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Comments “Wrongly Interpreted”

I wish to correct a grave error that appeared in an otherwise thoughtful article about me and the work of our office, Olin Partnership [“Mr. Olin’s Neighborhood,” July|Aug].

I do not think Bruce Ratner is a terrible person. Nor do I wish to be seen disparaging him, his firm, or his work.

Bruce is a remarkable individual, a warm, passionate, hard-working optimist who has been enormously supportive of me (personally and professionally) and of our office, entrusting the design of the landscape and public open spaces of the most ambitious project of his entire career to us. His record of public good works and services is enormous, and the city of New York and its citizens have been beneficiaries of his charity and personal involvement in countless ways. At this time his firm is embarked upon several projects of exceptional design quality that I admire greatly.

Whatever I may have said to Trey Popp, the writer and an editor of the Gazette, that was taken to be critical of any past projects was surely wrongly interpreted. As with many of the people I have met and successfully worked for, I may have had differences with some of his thoughts or earlier work: but, that is neither here nor there. I have shared my views with Bruce and his associates, as candor and honesty are essential for people to develop the understanding and trust needed to be able to work together on long, difficult projects under pressure. Until now we have gotten along well and very productively.

Many members of the press and media as well as others have been negative about the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn and seize upon whatever they can to criticize and attack the project. Apparently remarks that I am quoted as saying to your magazine have now been pounced upon and are widespread in various blogs and on the Internet. This is truly unfortunate as they do not reflect my feelings or professional judgment.

At this moment he and his development company are engaged in the construction of a significant and beautiful new high-rise tower in lower Manhattan designed by Frank Gehry that will have a much needed school in its base. Bruce also has been a supportive advocate for the work of my partner, Lucinda Sanders, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City, where he has served generously for many years on its board, and he has offered a large role to us in the important Atlantic Yards project, as you note.

The last thing in the world I would wish to do is to personally attack and insult Bruce Ratner, who until the article in the Gazetteappeared, I believe, was and hopefully still can be a friend and truly remarkable client.

Laurie D. Olin, faculty Philadelphia

We regret any ill feelings that resulted from the article, but stand by its accuracy.—Ed.

Dehumanizing Photo and Essay

I have enjoyed reading the Gazette for almost the past 40 years so I was baffled and saddened to open the latest issue and discover the dehumanizing photo-illustration of Seung-Hui Cho and the equally dehumanizing essay regarding his behavior by Martin Seligman [“Expert Opinion,” July|Aug].

As a mental health professional who values compassion and inquiry, I found this essay sorely lacking in its moralistic approach to the very difficult but scientific study of human behavior and mental illness.

Seligman’s fear of further stigmatizing those who are “crazy” by grouping them with those who are “evil” would be comic if the harm done by such deconstruction were not so egregious. Seligman sounds the trumpet for the very behavior that drives people away from treatment: being labeled crazy or evil.

Rather than staking out a moral position on the problems of objectionable and sometimes horrific human behavior, I believe we should be attempting to discover what drives us, all of us, and how we can assist those who suffer and/or who cause suffering to become more comfortable with our precious but not perfect humanity.

The science of mental health is neither a witch hunt nor a simplistic enumeration of categories. Rather it is a study of the profound biological, social, cultural, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional systems that provide the ground for the behaviors of all human beings. It is shameful that a man with as many apparent advantages and as much education as Seligman should suggest otherwise and that the Gazette would publish such an inflammatory photograph which promotes more stereotyping, fear, and hatred.

Aaron J. Poller C’69 GrNu’91 Winston-Salem, N.C.

Calling Evil By Its Name

How refreshing to read a sentence like this in the Gazette: “If we haven’t been to graduate school, we know evil when we see it.” The widespread existence of evil is arguably the world’s most pressing problem (possibly even greater than global warming or irradiated food).

Why are so many in academia unwilling to confront it or even define it? Using inappropriate words because the correct one might have religious connotations doesn’t seem consistent with an open mind. As Joseph Butler once put it: “Everything is what it is, and not another thing.”

Yeah, he was a priest.

David Bolger D’79 Williamstown, NJ

Armchair Diagnosis

Seligman’s essay is an armchair diagnosis of the late Seung-Hui Cho and his murderous rampage at Virginia Tech. Without having had Cho as a client, or access to Cho’s records, Seligman excludes him from those “wonderful, humane, ‘crazy’ people that psychologists and psychiatrists routinely treat.” But as Seligman knows, “crazy” is not a diagnostic term, and some of those “wonderful humane people” can perform horrendous deeds; perhaps the famous psychiatrist Theodore Reich was right in believing that all human beings are murderers at heart.

