important knowledge of the "abstract sciences" can be. I was a very indifferent poli sci/Alpine Beer Garden student, got an MBA (from USC) and had some measurable success in business. I became interested in physics (quantum mechanics, cosmology and all the cool "new" stuff), and that leads where? Back to philosophy! I am currently struggling with why the world exists. (Why something instead of nothing?) No escaping the philosophical implications of that issue, eh?

I most likely won't solve that problem, but fortunately for us humans we do have philosophy, where we can hide from the "unknowables."

Thom Schott, '60
Redlands, California

Not So Strange

"A Clock Like No Other" (Farm Report, November/December) was very interesting and informative. However, the statement regarding the "essential strangeness of time" is incorrect. Time, like distance, position, angle etc., is a human invention to allow accounting. Spatial dimensions allow accounting for property, position and so on. Time is simply an invention to account for orders of events. Time is not "strange" in relation to any other dimension. In particular, we 'measure' it with clocks, of all sorts, each of which incorporates events based on natural processes—springs, gears and escapements, water dripping, atoms vibrating.

Thinking time is "strange" is itself strange. Natural processes proceed in physically-related sequences, which may or may not be reversible, but the progression is real and it is all we have to use as an accounting method we call "time."

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

Memories of Tresidder

"What You Don't Know About Tresidder," (Farm Report, November/December) reminded me of my first visit there. I was a new graduate student in the fall of 1962 and wandered in. After a brief tour, I asked a man where another building was. He said he could not help as he was only arranging a display of black-and-white photographs. I later learned that he was Ansel Adams.

Alfred Cocanower, PhD '65
Mesa, Arizona

The report on Tresidder Memorial Union's 50th anniversary brought to mind my favorite lunch when I was a graduate student from 1964 to 1968: a "T-Burger," a generous slab of ground beef on a sourdough roll, followed by a piece of blueberry pie stuffed with plump fresh fruit. I was most disappointed when I returned for a visit a few years later to find that these delicious items had been replaced by more healthful but vastly less satisfying menu selections. After 45 years I have yet to taste a better sandwich or dessert.
Edward A. Geary, PhD '71
Huntington, Utah

Gender-Neutral Physics

It's great that Professor Joseph Keller won an Ig Nobel prize, but I doubt that his research was designed to answer the question, "Why does a female jogger's ponytail sway side to side when the motion of her body is up and down?" ("Prof Wins Nobel for Ponytail Probe," Farm Report, November/December). As Professor Keller knows, mathematics and mechanical engineering—his two specialties, according to the article—apply equally well to male and female joggers. Other appendages might swing differently for joggers of different genders, but the underlying physics is the same for both sexes, just as it would be for two medals dropped from the Tower of Pisa—one Nobel and one Ig.

David A. Rosenbaum, PhD '77
State College, Pennsylvania

More Questioners Needed

As a 1975 history grad, I have had the chance to visit a few times since I graduated, but I was truly amazed at how affluent, developed and posh Stanford has become when I visited this past spring. The new Business School, the several new engineering buildings and the expanded medical center are truly impressive, although it reminded me of a wag's graffiti from long ago on a Stanford construction site fence, "Edifice Complex."

I was more concerned about the campus's current attitude towards the world and our various wars of empire. The years you rather blithely dismiss as the "dark years" ("Leadership That Inspires Reminds Us Why It Matters," President's Column, September/October) were my formative years, as they were for Stanford. They were by no means dark, unless one finds it dark to question and challenge illegal, immoral wars, unresponsive institutions, arrogant political leadership, the power of money, arrogance, greed and ignorance. I (and many other Stanford students) found all that to be terrifically exciting, to think that we might actually influence and contribute to positive change in our country, that we weren't just some inconsequential bubble of affluence and useless knowledge.

I had then, and retain, ambivalent feelings about Dick Lyman. I can acknowledge his skills and commitment both to history and Stanford, yet I still feel that he found institutional survival more important than ethical, legal, political concerns. Not surprising given his position, but in a truly larger perspective is that anything but bourgeois and complacent?

