Monday, April 30, 2007

Letter of Righteous Indignation

Remember how I said I owed Jet Blue Airways a letter of righteous indignation? Here at long last it is. To protect the privacy of the passengers involved, I've changed their names. Everything else is the same as I sent to Jet Blue.

30 April 2007

Jet Blue Airways Corporation
11829 Queens Blvd.
Flushing, NY 11375

Dear Sir or Madam,

On March 30, 2007, I was a passenger on the 11:05 a.m. Jet Blue flight #263 from Sacramento to Long Beach. Shortly after boarding the flight with my 18-month-old son, I chatted with the gentleman across the aisle from me. This man, Tom Rossiter, was one of the nicest people I have met in a long time. He not only assisted me with my toddler when the youngster acted up, but also talked to me about his experiences as a father, giving me tips, for example, on what kind of shoes to buy now that my son was learning to run. Our conversation was entirely pleasant—so much so that we didn’t notice that the safety demonstration had begun. We weren’t the only ones talking—everyone in our area of the plane was in a boisterous mood because many people were headed out on a cruise that afternoon. That’s why we didn’t notice the safety demonstration had begun.

One of the flight attendants giving the demonstration was one row behind us, and she turned around and asked us to keep quiet during the presentation. No problem. We quieted down. Those who were talking were conversing in whispers, but as tends to happen, everyone’s voices soon returned to full volume. The attendant again reminded us to be quiet, turning her attention particularly on Mr. Rossiter, who is a very tall man with a voice that carries. Mr. Rossiter apologized to her for his initial interruption of her presentation, saying that he hadn’t noticed she was there (for the record, neither had I) because she was standing behind us. (Nor could I see the flight attendant giving the presentation at the front of the plane—we were at a particularly poor vantage point for viewing the safety demonstration.)

Following the presentation, another flight attendant approached us. She smiled very briefly at my son and then turned and became very serious and asked Mr. Rossiter, “Do we have a problem?” Mr. Rossiter indicated that he didn’t feel there was any kind of problem. She persisted, saying that he had given the presenting flight attendant a hard time. He apologized again, but emphasized he didn’t feel that was the case. Again she pressed him: “Do we have a problem?” At that point, he held up two fingers in a peace sign. “What does that mean?” she asked. “What does that mean? It means peace,” he explained. “Peace?” she asked. “Peace?! I’m not your homegirl.” (Both Mr. Rossiter and the flight attendant appeared to be African American.) At this point, the good-natured Mr. Rossiter said, “No shit, you’re not my homegirl.” Other people chimed in at this point, saying that she wasn’t being fair to Mr. Rossiter. The attendant turned on her heel and walked away.

Conversation in our section of the plane immediately turned to the flight attendant’s attitude. The consensus was that Mr. Rossiter had done nothing wrong and that the flight attendant had a poor attitude. The other passengers were indignant.

Shortly thereafter, the plane’s engines powered down, and we soon learned that Mr. Rossiter and his partner, Ms. Smithson, were to be escorted from the plane. We all felt that was ridiculous, so we gave Mr. Rossiter our contact information so that we might serve as witnesses. We were happy to oblige.

It should be noted that when Mr. Rossiter was approached by Jet Blue officials, he at first asked what would happen if he refused to leave his seat. When the Jet Blue official persisted and told him that he needed to leave with them at that moment, he immediately stood, gathered his carry-on luggage, and apologized to the other passengers for any inconvenience he may inadvertently have caused.

From what I saw, a Jet Blue employee overreacted to a situation that was a result of a generally festive atmosphere on the plane. As a tall, large Black man who held his ground in the face of questioning, Mr. Rossiter may have been perceived as some kind of threat by the flight attendants. That’s racial profiling. (I should point out that I am a scholar of race and gender in the U.S., and that I don’t use such terms lightly.) Despite the fact that the flight attendant also appeared to be Black, I feel there was racism at play in removing Mr. Rossiter from the plane. At any rate, it looked suspicious when Jet Blue escorted the only African-American man off the plane.

You are welcome to contact me for more information or for clarification. During the day, I may be reached at (555) 755-5555; during the evenings, I am available at (555) 555-5555.

I’m both pasting this letter into an e-mail sent to Ms. Smithson and attaching a PDF version of the letter.

I wish Mr. Rossiter and Ms. Smithson all the best. They were treated unjustly by Jet Blue.


Trillwing, Ph.D.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Semi liveblogging: Panel on gender and the job market

. . .with Grace Wang, American Studies, UC Davis; Cynthia Lin, Agricultural Resource Economics and Environmental Science and Policy, UC Davis; and Karri Grant, a former model who is now an image and wardrobe consultant.

