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Just a note of thanks for your wonderful story on Duffy’s Cut [“Bones Beneath the Tracks,” Nov|Dec], which I just read and have passed on to many friends and family, with so much praise from everyone.

We are lucky enough to have our son, Christopher McDonnell, attend Penn; he is now a junior studying anthropology and making us all proud. I myself am from Derry and immigrated here in 1984, so you can imagine my interest and enjoyment reading your article. I had heard stories about this before but never as in-depth. 

Adrian McDonnell, parent Broomall, PA

Funny Because It’s True
I thoroughly enjoyed Yosef Berlyand’s application essay, “Jailbreak” [“Notes From the Undergrad,” Nov|Dec]. Not only was it refreshingly clever, but it reminded me of when I used the same punchline. About 20 years ago one of my best friends, a Columbia University alumnus, was hosting a group of prospective Columbia applicants at his home. He was trying to show them a video about Columbia but was unable to get the video to play on his large-screen television. He called me in a panic. I rushed over and with the push of a single button got the video up on the screen. When he asked me how I did it, I replied to him and the entire gathering, “You should have gone to Penn.”

Miles E. Kuttler D’70 Aventura, FL

Capitalism is Faster than HSR
In his essay, “Train Hoping” [“Expert Opinion,” Nov|Dec], Professor Bob Yaro—after properly situating himself as a world-traveling train lover, who for years has “traveled on fast, frequent, and reliable high-speed (HSR) trains in France, Spain, Italy, Japan, Korea, and several other countries”—informs his readers that “[u]ntil recently, America’s passenger railroads were falling even further behind their European and Asian counterparts.”

After appropriate rumination, he concludes that HSR will “work best” in the US in the nation’s “11 emerging ‘megaregions’” that are “too large to be easily accessible by automobile and too small to be connected by air”—even as he scorns “conservative columnists and pundits on Fox Business News” for taking exception to HSR schemes. Finally, he warns us that an American failure to build a “national HSR system” will “further [erode] our ability to compete in global markets.”


Like trains? Visit Europe or Asia.

Want faster transportation in the United States? Want the USA to be more successful in global markets? Unleash American capitalism. Why? In his book, The Roots of Capitalism, John Chamberlain answered this way:

“Such things as the automobile self-starter and the continuous strip mill could not have been planned by government, for they were dependent on the sort of voluntary cross-fertilization that is almost vagrant in its nature. (They were also dependent on the willingness of private individuals to ‘waste’ their savings on pure hunches, which is something that cannot be done by bureaucrat budgeters in the nature of things.) Nobody can plan from a central conning tower the happy chance conjunction of separate streams of energy, for the man in the conning tower must be preoccupied with control of a going circuit, not with its distortions and disruptions by the sudden intuitions, the divine spontaneity, of the freely-choosing individual man.”

Stu Mahlin WG’65 Cincinnati

 Crazy Like the Concorde
High speed trains are one of those crazy ideas that keeps coming up, I guess because “Europe” has them, although I am not sure it isn’t because some people hope to make a lot of money by tapping into the US Treasury.

I have seen cost estimates as high as $40-$80 million per mile. Spending this much money when the country is broke to go 150 miles per hour on the ground is nuts when airplanes go 600 miles per hour.

This is a kind of parallel to the Concorde, which Europe spent a lot of money on while we punted. Where are they now?

The argument Bob Yaro makes that “no security checks” is an advantage over planes is, well, not smart. Terrorists can target trains just as easily as planes.

Let’s not do stupid stuff just because Europe does.

Joe Deegan C’67 Philadelphia

Graphic Detail, Little Substance
I read Dave Hnida’s “day in the Iraq war” account, “The Wounded Wore Aftershave,” with interest [“Elsewhere,” Nov|Dec]. While it describes in graphic detail the horrors of war, the author seems to have insulated himself from any recognition of that horror; adopting a black humor attitude at some points and a blasé indifference at others. What is missing is any actual insight into his role in the war.

