Letters To The Editor

Stem-cell Ethics

As the husband of a woman with metastatic breast cancer—we are in our 40s, with a young child—I follow the ups and downs of cancer research closely, ever hopeful that a cure or effective long-term treatment will be found in time to save my wife and millions like her. About half of all Americans will get some form of cancer, making this race for the cure one of the most important struggles of our time. It is, therefore, infuriating to know that cancer research is being stymied by conservatives whose bizarre notion of “ethics” has led them to impede embryonic stem-cell research (“Cell Division,” May/June).

Even more disturbing to me, as someone on the political left, are certain so-called progressives (read: Luddites) who oppose important medical research. Many critics of agricultural biotech also oppose biomedicine, even though they may not understand the science. In a conversation that will haunt me for the rest of my life, a local journalism professor treated me to a harangue on the evils of cancer treatments such as the monoclonal antibodies my wife is currently receiving. He explained that, in his opinion, “man should not go into the DNA.” What about the many people whose lives depend on such treatments? Their deaths, he replied, would be a short-term loss for the long-term sake of the planet.

We have heard these kinds of arguments before, in which wrongs are defended on the basis of ignorance and superstition.

Stephen Wechsler, PhD ’91
Austin, Texas

I see this stem-cell debate as a defining crossroads for our society. In essence, the Christian moral basis for our American society will be gone if, as Dr. Hurlbut phrased it, “we . . . come to see human life at any stage, even the earliest stages, as a mere utility, even for good purposes of scientific research.” Is this what we want?

Jo Jean DeCristoforo, ’45
Sacramento, California

When anesthesia became available, the English bishops warned against it, arguing that the Bible says women should bring forth children in pain and suffering. Queen Victoria, after her birthing experience, set the bishops straight in no uncertain terms.

Nancy Reagan, certainly no wild-eyed liberal, has said she favors stem-cell research, seeing the absolute uselessness of current medicine in treating Alzheimer’s.

The anti-stem-cell people, in my opinion, are doctrinaire, Henny Penny types, and my experience with research ethicists has led me to believe they are obstructive and obsessive wannabe scientists.

Stem-cell research? Go Stanford!

Thomas Lowry, ’54, MD ’57
Woodbridge, Virginia

Good should not be derived from wrong. And the use of impressive-sounding scientific terms does not convince me, from a rational standpoint, that human life begins three hours, or three days, or three months after initial cell activation.

Stanford has always embraced the highest ethical standards. Let’s keep it that way.

Paul Perletti, ’51
Portland, Oregon

“Cell Division” shows the curse to mankind that is the Yahwehist religions. Setting aside for the moment the millions of butcheries and murders committed because “my god is right and yours is wrong,” we again see the true believers attempting to stop rational men from improving the quality of life for all mankind. This process began at least as early as Galileo, and it remains, as your article clearly demonstrates, alive and well in the 21st century.

Joseph R. Abrahamson, ’49, MD ’55
San Diego, California

four of a kind

Ann Marsh’s “Roommate Roulette” (May/ June) brought back fond memories of my freshman roommate experience.

I was assigned to Branner’s Room 201, the only female quad room in the dorm in 1981. I was from Northern California, Gina Moreno was from Southern California, Sue Cameron was from Portland, Ore., and Betsy de Palma was from Milwaukee, Wis. We got along very well from the start; I think it was sickening to the other people in the dorm. Although we had different academic interests, we shared an interest in dance. We all tried out for Dollies in the middle of our freshman year, and believe it or not, we all made it, representing four-fifths of the Dollie squad in 1982-83. I’m not sure if that feat will ever be repeated.

The four of us all live in Northern California today, and we get together as often as our diverse and busy schedules allow. Our children are similar ages, too, making the family gatherings even more special.

Melinda Myers Cook, ’85
Los Altos, California

what’s cooking?

I was tickled by Rachel Hepworth’s Student Voice (May/June). She writes about whipping up gourmet meals in the broom-closet-size kitchen in Wilbur Hall as a freshman, then graduating to cooking in the relative splendor of the Mirrielees apartments. As a freshman in Arroyo (Wilbur) in 1974, I and my dormmates also took study breaks by cooking in those tiny kitchens—mostly chocolate-chip cookies, certainly nothing as elaborate as the shiitake mushroom dish she whipped up. (I don’t think shiitake mushrooms had been invented back then.) Likewise, as seniors, my roommate Connie Keeran and I enjoyed experimenting in our Mirrielees kitchen. For a while, we even had a regular Thursday-night cooking club with Stuart Hara and Mike Epperson, who lived upstairs.

Thanks for stirring my memory, Rachel.

Martha Freeman, ’78
State College, Pennsylvania

commitment Reaffirmed

As president of the Stanford Black Alumni Club of Washington, D.C., I have been prompted to write to you, on behalf of our constituency, in light of the Bush administration’s recent effort challenging the appropriateness of affirmative action in higher education before the U.S. Supreme Court. It is our conviction that affirmative action is both morally and legally an appropriate policy for Stanford to continue to utilize in seeking to maintain a diverse student body.

