the cynics say, is just another form of selfishness. You've heard the
argument: We do good, at best, in order to enjoy an enlightened sense
of our own goodness, and at worst, because helping others makes us feel
superior. There's no such thing, these folks say, as a selfless action.
The problem with this broad assessment of motives is
that there are selves, and then there are selves. I suspect that each
of us can count quite a number of them milling around inside our solitary
skins, jostling for position, looking for an advantage. At least I know
I can. There's the self I project and the self I hide. The self I give
in to and the self I aspire to. The self who is motivated by things and
pleasures and the self who is motivated by empathy and ideas. The self
who doesn't give a damn, and the self who does.
Jerry Irish, a professor of religious studies and former
dean at Pomona, points out--wisely, I believe--that when we speak of self-denial,
we're speaking about only one of our selves, that rather superficial self
that is usually dominant in a consumer society. The point, then, is not
whether you deny yourself--but which self you deny. And therefore, which
self you affirm.
As a society, we're also torn between contradictory
values--our responsibility FOR each other versus our responsibility TO
each other. Our historic affection for rugged individualism versus our
sense of humanity and compassion. Our belief in meritocracy versus our
commitment to real equality. As a nation, we act out that ethical schism
each Election Day, and our candidates are pulled into the fray from left
and right. In order to succeed, candidates on the compassionate left are
now required to tell us about their respect for responsibility. On the
responsible right, they're now required to tell us about their compassion.
On both sides, service now gets a lot of lip-service.
Service organizations are even seen in some circles as viable alternatives
to government programs to help the unfortunate.
But the question of service--like the choice of which
self we will deny and which we will affirm--is ultimately an individual
one. Personally, I talk a good game when it comes to service, but I have
to confess that I've done very little of it. That came home to me during
the past year when my daughter began volunteering at a shelter for abused
women and families. She didn't do it because she wanted to pad her resume
for college admission--she disdains such things. And she didn't do it
because her Mom and Dad had modeled such behavior--we hadn't. She didn't
do it to make us proud of her--but we are.
Can a college like Pomona encourage its students to
affirm a more socially engaged self? Should it try? That's partly what
this publication is about.
I can say truthfully that compiling this issue of the
magazine has made me reflect upon my own commitment to service--or lack
thereof--more honestly than ever before in my life. I hope it may at least
do the same for you.
Good to be True
through the Fall 2000 PCM, I was surprised to read the caption of several
young Pomona alumni that at this year's Bay to Breakers Road Race that
"Sagehens claimed eight of the top 25 times"
(Scrapbook, page 53). Since this is a race that attracts a star-studded
international field, I was impressed that eight of the top 25 finishers
could come from one college. Looking at the results, I see my doubts
In fact without looking at the results, many will
clearly know this claim is at best a silly practical joke. While I do
not believe anyone expects the staff to check all facts reported by
alums, when running these claims as photo captions, it seems reasonable
to question such claims. I am disappointed both in the staff for not
bothering to wonder if this is true and in those who submitted it as
their own practical joke. --Brian Richter '91 San Francisco, California
Fall 2000 PCM featured Sarah Dolinar's article "The Mystery of
47," the gist of which is that this number has a special significance
in and to the Pomona College community.
Bunk! Underlying this article is an elementary, but
exceptionally strong, data collection bias. Take a simple example. Suppose
the editor of PCM consciously chose to report only good news. Should
one be surprised that no bad news appears in these pages? More important,
should one reach conclusions and act on them, based on such such biased
In the case at hand, where are the reports of the
occurrence of the number 32? Or any other number for that matter? So
how is it possible to judge whether 47 appears more often than it should
"at random"? (There are other--oh how I have waited to use
this word!--epistemological problems with the piece, but this is the
one I want to concentrate on.)
