Wednesday, November 25, 2015


The Brandeis community is up in arms again, protesting to strike a blow against the evils which Brandeis is guilty of (including, no doubt, ending sentences in a preposition). Brandeis' most recent sin? A lack of diversity.

I say again -- a school in liberal New England, with a history of social justice lacks diversity and therefore, a sit-in is required.

Attention Brandeis students who are protesting: You are idiots. My children will not attend Brandeis so I feel no need to sugar coat this. But before you protest my calling you a name or threaten to sit on my lawn until I apologize, let me explain.

a stupid person.
synonyms: fool, ass, halfwit, dunce, dolt, ignoramus, cretin, moron, imbecile, simpleton;

I hope that that clarifies things.

A school like Brandeis has certain priorities and one of them is an academic standard. In fact, academic standards are often a primary deciding factor in the admissions office because the level of rigor and intellectual expectations help define the school and craft the approach of faculty. As such, students who score lower on certain tests, or have lower grade point averages, or demonstrate a lower level of achievement in many different areas simply don't apply, and those that do, hoping that good looks and a proclivity for oboe playing and mountain climbing will pave the way, either are not admitted because they don't pass academic muster or are admitted and should receive lower grades or fail out. Unless, of course, we lower our academic demands. Is that what is being requested? I forget.

If we put race, culture, color, geography or any other criterion ahead of the academic skill (or at least potential) of a graduating high school senior, then sure, we can have diversity, but we will have a very different school, and not one which a student could be proud of being accepted to (damn those prepositions). Brandeis was founded as a haven for Jewish students but not because it would accept them all -- but because it would not outright reject them DESPITE THEIR ABILITIES simply since they were Jews. To establish racially (whatever that means) based quotas when considering applying students is to betray the opportunity for success afforded all qualified candidates historically. If, in next year's applicant pool, only green-skinned Zoroastrians apply and they are all qualified based on the various metrics by which Brandeis has historically assessed incoming students, should the university lower standards to accept blue-skinned Raelians? Should it solicit applications from Raelian districts and ensure a percentage of Raelians can then be admitted thus shortchanging those who already applied and are otherwise precisely what Brandeis is looking for? Note what the President's letter says: "the number of diverse students accepting our offer of undergraduate admission has been in steady decline during the same period." Those under represented minorities have chosen not to come to Brandeis. The school's overarching atmosphere attracts certain people and not others. It always had. When accepted to 5 schools, a student uses a variety of elements and can't say "yes" to 4 of those schools. I looked for a school with a suburban feel, and the schools' greenery might have alienated students who like a city feel. Should they protest and have the school change its topography and landscaping? Is Brandeis supposed to change what it is to attract a particular audience? If so, then the school's entire character runs the risk of changing, the pendulum will swing, and in 40 years, the group which is now a majority will be, as a minority, sitting in and demanding that the school change what it is to make this new minority grow in numbers. Harvard is what Harvard is because it demands that applicants excel academically. Should it lower academic standards to ensure a demographic breakdown considered "diverse"? Wouldn't that be a form of racism -- expecting different attributes from different groups based on race?

The parallel demands for demographic diversity and alignment with the student community in the construction of departmental faculties is similarly asinine. To wit: "Increase the percentage of full-time Black faculty and staff to 10 percent across all departments and schools, as well as adding curriculum that promotes racial awareness and inclusion". One cannot control who chooses to go into a particular field and I would hazard a guess that a different group of nascent academics goes into the study of Near Eastern and Judaic literature, history and development from the ones who self-select to study African art, literature etc. If so, the department should be populated by the best and most qualified people with NO REGARD for any other characteristic. Does each department have to have in it a sampling which serves as a microcosm of the overall community? How can it unless, again, the standard for hiring is no longer the intellectual fitness and strength of the applicant. And requiring adding to the curriculum? I recall taking a class in music theory. I took one in the philosophy of math, and another in intermediate Talmud. Demanding that the syllabi of these classes expand to reflect irrelevant ideas is just plain dumb. And by the way, asking for the creation specifically of "tenure tracks for Black faculty across ALL departments and schools" would then require that there be tenure tracks specifically for each race, religion, creed et al in every department, unless the protesters don't truly believe in equality. I'm sure there are tenure quality Buddhist midgets who should be hired and retained in the Latino Studies department.

