Letters to the Editor

Readers bark back about Handsome Dan, Grace Hopper, 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.

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Thanks for the fine article on the history of Handsome Dan (“Sit. Stay. Boola Boola,” March/April). It brought back to me a vivid memory of Handsome Dan IX during the halftime of the Yale-Army game on November 5, 1955. Army was favored, and we had a dreary first half. At halftime, a cadet rode the Army horse around the track to the Yale side, leading their mascot, the mule. “Rubbing it in,” some of us grumbled. 

But then came one of life’s transcendent moments. Handsome Dan IX slipped his leash (or was he released?), and he made straight for the Army horse, at top waddle. The horse (no fool) reared, turned tail, and fled, the rider hanging on for dear life. The mule hightailed it as well, leaving Handsome Dan, legs akimbo, surveying the field in triumph. The Yale cheers were delirious. I’d guess the Bulldog men heard the news in the locker room, for they came onto the field loaded for mule. We won, 14–12.

It’s been 62 years, and I’m 20 years past that, so the memory is flawed—but whatever details aren’t correct, the abiding feeling of exultation is just right.

Don Chatfield ’56
Claremont, CA

 

It’s great to see the new Handsome Dan, aka Walter, on the alumni magazine cover, along with a delightful history of Yale’s mascot. Even though I’m a lifelong cat lover, I’ve come to love the Bulldogge breed over many years.

My husband served as president of the Olde English Bulldogge Kennel Club (OEBKC) so we’ve learned the intricacies of the dog-breeding world. Thanks to the efforts of this Kennel Club, the genuine Olde English Bulldogge (OEB) breed is now considered an accepted breed by the United Kennel Club (UKC). While this may sound like alphabet soup, it’s significant to know that purebred OEBs are healthier and live longer than other bulldog breeds. Genuine OEBs have wonderful temperaments, are intelligent dogs, and have the “bulldog” look that many people like, yet the musculature and anatomy of a healthier animal.

We follow Handsome Dan on Instagram and look forward to seeing more of his photos as he grows up. We know he’ll thrive as Yale’s mascot!

Julie Greenberg Richman ’86MBA
Colorado Springs, CO

 

When making a choice of artwork for the cover of the March/April issue, you could have highlighted the articles on the heroic work of Yale Law School professors, alumni, and students to fight the executive order on immigration or the groundbreaking decision to rename Calhoun College after Grace Hopper. But you decided instead to prioritize an inane article on Yale’s canine mascot with a photo of a puppy on a Yale armchair. I was so mortified by what this says about the perceived priorities of Yale alumni in these troubling times that I literally ripped the cover off my issue before reading it on the bus. 

Harold S. Levine ’78
New York, NY

 

Recent articles in your magazine on global warming, racism, and the new occupant of the White House have addressed important subjects informatively. But a cover story on a puppy is a nice change.

Ron Sipherd ’64
Oakland, CA

 

Class act

How could a member of the Class of 1957 not feel his aging heart swell with delayed pride in learning that, as freshmen, his classmates had pooled their funds to purchase Handsome Dan IX? But how could he not also experience falling spirits from reading in the same issue (“Music in the Neighborhood,” March/April) that the venerable Neighborhood Music School partners with  Yale’s Music in Schools Initiative, with no mention of the fact that the Initiative was established by the Class of 1957 at its 50th reunion in 2007, and has been sustained by a sizeable endowment from the class?

James M. Banner Jr. ’57
Washington, DC

 

Grace Hopper’s namesakes

Naming a college after Grace Murray Hopper is fantastic! I am writing to correct a fact in your article about her (“Grace Hopper: Yale’s Newest College Namesake,” March/April), as the Navy and she would be sticklers for detail. The article says an aircraft carrier, the USS Hopper, was named after her. In fact, it was not an aircraft carrier, but rather a Navy destroyer, commissioned with her name in 1997.

In another plug for the Navy, I suggest Yale bring Michelle Howard—the first African American woman to command a Navy ship and the first woman be promoted to four-star admiral—to speak at commencement. It would make Grace so proud.

Edward Griffiths III ’73
Pleasant Hill, CA

 

Thanks to several readers who wrote to correct our error about the ship named for Hopper.—Eds.

 

Admiral Grace Hopper’s name may replace John C. Calhoun’s on the college where I lived some 70 years ago, but she is not its “namesake.” Your headline has it backwards. The college itself is Admiral Hopper’s namesake, just as the university is Elihu Yale’s. She and he are eponymous. 

Dick Mooney ’47
New York, NY

 

We paused over the headline, for exactly that reason. But our house dictionary, Merriam-Webster, has ruled that a “namesake” can be either party. Interestingly (at least for us word geeks), the quotations in the Oxford English Dictionary also have it both ways.—Eds.

 

Lawyers to the rescue

Your article on the Law School students who helped immigrant travelers (“No Time to Lose,” March/April) was moving and inspiring. I have had specific contact with Professor Michael Wishnie and his students. My spouse, Ed Spires, was the beneficiary of their skill in upgrading his “undesirable” discharge from the Air Force to an “honorable” one. The circumstances are too convoluted to repeat here, but the selfless dedication of teachers and students was matched by their concern and care. The relationship went beyond a professional one between attorney and client and became a personal one.

Shakespeare once wrote, “Let’s kill all the lawyers.” Surely that sentiment would not apply to as fine a group as Professor Wishnie, Aaron Wenzloff, and the amazing students at Yale’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic. With their help, and that of Yale Law alumnus Senator Richard Blumenthal ’73JD, wrongs were righted, and true justice was done.

