Category Archives: Events

The Responsibility to Protect

Joseph T. Colonel (EE ‘15)

On Sunday, September 29 the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU hosted a talk in the Great Hall to coincide with the 68th General Assembly of the UN.  At the General Assembly, 154 states in attendance mentioned the events that transpired in Syria this past August, with several states urging the need for accountability for the use of chemical weapons[1].  Accordingly, the talk in the Great Hall focused on an easily posed yet highly contentious question: Do the strong have an obligation to protect the weak?

The full title of the talk points to the specifics of the discussion: “A Conversation with Paul Kagame and Elie Wiesel – Genocide: Do the strong have an obligation to protect the weak?”  Sheldon Adelson gave opening remarks, touching upon the importance of remembering those who died in the Holocaust during World War II, the events of the Rwandan genocide, and his ongoing work with Birthright Israel.  Upon concluding, Adelson introduced the moderator of the night’s discussion Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

Rabbi Shmuley, “America’s Rabbi” according to his website (thisworld.us), began the talk by declaring that “combating genocide is the foremost humanitarian obligation of our time” regardless of one’s religious beliefs. Rabbi Shmuley then introduced Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel, who detailed his experiences as a prisoner of Auschwitz in his book Night, and Paul Kagame, the current president of Rwanda who led the military force that stopped the 1993 genocide in Rwanda.

The bombastic and animated Rabbi Shmuley served as a foil to the soft spoken Elie Wiesel and precise President Kagame, often delivering his questions (and tangents to those questions) in a manner evocative of President Obama’s 2008 campaign rhetoric.  While Rabbi Shmuley made no claims of impartiality (in fact he stated outright that he would not act as an unbiased moderator), remarks made suggesting that “Rwandans are the Jews of Africa” and “How can I not hate evil?” felt like an unnecessary deviation from the topic of discussion and seemed like an attempt to elicit quotes from Wiesel and Kagame to present to the UN General Assembly.

Nevertheless, Wiesel’s subdued charm and authenticity combined with Kagame’s measured and concise responses proved to level Rabbi Shmuley’s dynamism and often provided beautiful insights to the human condition and how to approach situations like those that occurred in Syria.  For example Kagame, in response to the question of what action should be taken in Syria said, “The situation is very complex.  Poison gas should not be used against anyone. But we need to deal with the world that we live in. […] There has to be accountability, but this must be clarified and based on facts.”  Responding later in the talk to a question concerning the need to bear witness to history, Wiesel suggested that the existence of Holocaust deniers stems not from malice but rather from the fact that “it is easier to believe that it didn’t happen; the event was so uniquely unique […]”

Rabbi Shmuley’s last question of the night, directed at Wiesel, asked why should we not hate evil. Wiesel responded “ I don’t believe in hatred. Hatred is too easy. […] Hatred has a dynamic. Once someone starts hating, they do not stop. […] Once you say hatred is not the answer, then, what is the answer? And then I say, ok, let’s go and study.”

The evening concluded with closing remarks from Michael Steinhardt, founder of Birthright Israel, and a brief celebration of Wiesel’s 85th birthday.

[1] http://www.globalr2p.org/media/files/2013-ga-quotes-summary-1.pdf (shortened: goo.gl/jNy276 )

Urban Guerilla Warfare Lecture

Anamika Singh (Art ‘17)

Our perception of warfare is a result of the mass media culture we dwell in. Within the realms of many of our imaginations, warfare continues to exist in the rugged terrains of war torn countries. However, with the urbanization of the world increasing at unprecedented rates, warfare is in a continual process of evolution.

On Thursday, October 3 the Cooper Union was privileged to host David Kilcullen, a leading expert on Modern Warfare and author of Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla. Among an intimate audience in the Great Hall David Kilcullen introduced his new book and began his talk with a brief outline of Out of the Mountains. Kilcullen opened with an account of his experience in Afghanistan nearly four years ago when a group he was travelling with was ambushed midday in a remote location. While Kilcullen’s group mates attributed the attack to the Taliban, Kilcullen had alternative ideas suggesting that the ambush was not necessarily conducted by the Taliban. This event saw Kilcullen begin to realize the oversimplification of complex conflicts, especially through spectator perspective. Through this experience Kilcullen realized that a new set of ideas were needed to understand the paradigm shift occurring in current warfare and future conflicts. In regards to this new age of warfare Kilcullen posited that “as Afghanistan and Iraq come to an end, [we will] see a high level of operational continuity but a very strong degree of environmental discontinuity.”

