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Frightening fare, classic defense, non-gooey nostalgia.

Dangers Far Outweigh Benefits of “Reading” Brains

Who’s Minding the Brain?” [January/ February] was truly frightening. Of course the scientists, as Dr. Martha Farah states, would like to reframe this debate by focusing on the few benefits reading brains might deliver, instead of the myriad, possibly detrimental, unknowns, as well as the history of using any technology to support powerful interests. It is just such a denial of facts and history that allowed scientists to develop weapons that can now destroy the world in seconds. Pure science is an abstract notion; there is always a context in which scientists are working. 

Once the genie is out of the bottle, all the ethicists in the world will be unable to put it back. Just as MDs are now working for government grants, so, too, could they be hired by the government or corporations to administer fMRIs. This seems to be satisfactory, regardless of the purpose—as long as MDs are doing the testing. 

It is hard to look at the ethics of one’s job. But when the stakes are so high, it is imperative that a hard look be taken. 

Harlan Levinson W’80 Los Angeles

Quality Beats Quantity

For me, reading Holly Love’s engaging account of the making of Mark Moskowitz C’76’s documentary Stone Reader [“The Constant Reader,” January/February] brought back fond memories of WXPN’s glory days in the mid-1970s, when Moskowitz was a student disc-jockey and the station was a local cultural stronghold whose programmers answered to none but their own discriminating and delightfully eclectic tastes. Now, sadly, the commercial bottom-line and middlebrow fare reign. 

While the filmmaker deserves the strongest praise for his herculean reading habits, one view attributed to him, namely his scorn for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, expressed during a conversation with collaborator Robert Ellis, strikes me as particularly problematic. I find fishing monotonous on a personal level, but Hemingway’s spare, exquisitely modulated prose and mastery of natural lore turn the struggle with the great fish into a feast of nuance. To assert—as Moskowitz apparently does—that this book, “like all classics, [is] no more worthy of reading than books students choose themselves,” is to take a position leading to the untenable conclusion that all readers (and, by analogy, all listeners) are made equal. Yes, by all means honor the interests of students when teaching literature, but the measure of reading is quality, not quantity. Or, as Hemingway puts it: “Never confuse motion with action.” 

James Miles GEd’86 Collingdale, Pa. 

Preconceptions Lost

First of all, I must congratulate you on an issue truly worthy of a cover-to-cover reading. I confess that I am swayed by large scientific contributions, but everything in the January/February issue was fascinating.

At first, I looked upon the essay, “Power to the Students,” [“Alumni Voices”] with trepidation. Much as I enjoy historical discourse, its subtitle—“Nostalgia for an era of protests”—made me cringe. I was, however, delighted, not only by the consummate skill with which the essay was written, but also by its lack of gooey ’60s nostalgia. 

On to “The Double Shift: Managing Careers and Families” [“Gazetteer”]. I found the discussion of the history of women’s move from family or career to career and family fascinating, but I was disappointed that there was no exploration of why that change took place, or indeed, why sociologist Pamela Stone of Hunter College found that women leaving high-powered jobs were “extremely conflicted” about it. Like many of my contemporaries, I grew up with the expectation in my head (not coming from my parents, mind you—this was all me) that I would have a career and a family. No wonder women are conflicted: all their lives, they’ve been bombarded with the notion that if they give up their careers, they’ll be throwing their individuality, their skills, and their training away.

I had no idea how to accomplish the career and family thing, so I’m one of the 1980-1990 graduates who ended up staying home most of the time and manipulating my work around my child. To my astonishment, my preconceptions of lost individuality, skills, and training were shattered.

Instead of presenting us with such a grim article about women making the shift from careers to full-time motherhood, why not publish an article about how stay-at-home, post-career moms can feel positive about their decision? 

Sophia Kelly Shultz C’84 Pottsville, Pa.

Free to Be Wage Slaves?

As a member of the generation of women who lived the women’s liberation revolution, I read about the conference on careers and family with a sense of regretful déjà vu. The same issues were being argued when my grown children were small, and my mother and her fellow college graduates dealt with them before we did.

Three aspects of today’s situation do appear new, however: first, an unrealistic sense of entitlement to a disappointment-free life; second, a loss of the ancient cultural understanding that raising children and making a home and community is serious, demanding work, at least as significant as briefing yet another tedious corporate case or writing one more scantily read journal article; and, third, an appreciation that being an adult means having to make choices.

