Design don’ts, DMD’s double meaning, and essay's ethics.


Back to the Future?



Loss of Dignity I
Did I “Notice Anything” new with the September/October issue, as the editor’s column asked? Yes, indeed. The front cover has been further trashed, a descent that began with that montage of a mongrelized Benjamin Franklin a while back [November/December 2002].

How refreshing it would be to see a return to the more dignified appearance of bygone years. Restoration could begin by placing the statement “Published by Benjamin Franklin from 1729 to 1748,” which now appears in small print at the bottom of page two, on the front cover in a more prominent manner. This statement certainly has far more significance and lends more “class” than does that whimsical Digital Media Design which, as far as I can see, has no meaning whatsoever. I don’t think we want to have a publication that looks like those magazines at the grocery-store checkout counter.

Marshall L. Main, W’48 Centreville, VA

 

Loss of Dignity II
The Gazette used to be a dignified publication for a major university. Now it has been transformed into the likeness of one of those garish commercial magazines, filled with ads, whose main purpose is to persuade readers to buy, buy, buy. What a shame.

Derk Bodde Professor Emeritus of Chinese Studies, Philadelphia

 

Half a Loaf?
Good content, but the cover is a loser.

Herbert F. Rommel WEv’39 Newport, R.I.

 

Disappearing Ink
I applaud your efforts to keep the Gazette fresh and interesting with your recent redesign. However, the serif font used for the text is extremely difficult to read. The thin lines of the letters almost disappear at the point size used. I found it almost impossible to read more than a few lines without losing focus.

I look forward to more readable text in the future.

Alexander Klapwald C’82 New Providence, NJ

 

That’s Not Funny
As a recent alumnus, I am overjoyed by the interdisciplinary offerings that Penn continues to lead the way in providing [“The Cult of DMD,” September/ October]. The students who find their undergraduate passion in the intersections of academia truly add to the uniqueness of our school. Thank you for your cover story on Digital Media Design, which was an in-depth and well-written look into the oft-overlooked programs that continue to move the institution forward.

I would be remiss, however, in not commenting on an opinion passed on a comic strip I diligently followed for three of my four undergraduate years. Nathan Schreiber’s Terrell Quimby was not, as the article’s author describes, “sometimes-hilarious,” but rather was “consistently side-splitting” to anyone who took the time to read it. I would write this discrepancy in opinion off as a simple subjective difference between author and reader if only it were not such a clear empirical fact. With any justice in this world, this letter will remedy any misguided opinions other readers may have had.

Alan Bell C’02/W’02 New York

Samuel Hughes responds: Though I’ve yet to find any comic strip to be “consistently side-splitting,” I’m a real fan of Nathan Schreiber and his comic creation. How about “often hilarious”?

 

Talk About Crossing Disciplines!
Last Alumni Weekend our family attended a program offered by the School of Engineering and Applied Science on Computer Animation. Michael’s first comment upon seeing the introductory title slides was, “I never knew there were so many dentists in the Engineering School!” How else to explain the title “DMD”—which of course stood for dentarie medicinae doctoris, the Latin for doctor of dental medicine—after the names of each of the speakers?

After an outstanding program featuring many of the people, programs, and presentations described in the September/October Gazette, we now know that Penn graduates students in two world-class “DMD” disciplines. Perhaps more importantly, I now have a clue as to what my high-schooler daughter is doing on her computer when, with pride, she shows us how after many weeks of work she has gotten various geometric images to rotate in three dimensions, created a 30-second animation, and a three-minute music video. At least she no longer has us telling her to stop wasting her time on the computer!

Michael Yasner C’79 D’83 GD’84 GD’86
Valerie Eisenberg Yasner C’79 D’83 GD’86
Cherry Hill, N.J.

 

Mixed Emotions
I write this letter with mixed emotions. The September/October issue was one of the best in recent memory. It may just be my imagination, but it seemed more than a normal issue to cover an incredibly wide array of subject matter, ages, etc. “Nurturing Enterprise” and “The Cult of DMD” were especially of note. Personally, the more varied the coverage in an issue, the more appealing it is to me.

As for the negative, the essay, “Hi, My Name is Josselyn” [“Notes From the Undergrad”] angered me to no end. There are far too many reasons to get into detail here, but here are some that come to mind:

It appears that AA members’ real names were used, a clear violation of the privacy that is expected at an AA meeting.