Cynthia Lin: Was on job market last year; received Ph.D. last June. Was on job market prior to that. In her first year of teaching served on search committee. Only female member of that committee. Also was involved in another search for an economist applying within an interdisciplinary department.

Each field and individual is different. There might be some tendency to draw generalizations based on one person's experiences. I'll share my experience and you can see if it applies to you or if it's specific to my particular field.

Ph.D. in economics; very few women in it. Specialized in fields without many women as well. Often in situations in grad school where she was the only female in her class or in the field. Hence, very few female role models. Professors in the field had less experience dealing with female students and female colleagues than they would have had in other fields. Ditto for female job candidates. She's currently the third woman in her department, out of 22 faculty members.

In current position search, first round of interviews included women, but campus visits did not. People in hard and social sciences may have similar experiences.

She applied for both academic and nonacademic jobs. One of the reasons she did that may have been gender-related because there aren't many female academics in her field, but there were non-gender-related reasons as well.

First round of interviews takes place at a big conference and a big hotel over the course of a few days. Often in hotel rooms, these first-round interviews. Second-round interviews take place on campus. Things happen at the same time for everyone in economics. One of her departments here is interdisciplinary, and some of the other jobs she applied for were as well. So she had interviews with departments other than economics. Also interviewed with business schools and liberal arts colleges.

Her philosophy on women's issues: Good to be aware, but at the same time, don't dwell excessively on issues that pertain to women, and in some cases it's best to ignore them. In being aware, we can develop habits and skills to cope with situations in which gender issues are important. These habits should become natural to us so we can focus on our research and work. If we focus on women's issues too much, they may actually distract us from what we're good at.

In dealing with women's issues, we may be prone to pessimism, but there are some strands of good news. If you're in a male dominated field, for example, you've already been in situations where you're the only woman in the room, so you're already developing many of the skills needed to cope in these situations. A second piece of good news is if you're in a male-dominated field, you're one on the women already breaking glass ceilings for other women and women in the future. And if you're a well-qualified candidate, departments want to hire women. So all things being equal, departments want every reason to hire a woman. The decks are stacked towards us. Academia is realizing that it's very hard to be a woman, and that we need more role models. If a woman has achieved just as much as a male candidate, she probably had to overcome more barriers. Such a woman may also have greater impact on students and others who might look up to her as a role model.

Her specific experiences: send out applications. She suggests in initial contact with people you don't know you remain strictly professional. In correspondence use first and last name, even in e-mail. Something as simple as that conveys more professionalism. Your voice mail (also on your cell phone) should also be very professional. Remember, these are all first impressions.

After the initial contact with applications, people get called for first-round interviews. The wonderful thing is, you will be called. You're all bright grad students in good universities, so people will want to contact you because you're bright women at a major university. (Trillwing says: Yeah, right.)

During first-round interview, she noticed some things about different candidates. This year, we did have first-round women candidates. Comments that male faculty members would make when rejecting a female candidate would be sometimes of this ilk: "She didn't really seem to know her dissertation that well, even though she had stacks of notes with her." You should know your stuff cold going into the first round and that you're very confident about what you're saying. You have every reason to be confident because you probably know more about your dissertation topic that anyone else does.

We had interviews with people just finishing their Ph.D. and with people who were going back on the job market after holding a junior faculty position. The new Ph.D.s tended not to be very confident. Those that were confident came across as particularly intelligent.

Many schools rent out hotel suites for the interviews. This leads to potentially awkward situations for women, especially if all your interviewers were men. She feels she may have been stiffer in such interviews than during those at a table in a more public space. You may be sitting on one bed, with a row of men sitting a few feet away from you on the other bed. If you're short and your feet don't touch the ground when you sit, and you're planning on wearing a skirt, practice sitting on soft things of different heights.

Anecdote from others in her field: A professor sensitive to light, so candidates found themselves sitting on a bed with the lights off. Awkward! Try to focus despite context.

Develop a firm handshake.

You may be called for a campus visit. One or two days, give a job talk, give tours of the campus. The nicer the area, the more enthusiastic people are about walking around campus. Which is fine unless you're wearing heels and carrying your laptop in a bag. Your committee may pick you up at hotels, and they bring you in their cars, and you should be able to get in and out of the car gracefully while wearing a skirt and heels. You might want to practice this.

Practice your job talk many, many times in front of various people, including people you don't know as well. Make sure people ask you hard questions so that you learn to think on your feet. Videotape the practice and watch yourself. It's very embarrassing, but you can pick up on a lot of things.

