e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Warhol at the Y

The long row of television monitors at the YMCA has always struck me as a Warhol-like spectacle. They emanate no sound, only de-contextualized visuals. Most frequently, the talking heads of ESNP or FoxNews. Silkscreen the series of Bill O'Reilly heads...pure Warhol.

Add the treadmills to the canvas and the spectacle becomes less Warhol and more Orwell. Remember the two-minutes hate from the opening sequence of 1984? Winston Smith's morning dose of anti-Emmanuel Goldstein propaganda? The line of bleary-eyed treadmill afficionados at the Y stare at the monitors and WALK, WALK FASTER, RUN.

Images from the soundless (my batteries went dead) morning news: Robert Blake's attorney wearing what looked like a tuxedo in the courtroom (Warhol again). A report about a painkiller's deadly side effects followed by a commercial for that same painkiller (Warhol again).


best of '04

Let me add to the year-end-music-geek-list-making cacophony...


1. "99 Problems" by Jay-Z. Jay-Z uses a tired hip hop trope: The Run-In With the Law. But he manages to make that trope fresh because, well, he understands narrative poetry. Not to mention dialogue: "My glove compartment's locked/so is the trunk and the back./And I know my rights so you gon' need a warrant for that."/"Aren't you sharp as a tack?/Are you some type of lawyer or something?/Somebody important or something?"/"Nah I ain't passed the bar but I know a little bit./Enough that you won't illegally search my shit." If you doubt Jay-Z's skills, try to sing along.

2. "Alive and Amplified" by The Mooney Suzuki. This is like Lenny Kravitz meets "Jesus Christ Superstar" meets the Sanford&Son theme.

3. "Monkey Man" by The Rolling Stones, off their latest cash cow, err, live album. Next to "Dead Flowers" this is my favorite RS song, and the new live version is brilliant. Creepy piano effect, slide guitar, and paranoid lyrics. If you don't mind making a contribution to the RS empire, give i-tunes your .99 for this one.

4. "An Open Letter to NYC" by Beastie Boys. Their new album was so-so but this was the stand-out track thanks to the sample of "Sonic Reducer" by the Dead Boys.

5. N*E*R*D--Fly or Die. My favorite album of the year. The most diverse thing I've heard in a while, alternating between funk, bubblegum pop, psychedelia, and hardcore punk.

6. "Take Me Out" by Franz Ferdinand. This is why music snobs need to stop bad-mouthing 80s new wave pop. Catchy, loud, and post-punk, this is a song that could have been on heavy rotation on MTV in 1981.

7. Northern State--All City. Why aren't Northern State huge? This is why I'd make a lousy record executive...because I'd have predicted this would be the biggest album of the summer. Stand-out tracks: "Girl for All Seasons," and "Last Night." Far-left politics mixed with hip hop party anthems...what more could anyone ask for?

8. Danger Mouse--The Grey Album. Absolutely worthy of the hype. DM mashes up the Beatles' White Album and Jay Z's Black Album..get it? Okay, the titular pun is cheesy, but the final product rocks, especially the "Glass Onion"-sampling "Encore" and the "December 4" remix fueled by "Blackbird." One of the (many) strokes of brilliance here is the thematic unity of the pairings. "Glass Onion" and "Encore" are both about fame. "December 4" and "Blackbird" both tackle coming-of-age. This is William Burroughs's cut-up method with a beat.

9. "Might as Well" by Something for Rockets. I think this is only available of SFR's website. This song reminds me of Joe Jackson. Just a really pretty keyboard-heavy tune. SFR's headed up by the son of Itzhak Perlman and the classical influence shows. I wish commercial radio played songs like this.

10. (tie) "Toxic" by Britney Spears and "Neighborhood #2" by Arcade Fire. The commercial juggernaut's best single. Britney must have heard Travis' cover of "Baby One More Time" and realized that guitars aren't completely incompatible with her bubbly confections. Can't believe she went and followed this up with that crappy cover. Yikes. The Arcade Fire song, like the SFR track above, is another pretty song that you won't hear on the radio. A huge critical success, though, and we're surely going to hear more from them. Bonus points for being Canadian.


Democrats bashing Moore

Matt Taibbi at alternet has a great piece on how factions of the democratic party are blaming Michael Moore for Kerry's loss. The Democratic Leadership Council has decided that Moore and "Hollywood liberals" (and we should be very afraid when the left starts blindly adopting the epithets of the far-right) are dragging down the democrats. Taibbi, speaking about Moore's "Farenheit 911," points out that
...it was, according to exit polls, a much better demographic success than the actual Democratic party. A Harris poll conducted in July found that 89 percent of Democrats agreed with "Fahrenheit 9/11," along with 70 percent of independents. That means Moore outperformed John Kerry among independents by about 19 points, if we are to go just by the data presented by bum-licking power-worshipper Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times at the DLC roundtable.

This worries me a great deal. Michael Moore is *exactly* the kind of voice (a pro-labor, class-conscious, patriotic critic of the media, unchecked corporate power, and senseless war) we on the left should be embracing. Why do democrats think they can win by out-republicaning the republicans? At every turn, dems run to the right, thinking they can pull a Reagan and attract voters from the other side. What Michael Moore, Howard Dean, and Dennis Kucinich recognize is that there's a humongous segment of the population (lots of working people, lots of underemployed and disenfranchised individuals) that doesn't vote--tap them, not the knuckleheads who think that critical thinking and social commentary are marks of anti-Americanism.

Some democrats and progressives are making a similar mis-step in terms of looking at Bush's popularity with "religious" voters, concluding, for example, that the left needs to prove its own viability as a choice for voters who've "got religion." Leave organized religion and religious beliefs out of the political sphere. You want a society whose public policy is based on religious beliefs? So does the Taliban.


buried under paper but tapping my toes

I find myself in the midst of the second-to-last week of the semester. With the term's end comes the inevitable rush of papers. First drafts of multi-genre essays. IRB proposals from the master's students. Student evaluation forms. Dossiers from applicants for our job opening. To-do lists composed on legal pads during five-minute bursts while students freewrite. I wade into my office instead of walking into it during the final weeks of any given semester.

