Letters to the Editor

March 2001

Cover of September 2000 Columns

Cover of December 2000 Columns

Testing Beliefs

In your article on Kennewick Man, Anthropology Professor [Eugene] Hunn is quoted: "There seems to be an assumption that science should have carte blanche." On the contrary, here you have scientists lining up on both sides of the issue.

What the article ignores is the curious solidarity on the part of the Native American tribes. Kennewick Man may be "a classic test of the moral boundaries of science" but it is also a test of the obstacles imposed by religion to the search for knowledge and understanding.

Are there no reformers among contemporary Native Americans? Are the tribes so in the thrall of their religious protocols—so thoroughly a non-scientific-minded people—that they, unanimously, cannot respond to this unique situation except as "true believers"?

Mike Tuell, '91, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Imagination and Evidence

The author of the article about Kennewick Man in your December issue states that Professor Hunn combed the records for evidence about the language spoken by Kennewick Man 9,000 years ago, arriving at the "sense" that this language could have been related to modern Native American tongues. What records could he possibly have searched to arrive at this conclusion? Someone in the course of the judicial proceedings should remind Professor Hunn of the distinction between imaginative assertion and credible evidence.

Charles D. Bates, '76, Portland, Ore.

Exploiting Desecration

I was discouraged to see your magazine could not resist the urge to exploit the desecration of the Ancient One, also known as Uytpama Natitayt or "Kennewick Man," in "Bones of Contention." Your disgraceful decision to continue to use the image of the Ancient One's skull on your cover is offensive to the spiritual beliefs of American Indian communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. I believe the image from the Kennewick Man on Trial Exhibit, used in your "Prelude" article, would have been a more appropriate and sensitive image for the holiday season coffee tables.

Leonard Forsman, '87, Suquamish

[Editor's Note: The pictures the print edition of Columns used were not of the Kennewick Man skull. They were pictures taken by an Associated Press photographer of plaster castings of the skull. These images have appeared in many national and international publications.]

Don't Forget the Vikings

I found your article on Kennewick Man to be very interesting, but I would like to comment on one statement: "The (U.S.) government already had declared that anyone living in North America before Columbus was by definition a Native American." There is a documented Viking archeological site at Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada, North America, that was occupied about 1000 A.D. See

J. Michael Heneghan, '66, '72, St. Cloud, Minn.

History Belongs to All Humankind

The article about Kennewick Man in the Dec. 2000 Columns, and the letters on this topic, prompt me to respond.

The purpose of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990, "inspired by the need to redress the shameless robbing of Native American graves a century ago," was, or should have been, to prevent grave robbing.

I can't help wondering if this law was really needed by 1990, or why it should apply only to the graves of Native Americans. Was there another motive for passing it besides protecting graves?

In any case, I don't feel NAGPRA should be used to prevent scientific research, nor is it proper to use it to enforce Native American religious beliefs. This violates church-state separation. According to the article, Native Americans consider the remains of their ancestors "no matter how ancient" to be sacred, and that uncovering or studying these remains violates this sacredness.

It seems to me that the history of our species belongs to all humankind, and no race, culture, religious group, academic or government agency should be able to prevent the study of ancient remains.

John S. Dearing, Corvallis, Ore.

Anger and Tears

The other day I found myself with a moment to escape the holiday craze and I found myself intrigued by the cover article on the Kennewick Man in my husband's Columns Magazine. Flipping through, I instead was stopped and drawn in by the face of Takuji Yamashita. This is a face of genuine—not arrogant—pride ... and of pain. Steven Goldsmith's well-written article tells a terribly tragic story of injustice—one which stirred up my anger and tears. After all of Yamashita's amazing accomplishments and drive to achieve the American Dream, he was denied his piece of the pie in the end, only to return to Japan after everything was taken away from him, including the lives of his young children. I am glad to hear that this tragedy has not been forgotten and that Yamashita and fellow Japanese Americans are finally being honored by the state of Washington. I only wish that Yamashita could've received his due while he was alive. Racism still foils the fulfillment of the American Dream; let us all do our part to rewrite a happy ending to the story. Thanks for the eloquent reminder, Steven.

