Age-Old Questions

My compliments to Eric Niiler for his excellent article on Caleb Finch’s investigation of aging (“Rock of Aging,” p. 24, Spring 2002). Finch’s inventive thinking that challenges accepted scientific beliefs is the essence of the scientific method.

The title of the article, “Rock of Aging,” however, is somewhat ironic in the sense that aging is a time when, as Yeats said, “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.”

If our culture finds ways to prolong life, we also need a Moses who will knock on the rock of aging to produce the water that washes away the fiction that life should be maintained at any cost; the horrid treatment the elderly are given in most care facilities; and the grip of the drug companies that promise eternal life to elderly people who cannot afford the high cost of medications. In short, each of us needs to acquire Finch’s investigative approach to the spiritual aspects of aging. But then, perhaps life itself is enough. Nevertheless, kudos to Niiler and Finch.

Dan Meylor
Westminster, CA

As an 80-year-old living in a retirement community of over 300 senior citizens, I was personally very interested in the article on Caleb Finch’s study of aging. His various biological studies are very impressive. Eric Niiler reports that Finch is convinced that there are three influences on life spans – genes, environment and chance. I believe there is a fourth influence, which Finch implies – that is, personal choice, a good part of which is not reducible to the other three influences.

In one paragraph Niiler begins by saying, “In terms of prolonging his own life span, the 62-year-old scholar has chosen his ancestors well.... Finch eats what he calls a ‘sensible diet’.... He exercises regularly.... He takes supplements of vitamins C and E.” The first sentence uses “chosen” facetiously, but in regard to eating, exercise and vitamins, his implied choices are genuine and relevant to prolonging his life.

Further on, “Finch recommends: ‘Keep your blood pressure down, don’t get overweight, keep your blood sugar lower. And exercise: That’s the best you can do.’” Then, “...reducing risk factors can prolong life....” It seems that in giving this advice, Finch is saying that personal choice can influence our life spans, as well as genes, environment and chance.

W. Wallace Cayard PhD ’56
Cranberry Township, PA

Caleb Finch replies: I fully agree that personal choice is not simply reducible to genes, environment or chance events of development. As a neuroscientist, I am well aware that “choice,” like other complex behaviors, will not yield to simple reductionalism. We scientists love to look for situations where we can resolve major influences into a few key factors. I suspect for most individuals, their outcomes of aging will be very challenging to predict, in the distant future as much as now. The exceptions may be in those who carry dominant genes with early adverse effects.

Glorious Galápagos

I read with interest Edie Barvin’s account of her trip to the Galápagos (“A Voyage Through Time,” p. 40, Spring 2002). However, I was astonished that no one said a word about the major role that USC biologists played in describing the marine fauna of the islands. Between 1932 and 1938, Captain Allan Hancock took USC biologists on five trips to the Galápagos. Based aboard his yacht, the Velero III, biologists collected crustaceans, mollusks, corals, echinoderms, fishes, insects and many other groups, both plant and animal, at the islands. Hundreds of specimens, housed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution and other museums, form the basis of comparison for identification of much of the marine fauna. The scientific accounts of these expeditions remain valuable references for those interested in the marine biota.

My major advisor during my studies toward the Ph.D. was John Garth, expert on crabs of the Galápagos. Dr. Garth gave presentations on the expeditions, complete with accounts of “roughing it” aboard a yacht where a string orchestra played during dinner. He also pointed out the images of animals of the Galápagos around the Allan Hancock Building. Inspired by Dr. Garth, I wrote an account of the shrimp of the Galápagos based on the collections in 1991. I spent close to two weeks on a joint diving trip in 1998 with biologists from the marine laboratory at the Darwin Research Station. I found many previously unreported species in coastal waters, including an undescribed genus and species of Snapping shrimp. Colleagues and I continue to find previously unreported or unknown species of marine life in the cool, nutrient-rich waters of the archipelago.

