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Picturing French

Winter 2010-11

I am writing to commend Paul Hond for his article on Howard French (“The Power of Lingering,” Winter 2010–11). French is pictured as highly competent: a star reporter for the New York Times, speaks seven languages, and now a professor at Columbia. My mental image automatically identified him as a Caucasian, if not a WASP. Then came the zinger: “where his ancestors were slaves.” Brilliant writing and editing. Congratulations.

That said, is it now accepted usage to allow the solecism of number disagreement within a sentence? In the article “Grave Decisions,”I read “one in five . . . spends their days.” I see this in the pages of the Times, a book from Oxford University Press, and in other publications. Is this the result of succumbing to the late feminist mania when “his” or “him” became anathema? It grates.

Giulio D’Angio ’43CC
Philadelphia, PA

Midterm Exasperation

As a newspaperman who covered national politics in Washington for more than 50 years and who has voted for both parties, and occasionally could not vote for either party, I am writing in response to Lincoln Mitchell’s article “A Midterm Examination” (Winter 2010–11).

Mitchell is correct that the Obama White House failed to either solve the economic crisis or demonstrate the president’s empathy and concern. In a way, it was unfair of the voters to blame Obama for the continuing economic downturn, just as it was unfair of them to turn out George H. W. Bush in 1992 for the economic recession that was essentially over by that November.

Obama adopted the problem as his own by optimistically asserting that his stimulus package would reduce unemployment to 6 percent or less. He said it, and when it did not happen, the voters blamed him.

Mitchell is correct that the Republicans’ danger is in overreaching to satisfy the right wing of their party. The Tea Party has been mostly concerned with taxes and the deficit and in general has not taken up the social issues of the far right: abortion, immigration, gay marriage, and the like. They have their crazies, but Tea Party folks I know are primarily interested in fiscal issues.

Since cutting entitlements, though necessary, will not be popular, the two parties can only succeed by agreeing to take that step together, and not allowing either party to demagogue. Speaker John Boehner has made that clear. The Republican leadership and the White House need to agree to bite that bullet together. One hopes that President Obama will concur.

Gordon E. White ’57JRN
Hardyville, VA

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How sadly predictable. I picked up “A Midterm Examination” hoping for some balanced and nuanced thinking and found the usual array of patronizing, elitist, and knee-jerk clichés that liberals always deploy against Republicans, particularly when grasping for a way to explain the “shellacking” of the 2010 midterms.

Mitchell says the GOP swept the House in 2010 not by “presenting alternative policies or a rational critique of the Obama administration, but by allowing the most extreme and sometimes downright wacky attacks on the Democrats to drive the Republicans’ message.”

This is an absurdly simplistic analysis. What I remember of the fall run-up are the impassioned speeches and thoughtful writing of dynamic people like Eric Cantor ’89GSAPP, Carly Fiorina, Tim Pawlenty, Scott Brown, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio. Did Mitchell bother to read Rep. Paul Ryan’s “A Roadmap for America’s Future”?

These men and women, and their very serious policy prescriptions, were not hard to find in the months before the election—if Mitchell had chosen to do some real reporting. In fact, they were all over Fox News and the dreaded “right-wing talk radio.” I suppose the stereotype of simple-minded Republicans “cling[ing] to guns or religion,” as President Obama once put it, is reassuring to liberals — but it is not reality. If the Democrats want to win, they will have to stop underestimating and start listening.

Stephanie Gutmann ’90JRN
Piermont, NY

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A Midterm Examination” contains no mention of Lincoln Mitchell’s politics, while there is a note that he is an associate research scholar at Columbia’s Harriman Institute. This gives the impression that the author is presenting a scholarly, objective analysis rather than an editorial. While it is well known that almost all university professors are liberals, Columbia Magazine seems to be presenting an editorial as a piece of scholarship.