If Jamie-Lee consumed even one second of time from the meeting, that is one second more that could have gone to helping someone get back on the road of recovery. AA meetings involve members sharing their experience, strength, and hope with each other; they are not the sitcom that Jamie-Lee seems to be hoping to find.

I expect better judgment from the editors of the Gazette in choosing what should be published. Nothing like preparing, or perhaps even encouraging, undergrads to lie, making up false personas, preparing for “infiltrations,” etc.

Bill King C’93 Narberth, Pennsylvania

 

Sadness and Dismay
I must express my sadness at reading the article by Jamie-Lee Josselyn in which she, with her Penn professor’s knowledge, invaded the sanctity of a Philadelphia Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and lied to them about her not being an alcoholic in order to complete an English writing assignment. I am also dismayed that the Gazette would accept such an article for publication.

Alcoholism is a deadly disease. The 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous has as its 12th tradition the spiritual foundation of anonymity. Our third tradition makes an AA meeting open to all who have a desire to stop drinking and to all who suffer from alcoholism.

Our program is not, as is implied in the article, a group-help, or a self-help program. It is a God-help program. The 12 steps allow us alcoholics to surrender our powerlessness over our disease to God, to clean house, learn about our character defects and how they have hurt others and ourselves and work with God to remove them, right our past wrongs to those we have harmed, and become spiritually awakened, do the principles of our spiritual program throughout all our affairs, and do maximum love and service to others, especially other alcoholics.

Most people enter AA through AA meetings. If just one undergrad or alum reading this article, who was about to attend his/her first meeting, thought that the sanctity of an AA meeting could be violated by an impostor, and their anonymity given up, they might not attend, and be condemned to death or a life in an institution. I am not using hyperbole. Alcoholism, if left untreated, is a fatal disease and hurts not only the alcoholic but those around him/her.

The answer to the author’s question of why “Stan” comes back if he has been sober for 14 years is that we do recover as alcoholics, but we always have alcoholism. It never becomes alcoholwasm. We are given a daily reprieve based on our spiritual fitness. Further, “Stan” can express his experience, strength, and hope, and explain how taking the steps and continually working the steps could help a “Meredith” deal with her fears, by doing a fear inventory via step five and then being relieved of them by the grace of her Higher Power via steps six and seven.

Your author not only has an ethical problem, but she missed the entire point of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Perhaps she, her professor, and your editorial board might wish to adapt the ethical principles of AA into your decisionmaking processes. AA does have “open” meetings where any member of the public may attend and not have to lie to get in. They are as open as the underaged drinking parties I attended on Locust Walk, the Quad, or at Smokey Joe’s.

An Alcoholic Alum C’73

 

Just Plain Angry
How brave of Jamie-Lee Josselyn to infiltrate AA.

Can you say fraud and phony?

She went in with false, preconceived notions, which were dispelled by reality. This is probably what is going to happen to the rest of her notions.

Next time, she should try to infiltrate MENSA and pretend she has intelligence.

Barry D. Galman C’59 M’63 Cherry Hill, N.J.

 

Misguided Sympathy
While trying to shed a compassionate light on an AA meeting, the essay by Jamie-Lee Josselyn instead disregarded a basic tenet of the group. Josselyn, as she identified herself in the meeting she attended, failed to note one of the basic concepts of Alcoholics Anonymous: What is said in a meeting stays in the meeting. Meetings are anonymous for a reason. Because alcoholism is a poorly understood disease, many alcoholics risk social stigmatization from colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who are not able to understand their daily struggle. AA attempts to create a trusting, healing environment where members can share freely based on the tenet of anonymity. This is one of the most basic reasons for AA’s efficacy. Members attend meetings with the expectation that what they say will not be discussed with others outside the meeting, much less be published.

Josselyn doesn’t consider the potential implications that public identification as an alcoholic could create for the members present at the meeting. In fairness, Josselyn may have changed the names of the people in her article; it wasn’t noted one way or the other. Regardless of that fact, she offered direct quotes from members. Her essay attempted to be sympathetic to the plight of the alcoholics involved and for that she should be applauded. Yet ultimately it disregarded their privacy and showed a lack of understanding by naming the chapter, time, and location of the meeting that she attended. I think the most obvious lesson learned from this article is that Josselyn still has a lot to learn about the stigma of alcoholism and the challenges involved for those afflicted with the disease.

