March 19, 2008: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters on its contents and topics related to Princeton University. We may edit them for length, accuracy, clarity, and civility; brevity is encouraged. Letters, articles, and photos submitted to PAW may be published or distributed in print, electronic, or other forms. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to publish all letters received. Write to PAW, 194 Nassau St., Suite 38, Princeton, NJ 08542; send e-mail to email@example.com
Editor’s note: A follow-up story on influential alumni, with readers’ selections, will be published in the April 2 issue.
I enjoyed George Will *68’s witty and heartfelt “wee tribute” to James Madison 1771, Princeton’s most influential alumnus (feature, Jan. 23). But on one point, I would argue with Will’s interpretation of Madison.
According to Will, “... in Federalist 10 [Madison] wrote that ‘the first object of government’ is ‘the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property.’ From these differences arise different factions in their freedom-preserving multiplicity.” The suggestion is that Madison sees unequal distribution of wealth as guarding against the tyranny of a single, dominant faction.
To my reading of Federalist 10, Madison presents unequal distribution of wealth not as a solution to the problem of factions, but rather as one of its root causes. Government’s duty to protect property rights inevitably leads to unequal distribution of property, which he calls “the most common and durable source of factions.” From this he concludes that “the causes of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects” by preventing the emergence of a dominant majority faction. His solution is representative government on a large scale: specifically, joining the states together into the Union. It is the size and diversity of the Union, not unequal wealth, that provides Will’s “freedom-preserving multiplicity” of factions.
Madison’s purpose in the Federalist Papers is to advocate for the creation of the Union, not to offer a libertarian defense of economic inequality.
DANIEL J. FREED ’83
The cover story on Princeton’s most influential alumni left me vaguely disturbed. Here we have the 26 “best and brightest” positions claimed by 26 white people, 25 of whom happen to be male. Given that Nassau Hall ran an explicitly racist and sexist admission policy of white men only for over 200 years, not admitting the first regular African-American undergraduate until 1947 and not admitting any female undergraduates until 1969, this comes as no surprise.
Why do we want to celebrate this kind of institutionalized racism and sexism?
MICHAEL BECKMAN *96
I applaud your boldness in seeking to rank influential Princetonians! The Princetoniana Committee has been working to compile a broad list of “significant” Princetonians. We started with the lists in A Princeton Companion and updated the various categories. Other lists on the Internet have been helpful. We have drawn on the PAW article (Jan. 24, 2001) identifying 100 notable Graduate School alumni. We now can add from the list of 250 from this issue.
Early on we eliminated the concept of any form of ranking. The intent has been a broad list, realizing that any list can be critiqued and the definition of “significant” can take many forms.
The Orange Key has been interested in this effort and requested addition of dorm room locations for the significant folks. When members of the freshman class arrive, they may find that some illustrious individual had inhabited their room in earlier years.
We appreciate the opportunity to broaden our list to incorporate the thinking of those who compiled the list of 250.
FRANCIS (FRANK) SLOAT ’55
The recent article about Princeton’s most influential alumni was well-written and thoroughly entertaining and undoubtedly entirely appropriate light fare for a regularly issued university alumni magazine. But the whole exercise does strike one as a bit blustering and unbecoming, being as it is mostly a purely indulgent essay of narcissistic self-admiration.
The game of divining who are the most influential or significant individuals of history serves no practical purpose, particularly when the exercise focuses on only a select distinct group from whom to make the selections.
It is entertaining, yes, but it is not particularly illuminating. A variety of significant and influential figures in history often teach us nothing other than that fame is indeed ephemeral and fickle.
How much more interesting and useful would be the same dedication of intellectual prowess from the panel of judges in addressing an issue of local, national, or even global significance. And then presenting the resulting conclusions to a body of private or public movers and shakers who might put that intellectual property to good and productive use.
Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of all nations. How about starting a magazine series in PAW that might take this latter idea “on the road,” so to speak, and see if we can do more than just entertain ourselves with the self-congratulatory grandeur of our own image?
ROCKY SEMMES ’79
PAW’s characterization of John Mear-sheimer’s and Stephen Walt’s book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, as “controversial” (Notebook, Jan. 23) is akin to asserting that the Darwinian concept of evolution is “just one theory,” on an intellectual par with other theories, such as “intelligent design.”
In the United States, avoiding controversy on Israel-Palestine issues can be accomplished only by asserting that Israel is always deserving of unconditional U.S. support, especially vis-à-vis the Palestinians, and that any suggestion or assertion to the contrary is, by definition, “controversial” at best and “anti-Semitic” at worst.
Mearsheimer and Walt state repeatedly and forcefully that they are not anti-Israel. They document factually and convincingly that groups such as AIPAC and some Christian evangelicals in the United States have a hammerlock on American foreign policy toward Israel, vis-à-vis the Palestinians and with respect to other Middle East issues involving Israel (and what Middle East issue doesn’t involve Israel?).
Over the past 60 years, these groups have exercised ever-increasing influence on American policies and actions toward or affecting Israel, beginning in 1948 when President Truman extended U.S. diplomatic recognition to the new State of Israel, over the vigorous objections of then-secretary of state George Marshall and others.
As to “anti-Semitic,” be it noted that Arabs also are, ethnically, Semitic.
CHARLTON PRICE ’48
There’s a historic resurgence going on at Baker Rink. Men’s hockey has won the Ivy League championship outright for the first time in 55 years and will be one of the top contenders in the ECAC playoffs.
