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Currency Events

Columbia Magazine Winter 2011-12Your in-depth interview with David Beim, “Too Late for the Euro?” (Winter 2011–12) was both fascinating and disturbing. It was a sad conclusion that an exit strategy is under consideration and that the euro may become history.

Josh Weil’s short story, “Half of All of What Was True,” was a beautiful account of human nature at work.

Having recently become a New Yorker, residing here in Morningside Heights, I was intrigued by the book review of Harlem and the piece on the New-York Historical Society.

The issue was interesting and informative throughout.

Victor Levin ’56CC, ’59LAW
New York, NY

With all due respect to David Beim (“Too Late for the Euro?”) and the many commentators on this side of the Atlantic — particularly in the pages of the Wall Street Journal — since the 2008 crisis, I think the most important factor arguing for the ultimate sustainability and eventual strengthening of the euro is consistently overlooked. That factor is the general high level of intelligence of the European electorate. Measures to cut government programs are rarely popular at first. Quite possibly the level of current social expenditures is not “sustainable” if one views it as a continuing ascending curve. But the politics of any democratic state and the pressures being exerted today virtually assure this will not be the case. And the electorates will come to grips with it. Greece might indeed depart the euro temporarily, although even this seems highly unlikely.

The most likely result is a long period of consultation and gradual reform among the countries of the EU and a stronger euro in five years’ time at the most. A result not unlike what will probably transpire in the US as we come to terms with the same problems, only slightly less serious.

John V. N. Philip ’90LAW
New York, NY

Thanks for sending me another terrific edition of Columbia Magazine. The articles are poignant, well written, and educational. They give me inspiration and always enrich my knowledge of New York and the many offerings the city provides for its visitors. The interview with David Beim (maybe Britain has been right all along not to adopt the euro) and Stacey Kors’s article, “Tell It on the Mountain,” were particularly fascinating. Articles like these and others make me look forward to receiving the magazine each quarter. I can’t thank you enough for such high-quality reading.

Charles A. Garabedian
Boston, MA

It is unfortunate that the accuracy of Professor Beim’s interesting article is immediately called into question by the following sentence: “Of the ten EU members that did not adopt the euro, only four meet the Maastricht criteria: Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Estonia.” The last, having adopted the euro very recently, could have slipped past the good professor’s eye, but Luxembourg has been in the euro group from the very beginning.

Harold Beyerly ’49CC
Vienna, Austria

I shall not engage in predictions of the future of the euro, but when prognosticating by extrapolating from the current state of affairs, one at least should get the most basic facts right. David Beim says that under the EU’s December declaration of intent, “debts would have to be reduced to below 60 percent of GDP and a deficits to below 3 percent of the GDP . . . Only Finland [meets these criteria today]. A treaty change would require the signatures of all twenty-seven EU members, which is horrifically difficult to achieve. Of the ten EU members that did not adopt the euro, only four meet the Maastricht criteria: Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Estonia.”

First, Estonia is a member of the Eurozone. Second, Luxembourg adopted the euro from day one.

Third, Estonia is below the 60 percent indebtedness and 3 percent deficit ceilings, and indeed has the lowest indebtedness of any country in the European Union, let alone the Eurozone, at 6.1 percent of GDP. In comparison, Greece’s debt is 159.1 percent of GDP, Italy’s stands at 119.1 percent, and Portugal’s at 110.1 percent.

Hence, fourth, Finland, our northern neighbor, is decidedly not the only country to meet these requirements.

And fifth, Luxembourg also meets the indebtedness and deficit requirements.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves ’76CC
Tallinn, Estonia

Toomas Hendrik Ilves is the president of Estonia.


I was surprised to see Camilo José Vergara’s “The Looming Towers” in your Fall 2011 issue. I worked from 1963 to about 1995 as a magazine writer-editor-photographer and spent many years photographing the World Trade Center, work that culminated in a show at Brooklyn’s Gallery on Dean in 2006. In all that time, I had never heard of anyone with the same interest.

My work had its roots at the J-school, where I had a Sloan-Rockefeller fellowship in 1962–63 in the science-writing program. After I graduated, I freelanced for, among others, the third edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia, where I updated articles that dealt with the world’s tallest buildings.

When plans for the World Trade Center were announced, I wrote “Sorry, Empire State” for the April 1964 issue of Hearst’s Science Digest. (My lead was, “In 1970, visitors to the Empire State Building will have to look up to see the sights.”) I became interested in following the towers’ construction photographically. Fortunately, I had already taken photos of the Cortlandt Street Radio Row and the Washington Market, which were flattened to make way for the World Trade Center.

