e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


making a list, checking it twice

All my favorite pop culture junky websites find themselves in a flurry this time of year, listing the bests and worsts, trying to be definitive and novel all at once. I haven't seen anywhere near enough 2009 films to offer my own exhaustive list, but I'll make an amateur observation: What a great year for genre films. Of course "Inglorious Basterds" exploded the war picture in all kinds of fun ways. And two kiddy pictures--"Up" and "The Fantastic Mr. Fox"--told more compelling stories with rounder characters than most adult dramas. (NB: I haven't seen "Where the Wild Things Are" yet.)

But let's here it for the horror movie. Sure, plenty of lousy, lazy remakes came out, but I found "Baghead," "Orphan," and "Drag Me to Hell" scary and inventive; I recommend them highly. (NB Part Deux: Haven't seen "Paranormal Activity" yet.) "Orphan" in particular was outstanding. Sure, the 'demon child' story is familiar, but "Orphan" took the subtelty and craft of the "Rosemary's Baby" formula and rewrote it for the video game generation. More gore, more shocks, more over-the-top fun. Plus, CCH Pounder as a nun. "Baghead" also played with a cliche, this time the indie, let's-recreate-"Blair Witch" trope. "Drag Me to Hell" was a third example of a great piece of work that didn't feel the need to reinvent the horror wheel. "Drag" was more or less what you'd expect from the great horror writer/director Sam Raimi and also just what you'd expect from a gypsy curse film. But somehow the film achieved more, as Raimi's best work always does.

How about music lists? I'm wondering why the Dead Weather record is getting little end-of-year love from Pitchfork, AV-Club, et al? I like the album more than post-"White Blood Cells" White Stripes releases myself. And the band kills live. My other favorites from 2009 include The Gossip's "Music for Men," Animal Collective's "Merriweather Post Pavillion," Wilco the Album, and the Hard Lessons' "Arms Forest."

Speaking of music lists, the decade best-ofs have tragically excluded two of my favorite bands from the past ten years: The Kills and The Gossip. Here are two bands that have much in common. Both started the decade marrying punk and blues and opening for bigger acts but migrated more toward dance music and headliner status. Both bands lack a bass player and hence draw White Stripes comparisons. Both bands are fronted by charismatic women who create stage personas that are key components of their respective live experiences. The Kills made three outstanding records. The Gossip released four, plus several EPs and live records.

Some of the best rock music of the decade, hands down, so why are they barely represented on the decade lists? I'm not sure the allegedly liberal indie community in the U.S. knows just what do with these two bands. Their frontwomen--the Gossip's Beth Ditto and The Kills' Alison Mosshart--reject the shy introversion of so many women of indie rock. They seem more influenced by sexually charged bluesers of the 40s and 50s like Big Mama Thorton than, say, Natalie Merchant. Ditto is known to remove articles of clothing on stage and is a very out lesbian. Mosshart climbs amps and leers at the audience. Their lyrics challenge decorum and femininity. I think it's noteworthy that the boys in the music press seem somewhat confused by the collective ethos of folks like Ditto and Mosshart.



I don't give final exams too often, preferring portfolios or other types of final projects that are cumulative and/or the culmination of a sequence of assignments. This morning I handed out to students a take-home exam. I rarely do this, but a take-home exam seemed like the best way to bring together the course's threads (their service learning projects, their entrances in the "public sphere," their analyses of political rhetoric in venues ranging from the op-ed page to youtube, their study of Don Lazere's Civic Literacy text, etc.). I'm anxious to read the responses next week. Here's the exam.

Composition 105
Take-Home Final Exam

1) What claims/assertions does Michael Kinsley make in “The Intellectual Free Lunch” (see Chapter 2)? What types of evidence does he provide? (1-2 academic paragraphs)

2) Write a short argument in favor of or in opposition to giving “critical thinking” curricula (see Chapter 3) a more prominent place in K-12 education in Michigan. Keep your argument “clean” and follow the Ground Rules for Polemicists, especially those guidelines which demand you consider and respond to other perspectives. (2-3 academic paragraphs)

3) Offer your own evaluation of Martha Nussbaum’s argument in “Can Patriotism Be Compasionate” (see Chapter 3). How effective do you find her use of techniques like allusion and analogy? (1-2 academic paragraphs)

4) During the semester we looked at several examples of invective and emotional appeal on youtube. In what ways are these kinds of expression in opposition to the Ground Rules for Polemicists (see Chapter 9)? What do these types of “rants” contribute to public discourse? Can you think of any ways that the Ground Rules are short-sighted? Do they fail to account for legitimate roles that invective and emotion play in the public sphere? (3-4 academic paragraphs)

5) Given what you know about the predictable patterns of political rhetoric (see Chapter 13), how might a “leftist” professor and a “rightist” professor each use service learning to push his or her own political agenda? We discussed how good models of service learning use real-world work to help students learn subject matter. Could you imagine professors with political biases pushing an agenda as opposed to focusing on student learning? Explain your response using careful reasoning. (3-4 academic paragraphs)


nso events

During the past year, I've deepened my relationship with Neighborhood Service Organization, a multi-purpose social service agency in Detroit. Last year, students in my upper-level writing in the public sphere class worked with NSO's walk-in center in the Cass Corridor. Students conducted research on the neighborhood and worked with the center's staff to create various reports and documents that engaged some of the crucial concerns of the center: its relationship with the Corridor's business community, the actions of the unsanctioned volunteers who work and prosyletize outside the center, and so on. This term, my first-year students partnered with the agency's headquarters to generate material for NSO's newsletter. Students have learned a great deal and I hope their written work has helped the organization.

A few months back, I joined with several Gesu colleagues to walk NSO's 5K fundraiser. Last summer, I took a group of students to their annual breakfast event. One of the things that's happening is I'm blurring the line between NSO as a professional (i.e., service learning) contact and a personal contact. I mean "blur" in the best possible sense. Like most people in this particular biz, I often feel the work is disjointed. Monday: grade papers. Tuesday: work on that theoretical article. Friday: three meetings that have little or nothing to do with either of the above. NSO's helped me feel a bit of coherence.

This weekend, I hope to hit the Russel Bazzar downtown, where NSO is hosting local artists and vendors selling locally crafted Christmas gifts. They'll be taking donations too. A cadre from Gesu (my church) and I are finishing our training tomorrow for a project supporting recently housed NSO clients. This is an exciting venture. We're working to provide support services for folks who after years of homelessness have made the transition to apartment life. The kick-off of these support services is a Christmas party for fifty people, featuring full holiday dinner (turkey, ham, etc.). If you know me, then you know that few things make me as happy than cooking for big groups. If you are reading this and have mad kitchen skills, then you might get a call from me regarding the aforementioned party.

Great to connect with people whose work is so essential. I can't overemphasize the satisfaction that comes along with a little bit of coherence, connecting one piece of my life to another. Building those connections between work life and personal life takes work. Sometimes people don't want that type of connectedness, preferring to shut off at 5:00. Not me.


get random

Yesterday I chaired my last Gesu Church Peace & Justice Committee meeting. With the close of 2009, I finish my two-year term as co-chair of the group. We've done various fundraisers for advocacy projects, organized education programs at our church, brought in speakers to give talks on justice-related topics, and tried to contribute to the spirit of Gesu. I continue to be thankful to have a group like P&J who makes me feel at home within the Catholic Church, which of course can too often persist in its hierarchical ways. Last major function as co-chair: host our annual Christmas party this coming weekend. I'll make tamale pie and hopefully Nicole and I will have made more of our cookies by then. So far, we're finished with the butterscotch chip and that's it. Way behind.

Also yesterday I enjoyed the documentary "One Fast Move Or I'm Gone," a vivid look at a period of Jack Kerouac's life wherein he escaped (from alcoholism, New York, sudden fame, all the trappings he allegedly hated) to Lawrence Ferlinghetti's cabin in Big Sur and had a nervous breakdown. The film celebrates the melancholy, using Kerouac's words liberally and assembling friends and fans of his to talk about the "novel" that grew out of Kerouac's experiences at the cabin. "One Fast Move" serves as a love letter to the great book _Big Sur_ but also a kind of catharsis for the odd and absurd assemblage of Kerouac devotees--writers, scholars, celebrities, that scruffy guy from Death Cab for Cutie--who know a great deal about this period in Kerouac's life. Essential viewing.

Today, I'm marking student papers, watching the snow fall, and heading to the gym for a much-needed (see: paragraph on cookies above) workout.


three things

Beyond the everyday tasks like walking the dogs, driving to campus, marking student papers, and teaching, three things this morning are noteworthy.

THE GOOD. I received a "revise and resubmit" for an article about affective dimensions of community service learning. For those outside the biz, an r&r means that peer reviewers like the article and recommend publication with revisions. First post-tenure article. Cool.

THE BAD. This fool. At the risk of drawing undue attention to a hate-monger, let's call him by name: Cardinal Javier Barragan, a semi-retired Catholic church leader who has suggested that gay people can't get into heaven. My students may read this and recognize my use ("fool," "twisted") of the ad hominem fallacy. Damn right. Sometimes the affective response is the best response. Maybe Barragan is sitting in his fancy house, googling himself, and reading this. (Fat chance, but I can humor myself.) If so, here is my message: With these statements you have added nothing to public discourse and you have added nothing to the spiritual life of anybody. You have said things counter to the spirit and the tenets of your own stated faith. You have hurt people. Why, according to both canonical and non-canonical accounts of Jesus's life, did he say not a word about gay people, all the while saying lots of things about loving and not judging our neighbors?

