MLK@UNH: 2014

[] 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 last week, 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 like cos2θ + sin2θ = 1 and e = -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 it deserves. 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 well. 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 has).

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 this headline:

Lee Daniels says he came out as gay man 'because I loathed my dad so much'

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.

Last Modified 2014-03-04 3:42 PM EST