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Malaria, civic engagements, longtime Game-goers

Challenging China

The roundtable (“Changing, Challenging China,” March-April, page 25) is the best many-sided introduction to this subject I have seen anywhere. I hope people in positions of responsibility and shapers of opinion will take note, read it several times, and seek permission to distribute it widely.

John E. Wills Jr., Ph.D. ’67
Professor emeritus of Chinese history
University of Southern California
Pasadena, Calif.

 

Some salient realities on China’s rise emerged from the roundtable discussion among your seven experts—including Bill Kirby, whose work I have long admired: (1) China’s political development lags far behind its economic progress and military buildup. (2) Rejecting the democratic path Japan, Korea, and Taiwan followed, China has regressed from the relative liberalization of the mid 1980s to a more closed political system. (3) Unlike the other Asian models, China does not accept the West’s “universal” standard of political openness in governance but insists on imposing its own authoritarian model. (4) To maintain domestic legitimacy, China uses economic progress and monolithic control over the nation’s education to foment an ideological sense of aggrieved, “prideful,” and “triumphalist” nationalism. (5) In international affairs, China will not play by the rules set by the West, but seeks to “reset” the table at which it now has a seat, leading, e.g., to damaging Chinese policies in Africa.

China scholars and Western officials must reassess the optimistic premise underlying 30 years of engagement—that economic opening would surely lead to political evolution and policy moderation. Has the approach followed by every U.S. administration since Nixon’s brought us instead an economically and militarily powerful China that has abandoned Marxism but retains Leninism and remains as fundamentally opposed to Western interests and values as it was under Mao? Given Beijing’s designs on Taiwan, the South China Sea, and other territories and waterways, the roundtable’s comparison of China’s potential direction to the paths taken by Japan and Germany before World War II is sobering.

Joseph A. Bosco ’60, LL.B. ’65
Washington, D.C.

 

Nonstop Students

Wow (“Nonstop,” March-April, page 34)! Am I glad my kids and grandkids didn’t go to Harvard!

Ken Fradin, LL.B. ’50
Sarasota, Fla.

 

It was with much dismay, pity, and concern that I read Craig Lambert’s article. These kids and the future of the country are in serious trouble. My generation may have invented the mid-life crisis, but this generation of undergrads will certainly overachieve in that area.

What is developing is a generation of people whose focus is completely outward-directed, protected from life and from finding their own way. More importantly, people who avoid silence and inner questioning at all costs. One must ask, what are they running from?

When I was a kid, a boomer, we got home from school and we went out to play, usually with the admonition, “Be home in time for dinner.” Going out to play meant having adventures. Testing ourselves against others, the environment, life. Taking responsibility and making decisions, and yes, often making bad decisions, and learning from them. No, I didn’t grow up in Mayberry, but in a partly urban, partly suburban tapestry of a city in New Jersey of very diverse ethnic, cultural, and economic threads. Learning to accept others, the value of independence as well as friendship, and how to navigate through life with an inner compass were lessons that cannot be taught in the classroom. 

Most parents encouraged such activities. They knew that adventuring was all part of what was called “growing up,” just like boys having fights, learning how to deal with bullies, and coming home with bloody noses. Denying a child his own unique, self-chosen experience is trying to protect him from his own life.

Somehow, the boomers were able to do all this and still have time for homework, Cub Scouts, and Little League, and to pursue outside interests from model rocketry to spiritual activities. What are the helicopter parents so afraid of? We do not do our children a service by making them unable to make decisions for themselves. By denigrating the value of just being, rather than always doing, we are depriving them of a precious source of creativity. Kids need to test themselves against life and see that you don’t always win. Without the ability to fail out of one’s own resources, there can be no inner freedom. And without inner freedom, one’s life may be busy and accomplished, but also meaningless.

Jeffrey Antman, M.T.S. ’79
Newark, N.J. 


I read with interest about the frantic life of current Harvard undergraduates who seek to build multidimensional résumés and fill every moment of the day and night with purposeful activities. Harvard should ask whether this is the best preparation for the thoughtful leaders that America needs.

Charles Toder ’60, M.B.A. ’62
New York City

 

Malaria

Thank you for describing the scourges of malaria (“An Evolving Foe,” by Courtney Humphries, March-April, page 42). 

One minor update to this otherwise excellent article should note that there are at least five, not four, species of single-celled plasmodium protozoans known to cause malaria in humans. The five known strains are Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae, and P. knowlesi. Knowlesi malaria infects monkeys, and was found to cause fatal human malaria blood infections recently in Malaysia and Thailand. P. knowlesi parasites look like P. malariae on blood smears under the microscope. However, P. knowlesi exhibits higher levels of red-blood-cell parasitemias than P. vivax. Over time, still more Plasmodium strains may emerge, adapt, and subsequently infect the human host.

