MLK@UNH 2019

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It's that time of year when we look at what the University Near Here has planned for Martin Luther King Day.

Well, not the actual day, January 21. The campus is closed that day, Spring Semester doesn't begin until January 22. Instead, the festivities start on January 30, and continue through (I am not making this up) through April. We'll look at some of them.

Sometimes I wonder if the folks in charge have a bingo cage with buzzwords and hackneyed phrases written on the balls. Every year, they pick five or six balls at random and attempt to use them all while filling in the blank: "This year's tribute to MLK will focus on _____."

This year gives us:

This year's tribute to MLK will focus on the use of dialogue to help us engage in a culture of compassion and awaken us to solidarity and liberation

Check. It's the usual gaseous, vague, essentially meaningless prose. The balls go back in the cage for next year.

But what's actually happening?

  • The first speaker is… not bad, actually. C.L. Lindsay III, on "Freedom of Speech".

    Attorney C.L. Lindsay III left his law practice in 1998 and founded the Coalition for Student & Academic Rights (CO-STAR), a non-profit that assists students with their legal problems, free-of-charge. Lindsay is a nationally recognized expert and leader in the field of student rights and academic freedom. He received his J.D. from the Univ of Michigan and continues to teach Law and Literature at the Univ. of Pennsylvania.

    Somewhat surprisingly, a white guy. The CO-STAR site is here; Lindsay's personal site is here. Apparently, his lectures are pretty funny, using "trademark action figure pictures to illustrate his points".

    And his booking agency describes his "Campus Free Speech" talk here. It looks interesting.

    • The basics of First amendment law including the myriad exceptions
    • Professors and Free Speech including Semi-Affiliated Accounts (unofficial social media accounts maintained by professors)
    • Students and individual free speech rights with an emphasis in online speech
    • Invited outside speakers and balancing free speech with safety and other institutional concerns
    • Public forum speech and profanity rules and time place and manner restrictions
    • Free Speech vs. Free From Consequences

    I have quibbles!

    • Are there really "myriad" exceptions to protected speech? According to current jurisprudence, not really. More like a handful.

    • The "balancing free speech with safety" issue is (indeed) hot right now, but only because universities have used it as an excuse to charge onerous "security fees" on "controversial" speakers (i.e., likely to arouse the ire of violent left-wingers). That didn't work out well for the University of Washington, which tried to play this game with the College Republicans, only to wind up paying $122,500 in legal fees.

    • And with respect to "Free Speech vs. Free From Consequences": that can be problematic too. Nobody argues that speech can be, or even should be, free from "consequences". If you use your freedom of speech to proclaim the wisdom of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, there will be at least one consequence. Namely, that I will consider you to be an idiot.

      So "Free Speech vs. Free From Consequences" isn't really the issue. Pretending that it is borders on fatuity.

    Another (slight) warning flag: the CO-STAR site's "Links" page has … no link to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). That's a curious omission.

  • On February 9, there's the "MLK Annual Day of Service", billed as "a great way to show those in need that you care."

    I'm kind of tired of people throwing the "virtue-signalling" label at others, but I can't come up with a better description in this case. Your important goal is not simply to help out the needy, but to show them that you care.

  • And then on February 15: A Cappella performances! It's time again to spin the bingo cage of catchphrases:

    Several A Cappella groups have organized a special "Spring Inclusion" event with a wide variety of songs that will hopefully widen our circles and invite our minds to reflect on new ways to view our community and the people around us.

    Hm. If you widen a circle, don't you get an ellipse? Even if you do so "hopefully"?

    And I wonder what it means to view both "our community" and "the people around us". A thoughtless redundancy, or a meaningful distinction? I fear we shall never know for sure.

  • February 21-23 brings us a movie, The Hate U Give.

    Based on the best selling book, this is the story of Starr Carter who lives in two worlds, a poor black neighborhood and a predominantly white prep school. The uneasy balance is thrown when her friend is killed by a police officer.

    Trivia: The title is (allegedly) based on the rap artist Tupac Shakur who had a "THUG LIFE" tattoo, which he alleged was an acronym for "The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everything". The rating is PG-13, so they don't play up that last part.

