Please note that, where applicable, links have been provided to original texts which these letters address. Also, your thoughts may be sent via the online Letters to the Editor section.
I have just finished reading the July-August issue of Harvard Magazine. As an art lover and sculptor of sorts, I was overwhelmed by the glories of the Storm King Art Center ("Storm King," page 38). As a sometime tennis player and avid fan, I was delighted to be introduced to Dwight Davis ("Vita," page 46). As a former professor of political science, I was fascinated and enlightened by the roundtable discussion "Democracy's Prospects" (page 48). Finally, as a product of private (secondary) coeducation, and a student of institutional structures, I was further fascinated by Radcliffe's struggles to come to terms with late-twentieth-century realities affecting higher education for women ("Radcliffe's Rebirth," page 71). Thank you for an intellectual feast.
Kingdon W. Swayne '41
NOGUCHI IS DEAD, LONG LIVE NOGUCHI
Christopher Reed's cover article "Storm King" (July-August) is an engagingly written account of one of the world's great sculpture parks, with splendid visual documentation by Jerry L. Thompson. There is, however, at least one ostensible factual error. For Peter Stern, president and chairman of Storm King, Isamu Noguchi is "the living sculptor he most admires," but Noguchi died in New York on December 30, 1988.
I prefer, however, to second Stern's admiration of Noguchi as a "living sculptor," and for more than merely rhetorical reasons. In his book The Physics of Immortality, Frank J. Tipler matter-of-factly reminds us that all important physical theories of the past several hundred years--from Newtonian mechanics to general relativity, quantum mechanics, and string field theory--insist that there is no fundamental distinction between past, present, and future.
In a letter of consolation to the family of his deceased friend Michele Besso, Albert Einstein himself referred to the distinction between past, present, and future as "only an illusion, even if a stubborn one." The passage of time--death itself --are, therefore, little more than subjective notions.
Joseph Dillon Ford, A.M. '78
Editor's note: it wasn't stern, but the author, confused about tenses.
RADCLIFFE NOT BORN AGAIN
It is a joke to entitle your article on the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study "Radcliffe's Rebirth" (July-August, page 71). I can assure you that many Radcliffe alumnae do not view this institute as a rebirth of Radcliffe College. The specific focus of Radcliffe on the educational requirements of women is clearly not addressed in the mission of the institute.
S.J. Curtis, Radcliffe '66
The editors want to recognize two interns for their special contributions to Harvard Magazine. During the past year, Parker Holmes, M.T.S. '99, completed a computer-based index of the magazine's issues from July-August 1986 through May-June 1996--filling a gap between our filing-card-based index for earlier issues and the searchable issues on our Internet site, and providing essential help in answering current editorial questions or reader queries. Luisa Kós served as a volunteer intern during the summer--one of the requirements of the graduate Certificate in Publishing and Communications, toward which she is now working at the Extension School. She performed valuable research and handled many editorial- and art-department assignments with skill and speed. Both have been delightful colleagues during their service here.
"Friendships Formed in Strenuous Rivalry," by Jonathan Shaw (July-August, page 83), is an excellent article on the Harvard-Yale/Oxford-Cambridge track and field meet. The atmosphere--the comradeship, competitiveness, and mutual respect--generated by the event is something I will remember for a lifetime. I am certain that the excitement in 1961 contributed to my performance in breaking the Harvard shot-put record by almost three feet.
Stephen B. Cohen '61
(member of the 1961 Harvard-Yale team
and of the 1965 Oxford-Cambridge team)
WRONGLY WIRED SOCIETY
One would be hard put to find a more blatant, shameless proclamation of the inhuman values that now govern and direct the worldwide corporate economy than "The Wired Society" (May-June, page 42). The fantasies of Orwell and Huxley seem almost benign by comparison.
I suspect that in the not-too-distant future, the worship of technology will be widely recognized as a destructive force, responsible for the extirpation of family, community, and nature on a global scale. It's no wonder that e-entrepreneurs are in such a hurry. How much time do they have before technocapitalism, starved of ever-scarcer resources and choking on its poisonous effluent, bursts like the South Sea Bubble that it is?
