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Letters to Reed
Humanities and the Brain
These two seemingly unrelated subjects came together recently when I read an online description of the humanities course, by an anonymous Reed student, which I shall refer to later.
But, first, I have read lately a couple of stories of medical scientists studying the way the memory and reasoning parts of the brain interact when a series of questions is put to the listener. The scientists used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to elucidate the brain responses in two groups of volunteers, one a group of young adults in their late teens and the other an older group in their late 20s and early 30s. I should add that until these studies were done it was common medical thinking that the basic development of interaction between the memory and reasoning parts of the brain occurred only during infancy.
Of all the questions the researchers posed, I only remember one that I thought was humorous: “Would you eat a cockroach?” The older group immediately answered: “No!” The younger group took time to answer similarly. In response to this question and all the others, the MRI results were different between the two groups. The researchers concluded that there is a second period of basic brain development and that it occurs in the late teens.
One can probably explain a number of behavior traits of the late teen population because of their different way of processing memory and reasoning. One of course is their proclivity to taking risks, and their thinking that they are indestructible. This was the reason why General Eisenhower and the other military leaders chose young, untested troops to land at Normandy. They didn’t want the battle-hardened troops who fought in North Africa and Italy and who knew that they could die.
There are several technical questions that occur to me about the brain studies. First, did the teens show 10 years later the same MRI results as the earlier-tested older group? And, secondly, was the older group representative of the population as a whole?
I would be especially interested in the answer to the latter question because I think that many, if not most, adults, based on their prejudices and beliefs, have not gone through the second stage of brain development.
If the reader will grant me the license (tongue in cheek) to make a connection here, I will suggest that the Reed humanities course catches the freshmen at a critical time in their basic brain development. To quote the anonymous student on the humanities course, it teaches you how”. . . to criticize others (constructively) and be criticized yourself. You will have to analyze a variety of arguments presented by readings, professors, and your peers, and, along the way, you’ll learn how to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your own arguments.”
I think another way of putting it is that the Reed humanities course teaches you to be a critical thinker and avid reader who doesn’t need political pundits to interpret the news for you, and who doesn’t need FOX News to tell you what are supposedly the facts and how you should think.
So, all Reed grads should be grateful that they were required to take the humanities course.
—Marvin H. Lehr ’54
Fred Ellis ’38 and the San Juan Preservation Trust
Environmentalist, professor, cattleman: Fred Ellis ’38.
photo by jane k. fox, courtesy of san juan preservation trust
I grinned at your not-at-all-subtle hints that you want more news! The grin turned south, however, when I read Fred Ellis’ hugely informative obituary. Both my cousin and neighbor (he’s a board member of the San Juan Preservation Trust—hint, hint!) and I were struck at the slighting treatment given to Fred’s land donations on Shaw and Lopez Islands. Yes, he donated a lot of his land to the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs. He also donated almost 500 acres of land on Shaw to the San Juan Preservation Trust, and he placed conservation easements on 366 acres on Shaw and 408 acres on Lopez, which the San Juan Preservation Trust holds in stewardship. The preservation trust holds thousands of acres of donated lands, and conservation easement properties, around the San Juan Islands. The trust works in partnerships with other local, state, and national organizations to purchase lands in order to preserve them in their current status. The trust has had three very successful fund-raising drives that have led to the preservation of almost a thousand acres of land on Orcas (Turtleback Mountain); on Lopez (Watmough Bay); and most recently on Guemes, the highest land on that island. All of this acreage was set to be sold and developed; it is now preserved forever for our future enjoyment and for the protection of fragile ecosystems and species.
This note started out as a correction to a reporter’s story, or a complaint at an overzealous editing job! But I see it has also allowed me to wax enthusiastic about this local organization that for the last quarter century has worked so hard (and has been so successful) to preserve these beautiful islands. Many thanks to people like Fred and his family, and lots of other people who have made the commitment to live here in harmony with the land, and to the San Juan Preservation Trust, which is instrumental in helping to keep the islands this way!
