e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



Steven Spielberg's Munich distinguishes itself as one of the most arresting films of the year. Munich chronicles a series of assasinations (with all of their intrique and all of their blood) of Palestinian terrorists connected to the killing of Israelis at the 1972 Olympics. We glimpse the killings in excruciating detail, but we also glimpse how the assasinations destroy the men rigging the bombs and pulling the triggers. The film is about revenge and the ethics and justifications of taking human life. What I found most remarkable about Munich is the way the film respects and values theme over plot. Viewers remain on the edge of their seats, not merely wondering whether the little girl will perish in the blast, but also wondering the extent to which her death will impact the righteousness of the vengeance-seeking agents. Will they still feel justified? Will I still feel secure in my own moral and political stance regarding the notion of returning violence with more violence?

Eric Bana leads a stellar cast, playing Avner, a former bodyguard to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and the son of an Israeli hero who is recruited to lead the mission. Avner, a dedicated husband, must leave behind his very pregnant wife and become patriarch--albeit a tentative one--to a family of agents. Bana brings a great deal of gravity to a role that challenges him to display ambivalence, cunning, amorality, pride, patriotism, and finally anguish. Bana surely deserves an Oscar nomination for this performance.

I'm struck by words Golda Meir speaks to Avner while recruiting him for the mission: Now is not the time for peace. Later, peace. When? The historical accuracy of the film will be debated a great deal. Good, we should all check facts, consider conflicting accounts, and learn more about the middle east. But Munich is not a history but rather a morality tale about righteous indignation, retribution, and the ways that nations justify killing. Certainly Spielberg's film is a meditation on the post-9/11 American mindset, and the action the Israelis take against the Olympic terrorists prompts us to consider our own counter-action against 9/11 terrorists. Look at the film and consider Avner at the film's end: haunted, hollow, homeless. Then consider our own national righteousness. Where are we headed? At what point are we no longer justified and righteous?


Counter-Statement (reading notes)

Re-reading sections of Burke's Counter-Statement today--incorporating various notions of practical art into article on working-class poetics--and am struck by several lines:

"An author who lives most of his life in his head must perform his transgressions on paper."

“Poets, deciding that the world needs or does not need woman suffrage, or the forty-hour week, or being interested in how some one starts a traction company in Idaho, write accordingly.”

Art and poetry as rhetorical. Burke revises poetics into rhetoric with elements of compromise, symbol-as-generative force, transformation, and revision (revision as Platonic emotion enters material world via "paper").

"In information, the matter is intrinsically interesting. And by intrinsically interesting I do not necessarily mean intrinsically valuable, as witness the instrinsic interest of backyard gossip or the most casual newspaper items. In art, at least the art of the great ages...the matter is interesting by means of an extrinsic use, a function."

Burke elsewhere in the text rejects "proletarian attitude" that art must "deal with life" or be "useful," seeing productive possibilities of abstraction. "The literature of the imagination may prepare the minds in a more general fashion." Thus Burke does not seek to define an extant genre or body of work or discrete set of texts or utterances as working class, but rather opens up the entire realm of poetics as having that kind of potentiality, a potentiality rooted in consciousness of various ilk.

bad news around the "D"

When I was an undergrad at U of Detroit, Focus:HOPE enjoyed the status of local icon. A multi-purpose civil rights outpost, the organization provided a slew of food distribution, job training, and community education services. With a philosophy rooted in catholic social justice teaching, Focus:HOPE went beyond 'charity' and always emphasized 'justice.' Through the university, I went on several volunteer trips to Focus:HOPE's main campus on Oakman Boulevard, near the University, mostly packaging food and, once, helping out at their daycare facility. The flagship program was the manufacturing operation, a full-service (and profitable) production line that built auto parts for the Big Three, while providing industrial training, degree programs, and good jobs to community members. I took several social ethics and social justice courses at U of D with the late Fr. Art McGovern, who had a close relationship with Focus:HOPE and frequently foregrounded and illustrated theoretical issues (historical praxis, consumerism, underemployment) by talking about Focus:HOPE's programs.

With sadness, I heard on the local NPR station this a.m. that, due to Michigan's struggling auto industry, Focus:HOPE will stop making auto parts and begin doing r&d work for the pentagon. The Detroit Free Press confirms, reporting that the organization "will end a 12-year venture making auto parts and shift into research and development work for the U.S. Department of Defense." I can't help but see this shift as a betrayal of the group's long-standing committment to justice issues. Contracting with a D.O.D. engaged in pre-emptive military action--an explicit violation of just-war theory--and a D.O.D. contemplating the legitimacy of torture. The Freep goes on to say that Focus:HOPE COO Keith "Cooley declined to discuss much of the defense-related work except to say that it does not involve weapons systems, but rather various types of manufacturing procedures and products for equipment needed by the government." I admire Focus:HOPE very much and this quote from Cooley leads me to believe that the group is trying to keep its hands clean. I desperately want to give them the benefit of the doubt until more discussion emerges.

Recently re-elected Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has never been very popular with city employees, many of whom have been threatened with layoff since his tenure began. In addition to the alarming news about Focus:HOPE, this morning's papers also included reports that Mayor Kilpatrick will fire 414 city workers as part of his latest too-little-too-late plan to lessen the city's massive deficit. That plan also involves closing the Detroit Historical Museum and various other cultural and recreational centers around town. The kicker is that this plan won't even begin to address the deficit. Four-hundred-plus more unemployed Detroiters in exchange for a drop-in-the-bucket.

Finally, as Jeff reports--and rightly laments--WDET has abandoned its weekday free-form music programming. You could hear indie rock alongside jazz alongside Detroit's storied local garage rock bands alongside electronic alongside classic blues. The station has mostly replaced that daytime programming with NPR shows that most Metro Detroiters can already hear on the station out of Ann Arbor. What a rip-off. Although it's good to see that Democracy Now--which interested lefties could already listen to for free on the web--has a place in the new line-up. Looks like the web really is the only place to hear free-form radio now. Thank goodness for woxy.com and wfmu.org.

To get off the negative tip for a moment, cool story in today's Metro Times about Detroit bloggers. Even inspired me to (finally) update my links.


Lost: Deliberate Caricatures?

So I'm addicted to the tv series Lost and have been since last winter break. Critics seem to praise the show and explain its commercial success based on two related factors: 1) the writing, and 2) the characters. I don't necessarily disagree, but I wonder why--if the show's popularity stems from these two factors--the series traffics in such blatant stereotypes. Aren't these kind of broad, stereotypical depictions usually indicative of lazy writing and/or the substitution of caricatures for real characters?

First and foremost, Rose. Here is an African-American woman given almost "mammy" like traits: humble, faithful, maternal, de-sexualized, stripped of dangerous allure, and physically large. She's the only non-pregnant female character from season one not regularly shown on the beach in a bikini. She also removes herself from the island's decision-making processes. Instead, she's depicted in various servile activities, notably doing laundry.

Second, Sun. An Asian woman with expertise in alternative medicines.

Third, Sawyer and Kate. Two southern whites with working-class roots. Oh yeah, they're also the products of dysfunctional and/or violent home lives. One (Sawyer) is also a racist, and the writers of the show allow terms like "redneck" and "hick" to be used as identity markers for him.

Lastly, the most extreme caricature, the most dangerous stereotype. Sayeed. Arab man and expert in torture.

Of course, elsewhere we get traits that are less-than-original. The doctor loves golf. The rock star has a drug problem. Etc, etc, etc. Are these caricatures deliberate? Many of the conspiracy theories about the show's and the island's secrets involve the notion that the characters are reckoning with/for past sins. But does that change things?

Like I said, what interests me about these stereotypes is that they don't prevent commercial and critical praise for aspects of the show (the great writing, the interesting characters) that would seem to be nullified by the stereotypes themselves.


best music of the year

the second annual top ten list of my favorite music of the past year...

10. The Kills--No Wow.
I got to see these guys twice this past year, once in Cinci. and once in Royal Oak, and they, err, killed both times. Har. Their second album, recorded in two weeks in Benton Harbor, Michigan, has a remarkable consistency. Thanks to the drum machines and electronic flourishes that complement the band's punky guitar sound, the Kills sound a bit like Suicide or Joy Division, but with a closer eye on catchy melodies. Their debut two years ago had some good songs ("Cat Claw" and "Fried My Little Brains"), but No Wow please from start to finish, lacking even a single weak link. They even pull off a ballad of sorts, with the bitter, country-ish "Rodeo Town," which wound up being my favorite tune on the album.

9. Death Cab for Cutie--"When Soul Meets Body"
When I lived in Ohio, the local indie station used to play a lot of Death Cab and I could never really get into their whole sad-sack vibe, though I appreciated them lyrically. And for the past three years, I've had a boatload of students who would absolutely rave about everything they (along with Bright Eyes) released. This, the lead-off single from their newest record, finally caught my attention though. Beautiful melody, very Beach Boys-ish.

8. Kanye West--"Diamonds from Sierra Leone"
Another brilliant single from the preppy, Bush-bashing hip hop star Kanye West. To funny, catchy, and provocative effect, Kanye samples the Shirley Bassey-sung theme to the James Bond movie Diamonds are Forever. The lyrics are mostly nonsense. One verse recounts Alicia Keys trying to talk Kanye down from his bitterness after failing to win a Grammy. Elsewhere he offers some generic boasting. Elsewhere a non-sequitur about a stripper and her overweight pal. Lyrically rather goofy, but, again, that's not the point. It's all about the awesome sample, which barely edges out "Gold Digger" as Kanye's coolest track.

