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Undeclared war, a life to emulate, controversy’s cause, constitutional questions.

What Ifs Don’t Educate

As I recall, three of our past presidents have told the heads of Russia that we would not push to put Ukraine in NATO. The Russians accepted our word. Their principal interest is Sevastopol, which is their warm-water port. If Ukraine entered NATO, this port would be in danger of being lost to Russia’s use. That is the crux of the issue.

Why Russia continues to destroy Ukraine I cannot speak to, unless Putin cannot obtain assurances of Russia’s access to Sevastopol.

I think of greater interest is that the United States has entered an undeclared war with Russia via Ukraine. Providing military hardware, security advice, and funds to Ukraine has in effect put us in a war with Russia. No news (opinion) personnel have approached this. Biden has entered a war with Russia.  

The article in the Gazette [“Thinking About Ukraine,” May|Jun 2022] goes into all sorts of what ifs but with little or no documentation. In reality that does not educate me in any way. The article is a subjective list of possibilities associated with the various players. We in an education institution should be more grounded in facts.  

Beach Carre W’62, Fairfax, VA

A Life to Emulate

I read with great interest my classmate Stephen Fried’s article “Tim Beck’s Final Brainstorms” [May|Jun 2022]. While many Penn alumni are aware of Dr. Beck’s towering accomplishments in psychiatry, especially his development of cognitive behavioral therapy, I was amazed to read how he continued to modify his therapy in his 90s to benefit patients with more severe issues. Dr. Beck truly lived a rich, full life, and he maintained his extraordinary intellectual curiosity and his humanity to the very end. That is something I hope to emulate as I age.

Ralph L. Landy W’79 L’84, Gaithersburg, MD

Taken Aback

I first want to say that the Gazette is a very good pub, with many solid articles that keep me up to date on Penn, and I always look forward to the alumni updates.

I was taken aback by a statement in the article “Spotlight on Swimming” [“Sports,” Mar|Apr 2022]. The discussion was about Lia Thomas and the controversy surrounding her competition in the NCAA championships. The writer stated that the controversy was “driven largely by right wing outlets publishing anonymous quotes.” Where did this conclusion come from—fact-based research or an opinion formed within the campus environ? It was a political statement where none was necessary or helpful.

Rather than just criticize, I offer a suggestion: how about the author (and other resources as needed) conduct a brief survey of parents of female athletes (and perhaps the aspiring athletes as well) across the country on their views on this issue, with responses collected, of course without attribution. This would help us understand if the controversy was truly driven by these unnamed “right wing outlets,” or perhaps there is a fair amount of concern across “middle America” towards mixing biological males and females in athletics competition. I would include in the survey a cut for parents with aspiring female athletes, and other demographics the professionals deem necessary. And of course, how the questions would be asked are important. I think the results may surprise and inform the author and others.

Don Nemerov W’72, Lake Forest, IL

Matysik’s Story No Longer Possible

The Mar|Apr 2022 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette featured an excellent cover story on “Food Fighter” George Matysik CGS’10 [“The Hunger to End Hunger”]. There was, however, one glaring omission: an acknowledgement that such a story can no longer happen at Penn.

Instead of inviting exceptional employees like Matysik and other non-traditional students into regular classes, Penn chose to force them into an exclusively online program beginning in 2019. This segregation, and I choose the word advisedly, is truly unfortunate at a time when Americans are more divided than ever, by class as well as by race and ethnicity.

Carol R. Kalin GrEd’17, Philadelphia

In Defense of the Electoral College

In disagreement with most everything author Beau Breslin is reported to espouse in “Constitution, Revised” [“Arts,” Mar|Apr 2022], I write, in particular, in defense of the Electoral College (EC) on these grounds:

First, while the EC arose to avoid a tyranny of the majority of large states over small, it today protects the rural from urban tyranny and also may protect minorities from a tyranny of a majority or regions from a tyranny of other regions.

Second, imagine the chaos, costs, and uncertainty of a national recount, against which the EC further protects.

Third, worse, with more than two candidates, how many votes (and recounts) do we go through to get one winner?

