More on the year that was 2008

2008 began with weird and ugly school politics.

Sophie liked the snow.

We had Mardi Gras around here (probably will do that again in 2009, too).

Even back in February, I knew Barack Obama was my new bicycle (among many other things).

I dunno, I just like the SpongeBob cast’s sense of humor here.

Will and I went to Alabama, and had fun.

I still like caffeine free diet pepsi and/coke.

Sabbatical Lite went on….

Will was in a show.

I learned more about plagiarism.

I turned 42 (and it was good!)

No NOLA for me.

I did not get the can opener.

Will and I went to a baseball game.

I made a strange trip to Jacksonville, FL.

I went to Georgia, too.

Will “graduates” 5th grade, leaves public schools (the most commented on post of the year by far)

Chris and I met at a fan-con.

We had crappy camping.

We went to Elvisfest.

I did push-ups, though poorly.

Vegas, baby.

Will dressed up.

My wife wrote me a lovely poem.

I had a very stupid customer service experience (and won).

David Byrne was cool.

Soccer and Halloween was fun.

Thank God that Obama won.

Greenhills is good.

Teaching full-time with no administrative release is a lot of work.

I made cookies.

We went to Ave Maria while in Florida.

And a happy new year was had by one and all….

First blog title post from each month meme (the way things were in 2008, part 1)

I am so rarely tagged to do any sort of blogging game/meme I feel kind of obligated to respond to Rik “Canned Goods” Hunter’s invitation to post the title of each blog post for the month. So here it goes:

Kinda interesting to go back through the old posts– if I have time, I’ll try to do another post about blog entries that tell more the story of 2008 around here.

Anyway, trying to tag others here, I’ll start with a couple locals:

And a couple of friends further afield:

Once again, I’m happy to not be at MLA

The Chronicle of Higher Education blog has a couple of posts about MLA on it tonight. The first one I read was “MLA 2008: Market Realities in San Francisco.” Apparently, the MLA has discovered both teaching and the internets. A couple of quotes:

Does the ailing economy have anything to do with a pragmatic streak evident in some of the panels this year? Maybe not, but you could say the timing is good. Gerald Graff, a professor of English at the University of Illinois, picked “The Way We Teach Now” as the topic of his presidential forum. At the session, some of the profession’s marquee names tackled questions of how literary theory works (or doesn’t) in the classroom and how senior scholars could do a better job of helping their graduate students acclimate to “the culture of the profession, whatever that means,” as Michael Berube put it.


Richard E. Miller, a professor of English at Rutgers University, made the idea of theory in the classroom look almost quaint with a talk—make that show—on reading and writing in a 2.0 world. The Web has not only changed the way we compose, it has become the material of composition, he said, citing the work of Jonathan Harris as a prime example.

“We are living at the moment of the greatest change in human communication” the world has ever seen, he said—more important than the moment our ancestors crawled out of the muck, more revolutionary than the invention of the printing press. If you want revolution, he seemed to be saying, it’s already here.

And then there’s this: “MLA Meeting Designed for Broader Appeal.” Here’s a quote from this:

She [Rosemary G. Feal, the MLA’s executive director] said that the group wants to close a perceived chasm between different constituencies—language-and-lit professors at research universities and those at community colleges, for instance. The association hasn’t been known to lavish attention on the latter group. “Too often, community college colleagues suppose that the MLA does not provide enough of what they need to justify being members,” Ms. Feal wrote on her blog.

To help remedy that, the MLA held a workshop this year on “the central move of academic writing” for community-college members. It was well-attended, with more than 60 participants. “We really are in this together,” Ms. Feal told The Chronicle.

Now, I may be a bit cynical and even defensive as a comp/rhet-type. But this sure sounds like too little and too late to me.

Basically, composition and rhetoric as a field originated in English departments among traditional literature faculty who actually took an interest in teaching writing and that purgatory called first year composition, and nowhere is the burden of teaching more acute than in community colleges. The mark of a good appointment in literature has traditionally been one with a low teaching load consisting of upper-level undergraduate literature courses, a grad seminar, and no freshman comp. This allows for plenty of time to worry about what’s really important, whatever that might be.

Over the years, this division of labor has evolved into deeper lines between literary studies and writing studies. Rita Felski, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, refers to this as “disciplinary Balkanization,” but from my point of view, this is simply the evolution of the field. Once upon a time, speech and English were typically the same department. But eventually English and speech/communications began to take on their own disciplinary identities; and nowadays, we’ve got English departments and communications departments. I think that this is what’s happening between literary studies and writing studies. In my view, it is less about the traditional political tensions between literature and comp-rhet and more about the increasing distance between what our different fields define as scholarship, teaching, and the other practices that define academic disciplines. This is why there are more and more Writing departments and programs completely separate from Literature and/or English departments, and this is certainly a trend that is going to continue.

