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Columbia Magazine Spring 2013I read with interest your Spring 2013 cover article profiling NAACP president Benjamin Jealous (“Justice’s Son”). On the cover, and again in the text of the article, the NAACP is called the oldest civil-rights organization in the United States. With respect, the National Rifle Association, founded in 1871, is thirty-eight years older than the NAACP, and claims in excess of four million members against the NAACP’s 500,000. As such, the NRA has a much better claim to the title of oldest and largest American civil-rights organization.

David Sack ’95LAW
New York, NY

I was under the impression that the National Rifle Association was the nation’s oldest, largest civil-rights organization. “Baddest, boldest, most hated,” etc., I can’t comment on, but Fortune magazine rated the NRA the nation’s most effective lobbying organization.

Peter Caroline ’57CC
Green Valley, AZ

Benjamin Jealous objects to the requirement of some states for voters to prove their identity with a state-provided ID because of the burden of cost to the voter. But vote stealing is epidemic. Something has to be done about it.

Jealous’s support of same-sex marriage is at variance with God’s precept (Leviticus 20:13). How does he justify this? Jealous opposes the death penalty. Genesis 9:6 informs us that those who shed blood, by man shall their blood be shed. Implicit is that it is to be done by those duly authorized by government.

Jealous also laments stop-and-frisk, which he claims is unduly exercised against blacks. This is a practical matter, because blacks are disproportionately involved in crime as a percentage of the population.

John Dreyer ’47SEAS
Elmhurst, IL

The magazine’s article on Ben Jealous is riddled with tendentious and flat-out wrong statements large and small, including the article’s description of the potential impact of Texas’s voter-ID law.

Without digging into all the details or denigrating Jealous’s current work, I want to call out one close-to-home detail whose description has no place in a Columbia publication. You state that Jealous “fought to save full-need financial aid and needblind admissions, and when the University announced plans to raze the Audubon Ballroom, site of Malcolm X’s assassination, and replace it with a biomedical research center, Jealous organized a one-day protest that led to his one-semester suspension.”

Jealous was not punished for organizing a protest. He did that lots of times at Columbia without any scrutiny or punishment. The College only disciplined Jealous, rightly, when he seized a building during the review period before exams.

Even if the school chooses to lionize Jealous for his more recent activities, it should not assist him in rewriting the history of his time on campus. He behaved abhorrently and was justly punished. That reality should be presented accurately, not whitewashed.

Dan Morenoff ’96CC
Dallas, TX

Benjamin Jealous is critical of efforts to contain voter fraud and paints himself as a hero for resisting efforts to ensure a legitimate turnout. However, it seems reasonable to require some identification for voting, just as such identification is required in so many other activities in our country.

We should be aware that voter fraud is a growing campaign strategy, and there are many examples of multiple voting, fraudulent registration, illegal residents voting, and other means of altering the legitimate vote. It is very difficult to prove under our voting laws, but as a local candidate (I successfully ran as a Republican for the California State Assembly and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors) I was very aware that it exists. At our local University of California campus, there are regular incidents of a precinct voter turnout exceeding registration. Certain populations regularly evidence heavily weighted turnout that defies logic or experience in other activities.

In California, these practices are primarily the domain of one political party, and I am sure pursued by both parties and numerous candidates of all persuasions around the country. If fraudulent-voting campaign tactics become the norm, one can make a reasonable case that our democracy will be threatened. Let’s be more thoughtful on this issue.

Brooks Firestone ’61CC
Solvang, CA

Benjamin Jealous opposes the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, which saves hundreds of lives every year. Most of these lives are black. When these policies end and young blacks die again in the hundreds, their blood will be on him. Illegal? Maybe. Effective? Yes.

Seven hundred guns taken yearly is two guns per day, guns that are still being carried after 700,000 stops per year — five million total. Maybe we need more stop-and- frisk, until guns taken is zero. What is the hard part? Don’t carry guns. Don’t carry drugs. Don’t carry contraband. How many arrests before the message is heard?

If 90 percent of those stopped are not arrested, that means 10 percent are arrested. One-tenth random stops leading to arrests sounds like good criminal profiling to me.

Martin Heilweil ’66CC
New York, NY


It seems that Columbia Magazine has followed the New York Times Magazine into the same trap of hard-to-read headlines and covers (Spring 2013). As designer Jan Tschichold said many years ago, the purpose of typography is to make printed matter easy to read. Fortunately, you left the contents page as it should be, which is more than can be said of the Times.

Notwithstanding my objections to your cover design, I enjoy reading Columbia Magazine immensely and will continue to do so.

