Christmas Eve is all about the fish and seafood. My dad is the main architect of the dinner, but my sister and I helped. A lot of frying--croppies, shrimp, smelt--and I have the burn to prove it. Then there's the squid, which can't be undercooked or overcooked or it becomes inedible. I take no credit for the squid. That was all dad. Ditto the bacala salad. When I was a kid, my grandma served the bacala straight, but my dad's taken to combining the fish with eggplant, artichokes, celery, et al which is a brilliant move.
After the late-night drive, Christmas day. I made turkey with all the trimmings for the wife's side of the family. Even the gravy (I'm notoriously inconsistent with gravy) turned out well. Drippings from the turkey in a pan, I shake up milk and flour in a tupperware and then whisk the mixture into the drippings. Add a dash of salt and pepper, and that's it. Good stuff. Simple mashed potatoes. Simple stuffing (lots of celery and sage). Lots of homemade cookies. All-American meal after the seafood extravaganza of the previous night.
Yesterday, we celebrated Nicole's birthday. I made chili, a big fruit salad with lots of wedges of clementines, and a ricotta cake with cherries on top. That pretty much capped off the cooking frenzy. I'm starting a healthy eating plan a day early, missing the new year's rush.
In his work on journaling, scholar Tom Romano talks about imagining an audience for his journal writing: himself as an old man, an old man who may or may not remember what it felt like to be 20 years old, or 35, or whatever age. Lists freeze a moment like few other genres can.
As a fairly obsessive music fan, the music lists are by far my favorite. As an old man, maybe forgetful of what my 34th year was like, what will I remember as my favorite music of 2008? Here's the recorded music I most enjoyed...
10. Tie: Hard Lessons, "See and Be Scene" and Estelle/Kanye West, "American Boy"
Two great duets. The Hard Lessons let the boy-girl vocal sharing mirror the fact that the guitar and organ share lead duties too. The vocals, which critique hipsterism, are a bit predictable, but that doesn't stop the song from being a great 60s pop throwback anthem. Meanwhile, Estelle (yes, her voice is gorgeous) and Kanye raise the bar for r&b ballads.
9. REM, Accelerate album
Is this the greatest thing REM's recorded? Of course not. But listen without prejudice and find lean, fast rock songs like "Living Well is the Best Revenge" and "Man-Sized Wreath." Who cares if they're old? So am I.
8. Belle and Sebastian, "I'm Waiting for the Man"
From the two-disc BBC Sessions record, this live Velvet Underground cover is, out of nowhere, one of B&S's essential recordings. How can a band that does twee get so gritty?
7. Beyonce, "Single Ladies"
I'm not a big fan of much top 40 music, but Beyonce turns out such hooky, well-written, well-executed singles, you can't help but listen.
6. The Kills, Midnight Boom album
They do dirty blues-rock better than The Black Keys in my opinion. Antagonistic lyrics and an overall aggressive ethos, but without sacrificing melody. Standout track: "Tape Song."
5. SSM, Break Your Arm for Evolution album
Psychedelic synth-rock from Detroit. The weirdest record I heard all year. Best when consumed loudly.
4. Dengue Fever, Venus on Earth album
Dengue Fever gets tagged with the dreaded "dad rock" and "NPR rock" labels all the time and, well, I first heard them on NPR, so I guess the tags have merit. Who cares? DF is a psychedelic-rock band fronted by a Cambodian diva who on some tracks sings gorgeous love songs in her native tongue. Other tunes, sung in English by various band members, take a more traditional rock approach. The opener, "Seeing Hands" is hypnotic. "Sober Driver," a kind of re-telling of Wilco's "Passenger Side," is funny and sad all at once.
3. TV on the Radio, "Golden Age"
What a messy and beautiful collision of funk, Afrobeat, pop, and rock: "It comes like a natural disaster/all blowin' up like a ghetto blaster."
2. Santogold, s/t album
Like TVOTR, genre and race boundaries are a non-issue for Santogold. Take a little ska, a little punk, a little dance, a little electronic...you get the point. A lot of the year's best music seems influenced by the mash-up movement that was so popular a few years back, except now artists are mashing the disparate genres on their own, making later mashes unnecessary.
1. The Dirtbombs, We Have You Surrounded album
Thematically, the tightest record yet from the best band in Detroit. Lyrics about urban unrest and anxiety set to a fast and fun amalgamation of soul and punk rock. The perfect soundtrack for a year when things fell apart in motown.
How stupid was Blagojevich? He apparently didn't think anybody would be paying attention to the appointment of a replacement for that obscure Illinois politician WHO JUST GOT ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Nah, nobody's gonna be watching that process.
Me? I've never seen Titanic, Top Gun, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I've never listened to a Radiohead studio album from beginning to end. I've never read Thomas Pynchon, except for the Crying of Lot 49, which I read for a class (this would have been circa 1995, Postmodernism taught by Prof. Culik).
At my former institution, we once played the "what book haven't you read?" at an English Department party. The highbrow version of the AV Club article, I suppose.
How about you? What haven't you read? What haven't you consumed?
Having said that, what's the story with "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"? Specifically, the line about the Christmas party where people share "scary ghost stories." Who tells ghost stories at a Christmas party?
Also, how about Louis Prima's "Shake Hands with Santa Claus." Not bad for a Christmas song, but what's with the whole verse about bananas? "If you want bananas, I'll give you bananas." I think this line is supposed to be from Santa's perspective, and I guess the implicit point Santa is making is that he can give you anything you want. I'm not sure bananas are the best way to illustrate the breadth of Santa's gift-giving ability. Alternate interpretation: Prima is lapsing into his King Louie persona from The Jungle Book.
Despite feeling sluggish, nice to be back after a great week in Arizona. The house is still standing. Hyatt and Smokey are still the most neurotic dogs in the motor city. And sadly Michigan is still cold.
As always, our Arizona hosts were awesome and showed us a good time. We did a quick trip to Tucson but mostly stayed in the Tempe-Phoenix area, where we took in the Botanical Gardens (which has a spectacular Chihuly Glass installation right now) and The Heard. Nicole and I ended up spending the better part of a day at the Heard Museum and got a lot out of their exhibit on the awful Indian boarding schools the government set up for kids who they essentially kidnapped in order to "civilize."
No matter how cool Detroit is, there's always a part of me that wonders why we ever left Arizona. Especially this time of year.
Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It's more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros? Does its pre-existing mythology impact its actual value, or must it be examined inside a cultural vacuum, as if this creature is no more (or less) special than the remainder of the animal kingdom? I've been thinking about this record for 15 years; during that span, I've thought about this record more than I've thought about China, and maybe as much as I've thought about the principles of democracy. This is a little like when that grizzly bear finally ate Timothy Treadwell: Intellectually, he always knew it was coming. He had to. His very existence was built around that conclusion. But you still can't psychologically prepare for the bear who eats you alive, particularly if the bear wears cornrows.The AV Club is the perfect venue for Klosterman's review. A venue for snark. Not quite as hipster-snooty as Pitchfork (which AV Club scoops with its review of Chinese Democracy!). A place wear Klosterman can stretch out and say what he wants to say about the record, himself, the whole Axl spectacle. The release of "Democracy" represents a real head-exploding, end-of-an-era, kind of pop culture moment. Nixon and Elvis shaking hands at the White House. A member of Public Enemy getting a reality tv show. But it's also inevitably disappointing. Kind of like if the Beatles would have accepted Lorne Michaels' invitation to reunite on Saturday Night Live in the 70s.
