Letters

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GONZO JOURNALISM

Columbia Magazine Summer 2013I loved the profile of Juan González (“Street-Beat Confidential,” Summer 2013). As a journalist, I write profiles; they take enormous time, thought, patience, and a true give-and-take between subject and reporter. Then there’s the writing: in this case, Paul Hond’s marvelous weave of present day, near past (9/11), past past (college, activism), plus the particular struggles of Puerto Rican immigrants. A life story, fully told.

Anne Moore ’82BC
Chicago, IL


As a medical student at Columbia in the early 1970s, another student and I followed Juan González and a few Young Lords to the health commissioner’s office, where Juan was extraordinary in obtaining lead-testing kits that were not being used.

Ed Weeks ’73PS
Moab, UT


THE BEHOLDER

I am almost amused by the presumably serious article that your editors define as “A jaunt through the boundless visual worlds of six young, successful Columbia artists” (“Without Walls,” Summer 2013).

I am glad to read that the artists are successful, but I fail to see beauty in their creations. It seems that the artists aim to épater les bourgeois, to provide such a visual shock as to disorient and confuse the senses of what they think is a naive public. It’s the emperor’s new clothes.

Nicolas Kariouk ’61SEAS
Baton Rouge, LA


NO DEFENSE OF STATE

In your interview with Harold Brown (“To Deter and Protect,” Summer 2013), the former secretary of defense charges that “State Department people tend not to be decisive decision makers. For them, a negotiation is a success no matter what happens.” But wasn’t it a success that the Cold War never became a hot war, and communism came to an end in the Soviet Union?

Yale Richmond ’57GSAS
Washington, DC


Harold Brown’s observation that for State Department people, a negotiation is a success no matter what, applies equally to federal agencies, and even to big-company business these days. I can’t count the times I’ve heard people compliment each other on a conference call or meeting in which absolutely nothing was accomplished.

William J. Mahon
Great Falls, VA


SAVE OUR SHIP

Columbia is a terrific alumni magazine, and the College Walk section is always entertaining. However, in “The Tender” (Summer 2013), you did a disservice to readers — including GSAPP preservation professors, grads, and students — by failing to mention whether or not the Lilac was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Mary Habstritt is fighting the good fight, and various nonprofits (National Maritime Historical Society, Historic Naval Ships Association, etc.) and our government (National Maritime Heritage Program) work alongside Habstritt to save National Register–listed and –eligible maritime sites every day.

Kirsten Brinker Kulis ’03GSAPP, ’05GSAPP
Alexandria, VA


The
Lilac is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. — Ed.


MEDIC ALERT

The College Walk article “Safe at Home” (Summer 2013) states that Columbia baseball player Joey Falcone is “a former Marine combat medic.” But how can this be, when our Marine Corps has no medical corps? Can it be that he was a Navy corpsman assigned to the Marines, as I was assigned to be a battalion field surgeon with the Third Marine Division in Vietnam, though I held a Navy commission?

Those of us who served deserve a clarification on this point, and the proper military service should be given credit.

Martin Flamm ’64CC
Sun City, AZ


While Falcone initially enlisted in the Navy, he served as a “corpsman,” or medic, within a Marine infantry unit. — Ed.


INTERWOVEN TALES

Your College Walk article on the late Frank Lautenberg (“Army of One,” Summer 2013) brought back a number of memories. Like Senator Lautenberg’s father, my dad was a weaver at a silk mill in Paterson, New Jersey, and he also took me to see the inside of the factory on a few occasions. I was fourteen when the US was attacked at Pearl Harbor and seventeen when I enlisted in the Army Air Corps. I was called to active duty two days before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. After spending a year on occupation duty in Germany, I returned home ready to resume my education. I had credits at Newark College of Engineering, but neither it nor NYU worked for me. As I was returning from NYU, I noticed the station sign for 116th Street–Columbia University. I had never considered Columbia. I knew only that it was prestigious, expensive, and difficult to get into. “What the heck,” I thought. “What have I got to lose?”

