e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


yes we can

Barack Obama's great rhetorical talent seems to be giving his audience permission to feel optimism. Cynicism, apathy, and doubt are easy defaults, especially, perhaps, for those of us who came of age in the 80s and early 90s. Reagonomics. Ironic popular culture. David Letterman. Social movements of the previous generation providing not inspiration but rather punchlines on sitcoms like Family Ties. Julianna Hatfield singing "I Got No Idols."

We watched Obama's acceptance speech at a party attended mostly by members of our church. Left-leaning Catholics, some who live in the city and some in the suburbs, some black and some white. A group as partisan as the crowd gathered in that huge football stadium, to be sure, who clapped at Obama's punchy quips ("eight is enough") and promises (tax cuts for 95% of Americans, health care for all). A crowd mindful of yesterday's Free Press story about new census data that designates Detroit as the most impoverished large city in the country. A crowd that appreciated Obama's call for optimism.

In addition to optimism, the other feeling in the room was history. The making of history. Not just because Obama is the first black American to accept a major party's domination for president of the U.S. History because we've lived through too many years of an illegal, immoral, pre-emptive war. History because deficits are so high and so many people don't have health care. History. Where were you when people felt like they could be a little bit optimistic?


kucinich today

Today's electric speech in Denver came from Ohio's own Dennis Kucinich. Here's the full text of his speech:

It's Election Day 2008. We Democrats are giving America a wake-up call. Wake up, America. In 2001, the oil companies, the war contractors and the neo-con artists seized the economy and have added 4 trillion dollars of unproductive spending to the national debt. We now pay four times more for defense, three times more for gasoline and home heating oil and twice what we paid for health care.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, their homes, their health care, their pensions. Trillions of dollars for an unnecessary war paid with borrowed money. Tens of billions of dollars in cash and weapons disappeared into thin air, at the cost of the lives of our troops and innocent Iraqis, while all the president's oilmen are maneuvering to grab Iraq's oil.

Borrowed money to bomb bridges in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. No money to rebuild bridges in America. Money to start a hot war with Iran. Now we have another cold war with Russia, while the American economy has become a game of Russian roulette.

If there was an Olympics for misleading, mismanaging and misappropriating, this administration would take the gold. World records for violations of national and international laws. They want another four-year term to continue to alienate our allies, spend our children's inheritance and hollow out our economy.

We can't afford another Republican administration. Wake up, America. The insurance companies took over health care. Wake up, America. The pharmaceutical companies took over drug pricing.

Wake up, America. The speculators took over Wall Street. Wake up, America. They want to take your Social Security. Wake up, America. Multinational corporations took over our trade policies, factories are closing, good paying jobs lost.

Wake up, America. We went into Iraq for oil. The oil companies want more. War against Iran will mean $10-a-gallon gasoline. The oil administration wants to drill more, into your wallet. Wake up, America. Weapons contractors want more. An Iran war will cost 5 to 10 trillion dollars.

This administration can tap our phones. They can't tap our creative spirit. They can open our mail. They can't open economic opportunities. They can track our every move. They lost track of the economy while the cost of food, gasoline and electricity skyrockets. They skillfully played our post-9/11 fears and allowed the few to profit at the expense of the many. Every day we get the color orange, while the oil companies, the insurance companies, the speculators, the war contractors get the color green.

Wake up, America. This is not a call for you to take a new direction from right to left. This is call for you to go from down to up. Up with the rights of workers. Up with wages. Up with fair trade. Up with creating millions of good paying jobs, rebuilding our bridges, ports and water systems. Up with creating millions of sustainable energy jobs to lower the cost of energy, lower carbon emissions and protect the environment.

Up with health care for all. Up with education for all. Up with home ownership. Up with guaranteed retirement benefits. Up with peace. Up with prosperity. Up with the Democratic Party. Up with Obama-Biden.

Wake up, America. Wake up, America. Wake up, America.

a cooking frenzy

Mindful that this is the last week of summer vacation, I performed two of my favorite everyday summer rituals today. Biked to Caribou and spent much of the morning and afternoon reading for a 4Cs paper and article in progress.

Back home, I cooked up a storm, using mostly stuff right from the garden. A big pan of zucchini parmesan is in the oven. As is an equally large pan of tepsi, a dish my sister taught me to make. Basically, you sautee slices of eggplant, onions, tomatos, and potatoes and layer the various slices in a pan with tomato paste, freshly squeezed lemon, and salt. Easiest thing in the world to make, and very delicious.



