e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


civic duty

Folks, it finally happened. Last week, during my final two days of jury duty, I was seated for a real live criminal trial. I've always heard of juries comprised of senior citizens and miscelaneous folks with nothing else to do, but our jury had a nice mixture of young and old, male and female, rural and sub/urban. And I must admit, I never thought that a prosecutor in this neck of the woods would seat a lefty English prof for a criminal case...but I was wrong. The charge: aggravated robbery. The outcome: not guilty. Noteworthy was the absence of testimony. Various folks who clearly were eyewitnesses to the event and/or had knowledge about it were never called to the stand. The police detectives were asked few questions about their investigation. Of course we had to weigh the evidence that we had, but, afterward, I couldn't help but consider possible reasons why both sides seem to have left stuff out. Illegal search? The judge ruling some evidence inadmissable? Witnesses pleading the fifth or likely to plead the fifth?

Mmmm, the waffle truth

The Onion skewers Ben & Jerry's and Michael Moore this week. Here's the end of the piece (oftentimes the funniest parts of Onion satires):
Other Ben & Jerry's flavors slated for introduction in 2005 are Praline Kael, Noam ChompChompsky Crunch, Ché Guava, and Nelson Vanilla, an anti-apartheid flavor that consists of a dark-chocolate sorbet swirled in an equal amount of vanilla ice cream.


proud to be from NE Ohio

Northeastern Ohio has produced some amazing art, much of it gritty and raw, a reflection of the region's industrialism and subsequent de-industrialism. I'm thinking of poets like Kenneth Patchen. Sherry Linkon and John Russo write in Steeltown USA: Work and Memory in Youngstown about how writers and thinkers and musicians reflected and responded to the changing face of class in the region, especially in the 70s and early 80s, as mills closed and unemployment lines lengthened.

No artistic movement thrived in the region with as much creative energy as first-wave punk rock. Rocket from the Tombs, the Dead Boys (with Stiv Bators, graduate of Youngstown's fine Catholic school system), Pere Ubu, Devo, The Waitresses, Chrissie Hynde, Rubber City Rebels. All from Cleveland, Youngstown, Akron, or Kent. Robert Christgau's website has in its archives a great piece Christgau wrote in 1978 about this burgeoning scene. Check it out!


jury duty, or: so near and yet so far

This month I have jury duty, which entails calling the court every evening to find out if I need to report the next morning. Had to report this morning. Shuffled into sign-in area with about forty others for a quick video on civic duty featuring re-enactments of senior citizen (as the citizen) getting jury notice, vaguely ethnic-looking guy (as the accused) standing before a judge, and other assorted vignettes, interspersed with commentary cribbed from 'Schoolhouse Rock.' The video was narrated by a legal correspondent from one of the major networks because, hey, when you want to send a message about being "responsible," you want a member of the mainstream media in your corner.

Then we were led through the metal detectors, where numerous prospective jurors found out they couldn't bring pocket knives into the court room. Incidentally, when I was an altar boy, the priest--anticipating either that we should be gentlemanly or that we should always be prepared to commit and then cover up a crime--used to tell us to NEVER be without a pocket knife and a clean, white handkerchief. But I digress. Two prospective jurors had knitting supplies, too, and the needles also got a big ix-nay from the deputies.

Twelve of us (not including me) got to sit in the jury box. I call this group the "first string." After pledging allegiance and giving us some details about the case (a criminal case which involved a guy accused of gross sexual misconduct), the judge asked the first string some questions. Stuff like do you have a physical condition that could prevent you from showing up here each morning for the next few days. Then the prosecutor asked the first string a boatload of questions like have you or a friend or a family member ever had an unfavorable run-in with the law (that question will figure into the story in a moment). She also asked if they watch CSI or Law&Order. She asked those who said yes whether the show would cloud their ability to judge this case's merits. Then the defense attorney asked the first string a few real specific questions like do you know my client or any members of his family?

Sidebar time. The judge calls both attorneys to the bench. The bailiff puts on some classical music (kinda loud--almost in a "Clockwork Orange" way) so that the rest of us can't hear the sidebar. One juror is dismissed. The non-first-string person sitting closest to the jury box is called into the box. The judge asks her if any of the previously asked questions put up any red flags for her. Discussion ensues. Another sidebar, followed by the judge dismissing another juror. The person who is NOW sitting closest to the box is called up. Rinse, lather, and repeat. I was sitting tenth from the jury box...

