Mail Room

By The Editors / March / April 2004
June 15th, 2007

The Brown Planet?

It is high time that the geological sciences department received its proper recognition (“Is Anybody Out There?” January/February). Professor Tim Mutch’s legacy has indeed lived on through the many Brown alums involved with Mars exploration.

The development of the Mars Exploration Rovers was a tremendously difficult challenge. I lived and breathed this project as a development and operations engineer for nearly four years. Sixty- to eighty-hour work weeks were the standard. This mission was initially sold as the Athena Science Payload developed by Steve Squyres of Cornell for the Mars Pathfinder Lander. By the end of 2000 we realized that this approach was not feasible, and so some sacred design cows would have to be abandoned. In addition, critical elements of entry, descent, and landing were redesigned and retested when latent Pathfinder design flaws were uncovered. I led a team of more than forty engineers and technicians to design, build, and test the thermal control subsystem.

We constantly questioned ourselves with what-ifs and agonized over what approaches would work. When Spirit landed in early January, all doubts vanished. I have been privileged to be part of the mission operations team during the launches and landings of both Spirit and Opportunity as a thermal-subsystem engineer.

My next job? Mission assurance manager on the Mars Scouts Phoenix Mission scheduled for 2007!

Glenn Tsuyuki ’79, ’81 ScM
Pasadena, Calif.

Thank you for a great article by Zachary Block ’99 about Brown’s contribution to the exploration of Mars. And thanks for mentioning my husband, Geoff Landis ’88 PhD. Geoff was also principal investigator for the 1997 Pathfinder Materials Adherence Experiment, which traveled to Mars to measure how much dust landed on a solar array on the Sojourner rover. This experiment determined whether dust would cause problems in collecting solar energy during future missions, including, of course, the Mars Exploration Rovers.

I was amazed at how many other Brown scientists in all fields have made a contribution to the study of the red planet. Maybe Mars is really the Brown planet!

Mary A. Turzillo
Berea, Ohio

For readers interested in more about Mars, I recommend Laurence Bergreen’s Voyage to Mars: NASA’s Search for Life beyond Earth, which chronicles the development of the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) for the Mars Global Surveyor mission. The MOLA—whose science team included Professor of Geological Sciences James Head ’69 PhD, NASA lead scientist for Mars exploration James Garvin ’78, ’84 PhD, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter investigator Maria Zuber ’86 PhD, and me—used a laser to generate a 3-D map of the planet that is being used today to guide the Mars rovers on the planet’s surface.

Robert S. Afzal ’89 PhD
East Providence

One more addition to your list of Brown people who worked on Mars exploration. Winslow Farrell ’75, a geological sciences concentrator, worked on the Viking missions.

Aaron Prosnitz ’05

Rosemary’s Spirit

In an early 1960s article in Life magazine, Mary Bunting of Radcliffe College urged “brainy” housewives who had not achieved college degrees before marriage to return to college. I was one of the many women who heeded her call. In 1963, with five children at home, I was among a few women accepted to Pembroke College under an experimental program for “returning” students. My presence in classes provoked consternation, puzzlement, and some skepticism among the exclusively male professors I encountered. As a part-time student with outside family responsibilities, I needed an advocate who could create innovative opportunities for me on campus. Rosemary Pierrel was that advocate (“The Tides of Change,” Obituaries, January/February). Always good-humored about my dilemmas, she saw my roadblocks as challenges, my efforts as deserving of her attention. Not the-least of those was the then requirement that all graduates pass a Red Cross swimming test, something my older children had accomplished with ease but which was daunting for their nonathletic, thirty-five-year-old mom.

In our junior year, Dean Pierrel invited a dozen or so Pembroke students, including me, to tea—no gloves required by then. Knowing from her experience the difficulties we might face, she agreed to shepherd us through applying to graduate schools and to guide us to sources of financial support. The tea was a watershed event in my life. It authenticated my dream of becoming an anthropologist at a time when, with few exceptions, the all-male Department of Sociology and Anthropology was less than encouraging.

