the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Dear Columbia Alumnus


Dear Columbia Alumnus,

The Columbia University Fund has had an exceptional year this year and we are hoping to grow in 2008. As a graduate of the university, you know what Columbia means to the intellectual and cultural life of New York City and the country. We have just launched an unprecedented $865 million effort in support of undergraduate students and the faculty who teach them. Inspired by alumni commitment, it is the largest campaign of its kind Columbia has ever undertaken. We need your help. Through your generous donation, we can continue giving a world-class education to all Columbia students. We want to continue to give Columbia’s students a unique opportunity to learn from the best and brightest.

Excitement abounds at Columbia this season. In an attempt to be attention-grabbing, we are now offering to the public the “Meet the Vicious Tyrant Who Looks Fondly on the Third Reich” series of lectures. For our first speaker, we are honored to present the honorable Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran. Mr. Ahmadinejad, known to many as “The world’s Most Dangerous Man” is best known for developing Iran’s nuclear bomb and as a Holocaust denier who has said that Israel is a “dangerous stain on the Islamic world that must be wiped off the map. While Columbia students would probably burn the school down before allowing President Bush to speak at the school, the administration thinks it is important to hear from a man who is one of worst abusers of human rights.

According to Amnesty International, dissidents who oppose the government non-violently face harassment, torture and execution.  According to Human Rights Watch, respect for basic human rights in Iran, especially freedom of expression and assembly, deteriorated in 2006. The government routinely tortures and mistreats detained dissidents, including through prolonged solitary confinement.  The Iranian government has also cracked down on gay civilians.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Iran’s shari’a-based penal code defines lavat as penetrative and non-penetrative sexual acts between men.  Iranian law punishes all penetrative sexual acts between adult men with the death penalty. Non-penetrative sexual acts between men are punished with lashes until the fourth offense, when they are punished with death.   Sexual acts between women, which are defined differently, are punished with lashes until the fourth offense, when they are also punished with death.

In other exciting news, Columbia continues to strengthen the School of Arts with the addition of an exciting new member of the faculty — Star Simpson, the MIT student who recently strapped a fake bomb to herself and caused chaos at Boston’s Logan Airport. She will now be Dean of Performance Art.

Columbia Football has never been a strength at our school. The Lions have not won a league championship since 1961. All that is going to change as we welcome our new head coach, the legendary OJ Simpson to guide us to a winning season.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Hey, Dad


  1. Allan

    You’re right. Free speech is free speech, and should be denied to no one.

    Hypocrisy from such a venerable institution as Columbia University saddens me.

  2. Dagny

    You can’t truly have free speech if you deny the right to expression to even one person. As my debate coach in high school used to say, “Everyone else’s right to free speech ends at my front door.” Not in my home? Then you have the right to say what you want and I have the right to disagree.

  3. Neil

    Dagny — While I agree with you, that isn’t really relevant here. The President of Iran is already speaking to the United Nations! His free speech isn’t denied. He speaks all the time and it is heard by the world. If anyone’s right to speech is denied it is the Iranians who can’t speak freely. My hope that he is at least grilled about his views on gays, women, religion, anti-Semitism, and war.

    And while I’m all for allowing anyone to speak on campus, Columbia didn’t have to invite him. I can think of tons of speakers who aren’t invited to speak, from Karl Rove to the head of the KKK. Granted, the President of Iran is an important figure, but what the hell is he really going to say during this forum that’s not intended for his own publicity?

    So he’s coming to New York. Big deal. Why does Columbia need to get involved. My mother told me on the phone that if the President of Iran asked her out for coffee while he’s in travelling in Queens, that she would just refuse. Even if he paid for the bill. She’s smarter than Columbia.

  4. Dagny

    I beg to differ. Just because he has denied people the right of free speech in his own country should we do the same to him here? Also, does free speech mean that one only has the right to speak in one forum? I think not. Also, this is a private university. Rules are different for private institutions. Your argument that he already has ample opportunities to present his views might be more persuasive if this were a public university.

  5. Dagny

    Also, I would assume, perhaps wrongly, that because this is taking place in a university setting that there would be opportunity for discourse.

  6. Jack

    Your argument that he already has ample opportunities to present his views might be more persuasive if this were a public university.