Kathy Murray Leisure, M.D. ’78
Lebanon, Pa.

 

I read with fascination most of the article about the latest inroads against the health devastation due to malaria. I say “most” because the author makes one important error. “Newly developed drugs” contributed but little to the widespread eradication of malaria from the developed world and the near-eradication from Africa and Asia: it was DDT that accomplished that feat. We have drugs now that are much better than those of the 1950s and 1960s, yet malaria takes over one million lives each year, mostly children under five years old. Malaria regained its foothold after DDT was needlessly and cruelly banned by our EPA in 1972 out of groundless fear of adverse human health effects, of which there are none when used in the approved manner. Malaria did not recur due to resistance to DDT, as it was no longer being used anywhere after 1972, thanks to the anti-DDT campaign engendered by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and carried on by her “environmentalist” acolytes. Since then, tens of millions have died needlessly. Now DDT is again being used, safely and effectively, in small amounts via “indoor residual spraying,” and where those campaigns are ongoing, malaria is receding.

Elizabeth M. Whelan, S.M. ’68
President, American Council on Science and Health
New York City

 

Dyann F. Wirth replies: DDT was banned for large-scale use because of its negative effects on wildlife. It is still in limited use to control malaria, along with such strategies as bed nets and drug treatments. None of these obviates the need for research on the biology of malaria—the subject of this article. For the WHO position paper on DDT, visit: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2007/WHO_HTM_GMP_2007_eng.pdf.


Civic Engagement

In a sidebar of the January-February Harvard College Fund insert on the new undergraduate curriculum, General Education is said to be designed to “prepare students for civic engagement—teaching them to respond to real-world situations with intellectual rigor, cultural awareness, and a firm understanding of the ethical implications of their choices.”

This sounds like exactly what students need—and what the University needs. I propose that students practice these skills on the current “real-world” situation at Harvard. Among the big questions they might consider:

Through its recent investment focus on China and India, is the University supporting humane working conditions, individual freedom, living wages, and environmentally sound industrial practices?

With the continuing cuts to academic departments, staff, and libraries, is the education of Harvard students being held harmless?

What are the ethical implications of cutting custodians’ hours and pay by more than 12 percent while only temporarily freezing the salaries of the University’s highest-paid personnel?

How well does Harvard’s “cultural awareness” extend to its neighbors in Allston, where many urban properties have been bought and now stand empty? What are the obligations of a still very rich nonprofit organization to its surrounding community, in lieu of paying taxes to support the public services of which it avails itself?

Many Harvard graduates set fine moral examples in their personal and professional lives. It’s up to the entire Harvard community to ensure that the University’s corporate behavior does the same.

Jane Collins ’71
Medford, Mass. 

 

Student-Faculty Interactions

Melanie Long’s “Undergraduate” column (“Friending the Faculty…and Others,” March-April, page 56) rues the fact that more faculty members don’t mingle with undergraduates, characterizing it as an “unfulfilled promise of the House system.” Two pages earlier, there is a sidebar about the late Samuel P. Huntington. Let me connect the two.

In 1956, I was a junior in Kirkland House, enrolled in one of Huntington’s popular American government courses. He was at the time an unmarried assistant professor, living just a few doors from me. I was unhappy with my major, wanted to change it to government, and asked if he knew of a faculty member who could help. Sam said he would do it himself.

This was the beginning of a wonderful teacher-student relationship. He insisted that students call him “Sam”—“except in class.” I learned techniques of research that serve me to this day. He pointed me in the right direction for the research and writing of an honors thesis, and served as my thesis adviser in a senior tutorial class.

I know Sam enjoyed interface with students, and we with him and other faculty who were connected to Kirkland House. I agree with Long that ties like this are valuable and should not remain unfulfilled.

Richard O. Neville ’58
Fort Myers, Fla. 

 

Football Fandom Redux

I’m eager to see the responses to Spencer Ervin’s query about the living Harvard alumnus who has seen the most Harvard-Yale football games (March-April, page 6). Allow me to place in contention my father, Paul Lee ’46, who went to his first H-Y game in 1935 and has now witnessed 67 of those festival rites. With just one exception, he has attended every game from 1946 through 2009.

Dad’s record is one to emulate, but I humbly suggest that I myself stand in an excellent position to someday surpass it. I was indoctrinated to The Game at eight, and last November’s game marked my fiftieth consecutive attendance. I expect that in about another 25 years I will have seen more H-Y games than anyone, ever. Not that this is of the slightest importance in the greater scheme of things, but I think it will make a fitting epitaph someday.

Jeffrey P. Lee ’74
Norwalk, Conn.

 

Correction

In “Veterans Day Salute” (January-February, page 63), we misspelled the name of Medal of Honor recipient Pierpont M. Hamilton ’20, A.M. ’46. We regret the error.