Good background music for these weeks:
1. The Swell Maps. Great punk rock music. At times as snotty and simple as the Dils or Dead Boys...but at other points they show an appreciation for keyboards, melodies, and various odd sound f/x. Highpoint: "HS Art" from their '79 debut A Trip to Marineville. Inspring lyric: "Do you believe in art?"

2. U2's new album. Not their best work (didya expect it to be?), but I love the "Vertigo" single (i-pod shilling and annoying ubiquity nonwithstanding), as well as "Love and Peace Or Else." Early reviews suggested the album might be a return to their early-80s guitar band mode. It's not. More like a continuation down the earnest path of All That You Can't Leave Behind. Only complaint (and it's the same complaint I had about the new REM disc): how about some more fast tunes? After all, I'm wading through a stack of rough drafts here!



1. Read Elmore Leonard's newest novel, Mr. Paradise, over the weekend. Definitely not his best work, but was I ever left with a serious case of Detroit nostalgia afterward.

2. Speaking of motown...this a.m. I had my English 112 students look at a few analyses of Friday's Pistons-Pacers brawl and compare them in light of Matthew Arnold's "Culture and Anarchy," which they read (and seemed to enjoy!) over the weekend. Good discussion of what Arnold means by "the pursuit of sweetness and light."

3. Finishing up revisions of my article, "Two-Year Colleges, the Media, and the Rhetoric of Inevitability," to submit to Community College Journal of Research and Practice. Almost ready to send. If it's not in the mail by Wednesday at this time, the tenure gods will surely be frowning in my general direction.


Santo Domingo

Good eats right here in Hamilton, Ohio. A Caribbean restaurant, Santo Domingo, opened a few months back at Third and Pershing and we finally checked it out this afternoon. The kind of lunch that makes me guilty I didn't hit the Y this morning. But my was it tasty! I got the peppered steak, which came with mounds of onions and a bigger mound of dirty rice with black beans. The woman who runs the place, sensing we had never been there, brought us a few samples of their other items, including some ox tail. We'll definitely be back.

Last night saw Miami's production of "Hair." Definitely dated, but I've always liked the music, particularly the "Frank Mills" ballad that the Lemonheads covered in the early 90s. I doubt the irony of staging the show at this cultural moment was lost on anyone in attendance. Smack dab in the middle of Butler County, where well over 2/3 of voters supported Issue 1 two weeks ago, and we're celebrating love and acceptance. So it was a bittersweet performance.


anti-Catholic activist endorses Bush win


Bob Jones: Bush win was God's 'reprieve'

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Nov. 12, 2004 | GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) -- Bob Jones III, president of the fundamentalist college that bears his name, has told President Bush he should use his electoral mandate to appoint conservative judges and approve legislation "defined by biblical norm.''

"In your re-election, God has graciously granted America -- though she doesn't deserve it -- a reprieve from the agenda of paganism,'' Jones wrote Bush in a congratulatory letter posted on the university's Web site.

"You have been given a mandate. ... Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ,'' said the letter, dated Nov. 3.

A White House spokesman said he didn't know whether the president had seen the letter.

Jonathan Pait, a spokesman for the university, said the letter was placed on the school's Web site because Jones had read it to students in chapel and many told their parents about it. He said Thursday that Jones had not received a response from the White House.

Pait said it would be a misreading of the letter to think that ``everyone who voted for the Democrats is a pagan'' or that "if you voted for John Kerry you are a despiser of Christ.''

"For example, there are those who voted for John Kerry because they opposed the war in Iraq,'' Pait said. ``Dr. Jones did not intend to paint everyone with that broad a brush.''

Jones wrote that Bush will "have the opportunity to appoint many conservative judges and exercise forceful leadership with the Congress in passing legislation that is defined by biblical norm regarding the family, sexuality, sanctity of life, religious freedom, freedom of speech and limited government.''

In February 2000, Bush spoke at Bob Jones University when he was running for his first term in the White House. At the time, the school banned interracial dating and included anti-Roman Catholic material on its Web site.

The private Christian college has since dropped the dating ban but still maintains on its Internet site material questioning Catholicism.

Bush came under fire for the visit but defended it. He later wrote Cardinal John O'Connor of New York to apologize.


Iraqi civilian death toll

The U.S. military doesn't track the number of Iraqi civilians who die, but a team from Johns Hopkins does. Since the U.S. invaded Iraq, 100,000 *civilians* have been killed. Iraq was a volatile place before the invasion, but the report also found that the risk of violent death for civilians is now 58 times greater than it was pre-invasion. Story here: http://www.progressive.org/webex04/wx110104.html


the acceptance of prejudice

Why do we reject some forms of racism and prejudice and accept others? Hating gay people and Arab/Muslim people is not only widespread, it's condoned, it's righteous and it's all-American.

Seven days ago, eleven states passed ballot initiatives banning gay marriage. If I hear a million pundits (mis)use the word "morality" or claim these initiatives have a thing to do with "protecting marriage," I won't believe it. This was about hate and nothing more. These are modern day miscegenation laws, heirs of the prohibitions of inter-racial marriage, laws which were justified in the American south using the very same arguments: "we need to protect the institution of marriage," "God wants it this way," "this is how we want to do things in our state." Words spoken only two generations ago about black people marrying white people. Words spoken today about gay people marrying each other.

Gay people are still allowed to enter into relationships with one another; these referendums do nothing to stop homosexuality in general. They just discourage monogamy and commitment. Think about that. Defenders of morality in this country are now fighting *against* monogamy and commitment.

