SpaceX & the Ghosts of Space Travel’s Past

Image of the SpaceX white space craft docking with the ISS. The nose cone has opened to reveal docking port.
The unmanned SpaceX “Crew Dragon” craft docking with the ISS in 2019. (NASA image)

This week, SpaceX will make history as its first manned flight will launch from Cape Canaveral on Thursday with the intent of delivering 2 astronauts – Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken – to the International Space Station (ISS). The crew capsule will remain docked to the ISS for an as yet undetermined amount of time, then ferry the astronauts back to earth, splashdown style. NASA is partnering with SpaceX to see this mission to success, but it will be the first private company launch into orbit, as well as the first (non-tourist) manned launch from the US since 2011. This is certainly exciting news, and will no doubt attract a lot of media attention, due to the novelty of the event and due to the truly weird, truly controversial SpaceX founder, Elon Musk.

What draws my attention to this, though, is the worrisome framing of this mission I have seen in a few high profile articles about the launch. Readers may remember that I am very interested in organizational culture, especially at NASA (read here and here), and in particular, the way their organizational culture lead to mistakes and tragedy like the Challenger accident. I am far less familiar with the organizational culture at SpaceX/Tesla/Musk’s Life, but given the behavior of Musk himself, I would not be surprised to learn it was Not Good. I just don’t have any research to go on either way.

What I do have are some articles discussing this launch that spend an inordinate amount of time on aesthetics and almost-complete testing on key components of the flight matériel. This all seems foreboding to me, so I’d like to break down the concerns I have about the way this mission is being framed in some media.

Continue reading
Posted in Organizational Culture | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Samurai, Ronin, Accountant?

Black and white image of the film poster for THE 47 RONIN; one samurai committing seppuku, and one kneeling next to him
Film poster for THE 47 RONIN

I recently watched Kenji Mizoguchi’s film The 47 Ronin, released in two parts in 1941 and 1942, and based on a play cycle written by  Seika Mayama. The film tells the historical tale of 47 (or 46, depending on the version of the tale) samurai who avenge their master’s death. That description is an oversimplification of the film’s plot, which I will summarize more thoroughly below, but I want to discuss the nature of samurai as depicted in the film – not as highly trained military men, but as “counselors” or “retainers,” as they are called in the film. Essentially, samurai became household administrators by the turn of the 18th century, when the action of The 47 Ronin takes place.

Continue reading
Posted in Pop Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using the Sacred to Calm the Profane

This is not going to be a post about COVID-19 and the unprecedented amount of upheaval and death it is causing in the US right now. You have plenty of news and social media sites for that.

This is not going to be a post about how to cope with suddenly teaching online or working from home. You have plenty of emails and instructions from your administrators for that. (Though I will just point out that if some of y’all had gotten on board or at least familiar with online pedagogy before now, it might be a smoother transition for you. That’s all.)

I just know that we are all feeling new and challenging amounts of stress and anxiety. No matter what you’re doing, you are under stress. This kind of stress is exhausting and upsetting and not at all easy to live with, day in and day out. So please – find something that works for you in helping to mitigate, even a little bit, the effects of stress on your body.

One thing I am diving into is religious choral music, specifically the albums of the Tallis Scholars. Their music can be found on most music streaming platforms. When I write and grade (especially if I am writing a lot of comments or revision notes on assignments), I need to listen to music without words, or with words I don’t understand. Enter: Latin! The Tallis Scholars are the preeminent singers of Renaissance/Early Modern polyphonic music. (Polyphony = different melodies sung simultaneously.)

It is lilting, calm, beautiful, and I don’t understand what they are singing, so it’s been perfect for these trying times. Additionally, the group is suffering financially right now, as they make their livings by constant touring, which is off the table right now, and so even streaming their stuff gives them some royalties. So give it a try! At first, don’t be surprised if all of the music sounds pretty much the same – that’s how I felt, as well. Over time, with repeated listens, the music makes itself more present to you, and you can discern the varied strands much more effectively. Try either 2015’s John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea/ Dum transisset Sabbatum I and II or 2007’s Allegri: Miserere/ Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli and Motets. Those are both very chill, very stunning compositions from start to finish.

