e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu

5/29/2008

lost: a quick roundup

Tonight, the Lost finale. A couple quick must-reads. First, EW at its geekiest. Second, NYTimes sounding like the paper that every first-year comp teacher using a pop culture reader hopes to receive.

5/28/2008

seattle, part 2

Cool diversity of people in Seattle. Lots of young folks out and about, expressing a range of styles, subcultures, group affiliations. I rarely had the sense that anybody was trying too hard to transgress. Seattle just struck me as a place where a lot of different individuals and collectives do their own things.

We managed to hit a good number of neighborhoods where expression happens. Ravenna and Fremont, for instance, where old family friends Nate, Mike, and Erin--who live in the former and hang out in the latter-- served as awesome tour guides. They took us to an outstanding Greek restaurant in Fremont, Costas Opa and we looked at some of the area's odd sculpture: the huge Lenin statue, "Waiting for the Interurban," and, of course, the humongous, VW-eating troll. The vegetarian mousaka at Costas was unbelievably good.

Another old friend, Jeff, lives in the Capitol Hill area and was equally gracious and informative. Capitol Hill is the center of gay-lesbian life in town, and the vibe is interesting and odd: a juxtaposition of bohemianism and upward mobility co-existing nicely. Jeff took us through Ballard, where we looked at the locks and the salmon shelves, and where we ate at Mike's Chili. Don't let the food network endorsement fool you. Mike's is a cash-only, beer-drinking joint. And the chili was nice. A lot of onion, a lot of jalapeno. Thick stuff, too. Excellent.

seattle, part 1

First time to the Pacific Northwest. The range of sights astounds: mountains, the massive Puget Sound, the colors of the market, young people in public. This definitely won't be my last trip to Seattle. Wallace Falls, an hour or so east of town, offered one of the highlights.


Lew and I at "middle falls," about halfway into the trail. The falls, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, seem moderate (trail's about 5.5 miles), but the elevation gets tough during the final, switchback-intensive, leg to upper falls. Pics don't do justice to the 265-foot waterfall, the views of the snow-capped Cascades, or certainly to the sound of the falls, particularly now as the snowmelt increases the intensity.

5/20/2008

reconstruction part 2: the 80s edition

Tom Tom Club, "Genius of Love" (Tom Tom Club, 1981). Aside from maybe "I Zimbra" and "Burning Down the House," the Talking Heads rarely flew a funk flag, so the band's husband-wife rhythm section formed the Tom Tom Club. Artists ranging from Grandmaster Flash (1982) to Annie (2005) have covered and/or sampled "Genius" and for good reason. Bassist Tina Weymoth handles most of the vocal duties and over the hookiest of synth lines and funkiest of beats narrates a sonnet-of-sorts in which her love is like a great r&b crooner. Then, in the song's breakdown, her husband, drummer Chris Frantz yells the sonnet-closing couplet for her, intoning the name "James Brown" again and again and, well, you can't help but dance. Nicole and I saw the Tom Tom Club co-headline with the B-52s at a casino's mini-outdoor ampitheater in southern Arizona in 2000 or 2001. A warm and dry night. On stage all night, 40-somethings singing what poet Allison Joseph calls "disco liberation." We broke through the half-hearted barriers between seats and stage and stood in front of Tina Weymouth (and, afterward, in front of Fred Schneider during the B-52s set) as she rocked the Sonoran desert, moving Tom Tom Club through a covers-heavy set that included the band's version of "You Sexy Thing." But "Genius of Love" was the evening's high point, besting even their co-headliner's rendition of "Rock Lobster."