As I read Sarah's article I kept waiting for "Of
course this is all unscientific nonsense ..." And perhaps the whimsical
closing paragraph is meant as a confession that the whole thing is meant
to be tongue-in-cheek. Many readers may take the "47" article
as harmless journalistic fluff. So why am I writing this response, risking--as
one alum put it--becoming the Grinch that Stole Something Akin to Christmas?
Because the attitude underlying the article, while perhaps relatively
innocuous in popular thinking, unfortunately spills over into serious
research and scholarship where it may well be quite harmful.
Let me explain by telling a story. For an odd reason
I once studied "publication bias." (See my paper, "Publication
Bias (The 'File-Drawer Problem') in Scientific Inference" in the
Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 14, No. 1, and at http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/physics/9909033.)
This phenomenon can arise whenever a researcher tries to combine results
of several quantitative studies taken from the published literature.
Unfortunately, there is sometimes bias in the publication process itself.
The most extreme case I discovered was a medical journal that as a matter
of policy only publishes studies that reach a positive result above
a certain statistical significance level! But more generally an article
is more likely to get published if it reaches a felicitous conclusion.
Such bias may lead to grossly erroneous conclusions, no matter how careful
the statistical analysis.
An old paper published by a noted Harvard psychologist
discussed this problem and derived a formula for computing how significant
such publication bias may be in any given case. Since then, nearly all
studies in medicine and psychic research attempting to combine published
studies have relied on this formula--which almost always validates the
combined study by showing that the potential bias is small.
The only problem is that the old Harvard paper is
completely wrong! Equation One in the paper expresses an elementary
logical blunder, and everything that follows is dead wrong. And yet
many decisions leading to the release of drugs onto the market are based
on such erroneously combined clinical studies. Do you still think uncritical
acceptance of data collected with possible biases is harmless entertainment?
Next time someone tells you of a strange premonition,
please ask them where I should report the times that I have a funny
feeling about my Aunt Mathilda only to learn that her whole day was
entirely uneventful. The registry for Normal Phenomena? --Jeff Scargle
'63 Moffett Field, California
Note: Your point is well taken. However, you don't have to accept the
pseudoscientific claims about the number 47 to appreciate its "special
significance in and to the Pomona College community." The real
point of the article, beneath the humor, was encapsulated in a phrase
near the end: "Maybe, in the final analysis, it's not the occurrence
of 47 in nature that is important but the number's ability to evoke
a feeling of nostalgia for Pomona..." That, after all, is what
a tradition is for. --MW
article on the mystical enchantment of 47 (Fall 2000 PCM) introduced
me to a new legend, and I became enchanted.
To add some more sparkle to the legend, let me begin
by calling notice again to 47, which is a prime number. Prime numbers
are, by themselves, a curiously mystical subject. They can be held in
special regard because they are the unique set of numbers that cannot
be factored. (They are divisible only by themselves and the number one.)
In the domain of prime numbers it is interesting to
note that four plus seven equals 11, another of those relatively rare
prime numbers. And seven minus four equals three, another prime number.
Using the common meaning of 'prime'--viz. very significant--it
is plausible to say that anyone who plays California's Super Lotto,
if he had all of the correct numbers, could truly believe his Lotto
card had prime numbers. And in the current version of Super Lotto, the
range of numbers that contains all of the five numbers has, as its largest
If David Letterman could create his own cottage industry
by enumerating comedic sets of 10, then I believe that the combined
imagination of Pomona alumni may raise 47 to a national icon. --Jack
Shelton '41 Los Angeles, California
with interest your recent article on the supernumerary occurrences of
47. As a student of Kenneth Cooke's in the mid-'70's I witnessed with
amusement his mathematical 'proof' that all numbers equal 47 and recall
many of the esoteric occurrences of 47 around campus that you described.