Rosemary Pierrel was my champion and that of many others during her stewardship of Pembroke. She was a spirited activist on behalf of women students at a time when, upon my graduation, the headlines in the local newspapers read “Mother of Five Wins Fellowship.” I can only hope that an important memorial to this outstanding woman will be established at Brown.

Ina (Dinerman) Rosenthal-Urey ’66
San Diego

The writer went on to earn her PhD at Brandeis and, before retiring, was a research fellow at the U.S.-Mexico Studies Research Center at UC San Diego.

Kids and Courage

It’s been a long time since my children were kids of the ages described in “Brave New Kids” by David Allyn ’91 (January/February). However, in my volunteer work in the Tucson school system, I mentor four young girls, two of whom are fourteen, one of whom is eight, and one of whom is fifteen. I think the article applies as much to us mentors as it does to parents. I wonder if the author has any special advice for those of us who mentor preteen and teenage children —especially those of us who work with families whose situation is less than desirable.

Andrew Swanson ’50

David Allyn replies: Having worked with many at-risk teenagers myself, I think that mentors can play a unique role in liberating teens and preteens from the fear of embarrassment. Mentors can make fun of themselves in a way that is often difficult for parents to do. Mentors can also push teens to take risks. Teenagers will usually trust their mentors in a way that they do not trust their parents. Most of all, it’s essential for a mentor to be honest. If you’re worried about what the students think of you, say so. If you’re worried about being a “bad” mentor, cop to that. Teens can smell hypocrisy a mile away. If you want them to be bold and audacious themselves, you’ve got to show them the way.

I’m afraid that we’re apt to produce very few “Brave New Kids” unless, like Lincoln, Washington, Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Patrick Henry, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, Albert Schweitzer, and Charles Darwin et al., they are largely raised and schooled at home. From age three onward, most of our TV-besotted young—and especially those in day care and preschool—are expected to conform and achieve while the adults measure, judge, praise, criticize, and define success—the stress of which causes ever-increasing levels of the brain-damaging chemicals cortisol and norepinephrine.

And this situation continues, of course, in kindergarten through graduate school, putting them on the spot to produce that magic right answer, and if they don’t provide it they’ll be labeled as some kind of failing misfit well before their brains have matured and before their lives have hardly begun.

So it’s the rare child indeed who can practice bravery—i.e., think for himself or herself, ask insightful questions, or challenge the conventional wisdoms. And, being dependent on the nurturing adult, they usually have to memorize, regurgitate, and then forget a curriculum within the confines of a zero-tolerance institution—unlike prior to WWII, when few fields required a degree, not to mention 1900, when 94 percent dropped out of school, and most males left home around age fourteen.

Robert E. Kay ’53

A Bad Choice

As an active alum of the conservative minyan and the Hillel community and as a proud religious Zionist, I am outraged and stunned to learn that Hillel invited the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights to speak at Brown (“Facing Facts,” Elms, January/February). Rabbis for Human Rights is a left-wing Israeli group that supports the Arab cause. By inviting this group to campus, Hillel is undermining Israel’s war against Arab terrorism. Hillel should instead be demonstrating solidarity with Israel by inviting such Israeli spokesmen as Benjamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky to speak on campus.

Rebecca Witonsky ’97
New York City

A Toxic Tradition

Marie Myung-Ok Lee’s cultural reminiscence of fishing with her family in Minnesota (“Rapture on the Water,” Alumni P.O.V., November/December) is darkened somewhat by newer knowledge about pollution and by the lack of information available to non-English speakers about the risks of eating contaminated fish.

