Mail Room

April 26th, 2007

Cafeteria Plan

Thank you for your wonderful feature on Brown’s bringing locally grown foods into college cafeterias (“The New Organic,” July/August). I have shared the article with colleagues across the country and have heard that a number of them have actually taken copies with them to their children’s colleges and shared them with university presidents and administrators there.

I am once again proud to be an alumna of a school that is helping raise the standard for the various ways that colleges can work with their students and communities to help make the world a better place.

Anna Lappé ’96
Brooklyn, N.Y.

George and Joe

I was particularly pleased to read your article on George Lima ’48 (“An Officer and a Gentleman,” The Classes, September/October). My freshman year I joined George as a member of the Lincoln Society, a social and service club at Brown. I helped him coach boxing for a little while at the John Hope Community Center. There is one more fact about George that would be nice for your readers to know: while in the U.S. Army he fought a few exhibition rounds against Joe Louis.

George Wallerstein ’51

Making History Matter

I read with interest the obituary  Karl Jacoby wrote about Jack Thomas (“A Figure Straight Out of the History He Wrote,” Obituaries, September/October). Because I was unable to attend the memorial service, I dedicated the paper I gave at a conference that weekend in Omaha to Jack and remarked that I thought he would have rather I be there talking about history than attending a service for him.

Karl’s essay captured the man I thought I knew and gave me a chance to grieve.Thank you for publishing it.

Keren R. McGinity ’05 PhD Campus

The writer is a visiting assistant professor of history.

I want to thank Karl Jacoby for his heartfelt and honest essay about the influence of Professor John L. Thomas ’61 PhD on his students. Professor Thomas will be missed. I have recently started teaching American history at Western Washington University, and I think often of Professor Thomas. Every day before I enter the classroom, I try to remember how he made the past come alive. He was one of the most demanding teachers at Brown, but he always made the work worthwhile. He made history matter. His influence on me, and on countless others, lives on, the true legacy for a great teacher. Brown will not be the same without him.

Johann Neem ’96
Bellingham, Wash.

A scholarship fund has been created in memory of John L. Thomas. To contribute, contact the development office or address a check to the Professor Jack Thomas Fund, Gift Accounting, Box 1893, Brown University, Providence 02912.

Karl Jacoby

A Lost Beacon

Once in a long while some of us are blessed to encounter a person whose character is so special that it deeply affects us for the rest of our lives. Such is the case for me and for many alumni of the Brown international relations program with regard to Whitney T. Perkins, the faculty member who guided the program for decades and who died earlier this year (Obituaries, May/June). In an academic world filled with pomposity and pretense, he stood out as a beacon of humility. In an academic world filled with ideological polemics, he stood out as a beacon of balance. In an academic world filled with politically motivated jostling for power and control, he stood out as a beacon of integrity. In an academic world filled with self-promotion and hyperbole, he stood out as a beacon of restraint and understatement.

From the moment I first met him when I was interviewing (with my father) to decide if Brown was the right place for me, through my years taking every course he offered, and during the time after he retired when I shared some of my writings with him, he was a constant model of sage and compassionate guidance. Understanding as he did the true meaning of service, he was not interested in attaining personal glory but rather in doing all he could to bring out the best in his students. What he taught us in the classroom about the world was important, but how he taught us was even more vital. I lived for the moment when, after he reviewed something I submitted to him, his eyes twinkled with approval.

Now my beacon is gone. But every day I teach, I think about him, trying to the best of my abilities to reflect his timeless wisdom and not to succumb to the temptations of the day. Within the ivory tower I have met nobody like him, and probably never will; all I can do is to treasure his memory and be eternally grateful to have known him.

Bob Mandel ’72
Portland, Ore.

The writer chairs the international affairs department at Lewis & Clark College.

Jesus Was Right

I was moved by “Light in August” (Here & Now, September/October). I see parallels. I entered Brown in 1950 a questioning Catholic, “lapsed.” I have often had a grudging admiration for the form again. Now I am a kind of cafeteria Catholic, impressed by the stands of the last pope and the current pope on peace (e.g., Iraq). Modern war is just too terrible, they said. Jesus was right.

