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Is This the Definition of Success?

I was intrigued by Samuel Hughes’ article, “Untangling Alzheimer’s” [May| June]. As a physician, board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation, I well know the devastating functional and social effects of neurodegenerative diseases on afflicted individuals and their families.

While the scientists at Penn’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research are busily attempting to “untangle” the mysteries of the biomarkers of Alzheimer’s, I wonder if they are not asking the right questions. They ask why tau proteins misfold and tangle and why the amyloid precursor protein gene is expressed, leading to beta amyloid deposition in the Alzheimer’s brain. They are looking into why amyloid clearance mechanisms are failing. But are their inquiries far enough “upstream?”

The stated clinical goal of “treatment” is to delay the onset of more severe symptoms by five years, so another pathological process kills the patient first—Wow, what a low bar for success! Hughes acknowledges the “effectiveness” of some drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s in completing their biochemical mechanisms of action, while not slowing the lethality of the disease process. He also reminds us that dementia often occurs in the absence of tau protein tangles and beta amyloid. He mentioned one research finding that insulin resistance may be at play in Alzheimer’s. In my own clinical experience, the drugs “slow the fall” yet don’t reverse the decline. Is this the definition of success?

Have scientists given up on the possibility of identifying the triggers or antecedent factors that permit epigenetic disinhibition, perhaps by neurotoxins (for example, heavy metals like mercury in the air, water, and food from coal-fired power plants; or ubiquitous and liberally applied pesticides and herbicides), ambient electromagnetic radiation, or pro-inflammatory mediators (sugar, animal fats, etc.) in our food supply? It appears as though the scientists are singularly focused on identifying the Holy Grail, “magic-bullet” drug, rather than on preventing the onset with lifestyle changes, likely at a fraction of the cost.

An epidemiological ounce of prevention will be worth a pound of pharmaceutical “cure.” The sink is overflowing, and the research muscle is going into figuring out how to reactively mop up the water faster. Why isn’t it seeking how to proactively turn off the faucet?

Unfortunately, these retrospective studies are poorly funded, because the profit motive of industry doesn’t exist for lifestyle changes that can’t be patented. High body-fat stores increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 300 percent. B vitamins reduce serum homocysteine levels; DHA (docosahexaenoic acid—omega 3 fatty acid) reduces inflammation (even in the brain); and regular exercise reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s by 40 percent.

Perhaps a functional medicine approach would serve the needs of the population afflicted by Alzheimer’s, not to mention reducing the looming massive financial burden on the whole of society. I’d suggest visiting www.functionalmedicine.org for an alternate clinical and research approach.

L. Matthew Schwartz C’83 GM’89 Lafayette Hill, PA


Harter Hails Edelman

I enjoyed reading Dave Zeitlin’s “Almost Perfect” on our 1970-71 season [Mar|Apr]. I would like to add that a key member of our team was left out of the story. Ray Edelman, my top assistant, was not mentioned, and he had a great influence on our play and strategy over my five years as head coach at Pennsylvania. Just as Digger Phelps coached our freshman team and recruited well, Ray Edelman was our basketball guru. He was a disciple of famed Olympic coach Pete Newell and his devotion to man-to-man defense and offensive execution helped us take over the Big Five. We were very good and the reason for that success was that many of us had a dream and Coach Edelman was a big part of our dream.

Dick Harter Ed’53 Hilton Head, SC


Memories of a Miracle Season

As someone who has been enthusiastically loyal to Penn basketball for four decades, I confess that Dave Zeitlin’s story of Penn basketball’s 1970-71 season, “Almost Perfect,” brought back vivid and painful memories. Zeitlin recreates a miracle season in which Penn played itself to a 26-0 record, Big Five and Ivy titles, and a No. 3 national ranking. Calhoun, Morse, Bilsky, Wohl, Wolf: it’s good to see these remarkable student-athletes celebrated 40 years later.

The season went from magical to nightmare in about 90 minutes. After two early round victories in the NCAA, Penn came out on the losing end of an incomprehensible 90-47 shellacking against Villanova. (I couldn’t get tickets to that game, watched the first half on television at home, and walked around the block in disbelief for most of the second half.)

