e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Non-Academic Reading

Anybody still reading this blog? I've mostly moved blog operations over to Beirut Bill, my travel blog about the year I am spending in the Middle East. I hope if you are reading this, you'll also check out and bookmark the Beirut blog, where I post at least a few times a week.

Anyway, here's a post that has little to do with my life and work abroad. A list of non-academic stuff I've read since leaving the U.S.

-Edward Said, Out of Place (Said's memoir)
-Leila Ahmed, A Border Passage: From Cairo to America A Woman's Journey (also memoir)
-Stephen King, Just After Sunset (a hit or miss short story collection--the hits are really good and the misses are few)
-Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile
-Agatha Christie, Murder in Mesopotamia
-Agatha Christie, Murder is Easy
-Emma Donoghue, Room (loved this novel very much)
-Misc. poems from Jim Daniels' Blessing the House, Naomi Shihab Nye's Words Under the Words, Inclined to Speak: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab-American Poetry, and Michael Dennison's Hamra Noir (I tend to read around in these)


other pastures

Here is a link to my new blog. I'll tell the story of my year abroad on the new site, so bookmark the page, become a "follower" of the new blog, leave me comments, and stay in touch while I'm in Lebanon. I'll be posting pictures and keeping the new site updated on a regular basis.

Also, Nicole will tell her stories too, so keep her site bookmarked as well: Nicole Abroad



What a couple of weeks. In the midst of Lebanon preparations, got to enjoy what felt like a real summer. My nephew Tony came to Detroit for a few days and we hiked the Dequinder Pass, ate some of Detroit's finest offerings (Tomatoes Apizza, Priya, the taco trucks in Mexicantown), and caught the Dead Weather's amazing, loud, high energy concert. The band takes the stage to one of my favorite songs on the p.a. and then pretty much rocks through its entire catalogue. Not many indie bands have the musicianship of the Dead Weather, especially the vocal chops of Alison Mosshart. Great time.

Then, down to West Virginia to celebrate my parents' 50th anniversary. They rented a cabin and we enjoyed about five days of loads and loads of fun. Board games and huge family meals in the cabin, a ton of swimming and hiking, and a trivia game about life in 1960, when the happy couple married. My brother, sister, and I went together on a collaborative present (new stone steps for the front porch at their house), which was more of a hit than a comemmorative plate or something would have been. Despite losing electricity for half a day, the trip was just about perfect. Most days included a long hike in the morning, swimming through most of the afternoon, a visit to the gym in the everning, and a short walk in the evening, so it was kind of like "The Biggest Loser" but with lots of carbs in the cabin.

On the way from West Virginia to Columbus--where we were dropping off Tony at his University--we had a blowout on the highway. With six nieces and nephews on board. Luckily nobody was hurt. We were pulling off the freeway when the tire blew, thank God, but had we been going full speed...yikes. A quick change and a visit to Sears for a new tire had us back on the road. Lots of adventures, pictures, and memories.


teaching at AUB

Looks like in the Fall I'll be teaching a graduate course, Issues in Composition, and a section of Advanced Academic English.
Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet:
The sea that calls all things unto her calls me, and I must embark.

For, to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be bound in a mould.


still more randomness

Well, I'm officially on "leave" as of July 1. And I've been working a lot of "half days" during the past two weeks, so I definitely feel like something's different in my work life. A big part of my summer work now that my summer one teaching is done is working with a team of faculty putting together our bid to gain the Carnegie "Community Engaged Campus" Classification. Quite a process--data gathering, narrative writing, etc. Today several members of the team and I attended a workshop in Lansing to get tips on putting the bid together. Useful. I'm also spending a few days here and there grading placement essays. And of course trying to put two writing projects to bed before the departure (early September). So the work goes on.

I've spent a few weekends in Youngstown. Good to spend time with the family since I'll be missing them next year. My mom and dad are on "vacation" from their pizza-making duties at their church and, to their credit, they've got the wanderlust and are making the drive to Michigan more frequently than they've done in years. Good job guys! Only two weeks until their big 50th anniversary camping trip. My siblings and I, our families, and my folks are all going to a cabin in West Virginia, which pretty much is the kind of thing we've NEVER done, which makes the trip all the more exciting. Should be lots of hiking, swimming, and of course (since we're talking about the DeGenaros here) cooking. Can't wait. Right before that, my nephew Tony's coming up to Detroit for a few days of fun, the centerpiece of which is our second annual Dead Weather show.

And of course the bulk of my time and energy seems to be devoted to Lebanon prep. I read a really good history of the country (The Making of Modern Lebanon) and re-read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, along with a couple tour books about travel in the region. I have a few more books (mostly history, and some stuff about the nation's place in Middle East politics) checked out of the library and hope to continue on my crash course in all things Lebanon. And I'm listening to a little 'Arabic in 60 Minutes' while at the gym too, hoping to avoid completely embarassing myself when I try to ask for a shawarma sandwich. I have a good lead on a rental in a residential Shi'ite neighborhood about 2 kilometers from the University. Cheaper than Hamra (the built up area along the sea, where AUB is), and we're thinking it might be more interesting not to live on top of the hustle and bustle (and Starbucks!) of the college. I'm told you can walk to campus in fifteen minutes or take a "service" car for less than two bucks. Sounds do-able.


red tape

So I'm on the phone with the Lebanese Consulate and we're chatting in English about visas. The person on the other end of the line seems extremely impatient and annoyed as I ask what I think are entirely reasonable questions. The call has an overall grumpy quality until I say "shukran" (thank you) and then the whole tone changes. The woman issues an amused chuckle, a reaction no doubt to my Arabic pronunciation, and becomes friendly.

At several points during Fulbright orientation, presenters suggested that a little bit of Arabic works wonders and that native speakers tend to have a lot of respect for Americas who at least try to speak the language. True enough. Plus, if my non-native pronunciation can provide a little comic relief in a bureaucratic setting, than I'm glad to be of service. Fulbrighters are supposed to be ambassadors, after all. If you think my "thank you" is something, you should hear my "Can I have a falafel sandwich please?*"

*oreedoo falafel, minfudluck



Made pizza dough today. 2 teaspoons of yeast in 1 1/2 cups of warm water until it bubbles, then add about 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of cornmeal. Worked the dough for a while, then covered it with about a tablespoon of olive oil and let it rise for a few hours. Sprinkled some cornmeal on an ungreased cookie sheet and pushed out the dough into a circle (more or less). Spooned a bunch of pesto onto the dough, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and baked for twenty minutes. Wow, did it taste good. Must make dough more often.

unwelcome return

Yesterday evening I had the first serious migraine I've had in months. Not as bad as last summer, but bad enough. I popped a couple tramadols and closed my eyes in our guest bedroom (the one with the blinds that totally block the light) for an hour or so. Got up, walked around, headache went away. Sometimes I love western medicine despite its profiteering!

Feeling a migraine coming on is scary. I start to worry that it'll be Summer '09 Part 2. And worrying certainly doesn't help the situation. Luckily a little relaxation, darkness, and pharmaceutical assistance all conspire to stave off a full-blown attack. Thank God.



I really hope to finish things before leaving for Lebanon in September. Seems like an obvious transitional moment, and I'd love to find myself in a scenario where most of my overseas work is new work. Insert your favorite "start a new chapter"-ish cliche here.

Today I'm going over data I gathered in some of my service learning classes with plans to incorporate some of the data into the "affective dimensions of sl" article I've been revising for nearly half a year. The data will help the article move beyond a theoretical piece, and help me create a revision consistent with reviewer suggestions. In what was perhaps an overly ambitious plan, I had figured I'd write the theory piece, than a more data-driven piece. Now, makes more sense to synthesize the two--partly to meet the journal's expectations, partly in the interest in finally getting the ideas out there, partly because I'm going to Lebanon in two months (see paragraph #1), but mostly because I think the article will be more tangible and maybe even more interesting.

Got a pretty positive response to a creative nonfiction piece I wrote about my Grandpa's WW2 letters. Looks like that piece might end up seeing the light of day as well. Another piece I hope to finalize pre-Middle East.

Will be happily handing off the keys to the service learning office very soon. In the meantime, I'm part of a working group this summer applying to have our campus gain a Carnegie, "Civic Engagement" Classification. This will likely be the final thing I do as SL coordinator, which has been rewarding on many levels and yet in some ways reinforced to me that I don't particularly aspire to be an administrator.

