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FRACK ATTACK

Columbia Magazine Summer 2012I am appalled. Your summer cover article (“The Gas Menagerie,” Summer 2012) is hype, devoid of fact, and you should be ashamed to publish it.

Fracking has been an effective technique for sixty or seventy years without adverse environmental consequences. It has brought the US an increase in reserves and a decrease in energy costs that can pull the US out of economic stagnation. Despite what you read, fracking has been done in a largely safe and environmentally secure manner. To promote Josh Fox and his views is equivalent to promoting Mark Rudd.

Columbia taught me science, but Columbia Magazine is ignoring it. Columbia teaches journalism and unbiased reporting, but you are ignoring it. In the 1960s, when Columbia was tainted as part of the military-industrial complex, I supported the University. Now that Columbia ignores science and truth for left-wing government funding, I cannot support it. I trust that other formerly loyal alumni supporters will also cut contributions until you eliminate the bias. If you teach this crap, how do you expect the next generation to survive?

Peter Rugg ’69CC, ’70SEAS
Founder and CEO, MacArthur Energy
New York, NY


It is appropriate for an alumni periodical like Columbia Magazine to celebrate alumnus Josh Fox; “The Gas Menagerie” honors him for his film Gasland, which has received fame and awards for its treatment of the environmental risks of fracking for natural gas. While it is understandable that his own opposition to fracking would be included, it is not appropriate for Columbia Magazine to weigh in and make the story into a polemic.

Our committee, New Yorkers for Jobs and Energy Independence, composed of committed but reasoning environmentalists, made a balanced case for fracking to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. The Urban Design Lab’s 2009 “Hancock and the Marcellus Shale,” which the article highlights, is seriously out of date. We used more current information, such as the 2011 MIT and Penn State studies and the Department of Environmental Conservation 2011 request for comments. Obsolete facts lead to incorrect conclusions.

An example of an obsolete argument comes from law professor Susan Kraham: “The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has been wholly captured by the natural-gas industry. I don’t think there’s any question about that.” If there had ever been any inadequate regulation by the DEP, the advocacy by them of Act 13 — a new law that substantially increases regulatory control — demonstrates the incorrectness of her argument.

The article’s imbalance is illustrated by the lack of comment by Columbia Magazine on Fox’s gross misstatement concerning the casement of fracked wells. He is quoted as stating that the casement consists of “cement to protect the groundwater.” The reality is that casements are made of multiple layers of steel and cement, the cement’s purpose being to hold the steel in place, a critical safety feature.

R. N. Bhargava ’66GSAS
Ossining, NY


Thank you for highlighting the world-changing work of Josh Fox. I am a seventeen-year resident of Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Four years ago, I had no strong feelings about natural-gas development, but after being offered $444,000 plus royalties for a lease on my farm, I began to study the industry carefully. Frankly, I was seeking justification to take the funds. But after talking with families who suffered the terrifying effects of methane releases into their homes, after discovering that Cabot Oil & Gas released three loads of chemicals into a nearby wetlands habitat in 2009, after studying the culture of natural-gas wastewater disposal, I can report that Josh Fox, if anything, is underestimating the enormity of the crisis and the corrosive impact that this crisis is having on public trust in government.

Based on Fox’s work, I know that he has put his life on the line to defend the hundreds of thousands of fracking victims who are being frightened out of their homes, who are watching their children succumb to potentially fatal asthma attacks, who travel narrow rural roads while dodging nonstop convoys of trucks, and who are experiencing the introduction of extreme fear into their communities. From 2006 to 2010 I served as a member of my local planning commission and as a member of the steering committee that prepared a multi-municipal comprehensive plan for my region. The totality of these experiences has convinced me that this industry functions in many ways as an organized-crime unit, on a pay-to-pollute basis. I have not, and will not, lease my farm. Sadly, though, this idyllic, historic, circa 1860 farm is surrounded by fracking leases and will likely become a sweet memory. Now is our only chance to change the future.

Sally S. Moretti ’85GS
Starrucca, PA


I was distressed to see that your article on fracking dealt with the story of a filmmaker with no technical expertise on an environmental subject, which requires more knowledge than tree hugging. I graduated with an MS in mechanical engineering in 1963 and find the global-warming theory and all the other unprovable social/political myths to be an Al Gore joke on our country. Your publishing this type of article puts you in the same category. Shame on you.

