Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mid-July Mini-Reports

Time for some quick takes on items in the news over the past month or so. This may become a regular feature of the blog… who knows? We’ll take the stories chronologically.

Requires legislation to help incompetent parents.
#1. The June 18 edition of the Denver Post carries an article entitled “ Colorado proposes nation’s first legal limits on smartphones for children.” This is the initiative of one Tim Farnum, who noticed that his own “once energetic and outgoing boys became moody, quiet and reclusive. They never left their bedrooms, and when he tried to take away the phones, one of Farnum’s sons launched into a temper tantrum that the dad described as equivalent to the withdrawals of a crack addict.” Yeah, right. This is someone who had seen lots of folks struggling with narcotics withdrawal. Moron.

Anyway, since Farnum failed at parenting, proving himself incapable of saying no to his spawn, the only solution is… legislation! The proposal would prevent smartphone sales to anyone under 13, and would require providers to plow through a mountain of paperwork which would then have to be submitted to some state agency, which would—at taxpayer expense, of course—log everything to ensure compliance.

All this bill does is take authority away from parents who actually take the job seriously, and give it to the state. By the way, Farnum has now taken the smartphones away from his two sons, and with good results. He, being dumber than an anvil, no doubt believes this proves his point that smartphones should be kept away from kids. What it really demonstrates, of course, is that parents who acquiesce to every whim of their children tend not to be successful at raising healthy and well-adjusted children. But good parents ought to be able to decide whether their 12-year-old can have a smartphone… or if their 14-year-old shouldn’t. Farnum describes his politics as “fairly libertarian.” Curmie shudders at the prospect of someone Farnum would think of as an authoritarian jackass.

#2. The Transportation Safety Administration toyed with the idea of requiring books and magazines to be removed from carry-on bags in order to de-clutter bags, making security screenings more effective. This rationale was widely and probably rightfully regarded as nonsense by the public at large and especially by privacy rights advocates like the ACLU, who wrote a lengthy opinion on its website, recognizing the need for safety but arguing for the greater good of privacy. The good news is that whereas Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly proclaimed in May that he (N.B., yes, “he,” not “we,” or “TSA”) “might, and likely will,” expand employment of the new initiative beyond a handful of test cities, it now appears that either public outcry or a bout of common sense was sufficient to stall the program.

Academics (like Curmie) are particularly disturbed by the prospect of subjecting themselves to this level of intrusion into privacy.  Whether it’s the title. or the language of publication, or the subject matter (Curmie has read a whole lot of anti-capitalistic theory, for example), the risk of having one's reading material examined without a legitimate safety concern, and with a distinct possibility of unnecessary confrontation, disturbs a lot of folks, especially but by no means exclusively in the intelligentsia.  And the examiners—TSA agents—have neither the training nor the intellect to make appropriate decisions.

Note that the stated rationale for the added screening was that carry-on bags are now over-packed, thereby making it more difficult to determine what’s actually in them, because people want to avoid baggage fees, which apply on the first bag only to domestic flights. Meanwhile, the TSA is also contemplating banning laptops in the cabin only on all international flights. If anyone in Washington really believed that laptops are a threat, they’d be prohibited on all flights. If the problem is over-packed carry-ons, make airlines adopt the same baggage fees (which is to say, none) for domestic flights as are now common practice for international flights. The only plausible explanation is what we’ve known all along: TSA is as prying and meddlesome as it is incompetent (and that’s saying rather a lot), and John Kelly has little interest in civil liberties. He’s actually less unqualified than most Trump appointees, but he’s a military guy, not experienced in needing a rationale for his decisions, which he expects to be meekly obeyed. Civilians, especially academics, aren’t really good at that.

#3. From late June comes this story of an elderly Chinese woman who threw coins into a jet engine for good luck, delaying the Shanghai to Guangzhou flight by five hours, lest the attempt to ensure a safe slight lead directly to the opposite result. There’s really not much to say here except, well, wow.

#4. Speaking of stupid ideas, the Denver Post also reports this story about people who claim to be persecuted… for believing in a flat earth. You see, when these folks proclaim their… uh… faith, scientists and other heliocentric round-earthers call them stupid, for no other reason than that they’re, well, stupid. It turns out they even have a celebrity on board: NBA star Kyrie Irving. If ever you needed evidence of major universities’ wholesale abdication of education when there are sports dollars to be made, it’s Kyrie Irving: this idiot got into Duke! (Imagine yourself as an excellent but not quite excellent enough student who didn’t make the cut, while this cretin with a jump shot did.) Somehow Curmie suspects that no one at any university worthy of the name would have given him the time of day if he couldn’t play basketball better than virtually anyone else on the planet.

