J/A Mail Room

July 10th, 2015

Mail Room

A Beacon of Clarity
As a thirty-five-year resident of Los Angeles’s South Bay Beach Cities, I can attest to the fact that, when Lucy Jones ’76 speaks, Californians listen (“Tectonic Shifts,” May/June). Whenever that all-too-familiar, tremor-induced media frenzy of politically motivated talking heads starts up here in southern California, everyone eagerly awaits the transitional moment when Lucy Jones appears at the podium and commands our full attention. It’s common knowledge that it is Lucy who delivers the science that is the true story, and she does it with a comforting blend of calmness, clarity, and certainty that causes her to stand out as the sole beacon of focused intelligence at a time when we need it most.

Facebook screengrab
Our Facebook post of Lucy Jones and her husband posing with San Andreas star Dwayne Johnson quickly reached almost 21,000 people in May. Jones, who misses no opportunity to educate Los Angeles residents about earthquake preparedness, attended the San Andreas premier and live-tweeted during the screening, noting the scientific accuracies and inaccuracies of this earthquake-disaster movie, which is set in southern California. 

We are also tremendously thankful that Lucy so kindly accepted Mayor Eric Garcetti’s wise request for her to head up efforts to make L.A. more earthquake-ready. Lucy’s noble decision to refuse a salary for this position is particularly commendable, and displays a most honorable return to the higher operational standards that too many simply ignore, or even knowingly violate, today.

And now Lucy is composing and playing music, with a creatively integrated theme of climate change, no less?!? Please let us know where in town you’ll be performing this summer, Lucy—we’ll be there with bells on!

Gerry O’Connor ’78
Comment from brownalumnimagazine.com

After a press event with Ms. Jones holding forth and holding her young child, she was dubbed “Seismom.”

Andrew Gabriel ’76
Comment from brownalumnimagazine.com

Tributes to Donald Rohr
My wife (and classmate) Donna Bryant ’73 and I had a wonderful road-trip adventure to Providence in August 2014: fourteen museums in twelve days! The Brown campus looked great in its 250th year.

But the highlight of the trip was an afternoon spent with Professor Emeritus of History Donald G. Rohr on the front porch of his longtime home on the East Side (Obituaries, May/June). He was ninety-three at the time, and, despite his physical frailty, his mind was very sharp. He had chilled champagne in a silver ice bucket, so we sipped this and ate cookies on a silver tray while discussing life, Brown, educational philosophy, and world affairs. It was a simply delightful visit.

Professor Rohr was always very kind and helpful to me. From him, I heard my first college history lecture in Pembroke’s Alumnae Hall, and four years later he personally awarded me my history degree in St. Stephen’s Church. Along the way, he helped me work out transfer credits from the University of North Carolina, and he always came to our faculty receptions at Diman House. Over my faculty career at UNC, he influenced the way I taught in class and how I interacted with students outside it. We were saddened to note his passing.

Professor Rohr was an extraordinary man who will be missed by all who were fortunate enough to have known him. His was a life well lived.

Donald M. Stanford Jr. ’73
Chapel Hill, N.C.

I was saddened to read of Professor Rohr’s passing, coincidentally on my seventy-third birthday. His legacy includes stimulating a deep and abiding interest in history in me and, I am sure, in many others who were privileged to have studied in one of his classes.

David Prescott ’64
Santa Fe, N. Mex.

I had the opportunity to take Dr. Rohr’s course in European History when I was an undergraduate in 1962. The lectures were marvelously informative, and Dr. Rohr also had a very delightfully dry sense of humor. In addition, he was very supportive of me (as well as many other students) as a freshman from a Midwestern suburban high school becoming exposed to an Ivy League school. He was certainly a tremendous asset to the Brown faculty. I am sure you must miss him very much.

Stephen Jensik ’66

More on Science and Art
I completely agree that both art and science are necessary to a good life and a good society, and it is unfortunate to present them as antagonistic or exclusive of each other. I can suggest a reason why they are seen in this way in the public mind. (“Art and Science,” March/April).

