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Letters: Summer 2010
June 2, 2010  |  by Johns Hopkins Staff

Bucks from pollution

Some public health dollars [“The Buck Goes Here,” Spring 2010] should go to making bucks out of our massive, ever-expanding mess of organic wastes and sewage solids, rather than letting those messes get out of hand, polluting our biosphere and being allowed to re-emit the carbon dioxide that nature has so kindly trapped for us. Late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it is going to limit several drugs now showing up in drinking water, indicating that we are losing control in confining the escape of germs, drugs, and toxins.

These messes can become a resource in battling the climate crisis as well as controlling pollution if we use pyrolysis. Pyrolysis [decomposition by heat in the absence of oxygen] will destroy the germs, toxins, and drugs with about 50 percent of the biocarbon present in those wastes converted to inert charcoal that can be used to supply minor nutrients for plants. The hot charcoal can be passed through a heat exchanger to get some steam for power. In the essentially closed pyrolysis chamber, the other 50 percent of the biocarbon gets converted to various low molecular–weight organic chemicals expelled as a gaseous mix. This mix can be passed through a turbocharger, then collected to be refined for renewable fuel and/or selected chemicals to make drugs, etc.

Maybe people at Johns Hopkins can realize that money put into applying pyrolysis to those messes can lead to financial benefits from sale of the energy and chemicals obtained, as well as major health benefits from destroying those hazards.

James Singmaster, A&S ’59 (MA)
Fremont, California

Out of sire, by dam

If Guido Veloce (“What’s in a Name?” Spring 2010) had spent as much time at Pimlico as I did as a News-Letter sports editor, he would realize that the naming of thoroughbred race horses is the ultimate exercise in creativity. In most cases, a horse is named in allusion to its sire and dam. From his own examples:

• Mine That Bird—out of Mining My Own by Birdstone;

• Birdstone—out of Dear Birdie by Grindstone;

• Deputed Testamony (sic—the magazine’s spell-checker changed that one)—out of Proof Requested by Traffic Cop.

Just surfing www.pedigreequery.com would make a Writing Seminars prof swoon. Unfortunately, they don’t list my father’s favorite unnamed racehorse—out of Texas by Truck.

Dave Einolf, A&S ’81
Portland, Oregon

Still waiting for an apology

I would like to “second” the opinions expressed in Henry Kerfoot’s letter in the Spring 2010 issue. I have yet to see any apology for, or any recognition of, the failed policies that the neo-cons, war-mongers, and promoters of American militarism (in Iraq and Afghanistan most recently) at SAIS have been responsible for in the last couple of decades. And I agree with him that it would be nice to see Johns Hopkins Magazine publish a critique of, or acknowledge, their failures and ideological rigidity, and give voice to some of their critics. In case you’re interested, I stopped contributing to Johns Hopkins as a small voice of protest against the ideological extremism of SAIS’ faculty and their contributions to several failures of American foreign policy. I am appalled at SAIS’ willingness to always provide a “home” to those whose policies have proved disastrous; it ranks right up there with the American Enterprise Institute as a bastion of the Right.

M. W. Wenner, SAIS ’65 (PhD)
Prescott, Arizona

Needed: objective analysis

The letters on Israel and Iran by Chaim Forer and Michelle Kravitz [“Israel’s ‘balance’ of terror” and “Hopelessly naïve about Iran,” Spring 2010] and Ray Gordon [“Terrorist nation,” Winter 2009] open an interesting debate on the Middle East. Unfortunately, all three have allowed preconceptions and sloganeering to cloud and prevent real solutions.

Gordon’s one-dimensional view of Iran begs for criticism but does not warrant equally naïve solutions—like Forer’s assertion that Israel “has refused to destroy its enemies.” Israel’s battlefield success led Egypt and Jordan to drop their futile aggressive policies, and even Syria no longer confronts Israel militarily. But for Israel to destroy its enemies, in Gaza, Lebanon, or Palestine, as Forer seems to advocate, would entail massive civilian casualties and worldwide protest. That is hardly “appeasement”—Israel has simply recognized “its objectives” cannot include wholesale destruction of populations.

Total victory over one’s enemies is not a sinecure. After WWI, the Allies tried to prevent Germany from ever again challenging Europe; the Versailles Treaty however became the tool to unite Germans behind those who (like the Nazis) would redress this “intolerable injustice.” Within 21 years, Europe was again at war—and much more destructively.  This attempt seemed reasonable, but unintended consequences can undo desired goals.  America’s post-WWII rebuilding of former enemies, and giving them a stake in democracy, was the far more effective strategy for long-term peace.

Ms. Kravitz’s valid points about Iran lose credibility by painting all Muslims as terrorists. She may not intend that, but saying “these people do not believe in tolerance” is reminiscent of past charges leveled against African-Americans, Jews, etc. Such assertions against Israelis would immediately be labeled anti-Semitic. And while “doing something to avert Iran’s nuclear ambition” is commendable, America has been trying that for years. But the critical support of other countries is stymied by inherent conflict with their own national interests.

JHU taught us never to see issues as black and white—we must always consider gray areas, too. As a former U.S. senior Foreign Service officer, I know international politics is not a simple equation: There are many conflicting viewpoints that cannot be ignored. A key problem for Israel, Palestine, and Iran is the refusal of each to consider the viewpoint of the other, and actions the other side will accept. All want to make the world see “we are right, and our opponents are wrong,” and each feels that with sufficient force they can impose their will.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has lasted 60 years. The use of force, appeals to God and religion (on both sides), attempts to win world opinion, are all a zero-sum game: One side will win and the other must lose. Every negative action has an opposite reaction: Bomb a school and Israel will retaliate; bulldoze homes and Palestinians will have grievances for another century. Both sides must eschew violent response and find real long-term solutions—even if they require tough compromises.

We must bring humanism and enlightened reasoning to such conflicts, and reflect how our JHU education can help achieve positive results—and not just point fingers of blame.

Robert Marro, A&S ’70
Great Falls, Virginia

Correction: Paul Didisheim, Med ’54, noted an error in last issue’s “Golomb’s Gambits.” The five-letter anagram requested by item G6 should have been “type of beer,” not “type of beef.” Didisheim gracefully blamed the typesetter, but the mistake was in our proofreading.


2 Comments


  1. mr. marro’s statement that both sides (israel and its arab enemies)must eschew violent means etc is both naive in its lack of realism and amoral in equating arab terror with israeli self defense. Would marro have negotiated with hitler? islamic totalitarianism is evil: all non moslems are enemies and all means are justified even the murder of their own children thru “suicide” or, more accurately, as sacrifices to allah. marro is wrong to think that such people can be negotiated with. today, as a result of israel’s misguided and self destructive policies it is perceived by its enemies as weak. this perception fuels its enemies thirst for jewish blood. conversely, the perception of israel as strong deters its enemies from their evil designs.

    marro may be right that war will never bring peace but negotiations have only brought more violence, not less and for israel further negotiations only bring it closer to a greater war, more violence and possibly its own destruction.

  2. @Chaim: You’re naive (actually you’re not — you’re plain ignorant) in think that all Muslims think that all non-Muslims are enemies.

    Open a book (a REAL book, from an unbiased author that has actually done respectable scholarship in the field of religious study) and educate yourself. Before pretending to understand foreign policy, we must first understand history. In order to understand history, we must also understand culture. In order to understand culture, we must understand the people from which said culture was produced.

    Grow up and learn a thing or two.

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