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0913_coverPixar and Penn, Perfect Match

Penn at Pixar” in the Sept|Oct Gazette was particularly enjoyable. It was well written by Molly Petrilla and nicely photographed by Ethan Pines. But we should’ve guessed that there was a cadre of Penn alumni somewhere behind the quality work that comes from Pixar year after year. Thanks to Paul Kanyuk, Nicole Grindle, Ana Lacaze Jordan, David Baroff, Samantha Raja, and all of your colleagues for your high standards and dedication. I have to agree with Samantha, who suggested that the work feels important. You are contributing some happiness and inspiration to a world that needs it, and what’s more important than that?

John Haseltine C’81 G’88 Dallas, GA

Emotional Reaction, Analyzed

In the article, “Shell’s Odyssey” [Sept|Oct], one sentence sounded wrong: “One of the best essays Shell ever read, he says, was Shafique’s emotional account of running into an Amish family in Center City and how, despite being mentally drained from an eight-hour MCAT preparatory class, he was overcome with emotion as he listened to them break into some kind of hymn.”

The word that rings false here is despite, where because of would be more apt. It’s been known for millennia that physical stressors such as fasting, exertion, and sleep deprivation can make a person more susceptible to strong emotional reactions, including those of a “numinous” sort. That’s why such stressors are a key feature of vision quests, for instance.

In my own life, perhaps the clearest example of this occurred during a lab class for which I had stayed up all night preparing a report. While the immediate stimulus was seeing a stream of electrons make a perfect semicircle in the highly uniform magnetic field between Helmholtz coils, I recognized even then that my sleep-deprived state was a factor in my experiencing this very emotionally as an apprehension of “absolute reality.”

Eric Hamell C’84 Philadelphia

You Say Atrium, I Say …

As always the Gazette is stimulating, thoughtful, and diverse in its topics. Thank you for a consistently insightful magazine.

I read “Civic Hacker” [Sept|Oct] with great interest, as IT and government policy are areas this 1975 Wharton MBA tracks. Replacements to the THOMAS website are greatly appreciated, and Josh Tauberer sounds totally engaged in bringing more access to government data in general. “Transparency” has been tossed around for some years now within the current administration. Nice to see some activism in this area, although security and privacy are always buddies that ground any progress made in openness.

But I have a very specific nit to pick with writer Alyson Krueger’s description of where she met Tauberer: “the atrium to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.” With just a little more diligence, she could have avoided this error in attribution.

The building is officially known as the Smithsonian Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery share housing in this magnificent building that went through a six-year renovation in the first part of this century. The building is still referred to colloquially as the Old Patent Building, because it was the Patent Building until the 1950s. Further, the “atrium” is actually the original courtyard that is now enclosed with a technologically advanced roof. The result is the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard. In fact, I believe management of the courtyard is entirely in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s hands.

Thought you should know.

Emily Sopensky WG’75 Arlington, VA

Mix-up on “Okinawa Caviar”

I enjoyed the Sept|Oct issue of the Gazette. Two articles were my favorites.

One was “Being There,” on Michael Baime, whom I was lucky enough to have as my physician until he left his medical practice for the meditation work, but whose classes on meditation my partner has enjoyed.

The second was the article on the people of Okinawa, “The Turtle Shell and the Eternal Womb” [“Elsewhere”].

I have been to Japan 19 times and continue to be fascinated by the culture. One of my most favorite food discoveries is the “Okinawa caviar,” a small cluster of seaweed balls (there called umibudou) that pops in one’s mouth like caviar and tastes of the sea. In Latin it is Caulerpa lentillifera.

Unfortunately, the writer mixed this up with mozuku (he wrote it is brown and slimy). He is correct about that name and description (it is also delicious), but he then called that the Okinawa caviar, which is an error.

Fresh umibudou is not really available on the main Japanese islands and is very hard to find—really only in Okinawa. Mozuku is also grown in Okinawa but also in other areas and is readily available all over including in the US.

I suppose not too many people will read it that carefully, so it probably isn’t an error worth correcting, but I think the author should know.

Donald W. Stremme W’75, adjunct faculty Villas, NJ

Misguided Misleading

As a former student of Robert E. Spiller and a two-time contributor to the Literary History of the United State (1963,1974), I appreciated Dennis Drabelle’s article, “The Work of a Generation,” on that magisterial work [Sept|Oct]. However, I found both the title and caption of the essay somewhat misleading.

Spiller and I hardly belonged to the same generation—more than 30 years separated us in age. More to the point, in the caption, the claim that “Spiller’s Literary History of the United States now feels not just dated but fundamentally misguided” is troubling: the word misguided does not apply. As Drabelle knows, history is always in the present, if not of the present; it reflects the climate of opinion of its time. In the case of the LHUS, the essays also reflected the informed scholarly consensus of the period. What else should have reasonably guided Spiller in his large enterprise? Of course, what a generation feels about another is beyond human reckoning.

Ihab Hassan GEE’48 G’50 GrE’53 Milwaukee, WI

Other Non-English?