THE LIGHTER NOTE. A student in class today used the phrase "I shit you not" during discussion. What's the etymology of that phrase? Probably inappropriate, but at least the comment indicated a certain amount of community and comfort in the classroom. Cool, part deux. Barragan, you won't ruin my day.


something new

Today was all about bread. Nicole and I spent the afternoon at my sister Anna's house where a yardful of guests enjoyed the new tandoor oven her family built. My brother-in-law Mazin sawed the bottom off a terra cotta pot and built a brick structure to surround the pot so he could bake a traditional Iraqi bread. You make a fire in the bottom of the oven and the terra cot part of the oven gets extremely hot.

Here the impressive part. You prepare thin pieces of dough in more or less round shapes and spread them on special pillows, moistened to avoid combustion. Then you slap the dough against the side of the oven. When the dough bubbles and starts to brown, you peel it off with tongs. The end product looks and tastes a lot like the naan that Indian restaurants serve. Today, Anna and company made a whole wheat version (next time we're adding some honey to the dough)--my favorite--as well as a white, and one that mixed in ground lamb and onion.

I'm not a big fan of grilling, so often the experience of cooking outside is lost on me. Today, though, the brisk air felt great, and I didn't even mind the accidental eyebrow thinning I got at the hands of the oven (the thing gets damn hot). And the bread is yummy, especially with the lamb biryani and the yogurt Anna makes from their goats. A great cooking day. More accurately: a great eating day, since all I did was contribute dessert.



An entire month without a blog update. In the five years I've been blogging, that must be a record. Two days until Halloween, which means two days until the third annual trick-or-treating meet-up at our house. Nicole and I live in a good neighborhood for treats, so various friends and family members converge on our place.

I'll prepare the fixings for walking tacos. What, you've never had a walking taco? You open up a little bag of Fritos, add your favorite taco ingredients, stir, and eat with a plastic fork. Deliciousness. I'll probably hang back and hand out candy with anybody not inclined to walk the streets.

At some point, I'll visit the Berkley Boneyard, which makes Clark Griswold's holiday decorating look modest. Seriously, click on the link. It's just some guy's house. I think our nephews Ali and Yousef are spending the night. So we'll probably watch something horrifying. Good fun.

I hope to take pictures of Halloween festivities this year and post them to facebook. Stay tuned. And if I have any readers out there who haven't friended me on FB, then what are you waiting for? Not sure I have any readers, period, but such is the facebook world in which we live.


in time and out of time

When should a good piece of writing be timely and when should a text be timeless? I used to buy into a dichotomy between "rhetorical" writing versus "belletristic" or "aesthetic" writing, a dichotomy informed by faith in genre boundaries. Political speeches and op-ed pieces rely on showing awareness of the current context and siezing the kairotic moment. Literary texts concern themselves with broader themes and abstractions that transcend a particular time.

Of course the dichotomy's bunk.

We appreciate political speeches from two-thousand years ago and study their broad themes and ideas. In fact, we apply methods of literary analysis to "great" speeches. We understand literary texts in their social contexts, sometimes to the chagrin of great books proponents. What of a novel like The Jungle that can only be understood as a piece of rhetoric, a timely and purposeful critique of meatpacking at the turn of the twentieth century.

A great moment from The West Wing, itself a series of its time (comfort food for liberals during the George W. Bush years) and timeless (the capital-t Themes like civic obligation). Communications director Toby Ziegler is resisting hiring Will Bailey to help him write the president's second inaugural address. Toby critiques Will's past work on the grounds that he uses pop culture references, thereby lessening the "shelf lives" of his speeches. I like what this scene suggests about the ambitions of rhetoricians, or the possible ambitions anyway. Work can transcend.


random stuff

  • This Saturday is honey-extraction day down at Anna's. Looking forward to helping out, avoiding any stings, and leaving with some delicious honey.
  • Any Detroiters out there want to go hear some good live music on October 15? The Gossip bring their fusion of r&b and punk rock to the Majestic. If you like Aretha Franklin, Donna Summer, and the Buzzcocks, you'll love the Gossip. Send me a message if you're interested.
  • Should I watch "Flash Forward"? Do I really need to get hooked on another tv show, especially one that looks so similar to "Lost"?
  • Like many others, I am hoping against hope for real health care reform. Coverage for the millions who are un- or under-insured. A public option for those who can't access private plans. Don't get belligerent about the cost of Obama's plan unless you've been out there marching against the billions we've spent waging war on Iraq.

a pilot project of sorts

For some time, I've held to the belief that I do not have the right disposition to do administrative work. The prospect of administering a writing program does little to excite me. I like interacting with students in a traditional, classroom setting. I like writing. With tenure I feel I am in a place where I can decline tasks that don't give me joy.

I agreed to run the Civic Engagement Project (our service learning program) here at UM-Dearborn this year and already the work has allowed me to give administrative work a trial run on a slightly smaller scale. Slightly smaller in that the job is 1/3 reassignment time. Directing CEP involves less tedium. I love having the chance to develop new relationships with community partners and trying to enhance those we already have. Supporting our new faculty fellows is genuinely exciting. And I have a great yearlong Vista who is creative and energetic. Props to CEP. In all honesty, I dig the course release too, which gives me a lovely 2-2 teaching load for the academic year.

What have I learned about administration? You spend a lot of time on e-mail. I had really cut down on hours spent reading and writing the e-mails by switching to facebook for informal communication and unsubscribing from various listservs. Guess what? I'm back. It had been a long time since I spent more than ten minutes crafting the language in an e-mail message. Now that's a regular occurence.

I also have learned that you need to talk up your office. At the American Democracy Project meeting over the summer, one presenter called this your "elevator soundbite." You need to have an accessible, clear, catchy description of the work your office does. P.R. Easy enough. One of the challenges is being ready to pitch to your provost or dean or the new faculty member you just met or the dude at the rec center whose name you never remember.

Here's another thing new to me. Budgets. More specifically, making decisions about budgets. I'm not talking about household budgets, I'm talking about a program budget (albeit a meager one) where you have the prerogative to provide teachers with resources and offer professional development opportunities yet you also need to demonstrate frugality.

Closely connected to the use of monetary resources, another lesson has been that administration gives you chances to travel. Next month, to Boston to observe a very well-established service learning program. Each summer, the American Democracy Project meeeting. In February, the Campus Compact Institute at a resort in Traverse City, where I've never been.

I'm a big proponent of sucking the marrow and so forth and, at the risk of sounding idealistic, I never want to regret missing a chance to learn more and do more as a teacher at UMD. That's true if I retire from here in thirty years or if I find a new job next Spring. I have to admit that the challenges and opportunities of administration mean more chances to learn more and do more. I might even get the chance to work on those aspects of my disposition (on-again-off-again shyness, overly developed sensitivity) I thought might make this kind of work too tough.


from the market

Yesterday my friend Jim had free tickets to the Lions' pre-season game. Though I am fighting off a cold of some sort, I was glad to accept Jim's invitation to join him. Earlier, though, my parents had decided to come to Michigan for a somewhat impromptu garage sale at my sister Anna's. Nicole and I did a quick cleaning of the basement and filled a couple boxes with stuff for the sale and Nicole took Hyatt and Smokey (to hang out with their canine cousin--or possibly niece--Molly, not to sell!) down to Anna's bright and early in the a.m. for the sale. Jim and I joined the sale in progress later in the afternoon. The sale was mostly a bust, though we had fun passing the afternoon outside. For my dad's birthday, Anna made a pretty spectacular boston cream pie, not to mention a post-fast feast of chicken, lentil soup, and fatoush. We non-fasters ate with equal gusto.

Before Jim and I got to Anna's, Nicole and my dad ran to the farmer's market near Anna's that tends to have give-away prices, especially late in the day. Jam as many ears of corn as you can into this big bag for a buck. That kind of thing. N. went a bit overboard, but I have to admit her purchases have resulted in a fun Sunday. After all, what's better than cooking on a Sunday? Nicole likes freezing stuff, so she's made stir-fry kits with onions and various kinds of peppers. She's also done a couple bags of blanched green beans, ready to be steamed and eaten. Nicole also got a peck of banana peppers for one dollar (!), so I'm marinating pepper rings for a version of my dad's pepper salad. Tonight, eggplant parmesan, as soon as Nicole gets back from Costco with the fresh mozzarella. I've got the slices of salted eggplant draining in the colander right now.

A day of cooking comes a day or two after finishing Frank Bruni's Born Round, a memoir that I loved. You might know Bruni as a restaurant critic at the NYTimes and if so you'll probably appreciate the book's later chapters which give insight into the funny and high-stakes relationship between restaurants the elite media that can make or break them. My favorite parts of the memoir came earlier, though, when Bruni describes growing up in a food-obsessed, extended, Italian family. He walks readers through holidays when his grandmother and mom would spend weeks planning, shopping, cooking, and trouble-shooting humongous meals. Every detail had to be perfect. Meals were about quality and quantity, almost in equal measure. Throughout, Bruni describes his struggles with his weight, with body image, and with several eating disorders. His bizarre career trajectory alone makes the narrative interesting, but if you can relate to a familial life centering on food or if you routinely go to more than two or three stores to buy ingredients for a meal, then Born Round is a must read.