Perhaps his full book has a chapter on this, but from the tone of this excerpt, I doubt it would be very interesting. I note that he is a graduate of the College Class of 1976, which puts him just past the generation that had to deal with the prospect of involuntary service in the Vietnam war. For many of us in that earlier generation, the demands of the draft forced us to seriously consider our role in that controversial war, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. The Vietnam war now seems less evil than the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which are “wars of choice”—probably illegal—that have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents. 

The US has also fallen to unprecedented lows with Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, water boarding, and other abuses of human rights. Many of us had to make a hard decision at the time of Vietnam to participate in a war of questionable “justness,” but the author of this piece seems to have no qualms about aiding this immoral enterprise in Iraq. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have only served to drain the US financially and ethically, while at the same time creating more hostility towards the US. As such they should demand careful introspection. 

I assume the motive for publishing this excerpt was to promote a book by an alumnus. I just wish that this work hadn’t been so flippant and had contained more substance.

Mark Spohr EE’70 Tahoe City, CA

Creeping Elitism
David Goldberg should receive the “finally someone hits the proverbial ‘nail on its head’ award” for his recent letter [“Letters,” Nov|Dec]. Although his title shows deft rhetorical exaggeration, he is definitely on to something.

Penn has documented examples of political correctness for many years. Diversity started off as a laudable goal. Now a creeping elitism by the Admissions people can be added to what could be evolving into a toxic mix. Diversity as viewed by the administration includes sex, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, humble beginnings, all of which are physical or cultural distinctions. These on face value are sensible.

However, Penn has evolved a hideous disrespect for diversity of thought. I’m sure that 90 percent of Penn students and faculty who voted in the last decade even now still support a big government agenda. That’s their right, but elitism may produce unintended consequences. What makes “no sense to me” [as the elite see themselves] is therefore unreasonable. One who is manifestly unreasonable must therefore be at least one of the following: “racist, sexist, ‘nativist,’ or homophobic.”

The reality is that no invitee labeled as “conservative” would find a University audience respectful of his right of expression. We all know how the crowd (and cowed) would react. There is no “right to be heard” for the politically incorrect on our campus.

As a first-semester freshman in September 1962 I had the opportunity to hear Malcolm X speak live and take any and all questions from the audience at Irvine Auditorium. His presentation was on a Friday afternoon about 4:00 p.m. The place was jammed, yet that Penn crowd wanted to hear him. Malcolm was his classic provocative self. Most of what he said and predicted ultimately turned out to be quite accurate, even though the predominately white audience was incredulous throughout his presentation. He spoke at ease with a professorial manner that belied his “street education” as the former pimp and ex-convict. In boxing terms, nobody laid a glove on him.

I still have hope for Penn. Since my wife, Janet McClintock Robison CW’69 Gr’75 and I have had two “double legacy” children, at times she felt bad that neither chose to go to Penn, due to circumstances unrelated to the University.

My two-year-old granddaughter has a TAP account that I fund annually. I may not be around to see it, and my granddaughter may fall short of the University standards for the Class of 2026, but I hope the University can develop the capacity for a wider range of expression.

Robert E. Robison C’66 Pittsburgh

Would $25,000 Help?
David Goldberg’s letter should have brought up another interesting point: with all the mailers seeking funds along with a statement that the University is seeking billions there is created a feeling among alumni contributors that a modest contribution really will not help much. I wonder how many alumni who could write a check for $25,000 simply don’t because they feel their contribution will just get lost in the shuffle for the billions.

I have found that dealing with the development department at Penn is an exercise in futility. Perhaps they should take a course or two at Wharton!

Robert M. Rosenthal W’60 Burbank, CA

As our Nov|Dec “Gazetteer” story on Penn’s Making History fundraising campaign noted, a quarter of the $2.85 billion raised so far has come from gifts of $1 to $100,000. Such “modest” contributions play an unusually large and critical role at Penn, according to both John Zeller, vice president for development and alumni relations, and President Amy Gutmann, who cited the breadth of support from alumni as a key reason for optimism that Penn will reach its $3.5 billion goal.—Ed.

