Sunday, March 26, 2023

What Do Agatha Christie and the Bible Have in Common?

Perhaps you will recall, Gentle Reader, the brouhaha generated by the professional hand-wringers at Puffin when they decided that it was absolutely necessary to make literally hundreds of changes to the works of the great children’s book writer Roald Dahl. Shortly thereafter, the target switched to the James Bond series by Ian Fleming. 

Agatha Christie (1890-1976)
Curmie wrote about those two excursions into corporate censorship in multi-topics posts here and here. That more such inanity would follow was certainly predictable. And now we’re there. The latest author to be bowdlerized is Agatha Christie, of all people, and the latest culprit is HarperCollins. 

This one hits closer to home. Curmie doesn’t recall ever having read any of Dahl’s books—if he did, as a child, he found them unmemorable—and he’s certain that he never read any of the Bond books. He’s seen a bunch of the movies, but that’s a separate issue. Agatha Christie’s books, however, were never in short supply at Chez Curmie when he was a teen. Curmie’s Mom was a huge Christie fan, and Curmie followed in her footsteps. 

There may be a Christie book or two that Curmie hasn’t read, but there certainly aren’t many, and he’s seen the overwhelming majority of the film and television adaptations, as well. Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence, Mr. Parker Pyne… yeah, Curmie is there.  The plays, too, of course: The Mousetrap, Witness for the Prosecution, Verdict...

Sure, there are a couple of phrases here and there that might raise an eyebrow—for example, the original title of the book now marketed as And Then There Were None was Ten Little Niggers, and it was sold in this country as Ten Little Indians for several years (Curmie first read it under this latter title). But the texts themselves, apart from reflecting some of the attitudes of the time in which they were written, aren’t terribly problematic. 

Enter the “sensitivity readers,” a collection of easily-triggered snowflakes. They are apparently paid very low wages, thereby suggesting to Curmie that one of two things must be true: that publishers aren’t really concerned with intelligent decision-making, or that no one who could command a better salary would take the job. Perhaps Curmie is not alone in noting the parallel to the qualifications of the people in this country would grade the essay sections of standardized exams. 

Significantly, the decisions are often haphazard at best: the Fleming books, for example, have been edited to eliminate racial slurs against blacks, but the sexism, homophobia, and slurs against Asians remain. If you’re going to be a censorious asshat, at least be consistent! And, frankly, if the edits listed in the Guardian article linked above are representative of the whole of the project, then the entire operation evokes Gertrude Stein’s commentary on Oakland: there is no there there. (Note: the original reporting on this story came from the Telegraph, but it’s behind a paywall, and Curmie isn’t interested in going down that particular pathway.) 

References to race are eliminated; even calling a character “black” or “Jewish” is apparently now verboten. A passage in Death on the Nile which originally read “they come back and stare, and stare, and their eyes are simply disgusting, and so are their noses, and I don’t believe I really like children” has been edited as you see here. An intelligent reader, unlike a “sensitivity reader,” would suggest that the phrases that were cut tell us something important about the character speaking, and are not at all defamatory about the children thus described. 

Even a description of a character’s “lovely white teeth” has been axed. Don’t even bother trying to find a reasonable explanation for that one, Gentle Reader, as you’re more likely to find Sasquatch enjoying a cup of tea on your neighbor’s porch. The utter absurdity of this entire operation is laughable… or, rather, it would be if we weren’t so conscious of seeing the thin edge of the wedge. It might also be worth noting that HarperCollins has apparently been doing at least some of this for a couple of years already; they can’t have been very proud of doing so, or we’d have known long before now. 

The Christie story wasn’t the only one that crossed Curmie’s path in the last 24 hours, however. Curmie has long argued that the left and the right are equally interested in quashing freedom of expression; they just use different methods. (Curmie’s most recent rant to say this explicitly is here.) 

For every university that demands agreement with so-called “anti-racist” dictates from an applicant wanting to teach chemistry, there’s a GOP legislator trying to ban discussions of anything that might make slavery look like something worthy of mention in a history class, or to pull books from the school library because they reference homosexuality. The most recent silliness about Michelangelo’s David isn’t indicative of all conservative thought, but neither is it an outlier. 

Of course, many of the bills that emanate from conservative legislatures or school boards are crafted more to generate approbation, votes, and campaign contributions from True Believers than to actually do anything. Thus, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill doesn’t, in fact, specifically reference gay relationships, but the smarmy Ron DeSantis’s brainchild cannot be both constitutional and effective, as Peter Greene points out in a recent piece that is excellent, even by his standards. 

The problem is, it’s almost impossible to craft legislation that prohibits what you want excluded without also prohibiting something you don’t want to lose. Outlaw drag? Well, there go a host of classic movies (“Some Like It Hot” is at the top of the list, but hardly alone; all those versions of Peter Pan with the title character played by a woman would have to go, too). 

Let’s consider, also, the two Shakespeare plays Curmie has directed. In the original production of Macbeth, boys played (female) witches who had beards. There’s some drag in there somewhere! As You Like It is even more fun, as we get a boy playing a girl playing a boy playing a girl. Curmie knows of not a single critic who denies that the sexual ambiguities at play are central to the play’s appeal. 

In Gallathea and Phillida, one of the better-known plays by John Lyly, a just-prior-to-Shakespeare English playwright (and subject of Curmie’s MA thesis), the cross-dressing of the title characters confuses them both to the point that they fall in love. They’re both women, by the way (well, the actors were pre-pubescent boys, but…). 

The situation is resolved by none other than Venus herself, who promises to change one of them into a boy so they can continue their loving relationship. Avoiding the “L” in LGBTQ+ by making it a “T.” You gotta love it! No, Curmie doesn’t think this play will (or, frankly, should) be taught to schoolkids, but he’s mischievous enough to want to see it happen. 

Predictably, Utah was one of the states that was most concerned about students’ access to written materials the legislature didn’t want reading. HB 347, passed last year, reads in part that “A public school may not… adopt, use, distribute, provide a student access to, or maintain in the school setting sensitive materials.” 

“Sensitive materials” in this context means an instructional material that is pornographic or indecent.” Utah pols are righteously indignant that anyone would suggest that their book-banning exercises are… you know… book-banning. State Senator John Johnson, for example, insists that they’re just interested in protecting the innocence of children. 

Ah, but, as usual, excluding everything you want to exclude while not forbidding what you don’t want to forbid requires language skills surpassing those of the average state legislator. According to Utah law, there’s a long list of what constitutes “a description or depiction of illicit sex or sexual immorality.” You can pretty much guess what’s there, Gentle Reader, or you can click on the link. 

The key interpretation of how these laws apply is that of Michael Curtis, general counsel for the Utah Legislature. He states that in the case of indecency, a book doesn’t need to be “taken as a whole”… or left on the shelf during a review. If there is a scene involving any of those acts, according to HB374, it should be immediately removed. 

That would be a big “oops,” there, Mike, because it brings us (finally) to the news story referenced a few paragraphs ago: an ostensibly irate parent has demanded that the Bible be removed from school libraries, as it is “one of the most sex-ridden books around.” Accompanying the request was an eight-page listing of allegedly (let’s be real: not just “allegedly”) offensive passages from the Bible. 