Nicole's home. Back to the parmesan.


Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino has always had lots of fun writing playful dialogue for bad guys, sadists even. The criminal who tortures the cop in Reservoir Dogs had some charm, to say nothing of a sense of humor and a familiarity with pop culture. Those mobsters in Pulp Fiction who love to talk about the ins and outs of European fast food make their living killing people. Tarantino's never been especially interested in pursuing the morality of his characters or the morality of his own representations of criminal life.

The minutiae of everyday life (long conversation about tipping practices, anyone?). The way a fetish-like obsession (for Tarantino, an obsession with movies) creates an alternative universe. Those things interest him a great deal.

Inglourious Basterds--which let me say I absolutely, positively loved--has mostly gotten very positive reviews for its ambitious scope, playful approach to narrative, and most of all the performance of the actor playing Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. A few reviews, notably the N.Y.Times, New Yorker, and the Orlando Sentinel have pointed out not only the film's violence but also called into question the ethics of representation involved in parallel stories (obviously fiction) about a band of violent American Jews who hunt Nazis in occupied France, as well as the aforementioned Nazi Colonel who--like many Tarantino baddies--has urbane charm.

First, the Landa character. How many sadistic bad guys in fiction and film have been represented as cunning and charming? Of course a *Nazi* bad guy is worlds apart from a "purely fictional" bad guy a la Hannibal Lecter. The ethical dynamics shift when the characters have roots in history, especially THAT moment in history. But in my view Landa is never defined by his charm at the exclusion of brutality. No, this is not a film interested in moralizing (and that in and of itself might be a problem for some viewers), but neither is it a film that fails to balance the urbane with the vicious. That balance creates the film's suspense, in fact.

Second, the band of "basterds." They combine the expected and the unexpected. As viewers, I think we expect the genre tropes they represent: the war movie (the basterds have both a 'gee whiz,' all-American, baseball fan G.I. thing as well as a cigar-chewing, Dirty Dozen thing going on) and the gore movie (not for nothing does Eli Roth of Hostel fame play one of the basterds). We don't necessarily expect the global historical revisions or the over-the-top spectacles the basterds help to orchestrate. In other words, they defy simply categorization. And that helps the representation go beyond something merely pornographic (as in, one intended outcome only) or exploitative (though a bit of the latter is part of what Tarantino mashes up to create his unique vision). As the AV-Club points out, Inglourious Basterds is among other things an antidote to sterile middlebrow representations that teach us that Nazis are bad.


cedarland during ramadan

Ramadan began yesterday, so shout out to family members, students, UMD colleagues, and friends who are fasting during daylight hours this month. Nicole and I made a last-minute decision to head down to Dearborn tonight to grab a bite. Naturally, we ended up at our favorite place to eat in all of the greater Motor City area: Cedarland.

Detroiters should know that for the rest of Ramadan Cedarland has great specials around dusk to sundown for fast-breakers and non-fast-breakers alike. Each night they have three or four items not found on the menu, served with lentil soup and either fattoush or tabouli. I got kibbeh served in a warm, thick yogurt. Nicole got stuffed squash (basically, dolmas) cooked until the squash was falling apart in a lemony tomato sauce. A lot of familiar flavors in both dishes: lemon, parsley, cumin, and so forth, but definitely a change of pace from usual Cedarlad stuff like shawarma and garlic sauce.

Plus, the breaking of the fast creates a happy and interesting atmosphere, even for non-Muslims like us. We always feel welcome at Cedarland, which feels a bit like an American diner: well-lit (to a fault), lots of families, friendly waitresses.


final hurrahs

As in "final hurrahs" before the academic year commences.

In place of a full-blown vacation, Nicole and I have enjoyed some small weekend get-aways that have been fabulous. We put our passports to use and made the drive over to Stratford. Mostly we walked the town, browsed bookstores, and ate bruschetta. Also saw a performance of "Three Sisters." That weekend was the semi-official celebration of our tenth anniversary (tomorrow's the "real" day).

We also went down to the Paint Valley Jambroee in southern Ohio. Our friends Jim and Janice joined us for the road trip (highlight of the drive: the obligatory hot dogs at Toledo's world-famous Tony Packo's) down and we met my parents and good family friends Kathy and Bob. PVJ is in Bainbridge. Each Saturday night, world-class musicians gather in a little theater (no drinking, swearing, or smoking allowed) and crank out oldtime Americana. Great, great stuff. The houseband stays on stage and, like an old-fashioned review, a series of singers take the mic for two numbers. Always a unique musical experience. It's like stepping into a time machine. The guy who owns the place said next time we drive down we can stay in one of his cabins. Wild.

Other than that, I've been prepping syllabi for the Fall, planning our Civic Engagement (our campus' service learning center) programming for the year with our new VISTA volunteer, and getting a decent amount of writing done. Wish I blogged more often. Put that on my list.


Brief Review

The most admirable thing about A Cultural Dictionary of Punk, a book with many admirable qualities, is the fact that Nick Rombes wrote exactly the book he wanted to write. CDoP raises subjectivity and idiosyncrasy to zen artforms. Entries range from a few sentences to a few pages, from critique to short story to top ten list. At one point, Rombes acknowledges that readers looking for oft-repeated facts can consult Wikipedia. Instead, he professes affinity and fascination. He also interprets and contextualizes.

Entries tackle individual punk bands, songs, and/or records without pattern. Elsewhere the book includes entries on films, novels, political figures, and even headlines from key publications; some have tenuous connections to punk and some have obvious links. Rombes crafts narratives (a young boy listening to a Clash record, a first-person account of a chat with Patti Smith) that may or may not be fiction. Though quirky, genre-bending entries sound postmodern, the book as a whole is a personal and genuine statement. Rombes reveals as much about his worldview as he does about his love of punk. Somehow the book is smart, odd, engaging, provocative (see Rombes on punk's relationship to Reagan and Thatcher), and warm all at once.

I like that reading the text is like reading a list. You know, like the ten best records of the year or the novels every English major should read. Like the "list," CDoP makes readers argue about omissions. Personally, I can't believe Rombes didn't include entries on the Chipmunk Punk novelty record, Johnny Thunders (maybe the best guitar player of the punk era), and the whole Akron scene (nothing on The Waitresses forgoodnesssake). Speaking of Ohio, here's my most idiosyncratic critique of all: why no mention that Stiv Bators was born and bred in my hometown, Youngstown, that ground zero of economic troubles? Bators movements from Catholic School life in Youngstown, to Cleveland, to NYC, to L.A., to the great beyond, has always fascinated me. I'm curious as to why there's no entry on Saturday Night Live. On one hand, SNL during punk's heyday probably represented the same version of 'The 60s' that punk was rejecting. On the other, what of Belushi's obsession with the hardcore movement? If you're out there Nick, any thoughts?

I also like that kids can pick up CDoP, maybe drawn by the cool cover art, and discover enough bands, books, and films to keep them busy for years. I've loved punk rock since listening to my brothers' Clash records when I was in about second grade and despite those twenty five years of fandom, CDoP mentioned bands I never heard of (Demics, Shirkers, Skunks), so thanks for that Nick. I've got some homework to do.


Dead Weather in Columbus

On Saturday I drove down to Westerville, OH., and got a professional-grade tour of Otterbein College from my nephew Tony, a sophomore there. After an excellent dinner at Banana Leaf, a vegetarian Indian joint, Tony and I headed to the LC Pavilion to see the Dead Weather, who put on one of the better shows I've seen. DW revive the concept of the "supergroup" and poach members from bands as original and entertaining as the Kills and the Greenhornes. Of course, even from behind the drums, Jack White's the gonzo leader. DW's music, electric blues, lends itself to live performance, especially with White exciting the crowd by his very presence and singer Alison Mosshart prowling the stage and climbing on amps and generally menacing the crowd. White came out from behinds the drums to rip up a guitar during set-closing "Will There Be Enough Water," but the highlights for me were the up-tempo tracks like "Cut Like A Buffalo" where the foursome transcended "side project" and just rocked out. Hope DW proves to be more than just a one-record/one-tour experiment.

Who opened the show? Glad you asked. New Jersey's own punk outfit, the Screaming Females. I would venture to bet that most of the crowd had never heard the SF before. I would also venture to bet that the crowd was impatient for the Dead Weather when SF took the stage for their too-brief set. But somehow, the Screaming Females won the crowd over. It only took one guitar solo from band leader (the only screaming female in the group) for the audience to want more. Just like Dead Weather does fairly traditional electric blues, the Screaming Females do fairly traditional punk (aside from the solos). It's the level of mastery over the guitar that sets SF above so many others working in the genre. They kicked ass. By the time they blasted out a cover of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer," I knew I had to hear more. Happily the band was selling refreshingly inexpensive records at the door afterward. A great night, capped off by ramen noodles in Tony's dorm, followed by me returning to regularly scheduled adulthood.



Seeming dishonesty from service providers always irritates me. Part of the irritation stems from the fact that I'm rarely positive about the perceived shadiness. I just don't have the mechanical/automotive/home repair know-how to be sure.

Yesterday a fine representative from a major plumbing/sewage company paid us a visit due to very minor back-up in the basement. Now we did NOT want the minor problem to even approach the realm of a major problem, so we quickly called a pro, who went to work snaking our main line. After an hour or so, he summoned me to the basement, showed me what looked like a moderately sized stick, perhaps a foot in length. "Can you believe this?" he asks.