Seriously, the flat earthers are laughable… but also terrifying. They are not truth-seekers, nor independent thinkers, nor intellectual gadflies. They’re just garden variety morons who, like the snowflakes Curmie wrote about last time out, can do a lot of damage in sufficient numbers. This nation has already embarrassed itself on the world stage in terms of evolution and climate change. Further erosion of the most basic scientific truths cannot be condoned.

The Afghani delegation arrives in Washington, DC.
#5. Credit where it’s due: it appears that intervention by President Trump himself led to a reversal of a visa denial for young robotics team members. Two delegations, from Afghanistan and Gambia, were initially denied the short-term visas that would have allowed them to compete in the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge, currently underway in Washington, DC. The former group, an all-girls team from a country not exactly known for gender enlightenment, attracted more attention here, and this is where we’re hearing about presidential suasion being exercised. It’s unclear whether the President assisted the Gambians’ cause directly, but they, too, were allowed to enter the country after having their visa applications denied.

In neither case was the reason for the initial denial made clear: this is standard practice for the State Department under any administration. Whether it should be, of course, is another matter, and to an outside observer these cases seem particularly bizarre. It’s difficult to believe a bunch of high school kids are much of a threat to national security, but I suppose stranger things have happened. When the bans were first announced, many, including Curmie, feared that State was unilaterally extending the President’s travel ban beyond its original scope: Curmie even wrote that the “temporary” travel ban “sure [looks] like the thin edge of the wedge.” But he also described the SCOTUS ruling as a glass half full. It remains to be seen whether President Trump will craft policies that will allow appropriate access to this country irrespective of the applicant’s nationality. Frankly, I doubt it. But this episode has given Curmie at least a modicum of optimism.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Snowflakes in July

“Snowflake” has become a standard taunt leveled against lefties who complain of racism or sexism or the like. Sometimes, the disparagement is warranted: if a college president can’t gesture while speaking lest it be perceived as a “micro-aggression,” the lunatics are indeed running the asylum. But Curmie notes two things: first, whereas there are certainly entitled and ultra-fragile little creatures on the left, not infrequently they actually have a point. Secondly, and more relevant to this essay, the left does not have a monopoly on humorlessness, hypersensitivity, or over-reaction.

This is the kind of orange fool Jon Townsend was talking about.
The other one is pictured enough.
Witness two incidents from earlier this month. In the first, Jon Townsend released a video, one of literally hundreds on his site, which is about 18th century life. Purely coincidentally, this episode first aired on July 3. In this iteration of his show, Townsend finishes a series of videos shot at Mount Vernon with a segment on the making of a custard dessert: you know, eggs, cream, sugar, and butter. This particular recipe, which comes directly from Martha Washington herself, includes some orange juice, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Pretty controversial stuff, right, Gentle Reader? Well, whereas the episode is officially called “A Dessert Fit for the Washingtons,” the first image we have is of the words “orange fool,” which is (of course) the name of the dessert.  And Trumpistan promptly erupted in fits of indignation (most of which comments have subsequently been taken down, but are well-documented to have occurred).

Seriously, this nice and rather nebbishy guy who does videos about colonial life was subjected to all manner of harassment because any reference to an orange fool must inevitably be a dig against The Orange Fool. Maybe it’s a copyright violation or something.

Anyway, poor Townsend released another video, entitled “The Intrusion of Modern Politics On Our YouTube Channel,” in which he makes the point, self-evident to anyone with an IQ above room temperature or to anyone who had seen the video in question: “Guess what? Monday’s episode was not about politics.” Or, as commenter Scott DeGasperis noted, “Sometimes a custard is just a custard.”

This document can still get people fired up.
If only it was for the right reasons...
The following day, more drama, this time as a result of a series of tweets from NPR. It has long been a tradition at NPR to do an on-air reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 4. This year, they added a 113-tweet Twitter version… and the Trumpistanis raged in further righteous dudgeon, because the tweets were interpreted as “calling for revolution” (true in 1776, not so much now), “propaganda,” “trash,” and the reason NPR is being defunded. This, of course, roused those on the left (and the sane folk on the right) to mock the pseudo-patriotism of Trumpsters too ignorant to understand that they’re complaining about the very document they claim to be celebrating.