Back from church, which was nice, and a "quick" stop at Costco, which was not so nice. Costco has a reputation for treating its workers fairly well and gets bonus points for not being Sam's Evil Empire. I like buying cheese--especially the yummy fresh mozzarella--at Costco, but that's about it. How do I let Nicole talk me into going there on a weekend? Wall. To. Wall. People. People in a hurry to get to the expensive produce, that is. Or maybe the gross frozen tacquito samples. At least three of those oversized carts rammed the backs of my ankles. Ouch.

Garden's going nuts, especially the zucchini. Better late than never. I made a big pan of zucchini parmesan yesterday. The day before that, a pizza, with sauce, cheese, and thin slices of zucchini that I sauteed with lots of garlic. About four or five eggplants are just about ready to be picked too.

Got an acceptance e-mail for CCCC in San Francisco. I hope that many, many fellow bloggers will be there too.

Our pub crawl on Friday night was fun. Pretty much the entire Berkley Dem. club showed up and we all enjoyed a little bowling, a little beer, a little v.p. speculation. Last night our friends J and J picked us up and took us to the comedy club in Royal Oak. Today, after a little reading, my brother-in-law's birthday party. I'll probably whip up a couple quick pizzas (been on a bigtime pizza kick) to take since I got my Costco cheese on. Speaking of v.p. selection...Biden seems like kind of a ho-hum pick, but I think his Catholicism and working-class background are probably good for some electoral votes in Michigan and Ohio. Hoping for someone NOT supportive of the Iraq invasion was probably a pipe dream on my part.

Lastly, currently reading: The Gargoyle, which is a pulpy, fun read. My brother really liked the book and let me borrow his copy. Also, Other People's Stories and Notes on the Heart: Affective Issues in the Writing Classroom, both for the research that my friend L and I are doing on empathy. Finally, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which I never read in its entirety before, and am doing so now for our church's book club meeting this week.


geeking it up

Wow, what a sucked-in-by-the-hype nerd I am. By all accounts, Obama's going to name his VP in the next few hours, and I. Can't. Wait. I should be working on the empathy research, and I'm glued to news websites monitoring the speculation. Hillary Clinton was never vetted. Chet Edwards from Texas has a double-secret spot on the shortlist. Evan Bayh is out running errands and looking coy. The coverage is straight up TMZ. The press is absolutely stalking Joe Biden.

Bayh and Biden seem like boring choices to me. Isn't Obama opening himself up to further charges if he chooses an "establishment" (long-time, visible, moderate) democrat like one of these guys? Just saying. Now the reports about the Obama camp never getting all of H-Clinton's financials and doing other things common to the vetting process. Haven't the financials already been released? Hasn't she already been vetted? I'm no fan of H-Clinton, what with her support for the Patriot Act and the Iraq invasion, but at least she brings a little pizazz. I'm rooting for Sebelius of Kansas or Napolitano of Arizona.

Tonight my town's democrat club has its annual pub crawl, so I'm looking forward to lots of VP talk this evening. And friends from the Peace and Justice group at my church are having an Obama party next Thursday and a house party for House candidate Gary Peters the following week. Plus, my lovely wife is our precinct delegate, which means lots of get-out-the-vote stuff in our neighborhood. I'm baffled, given the crappy state of the economy, that Michigan's in play, but again I'm a sucker for the hype so I'm kinda sorta happy to be in a swing state. Stay tuned...


While working out yesterday, I punched up Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" on the i-pod and the noisy melodies and the tight thematic focus of the lyrics (anxiety, the thin line between loneliness and human connectedness) reminded me why the album is one of my favorites.

I bought YHF in Tucson the day after I defended my dissertation. NPR and just about every website I read had run stories about the band's label dumping Wilco because of YHF's alleged lack of commercial viability. The band streamed the record online, got a boatload of hits, and an indie label released the record in Spring 02. I had listened to bits of the YHF stream, and I liked the band's "Mermaid Avenue" on which they wrote music to accompany heretofore unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics. Plus, buying the record felt like a nice thumb of the nose at the evil empire, i.e. the corporat label that couldn't recognize greatness.

Listening yesterday, I remembered how the lyrics--written *before* the terrorist attacks--create a kind of 9/11 narrative. Early songs, slow and melodic, seem to capture, eerily, the horror of the morning. In "Kamera," the surreal line "phone my family/tell them I'm lost on the sidewalk." In "Jesus, Etc.," the melancholy "tall buildings shake/voices escape/singing sad sad songs." In the middle of the record, a song like "Ashes of American Flags" is full of ambivalence--patriotism and dissent jumbled together. The pace picks up on the second half of the record. The Beatlesque "I'm the Man Who Loves You." The single "Heavy Metal Drummer." Snappier, upbeat tunes, with lots of nostalgia ("I sincerely miss those heavy metal bands"). And the record ends with what can be read as poignant resistance to continued flexing of western might; I always saw the self-explanatory "Pot Kettle Black" as a response to the hypocrisy coming out of the mouths of U.S. leaders (not unlike "War on War," from the first half of the record).