I got off the train, went to the admissions office, explained my situation, and was given information about the engineering school. I was eligible to be admitted to the School of General Studies immediately in February 1947 and could then apply for admission to the engineering school in February 1948.

In February 1950 I received my bachelor’s degree, and in June 1950 I attended the Commencement ceremonies, where, like Senator Lautenberg, I received my diploma from General Eisenhower, with my parents and my fiancée in attendance.

Norman D. Redlich ’50SEAS, ’52SEAS
Woodland Hills, CA


DEBATING JEALOUS

At the behest of a friend, who knew I was an alumnus, I agreed to represent Benjamin Jealous in the disciplinary proceedings brought against him by Columbia (Letters, Summer 2013). My decision to do so introduced me to someone who was remarkable then and is even more remarkable now. Any suggestion that Jealous received a far less stringent penalty than he deserved ignores not only the circumstances of that time but the reality of today: by any reasonable measure, Jealous’s professional accomplishments merit recognition.

Following a one-day protest against what he perceived to be a serious injustice, Jealous faced a process that could have ended his academic career. This was not a simple disciplinary proceeding presided over by school officials but resembled a full-fledged trial. Columbia retained retired federal judge Harold Tyler, now deceased, to preside over the disciplinary hearing, and employed outside counsel from a prominent New York law firm to prosecute Jealous and other students. Seemingly, any and every charge that could have been brought against them was.

During these proceedings, Jealous did not hesitate to testify truthfully about his actions, although as his lawyer, I would have preferred he not testify at all. He did not seek to avoid responsibility for his actions, or allow his subsequent punishment to stop him from finishing his undergraduate education at Columbia, or deter him from going on to a life of service to others. In that way, his story is not just fascinating: it is a story of redemption worthy of celebration, regardless of whether you agree with his actions then or now.

What would have been lost if Ben Jealous had been expelled or jailed or had given up pursuing his education after his suspension? If he had, Columbia would have missed out on claiming someone who is passionate about life and justice for all, something every Columbia graduate should aspire to be, regardless of how he or she views the world.

Victor A. Bolden ’86CC
New Haven, CT


What a shock to read the letters to the editor in response to the article on my admirable fellow alumnus Benjamin Jealous. Are these letters indicative of the type of alums who read Columbia Magazine? I am proud to be part of a progressive tradition at Columbia, am no fan of the NRA, respect the history of protest at Columbia in which Jealous participated, and recognize that voter suppression is a far greater threat to our democracy than voter fraud. I also oppose the current stop-and-frisk policy in NYC, which subjects thousands of innocent people to unwarranted invasions of privacy. I doubt the writers would for a minute countenance such a policy in their communities if they were the subjects of the stops.

David Hershey-Webb ’83CC
New York, NY


As an old Columbia graduate and an old National Rifle Association member, I was appalled at the level of ignorance demonstrated in the letters to the editor in your Summer 2013 issue.

The NRA, although founded in 1871, was until 1977 a sportsmen’s organization, dedicated to gun safety, marksmanship, hunting, and conservation. In 1977, an element took over the organization, bringing in an expansive political agenda, one part of which was a protection of Second Amendment rights. As a gun owner, I am, of course, thankful for those efforts to protect my rights. However, given the scope and content of the NRA’s political agenda, and the relatively small role the Second Amendment plays in that agenda, it is reasonable to argue that the NRA is not now a civil-rights organization. It is certainly clear that it had no claim to be a civil-rights organization prior to 1977, and certainly no claim to seniority over the NAACP.

Numerous scientific studies have been done on the effects of New York’s stop-and-frisk policies, and they show no effect on crime prevention. The letter writer’s strange bleating about the lives of poor black crime victims is, even on its face, far more prejudicial than probative.

With regard to voter ID and voter fraud: another writer wishes to liken the activity of voting, which is sui generis because it is both a right and the foundation of democratic government, to other, more trivial and optional activities for which we require identification. This conceptually bizarre activity is for the purpose of preventing voter fraud, which is imaginary. His letter repeats the urban myths about college students and “certain populations” (we know who he means!). The facts are that over the past several decades numerous studies and investigations have been done, tendentiously searching for evidence of voter fraud. They have come up with nothing.