How is this protecting marriage? Marriage in this country is a state-sanctioned institution that brings with it material benefits. If an individual religious denomination wants to refuse to marry gay people, that's one thing (I'm sorry that those who run these churches choose to do this, but individual churches may opt to do just that). But straight people who just met are allowed to get married in Elvis chapels. Is that "moral"? And when the state bans certain groups from marrying, those groups are cut out of various tax breaks, incentives, and health care benefits. Yet these states expect gay people to continue to pay taxes and otherwise contribute to society, all the while being denied a right based on a fundamental identity marker.

The majority has spoken. The people in these states should set their own courses. Right? Well we are also a country that protects against the tyrrany of the majority. The American South thought that if a majority of their citizens supported their "peculiar institution of slavery," then they should be able to maintain slavery. How is this different?

It all comes back to "morals" and references to de-contextualized quotations from Hebrew scriptures. Personally, I and my own faith tradition (Catholicism), question from a theological standpoint the notion of literal interpretation of scriptures, which in addition to condemning homosexuality, dictate how one should go about selling daughters into slavery, forbid eating pork, and issue loads of other mandates. So I think any Christian who claims they interpret scriptures literally inevitably doesn't interpet ALL of scripture literally. But those are theological debates and it's up to individuals to decide what theology makes sense to them.

However, does anybody in this country *really* want to make LAWS based on what these scriptures say? Then eating pork should be illegal, too.

Seems like a ridiculous notion, right? A silly example, right? We also last week elected new legislators who don't think gay people should be teachers. Two of them also don't think single women should be allowed to be teachers. So I'm not sure that my own examples are necessarily too far beyond the realm of what's unfolding before our eyes.

The other acceptable form of hatred is anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment. First of all the vast majority of Muslims in the world are not Arabic, so it's ridiculous that we link these two groups so closely. Ann Coulter recently spoke here at Miami University and she argued with much passion in favor of racial profiling, especially when the race being profiled is Arab. So much for the idea that only liberals are permitted on college campuses, eh? Examples of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment are legion. Often the hatred is guided by so much confused and misguided anger and hostility and ignorance, it makes the head spin (the Sikh man who was killed days after 9/11 in Arizona--who was neither Muslim nor Arabic, but because of his turban, he was assumed to be both).

Recently, there's been an e-mail campaign to boycott the U.S. Post Office's new Eid stamp, which celebrates the holiday ending Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. The e-mail circulating about this boycott questions why we'd celebrate the religion that bombed us. Think about that. What if there was a boycott against a Christmas stamp because it celebrates the religion that lynched black people in the American south and led the Crusades (the ones in the Middle Ages where Christians slaughtered Muslims). What is interesting about this e-mail campaign is that it urges "patriotic" folks to forward the message and take part in the boycott. You know, it's one thing when a form of hatred becomes accepted. It's another thing when NOT taking part in the hatred is *un*acceptable. Prove you're a real American, this e-mail campaign implicitly says, and help us fight the enemy.

We're living in an historically significant era, without a doubt. I want to look back on this dark period and know that I did something to fight against these forms of prejudice that are accepted and condoned by both our public discourse as well as by our public policy. And make no mistake, the way we talk and the way we legislate ARE linked. Marlon Riggs' excellent documentary "Ethnic Notions" (go get this at your local library right now!!) makes the case that the U.S. has historically witnessed a convergence of discourse and policy. Riggs' film looks at images of African-Americans in popular culture (jokes and comic books and films and advertisements and minstreal shows) and dissects familiar stereotypes like the mammy, arguing that these discursive and pop cultural expressions at once mirrored, influenced, justified horrific legislation.


wake up

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter" --Martin Luther King Jr.

"Dawn does not come twice to awaken a man" --Arab proverb


ten greatest halloween songs

10. Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)
9. Back in Black (AC/DC)
8. Frankenstein (New York Dolls)
7. Dirty Creature (Split Enz)
6. I Want Candy (The Strangeloves)
5. Hellhound on My Trail (Robert Johnson)
4. Paint It Black (Rolling Stones)
3. Bela Lugosi's Dead (Bauhaus)
2. The Witch (The Sonics)
1. I Put A Spell on You (Screaming Jay Hawkins)

happy listening...and happy halloween

bourbon at the border

Last night saw Miami U's production of "Bourbon at the Border," a moving tragedy about a husband and wife who were civil rights organizers in college and were scarred by a series of horrific experiences in 1964 Mississippi. I hadn't been to an intimate performance in some time (the theatre department staged "Bourbon" on one of its experimental stages for an audience of about fifty) and wasn't prepared to be sucked into the drama--which tends to happen when one sits at arm's length from the performers. The action takes place in mid-1990s Detroit in the couple's apartment, where they try to make peace with their memories and figure out how to support each other in their desperate attempts to cope. I don't know anything about the playwrite--Pearl Cleage--but I'd like to learn more about her. Readers in the area should check out the show, which runs through this coming weekend in Oxford.


theft as political discourse

Two nights ago my “Kerry-Edwards 2004” yard sign was stolen from the front yard of my Hamilton home. The Butler County Democratic Party headquarters informed me that they’ve been getting multiple phone calls on a daily basis reporting similar thefts.

Is this how divided we have become as a society? Do some among us consider theft a legitimate form of political discourse? I would love for one of my neighbors or fellow Hamilton citizens to have stopped me in my driveway to ask me why I support the Kerry-Edwards ticket. Instead, someone chose to steal my property.

A conversation between two individuals of differing opinions opens up possibilities for a free exchange of ideas, for mutual understanding, and perhaps even for finding common ground. Stealing a yard sign silences an opposing point of view. Have we become so entrenched in our support of our own side that we want to silence the other side?

Sadly, it seems that much of our political discourse takes on a similar tone. When President Bush uses rhetoric like “You’re either with us or against us,” I fear he’s attempting to squelch dissenting perspectives (indeed, the current situation in Iraq suggests the president—and the nation—would have benefited from listening carefully to multiple points of view). When hosts of cable television news programs tell guests to “shut up,” I fear they have compromised the ideals of democratic, free expression. When GOP volunteers registering new voters tear up registration cards of likely Kerry-Edwards supporters (which happened in Nevada), I fear those individuals have spit upon the most fundamental of our civic duties in this country.