As David Kilcullen continued to speak he provided strong facts to accompany his theories and analysis. Kilcullen soon proceeded to create a verbal visualization of the upcoming generation in which warfare and conflict will be effectively different from that of the past decade or so. While previously common military action involved hunting armed non-state groups in unoccupied and remote terrains, current and future action has shifted towards “urban fighting.” With this information Kilcullen outlined the four major trends that are beginning to shape the future environment of modern warfare and conflict: Population growth, Urbanization, Costal Growth and Digital Connectivity. As the global population sees accelerated increase, urbanization grows. The global phenomenon of the migration of rural populations to urban areas contributes extensively to these factors. From Syria to Mumbai, Kilcullen touched upon numerous examples in order to further illustrate how these four trends are affecting warfare and conflict. However, as urbanization quickly manifests, local insight will play a larger role within conflicts as many cities are created through socio-economic variables including the influence of non-state groups, drug cartels etc.

Kilcullen also mentioned the advent of Virtual space, a new kind of “space” to be kept in mind going forward. As digital connectivity grows, access to information and global communication also creates a whole new area to be considered in future conflicts.

As David Kilcullen finished his talk, members of the audience were given the opportunity to ask questions and the floor was thrown to open discussion. One audience member asked about the preparedness of American cities to cope with conflicts to which Kilcullen reassuringly responded that we live in perhaps one of the most prepared and safest cities in the world. Kilcullen responded to each question with extensive detail and offered his own opinions as well as stating clearly where he could not answer. Afterward audience members were given the opportunity to buy his new book and indulge further. ◊

Photo Credit: Vincent Wai Him Hui (Arch ‘15)

Panel on Surveillance

Tensae Andargachew (BSE ‘15)

From the moment you swipe your debit card to pay for something, to the moment you make a phone call to anyone, anywhere – you are being watched. Indeed, the ubiquitous trail of data that everyone leaves behind is being collected and possibly processed and surveyed.

Last Monday, in the Great Hall, there was a discussion held on this very issue – the issue of surveillance. The discussion, moderated by Paul Garrin (A’82), and featuring Stanley Cohen, Paul DeRienzo, James Bamford and Donna Lieberman was one that was very informative – telling the audience of the potential pitfalls of surveillance.

The first member of the panel to take the stage was Stanley Cohen. He began with a simple unrelated remark: “Lincoln was taller, but I have a better beard”. He then went on and acknowledged people who have made contributions to the discussion on privacy, rights, and surveillance: Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning), Edward Snowden, and Daniel Ellsberg. After this, he stated that the underlying culture of surveillance comes from the government’s need to do all that it can to protect itself.

Following Cohen’s introduction, Paul DeRienzo gave a number of case histories concerning instances of the government agencies of America spying on the citizenry. He told a story about a homeless woman who was taken to court after stumbling upon some sensitive documents. The judicial process incurred costs this woman had to pay that DeRienzo deemed outrageous relative to her crime. According to DeRienzo, his concerns over the cost of the proceedings were ignored because the accusing party was only interested in getting a conviction. He concluded his talk with a stark reminder that someone always watches us and a suggestion that the only way to combat the FBI is to use their own tactics against them.

After Paul DeRienzo came James Bamford, who spoke on the N.S.A’s history, and his understanding of the agency. He concluded his speech by asking the audience to be listeners, and stating that he believes the opacity of the N.S.A. would be cleared away some day, and become a totally transparent agency.

Finally, before the panelists had their discussion, Donna Lieberman took the stage and told stories of people receiving arbitrary convictions as a reminder that often, there is very good reason to keep their guard up. She also spoke on the ills of collections of big data, pointing out that it not only violates liberties, but also makes searching for the ‘needle in the haystack’ harder and inefficient.

For the next hour and a half, the panelists convened on the stage in the Great Hall, discussing many things – the differences between lawful and constitutional, and the erosion of privacy. After questions from the audience were taken, the event concluded. Everyone walked out more informed and more aware, but still watched. ◊

Online Portfolio Seminar

Matthew Lee (ME ‘15)

On Tuesday September 17th, Create@Cooper hosted an Online Portfolio building seminar taught by Eric Leong. The event was sponsored by The Hackerati, a Cooper Union startup hardware and software company. Sharang Phadke opened the evening with a broad overview of Create@Cooper: “It’s not a club; it’s more of a professional organization. The goal is to give Cooper students some real opportunities. We want to connect them with startups, and make some real impact with their work. We want people to be excited to show off what they’ve done.”

Eric Leong then took over, opening up Notepad++ on the projector. He rapidly typed out a few lines of HTML markup. In a couple short seconds, he saved his files and opened a new webpage in his browser containing his name and a short bio of himself. Throughout the hour, Eric demonstrated how to add various pieces of text, use CSS to format different fonts and colors, and move text around a webpage. “Making the website is simple; you can Google any tutorial on how to write some html or CSS. The hard part is having good content.”

Eric recommended Mozilla developer network, and to a lesser extent w3schools.com, to look up various tutorials and references on how to code. Leong constantly emphasized the importance of experimenting with the building of a website by inspecting the source code of other websites. Firefox and Chrome both have an “Inspect Element” tool that lets you examine the code that is used to format already existing sites. The lesson concluded with a short explanation of how to get one’s website online.