Campus visit is a mix of professional and more social settings. Lots of small talk with prospective future colleagues. You may be only female, and you may be far better dressed than they are. In some places where they'd never had young female colleagues before, they'd talk about sports or other subjects with which many women aren't comfortable talking. In a field that's mostly men, you may be accustomed to these situations. But you may find yourself in the middle of a long conversation where they forget that you're there.

Negotiating the offer: the hardest part, but particularly for women. Studies back this up. I don't like sterotypes, but in the aggregate there have been things that affect women more than men. There are systematic scientific differences in men's and women's brains during negotiation--the women's brains are more active emotionally. Read books about how to negotiate. Recognize that you should negotiate your offers. Familiarize yourself with what's appropriate and what's not. It may be best to negotiate at first over e-mail. You can buy yourself time to think, and you may come across as more professional.

Things she wishes she had known: Should have been more prepared for awkward moments and questions: small talk at dinner, people drinking alcohol, very relaxed interviewers who drop some social constraints they have in professional life. It's not your time to judge them based on that behavior. These are academics who might ask you questions that in industry jobs might be considered illegal. Are you married? Etc. This is one of those things where I wouldn't just stop and say, "That's an illegal question and I'm going to report you." These may be your future colleagues, reviewers at journals, people you see at conferences, etc.

Also she wishes she had known that she'd really have to convince them she's genuinely interested in the subject area in which they were hiring. It tends to be a male-dominated field, and some people had difficulty believing that a woman might be interested in it. And men may make assumptions. For example, at one Very Impressive School that Shall go Unnamed in this Space, a male professor said funds were virtually unlimited for ordering books, etc. But then he added: "But you can't buy romance novels with it." He thought she wouldn't really be interested in microeconomic theory.

Waiting is really stressful. Some of her peers took up a lot of hobbies. Male students suddenly took up yoga during this period. She recommends that instead of obsessively checking e-mail and voice mail. Become comfortable with waiting.

Schools that do call you for interviews already like you. So things are on your side. At times, questions may seem confrontational, but they really want you to shine. The fact that they called a woman to invite her to campus is a sign that they respect women as candidates.

Grace Wang: (recommends UC President's postdoc award that she received. Good experience.)

The types of job she was applying for: comparative ethic studies, literature. So she did MLA. Also sat on job search committees (informally) at University of Michigan. Also sat on search committee last year in American Studies. American Studies and comparative ethnic studies are very interdisciplinary, so there aren't major conferences, and the timing of application deadlines and follow-up varies by university.

Not going to discuss her own job market experiences much. Wants to address broader issues.

Grad school is infantilizing. Jobs in the humanities are few and far between. Grad school is a tough place, and you can feel run down. So it's good to have conversations like these.

Personally, she felt she didn't experience explicit questioning or experiences where she felt her gender was coming to the foreground. For example, in hotel rooms, she sat on chairs in the suite area of the room. And there were no questions explicitly about gender. In the fields where she was applying, more work on gender has been taking place.

But then she thought about how gender played out for her in more subtle ways.

See yourself as a scholar and be able to talk about your work as an important intervention.

As a female candidate, your recommenders are more likely in a subtle way to talk about aspects of your personality: you're warm, friendly, a good colleague. Whereas with men, they're more likely to talk about their work.

Instead of saying, "I'm building on this person's work, say I'm in dialogue with this person on these issues." Claim the importance on your work.

One thing she found very helpful in preparing for the conference interview. Practice not just with your friends, your grad school colleagues. Her chair arranged for a faculty who didn't know her work to read her work and ask her some hard questions about her work and teaching. It was sobering. Learn to talk with ease about your research and teaching.

Find out who's going to be on the interview panel and do your research on them. Who's tenured, what work do they do, what's the gender breakdown of the panel, etc.

She didn't go out and buy a suit right away because she felt she was jinxing herself. So suddenly she had to go buy her suit, shoes, bag, clothes for different kinds of weather. Practice wearing your suit so you become comfortable in it. Just wearing it will give you a sense of authority. She wore pants, and it didn't occur to her to wear a skirt. She feels she should not be memorable in terms of her dress for any reason. She wants her clothes to be under the radar, even if she was the best-dressed person in the room.

At the campus visit, act like you're already their colleague. Act their equal. Be confident about your work, speak of it with authority. Toot your horn without being obnoxious. You can show your personality a little bit and be yourself. They're looking for people who are going to be their colleagues. So it's more comfortable maybe to chit chat about things you're comfortable with. She loves TV and pop culture, so small talk on those was very comfortable for her. She was advised, too, to scan the headlines in the New York Times.