A Role Model for Us All
I was saddened to learn of the passing of Professor Noyes E. Leech, a quiet man of piercing intellect who spent more than half his life affiliated with the University and its Law School [“Obituaries,” Nov|Dec]. I was fortunate to take his introductory corporations class my second year of law school, where he made what on its face is a dry subject very interesting and of course challenging. He taught what wasn’t there along with the obligatory ABCs of general corporate law.

I was also fortunate to play in a trombone quartet with Professor Leech and two other second-year law students. The Professor did a mean soft-shoe, and if I recall correctly played in a dance band while an undergraduate at Penn (for the typical reasons—fun and to support himself).

We often kidded how he got his first name. While we surmised it was a family name, one of my trombone-playing colleagues said his parents couldn’t decide what to name him and when his father offered a first name his mother said No, but his father said Yes—hence, Noyes. Might even be true!

Sweet rest, Professor Noyes. You long ago earned our life-long respect and admiration as an educator, a superior legal mind, and as a role model for us all.

Paul A. Lester L’74 Miami

Trust the Teller
I enjoyed the curious personal memoir “The First Day of Peace” [“Alumni Voices,” Sept|Oct], but I am troubled that the editor felt the author’s description of seeing geishas with bound feet “was questionable enough to require removal.” Just because foot-binding was not a Japanese practice does not mean that there were not Chinese women with bound feet in Japan dressed as geishas during the closing days of a cataclysmic global war.

World War II is filled with amazing personal stories. As a child, I often doubted the stories my grandfather told me about his life. They seemed very improbable in my world. One-by-one in later years I confirmed that they were all true. I strongly believe that editors should never censor live witness accounts—make a footnote if you must, but let us hear the author’s story firsthand and decide for ourselves. After all, they were there.

Douglas Harrell GCh’84 Gr’87 Wilmington, DE

Wheatley Not “Native-Born”
Anthony Splendora should not have stated that Phillis Wheatley was a “native-born American” [“Letters,” Nov|Dec]. She was born in Africa and brought to Boston on a slave vessel as a child. In fact, her owners, John and Susanna Wheatley, named her Phillis after that ship.

Paul R. Goldin C’92 G’92, faculty Yardley, PA

Revolutionary, but Wrong
The revolutionary no-loan, all-grant financial aid policy expressed by University President Amy Gutmann [in a number of Gazette articles and in the Proudly Penn supplement to the Sept|Oct issue] may be revolutionary but it is inappropriate, counterproductive, and demeans the capitalistic economy that has been the foundation and strength of America. Learning responsibility and developing the ability to compete are among the most important objectives of a sound and useful education. The knowledge that there is an obligation to pay for one’s needs builds character and responsibility, creates drive and incentive and, at the same time, enhances the desire to help those who show a willingness to help themselves.

My father, an immigrant, was poor with little formal education, but he worked and borrowed to send me to Penn Law School, and he repaid every cent. My two sons attended among the finest undergraduate and law schools in the country. They worked and borrowed, I worked and borrowed, and we repaid in full. It is a source of great personal pride and satisfaction that I was able to persevere and succeed in meeting my financial obligations to educate my children. My experience is not alone. Many of my contemporaries attended college and sent their children to fine schools by hard work, financial sacrifice, and austerity.

It is noble and worthwhile to be charitable and to help those in need. Not so to help those who can and should help themselves. 

David N. Savitt L’53 Philadelphia

In the Nov|Dec feature article, “On Hearths, Ancient and Modern,” we mistakenly referred to Shannon McPherron Gr’94, who is male, as she. Our apologies for the error.

Also, our story on DesignPhiladelphia founder and director Hilary Jay C’83 [“Arts,” Nov|Dec], in describing an earlier venture of hers, a jewelry business called Maximal Art, neglected to mention that it was co-founded with John Wind C’83, who, Jay writes, “has grown that business to unforeseen heights, and is now celebrating 25 years of work.”

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