Newsmakers

 
 

Indiaspora

At a ceremony in New Delhi on January 4, Thomas Abraham ’75SEAS, ’81SEAS received the Bharatvanshi Gaurav (Pride of India) award for his contributions to the Indian diaspora. Abraham is chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, a nonprofit group that advocates for economic and human rights, with chapters in 18 nations…. University trustee Vikram S. Pandit ’76SEAS, ’77SEAS, ’80BUS, ’86GSAS came to Columbia at age 16 from India. Now he’s been named chief executive of America’s largest bank, Citigroup, which is reeling in the wake of the turmoil in the credit markets, announcing billions of dollars in losses and falling stock prices. Pandit told CNNMoney.com that he’s focused on strengthening the company’s balance sheet, managing risk, and cutting expenses.


 
 

Secretary Pool

New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller ’79JRN has written an unauthorized biography of Condoleezza Rice that traces Rice’s trajectory from a cultured girlhood in Birmingham during the civil rights struggle to her roles as national security adviser and secretary of state in the Bush White House…. A tough battle lies ahead for Jay Carson ’99CC, the 30- year-old, sneaker-wearing traveling press secretary for Hillary Clinton, whose frontrunner status leading up to the Democratic primaries has been challenged by Barack Obama ’83CC…. Martha Joynt Kumar ’65GSAS, ’72GSAS, a political science professor at Towson University near Baltimore, has written a book called Managing the President’s Message: The White House Communications Operation, which examines the relationship between the last four presidents and the press, and how the presidential press office evolved from a one-person outfit into a communications machine employing hundreds of people.


 
 
 
  Lars Rosengren/Aftonbladet
  Kevin Conrad
   

Weathermen

Kevin Conrad ’05BU, director of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations at the Earth Institute at Columbia, stirred things up at the recent Bali conference on climate change when he confronted the U.S. delegation over its objection to an Indian proposal to make wealthier nations help poorer ones deal with the impacts of global warming. Conrad’s challenge caused the conference to erupt with applause, and the chagrined U.S. delegate to back down…. The Federal Reserve Board added a seasoned prognosticator to its ranks with Columbia economist Frederic Mishkin, who has gained a reputation for making prescient speeches on interest rates. Two talks that Mishkin gave in September anticipated the Fed’s halfpoint rate cut that same month. Maybe it isn’t simple clairvoyance: Mishkin holds sway in the policy-making Federal Open Market Committee, and he’s a close ally of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke.


 
 

Provisions for Visions

The GI Bill was very good to World War II veteran Jerome Kohlberg ’50LAW. With it, Kohlberg was able to attend Swarthmore, Harvard, and Columbia, and went on to become a Wall Street billionaire. Now Kohlberg would like the government to extend the same benefits to returning veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. Leading by example, Kohlberg started the Fund for Veterans’ Education with $4 million, which will provide scholarships to at least one vet in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia…. Elie Hassenfeld ’04CC recently walked away from a lofty income as a hedge fund analyst at Bridgewater Associates to evaluate another species of investment: charities. Hassenfeld cofounded GiveWell, which ranks charities by their effectiveness…. Chatiporn Assarat ’07SIPA is helping to continue a family tradition. Greatnephew of Udane Tejapaibul, one of Thailand’s greatest philanthropists, Assarat and his two sisters have established a new educational facility in Bangkok: Ivy Bound International School. The school, made possible by a $13.5 million investment from Assarat’s parents, will be led by Ivy League–trained educators with a mission to instill a spirit of intellectual inquiry and ethics in a new generation of Thai children.


 
 
 
Melanie Farmer  
Koji Nakanishi  

Empirical Emperors

Koji Nakanishi, Centennial Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Columbia, has received the Japanese Order of Culture Award, the highest honor bestowed by the emperor of Japan. Nakanishi, 82, studies the structural aspects of bioactive compounds and their mode of action. His work has had implications for the treatment of macular degeneration and neurological disorders…. Five Columbia faculty have been elected fellows of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): neurobiologist Martin Chalfie, bioethicist Ruth L. Fischbach, biochemist Stephen P. Goff, biologist James E. Rothman, and geophysicist John C. Mutter ’82GSAS.




