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Columbia Magazine Spring 2014Reading in the Spring 2014 issue about the Columbia Campaign raising $6.1 billion, I wonder sometimes where Columbia University and the rest of academia are going with enormous construction projects and ever more specialization. Is the world a safer place? Are the graduates wiser? Are politics more settled and reasonable? Are the problems that confront society any closer to resolution? Even a cursory reading of the headlines provides the grim answers.

The issue is not how much money a university can raise, but whether the very purpose of education is being undercut by an emphasis on the marketing of education rather than upon developing the critical-thinking skills without which knowledge has no real place or meaning.

Stephen Schoeman ’69SIPA
Westfield, NJ


Paul Hond’s remarkable journalistic skill reaches a high point in “Breaking Through” (Spring 2014), his investigation of what I would call the anti-marijuana establishment at Columbia. The researchers he interviews include a former drug czar under George H. W. Bush. With tact and patience he takes us on a tour of researchers who make emotionally fraught statements, such as Guohua Li’s “The legalization of marijuana is open surrender” and Herbert Kleber’s condemnation of the medical-marijuana movement as “a stalking horse for legalization.” This emotionalism, he goes on to show, is a conspicuous part of the history of marijuana legislation. Emotional rhetoric combined with political expediency has driven presidents and governors to condemn or silence the reports of prominent commissions and task forces that recommended reason-based policies.

Hond brings his tour of institutional bias to an end in the office of the neuroscientist Carl Hart, where the light of reason burns brightly. Hart points out illogical thought and flawed hypotheses operating at Columbia. Is anyone listening?

William Himelhoch ’83SW
Jamaica Plain, MA

I was appalled by your article on marijuana. You didn’t interview anyone who uses marijuana to treat a particular illness, and you didn’t talk with any researchers who are actually looking for ways marijuana can benefit people. Instead, you interviewed researchers who seem to want nothing more than to prove marijuana dangerous.

What I find curious is that within the debate about marijuana in America, there is rarely any mention of the Netherlands, where marijuana has been legal for decades, or Uruguay, which just recently legalized it. Have the Dutch gone insane? Has their society collapsed or deteriorated? Is there an epidemic of couch-sitting ice-cream eaters wreaking havoc in Uruguay? I don’t think so, and yet here we are still wrestling with ideas about marijuana that are more appropriate to the 1950s than 2014.

People are finding marijuana to be a godsend after years of taking pharmaceutical drugs with unpleasant or dangerous side effects. Show your readers the respect they deserve by acknowledging the good things cannabis can do.

Marc Peraino
Mount Vernon, WA

How proud Columbia must be to be home to neuroscientist Carl Hart, who does not equate lowering IQ to getting “dumber,” so long as the lowered IQ “stayed in the normal range.” I guess that means the New Zealand study is wrong, so long as only people with higher than average IQs partake of Mary Jane.

Bob Fately ’82BUS
Van Nuys, CA

Carl Hart argues for evidence-based conclusions and well-constructed arguments to further a discussion about drugs, crime, and, it seems, race. Yet he implies that equating a regression of IQ with getting dumber is somehow misleading or inaccurate. How does that elevate the discussion? Hart further states that many researchers “don’t know anything about drugs” but come to conclusions that support their perspectives. His views, and “research,” do just that. I don’t question the truth of Hart’s experience, but I think the discussion needs to be based on fact. There is too much at stake.

John Anderson
Old Bethpage, NY

It’s great to hear that Columbia faculty are so involved in marijuana research. I believe this is the school where I learned Plato’s warning that knowledge without justice will never lead to wisdom. While we’re academically splitting hairs about what marijuana does and does not do, citizens of African or Latino descent are overrepresented in the 750,000-plus marijuana arrests each year. These are real people with real lives shelling out cash for fines and legal fees, burning hours that they could spend more productively. Law-enforcement officers who could protect us from violent crime are busy fingerprinting people for owning a plant before hurling them toward a clogged court system. Perhaps these issues deserve as much coverage as ivory-tower conjecture about hypothetical gateways and imaginary symptoms of dependence.

