Letters

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In Deep Water

Cover illustration by Andrew R. Wright
Oil + Water” (Fall 2010) provided a clear and simple explanation of how deep drilling works and how BP got into trouble.

There is a point on which I’d like clarification. Roger N. Anderson asserts that “oil and gas production make up a large percentage of the government’s revenue. That and the IRS are the two big moneymakers that feed everything . . .” That’s news to me. I teach the federal budget in a college course. The budget has only one category where direct fees from oil and gas producers could reside: “other miscellaneous receipts.” However, at $18 billion, that’s a small percentage of the $2.5 trillion total receipts expected in FY2011. Might we have some clarification?

Peter Martin ’03SW
New York, NY

Roger N. Anderson responds:
Thanks to Peter Martin for correcting me. I should have said that oil and gas royalties generate significant income for the U.S. government. I overstated its scale by comparing it to the IRS.

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Here is a literary footnote I should like to submit for the excellent piece on the infamous Gulf oil spill.

For some reason, the well that exploded was named Macondo, from the misbegotten village in García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, while its gooey detritus washed ashore on Barataria, named for Sancho Panza’s fanciful “insula” in Don Quixote. Life, it seems, has never ceased to imitate art.

Gregory Rabassa ’47CC, ’54GSAS
New York, NY

OUR ARMY

I read the Fall 2010 issue of Columbia Magazine in almost one sitting. Each and every one of the articles was fascinating and informative. I wonder, however, whether the editor was dozing or lost his blue pencil while preparing Paul Hond’s excellent article on Lt. Col. Jason Dempsey (“You and Whose Army?”). What possible relevance to the story was it that the interview was conducted in the lounge where Linda Tripp had tea with Monica Lewinsky? It was a prurient and snide aside that added nothing to the story and simply reminded us of a chapter in American history that shamed our politicians and our civic institutions.

Keep up the good work, but use the blue pencil occasionally.

Larry Kobrin ’54CC, ’57LAW
New York, NY

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What a wonderful job Jason Dempsey and others in the military are doing to assess political attitudes in the armed forces openly and without bias.Was Kaczynski considered to be not fiscally conservative enough? Was he too culturally conservative? Was he unwilling to accept his Poland as an obedient, subservient, conquered province of the European Union?

 consider myself a veteran — but one who fought for my country by blocking the steps of Low Library to prevent the ROTC from recruiting on campus; by being dragged away from anti–Vietnam War rallies by the police; and by registering voters in South Carolina for Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. All this was while I was attending graduate school, studying physics.

My son joined the Army just before 9/11, and I found myself returning to my pre-college enthusiasm for the military.

Today’s all-volunteer Army is an enlightened and supportive organization. Occasionally it even goes after some of its bad apples, as it did in the case of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was forced to stand down after trashing the commander in chief — and who also had a hand in the cover-up of the Pat Tillman killing.

All of this leads me to the shortcoming of Dempsey’s research. Several contacts I have with active military personnel tell me that throughout the ranks there is open and bitter trashing of the commander in chief. This is insubordination and should be punished and suppressed. Almost certainly McChrystal’s, and who knows who else’s, high-level permissive attitude about such stuff has trickled down or burbled up. It is annoying as hell for military personnel to be surrounded by those who air their conspiracies about Obama.

Dempsey, particularly from his current office attached to Michelle Obama, should look into this. It is degrading to the military to have this going on unchecked.

Claude Suhl ’65GSAS
High Falls, NY

SITUATION NORMAL

After reading Josh Getlin’s fascinating piece in your Fall 2010 issue about Next to Normal (“The Ballad of Kitt & Yorkey”), my wife and I got tickets and attended a performance. Our hearing is not perfect, so we both made sure to insert our hearing aids once inside the theater. We both found the acting, singing, staging, and lighting first-rate, and would have been totally involved in the experience but for the cacophonous and loud music that enchanted Getlin. It did not enchant us at all: It got in the way of the words so obtrusively as to wholly obscure a great deal of what emerged from the mouths of the actors, all of whom enunciated clearly and projected quite well, and made it difficult for us to hear what was being said, except when loudly (and quite well) sung in this quasi-operatic theater piece.