Certainly there were idiots on the right who rose to the bait (whether or not it was intended as bait) and made fools (not, apparently, orange ones) of themselves. Perhaps there’s a little more to the story than initially meets the eye, however. For one thing, whereas Curmie is completely certain that Jon Townsend intended absolutely no contemporary political reference in offering up a dessert recipe on Independence Eve, he’s only about 98% certain of NPR’s innocence. To be sure, if this was intended to lure idiots in tin-foil hats from their lairs, it was brilliantly done. But it doesn’t strain credulity overmuch to suggest that someone involved in deciding to tweet the Declaration would have noticed that single tweets like “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good” or “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us” might resonate in a particular way to a 21st-century audience. As of this writing, “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people” has gathered some 15,000 re-tweets and 30,000 likes.

Curmie is reminded of a project in a high school Government class. We were dispatched to a local shopping center with copies of the Bill of Rights written up in the form of a petition; we’d ask shoppers to sign. It’s been over 40 years, so Curmie doesn’t remember the exact numbers, but the response broke roughly into quarters: one quarter let us know that they recognized the document they’d been asked to endorse. Another quarter simply signed without even reading. The remaining half of the people we approached split mostly evenly, with younger people generally in favor and older folks refusing to sign—remember, this would have been the Vietnam era, so “right to assemble” and similar protections took on specific meanings in 1972 or ’73.

In other words, if we’re presented with something in the present, we tend to think of them in the present rather than the past. The same could be said for the NPR kerfuffle, especially if a reader comes upon an individual tweet in isolation. But, to Curmie, those capital letters, references to “Princes,” and curious (to us) phrasings ought to be a tip-off.

But there’s one last point to make. Whereas Curmie thinks it unlikely that NPR was intentionally suckering dimwits into saying something stupid, and whereas a goodly number of Trump-loving imbeciles did indeed prove their ignorance, it appears likely that not all the dumb comments were necessarily what they seemed.

Indeed, there is evidence that some of the most outrageously stupid responses to the NPR tweets, posted by “Darren Mills,” are in fact the work of a troll: perhaps a left-leaning troll who intended to make Trump supporters look even stupider than they are, perhaps just a garden variety troll troll, who just likes to stir the pot for the sake of getting people angry. Either way, there’s a good chance that we’re looking at an over-reaction to the over-reaction.

If nothing else, these two stories demonstrate just how fractured the American political system is. Hypersensitivity is encouraged by the partisan media (it’s beginning to be difficult to regard that as anything but a redundant expression), by our politicians, and by our social constructions (education, churches, etc.). A few snowflakes aren’t going to do us any harm, but if you put enough of them together, they can not only run your car off the road, but they can lead to an avalanche: taking us all downhill very fast, destroying everything in its path, and providing not the slightest opportunity to recover what we’ve lost.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

This Isn't a Weapon, Either.

Not writing anything here for the first several months of the year have left Curmie with a backlog of stories to discuss. Today’s entry consists of a trio of incidents involving guns that aren’t guns, and threats that aren’t threats, in educational settings. This is an all-too-familiar and frankly rather depressing trope that Curmie’s been writing about for years. 2013 was especially fruitful in this regard. Over the course of that year, Curmie wrote about students’ getting into trouble, often charged with crazy shit like “terroristic threats” for the following. Age or grade level of the hardened criminals involved in parentheses:

  • Finger-shooting another student (age 6)
  • Possessing a single sheet of paper with a quarter of it ripped off, leaving the remainder in an extremely rough approximation of the shape of a handgun (5th grade)
  • Suggesting to a friend, while not on school property, that they “shoot” each other with their Hello Kitty bubble guns (kindergarten)
  • Making a “gun” out of Legos in an after-school program (age 5)
  • Throwing an imaginary grenade into an equally imaginary box containing “evil” (2nd grade)
  • Waving around a Pop-tart bitten into roughly the shape of a pistol (age 7)
  • Bringing a drawing of a cartoonish-looking bomb to school (age 13, autistic)
  • Carrying a pistol-shaped keychain, possibly 2” in size (age 12)
  • Drawing pictures of possible Hallowe’en costumes (age 8)
  • Disarming (!) a classmate who had a loaded handgun and was threatening another student (age 16)
  • Intervening between a bully with a switchblade and his intended victim (age 13)
Posts are here, here, and here. Note that these stories are all from a single year, and just the ones that Curmie wrote about.

