Letters: Winter 2009
December 2, 2009 |  by Johns Hopkins Staff

Timely research

The article by Dale Keiger regarding the research of Ellen Silbergeld [“Farmacology,” June 2009] was interesting, informative, and timely.

The emergence of multi-drug resistant bacterial pathogens is well recognized as a major cause of morbidity and mortality among hospitalized patients in the United States and elsewhere. The health care community is working at many levels to decrease the unnecessary use of antibiotics and to develop antimicrobial stewardship programs to optimize their use when clinically indicated, in an effort to decrease the emergence of resistant bacteria.

This article emphasizes the point that these bacteria are no longer confined to the hospital setting and are now widespread in the community. While one can debate the genetic and other distinctions between “community acquired” and “health care acquired” bacteria such as MRSA, it is difficult to avoid the author’s conclusion that the overuse of non-therapeutic doses of antibiotics as described is a huge potential problem.

Absent a paradigm shift in consumer food consumption patterns, confinement feedlots will likely remain a part of our food-production system for some time. Working with agribusiness and the farming community to find alternatives, based on sound science and public policy, to this misuse of antibiotics is a public health imperative.

Douglas Johnstone, MD, JD
Medical Director for Quality and Patient Safety
St. Francis Hospital
Beech Grove, Indiana

The price of greed

The article [“Farmacology”] demonstrates that Big Ag’s message—like Big Oil’s disinformation on global warming and Big Insurance’s distortion of the issues surrounding health care and Big Finance’s incessant scamming of the public with shell games and Ponzi schemes and Big Tobacco’s systematic lies about the health risks of its products—points us to a perverse version of the good life, as conceived and offered up by the oligarchs who run things in the United States (our political and business leaders). The founding fathers would be astonished that their descendents have managed to thoroughly corrupt the institutions of our government and society with the ethic that GREED IS GOOD and the idiotic notion that MONEY = SPEECH. Believing we can share in the wealth the oligarchs accumulate at our expense, we common folk have sold out, trading principal for stuff, and we have thereby encouraged the blossoming of the oligarchic power that has produced a mountain of public debt and dysfunctional government.

Thanks for the timely and depressing article.

Bill McCauley
Auburn, Washington

Questionable hires

I read  that two members of the failed Bush administration, Hank Paulson and Eliot Cohen, are joining the SAIS faculty [“Paulson now a SAIS fellow,” April 2009]. Who next—Don Rumsfeld to lecture on how to invade other countries? SAIS, and by extension, Hopkins, is in danger of damaging its reputation if it continues to add such faculty.

Bill Schenck, A&S ’67
Falls Church, Virginia

Editor’s note: Eliot A. Cohen has been on the faculty of the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies since 1990. He is currently the Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies.

What’s in a word?

Bravo to Dr. Golomb for his “Word Shortenings” puzzle [April 2009]. However, I was surprised that the puzzle omitted a primarily British word for “line” that can lose an astonishing 80 percent of its letters and still retain its tonal value.

I also note that Dr. Golomb has mentioned a popular condiment named for a town in the West Midlands of England. However, he did not mention two other English towns, one in the East Midlands and another in the South West. When spelled phonetically, the first reduces length by two-thirds, the second by 70 percent. What are the names of these two towns?

Henry Baker A&S ’98, SAIS ’07
Louisville, Kentucky

Golomb responds:

The familiar British word for “line” is of course “queue,” which has the same pronunciation as the name of its first letter, Q. However, I don’t consider the names of letters or symbols as words. Thus, aitch is pronounced like the name of its last letter, H, also for an 80 percent reduction, and double-u is shortened even more to W. (Note how much shorter 777 is, with three characters, than seven hundred seventy-seven, with 24 characters, not even counting the hyphen and the spaces!)

