Monday, September 24, 2007

Big Signs that Morningside Heights is the Place to be Today

NEW YORK, Sept. 24 — Between the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Columbia University later today and the filming of the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading," in Sakura Park just up the street from my apartment and a few blocks from campus, Morningside Heights may be as hopping as the United Nations today.

While the U.N. General Assembly gets underway in east midtown, Ahmadinejad's visit is riling up mid-Mo-Heights, and "Burn After Reading" stars George Clooney and Brad Pitt are heating up the north end of the neighborhood. Reports (and NYPD/NYC Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting parking signage) indicate that Pitt and Clooney filmed in the park just south of International House (my former residence) on Sunday and will be back today, apparently pretending that the heights are Georgetown, D.C. I have spent considerable time in both neighborhoods (including Sunday, in fact, having left Georgetown at 4 p.m. and arrived back in the heights by 8:30 p.m. thanks to the Amtrak Acela), and I'm not sure that the two are much alike, but an early morning visit may prove otherwise.

Meanwhile, back on College Walk at Columbia, the plans continue. The university has already placed a large viewing screen on the south side of the walk for the overflow crowd to watch the Ahmadinejad event (some might call it a spectacle, debacle, embarassment, or intellectual exercise; I'll have some thoughts later).

A closer examination of the fliers yielded the following: the flier upon which we previously reported actually reads, "Bollinger/ Too bad/ Ben-Laden/ is not available// You could have presented him with some tough questions too..."

A similar letter-sized flier read, "Bollinger, while you're at it, why not invite the Ku-Klux Klan," and in a smaller, parenthetical in its bottom margin alleges that infamous KKK member and white-supremacist (not to mention frequent candidate for public office, including for governor of Louisiana) David Duke was an honored guest at Ahmadinejad's conference denying the Holocaust.

Yet another flier quotes the Iranian president saying, "We didn't have a revolution in order to have democracy."

As this reporter strolled back toward Broadway along college walk, at midnight, he overheard five or so organizers of the protest rally discussing the plans. One young woman expressed her concern about the content of the fliers, agreeing that they were well intended but sharing her concern that the "national media" expected on campus to cover the day's events may distort their meaning and portray the fliers as inflammatory.

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