So I suppose it’s good news that so far this year Curmie has encountered only three stories of this kind, and at least one of them is partially understandable. Or it could be that I’ve just missed the press coverage of those events… or, worse, this kind of inanity has become so commonplace that it’s deemed unworthy of reporting. But here we are.

Caitlin Miller: probably not really a terrorist.
We begin, then, in late March in Hoke County, North Carolina, where idiotic school officials (Curmie wonders if this phrasing is redundant) suspended a five-year-old girl for playing with a stick she pretended was a gun. Yes, Gentle Reader, you read that correctly. Caitlin Miller was playing “king and queen” with two of her friends; her task was to guard the royal couple. So she found a stick that vaguely resembles a gun, and used it to dissuade intruders. It is reported that she may have even pointed it in the general direction of another child. OMG! Terrorist attack! Call out the SWAT team, the National Guard, and the Navy Seals! There’s a five-year-old with a stick at large!

Seriously, the stupidity of the adults in this case transcends credulity. 1. There are three audiences for this event: a). the three girls involved in the game, all of whom know it’s a game, b). other children, who see a stick and think it’s a stick, and c). moronic, paranoid, unimaginative adults who should never be allowed on school property without a ticket to the concert or the basketball game. 2). The policy invoked by the mental midgets at the school prohibits “assaults, threats or harassment.” It apparently didn’t occur to them that the fact that Caitlin did none of these things makes her suspension outrageous. 3). Caitlin’s mother, in saying she understands the rationale for the rule—and presumably its kneejerk application to completely innocent play by kindergarteners—shows more tact than Curmie would. There is literally no excuse for the school’s actions. The teacher who reported the incident, the principal, the superintendent, and whatever drone found it possible to craft the district’s response: every one of these people should be summarily fired: after they spend a day apiece (the length of Caitlin’s suspension) in the stocks, to be pelted with eggs and rotten vegetables.

Zachary Bowlin: liked the wrong Instagram post.
And so we move on to Trenton, OH, where Edgewood Middle School 7th-grader Zachary Bowlin was suspended for ten days (the suspension was dropped after school officials belatedly figured out what a public relations nightmare their idiocy had precipitated talked to Zachary’s parents) for liking a friend’s Instagram post. Yes, really. Not posting, not commenting: liking. You see, what Zachary had “liked” was a photo of an airsoft gun (admittedly, it would take someone more knowledgeable than Curmie to have known the “airsoft” part at a glance), with the caption, “Ready.” There are a thousand explanations for why Zachary would “like” such a post, exactly one of which could be interpreted as a threat. An abundance of caution would lead to an investigation; the school, naturally, jumped straight to panic and suspension. There are unconfirmed reports that Chicken Little advised school officials to chill the fuck out.

To be fair, there does seem to have been something going on, although Zachary appears to have been totally innocent: a couple of days after the suspension-that-wasn’t, criminal charges were filed against two students at the school when one posted a photo of a gun and another (presumably not Zachary) liked the post and then texted a friend, saying he was going to bring a gun to school in his hoodie. Curmie remains unconvinced that discussing a potential action ought to be criminalized at all, much less categorized as a felony, but at least there’s cause for suspicion in that circumstance.

Certainly what Zachary did does not rise to the level of “violent, disruptive, harassing, intimidating, bullying, or any other inappropriate behavior” cited by Superintendent Russ Fussnecker (could Dickens have thought up a better name for this dweeb?) as part of the district’s (wait for it…) no tolerance policy towards any kind of student behavior the administration doesn’t endorse. (By the way, it took Curmie, who considers himself a reasonably adept researcher, nearly an hour to find the Student Code of Conduct online: it’s buried in the middle of this document on the Board of Education’s website. That in itself is telling.) But here’s the really outrageous part: the district claims that “Students are also subject to discipline, as outlined in the Student Code of Conduct for misbehavior that occurs off school property when the misbehavior endangers the health and safety of students within the District, or adversely affects the education process.” Uh, no. The Board can claim that right all they want, but it doesn’t exist. Schools don’t have the right to be voyeuristic assholes. They are permitted, however, to employ appropriate punctuation in their official documents; they have clearly decided not to exercise that particular right.

Finally for today, there’s an incident that actually preceded the one in Ohio, but Curmie lists it last because it’s unlike the other two stories in a couple of significant ways. First off, it occurred on a university campus. Secondly, this was case in which the initial problem was apparently the result of an honest mistake rather than abject stupidity.

