|By The Editors|
Law and OrderAs a trial lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for thirty-one years, including eleven as Oregon’s U.S. Attorney and a year at the DOJ in Washington, D.C., I have some comments and observations regarding Jesselyn Radack ’92 and her conduct (“The Woman Who Knew Too Much,” March/April).
At the heart of the matter is Radack’s decision to remove confidential internal documents from the files of the DOJ when she terminated her employment and to disclose those documents to a member of the print media. In so doing she breached her ethical responsibilities to the client she served, to her oath of office, and perhaps to the law as well. It is not that Radack knew too much, but rather that she knew too little. Despite impressive academic credentials, she was woefully inexperienced and clearly lacked common sense and good judgment. No experienced attorney for the government would have made this elementary misjudgment—an improvident decision that has now set her at odds with the District Court, the DOJ, and two bar associations. It now appears her suspicions regarding improper government conduct—and this is all they were—were wrong. The e-mails disclosed to Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff had in fact been filed with the court under seal.
Even if Radack’s initial suspicions that some of her e-mails to government lawyers in the Lindh case had been removed from her file and not submitted to the court had been correct, there remained several other options available to her—options any experienced attorney would clearly have known. First, Radack could have submitted the e-mails to the prosecutors, but despite having extensive contacts with them, she chose not to, claiming to have felt “intimidated.” Although this enigmatic statement does not tell us by whom or by what she was intimidated, it does tell us all we want to know about her lack of judgment. She also had the option of submitting the e-mails directly to the court. Again, no explanation is offered for her decision not to do so, although at one point she claims to have “always been willing to tell the full story to the judge.”
Another approach might have been to seek the advice of any of the several hundred lawyers in the department, including Michael Chertoff, assistant attorney general for the department’s criminal division. Chertoff (now Judge Chertoff) is a man of unquestioned integrity with a long and very distinguished career of public service. It is also worth noting that Radack’s initial advice to the Lindh prosecutors, which she did not verify with experienced department personnel, was at odds with Chertoff’s view that the questioning of enemy combatants on foreign soil during wartime does not implicate the usual constitutional safeguards. Lindh’s U.S. citizenship under such circumstances is irrelevant.
Finally, Radack could, without disclosing the documents, have sought the advice of outside counsel specializing in ethical matters. Despite these and other options, however, she chose the route of impropriety, perfidy, and disloyalty. Short of facing a full-scale Watergate-style cover-up, Radack’s conduct is unacceptable by any standard. Little wonder the doors of public service and private law firms are now closed to her and her misguided commitment to situational ethics. With the past being an indication of the future, no employer would be willing to trust her with privileged and confidential information which would be hers as an employee.
Charles H. Turner ’58
My compliments to the BAM for the excellent cover story. The article did not identify Radack’s boss in the Ashcroft Justice Department, who was named in other news accounts: Claudia Flynn ’76, another alumna.
My husband and I have contributed to Radack’s legal defense fund at www.cradl.info and urge that fellow alumni interested in fair and equal justice do the same.
Avis Goldstein Feldman ’47
The vicious vendetta launched by the so-called “justice” department against Radack is unfortunately just another example of the lengths that this gang of thugs in the Bush administration will go in attacking anyone who raises any objections to their extremist right-wing agenda. Jesselyn, hang in there, because I refuse to believe that this country is stupid enough to return Bush Inc. to office, and this time his five buddies on the Supreme Court won’t be able to do anything about it.
Dick Blazar ’70
Jesselyn Radack has always walked a fine line between making valuable political statements and seeking media attention, whether as the leaker of legal documents to Newsweek, as one of the “Women of the Ivy League” in a 1995 Playboy spread, or as an undergrad antirape activist on Donahue. She may have to accept the mixed blessing of her different attributes: her conscience may have been at work in the John Walker Lindh case, but it’s not surprising her firebrand side makes some law firms wary.
Todd Seavey ’91
Perhaps Jesselyn Radack cannot find a job because she acted in haste, made unwarranted assumptions, and cut an ethical corner. She was in a gray area: Lindh was captured overseas while bearing arms against the United States, not arrested at 14th Street and Avenue A in Washington. Her assumption that questioning Lindh was a “pre-indictment, custodial overt interview” was at least open to debate. I will not defend Ashcroft’s erroneous or mendacious misstatements, but was it Radack’s duty to correct him?
