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Volume 41. No. 1.
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Letter from the Editor

Myths of California

California gets a bum rap from the rest of the country. I say this from personal experience, having been on both sides of that cultural divide. Back when I lived in what’s known as the Mid-South, I recall smugly telling a European friend who was planning his first American visit that there was New York City over here, California way out there, and in between, there was the good old U.S. of A., and that he should be careful not to confuse either of the first two with the latter. I said that with snide confidence, despite the fact that in those days I’d never been west
of the 100th meridian. I’d spent some time in New York, but all I knew about California was what I’d read and what I’d seen projected on various screens. But here’s what I thought I knew:

1. California was a perilously shaky place. With the Really Big One always waiting in the wings, the quake that might just drop half the state into the sea, I thought Californians must live with blinders on. They were those allegorical folks who’d made a deal with the devil and now must pay for their sunny paradise by living cheek by jowl with imminent doom.

2. California—particularly, Southern California—could be harmful to your health in other ways as well. Filthy air, stressful highway commutes, raging wildfires, you name it.

3. And finally, California was just plain weird. It was a place of excess and unapologetic eccentricity, the home of Hollywood, flower power, tax revolts, the O.J. Simpson trial, and two controversial presidents—one noted for his tapes, the other for his Teflon.

When I came out to Claremont to interview for this job, it was against my better judgment. The attraction was Pomona. The problem was California. My family fell in love with Claremont, however, and so we made the move.

Since then, I’ve changed my mind about some things, gotten some perspective on others, and of still others I remain firmly convinced. Politically, at least, California is weird, and proudly so. Whatever you think of our new governor—love him or hate him—you have to admit that electing a former Austrian bodybuilder and action hero is inviting a bit of ridicule.

The air in Claremont has been a nice surprise. Usually pleasant, it does sometimes get, to use the popular euphemism, a bit hazy, but it’s rarely bothersome. I stay off freeways religiously, so that’s not a problem—for me, anyway. And despite the ongoing mythmaking concerning California quakes—NBC’s “10.5” miniseries is a good case in point—I’ve come to understand that Europeans, rightly, see the entire U.S. as most Americans see California. The whole country’s a huge disaster row, and all you can do is pick your poison—quakes in the West, hurricanes in the East, tornadoes throughout the south and the Great Plains, and blizzards up north. I’ve seen a tornado at close range back home in Arkansas, and personally, I’ll take my chances with an earthquake.

Besides, I’ve fallen in love with this state. It’s immensely varied, rich and beautiful. As this issue attests, it offers an amazing wealth of worthwhile things to do with your time. So if a quake or two is the price of this diabolical deal, I’m just glad I signed.
Mark Wood

Letters to the Editor

The Heavens
Since I have just recently migrated over to Space Physics, I looked with great interest at the spring 2004 PCM, titled “The Heavens.” Where’s WMAP? Also the Crab Nebula and The Hubble Space Telescope? WMAP is the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe which gave us a new Hubble Constant and a new age of the universe.

Though I’m rather new to this end of physics, I gave my second paper on adaptive optics at the Annual Meeting of SPIE (the International Society for Optical Engineering) in Denver, on August 2, 2004.

As I struggled to learn how to operate a small digital telescope, I came across the astronomy notes of my grandfather, George E. Hume, Class of 1904, including notes on a seminar on the sun’s distance determination, April 28, 1904, as well as many star positions. George E. Hume is in the photograph of the Class of ’04 in PCM’s issue on Diversity (Winter 2003). He is in the 3rd row and resembles a youthful Charlie Chaplin. He won the class Prize in Mathematics which we still have. His notes may be Pomona’s oldest record of astronomy. I think he would find WMAP very exciting.
—Katharine J. Jones ’61
Houston, TX

The latest magazine cover is captivating, the subject matter passé. In his article, “Ad Astra or Ad Asterisk,” Mark Oderman ’78 states his reasons for this situation with great insight: “Bureaucratic sclerosis, engineering hubris and political self-doubt appear to have replaced the ‘Right Stuff’ as the drivers of the national space effort.” I would like to add another
possible reason for the nation’s loss of interest. The driving power and the solid motivation for accomplishment and excellence has been provided, at least in part, by a society undergirded by the Judeo-Christian ethic. The consensus about the rightness of that ethic is being discarded as not valid any more—and not an organizing societal force for greatness.
—Jo Jean DeCristoforo ’43
Sacramento, CA

Whedbee Tribute
I read with sadness of the death of Professor Whedbee. I took Dr. Whedbee’s course, The Biblical Heritage, as an elective, on a whim. There was a gap in my schedule;
I knew others who were taking the class; and it met at a favorable time of day. A friend told me, “The professor is handsome, young and dynamic.”