On campus, you may be meeting with many different constituencies, people who may not understand the intricacies of your scholarship or field. Students, different kinds of faculty, deans, administration. Be prepared to talk about your scholarship for multiple audiences. She heard a lot of other faculty's own impressions about her work, some of it based on stereotypes. She said to just roll with it.

Get a good night's sleep if you can between the first and second day of the interview.

She wore comfortable shoes. Not heels--Danskos instead. Especially important in places, like Minnesota, where it's icy.

Absolutely true difficulty of gender, not subtle: negotiation. Very hard. As women and as women of color in particular, that's a process where there'a lot of image management, how they're seeing you, what you think you can ask for. Gender definitely plays a role in that.

Also a tendency to make them want to like you. But remember you want to like them, too. You're evaluating them as well. It's not a one-way street. It's hard for her to give advice on negotiating because she's not sure if she did it very well. Your mentors, if they're young women as well, may not be the best people to ask for advice. Possibly seek out a white male colleague or mentor about what you're offered, what you ask for. She negotiated over e-mail because she found it easier to ask for certain things via e-mail than over the phone. She still wants to learn more about negotiating.

Internalize the feeling that you're already their colleague. She's not sure exactly what to do to get to that feeling, but it has to do with rehearsal.

She also wishes she had known to be prepared for all the steps to happen.

She mentioned academic careers wiki as a way to take agency over one's own sense of insecurity during the waiting.

Kerri Grant: She has worked corporate, so her background is a little different. But she sees the big barrier as the fact we're women, not the field you're in.

She always tells her clients that if we look good, we feel good, and if we feel good, we succeed. If you already feel good about yourself, others will perceive you that way. It really is difficult to meet someone for the very first time, especially if you're meeting with men. When you meet someone for the first time, you make an average of 11 judgments, about academic background, class, etc. And 55% of that is based on what you're wearing.

Good handshake. Eye contact. Not interrupting people. Remembering their names. All important.

Kerri says we're getting where we are because we're intelligent, while in corporate world, people have to climb the rungs. (Trillwing: I call BS. As if we're not working hard and working our way up a ladder, too? I'm also made queasy by how she keeps calling these two Ph.D.s "ladies." And she just admitted to not wanting to read after graduating from college.)

Dress appropriate for a situation, for a school. There may be subtle differences among schools, especially between West Coast and East Coast. She gave an example of how she hadn't done enough research on one audience of 350 women make-up consultants, and she showed up in pants when everyone there was wearing a skirt. And she sensed they saw that as disrespectful, as if she didn't understand them.

Women dress for women. You dress to impress a person. You shouldn't look like you rolled out of bed. (Trillwing: Talk about not knowing your audience.)

Be careful about non-verbal clues you send.

Never rush around to get a suit. When you get a nice suit, you're putting out to the universe that you have a fantastic suit that fits you phenomenally and you're going to get a job. Plan ahead of time for different seasons in different areas of the country. Out here, you're not going to be able to buy a sweater now.

Act like you're already worth a million dollars. If you look the part, you are the part. Nobody knows otherwise. Show up and have an air of authority. Dress as if you already have the job, as if you've already landed it and you know what you're doing because no one else knows that you don't. She tells entrepreneurs, just get a business card and say you're something, and you are it.

Fit, flatter, function is more important than fashion. So many of us are taught to dress by our mothers, older sisters, or television. That doesn't always work. If you don't know how clothing fits your body, you need to find someone who does.

Never wear prints that are bigger than the back of your fist. Don't wear anything loud or obnoxious. (Note: she's wearing a flattering black dress with a pretty wild white print.)

She advocates pants over skirts where it involves men. She said she's talked to men who feel more uncomfortable seeing our legs than we are showing them. Once you get to a place where you want to be, you can dress like the other women in the field.

Some of the things that she talks to women about corporate jobs: keep a journal and scrapbook as a wishlist. She keeps scrapbooks of things she wants in her house. You should see how women in your field already dress. Mimic the dress of a woman who's already at the level where you want to be.

Know your body type. If you haven't stood in front of a mirror in your bra and underwear for awhile, do it. If we don't understand that a blouse doesn't fit us properly, we're sending out the wrong signals.

Dress age appropriately. Women frequently dress too young because they're too trendy or fashionable. If you're in your early to mid-twenties, dress a bit older to be taken seriously.

