Duke University Alumni Magazine

Please limit letters to no more than 300 words. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity. Include full name, address, and class year. Our fax number is (919) 684-6022 and our internet address --for Forum and class notes only--is: dukemag@acpub.duke.edu


    When I noted on the cover of your November-December 1997 issue that it contained an article on "how did Duke get hot so quickly?" I immediately resolved to send copies to the folks back home. Hey, maybe I'd regain some of the credibility I lost when I threw over a successful freelance business and returned, with three kids, to graduate school. Unfortunately, the writer himself immediately lost any credibility I might have gained with my Canadian family when he bragged on [Duke President] Keohane's sharing a platform in 1995 with "the presidents of Canada, Mexico, and the United States."     I'm sure my prime minister now barely bats an eyelash when Americans pull this particular blooper but, please, this kind of international ignorance is not "how Duke got hot." The wretched ignorance of Americans about their neighbor to the North is already legendary in that country. Let's not perpetuate the legend from our gothic halls, too.

Chris R. Armstrong
Durham, North Carolina



This is prompted by your printing of excerpts from statements by John Howard and Tallman Trask ["Quad Quotes"] on page 56 of your fall issue. My wife is a Duke graduate (I am not). As such, she receives your publication, which I usually read and for the most part enjoy. The paragraphs referred to are another matter.

Mr. Howard's less-than-temperate statement is about what one could expect from one in this position. Organizations of this type [Duke's Center for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Life] thrive on and strive for publicity, which all too many media outlets are all too ready to provide. This is to be regretted. If nothing else seems appropriate, such actions and reactions are best ignored.

Mr. Trask's reaction, however, is a different matter. When I was in college, painting or otherwise "decorating" bridges, chimneys, and/or other prominent campus features was considered to be defacing school property and the perpetrators, if apprehended, were subject to at least school discipline, if not something more stringent. The authorities usually were more prompt in removing the graffiti, not to supress free speech but to restore the defaced object to something resembling its orginal condition. What's changed?

Given today's standards and conditions, that question may be considered rhetorical if not stupid. However, when a supposedly responsible university official apologizes so humbly to such a blatantly offensive demand (I refer to style, not content), I feel that at least his competence should be questioned. I also think he should have had Mr. Howard and his followers out there with scrub brushes and detergent cleaning up for free the damage they had done.

Frank C. Gorham
Springfield, Virginia

Your question is not stupid, but merely based on your own experience at another school. The bridge between Duke's East and West campuses has always served as a bulletin board for announcements by student groups and, occasionally, comments by anyone with a paintbrush. The student group in question was merely following a tradition, not committing a disciplinary offense.



With reference to the November-December issue, allow me to state that I was very pleased to note the national recognition given to Duke regarding its position among universities. Surely, this position was not earned by trying to "go for the silver."

While this "going for the silver" may be the normal thinking of the average liberal, left-leaning social scientist, it is far from the thinking that made Duke great. If Ben or Washington Duke had had that mindset, Duke University would not exist and its great boon to mankind would have gone unnoticed.

It simply goes against the laws of nature to try not to win. If it is beneficial to aim for second, why not "go for the lead" (fifth place) or not try at all.

If Ben or Washington Duke saw the fruits of their magnificent philanthropy so misunderstood, and their inspiring examples so down-graded, they would have a perfect right to turn over in their graves in utter disgust that this form of thinking would emanate from their crowning accomplishments.

The world and all of us should be grateful for those who went "for the gold," and particularly those who made it.

Howard H. Schnure '34
Largo, Florida


I wonder if you could persuade [public policy professor] Philip Cook to respond to a couple of questions about points made in the article "Going for the Silver."

It occurred to me, reading the article, that all of the specific cases of excess cited were in businesses that have a strong one-to-many property. In entertainment, you record the song once and sell it to a million customers. In manufacturing, you design the product once and make it a million times. In software, you write the program once and sell a million copies of it. In engineering terms, these businesses have something resembling an amplifier built into them, and advances in technology are constantly turning up the gain of the amp.

