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Columbia Magazine Winter 2016

The winter issue of Columbia Magazine was the most interesting ever! I especially liked “Your Beautiful Brain,” but I enjoyed the entire magazine from cover to cover. Please keep up the good work, but it will be hard to beat or equal that issue, in my opinion. 

Joseph C. Shami ’58SEAS
Lafayette, CA

Your Beautiful Brain” was a remarkably well written and balanced article. When I checked online, I found that the writer, Bill Retherford, has received several awards for his work. Why not a book?

Harold Lehrer ’47CC
Fort Lauderdale, FL


The painting of the so-called purchase of Manhattan that accompanied the College Walk article “The Manahata Project” (Winter 2016) is misleading. This is the Europeans’ view of what happened, not the natives’. Land ownership was never conceivable to Native Americans. They did not believe that man could own land, never mind buy or sell it. How can two fleas on a dog argue about which one of them owns the dog?

A. Otto Thav ’83GS
San Francisco, CA

Columbia is a curious place for a plaque honoring the original inhabitants of Manhattan. The Morningside Heights campus was not the site of any of their known settlements, nor did they farm it. At best, an Indian trail was nearby, but there were many Indian trails.

Robert S. Grumet, the author of First Manhattans: A History of the Indians of Greater New York, calls these native people “Munsees,” after the dialect they spoke; he notes that “Lenape” (a Delaware word for “man”) rarely appeared in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century historical record. (I myself have never encountered the term in contemporary documents.) In the eighteenth century, the colonists referred to the surviving Munsees by the term “River Indians.” Today, most of the remaining members of this group call themselves “Delawares.”

The plaque is so vague that it suggests a continuous oppression of the Munsees. That is just not the case. Even after the purchase of the island, some Indians remained on Manhattan. Commonly, Indians who sold land retained some rights — usually involving hunting. But since the details of the sale are lost, no one can be sure.

What is certainly true is that in the eighteenth century, Indians in New York did win some land disputes with the colonists. While Indian relations with the English were much better than they had been with the Dutch (the Dutch wars were indeed brutal), there still were some very serious incidents.

Finally, since this plaque’s purpose was to commemorate the Munsees, it would seem proper to have had at least one Delaware present. The essay does not mention any Delawares at the ceremony. They are not an extinct people.

Philip Ranlet ’83GSAS
Middle Village, NY

I truly enjoyed the article by Paul Hond on the placing of a plaque in Van Am Quad honoring the Lenni Lenape people as the first inhabitants of Manhattan Island. It was also good that the representatives of so many of our native peoples attended.

That said, I am sorely disappointed that no one saw fit to invite a representative of today’s Lenni Lenape people, especially since they live no more than fifty miles from campus in Ringwood and Mahwah, New Jersey, and Hillburn, New York. During my career as a public-school teacher in New York, I had the pleasure of teaching many of them.

Barry H. Bley ’64CC, ’65TC
Arvada, CO

Julian Brave NoiseCat ’15CC responds: We invited Lenape representatives to the unveiling, but to my knowledge, none were able to make it. Happily, though, a group of Lenape were visiting Manhattan from Ontario a couple of weeks after the installation, and a few students and I had the pleasure of accompanying them as they saw the plaque.


Your interview “Policing the Police” (The Big Idea, Winter 2016) continues your ideological approach to the matter of improving relations between our police and all communities, not just the so-called minority groups.

In my eight decades of life, I have met thousands of police in different areas of the United States. In New York I went with police-officer friends into dangerous areas of the city at night to observe the “action.” After I left New York, I continued to take an interest in law enforcement. I attest that of the numerous officers of all ranks I knew over these many years, only a tiny number seemed incapable of carrying out their duties in an acceptable manner.

I believe that present problems faced by the police are created by professional left-wing agitators sent into communities. This was done recently in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Baltimore, as it has been done in other times and places.

Much has been done over the years to encourage police officers to earn higher degrees. Nationally, we probably have one of the most highly educated police forces in the world. That, of course, is not enough. Sensitivity toward differing cultures is necessary, and throughout the United States, police departments have worked hard for decades to inculcate this sensitivity. However, if professional agitators seeking to ignite rebellion and insurrections are not exposed for what they are, the best efforts and the highest good will of our police will be nullified.

I am confident that we will see decreasing credence in many urban communities in the appeals by agitators, and concomitantly a greater appreciation for the real sincerity and dedication of the overwhelming preponderance of our police.