Then she made shaky assumptions: there was a cover-up; the file was improperly vetted; and the government had disobeyed a court order. Turns out that her e-mails had indeed gone to the judge. Anyone who has worked for a bureaucracy knows that papers get misfiled. Government employees are more often incompetent than evil.
Then she went right to Newsweek, instead of considering more carefully her confidentiality obligation. Should she be disbarred? No, but an admonition might be reasonable. Professor Cheit’s suggestion that she is being punished for “doing something that ethics would actually demand” is, with all respect, simply wrong.
I am proud of Radack as a Brown alumna who had the courage not to sign the statement about leaking information. I am impressed with her feistiness, but I don’t think she was entirely right, and I don’t think she is being victimized. I suggest she take a break with her family from her case, then look for work outside government or big law firms. She has other options: many public-interest groups would welcome a lawyer of her ability and experience.
F. R. Pamp ’68
Jesselyn Radack thought the e-mail messages she had exchanged about Lindh had not been turned over to the lead prosecutor in the case. So eventually, in an attempt to make sure that the documents were turned over, she gave them not to the prosecutor who asked her for them, not to the judge, but to Newsweek? Whistleblower? I don’t think so.
I do not know if Radack’s actions were correct or not; one story in the BAM is not enough for an informed decision. However, several things do not surprise me about her plight. One is that she should somehow find herself embroiled in a controversy. Another is that a John Ashcroft–led justice department might use heavy-handed tactics to try and silence its critics.
The Jesselyn I knew in high school and at Brown was both competent and ethical. I seriously doubt a stint at Yale Law School did much to change that. For her to get a job review stating that she required more supervision than others at her level amid this series of events is hard to swallow. Both the justice department and the legal profession need more people like Radack among their ranks, not fewer. I wish her the best.
Pablo Adler ’93
The March/April issue was another fine BAM. As the former executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) for ten years, as a former member of the ACLU board of directors and as a current member of the ICLU board of directors, I am drawn to articles such as the terribly troubling, exceedingly well-written tale of Jesselyn Radack.
Although the legal counsel she has selected to represent her is one of the very finest in the field, at some juncture she may wish to consult the considerable body of expertise in the ACLU on privacy and secrecy. She needs all the champions she can find, because most of those in D.C. bar and in government practice will flee her presence, for fear of damage to their practices and careers.
There are those of us who contend that the attorney general’s iniquitous endeavors in so many areas of civil rights and civil liberties should strike fear into the hearts of all righteous Americans.
Michael Lee Gradison ’64
As an admirer of Jesselyn Radack’s activism at Brown, I was not surprised to learn that she took a difficult but ethical stand in her job. The article discussed whether Radack’s disclosures to supervisors protected her from retaliation under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act. As a litigator practicing federal-sector employment law in Washington, D.C., I wanted to underscore that the Whistleblower Protection Act also authorizes disclosures of wrongdoing to the press. As the courts have repeatedly recognized, the purpose of the Whistleblower Protection Act is to encourage disclosure of wrongdoing to persons who may be in a position to remedy it, either directly by management or indirectly by disclosure to the press. Radack thus invoked the protections of the law when she disclosed the malfeasance to her supervisors as well as to the press.
Cathy Harris ’94
It was difficult to understand the point of the article on Jesselyn Radack’s career problems. The headline suggested that she was the victim of a government conspiracy. If the story was intended as a brief to support her position, it failed.
Presumably you obtained most of the information from Radack. You report:
(1) She had received a poor performance review for the period between December 27, 2000, and September 30, 2001, a period that predates the Lindh case that forms the basis of the story. Thus, Radack’s value as an employee was in doubt long before this case.
(2) Before leaving the DOJ, Radack was specifically told not to take e-mails with her. One would suspect that she was told not to take any DOJ documents, an order she violated.
(3) Radack admits leaking confidential information related to an ongoing judicial proceeding to the press.
(4) It was the judge in the Lindh case, not the DOJ, who demanded an investigation into the leak of the documents.
Lawyers must behave according to a profound, strict ethical code. Probably the most compelling axiom of that code is that matters worked on in a law firm (including the DOJ) are confidential. It is difficult to imagine a more serious breach of ethical conduct than publishing confidential material.
What was this article doing in the BAM with Radack’s picture on the cover? With all the success stories available to you, why spend the space on such questionable conduct? If this is an example of the standards Brown is promoting, then the University should examine its own ethical core and instruction.