Wolfgang von Manowski ’63GS, ’67GSAS
Daly City, CA


Great article about Robin Nagle and the New York City Department of Sanitation by Paul Hond (In the City of New York, “The Pickup Artists,” Spring 2013), but Nagle’s suggestion that it’s “the most important uniformed force on the street”? I don’t think so. NYPD, FDNY, and EMS share that honor.

Marlene Streisinger ’88CC
Staten Island, NY


In his Explorations article about protecting the US electric grid from catastrophic attack, David J. Craig describes the threat from electromagnetic pulse (EMP) triggered by a nuclear detonation high in the air (Spring 2013). He says that in America the threat of an EMP attack has long been dismissed “as too far-fetched to warrant serious concern.”

In Great Britain, where I was born and mostly worked, the threat was not ignored.

In 1972, I represented the London clearing banks on the UK National Computer Security working party. The threat from EMP to the telephone network, on which the financial sector then depended for computer-to-computer communications, was among the many risks we identified. We determined that the copper-wire network’s electromechanical switches were likely to survive the surges of current induced by an EMP attack, but that newer electronic switches were vulnerable. Fortunately, that view was never tested.

A “cascading failure” of another sort would strike the banking industry the following decade. It was predictable. I, with a few others, warned the New York Federal Reserve in 1983 that the systems developers of nearly all the city’s banks were using the same algorithms, albeit in different software, to make trading decisions. There was bound to come a time when almost all traders would respond in the same way at the same time. So if the market went down, it would go down fast. That happened on October 21, 1987.

Adrian R. D. Norman ’67BUS
Crowcombe, Somerset, UK


Here is my response to Moira Egan’s profound and elegant poem “On Marriage,” in the Spring 2013 College Walk:

Of late it troubles me, the life-sustaining
   assessment of “marriage”;
for to many it is, in fact, a thing, abstract;
   an entity subject to ebbs and flows; a
   ring forgotten.

And when I said, “my marriage is on the
   rocks” (I’m sorry but)
the cocktail was quite clear with a trace of
   sweet found only
at the very back of the palate yet enduring
   if savored and divinely accepted.

“What went wrong?” “Nothing.” I answer,
   thinking, “She fell in
love with another; a change of heart, not
   uncommon and not without
shared onus, but plainly in a sea with salt
   and sweet uninhabitable.”

I, the fish, removed from it, with pure forgiveness,
   become amphibious.

Ken Hayes (K. Scott) ’92CC
East Setauket, NY


Thomas Vinciguerra’s interesting College Walk piece “For Our Eyes Only” (Spring 2013) evoked a memory. The journalism-school Class of 1952 had a variety of guest speakers. One was Ernest L. Cuneo, an executive of the North American Newspaper Alliance (and credited in Vinciguerra’s article with conceiving of what would have been the first James Bond film). Instead of telling us about NANA and its role as a news and feature service, Cuneo discussed a subject that caused most of us to wonder what the hell he had been smoking. He told us about a mechanism whereby text and graphics could be transmitted over telephone lines. He called it “fax,” short for facsimile. With that kind of imagination, it’s no wonder he went on to sketch out James Bond’s improbable adventure stories.

Oh, yes: Xerox marketed the first fax machine twelve years later.

Ed Silberfarb ’52JRN
New York, NY


I fear that our destruction of the card catalog — this hundred-plus-year-old historical collection — is a great mistake (“Card, Discard,” Finals, Spring 2013). Yale University elected to keep all its drawers along with the cards. We hubristically assume that electronic data are with us forever, never to be lost to natural or manmade catastrophes.

In the very same issue of Columbia Magazine, there’s an article on the threat of an electromagnetic pulse wiping out the electric grid and the Internet (“Protecting the grid from the bomb,” Explorations). Melvil Dewey would certainly not have approved!

Norbert Hirschhorn ’58CC, ’62PS
London, UK

I would like to point out one of Melvil Dewey’s lasting innovations that was not mentioned in “Card, Discard.” Dewey founded the world’s first school for educating librarians at Columbia University in 1887. This established modern librarianship as a profession. With that pedigree, Columbia- trained librarians have always had the reputation for being the most professional and dedicated in their field. This was true until the 1990s, when Columbia closed the oldest library school for monetary reasons.

Stephan Spitzer ’77LS
Brookeville, MD

I read with interest your article about the card catalog in 310 Butler Library, but also with the realization of how short a memory the University appears to have. Melvil Dewey was indeed the chief librarian, but he was also the founder of the first school of library education, which was established at Columbia in 1887. Conflicts over the admission of women led to the removal of the school to Albany, but in 1926 it returned to Columbia and trained many of the outstanding librarians of the twentieth century. The retirement of the card catalog may be a poignant moment, but the total obliteration of what became the School of Library Service is unforgivable.