Michael Suozzi ’72GSAS
San Diego, CA


Your article “Bittersweet: Two scholars of Harlem take in the view from Sugar Hill” (College Walk, Winter 2016) is bitter and not sweet. To present a view of Harlem from the 1930s to the 1950s and conclude by quoting the author David Levering Lewis’s projection that in the near future “Black Harlem [will] be all but vanished” is irresponsible.

I may not be a Black scholar, but I live in Harlem. Have you ever met Franco the Great, who painted and still paints the steel security gates that store owners installed after the 1960 riots? Have you ever been to the jazz bar Paris Blues? Do you know Alvin “Lee-Lee” Smalls, whose bakery is the home of “Rugelach by a Brother”? Have you been to the 115th Street branch library, which is filled daily with community members borrowing books, attending programs, using computers? Have you attended the many events supported by the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce? Have you toured the Apollo? Walked the streets? Stopped to talk? Harlem is full of regular Harlem people, and Harlem people are proud.

I asked a wise man in the neighborhood what will keep Harlem Harlem. He replied, “the projects.” I would add the maintaining of city-supported housing generally.

Harlem is a vibrant neighborhood, and I live here. Perhaps you will consider another article on keeping Harlem Harlem.

Karin Seastone Stern ’81PH
New York, NY


I withdraw some of my reservations about the redesigned Columbia Magazine, expressed in a letter in the last issue. “Your Beautiful Brain” was excellent, thorough, and detailed.

Peter Gibbon ’80TC
Duxbury, MA


I just wanted to pass along my appreciation for the consistently high quality of Columbia Magazine. Each time after reading it, I feel smarter, more informed, and deeply inspired. The range of topics is always impressive, and the Winter 2016 issue in particular touched upon so many areas of my life. For example, I helped build an affordable-housing development in Manhattan designed by David Adjaye, the same architect who was responsible for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (“A Virtual Tour with Mabel O. Wilson ’91GSAPP,” Network). I also run a small nonprofit that does work in Kenya, so I got in touch with Be Girl and spoke with a Columbia graduate about how we might collaborate (“Products with a Purpose,” Network). And I’m working on making a feature film, so I enjoyed your interview with Graham Moore (“The Shock of the New,” Booktalk).

As helpful as it is when articles tap into things I’m currently doing, it’s ultimately irrelevant, because I simply enjoy the fascinating reading on the very broad spectrum of topics that you and your staff choose to share, from science to the arts to the environment and beyond. Thank you for your work, and thank you for making it exciting to get the mail four times a year.

Dan Iacovella ’89GSAPP
Fairfield, CT

I continue to be amazed and pleased at the quality of your magazine. Gone are the boring articles about exploits of various graduates and their histories. This magazine is worthy of the best that journalism offers. I actually recommend it to friends to read because the articles are so worthwhile. It may even end up as reading material in my doctor’s waiting room, and I am hoping that the doctor himself is reading it. Congratulations! This the best that journalism offers. The format and illustrations are great, too.

Alva Guerin ’48LS
Elizaville, NY


Regarding the interesting review of Joseph Lelyveld’s book His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt in the winter edition, your readers may like to know that the cardiologist who eventually diagnosed Roosevelt’s congestive heart failure was Howard Bruenn ’25CC. Bruenn was my attending physician in the medical clinic at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, as well as being on the faculty there.

Stanley Fine ’54CC, ’57PS
Roslyn, NY


Congratulations on the redesigned Columbia Magazine. Your Summer 2016 and Fall 2016 issues are the best I have read in my three decades since graduation.

I do, however, need to take issue with you on a style point. Your article “The Klan’s Last Stand” (Booktalk, Fall 2016) capitalizes “Black” while failing to capitalize “white” — in one case, even within the same sentence.

Surely, evenhandedness toward the races demands either that both of these terms be capitalized or that neither of them be.

William Wilfong ’85CC
Lutherville, MD

We capitalize “Black” because, for many people, this choice signifies a recognition of their distinct cultural identity. Magazines like Ebony and journals of African-American studies often capitalize “Black.” We lowercase “white” because white people across the world do not generally see themselves as a unified cultural group, with the exception of white supremacists, who do sometimes capitalize “white.” The discrepancy may take a moment to get used to, but we think it’s the right thing to do. — Ed.


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