e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



Preparations for New Orleans are in full swing. Yesterday and last night (past midnight, actually) I did some Nominating Committee work, coming up with a few different draft-versions of a ballot that (I think) balances experience with new perspective, represents diversity in terms of type of institution, region, race, gender, and so on. Thank goodness for the rest of the committee. I'm sure I've neglected some important consideration. The NC has an open meeting, where we entertain still more nominations, and then a closed meeting, where we set the ballot. The committee experience has been interesting, though paperwork intensive, and I'd gladly do it again.

Today I'm doing some final revisions to the paper. If you're looking for a panel during the "D" slot (Thursday, 3:15-4:30), come check out "Writing Realities, Writing Cities: From the Motor City the the Big Easy." I'll be talking about some research I've done on how Detroit's garage rock movement represents urban life. My UMD colleague, and Louisiana native son, Randy Woodland will talk about the jazz funeral trope. And Tom Uskali from Pine Crest High School in Florida will talk about ethics of representation issues in writing on place. I hate sparsely attended panels; hope to see a crowd. The more people in attendance, the less nervous I am. Apologies for blatant panel promotion.


post hoc ergo propter hoc

Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times:
Meanwhile, the big winner of the Democratic fist-fighting is Senator McCain. A Gallup poll released Wednesday found that 19 percent of Mr. Obama’s supporters said they would vote for Mr. McCain in the general election if Mrs. Clinton were the nominee. More startling, 28 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters said they would defect to Mr. McCain if Mr. Obama were the nominee.
Kristof makes an interesting leap here. I haven't seen any evidence that the high rate of potential "defectors" has much to do with the battle for the democratic nomination being protracted and contentious. I know that conventional wisdom says that the nominee must "unite the party" after primary season and there's something to be said for the argument that a protracted battle leaves less time for that mythic unification. But I'm not convinced that the "fist fighting," to borrow Kristof's phrase, is actually going to make democrats vote for McCain.

Democrats are getting more press. McCain took part in the ultimate photo op in Iraq and couldn't get anywhere near the ink that the democrats have been getting. Many pundits are suggesting that this increased attention is bad for Clinton and Obama. The argument goes something like this: you have more opportunities to screw up when eyes are on you.

My sense, though, is that the democrats have much more name and face recognition. McCain's coming off like a Bob Dole or Mike Dukakis, i.e., a "that other guy." And in an election where affect is clearly playing a gigantic role (Clinton and Obama share so many stances, yet people feel so differently about them), that kind of recognition matters.

Yes, a lot of Obama supporters say they'll go McCain if Clinton gets the nomination, and vice versa. First of all, I don't believe a lot of them. I'm an Obama supporter and there's a part of me that will have trouble voting for Clinton, knowing what I know about her voting record in the senate (supporting the patriot act, supporting the patriot act's renewal, supporting Bush's expanded war powers, etc.), but I couldn't bring myself to vote for McCain. I suspect I'm not alone.

And, again, I'm not even sure democrats saying they'll defect necessarily stems from the fact that the primary season has been long and heated. In fact, there's something to be said for the length and the nature of the "battle." They're honing their messages, which is good practice for the campaign vs. McCain. They're fostering public discourse.

Of course those two advantages rely on the candidates staying on message, avoiding ad hominem mud-slinging, and operating above the non-issues on which the press fixates. And, admittedly, their campaigns have not always done those things.

i am not afraid of you

...and I will listen to this whilst grading papers and prepping for 4Cs.

Follow link to hear NPR's stream of the Yo La Tengo gig at SXSW earlier this month. The band doesn't know how to put on a bad show so, you know, this is great to listen to while working. You'd expect YLT, famous for both dipping deeply into its huge catalogue and playing covers that show off their knowledge of arcane rock history, to play a show geared toward the music geeks of SXSW. But this show is the closest they get to a 'greatest hits' set. Early on, they play "Autumn Sweater," "Mr. Tough," and my favorite, "Little Eyes."



In a recent College English article, Amy Robillard* wrote:
...anger is a legitimate and justifiable response to what one has been persuaded is an insult that violates one's sense of moral justice and the sacred values of one's community. Anger by definition includes the assignment of responsibility and the possibility of revenge, which is pleasurable because it is sanctioned by the community whose values have been violated.
Robillard suggests plagiarism is a site where we might challenge the cultural conceptions that emotions and authorship are private and individual things. She asks whether we often avoid anger at plagiarism as part of a larger desire to look liberatory ("I don't get mad at students")? And she also asks whether our anger at plagiarism (when we allow anger...on blogs, for instance) is framed by our desire to look smart ("Usually I'm smart enough to design assignments that prevent plagiarism and when I don't, I'm smart enough to realize I'm reading something that's been plagiarised").

