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More Corporate than College

I read Dennis Drabelle’s “Gray is Good” [September/October] with interest and was not surprised to learn that William D. Novelli, CEO of AARP, is a Penn grad. I was, however, surprised that he attended the College and not Wharton.

Mr. Novelli apparently runs the AARP with a particularly Wharton-like corporate focus and technique. Recently, as a member of AARP, I wrote directly to him inquiring about AARP’s executive compensation structure. A series of obfuscating responses from his staff convinced me that I might have better luck making such an inquiry to the Department of Homeland Security. So I threw in the towel.

Perhaps he was advised against any disclosure by Director of Policy John Rother L’75 or Director of Federal Affairs David Certner C’80. In any case, I’m sure it was a family affair.

Robert F. Gilbert W’50 Armonk, NY

No Benefit

AARP CEO Bill Novelli says the furor over the organization’s support of the Medicare drug plan was due to a failure to communicate. On the contrary, AARP communicated its priorities quite well. If AARP had opposed the bill, it likely would not have passed. However, AARP put the interests of its pharmacy and insurance businesses first and sold out its members to the Republican Party and Big Pharma.

The new “benefit” is no benefit to me. I am disabled and have both Medicare and Medicaid coverage. Medicaid currently pays for my 16 prescriptions. Starting January 1, I will be required to join the Medicare plan. Since several of the drugs I take are also available over the counter, they will not be covered under the plan. Between paying for those medications in full and the co-pays on my other prescriptions, my drug costs will increase from zero to 10 percent or more of my monthly income.

AARP will have to do more than just listen and talk to its members better if it wants me to join the group when I become eligible in 2007. The resignation of the entire board of directors and the firing of anyone involved in the decision to support the bill, including Novelli, would be a good start.

Dominic F. Manno C’81 Philadelphia

Retirement Program Must Be “Pay as You Go” to Succeed

Laurence Kotlikoff’s essay, “Storm Warning” [“Expert Opinion,” September/October] does not address this underlying problem: If the proportion of the population at work falls faster than output per worker rises, then output per consumer must fall, and someone is bound to lose out no matter what elaborate tax and investment arrangements we have previously made. This specter currently haunts all retirement plans, of which Social Security and other federal plans would be legally and administratively the easiest to fix—at everyone else’s expense—because the federal government can always print enough money to fund legislated supplements to federal retirement programs. But no matter how much money the Fed pumps into the system, we will be able to buy only what is being produced and any attempt to pretend otherwise can lead only to the inflation Professor Kotlikoff rightly warns of. Any universal retirement program is inherently pay-as-you-go.

It is frustrating that many discussions of the impending Social Security crisis wisely begin by noting the decline in workers per retiree from 20:1 toward 2:1, then ignore that real problem in an attempt to bury it with paperwork. I am not saying that current arrangements will make no difference, only that if labor participation does fall faster than labor productivity rises, current paperwork will have failed. What we need currently is to promote rising productivity and retard the decline in the participation rate, and Professor Kotlikoff’s proposals appear to do neither. His proposed arrangements might well be better than the current ones (that’s another question) even if there were no impending crisis, but they do nothing about the crisis itself.

Royall Whitaker C’52 Gr’65 Annapolis, MD

Money and Guns

In light of Laurence Kotlikoff’s correct observation that “Social Security … systematically provides benefits to certain individuals who” do not “need … this support,” I recently wrote, “those who have prospered like Bill Gates and Lew Gerstner certainly have no need for Social Security benefits. Wealthy individuals should have the option to forgo them and for doing so receive a tax benefit equal to 50-60 percent of whatever they were to get. Were someone’s fortunes to change, the option to reinstate benefits would always be there. This idea is good for all ledgers involved.” Given the opportunity, I believe many well-heeled individuals would choose this option.

Relative to Dr. Jean Lemaire’s findings about gun violence and its effect on our lifespan and the cost of our health insurance [“Gazetteer,” September/October] he would do better to focus his efforts on people dying from tobacco, obesity, alcohol, and medical malfeasance. Victims of these causes number a staggering 30 times more per year than those struck down by gun crimes.

Sydney Waud C’63 New York

In Defense of Camden

In the interview with Kathryn Edin, “Putting the Carriage Before Marriage” [“Gazetteer,” September/October], there are so many disparaging comments about Camden, New Jersey, that I had to comment.

I live in North Camden, and see drug dealing many times, but the dealers know me and know that I am not a buyer, and avoid me. Edin’s husband [who she says was approached by dealers while driving a Sunday school van] must not have been much of a member of the community. She says that after living in Camden her child got into a fight when she was enrolled in an upscale Chestnut Hill school later. My kids (five of them) have all been raised in Camden for their entire lives and not one of them is a “fighter.” Our home would not allow it.

Edin’s comments about pregnancy, birth, marriage, etc., are also repugnant. Yes, kids have babies out of wedlock. I blame most of the problem on the school system, which gives students very little encouragement, let alone education. Self esteem for some of the young people is nonexistent, due to poor education and lack of opportunities.

Having babies, and being good moms, is something these young kids can do, and do, in many cases, effectively. Unfortunately, so many of them are unaware of other issues involving parenthood. Finishing school after having a baby is a real challenge.

Camden can be a tough place to live, but you may be surprised how many Penn grads live and work here. We are all trying to make this a better place to live. Edin should have found a few of us before she wrote such damning things about our city in her book.

