e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



So I feel a cold coming on. Bad news because tomorrow I'm giving the final 'Faculty Seminar' (lecture open to campus-wide faculty) of the year. Luckily, a trip to the Saigon Dragon in beautiful Fairfield, Ohio, has perhaps saved the day. Pho is an absolute miracle cure: huge bowl (I've never seen a small serving of pho) of beef broth with a hint of fish sauce, tender strips of beef, and rice noodles, served with a heaping plate of fresh basil, cilantro, thai chilis, lime wedges, and sprouts to be added as desired. This will cure whatever ails you, guaranteed. Back in seminary--where about half the seminarians were Vietnamese--classmates introduced me to this staple, often eaten for breakfast in Vietnamese households. You can keep all the fancy thai soups, with the lemon grass, coconute milk, etc., and give me a heaping bowl of pho anytime. Here's an interesting blog about the pho scene in southern California.

A related cure that my Vietnamese chums swore by: stomachache relief from sucking the juice of half a lime (a lemon will do in a pinch), and then drinking a can of Coke (Pepsi will *not* do in a pinch) as quickly as you can. As memory recalls, results were less reliable than the old pho-for-the-common-cold.

those lefty judges...

What with all the talk about liberal-activist judges, here's an interesting statistic from the A.P./Detroit Free Press:
The number of secret court-authorized wiretaps across the country surged by 19 percent last year, according to court records which also showed that not a single application was denied.


Sarah Vowell interview

Today's odd pairing: writer Sarah Vowell and Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Christopher Walla. Salon published today Walla's interview with the writer, who's promoting her new book "Assassination Vacation." Vowell voiced Violet (the angsty teen daughter) in The Incredibles, reads her essays on NRP, and also wrote the great essay collection "Take the Cannoli," which featured the titular story about studying abroad and being too embarassed to visit Corleone, Sicily, for fear of being outed as a Godfather-loving (actually, Godfather-addicted)American tourist. That essay also recounts Vowell's being abroad during the L.A. riots and feeling conflicted about violence, America, and family--all themes she implicitly connects to her Godfather obsession. Vowell's a wonderfully unfocused writer, meandering from experience to pop culture reference back to experience to op-ed mode.

Anyway, sit through the day pass thing and check out the interview. Vowell talks a lot about her new book, which I haven't read and which concerns itself with historical markers commemorating (?) presidential assassinations. But as is her style, Vowell does plenty of free associating. Here's a taste:
There are certain public radio interviewers who are never going to ever ask me about the "O.C." section of the Garfield chapter [where Vowell links the utopian Oneida community, referred to in old letters as "the O.C.," to the Thursday-night teen drama] because they don't know what it is, or if they do, they're not going to admit to it. And then there are Morning Zoo guys who don't really want to get into the Spanish-American War. So it is kind of interesting going on all these different kinds of shows talking to all these different kinds of people.

And this book tour is different. Since I did "The Incredibles" I have these totally adorable 8- or 9-year-old girls coming to get their Violet stuff signed, and I get to talk to them about how their friends and them play and they always want to be Violet. It's so reassuring, especially because when I was known almost entirely for working on public radio, my audience was all from public radio, which meant that they were all kind of old. And it's kind of terrifying when you're, say, 35 and your audience is like 65. And then you wonder who is going to support your projects after your audience is dead.

Also, Pitchfork today reports on Kraftwerk's soon-to-be-released double live album, which looks to be great. No summer dates in Ohio :( so I might need to figure out a way to be in Detroit for their June 2 show there. Sixty-year-old guys playing twenty-minute disco-synth songs sung in German...be there!


A Place to Stand

Thanks to Julie Lindquist for visiting my 'Rhetorics of Social Class' course on Wednesday. We discussed her important ethnography, A Place to Stand, and Julie generously spoke with grad students about the book's logistics, methods, and analyses as well as the emotional committment involved in doing the project. For those unfamiliar with her work, Lindquist studied the argumentative strategies of patrons of the working-class bar in suburban Chicago where she worked.

One of the things we talked about during her visit was her claim that 'argument' became the patrons' way to define rhetorically their own class identity. While patrons didn't utilize economic or "meta" jargon to talk about or identify their sociopolitical identity, they DID take part in political argument as a means to construct who they are and who they are not, using Lindquist (their bartender) as their "foil." Uniting around their shared (and usually friendly) opposition to her "liberal" positions on current events, the patrons used debate as their articulation of class position.

We connected this analysis to what Basil Bernstein and other sociolinguists say about working-class discourse--that working people often use qualified speech, hedging their statements with narrative ("this is just me, but...") and anecdote ("well, in my experience...") whereas middle-class and/or priveleged discourse is more willing to universalize and make blanket statements. Lindquist's ethnography, in my reading, disrupts Bernstein's schema in many ways. She finds that her working-class bar-goers are less rooted in storytelling and more rooted in deliberative rhetoric.

