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SEEING STARS

Portrait of Neil deGrasse Tyson by Tanit Sakakini
As a longtime amateur astronomer who used to give talks at the Marie Drake Planetarium in Juneau, Alaska, in the 1990s, I very much enjoyed Paul Hond’s article on Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Hayden Planetarium (“Musings of the Spheres,” Summer 2010).

One small correction: In the next-to-last paragraph, Neptune is described as a “gas giant with two moons.” Thanks to the 1989 Voyager flybys and later observation by the Hubble Space Telescope, we now know that Neptune has at least 13 moons, though little is known about them.

Ron Reed ’70CC
Washington, D.C.

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Congratulations on a terrific Summer issue, which included several wonderful features. I’ve had the great pleasure of hearing Neil deGrasse Tyson in action at the Hayden Planetarium, and it was a night I will never forget.

I was also excited to see a two-page spread on Columbia athletics. To think we have a half dozen (or is it more?) varsity teams that are Ivy champions or competing at the national championship level! The combination of perennial leaders (women’s and men’s fencing, men’s tennis, archery), along with newer dynasties-in-the-making (men’s and women’s track and cross-country, men’s golf), is encouraging. How many alumni know that Columbia already has moved up to the top half of the Ivies in the last few years? That we have a sophomore who ran a sub-four-minute mile (only the second in Ivy history) and the Ivy League record in the women’s 4x400 (3:38)? And yes, that stellar time was run by three sophomores and a first-year student. Please plan on three or four pages of sports highlights in the summer of 2011. The academic and extracurricular leadership of our student-athletes is worth sharing as well.

Lisa Carnoy ’89CC
New York, NY

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The Summer Columbia Magazine is the first I have come close to reading in its entirety. I found it difficult to lay this issue down until I had finished “Musings of the Spheres” by Paul Hond, “From Boots to Books” by Cindy Rodríguez, “Autism, Unmasked” by David J. Craig, “2010: An Artspace Odyssey” by Joshua J. Friedman, and “Poland’s Bitter Spring” by John Micgiel. Thank you for such an interesting magazine.

Sister Ruth Juchter ’53GSAS
Augusta, GA

POLAND'S TEARS

John Micgiel’s article “Poland’s Bitter Spring” (Summer 2010) was certainly a good overview of recent events. As a German of Polish origin who has lived in Warsaw, I am impressed by how much better relations between Germany and Poland have become over the past 20 years than relations with Russia, which are only now beginning to improve. Russian occupation of Poland continues to influence the Poles’ ongoing mistrust of the Russians and explains why they are so keen to have the proposed NATO missile shield in their country.

Michael V. B. Nagel ’67BUS
London, UK

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Poland’s Bitter Spring” notes that some Poles think that the plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski and company “wasn’t an accident.” Whether or not it was might never be definitively answered, but the question is worth considering. And possible culprits should not be restricted to Russians.

Was Kaczynski considered to be not fiscally conservative enough? Was he too culturally conservative? Was he unwilling to accept his Poland as an obedient, subservient, conquered province of the European Union?

The death of Kaczynski could be compared to the 1986 assassination of Sweden’s prime minister Olof Palme. Palme was considered too pacifist and fiscally liberal. He was gunned down the day before he was to give a speech against weapons of mass destruction. His killer has never been conclusively identified.

Kaczynski and Palme were considered undesirable by some powerful people and corporations. Their deaths were a little too convenient for these powers and their fiscal conservative/cultural liberal straitjacket.

Jeanette Wolfberg ’80GSAS
Mount Kisco, NY

BOOTS ON THE GROUNDS

Thank you for your profile of the remarkable military men and women who have matriculated at Columbia (“From Boots to Books,” Summer 2010). The article neglects to mention, however, the leadership role that Dartmouth College and its former president James Wright played in opening up an Ivy League education to military veterans. As one lucky enough to have attended Dartmouth as an undergraduate and Columbia as a graduate student, I am proud of my two almae matres and even more impressed by those who excel both inside the classroom and on the battlefield.