Fourth, the two-party system has often been cited as a bulwark of our democracy, which would also be at risk as various billionaires or covertly foreign-funded popular figures decide they can garner victory by bypassing party structures with enough advertising and social media campaigning.

Fifth, voters insist our presidents be capable of enduring great stress, possess above average if not superior intelligence, and be possessed of vision as the antidote to blind ambition. Requiring candidates to develop a national campaign to win tests those qualities. Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, North Dakota, and other low-density states won’t see another candidate again.

Lastly, eliminating the EC weakens federalism. The states, in Jefferson’s words, are the “laboratory of democracy.” While national uniformity may have an appeal of consistency, it will be and already is, to the extent of federal mandates, a dampener on innovation and personal freedoms. More centralized uniformity is anti-democratic.

In short, be careful what you wish for Mr. Breslin. As Steve Carrell said in the movie Dan in Real Life, “Plan to be surprised!”

Morris A. Nunes C’70 W’70, Waleska, GA

The Antithesis of Democracy

I was pleased to see Beau Breslin include reforming the undemocratic US Senate among his constitutional reform proposals. The antithesis of democracy is 576,851 Americans living in Wyoming having the same power in the Senate as 39,538,223 Americans living in California. Each California American has only 1.46 percent of the Senatorial representation of a Wyoming American. No Taxation With 1.46 Percent Representation!

Such reform need not affect each state’s right to exercise its sovereignty within its own borders.

One could factor out non-citizens, but the case for redressing the inequity would remain.

Bill Marker C’72, Baltimore

It was with great interest that I read “Constitution, Revised.” The interviewer leaves the reader with the distinct impression that the Constitution is some hide-bound document, immutable in its very nature, which anchors the country to the beliefs and legal code of the world in 1787. Not once is it mentioned that this founding document contains the explicit instructions (Article V) for how it can be changed by Congressional Amendment and state ratification, or by calling for a Convention to propose Amendments, whenever a supermajority (2/3rds) of both houses of Congress deem it necessary. So, instead of the once-in-a-generation timetable of Jefferson, we have the freedom to make changes whenever necessary. And it only took four years to write and ratify the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution.

Known collectively as the Bill of Rights, the promise to codify these inherent and inalienable rights was necessary to get some of the states on board with signing the Constitution in 1787. With the ratification of a group of 10 Amendments by 10 states as of December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights was installed as a key part of the original Constitution. Few people know that 12 Amendments were proposed for ratification in that original package submitted to the states. However, one of the remaining two was finally ratified more than 200 years later. In 1992 it became the 27th, and latest, Amendment.

Literally hundreds of Constitutional amendments are proposed and considered in each session of Congress, but only 33 have received enough bipartisan support in both Houses to proceed to the states for their ratification. Five are pending ratification, 27 were ratified and became Amendments, and one failed to achieve ratification during the allotted time. This Constitutional process was devised to allow change, but make such change the result of deliberate thought at the Federal and State level, significant bipartisan support, and ratification by 3/4ths of the States.

It appears that Breslin leans toward radical changes to the Constitution by the Constitutional Convention process. The Convention setting has a major disadvantage. Just as major funding bills are done with a lot of vote swapping (“You vote for my favorite project and I’ll vote for yours”) the Convention structure mitigates against any given amendment being able to attain passage on its own merits, which is something we should always have, but rarely achieve, in omnibus spending bills. I also question that the reform proposals uppermost in his mind have truly “never been embraced or thought about prior to this time.”

Eliminating the Electoral College and embracing “popular election” is not a new concept. In the past, more than 700 amendments were proposed to eliminate the Electoral College. In the wake of the 2000 election, one of those attempts passed in the House by an overwhelming vote of 338 to 70. The Senate Judiciary Committee majority report recommended passage. It appeared headed for the required 2/3rds confirmation vote in the Senate, when the Republican minority opinion written mainly by Michael M. Uhlmann, a graduate student working as counsel to the Republicans, turned the opinions of enough members to produce a defeat. I urge you to look up and read his minority report, “As the Electoral College Goes, So Goes the Constitution.” Interestingly, he envisioned the advent of Professor Breslin and other advocates of “popular election” in its opening paragraph. 
The next reform proposal Breslin lists is “Doing things to reform the undemocratic Senate.” Just as in the requirement of supermajorities for passing amendments, the 60 percent rule to invoke cloture in the Senate is there by design, to ensure bipartisan support of legislation which will impact the entirety of the country… and not just benefit the partisan faction represented by a slim majority. The term “undemocratic Senate” is apparently code for allowing majority rule, no matter how slim that majority. We don’t want a country where the Constitution can be changed at the whim of the majority party in Congress.

