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Letters to the Editor

CHILD’S-EYE VIEW

You mention that Leland Junior, while “at home in San Francisco,” sketched a harbor battle with ships engaged and puffs of smoke coming from afort on shore (“Abouta Boy,” July/August).

This was almost certainly the mock battle staged in San Francisco on July 4, 1876, to celebrate the U.S. Centennial. It took place off the Presidio, Fort Mason and what is now called the Marina District. Leland Junior could have sketched the scene from the hills above the Presidio or from Russian Hill, Pacific Heights or Fort Mason. The fort in the picture would be Fort Point, then called Fort Winfield Scott. There is a famous photograph of the “battle” taken from behind the Presidioparade grounds and showing Alcatraz in the background.

If this assumption is correct, Leland Junior would have been 8 at the time. It would be interesting to know more about how San Francisco—a colorful and cosmopolitan city that fascinated contemporary sophisticates like Robert Louis Stevenson—helped shape the boy’semerging understanding of the world.

Neil Malloch, ’56
San Francisco, California


OBESITY OUTRAGE

If ever your magazine ran an irresponsible article, “Living Large” (July/August) is it. It’s one thing for an individual to be obese and deal with it in his or her own way. It’s quite another to glorify obesity as not only acceptable but somehow wonderful.

We’re not talking about some South Pacific island where it is still believed that women must be fat to show that their husbands are good providers. We’re talking about the developed world, where almost 40 percent of the population is either overweight or obese (some to the point of morbidity) and where obesity is probably the greatest health threat to face our country in 100 years. Health care costs are skyrocketing, affecting families, companies and the whole political system, while obesity is known to contribute to cancer, diabetes, coronary disease and a host of other issues that could be addressed largely by weight loss.

I am well aware that one can be overweight and still in decent cardiovascular shape, and that’s better than being overweight and never exercising. But proper weight, diet and exercise would help control many diseases and their resulting costs.

Marilyn Wann (and your article) tell the world, “Fat is fine. It’s good. People are stupid if they don’t agree. Go ahead and continue your eating behavior, and if the aesthetics aren’t approved, you’re still terrific.”

This is nonsense. It sells ill health, emotional pain, enormous pressure on the medical community and huge expenses that could be avoided. Do I have a problem with that? You bet I do!

Donn V. Tognazzini, ’56
Los Olivas, California

Does anyone really believe that obesity can have redeeming qualities? It is an increasing burden on our society, brought to you by people lacking self-discipline and grasping at straws to transfer the blame. The law of the conservation of energy leads us to the bottom line: if you don’t put it in your mouth and swallow it, it won’t show up on your hips, thighs, etc. It couldn’t be much simpler than that, despite all efforts—such as your article—to complicate it.

What’s next, smoking your way to better health?

Laszlo Eger, MBA ’73
Boston, Massachusetts

Obesity is a serious national epidemic, a symptom of a cultural malaise, and it doesn’t seem like a good idea to applaud people defending this condition. Covering these people is a terrible drain on everyone who pays insurance. My husband, an orthopedic surgeon, constantly reports on back, knee and other injuries directly caused by obesity, as well as the increased difficulty and danger of operating on obese patients.

People are grossly overweight because they grossly overeat; genetics plays only a small part. Marilyn Wann claims to be eating a healthy vegetarian diet—I find that extremely hard to swallow. Perhaps the photos that show her “flabulous” body should be juxtaposed with photos of starving children in Asia, India and Africa. It is a sad irony that the United States is obsessed with youth and body image, yet immersed in a consumer mentality that pressures so many into overeating.

Karen Whitehill
Earlysville, Virginia

Why would STANFORD publish an article celebrating, with little qualification, an obese life? Obesity is a major public health issue in this country, especially among the young. In addition to the diseases cited in the article that are more likely to afflict obese people or to show up in them at an earlier age, there is recent evidence that the fat may be more prone to dementia, especially early Alzheimer’s.

The concept of “fat and fit” is oxymoronic. People get fat by eating more calories than they burn. No amount of paddling around a pool, however beneficial to an individual’s self-esteem, is going to change that equation. It is not possible to pack 270 pounds onto a 5-foot-4 frame and call it fit.

Should insurance companies be able to rate obese people out or increase premiums? Of course they should, in that these people, through their own acts, have condemned themselves to shorter and less-healthy lives. Should healthy people who really do endeavor to watch diet and exercise be taxed to take care of the willingly obese? Isn’t good health (for people not afflicted with some awful disease) a personal choice?

Paradoxically, it is politically correct for insurance companies to charge higher premiums to people who choose to smoke, even though they may die earlier and in a less costly manner than people who don’t. (Heart disease and lung cancer are normally quick, compared with diabetes.)

Your article reinforces the unfortunate but broadly held view that Californians are among the world’s perpetual children. They want it all, they want it now, and they want someone else to pay for it.