Mitchell gives reasons for the midterm vote without a shred of evidence. “The same electorate that was so anxious for change in 2008 punished the Democrats a short two years later for failing to turn the country around quickly enough,” he writes. There is no consideration of the reasons that the public didn’t like the policies of the Obama administration or the Democratic-led Congress, including the underhanded way it passed Obamacare or its freewheeling spending.

Whether or not you agree with Mitchell’s analysis — some of which appears to be objective and much of which appears to be left-wing talking points — the article should be presented as an editorial, with the usual disclaimer from the University.

Alvin Levy ’66GSAS
Commack, NY

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Lincoln Mitchell provides some useful insight about why the Democrats suffered stunning losses in the November elections, but I think he misses a couple of major points. The voters sent Democrats packing because they reject the radical growth of the federal government in recent years. For example, since the Democrats gained control of Congress in January of 2007, the national debt has increased from about $8.6 trillion to $14 trillion, up 63 percent in just four years. This debt is growing by more than $100 billion per month and is approaching 100 percent of GDP. Voters know the runaway spending had to be approved by Congress, and they know that this level of debt is reckless and unsustainable. They realize that it gravely threatens our economic strength and national security.

Mitchell states that the “constant talk about how the Democrats were taking away people’s rights to own guns, make their own decisions about medical care, or run their own businesses—all dramatic overstatements at best — resonated with many voters.” But these concerns are not “dramatic overstatements” at all. About 20 states have filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the health-care legislation. Now that the negative consequences of the legislation have become more apparent, the Obama administration has even exempted many large businesses and organizations from compliance with certain aspects of the new law.

President Obama’s party probably also lost support because of his fight with the state of Arizona, in which the Justice Department, under Eric Holder, is opposing that state’s efforts to reject illegal immigrants, even though the new Arizona law mirrors existing federal law. The fact that we have millions of illegals living in the U.S., consuming billions of dollars’ worth of public services (medical care, education, and the criminal justice system), makes a mockery of the rule of law and our national sovereignty.

James E. O’Brien ’66CC
Maitland, FL

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Lincoln Mitchell does an admirable job of balancing criticism of both parties in giving President Obama a midterm grade.

But his fair and balanced approach goes out the window when he cautions the Republicans on misreading the November elections. He avers that Republicans must not view the election results as “a triumph of the radical right-wing ideology.”

Since when are balanced budgets, smaller government, lower taxes, free trade, and deficit reduction radical? Perhaps in urging such caution, Mitchell reveals why progressives lost 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats in November.

Gerard J. Cassedy Jr. ’65BUS
Ponte Vedra, FL

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Lincoln Mitchell’s assessment of the 2010 elections reveals how difficult it has become to engage in dispassionate analysis.

I am particularly intrigued by the facility with which he dismisses as “far-out,” “absurd,” “unfathomably strange,” “nutty,” and “downright wacky” a number of perceptions of the Obama administration that to many Americans are self-evident truths. I find myself compelled to ask whether it is so unreasonable, especially when considering the conduct of the Holder Justice Department, to infer that the administration’s agenda is in fact anti-white, if not by design, then by inherent ideological bias? If it is so “wacky” to reach this conclusion, how does Mitchell account for the fairly well-documented white flight from the Democratic Party that is now taking place?

I agree with Mitchell’s assertion that Democrats “blundered badly” in letting so many allegations and accusations go unchallenged. But could this be because no effective refutation exists?

I cannot fault Mitchell for seeing things as he sees them, and I have benefited from his perspective, but I suspect that much of the electorate has seen what it does not wish to see: a president who stands athwart the American tradition and is instead the standard-bearer for an ideology that has been failing people around the world for over a century.

Chad Klinger ’66GSAS
Carbondale, CO

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I enjoy reading your very professionally presented articles, discussions, opinions, and accomplishments of our fellow Columbians.

In particular, I was really impressed with the brilliant article by our fellow alumnus Lincoln Mitchell ’96GSAS, who explained some of the reasons for the results of the 2010 elections.