One of the better snarky responses to
the incident at Colgate.
Here’s what happened: on the night of May 1, someone notified Colgate University police that a shirtless man was seen entering the O'Connor Campus Center while carrying what witnesses believed was a weapon. The UPD called it in to 911, there was predictable panic, and the campus was on lockdown for several hours before authorities ascertained that the alleged culprit was in fact carrying a glue gun for an art project.

At one level, there’s little of interest here: someone over-reacted to a perceived threat, but at least there was someone with what could legitimately have looked like a handgun heading into a campus building. It would have been approaching sunset, and it was apparently pouring rain. Visibility wouldn’t have been great. From a distance of even a few yards, in those conditions, a glue gun could look like a gun gun. Whoever called the UPD (we’re told only that it was a student) apparently made it clear that what turned out to be a glue gun appeared to possibly be a weapon. At 7:05 the university sent out an alert, describing a “dangerous situation in the Coop,” advising everyone to leave the building. So far, so good—appropriate caution and all that. [Note: several sources say the university’s response started shortly after 8:00, but the timestamps say 7:05 and 7:20. You may color Curmie confused.]

Trouble is that 15 minutes later, the possibility of a threat had metastasized into “an armed person.” It was like a game of “telephone” gone horribly awry. Inevitably, there were reports of an “active shooter.”

Of course, the incident carries with it two other topics for conversation. First, Glue Gun Guy turns out to be black, and there were accusations of racial profiling and bias coming not only from the predictable sources (a handful of black students who must endure being educated at one of the country’s most prestigious universities), but also—prior to any investigation—by the university president, Brian W. Casey, who invoked jargon-laden terms like “implicit racial bias” and “profiling.” What’s important here is that the UPD response started before the alleged gunman ever identified by race. Still, Campus Safety Director Bill Ferguson was placed on administrative leave because… well… because. Of course, had Glue Gun Guy actually been an active shooter, Ferguson would have been derelict had he not taken precisely the actions he did (minus the one or two misleading messages).

There’s an excellent discussion by Zach Winn on the Campus Safety magazine site. He writes:
Members of the campus community should never hesitate to call their public safety departments, even for something they might feel is minor or may reflect poorly on them.

Universities should be trying to foster an environment where students don’t think twice about contacting law enforcement. If even one report isn’t made because a student is concerned about backlash, then that campus has become less safe.

In short, President Casey is questioning students for something he should be celebrating them for.

Additionally, placing Chief Ferguson on leave, which many will interpret as a punishment regardless of Casey’s reasoning, sends a message that operating with an abundance of caution is the wrong way to react….

This isn’t to say President Casey is at fault for reviewing the incident, but to place Chief Ferguson on leave and talk about the problem of racial bias before the review has even started seems like the wrong order of business. [Emphasis in original.]
Indeed, the official report, issued on May 12, blames the miscommunication on “user error”: a mistake, in other words. The review also states, plainly, that “there is no appropriate way within the timeframe and scope of this investigation to fully, or even preliminarily, assess the role that bias might have played in the initial report to Campus Safety of perceptions of an armed person entering the Coop,” but nonetheless concludes that he university should “provide training to Colgate employees on working with and serving a diverse community, and recognizing and avoiding racial bias.” Just what a cynic would expect, in other words: there’s no evidence of an actual problem, but we should invest a lot of resources towards solving it, anyway.

To be sure, racial profiling may have played a role, either in the initial report or in the UPD’s handling of the case. One white Colgate student, Jenny Lundt, took it upon herself to demonstrate this point in a Facebook post that went viral to the tune of more than 26,000 likes and 17,000 shares. Ms. Lundt links her “white privilege” to the fact that she had a sword in her dorm room and occasionally trotted it out at parties and the like. Her screed begins:
THIS is what white privilege looks like. This is me, only one year ago on this very campus, running around the academic quad with a fucking sharp metal sword. People thought it was funny. People laughed- oh look at that harmless, ~ silly white girl ~ with a giant sword!!

Today, a black man carrying a fucking glue gun shut down my ~prestigious liberal arts college~ for 4 hours. The limited information that was released put all black men on this campus in danger and at risk of being killed. That is the reality of the institutionalized racism in the United States. If you think for even a second this wasn't profiling, ask yourself why this sword is still in my room and has not ONCE made anyone uncomfortable. No one has EVER called the police on me.
Yeah, well, maybe. But there’s a difference between a gun and a sword, as demonstrated by the recent London Bridge attacks—how much worse would the carnage have been had the attackers had firearms? Ms. Lundt has general point about racism. Whether the general is supported by this specific example is not absolutely clear. But Ms. Lundt does stand in peril of losing her progressive credentials if she doesn’t stop saying a sword is as lethal as a handgun.

