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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Partying like it’s 1915

Well, the San Diego gig was pretty fun and anticlimactic all at the same time.  Anne Neal is quite savvy about these things, as I expected she would be, and opened by disavowing the rock-em-sock-em-robots model of debate—after I had gone first and criticized ACTA for publishing pamphlets like this one, which go after what I politely called “a low-information conservative constituency, that is, people who can be counted on to be outraged that there are literature courses that deal with ‘masculinities’ and anthropology courses that deal with ‘the historical foundations of racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism.’” This was clever in at least two ways: it effectively announced that Ms. Neal was going to do the Daniel-among-the-lions thing not in the Horowitzian manner of claiming to be the lonely exponent of intellectual diversity in a sea of academic groupthink, but in a post-partisan, “let’s avoid predictable debates and look for solutions” mode; and it therefore forced me to take the tack Obama took in his first debate with McCain, that is, to mark my points of disagreement by saying stuff like “Ms. Neal is right about X; but there’s another point to be made here as well. . . .” Not that I did this with anything like Obama’s poise.  If I could, after all, I would be vice-president-elect right now.

For debate prep, I read this talk, which Ms. Neal had kindly sent me two years ago.  It didn’t come up during our presentations, so on the way out, I took the opportunity to thank her for sending it to me, and asked if I could clear up two little things concerning her remarks about the AAUP.  The first is her remark that the AAUP’s 1915 Statement of Principles “no longer appears on the AAUP website.” She makes the point a bit more polemically here, where she says, “Students’ academic freedom to learn was foundational to the AAUP’s conception of the rights and responsibilities of faculty.  But—tellingly—the 1915 statement no longer appears on the AAUP website.” The clear implication is that we have scrubbed the record. But the fact of the matter, I told Ms. Neal, is that Johns Hopkins UP, the publisher of the AAUP “Redbook” (officially, AAUP Policy Documents and Reports, now in its tenth edition), permits the AAUP to put no more than 30 percent of the book online.  The 1915 statement is still in the print edition, on pages 291-301.

And what’s so important about the 1915 statement?  The passage at issue is this:

The university teacher, in giving instruction upon controversial matters, while he is under no obligation to hide his own opinion under a mountain of equivocal verbiage, should, if he is fit for his position, be a person of fair and judicial mind; he should, in dealing with such subjects, set forth justly, without suppression or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators; he should cause his students to become familiar with the best published expressions of the great historic types of doctrine upon the questions at issue; and he should, above all, remember that his business is not to provide his students with ready-made conclusions, but to train them to think for themselves, and to provide them access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently.

It appears to be an article of faith on the right that, as Peter Wood’s rather overheated essay puts it, “the AAUP has long since attempted to distance itself from the 1915 statement” and “when the AAUP speaks on academic freedom today, it is in the awkward spot of invoking the authority of documents and traditions that it has, in substance, repudiated”—all because the 1940 statement and the 1970 interpretive comments don’t reproduce the same language about setting forth justly, without suppression or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators.  This despite the fact that the 1940 statement clearly says that teachers “should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject,” and the 1970 comment explains that

The intent of this statement is not to discourage what is “controversial.” Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry which the entire statement is designed to foster.  The passage serves to underscore the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject.

This isn’t good enough for critics like Wood and Neal, who believe that something important is lost without that “divergent opinions” clause.

Now, you could make a case that the AAUP should go back to insisting that every college professor handle controversial material by setting forth justly without suppression or innuendo the divergent opinions of other investigators—even if you suspect that this gives the right a handy device for declaring climate change to be “controversial” and insisting that the divergent opinions of denialists and cranks be included in college classrooms.  But it’s just a wee bit wingnutty for people like Wood to suggest that the AAUP has distanced itself, or repudiated, the idea of students’ freedom to learn—when in fact the 1967 Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students is much more detailed and robust than the 1915 statement of principles.

Interestingly enough, because I was attending an AAUP meeting before my rendezvous with Anne Neal, I had a chance to ask some of my colleagues about this.  One suggested that the concept of student freedom has evolved over the past hundred years or so partly because the rest of the world has changed somewhat in the interim: in 1915, you couldn’t expect that students had access to “divergent opinions” on controversial matters, especially if they were arriving on campus from the sticks.  In 2008, however, when opinions on every controversial matter are available in an Intertube near you, it seems a bit infantilizing—of students and faculty alike—to specify that (and even how) divergent opinions should be presented in the classroom.  (Indeed, the 1915 statement repeatedly infantilizes students, particularly in the passage about “immature” students whose “character is not yet fully formed” and who must be introduced to scientific truth “with discretion” and “with some consideration for the student’s preconceptions and traditions.” Because, you know, it can be somewhat of a shock to show up to class only to find out you’re descended from monkeys.) Rather, it makes more sense to defend students’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom from capricious evaluation, as the 1967 statement does:

1. Protection of Freedom of Expression.

Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion, but they are responsible for learning the content of any course of study for which they are enrolled.