Me? I’m one of the little people who’s placed my few acres under a conservation easement with the San Juan Preservation Trust; my shoreline and bluff will remain subject to natural erosion only; my acres of second-growth trees will never be logged, and I will cut only snags in order to feed my wood-burning stove. No one will ever build another structure on this property, with its accompanying utility needs: well, septic system, wires, drainage. When my son, who wants to inherit my little paradise, comes to live here, it will look exactly the same as it does now. (He does stipulate that he won’t retire here if Lopez ever gets a traffic light!)
Thanks for letting me correct the reporting errors, and for letting me go on about the San Juan Preservation Trust!
—Virginia Greene Lowell ’62
Editor’s Note: Thanks for clearing that up. We included some of these details in a piece about Fred (“Land Preserver”) back in August 2007.
What’s Wrong with Ten From ’10
The “Ten from ’10” feature (Reed, September 2010) does not showcase as much daring as it claims. For one, it is a feature that, like many of Reed’s showcases of talent and brilliance, appears from a shroud of silence and a circle of those “in the know,” incredibly at odds with the all-inclusive and out-in-the-open academic and cultural community “experience” pushed on Reed’s surface by its faculty, staff, students, and publications. This is a fact that this feature’s inclusion in the September issue, far away from when its merits might have been judged by the rest of the graduates of ’10, and could cause any harm to the facade of academic bliss on campus, does little to dismiss. In reality, the “Reedie” thing to do would have been to let all the students have their say. Instead, what we are presented with is a list of students and their work that does little to represent the student body, let alone the various academic experiences that Reed actually offers, but rather represents the wills of those faculty and staff who are connected, know the system, have been at Reed the longest, and have gotten their respective students through the proper channels. This is not to say that I am not proud of my fellow Reedies who made the cut; in fact some of them are my friends, and one of them has even been my room- and bandmate. Instead, what I am not proud of is the pure “chance” of it all, that students at Reed might end up in the more well-thought-of department, work under the better-connected (and preferably not visiting) professor, be told to apply for the right scholarships and grants whose availability is never truly publicized on campus, be invited to the special and secret luncheons and breakfasts, and come out on top. The theses of 2010 that Reed and Reed have presented to us here are very clearly those theses that would succeed at any institution, and that will work the best (as the feature shows) in propelling these students into future academic study. Where are the theses that helped Reedies find themselves, that showed an alternative to academics and to strict academic form? Where are the theses that were just plain fun to write and to read; to paint, to sculpt, to create, and to see; to compose and to hear? Sadly, as “Ten for ’10” would have it, they are not at Reed, at least not for the outside world to see.
—Natan Diacon-Furtado ’10
Editor's Note: Here’s how we select seniors for this feature. In the spring, we ask faculty and staff for suggestions. We receive scores of incredible nominees.From this embarrassment of riches we must select a mere handful. We wish we had space—and time—to showcase every one of our outstanding seniors, but the resulting magazine would cost a fortune to print and stop a bullet at five paces.
Yes, but what about the Sauna?
I agree with the assessment of furniture maker Todd Nopp ’96 that the ski cabin was “super-comfortable but grungy,” so, here’s to sprucing it up! However, I am concerned about the fate of the sauna built by George James ’77 (thanks, George). The sauna was the making of my own personal Reed lore, perhaps remembered by me alone, but a story I continue to tell as emblematic of my many untraditional college experiences: on my first trip to the ski cabin, I arrived late on a snowy evening, and my friends immediately introduced me to the pleasures of the sauna. I was enjoying my final jump from sauna to snow through the door (which I believe is visible in the “once” picture in the magazine), when, to my consternation, I discovered that the door had slammed shut and locked behind me. My friends had apparently retreated from the sauna (or were snickering behind the closed door), leaving me to scamper through the snow to the front of the cabin. I threw open the front door with great gusto, ready to yell accusations and profanities at my friends, only to discover that a whole new crowd of Reedies had arrived at the cabin while we had been in the sauna. My surprise was no match for theirs upon seeing an apparently new arrival, stark nude. Here’s to hoping that future Reedies will continue to enjoy the pleasures (and embarrassments) of the sauna.
