Gun violence, drug laws, climate change and more
Professor Sarah Richardson’s research on gendered bias in scientific studies is fascinating (“The Science of Sex,” November-December 2019, page 34). I cringed, though, when I got to the part of the article stating that the theory Richardson explores in her recent book—the belief that the actions of mothers during pregnancy have long-term effects on their progeny—is “an idea that dates back to Aristotle.” The Chinese theory of “taijiao” (prenatal education) is probably at least as old as Aristotelian thought. No doubt the idea arose long ago in other communities, as well. The conceptualization of science as an exclusively European intellectual project at the heart of “Western Civilization” is a form of bias that Harvard’s historians of science have recognized and combatted for quite some time now, I believe. Still, Eurocentrism persists within the American educational system and among many journalists, skewing understanding of the world just as gendered bias does.
Kristin Stapleton, Ph.D. ’93
Speak Up, Please
Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or send comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zoning and Climate
Judicial administration of local zoning under the Mount Laurel decision has utterly failed to achieve its goals of reducing local zoning barriers to more affordable types of housing (“Land Use and Climate Change,” November-December 2019, page 15). This should come as no surprise. State courts are not equipped for this role; it is the responsibility of state legislatures.
Some states have successfully challenged local control over land-use matters because parochial local control was undermining the public interest in more equitable and environmentally sustainable outcomes. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Oregon legislature and state agencies forced local governments to rezone residential land for all types of housing—from apartments to manufactured housing to subsidized housing—and shrank minimum lot sizes down to mid twentieth-century scale. Allowing denser housing also contributed to Oregon’s effort to curb urban sprawl, and reduces driving per capita.
In 2019, in the face of unaffordable home prices and rents, the Oregon legislature acted again, passing legislation requiring all cities in the Portland metro region and all other cities with more than 25,000 population to allow owners to build duplexes, triplexes, and four-plexes on lots in single-family residential zones.
Oregon is not alone in correcting the deficiencies of local land-use control. In order to meet its greenhouse-gas reduction goals, California has reformed how local governments address traffic congestion, directing them to replace road-widening solutions with actions to reduce driving. It also passed legislation allowing accessory dwelling units (detached or internal apartments) on single-family lots across the state.
The courts’ role may be to identify the constitutional or statutory defects in locally controlled regulation—whether to address issues of social equity, the environment, or the economy—but it is up to state legislators to supply the remedy.
Robert Liberty, J.D. ’81, LF ’03
We do not have a gun problem (Ask a Harvard Professor podcast, “David Hemenway: Who Can Solve America’s Gun Problem?”). We have a (bad) misbehavior problem with little to no useful accountability for misbehavior. If Harvard would try to frame and solve “the problem” instead of duping itself by advancing an agenda for other purposes, we might get real improvement.
Charlie Bahr, M.B.A. ’71
Valley View, Tex.
Editor’s note: For more on David Hemenway’s public-health perspective on gun-related homicides and suicides, see page 43.
It’s A fine thing to say, as do President Lawrence Bacow and Dean Rakesh Khurana, that respectfulness and open-mindedness further the search for truth and understanding (“The Community’s Conversations,” November-December, page 18). But what I found missing is any information about what to do when others in the conversation are trying to destroy truth and understanding. We wouldn’t be here if that’s how our ancestors had treated dire wolves, cave bears, and saber-toothed tigers. Idealism without realism is just foolishness.
There are important and fairly clear differences between those who deserve a respectful and open-minded hearing and those who will misuse such responses. I would like our leaders to address those differences, and outline practical policies to preserve and protect the respectfulness and open-mindedness that we value.
Keith Roberts ’65, LL.B. ’68
New York City
Going through papers from much older Harvard days, I found a placard announcing a lecture by Gerhard Eisler, an East German Communist who had earlier been the U.S. liaison with the Communist International. In February 1949 (?) he gave a lecture at Harvard sponsored by the John Reed Club. John Reed [A.B. 1910] was an American poet-adventurer celebrated in the Soviet Union and by Marxists worldwide for his first-hand description of the 1917 Communist revolution. The official national John Reed Clubs were dissolved in 1935, so I assume that Marxist-oriented students at Harvard formed their own club with his name. I remember a fiery female organizer, Nikki Rogozin, who may have been mentioned in the Crimson.
