The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

"F*** school, f*** softball, f*** cheer, f*** everything" wins with SCOTUS

Brandi Levy, a 19-year-old student from Pennsylvania, won her appeal to the US Supreme Court after being suspended from cheerleading for a year after Snapchatting the above sentiment:

She sent the message on a Saturday from the Cocoa Hut, a convenience store popular with teenagers.

Though Snapchat messages are meant to vanish not long after they are sent, another student took a screenshot and showed it to her mother, a coach. The school suspended Ms. Levy from cheerleading for a year, saying the punishment was needed to “avoid chaos” and maintain a “teamlike environment.”

Ms. Levy sued the school district, winning a sweeping victory from a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia. The court said the First Amendment did not allow public schools to punish students for speech outside school grounds, relying on a precedent from a different era.

Everyone except Justice Thomas joined Justice Breyer's opinion, which held:

While public schools may have a special interest in regulating some off-campus student speech, the special interests offered by the school are not sufficient to overcome B. L.’s interest in free expression in this case.

[T]hree features of off-campus speech often, even if not always, distinguish schools’ efforts to regulate off-campus speech. First, a school will rarely stand in loco parentis when a student speaks off campus. Second, from the student speaker’s perspective, regulations of off-campus speech, when coupled with regulations of on-campus speech, include all the speech a student utters during the full 24-hour day. That means courts must be more skeptical of a school’s efforts to regulate off-campus speech, for doing so may mean the student cannot engage in that kind of speech at all. Third, the school itself has an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression, especially when the expression takes place off campus, because America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy. Taken together, these three features of much off-campus speech mean that the leeway the First Amendment grants to schools in light of their special characteristics is diminished.

Justice Thomas, with predictable disdain for the modern world and rational thought in general, would have applied his originalist philosophy even to Snapchat:

I would begin the assessment of the scope of free-speech rights incorporated against the States by looking to “what ‘ordinary citizens’ at the time of [the Fourteenth Amendment’s] ratification would have understood” the right to encompass. McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. 742, 813 (2010) (THOMAS, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). Cases and treatises from that era reveal that public schools retained substantial authority to discipline students. As I have previously explained, that authority was near plenary while students were at school. See Morse v. Frederick, 551 U. S. 393, 419 (2007) (concurring opinion). Authority also extended to when students were traveling to or from school. See, e.g., Lander v. Seaver, 32 Vt. 114, 120 (1859). And, although schools had less authority after a student returned home, it was well settled that they still could discipline students for off-campus speech or conduct that had a proximate tendency to harm the school environment.

Perhaps the most familiar example applying this rule is a case where a student, after returning home from school, used “disrespectful language” against a teacher—he called the teacher “old”—“in presence of the [teacher] and of some of his fellow pupils.” Id., at 115 (emphasis deleted). The Vermont Supreme Court held that the teacher could discipline a student for this speech because the speech had “a direct and immediate tendency to injure the school, to subvert the master’s authority, and to beget disorder and insubordination.”

I left the citations in because seeing Thomas at his epistemologically-sealed best really drives home how frighteningly out of touch he is. First, he cited his own concurrences, which (a) have no force of law and (b) he wrote. Then he cited and quoted a Vermont case from 1859 that sure, I guess, has precedential value in the state of Vermont, but probably doesn't even reflect current Vermont law.

In the rest of his dissent, Thomas cites his own concurrences a couple more times, a Missouri case from 1885, an Iowa case from 1971, and another Missouri case from 1877. He really does live in the 19th Century.

So, good on Levy, and on the First Amendment, who won a clear victory with this case. But what the hell, Clarence? How much more of this originalist crap do we have to endure before you finally retire and we can appoint someone from the 21st Century to Thurgood Marshall's seat?

Sure Happy It's Thursday, March 319th...

Lunchtime roundup:

Finally, the authors of The Impostor's Guide, a free ebook aimed at self-taught programmers, has a new series of videos about general computer-science topics that people like me didn't learn programming for fun while getting our history degrees.

The Economist's Bartleby column examines how Covid-19 lockdowns have "caused both good and bad changes of routine."

Calmer today as the Derpnazis return home

We had a relatively quiet day yesterday, but only in comparison to the day before:

Meanwhile, here in Chicago:

Finally, Bruce Schneier advises the incoming administration on how to deal with the SolarWinds intrusion.

See? Yesterday was quiet.

Floating holiday: achievement unlocked

My company gives us the usual American holidays off, and adds two "floating holidays" you can take whenever you want. I took my first one in January and just remembered last week that I hadn't taken the second one. So I took it today. Which gave me some time to read a bunch of things:

Finally, the list I posted Wednesday needs an update. In October 1918, influenza killed 195,000 Americans, or an average of 6,290 per day. So clearly most of that month set records well above the records we set this week.

Sunday noon

We've got a day and a half of autumn left in Chicago. Here's what I'm reading on a lazy Sunday:

And finally, new research shows that the pyroclastic flows from Vesuvius in 79 CE turned people's brains to glass. Yummy.

Better Know a Ballot

Talk-show host Stephen Colbert has set up a website called Better Know a Ballot where you can check on the voting requirements for your state. He's producing videos for each state (starting with North Carolina) to explain the rules.