A boat trip, such as that taken by Ms. Barvin, is a good way to see the “high points” of the islands. However, even in Puerto Ayora, one can have the fun of chasing a Dwarf ground finch off your breakfast plate, stepping over the big marine iguana sunning himself by your diving gear or shooing a sea lion out of your boat.

Mary K. Wicksten PhD ’77
Bryan, TX

Human Cost-Benefit Analysis

If Dr. Deirdre Anglin’s research on predictable patterns in traumatic injuries (“ER Sleuth,” p. 23, Spring 2002) can make a difference, it should be pushed and pushed hard. The following curious story was part of my experience while on a rotation at Rancho Los Amigos years ago. There are some serious implications.

I’ll ask the questions up front so the issues will be more poignant: How did the system consistently continue to return the “soldier” to the “front lines”? What were the opportunity costs to the health care system in resources that were used on such a non-productive individual? How much additional suffering and death did the system create by allowing this to continue? Why, once he was finally off the street, did the system continue to tolerate his aberrant behavior?

Paul was his name. He started in a gang well before he was 13. His first admission to LAC+USC ER, at least for a gunshot wound, was at 13. He was patched up by the system, and the system returned him to the street. He was seen a year later, again for a gunshot wound. This gunshot-wound repair and release by the system
would be a yearly event until he was 21.

How much valuable public resource did Paul cause to be used – or wasted? Was he always the recipient of a bullet – or did he also dispense them? If the latter, then the system that patched up our soldier and sent him back to the front lines also bore the cost of fixing his enemy.

But were all his enemy? In all this, I remember a young single mother of three; gut shot in a gang-banger’s crossfire while merely crossing a parking lot with an armload of groceries. Did we contribute to that by patching Paul up and sending him back out? What is the cost to society to raise the three orphans?

When I first saw Paul at Rancho, he was a respirator-dependent quad and in rehab. In his last excursion into battle, someone got in a neck shot. This only slowed Paul down. He steadfastly refused to give up attempts to dominate others. He would spit at the nurses, swear at staff and refuse to take medication to the point of crashing. He would then wind up in the ICU. After a week or two at not small cost, he would be back on the rehab ward and then the entire cycle would repeat. Fear of political and legal reprisal allowed this to continue through at least the duration of my rotation. This behavior was evidently well entrenched before I arrived. Paul was a very expensive fellow and had been so for many years. He was a product of the system. Did we enjoy any benefit from all this systemic expenditure?

Edward McGowan ’96
Santa Barbara, CA

Better Left Unspent

This is in reply to a quote from Bruce Jansson’s book, The Sixteen Trillion Dollar Mistake, (“Unstopped Bucks,” p. 18, Spring 2002). Jansson states: “Americans could have enriched their domestic agenda – improving such things as public transportation, education, health and the environment – had our leaders pruned excessive military spending, excessive corporate welfare and subsidies, excessive interest payments on the national debt, excessive tax concessions to affluent individuals as well as excessive pork-barrel disbursements.”

In response, I proclaim that: Americans could have increased their liberty – improving such things as wealth, standard of living, ethical values, personal and inter-generational success and degree of self-reliance – had they not permitted their leaders to perpetually expand bloated federal entitlement programs aimed at ostensibly “solving” such areas of human enterprise as housing, education, welfare, health care and retirement.

Phil Miller ’74
Monrovia, CA

Other Jewish Gems

No history of Jewish filmmaking at USC (“Grand Jewry Investigation,” p. 42, Winter 2001) would be complete without mentioning the work of the late anthropologist Barbara Meyerhoff, whose Number Our Days (about the elderly Jewish community in Venice, Calif., dying off in the 1960s) won an Academy Award. This was followed by a film (whose name I forget) about Soviet immigrants to Los Angeles. Meyerhoff filmed it as she was fighting breast cancer; in one sequence she is given a “new” name in order to trick the angel of death.

B. Meredith Burke MA ’71
Santa Barbara, CA

For the record, Shashank Bengali’s feature, “Grand Jewry Investigation,” was not intended to chronicle USC’s long and rich history of Jewish documentary filmmaking. Rather, it focused on a new wave of such films, made by recent graduates and current students, spurred on by Academy Award-winning faculty member Mark Jonathan Harris and fueled by several projects of USC’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life.


