Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

Same-sex marriage, cardiac care, engineering in Allston

May-June 2013

Prison Problems

As an ACLU policy counsel working to reduce incarceration, I was thrilled to see the profile of Bruce Western’s work on the deep injustices wrought by mass incarceration (“The Prison Problem,” by Elizabeth Gudrais, March-April, page 38). Western is correct that we are living in a “reform moment.” For that reform to succeed, the following facts must be part of the discourse:

1. While the article notes that drug addiction is closely connected with prison populations, it fails to note the enormous percentage of prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes: around 25 percent (the total proportion of inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes is a staggering 49 percent). We can more cheaply and more justly treat these people in the community and save billions of dollars in the process.

2. The reason small race and class differences are amplified at each stage of criminal processing is that police selectively enforce criminal laws in specific neighborhoods, which causes people of color to be disproportionately represented, not, as the article suggests, because “minority and low-income groups are so much more likely to make bad decisions.” In fact, blacks and whites use drugs at the same rates, yet black people are 10 times more likely to end up in prison for a drug offense.

3. While the article correctly notes that black children in schools are suspended and otherwise disciplined at rates much higher than whites, far out of proportion to misconduct, the next paragraph suggests that “underlying social problems” are to blame. In fact, many public schools now criminalize behavior that previously resulted in a trip to the principal’s office, and there is vast evidence that students of color are disproportionately diverted into the criminal-justice system for school-discipline problems.

4. The article mentions that New York has successfully reduced its prison population while crime rates have continued to fall. Indeed, since 1999 New York has cut its population by 22 percent, or 15,000 prisoners, an unparalleled feat. The recipe for success was severely cutting back on unnecessary felony arrests. Reducing the number of unneeded criminal charges by addressing social problems such as drug addiction through other mechanisms is an essential component of reform.

Incarceration is a heavy-handed, furiously expensive tool that takes a tremendous toll on communities, particularly communities of color. Alternatives are plentiful, and it is time to put them to use across the board.

Chloe Cockburn ’01, J.D. ’07
New York City


Thank you for a comprehensive presentation on intractable problems whose solutions are probably being pursued by all 50 states plus the federal government.

I was somewhat surprised, however, that an academician like Bruce Western would not place greater emphasis on high-school education as a vital approach to preventing imprisonment in the first place and qualifying for jobs for those being released. I have read that as many as 80 percent of those incarcerated have not completed high school, yet Texas provides little in the way of G.E.D. education or occupational training for a large incarcerated population that has plenty of time to devote to learning and occupational training, although perhaps not the motivation. Some 55 Texas employment categories have insulated themselves with legal restrictions against even employing released felons, and many employers require a high-school equivalency as a minimum for employment. And if you are a sex offender—forget it! The issue of housing is almost as bad, with many apartments refusing to rent to ex-felons, and sponsored halfway houses are proving inadequate to the task.

 Planning for release and re-integration into local communities should logically begin as soon as the felon is imprisoned, but personal safety and staff attitudes are not consistent with that need or with constructive goals. Additionally, most of those caught up in the prison system have neither identification cards, unexpired driver’s licenses, nor Social Security cards. Two forms of federally mandated identification are required by all employers—again something that could be accomplished while a person is incarcerated.

The circle continues when we look for help to a public-school system that is largely broken and especially fails traditional minorities and lower-income residents.

Success can only occur when comprehensive solutions are developed that include the cooperation and participation of students, parents, teachers, mentors, and other volunteer agencies. Perhaps some communities have developed models that show results and author Gudrais would do well to seek them out and shine her light on their success.

Jan Fersing, M.B.A. ’64
Fort Worth


There is little question that the United States has a serious prison problem. But why lead with the story of someone who “served 25 years for [an] armed robbery and aggravated rape [that he presumably committed].” I wish Jerry the best, but he would seem to be an example of the type of person who should have been in prison for an extended period of time. If we are serious about reducing our prison population, why not start by not imprisoning those who commit victimless crimes or those who lack mens rea. We might also look for ways to rein in prosecutors who routinely bludgeon individuals into pleading guilty for crimes that they may not have committed by giving them the option of accepting a short sentence or going to trial and risking a very long one.

Howard Landis, M.B.A. ’78
New Canaan, Conn.


Bruce Western’s writing on mass incarceration is rich in data and compelling in argument. I agree with Western that the United States may now finally be at “a reform moment,” when steps will be taken to lower the human, social, and financial costs of keeping 2.2 million men and women behind bars.

In addition, it is vital that those of us who study crime and incarceration try to understand people who are or were imprisoned as full and complex individuals, and not just as a “rap sheet.” Doing so represents a new and very welcome development. Western’s insights on the relationship between those we view as “criminals” and “victims” are spot on.

Still, I suspect there is much more work to do to understand this population and the phenomenon of mass incarceration. I have begun to learn about the experience of imprisonment and reentry through more than five years of teaching and advising men and women in five New York State prisons, where Bard College operates full degree-granting (A.A. and B.A.) programs, as well as in the shelters and halfway houses where many first land upon release. Beyond the purely academic program, Bard works with its incarcerated students in preparation for reentry while they are still in prison and continues to do so long thereafter. This has helped many men and women reunite with their families, continue their educations at the graduate level, and begin well-paid, professional careers, in the process becoming taxpayers. As Western and his research team continue their investigations, I hope they will spend even more time with people who know the most about incarceration—the more than 7,000,000 people currently serving time inside jails and prisons or outside on parole or probation.

Ellen Condliffe Lagemann
Levy Institute Research Professor, Bard College, and Distinguished Fellow, Bard Prison Initiative
Former dean, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.


