The New York Times On What – And What Is Not – Fit To Print

Since 1896 “All The News That’s Fit To Print” has been the motto of the New York Times. Its recent publication of an OpEd, “What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech,” by Ulrich Baer, vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity and professor of comparative literature at New York University, suggests that the Times’ view of what is not fit to print has become considerably more capacious than in the past.

“The great value and importance of freedom of expression, for higher education and for democracy,” Baer writes, “is hard to underestimate.” Does he actually mean “overestimate”? No matter, for whatever his intention his OpEd conclusively proves by unwitting example that it is indeed possible to underestimate the importance of free expression, and he does so coming and going.

An inevitable corollary is that Baer also underestimates — in fact, he hardly seems to recognize at all — the danger of letting authorities or unruly mobs determine what things “are unmentionable and undebatable,” what topics “are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms,” in what cases “there is no inherent value to be gained from debating them in public.”

If Trump and the Republicans are as bad as the Times believes, how can its owners and editors — not to mention those readers who join Prof. Baer in cheering on the Snowflakes —  be so sanguine about allowing them and the unruliest of their conservative base to have the final word about what is fit to print?

#BlackLivesMatter Must Matter To Stanford

By now you’re familiar with Ziad Ahmed, the son of a hedge fund manager and graduate of Princeton Day School (tuition: PreK through Fourth Grade: $28,230; Fifth and Sixth Grades: $33,010; Seventh through Twelfth Grade: $34,600 per year) who was just admitted to Stanford after submitting an application essay —  answering the question, “What matters to you, and why?” — that consisted entirely of 100 repetitions of “#BlackLivesMatter.” If not, take a look at articles in the Wall Street Journal, the San Jose Mercury News, McClatchey newspapers, not to mention NBC, CNN, BBC, the Telegraph (London), Huffington Post, and Breitbart.

Stanford’s judgment in this matter speaks for itself (and as an undergraduate and graduate alum, I’m embarrassed by what it says), but let’s look more closely at Ahmed’s “essay.” As Katherine Timpf has just noted pointedly on National Review Online, Ahmed didn’t even answer the question. “The application did not just ask ‘What matters to you,’” she observes, “it also asked ‘And why?‘”

Young Mr. Ahmed is so certain that his “unapologetic progressivism” embodies revealed truth and justice that he explained to Mic, a millennial online site, that any insistence that he actually explain his answer “is inherently dehumanizing.” Nevertheless, he deigned to explain (to Mic, not to Stanford)

To me, to be Muslim is to be a BLM ally, and I honestly can’t imagine it being any other way for me. Furthermore, it’s critical to realize that one-fourth to one-third of the Muslim community in America are black … and to separate justice for Muslims from justices [sic] for the black community is to erase the realities of the plurality of our community.”

It is apparent that Mr. Ahmed in fact cannot imagine any way of thinking about race, religion, and ethnicity different from his own “unapologetic progressivism.” Perhaps by the time he leaves Stanford (or Yale or Princeton, both of which also accepted him) his imagination will have been stretched. (Or, more likely, perhaps not.) Perhaps some stray professor or instructor might challenge him to explain why he thinks “it’s critical to realize that one-fourth to one-third of the Muslim community in America are black.” Do their lives matter more than the lives of blacks who are not Muslim? I suspect asking him to explain any lesser concern for non-blacks who are non-Muslim — such as those Asians who have to leap a higher bar to be admitted to Ivy League schools than his favored minorities —  would be far too much of a stretch.

ADDENDUM

Only grammar nerds need continue reading, but I can’t help wondering if Mr. and Mrs. Ahmed got their money’s worth at the pricey Princeton Day School. What would his English teachers there make of young Mr. Ahmed’s “one-fourth to one-third of the Muslim community in America are black”? Most writers who care about this sort of thing would write “one-fourth to one-third … is black.” The agreement between fractions and verbs can be ambiguous on occasion, especially where collective nouns are involved, as is nicely revealed by this photo caption from McClatchey: “According to a recent study, the average American thinks 17 percent of the population is Muslim, while in actuality just one percent of people in the U.S. are Muslim” (emphasis added). Given this possible ambiguity, The Writing Resource has a useful and persuasive rule:

With fractions, the verb agrees with the whole.
One-fourth of the books are gone.
One-fourth of the sand is white.

Despite what Mr. Ahmed describes awkwardly as “the realities of the plurality of our community,” if Muslims in the United States are indeed a community, then one-fourth to one-third of it is, not are, black.

 

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