    I have to disagree. He is going to address the UN. Is there any doubt about whether that will be given coverage by the media.

    The fact is that we do not have unlimited free speech. We never have. I like to believe in Holmes marketplace of ideas theory, nut in some areas I am too much of a cynic.

    Some people do not deserve a forum such as the one he going to be given. Stoning to death of women, execution of homosexuals, the denial of genocide and the repeated request to engage in another are grounds for being silenced.

  7. Jack

  8. Kelliqua

    This is a joke, right? April Fool’s or something?

  9. NSC

    The former kidnapper and terrorist, now President of the terrorist enabling state of Iran, can speak his mind in any number of ways, not to least of which is at the UN. His speech is not restricted by not offering him a podium at Columbia. However, it IS a slap in the face of every American, and certainly in the faces of those brave American military members who are being killed with Iranian weapons today. He is a murderer who advocates mass-murder of anyone who disagrees with him, including Israel and the United States.

    Shame on those at Columbia who invited this monster and my compliments to those at Columbia who are protesting the visit.

    BTW, I would have coffee with him but only because I would just love to throw the scalding hot pot in his face. 🙂

    Oh yes, please, please, please let him try to bomb Israel. I am literally salivating at the thought of his Air Force and Army being destroyed in a matter of hours by the IDF.

    That, my friend, is must see TV.

  10. MammaLoves

    Way to go Neil’s mom!

  11. Irina

    Should the government be involved in this? Of course not (although I’m wondering why anyone would grant Ahmadinejad a Visa after certain statements he’s made in the past). But precisely because we have such a broad right to free speech means we should be exercise BETTER judgment in using it… and although Columbia has a legal right to invite characters such as this dictator doesn’t mean it should have done so.

  12. cruisin-mom

    NCS…well said. I just watched the 60 minutes interview with this liar. He doesn’t answer one question, turns everything around, and simply sounds like a lunatic. So, those who support free speech and hope to throw hard hitting questions at him during his visit to Columbia, be aware that he will only do what he always does…lie, spin, and say nothing. Why give him an arena to do this, when we know who and what he really is…a murderer.

  13. Katie

    Oh, now, she didn’t have a fake bomb. She had “hacked” a sweatshirt to make a light-up star logo design. Columbia could do a lot worse than hire her once she graduates.

  14. sassy

    I’m with your mom, Neil.

    As for free speech, it is fairly irrelevant in this case. Free speech is in the US constitution, not Iran’s. He can speak all he wants, but where are the voices of those under him?

    I hope the Columbia students use their free speech to verbally sock it to him. him.

  15. Frida

    Alright – I’m pulling out the “i’m a human rights lawyer who left behind coffee and cinemas to defend the right to freedom of expression in Afghanistan, that’s how much I love freedom of expression BUT…” card here.

    Here is the BUT.

    Even in international human rights law there are limits on the right to freedom of expression. Inciting racial hatred is one of the things that earns you a ban on your right to freedom of speech. If the speaker has a track record of incendiary statements about Jews, that should probably qualify.

    Given that he already has a platform in his official position at the UN, I think Colombia would put their speaking platform to better use by allowing a speaker who could bring some alternative perspectives to speak, someone who can speak about human rights in Iran, perhaps?

  16. brettdl

    My wife, who is a graduate of Columbia, tells me there is a large Jewish population at the school. So here you are, a Jewish student working on your business or journalism degree. Or maybe you are at the Jewish Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the school.

    And then your administrators and professors invite a guy, who seems determined to kill more Jews than Hitler did, to give you a little pep talk. And make no mistake about this guy, he dreams about the glory he will earn if he destroys the Jewish state.

    Folks, I’m sorry, but this has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It has to do with a strong disconnect from reality at Columbia. As Neil asks, does Columbia invite active members of the KKK or other hate-filled Americans?

    Why is it so hard to understand that enabling a Jew hater is just flat out morally wrong?

    Bonus point: I’ve been hearing more and more that universities are becoming hotbeds of anti-Semitism. Columbia’s actions just seem to provide evidence this is true.

  17. Dagny

    Brett, your statement about Columbia’s disconnect actually did cross my mind. While I do feel that the university has the right to invite whomever it wants, I also feel that it needs to be responsive to its students, faculty, and alumni.