The Colgate incident may or may not shine a light on institutionalized racism. It definitely serves as a cry in the wilderness for precision in language and the need to check sources before spreading alarms. We’re all guilty of these latter crimes from time to time; here’s a plea that we all work on this. We may not solve the world’s problems, but we can do what we can to stop contributing to them.

One thing these stories have in common is institutional over-reaction, a phenomenon which comes in many forms. Another similarity is the fact that significant decisions were made prior to determining the facts.  Finally, they share the fact that Curmie wrote more about them than he intended to... he'll stop now.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Evergreen State Case: Orwell Was an Optimist

Evergreen State College in Washington has been around since Curmie was in junior high, and it does (or at least did, until recently) indeed retain something of the savor of the 1960s. Indeed, although I’ve always known it was Evergreen State, I don’t think I really consciously made the connection that it was Evergreen State; I’ve always sort of thought of it as a private school, because to my way of thinking it would be impossible for such a college, described by one of its most famous alumni, Matt Groening, as “a hippie college, with no grades or required classes, that drew every weirdo in the Northwest,” to be otherwise.

By this, I do not mean to denigrate the school or all its people. The two Evergreen alums I’ve known have both been women of considerable intellect and considerable social conscience (one of them remarkably so in both criteria). And certainly a smallish college (a little over 4000 undergrads) which could give us not only Groening, but also the likes of Macklemore, John Wozniak, and Michael Richards, would seem to be doing something right, at least in terms of training artists. But perhaps the person who most encapsulates the world’s perception of Evergreen students is one who didn’t live to receive her degree: Rachel Corrie’s activism—some would say heroism—led to her being crushed to death by an armored bulldozer in the Gaza strip as she attempted to defend Palestinian homes from destruction by the Israeli military.

In other words, Curmie has a little trouble envisioning Evergreen as a place at which racist or sexist ideologies could possibly thrive. But that would be actual racist or sexist (or homophobic or transphobic or…) attitudes, not to be confused with something some entitled little brat might construe as a “micro-aggression,” or whatever this week’s jargon may be. Anyway, there’s a tradition there called “Day of Absence,” a title derived from Douglas Turner Ward’s excellent one-act play of the same name. [Side note: Curmie worked on a production of that play sometime in the mid ‘70s. i.e., about the time the tradition started at Evergreen.] At Evergreen, as in Ward’s play, all the African-Americans in a community disappear, leaving the remaining whites to contemplate what is lost. Thus, the custom was for all the African-Americans to vacate the Evergreen campus on a designated day in the spring semester.

Dr. Bret Weinstein:
At the center of the brouhaha
That is, until this year, when someone came up with the idea that the African-Americans would stay and the whites would be forced to leave. Precisely one faculty member, as far as Curmie can determine, had the necessary sense and courage to call out this inanity: Bret Weinstein, a biologist. (Note: he has been publicly supported, a couple of weeks after the fact, by one other Evergreen faculty member, veterinarian Mike Paros, who said “Most of the country at least either supports what Bret Weinstein did, or is concerned about Evergreen as a college where free inquiry can occur.” Dr. Paros seems to have a flair for understatement.)

Professor Weinstein formally protested the decision to re-structure the Day of Absence in a March 15 letter to Rashida Love, the school’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services. (Seriously, where do they get these titles… and how many First Peoples students are there at Evergreen to legitimize not merely a full-time staff position but indeed—apparently—an entire office?)

He informed Ms. Love of his intention to remain on campus on the Day of Absence, writing:
There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away. The first instance is a forceful call to consciousness. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.
Later, in a lengthy podcast interview with Joe Rogan, Weinstein added, “as a person, as somebody devoted to the gains of the civil rights movement, and also I should probably say as a Jew, when people start telling me where I can and cannot be, it rings alarm bells.” New York Times editorialist Bari Weiss sums up the situation deftly:
Reasonable people can debate whether or not social experiments like a Day of Absence are enlightening. Perhaps there’s a case to be made that a white-free day could be a useful way to highlight the lack of racial diversity, particularly at a proudly progressive school like Evergreen. Yet reasonable debate has made itself absent at Evergreen.
Weinstein did go to campus on the Day of Absence, which he describes as “mostly uneventful.” Predictably (alas), although it seemed to surprise Professor Weinstein himself, after the event per se, a gaggle of students surrounded him in the hallway outside his classroom, screaming profanity, refusing to listen, and demanding an apology and/or his resignation. Weinstein describes being characterized as a racist as “ironic,” and “a strategic mistake” by his detractors.

