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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

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Humanities hubris, hoop humor, undergraduate prolixity

July-August 2014

Antibiotic Resistance

Thanks for the fine article on antibiotic-resistant bacteria by Katherine Xue (“Superbug,” May-June, page 40). Patient demand and doctors’ compliance turned antibiotics into monster-makers. A favorite teacher of medical microbiology at the University of California, San Francisco, Ernest Jawetz, stressed the importance of prescribing an antibiotic only after culturing the affected area. Too many doctors skipped that step to accommodate patients, so resistant organisms grew and turned hospitals into danger zones. A psychiatrist, I never prescribed antibiotics, but heard the warnings again at Harvard School of Public Health. Unfortunately, the facts of microbial life were brushed aside by doctors too willing to please rather than counsel their patients. The profuse distribution of hand sanitizers is another example of selling non-remedies to an uninformed and gullible public. Bacteria adapt: what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger.

E. James Lieberman, M.P.H. ’63.
Potomac, Md.

 

Katherine Xue’s article is a wake-up call for urgent action to protect antibiotics. The author is right to note that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) voluntary plan for countering routine livestock use of antibiotics is but a small step in light of the maturing scientific consensus that the widespread overuse of antibiotics on industrial farms contributes to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

The FDA’s plan to promote “judicious” use of antibiotics by the livestock industry, adopted late last year, relies on voluntary compliance by the pharmaceutical industry and ignores the biggest use of these drugs: to compensate for crowded, unsanitary, and stressful feedlot conditions. Letting industry police itself won’t work. We don’t give our kids antibiotics to prevent disease because we don’t keep them in squalor; we should not risk these “miracle drugs” so that livestock can be kept more cheaply.

 Today, 80 percent of the antibiotics in the U.S. are sold for use by farm animals rather than people. We can’t stop the crisis of antibiotic resistance unless the livestock industry is part of the solution. FDA can move to require stricter controls now.

Peter Lehner ’80
Executive Director, Natural Resources Defense Council
New York City

 

Thanks for publishing “Superbug,” but there is one important perspective missing. No one will ever get an antibiotic-resistant infection in the hospital if they don’t get an infection in the hospital in the first place. Yes, better antibiotic stewardship in hospitals is important, as is reducing unnecessary antibiotic use in people and animals, and so is research on new antibiotics. But leading hospitals have shown that it is possible to markedly reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections in hospitals—in some cases essentially to zero—through assiduous attention to the details of patient care, and many other hospitals are making remarkable progress by following their lead. Hospital-acquired infections due to sensitive strains of Staphylococcus aureus and Enterococcus species are no picnic either. We should be doing everything we can to eliminate infections like central-line-associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary-tract infections, and surgical-wound infections, without regard to antibiotic resistance; the problem of antibiotic-resistant infections in healthcare settings will then become almost invisible. 

Richard S. Hopkins ’68, M.D., M.S.P.H.
Tallahassee

 

I was pleased to see the article on antibiotic resistance. However, its explanation for why most “large pharmaceutical companies have abandoned antibiotic research and discovery” described the industry’s symptoms but failed to diagnose the nature of its disease.

The FDA makes approvals of antibiotics more difficult than for other drugs, which has predictably left the world with a paltry antibiotic pipeline. For antibiotics, the FDA has historically stiffened its already stringent “safe and effective” test by layering on demanding comparative tests. It has also historically refused to allow clinical tests by pathogen and required sponsors to prove efficacy in each of dozens of organs. These and other policies have brought us to the brink of an agency-wrought public-health nightmare.

Current FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg ’77, G ’78, M.D. ’83, deserves credit for moving the agency away from some of its worst policies, but time will tell whether she forced enough change fast enough to save the millions of lives at risk.

Michael J. Astrue, J.D. ’83
Belmont, Mass.

The author was general counsel of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1989-1992) and chair of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (2000-2002).

 

I was especially glad to see that the article emphasized the importance of rapid diagnostics. However, this discussion was focused on developing rapid diagnostics for use in hospital settings. Given that most antibiotic over-prescribing occurs in response to common ailments presented in outpatient clinical settings, I think deploying rapid diagnostics in primary-care practices would be even more important.

