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UNhappy 60th

I read the views of the six Columbia experts on the UN with interest (“The UN: Beyond Repair?” Spring 2006). Five of the six, with their clichés and delusive hopes, could readily work for the PR arm of the UN. Claudia Rosett was on the mark but satisfied society’s current liberal bias by merely asking serious and damning questions and then not answering them. The UN is an organization that has responded to a member state’s calling for the physical elimination of another by … what exactly? We know what occurred to the League of Nations after its nonresponse to the threat of, and actual, aggression by one state against another. Let us pray that World War III is not required to prove the uselessness and fatuity of the UN’s current incarnation.

Harold B. Reisman ’56SEAS, ’65GSAS

Carlsbad, CA


As a Columbia student and former intern at the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA), a nonprofit that works to educate Americans about the UN, I’m appalled by Claudia Rosett’s comments.

The ongoing steps to reform the UN never receive as much attention as the headline-grabbing scandals. Rosett’s gleefully negative piece leaves one with the impression that Oil-for-Food and the peacekeeping procurement scandal are still breaking news at the UN, which they are not. Both have been studied, and responsible measures have been taken to improve UN practice, but this doesn’t fit into Rosett’s narrative of an incorrigibly corrupt UN.

Organizations like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, of which Rosett is journalist in residence, blame the supposed ethos of the UN as a whole rather than acknowledging the UN to be a system with many parts. It is a confederacy of nations, and member states are ultimately responsible for its functioning. Oil-for-Food, it is often forgotten, was a U.S.-driven initiative of the Security Council and that council’s collective responsibility.

The recent relations of the U.S. with the UN are a model of how not to engage the international system: the U.S. “created an artificial financial crisis” (as Madeleine Albright said in the same article) at the UN with its unpaid dues. And there are literally “cracks in the foundation”: the U.S. has said that it will withhold the money needed to start repairs on the aging UN headquarters and consequently the project is running late and running up a higher cost every day.

The UN cannot start a construction project without money any more than it can feed the masses with five loaves of bread and two fishes. If member nations, especially the U.S., would start engaging the UN realistically rather than positioning it to work miracles or fail, the world would be a better place.

Arthur Dudney GSAS

New York, NY

Claudia Rosett replies:
I thank Arthur Dudney for his comments but would like to correct his presumption that there was anything “gleeful” in my account of the manifold failings of the UN. “Horrified” would be more like it. I am also surprised that someone as closely associated with the UN as he is, via his internship with the UNA-USA, would be unaware that the “responsible measures” he describes have been mostly talk, not action. Last September’s grand UN “reform” summit was a bust; most reform proposals since are dead in the water; the reconfiguring of the tyrant-packed Human Rights Commission has been largely cosmetic; new allegations of rape and sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers have now surfaced — this time in Liberia; the Secretariat remains in vital ways as opaque as ever; and the General Assembly recently voted down a proposal meant to help clean up UN management, including the scandal-ridden procurement department.

Mr. Dudney contends that the Oil-for-Food and procurement bribery and bid-rigging scandals are over. Perhaps that is how it appears to those whose main concern is not that the corruption, fraud, and abuse be fully disclosed, punished, and remedied, but simply that the whole mess be swept back under the rug as fast as possible. Emblematic of this approach is the case of the former head of the UN program, Benon Sevan ’63CC, who was alleged by the UN’s own investigation, led by Paul Volcker, to have taken payoffs on Oil-for-Food deals. Sevan says he is innocent. But he has never faced a prosecutor. Instead, Secretary-General Annan allowed Sevan to slip away last year to his native Cyprus, on full UN pension no less.

Finally, Mr. Dudney would have us excuse the UN from responsibility for misconduct on grounds that “organizations like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies” — where I am journalist in residence — “blame the supposed ethos of the UN as a whole rather than acknowledging the UN to be a system with many parts.” It is in the factual reporting on the system, and its many parts, that the ethos of the whole has become ever clearer. It is an ethos disturbingly at odds with the charter goals of the UN, and it is passing strange that in his prescription for “engaging the UN realistically” Mr. Dudney would prefer we do not take the realities into account.


The “six Columbia insiders” who write on the UN’s problems omit one word I would have thought central to the discussion: Israel. A perpetual orphan of UN committees, it is by far the most constant target of regional groups and resolutions, to say nothing of genocidal threats. The UN spends much of its time hyperventilating about it.

The 1967 war, which gave rise to much of this, resulted chiefly from Secretary- General U Thant’s acquiescence to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s demand that he withdraw UN peacekeepers from the Sinai.The indifference shown to Israel by the major powers proved traumatic; it reinforced the view that no agreement it ever made with the Arabs, or guarantees by others, would ever be enforced. Abba Eban once put it delicately: “I could not escape the thought that our treatment was not unrelated to who we are.” Israel was thus essentially alone in defending its interests and would have to create its own deterrents.

