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MOVERS AND DIRECTORS

Columbia Magazine Fall 2013Paul Hond’s splendid article on Kimberly Peirce ’96SOA (“Moving Pictures,” Fall 2013) brought to mind my eight years as dean of the School of the Arts, and the six women directors who were students during that time. In addition to Peirce, there were Lisa Cholodenko ’97SOA, Stacy Cochran ’91SOA, Nicole Holofcener ’88SOA, Courtney Hunt ’94SOA, and Tanya Wexler ’95SOA. Each woman’s first feature brought her acclaim.

Shortly after I became dean in 1987, I took a trip to California to make contact with SOA alumni working in the film industry. I asked them what had made them decide to go to Columbia.

One young woman answered with an anecdote: She was in her senior year at Penn, wanted to become a filmmaker, knew that NYU had many illustrious movie-making graduates, and applied to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She went for an interview and asked about how much access she would have to courses in the humanities. The NYU faculty member said, “Do you want to be a filmmaker, or do you just want to continue your education?” The young woman told me that after she left, she immediately took the 1 train to Columbia, talked with people there, eventually applied, was admitted, and graduated.

From that moment I realized that the Columbia University School of the Arts is the thinking person’s art school. That was confirmed for me soon afterward when I met an alumna of what at that time was called the division of painting and sculpture. She told me that as good as the curriculum had been under Andre Racz — a gentleman painter of the old school who taught at Columbia for more than thirty years — by far the most significant experience she had had as an SOA student had been participating in a seminar led by Edward Said.

Everyone knows that study at the Columbia University School of the Arts is enhanced by its being in New York City; but it is, I believe, even more important that it is blessed by being an integral part of Columbia University.

Peter Smith
Dean Emeritus, School of the Arts
York, England


CORPS VALUES

I can’t recall feeling prouder of being a Columbian in the last five years than when I read Michael Christman’s article on his experience as a Marine in Afghanistan (“Shades of Green,” Fall 2013). Yes, “there were plenty of people willing to complain or point out the flaws of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he says. “But very few people were willing to put their money where their mouths were.” Thank you, Captain Christman, for voluntarily risking your life and giving up your comfortable living in Washington, DC, during a time of war to protect our freedom and national interest — while we were complaining that there wasn’t enough foam on our Orange Mocha Frappuccinos. You deserve the utmost respect and appreciation from your fellow alumni and every American. God bless you and your men.

Andrew Hon ’76SEAS
Potomac, MD


Kudos to Michael Christman, whose article I read twice. He was able to describe eloquently the true experience of many of our men and women in uniform. I applaud him for not making a political statement but a human statement. And for reminding us all that to those who have chosen to serve in the military past and present, we owe our lives and freedom — and of course our Orange Mocha Frappuccinos. Thank you.

Holly Giordano ’03SW
Darien, CT


Thank you for publishing Michael Christman’s “Shades of Green.” His writing is a refreshing change: clear, direct, and without unnecessary words. This style is often found among those who have served under fire, where using four long words where one short word will do could be fatal.

Christman makes two points that merit full attention.

First, “Mental-health experts remind us that the most important thing for these guys to do is to take care of each other, and that talking is the best form of therapy, and they are right. Venting your anger, telling stories, taking a day or two off are all things that help.”

Studies by the Veterans Administration and others confirm that talking is the best form of therapy. “Exposure therapy — reliving a traumatic experience by writing or talking about it — is the only therapy proved effective by independent research,” wrote Kelly Kennedy in a 2008 article in Army Times. The bad news is that too often, returning service members experiencing posttraumatic stress are not given that treatment. Instead of receiving the best form of therapy, they’re handed multiple prescriptions for multiple drugs that do no good and can do harm.

Second, Christman writes, “It’s great that we as a society recognize mental health as an important topic, but I worry that we may have swung too far and that the stigma of the veteran who ‘loses it’ is a burden that we all have to carry.”

At a conference focused on posttraumatic stress disorder held several years ago by the New York State Division of Veterans Affairs, a sergeant who had served under fire in Iraq spoke on a panel. Among other things, she said, “Don’t you dare say that we have a disorder. We’re having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.”

Most of us see the world as a relatively safe place. Few of us have been in a situation where there were opponents doing their best to kill us. For those who have, everything is changed forever. There is a chasm between those who have experienced that and those who have not.

