Talk About Bitterness!

The main point that I took away from “The Secret of Our Success” [May|June] is that the author, Leslie Bennetts, is deeply uncertain about her own choices as career woman and mother, and puts down other women and their lifestyles in an effort to justify her own decisions. It would be wonderful if Bennetts’ article made the reader feel the excitement of the life of a professional writer that Bennetts purports to feel; instead, Bennett roots her arguments on the “harsh indictments of alternate choices” which she accuses others of making. As support for her argument that women should stay in the workforce, Bennetts quotes an attorney who “went back to work because [she] didn’t like the idea of making raisin faces in the oatmeal.” Talk about bitterness! Does Bennett truly believe that this is what professional women who choose to stay home with their children do? Rather than make raisin faces, my three boys and I go on hikes, write poetry, paint watercolors, read books, cook together, talk about Greek mythology and views of death in different religions. We visit museums, listen to music, play baseball, sing, and laugh a lot. Bennetts describes stay-at-home moms as “[e]ndlessly willing to sublimate their own egos and sacrifice their individual needs to those of their families.” Actually, I feel much more in control of my own life and much more fulfilled being a stay-at-home mother than I ever felt as a lawyer. My life now is far more creative, more stimulating, and much more fun. Yes, there are downsides. I dislike driving carpools and doing laundry. But the downsides are a small price to pay for the joy and satisfaction of guiding my children’s development and sharing their life-experiences on a daily basis. And yes, there is validity in Bennetts’ point that it is difficult to re-enter the workforce once one’s children have grown. However, I do know a number of women who have done this successfully, albeit often in different fields than they started in. Although I do not know right now where the rest of my life will take me, I would not have given up a moment of the wonderful years I have spent with my boys for the security of that knowledge. I consider myself a feminist, and I am thrilled that I had the luxury, both economically and as a beneficiary of the women’s movement, to make my own choices. I know plenty of terrific mothers who have made different choices and are very happy to be working at fulfilling careers. I respect the fact that staying at home does not work for everyone—women find fulfillment in different ways. It is unfortunate that Leslie Bennetts took the time to write the book upon which her article was based but neglected to show in a balanced way the pros and cons of the various choices open to women today.

Linda Strauss Silver C’84 Short Hills, NJ

 

Let Each Mom Make Her Choice

I was amused to see the excerpt from Leslie Bennetts’ book, The Feminine Mistake, chiding mothers and the press for their negative attitudes towards combining work and family. A book with the exact same title by Judith Posner, published in 1992, had the exact opposite theme. It is subtitled “going beyond the myth of ‘having it all.’” I believe that few women have the opportunity for a career like Ms. Bennetts’. I am a pediatrician and mom who is grateful not to have to work. I’ve worked in my field, and I did not find it fun. Being at home is delightful—for me. Let each mom make their personal choice without backbiting from those who made a different choice.

Elizabeth Kron Korn C’79 M’85 Basking Ridge, NJ

Counting the Hours

I guarantee that every stay-at-home mom who read Leslie Bennetts’ article was shaking her head and thinking that she missed the big picture. So how best to illustrate that?

Assuming you have 15 years to spend with your children before they start asserting their independence and don’t really want to be with you all that much. Assuming two weeks per year vacation for mothers who “have brains” and don’t want to “stay at home,” and assuming they get to spend three hours with their children each weekday.

Because I decided to stay at home and be with my children, I will get to enjoy spending about 14,820 more hours with my children than a mother working outside the home will get to spend with her children. That’s what Leslie Bennetts “didn’t have” that I will have.

Peggy Doyle Carr C’88 Mason Neck, VA

 

“Inaccurate and Undocumented” Premise

In “An Inaccurate Truth?” [“Gazetteer,” May|June], Professor Robert Giegengack’s basic premise seems to be inaccurate and undocumented. He asserts without any documentation that the correlation of increasing CO2 and higher temperature is caused by variations in planetary alignment which has caused the Earth to move closer to the sun. Conclusions drawn in basic astronomy publications indicate that the 3.4 percent yearly variation in distance from the sun has virtually no effect on changes in earth temperature. Moreover, the average distance from the sun hasn’t changed during the period in which we have been able to measure these distances accurately. It is surprising and indeed alarming that the chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science would make such spurious and irresponsibly misleading assertions.