—Katya Wesolowski ’92
Editor’s Note: Fear not, Katya—the sauna steams still!
The unnecessary death of a brilliant young student is by definition tragic and inestimably painful to the surviving friends and loved ones. For this reason it may be vulgar to pair such an event with an article in praise or even in general approval of the current style of drug prohibition enforcement, as in “Fatal Overdose Focuses Attention on Drug Use at Reed,” Reed, June 2010.
Targeting pot smokers has become decreasingly popular among law enforcement agencies since cannabis is associated with far less medically significant harm than several other widely used substances that are legal for adults. To fill the gap and to continue to justify spending substantial public funds on enforcement of drug prohibition, the DEA has switched its focus to alleged physician diversion of prescription analgesic medications.
The tremendous social harms of drug prohibition more than outweigh any purported benefits, and taxpayers are paying a great deal to put innocent physicians behind bars for alleged narcotics diversion. In my county of residence, an anesthesiologist was ruined by being falsely accused and prosecuted for allegedly trading narcotics prescriptions for sexual favors from patients, and afterwards all of the testimony used to vilify him was shown to have been perjured testimony traded for sentence reduction on narcotics convictions that were unrelated to him. In an adjoining county, a psychiatrist was falsely accused of the opiate poisoning of five elderly patients who were later shown (via exhumation and examination of their remains) to have died natural deaths. No evidence supported the accusations, and the accused psychiatrist was finally acquitted after being financially and professionally ruined by this wholly false prosecution. These travesties are being committed by law enforcement officials in every state. (For details see The Criminalization of Medicine, by Ronald T. Libby (Praeger, 2008) and www.aapsonline.org/press/hurwitz929.htm.)
—Laura Fisher ’68
Editor’s Note: These cases sound disturbing, but I’m not sure how they bear on our recent tragedy. Reed maintains that drug use is fundamentally antithetical to its academic mission. As an educational institution, it emphasizes prevention and treatment; for these to be effective, however, there must also be some sort of enforcement. For a detailed explanation of Reed’s drug policy, please see www.reed.edu/academic/gbook/comm_pol/implem_plan.html.
Party in the Restroom
You rightly noted that alumni from the ’70s on up rubbed shoulders (at minimum) during the reunions dance party in the commons men’s restroom. We can only hope for a repeat centennial performance at this venue next year. Credit for organizing the event, however, rests with the inimitable Kate Forbes ’10, who I hope, for the greater glory of our class, doesn’t too much mind being outed.
Or should I say, grouted?
—Joel Batterman ’10
Editor’s Note: Nice one, Joel—a tile well told.
Remembering Wayne Altree ’40
We got a call from David F. Aiken MAT ’65, retired curriculum vice president for Portland Public Schools, who wanted to share some of his remembrances of (Charles) Wayne Altree ’40, MALS ’68 [In Memoriam, September 2010]. David was a student of Wayne’s at Grant High School, where Wayne taught social studies and was department chair before he moved to the East Coast. David recalled that Wayne was always available to students and kept in touch with them long after he had taught them. He inspired them to apply to Reed or to go into public education, and supported their efforts. (David’s entry into the Mat program at Reed was partly due to Wayne’s influence.) David noted that Wayne assigned readings and held classroom discussions about increasing population versus diminishing resources worldwide, together with concomitant ecological consequences. “He was ahead of his times on this, as well as on other concerns to which he alerted his students. He was also an early predictor of the rise of China, Korea, and Japan, and he caused me to pursue Asian studies.” Wayne was a voracious reader, on top of current events, and with an intellectual vigor that was undiminished by age. David and Wayne’s last conversations—well into Wayne’s 90s—consisted of lively, two-hour discussions. “He had a very gentle way of wagging his finger verbally. ‘You might not know this,’ he would say, or he might suggest reading material to expand or clarify a viewpoint. In an age of superlatives, when it is difficult for words to stand out, it must be said that Wayne was superlative. He was magnificent.”
