Diesel’s Roommate Tells All

Kudos to Mike Smith ’68 on “The Short Liners,” the Fall 2013 article that featured Mike and his business partner, George Betke ’59. I called Mike to chastise him for not referring me to the writer, Roger Williams ’56, for background information, as Mike and I roomed together at Amherst all four years. I could have provided valuable, albeit potentially embarrassing, information about Mike’s passion for railroading—how, in our freshman year, Mike would hide his model trains and railroad magazines in my bureau when his parents were visiting; how Mike’s classmates quickly gave him the nickname “Diesel”; how, right in the middle of a play during a freshman football game on Memorial Field near the train tracks, Mike heard a train whistle, turned his head toward the whistle and neglected his assignment to block for me; how Mike would invite classmates to join him in hopping a freight train to Vermont, just as in the days of the hobos; how he rarely got a second date with a girl after talking all night on the first date about trains; how he would wax eloquent about his summer job on the track gang for the D&H Railroad; and how, one night in New York City, he and I rode in the diesel engine on a Penn Central train to Albany.

Mike is the classic example of someone whose life and career have been defined by his passion—in his case, railroading. That is the reason he is smiling so broadly in the photograph that accompanied the Amherst article!

L. Edward Lynn ’68
Pawling, N.Y.

Brightening his outlook

While thoroughly enjoying the piece on the continued flying adventures of my former roommate Randall “Ace” Davis ’76 (“Some Things He’s Carried,” Fall 2013), I was greatly inspired by Tess Taylor ’00’s article in the same issue (“Notebook Days,” Point of View).

Like Ms. Taylor, my oldest daughter is several years removed from completing “the most excellent (and among the more expensive) educations the country could offer.” After 18 months of (unpaid) internships in Manhattan, pursuing her field of film/photography in a down economy, she returned home, where she waitresses and ponders her next move.

Ms. Taylor’s well-written, candid account of her decade of struggle has rekindled my daughter’s perseverance and enthusiasm while brightening her father’s previously gloomy outlook.

David B. Kee Jr. ’76
Pinehurst, N.C.

Faith, Reason and the Church

The Fall 2013 issue of Amherst quotes author Dan Brown ’86 concerning how challenging it was for him to “fuse antimatter with the Vatican’s stance on science.” I am not sure about the point Mr. Brown is trying to make. In 1870, Vatican Council I held that “the appearance of [contradiction between faith and reason] is chiefly due to the fact that either the dogmas of faith are not understood and explained in accordance with the mind of the church, or unsound views are mistaken for the conclusions of reason.” For more recent statements, I refer readers to the address given by John Paul II on faith, science and the case of Galileo (see L’Osservatore Romano of Nov. 4, 1992), and I offer an excerpt from paragraph 242 of Pope Francis’ December 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium:

“The Church has no wish to hold back the marvelous progress of science. On the contrary, [the Church] rejoices and even delights in acknowledging the enormous potential that God has given to the human mind. Whenever the sciences—rigorously focused on their specific field of inquiry—arrive at a conclusion which reason cannot refute, faith does not contradict it.”

It is axiomatic for the Catholic Church that between faith and reason there can be no contradiction.

Timothy Brunk ’87
Haverford, Pa.
Brunk teaches theology at Villanova.

Oil in the Arctic

Lois Epstein ’83 is off the mark in her aspirations for “safety” in oil and gas extraction in the Arctic (“The Frontier as Proving Ground,” Fall 2013). The extreme methods now required to remove gas and oil in the Arctic (and everywhere else in the United States) are now and always will be fraught with negative consequences, both high-frequency with localized effects and her “low-frequency, high-consequence accidents.” As a quick perusal of a week’s worth of headlines shows, oil and gas extraction are not and never will be “safe.” Instead, the question is: How many accidents, and what severity of consequences, will we tolerate?

Moreover, Ms. Epstein and her Wilderness Society colleagues ignore that oil and gas extraction, production and transportation generate extraordinary amounts of greenhouse gases—both carbon dioxide and the more pernicious methane—even before the refined fuels are burned in our cars and power plants. Ms. Epstein also appears unaware of the effects of air, water, noise and light pollution; the degradation of competing local economic endeavors; and the overbuilding of local physical and social service infrastructures which accompany the development of oil and gas reserves and plague local communities where it takes place.

Finally, history tells us that when the oil and gas have been pulled out of the ground, the extracting companies do their best to leave us taxpayers with the costly burden of cleaning up their mess. That’s the actual history of oil/gas extraction and the real culture of the oil and gas industry. I wonder why Ms. Epstein and the Wilderness Society think it will be different this time.

Joe Wilson ’64
Ithaca, N.Y.

Thankful for English 1

I wish to add my voice to the topic of English 1 (“English at Amherst,” Summer 2013). I acknowledge that I was not always sure where we were headed in my first semester at Amherst. I came from a large public high school in Denver, was away from home for my first extended time, and so much was new, including the swimming and fitness requirements.

However, as the year progressed, I saw the impact on me of the required coursework. There was a coordination of classes from physics to the arts. English 1 was an integral part of that coordination. I was soon well oriented to small-college life, was swimming and more fit, and was learning to be a critical thinker. The final exam of English 1 will remain in my memory till I die: making sense out of a cornfield. Of course, that was just a metaphor for life and for the entire first year of Amherst’s liberal arts curriculum.

I do recognize that the college and its curricula have changed, hopefully for the better, since my graduation. Nonetheless, I will continue to feel blessed by the coursework of Year 1 at Amherst, and that definitely includes English 1.

Thomas C. Washburn ’53
Fernandina Beach, Fla.


Because of editing errors, the Fall 2013 story on the Pathways mentoring program did not make clear that Pathways is open to all Amherst students, and it incorrectly stated how often per semester alumni mentors speak to their mentees. Mentors commit to talking to mentees online, by phone or in person at least twice a month (not twice a week). For more about Pathways, go to www.amherst.edu/campuslife/careers/mentoring.

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