Now, on to this statement from the president in her response: "strengthening our pedagogy and curricular offerings that increase racial awareness and inclusion". I am an educator. It has taken years for me to accept that about myself, but, alas, it is true. And as an educator, I can say that that statement is unmitigated horse hockey. Whether or not pedagogical methods need revamping, review or reassessment is a separate discussion, and the question of if new or different approaches can make any difference in the overall learning process is certain worthy of debate. But the thought that pedagogical methods have anything to do with racial awareness and inclusion is just plain sad. During my time at Brandeis, I had a few gay professors, including a Gay Male of Color, some strong women, some people of a variety of religions and nationalities, and John Burt who (I say with all respect) defies categorization. Through all these classes and their varied methods and approaches, the particular ethnic background and racial makeup of the class and/or instructor was never an issue. I don't mean that as a New York Jew I didn't see it. I mean that as an educator who has reviewed and analyzed the teachers I had on the level of educator, race, religion, color and gender (among others) simply had no part of the structure of the class. Good teaching is good teaching. It is not created based on diversity unless the demographics of the class demand a different approach, and a good teacher makes these shifts not as a matter of policy or departmental mandate, but because it is part of being a good teacher.

By the way, I feel much the same way about any other attempts to change the reading canon to include a more diverse pool of texts. If those texts stand on their own as quality then, sure, we can expand. But if we include other texts simply because they are by a variety of authors or represent the experiences and values of other cultures, regardless of their merit as teaching tools (be it in the pursuit of literary analysis, or the sociological understanding or historical insights they can provide) then we are similarly foolish.

Another unbelievably immature and ignorant demand reads, "Employ additional clinical staff of color within the Psychological Counseling Center in order to provide culturally relevant support to students of all backgrounds." So when you go to a therapist, you only feel comfortable going to someone whose culture meshes with yours on the basis of skin color. Clearly, a black from Zimbabwe can, by dint of pigment, empathize more with a Comp Lit grad student from Haiti than an Asian with a background in Comp Lit. I have been a to a number of therapists in my time. Religion (and race) never seemed to come up because my issues had NOTHING TO DO WITH RACE. The assumption here is that a person can only be supported through the lens of culture and race. Also, the broad range of cultures on this planet would demand a clinical staff in the thousands, at least. God forbid I sit in session with an Ashkenazic Jew from Lithuania. I'm from Poland. How will he ever be a competent and trained professional?

There are 2 other items on the demand list which are similarly stupid. The first demands a wage increase of 15% in salaries. It is admirable, but why stop at 15%? Why not 30? And what will the reaction be when tuition is raised to pay for these increases? And why only for "hourly paid university employees"? Do Black professors not deserve a raise? And wouldn't this also help out white employees who are hourly paid? Some of them might even be Jewish! Can't have that...

And the apology to Khadijah Lynch? You are kidding right? She gloated over the death of two police officers. She publicly stated a lack of sympathy at the death of two other human beings. All the vice president did was say that attitudes like that, like, you know, laughing at the loss of life, are not consistent with "our institutional values.” Is he supposed to say, "Sorry -- you were right...Brandeis stands for hatred and celebrating death."

So here I sit, as an alum married to an alum and child of 2 alums, ashamed to tell people where I went to school. These "demands" are not of the ilk which drove protesters on campus in the 60's and 70's (and yes, even the EARLY 80's). These demands are selfish, shortsighted, ignorant and offensive. I have no closing joke other than

"the state of Brandeis University today"

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why I shouldn't be allowed to have free time

I have this block of time right now -- about an hour and 20 minutes with very little to do but watch the clock. Sadly, this means that my brain kicks in (as opposed to kicks out, I guess) and, unfettered, begins to dredge up all the questions I have been mulling over for years. So, in an effort to keep myself busy, I am now going to present something which has been bugging me for a long time. Now, I did a very quick and cursory Google search to see if anyone else has dealt with this. I found a site which might have but all the relevant forum posts were experiencing "database errors" which looked to me more like they had all been deleted. I speak today of the chronological illogic of The Blues Brothers.

