LETTERS: Defending Reagan, grades, Roe, the troops and the diversity of Chinese food


Anti-Reagan columnists should check their facts

The Law School community should thank Pieter Leenknegt and his colleagues for having articulated with such remarkable concision the views of “the world at large” on the Reagan presidency, Cold War history, and current American policy to boot. Alas, my voice is not so stentorian that I can speak for my whole country, much less most of the world. The best I can do is proffer one American’s understanding of the issues raised:

First, Leenknegt credits not Reagan but the peoples of Eastern Europe and the inefficiencies of command-and-control economies for the demise of the Soviet Union. He fails to explain, however, why, if its economy was so feeble, the Soviet Union did not collapse in the ’50s or ’60s rather than the ’80s, or why it did not crush the 1989 rebellions just as it had the 1956 uprising in Hungary and the 1968 Prague Spring movement in Czechoslovakia. As for the peoples of Eastern Europe, all their dissident leaders — Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Karol Wojtyla — have acknowledged their debt to Reagan for standing with them against the Soviets.

Second, Leenknegt suggests that it would be “instructive to ask the American working poor, sick and unemployed about what a wonderful economic period the eighties were.” I agree. From the time Reagan took office to the time he left, unemployment fell from 7.6 percent to 5.5 percent, inflation fell from 13.5 percent to 4.1 percent, and median household income rose by $4,000 — all this despite the deep 1981-82 recessions that President Carter bequeathed. By contrast, in the Carter years, unemployment and inflation rose, while median household income remained stagnant.

Third, Leenknegt faults Reagan for having played “Russian roulette” by driving a dangerous adversary into desperation. He neglects to mention that the same Reagan who forced the Soviets’ hand also negotiated an arms-reduction treaty that went beyond the hopes of even the meekest doves.

Fourth, Leenknegt posits that because European countries never rejected their faith in “social democracy,” the United States lost the battle for “the old continent.” I confess to some confusion here. However much the U.S. role in NATO can be criticized, I am not aware that it ever imposed, say, income tax cuts on its allies or regarded Sweden as its Cold War enemy.

Fifth, Leenknegt finds it distasteful that the United States should have ever allied with undemocratic regimes. By that logic, however, it also should never have cooperated with the Soviet Union in defeating Nazi Germany. Moreover, from Korea and Vietnam to Cuba and Nicaragua, U.S. allies offered a better chance for freedom and democracy than any Soviet-backed alternatives. Leenknegt can adduce but one example of the United States having overthrown an elected government — the 1973 coup in Chile — but he neglects to mention that the Allende government had gone so far beyond its constitutional authority that the legislature, with no prodding from the United States, authorized the military to restore the law of the land.

Finally, Leenknegt finds Reagan’s “Evil Empire” rhetoric “dehumanizing,” as well as “embarrassing” and marked by “naivete.” Perhaps I as an American have trouble grasping the moral nuances so patent to Leenknegt and “the world at large.” Thus, I will leave it them to explain how best to describe an ideology — Marxist socialism — that lead to the murder of 100 million people in the past century. In the meantime, I will agree with Vaclav Havel that the Soviet Union left “a legacy of countless dead, an infinite spectrum of human suffering, profound economic decline and above all enormous human humiliation,” and remain ever grateful for Reagan’s role in ending it.

— Austin W. Bramwell, 3L
The original column can be found at:

Grading not really so ‘arbitrary’

Aaron Lamb and Lena Salaymeh’s piece in The RECORD about the arbitrariness of the Law School’s grading system caught my attention. I was interested not because of the question of whether law school exams are biased or not, but because I sensed the continued feeling that the grading system is wholly arbitrary.

I graduated from HLS last June, and while there I was a member of the Law School Council for two years. I was one of the few members who consistently voted against grade reform. I voted against it because, deep down, I believed that the system was working. I must admit that after I had a tough semester, I questioned my belief. But, I went back and thought about how I performed on the exams and what I knew about those subjects; in the end, I realized that I had simply not done that well on the exams because I had overlooked parts of the course that were important.