I don't have much interest in listening to "Chinese Democracy." But the review interests me very much. Klosterman's review also has a head-exploding kind of quality to it. It's like if David Sedaris' family released exhaustive, hidden camera footage of Sedaris' youth. Or if O.J. Simpson and the Goldman family all became buddies. All of a sudden, everything changes. I'm using hyperbole here. I mean, Klosterman has other obsessions--KISS comes to mind, not to mention his interest in why Billy Joel doesn't have more critical acclaim, etc. And I genuinely admire the way Klosterman reveres his subject matter and points to its absurdity all at once. He really is one of my favorite writers.
Proponents and opponents of particular causes seem to think the press should offer its "support" or "opposition" for those causes. The result is that pundits make odd statements like "The media doesn't support the president." Huh?
I don't kid myself into believing that some idealized version of objectivity can be attained. The media always filters, emphasizes and de-emphasizes, foregrounds and backgrounds, includes and excludes. But that doesn't negate the basic responsibilty of the press: report and inform. Even in a time of war, the press needs to report on what's going on, thereby keeping us informed.
Back to the auto industry. In both op-ed pages and front-page news articles, the local press has not created spaces to question the current moment and consider the complexities and implications of whether the federal government should loan the auto industry $25 billion. It's simply taken for granted that Detroit ought to get these loans.
Those who oppose--or even question--the loans are showing "vitriol" for car companies. They "hate the industry" and "rely on half-truths and lies."
Look, for various reasons I hope that congress acts quickly and makes these loans. Otherwise, the state where I live will likely slip into a massive recession. Otherwise, taxpayers will likely have to pay even more to contend with the unemployment and crime which will result. Let me be clear: I'm in favor of the loans.
But I'm also in favor of reasoned debate. I want to hear multiple points-of-view. I don't think the debate benefits from dismissing opponents of the loan as hateful or uninformed. How do you know that opposition to the loans is necessarily an expression of vitriol? How do you know opposition necessarily results from being misinformed?
I actually think it's better for the auto industry and for workers to make room for multiple perspectives. Let's talk about the business practices that led to the current situation. Let's talk about the American auto industry's lack of committment to hybrids and opposition to environmental regulation. Too many in the local media think the current moment is a moment where we should shut up and "support" the industry. I'm pro-union and pro-Michigan. I'm also pro-information. Don't try to silence the various points-of-view that are floating around out there.
A friend of ours had a convention at the MGM Grand, one of Detroit's gigantic new casinos. The organizers blocked too many rooms and they would have remained empty, so our pal put out an e-mail yesterday offering free rooms. Free night at a fancy place? We accepted.
Normally I tend to hate casinos. Not for any moral reason necessarily, they're just depressing. And the glassy-eyed patrons tend to be so focused on the reason they're there--as if it's a business venture--that they don't strike me as very friendly. But Nicole and I did decide to splurge and play $20 on a 'Deal or No Deal' slot machine. We quickly turned our $20 into $35 and quit.
The hotel room. Really something else. Flat-screen tv in the room, and one embedded in the mirror of the bathroom. Fancy sheets. A view of the Ambassador Bridge. The whole deal. Worth $300? I just find it hard to believe anybody in this state (or even visiting this state) has that much money. At any rate, we had a very nice time.
Ironically enough, this a.m. I'm off to the HAND (Homeless Action Network of Detroit) march downtown with a group of my service learning students. They've been hammering away at the research projects they've been doing in consultation with HAND and I'm excited for them to see another view of the organization. Too bad it's looking like freezing rain all day. Bundle up.
Have others out there used Lazere? Any thoughts on this? One challenge is how to reconcile his guidelines with the realities of political discourse. My students have essentially concluded that nobody really follows these ground rules. Not on cable news, certainly, but not on op-ed pages either. I can't say I disagree with their assessments, but one of the things I'm trying to do is to temper their critiques of the current climate with genre realities. For instance, an op-ed piece simply doesn't allow enough space to do all the things Lazere suggests. A couple hundred words, max. It's simply not possible to represent "fully" the mythic "other side."
We've had some good discussions that come down to the notion that something's gotta give. Following any set of ground rules for argumentats limits the possibilities, putting regulations of sorts on Aristotle's definition of rhetoric ("all" the available means of persuasion). If you follow Lazere's rules, you draw on all the ethical means. One downside to using Lazere: students often end up looking for this impossible an untenable "bias free" political rhetoric. Again, I need to do a better job teaching civic genres. I keep writing on student papers things like "but an op-ed is SUPPOSED to advance a particular p-o-v."
--Just picked up: The Clash, "Live at Shea Stadium." What a great piece of work. The setlist is a veritable greatest hits. The band's legendary energy, in full effect on "Shea Stadium," is remarkable, given that they're in front of tens of thousands of Who fans standing around in the rain. They transcend the "opening act" label and give every fan who thought she was paying to see The Who's "final" tour her money's worth, and then some.
--A lovely snow this a.m. I hit Coffee Beanery bright and early and got some good work done. Most productive morning in some time, in fact. Maybe the brisk air. Maybe the pretty white stuff covering Woodward.
--Facebook? Way addictive. Not sure whether or not I'm glad about succumbing.
But what interests me as much as the quality of the work the students are producing is the fact that we're using a whole book. The whole text "movement"--if there is such a thing--probably relies too heavily on nostalgic and mythic arguments (e.g., students don't read). And yet I've felt called in recent years in this direction. Part of it is a general dislike for textbooks. Also, I'm just tired, after a decade or so of teaching writing, of "readers." Too many excerpts. Too much canonizing of "essays," a genre so disparate and big umbrella that it's lost meaning.
While I don't buy into the nostalgic elements of the pro-whole text arguments, I do buy into the value of engaging with book-length pieces of non-fiction. Books can create sustained discussions (I know, so can a series of excerpts on a common theme). Books resist the imperative to take small bites of texts and writers.
I'm inclined to keep experimenting with whole texts in just about all of the undergrad classes I teach. So far I've seen benefits in terms of creating a space that's intellectual and discussion-oriented. A piece of non-fiction like Loeb's book models lots of rhetorical devices and presents lots of writing opportunities.
Polls closed at 8:00. Headed home, took a quick shower, had a quick sandwich, and Nicole and I went to a County Democrat party. Expensive cash bar, kind of boring and stuffy, too loud to hear the televisions. So we headed to a results-watching party in Berkley organized by a judicial candidate who we'd supported actively. His whole crew was there, along with lots of members of our town's democrat club. Clearly the better party. Plus, cheap beer and burgers. Woo-hoo. Several recounts of absebtee ballots resulted in a lot of nail-biting, but in the end, Jamie Wittenberg (a classmate of Nicole's) is our new district judge. Less nail-biting over President-Elect Obama. How good does it feel to type those words? We were all kind of freaking out, in a pensive and cautious way, when they called Pennsylvania so quickly. Then Ohio. Then Florida. As soons as west-coast polls closed, McCain gave his very gracious and thoroughly classy (and already malaligned as wimpy by Limbaugh et al) concession speech.
