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Family preservation defended, circus no life for animals, DuBois and change.

   To justify his attack on family-preservation programs, Dr. Richard Gelles righteously barks out that “To hold children hostage as part of some perverse experiment to see if this time drug-rehab will take, is wrong” [“The Children’s Crusaders,” May/June]. For a college professor, and head of the nascent Children’s Group, Dr. Gelles shows an alarming lack of understanding of why we should work to keep families together. Preservation programs struggle to solidify families, not for the good of the parents, but for the best interests of the child.
    Ripping a child from its mother and/or father can cause severe psychological trauma to the child by destroying the parent-child bonds–an injury, which, although invisible to the naked eye, can cripple the child for life. Dr. Gelles’ “damn-the-parents” attitude will ultimately lead to the unnecessary and deeply debilitating removal of children from their families.
    I agree with Dr. Gelles and his colleagues that we must focus more attention on the child-welfare system and take significant steps toward making it work better for the children in its care. However, to succeed at this daunting and sacred task, we will need to think more carefully and less self-righteously than Dr. Gelles does.

   Douglas Lasdon
   Executive Director, Urban Justice Center
   New York

Travels with Tarzan: A Documentary Odyssey,” by Robin Rosenthal C’76 [May/June], perpetuates a romantic, idealized view of the circus, focusing on the hardships and accomplishments of the spirited human performers and staff. However, Rosenthal only reveals one facet of circus life; the piece mentions only in passing the animals who perform in the circus. In fact, life in the circus is anything but romantic and exciting for the animals, who lead sad, lonely lives and die prematurely. Circus animals are kept chained up for most of the time they are not performing, and are transported for long periods in train compartments that are stifling in summer and freezing in winter, without food and water. They receive little veterinary care and are forced to perform even when severely ill. Cruel methods such as beatings and jabbing with meathooks are used to train circus animals to perform the unnatural acts that appear so amusing to some people.
    As if the abuse were not bad enough, circus animals pose a threat to the human members of the circus as well as to the general public. There have been several incidents in recent years in which stressed-out and mistreated elephants have run amok, killing and injuring several people. Several circus tigers have also attacked and mauled their trainers out of frustration, causing more deaths and injuries.
    Many wonderful circuses, such as Cirque du Soleil, do not use animal acts. They dazzle the public with thrilling acts performed by humans, all of whom have made the conscious choice to participate in the circus. There is no reason why animals should be exploited to provide cheap thrills to humans.

   Elise Auerbach

    I suspect Dr. W.E.B. DuBois would be amazed and indeed gratified at the change in the political and academic climate between the time when I last saw him when he addressed a small gathering at the Ethical Society in Rittenhouse Square (in the late 1940s?) and now, as witnessed by the conference recently held in his name [“Gazetteer,” May/June].
    One thing he spoke of then that has always stuck in my memory was his sadness in revisiting Philadelphia and finding that so little had changed for the better so far as the black population was concerned since his days there 50 years before. I wonder what his assessment would be today were he to gaze over the vast social wilderness of North Philly and other disaster areas in Penn’s Green Country Towne?

   Norman Kane
   C’49 Gr’51
   Pottstown, Pa.

    I was startled to see the photo of Nora Magid in the Gazette [“Alumni Voices,” May/June]. She was an avid (Polaroid) photographer, but a very unwilling subject.
    I read the article with keen interest and pleasure; I was one of the lucky students who took Nora’s expository writing class. Although I pursued a career in business, not journalism, and hold two business degrees, no course had a more profound impact on my life and career than Nora’s. The writing skills I learned are invaluable; and I use them every day. Right now, as I write this letter, I wonder what Nora would do to it. Which sentences would she extract and have dissected on the chalkboard? Is it just right, or are there superfluous words I could eliminate?
    I miss Nora very much and wish I could share my appreciation for her with her. Instead, I edit this letter for the last time and share it with you.

   Kathy Sklar Ordan
   Bethesda, Md.

  Let the May/June “Notes From the Undergrad” [“Is This Love That I’m Feeling? Warning: Material not suitable for Penn parents“] also be a warning to potential Penn benefactors that donations may well end up providing a roof for hit shows like MTV’s Loveline. Described as “a mixture of entertainment and education … often X-rated … [and laced with] the f-word,” the show was held, rather appropriately these days, “on the eve of [Saint] Valentine’s Day.”
    A slightly older generation might have enjoyed a similar evening with the likes of Howard Stern and Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Going back even further, Lenny Bruce’s star once shined bright. In any case, perhaps the Annenberg and Zellerbach families, whose names honor the complex that housed the recent sell-out performance, now may be just as happy to have their gifts rechristened as the Jenny Jones Center and the Jerry Springer Auditorium, respectively. After all, that brand of entertainment has become as American as apple pie.

   Cyrus J. Sharer
   St. Davids, Pa.

