December 13, 2006: Letters

Bellinger ’82’s role

How fall break started

Climate-change data

Money and happiness

Modify gas-tax plan

For the record

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Bellinger ’82’s role

Oct. 25 issueIn your Oct. 25 issue you wrote that the State Department’s legal adviser, John Bellinger ’82, “now spends most of his time overseas defending ... the nation’s policies before the U.N. Committee Against Torture ... detentions of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, secret CIA ‘renditions’ of terror, and the U.S. views [not observance] of the Geneva Conventions.”

Now isn’t that a heck of a job! Working to put a good face on barbarities that most of the world’s citizens would have hoped went out with the Spanish Inquisition. What an imagination one must have to justify to oneself and to the world such flagrant abuses of human rights and the statutes of the Geneva Conventions. The more Mr. Bellinger explains away torture, the greater the education he is giving the international community on how to proceed directly as we have proceeded.

Why can’t the “brilliant minds” that have graduated from Princeton use their imaginations to creatively solve the problems of equitable distribution of resources and developing democracy without the provocation of mass hatred and young people having their faces blown off? Apart from isolated, noble gestures of individuals, where is the leadership of the nation inspiring hope and the advancement of mankind?

It would be nice to see an educated, hardworking, intelligent man like Mr. Bellinger making a real contribution to society, as opposed to making a case for a sow’s ear being a silk purse.

You can sign me the daughter of a 100 percent disabled veteran of World War II.

Chula Vista, Calif., and Tijuana, Mexico


Just before the 2004 elections, PAW ran a profile on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ’54 that ignored his controversial and polarizing role in the Iraq war.

Now, just before the 2006 midterm elections, we had John Bellinger on the Oct. 25 cover of PAW — in “man of the year” fashion — his handsome face looking out at us with the words “Wartime Adviser” in large white letters. However, Mr. Bellinger’s is a pretty face behind which is the defense of some very ugly policies: his dismissal of the Abu Ghraib abuses as isolated and unrelated to systemic problems; his bland assertion that arresting and sending a Canadian citizen in transit to his own country to Syria instead (where he was tortured) was a “legal deportation”; his defense of the administration’s refusal to allow U.N. officials to interview Guantánamo detainees.

In these politically driven times the timing of this article implies, as did the Rumsfeld piece, that PAW has an editorial position favoring the party identified with their policies.

While that might not be the case, an article about someone who — though having Princeton in his or her history — promotes or defends deeply polarizing and politicized policies can never fit into the traditional category of an “alumni profile.” To try to make it do so leaves so much out about what is important about this person and to the thinking reader that it puts PAW into the same category as magazines sold at supermarkets and TV shows that feed off celebrity culture. I think alumni are smart enough to be able to handle more than that and that the PAW staff is smart enough to do better than that.

I appreciate the fact that the Bellinger article included a few dissenting criticisms, but they were simply not enough. Had you presented it paired with a critique of his positions by ACLU director Anthony Romero ’87, we would have had a debate worthy of an academic institution whose primary claim to fame is its intellectual excellence, not its football team.

New York, N.Y.


The article on John Bellinger and his efforts to defend the human rights of detainees at Guantánamo was a pleasure to read! Here in Australia there is little respect for the Bush administration and its treatment of prisoners like David Hicks, an Aussie who has been held without charges or trial there for over five years.

The date here is Nov. 8; I await the United States’ rejection of the president and his crew (including my classmate, Don Rumsfeld).

N.P. STEPP ’54
Castle Cove, New South Wales


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How fall break started

It’s nice to see from the Oct. 25 On the Campus column that the fall break is being enjoyed, but I’d like to remind the readers of the original rationale for the practice.

This concept dates back to May of 1970, when the University-wide strike took place in the aftermath of Nixon’s Cambodia speech and Kent State. Instead of the traditional activities of Houseparties weekend that year, there were widespread political meetings. (Yes, ALL parties were canceled!) One of these meetings took place behind Stevenson Hall. Among the hundred-plus undergraduates there was a strong sense of frustration and helplessness — what could we do about all this?

Based on an idea presented at this meeting, the University started scheduling a weeklong fall break to take place before the fall elections, so interested students could be involved in political campaigning. This was picked up by a number of other schools around the country, and was even referred to as “the Princeton Plan.”

Although it’s nice to have Halloween at home, this fall break also could be used for political involvement. With the state of politics in the country today, it might not be a bad idea to go back to that original purpose.

