e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


mistakes, overreactions, abuses of power

This story is all over the papers in Detroit and has even gotten a bit of coverage from the national news. Maybe a movie-of-the-week will follow.

The events look something like this. Guy takes his seven-year-old to see the Tigers and buys the thirsty tyke what he thinks is an expensive lemonade. Actually, it's a bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade, an alcoholic beverage. A security guard spots the kid imbibing, takes the bottle away, and calls the cops. The kid is rushed in an ambulance to Children's Hospital and then placed in foster care for several days while Child Protective Services and the Department of Human Services investigate. The father, who insist he had no clue the drink had alcohol, is ordered to vacate his home for a week even after the boy is allowed to return.

Now here are two additional pieces of context. 1. The parents of the boy are both academics who don't watch television. 2. Michigan DHS and particularly the foster care system is, by most accounts, in utter shambles, dealing with a severe lack of foster care parents, a high-profile lawsuit for gross mismanagement of the children who are wards of the state, and the fall-out of the murder of young Ricky Holland who was murdered by his foster parents after the overworked DHS workers failed to intervene.

Response to this unfortunate series of events at the Tigers game has been informed by those two pieces of context. Driving home from my teaching gig yesterday, I heard a.m. talk radio take calls from folks from two camps. One camps suggested that DHS, in the midst of a p.r. nightmare, grew overzealous and is probably trying to reverse its do-nothing reputation. The other camp (the "blame the dad" camp) fell into two sub-camps, one who couldn't believe anybody would be unfamiliar with Mike's Hard Lemonade, and one who saw this as an example of the "no common sense," out-of-touch, too-good-for-tv academic.

The show's host rejected the "blame dad" logic, put the parents on a pedestal for being "too smart for television," and praised academics as icons of the smarter, more bookish lifestyle that all Americans should strive for.

I'm not sure any of these responses are all that useful. Blame the "no common sense" guy. Turn the academic into a cliched icon. Even the blame DHS camp--members of whom made valid points, don't get me wrong--seemed like a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks. What if the story could become an impetus for action? What if the story could change the minds of those who advocate for the gutting of public support for social services? What if the story could encourage folks to organize against the abuses of power that are all too common among law enforcement agencies? What if the story prompted more people to take a role (parental and otherwise) in reforming the foster system?


book review

I was thrilled to see a Richard Marback-penned review of Who Says: Working-Class Rhetoric, Class Consciousness, and Community in the new issue of Rhetoric Review. Marback offers a careful and thorough reading of the book and has some good things to say. Thanks for reading!


It's finals week and of course grading portfolios is a priority right now. One class done and one to go. In the midst of all the reading Deborah Minter from UNL came to UM-Dearborn yesterday to give a very good talk on uses of portfolios for teaching and learning (how timely was that?). Several comrades and I are bouncing emails with 4Cs proposal drafts back-and-forth. Oh yeah, and next Monday I start teaching a two-week 'study skills and culture of higher ed' class for high school juniors who'll take UM-Dearborn classes next fall in our dual-enrollment program. So as always, a pleasant and busy mix of tasks.


netflix recently

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte make for a tasty, early-60s double-feature. The two horror films have virtually identical plots and motiffs too (major plot spoilage ahead): Extended flashback scene reveals a bratty young girl, extremely close to her father, get away with a violent crime. Next, delayed-but-grandiose opening credits. Next, 120 minutes of Bette Davis in outrageous make-up, camping up a series of gory, grand guignol scenes. Finally, a contrived O Henry moment, facilitated by sharper-than-you-thought-she-was maid, reverses our fear of disassociative Davis character.

That describes either film. "Baby Jane" centers on Davis as a former child star torturing her disabled big sister. "Charlotte" pits southern belle Davis against her innocent (or is she?) cousin, played by Olivia de Havilland. The latter might be the better film, if only for its campy take on southern dysfunction. The Sound and the Fury meets Stephen King's Misery. And you've got Agnes Moorehead as Charlotte's perpetually loyal servant, lurching around the plantation like an Igor character. But you have to give "Baby Jane" the nod as the better of the two, if only for 1) Joan Crawford's steely performance as the big sister and 2) Bette Davis's costumes. She looks like Courtney Love.