As I recall, the lecture was well attended—but not necessarily because students were leftist oriented. Many were simply curious to hear a real live Communist. It’s different now at many universities, where there is reduced room for intellectual curiosity and radical students shout down or heckle conservative speakers.
Eisler had been indicted and sentenced to a one- to three-year sentence for false statements in his U.S. entry papers. His bail ran out, but before he could be detained he managed to leave the U.S. on a Polish liner, the MS Batory. He ended up chief of East German Radio. If I am right that the year was 1949, we heard Eisler just before he escaped and returned to Germany. This was two years before Senator Joseph McCarthy launched his demagogic attacks about alleged Communists in the State Department. Eisler was the real thing.
Frank T. Manheim ’52
Angela Davis and Israel
Although I have no argument with most of Jonathan Burack’s criticism of Angela Davis (Letters, November-December 2019, page 4), his statement about “her strong support for the anti-Zionist BDS movement, which aims to dismantle the Jewish homeland” is off the mark. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement is supported by individuals such as the late Stephen Hawking, and organizations such as the Presbyterian Church and Jewish Voice for Peace, the latter advertising over 70 local chapters and 200,000 on-line supporters. At local JVP meetings, member lawyers have pointed out that basic human rights, not just civil rights, of Palestinians are routinely violated by Israel. Individuals living under Israeli control cannot appeal to constitutional rights because Israel has no constitution.
The current U.S. administration’s embrace of Israeli expansionism into East Jerusalem and Syrian land in the Golan, while sanctioning Russia over its occupation of Eastern Ukraine, is inconsistent, to say the least.
David Mendenhall, Ph.D. ’71
Crime and Drug Laws
“The War on Crime and the War on Drugs are two of the largest policy failures in the history of the United States,” says historian Elizabeth Hinton in “Color and Incarceration” (September-October 2019, page 40). The prohibition of intoxicating liquors was a third such failure, but the nation corrected it relatively quickly.
Prohibiting drugs has long proved as futile and corrupting as prohibiting alcohol. Isn’t it finally time to repeal the laws that criminalize drugs, subject those drugs to life-saving quality controls, and use the sales taxes they will generate to treat and wean addicts and educate people against doing drugs?
During five weeks that I spent in a public defender’s office in Manhattan’s Criminal Courts in 1966, the majority of the cases that I watched or worked on involved heroin or larcenies to support a heroin “habit.” I concluded then that logic and humanity require all drugs to be decriminalized.
Soon, though, the nation got Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs; and prison populations burgeoned, sucking increasing millions of years out of Americans’ lives—disproportionately Americans of color. Decriminalizing drugs would not end our savage level of incarceration, but it would put a serious dent in it.
As Hinton has recorded, inequalities in policing, prosecution, and imprisonment have long been elements of the racism that infects the nation. Decriminalizing drugs would not end racism either, but at one stroke, it would eliminate a destructive result of racism.
Perhaps because I live on a remote mountainside, I haven’t heard much about the hypocrisy of keeping heroin criminalized, while legal killers like OxyContin merely present a medical problem that neither makers nor marketers go to prison for pushing beyond their legitimate use. It is those pushers who need to be prosecuted, not under anti-drug laws, but under state reckless-murder statutes.
Malcolm Bell ’53, LL.B. ’58
Richard Merlo ’57 shocked by asking “Are we to believe that the black community bears no responsibility for its behavior?” (Letters, November-December 2019, page 4). An Asian man in my wealthy community killed his wife this year. Neither I nor the Asians in my community (from many different countries) bear responsibility for his behavior. We dump our poor in communities far from transportation and jobs. Single parents (or couples) who work can lose control of their kids in an environment wracked by crime and drugs. Data show when they move to our wealthy suburbs, the kids and families thrive. But our wealthy suburbs fight against low-income migrants from the city, blocking off this escape avenue. Perhaps, Richard, you and I bear responsibility for the murder rate among young black men.