But above all else, just get by. Just do your best, which is all any of us are (hopefully) doing. You were never prepared for this. You didn’t expect it. So don’t worry about not achieving great things right now. Staying healthy and present of mind is enough of a job as it is. So focus on that. You can do it.

The above mentioned 2015 album

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

New Article Published!

I’m happy to report that my latest article, “‘Were They the Ones We Were Waiting for?’: The TWWA and the Performance of Solidarity” has been published in the January 2020 issue of Theatre Survey.

This was a piece I worked on for quite a awhile, and it underwent significant revisions over the course of the publication process. The piece became much stronger through this process, and TS was a terrific journal to work with on it. It is exciting to finally see it all come together after so long!

You can see a preview of it here, or check with your institution/library.

Posted in Academia, scholarship, Theatre | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

2019 in Books

The last time I wrote up a post about what I read over the past year, it was for 2017! I really should have done this sooner – so the list that follows likely contains books I read in both 2018 and 2019, but mostly for the last year. It can be a real challenge for me to read during the school year, and I tend to focus mostly on non-fiction, since fiction is my daily teaching job. But it’s fun to review what I made time to read, and a list helps me recall what I learned and what I actually enjoyed!

Continue reading
Posted in Profession, Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Disappointing HARRIET

Over Thanksgiving break, I went with my sister to see the film Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons and starring Cynthia Erivo. After we left the theater, my sister asked, “why did I find that so disappointing?” Her point was that it is a compelling story – Harriet Tubman has one of the most exciting and significant lives in American history, after all – and a great cast of actors, so why wasn’t the film better? Overall, the film suffered from stilted dialogue and bafflingly fast pacing to get through Tubman’s narrative at the expense of interesting character development. However, the more glaring problems I had with the film really rested on its somewhat lukewarm historical treatment of real persons. The film wasn’t brave enough to be more fictional, and not precise enough to be truly historical. The result, in some cases, was an ethical lapse on the part of the filmmakers.

Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Quick Hit: From the Files of “You Just Can’t Win”

As I was reading the Eric Schlosser book Command and Control this summer, I came across the unusual story of a Cuban citizen named Eduardo Guerra Jimenez.

FBI Most Wanted poster for Eduardo Guerra Jimenez with Mug Shots
He’s still in Cuba, Probably. (from FBI dot gov)

In 1969, he flew a Soviet built MiG jet from Cuba to Florida, landing at Homestead Airfare Base. Schlosser was mainly interested in this event as an illustration of how poorly prepared and trained the Air Force has been at various times throughout history – Jimenez landed the plane not far from Air Force One, which had just brought President Richard Nixon to town and was refueling. No alarms sounded, no one saw the MiG on radar (apparently, he made the entire journey flying quite low over the ocean’s surface), and no one seemed to notice Jimenez’s arrival. But this story also points to other important issues in the US that are still pertinent, mainly those of immigration, extradition, and the war on drugs.

When Jimenez arrived in the US, he was initially hailed as a political dissident, although he later admitted he came to the US more for “personal reasons” having to do with a recent breakup rather than political reasons. Only in his mid-20s and having served in the Cuban military, Jimenez was ready to start a new life as a pilot in the US, but no airline would contact or hire him.. Later, he told The New York Times that although “the United States Government had provided him with a total of $4,000 during his first months in this country, he had never been able to find a ‘permanent, decent job’.” He did a series of jobs from dish washer to factory work to try and support himself and his dog, but ultimately couldn’t make ends meet. So he starting selling marijuana and got arrested by NYC cops in 1971. He maintained that he never sold harder drugs, only marijuana, and the charges against him were dropped because the police search that turned up the weed was deemed illegal.

Eventually, the lack of opportunity for Jimenez in the Land of Opportunity became too much for him to handle. In 1979, he hijacked a Delta flight to Fort Lauderdale and diverted it to Havana, Cuba. He surrendered to Cuban authorities once there. No one was hurt during the hijacking. The US decided not to seek extradition in 1979, but the FBI apparently still considers him a dangerous terrorist, to be considered armed and dangerous. Jimenez’s status remains unknown to the US, as far as I can tell.