2. Protection against Improper Academic Evaluation.

Students should have protection through orderly procedures against prejudiced or capricious academic evaluation.  At the same time, they are responsible for maintaining standards of academic performance established for each course in which they are enrolled.

Reasonable people can disagree about this, of course.  But no, the AAUP hasn’t retreated from the idea that students should have the freedom to learn.  On the contrary, we’ve tried to spell out their rights more carefully, and we don’t go by everything in the 1915 statement because, uh, it isn’t 1915 anymore.

The other issue I wanted to take up with Ms. Neal concerned her critique of the AAUP’s amicus brief in FAIR v. Rumsfeld, a case involving the Solomon Amendment.  (Dahlia Lithwick covered the proceedings in Slate.) Ms. Neal wrote:

The academy’s original concept of academic freedom—which centered on the intellectual purity of both professors’ research and students’ academic experience—is out of favor with contemporary educators.  The principle of the disinterested search for the truth has been supplanted by a conception that frequently views professors more as political actors than as teachers.

This perspective was vividly on display last fall when various elite college faculties, as well as the AAUP, submitted briefs opposing the Solomon amendment. These briefs consistently and reflexively invoked academic freedom and faculty autonomy as a foundation, not for the objective search for the truth, but as a foundation for espousing a particular political viewpoint.

Um, well, actually, academic freedom and faculty autonomy are kinda meaningless if they don’t cover professors who espouse a particular political viewpoint.  But sure, you can say it’s a bit of a stretch for the AAUP to file an amicus brief in which academic freedom covers universities that adopt anti-discrimination policies and bar recruiters from employers who won’t hire gays and lesbians.  Some people I’ve spoken to don’t think that academic freedom should apply to entire institutions in this way.  And certainly, the argument got smacked down by the Supremes.  But, as I said to Ms. Neal, there’s another (secondary but important) issue here too: the reach of the Solomon Amendment has been expanded considerably, and the AAUP is perfectly right to object to this.  As the amicus brief argues:

The government is likewise incorrect that the Solomon Amendment merely earmarks federal funds for particular purposes. To the contrary, as currently applied, it penalizes the entire university if any “subelement” deviates from the government’s demands—without regard to whether the subelement itself receives federal funding. The government thus uses funding leverage to coerce universities to abandon protected speech in areas wholly unrelated to its exercise of its spending power.

This feature of the Solomon Amendment ignores the wellsettled law of unconstitutional conditions. Under this Court’s precedents, a funding condition violates the First Amendment when aimed at expression wholly unrelated to the purposes for which funding is given. Government may not place a speech-restrictive “condition on the recipient of a subsidy rather than on a particular program or service, thus effectively prohibiting the recipient from engaging in the protected conduct outside the scope of the federally funded program.” Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173, 197 (1991) (emphasis in original). That, of course, is precisely what the Solomon Amendment does.

Like the “equal-access” provision, this “subelement” rule is the product of changes to the original Solomon Amendment to make its consequences for universities ever more draconian. As originally applied, the Solomon Amendment limited any loss of funding to Defense Department funds, and to the particular “subelement” of the university found not in compliance. Thus, if a law school denied access to military recruiters, then only the law school, not the entire university, would lose funding. The Solomon Amendment has since been extended to cover funds from the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Homeland Security, and to provide that a violation by any part of the university triggers a loss of federal funding for the university as a whole.

Like the “equal-access” provision, the “subelement” rule’s indiscriminate reach into every laboratory, library and lecture hall across campus is unnecessary to serve the government’s purposes. The government provides no funds for career services activities, and military recruiting at law schools is unrelated to the reasons the National Institutes of Health provide scientists funding for infectious disease research or the Education Department provides teachers in training subsidies for bilingual education.

Ms. Neal replied, if I recall correctly, that she understood that the AAUP files any number of amicus briefs that touch on civil-liberty issues, and that the real target here was the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule.  Both of which are quite true.