The evening of the day I read your article in PCM
I saw on television an ad for an age-defying facial moisturizer that
claims to restore youthful-looking skin by 47% after application. I
commented to my wife that I had just read your article expounding the
surprising frequency of occurrence of 47 in and around campus. I thought
it most ironic to have witnessed a commercial boasting of a claim of
47% improvement that very same day. Unfortunately I did not write down
nor do I recall the name of the product to share with you. But I swear
upon the validity of my Pomona degree that the manufacturer's claim
is real and is further evidence of the uncanny omnipresence of 47.
Please share my words of appreciation with the rest
of the staff that I thoroughly enjoy reading PCM. Keep up the good work.
--Magell Candelaria '78 Fort Worth, Texas
I'm not sure if this is the proper avenue, but I thought I'd add a little
more 47 trivia. My father, Jon Mathews '52, was a math major, became
a physics professor at Caltech with his office in Building 47, and he
was lost at sea sailing around the world when he was 47 years old. Just
another point of reference! --Valerie Mathews '76 Altadena, California
I just finished leafing through your Fall 2000 magazine and thought
I'd write with an observation.
I was amused at Sarah Dolinar's article about Pomona's
mystical number. As I continued to thumb through the rest of the magazine,
I was inexplicably drawn to the "Family Tree" on page 46 (oh,
that it could have been printed on page 47). Did you plan for there
to be 47 names in that family tree? Coincidence? Perhaps I just won
a prize for finding the hidden 47 in the magazine?
Nice magazine, by the way! --Stephen M. Siegel
(CMC '87) Claremont, California
Note: The 47 names in the Family Tree were what I would call a planned
coincidence. However, that was only one of many carefully hidden 47's
in that issue. No one seems to have noticed the number of letters in
the vertical bar on the cover, for example. --MW
I certainly am glad to have the mysterious cult of 47 explained. I suppose
you know that there are 47 keystrokes, including spaces, punctuation
and paragraph return, in: Pomona College Claremont, California 91711-XXXX
You'll have to fill in the rest of the 10-digit Zip Code. --Laurence
McGilvery '54 La Jolla, California
enjoyed the piece about 47. I was a brother of Laurie Mets in Kappa
Theta Epsilon and wondered how long the 47 business had been going on.
It's interesting to find that it originated about that time. Brian Holmes,
another KThE and mathematician, was also deeply involved with it.
One nit about the "One-Man Air Force"--there's
no Congressional Medal of Honor. It's just the Medal of Honor. The cynical
devil on my shoulder says it's impermissible to mention Congress and
honor in the same phrase. --Bob Dennis '69 San Jose, California
recently read the review of Unbroken Poetry: The Work of Enrique Martínez
Celaya in Pomona College Magazine (Fall 2000). I thought it was a wonderful
review and as the editor of the book, I was proud to read your generous
I am also a graduate of Pomona College, Class of 1999.
Joanna Miller '00 also worked on the book. We are both given credit
in the acknowledgements. As this article was published in the alumni
magazine, it would have been nice to be recognized in the context of
I realize you were probably unaware of this before
the story was published. I just wanted to bring it to your attention.
--Meredith McDaniel '99 Santa Monica, California
found the Glee Club picture on page seven of the Fall 2000 magazine
to be very interesting, as it included my Great Uncle Charles Boynton
1901. According to the Directory, the men named were in the classes
of 1898 to 1901, with the exception of Ed Brink 1903. Therefore I think
that the picture was probably taken between September 1897 and June
1898. I did not find a listing for George Gray.
In printing the picture in the magazine, the names
of some of the men in the back row were not shown. Could you reprint
the picture so that all the names are visible? There may be other alumni
who might recognize the names of relatives who attended Pomona. --Bobbie
Dozier Spurgin '49 Carlsbad, California
Note: Here's that photo again, but certainly too small to
read. The first, third and fifth young men from the left in the back
row (whose names were cut off before) were identified as Ed Dwight 1904,
Fred Fairchild 1899 and Ed Maples 1900. --MW
the fall issue, Ivan Colburn says, "Ms. Watanabe has Japan to thank
for the unfortunate treatment that Japanese-Americans received after
Japan carried out its sneak attack on Pearl Harbor...I will accept no
guilt for the internment."