Dead Kennedys, "Take this Job and Shove It" (Bedtime for Democracy, 1986). In seventh grade, I had two DK casettes, 'Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death' and 'Bedtime for Democracy', though what I really wanted was one of those black t-shirts with the DK logo in red. Though now I understand that the band's debut record 'Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables' is their masterpiece, at thirteen I dug the fast-paced 'Bedtime for Democracy' best. The songs waste no time. They waste nothing. The "Take this Job and Shove It" cover--the opening track of the record--clocks in at under ninety seconds. The song tries too hard to be subversive, but so do thirteen-year-old Dead Kennedys fans. If the country version of the song gives the finger to a mean boss-man, this version gives the finger to the world that allows mean boss-men to exist in the first place. I still like 'Bedtime,' a thematically tight record, with self-explanatory tracks like "Chickenshit Conformist," "Macho Insecurity," and "Rambozo the Clown" nicely cohering, and never failing to remind me of the things I hated about the Catholic school I attended.

Lou Reed, "Romeo Had Juliette" (New York, 1989). What did I know about New York City at fourteen or fifteen? Certainly part of my impression of the city came from beat poetry and Velvet Underground music and Rolling Stone articles about first generation punk rock. About the time that Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing came out, I got Lou Reed's concept album about NYC, a record that spoke to gentrification and AIDS and police brutality and vigilantes and drug addiction. Without a doubt, the record represents the highpoint of Reed's post-VU career. As strong a time capsule and as potent a piece of art as the Spike Lee movie, 'New York' was, as its liner notes suggested, like a novel. And "Romeo Had Juliette," an ode to teen love gone wrong, was the novel's most vivid moment. Full of striking images, particularly those that imagine the protagonist Romeo Rodriguez ("A diamond crucifix in his ear / is used to help ward off the fear"). Check out the youtube performance, in which Reed mumbles the song with a toothpick in his mouth the whole time.

5/19/2008

reconstruction

I admire the story Noel Murray at AV Club tells. Murray meanders alphabetically through his record collection, taking stock of his tastes and life as he revisits "pieces of the puzzle." He situates selected artists in a canon that exists between rock-criticism land (usual suspects like Pavement are well represented) and his own private universe (dude digs southern rock). Those selected artists get their own entries. He uses categories like "personal correspondence" where he narrates his interactions with the music. In another category, "fits between," Murray places artists between two other musical artists--The Go-Go's end up between B-52s and the Bangles, Gomez between Pearl Jam and Free. Murray approaches this task with the care of Paul Shaffer picking out a song to play as a Letterman guest walks onto the stage.

After a recent i-pod mishap, I had to reload 30 GB worth of tunes onto my machine. This reconstruction process gave me a chance to meander like Murray, pausing over my own pieces of the puzzle:

R.E.M., "What's the Frequency Kenneth?" (Monster, 1994). I can picture myself at 20, sitting in Nicole's car listening to this for the first time. I am picking her up from her co-op job in Troy, Michigan. I am enrolled in a creative writing class with Hugh Culik at the time and, as I sit in that white Dodge, I wish I could write something with the surreal abandon of the lyrics to "Kenneth." "Butterfly decal rearview mirror dogging the scene" sounds an awful lot like a Burroughs cut-up, which Culik talks about constantly. The song famously comes from non-sensical threats yelled by assailants as they beat Dan Rather outside of CBS. Rather, enjoying the surrealism, performs the song a few weeks later with the band on David Letterman, whose show I watched at least two or three nights a week in 1994 at Smith Media Center, in the offices of the school paper, with the rest of the staff. With miscelaneous members of that staff, I saw three R.E.M. shows during the Monster tour, in Ann Arborn, Auburn Hills, and East Lansing. It was making up for lost time, as I had wanted to go see the band since I was about 12 years old. Each show opens up with a different low-key track from Monster, after which--at all three shows--Peter Buck (allegedly playing Kurt Cobain's guitar) launches into the opening riff of "Kenneth."