Richard A. Young ’60
After reading about my friend Jesselyn Radack, I did a little checking of my own about the “ethical minefield” she allegedly traversed in revealing attorney-client privileged information As a fellow member of the District of Columbia bar, I turned to the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct.
To my surprise, D.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(d)(2)(B) seems to permit lawyers in Radack’s situation to act as she did. The rule states that: A government lawyer “may use or reveal client confidences or secrets…when permitted or authorized by law.” The cover story refers to Radack’s claims under the Whistleblower Protection Act, which presumably permits such disclosures under circumstances of this type.
The Comments to Rule 1.6 even address the difficult situation into which ethical government lawyers are sometimes placed. Comment 35 relating to government lawyers states that 1.6(d)(2) was revised “to address the unique circumstances raised by attorney-client relationships within the government.” Thus, while she may have walked an “ethical minefield” with her actions, it is clear she did so with nary a scratch.
Jeff Wolfson ’92
Jesselyn Radack exhibited poor judgment. This is not to say that everyone else involved exhibited moral behavior or that Radack wasn’t correct about a failure to protect Lindh’s rights. But she made some very poor decisions. If she were applying to my firm, I would have serious concerns because of her actions, not because of the DOJ’s view of her.
I was also very disappointed that a Brown professor who teaches ethics in his classes did not speak out to say that Radack crossed the ethical line. Professor Ross Cheit seems to be promoting that the “end justifies the means” when he ignores the ethical considerations of Radack’s actions. I expect more from a Brown faculty member.
Paul Cameron ’81
Jesselyn Radack’s tale of woe strikes a historical note. Not only did the government rush to a punitive judgment in inflammatory times, John Walker Lindh’s lawyers did not understand American POW history. My research shows that at least 125 Continental Army soldiers (American regulars) from a single division switched sides after the 1780 Battle of Camden. At the Battle of Cowpens (January 17, 1781), two thirds of these apparently feigned injury and were welcomed back into American ranks with back pay. The other third continued on to Yorktown, where several of them crossed back and served the United States until 1783. These men were fighting the United States but were, apparently, not “taken in arms.” John Walker Lindh was not fighting the United States, nor was he taken in arms. When Jesselyn Radack, who admittedly felt unsympathetic toward Lindh, tried to see legal protocols followed, she was ignored, then seemingly persecuted.
The Revolutionary War changing of sides was not an isolated incident. In the Mexican War, for example, only some of the members of the San Patricio Battalion, a Mexican Army unit composed of American deserters, were executed. Other Americans were captured in Iraq, in Iraqi uniforms but not prosecuted. I am proud to be from Brown, for Radack is doing the right thing. I hope she will be vindicated, but our society has a history of witch hunts from the Sons of Liberty to Joseph McCarthy.
Lawrence E. Babits ’81 PhD
The writer is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History at East Carolina University.
I was deeply touched by the fierce sense of justice Radack embodies and by her sense of honor for her profession. Like Radack, I lost my job, at the U.S. Department of Education, where I believed I could make a meaningful difference. Like her, I also served a highly placed supervisor, the deputy assistant secretary of education in the Office of Postsecondary Education.
Thanks to Radack’s story, I have a new understanding of mine. Like her, I faced false, fabricated, and improper evaluations. An unsigned, undated evaluation still lingers somewhere in the files, which I have never seen, and which I have tried mightily to have removed from my file, including asking for intervention, futilely, from my U.S. congressman.
Like me, Radack can probably establish a prima facie case of reprisal, but she, like me, will be plagued by the legal immunity of supervisors: we were there, in the eyes of the law, to serve the supervisor, not the taxpayers, even though our swearing-in was to the taxpayers, not to our supervisors. Radack saved e-mails she should not have. Can she prove her motivation was justified? The issue will depend on the judges’ opinion of her supervisors, not of her.
Christine D. Tomei ’81, ’87 PhD
Senior writer Emily Gold Boutilier replies: Charles H. Turner raises many important points. To clarify, Jesselyn Radack told me that when she discovered her e-mails missing from the Lindh file, she felt intimidated by her boss, who, she says, had already told her to find a new job and to stay out of the Lindh matter. That is why, Radack says, she did not pass along the e-mails to the prosecutors or to the judge. As for turning over the e-mails to Newsweek, Doug Hartnett of the Government Accountability Project, a law firm that defends whistleblowers and that has advised Radack, says that courts have been more likely to protect whistleblowers who leak to the media than those who disclose perceived wrongdoing to colleagues, superiors, or other insiders. Finally, as I wrote in my story, Radack says she did in fact consult with a senior legal adviser in her department before giving her initial advice.