Bob Getty ’63SEAS
Venice, FL


I found Paul Hond’s cover article on Josh Fox’s anti-fracking campaign to be enlightening, although perhaps not in the way the author intended. After Fox runs through the long list of alleged environmental dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing — including aquifer and groundwater contamination, increased seismic activity, and excessive consumption of scarce water resources — it becomes clear that his main problem is not with fracking but rather with drilling for natural gas and any other fossil fuels. Fox’s obsession with greenhouse oblivion seems to justify using fracking as a wedge environmental issue in the pursuit of a broader green agenda.

The main reason why energy-industry advocates shadow Fox at his public appearances is to counter the misinformation he spreads before it takes root in the public’s mind. Rather than debating the experts on the issue of environmental safety and potential water contamination caused by fracking, Fox sits on panels with educators and actors, speaks at local public libraries, and lectures to college and high-school students. Most of the constituencies that he targets in his anti-fracking campaign are younger, less knowledgeable of the exploration and production business, and more open to making the leap from a ban on natural-gas fracking to a ban on all drilling and production.

The sooner the general public understands Gasland for what it is — the environmental equivalent of Reefer Madness — the better. The people of New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania should be given the freedom to decide whether the economic benefits of oil and gas development outweigh the attendant infrastructure strains and quality-of-life costs, without the distraction of environmental fear mongering. It is time for a rational discussion of US energy policy and security that both promotes the safe exploitation of the country’s natural endowment of hydrocarbons and forces new renewable and alternative sources of energy to stand on their own economic feet. 

Paul H. Tice ’83CC
Managing Director and Energy Portfolio Manager, BlackRock
Short Hills, NJ


Josh Fox strikes me as one amazingly ironic zealot. If he is even modestly opposed to the vast petrochemical industry, he would do as others have done, which is to utterly eschew the use of petrochemical products, which not only include natural gas for heating and cooking but also the gasoline used to propel his automobile, oil, coal, and petroleum-derived plastics. If every person were to avoid the deadly plague inflicted on us by the petrochemical industry, the motivation for fracking would disappear and we could live happily ever after, riding our bicycles through the haze of wood smoke across the deforested landscape.

David Arbogast ’75GSAPP
Davenport, IA


I was extremely upset by the degree of bias Paul Hond exhibited in his article. Hond interviewed the usual batch of journalists and lawyers, who always sensationalize the issue rather than working from the facts. This kind of emotional presentation always leads to polarization and court battles, rather than to a solution of our major problem of energy independence.

Wind and solar energy may seem to be helpful, but once a complete technical and financial analysis is done, the capital requirements are prohibitive, especially when the required backup-generation capacity is taken into account (most people want electricity all the time, not just when the wind or sun is available).

I am disappointed that your editorial staff published such a slanted article instead of choosing to pursue the kind of balanced dialogue that could lay the groundwork for everyone to work together toward a safe, environmentally sound use of our extensive natural-gas resources.

Michael Clark ’61CC, ’62SEAS
Reno, NV


I spent a working career in the energy industry. I was disappointed that the Summer 2012 issue devoted ten pages plus the cover to the campaign of Josh Fox against fracking for natural-gas production. Paul Hond’s article contained a great deal of bias, conjecture, and exaggeration. It appears Josh Fox is attempting to emulate Michael Moore. Renewable energy will continue to make inroads into the overall energy requirements. However, we must realistically accept that fossil fuels will be with us for a long time and the hydrocarbons they contain will be needed to provide our transportation fuels and chemical raw-material requirements. Natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, the alternatives being petroleum or coal.

The approach should be not to condemn all fracking but to regulate it so that it can be carried out safely. I question whether either Josh Fox or Paul Hond has the technical background to pass judgment. I wish Hond and Columbia Magazine had presented a more balanced picture. Did you consider soliciting an industry comment?

E. Scott Glover ’54CC, ’55SEAS
Punta Gorda, FL


Fracking is a tragedy to those living close to Kenneth Hahn Park, in Los Angeles. Josh Fox should tell his critics, to paraphrase Marie Antoinette, “Let them drink bottled water.”

James Quinn ’48SEAS
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA


“Rape, plunder, pillage . . . that’s what mining’s all about.” The inflammatory first words of Columbia professor Malcolm T. Wane’s Introduction to Mining class certainly got our attention. That was 1972, and I still remember it verbatim forty years later. The point is that inflammatory rhetoric gets people’s attention, and they tend to remember it whether it is true or not.

