It should be obvious by now that rancher-President George W. Bush would like nothing more than to see New York City drift off into the Atlantic Ocean. His irrational disdain for the nation’s most important city is measured not by his words, which often are sympathetic, but by his actions, which are cruel, shortsighted and downright mean.
The defining moment of George W. Bush’s Presidency took place in New York in the aftermath of 9/11, when he visited Ground Zero, threw an arm around a firefighter and gave the only impromptu speech of his tenure. On that Friday in New York, the President pledged his solidarity with us, the targets of the single worst terrorist crime in history.
Remember the date: Sept. 14, 2001. It was the first and last time Mr. Bush recognized New York City as part of the United States.
Since then, Mr. Bush and the ideologues who run the White House while he attends to his ranch and his exercise regimen have systematically attacked policies that help New York maintain its reputation as a beacon to the world’s poor and disenfranchised. In the latest such assault, the federal government is planning massive cutbacks in public-housing assistance, a move that may cost the city’s Housing Authority $166 million a year-a quarter of its subsidy.
Nationwide, the Bush administration wants to cut housing subsidies by about 14 percent under a formula which-surprise!-penalizes older cities like New York. In some ways, New Yorkers shouldn’t be surprised by the magnitude of this cutback-Mr. Bush despises the cities of the Northeast, home to all kinds of suspicious intellectuals. But local housing officials are, in fact, surprised, because they thought federal officials had agreed to a compromise that would have spared older cities such devastating cuts. They were, in a word, double-crossed.
If these cuts are implemented, tenants can expect long delays in simple maintenance and routine repairs. Housing workers will be laid off. Housing stock will deteriorate. And it will be up to the city, with its limited resources, to make sure that its housing projects do not become breeding grounds for crime and antisocial behavior.
An official at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Michael Liu, seems unconcerned about the effects these cuts will have on public housing. “They’ll get over it,” he said of local housing authorities enraged by the Bush plan.
Here is a man who needs to spend a few days in a housing project himself. We’ll see how quickly he gets over it.
Anti-Semitism at Columbia
No one would argue with the statement that freedom of expression is an integral and necessary feature of any great university. If one tries to choke off the free flow of ideas, intellectual life loses its vigor and purpose. But the unfettered expression of an idea does not grant that idea immunity from analysis. History, after all, is cluttered with toxic ideas that fueled ghastly engines of human suffering. In recent years at Columbia University, an idea that began as a fashionable pose in the school’s Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department-criticizing the policies of Israel-has blossomed into a very real and deep-seated anti-Semitism.
The seeds were planted by the late professor Edward Said, the internationally famous scholar, longtime advisor to Yasir Arafat and outspoken opponent of the Oslo peace accords. Said’s antipathy went beyond the ivy halls: In 2000 he was photographed hurling a rock at an Israeli guardhouse on the Lebanese border. The university declared that he was simply exercising his academic freedom and chose not to penalize him, lest the great Western tradition of free inquiry collapse.
Columbia’s Middle East and Asian languages and cultures department-MEALAC for short-has molded itself in Said’s image. This trend surfaced in the public eye last fall, when several Jewish students appeared in a documentary, Columbia Unbecoming, and spoke of a climate of intimidation by pro-Palestinian professors. Rabbi Charles Sheer, the former director of Columbia’s Hillel chapter, said he’d heard many similar complaints. The film prompted the university to form a faculty committee to look into the matter, including alleged incidents such as Prof. Joseph Massad asking a student who had served in the Israeli Army, “How many Palestinians have you killed?” (Professor Massad denies he made the comment.) Another student alleged that Prof. George Saliba told her that because she had green eyes, she could not claim ancestral ties to Israel. (Professor Saliba says he didn’t recall the conversation.) Columbia president Lee Bollinger seemed to bring some much-needed sanity when he gave a speech noting that academic freedom was not a license for a professor to propagate his or her own agenda at the expense of a more complicated truth: “We should not elevate our autonomy as individual faculty members above every other value,” he said.
Recently the faculty committee released its report, which concluded that with the exception of one instance in which a professor “exceeded commonly accepted bounds of behavior,” there was “no evidence of any statements made by the faculty that could reasonably be construed as anti-Semitic.” This was not surprising: It had been noted that several members of the committee have previously expressed anti-Israel views. Meanwhile, a group of graduate students circulated a petition “in defense of academic freedom” calling for Mr. Bollinger’s resignation because they felt he had failed to adequately defend the professors whose conduct had come into question.
Mr. Bollinger was right to cast the debate in terms of greater human values. Anti-Semitism has taken root at many of the country’s universities, smuggled in under the cloak of First Amendment rights and freedom of speech. Three years ago, Harvard president Larry Summers made the point that anti-Semitism, which was once the “primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists,” was “increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities.”
It’s unfortunate that, within one department at Columbia University, higher education has taken the low road.
There was a time in New York City, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when the name Henri Bendel immediately evoked an image of intimate glamour. It was the place where women bought clothes from the latest European designers in an atmosphere of coddled elegance. The store at 10 West 57th Street was the manifestation of the impeccable taste and business instincts of one woman, Geraldine Stutz, who died last week at her home in New York at the age of 80.
Bendel’s was arguably the greatest store in the world. But it wasn’t that way when Ms. Stutz was put in charge in 1957; it was a dowdy retailer in decline. Ms. Stutz-who had worked as a fashion editor for Glamour and then for several shoe companies-spent the next 29 years at the helm. She discovered the best new designers from Europe and America and featured them in her store, thereby inventing the in-store boutique. She transformed Bendel’s interior into a cozy, sparkling shopping palace, adding food and furniture to the mix. In 1980, she and a group of investors bought the store, and she sold her interest five years later, spending her remaining working years as an art publisher and fashion consultant.
Geraldine Stutz was a class act, and left thousands of New Yorkers with memories of that great store on 57th Street. Her charisma, humor and style will be sorely missed.