I am always struck by how quickly primary-care doctors prescribe antibiotics when it is not at all clear, in fact is perhaps unlikely, that a bacterium is the cause of the ailment at hand. Why not stop and run a test, especially since the illness is not life-threatening (as it can be in the hospital setting)? I suspect the cost of lab work is the cause. How short-sighted, given that the cost of increasing antibiotic resistance seems far more significant and far-reaching. There is something wrong with the incentives in our healthcare system. The availability of rapid diagnostics could help. I understand that rapid diagnostics already exist in outpatient clinical settings in Europe. Why not here? Perhaps scientists at the Harvard-wide Program on Antibiotic Resistance can learn from their colleagues in Europe.

Jean M. Murphy, M.P.P. ’86
Arlington, Mass. 

 

This article on “superbugs” may have accidentally stumbled across the answer to America’s great question of the era: why are we all getting so fat? In discussing the use of antibiotics in livestock farming, the author points out that “for reasons still poorly understood, small amounts of antibiotics regularly mixed into feed make young animals gain weight up to 8 percent more quickly….” What about small amounts of antibiotics regularly mixed into meat consumed by humans? This needs further research.

Marian Henriquez Neudel ’63
Chicago

 

As a physician in primary care for 21 years, I have long avoided antibiotics (and most pharmaceuticals) because, while life saving in emergency situations, drugs rarely cure chronic illness. I was fascinated to learn in Katherine Xue’s article how closely antibiotic resistance has followed on the heels of discovery of new antibiotics. I have no doubt that we, as humans, have definitively altered our microbiome and quite likely rendered protective intestinal species extinct even before “discovering” them, sort of like losing medicinal plants in the Amazon to indiscriminate timbering. I was dismayed, but not surprised, at drug companies’ current lack of interest in developing new antibiotics. Herein we see the fundamental flaw of “patients as consumers” in our increasingly nonegalitarian democracy. However my chief motive in writing is to extol the impressive efficacy of concentrated oxygen (medical ozone) which—with a small investment (equipment $3K, training $1K)—every clinician can begin to apply to a wide range of conditions such as urinary-tract infectionss, sinusitis, periodontal abscesses, decubitus ulcers, burns, zoster, all manner of gastrointestinal dysbiosis including ulcerative colitis, etc., for which many doctors will still reflexively prescribe antibiotics despite rising admonitions to cease and desist. Medical ozone is widely used as a safe, effective, inexpensive antimicrobial therapy in the rest of the world where profit margin is not part of the healthcare equation. For a brief, referenced, overview see http://www.triroc.com/sunnen/topics/ozonemed.htm.

Emily Kane ’78, N.D.
Juneau

 

One might reasonably come to the following conclusion after reading “Superbugs”: Therapy for bacterial disease will soon return to pre-1940 levels, if financing for antibiotic research is not increased. Interviews of Harvard faculty members reveal that superbugs (bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics) arise more rapidly than antibiotics can currently be found to manage them. Thus, the impression is that the above conclusion is proven. 

But, the article does not tell the whole story. Omissions include discussion of Mother Nature’s most relevant probiotics: bacterial viruses, also called bacteriophages, or phages. So, the above conclusion is not proven. We also do not know whether we can ever solve the superbug problem with antibiotics alone.

Phage-based therapy is potentially a solution because some phages clear bacterial infections. No matter how “super” bacteria are, phages can be found to manage them. Phages have never been found to harm people. Historically, phage therapy was the first antibiotic-like therapy and was a career motivator for at least two well-known ex-Harvard researchers, via the novel Arrowsmith (www.c-span.org/video/?179411-1/science-writing&start=5371). 

Nonetheless, in Western Europe and the United States, phage-based management of bacteria has traction only as an occasional bacterial prophylactic. Phage therapy is used primarily in Eastern Europe. 

Phage-based management of bacteria can be made more effective than it is now. The reason is that current practice does not incorporate recent advances in polymer science, DNA isolation, DNA sequencing, genomics, computing, microscopy, robotics and other disciplines. 

Thus, one reasonably asks why Plan B is not phage therapy, after incorporation of these advances. Furthermore, reasons exist to think that work on phages might help to solve a second problem caused by drug resistance of cells: the development of drug-resistant, metastatic cancer. Taken together, the above points suggest that common sense is not prevailing. 

Philip Serwer, Ph.D. ’73
Professor of biochemistry
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

 

Humanities Hubris?

While it is reassuring to learn that faculty members in the humanities are trying to arrest and reverse the decline in their number of majors, two things occur to me upon reading “Toward Cultural Citizenship” (May-June, page 35).

