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Varied contributions, missing response, distanced deprivation, bathtub blunder, letters on letters, and more.

Cover of the July-August issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette

Moving Tribute

I was moved by “Penn and the Pandemic” [Jul|Aug 2020], which covers the multidiscipline range of specialties and perspectives of the Penn community during the coronavirus crisis—from hospital administrators to infectious disease physicians and biologists, to nurses, transportation executives, restaurateurs, as well as education, public health, history, and other experts. It made me realize how much I was unaware of and missed during my three years at Penn, largely sequestered away in the law library. Your article is a tribute to what it means to be a great university and to the many Penn people who are making substantial contributions on an ongoing basis. They deserve grateful thanks from all of us.

Dave Keehn L’72, Leeds, MA

One Alumnus Left Out

The Gazette article about “how the University and alumni have responded to the current crisis” lets us pat ourselves on the back while ignoring the response of our most prominent alumnus. President Donald Trump W’68’s denialism and constant misinformation have almost surely made the pandemic much worse—and cost many lives.

I am a proud Penn Law graduate, and I too wish Trump would just go away, but we can’t ignore him. This article makes me think that maybe Trump’s method for dealing with Corona is something he learned at Penn: when you helped create a problem, your best bet is to just ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Francisco Martinez L’07, Los Angeles

At Least the British Didn’t Have to “Social Distance” During the Blitz

Thank you for your article about Churchill [“Courage Through History,” Jul|Aug 2020]. And thank you to Erik Larson for his book. 

I happened to start reading The Splendid and the Vile shortly before the pandemic. As a psychoanalyst, I couldn’t help but contrast our 2020s New York City population with the 1940s British in terms of psychological responses to the respective horrors. Notwithstanding the risks and frightening concerns of being blown to smithereens at any moment by air bombers, and of soon being invaded by the Nazis, British morale remained superior to ours. I believe that this was due to gratification of the two essential drives or needs that were first identified by Freud: Love and Hate.

During their ordeal, the British always enjoyed the benefits of affectionate engagement with their loved ones—as well as readily interacting in friendliness and even physical contact with strangers (as in the bomb shelters). In other words, “social distancing,” as required to reduce coronavirus contagion, represents a profound psychological deprivation. 

The British all shared in their hatred of Hitler and the Nazis. Here in 2020, our aggression has been diverted into multiple opposing channels, amplifying our long-standing polarization. Thus we are deprived of the gratification of being united in expressing hatred towards a common enemy. 

If not for those two considerations, I think that even Churchill might have become more vulnerable to polarization (as he was at other points in his career). 

David Port C’60, New York

Illustration Undermined Exemplar of Leadership

Having just completed The Splendid and the Vile, I was surprised and intrigued to see the book and its author featured in the Gazette, but profoundly disappointed by the illustration [showing Churchill lounging in the bath] accompanying the article.

The book presented a complex human being who transcended his foibles to provide the great leadership his people needed. It showed one need not be superhuman to be a great leader; in fact, Churchill’s humanity was essential to his leadership, as when he wept in public while inspecting bomb sites.

At a time when the world once again desperately needs great leadership, and many of us ardently yearn for it, the editor’s choice of image, which featured the man’s foibles while excising his leadership, undermined an exemplar whose story can give us hope that the leadership we need now is possible.

Kennard Wing G’89, Havertown, PA

Who’s a Good Therapy Dog Article?

I have spent a good part of my life writing and reading articles relating to dogs. Kathryn Levy Feldman’s dog therapy article [“Power of the Pup,” Jul|Aug 2020] is without question one of the best, most comprehensive articles I have ever read on this particular aspect of the human/dog connection. Thank you for your thoughtful listening, your considered questions, and your accurate portrayal of our experience.


Laurie Leevy, parent, Merion Station, PA

The writer and her dog Lahdee were featured in “Camp Comforters,” a sidebar to the main article about the use of therapy dogs at a bereavement camp for children run by Penn Medicine Hospice.—Ed.

Long Live Majoring in the DP

Congratulations to Eric Jacobs for his 40-year career at the Daily Pennsylvanian [May|Jun 2020].

I was a DP staffer before Eric arrived, so we never crossed paths. However, I’m impressed by how he has guided the DP through the daunting challenges that all newspapers face.

The article referred to “majoring in the DP,” and that has been true for many of us who devoted a significant portion of our undergraduate lives to the paper. Our educations occurred both inside and outside the classrooms.

After graduation, I worked as a journalist before earning an MBA and switching to the business side of newspapers. The papers were profitable and served their communities well, but once the internet arrived, ad revenue and readership started eroding, first slowly, then precipitously. Now some newspapers are folding and their communities lack local journalism.

I hope Eric’s successor can keep the DP operating as a vital University institution. Students should have the opportunity to experience grassroots journalism, and everyone benefits from having a newspaper—in print or digital—focused on the Penn community.

Andy Candor C’73, Fort Wayne, IN

Still Trying

It was interesting to recently read “I Quit,” by Rachel Friedman [“Alumni Voices,” May|Jun 2020], as on June 2, I lost yet another attempt for elective office.

Friedman rightly says, “There must be some middle ground between identity-rattling despondency and all-conquering optimism when it comes to failure, a space where we can accept setbacks without becoming victim to them—but also without needing to mythologize them as mere stops on the way to success.”

Most Penn alumni, let alone most people, will never get a profile in the Gazette for their great career accomplishments, just a brief He was a retired lawyer, at Penn he worked for Hillel in the obituaries. I am proud as I approach 70 that I am still trying to serve the public interest, and wish Ms. Friedman a good life, whether or not her aborted viola career leads to a successful writing career.

