Sunday, April 25, 2010

Oh, Auntie Em!

An outbreak of 54 (maybe more) tornadoes hit the South and Midwest over the weekend. I had a personal stake in whether or not severe weather would hit this area as I was camping with my family. As the father of two young babies, I made the decision early in the morning on Saturday not to take any chances and get out of that campsite. Having been on top of the Peachtree Plaza eating dinner at the Sun Dial when the tornado hit downtown Atlanta on March 14, 2008, I can tell you that there is no more of a helpless than when you find yourself in the position of having nowhere to go when such a disaster strikes.

Tornadoes can strike anywhere, even crowded downtown business districts with skyscrapers. Despite this, people still refer to the Downtown Atlanta Tornado of 2008 as a “freak tornado.” It is simply a matter of chance as to why we mostly see tornadoes strike rural areas. Tornadoes are just as likely to hit major cities and they do. Still, people tend to think that severe weather only hits poor, white people. One of Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might Be a Redneck” observations posited that, “If you’ve ever been on the evening news describing what the tornado sounded like… you might be a redneck.”

I was never fond of severe weather before that March night two years ago, but that incident aggravated my anxieties. Tornadoes don’t care about your affluence or your race. They are not attracted to trailer parks or other less than sturdy dwellings. They form tens of thousands of feet in the air – well above the tallest skyscraper in the world. Pay attention to your local meteorologist this time of year. If severe weather is forecasted, an evaluation of your activities needs to be conducted. “Is it that important that I go to Target tonight?” The answer is probably no.

If your plans include buildings that don’t have basements, it is probably better to stay home. The chances are remote that a tornado will strike your home, business, or hangout, but you can reduce the risk of bodily harm by staying in a safe place during these kinds of events. You can also help fight class and racial stereotypes by realizing that you, too, could be in the path of a deadly twister one day.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The First Amendment Area

For our on-campus writing assignment, I led my group-mates over by the Campus Green. As we strolled up, I felt like we wouldn't be the only ones to write about the green, so I pointed out the First Amendment Area as a potentially intriguing point of interest. I was astonished to find out the other gents in my group were not aware of this little spot. Later, I was even more astonished to find out that our professor had not heard of it either. Perhaps astonished is too strong of a word. After all, the First Amendment Area (FAA) is a little piece of land between the Campus Green and the Burruss Building. It is a squared off by railroad ties and is covered in gravel. The space is probably about 100 square feet. The only thing that marks it as the First Amendment Area is a little sign on a tiny post. The sign sits about 6’’ off the ground. Legally, the FAA is a place, but it clearly aims to be a non-place. The only way you would know about the First Amendment Area is by being really, really observant.

I have seen protests of one thing or another taking place outside of this little sand box. Clearly with this specially designated area, KSU is reserving the right to shut any protest down if it becomes too disruptive. Since not many people seem to know about the FAA, it is likely that most protests are going to occur outside of it. Combined with the fact that the FAA does not allow room for many people, KSU is virtually guaranteed to be within its legal rights to squelch almost any demonstration that reaches a level of participation as to be described as massive. (One other factor that makes KSU’s campus particularly peaceful: the complacency of the mostly middle class student body).

Protesting on a college campus is as American as baseball and apple pie. Without disruptive demonstrations and spontaneous expressions of anger and discontentment, African Americans and women would still be second-class citizens. There would be virtually no laws or safeguards protecting laborers. The consciousness of the public would almost never be alerted to injustice. Cynics scoff and snicker at those who exercise their First Amendment rights calling them “dirty hippies” and other epithets.

The FAA is a reminder of what we think about the First Amendment in the U.S. in 2010. When it comes down to it, it is a nuisance – barely worth recognizing or protecting. I don’t know how other college campuses choose to address the issue. I suspect that there are numerous other FAA’s across America. If KSU is symptomatic of other college campuses, then what we have is the systemic suppression of expression by the various administrations of their respective student bodies. Of course, in 2010 the student bodies (including people like me) more than oblige their administrators by ignoring issues of war and social justice and instead busy themselves with sports, celebrity gossip, binge drinking, and the frivolity of being young and beautiful (like me).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thoughts on "Place"