Since graduating, I have been clerking for a Circuit Court judge. Last fall, I also had the privilege of teaching a class at the local state law school. As I read my students’ exams, it was actually pretty easy to put them into an approximate order. I must admit that at the edges, it got more difficult. I pondered whether Examinee A had done better than Examinee B or not. I also had some trouble deciding where to draw the lines between grade levels. Overall, though, I felt very comfortable with the choices that I made. I certainly did not (and still do not) have the feeling that my grading was somehow arbitrary. I suspect that most HLS professors have similar experiences grading your exams — although they may have to debate some choices at the edges, the exams generally separate themselves pretty well.

I would say that students should remember what grades mean, though. They are not an absolute statement of worth. They only tell you how you did compared to your fellow classmates (a stellar group at HLS). I was happy to be among such a good group, and comforted myself with the knowledge that I had been beaten by a group that most likely included some future legal giants (although many of my classmates would likely challenge my modesty).

I hope that giving the perspective from a newly graduated student who has seen behind the curtain helps you all to understand the system a little better.

— Robert Klinck ’02
The original column may be viewed at:

White wrong about Schumer, Roe

In last week’s RECORD, Adam White faulted Senator Charles Schumer for “politicizing” the confirmation of D.C. Circuit judicial nominee Miguel Estrada. Apparently, White thinks that Estrada’s politics became irrelevant as soon as he said he would “follow the orders of the higher court.” Every judicial nominee is asked whether they will uphold Supreme Court precedent, and I doubt a single nominee in the history of the United States ever said “I would not follow Supreme Court precedent.” The natural conclusion is that ideology should never matter, only “quality.”

Presidents Reagan, Bush and Bush have not shared White’s lack of interest in ideology. Each has relied heavily on the imprimatur of the Federalist Society and picked younger nominees who can serve longer. White is not really asking Schumer to stop the war. White is asking the Senator to unilaterally disarm at a time when a President who shares his politics is in office.

Mechanisms like the filibuster ensure that laws passed accurately reflect the average ideology of the legislature, not the ideology of the majority party. As a champion of the business world, White knows that contracts tend to reflect the relative bargaining power of the parties, and that experienced negotiators can determine where the appropriate balance is without much fuss. However, Bush has taken the position that, if he has a razor-thin majority in the Senate, the ideology of confirmed nominees should be far to the right within his own party, rather than, say, a little bit right of center. Conversely, President Clinton chose nominees reflective of the political balance
of power, drawing most of his nominees from slightly left-leaning business firms rather than the ACLU. Republicans in the Senate rewarded him by holding up an astonishing 37 percent of his nominees from the year 1995 on.

Mountains of empirical evidence demonstrate that ideology does matter. Studies of the D.C. Circuit itself show that, as the concentration of judges appointed by Republicans has increased, it has become less likely to uphold agency action, particularly by the National Labor Relations Board. Studies of how judicial panels decide demonstrate the same thing. This does not mean one set of judges is “correct” or another is “lawless,” but it shows that ideology affects a judge’s view of what is “reasonable” and of how facts should be characterized. As we all should know, fact characterization is much more important that legal doctrine in deciding cases.

As for the apparently not-so-bright women who see a correlation between opposition to Roe v. Wade and abortion, I confess to sharing their view. While it is theoretically possible to simultaneously support “states’ rights” and abortion rights, virtually everyone I know who opposes one opposes the other, and the same dynamic reveals itself in debates in politics at the state and federal level. Furthermore, rejection of Roe means that throughout most of the country, women would be prohibited from getting abortions. Finally, the principle behind abortion rights has shifted dramatically since Roe. Eliminating a constitutional right to abortion means overturning not just Roe, but Casey, which grounds itself in principles of autonomy and the balance between state interests and individual liberty. Most people who both support abortion rights and think Roe went to far would find this balance reasonable.

