March 8, 2006: Letters

Tilghman’s speeches

Supporting the arts

Alito ’72’s nomination

Mideast scholarship

Plain talk

Screening ‘Munich’

For the record

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Tilghman’s speeches

President Tilghman is right on target when she deplores the distortion of science in the name of politics or theology (President’s Page, Jan. 25). I did find it curious, though, that the two examples she chose provided opportunities to slam the Bush administration and “Christian fundamentalists.”

Let’s not forget that the political and theological left is also quite capable of distorting science. Consider, for example, the fierce resistance of the medical establishment to the very politically incorrect evidence of a link between abortion and breast cancer. Or the willingness of prominent physicians to mask a nonscientific value judgment under scientific auspices by denying that human life begins prior to birth.

And then there’s the “science” of eugenics, which in the early 20th century paved the way for massive atrocities and which still surfaces today.

Alexandria, Va.


My thanks to PAW for publishing President Tilghman’s speeches (Notebook, Jan. 25) on a variety of important, timely topics. I’m especially interested in the support and proper publicity of stem cell research, as well as the unfortunate attack on science in general and the teaching of science in particular. Her views are eloquent and insightful, stressing several issues that need further discussion at all levels of society.

Although there will be some opposition expressed both within and outside the Princeton community (including several well-positioned alumni), I encourage all who subscribe to these viewpoints to continue to support President Tilghman and those of like mind. Please keep us informed on further developments on these and other important issues.

Orono, Maine


I must rise to challenge some of the assumptions voiced by President Tilghman in the 2005 Romanes Lecture, which she delivered at Oxford University. I recognize that she is a respected researcher in her own right as well as an academic leader in the world community, but she assumes the right, rather arrogantly it appears to me, to represent the thinking of most of the scientific community when she dismisses the arguments for “intelligent design” as specious and representative of only the voice of Christian fundamentalists. That simply is not so.

The evolutionary theory of natural selection is just that, a theory. Dr. Tilghman speaks of its “remarkable resilience to experimental challenge over almost 150 years” as evidence of its validity, when this is really nothing but an admission of failure on the part of the scientific community to ratify the theory — certainly not a reason for its “overwhelming acceptance.” It is not a biological law. It is true that as yet no one has been able to offer a comprehensive alternative to the theory, but it has become increasingly tenuous, as indicated by the numerous writings raising objections to it.

What is needed is more insight into the fundamental laws that pertain when matter and energy interact at both the subatomic and macro levels — at the levels of creation. Until such time, we should not be in the position of accepting the present-day theory of evolution, despite any utility it may afford. Such acceptance may indeed be leading in the wrong direction with the attempt by the scientific community to explain not only the origins but the observed interactions of living matter.

Those who want to inquire into the broad field of scientific knowledge should attempt to digest parts of the tract by Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe.

Eugene, Ore.


President Tilghman urges that skeptics of Darwinism such as myself be engaged in debate “respectfully.” Unfortunately, she doesn’t follow her own advice. Instead, she employs inflammatory rhetoric, warning darkly of an “assault” by “Christian fundamentalists.” Now, I’m a Roman Catholic who learned Darwin’s theory in parochial school and still thinks it explains much of biology, although certainly not all. So do I count as a “fundamentalist”? Does the writing of books exploring intelligent design, like my Darwin’s Black Box, constitute an “assault”? Is it “respectful” to characterize the action of citizens petitioning their legislators as an “assault”?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think President Tilghman’s address itself illuminates why so many people are so suspicious of Darwin’s theory. When a theory has to be defended with emotionally charged calls-to-arms, it makes people smell a rat. If a scientist has good evidence in hand for a theory, she should simply state it. If she doesn’t, she should plainly admit it.

Department of Biological Sciences
Lehigh University


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Supporting the arts

PAW’s Jan. 25 special issue on Princeton and the arts could not have been more timely, arriving just after the announcement of Peter Lewis ’55’s $101 million gift to the University for the arts.

I read about the gift in The New York Times, and that afternoon I interviewed a candidate for the Class of 2010 who aspires to write fiction. Of course, I shared the news about the gift, which animated my young acquaintance to share an eloquent meditation about the creative process.