Splurge on a good handbag or attaché. There's a status symbol. For men it's shoes. For women it's handbags. It's an unconscious thing. But you don't want to be carrying your laptop in your backpack anymore. (Trillwing: guilty as charged. I bike to work and I'd fall over, plus tweak my back, otherwise.)

If you're going in for promotion, wear a white suit. Don't wear white or black at your first interview. Women shouldn't be wearing black all the time. Navy blue, browns, and charcoal gray are flattering.

Never be underdressed. If you're going from an interview setting to a business mixer/casual setting, you should still be the best-dressed person in that room. It says you're very serious about this position.

Never walk into a position where you have not landed a job if you're wearing jeans, no matter how expensive. (Trillwing: duh.)

Invest in an expensive suit. It can be mixed and matched with other pieces. You'll just feel better in a good suit. Find a good tailor who does alterations. Not all size 4s, for example, fit the same.

Be well-groomed. More a problem for men than for women. Carry mints or gum for after lunch.

She's interviewed people with fabulous résumés, but she remembers how they smelled bad.

Change shoes and jewelry for a new outfit.

Just about everything we wear is inspired by men. Even though you may be surrounded by high-powered men, they don't want you to look like one of them. They like to have a female in their presence. They think in terms of personality: warm, affectionate, nice to be around. Not terms men use with one another.

She learned how to make her masculine suits look like she's not trying to be one of the men, but rather like a woman who has an air of authority.

Consult experts if you're unsure.

Q & A:

Q: What do you do if you're in field biology, and you may have an interview, and then you're invited on a tough hike. In a field where ratty jeans and a beat-up backpack are status symbols, how do you dress for a day's multiple contexts?

A (Grant): Bring a spare outfit in your car. It also shows you're thinking ahead.

Q: I was told to come in business casual for a group interview, which I respected. But other candidates came in suits.

A (Grant): People don't understand what business casual is. We forget what we look like when we're in our cubicles. And maybe others were overdressed.

Q: If you wear a suit, at what point is it OK to take the jacket off?

A (Grant): It depends on what you're wearing underneath it. And it's hard because it's so hard here in the summer. I don't think it's appropriate to every expose large parts of your arms or legs because it makes other people uncomfortable. If you're in a relatively short interview, you shouldn't take your jacket off. If you're wearing a long-sleeved, button-up blouse and you have an especially long interview day, it may be appropriate to take off your jacket.

Q: How do you handle questions about significant others?

A (Lin): Don't bring it up unless you're asked. I'd keep the ring on if you're married, but I know some people who took off their rings. If the department really wants you, they may want to begin planning to help you find your partner a job or accommodate other family issues. Be honest if you're asked.

(Grant): "Boyfriend" or "girlfriend" sounds juvenile. So use "partner" or "significant other." If someone does ask, it may be out of concern about bringing you into a certain situation. Be honest, but be very short.

(Wang): If there's something that works geographically for you and your partner if you were to move to the area, you can bring it up when asked.

Q: In the academic world, the same questions are illegal as in the corporate world. Formal committees may be prepped not to ask these kind of questions, but in informal situations you may be pressured to give up some information. Some of those questions don't have right answers; they only have wrong answers. How do you deflect those questions.

A (Lin): If they ask if you want to have kids, for example, say you haven't thought about it. Right now you're focused on your research. Or: "This is a great area, I understand, for families. But right now I'm interested in. . ."

A (Grant): If you're asked if you have children, say "Yes, and I have a phenomenal support system." That deflects concerns about you having to take days off work frequently because of your children.

A (Wang): Acknowledge question and then speak about what you know. An especially good technique for the Q & A after the job talk.

Q: If you want to know about maternity leave and whatnot, when do we talk about that? During negotiations?

A (Wang): Yes. And maybe you might bring it up when you're meeting with a female faculty member who seems sympathetic.

(OK, questions went on, but trillwing's fingers are tired. Signing off. . .)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A 2 year old's brain


Doodle by Lee. The code for this doodle and other doodles you can use on your blog can be found at Doodles.

(via academom)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Blogging paper assistance

OK, I know you're all really busy with either midquarter or end-of-the-semester stuff, but for my academic technology job I've been working on a white paper on blogging. I should finish it up in the next week or two, and I'm looking for a few people to comment on it. Basically, it's a very scanty lit review and then an overview, with some case studies from hither and yon, of why faculty should (or should not) assign blogging to their students. It's an odd genre, the white paper, and I need some informal feedback from folks who either have had their students blog or who are up on the pedagogy of web 2.0. If you don't want to read the paper, but have blogged with your students and have thoughts to share on the whole shebang, please contact me or leave your esteemed opinions in the comments.