The complainant wrote: “Incest, onanism, bestiality, prostitution, genital mutilation, fellatio, dildos, rape, and even infanticide…. You’ll no doubt find that the Bible, under Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-1227, has ‘no serious values for minors’ because it’s pornographic by our new definition.” 

Thing is, it’s true. And we’re not allowed under the law to argue that the book as a whole has redeeming value. There is no legal argument to allow the Bible to remain available to minors within a school environment in the state of Utah. A lot of other classic literature would have to go, too, but let’s start there. 

Curmie seriously doubts that the parent involved, if indeed it even is a parent, really thinks the Bible ought to be banned. It’s a gimmick. The petitioner even pretty much admits as much:
I thank the Utah Legislature and Utah Parents United for making this bad faith process so much easier and way more efficient. Now we can all ban books and you don’t even need to read them or be accurate about it. Heck, you don’t even need to see the book! Ceding our children’s education, First Amendment Rights, and library access to a white supremacist hate group like Utah Parents United seems like a wonderful idea for a school district literally under investigation for being racist.
Whether these accusations have merit may be up for debate. What is not, is that book-banners are going to face opposition like this at every step of the process, and that there is no honest or even legal way out of the bind into which they’ve thrown themselves. That doesn’t mean they won’t escape through corrupt and selective enforcement (which was the intention all along, after all), but they’ll sure as hell reveal their censorial predilections in the process. 

Curmie has no problem with a local school restricting access to certain books to students of a certain age in the absence of parental consent. But here, we’re talking about the state butting into a local school’s business and demanding the removal of books to which the local community and/or a particular student’s parents have no objections. So much for the GOP being the party of individual freedom. 

Whether the target of the sanitizers and bowdlerizers is Death on the NileJames and the Giant Peach, The Bluest Eye, or Gender Queer, we all know that unless the censorial forces are stopped, they’ll only get more aggressive. Next on the list might be Madame Bovary, or Love in the Time of Cholera, or The Laramie Project... or, frankly, virtually anything at all written more than a generation or so ago. None of these are good options. It’s time to stand up to the suppressors and the censors, the hypersensitive and the prudish, the craven intellectuals and the intellectually craven. Now.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Tournament Brackets Aren't Child-Grooming

Curmie apologizes if he gave the impression in his last post that all stupid personnel decisions related to K-12 education are perpetrated by school boards. They aren’t, of course. There are plenty of moronic principals out there, and even more (in raw numbers, although not in percentages) really stupid teachers. 

This case, though, is stranger than most, as the person being sacked wasn’t a school employee at all. 

Taylor Mathis: NOT a child-groomer
To explain… Taylor Mathis was in Illinois to attend her sister’s baby shower. The sister teaches second grade, and asked Taylor to drop by her class to help her with a math lesson, using sports as an access point. Taylor, at the time an employee of SuperBook (that’s the sports betting outfit, not the CBN affiliate, although you might not be able to guess that from what ensued), agreed to help. She does most of her work on baseball, so the original plan was to talk to the kids about baseball scorecards. 

Its March, though, and the top sports story in the country was/is (no offense, World Baseball Classic) the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. So Mathis decided to show the second-graders how to fill out a bracket. They went around the room and talked about what the seeding numbers mean. And then they picked teams. That was it. No discussion of gambling whatsoever: just a fun way to sneak a little math into the day’s activities. It’s not a terribly original idea; one suspects that hundreds of elementary school teachers have been doing the same thing for years. 

And that’s sort of the point. No, not everyone fills out a bracket, but millions of people do, and a lot of those folks are kids. OutKick’s Dan Zaksheske says he was filling out brackets at about that age and that helping his father grade bracket pools taught him “a TON of math.” That probably came from dealing with the increasing values for games in the various rounds of play—probably a little heady for 2nd graders, but at least tangentially relevant to the situation at hand. 

Right. So. The Big Mistake Mathis made was that she took a photo of the bracket the kids had created and posted it on social media, where there was, well, lots of support and no dissent. Ah, but some gaggle of gambling reformers pronounced Mathis’s activity “child grooming” and whined to the bosses at SuperBook, who proceeded to panic. 

First, they contacted Mathis and demanded she take down the tweet and apologize. She’d done nothing wrong, of course, but she complied, “through tears.” But—and Curmie can’t emphasize this enough—in a situation like this one, apologizing when you’ve done nothing wrong is The Worst Possible Thing You Can Do. It’s never enough, and once the self-righteous meddlers smell blood in the water, you’re done. 

And so it was that Mathis was fired, as SuperBook invoked their company’s “steadfast commitment to Responsible Gambling and protecting youth.” They even demanded (probably illegally—time to break out the “Curmie isn’t a lawyer” trope) that she delete everything about her relationship with SuperBook and that she not be in contact with anyone at the company “until further notice.” If the ability to demand that isn’t in her contract, well, Curmie isn’t a lawyer, but…. 

Gentle Reader, do not even attempt to read that crap without laughing at SuperBook; you’ll only hurt yourself. SuperBook, like so many other corporations, is run by sanctimonious and spineless idiots who really have no value system at all. Otherwise, they’d have told the whiners to get a goddamned life and STFU. Of course, expecting anything in the same universe as ethical values from a sportsbook company is probably asking a bit much. 

But acquiescing to charges of “child grooming”? Bloody hell. Curmie realizes the term no longer has a specific definition since it was taken over as the scurrilous accusation of choice by a gaggle of self-righteous homophobes, but come on… A more innocent day in a 2nd grade classroom would be difficult to imagine. 

Jeff Edelstein of SportsHandle claims Mathis was “sacrificed at the altar of responsible gambling.” Curmie disagrees, at least to the extent of those lower-case letters. Responsible Gambling (note the capitalization in the message from corporate), a brand name as opposed to an actual theory or a concept, maybe. But Mathis lost her job for the sole reason that the bosses at SuperBook have both the brains and the backbone of overcooked linguini. (To be fair to Edelstein, elsewhere in his article he refers to “capital-R, capital-G Responsible Gambling.” We’re on the same page.) 

If this decision has the slightest bit to do with the political attacks on sports betting in general, it’s an even greater demonstration of the company’s lack of integrity. Sure, if Mathis had been fired for a legitimate reason—if she really had been promoting the joys of gambling to seven-year-olds, for example—then perhaps SuperBook’s willingness to clean house might be seen as a positive by someone somewhere, even by legislators who seek to restrict the industry in general. But “we fired a valuable and completely innocent employee in an exercise of utterly unethical virtue signaling” does little to warm the cockles of Curmie’s sub-Arctic heart, and he suspects that not too many pols are lining up in support, either. 

Mathis, though shaken up, will be fine. She’s apparently good at her job, and she’s already signed on at SportsGrid, a SuperBook competitor. Curmie has never placed a bet with any such agency, and he has no intention of starting now. But should he change his mind, he’s a lot more likely to go with SportsGrid. 

Curmie agrees with Zaksheske that “March Madness brackets are not a gateway drug to hardcore gambling addiction.” He’d add that doing business with SportsBook is a gateway drug to self-righteous and hypocritical bullshit.

