It has become something of a Pun Salad tradition to
check out how the University Near Here is celebrating
the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. And what better
day to do that than the Official Federal Holiday
marking the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Not that today is the birthday: that inconveniently
fell last Wednesday, January 15. But who wants a day
off in the middle of the week?
And, not that UNH is celebrating MLK Day today,
or even back on the 15th. We were between semesters
and even the U isn't silly enough to schedule serious events
on a holiday. Instead, MLK-related
events will be held between February 5 and 12.
As always: the announced
schedule is full of the usual thoughtless gasbaggery. This
year's theme: "Complex Roots: Intertwining Identities".
I thought this might involve math. The quadratic equation
x2 - 10x + 34 = 0 has "complex roots". (Specifically:
x = 5 ± 3i.) And "intertwining identities" might
involve pretty representations of different well-known formulas
cos2θ + sin2θ = 1
and eiπ = -1 weaving about one another.
But no, it's just the usual meaningless word salad.
For another example,
the "Spiritual Celebration", held at the Durham Community Church,
has the following description:
The University of New Hampshire's inter-faith spiritual celebration
affirms supports and highlights the spiritual foundation that Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. brought to his work and life. This interactive
celebration pays homage to persons from diverse religions and identities
who believe in the power vested in humankind to challenge physical,
spiritual and psychological bondage, and free us from our figurative and
literal prisons in ways that are hopeful, healing and restorative. This
is a spirited gathering presenting powerful messages through song,
spoken word, music, poetry and reflection, with special musical guests.
All are welcome!
Coulda used a comma there between "affirms" and "supports", but the
author was too busy stuffing this paragraph with words to bother with
such grammatical trivia.
And, invariably, the words are carelessly chosen. Look at that first
sentence again, and what the word "supports" is doing. What's being
supported? A foundation!
Even a decent middle-school English instructor would have pointed out
the bass-akwardness of this metaphor:
foundations are not supported; foundations support things.
Worse: the "foundation" metaphor
is pretty tired, but the author doesn't even bother to apply it with
the modest attention
The author weakly claims MLK "brought" the foundation
to his "work and life". Please. One builds things
on a foundation.
Engaging with this trivial insight
might have breathed a little
life into this prose.
Another symptom of blather (by the way) is all the "ands". Worried
about people in actual bondage? Well sure. But let's also
free those in "spiritual" bondage. And, in case that doesn't cover
everyone, let's stick in "psychological" bondage too. And let's not
just free them (from their figurative and literal prisons), but do so in "hopeful" ways. Oh, and "healing" ways as
And just to make sure: "restorative" ways, because that might be
different than "healing" ways.
Eesh. If MLK had spoken or written like this, his audiences would
have fallen asleep long before the punchlines.
Having said that, there's some good news. The invited
speakers are not dreadful this year. (Neither one is named "Thomas
Sowell", but you can't have everything.) There's Natasha Trethewey,
and she is the current United States Poet Laureate. She's also won
a Pulitzer for her poetry. Here's
a small sample of her work. UNH could do worse (and
Lee Daniels is coming to speak too. And it's somewhat more likely
that you've heard of him: he's an Oscar-nominated filmmaker (for
Precious back in 2009). A more recent film is Lee
Daniels' The Butler; yes, his name is in the title.
He's black and gay (which for the UNH makes him a twofer).
While researching Mr. Daniels, I couldn't help but notice
Lee Daniels says he came out as gay man 'because I loathed my dad so
And this one:
‘Precious’ Director Lee Daniels Says His Dad Tried Beating The Gay Out
Of Him And He Loves Him For It!
Maybe his talk will straighten this out.