Widespread environmental pollution from coal-burning power plants and other industrial sources has tainted U.S. lakes with mercury at levels now known to be hazardous to health. Because mercury accumulates in fish, anglers like Lee and her family are at highest risk. The main victims are children, thanks to the toxic effects of this metal on the developing brain. Pike and walleye from Hill Lake, the site of Lee’s childhood vacation home, are now subject to state advisories that warn women of reproductive age not to eat more than one meal per month of these fish. Muskies such as the one caught by her Uncle Howard are so contaminated that they should not be eaten at all, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Unfortunately, a review of Minnesota fish advisories fails to reveal any warnings or advisories in Korean, the language of Lee’s family. Other families from Southeast Asia continue their fishing tradition unaware of the problems with contaminated fish in the United States, because state and local health departments as well as federal agencies are failing to warn these communities of the dangers. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a plan to allow coal-burning power plants to continue to pollute our lakes with mercury. Something is wrong in this country when families cannot continue their cultural traditions and recreational enjoyment without endangering their children’s health.

Gina M. Solomon ’86
San Francisco

The writer is a physician, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and an assistant clinical professor of medicine at UC San Francisco.

Spiking Spike

As a Brooklyn-based author and journalist, I wrote an editorial in Newsday last year criticizing filmmaker Spike Lee for featuring attractive African American women with Caucasian men in 25th Hour. In another Newsday essay, I denounced Harvard’s head of African American Studies, Henry Louis Gates Jr., for hiring an expert on hip-hop. And so I found reports of Lee’s recent trip to campus very interesting (“Gangsters Rapped,” Elms, January/February), especially because last winter, Lee refused to return my e-mail inquiries seeking answers to questions about why he was joining the Hollywood trend of casting and rewarding African American women for being involved sexually on-screen with Caucasian men, while shying away from casting African American men in sexual situations with Caucasian women. (Several years ago, Lee, in Jungle Fever, did portray a romance between an African American man and Caucasian woman, but let’s not forget that in that film he ended up denigrating the combination.)

So now suddenly, the selectively aware and outraged Lee is trying to lead the charge against 50 Cent and company? Those of us who live in the Clinton Hill/Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, where Lee used to live before fleeing to the Upper East Side, no longer buy his game of being the foremost African American auteur. We are aware that he is as much of a sellout as 50 Cent, Russell Simmons, Puff Daddy, and all the other minstrels rewarded with millions by the powers-that-be in this society in exchange for providing them with the self-destructive and licentious images of African Americans they crave.

Hugh Pearson ’79
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Generous, Not Fair

I was disappointed in the article on financial aid for not mentioning that 100 or more transfer students a year are left out of the Initiatives for Academic Enrichment program as it applies to improved undergraduate financial aid (“Fuzzy Math,” Elms, January/February). According to Brown’s director of financial aid, no University scholarship assistance will be awarded for this year to assist transfer students with their tuition. Why does Brown, unlike the other Ivy League schools, penalize transfer students with reduced financial aid? The upcoming capital campaign statement should include a change in these policies. Transfer students should be treated as members of the student body with equal rights in all areas, including financial aid.

Andy Friesner

The writer is a Brown parent.

With regard to the impact of need-blind admission on financial aid: perhaps if Brown is to remain a strong and competitive educational institution it should consider reverting to a measure of practical, traditional New England fiscal principles with less bleeding-heart idealism.

I hear far too many students bragging about an almost free ride (your article says that 42 percent of freshmen receive an average of $23,250 in aid—out of $30,120, the total cost of tuition and fees). In addition, some of these very same students take leisure-vacation summer jobs that provide little income toward college expenses.

T. R. Ford ’53
Cadiz, Ohio

Cheers to the Champ

I was saddened to read of dick Phillips’s passing (Obituaries, January/ February). We were good friends but had not been in touch for many years.

Dick was well known by the general population in Providence. One evening he and several classmates were on Federal Hill in a tavern that served nickel beers. At the bar were a couple of “tough” guys who came to our table and inquired if Dick was the high-jump champion. He was. After talking with Dick for a few minutes, one of the men went to the bar and laid down a fifty-dollar bill. He ordered 1,000 beers and asked the house to give a cheer for “the Champ”!

Edgar W. Swanson Jr. ’50
Savannah, Ga.