In the Winter 2001 issue Class Notes, we incorrectly identified a photo of Stephen Randall ’72 as Douglas A. Dovey ’73, MSIPA ’75. We apologize to both parties.

Trojan Memories

Seventy years ago, USC was involved in one of the greatest parades L.A. had ever seen up to that time. It was a celebration of ’SC’s upset win over Notre Dame in 1931. Notre Dame and ’SC were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 that year. Sportswriters called it the game of the decade, with the winner to become the national champion. Two Trojans who played on the 1931 varsity, Gus Shaver and Tay Brown, were subjects of an article I wrote in 1993 for a football magazine. Both were All-Americans, and they said they never forgot that cold November day in Notre Dame stadium. Tay Brown recollected the tough line play. Shaver remarked: “Coach Howard Jones told us to win it for ourselves.”

And that’s what they did – with a field goal in the last minute, 16-14. When the team returned to L.A., they were treated to a ticker-tape parade downtown, witnessed by 300,000 persons, according to banner headlines. My fellow Trojan, Dick Barton, recalls that films of the game were shown that evening at a downtown theater. USC went on to defeat Tulane in the Rose Bowl and win the national title. Shaver became a backfield coach under Jeff Cravath. Tay Brown later coached Compton J.C. to four Junior Rose Bowls. They were articulate men, and they enjoyed remembering the 1931 game – and the spectacular celebration that followed. Incidentally, this year will be the 75th anniversary of the great intersectional rivalry between Trojans and Irish.

Morris Schulatsky ’50
Los Angeles, CA

1944 and ’45 were hectic years at USC, with World War II at its height and uniformed students in most classrooms. Ivan Alexievich Lopatin was a popular professor in the anthropology department. His classes in pre-Columbian civilization were a favorite with many of us, and his lectures in a heavily accented English were a source of guileless mirth to our American ears.

Rene Belle in the French department and Frank Baxter in English were equally favored by us undergrads. I was president of the Russian Club, with an honorary chaplain in the person of a vested Russian Orthodox monk, the Rt. Rev. Abbot Georges, Archimandrite of the Moscow Patriarchate, whose exotic robes were often seen on campus. Once we were received in private audience by our revered President von KleinSmid, who was much impressed by our three-way banter in Russian, French and English. I was amused in later years to discover that our club had been a focus of interest to J. Edgar Hoover.

The USC campus looked very different in those distant times. On a return visit a few years ago, I scarcely recognized the old surroundings, though I had lived nearby. After graduation, I returned East to a 50-year career in education from which I retired in 1998.

Jerome L. Starr ’46
New York, NY

Notice Board

In World War II, USC helped scores of young men receive college credit to qualify for officer commissions while serving our country. An extraordinary program, the Navy V-12 program, made it happen. If you were in V-12 on USC’s campus, you can now revisit the experience through James G. Schneider’s The Navy V-12 Program: Leadership for a Lifetime. To learn more about the book – as well as the Navy V-12 Endowment it supports – please visit the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation’s Web site (

Robert S. Jones
Washington, DC

We need your assistance in preserving the heritage of USC. The University Archives exist to collect, preserve and make available records having permanent value in documenting the history and growth of the university: its administrative offices, the academic departments and USC-related organizations, as well as the activities of faculty, staff and students. Books (including faculty publications) manuscripts, USC periodicals and newspapers, posters, photographic images, disc and tape recordings and other archival items are available for research under supervised conditions.

USC’s vital community can be of enormous assistance in assuring the preservation of the institutional memory of our school. Gifts of material – such as papers, pictures, letters, programs, student publications, or any other items – documenting your role in the ongoing story of USC will be greatly appreciated and carefully preserved.Please contact me at (213) 743-2435 or

Claude Zachary
USC University Archivist


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Mailbag, c/o USC Trojan Family Magazine, University of Southern California,
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