This story just strikes me as a profoundly sad one – a young man risked everything to come to the US and despite years of struggle, ultimately made the equally risky choice to go back to his home country which he had once found impossible to live in. And because of our lack of resources, Jimenez sold marijuana to get by. And then we took even that away from him. How much better might his life have been had we helped him get meaningful work and find community?

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/1971/08/22/archives/cuban-pilot-who-flew-mig17-here-in-1969-is-acquitted-of-marijuana.html

https://www.nytimes.com/1979/06/13/archives/us-believes-hijacker-in-custody-in-havana-is-pilot-who-fled-cuba.html

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

White People: We Don’t Need to be Everywhere

Classic red & white street sign reading "DO NOT ENTER"
To my fellow whites:

This is a post directed at fellow white people – I want to talk a little bit about spaces created expressly for people of color (POC), and why we need to stuff any objections to these kinds of spaces. I know this is a tall order. After all, as white persons, we are pretty much able to go anywhere we want without worrying about racial harassment or police violence. And yet, that is precisely why we need to be understanding, sensitive, and even affirming of spaces that deliberately exclude white folks: because we don’t know what’s it’s like to exist in US society without this privilege of movement.

Before I jump in here let me make the following obvious disclaimer: I know white people can be victims of violence (particularly gun violence, which happens daily), and can thus be afraid of certain spaces. But, I think we both know that’s not relevant to this particular discussion, so let’s move on.

Continue reading
Posted in African American Lit, Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Daily Writing Achievement Unlocked!

I didn’t make this goal public, but last weekend I determined that I would write 5 blog posts this week, one each day, to jump start my writing habits for the summer. And while making the 5th blog post a reflection on this week is clearly a bit of a cheat, I am still celebrating reaching this goal. For a long time, I was very good at blogging every week, but work projects and general life slowed me down so much that I really put the blog on the back burner. I am hoping that with the start of the new school year in the fall, that I can be better at writing more often, and more effectively integrate my blog writing and other work.

I’ve also been thinking about what ideas I have that could be pitched to general audience outlets, and thought that some blog practice would help me think through ideas for pitches, but truthfully…I can’t think of anything. Yet. Also, I know I am something of a wordy writer and I need to find a bit more pizazz in my style if I ever want to interest non-academics in anything I have to say. So part of this week was about trying to focus a bit on that aspect of my writing. I don’t think I’ve cracked this particular problem, but I am going to keep working at it. (I’m sure that with fewer adverbs, fewer emdashes, and more active verbs, my writing would instantly improve.)

So at the end of this week of blogging, I feel like I succeeded at what I set out to do, even if I didn’t magically become the more versatile writer I hope to ultimately become. Practice still has benefits, even if it’s more like investments than instant win scratch offs.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

#CiteBlackWomen

As an academic, citations are a major part of my work and take up a significant amount of my writing time. There are different styles to adhere to depending on the publication venue for the work, checks and double checks to be made regarding page numbers and author names, and carefully considering how much to direct quote, how much to paraphrase, etc. Citations are work! But for a long time, I never considered the political and social impacts of the practice of citation. Who and what you cite is important, after all. What scholars are you relying on to support your argument? Whose arguments are you pushing back on? What texts represent the best examples for your analysis? These questions reveal that we tend to think of citations as a reflection of the “quality” of our work. In other words, we cite those scholars and texts which we think will make us look good and enhance our credibility. But we ought to think in the other direction, as well: who can we cite in order to bring attention to their work? How can we shine a light on the scholarship and art of others so that there is a reciprocal relationship between our work and theirs? Enter the philosophy and praxis of Cite Black Women, a movement that has encouraged me to think more carefully about citational politics.

girl reading book; painting with clean white name logo
Reading Toni Morrison’s _The Bluest Eye_

The organization formally got started in 2017, with t-shirts that said “cite black women” and has grown to include social media accounts, a hashtag, a website, and a fantastic podcast. According to citeblackwomencollective.org, the purpose of the movement is simple: “to motivate everyone, but particularly academics, to critically reflect on their everyday practices of citation and start to consciously question how they can  incorporate black women into the CORE of their work.”

Continue reading
Posted in Academia, Feminism, scholarship, Teaching | Tagged , , | Leave a comment