He goes on to act amazed at the idea that such humongous sticks would ever be in pipes and explains that old houses like mine (the home where I grew up is about four times as old, but whatev) have 3" sewage pipes as opposed to new homes which have 6" pipes which can be fitted with saws to get rid of all roots. His implication seemed to be that newer homes never have problems with sewage, which just isn't true. Anyway, he suggested sending a camera into my main line to see if the roots had damaged my pipes yet and then excavating the yard to install the preferred 6" pipes, all to the tune of thousands of dollars.

Admittedly, I know just about nothing when it comes to pipes, but that seemed sudden, excessive, and--given the price--undoable right now anyway. So I declined. "Can you just get all the roots out today?" I ask. He says he'll try.

I wander back downstairs about twenty minutes later and the guy's outside. Only his very young trainee-assistant is operating the snake at this point. "Lot of roots, eh?" I ask. An awkward attempt at conversation. (What do you say to the guy who's tending to your sewage?) "Actually, the second time through, the snake's working with no problem at all. I think you're good." The trainee shows that the snake feeds in and out with no obstruction and explains that they got the sticks and roots with no problem. Cool.

His boss comes back down and I say something like, "Looks like the second snaking took care of the problem." His sour reply: "More like the fifth snaking took care of the problem." What? Am I supposed to feel guilty that they had to run the snake through five times. I was writing a check for a couple hundred dollars (which admittedly goes to the company he works for). Plus, at the very least, he was exaggerating the gravity of my problems.



hint fiction

hint fiction (n) : a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story


Anthology Guidelines

Tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2010, W.W. Norton will publish an anthology of Hint Fiction. What is Hint Fiction? It’s a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story. The thesis of the anthology is to prove that a story 25 words or less can have as much impact as a story 2,500 words or longer. The anthology will include between 100 and 150 stories. We want your best work.

It’s possible to write a complete story in 25 words or less — a beginning, middle, end — but that’s not Hint Fiction.

The very best Hint Fiction stories can be read many different ways.

We want stories we can read again and again and never tire of. Stories that don’t pull any punches. Stories that make us think, that evoke some kind of emotional response.

Take a look at the winners and honorable mentions of the Hint Fiction Contest for examples.

Payment is $25 per story for World and Audio rights.

Reprints? Sure, but unless you’re one hundred percent confident in the reprint, why not try to write an original piece?

For formatting purposes, you must include a title (which actually works in your benefit, as the title helps give a better “hint” of the overall story).

Writers can only submit up to two stories, both embedded in the same e-mail. Don’t worry about a cover letter. We don’t care where you’ve been published or what graduate program you’ve attended — all author identification will be stripped by a third party so we will only see the stories and nothing but the stories.

To make everyone’s lives easier, embed the stories like this:





Your name.

Submissions will open August 1 and close at midnight Eastern time August 31. A submissions e-mail address will appear on this page on August 1 — DO NOT SUBMIT TO ANY OTHER ADDRESS BEFORE THEN.

Please note that due to the expected volume of submissions, we will be forced to respond with form letters.

Thank you, and good luck.

***For a limited time, if you link to these guidelines on your blog or Twitter, you can submit a third story. These must be posted between July 1 and August 15. Include the link at the end of your e-mail. If you don’t include a link, the third story will be deleted unread.***



Today I biked to the coffeeshop and spent most of the day writing. Pretty normal. But it occurred to me riding home how much will change this year at work. Directing our service learning program means that mentoring is likely to be a big part of week-to-week life. Helping the new class of faculty fellows make plans. Working with our Vista Volunteer and my student fellow (both former students of mine). I hope to hone my listening skills, the best way I can think of to be of service.

Finished today the book review that I kept putting off during the Great Migraine of 09 and emailed it off. Tomorrow, back to the Fulbright Grant, which is almost complete (two more days of work perhaps). Then, back to the two articles that were supposed to be the big summer writing projects. Not too late, I keep saying, but August is going to mean loads of time on campus to plan for the service learning work this Fall. Not to mention planning for class. I have one section of first-year comp (service learning section) and my honors class on working-class cultures and rhetorics--the latter significantly changed since last time I taught it.

On the non-work front, Nicole and I are seeing the new Harry Potter film tonight. This weekend once again there is free live music in downtown Detroit, including Yo La Tengo (maybe the best live act around). Next week Lew comes to Michigan for a visit that's going to include hiking and taking in a Tigers game. Following week, down to Columbus to see the Dead Weather with my nephew. August means to weekend trips too: one to the Stratford Festival in Ontario and one down to Paint Valley Jamboree in southern Ohio. Not many movies I'm excited to see after tonight. Maybe Bruno. Definitely The Fan.


feeling normal

After six or seven weeks of up-and-down migraine, I've been lucky enough to have a good week. Aside from some mild, residual aches, I have felt pretty good for the past seven days. Feeling like an old man starts to get kind of tiresome, so I've been happy to re-introduce normal, healthy, reasonably youthful things back into my life.

Last Saturday, Nicole and I headed downtown to see the Gories reunion show at the Majestic Theater. The show was billed as "sold out," and approaching the venue, there was a palpable "wow, a Majestic show sold out?!" vibe. Sure enough, we got inside and it was wall-to-wall. A raised area off to the left caught our attention and we staked out some good spots. Opportunity to lean against the wall. Decent view of stage (drum riser somewhat obstructed). Close. We speculated that the area was some kind of pseudo-VIP area.

As expected, the Gories put on a wang dang doodle, unearthing many of the great tracks from their three late-80s/early 90s records (missing was my favorite of theirs, "There But for the Grace of God Go I" but I won't complain). "Nitroglycerine." Show opener "Hey Hey We're the Gories." "Thunderbird ESQ." We stood next to Meg White for much of the show and I almost asked her to take a picture with us but couldn't bring myself to bug her mid-show (she was clearly down with the tunes).

Continuing with the downtown theme, my parents visited my sister and I in the motor city and we all took my nieces and nephews down to ride the people mover, stroll the new Riverwalk (very nice), and eat in Greektown. Nice to do the tourist thing every now and again. Riverwalk...highly recommended. Lovely view of the water and Windsor. Lots of folks out and about. Lunch in Greektown was a chance to re-introduce notorious migraine trigger cheese into my diet. Still taking it easy on all the triggers, but I'm happy to report: no side effects.

Last night, Nicole and I headed down to City Fest, formerly known as Tastefest. Always nice to walk the New Center Area and lots of good, though overpriced food, and listen to free live music. Last summer you couldn't get anywhere near the George Clinton show, so we ended up rocking out to SSM. This year, we listened to part of the Handsome Furs' set. I hadn't heard their stuff before but liked their fuzzy and electronic (yet melodic) sounds. Shout out to Ann Delisi's Essential Music show, who hosted its facebook fans in a swanky tent near the main stage and provided good eats. EM is an outstanding show and what with free shrimp last night, my admiration has only grown.

Oh yeah, and back to work too. I'm on deadline for a book review essay, have a big stack of papers to grade, and need to submit my Summer I grades in a few days. Time to get to it.


still up and down

The world's most persistent migraine continues to wreak havoc. After two weeks without a severe incident, I had a bad Saturday. Luckily, the neurologist called in a script for a potent painkiller, saving a trip to the e.r. The meds zapped the headache and I had a great Sunday (lunch at Anna's which did NOT include beef brains...turns out she was cleaning BEE FRAMES the day before; dinner at my in-laws) but then a lousy Sunday night. When I say lousy, I mean pace-the-floor pain. I didn't have to teach today, so I was able to sleep a bit during the day. A little bit behind on grading papers, but I'm not going to worry about it. After five weeks of this, it continues to be an up-and-down problem.

Hasn't stopped me from teaching at all, which is definitely a comfort. I was going to say "hasn't stopped me from work," but in reality, I've slowed down my writing--at least until Summer I term ends next week. I'm definitely hoping the headache doesn't keep me from the big Gories reunion show next weekend at the Majestic, or from getting back on the bike once Summer I ends, or from celebrating ten years (!) of marriage, or from any of the other summer things that make it all worthwhile.


leftover chicken and meds

A couple weeks we had our belated cinco de mayo party, for which I dry-rubbed and grilled a ridiculous amount of chicken breast. I thawed a couple tupperwares of the chicken, already seasoned with garlic and paprika and various other good flavors, and have concocted an all-but-the-kitchen-sink stew that smells pretty good. A cup of brown rice; a can of pinto beans; a can of crushed tomatoes; a bunch of diced onion, garlic, green pepper, carrot, and celery, all sauteed in olive oil; a couple bay leaves; and the usual fun mix of salt, pepper, dried thyme, and dried basil. It's simmering on the stove, as I grade papers at the dining room table. The place smells like a cross between a pizzeria and a New Orleans gumbo joint. The rice has absorbed a lot of the liquid and I just poured in a dollop of olive oil in the hopes that it crisps up on the bottom like the rice dishes my sister cooks.