On the Prescience of Samuel Clemens

He’s still got it.
One of the sagest commentators on the 21st century American education system died almost 120 years ago. It was, after all, Mark Twain who famously noted that “In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.” Curmie continues to shake his head in wonderment at the perspicacity of that observation. 

Three cases in point from recent news stories. First up: what appears to be a nationwide effort to eliminate honors and AP courses in the name of some perverse definition of inclusion. The most recent case the Curmie read about was in Culver City, California, but these efforts appear to be bordering on the ubiquitous. 

Apparently, black and brown students were “under-represented” in those classes. (All they had to do was opt in, of course; there was no criterion other than student (and one presumes parental) interest. The solution: provide more of those students with the ability to prosper in those advanced courses and an appropriate understanding of the value of taking challenging classes? Of course not! 

No, the morons in charge decided that challenging good students, providing them with both the skills and the credentials to get into good colleges, and generally rewarding aptitude and work ethic had to be abandoned because equal outcomes, not opportunities are what matter. (One suspects that such entirely race-based considerations are not similarly manifested in such decisions as who gets playing time on the basketball team. Meow.) 

One argument is that students who weren’t guided into accelerated classes at a younger age now feel they’re incapable of competing in honors courses at the high school level. Two responses, the first of which is a bisyllabic term for bovine feces. The second: hey, in the unlikely event that this argument has validity, why don’t we try steering promising students of whatever race into those more challenging courses earlier in their school careers? 

It might also be worth noting that the presence of really good students in a class is likely to cause more self-image problems for the average high schooler than being placed in a “regular” section of math or English or whatever would. Curmie isn’t advocating for Brave New World segregation here, but being surrounded by peers rather than superiors does have clear psychological advantages. 

Joanna Schaenman, a parent who wants her child to have access to honors courses, argues that “We really feel equity means offering opportunities to students of diverse backgrounds, not taking away opportunities for advanced education and study.” This kind of mature and intelligent thinking, of course, is unlikely to sway a school board whose sole objective seems to be to prove Twain an optimist. 

Last year, Jon Kean, a school board member in Santa Monica proclaimed that “This is not a social experiment. This is a sound pedagogical approach to education.” At least report, Mr. Kean has learned how to feed himself, and is making progress towards dressing himself without assistance. Potty training is taking a little longer than expected. 

Curmie, of course, is a veteran of advanced courses as both a student and an educator. Slowing down a class because the weaker students can’t or won’t keep up is a great way to make sure that everyone in the class is bored and (therefore) under-achieving. It also leads pretty directly to students’ finding other attractions: sex and drugs being at the top of the list. (Not everyone likes rock and roll, after all.) Years of experience in an actual classroom setting suggest that the way to get results is to set the bar high and provide students with the tools they need to clear it. 

There is nothing wrong with a student who doesn’t excel at one or more subjects. Some of the best students in an upper-level theatre history class struggle with a course that looks remarkably similar to an algebra class Curmie took in 7th grade. Similarly, Curmie once had a student who was apparently a brilliant physicist (as suggested by a full ride to an Ivy League university)… the young man could barely construct a sentence, let alone a paragraph. 

And, by the way, being merely adequate across the board is okay, too. So you learn a trade or go to Compasspoint State instead of Stanford… you’ll be fine… well, unless you run for school board, at least. But putting lower-achieving students, whether they fare poorer because of aptitude or attitude, in the same room with that slam-dunk Stanford admit helps neither of them. Good students, irrespective of race, are good students; bad students, irrespective of race, are not. 

Ah, but this is all stupidity from the left; and the idiots on the right are demanding at least equal time. Curmie, the very soul of benevolence, is happy to oblige. 

So let’s go to North Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, located in what one Curmiphile has described as “part of the great political wasteland between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.” There, the school board vetoed the local high school’s decision to present The Addams Family Musical next spring. Oh boy, here we go again. 

The loudest voice in opposition to the play, apparently, was Troy Williams, who’s also the pastor of the Calvary Church in Lebanon. Sigh. “If we promote it, we permit it,” quoth he in one of the most inarticulate utterances ever spouted even by a school board member. 

The notion of exaggeration for comic effect appears to be too heady intellectual fare for the Lebanon school board. Board VP Michael Marlowe objects to scenes of children smoking, references to liking torture and self-harm. Sigh (again). Curmie hasn’t seem the musical, but strongly suspects that these “dark” themes and characters are presented as humorous juxtapositions, not as role models. 

To be fair, Curmie, ever the theatre historian, is reminded of one of the medieval Christian Church’s objections to theatre: that the Vice character was inevitably far more interesting than the pious characters intended to be the heroes and heroines of the plays. The modern variation on this is that if you’re watching a TV mystery show, the villain is quite likely to be the best-known guest star, because the villain is not only the most fun to watch, but also to play. 

Still, it’s worth noting two things. First, The Addams Family Musicalis extremely popular high school fare: it ranked #3 in the country last year, even higher than The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which another gaggle of censorious asshats derailed at another high school about five hours to the west. This suggests that a whole lot of school boards, superintendents, and principals across the country found the script pretty innocuous. 

Which takes us to point #2: one of the show’s supporters on the board was Reverend Robb Faller. Yes, Reverend Faller is the pastor of the local Methodist Church. It’s more than a little problematic that two of the nine members of the school board are ministers, but at least one of them has functioning grey cells. Alas, only one other board member agreed. 

The good news, such as it is, is that at least the decision came now, rather than after faculty and students had committed thousands of person-hours of work and thousands of dollars for non-refundable expenses, as has too often been the case of late. Curmie has lamented the late cancellations of a number of plays and musicals over the years. Small favors, eh? 

Finally (for this go-round), there is the pièce de resistance. At Tallahassee Classical School, a public charter in (you guessed, Gentle Reader) Florida, Principal Hope Carrasquilla was forced out because… wait for it… 6th graders were allowed to view photos of Michelangelo’s David and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

This from a school that purports to provide “a content-rich classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.” As one of Curmie’s more colorful uncles might have said, “classical education, my rosy-red ass.” Yes, the works in question are technically Renaissance rather than strictly-speaking “classical,” but Curmie is pretty damned certain that examining a pair of the greatest (and most famous) artworks in human history is precisely what that school is selling. 

Board chairman Barney Bishop III would have us believe three things. In an often borderline incoherent interview with Slate’s Dan Kois (this is the “edited for clarity” version?), he first argues that Carrasquilla wasn’t, in fact, fired, but rather threatened with being fired if she didn’t resign. In Curmie’s world, this is a definition by example of a distinction without a difference. 

Secondly, Bishop asserts that the dismissal was the culmination of a series of problems with Carrasquilla, not the sole cause. Over at Ethics Alarms, Jack Marshall aptly describes this claim as being “the penis that broke the camel’s back,” and suggests that it “sounds like a cover story.”  Curmie has read literally thousands of Ethics Alarms posts over the years; Jack’s cynicism is seldom misplaced.

Finally, Bishop argues that the problem wasn’t showing the images per se (“Gosh, we’re a classical school. Why wouldn’t we show Renaissance art to children?”), but rather the fact that parents weren’t alerted to the “controversial” content in advance. Apparently the teacher wrote a letter, but due to a “series of miscommunications” the letter wasn’t sent out. Curmie, wild-eyed leftie that he is, sees nothing whatsoever controversial about those images, but the teacher, in a recognition of parental hysteria for its own sake an abundance of caution initiated the warning process. 