Remembering Gail Ryba ’84
Thank you for the obituary for Gail Ryba [September 2010]. It was with sadness, as well as a sense of pride, that I attended Gail’s funeral in Santa Fe in May. Sadness at the loss of a friend, colleague, and important member of New Mexico’s community; and pride because she embodied the absolute best qualities of a Reedie. Although she is best known for her bicycling advocacy, I was friends with Gail through her work promoting consumer energy efficiency in New Mexico, in addition to our having known each other at Reed. Although we represented different interests (I represent a regulated public utility), Gail had a way of working with people that didn’t allow for high-handed behavior or ruffled feathers from anyone, even when the issues themselves were contentious. She did this by bringing to the table her own special curiosity, intellectual rigor, joyfulness, civility and problem-solving skills, and her ability to engage in critical analysis and assessment of each party’s position (including her own) coupled with a genuine respect for the viewpoints of others. She was one of the few people I’ve ever met who made practicing what you preach seem both easy and inevitable. Gail lived every day of her life applying the best of the educational ideals that Reed strives to instill in its students.
Another testament to her ability to influence everyone and everything in positive and important ways came in August. when the city of Albuquerque dedicated a new $7 million bicycle and pedestrian bridge connecting popular hiking and biking trails across the Rio Grande. Its name: the Gail Ryba Memorial Bridge.
—Stacey Goodwin ’83
Remembering Pat Pruyne ’83
The first time I saw Pat Pruyne he was wearing a big velvet hat—I think that can’t be right, but that’s what my wobbly memory is bringing up for me. He should have looked like a ’70s pimp, but he looked like a Renaissance prince, the one in the fresco who has turned away from the procession and is measuredly gazing out at you. Of course I was drawn to him. He seemed to manufacture his own gravitational force.
We were satellite friends in two different collegiate sets that didn’t mix much. As I remember it, in his world people made trips to the coast and worked hard and were kind to each other. That must be idealized, but he seemed to have no awkward learning period—he appeared full-grown at what, 19? He worked at the coolest restaurant in Portland and wore a velvet jacket and the smoothest of demeanors. He kept a clinically clear focus when everything was bloody and messy and bad. He could tell you when you were being cruel or thoughtless and you wouldn’t mind. He seemed to know lots of cool stuff, and was willing to share it, like how to use a chef’s knife to whack garlic out of its skin, that there’s “a rat” in the word separate (preventing a lifetime of misspelling), and his incontrovertible theory that when you see two people in a couple who have wildly divergent levels of attractiveness, one of them is great in bed. He was the ideal endlessly interesting friend to lie out on the grass and talk about everything with.
I ran into him years after college and we talked about pomology and the history of gardens, and he was clearly crazy in love with his children. I’m jealous of everyone who had decades with him—lucky you, and poor you, to have lost him. He left a vivid mark on me.
—Anne Lauer Schwab ’83
Editor’s Note: For Pat’s obituary, see In Memoriam.
John D. Bowman ’57 as a senior at Reed.
Remembering John Bowman ’57
Ted Edlin ’57 alerted us to an error in our reporting of his Reed roommate, the late John D. Bowman ’57. In previous obituaries, we had mistakenly connected John to the Linden B. Bowman ’35 family. Thanks to Ted’s tip, and sleuthing by Ben Bradley ’88 in the registrar’s office, we were able to correct our records. John was the only child of W.F. Bowman, who owned and operated Blue Banner Foods in Tacoma, Washington. His mother, Grace Bowman, remained a friend of the college until her death in 1990.
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