Alice Parman, M.A.T. '65
I enjoyed Frederick Mosteller's "The Case for Smaller Classes" ("Forum," May-June, page 34). Why not look at the case for the smallest class sizes of all--home schools? The recent trend toward homeschooling is becoming more mainstream, and I understand that Harvard has accepted some homeschooled students as undergraduates. Homeschooling is an entirely private phenomenon, done by parents themselves sans state or federal government "initiatives." An article describing the experiences of some homeschooled Harvardians would make an interesting contrast to Mosteller's government-oriented piece.
Joanne Sadler Butler, M.P.A. '91
HARVARDIANS MAY REUNE
Here are comments about the desire of the editors of Harvard Magazine to use the word reune ("The College Pump," July-August, page 89), your dismay that the word is not in the dictionary I edit, the other sources you consulted, and the inclusion policies of dictionaries.
First, I applaud Harvard Magazine's use of the 1993 edition of Random House Unabridged Dictionary (since republished as Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, in a more compact format) as its dictionary of choice--though the willingness you express to "do what it tells [you] to do" borders alarmingly on blind faith. Language, in particular, is a slippery, organic thing: the minute you think you've got a word defined, it grows another limb in the form of a new meaning, or mutates into quite a different animal. Your comparison of various large dictionaries does demonstrate a reassuring willingness to consult more than one source.
To paraphrase Orwell, some dictionaries are more unabridged than others. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is unquestionably the most inclusive--and its volumes take up two entire shelves in my home. Both Merriam-Webster's Third International Dictionary (M-W) and the 1993 Random House Unabridged Dictionary are one-volume tomes, which of necessity means that some words don't make the cut, or must be covered in a more concise manner. (I would not use the American Heritage Dictionary for this comparison; their approach to inclusion is quite conservative, and their one-volume dictionary is not represented as being unabridged.)
When making decisions about which words of the general vocabulary to include in a one-volume dictionary, our editors focus on frequency. The larger the book, the lower the number of citations that are required as a cutoff--but there is always a cutoff. When looking for citations, our main sources for decision-making are our citations database and on-line language resources that are searchable. The OED is used as a check, to confirm or call into question the evidence we are finding. Since the OED has only five citations for reune, and 12 for enthuse, this would suggest that neither term would be significant enough to be included. However, our other research proves that enthuse is ubiquitous, while reune isn't even a blip on the radar; hence our inclusion of the former and rejection of the latter. (In the original OED, the editors tried to get six citations for every word, no matter how obscure it was; the fact that the second edition has only five for reune speaks to how infrequent that term is in print. I am sure they try, as good editors do, to limit their citations to one from any given source, to avoid making a term seem more widespread than it actually is; thus, if Harvard Magazine were to use reune in every issue from now till the end of time, it would still merit only one citation from that source.)
I cannot speak for the editors at M-W in terms of describing their inclusion policy, but their approach to dictionaries is quite different from ours: they list the most historical meanings first, rather than the most common. The tradeoff, in my opinion, is that their coverage of contemporary usage suffers. I suspect the educational background of Philip Gove [a Dartmouth man with a Harvard A.M.] and the inclusion of reune in M-W [with a citation from the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine] is not a coincidence; editors sometimes allow their own experience to override citational evidence (hence my caveat about blind faith). We tend not to pay particular attention to the choices made by M-W editors; it is best to rely on one's own evidence. Indeed, other dictionaries have been shown upon occasion to include material copied directly from M-W, evidenced by the perpetuation of an inadvertent error in the source text. One funny story about plagiarism is the printing error that caused the spelling of the entry for the letter D--"D or d"--to appear as "Dord"; this "word" appeared in several other dictionaries although the M-W printing was subsequently corrected.
It is in my opinion perfectly appropriate for Harvardians to use reune to their hearts' content, particularly as its rhyming with June is so felicitous. The presence or absence of a term or meaning in a dictionary is not a pronouncement upon a term's legitimacy, but rather is indicative of that dictionary's inclusion policy. In the case of Random House, it means that a term is not ubiquitous enough in the general language to warrant inclusion.