We all need to ask ourselves if we are pleased with the level of political discourse in the U.S. No matter how fervently you support your side, the ends do not justify the means. Talk to your neighbors. Discuss the issues. Seek out multiple sources of information. Speak out in support of the issues and candidates of your choice. But don’t engage in discourse or actions that silence the other side. That’s not what democracy looks like.

Jon Stewart on Crossfire

If you missed this much-discussed appearance, watch it online:



academics' donations to political campaigns

Right-winger David Brooks wrote an interesting NYTimes column back on September 11, 2004 about how "spreadsheet" people vote GOP and "paragraph" people vote for dems. Simplistic and unsubstantiated--no surprise for something from the mainstream press. Here's a response that's been making e-mail rounds in academe.

Letter to the Editor of the New York Times:

When the 'Spreadsheet People' Go to Vote
Published: September 14, 2004, Tuesday

To the Editor:

David Brooks notes that academics give overwhelmingly to Democrats and
attributes that to their mushy post-modernism, as opposed to those more
rational ''number'' people in business.

At M.I.T., 94 percent of campaign giving was to the Democrats. What does
Mr. Brooks think the people at M.I.T. do? Does he think that the electrical
engineers, computer scientists, roboticists, biologists and economists run
screaming from numbers and sit around reading Derrida?

Academia is full of very smart people earning very little money relative to
what they could earn. They are curious people, dedicated to pursuing the
truth and teaching others.

Business is full of very smart people whose sole responsibility is to make
money, for stockholders and themselves. The first group supports Democrats.
The second group supports Republicans. Draw your own conclusion.

Andrew Milne
Atlanta, Sept. 11, 2004

Published: 09 - 14 - 2004 , Late Edition - Final , Section A , Column 5 ,
Page 22


Abort, Retry, Fail

Final presidential debate last night. In a night of insipid questions (What have you learned from your wives?), Bob Shieffer's strangest question must have been his query about some Catholic bishops' claims that a vote for Kerry is immoral due to his position on abortion. It's a fair question in another context, but doesn't lend itself to the debate format. First of all, when a question references something so specific about only one candidate, how should the other guy spend his ninety seconds? The question set Bush up to comment on Kerry's faith and Catholic theology. Aloha, non sequitur. I'm reminded of Gwen Ifil's question to John Edwards about why Edwards ought to be a heartbeat away. When his rebuttal time came, Dick Cheney, rightly baffled, asked, "You want ME to answer a question about his qualifications?" The debate questions should all address issues.

CNN's Paul Begala mused about the one-sided nature of the question, and suggested that Shieffer ought to ask Bush what he thinks of the Pope's condemnation of the Iraq War. (If the media' so liberal, why didn't they pick up on the fact that the Pope unequivocally renounced the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a direct violation of just-war theory?) An interesting thought, though I think a better way to balance the query about the Bishops would have been to ask Bush why abortion is still legal in this country. The party that cares for the "culture of life" (Iraqi civilians nonwithstanding) controls all three branches of the federal government, and Roe v. Wade remains legal. All those single issue voters have got to feel disgruntled, no?

Bush completely sidestepped the question about whether he wants to overturn Roe. Shieffer's question was direct: "Would you like to overturn Roe v. Wade?" Bush's response: "What he's asking me is, will I have a litmus test for my judges." I don't think that's what he was asking! If Bush is taking the moral high ground on this issue, why can't he answer the question directly? He wants to have it both ways. He throws pro-life republicans and democrats (including the aforementioned single-issue voters) a bone with the "litmus test" business and they fool themselves into believing they're placing a moral vote. Meanwhile, he also satisfies pro-choice republicans (like his mother, who in her memoir wrote: "abortion is a personal issue--between the mother, father, and doctor," and who praised the fact that pro-choice GOP-ers spoke at the GOP convention), who correctly surmise that whether Bush or Kerry end up in the White House, abortion will remain legal.


Armchair Pundit Challenge

Bloggers, Amateur Pundits, Interested Parties:

Head over to www.julienne.com and play the Armchair Pundit Challenge. Julienne is the brainchild of my good friend Jeff. Each March, the site hosts a NCAA tourney contest. But this year Jeff and company have pundit fever. Here's how it works: Go to the site and pick which states you think will go red and which states you think will go blue. The contest is just for fun, so no wagering please. Bragging rights (and maybe the future of the free world) are the only things on the line. If he runs this like he runs his basketball contest, Jeff will offer amusing analysis of folks' picks. Have fun...


illusive truth

Dick Cheney at last night's debate: "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11."

A few of the many times Dick Cheney made that very connection:
"I think there's overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government." [National Public Radio, "Morning Edition," 1/22/04]

"If we're successful in Iraq… we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base… of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." [NBC, Meet the Press, 11/14/03]

Salon.com reports this a.m. that another of Cheney's zingers was less than truthful:

Cheney's best line came midway through the debate. It just happened to be false. Minimizing Edwards' political experience, Cheney said: "The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight." Edwards didn't call Cheney on it -- another missed opportunity -- but his wife did. Before Cheney left the debate stage, Elizabeth Edwards told the vice president that he had indeed met Edwards before, at a Senate prayer breakfast. Minutes after the debate ended, the Kerry-Edwards campaign circulated a photo showing Edwards and Cheney at the breakfast together.


