Mail Room

By The Editors / March / April 2003
June 22nd, 2007

Uncivil War

In his essay “The Battle Over Gettysburg” (Faculty P.O.V., January/February) historian Michael Vorenberg calls “humility and empathy” appropriate responses to the destruction of the World Trade Center. “In our time,” he writes, “the sin is bigotry; its price is fear and terrorism.” Did the suicide bombers seek to punish America for its crimes of bigotry? Should the families of the people who worked in those twin towers feel “humble” toward the originators and perpetrators of the attacks? Ought they feel “empathy” toward those who cheered the mass murder? Not that the good assistant professor surprised me or caught me off guard; similar reactions have taken place on nearly every college campus. Nor do I believe that the opposite reaction must wear the heavy term “vengeance.” Instead, I feel with Shakespeare that once in a quarrel, “Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.”

Indeed, I believe that Vor-enberg may himself unwittingly be guilty of a kind of bigotry. Our opponents publicly proclaim and preach their murderous hatred of Israelis, of Jews everywhere, of Americans, and of Christendom—and might bigotry also include the plight of women in Islamic culture?

At age seventy, my uncle married at Windows on the World, the famed restaurant perched atop the north World Trade Center tower. After five years, he and his wife held a “silver” wedding anniversary party at the same glorious spot. I realize now that those twin towers stood for hope, for a second chance, for a Manhattan inseparable from the Statue of Liberty: an endless beacon that helped lost souls find themselves. That is why I save my empathy and my sense of humility for the survivors—all New Yorkers, all Americans, and the friends, not the foes, of our way of life.

Mike Fink ’59 A.M.

Assistant professor Vorenberg obviously knows much about the Civil War era, but he misapplies that knowledge to our times. He suggests that 9/11 ought to be remembered with a reading of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural because of its humble and conciliatory tone. What Vorenberg misses is that Lincoln gave the Second Inaugural almost at the end of the Civil War, when victory was at hand and Lincoln saw the need to begin postwar reconciliation with the South.

In contrast, our war with the radical Islamists has only begun. Our ultimate victory is not inevi-table. Much depends upon whether we have the will to win. We may yet suffer attacks worse than 9/11. To adopt the tone of the Second Inaugural now would be as if Lincoln had given that speech after the debacle at First Manassas or after the bloody fighting at Antietam.

Vorenberg also says that bigotry is the original sin that led to the butchery of our innocent citizens on 9/11. He never explains this bizarre statement, but it brings to mind the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s remark to the same effect made right after 9/11. (Falwell blamed other sins.) If Vorenberg intended to imply that the radical Islamists launched their barbarous attack in response to bigotry by Americans against them, he is wrong. The radical Islamists are the spawn of corrupt and failed Arab states, a civilization awash in petrodollars but lacking in liberty and accomplishment. Their war on the West is a reflection on them, not on us.

While we did not start this war, it is we who must finish it if we are to preserve our own liberty and way of life. We cannot erect walls to keep terrorists out; nor is it possible to suppress the terrorists once they have reached our shores unless we wish to create a police state of our own. Rather, we must take the war overseas to the radical Islamists, killing as many as possible and discrediting their causes with total defeat. After the fighting is done and the victory is ours, there will be time enough for Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address.

Jeffrey K. Shapiro ’83
Arlington, Va.


Michael Vorenberg replies: My statement that “the sin is bigotry” seems to have led to some confusion and even to the mistaken assumption that I hold Americans responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001. I used bigotry in its broad, original meaning, defined in my dictionary as “intolerantly devoted to one’s own opinions and prejudices.” I did not single out bigotry in the United States but was referring to all types. Anti-American prejudice is also a kind of bigotry, and is certainly the kind most responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

Hateless in Idaho

Jeez, we Idahoans are trying like heck to shed our public image as the chosen home of hate criminals. At least the D.C. sniper, being from Washington State, and the Unabomber, being from Montana, are making us look better. No thanks, though, to BAM and Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers ’86 for perpetuating Idaho stereotypes in his review of Olympvs Rex and Other Greek Tragedies, a CD by Ken Shaw ’84.

David Foster ’90
Boise, Idaho

Turning Back From Cuba

While I was having a beer more than thirty years ago with an acquaintance at the officers club at Cha Rang, Vietnam, he told me he had been aboard one of a string of C-130s carrying troops from the 18th Airborne Corps to Cuba in support of the Bay of Pigs invasion. (“Our Men in Havana,” January/February). They were called back while they were still over the Florida Straits.