We applaud Stanford’s reaffirmation of its commitment to affirmative action (President’s Column, May/June) as well as the University’s participation in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court (Farm Report, May/June). As Justice Lewis Powell wrote in the 1978 Bakke case, “the attainment of a diverse student body . . . clearly is a constitutionally permissible goal for an institution of higher education.” Racial diversity cannot be achieved with any degree of certainty without taking into account the race of the individuals in the applicant pool.

Opponents of affirmative action argue that being admitted to a college under an affirmative-action program is stigmatizing even when the admittees are otherwise qualified. Rather than being stigmatized, those of us who were admitted to Stanford as part of its commitment to affirmative action are proud and honored. We have been able to participate in an undertaking where the true beneficiary was the Stanford community itself. Our presence on campus as students and our contributions to the recruiting process as alumni have enabled the University to realize its goal of creating the best learning environment for all its students.

We are well aware of Stanford’s most recent successes in enrolling and retaining African-American students. Black Enterprise magazine ranked Stanford seventh on its list of top colleges for African-American students for 2003. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education noted that, among highly ranked universities, Stanford has replaced Harvard as the institution with the highest black student yield, at 64 percent.

We hope Stanford will not be content to rest upon its recent laurels. As we approach the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, African-Americans throughout the country continue the struggle for equality at all levels. We are aware that certain reactionary constituent groups are committed to impeding our efforts. It is imperative that Stanford and other institutions of higher learning continue to allow us to achieve our fullest potential.

Kia Chatmon, ’93
Washington, D.C.

John Hennessy states that the Bakke case, “while striking down formulaic quotas, affirmed that race could be one of a number of factors considered in the college admissions process.”

I am confused. If a person whose skin is black or brown is given preferential consideration because of his or her race, that is considered affirmative action, but if a white person is given preferential treatment, that is considered racism. Does this make sense? Didn’t Martin Luther King want to see a world where people would be judged by their deeds and accomplishments, rather than by the color of their skin?

Bill Lorton, ’64
San Jose, California

President Hennessy lists race, athletic skill, legacy status and leadership ability as nonacademic traits that might be considered when Stanford makes an admission decision. Two of these traits represent raw talent and/or hard work on the part of the prospective student, and two do not. Two are appropriate for consideration by the admission office, and two are not.

Mark Srednicki, PhD ’80
Santa Barbara, California

If Stanford were really “committed to diversity in many forms,” as the title of President Hennessy’s column suggests, it would have an affirmative action program to recruit conservative faculty.

Charles G. Schott, ’74, MBA ’83
New Canaan, Connecticut

exciting ride

Susan Wels’s “Giving It a Whirl” (On the Job, May/June) was fascinating. Circus is a subject I would never expect to find in the alumni magazine. Thank you for giving the Stanford audience a look at the emotions and aspirations of a new artist in the circus world.

I thought I was the only Stanford alum who had ventured into that world. Having taught circus arts to children for around 15 years, I recently ran away from the circus to get a job.

I attended the Ringling Brothers/ Barnum & Bailey Circus Clown College after earning a bachelor’s and master’s in product design. In addition to teaching children, I have been designing and building custom circus equipment, including flying trapezes, nets and cerceaux. This may not be typical for a Stanford engineer, but I must say it has been an exciting ride!

Jackie Tan, ’84, MS ’84
Encino, California


I was quite dismayed to read the article concerning the antiwar protests (“Rallying Against—and Sometimes for—War in Iraq,” Farm Report, May/June). I believe a citizen has the right to free speech, but not to the point of violating the rights of another citizen. In the case of the protest in the Quad, several classes were disrupted by the noise. Likewise, the protesters at the traffic intersections in San Francisco violated other citizens’ rights by blocking the streets. In both cases, the protesters should be disciplined. It could even be argued that when protests block traffic and prevent access to businesses, they are acts of terrorism. They most certainly help our enemies during a time of war.

The San Francisco protest could have been held on the polo grounds of Golden Gate Park with the result of better feelings of all concerned.

Kingsley Roberts, ’75, MS ’76
Menlo Park, California

Having read “Rallying Against—and Sometimes for—War in Iraq” and observed, in the same issue, your charming two-page photo of the peace demonstration at the Stanford gates (1,000 Words), I eagerly await the follow-up story which surely must be forthcoming on a “Student Rally Against Al Qaeda’s War of Murder”—presumably making note of the May 12 terrorist attack on the Saudi compounds housing Western civilians. Meanwhile, I must have missed an article back in 2001 on a “Student Rally Against Islamic Terrorist Murders of Civilians,” in response to the World Trade Center attack of September.