So I'm trying to reconcile the insights of this article with my own anger at a student of mine who has just plagiarised. I fall into all the traps. I get defensive about my assignments, my syllabus, my teaching. I feel insulted as an individual and as a member of a particular profession/community. I worry that my response somehow will weaken my credentials as a liberatory teacher. I take some perverse sense of satisfaction that I wasn't "fooled." And I'm aware that virtually every response fits into the schema of responses that Robillard outlines. The irony is that my response to plagiarism (which insults us in part because the practice is an affront to originality) is utterly unoriginal.

All of that is a round-about way of saying: I'm angry.

(*"We Won't Get Fooled Again: On the Absense of Angry Resonses to Plagiarism in Composition Studies." College English 70 (2007): 10-31.)



Easter presented a nice get-away opportunity with family in Youngstown, OH. Nothing too exciting, just low-key holiday weekend. Played 500, went to church, took in an auction, and watched basketball. My oldest nephew was pretty bummed when Georgetown lost (he's a freshmen poli-sci major at G'town). Once Arizona bowed out--in the first round, natch--I didn't much care who won. Still I was hoping Butler would make the Sweet 16, as they were robbed with that low seed.

Anyway, good food over the weekend, too. Of course Easter Bread, the sweet, frosted bread my parents make at their church (a $15,000 fundraiser this year!). Ricotta bread and spinach bread, also delicious. And of course the ultimate Easter food: meat pie, stuffed with sausage, egg, provolone, and other good stuff. Per tradition, we cut into all the baked stuff after the long Saturday night mass. Nothing like carbing it up late at night. Sunday dinner was at my brother's house: baked artichokes, lasagna, goat chops grilled with lemon juice and garlic. I don't need to eat for another week.

Sadly for Detroit, most everybody back home in Youngstown's been following the Kwame Kilpatrick mess on the national news. "So, what's up with the mayor up there?" I heard, all weekend long. Well, for any Youngstown readers out there: as I wrote the last two paragraphs, the prosecutor just handed down twelve criminal charges against the mayor and his ex-chief of staff. Full story here, but the short version is this...the mayor has twenty hours to turn himself in for booking and arraignment. He's facing perjury, obstruction of justice, criminal conspiracy, and misconduct charges. The million dollar question becomes, will he step down?

UPDATE (2:25 p.m.)
Answer to the million dollar question: Hell No. Kwame and one of his attorneys held a press conference less than two hours after the prosecutor's and said just that. Incidentally, Kwame's legal team is headed by Chicago's top trial lawyer Dan Webb. His new public relations team is headed by out-of-towner Judy Smith, who has represented Monica Lewinsky, Clarence Thomas, and Larry Craig. Does Kilpatrick have any moral authority to rail against hiring from outside city limits?


outside reviewers

Here's another odd component of the tenure application process. The university sends my tenure file out to five senior members of my field. My department's promotion and tenure committee chooses these reviewers, but I get to suggest 10-15 possible candidate. I hear that the committee generally uses folks from the submitted list.

They have to be tenured professors from other universities, ranked either associate or (preferably) full. Makes sense. They are also supposed to be from schools equivalent to or better than UM-Dearborn in terms of prestige. This is a bit more dicey, given that prestige is a pretty contested concept (are we talking Carnegie classifications, U.S. News and World Report rankings, or what?). Also dicey because "prestige" in composition studies (prestige of particular presses, institutions, etc.) is not always the same as prestige in other fields in the humanities.

Finally, the "prestige" thing is dicey for me because much of my research is in the area of open-admissions education and working-class culture. In many cases, senior members of the field working in these areas don't necessarily work at high prestige (by many definitions of the contested term) places.

A further thing that makes it tough to assemble this list: I'm not supposed to include anyone with whom I have a "close professional relationship." Kind of vague, eh? Some of the guidelines are specific: nobody from my dissertation committee, for instance. Nobody who I would call a "mentor." Fair enough. But what about someone who I invited to my campus to give a guest lecture? What about someone whose book I reviewed in a major journal? What about someone with whom I've gone out for coffee at 4Cs?