Vote For Change Tour

Before Saturday I had never seen Bruce Springsteen live but, obviously, had heard tales of the marathon shows. At the moveon.org Vote For Change stop in Cleveland Saturday night, Sprinsteen proved that he and his band want everybody in the house to enjoy the show. Throughout their set, they engaged every corner of Gund Arena (Nicole and I should know--our seats were *behind* the stage), frequently playing to the sides and to the rear. And did they rock! John Fogerty came out and joined Bruce and company for some old CCR songs. Michael Stipe came out and sang "Because the Night," returning the favor after Bruce joined R.E.M. earlier in the evening, doing "Man on the Moon" as a duet with Stipe. The R.E.M. set seemed a little anemic, like the band's starting to show its age. The Springsteen duet was a highlight, as was the jangly "Life and How To Live It," one of the few 'oldies' they performed. And Stipe is still one of the brilliant frontmen in rock&roll, commanding the stage like a shy dictator. But some of the between-song banter dragged and I found myself wishing the band would speed things up to make room for another number or two. (Probably an unfair criticism. After all, when you see a band you've listened to for years you're inevitably going to grouse about glaring ommissions. "What..no 'Gardening at Night'?!!) Evening's highlight was certainly the finale, with the whole cast returning to the stage for a rollicking "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding" and Patti Smith's "People Have the Power." Both became crowd sing-alongs. Excellent.


well-rehearsed boys (mostly) making nice

Yes, of course last night's debate was a tucked-in, orchestrated affair. I, too, struggled to listen to the candidates' words, as visions of focus groups telling them what color ties to wear danced in my head. And after all the nastiness, hearing Bush and Kerry say nice things about each others' families couldn't have seemed more disengenuous.

Best zinger: Kerry, speaking of Bush's decision to send Afghani troops into the mountains after a cornered bin Laden, said, "He outsourced that job too."

Most defensive moment: Talking about seeking support from the U.N., Bush emphasized, "So I went to the United Nations. I didn't need anybody to tell me to go to the United Nations. I decided to go there myself."

Contradiction that the mainstream media won't point out: Bush proudly touted going to war despite the U.N.'s objections and, minutes later, defended those actions by saying that Iraq didn't listen to U.N. mandates. So, Iraq must listen to the U.N., but the U.S. doesn't have to listen to U.N.? Gee, I can't understand why the international community resents the United States.

Tomorrow: road trip to Cleveland for the second night of the moveon.org Vote For Change tour: Bright Eyes, R.E.M., and Bruce Springsteen, at Gund Arena in Cleveland. Can't wait.



-Inspring Kerry House Party on Saturday night. Pat Runyan, a swift boat crewmate of Kerry's was the featured speaker. Not a professional speaker or a politician, just a guy speaking from the heart about service. Lots of fired up democrats. Talked a few people into joining me at phone banking this coming week. Yea!

-I Read David Sedaris' Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim over the weekend. Funny stuff, at times a bit disturbing. Wish that I could write about the everyday with such intense honesty. Sedaris relates amusing anecdotes, mostly about growing up and rejecting his family's suburban values. Couldn't help but compare to Jonathan Franzen's How to Be Alone: Essays, which I profoundly disliked. Whereas Franzen uses irony to articulate contempt for middle America, Sedaris manages to express critique with a sense of affection. Still, couldn't help but imagine his siblings wincing with every story of dysfunction Sedaris drags down from the dusty rafters.

-Just starting to read Mike Rose's The Mind at Work, which I'm reviewing for Rhetoric Review. Interesting analysis of the cognitive skills that American workers expend on a daily basis.

-When is the new John Waters film coming to Cinci?!!!


Yo La Tengo

Friday night at Newport Kentucky's Southgate House I saw Yo La Tengo for the first time and I don't think I've ever seen a more earnest band. Through their nearly-three-hour set, the New Jersey rockers never cracked a smile, even during cheeky covers like "I'm Your Puppet" and Devo's "Beautiful World." This is a band that loves rock&roll and tends to forget that a club full of people is watching them. At several points, I'm not certain guitarist Ira Kaplan knew anyone else was in the room--not the fans, not his bandmates--as he seemed to commune with his guitar. Kaplan makes seemless moves from fuzzy, feedback-drenched solos to 60s garage pop dittys to ambient background noise that begs audience members to strike up a mid-show conversation. In short, a great, great show.

The trio had miscelaneous players augmenting their usually stripped-down sound and the effect was a layered drone (through most of the set, at least three electric guitars were blaring). Without explanation (and, of course, without any acknowledgment of the absurdity), Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen backed up the band as a proficient second drummer. At several points, the band left the stage while Armisen did a little improv. Kaplan introduced a camoflauge-and-fake-beard clad Armisen as Saddam Hussein and Armisen inexplicably adopted a British accent and played Hussein as an aspiring punk musician, espousing Stiff Little Fingers and "your Ramones." Bizarre. Before the show, I ran into Armisen and told him I liked his stuff on SNL. He pointed at my (admittedly nerdy) glasses, those of my friend Jay, and then his own, and said: "Nerds back in school, right?" And with a macho fist pump to his chest, left us with the phrase "full effect." A fine evening.


Quoting Dubya

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB/GYN's aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country." Sept. 6, 2004, Poplar Bluff, Mo.

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." Aug. 5, 2004 Washington, D.C.

"I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein." May 25, 2004, Washington, D.C.

"I'm also not very analytical. You know I don't spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things." June 4, 2003, Aboard Air Force One



Michael Moore's latest column is great.

Latest Ohio Numbers

The University of Cincinnati Institute for Policy Research has released its latest poll and the numbers aren't good. In Ohio, Bush leads Kerry by eleven percent among likely Ohio voters. Eleven percent! Our state has lost 163,500 manufacturing jobs alone since Bush took office. W's response to Ohio's unemployed:
When a good or service is produced more cheaply abroad, it makes more sense to import it than to provide it domestically.
Gee, thanks.

Kerry will stop awarding government contracts to companies who send jobs overseas and give tax credits to companies that remain loyal to their employees. John Kerry's not the perfect candidate, but he's got a plan to fight for good jobs.

The UC numbers are full of interesting tidbits about where Ohioans stand. Among women, Kerry leads Bush 50 to 49. Among African-Americans, Kerry leads Bush 92 to 3! Among 18-29-year-old, Kerry leads Bush 64 to 29. Among voters in urban counties, Kerry leads Bush 51 to 44. Talk about polarized. These are the "two Americas" that Edwards has been speaking about for months.


