e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


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.