And now, the non-sequitur. Did I mention that the ass-kicking Detroit Tigers aren't the only things that are hot right now in the motor city? Hot as in the 90s. Hot as in much humidity. Moments ago the rain began to fall and I'm thanking my stars I won't have to drag out the hose tonight and once again water the garden. The plants are hot, and thirsty too.



Fulbright orientation in D.C. was useful and informative. A representative from the State Department's security team gave a lecture on staying safe in the Middle East--a lot of commonsensical stuff, including tips on avoiding identity theft, not looking like a high roller, varying one's daily routine, etc. Also had a video conference call with staff from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, who filled the Lebanon contingent (four of us) in on some details regarding visas and travel.

Made time to have some fun in the city. Dinner at Ben's Chili Bowl, made famous by great chili dogs as well as a mention in Kwame Kilpatrick's notorious text messages (and, subsequently, Jon Stewart's R.Kelly-esque parody of the Kilpatrick scandal: "Ben's Chili Bowl, a place for love"). Walked the monuments after dark, rode the Metro, took in several Smithsonians and the surprisingly cool Postal Museum (great place...check it out sometime). Was terribly disappointed by ACKC, a "cocoa bar" and chocolate shop that sounded great. Prices were ridiculous, even by D.C. standards, service was awful, and the goodies tasted mediocre. Avoid.

Stopped in Youngstown on the way down and the way back and got to enjoy a nice 4th of July picnic in the hometown. Fun.


old school movie night

The joys of the drive-in. Poor sound quality; poor picture quality; cars (and an RV!) pulling in and out, in and out, all night; gross bathrooms. Nicole and I joined Anna, Mazin, and the kids, at Dearborn's own Ford/Wyoming drive-in Saturday night. It was great fun. We took the cap off of our truck and filled the back with blankets and pillows and brought loads of food (including the grape leaves leftover from the last day of classes). We saw the "Karate Kid" remake and "Grown Ups" and both were mediocre. But the night itself? Very, very fun.

In other news, off to Youngstown in a few hours, to spend the night, and then tomorrow morning, on to Washington D.C. for Fulbright orientation. I hope to know a whole lot more after orientation. Right now I have so many questions regarding next year. I have a couple fresh legal pads and I'm ready to learn. Also hope to network with the other Mideast Grantees for many reasons, one of which is to make friends and then have places to stay when we visit other cities in the region (Aman, Petra, Damascus, etc.)!

Yesterday I turned in grades for Summer I term. I'll miss the kids (had a great creative writing class) but will be relieved to have a few months out of the classroom before departing for Lebanon. In the next few hours, I want to go to the gym, pack, cut the grass, water the garden, give the house a quick cleaning. Better start ticking things off the list...


more randomness

Too much happening to devote a post to one subject alone. Today the summer one term ends. I'm collecting final portfolios from the creative writers and the comp106-ers. I love these students but I'm glad to say farewell so I can try to wrap up a few writing projects and prepare for Lebanon. I made stuffed grape leaves and pasta salad for the students and many of them are bringing treats, so we'll end in style.

Yesterday in addition to rolling grape leaves, I did the 6.2 mile hike at Stoney Creek. I've really been enjoying outdoor exercise. Something about working out sans the artificial gym air and the smell of other people's sweat feels like, well, summer. I was late putting air in my bike tires this summer, but I've now gone for a couple nice rides as well.

For any family members out there thinking about visiting Beirut next year, get a copy of this book, The Globetrotter Travel Guide: Lebanon. Really thorough and informative. Lots of neat photos too. I found a used copy online that was only a few bucks. But it's worth paying full price.

Alright, I'm off to start reading that student work.


catching up

Haven't blogged in some time due to summer teaching, the garden, Lebanon preparations, and miscellaneous summer activities. I'm in my final week of the summer term and while I love to teach, I can't wait to finish up for the year. Summer I starts almost immediately as winter term is ending, which means no rest for the wicked. I collect final portfolios from all my students on Thursday, then a weekend of reading/grading, and, at last, fin. No more UM-Dearborn students until Fall, 2011.

Parsley's off to a sluggish start, but otherwise herbs are plentiful. I made pesto with my basil, a couple cloves of garlic, a handful of almonds, olive oil, and parmesan. Delicious on chops and boca burgers. Haven't gotten around to picking any mint yet. Wow, did I overdo it on the mint plants! But the mint combines nicely with lemon balm which grows along the side of the house, so I foresee some fruity salads this weekend.

Following leads on housing in Beirut. Expensive, but interesting. For instance, one place that sounds nice comes with the free use of a skooter. Okay, I guess, but maybe not so much with the rental costs higher than our mortgage. A few friends and friends-of-friends are inquiring for us, too, so we'll see what develops. In the meantime, I'm anxious to check out some of the ruins and Maronite sites in Lebanon, which look amazing.

Had a nice weekend in Burlington, Ontario, for the birthday part of Nicole's 95-year-old aunt. Nice get-together, and a fun city as well. Happened to visit during a street fair, so being out and about in the evening was jolly. They have good gelato there, so luckily the hotel had a great pool and gym on site. Been working out almost every day and managed to keep with it while in Canada.


belated concert review

About three weeks ago, I was lucky enough to see the Buzzcocks perform at St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit. Hipsters often spurn reunion shows, dismissing the bands as past-their-prime and greedy. But who ever said punk rockers can't have grey hair and beer bellies? Especially if they can still bring the noise.

And speaking of bringing the noise, I never realized that the Buzzcocks had a Public Enemy aesthetic. Let me explain, Pete Shelley--he with the aforementioned grey locks and paunch--sings most of the songs. You know his trebley voice from "What Do I Get?," "Ever Fallen In Love," et al. Doesn't do stage banter. For a first-wave punk, he's downright stoic. A couple feet to his right, though, is Steve Diggle, the band's hypeman, Flava Flav to Shelley's Chuck D. Diggle does the pogo, taunts the crowd like a middle-aged Sid Vicious, encourages dancing, and sings the band's more anti-authoritarian numbers, like "Autonomy."

The band played its first two albums sequentially. This has become a fad, especially at summer festivals. A band will come out and play its canonical record in its entirety (think: Sonic Youth doing Daydream Nation or the Pixies doing Doolittle). Even Springsteen did this recently, so it's a movement that goes beyond just punk and indie types. Strange move for the Buzzcocks, though, who I always think of as one of thee quintessential "singles" bands. In fact, Singles Going Steady, the band's compilation of its first eight, late-70s A- and B-sides, is its must-own, no filler record, hands down.

But it worked. They flew through those records too. The crowd never stopped dancing on that rainy Detroit night. A lot of 30- and 40-somethings, of course, and a lot of mohawks, but I was happy to see a good number of kids who knew all the words to "I Don't Mind" and "Love You More." They played the two albums with much energy and then left the stage, most of the familiar hits yet unperformed. They encored, and did all the big numbers, and it somehow didn't feel obligatory. Actually, it was a perfect cap to a really good show, a rousing, sing-along of a finish, with their signature "Orgasm Addict" closing the set. You knew this was the band that pretty much invented the notion of pop-punk, and if you were a glass half-empty person, you walked out blaming them for all the shitty bands they inspired. But most of us left smiling, happy for all the two-minute masterpieces the Buzzcocks gave to the world of rock and roll.


random bits

Too distracted to write anything coherent, so I'll give some general updates.
  • Yesterday, came home to discover a bee box on the front porch. A present? A warning? A sign from the heavens? Could it be that someone just left the thing at the wrong house, that the box was meant for a beekeeping neighbor but ended up on our stoop accidentally? No, turns out that some bee person in nearby Royal Oak borrowed it from Anna who gave the person our address so that the Royal Oak person didn't have to drive all the way down to Anna's to return it. Mystery solved. But it would have been quite a coincidence to end up with a random bee box? "Here you go, Mazin, we found a bee box for you on our front stoop."
  • This weekend, my friend Lew is visiting from Youngstown and we are seeing not one but two Tigers games. I definitely anticipate some hiking too. Can't wait.
  • Last night Nicole and saw Rhoda Janzen give a reading at Borders. We picked up her memoir afterward and I look forward to reading it. Janzen, a "worldly" college prof and poet and ex-model, goes home to her Mennonite family after a traumatic year. The memoir narrates her homecoming as well as the traumatic events that led up to the homecoming. Reading was funny.
  • Preparing for the Fulbright is as hectic as it is exciting. While I'm away next year, my Dean's office is going to supplement my "stipend," thank goodness. Good to feel supported. Even better to avoid defaulting on one's mortgage. Still working out details about my work within my host school's English Department, as well as about housing and transportation and such. Details forthcoming. Eventually, I'll probably switch over to a "Year in Lebanon"-type blog and put this one to rest after six years.