Another Voter Registration Update

Day one of the project: 62 new voters
Day two: 25 new voters
Day Three: 23 new voters

Total--110 New Voters from the Miami University Hamilton community. Way to go, English 225 students! Stay tuned for pictures, which I'll post next week.

Losing the Battle with Terror

John Gershman at AlterNet reports today that
George W. Bush's avowed efforts to combat terrorism have weakened international institutions and squandered global goodwill toward the U.S.

The Iraq War has actually spawned a new front in what Bush likes to label as the U.S. war on terror, and provided a handy recruiting tool for terrorists while diverting resources from essential measures needed to ensure the nation's security.

Picture this: the U.S. government spends more every three days on the Iraq war than it has in three years on the security of the country's 361 commercial seaports.

As it lards up military spending to wage the Iraq War, the administration's 2004 budget cut $2 billion from crime prevention and public safety programs. The proposed 2005 budget slashed $805 million from emergency responders. Federal, state, and local first responder funding will fall short by about $100 billion over the next five years, according to a Council on Foreign Relations report.

Read entire article here.


Iraq Roundup--Including Some Must-Reads

The situation in Iraq continues to worsen.

In its first large-scale report (summed up for the Bush administration in a fifty-page "intelligence estimate") on Iraq since October 2002, the CIA has laid out three possible scenarios for Iraq, all of which are grim. The report suggests that new developments in Iraq could lead to civil war. Even the best-case scenario is characterized by a lack of economic stability (which means more American tax dollars), political stability (which means longer U.S. control and, hence, more resentment and hatred in the region directed at the U.S.), and overall security (which means more insurrections taking the lives of U.S. soldiers). Read full coverage of the report at the New York Times, which quotes various Republicans and Democrats who have grown pessimistic about any hope for "success" (what would a success even look like at this point?). Of course we now know that the last "intelligence estimate" was full of erroneous information on Iraq, but Bush has told us that the intel. community has improved since then.

Meanwhile, the White House wants to "re-direct" (which sounds better than divert) $3.46 billion (that's BILLION, not million) of the $87 billion Iraq appropriation away from public works money (many Iraqi citizens are still without water and electricity that they lost during coalition air strikes) to use for security. The move, according to senate republicans (!), is an embarrasing admission of how misguided the Iraq "plan" was. NYTimes reports:
The Bush administration's plans to divert $3.46 billion in Iraq reconstruction funds for security could increase dangers in the long run, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Wednesday.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., also said the slow pace of spending on reconstruction ``means that we are failing to fully take advantage of one of our most potent tools to influence the direction of Iraq.''
The NYTimes report goes on to say:
Lugar said the reconstruction spending is important for winning the support of Iraqis. Efforts to improve security should be aimed at allowing the projects to proceed, he said.

``If the shift of these funds slows down reconstruction, security may suffer in the long run. In short, security and reconstruction must be achieved simultaneously,'' he said.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., described the request as ``an acknowledgment that we are in deep trouble.''

Democrats and Republicans said the request demonstrates the administration's poor planning for the war and its unrealistic optimism that U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators and that Iraqis could pay for their own reconstruction.

Lugar criticized ``the blindly optimistic people'' inside and outside the administration. ``The lack of planning is apparent,'' he said.

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the panel's top Democrat, said ``It's incompetence, from my perspective, looking at this.''
Do read the full story.

Kofi Annan reiterated publicly his assertion that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal. We invaded Iraq for U.N. violations--yet our invasion of the country was itself such a violation! Oy.

Today's salon.com has the most damning piece on the Iraq quagmire that I've read. Sid Blumenthal talks to several retired generals, including the former heads of U.S. Central Command and the National Security Agency, who concur that not only have U.S. efforts been misguided (no news there), but that our actions in Iraq have strengthened both al-Qaida and Iran. This is a must-read. Here's the link. For those of you who aren't regular salon.com readers, you must watch a brief advertisement in order to get a free day pass to view salon stories. Bad enough that many Americans (because of Bush's generic use of the phrase "war on terrorism" to refer to the Iraqi invasion and occupation) are under the mistaken notion that Iraq had something to do with 9/11--now many experts (not lefties like me, but military leaders) are arguing that by occupying holy cities and imposing western secularism and killing civilians we are providing fodder for al-Qaida recruiters all over the mideast.

Speaking of the Bushies' misleading Iraq-9/11 rhetoric, hope many of you saw Jon Stewart last night. Stewart played the video of the Rumsfeld news conference where he kept saying "Saddam Hussein" when he meant "Osama bin-Laden." "We haven't seen Saddam Hussein since 2001," etc. Hysterical. I hope Comedy Central puts the video up online. It's not there yet, but keep checking.


Voter Registration Update

Yesterday was day one of my students' on-campus voter registration project. We got a whopping sixty-two unregistered voters to sign up to vote in the November election. We gave new voters voting guides from the Board of Elections and encouraged them to take literature from our table about both presidential candidates so they could begin educating themselves about the issues. One day down, two to go. We're hoping to register 150 new voters. Heard several of the new voters say they didn't know you had to register to vote. A few said they thought you were automatically signed up upon turning 18. Lots of folks aren't familiar with the voting process. Some know little about Bush and Kerry. Even more are unfamiliar with state and local-level elections taking place in November. My class is conducting interviews, surveys about the issues and the candidates, and ethnographic observations of the voter registration table. So far all we have are anecdotes. I can't wait to learn of their findings next week when they begin writing their field reports.


Korea, Kentucky

Enjoyed some delicious delicacies at a Korean restaurant in Covington, Kentucky, called Riverside, where guests remove their shoes and sit on cushions. Okay, my feet fell asleep, but we had a blast anyway. I recommend the dolsot bibimbap, a combination of crispy rice, tofu, and various veggies (seaweed, spinach, sprouts, a few things that didn't look familiar), served in a steaming hot crock. The waiter cracks an egg over the top, stirs in however much hot chili paste you want, and mixes all the ingredients together.