One aspect not mentioned in this story is how home life and parenting skills affect child behaviour. Poor parenting skills can lead to mental problems in youth, which leads to antisocial behavior. New parents should be interviewed by a social worker before the birth of their child, then new parents can receive conselling on how to parent, and subsequent follow-up in the home should be mandatory. This alone could reduce mental illness among children, thus greatly reducing the potential of committing a crime in later years. 

In short, parents need training, monitoring to assure they are in fact fit to be parents. Children should be interviewed every few years to assure they are happy, well-adjusted, and doing well in life. 

Stuart Matthews
Vancouver, B.C., Canada

 

In this excellent treatment of a serious social issue, the author fails to address a basic underlying cause of crime: the high percentage of low-income, preschool children not prepared to succeed in school. The educational, employment, and drop-out factors she cites all relate back to preschool development. A high percentage of children whose family environment does not prepare them to succeed in primary education fall behind, become discouraged, drop out, and eventually enter the criminal-justice system.

There is an ever increasing body of data indicating that 50 percent or more of preschool children in low- income neighborhoods are unprepared for school at age five. There are many possible contributing factors, including poverty, neglect, abuse, and parents with low literacy. All these contribute to family situations which lack sufficient conversation, story-telling, games involving verbal interaction, and so forth—the essential building blocks for language development.

Separate testing by the Hearing, Speech, and Deaf Center and another nonprofit, Strive, found more than half of preschool children in the low-income areas of Cincinnati lacking the level of language development needed to succeed in elementary school. Of equal concern is a study that found that a child’s potential for development of language skills is pretty much set before entering elementary school. The vocabulary you have entering kindergarten pretty well defines the vocabulary level you can achieve by the sixth grade. 

Accordingly, to effectively attack the crime and prison issues, we must look to the quality of early life. That in turn means changing the social mores that leave so many children in single-mom families with multiple children and little or no father involvement. The data overwhelmingly indicate that the welfare system which incentivizes adding children to single-mom families (often from multiple relationships) is an incubator for children who will fail and turn to crime.  

David Freytag, M.B.A. ’60, Ph.D.
Cincinnati, Ohio

 

I read the article about Mr. Western’s research on “the prison problem” with great interest and ultimately with a sense of outrage. Was the writer really going to make it to the end without even hinting at the existence of institutionalized racism in the United States or what it might take to undo it? It’s possible that Western has not read Michelle Alexander, Joy DeGruy, Robert Jensen, or Tim Wise, I suppose, but it’s amazing that there’s no sign in the article that he is even aware of the current debate about the “new Jim Crow” or of the increasing and undeniable evidence that the United States is still a society based on white supremacy.

Maybe part of his problem is that, while being a “foremost expert” on the so-called prison problem in the United States, he has “primarily studied prisoners through datasets and equations.” The problem is not a statistical problem. It’s a real problem that requires real understanding and real solutions. Many people trace it back to Nixon’s decision to treat addiction as a crime rather than a public-health problem, motivated mainly by the need for a strategy that would get Republicans into the White House. This deliberately misguided approach has intensified in the past 40-odd years, driven mainly by racist political maneuvering. I had thought this was not a particularly controversial explanation, but apparently there’s still room for debate.

By about the fourth page of the article, we see that Western admits the “prison boom” does have some connection with race and class and is not only about “crime control.” (It has never really been about “crime control”!) We also learn that “the way children are treated in school helps set them on a path for later life” and that the real question is “why minority and low-income groups are so much more likely to make bad decisions.” More likely than whom, I wonder? Than the politicians who have been doggedly working to eliminate social programs, maintain unjust disparities in drug laws so that white drug defendants typically receive much lighter sentences for similar infractions, and sustain the fiction that longer prison sentences, harsher conditions of incarceration, and more extensive deprivation of civil rights following release are somehow the answer to the problem of crime in the United States? Than the captains of industry who richly reward themselves for moving jobs overseas and abandoning struggling communities to unemployment, poverty, and hopelessness? Than the members of the banking class who collectively gutted regulatory protections and brought the global economy to the brink of collapses? 

Part of the machinery of institutionalized racism—and there really is no serious debate about the existence and effectiveness of this in the US—is to make sure the subject is not discussed seriously. If you have to talk about something that is intrinsic to it, like the U.S. “prison problem,” then you have to define the problem in such a way that it can’t be solved. As long as we limit ourselves to talking about disciplinary methods in elementary school and funding mentorship programs for a tiny number of people released from prison, we can appear to care about a serious social problem without contributing anything to anyone’s understanding of it or to any kind of a solution. If we focus on the question of why poor black people tend to make such bad decisions, we can avoid talking about the kinds of societal changes that would help undo longstanding racism in the United States. Unfortunately, I see the article about Mr. Western’s work in this light: another contribution to the discussion of a real problem that helps make sure it will never be solved.

 John deChadenedes ’73
Bainbridge Island, Wash.

 

Gudrais’s article is a fine analysis of Western’s work, but fails to mention the salutary accomplishment of incarceration, which is to protect the public from predators. That protection is being provided by incarceration, and protection is the first requirement of any government. But further, although it is not the article’s purpose, Western does not address the three reasons why we have the crime problem at all. The reason they cannot be addressed anywhere, and thus the crime problem cured, is because in our politically correct and socially evolved world, it is not permissible to even admit we may have caused the problem. And so we have Western’s analysis of the results of 70 years of both governmental and social policies, but no hint of how we got there. 