Indeed, the Solomon Amendment has been an important piece of American wingnuttery for quite some time.  It manages to combine three key elements of right-wing culturewarriordom: homophobia, of course, but also the determination to support the troops against the dirty hippie students and their patchouli-smelly professors and, perhaps most important, the conviction that the highest goal of any new policy initiative is to piss off liberals.  As Rep. Richard Pombo (R.-CA) said when he co-sponsored the thing, the Solomon Amendment will “send a message over the wall of the academic ivory tower.” That message:  “Colleges and universities need to know that starry-eyed idealism comes with a price. If they are too good or too self-righteous to treat our Nation’s military with the respect it deserves, then they may also be too good to receive the current generous level of DOD dollars.” And as the AAUP brief correctly notes, that price has gotten progressively steeper with time.

But that was over a decade ago.  Nowadays, as Nate Silver points out,

Public sentiment on DADT has shifted dramatically since 1993.  A May, 1993 poll by ABC News and the Washington Post showed that 44 percent Americans favored allowing homosexuals (their wording) who have publicly disclosed their orientation to serve in the military, as compared with 55 percent opposed. An identical poll taken in July, however, shows 75 percent in favor versus just 22 percent opposed.

Likewise, 471 of the Fortune 500 companies now include sexual orientation in their employment nondiscrimination policies, and even Mormon owners of hotel chains want nothing to do with this Proposition 8 nonsense.

So my final words to Ms. Neal, before we parted ways, were something like this: you know, don’t ask, don’t tell, Solomon Amendment, Prop 8—someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.  Really.  You and I, we’ll still be debating about higher ed somewhere twenty years from now, and I’ll say, hey, remember the time when young gay and lesbian Americans would sign up to fight for their country, and the U.S. armed forces wouldn’t let ‘em?  And you’ll say hey yeah, remember when a bunch of linguists, including six who spoke Arabic, were dismissed from the military in the middle of a huge festering Middle East crisis because they were gay?  Weird, huh?  And I’ll say, you know, I tell my students this stuff, but they don’t believe me.  They say, “yeah, right, and next you’ll be telling us that we fought World War II with racially segregated troops.” And with that, we shook hands and wished each other safe travels.

I just hope I won’t have to bring too many divergent opinions on this into my classroom twenty years from now.  I suppose it’ll depend on how immature my students are.

Posted by Michael on 11/25 at 04:15 PM
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Friday, November 21, 2008

If you’re goin’ to San Diego. . . .

Well, actually right now I’m in Washington for an AAUP meeting, but I have to leave early (like, mid-afternoon) and head out to San Diego to the National Communication Association conference to debate Anne Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.  This should be fun!  A lot more fun than the NCA’s original plan for the event, that’s for sure.

And there’s a strange coincidence here involving a tiny tangent from last week’s trip to Nebraska with Jamie.  You’ll recall (perhaps) that I took Jamie into the mountains of Colorado and the deserts of New Mexico last month, driving around and seeing stuff.  I was trying to broaden his horizons beyond the usual trip-to-the-zoo-or-aquarium thing we’ve done so often, now that he’s more mature and willing to visit museums and mountains and things.  Well, one of the places we stopped in Santa Fe was the New Mexico Museum of Art, which was quite cool, and which for some reason kindled in him a desire to ask the people in the gift shop if they had anything “about the Sioux.” (It took Jamie six or seven tries before anyone, myself included, understood his request; he was, as always, wonderfully patient about this.) I assured him, as he picked out a book about Kachinas instead, that although the southwest was all about the Navajo and Hopi and Zuni and such, there would be plenty of stuff about the Sioux in Nebraska and South Dakota. 

Unfortunately, you really can’t get from Omaha to the good stuff in western South Dakota—Wounded Knee, Deadwood, the Badlands, Rapid City, Mount Rushmore—in one day.  The state is too damn big.  We had planned, more modestly, to drive to Sioux Falls and back for a day trip, after stopping off first at Omaha’s Durham Western Heritage Museum, which, as you can plainly see, Jamie enjoyed.  (Irony alert: it turns out that the Omaha Zoo, which we visited on Friday the 14th before seeing that hockey game, is absolutely fantastic.  Wish we’d left more time for it—we only spent two hours.) But after driving approximately forever and getting only 30 miles above Sioux City, I saw two road signs: one said “Sioux Falls 48 miles” and the other said “University of South Dakota 6 miles State Museums 7 miles.” So, after deciding I didn’t want to drive seven hours round trip in one day, and then after getting Jamie’s approval, I bailed on Sioux Falls and went to USD where we stopped in at the very tiny and very cute W. H. Over Museum.  Jamie loved this too, I’m happy to say, and you know, it had some really strange stuff, too.  Like this in a glass case and this gazing down at you from the wall and this in the children’s “discovery room.” You don’t see those every day, now, do you?