In other news, I've entered day number fourteen of the Great Migraine of 2009. GM09 has already yielded three visits to the Beaumont E.R. and the consumption of more drugs than I've taken in my entire life. [Beaumont visit #1 saw my usual response to i.v. needles: a cold sweat, rapid drop in pulse and b.p., followed by, wait for it, a loss of consciousness. On top of everything else, fun to deal with my own phobias.] At the risk of stating the obvious, migraines are the pits, every bit as bad as how people describe them. I experienced near total relief during the third hospital visit, thanks to a cocktail of anti-nausea drugs, benadryl, and painkillers, and then had a couple really good days last week, but I've settled into a routine this week of tough nights (I can feel the "cluster" moving down my skull when I lay down), pretty good mornings, but bad afternoons. Definitely an improvement over the onset two weeks ago, so I'm counting my blessings and hoping GM09 is working its way out of my head. The dilemma: to medicate or not to medicate. I quickly nixed the vicodin (prescribed after hospital visit #1) after they prompted some middle-period Pink Floyd-worthy visions. The hospital's neurologist nixed all previously prescribed meds and has me on an anti-siezure drug, an anti-migraine drug, and I'm supposed to pretty much pop ibuprofens and benadryls at will. I hate taking pills. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I've got no desire to feel that post-med haze. Especially when they don't seem to help. I'm following the neurologist's orders but I'm going to run out of meds a few weeks before my follow-up visit appointment, and I'm not sure whether to call in a request for more. Urgh.


catching up with netflix

One of my favorite things to do at the end of the academic year: catch up on second-tier Oscar bait. Thanks, netflix, for making this process so easy. Some of last year's buzz pics have left me disappointed but two offered some genuine surprise and delight. What more could you ask from netflix?

Frost/Nixon struck me as cold. I appreciated peeking at the dubious motives (easy money/good tv) of the dueling protagonists but regretted the film's flat affect. Rachel Getting Married had much more pathos and flavor but was also a bit clinical and detached. Happy-Go-Lucky had some real punch, particularly the climactic fight between the jolly schoolteacher and her driving instructor. Here's a genuinely odd piece of work. Very well-written characters, though I wonder if the piece would have made a better short feature. The first 2/3 of the film seemed redundant, almost to the point of diluting what could have been a more focused vision. I really enjoyed Vicki Cristina Barcelona--and I'm not a big Woody Allen fan--for its gorgeous shots of summer in Spain and its Kerouac-esque ethic. I wonder if Pedro Almodovar inspired Allen. I'm not just saying that because of the Spanish setting and the fact that Penelope Cruz is one of the stars. This film has such a profound interest in women that it reminded me of, say, Volver.

Next up in my netflix queue (I think)...season one of True Blood.


showing love for canned fruit

Growing up, we ate a lot of canned fruit. My grandpa had a strange, post-retirement hobby of making the rounds at all the local grocery stores, talking up the workers, and buying large amounts of damaged merchandise. That meant lots of dented cans. Happily we never got salmonella or lead poisoning. This was the old days, before the era of peanut allergies and anti-bacterial everything. So a little dent in a can seemed pretty innocent. And I loved a little bowl of fruit cocktail. You can't front on a nice memory of mom opening up a can of fruit cocktail, giving you half, and tupperwaring the other half away in the fridge. Delicious.

Which brings me to yesterday. Nicole was cooking a couple things for a planning-dinner with friends and went to the grocery store. She came home with, among other things, miscelaneous cans of peaches, pears, and, yes, fruit cocktail. We rarely buy canned stuff aside from beans and tuna so my first thought was: "Why?" I'm not snooty about it, fresh stuff is, well, fresher. Tastes better. Healthier. No need for salt and whatever else gets added during the process. But you know what? I ate a bowl of fruit cocktail yesterday. Not bad. Not bad at all. And the can wasn't even dented.


Animal Collective put on an amazing show. Their sound is abstract, loud, other-worldly, and humane. Noisy electronic sounds bounce off voices that sound like they're speaking a language from outer space. An orb above the stage broadcast images apropos of nothing (I think I caught a glimpse of the inside of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel at one point) and a psychedelic checkerboard served as a backdrop. I didn't realize the band had such an intense following but the reaction to crowd pleasers like "Lion in a Coma" and "My Girls" suggests that the kids adore the band. Electronic noise blurred the lines between tracks, giving the set a jam-band feel. One intermission-esque moment of silence found the band joshing about a "sweet game of soccer" in the parking lot. A.C.'s music never quite makes sense. Enjoy the chaos. I did.


summertime clothes

Today feels like a beautiful day on so many levels. The long Detroit winter and wet spring appear to be making way for summer. It's warm and sunny. I got up early and did a long cardio workout at the gym and have been writing at Coffee Beanery ever since. If the weather stay like this, I'll replace the gym with a bike ride on Wednesday. I continue working on the book proposal with my two collaborators and planning the fall's faculty fellows program (which I'll direct come Septemeber) with my Civic Engagement Project coleagues. The CEP has officially hired a former student of mine, Amal, as our '09-10 AmeriCorp.

Tonight my friend Jason and I are meeting for sushi followed by the Animal Collective show in Royal Oak. I've been looking forward to this concert for some time. Should be the perfect, trippy, vaguely psychedelic way to kick off summertime. Seems like Jason (a friend for over twenty years) and I rarely make time to hang out, so catching up over tuna, mackerel, and a cucumber roll or two will be cool.

Nicole and I had a pleasant weekend. We played cards with my in-laws on Friday night whilst watching the Tigers spank Oakland. I spent Saturday cleaning the house, which felt way relaxing, and watching Cadillac Records (pretty good...does Beyonce ever get involved with bad projects?) via netflix. On Sunday we walked and passed out candy with our new Rep. Gary Peters in a local parade and then saw the disappointing Angels and Demons. I liked the pulpy elements (cheesy "EUREKA!" dialogue, plot twists one more implausable then the next) but thought the grabs for gravitas (hello Stellan Skarsgard) kind of worked against that pulpy feel. Happy to be looking at a text with nothing to do with work, I read Friedrich Durrenmatt's play "The Visit" on the recommendation of my colleague/drama afficionado Tija and really thought it was an affecting read. Funny and provocative and brisk.


insert a clever subject line here...

Only, I can't think something clever to call a post whose purpose is to say that I received tenure. Thank you, University of Michigan Regents. I've taken much joy from my job here and I've never felt I had to somehow compromise the things I really want to. But having said that, I hope tenure changes things. I hope that fewer constraints means more creativity and more risk. At any rate, tenure means more security and I'm profoundly thankful for that.

I briefly considered a career in journalism and during a summer internship at city hall I tossed around the idea of political communication and speechwriting. But for the most part, becoming a tenured academic has been a dream since I left the seminary. For all the moaning, however justified, this is a great life. I can be part of it for the next thirty+ years.


new routine

The summer term begins, which means a new routine. For the first time in six years, I'm teaching during the summer months. Two sections of first-year comp keep me in the classroom most of Tuesdays and Thursdays during May and June. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are writing days, at least when I'm not assessing placement essays. Writing priorities look something like this: 1) the rhetorics of empathy book project, 2) the review essay I'm writing for JAC, 3) the Fulbright grant that's due on August 1, and 4) the ongoing service learning research (particularly composing the first two essays that are growing out of the data).

Many things on my mind and I've found the best strategy for avoiding that sense of being overwhelmed is to keep working steadily on all the aforementioned projects. On my mind: Tomorrow I get the official tenure decision. Today I began to wear a two-week "event monitor" to chart my heart's electrical activity. Sources of stress, to be sure, but not to the point that my day-to-day's changed.

Good things on my mind, too. If all goes well with the Board of Regents tomorrow, I'm set to take over directorship of the Civic Engagement Project which will mean running this academic year's Faculty Fellows program. Connected to CEP, deepening the relationship with NSO's housing and homelessness programs is a high priority. That relationship has already created some powerful experiences. Next week I'm taking a group of our students to their breakfast event in Dearborn. More to come on this. And little things, too, provide joy. Today, off to a late Cedarland lunch with my friend Steve. Next week, Animal Collective in Royal Oak. Plus, the joys of staying connected with students, thanks to the two sections of Comp 106 this summer. Soon, this year's garden adventure begins, not to mention a list of things to do in the yard/around the house. In a few months, the ten-year (!) anniversary. Oh, and must get back to Paint Valley very, very soon.


Road Scholars, Day Five

Yesterday we awoke on Mackinac Island for our last day as Road Scholars. After a quick breakfast, we hopped on the ferry for mainland U.P. and drove to Kinross Correctional Facility in Kincheloe. KCF is a "level two" (i.e., medium security) prison for men. Prisons consitute a big industry and major employer in the U.P. and we were especially lucky to see the inside of KCF, given that the place doesn't normally give tours. In fact, U of M is the only group of outsiders they've ever let in.

The place used to be an air force base, so prisoners live in barrack-style housing as opposed to cells. Four prisoners per room, two sets of bunks. Common bathrooms and "day rooms" on each floor. We walked through a "dorm" during one of the counts, so we were able to see everything. Really interesting to see so much. Really disturbing to know we as a society invest so much money and so many resources in keeping people locked up.

Prisoners have debit accounts in which friends and family can wire as much money as they wish. Prisoners can buy stuff (toiletries, snacks, batteries, and such) at the prison store and order periodicals, electronics, and so forth from approved vendors. The newest luxury item prisoners can access are mp3s from a special in-house music download service. In addition to what the prisoners get from family/friends, all prisoners must either work one of the prison jobs or take classes. If they opt out of this nearly mandated labor, they lose priveleges and must stay in dorm much of the day. If their debit accounts get too big, they must pay "rent" to the prison. Jobs include kitchen duty, greenhouse duty (they grow stuff for various state properties--e.g., flowers at rest stops), or sewing duty at the prison factory that makes, among other things, uniforms. Many jobs start at around eighteen cents an hour.