As a follow-up piece, it would be fascinating to see how he might respond to some of the other reasons presented in my book, Barack Hussein Obama: Our New Messiah?

That may help us understand more fully why that election referendum on Obama was less favorable than we might have preferred.

Charles H. Doersam Jr. ’44SEAS
Old Lyme, CT

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I am seriously considering canceling my subscription because Columbia Magazine should either be politically unbiased or present two viewpoints. You should publish both right- and left-wing views instead of only publishing the liberal explanation for the landslide Republican win and historic Democratic loss that was one-sidedly defended in Lincoln Mitchell’s article.

Mitchell is incorrect when he states that “the president should not be expected to have to state that he is indeed a citizen,” because it very clearly states in the U.S. Constitution that the president must be a U.S. citizen. If it were concluded that the president did not possess a U.S. birth certificate, his presidency would be fraudulent.

Arthur Desrosiers ’03PS
Miami, FL

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In an ailing economy, aggressive increases in regulation, expensive new programs, and stimulus programs with extremely long-term horizons didn’t address the major concerns of many voters. Obama’s agenda had the wrong items at the top.

Lincoln Mitchell’s article mischaracterizes the Tea Party. While several of its candidates had quirky views on issues at the margin, the Tea Party fundamentally is about government size, scope, and spending levels. Members were gravely concerned about the massive deficits, and they often felt that Republican candidates better reflected that concern.

There was no mention of the independent voter, while in race after race it was the reduced support of the independent voters that led to the Democrats’ defeat.

Also not mentioned were the moderate Democrats who lost their seats as a consequence of pressure by congressional leaders to support legislation central to the Obama agenda, but unpopular in their home districts.

The change the electorate wanted in 2008 was not the change Obama and Congress delivered, and the results of the 2010 elections showed that clearly.

H. Kurt Christensen ’77BUS
Washington, DC

Final Options

I was surprised after reading David J. Craig’s article on Professor Iyengar’s studies that there was no mention of the state of Oregon’s Death with Dignity law (“Grave Decisions,” Winter 2010–11).

Oregon’s law allows individuals with terminal illnesses to choose the time and place of their deaths by allowing doctors to prescribe lethal amounts of medication, which the patient self-administers. As a 66-year-old, the simple idea that I can be in control of my own demise is a source of some comfort to me.

The people of Oregon passed the law in 1994. It has withstood several challenges by both religious opposition and the Bush administration. In the 12 years following its enactment, some 480 people have used the law’s provisions to end their lives. The numbers have fluctuated from year to year, but the average of 40 per year is far fewer than the opposition’s predictions.

Richard York ’85BUS
Portland, OR

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David J. Craig’s interesting but puzzling article says that U.S. doctors should be having more candid conversations with dying patients and their family members about the range of end-of-life options available to them. This is confusing, because earlier in the article Iyengar seems to be promoting the idea, common in France, that doctors should tell patients when it’s time to “pull the plug.” This stems from her idea that people who receive guidance from experts when making complicated decisions tend to be more at peace with the outcomes.

Iyengar’s research also shows that businesses can increase sales by providing shoppers relatively few options for a given product, as humans find choosing among a limited number of options is easier and more satisfying.

So why does she want American doctors to provide patients with still more information about end-of-life options, if this will presumably confuse them more? After what Iyengar said before, this makes no sense. Her ideas, when carried beyond business, are an embarrassment.

Albert Sanders ’41SEAS
New York, NY

David J. Craig responds:

Iyengar, in her interview with Columbia Magazine, said that dying patients in U.S. hospitals often spend long periods of time on life support because doctors have failed to discuss with them alternatives such as hospice in adequate detail, not because patients are overwhelmed by the number of end-of-life options available to them. (Her famous “jam study,” which showed that people often become indecisive when faced with many options, isn’t directly relevant here.)

Iyengar examines the psychology of decision making in many contexts, and her analysis has yielded conclusions as varied as our natures. She is not a theorist attempting to formulate a single, comprehensive explanation for how people make decisions. Our article should have made this more clear.