What's that line that Garrison Keilor always uses about doing good work? That's what kept running through my head, as I thought about the prospects of an optimistic, progressive, ethical leader for our country. Now do good work. And the rest of us: Hold Obama accountable. Hold the democrat-controlled legislature accountable. Insist they keep promises. Insist they maintain the integrity, the optimism, the reform, and the legislative agenda they've preached. Health care. Lower taxes for working and middle classes. Troop withdrawal. Better support for education at all levels. Anybody going to inauguration? At midnight on Tuesday night, I text-messaged by nephew at Georgetown and threatened to crash on his dorm floor if need be!
For example, we just read a novel (more or less, a piece of "young-adult lit") called "Twisted," an angsty and interesting narrative about a suburban high school kid who finds himself in a culture of violence, first as a victim of bullying and later, as...well, I don't want to give it away. Read the book. Well worth your time. Students have designed some interesting writing projects connected to the text, some opting for more traditional kinds of textual analysis and others looking at the book critical and popular reception among various audiences.
They've been working pretty hard, so tomorrow we're going to spend half of class watching an episode of "Freaks and Geeks," the canceled-before-its-time show which presents some neat connections to the novel. The show follows two cliques in a circa-1980 suburban Detroit high school: stoners and nerds. Much of the action centers on Lindsay, who decides to leave the world of mathletes and try to become a "freak." I've never seen anything on tv as well-written. The premise sounds "after school special" but always transcends those cliches, opting instead for one relentlessly awkward representation of adolescence after another: the stoner serenading his girlfriend with Styx's "Lady," the peanut allergy that results in an ER visit, gym class scenes, and the geeks watching a stag film.
The show was clearly headed for cancellation and the last few episodes really expand the thin-line-between-stoner-and-nerd theme begun with Lindsay's clique switch. One of the freaks gets caught with dope and has to join A/V as punishment, subsequently realizing how awesome Dungeons and Dragons is. In the series finale, Lindsay blows off academic camp in Ann Arbor and runs away with deadheads for the summer. A perfectly surreal-yet-banal ending to the series. The school's hippy guidance counselor turns her onto the Grateful Dead, loaning her a copy of "American Beauty" he thinks will speak to her angst. It does. I don't even like the Dead very much, but when she puts on "Box of Rain" in her bedroom, it's a moment of transcendence:
Look out any windowAnyway, great book and great show. And those 327 students have earned half a casual class.
any morning, any evening, any day.
Maybe the sun is shining
birds are winging
rain is falling from a heavy sky
what do you want me to do?
First, ABC's Elizabeth Vargas asks Sarah Palin is she has aspirations for 2012. Her response: "I'm not doing this for naught."
Second, and this one deserves to be quoted at length, George Will's column today, the headline of which reads "John the Careless." Will hits hard the missteps of the McCain-Palin campaign, and gets at what he sees as the problematics of both of their attitudes and agendas.
From the invasion of Iraq to the selection of Sarah Palin, carelessness has characterized recent episodes of faux conservatism. Tuesday's probable repudiation of the Republican Party will punish characteristics displayed in the campaign's closing days.
Some polls show that Palin has become an even heavier weight in John McCain's saddle than his association with George W. Bush. Did McCain, who seems to think that Palin's never having attended a "Georgetown cocktail party" is sufficient qualification for the vice presidency, lift an eyebrow when she said that vice presidents "are in charge of the United States Senate"?
She may have been tailoring her narrative to her audience of third-graders, who do not know that vice presidents have no constitutional function in the Senate other than to cast tie-breaking votes. But does she know that when Lyndon Johnson, transformed by the 1960 election from Senate majority leader into vice president, ventured to the Capitol to attend the Democratic senators' weekly policy luncheon, the new majority leader, Montana's Mike Mansfield, supported by his caucus, barred him because his presence would be a derogation of the Senate's autonomy?
Perhaps Palin's confusion about the office for which she is auditioning comes from listening to its current occupant. Dick Cheney, the foremost practitioner of this administration's constitutional carelessness in aggrandizing executive power, regularly attends the Senate Republicans' Tuesday luncheons. He has said jocularly that he is "a product" of the Senate, which pays his salary, and that he has no "official duties" in the executive branch. His situational constitutionalism has, however, led him to assert, when claiming exemption from a particular executive order, that he is a member of the legislative branch and, when seeking to shield certain of his deliberations from legislative inquiry, to say that he is a member of the executive branch.
Palin may be an inveterate simplifier; McCain has a history of reducing controversies to cartoons. A Republican financial expert recalls attending a dinner with McCain for the purpose of discussing with him domestic and international financial complexities that clearly did not fascinate the senator. As the dinner ended, McCain's question for his briefer was: "So, who is the villain?"
Plans have come together for a Halloween party this Friday. My parents, Anna and company, and miscelaneous friends and neighbors. Menu: walking tacos, Brier Hill pizza made by my folks, some baked fish with fresh lime for anybody not wanting to dig on the tacos, and some version of the salad I usually make when my sister comes over (romaine, hearts of palm, walnuts, and tart apples with a yogurt dressing). Agenda: hand out candy; go check out over-the-top, scare-the-local-kiddies yards in our neighborhood; and who knows what else? Should be fun.
Also cooking (not in the kitchen): Tonight is election town hall down on my campus, to be televised locally on public tv. Many of my students are attending, some are participating, and I told them I'd be there. Almost caught up on paper grading. I can't recall feeling so overwhelmed by the paper load in years. What's going on? And on a serious note...shout out to Bill H. from my Peace and Justice group who's giving a kidney to another parishioner at our church this afternoon. Be well!
I've already made what Nicole and I consider the ultimate fall dish: pumpkin pasta. A delicious combination of diced bacon, fresh pumpkin, sage, chicken stock, parmesan cheese, and a little heavy cream, served over rigatoni.
We also had walking tacos. I'm not sure if this is a fall thing or not, but we made them on Sunday and they tasted great. Never had a walking taco? Take a single-serving bag of frito's and put taco fixins (seasoned ground meat, veggies, cheese, sour cream, whatever you like) right into the bag with the chips. Stir and eat with a fork while walking around. Walking taco.
I couldn't bring myself to watch HSM3 (and yet I can bring myself to type the abbreviation?) so while Jenna and Nicole dug on the musical I wandered next door at the multiplex and saw 'W,' the Oliver Stone pic about our current prez. W--the film that is--had no discernible point, no consistent vision, no sustained insights into W or his inner circle. W amounted to two hours of actors doing (mostly very good) impressions of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. More an exercise in mimicry than a narrative or even a character sketch, the film was, in short, pretty bad.
Thandie Newton's performance as Condi Rice was bizarre. She just kind of sat there and quaked a little bit, neverously and robotically glancing around the room. She looked animatronic, like she belonged in the Hall of Presidents at Disney World. Anytime I've seen her on television, Rice has looked confident and stoic, so the portrayal made no sense to me at all.