After prison, a long drive south. Box lunch, good conversation. Q.T. on the bus. We made a quick stop at the Hemlock Semiconductor, a chemical plant near Saginaw that produces silicon. A lot of the science went over my head and, sadly, we couldn't do much hands-on stuff there due to safety issues and corporate security issues. Still, interesting to see (relatively) up close what goes on in that sector. Back to Ann Arbor by 8:00, exhausted, camera full of pics (see facebook!), head full of thoughts about the state.

Listen up, Dearborn colleagues. Apply for this cool opportunity. Do it next year. Put your name in the hopper because it's a great experience. The program wants faculty from Dearborn and Flint to be represented, so take advantage of the chance.


Road Scholars, Day Four

Day four began with breakfast at McGuire's Resort, the family-run golf resort in Cadillac where we spent the night. Mike McGuire currently runs the family biz and spoke to us during our meal about his own transition from working for multi-national corporations to working with his family. That theme continued as we hit the road for several rural sites in the Northwest region of lower Michigan. First, a Wind Farm in McBain, where wind turbines generate alternative energy.

"God forbid a cow craps in the field."

Then, the Benson Dairy Farm. This was the day's highlight. The Bensons raise Holstein cows, over 150 of them, with no employees. All the work is done by the Bensons. A true family farm. They also have eight kids, all home-schooled. Their three oldest are in college, and they're in the process of adopting the foster child who lives with them. The work ethic is amazing. It's palpable. It's exhausting just listening to them describe the day that begins with the 5:00 a.m. milking. The family gave us a tour of their barns, equipment, the whole operation.

They also spent a lot of time talking about regulations that affect their material conditions on a daily basis. Every requirement costs money, and a lot of it. Due to various regulations, they must keep their cows in barns, not fields, leading to the great line above that Mrs. Benson delivered with deadpan humor. She offered her criticisms of the regulations that dictate they must have cemented walls for their manure pit. The manure pit is an enormous "cement pond"--literally--into which they deposit manure from the barns. Later they spray the water from the pit on their crops. Her point? Why must we have cement walls to prevent manure from seeping into the same soil we're going to spray the water onto while, meanwhile, in the suburbs, it's perfectly acceptable to spray toxic chemicals on lawns where kids play. She had a great delivery for these critiques. In another life, she's a stand-up comic.

Next, lunch at Big Buck's, a veritable temple to killing bears and deer. The place looks like a hunting lodge, except it's huge. I ate a venison reuben. Delicious. We headed even farther north, finally crossing the Mackinac Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere. Five miles long. Glad I wasn't driving the bus. Our first stop in the U.P. was St. Ignace, where we met with representatives from the Ojibwa nation who talked to us about the Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the movement to get back remains of elders on display in museums.

After the Ojibwa, we headed across the street and caught the ferry to Mackinac Island. A windy but beautiful ride. Due to a scheduling change, we had the first free time of the week and I spent an hour walking around the island, which famously doesn't allow cars. The RS staff set us up in a great resort on the island. It's still off season here and the resort wasn't going to open for at least another week but since we were able to offer them the chance to fill thirty rooms, they decided to start the season early. Lucky us. I'm in a huge suite with a balcony that looks out over the main drag. Awesome.

Only one more day of Road Scholars. Not so awesome.


Road Scholars, Day Three

So far, I've managed to avoid the "road scholar walk of shame" (i.e., being the last person to get on the bus in the morning). It's not easy, what with the 7:00 a.m. departures and all. We were munching on yogurt and quiche at the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology by 7:30 WMCAT combines instruction in arts for at-risk high schoolers in the Grand Rapids area. The Center also offers vo-tech certification programs. Great facility, supported entirely by private donors. We heard stories of high school kids who have to take several buses to get to the Center and do so gladly to learn in a supportive environment. Ditto, the adults who become certified in areas like pharmacy tech, breaking, in some cases, multiple generations of poverty and public assistance.

From WMCAT to Metro Health, a radiation oncology center operated by UM Hospitals, for an inside look at how the facility supports the needs of cancer patients going through as much as 6-8 weeks of daily radiation. Great facility in the middle of scenic, wooded Wyoming, Michigan. Well-designed, too, allowing patients in many areas of the Center a very tranquil view.

On to Holland, Michigan, not to look at Tulips but to experience Herman Miller Inc, one of the furniture manufacturers that help anchor the economy in the Western part of the state. We got to see one of their desk chair assembly lines, modeled after the Japanese automotive industry which allows line workers more agency (the ability to stop the line, etc.). The line is much shorter when the product is an office chair instead of an SUV, so you can really get a neat panoramic view of the whole process. HM does a lot of interesting things in terms of labor on the line. Folks change jobs frequently for ergonomic reasons (I'd like to be the person at the end who actually sits in each chair, although I'm sure the job's more complex than it looks), and the line is programmed to go fast enough to meet the day's target number of chairs, which fluctuates because the company only builds chairs that have already been ordered. On heavier days, the line goes faster and more workers staff the line. The company prides itself on sustainable practices and is working to send nothing to landfills by 2020.

Next we headed north to Cadillac for a reception with business, education, and community leaders in Cadillac who have remarkable, synergistic relationships with one another. Cadillac and the surrounding communities deal with high poverty rates and several social problems (including teen pregnancy) boast very high numbers here. To their credit, this group of civic leaders have come together to attract manufacturing and diversify beyond the tourism and agriculture sectors that anchor the area. They all seemed to have such strong committments to improving quality of life in the region. I think many of us were struck by the number of community leaders who wore many many hats. The superintendent of schools runs a huge Christmas Tree farm, for instance. To be honest, this looked like it was going to be a blah evening, but ended up being a highlight of the day.

For the third night in a row, I'm ready for some serious sleeping.


Road Scholars, Day Two

Day two began with a bright-and-early breakfast where I loaded up on protein (eggs! soymilk!) to prepare for another packed day. We got a real behind-the-scenes tour of General Motors' Lansing Delta Township Assembly plant. No "manufacturing" there, strictly assembly. Parts arrive, ready for assembly. Consequently, the place is incredibly clean. LDT works hard to tout its green practices, both small (extensive recycling program) and large (an innovative rainwater collection system that flushes all toilets in the facility). Fun fact: the car is the most recycled product in the world, ending up in junkyards and scrap metal lots, not landfills. Another fun fact: GM and Toyota sold roughly the same number of cars last year in the U.S. but GM has four times more dealerships.

For now anyway, GM makes three vehicles at LDT: the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Saturn Outlook. Just a few days ago, the plant went down to one shift but still employs 1,375 "team members." I was about to type something like 1,375 "very anxious team members," but, to be honest, all of our hosts seemed remarkably optimistic. So many question marks surround the auto industry, but you would never know that GM's in any type of jeopardy. Today, the Obama administration had also sent a contingent to observe operations. When asked what "take-away" they hoped the Obama folks would get at the plant, one of our guides said he hoped they would see that "there's no conflict between labor and management." The plant uses the language of co-operation: "team," etc. And yet, in today's Free Press, this story: UAW slams GM plan for depending more on imports.

The plant was endlessly fascinating and I'd love to take a group of my students there. Self-guided, robotic vehicles cruise through the factory. No drivers, just a vehicle. What an amazing site. These vehicles move engines underneath chasses as they come down the assembly line. Line workers marry the two. Radiators descend on a roller coaster-like contraption. Line workers guide them into place. Everywhere, display screens track the number of units assembled. Human and machine work aside one another. For now, they build cars. Next week, who knows? Walking by the plant store, I notice the inventory. Safety products like earplugs. T-shirts and other items that brand the cars assembled there. A bib reads, "my daddy builds Buicks." Available in blue or pink.

Across town to the State Capitol, where legislators were approving Governor Granholm's executive order that eliminates the jobs of 100 cops and 200 other employees of Michigan. The order also allows for massive cuts to social services in the state and mandates furlough for state employees. Sweeping changes to GM. Sweeping changes to state government. History, not to mention the evening news, was being written all around us today. Weird.

We troued the Capitol building, which is magnificent. The walls of the capital represent acres and acres of Victorian art. We ate lunch with several State Reps. Andy Coulouris and Jeff Mayes, both UM graduates, and both working on sustainability issues in the state. Spent lunch chatting about foreclosure crisis and learned of an initiative in which the state gives incentives to banks to provide extensions to folks facing foreclosures. The incentives end up saving the state money by keeping families off the street and they save the mortgage companies money by avoiding the expenses involved with foreclosing.

Off to Michigan State University to walk the botanical gardens and sample the famous ice cream of the MSU dairy. I let a delicious chocolate chunk ice cream digest during the pleasant drive from Lansing to Grand Rapids. Settled in at hotel and then went to dinner with high school seniors from Western part of the state who have been awarded scholarships to UM. Dinner with a pleasant young woman (happy to have plans to major in English) and her parents (happy that she won a scholarship).