Mark S. Sternman ’92SIPA
Cambridge, MA

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From Boots to Books” was great, as was most of the Summer issue, although I felt the article was prompted by a guilty conscience. In 1960, when I was a second lieutenant in the Army Officer Basic Course with a group of officers who were planning to have Army careers, I was the only Ivy college grad in the group, and the first they had seen from Columbia in many years. The others were from major university ROTC programs; I came from Officer Candidate School. Columbia should have had ROTC all these years.

Alvin Golub ’57PHRM
Brooklyn, NY

A TRIAL'S TRIBULATIONS

I must comment on your article on Julie Menin’s efforts to keep the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed out of a Manhattan courtroom (“Trial and Error,” In the City of New York, Summer 2010.

Some years ago, as a criminal defense lawyer sitting in a small upstate courtroom, I saw through the eyes of my client, a New York City resident, that he was facing not the wrath of a faceless power, but the justice of a particular offended community in a process that embodied and sought to restore that community’s values.

Years later — with the images of fire and death that the World Trade Center seared into the memory of my young daughter as she looked out of her West Village bedroom window, and with the deaths of a high school classmate and our neighbors in the fallen towers — I have been sustained by the certainty that someday the perpetrators would sit in our midst and face the judgment of our own community.

Calls for vengeance from national political figures have provided no comfort, just the promise of more violence to come. What we need is justice, a restoration of our peace, a reassertion of our own values of fairness to the accused, and respect for the dignity of the victims and of the power of our own community to care for itself.

Our colleague Eric Holder [CC’73, LAW’76] understands this, as do the countless lawyers, jurists, and jurors who have participated in providing for justice that is local in both its origins and administration, as did the framers of our constitutional provision that jury trials are to be conducted by impartial juries of the state and district where the crime is committed. That is why our jury system embodies a critical and essential duty of citizenship, and why it is so dangerous to hand over the administration of local justice to others, even symbolically. Justice as usual is a very valuable thing. Our local politicians, unfortunately, have proven themselves to be as eager as ever to respond to the fears of their constituents, at the price of contributing to the erosion of the sense of shared resolution that underlies and empowers our system of justice.

That is why it was so strange to read of Menin’s view of herself, in opposing the use of our established local courtrooms in bringing the accused September 11 plotters to justice in our midst, as a community activist or budding public servant. Her efforts, to the contrary, will contribute to our growing communal fear, shortsightedness, and selfishness, and render more impersonal and distant a process that needs to be visibly local and solidly established. I think we can handle the inconvenience, and even the dangers of a local trial in an established and traditional courtroom; and I don’t think the accused in this case deserve the satisfaction of causing us to recoil from them in fear.

Norman Corenthal ’71CC
New York, NY

Julie Menin responds:
The federal courts have a proven track record of bringing terrorists to justice. That system is integral to upholding the rule of law and that is why I strongly believe it is the right system for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. However, to hold his trial in Lower Manhattan, which could cost as much as $1 billion of federal taxpayer money and involve more than 2000 security checkpoints, makes absolutely no sense. There are other venues, such as those I proposed — on Governors Island; at the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York; Stewart Air National Guard Base; or West Point — all locations in the Southern District, where a federal court judge could preside.

SENSE AND CONSENSUS

Your Summer issue presents a wonderful array of Columbia’s rich, diverse, and global roles for us to glory in. But there was one false note in our energetic president’s Commencement remarks (“Commencement,” News).

Lee C. Bollinger notes the “unwillingness of many in public discourse to at least entertain the possibility that others may have better ideas.” A fine statement of a real problem. Unfortunately, his first bête noire was those “who reject the consensus of the scientific community about human-induced climate change.”

I have no personal conclusion about climate change; it is not my field, and it is not his. As a physician, I do have a strong opinion about the dangers involved in scorning challenges to scientific “consensus,” especially on behalf of a great university.

James T. Quattlebaum ’61GSAS
Beaufort, SC

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Your report on the 2010 Commencement ceremonies indicates that a distinct political drift is occurring at Columbia. Did President Bollinger actually instruct graduates to confront the “denial of expertise” represented by those who would “reject the consensus of the scientific community about human-induced climate change”? And what is this “consensus”? There are as many scientists who contradict human contribution to climate change as there are that promote it.

