Thursday, December 31, 2009

All Aboard?

There seems to be some type of law that requires bloggers to comment on the recent bombing attempt on the Northwest/Delta flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Who am I to buck the trend? Hey, I don’t want to end up in bloggy jail.

My first reactions to the bomb attempt were threefold. First, given the abysmal level of service since Northwest and Delta merged, I wondered if maybe it had been a simple misunderstanding. After all, this is an airline that has the audacity to consider a single cookie a “snack” and to charge $3 for a handful of Pringles. You can also forget about that drink cart making a second trip down the aisle. Perhaps, I thought, the passenger in question was just so hungry that he desperately tried to heat a HotPocket at his seat.

As it turned out, it was another lunatic who is willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent people. This time around, the would-be-terrorist apparently stitched the explosives into his underwear. I was relieved that the plot had been thwarted with nobody suffering unjustly. I was also glad to hear that the terrorist burned the shit out of his legs and genitals.

Then I wondered, “Why target poor Detroit? Haven’t those people suffered enough?”

Terrorists clearly aren’t very good at information gathering. If they did a better job, they would realize that the rest of the United States stopped caring about the people of Detroit in 1967. Indeed, it is the only major city in the nation with a 30 percent unemployment rate; the highest levels of poverty; absurd levels of political corruption; and failing schools. Oh, and did I mention the severe racial segregation and resource-sucking suburbs? Detroit already looks like a war zone due to most Americans’ indifference to its future.

My last thought was, “Oh, man, now we will never be able to get rid of those ridiculous liquid and shoe rules! Ugh.” We are set for the inevitable round of finger pointing, paranoia, and jingoism that such events always inspire. Thank the goddess that the Republicans are no longer in control of our government. We would have likely invaded the Netherlands or, at the least, declared Queen Beatrix part of the axis of evil.

Still, like many other people in the nation, I see the recent event as evidence that airport security is ineffective. Take that color coded “Homeland” security silliness. Did you know that we have been at “Code Orange” since 2006? Yes, that’s right – For the past three years, our government has apparently seen no variation in our security risk levels at all. Maybe they forgot that this system has four other dazzling colors to choose from? Geez, even Captain Kirk occasionally went to “Yellow Alert.” And he was dealing with Klingons and Romulans and all.

We don’t ever move in the other direction, either. Apparently not even the recent bomb attempt was enough to nudge us on up to “Code Red.” It begs the question, what does it take to make it to Red? A nuclear attack? Total Armageddon? A multi city Celine Dion tour?

Can we admit that the Sesame-Street approach to informing the pubic is a total failure? What is the purpose of an alert system permanently frozen in time? If we are going to be stuck at Orange, at least break out the 64-color box and give us some variety of Orange colors. How about a day of “Burnt Sienna?” Or maybe “Neon Carrot?”

Another revelation to come out of this incident is that airlines and airports are uncertain about how to respond to terrorist threats. They are sure, though, that they want to look like they are doing something. Lufthansa snatched away passengers’ blankets during the last hour of flight out of concern that a terrorist could be igniting something out of view. This action lead Delta passengers to ask the question, “Lufthansa still provides blankets?”

Toronto airports decided to do full patdowns of all travelers. Though that might have just been an excuse by the Mounties to keep their hands warm in these bitter winter months.

JetBlue (an airline I normally like) decided to cancel all of its on-board entertainment the weekend after the attack. It’s really open to debate whether eliminating screenings of Aliens in the Attic is a victory or a loss for the terrorists.

Now they are telling us that we must install the full-body scan equipment to be really safe. It will help reveal tailors gone bad.

Privacy advocates, though, are concerned that lecherous TSA officers are going to be drooling at the site of all those naked passengers. Eh – Have they ever seen Xtube? It turns out most people really aren’t that interesting without their clothes. We’ll be lucky if the TSA agents don’t all join a celibate religious order after a couple of years of grueling service.

Personally, I have no problem with the full-body scan per se. I am not particularly shy about my body. After all, I am naked in my gym locker room almost daily.

Still, the expense of these machines seems a wee bit suspicious. Before committing to buying all of that equipment, I would like to make sure that their advocates are not in some way tied to the corporations producing them.

The makers of the machine already admit that these scans don’t reveal everything. Full-body scans, for instance, can’t detect items that might be hidden under rolls of fat. Well, isn’t that horrible news? If obesity becomes the key to thwarting airport security, will the terrorists start to recruit in Houston, Texas?

It seems to me that in the 1990s, there were all sorts of swabs that the airport used to do on bags and people for bomb residue. Now I never see them take those swabs anymore. Did that equipment not work? Did they lend it all to that CSI show?