And I didn't think the film was a hatchet job on Bush either. At least a hatchet job would have had a clearer vision. The representation of W didn't strike me as skewed or distorted. If anything, it struck closely to a well-documented mythology of W that is very familiar to even casual observers of the political process. W. didn't do particularly well in college or in the business world. He drank way too much when he was in his 20s and 30s. He struggled to please his dad. He became an Evangelical Christian and fell in with a social movement bent on moving the GOP away from fiscal convervativism and toward a family values-driven agenda. He surrounded himself with more experienced folks and gave them more power than vice-presidents, cabinet secretaries, and deputy chiefs of staff usually have been given. If you haven't seen the film yet, I just ruined it for you. I left the theater with an overwhelming sense of "no shit, Sherlock."
I also left the theater wondering about the film's target audience. Lefties and Bush bashers? If so, I should have liked the film more. A heavier-handed or more salacious film--one that showed W doing hard drugs or foregrounded the illegalities of pre-emptive war and U.N. violations, for instance--would have had a more affective, rally-the-left-base relationship with its audience. Undecided voters as audience? Maybe, but I don't think anybody stuck in the middle of this presidential election would be swayed by anything in the film. There's little if any polemic. This isn't a Michael Moore film. The best comparison would be The Queen (about Queen Elizabeth II during the week that Princess Diana died), a much, much better film that managed to reveal something in the psyches of its main characters. In addition to containing more internal landscapes than W, The Queen also concerned itself with public figures who had enigmatic characteristics. By virtue of media exposure and scrutiny from the left as well as the superficial nature of his own personality and intellect, there's not much we don't know about W. There's nothing to peel back.
'Get out the vote' canvassing on both Saturday and Sunday with our town's democrat club. Not since '96 have I felt like I'm voting for a guy, as opposed to voting *against* the other guy.
Great line from The Wire (I'm almost through season one on dvd): "In this town, there's a thin line between campaign poster and photo array."
My students in the two service-learning, pilot sections of comp start their group projects this weekend, researching and writing neighborhood field reports for the Homeless Action Network of Detroit. Gearing up for the first round of research, the students seemed genuinely excited about doing something real. They're designing GIS maps, conducting interviews with neighborhood merchants, and writing reports that will hopefully help HAND in its census efforts.
Must get back to reading student papers...
Maybe the best birthday present yesterday was being called a good writer. Our writing faculty gave a "strategic vision" talk to our dean and her executive council, outlining our long-term plans, hopes, etc. My piece of the talk: how the field of writing studies developed and evolved over the past few decades. A lot to cover in five minutes, so to conserve time and stay organized I used the old "read the presentation right off the paper" method, eliciting several compliments. Thank you, people who are deciding whether to give me tenure in this next new months.
I can't bring myself to care much about the cost of Sarah Palin's wardrobe. I'm not sure why anyone is outraged about this, unless maybe if you gave money to the RNC and don't think a six-figure wardrobe is a good use of your donation money. Right now I'm wearing a pair of pants I bought for two bucks at a thriftsore, a sweater that I think I got for Christmas one year when I still lived in Arizona (98-02), and a pair of tennis shoes with holes...and I wouldn't know one designer dress from another if my life depended on it. I wouldn't opt to spend any sizable amount of money on clothing, but why do I care if Sarah Palin's "people" do? I'm not paying for it. I think many of her political positions are reprehensible, but her clothing isn't. In fact, the more energy expended on criticizing her clothes, the less energy expended on criticizing her reactionary political beliefs. Come on, ya'll.
On campus, then, for a meeting of the steering committee of the Civic Engagement Project, which means free lunch. Yay. Next, must mark a big fat stack of papers that I should have read over the weekend. Oh, and an article that must be peer-reviewed by Wednesday. Also happening Wednesday: tenure-track members of the composition discipline must give a presentation before the executive council of the dean's office. We're working on a "strategic vision" for the college. I'm responsible for preparing the part of the presentation where we talk about how the discipline of "writing studies" developed and subsequently went through various paradigm shifts. I've got two minutes to tackle that topic. How about that? And, and, and a hundred other things.
Yet despite the busy-ness, I must say something about Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. First, she was funny, although she mostly sat back and let others make the jokes. Still, what a good sport. Maybe the ultimate goal was for her to seem likable; mission accomplished. The NYT piece (use link above) rightly points out that she probably didn't do much to improve her reputation as a lightweight. Bopping one's head while Amy Pohler raps about shooting moose does not equal gravitas, especially nine hours before a prominent and well-respected republican like Colin Powell endorses your opponent. So you get the GOP ticket joshing around on SNL and you get the democratic ticket dominating the Sunday a.m. news shows. I'll take that weekend. Obama continues looking infintely more presidential and McCain-Palin continue looking desperate.
Curious that Palin's people consented to some of the Alec Baldwin jokes. Baldwin angrily, bitingly calls her "that horrible woman" in the bit where he pretends to think the real Palin is Tiny Fey. Baldwin's bit was almost nostalgic, harkening back to a (probably non-existent) time when SNL represented a less diffuse set of counter-cultural worldviews. "She goes against everything we stand for," Baldwin implored Lorne Michaels, invoking a mythic, post-Watergate "we" that SNL represented for about twenty minutes in the mid-70s (if at all). And the punchline of that bit: "you are way hotter in person." I'm sure her handlers figure the jokes are another way to signify Palin as the anti-feminist, the one who can "have it all" without the "radical" and "angry" rhetoric and agenda.
Driving back to Michigan last night from a weekend in Ohio, Nicole made the observation that Palin's nicely setting herself up for a job hosting a tv show and, sure enough, the NYT piece speculates on that very possibility. That Nicole, she's a smarty. In the (blessed) event of a McCain-Palin loss, Palin certainly is set up to write a book, command a huge speaker's fee on the far-right lecture circuit, and, yes, maybe go into showbiz (maybe a Fox News--an entity that's got absolutely nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with showbiz--talk show with what's-her-name from The View serving as her Ed McMahon?). She has continually looked foolish and shockingly unprepared over the past two months, but she's going to be a very rich woman regardless of what happens on November 4.
Talked to many, many Ohioans over the weekend, the vast majority of whom support McCain-Palin. Mainly due to the "Obama sounds good but how will he pay for it all?" argument. As if indefinite military comittments five-thousand miles away; newly imposed taxes on health care; and social service cuts that will result in greater poverty and greater reliance on ERs for basic services are cheap. I did notice--and this is WAY anecdotal--a generational split, with the 40-and-under crowd seeming to lean Obama. (Thank God for absentee ballots for college students!) I suppose they have more years to benefit from optimism, positive social change, and a belief in common good and more years to feel the negative effects of division and cynicism. You know, McCain's inability to look Obama in the eye or even say his name is increasingly seeming like the epitome of what election '08 represents. Maybe those of us under a certain age feel as if we're the ones who'll foot the bill--in terms of both moral cost and fiscal cost--for years and years of Iraqi occupation. We're the ones who don't want to be what the angry McCain signifies.
On a happier note, another awesome Apple Butter party at my parents' house this weekend. Good food and drink, good company, good hayride, good campfire, and a good game of football. 136 people in their backyard...what a fiesta!