Lots of place names, especially in the United Kingdom or its former colonies, can be spelled phonetically with fewer letters. We save three letters going from Bournemouth to bornmuth or from Warwickshire to woriksher, and five letters going from Gloucestershire to glostasher. (The British already write Lancashire instead of Lancastershire.) French names can also be shortened frequently, as from Marseille to marsay. (Some notoriously long Welsh place names can also be shortened significantly.) However, I was only willing to include proper nouns that, even if still capitalized, had acquired common-noun status, e.g. as comestibles (the way Gouda is a cheese and Bordeaux is a wine) or as apparel (as Cardigan is a sweater and Homburg is a hat). Thus, I was willing to include Worcestershire as a sauce rather than as an English county.

Elastic time

I’m always pleased when the magazine arrives and today, September 10, 2009, it arrived. I retired to read the fine article “Too Much (Bad) Information About Science” [Fall 2009] and was diverted to “Quote, unquote” on page 26. “Dad, you need to come here right now,” caught my eye and I smiled at the size of the fee assessed for the [phantom credit card] overdraft. Then I looked at the attribution. It was quoted from The New York Times of 09.22.09. My question is this: Is the quote a prediction?

Penny Elliston, SPH ’74 (MSc)
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Editor’s note: Well, not a prediction, exactly, but rather what is known in professional publishing as a mistake, a flub, a gaffe. The quoted article actually appeared in the Times on July 22, 2009.

Reading list

Re: “The Autodidact Course Catalog” [Fall 2009]: What? No reading list for art? My students at Johns Hopkins University’s Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning would be dismayed!

I therefore offer the following:

Ernst Kris and Otto Kurz’s Legend, Myth, and Magic in the Image of the Artist: A Historical Experiment (Yale University Press, 1979). An oldie but a goodie that examines the way we are accustomed to thinking about artists.

John Anderson, Art Held Hostage: The Battle over the Barnes Collection (W.W. Norton, 2003). People often think more about who owns the art than the art itself. One of the supreme collections of modernism in the world and it has mostly been a pawn in power struggles.

Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light (William Morrow, 1991). Until recently, artists and scientists were just coworkers in the arena of genius.

Witold Rybczynski, A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century (Scribner, 1999). Beauty, reality and the American way.

Of course, I could go on and on, but couldn’t we all.

Ellen B. Cutler
Lecturer, JHU Osher Institute for
Lifelong Learning
Aberdeen, Maryland

Terrorist nation

The letter “Indecent Praise” [Fall 2009] attacks writer Trita Parsi’s common sense proposal for dealing with the Iran-Israel conflict. Iran has not attacked another country in centuries, has no nuclear weapons program, has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has never been in violation of it.

Meanwhile, Israel has twice invaded Lebanon, has bombed Syria, and continues to brutally occupy and oppress millions of Palestinians while stealing their land and water. Also, Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons and has refused to sign the treaty.

Based on their actions rather than Zionist propaganda, it is clear that Israel is the terrorist nation in the Middle East and not Iran. The United States should be dialoguing and trading with Iran, who is no threat to our national interest. We should also end our support of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, the root cause of the violence in the region.

Ray Gordon, A&S ’66
Bel Air, Maryland

Book recommendation

In her article in the Fall issue, Sarah Richardson doesn’t mention Nelson Peery [“Finding Her Grandfathers, Through Books,” Fall 2009]. If she is not familiar with him, she might be interested in his two-volume autobiography: Black Fire: The Making of an American Revolutionary and Black Radical: The Education of an American Revolutionary, 1946–1968. Mr. Peery relates his experiences as an African American in the U. S. Army in World War II. He was trained at bases in the South and fought in the Pacific. As you might guess from the titles of his books, he was radicalized by his experiences and continued as a Communist after the war, since in his experience the Communists were the only group who supported the African–American struggle for equality.