David A. Rosenberg ’54Dra
Norwalk, CT

 

Winter and World War I

What a pleasure to open your magazine and find an article that was intelligent, interesting to read, informative, and actually motivated me—an ancient-history buff—to look up some of Jay Winter’s books on the Great War (“How to Commemorate Catastrophe,” March/April). Far too many previous issues have been devoted to nonsense articles about the puerile hissy fits of spoiled, privileged undergrads. Most of us find adolescent rantings uninteresting.

I hope you will print more intellectual articles. How about some in-depth articles about the two wonderful Yale art museums?

Alacia Stubbs ’75MDiv
Oakland Gardens, NY

 

With gratitude

This letter is long overdue. I wanted to thank you for your article about Dr. Richard Selzer (“A Doctor’s Life, Chronicled,” Sept/Oct 2016). As an undergrad, I took one of Dr. Selzer’s writing workshops. That was about 20 years ago. In many ways, I modeled myself after Dr. Selzer. All my life, I’ve wanted to be an author. But as the daughter of immigrants who were blue-collar workers, I couldn’t justify the decadence of writing full time. So I turned to Dr. Selzer and asked how he juggled his medical career with his writing pursuits, and he told me that I could absolutely do both.

It may seem like simple advice, but it was a pivotal moment for me: to hear from someone successfully handling a career in a “stable” profession while also expressing his creativity was exactly what I needed. Dr. Selzer wrote an inscription for me on one of his story collections, and I still carry that book wherever I move. I had it with me in South Korea and in Paris after college graduation, at Berkeley while I attended law school, and now in Los Angeles where I’ve lived for the past decade.

When I saw the article about his passing, I was overcome with gratitude for his life and his teachings. Today, I work full time as a vice president at Sony Pictures, but I’m happy to report that my debut children’s book (entitled The Turtle Ship) will be published in 2018. Thank you, Dr. Selzer, for insisting that I could do both. And thank you for an article about a very generous teacher and writer who truly defined the course of my life.

Helena (Ku) Rhee ’96
Los Angeles, CA

 

Give Scott Joplin his due

I hope I am not the first to call attention to an error in the biographical sketch of Shirley Graham DuBois (“Eloquence in the Cause of Freedom,” March/April). DuBois did not compose, as your article stated, “the first opera by an African American about African Americans.” That distinction belongs to the incomparable Scott Joplin (1868–1917), whose three-act opera Treemonisha was published in 1911.

Set in Arkansas in 1884, Treemonisha deals exclusively with a community of former slaves and their struggles against ignorance and superstition. Probably due to racial prejudice, Treemonisha was never performed during Joplin’s lifetime, though selected portions were. Not until 1972, riding the tide of a revival of interest in Joplin and his music, was the opera performed in its entirety, opening on January 28 at the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center. It opened on Broadway in 1975.

I saw it in a later year; although I didn’t think it was very good as an opera, I loved the music. So did the critics. The concluding number, “A Real Slow Drag,” is one of the most rousing melodies I ever heard. 

Some years ago, selections from Treemonisha were performed by members of an African American church at St. Michael’s Cemetery, in Queens, New York, where Joplin is buried. I had the pleasure of attending three of these performances. At the conclusion of the performance, the skeleton cast and members of the audience trooped down to Joplin’s grave, where we joined hands and sang “We Will Rest Awhile,” one of the songs from Treemonisha. It was very moving.

Peter R. Limburg ’50
Bedford, NY

 

Limburg was one of many readers to write on behalf of Joplin and Treemonisha. We regret the error. Shirley Graham DuBois’s Tom-Tom was the first such opera to be produced, not the first to be written.—Eds.

 

Don’t forget Gibbs

I was still dealing with my disappointment that neither of our new colleges had been named after J. Willard Gibbs, Class of 1858, ’63PhD, when I received a cheery e-mail from Yale saying that Gibbs Lab is about to be demolished, to be replaced by a building largely devoted to biology (“News on the Hill,” November/December). Not to worry, however, because a Gibbs Walk on the Hill will perpetuate his name on the Yale science campus.

Gibbs was essentially the inventor of modern thermodynamics, one of the most esteemed theoretical physicists of the nineteenth century, and arguably the most important scientific thinker ever to be associated with Yale University. Among his contributions is the concept of entropy, of which the demolition of Gibbs Lab is itself an example. It is sad to think that, in the time since I was an undergraduate, he has receded rather than risen in the consciousness of the university. More troubling, still, is that his neglect may reflect second-class status for physical sciences at Yale, compared to other disciplines. It is hard to imagine that a comparably renowned person of letters or public service (e.g., John C. Calhoun) would not have had a major institution at the university named in his or her honor. 

I can only hope that the Yale administration will devote some thought to the larger meaning of Gibbs’s demotion on the campus, and to what can be done at Yale to perpetuate the tradition of physical science that he represents.

Edward Silberman ’65
Gloucester, MA

 

Humans and climate

In your most recent issue, Professor David Gelernter is briefly quoted on the lack of evidence that climate change is caused by human activity (“Quoted,” March/April). But that isn’t the relevant point. A better question would be “Whatever it is that’s causing climate change, what can we do about it?”

The folly of arguing about anthropogenic origin may be illustrated in a parallel scenario:

Scientist: “Mr. President, we’ve just discovered that an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth!”
President: “Who set it on that course?”
Scientist: “Why, no one, sir.”
President: “Then clearly we don’t have to do anything about it.”

Paul Berry ’59PhD
Mountain View, CA

 

Corrections

In our January/February Letters section, we published letters by Philip Garvin ’69 and David Tufaro ’69 about President Salovey’s Freshman Address. We mistakenly reversed the signatures on the letters, attributing Garvin’s to Tufaro and vice versa. Our apologies to both letter writers for the error.

In our article about Handsome Dan (“Sit. Stay. Boola Boola,” March/April), we reported that Christopher Getman ’64 and his Dans attended “nearly every Commencement.” Getman tells us that he never missed a single one.

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