Sarah (Sneddon) Mossburg Nu’98 Arlington, VA

Given the evident pain and anger this essay has caused several readers, I want to share the thinking that went into my decision to publish it in the Gazette.

First, two things should have been noted when the article was published: The meeting that Jamie-Lee Josselyn attended was an “open” meeting, to which the public was admitted, and the names of the individuals in the story were changed. I don’t know that these facts would change the opinions of the alumni who wrote in—and my decision was made without knowing them—but there they are.

When the essay was recommended to me after a visit to the writing class involved, I was attracted by its honesty as a piece of writing. It struck me as perhaps na‘ve, but heartfelt and vividly expressed—an honorable attempt by a young writer to understand her chosen subject, and the furthest thing from a cynical exercise in exploitation.

As was noted early in the text, the writer’s mother had attended AA meetings sporadically when she was younger, and her goal in the essay was to find out what a meeting was like, to experience it for herself. In this context, a willingness to present herself as a typical attendee—an alcoholic, or someone who feared she might become one—was necessary. Her deception, which in the event was passive, with the exception of giving a false name, was not undertaken to gain an advantage over others but simply to allow them to behave as they normally would. As such, I found it acceptable.

Even if actual names had been used, they would only have been first names, and the speakers would not have been recognizably identified to anyone who was not present at the meeting. On the more general issue of the propriety of repeating what she heard, at no time was the writer required to promise that she would keep silent, or informed that that was a condition of attendance at the meeting. The mere expectation on the part of certain individuals that a matter is private does not translate into a requirement that others not talk or write about it. If Jamie-Lee Josselyn could walk into that meeting freely and hear and see what went on there, there is no difference in principle in the readers of the Gazette being able to do the same through her narrative of it.

As for the possibility that, out of concern that they would one day find themselves the subject of such an article, a person might choose not to attend an AA meeting and receive the help offered there, it strikes me as at least equally plausible that someone, perhaps fearing a harsh or judgmental reception, would, on reading of the welcoming and supportive atmosphere of the meetings, instead be encouraged to attend. Both are pure speculation.

I’m not sure it would have made a difference, but in retrospect I wonder if it would have been better to give the essay a title that did not play up the “infiltration” aspect of the story. That might have made it easier for readers to see past the deceptive means to the writer’s true end.—Ed.

 

Appalled
When I read “Supreme Court Ruling Ensures a Class That’s Excellent and Diverse” [“Gazetteer,” September/October], I was appalled that Penn considers the skin color of applicants’ parents a proxy for diversity of thought and experience, which should be its true goal in attempting to create a diverse student body.

Mark Streich W’83 Fremont, CA

 

Affirmative Action: True Diversity or “Aesthetic” Balance?
I have several questions regarding Affirmative Action.

I do not have any objections to helping the socio-economically disadvantaged, no matter what their race or religion. Why should students who are not socio-economically disadvantaged be helped? For example, say there is another family in town that is a mirror image of my own white, middle-class family—except that the mother is of Hispanic descent. Why should a child of this family receive an advantage in the admissions process?

If achieving diversity is such an important goal of Penn’s, what programs are in place once a student matriculates that encourages them to get to know each other? DuBois House? Having minorities living in separate facilities, even by choice, defeats the goals of seeking a diverse student population.

Affirmative Action is a laudable goal in theory; however, Affirmative Action programs needs to be examined to determine if they are achieving their goal of helping those discriminated against, as opposed to being able to say that Penn has achieved its goal of racial aesthetics by having a certain percentage of minorities attending.

Raymond Cohen W’67 WG’68 Paramus, N.J.

 

Throwing Oil on a Fire?
I have a few questions for Dr. Amit, who was interviewed on Iraq and Oil in the September/October Gazette [“Gazetteer”]:

1. Do the “minority” of Iraqi malcontents who have an “ax to grind” include those distressed by the destruction of the country’s infrastructure and cultural heritage, while our troops remained indifferent, having prioritized the protection of the oil fields and oil ministries?