The inconvenient truth that Professor Giegengack doesn’t acknowledge is that global warming and the increase in carbon dioxide has occurred over the past 100 years, especially in the last 40 years. Surely Professor Giegengack knows that the major factors that apply to the issue of climate change are:

1) The change in the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit (the change from a perfect circular orbit to a slight oval as we have now). This is a 95,000 year cycle.

2) The slight wobble of the earth (obliquity) is a 42,000 year cycle.

3) The precession cycle, where the Northern Hemisphere will experience summer in December, will occur in 12,000 years.

4) It is true that when all of these cycles coincide and thus combine they cause significant climate changes (Milankovitch Cycles), but that doesn’t occur over 100 or even 1,000 years. As noted above it occurs over tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years.

Paul H. Shield M’67 Seekonk, MA

 

Where is Giegengack’s Evidence?

When Professor Giegengack refers to the “global cooling episode that started in 1941 and lasted until 1976,” he is being disingenuous, dishonest, or ignorant, as anyone who bothers to Google “global temperature” can see. The temperature of our planet has been increasing for a hundred years. There was a slightly sharper rate of increase in the 1930s, followed by a short quick decrease in the 1940s, followed by 20 years of trendless meandering change in the 1950s and 1960s. Gore’s choice of 1970 as a baseline is in no way as dishonest as this reference to a “global cooling episode” that lasted only 10 years and produced only a 0.2°C temperature change. Furthermore, of the 105 parts-per-million change in CO2 concentration since pre-industrial times, fully 55 percent has taken place since 1970.

Giegengack also argues that the increase in CO2 may be due to global warming, rather than the other way around, and points to “variations in planetary alignment” that are “most likely responsible” for climate change. A fine plausible argument, but the variations of which he speaks have been known in exquisite detail for hundreds of years, yet he fails to cite a single one that could lead to the current rapid change. On the other hand, increases in anthropogenic CO2 are well studied.

Where is Giegengack’s evidence? He may not like Al Gore’s film, but that’s no excuse to spin fairy tales. If indeed global warming is increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide we are in real trouble, as this would constitute a positive climatic feedback that will only accelerate the warming trend.

Peter O’Donnell Offenhartz Gr’63 Wellesley, MA

 

Waste of Attention

Twenty-five years ago I finished my four years at Penn. I have received and I do appreciate receiving the Gazette by mail. However, I have never found it to be an interesting magazine. From age 22 through my current 47 the articles have been boring. Often the cover designs were ugly and the inside illustrations were ugly. I compare the magazine to Time or to TV Guide or to The New Yorker and simply feel the book is a waste of an upscale audience’s attention. I do not have the material to give you to insert in the book, but I feel the perspective of those who assemble it is very different from my interests.

The May|June issue had an outer cover asking for money. Donating money to Penn seems absurd to me. I have no clue about how a university spends money, but with tuitions at what?—$35,000 per year?—I am certain the university system is obsolete. Simply inefficient.

I hope you and your team can make a magazine that the audience can truly love.

Jay Heldman W’82 Los Angeles

 

Letter from “Larrupin’ Lou”? Priceless

Recently a very rare 170-word letter that baseball immortal Lou Gehrig had written to a fan in 1939 was auctioned off for $31,070. The letter had particular significance for Barron Lerner’s essay, “Hope or False Hope?” [“Expert Opinion,” May|June] promoting “evidence-based medicine, in which patients and doctors are encouraged to base clinical decisions on the best data collected among populations.”