The awful truth is that most security measures are really just dog and pony shows to make the public feel safer. That’s why I drink heavily when I fly.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Give a Little, Take a Little

Alright, kiddies, I am off to my equivalent of Paradise Island. That’s assuming that the invisible jet can navigate through these snowstorms. Transparent wings don’t really take to chemical de-icer. I am not sayin', I am just sayin'.

Before departing, though, I thought that I would once again help you all decipher the hidden messages behind gifting this year. Okay, a couple are recycled – But they are as true now as ever!

And that truth can be as disillusioning as my discovery that egg nog is now manufactured with that nasty high fructose corn syrup. Oh, agribusiness, is there nothing you won't ruin?

Here is a list of gifts, what the giver meant by giving them, and what the receiver thinks upon getting each:

    The Gift: A copy of Going Rogue.

    What the Giver Meant: I have a perverted sense of humor.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Oh, I can use this. My coffee table is a little wobbly because of that short leg.


    The Gift: A complete set of the Twilight saga.

    What the Giver Meant: Sex will only bring heartache, despair, and pain – So don’t do it!

    What the Receiver Thinks: I will develop a kinky S&M obsession involving fangs.


    The Gift: A complete set of True Blood on DVD.

    What the Giver Meant: Buying porn seemed too obvious.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Was the store out of porn?


    The Gift: Antique Dishes

    What the Giver Meant: My dishmania has reached the level that I can only justify things to myself if I buy them for other people.

    What the Receiver Thinks: These better be dishwasher safe.


    The Gift: Diamonds!

    What the Giver Meant: I am trying to buy your love.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I wonder how many children suffered digging these out of the ground. . .


    The Gift: A Bible.

    What The Giver Meant: You should remember the real reason for the season.

    What The Receiver Thinks: When will this sanctimonious asshole get out of my house?


    The Gift: A blank, white coffee mug.

    What the Giver Meant: I panicked at the local CVS.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Was the CVS out of Bourbon this year?


    The Gift: A basic textbook on macroeconomics.

    What the Giver Meant: You are the most crooked, creepy, incompetent Treasury Secretary this nation has ever had.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Macro-what now?


    The Gift: An all expense paid vacation to a beach resort.

    What the Giver Meant: I am trying to buy your love.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Maybe once I get there I can ditch you at the beach.


    The Gift: An electric quesadilla maker.

    What the Giver Meant: Quesadillas are delicious.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Oh, something that I will use once and then abandon in my cupboard forever.


    The Gift: Egg nog with high fructose corn syrup.

    What the Giver Meant: I give the gift of diabetes.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Why do you hate me?


    The Gift: Stock in GM.

    What the Giver Meant: It’s bound to come back!

    What the Receiver Thinks: Did this gift come free with a full tank of gas?


    The Gift: An Apple Computer.

    What the Giver Meant: Now you can be as smug as I am!

    What the Receiver Thinks: This person has confused capitalist brand identification with actual liberation.


    The Gift: A Windows-based PC.

    What the Giver Meant: This new operating system is bound to be better than Vista!

    What the Receiver Thinks: Oh, I can use this. My coffee table is a little wobbly because of that short leg.


    The Gift: Guitar Hero - Van Halen.

    What the Giver Meant: You never let go of the eighties.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Sigh – I wish that I still had enough hair to be part of a hair band.


    The Gift: A new car!

    What the Giver Meant: I am trying to buy your love.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I love you.


    The Gift: Wonder Woman comics, books, or dolls.

    What the Giver Meant: Wonder Woman is the alpha and the omega.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Your personal obsessions make me uncomfortable.


    The Gift: Baked goods.

    What the Giver Meant: I learned in childhood to show my love through food.

    What the Receiver Thinks: If this person loves me much more, I won’t be able to fit into any of my clothes by the new year.


    The Gift: A healthcare plan that mandates coverage to 30 million new people.

    What the Giver Meant: I sorta wanted reform, but didn’t want to bother with all that work of dismantling private insurance companies.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Insurance companies will be even richer now!


    The Gift: Liquor

    What the Giver Meant: I think that you are an alcoholic.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Give me, give me, give me.


    The Gift: A Promise to Have a “Special” Christmas Together – on December 26.

    What the Giver Meant: I am really married to somebody else – with kids. If queer, however, it could also mean that I still haven’t told my parents that I am gay.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Man, I have made poor life choices and am in denial about the viability of this relationship.

