Solitude on the Schuylkill

Although I fully support Penn’s “Great Leap Eastward,” as the Gazette’s Sept/Oct cover line has it, I do so with a sigh. For the few of us that knew the access points, the area slated for the eastern-campus development was a place of solitude in the heart of the metropolis. Of course it was urban blight, but its ruins and trails had the isolation and secretive comfort of any nook or cranny in the Wissahickon. When the post-mid-century political and cultural turmoil disturbed the balance of this working-class boy, there was always solace to be had in the area bordering the Schuylkill River. I wish this project well and I hope this piece of land serves others in the Penn community as well as it did me.

David John Barrett CE’72 Solomons, MD

 

“Heeling” on the River

The report in the Sept/Oct issue on the planned University expansion eastward to the Schuylkill River and beyond into Center City was very impressive. I only regret it will take many years to come into full fruition.

It also stirred many memories of River Field just south of the power plant off South Street. I was “heeling” for manager of the soccer team in 1941 and 1942. River Field was where we practiced. I doubt it has changed much over the intervening years, except for the Schuylkill Expressway on its eastern edge. It was not a garden spot then or now.

Being a heeler meant the cheerful carrying-out of the most menial tasks. This included retrieving balls kicked over a high wire fence into the river, which was a common occurrence. We had a long bamboo pole with a net to assist. The river was down a steep weedy bank. Raw sewage flowed from several pipes. This in turn attracted rats. The balls ended up at the edge of the water to be scooped up by hand, then carried back to the clubhouse to be put back in shape with saddle soap.

The War was on and more and more affected our operations. Out-of-town game trips were restricted. Teammates were leaving the campus for the military. British Navy ships came to the Navy Yard for repairs. Pick up games were arranged with their crews. We beat the crew of a small destroyer, but when a battleship arrived, we lost badly. After all, soccer (they called it football) was their game.

The next year, having been promoted to assistant manager, I got to arrange travel and game schedules. A memorable trip I was able to join was to Cornell. We traveled by daylight on the Black Diamond Express of the Reading Railroad. The next day we lost the game, then drowned our sorrows in a pub in Ithaca until it was time to go to the station and board our sleeper to Philadelphia. Being badly outnumbered by Cornellians, we wisely chose not to sing “Drink A Highball,” but were silent when they caroled their only song, “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters.”

It being wartime, sleeper berths were limited and I couldn’t get enough for everyone. At an advance meeting we agreed by drawing straws some of us would double up. We non-players were automatically included. I ended up in an upper berth with a rotund reserve fullback. But we slept.

Some might wonder why I went through all the drudgery of heeling, just to become a manager. I had been informed by a fraternity brother that managers of major sports teams earn a varsity sweater, the same as campus heroes such as Frank Reagan and ‘Skippy’ Minisi wore around campus. Mine still hangs in my closet.

Robert G. Clifton W’44 Wayne, PA

Big Plans, Tiny Pictures

A colleague and I had been discussing what would become of the postal lands, so I was delighted to have the latest Gazette with the article “New Campus Dawning.” How disappointing to find on p. 40 a tiny artist’s conception with no indication of what the buildings were. Are all the red ones new or are some renovations? And then half the pictures had no captions!

Jim Stasheff, visiting faculty Philadelphia

 

No Due Diligence without Transparency

Your article “Betting Their Hedges” [Sept/Oct] deals with a crucial issue for all Americans, but it misses the key crisis in today’s financial industry.

The article has successful hedge-fund managers admitting that their high returns are the result of luck as well as skill. The large range of hedge-fund returns perhaps gives evidence of a wide variety of both talent and luck among America’s investment managers whether they work inside or outside of hedge funds.

The article makes two contradictory statements and this oversight leads the author to overlook this key crisis, not only for the hedge-fund industry but for most types of investments. The contradictory statements are:

1) “Transparency is not part of the hedge-fund picture.” 2) “Investors, no matter how wealthy, must do their due diligence and research to ensure that the fund they invest in is not engaging in irresponsible behavior.”

One cannot do due diligence without transparency. Since returns are a function of both skill and luck, it is entirely possible that irresponsible behavior can still produce superior returns. The investor cannot disentangle the effects of luck and skill in a hedge fund, mutual fund, or a corporate equity in the absence of information that documents how decisions were made. Without knowing the source of the return, the investor will not be able to detect irresponsible behavior.

The laws that govern hedge funds, mutual funds, and corporate behavior do not adequately ensure transparency. As America struggles to provide for the retirement of an under-saving baby boomer generation, it is essential that both defined-benefit and defined-contribution plans invest as wisely as possible. This lack of transparency will induce intolerable future costs that will compound cruelly.

