Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beaker Ben finally hears a reasonable excuse

The current wave of unrest in the midwest mideast has brought to my ears the most reasonable student excuse ever.

"I can't concentrate on studying. My cousin is fighting in the revolution."

These are foreign graduate students. (I know, what other type of chemistry grad student is there?) I can delay my exam for a few days but I doubt that will solve the problem. These disputes seem to take longer to settle than our faculty meetings.

As the culturally sensitive guy that I am, I told them not to get their beards and hijabs in a knot. We can work something out. After much deliberation, I've offered the students to choice of writing the following assignment instead of taking the advanced quantum mechanics exam next week. If they are thinking about living in an awesome and free country, this should keep 'em happy.

Choose one of the following people and write a five page essay about why he or she is the greatest American ever.

A. Toby Kieth, greatest singer to use the lyric "boot in your ass"
B. George W. Bush, one of the top 50 U.S. presidents
C. Ronald Reagan, father of our country
D. Tom Landry, coach of America's Team
E. Sarah Palin, best, um, former governor? ... nevermind, she's hot

Consider your choice carefully. No partial credit will be given.

After announcing this policy, the students forgot about all their personal problems. You wouldn't believe how much quantum mechanics those kids are learning. It's like a modern day Solvay Conference!

UPDATE: Made minor edit 4 hrs later.


  1. All I will say is that possibly 1000 people have been killed by Gaddafi and Bahrain has 1/5th of its population protesting....if the student with the "cousin in the revolution" is Libyan there is a good chance that cousin might be dead already; Gaddafi's hired mercinaries and regular paramilitaries have sniped, machine gunned, and fired rockets at the protesters, and there are reports that these thugs have gone into hospitals and killed the doctors to deny wounded people any help.

    Toby Keith can stick his own boot up his own ass, thank you very much...

  2. @Strelnikov: I'm no fan of Gaddafi, and I may be being overly cynical/skeptical, but I can't help wondering whether some of the "reports" re numbers of dead and/or murders of doctors will turn out to be just as accurate as the reports during the first Gulf War that babies had been pulled from their incubators in Kuwait. But I'm sure there are atrocities happening, even if the scale might be being exaggerated, and I very much hope it comes to an end, with Gaddafi out, soon.

    I think one aspect of Ben's scenario that it may be hard for many (but not all) Americans to understand is just how many cousins (first and beyond) one can not only have, but be genuinely close to, in some cultures. Still, it seems to me that students in that position have a strong incentive to concentrate on their studies as best they can, so that they can either (a) finish, hurry home, and use their newly-acquired skills to help build a new, improved version of their homeland or (b) keep their grades up and polish their skills so as to boost their chances of remaining away from their homeland until things calm down (if they ever do). So if assigning them silly essays gets them back to work, I say more power to you (I also note that I'd have to google and/or plagiarize A and D myself, since I'm not familiar with the references off the top of my head; B, C, and E I could handle, though with tongue firmly in cheek).

  3. I have a cousin that's completely paralyzed and can only communicate by typing with a laser attached to her head. She's got young children and I worry about her all the time.

    I still have to do my fucking work.

  4. Beaker Ben,

    I congratulate you on finding such a culturally sensitive way to resolve your students' problems. Faced with writing a 5-page essay on how Sarah Palin is the greatest American ever, I too would be learning quantum mechanics. And it probably does help them, though they wouldn't think it right now, to give themselves something to do besides sit at home refreshing Al Jazeera every 10 seconds and fretting.

  5. @Contingent Cassandra
    The babies in incubators story was a deliberate bit of propaganda by the Kuwaiti emirs to get the US involved after Iraq invaded in 1990. What I'm getting here is from eyewitness testimony, raw footage dumped on YouTube, and interviews given by Libyan exiles. The radio/tv/internet show "Democracy Now!" right now has a correspondent in Tobruk, and yesterday had an interview with the Libyan exile Hisham Matar, who is running an impromptu news bureau trying to collect any information from his country. In his case, his father (who had escaped Libya in the 1980s) was taken from his Cairo home nearly a decade ago by the Egyptian secret police, who passed him to the Libyans. Matar does not know if he is alive or dead. Meanwhile, Juan Cole of the Informed Comment blog says that 90% of Libya has liberated itself, so the endgame is coming.

    The Hisham Matar interview:

    Informed Comment at:


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.