It can be lonely. Understanding that loneliness, instead of distancing ourselves from it out of fear, may be helpful.

Thomas F. Barton ’77SW
New York, NY


My memories of my father during World War II are vivid. He was a Harvard graduate and a naval officer who, as captain of an LST, landed troops on the Normandy Beach on D-day. He was exempt from the draft because of his age and his being the father of three children. When I questioned him about choosing to serve, he stated simply that he felt it was his duty. It had never occurred to him to sit out the war.

When I arrived at Harvard in 1957, I was not surprised to learn that some of my classmates were enrolled in the on-campus ROTC program. This program greatly reduced the cost of the four-year education in exchange for four years of military service. The symbiosis between the military and Harvard was unquestioned. When I began my MBA program at Columbia in 1964, the same relationship existed between the University and the military.

However, in the late ’60s this relationship was broken, and in protest of the Vietnam War, ROTC was banned from campus. The program continued but was exiled to Fordham and Manhattan College.

Michael Christman asks, “How could it be that so few Ivy graduates shared in our country’s burden?” There are many answers, but surely one is the low regard the Ivies have had for the military. I, and many of my classmates who served, felt that the decision to discontinue ROTC was wrong. The implication was that the universities and their students were somehow special and needed not serve.

I am delighted that this policy has been reversed and now at both Harvard and Columbia ROTC students can be seen attending class proudly in uniform. Our country needs them.

Gerard Cassedy ’65BUS
Saint Augustine, FL


CARBON SENSE

Your otherwise informative article “The Carbon Eaters” (Fall 2013) unfortunately includes the ridiculous statement that “since the Industrial Revolution, the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has risen more than 40 percent, sealing in heat and wreaking havoc with our climate.” The second part of this is pure scare propaganda, and completely insupportable. Can we have some editorial quality control here?

John McClaughry ’60SEAS
Concord, VT


THE ECO OPTION

Columbia Magazine’s Fall 2013 article “The Pillage Option” brings to mind the work of some European jurists, including Professor Mireille Delmas-Marty, of the prestigious Collège de France, and William Bourdon, a Paris lawyer with a strong interest in international criminal law. They have conceived the notion of “ecocide” and argue that pursuing corporations under civil laws is futile; the crime of polluting the world is inherently a crime against civilization. Nothing short of criminal prosecution will suffice, and the ideal venue is the International Criminal Court, though its charter would require substantial modification. But in the current adverse condition of European economics, states are highly unlikely to attack offending corporations. Worse yet, European politics is riddled by endemic corruption, and until that is dealt with, ecocide won’t see the light of day.

Robert Kulp ’59GS
Lille, France


WARMING SHOTS

Judging from your “Global Warnings” College Walk piece in the Fall 2013 issue, Columbia’s just-launched Center on Global Energy Policy might want to rethink its mission statement — specifically, the parts about conducting “balanced” research, rejecting “easy answers,” and building an “intellectual energy community” on the Morningside Heights campus. Clearly, based on his recent speech, the head of the center has already made up his mind that climate change is the only concern that public officials should consider when it comes to energy policy. The categorical statement that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are “global pollutants” that need to be capped, priced, and taxed betrays Jason Bordoff’s ideological bias, to the extent that this was not already obvious from his previous stint as a climate-change official in the Obama administration.

The inconvenient truth is that the science behind man-made, carbon-driven climate change is still far from settled. While environmentalists have successfully leveraged the US courts and administrative agencies and the United Nations to push their anti– fossil fuel agenda, there has never been an organized public debate about the merits of the case. Over the past thirty years, the main advocates of this theory have been environmental activists, academics, and career politicians, with much of the “supporting” data kept by an insular scientific community that does not respond well to outside inquiry. Doubtless, all of the “graphs, statistics, and geopolitical data” used by Bordoff in his presentation showed the much-hyped hockey-stick pattern in global carbon emissions in recent decades, while failing to explain why average global temperatures have essentially not moved since the late 1990s.

However, even in the absence of conclusive data to support its original core thesis, the climate-change movement refuses to go away. The crisis formerly known as global warming has now been successfully repackaged such that any unusual climatic phenomenon anywhere in the world becomes instant free marketing and further validation, with Superstorm Sandy and November’s Typhoon Haiyan being the latest examples. Now, even a “ninety-eight-degree afternoon in July” in New York City would appear to stand out as a remarkable climate event. The only positive takeaway from your article is that barely thirty people turned out for Bordoff’s lecture, which may indicate that the general public is finally starting to grow tired of hearing about the end of the world on the back of every extreme weather event. That line of reasoning eventually got old even back during the much-colder Dark Ages.