Ralph Bradley Washington

 

The Nation Does it Better

Being a tradition-minded, GenX, WASP family man is not easy today. While more and more post-boomers reject the crazy politics and change-for-the-sake-of-change wackiness of the 1960s and 1970s, it persists most distressingly in the very places it ought not: In this case, my Penn alumni magazine!

“Our Love is Here to Stay,” Robert Schoenberg’s tract advocating increased social acceptance of personal selfishness, was particularly odious [“Expert Opinion,” Sept/Oct]. But so too was the transcript of Alan Alda-wannabe Edward Jewell’s diary about his medical service in the Iraq War [“All Things Ornamental,” Sept/Oct]. I felt as though therapist-client privilege was violated even as I marveled at an officer’s unbecoming, almost insubordinate attitude toward his chain of command—and his own men. Compared to that, the hagiography of various Peace Corps people seems downright sober [“Alumni Profiles,” Sept/Oct].

I realize it is difficult for the ideological descendants of Herbert Marcuse to separate their politics from their lives. But inappropriate propagandizing is nothing less than disrespectful of us who do not share your political agenda.

Please keep the Gazette about life at Penn—and a unifying factor in a hopelessly divided society. Let those who like their politics red subscribe to The Nation. Frankly, they do a better job of it.

Joe Ames Jr. Gr’04 Malvern, PA

 

Much More Work to Be Done

As a postscript to Susanne Weiner Jernigan’s essay, “Privilege,” [“Alumni Voices,” Sept/Oct] there is much more work to be done in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Many religious denominations have set up organizations to help rebuild homes and lives after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast last year.

Three of us from our church flew down to New Orleans in mid-August for a few days work in Mississippi. We drove from Louis Armstrong International Airport on Interstate 10 to our destination in Long Beach, about 60 miles east. As we left New Orleans, there was Katrina damage everywhere, but what particularly struck me were the dozens of vacant apartment buildings three or four stories high along the north side of the interstate. There were few if any cars in the parking lots. The windows were all out, the fences down, the siding damaged, the roofs torn up. Here and there were trucks and workmen rehabbing some, perhaps 10 percent. The rest seemed to be awaiting demolition, a year after the storm. I wondered, did the owners just walk away, or are there no tenants willing or able to come back, or a combination of the two?

Further along I-10 in Mississippi, there were mainly forests of live, broken, and dead trees. We began to see mile after mile of billboards rising out of the trees advertising casinos. I thought, “Surely housing is more important than gaming. Why isn’t the emphasis on bringing back the residents, not visitors?” What I later learned was that most of Mississippi’s tax revenue comes from gambling. The state could not function unless and until the gambling brought in out-of-state money. It’s essential to the economy to get those cash cows up and running as soon as possible.

After working at the camp for a couple of days, I spent two days helping to panel the house of a woman I’ll call “Carol” in the small town of Waveland, about 20 miles west of Long Beach. Waveland is also on the gulf, but the town is interlaced with bayous. Carol, who is in her early seventies and living on Social Security, and her friend “Anne,” with whom she had lived in the small house for many years, were trapped there by rising floodwaters after they waited too long to evacuate. As the waters came to be knee-high and then waist-high, at some point in their struggle the women became separated.

Carol, in the living room, managed to keep herself afloat and climb onto the small fireplace mantle. As the water continued to rise, she managed to pry off a heating grate in the ceiling and put her head into the duct above. The water rose to the ceiling … and stopped. She stayed on the mantle, she thinks, about six or seven hours until the water receded and she could climb down to the devastation of her home and her drowned companion.

Carol is now living in a FEMA trailer about a half-mile from her house, while Anne’s brother is rebuilding the inside of the house with the help of volunteers from Camp Coast Care (www.campcoastcare.com). With more hard work, the house may be finished before winter. It is on behalf of the Carols of Mississippi and Louisiana that so many people have come from all over the world to volunteer for this work.

James A. Bachman ME’55 St. Charles, IL

 

Sudan Divestment Will be Ineffective

When clients of mine insisted that I sell their investment in Talisman Energy Inc., an independent Canadian oil and gas company that had owned assets located in Sudan, I argued that this would prove to be counterproductive. These assets are now owned by a Chinese oil company, and China has become Sudan’s protector in the United Nations. Far better to encourage Western oil companies to invest in the Sudan so we could influence them to act appropriately towards civilians and bring pressure to bear upon the government. Actions taken by Penn will prove to be totally ineffective.

Harold Borts WG’86 Montreal

 

Don’t Export U.S. Environmental Blindness

While the Penn Engineers Without Borders work in Honduras described in “Out of the Engineering Lab and into the Village” [“Gazetteer,” Sept/Oct] is Good Stuff, the students should keep an eye on higher issues of sustainability while they work to improve water supplies there. Saying that “population growth in the village will necessitate a greater supply” is planning to fail, even if doing the work is “so rewarding” to the students.