— Clifford Ginn, 3L
White’s column is online at:

Call for war unity

Despite any doubts you may have about President Bush’s post September-11 foreign policy, the buildup of forces in the Gulf region continues, and war could just be weeks away. Despite your political affiliation, remember that the military’s role is to provide Americans with a secure enough homeland to allow the pursuit of liberal ideas. This role requires that soldiers risk their lives on a daily basis.Willing to sacrifice their lives to uphold American values, the troops in the Middle East deserve the support of American civilians without reservation. We cannot repeat the public animosity displayed toward veterans involved in the Vietnam War. The American troops deployed in the Middle East deserve civilian support rather than hostility. Despite mixed feelings about the war, we cannot afford to send a mixed message to our countrymen risking their lives.

To this end, we seek to build bridges of understanding between young professionals and academics and their deployed counterparts in the military. Specifically, we encourage students and young professionals to send cards and care packages to soldiers and wear yellow ribbons to show a united message of support for those whose lives are on the line. As beneficiaries of the protection of the armed forces, we should express our appreciation for the sacrifices that they make to preserve our freedom and values, even if we oppose governmental foreign policy. So please take the time to show this appreciation.

To learn more or to get involved, please e-mail harvardstudentsforthetroops@yahoo.com.

— Bhakti Mirchandani
Grant Defehr
Kate Bradley
and two others

Food critic ignores diversity of Chinese cuisine

While I greatly respect Eugene Mar’s culinary palate and otherwise able review of Qingdao Garden in The RECORD two weeks ago, I object to the last paragraph, specifically his assertion that Qingdao Garden “is not the best Chinese restaurant in the Boston area.” The truth is a bit more complicated than that.

There are over 30 provinces in the People’s Republic of China, and each has its own distinct flavor and cuisine. Sichuan food is known for being fiery hot, while Shanghai tends to be sweeter, often flavored with rice wine. Cantonese food has a very light and delicate flavor, although much of it is fried, and food from Xinjiang province in the far West, bordering on Pakistan, features a lot of lamb and cumin. Most of the Chinese food in the United States is loosely based on Cantonese cuisine, although most of what is called Chinese food in the U.S. is an inauthentic American interpretation, roughly akin to eating Spaghetti-Os at an Italian restaurant.

Likewise, many restaurants claim to specialize in any number of cuisines, including Szechuan, “Mandarin”, Cantonese and Polynesian. While it is not unthinkable that a chef from Sichuan province would know how to make Cantonese dishes, the cuisines are so different that a restaurant that claims all of the above is a bit like purporting to specialize in French, Spanish and Italian food.

Qingdao Garden specializes in food from Shandong province in northeast China, a cuisine that features a lot of seafood and a lot of garlic. Along with Wang’s Fast Food, an unassuming restaurant on Broadway in Somerville, it offers some of the most authentic Chinese food that I have eaten in the United States. Qingdao Garden is what I call a “stick-to-your-seat” ethnic restaurant: It may not be the fanciest restaurant around, but it is quickly gaining a reputation among locals as one of the best Chinese restaurants in Boston. If it’s a posh and romantic setting that you seek, stick to Changsho, but if you seek unusual, authentic and delicious regional Chinese cuisine, head to Qingdao and try dishes like seafood with bean curd, eggplant Peking style or a whole steamed fish.

There are a number of other Chinese restaurants in the Boston area that specialize in regional cuisines. For Sichuan food, Sichuan Garden on Washington St. in Brookline Village is an excellent choice. My favorite local Cantonese restaurants are clustered in Chinatown: Try Asian Garden on Harrison St., Jumbo Seafood on Hudson St., or Chau Chow City on Beach St., which features free parking in the evenings. My father, born in Shanghai, likes Shanghai Cafe on Tremont St. in the Theater District and the tiny Wing’s Kitchen on Hudson St. for authentic homestyle Shanghai dishes.

In my opinion, Qingdao Garden is indeed a strong contender for the best Chinese food in Boston. Yet, with a field of so many different and varied cuisines that are lumped under the general heading of Chinese food, it would be simply futile to choose just one winner. After all, Yao Ming may not be the best basketball player in the world, but he is a strong contender for the position of center.

— Sarah Hsia, 3L
Original review online at:

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