It was a painful story for him, not because he was advocating an invasion of Cuba, but because he and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division had been ordered to abandon the invading force at the Bay of Pigs.

From my perspective this always has seemed a sensible story. It may be the only way that the invasion of Cuba by a small, irregular force made any sense. Then and now I consider this young officer an entirely reliable source. On the other hand, Graham Allison, James Blight, and others have had ample opportunity to review the now declassified materials, yet I have seen no mention of this event.

If there is any truth to this barroom conversation, it would help fill out your piece on those awful days.

Keep up the good work.

K.R. Kaffenberger ’67
Cambridge, Mass.

Norman Boucher replies: The original plan for what became the Bay of Pigs invasion was crafted by the Eisenhower administration and included a substantial number of U.S. troops. After taking office, President Kennedy concluded that such overt U.S. involvement would seriously harm our relations with other Latin American countries, but the plans had a momentum of their own. Among the orders the new president issued was to cancel all air operations around Cuba that could be traced back to the United States, including the planned landing of troop transports—such as C-130s—at an airstrip near the Bay of Pigs. As a result, the Cuban exiles who invaded felt betrayed and abandoned, and the U.S. public blamed Kennedy for a humiliating defeat on Castro’s soil. A description of these events can be found in Politics of Illusion: The Bay of Pigs Invasion Reexamined, by Watson Institute Professor of International Relations James G. Blight (who was the subject of my article) and Peter Kornbluh (who addressed Blight’s class this fall).

Wrap it Up

The earliest documented small-pox genocide against Native Americans occurred when the British passed on infected blankets during the French and Indian War (“How to Kill,” Finally, January/February). Contrary to your article the practice was not just what “some historians believe” happened; it is one of the better-documented events in British-American colonial history. More detail can be found at

Gordon C. Thomasson
Vestal, N.Y.
The writer is a Brown parent.

Not Going Yet

The rumor of my impending retirement has been greatly exaggerated. I have no intention of retiring in June of 2003, as indicated in the January/February issue (“The Good Book,” In Class). I shall, however, have a retrospective exhibition of my work tracing the last fifty years. It opens April 11 in the Bell Gallery, located at the List Art Center.

Walter Feldman

Unsound Bite

The quote you chose to include from Harvard psychology professor Jerome Kagan’s Lipsitt-Duchin Child Behavior and Development lecture—“I know of no variation of environment in early childhood that predicts psychologi-cal outcome later”—misrepresents the import and impact of his point of view (Listening In, Elms, January/February). Kagan knows, for example, that poverty is a primary determinant of premature birth, which in turn is closely associated with numerous developmental delays and life-span disorders. In fact, he was one of the first in the country to point this out, based on data produced in part from Brown’s participation in the National Collaborative Perinatal Project. Kagan’s position is that life-trajectory outcomes are complex and require examination of numerous interacting elements; no single antecedent can tell the whole story.

Lewis P. Lipsitt

The writer is professor emeritus of psychology, medical science, and human development.

Emerson’s Terror

I commend you for Zachary Block’s relatively fair coverage of Steven Emerson (“One Man’s War on Terror,” November/December). You neither unduly praised him nor unfairly maligned him. However, although Emerson does usually point out that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not terrorists, he remains an anti-Muslim demagogue. His repeated attacks against Sami al-Arian, despite al-Arian’s vindication in court, give testimony to his lack of concern for the health and happiness of American Muslims. Also, his inclusion of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in American Jihad’s list of organizations that support terrorism is absolutely absurd. ISNA has been at the forefront of fostering a peaceful and moderate American-Muslim community for many decades. While Emerson deserves to have his views heard, it is the responsibility of people of conscience to reject his anti-Muslim rhetoric.

R. David Coolidge ’01
Princeton, N.J.


David P. Prescott ’64 asks whether the Cassandra reference in Zachary Block’s cover story really needs to be explained in a magazine whose readers are primarily Brown graduates (“Two Questions,” Mail Room, January/February).

Block, as it turns out, erroneously identifies Cassandra as a Greek goddess. Unfortunately, she was neither Greek nor a goddess, but a mortal Trojan princess, the daughter of Priam and Hecuba and sister to Hector and Paris. She was also beloved by Apollo, from whom she received the power of prophecy. When she spurned his attentions, however, the god—prohibited by Olympian law from revoking a gift—added the spiteful proviso that no one would ever believe her, even though she was invariably right. So, yes, perhaps the reference to Cassandra does need to be explained to some Brown graduates who read the BAM—and to one who writes for it.

