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Tongue Tied: Irish Ire, Stage Shenanigans and When Good Journalists Go Bad

A law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says a pre-St. Patrick's Day bar crawl held in that city is anti-Irish, anti-Catholic and racist, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Francis Boyle complained to the school administration that the student-sponsored event demeans Irish culture and reinforces stereotypes of drunkenness. The school refused to put a halt to it, however.

Boyle said he is considering filing a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Civil Rights because he received a number of e-mails that "demeaned and berated" him after he complained.

Oppression by Any Other Name

A South Dakota Native American activist is withdrawing five civil rights complaints against schools that use Indian nicknames, mascots and imagery because other Indians aren't supporting her, reports the Argus Leader.

"I hated to do it, but with no Indian support, I was fighting a losing battle," said Betty Ann Gross, who filed the complaints with the U.S. Department of Education. "I found out that a lot of the activists are no better than white oppressors."

She claims that a majority of the state's Indian community is not supporting change in the state. Some Indian activists were even "emotionally, mentally and psychologically" abusive to her because of her efforts.

The Show Can't Go On

A local theater troupe in Connecticut sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. was forced to cancel mid-production a showing of the 1927 musical Show Boat because of concerns about racial stereotyping in the show, reports The Day.

The Pfizer Players cancelled the June performances and will instead do George M!, a play on the life and patriotic songs of George M. Cohan. Several outsiders and a handful of employees auditioning for the show apparently complained about its content.

"The feeling with the Pfizer Players and human resources and management was, our first responsibility is to our employees, and it would have been unfair to them and wouldn't have respected their concerns had those concerns not been addressed," said Pfizer spokeswoman Liz Power.

Show Boat's plot revolves around a young woman's love affair with a riverboat gambler, as well as her relationship with a mulatto friend. The work, by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, has been called one of the most influential musicals of the 20th century.

(Thanks to Jon S. in Boston)

Licenses to Offend

Two license plates in different sections of the country are causing all sorts of uproar.

In Vermont, Carol Ann Martin wanted to put the word "IRISH" on her plates, but the DMV wouldn't let her, saying such racial references might be "confusing or offensive to the general public." Martin argued before the state Supreme Court last week that the decision unfairly limits her freedom of expression.

And in Florida, state officials want to take back a license plate reading "ATHEIST" more than 16 years after issuing it to a member of the group Atheists of Florida.

The plate's holder, Steven Miles, says the vanity license plate is a form of self-expression. But the state now considers the tag "obscene or objectionable" and wants it back, he says.

Bad Kitty

A California journalist who is suing the city of Escondido claiming it violated his civil rights and those of others who use assistance dogs by keeping a hostile cat in the municipal library has rejected a $1,500 settlement offer from the city, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Richard Espinosa, a former reporter for the North County Times, sued when, on assignment at the library, his 50-pound Labrador mix, Kimba, was attacked by L.C., the library cat. The suit contends the city violated his rights by putting the welfare of its "dangerous cat" above people with disabilities.

Espinosa, who sees perfectly well, relies on the state-certified assistance dog to help him deal with anxiety attacks and other health problems.

Journalism 101

A Sikh man who lost his bid for a seat on the San Jose, Calif., City Council is the victim of "a surprising streak of intolerance in the South Bay" and not just rough luck, says the San Jose Mercury News.

Bob Dhillon, who wears a turban as part of his faith, came in third in the race. Had he won, he would have been the first "Indo-American" council member, the paper notes.

But Dhillon himself doesn't share the paper's concern about his loss. He does not blame racism for his defeat. He says he lost because of low voter turnout, and is proud of what he achieved.

"My candidacy was about inspiring the underrepresented groups of our population and increasing their political participation," he said.

Journalism 201

A marker naming a Washington state highway after Confederate leader Jefferson Davis is like a swastika by the side of the road, says The Seattle Times. It is a "sign of hatred and anti-patriotism."

Reporter Aydrea Walden used the occasion of activists kicking off a campaign to have the highway renamed after a black Civil War soldier as an opportunity to beat up on those who would oppose the renaming. She quoted an activist who said keeping the memorial would be akin to "burning the U.S. flag" to bolster her argument.