I have a couple of reviewers in mind, but I thought I'd solicit volunteer readers as well. If you're interested and have some time over the next month or two, e-mailez-moi at trillwing -at- gmail dot com, 'K?

Muchas gracias for your consideration.


Medium-big Yay!: Biggish tax refund means we can pay down an anxiety-producing, high-minimum-payment chunk o' debt.

Really Big Yay!: Got a conditional acceptance (pending minor revisions) on an article I had revised and resubmitted to a history journal. History! Woohoo! Look at me bein' all archival 'n' shit. If on the off chance any of you recently were reviewers for an article about women in museums in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (you know, the piece that drew rather awkwardly on standpoint theory), thank you for your thoughtful comments.

For those of you keeping track, that's one submission down, two to go. If the kind editor of that academic press would get back to me on my dissertation book proposal, I'd very much appreciate it. Ditto on the anthology chapter proposal. Thanks! (See, here's my plan: If I get a book contract and a couple of decent publications, I'm going back on the academic market. I'm not ready to get back into teaching quite yet, but I do want to know if a Ph.D. in cultural studies is the ultimate turn-off to hiring committees, and I'll never know unless I make myself a Very Attractive Candidate in every other way. Plus, I want to publish, dammit. Always have (from age 3). Always will.

(Which means I need to get around to writing those model horse, scrapbooking, and egg articles. American Studies much?)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Excellent deep-sea video

Featuring one of my favorite animals, vampyroteuthis infernalis.

Sweet dreams!

(seen at The Park Bench)

Conscientiously objecting to violence in everyday life

I. Conscientiously objecting

You might say what happened today at Virginia Tech is not "everyday life." I say it is, only it was concentrated violence against middle-class students on a pretty campus in what seems to be a nice town. Truth is--and we all know it, even if the news stations don't acknowledge it--people die as a result of gun violence in this country every day, all day long.

It's enough to make this atheist a Friend. Seriously. As soon as Lucas can sit still for the first part of Meeting, we're hauling him there to learn about nonviolence (and establish a record for him as a conscientious objector, should he decide to be one when the inevitable draft occurs).

In high school, I had two political causes about which I was very passionate: gender equity and gun control. I've mentioned in the past that I attended Snoop Dogg's alma mater during the Los Angeles riots, and that my school had a large population of gang members. Besides always having been a pacifist of sorts, it was very much in my own self-interest to advocate for gun control, you know?

And then when I was in college, we had Dunblane, which just made me sick, sick, sick. And it didn't even take place in a country that had much gun violence.

Fast forward to Mr. Trillwing's birthday in 1999. We were both working at the same newspaper when news came by Internet and phone that something was going on at a high school in Colorado. All day we watched TV coverage of it as we wrote our provincial little stories about parking meters, tree trimming, and sidewalk repair.

I object. I object to this violence. I object to our forgetting. I object consciously and conscientiously.

II. On the books

Let's take a look at Virginia's gun laws, shall we?

While gun laws in Virginia restrict the sale of handguns to minors, juveniles can easily obtain other kinds of guns. According to, "There are no limits on selling or giving kids 12 or older rifles, shotguns or even assault weapons - without even parental permission." Child safety locks aren't required. Does the state require licenses or permits for gun buyers or owners? Nope. Does the state mandate a waiting or "cooling off" period before buying a gun? Of course not! But hey--good news--it's illegal for people with concealed weapons to enter a school.

Yay. Great protection, guys!

III. Antidotes

Raise your boys well. Teach them to respect human life, and especially women's and girls' lives. And teach your girls to settle for nothing but full respect from others, to require everyone to recognize their humanity. Would a bit of feminism have saved the young women killed today? Not on its own. But would the young man have gone on a homicidal rampage if he had deeply held feminist principles? Probably not.

Because this violence is so tied up with gender and sexuality. Look at Don Imus's comments about "nappy-headed hos" and about how the women of Rutgers' basketball team were big, tough, tattooed women. Basically, he accused them of being at once masculine and loose, and tied it up with a pretty racist ribbon.

It's a man thing, this violence. It's a patriarchal thing that cuts across race and class. Yes, I know there are plenty of peaceful men out there. But there are also men who lose their tempers too easily, who throw things, hit their (usually female) partners, who drive dangerously aggressively, who drink too much, who hurt animals, who abuse their children, who set things on fire, literally and metaphorically. And if you don't speak out against this violence when you see it or hear it, you're complicit. Period. If you're in danger in a heated moment, step away. But then speak later. Always speak.