Kathryn Roy, M.B.A. ’85
With Warm Thanks
Lydia S.C. Rosenberg, production and design manager during the past three-plus years, concluded her Harvard Magazine service in late November. An exemplary colleague, she mastered our print and digital production processes; contributed significantly to the design and look of everything we do on readers’ behalf; and then taught herself new skills to produce the first series of Ask a Harvard Professor podcasts, which debuted to rave reviews during the fall semester. She leaves with our deep gratitude and best wishes as she assumes her new responsibilities across campus, as digital media manager at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ~The Editors
I was struck by a startling contrast in your recent issue. On the one hand I read with interest your (in my view apt) celebration of Sarah Richardson’s skeptical, questioning approach to great swathes of sex and gender research, which has uncovered “hype” and “bias” due to the unacknowledged or unconscious personal agendas of the researchers.
On the other hand I read your curt dismissal of the letter from William Jones ’60 (page 10), who dares to imply that there may be some hype and bias in much of the voluminous research on climate change.
I think it is safe to say that climate researchers are no less likely to have unacknowledged or unconscious agendas than researchers into the biology of sex.
The most egregious effects of the phenomena Richardson describes resulted from a rush to change human behavior based on some (clearly untenable, in retrospect) conclusions. Might some of us not be allowed to express concern about similar potential dangers from the “climate change consensus”?
Richard Schneider, M.B.A. ’75
While it is true that there is a scientific consensus that excess CO2 and methane, etc., are causing climate change, it appears that there is less than consensus on the question of what to do about it.
Many scientists—and most politicians—like to rely on fairly old recommendations to the effect that it is enough to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to or toward zero to avoid the 1.5 C or 2.0 C warming that is by some deemed an acceptable limit. Others, noticing among other things that atmospheric CO2 has already far surpassed the 350 ppm once thought to be safe-ish, believe that it is necessary not only to drastically cut emissions but also to take very big steps to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, to restore the climate to 300 ppm CO2 as it was in 1800, before man-made warming began. “Climate Restoration” is becoming a big topic.
Many things are not safe these days. As to defeating the climate crisis, relying on old prescriptions which have so far justified a do-nothing or kick-the-can-down-the-road attitude are among them. I hope there will be vigorous discussion at Harvard, and in your pages, on the “what to do” and “when to get it done” questions on climate change. Do-nothing complacency in face of a widely recognized and steadily worsening emergency—which the letter-writer [William Jones] seems to advocate—is popular among the uninformed but not wise.
Peter Belmont, A.M. ’61 (math)
Is it the policy of the editors of Harvard Magazine to avoid printing letters to the editor that are opposed to the policy of the current Harvard president and its Board?
In the September-October 2019 issue, President Bacow stated that…“we hope to become…fossil fuel-free by 2050.” By “We,” I assume Dr. Bacow means the heating of Harvard buildings by something other than fossil fuel. He did not refer to any “cost and benefit analysis” that would support that policy.
According to Princeton physics professor William Happer, “even if humans could control CO2 emissions, our climate would change continuously for other reasons beyond human control.”
According to a Harvard biologist, George Wald, in 1970, “civilizations will end within 30 years because of the environmental crisis.” In the same year, Pete Gunter of North Texas University stated that most scientists agree there will be widespread famines in 20 years.
I hope Harvard’s Board can encourage Dr. Bacow to focus attention on the major problem of Harvard tuition, which in the last 30 years has been increasing at a compound rate of three times the rate of inflation. When I graduated in 1951, Harvard tuition was the cost of a Plymouth. Now it’s the cost of a luxury Mercedes. Hopefully Harvard’s Board can encourage Dr. Bacow to reconsider his enlistment in the global-warming crusade, that claims mankind’s activities have become more influential on our planet’s temperatures and atmosphere than volcanoes, solar flares, and meteors.