Curmie had been under the impression that the protest followed hard on the heels of the Day of Absence. This was not the case, as former Evergreen Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Zimmerman points out in an essay in the Huffington Post. Not only was there a two-month gap between Weinstein’s letter and the protest, but over a month had passed between the actual Day of Absence and the brouhaha. Mr. Zimmerman also provides some important back-story details, which Curmie encourages you to read. By the way, it’s almost as if all that postmodern stuff about history occurring in the interstices between events might just have some validity. (Side note: Dr. Weinstein himself, for all his articulateness and sensibility, still has the arrogance of the natural scientist that the arts, humanities, and social sciences are somehow inferior because, he seems to believe, truth manifests only in objectively verifiable ways. Curmie admires his stance against thought control, but isn’t so sure he’d want him as a colleague.) 

This appears to be the new face of life at Evergreen State College.
The day after the hallway confrontation, Weinstein received a phone call from the police, warning him not to come to campus, as students were stopping and searching cars; the implication was that had Weinstein come to campus, he may have been dragged out of his car and… well, who knows? 

And then, Evergreen president George Bridges, who apparently has both the brains and the backbone of overcooked capellini, told the police to stand down (!), effectively leaving gangs of angry and self-entitled students to harass and intimidate whomever they chose, including Weinstein’s students. Weinstein quite legitimately feared for his safety, and entire campus was shut down for the following two days. The students also claim to have feared for their lives immediately after they tried to bully the professor, which makes them paranoid as well as moronic and hypocritical.

Meanwhile, President Bridges publicly declared the student protesters to be “courageous,” and capitulated to virtually all of a series of student demands (thankfully, not the one that Prof. Weinstein be fired), ranging from a promise not to file charges against the student protesters to meekly agreeing not to gesture (at all!) while talking to the protesters, to excusing protesters from doing their homework, to “an expanded equity and multicultural center” (whatever the hell that means) to “mandatory sensitivity and cultural competency training for faculty, staff, administrators, and student employees.” Nope, that doesn’t sound the least bit Stalinist. Nope.

The consensus seems to be that President Bridges was trying to keep the incident out of the press. That strategy worked briefly, but Dr. Weinstein then did something unthinkable for a progressive intellectual: he went on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News. Here’s the thing: Tucker Carlson is one of a raft-load of conservative pundits (e.g., Bill O’Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Monica Crowley, even Glenn Beck) who found that they’d become more famous and could demand higher salaries from Fox News if they abandoned the sense and intellect they had previously demonstrated and instead pandered to prejudices and paranoias of the Bubbas who make up the majority of that network’s viewership. In other words, Tucker Carlson is not a moron, but he plays one on TV.

The latter gives him a pulpit; the former means that when there really is a story, he knows he doesn’t need to embellish it. The scary thing is that in his description of the events at Evergreen resembling “Phnom Penh in 1975,” he has a point. Yes, it’s an exaggeration, but there’s a difference between hyperbole and falsehood, and this stays clearly in the former camp. And Carlson quite reasonably wonders how and why Dr. Bridges is “allowing a mob to threaten one of his professors.” The signature quotation of the six-minute or so segment, however, goes to Weinstein: “I’m troubled by what this implies about the current state of the left.” Carlson’s response, “Ya think?” was simultaneously gratuitous and apt.

Needless to say, the right-wing press lapped this story up, and—in this case—rightly so. One of the better pieces was a YouTube post by “Roaming Millennial.” It’s posted under the header “Evergreen’s Bigot Professor vs. Brave Students!” Shall we say the title suggests a dissonance between text and subtext? Our hostess sums things up pretty well:
I don’t know about everyone watching this, but I for one am pretty tired of seeing footage of student mobs harassing professors for espousing reasonable and rational viewpoints…. Evergreen College has essentially turned into Lord of the Flies, with students running wild. 
She describes President Bridges as “a massive cuck.”  This is not a term Curmie would use… but only because he’s the wrong generation to have that expression as part of his active vocabulary.  Roaming Millennial adds:
My advice to these students is that if you don’t want footage of you acting like an insufferable douchebag floating around on the internet, you shouldn’t have been acting like an insufferable douchebag…. The fact that the president of the college is actually giving in to their demands is only going to encourage this type of behavior. When a child throws a tantrum because he‘s not getting his way, you don’t just give in to him; you set boundaries, and that’s what needs to happen to these students.
There’s more, but the piece veers off into a rather trite indictment of liberalism in general. That’s where the conclusion doesn’t necessarily flow from the evidence adduced. But as regards this specific incident, yeah, she’s absolutely right.