Just for the record, I love the movie. I think it is one of the prime examples of modern American cinema, nigh on perfect. And I speak not of the overall time line (those fateful 5 days in August). My problem is with the events on the final evening.

I will lay it out from memory, and with the most generous math I can muster.

The movie leads up to that one amazing show at the "Palace Hotel Ballroom" to be found “up north on Lake Wazzapamani". It is the kind of place which, if filled can make you 5000 bucks, easy, according to local entertainment figure and booking agent Maury Sline. I can't find anything definitive but let's assume that the show starts at 9PM. Often shows start at 8 around here but there is no announced opening act so I will assume 9.

By 9, the show has not begun. The Blues Brothers have run out of gas. Cut to the crowd getting restless. Eventually, Cab Calloway steps in. At what point would the crowd, having paid 2 dollars a person for a band they didn't know, start to stomp and shout for the band? I guess 30 minutes, tops. So at 9:30, Cab gets on stage and does a rousing rendition of Minnie the Moocher. The song clocks in at around 3 minutes, magical realism included. The time is now, at best 9:35.

While this is happening, Jake and Elwood show up, park and sneak in. They give Cab the high sign and he starts the intro. How long? Maybe another 15 minutes total, because I'm in a good mood. The boys end up on stage at around 10. Does that seem fair?

Song number one -- Everybody Needs Somebody to Love. How long? Three and a half minutes including applause. They move right into Sweet Home Chicago. Now before we discuss how long this song is, I should point out that they scoot out at about 2:51 of the song. Then the car chase begins. While the song is playing, they have to get to the car, outwit Carrie Fisher and start driving. The song is still playing -- the youtube version has it total at 7:52 but I found reference to a 20 minute version from another band. So by now, it has to be about 10:30 at the absolute latest. Now wait, you say -- maybe they played other songs in between and there was an entire show! Well, the Blues Brothers played a complete show in 1978 at Winterland -- 50 minutes. The Blues Brothers Band played a show in 1990 at the Montreux Jazz Festival which ran to 59 minutes. Great, put the time at 11:30 -- remember, I'm being generous here.

When they reach the car, we hear the immortal line, "It's 106 miles to Chicago we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, its dark and we're wearing sunglasses." One hundred and six miles. We know that they don't drive straight because they go the wrong way on a highway at least once. We also know that they exceed the speed limit (in downtown Chicago they drove over 100 miles per hour), but let's slow them down. Sixty miles an hour, door to door. One hundred and six miles total. Up it to 150 because they had to take detours. Heck, let's bump it to 240 which was written in one draft of the script!

Assuming they leave at 11:30. Assuming they drive 240 miles. Assuming that they stay at 55 MPH, their trip takes them 4 and a half hours. The time is 4 AM. On that fateful Thursday morning, the tax assessor's office opened at 8:30 AM!

But not only does dawn break during their trip (even though, on August 9, the time of dawn is 5:22AM), not only is it broad daylight by the time they get there, not only is the office building open and bustling, and the tax assessor's office open, but the guy working there (played by Steven Spielberg), was already taking a sandwich break. Sandwiches are generally NOT breakfast food.

There is no way that, even with the moment of silence for the car, the stopping to ask directions, the pauses to barricade the doors, the elevator ride and all that, the time is at all after 5:30 AM.

If not for this one fact, the movie would be without flaw. Well, that and the fact that, y'know, the phone booth flew in the air and crashed, but they were unhurt. I'll leave that analysis to a physicist or an aerodynamics engineer.

OK...only 45 more minutes to kill.