Three cheers for Peter Lewis for spiritually enriching Princeton and generations of students to come.

Northeast Harbor, Maine


While it’s exciting to see the University increasingly attract many artistic student-superstars, let’s ensure that young writers, musicians, and actors have a supporting population of student readers, concertgoers, and groundlings. I always found the student audiences somewhat sparse, as Princeton now eschews well-rounded students in favor of specialists in all fields.

Absent the mediation of the Western tradition, from which art is increasingly deviant anyway, it’s obvious why so many young Americans prefer more mind-numbing media. Sustaining the arts requires that the future businessman gain an aesthetic education, but at Princeton, he is now discouraged from doing so by the contrast of limited-enrollment courses open only to the credentialed and eminently unserious electives promising easy fulfillment of what few requirements still exist.

Let’s not neglect the dilettante, that venerable Princetonian. To this end, the Passport to the Arts program is a great (if underutilized) means, and it would be nice to see the Toni Morrisons of the faculty teach more courses and do so in larger classrooms.

Oliver Springs, Tenn.
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Alito ’72’s nomination

For Princeton, the irony of the Alito nomination (Notebook, Nov. 16) is that the admission office assembled a freshman class of the best and the brightest that they could find, liberal professors and a biased liberal administration worked on them for four years, and out came a Sam Alito ’72.

I feel better about my gifts to Princeton.

Chagrin Falls, Ohio


As an attorney, a lifelong student of American political history, a female Princetonian, and a minority discriminated against at Princeton and elsewhere, I followed the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and the revelations of his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, with considerable interest and concern.

While I admire Justice Alito’s intelligence and accomplishments, and I have no cause to impugn his personal integrity, I am distressed at the extent to which his confirmation demonstrates the debasement of our Constitution by partisan politics. “Advice and consent” has been replaced by “rubber-stamp vote,” and the watchword for nominees is now, “Disclose as little as possible about your true views.” Upon learning of the confirmation vote — almost entirely along party lines — my “muse” was thus prompted to activity. I fervently hope that this little verse will be parody and not prophecy.

(As imagined) by Justice Samuel Alito (with prodigious apologies to Theodor Seuss Geisel h’85)

The votes for me are cast in ink,
So I can tell you what I think.
The biggest boo-boo that we made
Was when we ruled on Roe v. Wade.

I do not like it in my heart;
I have not liked it from the start.
I do not like it as a case;
I do not like it anyplace!

And now that I am in this chair,
I will not have it anywhere.
I will not have it for my Sis,
I will not have it for that Miss.

I would not keep it for my kid,
No matter what dumb thing she did.
I do not like it, not one bit!
So I will now get rid of it.

Those words that Harry Blackmun wrote?
I will erase them with my vote.
They will go “poof!” into the air;
You will not find them anywhere.

And there is nothing you can do
If I do not agree with you.
It does not matter where I stood,
’Cause now I have this job for good!

And on my back I’ll get a slap
From my old buddies back at CAP.
The Senate hearing? What a sham!
I really liked it. — Sam, I am.

Alexandria, Va.


I have been following the Alito hearings with great interest. I admit I can’t pass judgment on his judicial record or mind-set, but I can speak to one specific issue: his membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP).

As I recall, CAP was organized some time after the admission of women undergraduates to Princeton, which occurred in 1969. This evidently was the last straw in what conservative alumni saw as a continuing degradation of the University since it abandoned the time-honored policy of admitting white males only.

CAP began a slick campaign to win alumni over to their point of view. They published a periodical, Prospect, which they mailed gratis to alumni. It was full of articles designed to awaken us to the dangers facing Princeton by admitting women and minorities, and to enlist us in a rescue campaign to turn the University around. I received several issues, which were filled with such atrocious right-wing garbage that I eventually wrote the editor in disgust to remove me from their mailing list. You could use any number of adjectives to describe this publication, but they would have to include racist, sexist, and elitist.