7. Missy Elliot--"Lose Control"
Missy Elliot has created a bizarre, accessible, left-field, and poppy run of singles in the past five years or so. And "Lose Control" sounds every bit as slamming as "Work It" or "Get Ur Freak On." Fast, fun, funky. What's not to love here?

6. New Pornographers--Twin Cinema
The New Pornographers don’t really do anything new musically. They take a little 60s power pop, toss in a little 70s power pop, and integrate singer Neko Case’s brand of alt-country and 21st century indie rock. The result is a sound that keeps listeners interested, as each song brings in a different style, a different genre, a different influence. This album is FULL of catchy melodies, a very good CD for your commute home from work. Music to unwind by. Music to make you tap the steering wheel and forget about the jerk at the next desk. The fast, upbeat songs work best: "Sing Me Spanish Techno," "The Bleeding Heart Show," and the title track are three standouts.

5. Hard Lessons--Gasoline
This Detroit three-piece references timeless soul and '60s r&b, foregrounding a Hammond organ and a co-ed pair of lead singers who belt out punked-up love songs. They'd go over big at (what I imagine based on "Animal House" to be the atmosphere of) an early '60s frat party. "Feedback Loop" echoes the riff of The Stooges' "1969," and serves as a kind-of Bo Diddley-sound-a-like centerpiece for the album. And that anthem's flanked by garage rock anthems like "Feel Alright" and bluegrass-y ballads like "All Over This Town." How come they're not touring the country (or at least Metro Detroit) with the Detroit Cobras?

4. Coldplay--"Talk"
Alright, it's easy to rag on Coldplay. Too easy. Yes, they're way too earnest. Yes, they crib Unforgettable Fire-era U2 with their pseudo-Christian, arena-friendly, politically moderate optimism. But they also write good songs, and this is the standout of their X&Y record from this past year. I love the image of a conversation as an artifact: "I'm so scared about the future and I want to talk to you/I wanna talk to you/You can take a picture of something you see/In the future, where will I be?" Human interaction becomes a kind-of technology. No wonder the song samples "Computer Love" by Kraftwerk, a band whose entire aesthetic broke down the human-machine duality.

3. Bloc Party
Hyperactive art rock from a gang of four multi-culti British kids. Politically charged dance music with lyrics about poverty, empire-building, and the price of gasoline. The first four tracks ("Like Eating Glass," "Helicopter," "Positive Tension," and "Banquet") are outstanding. Talk about a strong debut.

2. M.I.A.--"Galang"
Electronic meets hip hop meets girl power meets grime meets dub meets reggae meets world music meets pop. This is in part a late-90s collage of sorts: Missy Elliot's debut/Spice Girls/Elastica, all filtered through a very 21st century, very cool radical Sri Lankan named "MIA." Pretty damn groovy, no? This got lots of (well-earned) internet buzz last Spring and, while I never heard the whole record, I enjoyed this upbeat single very much. One of the catchiest songs of the year. A kind of companion--in terms of politics, internet buzz, and genre co-opting--to the Bloc Party record.

1. Dirtbombs--If You Don't Already Have a Look
Hands down, best record of the year. This two-record compilation has something for everyone. Like the eclectic New Pornographers record, it's an LP for the I-Pod age. Speed-metal rockers. Ballads. Dance tracks. A Yoko Ono cover. It's become cliche, but I'll repeat the sentiment that listening to the Dirtbombs is like thumbing through a good record collection. Eclecticism at its finest. Each Dirtbombs studio album adopts a different genre--garage rock, soul, pop--but this compilation, since it spans the last eight years or so, is messier, jumping all over the musical map. I like the version of Lou Rawls' "Natural Man" and the straight-ahead-rock originals "Stuck Under My Shoe" and "The Sharpest Claws." Peruse the whopping 52 songs (this makes Sandanista look like an EP) yourself and find your own favorites.

***a few selections that didn't make the cut, with commentary***

White Stripes--Get Behind Me Satan
It's an enjoyable piece of work, but sort of uneven compared to their other records. A little too much marimba and xylophone. "My Doorbell" has that friendly White Stripes hook and "Blue Orchid" repeats the LedZep-ish "Seven Nation Army" vibe, and it's musically an interesting progression from their mega-popular mid-period, but this just isn't up there with De Stijl and White Blood Cells.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Talking Heads for the new milennium. Or at least Arcade Fire for 2005. This almost made the top ten. I like the twee whimsy, the tracks that include calliope and run the vocals through what sounds like an echo chamber. Like Belle&Sebastian, CYHSY sometimes makes you feel like a little kid whistling along to a folk song. At times the lyrics get bogged down in over-the-top abstraction, but this surely is one of the most interesting releases of the year.

Annie--"Chewing Gum," and Sleater-Kinney, "Entertain"
Two more great singles well worth downloading. Like so much of this year's best music, Annie is fun and never pretentious. If you're going to make a bubblegum-pop song, why not call it "Chewing Gum." Sleater-Kinney keep it simple (wailing guitar, and vocals too match), and pound out a track that would have felt at home on their Call the Doctor record.


Detroit memoir

Paul Clemens came to campus today to talk about his book Made in Detroit: A South of 8-Mile Memoir. Clemens writes about growing up as a white, working-class, ethnic, Catholic on Detroit's east side. The book starts out with a story in which the 16-year-old Clemens is awakened by his mother so that he can chase after his father, who is chasing after the guys who just shot out the windows of the family car. I've only read the first chapter (just picked up the book yesterday), so I'll say more about the text when I finish, but let me relate some early impressions.

Today Clemens suggested the worst thing a writer can do is try to make himself look good. He cited quips from both Orwell and Eliot that said the best autobiographical writing gives you the sense that the writer's a bit of a dirtball. (I'm paraphrasing here.)

Aristotelian notions of ethos run directly counter to this suggestion. Clemens argued for a counter-intuitive, self-deprecating version of ethos, a dirtball ethos even, one where cred comes from crud. Clemens establishes ethos via *identity markers* moreso than knowledge, diction and other linguistic features, or even experience. For Clemens, being Catholic and being white both give him a kind of insight into Detroit. Clemens wears his Catholicism as a marker certifying his non-wasp essence. He spoke about going off to university elsewhere in the state and feeling less connection to white protestants there than he did to his African-American neighbors. His sense of humor, his values and attitues, his counter-intuitive sense of self.

Similarly, he calls his first chapter "Right to Go Left," a reference to the "Michigan left turn," that classic feature of Detroit streets which requires drivers who reach busy intersections who wish to head to the left to make a right-hand turn followed by a U-Turn on the intersecting road. Right to go left. Running to stand still. That counter-intuition, for Clemens, represents Detroit (driving the streets making Michigan lefts), Catholicism (kneeling, going to St. Jude's--the patron of lost causes), his humor (non-pc), his ethos (flaws, warts, etc.). Even his whiteness, ironically, marks his Detroit identity and Detroit ethos, as a minority within city limits where he grew up.

More later, when I finish the book. Incidentally, the other book I'm in the middle of is another Detroit memoir, Erma Henderson's Down through the Years, by a prominent former member of the Detroit City Council. A Comp. 106 student profiled Henderson in an early paper this term and then lent me the book after our discussion of her paper. More on E.H.'s very different version of Detroit working-class ethos later, too.


greasy kid stuff

Another Thanksgiving in O'Fallon, Illinois. Very little writing, very little grading of student papers, and very little anxiety over tenurewritingdeadlinesuniversitypolitics. And I was thankful for *the absence* of that trio of real-world realities.

Since our O'Fallon pals have three small children--younger even than my siblings-in-law and most of my nieces and nephews--we immersed ourselves in kid culture. A little Go Fish, a little Dinosaur Dominos, a little bit of cruising around to look at the Christmas lights illuminating suburbia. And a weekend double-feature of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (the best HP film so far) and "Chicken Little" (Q: is it possible to be "extremely mediocre"? A: yes).

I knew Thanksgiving had to be a real, albeit short, break. The winter hiatus will be a whirlwind, thanks to a January 1 deadline on the book manuscript (not to mention a self-imposed new year deadline on the working-class poetics article), interviews with job candidates, and a new syllabus to finish.


tuesday round-up

  • It must be the end of November. I'm starting to get that burned-out feeling.
  • Thanksgiving. The long weekend couldn't have come at a better time. Tomorrow a.m. we're off to O'Fallon, IL. to visit old pals from Tucson, who now live in suburban St. Louis. I'll do the cooking on turkey day. I love cooking, and I'm pretty good at it, but being responsible for Thanksgiving food always freaks me out.
  • Saw the Johnny Cash film Walk the Line over the weekend. How could a film about Cash fail to please? Full of affecting moments: singing "Cocaine Blues" to prisoners at Folsom, watching a violent filmstrip about Folsom while still in the military and identifying with the hard-timers, singing "It Ain't Me Babe" as a duet with June Carter while his wife sits in the frontrow and being too strung out and confused to know who he's singing those words to, etc. etc. The pic uses rags-to-riches and salvation-via-the-love-of-a-good-woman and even VH1 trappings and tropes and probably neglects Cash's religious conversions and ambivalences, but comes out a winner anyway due to the unbelievable music and the performances of the two leads.
  • Best Johnny Cash song ever: "One Piece at a Time," about an auto worker who devises a plan to steal a Cadillac: "I'd sneak it out of there in a lunchbox in my hand. Now gettin' caught meant getting fired, but I figured I'd have it all by the time I retired. I'd have me a car worth at least a hundred grand." Song did NOT appear in the film, sadly.
  • Current writing projects: three entries ("Community Colleges," "Higher Education," and Vo-Tech Education") for Greenwood's Class in America encyclopedia; revisions to the introduction of New Rhetorics of Working-Class Consciousness, now--at last!--under contract with Pitt; article on working-class poetics and my grandpa's writings; a reflective piece about teaching the rhetorics of class for a special pedagogy issue of Living Forge; next term's syllabi.
  • UM Dearborn's hiring a writing program director. Not too late to apply.
  • Tonight's the last in MCHR's film series. 7:00, St. John's Church at 11-Mile and Woodward. Tonight's film: "Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror," narrated by Ed Asner. Followed by what's sure to be a heated discussion.

more photoessays

I posted a few weeks back some links to photoessays that my Comp. 106 students had been working with online. I wanted to follow up that post by linking to a sampling of my students' Detroit photoessays, many of which are intriguing, rhetorically and visually. I need to do more reading on visual rhetorics (recommended sources anyone?), and perhaps think about a paper on photo essays for the Detroit edition of the Computers and Writing conference.

