Wolf at the Wrong Door

A correction to your delightful story, “The Wife, the Lady, and the Book of Dames” [Mar|Apr]: Peter and the Wolf was composed by Prokofiev, not Tchaikovsky.

Please include the progress of this opera in a future issue.

Edie Saltzberg CW’60 Merion Station, PA


Our thanks as well to the other readers who noticed the error.—Ed.


Other Non-Rabbi Also an Alum

Your article on Arnie Eisen C’73 [“Arnold Eisen’s Moment,” Mar|Apr] noted that there was one previous chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary who, like Eisen, was not a rabbi. He, too, was a Penn alumnus: Cyrus Adler, Class of 1883.

Mitchell Silverstein C’79 Jerusalem


Story with Too Many Legs

Reading your article, “Barbaro’s Race Ends” [“Gazetteer,” Mar|Apr], online, I found the following: “Barbaro developed laminitis in his two right front feet.” Now, I know he was a remarkable animal, but I didn’t think he had extra legs!

Nancy Price Coos Bay, OR


Barbaro’s Lesson: Complications Happen

While I didn’t root against Barbaro to survive his injury, there is at least a small part of me that doesn’t mind when a celebrity (or celebrity horse) has a complication after an operation. The reason is this: As an orthopedic surgeon I know that the vast majority of bad outcomes and complications from surgery are not the result of malpractice. A post-operative infection, for example, like the one Barbaro fought, is going to occur in a small percentage of surgeries despite prophylactic antibiotics. As the old saying goes, “The only surgeon who doesn’t have complications is the one who doesn’t operate.”

When Barbaro died I hoped that the general public would have an epiphany along the lines of: “If Barbaro can have a complication, then it can happen to anyone—and it doesn’t mean it’s malpractice. And the doctor shouldn’t be sued. And the malpractice attorney shouldn’t get rich.”

Barbaro obviously received the very best care with handpicked world experts like Dr. Richardson attending to him around the clock with no expense spared. And yet, he still succumbed. It wasn’t because the doctor used the wrong implants, or wasn’t experienced, or should have done this or that. It just happens because medicine is not an exact science.

Sure there are clear-cut cases of medical malpractice: Carving one’s initials in a patient as one New York surgeon did not long ago, is a definite no-no. But cases such as that one are the rare exception.

It’s just too costly in every sense of the word to have unlimited “pain and suffering” verdicts in the millions of dollars. The solution? Cover the malpractice victim’s medical costs and lost wages, but put a cap on “pain and suffering” payouts. The six states with caps all have prevented liability premiums from skyrocketing, keeping doctors available to treat patients. For the good of everyone but the malpractice attorneys, the malpractice “lottery” needs to be shut down.

I rooted for Barbaro’s speedy recovery and a long, happy life on the stud farm. But since he didn’t make it, I hope everyone realizes it’s not because his medical team didn’t try their best and it’s certainly not due to malpractice. It seldom is.

Jonathan Scherl M’91 Englewood, NJ


Singer’s Remarks Lead
Back to the Big Moral Problem

I’m not impressed by Professor Peter Singer’s remarks on torture [“Gazetteer,” Mar|Apr]. He is quite right to point out that the scenario of the terrorist with foreknowledge of a (dirty) bomb in a Manhattan basement is farfetched, but his prescription for no torture dishonoring America and its ideals except when someone in authority is sure a suspect can lead us to a bomb (in time, with the means to disarm it?), all through the application of fail-proof torture techniques, leads us pointlessly back to the big moral problem we began with.

In utilitarian terms, has anyone noticed that the individuals who gave us the system of color-coded terror alerts, fluctuating according to arcane criteria that have no basis, no hard data underlying all the alarmism—because, since there have been no subsequent attacks (despite the real threat), there can be no manual of prediction—are the same ones who will be expected to think on their feet when there’s more to the job than manipulating public anxiety?

Sadly, we have an appreciable number of quick-response decision-makers who believe in police psychics, astrological signs, CSI, The West Wing, etc., and can easily hear bombs ticking in Grant’s Tomb. But Singer is practical: When the finger-manglers take Manhattan, and commence paranoid carnage, well, just throw the disgraceful, overreacting s.o.b.s in jail.

He does make one little point superbly: His solemn image of the psychologist standing by as torture consultant explains the flaw of the Inquisition—no trained professionals.