In all respects, however, this was a fascinating magazine issue in every way.

Joseph B. Russell ’49CC, ’52LAW
New York, NY

GREAT ADVENTURES

Michael B. Shavelson’s review of Richard Snow’s A Measureless Peril (“Atlantic & Pacific,” Fall 2010) prompted me to obtain a copy of the book, and I am writing to say how much I enjoyed it. As a sailor who served in the South Pacific during World War II, I recognized many familiar aspects of Navy life and routine, and as a constant and avid reader of WWII history, I enjoyed immensely the background material on the Atlantic conflict, from start to finish. My sincere congratulations to the author.

I was an aviation ordnanceman in the New Hebrides islands Efate and Espiritu Santo in 1944 and 1945. (New Hebrides is now Vanuatu.) Readers of James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific will recognize the setting. I recall there were French plantations there, with owners who protected their daughters from the barbarian Yankee sailors at all costs (maybe the officers were allowed social contact), and I presume Michener drew on this atmosphere for his stories. It was not as romantic and lovely as portrayed in the book, but was rather a very hot and humid jungle environment. Port Vila was the capital, and was governed jointly by the British and the French, in alternate years. We were allowed liberty in Vila, which had a dismal USO, of all things, but no girls for us. Two elderly French widows, whose husbands had been exiled to Efate in lieu of prison before the war, set up a restaurant in their home on the outskirts of town, and we went there a few times for some decent French cooking and so I could try out my high-school French. An interesting experience for us swabbies.

Later I also served a month in beautiful American Samoa. I got there in a four-hour flight in a Royal New Zealand Air Force DC-3 from Espiritu Santo to Fiji — with a five-day layover ostensibly for weather (or so the pilots could enjoy the pleasures of Suva, the capital) and then four more hours to Samoa.

V-E Day occurred while I was in Suva, with much celebrating by the locals, including a parade by the local Fuzzy-Wuzzy police and others. Great adventures for a kid.

Gano B. Haley ’49CC
Monroe Township, NJ

SITUATION NORMAN

Saul Rosenberg’s review of Thomas Jeffers’s Norman Podhoretz biography is a love fest all around (“Further Commentary,” Fall 2010). Jeffers had previously edited The Norman Podhoretz Reader and, as Rosenberg writes, thoroughly identifies with Podhoretz. Indeed, Jeffers’s voice merges with Podhoretz’s voice.

Rosenberg himself was briefly an editor at Commentary, so it’s no surprise when he praises Podhoretz as “a first-class intellectual of enormous culture and considerable humanity” whose “pugnacity masks a warm heart.” And with what results? The most notable achievement of Podhoretz, the godfather of neoconservatism, is the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq has suffered over a million dead, 3 million refugees, and 5 million orphans. In proportion to the population, this is equivalent to the U.S. suffering 10 million dead, 30 million refugees, and 50 million orphans.

This is quite an accomplishment for a man of considerable humanity and warm heart, but Podhoretz wants even more. He has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran. His war cry has been echoed by journalist David Broder and South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. Podhoretz is even using a similar pretext as last time: Iran’s (nonexistent) nuclear weapons pose a threat to Israel (which really does have nuclear weapons).

Columbia Magazine could and should have run a more critical review of a biography of a man who has led the country to disaster, and who is clamoring for even bigger disasters.

John W. Farley ’77GSAS
Henderson, NV

LEAP INTO THE FUTURE

I read the fall issue of Columbia Magazine and was particularly interested to learn about the many Columbians working in Africa and elsewhere around the world. It seems that Columbia alumni are involved either as founders of these organizations or as soldiers on the ground working to make things better.