One last observation: Block makes much of Emerson’s preoccupation with his personal safety. In the myth, Cassandra foresees her own violent death but is powerless to prevent it. One can carry the analogy only so far, but Emerson’s premonitions about bodily harm may be well founded and his precautions well advised.

Paul J. Palmera ’65 A.M.
Warwick, R.I.

Where’s the Money?

I’m sure many of us were relieved to read that the endowment performed reasonably well in fiscal year 2002, but I was somewhat bewildered to read that “71.8 percent of Brown’s investments is in equities, while 28.2 percent is in hedges” (“Taming the Unruly Beast,” Elms, November/December). What is a hedge—short sales, hedge funds, fixed-income investments? I’m sure that your readers would also be interested to learn the composition of Brown’s equity portfolio, i.e., the portion that’s in such vehicles as domestic common stocks, international equities, and private equity.

Robert M. Wigod ’54
New York City

Vice President and Chief Investment Officer Cynthia Frost replies: The goal for the endowment is to grow its purchasing power over the long term while providing for the University’s current spending needs. To accomplish this, the endowment must have a high allocation to equities to provide for spending and long-term growth. The endowment’s policy targets equity exposure of 78 percent, which is achieved through a broadly diversified array of asset classes that dampen the volatility inherent in equities. These asset classes include global, publicly traded common stock; private equity (buyouts and venture capital); and hedge funds (market-neutral arbitrage funds and long or short hedge funds). These asset classes are relatively high-returning, volatile investments that provide growth for spending over the long term. The rest of the endowment (22 percent) is invested in so-called hedge asset classes, which are intended to protect it against declines in equity markets. These include fixed-income inflation hedges (e.g., commodities and Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities) and real estate.

As you can see, the “hedges” portion of the endowment does not refer to hedge funds, which are included in equities, but instead refers to asset classes that hedge against economic scenarios harmful to equities. The fixed-income portfolio is composed of high-quality government bonds intended to protect the endowment against deflation and provide liquidity for University spending, if necessary. The inflation-hedges and real-estate portfolios protect the endowment against sudden, unexpected inflation. These hedging asset classes, when combined with a diversified equities portfolio, have enabled the endowment to remain intact during the current prolonged decline in equities.

American Dreams

“A Piece of the Dream” by Jim Cullen ’92 Ph.D. is an excellent brief history of the rise of suburbia (November/December). I spent eighteen years living in another version of the American Dream, the planned city of Columbia, Maryland. Essentially, Columbia turned five large farms into house lots and a supermall, and forty years later its population has topped out at 110,000. I left Columbia seven years ago for yet another version of suburbia, and I still carry ambivalent feelings about the place.

Columbia’s founder, the late Jim Rouse, is considered an icon and a visionary for what most regard as enlightened land planning and progressive social engineering. I, however, have come to see the success of Columbia more as a financial and commercial one than as a great early experiment in racially integrated housing and community building. Columbia has survived long enough to become afflicted with many of the problems larger cities suffer: crime, traffic congestion, and, curiously, resegregation in its older neighborhoods. The community is still governed as a kind of gigantic homeowner’s association, joined at the hip to the culture of cars and malls.

I spend a lot of my work life as a builder and developer trying to get at the riddle of what makes communities work. In some older, historic areas of Maryland, for example, mixed-income, pedestrian-oriented, live-work environments are being created as alternatives to the suburban-sprawl paradigm. The state Department of Natural Resources has been sponsoring environmentally sensitive site design, green buildings, and green products, all of which tie into the governor’s vision of smart growth. Nonetheless, we still have de facto segregation by class and race in most new developments. Perhaps this reflects the persistence of social structures dating back to the first European settlers in America, and illuminated in the great Jeffersonian-Hamiltonian debate over individual rights and collective consensus.

J. Russell Tyldesley ’62
Catonsville, Md.

Skirting the Issue

It is encouraging to read of the accomplishments and dedication of Brown cheerleaders (“Screaming in Unison,” November/December). If we are really to believe that cheerleaders are chosen to raise spirits or perform athletic feats, rather than to be “sex objects,” then should we not expect female cheerleaders to be clad in the same uniform as male cheerleaders—in slacks or shorts? Short skirts obviously are not necessary for spirit raising or athletic performance, but they are, of course, standard issue for heightening sexual attention.