And so I speak: You never hear about a "lone gunwoman." It's always a "lone gunman." You know, like a lone wolf, a rogue predator. An alpha male--an angry straight man, or perhaps a gay man frustrated because he can't express his full sexuality in our uptight culture where talk of sexuality is dominated—or, rather, silenced—by zealots of many so-called Christian faiths.

It's time, too, to speak out against the anonymity inherent in our schools, the conveyor belt, public or private, that spits out students after running them through the filter of a few standardized tests--and then relegates them to universities like Virginia Tech, universities that are considered good but that have courses, as does my current institution, of 500 students or more. What are our students learning in such contexts? That anonymity rules on campus. That no one knows your name, no one cares, that you're totally free to act however you want because, even when it counts--for good or ill--no one knows your name. You're only a vague memory, someone's freshman-year lab partner.

IV. Peace

I spent this evening walking with 19-month-old Lucas through a small sunlit orchard and vineyard, around a village green, and through a park. We blew dandelions and watched birds and petted cats and sniffed roses and played on the swings. In short, we cultivated gentleness. Does that make my boy a sissy? I don't think so. It makes him conscious of all the living and dying things, of the beauty and temporal nature of the here and now. My greatest hope is that one day he'll stand with me in objecting, consciously and conscientiously, to the everyday violence of American life and to the ways we hide this violence by heralding mass casualties as something out of the ordinary.

Peace be unto you and yours, whether you be in Blacksburg or elsewhere.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Nice uses of Google Earth

I haven't messed around with Google Earth myself, but lately I've become aware of a couple of neat projects using it. I'm posting links and the sites' own descriptions. Check them out:

Google Lit Trips

This site is an experiment in teaching great literature in a very different way. Using Google Earth, students discover where in the world the greatest road trip stories of all time took place... and so much more!

National Memorial for the Mountains

The National Memorial for the Mountains is an online memorial that uses the popular Google Earth software to show the massive scale of destruction occurring in Appalachia. The memorial identifies more than 470 mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal and connects visitors to stories, photos, maps, videos and interviews of local residents to tell the stories of those mountains and nearby communities.

Crisis in Darfur (as seen at reciproque

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has joined with Google in an unprecedented online mapping initiative. Crisis in Darfur enables more than 200 million Google Earth users worldwide to visualize and better understand the genocide currently unfolding in Darfur, Sudan. The Museum has assembled content—photographs, data, and eyewitness testimony—from a number of sources that are brought together for the first time in Google Earth.

Crisis in Darfur is the first project of the Museum’s Genocide Prevention Mapping Initiative that will over time include information on potential genocides allowing citizens, governments, and institutions to access information on atrocities in their nascent stages and respond.

So inspiring. . . I'll be offering a workshop soon at work on Google tools, and I'll definitely be showcasing these projects. What might you do--or what are you doing--with Google Earth?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Strawberry explanifesto

I'm coining the term "explanifesto" to describe posts that are half explanation, half manifesto/rant. This is one of those.

Strawberries, which used to be my favorite fruit, have become sucky. I blame the Midwest U.S.

See, it's difficult to ship strawberries to the Midwest from California and other warmer strawberry-growing regions. So it was in the interest of the strawberry industry to develop big, beautiful, hardy strawberries that travel without blemishing or becoming squishy.

Unfortunately, these beautiful strawberries are hard, juiceless, and nearly flavorless. Cut them open, and they're white inside.

Meet the Camarosa strawberry. The University of California owns the patent, and to my great chagrin, my very own university invented this fruit of the damned. As of 2005, the strawberry was the third-highest earner among UC patents, ranking just below two medical advances.

So there's big money in crappy strawberries. Thank you, Iowa. (When I was living there, the natives swore they saw nothing wrong with the big, hard strawberries. Friends who studied abroad, however, came back asking to join my nascent anti-crappy-strawberry movement.)

It used to be you could find good strawberries locally, but even farmers' markets now sell Camarosas and similar berries to the exclusion of all others. So this year I've planted a dozen strawberry plants in two smaller, sweeter varieties, and I encourage you to do the same once the ground warms up where you are. Encourage local farmers to plant decent berries—there are dozens, if not hundreds, of tasty varieties—and flip the UC Regents the bird.