  • Ÿ I have worked in a few different places, lived in several different places, and hung out in many different places. In all of them, I developed an emotional and psychological attachment to them. I understood at the intellectual level that I did not own these places. I knew that after leaving a particular place of business, I wouldn't be able to just stroll into the back office or break room whenever I wanted. There is an understanding at this higher level that any place that I have in such a place is only temporary. Still, at the same time, I did feel like these places were mine. There seems to always be a part of me that doesn't differentiate between home and a hang-out or home and work. It seems like if you go to any place enough then a bond is forged between you and that place. If you hang out at a bar enough, that bar is a part of you and you can always go there when you want to. Of course, this isn't true, but it certainly feels that way for a while. Then your old workplace goes out of business or the house you used to live in gets torn down to build a highway. You realize that no spot on this earth really belongs to you. Even a deed is temporary, geologically speaking.
  • I was struck by a comment in the text. On page 11, Creswell refers to one possible Western conception of Baghdad as city that we blithely think of as “a place to drop bombs.” He follows this assessment with this statement, “At other times… the lens of place leads to reactionary and exclusionary xenophobia, racism, and bigotry.” I am confused by these statements being back-to-back like this. If we view Baghdad as a place that needs to be bombed every now and then (and I think we do) then how could “the lens of place” possibly distort this even further. How can such a concept as thinking of a city populated by fellow human beings (the overwhelming majority of whom are not part of the Iraqi government or military) as one that is a default location for American bombs to be dropped be even further corrupted? Seeing that Creswell is from the UK, perhaps I should say, “Coalition bombs.” But, the fact is that there is something disturbing in the way this little aside is presented. It screams White Man’s Burden. If that wasn’t his point and he just didn’t articulate himself very well, why didn’t the publisher try to iron this out? It comes off as very cold, callous, and, yes, even racist.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

How can you prove that yours is the "biggest" Easter egg hunt in the world?

We hosted our first Easter egg hunt at the Watson household this weekend and I can report that it was a most satisfying experience… for the adults. Children do not seem to enjoy this ritual as much as the adults do. I can remember as a kid getting very upset because my parents would help my little sister. For the adults the hard part is not hiding the eggs. It is convincing kids to act like grown-ups which is difficult when considering what is taking place and what is at stake: competition and candy (maybe a little money, too). Feelings get hurt and kids stomp around and pout for a couple of hours. Where does this tradition come from? Are there elements that we have added to it in the U.S. that make the Easter egg hunt uniquely American? What does the Easter egg hunt say about us? As usual, I have not had time to research this topic, so I cannot answer these questions. I can say that when looked at through the prism of contemporary political and economic thinking, the Easter egg hunt can mean completely different things to different people.

At first glance, the Easter egg hunt might seem like a capitalist endeavor. Adam Smith or Milton Friedman might feel vindicated by one. Concepts like competition bringing out the best in the participants; the reward of hard work and self-reliance; and the satisfaction of coming away with a bigger bounty than everybody else are some of the potential lessons for kids who take part in an Easter egg hunt. If they were all like this, it might be called a conservative undertaking. But, given other realities, there are elements at work that would be applauded by John Maynard Keynes or Franklin Roosevelt. Children are benefited by the assistance of their parents. They are provided with the necessary tools (the basket) and training (pointing out where the eggs are). There is the possibility of learning about cooperation, kindness, and the importance of community.

The kids (or their parents) who come away with the most eggs in an Easter egg hunt would probably more inclined to draw lessons from the Smith/Friedman model of Easter egg hunting. The ones who come up short, the have-nots, would want their pleas for equality and fairness to be heard and their humanity to be recognized. Perhaps even some kind of restructuring of the social order would be called for. Of course, if kids were this analytical about an Easter egg hunt, there would be no joy in the world at all.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Intersection of Race and Scandal

The Masters golf tournament begins in Augusta next week and Tiger Woods will make his much-anticipated return to the golf course for competitive play for the first time since revelations of marital infidelity surfaced in November of last year. Since then, at least a dozen women have come forward to say they had had some kind of sexual relationship with Woods. The scandal has set off a media firestorm with many denouncing Woods as a fallen idol. The four-time Masters champion has also lost endorsement deals with various image-sensitive corporations. Woods, himself, went into hiding surfacing only last week to give interviews to ESPN and The Golf Channel.

In those interviews, Woods was contrite, but guarded. He said he understood that he had let people down, but he remained tight-lipped about details of the incident that broke this scandal open - a Thanksgiving night car crash outside of his Florida home. Woods certainly has the right to reveal only the information he wants the public to hear. In fact, upon examining other celebrity sex scandals of the past couple of decades, one might think that Woods is being subjected to unfair treatment by the media and the public.