Jennifer Arnold, Vaughn

Forgiveness and Acceptance

I just got around to reading my December issue of Columns. I usually quickly flip through the pages and read a few headlines due to too many books and magazines piled up around me. Today, I took the time to read "A Civil Action" and I was so glad I did.

I am originally from Seattle, a UW graduate as well. My father, a child of Japanese immigrants, was born in Seattle in 1917 and has briefly and reluctantly described what it was like growing up during that era. He also served in the U.S. Army during World War II while his parents were interned. During that time, they lost everything along with so many of their friends and neighbors. I guess I never really "listened" or perhaps due to immaturity I never cared, but after reading about Yamashita's life, I have a whole new appreciation for the struggles my ancestors overcame to make my life today possible.

... Your article reminded me that we all have our histories and our reasons that make us the people we are and that forgiveness or perhaps acceptance is crucial to spiritual survival as I believe Yamashita practiced. His endurance was amazing.

Everything we do in this life affects those around us no matter how simple those actions may seem at the time. Thank you for taking the time to research this and for caring enough to tell the story so beautifully.

Marie Kuranishi, '90, Playa del Rey, Calif.

Silent Rage

Writer Steven Goldsmith and anyone responsible for the selecting, researching and publishing of the article "A Civil Action" have my gratitude. My greatest regret is that Takuji Yamashita was subjected to such treatment; and almost equal regret is the article's having such a limited audience. This is one of the millions of "American" stories which ought to be told to every American 10 and above. And the story should be told not to incite but rather to educate. Genuine education is the only remedy for such treatment. No one will ever know what the world lost because of this action. If Yamashita suppressed the tale, be assured that this incident preoccupied varying degrees of his time and energy, permanently altering his life negatively. The rage, which so many in our society silently feel and fewer openly express, has its roots in such demeaning, dehumanizing behavior, which says some individuals are less than others despite having met the same requirements. Though Yamashita is dead, some of his descendants know the story and thus will keep it alive. The best cure for discrimination lies with persons in administrative positions who see the error and then do whatever is necessary to correct it. Sure, everyone won't obey. But some will obey simply because of the respect given the office and/or officeholder. Others will cease the negative behavior because they realize they are in an atmosphere which does not condone it. All sane people should work for the elimination of injustice wherever it exists.

Georgia S. McDade, '87, Seattle

Percentages Misleading

Your "Briefings" column of Dec. 2000, "Record Number of Freshmen Arrive; Diversity Numbers Encouraging," is misleading and requires clarification.

While Director of Admissions W.W. "Tim" Washburn acknowledges the diversity increases in enrollment are "modest," the percentage increases quoted in the article could indicate otherwise to readers who may not know the whole story. For example, the 47 percent increase in African American enrollments is actually an absolute increase from 83 entering freshmen to 122, and the stunning 118 percent increase noted for Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders is only an increase from 11 entering freshmen to 24.

I hope you will agree with me that such small numbers do not represent a great deal to be encouraged about in an entering class of nearly 5,000. And that touting percentage increases on a such small basis of enrollment is indeed misleading.

The visiting committee advising the vice president of minority affairs, which I am a member of, has been working with President McCormick to stop the practice of using percentage increase as the barometer of improved diversity enrollments at the UW. Until the base of diversity enrollments increases, it is important to focus on just how low these enrollments are at the UW. Only by reporting the absolute numbers of enrollments and resisting the temptation to be pleased with percentage gains is this focus possible.

I hope you will consider a follow-up to your story, using the Office of Minority Affairs as a source of information. You might consider a tie-in to the new Campus Diversity Council, which, the President announced in his Oct. 4 annual address to the University community. Now that's an exciting story!

Tony Granillo, '79, Seattle

The UW Observatory

The UW Observatory. Photo by Jon Marmor.