And, yes, enough jurors were nixed that I was called into that box. The judge corrected the clerk's pronunciation of my name, cryptically adding that he knew it was a mis-pronunciation because he was familiar with lots of Italians from Youngstown (he was looking down at my juror questionaire and could see it was my hometown). Okay. So the judge asks me if any of the aforeasked questions was pertinent to me. Earlier, prosecutor had posed the question about run-ins with the law. Me? No. Family members? Err, kind of.

Questions ensued. Stories were told (during which the juror next to me picked up her purse ANTICIPATING that I would be the next to be dismissed). Sidebars were called. Juror DeGenaro was thanked and sent home. Boy, I came THIS CLOSE to being on that jury. Tonight I call again. Who knows? Maybe tomorrow I'll be back at the courthouse.


more campus politics

Four Ohio state senators--"small government" advocates all--have introduced a bill to establish an academic bill of rights for higher education in Ohio. Essentially, the bill provides for state-mandated neutrality on the part of college professors. The bill protects college students from indoctrination by their professors by legislating modes of instruction and evaluation. State senators are going to make decisions about how knowledge is constructed and disseminated! Please read the bill and think about the false sense of neutrality its language employs.

Students are to be graded without regard for ideological content. Okay, so as a teacher of writing, I must (by virtue of a state law?!) disregard ethical concerns. What ought I do with a grammatically correct essay that uses lively and active language to argue for the supremacy of the white race? That's a difficult question--one that is going to be decided by state senators instead of learned scholars who devote their lives to ethics and rhetoric?

What I like even more is the MANDATE that we teach "all human knowledge in these (subject) areas and provide students with dissenting sources and viewpoints." What does it mean to insist that a course cover "all knowledge," including "dissenting" views? Must a twentieth century history course cover the dissenting theory that the Holocaust never happened? Must a Shakespeare course (yeah, they still exist although the sponsors of the bill no doubt think the Shakespeare courses have been replaced with, God forbid, courses in lesbian literature) teach authorship conspiracies? Or, more likely, must a biology course teach creationism? What constitutes a legitimate academic theory can be tough. If a professor only has a ten-week quarter or a fifteen-week semester to cover a broad array of concepts, theories, and methods, some judicious cutting needs to take place. Once again, do we want state senators making those kinds of decisions about the legitimacy of a particular theory?

One interesting note on press coverage of the bill. The Columbus Dispatch ran a story that quoted an unnamed Miami University spokesperson as praising the bill. The story also quoted the president of the faculty union at Wright State as saying the bill was preposterous. The difference between a unionized and non-unionized faculty.

I'm fascinated (and, of course, frightened) by these crack-downs on so-called campus liberalism. The proponenets of the movement employ interesting rhetoric--often a discourse of "free speech" (protect the oppressed conservatives!) that borrows its tropes and logics from civil rights rhetoric. Two noted proponents, David Horowitz and Mike Adams, have gained attention in cable news and a.m. talk radio circles. Check them out.

The campus politics question is rearing its head in many venues. Marquette University shut down an "Adopt a Sniper" fundraiser (raising money for sharp shooters in the U.S. military) that the College Republicans group there was sponsoring. The Catholic University felt the rhetoric of the group (their motto: "1 Shot, 1 Kill, No Remorse, I Decide) was inconsistent with its respect for the sanctity of life. And, of course, Colorado Governor and the state's Regents are calling for the head of Ward Churchill, an ethnic studies professor who has contextualized 9/11 by writing about the role that U.S. imperialism played in prompting the attacks. Specifically, an article of his suggested that "little Eichmanns" died in the World Trade Center that day. Here's an interesting take on Churchill.


the wrong words

Most reports will focus on the words themselves:
"Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot," Mattis said, prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. "It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling...it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
So said General James Mattis, the three-star general who commanded Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the explanation of the words strikes me as much more interesting. His commandant explained that "he should have chosen his words more carefully." His word choice, apparently, was the problem. The military doesn't feel the content or the spirit of his words was wrong--only his diction.