Dr. Dre, "Let Me Ride" (The Chronic, 1992). Two years earlier I'm still in the seminary, living in Detroit's Six-Mile/Livernois area, in a huge house that used to be a convent for cloistered nuns. The area is rough. Police helicopters, car alarms, liquor stores with single cigarettes for sale and built-in ice cream parlors and Thai take-out counters. I sit in the room of Hung, one of my fellow seminarians and unwrap a care package his family has sent from New Orleans. The care package contains dried squid, cans of lychee fruit, and a couple cartons of Marlboro Lights. Because the dried squid goes best with beer, according to Hung, we walk to Tradewinds on Livernois. Returning to Hung's room, we enjoy some American beer and Vietnamese snacks as Dr. Dre enjoys heavy (err, constant) rotation on Detroit radio. "Let Me Ride" is essentially a cover of Parliament's "Mothership Connection," poppy and infectious and funky, with original verses about gangbangin' in L.A. The paradox is the perfect soundtrack for eighteen-year-olds (who happen to be studying for the priesthood) drinking cheap beer on a Friday night.

5/18/2008

Seattle

The most recent 4Cs was wall-to-wall business. Editorial board meetings. Sessions. A workshop. Nominating committee meetings. Too much. Seattle's going to be a different story. I've never been to the Pacific Northwest before, so I want to live a life outside of the Westin. And, as my conference funds are practically used up, I'm paying for much of this trip out-of-pocket. So I'm planning to dig on Seattle as much as possible.

Don't get me wrong, I haven't been to the Rhetoric Society of America conference for a few years and I'm really looking forward to hearing some papers (not to mention giving one: check out session C-11, everybody, where I'll be talking about how the literature on social movement rhetoric contends with class). But I'm planning a little fun too.

My buddy Lew and I already have tickets for next Monday's Mariners game against Boston. And at some point, we're going to make our way to Wallace Falls for a little hiking. The forest looks breathtaking, as does the 265-foot (!) waterfall. And I don't want healthy pursuits like exercise to monopolize, so a visit to Mike's Chili (same recipe since 1922) is in order. Saw a Mike's Chili segment on 'Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins'--best show on the food network--and damned if my mouth didn't water a little.

Anybody in the know about Seattle? Leave me a comment and tell me where to go while visiting there.

5/13/2008

for my next trick...

Oh, that Smokey. She's full of tricks. Today I slept in, took Nicole out to breakfast, and then settled into my home office to work on an article. Early afternoon, I let Hyatt and Smokey in the backyard, the fenced-in backyard that is, and returned to work. When I opened the door to let them back in, only Hyatt came. I could see Smokey standing in the driveway but when I called for her, she stayed put. I figured she wanted to enjoy some more fresh air, so I let her stay outside. Big mistake.

Ten minutes later, I went back outside and she was gone. Nowhere to be found. Instantly, I grew worried. Smokey's the shyest thing you've ever seen. Clearly a survivor of abuse, people freak that girl out. I started walking the neighborhood in a bit of a panic. No sign of her. I called Nicole, who was able to come home from the office to help look. I called my in-laws, who are retired, who also pounded the pavement. Still no sign of her. We looked for three hours. We called the police and the county and the rescue where we got Smokey (their number is still on her tag). I knocked on neighbors' doors, explained the situation, and asked them to check their backyards, as I thought she might be cowering under a bush.

We took a break. My father-in-law grilled some burgers while I took Hyatt around the block a few more times, thinking maybe she'd run to her big brother. Nothing. By the time everybody went home, I was convinced Smokey had been dog-napped. I took Hyatt around the block one final time. When I got home, Smokey was in the backyard, wagging her nub of tail on the same spot of the driveway where I had last seen her.

I don't know how she pulled that disappearing act. Maybe she was hiding all afternoon. Maybe she's got the ability to jump over a four-feet high fence and then jump back after she's done with her adventures. The latter is pretty doubtful, since she's still, unfortunately, too darn scared to be much of an adventurer. Or, maybe one of our neighbors found her, knocked on our door, and then tossed her in the backyard since nobody was home.

But I'm thinking the most likely explanation is that Smokey is an illusionist. Cuz she pulled a straight up disappearing act. Now she's fast asleep on the couch. Life is back to normal, and boy am I glad. I realized how attached we are after only one week.

