e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


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.