  18. NSC

    Oh, now, she didn’t have a fake bomb. She had “hacked” a sweatshirt to make a light-up star logo design. Columbia could do a lot worse than hire her once she graduates.

    Does that mean my 12 year old is headed to Columbia or MIT? Because I have no doubt he could design the same device in a t-shirt – LOL

  19. Noel

    When Neil and I were at Columbia, I got to hear Roy Cohn speak on campus; I considered Cohn pure evil. Many (most?) universities see it as their duty to provide a forum for notable speakers who express all points of view. Ahmadinejad is certainly notable; he’s probably the biggest single danger to the U.S. right now. His view is vile: I can guarantee you that nobody at Columbia agrees with it. There will be no “dialogue” about Ahmadinejad’s views, for we all agree they’re vile. What there will be dialogue about (and these comments are an example) is the meaning and importance of “free speech.” Ahmadinejad will win no converts, no matter what he says. The voices condemning him will be louder, and the result is more and more people will understand how evil he is. Gee: ever notice that evil and vile use the same letters?

  20. NSC

    His view is vile: I can guarantee you that nobody at Columbia agrees with it.

    While I have no doubt that the vast majority of students and a significant number of faculty do not agree with his view, I would bet a month’s salary that there are more than a few students and faculty who do agree with him. Academia is full of such people.

  21. Neil

    Whatever the outcome, he’s already won the publicity battle. The protests will just make him more popular at him, where he is in trouble over the Iranian economy and his relationship with the Muslim leaders.

    Frankly, I had less of a problem him laying a wreath at Ground Zero. He didn’t do the terrorism. Where was all the free speech stuff about letting him put a wreath there?

  22. NSC

    I think both his Columbia visit and a visit to Ground Zero are morally abhorrant. He might not have flown the planes into the towers but rest assured the man let out a personal cheer that it happened.

    We keep getting caught up in this free speech issue and that is a strawman. He is free to speak his vile words in a million places in the world. His not speaking at Columbia or at Ground Zero or for that matter anywhere on US soil doesn’t restrict him one bit.

    His visiting the USA makes me feel dirty – I need a shower.

  23. bookfraud

    damnit neil, you post a damn hilarious parody and a serious discussion breaks out. wtf?

    methinks this is straightforward: it’s not a free speech issue unless the government tries prohibiting it. columbia doesn’t have to allow anyone to make a speech in its facilities. (as for prohibiting free speech ‘on campus,’ that’s a dicier matter.)

    i wonder if iran ever considered having ariel sharon speak before the iranian parliment? if they didn’t dismember him first, of course.

  24. Neil

    Hell, I gave Columbia 50,000 dollars of my parents’ money and my virginity — and I’m sure they wouldn’t invite me to speak to the students.

  25. Neil

    Live blogging of the speech at the Columbia newspaper site — The Columbia Spectator. At least they’re happy about all the attention. Maybe they’ll get jobs at the Times!

  26. NSC

    Hell, I gave Columbia 50,000 dollars of my parents’ money and my virginity — and I’m sure they wouldn’t invite me to speak to the students.

    See, this is why I should have attended a fancy-pants Northern university – you evidently get a hooker with your tuition money.

    Oh wait, I graduated from Ole Miss . . . the sorority girls perform that service for free (or at least for a nice meal and a movie).


  27. Dagny

    Another idea for discussion. Brett pointed out that many universities have become hotbeds of anti-Semitism. I believe that the sentiments were always there but have been “underground” until recently. It makes me wonder what has changed that people suddenly feel comfortable in openly airing these beliefs. And believe me, as a woman of color, I think of these kind of things on a daily basis. Because a person who doesn’t like someone because they are Jewish, probably doesn’t like me much at all either.

    Of course, I also believe that there will always be extremists, whose minds you will not be able to change, and that the majority of people sit somewhere in the middle. When things like this come up, I see it as an opportunity to reach those in the middle.

    Call me strange but I like to know how people who do things that the rest of us deem as wrong go about justifying their actions. Because more than likely somewhere along the way, they have convinced others that they are right. And with the right information, perhaps one could convince these followers otherwise.