Is it better to pick people who you don't know at all? Because doing so makes it less likely that the person's expertise lies in my own areas of research. And don't you want people working on similar issues and questions?

the professor as open book

Today the New York Times explores why professors reveal "personal" information online. The article begins:
It is not necessary for a student studying multivariable calculus, medieval literature or Roman archaeology to know that the professor on the podium shoots pool, has donned a bunny costume or can’t get enough of Chaka Khan. Yet professors of all ranks and disciplines are revealing such information on public, national platforms: blogs, Web pages, social networking sites, even campus television.
The Times talks to several blogging and/or social networking professors who mostly discuss how engaging in such technologies gives them a chance to appear more accessible, human, or interesting to undergraduates. Other voices in the piece suggest they are responding to student demands to be more "entertaining."

Unfortunately, nobody talks about writing. Either none of the professors interviewed brought up writing, or the Times chose not to include those particular quotations in the piece. Either way, the ommission was striking. No mention of blogging as an opportunity to WRITE WITH students and colleagues. No mention of how the technologies under review provide the chance to catalogue ideas and information, make connections (personal and intellectual and all points in between), talk back, write-to-discover, and make sense of things, which are all WRITING concerns.

Instead, the piece emphasizes the personal, the notion that professors are "revealing" or "sharing." Not inaccurate, I suppose, but I would have liked to see the verb "writing" in there once or twice.


1992 Nostalgia

Ah, synchronicity. So many things today have taken me to the year 1992. First, a student in my advanced creative writing class distributed a story for workshopping called "It's Hard To Say Goodbye to Yesterday." Immediately I asked if title was an allusion to the Boyz2Men song. Her response: "what's Boyz2Men?" I explained that my senior class song had the same name as her short story. Only one student in the class had heard the song. Me and one other kid in my graduating class, one Joe Westberg from Green Bay Wisconsin, objected to the schmaltzy choice. Frankly I thought it was pretty easy to say goodbye to that particular yesterday. And Joe--a pretty big fan of stuff that nobody else dug (I recall he was a big Moody Blues, Dr. Who, and Faulty Towers fan)--wanted to select a Monty Python song (might have been "Henry Kissinger"). We were voted down.

Then, I come across a story in today's Free Press about The Gaelic League which, in 1992, became the first place in Detroit I fell in love with. Of course the story today highlights the 'League as a great place to go on St. Patrick's Day, but in my first year of college, it was a great place to go anytime. I had a green-and-white striped t-shirt that I always figured would decrease the likelihood of getting carded. The Corktown pub boasted a fine singer named Larry Larson who performed each Friday and Saturday, mostly Irish songs, but also folk tunes from various traditions, oldies, university fight songs, anything that sounded good on an acoustic guitar. When Green Day put out its big record, Larson took to performing a mean version of "Basket Case." He'd see a U of D (not exactly a sports school) crowd enter and launch into U of D's fight song, which none of *us* really knew. I see in the article today that Larson still plays there, though I haven't been there since I graduated from college in '96. The last time I went there may have been St. Patrick's Day, 96, when I drove perhaps eleven people there in my LTD Station Wagon (a 1973 model, just like me). Why haven't I gone back? Probably because it was the perfect place during that moment.

Finally, reports that the Lemonheads have reformed. At the big SXSW festival, they performed the great 1992 "It's A Shame About Ray" album from start to finish. I know it's cool to say that one's favorite record in 92 was one that is now universally annointed as classic ("Loveless" or "Slanted and Enchanted"), but in truth I listened to the Lemonheads more than I listened to My Bloody Valentine or Pavement (though the latter is a favorite as well!). The "Ray" record is as perfect a collection of power pop as anything Big Star ever released. "Bit Part," which is maybe 90 seconds long, uses a movie set as a metaphor for any place where love happens ("I want a bit part in your life, rehearsin' all the time"). "Alison's Starting to Happen" got some play on 89X, the 'across the river' Canadian station that gloriously soundtracked the post-"Smells Like Teen Spirits" moment and was more melodic than anything else on rotation at the time. I still have the worn cassette, recorded from a friend of a friend's copy, I listened to then, and half the record is on the band's compilation CD that Nicole got me at some point, years later. But in the last sixteen years I never bothered buying a CD of "Ray." Why not? It was the perfect record at that moment.

Oh yeah, and a Clinton is running for president.

neftlix, recently

Michael Clayton. I don't get the fuss. The film offers an interesting, intriguing even, salute to moody suspense dramas of the 70s (The Conversation et al) but doesn't add anything new to the genre. I admire the film's restraint. Corporate wrong-doing, for example, looms in the plot's background but never becomes a site for polemics. But the narrative jumbles together familial dysfunction, midlife crisis, addiction, business ethics, friendship and masculinity, mental illness, and much more, lacking a real focal point. Of course, as the film's title suggests, the protagonist himself (played competently by George Clooney) is supposed to provide that focus. For me, though, the character wandered in and out of too many conflicts. And the Tilda Swinton character struck me as sexist and stock. The only woman in the narrative is a ruthless and unethical go-getter. Did I miss the film's self-awareness or completely misread this oscar-nominated representation?