I am appalled that any reasonably intelligent person,
much less a graduate of Pomona with a Ph.D., could make such a statement.
In the first place, it is not up to Mr. Colburn to "accept"
or reject guilt. More importantly, the internment of Japanese-Americans,
most of them citizens, is a shameful chapter in our history for which
we have the United States to thank, or more precisely, those public
and private citizens who made it possible.
Fortunately, the injustice is now recognized by intelligent
people of good will and by the United States government. --David
R. Guichard '75 Walla Walla, Washington
I suspect that in his letter rebutting Ms. Watanabe's article, Ivan
P. Colburn has let his understandable revulsion at the atrocities he
witnessed cloud his well-meaning judgment. Certainly, the record of
Japanese-authored atrocities is not in question, and I don't think we
want Mr. Colburn to accept guilt for the internment of Japanese-Americans,
but as a people that strives to observe the rule of law, ethics, morality,
humanitarianism and justice, we must recognize that the incarceration
of second-, third- and fourth-generation Americans of Japanese descent
simply because they did not look like "the rest of us" was
not a "proportional response" based on logic, but a bigoted
reaction based on racial hatred and fear. The behavior of the Japanese
military and government cannot be grounds for incarcerating Americans
and denying them liberty, property and equal protection under the law--now
or in the past.
We can understand the innocence of the time, the
very real fear felt by Americans in their provincialism and chauvinism,
but just as we now have a racially integrated military, desegregated
schools and an Equal Employment Opportunity Act without the nation actually
falling to pieces, we should be willing to accept that our previous
actions as a nation may have been, simpy put, wrong. This admission
makes us stronger, not weaker, and it certainly makes us better citizens
of the world. --Elizabeth McNally Pettus '80 Santa Fe, New Mexico
realize this letter may seem rather tardy, as I wrote it three years
ago and then didn't type it until now. However, I find that with every
issue of PCM I receive, I wish this letter was included, so I hope you
will print these heartfelt words for many friends--one special and now
lost one in particular.
I was very saddened to read of the sudden death of
Danny Katayama '85 in the Fall 1997 PCM. I met Danny when I was a struggling
and troubled first-year student living in Wig Hall and Danny was one
of two fantastic resident advisers we were blessed with--the other was
Camille Landsgaard O'Connor '85.
Danny may not have been a star student, but he was
a star person, touching many lives with wisdom and laughter. I'm not
sure I told him this, though knowing him, he already knew.
I also learned what became my favorite quote on "Walker
Wall" when Danny wrote from Columbia School of Journalism the following
year, asking me to copy it down and send it to him:
let schooling interfere with your education.
permit reality to obscure your dreams.
Never do in four years what you can do in seven.
Don't let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.
The process is as important as the goal.
--Pomona Class of '78-'81
learned with the passing of my grandmother, Clare Neyman Lee '39, when
I was a Pomona junior, to let my relatives know how much I care for
them. Now I have found through Danny's passing that I am learning that
lesson again about friends and others who have touched my life. So to
Pomona College, my professors and all my friends and journalism cohorts
of those years, here is a most grateful "thank you" for the
blessing of your presence in my life. --Dectera (Decky) Sutherland
Antaree '88 Santa Rosa, California
for the amusing review of the Pomona lexicon. Peter Osgood '81 was making
"doughnut runs" long before my classmates were, but in the
late '80s, the destination differed. "Doughnut runs" targeted
Foster's (out in San Dimas), where they sold giant hot sticky buns stuffed
with at least a pound of fresh strawberries. --Geof Givens '88 Fort
welcome letters about the College or magazine. Letters may be edited for
length, style and clarity. When a letter questions a published article,
the author may be invited to respond. The editor reserves the right to
cut off debate on an issue after a reasonable period.