Of course, the Evergreen saga still had three more chapters (at least). First, there was the announcement by the college that Dr. Weinstein had returned to campus and was teaching again. (Nothing to see here; move along.) Trouble is, well, he hadn’t. Or at least that’s his claim, and he ought to know.

Secondly, a gaggle of Evergreen faculty decided that the problems were all of Weinstein’s making, claiming he was “endangering students.” “HOW?” is a question they do not seem prepared to answer. These 71 co-signers (terrifyingly, that’s nearly a third of the faculty) further vowed to capitulate to even more student demands, and denied that the protesters were in any way violent, despite video evidence to the contrary.

Finally (please, God, let it be finally), Evergreen held its graduation ceremony on at a rented baseball field in Tacoma, some 30 miles from the campus in Olympia. Attendees—graduates, faculty, and guests alike—had to pass through metal detectors to enter the space. Just… wow.

OK: a few bullet points to wrap up:
  • Neither Bret Weinstein nor Curmie denies that systemic racism didn’t just evaporate with the election of Barack Obama or something. It’s real, and there might indeed be some vestigial manifestations of it at Evergreen College. But that doesn’t mean that punishing an African-American for committing a violent crime is a racist act. Nothing Curmie has read or heard from Bret Weinstein suggests any racist inclinations.
  • Dr. Weinstein’s progressive credentials are sufficiently obvious to any rational observer that they need not be trotted out and reviewed. Numerous parallels to what’s happening at Evergreen present themselves. Roaming Millennial mentioned Lord of the Flies. Curmie was thinking Animal Farm… or 1984: pick your Orwell. Or, from history: Danton. Or Trotsky. Or…
  • This is not, as some on the right would argue, an example of “PC run amok.” It’s a whole different phenomenon: one which embraces mob mentalities, threats of violence, and the suppression of actual diversity. Dr. Zimmerman is correct in suggesting that the protesters believe, and the college administration pandered to that belief, that “freedom of speech is only for speech with which you agree and aggressively silencing those with whom you disagree is fair game.”
  • The protesters are post-adolescents, caught up in mob mentality and the perception of agency. They’re responsible for their actions, but they’re also still pretty much kids. More problematically, their absurd and potentially dangerous posturing is condoned, enabled, and indeed encouraged by adults who should know better: a good portion of the faculty and by an administration headed by someone who is either an utter idiot or a craven buffoon… or both.
  • Curmie’s father was a college president in more tumultuous times than these: a decade beginning in 1968. I vividly recall one incident, although not the cause (a response to Kent State? Something local like 24-hour visitation?). Anyway, a large group of students had taken over the administration building, and the VPAA showed up literally on our doorstep that evening, obviously in some distress, and handed Dad a list of the students’ demands. Dad took the sheet of paper, folded it up, and put it in his pocket. “Aren’t you going to read them?” queried the VPAA. “I don’t respond to demands,” Dad replied. If they’d like to make them ‘requests,’ I’ll look at them in the morning.”  And then he closed the door. I think it’s safe to say that Curmie’s Dad had a different approach to leadership than Dr. Bridges does.
  • Evergreen is no longer, can no longer be, the “hippie haven” it once was. Its 1969 music festival analog was Woodstock. Now it’s Altamont, known for its anger and violence, and widely regarded as the death of the hippie movement. And that is a great shame.
  • As of right now, Bret Weinstein still has a job. That’s a good thing, although Curmie can’t imagine why anyone would want to work in the snake-pit that is Evergreen State right now. George Bridges also still has a job. That isn’t a good thing. At all.
We close with the perceptive analysis of former VPAA Zimmerman: “Evergreen is not alone in the constellation of institutions of higher education facing these problems. It is, however, a place that has allowed extremists to dominate and discussion to die. Others will do well to learn from the mistakes made on this campus.” Amen to that.