Until late in the nineteenth century, the world investigated and explained in science and the world depicted or evoked in art was the world available to everyone, at least with a little effort. Newton and Darwin could be read and understood by most educated people, and the work of Dickens, Balzac, Keats, and Whitman seemed to be about that same world, although in different ways.

But in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, both science and art have been addressing worlds unavailable to the ordinary educated person, and they have diverged in radically different ways. Science has become increasingly dependent on advanced mathematics and on observations quite distant from the experience of the non-scientist: quanta, genomes, objects light years away. The arts, on the other hand, have increasingly dealt with the immediate and often wholly subjective experience of the creator, which becomes available only to the extent that one can share that point of view or experience: Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, Joyce, postmodernism, etc.

I don’t suggest that there is anything wrong or inappropriate about these developments; only that they present a problem for the popular understanding and for seeing the connections between art and science.

James Smith ’56 AM, ’60 PhD
Los Angeles

Professor Leon Cooper seeks accommodation between science and art. Why? Is society suffering? Is there a need for rapprochement? Are scientists so dissatisfied with their own lot that they need to subsume art as well? The lead-in line to the article states that “the work of artists and scientists is more alike than you might think.” Well, no, it is not. Art is freedom. It has little interest in the rigor that science prizes. Art sets out to excite and delight. It improvises freely. It dares to create exhilaration and sometimes moves people to tears. Science doesn’t even try for such human connections. Science courts logical continuity. Only on the rarest occasions is science seized by inspiration. Art and science are not antipodal. They are simply culturally different.

Herbert A. Mehlhorn ’56 PhD
Lexington, Mass.

Artificial Intelligence
Professor Littman neglects the possibility that a super-intelligent AI could also cheat, and cheat much better than humans (“Rise of the Machines,” Elms, March/April). The computer programs that beat me at chess don’t do anything as silly as solve NP-complete problems or accurately simulate reality faster than reality itself: they simply ponder and project credible futures.

Thomas Colthurst ’92
Comment from brownalumnimagazine.com

Musical Threads
I saw David Shapiro’s ’75 letter regarding his “worn story” and the mysterious history of his brown sport jacket with Brown stitched in white on the breast pocket (“Worn Stories,” Mail Room, March/April). I also have one of those jackets, which I bought when the Brown Band had a sale of what had been part of its uniform before adopting the brown sweaters worn in our day. I’ve worn it for every reunion since we graduated, and have received a number of compliments on it. Don’t let it go!

Ever true,

Joseph C. Diepenbrock ’76
Raleigh, N.C.

Art and Information
Shortly after its unveiling, I stood admiring the latest piece of public art highlighted in the May/June BAM (“Public Art,” Elms). Another observer, an undergraduate, approached me to ask what it represented. After I briefed her, I realized that this marvelous piece suffers from a lack of any visible information, and an opportunity to educate viewers. The sculpture has a name (Under the Laurentide), a creator (Maya Lin), and a specific and relevant topographic location (Narragansett Bay). This information, plus perhaps a compass rose to indicate direction, should be added directly to the piece or placed nearby. A delightful water table such as this should not remain a projective exercise.

Peter Mackie ’59
Lexington, Mass.

Word Choices
I found much that was problematic in “Who We Are” (Arts & Culture, May/June). Why refer to Hind Makki ’01 as a Muslim rather than, say, a Muslim alumna or simply an alumna? This seems exoticizing and essentializing to me, as if Makki’s religious identity were the sum total of her being or even the primary reason why she was featured. Surely she was included because she is an alumna who has done interesting things post-graduation that involve her religious identity, and not just because she is Muslim. The comment describing her religious practices at the end of the article also seemed out of place and somewhat exoticizing.

In short, it seems that the author of this piece should have spent a bit more time talking, or rather listening, to Makki so that this article, in which the Muslim in question speaks against making caricatures, would not itself have turned into a caricature of how not to write about a minority group.