These same questions seem even more powerful and important today than they were in the 1970s, because the planet is clearly, obviously at risk now from our unsustainable economic system and overpopulation, issues that Paul Ehrlich raised effectively in class for me way back when.

Back in the spring while visiting the Farm, I sat in on Karl Eikenberry's lecture on the future of the American military, and I was astounded that such an educated crowd raised not a single question or doubt about the desirability or prudence of American imperialism, our 750-plus bases abroad, our military adventurism draining the federal budget with no visible good results, in fact producing predictable blowback.

Stanford has truly changed, and that doesn't seem all good to me. I think you need to beware of the creeping, powerful influence of corporate money (e.g. the recent much-reported "Stanford study" on organic food that appears to show no real advantage in eating organic; this is fatuous and very beneficial to corporate interests) and the risks of affluence, frankly.

You need more voices willing to challenge the status quo, to really think about both the University's and the nation's role in the world. Some consider this the "dark" side, I guess. I hope you don't. I call it willingness to ask hard questions and do the right thing. That way maybe both Stanford and the planet will have a future.
John Borstelmann, '75
Driggs, Idaho

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

'A Certain Irony'

In "Who Needs the Humanities at 'Start-Up U'?" (November/December 2012), humanities professors make an interesting case that a degree in humanities is good preparation for many real-world jobs because it hones one’s skill in making persuasive arguments and in communicating with people whose points of view different from one’s own. A French literature PhD, funded by the University to communicate this, then bemoans how progress in “convincing businesses” of the usefulness of a humanities PhD is “still slow.”

It doesn’t take nine years of study and a PhD in any field of humanities to appreciate a certain amount of irony there.

Bob Kanefsky, ’82
Mountain View, California

As the husband of an alum (’67) and father of an undergraduate alum (’09) and graduate alum (’05), I receive and read Stanford, which I consider to be one of the finest of university journals. I was particularly gratified by this issue’s focus on the value of the humanities and a liberal arts education and felt compelled to offer my perspective, which I think adds a few facets to the discussion.

I was Princeton Class of 1967. I was an English major, trained as a poet and playwright, and was the poet laureate of my class. (An athlete, too.) On graduation I decided to steamer-trunk the arts and begin a business career so as to have a better opportunity to raise a family and experience some comfort in a challenging world. I believe that the expression is taking the road more traveled. So I have been a deal guy for 40 years and a serial biotech entrepreneur for the last 25. After [I was] out in the world for a while, a wonderful period commenced with the awareness of yet another justification for this life-forming decision. I became aware that the harnessed creativity had sublimated into a uniquely productive resource to do things my peers could not. Business concepts that could not be conceived, business structures and transactions that could not be created, plans that could not be achieved, were. Many, more disciplined and rigid than I, focused on their training to become business executives or professionals only to feel later compelled to be more insightful or creative. Can’t be done that way.

The artistic training also provided valuable practical tools for producing in the practical world. Learning how to write is indispensable to success in all worldly walks of life and distinguishes one from his or her peers. It allows one to state a case, articulate a vision and get something done. The ability to cogently, coherently and correctly express oneself is a fundamental prerequisite for leadership. But perhaps less obvious is the fact that training as a poet and playwright is the best possible background for being an entrepreneur. Ventures are best created and brought to fruition by those adept at developing a resonant story and craftily articulating it in such a way as to capture the imagination of necessary constituencies, be they an internal team or outside investors. The pictures that such entrepreneurs paint are compelling. Those trained in the arts know that they can be painted and how to do it.

So the liberal arts can provide tools the same way computer science can teach one how to write code. But a narrow focus in the majors that are accepted as practical can interfere with the exploration of how the larger things of life and reality work. The goal of liberal arts universities used to be to find young people with the raw material of leadership and immerse them in the fundamentals of culture and their interactions such that when they go out into the world to lead it and society, they will have the schooled perspective to make wise and thoughtful judgments in so doing. The humanities student goes through life with an appreciation of the texture within it, the patterns that explain it and the truths it whispers. To paraphrase the young philosopher, Ferris Bueller, “Life goes by pretty fast. If you don’t stop every once and a while and look around, you could miss it.” Observations and associations such people make and explanations that they can provide make them richer, more valuable and more sought-after members of society.

