A school–and a state–that’s too cool

Sierra Magazine, a product of the environmental advocacy group The Sierra Club, recently crowned U.C. Davis the “#1 Cool School” for its efforts to conserve energy, resources, and otherwise be sustainable and fight climate change.

A couple of years ago, the student-run ASUCD Coffee House underwent a major renovation.  I’m not sure what the budget was, but hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars went into the project.  The result?  Sliding doors became manual, and a versatile space with moveable chairs and tables gave way to massive dining booths, each typically empty but for one student entranced by her laptop.

In the end, does making a sliding door manual really benefit the campus community?  I’m confident that the electricity saved is more than offset by the germs and viruses spread via frequent grasping of handles by so many young adults.  Also, I can imagine at least one inattentive, returning alumnus slamming into the door, betrayed by the changing ways of an old friend.

And then there are the disposable cornware utensils.  With traditional plasticware, you could cut whatever was on your plate.  Now, your corn fork is likely to get bent out of shape.  And there’s no convenient place to grab your utensil in case you forgot it–it’s usually rationed out with your dish.  How many acres of corn are destined to become crappy utensils, rather than say, by some more natural demand of the market (hint: not ethanol fuel) go to feed a starving mouth in the Global South?

Now, I must confess there is no “Recycle Nazi” at the Coffee House.  This idea is borrowed from the Davis Farmers Market, where, after chomping down on your tandoori treat, you’re likely to confront a cheery dreadlocked twenty-year-old-of-unknowing-privilege, who will gently but firmly ensure you’ve cast your biodegradable cornware cup into the appropriate receptacle.  Only then can you go back to enjoy watching toddlers prance around to a Bob Dylan cover band.  The small tote dogs of even-greater-pampering-and-privilege are fun to watch too.

But back to campus.  The exorbitant charge for paper cups is reflective of the the long-standing reuse movement.  Yes, it’s nice to reuse your mug.  And not all of these eco-friendly changes are derisible. Yet, the guiding hand of the Nanny State is all too palpable on campus.

COMPACT parking

Every space in one recently repainted UC Davis lot was marked “COMPACT.” Cogitatingduck.

Take cars for example.  There have been new garages built on campus, but they are more to the periphery than the core.  And existing parking lots get eroded by the liberal legacy of litigation.  The clearest instance of this comes when spots disappear to make room for more ADA-compliant spaces.

As a part of recent maintenance, one parking area got a new coat of sealant.  The spaces were repaved, and I suspect they’re just a little smaller than they were before.  As if that weren’t enough of a hint against cars, one stretch of the lot was painted with “COMPACT” in every space.  But they’re plenty wide to accommodate those oversize SUVs with multiple Obama stickers on them.  So the commuter is left to scratch his own head: was this a simple painting error or a subliminal hint from Nanny to buy a smaller car?

Well, with tax-hiking Prop 30 passed, there is a little more assurance those lots will continue to fill with cars for the near future.  And all the while, Our Great Bullet Train will move forward.  This despite the Legislative Analyst’s Office finding there are more effective ways to reduce emissions with the carbon tax credits diverted to “backstop any shortfall” in funding for a project unlikely to finish before humans colonize Mars.  An inevitable byproduct of this is, you’ve guessed it: more lawsuits!

Greetings from California.


The immorality of sit-ins, hunger strikes, and other protests

This latest comic is inspired by two anti-business movements in the Sacramento area.  In April, activists petitioned Sacramento’s city council to block a McDonald’s from opening in the midst of what some would term a “food desert.”  This followed on the heels of a January through March sit-in strike that successfully closed the U.C. Davis branch of U.S. Bank.  Both campaigns were driven by a misguided desire to narrow free market choices available to the community.

While these kinds of paternalistic projects are at odds with the values of free choice and personal responsibility, at least the anti-burger campaign was conducted within the limits of the local political process.  But the anti-bank sit-in demonstrates the widespread and reckless abandon with which too many progressive protesters pursue their cause today.

It’s common and commendable to ask if the ends justify the means.  The anti-U.S. Bank campaign is a clear case where neither the ends nor the means are justified.  In blocking physical access to the bank, members of Occupy UCD actively prevented customers and employees from engaging in mutually beneficial commercial transactions.  Such stunts that diminish the legitimate choices of others are a real threat to freedom.

The university administration, perhaps still reeling from November’s pepper-spray incident, was complicit in its failure to remove the blockaders.  Now, U.S Bank is suing the campus for breach of contract because its police did not effectively enforce an ordinance barring people from blocking public spaces.  On top of $2 million+ lost in future rent and revenue sharing, U.C. Davis stands to shed additional dollars fending off the suit.

By allowing those with gut-felt convictions to run roughshod over the rule of law, the administration betrayed the civil society it claims to honor and cherish.  In an even greater let down, Seattle Mayor Mike McGuinn allowed a large, organized, and anonymous mob of masked “black bloc” protesters to smash  numerous store front windows on May 1.  Among the infamous moments captured was the hypocritical smashing of a Niketown window by a Nike shoe wearer.

The solipsistic morality that drives most protest should give us all more pause than it does.  Besides actions that violate others’ rights of movement or property, there are protests of self-inflicted harm.  Consider the multiple self-immolations that ignited the Arab Spring last year.  Or, look at the not-so-fatal hunger strike.  This act of protest is way overrated.  It’s akin to terrorism in that the protester threatens violence if the target of coercion refuses to grant the demand.  The only difference is that the protester supplies his own body for the violence rather than that of a hapless victim.  Self-sacrifice is warranted for ends like saving children in a burning building, but harming oneself to coerce another is as immoral as harming others.