I am wondering if Mr. Cook has noticed and/ or quantified this factor and, if so, whether economic systems show any of the instabilities of over-gained electronic amplifiers.

I would also like to question whether Mr. Cook actually believes that a more progressive tax system would repair the problem he has pointed out, or if he feels strongly that something must be done and that is the only thing he can think of. Personally, I am disinclined to believe that a tax would have any positive result at all. Unless you are prepared to bar anyone from prospering beyond a certain ratio to anyone else, payment can be manipulated to bypass any specialty tax you can devise. If, however, you are prepared to lock down the prosperity ratio, you will simply drive the one-to-many businesses (or at least their profits) out of the country.

I find it distressing for Mr. Cook to categorize "Earners making over $100,000É" as being in the top of the income distribution, and therefore, I presume, in need of a more progressive tax structure. Most years, my family falls in that category, as would a large percentage of Duke alumni. Our life is, however, rather ordinary, and it seems ridiculous for us to be lumped into a category with the stars of sports and entertainment. I hope this inference is an accident of juxtaposition, but if it is, I would encourage the editors of the magazine to exercise a little more caution. You write to a terribly influential audience, and this is one suggestion I would not want to see placed into law.

John W. Curtis B.S.E. '74
Lament, Georgia

Professor Philip Cook responds:
I'm no electrical engineer, but Mr. Curtis' image of an amplifier seems to well capture one message of The Winner-Take-All Society (by Robert H. Frank and me). We note that there are a variety of endeavors in which small differences in individual ability translate into large differences in value, and a "one-to-many" technology is one important source of such leverage. "Amplification" also occurs in high-stakes contests; for example, buying the very best legal representation is only sensible when a firm finds itself in a billion-dollar lawsuit, (almost) regardless of the fee. The same dynamic helps explain the run-away compensation for top corporate-management talent. Our book explains this process and suggests how and why it is becoming both more pervasive and more intense. We did not, however, investigate the possibility that the system, like an "overgained amplifier," is unstable in some sense. Our concern was with the increasing inequality in the overall distribution of earnings, a rather steady trend since the early 1970s.

Mr. Curtis' observations with respect to progressive taxation are more challenging. First, there is the factual issue of what it means to be at "the top" of the earnings distribution. Our earnings data are now a bit out of date, but may nonetheless surprise many readers: As of 1989, just 1 percent of full-time workers had earnings in excess of $120,000. Someone whose income was limited to earnings at that level, and had a family to support, might well agree with Mr. Curtis that their standard of living was "rather ordinary"--certainly so in comparison with the top "winners" in most professions. But by national standards, these "ordinary" earnings place the recipient in a rather exclusive club. Robert Frank and I do not claim that progressive taxation will fully "repair" the problem we have pointed out, but we do argue that a progressive tax is helpful in making the distribution of after-tax income somewhat fairer. (If the tax is limited to consumption, then it could have the added benefit of enhancing savings.) And we are not suggesting that the top rates should be confiscatory, as they were during the Eisenhower administration. Rather, a modest level of progress at the top levels is feasible and fair and, contrary to much of the rhetoric in this arena, does not necessarily undercut the incentives that help drive productivity increases. During a time when the flat taxers are dominating the national debate over reform, we are attempting to lean against the rhetorical wind, providing a new argument for preserving the nation's long commitment to progress.



While Ed and I appreciated the wonderful article on Charles A. Dukes Awards in the November-December issue, we were disappointed that you identified our home town as Boca Raton rather than Boca Grande, Florida. We actually live on a small island off the west coast of the state, with an entirely different lifestyle than that of Boca Raton residents.

There are also a large number of "Dukies" on our island, and we have had a long history of Duke connections, as our local medical clinic has been staffed with Duke doctors and Duke professors since 1947. Please let our neighbors know that we are proud to be "Boca Granders"!