Editorial director of dictionaries, Random
House Reference and Information Publishing
New York City
A recent informal survey of visitors to the site reveals that 39 percent of them are alumni; that 7 percent are under 18, a third between 18 and 29, a quarter in their thirties, 18 percent in their forties, 9 percent in their fifties, and 8 percent over 60; and that 43 percent view the site from work. One respondent was kind enough to say, "Thank you for constructing an informative, intriguing, and enticing website."
William C. Waterhouse '63, Ph.D. '68
State College, Pa.
Your "Apparel Update" item in the July-August "Brevia" section, page 78, states that Harvard has "joined a year-long monitoring project initiated by Notre Dame." Although Notre Dame did begin its own anti-sweatshop efforts earlier this year, Harvard's initiative is a different matter altogether. It originated here, and we invited Notre Dame, the University of California, and Ohio State University to join, which they have done.
Allan A. Ryan Jr.
Office of the General Counsel
DOUBT IS THE MEDICAL DILEMMA
John Lauerman writes movingly ("On Becoming a Statistic," July-August, page 31) of the dilemma he faced in needing to decide whether or not to enroll his son in a research program. He asks, "Was the price of knowledge too high for us? Would we consent to losing an opportunity to delay diabetes by several years so that future generations would have an answer?"
If a person knows that one form of treatment works better than another (or than a placebo), then of course that person should choose the form of treatment that has been proven superior to its alternatives. The problem is that, in ethical research protocols, the two or more alternative treatments (or non-treatments) to be compared exist in a state of "clinical equipoise." That is, an ethical research project is based on a legitimate state of doubt about which treatment is better. It is this uncertainty, this absence of present knowledge, that caused Lauerman's dilemma, and not the fact that a research protocol was involved. Indeed, conducting good, ethical research is the only way to gain evidence about the superiority of one form of treatment versus another, and thus to alleviate the sort of doubts that vex Lauerman and millions of others who are faced with crucial medical decisions but insufficient information.
Marshall B. Kapp, M.P.H. '78
White distinguished professor of service
School of Medicine, Wright State University
IS THIS POLITICAL APATHY?
While reading the roundtable discussion "Democracy's Prospects" (July-August, page 48), I was amused to think that many of the pundits who today bemoan a decrease in public confidence in government were themselves anything but confident in the government 30 years ago. If confidence in government was any higher during those days, perhaps it was mainly among the generation that ran the government. Now that a new generation has taken its place, the political process is suddenly sacrosanct and any lack of confidence in it is considered a problem to be addressed.
Looking at such cold and unyielding statistics as decades-old survey results, it is impossible to say objectively that Americans, without respect to generation or class, feel less confidence in government today than they might have 20 or 30 years ago or more. I cannot imagine that the same decade that brought such social unrest and political scrutiny--the 1960s--could also have brought the highest ratings of confidence in government. There must be more to the story.
The discussion also touched upon a perceived apathy toward politics today. I doubt that Americans are apathetic to the political process. Certainly there are, and have always been, a mass of individuals who have little or no interest in public affairs and are not part of the process for that purpose. But one could argue that "apathy" is not the correct word to use in relation to America's attitude toward its government today. One need only examine the decade we are concluding to see a reason for an apparent lack of political involvement--an economy of unparalleled success, a feeling of overall international security, an apparent drop in the immediacy of such social problems as drug use and crime. These are the good times, it would seem, and therefore why should Americans be overly involved in the political process?
And what does "involved" really mean? Is someone not involved if he chooses not to vote for one of two candidates he finds uninspiring and, perhaps, distasteful? Voting aside, would today's analysts feel that Americans were more involved if we were simply more visibly active? The sit-ins and marches of the 1960s have been replaced by websites today. The very format of activity has changed. America is not apathetic, it is simply a different place today than in 1969, just as the America of 1969 was different by far from the America of 1949. And if taking over University Hall is the opposite of apathy, then maybe apathy isn't so bad after all.