Road Scholars, Day One

Our trip has begun. The University tends to pick faculty members for the RS program whose work already takes them beyond the confines of campus. My cohort includes folks from the medical, nursing, and dental schools, for instance, who do clinical work. Nice to learn about the teaching and research that goes on in diverse fields. Makes for an enjoyable experience on the bus. I'm sure I'll have more chances to hear about other people's work in the coming days.

Today our itinerary focused on Detroit. We left Ann Arbor at 7:00 and made our way to Focus:HOPE, a site familiar to many Detroiters. Fr. Bill Cunningham and Eleanor Josaitis started the organization after the '67 riot as an attempt to fight the root causes of both poverty and racism in the city. Both were informed by the Catholic social justice tradition but the organization isn't a faith-based group. Instead, it's an ambitious project that transcends categories. Advocacy. Direct aid. Higher education and job training. Activism. Much, much more.

We toured Focus:HOPE's Center for Advanced Technologies, a manufacturing training program that offers low-income Detroiters vocational training as well as advanced degrees in engineering (in conjunction with various area Universities). I chatted with a senior mechanical engineering student who started out in one of the tech programs and worked his way into a degree program. He just finished a co-op experience at a Honda plant in Ohio. One of the cool things about their machinist program is that the students make their own tools. Machinists generally need to have their own tools in order to get good jobs, so Focus:HOPE decided to have them make their own ball peen hammers, etc.

We also checked out their food distribution center. Focus:HOPE delivers food to thousands of low-income seniors and other shut-ins and also operates a USDA "grocery store." Folks on various aid programs can shop in a setting that promotes dignity. Clients who use food stamps there can buy foodstuffs for one-fourth of the price of supermarkets, thereby not only stretching clients' dollars but also stretching everybody's tax dollars.

The highlight of our time at Focus:HOPE was a talk from Eleanor Josaitis. I've heard Ms. J speak various times over the years. One of my all-time favorite profs, Fr. McGovern, with whom I took several classes in ethics and philosophy, was a close friend of hers and hosted her often in his classes. And when we were undergrads, Nicole did an interview with Ms. J for a campus magazine I edited for a few years. I think I had forgotten what a powerful presence she is. She emphasized her committment to feeding the many, many hungry senior citizens in the area. Herself a senior, Josaitis' level of empathy was palpable as she urged all of us to check our parents' cupboards, as most seniors who can't afford food lie to family members because they're ashamed to find themselves in need.

She also told her own story of starting Focus:HOPE while a suburban homemaker who took a fateful walk through Detroit with her priest-friend, Fr. Cunningham, the morning after the '67 riots ended, and decided then and there to work toward change. She moved to Detroit and started her life's work. Members of her family rejected her for working and living with African-Americans. Her parents sued her for custody of her children. Turning a deaf ear to racists who resisted her work became a motiff of her life. She shared "love letters" she's gotten over the years, including one note scribbled on one of her guest Free Press editorials: "Shove diversity up your ass, bitch."

We also toured The Ford Piquette Plant, Ford's first assembly plant and the place where Henry and company built the Model T. A group of Ford retirees is rehabbing the place. Neat place. We had lunch with Detroit City Councilperson JoAnn Watson, several representatives from the City Planning Commission, and a rep. of the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge who debated several competing proposals for new bridge construction on the Detroit River. After a quick drive to Lansing, we went to a reception with local UM alums and young folks in Lansing who'll start UM in the Fall. Finally, dinner with Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and members of his staff. Mayor Bernero's gotten a bit of a national profile due to his outspoken support for organized labor generally and automotive manufacturing specifically. I think a lot of the Road Scholar disagreed with Bernero's view of emerging technologies and the potential of green industries in the state, but everybody appreciated his fiery delivery and his clear committment to the state.

Long day. I'm now going to collapse into a cushy Radisson bed. We sleep here in Lansing and divide our time tomorrow between the capital and Grand Rapids.


good rock and roll will save us all

Many have probably heard the NPR story this a.m. about Detroit's pop music scene and the failure of the city to "capitalize" on the Motown legacy, the city's role in birthing punk rock and techno, and so forth.

Story here. Well worth listening.

Of course pop music geeks tend to be highly suspicious of stories that use hype to tie music to a place. The "Liverpool sound" in the 60s. The "Seattle sound" in the 90s. Those narratives always over-simplify in order to craft a comforting, easy, or attractive narrative.

I guess that's why the angle of this NPR story is interesting. Martha Reeves et al make a compelling point about the city's failure to capitalize, although that narrative (or way of framing the narrative) is equally troubling...the drive to "capitalize" is why Black Bottom was destroyed, no? Still, the whole question about why "music tourism" (is that a thing?) can't be part of Detroit's fabric--like New Orleans--is an interesting one. Being able to access shows by the bands like The Dirtbombs was a part of me being excited to move back to Detroit.

Hyping arts and entertainment as panaceas for troubled economic areas is an old, old, old thing. It's a part of the rhetoric of both "de-industrialized" places I've called home--Youngstown and Detroit--where you get hype about a new sports stadium or some such thing as being the magic bullet. Rachel Nagy from the Detroit Cobras does a nice job of critiquing this in the NPR story, saying something to the effect of "they've been promising the re-birth of Detroit for years...but the music thrives in troubled environment. We can play as loud as we want." Amen, sister.


week # 16

I can't help but feel as if this week ends a proverbial era. Could be my last week teaching as an assistant professor. "Tenure year" comes to a close. Although I've never really bought into pre-tenure hype (the "probationary" years are sometimes alleged to be years of insecurity and constant worry), working toward tenure does give you a pretty clear objective.

Can't say I've always maintained that focus over the past seven years, but it's never been all that far from my thoughts. Not complaining. Because UMD and Miami are both good places to work, I haven't felt pressured to compromise or re-prioritize in ways inconsistent with my own goals. I like what I've written and published. I like the classes I've taught. If the Board of Regents smile on me next month, I don't think I'm going to experience some sea change in my day-to-day life.

Still, that singleness of purpose will slip away. Replaced by other purposes. Travel more. Get a Fulbright and teach abroad. Sustain the service learning relationships and take them to higher levels. Experience a sabbatical. Enjoy job security. Be thankful for job security. Say no to requests that don't bring joy. Say no to committee work. Go to Jersey for Yo La Tengo's annual Hanukkah celebration. Take more pictures. Eliminate more negativity.



Preface #1: I have much respect for Western medicine's innovations and miracles. Preface #2: I offer this rant with much thankfulness that I'm insured. I can think of few national sins as grievous and scarcely forgivable as the number of adults and kids in the U.S. who have no access or inadequate access to health care. We're rich and we needlessly let poor people die in this country. Let's not sugar-coat it; we suck. So thank God I can go to a doctor at all.

Anyway, my point today is that dealing with doctors--and medical issues in general--can be frustrating. I get fairly intense dizzy spells. Sometimes the dizzy spells are accompanied by a shortness of breath. Being that high blood pressure and numerous heart problems run in my family, the symptoms are worrisome. Unlike every male member of my family, my blood pressure is perfect. My dad and brother had both been on b.p. meds for years by the time they were my age. Mine? Perfect. Not trying to show off or anything, just saying. I exercise at least three-four times a week. I don't eat much meat. I've got mad-perfect b.p.

Anyway, I've been to my doc, to a cardiologist, and to an electrophysiologist. Too their collective credit, they've all been very, very pro-active, mainly because of my family history but also because of my symptoms. I've done stress tests, worn halter monitors, had EKGs and cardiac sonograms. Tissue wise, my heart's in great shape (thanks, exercise, you rock); my cardiologist actually told me that I've "trumped" family history. Electrically, not so much. Long story short: I have atrial irregularity. The little blips (sorry for the technical jargon) on my EKG results are sometimes inverted, which I guess signfies that the electrical activity doesn't always move through my heart the way it's supposed to. My heartbeats have a trajectory all their own.

Some people are like that and it doesn't always result in trouble, but coupled with the symptoms, it's odd. Upping the oddness: my symptoms don't necessarily coincide with the irregularities. Sometimes I get dizzy when my heartbeat's normal. Sometimes I have no symptoms whatsoever when my heartbeat does its anomalous, weird thing. Soon I'm going to wear a monitor for a two-week period so the doctors can do a more thorough analysis of any trends. Right now, based on a 24-hour monitor, they don't see any trends at all. Random.

The frustration comes from the mystery, the randomness. All the knowledge in the room (the exam room, the laboratory, etc.), and no answer. The frustration comes from the sense that it's kind of like getting a cold. You know sometimes no matter what you ingest or how aggressive you get with cold symptoms, you're just plain old going to be miserable for a few days and then feel better. It's a bit frustrating to feel like strapping on some expensive piece of equipment is ineffectual, like taking some over-the-counter cold med. No matter what you do for that cold, you're going to sneeze for the next day or two. No matter what you do for that atrial whatever-you-call-it, the doctor's going to shrug and say I dunno.

a thought slightly too long for a facebook status update

Maybe it's a valid part of the job of administrators to try to squelch creativity and innovation. Maybe their resistance forces the rest of us to articulate better why we want to do what we do. Regardless it's not a job I want.


learned at the gym

I can't stand VH1 reality shows so I rarely watch the network these days, although I hear that "Behind the Music" is returning, which is great, great news. Curious thing about "Behind the Music" is that the quality and potential entertainment value of a given episode has little to no correlation with the quality of the musician. The music of Styx, for instance, does little for me. The Styx episode of Behind the Music, on the other hand...pure awesomeness. This curiosity is not true for episodes of E! True Hollywood Story. The "All in the Family" and "Three's Company" THS episodes--like the sitcoms they profile--endlessly entertaining. The Bad Girls of Reality TV episode? Unwatchable.

