Letters

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HEALING POWER

I am writing to express my gratitude for “The Wages of Health,” by Paul Hond (Winter 2013–14). I work at Columbia and studied at the School of Continuing Education, so I am always interested in the University’s initiatives and news. I read every issue of Columbia Magazine from cover to cover, never failing to learn about fascinating research and scholarship.

“The Wages of Health” moved me deeply. Just reading in the news about the attack on Prabhjot Singh soon after it occurred was disturbing, but now having had the chance to learn more about his story, I realize just how tragic that event was. The work that Prabhjot Singh and his wife, Manmeet Kaur, do to harness the healing power of communities and fix the health-care system is phenomenal and urgently needed. I wish some of the youngsters who were ignorant enough to attack Singh would one day learn about the importance of the work of the man whom they might have killed in their brutal stupidity, if not for the intervention of passersby. Singh’s and Kaur’s generosity of spirit and dedication to bettering the lives of others are remarkable, and I find their story most inspiring. They truly are the treasures of Harlem and of the world.

This expands my appreciation for all the ways in which Columbians are making the world a better place. Thank you for putting together such an enjoyable and stimulating resource.

Kate Townsend ’11SCE
New York, NY


What’s required to maintain health is education. Kaur and Singh may feel good about their work, but it robs the “served” population of control over their own lives. Ladies Bountiful are destructive, despite all their good intentions. Everyone knows with what the road to hell is paved.

Dolores Dembus Bittleman ’52GS
New York, NY


TEAM SPIRIT

It was good to see Mamadou Diouf’s reflections in the Winter issue on the life and work of Nelson Mandela (“Bigger than South Africa”). It is important for the world to remember the accomplishments of Mandela and the African National Congress, and learn to apply those lessons to the pursuit of peace in the rest of the world.

There is one statement that needs correction. Professor Diouf writes, “While most people predicted bloodshed, Mandela single-handedly ensured that South Africa would not go through a racial civil war.” While the contribution of Mandela to the relatively peaceful South African transition was an enormous contribution, he did not do it single-handedly. The ANC, with Nelson Mandela playing a key role, had been working diligently since the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955 to ensure that the transition would be peaceful. In fact, even while Mandela was in prison, the ANC was working for peace in every place where they were organized, including in the USA.

I was somewhat active in the anti-apartheid movement in the USA in the 1980s, and I had occasion to meet some of the exiled members of the Southern California chapter of the ANC, who were working to line up American support for their efforts to establish a legitimate, elected government in South Africa. They made it clear that they were strongly in favor of peace between people of different races, and that they were as much opposed to black oppression of whites as they were to white oppression of blacks. So when Mandela came out of prison advocating for peace and reconciliation, he was not just speaking for himself; he was speaking for the ANC.

The success of any revolution against heavy-handed oppression has to be a team effort, and Mandela was a team player.

Carl Jakobsson ’62CC, ’63SEAS
Bremerton, WA


THE GREAT DIVIDE

The irony must be lost on whoever wrote the headline, “Bill de Blasio rallied the five boroughs with his message of two New Yorks. He wasn’t the first Columbian to bring the city together” (“Tales of One City,” Winter 2013–14). If progressives like de Blasio think that they can bring people or cities together by raging in populist fashion about us versus them, and that such agitprop leads to economic development, then it’s time for educational institutions like Columbia to reconsider their curricula. Rather than advocate for a political and economic climate that champions new opportunity, we seem to be in an age in which the mantra of politicians is take rather than earn, and on top of it all, we call this fairness or social justice. I wish good luck to de Blasio as he watches his tax base flee the city.

Paul J. Hauptman ’83CC
St. Louis, MO


I read the feature in the last Columbia Magazine about the newly elected mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. It’s quite an accomplishment and a great story.

I’m curious why the magazine has not yet run a feature on the alum who got elected governor of Montana in 2012. Steve Bullock, a Columbia Law graduate, is a Democrat who won the governor’s seat in a red state. Bullock has been in the news quite a bit recently because he appointed his lieutenant governor, John Walsh, to fill Senator Max Baucus’s recently vacated seat.

I know Montana is typically not on Columbia Magazine’s radar, but there are many Columbia alumni outside of New York City who warrant some recognition.

Larry Loo ’91PH
San Francisco, CA


STRIKING A CHORD

I just started reading the Winter issue and was bowled over by “Get Happy,” the College Walk article about the jazz pianist Dick Hyman. So cute, so well written, and from such a clever perspective. My kudos to the author, Paul Hond. I have never (ever) seen anything this well written in an alumni publication. I would have been happy to read this in the New Yorker. My best regards for a job more than well done.

Lisa Halliday ’83BUS
Tracy, CA


BALD LANGUAGE

I am disappointed to see the juvenile writing that escaped your editorial oversight in the Winter 2013–14 issue of Columbia Magazine. In the College Walk article “Drone Onward,” Douglas Quenqua writes, “The crowd included several current and former members of the US military (bald heads and broad shoulders abounded).”

Surely you are aware that women, as well as men, are now regular members of the US military. But more importantly, you have permitted a stereotype of a kind that is generally considered unacceptable nowadays; would you have failed to edit an article that described middle-aged women in terms of their complexions and the size of their hips? Are you trying to discourage members of the military from participating in Columbia’s seminars, by disparaging those who participate?