James Miles GEd’86 Collingdale, PA


Use Every Means Available

Professor Singer’s approach to torture is typical of the intellectual left, and as a national policy, dangerous to the health and welfare of my family and me. We are in the game of survival and you win only by playing the rules consistent with that game. Penn basketball does not win allowing themselves only three personal fouls while permitting the opponent five. We should use every means available to extract information and that policy should be understood clearly by our enemies. They are probably quite amused that we would even engage in a discussion on the subject.

Alan I. Stern W’56 Woodmere, NY


Appropriate, and Asinine, Award

In “The Logic of Torture,” Princeton’s Peter Singer talks about the pros and cons of enforced coercion. Described as “standing in the utilitarian tradition of ethics,” his musings on torture meander all over the moral block, ending up in the outhouse of if-it-works-for-you-go-for-it.

How appropriate, to say nothing of asinine, that Singer should receive the first Scott Nearing Award for Courageous Scholarship from the political science department’s Graduate Student Association for his exercises in dismantling Western civilization’s Judeo-Christian moral structure. On the other hand, Assistant Professor Nearing was canned by the Wharton School in 1915 “for his socialist-leaning politics,” a philosophy hardly in tune with that of the business school.

Cyrus J. Sharer W’44 St. Davids, PA


Dentist’s Memory Lives On

The lead obituary in the Mar|Apr issue gave me a start: Dr. Melvin Herrmann D’24. He was my first dentist, from 1950, when I was in Miss Auerbach’s first grade class at the University’s Illman-Carter School, through 1962 when I graduated from the College. At that time my father was University Chaplain (we lived in what is now the Kelly Writers House at 3805 Locust, where streetcars still ran down the middle of the road.) I have no doubt Dad was referred to Dr. Herrmann by University associates.

Alone among my friends, I loved visiting the dentist! This was before sedatives and painkillers were routine. There was no fluoride in toothpaste or tap water and high-speed air drills had yet to be invented, so I had more than my share of cavities. Yet, I have no memories of pain or fear, only warm feelings of enjoying my sessions with this grandfatherly figure who knew how to engage a little boy in conversation, patiently showed off and explained his equipment, and turned the dentist’s chair into a voyage of discovery that I anticipated visiting and re-visiting.

Melvin Herrmann must certainly have been in his fifties when he first saw me over 50 years ago and must have been one of the University’s oldest alumni when he died last June. I would like his surviving family to know his life and memory live on in a young boy who grew up to love seeing the dentist.

David B. Harris C’66 Cambridge, MA

Cartoon Complaint I

I found the article “Franklin and the Iroquois Foundations of the Constitution” [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb] fascinating, well-read, and balanced. Congratulations on its inclusion.

However, I do not understand the inclusion of the cartoon editorial. It denigrates, first and foremost, the University. This is a disgrace. Only partly because it is rude and stereotypical, but also because it represents a denial of the greatness of Mr. Franklin. Granted, he was a “high living person”—not too different from many notable political personalities of our time. Overweight—like most Americans today and many world leaders. Self-absorbed—less so than most politicians today. Second, the cartoon, by its nature, plays on emotion and on base motives, not the intellect.

Interestingly enough, the editorial close in this cartoon, with Franklin shown thinking, “These ignorant savages just might be onto something,” is in direct contradiction to the article itself.

Allan M. Shoff Gr’74 Santa Monica, CA

Cartoon Complaint II

I would like to ask you to take me off the free subscription list of The Pennsylvania Gazette. I make this request out of protest against the cartoon on page 65 of the Jan|Feb 2007 issue illustrating the story “The Faithful Blogger” [“Alumni Profiles”]. You dare poke fun at the bishop of New York, but I just know that you would not dare publish a similar cartoon of the Grand Mufti of Cairo. This kind of bias is disturbing even to a secular-minded academic such as myself.

Andreas Buja, faculty Philadelphia


Timing is Everything

We enjoyed traveling to Lexington and watching the Quakers put up a valiant fight against overwhelming opposition in the opening round of the NCAA championship [“Sports,” this issue]. In fact, if the rules of basketball called for a 28-minute game, it would rank among the greatest tournament upsets of all time.

Steven Becker W’55
Elizabeth Becker Nu’70
Bala Cynwyd, PA

Triumph or travesty?

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