May 12, 2004: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters. We may edit them for length,
accuracy, clarity, and civility.
As chair of the Department of Politics, I read with interest PAW’s story on faculty additions at the Woodrow Wilson School (Notebook, April 7). In fact, all of the searches being done in international relations at Princeton are done jointly between the Wilson School and politics. Professor Tom Christensen, Professor John Ikenberry, and the faculty who may be hired are all appointed jointly between the Wilson School and politics and will spend a considerable amount of their time teaching in our department. Politics also hires some international relations faculty by itself.
Jeffrey Herbst ’83
I was appalled by the position of Elizabeth M. Armstrong *93 with regard to warnings on alcohol use by pregnant women (Notebook, April 7). She argues that absent concrete empirical evidence (though I suspect the evidence is stronger then she credits it to be) linking casual alcohol use to fetal abnormalities, women shouldn’t jump to conclusions about its possible dangers. This appalling disregard of risk promotes an abhorrent indifference in weak-willed expectant mothers who might feel encouraged to satisfy their whims based on Ms. Armstrong’s tenuous authority.
Engaging in any feckless activity that appears likely to be to the detriment of one’s unborn child is an abominable conceit, and her implication that the link between alcohol and fetal abnormalities might arise only above some unknowable threshold is unlikely and reckless.
By the article’s end, I wasn’t surprised to see her take issue with the warning labels and rate problems with the mother’s health and operating heavy machinery as more problematic than not drinking during pregnancy.
Her conclusion that it is society’s responsibility to consider why some women engage in alcohol during pregnancy only shows her contempt for women as being unable to assert such responsibility for their own actions. Why bother to protect a fetus when it impertinently interferes with a mother’s inalienable right to down a couple of glasses of wine, and why rank the brain damage and retarded development of an innocent newborn on the same level as the possible long-term health effects of an irresponsible drinker?
Avoiding alcohol during pregnancy isn’t a gender issue, it’s an issue of health and responsibility; if a woman isn’t ready to forgo her consumption of alcohol during pregnancy and breast-feeding, she should strongly reconsider whether she is worthy of having a child at all.
Josh Stampfli ’92
I read with great interest your March 10 From The Editor comments. I would like to draw to your attention Live from the Cotton Club produced by Bear Family Records, which includes a superb written history of The Cotton Club and old recordings made there. As a jazz fan and one who has taken many photographs of musicians in performance, I can only wish that I could have visited the club years ago.
Frederic S. Sater ’56
I was delighted to read in PAW that a group of 30 Princeton faculty, students, and staff, organized by Ayana Harry ’05, didn’t merely venture halfheartedly into Harlem on a recent February Saturday, but took the full measure of that neighborhood’s cultural richness. It is indeed a vital, welcoming, irreplaceable cultural center.
It is also brimming with musical talent — as I discovered when I paused one afternoon in 1986 to watch a gray-bearded older man sing the blues, play virtuosic electric guitar, and accompany himself on an old hi-hat cymbal attached to his sidewalk chair. His name turned out to be Satan — “MISTER Satan,” as he repeatedly reminded his fans — and I turned out to be the partner, on harmonica, that he’d been waiting for. We played together for 12 wonderful years, half of them on 125th Street not far from the Apollo Theater. During my graduate years at Princeton, in the mid-1990s, I wrote a memoir about that experience entitled Mister Satan’s Apprentice. As much as I love my alma mater, I will always be proud of the musical education I received on Harlem’s streets.
I thought back on that whole period when I read in Marilyn Marks *86’s column about how Ms. Harry and her Princeton adventurers headed “to the Cotton Club, a once white-owned club in the heart of a black community.” “Today,” wrote Marks, “the club is owned by an African American; Harry said the students wanted to visit the Cotton Club to ‘be part of the history of reclaiming it’ for Harlem.”
Reclamation is good, but the truth is slightly more complex. The original Cotton Club, which opened in 1923, was indeed white-owned and restricted to an all-white clientele; at Lenox Avenue and 142nd Street, it was very much in the heart of Harlem. That Cotton Club closed down in later decades and has not reopened — although the unoccupied building may possibly remain. Some time much later, in the 1980s, a Harlem entrepreneur named John Beatty was investigating various business possibilities and discovered that nobody actually owned the rights to the name “Cotton Club.” So he found a building for sale in a very different location on the very edge of Harlem — West 125th Street, just off the river — and created a whole new Cotton Club from scratch.
Mr. Beatty told me this history one evening in the late 1990s when I went to the new Cotton Club to listen to the Melvin Sparks Band. At least I think it’s the true story. For all I know, Mr. Beatty may have told Ms. Harry a different true story. The true story in Harlem, as Mister Satan made clear to me, is never merely a matter of the name they christened you with on the day you were born. Soulfulness, imagination, and initiative are crucial, too.
Adam Gussow ’79 *00
Some of Professor Jeffrey Stout *76’s comments about Mel Gibson’s Passion really miss the mark (A Moment With, April 7). He says that Gibson did not do enough to “mitigate the dangers of an anti-Semitic reaction” and that he worked “harder” to complicate the audience reaction to Pilate and his wife.
This, I’m afraid, gives Mr. Gibson far more credit than he deserves, and soft-pedals the overt anti-Semitism of the movie. As any filmmaker does, Mr. Gibson made conscious choices. He had a distinct “story book” in mind and a clearly defined personal agenda.