William E. Pike '95
One glaring omission in the discussion was obscene campaign financing, which guarantees that the Congress, in the words of Will Rogers, "is the best Congress that money can buy."
The House and the Senate have a new device for paying off their debts to corporate America. They attach riders to the budget bill. Their names do not become associated with their nefarious work, and the president cannot veto their riders without killing the bill. When all the Congress can come up with is a constitutional amendment to make flag-burning a crime, who needs them? The Congress represents their contributors, not the voters. This is why I have lost faith in the system.
John C. Worsley '52
|Sargent's Major Higginson (detail). Does he sneer? HARVARD PORTRAIT COLLECTION, PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE, PRESENTED FOR THE USE OF HARVARD COLLEGE BY HENRY PICKERING, 1823. PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID MATHEWS|
SEEING HENRY HIGGINSON
Writing about John Singer Sargent's portrait of Major Henry Lee Higginson ("Sargent and Major," May-June, page 74), Carol Troyen quotes Henry James on Sargent's "knock- down insolence of talent." A different judgment of Sargent and his painting came from a friend of James and his brother, William. Owen Wister, of the class of 1882, who published his influential Western The Virginian one year before Sargent painted his portrait, wrote a letter, now in Harvard's Houghton Library, to William James on August 25, 1903, after visiting the first Sargent exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts:
"I went to Boston and saw Sargent's Henry Higginson. H.H. later told me it's not liked, because it sneers. Good God! Well; it takes distant, and not near, people to see such things as they are. There's no sneer there at all. There's much thought, and there's wistfulness, and strength. Indeed, there's the civil war and the symphony orchestra. It's a splendid thing. The offensive Sargent virtuosity is wholly absent, and so is the hasty feeling, and the dénigrant feeling which prevails in other parts of the room."
What seemed "offensive" and "insolent" in Sargent's talent is now admired, just as what seemed romantic about Wister's hugely popular portrait of his cowboy, who denigrates non-Anglo Saxons and sneers at female suffrage, now has the capacity to offend. Such are the reversals in aesthetic response that a portrait can suffer over time.
William R. Handley
Assistant professor, Department of English and American Literature and Language
THE MEASURE OF SUCCESS?
I have recently returned from my fifteenth reunion, and I really enjoyed catching up with old friends, making new ones, and exploring old haunts. However, there was one aspect of the reunion that bothered me greatly, and left a sour taste in my mouth. On the customary questionnaire mailed to us in advance, we were asked to give (in ranges) our personal and household annual income, and the market value of our house. Mean figures from the class of '84 would be reported at the reunion.
I don't understand how any intelligent person can see any value in reporting these figures. The values attached to this are appalling; that money and financial status matter as much as personal happiness; that we should strive to make more money and own a more expensive house; that we need to see how we rank financially compared to our classmates. In the preamble to the questionnaire, we were encouraged to fill the survey out to see if we were, among other things, "richer or poorer" compared to previous years. Is this really important to find out through such a survey? The implication is that the measure of one's success can be measured by a paycheck or real estate, and I find that very offensive, not to mention unfortunate and damaging. It would have been better had the goal of the survey been to see if we are happier.
In this increasingly frenetic world full of Internet start-ups, 30-something millionaires, cell phones, stock options, and skyrocketing real-estate markets, too many people do attach too high a value to money. If there is one institution that can influence what people value, it may be Harvard, esteemed for its liberal-arts education and its great thinkers, not its richest graduates. The College should promote, among other aspects of life, friendships, family, community service, and appreciation for the arts as measures of one's success and worth, not income.
Deborah Smith Berry '84
Mountain View, Calif.
Expeditiously, the Reverend Dianne Miller notified the editors by e-mail that the photograph on page 32C of the July-August regional section confuses the Charles Street Meeting House, one of the stops on the Black Heritage Trail, with another, the African Meeting House. The Baptist congregation at Charles Street in the mid 1830s enforced segregated seating, prompting abolitionist members to secede and found the First Baptist Free Church. After the Civil War, the Charles Street building was purchased by a black congregation, which worshipped there until 1939.