Having spent 20 years (1960-1980) doing business in countries of free and communist Europe, I am troubled to see “group think” alive at Harvard under the current president and Board, and vigorous debate avoided.
David Scott ’51, M.B.A. ’53
William J. Jones, J.D. ’60, wrote to complain about President Bacow’s letter stating that “The scientific consensus [on man-made global warming] is by now clear.” Jones’s point, as I took it, was that there’s no such thing as “settled science” in this or any other field of scientific endeavor. You appended to his letter an “Editor’s note” stating: “The nearly universal scientific consensus, worldwide and among Harvard experts, is that increased man-made emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are accelerating the warming of the planet and climate change—as has been scientifically predicted for decades.”
What arrogance! Your anti-intellectual ipse dixit was both rude in the extreme and scientifically illiterate. The year I graduated from Harvard, and for the decade after, the big scare was man-made climate cooling. The Washington Post warned that climatologists predicted a long-term cooling trend; according to Newsweek, the “grim reality” was that the future was one of mass, worldwide starvation—the result of lack of enough heat to produce enough food to feed anyone outside the U.S. and Australia; by 1978 Leonard Nimoy (Spock to us) was doing a TV show on “The Coming Ice Age”; and the culprit was carbon-dioxide emissions. Yes, man-made carbon dioxide was going to cause worldwide global cooling!
Barely a decade later, the United Nations warned that there was only a “10-year window of opportunity” to solve global warming. If we hadn’t solved it by then, “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels . . . [and] coastal flooding and crop failures would create ‘eco-refugees,’ threatening political chaos.” The culprit was exactly the same carbon dioxide.
Now we’ve had three decades of global-warming scares, and the alarums have only grown worse. But none of the predictions has come true. There has been no increase (at all) in global temperatures for the last two of those three decades. No beachfront property or mid-ocean island (much less New York City) has been inundated by rising seas. The polar bear population is far greater than it was even 50 or 70 years ago. And the thickness of the arctic icecap actually threatens (again) global cooling. The idea that, as you claim, all the predictions are coming true is just nonsense. The fact is that not a single model of global warming has been more predictive of reality than would be a throw of the dice.
My points are only that it is arrogant in the extreme to think that, over a mere 30 years, we have been able to discern the complete science of such an incredibly complex system of variables so as to proclaim a “nearly universal scientific consensus”—and that you people at Harvard Magazine really ought to find a little bit of humility somewhere in your editorial bag of tricks.
Dan Sullivan ’70
The news item about Harvard’s financial involvement with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in the November-December 2019 issue (page 25) opens with the following: “... Jeffrey Epstein—accused of being a serial sexual predator who continued to prey systematically on underage women even after a 2008 plea arrangement for sex offenses...”
There is no such thing as an “underage woman”—an underage woman is by definition a child; Epstein is accused of preying systematically upon children. And, I must add, an adult having sex of any kind with a child is by definition rape. Words matter tremendously; their misuse can, as in this instance, result in a great deal of harm. To promote the idea that there can be “underage women” is to defang the true meaning of the words; to imply that preying upon them is somehow less harmful than preying upon children. Such a turn of phrase is akin to another one which continues to make the rounds in political circles: the notion of “nonconsensual sex.” “Nonconsensual sex” is rape.
I ask that the staff of Harvard Magazine choose their words more carefully.
William Monroe Trotter
I greatly appreciate the magazine’s high-profile recognition of Kerri Greenidge’s excellent paean to the activist cum journalist, William Monroe Trotter (Vita, November-December 2019, page 40). This article offers much more than revelatory insight into the tragic life of a lesser-known figure in African-American history. It also manages to cast a hagiographic glow around the enduring importance of remembering civil-rights activism as early black leaders and scholars practiced it.