Anyhow, from the Comp. 106 group, here are some good reads (most of these are still works-in-progress):

The Game is Over
Open Space
American Baby
Out and About in Ferndale

These photo essays all use blogger as a canvas. Other students are using Power Point. I noticed that students were more engaged than usual when we did various workshopping and peer reviewing activities. I think that engagement had a lot to do with the visual component of the project. Next time I'd like to use the Photo Essay assignment earlier in the term, so the visual can become (early on) a heuristic for other writing and blogging that the students do.


Bait and Switch

I finally finished Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch, a somewhat tedious look at unemployed corporate America. Ehrenreich goes undercover, as she did in the superior but flawed Nickle and Dimed, this time to study the lifestyles of a white-collar workforce rightly fretting over increasing job insecurity. Essentially, Ehrenreich repeats the Nickle and Dimed experiment--to document her attempt to survive in low-wage jobs--this time with higher-prestige corporate jobs. Maybe because of the rehashed premise, Bait and Switch often reads like a movie sequel. Nickle and Dimed made waves in 2001 and had some revelatory moments, like the ruthless treatment Ehrenreich endures during her tenure as a waitress who is not allowed to rest for even a moment. Ethically, though, Nickle and Dimed was often on shaky ground, treating the real-life low-wage workers in the book like circus performers. And, as my students often pointed out (I taught the book for several years), Ehrenreich let her classism (ewwww, look at all the mayonaise and red meat they're eating...look at them sitting in church like fools) undermine her credibility.

In Bait and Switch, undercover Ehrenreich can't actually GET a corporate job, so she documents white-collar unemployment. She points out that 44% of the unemployed are from middle-class, "professional" and/or corporate lines of work. In the book she describes corporate job searches, networking events (with their frequent religious agendas), career coaches, internet pseduo-businesses meant to aid the job search, and the desperation of those using these services. Overwhelmingly (and not at all surprisingly), these job search services use a rhetoric of individualism and blame-the-victim that divert attention from the context of corporate unemployment (greed, downsizing, etc.). It's a familiar narrative and Ehrenreich offers few new insights, and fewer solutions to the problem.

How should folks concerned about these issues organize? How might the unemployed middle class and working class take common cause to fight the systemic abuses Ehrenreich describes? These questions, or other productive/proactive queries, aren't pursued in the book.

In fact, I kept thinking as I read Bait and Switch that the book underscores the limits of rhetorical analysis, or rather that the book uses a limited version of rhetorical analysis. What I mean is that there's no praxis, only a critique of language with no identified implications. Ehrenreich shows the uses of terms like "self adaptation" and "in transitions," obvious euphemisms, but doesn't reveal much about the constitutive value of the terms. Put another way, she doesn't do much with the "so what" question. Like the new Wal Mart film I blogged the other day, Bait and Switch doesn't do much to reach beyond the like-minded.


Wal Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

Last night, the MCHR screnned Robert Greenwald's new documentary "Wal Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," an uneven, long, but sometimes-compelling critique of the big-box behemoth. Greenwald made the outstanding Outfoxed film, an expose of Fox News, so I guess I expected more from his new offering. On the brightside, the film attracted over two-hundred people, and sitting in a church basement with that many people who give a damn tends to leave you feeling almost hopeful.

First off, saying something new and rhetorically effective about Wal Mart is tough. The Walton family's destruction of mom-and-pop stores, monopoly-like control over the retail market, union busting, refusal to give employees health care, and reliance on sweatshop labor to produce their cheap items are all familiar problems. And, as a high-profile lefty cause, invoking Wal Mart's problems prompts either nods from those who find their practices problematic or eye-rolling from those who don't. Hence, the challenge for Greenwald is two-fold: 1) reach beyond the already like-minded, and 2) tell us something we don't already know.

Here's what really worked in the film. Greenwald exposes Wal Mart stores, especially those out west, actively ENCOURAGING employees to go on public assistance, creating fliers telling low-wage employees to collect welfare, that the aid comes from their own tax dollars and they should obtain health care and other needs via public assistance. Greenwald juxtaposes this campaign with statistics about the huge number of Wal Mart employees who are indeed on public aid and the amount of tax dollars ($1.6 billion) that last year went to welfare for Wal Mart employees. That equation didn't surprise me one stitch, but it seemed like a great moment for convincing moderates and even fiscal conservatives that something is amiss.

Tax dollars essentially subsidize the largest and richest corporation in the world. Billions--literally--roll into the Wal Mart empire, but they can't offer health care or living wages to their employees, who in turn collect welfare, funded by tax payers instead of the billion-dollar industry that makes its fortunes on the backs of its health care-deprived employees.

Here's where the film lost that savvy. Later segments in the film focused on crime in Wal Mart parking lots. Now, I recognize the ethical obligation of the corporation to provide some safety for employees and customers, and I recognize the problematics the film point out about Wal Mart using its security cameras to bust union organizers instead of violent criminals...but I couldn't help imagining the reaction of corporate apologists and right-wingers (none of whom, to my knowledge, were at last night's screening) rolling their eyes and saying: "sure, it's the evil company's fault that someone got attacked outside its store." I'm not sure Greenwald anticipates this counter-critique. Talking to several MCHR members afterward, we also questioned the use of a rape victim's testimony during this segment of the film. The testimony was graphic and bordered on exploitative.

Next week's Tuesday night film, the last in the series, is "Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror," with a post-film discussion led by Detroit Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. Bishop Gumbleton, as well as the film's subject matter, ought to attract another big crowd.

Six Degrees of Geoffrey Fieger, or Wednesday Free Association

\scintilla\ n. 1. a minute amount; an iota or trace. 2. A spark; a flash

Geoffrey Fieger:

Not a word of what Mr. Cox told you last week was true;

not a word. There was never a scintilla of evidence that I

had committed a crime. And yet, for the past week, my wife,

and those who care about me, have spent many a sleepless

night and fear-filled days because of Mr. Cox’s reckless and

false accusations.

Fieger does his part for Metro Detroit's twelfth graders by breaking out quite the SAT word during his press conference yesterday. "Scintilla." I must write a poem using the word "scintilla." To call Fieger's rhetoric over-the-top smacks of understatement. In fact, the previous sentence smacks of understatement. He even broke out the "Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last?" line, apparently fancying himself the victim of McCarthy-esque witch hunt.

For readers living outside of Detroit, here's the skinny. Fieger, a well-known (more on this later) local attorney, allegedly conspired to blackmail Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, threatening to reveal Cox's extra-marital affair if Cox didn't abandon an investigation into some shady campaign donations of Fieger's. Last week Cox and his wife came forward, admitted the affair, and alleged the blackmail. Fieger denied everything. Yesterday, the prosecutor's office announced it was "100% confident" that Fieger and his henchmen had committed blackmail, but didn't have enough evidence to go forward with charges. Juicy stuff, especially for a public hungry for intrigue now that Detroit's ugly mayoral race--a race full of scandal, innuendo, and personal attack--is over.

Here's where the skinny gets phatter. Fieger, Cox, and Prosecutor David Gorcyca all have political histories with one another. Fieger had vied for the A.G. job the year Cox took office and planned to to challenge Cox at the end of his term. They've been flinging partisan mud at one another for years. Gorcyca and Fieger are also political rivals, having spent the late 80s and early 90s fighting one another in the courtroom and in the media over suicide doctor Jack Kevourkian, whom Fieger defended and Gorcyca repeatedly attempted to prosecute. A messy web of motives, rivalries, rhetoric, scandal, and now-destroyed (presumably...but who knows?) political careers.

Here's one reason why it's probably a good thing that I went into teaching instead of journalism, which was my plan during several of my undergraduate years. When the press covers Fieger (as they often do--he's been at the center of various investigations into ethics violations over the years), inevitably his identifying tag line is something like "the prominent local attorney who defended Jack Kevourkian" or "Jack 'Dr. Death' Kevourkian's former lawyer and spokesperson"). If I were covering a Fieger story, I'd probably identify him with something like this: "the brother of Doug Fieger, who fronted 70s L.A. rock band The Knack, whose hit "My Sharona" is one of George W. Bush's favorite songs." Or: "whose brother wrote the song "My Sharona," which was covered by The Chipmunks on their seminal "Chipmunk Punk" record." And that just wouldn't be good journalism, unlike the always-stellar reporting of the Detroit media.