And then came the no doubt inevitable outrage from a grand total of three parents, to which Bishop and his cohorts/underlings meekly capitulated. The fact that even Bishop admits that “98 percent of the parents didn’t have a problem” is apparently irrelevant. Curmie, were he of a cynical disposition (I know… go with me here, Gentle Reader), might suggest that to describe the depiction of a flaccid penis on a marble representation of an idealized male body as “pornographic” is to demonstrate that the problem is with the viewer, not the sculpture, which, over the last several hundred years has been seen in person by literally millions of pre-teens with no apparent ill effects. Oh, and by the way, a teacher saying “nonpornographic” isn’t an issue to any sentient adult, which of course excludes Bishop. 

Curmie might even argue that given the fact that Carrasquilla was the third principal in the school’s less-than-three-year history, that if Bishop is really looking for the problem, he might stop placing the blame on principals and start pondering the role of that fella gazing back at him from the mirror. Statements like “even poor people have standards” don’t help. 

The major issue here is far more significant, however. The idea that parents should be able to have a say in how the education system works is, or at least ought to be, self-evident. But Bishop’s statement that “Parental rights trump everything else” is not merely problematic, but chilling. No, they don’t, or at least they damned well shouldn’t. Education is not, cannot be, about serving up whatever pabulum the most insular and doctrinaire parents want. It’s about students, and what is best for them must be the primary objective. 

Bishop’s comments demonstrate pretty clearly that Tallahassee Classical’s claims to an emphasis on classical learning is, in a phrase often employed by Curmies mom, so much balloon juice.  Rather, the real objective is more about force-feeding a political ideology fully as narrowminded as the “woke” agenda Bishop alleges to be rampant in the public schools. His leadership style seems to be to accede to every heckler’s veto in sight, while abrogating his responsibilities to the people who really matter: the students.  

This way lies the abyss.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

When There Aren’t Enough Ambulances to Chase…

There are far more important stories than most of what Curmie writes about, and this post is an ideal example. But one of the reasons Curmie chooses the topics he does is that he believes they illustrate something about where we are and where we’re going as a society. Another is that there’s already lots of analysis out there about anti-drag idiocy or what ought to be done in the Alec Baldwin case. That doesn’t mean Curmie won’t come back to those “bigger” stories… just not right now. 

Anyway, Curmie came across this story a couple of days ago and forwarded it on to netpal Jack Marshall, who, as expected, had a similar take to mine. But Curmie does have a couple of things to say, himself. 

There’s a lawsuit out there, filed by lawyers James M. Moriarty, John Louis Cesaroni, and Stephen M. Kinseth (Curmie thinks it’s important to get the names of Walking Lawyer Jokes out into the open), on behalf of two Brown University basketball players: Grace Kirk, a current member of the women’s team, and Tamenang Choh, who played on the men’s team from 2017 to 2022. They’re suing not only Brown, but all the schools in the Ivy League (so also Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale) because the league does not allow its members to offer athletic scholarships. 

That, of course, has been the policy of the Ivy League since its inception about 70 years ago. Imagine! A group of colleges and universities that think their primary mission ought to be education rather than athletics! Oh, the humanity! Ivy schools also don’t give merit-based scholarships in anything else: not for talent in the arts, or perfect scores on the SATs, or debate, or, well, anything. Scholarship money is based on a single criterion: financial need. The Ivies are expensive, but they go at least some ways to balance that with generous financial aid packages—Curmie knows of at least three Ivies (there may be more) at which a student with an annual family income of less than $100,000 will pay no tuition at all. 

The point is, you’re at one of the nation’s finest educational institutions. Perhaps your skill at sports helped you get in, but now you’re just like everyone else… and everyone else has an impressive résumé, as well. 

Ah, but you see, other excellent universities, like Duke and Stanford, give athletic scholarships. Three responses:
1). So fucking what?
2). Let me introduce you to Kyrie Irving, a literal flat-earther who played at Duke. Gentle Reader, do you really think Duke would have admitted anyone that demonstrably stupid if he didn’t have ball-handling skills and a jump shot? Or that Irving’s presence in a classroom (assuming he ever attended) didn’t slow the progress of students who actually belonged at a premier academic institution?
3. Finally, here’s a thought: go to Stanford or Duke or an equivalent school instead of Brown. Ay, there’s the rub, to quote some Danish guy who couldn’t hit a free throw. You see, to get a basketball scholarship at, say, Duke, you’ve got to be really good. Virtually every player at a top-flight basketball school will go on to play professionally—if not in the NBA or WNBA, then overseas. Curmie doesn’t see that future for Choh and Kirk.
Choh’s last year was pretty good; he averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds on a sub-.500 team against so-so competition. Kirk managed only 53 minutes for the entire season, playing for a team that went 4-10 in a pretty lower-level league.
To be fair, Kirk was definitely a star at the high school level, and no doubt could have received an athletic scholarship somewhere. But she chose Brown because it offered “the perfect balance between academic rigor and high-level athletics.” Now, apparently, it has dawned on her that signing with another university might have been a better financial decision, at least in the short term. Well, duh. Someone smart enough to get into Brown couldn’t have figured that out years ago? 

Curmie is all for students doing things outside the purely curricular. It is, of course, ridiculous that so many (read: “most”) colleges and universities conceive of themselves as athletics programs that offer a few courses on the side. It’s also worth mentioning that very few athletics programs, certainly none in the Ivy League, make money for the school. Quite the contrary, in fact. Brown even had to cut some varsity sports a couple of years ago: losing money on athletics was one thing; losing that much money was untenable. 

The plaintiffs also contend that “Regardless of whether considered as a restraint on the price of education, the value of financial aid, the price of athletic services, or the level of compensation to Ivy League athletes, the Ivy League Agreement is per se illegal.” Poppycock. None of these arguments have any legitimate standing, and the league allows athletes to partake in Name/Image/Likeness (NIL) opportunities, giving Ivy League athletes financial opportunities not available to the hot-shot historian or physicist: athletes’ skills are more public and therefore more saleable. 

Curmie isnt sure what the impetus for this suit was.  Unscrupulous lawyers, who will collect for billable hours even though there is (Inshallah!) little chance of success?  The arrogance of Gen Z, unwilling to accept anything less than their narrowly defined image of perfection, and unwilling to accept the consequences of their own decisions? Or of collegiate athletes (it’s more expensive for athletes this way, so let’s make it more expensive for everyone else”).  Curmie tends towards the old favorite: D: all of the above.

In the post linked above, Jack Marshall leads with “Some slick lawyers somehow talked some dumb and greedy jocks into launching a class action suit,” and concludes with “It’s an unethical lawsuit in a general sense but not in the legal sense: lawyers can bring contrived suits if they make a ‘good faith’ argument that the law should be changed, even if, as in this case, it is an uncommonly stupid argument.” Jack has always been kinder than Curmie.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

"Racial Remarks" and Big 12 Basketball Coaches

Big 12 basketball is a strange place. This year’s conference is widely regarded as the best from top to bottom of any league in decades. Yes, “decades,” plural. 

