News You Can Use

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on November 16, 2015

News You Can Use

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at WSJ written by the editor, James Taranto.

News You Can Use
“How Do You Smuggle 48,000 Cans of Heineken Into Saudi Arabia? Disguise It as Pepsi.” (Alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabai)—headline, Washington Post website, Nov. 12

Bottom Story of the Day
“New Interim President of University of Missouri System Vows to Address Racism”—headline, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 13

Let it Snow
America’s recent outbreak of collegiate madness has prompted many critics to ask: How will these snowflakes ever survive once they leave campus for the real world? It turns out that some nominally real-world institutions are eager to accommodate them.

One of them is Vox Media, publisher of the eponymous young-adult website among others. “We want our team to be a fun, productive, and safe space for all members,” states the company’s Code of Conduct, which is most notable for the three-paragraph section on “Unacceptable Behaviors.”

The first paragraph concerns discrimination and harassment, and while it’s a bit heavy on PC jargon, it’s largely consistent with ordinary employment law. But the next two paragraphs go quite a bit further in the behaviors they proscribe:

Furthermore, any behavior or language which is unwelcoming—whether or not it rises to the level of harassment—is also strongly discouraged. Much exclusionary behavior takes the form of microaggressions—subtle put-downs which may be unconsciously delivered. Regardless of intent, microaggressions can have a significant negative impact on victims and have no place on our team.

There are a host of behaviors and language common on tech teams which are worth noting as specifically unwelcome: Avoid “well, actuallys”—pedantic corrections that are often insulting and unproductive; make an effort not to interrupt your colleagues while they are speaking; never respond with surprise when someone asks for help; and take care neither to patronize your colleagues nor assume complete knowledge of a topic. This last point is especially important when talking about technical topics: Many women and people of color in the tech industry have many tales of being either mansplained about a field in which they are experts, or else excluded from learning opportunities because a colleague wouldn’t make an effort to answer questions—don’t be that person. Remember that your colleagues may have expertise you are unaware of, and listen at least as much as you speak.

The links in the above quotation (the first of which goes to an article from Vox itself) are part of the original document; the terminology is so obscure that Vox execs expect even some Voxen to be unfamiliar with it.

Well, actually, these rules appear to apply only within the office, which is to say they are not editorial guidelines—or if they are, they are not honored in the observance. Blogger James Heaney finds a dozen Vox headlines that would violate the ban on “well, actuallys,” from “Philosophy Majors Actually Earn a Lot More Than Welders” to the priceless “The Truth About ‘Political Correctness’ Is That It Doesn’t ActuallyExist.”

We wonder if the Code of Conduct has been fully vetted with Vox Media’s general counsel. After all, this stuff is fun until somebody gets sued.

One problem with prohibiting “microaggressions” is that it easily leads to damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t dilemmas—a point the Vox code itself demonstrates, one presumes unwittingly. “Don’t be that person,” it commands—that person being the one who either explains “technical topics” to his colleagues or fails to make “an effort to answer questions.”

It’s a test with no right answer. The Los Angeles Times, in an earnest article titled “College Students Confront Subtler Forms of Bias: Slights and Snubs,” offers another example, from the University of California:

Telling people of color they speak English well sends a message they are perpetual foreigners in their own land or asserting that America is a “melting pot” denies the significance of a person’s racial or ethnic experiences.

Such no-win situations could create legal liability for Vox and its executives. Thought experiment: Suppose Vox hires an employee who is a Scotsman. The Scotsman takes offense at Matt Yglesias’s tartan costume, construing it as an appropriation of the Scotsman’s cultural heritage, and files a complaint with dean of students—sorry, editor in chief—Ezra Klein.

Klein laughs and dismisses the complaint as frivolous. (Remember, it’s a hypothetical.) Normally that conclusion would be correct; Yglesias’s garb obviously does not rise to the level of discrimination or harassment. But Vox has promised to protect its employees even from microaggressions that would not ordinarily be actionable under employment law. The Scotsman might have a case of breach of contract.

An alternative scenario: Klein takes the complaint seriously and undertakes to remedy it by decreeing that only True Scotsmen are permitted to wear plaid to work. An employee dress code based on national origin is a prima facie case of discrimination, is it not?

As far as we know, such a scenario has not arisen at Vox. Maybe Klein is a deft enough executive that it never will. But elsewhere in Progressistan, a campus-style grievance arose this week. Bloomberg’s Eli Lake has the story:

It’s official: Thanks to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Center for American Progress is no longer a safe space for progressives.

At least this is the considered opinion of about a dozen of the liberal think tank’s staff members who endorsed a 13-paragraph statement expressing how their employer’s decision to invite Israel’s prime minister to speak on Tuesday wounded their feelings.

The statement says that inviting Netanyahu was “a humanity and human rights issue universally felt,” and “we are in a place of confusion and hurt.” The staffers complain that it will be difficult to explain the invitation to their progressive allies.

Lake does not exaggerate. Here’s an excerpt from the statement (which is quoted in full by the Nation):

Coming to work at CAP gives many of us the opportunity to make this country safe and accepting of all. While we watch the hate crimes, discrimination and biases faced by some of our communities, we come to work every day proud that this institution is a space where our voices will be respected and where our leadership assures we feel safe, respected and heard. In that sense this place isn’t so much a job or a profession or a nine-to-six. It’s a survival tactic. But it’s not just about our individual struggles because, in the words of MLK, we’re not free until we’re all free.

And at CAP we are a family. We spend more hours with one another at this institution than we do with our own families and friends outside the office. It is imperative that we feel confident in this building to improve the lives of all Americans, and essentially to work on getting us all free. It becomes difficult to step outside of our building and say to our allies why this visit is happening, for some of us here we ourselves feel that we were not considered in that decision.

This has a distinct echo on campus, as Ruthie Blum reported Wednesday in the Algemeiner:

Student groups planning a protest on Thursday at Manhattan’s Hunter College are using classical antisemitic tropes for advertising.

The rally is part of a nationwide campaign called “Million Student March,” demanding tuition-free education and the cancellation of student debt. . . .

The Facebook ad for the event reads:

“On November 12th, students all across CUNY will rally to demand a freeze on tuition and new contracts! We must fight for funding for our university, and for CUNY to be accessible to working class communities in NYC as the public university system. The Zionist administration invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology throughout CUNY through Zionist content of education. While CUNY aims to produce the next generation of professional Zionists, SJP [NYC Students for Justice in Palestine] aims to change the university to fight for all peoples [sic] liberation.

This lays bare both the viciousness and the incoherence of today’s self-styled progressives. For what is modern Israel but a safe space for a people actually in need of one?

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”