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Issue-Minded

Columbia Magazine Winter 2015

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading the entire Winter 2015 issue of Columbia Magazine. I especially liked the Explorations section, with all the reports of cutting-edge research. Keep up the great work.

Kathy Cortes ’76PH
Morganville, NJ


The reference to “the evidence that [Thomas Jefferson] fathered children with at least one of [his slaves], Sally Hemings” is categorically false. There is no evidence at all that Jefferson fathered children with slaves. The infamous DNA experiment some years ago did not prove paternity, because Jefferson’s own DNA was not used. Instead, DNA of Jefferson’s descendants was employed; that can only prove a family relationship — and there were a dozen or so male Jeffersons (including Jefferson’s brother) who could have fathered Hemings’s children. Until Jefferson’s own DNA is tested, there can be no answer based on science. Ever since this media-distorted story started, I have urged that Jefferson be exhumed to obtain his DNA so this question can be settled. However, the perpetrators of this apparent myth are not interested in a final resolution. Why are they so afraid of discovering the truth via the tools of science?

Philip Ranlet ’83GSAS
Middle Village, NY


Founding Fathers' Secret

When Alexander Hamilton entered King’s College in 1774, he expected to graduate three or four years later (“Hamilton Is in the House,” Winter 2015). His education was interrupted by the American Revolution in 1775. He resigned from the college and quickly joined George Washington’s staff as an aide-de-camp. His rise to Founding Father was meteoric. As your article noted, despite his relatively short life, he was the author of most of the Federalist Papers, New York’s sole signer of the Constitution, first secretary of the Treasury, architect of our financial system, visionary of an industrial America, father of the Coast Guard, inspector general of the Army, founder of the Federalist Party, and more. Mind-boggling! In addition to all this, he married into New York high society and became one of the top practicing lawyers in that state on his way to becoming a very rich man.

But like his contemporary, Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton had his dark side. Historians have ignored or downplayed this aspect of his life, but it was evident in his social life, his sexual activities, and his relationships with women, all of which throw a depressing light on his moral character. His quite public bedding of Angelica Schuyler, his sister-in-law, whenever his wife was pregnant, did not prevent his face from being recognized in most of the brothels along the East Coast. Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds became the great sex scandal of the day. So, though Columbia is justly proud of her student, she must take a dose of that bad with all the good, and remember that Alexander Hamilton is a mixed bag, with justifiably honored contributions to this country’s development, but also shortcomings that prevent his being idolized too much by sensible historians.

John B. Moses ’45PS
Rexford, NY


In 1998, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which administers the Monticello historic site, commissioned a comprehensive review of all the evidence, scientific and historical, that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings. The foundation’s report, released in 2000, concluded that Jefferson was most likely the father of all six of Sally Hemings’s children. Ten years later, the foundation affirmed its support for this conclusion and noted that it had become the consensus view of most historians. The report — including a dissenting voice — can be read online at www.monticello.org. — Ed.


Border Patrol

In “The Cosmopolites” (Winter 2015), Atossa Araxia Abrahamian wonders if national borders are still relevant. Does she care about freedom of speech and the press? Equal treatment for homosexuals and women? Then borders are relevant. The very fact that people are leaving their places of birth and traveling largely to Western Europe and the United States rather than to — say — Saudi Arabia and China shows that borders are indeed relevant. Western Europe and the United States have democratic governments and free-market economies that have made them strong and successful. If they are to continue to be successful, the French, the Americans, and the English need to be taught to appreciate and honor their national value systems and not dilute them with some vague notion of global citizenship. The Western democratic tradition is under great stress at the moment because of the rising tide of political and economic migrants. US and Western European leaders have a great task ahead of them: to help those in need while at the same time preserving what has made their nations the most successful and humane places on earth.

Carol Crystle ’64GSAS
Chicago, IL


Positive Energy

Thank you for Rebecca Shapiro’s story “Power for the People” (Winter 2015), about the impressive success of Donnel Baird ’13BUS in establishing a company that helps low-income communities convert to clean energy and reduce their energy costs. I suspect that it was fairly easy for Baird to decide to meet with US Department of Energy representatives to present his ultimately successful application for a two-million-dollar contract at the cost of failing a course. But the unexpected bonus that he received of being forced to take a makeup course in which he learned many of the things he needed for assuring the success of his new company must have been particularly sweet.
On the other hand, I wonder at the arrogance of the professor who could not make an accommodation to allow Baird to make up the missed presentation — particularly since this occurred in the business school, where one would expect entrepreneurship to be prized rather than discouraged.

Herbert Weinblatt ’62CC, ’63SEAS
Chevy Chase, MD


Do You Remember 1968

Photograph by Richard Howard

In 2008, while I was preparing a version of my documentary film A Time to Stir for the fortieth anniversary of the 1968 Columbia University campus protests, Columbia Magazine ran a cover story on my research project (“Stir It Up,” Spring 2008). Eight years later, work continues apace. Thus far, more than five hundred interviews have been filmed, and many boxes of documents and photographs have been located and deposited in the University Archives. I am now working on a book for Columbia University Press on the subject. Both book and film will be ready for the fiftieth anniversary, in 2018. Should readers have any reminiscences of those days, or material relating to the protests of 1968 — including the years leading up to those heady times — please get in touch at pauljcronin@gmail.com or call 646-757-0793.

Paul Cronin ’14JRN
New York, NY


Taking Aim

I read the full op-ed written by public-health professor Jennifer S. Hirsch about encountering a lovely librarian who was suddenly not so lovely because she admitted to having a gun in every room of her house (“Bullet Points,” Primary Sources, Winter 2015). Hirsch contends that she is not naive and that conversations with gun owners are worthwhile to advance her agenda of gun control. Yet she never actually speaks to the librarian. Why not? Perhaps it’s easier to carry good intentions than to actually listen to those with opposing views.

I further note the unmistakable left leaning of Columbia Magazine. In one issue we learn of people having more heart problems when they live near wells created by fracking, a clean-energy revolution for the poor, a game-theory analysis of climate-change agreements, and “Does democracy pay?” The lack of a semblance of balance in story selection exceeds even my own preconceived notion of the left-leaning agenda of the school. I guess the magazine is playing to who it thinks its readership is. It certainly fails to resonate with me.

Steve Rosenblatt ’74SEAS
Houston, TX


Veterans Need Apply

I want to compliment the School of General Studies for its positive affirmation of the value of our student veterans (“New GS dean for student veterans,” News, Winter 2015). As a Marine Corps veteran and Harvard graduate, I lived through the period when ROTC was banned from campus both at Harvard and at Columbia. This positive step of appointing a dean for veterans gives me hope for the future. Well done!

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


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