Many universities find it financially necessary to combine faculties, prune underused facilities, and generally revamp the mission of the institution. The SLS used little space, needed few operational tools, and provided the necessary trained personnel without which no library can function. It was, therefore, very unfortunate that in 1992 the University thought fit to simply close the SLS, with little response to alumni appeals for information about the decision-making process or any opportunity to question the action taken.

The current application for undergraduate admission to Columbia College includes a question about other family members who have attended the University and provides a checklist of the various schools, but fails to list the School of Library Service as a possibility. This is a rewriting of history, which I find to be profoundly saddening as well as enormously irritating.

I have spent my life working as a professional librarian using the skills taught by the outstanding teachers in the field, a faculty singular in its excellence and devotion to the world of books and learning. Surely, they and all their students deserve better treatment from the University than to find that their contribution to education has been erased from the memory of Columbia.

Paula Frosch ’72LS
New York, NY

According to Columbia’s director of undergraduate admissions, Peter Johnson, the application for admission was updated as of this past application cycle (for the Class of 2017) to include a check box for the School of Library Service. — Ed.

What will happen to the cabinets and to the cards?

Bill Hudgins ’72CC
Gallatin, TN

The cabinets in the center of Butler 310 will be dismantled and removed from the building; the pieces will ultimately be discarded. Many of the cards will be moved to cabinets on the exterior walls of the room to ensure that no important bibliographic information is lost; the balance will be recycled. The historic clock that currently sits on the cabinets will be incorporated into the design of the new room. — Ed.


It was wonderful to learn that Columbia doesn’t just concern itself with shepherding its human young to self-sufficiency. The care taken to see ducklings and their mother from a tough-city start to a silken-pond finish was admirable and reassuring; the big university extends its nurturing on behalf of wild things, too (“Freshman Orientation,” College Walk, Fall 2012).

Connections with other creatures can be, as Columbia groundskeeper Edwin Justiniano put it, “a beautiful thing. A beautiful thing.” A couple of years ago, a pair of mallards visited my small pond in Topanga Canyon, California. Eventually, the male left, perhaps telling his mate, “You stay, no matter what. I’ll be back.” After it was clear that the female was not going anywhere, I feted her with Quaker Oats and cracked corn. Six months later, she flew off, and now, two years later, I still await her return. Maybe this time with ducklings.

Susan Hanger ’76GS
Topanga, CA


Regarding fracking, Paul H. Tice writes in a letter in the Spring 2013 issue that “the interests of the energy industry are aligned with those of the public when it comes to preventing and avoiding catastrophic environmental damage.” This is true but largely irrelevant because, as is evident from events occurring over more than a quarter of a century, many in charge of whatever industry do not care at all about the long-term interests of their industry, or the interests of their investors, much less those of the public. All they care about is their personal short-term economic interests. Tice further comments that the objection of Northeasterners to fracking is basically a not-in-my-backyard argument. I disagree. While some of the objections may be so, many are based on the disastrous consequences of fracking already experienced by Americans elsewhere in the country.

Mark Herman ’63SEAS
Nashville, TN

I am pleased to see the fracking debate continue, and I would like to respond to the recent note by Paul H. Tice. Enough has been written about fracking by previous writers, but I take issue with his characterization of the natural-science component of Columbia’s Core Curriculum as politicized because it includes a discussion of global warming. There is vast public misunderstanding of the nature of science that impedes rational discussion of theories. Theories can never be proven, but they can be falsified by testing. If a theory cannot be disproven, it is accepted as a fact until the next test. Anthropogenic global warming caused by carbon-dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere has not been disproven or falsified, so any rational, critical person can accept it as a fact. There is no need for me to cite the tens of thousands of published scientific articles that have filled out and strengthened the theory since the 1960s. Give it up, deniers. The vast disinformation machine funded by the energy industry cannot withstand the reality that is becoming increasingly apparent to people around the world who are suffering catastrophic floods, droughts, and inexorable sea-level rise.

James S. Mellett ’66GSAS
New Fairfield, CT

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The letters against Mr. Jealous are very interesting: Self-interested, wealthy people who can't believe that voters don't believe that they are not self-interested (and lie about supposed "voter fraud" with no evidence to back up their claims), people who want our democracy to be a theocracy, and people who have not studied or looked into how/why crime rates fall. Essentially, all opinions based on ignorance. Thank you, Mr. Jealous, for working in the true spirit of a Columbian and fighting this ignorance that is such a danger to our Republic.

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