In his essay, Lerner characterized Gehrig—who contracted amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1939—as “the first modern celebrity patient,” one who, as the result of a Mayo Clinic press release, received thousands of letters wishing him luck, “but others seeking information about his illness and the treatments he was receiving.” The fan to whom Gehrig had written had multiple sclerosis, and Lou cautioned her judiciously in his response: “The condition in which I am afflicted may differ from how you are infected, so if I told you of my treatments, I might be hurting you instead of helping.”

Lerner recounted that the treatments were vitamin E injections, which were reported in 1940 as having improved his condition. Gehrig stated to the fan: “In less than a month I definitely feel they have checked it [ALS] for me. I have gained about 8 pounds in the last 3 weeks since my return” from the Mayo Clinic. Lou also wrote: “I cannot too strongly urge you to visit Mayo Clinic as soon as you see your way clear.” Lou died not long after.

Lerner’s essay clearly warns of the pitfalls involved in using a “celebrity patient” as an illness role-model. But he also acknowledges “that what sick people want are not only good statistics, but also stories—stories of hope, innovation, and inspiration.”

Long ago, as a child of 12 bedded down with tuberculosis for almost a year, I received hope and inspiration in the form of a letter from “Larrupin’ Lou” Gehrig. At 83 years of age now, I still have that letter and I still cherish it. No auction for me.

Donald Marks C’49 East Hampton, NY

 

Hot Air

Regarding President Gutmann’s statement in her column “Sustainable Dividends” [“From College Hall,” May|June] that the University purchases “30 percent of our energy from wind power,” is the new budget for Penn going to include the extra cost to buy windmill power generated in some farm county to benefit the surrounding cows who emit vast amounts of greenhouse gases in the world? Locally PECO has the cleanest power plants in the United States.

Oleg Dudkin ME’48 Berwyn, PA

 

Bad Investment

Two pieces in the May|June issue illustrated the distressing lack of clear thinking and accountability at Penn.

First, President Gutmann claimed that Penn has been “taking the environmental high road … and, in many instances, saving money.” Her example shows no such thing. President Gutmann claims that Penn is purchasing 30 percent of its energy from wind power. Presumably, that means buying energy from PECO and sending a check to someone with a wind farm. The value of this is questionable, but it clearly costs money. To say Penn “funded this … initiative through aggressive energy conservation” is absurd. Energy conservation is all well and good, and Penn should try to save money where it can, but the two things are not related. Penn can save money by turning up the thermostat in the summer whether or not it sends a check to a windy location.

Second, a few pages later, we have the annual announcement that tuition is rising. Penn never seems to consider cutting costs—or not incurring new costs, such as “taking the environmental high road.” Instead, the burden on middle-class families—those who are not eligible for the grants—continues to rise. Without accountability for the administration and a commitment to fiscal responsibility, a Penn education will become an increasingly bad investment.

Jeffrey H. Fischer C’86 Germantown, MD

Unsettled About Settlement

I was disappointed to read that the University “admitted no wrongdoing” as part of its $1.6 million settlement of the student loan (kickback) case brought against Penn and many other universities by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo [“Gazetteer,” May|June]. Would it not be better to do what is right instead of what lawyers say to do?

Walter H. Kearney M’66 Wooster, OH

 

Elevator “Undo” Already Done

In “The Best Inventions That Don’t Exist” [“Gazetteer,” May|June], Li Yi does present some very practical ideas, but one of his “inventions” does exist. While visiting a friend (who is also a Penn alumnus) living in Tokyo, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that if a button in the elevator in her apartment building was pressed a second time, it flashed twice and then became unselected. Voila, the elevator “undo.”

It is humbling to realize original ideas are often not original. Luckily, successful commercialization of an idea requires much more than simply having the idea. I don’t remember which company manufactured the elevator I rode in Japan, but I have not yet seen this feature in an Otis or Schindler elevator in the U.S.

And while we wait for the LED-covered traffic directing gloves suggested by Kevin Galloway, police in Philadelphia could copy their Japanese counterparts by using lighted wands, the same ones used to direct airplanes into their gates, to provide more visible direction to drivers.