Just a couple of examples: the worst team in the Big 12, Oklahoma, destroyed what was then the #2 team in the country, Alabama, by 24 points. As Curmie writes this on the morning of Selection Sunday, regular season champion Kansas is a virtual certainty to capture one of the four #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament and still has a chance to be the overall #1, despite being embarrassed in the final of the conference tournament in one of their six conference losses, including four by double-digits. Tournament winner Texas is now regarded as a possibility for a #1 seed, as well. 

That’s the good news. The bad news swirls more around the coaches, such that the hospitalization of Kansas coach Bill Self immediately before the conference tournament with an unspecified illness (not a heart attack, as had been erroneously reported, but that’s about all we know) was only the fourth-biggest story of the season about Big 12 coaches. 

The first, chronologically, was the dismissal of Texas coach Chris Beard after he was arrested for a felony after allegedly biting and attempting to strangle his fiancée. (Beard now looks to be the front-runner for the job at Ole Miss. Sigh.) 

But let’s turn our attention to two other coaches—now-former Texas Tech coach Mark Adams and TCU coach Jamie Dixon, both accused of making racist remarks. Adams was initially reprimanded for “an inappropriate, unacceptable, and racially insensitive comment.” Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt subsequently suspended Adams “in order to conduct a more thorough inquiry of Adams' interactions with his players and staff.” 

Later in the week, the school and Adams agreed to a settlement—about $4 million—leading to Adams’s resignation. The buyout for firing Adams without cause would have been nearly twice that figure, about $7.5 million. Either way, it appears that Adams will still be able to get the medium drink instead of the small with his #2 combo meal. 

Two things strike Curmie about this situation, and they might or might not sort of contradict each other. According to the university, “Adams was encouraging the student-athlete to be more receptive to coaching and referenced Bible verses about workers, teachers, parents, and slaves serving their masters.” OK, that’s a pretty stupid thing to say, but not for the reason Texas Tech seems to want to spin the story. 

There are certainly other ways than quoting scripture for a coach, especially one at a public university, to attempt to motivate players. And suggesting that the relationship between coach and player is in any way comparable to that between master and slave is not merely troubling at best, but outright idiotic.

But, as Curmie has said repeatedly over the years, whereas all racism is stupid, not all stupidity is racist. The slaves of the Bible aren’t, generally speaking, African, and Curmie sincerely doubts that Adams was suggesting anything racial at all, merely that he’s the coach, he decides what plays to run, what defenses to play, and who’s on the floor and who’s on the bench. 

Still, as an excellent editorial by Ryan Sanders of the Dallas Morning News points out, it’s “tone-deaf… for a 66-year-old white man to tell a young black man to be humble, and use a Scripture about slavery to support his message.” 

It may also be significant that the university upgraded its initial reprimand to outright dismissal after an investigation. The “slaves” reference may have been the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and that Adams would accept the buyout rather than demand the extra several million dollars he’d have received for being fired without cause seems as if it might be significant. Or not… 

The TCU case is both more and less complicated. We don’t know exactly what Jamie Dixon is alleged to have said, only that disgruntled big man Eddie Lampkin (who has left the program) and his mom have gone public with accusations of “racial remarks.” Lampkin posted screenshots to his now-deleted Instagram account of purported text message exchanges between his mother and Dixon, and between himself and an assistant coach. 

In his text, Dixon thanks Lampkin’s mom for the previous day’s conversation (which she says never took place) and wishes the best for him as he enters the transfer portal (she says no one from their end has indicated that Lampkin would do so). Lampkin himself tells the assistant coach “It’s crazy y’all let him treat us like that.” Curmie trusts that this is sufficiently weird enough for you, Gentle Reader. 

There are few certainties here, but one is that Lampkin has had a rough year, both personally (his brother was killed last summer and an apparently beloved aunt died earlier this year) and on the court (roughly 6 points and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes a game). He’s clearly not firing on all cylinders, either athletically or emotionally. He seems to believe that his teammates have been similarly mistreated (notice the “us” in his text to the assistant coach), but none of them seem to be supporting his claims. 

Does that mean his allegations are false? Not inherently, of course, but there seems to be nothing in Dixon’s career to indicate any racial animus. All three of the assistant coaches are black, as are both players who were getting on-court minutes Lampkin apparently thought should be his. Steven Johnson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes in an article in which the words “puzzling criticism” appear in the headline:
The Star-Telegram spoke to multiple Black parents of current players and to another longtime AAU Black coach who has had multiple athletes play for Dixon.
All said their children and players have never told them of any racist or racially insensitive comments made by Dixon.
One parent said she immediately called her son after Lampkin’s post, and the player informed her that he never heard Dixon say anything racist….
The AAU coach said Dixon, “knows the hell out of some basketball,” and he has never heard any type of racial accusations about Dixon from players or his colleagues.
Johnson, a black man himself, concludes, “Suffice to say, there’s no evidence of a culture problem with the TCU men’s basketball program.” 

Johnson’s colleague Mac Engel is even more outspoken. His first sentence reads, “Eddie Lampkin, or someone in Eddie Lampkin’s family, failed to realize that Eddie Lampkin was barely a decent college basketball player.” Ouch. Shortly thereafter, we get this: “Unfounded allegations of racist language against anyone is a great way to terminate a relationship.” He’s just warming up:
Lampkin could have been one of those college players who would be welcome at his alma mater forever, instead he will leave in disgrace, and disappointment.
The team was tired of him. The athletic department had had it with him.
Although he had NIL money exceeding six figures, according to sources his priority was more NIL deals. And he was not happy about playing time.
It was hard to justify that much more playing time for a player who stopped working, and acted as if he was better than his production.
He is talented. He isn’t talented enough to be lazy….
There was “stuff” off the court the team grew tired of; it was drama without the points and rebounds. Teammates will put up with noise for production.
Tell us what you really think, Mac! 

TCU is outwardly unconcerned about Lampkin’s accusations: Dixon was on the sidelines in the conference tournament, in which TCU staged a mild upset of Kansas State (an unlikely result if the team wasn’t on board with Dixon’s leadership) before losing to eventual champion Texas. 

In all probability, the university is doing its own investigation, similar to but more thorough than Johnson’s research. They’re also smart enough to do so behind the scenes. If, as expected, they find nothing of concern, the brouhaha will disappear nearly as fast as Lampkin’s career as a Horned Frog. It’s a possibility, albeit a longshot, that TCU will uncover a serious problem and proceed to cover it up… but Curmie doubts it. If there’s something there, chances are that we’ll know. 

Ultimately, both Texas Tech and TCU seem to have handled their respective cases appropriately. Having just noted that two university administrations might at least possibly have done the right thing, Curmie now awaits the arrival of the remaining horsemen.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Mid-March Potpourri


Curmie will write soon (he hopes) about more important issues: the Stalinistic/Fascistic tactics (here’s one place Curmie believes in the horseshoe theory) of the DeSantis regime, the idiocy of the Tennessee prohibition of drag, Walgreen’s craven capitulation to right-wing ideologues, etc. But for now, it’s a few comments about little things that are pissing Curmie off.