There is hardly any effort made to distinguish between the Jewish high priests and the top of the temple hierarchy and the general Jewish population. The crowds agitating for Christ’s death are clearly meant to be all Jewish, and not just a handful of the “most important Jewish characters” as Professor Stout seems to suggest.
What very little Jewish dissent is voiced is quickly and abruptly and violently suppressed in the movie and Jewish “mobs” seem to rule the day. Nor is there anything “complicated” about Gibson’s portrayal of Pilate and his wife. Incredibly, one of the most vicious and lethal rulers of all time is portrayed as conflicted and confused about what to do with Jesus and deeply troubled by a guilty conscience. His wife is flat-out compassionate about the fate of Jesus and lobbies her husband to ignore the entreaties of the “Jews.” Then, when Jesus is carrying the cross, she meets Mary, offers her water, and turns away with tears in her eyes. Where is the complication? The “Jews” won Pilate over and forced him to do something he really did not want to do. That’s Gibson’s message here.
And, let’s not forget the imagery that seems to be part of any Passion film — when Christ dies on the cross, the skies darken, the earth rumbles, the winds howl. Mr. Gibson makes sure to add another element to that imagery with the walls and columns of the Jewish temple all crashing in. God, according to the Gibson “gospel,” was punishing the Jews, not the thoughtful Pilate and his tearful wife.
I guess the shame of it is that Mr. Gibson could have made a truly memorable film had there been some balance in it. I did recognize the movie as a cinematic achievement — the relentless brutality, as raw and disgusting as it is, did have a mystical element to it and an artistic predicate — a man suffering for the sins of all men is going to “suffer” big time. So I was able to understand to some extent the dramatic excuse for the violence. The treatment, however, of the Jews as contrasted with Pilate and his wife has no such mystical element or artistic predicate and was inexcusable.
Peter C. Alkalay ’68
The March 24 PAW noted that the “political satirist and author” Al Franken spoke at the Woodrow Wilson School February 26 (Notebook), where he “lampooned Republican policy and criticized the administration.” Is this what passes for scholarship these days at the prestigious Woodrow Wilson School? Where did the money come from to pay for this? I hope not from my contributions.
Joseph Paul Formica ’86
While I applaud your recognition of my classmate Joseph David (not William) Oznot (From the Editor, April 7), I must point out that he was a member of the Great Class of 1968, not 1969. He graduated with our class — you can see his picture on page 170 of the Nassau Herald — and went on to do graduate study at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. He makes frequent appearances at reunions and has his own detective agency in Lost Nation, Iowa. (His most recent case involved a search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.)
Fred Geldon ’68
Brian Hoffman ’46 (Letters, January 28) implies that Princeton's attempt to increase the representation of women in science and engineering risks diluting the faculty with inferior candidates. In reality, President Tilghman’s policy should improve the quality of the departments by acknowledging the systematic, unfavorable bias against women in academia, where female candidates appear to have less “perceived promise” than comparable male candidates.
Studies have shown that: 1) the same qualifications on a curriculum vitae are interpreted differently depending on the gender of the applicant; 2) men are taken more seriously than women by both male and female senior scholars; 3) men are more likely than women to be identified as rising stars and groomed for success. These subtle distortions affect every single recommendation and evaluation that a woman ever experiences in her career. Cumulatively, these psychological biases represent a formidable barrier for women in academia, resulting in very low percentages of senior female faculty, especially in the sciences and engineering. In my field of computer science, only 15 percent of the new tenure-track faculty are female, and only 8 percent at the full professor level.
Princeton should strive to find the best candidates possible, the ones who will truly advance their fields, not just the ones who have been the most successful at working the current hiring system; I applaud President Tilghman for taking strong steps to ensure that Princeton's faculty remains among the best in the world.
Gita Reese Sukthankar ’91
I have just attempted to access PAW Class Notes online, and the screen informs me they are now, out of privacy concerns, password-protected. The requirement is to provide one’s TigerNet I.D. and password.
Not having these, I attempted to register for them, and found the online procedure both intrusive and very user-unfriendly. The requirements include providing full name at the time of University residence, date of birth, grad year, degree, major, full home address, and then a question I could not answer: The type/nomenclature of server I have for both incoming and outgoing e-mail. I was therefore unsuccessful in obtaining the necessary I.D. and password.
I cannot believe a publication with a global circulation in the tens of thousands feels a large part of its content is so privileged and private that it should not be readily available without such folderol. I sense this privacy issue is being manufactured by the politically correct string-pullers in Nassau Hall. It is ridiculous.
B. Beck Fisher Jr. ’55
I’m not sure what type of “privacy concerns” would reasonably suggest that the Class Notes should be inaccessible without registration. After all, we currently print and distribute over 50,000 copies of the Class Notes section in each PAW — anything that is there is in no way “private” since it has already been mailed to 50,000 people.
Peter Wendell ’72
I recently attended a Princeton event for the first time in 43 years. The Triangle Club visited Los Angeles, and the local alumni association president called to ask if we’d put up two of the performers for the night; we did. The Triangle function was delightful; I rekindled friendships with two 1961 classmates, both of whom looked vaguely familiar, with names I remembered, and they seemed to remember me, too. It was wonderful meeting others, too, from other classes, people who are in my opinion making their lives happen. So, I think I may get more involved in Princeton affairs here in L.A. Why did I stay away for so long? Looking back, I think my years at Princeton were filled with youthful excesses and lack of focus — not the best time in my life. But perhaps over time I’ve made my own successes. There is no reason to hide any longer, nor was there ever any such reason.
Jonathan Kelley ’61