Richard A. Young is correct that Radack’s performance review covered a period predating the Lindh case. However, Radack was not given the review until after she’d offered her advice about Lindh. Only then was she told that the review would be placed in her personnel file unless she found a new job. Also, as my story explains, lawyers disagree on whether or not Radack violated the strict ethic of attorney-client confidentiality.
Rhodes KillI read with great interest “Oxford Diary” by Sasha Polakow-Suransky ’01 (March/April) describing his experience as a Rhodes Scholar. Although I very much enjoyed the article and found it to be witty, insightful, and well written, in the end, I was disappointed. The author’s frustrations with the lack of imaginative food, the dreary weather, the limited weekend library hours and checkout services, the lack of ethnic diversity among the student population, and the lack of special treatment in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar were not only “irreverent,” as the BAM promised; they struck me as remarkably unappreciative.
The Rhodes scholarship program is likely to be the most coveted academic opportunity for any American and has enormous lifelong benefits and privileges. Anyone with the opportunity not only to be rewarded with one but also to secure a quality education at an institution such as Brown might consider that the great majority of people never have these privileged breaks. Anyone blessed with them might consider using such good fortune to help create a more humane, just, and ethical world and to embrace whatever minor hassles and frustrations come with such privileges.
Thomas G. Plante ’82
Those LiberalsIs the CIA really relevant (“Oxford Diary,” March/April)? Not very, after the Clinton emasculation. I hope for the same with regard to the United Nations—which will deprive the United States of its sovereignty when the current crop of liberals allows it to happen. The U.N. and its leader are bothered that Am-ericans are not burdened with the astronomically high taxes Europeans are forced to pay in order to support workers’ benefits and long vacations. Gone is the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. (Forget about Wilson!)
Geraldine Nelson ’51
Likes and DislikesEvery time I read BAM I remember what I didn’t like about Brown: intellectual arrogance, elitism, and self-righteous liberalism that more resembles intolerance. Just when I vow to stop reading the magazine, I find a thoughtful essay or an eloquent article like “Nesting in Razor Wire” by Charlotte Bruce Harvey ’78 (March/April). I hope you will publish more articles like that and less like the one about the visiting scholar who accused the New York Times Book Review of favoring men, yet wouldn’t send her study results to its editor (“Counting Heads,” Elms, March/April). Another irritating example is “Oxford Diary” (March/April), written by an ungrateful Rhodes Scholar who makes no attempt to say anything positive about Oxford, the free education that has been bestowed upon him, or the privileges that come with it.
Alexa Majors ’95
Dying WellAfter reading “Old Friends,” I was frustrated with the implication that doctors are ignorant of end-of-life issues (Elms, March/April). I am currently a fourth-year medical student at SUNY Stonybrook, and I have been learning about end-of-life issues since my first year, a situation reflected at many other medical schools as well. On the other hand, I am well aware, on both a personal and professional level, that our health-care system is under-equipped to handle end-of-life care. Sadly, many patients suffer unnecessarily at a time when they need the most comfort. I would argue, however, that the problem is systemwide.
During my clinical experience, I have learned that doctors who deal with death regularly are very much aware of its natural place in life. More often than not, they clearly understand the complex emotional issues that surround death for both patient and family. The fact that we spend every day trying to “cure” and “treat” in no way means that we do not recognize when allowing death is the most appropriate way to end suffering.
Merielle Stephens ’99
As a potential terminally ill patient (aren’t we all?) as well as a bioethicist, I take exception to what seems to be Professor of Community Health Joan Teno’s dim view of doctors who look “at dying as a sort of defeat, as failure.” That’s exactly how I want any doctor who ever treats me to look at death. Despite all the pressure to “accept” death, some terminally ill people prefer to extend their lives as long as possible—and this desire is just as worthy of respect as is the desire to forgo life-prolonging care.
Felicia Nimue Ackerman
The writer is a professor of philosophy.
Iron ManI read with special interest “Heroes’ Return” by Deborah Scranton ’84 (Alumni P.O.V., March/April). I was pleased to learn that Donald Hurd’s and my World War II outfit, the 95th Division, was dubbed “the Iron Men of Metz.” At the time, we felt more like Mauldin’s “Willie and Joe.”