Paul H. Tice ’83CC
Managing Director and Energy
Portfolio Manager, BlackRock
Short Hills, NJ


I don’t know why I read Columbia Magazine, since I find its liberalism offensive. The College Walk article about Jason Bordoff’s global-warming speech perfectly explains my annoyance (“Global Warnings,” Fall 2013). Forget the fact that he labels Republicans as too stupid to use more than three words, while Democrats are so complex that they need a whole paragraph. None of his suggestions will make any difference until we address the real cause of climate change: overpopulation and liberal ideals. First, the earth’s renewable resources cannot support seven billion people. Second, the liberal ideal of lifting the economic status of poor nations will result in an exponential growth of carbon emissions.

The only way to address climate change is to employ intelligent population growth. Climate change is not a liberal-only issue, but the green-energy solution is. If liberals were as smart as they believe, they’d focus on solving the real problem. Alas, just as in Obamacare, liberals never identify the real problem; they just implement a fix because they think they know what’s best. I find that disheartening as I look to the future.

Robert Dietrich ’90SEAS
Oxford, PA


JFK’S MISSILE SECRET

I agree with Thurston Clarke’s assessment of JFK as represented by William Keylor in his book review “Autumn of the President” (Fall 2013). The world would be completely different today had Kennedy lived. I served in the USAF Security Service from 1961 to 1964 — from the construction of the Berlin Wall to the election of LBJ — including eighteen months at its HQ in San Antonio during which the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred.

I was just three weeks into my one-year tour in Trabzon, Turkey, on the Black Sea ninety miles from the Soviet border, when Kennedy was assassinated. I am surprised, however, that fifty years later, the myth that he “stared down” Khrushchev over Cuba is not fully recognized for what it is. Kennedy bargained on his own with the Soviet leader and agreed to swap out the aging US Jupiter missiles from Turkey for the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba. Few people knew about this. With midterm elections pending in early November 1962, he kept it a secret from the American public.

The secret endured for more than twenty years. While I was stationed at Trabzon, I met several employees of Hawker Siddeley (diesel engines) and Marconi (electronics) who were working under NATO contract to retrain Turkish missile men in radar at Rize, on the Black Sea halfway to the Soviet border from Trabzon. They were from England, Scotland, Ireland, and France. This was not classified information and was openly known. Still, I never said anything about it and never heard anything until the 1980s. I worked in an area that did not officially exist.

I think the secrecy was a huge mistake, and in a democracy such as the US, the public should have been told.

Gary D. Chance ’69GS, ’73BUS
London, England


A GOOD MAN

I enjoyed “Street-Beat Confidential,” Paul Hond’s article on Juan González (Summer 2013). It gave González a life and personality not known before to this Amy Goodman fan.

Ethel Radskin-Silverberg ’50GS
Albany, NY


FAX HUNT

The fax machine was around even before its military use in World War II, as mentioned by Gordon Eliot White in his letter published in the Fall 2013 issue. I remember seeing a fax machine in operation in the RCA pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. The machine was described at that time as the forerunner of the coming means of providing up-to-the-minute printed news to the public in place of the daily newspaper.

Burton Kreindel ’56SEAS
Newton, MA


REDUNDANCY STILL PERSISTS

Joseph Davis’s letter in your Fall 2013 issue defending the redundancy of “could not help but” took me back to the early 1950s, when I was studying for my master’s in electrical engineering at Columbia. As I recall, I took a course given by Lotfi Zadeh on information theory, as mathematically quantified by Claude Shannon of Bell Laboratories.

In theory, if a language had zero redundancy, a single error would leave an entire message unintelligible. But languages are not constructed that way. For example, how important is the word “the”? Russian does not contain the equivalent of that word. But [the] Russians can communicate quite well without it. There is sufficient redundancy in the context for the meaning to be clear.

I think that this letter is intelligibly written. But see how many redundancies it contains, and how strange it would appear without them, but how little information would be lost. So why use redundancy? If it makes for more pleasant or easier reading, do it.

Matthew W. Slate ’54SEAS
Waltham, MA 


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