So CAP was no trivial undergraduate organization; it was a concerted and well-financed effort by conservative alumni to turn the clock back on Princeton’s admission and teaching policies. I therefore find it incredible that Samuel Alito, or any other alumnus, could have joined CAP then and now profess to have no recollection of doing so. I graduated many years before Judge Alito, and I remember very clearly what I belonged to and what I didn’t at Princeton, whether as undergraduate or alumnus.

Newport, R.I.
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Mideast scholarship

Ted Stern ’76 writes that my article on Middle East studies (cover story, Dec. 14) was “rife with imbalance,” with one of the most egregious examples being that it characterized Martin Kramer ’75 *82 as a “gadfly,” while holding up Rashid Khalidi as “a fine scholar” (Letters, Feb. 15).

Here is the sentence from which Mr. Stern took the phrase “a fine scholar”: “Some Princetonians protested to Nassau Hall that Khalidi’s arrival, should it occur, would make the campus a hostile one for Jewish students — but they were countered by others, including prominent Jewish professors, who called him a fine scholar.”

Clearly, I was not endorsing Mr. Khalidi’s scholarship (which I am not qualified to judge). I was merely noting that he has defenders on the campus.

Hyattsville, Md.


I read with great interest, and some concern, Christopher Shea ’91’s article about the controversies over the teaching of Middle East subjects at Princeton. I majored in Arabic and Middle East studies at Princeton (as did my son Christopher ’86). For me, the study of Arabic and the history and culture of that region led to a 33-year career as a Middle East specialist with the Department of State.

Today the Foreign Service and other U.S. foreign affairs and national security agencies are urgently seeking persons knowledgeable about the Middle East. Even President Bush has called on American universities to emphasize the study of Arabic and other “hard” languages. The NES department, in conjunction with the Woodrow Wilson School and other departments, is in an excellent position to contribute to preparing persons well qualified to pursue careers in government agencies, international organizations, and NGOs dealing with the Middle East, as well as in academia, media, and business.

Academic preparation for such careers includes not only linguistic competence but also a thorough introduction to major issues concerning the Middle East — among them the rise of radical Islamism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stability of the Persian Gulf, the role of the United States in the area, and the political, economic, and social impact of globalization on Middle Eastern cultures.

Advocating, as some have, that Princeton students be shielded from controversial topics or be prevented from hearing scholars and others whose views do not meet someone’s test of “even-handedness” is hardly an effective way of preparing them to comprehend, analyze, and determine their own approaches to problems facing the region. Let us hope that the NES department’s approach to Middle East studies will continue to evolve and will continue to expose Princeton students to the variety of views, including “biased” ones, that make the field of Middle Eastern studies so challenging and fascinating.

Washington, D.C.

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Plain talk

Daniel Oppenheimer’s research (Notebook, Jan. 25) can be summarized by the elegant phrase, “eschew obfuscation.” Thank you for publishing a sound basis for this recommendation. His work also supports the assertion that, while profound ideas can be obscure and difficult to understand, that which is obscure and difficult to understand is rarely profound.

Bradford, N.H.
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Screening ‘Munich’

Isn’t it weird: the private showing of Munich to a specially invited audience by the Woodrow Wilson School (Notebook, Jan. 25)?

Something tells me the kids at Hillel were not invited.

Isn’t it interesting that the assorted ex-assistant assistant secretaries of state, Wilson School administrators, and Spielberg fans and academic types couldn’t bring themselves to invite even one of the dozens of critical critics like Charles Krauthammer to participate in a real debate and discussion regarding the merits of this film, which equates the terrorists who murdered innocent Israeli athletes with the Israeli agents who were sent to exact raw justice?

Do they think the terrorists should have gotten away with it?

What happened to an academic environment in which all sides of any issue are open to discussion?

How can the academic types who staged this event maintain that there is no such thing as “political correctness,” when they used this film to present one and only one point of view?

I think they need to go back to the drawing board. Next time, show a really good film about recent European history. I recommend The Pianist.

Chicago, Ill.
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For the record

Drew Fornarola ’06 is a politics major. His major was misidentified in “Student stages” in the Jan. 25 PAW.
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