Blue Notes March 2017
Updated: Aug 2, 2021
I am sure we’ve all wondered at the ghastly mural that greets the intrepid scholar upon entering Butler Library. With its quasi-sculptural 3D components and harsh color palette it’s hard not to notice. Yet for all its blaring features, few have ever paused to figure out what on earth it’s communicating.
The title gives it away. Videbimus Lumen was painted by Eugene Francis Savage in 1934 as an allegory of our proud motto “In thy light shall we see light.” Indeed, the central gures seeking enlightenment are bookended by two bold shafts of light, which separate them from the malignant forces of ignorance on the other, dark side of Athena’s shield. An essay on South Hall (Butler Library) by Savage, written in 1935, details how he drew heav- ily from Renaissance motifs, rejecting the modernist artistic approaches that would “desecrate the prem- ises.” For Savage, the mural was supposed to be a depiction of peace, linking good order with proper educational foundation.
Illustration by Kristine Dunn
At the time of the mural’s painting, Mussolini had been in power for some ten years and Hitler was on the rise. The symbol of both Communism and Fascism are present in the mural, the fasces (the axe surrounded by a bundle of sticks at the top right of the mural) from which the word fascism derives and the hammer at the bottom left. In the mural, however, these tools are not threatening; they are, according to the Columbia Libraries website, regulated by the higher ideals of education represented by “the pres- ence of the olive tree dominating the background.” The mural stresses the importance of education, linking peace with enlightenment. Over 70 years later, the mural’s message is just as relevant.
— Alex Swanson
“Tattoos are forever.” Those fatal words, uttered so often to me as a child, echoed in my head as I handed over my device over to the Public Safety officer to be engraved. Out of its grimy LifeProof case, my iPhone 6S gleamed dully in the at light of the International Affairs Building lobby. Officer Morales flipped it over and turned on the machine. A low buzz sounded for a few seconds. Then he scribbled something on the back in iridescent marker and applied a NYPD sticker before offering it back to me, marked for eternity.
After the NYPD experienced success with its own device engraving program, it partnered with CU Public Safety to launch Operation ID. Through the program, which is free, anyone at CU or its af li- ates can get their devices engraved with a unique ID number and registered with both the NYPD and CU Public Safety.
The number makes it difficult for people to sell stolen property to pawn shops and electronic stores, Morales explained. “A lot of times if [the police] catch somebody, if it’s not locked, it’s like, you know, ‘who does it belong to?’ ‘is it his?’…So marking it is a great tool.”
Illustration by Kristine Dunn
He estimates that they engrave roughly 2,000 devices per academic year. “It works, and as a result of this pro- gram, the amount of incidents has dropped. Stolen computers, stolen laptops and all that.” Morales dismisses my fear that the ID program is some Trumpian ploy to monitor the activities of radical Columbia University students. “[Public Safety] won’t be able to log into the phone. They can identify it, and—you see this form that you filled out?—this form goes into our database. And this database is nationwide. So, we punch in the number and here’s your information there. We call you up, we email you, ‘listen, we found your phone’… We actually recovered laptops and phones on the New York City subway… They find it with the stickers that we put on it, they turn it over to the local police, and then through that number they can trace it right back to you.”
While the database is limited to the United States, the power of a NYPD sticker knows no bounds, apparently. Morales adds proudly, “We actually recovered a computer in Haiti…remember they had an earthquake in Haiti? One of our SIPA students was over there as part of his program here, and his hotel came down. Three months later, they were going through the rubble. They found his computer with engraving on it and they called me up. Man, I got FedEx to go pick it up, and they brought it back to him.”
Vending Machine #131, located in the basement of Kent Hall, used to stock Herr’s Salt and Vinegar potato chips. A few months ago, however, I found myself in the basement of Kent again and browsed the vending machine looking for the beautiful red-and- white trapezoidial Herr’s logo, only to realize that the chip was no longer there. I quickly emailed an email posted on the vending machine asking where my belovèd Herr’s had gone, and, more importantly, why?
Herr’s Potato Chips were founded in 1946 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to modest beginnings. Jim Herr, who is now retired yet still alive and has 27 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren, grew the business to its current state: a well-loved and respect- ed potato chip company that can afford highway-side billboards featuring retired NFL players. According to their website, Herr’s are distributed in 28 states, going from Maine all the way to California and only missing those boring states out in the middle of nowhere like Nebraska and Idaho. For some reason though, I have rarely seen a bag of any of their 37 different varieties of chips, pretzels, cheese puffs, or popcorn outside of Pennsylvania.
Rather than getting an email back from Columbia Vending, I got an email back from Jason Iovino, customer service manager at Compass Group (the self-proclaimed “leading foodservice and support services company”).
“Thank you Ed,” Iovino started, inferring that I would like to be called “Ed” which I definitely do not, “We rotate Herr’s in & out depending on how sales are. Right now sales were down so we replaced them.”
Going to Kent’s basement is not typically enjoyable as it usually involves some interaction with the Columbia bureaucracy therein—the Registrar, ID center, and Student Financial Services are all located here—and is therefore not a conducive snack buying environment. This is terrible place to buy chips, especially a lesser-known brand like Herr’s.
How could sales not be down? I wondered. The salt and vinegar selection was a terrible idea (who can afford walking around campus with vinegar breath?) and the location was its death knell. The odds were stacked against them all along. Iovino did offer me some hope though. “Please let me know which item you were looking for,” he wrote me, “I always like to consider fresh & new ideas.”
I emailed back just an hour after his response. “I’m personally a big fan of Herr’s Sour Cream and Onion, but I feel like a safer option may be [Herr’s] standard, ‘Original Crisp ’N Tasty,’ blue-bag potato chip,” I said. And now here we are: over a month later and still Herr’s-less, my requests un lled and my stomach empty.