Tracy M. Lemos ’00
London, Ontario

Brown and the Military
President Paxson’s fulsome tribute and professed admiration for those who serve in the military masks the reality of Brown’s longstanding adversarial relationship with it (“A New ROTC Expansion,” From the President, May/June). The arrangement for ROTC students to further their training forty miles up the road in Worcester is an artifice to keep the military as far off campus as feasible while pretending to support it. Enrollment of five ROTC students and twenty-six veterans represents less than one percent of the student body and makes a joke of Brown’s professed commitment to “diversity.” Those veterans, imbued with the values of courage, commitment, and discipline, bring qualities to the student body that are or should be what diversity is all about.

John C. Stevens ’63
Beaufort, S.C.

President Paxson’s statement on ROTC was misleading, to say the least. I had a long dialogue with former President Simmons on this issue, but could not seem to convince her that ROTC off-campus is not the same as on-campus. It is a significant deterrent to prospective ROTC members, which is probably exactly what is intended. Either that or Brown thinks it needs to shelter its other students from the horror of seeing students in uniform. Or both.

Why is it that Brown alone, since 1969, has not been able to see the value of affording its well-educated and enlightened students an opportunity to engage and be a part of our military on campus? Interestingly, when I put this to students in an article in the Brown Daily Herald many years ago, I received several nice e-mails wondering why the administration continues to ban ROTC.

When I was at Brown, I enrolled in the Navy ROTC two-year program, mainly to avoid the draft. It was a watershed decision for me, and was absolutely responsible for the successes I had during five years in the navy and in my personal and business life ever since.

Brian Barbata ’68
Kailua, HI

More on the Aldrich Brothers
Lawrence Goodman’s May/June “Play Ball” (Finally) celebrates a great moment in Brown athletic history. The Aldrich brothers were more than spectators at the game with old rival Dartmouth, however. They gave an exhibition of pitching from the 1870s era with equipment given them by Athletic Director “Doc” Marvel, class of 1894.

The clever Marvel had dropped off gloves and a ball at the home of the reluctant, inseparable brothers, who at first refused to have any attention drawn to them on Aldrich Field on dedication day. Aldrich Baseball Field was situated on the larger fifteen-acre tract that was also called Aldrich Field.

Aldrich Field is no longer, and the Aldrich name all but disappeared with the 1988 name change from Aldrich-Dexter Field to Erickson Athletic Complex. The brothers are still memorialized through the four large Aldrich Field clocks from Marvel Gym that now sit atop the Nelson Fitness Center. The brothers have come full circle, since directly across Hope Street is Pembroke Field, once the site of their estate.

Peter Mackie ’59
Lexington, Mass.

History Lesson
Ted Widmer’s comment that Georgia troops exhumed and outraged the corpses of Union soldiers comes as a bit of a surprise to me, and I’m sure to many other armchair readers of history (“Blood and Suffering,” May/June). Without doubting its veracity, I hope the BAM can provide competent attribution to such comments in a future issue. This chapter, if true, is virtually unknown.

Mark Schofer
Comment from brownalumnimagazine.com

Ted Widmer replies: All the details relating to Sullivan Ballou’s death, and the complicated events that followed it, are available in a book-length study by Robin Young, For Love & Liberty: The Untold Civil War Story of Major Sullivan Ballou and his Famous Love Letter, issued in 2006 by Thunder’s Mouth Press. The story is also told in a history journal: see Evan C. Jones, “The Macabre Fate of an American Civil War Major,” America’s Civil War (November 2004).

Women at Brown
I read with great interest “Sexism in Higher Ed” in the May/June BAM (Elms). The Louise Lamphere case was indeed critical in advancing the status and number of women at Brown and in fundamentally changing the way the University hires, promotes, and tenures faculty.

I was disappointed, however, that the article omitted all mention of the role of the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women in bringing the case back to public consciousness. The Center mounted an extensive exhibit on the case and sponsored the two-day conference described in the story.

Since its founding in 1981, the Pembroke Center has been dedicated to teaching and research on women and to preserving the history of women at Brown—women like Louise Lamphere. Without the Pembroke Center, I doubt that Brown’s 250th anniversary would have included any mention of Lamphere’s historic fight to give women an equal shot at a place on the Brown faculty. We still need institutions like the Pembroke Center, and let’s not forget the important work it does.

Jean Howard ’70
New York City







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Related Issue
July/August 2015