Letters Fall 2008
SELLING LEONARD SHORT?
In your Spring/Summer 2008 “Newsbites,” you write that Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has been covered by musicians “as diverse as Bob Dylan, Alison Krauss … and Willie Nelson.” You do the man an injustice: That song, and many others, have been covered by a far more diverse array than the ones you list. I heard a very good version of “Hallelujah” in Arabic not long ago. But my favourite is probably the one by Steffen Brandt and Tina Dickow on the CD På Danske Læber, a top 10 album of 16 Leonard Cohen songs sung in Danish by 16 popular artists.
Speaking of Arabic, you quote Professor Robert Wisnovsky in your piece on the Institute of Islamic Studies (“Understanding Islam”) as saying “the institute is more central to the life of the University than the Near Eastern Languages Department was at Harvard… It competes academically at the highest level.” Years ago at Harvard, I made bold to ask a noted Islamic scholar whether I could join his tutorial on the Islamic concept of faith.
“How many years of Arabic do you have?” he asked. “Two,” I answered weakly. We both knew this was entirely inadequate for studying source texts. A fellow student nudged me to tell the professor where I had studied Arabic. “At the Islamic Institute of McGill,” I then added. “Why didn’t you say so?” said the professor—and I was in. It didn’t hurt, of course, that the professor in question was Wilfred Cantwell Smith, former director of the Institute. By the way, I did just fine in the tutorial, thanks to a lot of work on my part, and to the kind and erudite man giving the seminar.
Finally, a word or two of praise to Megan Williams, who in her essay, “The Primacy of Pleasure,” confirms me in my belief that I would have made a terrible parent. When I was about 10, I vowed to myself that if I ever became a parent, I would remember what it was like being a kid suffering the effects of parents’ unreasonable restrictions and prohibitions. And yet, even keeping that memory fresh would not have allowed me to let a child of mine choose hip hop over science. I just wouldn’t be able to do it. And I admire Megan Williams for her decision—because I know she’s right, and that it’s important.
PETER CHRISTENSEN, BA’70
ANOTHER TAKE ON PURSUING PLEASURE
If an historian of the future were to search the McGill archives for an example of the thinking which has led to the decline of Western civilization, he or she would have to look no further than the Epilogue by Megan Williams in the Spring/Summer ’08 issue of the McGill News. Nothing beats the pursuit of pleasure? Where does this leave deferred gratification in working toward a worthy goal? What about the value of extreme sacrifices by many who have suffered or died for our freedom? My thoughts go to the letter remembering Dr. Stanley Martin Banfill, a genuine hero, in the same issue. It is shameful that such a piece should be published in the pages of the alumni magazine of a great university, which exists largely due to the efforts of thousands who have put aside immediate pleasures in pursuit of the common good.
ALAN W. BOONE, MDCM’62
What an interesting series on remarkable McGill graduates (“Ideas That Made History,” Spring/Summer 2008)” in the McGill News! My late husband, Robert Graydon Weir Goodall, MDCM’53, would have especially enjoyed the short piece on his grandfather, Robert Stanley Weir. A few years ago, you had another article on Judge Weir when Canada Post put out a wonderful 17-cent stamp with the first few notes of “O Canada” printed on it.
The piece on Dr. Harold Randall Griffith has fond memories for us too, as my father-in-law, the late Dr. James Goodall, MDCM1901, often operated with Dr. Griffith working as the anesthetist. Thank you for remembering all those graduates who have given so much to us all, many years later!
HELEN AYER GOODALL, BA’50, DipEd’51
OTHER IDEAS THAT MADE HISTORY
Of the “40 Ideas That Made History” that you included in your last issue, only two entries had to do with women and only another two had to do with the arts. I’m writing to ask for some balance.
RONA ALTROWS, BA’69, DipEd’71, BCL’78, LLB’79
If nothing else, you should at least have provided some context around why it was apparently so easy to identify the men. For starters, the system is not set up to see how women shine. It wasn’t in the past and it still isn’t today. Yet, McGill women have made major contributions, both locally and afar.
I won’t do your homework, but to get you started: What of Andrée Levesque, an emerita professor of history, who made major contributions to our understanding of the history of women in Quebec? Or even more obvious, perhaps: What of former chancellor Gretta Chambers, who played an important role in the development of English education in Quebec?
I really expect you to do better—and I know you can.