We did have, in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, a society without this massive incarceration because we had little crime. People everywhere left their houses unlocked. It never occurred to my parents that my mother’s returning from symphony rehearsals on the surface trolley alone at midnight through the black section of Washington, D.C., in 1944 could be dangerous. It wasn’t dangerous because public crime was unheard of. 

Knowledgeable people know crime is not caused by poverty, because the worst poverty was during the Depression, when there was no crime wave. And “poverty” is a manufactured political term, since any American in poverty has a higher standard of living than the average West European. The increase in crime has been caused by three developments in the last 60 years, two ostensibly kind and favorable, but the last an unrelenting exercise in bigotry.

The first development was the minimum wage and its continuing increases. But the minimum wage freezes out of the economy the least economically efficient jobs, where the least qualified people learn to work. In a society before the safety net, the job was the only source of family support, status as a man, and hope for the future. The loss of a job was catastrophic: orphanage for children and a move in with relatives who don’t want the burden. All men worked. And lest we be concerned with the “poverty” of my grandparents’ tenement in Brooklyn, millions and millions of people did anything to get to America to participate in life without a safety net.

The point is that working men whose sole focus is on their jobs have no time or motivation to engage in crime. 

Enter the safety net. Ever-expanding benefits, from almost permanent unemployment to welfare to disability to Section 8 housing to food stamps to Medicaid to free phones and off-the-record “tax free” cash work or barter give an American on the full panoply of benefits a much better standard of living than a working person at the lowest levels of full employment.  

What has happened is that women no longer look to a working husband for support, but to the government. The key is to get on all these free programs, and often it requires no spouse or an absent spouse, and the more children, the more the benefits. Thus. the decline of desire for the women to work at all. Men don’t have to support their families anymore, but they sure are welcome to move in for sex in the vain hope by the women that they will become permanent, a game that has become standard even in the higher levels of society with working and professional women. So the men can live continually mooching off the women, for free sex, not having to work and having no responsibility. They then are drawn to manly competition for status, power, and money, which often results in crime. The minimum wage and the safety net sounded good, but they have created the problems we have.

Lastly, we have the collapse of social obligation, personal restraint, and traditional morals. This collapse has been caused by the unrelenting, wholly bigoted, attack on the Christian religion for the last 60 years, eliminating its moral values from any application to social policy and personal conduct. Thus no conduct is ever “bad.” It is just a nonjudgmental “choice” which is often determined by whether or not you will be caught.

When there was no crime, the entire society gave serious or not serious respect and honor to the social conduct dictated by Christian principles. These principles include the view that there probably is a God and that the Ten Commandments were probably given by God, to which was added various principles set forth by Jesus. People expected some type of judgment on their conduct either during their lives or after death. Required behavior meant absolute honesty, no cheating or lying, and certainly not theft. Rape, robbery, and murder were simply never encountered in a normal life. Women understood sexual abstinence until marriage as a moral imperative and ostracized those who didn’t uphold the standards.

Thus, good personal conduct, responsibility, and an accepted moral code were imposed by all facets of society. All public meetings began with a prayer for guidance, churches and clergy were honored, schools deferred to religion with time off for church programs. Because of the acceptance of these norms at all levels of society, all people felt constrained internally to be good people, and if deviant, kept it as an internal guilt. 

So the cause of crime, is not “poverty,” but the enabling of a large population of the least educated, least capable, men to live without the need to work, in which condition they gravitate toward the lowest level of male behavior—competition for power against other men, idolization of wealth that comes from crime, and sexual prowess. And since women no longer need or demand that men work, perversely rewarding them with sex and upkeep even if they don’t work, this particular class has no motivation to avoid crime.

These three developments, therefore, have created the situation Western describes. What to do about it is for another article which I hope will appear in Harvard Magazine.  

 Jonathan D. Reiff ’60
Edmond, Okla.

 

Kudos to Harvard Magazine for the excellent article on the prison population crisis in the United States. Sociologist Bruce Western has not only deciphered some of the complexity surrounding the enormous societal cost of the prison system, but also propounds an important subtext—the tremendous cost of racism and neglect of the disenfranchised. If we consider that the prison population mirrors any human population, natural law dictates that the aptitude and potential of the prison population likely follows a normal distribution, and with judicious investments in human capital, society could perhaps reap great benefits from talented individuals who may exist within those ranks, but have not manifested because of the dismal conditions that they often exist in. Liberals and sensible people have been derided in recent decades for being too soft on crime and out of touch with mainstream America whenever efforts to better understand the root causes of crime, abject poverty, and the resultant social ills are brought to fore. Social views had evolved to the point that building the “prison industrial complex” was seen as a panacea to make us feel more secure, insulate ourselves, and sidestep our collective guilt about ignoring the less fortunate elements of our society by removing them from our collective consciousness. Now the pendulum has begun to reverse and momentum appears to be building to reexamine the utter failures of such a system. Indeed slight advances in progressive policies indicated in the article offer a glimmer of hope, but much more needs to be done—the ineluctable conclusion to an otherwise well written article.

John E. Jordan, M.D.-M.P.P. ’85
Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

 

We cannot continue to build more prisons to house all the prisoners, because the annual cost of keeping a convict in the prison system has risen from under $1,000 to more than $52,000. In addition, when they come out they are not prepared to be good citizens. They lost their opportunity to get a free education, which would have qualified them for a good-paying job and a better life.

We need to stop criminal behavior before it starts, at an age when kids start to be most influenced by their friends, non-friends, neighborhood, television, movies outside the home. It starts when they are old enough for middle school, or sooner.