Here's my all-time favorite moment in Detroit media. One summer night in 1997 I was watching a local late edition of the news--the affiliate will remain nameless--and the newscaster--she'll remain nameless too--was covering the following stories: the death of Princess Diana and an Aretha Frankling concert. Maybe you can see where this is going. The transition went a little something like this: "The Princess of Wales may be dead, but the Queen of Soul is alive and kicking." Priceless.

So one year prior to that, I spent the summer (the summer after I graduated from college) as an intern in the office of the press secretary to Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer--writing press releases, helping to plan press conferences, etc. Frequently, I'd pass Geoffrey Fieger in the halls of the City-County Building. Once, he nodded at me and said "G'Morning." A friend recently told me that while waiting in line for an ATM, Fieger drove up to the bank, cut in front of three people and, when given dirty looks for cutting, acknowledged the crowd by saying "Yes, I am Geoffrey Fieger. Good to see you all."

I don't know how I lived away from this city for nine years! Sure is good to be back.


What's Going On?

Originally uploaded by bdegenaro.
Marvin Gaye. I pass this image each morning on my way to school. Visible along the Southfield, just north of Warren Avenue.

I always imagine a fictional extra verse from, say, "Inner City Blues" about liquor ads. Not sure what's most noteworthy, the irony of the ad given Marvin Gaye's drug addiction and alcoholism, or the irony of the ad given that the image is lifted from one of the most noted pieces of art-as-social-commentary of the rock era.

For the past month I've also passed about a dozen Martha Reeves for City Council signs. Icons of the motown sound. Odd representations. If only Smokey would open a burger chain.


Slavery documentary

Last night the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights screened the documentary "Slavery: A Global Perspective," a shocking, lo-fi expose of Ivory Coast's cocoa industry (slave labor has a hand in about forty percent of commercially available chocolate, according to the film) and India's carpet industry, two of the major global industries that utilize slave labor. Not sweatshop labor. Forced, unpaid labor performed in large part by children who are lured away from their homes, kidnapped, chained to looms, and beaten brutally. The doc. also exposed the more familiar use of domestic worker-slaves in London, New York, and Washington DC. In 2005, the filmmakers claim, there are about 27 million slaves worldwide, more than at any other point in world history.

Free the Slaves
Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking

Next week's MCHR documentary is Robert Greenwald's "WalMart: The High Cost of Low Price," shown around Metro Detroit. See MCHR for details.


links to photo essays

My comp. 106 students are working on photo essays. For those of you with assignments foregrounding visual rhetoric, here are some links from one of my handouts that you might find helpful and/or interesting.

Caring for the Wounded in Iraq

Canto do Brazil

Stop and Smell the Sakura: A Photo Essy of Japan

Farewell to Bosnia

God in the Temples of Government

Looking for the Light: A Decade of Living with HIV

Shattered: NYC after 9/11

Sitting Down to Stand Up: The Quiet Defiance of Rosa Parks

A Photo Essay on the Great Depression

Sites with Multiple Photo Essays

Yahoo Photo Essays:

Time Photo Essays:http://www.time.com/time/photoessays


my favorite thing to cook in the fall

Squash Soup

*one butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
*2-3 apples, any kind but preferably tart, cut into cubes with skin still on them
*1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
*4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled

Toss all of the above in a roaster with a couple tablespoons of good olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a couple pinches of chili powder, and bake for 45 minutes at 400 degrees, stirring once or twice. Put the roasted veggies in a blender with about 3-4 cups of vegetable stock and puree well.

Blend the following and then use as a stir-in for the soup: about a cup each of walnuts and either parsley or cilantro, a jalapeno pepper or your favorite hot pepper or a generous sprinkle of red pepper flakes, a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and enough water to create a pesto-like consistency.



Somehow my blog account keeps turning off the comments section. I'm not sure how this is happening. Apologies to anyone who may have tried to post a comment. I've turned the comments section back on (and I'll try to make sure it stays on!)--so comment away.

Plan Colombia

Spent Halloween evening learning about some of the frightening effects of the massive amounts of money ($4 billion since 2000) the U.S. sends to Colombia. The Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, a group I recently joined, sponsored a lecture by Colombian activist Jenne Neme. Neme outlined her efforts in an ecumencial resistance group to raise awareness about how U.S. tax dollars--in the name of the war on drugs--are paying for efforts like spraying pesticides on drug fields. An easy soundbite: "we're killing coca plants." Trouble is, the cropdusters can't get close to the fields or they'll be shot down so they release the pesticides from heights that don't allow for much precision. Food crops are also destroyed, to say nothing of the environmental and health concerns. Plus, vast majority (of course) of that $4bil. goes to military spending--the recruitment of child soldiers, the slaughter of untold innocents, including 70 priests and ministers in the last four years alone, etc, etc. Domestically, it's hard to even *imagine* Latin America getting much press. The region is simply off the collective radar. A sad reality. Organized religion in Colombia is trying to exercise some muscle and organize against some of the destruction and violence. I wish the politically engaged religious community in the 'States would flex its own muscle. Aren't those 70 dead priests/ministers, those child soldiers, those decimated food crops worthy of at least as much outrage as what passes for "values" issues in this country?



I'm trying to figure out the ins and outs of posting pics (see my shots of the Chaldean district below) using flickr and blogger and am having trouble figuring out how to manipulate images. Flickr has the "blog this" function but that doesn't allow you to put multiple pics in the same post, mess around with size/layout/etc. Any tips? Is there a tutorial that I'm missing?



Baked in this 550-degree oven, these rolls are only 25 cents.

Some of the warmest...

and freshest bread in Detroit.



Woodward and Seven Mile

...the Arabic community that Dearborn often overshadows

rave review

Fans of Detroit rock&roll take note. Metro Times today posted a deservedly glowing review of the Dirtbombs' If You Don't Already Have A Look, surely the best wax to come out of motown this year. If you haven't already had a listen, do so.


The Real World

"The Real World" may be coming to my backyard, which raises the possibility of a background shot during the credits of me walking Hyatt. I can only assume MTV will call the show "Real World: Detroit" and spark debate over whether the network should use the more accurate "Real World: Royal Oak." Of course Royal Oak is the MTV version (young white people with leisure time) of Detroit, but wouldn't MTV create its own version of Detroit regardless of where they filmed? How different would "Real World: Detroit" be if filmed in Corktown vs. Royal Oak or Ferndale? First off, the neighborhood of the house doesn't figure all that prominently in the show's plotlines. But beyond that, aren't Real World locations generic backdrops? In terms of the show's content, conflicts, and affect, (all of which are constructed indoors) how does the fleeting shot of the Liberty Bell or the beach or the Statue of Liberty matter? What if location *were* a living, breathing entity on the show? Then I'd be tempted to get cable and watch "Real World Detroit."


identification and non-identification with power

I continue to work on an article on working-class poetics that uses my great-grandfather's anti-FDR writings. Poetics value performance over persuasion; the affective goal is catharsis. To understand the rhetoric that working-class folks use to self-identify, we must contend with poetics--the performance of identity via utterances meant to provoke. Performative utterances like the chapbook of political poetry my great-grandfather published during the Depression revel in irony and contradiction. The ironies and contradictions of working-class identity.

Power lies at the heart of those contradictions. Claiming working-class identity acknowledges lack of power/cultural capital/materiality. Paradoxically, laying claim to being w/c entails touting dignity, value and power of collective identity. The contradiction of w/c identity: a simultaneous and/or alternating non-identification and identification with power.

Poetics facilitates the articulation of these contradictions in a way that a "rhetoric" cannot. Not because of some kind of heart-head binary, but because the performativity of poetics (whether sitcoms about w/c families, FDR poems my grandpa wrote, trash talking in w/c bars) allows for enactments of empowerment, disempowerment.

Here's where I'm going: the theorizing of working-class rhetorics. First step in theorizing such a rhetoric is the collapsing of a rhetoric-poetic binary, a full accounting of the poetry and performance involved with w/c identity. Defining anything called working-class "rhetorics" (in aristotelian sense) is impossible: the terms are contested and divisive to the point of chaos. However a w/c poetics offer contradictory, aesthetically rich, performative enactments of w/c identity.


race in Dearborn

From today's Free Press:
Police are trying to learn who was behind racist graffiti that was spray-painted on the home of an African-American family in Dearborn over the weekend.

Sometime late Saturday or early Sunday, someone used brown paint to scrawl "Get out" followed by a racial slur. It was then followed with the words "and no love, and all for one," police said.
Dearborn as a site of racism has a long and storied history. Sean, a student in my Comp. 106 class, writes about long-time Dearborn Mayor Orville Hubbard and his namesake statue, whose arms stretch over the city, reminding citizens of his staunch segregationist views. In addition to the Hubbard statue outside of city hall, this mythic pic of Hubbard standing on Michigan Avenue suggests the Hubbard mythology of putting his body between Detroit and Dearborn to keep African-Americans in the former and out of the latter. From David Good:
Despite his record, Hubbard, intriguingly, saw himself as almost a moderate on the race issue, even while giving in to racist invective of the worst sort. "I'm not a racist," he once protested to his assembled department heads, "but I just hate those black bastards." Once, in an apparent effort to show a group of appoinees and a reporter how broadminded he was, he approached a black parking attendant at one of his favorite luncheon spots and, with a flourish, kissed the man on both cheeks. "See," the mayor told his entourage, "I don't hate n-----s."
Trashcans around town still tout "Keep Dearborn Clean," the dubious mantra of an ad campaign started by Hubbard himself.

Stephanie, also from my Comp. 106 class, writes about Fordson High School in Dearborn. Fordson is the ironic postscript to Hubbard's rasist legacy, enrolling 95% Arab-American students.

