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The Last Laugh



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John J Miller started the day here in The Corner with the story of Professor Robert Klein Engler, who was fired from Roosevelt University and only discovered why two months later. It was for telling a joke:

A group of sociologists did a poll in Arizona regarding the state’s new immigration law. Sixty percent said they were in favor, and 40 percent said, ‘No hablo Ingles.’

For NR last year I wrote a “Happy Warrior” column about Milan Kundera’s first novel, about a loyal Party member in newly Communist Czechoslovakia with a great future ahead of him who makes one mistake: He makes a joke, and his life is ruined. He’s expelled from the Party and his university, and sent to work in the mines.

I first read The Joke as a schoolboy, when we thought such deranged scenarios were confined to the Warsaw Pact. I re-read it on the flight to Vancouver, the day before the British Columbia “Human Rights” Tribunal devoted the best part of a day’s court proceedings to hearing testimony from “expert witnesses” on the “tone” of my jokes. Fresh from that triumph, the BC HRT then convicted and fined Guy Earle, a stand-up comedian who committed the hitherto unknown crime of putting down a lesbian heckler homophobically. At the time of my NR column, I was writing about Dr. Lazar Greenfield, president-elect of the American College of Surgeons, whose career came to a sudden end after he wrote a light-hearted Valentine’s Day piece for Surgery News on the health benefits for women of semen. Although right on the facts, he offended the tender sensitivities of his feminist colleagues, and his decades of illustrious service availed him naught. Like Kundera’s protagonist, Dr. Greenfield had made an ideologically unsound joke, and was disappeared: Surgery News wound up pulping the entire issue.

And now we have Professor Engler. As I wrote in NR:

As a waggish adolescent, I liked the absurdity of the situation in which Ludvik finds himself. Later, I came to appreciate Kundera had skewered the touchiness of totalitarianism, and the consequential loss of any sense of proportion.

We are not yet a totalitarian society, but the touchiness of America’s wretched academy is certainly providing a fine pilot program.



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