Forum: July-August 2010

August 1, 2010

Atrocities Avoided

The article "Encounters With an Ever-Present Past" [March-April 2010] gave me the impression that a rare opportunity for students to visit the Holy Land was misused to promote a one-sided view of the Middle East conflict.

The article stated that students passed Syrian gun emplacements in the Golan Heights, that their stay in Haifa was introduced with a reference to Hezbollah missiles from Lebanon, that they observed the support for the Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza, and that they listened to an emotional discussion of a family's loss during the Holocaust. While these are valuable lessons, they fall way too short of providing a meaningful understanding of this complex conflict.

The trip would have been more beneficial if students had visited the sites of any of the infamous massacres such as Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila, and Qana at which thousands of unarmed civilians were slaughtered; met any of the families of the numerous innocent children who were killed or maimed by Israeli mine fields and unexploded cluster bombs; reviewed the rich history of the 400 Arab villages that Israel erased from the map; evaluated the morality of Israel's apartheid system and "separation wall" that discriminate against the non-Jewish populace; or discussed the findings of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the U.N. regarding recent war crimes that Israel allegedly committed in Gaza.

Most disturbing was the statement that "students learned that the local Arab population had been evacuated by British forces during the 1948 War of Independence and had never returned." I hope that the distinguished professors did not make such a grossly inaccurate claim.

Palestinians refer to 1948 as the "Year of the Catastrophe" because—as many historians, Chaim Simons among them, have written and documented—Israeli terror groups such as the Irgun and Haganah planned and committed brutal massacres and religiously cleansed 700,000 unarmed Palestinians from their homes. Israel has consistently denied these refugees the right of return and confiscated their homes and property.

At a time when many universities around the world are taking the courageous moral stand of boycotting Israel for its oppressive and discriminatory policies, I find it unfortunate that Duke is using its resources to subsidize such an Israeli public-relations expedition.

M.M. Samman Ph.D. '91, Houston

Design Differences

I did have to chuckle at the vast difference ("indifference"?) between the Forum letter "Legibility Issues" and the actual appearance and content of the March-April [2010] issue. The letter made a lot of sense to me, not only for its simple logic and common sense, but also as a senior-type alumnus. The March-April issue was a complete opposite to the points made in the letter.

When I first got the magazine, I was on the verge of throwing it out, thinking it was just another slick sales magazine from some pricey merchandise company which is so elegant you don't even know who's selling what and at what price. But then, lo and behold, blue against blue, the word "Duke" vaguely appears out of the mist at the top!

Then, page after page of various type styles with all the words jammed together with no spacing even to separate the paragraphs. (Syllabus, on page 13, jammed together words; "Eminent Agent," page 52, jammed together words on an undulating brown background; ditto the jumble and jamming of just about all the other articles as well.)

I'm sure whoever is making their money selling colored inks and designing impactive graphics will be doing exceedingly well and giving themselves all sorts of awards for their prize-winning efforts on this issue. But for organization, clarity, and readability for the reader? No. Better luck next time!

Ralph O. Nesslinger '52, Indian Land, South Carolina

China Questions

A small article in the March-April [2010] issue shows a picture of President [Richard H.] Brodhead signing papers for a new Duke campus near Shanghai, China. According to the article, Duke will partner with a local Chinese university, the buildings will be constructed by the Chinese municipal government, and the Fuqua School of Business will offer various professional degrees. There is also a statement that other Duke schools (e.g., public policy and the environment) will be opening programs there.

So, is Duke offering classes and programs, or is this really a new Duke campus? The article is not clear, and I don't understand this model. Who will be the professors? Who will be the students, and will they pay Duke for tuition? Will the students be receiving diplomas showing that they are Duke graduates? How can Duke offer degrees in a country where students don't have open access to the Internet? I would appreciate further information about this venture.

Providing classes for students in other countries jointly with the local university is one thing, but offering Duke diplomas is very different. It appears that Duke is selling its good name to the Chinese government. The article needs clarification and an explanation of exactly what is involved in this arrangement.

Linda L. Rosendorf '69, Rockville, Maryland

Climate Colloquy

Regarding the published letter to the editor by Roger Colley '60, "Climate Curiosity," [Forum, March-April 2010], I am concerned that, at this late date, the media are continuing to obfuscate, knowingly and unknowingly, the issue of climate disruption (a.k.a. "global warming," "climate change," etc.).

The letter reflects our failings as an educational institution and society to train our citizens and business leaders on how to distinguish among fact, scientific theory, and hypothesis and how to understand perception, probability, relative risk, and the basic tenets of logical argument. We need to reassess what it means to have a good education and the skills needed to survive what is likely to be an environment increasingly full of risk, particularly to the poor, and primarily due to the perceptual challenges of humans and their relationship to the planet.

Sadly, the hand of man has been devastating to the planet: Species are going extinct at rates not seen in the fossil record since the last cosmic collision, fisheries are collapsing, and the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases being shoved into the atmosphere is so disrupting to geochemical cycles that the future of most life forms on this planet is in jeopardy.

Our climate has natural cycles, but enough evidence has been published in peer-review journals that the case is closed. Yes, there is complexity, but we cannot delay action on this issue any longer, waiting for additional confirmation for the final pieces of data to be collected, reviewed, and debated. Unless we dramatically shift our lifestyles and means of producing energy, we are in for a world of pain.

The publication of such a letter at this late a date in our understanding of the issues begs the question, Why? Does the editor feel this side of the argument needs to be voiced? These types of letters undermine progress by poorly framing the issues and casting doubt on what is being proven and reinforced by hard work and the dedication of men and women in a range of fields. It is a great disservice.

Marc Dreyfors M.E.M. '90, Durham, Dreyfors is president of The Forest Foundation


The response by Roger Colley '60 to Mr. Yeoman's article on climate-change policy should be required reading for all students and faculty at Duke.

Unfortunately "unbiased objectivity" is lacking in other fields as well, notably medicine. While evidence-based guidelines are beginning to be formulated in many specialties, including orthopaedic surgery, relatively few high-quality studies are produced. Patients rarely utilize the scientific method to evaluate preventive and treatment modalities. In addition, when selecting a treatment in medicine, the potential risks as well as the benefits need to be discussed thoroughly. This applies to enacting legislation as well, particularly with respect to "global warming."

Data obtained over an extended period of time is certainly more valuable. Oral estrogen was considered the gold standard to treat postmenopausal women until the increased risk of breast cancer became apparent. The time period to evaluate climate change is not 100 years but more likely thousands of years relative to the history of our planet.

We all truly need to be scientists with an understanding of the dynamics of scientific rigor so that we can critically evaluate our decisions and the decisions of those who potentially affect our health and our livelihood.

David J. Stapor '79, Upper Saint Clair, Pennsylvania