Further reading:
The California Strawberry Commission
The University of California Strawberry Breeding Program

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Answers to last month's quiz

Answers to the very difficult quiz I posted last month, along with some comments:

Question #1
Where did I graduate from college?
University of California, Irvine
Grinnell College (highly recommended for oddball gifted children!)
California State University, Long Beach

Question #2
For which of the following cities does Mr. Trillwing produce newspapers?
San Diego
All of the above

Question #3
If I weren't on meds, what would be my endocrine status?
Hyperthyroid, naturally
Hypothyroid, naturally
Hypothyroid, induced by radiation (hyperthyroidism sucks, so in 1992 I opted for the radioactive cocktail)
Hyperthyroid, induced by mono

Question #4
Which of these bloggers do I know in real life? (Wish I knew them all!)
Breena Ronan
Phantom Scribbler
Dr. Brazen Hussy

Question #5
Where did I grow up?
Iowa City, Iowa
Long Beach, California (and with it I have a love/hate relationship as I do for no other place in the world)
Sacramento, California
San Diego, California

Question #6
What do I collect, albeit quite passively these days?
superhero figurines
model horses (there's a book in there somewhere)
other people's angst

Question #7
Am I on Facebook? And why or why not?
Yes. It's my new secret addiction.
Yes, but it's related to work. Really. (I'm designing a faculty workshop on how we can use students' social networking practices for sound pedagogical ends. The trick will be applying that sound pedagogy to Sakai, my occasional arch-nemesis.*)
No. I have too much else to do.
No. I'm waaaaay too old.

Question #8
My Ph.D. is in. . .
American Studies
Women's Studies
Cultural Studies (but I wish it were in American studies or history or, hey, just about anything else. Nematology, anyone?)

Question #9
About which of these political issues am I most passionate?
Abortion rights
Gender equity
Global warming
No Child Left Behind

Question #10
On what holiday was Lucas born?
Labor Day (U.S.) (he's got a sense of humor, that one)
Thanksgiving Day (U.S.)

* Today when I compared our implementation of Sakai to the Whac-a-Mole, game, my boss, our campus's Sakai program manager, declared the metaphor to be particularly apt. Bugalicious! Whump!

All hail, dear alma mater. . .

Another reason I heart my alma mater: Angela Davis is the commencement speaker.

Which prompted this comment from a reader at the Des Moines Register blog:
the liberal nitwits at grinnell would invite charles manson if they could get him out of prison for the day.

Found in my e-mail inbox

As the Clutter Museum curator, a good deal of my time is spent sorting and ordering, then categorizing and renarrating, imposing new meanings on things that long ago lost theirs. In that spirit, today I bring you three short poems I've reconstructed from phrases in my e-mail. (And no, not all of it comes from spam.) Brownie points to those who can identify my favorite line.

In a solemn sort of rapture
Obtain one large, unhappy, live octopus,
Wheezing ravens. . .
You could alternate them every 30 minutes all day for 2 weeks
--then everyone would have to rejoin.
Ain't gonna happen.

Identified by the central filters as
just plain crappy,
she's raged all afternoon.

Archangel Winter
recommends an immediate upgrade,
like the creation of every other sculpture.
Fire Birth
may be an assbackwards approach.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Oy. What a week!

Sorry for the silence of late. Last week was crazy. Highlights and low points:
  • Lucas and I went to visit my parents for the weekend. It was a crazy fast trip, but not too rushed, since I had Friday off for Cesar Chavez Day. What's that, you say? You don't get César Chávez Day off? My, your state must suck. ;)
  • My laptop's new LCD screen arrived, but it was the wrong size. When I went to take a photo of the old screen's connector cable for the vendor, I tweaked a wire someplace and now the computer puts itself to sleep and won't wake up. Yay me. And of course the laptop is out of warranty. Thank god I'm not dissertating.
  • Lucas is speaking more words now, and they're coming in a cascade. He's so much fun to be around these days.
  • The passenger across the aisle from me on one of my Jet Blue flights was escorted off the plane before it even took off, and his expulsion was totally unjustified. I call bullshit. Story at 11--I'm too tired right now to blog about it, but let's just say I owe Jet Blue a letter of righteous indignation, 'K?
  • Work this week appears to be a series of endless meetings. Wednesday includes lunch with a bigwig from the nonprofit foundation that supports my campus's course management software of choice. Should be interesting, but I suspect I shouldn't open my mouth because my sarcasm regarding this system is reaching mildly epic proportions.
  • I'm blogging from home, using my laptop from the office. It's a lovely machine, even if it is a couple years old. It makes me not want to really repair my old computer, except that we can't afford to purchase even a refurbished Mac right now. Bleah.
Lucas hasn't made an appearance here lately, and he's growing so fast that I feel the need to document it. Witness:

Damn, I love my family. Thanks, guys, for being a part of my life.