In the Valley of Elah. Tommy Lee Jones gives an eerily cold performance as a retired Marine and grieving father. His character's son, also a Marine, is murdered soon after returning home from service in Iraq. The film becomes a police procedural (a played out genre for anyone who watches network tv) but Jones's performance makes "Valley" powerful. He barely sheds a tear, even while identifying his son's remains or listening to his wife blame him for their child's death. That's not to say he doesn't react or he's not full of grief. The character's reaction is flawlessly consistent with his training and values. I appreciated the straight-ahead way the film dealt with the horrors of war--torture, drug abuse, de-humanization--mostly seen through grainy cell-phone videos taken by the murder victim. For some, these horrors represent following policy or letting off steam. For others, these things signal all that is reprehensible about war. The film allows for both. I suspect some see this as a sign of the film's non-committal perspective, but, for me, witnessing these acts without exclamation points made them all the more striking.


I'd like to...

1. Completely cut Splenda out of my diet. I only have maybe two or three packets a week, on average, but I know I'm consuming something toxic. I've heard embalming fluid comparisons. Why not just avoid altogether?

2. Live within walking distance to work. This will probably never happen. At least as long as I teach at UMD, where the only residential area within walking distance involves hoofing down a main road that lacks sidewalks.

3. Believe that the writers of the West Wing based, as they're now claiming, the Jimmy Smits "Matt Santos" character on Barack Obama.

4. See Detroit's mayoral scandal be resolved with something approaching justice.

5. Have a firmer understanding of why in the world Madonna had The Stooges play two of her hits (bizarre video here) in her stead at her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I've seen some surreal stuff but this makes that Elvis-Richard Nixon meeting look like a Normal Rockwell print.


community literacy

The Community Literacy Journal has gotten a nomination for Best New Scholarly Journal from Council of Editors of Learned Journals. Good luck to the journal, which is housed at the University of Arizona, and edited by John Warnock at UA and my grad school mate Michael Moore (no relation to the documentarian), now at Michigan Tech. The journal grew out of a very popular class in Community Literacy that exposed many a UA grad student, including yours truly, to the possibilities of service learning and other types of community engagement. C.L. Journal is an example of a relatively small outlet that's publishing very, very good work. I hope they keep it up. John and Michael maintain a strong web presence too (see link above), something that a lot of established journals seem to struggle with.


i'm late on this...

Stuff White People Like is really funny. I caught a quick snippet of a bit about the site on Mitch Albom's radio show last evening (so you know the blog has long ceased being hip), and Michael makes some smart observations about it here. I'm interested in how "white" serves as a proxy for social class and/or politics, or perhaps more accurately the term is a synecdoche for "priveleged." At any rate, a nice send-up of liberal guilt, bougie lifestyles, and armchair activism. Too many quotables, but I'll leave it at this, taken from yesterday's entry on "hating corporations":

If you plan to engage in lengthy conversations or get high with white people it is recommended that you read No Logo or one issue of AdBusters. Failing that, it is acceptable to buy a copy to leave on your coffee table. When white people see it, they will recognize you as someone who can see through the advertising and has a proper perspective on life.

When engaging in a conversation about corporate evils it is important to NEVER, EVER mention Apple Computers, Target or Ikea in the same breath as the companies mentioned earlier. White people prefer to hate corporations that don’t make stuff that they like.


the reason God invented youtube

are you kidding me?

Last night, after classes, I race from campus to church where our Peace&Justice group had organized a session on health care reform. Sleet and freezing rain the whole way. After the session, snow covers the sheet of ice on Livernois, 9-Mile, and Coolidge roads. This morning, six more inches of the white stuff. I shovel the stoop, the driveway, the sidewalk. Everbody eighteen and under has a day off school. Me? I have to drive to campus for a morning session grading placement essays written by transfer students. Traffic's light since the schools are all closed, but I experience the pleasure of the icy Southfield Freeway for what I hope is the last time this season.