Jacob Peters EAS’01 W’01 Boston, MA

 

A Proud—and Precise—Penn Parent

This is in reference to the article “And the Winning Prototype Is …” [“Gazetteer,” May|June 2007]: My son, Steven Jones, who took third place in this year’s PennVention competition is not a student in the College. He is a mechanical engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Florence Jones, Parent Clayton, CA

 

MisStated

David Porter’s excellent and well-deserved column on Penn’s 133-lb. wrestler, Matt Valenti, had one error [“Sports,” May|June]. In the final championship match, Matt defeated Coleman Scott of Oklahoma State—not Oklahoma, as reported.

I cannot count the number of times since I graduated Penn in 1958 that I have said “I played for Penn,” only to have the listener say “Oh, Penn State, great.” (You all know the drill, right?) We must therefore be extra cautious not to make the same error in our reporting.

William J. Young III C’58 Canandaigua, NY

 

Rieff Doesn’t Rate

I was bit befuddled by the glowing celebration of the late Philip Rieff, whose ideas seem rather like those of a hateful, paranoid codger [“Arts,” May|June]. The last century has been disastrous for mankind, and the instruments of the brewing apocalypse include psychology, Robert Mapplethorpe’s self-portrait, and “radicalized Jewish students insufficiently pro-Israel”? Whatever, dude. Smell you later.

Shane Finneran W’99 San Diego

Recalling a Timely Gift, and a Lifelong Love of Language

My heart skipped a beat, for one brief moment, when I was struck by the notice of the death of Professor Frank Bowman from the Department of Romance Languages [“Obituaries,” May|June]. Professor Bowman was my French professor for a literature survey course in Spring 1976 (FRNCH 22) and also for a symbolist poetry course in Fall 1977 (FRNCH 71). The twist to the story is that I was a physics major, not a French major, although based on my extremely positive experience with Bowman in FRNCH 22, I decided to pursue a minor in French. Given that I was definitely not a “literature” kind of guy, something about the way he presented the class appealed to my love of French language and persuaded me, in a subtle way, to stick around. After completing the minor with six French courses, it was next to impossible to stop at that point, and I continued with his course on the French symbolist poets (Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, etc.). Here again, imagining myself in a course on French poetry was fairly outrageous, but the course was amazing and Bowman brought out the best in all of us. There I was, the lone physics major, surrounded by all the French majors in this upper-level class, and I felt completely at home.

Upon entering my senior year, I entertained various prospects for things to do in the summer following my graduation from Penn. It was Professor Bowman who alerted me to a summer work abroad program sponsored by Princeton University, and he encouraged me to apply. I did apply, and was accepted for the summer of 1978, although the $150 acceptance fee for the program was something I would have liked to avoid (that was a lot of money in those days!). The Princeton program was willing to waive half of the fee if a student’s institution would cover the other half. Bowman forwarded my request for Penn’s support to the appropriate office (whatever office that was), and he informed me shortly thereafter that my request (for $75) had been approved. It was only later, one year after spending the summer in Paris, that I learned (quite by accident) that in fact my request for Penn’s support had been denied, and it had been Professor Bowman himself who had paid the $75 to the Princeton program out of his own pocket! I have never forgotten that generous act, and it is a story I tell periodically, with great pride and affection, to illustrate the dedication and commitment of the Penn faculty.

As for me, I am currently a faculty member in the Department of Physics at The George Washington University, and while I have never paid $75 for any of my students to work in Paris for the summer, I do try to give them my very best effort and my utmost attention, and I sometimes wonder if they will someday be thinking of me in the same way that I think back to my professors at Penn during the mid-1970s. Indeed, my association with Professor Bowman intensified my own passion for French, and in fact that is a passion that endures to this day. I was saddened by the news of his death, and I hope that this, my first letter to the Gazette, will serve as a testament to his memory.

Jerry Feldman C’78 Fairfax, VA


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