Contradiction. Irony. A city with a history rooted in segregation and white supremacy. A city known nationwide for its Arabic communities. I saw images from Toledo this weekend, the race riots, the anarchy, and thought about Dearborn, thought about the fragile peace of communities, thought about the three high-profile cross burnings that took place in Butler County, Ohio, during my three years living there, thought about discussion of race in Comp. 106, where last week a student in the class shared an anecdote of being victimized by a racist epithet not thirty years ago but in recent weeks.

What does a community do with its own racism? How ought a university within that community take a role in confronting both the community's history and the community's present?


ad hominem

Great discussion in Composition 99 class last night about logical fallacies. We probably wandered too far off-topic, but students were especially interested in arguing with the notion of ad hominem "attacks" as necessarily being fallacious. Consensus from the class: 'name-calling' per se usually diverts attention from the content of an argument, but most examples of so-called ad hominem arguing we pointed to were legitimate considerations/critiques of credibility.

One student brought up John Edwards' allusions in the VP debate last year to Dick Cheney's daughter being a lesbian. Red herring? Cheap appeal to homophobic voters? Legitimate subject given the GOP's stated desire for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage? Some students felt the move represented a version of ad hominem argumentation ("your kid's gay!").

Another curious example we discussed: Jack Lessenberry's latest column in the Metro Times. Lessenberry takes on an anachronistic GOP smear campaign against a bill that would have named a post office in California after an alleged communist sympathizer. From his criticisms of one of the reps who spearheaded the campaign:
the nomination excited the passions of one Steven King, a horror novel of a congressman from some backwater town in Iowa.

True, Steve the Lesser never went to college, but he knows his commies. He owned a construction company before his elevation by the voters, and now mainly spends his time fighting against unions and civil liberties.

“Joe McCarthy was a hero for America,” this pea-brain proclaimed last week.
In the context of Lessenberry's sarcastic voice, we talked about the rhetorical effect and specifically the alleged fallaciousness of calling the guy "backwater," pointing out that he never went to college, using a term like "pea brain." Fun stuff and, in a class that meets from 6-9 p.m., students were lively.

I appreciate students' skepticism of the fallacies. Textbooks tend to brush off "ad hominem" as a fallacy without complicating the fine line between name calling/attack and critiques of ethos. But I also found curious their overwhelming support for public figures' family lives becoming fair game for critique. We had trouble coming up with examples of political discourse involving statements about an opponent's private life/family/etc. that students felt crossed a line. The traditional-college-aged students in the class were in junior high during the Monica Lewinsky scandal--I wonder how heavy those memories weigh on their current ideas about public discourse.


Vietnamese in Dearborn

Lunch today at Annam in beautiful downtown Dearborn. My experience with Vietnamese food mostly comes from eating in the homes of friends (see previous two posts), or at mom-and-pop Vietnamese diners, so Annam was a bit jarring. Upscale in both decor and service, and with a menu emphasizing vegetarian "fusion" dishes more than pho, Annam feels like a trendy, west-coast joint. Having said that, though, I opted for the pho (my go-to choice at Vietnamese restaurants): a simple beef broth with flat noodles, thin pieces of beef, and usually served with various sprouts and herbs that one can add at will. Somewhat lacking in the spice department (usually the broth has a touch of fish sauce and the plate of veggies/condiments includes various hot chiles--not so, unfortunately, at Annam), but warm and good. You think chicken soup cures your ills? Then you haven't had a good bowl of pho.

Related note...best lunch--and quickest to boot--that's ten minutes or less from U of M Dearborn: take-out from the New Yasmeen bakery on Warren Avenue. For five or six dollars, you can walk out with a filling combination of a shawarma sandwich and/or a couple kibbees and/or a few mini spinach or meat pies. I can drive up to Warren Ave., get lunch at New Yasmeen's deli counter, and eat on my way back to campus--all in about thirty minutes. They also have all kinds of good sweets, salads, oh yeah, and a mean bowl of jhadra (usually a combo of rice, lentils, and cracked wheat--I've probably got the spelling wrong).


the great LAX adventure

So Thursday afternoon I leave San Pedro in a jeep with rudimentary directions to one of the biggest and busiest airports in the world. I've arranged for two mini-vans, both of which require a 25-or-over driver with a major credit card, at the Dollar rent-a-car adjacent to LAX. I've also got a list of sixteen relatives, arriving on three different flights on three different airlines at three (slightly) different times. About half of the relatives don't speak English; I don't speak Vietnamese. I need to retrieve a couple drivers, go to Dollar, return to the three terminals, and then get the three vehicles and seventeen people back to San Pedro.

I arrive early, reverse my San Pedro-to-LAX directions and write out three copies, one for each vehicle. I pick up one brother (a displaced University of New Orleans undergrad studying in Oregon for the semester and hence on a flight all his own) but he's under 25. A perfect candidate to drive the jeep. We cruise around the seven terminals waiting for more siblings to land.

A brother-in-law pops out of the terminal. Over 25? Yep. Major credit card and valid driver's license? Not so much.

We keep cruising, three of us now in the jeep. Big group--parents, miscelaneous grandchildren, cousins--comes out of terminal five right on schedule. I explain why they have to stay in terminals a little longer and grab another brother, 25+ and holding a Visa. Four of us cruise to Dollar for vans. Three vans back to first terminal. Relatives. Wedding presents. Suitcases. Hugs all around. One van full.

Next terminal. More relatives. More baggage. More hugs. Another van full. I give written directions to the other two drivers for "just in case we get split up on the highway." A seminarian, a friend of the family at the airport to "help with the arrival" announces that we should wait for him curbside at the terminal while he goes and gets his car from the garage. Security already eyeing the bilingual crowd with conspicuous large boxes, already shooing us toward the exit. I tell seminarian to catch up with us on the 405--you can't miss the parade of two mini-vans and a jeep going slow in the right lane.

Everybody loaded. Jeep, still driven by younger brother, his twin the only passenger, jets out of LAX. So much for the directions being "just in case we get split up." Mini-vans pull out. I'm in the lead. Loud Vietnamese conversations fill the vehicle. Crying grandchild, comforted only by very loud rock and roll on the radio. Mini-van in the rear view. Numerous cell phone conversations with seminarian, trying desperately to catch up to me, though I'm going 40 mph in the right lane. Traffic picks up. Twins call from their cell phone...Q: why aren't you guys at the hotel yet? A: still going 45, trying to get your whole family down there, trying to wait for Fr. Pokey.

Finally, our caravan is three vehicles strong. Baby still crying, conversation still boisterous, I kick it up to 70 mph, an eye constantly in the rear view, and find my way to San Pedro. Check family into six hotel rooms, make room assignments, doll out keycards.

[Three days and one wedding later, groom already honeymooning, time to go back.]

Departure from San Pedro, caravan-style once again. Most of family displaced in Baton Rouge, where finding traditional Vietamese food not as easy as doing so down in New Orleans...so a post-wedding trip to Santa Ana night before departure allowed family to buy boxes and boxes of Asian produce, french bread, and other items they miss being shut out of their adopted city. Hence, vans now full of people AND boxes and boxes of stuff.

The terminals are easy this time. First terminal: passengers unload with respective luggage and groceries. Second terminal: passengers unload with respective luggage and groceries. Third terminal: Oregon-bound brother unloads and Nicole takes over jeep driving duties. Back to Dollar. Vans returned. Groom's older brother, Nicole, and I return rented vehicles. Nicole and I drop final relative at terminal. End of story...

Until cell phone communication later reveals the following airport mishap:
Airport officials: you can only check two packages.
Family: we'll check boxes and carry on our suitcases.
Airport officials: your suitcases look too big.
Family: we'll be fine.
Gate officials: your suitcases are too big.
Family: fine, we'll check them and pay the cost of an extra checked bag.
Gate officials: you have to go back to the ticketing area to check additional bags
Two brothers and one brother-in-law walk back to ticketing area. Airline sells their tickets to stand-by passengers. No more flights to Louisiana. Brothers and brother-in-law must fly to Houston and hitch rides with friends back to temporary homes in Louisiana where their respective wives and Santa Ana Vietnamese produce await.

code switching

Back from California where I had best-man duties at close friend's wedding. Close friend (CF) was born in Vietnam and raised in a predominantly African-American neighborhood on the eastside of New Orleans. We've been pals since ninth grade and from the start his code switching--combining Vietnamese and African-American vernacular dialect--has fascinated me. Part hip hop and gangsta rap diction and its attendant masculinity, part Asian-American syntax (ubiquitous singular nouns, etc.): "Bitch, I got to do my Physic homework," etc.

CF's younger sisters--in some ways tough, sassy, independent and in other ways traditional and thoroughly old-school--have some really neat speech patterns too. Once during a visit to CF's we were all sitting around when one sister, in high school at the time, got a phone call and took the call in the other room. Her other sister looked at CF, and offered boisterous commentary, all in Vietnamese except the lone English term "booty call."

Best-man duties included driving extended family around L.A. so I had ample time to soak in the sounds of the code switching, the poetry of which really grows on you. CF's parents, who are mostly monolingual and who are currently displaced in Baton Rouge (refugees for the second time in their lives), peppered their conversations with post-Katrina bits of English: "category five," "Rita," etc. Even CF's mom, who I've heard say maybe three words in English over the years, at one point said "FEMA" during a conversation with her sister.


live from san pedro, ca.