First, why weren’t those same faculty members contacting alumni who teach in the humanities at schools where there is no similar decline? For example, at my own institution (a private liberal-arts college in Minnesota), the number of history majors is growing steadily and approaching its all-time high. The classics, religion, and English are in fine shape as well. Maybe we, and other schools like us, know something that Harvard doesn’t. But, as usual, our experience and insights aren’t sought. Instead, Harvard comes up with its own plan, which leads to my second observation. 

According to the article, the authors to be read in the new humanities colloquium consist entirely of white males from Western cultures. Is this the 1960s? Maybe Harvard’s enrollment problem is related to its taking an approach that today’s students reject. In high school, they are increasingly taught world history and world literature. They come to college eager to study other cultures and other peoples. When they study U.S. history, it’s not their grandparents’ curriculum. The research conducted by Stanford’s Sam Wineburg shows that high-school students name non-whites such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks as the greatest Americans, which he connects to the way they are taught U.S. history in school.

Don’t get me wrong. I teach medieval and early modern European history. Shakespeare and Luther are among the writers I believe every college student should read. But if we tried to build our curriculum entirely around U.S. and European history and assigned only white male authors, we would be losing majors, too. Asian history is the most popular specialization in our history major, and has been for a few years. Courses on gender history and queer history fill every time they are offered. Our students love medieval European history, too. But it is the diversity of offerings and of the voices they read and hear in our classes that keeps them coming back for more, and draws them to major. 

So, Harvard humanities faculty, how about not looking down your noses at alums in fly-over country, and see what you can learn from us?

Eric J. Carlson, Ph.D. ’87
Professor and chair of history,
Gustavus Adolphus College
St Peter, Minn.

 

It is encouraging to learn that Harvard professors are concerned about the sharp decline in student majors in the humanities and the corresponding impact on the University’s ability to teach the skills “that remain exceedingly important to being a citizen and an educated person.”

This alarm is rather ironic since Harvard and other “elite” universities have for decades systematically eliminated required undergraduate general-education courses in the humanities. It should also hardly come as a surprise that persistent attacks on Western ideas and institutions, the allure of race, class, gender, and critical theory in the classroom, and the politically correct hostility to dissent and the free expression of ideas have undermined the “relevance” of the humanities for college students. The claim that Harvard is doing “an enormously courageous thing” by rediscovering the primacy of the humanities in undergraduate education is too self-serving and self-congratulatory by half. But, better late than never.

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


In the current valuable article, above a print celebrating chamber music, there is, in blue print, an excerpt. I am sure I am not the only, nor the first, reader to note, and complain about, the error in that sidebar. It asserts, “Professors in the humanities are struggling with how to integrate the study the we really value with the world that our undergraduates inhabit—a world of smartphones, texting, Twitter, and Facebook.”  Got it, out there? It is properly presented within the text, but somebody—or maybe the evil genius of the computer, the hateful totalitarian tyrant “spellcheck”—has pulled out the word “that” and replaced it contemptuously with the repeat of the word “the.”

Now, is this an item of no importance at all? I teach at an art and design school, and welcome honest misspellings, creative and imaginative inventions of new ideas of how a word should look, how slang and jargon and crazy punctuation can twist and turn dull logic. Even desperately rushed personal calligraphy in pen or pencil can excuse a wild error, perhaps, in fact, an element of the dreaded “plagiarism.” There is no such thing as handwritten plagiarism. But not to glance intelligently at what one has put down upon paper, that is unforgivable! And at the honorable Harvard? Within its proud publication? In its major editorial article?

I am the inventor of an e-mail, which I send to my son, called either a “rant” or, more recently, “daily drivel.” The rules are, no point must be made, and something must be carefully and purposely misspelled. And there must be no ending, no period, exclamation point, even comma. Just stop writing and press “send.” And it must be pointless and laughable. On the other hand, I hold no esteem whatever for graphic grace without proofreading. 

In Jewish tradition, one reads from the Torah with a companion on the pulpit, the “bima.” One holds a silver pointer, a “yad,” a sculpted hand, and one with ultimate care traces every letter in Hebrew, to make absolutely certain that one respects each form from the aleph bet, the sacred stories which must be discussed, debated, but, primarily, PROOFREAD  (please note the absence of a dot, or a curlicue, to close off this diatribe, which is not, sad to say, mere drivel or idle rant.