As I write, the United States faces two disasters (one an act of God perhaps, and one political). As a Nation reader I am uncomfortable with the way both have been managed. Some readers perceive a leftist tilt in the BAM. As a Brown alumnus I may tilt left myself, but Robert Creeley put it right: “You got a bell, man, ring it.”

Robert Frenette ’54
Brockton, Mass.

Unseen Banner

Despite the many shots your photographer took of the special banner the class of ’55 created for our fiftieth reunion, I really didn’t expect you’d run one (“Chasing Dreams,” July/August). And you didn’t disappoint me. Probably the banner’s message was too inflammatory for University sensibilities. Nevertheless, for the record, here’s how it read: “BROWN ’55 … NROTC– USAFROTC … Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps … WE SERVED.”

I was reunion chair and a marshal so I didn’t witness the response the banner received from all who saw it pass. But I heard that it brought tears to the eyes of some of the grizzled old ’55 brutal soldiery veterans who marched behind it.

It was nice, however, to see how much space your reunion issue afforded the peace, love classes of the 1970s. But since 60 percent of your board of editors is from those classes, I suppose that was inevitable.

A final observation: Since Brown seems determined and well-enough bankrolled to absorb ever more of Providence and especially the East Side, the University could do any who visit, and especially we who volunteer, a genuine service: postpone yet another lab, library, storage facility, or classroom complex and build a multilevel parking garage within taxi range of the campus. Parking has always been a trial around Brown; now, with the newish, quick-timing meters and the zealous predations of both campus and city cops, it’s impossible.

J. Roy McKechnie ’55
Cumberland, R.I.

Contrary Opinions

Brian Barbata’s letter in response to Seymour Hersh’s campus appearance seems to me not only wrongheaded but out of touch with reality (“Leftist Spin,” Mail Room, September/October). Seymour Hersh needs no defense from me: an award-winning investigative journalist, he has throughout his career vigorously pursued and exposed the truth, some of it painful, unpleasant, repugnant, or shocking to readers soothed by the fatuous deference to power of the mainstream press—and he has done so without regard to partisan interests.

But when Barbata charges Hersh with a belief that “presidents should run in fear of the press” and asserts that “Bush does not,” he first plays the part of a laughable mind reader, then a deluded, childish whiner—setting up a straw-man argument and answering it with a “did not!” cry from preschool days.

It is important to recognize that this president demonstrates a fear of the press in many ways, e.g., assiduously avoiding press conferences, dodging difficult questions at the few he holds, keeping perceived dissenters out of so-called town hall meetings, and, most damningly, never bothering to read press reports—and then bragging that he doesn’t need to be exposed to contrary opinions. It may be that this know-nothing, learn-nothing attitude of Bush contributes to Seymour Hersh’s low rating of his presidency. Future historians will no doubt concur, but no one need fear that this president will read them.

Neil D. Isaacs ’59 PhD
Colesville, Md.

Movies and Money

“Artist in Exile” (arts & culture, September/October) mistakes Morocco, where my film, Your Dark Hair Ihsan, was set and shot, for Iraq.

It also describes me as an anticapitalist who “decries the commercialism of Hollywood and even of U.S. independent filmmaking.” In contrast to the other arts, cinema has always had a distinct relationship to money. That relationship has become especially pronounced in recent years, and for emerging filmmakers it is becoming increasingly difficult to make a certain type of cinema that explores new forms, language, and discourse independent of a system that relies predominantly on formulaic narratives, celebrity, and commercial interests. This does not mean that there are no producers or organizations that support cinema as an art and the independence of writers and directors. There are many who are struggling to support new voices and new work and the integrity of the many talented young filmmakers, especially in the United States. To struggle to keep a door open for cinema as an art form is the duty of all filmmakers. Questioning the current state of cinema should not by association imply we are to be branded as “anticapitalist.”