On location in sunny southern California. No sign of humidity and temps in the mid-80s. Nicole and I eat breakfast outside along the bay, surrounded by moored boats and the sound of waves against the rocks. Post-breakfast stroll reveals starfish, crabs fighting one another, and amoeba-like schools of fish traveling close to the shore. It's no Detroit, but L.A. has its advantages.


studs terkel: the musical?

Is this as bad as it sounds? A *musical* based on Studs Terkel's classic piece of oral history, Working? Terkel's book came out in 1972 and drew praise from the left as well as the mainstream for its diverse set of commentaries/rants/narratives about what people "do all day and how they feel about what they do." Working-class studies, as an academic discipline, probably would not be possible without Terkel.

But a musical?


fear of falling, formal correctness, and blogs

Thinking out loud here. Excuse the randomness and the highly questionable connections I'm about to make...

In the newest issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College, Amy Lynch-Biniek describes the popularity on her campus of the grammar guide Eats, Shoots, & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, which sat on best-seller lists for months last year. I was interested in her suggestion that one of the causes for the popularity is what Barbara Ehrenreich elsewhere calls "the fear of falling," an insecurity among members of the (shrinking) middle/professional class, an anxiety (a justified one at that) that they might fall out of their comfortable positions. Lynch-Biniek suggests the cultural obsession over "correctness" in writing (she argues that--at least on standardized tests--comma errors trump ineffectiveness in terms of what damns a piece of writing) reflects this anxiety. Grammar guide as self-help book. Grammar guide as means to (maintain or achieve) social position.

In my own research, I've critiqued ways that open-admissions colleges institutionalized (via curriculum, obviously, but also in representations of college mission and particularly in its communications with working-class community members) this use of language as class marker and "achievement."

But I'm thinking about the present moment, the burgeoning popularity of blogs, for example, and moments where the culture maybe chipping away at a middle-class sense of formal-correctness-above-all. I know the party line is that blogs, like any other textual phenomenon, build their own conventions which are just as rule-bound as any other. But I'm not so sure. Doesn't blogging, at the very least, break down notions of middle-class decorum inherent in what books like Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

The grammar guide revels in its ha-ha titular pun, which is a warning about the lack of "clarity" that arises from a punctuation mishap. But don't blogs revel in something quite different...a reveling in language that's messier than the "1) learn the rules, 2) become part of the initiated crowd, 3) make fun of those on the outside of the club" assumptions of grammarians? Blogs revel in language play that doesn't necessarily require the initiation process? Join in the reindeer (language) games and take part in appropriation, error-making, tentativeness, randomness, and incoherence.

And yet, blogging requires access, so we get a new version of elitism and exclusion.


working-class rhetorics vs. working-class poetics

In addition to farming a plot of land in Mantua, Ohio, my great-grandfather spent the Great Depression writing sarcastic poems about FDR. He published a chapbook called "The New Deal" that collected eight of his ditties, each a deliberative meditation on rural, working-class libertarianism.
The Grounded Ear

We have a President Roosevelt,
the thing that makes me madder,
Is how craftily he sneaked around
And climbed up Teddy's ladder.

If you politicians would succeed,
Yes? Well then, here's the moral!
He rode up to our White House chair
Astride a whiskey barrel...

To his country stuck in banker mud
His order pedagogic,
"Lift yourselves by boot straps,"
Just simply is not logic.

All partisan, sectarian content. Political discourse. Quintessential deliberate rhetoric, tackling specific, context-bound, civic concerns.

And yet I'm fascinated by grandpa's use of poetry as not only a means for engaging in civic discourse, but also as a means to articulate his own class status. I see The New Deal as a statement of working-class identity.

Is a "working-class rhetoric" even possible? Our culture doesn't have a vocabulary for having non-fiction discussions about class status. We lack terms with agreed-upon meanings. Statements about class (especially working-class) status are politically divisive, perpetually contested. And yet here's a book of poetry that serves a rhetorical function and a self-defining function.

Julie Lindquist, in her ethnography of a working-class bar in Chicago, found that among her respondents class stood out as a "felt identity." Lindquist writes, "they are unable to name themselves as a sociopolitical entity…[and] have no conventional language in which to articulate a shared political predicament." Her thesis involves the notion that political debate at the bar becomes a performance of class identity, a substitute for a meta-cognitive language for articulating class status.

I think poetry functions in a similar vein for my grandpa. A performance of his working-class identity, a stand-in for a critical vocabulary for saying 'this is who I am.' I'm thinking poetics (and maybe by poetics I mean "performance") allows for this in a way that "rhetorics" can't.

So I'm toying with the notion that "working-class rhetorics" are impossible, whereas "working-class poetics" instead provides for opportunities for self identification, identity construction, and political discourse.


Bloc Party show last night

Still getting accustomed to my new job and finding a productive and humane work schedule, difficult tasks with four consecutive weekends with out-of-town commitments. More frequent blogging in the very near future...I guarantee.

In the meantime, a few thoughts on last night's Bloc Party show at the Royal Oak Music Theater. The band came out and performed a lean, fast-paced, Buzzocks-like set. No more than thirty-five minutes, but nearly the whole crowd was shakin' it (and that included college kids as well as older, music-geek types). Amazing energy level, more punk than how they come off on their CD. They flew through the better part of their record, with nearly every track paced notably faster. Even with the speedy, thin pace, the band maintained the dance vibe that earns them Gang of Four comparisons in the media. Oddly, they left the stage and returned with a slowed-down encore that was a bit anti-climactic. But they're a young band and pacing might be something they work on as they build a larger catalogue of material.

The Kills opened the show with their usual loud and suggestive approach to blues-punk. I saw them headline a show in Cinci. last year and the full-length set really allowed them to create a kind of narrative (one involving the duo acting out a love-hate relationship that seemed to involve climbing on amps and using fret boards to simulate firing rifles) within the scope of their performace. Last night they had to shorten the set to play the opening act roll. They rocked out (ears still ringing a bit) but I missed the Captain Beefheart cover ("Dropout Boogie") and their breakout single "Cat Claw" last night, when they concentrated on material from their newer album No Wow.

Good time, and home by 11:15...my kind (read: geezer) of show.


class of '92

Alright, just taught my first class of the semester and ought to blog students and all of the exciting projects of the semester, but I'll pick up on the thread (here and here), and have a bit of fun while I eat my yogurt.

Here's the deal: go to Music Outfitters and get the list of the Top 100 songs from the year of your high school graduation. Paste them into your blog and identify those that you like or dislike. I've bolded the ones I like and italicized those I disliked. I've left alone those that I don't remember. Yeah, this is way more important right now than working...

Top 100 hits of 1992:

1. End Of The Road, Boyz II Men
The year Nirvana breaks, and my senior class (along with every other
senior class) chooses THIS schmaltz as its song.
2. Baby Got Back, Sir Mix A-lot
One word: awesome
3. Jump, Kris Kross
Of backwards clothing fame.
4. Save The Best For Last, Vanessa Williams
5. Baby-Baby-Baby, TLC
6. Tears In Heaven, Eric Clapton

7. My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It), En Vogue
8. Under The Bridge, Red Hot Chili Peppers
9. All 4 Love, Color Me Badd
10. Just Another Day, Jon Secada
11. I Love Your Smile, Shanice
12. To Be With You, Mr. Big
embarassing, but I found this catchy at the time.
13. I'm Too Sexy, Right Said Fred
14. Black Or White, Michael Jackson

15. Achy Breaky Heart, Billy Ray Cyrus 16.
16. I'll Be There, Mariah Carey
17. November Rain, Guns N' Roses
18. Life Is A Highway, Tom Cochrane
19. Remember The Time, Michael Jackson
20. Finally, CeCe Peniston
21. This Used To Be My Playground, Madonna

22. Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough, Patty Smyth
23. Can't Let Go, Mariah Carey
24. Jump Around, House Of Pain
25. Diamonds and Pearls, Prince and The N.P.G.
26. Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, George Michael and Elton John

27. Masterpiece, Atlantic Starr
28. If You Asked Me To, Celine Dion
29. Giving Him Something He Can Feel, En Vogue
30. Live and Learn, Joe Public
31. Come and Talk To Me, Jodeci
32. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
33. Humpin' Around, Bobby Brown
34. Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover, Sophie B. Hawkins
35. Tell Me What You Want Me To Do, Teven Campbell
36. Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg, TLC
37. It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday, Boyz II Men
38. Move This, Technotronic

39. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
40. Tennessee, Arrested Development

41. The Best Things In Life Are Free, Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson
42. Make It Happen, Mariah Carey
43. The One, Elton John
44. Set Adrift On Memory Bliss, P.M. Dawn
45. Stay, Shakespear's Sister

46. 2 Legit 2 Quit, Hammer
47. Please Don't Go, K.W.S.
48. Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes), Mint Condition
49. Wishing On A Star, Cover Girls
50. She's Playing Hard To Get, Hi-Five
51. I'd Die Without You, P.M. Dawn
52. Good For Me, Amy Grant
53. All I Want, Toad The Wet Sprocket
54. When A Man Loves A Woman, Michael Bolton
55. I Can't Dance, Genesis
56. Hazard, Richard Marx

