Discover more from The Bulwark
Rock of Outrages
Plus: A Tale of 3 governors
If you aren’t a regular consumer of conservative media, you may have missed this story. On the other hand, if you are a regular viewer of Fox News — or reader of just about any right-wing website — you definitely heard about what happened at the University of Wisconsin-Madison last week.
At a cost of $50,000, the university removed a 70-ton boulder from campus because activists claimed that the rock — a 2 billion year-old pre-Cambrian era glacial erratic — was a “symbol of racism.”
A fixture on campus for decades, the rock became a flashpoint last year after the police murder of George Floyd. The Wisconsin Black Student Union and the Native American student organization Wunk Sheek, demanded that the rock be removed.
Until last week, the boulder had been a monument to Thomas Chamberlin, a noted geologist who also served as president of the University of Wisconsin from 1887 to 1892. No one had ever accused Chamberlin of either racism or being associated with racism in any way.
But along with the rock itself, his name and the plaque (which offended no one) was also removed. The university announced that “The rock will no longer be referred to by this name but rather known simply as a glacial erratic. A new plaque honoring Chamberlin will be placed on Chamberlin Hall.”
The whole story of the racist rock is a vignette of academic self-parody that really deserved better treatment than the usual heavy-breathing on Fox News.
I can’t help fantasizing about a Tom Wolfe novel that revolved around the whole story. Or perhaps a mockumentary by Christopher Guest about the offending rock.
Here’s the story: Back in 1925, the rock was once referred to as a “n—–head” rock in an article in the Wisconsin State Journal.
There is no indication that the term was widely — or, indeed — ever used again.
There’s also no evidence that any UW students ever actually heard the offensive nickname at all.
Researchers ransacked the files looking for evidence against the offending rock, but came up empty.
“University historians have not found any other time that the term was used,” but (follow the sleight of hand here) “they said the Ku Klux Klan was active on campus at that time.”
Lacking specific evidence about the UW boulder, activists cited circumstantial evidence, insisting that the derogatory term “was commonly used during the 1920s to describe any large, dark rock.”
This is something of a non-sequitur unless the point is that any large dark rock should be considered tainted with a history of racism. And, if that’s the case is the problem really the rocks, or the racism?
Despite the controversy, the rock actually had scientific and educational value.
It was carried by glaciers from as far north as Canada and dumped on Observatory Hill along with billions of tons of other debris when ice receded from the state about 12,000 years ago…. It will continue to be used for educational purposes at its new site.
In the end, none of this mattered, and the rock’s removal was an occasion of unctuous self-celebration for both the activists and the administrators who caved in to the demands.
University officials praised the activists who had agitated against the rock. “It took courage and commitment for the Wisconsin Black Student Union to bring this issue forward and to influence change,” said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor.
Campus officials explained the dangers that had been avoided by the removal of the Chamberlin rock. “Students and the general public will no longer casually encounter the rock,” one university official explained, “but it will remain available to those specifically seeking it out for teaching and learning purposes.”(Note the staggering assumptions of fragility here — that students who might “casually come upon” the rock would be traumatized and victimized by the systemic racism represented by a 2 billion year old boulder.)
Student leaders hailed the rock removal as a moment of inspiration. "This moment is about the students, past and present, that relentlessly advocated for the removal of this racist monument," one student leader insisted. "Now is a moment for all of us BIPOC students to breathe a sigh of relief, to be proud of our endurance, and to begin healing."
[UW–Madison senior Nalah McWhorter, who served as president of the Wisconsin Black Student Union during the 2020-21 academic year] said she hopes that the removal of the rock inspires other students to work for change on campus.
“I see this as offering the next generation of students something to build off of,” she said. “We got this project going, and now the next round of students can continue to work on the other demands and come up with other ideas. We hope this movement and this momentum carries on.”
It is not clear if this momentum will involve moving more rocks, or perhaps other geological specimens. But it suggests that we are in for whole lot more performative wokeness — and farcical academic capitulation.
As one of our Madison readers wrote, the story of the rock removal is a reminder “that serious problems are often tabled for ridiculous ones. So this is what these particular students chose to dedicate their energy toward. Rising housing costs for students of color? Food insecurity on campus? Better access to career services? Nah, the damn rock's gotta go...”