Your authors highlight the UN’s failures over the decades to prevent genocides. In a real sense, Israel has been the canary in the coal mine, and, to mix an ornithological metaphor, that’s why the vultures are now circling.

John E. Ullmann ’51SEAS, ’59GSAS

Hempstead, NY


I would like to commend you on “The UN: Beyond Repair?”

Not long ago, a young SIPA graduate asked me to discuss my career development at the UN. It was extremely difficult to discuss. I have been working at the UN Secretariat for more than 20 years, and I have not experienced any career advancement yet.

In fact, with my PhD in international service trade in education and health, I am still a member of the clerical staff. I have been told by human resources management that I can either quit my current job or remain at the same job functions.

In order to further reform human resources management, it is necessary to review the human-capital theory and the correlation between education and the highest standards of efficiency, integrity, and competency. In fact, some middle- or higher-level officials in the UN human resources management possess an inadequate level of education or training. This represents a major resistance to management reform and has a negative impact on recruiting young, qualified professionals.

Li-Wen Zhang ’00SIPA, ’06GSAS

New York, NY


Before Making It

I enjoyed Thomas Jeffers’s article about the young Norman Podhoretz (“A Literary Filiation,” Spring 2006).

Like Podhoretz, I attended Boys High School in Brooklyn, which was located in a tough neighborhood where all of us got lessons in street smarts. I wrote book reviews for the school newspaper when Podhoretz was editor. He was two classes ahead of me, I think, and neither of us knew the other. I remember the title, but not the content, of a poem he wrote that appeared in our newspaper: “On my Precociousness.”

It intrigued me that he had a friend, Skippy Faske, a star back on our football team, who seemed to come from another circle and went on to play at Iowa. Podhoretz would sometimes wear one of those satin team jackets; it seemed out
of character.

Daniel Seigel ’55PH

Cushing, ME


Gone Hungary

Thank you for Paul Hond’s article on Louis Kossuth (“Look Homeward, Angel,” Spring 2006). Rarely has an article of barely two pages in any publication resounded with me on so many levels. First and foremost, I was surprised (verging on shocked) to learn that the statue of Kossuth even existed. In all my time at Columbia, I never saw it or even heard about it. Second, I had always wondered why in my hometown of Bridgeport, Conn. — a major destination for Hungarian immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries — Kossuth Street was located on the east side of the city when the bulk of the Hungarian immigrants settled on the west side. I now see that naming a street after Kossuth must have come about out of his status as an international symbol of liberty rather than as a result of any lobbying by the Hungarian community. Third, my late father was born in a small town in eastern Hungary five months after the dedication of the statue. Though he had no patriotic feelings toward Hungary by the time I knew him, his stories of growing up there and the few Hungarian words he taught me made enough of an imprint on my being so that my ears still perk up when I hear talk of anything Hungarian. As I saw the various strands of my life woven into one cloth, Hond’s slim, graceful tribute, much like his subject, left me with a warm glow, the same kind Professor Istvan Deak must feel as he gazes from his window upon the likeness of his noble countryman.

Edward Fettman ’87CC

Tuxedo Park, NY


One Dean’s December

I read with great sadness about the death of Henry Coleman (Spring 2006). I did not know him but remember him well from the events of 1968.

On Tuesday, April 23, 1968, I had my last class that spring term in Hamilton Hall when the demonstrators arrived. When I came downstairs, the entire lobby was packed with students pointing toward the College dean’s office in the corner. The rest is history.

On the page opposite the obituary was the piece about the splendid $200 million gift from the Jerome L. Greene Foundation for a neuroscience center to be built in Manhattanville. I noted that the community has been consulted on this expansion and wish it all the best. The great tragedy of 1968 was that the community was not consulted about the gym construction in Morningside Park. Indifference to the community, as well as to undergraduate students, was a key issue that sparked the events of 1968.

Charles Rangel’s comments about the Greene Center and Manhattanville make it appear that this outreach is happening. I would like to think that Henry Coleman’s legacy, and that of all others there at that time, will result in university expansion with benefit for all.

Gary D. Chance ’69GS, ’73BUS

London, UK


Wages of War

Economics professor Joseph Stiglitz (“Economist Stiglitz says Iraq war will cost $1–2 trillion,” Spring 2006) is completely wrong in his claim that the war on terrorism is unnecessary, and not cost-effective. Stiglitz is more concerned about his own agenda than about national security.

If we had not already killed or captured thousands of terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, there would have been addi-
tional attacks similar to that of September 11, just one more of which would be sufficient to put our economy in a depression, an economic tailspin from which it would not recover for at least a decade.

