e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


job market

Clancy says she's glad not to be looking for a job this year. I second that. I have no desire to hit the market anytime soon. But hey, I'm 34 so I certainly won't say "never again." I will say "not now" as geography, good rhet/comp colleagues, interesting and varied teaching responsibilities, and an environment where I do a good amount of research and writing (moreso than at my first job) all keep me happy.

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.


an open letter

President Bush,

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."

Just saying.


to debate or not to debate

Okay, McCain wants to call off the debate because he needs to go back to the senate to govern us through the financial crisis. Is the senate going to be in session Friday night at 9:00 and the subsequent ninety minutes?

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.

student work

Not much time to blog, as I'm in the midst of reading loads of student work. Two sections of first-year comp-ers are analyzing one of the presidential candidate's positions on one particular issue. For two weeks we've been distinguishing between idea vs. opinion, arguments/position papers vs. analyses, and also talking about the overlap between those categories and genres. Their objective in this first assignment involves picking a candidate and an issue (McCain on gay marriage, for instance) and looking at the candidate's official platform, his history with that issue, and the ins and outs of his rhetoric when it comes to campaigning on that issue.

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.


weekend roundup

Friday proved a good day. A lunch meeting and the desire to work out at the rec center took me to campus where, unbeknownst to me, the department's promotion and tenure committee was meeting. In what seemed like a "go see the principal" moment, the chair summoned me to her office and informed me that my tenure case handily made it through the department. Outside review letters arrived, the committee read and discussed them, and now the case goes to the college level in November. Then the faculty senate, then the provost, then the board of regents. If I keep making it past each committee, I'll get final notification from the regents in May. Postscript to outside reviewers: Due to weird, vaguely medieval practices, I'm not permitted to know who you are. Apparently you said nice things. Thanks.

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.

dowd's homage to the west wing and obama

Anybody interested in this has probably already seen it, but I'll post anyway. On Saturday, NYT's Maureen Dowd conjured Aaron Sorkin's voice and wrote an imaginary dialogue between Barack Obama and Sorkin's fictional Prez Bartlet from 'The West Wing', aka, greatest television series ever next to 'Freaks and Geeks' and possibly 'Big Love'.



Anybody else digging Santogold? Best new record I've bought in a long time. As an artist, she's hard to classify. New wave? Soul? Dance-pop? Her voice is beautiful and the genre crossing is very cool. Check her out: http://www.myspace.com/santogold


community standards

The WPA listerv (for anybody out there who doesn't know--an email discussion list for people who direct college writing programs and, more broadly, for anybody who teaches writing at the college level) is busy with messages in which people share their "Palin" names. Apparently, there's a website where you type in your name and the site spits a "Palin" name at you. "Boulder Hockeypuck." "Igloo Moosehunt." And so on. Wacky web fun, I guess. So far only one person has complained that the political discussion veers too far from the focus of the list; I suspect more complaints will follow.

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?


on my reading list...

--Cathy Chaput, Inside the Teaching Machine: Rhetoric and the Globalization of the U.S. Public Research University
--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

who is running again?

Is it starting to seem like this presidential race is between Obama and Palin? I feel as if Biden has disappeared and he's been in my own metro area at least three times since his convention. Unless something drastic happens in terms of Biden's media presence, then I don't see him having much of an impact at all in this election.

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.



Two weeks into the term and so far I've made good on my plan to spend part of Mondays and Wednesdays writing at the coffeeshop. Plugging away at the empathy project--trying to theorize empathy at once as a material rhetoric and a pedagogy--and making a firm commitment to (stop staring at interview data and) start writing up the service learning data from last year.

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.


multi-tasking vs focusing

Sometimes too much discretionary time paralyzes me. Case in point: I did more writing in the last week--the first week of my fall semester--than I did during any single week during the summer. I sat my ass down at Caribou on the better part of three of my non-teaching days and worked on the empathy paper that I'm hoping is going to become my 4Cs presentation as well as a co-written article with my good pal Lew. Having done some planning, Lew and I are each composing separately right now.