That epic and epochal game has a curious footnote attached. Villanova was eventually disqualified following the disclosure that one of its players had signed with an agent before the tournament. Penn was declared the retroactive winner of the Villanova game, which didn’t butter anyone’s popcorn, but represented a kind of irrelevant moral victory.

Thus, Penn earned a unique if rather dubious place in the record book: the only team to go the NCAA, finish the season undefeated, and still not win the tournament.

Thanks for the memories, or at least the good ones.

Peter Conn, faculty Philadelphia


Several other readers also wrote in with the information that Villanova had been disqualified because a player—star Howard Porter—had signed with a professional agent. Writer Dave Zeitlin elected to omit the information—basically, because it didn’t change the Penn players’ feelings about the game or the fact that they did not get to compete further in the tournament.—Ed.


Long Live the Palestra

Wonderful article on the 70-71 team. I watched them closely in the Palestra and on Channel 17. Bilsky and Wohl were always the coup de grace—best bullfighters I ever saw. My young son and I watched the Howard Porter carnage with dismay, tears streaming down our faces. He and his son now go with me to the Palestra, and I’m able to point to Steve Bilsky in his perch, Governor Ed Rendell, same, and oftimes, my friend Alan Cotler. Here’s to Penn resurgence on the court, c’est la vie, long live the Palestra.

Ben T. Castle C’60 Wilmington, DE


Forget the Draft, Watch the Game

I missed very few home games during my four years at Penn. In fact, I remember sitting in the Palestra listening on a friend’s transistor radio to the announcement, one date at a time, of the Selective Service Draft Lottery; it might determine my future, but would not cause me to miss a game.

I rode with roommates to Raleigh for the NCAA tournament regionals; we were all excited to be playing Villanova in the finals, since we had beaten them in the regular season. Like all other Quakers, we were devastated by the outcome, and the drive back to Philly seemed to take twice as long as the excited ride down. Great memories.

Steven Gayle C’71 Gilbertsville, NY


As Good as Anybody

It has taken me 40 years to write this letter. “Almost Perfect” brought back incredible memories of the time that Penn basketball was as good as any program in the country. On numerous occasions, I began to write an article as titled above only to rip it up and trash it.

I attended Penn from 1969 to 1972, graduating in three years. I never missed a home basketball game and travelled to many on the road. I was fortunate enough to be part of the WXPN sports broadcasting team and got to meet Digger Phelps, our freshman coach when I started, Dick Harter, my favorite, and Chuck Daly (the nicest), as well as his assistant, Rollie Massimino, who went on to win a national championship at Villanova.

That 1970-71 team was out of this world. The Gazette article told the story beautifully.

However, the entire team went cold in the Eastern Regional Final, and we got killed by Villanova. I was in Raleigh and still have nightmares over that game. We should have beaten them.

Chuck Daly took over the following year, as Dick Harter went to Oregon. We went to the Eastern Regional Finals again, but lost to North Carolina with Bob MacAdoo in Morgantown, West Virginia. That loss never bothered me as much, as we were not as good. Steve Bilsky and Dave Wohl, our wonderful backcourt tandem, had graduated. (Imagine that—a top-ranked school where players graduate.) In 1972, we lost to a better team. In 1971, we were as good as anybody.

Jacob E. “Jack” Tauber C’72 Beverly Hills, CA


Special Times

While reading “Almost Perfect,” for a few minutes I was back at Penn for my senior year (1969-70). I remembered a sociology class in which Steve Bilsky was just a fellow student. I remembered protesting the Vietnam War, but also really getting into college basketball because of Penn’s success.

Then I remembered listening, in 1979, to the men’s basketball team’s Final Four game as I rode the train from New York back to the Baltimore area, where I lived then. And when my son, a Villanova graduate, came down to Baltimore from Philadelphia and drove me back to Philadelphia for the 2000 Penn-Villanova game.

To this day I follow the team’s progress through the scores in our local paper and watch them on TV when I get coverage (I now live in Montana). Thanks for bringing back all the fond memories and doing such a good job capturing that special time in Penn basketball history!