How did these two bizarre spectacles become huge hits at the dawn of the 60s? What made the masses flock to theatres to see sixty-year-old women kick each other, push each other down staircases, etc.? Surely the violence and aesthetics of Psycho influenced some of the key "Charlotte" and "Baby Jane" flourishes. The ax murder that opens "Charlotte," for example, borrows from Psycho's shower scene, although we see a lot more gore in "Charlotte." But I think the kitchen sink casting has a lot more to do with the success of these horror classics. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead, Olivia de Havilland, George Kennedy, Bruce Dern, Victor Buono. Even relatively small roles get the Hollywood treatment, making these into event movies. In that respect, maybe star-studded, invite-JFK-to-the-opening movies like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the original Ocean's 11--moreso than anything from Hitchcock--are the real cinematic antecedents of "Charlotte" and "Baby Jane."

How long until these two films get remade? I'd like to see Pedro Almodovar direct.



Michael Moore offers compelling words of support for Obama's campaign.

warm weekend

At long last, a sunny and springlike couple of days in the D. On Saturday Nicole and I enjoyed pizza at Pi. Might be the best pizza in Metro Detroit thanks to the brick oven and the great selection of toppings (I recommend the artichokes). Pies are only $3.14 (get it?) on Mondays; I'm going to get one on the way home tonight.

Anyway, we soaked in some rays afterward while doing door-to-door work for Mark Richardson's campaign. See link on the right to the 'Richardson for State Representative' website. Knocking on doors isn't my favorite kind of involvement in the democratic process, but when you find a good candidate, the effort is worthwhile. And when temps approach the high 70s, can't compain too much.

Normal stuff--yard work, church, and such--took up much of the remainder of the weekend, but on Sunday, we enjoyed my nephew Yousef's soccer game and a launch party for Liz's book, which really is high on my stack of things to read after finals week.

Listening to: REM: Accelerate


get yourself a copy of this

"Illuminating the creative, joyful, and serendipitous nature of the research process."

So reads the tagline of the new book Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process, edited by Gesa Kirsch and my colleague Liz Rohan. Contributors all tell stories about research--the connections, the discoveries, the new possibilities.

recently downloaded, and recommended

I spent part of yesterday reading for an article I'm writing, a lit-review-ish essay (or part of an essay) about the emotional dimension of civic engagement. Of interest, the disconnect regarding modes of engagement: the affective connection students in service learning courses sometimes have with volunteerism and the similar connect faculty have with advocacy/activism. Then I baked cookies for my students while listening to some recent i-tunes purchases:

The New Pornographers, "Don't Bring Me Down"
A note-for-note cover of the E.L.O. disco-pop, early-days-of-MTV gem. A perfect distillation of what the NPs do, that is, make pop music without apology or irony.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, "100 Days, 100 Nights"
More soul than anybody from the Mariah Carey, every-song-has-to-hit-three-different-octaves school of R&B. I'm crazy about this song. It's Amy Winehouse meets the Detroit Cobras.

Sonic's Rendezvous Band, "City Slang"
I had read about this 70s gaggle of Detroit rockers (members of the MC5 and the Rationals and the Stooges, oh my!) but never heard their stuff before. This punk ditty doesn't match the quality of the best work of the band members' original groups, but I really like piece's swagger. No sad sack shit here--just a loud, guitar-driven motor city anthem.

2Pac, "Hit 'Em Up"
Six minutes of 2Pac saying unkind things about the Notorious B.I.G. A remarkable piece of work, completely immersed in inflammatory nihilism.

Ciccone Youth, "Addicted to Love"
Weird. Kim Gordon doing karaoke. Yes, it's that "Addicted to Love." A long time ago, I had a bad cassette copy of this whole record, a Sonic Youth side project and homage to 80s excess (the record also had covers of several songs made famous by "Madonna Ciccone"). Gordon's robotic monotone calls to mind the mannequin-like women in the "Addicted to Love" video. The track is a kind of feminist manifesto, a SY forays into politics. So you might look at this as a companion to "Kool Thing," the Kim Gordon-Chuck D duet that slammed mysogyny in the hip hop world, or "Youth Against Fascism," with the famous "I believe Anita Hill" and "the president sucks/he's a warpig f***" lines. Or, you might just rock out to a Robert Palmer cover. Either way, weird.


six word memoir:

"i wonder what will be next"

The 6-word memoir, brought to you by Bonnie. If you're reading this post and you'd like to write your own memoir, consider thyself tagged.

