April 21, 2004: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters. We may edit them for length,
accuracy, clarity, and civility.
As news of classmates moves inexorably forward with each issue, I delight in finding other snippets about classmates within the covers of PAW, like those involved in university governance, national politics, civic work, or those who’ve had personal victories over adversity, and the like. Jerry Lambert ’55’s piece on his tenure as a “post-
collapse” director of Global Crossing Corporation (Perspective, February 25) left me feeling underfed. It reads more as a personal apology than as a call to reinvigorate the ethical backbone of corporate America. As global poster children for the socioeconomic benefits of capitalism and free enterprise, many prominent U.S. corporations have been recently gutted and ravaged by “bad apples” within their governing boards.
While I commend my classmate for “volunteering” to help clean up the Global Crossing mess, I would have enjoyed a more forceful call to higher codes of personal ethics and responsibility by corporate directors — not after the fact, but before the shenanigans begin.
Peter Danforth ’55
Elizabeth Seay ’90’s article regarding lost languages was fascinating (Perspective, February 11). I found poetry in her reference to the Micmac language of Canada in which trees are named by the “sound the wind makes when it blows through them.” Our languages are our metaphors, and each seems to offer us something special about the human perception of the world. I thank Ms. Seay for the lessons she is teaching through her research.
Rocky Semmes ’79
Three cheers for Elizabeth Seay ’90 and her fine piece of writing on an often neglected subject that concerns us all. Indeed her “words carry information the way cups carry liquid.” Bravo!
Peter Wells Watkins ’54
Some Princeton undergraduates, believing that Secretary of State Colin Powell “has improved society and strengthened our values,” have presented him with the Crystal Tiger Award (Notebook, March 10). On February 5, 2003, Mr. Powell delivered to the Security Council of the U.N. a speech on putative weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. His remarks were so full of distortions and deceptions that his performance has come to symbolize to the entire world the shameless mendacity of the administration he so obediently represents. What “values” did Mr. Powell promote that day?
Philip Terrie ’70
I was dismayed to learn that Princeton undergraduates chose to honor Secretary of State Colin Powell by awarding him the Crystal Tiger for serving as an “agent of progress.”
Powell might have merited such a distinction before he lent his credibility to help mask the deceptions used to make the case for war on Iraq. But Powell traduced whatever integrity he had when he stood before the U.N. last year to act as a mouthpiece for the Bush administration to justify its illegal invasion. If Powell did not know at the time that the evidence he cited was false, exaggerated, and misleading, surely he must know by now. Yet he has failed to repudiate the war or to apologize for allowing himself to be used as a weapon of mass deception.
Mary Gallagher ’78
Imagine a day, say, 40 years from now, when the new science library designed to great pomp by the Great One is considered “not especially beloved.” Or maybe the Poe Field dorms are deemed not to create “Princeton-like courtyards or Princeton-like vistas.” Shocking as this prospect might seem, it is possible. I’m certain Hugh Stubbins and his client, Princeton University, didn’t imagine the day when the New New Quad would be described in these terms, and portions of it slated for demolition.
I’m concerned that the University increasingly views its building stock as a furniture collection, which when it is considered “ugly” or “out of style” (or a threat to continued donations by well-heeled alumni) simply gets replaced. Is the goal to expunge from the campus two or three decades’ (1945—79, say) worth of buildings and replace these with a growing Neo-Neo-Gothic collection, replete with cable TV, Internet connection, and private bath for each resident? I’d like to recall Holland of the 16th century, and the concept of an embarrassment of riches. Is this what institutions with too much money do with it? We would do well to remember those periods of the University’s history when finances were tighter and realize that times of riches don’t last forever.
When these buildings were designed, there must have been something like consensus that they embodied “Princeton-like” qualities, whatever that might mean. They were the products of substantial expenditures not only of capital, but also energy of everyone involved, from the University’s project manager, to the architect, to the masons (not to mention the energy used to manufacture and transport the building components). Despite protestations to the contrary, these buildings do have value: They are still standing, have not fallen into disrepair, provide adequate shelter (“What? Share a room?”), and support a rather robust social life. Or at least they did in the late 1980s, when I lived in Wilson College and Spelman Hall. Princeton, I think, ought to be confident enough to accept these buildings, knowing that someday they will need to be replaced for the right reasons.
Jim Moses ’88
“I guess I’ll get over it,” I said to myself, trying to absorb the full shock and awe of this most disconcerting news — plans for the University-sanctioned demolition of Butler College.