Yesterday I turned in my tenure file: a thick collection of documentation, something UM-Dearborn emphasizes. You've got an article forthcoming in a particular journal? PROVE IT with a letter from the journal's editor. Anyway, the portfolio is full of documents and artifacts like syllabi, assignment sheets, photocopies of publications, letters from colleagues who have observed my classes. Even moreso, the file contains lots and lots of reflection. Reflect on your stuent evaluations. Reflect on your research agenda. Reflect on your contributions to your discipline. In five years in the seminary, I never took part in so much contemplative thought.

The file emphasizes the past three years, my "probationary" period at UM-Dearborn. My teaching during my three years at Miami University and four years in grad school at the University of Arizona is largely absent from the file, aside from entries on my CV. Likewise, pre-UMD publications don't really "count" all that much toward tenure, except in so much as they show consistent contributions to the field and/or potential to stay active after tenure. No copies of those early publications in the file--again, just entries on the CV.

I won't hear the yay or nay from the university for over a year. The file goes through my discipline, department, college/dean's office, provost, president, board of trustees, and somewhere in there gets sent out to external reviewers. I probably won't get a response until the end of academic year 2008-2009.

The process, so far anyway, has been largely humane. I could complain about the need for greater transparency (when exactly do external reviewers come into the picture? how exactly do pre-UMD publications count?) but what I don't know is largely a result of my own refusal to obsess over such things. Finite amount of time. Even more finite amount of energy. If it comes down to either doing real work (writing an article, moving forward a relationship with a community partner like St. Peter's Home for Boys, etc.) or working on tenure (networking with administrators who I don't know, tracking down documentation of the minutiae of P&T procedures), I'm going to pick the former.

I'm not advocating a total laissez faire approach. I met deadlines. I followed formatting guidelines. I dotted and crossed the appopriate letters, etc. I'm just saying that sweating out certain details would have affected my sanity, which is already questionable. A senior colleague back at Miami--a person with a very impressive rhet/comp career--unofficially advocated this philosophy to me and it ended up being advice I used. Whether or not it ends up being "good" advice remains to be seen--at the end of academic year 2008-2009.



I'm sorry that we live in a country where any presidential candidate would be "honored" to receive an endorsement from John Hagee. In fact, I'm sorry we live in a country where a Hagee endorsement matters at all. Hagee, recall, makes headlines periodically for claiming Hurricane Katrina, for example, was God's punishment for a city that hosts "gay parades."

Hagee's also called the Catholic Church "the great whore," which is why John McCain's enthusiastic acceptance of Hagee's endorsement is getting some attention. McCain has backpedaled (his spokesperson said that accepting an endorsement doesn't equate to accepting that person's ideology wholesale) but that doesn't change much. Does Hagee contribute anything to civic discourse beyond hate speech? Does McCain even care what the answer to that question is?


Arizona II

Back in Michigan, but full of good memories of the southwest. I ended up doing two hikes with Mark, one in the South Mountains and one at the Lost Dutchman state park west of Apache Junction. Thanks to an unusually rainy winter, the dessert looked greener than ever. Strenuous but beautiful walks. Did I mention that Mark and A.J. have a humongous lemon tree in their backyard that gives more fruit than they know what to do with? We filled a suitcase with lemons when we left last night! We spent time in Tucson with our Arizona hosts, of course, enjoying two great Mexican meals: lunch at Tortilleria Jalisco (the best tortillas in town) and dinner, as predicted, at El Torero (best tacos in town).

Spent part of our Tucson time at "the Mission," aka San Xavier, the seventeenth-century Jesuit mission south of town, located between the Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui reservations. You can pick up "milagros" (little pins shaped like body parts) and pin them to the robes that clothe the San Xavier statue--who is laid out as if entombed--a way to pray for a body part that ails you. The other tradition is to wait in line at the end of Mass and lift the saint's head. Many believe that if you are unable to lift the heavy head, your soul may be in jeopardy. I used to attend Mass sometimes at the Mission during my first year in Tucson and once got food poisoning from a fry bread sandwich I bought outside the church. Much better memory: teaching at a charter school on the Yaqui reservation during first year with the RCTE program.

We drove to southern California for a few days to stay with Hung and Ann. I've known Hung since 1988 and we were best men at one another's weddings. We drove up and down the coast and did some whale watching. We saw no whales but did watch a fisherman struggle for twenty minutes reeling in a seventy-pound stingray. Our most excellent hosts treated us to dinner at a delicious Peruvian restaurant in Torrance, but mostly we stayed in and caught up after not seeing H&A since 2005.

A much-needed week away from the snow and ice of the motor city. Though we were
constantly teased about only visiting to re-connect with Mexican food, our motivation really was to stay close to people we're lucky to call friends. Thanks much, guys!