It would be nice to see Brown take the lead in removing this last vestige of sexism from American campuses.

Jeffrey Liss ’65
Winnetka, Ill.


Here is one omission from Zachary Block’s summary of how Brown alumni fared in the most recent election (“Brunonians on the Ballot,” The Classes, January/February). Mee Moua ’92, whose special election to the Minnesota Senate the BAM reported last year, won a full term in the November election. She is a Democrat and the majority whip.

Alisa Tanaka ’91
Washington, D.C.

Other alumni we missed include Rhode Island state senators Elizabeth Howlett Roberts ’78 and J. Michael Lenihan ’65, ’68 M.A.T.; New Hampshire state representative Tom McCormick ’47; and Delaware state treasurer Jack Markell ’82.—Editor

Rest in Peace

Charlie Baldwin was a great christian, a great preacher, and a great friend (“One of the Righteous Few,” Obituaries, January/February). His influence in my development as a Christian was considerable, in letters and personal visits. To me he epitomized the injunction in the New Testament to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13).

In his years after retirement, Charlie suffered badly from a variety of ailments. Rest in peace, Charlie; you earned it.

R. Peyton Howard ’62
Washington, D.C.

Thank you for your wonderful remembrance of chaplain Charles Baldwin. In addition to being “one of the righteous few” whose passion for justice and mercy took him from the civil rights struggles of Mississippi to the bedsides of those dying in hospices, Charlie was for many of us a mentor, an anchor, and a friend. Conversations at his kitchen table or group discussions in his living room were always full of great laughter and heartfelt warmth.

In a place that takes pride in shaping the mind, Charlie stood out during my Brown years as one who shaped the character, spirit, and soul. My prayer is that those of us deeply influenced by Charlie will do him fitting tribute by passing on his gifts to those of the next generation.

Rev. Paul Cromwell ’78
Jacksonville, Fla.

Through the Tulips

Economics professor Herschel Grossman’s definition of moral individuals is flawed (“Moral Minority,” Data Points, Elms, November/December). According to Grossman, “If there are lots of moral people and only a few amoral people, amoral people have it good because there are a lot of suckers for them to rip off.” He is mistaken to suggest that moral individu-als are hapless and naive, unaware of vice in the world. To live a moral life is an active choice that people make each day of their lives, weighing the options between good and evil. One can live a moral life and still be streetwise to what others are doing. Courts excuse murderers deemed temporarily insane, whose insanity produced a lack of awareness of the evil they committed. Conversely, suckers who perform good acts are not entirely moral because they are not aware of the good they are doing. Those who are truly moral live with awareness and conscious deliberation; they do not ignorantly stumble through the tulips.

Alison Mara Friedman ’02
Beijing, China

Bang-up Job

Congratulations and thanks very much for the marvelous article on Sock and Buskin by William Bunch ’81 (“Shakespeare and Scandal,” July/ August). Although I was a member of Sock and Buskin during the 1930s, thanks to an unfortunate incident in my junior year my relations with Ben Brown deteriorated. Ben determined fairly quickly during my freshman year that I was not a very gifted thespian, but he did find me useful as what he called an “assistant director.” This involved my following along with the script during rehearsals and prompting the actors who forgot or stumbled over their lines. I sometimes found this assignment a bit boring, but there were major compensations. For example, I managed to memorize many great passages in Shakespeare, particularly in Richard II. I still know them.

But then one day—I think it was early in my junior year—my thespian career at Brown crashed ignominiously. It occurred during a production of L’Aiglon, in one scene when a pistol is fired twice in quick succession. During rehearsals I, as the assistant director, would shout “Bang! Bang!” at the top of my lungs.

Until I left Brown eighteen months later, some of my closest friends would still refer to me as “Bang-Bang Leavitt.”

John H. Leavitt ’39
Thursley, Surrey

Calling all Pembrokers!

Please join us on the college Green, Monday, May 26, at 8:30 a.m. to march in the Commencement procession behind our new Pembroke College banner, which has been graciously donated by Betty Socha ’47, president of the Pembroke Club of Providence. As an integral part of Brown’s history, Pembroke and its banner will hold an honored position in this year’s procession, as well as in those of the future.

Joan Hoost McMaster ’60

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