The Eyes Have It

I am employed by a college where I teach young people writing and give them advice about navigating life in their chosen fields and, in turn, the world.

I don’t know everything, or sometimes even anything.  But overall, on a given day, I know a lot more than they do.  Certainly, I’ve experienced more.

Me on the first day of class

Contrary to popular belief, the role of higher education is not primarily to be a vocational or trade school.  Of course, we want our students to work and we have an obligation to train them with skills that will allow them to make a living when they graduate.

But if you had a gun to my head, which it often feels like Zooming these days, I’d confess our number #1 job is to teach them how to think.

No, not WHAT to think, just TO think.  For themselves.  

Desired reaction to education #keanuknows

Oh, of course they have thoughts and certainly they process them.  But they’ll need to do more than that in an information age (Note: God how I HATE that phrase) mired in bullshit specifically conceived to convince and convert them to a certain point of view.  Or to bury them in such a load of research that they accept as okay what they know in their guts to be seriously wrong.

If my students can recognize crap excuses, crap rulings and crap pronouncements on just about anything it makes my day.  And when they manage to find a creative way to bust through a crap show and assert what’s true, that’s jackpot.  Game over.  My work is done here.

Me, in the mirror

A current crop of insurgent students now attending the University of Texas at Austin is a case in point.  Somewhere I assume more than a teacher or two in this liberal university town are privately gloating and cheering on the small but powerful way their young people are calling bullshit on the powers that be in control of the university they all pay handsomely to attend.

See, UT Austin’s alma mater song in 2021 is still a little ditty from 1903 called The Eyes of Texas (Are Upon You).  The words of the tune were inspired by the words of a famous Confederate general rallying on his troops and it was first performed at a university-sponsored minstrel show in order to raise money for its track team at the turn of the century. 

The 20th century.

Oh.. I have a feeling this is not going to end well..

Nevertheless, after a many months long study UT Austin president Jay Hartzell, he of the smiling, welcoming tieless photo complete with southern style pocket square, ruled in a terse statement that the songis and will remain our alma mater.

This might not seem like a big deal to an outsider but in higher education life symbols mean a lot.  Heck, symbols and the protests or support they engender help define American life. 

We are a country that loves imagery, from the flag flying above or directly AT and THROUGH the Capitol building on down.  We use our symbols to interpret and express who we are, to the world and to ourselves.

And we call this…

That is why this story of this symbol in this weekend’s NY Times, as well as other writings in such publications as Texas Monthly, caught my eye.  As a college professor it also made me wonder:

If we can’t even bench a minstrel show song at one of the largest universities in the country after a year of protests over the nine minute public execution of a Black man by a racist cop, where exactly ARE we at the moment?

Pres. Hartzell’s pronouncement was in keeping with the conclusions of the 58-page study he commissioned on the subject and was no doubt met with great praise by the many wealthy donors who threatened to cut off the financial spigot to his institution were he to conclude any differently.  No doubt they were also pleased by the words in the report that said the song contained no racist intent.  Ditto earlier pronouncements by Mr. Hartzell that the song should unite us in that it would hold them all to be accountable to their institution’s core values.

Reminder: He looks like this so…

To me, the definition of bullshit is the same as former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography:

I know it when I see it.

And trust me, this university president is mired in it.  Well above his kneepads.

Well, clearly someone (nee professors) at UT Austin is doing their job because lots of their students see it too.

Level 5!

Since the Hartzell ruling, half of this university’s hundred or so volunteer student tour guides, many of them white, quit.  These are teens or early 20s who say they love their school (Note: Why else be a tour guide, seriously?) but could not in good faith walk people past UT Austin’s Admissions Center, on which a large plaque with The Eyes of Texas lyrics hangs prominently.

The president of the Texas NAACP and its members agreed and strongly voiced  their opposition at a televised news conference.  Then one of UT Austin’s oldest and most prominent campus service organizations held an online discussion in support of banning the song, which had to contend with a masked attendee with a gun who suddenly and quite purposely showed up onscreen in full intimidation mode.

Meaning, well, all of this is far from over.

I’d say!

The above should be painfully obvious to anyone who has half a brain about the evolution of social change.  Just as the Cleveland Indians has finally acquiesced to change its name and mascot after decades of pressure (Note: To what, we don’t yet know), The Eyes of Texas will at some point no longer exist as UT Austin’s official alma mater.

But this little song, written by one university band member at the request of another who happened to also be the executive director of the school’s annual minstrel show and one quarter of the Varsity Quartet that first performed it, won’t exit the stage willingly.

Then again, neither has the Confederacy.  It continues to live on in the form of this and so many other songs.  Still, this tune does have the distinction of having been featured prominently in such classic Hollywood films as Giant, Viva Las Vegas and The Right Stuff, as well as at the inaugural ball of Pres. Lyndon Johnson and the 2007 memorial service for his late wife, Lady Bird Johnson.

Let’s never forget this either (yikes)

It will also, for the time being, be a thorn in the side of all persons of color who attend the school, and to many others, including some whites, at each university sporting event where it will be very proudly played and sung.

No doubt this will also particularly irk all of the Black legislators who lobbied hard to ban it, people who know all too well that the very nature of a minstrel show in turn of the century Texas means White people dressed in blackface spoofing them as dimwitted, lazy, happy-go-lucky buffoons with bugged out eyes and wide toothy grins.