Well stimulation, or fracking, has been implemented for decades across hundreds of thousands of wells without incident. Producing hydrocarbons in a safe, environmentally friendly manner is the standard for all operators in the United States. Over the past twenty years, American ingenuity has developed the ability to find and produce hydrocarbons in areas where previously it was not technically possible. This advancement is referred to as the “unconventional revolution,” and it is on par with the Internet revolution.

The United States is now referred to as the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. Think about that for a moment. Several years ago we were dependent on shipments of liquefied natural gas, and now we have the option to export it. Cars, trucks, and trains that are currently dependent on gasoline and diesel can now run on natural gas, a true game changer.

At the start of the Internet revolution some people fought tooth and nail against the changes and dangers it would bring. Ultimately, the value added to society was too great to be suppressed, and the world has accepted the Internet. We are at that same point in time for the same reasons.

Columbia’s foundational principles are the right and duty to question everything and to pursue the never-ending quest for knowledge and truth. We encourage you to continue that quest, learning more about natural gas and the truth about the unconventional revolution.

David Yard ’76 SEAS
Senior Reservoir Engineer-Eastern Division
Chesapeake Energy Corporation
Oklahoma City, OK

Eric Stabinski ’01SEAS, ’11SEAS
District Petrophysicist
Chesapeake Energy Corporation

Matthew Hatami ’09BUS
Asset Manager
Chesapeake Energy Corporation


A statement by Josh Fox in the article “The Gas Menagerie” is badly misleading in regard to any attempt to formulate a national energy policy. Fox says, “We also know that renewable energy can run the state [of New York],” but unless he is somehow including a large nuclear component, that is simply out of touch with present reality. The readers of Columbia Magazine would be well served to view Switch, a documentary film on the world’s growing energy needs and the search for alternative sources presented by Scott Tinker of the Bureau of Economic Geology, in Austin, Texas.

James D. Lowell ’58GSAS
Denver, CO


I’M VERKLIMT

I very much enjoyed Eric Kandel’s article on Gustav Klimt and neurology (“Your Brain on Klimt,” Summer 2012).

In Judith I, is Judith’s face that of a woman with myasthenia gravis, with bilateral ptosis of the upper eyelids, arching forehead in an attempt to lift the eyelids, impassive face, and open, horizontal mouth (myasthenic snarl)?

In Danäe, in the lower left-hand corner, there are sperm-like objects, including flagellae, which merge with the gold coins. The horizontal rectangle may just be a phallic symbol. Between the two rows of ova, lower right, are what appear to be blastocysts, early embryonic structures.

Sperm, eggs, and blastocysts also appeared in Klimt’s painting Medicine, for the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna, destroyed by the SS in 1945.

Charles B. Brill ’61PS
Philadelphia, PA


Columbia Magazine Winter 1983“As I talk to you and you listen to me, the cells in my brain are having a direct effect on the cells in your brain. What’s more, the effect could be long-lasting. So don’t talk to strangers. It can produce completely unwanted effects on your synapses.” Thus spoke University Professor Eric Kandel in the December 1983 Columbia Magazine.

At the time, I thought this was an astonishing comment and concept, and in fact, I memorized it to display my erudition and wit at dinner parties over the years — always, of course, giving Kandel credit.

Kandel said many other astonishing things in the article, “The Secret Mind of the Brain,” by Meg Lavigne (now Dooley), then managing editor of Columbia. But as I read Kandel’s startling and wonderful article in the Summer 2012 issue, what came to mind (still with some regret) is that Kandel simply hated the illustration of himself on the cover of the 1983 issue. He let me know that, and my brain was sorely affected — it lost quite a lot of sleep for a few days. I had thought this was such an important story that I had stretched our meager budget to commission the painting from a young graduate of the Pratt Institute, Justin Novak.

Silly me. If I could only have summoned Klimt! I must admit that I still like the illustration. But now I’m even more abashed to learn that Kandel can also speak with authority on art, so what can I say? Perhaps this: when dinner-party conversations have deteriorated to questions such as, “If you could own any original painting in the world, what would it be?” I’ve always replied, “Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.” So I guess my brain is still “remarkably plastic” and “changing its performance and even its strategies as a result of experience,” as Kandel said in the earlier article. Thank you for expanding my brain, professor.