1. Spammers. Curmie is one of two admins of a Facebook page for a theatre honor society. Since the Zuck minions changed their policies, we’re now inundated with spam. Our only defense is that we do get to allow or disallow first posts by users. Not long ago, we’d get one or two a week; now it’s dozens every day, most of them from Asia. Virtually all are “reels,” some of which are, one supposes, intended to be cute or inspiring. A few are fake celebrity death news; others are pornographic. Sigh. 

Curmie’s email is now littered with “X requests permission to post for the first time” messages. I’ve blocked a few hundred would-be posters since the last time I approved anyone, and the other admin has cleaned out a lot of crap, too. I don’t want someone who has a legitimate reason to post on our site to be denied the opportunity to do so, so I at least glance at everything before denying access. All of this increases Curmie’s heartfelt desire for these assholes to die an excruciating death. 

2. American Airlines. Curmie lives in East Texas, and uses Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston for most of his air travel. It’s a little closer than Dallas, and it’s an easier drive; there are a couple of smaller airports that are closer, but the limited number of flights makes them less appealing. Anyway, Curmie flew to Lexington, KY for a conference last week. The return trip included a reasonably tight connection in Dallas. Curmie made it; his suitcase didn’t, despite the fact that according to their own “summary” they unloaded it from the Lexington flight 57 minutes before the scheduled departure to Houston (and that flight was delayed). 

Jump cut to Houston, where Curmie is waiting for his bag… and waiting… and waiting. The carousel is still spinning, but nothing more is coming down the chute. Finally someone starts clearing all the remaining bags off the still-turning carousel; she snarls at me when I ask if this means all the bags are now unloaded. So… off to the American desk. Yes, the bag is still in Dallas. I can wait for the next flight (a couple of hours) or they’ll deliver it tomorrow. I chose the latter. 

The next morning, I tried to check on my baggage’s status, using the website listed on my receipt: nope, no listing. OK, let me try through the American website: nope, tracking not available. Wait, hidden away in a dark corner of the interwebs is a phone number for baggage questions! Ah, but the recording says that number is no longer operational; I’m directed to the (worthless) website. Note, by the way, that the number I called is in fact still operational or I wouldn’t get that corporate recording; they just don’t want to staff it. Finally, I find a link that actually works. 

Did American put the suitcase in a van and drive it up to Chez Curmie? What a silly thought! At 5:41 a.m. they put it on a flight back to Dallas, of course! It was listed as “En route from Dallas/Fort Worth” as of 8:42 a.m. Curmie heard that, Gentle Reader. You want to know “en route to where?”. Well, to nowhere in particular, apparently, for another eight hours, at which point it was loaded on a plane to Longview (that’s one of the smaller and slightly closer airports mentioned earlier). About 7:30, Curmie got a call from Mindy at the courier service that American hired, saying she’d be here in about an hour; she was. 

First off, thanks to the courier service (alas, Curmie doesn’t remember the name of it) for getting me my bag almost exactly 24 hours after I’d have arrived home with it if the ground crew in Dallas had done their jobs. Not so much love for anyone at American: a little competence (or even care) would have gone a long way. But it’s the useless website and the scrupulous avoidance of actual customer service, of any possibility of having someone at American actually have to talk to a passenger, that epitomizes the era of corporate arrogance. 

3. More Censorious Asshats. Shortly after the furor over the bowdlerizing of the books of Roald Dahl, we learn that the Woke Folk are coming after Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. Certainly the books are somewhat less than politically correct by the standards of the 2020s, but they are what they are, and removing the casual racism of the originals does alter them significantly. 

Curmie remembers using a textbook in an acting class many years ago. It’s a great book… if you can get past the sexism. Most students could; a couple couldn’t. Whether the Bond books can remain relevant today despite their use of what are now regarded as racial slurs is debatable. But it’s more than passing strange that apparently it’s really only the negative depictions of black people that have been sanitized. According to the Telegraph article linked above, the slurs against Asians, the sexism (“the sweet tang of rape”? Really?), and the homophobia remain. I guess we know the sensibilities of the “sensitivity readers” hired by the Fleming estate. 

If nothing else, though, the kerfuffle has generated one of the best quips of recent memory. Curmie can’t determine who should get credit for it, but it wasn’t him. The earliest citation I can find is from the title to a blog piece on the right-wing site PJ Media: “The Name Is Bond. James Bond. My Pronouns Are...”. Whatever your politics, that’s a good line. 

4. Stupid University Administrators. As usual, Curmie apologizes for the redundancy in this phrase. Alas, as has become all too common of late, yet another university has decided to abandon its mission in order to find a short-term solution to problems created by its own mismanagement. This time the culprit is Marymount University in Virginia

President Irma Becerra offers the same lame arguments we’ve all heard too many times before, such as those at Goucher College back in the halcyon pre-COVID days. Quoth Becerra, “Over the long term, it would be irresponsible to sustain majors [and] programs with consistently low enrollment, low graduation rates, and lack of potential for growth.” 

Of course, one solution would be to provide those programs (theology and religious studies, philosophy, mathematics, art, history, sociology, English, economics and secondary education) the resources they need to attract and retain students. Another would be to at least pretend to listen to faculty, students, alumni, and other interested parties. But Becerra, like so many of her irk, is as narcissistic as she is short-sighted. 

She wants to turn the place into a trade school. Don’t get me wrong: there is a place for trade schools. Just don’t call them universities; you can’t be a university without degrees in English, economics, math, and history, or a Catholic university without robust programs in theology, religion, and philosophy. The other majors on the chopping block are valuable, too, although perhaps not absolutely vital to have as majors... and they may well be especially strong in qualitative terms at Marymount. Becerra doesn’t care, of course: she is driven only by short-term numbers. (Mathematicians or sociologists would be especially useful in helping her understand what those numbers actually mean. Of course, that suggests she might listen.) 

She even has the audacity to claim that “True to our mission, all university programs will continue to be grounded in the liberal arts and focused on the education of the whole person.” In a word, bullshit. There will be, can be, no liberal arts grounding at a university that has turned its back on the values of the liberal arts. Becerra is a hypocrite as well as an incompetent administrator. The disintegration of a university Curmie had never heard of is, of course, not cause for great alarm in its own terms. As an exemplar of the path too many myopic and panicky administrators are choosing, however, the Marymount case offers ill portents. 

5. ESPN’s Narcissism. The network has long believed people tune into their coverage of sporting events to listen to their talking heads rather than to see the game. Hence we get blowhards like Dick Vitale and Bill Walton, who really think the telecast is about them. Announcers frequently say things like “they called an offensive foul” without saying on who (the guy with the ball? an illegal screen?), and that could matter if someone is already in foul trouble. No, they’d rather keep babbling about some player’s high school coach or, more likely, their own experience as a coach (back before they got fired). 

Now, however, ESPN is even worse. As many Curmiphiles know, Curmie is a fan of the Kansas Jayhawks (he got his PhD at KU). It has long been the practice at Chez Curmie to listen to the KU radio broadcast for pre-game, switch to the TV for the first half of the game itself, back to radio for halftime, and back to TV for the second half. For, well, reasons, we were watching the first-round game on the Big 12 tournament on ESPN+ on the computer monitor. 

