Failed Public Policies are Real Nightmare

Beyond Gun Control” [“Gazetteer,” Sept|Oct] reported that the participants in a panel discussion on “guns as a public health problem” arrived at a rather astounding conclusion, while at the same time dodging a major issue.

Dr. Lawrence Sherman states that, “High gun density is a good predictor of elevated gun violence.” On what data does he base that? In rural Pennsylvania, almost every household has at least one gun, and it is not unusual for a family to own 20 guns or more. And yet Philadelphia, containing less than 10 percent of the population of the state, in a typical year provides about one-half to two-thirds of the Commonwealth’s murders, while the rest of the state has a violent crime rate lower than many of the disarmed “peaceful” nations in Europe.

It also is true that states that permit their citizens to carry concealed firearms have lower violent crime rates than states that do not, and those statistics would be even more favorable to firearms possession if, as in Pennsylvania, it weren’t for concentrations of violence in urban centers. If it is assumed that a higher gun-density will occur where carrying a gun is legal than where it is not, the statistics should be reversed if gun density has a positive correlation with gun violence.

Not once in the article did I see it mentioned by any of the panel participants that many of the young men shooting each other in our urban areas are engaged in the underground drug trade, and are competing for the turf and reputation necessary to maximize profits. Gun controls were first widely introduced because of the violence that accompanied Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s, but those controls failed to solve the violence problem. Only an end to Prohibition reduced the violence. Penn’s public health thinkers may want to entertain the idea that bullets aren’t the vector of their “public health nightmare,” and that failed public policies are.

Andrew E. Barniskis ME’72 GME’74 Levittown, PA

Guns OK in OK Corral Country

Please forgive these pithy, anecdotal comments on “Beyond Gun Control” from a Philadelphia native and 1968 Wharton grad, but here goes:

Your top of the mind, objective, clinical approach was a great analysis—if you were disarming a city of crazy chain-saw killers in a teeming, crowded city such as yours.

However, when I moved to southern Arizona, I realized that not everyone west of the Hudson or Harrisburg was brain dead. Out here, there is plenty of open space to breathe, expand, live quietly, and think. And to make up one’s mind about what one will put up with and what one won’t.

That is to say, out here, the Western mentality is: It will be a cold day in hell that some ivy-covered university professor can talk anyone West of the Mississippi out of his handguns or Winchester. Not going to happen.

Having spent the first 40 years of my life in Southwest Philly carrying a pistol off and on to Bartram High, I understand your problems, but—understand the rest of the country. We don’t all live on the Broad Street Subway.

We do not choose to surrender meekly to hoods and thugs. Out here in Arizona I don’t know anyone without a gun. No one.

Your original thesis is correct. Our society has adopted a comfortable existence with guns, and, at least in Arizona, we can wear them almost anywhere without a license or permit—free and clear, no questions asked, even in Tombstone, site of the OK Corral shootout.

Roger Fulton W’68 Phoenix

 

Drug Use Better Analogy than Disease for Gun Use

In drawing a faulty analogy between gun use and a malaria epidemic, Dr. William Schwab and company overlook a key difference, namely the moral underpinnings of gun use. Malaria sickens and kills without distinction. Gun use, however, does have a distinction. One can (and should) distinguish between the criminal who uses a gun to rob, injure, or kill and the law-abiding citizen or police officer who uses a gun in self-defense or to stop such a criminal.

The public health analogy still has value. However, I would suggest that instead of likening the disease to gun use, Dr. Schwab should liken the disease to crime, and liken gun use to a drug. When used irresponsibly, drugs can cause illness, misery, and death. When prescribed and used responsibly, though, drugs can counteract disease and save lives. In the same way, guns can be used in crime to take lives. However, when used responsibly, guns can counteract crime and likewise save lives.