1. write your own six word memoir
2. post it on your blog and include a visual illustration i you’d like
3. link to the person that tagged you in your post and to
this original post so we can track it
4. tag five more blogs with links
5. leave a comment on the tagged blogs w/ an invitation to play


heard 'round the world?

I love this picture.

Hillary Clinton has a beer and a shot and reminisces about when her grandpa taught her how to shoot a gun. Barack Obama bowls a couple frames. Must be time to court the working-class vote. Remember when John Kerry went duck hunting and circulated pictures of the garage band he was in as a teenager (at prep school, but still)?

After she recounted the gun story, one reporter asked Hillary Clinton when the last time she shot a gun was and she got quite angry. Who likes to be called out? Especially so close on the heels of her revelation that she and her husband made $109 million in the last eight years.

Much has been made of Barack Obama's recent words about how residents of small towns (because you can't say "working class") sometimes "get bitter" during hard financial times. "They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," he said.

I believe Obama when he calls this a poor choice of words. During tough times people do sometimes turn to various things good, bad, and all points in between for comfort: too much food, booze, religion, hatred of others, and lots of other things too. But I don't blame those who are offended by the diction either. "Cling" suggests desperation, I suppose. And there's something honest about acknowledging that members of our society do feel desperation right now, but there's also something dismissive about the term.

And the end of the quotation often gets left out. Anti-trade sentiment is just a result of desperation? A lot of folks (many of them who feel disenfranchised by the democratic party) oppose free-trade not because they're "clinging" to some final vestige of an antiquated ideology by because they (we!) think it results in unethical conditions for workers in the U.S. and elsewhere. I'm less offended as a person of faith (who, I guess, "clings" to religion) than I am as a critic of free trade (who also "clings" to a particular ideology about trade practices).

guts or gall

On his way to the U.S., Pope Benedict answered pre-screened questions including one about clergy pedophilia. I didn't think his staff would allow discussion of the topic, given how tightly they control the Pope's conversations and also given how the discussion opens the Pope up to criticism. The headlines emphasize the Pope's words aboard his plane, where he said he's "deeply ashamed" of the scandal.

I suppose it's gutsy on the part of the Pope and his inner circle to engage questions about the scandal. Or maybe he has no choice. Maybe omission of the scandal from his agenda would be the bigger, more glaring sin.

Before becoming Pope, "Joseph Ratzinger" (his given name) headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office that oversaw the Vatican's response to the scandal (despite the scandal being outside the CDF's jurisdiction, but how Ratzinger's office took control of vatican response is another story). Noone has ever held Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, accountable for the mishandling of the situation, for his "leadership" that emphasized a "public relations" tone, a tone that U.S. bishops clearly picked up on.

An example of this leadership? The British press uncovered evidence that Cardinal Ratzinger ordered bishops to handle allegations of sexual abuse internally and keep the allegations from law enforcement. Ratzinger situated the church's jursidiction within the context of a "pontifical secret" and threatened to excommunicate diocesan officials who tattle to the cops. Nice.

So forgive me if I suggest it takes some gall for the Pope to speak with moral authority about the scandal. Though, I can see why he says he's "deeply ashamed." It will be interesting to see if the U.S. media downplays the Pope's history with the scandal as much as they've downplayed, say, the church's condemnation of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. On yesterday's Diane Rehm show, Rehm mentioned the pedophilia memo but the panelists quickly changed the subject. Will others bring up what seems to me to be a relevant piece of context? We'll see.


my hometown

Today CNN.com has made a story about Youngstown, Ohio, the lead story on its homepage. Long a symbol of blight, massive decreases in population, and de-industrialization, a new plan in the city embraces smallness, focusing on improvement of infrastructure, quality of life, and services, without wasting resources and time dreaming of growth. The story reviews some of Youngstown's failed attempts to attract a new industry or initiative (supermax prisons! blimp factory!), each of which was painted as an opportunity to return Youngstown to the baby boom years of population growth. Interestingly, the story avoids discussing what the national media usually talks about when it talks about Youngstown: organized crime and government corruption. The story also avoids explaning how the city can thrive with a rapidly shrinking tax base.


heard on the streetcar

The rhetoric and composition community discusses New Orleans: Should the conference return to N.O. sooner than later to "support" the city financially? Does academic analysis of the city have the potential to prompt social change? How can the field turn its attention to how language ("post-Katrina" and so on) constructs realities?

