Letters

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Graphic by Design

Columbia Magazine Fall 2009 CoverI’ve been meaning to write to you for decades. New York is home to some of the best magazine designers in the world: Milton Glaser. Walter Bernard. Will Hopkins. And those are just some of the senior designers. There is plenty of young talent, too. So why is your magazine so poorly designed? It’s incredible that it looks so amateurish.

Columbia surely could afford to hire decent publication designers. Columbia is a world-class university, and Columbia should reflect that.

Elliott Negin ’83JRN
Washington, DC

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Congratulations on the Fall cover of Columbia (“Untangling Swine Flu”). It is truly inspired.

Dr. H. Peter Metzger ’65GSAS
Boulder, CO

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I loved the Fall cover. It reminds me of the swine flu cover of the October 5 New Yorker.

Hugo Beit ’61BUS
New York, NY

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Chimp Chat

To attempt to teach any organism language, which is the sole property of humans, is a waste of time (“Hanging from the Language Tree,” Fall 2009). Language depends upon what Kurt Goldstein called the abstract attitude. This is the basis of language function, which is the precursor to intellectual function. The transition from the concrete to the abstract occurs in young children. There is then a transition from “the flower” (concrete) to “a flower” (a general, thus an abstract). The abstract attitude is necessary to build a bridge, to clothe oneself, or to farm. No chimpanzee has ever done this, and never will.

Gerald H. Klingon ’42CC
New York, NY

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Unhealthy Debate?

I was very disappointed to read Columbia’s kid-glove treatment of health-care polemicist Betsy McCaughey (“Care Tactics,” Fall 2009). While many people working in health-care policy deserve even-handed profiles, McCaughey is not one of them. Her tendency to select a viewpoint and manipulate or distort facts to justify that viewpoint makes her one of the most unproductive and unhelpful participants in the current debate.

As a Columbia graduate working at a health-care nonprofit, I’m embarrassed by her shoot-first, ask-questions-later approach to the truth. This has been a banner year for her distortions, starting with her spring attacks on comparative effectiveness research and health information technology, and running straight on to her now-infamous efforts to raise fears about the so-called death panels. Her habit of citing legislation from a thick binder would be more credible if she showed even the slightest inclination to interpret the legislation correctly. Health reform needs its critics, but it does not need more of Betsy McCaughey.

While I certainly understand why she would be considered an alumna of note, Columbia owes a duty to its readers — all of whom are consumers of a health-care system in need of repair — to avoid glamorizing a woman who is as reckless with the facts as McCaughey.

Brian Wagner ’06CC
Washington, DC

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I wonder why you published an article focusing on the former lieutenant governor of New York, Betsy McCaughey. Are we to take pride in an alumna who helped sink the Clinton health-care bill and thus trapped the public in a health system deteriorating relentlessly year after year, one who inspires demagogues and extremists by employing fear and deception to attack the pending bills? I would have thought she would have the wisdom of “Harry and Louise,” if not to reverse position, at least to acknowledge that the present system is inadequate and must be reformed. More frightening than what she calls “frightening scenarios” will be a failure to effect fundamental reform. Her devotion to infection prevention is laudable, but she ought to refrain from infecting the public mind.

Frederick M. Schweitzer  ’72GSAS
New York, NY
Frederick M. Schweitzer is professor emeritus of history at Manhattan College.

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I am certain that I join hundreds of others in writing to express dismay at your pandering article on Betsy McCaughey. Did you need to postpone any explicit statements that McCaughey is perpetuating misinformation until the next to last paragraph? Would any reader benefit from knowing how much money McCaughey donates to the school and its potential impact on such an affirmative profile? Would notifying your readership of such a tie be in keeping with accepted journalistic practices of disclosure?

I am appalled that this article, no matter how slyly written, stands for balance at your publication. 

David Blaustein ’83CC
New York, NY

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Poetic License

As a neighbor of Queens poet laureate Julio Marzán, I question his use of metaphor in the comment, “In Queens, no one is displaced. People, languages, cultures just pile up on top of one another” (“Utopia Parkway,” Fall 2009). In such a heap, those on bottom are apt to experience a certain amount of discomfort. I hope that’s not what Marzán meant to say.

Abby Belson ’56BC, ’59GSAS
Jamaica, NY

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First Response

It is good to learn that Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons will begin exposing students to patient contacts earlier in the dry first two years of the four-year curriculum (“Learning to Listen,” Fall 2009). I very much enjoyed teaching the doctor-patient relationship course at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine over the past decade, including the years after my retirement from active practice. It is such a wonderful experience helping and watching students begin to use their capabilities in ferreting out the story of a patient’s health history in a compassionate way, performing a thoughtful and caring physical examination, and then being able to develop a plan for action based on an intelligent, informed response to the findings.

