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Jewish World Review May 16, 2000 /11 Iyar, 5760

John Leo

John Leo
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Consumer Reports


Here, there and everywhere, people have gone bonkers -- SOME NEWS STORIES you may have missed:

  • The scheduling of a picnic to honor baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson led to a furor over alleged racism at the State University of New York, Albany. Some 40 students at the university insisted that the word "picnic" originally referred to the lynchings of blacks.

    They were wrong. "Picnic" comes from a 17th-century French word for a social gathering in which each person brings a different food. But in reply to the 40 protesters, campus affirmative action director Zaheer Mustafa put out a memo asking all student leaders to refrain from any use of the word "picnic." "Whether the claims are true or not, the point is the word offended," he said.

    In publicity for the event honoring Jackie Robinson, the word "picnic" was changed to "outing." This offended gay students, so the event formerly known as a picnic was publicized without a noun describing what was going on. "Every day we come up with a new word we can't use," said exasperated student editor Richard Ryback

  • Gary Falkenham, 17, a high-school student in Sheet Harrbour, Nova Scotia, may face criminal charges for wearing Dippity Do hair gel and Aqua Velva deodorant to school. Falkenham was suspended twice for violating the school's strict anti-scent policy. Then he was placed under criminal investigation after a police complaint by his aroma-sensitive teacher, Tanya MacDonald. "If her reaction was severe enough, you could actually even look at an assault charge," warned Constable Scott Manning.

    The school's anti-scent policy is designed to protect students and staff, including those with asthma and allergies. Falkenham said he willing to give up his Dippity Do, but draws the line on going without a deodorant. "I don't know what to think," said Falkenham. "It's stupid."

  • President Clinton issued an executive order banning discrimination in the federal government against parents, stepparents, foster parents, custodians of legal wards, and people who are trying to become parental figures by "actively seeking legal custody or adoption." Clinton said his order would prohibit employers from "taking a mother or father off a career-advancing path out of a belief that parents cannot meet requirements of these jobs."

    Though anti-parent bias is a revolting form of oppression, particularly in an election year, the White House could cite no examples of it ever occurring. Parents thus join the long list of protected classes, which include cross-dressers, addicts, people with AIDS, people with accents, people from Appalachia (protected in Cincinnati), Armenian-Americans (Pasadena, Calif.), transsexuals (several cities), and people who are considered homely, too tall, too short, too fat or too thin (several cities and the state of Michigan).

  • Police in Gloucester, England, are cracking down on racism by entering restaurants in disguise to listen for bigoted conversation. In the first week of "Operation Napkin," one man was arrested for unacceptable table talk. Another was briefly detained for mimicking an Indian waiter, but was let go because police decided his behavior wasn't serious enough to warrant prosecution. Maybe children can help out the police by becoming amateur speech cops at home. Columnist John O'Sullivan, former editor of National Review, points out that an official 1999 British government report proposed criminalizing racist remarks made in the family home.

  • "West Side Story," the 1950s Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents musical, was banned as racist at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School in Massachusetts. The show, scheduled for a spring production at the school, is about the folly of ethnic hatred. But protesters charged that it promoted stereotypes of Puerto Ricans. "It sounds like a few educators need to go back to school," said Laurents. A few years ago, when the school put on "Peter Pan," the Indians of Never-Never Land were turned into woodland sprites.

  • Remember Susan McClary, the feminist musicologist who announced that Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was an expression of rape? Now another scholar, Rebecca Moore Howard of Syracuse University, says that the common idea of plagiarism also is a kind of rape. She believes the current concept of plagiarism relies on "gendered metaphors of authorship" that suggest originality is masculine, while collaborative writing is feminine.

Don't nod off yet. There's more. "Plagiarism represents authorship run amok and thus incites gender hysteria," she writes. "Let's leave sexual work out of textual work." Good idea. And remember, borrowing a bit of music from Beethoven's Ninth would still be sort of like raping a rapist. Or maybe not. You may doze off now.

JWR contributor John Leo's latest book is Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police. Send your comments by clicking here.


05/09/00: Tufts evangelicals are punished for acting on their beliefs
05/02/00: Elian's opera isn't over until nearly everyone sings
04/25/00: All the news that fits: The media serve up many stories from a standard script
04/19/00: Those darned readers: The gap between reporters and the general public is huge
04/05/00: Census sense and nonsense
03/29/00: Hollywood message films leave no room for other views
03/22/00: The Vatican confesses, but is it enough?
03/14/00: Watch what you say: The left can no longer be counted on to defend free speech
03/07/00: McCain's malleable messages
03/01/00: Bush's appearance at Bob Jones U. will dog him all the way
02/23/00: 'Multi-millionaire' show is new evidence we're insane

© 2000, John Leo