Letters to the Editor

Letters: May/June 2018

Readers talk back about Bart Giamatti’s bench, all-gender a cappella, and more.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be mailed to Letters Editor, Yale Alumni Magazine, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905; e-mailed to yam@yale.edu; or faxed to (203) 432-0651. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing.

Thanks to Mark Aronson for bringing us the hidden meanings of The Giamatti Bench (“Conversation Piece,” March/April). And a belated thanks to James Sardonis and classmate Dave Sellers for a design that so well reflects the Bart we knew.

Tom Miller ’60
Berkeley, CA


This is a little story to round out the person of A. Bartlett Giamatti. In September of 1975, I had started working in the graduate department of comparative literature as the administrative assistant. Professor Giamatti, who had a dual appointment in English and comp lit, was serving as the director of graduate studies that year, and he had an office adjacent to mine.

His beloved Red Sox were in the World Series that fall, and he had tried desperately to get tickets to Fenway Park. After an old Yale classmate had been able to get two tickets for him, he called the Hopkins School, where his son Marcus was a student at that time, and asked to have him called to the phone. First I heard him say, “Now Marcus, don’t scream! I got two tickets for Fenway Park. . . . Didn’t I tell you not to scream?” Then he came walking out of his office into mine while clapping his hat on his head.

“You must think I am utterly insane!” he said to me. “I know exactly how you feel,” I replied, “because a friend of mine and I just got tickets to Carnegie Hall for a Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau concert,” referring to the great German baritone.

When he came in the next day, he wanted to know, “What makes Fischer-Dieskau so great?” I asked him whether he wanted the long or short version. The short would do, so I talked about how the letter “o” could convey a desert or a flute through his singing.

Giamatti became the president of Yale in 1978, and we no longer had any contact. On the Wednesday before commencement in 1980, I had a phone call from Regina Starolis, his assistant. “President Giamatti would like you to sit in the President’s Box at Commencement.” When I arrived, I opened the program that lay on my seat. The first name in the roster of people receiving honorary degrees that year was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau!

Lisellotte M. Davis ’86PhD
Hamden, CT


The case for location tracking

While I appreciate the fearmonger-y motive behind Michael Kwet and Sean O’Brien’s desire, in their study of apps that also track users’ location, to demonize allegedly asymmetrically powerful marketers (“The Secret Sharers,” March/April), note that while yes, as O’Brien says, industries can create “a probable guesstimate of who each individual is,” to actually do so would violate privacy laws.

Location trackers that “precisely record shoppers browsing in brick-and-mortar stores” (we call them beacons) are used to help attribute ad spend. If an ad is served on a device that then ends up in a store, the served ad scores an assist. The ad was effective; that store is valuable.

Not being able to give proper credit to sales in physical stores results in improper investment allocation decisions, which over time and in aggregate lubricate the disappearance of these stores from our physical landscape. This reduces the chances for the informal exchange of social and cultural capital and limits opportunities for the creation and strengthening of loose ties—just the kinds of ties that bolster neighborhoods and communities. Having fewer brick-and-mortar stores also speeds up the creation of a world where elites have their prime purchases delivered by drones so they needn’t risk having to interact with, for example, The People of Walmart.

Regardless of one’s feelings about capitalism per se, the reality is, when all people regardless of class (whether one has access to high speed internet, credit cards, or secure housing that enables product shipments) shop shoulder-to-shoulder, we have more chances to casually interact, which makes it a lot more difficult to other, mock, and/or demonize those who don’t at first blush “look” the same.

To that end, I’d be happy to go shopping with Kwet and O’Brien should they ever find themselves in Philadelphia. I’ll even turn off my location trackers!

Anittah Patrick ’99
Philadelphia, PA


Sleep science isn’t new

I would like to correct some of the misconceptions about sleep medicine that I noted in your article about Meir Kryger (“Trouble Sleeping? There’s Hope,” March/April). The science of sleep is not a new field, as implied in the article, and when Dr. Kryger started studying sleep in 1973 there had already been much work done in the field.

After I graduated from medical school in 1957, I interned at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where one of my fellow interns was William Dement, who had already done studies on sleep and continued during our internship. He was one of the first to record EEGs (brain waves) on sleeping patients, studied eye movements during sleep, and with fellow workers identified and named the five phases of sleep. Dr. Dement published several 

scientific papers in the 1950s and 1960s, wrote books about sleep disorders, and founded the Sleep Research Center at Stanford. He has been called the father of sleep medicine.

Many hospitals now have sleep centers where physicians can study patients with sleep disorders. Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, California, where I worked for 25 years as a cardiologist, had such a center and a sleep specialist back in the 1980s, which is still operating.

This isn’t meant to detract from the importance of Dr. Kryger’s work, but only to present a more accurate history of the specialty of sleep medicine.