  28. Neil

    Dagny — the rise of anti-Semitism at universities is pretty clear to me: Israel. Most university students are progressive and Israel is seen as aligned with the United States and part of the power structure — particularly in relation to the beleaguered Palestinians. And with Bush a good “friend” of Israel, there is even more anomosity. There are also a lot of well-off Jews in business, etc, so there is envy from other groups… something that has happened throughout Jewish history. Why should such a small minority have so much perceived “power?” Even the blogosphere is run by Jewish powerbrokers like myself. It doesn’t surprise me that there are more Jewish Republicans, something unheard of in my family until recently.

    Notice that the biggest boos from the Columbia audience didn’t come from his crazy views on “researching” the validity of the Holocaust, but that “no gays” live in Iran. It is much cooler to be a progressive and fight for gay rights than care about his anti-Semitism.

  29. Neil

    Here’s a typical example of what I spoke about in the last comment – yesterday’s post by Scott Adams of Dilbert fame –

    — using the Ahmadinejad’s speech as a take-off to make some political jokes about the governments of Israel and the United States — mostly because this is acceptable discourse in progressive circles, even expected. But there will be little criticism of President Ahmadinejad, or his views on gays and women, because his audience would NOT find that amusing. (via Treppenwitz)

    Here’s Scott Adams next post, where he further explains his views.

  30. Muslims Against Sharia

    Muslims Against Sharia condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the decision of Columbia University to provide a speaking venue for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Apparently letting Akbar Rafsanjani speak at the National Cathedral was not the height of American Dhimmitude, because providing a venue for the world’s foremost anti-Semite, whose proclaimed goal is the destruction of the USA and Israel, definitely takes the cake. What is surprising is that we don’t hear any complaints from Columbia alumni who should be ashamed of their silence.

    More on the subject: Why Does Columbia host Ahmadinejad?



  32. Dagny

    I have heard those claims about Jewish people being power brokers for years. Usually from folks who like to start statements with, “No offense but…” And thank you for pointing out the hypocrisy of progressives. I have heard some of the most offensive things come out of the mouths of people who would label themselves as being either liberal or progressive.

    Days like this, I wish that the U.S. would stop worrying about the rest of the world and start taking care of some its own problems.

  33. Caron

    If we don’t invite open discussion, which can be challenged, do we push people into the woods with their cloaks and no one to dissent?

  34. Jennifer

    You didn’t mention the appointment of John Atchison as acting dean of the early childhood education department….

  35. Neil

    Jennifer — Had to look that one up.

    Caron — I don’t disagree with you, in part. But now that the forum is over, did anyone really learn anything? Was there any real back and forth of ideas? What was the point other than legitimizing his views in the eyes of many. Who knows? Maybe there wasn’t a Holocaust! Maybe there aren’t gays in Iran! Maybe Iran just wants peace! Maybe WE are the terrorists!

    Or maybe the students changed HIM. Maybe he’s going back to his hotel room and thinking, “You know, these Americans aren’t so bad. Maybe we can be friends. Maybe I should pick up a copy of Halo 3 tomorrow before I go the UN and bring it back for the kids in Tehran!”

  36. Jenny from Chicago

    Ha! The more I read on your site (with the glaring exception of the condescending “Mommy Blog} the more I like it and you. Great post.

  37. pia

    Neil you had me laughing out loud as I trembled

    More and more people talk about Israel as the enemy without any thought about how Israel came to be–concentration camps then “freed” people were put into displaced persons camps

    Our country denied entrance to so many people who would have lived. Roosevelt refused to bomb the train tracks, he knew about the camps

    None of that is ever talked about yet to understand Israel you must understand its beginnings

    As I watched Flight 93 I couldn’t help thinking about the rise of anti-Semitism when no Israeli or no Jew that I know would ever become a suicide bomber

    I believe in free speech. Let Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speak. But many counterpoints should be provided

    I was the only Jew in a “left” political blog. They would forget and the jokes…The other day I came across it and they had passages verbatim from The Old Testament as proof, I guess, that Jews are a hate filled people

    That Talmudic scholars have been debating for centuries never entered into their post. No they think “an eye for an eye” is literal

    Somehow since 9/11 it’s become harder to be a “liberal” American Jew.

  38. Neil

    Jenny — if there is one thing that people of every religion and country agree on — is that we love mothers, and that includes all mommybloggers.