this is an example...

of how awesome my sister's blog is. She should get a book deal like Julie from the Julia Child book/movie. Or a reality show.

let me see if I can sound like Andy Rooney or that guy who used to write the "Monday Moanin' Mind" column in the Free Press

The Fulbright folks love paperwork. I had my physical the other day and am hoping the doctor's office has mailed the proper form to Washington. Nicole has her physical next week so I need to print the spouse medical form for her to take to Dr. Sharma. I've filled out my request for an Academic Leave and it's ready to give to my Dean, but not until I get the submittal form (yes, that's what it's called) from my Department. The request form and submittal form must be attached to one another. I'm waiting to receive my housing forms from my host school in Beirut. Just received an email with a registration form for the orientation I must attend in Washington next month. I'd like to drive instead of flying there but first I must submit an approval form to travel by car instead of plane, then afterward download the mileage reimbursement forms. Forthcoming, forms to continue my university benefits during my leave, paperwork telling Fulbright where to deposit my checks, and a couple visa applications. Did I mention Nicole and I need to draw up a lease so we can sublet house?


let's get physical

Today I got a physical. In order to receive officially my Fulbright grant for next year, I must first receive medial clearance. Thus, the physical. Before today, I knew I had a bit of anxiety, migraines (bad last year, now very much under control thanks to meds), and that's about it as far as health problems. The Fulbright people provide a form that asks dozens of questions about family medical history and general wellness, and asks the doctor to conduct a whole battery of tests and such and then sign. I'll be in a major city with hospitals and such (Beirut), whereas some Fulbrighters find themselves in remote locales. So I understand why the form needs to be thorough.

Anyhow, physical went well. Good blood pressure, good EKG results, a strong heart. But as I'm killing time in examination room I happen to look at the BMI chart. Body mass index, which uses height and weight to determine, frankly, how fat a person is. I won't get into numbers, but let's just say my BMI is very bad. That's putting it mildly. I could lose a lot of weight and my BMI would go from very bad to bad. The BMI does nothing to distinguish between fat and muscle. The BMI doesn't take into account how often one exercises (I do cardio at least three times a week--usually more), or what kind of food one eats (I eat too much food, but it's very healthy food) or anything else aside from two numbers, height and weight. That's the sole data the measurement uses.

In the corner of the BMI chart, the logo of a corporate sponsor. The sponsor? A manufacturer of an artificial sweetener. There's a big surprise. A carcinogen-manufacturer telling me I'm unhealthy. Pot, kettle, black.


worth a second look

Four years after its initial run, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" is a blip on the proverbial pop culture radar. A famous flop. One and done...one season that is. A much hyped, self-serious dramedy overshadowed by Tiny Fey's "Thirty Rock," which premiered the same season.

Like Fey's successful sitcom, "Studio 60" is about the staff of a sketch comedy show that draws so heavily on "Saturday Night Live" lore that you can barely call the show-within-a-show fictional. "Studio 60" came from the same creative team as "The West Wing." Most notably, both shows were created by the writer Aaron Sorkin, who has always had a brilliant ear for smart dialogue. Sorkin loves to stage smart, earnest, liberals talking with one another. This talent served "The West Wing"--about the hard-working, erudite, overeducated, progressive people who run the free world--very well and the show was a hit. "Studio 60"--about the hard-working, erudite, overeducated, progressive people who run a comedy show--had less gravitas (in the minds of many) than a show about a fictional president and thus bombed.

In 2006, audiences went for the slapsticky, self-reflexive of "Thirty Rock" while rejecting "Studio 60," preferring self-aware over self-righteous. Sorkin also wrote the film "A Few Good Men." He likes to have his characters give speeches (remember Jack Nicholson telling Tom Cruise about how the Marines do the jobs that the elite don't like to talk about at cocktail parties?) and have Big Emotional Moments ("you can't handle the truth!"). Seemed kinda silly to watch a guy writing goofy jokes think he's the savior of the western world.

But here's the thing. I'm crazy about the show. For the first time since it aired, I'm rewatching the program (thanks, netflix) and getting a lot out of the dialogue and the great relationships. I like shows about people who are really smart and really hard working. Sorry. The show centers of the writers, performers, and producers of the show but also the network brass. Everybody has loads of wit. Their conversations are hilarious but also reveal that they aren't ashamed of their knowledge. Okay, they (like the show itself) can occasionally be a tad pretentious. But funny and smart? Great combination. And like "The West Wing," loyalty is a big theme. Matt Albie (Chandler from "Friends") and Danny Tripp (Josh from "The West Wing") have this intense, admirable friendship.

I'm liberal and have loved "Saturday Night Live" since middle school, so Aaron Sorkin pretty much wrote this show for me. I can see why its appeal is limited. But as I rewatch, I can't get over how damn compelling the show is. Wes Mendell having his nervous breakdown on live tv, ranting ("Network" style) about the dumbing down of the U.S. media. Comedienne Harriet Hays reconciling her conservative Christianity with her work on a show that loves to knock conservative Christians down a peg or two. Tom Jeter--the goofy star of the show-within-a-show--who refuses to use his war hero brother to get out of a speeding ticket. Lots of great moments. But I'm not surprised it didn't last. A real case of television for one.



Workshopping has gotten off to a strong start in the Advanced Creative Writing course I'm teaching this summer. For the first time, I'm having students post works-in-progress to C-Tools (instead of bringing in hard copies to distribute). So far I like the switch, aside from several students who posted files in formats I've never even heard of and which my computer could not read. Glitches come with the territory, I suppose. Passing out hard copies kind of slowed things down and tended to cause all kinds of confusion, especially when three or four pieces were circulating. On C-Tools, I created a folder for each class period ("Poems for May 13," etc.) so a student can just upload a piece to the appopriate folder and everybody else can access it there. I'm probably like five years late on this move. Oh well.

"Secret Code"

Go here to listen to a new song by The Dirtbombs. A catchy summertime tune. I hope they release song in some kind of physical form, or make it available on i-tunes.


catching up

Sitting in office hours. I just got out of my first three-hour class of the day. One more to go. Today opens the first summer term and for the second consecutive summer I've got two classes: a section of first-year comp and a section of advanced creative writing. A lot of contact hours, but the time passes quickly on most days. I hate, hate, hate the "get writing out of the way" mindset which leads some students to summer sections of comp, but I'm excited about the projects I'm asking students to do.

Last night I wrote a poem. Tonight we'll workshop the piece in my creative writing class--a kind of practice round, and proof to my students that I'll put my own work out there just like I'm asking them to do. For the first time I'm using C-Tools as our space for distributing poems and stories for workshopping. Hope it's a glitch-free experience. The poem's about the Great Migraine of 09. I had a relatively small headache yesterday (bad enough that I had to break out the tramadol, but it went away quickly). Can't help but fret a little bit, as we near the anniversary of GM09's onset. Stay away, stay away, stay away.

Speaking of writing, I've started to write a piece (more or less a "narrative essay") about my Grandpa D (see previous post with excerpt of a wartime letter of his). Trying to write about his personality while also writing about some of the letters he wrote during the war. I'm excited enough about the piece that I think I'm committed to regular writing even during the intensive summer term. Hopefully I'll workshop the piece with my students in a few weeks too.

Good weekend. Another Cinco de Mayo party. Pinata was a success (i.e., I didn't get seriously inujured). Improvised "fried ice cream" cake was a success. Next year I think we'll skip the quesadillas, as I spent the first half of the party making the blasted things. Going to stick to stuff that's ready to roll out before the party gets started. Great time, though, despite the cold and the rain.

Still waiting on final word from the Fulbright people. I sent in my materials ELEVEN MONTHS AGO. Latest communication (two weeks ago) alerted me that I have "finalist" status and should block off dates of orientation in Washington DC in case I'm selected. It would be nice to know whether or not I'm leaving the country in a few months! Come on. I have no patience.