Fredric Reichel ’53
Santa Monica, CA


The Whiffenpoofs decision

It is almost beyond belief that the Whiffenpoofs have let their beautiful singing group be destroyed at the whim of some lefty ladies (“New Gender Policy for Singing Groups,” March/April). All the Whiffs had to do was say “no.” They could not have been forced into this ignominious capitulation. No amount of babble about multiple “genders”—which has nothing to do with music—can obscure the fact that the Whiffenpoofs were targeted because they were an all-male group.

I suppose the club members are under the impression this surrender increases their standing with the ladies. It doesn’t. Do you believe if the tables were reversed they would have given in? Being of sterner stuff, the ladies would have laughed the idea off and been celebrated for not bending to the chauvinists.

I used to be proud to have graduated from Yale. Now having seen it sell out its history and become dominated by political correctness, I am not. If these cowardly Whiffs are an example of the kind of “men” we are sending to lead America and the world, I fear for us all.

Dave Greer ’53
Albany, CA


Since 1909, the Whiffenpoofs have been a brass ensemble. Ours was a tradition of excellence like no other. Despite that tradition, the current group has decided a violin should be a member in 2019. (See page 12.) Now the violin is a wonderful instrument, certainly capable of playing the same notes as a trumpet. But the violin isn’t a horn and doesn’t sound like one, nor does a female voice have the sound of a male voice. Twelve horns playing with a stringed instrument isn’t a brass ensemble, and twelve tenors, baritones, and basses plus a woman, albeit a woman with superb vocal ability, can’t be the Whiffenpoofs. A great tradition has come to an end.

Thomas N. Jones ’67
Sun Lakes, AZ


Old-fashioned wisdom

That over a thousand students enrolled in a psychology class about how to live a better life (“Better Living 101,” March/April) shows there is a great hunger for direction and, ultimately, joy. Will Professor Santos tell the students about studies finding that joining a religious group is associated with greater happiness? Will she tell them about the report showing that people do better financially when they follow the “success sequence”—graduate from high school (or college), get a job, marry, then have children, in that order? Will she tell them about studies showing that saving sex for marriage not only avoids STDs and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but comes with a raft of other social benefits? Sometimes there is a wisdom to old-fashioned approaches to life. Students ought to at least hear about that option.

Walter Weber ’84JD
Alexandria, VA


The curriculum in Psychology and the Good Life does in fact include studies about how faith increases happiness and discussion about how to prioritize family and marriage.—Eds.


The meaning of Lincoln

I’m puzzled by what we might learn by pairing “actual photographs of Lincoln with computer-generated ‘fake’ faces” (“Our Image of Lincoln,” March/April).  Images, by themselves, are difficult enough to interpret, more so when set beside any other images. If the intent is to stimulate the imagination, fine, but comparing the many images of Lincoln himself would focus the imagination, rather than confuse and distract it.

More disturbing is Professor Wexler’s assertion that “we each must reincarnate Abraham Lincoln for our present needs, or we must give him up.” That implies that our own subjective impressions of the man are adequate. It also denies that different historians, working from different viewpoints, and over the better part of two centuries, have found anything about Lincoln that they can agree upon as true. Granted, different times view the past differently, and that is valid, if those views are based on reinterpreting primary sources of the period. Otherwise, we select from the past what we want to believe, with no supporting evidence; or, worse, “we give him up,” which is to abandon the rigorous attempt to find truth and meaning from the past.

Mike Foster ’58
Lakewood, CO


Right coach, wrong stadium

I enjoyed Emma Span’s remembrance of Carm Cozza (March/April). One item does require correction:  the photograph of Carm with captain Tim Tumpane ’80 is not at the Yale Bowl—note Tim’s away (white) jersey. The stadium in the background appears to be Princeton’s old Palmer Stadium, where Yale trounced Princeton 35–10 in 1979.

Joe Pont ’84
Portsmouth, NH


Mr. Pont is correct; the photo was taken at the 1979 Princeton game at Palmer Stadium. Several readers wrote to correct us.—Eds.


Police and trust

Yale law professor Tracey Meares’s project for “helping police to build trust with civilians” is much needed (“Everyday Justice,” January/February). I hope others are making equally dedicated and important efforts to help civilians build trust with police.

So much depends on how people respond in the critical moments when officers confront them. Notwithstanding the importance of individual autonomy, people need to realize that they must promptly obey an officer’s orders. This is not the time to discuss or argue. It is the time to do exactly what the officer says. The officer is in charge. If the officer does something wrong, the remedy is in court, not on the street.

The quest for respect and trust between police and civilians has to be mutual. It’s not a one-way street.

Richard H. Hiers ’54, ’57BDiv, ’61PhD
Gainesville, FL


On women and dynamism

Diane Straus ’73 sounds amazing (“Gentle. But a Dynamo,” March/April). Although I didn’t know her personally, from your wonderful article I can only assume she would consider putting a “but” between the descriptors “gentle” and ‘dynamo” kind of missing the point of her life. The “but” implies an incongruence, true perhaps in our conventional standards for men, but we now know and celebrate that the two go together just fine in women!

Deirdre M. Smith
Lutherville, MD

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