Michael Fink, M.A.T. ’56
Professor, Literary Arts + Studies
Rhode Island School of Design

Editor’s note: Professor Fink is the first and only reader to report that annoying error so far; the six or seven of us who proofed the article all missed it. It is one of those errors that prove too easy to glance over. We hate making such errors; we do not think such things are of no importance. We erred, during a busy closing. There are other errors in the issue as well. We regret all of them.

 

Hoop Humor

My brother and I, both Harvard grads, were amused to see our father, E.C.K. Read ’40, highlighted in the most recent Yesterday’s News (May-June, page 23). His exploits as Harvard Lampoon editor and winner of the Wellesley Hoop Race are part of the family lore. Ned was also featured that year in Life Magazine and, much to his own amusement before he died, was invited to address the Wellesley class of ’39 at its fiftieth reunion. Separately, his [1973] Letter to the Editor [of this publication] about postgraduate nightmares of being late for an exam, without his pants or #2 pencils, triggered a firestorm of corroborative responses. 

His classmate, Jack Kennedy, may have been better known, if less “notorious.” 

 John C. Read ’69, M.B.A. ’71
Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.

Web Extra

View a PDF containing the original “recurring dream” letter and the responses.

 

Collegiate Prolixity

Noah Pisner’s “Word-upmanship” (The Undergraduate, May-June, page 30) is truly a delight.

But really, he should be more precise. If lexiphane means “someone who shows off by using big words,” then his substitutes miss out: prolix has something to do with Latin “pouring out,” hence “windy,” but not “showing off”; loquacious is similar to prolix and again not necessarily showy; circuitous is “roundabout/won’t get to the point”; circumlocutory is similar to circuitous but carries the added implication of “devious with intent to dissemble/deceive” (yes, this last is redundant, but it has alliterative value); digressive means “can’t or won’t stay on the point.” Leave aside the more pedantic quibble that he’s trying to synonimize (ha!) adjectives with a noun.

Why not just settle for pretentious? But this would commit the academic sin of using a short, clear, almost universally understood word when it’s so much more fun to use an arcane uncommon word that is, well…pretentious.

Ted Pearson Jr. ’61
Tucson

 

I wonder what The Undergraduate would say about the verb usage in the following clause, taken from “Advancing Leadership” (March- April, page 39, right column, second line): “Perhaps most important, in a University that valorizes educating leaders….” I looked up “valorize” in two different dictionaries: the verb apparently pertains to “the maintenance by governmental action of an artificial price for any product.” Is Spell-Check to blame for the way in which this word was used in the clause quoted above? Or was the author of “Advancing Leadership” making a subtle comment about the worth of educating leaders in a University setting? 

Peggy-ann Shearer ’69, J.D. ’72
Scarsdale, N.Y.

Editor’s note: According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the Engish Language (3d ed.), the second definition of valorize is “To give or assign a value to: ‘The prophets valorized history’ (Mircea Eliade).”

 

Perhaps Noah Pisner ’14 and your readers will laugh at, but hopefully laugh with, the poem below, from a work written during my three-year three-month three-day meditation retreat, 2010 to 2014.

Nothing has changed since Plato:
acatalepsy still rules—
at least for those who know.
We think having learned a word
we’ve learned a world
and perhaps it’s so.
Pick up a marble and play a while.
One glass bead repels another…
until both you set them down.
Matter and anti-matter add up to naught.
Go give Her a kiss and hold Her hand—
it’s so much sweeter than any thought.

“Acatalepsy”—(OED) “Acatalepsy is the property of the unknowable object.” “Acataleptic—Incapable of being certainly comprehended or ascertained.”

Keith Emmons ’70
Boulder Creek, Calif.

 

Animal Research Redux

Regarding Dr. Schneidewind’s letter concerning animal research (May-June, page 6): may I say that after my graduation in 1960, I spent several decades as a part-time animal caretaker at the Harvard Biological Laboratories, and have a pretty good idea about how researchers treat laboratory animals. I saw no deliberate instances of cruelty.

I would suggest that those who feel that use of laboratory animals (without their consent?) is “indefensible” (her word), should be consistent. I believe that those who agree with Schneidewind should carry a little card with them at all times. The card would state that in case of a medical emergency, during which they could not speak for themselves, they did not want to receive any medications or surgical procedures which had been developed through the use of live animal research. Does this seem reasonable?