 
 

The Searchers

As a student in Beijing in the 1970s, the Canadian-born Jan Wong ’81JRN snitched to the Communist authorities about a woman named Yin Luoyi, effectively derailing Yin’s career. Then, in 2006, Wong returned to a dramatically changed China to look for Yin, in hopes of apologizing to her. That journey is retold in Wong’s new book, Beijing Confidential: A Tale of Comrades Lost and Found…. Painter Art Rosenbaum ’60CC, ’61SOA has a suitcase full of blues — the music, not the pigment. Rosenbaum, an old-school folkie and connoisseur of Americana, traveled through the South, the Midwest, and New England with fellow musical explorer Lance Ledbetter and some recording equipment to locate surviving samples of regional American folk music. Their findings have been released in a collection on the Dust-to-Digital label called “Art of Field Recording Volume 1,” which includes a booklet containing Rosenbaum’s erudite commentaries.


 
 

That's the Spirit!

Indian filmmaker Rajnesh Domalpalli ’06SOA has been nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards: Best First Feature and Best Cinematography. His movie, Vanaja, about a poor girl in South India who strives to become a great dancer, was conceived during Domalpalli’s first semester at Columbia in 2001, and won the jury prize for Best First Feature at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival. The first novel of Dinaw Mengestu ’72SW, Children of the Revolution, won the £10,000 Guardian First Book Award for 2007. The novel chronicles the life of Sepha Stephanos, who escapes to America from Ethiopia during the bloody Communist revolution of the 1970s and struggles to find a sense of place and identity in a run-down neighborhood in Washington, DC.


 
 
 
  R. J. Matson’s riff on the movie 300, about the Battle of Thermopylae, was Time magazine’s pick for best political cartoon of 2007.
   

Sketchy Conclusions

In November, New York Post reporter Leonardo Blair ’07JRN says he was walking from his car to his home in the Bronx when a police cruiser crept up alongside him. One of the two officers inside asked Blair what he was doing coming from the car. Stunned, Blair said, “What?” The cops jumped out of their patrol car, frisked Blair, verbally abused him, then handcuffed him and brought him to the precinct house. Blair, who is black, wrote about the experience in an article in the Post. The Post has taken the editorial position that the NYPD does not do racial profiling…. With no shortage of social and political zaniness from which to draw, cartoonist R. J. Matson ’85CC took two spots in Time magazine’s list of Top 10 political cartoons of 2007. Matson’s witty caricatures can be seen in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Observer.



 
 

Fab Fours

The indie rock band Vampire Weekend, which consists of singer-guitarist Ezra Koenig ’06CC, keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij ’06CC, bassist Chris Baio ’07CC, and drummer Chris Tomson ’06CC, has been playing for packed houses from New York to Chicago. The band’s infectious mix of African rhythms and clever wordplay can be heard on their new disc on the XL label…. In the October 15 issue, New York magazine named 10 up-and-coming visual artists who are making a cultural impact. Four are Columbia grads: Huma Bhabha ’93SOA, Matthew Brannon ’99SOA, Jamie Isenstein ’04SOA, and Mika Rottenberg ’04SOA.


 
 

The Power of Art

Peter Lieberson ’85GSAS recently won the University of Louisville’s Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, which carries a $200,000 prize, for “Neruda Songs.”The Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2005 premiered the song cycle that Lieberson wrote for his terminally ill wife, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who performed the piece. She died the next year…. Historian Simon Schama, University Professor at Columbia, won an Interna tional Emmy Award for Arts Programming for his PBS television series Simon Schama’s Power of Art, capping off a year that also saw his book Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution win the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.