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.


"you're hurting America...stop"

Jon Stewart got much-deserved attention during the last presidential campaign when he spoke those words to Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala. Stewart summarized what's wrong with the cable news model of political discourse: take two partisan hacks and let them shout talking points at each other.

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.


netflix, as time allows

Netflix, the coolest thing about the internet. Ease, low cost, great selection. Love it. My friend Willy--a great guy who runs our campus rec center, remembers your name for life the first time he scans your i.d. card, and always has interesting things to say about movies--has convinced me to start watching 'The Wire' asap. I've never seen an episode. He offers familiar raves about the show: stark representation of drugs and politics, consistently high quality of the writing. But, as Detroit's real-life mayor finally steps down in disgrace, Willy also says it's a great time to dig into The Wire's plots about urban corruption. You talked me into it, Willy, in a week or two I'm going to start Season 1. I'll probably become obsessed and watch all the seasons in quick succession. (I did this with the Harry Potter books, reading all seven back-to-back immediately after the finale's release...I've got some kind of mild OCD thing when it comes to pop culture.)

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.


joe klein

Joe Klein, writing for Time Magazine:

The story of the day out here in Minneapolis is the McCain campaign's war against the press. This has been building for some time. Those of us who have criticized the candidate--and especially those of us who enjoyed good relations with McCain in the past--have been subject to off-the-record browbeating and attempted bullying all year. But things have gotten much worse in recent days: there was McCain's rude, bizarre interview with Time Magazine last week. Yesterday, McCain refused to an interview with Larry King, for God's sake, because Campbell Brown had been caught in the commission of journalism on CNN the night before, asking McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds what decisions Sarah Palin had made as commander-in-chief of the Alaska national guard. (There was an answer that the unprepared Bounds didn't have: she had deployed them to fight fires.)

So what's going on here? Two things. McCain is just plain angry at us. By the evidence presented in the utterly revealing Time interview, he's ballistic. This is a politician who needs to see himself as the man on the white horse, boldly traversing a muddy field...any intimations that he's gotten muddied in the process, or has decided to throw mud, are intolerable.

The second thing is more insidious: Steve Schmidt has decided, for tactical reasons, to slime the press. He wants the public to believe that there is an unfair--sexist (you gotta love it)--personal assault going on against Palin and her family. This is a smokescreen, intended to divert attention from the very real and responsible vetting that is taking place in the media--about the substance of Palin's record as mayor and governor. Sure, there are a few outliers--and the tabloid press--who have fixed on baby stories. That was inevitable....the flip side of the personal stories that the McCain team thought would work to their advantage--Palin's moose-hunting and wolf-shooting, and her admirable decision to have a Down Syndrome baby. And yes, when we all fix on the same story, whether it's a hurricane or a little-known politician, a zoo ensues. But the media coverage of the Palin story has been well within the bounds of responsibility. Schmidt is trying to make it seem otherwise, a desperate tactic.

There is a tendency in the media to kick ourselves, cringe and withdraw, when we are criticized. But I hope my colleagues stand strong in this case: it is important for the public to know that Palin raised taxes as governor, supported the Bridge to Nowhere before she opposed it, pursued pork-barrel projects as mayor, tried to ban books at the local library and thinks the war in Iraq is "a task from God." The attempts by the McCain campaign to bully us into not reporting such things are not only stupidly aggressive, but unprofessional in the extreme.


hurricane relief

Here's a link to follow if you are in a position to give to the Southeast Louisiana Red Cross.

from DEEP in the archives

The zucchini plants continue to produce lots and lots of zucchini. I even dusted the cobwebs from this old classic: zucchini squares. Couldn't be easier. Combine 3 cups sliced zucchini, 1 cup bisquick, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup diced onion, 1/4 cup olive oil, 4 eggs, 2T dried parsley, pinch of oregano, pinch of pepper, couple pinches of salt. Bake in a cakepan for 35 minutes, 350 degrees. Cool and then cut into squares. This was standard at picnics when I was a kid, but I hadn't made any for years.