Too Karl-centric

Thank you to Gabriel Popkin for
his wonderful article ["The Long Shadow of a Poor Start," Winter 2014] on Doris Entwisle's and my project, The Beginning School Study, and our recent book—the project's capstone publication—The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood.

It is hard to find fault with such glowing coverage, which was meticulously researched and fact-checked by Gabriel. However, the write-up is a bit too Karl-centric for my taste. I did not see the final copy before it went to press, but if I had had the opportunity, I would have asked Gabriel to say a bit more about Doris, her contributions to our work, and the very special nature of our collaboration, which spanned more than three decades. The article notes that Doris died of cancer while The Long Shadow was in final production. She was not available to Gabriel, which I suspect is the "why" of it.

Doris was my senior mentor and a scholar of extraordinary accomplishment. We worked together long, hard, and well on The Beginning School Study and its many publications. It would be unforgivable were I to let all that go by unremarked.

Karl Alexander
Johns Hopkins research professor of sociology


"The Long Shadow of a Poor Start" [Winter 2014] was quite an eye-opener for me. I came to this country from France in the early 1960s and studied the equality of educational opportunity in France vs. the U.S. in the early '70s. At that time, a child from low socioeconomic background in France had far less chance to have access to higher education than his or her counterpart in the U.S., even though France's educational system is free from cradle to grave with an outstanding preschool program from age 2 to 5.

Recently, I had a feeling that the advantage the low socioeconomic U.S. student had in the '60s had eroded. Yet, I was quite shocked to see the results of the Alexander/Entwisle research. I guess it might be one of the explanations for the exponential increase of income disparity in our society.

Isabelle Halley des Fontaines
Charlottesville, Virginia

Clichéd and Smarmy

It's sad and predictable, but whenever I read an excellent article about astrobiology like "Are We Flying Solo?" [Winter 2014], I wait for the inevitable joking reference to UFOs. And there it is—a silly aside about Area 51 and conspiracy theories in the fifth paragraph from the bottom. It's apparently impossible for writers to tackle this subject without inserting a clichéd and smarmy dismissal of what is actually a serious, and potentially very important, scientific subject.

Maybe next time consider reaching out to Richard C. Henry, another Hopkins professor and noted astronomer, who happens to be on the board of directors of the Fund for UFO Research, an organization dedicated to the scientific study of UFOs. He has addressed the subject of UFOs, which may or may not be alien spacecraft, not with sneers and mockery but in an admirably skeptical and nonbiased way. He's only a Google search away.

Not all space scientists are eager to dismiss the enormous number of people who have seen anomalous objects in Earth's skies—objects that may be evidence of extraterrestrial life visiting our planet.

Michael M. Hughes
Communications manager, Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing

Looking Back

My thanks for the article on Earl Wasserman ["The Earl of Homewood," Winter 2014]. I took courses with him in the early 1960s, and the force of his personality and intellect is still vivid to me. Later on, when I went to graduate school and my own thoughts about literature matured, I found that his critical orientation was very distant from my own. But the power of his thought, the intensity of his teaching, and the model he was of a man devoted to his discipline and his students are unforgettable. Looking back, I realize how privileged I was to study with him and with some of his colleagues— Charles Singleton, D.C. Allen, Dick Macksey, and René Girard, among others. That was a special time at Hopkins.

David Chanoff, A&S '65
Marlborough, Massachusetts

Glaring Omission

I write regarding Bret McCabe's admiring profile of alumnus Dwight Watkins ["Writing His Way," Fall 2014]. Unfortunately, Watkins' personal narrative, as McCabe tells it, is devoid of two crucial themes: remorse and redemption. Although McCabe cursorily—but crucially—observes that Watkins "sold death to his own people," nowhere does McCabe explore that deep personal culpability. Far from being forced into the drug trade, Watkins cast aside his college opportunity and the cautionary tale of his murdered, drug-dealing stepbrother, and he readily chose to distribute poison to the community. At no time does Watkins express remorse for the harm he caused to those he sold heroin and cocaine, his victims, or to their loved ones who watched them suffer through an addiction Watkins encouraged. Nor does Watkins express remorse for his role in perpetuating the cycle of crime and violence in East Baltimore that goes hand in hand with the drug trade. The article's startling omission of remorse is matched by its failure to address how (if at all) Watkins is making amends. He apparently escaped the incarceration that he was due for his crimes. Nonetheless, McCabe— wittingly or not—presents a false equivalency as Watkins' redemption: By seeking to publish a "cult classic," Watkins atones for the harm he inflicted for five years on his Baltimore community. Nowhere does McCabe describe any efforts to reach out and make amends to those individual Baltimore kids who watched Watkins sell drugs and emulated his disastrous path, nor to his victims or their families, nor to his neighbors. If this magazine is going to tackle difficult contemporary issues, it should be prepared to ask its subjects the tough questions necessary to present a complete story. Anything short of that sells the imprimatur of Johns Hopkins too cheaply.

James Harlow, A&S '07
Arlington, Virginia


Dumbest things we did last issue: The article "Plantibodies v. Ebola" [Forefront, Winter 2014], about the experimental drug ZMapp, suggests that Mapp Biopharmaceutical founders Kevin Whaley and Larry Zeitlin discovered how to make antibodies in plants. In fact, they built on existing research to develop their plant-based treatment for Ebola.

"Lane Improvements" [Forefront, Winter 2014], misstated the year in which Jamie Flerlage and Branden Engorn were asked to become co-chief residents. They were tapped at the end of their first year, 2009–2010. The article also neglected to mention that three pharmacists assisted with updating the Harriet Lane Handbook.

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The opinions in these letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the magazine's editorial staff.

Posted in Voices+Opinion