5/10/2008

Hyatt and Smoky in the backyard


Smoky, the rat terrier on the left, is still very shy around people. In fact, she likes to go to the back corner of the yard and hide under the shrubbery. Here's Hyatt trying to coax her out.

5/09/2008

lost

Holy smokes, or rather holy smoke monster, Lost is having a season to rival its weird and original first season. For example, has anything in the show's four seasons been as scary as those images of Abbaddon and the ageless Richard Alpert?

Despite all the cool stuff we've learned about the Oceanic 6 and their post-island lives, this has been the season of Ben and Locke. For at least the last season or so, the show has given us much evidence that the two have mirrored fates, twin/rival affinities for the island, dual identities as geeks and macho men, and a mutual and intense rivalry with one another. After their interactions this season, I'm convinced that they are both deeply evil individuals whose wills-to-power have taken over their obedience to "the island" or "Jacob" or whomever the (formerly?) higher power might be. I don't think Ben gives a damn that he killed his daughter. I'm not sure that he was even surprised when the mercenary called his "bluff." Likewise, I don't think Locke would hesitate to sacrifice Hurley or any other beloved individual. Under siege, he was comfortable leaving Claire and Sawyer outside.

From the always-obsessive Entertainment Weekly recap, which offers a mind-blowing reading of last night's episode and is always must reading for any fan:

Locke is born early. At age 5, he takes a test that most likely would have taken him to the Island if he had passed. He didn't. That same year, Benjamin Linus is born. At age 16, Locke is invited to go to a science camp that again would have taken him to the Island. He refused. About that same time, Benjamin Linus and his father joined the Dharma Initiative. The implication, it seems, is that Ben has been walking the path that was originally meant for Locke. Ben was the contingency plan — the course correction — for Locke's altered destiny. But Ben is his own person, of course, and he has done things differently from what Locke would have done, and this, in turn, has created further changes in the original order of things — changes that I think a certain ticked-off, Island-deprived billionaire named Charles Widmore is trying to reverse. The scene at the rehab center between paralyzed adult Locke and his wheelchair pusher, the creepy Matthew Abbaddon — who accepted the description of ''orderly'' with knowing irony — was meant to suggest one way Widmore is scheming to restore the original order: by getting Locke on that Island and taking back the birthright that was supposed to be his.

(Unless I’m getting this reversed: What if Ben was the man of destiny, but for decades, various forces — including Alpert and Widmore-Abbaddon — have been vainly trying to change destiny by getting Locke to the Island to supplant the ├╝ber Other?)

Regardless, here's the twist — the twist that could turn Locke into a mass murderer of sorts. As we saw at the end of the episode, Locke's plan for saving the Island is moving the Island. Now, I have no idea how he intends to do that. But if I'm tracking correctly the weird science Lost has been laying down this season, I wonder if where we're headed is a catastrophic gambit in which Locke will move the Island not only in space but also in time, which I'm guessing will cause some kind of massive retroactive course correction — or, rather, already has enacted a course correction. In fact, I wonder if the secret to many of the metaphysical mysteries of Lost is that all of the show's drama is playing out against the backdrop of a timeline that's in flux — where old history is giving way to new history as the consequences of Locke's future Island-saving actions trickle down through time. And so that wreckage of Oceanic 815 at the bottom of the ocean? That isn't a hoax — at least, not in the new timeline taking hold. That's real. And it will be John the Quantum Ripper's fault.

5/08/2008

netflix, recently

I am attempting to catch up on last year's second-tier Oscar bait and my response is often ho-hum. Take for instance Charlie Wilson's War. I had high hopes, mainly because of Aaron Sorkin's involvement. Sorkin has some unimpeachable writing credits to his name including the early seasons of The West Wing. Alas CWW is a real bore, unaware of whether it wants to be a political intrigue yarn, a screwball comedy, or a morality tale.