Your article, for example, quotes a study that defines an “early baby” as one born within five years of the parent’s Ph.D. As many women have learned to their sorrow, one’s thirties do not count as an “early” time to try to have a baby. The truth is that generations of educated women have struggled with these choices, but used different values to make their decisions. They—we—had no doubt that the work of family life has surpassing value well worth making some sacrifice of professional ego to achieve. My late mother, who had a career that ended in retirement with emerita status from the City University of New York, gave her family her main attention for a number of years. It is a canard to say, as does one supposed expert quoted in the article, that stepping temporarily off the conventional career conveyer belt to use one’s talents and education in pursuits that mesh better with family life is a “waste.” I have no doubt that many of the women doing so today will be back doing valuable (though perhaps not as prestigious) professional work in years to come.

Sandra Day O’Connor, a high achiever in a generation older than mine, stepped out of her legal career for a decade to devote herself to her family. She had it right when she said that one can indeed have it all, just not all at the same time.

Beryl Lieff Benderly CW’64 G’66 Washington

Presumptuous and Pompous View Of Educated Women’s Roles

In “The Double Shift: Managing Careers and Families,” I take exception to Dr. Heidi Hartmann’s words: “Even though the rhetoric of the women’s movement supports the choice of women to stay home, I think most of us view it as a waste, especially for highly educated women and shouldn’t make it a socially acceptable alternative.”

Could she be any more pompous? First off, she is presumptuous in saying that “most of us” agree with such a one-sided viewpoint. Second, who exactly does she believe is responsible for taking care of the next generation? Would that be anyone other than the “highly educated?” What a shameful attitude! 

Patricia S. Blumenthal C’83 Brentwood, Tenn.


I was very concerned with the comments of [Emeritus Professor] Edwin Haefele about whether one needed to be brighter to be president of a major university than president of the United States (“Letters,” January/February].

I would think running a university would be a piece of cake vs. running our country and take this as a left-wing liberal comment. I would hope that the Gazette could stay more middle of the road and try not to print such nonsense by someone not even an alum of Penn.

Dotti Cahill Nu’75 Jacksonville, Fla.

Best Ever … Until Next Year?

It must be noted that with Penn’s football team having another outstanding season in 2003, they were the only undefeated football team in either Division 1-A or 1-AA in the nation [“Sports,” January/February]. They truly represented the greatest Ivy League football class ever. During Parents Weekend 2000, Provost Robert Barchi Gr’72 M’72 GM’73 met with parents of freshmen students and told us how our kids were the best students ever accepted by the school. He then said that he would be making the same speech next year. Should the 2004 football team have another outstanding season, they would then become the greatest ever. 

Mark Dicker, Parent Kings Point, N.Y.

Other Penn Alumni and Volunteers Helped Build National Constitution Center

Having much enjoyed “The House that Joe Built,” by Kathryn Levy Feldman in the November/December issue, it occurred to me that there are other Penn alumni in addition to Joe Torselli C’86 who should be included in the kudos for the successful opening of the Constitution Center in July 2003.

Probably the vision award should go to Stuart Feldman C’58 L’61, who proposed a Constitution Center in 1984 to Hobie Cawood, then superintendent of Independence National Historic Park and the then-chairman of the Mayor’s “We, the People Committee” on the 1987 Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution.

Cawood invited Feldman to present his plan, “A Philadelphia Museum and Study Center on the Constitution and the System of Ideas and Institutions that it Fostered” to his planning committee. Cawood then appointed a study committee in September 1985 and Feldman became a consultant to it. That committee was the basis for the initial Board of the National Constitution Center, and Congress passed the Constitution Heritage Act in 1988. Little progress had been made and in 1992 board member Robert Brasler, vice-chairman of Binswanger Real Estate, brought Feldman on to the board.

In January 1994, Brasler became the first CEO and president of the National Constitution Center and Feldman became executive vice-president. They hired exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum, who had just completed the extremely successful National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, to design a preliminary plan. In January 1995, then Mayor Ed Rendell C’65 Hon’00 endorsed the plan, garnering extensive page-one coverage in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Its editorial page became a powerful advocate for the project, running some 17 editorials and features from 1994-1996.

Brasler and Feldman made numerous presentations to the National Park Service starting in 1994, finally succeeding in getting the concept approved in the Park’s long-term plan, presented in October 1996, awarding the NCC a coveted place on Independence Mall. 

They also recruited other important board members, including: Gloria Twine Chisum Gr’60 Hon’94, then vice-chair of Penn’s board of trustees, who helped persuade the University to become the center’s lead intellectual partner; and Vivian Piasecki, an overseer of Penn’s School of Nursing and member of other governing boards, who became co-chair of the NCC fundraising drive. Penn friend William Avery, then chairman of Crown Cork and Seal, persuaded Governor Tom Ridge to grant $30 million for the NCC. 

As in so many big ideas that come to fruition, many people provide the teeth in the cogs which drive them to success. Penn can be duly proud that so many of the members of its community played and continue to play such important parts in the NCC’s immense success.

Susan W. Catherwood, Trustee Bryn Mawr, Pa.

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