Learning to listen, react, and respond when appropriate and necessary during a patient encounter is one of the most critical faculties the student physician must develop and perfect. The lectures and writings of my inspiring teachers at Columbia, such as Drs. Dana Atchley, Robert Loeb, and Yale Kneeland, were wonderful in themselves. For the PS students to be able now to apply that teaching and those principles through involvement with patients early in their medical-education years will help enable PS to graduate even better physicians now.

Richard A. Dickey, M.D. ’63PS
Hickory, NC

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Significantly Small

The story in your Science, Medicine, and Technology section titled “CO2 Shell Game” (Fall 2009) is interesting on three counts. (1) It repeats the common fallacy that an increase of a very small number is necessarily significant because when stated as a percentage increase that number seems relatively large.

For example, for something to go from .000001 percent to .000002 percent is a 100 percent increase, yet remains almost infinitesimally small.

For the CO2 content of our air to go from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 385 parts per million is indeed a 37.5 percent increase— from .00028 percent to .000385 percent. Both are very small percentages, and their significance is still quite unknown.

Let us not jump too hastily to conclusions from this mathematical exercise.

I studied glacial geology at Cornell, so I have at least some grasp of the issues involved.

(2) The Columbia geochemists have given us an average figure of 280 ppm for the past 2.1 million years. That is a long period of time. Can they give us the highs and lows over those years? Were there times when the percentage was above 385 ppm? Below 280 ppm? It seems possible there were.

(3) The research team is quoted as stating that a “large and rapid increase in CO2 [occurred] about 55 million years ago.”

To my knowledge, man was not creating much CO2 55 million years ago. If natural causes were responsible for that increase, is it not likely that natural causes might be responsible for CO2 and climate changes now?

Gordon E. White ’57JRN
Hardyville, VA

Columbia earth scientist Bärbel Hönisch, author of the study in question, responds:

First, small differences in the concentrations of CO2, methane, or water vapor have a large impact on global temperature.

Second, the value of 280 parts per million (ppm) referenced in my paper is not an average value over the past 2.1 million years, but the average maximum value, calculated for several distinct time periods. The highest total CO2 concentrations in these time periods varied between 250 and 300 ppm, and the lowest values between 180 and 210 ppm. Importantly, climate was warmer during periods when average CO2 levels were high and colder during periods when average CO2 levels were low. The high values that we observe today exceed, by far, the natural levels of the past 2.1 million years.

Last, the massive increase of greenhouse gases 55 million years ago was indeed caused by natural processes. Climate warmed dramatically worldwide, the ocean became more acidic due to the higher CO2, and wide-scale extinction occurred among marine organisms. The comparison of natural events in the past with the modern anthropogenic CO2 increase is important for a better understanding of the consequences of this current increase. As in the past, natural processes eventually will neutralize this man-made increase in CO2, but it will take tens of thousands of years.

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Grand Memories

Michael Kimmage’s review of Constance Rosenblum’s Boulevard of Dreams brought back memories (“Heartbreak Highway,” Fall 2009). I lived at 2685 Grand Concourse from the time that I was two and a half in 1933 until 1954, and a relative lived in the apartment until 1974.

It was a grand address. When you said that you lived on the Concourse, people were impressed. Thomas Wolfe called it the “Park Avenue of the Bronx.”

My friends and I went over to Poe Cottage in Poe Park regularly. Small as it was, we still found it interesting each time. Across the street from my block was the Home for the Indigent Blind. It was a fine learning experience in compassion for a child.

There were lovely restaurants, good shopping, movie theaters nearby, and even the Windsor off the Concourse, which was a Subway Circuit theater akin to Summer Stock. The Ascot Theatre was a good walk from home and had art and foreign movies. Farther south was the Concourse Plaza Hotel, which in its day was the height of elegance. My great-uncle Alex used to treat the family to holiday dinners there. I dreamed of sitting at the bar in a little black dress having a drink with my date when I grew up. That seemed so sophisticated.

It was a shame to see the Concourse go downhill and to witness the decline of the hotel. I ought to go back and see its resurgence.

Frances Brocker Rolband ’52GS, ’54TC
Charlotte, NC

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Games of Greed

Thank you, Columbia, for once again printing just-in-time material that addresses our current economic situation. The concluding sentences of David Craig’s review of Geoffrey Heal’s When Principles Pay: Corporate Social Responsibility and the Bottom Line suggest that the models put forth by Smith and Friedman worked until their recklessness caused disaster (“Clean Money,” Fall 2009).