Had President Bush not acted decisively and with great courage, hundreds of thousands of Americans might have been killed by chemical, biological, or nuclear attacks.

Stiglitz ignores the evil nature of terrorism and its potential for destroying capitalism and freedom.

James E. O’Brien ’66CC

Maitland, FL

Joseph E. Stiglitz replies:
Our paper was not intended to provide a complete assessment of the decision to go to war in Iraq. This was, however, a war of choice: we were not attacked, and decisions both whether we went to war and when should have been based on a careful analysis of costs and benefits. Our paper focuses only on the costs. What is clear is that the Bush administration’s public statements about the costs were off by an order of magnitude. The paper does not analyze whether this was a result of incompetence or a deliberate attempt to mislead the American people. Perhaps equally disturbing, the administration even today does not provide on a regular basis estimates of the total costs — past and future — as they mount, so that we can make better assessments of the administration’s strategy and make better decisions about where to go from here.

Stiglitz is a University Professor and chairman of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University.


One-of-a-Kind Screen Test?

Reading my husband’s Spring 2006 issue of your magazine, the news piece on early testing of Down syndrome (page 59) caught my eye. I am in my first trimester and about to get an Ultra-Screen test. As far as I can tell, this is the exact test you describe. This is fine; I accept that my OB is choosing to market the brand Ultra-Screen, and that the test may be available under different names. However, I am bothered by the fact that you present this information as if it is unique to Columbia and available only at the four locations you mention. I will be having my test at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, and I am confident (just hop on Google) that, under whatever name, it can be administered all over the country, if not the world. I would hate for your readers to be misled.

Name Withheld on Request

Brooklyn, NY

Todd Rosen, MD, director of First-Trimester Risk Assessment at CUMC, tells us that while this test has only recently been endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, many centers have indeed been performing the procedure for several years, as our letter-writer surmises.

“Columbia’s major contribution in this area,” he explains, “was spearheading the prospective, multicenter trial that compared first- and second-trimester screening — the most ambitious undertaking of any study to date in the U.S. and worldwide. The trial answered many questions about the whole process never previously proven. It validated that first-trimester screening is valuable, and it also identified some of its limitations.

“We are also developing programs to improve performance of the screen,” he adds. “This was not addressed in the original article.”


Out of the Blues

I was surprised to be mentioned in Andrew Fisher’s letter in the Spring 2006 issue (“Sans Souci”). I hope he remembers my name after more than 40 years because of mainly positive experiences in my Music Humanities class. I don’t know if he was in my very first class; I still remember that the first time I taught, I was so nervous that I almost couldn’t talk. Fortunately, I got over that and managed to have a reasonably successful career in university teaching until I retired in 1995. All my best wishes to Mr. Fisher and any other former students of mine who may read this.

Peter Bergquist ’64GSAS

Eugene, OR


Melville, the Scrivener

In his review of Andrew Delbanco’s Melville: His World and Work (Spring 2006), Sven Birkerts describes Melville’s lack of commercial success as “enigmatic” and asks, “How can such relative failure attend on such greatness?” Though Birkerts may find Melville’s failure puzzling, there is nothing exceptional about the work of great writers remaining underappreciated in their lifetimes.

Birkerts chastises Melville (or, to be precise, the “talent” of Melville) for being “so blind to its larger fate.” He is additionally puzzled that Melville might not have had (as an employee of the U.S. Customs Service) “any prophetic inkling that he would come to be chiseled into granite as one of our few true masters.” He presents Melville’s late poetry as a manifestation of this “ongoing failure.”

And though Delbanco himself appears to rely in large part on the equivocal opinions of Edmund Wilson and Robert Penn Warren in his own judgements about Melville’s verse, in all fairness, the voluminous and disparate quality of these poetic works — some of whose lines are acknowledged by Delbanco as “wrenchingly beautiful” — is not best served in the context of a biography.

But finally, when the critic Birkerts proposes that, in relation to Moby Dick, “the nation was simply not ready, lacking the culture of critics who could steer readers toward its immensity,” one is prompted to respond that this situation is  not unique to Melville’s time and place. Indeed, is it not likely that a full appreciation of the ambitiousness of Melville’s poems remains one more critical lacuna? Or is the poetry, as Birkerts seems to suggest, another “enigmatic” defeat resulting from a lack of “drive or certainty” for which Melville should be reproached?

Mary Maxwell ’84GS

Truro, MA


My word!

Oh my. Not only was the Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes unfairly bypassed for a Nobel several years ago, but now Natasha Wimmer has turned him into a Brazilian. Portugal and Brazil share a language, I guess, but certainly not a literature. (See “Gained in Translation,” Spring 2006.)

George Monteiro ’56GSAS

Providence, RI

Natasha Wimmer replies:
Oh dear. If anyone should be expected to get Portuguese and Brazilian writers straight, it’s a translator from the Spanish. My apologies to António Lobo Antunes, and my thanks to George Monteiro for pointing out the mistake.