Kenneth G. Weaber ’70
Lancaster, Pa.
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Climate-change data

In the 50 years since receiving my degree in geological engineering, I have tried to stay on top of climate-change issues. From three decades ago, when a preponderance of interested scientists believed we would soon be entering a new ice age, until today, when President Tilghman proclaimed in her Oct. 25 President’s Page in PAW that “the vast majority of scientists now believe that human activity” is responsible for the earth getting warmer, we continuously have been exposed to science by consensus. Fortunately, my Princeton education taught me to distrust such pronouncements.

President Tilghman continued on to promote the wonderful contributions that the Princeton Environmental Institute is making to thwart this “potentially disastrous” phenomenon. While this is her right and perhaps her responsibility, it saddens me to note that an eminent scientist of her caliber, leading our great university, would embrace science by consensus and fear-mongering mathematically modeled conclusions fraught with far more uncertainty than factual data.

President Tilghman appears to be echoing the pronouncements of Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth, which, in an effort to cut off debate, conveniently left out a significant amount of data, collected by eminent climate scientists, that seriously question anthropogenic global warming.

While many glaciers are melting, others are increasing in size. While tropical storms and hurricanes are increasing in some areas, they are declining in others. Though we have warmed since the cold period we experienced three centuries ago, there is scant evidence to prove that man either is responsible or in fact could alter his climate in any significant way. Only arrogance dictates this possibility.

President Tilghman and other Princeton scientists have become involved in “junk science,” which can be defined as “the use of selective, rather than comprehensive data, to support a theory or hypothesis in order to advance an economic or political agenda.” With Al Gore it is likely politics; with the Princeton Environmental Institute it is likely economics.

Jay Lehr ’57
Ostrander, Ohio


In her Oct. 25 President’s Page, President Tilghman shows undue concern about global warming. She expresses a point of view that, unfortunately, is much too common — even among scientists who don’t have direct experience with climate data. But perhaps logic will convince. Climate is always changing — either warming or cooling. When it warms, glaciers will melt — but this tells us nothing about the actual cause of the warming. Nor do model calculations or a claimed scientific “consensus” provide “proof” for anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Al Gore’s movie adds much confusion to this crucial issue. In fact, as philosopher Sir Karl Popper has reminded us, one can never “prove” a scientific hypothesis; one can only falsify it.

As a matter of record, the observed patterns of warming disagree with those calculated from climate models, in which greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide increase. (See the federal Climate Change Science Program report 1.1, issued May 2, 2006 — and especially Figure 5.4G.) This disparity falsifies the AGW hypothesis and tells us that the human contribution to current warming is minor and that natural causes predominate.

Professor emeritus of environmental science, University of Virginia
Arlington, Va.

Editor’s note: Singer is a former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. His most recent book is Unstoppable Global Warming — Every 1,500 Years.
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Money and happiness

I am writing in response to the article “Money, happiness, and how we spend our time” (Notebook, Oct. 25) regarding the research of professors Krueger and Kahneman. As a theologian, I am often surprised by the amount of time and energy social scientists will expend to determine that money does not, in fact, make us truly happy. Rather than conducting surveys and fretting over the reliability of “subjective well-being data,” these researchers may wish to consult the wisdom of various religious traditions whose history spans millennia.

I personally believe that Jesus and Buddha have as much to teach us, if not more, about what makes people happy than combing through 900 diaries and correlating subjective data with physiological factors. And for those wary of religious language, philosophers like Plato and Aristotle also could give a better understanding of what true happiness means, rather than relying on “common-sense” notions prevalent in our economic culture that often prove to be less helpful.

Ph.D. Program in Theological Ethics
Boston College
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Modify gas-tax plan

I applaud the proposal by the Princeton Project on National Security (Notebook, Oct. 25) for a national gasoline tax that would gradually double its price at the pump over a period of 10 years. Such a tax would indeed create a strong market force driving the development and wider spread of alternative-fuel and more efficient automotive technologies, thus decreasing our dependence on foreign oil.

However, this proposal requires a major modification to become politically viable: The new tax must not increase the overall tax burden on the American taxpayer. Each uptick in the gas tax should be accompanied by a downtick in the federal income-tax rates (or an increase in the standard deduction), so that the total amount of collected federal tax remains constant.

Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Physics
Princeton University
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For the record

The Nov. 8 memorial for Richard Bradford Howe ’51 incorrectly reported the year that his grandfather, Charles Howe, graduated from Princeton; he was a member of the Class of 1899.
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