Enjoyed the discussion of the various publications of the Literary History of the United States. Dennis Drabelle points out that finally Native American literature was included. No mention is made of other ethnic American literatures written in languages other than English.

Larissa Onyshkevych G’69 Gr’73 Columbia, MD

Japanese Generals Weren’t Heroes

In “The Turtle Shell and the Eternal Womb,” the writer Alexei Dmitriev mentioned that on Hill 89 in Okinawa there is a memorial honoring Japanese general, Mitsuru Ushijima, and adds, “Japan is a great supporter of peace, but it cherishes the memory of its heroes.”

Ushijima and the other Japanese generals of WWII were monsters and murderers; millions of innocent Asians perished at their hands. How soon the world forgot! If those were “heroes,” then the greatest “hero” of them all, Adolf Hitler, deserves a greater monument with little children bringing him flowers!

Edith Yu Ar’55 Berkeley, CA

Puzzling Editing Errors

The puzzle [“Window,” Sept|Oct] could have used some more rigorous editing:

24A clue: Hathaway of “The Princess Diaries”
Answer: Ann

But the actress spells her name with an e: AnneHathaway, not Ann Hathaway.

38A clue: Food for whales
Answer: Crill

But the crustacean that is best known as whale food is krill. I couldn’t find any evidence that crill is an acceptable alternative spelling.

58D clue: Wallach, one of “The Magnificent Seven”
Answer: Eli

Eli Wallach certainly was in the movie The Magnificent Seven, but he did not play one of the Magnificent Seven. He played Calvera, the bandit who the seven were assembled to fight against.

This one is more of a nitpick:

49D clue: Export from Jamaica
Answer: Rhum

Rhum is an accepted alternative spelling for rum, which is a Jamaican export, but it usually refers to rum from French-speaking countries, territories, or islands, like Haiti or Martinique, and not from Spanish-speaking locations or from English-speaking locations (like Jamaica).

Michael Tow W’90 Clarksville, MD

Use Social Media Responsibly

I read “The Perks and Perils of a Quick Twitter Finger” [“Gazetteer,” Sept|Oct] regarding Religious Studies Professor Anthea Butler’s quick Twitter finger. But the story missed an essential piece of information. When Butler realized that her Benghazi tweet calling for a person’s imprisonment was based on wrong information, did she then use social media to correct the wrong information she had sent out?

Please complete the story by letting me know whether Butler protected her integrity by tweeting a correction. It is important for social-media users to act in a responsible manner.

Jim Schaefer, parent Shaker Heights, OH

Disappointing Tone

I have to agree with David DiFusco [“Letters,” Sept|Oct]. The tone of many “forceful” letters that appear in the Gazette has long been disappointing to me. You are aware that forceful is not inconsistent with civil. And while you find hyperbole in a letter writer’s seeing a close likeness between Jesus and the tooth fairy, I find sarcasm.

I find it difficult to understand why the Gazette often does not maintain traditional standards of civility in its published letters. Perhaps the University does not wish to offend alumni by refusing to publish “forceful” expressions of opinion that would not pass muster in other mainstream media. You might also wish to consider that other alumni are offended by seeing these letters in a magazine that purports to represent the University, are ashamed that the University accepts such low standards of civility in its flagship publication, and wonder what that might mean for what happens day-to-day in University classrooms.

William Petersen W’76 Summit, NJ

Like other matters relating to content, decisions on which letters to print are subject to the (at times, no doubt, imperfect) judgment of the editor.—Ed. 

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    1 Response

    1. David Herman


      As a psychologist, I have been startled by the ideas expressed by Andrew Raine here and elsewhere in suggesting that it is possible to identify genetic factors that will predispose children to violence, removing them from the custody of their families and sending them to an environment where those genes will not be activated, thereby preventing the violence. He then engages in utopian formulations and arguments about developing algorithms that will predict the genetic-behavioral profiles and help identify violent individuals. All of this without mention of psychosocial factors, toxic stress and attachment theory, which are currently used to explain the psychological environment in which children are raised. Utopian visions such as Raine’s have arguably led to the theory and practice of eugenics, a theory which led to some startling abuses due to intrusive government mandates. In the US, for example, mandatory sterilization of persons thought to be a danger to society. There is no evidence that such practices produced a decrease in violence. Indeed, as the eugenics movement devolved into the Holocaust, it could be argued that theories such as those of Raine have brought out what is most destructive in human nature.

      There was a book about the perpetrators and survivors of the Holocaust in which the results of Rorschach tests administered to the top Nazis prior to their executions, were rescored. The results were telling: Less than half of the top Nazis were psychopaths. The rest had normal personalities. If it is the case that personality has its basis in genetics, such findings represent an important challenge to the theory that all behavior has its basis in the genetic code.

      I believe that Raine’s contribution is important, but that his theorizing needs to be rethought so that he explores theories from other fields that move him beyond fantasies related to his rescue fantasies for preventing violence.


      David Herman, M.A., Linguistics 1971

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