Alright, off to prep for CW class and maybe grab a veggie sub from the U.C.


dinner and a movie

March 20, 1946
Island of Leyte, Philippines
from a letter from Bill to Margaret DeGenaro

My grandpa wrote this after four years in the Army, sitting on a beach in the Philippines about six months after the war ended. Along with thousands of other soldiers, he was waiting--"21 of us in a ten-man tent"--for space to become available on a transport. Note: grandma and grandpa grew up speaking a dialect that usually left off the last syllable of Italian words..."pasta fasool," "raggaz," etc.
I got a hold of a package of spaggets, tomatoes, and some sort of meat. I mixed the tomatoes and meat in my mess gear and let it boil down for about 20 minutes. We picked up a gal. can and in it I cooked the spagget. I didn’t know if its because I haven’t ate any for some time but it sure tasted good. Not only my self but the other fellows agreed. You really would of got a laugh seeing me around the fire stirring and tasting the spaggets to get them just right. That going to be your job soon. Tonight Roy Rogers is on and I'll see my last movie on these islands. Stevie should be seeing it with me.


weekend wrap-up

On Friday evening I commented that I felt like hibernating. Not sleeping, hibernating. As in going into a cave and just enjoying the quiet darkness. Must have something to do with the end of a long semester. Or maybe I'm getting anti-social. Nicole and I went to Anna and Mazin's for a nice, lowkey picnic that night. We ate delicious kabobs, walked to the back of the pasture to check on the bees, laughed at miscelaneous facebook pictures with the kids, and ended up borrowing Mazin's tiller.

Saturday ended up being the lazy day I needed. Watched a few episodes of "Mad Men" (I'm late getting on the wagon--about midway through Season 1 right now). I love the dialogue. For me, that's the element of the show that really captures that these guys are 1) smooth, and 2) trying really hard to BE smooth. Their words seem forced, but only because the characters are men who choose words carefully. In case you somehow don't know the show's premise, "Mad Men" centers on an advertising firm in 1960 Manhattan and takes a sometimes funny and sometimes depressing look at the "isms" of the Baby Boom era. At times the show underlines the period details a little bit too heavy handedly (though, to be fair, I think that's the show's aesthetic): look at how much they smoke, look at all the red meat and liquor, look how sexist they all are.

Nicole and I crossed the bridge to Canada and cruised around Windsor, then crossed back into Michigan, ate in Mexicantown, and picked upa few things for our Cinco de Mayo party next weekend. It had stormed so I had a great excuse for not using the tiller I had borrowed. Thank God for lazy days.

This morning we got up early to go to our Peace and Justice meeting at church, then went to Mass. Nicole opted for a nap while I read the Free Press and did the crossword while listening to the Tigers kick some ass. Cleaned the basement, and then made a big salad with mint, lemon balm, and fresh parsley. Tomorrow, back to writing and syllabus writing (summer 1 starts in a week!), but for now, lovin' the weekend.


cutting services to Detroit's homeless

One of the most important programs that NSO (Neighborhood Service Organization) administers is Project Helping Hands, which offers Detroit's homeless mental health and substance abuse counseling as well as transportation to appropriate facilities, all via its unique mobile outreach unit. As many of you know, NSO is not just a great service learning partner with UM-Dearborn, but also an agency whose work I admire deeply and support however I can.

Massive budgets cuts, to the tune of $21 Million, are forcing NSO to cut ties with Project Helping Hands and cease offering this vital service. NSO is asking for supporters to come to a press conference on Wednesday morning at PHH HQ (3523 Cass Ave, at the corner of MLK Blvd.), 10:00 sharp. I can't say enough about the amazing work that this organiation does. They are asking for community support on Wednesday. See this letter from NSO CEO Sheila Clay for further details.

Born Free

This video is surely going to ignite loads of controversy. Which is a good and bad thing. Good, because the piece offers provocative and raw commentary on our collective attitudes toward immigration. Bad because "controversy" becomes the story and can obscure the ideas that inform the piece.

I didn't imbed the video here because of the graphic violence. Don't watch if you don't wish to see some disturbing images of what appears to be a government raid on a home full of red-headed young men.

Oh yeah, the piece is the music video for M.I.A.'s new single "Born Free," which quotes Suicide's punk classic "Ghost Rider." The song itself boasts a lot of M.I.A.'s signature flourishes: a nod to punk rock (past "quotations" in her work include The Clash, Pixies, and Modern Lovers), a minimalist techno beat, and lyrics that suggest radical politics.

The video begins circulating just this morning, days after Arizona's fascistic immigration bill passes. If you can stomach the violence, watch the video then decide what you are going to do to respond to Arizona's assault on civil liberties.



Good to be back at the gym. I had a few minor migraines and more than a few papers to grade this past week so I didn't get to work out much. Excuses, excuses. Even though I was getting some exercise working in the back yard, nothing fully takes the place of a sustained workout at the gym. I'm going to try to get there each day this week. I know I'll feel better if I do.




Next week the Public Safety office on my campus will host an instructional session on "what to do in the case of a shooter" at the University.


Record Store Day

My kind of holiday. Each year, independent record stores celebrate the joy of discovering new music in public places where fans and afficionados actually, you know, talk to each other. The stores give away cookies and offer huge discounts. Today is RSD and I celebrated by going to several indie stores in and around the motor city and buying stuff. What did I get?

On CD, I got re-issues of Michigan proto-punk bands Death and The Rationals. Death was an African-American trio from Detroit who decided to make a hard rock record after listening to the MC5. The result was 1975's "For the Whole World to See," a psychedelic, politically engaged, loud piece of work. The Rationals, a 60s band from Ann Arbor, has some renown because they have a song on the original "Nuggets" garage rock compilation. The band put out a bunch of singles, never really hit it big, played famous shows with Bob Seger, Iggy Pop, the MC5, the Yardbirds, Ted Nugest, and Al Green. I got the massive, 34-song anthology "Think Rational," which I think has like every song they ever recorded and/or performed.

On vinyl, I got copies of Aretha Franklin's "This Girl's in Love With You," the first two studio albums by Generation X, and a strange-looking concept album by Malcolm McLaren (Sex Pistols svengali who died last week) called "Fans" (which puts original lyrics by McLaren to opera music). Just try to find Malcolm McLaren solo albums at Best Buy!

Happy Record Store Day peeps.


Friday's obligatory miscelaneous entry

I've been blogging semi-regularly for the last month or so, and I'm amazed at how "retro" blogs feel. Like listening to .38 Special 8-tracks or playing Atari 2600. How quickly we move on to the next thing. Twitter. Facebook. Will they be gone in a few years? Less? I like the ease of sharing youtube videos, posting links (though facebook makes this even easier), and moving back and forth between serious posts, silly posts, and all points in between. Blogs. Still cool after all these (five or six) years.

Had the pleasure of giving a talk in Ann Arbor on Wednesday. The English Department there has a reading group in "language and rhetorical studies" and they had looked at a piece I published in Rhetoric Review a few years back and invited me to talk with them. Wow, do they have a great cohort of graduate students. I learned a lot. Not sure why I don't go to Ann Arbor more often. Good place.

Still working to clear bushes and brush out of the beds around the perimeter of our backyard. Our goal is to have all edible stuff planted by the end of May. Mostly herbs, but some veggies and berries too. I'll still put in the "big" garden next to the garage (eggplant, cucumbers, squash, peppers, etc.) and we'll certainly do tomatoes in pots, but I'm excited to pull the overgrown stuff that had taken over these beds something fierce.

Last year, due to the Great Migraine of 09, I did very little in the yard. This year, wait and see! Hopefully the joint will be looking good before the annual cinco de mayo party, coming up in a few weeks.

Speaking of GM09, I have a follow-up with the neurologist this afternoon. Cross fingers for me. I hope I don't have to get back on the meds--it's been nice this past month not loading up on depacote everyday after a year of taking the stuff.

Nicole's going to Canada this weekend with her law school friends, so I'm a bachelor for a few days. A little writing, a little karaoke tomorrow night, and definitely MUST get through the stack of papers that need grading.