Before the band's label dumbed Wilco, know what the record's original release date was? (Cue creepy orchestral music worthy of a Nostradamus documentary...) Yep, September 11.

YHF gets a bad rap. Dad rock. NPR rock. Suburb rock. You know, the branch of indie that's yuppie friendly. (Favorite moment in the new movie "Pineapple Express"...the insecure , slacker, Seth Rogen character tells his girlfriend who's going to be going to college soon "You're going to start listening to Godspeed You Black Emperor and The Shins" [and dump me is the implicit rest of the sentence]) But forget that noise. This is a record that weaves together old-fashioned radio rock, artsy German noiserock, and hints of the alt-country genre that Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy practically invented. Brilliant stuff.


nine years and counting

Nicole and I married on August 21, 1999, nine years ago today. What a curvy road we've driven through three states, three bar exams, three universities, indian restaurants and estate sales, dollar movies and card games, democrat meetings and door-to-door canvassing, a casino Christmas, a crappy two-term presidency, the acquisition of two most excellent dogs, a claypit, the front row of the B-52s and Tom Tom Club on the reservation, and lots of pumpkin pasta. I'm way luckier than I deserve to be.


top ten pop culture artifacts or events that don't appeal to me whatsoever

10. The Olympics. The events strike me as boring. Guys swimming laps? Teen-agers doing gymnastic routines? Really? I'm a big fan of both The Human Spirit and Wheaties, but I can't get into "the games."

9. Pink Floyd. I've never owned a Pink Floyd record. Even their fast songs seem too slow. I can't explain why I like The Who's Tommy but have no interest in this band's output.

8. TV shows about judges. Judge Judy. Judge Wopner. Judget Mathis. Yawn. It's hard to make small-claims cases matter to anybody other than 1) the person who's out the hundred bucks, and 2) my dad.

7. The Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise. This is a local pick. The annual weekend when baby boomers drive gas guzzling cars up and down the Detroit area's main north-south artery and fans set up lawn chairs on sidewalks and parking lots so their kids can breathe the fumes from as close to the road as possible. The "Cruise" is a great weekend for anybody who appreciates classic cars, littering, port-o-potties, oil company profits, and gridlocked traffic.

6. Nick Cave. This guy's critical acclaim makes The Sopranos look like a Pauly Shore vehicle and he's down right iconic among indie rock fans. He played at one of the Lollapalloozas I attended during college and, I swear, he sounded like a frog. A very sad frog. I don't have anything against melancholy in music per se, but, for me, Cave saps rock and roll of its adventure and sense of play.

5. Bright Eyes. A couple of years ago, my students couldn't stop talking about Bright Eyes. How does a teen-aged boy decide to perform rock music under the name "Bright Eyes"? I'd love to know the backstory. I appreciate his politics (he toured with the anti-Bush Vote for Change tour in 2004, which is how I came to see a Bright Eyes live performance) but, like Mr. Cave, Mr. Eyes takes himself way too seriously.

4. Hockey. This is *almost* a local pick. In Detroit, hockey's as popular as any of pro sports' big three. My five-paragraph essay about why hockey doesn't appeal to me would contain body paragraphs that address the following three ideas. First, I don't understand a lot of the rules (What beef, for instance, do the officials have with players who commit "icing"--which I think means hitting the puck too far down the ice--especially given that it's okay to hit players from the other team?). Which brings me to my second hypothetical body paragraph, I don't like to watch people fight. Third, those Red Wings flags that Detroiters fly from their car windows...way tacky. Postscript number one: my first two reasons could also fit in a five-paragraph essay about why rugby doesn't appeal to me. Postscript number two: from a Freudian point-of-view, my lack of affinity for fighting (and much of my political ideology) might originate in my grandma's insistence, circa 1978, that we call the card game "war" by the more benign name "steal-a-pile." Postscript number three: if you're going to doctor up the name of the game to exclude things that are bad, why condone stealing?! Postscript number four: I think car dealerships in Detroit affixed those Red Wings flags to all SUVs in the 1990s.

3. The Big Lebowski. --Insert sound effect of needle being abruptly pulled off a record-- What? How can you not love this movie? Dude, give it another shot. I love most Coen Brothers films (especially Blood Simple and Fargo), but the Lebowski movie totally and utterly eludes me. Including this choice feels risky. I mean, this is like a pop culture litmus test. Sorry, just being honest.