Anyway, I’m not buying it. It just seems a little disingenuous to me to believe the MLA is all now most interested in teaching, writing, technology, and community colleges.

Three semi-random and amusing links

I gotta get to work cleaning up my basement/office/man-cave space, but before I do, here are three links I came across while browsing through my blog reader feed:

Okay, time to get busy….

Ave Maria, Florida: A brief photo tour

We had a little “down-time” one afternoon in Naples, so Annette and Will and I decided to take a little road-trip that is probably more interesting to the folks back in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti than it is down here: we went out to Tom Monaghan’s Ave Maria University. Ypsi-Arbor folks are undoubtedly already familiar with the story: Monaghan, who founded Domino’s Pizza in Ypsilanti way back when, is now an ultra-conservative Catholic philanthropist. I don’t know exactly how conservative, but my sense is that he’s kind of in the same camp as the “bad guys” in The Da Vinci Code.

Anyway, Monaghan started up Ave Maria University in Ypsilanti in an old elementary school building near EMU’s campus, and the Ave Maria Law School over in Ann Arbor. He wanted to build a much more elaborate campus and, as I recall it, he also wanted to build a 300+ foot cross on or near the property where Domino Farms is located. Ann Arbor said there was no way they would allow those zoning changes. So Monaghan picked up and went to Florida, where there are no zoning laws for all practical purposes. As this 2006 article in The Independent put it, “if all goes to plan, the first of its 11,000 brand new homes will be ready for residents late next year. So too, at the city’s heart, will be a new university, which hopes to become home to 5,000 fresh-faced – and hopefully devout – undergraduates.”

Many controversies and a bad economy has made this not come to pass, at least as far as we could tell.

Our journey began first with the drive; here’s a map (and all these images are available via this Flickr set):

Ave Maria on the map

I think this map illustrates something that Annette and Will and I learned early in our travels out to Ave Maria: it is in the middle of nowhere, and that’s saying something for southern Florida where there is quite a bit of “middle of nowhere.” Around Ave Maria, which is down Oil Well Road, are a combination of produce farms and Everglades scrub.

After passing through the front gate (pictured above), we drove a while through wetlands being reclaimed by the Ave Maria folks and lots of pretty much empty (possibly future) neighborhood developments. Then we came to the “Park of Commerce:”

The empty park o' comerce

Not a lot happening there. We did something that looked like a gas station/convenience store under construction.

A little more driving and we came across this:

Santa and baby Jesus

Annette immediately recognized this Santa w/ Jesus from the light show they used to have at Domino Farms; I guess they shipped this light display south. Sadly, it wasn’t lit for us.

A little more driving, and finally we got to the “town center,” which of course features a church:

Front of the Cathedral

From the outside, I think it looks like a hanger for a blimp with masonry on either side of it. The inside is pretty simple at this point, though it’s clearly a work in progress, too:

Inside the Cathedral

The arches were pretty cool, but notice the kind of alien-like/Frank Lloyd Wright-like lights.

The Cathedral/church is in the middle of a sort of faux town square, the “business district” if you will:

The empty streets of Ave Maria Town

Imagine your bakery hereAs far as I could tell, the open businesses included the Ave Maria U. book store, a dress shop, a coffee shop, a smoothie shop, some kind of jewlery shop, a couple of real estate places trying to sell lots in empty Ave Maria developments, a freaky toy/home schooling store, and a surprisingly cool-looking bike shop.

For all your home school and religious gift needsOne of the major controversies of Ave Maria-town was (and I guess remains) that Monaghan did not want to have any businesses that sold contraceptives; since that’s pretty standard fare for drug stores and grocery stores, there was none of that in “town” when we were there– though to be fair, there was a “coming soon” sign in front of a store advertising Publix, an area grocery store chain.

Oh, and I don’t know why, but I found this kind of funny:

Corner of annuciation and Pope John Paul II

If you park overnight near the corner of Annunciation Circle and John Paul II Way, you’re gonna get towed.

The Ave Maria University campus is pretty much across the street, and it too is a work in progress. Basically, you’ve got three or four large buildings that look like this:

Academic building

(By the way, what is the deal with Monaghan and Frank Lloyd Wright designs?)

And you’ve got a number of signs that look like this:
Future site of law school

That’s pretty much it.

Our overall impressions? I think terms like “creepy” and “strange” and bizarre” come to mind. Granted, we weren’t there very long, but I honestly don’t think we saw more than two dozen people in an hour of driving around. I mean, it was a whole lot of nothing, and what was there seemed awfully repressed, even for Catholic standards.