Thus we have, in one issue, several letters that misinterpret the evidence, another that ignores the evidence, and one that denies the evidence. Not a distinguished showing for graduates of one of America’s finest universities. Since all this dreck is in response to an article on NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, I leave it to readers to determine whether or not this is another example of the Obama Syndrome, wherein the sight of an educated and successful black man somehow reduces a group of white men to babbling nonsense.

David Looman ’62CC
San Francisco, CA


In contrast to members of real civil-rights organizations, NRA members have not been beaten, shot at, bombed, and jailed for demanding their constitutional right to equal access to public accommodations, and to register to vote. The claim that the National Rifle Association is a civil-rights organization is grotesque.

Martin Oppenheimer ’53GSAS
Princeton, NJ


I am baffled by the letters to the editor published in response to the cover story on Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP.

A year behind Jealous at Columbia College, I remember spackling drywall with him in decrepit brownstones with Harlem Restoration Project, following his leadership on the destruction of the Audubon Ballroom, and listening to him frame claims for ethnic studies during an occupation of Low Library. He was, by turns, inspiring, charismatic, infuriating, and arrogant. I know that I am not the only member of my class who is proud that we went to Columbia with him, and consider him to be the most accomplished of a very accomplished generation.

Like many leaders, he is complicated, sometimes hyperbolic, driven, and not universally admired. However, his meteoric rise to national prominence is something all of us affiliated with Columbia can take pride in.

Only the most bigoted and ignorant of Columbia’s alumni could deny that Jealous is a source of pride for the College. The magazine was right to profile him.

Alyshia Gálvez ’95CC
New York, NY


Thanks for publishing the letters on the NAACP and the NRA. How frustrating it must be for conservative alumni — not of the New Left, as I was, not Obama supporters, as I am — to read articles like the one on Benjamin Jealous.

But at least they are reading the articles, and, more to the point, you are publishing their responses. Honest dialogue, not regurgitation of fixed positions, is the way we all learn. The letters section is a beginning.

Walter Jonas ’67GS
Milton, MA


I was heartbroken over the letters you received about your article on Benjamin Jealous. The first letter, about the NRA — I guess the KKK is also a civil-rights organization. When people think of civil rights, they think about the rights of all types of people.

I wonder if any of the letter writers are doing anything to fight for injustices around the world. It’s easy to complain. Do your part.

I also want to add that blacks are not mostly criminals. I’m black, and so are my two sons. I work in corporate America, live in a doorman building in Tribeca, and both my boys attend top private schools. Yet we still seem to have a hard time getting a cab, and my son gets stopped in Whole Foods occasionally, even though most of the people who steal from there are middle-aged white women. I work on the trading floor, and I’m the only black woman there. Instead of stopping and frisking black people, how about stopping them and giving them scholarships and jobs.

Dana Young
New York, NY


I am embarrassed by the letters in the Summer 2013 issue, which I presume are all written by white men, piling on NAACP president Benjamin Jealous. The claim that the NRA is a “civil-rights organization” is downright silly. The implicit racism in some of the other letters, supporting stop-and-frisk as something that young black men (and the rest of us) should be grateful for, and endorsing the Republicans’ efforts to suppress the votes of African-Americans and other minorities, is far worse. I, for one, am glad to have Benjamin Jealous add luster to the institution of which I am an alumnus.

Peter Schneider ’77CC, ’83LAW
Philadelphia, PA


The Summer 2013 issue of Columbia starts off with a bang: six letters complaining about various statements in the Benjamin Jealous article from the Spring issue. What did you offer your readers in the way of countervailing opinion to this litany of right-wing cant? Nothing. Not a word. When did Columbia Magazine become a house organ for Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes?