Mitchell Earleywine ’86CC
Slingerlands, NY


In Paul Hond’s article about Jerome Charyn’s Lincoln-channeling novel I Am Abraham (“The Blue Unholies,” Spring 2014), Charyn says of Lincoln, “Then he ends up being president of the United States, and having to kill hundreds of thousands of people.” This sentence is profoundly shocking. Why did he have to kill? Where in the Constitution does it say that a state cannot secede, that the Union must be preserved at all costs, that the president has the right and duty to wage total war on his fellow citizens, kill their young men, steal their property, burn their cities, destroy their farms, and deprive them of their rights? Don’t we normally call people like that despots?

Were the liberated slaves immediately established as free and equal citizens in Southern society, or were they discriminated against for a hundred years more? Would not the Confederacy have ultimately freed its slaves in a more just and amicable fashion, as agricultural technology and the growing recognition of human rights around the world made slaveholding untenable? Might not the Confederacy have ultimately petitioned to rejoin the Union?

Did not the Civil War mark the beginning of the end of states’ rights and the total federalization of our country, where the states are merely administrative units carrying out the dictates of federal bureaucracies, the Congress is a subsidiary of special interests, and an imperial federal judiciary annihilates the traditional values of Judeo-Christian civilization and morphs us into a homogenized province of the global New World Order, with the political-correctness police ready to pounce at every slight?

Impatient to advance civilization, Lincoln chose the path of brute force. There was a better way. We continue to pay the price in our inner cities and in our deracinated culture and democracy.

Arthur E. Lavis ’61CC, ’65BUS
Montvale, NJ


Thank you for printing Caroline Moorehead’s review of Susan Zuccotti’s new book, Père Marie-Benoît and Jewish Rescue (Spring 2014). In a world in desperate need of heroic models, a book about an unsung hero of World War II is greatly appreciated. However, I was saddened and disappointed by Moorehead’s defamation of Pope Pius XII. She claims that his “attitude toward the Jews in Italy was at best ambivalent and whose public statements seldom touched on anything more specific than the need to ‘show compassion’ toward victims of war.”

Pius XII faced two options: speak out assertively against the Nazis and their unspeakable brutality against the Jews, a tactic that had proved disastrous, or speak in more veiled terms and quietly but aggressively work to save as many Jews as possible. Pius XII chose the second option and is excoriated for it.

Albrecht von Kessel, an official at the German Embassy to the Holy See during the war who was also active in the anti-Nazi resistance, wrote in 1963: “We were convinced that a fiery protest by Pius XII against the persecution of the Jews ... would certainly not have saved the life of a single Jew. Hitler, like a trapped beast, would react to any menace that he felt directed at him, with cruel violence.”

Pius XII supervised a rescue network, which saved an estimated 860,000 Jewish lives, more than all the international agencies put together. It is estimated that 60 to 65 percent of Europe’s Jews were exterminated during World War II. Yet only 10 percent of Roman Jews were exterminated, thanks in large part to the efforts of Pius XII.

Pius XII had a deep love and appreciation for the Jews, as reflected in first-person accounts by many of the thousands of Roman Jews who found refuge behind Vatican walls, in Roman convents and seminaries, and in the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, where smoke marks from cooking fires lit by Jewish refugees during the Nazi occupation remain today.

Jewish historian, theologian, and Israeli diplomat Pinchas Lapide sums up Pius XII’s role this way: “Unable to cure the sickness of an entire civilization, and unwilling to bear the brunt of Hitler’s fury, the Pope, unlike many far mightier than he, alleviated, relieved, retrieved, appealed, petitioned — and saved as best he could by his own lights. Who, but a prophet or a martyr, could have done much more?”

Luanne Zurlo ’93BUS
New York, NY

I condemn the vile continuing denigration of the great Pope Pius XII as seen in Caroline Moorehead’s review. At the time of the pontiff’s death in 1958, leaders of the free world applauded his humanitarian efforts on behalf of those who were murdered by the Germans. Even now, as archival materials in abundance prove the heroism, magnanimity, and sacrificial love of the beloved pontiff, the vicious lies are still disseminated. Enough! Soon the Roman Catholic Church will beatify and canonize Pius XII, a move that should have been made years ago.