This and other connections grew from Wednesday's class. Thanks to Julie for making the drive to Oxford!

another reason for move

We'll likely make our move to Detroit in August. Wish they'd delay this weekend's Motor City Music Conference until then. Holy macaroni, check out the line-up at Cobo Joe's and the Majestic.


what's the haps?

What's the haps, you ask?

*House went on the market yesterday. One family had a look this afternoon, and another is coming by tomorrow. One step closer to the new job; one step closer to Detroit rock city.

*Spent most of today working on presentation/article on faculty attitudes toward (il)literacy. More thinking on the rhetoric of "range of abilities." A majority of faculty reported (on surveys about student writing proficiency) frustration at classes made up of students of varying ability. Many reported not knowing what to do in the classroom when ability differs widely. This says much about teaching practices--the idea that there ought to be a homogeneity of proficiency. Certainly this stems in part from the culture of testing, right? The idea that a test can generate like-abled communities of learning. And I think this also has much to do with who (the teacher) defines ability, proficiency, etc. Still tentative...More later.

*No time to say much about news from Rome, except to say that the word "church" means people, not person.

*Tomorrow Julie Lindquist visits my grad. class to talk about her outstanding ethnography of working-class tavern.


'range of skills' as a threat

The project that's this week's priority: a paper I'm working on about how faculty on my campus perceive writing proficiency. I did a pretty extensive survey last term asking faculty across-the-curriculum how much and what kinds of writing they assigned and also what they thought of student writing ability. I was wondering if there would be any interesting trends when I looked at their answers in conjunction with rank, department affiliation, and years employed at the university. A few such trends have emerged (I'll post about those later this week, as I crunch the data)...but what mainly interests me is the *language* that faculty used on the open-ended questions. Certainly a lot of panic in their assessments of student literacy (of lack thereof), but particularly when describing the RANGE of writing "skills." Range certainly represents a teaching *challenge*, but I'm interested in the implications of, well, freaking out about this kind of diversity. I wonder how I might try to understand this imperative in light of broader imperatives toward cultural homogenization. I'd like to look more at the literature on "universal design." More on this later (as I write the paper and think this through)...I'm giving a talk based on the research as part of our 'Faculty Seminar' series on the last of Friday of April--so I better get writing!

vinyl finds at brass armadillo

As my sojourn in SW Ohio begins to draw to a close, I realize my visits to the Brass Armadillo are numbered. The 'dillo, a sprawling antique mall, has been a great source of cool vinyl. This weekend's finds:
*T.Rex-"Tanx" (1973)
*Al Caiola-"Greasy Kid Stuff" (1963) Played guitar on a boatload of Johnny Mathis hits and recorded traditional Italian ballads...but he also put out a string of surf-guitar covers albums in the 60s, of which this is one. Fun stuff.
*Aretha Franklin-"Hey Now Hey: The Other Side of the Sky" (1973) Weird psychedelia. A concept album and collaboration with Quincy Jones.
*J.Geils Band-"Full House Live" (1972) Recorded at Detroit's Cinderella Ballroom.
*Kraftwerk-"Autobahn" (1974) Or, as Nicole calls them, the killer robots. I've always heard that Devo started out as a Kraftwerk parody.
I left behind the "Meatballs" soundtrack album because they wanted $4 (ridiculous!), but now I'm jonesing for the "Are You Ready for the Summer?" theme.


Friday Morning Questions

When will Todd Solondz's Palindromes come to Cinci? Why isn't Solondz huge?

Why did anyone get behind Rosa Parks's lawsuit against Outkast? This morning CNN reports the thing's been settled...but how did it even go that far? Outkast can't rap about (or even use the name of) an historical figure without infringing on a trademark? Had they not settled, I'd have been curious to see who might have jumped on that gravy train. An enterprising church (or maybe Regis Philbin) sues Kayne West, maybe?

How can ya not be sad about the world we live in?


Pope John Paul II on the Iraq war/occupation

Most media outlets seem to be ignoring Pope John Paul II's moral condemnation of the U.S.'s 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Pope spoke officially, from his moral seat, about the unjust nature of pre-emptive war. He offered an unequivocal assessment of pre-emptive strikes, citing both official doctrine of the Catholic Church as well as Thomistic thought (the writings of Thomas Aquinas that inform just-war theory) in order to morally condemn the invasion.

Media Matters does an excellent job refuting the right-wing distortions of the Pope's position on the war. My favorite of these distortions is Fox "News"'s assertion that the Pope's moral position on the war was a result of his bowing to pressure from his lieutenants. Come again? Pope JPII, no matter what you think of him, was NOT a leader who bowed to pressure. He faced enormous pressure to re-think his positions on the laity's role in church leadership, women and the church, birth control, and a slew of other issues about which his opinion was controversial. He faced enormous pressure from his inner circle not to apologize for the Vatican's historic anti-semitism--but made that apology anyway.