Start in seventh grade or sooner and show the kids what the result is for bad behavior. Show them what the inside of a prison looks and feels like. The walls and bars will be impressive. A traveling jail can be on a trailer. They should get the feeling of being behind the bars and hear the jail door slam shut. The jail should have a sink, toilet, small table, chair, and cot (or bunk beds to show they may have to sleep with a stranger). They should be told of the unsafe conditions of sharing a jail cell with a stranger—a stranger who may attack and rape them. Also, most local police departments have a jail that could be used for this purpose.

In high school, for lesser offences, as a minimum penalty let the kids stay three hours alone in a real jail and see the bars. This could also be available by an individual’s choice, school-controlled program, family request, or state program. Also let the parents see the same jail from the inside, because they need to build a greater sense of responsibility for teaching their children how to behave. For kids who are arrested by the police for any offense, the penalty should also include a minimum of 24 hours in jail, with limited parental visits. They must see the bars to get a tougher message. The parents will truly feel the pain of their poor parenting skills. The payment of fines is generally forgotten after a few months, but the sight of the jail bars will be remembered forever. 

This early introduction can help discourage bad conduct in the future, lead to less crime, and lower the need for more jails. The less populated jails will provide better living conditions, resulting in a better chance prisoners will not be damaged as human beings in jail, and more opportunities to prepare for their future later in the job market. It will reduce the drop-out rate, bullying, and disrespect for others. More will graduate with a diploma and learn earlier to obey laws; respect their parents; avoid drugs, smoking and alcohol; and be good citizens.  

Prisoners themselves should also be surveyed. Ask them whether if, as youths, they had been put in a prison cell for a brief time to learn what prison life would be like, would they have tried harder to be good citizens?

Bill Hnatuk
Maple Glen, Pa.


Same-Sex Marriage

In the excellent article by Michael J. Klarman (“How Same-Sex Marriage Came to Be,” March-April, page 30), he says that last November Minnesotans rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to bar gay marriage—becoming only the second state in which voters had done so. We in Minnesota have been bragging that we were the first state to do this—who beat us?

Also, he refers to Justice Anthony Kennedy without adding the customary J.D. ’61 to his name.

James H. Manahan ’58, J.D. ’61
Plymouth, Minn.


Michael Klarman responds: In 2006, Arizona voters became the first to reject a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, but they apparently did so only because the amendment’s language was broad enough to be interpreted as forbidding domestic partnership benefits for gay and straight couples. Such benefits were already available to many elderly cohabiting heterosexual couples under a Tucson law and to many private and public employees under corporate and state and local government healthcare plans. At least some voters did not want those benefits taken away. In 2008, Arizona voters passed a stripped-down measure that barred only gay marriage.

I have read Michael Klarman’s lengthy and triumphalistic article about same-sex marriage without finding a word about children (a major purpose of marriage) or any indication that their welfare is involved. Strong evidence indicates that they stand to be harmed.

Scott FitzGibbon, J.D. ’70
Belmont, Mass.


Though I enjoyed the article, I was disappointed to see that you’d missed the start of the gay rights movement by at least a decade. In 1957, Frank Kameny, Ph.D. ’56, was fired from the federal government and by 1965 he had fought his case all the way to the Supreme Court (it was declined), founded the Mattachine Society, and was picketing the White House for gay rights. Frank was not alone in that fight, but as an early voice and a lifelong advocate, his pre-Stonewall contributions surely merit mention.

John La Rue ’07
Washington, D.C.


In his 2010 book, From the Closet to the Courtroom, Rutgers law professor and same-sex marriage advocate Carlos Ball explained the rationale behind same-sex marriage litigation as follows: “Through the process of formally demanding admission into the institution of marriage, LGBT individuals would show the American public that they were capable of entering and remaining in committed relationships—and, for those who had them, of raising children—in ways that did not differ fundamentally from the experience of heterosexuals.” Now that this movement has achieved its goal with over 50 percent (and counting) of the public agreeing, can it give back the country’s traditions since it no longer needs them? I’m talking not only about marriage, but logic, common sense, and, oh, yes, democracy.

George Goverman ’65, J.D. ’70
Cambridge


The article on same-sex marriage made me recall a letter to the editor I wrote to Harvard Magazine in 2001. Until that time, obituaries in the magazine placed the names of same-sex partners after all other family members, while wives and husbands were placed first. I commented that now that same-sex relationships were recognized in at least one state (Vermont) and that acceptance was increasing in many other states, it was time for the magazine to recognize these relationships as primary in people’s lives.

The obituaries editor, Deborah Smullyan, pointed out that the magazine’s concern was not to place a “lesser” relationship first, lumping together extramarital heterosexual relationships with all gay relationships, and thereby offend “grief-stricken children, parents, and siblings.” But she went on to say that the term “life partner” was now viewed as the equivalent of “spouse,” that Vermont had created civil unions, and that most families would feel comfortable with the life partner being listed first. So she felt persuaded that Harvard Magazine should put the same-sex partner first when that relationship was clearly marital in nature.

It is pleasing to note that another dozen years later, several states have enacted same-sex marriage, including my home state of Massachusetts, and Harvard Magazine routinely recognizes our relationships in its articles, class notes, and obituaries.

Roland Dunbrack, Jr. ’85, Ph.D. ’93
Philadelphia


I picked up my daughter-in-law’s March-April edition, and read the article by Michael J. Klarman. There is a photo of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in San Francisco, being married by then Mayor Gavin Newsom (now lieutenant governor of California).

 I was Del and Phyl’s publisher at Glide Publications in 1972 for a book entitled Lesbian/Woman, still in print, still valid. The book is available from Volcano Press. Furthermore, Del went on to write the first book on domestic violence in the United States, Battered Wives, in 1973, still in print, and—sadly—still valid.