Michael Anderson, A&S ’69 (PhD)
Bellevue, Washington


Thank you very much for the Fall 2009 issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine. I was particularly taken by the back-to-back articles on malaria research [“The Forever Enemy”] and on Basil Gildersleeve, the pioneering classicist [“To Understand Ourselves”]. “The Forever Enemy” was particularly enlightening because it gave an excellent brief history of modern attempts to combat the disease. Professor Gildersleeve would have approved of such contextual work, for “not to see a thing in its connections is not to see it at all.” Yet I could not help but notice something in the article that would have annoyed Professor Gildersleeve—a misattributed quote from a classic text. Charles Dickens may have said “the poor will always be with us,” but he would have been quoting the words of Jesus, as reported in the gospels of Matthew (26:11), Mark (14:7), and John (12:8). So much for a laudable attempt, in the words of Gildersleeve, to “make our own literature live through allusion.”

Joel Carpenter, A&S ’84 (PhD)
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Name that pest

I do believe the mosquito pictured in the fall edition of the magazine [“The Forever Enemy,” Fall 2009] is a culicine mosquitoes (genus Culex) and not a member of the Anopheles genus. In Anopheles mosquitoes, the head, thorax, and abdomen are in a “straight line.” The beastie pictured on page 40 has her head bent forward—typical of the culicine tribe.

John E. Eisenlohr
Dallas, Texas

Editor’s note: Our eagle–eyed letter writer is correct. The insect pictured is, indeed, a culicine mosquito of the genus Culex, and not Anopheles—the type that spreads malaria. This would no doubt be good news to the owner of the human arm that also appears in the photograph.

Decoding construction practices

Your article on hurricane damage [“Better Design Could Lessen Disasters,” June 2009] quite naturally features the engineering essentials for survival of buildings in hurricanes; however, it omits the single most important elements in hurricane resistant design: the architect. My experience spans 40 years of the practice of architecture in Florida, though it has extended from Key West to Massachusetts and west to Pensacola. From Donna in 1959, Andre in 1992, Eloise in 1975, Frederick in 1979, and Juan in 1989, we have not lost a single structure, to my knowledge, though one church in Pensacola did suffer some damage in 1985. The majority of our buildings were designed for continuing clients and any failure was immediately transmitted to the architect.

These buildings from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s were designed to the South Florida Building Code, a relatively modest guide, as no code existed for many of the areas in Florida. But most importantly, they were designed to our standards.

My experience is that no code, design, professional registration, or any authority can devise any damage resistant building that will stand if it is not built to do so. Codes are minimum requirements. Building officials will only check for code violations and have no responsibility for adherence to the construction documents, in fact, any implication to do so is carefully avoided for consequences of liability.

Since Hurricane Andrew, millions and millions of dollars and countless hours of time given by every skill in the construction industry have attempted to compose the perfect building code, to the frustration of all, and the expense of everyone. The end result is the further derogation of the architect to sub-architect, expected to produce minimum documents at the lowest fee to obtain the necessary permit, and in many cases, to sub-contract to design-build firms, with construction checks performed by non-related personnel. Documentation does not change the result; only a whole architect can do that.

Harold Seckinger
Homosassa Springs, Florida

Not all opposition based on faith

In “Letters to the Editor” [Fall 2009], R. Owen Sear mistakenly states that opposition to human embryonic stem cell research is only motivated by religious belief.

On the contrary, one can even be an atheist and opposed to abortion-on-demand and human embryonic stem cell research. How so?

From political science we fathom that the first purpose of government is to protect the innocent from the guilty, the weak from the strong. When governments fail in this they tend toward the antipodes of anarchy or dictatorship.

From biology we know that the fertilized egg of any bi-gender species has the full instructions to develop into a birthed one of that species.

As Edgar Dacqué wrote in his classic Natur und Erlösung, the fertilized ovum has more than the mere potential to develop into a birthed one of that species—it has the full entelechy of that species. What is the difference between “potential” and “entelechy”? The former must be consciously developed to flower, while the latter will develop to maturity unless interrupted.

In short, the “morula” of the human is that of a human, and not that of a pig or a goat. That is a scientific fact, independent of religious faith.

Tom Kuna, SAIS ’71 (MA)
Jerseyville, Illinois