My American Airlines/Orbitz Hell

So I guess it makes sense to begin at the beginning. Since moving to Atlanta my wife and I have typically flown on Delta because this is a company town and it's been the path of least resistance.  No more doing two or three connections like we did in grad school, just to get the cheapest possible fare through Orbitz or Travelocity. I was supposed to attend a conference on "Smart Cities" at the University of Calgary on Thursday, August 17 through Sunday, August 20.  I was invited by my friend Eliot Tretter, who is a Geography professor and the author of a great book, to participate in an interdisciplinary discussion between historians, geographers, sociologists, political scientists and … [Read more...]

East Asian ToM: Five Days of Seoul

After the Korean War, Seoul, South Korea probably wouldn't have been listed as a ideal destination for summer travelers. U.S. occupation, the burdens of a civil war that cost nearly 375,000 Korean civilian lives, to say nothing of the 138,000 Korean soldiers who perished, and persistent food shortages amidst the wreckage of conflict did not make for a prime vacation spot. "Most of Seoul lay in ruins," Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Malcolm W. Browne remembered in his 1993 memoir, Muddy Boots and Red Socks. "The poverty was ubiquitous and obtrusive, and there was a constant danger of losing a wallet or camera to thieves." Decades of military rule followed as did the eventual transformation … [Read more...]

Gunning the Throttle for the Llano Estacado: The Epistemic Amarillo

The academic life is an itinerant one, and sometimes you find yourself moving to a place you never anticipated. This July I found myself packing up my stuff, for the fourth time since finishing my doctorate in mythical pre-crash 2008, getting ready for a 968-mile move to Amarillo, Texas. Unofficial capital of the Texas Panhandle—that West Virginia-sized protrusion on the northwest tip of the Lone Star State—the city takes its name from Amarillo Creek, which in turn borrows its name from the Spanish word for yellow. Originally spoken in a more Iberian way when the city was founded in the 1880s, the pronunciation has been phonetically Anglicized such that it rhymes with the English words … [Read more...]

The Hateful Fifteen: Dog Meat, Light Rail, Selma, and the Many Textures of Karachi

2015 was a big year for Tropics of Meta - we wrote about subways and parking lots, learned to ride a bike, and won a date with Tad Hamilton! (We also asked Mother if we could sleep with Danger, but she said no. It's hard to do frowny faces inside parentheses, which only compounds our frowny face.) But seriously, folks, a lot of good people sacrificed a lot to write a lot of good stuff and somehow bring Matt Damon back from whatever predicament he's in this time. We've heard about dog-meat panics in Tijuana, German economic theory and the Greek crisis, David Foster Wallace, light rail, Selma, and the geography of hipsterism over the last year.  We also did a pretty neat series on seeking … [Read more...]

Ciudad de Oro y Plata: Impressions of Mexico City

I am not exactly the world's most cosmopolitan traveler. I never got on a plane until I was twenty years old, and I've only really visited a handful of countries.  When my wife and I decided to go to Mexico City for a week this Fall, we went into it with some unwarranted assumptions.  The biggest city in the Western hemisphere, we thought, would likely be a dense, chaotic metropolis akin to Karachi or Bangkok. The stereotype of the overcrowded and congested Third World city loomed large in our minds, and Mexico City seemed like it would fit that pattern. Evidently, we were not alone in our assumptions. As journalist David Lida recalled in his 2008 book First Stop in the New World: Mexico … [Read more...]

Karachi: A Sensory History

Karachi is one of the world’s largest cities—by some measures, the second largest in terms of population, and likely the world’s biggest “Muslim” city. (In this way, it is like the Indonesia of cities.) More than twenty million people live in this messy, dynamic, fractured megalopolis, the center of Pakistan’s financial and media industries and a major commercial entrepôt on the Arabian sea. Pakistan itself has a population of close to 200 million people, making it sixth in the world, just behind Brazil and ahead of Nigeria. This fact reveals a sobering reality: as Bangladesh places eighth in total population, the Indian subcontinent of the former British Raj counts some 1,611,000,000 … [Read more...]

Christmas in Cambodia

"It's a Holiday in Cambodia, it's tough kid but it's life/It's a holiday in Cambodia, Don't forget to pack a wife," garbled the Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra on the 1980 punk tune "Holiday in Cambodia." As in the satirical and scathing "Kill the Poor," Biafra and the DK's used Cambodia as a symbol of decay and destruction, a region of the world subject to U.S. Christmas bombings and Khmer Rouge genocide.  Few places in the world represented the collapse of society  and civil law like the Southeast Asian nation in the late 1970s. Add to this the 1975 U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, replete with images of bedraggled helicopters escaping the American embassy in what was then Saigon and the economic … [Read more...]

Time, Fate, and the History of the Future in “Looper”

You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal. Time travel has not yet been invented but 30 years from now, it will have been. I am one of many specialized assassins in our present called loopers. So when criminal organizations in the future need someone gone, they zap them back to me and I eliminate the target from the future. Loopers are well paid. We live the good life and the only rule is never let your target escape, even if your target is you. My furtive love for the dystopian sci-fi genre is no secret to regular readers of ToM.  Children of Men is, to me, the superlative example of how to explore contemporary social issues and cultural anxieties by telling stories about the … [Read more...]

Life in the Fast Lane: An American Catholic’s Experience of Ramadan

Photo by Nathan Hartle Ramadan, while quite familiar to well over one billion Muslims, represents a religious practice more universal and extreme than most Americans have ever experienced. The rules of the month-long fast are intimidating; during daylight hours, participants are not allowed to eat, drink any kind of liquid, smoke or have sex. For Muslims, the month of fasting represents a chance for self-reflection and to practice self-discipline. For a non-Muslim in a Muslim country, the experience of Ramadan is eye-opening. I was a visitor in Morocco during the month of Ramadan in 2011. I had never been to a place so religiously monochromatic—about 99% of the population of Morocco is … [Read more...]

On the Importance of Catching Deviates at the Bus Station

With the recent repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell in mind, we pulled this article out of our Annals of Insanity folder.  Published in the Los Angeles Times on December 29th, 1965 -- almost exactly 45 years ago -- the news item reports on a controversial program of the Tallahassee police force to use college students to inform on gay men.  For weeks before the report, Tallahasseans had heard rumors of a police program to employ students as spies on local "deviates."  The police chief, Frank Stoutamire, confirmed reports, saying that students were paid $10 a piece and worked in "teams" of two or three, mostly around the city's bus station -- "a popular hangout for homosexuals," according to the … [Read more...]