Misused Treasure

How sad to see the classic UW campus observatory misused as the campus custodial services department/TA training facility ["Falling Stars," December, 2000]. As I understand, the Seattle Astronomy Society volunteered to have the existing telescope refurbished, but the University declined. The 6-inch telescope can still hold its own and would be a real attribute for the public as it was in its past. (Note: I doubt very much if most amateur astronomers have a 12-inch telescope in their living rooms; that would take up as much space as a grand piano and would be useless in its environment). Yes, the "seeing" conditions have deteriorated due to light pollution; however, there still are many handfuls of wonderful heavenly bodies that are quite striking that are not affected by said pollution, i.e., planets, star clusters, moon, some nebulas and double stars, to name a few. Regardless of the surrounding foliage (which could be trimmed down), it would really be an asset to bring the observatory back on line and have it function for the public's interest as well as a science museum of sorts displaying many interesting astronomical paraphernalia to spark the interest of our younger generation. To me, the UW is missing the boat by not having this establishment used as a recruiting tool for their science departments. If revenue is a problem, do a little marketing and hand it over to a benefactor.

Charlie Campbell, '64, Seattle

Vaulting Idealism

In your last issue, I noticed with regret the passing of University of Washington Architecture Professor Hermann Pundt ["Enduring Greatness"]. As another of his students, I concur with what was written. He did have an "ability to engage the heart." But more importantly, Hermann Pundt inspired a lot of us with a "vaulting idealism" about architecture, and through it, human life. He was convinced that architecture should ennoble human life, but more deeply, he showed us that great architecture reveals an innate nobility in human purposes and aspirations. At its heart, and seemingly despite itself, humanity aims high—and we are best to be a part of that effort. With Hermann Pundt's help, architecture showed us this. He will be missed, but all of us who studied with him are out here, with a set of expectations that will form a portion of his legacy, and continue to contribute to the kind of life he saw and taught.

By way of his own addition, he himself wrote, "Men who inspire other men are rare. Moreover, an act of inspiration is an intangible force and, therefore, seldom recorded. ... And yet, despite its initial obscurity and inspiring force sometimes manifests itself in the accomplishments of those who respond to its urge." We so respond. He inspired us, and I'm guessing that it is just this sort of inspiration which is the secret heart of education. All of us are grateful to him, and to the University of Washington, for this experience.

Patrick Lippert, '73, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Planting Doubts

In the December 2000 Columns, you featured a color image of a new postal stamp commemorating 150 years of California statehood ["On and Off the Ave."]. The beautiful stamp, based on a photograph by Art Wolfe, '75, is accompanied by your comments that the stamp "captures the grandeur of California's coastal environment, featuring cliff tops at the southern end of the Big Sur coastline." The image truly celebrates California's coastal grandeur; unfortunately, the stamp also very prominently features the South African Iceplant, Carpobrotus edulis—a lovely but highly invasive species that is seriously threatening the beautiful coastal environment that the stamp aims to celebrate. This plant is recognized by federal and California environmental authorities and experts as a significant threat, and the Northern California Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects is petitioning the U.S. Postal Service to immediately withdraw the stamp.

While we can safely assume that the post office had no malicious intent, this episode points up the frequent and unacceptable lack of communication between government agencies, and the still-widespread lack of human awareness of the seriousness of our lifestyle impacts on the health of our environs. Humans unwittingly brought this beautiful but threatening iceplant to California just as people brought Spartina alterniflora (cordgrass) and its accompanying environmental destruction to Willapa Bay.

This is not merely an issue of aesthetics. One invasive species can break the food chain in an ecosystem, disrupting or wiping out other species—and those other species may contain the medicine that will save a relative, or the disease-resistant strain that will keep an entire agricultural industry from destruction. This is what biodiversity is all about, and we cannot afford the luxury of ignoring it in the interests of aesthetics. I hope Art Wolfe will ask the Postal Service to withdraw the stamp, and that he will offer another lovely work in its stead.

David Mandel, '96, Environmental Planner, University of California, Berkeley


In the December 2000 issue of Columns, we incorrectly identified the UW's M.D./Ph.D. program as the largest in the nation. It is fifth in size, with the University of Pennsylvania having the most students.

Letters to the editor are encouraged. Brief letters are more likely to be published; longer letters may be edited. Please include a daytime phone number.

Editor, Columns Magazine, 1415 N.E. 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98105
fax to (206) 685-0611

Home / Current Issue / Archives / Talk Back / Advertising / Columns FAQ / Alumni Website / Search