Bob Warner C’70 Missoula, MT


No Hard Feelings

During the 1970-71 season, I was a high-school senior in the Philadelphia area who had been accepted to Penn and was following the team closely. Four good years at Penn followed with graduation in 1975. Fast forward to 1989 and a job interview at a large company in NYC. The senior executive at the last stop on my interview day looked at my resume, looked at me, and his first words were “90 to 47.” Yes, he was a Villanova grad who had to rub it in. And yes, I did get the job.

Richard Freeman C’75 Weston, CT


Enlightening

I will continue to support the Gazette because of issues like this one. The article on the Civil War was very enlightening [“Penn Fights the Civil War,” Mar|Apr]. I never knew so many Penn alumni, especially medically trained men, had so many important roles in that awful war.

Henry Harvey ChE’57 Brunswick, GA



Wonderful Tribute

Budd Mishkin’s wonderful tribute to Paul Miller, “Exit Laughing,” brought immediate and copious tears to my eyes when I read it [“Alumni Voices,” Mar|Apr]. As a much earlier Penn grad, I did not overlap with Paul at Penn, but everything that Mishkin wrote rang true to me as I read the essay.

We first spoke in the spring of 2009, when Paul, who was then working in the White House personnel office, called me to discuss a possible appointment to the Consumer Product Safety Commission—I had helped write a report on the CPSC for the Obama Transition Team.

He gently steered the discussion to whether I might be interested, which I was. He then conducted an interview that would serve as a model of thorough and thoughtful questioning for virtually any job one could imagine. I will never know whether the fact that we were both Penn grads helped in any way. If so, he maintained a completely discreet silence about it.

As the process unfolded over the next month or so, Paul continued his extremely conscientious and deliberate approach, culminating in a phone call at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, to inform me that I would be nominated by the President to the CPSC. He explained that once he got my name approved, he didn’t want me fretting until Monday. So, he made the call to brighten my weekend, never mind the inconvenience to his.

Paul’s extraordinary personality and exceptional decency left an indelible mark on me. My only regret is that a farewell luncheon that we planned before he returned to the University of Washington never happened, but Mishkin’s moving essay serves as a great substitute to help me remember Paul.

Robert Adler C’66 Washington


Give the Tlingit Their Objects

Molly Petrilla’s article “Tlingit Claim on Museum Objects Triggers Federal Scrutiny” [“Gazetteer,” Mar|Apr] provided an edifying overview of what is now happening with Tlingit objects housed at the Penn Museum. It cited some arguments for returning the objects to the Tlingit, and cited a few more for not returning them. None of the latter is very convincing. Each smacks of “finders keepers,” and is symptomatic of at least one aspect of what is wrong with this world.

Give the Tlingit Indians their objects. Or give them the part of the museum that houses them.

Rebecca Janson CW’75 Kalamazoo, MI



Negotiations Could Help Heal Wounds

Since preservation of the Tlingit artifacts was the basis of the original sale and is of paramount concern, I think justice in this situation would be for the tribe and the museum to agree that most of the artifacts should be returned to the tribe once it builds a museum. The tribe owes the museum for preserving its artifacts, so the tribe should donate some of them to the museum. How many and which ones should be decided by their negotiations.

Ohio State University Professor Steven Conn’s contention, quoted in the article, that current Native American problems have nothing to do with museum objects but do have to do with social justice contains its own contradiction. UConn Professor Margaret Bruchac’s contention that old wounds need to be healed, but that federal legislation is not the best way, recognizes that the old wounds are festering anyway. The museum should seize the opportunity to heal a few.

Tony Moss SW’77 Philadelphia


State Bankruptcy=War on Workers

The radical suggestion that states resolve their budget problems by declaring bankruptcy, espoused by David Skeel [“Gazetteer,” Mar|Apr], is gaining currency among the right wing in this country because it is yet another weapon in their odious war against public workers and their unions, the backbone of our middle class. It allows states to balance their budgets on the backs of the teachers, nurses, fire fighters and police, violate their pension obligations, vitiate their contractual agreements, and slash their negotiated benefits, while not inconveniencing corporations and the wealthy one iota.