This use of the public health analogy leads to interesting and perhaps unintended consequences. Dr. Schwab probably supports education campaigns regarding proper nutrition, “safe sex,” and vaccinations as complements to medical care, as a means of fighting disease. To be consistent regarding guns, therefore, he should support education campaigns in gun safety and responsible gun use as a complement to police protection, as a means of fighting crime.

Calvin Sun WG’82 Paoli, PA

 

This Joke Kills

Beyond Gun Control” reminded me of a joke I told on stage for a couple of weeks following the Virginia Tech shootings. “Both sides are using the shootings to further their cause—the pro-gun people are saying that if more people had guns someone would have returned fire and saved a lot of lives, and the anti-gun people are saying that if guns were harder to get there wouldn’t have been any shootings. I don’t know which side is right but I do know one thing—if I had a gun I would’ve shot at least four people just on the drive here tonight.”

Comedians have to be careful when dealing with emotional topics but my audiences had no problems with this joke. Like many jokes there’s truth behind it—because while we tend to think of gunshot victims as convenience store clerks, cab drivers, and drug dealers intentionally shot by criminals, victims of gun violence also include kids who find a parent’s gun and accidentally shoot themselves or a friend, and people who get in the way of an angry, drunken spouse. Many of these kinds of killings would be prevented if guns were regulated even just as strictly as cars are.

Shaun Eli Breidbart W’83 Pelham, NY

 

Consider Other “Interruptions”

The establishment of the Adolescent Mental Health Initiative [“Youth, Interrupted,” Sept|Oct] is a wonderful step in the direction of helping young people who are suffering. The program is filling a serious need, and my comments are not meant to minimize or detract from an acknowledgement of that need. I hope that the Initiative will also direct attention to the needs of adolescents who are suffering not from chemical disorders, but from abuse by parents or other relatives. I hope that the mental-health profession will also follow the path of great pioneers such as R.D. Laing and Susan Forward and treat the effects of the family as a source of distress.

I was a target of physical, sexual, verbal, and manipulative abuse by my mother. I remember this as far back as the age of three, when she put me on the sewing machine and beat me up. Fortunately, nowadays such issues are in the domain of public discussion, but when I was young everything was secret and we did not even have the words available to describe our experiences. Fortunately now we have Dr. Phil on the air to break through all of the platitudes about the family.

A stranger or clergyman who commits abuse may be put into jail. But teenagers who are abused normally do not put their parents in jail. Yet after leaving home to obtain basic peace of mind, they bear the brunt of being labeled as ungrateful children. Whereas teenagers with chemical illnesses may have parents who try to help them obtain treatment, abused teenagers have to obtain therapy without the knowledge of, or funding from, their parents. Again, I hope that the Initiative will direct attention to those whose youth is interrupted, not by chemical events but by a cruel parent.

Linda Seltzer CW’71 Davis, CA

 

Who Hired Him?

I found the article, “Youth, Interrupted,” disturbing. Why is Patrick Jamieson [associate director of the Adolescent Risk Communication Institute (ARCI) at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC)] employed by the University with his mother [Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the APPC] as his boss? Was a compelling reason for his hiring presented to University officials, as is required by University policy? How can Patrick’s mother possibly evaluate his performance objectively? Even if there was a compelling reason for his employment, if this particular situation is actually being publicized in the Gazette, it makes me wonder how much more, and worse, is going on behind the scenes elsewhere in the University.

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

 

Annenberg School for Communication Dean Michael X. Delli Carpini C’75 G’75 responds:

Elizabeth Korn expresses concern that Dr. Patrick Jamieson, associate director of the Adolescent Risk Communication Institute at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC), is the son of Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of APPC. While I understand her concern of nepotism, I want to assure Dr. Korn and the larger Penn alumni community that nothing could be further from the truth.