  39. teahouseblossom

    Great discussion.

    I was listening to the radio tonight and heard the sound clip of his speech at Columbia today, when he said something about how “We don’t have gay people in Iran,” and the ENTIRE audience burst out laughing. And didn’t stop for several seconds.

    Some would say that the opportunity to ridicule him publicly in that way was worth the cost of inviting him.

  40. Amy K

    Lee Bollinger publically HUMILIATED him today in front of his students – kudos to him for putting the village idiot on display. I would like to thank Bollinger for stirring up feelings of anger in the American people and reminding us NOT to be passive when it comes to politics in the middle east.

    From Breitbart:
    But before he even spoke, the Iranian leader, whose appearance had sparked outrage notably among US politicians and the Jewish community, sat through 10 minutes of broadsides from university president Lee Bollinger.

    “Mr President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” Bollinger told Ahmadinejad, accusing him of brutal crackdowns on the country’s academics and homosexuals.

    “Why are you so afraid of Iranian citizens expressing their opinions for change?” he asked, challenging the leader of the Islamic republic to explain his comments downplaying the Holocaust.

    “Frankly, in all candor Mr President, I doubt you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions,”

  41. Neil

    Yes, I guess I can see the point that it was good to have him speak because he just exposed himself to looking stupid. Maybe I’ve lived in Hollywood too long, where the saying is, “There’s no bad publicity.” I doubt the President of Iran was really humiliated.

    I guess the Columbia administration had balls to invite him. History will decide whether those at Columbia look like heroes who helped open up a dialogue with Iran, or suckers.

    I wonder if the school is now going to have a week-long symposium on The Science of Creationism under the guise of free speech?

  42. Danny

    It’s sad that some people are so terrified of what Bush might do in Iran that they’re afraid to peg Ahmadinejad as the crazy freaking lunatic that he is because they think that will give Bush “permission” to bomb Iran. I truly don’t see any benefit of having Ahmadinejad speak on an American college campus and I wouldn’t have gone near his talk. There’s no way today’s event helped to open up any “dialogue” between the U.S. and Iran. His Holocaust denying made my stomach turn and when he said there were no gays in Iran I just thought of those two poor teenage boys who were publicly hanged there this summer for “homosexual crimes.” Sigh. Remember the good old days when everyone wanted to go to Baghdad because that’s where Barbara Eden’s “I Dream of Jeannie” was from?

  43. Mocha

    Not at all smart enough to keep up with the discussion here, Neil…


    You knew there was a “however”, right?”

    However, (and maybe someone said this already) what would happen if we practiced free speech and allowed a White Supremacy leader to speak at an HBCU? With protection?

    It’s the “with protection” part that gets me. Who we give it to and who we keep it from.

    See? Not. smart. enough.

  44. SJ

    And now for this brief message:

    I’m Neil’s Blog Crush of the Day! I’m Neil’s Blog Crush of the Day!!!

    Thanks so much, Neil! Did you see our picture? We’re just beyond cool.

    We now return to our regular commenting.

  45. miriam

    Columbia has been contemptible for years. It is a hotbed of anti-Semitism both overt and covert. Jewish students have been harassed in the classroom.

    I say close the dump down. It would make a nice site for condominiums. It’s near the subway and everything.

    PS: I hate to admit it, but Mahmoud A is right: it is contemptible to invite him and then insult him. Don’t invite him, and don’t insult him.

    What a waste of real estate.

    PPS: My husband received two degrees from Columbia, in history. At that time there were distinguished scholars teaching there, and it was a wonderful experience. So they should put a plaque up in front of the condos.

  46. Neil

    Miriam — I really doubt Columbia is a hotbed of anti-Semitism. It’s in New York of all places. But like in all colleges, the students tend to be very idealistic and liberal — even though they mostly come from wealthy families in New Jersey — and get all excited about issues. Of course, this usually passes as they start worrying about getting into law and business school.

  47. BOSSY

    Yes to all the above (eagerly nods), no to everything else (wags head from side to side): Where have you been all of Bossy’s life.

    Kick-arse blog! Bossy is racing to add you to her BlogRoll Hold The Mayo (with Extra Onions).

  48. Neil

    Good post about subject in Huffington Post —

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