I was wrong. McCain, in what seemed even to McCain supporters like desperation, actually tried to stear the conversation away from issues and toward Obama's "associations." Ugh. One of the things that made Obama effective last night was his calm but imperative statements about wanting to get back to talking about, you know, the candidates' platforms. Finally, when neither McCain nor the moderator thought that was a good idea, Obama zinged, "You've made Bill Ayers the centerpiece of your campaign." Bingo. An education professor who both republicans and democrats in Illinois frequently work with due to his expertise on school reform. I'm not on any boards, but I'm on a boatload of committees and action groups and I don't vouch for the beliefs and past actions of all the people with whom I serve.
Other McCain moment of desperation: "I'm not George Bush." Um, okay. That had to make W feel good, when his own party's candidate was so explicit about the need to establish that distance.
McCain, he of the hurt feelings, knows damn well that John Lewis wasn't comparing him to George Wallace when Lewis said that the atmophere at recent Sarah Palin events feels like a Wallace rally. How is that a stretch? People at a political rally yelled "kill him" about an African-American public figure. How is it a stretch, how is it even a personal attack, to say that such a moment is reminiscent of segregationist ideology and much worse? Unlike a lot of lefties, by the way, I don't hold Palin responsible for those comments. I don't know for certain that she heard them. I don't know for certain there's any causation between her campaign rhetoric and the "kill him" chant. If Lewis had said that Palin reminds him of George Wallace, then Palin and McCain would have a substantial beef, albeit a beef with Lewis, not Obama. McCain feigning hurt feelings = moment of desperation number three.
I would have liked to have heard even more logocentric stuff from Obama. He seems to be winning on the issues, so why not talk policy even more? He did a very good job on health care, I thought, although a conservative dude at the watering hole last night resopnded to that moment in the debate by saying "go to Canada then." I don't know if he was talking to Obama, or our democrat club. He didn't like us any more than he liked Obama.
In fact, at one point, this guy said something to our group like "shut the f#@! up so people in the thinking man's [sic] party can listen." Clever. He also threatened to take a woman in our party "outside to the parking lot." Her response: "Let's do it. I'll keep my arms at my side and watch you hit a lady, big man." On the way home, Nicole colorfully commented how her response would have involved a less passive strategy out in the parking lot. That Nicole.
The place of partisan politics on college campuses. One point often lost in the debate is how the arguments, on both sides really, tend to infantilize college students and puff up professor influence. We have to mold these young minds and show them how to be civically active adults. Really? Aside from the troubling and monolithic way such an argument invokes student need, much research about civic engagement on campus suggests students engage differently (through places of worship, for instance) from professors but at no lower a rate. Others , like Fish, argue: We abuse our position of influence and neglect "real" teaching when we "bring" politics into class. I have been interested in the rhetoric of this debate for a decade and I have yet to see solid evidence establishing the influence we allegedly have over students.
College students are adults. They can make up their own minds. They do make up their own minds. They bring experiences, habits, literacies, and ideas with them. Hopefully they continue to gain new experiences, habits, literacies, and ideas. Hopefully we are effective enough to expand their repertoire as thinkers and doers. Are we talking about partisan politics this semester in my rhetoric classes? You bet. Do I have partisan bumper stickers on my car and a button on my backpack? You bet. Do I take "public" stands on issues and candidates, both on and off camps? You bet. Do I wear a button to class? No. Exercising both my first amendment rights and my academic freedom as well, I choose not to. Given my teaching style (discussion-oriented, informal, open) , I think such a symbol might distract. For some teaching styles, such a symbol might help.
The policy is bogus because it removes those aforementioned liberties and because it suggests that college students are something other than adults with prerogatives who have chosen to enter into an arena of competing and new prerogatives.
Experience-as-proof has its limits and I don't mean to generalize here, but let me invoke my own story. As an undergraduate, I knew a great deal about the politics of many of my professors. Some, not so much. But a lot of my professors displayed symbols, on their office doors for instance. And a lot of them brought not only the issues but also their perspectives into the classroom. Certainly in courses like ethics and women's studies, but also in courses like postmodern fiction and philosophies of God. I studied with a lot of outspoken public intellectuals. Many were far to the left, but not all of them. I took several philosophy classes with an extremely conservative Catholic, a member of the religious right who incorporated his views on abortion to illustrate various lessons: a priori argumentation, for instance.
Now, granted, I was at a private University. Also, it was the early 90s, the height of the campus multi-culturalism movement. But the point is: I never felt coerced, never felt victimized by indoctrination, never felt like a child incapable of making up my mind. I felt challenged to consider new things. It's called adulthood.
After Chinese take-out from a Michigan Ave. dive, we headed to Cobo, saw a long line on the sidewalk between Cobo and Joe Louis Arena, and so parked on the Cobo roof thinking we could avoid the long line. Down in the lobby, security shuffled us outside to the end of the line. Outrage! We immediately worried we were experiencing an "oversell" situation. Kind of like when radio stations have free movie tickets (what can I say? Nicole and I love cheap dates) but give away three tickets for each seat and you have to get there like an hour early but it's totally worth it because the people watching is so awesome and the price is so free.
Anyhow, we were on the verge of outrage because it was cold and we had now spent ten bucks to park on the roof. Plus, we hosted a debate-watching party for the campaign and canvassed Berkley. Getting shut out would seem completely...Keep cool--plenty of seats available, assured the young Obama campaigners with their clipboards and their Barack The Vote t-shirts.
Finally, the doors opened. Concert-goers shuffled past about two dozen of Detroit's finest wearing...wait for it...shirts that said "Detroit Police Department Gang Unit." I'm all for safety, but did they have to wear the gang unit gear? Wouldn't regular uniforms have been just as effective? We grabbed a couple good seats in the lower balcony and enjoyed the stylings of a DJ whose name they never gave, who spun some Detroit house music while the Obama logo flashed on a screen behind him.
After a quickie campaign film (good but generic, probably recycled from the national convention--would it have killed them to put together a motor city version?), two local radio personalities from two competing hip hop stations MC'd a series of very brief speakers including Diane Hathaway who is running for Supreme Court and a trio of young field organizers from the campaign. I had expected a little bit higher wattage (maybe our governor who played the role of Palin during Biden debate prep? maybe the new mayor? maybe Beyonce?), but the line-up revved up a crowd that didn't need much revving.
Jay-Z hit the stage like an explosion. Clad in dark shades and his trademark NYC cap, he didn't let a raspy voice weaken his swagger-y delivery of one-two openers "Say Hello" and "U Don't Know." Inexplicably, the screen behind the stage showed the opening credits of "Reservoir Dogs." The crowd went wild. Much dancing. Much singing along.
The cool thing about a Jay-Z show (at least this one) is that the audience is a LOT less self-aware than at most shows I attend. Go see, say, Yo La Tengo and audience members have two priorities: 1) enjoy the show and 2) look like you're not enjoying the show. Not necessary in that order. I love Yo La Tengo live, where the music is unpredictable and intense and the set-list is always full of surprises, but, man, loosen up, audience. I know you're pissed off that the My Bloody Valentine re-issues didn't include the b-sides to the import-only, Japanese versions of the singles, but smileforgoodnesssake.