University policy permits the employment of more than one member of a family (including parents, siblings, spouse, and children), whether or not the persons concerned are in the same academic or administrative department. The University’s sole concern is that faculty or staff members are the best candidates with respect to the requisite academic or administrative qualifications for employment. Of course the University recognizes that the appointment of two or more family members, especially within the same department, can lead to abuses and generate pressures and prejudice among colleagues. To guard against such conflicts, a number of safeguards are routinely put in place, including assurances that family members do not participate in or influence hiring, promotion, termination, salary, performance evaluations, or vital decisions concerning the employment of a member of his or her family.

All these safeguards have been and remain firmly in place regarding Dr. Patrick Jamieson. He was first hired (in a different position within APPC) as a result of an open and competitive search overseen by the Office of the Vice Provost. Dr. Jamieson was ultimately selected because his credentials, including his publication and grant-getting records, were superior to those of other candidates. Since that time, all performance evaluations (which have been stellar) have been conducted by his immediate supervisor, Dr. Dan Romer, by the provost’s office, and, since my coming to Penn in 2003, by me as dean of the Annenberg School. Indeed it was my decision, based solely on his excellent publication, grant-getting, and administrative track record, to promote him into his current position. At no point in the four-plus years that I have been dean has there been even a hint of conflict of interest.

The Annenberg School, the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the University of Pennsylvania are lucky to have Dr. Jamieson as a member of our community.

 

Sour Milk?

In his essay, “Take Note,” on his time as a graduate student in English at Penn [“Alumni Voices,” Sept|Oct], Dennis Drabelle refers to Rev. John Cotton (1584-1652) as “eccentric.”

Cotton’s best selling catechism, Milk for Babes, went through multiple editions and served as the model for The New England Primer, one of the most influential educational tools in American colonial history. Cotton was a pillar of Boston society, defended its rejection of aristocratic governance, and published the first written constitution in American law (Moses His Judicials), which was taken up verbatim by Connecticut and amended by Nathaniel Ward in the Massachusetts “Body of Liberties of 1641.” Cotton’s debates with Roger Williams on conscience (The Bloudy Tenent), and his counsel sought by Oliver Cromwell during the long English Civil War influenced the conquest of Jamaica and the significance of England as a global power. Even now, a close reading of his sermon, “The Powring ovt of the Seven Vials” (1642), offers insight into an apocalyptic vision of his uncertain time so congruent with our own. Eccentric?

Seth Many M’66 Sharon Springs, NY

 

Howarth’s End

Dennis Drabelle and I apparently were in many of the same graduate English classes in the mid-1960s, and it was fun to be reminded of the quirks of some of our professors, including one of my favorites, Herbert Howarth. He says that Howarth “had a habit of matching up characters in fiction with the real people on whom they were based,” but he fails to mention one of the most interesting gossip tidbits: Howarth’s revelation that he himself was the model for one of the minor—and rather stupid—characters in Lawrence Durrell’s sequence of four novels, The Alexandria Quartet. One of Howarth’s more lovable characteristics was his willingness to admit to such questionable literary immortality.

Steven Glogger G’65 Palm Springs, CA

 

Avoid Self-Segregation

I was disturbed to read Annie Yang’s essay, “Everything’s in a Name” [“Notes From the Undergrad,” Sept|Oct], in which she expresses her view of the vast difference between feeling white versus feeling Asian. I would hope that a fellow Asian-American would find that it is possible to feel both Asian and American, and to have friends and relations of many ethnicities and backgrounds.

Note I say American, because when Ms. Yang repeatedly writes about whites I presume she means the general population at large. I hope that she is not implying that all whites are the same, and I’ll also presume she realizes the complex heritage of this melting pot which is America, and that in lumping the whites together in one big non-Asian group she marginalizes the fact that nearly every immigrant wave to America has dealt with the same issues she writes about.

I am a first generation so-called American Born Chinese, and have seen all the issues Ms. Yang writes about. When I was at Penn I remember seeing some Asians self segregate into Asian parties, Asian societies, and Asian fraternities. I am generally all for “live and let live,” so if someone feels like only people of the same cultural background can “truly understand” them, I guess that is their prerogative.