Rock&Roll and the White House

The image of Richard Nixon shaking the hand of the king of rock and roll...

...became an icon in the mid-1970s because rock and roll had never really crossed paths with the white house. It took a stoned Elvis--armed with a pistol that he presented to Nixon as a gift--to break down that barrier between the devil's music and the commander-in-chief. Once Elvis had left the (most powerful) building (in the free world), though, the barrier went back up. Ford danced, poorly, to the big band music of his youth. Carter was all about the slightly purer derivation of African-American music from the South: gospel (where as *secular* black music birthed the blues which birthed rock&roll, *spiritual* black music birthed gospel). Reagan and Bush pretended to like bad country music.

Then, outta nowhere,

We had our first rock&roll president. He played that Fleetwood Mac song over and over again, Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant performed at the inauguration, and the dark, dark, Reagan-Bush-LeeGreenwood years were over.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, we may have our second rock&roll president:

Kerry's high school garage band, The Electras, is enjoying a comeback. No need to shell out hundreds of dollars for an original vinyl copy on ebay, at least two websites are selling a CD version of the only album by the band:

$14 too steep? Enjoy the Electras on New York's cool indie radio station, WFMU, which has given the old disc a good amount of airplay. Check out the band's rendition of Summertime Blues, and smile at the "Gonna take my problems to the United Nations" line. To hear the track, scroll down the track list to the Electras and click on the time ("2:26:45").

Students Get Out The Vote

My Advanced Writing class has organized a voter registration drive on the campus where I teach. Next Tuesday through Thursday, students in the class will work in the student commons, walking around with clipboards and registration forms, and also staffing a table, complete with literature from the parties and various freebies (cushballs, keychains, and pens with the Miami University Hamilton logo, and of course an array of edible goodies). Members of the class have done an impressive job making signs, getting clearance from Student Services, talking the campus' marketing office into giving us free stuff, contacting the parties to obtain the literature, getting registration forms from the local Board of Elections, and even writing a press release to send to local media (we're hoping for a mention on the local NPR station and maybe even the Hamilton Journal-News). Now their goal is to get everybody on campus registered to vote in the November election. While they're doing the project, they'll also be collecting ethnographic data--conducting interviews, surveying students about which election issues are on their minds, and observing the student body, and writing up field notes, field reports, and eventually a full-blown research report. Judging from the work they've done organizing the registration drive, I have high hopes about the quality of their written reports. Why has the "vocational" function of schooling taken precedence over the "civic" function? I wonder if the imperative to prepare students for jobs actually prevents us from helping students prepare for active participation in the democracy. School is more than skills.


Music for a Wednesday

Cool tracks to accompany grading papers on a rainy Wednesday morning that looks like the beginning of autumn...

"Alive and Amplified" by The Mooney Suzuki. Brand new tune from NYC guitar-soul band. These guys wrote the music in the Jack Black film School of Rock but they're no novelty act. "Alive and Amplified" sounds like something from Jesus Christ Superstar. Pure psychedelia.

"Have a Little Faith" by Mavis Staples. Available for free download at salon.com. 70s soul giant could teach Mariah Carey and every American Idol contestant a thing or two about restraint (lesson one: just because you can hit that note doesn't mean you have to on every song!). This is just a simple gospel tune. Absolutely beautiful.

"Swing Low" by The Gossip. I wish this band would come to Cinci. This is their take on "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," all saucied up with suggestive lyrics and lots of guitar distortion. No bass guitar, no frills, no need to go on longer than ninety seconds or so. Singer Beth Ditto channels Iggy Pop, that is if Iggy were a woman, a feminist, and about thirty years younger.

...Now back to that stack of papers.


Best of Detroit

I spent Labor Day weekend in motown and enjoyed what surely must be the best Arabic food outside of the mideast. Cedarland on Warren Avenue (southwest side, adjacent to Dearborn) serves up a chicken shawarma that's spiced to perfection--not too heavy, just a right-off-the-rotisserie, melts-like-chocolate-as-soon-as-you-put-it-on-your-tongue, smoky flavor. Served with garlic sauce that keeps you drinking water for hours. When Nicole and I were in college, Cedarland was a tiny take-out that we rarely stayed away from for more than a week or two. They've long since expanded into a full-service, unassuming sit-down, where waiters bring complimentary pita, pickled turnips, and lentil soup to the table upon your arrival. Don't forget a side order of fatoush, a great Lebanese salad with fresh mint and parsley and crumbled pita chips. At Cedarland even the bizarre mural of two guys skiing (snow-capped mountains is not how one usually pictures Lebanon, but what do I know?) somehow works.


Kerry in Springfield

Thursday night Nicole and I drove up to Springfield for the Kerry-Edwards rally. We had to wait in line for over an hour to get into the event, which didn't get under way until Midnight, and it was worth it. Before Thursday I hadn't seen Kerry go after Bush's record with quite enough passion. But Thursday night both Johns had some teeth! Finally Kerry said aloud that this guy is not fit for the office. Finally he called Bush on the carpet for the hypocrisy of preaching small government while leading us into record high deficits. Kerry spoke like a hero and it was truly thrilling to be with fifteen-thousand people who understood what a fiction the GOP convention was. Loads of kids from nearby Wittenberg U. were in attendance, but blue-collar workers comprised probably the largest demographic present--and attacks on Bush's ill-advised rush into the Iraq war got the biggest cheers of the night. Fox news and its ilk would have us believe that middle America supports Bush's hawkish ethos, but I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears the excitement when Kerry said that Bush had lied.