I came from Columbia in 1957 with an open mind properly braced with curiosity, reason, and a dab of skepticism. Admittedly, age and experience have tilted me toward conservatism, perhaps making me overly sensitive to what I read about the 2010 Commencement. I can’t remember a word uttered by President Grayson Kirk that damp, misty day in 1957. I take comfort that the same may be true for the Class of 2010.

James R. Ashlock ’57JRN
Tallahassee, FL

IN A TEAPOT

Julia Klein, in her review of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro (“Brush Up Your . . . Marlowe?,” Summer 2010), notes that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is, among certain scholars, one of the leading contenders as the author of the Shakespeare plays. Klein says, “That de Vere died in 1604, before the later plays were produced, is seen as no obstacle, with his advocates suggesting he could have written them earlier.” The point is not that the later plays were produced after 1604. For example, The Tempest, considered by many to be Shakespeare’s finest comedy, could not have been written before 1610. The play was inspired by the wreck of the Sea Venture, which foundered on a reef off Bermuda in July of 1609, the news of which did not reach England until 1610. Since Oxford died six years before 1610, he could not have written The Tempest. If not he, the most likely candidate is William Shakespeare of Stratford, as Shapiro claims.

Alden Mesrop ’52CC, ’57LAW
Mount Vernon, NY

GET ON THE BALL

The sundial (Finals, Summer 2010) fascinated me as a kid when I saw it in the Columbia photos of my father, Francis Sypher ’25CC, ’27LAW, from the 1920s. But by the time I first visited the campus, the ball was gone, and when I was at Columbia as an undergraduate and graduate student, from 1959 to 1968, the empty base served mainly as a speaker’s soapbox.

When I wrote an article about the sundial for Columbia magazine in 1992, it was still thought that the ball had been broken up and carted away, but since then the ball has been discovered in a field near Ann Arbor, Michigan.

There have been efforts to organize support for restoring this iconic masterpiece, a gift of the Class of 1885, and I wish it could be done, either by bringing back the original ball, or by installing a new one.

In its day the sundial was a dramatic emblem of the Columbia campus, and its restoration would be a magnificent addition, as suggested by many, including Jacques Barzun. Hopefully, I quote the Latin motto on the base of the sundial: Horam expecta veniet (Await the hour, it will come).

Francis J. Sypher Jr. ’63CC, ’68GSAS
New York, NY

PHILOLOGY

I want to compliment Paul Hond on his fine writing in his piece on Phil Schaap (“Every Day Is Bird Day,” Spring 2010). I haven’t listened to Phil in a while, and reading this short article made me feel I have been missing something. Hond’s flawless writing tells a great story and somehow seems, quite astoundingly, to tell the story like Phil might.

Marc Garber
New York, NY
Garber is a news host at WNYC Radio.

TUNNEL VISIONS

I very much enjoyed “The Night Hunter,” the Spring issue’s cover story about photographer Steve Duncan. It is an urban myth, however, to say that the Riverside Park tunnel was “populated by hundreds of homeless people in the 1980s,” at least with regard to the stretch between 96th Street and Manhattanville, which I used to walk during my years at Columbia.

In those days, there was an open door into the tunnel, next to one of the 96th Street on-ramps to Riverside Drive and across from a large graffiti mural of the Mona Lisa inside the tunnel. Delightfully cool, even on the hottest summer days, and wind-free in winter, the tunnel was an oasis of stillness and calm, and was especially beautiful with snowflakes and pale winter light sifting down through the overhead air grates.

I led Kenneth Jackson’s History of the City of New York class on a postlecture walking tour of the tunnel in the spring of 1983, and as Jackson and our classmates who joined us that afternoon can attest, the tunnel was splendidly quiet and deserted at that time.

William Wilfong ’85CC
Bangkok, Thailand

NO SAINT, NICK

Contrary to the endless, silly exchange in the Letters section over whether Columbia Magazine has content of interest, the Spring 2010 issue was quite informative, particularly on the subject of Columbia president Nicholas Murray Butler. Not only was the man a Nazi sympathizer and enabler (see “Hear No Evil,” Ari Goldman’s review of The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower), but Butler also named names, as we learned from the letter by the late Arnold Beichman (“God and Butler at Columbia”).

Cassondra E. Joseph ’78LAW
New York, NY

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