ABBY LIPPMAN, PhD’78
Chair, Senate Subcommittee on Women, McGill University
In your interesting article “Ideas That Made History,” you left out the name of Andrew Schally, a McGill graduate who shared the Nobel Prize for his great and fundamental contributions in medicine (and who is responsible for over 2,200 publications).
MORRIS GIVNER, BSc’54, MSc’56, PhD’59
Professor of Pathology and Associate Professor of Medicine (Ret.)
Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia
We were upfront about the fact that our list of “40 Ideas That Made History” was by no means comprehensive. That said, we should have made a greater effort to include more women. We’re certainly well aware of the fact that McGill women have made instrumental contributions in the past and continue to do so today (case in point—our feature article on cyberbullying expert Shaheen Shariff in this issue).
Dr. Givner is quite correct to steer us toward Dr. Schally, BSc’55, PhD’57, DSc’79, who shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1977 for his seminal work in outlining how the hypothalamus controls the pituitary gland. According to the Nobel organization, this discovery “laid the foundations to modern hypothalamic research.” Schally, who began his research into brain hormones as a McGill doctoral student, is included in the extended listing of “Ideas That Made History” that is available on our website (www.mcgill.ca/news/2008/spring-summer/ideas/more), as are such remarkable McGill women as radioactivity pioneer Harriet Brooks, BA1898, MA1901, and legendary labour organizer Madeleine Parent, BA’40, LLD’02.
I am writing to thank the McGill News for that excellent, informative and exciting article (“Understanding Islam,” Spring/Summer 2008) by Mark Abley.
JOHN SERJEANTSON, BA’92
Bolton Est, Quebec
I was puzzled to read that McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies has invested so much in exploring the history of Islamic science. Yes, centuries ago, the Islamic world contained a number of renowned scientists and thinkers. But these individuals were in large part converts from other religions (and were therefore less constrained by thought patterns shaped by Islamic orthodoxies), borrowed heavily from non-Islamic civilizations (e.g., Greek, Persian, Indian), and had no contributory role in the Scientific Revolution, which was entirely a product of Western rationalist thought.
Given the panoply of contemporary challenges that Islam raises for the West, there would seem to be far more important related issues to study. For example, the same McGill News issue mentions McGill alumnus John Humphrey and his seminal contributions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which encapsulates Western values of human dignity and freedom for all mankind. Perhaps this Institute should first make it a priority to understand why this document, and all it enshrines, was rejected by the Organization of Islamic States for a charter that uses sharia law “as the only source of reference.”
ALLON FRIEDMAN, MD’94
Professor F. Jamil Ragep, the new director of the Institute, responds: “Let me extend an invitation to Dr. Friedman to visit us here in Morrice Hall the next time he is in Montreal. I think he will be pleasantly surprised. My colleague Robert Wisnovsky and I can give him a tour of our Rational Sciences in Islam project, which is cataloguing tens of thousands of Islamic manuscripts in science and philosophy, the vast majority of which have not been studied in modern times. We can also show him a sampling of these manuscripts, which document major developments in the Islamic world over more than a millennium and show how embedded within Islam rational studies of nature had become; and yes, many of these did indeed have a major impact on the Scientific Revolution, as is recognized by almost all contemporary historians of science.
Let me also assure Dr. Friedman that in addition to historical studies, some of our colleagues deal with the contemporary Islamic world. For well over half a century, following the vision of Wilfred Cantwell Smith, we have provided an environment where students, teachers and scholars from all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds can pursue the scholarly study of Islam in all its manifestations and move beyond stereotypes and prejudice, whatever their origin.”
NOT AN EASY READ
Your Spring/Summer 2008 edition was extremely hard to read. Put in a little extra black ink and it’ll be better. Most pages are grey-looking. Why is this?
NICHOLAS DE VRIES, BMus’70
Fredericton, New Brunswick
I would like to compliment you on your use of colour and the good overall design for the Spring/Summer 2008 edition of the McGill News. However, please change that awful grey ink you used for the text to full black. When you use a thin font with grey ink it is quite hard to read.
ROGER JONES, DipMan’79, MBA’82
Don Mills, Ontario
According to our designer, Steven McClenaghan, the legibility of our text is chiefly related to two factors, the font thickness and the type of paper we are printed on. Are other readers finding the News hard on the eyes? If so, please let us know and we’ll consider some changes.