The human species pushes relentlessly against its environment, degrading it by a thousand cuts, staving off unpleasant Malthusian population controls until the environment collapses in famine, pestilence, and war. With global warming possibly having already passed an irreversible tipping point of carbon dioxide and methane release from permafrost areas, it might be more helpful to small villages if the visiting students could assist in promoting population restraint, rather than planning for growth. Deforestation by growing villages for building and fuel will aggravate global warming and desertification. “Sustainable development” should not include population growth.

We in the U.S. are our own worst enemies environmentally, of course, but we should not export our blindness.

John D. Leith M’56 Auburndale, MA

 

Obesity Not Generally an Indicator of Ill Health

Is either Dr. Lipman or the Gazette trying to make a direct relationship between linear-growth failure and obesity in the article, “Measuring and Mentoring” [“Gazetteer,” Sept/Oct]? Though it is the case that Cushing’s disease (hypercortisolism) may also present via a sign of fatness of the body, as well as causing linear-growth failure, in no way is it the case that what we commonly call “obesity” is the same as Cushing’s.

Previous reports of Dr. Lipman’s work in the Gazette may have discussed the importance of accurate pediatric measures because of the dangers posed by Cushing’s disease and insufficient early-identification of this condition, but these points are not mentioned in the present article. Indeed, the present report suggests to the reader that obesity (“fatness” technically, though usually inaccurately measured by a relative measure of body height and weight) is itself a cause of linear-growth failure. I certainly hope that this was not what Dr. Lipman intended—to imply that, in addition to any other hysteria about the “obesity epidemic,” we should now also worry that a chubby kid is not going to grow normally because of her or his body shape. That would be both inaccurate and inflammatory.

It is certainly laudable for both Dr. Lipman and the Gazette to express concern about pediatric nutrition, but although linear-growth failure is often a sign of inadequate nutrition (either from a lack of sufficient nutrient intake or because of an underlying pathological condition), obesity is not generally an indicator of ill-health (Cushing’s and worries about potential Type II diabetes aside). The present article suggests otherwise.

Jane Kauer C’88 Gr’02 Philadelphia

 

Grateful … But Still Sleepy

As an undergrad Bio major I took two courses from Ralph Erickson [“Obituaries,” Sept/Oct]: Plant Anatomy and (with Hui-Lin Li) Paleobotany.

I was very interested in both and Professor Erickson was a brilliant man, but he lectured in a deadly monotone and I had to struggle to stay awake at every lecture. (It didn’t help that I was often on “night duty” at the Daily Pennsylvanian into the wee small hours.) He had to have noticed, and I was embarrassed.

I was flabbergasted when one day he told me that there was to be an elite, by-invitation-only conference on “Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution” at the Wistar Institute and he really thought I should attend—so he had gotten me an invitation as a “Botany graduate student”! I attended, and it was something of a turning point in my life; among other things it resulted in an invitation to visit and work in the ecological-genetics laboratory at Oxford.

Many years later, Ralph spent a sabbatical at UC Davis, where I teach. He gave a seminar, and I attended. I fell asleep.

Arthur M. Shapiro C’66 Davis, CA

 

No-Gift Policy Gives Confidence

As a Penn alumnus and a practicing physician, I was pleased to see the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) change its policy towards receiving gifts from pharmaceutical representatives [“Gazetteer,” July/Aug]. Patients are becoming more concerned about whether their physicians are objective when prescribing medications and this new policy will maintain their trust.

Certainly HUP is not alone in advocating this change. In 2005 the Permanente Medical Group, of which I am director of the Board of Directors, with over 6,000 physicians and responsible for over 3.2 million patients, instituted a similar policy. It is my hope that other health-care leaders will follow HUP so patients always have complete confidence that we have their best interests at heart.

Davis Liu W’93 Sacramento, CA

 

Gazette Needs Smoking Ban

I am writing in reference to the cover of the July/August Gazette. I am disturbed by Brian Biggs’ illustration depicting the Kelly Writers House. The picture includes a woman smoking outside the house.

Many students mistakenly believe that tobacco use is more common on campus than is actually the case. This misperception may in turn create an environment that promotes smoking by generating pressure among students to “fit in.” Correcting this misperception is critical for establishing a healthier, tobacco-free environment. Most college students don’t smoke; it is time for you to accurately portray this aspect of student life.

The Pennsylvania Gazette, while targeting alumni, inevitably is read by current and potential students. The magazine should support, not sabotage, the University’s efforts to reduce youth smoking. For more information go to www.ttac.org, the College Tobacco Prevention Resource, produced by the Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium, which describes five strategies for comprehensive campus tobacco prevention.

Jeffrey Jacobs C’82 Haddonfield, NJ




East campus memories, clipped hedges, no Nation building!

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