And the important thing is that we got to South Dakota at all.  Now I have only Seven Unvisited States left:  Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota, Utah, Arkansas, Mississippi, and South Carolina.  Hmmmm—wonder if there’s a pattern there somewhere.

But there wasn’t much else to see in southeastern South Dakota, save for signs like this on roads like this.  So we drove back to Omaha, where we learned that we were crossing the Mormon Trail.  Yes, the Mormon Trail—on which, as your National Park Service will tell you, “roughly 70,000 Mormons traveled from 1846 to 1869 in order to escape religious persecution before settling down in Utah and spending $20something million to make sure that gay people can’t get married in California.” Which is great, in a way, since the last time I checked in on Mormons In The News, it was all about this weird statutory rape farm in Texas.  Good to see the Church of Latter Day Saints has straightened itself out!  So to speak.

So yes, Omaha, Mormons, Proposition 8 . . . how does this have anything to do with debating Anne Neal?

Well, Proposition 8 is also one great big huge mess for the National Communication Association, as you can plainly see.  Yes, that’s right, the conference is taking place in the Manchester Hyatt, and the owner of the conference hotel, Doug “Papa Doug” Manchester (yes, his nickname really is Papa Doug.  I don’t make up stuff like that on this blog—I’m not that creative.  Is his son Baby Doug?) has dropped $125,000 of his very own money to protect heterosexual Californian marriage in its moment of maximum danger.  This was matter for controversy long before Prop 8 passed, of course—and now NCA members have to go and patronize this hotel and replenish Mr. Manchester’s pockets.  Unless, of course, they join the boycott.

Sigh.  This really sucks.  Many departments are moving their events elsewhere, but the big me-and-Anne-Neal debate takes place in the Homophobe Hyatt.  Where, of course, the NCA booked me a room, as well.  Well, I canceled the room, at least, and booked one at a hotel down the street instead.  That’ll save the NCA a few bucks, and I get myself a little suite.  It’s a win-win, I suppose.  Except for gay and lesbian couples in California.

Anyway, the debate is Saturday at 11 pacific.  Wish me luck.  As for Prop 8, I note that Moloch has already granted my morning-after-Election-Day wish that Gordon Smith and Ted Stevens be returned to private life.  We’re still waiting on Coleman and 8.

Posted by Michael on 11/21 at 06:58 AM
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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Because today seemed like a good day to have this argument again

From Walter Shapiro’s Salon interview with Bill Ayers:

This is where we probably part company. One of the reasons, in my view, that Nixon got away with pursuing the war was that, in part, the violence of the Weather Underground—and some of the other extreme parts of the antiwar movement—discredited the overall antiwar movement. And that led to a further polarization of American life, which led to the first round of demonology involving yourself.

I don’t see it that way. You could be partly right. I don’t know how to make those cause-and-effect relationships. I would posit a different explanation. I think what happened was cynical and thought through and it was deliberate. And I think what happened was that the Nixon administration determined that they could keep the war going without a domestic upheaval that they couldn’t handle. So they stopped bringing dead soldiers home. So they made it an air war and a sea war that was no longer a ground war. So they withdrew troops and they punished Vietnam and pounded it into the ground. When I say it was a war of terror, that is not idle talk. There were entire areas of Vietnam that were designated free fire zones. If you were a pilot and had leftover ordinance, you could just drop it in those villages and they did. So a couple of thousand people every month were dying, innocent people ...

It was a crime against humanity on an enormous scale. We were trying to end it. In the six years that the Weather Underground existed, we did everything we could to end it. We never hurt or killed anyone—by design. We didn’t want to. Was it risky, were we a little nuts, were we a little off the track? Yes. Did we cross lines of legality and propriety and common sense? I think we did. On the other hand, I don’t think we were the cause of any kind of reaction. I think we were a small part of an upheaval against war and against killing.