When protesters stop respecting the rights of others or even the value of their own bodies, civilization takes a step backward.  Rather than romanticize protest, which devolves to a gut appeal, our culture should uphold the truly constructive engagement that arises from our more measured, non-coercive political and economic processes.

Campus thought police

Hate crimes have received a bit of press lately, with the news supernova over Trayvon Martin as well as the recent conviction of Dharun Ravi in the Tyler Clementi case.  Much ink has been spilled on these things already.  I will spare you but to say that hoodies are not a good symbol to rally around, and that Mr. Ravi’s disproportionately harsh sentence tells us just how powerful the politically-driven liberal witch hunt for bullies is.

Now only occasionally do hate and intolerance receive as much attention in the public square as they do on university campuses.  The past couple of years there has been great hand-wringing across the University of California system.  President Yudof issued this open letter in March.  The academic establishment typically shies away from moral and absolutist language, but its use in this letter betrays the community’s critical-thinking blind spot.  In response to one act of vandalism, the UC President sounds more like a back-bending diplomat when he applauds the “rapid and vigorous condemnation of this cowardly act.”  This kind of language is reserved for when some ultra-important party has been ticked off and must be mollified.

That party is a large one, animated in its adherence to the orthodoxy of victimhood.  It is driven by the oppressor-oppressed paradigm, and it continuously demands urgent, corrective action.  As a modern day Sisyphus, the university president or chancellor must repeatedly expend campus time and resources condemning every little act of vandalism and thoughtless transgression.  Furthermore, their chains require them to assure that such crimes will be expunged completely from the grounds of the academy.  But there will always be insensitive yokels ready to wreak havoc, if for no other reason than to elicit a response from the ultra-sensitive communities on campus.

A couple of news items from last fall help us see a fuller picture of the campus orthodoxy that dictates these responses.  After a student column on some regrettable phenomenon called “jungle fever,” The California Aggie editorial board informed its readership that its staff were to undergo “diversity training.”  This prescription can’t help but remind me of Communist-era reeducation camps.  And after some abortion opponents surreptitiously distributed the “180” video on campus, the campus Women’s Resource Center not only condemned the act but felt compelled to offer support to “students identifying as Jewish, Queer, People of Color, Women, Transgender, Romani, and folks with disabilities” who were offended or else menaced by a sense of “erasure.”

There are limits to sensitivity on campus and in the public square.  Authority figures always take it upon themselves to reassure the public through their actions, but these grandiose declarations end up diminishing the sense of agency and empowerment that ought to be cultivated in the individuals of the community.  There is too much coddling of victims and not enough sense of perspective.  If we are to preserve the academy as an arena of critical thought, and if it is to deliver us well-rounded, capable citizens for society, we must shake off the unhealthy campus obsession over hate and intolerance.

The failed citizens

With the exploits of the pepper spray cop, UC Davis is now thrust into the media spotlight.  While everyone is angry at how the administration and its police have treated the students, no one seems to be angry at how society has failed to make them into decent citizens.

Their cause could be the most noble of causes, but the protest movement at Davis has paralleled and now in fact merged with the morally and effectually bankrupt Occupy movement.  The tents first popped up on the quad last Thursday night, and on Monday they re-emerged, scores of them.

Reporters have widely documented the headaches that come with these Occupy camps, namely sanitation, property crimes, and violence.  Recently, authorities were faced with removing 200 pounds of human waste from the Santa Cruz Occupy encampment, and other sites have spawned rats, hookworm, and scabies.  I recalled this today as I walked by a pair of port-a-potties on the edge of the UCD quad, supplied by Lord-knows-who.

I’ve also wondered, given the reported rapes at other Occupy sites, whether the campus Women’s center would ever break the sacred bond of “solidarity” to inveigh against the squatter village.  But with the pepper spray outrage so fresh, it seems to me the weight of visceral outrage is too strong a tailwind for such a reasonable course to prevail.

But more disturbing than the safety and health concerns is the occupiers’ inherent disregard for others’ property, time, and resources.  Whether they occupy the administration building, the library, or the grassy quad, they force the university to spend extra dollars paying employees to keep the lights on and otherwise look after them.  When law enforcement from adjacent jurisdictions are called in, taxpayers take an additional hit.  I wonder if the poli sci majors out there would ever suppose they are playing out the tragedy of the commons.  Everyone suffers when occupiers break the rules to abuse public spaces and public resources.  They preclude others from the use of those spaces, and at the end of it all, someone has to pick up the tab.

On top of this, protesters fail their fellow citizens with their decibels of anger.  Occupiers are well-known for saying they want to “start a dialog,” but its kind of hard to have a conversation with a human microphone.  Pithy mantras and signage abound, but the idea that a hopped up crowd is the best way to facilitate a substantive, calm, and rational discourse is a delusion.

Speaking of delusion, what good do protesters think they are doing by adopting socialist revolutionary modalities?  They hold “general assemblies” like they were on the ramparts of the Paris Commune or were maybe a more effective incarnation of the UN.  And this upcoming Monday will be a “general strike,” reminiscent again of the tools by which European citizens secure the economic mediocrity of their welfare states.  Amazingly, UCD occupiers even considered whether to “declare campus as an autonomous sanctuary space based on international historic model.”  I wonder how many students are aware of how all of twentieth century history testifies to the failure of this kind of business.

At last, its interesting to note how protesters and occupiers never admit to any wrongdoing.  While large crowds of people are generally prone to interlopers, chaos, and emotional firestorms, occupiers would have us believe they are always decent, always innocent, and always right.  Their public relations strain our credulity.

Hopefully the UC Davis campus will soon regain an administration and police force with some moral currency, so they can sweep away the encampment, this time cleanly and non-offensively.  That will surely save us from great troubles down the road.

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