e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



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.