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He’s On Board

Columbia Magazine Winter 2014-15Your Winter 2014­-15 issue is beyond praise; its content is exemplary and outstanding, especially Paul Hond’s exhaustive article “The Ebola Web.” It told me more about Ebola and the dedication of the people fighting the disease, including numerous Columbia alumni, than all that had been published in the national press. Meanwhile, the Explorations article “Necessity’s inventions: design challenge takes aim at Ebola,” informed me of the interdisciplinary work of a diverse group of faculty and student volunteers who are creating better protective clothing for the public-­health workers on the infection scene, and better ways of disinfecting such clothing after use.

When, added to that, I found Robert O’Meally’s study of Romare Bearden’s Odyssey art, the essays by four Indian writers, some fascinating book reviews, and various other material of interest, I was lost in contemplation of beautiful and serious work by serious folk presented in a most attractive format. You have reached a new peak of excellence!

I write this as a member of the initial editorial board, to which I was appointed for no apparent reason other than my contemporaneous alumni-­affairs involvement, as I had never been involved in any literary efforts at all. But you make me truly proud to have played a small role in getting Columbia Magazine off the ground.

Thank you, thank you!

Joseph B. Russell ’49CC, ’52LAW
New York, NY

Life As We (Don’t) Know It

As someone with a deep interest in our origins, space, and life beyond this planet, I appreciated the article “Whose Galaxy Is It?” by Caleb Scharf (Winter 2014­-15). It was encouraging to read the discussion about the possible variety of unknown life forms and speculation about how living organisms could be transported from one planet or moon to another. I have always wondered why so many scientists keep focusing on discovering life as we know it, with the emphasis on water as a fundamental component in any search. Rather, it seems to me — and the article suggests as much, too — that life may exist in utterly unfamiliar forms. For example, life may exist of which energy is the fundamental component. Could a methane sea combined with the energy of volcanism support a life form so strange that it indeed gives “alien” an extraordinary meaning? Saturn’s moon Titan may reveal such a possibility.

I have often imagined that our universe is a garden and the planets are flowers, with asteroids and comets serving the function of bees in a garden by pollinating planets with organisms and other life­-supporting material throughout the universe. The universe is a living, thriving ecosystem; size should not blur that vision.

When Carl Sagan stated, many years ago, that there are more stars than grains of sand on all the beaches on Earth, it was hard to grasp that immensity. There are surely more planets than there are stars, and it is very likely that life, in whatever form, exists by sheer force of numbers. Will we be able to recognize it?

G. Lynn Thorpe ’77LAW
New Rochelle, NY

Hard Copy

Your Web-­only feature about the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese (“Gray Gardens,” www.magazine.columbia.edu/graygardens) should have been in the hard copy of the magazine. It was far more interesting and relevant than half the articles you did publish.

Rabbi Hillel A. Cohen ’63CC
West Hempstead, NY

Numbers Games

All lives matter (“Students respond to racially charged grand­-jury decisions,” News, Winter 2014­-15). Department of Justice (DOJ) statistics may help put some racial grievances in context. They tell us that for at least the last three decades, interracial homicide in America has been mostly black on white, by a ratio of two or three to one, or even higher if we restrict ourselves to homicides by strangers.

The DOJ charts I found only go back to 1980, but I suspect the trend is older than that.

Taras Wolansky ’74CC
Jersey City, NJ

Irish Ayes

A brief comment on two items that appear in the Winter 2014­-15 edition of Columbia Magazine. The first: a letter from William Claire ’58CC. I have been a friend of Bill’s for almost half a century, and an initial subscriber to his literary magazine Voyages, which to my knowledge is still the only serious publication of its genre ever published in our nation’s capital. His letter was, in my view, a fine reminiscence about his teacher, mentor, and friend Mark Van Doren.

The second is directed to the excellent review of Colm Tóibín’s latest novel by Kelly McMasters. As someone more than a little familiar with life in Ireland (including Wexford) and the writing of Tóibín, I found McMasters’s review first-­rate. She has poignantly portrayed the loneliness of Nora Webster and the confusion of Donal.

My kudos to Bill, McMasters, and Columbia Magazine.

John D. Hardy ’58LAW
Gloucester, MA

Cookbook Diplomacy

Thank you for the Finals article “Bake, Lion, Bake!” in the Winter 2014-­15 issue. Though it was somewhat bitter to read about my alma mater’s involvement in the fundraising effort for a war that caused the suffering of civilians, including my (now happy) grandparents, it was illuminating to learn about the human side of Americans during World War II. I cannot stop thinking about what would or would not have happened if civilians of the opposing powers knew each other. I’m glad I went to Columbia and got to know so many nice Americans, an opportunity my grandparents’ generation missed. I’m proud of it, and so are my grandparents.

Aiko Setoguchi ’12GS
Saitama, Japan

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