Nora Lea Reefe '67 and
Ed Reefe B.S.C.E. '68
Boca Grande, Florida



Not referencing any article, I beg for an explanation from someone who works in the athletics department. I enjoy Duke basketball as much as anyone, attending all but three home games in my four years at Duke, enduring the transitional dark years of Emma, England, Tissaw.

Tell me it is not television revenue that motivates scheduling a game in Michigan on December 13, two days before finals week. Time spent preparing for, traveling to, and playing this game necessarily detracts from finals-related work.

Phil Abisognio '83
Herndon, Virginia

Sports Information Director Mike Cragg replies:
You will be happy to know that television alone does not dictate the day of games and, in this particular case, did not at all. Our contract with the University of Michigan is a balance between both our institutions' exam schedules. Obviously, games are not played during the exam period that began Monday, December 15. With a relatively short period of time to fit in twenty-six regular season games, plus a tournament appearance, the available dates of competition are very limited; thus, the Michigan game on December 13. Having traveled with the team to Michigan, I can report that all of the players had books in hand and were actively involved in their studies.



I would like to point out a serious confusion of terms in the otherwise excellent article, "Preparing for the Final Transition," in the November-December issue. Bridget Booher uses the terms "euthanasia" and "physician-assisted suicide" interchangeably, as if they meant the same thing. However, they are quite different: Euthanasia refers to "mercy-killing"--killing someone else. Physician-assisted suicide refers to a physician helping someone kill themselves.

I would be opposed to legalizing euthanasia, but I think it is important to legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminal patients because: it is already widely practiced; a large majority of Americans favor legalization; it reduces waste of scarce medical resources; and the inalienable right of terminal patients to die when they want to.

The confusion of suicide with euthanasia simply makes this difficult issue more problematic. I hope this letter may clarify this confusion.

Erdman Palmore Ph.D. '52
Professor Emeritus of Medical Sociology
Durham, North Carolina



I was much moved by Bob Wilson's "War Without End" [November-December]. Having been a conscientious objector in World War II, I have since been trying, with very little results, to help maintain the Quaker testimony against war.

During the Vietnam time, over a considerable period, I spent an hour twice a week in silent protest at the post office. While quietly passing out peace pamphlets--some read, some rejected, some taken, crushed, and thrown on the ground--what does one think about?

Since my vigil was based on the Quaker peace testimony, which is a total rejection of the institution of war, I had been thinking about that for more than three decades. This vigil, however, in Quaker practice, was a time of quiet worship, and the mind irresistibly moved into that area beyond human social control, which we attempt to reach, one way or the other, by prayer.

So, what do you pray for? To start locally, that the wife and family and valued friends "may be whole in spirit and in body (including mind)." Quakers have traditionally believed that there is that of God in every person, including the soldiers on each side of the Christian armies ravaging against England in the mid-1600s and on each side of the Christian armies ravaging against the United States in the mid-1800s. Thus, I must pray that all our enemy soldiers and their allies may be whole in spirit and in body so that they may fulfill their spiritual capacities.

In The Iliad, everyone who dies does so unwillingly and has parents, grandparents, and

a home. In the Trojan War, everyone, good

or bad, was worthy of specific mention and thought. Now, those engaged in war are, in general, statistics.

In my World War II conscientious objector service, among other things, I worked for some time in a mental hospital, which was the most useful time of my life. It opened up to me the variety of human experience. For some time, I have been attending the Narcotics Anonymous meetings once a week at my local Friends meetinghouse. Since I am not an addict, I cannot advise them, but I can meet with them in family fellowship. They are irreparably wounded by their addiction, so that their lives are forever dominated by the struggle to get through the day clean.

Yet their addiction, at its worst relapse, does not portend the end of the species, or certainly of civilization, as does the final paragraph of Bob Wilson's account: "I am afraid," Parrish says softly, "I will discover that I am fascinated by war."

There are other things that arouse my interest in this issue of Duke Magazine, but in over fifty years of practicing law (now retired), I have learned that in one letter the maximum number of concerns that can be addressed is one.

James Mattocks J.D. '41
Trinity, North Carolina

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