Oh, my—is it disgracefully possible that neither of those rallies was ever held?

Bill Lorton, ’64
San Jose, California

In the 1960s, when I marched against the Vietnam War, I was full of righteous zeal. As the years went by and I learned of Viet Cong atrocities and their disastrously bungled communist economy, I realized I was wrong.

Now, looking at your picture of the pampered, overprotected Stanford war protesters, I wonder how long it will take them to comprehend the fields of shattered skulls and ecological disasters that Saddam bequeathed to his people.

My son served in the fight against Saddam, and I’m proud of him.

Thomas Lowry, ’54, MD ’57
Woodbridge, Virginia

After reading and seeing pictures of Stanford’s recent “peace” activism, I wondered whether similar behavior occurred when the United States went to war, from altitude, against a regime that had killed and tortured far fewer folks and posed absolutely no threat to U.S. interests. Of course I mean Bosnia/Kosovo in 1995, and I know the answer. Stanford’s “peace” activists aren’t alone in being highly selective about which wars are just, generally in inverse relation to the threat posed to U.S. interests.

I’m disappointed, though unsurprised.

Doug Glant, ’64
Mercer Island, Washington

taste tests

I was delighted to read about two of my colleagues in the May/June Farm Report: Ali Boehm in the story on coastal pollution, and Rosemary Knight in the story on drinking water. Rosemary’s “taste test” reminded me of an exercise used a dozen or so years ago by another colleague, David Freyberg, ms ’77, PhD ’81, in his lectures on California water resources. David would have the students blind-taste water from all around the Bay Area, including samples from different parts of the Stanford campus (yes, it’s that variable) and, one year, a U.S. government-issue can of water that looked to be quite old.

Jeffrey Koseff, MS ’78, PhD ’83
Professor of civil and environmental engineering
Stanford, California

I laud the effort to compare samples of drinking water from different sources, but I submit that many of the tested sources are rarely used. Most of the world’s populations drink shallow-well water or surface water, either directly or from reservoir storage.

The students liked the “soft” and “refreshing” bottled water from Fiji and the vapor-distilled water with electrolytes, while finding Las Vegas water “the nastiest.” After tasting water all over the United States and the world, and after drinking tap water in Las Vegas off and on for more than 40 years, I can unequivocally say that Las Vegas water (from Lake Mead, plus some groundwater) is better than most. Furthermore, in many of my travels to South Asia, I drank plenty of bottled and filtered water, and I can assure you that it was tasteless, with no particular redeeming quality other than being reasonably safe to drink.

N.W. Plummer, MS ’67
Paradise Valley, Arizona

holy spirit!

After reading the very interesting “What You Don’t Know About Memorial Church” (Farm Report, May/June), I am emboldened to write about an incident that occurred in the church and, I’m certain, is known by no one else but me.

In the 1930s, the president of the graduating class would traditionally read scripture at the Baccalaureate service prior to Commencement. In 1935, I happened to serve both as president of the senior class and as yell leader of the student body. In the former capacity, I was asked by Chaplain Charles Gardner to come to the church during senior week to practice reading from the Bible.

With the chaplain sitting alone in the church, I went to the lectern and read a few verses from the Gospel of Luke. In my spirited delivery, I apparently became a bit exuberant and lacking in the proper demeanor for the place and the subject. When I finished, the good Dr. Gardner commented, in his very kindly manner, “You did quite well, Mr. Triolo, but may I suggest that on Sunday you remember that you will be reading Holy Scripture in the church —not leading yells in the stadium?”

James Triolo, ’35, MA ’36
Cupertino, California

tough sledding

My mother mushed nine dogs 400 miles along the Iditarod trail in 1922 to take her brother to the nearest doctor, at Lake Minchmina. She was 12 years old. There were no daily food drops, no communication links, no rest stops along the way. She had only a rifle, some dried fish for the dogs and a few snacks for herself and her brother.

Now, the Iditarod is a great adventure with lots of support for the mushers (Red All Over, May/June). Then, it was survival and no way out.

Kathleen Doheny Hennessey, ’57
Lubbock, Texas

league lore

It was nice to read the reflections on Hank Luisetti (Examined Life, March/April), but the parenthetical comment on the NBA and pro basketball was misleading.

The National Basketball League was founded in 1937 and continued until 1949, when it merged with the Basketball Association of America (founded in 1946) to form the National Basketball Association. Thus, the NBA itself does not date back to 1946, despite claims by the current NBA regime.

Luisetti was pursued by the NBL, which was largely based in the Midwest, but felt he could make more money and stay closer to home by playing in the Amateur Athletic Union.

Murry Nelson, MA ’75, PhD ’75
State College, Pennsylvania

Good News

The results are in on this year’s Circle of Excellence magazine awards from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. We’re proud to report that Stanford won a gold medal for best article (“Holding On,” September/October), a silver medal for staff writing and a silver for general excellence.

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