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Overpopulation Ignored

Given the widespread promulgation of the message that underlies Tracey Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, a little curmudgeonliness is in order [“Spreading the Word,” Dec. 2006]. First, in making a judgment about what Paul Farmer accomplishes one must understand that Haiti—in 1804 the richest, strongest, most populated part of the island it shares with the Dominican Republic—is now, and has been for decades, one of the poorest in the world and the most destitute country in the New World. Perennial corruption, minimal electricity, water, sewage and schools make it a marked contrast to adjoining Dominican Republic. The Republic has 28 percent of its remaining forests; Haiti has 1 percent. So maybe keeping more people alive on an over-populated, incredibly desecrated land should be seriously questioned.

One must ask if what Farmer is doing is sustainable, and if more people will die in the future because it is not. Farmer is keeping more people alive and breeding, and maybe what he is doing is immoral.

Richard Pelto, ’61, ’69, ’75

Malthusian Logic

In the Dec. 06 issue of Columns, my “curmudgeonly” fellow UW alumnus Richard Pelto writes to ask whether Paul Farmer’s efforts are worthwhile, indeed, even moral when Haiti has such limited resources and a continually “breeding” population. His point is well put, but it seems to me a little short sighted.

Pelto begins by stating Haiti was at the top of its game 200 years ago, but is now one of the poorest in the world. But Pelto fails to ask why this should be. Why was Haiti doing so well then and so poorly now? Why is Haiti perennially corrupt, poor and ridden with disease? He seems satisfied enough that it is.

His letter continues by describing the desperate situation in Haiti as consequence of the competing pressures of population and resources—lack of resources plus over-population spells doom for Haiti.

But to use such Malthusian logic is to cast Haitians among those wretched of the earth, for whom any effort at improvement is counterproductive, and even hurtful rather than helpful, because, according to this logic, to save one life is to condemn 10 others to starvation. This is Haiti’s destiny.

To do so is to dismiss so much real human suffering with statistical analysis and a shift of the slide rule.

Furthermore, Partners in Health’s programs join medicine, public health and social services such as family planning, contraception and education  into an overall effort to increase the health of people. These services could ease the competing pressures of resources and population by creating an educated, literate and healthy society.

It seems my fellow alum would suggest that Farmer’s efforts would be better spent doing something else, or, in light of the difficult situation in Haiti, better spent doing nothing at all.

Lucky for us, Farmer seems to have far more compassion than curmudgeonliness.

Greg Miller, ’02

September 2006From Boardroom to Family Room

I enjoyed your feature article on the alumni who are CEOs, until I noticed that only for the one female CEO included did you discuss how her career affected her children and husband [“Business Class,” Sept. 2006]. Do the five other CEOs not have children or wives? If they do, why were these fathers’ career/family choices not similarly highlighted? Surely you’re not suggesting that only mothers have parenting responsibilities and not fathers?

Lisa Nuss, ’95
San Francisco

Photo Tallies

Something peculiar caught my eye as I was flipping through the pages of September’s Columns: a glaring lack of feminine presence. That piqued my curiosity and I sat down with a pencil and scratch paper and did some tallying. The result? Eighty-nine pictures of men, 48 of women. Of the 48 women, only three were professionals in non-traditional fields and one of the women tragically made the grade by committing suicide. These numbers don’t accurately represent the UW that I remember and I’m quite sure they don’t represent the current student body. Let’s hear more and see more of our wonderful and successful UW women!

Carmel Reid Mawle, ’93
Fort Collins, Colo.

Misleading Soundbite

In the September Columns, you quote Dr. Anthony Blau and you say in the paragraph that he was “commenting on President Bush’s veto of a bill that would have allowed research on embryonic stem-cell lines created after Aug. 9, 2001.” While I do not agree with Bush’s veto, I understand that his veto does not ban research. Rather, it prevents [federal] funding for such research. To say the bill “would have allowed research on embryonic stem-cell lines” is misleading and implies such a ban.

Steve Shay
West Seattle

Editor’s Note: Steve Shay is correct and we apologize for our error in describing President Bush’s veto.