Letters

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SURGE PROTECTION

Columbia Magazine Winter 2012-13In “Sandy’s Wake,” in the Winter 2012–13 issue, civil-engineering professor George Deodatis describes an option to defend the city against future floods: the construction of three storm-surge barriers in the waterways surrounding New York City. But he says that the “major investment” of $20 billion or more “to protect a relatively small percentage of the population” will have to be debated. Considering that a few miles of barriers would protect hundreds of miles of exposed shoreline in New York City, the Hudson Valley, and nearby New Jersey, the protected population does not seem that small. Considering that the MTA alone “got hit for an estimated $5 billion of damage,” $20 billion does not seem that major.

Douglas Hill ’58SEAS, ’77SEAS
Huntington, NY


I had a feeling of déjà vu reading your article about climate change and its impact on New York’s transport infrastructure. In 1999, as a sophomore, I wrote a term paper for Cynthia Rosenzweig’s class about the potential for flooding in the New York City subway. Even then there were plenty of sources indicating that, in certain circumstances, the storm surge of a hurricane could flood the subway system from the Battery to 14th Street and the East River tunnels. That’s before the added impact of sea-level rise or climate change or more-frequent extreme storms. And, as your article describes, there were also plenty of scientists already working on forecasts and pressing city officials to prepare themselves and the public infrastructure.

I also agree with Klaus Jacob that 9/11 delayed action for years on addressing the potential for natural disasters. I’m sure one could point to numerous reasons for this, but one might be found in the references at the back of my term paper. I cited an interview with an official at the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management who was responsible for preparing contingency plans for hurricanes and nor’easters and directing any evacuations. His office and the emergency control center were located on the twenty-third floor of 7 World Trade Center. It apparently had reinforced, hurricane-proof windows. I’d be interested to know where the city’s emergency control center is now.

Hannah Budnitz ’01CC
Senior Transport Planner
Reading Borough Council
Reading, UK

The Office of Emergency Management is located at 165 Cadman Plaza East in Downtown Brooklyn. — Ed.


BEAT THE RAP

I am grateful to David Krajicek for acquainting me with Lucien Carr and his central role in the formation of the Beat literary movement (“The Last Beat,” Winter 2012–13). I sense in that account a keen regret that Carr did not amount to more. Surely a young man so untethered by convention, so worldly, and so brilliant was destined for literary greatness. That Carr had a sensational murder under his belt before he turned twenty seems to make him even more a figure of intrigue and dark promise.

A young adulthood of public display and manic angst, a creative flurry culminating in a slim volume of elliptical, unruly poems, then on to madness and addiction, and finally, in Act IV, a tragic exit by needle, bottle, or shotgun’s oral rinse — perhaps this is the literary trajectory we have been denied by Carr’s unfortunate “rehabilitation.” It somehow doesn’t seem enough that Carr, despite heavy drinking, had a long and distinguished career as a news editor, mentored many young journalists, married, and managed to raise three children. (His son Caleb is a successful author and military historian.)

It is worth noting that it is the critics who most enjoy warming their hands around the bonfire of self-immolation. For the tortured artist, life is just that — torture, particularly on the backside of the parabola. When, in the Orson Welles film The Third Man, Harry Lime sneers at the Swiss — their five hundred years of brotherly love, democracy, and peace, and, yes, their cuckoo clock — it is well to remember that Lime was no da Vinci. He was no Michelangelo. He wasn’t even a Borgia. He was just a petty crook.

We all cheered and laughed as Amy Winehouse cried out “No, no, no” to rehab. Then we wept as she was laid to rest. I salute Lucien Carr for giving us all the finger, for choosing life. I even like his ’stache.

John V. Keller ’64CC, ’66GSAS
Charlotte, NC


I have not set foot on the campus since 1990, nor have I desired to visit New York City, but memories of Columbia came back to me when I read the Winter 2012–13 issue.

In David Krajicek’s sanitized article on the Beats, I discern the mythology of literary history at work. Having met many of the Beats in my own journeys across America, I must say that Krajicek might attempt more extended research before idealizing this group of criminal sociopaths. I did more hitchhiking as a boy than Kerouac did in his life, but I was not a dopehead, nor did I indulge in some of the other epicene adventures of the Beat Kultur. Ellis Amburn, whom I never met but whom I often saw on the campus, has written an honest book on Kerouac and the Beats, Subterranean Kerouac, which relates the story of the Kammerer death in detail. Lucien Carr should have spent at least twenty years in prison.

Michael Suozzi ’72GSAS
La Mesa, CA


David Krajicek’s article on Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg’s fabulous 1944 picture of Carr and Jack Kerouac on campus brought tears to my eyes when I read my copy of Columbia Magazine. I consider myself incredibly lucky, because Lou was not only the best editor I ever worked with but also a wonderful, caring, fascinating man. He mentored scores of journalists in his forty-seven years at UPI, and I was honored to have been among them, working most closely with him during my time on UPI’s science desk from 1990 to 1993. His impeccable news judgment enabled him to help me shape crisp, clear health-policy or science stories on deadline. He maintained his role as a mentor and friend to many of us right until the end.