Robert A. Campbell ’60, Ed.M. ’61
Weymouth, Mass.

 

Schlesinger, Remembered?

Anent the life of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (Open Book, March-April, page 57) and Marshall S. Shapo’s fine letter referencing it (May-June, page 7), I just received a telephone call from a junior at the College soliciting for the annual Harvard College Fund.

After he completed his task, we chatted a bit. When I asked him his major, he said economics, and that he is thinking of going to work in Wall Street after he graduates. While talking further about economics as a career, I happened to mention John Kenneth Galbraith. He hadn’t heard of him. A bit later I happened to mention Paul Samuelson. Never heard of him, either. Then a bit later, I mentioned Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and this time I said, “You certainly must know of him?” He said “Yes, I do.” To which I replied, “Who was he?” He sheepishly said, “I just said that. I really don’t know.”

He had never even heard of any of them. Stunning. He should do very well on Wall Street. 

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

 

Does This Ring A Bell?

Following publication of the item about “Bellboys” (Yesterday’s News, March-April, page 20), a reader commented on “amusing nicknames for undergraduate houses….Lowell House…acquired the nickname ‘Bellboys.’ At the time, Lowell House was where all the students on scholarships lived.”

I never heard the nickname used during my Lowell House years, but there’s another reason why it could have been. Have you ever heard or seen the massive Russian bells that occupy Lowell’s blue belfry, or their infamous Sunday concerts?

Your version hints at a degree of elite snobbery that I don’t believe prevailed among Harvard undergraduates. I think most of my housemates would disagree with your premise—including those with names like Birdseye, Lamont, Lodge, Morgan, and Weatherhead.

James Fitch ’50, M.B.A. ’53
Former scholarship student
Santa Rosa, Calif.

 

Questioning Climate Change

President Drew Faust has recently detailed University resources, research, and finances dedicated to “climate change” issues, which present a reasoned approach to the issue. Far from “settled science,” as some would claim, there remain many contradictions and partisan claims on both sides. Hoorah to Faust and Harvard for the balanced inquiry.

Peter McKinney ’56
Chicago

Editor’s note: The president addressed the issue in an April 7 e-mail to the community; it began, “Climate change represents one of the world’s most consequential challenges” (see “Harvard Details Climate-Change Actions” at http://harvardmagazine.com/2014/04/ harvard-climate-change-actions). For more, see “The Divestment Debate,” page 22. 

 

Baby Talk and Childcare

A Facebook post from Jessica Salley (“Baby Talk,” The Undergraduate, March-April, page 24) misled one of her new roommates to think she was arriving with a baby. The column prompted me to recall my thirty-fifth reunion, where one of my classmates disclosed, tearfully, that she did arrive with a baby—but placed her with relatives and carefully concealed the secret. It also brought to mind the student-parents who attend my classes at a state university. True, they do not live in the dorms. But many bring keen intellects to the classroom. 

Salley’s author note states that she “hopes to enter a career in anything but childcare.” The phrase conflates an inclination to take on parenthood with an interest in or capability at working in childcare. It also reveals a lack of knowledge about the seminal contributions to early-childhood education made by women from elite educational backgrounds. Dr. Abigail Eliot (the department of child development at Tufts bears her name) was a 1914 Radcliffe graduate and recipient of a doctorate in education from Harvard. She never experienced motherhood, but she founded one of the nation’s first nursery schools and co-founded what is now the National Association for the Education of Young Children. 

The idea that there is a connection between “being a mother” and “being prepared to work with young children” has often been deployed nefariously. Why not kill two birds with one stone, ask some “welfare reformers,” by putting mothers who need public assistance to work in childcare and thereby expand childcare services for all? The notion that any woman can work in childcare, just because she is a mother, is demeaning to those who have worked hard to gain a deep understanding of how young children learn and grow. And of course it is demeaning to the public-aid recipients at whom it is targeted. Who says they want to work with children, just because they’ve had babies? 

Dale Borman Fink ’71
Williamstown, Mass.