My classmate Marjorie Schlenoff ’73SW recruited me in 2008 to go with a group to Cape Town, South Africa, to work in the LEAP Science and Maths School. The organization she founded, Teach With Africa (TWA), has now sent teams of teachers, businessmen, psychologists, and social workers for three successive summers and is expanding its programs to continue their work on a year-round basis. The program is reciprocal in nature, with participants implementing what they have learned back in their schools and businesses in the United States. Students and teachers from the LEAP schools also have come to the United States to learn, teach, and otherwise cross-fertilize the organizations that TWA participants represent. Marjorie Schlenoff is the straw that stirs the drink as the program expands dramatically from year to year.

We hope to approach the School of Social Work about possible linkages with TWA and LEAP in the near future.

John P. O’Neill ’73SW
South Easton, MA

LADY CHATTERLY'S OTHER

I was delighted to see that Columbia has acquired the papers of Barney Rosset, an innovative publisher and courageous advocate for the freedom of expression (“Defender of the ‘obscene,’News, Fall 2010). I was disappointed, however, that you mentioned First Amendment lawyer Ephraim London but overlooked the brilliant lawyer who defended Rosset and his company Grove Press, Charles Rembar ’38LAW, with whom I had the privilege of practicing law right after graduating from Columbia.

When the U.S. Post Office confiscated Lady Chatterley’s Lover, published by Grove Press, Rembar sued the New York City postmaster and won in New York, and then on federal appeal. Subsequently, he defended Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill — the latter argued before the U.S. Supreme Court — which played a major role in changing the nation’s approach to obscenity.

In 1968, Rembar published The End of Obscenity, which won a George Polk Award in Journalism. The New York Times review said it was Rembar who “talked our courts, state and federal, into capsizing more than a century of court-blessed censorship.”

Stephen F. Rohde ’69LAW
Los Angeles, CA

WARMING WAR, CONT'D

I am surprised that you did not provide a rebuttal to James T. Quattlebaum and James R. Ashlock (Letters, Fall 2010). The two took exception to Lee Bollinger’s Commencement statement that students should confront the “denial of expertise” of those who “reject the consensus of the scientific community about human-induced climate change.”

I am sure that Bollinger was not speaking just on his own behalf, but on behalf of the scientists and researchers at the Earth Institute, the business school, and other University centers that not only are part of that scientific consensus, but have partnered with many thousands of academics and scientists around the world to bring this global economic and environmental challenge to the attention of the world.

In fact, recent studies by noted economists such as Nicholas Stern, professor at the London School of Economics, former chief economist of the World Bank, and economic adviser to the Bank of England, indicate that ignoring man-made climate change could lead to a reduction of 5 to 20 percent of annual GDP, whereas managing and mitigating it would only cost 1 to 2 percent of GDP and result in a much more energy-efficient and effective global economy.

In terms of the consensus of other scientists, the American Geophysical Union, which includes 50,000 earth, ocean, and atmospheric scientists, among others, and whose first mission is to value the scientific method (rational skepticism), has stated since 2003 that “human activities are increasingly altering the Earth’s climate. These effects add to natural influences that have been present over Earth’s history. Scientific evidence strongly indicates that natural influences cannot explain the rapid increase in global near-surface temperatures observed during the second half of the 20th century.”

I would also point out that Bollinger and his administration are leading a major effort to make the University’s physical plant more energy-efficient, thus combating climate change impacts and reducing future operating costs significantly, so more of Columbia’s budget can be spent on education rather than on energy/fuel purchases.

John L. Cusack
Partner, Energy Harvest Partners
Eastchester, NY

LEARNING TO READ

Nemesis, Philip Roth’s newest book and one of his darkest, made me think about my freshman reading of the Greek plays, especially the Agamemnon section of the Oresteia trilogy. When I read those plays I was an innocent 16- and 17-year-old with a flimsy understanding of how random tragedy could befall anyone. The concept of hubris leading to nemesis was an abstraction that I could barely grasp. But the exposure to ideas that at the time were beyond my experience or clear understanding equipped me to identify many as universals as I matured. It is education such as one is privileged to experience at Columbia College that enables one to attach a proper significance to experience of all sorts. Evaluation of literature, music, art, and, above all, personal experience are all enhanced.