2. The 'His Dark Materials' trilogy. I know people who absolutely rave about these books and respond to my dislike of it with shock and awe. I couldn't get through the first installment. I love the Harry Potter books. I love most things that piss off conservative Catholics. But I don't dig on Golden Compass.

1. Divas who hit high notes simply because they can. I'm talking to you, Mariah Carey. I'm talking to you, every female singer who ever appeared on American Idol. Not every song needs to explore a half a dozen octaves. Aretha Franklin, Beyonce, Big Mama Thorton all have/had tremendous range and one of the reasons why all three equal awesome is that none feel/felt obligated to show that range constantly.

...so how about you? what would your top ten look like?


let us now praise famous men, part 2

Mercy, mercy me. Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is in jail. How bad-ass is Detroit? Our mayor is behind bars.

More remarkable than the arrest itself? The speed of the media response. The arrest was a few hours ago, and the Free Press website boasts the story itself, video of the arrest, six op-ed pieces by big name columnists calling for him to step down and/or calling on the governor to remove him from office, person-on-the-street reactions and numerous other side-bar pieces, Barack Obama's statement about the arrest (!), the obligatory "here's what the national media's saying" synthesis, a photo montage of past Kilpatrick scandals, full text of Kilpatrick's words in the courtroom, and various PDFs of official documents like the memo appointing a Kilpatrick staffer the acting mayor.

let us now praise famous men

Will any of my students--past, present, or future--every write anything as widely read as Gilbert Arenas' blog? For that matter, will I ever write anything that has half the circulation of said blog? Before he became "Agent Zero," Arenas was "Robin" to Jason Gardner's "Batman" at the University of Arizona. Fall, 1999. Freshmen guards. Proverbial big men on campus. And enrolled in a first-year composition course taught by yours truely.

Tucson media followed Arenas and Gardner closely because they made for great stories. Flashy California kid with a penchant for pissing off Lute Olson (Arenas) and quiet, tireless Indiana kid who averaged something like thirty-nine minutes of playing time per game (Gardner) who became inseperable on campus, young starters on a team full of stars-to-be. Loren Woods. Richard Jefferson. Luke Walton, who had to put up with "who's your daddy?" chants from opposing teams' student sections and "is your dad disappointed you aren't at UCLA?" questions from every journalist in pac-10 land. Future Globetrotter (and fan of old school Nikes and striped socks) Gene Edgerson, who got negative press (how could he not put the Wildcats first?!) for red-shirting so he could finish his education degree student-teaching at a local kindergarden. Extremely tall basketball player teaching five-year-olds. What a photo op. Guys destined for the NBA sat the bench on this team.

Arenas' popularity definitely trickled into the classroom. On the first day of school, I had to ask one of the young women in the class to wait until after classtime to get his autograph. And that was two months before the season even started. Sometimes I wonder if any of my former students will ever write a New York Times bestseller, or a manifesto that will change the course of human history, or a series of lucrative greeting cards. Maybe. In the meantime, one of those former students, Agent Zero, is last year's Weblog Awards winner for Best Celebrity Blog. Yep, he beat Rosie O'Donnell and that kid from Stand By Me and Star Trek. Congrats, Gilbert, on the b-ball prowess as well as the blogging prowess. But would a shout-out to the U of A composition program kill you?



As always, summer is the blurriest season, the season with less routine and more aspirations. I'll write for how many hours per week? I'll read how many books and articles? My dad, an elementary school teacher, used to start bemoaning summer's quickness earlier and earlier each year. It's the middle of June, summer's almost over. I inherited some of those clockwatching tendencies. Not that the prospect of a new academic year doesn't excite me, it's just that I know I'll miss the bike riding, the digging in the garden, the chance to spend entire days working on research and writing at Caribou Coffee.

The inevitable "so you're off work until September?" conversations irritate me and I've got my answer ("well, teaching's only forty percent of my job...") all queued up. And I've done pretty well in the productivity department: wrote a book review for the WPA journal, finished work and sent off an article based on a 'revise and resubmit', organized last year's service learning data for coding, gave a paper at RSA, attended American Democracy Project seminar in Utah, put together a PowerPoint on service learning for fall writing program meeting, and started reading for a new project on empathy and teaching. BUT...truth be told, I do feel as if I become a part-time worker bee in the summer. I've volunteered with two different political campaigns. I've twice gone down to my folks' house for long weekends. I've played with the dogs and gardened and watched a bunch of netflix movies. Off work until September? To an extent, yes. Blurry summer, another reason to be thankful for a sweet job and a sweet life.