Ruth Gottstein
Publisher emerita, Volcano Press
Volcano, Calif.

 

Michael J. Klarman repeats the term “marriage equality” several times in his article. But he does not explain exactly what this means, or how one can base a right to same-sex marriage on the principle of equal rights. Historically understood as existing between a man and a woman, marriage has never been denied to homosexuals, even if they rarely availed themselves of it. Conversely, neither they, nor heterosexuals, had a right to same-sex marriage. Thus, it is not a question of a denial of equal rights. 

 The claim that gay couples have an “equal right” to be married only arises if one has a priori redefined “marriage” to include same-sex unions. To do that, however, is to presume that which one is attempting to prove. In other words, it is a bootstrap argument. And if one has already thus redefined marriage, the equal rights argument is superfluous.

 What is at issue today is something else. It is a new right, as well as a redefinition of marriage. There may well be a constitutional rationale for such a change. But to my mind, equal rights is not it.

 Andrew Sorokowski, A.M. ’75
Rockville, Md.

 

In implicitly endorsing homosexual marriage, “How Same-Sex Marriage Came To Be” does not go far enough. If the underlying rationale of legalizing it, and of holding the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, is (as it should be) that the government has no business looking in people’s bedrooms, then asexual marriage should be just as permissible. This would permit the “consecration” of unions not only between, as others have pointed out, two brothers (or sisters) or bachelor roommates, but also an adult brother and sister or an adult child and an elderly parent (or grandparent). I can think of good reasons why society would encourage the permanency of such arrangements, and the participants would have good reasons for doing it, including tax and health benefits. Of course, most or all (I haven’t checked) state laws bar incestuous marriages; but in an era where birth control is widely available, and where marriage and sex are largely divorced, the argument that they are a public-health issue goes away and it is not clear to me that bars to these marriage would survive a rational basis analysis. There remains the taboo, but once one decides that the Bible—which doesn’t distinguish between the two—is irrelevant, I cannot see why incestuous marriages—nearly all of which would be asexual and economically driven anyway—should be any more taboo than homosexual marriages.

Orrin Tilevitz ’75
Brooklyn


Cardiac Care

An aspect of the bias in favor of invasive procedures that escaped comment in Alice Park’s “A Cardiac Conundrum” (March-April, page 25) is the dependence of medical schools on clinical income. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 53 percent of the total revenue for U.S. medical schools in 2011 was generated by clinical activities; less than 4 percent came from tuition. Medical schools benefit from increases in the number of profitable procedures performed at their affiliated teaching hospitals, where faculty are often compensated in proportion to the clinical revenue they generate. Considerations of this nature can be expected to affect not only the practice of current faculty, who are incentivized to promote these procedures, but also the education of medical students—who will be ordering and performing these procedures in the future—regarding the appropriate indications for their use.

Matthew Movsesian, M.D. ’78
Professor, Internal Medicine (Cardiology) and Pharmacology
University of Utah School of Medicine
Salt Lake City


Academic Misconduct…

The hand-wringing, the calls for betterment, the tortuous admonitions of Dean Michael Smith are just plain disingenuous (“We All Can Do Better,” March-April, page 48). Does Harvard really think this is the first time its mass of carefully screened, over-achieving high-school standouts has cheated? The flaw, I submit, is in the University’s own situational ethics demeanor. Is there any admission criterion that speaks to the honesty, integrity, or any other moral value component of an applicant’s character?

Do you even know if any student has ever attended church? The leading institution of a society where the president of the United States can have, then openly lie about, an illicit sexual dalliance, where the Secretary of the Treasury can be a known tax cheat, and where traditional moral values are considered quaint and non-progressive cannot pretend to be surprised when it reaps that which it has sown.

Frankly, I’m surprised the Harvard Divinity School has not been kicked off campus. If it stays, perhaps it should play a role in the admissions process.

William I. Trandum, M.B.A. ’70
Gig Harbor, Wash.


…And its Aftermath

Editor’s note: The correspondent refers to online reports concerning news that resident deans’ e-mail accounts were searched to identify the disseminator of an Administrative Board memo concerning the investigation of undergraduate academic misconduct. See “E-mail Encore,” March 13 (http://harvardmag.com/e-mail-13) and “From Academic Misconduct to E-mail Investigation,” March 11 (http://harvardmag.com/misconduct-13), and this issue, page 46.

Senior resident dean Sharon Howell’s letter, in which she acknowledges that she has been left trying to imagine what President Drew Faust might be feeling regarding the e-mail searches, raises exactly the right points. Howell also correctly states to Faust that this situation obviously involves the “crucial trust at the heart of Harvard’s culture that is ours—yours—to protect or not.”

Given an issue of such importance, Howell should not have been left to wonder what Faust thought about all that was developing for so long. Howell should not have found it necessary to write that letter to the president asking to know where she stood on such a core value as this.

That is what a strong and effective leader at the top is for. This has all been happening on Faust’s watch. Irrespective of the apparent complexity of the situation, or of a desire to wait to see where matters stand after all the dust settles (which is the natural inclination of most lawyers advising institutions), in a core-values challenge such as this, a strong reaffirmation from the top of basic values as early as possible is essential for the health and confidence of the organization. Faust’s leadership was publicly needed. She should have been more proactively on top of this as it was developing and weighed in publicly sooner and with incandescent clarity regarding the question of the “crucial trust at the heart of Harvard’s culture” that Howell placed ever so appropriately front and center before the president.