This worked particularly well in that we could listen to the radio halftime show while the visual images were of the ESPN+ site, so we’d know when the second half TV coverage was about to start. Except. You knew there was an except, didnt you, Gentle Reader?  ESPN decided we’d rather listen to their talking heads utter “analysis” of what was happening elsewhere—no highlights, mind you, just a couple of guys rambling—than to see the game live. We were four minutes of game time (so, more than that of in real time) into the second half before ESPN deigned to show us the game. We did get to see the rest of the game, but on time delay. (Interestingly, the final score was posted on the ESPN website when the TV coverage was still at the three minute mark (maybe sooner). 

Curmie has objected for years to the all-too-common practice of a network’s pretending that a taped event was live. This is especially true of NBC’s Olympic coverage. But at least there, you can see the rationale, even if it’s a little sleazy. But there is literally no advantage to ESPN’s unethical misrepresentation. Whoever thought this was a good idea should be horse-whipped and fired. They’ll probably get promoted. 

6. More Nonsense from GetUpside. You may recall, Gentle Reader, that the GetUpside app used to make the absurd claim that users could save $200-300 a month. In reality, if you drive 1000 miles a month, get an average 25 mpg, and get the maximum savings offered by the app (25¢ a gallon), you’d actually save $10. But hey, they were only off by about 2000%. Can’t blame them for that, right? 

Well, apparently someone suggested that ridiculously false advertising might be contra-indicated, so they’ve dropped that particular bit of idiocy. Nonetheless, they’re baaaaack. Now our heroine claims that she’s got lots of extra cash because of the app. “Everyone is driving a lot more now,” you see, but she never pays full price at the pump. 

Notice: “a lot more.” Curmie would take that to mean at least 50% more, but let’s say it’s 10%. The state with the lowest average price for a gallon of gas today is Mississippi, at $3.01. That would be the state in which a 25¢ a gallon savings would make the greatest impact on a percentage basis. Driving even 10% more and getting gas 8.3% cheaper puts more money in your pocket exactly how? 

7. The Slash Ad. This one doesn’t really piss me off as much as make me scratch my head. Capital One has for some time had an advertising theme that suggests that banking with them is “the easiest decision in the history of decisions, even easier than this…” The “this” is opening the birthday pony first, using Derek Jeter instead of another guy named Derek as a pinch-hitter, etc. 

The newest ad in the series shows auditions for a (high school?) rock band. A couple of teenage boys are waiting their turn, while Slash, the lead guitarist for Guns n’ Roses, plays the iconic guitar lead-in to the band’s classic single, “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” He’s only a couple bars in when he’s interrupted and told he’s “in.” 

When the ad debuted during the Super Bowl, Curmie raised an eyebrow. Yes, that riff is instantly recognizable, but it’s not like Slash is the only person on the planet who can play it. Don’t believe me? Check out this middle-schooler. The kid does a great job all the way through, including the solo near the end. To be fair, it doesn’t match what Slash does with that latter sequence, but we’d need to compare those renditions to choose the better guitarist. Based solely on the ability to play that opening riff, choosing Slash immediately instead of hearing other auditioners is a stupid decision… probably not what Capital One had in mind. 

Next up… a subject of greater import. Maybe.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Stuck in the Middle. With You?

Curmie was never a huge fan of the Scottish folk-rock group Stealers Wheel (although he really liked some of Gerry Rafferty’s solo efforts a little later). The band’s biggest hit, “Stuck in the Middle with You,” however, is truly a classic. Curmie hears it not infrequently on the local oldies station and on Spotify. Lyrics like “Trying to make some sense of it all / But I can see that it makes no sense at all” seem to resonate even more now than they did when Curmie was an adolescent over 50 years ago. But the chorus—“Clowns to the left of me / Jokers to the right / Here I am / Stuck in the middle with you”—is what virtually everyone of Curmie’s generation remembers. 

The clowns and jokers were apparently intended to be representative of music industry moguls and hangers-on (hey, if you can’t trust Wikipedia, who can you trust?), but they certainly serve as an apt description of the current practice of censorious asshats at both ends of the political spectrum. Curmie isn’t exactly “in the middle,” but he would be happy to be “with you,” Gentle Reader, in noticing that there are a lot a clowns to our left and jokers to our right. Problems is, they’re a fair bit more insidious than those terms suggest. Curmie’s post from a little over three weeks ago seems to have barely scratched the surface, so here are a few more stories about freedom of expression, presented in the order Curmie became aware of them (not necessarily in actual chronological order). 

There’s a slight problem there, as kids that age don’t yet have the discernment to make an intelligent personal choice about a controversial issue. They’re little more that props for their parents’ and their school’s ethical/political stance. (Happens all the time from every possible socio-political perspective, of course.) There’s a considerably bigger problem, however, if allegations made by the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents the children’s parents, have any validity. 

The ACLJ claims that museum staff verbally abused the kids and claimed the museum was a “neutral zone” where religious and political messages are forbidden; the kids were thrown out of the museum. ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow asserts that “The employee who ultimately forced the students to leave the museum was rubbing his hands together in glee as they exited the building.” No, Curmie doesn’t believe that museum employees behave like the villains in 19th-century melodramas, but the museum authorities don’t deny the ejection, and claim to have initiated “immediate training to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of incident.” 

Sekulow argues that museum staff’s actions constitute “a clear and egregious abuse of the First Amendment, which protects their right to free speech without government interference, and we are ready to take action. A government institution cannot censor an individual's speech, much less speech from the inherently Christian pro-life position.” Wow. The first sentence is absolutely correct; the government, represented by the museum employees, overstepped. Bigtime. The second sentence, including the “much less” business—well, that seems to suggest that Sekulow thinks people who agree with him have more freedom of speech rights than do we mere mortals who disagree with him on a particular issue. Sekulow is a self-righteous ass, but he’s also right that the museum staff behaved outrageously, and that matters more. 

In Lansing, KS. The Laramie Project, a documentary theatre text, i.e., one which is edited rather than written by its creators, had been one of three texts in the curriculum in the high school’s Social Justice Expository Unit in the senior-level English Composition class. The play, produced by the Tectonic Theater project, consists exclusively of “found material”: direct transcripts of interviews, news reports, etc., in the aftermath of the murder of Matthew Shepherd, apparently simply for being gay. 

It appears that the entire unit, which also included Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's essay We Should All Be Feminists and the 2016 documentary 13th, has been scrubbed from the curriculum, despite a committee recommendation that the material remain. That’s because the school board, like so many others, is comprised of members who are lazy, guided more by political affiliation than by any real interest in education, and (probably) stupid. 

The impetus for the removal came from a student’s mother, Kirsten Workman, whose initial objection was that the material was being taught in an English class instead of a history class. Two comments: 1). She’s almost certainly lying. She doesn’t want anything about race or sexual identification taught anywhere. 2). Literature is about something. That may not be true of what one of Curmie’s friends calls “beach novels” (and Curmie likes them as much as the next person does) but higher-end fiction and nonfiction alike have something to say about the world. You can’t read Shakespeare or Dickens or Kafka without thinking about the implications of the worlds they describe… that’s kind of the point. 