In your review “Gained in Translation,” you state Gregory Rabassa taught at Columbia from 1957 to 1968. I distinctly remember him as my Spanish instructor in the fall of 1948 and spring of 1949.
Are there two Gregory Rabassas?

Howard Hanson ’50CC

Macomb, IL

Gregory Rabassa was a teaching assistant at the School of General Studies in 1947 and at Columbia College from 1948 to 1954, after which he was a professor at the College until 1968. —Ed.


Burying Grounds

Ari L. Goldman’s review of Laurel Leff’s Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper helped to clear up a question that has been nagging at me for over 60 years.

As a teenager growing up in an immigrant family during the 1930s and ’40s, I recall that my father was aware of the atrocities being committed by Nazi Germany against the Jews of Europe. He got most of his news from the Yiddish press. These papers printed the stories that The New York Times and other mainstream American dailies did not. It was as a result of learning what was happening to Jews in general, and to his family in Poland in particular, that I enlisted in the Army Air Corps (which became the Army Air Force and, after the end of World War II, became the U.S. Air Force).

I long questioned why the mainstream Anglo press did not print the stories that were out there while the ethnic Yiddish press did. Leff’s argument is that you can blame the messenger, The Times, for downplaying this story, which gave license for the rest of the American press to underplay the suffering of the Jews during the Holocaust. There has been much criticism of why more wasn’t done to stop or mitigate the atrocities. Leff gives us an answer. If a Jewish-owned newspaper didn’t feel the story significant enough to raise concern and condemnation, why should the American government and the major American newspapers raise the issue? Fortunately in today’s era of cable news, bloggers, and instant communication, a single powerful publication can no longer be the standard-bearer for what is and isn’t news.

Norman D. Redlich ’52SEAS

Woodland Hills, CA


Unfriendly Ghosts?

Stephen Schwartz’s review of Mark Mazower’s Salonica: City of Ghosts (“Smelting Pot,” Fall 2005) does not reflect the nuanced picture of the city that book paints. Rather, Schwartz focuses on an implausibly idealized image of the Ottoman empire and denies any justification for the aspirations of various nationalities for self-determination.

Even if, as Schwartz writes, “compared with the situation in some Muslim countries, official inferiority based on religion was hardly enforced harshly,” the official status of non-Muslims was inferior to that of Ottoman Muslims. I do not see why non-Muslims should not resent their designation as inferior just because people elsewhere might be treated even worse.

Schwartz’s silence about the cultural impoverishment of all nationalities under Ottoman rule is perhaps the most important issue. The closed system of the Ottoman empire prevented its subjects from contributing to developments in science and the arts during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Important as the Jewish religious figures mentioned by Schwartz are, they are no match for the Spinozas, Mendelssohns, or Heines born into the Jewish tradition elsewhere at the time.

The inter-ethnic violence of the post-Ottoman Balkans has induced some to look back nostalgically to a period of seemingly peaceful coexistence of peoples and to blame national independence for the subsequent problems. However, a careful look at Balkan history points to other causes, such as the arrest, under the Ottoman regime, of developments that took centuries and protracted violence for other European states to complete. The Ottoman empire should not be idealized any more than Tito’s Yugoslavia should, for it contains some of the causes of current conflicts rather than a peaceful alternative to them.

Nikolaos Diamantis ’97GSAS

Nottingham, UK

Stephen Schwartz replies:
Jews rather enthusiastically preferred statutory inferiority under Muslim rule to burning at the stake and forced conversion under the governance of gentle Christians. Ottoman Sephardic Jewish life was not culturally impoverished, especially in religion, but also not in poetry, popular song, and other genres. Nor was the life of the Catholic Franciscans in Bosnia impoverished under Muslim rule. That the Sephardic rabbis in the Ottoman empire were overshadowed by the reputation of Spinoza in Amsterdam or the modernism of Mendelssohn or Heine has to do with the rise of Western European capitalism and suprem-acy of the Ashkenazi Jews, not with the ethnic arrangements under the Ottomans.


Columbia magazine welcomes your letters to the editor. We may edit letters for style, length, clarity, and factual accuracy. Please include your full name, Columbia affiliation (if you have one), and an e-mail address or a telephone number. Send your letters to: Letters to the Editor, Columbia Magazine, 475 Riverside Drive, MC 7721, New York, NY 10115. You can also send a fax to 212-851-4160 or an e-mail to

Key to Abbreviations: Each of the following school affiliation abbreviations refers to the respective school's current name; for example, GSAS — for Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — is used for alumni of the Graduate Faculties, which became GSAS in 1979. The only code not associated with a particular school is HON, which designates that person the recipient of an honorary degree from the University.


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