The WPA list had a brief conversation--that seems to have died out quickly--about urging NCTE to interrupt the scheduled rotation of conference locations and hold Cs in New Orleans again. I respect the urge to make such a gesture. It's an urge to spend money in the city, an urge to offer some solidarity, and an urge to feel relevant in the face of a complicated and unjust situation. Jeff and Jenny have both rightly pointed out that these urges also create an opportunity for outsiders to pat themselves on the back despite how ineffectual (yay...we've helped expensive hotels pay low wages to members of the working class and working poor) and unethical (the awful "Katrina tours" that Jenny mentions) some of the manifestations of the gesture are.

Obviously New Orleans is a place that has relied for a very long time on tourism and business travel. Going to New Orleans *does* provide the city with revenue. But who benefits from the types of revenue we brought? Most of the hotels where Cs attendees stayed are certainly operated by godless corporations, but many attendees also took part in the city's arts scene, including the scene beyond the French Quarter. Such participation certainly doesn't warrant back-patting, but may play a small role in supporting the good work of a musician or artist. Some attendees may have been moved by the underpasses' "tent cities" to take part in advocacy work. Visibility (i.e., the visibility of difference and inequality) can lead to change.

But I was struck by the words spoken by a woman on the streetcar I was riding. We struck up a conversation about the streetcar's closure through the stretch of Canal Street where a movie was filming. The woman, who lives off Canal, was talking about how the interruption of service screwed up her ability to get home. I wondered aloud whether movie production brings in as much money as folks often insist it does (Mitch Albom's leading a movement to bring more Hollywood productions to Detroit) and the woman responded: "Yeah, it brings in lots of money. But I'm tired of people from the north spending money here and then thinking they can do whatever they want."


back from 4Cs

I hope to find some time to blog about specific panels in the next few days, but, in the meantime, the '08 4Cs struck me as the best in years. I didn't go to a single weak session. In fact, many of the presentations (I went to seven panels including my own) provoked and engaged. And they were all pretty well-attended, too...not always the case in past years.

As always, catching up with grad school friends was a highlight. A crew from U-Arizona hit Bacco and enjoyed the odd marriage of Italian and Creole cuisines. I had the crawfish ravioli...tasty. Nominating Committee meetings took up a lot of time but I appreciated the chance to learn more about how the Cs takes care of such business and have a say in future leadership. Look for your ballots in mid-June, folks.

All work and no play? Course not. I made time to hit the Louisiana Music Factory, a great two-floor record store that devotes the whole ground level to New Orleans artists--iconic, obscure, and all points in between. Caught part of John Mooney's in-store set. He pretty much took off the roof during an Electric (notice the capital "E") version of Son House's "Louise McGhee." Nice. The upper level boasts an impressive selection of non-Louisiana artists on both vinyl and CD. I got a copy of Black Merda's first album on CD. It's a Russian import. I didn't even think the band's catalogue was available on disc, so this was a geeky discovery that kept me smiling all the way back to the hotel. Black Merda was a great 60s Detroit band--part Funkadelic, part MC5, part Jimi Hendrix Experience. Also got one of the Dengue Fever CDs that I didn't yet have...DF is a contemporary surf-rock band from California that's a whole lotta Farfisa organ, a whole lotta bilingualism, and a whole lotta VOICE, thanks to the song stylings of Chhom Nimol, the Cambodian legend who sings lead on most tracks.

Finally, I have to mention taking the streetcar to the New Orleans Museum of Art in order to check out the world-class modern sculpture garden. Located in City Park, the place is gorgeous, thanks in part to the low-hanging live oak trees that fill the park. What a great place to stroll. The most striking feature of the sculpture garden is the breadth and diversity of the collection, from the Warhol-esque, humongous safety pin to the haunting image of a lynching.

But the pleasant surprise was the NOMA's huge George Rodrigue exhibit. Rodrigue based his blue dog series at first on the werewolf legend, loup garou, but soon the blue dog took on a life of its own. Rodrigue uses the dog itself as a kind of canvas on which he can compose a wide range of emotions. He's used the image for purely aesthetic creations, but also for commercial campaigns too. And, of course, for fund-raisers. I enjoyed the exhibit quite a bit and would like to learn more about Rodrigue, by all accounts a fascinating figure.

God bless New Orleans.