    The movie was overwhelmingly well-reviewed. "Even" Kyle Smith in National Review:

    As The Hate U Give reached its climax, I had to reach down to the floor. There it was, right down there with the soda residue and the spilled popcorn: My jaw. Did I really just see a Black Lives Matter movie, in which an unarmed black youth is shot and killed by a white cop, build up to a scene in which a black cop explains what goes through the mind of a police officer in such a situation, when a suspect repeatedly disobeys lawful commands, and explains that he would have shot the guy too? This film is going to make Sheriff David Clarke jump out of his seat and cheer.

    That's an "NRPlus" article. If you're nonNRplussed, you'll have to take my word for it. But it seems a surprisingly good choice for UNH.

  • The main speaker shows up on February 26, Leah Penniman:

    Leah Penniman, founding co-director of Soul Fire Farm, is author of the book "Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm's Practical Guide to Liberation of the Land" is the scheduled speaker for this year's MLK Tribute.  Leah has been farming since 1996 and teaching since 2002.  The work of Leah and Soul Fire Farm has been recognized by Omega Sustainability Leadership Award, Presidential Award for Science Teaching, and others.  Soul Fire Farm, is committed to ending racism and injustice within our food system.  Penniman is part of a global network of farmers working to increase farmland stewardship by people of color, and ending food apartheid.   More about the book

    Food apartheid? Ooh! Sounds like tendentious bullshit! Gustavo Arellano wrote in Reason a couple years back about the movement:

    The contemporary progressive food philosophy, best epitomized on the national level by Michelle Obama's Let's Move! program, is based on the notion that the country's fat, diabetic, unhealthy working classes are simply too derelict to make informed food choices. That decades of corporate greed have led to so-called "food deserts" and "food apartheid," in which chain restaurants and liquor stores are blighting neighborhoods and serving up what ["fusion taco artist" Roy] Choi described as "corrosive chemical waste." That salvation lies only in going back to the land—putting farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods and promoting organic, sustainable foodways from elementary school through adulthood.

    I wouldn't say that Leah is a food nazi, but I'd have to attend her talk to find out and… I'm not gonna.

  • From the tendentious to the weird/tedious, March 2 brings "The Human Library" (to the local high school, not UNH):

    The Human Library Project is a one-day event offering the opportunity for face-to-face conversations that challenge sterotyping and prejudice. Its a place where real people are "books", as they "loan" their stories and experiences to listeners. Difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered in the moment. Come and sit with your "book" and discover paths to a more peaceful world.

    Um, fine. The Human Library website is here.

  • On March 5: "The UNH Experience for Students with Disabilities".

    Listen to UNH students tell their stories and share their experiences as they navigate the transition and terrain from high school to college and onward to internships, graduate studies and careers.

    Fine, but note the (as always) inflated language, using 31 words to say something that could equally have been done with 7: "UNH students with disabilities tell their stories."

  • From January 24 to March 31, there's an exhibit at the UNH Art Gallery:

    Yoav Horesh's Aftermath is a selection of photographs made in suicide bombing sites in Israel after the places have been hastily repaired and the destruction has been erased not only from the landscape, but also from the collective memory. In an increasingly desensitized environment of war imagery, we are hardly ever challenged to think about the aftermath.

    I'd guess that Israelis probably don't need any extra reminders of suicide bombings, but that's just a guess.

  • And another extended event, April 1-22: the "21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge".

    The 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge  was originally developed by Dr. Eddie  Moore, Jr. and Debby Irving and has been adapted by Food Solutions New England with support from the Interaction Institute for Social Change. The challenge consists of daily email prompts with resources. It is designed to create dedicated time and space to build more effective social justice habits, particularly those dealing with issues of race, power, privilege, and leadership.

    It creates time and space. A fuller description can be found at the "Food Solutions New England" website here; it has the "Strident Earnestness" dial turned up to 11:

    The origins of our current industrial food system can be found, not just in the pursuit of food security and feeding of the world, but also in the consolidation and inequitable distribution of economic and political power, land, and resources, going back centuries: a legacy that includes stolen land, lives, and labor. And it is present today here and across the country, in our federal policies, and in the astonishing consolidation of money, power and control over the very things that give us life – our soil, our water, our labor, the food we eat every day.

    Uh huh. Or, if you live in Venezuela, the food you don't eat every day. Somehow I doubt if the "Food Solutions" people have a firm grasp on what feeds the world and what doesn't.

All in all, a mixed bag. But it's been worse. [Past Pun Salad MLK@UNH coverage: 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018. We skipped reporting the 2008 and 2016 events, because they were boring.]