Edward Tabor ’73PS
Bethesda, MD


AGE APPROPRIATE

I was interested to read about advances in prostate-cancer detection and the progress being made in differentiating between more and less aggressive forms of the disease (“Gene test could inform prostate-cancer treatment,” Explorations, Winter 2013–14). Unfortunately, a phrase in the second paragraph is misleading: “Since the disease strikes men late in life ...”

While it is true that 60 percent of prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of sixty-five, the disease does strike younger men (note that 40 percent are age sixty-five and under), and while rare, cases in men under the age of forty are not unheard of. To lump every prostate-cancer sufferer into the “old men” category, with the implication that they’re going to die soon anyway, marginalizes both those who suffer from the disease and the importance of the research being done to address it.

Roger Cunningham ’82BUS
Longwood, FL


WAR WISDOM

I was disturbed by the letters in the Winter issue written in response to the piece by veteran Michael Christman (“Shades of Green,” Fall 2013). Many of us have good reasons to oppose this country’s wars.

An Ivy League education is supposed to teach us to think and to question. Revelations about the Vietnam War and the Iraq War have shown that those who opposed these wars were correct in being suspicious of their validity. Wars, no matter how small or “surgical,” invariably result in the maiming and death of thousands of soldiers and civilians, as well as the displacement of large populations. Roughly six thousand US soldiers have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than fifty thousand have come back wounded. That does not count those returning with traumatic brain injury and hearing loss. In Iraq alone, civilian casualties are more than one hundred thousand, with estimates of three to five million Iraqis being displaced because of violence and the destruction of basic utilities like plumbing and electricity. The cost to the United States of the Iraq War alone has been more than two trillion dollars. It is irresponsible to ignore these consequences and to blindly support every call to war solely to conform to a phony but popularized version of patriotism. To my mind, it shows the utmost respect for military personnel when one makes sure that they are sent into harm’s way only for legitimate reasons.

Louis Erlanger ’73CC
Brattleboro, VT


Michael Christman’s report from Afghanistan was highly interesting, but the answer to his question about why so few other elite youths were there to share America’s “burden” is relatively simple. Most educated youths are too sensible to risk their lives as part of an occupying force in exchange for a decent salary and the promise of educational benefits. What is disheartening about Christman’s testosterone-charged e-mails is that a very similar account could have been written by a German soldier from occupied Poland, a Japanese soldier from Manchuria in World War II, or a British or Russian soldier in Afghanistan in earlier days. Sadly, American (and Afghan) lives are being wasted in a similar doomed effort to extend the American sphere of influence and redefine “defense.” The Peace Corps was founded to give young people like Christman significant experience without either killing or being killed, maimed, or psychologically damaged.

Charles Alverson ’64JRN
Belgrade, Serbia


SCIENCE, NOT FICTION

The 40 percent increase in greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution is well documented (Letters, Winter 2013–14). Analysis of this fact with tools developed by use of basic laws and principles of physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics tells me that this rapid increase is cause for extreme concern.

Keep publishing facts and analysis based on science. Do not let pressure from those who form opinions based on their political ideology, religious beliefs, or economic interests stop you from publishing rational analysis of fact-based science. Keep up the good work.

David E. Bruderly ’71SEAS
Jacksonville, FL


MISSILE SWAP

Gary D. Chance writes a detailed and interesting letter chiding President Kennedy for keeping secret the swap he negotiated behind the scenes to prevent nuclear war: trading our Turkish missiles for Khrushchev’s Cuban ones (Winter 2013–14).

But we should remember that American chauvinism at the time held that making deals with commie dictators was an outrage, and this feeling could well have killed the deal. The entire Joint Chiefs of Staff and Vice President Lyndon Johnson were adamant that the president invade Cuba. Apparently only JFK and his brother Robert understood that in Moscow, Khrushchev’s advisers were equally adamant and divided. Why else would there have been two messages from the Soviet leader, the first friendly, the next combative? Robert Kennedy suggested they ignore the second and answer the first. This and the exchange of missiles saved the day. After all, Khrushchev had to be given something to show his own people that he hadn’t been weak.

I am, for the most part, against government secrecy. In this case I make an exception. Was this secrecy a “huge mistake,” as Chance says? Well, look at it this way: without it, I might not be here writing this letter.

Leon Arden ’52GS
London, England


Gary Chance’s letter is only partly correct. An astute news reader in 1962 knew that the Kennedy administration had agreed to swap our missiles in Turkey for the Soviets’ in Cuba, though the White House floated several cover stories.

Chance swallows one of them by describing the Jupiter missiles as “aging.” How old could they have been in 1962? And who’s to say that the wily Khrushchev didn’t introduce them into Cuba just to force such a swap? If he did, it was a major win for the Soviets.

Richard A. Cody ’61LAW
Marstons Mills, MA


HOFSTADTER REDUX

Could Paul Hond write an updated version of his article “Politics for Grown-Ups: Revisiting Richard Hofstadter’s ‘Paranoid Style’ in the Age of Obama” (Winter 2008–09)? It’s needed now that the dreadful Tea Party and Republicans have almost completely destroyed government and democracy.

Marie G. Ludwig ’78NRS
Armed Forces Europe


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