But why did the university go along with the demands? UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank is generally a serious person. So perhaps she calculated that she could appease activists who might otherwise insist on removing a statue of Abraham Lincoln from the campus’s Bascom Hill. (And yes, there have been demands for Abe’s defenestration as well.) Blank may have concluded that the tradeoff of the boulder for Lincoln was worth it.
Even so, there were obvious alternatives. The chancellor could have held firm and pointed out the moving a multi-ton rock was pointless. She could even have suggested renaming it — perhaps calling it the “FREEDOM ROCK” or “JUSTICE ROCK.”
Instead, she went along with the de-rockification, in all of its inanity. No one’s consciousness was raised. No social justice issue was advanced. It was a distraction, wrapped in an absurdity; pointless virtue-signaling masquerading as something that might actually matter.
A Tale of Three GOP Governors
Months after he signed the bill banning state and local mask mandates, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he wants the law reversed to give schools the option to require face coverings when children return to the classroom.
"In hindsight, I wish that it had not become law. But it is the law, and the only chance we have is either to amend it or for the courts to say that it has an unconstitutional foundation," he said at a Tuesday news conference.
II. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis refuses to admit he made a mistake and is doubling down.
Here’s what’s happening in Florida, via the Wapo:
DeSantis suffered a legal setback over the weekend.
A federal judge on Sunday night sided with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings in a fight with Florida over vaccine passports, granting the cruise line’s request for a preliminary injunction that blocks a state law barring businesses from requiring proof of vaccination.
In a nearly 60-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams stated that Florida “fails to provide a valid evidentiary, factual, or legal predicate” for its prohibition on vaccine passports.
“Amid myriad, rapidly-changing requirements regarding quarantining and testing, there is one constant that facilitates cruise line customers’ access to advertised ports of call: documentary proof of vaccination will expedite passengers’ entry into virtually every single country and port where Plaintiffs intend to sail,” Williams wrote.
….but DeSantis continues to pressure schools not to require masks.
III. Texas Governor Greg Abbott who banned vaccine and mask mandates, now says that hospitals should voluntarily suspend elective medical procedures.
Even though he had just signed an executive order banning mask mandates and vaccine requirements, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state troopers to begin targeting vehicles if they suspected they carried migrants who might be infected.
Freedom! Morphed quickly into Lock them Up!
After the U.S. Department of Justice sued, a federal judge temporarily blocked the order, but Abbott remained defiant. “The Biden Administration has knowingly—and willfully—released COVID-19 positive migrants into Texas communities, risking the potential exposure and infection of Texas residents,” Abbott said in a statement.
1. Voting Machine Tampering Is Coming From Inside The MAGA House
After months of being promised by the former President and his stooges that Dominion Voting Systems had RIGGED the election, we finally have our first credible investigation into voting machine tampering.
The lede in Monday’s Grand Junction Sentinel brings the Kraken: “The Mesa County Clerk’s Office is under investigation…for a breach in security over its election system.”
A breach! It’s Happening!!!
But no, the breach wasn’t coming from the anti-Trump deep state. Instead, the clerk who is under investigation for tampering with the county election system is Tina Peters, a fervent supporter of Donald Trump and amateur vaccine science aficionado, who appears to have executed a self-own of historic proportion.
2. The Rise of ‘So-So Automation’
In today’s Bulwark, Brent Orrell writes about new technologies that aren’t good enough to eliminate low-skilled jobs, but still put new pressures on the labor market.
[An] automation-displaced cashier faces a steep climb to reskill for the new back-office IT jobs that maintain the automated checkout (not to mention the fact that one IT specialist can maintain multiple cash registers). Without time and resources to reskill, these workers tend to search for jobs better matched to their existing skill levels. As a result, wages erode over time for jobs made up of routine tasks as growing numbers of displaced low-skill workers compete for low-skill positions. It’s almost as if the virtuous cycle of education-skills-income that marked the American labor market in the twentieth century shifted into reverse: accelerating technological change driving more workers toward lower-skill jobs.