Alan P. Rosenberg ’64CC
Potomac, MD


It hurts, and makes me sad, that in our popular culture, it is in any way controversial to discuss the requirement to produce ID before voting. The claim of racism is so absurd it is hard to fathom. If one were to say (and no one does) that “all people of color must show their ID” — then yes, the claim would have some credence. But what kind of world are we living in when the simple requirement to show you are in fact a citizen (and the requirement is applied to all) is a problem?

Let’s keep serious discussion of real racism as the important subject it is. Why hurt the legitimate issue by claims of racism at the drop of any hat?

Jim Isbell
Anaheim, CA


Those who wrote to question the opposition of Benjamin Jealous and the NAACP to voter-ID requirements show a basic misunderstanding of the “problem” of voter fraud.

The only voter fraud against which the requirement to present identification at the polling place can guard is the attempt to vote under somebody else’s name. There are no studies suggesting that “vote stealing” of this sort is “epidemic,” as claimed by one of your correspondents. Further ID requirements will not stop “multiple voting, fraudulent registration, [and] illegal residents voting,” as another correspondent thinks. If election officials permit a vote to be cast under the same name twice, or if a name is in the registration records that should not be, then the remedy lies elsewhere.

Some letter writers disapprove of the opposition of Jealous and the NAACP to the way the NYPD carries out its stop-and-frisk policies because of overall crime statistics. Granted that blacks are disproportionately involved in crime, that is no license under our Constitution to target all blacks. It is one thing to stop a black man who fits the description of a black man who committed a robbery or other crimes. It is quite another to stop a randomly chosen black man because as a statistical matter he is more likely than a randomly chosen white man to have committed some crime concerning which the police officer has no particular information. Given the constitutional requirement that stops be based on reasonable suspicion or criminality, a disproportionate number of blacks would be stopped only if a disproportionate number of blacks acted suspiciously while walking down the street in the sight of a police officer. I have seen no claims that this is the case.

As to the writer who proposes that “maybe we need more stop-and-frisk, until guns taken is zero,” that approach is an argument for stopping everybody. And since that would not reach the guns that are at the moment stored in a home, perhaps we should search everybody’s home as well. Totalitarian governments work like that; ours does not.

Malvina Nathanson ’65LAW
New York, NY


FAX CHECK

Xerox may have marketed the first consumer facsimile machine in 1964, as Ed Silberfarb writes in his letter to the editor (Summer 2013), but the technology was in use during World War II. I bought a military fax machine as war surplus in the 1950s, and Western Union offered a facsimile service in the 1950s. I was covering Washington in those years for a Hawaiian radio station, and members of Congress had those fax machines in their offices to speed up communications with their district offices.

Gordon Eliot White ’57JRN
Hardyville, VA


NO BUTS

Perhaps John Simon will explain why, according to Jacques Barzun, the phrase “could not help but” is redundant (“The Unedited Man,” Winter 2012–13). In the very next issue of the magazine, Moira Egan’s use of it in a poem seems not redundant at all (“On Marriage,” Spring 2013): “And when I hear ‘a marriage on the rocks’ / (I’m sorry but) I cannot help but see / some murky, over-complicated cocktail / whose bitters have obscured all trace of sweet.”

The phrase “cannot help but” conveys the poet’s sense of trying but failing to refrain from doing something she feels she should not do. And even if the phrase is (at least partly) redundant, why is that a problem? Discourse is replete with redundancy; it helps communication to succeed. The trick is knowing how to use it effectively, as both Egan and Barzun appear to do.

Consider Barzun’s own quoted words: “I long ago learned to curb the spontaneous Ciceronian invective I might enjoy discharging from time to time.” Having already written “long ago,” why does Barzun need the -ed suffix on “learned”? Or, if grammar is disallowed as evidence: “And by the way, who has decreed that violence in a playwright is splendid and violence in a critic unforgivable?” The two instances of the word “violence” help to distinguish, as opposed to blurring, the two types of violence.

Joseph Davis ’92GSAS
Bayside, NY


John Simon responds: “The answer is obvious: redundancy is always wrong, and it is either ‘cannot help’ or ‘cannot but.’ Hence ‘cannot help but’ is redundant.”


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