Usually Sorkin's work displays his knack for combining those three genres. Know what? The combination works better when there's an easily definable hero. In The West Wing, that hero was Martin Sheen's left-leaning President Bartlet, whose flaws (sneaking a cigarette once in a while, having a big old academic ego, orchestrating the illegal assassination of a foriegn leader...no big whoop) were few. CWW has too much moral ambiguity and not enough Sorkin-style pomp.

The title character--based on a real guy--is an aw shucks womanizer, drunk, slacker, and congressman. That's fine. In fact, despite the cliche factor (every film that takes place in the 70s or early 80s has the obligatory coke and hedonism), those traits present the potential for some pretty interesting character development. But even work that revels in ambiguity needs to establish some kind of STANCE toward the character, and CWW does not. Should we look at Charlie as a paranoid anti-communista? As someone resonsible for writing the artists-not-yet-known-as-the-Taliban a blank check? As a hero who took care of business? I still don't know.

On the other hand, one of Philip Seymor Hoffman's other films from last year, The Savages is wickedly funny and wickedly sad. Hoffman and Laura Linney play siblings whose mean father, from they are estranged, develops dementia and needs their care. Their Peter Pan-esque names are John and Wendy. The siblings both aspire to get prestigious fellowships in drama and theatre. John is an academic married to the book project he's been working on for too many years ("Well, Brecht was a complex guy") but unable to connect with human beings. Wendy aspires to write a masterpiece and can't figure out why she's having an affair with a shlub ("I have an MFA!!").

The film's central "joke" works well. These two know much about theater but have no ability to handle the drama of their own lives. Heavy handed? Maybe, but the film knows enough to provide uncomfortable humor not so much as relief but rather as the logical conclusion of having nothing else to hang onto. What can two people this dysfunctional do but speak one-liners that would make brilliant dialogue in the kinds of absurdist theater they worship? Extra points for the great sequence where Wendy blows off an assignment at her temp job so she can finish writing a fellowship grant and then steals boatloads of office supplies.

shame shame shame

From an e-mail this a.m. from Human Resources:

Colleagues,

As you may have discovered in recent news coverage, the Michigan Supreme Court has upheld the Court of Appeals ruling that the Marriage Amendment prohibits public employers in Michigan from providing health insurance benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of their employees. We are hearing concerns from faculty and staff so I want to take this opportunity to reiterate that the University of Michigan does not offer benefits on the basis of same-sex domestic partner relationships. That category of eligibility was eliminated more than a year ago after the Court of Appeals made its ruling.

The University cares deeply about the recruitment and retention of its outstanding faculty and staff, and we design our benefits with these principles in mind. We believe all of our current benefit offerings are in full compliance with the law in the state of
Michigan.

In partnership for health,

5/07/2008

new addition

Our happy home has an additional member. Smoky, a three-year-old (we think) rat terrier, now resides with his big brother Hyatt. Smoky comes from the Last Chance Animal Rescue and has clearly had a rough go of it thus far. She's shaky around people, including Nicole and I. As in she literally shakes, although now that she's been with us a for a few days, she calms down after sitting on one of our laps for a few minutes. A good sign. Hyatt doesn't scare her at all. Right from the time she came home, Smoky took a shine to the mellowest, laziest pug in Michigan. While we wait for Smoky to get used to being around us, it's good to know that Hyatt's a calming presence. Pictures will follow soon.

5/02/2008

Hyatt today


Today I'm working in my home office down in the basement. It's a room full of books, papers, records and CDs, an old library table I use as a desk, and a futon. Rarely do I use the futon for anything other than setting stuff on. However, Hyatt uses it constantly. I'm peer-reviewing an article for TETYC and putting some final touches on a 4Cs proposal. Hyatt, he's not doing a whole lot of anything.

5/01/2008

milestone

As the academic year comes to a close, I realize I have now been at UM-Dearborn for as long as I was at Miami of Ohio, i.e, three years. Ohmygarsh, I've been out of graduate school for six years.