Annie Greve Sadler CW’68 Camden, NJ

Proud Association

The September/October issue had an article, “Cross Connections” by Gwyneth Leech [“All Things Ornamental,” September/October], which I read with great interest and appreciation. I credit the author for the depth and width of her knowledge on the subject, and her calm adult approach.

I also credit the editors for supporting the inclusion of her article in the Gazette. No wonder I am proud of my association with the University of Pennsylvania.

Karl J. Leone D’47 Venice, FL

Credit Correction

Please allow me to make a small but important correction to your generous profile of the theatre-arts program [“All Things Ornamental,” September/October]. I was not in fact the founder of the program; I was hired the year after it was approved. The program was created through the efforts of a faculty committee which included, among others, Professors Jean Alter, Henry Gleitman, Gerald Prince, Frank Trommler, Richard Wernick, and the committee’s tireless chair (who served as the program’s first chair), Stuart Curran.

Cary M. Mazer, Faculty

Important LEAPP for Healthcare

I so appreciated your recent article by Huntly Collins on the School of Medicine’s new LEAPP program [“LEAPP of Faith,” July/August]. As an alumna of the School of Nursing, I found the content of your article was particularly encouraging. Creating an environment where medical students can interface with and learn from a typical chronically ill person they will be serving for most of their career is critical to the success of physicians, not to mention healthcare as a whole, in our country. I sincerely hope that more medical schools will follow this brave lead and change the course of medical education for the better.

In 1992 I participated in “Bridging the Gaps: Creating Health Partnerships in Philadelphia” as part of the Community Health Summer Internship Program. Bridging the Gaps brought together student interns, faculty preceptors, and community mentors from four Philadelphia schools of medicine (including Penn, MCOP, Hahneman, and Jefferson), and Penn’s School of Nursing to begin to collaborate on ways to improve the healthcare services of many of the underserved Philadelphia neighborhoods. Being a part of that program changed my perspective on how important it is for all healthcare disciplines to be deeply involved in community health and thereby change the lives of many chronically ill persons for the better.

Jennifer Carson Nu’93 Chandler, AZ

More Music

I just wanted to write and thank you for the article about the Music Department [“Expect to Hear Music,” July/August]. I was a music major, and it brought back a lot of wonderful memories of the professors who made my time at Penn so exciting, mind-stretching, and enjoyable. I also remember performance being a big part of my daily life.

One vivid performance memory comes from a composition class with composer Jay Reise, one of my favorite teachers. We were learning the structure of four-part motets and each week we worked on another composition exercise. Normally, I was pretty conscientious about playing my compositions in the Music Department’s practice rooms before I brought them to class, but I’d run out of time this week. Consequently, I was as surprised as the rest of the class when Reise played my composition and it turned out to be the most monotonous, droning, pitiful-sounding creation: I’d mixed up my clefs and ended up having two and sometimes three of the four voices singing the exact same note at the same time, over and over and over again. It was a brutally minimalist motet, something Philip Glass might have written if he’d been hit too hard on the head. I would have been embarrassed but for the kindness of Professor Reise and my fellow classmates declaring my motet exercise “unbelievably Zen.”

Christina Uss C’95 Sylmar, CA

Crew Memories

The article concerning Joe Burk, “Portrait of a Legend” [“Sports,” July/August], evoked a number of memories. I had been a member of the lightweight crew at the time he became head crew coach in the fall of 1950. Most of us had learned to row under Rusty Callow and didn’t know what to expect from Joe, although we figured he would be a stern taskmaster.

Unfortunately, Joe’s arrival coincided with Penn’s decision to drop lightweight crew as a recognized sport in an economy move. Several of us kept rowing anyway, with Joe’s consent and the guidance of a volunteer coach. As it turned out, we were pretty successful, winning both the intercollegiate championship and the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley in 1951 and 1952. When we went to England the first time, Joe and his wife accompanied us as part of our small entourage.

Raymond M. Dorsch Jr. C’52 M’56 Lebanon, PA

Magazine’s Growth Reflects Penn’s

I was sorry to see that Dr. Kastor finds so little of merit in the Gazette [“Letters,” July/August]. Perhaps he should try reading more than the alumni notes and obituaries. I agree that the magazine has grown substantially. I see that as a reflection of Penn’s own growth and increasing complexity, and I want to know what’s happening at Penn today!

Yes, there is a lot to read, and I often don’t finish the magazine for a month or two—but it is always timely and I value the opportunity to keep up with campus from all perspectives, not just the alumni one.

I am a member of the Secondary School Committee, and as such I interview prospective Penn students. The Gazette helps me portray the University knowledgeably and comprehensively to students who want and need to know what to expect at Penn today, not the Penn that I knew as an undergrad (nor even as a staff member in the 1990s).

Kudos on an outstanding magazine that I look forward to reading, largely for the diversity and depth of its content.

Deborah Director Liebman Nu’63 Elkins Park, PA

Emphasize Articles Over Obits (But Easy on the Fancy Graphics)

I heartily concur that the articles in the last couple of years are much more wide-ranging and interesting. If it were up to me, I would certainly emphasize them much more than the obits. Each student at Penn knows a number of professors and other students, but the majority of the names in the obits are probably unknown to him/her. The articles, however, are of general interest and quite often feature people that one might know or have known. If the publication were just obits, you can be sure you would never more receive my subscription.

As I age, however, I find more and more that I like black print of decent size on a white background. The fancy graphics and dark backgrounds are often impossible to read even while wearing magnifiers.

Keep up the good work.

Susan Rohrbach CW’61 G’64 Bisbee, AZ

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