e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



-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."