Kenneth E. MacWilliams ’58, M.B.A. ’62
Portland, Maine


Engineering in Allston

It is with surprise and concern that I read of the sudden decision to move “the substantial majority” of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) to Allston (“Allston: The Killer App,” March-April, page 47). Thinking back on the many late nights spent finishing junior- and senior-year design projects in Pierce Hall or Maxwell-Dworkin, I fear that undergraduate interest in engineering will be stifled by divorcing the school from the core campus. Clearly SEAS must grow, but can this growth not be achieved by augmenting existing facilities with new ones in Allston, perhaps gearing the latter to graduate students so that undergraduates can remain “close to home?” President Faust can perhaps be forgiven for overlooking the importance of SEAS’s present location, but I nevertheless fear that the view from Mass Hall is becoming somewhat clouded.

Tim Mariano ’03, M.D., Ph.D, M.Sc.
Framingham, Mass.


Hamilton Rice

Mark Plotkin’s delightful account of Harvard explorer Hamilton Rice (Vita, March-April, page 36) notes that “his conduct has been blamed for destroying the academic study of geography at Harvard.” It is true that President James Bryant Conant got fed up with Rice’s self-promoting shenanigans, but the actuality, as told to me by Rice’s surveying mentor Osborn Maitland Miller, later acting director of the American Geographical Society of New York, was more complicated. Having enlarged his own fortune by adding to it Eleanor Widener’s, Rice in 1929 gave Conant a million dollars. Asked what he wanted in return, he said, “Make me Professor of Geography.” When Derwent Whittlesey, recently installed as Harvard’s head of geography, saw the door inscribed “Alexander Hamilton Rice, Professor of Geography,” he expostulated, “What’s this? I am the professor of geography.” “Oh, so you are,” said Conant. So Rice morphed into Director of the Institute for Geographical Exploration. Harvard geography in 1948 became the victim, in large measure, of Whittlesey’s open homosexual liaison with—and ill-judged promotion of—a member of his staff.

Rice was notorious for interminable lectures laden with countless slides of Rice with Indians, Rice with Eskimos, Rice with sailors, Rice with icebergs, Rice with polar bears, Rice with his medals. Miller recalled an evening at the Royal Geographical Society in London, Miller himself the projectionist. Before a typical RGS galaxy of the Great and the Good, lights were dimmed, and Rice embarked on his marathon. Minutes and hours passed, until at eleven o’clock a woman’s voice boomed out: “Hammy, time for bed!” The lights went up, revealing Rice, Mrs. Rice, and Miller alone, everyone else having crept out under cover of darkness.

David Lowenthal ’44
Berkeley, Calif.
Former secretary, American Geographical Society


I read with considerable interest the short piece by Mark Plotkin on Dr. Alexander Hamilton Rice (1875-1956), often referred to by colleagues as just “Ham Rice.” I found Plotkin’s eco-perspective of Ham Rice a bit different from my own research on Rice from an anthropological perspective. It might be useful to add a bit to his piece, particularly on Rice’s involvement in the Harvard building on Divinity Avenue.

Plotkin suggests that historian Hiram Bingham may have learned field methods from Rice, but based on Bingham’s naiveté in the field in Peru, this seems unlikely. Rice collected and donated specimens from all of his trips to the Amazon to the Peabody Museum, beginning in 1905, and by 1915, he was officially named an “Agent for Collecting Specimens for the Peabody Museum.” The Peabody Museum was fortunately the recipient of sizable endowment funds from Rice in 1922, allowing them to make significant additions to their South American display room, as well as to keep a portion for future anthropological research. Later, in 1929, he was named an honorary curator of South American archaeology and ethnology for the Museum. Rice became an expert on tropical medicine, and was a lecturer on this topic at Harvard Medical School from 1921 on, and at the School of Public Health from 1925 onward.

In the late 1920s, Rice became increasingly interested in establishing his own research institute, and in 1929 he donated funds for construction of the Laboratory for Geographical Explorations at 2 Divinity Avenue. The building was of considerable size for the time, and it had a fine lecture hall, often used by various Harvard departments for large events for many years. The agreement Rice made with Harvard University was that he would be named professor and Director of Geographical Explorations in return for donating the building. In 1930, when the building was finished, he was indeed appointed to these two positions, and kept them until he retired in 1951.

While the above is admittedly dry and not nearly as amusing as the bullet ants and vampire bats of Plotkin’s article, I think it adds a bit more to the Harvard flavor of Ham Rice’s career.

David Browman, Ph.D. ’70
St. Louis

 

The Vita of Alexander Hamilton Rice does not specify the complete Harvard connection of his wife, Eleanor Elkins Widener Rice, who was widowed as a result of the Titanic sinking in 1912. She chose to memorialize her oldest son, Harry Elkins Widener ’07, by donating money for the library which bears his name today.

Her marriage to AHR in 1915 occurred in the same year Miramar, her summer home in Newport, Rhode Island, was completed. She cut her ties to Philadelphia after that time. Those of us from Philadelphia wish to remind the Harvard community of the contributions of the Widener fortune found at Harvard. A touching monument to the Widener legacy is found today in Harry Widener’s personal library on the second floor at the Widener Library (including fresh flowers).

Stephen Dittmann ’71
Malvern, Pa.