I remember Lionel Trilling saying that if you don’t live in your time, you live in no time. This may be true, but to understand your own time you have to be equipped to evaluate it, and in order to do this you must have a broad and deep education.

I shall always look with affection and gratitude upon the propitious beginning of this process at Columbia College, which equipped me to see the line from Oedipus to Lear to Bucky Cantor, the protagonist of Nemesis.

Anson K. Kessler ’47CC
Hendersonville, NC

MERCURY UNMASKED

In his informative article “Autism, Unmasked” (Summer 2010), David J. Craig winds down by claiming that the theory regarding measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccines leading to autism is now widely dismissed by scientists. A moment later Craig contradicts himself by stating that, according to Columbia researchers, there’s better evidence to suggest that autism results from “exposure to heavy metals like mercury and lead” and other toxins.

I’m astonished that Craig failed to mention that mercury has been used as a preservative in children’s vaccines for decades. Of course it’s not the MMR vaccine that causes autism, but it may very well be the mercury in the vaccine that causes autism. The correlation between the two is still a major suspect among many respected scientists and researchers. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which shares board members with pharmaceutical companies, now states on its Web site that “in July 1999, the Public Health Service agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and vaccine manufacturers agreed that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure.” (See www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Concerns/thimerosal/index.html.)

The precautionary measure they agreed to is probably in anticipation of the endless civil and criminal lawsuits that will be filed once the truth comes out. It took years of legal battles, and an army of autistic casualties, just to force the CDC, Food and Drug Administration, and American Dental Association (ADA) to lower the mercury levels in vaccines, and to warn us, through caution labels, about mercury toxicity. Yet vaccines with mercury are still mercilessly administered to children in third-world countries. Mercury was used in some of last winter’s swine flu vaccine.

There is also a barrage of litigation through citizen-health activists (http://www.toxicteeth.org/) against the ADA, which is slowly changing its mercury guidelines while continuing to insist that there is nothing wrong with mercury-amalgam fillings. To the contrary, I know the evidence of the danger is out there. It’s also in me.

I am an extremely healthy, active 57-year-old male who lost his thyroid at age 50 after having nine mercury fillings removed over approximately a half year. It took an array of specialists more than two years — along with my own detective work on the Web — to figure out that the mercury entered my thyroid and was cannibalized by my own healthy immune system. It will take a few more years for the scientists to prove the cause of autism, as the parents of autistic children continue to push past the obfuscation of the medical establishment.

I must fault Craig for leaving out the most important tidbit that his article should have informed us about.

Zev Lewinson
Teaneck, NJ

David J. Craig responds:
The CDC insists that there is no evidence to support the idea that the trace amounts of mercury found in MMR vaccine contribute to autism, and it cautions parents against
forgoing the vaccination of their children. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Concerns/Autism/Index.html.

DON'T ASK, DO TELL

In August I attended a wonderful brunch put on by Montse Ferrer ’06CC and the Columbia University Club of Washington, D.C., for local students starting Columbia this fall.

All the students impressed me with their intelligence and enthusiasm. But I was also struck by the frequency with which many of them voiced their declarative sentences as questions: “I’m excited about going to Columbia?” “The professors sound great?” (I hasten to add that from none of the students did I hear anything like, “I’ll major in, like, math.”)

Why would such accomplished, lively students inject gratuitous doubt into their speech? Say, don’t ask. That speech standard would make Columbia students much more powerful and engaging.

Still, with whatever inflection, I’m sure they’ll voice cogent ideas at Columbia without question.

Hank Wallace ’70LAW
Washington, DC

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