So the issue should not be one of choosing between vocational training or chasing pie in the sky. Universities should remain confident in their time-honored tradition and educate their students that the academy’s purpose is to prepare them for life. And if students are graduated without an appreciation of the latter, they have not been educated.

Your University is the best. Thanks for listening.

Jan Andrew Buck
Princeton, New Jersey

Jacques Barzun, America’s leading public intellectual for generations, is dead. He urged the study of Western civilization as a beginning point in education, and loathed the fragmentation of university life into a smorgasbord of limited and specialized studies. Too bad Stanford didn’t follow his advice.

Thomas P. Lowry, AB ’54, MD ’57
Woodbridge, Virginia

Well said, Kevin Cool (“How to Be a Successful Human,” First Impressions, November/December). The humanities add immeasurable flavor and richness to life.

Similar to your anecdote, I found myself in an improbable situation not very long ago, one which drew on the humanities courses taken as I pursued a major in biological sciences.

The daughter of two Vietnamese “boat people” was in my dental office. She was an English major at an Eastern college, dreading the requirement of taking a course on Chaucer. I reassured her that it was one of my favorite courses. I had read some Shakespeare at Stanford and on my own. Emerson Brown’s course on Chaucer helped me build further on the language insights I had gained through Shakespeare. The original Middle English of Chaucer propelled my appreciation of English language and literature two centuries deeper.

As we concluded the dental appointment, I marveled at the odd elements of our conversation, yet reveled in them at the same time.

Steve Kirkpatrick, ’75
Olympia, Washington

Thank you for your recent article about your school of humanities. It is nice to hear how even Stanford struggles with the implications of the study. As a humanities graduate (’01, MA Humanities & Leadership ’02) from the (old) New College of California, I continue to recognize how a humanities major is also a form of political advocacy. As I try to apply to Stanford’s School of Education, I am proposing the following question for research: Is Yoga the most interdisciplinary subject and best method in providing multicultural leadership to promote educational equity and teach the Humanities? My answer is an emphatic yes!

Emmit Moulton Hancock
Foster City, California

The cover (November/December) caught my eye. I expected an article describing how the man on the right had cloned the other four people. I guess it’s similar to married couples looking like each other after many years. Maybe these folks should take a break from work.
James Wells, MS ’67
Indian Harbour Beach, Florida

Because mental processes remain obscure, it is foolish to claim any particular course of study promotes “critical thinking.” If our alumni magazine is any guide, then universities are redoubts of unenlightenment.

It is mistaken for anyone to waste their precious time doing uninspiring things (e.g., faculty meetings). For victimized students, it may suffice to satisfy most distribution requirements at the boundaries of their interests: yielding no ground.

When I was in extremis, my psyche, not Shakespeare, rescued me. Stanford also rescued me, and it’s very sad to see it floundering.

David Torney, PhD ’83, MD ’84
Jemez Springs, New Mexico

I chose Stanford because it was one of four nursing schools in the country with humanities. (My family had gone to Cornell, another of the four, but I wanted to be far away.) I took History of the Renaissance and Reformation, and Comparative Religions, great courses that helped me in studies of history of medicine at The Wellcome Institute in London when on sabbatical leave.

You didn’t cite [the late professor] Wallace Stegner, who was mentor to many writers.