Ceil Cleveland
Durham, NC

Ceil Cleveland is a former editor of Columbia Magazine. — Ed.


INFERIORITY COMPLEXES

I enjoyed Norman Birnbaum’s review of Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth, by Frederick Kempe, and his discussion of John F. Kennedy’s failed negotiations with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (“Up Against the Wall,” Spring 2012). It reminded me of when I took Econ 101 at the College in the early 1970s, about a decade after the events recounted in the review.

Like everyone, we used Paul Samuelson’s textbook, Economics. In his book, Samuelson asserted that socialism produces a higher economic growth rate than capitalism. Why, then, he asked rhetorically, don’t we adopt socialism? His feeble answer: it doesn’t match our individualistic ethic.

I think Samuelson expressed the liberal consensus of his time. Thus, when Kennedy negotiated with Khrushchev, in his own mind he was the weaker party, the representative of an inferior and doomed economic system. His lack of success is not surprising. Happily, I overcame Columbia’s efforts to miseducate me in economics. I read the great free-market economists: Hayek, Friedman, and Ludwig von Mises, who gave a lecture around that time titled “Why Socialism Always Fails.” These are the economists who (directly or indirectly) educated President Ronald Reagan. He went into his far more successful negotiations with the Soviets believing that they, not he, represented an inferior and doomed economic system.

Taras Wolansky ’74CC
Jersey City, NJ


REVISING EISENHOWER

In his review of Jean Edward Smith’s Eisenhower in War and Peace (“Gentle in Manner, Strong in Deed,” Summer 2012), Christopher Caldwell’s passing reference to the “narcissist MacArthur” calls to mind the snide remarks that the two principal American generals of World War II made about one another.

In a 1934 fitness report on Eisenhower, then his senior aide, MacArthur said: “This is the best officer in the army. When the next war comes, he should go right to the top.” But during that next war, when Ike’s popularity rivaled his own, he said that Ike was “the best clerk I ever had.” Ike, for his part, said that he had studied dramatics under MacArthur for nine years.

Petty jealousies aside, we should not forget that these men were soldiers and, brilliant organizer and strategist though he was, Ike was a rear-echelon general who never saw combat, while the twice-gassed MacArthur was the most decorated American officer of World War I, often leading the men of the Rainbow Division over the top, unarmed, without a helmet, and carrying only a swagger stick.

General George S. Patton, who served with MacArthur and knew something of such matters, said that MacArthur was “the bravest man I ever met.”

Frank Salvidio ’56GS
West Springfield, MA


The interesting review of Eisenhower in War and Peace in the Summer 2012 issue criticizes as “unjust” the statement by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. that, with the departure from office by President Eisenhower, “We have awakened as from a trance.”

I well remember the time, and the Schlesinger comment is neither just nor unjust, but merely apt. Calling the comment unjust overlooks the fact that Eisenhower during the last several years of his administration was old and sickly, and that he was hospitalized for what at the time was a certain sign of frailty — heart problems. The comment also overlooks Schlesinger’s implicit comparison, which was between the palpable fatigue of Eisenhower and the intellectual and physical vitality and the wit of the effervescent John Kennedy. Eisenhower by then gave every indication of treading water to the extent he could; Kennedy and his team by comparison seemed dervishes. Whatever one might put down as the strengths and weaknesses of the two, the change in administrations changed the mood of the nation.

Robert L. Kehr ’69LAW
Los Angeles, CA


Christopher Caldwell credits President Eisenhower with being “decisive enough to desegregate Little Rock’s schools with federal troops in 1957.”

I recall that Eisenhower was no such courageous integrationist. As Taylor Branch points out in his 1988 Pulitzer Prize–winning Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–63, Eisenhower tried to avoid enforcement of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision until Arkansas governor Orval Faubus’s flagrant defiance pressed him into an open confrontation. “No longer denying the crisis,” Branch writes, Eisenhower “convinced himself that Little Rock was not an issue of racial integration but of insurrection, like Shays’s Rebellion.”

Three years earlier, while the Brown case was actively being considered by the Supreme Court, Eisenhower had invited Chief Justice Earl Warren to an unusual White House dinner whose guests included John W. Davis, the counsel for the segregation states. In his posthumously published memoirs, Warren for the first time revealed a conversation he had with the president.