Please Touch

As I read Craig Lambert’s piece about the art works of Jennifer Rubell (“Please Touch the Art,” March-April, page 13), I initially thought that it might be an Onion-style put on. But, alas, it was not. Lambert seems oblivious to the possibility that these clever and witty exhibits might actually be an artless dodge. (I pause here to allow self-annointed “experts” to roll their eyes and make tut-tut noises about having to endure the opinions of yet another philistine.) It is a waste of time to try to substantively and intellectually expose the phony-baloney, money-driven art world that supports this kind of sham. As an art historian recently wrote after seeing an exhibit in which someone had set up posts with laundry hung over them—exactly like a typical backyard: “Anything can be designated as ‘art’ [if] it has been called ‘art’ by the so-called ‘art system.’” The only useful response is wit and sarcasm—as in the satirical writing of Dave Barry (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/913682/posts). And, of course, nothing is more revealing than the pretentious and hilarious gibberish written by these “experts” themselves (http://www.artcritical.com/blurbs/JSMcMillian.htm). It is also worth mentioning that the wall of doughnuts (where viewers can take a bite and rehang the doughnut), the ton of barbecued ribs dropped on a table, and the open cereal boxes into which multiple people can stick their hands, create an ideal vehicle for spreading the flu and other illnesses. But such mundane concerns seem to be more than offset by the chance to rub elbows with the very rich and chic elitists who pay through the nose for this “art” and look down with contempt at those who have the common sense to see that these emperors have no clothes.

Sheldon M. Stern, Ph.D. ’70
Newton, Mass.

 

When a Xerox Copier Was Novel

Re: The $72,000 Xerox Copyflo machine installed at Widener Library, as reported in “Yesterday’s News” (March-April, page 50).

In 1963 I was chief of the Harvard University Library’s photoduplication and microfilm service when a crane had to be called into service to install the big Xerox Copyflo machine in the Widener basement (where all photolab equipment was located). The installation crew at first tried—and failed—to lower the huge machine through the passenger-elevator shaft on the ground floor, hence the crane. I recollect the fee for the crane and its crew was $2,500. But given the academic and economic impact of this machine—which rapidly converted microfilm into full-size paper prints—this amount was clearly insignificant.

The Xerox Copyflo machine enabled a Xerox commercial subsidiary to originate a print-on-demand program for out-of-print scholarly books. But the machine’s impact went far, far beyond that service. Installed within the photoduplication service, it totally revolutionized scholarly research that required access to documents available only on microfilm that might have come from any part of the world. No longer did researchers, confined to work in a semi-darkened room, have to decipher text on microfilm-reading machines and laboriously hand-copy it, or find the money to pay for conventional enlargements. The Xerox Copyflo liberated researchers, enabling them to work with relatively inexpensive hard copy in their usual, customary manner. Today, descendants of the early Xerox process easily produce hard copies from digitized text or from scanned microimages. Credit for this revolution in scholarly research goes to Chester Carlson (1906-1968), inventor of the Xerox process, and to two early British pioneers, John B. Dancer (1812-1887), who invented microphotography, and Sir John Herschel (1792-1871) who promoted the concept for scholarly purposes.

Allen B. Veaner, G ’57

Editor’s note: Veaner served as head of the Harvard University Library’s photoduplication service (1959-64) and subsequently as assistant director of Stanford University Libraries (1972-77); University Librarian at UC, Santa Barbara (1977-83); and former adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Information Resources & Library Science, University of Arizona.

 

Harvard University Press and Early Printing

Christopher Reed’s enlightening essay on the history of Harvard University Press takes us back to The Bay Psalm Book of 1640, the first book printed in British North America. The print run was 1,700 copies. There are so few copies of that printing extant, however, that none is on public display today. 

Along with the Bible and The New England Primer (1683), The Bay Psalm Book was the most commonly owned book in seventeenth-century New England. The psalter went through more than 50 editions in the next century, including one in 1651 and three more in the 1700s.

The New England Primer was the most successful educational textbook published in eighteenth-century America, when two million copies of it are said to have been sold, and it remained in print throughout the nineteenth century. Its method of instruction was pictures and associated rhymes. Even today, who can forget “In Adam’s Fall / We sinned all”? Other examples are “The Lion bold / The lamb doth hold,” and “The idle Fool / Is whipt at school.”

* * * * *

Last year the Library of Congress mounted a display, Books That Have Shaped America,” for which 88 books were chosen from LC holdings. Why 88? Because that was all the exhibit area could accommodate. 

The committee empanelled to select the books had an easy task in a number of cases­—some of the books would have been chosen by anyone: Walden, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Huckleberry Finn, The Souls of Black Folk, The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, Poor Richard’s Almanac, and The Federalist. (The author of The Federalist is “anonymous,” not even “Publius,” as if no one knew that Madison, Hamilton and Jay were the authors.) The list also includes The New England Primer in an 1803 edition.

The most prominent American who is absent from the list is Thomas Jefferson, who wrote only one book, Notes on the State of Virginia. The book was first printed in 1782 and has been published either as a self-standing volume or in collections of Jefferson’s writings more than 15 times since. This is hardly how the Library of Congress should treat the man whose personal library of 6,500 volumes was purchased by LC in 1815 to form its own core collection.

Perhaps the strangest book on the LC list is A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible, published in England in 1783. The book seems to have no American provenance except an unauthorized or illegal one, and the author has never been identified. Outside of the selection committee, exceedingly few people who learn of LC’s book list will have heard of it. Still, the Hieroglyphick Bible turns out to be remarkably like The New England Primer—its method of instruction is pictures with associated rhymes. A British website devoted to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century children’s books says that “On each page an isolated verse from either the New or Old Testament is set out, with certain key words replaced with images.”

We are a long way from Christopher Reed’s essay on Harvard University Press. But Harvard Magazine might consider an article on The New England Primer and A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible, complete with images from these seventeenth- and eighteenth-century books.

Charles A. Miller, M.P.A ’62, Ph.D. ’67
New Market, Va.