Margarita Artschwager Kay, ’48
Tucson, Arizona

Getting Down to Business

I saw Mark Z. Jacobson’s “existence proof” when it appeared in his pair of coauthored articles with Mark Delucchi in Energy Policy. My reaction then was much the same as it was to the brief account by Marguerite  Rigoglioso (“How to Solve the Energy Problem,” Farm Report, July/August): So how do we get from here to there? What should be done this year, next year, the year after? That’s really the problem, and calling for “sensible policies” or political will does not accomplish much. As an engineer who has worked on policy issues for several decades, it has long seemed to me that engineers and scientists need to think much more deeply about business behavior, how actual markets function, and most of all about our political institutions, if they expect to influence policy outcomes and through these societal outcomes. Collaboration with social scientists can help, but as the incoherence of too many reports from the national academies suggests, it does not go that far in overcoming disciplinary narrowness.
John Alic, MS ’65
Avon, North Carolina

Map Quest

As an avid enthusiast of cartography of Alta California, I was fascinated not only by Cynthia Haven’s article “California Dreaming” (Farm Report, September/October) but also by knowing that there are others who share same passion. There are, however, a couple of facts where clarification is needed to get the complete story:

1: Timeline and fiction of the Sergas de Esplandián. This 1510 novel published in Sevilla was written almost a decade before Cortez’s landing in México (1519), and way before any exploration of the Mar del Sur took place—or for that matter, before it was even known to exist. The novel was fictional in the geographic sense but fueled everybody’s imagination (including members of the Spanish expeditions) with the mystery the New World represented. Interestingly, a report by an explorer sent by Cortez to reach the Pacific coast in 1523 mentions the stories native to a place called Cihuatlán, which in nahuátl means place or land of women.

2: Cortez’s explorations of the Pacific and correct maps before 1600. Cortez started and financed the first Spanish explorations of the Pacific, immediately after the Aztec Conquest. The Cortez expedition of 1535 reached La Paz (Baja) on May 3, and that of 1539 (led by Francisco de Ulloa) reached Ancón de San Andrés (mouth of the Colorado River). In this voyage, he sailed northward along Sonora’s coastline, reached the Colorado River, and then sailed southward along Baja’s coastline. Upon reaching Cabo San Lucas, he proceeded northward up to Isla de Cedros (the big island in the Pacific about halfway up the Baja Peninsula), at which point he returned to Acapulco. There was a third expedition to the Colorado River shortly after that, but financed by the recently appointed Viceroy Mendoza. The following maps are the originals based on these first discovery expeditions, which properly depict Baja as a peninsula:

  • 1541 map by explorer Domingo del Castillo in New Spain (México) based on Viceroy Mendoza’s expedition.
  • 1542 map by Battista Agnese in Genoa based on Cortez/Ulloa expedition
  • 1544 map by Sebastian Caboto in Sevilla based on Cortez/Ulloa expedition

3: Correct maps before 1700. There were many other maps based on the above, but there is one in particular made as late as 1616, which is still way before Ferdinand VII’s edict but also years after the stolen friar’s map found its way to Holland: the map by M. Tatton and engraved by Benjamin Wright in 1616.

4: The Vizcaíno Expeditions. Vizcaíno was never even close (closest was about 1000 km.), to the mouth of the Colorado River, so the friar’s account was a product of his imagination and not of these expeditions. There were two: The first, in 1596, navigated the Sea of Cortez up to San Felipe Bay (about halfway up Baja). The second, in 1602, reached San Diego and sailed north up to Cabo Blanco, now Point George (41º 45´), near Crescent City at the Oregon border.

[I am a] direct descendant of José Maria Narváez Gervete, explorer and cartographer of Alta California to Unalaska and first to explore, chart and navigate the Straits of Fuca and Georgia in the Salish Sea from 1789 to 1791.

Luis G. Marmolejo-Meillón, MS ’88
San Jose, California

‘Machine Content’

I am very concerned about the seeming lack of acknowledgement, in recent articles and discussion about online university courses, that the purpose of a university education is not the acquisition of specific, machine-gradable content (“Stanford for All,” September/October). Machine content is transitory, subject to constant change, and thus of little value and can be given away. University education, in contrast, is the transformation of an adolescent or uninformed person into a sophisticated, knowledgeable citizen with high communication and investigative skills. Such brain and personality development is taught in faculty-led classes by personal transmission, example and identification. Digital transmission of specific facts is minor by comparison, as they are easily looked up and constantly reformulated.

