and entering

An Open Letter to Drew Faust from Digress Harvard

Digress Harvard waiting in line at the Barker Cafe.

Dear President Faust:

As a liberal arts university—which historically was a place of learning focused on the seven artes liberales of Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy but now is more about the development of the student as an individual without necessarily focusing on any particular field—we have many obligations. Fossil Fuels—which is actually not using fossils like dinosaur footprints and leafs as fuel, though that would be pretty neat—are harmful to the environment (environment comes etymologically from Carlyle’s translations of the German Umgebung for “the state of being environed, or surrounded”). And President Faust, we need to keep our Umgebung whole.

Harvard needs to be careful about poking its endowment around the Umgebung. Our $35.883 billion endowment could be used to buy 5.381 TRILLION colorful beads from ($35 billion at $14.65 for a 22,000 count of beads. BOOM arithmetic baby! artes liberales maximoniousnessly!) For reference, the island of Manhattan was purchased by Dutch settlers from the Canarsee Indians (who did not actually have a rightful claim to the island, but only to the area now known as Brooklyn) in exchange for $24 worth of beads. If the value of Manhattan is worth $802.4 billion as it was in 2006, that comes up to $1.204 QUADRILLION BEADS! Now that is quadrillion as used in short scale countries (i.e. on the scale 1015, SI prefix peta-) rather than as used in long scale countries (which would be 1024, or one million million million million, SI prefix yotta-). Even though this short scale/long scale divide is based mostly in language—with English speaking countries aligning with the short scale and Dutch and Romance language-influenced areas using the long scale—all of that is beside the point, President Faust! What matters here is that the Dutch purchase of Manhattan was illegitimate. It would of course be an egregious error to claim that American Indian culture did not have an understanding of private property ownership and free market trade situations (cf. Miller, Robert J. 2002), but nevertheless the “sale” was most likely considered to be more of a lease on hunting and trading rights in the area!

How can we even begin to consider the value of the Island of Manhattan in terms of beads if we have to translate between two different ideological systems of property? With a Liberal Arts degree in Translation, of course! And that is why I want to thank you for officially recognizing the Hawaiian language as eligible to fulfill students’ language requirements. 

E kōkua mai! Na Sietse ho'opa'ahao wau,

Natalie Portman

© 2015