As pioneering editor of the Boston Guardian, besides causing quite a stir in 1914 while visiting the White House, Trotter is also remembered for boldly lecturing President Wilson against the moral evils of segregation in the federal workforce. This was characteristic of Trotter’s passion for social justice, never shrinking from a responsibility to raise his voice unapologetically on behalf of all black working-class Americans, and do so in print in the Guardian. Much to Greenidge’s credit, her article delivers a revealing view of the murky underside of the ideological rifts between radicals like Trotter and the accommodationist racial views held by many conservative black and white progressives who sought to diminish the role of black dissents in order to promote a much narrower view of what could pass as racial respectability.
Even more compelling, Greenidge establishes a direct connection to the historical trend by moderate whites to muzzle black radicalism, which did not stop with Trotter’s death. Acting as an intermediary while striking a conciliatory posture between the white-controlled Carnegie Foundation and the American Association of Adult Education in 1935, Howard University philosopher Alain Locke [A.B. 1908, Ph.D. ’18; see “Art and Activism,” March-April 2018, page 36] continued this divisive accommodationist tradition by obsequiously capitulating to the conservative demands of Carnegie after its officials strongly objected to the militant tone of an essay written by none other than W.E.B. Du Bois [A.B. 1890, Ph.D. ’95] for the foundation-funded project.
M. Anthony Fitchue, Ed.M. ’74
The excellent commentary “About Athletics” (7 Ware Street, November-December, page 5) omits mention of a troubling aspect of athletics at Harvard. While the Ivy League does not allow athletic scholarships, it does permit significant preferences in admissions for athletes. At Harvard, this means that one-fifth of all undergraduates receive a heavy thumb on the admissions scale just because they are athletes. As an institution focused on teaching and scholarship, this is disturbing. A change would take agreement by the Ivy League presidents, and I hope Harvard’s president will consider raising the issue with his Ivy colleagues.
Thomas Ehrlich ’56, LL.B. ’59
Editor’s note: The July-August 2019 comment in 7 Ware Street, on admissions preferences, addressed this issue in part.
I greatly enjoyed “About Athletics” in the November-December 2019 issue (7 Ware Street, page 5).
My ties to Harvard—and my ties to “athletics”—have been a prominent part of my 94-year-long (so far) lifetime. After making the decision in 1950 to transfer from Harvard Law School over to the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, I did go on to receive my A.M. degree from the GSAS in 1951.
From there I took an unlikely path by accepting an offer to join his coaching staff from the football coach under whom I had played during my undergraduate days at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This was to become the beginning of a 47-year-long life of coaching that sport. Among the several places where I moved on to become a head coach during those 47 years were the College of William and Mary, the University of California (Berkeley), the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, the Kansas City Chiefs (NFL), and the Buffalo Bills (NFL).
In 1971, when Harvard’s outstanding coach John Yovicson retired, I, along with Joe Restic, was a finalist for the head coaching position there with the Crimson, and although I was not the final selectee, I must admit that Joe Restic certainly was an outstanding representative of all that the game of college football should be. We remained friends over the many years that followed.
Since I retired as head coach of the Buffalo Bills following the 1997 season, I have worked as an analyst for both Fox Sports and for local stations here in my hometown of Chicago. Beyond that I have engaged in writing several books that have been published. Some of them (not all of them) are sports oriented. They vary between memoirs, fiction, and poetry.
In 2014 my book of poetry titled It’s Time for a Rhyme was published, and I am proud to say that it was well received. It is a book of all rhyming poetry, 252 pages long, containing 154 poems. Only four of those poems are sports oriented, but there is one of them which relates so closely to the article “About Athletics” that Mr. Rosenberg wrote, that I felt compelled to forward it to you now in this rather overly worded message. Here it is:
THE WAY IT WAS MEANT TO BE
When two football teams from the Ivy League meet
Every player on the field is a student athlete.
Note that the word “student” is what comes first,
And at the Ivys those two words are never reversed.
That is what college football should be about.
And the Ivy League schools never cause me to doubt
That education comes first for those men on the field,
And that is a tenet from which they will not yield.
Whether it’s Columbia versus Brown or Harvard at Yale
In the end it will be student athletes that prevail
Be it Princeton at Cornell or Dartmouth at Penn
Student/athletes will come out on top once again.