Have a happy and safe nonsectarian, nondenominational winter holiday!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Past is a Footnote

Over the past few weeks I have been hearing from a variety of graduate students in my academic programs about their frustrations with the current curriculum. Normally I don’t pay much heed to the whining. A complaining graduate student is about as rare as a Popeye Pez dispenser. Disappointingly, they don’t jettison delicious candy from their throat, either. Trust me.

In these cases, though, the graduate-student concerns reflect a much more serious problem with History and American Studies as fields beyond Big Midwestern University. Many of these students arrived at BMU with the explicit intent of studying Chicano/Latino/a Studies. Yet, in their required courses on the U.S., they have read zero (0) books on Latino/as in the U.S.

I am concerned about these revelations less for the students already interested in Latino/a Studies. After all, they will do what similar scholars have always had to do. They will fulfill the expectations for their classes while simultaneously building reading lists on Latino/a Studies that they will complete on their own time. Despite their intellectual isolation, they will nonetheless persevere because they are committed to Latino/a communities.

Rather, I am worried about the students who are not explicitly interested in Latina/o Studies in those classes. These are students who will (if they have some luck) obtain jobs teaching U.S. history at other universities across the nation. They will do so having received the implicit message that it is acceptable to ignore the nation’s largest minority entirely. It will, in other words, replicate a disciplinary ignorance that has been in place since the nineteenth century.

Curriculum, of course, is a touchy subject. It is hard to bring up these issues without sounding like I am wagging my finger and clucking in disapproval. That’s probably because I bring these issues up while I am wagging my finger and clucking in disapproval.

Still, these classes are taught by colleagues whom I deeply respect. They are some mighty smart people whose own research is impeccable. We aren’t talking about secret members of the Klan in other words. I can guarantee they aren’t pushing a covert white supremacist agenda. Hey, that might not sound like such a ringing endorsement, but it’s not a guarantee that I could have made about some of my former colleagues in Texas. At Big Midwestern University, though, these are faculty who are fiercely interested in social justice issues.

So if these colleagues aren’t disciples of Lou “Immigrants are Hiding Under My Bed” Dobbs, just what is going on? Why is there a disconnect between their politics and their course content?

Latino/as’ long presence in this nation means they should appear in both halves of the traditional U.S. history survey. For most U.S. historians, though, Latinos (much less Latinas) remain an “and also” topic rather than being construed as fundamental to the history of the nation. If they make it onto a syllabus at all, Latinos are most likely to be found in the “Suggested Reading” section rather than in the “required” list.

Part of this is a problem much larger than academia. For the past 160 years, the United States has been in collective denial about Latino populations north of Mexico. The mass media periodically expresses “shock (SHOCK!)” that Latino/as account for a large slice of the nation every twenty years or so. Even in those moments, you can depend on the fact that Latino/as will be figured as “foreign” or “recent arrivals” rather than as communities with a century-and-a-half of history that informs their experiences in this nation.

But where would the media learn such things? Given my recent conversations with grad students, it turns out that even the best history departments can't be relied upon to teach that history.

This year, 2009, marks the fortieth anniversary of El Plan de Santa Barbara: A Chicano Plan for Higher Education. Back in 1969, Chicano/a college students were mighty pissed. Universities failed to acknowledge the contributions, struggles, and perspectives of Chicanos and Chicanas (and Latino/as more broadly) within the United States. These students turned their frustration into direct action. Most universities responded by creating subunits focused on Latino/a Studies. After four decades of activism, scholarship, and teaching within those units, it seems that Latino Studies has failed to convince other historians of their importance. And guess what? Latino/a students are still pissed.

It is to historians’ peril that they continue to bury their head in the sand around Latino/a issues. Today, twenty percent of the nation’s schoolchildren currently identify as Latina/o. The Census Bureau further predicts that Latino/as will constitute 28 percent of the nation’s population by 2050. Latino/as will profoundly change the face (literally) of higher education in the next decade.

What will the poorly trained historians we are producing tell those future students? That the nation’s history isn’t relevant for Latino/as? That a quarter of the nation's population isn't relevant for its history? That they would have learned more about Latinos in grad school, but it just didn’t seem that important? That salsa is delicious?

This is not to say that I think every U.S. historian must devote themselves to studying the experiences of Latino/as exclusively. I am saying, however, that it is inexcusable that we have graduate students earning Ph.D.’s who have little or no knowledge of this history. Savvy departments who are currently searching in any field in U.S. history would be wise to ask a new assistant professor how they will address the surging Latino/a Student body in their course content.

The knowledge and research that we conduct about the past means that historians have an unusual ability to speak about political and social issues in the present. By refusing to understand how much the nation’s population has actually changed, however, historians forfeit their intellectual authority.