By the time the Twin Towers were finished, I lived in Park Slope and could shoot them from my roof. On the morning of their destruction, my son, who was working on Water Street, warned me by phone that something was up. I saw the first burning building on TV. When I went up to the roof, all I could see was a veil of smoke, so I had to watch the rest inside. At the end, I could readily understand why the floors caved in succession, because I had described the columnless construction in my article. Such construction made more rentable space and thus raised the economic height limit.

Bruce H. Frisch ’63JRN
Norfolk, CT

Sometimes a Cigar...

Professor Paul Henry Lang / Columbia University ArchivesThomas Vinciguerra’s College Walk article about smoking (“Smoking Rules,” Winter 2011–12) reminded me of my student days in the Columbia music department, which was housed in the journalism building at the time. I can still remember the emanations from the pipes and cigars of musicology professors and new graduate students.

Vinciguerra states that Professor Paul Henry Lang smoked cigars. My recollection is that he smoked a pipe. The cigar smoker was Professor Erich Hertzmann. It is not important, but I thought you would want to know.

Isabelle Cazeaux ’61GSAS
New York, NY

Photographic evidence suggests that Lang also smoked cigars. — Ed.

More Smoke

I don’t smoke and am the last person to defend such a filthy habit. Cigarettes are clearly harmful, but their effect is unpredictable and idiosyncratic. We should do all we can to discourage smoking, but we should limit our arguments to the objective evidence and refrain from unsupportable dogmatism.

I admit more than two thousand patients per year to my hospital and see a cross section of pathologies. I have admitted more nonsmokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than smokers or ex-smokers; most of these patients also deny overt secondhand exposure. It is the same with atherosclerosis, cancer (lung cancer excepted), and most pathologies strictly ascribed to smoking.

Smoking prevents obesity, calms the smoker, and is alleged to increase mental acuity; smokers cite these perceived benefits as the primary reason for their reluctance to quit. The untenable exaggeration of the little hard data we do have regarding the effects of smoking plays into the hands of these holdouts.

The theatrics around the antismoking crusade not only discredit those who resort to fuzzy logic, but also compromise an overall laudable effort to improve public health. There are no prospective case-control studies of smokers. Nor will there ever be, since a properly designed study would require fifty years and millions of participants.

Embarrassingly, smokers are right to protest that we don’t understand the extent and mechanisms of harm. Statistics ignore herd immunity and exposure to volatiles and particulates since the onset of the industrial age and don’t translate into the real world.

I understand the zeal that makes my colleagues give free rein to their imaginations. This scourge is particularly bothersome because it’s a result of a policy to subjugate a worldwide market regardless of the consequences. Cigarette vendors have been the most successful in history in fostering addiction and have killed millions.

Mob rule and tyranny of any kind is reprehensible. Subversion of legislation to impose the majority’s will without proper justification is inconsistent with our supposedly liberal society. Before we intrude into our fellow citizens’ private lives and private right to make their own choices, we should reflect on the facts and refrain from falling victim to the prevailing hype.

Attila Mady ’92PS
Santa Rosa, CA

Reactive Reaction

Stacey Kors’s article on Katori Hall gave an illuminating account of how the playwright’s artistry and development as an artist have been informed by her roots, her race, and her encounters with racism. Kors lost ground in allowing Hall’s story to speak, however, when Kors labeled Hall “racially reactive.” This term appears to reflect Kors’s judgment that three African-Americans’ plays debuting on Broadway this season are sufficient to erase a legacy, as well as a future, not promised to sustain the present. It appears in the same vein as those who have proclaimed our society to be postracial now because we have a black president. Rather than coin a term that casts the anger of injustice as a pejorative emotional response, I suggest Kors look into her own reactivity and assumptions.

Thandiwe D. Watts-Jones ’73SSW
New Rochelle, NY

The Real Thing

J. D. Scrimgeour’s poem “Me and Kenneth” (Fall 2011) shook me back to those days when Professor Koch would hold court in Hamilton. The grade-grubbing wannabe poets, the already poets, and voyeurs like me enjoyed his twice-weekly performances — and they really were performances, for he could be as effusive as anyone could be in a tweed blazer a size or two too small, posing at will with book in one hand, the other at the hip, while reading one of his favorite odes.

I was probably one of a few engineers to make it for two semesters of his modern poetry class. It’s also likely that Koch was in disbelief when I showed up for the second one — his meager grade for the first semester having proved to be no deterrent — knowing he would once again have to read my awkward attempts at his imitation assignments. But that spring, when he read Apollinaire, Rimbaud, and O’Hara while New York City was falling apart, the sidewalk cracks and the girlfriend’s place, as in Scrimgeour’s piece, took on an unreal veneer and the world seemed an endless possibility. Come to think of it, he did spend a lot of time telling us about other books we might like. Thanks for the reminder, J. D.

A. Mauricio Matiz ’79SEAS
New York, NY

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