Anyway, Jay-Z doesn't waste a lot of time. Speeding through over twenty songs, he played a lot of hits: "Izzo," of course, and "99 Problems" and "Big Pimpin'" and highlights from the Black Album. Cool to hear something closer to the original versions (albeit sped up versions) of those Black Album tracks, since Nicole and I always listen to the gray album mash-ups. By far, the highlight of the night was "Roc Boys," where Jay-Z's live band--especially the horns--finally had a chance to shine.
Early on, Jay-Z told the crowd of 12,000 not to hold anything he says against Barack Obama. "I'm just a free citizen exercising free speech." Amen. Great show.
What I wonder most of all is how she might feel on November 5 and beyond about the good-cop bad-cop game John McCain is playing with her. McCain says Obama's ex-pastor is off limits. Palin, who is on video with her own minister exercising witches, questions McCain's hands-off attitude and goes after Rev. Wright. (I have no beef with Palin's beliefs--as long as she doesn't impose them on public schoolkids--but the irony deserves mention.) For the next four weeks, Palin's job is to call Obama unpatriotic and traitorous and untruthful.
Make no mistake, her dissent from McCain is orchestrated. She captures headlines every time she "questions" the top of the ticket. Political theater. She is Dennis Franz to John McCain's Jimmy Smits. We're perps in the interrogation room, noses bloodied, and she just pushed a steno pad at us and barked, "write down what happened!" Maureen Dowd is the FCC cracking down on too many bare asses and uses of the S word during the show...What? Enough with the NYPD Blue metaphor? Okay, fine.
I saw the film in Spring 92, a few weeks before graduation. I went to Seminary in rural Wisconsin, an all-boys boarding school that had made a post-Second Vatican Council broadening of its mission from training future priests to training future "active Catholics," ordained or otherwise. The school attracted an odd mix. White, black, lots of Hispanics and Vietnamese, a good number of kids from thankful, devout immigrant families who felt they had to "give back" to God (maybe by sending a son to the priesthood). The common bond was a reason and/or a willingness to leave home at fourteen. One of the populations: kids from pretty rough areas of Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans who wanted to avoid poor schools, troubled neighborhoods.
Senior Trip meant spending a week in Chicago, mostly hanging out with Franciscans who did gang ministry and ran soup kitchens and community literacy centers. The week was kind of a cross between a sociology class and an intensive lesson in Catholic social teaching. The priests and brothers knew a lot about gentrification, violence, racism, drugs, police brutality, and such, and they all thought Boyz 'N The Hood was something we had to see, something we had to see in the hood. I was used to spending a lot of time with priests, so I probably didn't think twice about the odd site of us walking into that theater: Franciscans in their long brown robes, alongside a group of seventeen-year-olds, some of whom got their knowledge of gangsta life from NWA (on cassette!) and some of whom grew up pretty close to scenes like those on the screen in front of us.
What continues to make the film great is its ability to speak to both of those audiences and exist somewhere betwee those two modes of understanding. Watching Ice Cube on the screen wasn't all that different from listening to Ice Cube. Hell, his character in the film mirrors his persona from "Straight Outta Compton." But the film's tragic climax (Ice Cube's little brother gunned down and bleeding to death while his mom and his boys look on), even with its sentiment and heavy-handed irony (he's about to escape the hood on a football scholarship), transcends the narrative of gangsta rap, the camera lingering on the blood and the dead kid's baby boy screaming in the middle of the chaos, in a way that song lyrics (even brilliant ones written by Eazy E) can't. No gangsta rap song I know has a moment like the coda of the Boyz film. The 'Cube character, who just got revenge on the gangbangers who killed his brother and already "haunted" by his own ruthlessness, tells Tre he made the right choice not riding along during the shooting.
One thing Salon neglects is Biden's specificity. I'm not a big fan but I admired the moments where he cited extremely specific legislation and demonstrated ease articulating details of the voting records of Obama, McCain, and himself. His responses were remarkably logocentric and, aside from when he referenced the death of his first wife, flat in terms of affect. Facts.
Sharp contrast to Palin who is all about affective connection: winks, raising a hand everytime she says "middle class" or "American people," the accent. Her definitive moment: she's called out for not answering the questions and says she doesn't plan to answer the questions the way the moderator wants her to and will instead speak to the American people. Brilliant move. A license to evade. Everything is a "gotcha" question, even if posed by an "American person" (like the voter who asked her about Pakistan) as opposed to reporter. "American people" does not include reporters, professors, actors, scientists, and people who live in California or NYC. Out of fairness, it's a continuum. Socially conservative, working-class, Christian, undecided voters in swing states are definitely "American people."
In happier election news, Nicole and I scored tickets to see Jay-Z tomorrow night at Cobo Hall, a free show that's doubling as a pro-Obama voter-registration event. I.E., only registered voters could score tickets. H to the Izzo.
Last week McCain performed ingeniously. Leading up to his first debate, he crafts an erratic persona. Call off the debates... suspend the campaign (insert outraged voice of Bonasera the undertaker: "suspenda da campaign?!"). Talk of McCain as unprepared and overwhelmed ensues. Expectations lowered.
Now Sarah Palin hits the big media outlets. It appears she can't name a single newspaper. She can't think of any Supreme Court cases except Roe v Wade. She proudly refuses to answer many of the questions Katie Couric (!) asks. Katie Couric...she's more softball than Jennie Finch.
People...she's playing the expectations game. Hello! At this point, folks have NO EXPECTATIONS for her performance this evening. At this point if she can enunciate the words "New York Times" or "Dred Scott" we're going to be impressed.
In a stunning reversal of their long-stated reluctance to take it, members of heavy-metal band Twisted Sister announced Monday that, after 24 years of fervent refusal, they are now willing to take it. "I acknowledge that we promised not to take it anymore, but things change. The world is a different place today, and with that in mind, we would like to go on record as saying that, starting right now, we are going to take it," read a statement released by the band's lead singer, Dee Snider. "To clarify, we would still prefer not to take it, but as of now, taking it is an option that we would be open to. That is all." Bassist Mark "the Animal" Mendoza also stated that, in regards to what he wants to do with his life, he no longer solely wants to rock, but would instead prefer doing other things, such as raising a family and working as a claims adjuster in Rye, NY.
I had mostly good experiences on the job hunt both times; both experiences, in 2002 and 2005, resulted in jobs. But interviewing and campus visiting often presented reminders that academic communities can be closed and homogenous. This reality always seemed in sharper relief during the interviews than during the actual employment, in large part because I generally didn't mesh well with places that were especially closed and homogenous and thus didn't end up there.
Sometimes it was big and noticable things, such as everybody being white. More often, though, it was little things. The chair driving me back to the hotel and talking to me for like twenty minutes about how great their public radio station's jazz show was. Nothing against this person--she was just being friendly and chatty. But the implication was: "you're an English professor, you must love NPR and jazz." I listen to NPR, but I dislike jazz. And my sense of things was that if I said "Do you know if there's a good old-school punk rock station?" I'd come off sounding like a rube.