Leong recommended using Amazon S3 to host your files, and namecheap.com to buy a domain name. Rob Marano, one of the Co-founders of The Hackerati, and an adjunct Engineering professor at Cooper, gave some closing statements.

For more information about the Hackerati: thehackerati.com/

Free Cooper Union General Meeting

Joseph T. Colonel (EE ’15)

Folks who walked into the Rose Auditorium for Free Cooper Union’s General Meeting this past Wednesday were greeted by a half dozen stacks of miniature crimson manila envelopes vaguely reminiscent of the packets given and received on Chinese New Year. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, which typically contain money to usher in a new year filled with prosperity and good luck, these manila envelopes contained contents that outlined exactly why the Cooper Union projects a $16,000,000 deficit this school year, one bound to be fraught with tension, unease, and unrest. These “disorientation packets” contained a timeline outlining Cooper’s financial history, a reader describing Free Cooper Union’s demands and principles, and a zine containing five articles and a 990 form detailing the compensation of Cooper’s ten highest paid employees.

The meeting began at 9:15 PM with Casey Gollan (Art ’13) addressing the nearly full Rose Auditorium on the creation of Free Cooper Union and its actions up until this past summer. Vincent Hui (A ’15) went on to describe the occupation of the president’s office and the press it generated. Afterward Anna Vila (Art ’15) described summer activities associated with Free Cooper Union separate from the occupation, including workshops in Wisconsin about student power. The night concluded with a Q&A session moderated by Harrison Cullen (BSE ’15).

A recording of the event can be found on Free Cooper Union’s usteam account, on Free Cooper Union’s Facebook timeline, or at bit.ly/183n8jw

“Culture Central” Cooper’s Culture Show 2013

Yara Elborolosy (CE ’14)

On April 6th, hundreds of students filled the great hall for the annual culture, run by the South Asian Society. Sponsored by Dean Baker, the culture show demonstrates that Cooper Students can bring more to the table than their intelligence. The emcees for the night were once again Marcello Ricottone (ChE’14), Jonathon Ostrander (ME’14), Alexa Reghenzani (Arch’15), and Sharang Phadke (EE’14), entertaining the crowd between every act. The night started off with Poco a Poco, an instrumental group that just started up this year. They broke up their act into two parts, the first part composed of tubas, trombones, and trumpets while the second part composed of the string instruments. Playing classics that most of the audience recognized made the act a great way to start the night. Next up was SAS Girl Dance, a recurring act that manages to be different every year. They danced to a mixture of contemporary upbeat Bollywood music, which made the act enjoyable to listen to and watch. Afterword, the Cooper Union Breakdance club performed with some new recruits including, for the first time in my last three years here, girls.

Professor Lepek once again awed us by playing a classic on the piano, filling the great hall with beautiful music. Ballroom dance club danced elegantly, showing off their Argentina Tango and Salsa skills. Chinese Yo-yo, an act that started off as a one-man show, evolved into an eight-person group during the culture show. This allowed for many amusing tricks, such as passing yoyos to each other. To end the first half of the talent show, SAS performed the guy’s dance, which was just as wonderful as the girl’s dance. Once again, they picked upbeat music and kept the crowd in good spirits. After a fifteen-minute intermission, the culture show started up again with the Cooper Union Gospel Choir, a singing group that just started up this year. Singing with beautiful, strong voices, Gospel Choir had the entire audience joining in, either by encouraging spectators to clap to the beat or sing along. Afterwards, CooperNova, another group that also just started up recently, entertained us with their dance moves. Dancing to songs from all over, CooperNova integrated cultures from members of their group into one great performance. Sons of Pitches, a male acapella quartet took over after CooperNova. They sang two songs, one more well known then the other, but did a wonderful job with both songs.

A new act performed by Mary Madison Mazur (CE’15) was up next, an Irish step dance called Kilkenny Races, a unique and wonderful act, showing us a great dance we may have never seen elsewhere. Coopertones came up next, our very own singing group. Celebrating their last performance with one of the senior members of the group, Coopertones sang beautifully as always. The dombra, a two stringed lute from Kazakhstan was played beautifully once more. Playing two well-known songs, Diana Yun (Art’13) filled the hall with elegant musical notes.

Chinese Student Association (CSA) performed a Chinese cultural dance, similar to the one performed last year. Their Chinese cultural dance fused ribbon and fan dance together with great light effects to create a beautiful performance. Last but certainly not least was the SAS group dance. Group dance was a very upbeat and fun performance to watch, made even more enjoyable was the reaction the audience had when President Bharucha came out during the Group Dance and joined along. Ending the night with delicious food that, Culture Show 2013 was an amazing event. The unsung steer of this year’s culture show was its integration of the three schools, across all years, into its acts.

This year was a shining example of how much better the performances will be because of it. If you missed the Culture Show, be sure to check out the videos all over Facebook.

Photo credits to William Biesiadecki (ME’14)