Franklin Leib, ’66
Naples, Florida

Brava to Nina Schuyler for her profile of Marilyn Wann.

Joy Rothke
La Fortuna, Costa Rica


power and preemption

America and the Paradox of Power” (July/ August) failed to address two serious problems with the doctrine of preemption in the Bush administration’sNational Security Strategy of September 2002.

This strategy, known as the NSS, attempts to rewrite the requirement that preemptive action is legitimate only if the threat is instant, overwhelming and leaves no choice of means or time for deliberation.

Valid threat assessment requires accurate intelligence about the intentions and capabilities of the threatening party. Recent cases raise some serious doubts on that score. The final word has yet to be written on the validity of the administration’s thesis that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction posed sufficient threat to warrant a preemptive war. Yet even if we leave that contentious case aside, intelligence failures about Pakistani and Indian nuclear tests in 1998, the bombing of a chemical facility in Sudan that turned out to be a pharmaceutical factory, and the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgradeindicate serious problems.

The NSS preemption doctrine also establishes a precedent that we might come to regret. For example, during recent decades India has suffered far more grievous losses at the hands of Pakistan-based terrorists than the United States did on September 11. Conversely, Pakistan has lost several wars to India since its independence, and it believes that it has legitimate grievances concerning the disputed province of Kashmir. It is certainly possible to imagine a situation in which one or both of these South Asian nuclear powers might be tempted to unleash preemptive military action, and to do so citing sovereign prerogatives of a kind claimed by the United States in its NSS.

Ole R. Holsti, ’54, PhD ’62
George V. Allen Professor of Political Science
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina

Writer and thinker E.B. White had a firm opinion about the use of power, eloquently set forth in One Man’sMeat (1941), a collection of his essays from Harper’s.

In June 1940, when Hitler had attacked France and Belgium, White conceived his own world plan, writing:

A nation armed merely to defend its own territory is of no more consequence than a rather large safe deposit vault . . . and will eventually deteriorate. The armies of the democracies that will lead up to my world state will be built for attack. . . . They will be trained to attack today’s injustice, rather than to repel tomorrow’s invasion. . . . A first step in elevating the character of war and improving the world state is the abandonment of diplomacy. Events of the past few months have demonstrated that diplomacy gives the advantage to liars and tends to weaken democracies. . . . My almost perfect army . . . will rush to the aid of every country whose land is being invaded and whose homes are being destroyed and whose people are being murdered. . . . It would have started fighting Hitler years ago when he was just beginning to be a nuisance.

Monty Phister, ’49, MS ’50
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be considered in the same historical context as World Wars I and II. Killing thousands of almost-defenseless foes and demolishing their infrastructures with limitless engines ofdestruction resembles Wounded Knee more than heroic combat.

Our self-appointment to the role of global arbiter and Uncle Fix-It is hubris run amok. The Greeks would write a play about it. Is our TV ready?

Export our democracy? No, that must be a native-grown plant. Our own garden’s species would scarcely attract importers, given that fewer than 50 percent of us bother to vote in most elections, budgets everywhere are out of control, political disarray and deadlock prevail at all levels, jails are bursting while crime goes unchecked, race bitterness festers, basic national principles are corroded, corruption flourishes in our financial institutions, patriotism gives way to superpatriotism and jingoism, and militarism devours resources needed in dozensof other places.

But, as Churchill said, “democracy is the worst system in the world except for all the others.” The question for debate is: are we and the Britishretrogressing or progressing?

Stanford debate was an important activity for me. Now it is again, as I read your excellent roundtable feature.

Nelson F. Norman, ’39
El Cajon, California


ST. ANN’S LIVES ON

Thank you for the wonderful story on the history and future of St. Ann’s Chapel (Showcase, July/August). St. Ann’s truly has been a significant part of the lives of Stanford’s Catholics. In my case, it both enhanced and reinforced my faith when I was part of the Stanford community.

I took advantage of the great sense of spirituality of St. Ann’s as a student and for many years thereafter while working in the Bay Area. My fondest memories are of a group that I was privileged to help start at St. Ann’s back in 1985, affectionately known as YAG (Young Adult Group).

YAG was a mix of graduate students, alumni and other young people in the area who came together seeking a deeper understanding of their spirituality as Catholics. We met in the adjacent Newman House (Norris House) and held many liturgies and spiritual functions in St. Ann’s Chapel.

Probably what made YAG so unique is that we held a spiritual sharing session one evening a week pretty much year-round for about six years, and also that YAG was started and run entirely by laity. At its height, we would have 30 or more young adults at every meeting. I have never participated in a deeper spiritual community. YAG was a model of what the lay community can and should be within the Catholic Church, and it would never have been possible without the spirituality of the greater St. Ann’s community.

So, although St. Ann’s is no longer part of the Catholic community at Stanford, I’m glad to see that it will live on in another spiritual tradition.