If common sense, wisdom, and practical thinking ruled the day, governors and state legislators would be requiring shared sacrifice in the face of our recession-caused budged shortfalls, and raise the taxes of this country’s wealthiest people and most profitable corporations. After all, it was the high-rolling investors, now brimming with money, who sucked our economy dry by turning it into a big gambling casino in which they won a fortune at public expense. At the very least we should consider taxing a portion of that wealth, closing some of those loopholes, and ending a few of those wasteful, corporate subsidies.

But, the conservative champions of the elite and corporate interests, such as most Republican governors and Skeel, a professor of corporate law who contributes to the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, prefer to starve the children and overcrowd their schools rather than ask for a dime from their wealthy patrons.

These extreme measures would never be taken seriously in a functional democracy. That they are even being considered is testament to the horrifyingly dysfunctional state of our national discourse and democratic system.

Ricardo Ashbridge Hinkle C’86 EAS’86 New York


Kudos for New Wharton Curriculum

In the Mar|Apr Gazette, the changes in Wharton’s curriculum—the first substantial revamping in 17 years—are discussed [“Gazetteer”]. The recognition of the increasing interrelatedness of global commerce and the emphasis on innovation is of much importance. With students coming to the program with an average of 1.5 years more of life/work experience than 20 years ago, and some 40 percent coming from abroad, the students have a clearer idea of their course needs and career choices—hence the first year flexibility in content areas, with emphasis on global developments in financial, ethical, and legal management. More instruction in statistics to understand mismanagement risks is doubly important, along with related communication skills requiring self-reflection. Despite the example of Shakespeare’s melancholy Dane and Prince Hamlet’s excess of introspection, self-awareness breeds the development of honesty and truth. The new curriculum’s emphasis on global economic and ethical considerations, the provision of cost-free continuing education at seven-year intervals, and the resulting enhanced partnership between alumni and the school are invaluable vision tools.

William Boyd Katz W’60 Philadelphia


Animal Researchers Need Protection

As a biomedical researcher, I have to take exception to some of the comments attributed to Dara Lovitz [“Alumni Profiles,” Mar|Apr]. Her claim that animal-terrorism statutes compromise freedom of speech is misleading. These statutes exist in large part to prosecute those who engage in dangerous and violent activity that targets scientists and others engaged in legitimate animal use.

In recent months, researchers have been subjected to attacks including detonation of pipe bombs and mailing of HIV-tainted razorblades to their personal residences. In several instances, family members have been present during these attacks, thus placing additional innocent lives in danger. These are hardly “attacks on the wallet” or mere expressions of protest, which are certainly within the realm of First Amendment protection.

I do not believe that Lovitz condones these types of violent activity. I would hope that she would fight just as vigorously for prosecuting criminal activity as she would for repealing these laws.

Sadly, until the animal-rights movement renounces such tactics, I suspect these laws will continue to be necessary.

Alex Hoffman C’92 Columbia, MD


Comedy Without Cursing?

Label an interview of Cynthia Kaplan C’85 with the catchy little title, “One Witty Woman, 12 ‘Fangry’ Songs” [“Arts,” Mar|Apr], followed by her musical question, “Who do I have to [four-letter word, which also begins with F] to get laid around here?” and, lo and behold, we have a “writer, comedian, and singer songwriter [who is] sharp, observant and really, really funny.” How’s that for an irresistible introduction?

Asked if her video, “Merry Christmas To You,” on YouTube had generated any criticism, since “Christmas has become a touchy subject lately” (glad you noticed), she replied that, “what we should all be ticked off about is the fact that our society has become so PC that our kids don’t learn Christmas carols in school anymore. ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ is a great song. A great song.” Hear! Hear!

Kaplan takes a mild swipe at Judaism in a reference to her performing with the Jewmongous group. Have you noticed that no comedians make fun of Allah?

In the interests of enhancing civility and the prestige of the University, the Gazette might like to consider deep-sixing the four letter words that have a habit of creeping into its revered pages.

Cyrus J. Sharer W’44 St. Davids, PA


Skip “That Word”

I never thought I’d live to see the day when “that word” appeared (twice) in the Gazette.

Running the interview is one thing, but in the future, please understand that this sort of language has no place in our alumni magazine.

John R. Rockwell W’64 WG’66 Owings Mills, MD

 

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