2. Are the “multi-national companies” you hope privatize Iraqi oil similar in their thinking to those who plan to privatize water in countries where the people are too poor to pay for it? Are they like those whose “need” for Africa’s minerals, timber, and oil have motivated them to support the warlords who have brought so much misery to that continent in the last 10 years? What benefits to ordinary citizens have resulted from the privatization of schools and prisons in our country?

3. What percent of Iraqis constitute the professional class who will benefit by resumption of oil exports? And do you teach your students that our purpose for the preemptive invasion of Iraq was to make Iraq’s oil industry more effective for the wellbeing and future happiness of that country’s citizens? If so, how do you explain the powerful influence of Haliburton/Bechtel and their subsidiaries over the ruling council’s decisions?

4. Is (or was) there no “alternative for Iraq” than for its citizens to endure a brutal invasion and continuing chaos so that it may be rebuilt as a secular capitalist power, even though the war has generated an ever-growing number—since Operation Flight Suit—of suicide bombers, America-haters, maimed Iraqi children, grieving Iraqi parents, and dead American soldiers.

5. What do the following have to do with Bush’s war: fear of a worldwide oil shortage; Cheney’s ties to Haliburton/ Bechtel; the administration’s connections to The Carlyle Group; an imperialistic solution to a faltering economy?

Jay A. Gertzman Ed’61 Gr’72 Philadelphia

 

Ad Attack
With anti-Americanism so rampant in the world today, I was absolutely shocked and dismayed to see the ACLU ad in the September/October Gazette.

This hateful person is right: He is not an American, but he is an America hater and the type of person who is tearing down our society.

Is that what the University of Penn-sylvania is all about today? Is the U. of P. at the extreme left wing of liberal causes?

Until now I had always been proud to be known as a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. I would not like to think that the U. of P. is tied to the radical left and to those who would like to tear down the fabric of our American way of life.

Joel M. Abels W’47 New York

This letter-writer and several others were displeased by a two-page advertisement from the American Civil Liberties Union featuring the writer Kurt Vonnegut Jr. that appeared in the September/October issue of the Gazette and the other magazines in the Ivy League Magazine Network. It was part of a national campaign featuring Vonnegut and other (perhaps more recognizable) celebrities that is also running in The Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and other publications. The space was paid for by the ACLU, and the ad’s presence in the Gazette in no way implies an endorsement by the University —any more than for any other product, service, or point-of-view advertised in our pages.—Ed.

 

Accusations Without Evidence
Susan Jellinek Moses C’76 certainly has the right to express her dismay about Bishop Tutu as the 2003 Commencement speaker [“Letters” September/October]. Though I find her assessment of the bishop laughable (your typical racism-in-reverse attack on one of the victims of the most vicious racist regime in the 20th century), my complaint is not about her views but the negligence of the editors in printing her letter as is. Ms. Moses makes some startling accusations about Bishop Tutu, but is not required to offer one shred of evidence or example of his alleged racism and, perhaps key to her whole tirade, his alleged anti-Semitism. Somewhere down the rocky road to freedom, the good bishop must have criticized dear ole Israel for its ties to the former openly racist, pro-Nazi apartheid regime in South Africa or perhaps more recently he may have questioned Israel for its mishandling of the Palestinian issue.

Whichever potential offense irritates her most, Ms. Moses has the right to dislike Tutu for his views. But for the Gazette to print her letter without any substantiation leaves us all without defense and open to scurrilous attacks that are comprised solely of raw accusation and gossip. Is it editorial policy that anybody can say anything about anybody in the Gazette? I would expect a higher standard of journalism, plain common decency, and a sense of fairness from the alumni magazine of such a prestigious university.

Paula Whatley Matabane CW’71 Capitol Heights, Md

Charges of anti-Semitism directed at Bishop Tutu had been reported and editorialized over in the media prior to his appearance at Commencement. Our story in the July/August issue, which prompted Ms. Moses’ letter, also noted that he “got some boos from the audience for remarks perceived to be insensitive to Israel and Jews” during his speech. How to interpret Bishop Tutu’s statements is a matter of individual opinion—and thus appropriate for a letter-to-the-editor—but the issue of whether or not they display anti-Semitism was a public one, and not merely a random accusation.—Ed.


© 2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 11/04/03

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