Anyway, there were the usual accusations about the right’s current bogeyman, Critical Race Theory, which according to Workman creates students “trained to feel like victims and to be hopeless that they can change social justice or change injustice because we're not teaching them about the tools they have right there at their disposal to make a difference.” Curmie doubts that anything bearing much resemblance to CRT was in fact being taught, but even if it were, the whole point of the theory is that we as a society need to address these issues. Encouraging helplessness couldn’t be further from the reality of the situation. 

Tectonic’s Artistic Director, Moisés Kaufman, has made copies of the script of The Laramie Project available for free to any Lansing student who requests one, and the censorial impulse may indeed have backfired. Seriously, Gentle Reader, when you were an adolescent, which would you have been more likely to read (and Curmie means really read): a class assignment or a free book the grown-ups tell you is too naughty for your consumption? 

Curmie isn’t necessarily predicting this result, but the situation does seem somewhat akin to the political aftermath of the Dobbs ruling. Back in May, Curmie suggested that the “red wave” everyone was predicting would happen in the November elections might not be as overwhelming as the journalistic chattering class would have had us believe. Who was right? 

The Iowa Senate. There are many horrible things about Iowa Senate Bill 1145, which was introduced a couple of weeks ago (it’s in committee hearings now). Most of these, as Peter Greene points out in the article linked above, have to do with mandatory reporting of any students who as much as ponder whether their actual sexual identity matches the plumbing they were born with. Curmie is always uncomfortable with mandatory reporting laws—one of the benefits of retirement is that he is no longer bound by Title 9 restrictions and can exercise judgment on whether or not to report what he strongly suspects to actually be an ill-intentioned rumor. The proposed legislation performs all sorts of gyrations to try to balance the presumed rights of parents against the possibility of child abuse. What it also does, in Greene’s words, is to “[take] a chainsaw to any student hope for privacy.” 

But this is a post about censorship, and that’s a different form of authoritarian bullshit. So, revenons à nos moutons: The bill also prohibits “any program, curriculum, material, test, survey, questionnaire, activity, announcement, promotion, or instruction of any kind relating to gender identity or sexual activity” for grades K-3. Except that it doesn’t, of course. It’s fine to use gender-based pronouns and to talk about mommies and daddies. It’s that icky same-sex parent stuff that they want to outlaw, even if it’s just a recognition of the reality that exists for some of those kids. 

Finally, the bill also seeks to redefine obscenity, with the clear intent of making it easier to censor children’s books (this term serving to describe not merely those ostensibly intended for children, but also those simply in the possession of children). The bill de facto removes the third prong of the Miller test codified by the Burger Court 50 years ago, making an exception only for works of “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value as to minors. Quoting Greene again: “The very idea that a work with literary, artistic, political or scientific merit could also include a depiction of sex is rejected by this law.” Oh, jolly. 

At Pensacola Christian College. This one is just too predictable. Remember when, a dozen years ago, that Alaska high school wanted to prevent the school’s symphonic jazz choir from performing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” not because of lyrics like “Put a gun against his head. Pulled my trigger; now he’s dead,” but simply because Freddie Mercury was gay? 

Well, apparently one member of the King’s Singers, the internationally-renowned a capella group, is also gay. And some idiot administrator (Curmie apologizes again for the redundancy) decided on forbidding these amazing singers (Curmie has seen them live once and on TV several times) to perform because the school “cannot knowingly give an implied or direct endorsement of anything that violates the Holy Scripture.” Sure. Scripture is actually rather ambiguous on the subject of homosexuality—a lot of Biblical scholars say the injunction so many on the right claim as divine authority for their bigotry is actually just a prohibition against raping male slaves—but it’s pretty clear on stuff like “false witness,” which one suspects is allowed to happen with grim regularity on their campus. 

Curmie would recommend attending a King’s Singers concert to anyone; not so much for attending Pensacola Christian College. But the group was paid, and a religious institution has the legal right to discriminate on the basis of dubious scriptural interpretation. There are worse things… 

Speaking of which: 
The Books of Roald Dahl. Puffin Books, a division of Penguin, has decided to reissue Dahl’s works… with changes to remove that which is “non-inclusive” or “insensitive.” There’s a word for that: censorship. No, not in the legal sense. The publisher has no governmental authority with which to suppress dissent, and apparently the Dahl estate approved the changes, so Puffin has the legal right to bowdlerize the texts, but releasing the revisions under Dahl’s name is problematic at best. For Puffin to call themselves a legitimate publisher raises some pretty significant ethical issues. 

The changes include changes in phrasing, cuts, and even additions. Apparently, there are literally hundreds of alterations, even as the publishers are claiming the changes were “small and carefully considered.” Here are just a few, as cited in the Guardian article linked above:
In The Witches, a paragraph explaining that witches are bald beneath their wigs ends with the new line: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.” [Ew.]
In previous editions of James and the Giant Peach, the Centipede sings: “Aunt Sponge was terrifically fat / And tremendously flabby at that,” and, “Aunt Spiker was thin as a wire / And dry as a bone, only drier.” Both verses have been removed, and in their place are the rhymes: “Aunt Sponge was a nasty old brute / And deserved to be squashed by the fruit,” and, “Aunt Spiker was much of the same / And deserves half of the blame.” [Ugh.]
References to “female” characters have disappeared. Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, once a “most formidable female”, is now a “most formidable woman”. [Sigh.]
Gender-neutral terms have been added in places – where Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa Loompas were “small men”, they are now “small people”. The Cloud-Men in James and the Giant Peach have become Cloud-People. [Oh, FFS]
You can see further examples of Puffin’s inanity here or indeed in any of the other sources linked in this screed. 

If there’s anything good to come out of this travesty, it’s that Puffin is being reviled from the left, right, and non-partisan. On the left, there’s this excoriation on Salon and this from Forward, which, as a Jewish publication, notes Dahl’s undeniable anti-Semitism but concludes, “We have mistaken the art for the artist and lost the specificity that makes his work worthy of new editions. Dahl had many ugly, bigoted views. But, for the most part, they’re not in his books for children.” From the right, there’s similar commentary—from The National Review, Fox News, and The American Spectator. And from non-partisan free speech advocates, there’s PEN America and FIRE

Part of the reason for the unanimity of opinion is the fact that Puffin’s decision, coordinated by Inclusive Minds, a UK-based consultancy is dedicated to self-promotion and virtue signaling  “inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature,” is so profoundly inane that no sentient human, irrespective of socio-political biases, could see the changes as anything but an abomination. But Curmie also suspects that both sides see the opportunity to blame the other. The right, obviously, sees the initial impetus as left-wing weenie-ism. The left, meanwhile, views the situation as a multinational corporation looking to squeeze a few more bucks out of prospective readers by issuing “new editions,” which they would have us believe are sufficiently true to the original to be accepted without demur but sufficiently different to require the purchase of the bowdlerized versions. 

Both sides are correct.  Puffin has indeed settled on the perfect storm of the worst impulses of the left and the right. In so doing, they become the villains of the week, and Curmie is quite pleased that they’re currently being hammered from all sides. 

Ultimately, though, Curmie is just trying to make some sense of it all, but he can see it makes no sense at all. Someone should write a song about that.