Tala Hadid ’95
New York City

More on Cheating

I’ve been vastly amused about all the concern about cheating in academia as most recently illustrated by Victoria Lague’s letter in the BAM (Mail Room, September/October). In the real world that I inhabit, “cheating” is usually called “effective teamwork.” That is, I wouldn’t spend ten milliseconds thinking for myself if, at the click of a button, I can find the information I need. And no one cares how, when, or where I get that information—just as long as I use it intelligently so as to get the job done quickly and correctly.

Publishing is, of course, a different issue, where attribution may be necessary or appropriate and where using the ideas of others may be important, vital, and/or the sign of a good researcher.

Robert E. Kay ’53

To describe myself as “mortified” when I read the anonymous letter [on cheating] in the July/August BAM would be an understatement. Somehow the self-deluded author has rationalized that, in retrospect, his confession to a professor of cheating on a final exam was noble, even though he suffered no substantive punishment for his non-victimless crime. While Brown has admittedly taught me to express myself better, I can’t help but cry “Bullsh*t.”

The author cheated and then confessed when his conscience got the better of him. This is no more gallant or heroic than someone who pushes another in front of a bus and then saves that person from being run over. The most courageous act the author could have committed was, like so many of his peers, not to have cheated in the first place. Not only did his self-absorbed actions gain him extra time to complete the exam, but he apparently answered the very same question to which he already knew the answer (by cheating in the first place). Of course his grade did not change! A truly noble act would have been to insist on answering a different question or, better yet, rejecting the A+ and demanding a lower but more deserving grade.

As outraged as I am, what I find most disturbing is that the shameless author has a “planned career in academia.”

Ed Coral ’90
San Mateo, Calif.

Tax Cuts: Good or Bad?

You quote President Clinton as saying that he has been “making money hand over fist” and “I’ve gotten four tax cuts in four years while we’ve gone to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think that’s immoral.” (“Clinton Comes to Campus,” Under the Elms, July/August).

But the tax cuts have been the major reason for the robust rebound in our economy. With all the pork for both parties built into the budget, and members of his own party voting against funding the war, it is far-fetched to think the tax money would go to the war effort. Wealthy people are bound to get much more bang for America and their buck by giving the tax savings and much more to charity, as so many thankfully do.

How else can we can fund such things as need-blind admission at Brown?

Robert W. McCullough ’43
Riverside, Conn.

I have to take issue with Raul Vela’s letter in the most recent issue of BAM (“Mail Room,” September/October). Vela supports the Bush administration’s tax cuts, by saying that “ample evidence [shows] that this policy has reaped benefits for the economy and increased tax revenues to the government.”

Because the tax cuts were so top heavy (i.e., the majority of the cuts were targeted toward high-income earners), those earning more than $200,000 a year received a tax cut that was twelve times larger than the average. Because people in the upper-income brackets tend to save rather than spend, the money these high earners realized in tax cuts did not enter the economy. Also, Bush’s tax cuts contributed little (about one-fifth) to economic growth during the economy’s strongest growth period under the current administration. In fact, despite the large tax cuts during the first George W. Bush administration, this country saw the second slowest average growth rate since the mid-1970s. The lowest growth rate was during the George H. W. Bush administration. Contrarily, tax increases under Bush père and Bill Clinton saw accelerated economic growth.

The tax cuts of the current Bush administration have created an even richer upper-upper class and provided no relief for a struggling middle class. Add to that the enormous deficits with which we are burdening future generations and the picture hardly looks rosy. (These statistics come from Christian E. Weller’s January article for the Center for American Progress, “Conservative Rhetoric on Tax Cuts Does Not Match Economic Reality.”)

To paraphrase Vela, I’d say his contention that Bush’s tax cuts have “reaped benefits for the economy and increased tax revenues to the government” may be the dumbest and most disingenuous comment I’ve read in at least a week.

Linda Alston ’85
Madison, Wis.

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November / December 2005