This is the history they are trying to preserve… really

If they have a kid there, or for some reason find themselves at a game, or another school event where this is tolerated they might even picture those reveling and singing that song sporting any one of the above accouterments while shuffling across the stage.

And we Whites wonder why so many people of color we know are so pissed off these days?  Read the lines to the ditty with everything you’ve just learned (Note: Or better yet, sing it to its tune of I’ve Been Working on the Railroad) and tell me if you’d feel any other way. 

The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
All the livelong day.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
You cannot get away.
Do not think you can escape them
At night or early in the morn —
The Eyes of Texas are upon you
Til Gabriel blows his horn.

And if your answer is still yes, be prepared to forever be called out on your BULLSHIT by people far better at it than I.

Dua Lipa – IDGAF

Not Over Till It’s Over

This is not meant to scare anyone.  But here are some facts.

The U.S. is about THREE TIMES the geographic size of India. 

Yet India is home to 1.3 BILLION people as opposed to the U.S. population of just 333 million. 

That means FOUR TIMES as many humans live in India in about ONE-THIRD of the space we have.

To put it another way:

Imagine if EVERY U.S. STATE IN OUR EASTERN TIME ZONE suddenly vanished and EVERY PERSON WHO LIVED IN THOSE STATES instantly materialized into the states that remained.

That’s how much physically closer we would all be and that’s how socially distanced we would all be, mask mandates be damned. 

Okay, are you with me so far?

Uhhh…. yes?

Good.

Now even though none of us want to think about this, let’s briefly look at the latest statistics about Covid infection rates and deaths.

U.S. infection rates are now 50-60,00 per day, which sounds like a lot but actually is pretty great considering in early January, prior to the Biden-Harris administration taking office, we were at an all-time high of just over 300,000 per day.

Know what the infection rate was last week in India – OVER 400,000 PEOPLE PER DAY.

Putting it mildly

Yup, after enduring a first wave of infections surprisingly well considering its size, India is now exploding with Covid disease and deaths, so much so that crematoriums have been overrun and mass groups of corpses are now being burned in the streets.

I watched one news report that showed 44 ambulances with dead bodies lined up at one site with nowhere to go.

Sad, tragic but, um, thank god (Note: Our whoever you believe Her to be) WE’RE safe.  Right?

You can go ahead and press that

India survived surprisingly well in the first wave of COVID infections but it is now in the midst of a much more deadly second wave.

Why?

Because the second wave in India is due to a NEW COVID VIRUS VARIANT that is much more lethal and virulent than anything that came before it.

This is what viruses do.  As they get eradicated or slowed, they mutate to survive.  Sometimes they do this ineffectively and, other times, quite efficiently.

Not so fast everyone

For instance, I recall vividly being told in the last half of 2020 that the UK variant of COVID was starting to be found in California and today, mid-2021, it is now, by far, the dominant variant.

See how this stuff happens?

This might all seem potentially manageable if the Indian variant behaves like the UK variant.  But there is not yet ANY EVIDENCE of that.

In fact, Dr. Anthony Fauci gave an interview on NBC this weekend where he unequivocally stated that, according to early research, in terms of the current science and the vaccines available, the India variant was so far PROBLEMATIC.

Now after decades of going to doctors for various medical conditions for myself as well as for my elderly parents, let me translate to you what problematic means from a physician.

Me, hearing the word “problematic”

 It means not good, it means we don’t have an answer, it means this can be worrisome.

At the very least it means, you are by no means cured or even out of the woods.  It means this is SOMETHINGOr worse.

Q: Oh come on, Chair, wait.  Why are you sending us into mass panic? Will the India variant even be here?  I mean, I just read that the US has restricted all air travel from India.

A:  You mean that edict this week, after we’ve intermingled aerially for several months when their cases were only 200-380,000 per day?  Right.  No reason to think an airborne virus from another country overseas could possibly get here and take over.  (Note: See several paragraphs above)

Sigh

In the interest of fairness, let’s note that the head of one German biotech company that helped develop the Pfizer vaccine, said that his vaccine was “clever” and “would hold” against this new variant.

Well, let’s hope it’s VERY clever because even though Mr. Biotech noted he wasn’t worried” he also let it slip between press sound bytes that they were “still testing” its effectiveness in combatting this new strain.

Meanwhile:

INDIA: 19.2 million Covid cases; 212,000 deaths.

U.S.: 32.5 million Covid cases; 580,000 deaths.

Yes, we’re still in the lead but soon they will soon be nipping at our heels.

 Literally.

My summer plans

And through no fault of their own.

Because the sad truth in all of this lies in something I heard one Indian doctor say live on TV this weekend. He spoke it in his native language but then translated in hopes that the rest of us might hear and then take action.

If it affects some of us, it affects all of us.

What to do?  Well –

– Getting the vaccine and any inevitable booster would be a start.

– Following CDC guidelines on mask wearing and social distancing could also help.

– Listening to science and facts vs. political dogma and conspiracy theories from your favorite cable TV news host or dark web site definitely wouldn’t hurt.

Lighting this nightly

-Donating a small amount of money, time or attention to help out someone/anyone/anything in support of any of the above would also be noteworthy.

And when all else fails, be kinder to others, even yourself. 

Because you never know what’s just around our MUTUAL corners.

Ben Lee – “We’re All in This Together”