Saturday is the day on which their games are played
When classmates and alumni can attend the parade.
No games on weekdays. That would be contrary
To being in classrooms or at the library.
They play the game hard and with just due,
But they’re not out there to raise revenue.
Graduation rates for those players are off the wall.
One more reason why they can stand tall.
On the field of play they seek to be best.
Every day in the classroom, too, they rise to the test.
And when graduation day comes and they leave college
They have grown in character as well as in knowledge.
Marv (a.k.a. Marvin) Levy, A.M. ’51
The recent decision by Judge Allison Burroughs to legalize Harvard’s current admission policy creates the opposite effect from the intended racial diversity (“Harvard’s Admissions Process Upheld,” November-December 2019, page 21). By selecting one race over another, Harvard admission officers commit racial discrimination and ignore Martin Luther King’s legacy of being color-blind. Their personal criteria of “courage, leadership, and resiliency” reminds me of the Soviet Communist Party guidelines of “morally stable and politically educated.” Those guidelines were one of the reasons for my emigration from the Soviet Union to the United States. Here I still need the courage to question authorities, the leadership to organize resistance groups, and the resiliency in the face of bureaucratic dictatorship.
Anatol Zukerman, M.Arch. ’75
What is legacy? I am a direct descendant of the family of Jonathan Mitchell, Harvard class of 1647. He was the second chaplain of Harvard (1650-1668) and signer of the 1650 Charter. I am a descendant of Elder John Strong, who supported Harvard in the 1650s with gifts of grain. These are my legacy.
Legacy is something about the meaning of Harvard, as a school that embodies in the best sense the values of equality, faith, education, compassion, generosity, and service. Why have there been so many people through the centuries with a Harvard education who have led this nation?
In the July 18 New York Review of Books, the distinguished historian, professor, and poet Marilynne Robinson wrote, “Which Way to the City on a Hill?” There and in her new book, What Are We Doing Here?, she suggests that capitalism on steroids, and individual greed for more, are not what make America a leader toward a more human world. Rather it is a commitment to “charity” for all.
My life was impacted at Harvard by the values and lives of several of my best professors, like Paul Tillich and George Buttrick. The soul of Harvard is not an applicant’s grade achievement.
Rev. Dr. David T. Strong ’56
Farmington Hills, Mich.
The Pusey Minister
Please pardon me if I have missed something, but I believe that the only mention of Jonathan Walton departing Memorial Church and his Plummer professorship was a tiny box at the bottom of page 28 in the July-August 2019 issue. If this is indeed the only notice that’s been given, I think it’s an inexcusable oversight.
The notice that was printed as I read it is dismissive, with the flip tone that too often mars items in Harvard Magazine. The headline is “The Reverend Relocates.” Really? Would you print a headline like “Doc Jones Departs?” Of course not.
The correct title is The Reverend Dr. Jonathan Walton. He holds a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, a program that has produced many notable scholars of religion. He himself is a published scholar who is regularly invited to speak at other institutions. He is a graduate of Morehouse College, a historic institution that has produced countless African American male leaders who serve across America.
The item says nothing about Dr. Walton’s many contributions to Harvard. His “boom[ing]” voice is mentioned but nothing else, as if he were only a performer. Harvard Magazine owed him and the university significantly more description of the spirit and wisdom he shared with the campus during his seven years.
Moreover, the item neglects to say anything about the institution to which he has moved, as if it, too, is not really significant. Wake Forest School of Divinity is the youngest of the divinity schools at top-30 American universities, currently celebrating its twentieth anniversary. Dean Walton will be only the third dean. The school has been nationally recognized for creating in such a short time an outstanding faculty, an innovative program, and a student body remarkable for its diversity in race, ethnicity, and sexuality. He has come here to lead a path-breaking school that is a vital presence on campus and in the region.
Do your homework, Harvard Magazine. And if the notice of Dr. Walton’s departure came late for the July-August issue, you could have run a respectful, well-researched article about a campus leader and the central place of Memorial Church in the life of Harvard. What a missed opportunity and a major mistake.