I don't read Pitchfork as regularly as I used to, but I still enjoy how the 5-10-15-20 feature asks artists to take an inventory of music they loved at five, ten, fifteen, etc., years old. An interesting way to narrate your life. Give it a try.

Age Five
I can't say for sure if I was five years old or not, but I clearly remember the two Beatles anthologies, 1962-66, and most especially 1967-1970, always being in the house, circa the late '70s. I think my brother Steve and/or my sister Anna had the records, but I seem to recall checking them out of Hubbard Public Library over and over again too, and listening to side one of the "blue album," which opens with Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane, and Sgt. Pepper. Most of the blue album consists of psychedelic songs from the "Sgt. Pepper" and "Magical Mystery Tour" records. Pretty awesome stuff for a five-year-old. After all, most of the songs sound like cartoons. Really good cartoons, that is.

I should also give props to Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle, which I did a pretty mean version of in my kindergarten Christmas show. The same nuns who taught me that song were responsible for my inability to say the Hail Mary or make the Sign of the Cross without an Italian accent until I was like nine.

Age Ten
At ten, the word "Sandanista" meant two things to me: somebody my Aunt Minnie gave money to (who is this person and why is my lefty great-aunt sending her cash?), and the record of the same name by the Clash. Sure, I dug Rock the Casbah (from the better-selling "Combat Rock"), but Police on my Back from the massive "Sandanista!"...that was the premier tune by the band, in my ten-year-old opinion. A record so great, its title needed an exclamation point. Years later, "in the basement of her mother's house, she once taped the first three sides of Sandanista! for my car" would be the best lyrics The Barenaked Ladies would ever write.
Age Fifteen
Is there a better age for listening to rock and roll music? I think in tenth grade I listened to Lou Reed's "New York" album a lot, along with Dead Milkmen's "Eat Your Paisley," the first Cowboy Junkies record, oh, and 10,000 Maniacs, who I saw play in Cleveland with Tim Finn of Split Enz as the opening act. I can remember Natalie Merchant singing a beautiful a capella cover of The Beatles's "She Loves You" on the Nautica Stage, in the middle of the Flats, a breeze floating in from the river. I can't think of a better memory of live music.

Age Twenty
1993 was a good year to be a music-lover in Detroit. 89-X, which is now a mostly awful "hard" alt-rock station with only five or six songs in rotation, was in its prime. The station broadcast from across the river in Windsor, ON., so they were less inclined to censor song lyrics. Oh, and you could see rock shows for fifteen or twenty bucks. The Lemonheads. Matthew Sweet. The Beastie Boys (playing instruments at Cobo Hall!). Redd Kross. Too bad I never saw Nirvana. Surely they must have played Detroit a bunch of times during that year or two stretch.

I can recall my friend Hung getting packages of Vietnamese food from his family and eating squid jerkey and drinking beer in his room while listening to the hip hop station ("Detroit's strong songs"...is that station still around?). Ice Cube's Good Day and the Dr. Dre Chronic songs (classics) were in heavy rotation, along with I Got A Man and Back to the Hotel (classics? not so much).

I loved the digable planets back then, too. The "reachin (a new refutation of time and space)" record was amazing. I still listen to that CD all the time. What is it...poetry, jazz, spoken word, alt-rap, stoner music, new age philosophy? Yes.

Age Twenty-Five
The year before I got married. I moved to Tucson by myself (Nicole was finishing her last year of law school in Michigan) to start my Ph.D. program at U of Arizona. Go Wildcats. I think I listened to the Pixies and the first Patti Smith album quite a bit in my crappy Los Altos Village apartment (one block from the grocery store that many a fellow grad student dubbed "ghetto Fry's"). A lot of new music was pretty bad in 1998 (horrible post-grunge bands and Nirvana rip-offs). Plus, I spent that first year really geeking out in my program, reading classical rhetoric for days on end and setting up a literacy project on the Rez as part of a community literacy practicum I was in. Consequently, I don't recall buying any new releases except for "Stunt," the Barenaked Ladies's big album. I liked the melancholy songs like Call and Answer and In the Car (with the aforementioned reference to the Clash), a good soundtrack for missing Nicole, the midwest, and family. I remember listening to Yaqui Deer Songs on the Rez. And of course mariachi music every time somebody from out of town would visit craving good Mexican food.

Age Thirty
I taught at Miami University during the last years of woxy, the great indie radio station out of Oxford, Ohio. 2002 and 2003 saw some really great stuff get airplay on woxy: tunes from Wilco's magnificent "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," early stuff by The Kills and The Libertines, Yoshimi by the Flaming Lips. The Gossip (see the band's awesome leader Beth Ditto, left) had a couple songs on woxy, too, and I credit the station with introducing me to the band before they started playing dance music. I mean, they're still good, but they were a straight-up punk band in 2003 and woxy used to spin Jason's Basement, Don't Make Waves, and Arkansas Heat. Great stuff.

Age Thirty-Five
Back in Detroit. Teaching at UM-Dearborn, putting together my tenure portfolio, enjoying the pre-migraine year of 2008. During the not-so-distant-past-of-08, I really liked the song styings of Santogold (speaking of Gossip's merging of punk and dance-pop), Dengue Fever (especially the sublime "Sober Driver"--see link), and, lest I appear to have totally succumbed to NPR-rock, Detroit's own SSM. The latter rocked out at Detroit's Taste Fest that year. We saw them because you couldn't get anywhere near the stage where George Clinton was playing, and they were crazy-good, emphasis on the "crazy" and the "good."

Maybe I'll update this when I have another seven entries to add. I hope each will be filled with good rock and roll music that takes me to the places and the people and the flavors and the fun. Rock on...


a different lifestyle

I always try to count my blessings regarding my job. I know a lot of my colleagues don't seem to agree with me, but I maintain that being an academic is a great, great life. I can't imagine a career that would allow more agency and discretionary time. The vast majority of my hours are my own. I have (many) commitments--witness last Friday where I sat in meetings from 8:30 until 5:00--but most of them are of my own making. I write. I spend time with students. I teach. I work on projects I care about.

I've been thinking a lot about what constitutes a good life, inspired in part by the last night of Arabic class last week. My teacher spent a lot of time during the term talking about culture and lifestyle and sharing with the class stories about growing up in Lebanon. Last Thursday she described worklife in Lebanon. She said that like most workers there, she would finish the workday by 2:00 or so, come home and eat a big lunch with her family and then nap for 2-3 hours. Every day. The family would get up by 5:30-ish, have coffee or tea, do homework or housework for a little while and then socialize all evening--sit in the garage or walk along the sea, maybe grab a falafel from one of the tents set up all over the place.

She remains in awe of the long hours most U.S.Americans work. Of course life isn't perfect anywhere and certainly Lebanon--the place my teacher was describing--is a place with lots and lots of problems of its own. I'm just saying think about how many hours most people in this culture spend at the "office," commuting to work and from work and between multiple jobs, and doing work they've brought home with them. How much healthier would we be (individually and collectively) if we radically reconsidered and restructured our day-to-day life? I can be a highstrung person, but I'm "working" on it, and I have made concerted efforts to create and maintain a lifestyle that resists dominant norms about how we are allegedly supposed to live. I know that most people don't have that luxury. How can we change the culture? How can we build capacity for more resistance? Because that's what I think the current moment calls for: resistance. What if we spent more time reading, listening to music, socializing with people we care about, taking walks, lifting up others who need us, and doing other stuff that has nothing to do with making or spending money?



What a weekend. After a Friday of uninterrupted campus meetings (8:30-5:00...which felt a little too much like a regular job!), Nicole and I spent the evening at Anna's drinking tea and helping Laila--soon to be a Wayne State freshperson--fill out orientation paperwork. Saturday was all about the manual labor. In the morning, some pals from church and I helped a friend move.

By the time I got home, the sun had come out and the Tigers were beating up on the Indians, so I made like the guy I was named after (Grandpa D, of course) and took the radio outside to listen to the game while doing yardwork. Nicole came home and we got most of the beds around the perimeter of our backyard cleared out. No more bushes and shrubs. The beds are going to be all herbs, all the time. If it ain't edible, it's not going in. We're almost ready to till. Due to the great migraine of 2009, we did little planting last year. This summer's going to be a big gardening year, I can feel it. Nicole's parents and miscelaneous siblings came over on Saturday night and we ate outside, made a fire, and stayed up too late.