57. Mysterious Ways, U2
58. Too Funky, George Michael
59. How Do You Talk To An Angel, Heights
60. One, U2
61. Keep On Walkin', CeCe Peniston
62. Hold On My Heart, Genesis
63. The Way I Feel About You, Karyn White
64. Beauty and The Beast, Calms Dion and Peabo Bryson
65. Warm It Up, Kris Kross
66. In The Closet, Michael Jackson
67. People Everyday, Arrested Development
68. No Son Of Nine, Genesis
69. Wildside, Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch
70. Do I Have To Say The Words?, Bryan Adams
71. Friday I'm In Love, Cure
72. Everything About You, Ugly Kid Joe
73. Blowing Kisses In The Wind, Paula Abdul
74. Thought I'd Died and Gone To Heaven, Bryan Adams
75. Rhythm Is A Dancer, Snap
76. Addams Groove, Hammer
77. Missing You Now, Michael Bolton
78. Back To The Hotel, N2Deep
79. Everything Changes, Kathy Troccoli
80. Have You Ever Needed Somone So Bad, Def Leppard
81. Take This Heart, Richard Marx
82. When I Look Into Your Eyes, Firehouse
83. I Wanna Love You, Jade
84. Uhh Ahh, Boyz II Men
85. Real Love, Mary J. Blige
86. Justified and Ancient, The KLF
87. Slow Motion, Color Me Badd
88. What About Your Friends, TLC
89. Thinkin' Back, Color Me Badd
90. Would I Lie To You?, Charles and Eddie
91. That's What Love Is For, Amy Grant
92. Keep Coming Back, Richard Marx
93. Free Your Mind, En Vogue
94. Keep It Comin', Keith Sweat
95. Just Take My Heart, Mr. Big
96. I Will Remember You, Amy Grant
97. We Got A Love Thang, CeCe Peniston
98. Let's Get Rocked, Def Leppard
99. They Want EFX, Das EFX
100. I Can't Make You Love Me, Bonnie Raitt


Non-Academic Stuff I Read During Summer Vacation #9

I guess since I start teaching tomorrow morning (UM-Dearborn started classes today but I've got a Tues/Thurs teaching schedule), my summer vacation is coming to a close. So here's one last installment of my run-down of this summer's reading-material-only-tangentially-related-to-rhetoric...

Philip Roth's great novel The Plot Against America is in part allegory, and a brilliant one at that, a story that mirrors the regressive policies of the current neo-con regime. But Roth goes beyond polemic, beyond partisanship, and creates a nostalgic and vivid dystopia.

A speculative historical novel, Roth's book imagines a 1940s U.S. in which Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR's re-election bid and builds diplomatic ties with Nazi Germany, institutes anti-semitic public policy at home, and effectively keeps the U.S. out of WWII. The story centers around a Jewish family in New Jersey, named "Roth," and most especially the Roth's youngstest child, "Philip."

Roth creates a dystopic world with as much chilling detail as Margaret Atwood's best novels. And like the scariest dystopias, Roth's world looks awfully familiar. I'll avoid giving examples, as I don't want to give anything away. Rest assured that the fictional Lindbergh's demagogue, the-world-is-black-and-white rhetoric uses the same tropes as the rhetoric of George W. Bush (put America first!). Great piece of work.

One of the ways Roth goes beyond simplistic polemic is by turning the tables on current right-left distinctions. In Roth's world, the left advocates U.S. entry into foriegn war while the right opposes such action. This creates more than a little ambivalence in the reader, and Roth uses this switch to ironic effect.

Roth's meandering style is in full effect here. Roth writes,
It went without saying that Mr. Mawhinney was a Christian, a long-standing member of the great overpowering majority that fought the Revolution and founded the nation and conquered the wilderness and subjugated the Indian and enslaved the Negro, one of the good, clean, hard-working Christian millions who settled the frontier, tilled the farms, built the cities, governed the states, sat in Congress, occupied the White House, amassed the wealth, possessed the land, owned the steel mills and the ball clubs and the railroads and the banks, even owned and oversaw the language, one of those unassailable Nordic and Anglo-Saxon Protestants who ran America and would always run it--generals, dignitaries, magnates, tycoons, the men who laid down the law and called the shots and read the riot act when they chose to--while my father, of course, was only a Jew.
Holy macaroni, what a sentence. And what a voice.


the mouse on Bourbon Street

New Orleans, LA., 2000. Enjoying tasty fried oysters in the French Quarter at a less-than-four-star establishment, while a mouse scurries across the floor along the restaurant's rear wall. Customers--bourbon-sipping lawyers on lunchbreaks, college-kid tourists, seafood lovers of every stripe, Nicole and I--remain oblivious to the mouse, sipping beers and raw oysters, talking over jazz licks and noisy strangers, happy in the big easy. Nicole in the restaurant's ladies room, startled by either the same mouse or one of his friends, jumps, bumping into a stall door. Woman in the stall, opens the door, sees Nicole but not the mouse, looks Nicole up and down and says: "I'm not interested." God bless New Orleans.


Day Labor in Virginia and Literacy Crisis On Listerv

Interesting story on NPR this morning about the community of Herndon, Virginia, debating the funding of a day-labor center that some there feel is encouraging illegal immigration. Local right-wing radio, apparently, buzzes with callers complaining about how "unsightly" are the people of color who gather to wait for work at the center. One critic of the worker center, concerned about the aesthetic effect of the center, comments, "It's time for all nationalities to learn to live like Americans. This means learn how to speak English, learn how to have good hygiene, and learn how to use appliances correctly in your homes." Same old xenophobia from the right...same thing said of Italians and Greeks and Poles a century ago (they're dirty, don't share our values, and will pollute the democratic ideals of the U.S., bla, bla, bla).

Striking how much of the criticism of this worker center is about how people of color look, which is, I guess, different. And by extension abhorrent.

Meantime, on a national e-mail listerv for teachers of writing, there rages intense discussion over all that the new Tommy Lee reality show reveals about the illiteracy of college students. They don't read, apparently. Smart criticism of the conversation has already gone on. Of course the issue is not that college students don't read--it's that they don't read the stuff that English teachers want them to read. They're not taking part in the cultures that English teachers most value.

What's the connection between these two stories? Aesthetics and belletrism, of course. Day laborers and Tommy Lee's television sidekicks lack what a community deems to be of high cultural value, whether that deficit involves standing around outside being brown-skinned, or not knowing how to use an appliance properly (where does that notion even come from?), or not speaking the "right" way, or not reading the right books, or choosing to listen to Motley Crue, or whatever. Both are also cases of a community expressing fear and loathing for that which is different. Yikes, they're brown. Oh jeepers, they're dirty. HELP ME...they're getting their news from blogs and yahoo instead of home delivery of the NYTimes. Ohmygod they haven't read as many "good" novels as me. It's about homogenization and the desire to make everyone the same, to obliterate class differences.


new vinyl finds

A post-YMCA stop at Goodwill and a crisp new dollar bill yielded:

* Harry Belafonte Sings the Blues. Great 1958 collection of bluesy nuggets sung by H.B. Highlights include a rendition of "God Bless the Child" as well as Ray Charles' "A Fool for You." Plus, on the sleeve a great essay by Nat Hentoff, later of the Village Voice, addressing how Belafonte draws aesthetically on Ray Charles.

* Oingo Boingo--Only a Lad. Ska-dance-pop-synth-novelty-punk band, led by Danny Elfman before he scored more movies than Randy Newman. From "Capitalism": "There's nothing wrong with making some profit / If you ask me I'll say it's just fine / There's nothing wrong with wanting to live nice / I'm so tired of hearing you whine / about the revolution."

* Bing Crosby--Hey Jude/Hey Bing! Horrible title, and a shaky concept (Crosby singing 60s pop songs) to boot, but worth it for his version of "Little Green Apples." I've got a record by Kate Smith--same exact concept--that's better. But Bing, as the liner notes indicate, is "a gas." A nice precursor to that creepy duet he later did with David Bowie.


tonight I'm cleaning out my closet

(Apologies to Eminem for the subject heading)

I spent two days last week going through files in my MUH office, doing some weeding and rearranging of papers, classroom handouts (some from as far back as my first year in graduate school: 1996), drafts of articles, drafts of diss chapters with Tilly Warnock's just-barely-legible questions scrawled in the margins of every single page (won't part with those), syllabi, seminar papers and notes from every single seminar and practicum I took at both Youngstown State and Arizona, student evaluations, yellowing print-outs of journal articles. Nine years worth of paper. Filled twelve boxes with books. Bubble-wrapped framed diplomas and Diego Rivera prints. Yesterday, I took all of it to a storage room in my building, where they'll sit for the next two weeks, awaiting the movers, awaiting the U of Michigan Dearborn, my new home.

Today's computer file day. Got to make some back-up discs of a boatload of files, save some back-up files to my hard disc space (which I'm told I can access 60 days after my departure), then delete all the personal files off of my (err, the state of Ohio's) computer. Today, I realize, is my last day at Miami University. And while for the most part, I can't wait to start fresh, I'm also a little blue. Three good years...my first academic job.

I'm thankful not to be leaving on a bad note of any sort. Miami's a great place in most respects, both the Oxford and Hamilton campuses, full of good people doing good work. Dearborn's a better fit for me--lighter teaching load, less toggling between what was becoming two jobs (one in Oxford, one in Hamilton), closer proximity to family and close friends, resources in working-class rhetorics for my writing and research, and a more pluralistic and diverse community. Glad to be making the move, but it's still a blue day.

Off to finish packing...



Sad news, the death of Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer. Ferrer stands out as one of the masters of the son, the uptempo folk song that grew trendy in the late 90s after the release of the Buena Vista Social Club film. Listen to "Bruca Manigua" or "Marieta" and you can't help but smile...you probably can't help but dance a bit, too.



It's been brought to my attention that my blog wasn't accepting comments. Sorry about that--not sure how that happened. I've turned on the comment switch. Comment away.