The Penn administration-appointed task force goal of “altering the culture of alcohol use” [“Gazetteer,” May/ June] is simplistically sophomoric and as naive as selling 3.2 beer in 1933. Penn students are violent beneath apparent studiousness, so be realistic: provide vigorous, healthy social violence like men-women volleyball on Fridays. (Serve free cola to thirsty combatants.)

   Susan Dexter Moesel
   Decatur, Ala.

   When your March/April issue managed to wend its way across the Atlantic to reach me here in Russia, I was interested to see the piece by Lisa Hayden C’85 G’89 regarding her experiences here [“Other Places: Russian Lessons“].
    I must say that I was also somewhat disappointed. Hayden mentions in passing the fact that she was in Russia during the “bombing” of the Russian White House, but doesn’t give any details. She says that she met friends she’ll “keep for life,” but doesn’t tell us anything personal about them. She spent an extremely long period in residence, but doesn’t offer anything like an explanation of why she did so, of what attracted her to remain for so long in the Russia which she depicts as insanely violent, poisoned by radioactivity and generally hopeless. She gives a brief, if somewhat addled, explanation of what “drew her to Russia” in the first place, but really no information at all about why she stayed.
    Although no American living in Russia could avoid sharing many of her general negative impressions about the character of life here, there are many people who choose, for various reasons, to live that life–and have plenty of good reasons for doing so. What’s the point of writing about an important and misunderstood place like Russia without exploring them? I must say, moreover, that, having lived in New York for three years, I don’t see much difference between the kind of violence that goes on there and that which she describes in her article. Also, I haven’t heard any stories recently about schoolyards full of children being mown down by automatic weapons fire, as I repeatedly do from the United States, or of babies being killed in their cradles by stray fire from drug shoot-outs (a regular occurrence in New York the last time I checked).
    I often felt quite nervous riding on the New York subway, but I ride the St. Petersburg metro at any time of the day or night, in any area of the city, without the slightest trepidation.
    I must also say that I tend to doubt Hayden would “keep” her “friends for life” in Russia if they saw the article. Having “world-class concerts” and speaking Russian isn’t much of a review of their country after spending half a decade there. Nor is having “no nostalgia” about leaving it. Nor is “finding yourself” by being submerged in “death and violence.”
    Finally, as someone who’s lived in Russia for three years outside of Moscow, I have to point out that life in Moscow doesn’t resemble, in any respect, life in any other part of the country. Moscow now is like a Fellini-esque Xanadu, whose population is as representative of Russia as New York’s is of the United States. I lived in the city of Kursk for two years, for example, and never once saw a corpse.
    I was left wondering, since I wasn’t told, why Hayden chose to live in Moscow rather than the northern city of Archangel she often visited, or any other place.
    In short, Russia can’t be expected to make the transition to a new way of life following 10 centuries of autocracy in any smooth or reasonable way, and although it shows no signs of any progress just now and may indeed destroy itself in the attempt, it is not a land without redeeming graces and ought to be understood in all its dimensions. America took a century and a half to give women the vote, a century to free the slaves and only recently elected a professional wrestler governor of a state. Russians have never been blessed with a George Washington and will probably need much longer to solve their own problems, if indeed they ever can.
    On the whole, therefore, I found reading this article an empty and unsatisfying experience that left me wondering why I’d bothered. I hope other readers didn’t share my view, or if they did, that they won’t draw overly simplistic conclusions about Russia therefrom.

   Andrew C. Miller
   C’86 G’87
   St. Petersburg, Russia

As a native of Guatemala (born of North American parents) with numerous years of living in Guatemala, Mexico and Paraguay, as well as other parts of the world, I was intrigued by Susan T. deLone’s account of visiting persons she calls Mayan women in Guatemala [“Other Places: Guatemalan Diary,” Mar/Apr]. Several problems with her report stand out:
    Sending a yoga instructor, a t’ai chi teacher, a psychologist and a massage therapist for a visit–she doesn’t say for how long, but it was probably brief–may make the visitors feel better but will have little effect on the women in that country. Can a psychologist who must rely on an interpreter from the dialect (Mayan is not spoken, but many indigenous languages exist) into Spanish and then into English help anybody? Subsistence dwellers do not need the luxury of massages; they need tools for their skills and markets for their products.
    Also, deLone describes breakfast with only tortillas. Nobody in Guatemala eats only tortillas for breakfast. Beans and tortillas will provide a diet for the day. Chickens are common in that region. Fruit is plentiful. Coffee comes from the highlands.
    Finally, if she was in the highlands, where the indigenous population predominates, these people could not have had their complex destroyed by Hurricane Mitch. I visited Guatemala in December; the damage from the hurricane was in the eastern coastal area.
    Privileged North Americans who make touch-and-go visits to depressed areas of the world may believe they do good; they themselves probably feel better. The inhabitants are gracious and, in some cases, astute enough to allow them the deception of offering aid.

   Robert G. Collmer
   Waco, Texas

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