Walden even helped activists who want citizens to write the state Senate's Transportation and Parks and Recreation committees in protest by including the names and addresses of committee members at the bottom of her news article.

Let No Child Feel Left Out

A Christian club at a public high school in Hampton, Va., was forbidden to use the word "Easter" at its annual food drive because it might offend students of other faiths, reports The Washington Times.

The Warriors for Christ group was told it must call the activity the Spring Canned Food Drive by a teacher at Kecoughtan High School, according to students and a legal group representing them.

Student Andrew Jenkins says the school's demand makes no sense. "[School officials] have always used words like Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa," he said. "That they wouldn't allow this club to use the word 'Easter,' it just didn't seem right."

But Ann Stephens, a spokeswoman for the school system, said the school system generally does not refer to religious holidays by their names. "It's to make for harmony in our schools as best we can," Stephens said. "We want to make sure that none of our students feels left out."

Crossed Messages 

The Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross apologized last week for banning religious references from a music program in Orange County, Calif. In a statement released on the national Red Cross Web site, the charity said it was a mistake to exclude "certain songs" at the awards luncheon. "We want to apologize to the community and to any people who were hurt or disappointed by our actions," the statement said.

From the Central Servers:

Jeff T. relates:

I work at a liberal, diverse Eastern university whose student body and faculty routinely demonstrate against draconian Department of Defense policies (overlooking the tens of millions of dollars stuffed annually into the endowment via research and grants). As a recently retired 22-year retired vet from the USAF, and former B-52 bombardier, I proudly keep my old camouflaged flight helmet right beside my desk, accompanied by various military-related honoraria. One day a colleague entered my office, looked around, and with wide eyes gasped: "It's so scary in here!" The helmet remains! U.S. airpower . . . when you absolutely,
positively have to have it overnight!

Patrick K. tell us:

My two daughters (nine and six) are in the YMCA's "Indian Princess" (and “Indian Guides” for the boys) program. I've been a part of it for three years with the oldest daughter. I hoped to introduce my youngest one to the program, but we were informed that the use of "Indian" in the name has to end. It's so ironic because the program stresses family, respect for your parents and love of the earth. Their theme phrase is "friends always." That this is now considered offensive instead of complimentary has just left me "shell shocked." Where does it end?

Steve E. of Alpharetta, Ga., writes:

Since the Red Cross decided that the choir had to drop the words "God" and "prayer" from their songs, I guess they will refuse to take my money because of the words printed on it: "In God we Trust"

Carl H. writes:

If the Red Cross has such a problem with songs with 'God' and 'Prayer' in them maybe they should think about the name of their organization. The cross is just about as Christian a symbol as you can get.

Christy M. writes:

While reading your column, I was quite surprised to see a familiar name. One of my old professors was Carolyn Byerly, who was mentioned in the column for suing Ithaca College after being denied tenure.  She was my media studies practicum professor at Radford University in 1996.  I remember her as a nice and helpful woman, not imposing or aggressive at all.

On the night of our last class, Ms. Byerly had us over to her house for dinner.  At that time she lived with a female partner, which was not a big deal at all; what I thought was the "bigger deal" is that none of us students had a second thought about it.  It didn't change our opinion of Ms. Byerly or her teaching skills. As a native upstate-New-Yorker and knowing how stringently intolerant some in those small towns can be, perhaps her lifestyle preferences had something to do with her tenure denial.

Wes D. of Tyler, Texas, asks:

If you allow people to respond to letters sent in, please include this next time: Byron (and anybody else who wants to gripe about the 2000 Presidential Election), GET OVER IT! Even Al Bore knows he lost by now!

Clint P. of Center, Texas, writes:

I'm confused. When did redneck's get their own racial classification? I would like to join. Would I be entitled to any government benefits?

Steve L. in Boston writes:

Now a Korean-American wants Leno's "fat chin" off the airwaves. Of course in his sad tribute to political correctness he offended a much maligned minority: those with fat chins. Where does the madness end!?

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