I'm taking a break from the writing to cook this afternoon (as I said in last post, won't have that luxury in a few weeks). A friend gave us some unprocessed whole wheat flour from a local mill. Made a dough with olive oil and dried basil. It's raising right now. The toppings are ready to go: spinach, slices of tomatoes, roasted garlic (in the oven right now), marinated mushrooms, and four-count-em-four types of cheese: ricotta, feta, provolone, and kaseri.

Non-Academic Stuff I Read During Summer Vacation #8

Each year, right around the beginning of August, my dad--a teacher for thirty-five years--used to start coming in from his garden with a wistful look on his face, knowing his days in the garden were numbered. That's kind of how I am with pleasure reading. While school's in session, I make little time for reading novels, opting instead to focus on drafts of student work and keep up with scholarship...both 'reading pleasures' in and of themselves, don't get me wrong, but not the same as pouring through a stack of novels from the library, which I take great pleasure in doing during the summer. And I've enjoyed blogging some of my summer fun reading. But the days are numbered.

If you've been reading this series, you know Elmore Leonard's a favorite of mine. Nicole and I just finished his short story collection When the Women Come Out to Dance. I was somewhat disappointed, as the stories lacked the pulpy rhythm that Leonard sustains so well in his full-length novels. Leonard seems to be playing with genre here, and he works hard to develop thematic elements more eplicitly than in his novels, which are always driven forward by plot (and, of course, Leonard's noir-with-a-cheeky-sense-of-humor-like narration). His short stories are all *about* something--at times a bit moralistic, and this isn't what I expect from Leonard. But it's interesting how he uses the genre of the short story to explore marginal characters--wronged wives (one who seemingly has burned down her rich husband's mansion, one an ex-stripper fearful of her abusive spouse), an African-American army vet. in the old west. And Leonard fans like me will get a kick out of stories centering around familiar Leonard characters like Karen Sisco, and even one centering on the grandson of the protagonist, Carl Webster, from The Hot Kid.

Not his best, and not terribly consistent, but an engaging set.


The Dirtbombs

I've been working quite a bit on the Oxford campus as of late (several grad students' oral exams, research in the library, working with this year's MAT class as they finish their Teacher-as-Researcher projects), which has given me commute time in the car to enjoy the latest release from Detroit's own Dirtbombs. If You Don't Already Have a Look is a massive, 52-song set comprised of a disc of originals and a disc of covers, and the songs run the gamut from one-minute punk rave-ups a la The Minutemen to the garage-noise-art they're most known for to funk-soul remakes of Stevie Wonder ("Maybe Your Baby"), the Stones ("No Expectations), and bands you've never heard of (the rest of disc 2). The diversity is a blast--no surprise if you know their full-length records, one of which is a soul record, one of which is a punk record, etc.--and justifies the two-disc format. Oh, and the songs for the most part come from their 45s, which frontman Mick Collins explains in the liner notes is a format he prefers and hence places his best songs there. He ain't kidding. Good stuff, and a reminder of the great music that fills the town I'll call home in three short weeks. Side note re: Detroit music...I see upcoming shows from Sleater-Kinney and The Gossip slated for the motor city--both bands that regularly skip the 'Nati. Welcome back to motown!



Best film I've seen all year. "Murderball," a documentary about wheelchair rugby, shows the sport as an exciting, ultra-competitive, sometimes violent contest. Nicole and I want to find a venue that hosts matches. Part of the appeal lies in the unfamiliarity of the sport and viewers of the film get to learn much about the machinations, the equipment, and of course the players of the sport. The human interest element of the film never slips into sentimentality or pity, relying instead of a more genuine pathos--one that stems from multi-dimensional representation. We get to see these guys being jerks, and also being good citizens/semi-celebrities. We see a coach being a lousy dad, and also a caring dad. But make no mistake, there's also plenty to compell. A recently disabled motorcross enthusiast, at first depressed but later excited to learn about quad rugby. A tenuous and strained friendship between a guy thrown from a pick-up who sustains a spinal injury and the drunken driver/best friend who was driving the truck. I'll say no more. Highly, highly recommended. If there's any justice, this is going to be the year when a documentary receives a best picture nod.

Non-Academic Stuff I Read During Summer Vacation #7

Eric Goodman's Child of my Right Hand. Goodman, a colleague of mine (for about two more weeks) at Miami, does something extraordinary with the narration of this novel, shifting into a faux third-person objectivity for the bulk of the story in order to play with his protagonist's own struggles with his existence as a detached scientist. That protagonist professes the history of science at a fictional Ohio college that clearly draws on Miami for inspiration, and is also struggling with how both he and the conservative college town receive his out-of-the-closet son Simon. The narrator begins two new scholarly projects, one looking at the "gay gene" and its intellectual antecedents, and the other telling Simon's story (which the protagonist/Goodman do with a paradoxical sentimentality and scientific gaze). Simon becomes a compelling, funny, real, imperfect, infinitely likable character in Goodman's hands.

But what interested me most were the not-so-subtle critiques of SW Ohio imbedded in the narrative: the cross burnings, the hate crimes, the rampant anti-intellectualism, the loathing of public institutions. I picked up the book after hearing buzz from teachers in the Ohio Writing Project, ambivalent over the novel's representations of area schools (which don't smell like roses in the book). The book doesn't break any new ground regarding the familiar town-gown divide, which Miami exemplifies, but it's a sensitive and raw account of how lefty profs in these parts often feel, and holds a mirror up to local communities (AND the family culture of higher education) in all kinds of interesting ways. If I were staying at Miami, I'd love to use the book in undergraduate classes. The appeal might be limited for readers outside of college towns, but this is also a truthful look at all kinds of aspects of family life. Check it out...


scattered thoughts from the road

I've been a rather lazy blogger for the past week or so. Spent four days in Youngstown, and then four more in Detroit. The two constants: spending time with family and enjoying the finest Arabic food the midwestern U.S. has to offer. Fifteen miles or so east of Youngstown, Mary's serves up middle-eastern favorites to working-class residents of New Castle, Pennsylvania, on their lunchbreaks. Everything on the menu pleases, but I recommend the marinated chicken. I also recommend going with as big a group as possible so you can sample lots of different dishes. Owned and operated by a quirky Syrian family, including a patriarch circulating among customers, munching on a humongous cucumber. Inspired, my folks and I went home and rolled a huge batch of stuffed grape leaves.

And, of course, while in Detroit, choose from the dozens of Arabic diners on Warren Avenue (two short miles from my new job!)...Cedarland is clearly the best, in my not-so-humple opinion, but check out other recommendations in the above linked story, including Al-Ameer's, site of my first date with Nicole. Here's another interesting article that captures the non-academic (specifically culinary) reasons why I can't wait to start work next month. Don't get me wrong, the job provides challenging teaching opportunities and close proximity to resources in working-class culture and rhetorics, but a good shawarma sandwich was another prime motivation for the move.

While not eating dolmas, we managed to find a house in greater motown. Small but cute, and walking distance to downtown Royal Oak, where Bloc Party is playing a show with the Kills opening. September 13...I'm there. Anyway, I wanted to live in Detroit proper, and the Royal Oak thing is giving me a bit of liberal guilt, but in the end Detroit 1) ended up being a bit of a hike to N's new job, 2) has really high city taxes that sort of nullify the cheaper housing prices, and 3) scared us with stories of cutting back on various public services like fire ("the local station shut down, so wait fifteen extra minutes for a truck from two neighborhoods over"), police, etc. At least--and this is the voice of me rationalizing--R.O. offers greater racial diversity and cultural possibilities than the average s-s-s-s-suburb (see, I can say it). Loads of places to grab a cup of coffee and read, plus the Main Art Theatre, a tasty gelato place, general motown atmosphere, and did I mention a Bloc Party show in like six weeks?! All in walking distance.

Alright, back to Youngstown (hey, I said this would be scattered). While in Y-town, my buddy Lew and I drove up to Cleveland for some pasta e fagioli in Little Italy, and then an Indians game at Jacob's Field. And then, driving from Youngstown to Hamilton, I experienced a stretch of highway north of Columbus where three a.m. stations were carrying Rush Limbaugh's radio program. Yes, the drive gets boring and, yes, I like to track such things. I didn't realize he still had a show, and out of masochistic curiosity managed to listen for about ten minutes. He had GOP Senator Rick Santorum on defending himself against critiques of an editorial Santorum wrote in 2002, in which he argued that the liberal ethos of Boston created an environment that fostered the Catholic Church's abuse scandal. Santorum wrote:
[I]t is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.
Santorum falls short of claiming direct causation between 'liberal identity' and 'pedophile' but on Limbaugh's show stood by his claim of correlation. I was in dissertation mode three years ago when Santorum published his screed and missed any attention it may have garnered, but--as I heard the story last week--couldn't help but think about the religious right's claims that gay people caused September 11. It's Ted Kennedy's fault that Boston priests abused children? Really? And Santorum's claims are NOT completely out-of-step with sentiment I've heard over and over in SW Ohio: the country will be less moral with a liberal in the white house. Never mind that the number of abortions decreased during the two Clinton terms and increased again during the past five years. I know good and smart people who occupy all points on the political spectrum, but I optimistically see a time in future decades when our culture looks back with shame on the current regime's alignment with hatefulness, vengefulness, intolerance, and disregard for rights and liberties. Just as I hope we progress to a place where Ashcroft is remembered for the Joseph McCarthy he truly is, I also hope we get to a place where the Rick Santorums and Pat Buchanans are remembered as the Charles Coughlins that they truly are: using religion as a mask for regressive and self-serving political ideology.