No, seriously, I’m glad Shapiro said this – the interview would have had a great big gaping hole in it otherwise.  And while I’m usually sympathetic to Shapiro’s line of argument (no surprise there, I suppose), I’m a bit puzzled by the indirectness of Ayers’s reply.  Not that I expected him to say, “up against the wall, Walter motherfucker,” exactly, but perhaps something like “yes, we went too far, and we alienated just about everybody.  But surely you’ll remember, Walter, that it wasn’t as if nonviolent protests and marches were having any effect on the war policies of either party.  And it wasn’t like proper parliamentary procedure was working in our favor, either.  What’s more, people tend to get their chronologies all confused and compressed when it comes to the New Left, and everybody now thinks everything happened in 1968, as if we had a demonstration in Chicago, got beaten up by police, and went out blowing shit up the next day.  Lots of stuff happened in between the Democratic National Convention and the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion in March 1970, such as, oh, the secret bombing of Cambodia.  So when you say that the violence of the Weather Underground allowed Nixon to get away with pursuing the war, I think maybe you have things a bit, how you say, ass-backwards.” Maybe something like that.  Certainly, something better than “I don’t think we were the cause of any kind of reaction.” Anyway, I’m curious about what you all think—if you’re interested in having this argument again, of course.

On a more-or-less obviously related note, I’d also like to hear what you all think of a bunch of questions Cathy Davidson asked the other day:

If the Frankfurt School’s idea of critique is rooted in a horrific historical moment, one in which intellectuals were not just derided but jailed and killed, if the major theorists of the late twentieth century, virtually all of whom consider critique to be foundational to their method, came of age in the 1960s in the midst of struggles, riots, assassinations, unjust wars, and radicalism generated by a sense of political urgency and agentive hopelessness, what will the cultural criticism of the future look like for eighteen year-olds who voted for the first time for an utterly improbable and historically unlikely president who won. In other words, in the gross world of power politics and partisan politics in the U.S., what happens if what no one could have predicted was even possible a year ago could, through concerted collective effort, become possible? If you believe you have agency in democracy, what is the affective, critical imperative borne of that agency? What is the relationship between theoretical critique and collective action? What is the continuity between success in one improbable arena and the sense that you can enact change in other arenas as well through organized, determined, focused, collective action? What form of progressive critique, evaluation, and analysis emerges when you believe that you have the collective power to enact change in a progressive direction, even against a generation of anti-progressive and highly repressive politics? What form of analysis and future action emerges when you demonstrate, through action as well as through theory, that it is possible to succeed against all predictions, against the assumptions of history?

I know, I know, it’s like Chou En-lai said about the French Revolution—it’s too soon to tell.  But for now, lest anyone suggest that Davidson isn’t being properly dour enough about Obama’s election, let me point out one interesting thing about those 1960s.  No, not the end of them, the beginning.  Take a look at this handy chart of the first 100 days of Presidential administrations since FDR.  Pay special attention to the JFK part, because, you know, Obama gets likened to that guy sometimes.  Youthful energetic charismatic fellow coming in after eight years of Republican rule, right, Camelot and new frontiers and stuff, and look!  On Day 41 he creates the Peace Corps, and on day 88 he invades the Bay of Pigs.  Now there’s disappointment for you!  Even before the struggles, riots, assassinations, unjust wars, and radicalism generated by a sense of political urgency and agentive hopelessness.  Whereas it appears quite possible that Obama’s first-100-days Cuban adventure will involve closing Guantánamo.  So there’s that.

Oh, and this post just wouldn’t be complete without a big hearty bwah hah hah hah to everyone who’s going around saying that the academic left elected Obama.  Everybody now, on the count of three!

Posted by Michael on 11/19 at 11:16 AM
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Senate Dems Vote to Punish Lieberman

In an apparent response to Joe Lieberman’s recent support of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Senate Democrats voted 42-13 today to strip Lieberman of some of his Senate cafeteria privileges.  “I know that Senator Lieberman worked closely and enthusiastically with John McCain, spoke prominently at the Republican convention, and repeatedly suggested that Barack Obama was a danger to the United States,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  “But this should be a happy occasion.  Let’s not bicker and argue about who betrayed who.”

Reid then announced that Lieberman would retain his position as chairman of the powerful committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, but would henceforth be limited to one side dish at all Senate cafeteria lunches.

Asked about liberal “anger” towards Lieberman, Reid said: “I pretty well understand anger. I would defy anyone to be more angry than I was.”

But he added: “If you will look at the problems that we face as a nation, is this a time we walk out of here saying boy did we get even?”