Another thing, the ubiquitous, almost mythic question that always comes up about the proximity of a Whole Foods Store. Like the jazz thing, I've got nothing against Whole Foods or people who shop there. I don't mean to imply that shopping there makes a person "closed" or anything like that. It's just that, speaking for myself, there was often this assumption when I was looking for an academic job that I fit this certain image. And I didn't. I love to cook. Cooking is probably my favorite of my hobbies. I can make some mean Indian food and Italian food. I can cook a meal for twenty people, even in the little tiny kitchen at my house. I like to shop at places off the beaten path (love farmer's markets that have reasonable prices, love some of the Arab specialty stores in Dearborn). I just don't like the prices at Whole Foods, that's all.
I'd like to be on the market and ask that question about the local punk rock scene. Or in response to an interviewer touting their town's Whole Foods, say "Where's the closest Aldi's or Sav-A-Lot?" Maybe drop a question like "Is there a Chuck-E-Cheese up in here?"
Probably the closest I came to saying something like that happened at a campus visit to a fairly prestigious Catholic university in a major city. At the time, I was a huge fan of the Arizona Wildcats and the subject of college basketball came up. The faculty members who had taken me out to dinner were talking sports in that very reserved, distant, and dignified way, not so much as fans as much as spectators of a mass cultural phenom. They were discussing Big 10 teams and I was interjecting some comments about the Wilcats here and there. One of them commented that he had not even seen any west coast teams get any national tv coverage. Caught up in the moment, I loudly stated, "Yeah, Dick Vitale gives NO kind of love to the PAC-10." We were at some kind of Asian fusion restaurant and it was like one of those scenes in a sitcom where they play the sound effect of a needle being pulled from a record. Silence. "Err, I mean, the late start times of games converge with the admitted prominence of programs like Duke to preclude the likelihood of national broadcasts of competitions between squads from the Pacific Ten Conference." There, better.
Anyhow, happy to not have to hit the market this year. Good luck to everybody looking for a new gig.
I'm trying to understand what you meant when you repeated the mantra "the fundamentals of our economy are sound" and then, last night, said that the entire economy is in "danger." Also, why did you tell Americans that spending more money was their patriotic duty even as many were going deeper into debt?
Now that you have proposed spending $700 billion of taxpayers' money to bail out the financial sector, do you still claim to oppose burdening American people with taxes? Do you still claim to be a proponent of "small government"? Isn't this $700 billion plan a case of government intervention in the marketplace?
Related to those matters, do you still support deregulation of the financial sector? Do you think your party's nominee should continue to express his support for deregulation? Or do you reckon he should suspend his campaign and thereby avoid questions about his leadership in the deregulation movement?
Mr. President, I agree with you that those who took on huge mortgage debts made foolish choices. This morning during my commute to work, callers to a local radio show here in Detroit talked about earning annual salaries of $35,000 and buying houses that cost two and three times more than my home. The other callers mostly complained about how unfair it was that they had to bail out those indviduals. Clearly, everyday people made bad decisions.
But I don't want them to live on the streets as a result of their bad choices. I don't want them (and me!) to lose our retirement accounts. I adhere to an ideology that you frequently say is outdated, outmoded, and failed--an ideology rooted in the belief that "Great Society" initiatives can lift up members of the culture. Am I resentful that I pay my mortgage and don't need bailing out? No way. The two people in my household who pay that mortgage both collected lots of federal financial aid when we were in college. So resentfulness would be hypocritical on our parts. Plus, while I acknowledge that foolish or greedy decisions on the part of everyday people contributed to this problem, I also acknowledge that banks and mortgage companies became predators, making a buck off foolish choices, preying on the vulnerable.
Based on your $700 billion proposal, it sounds like perhaps you also believe the government has a (sometimes expensive) role to play in people's lives. I'm glad that finally perhaps the two of us share some common ground. But I'm thinking maybe you should say that you now believe the government sometimes must be "big" and acknowledge that giving corporate America a blank check was a mistake. Maybe you should admit that you were wrong when you advocated for a "pure," unregulated, "free" market. You know how you used to always say "freedom isn't free"? Maybe your new mantra should be "free markets aren't free."
What a lose-lose situation our country is in. Bail out the financial institutions and the CEOs who perpetrated predatory lending practices and reveled in the profits that deregulation allowed walk away with their golden parachutes--parachutes subsidized by tax dollars. Don't bail out and people lose their retirement accounts and God knows what else.
Back to the debate. If McCain doesn't want to show up, fine. I think Obama should still show up and use the time to explain to the American people how he's going to keep us out of Great Depression Part Deux. Hopefully he'll say more than that "let's help Wall Street and Main Street" line.
In my upper-level exposition course (a class geared toward education majors who have additional writing and linguistics requirements on our campus), meanwhile, students have been studying the concept of "voice," reading short pieces like Sarah Vowell's essay on the Godfather and Chuck Klosterman's piece on the Pirate movies, and writing their own narratives about their relationships with popular culture.
Friday night, a family birthday party that involved playing cards and watching a particularly nasty Tigers fiasco where, speaking of medieval, Gary Sheffield tried to get all medieval on the ass of Fausto Carmona but ended up bruised. Nice metaphor for the whole Tigers season. Saturday morning, door-to-door canvassing with the Berkley Obama team. Noteworthy memory from this week's canvassing: Two separate older men commented that since Obama reminded them of JFK, they planned to tune in to the debate and see if he can perform as well as JFK did vs. Nixon. The Berkley team also talked me into hosting a debate party this Friday. Saturday night, a big Ramadan (month of fasting) banquet at school hosted by the Muslim Student Association, one of the biggest and most active student groups on my campus. Delicious food, good company, and entertainment by Baba Ali, "first Muslim youtube celebrity." My sister and her family joined us and I think everybody had a good time.
Sunday morning, Nicole and I visited the new Crossroads Soup Kitchen, now located a couple blocks from the old Motown studio. We're organizing our church's "Crossroads day" next month. They serve 700 people every Sunday, one of the few places in Detroit that has such a service on Sunday, when most soup kitchens shut down. After Mass, I worked in the yard all day, cleaning gutters and getting the garden ready for the winter. Made pasta and meatballs and had Nicole's family over for dinner, after which we played cards and watched another Lions fiasco (gee, is there a trend here?).
Aside from reading some rough drafts from students and doing a couple short writing sessions, I did very little work over the weekend, which means today I should not be taking a break to blog. On Friday, I'm leading a "Civic Literacies in First-Year Comp" workshop with our writing program faculty, so prepping for that is a big chunk of this week's work. Plus, Lew and I have swapped drafts of our collaborative empathy article, so reading and synthesizing and even revising is also on the to-do list.
I don't find the "Palin Name Generator" offensive per se. Sure, the site jabs at the names of the candidate's children. And yes, it's another example of the non-sequitor, cultural dismissal of Palin's leisure/lifestyle/personal affinities/geographical affiliation. But offensive? Probably not. Off topic? Who cares?
Still, the whole discussion seems like an interesting articulation of community standards. The "Palin Name Generator" strikes me as a safe, middle-of-the-road kind of humor. Not too edgy. Not too biting. And if there's an implicit politics behind the site and the listserv discussion, it's a moderate-to-liberal politics. Safe.