My second favorite of the distortions--one that Media Matters doesn't deal with--is the construction of the Pope as an ideological ally of Ronald Reagan. Yes, they both hated communism. But look more deeply at the record. Throughout the 80s, John Paul II consistently re-affirmed just-war theory and its abhorrence for the brands of fascism that Reagan was supporting (financially and militarily) in Latin America.

What a month we've had for cheap political co-opting of human life. Terry Shiavo--co-opted, her life turned into opportunities for political gain. Same with the Pope. His life and his life's work twisted and spun and reduced to partisan one-upsmanship. Look, the Pope took public positions consistent with conservative American politics: opposition to abortion and homosexuality. He took public positions consistent with progressive American politics: opposition to pre-emptive war and the death penalty. The Pope aligned himself with the battle to bring down communist regimes. He aligned himself with liberation movements for self-rule and the toppling of U.S.-backed fascism in central America. I agree with the Pope about some issues (the just war notion that military action by all nations, including the U.S., must meet ethical standards, for example) and disagree with him about others (the ordination of women, for example). Rush Limbaugh et al: stop using his life for your own narrow-ass agenda!

Good sources on just-war theory:
Just-War Theory (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
The American Catholic
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

**Thanks to Fr. Art McGovern, SJ, a professor mine from my undergrad. days, who introduced me to Catholic social justice teaching. I took Fr. McGovern's class in Ethics during freshman year and Peace and Social Justice during junior year. Both classes involved lots of reading, writing, debating, and attending various events in Detroit (before "service learning" was talked about much). Fr. McGovern embodied Jesuit education and liberal learning. His book "Marxism, an American Christian Perspective" is invaluable. Rest in peace.

back on the road

I don't think I'd have the stamina for a job that involved constant traveling. Going through the airport is, frankly, humiliating: taking off the belt and shoes, getting patted down, having somebody paw through the briefcase. Breathing that canned, airplane air always makes me feel like I've been inhaling my oxygen through a dirty fiberglass filter. Squeezing into seats, designed apparently for super-models and eleven-year-olds, I usually feel hot, cramped, and not a little germ-phobic. And traveling, whether business or pleasure, brings out the worst eating habits (10:30...pizza and beer anyone?).

Today, dealing with airline travel will be worth it. Heading to the Bay Area for my good pal (since high school) Nate's wedding. Congrats! Talk about a guy who deserves all kinds of happiness and success. Old friends will be there, plus several of the priests who staffed our seminary high school (haven't seen them since the early 90s). Not sure whether I'm stepping into a time machine, a 'Christmas Carol'-style dream ("I am the rector of Christmas past"), or an all-male version of the "high school reunion" cliche. Looking back on the seminary, I see lots of connections with all that bugs me about airline travel--giving up control. That regimented life. The rules. The schedules. The lack of discretionary time. One of the last things I did before leaving the seminary was go through the battery of pscyhological testing that all seminarians must complete. My results revealed a distrust of institutions and authoritarian structures. A trait ("disorder"?) that's served me well in academe. Didn't serve me as well in the seminary. Nor at airports.



Since my grandmother's death last year, Nicole and I have been trying on a pretty regular basis to recreate her cooking. Recent successes include "greens and beans" (or, "minestra," as the food network calls it) prepared in one of the dutch ovens that was hers. Easy stuff: onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and red pepper flakes in olive oil until everything's soft. Then add a couple cans of chicken stock and a can of great northern beans. Boil a bunch of chopped swiss chard separately, drain, and add to the soup. Let it all cook together for at least thirty minutes. Mmmmm.

Anyway, last night we made "pizza" a la Grandma D. Real simple dough: warm water, flour, yeast, pinch of salt. We let it rise, rolled it out, brushed the top with olive oil and then generous amount of black pepper, and baked. I guess it's more like "bread," but to her it was "pizza." (Of course, while we were at it, we also used the dough to make one with spinach, roasted garlic, fresh mozzarella, and no sauce.)


The Kills

Last night at Newport Kentucky's legendary Southgate House: The Kills. What a show. The band's made up of a transatlantic duo who exploit sexual tension to create really loud, agressive, bluesy punkrock. Both band members play guitar and sing and the cacophony's backed up by drum machines and (I think) backing tracks that are heavy on the bass and kinda hard on the ears of the over-thirty crowd (I'm just speculating of course). But American Idol this ain't. They ripped through virtually their entire, excellent, new album No Wow and broke out a few tunes from their debut (which isn't as strong a record) including "Cat Claw," one of woxy's last heavy-rotation songs before the station's demise and subsequent online rebirth. Mostly they stuck to the whole punkrock two-minute-tune aesthetic, but at times they let the distortion do a little extended eardrum-shredding. The frontwoman, who goes by "VV" for some reason, would either leer at the audience or pace, cat-like, during these solos. I really had the sense she was going to pull out a weapon at several points--especially when she climbed atop the amps. The highlight of the show was clearly the encore, during which the band covered Captain Beefheart's "Dropout Boogie"--a perfect ending to the show. They actually made the Captain's lyrics make sense: "ya told her you love her/so bring her the butter/ya love her adapt her." Great, great show.