My battalion spearheaded the assaults, crossing the Moselle in pontoon boats. An overnight flash flood on the river cut us off from any support. Surrounded, my company held out for a week in our foxholes. We suffered heavy casualties from rifle fire, mortar, and eighty-eight barrages. And we suffered badly from frozen feet.
A true “iron man” was Sgt. Smokey Shannon of my platoon. Smokey had been eager to reach the front and avenge the death of a brother earlier in the war, but he and his machine-gun crew were wiped out at Metz.
I spent the last five months of the war in the Stalags, but that’s another (war) story. A lucky survivor, I returned afterward to get my degree at Brown.
And now I’m looking forward to—could it be?—our 60th in May.
Bill Bollomley ’44
Performance AnxietyBased on “Judging Merit” (Elms, March/April), I wonder if Harvard’s Lani Guinier might not be reasoning fallaciously when she disparages tests such as the SAT and the LSAT. The latter, she says, “is only nine percent better than random at predicting first-year law school grades, and yet we call it merit!”
What I suspect she’s not taking into account is that LSAT scores help determine who gets into law school in the first place, with the highest LSAT scores determining, in part, acceptance at the most selective schools. The range of test scores at each school is therefore a limited one, and the test will have less predictive value, because it has already been employed during the admissions stage. As sociologist Steven Goldberg has observed, “To the extent that a variable is used by a college in the selection process, the ability of that variable to predict performance at that college is diminished.” He goes on to imagine a college “that accepted only students with 800 SATs. At such a college, the students would exhibit the full range of grades.... Yet, because all had the same 800 SAT scores, there would be no correlation between SAT score and college performance.” Similarly, no doubt, among the general population, height would be an excellent predictor of prowess on the basketball court—but would be less so if the field in question were confined to players over six feet tall.
Ted Klein ’69
Alleged FortitudeThank you to assistant professor of Judaic Studies Maud Mandel for the thoughtful review of The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, by Peter Balakian ’80 PhD (“No More Killing Fields,” Arts & Culture, March/April). I am also grateful to the BAM for having the fortitude to publish this review without using terms like “alleged genocide” or without feeling obligated to acknowledge the views of those who deny that the genocide took place. Many publications would not allow such a review to appear.
Like so many Armenian Americans of my generation, I came from a family that included many victims and survivors of the genocide. Stories of massacres—of torture, starvation, and the abduction of children—were the lessons of my youth. As a Brown student in 1968, I was distressed but not surprised to discover that there was not one word about the genocide in my modern-world-history course. It is enormously encouraging to see a more accurate presentation of history now asserting itself.
It has been said that the last stage of genocide is denial. While planning the Holocaust, Hitler is alleged to have said, “Who nowadays remembers the extermination of the Armenians?” Viewed in this context, historical revisionism is itself a crime against humanity, the first step down the slippery slope to depravity.
Richard C. Bedrosian ’71
Rhodes’s SideAbout the letter to the editor in the January/February BAM that took issue with the Brown Alumni Association’s presenting an award to Bill Rhodes ’57, a senior executive of Citigroup and Citibank (“Rhodes Scholar,” Mail Room): Contrary to what Jennifer Cartwright ’01 stated, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) is no longer critical of the financial sector on environmental issues. Citigroup’s recent announcement of environmental initiatives has been described by RAN as “the strongest environmental policies yet of any private financial institution in the world.” In addition, Citigroup has been selected by both the Dow Jones Sustainability and FTSE4 Good Indices as a leader in environmental, social, and financial performance. Furthermore, contrary to assertions by Cartwright, Citigroup values a work environment where diversity is embraced, where people are promoted on their merits, and where people treat each other with mutual respect and dignity in the nearly 100 countries where we operate.
The writer is Citigroup’s senior vice president of global community relations.
Bleeding Heart?In his letter advocating a return to “traditional New England fiscal principles with less bleeding-heart idealism,” T. R. Ford ’53 refers to 42 percent of Brown freshmen receiving an average of $23,250 of financial aid out of a total tuition of $30,120 (“Generous, Not Fair,” Mail Room, March/April). I am extremely grateful for $23,250 of financial aid that my daughter received as a Brown freshman, but the total cost of a year at the University is approximately $40,000. Our family must still pay about $17,000 for the year.
This may not seem like a lot of money to some people, but my husband and I are both hard-working police officers who have almost no money left over after our bills have been paid. We don’t earn enough to make additional loan payments to pay $17,000 a year in additional expenses. Without the money a deceased relative left to our daughter, we would not have been able to pay for her first year at Brown.