But for the sake of argument, here's a hypothetical. What if the site poked fun at the Afrocentric names of the children of an African-American public figure? Would the site still be funny? Would the sharing of those "funny" names still meet the community standards of a moderate-to-liberal discussion site?
--Nancy Welch, Living Room: Teaching Public Writing in a Privatized World
--Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie
--Anne Colby et al, Educating for Democracy: Preparing Undergraduates for Responsible Political Engagement
I could say the same thing about McCain. More and more stories about McCain contain the phrase "actuary tables," which may go a long way in explaining why Palin keeps on dominating the headlines.
Beyond that, Palin continues to capture the national imagination. She polarizes. She puts the so-called culture wars right back into the collective ethos. She attracts huge ratings (mazel tov, Charlie Gibson!). She fires up the far right. She fires up both the far and moderate left even more. Despite ubiquitous predictions that the Palin bump, or fad, or fascination, or whatever you want to call it, will disappear...well, she's still all over the place.
She makes an affective connection with the far right. It's about identification. It's about demagogue appeal. It's about anti-intellectualism. It's about making the case that being an every-person is more important than good judgment and intelligence.
Even more interesting, though, the left's affective response. Over and over again, I hear "she scares me." Many seem to fear not only her platform but, more broadly, who she is. In terms of religion and ideology and leisure-time pursuits and lifestyle. She put a tanning bed in the governor's mansion. She eloped. She went to community college before university. She only traveled abroad once in her whole life. Everything about her becomes a signifier. I'm not faulting anyone for following these signifiers (full disclosure: she scares me too.), as they are endlessly fascinating. For instance, her response to Charlie Gibson's questions about gender: in my family, it's a non issue, you do what you want to do. Brilliant and, yes, scary. A subtle jab at affirmative action, at the notion of feminism, a jab at Obama and H-Clinton too.
I wonder, though, if the left's (including the moderate left's) affective disdain for Sarah Palin will become the Obama campaign's fatal flaw. Too much about the hunting and the praying and the shotgun weddings (her own and her kid's) and the rest. Not enough about her disengagement...she didn't know what the Bush Doctrine was. Not enough about her record on civil liberties...umm, an advocate of small government asking a librarian "hypothetical questions" about banning books?
A friend emailed me last night and fearfully called Obama our generation's Adelai Stevenson. too thoughtful, too engaged, too intellectual for the era. Here we are. Obama vs. Palin. Two weeks ago, I'm saying I like Obama's chances. Now, I'm kinda scared.
I read the Detroit Free Press, skim the Times, maybe do the crossword, drink coffee, and the start writing. Distractions are anything but. I like the noise, the coffee smell that gets into the fabric of my backpack, most of all the mix of old and young faces. Always law and medical students lost in expensive books. The elderly guy with the accent (Eastern European?) who just asked me for my copy of the NYTimes. Sometimes he uses coffee stirrers to eat little packs of jelly from the condiment cart. Usually at least one person reading a Bible and taking notes. Dude who has loudly used the word "asshole" a half dozen times: "you can't find a parking space at the market because of cell phone assholes." Elderly guy has given him a section of my Times, I think to shut him up, but he's on a first-name basis with the subjects of each item he reads: Tiny Fey is "Tina," Alan Greenspan is "Alan."
Why write here? Because I constantly take breaks (sometimes a break is just a moment to look around) and the faces, the sounds, the smells, fill those breaks and become the next sentence on the page.
Okay, there's a context for the alleged increase in productivity. I spent much of the summer *reading* for this article and for several other projects. I spent part of the summer coding some of last year's service learning data. I prepped for and went to several conferences, including a long visit to The American Democracy Project's meeting in Utah.
Excuses, excuses. The fact is, I do a better job divvying up time among teaching and writing than I do taking full advantage of long stretches of no teaching. Weird. My colleague Liz (go Liz!) just got tenure and is collecting on the post-tenure sabbatical in 2009. If the tenure gods smile on me next year and I get that sabbatical the following year, I'm wondering about the best ways to get myself ready to use that time for all it's worth.
I thought of Stewart's famous appearance on Hardball as I read about MSNBC firing Keith Olbermann from his anchor job. I haven't watched Olbermann much, so I'm not going to say he's a hack, but certainly I've seen enough to recognize his comfortable place within that cable news paradigm. He yells. He goes for the easy laugh. He rehearses soundbites. He doesn't do much to acnowledge the spaces between (or, for that matter, farther to the right and the left of) the positions of the two parties. Democrats, good. Republicans, bad. Me, Tarzan. You, Jane.
That's not political discourse. A wide spectrum of ideas exists. That means, there are more than just two positions on issues. There are more than just "I like Obama" and "I don't like Obama." Pointing that out is not a call for whitebread, moderate politics, or for the removal of antagonism and dissent and argument from the public sphere. We need MORE of those things. But the arguing and antagonizing needs to come from a spectrum of voices. Not just two.
Even the reaction to Olbermann's demotion fits into the too-neat, black-and-white, pro-con trap. Democrats see it as an attack on their guy and bemoan that they don't have their answer to FoxNews. Republicans see the story (or rather FRAME the story) as comeuppance to the liberal, out-of-touch media.
Part of the problem is that the left wants to innovate by imitation. They reason: conservatives have right-wing talk radio so we'll start AirAmerica and conservatives have FoxNews so we'll have our Olbermann. The brilliant, hysterical comedian Patton Oswalt--who leans far to the left--has a great bit about how right-wing media knows how to rock ("we'll be right back with more FoxNews, but now, taking us to the break, The White Stripes") but "our side," a phrase he uses with a wink, does not ("coming up on NPR, the fifth installment of our interview with Joyce Carol Oates, but in the meantime here's a string quartet from Bolivia"). I'm paraphrasing his bit big time, but you get the point...
Partisan media is fun. Partisan media is theatre. Tucker Carlson saying he'll eat a shoe. Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly showing clips of a fired-up preacher (In a scene during the final season of The West wing, the Kristen Chenoweth character is telling the candidate she handles about his upcoming media appearances and says something like "you'll be talking to mean Irish men"). AirAmerica hosts using the phrase "baby mama" in reference to a seventeen-year-old girl. It's entertaining. A lot more exciting than reading a ten-page article. But, as Jon Stewart pointed out so memorably, it hurts.
Speaking of obsessions and netflix, I've been working my way through the giallos, an Italian, grindhouse-ish fusing of the "low" genres of horror and murder-mystery. Named for the cheap paperbacks that the films adapt ("giallo" = Italian for "yellow"), the giallos couldn't be wierder. At first glance, the giallo looks like a so-called police-procedural: a violent crime, a good deal of gore, a detailed investigation. But they tend toward the surreal: close-ups of a drop of blood, extended musical interludes where perspective shifts to the killer as s/he skulks through a cityscape. The best of the bunch: Dario Argento's Deep Red, about a musician investigating the murder of a psychic who foretold her own killing. The film disturbs and the music (Argento collaborated with the Italian rock band Goblin, aka The Goblins) is as memorable as the killings that serve as Deep Red's centerpieces. Check it.