But time will be the test here. I am hoping that we can make the trip back there in about five years and see what’s there. Will it be the thriving dream of Catholic orthodoxy in the swamp? Or it will it be, um, swamp?

The perfect Christmas post: An airboat movie

Yesterday we went on a return trip to Billie Swamp Safari, which is in the heart of the Seminole Tribe Reservation in southern Florida. Its a fun place to visit, not really “authentic” but not really a “theme park” either. Anyway, we did lots of fun stuff out there, but the movie for the airboat stuff came out the best:

Oh, and the alligators in my new header were out there, too.

House Porn, now and then

Here’s the first of three (maybe four?) posts about our recent travels to Naples, Florida to see the in-laws:

Naples PierOne morning during our trip (I think it was last Sunday), Annette and I went on a bike ride while Annette’s parents took Will to the beach by the pier in Naples. The neighborhood we rode around in was called Port Royal, which has cool street names like Gin Lane and Rum Row, lovely landscape and Banyan trees, and which has obscenely large and garish houses. This was the “front version” of the house porn tour.

A few years ago, Annette and I went on a sunset cruise that passed through the canals behind all these giant houses. I called that experience “the house porn cruise,” because, like pornography, me and my fellow passengers were disgusted by what we saw (“my God, those people have three swimming pools!”), and yet we also found it all kind of arousing, we were all a little envious and no one could take our eyes off of it.

The “full frontal” view of the tour wasn’t quite as titillating as seeing the back-end a couple years ago. True, many of the houses had over-the-top facades, most of a weird faux Italian or French Rivera style, and many had rather elaborate security camera systems. But with the landscaping and such, they were mostly on the verge of tasteful, though rather palatial.

I guess the thing that I found more striking than the display of wealth was the number of “for sale” signs. The downturn in the economy is visible here in Naples, and it seems particularly visible in the richy-rich neighborhoods. There are a lot of houses for sale and foreclosures in my neighborhood too, but it kind of seemed like there was more going on here. And I guess that makes a certain amount of sense. The kinds of people who own these houses are the kinds of people who had all their money with Lehman Brothers or AIG.

Anyway, the day after this bike ride, we made a day-trip to Sarasota and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, and the things around it. Ringling was the last living brother of the Ringling Brothers, and, as far as I can tell, kind of a Charles Foster Kane/Donald Trump of his times. He amassed a huge fortune through the circus business and other operations, he and his wife collected a ton of art and other goodies from Europe, and he built for himself and his wife this faux Venetian/Italian styled mansion of a house: Cá d’ Zan, a one of a kind and eccentric design that included all kinds of balconies, a bar, tons of art, and a church organ built into the living room. (I know little about Ringling, but I think this image of him playing the organ alone in this giant house is kind of telling).

In other words, this too was house porn, 1920s style.

Surprisingly, the circus part of the museums were kind of under-played. There was one large building that had a few circus wagons, costumes, and posters, but it seemed kind of like a work in progress. The coolest part of the circus stuff—and maybe the coolest part of the whole trip to Sarasota—was the Howard Brothers Circus Model, which was this immense miniature model of a circus built over decades by Howard Tibbals. I’ve got a few pictures in the Flickr set, but they don’t really do justice to the scale and detail of this thing. And I can only wonder what it was like to be married to the guy who did that project in his basement for fifty or sixty years.

Also surprising to me was the impressiveness of the museum of art, which is really the centerpiece of the facility. We hit the art museum last and were kind of pooped by then, and that was too bad, in a way. There was a lot of very impressive old European art in there—quite a bit of Paul Reubens and “Dutch Masters” kinds of things—which the Ringlings brought back from their frequent trips to Europe.

Interestingly, Mable Ringling died in the late 20s, and, as I understand it, John Ringling had willed all of his estate and art to the state of Florida– I don’t think he had any children. Ringling, like today’s modern house porn operators, pretty much lost it all during the stock market crash, and just a few days before he would have been sold to sell his house and art, he died, thus making this all available to the public. Kinda strange, huh?

Here is a link to my Flickr set from the trip to Sarasota. More to come, I am sure.

Hire a digital compositionalist… if you must…

I’ve seen versions of this video in many other places– just do a search for “Hitler downfall meme” on YouTube to see what I mean— though this one is kind of field specific:

I found this via John Walters, though I’m told it’s going to be in the next issue of Kairos. And just to be clear, this does not even remotely resemble the search process we have had here at EMU so far.

My view right now

Christmas pool I’ll probably post more later this afternoon when I have more reliable wifi, and while Annette and I take one last chance to work on school stuff. But this is basically what I’m looking at as I type this right now. I’m online via my in-law’s neighbor’s house, and the main reason why I’m sitting by the pool is because this is where the signal is strongest. Of course sitting by the pool doesn’t suck either.