This a.m. the Peace and Justice group at church met (they approved the letter of protest I wrote to Catholic Charities on behalf of Gesu P&J), followed by Mass, followed by a great lunch at El Barzon with our friends K and P and their kids. I hadn't eaten the posole there in several visits, so a nice bowl was long overdue. Due to the previous night's late late fire and the early Peace and Justice meeting, a nap was ALSO overdue. So Nicole and I enjoyed a snooze this afternoon. Tonight I (FINALLY) did a little school work and made a big pot of m'juderah with lots of onions and olive oil.

Felt good to take advantage of some awesome Spring weather and spend time with good people. I have a crapload of schoolwork to do tomorrow, but I wouldn't change anything about the weekend. By the way, speaking of leading a good life, read this great article from the Times about a home food group in Italy. Reading the piece is as pleasant as eating one of the meals described therein.



I don't enjoy video games very much. I liked to play Atari during middle school (Megamania and Circus Atari were favorites) but pretty much grew disinterested before high school. I certainly never saw any appeal in the more advanced game systems, which always seemed complicated to the point of absurdity. When you reach the eleventh brick past the third yellow mushroom, press A and B at the same time, then arrow left, then A again, hold down B for 7 seconds, then go punch the mushroom until it turns into a butterfly, hit the pause button, go to the Sega website to get the cheatcode that tells you how to mount the butterfly, fly the thing to Xanadu and select the bronze sword... Huh? Writing my dissertation was easier than mastering some of these games.

So I always feel hesitant to critique, say, the violent content of video games. I figure that to do so would be biased at best (easy to critique something you don't enjoy) and hypocritical at worst (I listen to plenty of music that some would consider offensive). I have a different affective relationship with video games. I have essentially NO relationship with them. On the other hand, I have an affinity for, say, gangsta rap, punk rock, mafia films, Family Guy, Richard Pryor, and lots of other stuff that's bad for me.

What to do with a video game like RapeLay.

The object of the game: to stalk the woman who fired you and get your revenge by raping her and raping her female relatives. Are first-person video games different from other first-person forms of expression. First-person is a literary device, right? "I'm a cop killer," Ice T sang, and raised the ire of the Fraternal Order of Police, numerous religious groups, and, um, Charlton Heston. But the "I" refers to a fictional narrator, right? That song came out when I was in twelfth grade and I thought it was brilliant. It remains an artifact with much to teach us about race, violence, and urban unrest in 1992 L.A. In creative writing courses, I have taught the poem "The Rapist's Villanelle," a chilling piece of work that similarly uses first-person narration as a storytelling device. Should we give video games, including "first-person shooters," the same artistic license? Should we draw a line between first-person shooters and first-person revenge/rape fantasies?

Not surprisingly, activist organizations have called for the game to be banned. I find RapeLay disgusting and have no interest in playing it. Part of me thinks, rape is a global phenomenon that represents the worst possible disregard for the humanity and dignity of others, a tool of war, a tool of oppression, a tool of class warfare (regions where men rape women of higher castes in order to make them marry-able), a tool of domestic violence. That part of me says, what can possibly redeem such a game? Given the social context, the pervasiveness of sexual violence, why should this game be on the shelves? But another part of me says the keyword in "I have no interest in playing it" is interest. Turn the channel, don't play, don't download it, ignore it.



what you eat

An intriguing story from yesterday's New York Times. Posting pictures of everything one eats has become a popular trend on blogs and social networking sites. The Times story opens with an anecdote about a scientist in California who has photographed every meal, every snack, every morsel he has eaten during the past five years. Imagine, once you have made the commitment to shoot and post everything you eat, how this practice would discipline you. Do I really want to buy that gas station Honey Bun? Imagine, too, the archive that would be created. What if our great-grandparents had kept such a visual record?


going rogue

Here's a statement that will surprise nobody: I'm not a fan of Sarah Palin. Beyond her dangerous politics, her behavior has been bizarre ever since she gained a national profile. Really...she's in favor of expanding the Patriot Act's reach? You want tax dollars to fund keeping track of what library books I read AND you maintain that your anti-big government? That's what I mean by dangerous AND bizarre. Plus, refusing to say what newspapers she likes to read, professing her dedication to public service and then quitting her job as governor to become a tv personality, and creating cute graphics of democrats in rifle crosshairs. These things are indicative of her character but in equal part they absolutely demolish her credibility. She raises p.r. disasters to a zen art.

Today's reports about her new tv show are especially odd. Apparently her show, "Real American Stories" (because, you know, some Americans are real and some aren't, wink wink), recycles old news clips of celebrities doing nice things. Yes, by the way, she left her job as governor for that. Anyway, that radical leftist Toby Keith--he of the "let's put a boot in bin Laden's ass" fame--has taken offense at the show making old footage look like new footage. Also, rapper LL Cool J was set to be featured on the show and his people issued a statement saying essentially the same thing Toby Keith had said: nobody got my permission or even told me about this and I'm surprised. Nothing incendiary, right? Palin's network responded to LL:
"'Real American Stories' features uplifting tales about overcoming adversity and we believe Mr. Smith’s interview fit that criteria," a Fox News spokesperson told CNN. "However, as it appears that Mr. Smith does not want to be associated with a program that could serve as an inspiration to others, we are cutting his interview from the special and wish him the best with his fledgling acting career."
Classy. First of all, "fledgling"? Isn't he on one of the highest rated shows on network tv? Second of all, why respond so vehemently to his relatively innocuous statement? Where's the response to Toby Keith, who, um, just happens to be a white conservative? In the name of being fair and balanced, I hope Palin's people treat Keith the same way.



During a story about how cash-strapped police forces are issuing more tickets during the recession, an NPR newsreader this a.m. made a joke about cops asking drivers if they know how fast the deficit is growing. Which brings me to an important point: NPR is not funny (except for that "Wait Don't Tell Me" gameshow). Whenever NPR reporters try to be funny, they end up sounding like the "Delicious Dish" hosts (they of "Schwetty Balls" fame, who live on the edge by tossing a handful of walnuts into their scone recipes) on Saturday Night Live: vaguely erudite and very milktoast. Love you, WDET, but not so much with the funny.



Is it a case of laziness? Writer's block? The shock of having no papers to grade today? For thirty minutes I have been trying to begin the day's writing. My plan is to spend half my workday hammering away at an article, a piece I care about deeply, a piece I have been working on for some time. I have a very positive 'revise and resubmit' letter from a good journal, so why can't I get started? I have specific suggestions from reviewers, some messy notes toward revision, and motivation. Smokey's sleeping on my office futon. And I know that with 4-5 hours, I can, theoretically, do quite a bit. What do you do on days like this?


"Certificates" are the new Minors

Yesterday the Composition and Rhetoric faculty hosted an open house for students interested in our new Writing Certificate program. I wasn't sure how many people we would show up but, perhaps due to the presence of free food, we had a great turn-out. Mostly literature, psychology, and early childhood education majors--all of whom expressed a great deal of interest in pursuing the Certificate program in addition to their majors.

Mostly the event provided a chance to socialize, great in and of itself given that there aren't enough opportunities for meaningful faculty-student interaction outside of the classroom (service learning initiatives represent one such opportunity). I managed to talk to just about every student who showed up and was happy that "writing" meant something to each. The history major who writes fantasy fiction. The guy interested in teaching writing at the college level. The psychology student who has no interest in clinical work but wishes to do research. I like the "certificate" model, with its combination of flexible classroom work and practicum. If yesterday's open house was any indication, the model is also attractive to our students.


veggie burgers

For lunch I made a batch of veggie burgers. Ate a couple for lunch. Put the rest in the fridge. Is there a cheaper, healthier food? This is one of the best food preps I've stolen from Anna in ages...and I steal cooking ideas from her constantly. Here's what I put in today:

-1 can of black beans, drained well
-1 stalk of celery
-1 carrot
-1 onion
-a handful of mushrooms
-1 egg
-a cup of oats
-a cup of Italian seasoned brad crumbs
-kosher salt, pepper, cumin, and dried parsley

Blend in food processor, form patties, place on cookie sheet sprayed sprayed with pam, bake for 30 minutes at 400 degree. This made twelve burgers, no joke. No need for a bun. You've got your protein, grain, and vegetable all in one neat package. A little bit of good mustard is the only side dish you need.