But, I’d rather hope that in this increasingly global day and age, and in an institution as diverse as Penn, that people would realize it is possible to be American and still retain connections to your own cultural heritage. There’s nothing wrong with dressing and talking like most people—trust me, it doesn’t make you any less Asian.

Chris Chang EAS ’94 Jersey City, NJ

 

Heartening Words

Thank you for “Kind Strangers,” Peter Conn’s wonderful opinion piece on international adoption [“Expert Opinion,” Sept|Oct].

We adopted the two youngest of our five children from Romania in 2000, and I became involved in adoption issues as a result of that experience. (I am co-executive director of the Center for Adoption Policy, www.adoptionpolicy.org.) Sadly, this is a trying time for international adoption despite the fact that the U.S. is finally going to ratify the Hague Convention. The ideologues who see the practice as “cultural genocide” seem to be capturing the hearts and minds of policy makers.

It is heartening to see a well-written piece in support of finding a permanent family for children.

Ann Reese CW’74 Rye, NY

Conservatives Adopt, Too

As a (white, adoptive) father of a wonderful, adorable little (Asian) son, I read Peter Conn’s article about international adoption with more than academic interest. On the whole, I certainly concur with the professor’s enthusiastic embrace of the concept. But I couldn’t let a certain generalization pass without comment. Contrary to the author’s assertion, there are at least some cultural conservatives out there who do not “find mixed-race adoptive families subversive.” How do I know? Because I and many of my friends proudly wear this label—and not a one of them has been anything less than fully supportive of our transracial adoption, and completely welcoming of our little boy into their lives.

One other thing: My wife and I didn’t choose to adopt from overseas as a “humanitarian intervention,” and we certainly weren’t trying to “reorient the definition of families” (we cultural conservatives aren’t big into that sort of thing). Instead, we did it for the simplest, most basic of reasons: we wanted a child.

Glenn Hoge W’88 Ellicott City, MD

 

Conversion Error

The article, “Waste Not … ” [“Alumni Profiles,” Sept|Oct], claims the technology to convert garbage to energy commercially “doesn’t yet exist.”

In fact, There are over 50 years’ experience in Europe, Japan, and the U.S. in converting waste into energy. There are 86 of these facilities operating in the U.S., and hundreds in Europe and Japan. I have been involved in the development, financing, and operation of three waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities in Maryland, the oldest of which has been operating in downtown Baltimore successfully since 1986. The three facilities convert 3,500 tons of municipal and commercial waste into steam and electricity every day! Emissions from these facilities are much less than burning coal, and result in a net reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions (landfills are notorious methane emitters). Actual emissions data are posted on a public website.

The European Union has declared that combustible waste is banned from landfills. Why? Waste is a valuable, renewable fuel. WTE facilities are being built at a rapid rate; a state-of-the-art facility will open in downtown Paris, a mile and a half from the Eiffel Tower, later this year.

Robin Davidov GRP’78 Severna Park, MD

 

Only Connect

Having received my copy of the Sept|Oct Gazette, I settled into my favorite reading chair, turned the 3-way lamp to its brightest setting, and first opened to “Alumni Notes.” Not only was ’52 not listed, but there was news of only seven people who graduated in the entire 1950s decade. Moreover, each of those entries featured news of awards and recognitions. Nothing wrong with awards and recognitions, but, as class correspondent for my boarding-school class of 1948, I am certain that there are legions of functioning, retired, gregarious but awardless 1950s grads out there who are not encouraged to try to just re-connect with classmates. With some exceptions, 1977 for example, the class news for the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s seem similarly self-censored. Maybe it’s a big university or Ivy thing. Either way, given our common mortality, it seems sad. Recent grads do better. Let’s hope they keep connecting with each other, even when glory hasn’t visited. It’s also the stuff of bigger and better reunions.

Oh, and the snow on Kilimanjaro is retreating for lack of moisture, not cold.

Philip N. Baker W’52 St. Louis


Fired up about guns.

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