Thomas E. Frank ’70
University Professor, Wake Forest University
Editor’s note: A search of the magazine archives reveals 25 or so articles including Reverend Walton, not sparse coverage during his seven years as Pusey Minister and Plummer professor. We closed our Commencement Day online coverage by noting that his benediction was his farewell, and quoting from that. We also worked notice of his recent book into Off the Shelf. And according to the Chicago Manual of Style, which we use for such purposes, the Reverend Jonathan L. Walton or Rev. Jonathan L. Walton is the proper form of address, which I believe we have followed scrupulously.
Could we do more, about him or about any other leading member of the community? Of course, we always can—and in almost all instances, fail to do so, given the very real limits of resources and the decisions we necessarily have to make on behalf of readers, every day, as we cover the entire University community and alumni/ae, on behalf of the same, with a finite number of pages, and a small cohort of staff members.
Crime and Punishment
Crime and punishment is a subject that rears its head periodically, and incarceration is the most frequent punishment in the United States. It has not always been that way. In Colonial America, the stocks and public whipping were the main punishments for minor offenses, while imprisonment was reserved for serious crimes where it was thought necessary to remove the criminal from society lest he hurt someone.
How and why imprisonment became America’s standard punishment, I do not know. Perhaps Patrick Deaton, M.P.A. ’87, can explain that (Letters, November-December 2019, page 4). It is mentioned in [that issue’s] letters commenting on James Forman Jr.’s book, Locking Up Our Own, that it would be better to treat drug use as a public-health problem rather than a crime, or that the victim is often the mirror image of the criminal. But the one thing that everybody ignores is that, certainly, imprisonment is not the proper punishment for drug possession or use, and that the colonial punishments would be far better remedies.
The point to a punishment is to send the offender the message “We, your fellow citizens, do not approve of what you are doing.” Stocks (before Bill Clinton, while people still had shame) and whipping (which still hurts when vigorously administered) are truly the perfect punishments here. They require no fancy buildings, have no carbon footprint which prison heating requires, they are quick and do not foul up years of the user’s life, and they do not require a full-time staff of guards. Prisons are actually desirable locations for some individuals. Prisons provide heat and gym or exercise facilities, three meals a day, and a warm insect-free bed at night. Best of all, their friends are all there, and their favorite drugs are generally easily available.
I vote for recidivisiting the Colonial system.
Benjamin M. Blumberg ’61
Fort Lee, N.J.
Lincoln Caplan and Professor Martha Minow’s fixation with President Donald Trump’s pardons (“Forgive, but Don’t Forget,” November-December 2019, page 64) seems both historically and ethically misplaced. As Alexander Hamilton famously wrote in Federalist No. 74, “the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed.” The thrust of Caplan and Minow’s argument appears to be that the pardon power ceases to be benign when they don’t agree with how it is exercised. Taking into account that presidents routinely use their authorities to benefit political allies, I would suggest that we focus our energies and attention on the danger posed by investigative, prosecutorial, and incarceratory overreach, not acts of mercy (however unmerited or offensive we deem them). The former, not the latter, is where civil liberties are truly at stake.
Charles G. Kels ’00
(A copy of a letter to Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay, sent to the magazine)
Thank you for your fundraising letter; I wish you well in your work.
Here’s my question: Is Harvard a charity?
Your letter frames it so, but many projects like state lotteries dress in this vaguely charitable language. I think of Harvard as ambitious people banding together to further themselves and do impressive things. No doubt good comes of this, but good comes from my law firm; good came from Stewart Copeland forming the police; good comes from my local hospital selling MRIs; should I send them some money too?
And here’s the rub: it’s sending money to some of the richest people on Earth. My question arose from your students calling me (I love those calls) in South Dakota, asking for money. We estimated that Harvard’s endowment is 10,000 times the size of my university’s. You want us to send money to you? These students were justly proud of Harvard’s diversity, but here’s the thing: the aristocracy always was cosmopolitan—and it always did sponsor artistic and charitable endeavors. So I’m still trying to wrap my head around a fund drive for aristocracy.