 

Further Thoughts on Fracking

Thank you for publishing the fine article by Michael McElroy and Xi Lu, “Fracking’s Future: Natural gas, the economy, and America’s energy prospects” (January-February, page 24). I have some comments in the areas of subsidies for fossil fuels, retail-market competition by renewable energy, cost of coal, fracking and water shortages, leaks from gas wells, variability of fossil fuel costs, and transportation.

Government subsidies for fossil fuels. In evaluating the relative costs of generating electricity from fossil fuels versus generating electricity from wind and solar, we must remember that fossil fuels also receive a substantial federal tax subsidy in the form of the mineral depletion allowance and other benefits. To remove only the producer tax credit for wind and the investment tax credit for solar, without also removing the subsidies received by fossil fuels, would distort the competitive playing field.

Competition by rooftop/parking-lot solar in the retail market. The article presents the comparison of costs in an easy-to-follow cost per kilowatt hour of electricity, produced by coal, by gas, and by wind. But the article compares wholesale prices. There is an important area—urban rooftop and parking-lot solar­—in which a renewable energy source competes against retail prices for grid-derived power produced from fossil fuels. There are regions of the United States, such as Hawaii and southern California, where retail prices have reached “grid parity,” i.e., the cost of power “from the roof” is equal to or less than the retail cost “from the grid.” This is a powerful incentive for customers in these areas to invest their own money in rooftop solar. Several studies have shown that rooftop solar customers do not shift costs to nonsolar customers. Nonsolar customers benefit from reduced or avoided costs for new generation plants, new transmission lines, and reduced transmission-line power losses. This rooftop/parking-lot solar power displaces power from fossil fuels on the grid.

Cost of coal. With regard to the cost of coal, stricter health-based clean-air standards for coal combustion emissions have long been anticipated by the power industry. The cost of coal to society is much more than mining and transporting the coal, it is also the cost of disposing of unhealthy emissions from coal combustion into the air. These include, among other things, mercury, oxides of sulfur, oxides of nitrogen, and volatile organic compounds which are precursors of low-level ozone, all of which affect public health. Finally, the cost to society includes the cost of safe disposal of coal ash. These new standards will help to internalize costs of coal combustion that have traditionally been treated as externalities by the industry. Compliance with new standards will make the choice to burn coal as fuel a more expensive choice.

Fracking and water shortages. The shortage of water in the arid West will tend to limit fracking, particularly in times of drought. Withdrawals of 10 million gallons of fracking water for each gas well will compete with the water needs of agriculture and the public water supply. Large quantities of water are also withdrawn from surface waters for cooling steam-driven power plants. Most of this water is returned to watercourses, but at higher temperatures. These have environmental impacts and are potentially subject to regulation. Shortages of water will increase fracking costs and gas costs.

Leaks from gas wells. The leakage of methane and other greenhouse gases from gas wells and pipelines also requires stringent regulation, as the article points out. This will tend to increase costs. It is critical to protect aquifers by setting stringent standards for preventing underground leaks of drilling fluids and gas. Compliance with these standards will also increase costs.

Variability of fossil-fuel costs. The article illustrates the large variability of natural-gas costs, from a high of $12.69 per million BTUs in June 2008, to a low of $1.82 in April 2011. This is a range of nearly 700 percent in three years. Converting to renewable sources of energy for all or most power needs provides businesses and governments with price stability. There is no variability of fuel costs for sunshine and wind. A stable cost for energy allows business and government entities to plan with certainty concerning fuel costs.

Transportation. With regard to transportation, studies have shown that if all-electric or hybrid vehicles, having a 90-mile round-trip range on batteries, could be used, 85 percent of all vehicle miles traveled in the US would be battery-powered. This would result in an 85 percent reduction in the use of gasoline, and an 85 percent reduction in vehicle emissions, which are large contributors of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. If the batteries were recharged from renewable sources, such as a customer’s rooftop solar, this would also result in reduction of emissions from generation in central power plants.

Nathaniel P. Wardwell ’65
Erie, Colo.

 

Zimbabwe Recollections

Your report of two Rhodes Scholars from Zimbabwe (Brevia, March-April, page 53) reminded me of my family’s visit to Cecil Rhodes’s grave there in 1974, when Zimbabwe was Rhodesia and still a British territory. Rhodes chose his own burial place, a square cut into the summit of a rock in the Matapos Hills that he said commanded “a view of the world.” Uniformed guards stood at attention at his grave 24 hours a day. At the time of our visit, the only other visitors (besides the guard) were an extended family of baboons. A friend who visits Zimbabwe regularly tells me that despite periodic calls to dig up Rhodes’s remains and return them to the United Kingdom, the grave is still there but the guards are gone.

Paula Budlong Cronin ’56
Cambridge

Erratum

In editing “As Many Books as Possible Short of Bankruptcy” (March-April, page 44), on the centennial of Harvard University Press, we inadvertently removed brackets indicating author Christopher Reed’s interpolation within a quote from a book about the Press by Max Hall. The language in the penultimate paragraph should have read:

“President Pusey had no financial worries about the Press until the very end of his tenure. [Under the four-year directorship of Mark Carroll, the Press published such seminal works as John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, E.O. Wilson’s The Insect Societies, and Notable American Women: 1607-1950, edited by Edward T. James and Janet W. James. It also ran large, unanticipated, and unsatisfactorily explained deficits, and Carroll left his job, not quietly, in 1972.]”

You Might Also Like:

Meme by Lydia Carmichael/Harvard Magazine

Harvard undergraduate memes

President Drew Faust

The view from Mass Hall

You Might Also Like:

Meme by Lydia Carmichael/Harvard Magazine

Harvard undergraduate memes

President Drew Faust

The view from Mass Hall