Bill Marker C’72, Baltimore

No Awareness of Racism’s Effect on Economic Outcomes

I found the letters published in response to the May|Jun article “Inequality Economics” fascinating [“Letters,” Jul|Aug 2020].

Three of the letters were submitted by Wharton grads. And all three curiously expressed no awareness of the role systemic racism plays in economic outcomes.

It concerns me that in the past one might graduate Wharton and apparently not be exposed to the extensive evidence supporting the existence of this critical determinant of socioeconomic status.

Hopefully current Wharton students receive a more rounded educational experience and will be able to become better informed leaders in shaping America’s response to inequality.

David Berman C’73, Andover, MA

Another Approach to Attracting Talent

“Inequality Economics” is a very interesting article that seems to focus on marginal tax rates as the principal way to address this issue. Why not consider other approaches such as financial incentives to help students pursuing STEM majors? That old saying “as the tree is bent so grows the tree” may have more relevance here in attracting talent to certain societal beneficial endeavors than just tax rates and also may be easier to administer and adjust as required.

Frank Edwards EE’54 WG’56, Venice, FL

Lost in Translation

Thank you for the interesting story about Dotdash [“Dotdash Rising,” May|Jun 2020].

I saw one small item that I think is incorrect. 

On page 52, paragraph 4, the text says, “(the dot was taken from aboutdotcom, and the dash in Morse code is the letter A).”

Long ago, I was in the Boy Scouts. At the time, one of the requirements for one of the early badges was to learn Morse Code. I did enough to satisfy the requirement. I memorized the easy codes, E, one dot; I, two dots; etc. Surprisingly, I still remember these, including the one, two, and three dashes; T, M, and O, respectively.

When I read the explanation for the name of the company, something didn’t seem right. I checked Google to see if my memory was correct. Yes. A single dash is the letter T.

The code for the letter A is dot dash. That lines up with the A, presumably from the former name,

Thanks again for an interesting story. 

John J. Landers WG’63, Bethesda, MD

Government’s Role

Before COVID-19, hiring practices already bestowed on workers several part-time jobs, all of which were unencumbered with the shackles of assured continuity and benefits. These practices allowed employees to constantly fly high on adrenaline while running nonstop between several jobs or gigs, not having to waste much time on social or family life, but having the “freedom” to manage their own meager savings and health provisions with little knowledge of either.

Against this doleful background, Stu Mahlin’s provocative letter in praise of freedom [“Letters,” May|Jun 2020, responding to the Mar|Apr issue’s “Expert Opinion” essay, “Kronos Syndrome” ] calls for a response. It starts by citing cautiously that the rising gigantism of corporations may have hurt today’s workers while providing efficiencies to consumers. Using this skepticism as a stepping-stone, he brings out as an obvious corollary the familiar right-wing trope that government concentration is also bad.

Since both gigantisms are mainly due to the same set of causes, namely the quest for efficiencies of scale through the Information Revolution, why is corporate growth good but matching governmental growth bad? Well, Mahlin’s letter claims that taxpayers are suffering.

He goes on to point to the civil servants as the villains who create taxpayer suffering! To blame the powerless underlings for the failings of their imposed superiors is simply wrong; yet it fits well into the right-wing bubble’s mythology.

The nation’s predicament has been heightened of late by the COVID-19 plague. In this terrible time, effort should be spent toward more clearly understanding the government’s role. It is there to realize the collective endeavors that private interests won’t or shouldn’t tackle. In this country, the Right claims to prefer small government, yet relishes the oversize military that only a massive governmental structure can support.

It is becoming clear that halting the virus, if not eradicating it entirely, is going to require a friendly collective effort among a coalition of well-run and resourceful governments, all of them relying on science rather than self-centered myths—and probably using well-supplied military assets already in place for peace corps activities.

William Acar GrW’83, Boulder, CO

Compelling Interview

“American Byzantine” [Mar|Apr 2020] was fascinating! I usually just skim the Gazette, but I read every word of this compelling interview. Thank you for this informative and inspirational piece.

Nina Szap Ditmar SW’86, Manahawkin, NJ

Rare Insight

I thoroughly enjoyed the articles featuring architect Andrew Gould in the Mar|Apr 2020 issue [“American Byzantine” and an accompanying book excerpt, “Onion Domes in the Old South”]. It was a rare insight into a creative process that supports value-centered architecture; successfully capturing the essence of a religious belief in stunningly beautiful forms and spaces. The approach Gould uses came across as being closer to the reverential and creative continuation of a tradition, than the re-casting of an “historical fantasy.”

Refreshing too, was Gould’s ability to scale back elements of the design to fit a client’s budget, whether it be a religious building or residence—yet without reducing the essence or function of the space. Such adroit flexibility seems worth noting. Beautiful architecture can lift the spirit, and surely contributes to making us better human beings.

Simon Herbert GFA’88, Tucson, AZ

In Good Company

I have no connection with the University of Pennsylvania, other than the fact that my brother, Charles Kerpelman G’56, was a graduate student in mathematics at Penn in the early 1950s. I have long thought that my alumni publication, the Johns Hopkins Magazine, was the best in the country—consistently well-written, interesting, and substantial. Recently while in a waiting room I picked up an old (May|Jun 2019) issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette to while away the time until called for my appointment. The subjects of the feature articles (such as Nicholas Christakis, Charles Bernstein, Jean Chatzky) were as fascinating and singular as the writers of those articles (Julia Klein, Daniel Akst, Caren Lissner) were probing and clear. I now must admit that I consider the Pennsylvania Gazette as one of the best in the country (along with, still, Johns Hopkins Magazine).

Larry Kerpelman, Acton, MA

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