We, too, believe in traditional New England fiscal principles. We have always lived frugally and within our means. Our daughter has worked every summer since she was fifteen, and we never considered sending her to Brown—we could just afford to pay her way to state college. But Brown recruited her for her outstanding athletics, academics, and extracurricular achievements, and she, like many other worthy applicants who would never have been able to attend Brown on their own, now has the chance at the education of a lifetime. I would argue that this is not “bleeding-heart idealism,” but Brown’s desire to attract the best students, many of whom do not come from wealthy families. If Brown continues to want the best, it will have to find a way to try to provide the financial support these students need.
Ilsa von Leden
Brown’s participation in Mars exploration was wonderfully documented by Zachary Block ’99 in his fine article (“Is Anybody Out There?” January/February 2004). An additional dimension to Brown’s contribution is the work of Emily Stewart Lakdawalla ’00, who is science and technology coordinator of the Planetary Society, an organization that encourages exploration of the solar system through education and technology development. Emily is working with the LEGO Company to provide contributions to the Mars Exploration Rover mission and is assisting kids from twelve countries who have become “Student Astronauts” to partner with the Mars Exploration Rover Mission’s science team. (See www.planetary.org to read these students’ journals, as well as the LEGO Astrobots’ diaries.) In May, I will be joined by Stephen Saunders ’70 PhD, former Mars Odyssey Mission project scientist, as he returns to campus along with Jim Garvin ’84 PhD and Bob Sullivan ’84 for a Commencement forum on Mars exploration.
Jim Head ’69 PhD
The writer is a professor of geological science.
I was pleased to learn of Jim Head’s continuing contributions to the space program. As for your headline—“Is There Anybody Out There?”—of course there is! Professor Head taught me so, thanks to his celebrated Festival of Terrible 1950s SciFi Films. For evidence, one need only see Missile to the Moon, which featured rock creatures and a bunch of lunar beauty pageant contestants. The festival, as I remember, charged three dollars and was a triple-feature. (We were refunded one dollar for every film we could sit through.) As a tribute to Professor Head, I have revived his tradition at the high school where I teach chemistry. Although all of this sounds silly, my tribute is sincere. His planetary geology course changed the way I look at the moon. Twenty years later, the same is now true for Mars.
Ken Shaw ’84
Joining ROTCMartin Velazquez ’94 believes that “ROTC should be made available to students just as any other organization is,”for “someone who wants to give it their all for their country” (“Un-PC at PC,” Mail Room, January/February). Unfortunately, an ROTC unit at Brown would be nothing of the sort. I’m sure Mr. Velazquez is aware that gay men and women are not permitted “to give it their all” in the armed services of this country, however patriotic they may be. Nor are they permitted to join ROTC. Such a unit at Brown would of necessity be a segregated organization that excludes a substantial minority of Brown’s student body. What’s worse, gay students who join anyway could face future harassment and prosecution. The armed forces have sued outed gay service members to recover the costs of their training, including ROTC benefits. I commend Brown’s administration for protecting its students from such abuse.
Lawrence Jurrist ’70
Fact FishingThe letter by Gina M. Solomon ’86 (“A Toxic Tradition,” Mail Room, March/April) about Marie Myung-Ok Lee’s fishing experience (“Rapture on the Water,” Alumni P.O.V., November/ December) requires further comment. Solomon’s bizarre recommendation apparently is to put up notices on our waterways, in all languages, warning of the hazard from traces of mercury. This environmental argument against minute amounts of toxins is based entirely on a straight-line extrapolation from high exposures, and has no human confirmation. Rather, the modern theory of hormesis shows just the opposite; that small amounts of toxins, including mercury, actually stimulate T-cells to develop autoimmune response, especially in the young, to provide protection from considerably larger amounts of the same substance (Science, October 17, 2003).
Dental amalgam is 70 percent mercury, and a conservative estimate is that American mouths contain 140 tons of it, to be partly ground away, swallowed, and converted to absorbable alkyl by stomach bacteria. Many decades of observation have failed to show any deleterious effects. Seldom has a suspect agent been tested so thoroughly.
To illustrate the many inconsistencies in environmentalists’ policies, they are strongly urging replacement of incandescent lights with power-saving fluorescents, apparently unaware that the fluorescents require mercury for their operation. Let Marie Lee enjoy her fishing!
L.M. Foster ’47 PhD