 

Harvard and Vietnam

Nguyen Xuân Oánh (1921-2003), Ph.D. ’54 (see Wikipedia: “[Former] Prime Minister of South Vietnam in 1964 and 1965. Professor Oánh was trained as an economist, receiving his doctorate from Harvard University. He subsequently worked for the International Monetary Fund before returning to Vietnam as an economic adviser. He was awarded the Harvard Centennial Medal in 1999 given by the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.”) probably did more to prevent Vietnam from turning into an economic basket case by providing reluctantly accepted advice to the ideologically hidebound Finance Ministry in the late 1980s and early ’90s (see “A Nation, Building,” May-June, page 52). I suspect Dwight Perkins and Thomas Vallely should have been aware of his role when they visited. I believe “Jack” Oanh was recognized by the Japanese government, as well as Harvard, for his contributions during the 1990s.

One development tool that seems to have been overlooked by the SRV, the Fulbright Program, and others is the large volume of materials generated by the Lillienthal Group in the former Republic of [South] Vietnam in the late 1960s and ’70s. Under the title of “Postwar Development of the Republic of Vietnam,” this project may have been the basis for the Nixon-Kissinger offer for postwar development in 1973. It presupposes that hostilities would fall to a level in which it would be possible to build a dam or other infrastructure, without having the same blown up by one side or another upon completion. Since this condition never occurred, there was no implementation. But all of the documentation, which covered many man-hours of study in all areas of economic development for the region, was both available and applicable to conditions after 1975. 

Steve Sherman, M.B.A. ’73
Houston

 

The late Senator J. William Fulbright remarked, “We are trying to remake Vietnamese society, a task which certainly cannot be accomplished by force and which probably cannot be accomplished by any means available to outsiders.”

Would this distinguished statesman have given his blessing to the Harvard Kennedy School program that now bears his name?

Ira Braus, Ph.D. ’88
West Hartford, Conn.

 

“Quiet Campaign”

Harvard University should be setting an example in terms of the transparency and details of its enormous fundraising initiatives, rather than running from behind to catch up with the extent to which peer institutions share relevant financial campaign information with their own alumni and the public (see “Quiet Campaign,” May-June, page 4). Editor Rosenberg is absolutely correct in pointing out that the campaign’s “snazzy” website reveals precious little in terms of goals, relative priorities, and the like. Not only is it the right thing to do to make such information publicly and widely available but surely it will generate very productive and useful engagement. And it becomes doubly important to do this at a time when there is great and increasing concern about the finances of institutions of higher education. I have spent my entire career in finance on Wall Street. From my experience it has always seemed to me that while it may occasionally feel uncomfortable in the short run, it is invariably better in the long run to be completely open and transparent about matters financial. Harvard’s endowment leads the nation. The totally forthright manner in which Harvard raises its endowment should also lead the nation.

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

Alternative Giving

In a letter on alternative giving (May-June, page 10), the authors describe the launch of Harvard’s Social Alternative Fund, contributions to which go to the Parnassus Equity Income Fund. The managers of this Fund are said to give special consideration to environmental, social, and governance factors in making investments. Some months ago I attended a presentation by these managers at the Harvard Club of New York City. I discovered them (and possibly the Harvard committee that selected them) to be tone deaf to the most threatening planetary challenge mankind has ever faced. According to these managers, the Fund is open to investment in all fossil-fuel companies where profits may be found, believing they can engage with corporate management as necessary on environmental matters. However, the Fund has a solid screen to prevent any investment in the nuclear industry. What a topsy-turvy world Parnassus inhabits. Are they unaware of the numerous reports of the IEA and IPCC to the effect that nuclear must be part of the bridge to de-carbonize the planet by 2050, or of numerous reports by Carbon Tracker Initiative and others establishing the need to leave about two-thirds of all proven fossil fuels carried on the books of carbon-emitting energy companies in the ground, rendering them stranded and as worthless to the companies as a slave was to its owner post-emancipation?

Bevis Longstreth, J.D. ’61 
New York City

 

Bernstein and Tillman

In the May-June 2014 issue of Harvard Magazine, Carol Oja (“The Intoxication of Celebrity,” page 66) reveals some quotes that have greatly disturbed me. Lenny had, of course, every right to say whatever he had felt to a friend or colleague. But I am concerned that, having long ago achieved the status of an icon of American music, the former conductor/composer might be understood as having been nothing less than truthful in letters that he had drafted. On page 68, Oja quotes a letter where he says, “I hate the Harvard Music Department. You can quote that….I hate it because it is stupid and highschoolish and ‘disciplinary’….” He further states, “ [Tillman] Merritt hates me, but Mother loves me.”