Stanley J. Penkala ChE’65 G’71, Pittsburgh, PA

Callous Attitude

While reading the essay “Chainsaw Massacre” by Cynthia McVay [“Salvo,” Mar|Apr 2022], I remembered the land surrounding my late mother’s house. The property supported many mature trees, including a group of evergreens I helped my father plant. Following my mother’s death, the house was placed on the market. Sadly, the buyer expressed a desire to cull a portion of the trees on the property. The buyer’s actual intention overshadowed this. One of my brothers and his wife returned to the area after the sale. They were shocked when seeing the house and surrounding land. All the trees, bushes, and greenery had been removed.

My mother’s house and land sits within a development known for its natural beauty. The area has a beautiful man-made lake and is heavily forested. I question, as does Ms. McVay, why someone would move into an area where others have respected nature, only to strip the land. Such a callous attitude reflects a desire to control. In our increasingly paved world, trees and other flora should be valued.

Penny Kaufman CGS’94, Cleveland, OH

Hope for Saving the Ash

Daphne Glatter’s article about the fall display of the College Hall Green ash tree [“Notes from the Undergrad,” Mar|Apr 2022] discussed the recent deaths of millions of ash trees in the Midwest and Northeast due to the invasion of the emerald ash borers (EAB), which are native to northeast Asia, and arrived in Canada probably in shipping materials a decade or so ago. 

These very destructive invasive insects have caused havoc in all species of ash here because there are no native species which control them, allowing their populations to expand without check anywhere there are ash. While white ash is a valuable commercial hardwood species with many uses due to its strength and relatively light weight, black ash, which many Native American tribes use to make baskets and other items, may be the greater loss due to its cultural significance.

My family owns two woodlands in the northern Berkshires in which ash has been a major component and, like other landowners, we have had harvests to salvage the threatened ash before they died and became valueless. Some of our ash were more than 90 feet tall and three feet in diameter. We are now hosting research by scientists from Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Vermont on how areas with high ash components regenerate after such harvests. 

There is some reason to hope the destructive ways of the EABs may come to an end before we lose all our ash.

Led by researchers from USDA’s Animal Plant Heath & Inspection Service and the US Forest Service’s Forest Heath Program, researchers and field personnel in the Midwest and Northeast have researched possible predators for EABs and their destructive larvae in Asia to see if they might be safely introduced here to do the same thing. Asian ash species have relatively thin bark, but Fraxinus Americana develops a thick plate like bark as it grows. That means that an EAB predator must be able to penetrate the bark to lay its eggs in the EAB larvae and survive subzero winters in the northern US and Canada.

Working with Chinese researchers, scientists eventually identified a wasp from the Russian Far East, Spathius galinae, which has a sufficiently long ovipositor to insert its eggs through the white ash bark into EAB larvae below. Field trials of Spathius galinae in infested ash stands in Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts began in 2016 and studies since have found the number of trees infested with EABs have been substantially reduced in most cases.

While these results are promising, ash trees, particularly large ash, will continue to be infested and killed by EABs until the populations of Spathius galinae can expand sufficiently to turn EABs into just another forest pest, not a forest killer.

For large landscape ashes like the one on College Hall Green, EABs can be controlled by the use of pesticide injections, which cost too much to use in woodlands like ours.

With luck, future generations of Penn students will be able to admire the beauty of large ash, and future generations of landowners like us will be able to grow ash to truly impressive sizes once again. And maybe some of them will be milled into bats the Red Sox use to win another championship.

Gregory Cox C’73, Hawley, MA

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