That's the bright spot of joy for you today. Here are other...spots...of something:

OK, one more bit of good news: The Economist reported this week that the southern hemisphere had almost no flu cases this winter, because pandemic response measures work on influenza just as they work on Covid-19.

About the schools

Josh Marshall has a good summary of why things suck for parents, kids, and teachers right now:

But the plan [New York] city and most of [New York] state has come up with shows how limited this can be and how much we’ve made a fetish of in-school instruction. There are two big reasons to have in-school instruction. The first and most important is the educational, social and emotional development and well-being of children. The second is the impact on the economy. Many parents can’t work if their children aren’t in school and to the extent they can their children’s remote learning lacks the support it needs.

I think there is a real question whether in-school instruction on these terms is even worth it. At best kids will be in school 1/3 of the time – and it may be less – and under such straightened and perhaps nerve-wracking conditions that most of the educational and social benefit is actually lost. Watching the process as a journalist and a parent it seems to me that the school system and political authorities have been so focused on the absolute necessity of ‘reopening’ the schools that they’ve ended up with something that is not obviously better than full remote learning and called it success.

The truth is that we’re in a horrible situation. We have failed as a country to control the virus and because of that we’re forced into no-win situations and choices which are all bad. As much as anything we simply lack the kind of information that allows us to make informed, smart decisions. And yet September is less than four weeks away.

Meanwhile, Downtown Chicago suffered a coordinated attack of looters last night for no apparent reason, though police returning fire from a suspect and injuring him yesterday afternoon may have been the excuse. Since the looting took place across town and the looters came with U-Haul trucks I can't say I have any sympathy for them on this occasion. If it turns out that any of the looters were right-wing agitators, I will be disappointed but not surprised.

Oh, and the government of Lebanon resigned.

Bigly missing the point

Philip Bump puts in black-and-white terms why the president should perhaps shut up about his cognitive test results:

“And they were very surprised,” Trump said of the doctors. “They said that’s an unbelievable thing. Rarely does anybody do what you just did.”

No. That did not happen. Or, at least, it didn’t happen without a qualifier like, “rarely does anybody your age not demonstrate any of the impairments this test is meant to measure,” which is possible. But the doctors did not call this “an unbelievable thing.” It would be like my fawning over your alphabet recitation: “Wow, you even nailed the L-M-N-O-P.”

Getting a perfect score [on the cognitive test Trump took] is literally the baseline for being normal, not for being exceptional.

[P]eople were quick to point out the flip side of his boast about the doctors: Having medical professionals be amazed that you performed normally on an evaluation of your cognitive abilities is not exactly the endorsement it might have seemed like as the words were coming out of Trump’s mouth.

I would enjoy seeing the president take an IQ test, though. I would enjoy that very much.

Sure Happy It's Tuesday!

Today's interesting and notable news stories:

Finally, Lawrence Wright explores how historical plagues, particularly the European one in 1347, can sometimes spark radical social change.

Princeton drops the Wilson name

Princeton University has removed the name of their 13th president (and the 28th President of the United States) from their School of Public Policy:

Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time. He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice.  He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today.

Wilson’s segregationist policies make him an especially inappropriate namesake for a public policy school. When a university names a school of public policy for a political leader, it inevitably suggests that the honoree is a model for students who study at the school. This searing moment in American history has made clear that Wilson’s racism disqualifies him from that role. In a nation that continues to struggle with racism, this University and its school of public and international affairs must stand clearly and firmly for equality and justice. The School will now be known as “The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.”

Wilson is a different figure from, say, John C. Calhoun or Robert E. Lee, whose fame derives from their defenses of the Confederacy and slavery (Lee was often honored for the very purpose of expressing sympathy for segregation and opposition to racial equality). Princeton honored Wilson not because of, but without regard to or perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism.

That, however, is ultimately the problem. Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against Black people. When Derek Chauvin knelt for nearly nine minutes on George Floyd’s neck while bystanders recorded his cruelty, he might have assumed that the system would disregard, ignore, or excuse his conduct, as it had done in response to past complaints against him.

Josh Marshall thinks this was the correct decision:

Wilson was also a thoroughgoing Southerner and Lost Cause defender. Indeed, his scholarship as a history professor – mostly notably in Division and Reunion – played an important role in building a historiography that portrayed slavery as a generally benign institution and Reconstruction as a tragic failure that oppressed the white South with corruption and tyranny. Wilson was a thoroughgoing racist even by the standards of his own day. His attitude toward African-Americans and their political rights don’t just look bad from the perspective of the day. They were widely considered retrograde even in his own day.

This was a through-line throughout Wilson’s career, first as a scholar, a university president, governor and finally President. When he became President he segregated the federal workforce which had been integrated since Reconstruction. Indeed, it’s not too much to say that on becoming President Wilson began a thoroughgoing program of bringing Jim Crow to the federal workplace. The Post Office and Treasury set up separate bathrooms and lunch rooms for black and white employees. He even went so far as to institute a policy of requiring federal office-seekers to append photographs to their applications.

Wilson was the second Democrat and the first Southerner to become President after the Civil War. He brought thoroughly Southern white attitudes toward Blacks to the federal government and worked quickly to put them into effect.

Good on Princeton, though perhaps 50 years too late. I'm glad for the changes finally coming to the US. I'm just astounded that it has taken over 150 400 years.