Even when I attended that music department (1963-70) it would have been considered conservative, with the scholars having been surely more so than the composers (perhaps a natural division), but to say that Merritt hated him paints that professor in an extremely negative posture. Personally, I cannot imagine Tillman (now deceased) having hated anyone! He was such a perfect gentleman, both kind and generous. He had a high level of people skills, which undoubtedly enabled him to become probably the most successful chairman in the department’s history, kept in reserve to step in whenever the department needed more funding or to solve other problems. There must have been a logical reason why Lenny had such a decidedly negative assessment of this dedicated professor. I believe part of the reason is that the budding composer was (and remained) very self-absorbed. Also it had fallen to Tillman to teach precisely those courses which are ‘conservative’ by nature (sixteenth- and eighteenth-century counterpoint). In those styles, situations are essentially right or just plain wrong. When I submitted my own required ‘doctoral fugue,’ it was deemed to have been “not enough in the style of Bach.” So I had to throw in the towel and produce a ‘correct’ one, though I believed the former one to be a superior composition.

Bernstein, having considered himself a composer, was (like Claude Debussy) probably willing to break rules if he felt so inclined. Debussy, who broke rules as a student and beyond (e.g., parallel perfect intervals), doubled down on those ‘errors’ and influenced virtually all composers of note for close to a whole century. While studying counterpoint with Tillman, I found him always kind to students if they broke a ‘rule.’ I vividly remember him saying to Camilla Connolly with a tinge of humor in his voice, “Mrs. Connolly, I think you have a fly in your ointment,” as he emerged from a rough spot in the lady’s two-part invention. I have strong doubts that Tillman hated anyone. I even had occasion to speak to him about Lenny. I asked him point blank what grade he had given the young composer in his counterpoint class, and he said, “I gave him a ‘C.” Surprised, I asked, “But he was talented wasn’t he?” In his lowest tessitura, he simply said, with his voice dropping off in dramatic fashion, “Yeeeeeeeeessss.” But he never said a disparaging word about Lenny. And I would not have expected one from such a kind and generous person.

Lest a private letter by a music icon unduly influence us, I hope I have cleared Tillman’s name and set it where it belongs. He was clearly one of the nicest and fairest of the teachers I had experienced at Harvard, and I know several colleagues who would attest to his fine character.

Myron Schwager, Ph.D. 1971
Glen Burnie, Md.

 

Healthful Eating

I am writing about the excellent article in the March-April issue (“The Price of Healthy Eating,” page10). The article talked about a “healthy [sic] diet.” Shouldn’t Harvard Magazine be keeping the bar high and talk about a “healthful diet” instead? As a physician, I agree with the article, but disagree about the description of the diet.

As far as I know, an assumption must be made that the plants were fed nourishing nutrients, and were therefore healthy. But the persons eating them were therefore eating healthful foods.

George H. Kraft ’58, M.D., M.S.
Seattle

Editor’s note: Dr. Kraft makes an instructive point about usage for our future reference. But see also the Random House Unabridged Dictionary (2d ed.), where the third definition of healthy is “conducive to good health; healthful….” This is amplified under usage: “Healthy, while applied esp. to what possesses health, is also applicable to what is conducive to health: a healthy climate….Healthful is applied chiefly to what is conducive to health: healthful diet or exercise.”

 

Nuclear Weaponry

With respect to “Nuclear Weapons or Democracy” (March-April, page 47), I’d like to raise a few issues. First, what might happen if all of the world’s nuclear weapons were banned? Would this bring peace? Happiness? Would all the nations run hand-in-hand through the wheat fields? Maybe not. From 1933 until the nuclear era began in 1945: 1) Italy invaded six neutral countries; 2) Germany invaded 10; 3) Japan invaded nine Pacific territories and attacked both America and England. Tens of millions died from “conventional” weapons plus torture, starvation, and biologic agents—far, far more than those who perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

If America relinquished its thermonuclear weapons, what is the likelihood other nations would follow suit? Perhaps we should ask our buddies in Iran, Pakistan, or North Korea. Let the record show that in August of 1945, when one nation had The Bomb and its enemy didn’t, the bombs fell. So much for unilateral disarmament.

In war, as in all of life, the essential question is, “Compared to what?” The only thing worse than our president having a nuclear briefcase—plus eight American submarines on station 24/7, each armed with 24 Trident II missiles—is NOT having them!

