Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sensibility Training

My postings have once again grown sparse, a consequence of multiple tasks and multiple deadlines and multiple distracting events (such as traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday). Lots of interesting stuff is happening, including negotiations for a few new gigs (for which I shall defer commenting upon at this time, until some remaining wrinkles get ironed out).

Thanksgiving, of course, signifies the beginning of the end of the Fall semester, which means that the task must begin -- very, very soon -- of composing the Final Exams. Without particularly knocking those of my colleagues in academia who pull all of their exam questions from the textbook publisher's test bank book, I will say that such is NOT my style. I am the author of the questions and problems that appear on my exam, a fact that has stymied more than one student who thought that he/she could take the easy way out by accessing the textbook's companion test bank publication. It doesn't work in the courses I teach.

All of the converging events and deadlines will likely limit my blogosphere activity for the coming month. But I shall try to throw in at least a few brief postings.

In such regard, it seems that there is a minor media feeding frenzy regarding entertainer Michael Richards and his use, in anger, of the word "nigger" to some African-American hecklers. I do not particularly condone his actions, and now take the position that he is a big boy and should be left on his own to deal with the consequences of the pickle he has gotten himself into. He has nobody but himself to blame for this one.

My comments are directed towards Jesse Jackson, whom Richards consulted in an attempt to cleanse himself. Jesse said that Richards "needs some race-sensibility training and some psychiatric help. His anger is volatile and dangerous to himself and others."

Fair enough! But I harken back to February 1984, when Jesse Jackson referred to Jewish people as "Hymies" and New York as "Hymietown." Did Jesse receive race-sensibility training and psychiatric help for this?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Once in Love with Amy!

Two months ago, Amy Gutmann, President of the University of Pennsylvania, welcomed the incoming Class of 2010 with the admonition "Our world is not in the best of shape at the moment. The United States remains embroiled in war. We have yet to overcome the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. We face the constant threat of terrorism, fueled by hatred that knows not even minimal moral bounds."Seems that Amy found herself in an embarrassing position which left her open to question as to whether she herself had even those minimal moral bounds. At a Halloween party hosted by Amy at her own home, she was photographed with a student dressed up as a terrorist suicide bomber. The story made the Internet rounds, and Amy and the Penn Trustees had full e-mail boxes.

Penn issued an press release, which reads in its entirety:

Statement by President Amy Gutmann
November 03, 2006

Each year, the president hosts a Halloween party for Penn students. More than 700 students attend. They all crowd around to have their picture taken with me in costume. This year, one student who had a toy gun in hand had his picture taken with me before it was obvious to me that he was dressed as a suicide bomber. He posted the photo on a website and it was picked up on several other websites.

The costume is clearly offensive and I was offended by it. As soon as I realized what his costume was, I refused to take any more pictures with him, as he requested. The student had the right to wear the costume just as I, and others, have a right to criticize his wearing of it.

My take on it:

My initial hunch is to take Amy's Apology with more than a grain of salt. Upon further reflection, however, there have been times in my past when my own sincere explanations of my own embarrassing predicaments were met with great skepticism and disbelief by others.

And so, I am willing to give Amy the benefit of the doubt!

I am willing to believe that Amy was clueless until after the photo was snapped (only one of the photos posted at the various sites shows both Amy and the Penn student cum terrorist fantasizer, so it DOES have some plausibility). I am willing to believe that Amy was offended by the terrorist costume, and experienced revulsion even before the photos made the Internet postings.

And I will even subscribe to the proposition that "[t]he student had the right to wear the costume just as I, and others, have a right to criticize his wearing of it."

With all of the hype and the rightist politics (including my own) wrung out of the towel, the cause of my discomfiture is the lingering suspicion that Amy is only talking the talk of freedom of expression. Would Amy be defending the right of students to wear other costumes from other segments of the political spectrum? Suppose someone (of Caucasian ancestry and pigmentation) dressed up in blackface as a minstrel with a banjo? How about a SS uniform from Nazi Germany? Would Amy be proclaiming his or her right to dress in the Halloween costume of his or her choice?

Somehow, coming from the President of the University of Pennsylvania, all of this talk about freedom of expression rings hollow indeed. Penn, you will recall, was the situs of the infamous Water Buffalo Affair back in 1993. What has been done to advance the cause of freedom of expression at Penn in the past 14 years?