But I digress. So last night I'm on a treadmill (literally, not figuratively). I turn on VH1 and sweat to "100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders." Entertaining? Of course. Informative? Yes, that too. You probably know already that Men Without Hats had record covers with images of lines through guys wearing hats. Thereby taking literal interpretations of their band name to the point of absurdity. But did you also know they put out a comeback record called...wait for it..."No Hats Beyond this Point"? You might think this sustained series of self-referential practices signals a lack of imagination. No way. They stuck to that hatless vision--even during the futile comeback attempt.

I also learned that British celeb-reality tv shows have WAY cooler stars than their American counterparts. Well, I already knew that Johnny Rotten was on some show or another in Britian, so I guess this wasn't a wholly new insight. But last night I learned that Gary Numan--the guy who sang the vaguely Kraftwerk-ian hit "Cars"--was on a British reality show about car racing. Ha! Get it? Know who was on the same season? Brian Johnson of AC/DC. Wow, and we get the dude from Poison? What a rip.
One more tidbit. Thomas Dolby, as in "She Blinded Me With Science," invented the ringtone and the technology that enabled its ascendance. I'm not making this up. Maybe VH1 is though.



I'm about a month away from a final answer on my tenure case. After getting the thumbs-up from all the campus levels (department, dean, etc.), all that remains is the Michigan Board of Regents. In some odd way, the absurd length of the process (I submitted my file in March, 2008) actually alleviates some of the pressure. Not sure how that happens, but you sort of forget about the whole thing, despite the high stakes.

As I wait for the decision, I think about post-tenure life (God willing...) and the possibilities and options. I would like eventually to do some things abroad, which is a bit of a challenge in a field that in some ways is uniquely North American, though, of course, my own broad interests (class, civic engagement, rhetoric, the teaching of writing) have AT LEAST the potential to cut across national lines. I've started educating myself about the process of applying for Fulbrights and I'm wondering if Rhetoric and Composition has any kind of history of success winning such awards. I can't recall any colleagues or professors I've had over the years winning such a thing (though I think of other international research, like the work Nedra Reynolds did for her awesome book).

But I'm wondering if anybody out there knows of anybody in this discipline who has done a Fulbright. Leave me a comment. E-mail me (billdeg at umd dot umich dot edu). Yell loudly enough that I can hear you.


random friday

  • Nicole and I saw I Love You Man and both found the film very funny. Many well-written comedies these days, thanks in part to the whole Apatow universe. Interesting characters and stories that make use of sentiment in challenging ways elevate these films. "Man" approaches its premise (how do 30-something guys make friends?) with a spirit of inquiry. Our hero struggles because he can't do machismo. The funniest scenes let him flounder as he tries to do locker room talk or shots. As a guy who took a tupperware of fresh fruit on a fishing excursion, I connected. When the Paul Rudd character makes drinks for his finance and her friends and puts pirouette straws in each cup, the scene becomes more than a homophobic gag or a cheap laugh-at-the-metrosexual moment. It's a real act.
  • Speaking of homophobia and related matters, yay Iowa. Lots of buzz about the Iowa Supreme Court calling bans on same-sex marriage violations of equal protection. Kick ass. Reading the story's references to groups like the Iowa Familiy Policy Center, you just get the sense that such organizations are doing their last dinosaur act. Is there cause for that much optimism? Probably not, but I'll kid myself for a day or so before some hate crime steals headlines or Pope Benedict makes some backward proclimation rooted in absolutely nothing that Jesus ever said or did.
  • Looking forward to the weekend for so many reasons. Been working out every day and plan to continue doing so. Two parties with friends and colleagues who Nicole and I normally don't spend enough time with. Maybe connected to the working out...I've been feeling more energy regarding the research and writing I've dragged my feet on while waiting for the tenure decision (final answer forthcoming next month). Here's too sleeping later than 6:00.


Supino Pizzeria

I tend to obsess over things. A new band, new recipe, new coffeeshop. New obsession: Supino Pizzeria. Yesterday Metro Times gives the place a positive review. I've already eaten there and love it. The obsession has begun.

The review had me with its mention of a "slacker" vibe and an owner influenced by stories of the brick ovens his old-country relatives have in their backyards. My Grandpa used to talk about his mom baking bread everyday in her backyard oven. Allegedly, on days she delivered one of her dozen plus kids, she still baked bread. When her husband got home from the mill on those days, the story goes, she gave him bread, and then the new baby.

Supino Pizzeria is in Eastern Market, downtown, a stone's throw from the Final Four site, so I figured I'd find a crowd. Went anyway. Not at all crowded. I ordered my 'Red, White, & Green' and chatted with a guy eating a slice and killing time before Choir practice. We watched the owner stretching dough and talked about Lent and the second Godfather movie.

And speaking of Godfather II, Supino has a pizza called the 'San Gennaro.' As in the feast going on while Vito kills Don Fanucci in Little Italy. Also, the patron of Naples. Also, my family's namesake. I have to bug the owner about what inspired him to name a pie after my family, I mean after the Saint. He tells me that he took the most famous food item from the San Gennaro feast in NYC, the sauasage and pepper sandwich, and put all the ingredients on a pizza. I tell him my name and he pretends to be impressed. Cool guy.

And he makes a mean ass pizza too. I was going to take my pizza home, but decided to stay. The 'Red, White, & Green' has no sauce, just a very thin bit of mozarella, topped with roasted red peppers, spinach, fresh basil, and ricotta. Perfect thin crust. Not overpowered by too much cheese. Total A+ place. Next time, a slice of San Gennaro.

is this picture for real?

This looks like a promo shot for an early 1960s Christmas program. Are they talking about the financial crisis or promoting a very special Lawrence Welk episode?

"Merry Christmas from the G20 Summit. Coming up next, Myron Floren."


on missing the memo

Anybody see the episode of "Ugly Betty" a few weeks back in which Betty prepares for a dinner party with her rich boyfriend's mother by boning up on subjects to chit chat about? As always, the plot involved Betty (fish) out of working-class Queens (water) and the foibles that follow. She's marked by difference at the party, flounders, eventually triumphs. The familiar Betty arc, one of the things that make the show great.

Betty struggles to read social cues. That's her flaw. I can identify. Two weeks ago, somewhat anxious about my first foray into a system-wide (i.e., across all three U-M campuses) program, I head off to Ann Arbor for the first orientation session for the fellowship program I'm doing this summer. I get somewhat gussied up (for me), donning dress pants, a freshly ironed dress shirt, dark socks, the whole thing. I get there and most faculty are casual. "Cool," I think to myself, "a laid-back group of folks. Definitely my speed."

Last night, the second orientation event, this time with dinner. Because a meal's involved, I keep with my dress pants and nice shirt motiff. Get there. Suits, all over the place. Total "Betty" moment. How do I miss these memos?


i'm beginning to see the light

The light of Spring, that is. The academic year ends in five weeks. Summer brings gardening, biking to Coffee Beanery to spend entire days writing, and a conspicuous lack of meetings. I'm teaching two sections of first-year writing during the first summer session in hopes of socking away some money for the 2010 Italy trip.

I'm also happy to be part of the U-Michigan Roads Scholars program this summer. Clever pun, right? The scholars program is a "five-day traveling seminar on the state of Michigan." About thirty faculty from across the curriculum visit the state legislature, a slew of social service agencies, businesses, and schools to learn about economy, politics, geography, and culture in the state. I can't wait.

This year's itinerary hasn't been finalized, but I learned at last night's orientation session that we're going to dairy and wind farms in the U.P., several assembly plants, the State Capital, the Sault Tribe, Focus:HOPE, Belle Isle, Mackinaw Island, a prison, a semi-conductor plant, and many other sites. Apparently, each site provides a chance to meet folks and go behind the proverbial scenes. A lot of the faculty who've been chosen are doing community-based or place-based research of various types. Part of the goal is to provide a venue for doing outreach and networking. Most of all, it's a week or intense learning.

The program is a big part of why the end of the year looks so bright.



Has the listserv run its course as a means of communication? I dunno, but I need a break. I don't get anything from professional listservs that I don't get from 1) reading blogs, 2) facebooking, 3) emailing and even, gasp, talking to people, and 4) looking shit up independently. The WPA list has been rehashing the same conversations for years now but staying on the list was a way to get calls-for-papers, follow gossip, and absorb info about the job market (which is just another way of saying "follow gossip"). I have plenty of folks I keep in touch with (mostly through facebook) from my graduate program and my first teaching job, not to mention friends I've met over the years at 4Cs and elsewhere. I've unsubscribed. Felt good.

Mostly disconnected from the listserv break, I'm generally trying to decrease negativity in my life. I'm pretty good at working out 3-4 times a week. I do a decent job eating healthy foods (though I still struggle with binge moments). I think I balance diverse pursuits and activities--writing, doing the community-based work that means a lot to me, staying involved at church, working with students, taking my Italian class, taking time just to read and enjoy a warm beverage at the cafe, consuming pop culture (ok, I do too much of that...). But I need to get more pro-active about getting rid of sources of negativity. I'm trying.