Sunday, 06 March 2005

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Sexual Harassment or Damn this Headlessness! I've put on my Serious Face... Let's play "Let's Pretend." On Tuesday, a T.A. walked up to a group of undergraduates he had taught in an introductory seminar. To keep this appropriately (maybe even legally) anonymous, I'd appreciate it if you pretended that the introductory seminar in which this particular T.A. had taught this particular group of undergraduates was MNE 1001. Micro-nautical Engineering 101. Or... The course doesn't matter. What matters is that this particular T.A. knows these students well. He knows the quality of their work; he knows their commitment to it; and he knows that they possess that rarest of all undergraduate traits: a disdain for the modes of accounting necessitated by the university system. Grades. They hate them. They don't care about them. But on this day, to the surprise of this T.A., these students seemed obsessed with their grades in an upper-level MNE seminar. Call it MNE 4001. Doesn't matter. These kids seemed downright uncomfortable with their grades. They seemed to believe that whatever relationship normally exists between the letters that appear atop their papers and the work that they've submitted had soured. Gone horribly wrong. This T.A. listened to their complaints, and realized that they were right. Something had gone wrong. So this T.A. fished for information. This is what he learned: ...that the professor who runs the MNE 4001 seminar spends an inordinate amount of time talking about his personal life. About the millions nested in his bank accounts. About the legions of women who desire him. ...that on the first day of class, this professor asked the students about their current relationship status. ...that when the students talk about anything, the conversation often, if not always, becomes a monologue consisting of this professor's observations about single life. About how he's hounded by legions of women who desire him. ...that the entire class recognizes his designs upon a particular student, and that--pathetic though his performance is--the entire class finds the whole situation somewhat more than acceptably uncomfortable. This T.A. cares about this group of students. He's taught some of them in two or three classes, and is concerned by what he hears. He decides to mention it to the head of the department in which he teaches. A shit-storm nearly ensues. A meeting is called. In it, this group of students talks to the head of their department and assures him that everything is kosher. They express gratitude for my concern; they acknowledge that there's something strange and off-putting about this professor; they express concern that something other than the quality of their work will determine their final grade. But they make no mention of sexual harassment. Neither they nor the department head nor the T.A. can really even say the word. The students so desperately want to believe that they aren't the victims of sexual harassment that they go to great lengths to convince the department head that they're fine. Because he respects their intelligence, he accepts their claim that they can handle themselves. And he's right to. But...
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Fry Me a Steak! All those categories, still one topic. Go figure. As you can tell by the "currently reading" bar sort of directly to the right of this post--probably a scroll or two down as well--I'm "currently reading" T.H. Williams' biography of Louisiana politician extradorinaire Huey Long. A couple of years ago, I taught Sinclair Lewis' novel It Can't Happen Here, a roman a clef of Huey's life. What I failed to realize is how poor a roman a clef it was. It transformed Huey into a dictator of the fascist sort, when he barely resembled the European socialists-in-name-alone-dictators with whom Sinclair compared him. Wish I could admit to being a homer here, but I'm not: Long was a political enigma, but he was no more a fascist than Gandhi...both genuinely wanted to help as many people as possible...except to do so in America requires a sort of pragmatic dictatorial streak. Huey had it. Gandhi didn't. Should we hold that against the Kingfish? Since I'm only about 443 pages into the book, maybe I shouldn't make such bold proclamations, but I will anyway. I'm not afraid of being as wrong as genocide. So here's a statement typical of the aristocrats Huey opposed: "The two worst things that ever happened are universal suffrage and universal education." Huey opposed this. What a fascist. Now, for some of the Kingfish's greatest hits: When told that nepotism marred his administration--that far too many of his kinfolk were living on the dole--Huey replied that that's only true if you count "ninth cousins, the in-laws and cousins of in-laws," and hinted that his critics were probably correct, but needed some proof. He suggested they "investigate the rosters of the state penitentiary," where they'd find "plenty of his kin doling from the pen." When his oppoents complained about Huey's entirely legal but non-traditional appointment of delegates to the Democratic National Convention, Huey replied: "No music ever sounded one-half so refreshing as the whines and groans of pie-eating politicians. They say that they were steam-rollered. I think that is true. The only reason that the roller didn't pass over more of them was because there were no more in the way." After a particularly heated battle won by Huey, but thought, in the heat of the moment, to have been won by his opponents, the Kingfish declared: "That was a great contest. Give 'em rope." One of the man's favored stock phrases: "bosses and bosslets." I know one of those isn't a word, but fuck me if it oughtn't be. I could continue, but you ought to read this book. Especially if you're Some Canadian Guy, since Huey is widely acknowledged as being the first U.S. politician to put expertise above political commitment...because the non-political experts in whom he put his faith respected his ability to defer to their expertise. Brilliant. [Edit: Another 300 pages into the biography, and I can't help but think that Lewis might not've been as wrong as I initially thought. Huey might've been a colorful and...

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