I enrolled. Dr. Whedbee did, in fact, prove to be all the things my friend had said. Moreover, the class was wonderful—full of wonders—the best one I ever took. When I think about what is most worthwhile about a Pomona education, one of the things that comes to mind
is having had the opportunity to take that course.

More than 30 years later, and now a professor myself, I tell this story to undergraduate students, and urge them to try courses outside of their majors. I like to explain how unex¬pected the impact of this particular course has been for me; I want to acknowledge the role of serendipity in our lives; and I hope to encourage students to explore fields that are new to them. After telling the story, though, I often find myself wondering: Where will these students ever find an instructor like Dr. Whedbee?
—Charlotte J. Patterson ’71
Charlottesville, VA

Cronkite Speech
I hope that you can reproduce at least a portion of the Walter Cronkite graduation speech. Some may argue that the speech was too political. However, I notice that the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin already summarized a considerable amount of the speech. The Bulletin is, to say the least, middle of the road.
—John Cranston ’53
Pomona, CA

Editor’s Note: See page 6.

Abandoned Principles
As I have learned more about Pomona’s decision to allow coed roommates, I have become more troubled by this issue. I think I should tell you of my concerns:

As a longtime supporter of Pomona, I am troubled by at least three recent events that seem to show an abandoning of important principles.

First was the article, “Politically Incorrect,” in the Winter 2004 issue … Pomona’s failure to promote the principle of accepting and teaching political diversity in addition to other kinds of diversity is a sad commentary.

Second was the hate crime hoax. What happened to the principle of searching out the truth…first and then acting accordingly?

The third event occurred at the 50th reunion of the Class of ’54. An administration official told the class that the College has decided to allow coed roommates. I’m sure this is a popular idea with many students—it would have been popular even 50+ years ago when I was a student! But what about the principle that the College should have standards for behavior, rather than sinking to the lowest common denominator? Why should the College condone a practice that is normally offensive to many students and many (probably most) alumni?
I have to question whether I want to continue to support an institution that seems to be following popular trends rather than giving priority to the more challenging principles of education and high standards.
—David S. Holton ’53
Twain Harte, CA

Editor’s Note: There are several important points to make here. First,
I believe you have been misinformed on an important point: there are coed dorms at Pomona, as there are at most of our peer colleges, but no coed roommates. Second, the article titled “Politically Incorrect” was about an effort on the part of a group of students, with the strong support of the College, to bring themselves and their fellow students into contact with a variety of well-argued political thought on all sides of important issues. In other words, it was about an effort within the College to encourage the kind of diversity of political discourse that, I think, is your concern. And third, though the supposed hate crime is now alleged to have been a hoax, at the time it provoked very real fear and outrage on all of our campuses. As President Oxtoby has said, the dismissal of classes the following day at all of The Claremont Colleges wasn’t a retreat from our mission—in fact, the day was spent in the best kind of engaged discussion and learning. —MW

Diversity Objections
After reading the articles in your “diversity” issue, I wondered if others formed the same summary I did: 1) diversity must be forced because it won’t happen naturally; 2) the goal of “diversity” applies only to race; and 3) giving rights and benefits to some over others because of their skin color isn’t racism.

Apparently, I was not alone. Judging from the vast majority of the letters printed in the subsequent issue (Spring 2004), the two main groups most blatantly overlooked in Pomona’s myopic definition of diversity were the political right and non-heterosexuals. While you responded generically that no omission was malicious, only the latter group received assurances that their contributions merited coverage in a future issue.

Sadly it is clear that with literal adherence to its “liberal” arts classification, the admissions board chooses to manufacture a politically correct student body, then declare itself diverse.
I don’t know whether it’s because genuine diversity is dangerous to liberalism, or because they’d simply prefer not to recognize the obvious hypocrisy of their actions. But to avoid impeding the Board’s goal, I’ll respectfully withhold future contributions to the College until I can find currency featuring sufficiently diverse faces.
—Peter Sacks ’83
Laguna Hills, CA

We welcome letters from alumni and friends concerning past items in the magazine or, on occasion, important issues at the College. The College cannot publish all letters, due to the quantity received, and does not publish anonymous letters. Letters may be edited for length, style and clarity. When a letter raises significant questions, an appropriate respondent may be invited to reply. The editor reserves the right to cut off debate on an issue after a reasonable period of time. For a full list of magazine policies, see PCM Online at www.pomona.edu/magazine.
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by Pomona College
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