January 27, 2004

Letters to the Editor

Choosing concentrations

The Maroon needs to further investigate the question: why are students feeling the need to concentrate sooner? In the front-page article "Students Just Can't Concentrate¬Ö" (1/20/04), the Maroon depicted the growing anxiety students feel about waiting to select a concentration. Yet to offer only the solution that the pressure stems from themselves or their families barely scratches the surface.

For one, this anxiety stems from graduate school admissions. Recently, Habeas Corpus (the undergraduate law organization) presented admissions officers from three top law schools who emphasized that students committed to something as an undergraduate are the strongest applicants.

Nowadays, most undergraduate college admissions officers also supremely value specialization (Dean Ted O'Neill provides an exception) because they build communities with the "puzzle-piece" mentality: individuals bringing specific skills, such as a top-ranked athlete, are rewarded with top admissions offers. What happens to the smart, creative violinist who tells the admissions officer she wants to take time off from the violin to try something new?

Pressure to specialize also stems from our cultural paradigms. Tiger Woods epitomizes success in terms of our generational values. When did Tiger Woods begin to specialize? Not long after he first learned to walk.

How about Britney Spears? The Williams sisters? Or how about Bill Clinton? Although from an older generation, Clinton is the ultimate meritocrat. He did everything to climb the ladder to the presidency.

Since Bill Clinton's generation, success in our culture stems increasingly from merit instead of privilege. Is this good? That's a central question to be answered. But it at least offers a more thorough answer than the Maroon offered as to why choosing a field is becoming harder for undergraduates: our concentration is our merit, the basis of how our society increasingly determines success. And we all want to be successful.

Allen Cooper

First-year in the College

Mission to Mars?

In your January 13 issue, Will Baude's column discussed President Bush's recent space initiative ("Mars: What's $600 Billion Between Friends?"). Baude makes the interesting claim that this plan will cost $600 billion. Unless Baude is privy to information not present in Bush's announcement, he has no idea if NASA or Bush even has a specific plan or budget to get to Mars.

Regardless, the timetable for the Mars mission is so vague that it is unlikely NASA will follow through with it. The more interesting part of Bush's announcement was his commitment to return to the moon by 2020; this trip would be cheaper and easier and is also more likely to happen. Baude's objections still stand, however, and I would like to venture several responses.

The first is that the argument that the government ought to be spending the money on helping the poor is fallacious. The trip to the moon should cost about $100 billion. A lot of good could be done with that money. Polio could be eradicated; anti-malarial drugs cheapened. The reconstruction of Afghanistan could actually be funded. Interestingly, even if this whole moon thing is scrapped, none of that will happen. The real choice is whether to add about $50 billion to the deficit.

There are also numerous benefits to returning to the moon. A giant telescope could be built, possibly large enough to see, in immense detail, planets around distant stars. Helium-3, a rare isotope critical to fusion research, is abundant on the moon, and mining operations have already been proposed. Studying the moon's internal structure and geology would offer a veritable treasure-trove of knowledge about the formation of the solar system and the Earth.

There is also another reason to return to the moon, which eclipses all others. In one word: Moonbabes.

James Beatty