Carr was incredibly low-key. Ginsberg and Burroughs were among the people who phoned or visited Lou from time to time in the newsroom — and most of us had no clue. I do recall how visibly saddened and subdued he was after both of them died in 1997.

Douglas Levy
Chief Communication Officer,
Columbia University Medical Center


It was good to read a story about Lucien Carr that didn’t end with Lou’s going off to serve time for murder.

I had not heard of Carr before I joined UPI in 1983, despite many hours spent at the West End and the imperative awareness of Jack Kerouac that comes simply from being at Columbia. But I learned very quickly at UPI that when the voice on the other end of the line cooed, “Hey, babe, what’s going on?” you were talking to God.

Lou never talked to us about his past, although it certainly added to his mystique. He did teach us what it meant to be a writer and an editor. He was the center of the UPI universe, both literally and figuratively. Sitting in the middle of our vast newsroom at his slot, in what would now seem like an antiquated ritual, he would hit the send button at 11:00 a.m. every weekday on the daily “sked” that let newspapers and TV and radio stations around the world know what the big stories of the day would be. And then he taught us how to make those stories sing.

Lou was also a stickler for accuracy and, in that light, I offer this correction: Lou never lived on a boat in the Potomac.

Whether inspiring the Beats or inspiring generations of reporters and editors, Lou really did roar, and those of us lucky to work with him were the better for it.

Robin Greene Hagey ’76BC, ’80SIPA, ’81JRN
Thousand Oaks, CA


“The Last Beat” should have focused on a more sinister aspect of the Lucien Carr story. The article claims that the thirty-three- year-old former scoutmaster David Kammerer followed Carr for several years to various schools before Carr became a close friend of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs as a nineteen- year-old freshman at Columbia.

It also states that one of William Burroughs’s friends called Kammerer a “stalker” of the apparently straight Carr. It is strange for an older man to follow the much-younger Carr around the country, especially in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Kammerer traveled to those schools that Carr attended before Columbia when Carr was perhaps seventeen and eighteen years old, and years earlier Kammerer was suspiciously “kind of a life coach” to Carr.

Was Kammerer a pedophile? Did he make proposals to Carr when he was a boy, long before the “offensive proposal” that led to his death in Riverside Park in 1944? The magazine should not romanticize a pedophile.

Richard Oshlo Jr. ’83BUS
Omaha, NE


Your article on Lucien Carr and his involvement with the Beats is an informative take on those fascinating oddballs, but it includes a surprising error. Its author says that on August 14, 1944, Jack Kerouac went from the West End up Broadway and “through the 116th Street gates.” He couldn’t have done that: the gates were not installed until long after 116th Street had been closed to traffic a decade later.

Andrew Alpern ’64GSAPP
New York, NY


REMEMBERING BARZUN

I had great pleasure reading John Simon’s remembrance of Jacques Barzun in the Winter 2012–13 issue. Many of us learned to write prose “simple and direct” in that celebrated seminar in which Lionel Trilling was notably gentle and Barzun notably unsparing. “The Unedited Man” recalled for me how at one memorable session it fell out unexpectedly that, quite as a matter of course, Barzun revised his own work five or six times before it came under the eye of an editor, hence his rejection of any changes “down to the last comma.”

Barzun was famed for his breadth of knowledge, but we were all stunned one afternoon when, leaning back in his chair and clasping his hands behind his head, he set forth a lengthy list of sources in various languages on Swedish cultural history in the early seventeenth century — this in response to the contention that there was little or nothing available on the subject. My most vivid memory of Jacques Barzun is of a meeting in his office where I was waxing eloquently discursive on Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, when he stopped me cold with the rejoinder, “He’s a pedant and a bore.”

Frederick M. Schweitzer ’72GSAS
Professor Emeritus, Manhattan College
Riverdale, NY


In his touching tribute to Jacques Barzun, John Simon recalls with regret that he never read his copy of Barzun’s two-volume Berlioz and the Romantic Century (1950), which he admits never left his shelf before he sold it with a number of other books.

That comment made me recall a letter that Barzun wrote to Columbia’s Gilbert Highet, one of the twentieth century’s most distinguished classicists, who published (only a year before the Berlioz books appeared) The Classical Tradition, on the Greco-Roman influences on Western literature. In his letter of April 5, 1950, Barzun extolled Highet’s volume, noticing with pleasure that Highet had connected Berlioz’s music with that of Gluck, while regretting that Highet “had (naturally enough) overlooked the little-known fact that Berlioz was one of the most intelligent readers and users of Vergil.”

Barzun had great respect for Highet, and Highet had great respect for Vergil, and although Highet did not mention Barzun’s “little-known fact” in any of his writings (as far as I have been able to determine), he did go on to publish a milestone book on Vergil: The Speeches in Vergil’s Aeneid (1972).