I grew to love those unlikely, illogical structures in their full ugliness, especially how those “waffles” in the ceiling amplified the already over-loud “click-click-slam” of each curiously heavy dorm room knob and door. A lot of good has happened here — how many of us have indeed found both Lourie and Love within these walls?
If the decision to destroy these halls is based primarily on their not being “especially beloved on campus” then I would expect that the even doubly loathed Picasso “Head of a Woman” will be the next to go.
Jeremy Spiegel ’92
In the process of criticizing Christian opposition to homosexuality, Professor Edmund White (feature, March 10) makes the peculiar statement, “Any self-respecting gay should be an atheist.” I suspect that he merely intended to express frustration with Christianity, but his statement as quoted means much more, and I can’t help but worry that he and some of his readers might actually believe it. So, I feel obligated to point out some of the consequences of such an approach to religion and encourage Prof. White to rethink his statement.
Religion is fundamentally a question of beliefs and consequences of those beliefs, especially answers to the great cosmic questions: Is there a God, and if so what is God like? Or are there many gods and what are they like? What purpose is there in existences? What are “good” and “evil?” And what shall I do today? Does Prof. White really propose, as his statement suggests, a system of theology that begins with sexual habits and somehow concludes from there that there is no God?
Religion is also concerned with identity. Our culture is already full of lies about identity: You are what you own. You are what you control. You are what other people say you are. All of these are lies because they demand that you place a lesser aspect of your identity above a more substantial aspect. They come from greed, fear, and vanity, and ask us to put aside love and integrity in determining who we are. Christianity would say instead: You are who God is making you into. You are how you love and serve others. Prof. White’s statement places the lesser identity of homosexuality above religious identity by asserting that gay implies atheist, thereby reducing religion to a consequence of sexuality and creating another lie: You are your sexual preferences, first and foremost.
Most religions are also very much about action, particularly service to some authority. Our society tempts us to enslave ourselves to our careers, our wealth, and our reputations, and to put these demands above all else. By asserting that sexual preference should determine religion, Prof. White’s statement tempts people to enslave themselves to their sexuality and to obey its demands above all else. The article itself speaks of his first book that isn’t about overtly gay themes, which indicates that Prof. White may have experienced this slavery first hand and is in some way seeking to free his creativity and move beyond it.
I hope Prof. White will understand if I am reading something out of his statement that he did not intend. However, as a professor holding politically controversial views at a top-notch university, he has to take responsibility for what he says and its potential implications. I ask him to please think twice before advising people to make important decisions about the nature of reality with their penises and vaginas. The heart and mind are much better at that sort of thing.
Garrett Mitchener *03
As an employee of J. P. Morgan Chase, I read, with great amusement, my pal Janet Stultz Roddenbery *77’s confession (Letters, March 10) that she did not know the name of the firm’s chairman. That I had heard of Mozart, despite being a banker, as well as Bill Harrison, because I am a banker, neither denigrates the composer nor ennobles the financier. Her anxiety about music majors ending up as investment bankers illustrates a Manichaean view of the world which perpetuates the myth of a great divide between the glory of art and the vulgarity of trade.
As I hail from the East Asian studies department, where everything after the Ming was considered journalism, my daily behavior — at both home and office — has been profoundly informed by The Analects of Confucius, calligraphy, and the words of Professor F. W. Mote; and the very people I care most about are unknowingly touched by these souvenirs of my education. If only more musicians, classicists, sinologists, etc., would find their way across the abyss, the world today would be a better place; furthermore, posterity just might benefit from more than the afterglow of a random genius.
Fear not, Janet — the smaller departments always will be available to folks who live everywhere but in the present.
Peter Rupert Lighte *81
In response to Marina Skumanich ’80, who wrote about the coffee industry in her February 11 letter, the coffee glut, as I was informed by a local coffee exporter, is a consequence of production in Vietnam, encouraged by the U.S. after the war. But consumer demand has not grown in proportion to the growth in production, leaving great surpluses in producing countries. Eventually prices will rise again, as many producers will look to other alternatives, but in the meantime bankruptcies and poverty will strike in coffee-dependent countries.
Alberto Gonzalez ’52
As secretary of the Ivy Council, a special student government with delegates from the Ivy League schools, I am trying to compile a list of past council members. If you are a former member, or know of one, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer Mickel ’07
In the March 10 President’s Page, the description of the play The Same Sea was incorrect. Paul Binnert, a guest lecturer in the Program of Theatre and Dance, is a Dutch playwright and director who wrote The Same Sea. It is based on a novel by Amos Oz. Mr. Oz did not write the play.