“The President,” Warren wrote, “took me by the arm, and, as we walked along, speaking of the southern states in the segregation cases, he said, ‘These are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big overgrown Negroes.’”

I submit that it was the nine courageous black students who braved the mobs, insults, and repeated attacks who desegregated Little Rock Central High School, not a demonstrably racist president forced against his will to finally enforce a Supreme Court decision he disagreed with.

William B. Branch ’58SOA
New Rochelle, NY


WHERE THE CLASSICS LIVE

It was a great pleasure reading about the accomplishment of Gac Filipaj, who earned a degree in classics, with honors, while holding a full-time job as a janitor at Columbia (“An honorable life,” News, Summer 2012). His story is inspiring, as are the values he illuminates by his own life.

It was nearly equally gratifying to learn that classics even survives as a discipline at such a politically au courant place as Columbia. What could be more retro, more quintessentially white European male than classics, the very fons et origo of the detested Western civilization?

Good for Mr. Filipaj for embracing it while it still exists!

Mindy Dallas ’89GS
Bronx, NY


DIVERSITY = DISCRIMINATION?

Does President Bollinger seriously believe that the Columbia faculty discriminates against women and members of racial minorities when it uses its expert judgment to hire the very best faculty available? (“University announces new effort to increase faculty diversity,” News, Summer 2012.) If not, why is he spending $30 million to change the racial composition of the faculty? Clearly he is trying to “persuade” the faculty to hire candidates it would not otherwise hire when using its own independent judgment. Why then is he spending University funds to lower the quality of the faculty as judged by that very same faculty?

His stated rationale is to build a faculty that “more closely reflects the composition of the national pool of qualified candidates.” Statistically speaking, what reason is there to expect that any single university will reflect that composition? More important, what benefit will accrue to the university by meeting this statistical goal other than making the administration feel morally superior?

Much of the $30 million will be spent outbidding other institutions for the small pool of qualified members of racial minorities. As Bobbie Berkowitz, dean of the School of Nursing, is quoted as saying, “The competition to recruit these individuals [racial minorities] can be formidable. Now, having this money ... we’re going to be in a better position.” The net effect will be two transfers. First, in this beggar-thy-neighbor approach, candidates who are members of racial minorities will be enticed to come to Columbia, thereby transferring them away from other deserving institutions that do not have $30 million to compete successfully in the auction. Second, money will be transferred from paying for the University’s pressing needs and into the higher salaries of these favored candidates in order to entice them to Columbia.

The remainder of the $30 million will go to junior faculty, support for doctoral students, and internships for undergraduates. These funds will be awarded only to members of favored groups; others (e.g., Irish-Americans, Jewish Americans) need not apply. Is this fair? Legal? Just?

At a time when Americans are increasingly moving toward racial fairness and several states (including Bollinger’s former state of Michigan) have legally banned the use of affirmative action and racial preferences in college admissions, why is Columbia moving backward toward heavily funding and implementing a racially discriminatory policy?

Gerald Zuriff ’64CC
Cambridge, MA


TINKER TAYLER

In an otherwise very informative article about Josh Fox’s battle against the insidious practice of fracking (“The Gas Menagerie,” Summer 2012), you misspelled the name of Columbia Shakespeare scholar Edward Tayler. As he himself put it in a style sheet handed out for his undergraduate Shakespeare lectures, “Tailor is a maker of clothes; Tayler is a teacher of Shakespeare; Taylor might be just about anybody.”

And Edward W. Tayler, as most people who took his course will testify, is not just anybody.

Kyle Freeman ’79GSAS
San Francisco, CA


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Comments

I respond to Bob Getty's letter on 'Frack Attack', and specifically to his comment about global warming and "other unprovable social/political myths" that he characterizes as "an Al Gore joke on our country."

Global warming is real. A substantial human contribution is demonstrable with available data. Al Gore is largely correct on the facts. Columbia scientists are among contributors to the research. And we regard the issue as so important that global climate change has featured regularly as a theme in Frontiers of Science, Columbia's Core Curriculum science course that since 2004 has been a requirement for all Columbia College students. If Mr Getty and others holding his views wish to learn more on this topic, I shall be happy to correspond.

Nicholas Christie-Blick
Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences
and Frontiers of Science Chair for Fall, 2012
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
Palisades, New York 10964

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