Robert J. Ball ’71GSAS
New York, NY

Robert J. Ball is a professor emeritus of classics at the University of Hawaii and the editor of Gilbert Highet’s papers.


COLDBUSTERS

In “Cloudy, with a chance of flu” (Explorations, Winter 2012–13), the following statement caught my attention: “cold, dry air is especially agreeable to flu viruses.”

This would fall just short of a tautology in some people’s minds. But in fact, cold and dry air causes the transit of the influenza virus into the body. We are all familiar with the phrase “I woke up with a cold.” This is because when night air, which is cold and dry, contacts mucous membranes, it dries out and thus disables the normally protective proteoglycan matrix we know as mucus. The mucous membranes thus become inflamed and damaged, which provides a pathway for viruses into the body.

Why is this important? Because it’s not Zicam, Resveratrol, or Essential Oil of Nirvana that defends us from disease but common sense.

I instruct patients to use a humidifier when the air cools and dries (or when it’s hot outside and they use the air conditioner full-time). This simple maneuver can save a lot of grief and can speed recovery dramatically (as can high doses of citrus juice, thanks to the citric-acid content and bioflavonoids).

Attila Mady ’92PS
Santa Rosa, CA


NEON’S PERKS

As a retired pharmacist, I found the review of New York Neon in the Winter 2012–13 issue to be interesting (“Signs of the Times”). Many pharmacists wanted drugstores to be well lit up with neon not only to identify the stores, but even more as a deterrent against robbery.

Julius Lampert ’56PHRM
Boynton Beach, FL


DONATION FOR DIVERSITY

In response to Gerald Zuriff’s letter criticizing the University’s effort to increase faculty diversity (Fall 2012), I have gone online to make a donation to Columbia. As a white alum and pre-K–12 school administrator, I am thrilled to see the University follow best practice and do what is right for both students and the larger community. Numerous studies have proved the value of racial diversity on campus; in particular, it increases critical thinking skills for all ethnic groups, especially white students who may come from more homogeneous high schools. I’m disappointed in Zuriff’s thinly veiled racist assumption that the University commitment to diversity means hiring unqualified teachers of color. In my experience recruiting teachers of color, most have to be more qualified than their white counterparts to get hired. And because diversity equals academic excellence, teachers of color bring an added value to their teaching, especially when they come from an underrepresented group.

Elizabeth Denevi ’96GSAS
Washington, DC


NOT TALKING ABOUT THE WEATHER

Since I graduated in 2009, I have always looked forward to reading engaging articles in each issue of Columbia Magazine; it is a fine way to stay in touch with the network of knowledge I’ve come to enjoy from my experience at the University.

However, I was disappointed in “Stormy Someday” (College Walk, Fall 2012). In it, Douglas Quenqua summarizes a recent climate-forecast meeting of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) on the Lamont campus and fails to adequately inform the reader of the natural limits of the science and the many advantages of such forecasts. While Quenqua takes a humorous approach, I fear he leaves the reader with the misconceptions that climate is the same as weather and that something is lacking in the forecast meeting.

The article accurately highlights the probabilistic nature of climate forecasts. However, the author’s quip about planning “an outdoor wedding in September” could mislead some readers. Long-term patterns in temperature and precipitation (climate) are, in many cases, easier to predict than short-term changes in the atmosphere (weather), due to the different time and length scales of energy balance in the earth system. Single weather events cannot be predicted from climate patterns — nor is the goal of climate studies or forecasts to predict the weather.

Matt D’Amato ’09GSAS
New York, NY


FRACK ATTACK III

I would like to respond to the second wave of letters on Paul Hond’s article “The Gas Menagerie” (Summer 2012) in the Winter 2012–13 issue.

First, to those who would dismiss the reactions of those in the energy field (me included) as self-serving comments from “entrenched and biased people”: arguing bad faith ignores the fact that the interests of the energy industry are aligned with those of the public when it comes to preventing and avoiding catastrophic environmental damage, since such contingent liabilities can bankrupt companies and wipe out investors.

Second, many commented on the ugly visual impact of the natural-gas extraction process, which is the elephant in the room in this whole debate. Fracking did not become an environmental cause célèbre until the upstream industry set its sights on the Marcellus Shale, which led to the culture shock of introducing oil and gas development into the more populated northeastern part of the country. While it is understandable that people would not want to live next door to a drilling pad with multiple pressure pumping units, it is intellectually dishonest to manufacture an environmental crisis to obscure a simple not-in-my-backyard argument against economic development.

Lastly, I am troubled by the fact that even the natural-science component of Columbia’s Core Curriculum has now become politicized, with the inclusion of global climate-change theory, along with Al Gore–contributed content that is, by one professor’s own admission, only “largely correct on the facts.” Thirty years ago when I took biology to satisfy my natural science requirement, there were objective standards, and politics did not come into play. No one in our lab class ever bothered to ask if the fetal pigs that we were dissecting had received a fair trial.

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


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