Tariq Ramadan

This is a story that should be on the covers of the papers. Tariq Ramadan, a leading scholar of religious studies and a Muslim from Switzerland, was offered an endowed chair (in Peace Studies) at Notre Dame. Although the State Department had granted Ramadan his visa, The Department of Homeland Security stepped in and overruled State. Scotland Yard and swiss inteligence are among the groups that have conducted investigations and found Ramadan does not constitute a threat, but Homeland Security refuses to explain itself. http://www.alternet.org/rights/19741/ Follow link for full story. By all accounts (except, I guess, the account that Homeland Security isn't at liberty to divulge), Ramadan is a moderate advocating tolerance among muslims, especially muslims in western Europe. The international Israeli press has praised his work fighting for an end to anti-semitic violence in Europe.

Also of interest: http://costofwar.com The human lives lost in Iraq (untold numbers of Iraqi civilians killed by our tax dollars during the war and the thirteen years of U.S. bombing that preceded it, not to mention the 1,000+ U.S. soldiers) don't seem to matter to those still beating the war drum. The brazen violation of centuries of just war tradition (those of us who went to Jesuit schools had to read St. Thomas Aquinas--thanks Fr. McGovern, S.J.) decrying pre-emptive military action don't seem to matter. So maybe the financial cost will matter, especially to those free marketeers still loving Dubya. My favorite statistic from the page: the three million+ four-year university scholarships we could have covered with the dough spent on the Iraq quagmire.

a few more thoughts on GOP convention

1. McCain. McCain's going to be steaming mad if he doesn't get the nod in '08. First he keeps his mouth shut (mostly) about the Swift Boat smear campaign, and then he--a sitting senator--agrees to serve as warm-up act for a former mayor? Remember the 2000 campaign, when this guy wouldn't be muzzled by anybody?
2. From the Treadmill, Take One. At the Y this morning, the tvs were tuned to CBS Morning Show's interview with the elder George Bush, who was touting the GOP's "big tent" quality. At one point, Bush derided the Dems, stating that...get this...Michael Moore sitting next to Jimmy Carter at the DNC last month typifies the party's liberal elitism. An oil baron thinks a blue-collar kid from de-industrialized Michigan and a farmer are elites? I almost fell off the treadmill. THIS is why I study the rhetoric surrounding social class in this country.
3. From the Treadmill, Take Two. CBS also showed the protestor who got all the way to Cheney's rope line and yelled "stop the killing in Iraq." I almost started a "show me what democracy looks like--THIS is what democracy looks like" chant, but that wouldn't have gone over big with the a.m. YMCA crowd in Bush Country, Ohio, USA.


Music for a Wednesday

Heavy rotation in the car:

Bob Dylan--Oh Mercy My father-in-law just gave me this disc, released in '89, and I have to say the lyricism ranks up there with Dylan's best work: seemless moves from self-effacement to corny humor. Highlights: "Everything is Broken" and "Ring Them Bells" (the former--as the title implies--features Dylan figuratively wringing his hands as Dylan often does and the latter's a kind of Chimes of Freedom Revisited, if you will).
Nothern State--All City Brand new release from Brooklyn's premier female hip hop ensemble. Not as good as their stellar Dying in Stereo e.p., but great wake-up-you-gotta-teach-this-morning music. Nicole likes "Girl for All Seasons" (the first single) but I'm all about track#4: "Last Night," which has a killer refrain about visiting an ATM (trust me--you gotta hear it). The Beastie Boys comparisons abound: they're white, they drop pop culture AND erudite/highbrow references, and they love NYC. If they follow the Beastie Boys career trajectory, I anxiously await their Free Tibet phase.
Richard Hell and the Voidoids--Blank Generation One of my favorite 70s punk albums. Hell was in Television and Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers before breaking out on his own with this debut. I love punk songs that have a little ironic 50s nostalgia (Blondie and The Ramones both have cuts that could have been on the Grease soundtrack, Lou Reed cites Dion as an influence, and, hell, they all wore leather jackets and boots), and Richard Hell does a kind of doo-wop thing on "Plan" (though the lyrics would never have flown in 1955!). And the title track, a rip-off of an old beat poem whose riff was later ripped off by The Stray Cats in "Stray Cat Strut," absolutely nails the angsty side of punk: "I belong to a blank generation/I can take it or leave it each time."


treating critical wounds with a band aid

I was disappointed that my local paper today failed to report on the fashion accessory of choice among some RNC convention-goers: adhesive band-aids with purple hearts on them. Widely reported in the national press, the band-aids are essentially a “joke” about John Kerry’s decorated service in Vietnam. The band-aids imply that Kerry did not legitimately earn his bronze star, three purple hearts, or the other decorations he brought home from the war. As a joke, the bandages are, at best, tasteless and, at worse, an example of the mocking of injured troops during wartime. The implication that Kerry received his military awards for minor injuries, however, goes beyond tasteless mockery into the realm of the ridiculous. Do Republican conventioneers really think the U.S. military hands out purple hearts to undeserving soldiers?

GOP leaders have dismissed criticism of the band-aids, suggesting they can’t control delegates. This seems reminiscent of Bush’s “aw shuks—I didn’t say it” response to the smear campaign by the now-discredited “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” a group led by Texas Republican fund-raisers and attorneys (a group Bush is usually quick to criticize), not veterans. Once again, Bush’s inner circle has failed to take responsibility for the misdeeds of its campaign. Not even convention speaker John McCain—like Kerry a Vietnam veteran—would denounce the bandages from the platform. Instead he joined the rest of the Republicans in (mis)using 9/11 imagery and memories to rally support for Bush. How ironic that while convention-goers mocked injuries incurred during the bravest of public service, McCain (as well as the night’s headliner, Rudy Giuliani, who is still connecting September 11 to Iraq, a connection even Bush has abandoned) spoke of heroism. I guess it’s not surprising from the party that uses in tv ads September 11 images of firefighters even as many of the fraternal organizations and labor unions that represent those firefighters give official endorsements to John Kerry.

At any rate, I wish the local paper had at least mentioned the band-aids, if for no other reason than because some local veterans may have missed the story on CNN, since the Republicans’ slashing of V.A. benefits may make affording cable tv difficult.