Babe Ruth, the icon of baseball, was shielded by the press in terms of his sexual escapades. A famous though perhaps apocryphal story has Ruth being chased naked through a chain by a jealous lover in view of a group of reporters. As the narrative of Ruth and his time go, those reporters felt it would be too damaging to the country to air such personal matters. Members of the press are purported to have known about John F. Kennedy and his affair with Marilyn Monroe in the White House. Again, the good of the nation was supposedly cited for not making these matters public.

But, times change and in a super-competitive media environment, the sexual lives of celebrities attract attention and make money. However, the degree of scrutiny to which Tiger Woods has been subjected still seems disproportional to other scandals.

Wade Boggs, former Red Sox star, admitted to sexual addiction sometime in the early '90s and underwent treatment, but he was not compelled to apologize to anyone. Warren Beatty was well-known for having relationships with many, many women through the 1960s, ‘70s, & ‘80s, but is still a revered actor and was even courted by the Democratic Party for a potential White House run. Bill Clinton survived the impeachment and removal process of 1998-99 thanks to his gift of charisma and a robust economy. Today, people acknowledge that he is (or was) a philanderer, but not with quite the disdain that is reserved for Mr. Woods.

It is interesting that figures like Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson are made to endure scorn for engaging in similar behavior (although Magic Johnson received a great deal of support as well). Is the color of their skin what makes their cases so special? Why does Tiger Woods lose endorsement deals (he is still the best golfer in the world) while Warren Beatty gets a wink, a nod, and a high five?

Monday, March 22, 2010

A leftover thought from the Oscars

Personal update: Ava Catherine Watson was born last Tuesday at 8:22 in the evening at Kennestone. She is very healthy and Mommy is doing very well. Big sister Caroline loves her little sister. With baby's arrival, I have had little time for keeping up with current events (although I did watch last night's "historic" House vote on healthcare) or our assigned readings for class. So, I thought I would write the other thing about the Academy Awards from two weeks ago that piqued my interest.

Sandra Bullock won Best Actress for her role as a southern woman with a heavy southern drawl who adopts an adolescent black child. She sees something in this young man that no one else does and she pushes him to become a star on the football field. I have not seen this film, but I feel like I can be pretty sure that this movie and the hype that has surrounded it exemplify the surviving strands of American exceptionalism.

American exceptionalism is the idea that the United States of America, its people, and its leaders have been endowed with a special purpose: to bring freedom and democracy to everyone in the world. The idea generally relates to the actions of the U.S. military abroad, but in this case, I think it fits here as well. Bullock’s character stands up for what she thinks is right even when everyone around her thinks she is crazy (including her own husband). She is sassy and isn’t afraid to tell people what she thinks (including “scary inner-city black people”). She embodies the American ideals of kindness, toughness when necessary, and color-blindness. If only everyone was like her, surely this would be a better world.

How insulting can a movie be? Millions of people adopt children. Sometimes, those kids are not infants or toddlers. Increasingly, people are adopting children from different ethnic backgrounds than their own. How is this woman that Bullock portrays exceptional?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Babies in America: A Special Report

My wife is scheduled to be induced into labor on Tuesday the 16th. It will be our second child and we are very excited to welcome our second bundle of joy into the world. But, my aim is not to use this space to waste everyone's time with my personal life. Instead, this upcoming event got me thinking about how we view childbirth, babies, and motherhood and how those views may or may not have changed through American history. This particular post is about questions more than answers.

How did the dangers of childbirth color the experience of delivery before modern medicine? How much did consumerism change the experience of welcoming a new child into the world? How many fathers were detached from this experience before feminism?

I’m sure there are books on this subject. This post is written in haste and ignorance, but I think it would be an interesting area to study. New parents are inundated with all kinds of information and products. There must have been some kind of progression that led us to where we are today. Quick Frozen Foods and the coalition of companies that made TV dinners informed the public on how to use their products and created advertising that convinced consumers that their products were beneficial for their families.

Therefore, a trail-blazing entrepreneur in concert with a league of similarly-interested corporations would have had to work to create an environment where their products were viable. Was there a publication similar to Quick Frozen Foods in the baby industry? Did television play the same role in educating consumers about the role their products would play in their lives? Were the inherent issues of conflict and inequality present in race, class, and gender in the marketing of baby food, formula, toys, car seats, cribs, books (for babies and their parents), television shows, and so on??