You could add or substitute fresh parsley, wheat germ (I didn't have any at home, but this was delicious in Anna's version last week), dab of olive oil, garlic, lemon, eggplant, most any type of squash, garbanzos, walnuts, flaxseeds, peas, tofu, sea salt, broccoli, and about anything else you've got in the kitchen.



This image is making the rounds on facebook. No matter what our differences are regarding health care reform, can we all agree that this is a great representation of what writing and revision look like?


food revolution

I caught most of 'Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution' last night. The new "reality" show tries to project the ethos of a socially aware documentary, and even succeeds sometimes. Oliver goes to Huntington, West Virginia, to try to start a "grassroots" campaign to eat healthier foods. Oliver, a British celeb-chef, is obvisiously an outsider and the fact that he's brought along cameras from a major tv network in part negates the whole notion of "grassroots."

And yet he does aim for genuine capacity building among both families and institutions (much of the action centers on Oliver's work with staff at a local school cafeteria). The show offers an interesting representation of outsider-insider relationships as well as the priveleged and working classes. Oliver sometimes comes across as snarky, calling cafeteria staff members "lunch ladies," a term that makes them bristle. And the camera definitely focuses heavily on their ho-hum reaction to all the processed foods they serve, playing "clueless" looks for laughs and adding wacky music that underlines what they don't know about health.

But give the show points for acknowledging there's a broader context for why the meals they serve are both carb-intensive and processed (horrific looking pizza and chicken nuggets seem to be in heavy rotation on the menu). We encounter USDA guidelines that mandate multiple starches. Sadly, that broader context so far has mostly consisted of 'the government' and not the private interests that profit from screwed-up standards in all kinds of ways. No mention of the corn industry, big junk food companies that make dough from sugar and salt addictions, or the equally problematic diet biz that then swoops in and makes people feel shitty about themselves. I don't think the USDA spends as much advertising on ABC compared to Burger King and Slim Fast.

What of the amount of food that's wasted? I also credit Oliver for monitoring what kids throw away: their scoops of canned fruit and the two celery sticks that sometimes come with their meals. (related question: how come this district isn't recycling those plastic milk cartons?) Rightly, Oliver points out in his narration that these are tax dollars getting scraped into the garbage bins. For three decades, my dad brought home for his chickens and pigs all the food scraps from the elementary school where he taught. Are there no farmers in and around Huntington, West Virginia, who could use the slop?

I'm going to give the show a chance and keep an eye on the show's attitude toward workers, waste, and profiteers. This one could go either way.

employment opportunity: Service Learning Director at UM-Dearborn

We're hiring a full-time non-tenure-track academic to direct our growing service learning program. The lecturer will teach two classes in his/her "home" discipline and lead professional development initiatives around service learning at UM-Dearborn, which is a great place to work. It's an opportunity to help community-based teaching and learning become an integral part of a diverse campus. Email me with questions - billdeg at umd dot umich dot edu


Director, University of Michigan Dearborn Academic Service Learning Center

The director assumes leadership of the new UM-Dearborn Academic Service Learning Center (formerly the Civic Engagement Project) and reports directly to the provost. In addition to teaching two courses per academic year in his/her discipline, this Lecturer III will serve as the primary resource for service learning across the campus and administer academic programming around community-based teaching/learning. While this is a new position, civic engagement/academic service learning has been a formal component of the undergraduate experience for five years. With the hiring of a director, the scope and depth of these efforts will be broadened.

To apply, please send a letter of interest and your curriculum vitae to William DeGenaro, Search Committee Chair, Department of Language, Culture, and Communication, CASL, 4901 Evergreen Rd, Dearborn, Michigan 48128. Apply by: May 1, 2010.


Food Love

Yesterday we watched these videos with the Living Stones folks (see yesterday's post). Will Allen is a fascinating figure and has deservedly become a celebrity thanks to his work at Growing Power. He even won a MacArthur Genius Grant.

Here are Parts 2 and 3. Don't miss the segment on their worm bins!


community partners

Amal (the Vista who works in our service learning office) and I had a great meeting with a new community partner today. 'Living Stones Community' partners with Michigan Corrections to provide job training for recently released convicts, especially ex-cons in Washtenaw County where the number of colleges (particularly U of Michigan and Eastern Michigan) has led to much competition for jobs and, by extension, a higher recidivism rate. Folks re-entering society have fewer options there and often return to lives of crime. So Living Stones offers such individuals the chance to learn how to grow and market fresh foods. The organization is part of the urban farming movement which has picked up much steam in southeast Michigan. They want to work with our students; Amal and I are going to make it happen.

In a day pretty much devoted to the Civic Engagement Project (sorry English 327 students clamoring for your graded papers--you'll have to wait until next week), I also met with the Provost to finalize plans for the hiring of a dedicated service learning director. We have been lobbying for such a position for several years and it's finally going to happen. Director duties have been assumed by faculty members (most recently me) operating with course releases, Vista volunteers, nickles, dimes, and even some twine. Next year, that will not be the case. Stay tuned here and on facebook for information on this long-awaited job search.


working-class literature

Sherry Linkon** of Youngstown State's Center for Working-Class Studies has a thoughtful post about why studying working-class culture and literature matters. Linkon rightly suggests that "the working class is getting larger and more frustrated" and issues a call for renewed commitment to scholarship, especially in light of the economic conditions in our nation.

Blogs like the YSU Center's also serve as a place to *sustain* such scholarship and move academic discussions beyond realms like academic journals. The aforementioned piece links to my blog and a post I wrote while working on an article about my great-grandfather's poetry as an expression of working-class ambivalence and identification. I'm proud of that article, which is one of the better things I've written and likely helped me get tenure. But I'm frustrated that I had some good conversations with colleagues and received some nice emails upon its publication...and then moved on to the next project.

Academic communities need more resources and sites like the Center for Working-Class Studies' blog, where (academic) discussions can become broader and involve more individuals and last longer. Funny timing for Linkon's post. I'm giving an invited talk in Ann Arbor next month where I'll be talking about the research I did on my great-grandfather. And having recently looked at a series of lettrers and poems that my grandfather on the other side of the family wrote during WWII, I'm thinking about the possibility of more familial writing.

Coincidences like this remind me of the need to return to ideas that matter and find new and better ways of talking about those ideas. And ideas that matter start with things that mean something to us personally.

**Professor Linkon--speaking of the convergence of the personal and the academic--co-wrote a great book called Steeltown USA: Work and Memory in Youngstown that models smart and engaging analysis of place. The church where I grew up (St. Anthony's, on the north side of Youngstown, which is likely closing this year) figures prominently in the book. Last week during Spring Break I was happy to see copies of Steeltown USA for sale at Jimmy's Bakery, a great Italian cafe and specialty store run by a family I grew up with at St. Anthony's.



I enjoyed watching the Academy Awards last night and thought "Precious" and "The Hurt Locker" deserved the awards they took home. Some of the images in "Precious" certainly verge on racist caricature, but the story and the very real characters therein are honest and disturbing. I only wish the actress who played Precious, Gabourey Sidibe, could have taken the best actress award. She was riveting, moreso than Sandra Bullock, who seems like a perfectly nice person who chooses poor or mediocre films. Meanwhile, I'm a big "Hurt Locker" fan so I was glad to see the suspense and compelling characterizations result in a best picture win.

Random thoughts after watching the show. Does James Cameron really take himself that seriously? Dude, you directed "Terminator 2" and "True Lies." Get over yourself. Smile a little.

I could say the same thing about George Clooney, inserting a reference to his role in latter-day "Facts of Life." Why was he glaring at the camera all night? Was that an act? If so, I don't get the joke.

Oprah said some beautiful things about Sidibe, but it seemed a little patronizing that every other best actor/best actress nominee was introduced by a co-star, while the only young, African-American nominee gets the "Cinderella story" treatment.

Did they really introduce Sarah Jessica Parker by calling her a "clothes horse"? Maybe the meanest joke of the night.