There are, of course, debates raging across the country about the causes of and cures for the collapse, but I think none have the courage to address the ultimate solution.

The economic game we have been playing is one that, by its very nature, breeds greed and avarice. Some people achieve their needs within legal but questionable moral boundaries, and others push the legal boundaries. In all cases, the aim is to win. That implies that someone else must lose. When the obsessive nature of winning overtook the winners in their creation of artificial capital, then the fox got captured by the game.

I believe that people are eager for a new game. The market will find the way to reward the companies that are willing to sacrifice extravagance for real contribution to the marketplace. Real market growth comes from inspirational leadership, not deceptive leadership.

People will work their butts off for a leader whom they know is (1) working harder than they are, and (2) sharing the wealth with them. Conversely, people will seek every opportunity to surreptitiously get even with the boss who does not have their best interests at heart. In the long run, the leader with integrity is good for the economy.

Reverend C. Mark Ealy ’71BUS
Lewis Center, OH

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Accentuating the Positive

I must respond to Marshal Greenblatt’s letter in the Fall 2009 issue (“Accentuating the Negative”).

As a veteran of World War II who flew 35 combat missions over Germany with the 8th Air Force, I take great offense at his remarks about Columbia University “denigrating our armed forces,” continuing to show its “outright hostility to America,” and its “routine disdain for soldiers.” These are signs of paranoia.

My feelings about Columbia University have always been positive. It would be interesting to find out what contributions Greenblatt has made to Columbia, from which he graduated 48 years ago. Is he not proud of the education that he received at Columbia? Did that education not serve him well in his career?

Constructive criticism is one thing. Mr. Greenblatt’s sour grapes–type of criticism is in very poor taste.

I give your editorial staff credit for printing his letter.

Stan Edelman, M.D. ’49CC ’53PS
New York, NY

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For the first two paragraphs of Marshal Greenblatt’s letter, I thought he was praising the magazine!

Eric Schneck ’80SEAS
Brooklyn, NY

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Job Fare

I am a Bulgarian lawyer, educated at Oxford and at Columbia Law School, who has been practicing international law in the city of London for the past 11 years. I was proud to read about Valeria Panayotova’s high ambitions and concrete plans for the future (“Pomp and Reduced Circumstance,” Summer 2009).

To all of those kids today who have aspirations similar to Panayotova’s, from wherever in the world they may come, my advice is this: Don’t be disheartened in following your dreams by people such as Allen Byrum, who claim to have vastly superior experience to you and aim to knock you down.

Success is all about self-esteem, hard work, and ambitious yet realistic plans. Self-esteem is not the exclusive domain of any particular geographic locale. A SIPA graduate with “30-some years in international business” should know that.

Puzant Merdinian ’98 LAW
London, England

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I was surprised to find Allen Byrum’s sarcastic sentence in the opening pages of Columbia: “Apparently the self-esteem movement has migrated to Eastern Europe.”

The article that seemingly upset Byrum was describing recent SIPA graduate Valeria Panayotova’s interest in advising multinationals on their international strategies. Whether one attributes Ms. Panayotova’s ambitious plans to her youthful idealism or to a sense of entitlement is a matter of personal opinion. However, it is not necessary to overgeneralize or make assumptions and derogatory statements toward the entire region of Eastern Europe due to a negative personal opinion of one individual.

In an age when everyone seems so cautious about discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or religion, I frequently encounter people who assume that Eastern Europe is somehow exempt from this principle. I was especially surprised that Columbia magazine had selected this letter for publication.

Ia Topuria ’04GS
New York, NY

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I hope that people would have greater empathy toward graduates who have had a difficult time with the current job market than was shown by the two letters in the Fall issue (“Kids Today . . . ”).

I wish those with good ambitions, even unrealistic ones, the best of luck in their job searches, networking, and any venture they create.

Barry Zorman ’02GSAS
Phoenix, AZ

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Your sampling of five recent grads to highlight a difficult job market was a small and inaccurate group. It reflected more the fact that these alumni chose their majors poorly in light of the economy. Had the author included a graduate of the School of Nursing, a different picture would have emerged. Throughout the history of the school, through depressions and roaring job markets, there has been virtually 100 percent job placement. Grads can walk out of Commencement and find a job at a starting salary that makes decent housing in Manhattan affordable. Kudos to retiring dean Mary O. Mundinger.

R. J. Oliver, R.N. ’78NRS
New York, NY

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