Donald A. Bentley, MS ’82
La Puente, California


america the ugly?

Carlos Pascual (On the Job, July/August) says, “While [the Ukrainian rocket scientists] understand the need to dismantle these [Soviet-era nuclear] weapons, they are wondering about their future and how they aregoing to apply their skills.”

My question to Ambassador Pascual is: do we understand the need for dismantling our own WMDs? Judging from the size of our defense budget, we do not. (Perhaps those rocket scientists needn’t worry too much. They can always come here, where there’s plenty of work for them.)

The condescension in Mr. Pascual’s comments is breathtaking. No wonder our middle name throughout the world is arrogance.

Then, as if to prove his bona fides, he states: “It’s a much greater challenge to build a new society based on the principles of freedom and openness and competition.” Why competition, I ask—why not cooperation? The choice of one word as opposed to the other says reams about what makes us so unattractive.

Fifty years ago, Americans wandering through the world were called Ugly Americans, because, notwithstanding their wealth, they were considered impossible bores and cultural philistines (giving Philistines a bad name, mind you, but that is another discussion). Today, with martial bombast added to their passport description, the ugliness is worse than ever.

Anthony Pedatella
Pleasantville, New York


ARCH OBSERVATION

I greatly enjoyed your piece on Canyonlands ranger Peter Fitzmaurice (Spotlight, July/August). What a great career! May he be spared duty in the “cannonball parks”—Edward Abbey’s pejorative for the ubiquitous historical monuments of the East.

Oh, and by the way, if your writer had read Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, he might have remembered that Abbey was a ranger not at Canyonlands but at nearby Arches National Park, also in Utah’s canyon country.

Bob Wieting, PhD ’79
Simi Valley, California


DISSENT AND DISRUPTION

Kingsley Roberts (Letters, July/August) is upset that a Stanford antiwar protest got in the way of everyone else conducting business as usual (Farm Report, May/June). But history shows that the only effective antiwar protests are the ones that do disrupt business as usual. Nobody worries about a throng of people that does nothing more than hold up signs and chant a few slogans.

Public officials, including the Bush administration, have learned from our past to offer no resistance to peaceful demonstrations, thereby diffusing the power of dissent. For all intents and purposes, dissenting voices are ignored. Other than the San Francisco event, most of the large antiwar demonstrations of the past year turned out to be no more than what Mr. Roberts advocates and the government wanted them to be—a day in the park with lots of good feeling all around, and no change of direction by those in power.

Lisa Volckhausen McCann, MA ’65
Tucson, Arizona


STEM CELLS: THE BEDSIDE VIEW

As a “stem-cell researcher,” I applaud the efforts of Dr. Irv Weissman and his colleagues to establish the Stanford Cancer/Stem Cell Institute (“Cell Division,” May/ June). However, I feel this article was terribly biased. Instead of focusing on medical advances that can be made through studies of various stem-cell populations, authors Christopher Vaughan and Kevin Cool chose to highlight what some regard as one morally controversial aspect of stem-cell studies and to interview only certain bioethicists and lawyers who want more “debate,” which will delay effective therapies.

I wish the authors had spoken to patients with incurable diseases, and their families. Those who seek to hinder important avenues of research jeopardize the futures of millions of patients with cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes and other autoimmune disorders, traumatic injuries and a host of other maladies.

The authors fail to emphasize that progress in biomedical research arises from studies of many complementary model systems. Embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells (stem cells from the bone marrow) each have particular strengths and weaknesses for helping us understand and treat human disorders. Somatic-cell nuclear transfer (“therapeutic cloning”) offers another means to model human diseases and understand early stages of human developmental biology. Inhibiting research in one area (embryonic stem cells) will impede advances in all aspects of stem-cell research, as well as in other areas of medicine. Supporting only adult stem-cell research, at the expense of embryonic stem-cell studies, will have the unintended consequence of preventing potential cures that might be best achieved with embryonic stem cells.

It is morally questionable to block vital research that has the potential to help so many people. I agree with Dr. Weissman that those who wish to ban human embryonic stem-cell research are responsible for the suffering and deaths of people with diseases that can one day be treated only through advances that arise from all aspects of stem-cell research. I invite those who oppose human embryonic stem-cell research to visit patients with life-threatening cancer in my clinic, or in clinics or hospitals anywhere in this country. I would ask these opponents to explain to these patients why their lives are of less importance than the status of a small group of cells that would be discarded if not used for medical research.

Dan Kaufman, ’88
Assistant Professor of Medicine
University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

As the husband of a woman who lived five years from diagnosis to death with metastatic breast cancer, let me echo Dr. Stephen Wechsler’s comments on this subject (Letters, July/August). Furthermore, let those who think otherwise walk in our steps, or in the steps of the women we love, and then tell us what they haveto say on it.

Jerry Wethington, MS ’60
Grand Junction, Colorado


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