Category Archives: Home news

The Brandeis/Hirsi Ali Controversy: Ten Thoughts From an Alum

Brandeis, my alma mater, made news this week when it first awarded, and then rescinded, an honorary degree for the Somali-born author and political activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  Here are a few scattered thoughts on this:

1. Honorary degrees are a sham. They’re completely meaningless. They’re a way for universities to aggrandize themselves and give attention and unearned accolades to a bunch of celebrities that would better be granted to the accomplishment of the graduates themselves. It always particularly upset me that an honorary degree is called “Brandeis University’s highest honor.” Why isn’t Brandeis’ highest honor an actual degree from Brandeis, accomplished through four years of study, rather than a fake certificate, presented by a committee?

2.  The school should have done their homework, and known this would cause a problem which, once again, is taking the focus away from the people who are actually graduating. They put themselves in a position that they’re going to piss off a whole lot of people whether they give the degree, or don’t give it. Just a bungling all around.

3.  Then again, I don’t see how giving or not giving Hirsi Ali the degree is a horrible outrage because, once again, honorary degrees mean nothing.

4. Commencement speaker/honorary degree controversies were a yearly tradition when I was at Brandeis. Usually the problem was that the speaker the school chose wasn’t famous enough. “We pay $30,000 a year!,” I heard students say many times. “Why can’t we have a speaker as cool as the one my friends at Harvard got?” And yes, I know Brandeis now costs a whole lot more than $30,000; that talking point hasn’t been adjusted for inflation.

5.  I read Hirsi Ali’s book years ago, and my opinion of her is mixed. She went through a horrible ordeal in her youth- and her advocacy for women, and against female genital mutilation is greatly admirable.

6. But at the same time, she’s said a whole lot of awful things, including that the West is (or should be) at war with Islam. Take some of the things she’s said, change “Muslim” to “Jew,” and see how that sounds. It probably wouldn’t lead to very many honorary degrees, especially not from Brandeis. She’s also spent a great deal of time telling some of worst elements in American political life everything they want to hear, including this nonsense about “creeping sharia.” Loathsome, warmongering vermin like Bill Kristol, Pamela Geller and John Bolton are huge, huge fans.

7.  In her statement after the decision, Hirsi Ali said that Brandeis was “planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement” and that Brandeis and her critics “simply wanted me to be silenced.” Wrong and wrong. She was never scheduled to be the commencement speaker, and pulling an honorary degree from someone- especially when coupled with an invitation to speak at a later date- is in no way “silencing” them. Once again- criticism and rebuking are not censorship, and they’re not silencing either.

8. The actual commencement speaker is Geoffrey Canada, the school reform activist and charter school founder. What, no lefty backlash against a guy who’s done his share of battle against teacher’s unions? 

9. Brandeis has had a lot of incidents lately in which two of its biggest traditions- left-wing politics and Zionism- have clashed, and this is another. I’ve got a feeling there’s going to be a lot more of that in the future, and it saddens me.

10. Why can’t Brandeis ever make the news for anything positive? Just in the last few years we’ve had the post-Madoff scandal near-selloff of the art collection, the al-Quds controversy, Jehuda Reinharz’s donkey debacle, and now this.

Ann Coulter vs. Me

Big career highlight for me tonight: I’ve had my words twisted in a column by the original conservative Internet troll, Ann Coulter!

Writing in her syndicated column in response to various media reports that that whole Knockout Game thing may have been a tad overblown, the fading diva of the right has this to say about my Phillymag piece on the subject- you know,  the one from three weeks ago:

Similarly, in Philadelphia magazine, Stephen Silver said of two recent knockout attacks in Philadelphia that he wasn’t counting either one as “confirmed cases of the Knockout Game” on the grounds that the puncher said he “was not participating in the Game.”

Let’s go back  to the real column:

Philadelphia police sources told the Daily News in an article published Monday that there has been one — that’s right, one — confirmed case of the Knockout Game in the city among recent assaults, a Fox Chase man. (The suspect in the high-profile Broad Street Puncher case, according to a SEPTA spokeswoman quoted by this website last week, was not participating in the “Game.”)

The first part of the quote is attributed, by me, to Philadelphia police sources, speaking to the Daily News. The second part is attributed to a SEPTA spokeswoman. I didn’t count them as cases of the Knockout Game because the police didn’t either.

If Coulter doesn’t think the police are doing a good enough job of making sure everyone is scared of young black men, her argument should be with them, and not with the “liberal media” or the author (me) who quoted them.

I mean, it’s almost as if the woman who accused 9/11 widows of enjoying their husband’s deaths isn’t interested in fealty to the facts .

Some Recent Writings

I’ve been behind on blogging due to the holidays and general busy-ness, but here are some recent bylines of mine:

My last two Philly Post columns are both about the Eagles: Why the Eagles should sign Chris Kluwe (they didn’t) and why the fight over Donovan McNabb will never end (it should.)

A lot more on EntertainmentTell: a look at the mother on How I Met Your Mother, an update to the “Skyler is a Bitch” issue, some words about the finale of The Office, and something about that awful new “Princesses” show on Bravo. I also reviewed “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “The Hangover Part III” and “Hava Nagila: The Movie.”

I’m also proud to share my first piece for the Good Men Project, about why Roy Halalday didn’t need to apologize for pitching hurt.

Also, I’ll be appearing again on 1520 AM, WCHE, Wednesday at about 1:40 p.m., talking movies with my EntertainmentTell colleague Shawn Kotzen. The stream should work on that website.

And finally, here’s a video of my son Noah playing sports:

Crowe, Thome and Te’o

Some new writings published this week:

On Philly Post, I discussed why Jim Thome might not make the Hall of Fame.

At EntertainmentTell, I review “Broken City,” and also broke down some past pop culture moments that were echoed in the Manti Te’o story.

I also appeared this morning to discuss the Oscars and other movie stuff on the Morning Magazine show on WCHE in West Chester. Podcast of that will be posted at some point I am told.

Post-Vegas

I’m back from my annual trip to Vegas for CES. It was my fifth trip there, and I’m somehow not sick of it yet. I was, however, sick- stuck in my hotel room for a whole day that unfortunately knocked me out for all of Press Day, although I was fine by the next morning

I’ll have more for print later, but here’s my roundup of the star-studded Qualcomm keynote, which had cameos from everyone from Steve Ballmer to Alice Eve to Maroon 5.

Also, closer to home, here’s my Philly Post column for this week, about that “Nice Guys of OK Cupid” site.

Happy New Year!

I’d say I had a pretty good 2012: I gained a son (and a nephew, too), celebrated five years of marriage, traveled less than usual but still very memorably, launched the kind of website that I’ve wanted to edit for my whole professional life, finally relaunched this blog, saw more than 100 movies, and a whole lot more.

And there’s much more to come in the coming days and weeks; stay tuned for that.

Last new writings for the year: My review of Saturday’s awesome Hold Steady show here in Philly- at which Craig Finn implored the crowd to “take care of my good friend Ben Revere”, a pan of the DVD of the anti-”Moneyball” propaganda film “Trouble With the Curve,” and a review of the Favi SmartStick, an Apple TV/Roku alternative product for turning your dumb TV smart.

That’s all for now, happy new year!