Also, a Princeton hockey player, Landis Stankievech ’08, is a Rhodes scholarship recipient for the second time in University history. The first hockey Rhodes scholar was our teammate, Mike Spence ’66, who went on to be provost at Harvard, dean of the Stanford Business School, and won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001. Landis has a tough act to follow.
Hearty congrats to Coach Guy Gadowsky and the entire hockey team for bringing the glory and excitement back to Baker and underscoring the importance of the student-athlete experience at Princeton.
GERRY SKONING ’64
As a New Yorker, allow me to protect a local Princeton legend. The “famed” Bill Bradley ’65 game mentioned in the Butch van Breda Kolff ’45 memorial (Feb. 13) was the one played here during the season at the old Madison Square Garden, not an NCAA game. When Bradley fouled out, the Garden announcer immediately proclaimed his performance as one of the greatest ever seen there. Michigan then rallied to win, and later did win the NCAA Final Four rematch (in the semifinals, not the final).
But the game was the earlier one.
MIKE MARDEN ’55
I am writing to express concern with the University’s new alcohol policy (Notebook, Jan. 23). In responding to problems with unsafe drinking, the University community has the opportunity to embrace a strategy that takes account of the long-term interests of at-risk students and their peers. Unfortunately, the policies the administration adopted in the fall are long on sanctions and short on supportive measures to improve campus health; these policies will not lead to a decline in problem drinking and are well poised to exacerbate the condition. As a substance-abuse epidemiologist, I am sure that a public-health approach will be more likely to yield the results the University is seeking.
Alcohol abuse and dependence and alcohol poisoning are complex medical and social conditions. Those at highest risk for alcohol-related harms are not those who show up at loud room parties, but those who start drinking earlier in the day and keep to themselves.
A law-enforcement response to alcohol disorders on campus is not consistent with helping the most at-risk students and the community. Anecdotally, the University has been exceptionally generous to classmates with drug and alcohol problems, including ample opportunity for academic redemption, confidential therapy options, and inpatient treatment for recent alumni. Expanding and publicizing these options is consistent with the medical understanding of alcohol-use disorders.
The front-line enforcement responsibilities this policy gives to residential college advisers (RCAs) is beyond their ability. We essentially are asking them to diagnose complex medical disorders and mete out suitable punishments. On the other hand, many models of peer-led interventions are available to identify problem drinking early. In the years since I graduated, I have heard students from other schools speak with resentment about their RCAs who were kept in the dark about most events in their dorms. Moving from an advising system premised on support and marked by confidentiality, to one of sanction and distrust, is a step backward.
NABARUN DASGUPTA ’00
Atul Gawande, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and staff writer for The New Yorker, was quoted as saying: “We understand disease, we devise effective therapies, and then there’s the question of how to ensure the therapies are effectively used. ... Almost no one invests much money in the science of checking up and following to see whether doctors and nurses do what they’re supposed to do” (Notebook, Jan. 23).
Such statements are typical from M.D.s at academic medical centers who are not in private practice, have guaranteed salaries, and have an army of “coders” and “billers” to maximize charges for every procedure, every diagnosis, every therapy to the point that many academic medical centers have paid millions in fines to Medicare/ Medicaid for ghost M.D. charges, ghost procedures, ghost diagnoses.
Furthermore, guidelines do not take into account a patient’s ability to pay, cost-effective guidelines, or shortcomings of “managed care.” The studies for guidelines are paid for by drug manufacturers (or drugs are “donated” and equipment is given by the manufacturer), NIH grants, etc.
Academic M.D.s, like academic economists, are far removed from the “real world,” and their comments are an insult to those of us looking after our patients.
W. REID PITTS JR. ’63, M.D.
As a Princeton graduate who voluntarily left his financial job in Manhattan to serve as an infantry officer in the Army for the past four and a half years, including 13 months in Nineveh and Anbar provinces, Iraq, in 2006–07, I was troubled and hurt by the Jan. 23 letter by William K. Mettler ’51.
Mr. Mettler’s glib observation that we were “blasting the Iraqi population to hell and gone” could not be further from anything I ever saw on more than 100 combat patrols. In fact, while I was shot at numerous times, traveled in vehicles struck by IEDs, and lived in buildings that were shot at and mortared daily, not once did I discharge one round of return fire since I could never positively identify the enemy and as a result, according to our rules of engagement, I could not shoot. The discipline and restraint I saw were universal in my battalion and, based on extensive interactions with neighboring units and friends in other units, hardly unique.
Yes, Abu Ghraib happened, as did Haditha and some other heinous and unforgivable crimes, but they are so far removed from the behavior of the vast majority of the troops to hardly warrant the attention they have received. While we enjoy the comforts of America, every day soldiers are risking their lives to help the Iraqi people — most of whom desperately need it. I spent the better part of nine months working to restore basic services to my Sunni Arab town of 60,000 — such as water and electricity — as well as develop a local government in the shadow of a ruthless al-Qaida murder and intimidation campaign.
I understand Mr. Mettler’s misgivings about our current government and some of its foreign-policy decisions, but ask that the behavior of our brave and decent troops not be slandered as they labor in anonymity and show superhuman discipline in the midst of an ambiguous and challenging fight in which the enemy often exploits our very restraint and uses it to attack us. Despite this, in my experience we almost without exception kept to the moral high ground.
WILL BARDENWERPER ’98
Edmund Wilson ’16 served as a hospital orderly in France during World War I. A feature in the Feb. 13 issue incorrectly reported that the experience took place during World War II.