Some aspects of personality development may be transmitted by a camera-caught image of a professor, but they are unlikely to be those of an active, participating citizen. Passive submission to a “star,” immobility, difficulty putting oneself in another’s place, and lack of social skills seem to me to be more likely. Internet technology personnel are already notorious for these deficiencies. It remains to be demonstrated what the effects on brain and personality of electronically “flipped” courses are versus contact with real faculty, who are either intact, or themselves deficient in normal communication skills. I hope that those involved in evaluating IT courses will consider what it is they are actually teaching.

Mary Rose, ’63, MD ’69
Anacortes, Washington

In Praise of Cash

Suppose we were to eliminate coin and currency as means of payment in favor of electronic methods (“Time to Cash Out?” September/October). About the only favorable aspect I can see is that panhandling should disappear as well as, perhaps, the groups such as Girl Scouts and high school bands that look for funding outside local supermarkets. Will panhandlers really have cell phones to receive contributions?

Otherwise, in addition to the editor’s having to rely on Good Samaritans with cash to survive a “cashless” month (“The Inexorable Death of Common Cents,” First Impressions, September/October), I see at least three negative issues.

First, what happens when there’s a power outage, especially an extended one? We have trouble with credit cards, ATMs and gasoline pumps already when the power goes out.

Second, do you really want Big Brother to know everything you buy? There can be no anonymous transactions! Records will no doubt be required to be kept and will be subject to subpoena (or “national security” seizure) at will, let alone “inadvertent” data releases or hacking.

Will Mayor Bloomberg’s successors, for example, take it on themselves to monitor and punish purchases of food and beverage products it views as unhealthful? Will the cigarette industry totally disappear? (Remember, it’s an important source of revenue to state and local governments.)

Third, the system will never be costless. Merchants today pay fees to clear credit and debit card purchases. Even peer-to-peer transfers entail costs that can be assigned to individuals. Who pays how much to whom? Cash transactions do not bear such costs.

R. L. Promboin, MA ’68, PhD ’71
Vienna, Virginia

Where’s the Greed?

I’m just now reading a back issue and am startled by the judgmental vehemence of Arnold Shives, in his letter regarding egg donation and other infertility solutions (“On Egg Donation,” September/October). Who the heck is he to suggest that infertile parents seeking a child are exhibiting “greed and disordered ambition?” He is utterly offensive in his attempt to denounce an entire segment of humanity I would venture he knows little about. We live in an age where science has made many things possible that were not in decades past. Does that make them wrong? Would Shives refuse an organ donation or a blood transfusion simply because they are possible in 2012 when they weren’t previously? How dare he say that infertility treatments cause an “undermining of marital intimacy?” Has he ever been in a barren marriage, where repeated attempts to conceive lead to guilt, anger, unspeakable sadness and, quite often, an irrevocable emotional chasm between partners? Given the eroding of intimacy caused by infertility, a successful egg donation can actually heal a marriage.

A healthy woman carries many viable eggs inside her. Too many to use herself. Should she decide to gift or sell some to either help her circumstances or help another human being, she is not being “plundered, robbed, despoiled, fleeced or stripped ruthlessly” of anything she is not already voluntarily offering up. Who, exactly, is he talking about? Certainly not the young Stanford woman who reads the ad that so offended him and realizes she could reduce her college debt by helping an infertile couple. And where in that classified ad did he find the “fraud, coercion or deception?”

I think Shives should take a step back and embrace the modern world we live in, complete with its scientific miracles and the complex moral issues they raise. Are there ethical questions as a result of medical advancements? Yes. Are there black and white answers? No. Certainly minds greater than his or mine are contemplating these questions daily and coming up with no perfect solutions. I say if a couple who wants to be parents has the resources, the fortitude and the compassion to seek infertility treatment, it is their business and no one else’s.

Megan McCaslin, ’78
Palo Alto, California

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