Nice tribute to John Hughes. Jon Cryer, Matthew Broderick, and most of the cast of "The Breakfast Club" turned out for a loving homage. Roger Ebert called this one of the most memorable Oscar moments in recent history, and I tend to agree. Nothing wrong with saluting the person responsible for at least a half dozen films that meant a lot to people. Even in a room full of too much self-importance, evidence that distinctions between high and low art are completely meaningless.


blasphemy on friday night

Last night I re-watched Kevin Smith's Dogma, which I hadn't seen in years. Recall that Dogma takes an irreverent, at times profane, look at Catholic dogma, and not surprisingly got negative attention from various Christian groups (the members of which apparently do not understand 1) satire, or 2) the hypocrisy of their subsequent attacks on the "intolerance" of Muslims who took offense at those Danish cartoons). The film centers on two fallen angels who plan to take advantage of a plenary indulgence to cleanse their souls and get back to heaven, thereby negating God's decree and hence destroying the universe. The motley crew trying to stop said angels includes the thirteenth apostle (left out of the Bible because he's black), the metatron, two bumbling human prophets, a divine muse, God herself, and the great-great-great-etc. grandniece of Jesus, a receptionist at an abortion clinic who is divinely chosen for the mission although she is also a Catholic who barely goes through the motions (the film shows her at Mass balancing her checkbook from the last pew).

I have never seen another film that has such intense fascination with both the good and the bad of organized religion. Dogma manages to strike a curious balance between respect and irreverence. The profanity comes from a place of knowing and inquiry. You laugh at the ironies and the dirty jokes. But especially for Catholic viewers, you can't help but marvel at how much the film gets right. Smith genuinely understands Catholicism and there's something balanced about the film's worldview. You get the distinct sense Smith wants us to think, not just accept pat dismissals or acceptances of Catholicism. Bethany's co-worker at the abortion clinic and later the muse both ask her why so many of her fellow Catholics look at their faith as a burden instead of a source of joy. Rufus (the apostle played by Chris Rock) suggests that faith can be about ideas, not just beliefs. You won't see another Hollywood film that gets into so much minutiae of Catholic tradition (albeit with a heavy dose of hysterical liberties), all the while challenging viewers to think, challenging us not to laugh at things we hold dear. Moonstruck is to Italian as Dogma is to Catholic.



I have to admit that I'm looking forward to the halftime show at tomorrow night's Super Bowl. Improbably, The Who is still around. Sure, half the original band died due to excess and drugs. Of the survivors, Pete Townshend is by most accounts deaf and Roger Daltrey doesn't quite have the wail he had forty years ago at Leeds. Both make more bank these days singing over the opening credits of tv shows (um, on the same station that airs the Super Bowl) than they do playing live.

So why anticipate the show? Even a mediocre rendition of "Substitute" or "I Can't Explain" defines rock and roll in three minutes: attitude, rebellion, youth. Yeah, youth. Townshend and Daltrey are pushing 70, but the lyrics and the licks of their greatest songs are full of youth. Confusion, angst, sticking it to the man (like Jack Black tells his students in "School of Rock"). Little wonder The Who provided such a great soundtrack to the tv show "Freaks and Geeks," notably the episode where the freaks all get tickets to see the band at the Silverdome and the concert becomes an event, complete with a magic bus and some impromptu guitar smashing.

Sure, critics call for the band to hang it up, suggest Townshend should let his body of work stand ("hope I die before I get old" anyone?) on its own and not defile the band's catalogue with poor performances. But watching the band and its career is like watching the Terminator movies. Even when they played Woodstock in 1969, the band looked kind of old next to its peers. There they were, a six-year-old-or-so British invasion band, next to the (slightly) younger hippie bands coming out of California. And that was forty years ago. As I worked in my home office this morning, I listened to the band's 1981 record Face Dances and heard the line, "I drink myself blind to the sounds of old T. Rex and 'Who's Next'," whistful and nostalgic references to rock from a decade earlier. And that was nostalgia being expressed nearly thirty years ago, a year before their first farewell tour.

I can't accept The Who as nothing but a dinosaur act. The music's too good. The tenacity too impressive. Even the punks appreciated The Who's embodiment of the great themes I mentioned earlier...and who was more critical of nostalgic dinosaurs than the punks? The Clash and David Johansen opened for The Who (what a line-up...why, God, was I only nine years old?!) during part of that 82 tour. The Sex Pistols covered "Substitute," though that was arguably because it's easy to play. The Who even returned the favor and covered "Pretty Vacant." So get the geriatric jokes out of the way and enjoy a halftime show that won't be as good as a Who show from the 70s, but will be better than the haters will have you believe. Rock on. And if you're taking requests, how about a little "Gettin' in Tune" or "Love Ain't for Keeping"?


head full of ideas

Sometimes I wish nothing sat on the nightstand but a remote control and a coca-cola. Of course I can't have caffeine and I'm trying to get back down to my "low weight" (i.e., what I weighed after I dropped a hundred pounds in 2004-2005) so the latter is out altogether. Instead, books books books. I'm not complaining; they bring joy. But the term's off to a hectic start and, well, my head's bouncing with ideas and choices and to-do lists.

I'm in the middle of 'Half the Sky' by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, a text I love. Kristof and WuDunn combine reportage, creative non-fiction, and thoroughly researched analyses of the status of women around the world. It's ultimately a book about how women represent the single greatest potential investment in a more just world. Any interest in foreign aid, gender, or justice issues? Read this book immediately. I'm teaching it so I've been re-reading some early chapters and taking notes for much of this afternoon in anticipation of tomorrow's class. Don't disappoint me, freshmen.

Also in the middle of 'Under the Dome' by Stephen King. This is strictly for fun. I don't read huge amounts of fiction during the term, but I couldn't finish this nearly 1200 page behemoth last week, so I'm finishing up the last couple hundred pages this week. This is easily the most fun I've had reading a King book since I was in high school and adored each of his novels. A town in rural Maine becomes shut off from the rest of the world due to the sudden appearance of an invisible dome around the hamlet. Part 'Lord of the Flies,' part allegory about post 9/11 foriegn policy, part epic good/evil battle a la King's 'The Stand.' Loving it.

For an article I'm revising (thanks to that revise and resubmit letter a few weeks back), I'm reading around in 'Ordinary Affects' (Kathleen Stewart), 'Vision, Rhetoric and Social Action in the Composition Classroom' (Kristie Fleckenstein) and 'The Affective Turn' (Patricia Clough and Jean Halley). Oh yeah, and I'm supposed to be writing a book review of Kelly Ritter's 'Before Shaughnessy.' How about a re-do on Christmas break and this time I don't veg out? I have a love-hate relationship with the clanging of words and ideas that everybody in this line of work must feel. So much to read. So many ideas to use, consider, assess.


this time of year

First, it's freezing cold. When will temps climb above freezing? Not sure. Doesn't feel like anytime soon. Smokey doesn't mind chilly walks in the a.m., but I do. I've been going to the gym most every day (no excuses when classes haven't even started), but can't seem to stick with the plan to eat super healthy stuff and that's it. I'm trying. Dividing time between my home office and campus office, I'm clicking things off the to-do list, which feels great.

Anxious to start teaching next week. I've got a section of English 327: Advanced Exposition, one of my fave classes to teach. Small class size, mostly language arts education people with some English majors in the mix. The opportunity to do some interesting writing projects. Also have a section of first-year comp and I'm in the process of totally reworking ways I've taught the second-term class in the past. I'm structuring some research-writing assignments around a reading of Half the Sky and have absolutely no idea how students are going to respond. The book is a powerful read and I think it cries out for response, including written response.

I'm happy not to be teaching any service learning courses this term. Although I love working with community agencies and getting my students out there, it can be exhausting. And directing our Civic Engagement Project gives me loads and loads of opportunities to get my outreach fix. In fact, just yesterday I had lunch with a great young community organizer who is eager to partner with our campus in future semesters. And a positive email from the Provost just in the last few hours gives me hope that we might be more firmly institutionalized next year.

Did I mention I read the AV Club's great Inventory book last week? More like consumed the book. Even found a piece by Patton Oswalt ("Six Quiet Film Revolutions") that was fairly profound, albeit irreverent. Plan to use that piece in 327 this semester. I'm in the middle of Stephen King's "Under the Dome" now. Got it as a Christmas present and I must say it's up there with his 70s work. It's got an epic feel (think "The Stand," aka his masterpiece) despite literally taking place in an enclosed, tiny space. Okay time to get to the gym and then get back to that (shortening) to-do list. Might make some vegetable soup this afternoon too.