Had Cho not committed suicide, his ability to distinguish right from wrong could only have been determined by thorough psychiatric assessment, and ultimately in a court of law. In my opinion, it is regrettable that Seligman, with his education and experience, wrote such a poor essay, and that it was published as “expert opinion.”

Jackson P. Hershbell G’56 Lexington, VA

Nothing Funny about Speeding Violation

It was with mixed feelings that I read Jason Schwartz’s piece “Report from Blacksburg” [“Notes From the Undergrad,” July|Aug]. Not about the content of the essay, nor the quality of the reporting, but about The Daily Pennsylvanian sending staff to cover a national event. Did the DP really need to add to the crush of media on the Virginia Tech campus?

One might fairly conclude that the road trip was more about Jason, Paul, and Taylor getting journalistic experience covering a national event than needing to have the DP on the scene.

The flip side of the mixed feelings is that the Virginia Tech students they interviewed probably felt better talking with a fellow college student than a talking head with a microphone from the national or regional broadcast media.

Finally, since I am involved in traffic safety as part of my work in transportation planning, I cannot overlook the somewhat glib reference to “one speeding violation later—it was 90 in a 65.” Consider these statistics: killed at Virginia Tech, 33; killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2005, 43,443. Which is the national tragedy? If Jason and his crew had been killed, or killed some other travelers while speeding to their story, which story would have been on the front page of the DP?

I hope the judge in Woodstock, Virginia, is not lenient with Mr. Schwartz and his 90 mph behavior, for his own sake and the sake of innocent people who share the road with him.

Steven Gayle C’71 Binghamton NY

But Here’s How to Beat the Rap

I was reading along in the essays section of the July|Aug issue and I stumbled on Jason’s lament about a speeding ticket in Virginia. Here is my two cents:

  1. Attend the court hearing. In Virginia, if you’re out of state, the judge will dismiss the case or, at worst, reduce the charges.
  2. Prior to attending the hearing, attend a driver improvement course and take proof of that to the hearing.
  3. Tell your story.
  4. I don’t think you need a lawyer for this one. Your story and a driver improvement certificate should be enough to get you through.

Great story by the way.

Peter Manda G’89 New Brunswick, NJ

The writer also offered a recommendation for a lawyer in Virginia, just in case. Jason, if you need the name, get in touch.—Ed.

Left Wing Ranting and Raving

Ben Yagoda’s “review” of Frank Luntz’ new book, Words That Work, was childish and insulting to your readers [“All Things Ornamental,” July|Aug].

You say that you are not partisan. Yet, here again is the left wing ranting and raving of some insignificant professor, whose condescension is appalling.

Please, from now on, let us have serious book reviews or none at all.

Steve Blumberg W’66 WG’67 L’70 Victoria, BC, Canada

Culture of Communication

In a letter published in the July|Aug issue, Jay Heldman notes that he has never found the Gazette “to be an interesting magazine … the articles have been boring.” In the 49 years that the Gazette has been delivered to my home, I confess that numerous copies have gone unopened and many others have been read in a narrowly selective manner. This neglect however, when it has occurred, has been a function of time, not of interest.

In fact I have been impressed by the continual effort that is made by the editorial staff to stimulate its readership by the ideas, experiences, and commentary that they and their contributors compose each issue. I sometimes imagine the challenges faced by the editors in preparing a layout from month to month that will appeal to their highly diverse, analytic, and opinionated audience.

As becomes a publication affiliated with a university, the writing often stimulates dissent, differing views, and downright contrariness—representing an important culture of communication in a world in which polarization and cultural isolation seems to be more and more the norm. Not unlike a family, the readers of the Gazette find themselves bound historically by the claim of a common alma mater but diverging in views, interests, and life experiences.

As evidenced by the broad scope of their selected topics and their toleration of controversy, I think the editors and authors of the Gazette deserve our thanks.

John F. McCahan C’58 M’63 Weston, MA

Our sincere gratitude to Mr. McCahan and the several other readers who wrote in defense of the magazine. And we continue to welcome all your suggestions and comments, positive or negative, about the Gazette.—Ed.

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