“I feel good about what we did today,” Reid said. “We’re moving forward.  And Senator Lieberman knows that in the future, he will have to choose between a salad and a vegetable, instead of ordering both.  I think we sent the right signal.”

Posted by Michael on 11/18 at 12:42 PM
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Security and Sudafed

Dear Transportation Security Administration,

I understand that your job is very important.  Why, back in 2002 I even wrote a whimsical little essay in the New York Times Magazine defending the new post-9/11 regulations for airport security.  Of course, that was before things got really baroque—before the personal-care-products industry had persuaded you to confiscate everyone’s toothpaste, aftershave, body lotion, moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, hand cream, and saline solution.  But on the whole, I’m in favor of everything that prevents crazy people from blowing up airplanes.  So did I complain when you went through my checked bags in 2004 as I was coming back from San Francisco?  No.  And that was the time you left a zipper open—the zipper to the very pocket in which I had stashed all my keys.  I decided that one was my own dang fault for not wanting to sit through a five-hour flight with my keys in my pocket, so I just went ahead and got new keys, even though the electronic key to the Passat was well over a hundred bucks.

Nor did I complain last year when you searched my checked bag, went through my toiletries kit, and opened my electric razor, strewing thousands of tiny facial hairs all over everything else in the kit, from my Vanceril inhaler to my toothpaste.  You know how sometimes there’s a teeny bit of toothpaste right around the cap?  Well, it turns out that that little white spot of fugitive, extratubal toothpaste is a lot easier to see when it’s covered with minuscule beard shavings.  But, again, I didn’t complain.  I am a patriotic American, and I know full well that if you can’t open my electric razor and spill its contents into my toiletries kit, the terrorists will have won.  So I didn’t trouble you the first time it happened—or the second.

Even now, I don’t flinch every time I see that piece of paper that tells me you’ve selected my checked bag to be opened and searched.  Usually, you put things back in good order.  But this time I really think you’ve gone too far. 

I checked one small bag on my recent journey from Harrisburg to Omaha.  I did so not only because I wanted to bring shaving cream and aftershave and a Fusion razor in place of the electric one (see above), but also because my son, Jamie, has a nasty runny nose and needed to travel with Triaminic and Sudafed.  And again, I understand that you need to go through my toiletries bag for national security purposes.  Freedom isn’t free.

But when we arrived in Omaha and I unpacked, I found that the plastic zip-lock bag into which Janet had carefully placed Jamie’s meds (and into which I had re-placed them after giving him a dose of the Sudafed prior to checking in for our flight) was very messy.  Apparently, a member of your staff had gone through my toiletries kit, opened the medicine bag, and even opened the Sudafed itself, replacing the child-proof cap in a strangely haphazard manner that allowed a couple of teaspoons of Children’s Sudafed to spill into the bag.  Thankfully, this employee of yours then sealed the plastic zip-lock bag properly, or I would have had an entire toiletries kit soggy with Sudafed, and no Sudafed.

Amazingly enough, on the way back from Omaha to Harrisburg, another of your employees (I’m really hoping it wasn’t the same one) did it all again, opening my checked bag, my toiletries bag, my plastic zip-lock medicine bag, and the Sudafed bottle, replacing the cap badly yet again, leaving me once more with a plastic bag with a sticky purple liquid lining.  And much less Sudafed.  Oh, and that piece of paper informing me that my bag had been opened and inspected in the interests of safety.

So hey, hey, TSA, what’s going on with your staff these days?  Are some of them addicted to Children’s Sudafed?  Is someone poaching travelers’ Children’s Sudafed supplies and boiling ‘em up into Children’s Crystal Meth?  Or do they simply have nagging cold symptoms for which they need a bracing hit of my son’s over-the-counter medicine?

Like I say, I’m not given to idle complaints.  I don’t even mind cleaning up messes in my toiletries kit.  But, you know, Jamie really did need that Sudafed.  You should probably apologize to him for spilling so much of it.  And if you ever feel like replacing the bottle, that would be a nice gesture too.  In the meantime, I’ll send a version of this letter to your Got Feedback? page, referencing both the Harrisburg and Omaha airports.  Thanks for your attention.

Sincerely,
Michael

Posted by Michael on 11/17 at 08:36 AM
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Friday, November 14, 2008

Postcard from Omaha

Jamie and I are off to watch a team of Mavericks.  So much for all you Palinophobes who said there couldn’t be such a thing.

Posted by Michael on 11/14 at 06:28 PM
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