Michael Suozzi ’72GSAS
La Mesa, CA

Caroline Moorehead responds:
The role of Pius XII during the Holocaust must be addressed quite apart from Père Marie-Benoît. It is true that the pope declined to speak out aggressively against the Nazis. It is also true that he spoke in “more veiled terms,” as Luanne Zurlo put it, about the need to show compassion for all victims of a cruel war. Far less clear is the extent to which the pope “aggressively work[ed] to save as many Jews as possible.”

Almost no priest, monk, or nun who hid Jews in Rome testified after the war that he or she had worked because of a specific papal directive. Also, there is no indication, in documents or testimony, that Jews were hidden at the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo as a matter of policy, although individuals not identified as Jewish may have been among the Romans who sought refuge there from bombing raids during the days before the Allied liberation in June 1944. Because of the courage of men and women of the Church, however, several thousand Jews were, without a papal directive, hidden in other Catholic institutions in Rome, including two or three hundred in certain Vatican extraterritorial properties. Documents published by the Holy See after the war suggest that about forty Jews were hiding within the walls of Vatican City itself in the weeks before the liberation. Roughly a third of the forty had been baptized.

The much-repeated figure of 860,000 Jews throughout Europe saved directly or indirectly by Pius XII comes from the Jewish diplomat and historian Pinchas Lapide, whose book on this topic is highly subjective and filled with errors. Lapide explained that he reached the figure by subtracting from an estimated 8.3 million Jews in prewar Europe first the six million dead, next the one million who fled abroad, and then what he called “all reasonable claims” of rescues made by Protestants and non-Christians. Clearly this is an unsustainable methodology. But even Lapide did not say that the 860,000 were saved only by the pope and his representatives. He included Catholics in general among the rescuers.


I am deeply disappointed that the Spring 2014 issue of Columbia Magazine devoted only three column inches to a brief news item about the Distinguished Columbia Faculty Awards honoring excellence in teaching.

During my years as a grad student in the engineering school, I had the good fortune to study under some wonderful faculty; Morton Friedman and Raymond Mindlin come immediately to mind. Sure, they did great work in their respective fields, but their desire to share their knowledge with their students is what made them special to me.

A great university is more than buildings, research, and grants. It’s also teachers teaching students. Giving great teachers the recognition they deserve in Columbia Magazine is one way to remind us all of their contribution to our lives.

Milton Hess ’66SEAS
Santa Barbara, CA


It is inspiring to read about the efforts of Manmeet Kaur and Prabhjot Singh to address the perversity of a health-care payment system that rewards the diagnosis and treatment of illness and disease over the benefits of prevention (“The Wages of Health,” Winter 2013–14). Despite our formidable tools and training, those of us who practice medicine in the United States are often limited by our underutilization of community-health interventions and other systems-based approaches, limited by a system that too often favors treatment over prevention; expensive diagnostic methods over a physical exam; expensive designer drugs over less expensive, tried-and-true generics; and so-called life-sustaining treatments such as intubation and mechanical ventilation that in many circumstances may improve neither quality nor quantity of life.

Indeed, just as we have the potential to improve patient care by focusing on prevention, we also have the potential to improve outcomes and decrease costs by modifying our approach to medical care at the end of life. Studies show that 25 percent of Medicare expenditures support patients in the last year of life. This is particularly notable in light of intriguing recent data suggesting that patients with terminal diseases offered early palliative care alongside standard medical care demonstrate improved quality of life and, perhaps more surprisingly, live significantly longer than matched counterparts, despite opting for less aggressive (and therefore less expensive) end-of-life care. Shifting to a health-care model in which early palliative interventions and hospice care are more routinely offered to those with advanced age or advanced illness — care that is provided with the support of families, friends, and community members in concert with social workers, nurses, and physicians — is another way in which we might benefit both as individuals and as a society by adopting some of the practices of our neighbors in the so-called developing world.

Beth Olearczyk ’03PS
Cooperstown, NY

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