Bobby Redux

I was shocked, appalled, and flabbergasted by the amount of space and warmth shown to Bobby Jindal ’92 (“Bobby Goes Home,” November/December). Surely his efforts are very much worthy of note in the BAM—but an eight-page feature article?

Jindal opposes abortion in all cases. He is not simply a Christian conservative, as the article headline states, but rather a Catholic Christian conservative. I have been told that Catholic conservatives will not attend a liturgy in English, much less support any of the great liberal changes that have occurred in the Church since the 1960s.

Right now thousands of African women die slow and torturous deaths because the United States will not counsel women to use abortion, but the United States will also not provide the services to have these women deliver their babies safely. So they die.

Let me try to frame my objections in a more direct fashion: Are you planning a delightful personality portrait of George Lincoln Rockwell ’42 while he was on our campus? Who cares if he advocated the extinction of Jews and blacks, for he must have been a very personable fellow!

Marc W. Kohler ’69
Cranston, R.I.

Some, but by no means all, Catholic Christian conservatives prefer the Latin Mass that was standard before the Second Vatican Council invited Masses in all languages (including Latin). According to Catholic belief, however, one’s stand on abortion does not depend on the language of the Mass one attends: the Church, despite the “great liberal changes” Marc W. Kohler refers to, teaches that all abortion is a form of killing. The BAM has no plans for profiling Rockwell, who, it should be noted, hated Catholics as virulently as he did Jews and African Americans; comparing him to Bobby Jindal is unfair, to say the least. —Editor
Robert A. Frenette ’54 was pleased to see that Bobby Jindal lost to a Democrat. “The BAM Machine,” Mail Room, January/February). To me, voting along party lines is the worst way to vote. It leads to power politics, not to electing the best person for the Job. Who was it that said, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”?

The South used to be solidly behind Democrats until the voters got fed up and elected some Republicans.

Raymond Perreault ’50
Baton Rouge, La.

Get It Right

Your note regarding the great organist Marcel Dupré misspelled St. Sulpice (“The Wrong Note,” Mail Room, January/February). I lived at Place St. Sulpice in Paris during 1952–53 and had the great pleasure of hearing Dupré play both at the church and at organ recitals elsewhere.

Thank you for your excellent magazine.

Bill Walsh ’50
Ormond Beach, Fla.

Remembering Rugby

I was greatly saddened to read of the death last year of Dave Zucconi ’55 (“Brown Always Came First,” Elms, March/April 2003). As your article stated, he was instrumental in introducing the game of rugby football to Brown and, together with Jay Fluck ’65, ensured that the sport thrived.

But before the early history of rugger at Brown becomes lost in the mists of time, I want to add that the kernel of the idea was formed in the winter of 1959–60, when four or five of us were wondering what to do after the soccer season had ended. I cannot remember how Dave became involved, but he soon emerged as the catalyst and chief organizer. We placed an ad in the Brown Daily Herald, and soon had a squad of nearly thirty players.

I scored the first points in our inaugural match at MIT, where we were beaten 9–3 in March 1960. We also lost to Williams and to Westchester Rugby Club. The first Brown victory was a 21–0 win against the New York Rugby Club on Spring Weekend. Dave scored two touchdowns. We played on a makeshift pitch adjacent to the Marvel Gym, with rudimentary lines and no goalposts. I have a picture of the team.

The first captain was Jon Towers. Our coach and star player was Ian Coutts, who was teaching at Moses Brown and had played for Scotland a few years before. Happy days indeed.

Lain Tulloch ’63
Symington, Ayrshire

Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana credits Zucconi with coming up with the idea for rugby at Brown, explaining that he had played the sport in England while stationed there with the U.S. Air Force. Women’s rugby began at the University in 1987. —Editor

Correction: In “Is Anybody Out There?” (January/February), Catherine Weitz ’98 PhD was incorrectly identified as the NASA headquarters project scientist for Spirit, Opportunity, and Mars Express. She is the program scientist.
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