John Gamel ’66
Louisville, Ky. 


Drew Faust and the Arts at Harvard

Receiving the Radcliffe Medal for 2014 [on Radcliffe Day, May 30], Drew Faust described how historically Radcliffe gave women a share in the best education, but also the freedom that can come from being on the margins. When she remembered, for example, that Radcliffe had embraced the arts when Harvard said they had no place in the curriculum, I wanted to shout. She was talking about me. 

In the building behind her, the Knafel Center where Radcliffe Day events were taking place, I had found safe space as an undergraduate dancer, choreographer, and director of the HRDC (Harvard-Radcliffe Dance Company). The collective solidarity of our dancers, the brilliance of our teacher, Claire Mallardi, the vision of Myra Mayman in the Office for the Arts, the opportunity to learn from performers in master classes and from the master musicians who played for us every week constituted a second curriculum, made possible by the Radcliffe Dance Program. Here we were taught structure and form in composition (along with Music), problem-solving in space (along with VES); we developed the ability to imagine ourselves other—as when learning to speak a foreign language—to embrace change and to define ourselves in motion.

In President Faust’s remarks, my trajectory—like that of the former Radcliffe Gym now at the heart of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study—suddenly fell into place. 

“Dance, at Harvard? Dance?…It cannot be done…,” but in fact Radcliffe was the reason why I didn’t go to Yale which was, at that time, the place for anyone seriously interested in drama and French literary theory. Yale, however, had only recently opened to women, and I chose a hyphenated Harvard-Radcliffe experience that helped me to link literature and dance, theory and practice, eloquence and silence, insider knowledge and outsider art. In time, I found the company of others carving out a space for the cultural history of dance that did not depend on drama departments dominated by directors and text. My work benefited from taking on dance’s marginalization, from front-page news in the nineteenth-century Paris dailies to a world in thrall to the medical diagnostics and media images that it once rivaled. At the same time, our situation at Radcliffe helped me to credit dance’s critique of more mainstream readings of bodies, its validity in the face of the science and technology, industry and cinema, politics and poetics that it responded to, but also often influenced. 

Of the new fields created—like mine—in the interstices of the University, in freer spaces such as the Radcliffe Gym, Dance Studies is one still not represented at Harvard.  The Radcliffe Professorships have been solidifying emerging fields through appointments, and it is my hope that this will be one addressed by a new faculty position of director of the arts, announced by Dean Lizabeth A. Cohen on Radcliffe Day.

Dance has found a new home at the university, with many companies now thriving and undergraduate choreographers recognized by prizes. But I find it fitting that our work continues in another way in the re-purposing of this magnificent building. Those administrators who were willing early on to take risks on us, bringing unrecognized ideas to performance, helped us chip away at stereotypes and inequalities that President Faust notes have not entirely disappeared. In producing our work, they helped us practice and theorize what it is to see from another perspective (sometimes, literally off-center); to understand what it is to be abled, and differently abled; to address gendered and raced identity as appearance and go beyond it; to speak differently and to speak difference. This has all along been the terrain of concert dance, featuring women and other minorities, that public discourse has often been slower to explore.

Radcliffe Day 2014 was my opportunity to understand what endures in this space, the challenges that the Radcliffe Institute now addresses in research and public programs: to think specifically but not exclusively about women, including what Drew Faust referred to as the “greater good of humanity”; to analyze and account for race, gender, and class differences in the creation and diffusion of what we call knowledge; to more closely link, as she said, “learning and doing, research and practice, scholarship and teaching.”

My experience in that building as an artist and organizer, director and administrator, as central as it has been to my thinking, has never appeared on my cv, and only in my most recent book have I managed to use “I” and validate my dance background in exploring the socialist funding of hip hop dance in the working-class Paris suburbs. Finding that our Gym is now a center for ideas, programming the best kind of discussions, moves me to recuperate that Radcliffe legacy. 

Felicia McCarren ’82
Professor, Department of French and Italian 
Tulane University

McCarren is the author of French Moves: the Cultural Politics of le hip-hop (Oxford, 2013), and Dance Pathologies: Performance, Poetics, Medicine and Dancing Machines: Choreographies of the Age of Mechanical Reproduction both from Stanford University Press. She is professor of French at Tulane and an advisor to its Newcomb College Institute. 

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