Here’s a charity: Red Cloud Indian School. I don’t want to indulge in rez porn, and of course good things happen in Pine Ridge, but the stories of its abusive dysfunction will burst your hair into flames. “Free Leonard Peltier” buttons and visits from kids building barns are nice but not solutions. Red Cloud may be, and is certainly the only one I’ve heard of in a half-century, for this bottom of our country.
Why not pair with schools like that? Why not pick 10 and give each 2 percent of the Harvard College Fund? Why expand to Allston for a bunch of kids who would probably just go to Rochester anyway?
Robb Campbell ’90
Permission to Know
I have seen the splendor of a rain forest on Molokai. Hiked the summit of Haleakala crater. My desire for preservation of these island did not come by epiphany. As one settler among other minorities, I share Julie Chung’s regard for our wonderful islands (The Undergraduate, November-December 2019, page 29). I love our people and their diverse cultural heritages. Some descend by generations from Polynesians who sailed here in outrigger canoes from Marquesas and other remote places, navigating by wind, current and stars. Scientific mariners.
This heritage is memorialized in our Bishop Museum. Endowed by a Hawaiian royal, it is a cultural, ethnic and a scientific treasure...culture and ethnography paired with science. It hosts a wonderful observatory.
Ms. Chung asks this: Who decides the balance of cultural worship and telescope exploration of the cosmos? By the latest instrument. My answer is not ambiguous. University of Hawaii, a scholarly guardian of the land, has been working on that one for 10 years. The ”ki’a” protectors that the writer met on her stand on Mauna Kea access road use civil disobedience and obstruction. Their approach is a demand—yes, demand—the self-proclaimed protectors have final and only say on what uses are made of the peak of the mountain. My conviction is that search for knowledge can and must co-exist with indigenous tradition and culture. That is the way we honor all who are “honestly” engaged.
Gerald Siegel ’58
Yale Game Protest
About 200 self-centered Harvard College students threw a tantrum on the afternoon of the Harvard-Yale game, because they believed that was the way to prevent global warming. They thought they were entitled to disturb the enjoyment of others to obtain what they wanted.
Bill Fitzsimmons, the Harvard admissions director, must have been embarrassed that he wasn’t able to identify in advance the immaturity and selfishness of these 200 self-centered students.
Bill must be pondering how he can screen for immature students who stamp their feet and throw a tantrum when they don’t obtain what they want. I hope the dean of students will expel many that have no respect for others.
Evidence of good manners should be an important criterion for admission to Harvard.
David Scott ’51, M.B.A. ’53
The Harvard idiots who delayed The Game by flooding the Yale playing field on November 23 showed no respect toward the athletes. To disrupt the only nationally televised game of the year was an embarrassment to the entire Harvard community. The Harvard athletes prepare the entire year for the Harvard-Yale encounter, and to disrespect both them and their school on national television was indeed unfortunate. There is a place to protest social issues, but the football field is certainly not one of them.
Michael Pizitz ’55
Amplifications and Errata
Netflix numbers. David Rountree, of Montgomery, Alabama, writes in reference to “Craig Lambert’s wonderful article on A.O. Scott” (“The Way of the Critic,” November-December 2019, page 48) that it notes parenthetically that Netflix doesn’t release ratings data. He observes, “I suspect the piece was written and edited before Netflix began doing so.”
Ratings, righted. Helene Liberson Keers ’59 writes, “My husband, a University of Chicago graduate, has brought to my attention an error in the ‘Ratings Game’ item on page 27 (Brevia, November-December 2019). Behind Princeton and Harvard in the U.S. News & World Report compendium there is a four-way tie, including Chicago as well as Columbia, MIT, and Yale, not a three-way tie as listed.”
Legal standing. Grant Glovin was a second-year law student when he wrote the paper covered in “Land Use and Climate Change” (November-December 2019, page 15), but he had moved up to the third year of his legal studies by the time the magazine’s article was reported and published.