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Sheena Iyengar claims that there is little discussion of end-of-life issues in hospitals because “health-care providers earn lots of money sustaining people on life support and administering expensive tests in their final days.” As a practicing physician for more than 20 years, I have not found this to be true. More often than not, even the best-informed families insist on intensive end-of-life care for their loved ones. Reasons include living wills, family’s wishes in the absence of a living will, religious beliefs, and hope for the possibility of extending life, however briefly. Also, families requesting higher levels of such care generally bear no financial responsibility for the tests and procedures subsequently performed, as these are usually covered by Medicare, as well as other insurance carriers. Families often opt for less aggressive intervention in otherwise hopeless cases when they are exposed to at least some financial responsibility for the costs.

In terms of payments to hospitals, your readers should note: For many years, hospitals have been receiving lump-sum payments from Medicare, which are based upon each patient’s diagnosis, regardless of the length of stay in the hospital. If an elderly patient remains hospitalized on life support with inoperable cancer, for example, then the hospital receives a lump-sum payment; it loses money for each additional test performed and it loses money for each additional day that the patient is kept alive by artificial means. It is therefore in the hospital’s financial interest to persuade patients and their families to terminate aggressive care and allow terminally ill patients to die.

There are long-term acute-care hospital units (often referred to as LTACH units), which may be operated as for-profit entities separate and distinct from regular hospitals. These small LTACH units treat complex medical and surgical cases, some of which might exemplify the article’s financial-incentive claim. However, this is the exception, not the norm.

Charles Markowitz ’82CC
Lakewood, NJ

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Grave Decisions” thoughtfully addresses many aspects of decision making, including difficult decisions at the end of life.

However, I was surprised at the suggestion that end-of-life options are not discussed with patients because “health-care providers earn lots of money sustaining people on life support and administering expensive tests in their final days.” I think this is an unlikely explanation. Most physicians and hospitals are swamped with patients and have no need to inappropriately inflate their caseloads.

But a more prevalent reason for failure to discuss end-of-life options is that physicians have been trained to defeat disease at every opportunity. In recent decades the development of successful treatments for so many formerly fatal disorders (of heart, lung, kidney, liver, etc.) seems to have led some physicians to ignore the inevitability of death and to want to fight until the bitter end. It is true that the persistent use of every possible technological tool often makes the end unnecessarily bitter for the patient, and this is one of the major problems in end-of-life care today.

Peter Rogatz ’46CC, ’56PH
Port Washington, NY

Of Slippers and Slips

As a parent of a recent Columbia arts and sciences graduate, I have read with interest your high-quality alumni magazine and its fascinating and insightful articles over the past several years.

But one article has really stood out, and that is “The Art of Pleasing” (Winter 2010–11). Paul Hond captured the odyssey of Arlene Shuler and has written a beautiful biographical essay that places her and her journey to New York City Center’s leadership in the context of the times.

Thanks to Hond, and to Lois Greenfield for her fine accompanying photograph.

Neil Kauffman
Swarthmore, PA

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As always, I enjoyed reading Columbia Magazine. I especially enjoyed your article about Arlene Shuler — until I read the last sentence of the penultimate paragraph: “Then she lay the fabric at her feet.” Mr. Hond: Please repeat 10 times:

lay, laid, laid
lie, lay, lain.

It distresses me to see such an error in Columbia Magazine, a magazine that should stand for excellence in writing and scholarship.

Isabelle Emerson ’77GSAS
Las Vegas, NV

Strange Bedfellows?

In your College Walk article on Albert Ellis (“Grouped Therapy,” Winter 2010–11), your writer says that Ellis had an affair with Ayn Rand. Surely this was only an “affair” in the sense of “affaire d’honneur,” or a duel? There was no love lost between the two (see Ellis’s book Is Objectivism a Religion?). What evidence, if any, is there that there was ever a romance between them?

Ralph Linsker ’67CC, ’72GSAS
Millwood, NY

Warrior Scholars

I have been conducting research for a novel and screenplay on the life of my grandfather, Sherwood F. Moran ’16UTS, who, following Pearl Harbor, interrupted his work as a missionary in Japan to join the Marines at age 56, landing on Guadalcanal to humanely interrogate young fanatical, suicidal POWs.

Also during the war, his son, my late father, Japan-born, Japanese-fluent Sherwood R. Moran, served as a code breaker in the Pacific, where he was friends with Donald Keene and Ted de Bary. They were part of a small group who could read, write, and speak the enemy language, and of course now, with the passage of the decades, that small group has become much, much smaller.

Reading about Keene and de Bary in the past two issues of Columbia Magazine (Michael Shavelson’s fine review of Keene’s So Lovely a Country Will Never Perish: Wartime Diaries of Japanese Writers in the Fall 2010 issue, and Thomas Vinciguerra’s interesting College Walk about de Bary in the Winter 2010–11 issue) reconnected me with two men who were part of not just that noble effort, but of my father’s life, and whom I last saw during my graduate school days more than 40 years ago. I thank you. It is heartwarming to know that those two warrior scholars still walk among us.

David Moran ’70GSAS
Wayland, MA

Drawn Conclusions

Professor Robert Harpur, lampooned in Vardill’s 1766 cartoon “College Intrigues, or the Amors of Patrick Pagan” (Finals, Winter 2010–11) was more than just another one of Alexander Hamilton’s tutors. The historian J. T. Flexner credits Harpur with instilling the advanced math and physics (“natural philosophy”) skills that allowed the unqualified and slight former student to ascend to an artillery captaincy heavily reliant on such knowledge, a position of inestimable value throughout the Revolution, and well noted by General Washington.

What American history would we write if Harpur had left King’s for good in 1767, before Hamilton had a chance to meet him some five years later?

Parenthetically, Hamilton finely outfitted his artillery troops with the last of his funds from his St. Croix sponsors, money intended for tuition.

William A. Taylor ’70GSAPP
St. Croix, VI

Vetted

So Claude Suhl considers himself a veteran, but one who fought for his country by blocking the steps of Low Library to prevent the ROTC from recruiting on campus; by being dragged away from anti–Vietnam War rallies by the police; and by registering voters in South Carolina for Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Letters, Winter 2010–11).

I invite Suhl to visit his local VFW and American Legion posts armed with a copy of that issue of Columbia Magazine (since he has evidently never been armed with anything else) to discuss his veteran status with the real veterans, who sacrificed so much by going in harm’s way for their country. I am sure the ensuing discussions will be lively and may even help round out Suhl’s education.

David Clayton Carrad ’66JRN
Augusta, GA

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Claude Suhl is by no means a veteran. What he was demonstrating were the rights to protest and carry out the act of free speech against the very people who provided it to him.

The ROTC does not or did not recruit. The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is a college-based officer commissioning program that men and women voluntarily elect to pursue. It also provides financial aid to those pursuing a career in the military. By “prevent[ing] the ROTC” from being on the Columbia campus, you made it more difficult for young Americans, including me, to utilize a fantastic program and pursue a career of their choosing.

Lt. Col. John H. Gadjo ’86SEAS
Hershey, PA

A Complex Syndrome

In regard to Zev Lewinson’s letter about mercury causing autism (Winter 2010–11), anecdotal evidence is usually useless. Millions of people are walking around with mercury fillings and no thyroid problems. Coincidence does not mean cause. Lewinson should look up the Danish study in which two groups of children were followed, one given vaccines stabilized with mercury and the other with mercury-free vaccines. There was no difference in the incidence of autism between the two groups. So much for the mercury theory. Autism is a syndrome complex and has multiple causes; so far not one has been shown to be directly related.

Joseph Marcus ’72PS
Great Neck, NY

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