Zepbound, Month 1

A while  back, a Facebook “friend” (which is to say not so much a friend friend, but someone I know well enough from the academic world that I’ll talk with when I see him in person at a conference or something every few years) posted that he needed to lose 40 pounds and he was looking for suggestions. A lot of folks posted a lot of ideas, some of whom were also “friends” from academia who are very fit and athletic, competing in marathons and the like. All the advice boiled down to diet and exercise.

“Wait, in order to lose weight, I should eat less and exercise!?! Why, I never thought of that!” said every fat person in the world in their most sarcastic “this is just the way I talk” voice.

I wrote “Here’s what will be an unpopular suggestion: try drugs.” Which is what I’m currently doing.

Let me back up a bit:

I’m fat. I am not so fat that I need the seat belt expander on an airplane or I need to go to a special store to buy clothes, but I’m right on the edge of that level of fat. I should lose more than 40 pounds. To the extent that a Body Mass Index number matters, mine is in the high 30s. This puts me in the category of not just “obese” but on the edge of “morbidly obese.” It’s been like this for a long time.

I have of course tried many different diets and approaches, including Weight Watchers for a few years, but nothing has worked for long. For quite a while now, I’ve been completely locked into the same weight, plus or minus about 5 pounds: I’ll try something new and lose a bit, then plateau, and then gain it back. This has happened again and again and again.

So I gave up, and instead I try my best to be the healthiest fat person I can be. I go to the gym a few times a week, I try to eat mostly healthy foods (though I often fail), I stay on top of my various numbers with regular doctor visits, and I live with it. And for the most part, I’m at peace with that: I’ve been at least “overweight” since I was a kid so it’s not that big of a deal.

Still, I know I need to lose weight. After all, it is called morbid obesity.

About this time last year, I started hearing and reading things about Ozemspic, Wegovy, and similar drugs. The piece that peaked my interest most was Jia Tolentino’s New Yorker March 2023 article “Will the Ozemspic Era Change Howe We Thing About Being Fat and Being Thin?” Specifically, it was this paragraph:

The drugs mimic a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1, which stimulates insulin production and suppresses the production of glucagon, which raises blood sugar. The body naturally releases GLP-1 after a meal, and the hormone travels to the brain, triggering the feeling of fullness. GLP-1 drugs effectively inject that sense of satiety, and also slow the rate at which food empties out of the stomach; patients generally report a freedom from cravings and an inability to overeat without becoming ill. “I’m convinced that this basically replaced a signal my body has been missing my whole life,” a commenter in a Reddit group for people using semaglutide wrote recently. “All I can say,” a member of an online group called Lose the Fat wrote, “is that it is no wonder that skinny people think heavy people have no willpower. Their brains actually do tell them to stop eating. I had no idea.”

This really really hit home for me. I remember talking about constantly feeling hungry in Weight Watcher meetings, but the only solution offered was willpower. For me, that works for a day or two, tops– thus my being stuck at my current weight for over a decade.

So when I went to see my doctor for a check-up and routine tests last spring, I said I’d like to give one of these Ozemspic-like drugs a try. Here I need to acknowledge the privilege and good luck I have in this situation. First, my doctor, who had never brought up weight loss in previous visits, said that she thought I’d be a good candidate for one of these drugs. When you look at the discussion forums about weight loss drugs, it’s easy to find someone talking about having a doctor who refused to prescribe anything. Second, I have very good health insurance through my employer that covers these drugs, with a $25 a month co-pay. There’s no way I’d pay out of pocket for this stuff because it costs around $1000 a month.

She put me on Saxenda, which is less effective than Wegovy and some of the other drugs out last year, but she said it was more available at pharmacies. Ozemspic was not an option because I’m not diabetic and she wasn’t willing to do that kind of off-label prescription– plus Ozemspic was (and I believe still is) in short supply. So after a couple of months of unfortunate events and delays (it’s a long story), I started Saxenda in late July. I was on it for about five weeks and I lost about six pounds– and then the supply dried up.

I went back to my doctor who was apologetic about the shortages, which are largely the result of the drug companies not being prepared for the enormous demand. She said that I must be disappointed, but actually, not really. Oh sure, I wish I could have continued on the meds because it was clearly working. I lost weight because I wasn’t hungry all the time, and thus I did not need to eat as much to feel full.

So for me, that experience on Saxenda was proof of concept. This shit might work for me– eventually, once the supply came back.

All through the fall and into December, I kept trying to find either Saxenda or Wegovy with no luck. Meanwhile in the fall/early winter, another one of these medications was approved by the FDA for weight loss, Zepbound. This one, which (IMO) has the best name, is similar to Eli Lilly’s diabetes drug Mounjaro, and the research I’ve seen so far suggests it’s the most effective weight loss drug like this on the market so far. On average, people on this stuff lose around 22% of their body weight within 16 months. Do the math on your weight– that’s a lot.  This perhaps explains why Zepbound is being projected to be the best selling prescription drug of all time.

Anyway, I happened to be in Costco in early January and I asked at the pharmacy if they had Wegovy or Zepbound in stock. I didn’t think they would (and they didn’t have Wegovy), but it turned out they were having no problems getting Zepbound. So I started it on January 7, and, without going into all of the details (maybe I’ll get into that in the future), so far, so good. I’m at the end of week 4 and I’ve lost about seven and a half pounds– not bad for about 30 days. I just do not feel hungry and I also don’t need to eat as much to feel full.  Plus I have now already secured another two months supply, which means I have enough to (hopefully) see some significant results.

One of the folks on that Facebook post I mentioned responded to my comment about “try drugs” by saying something like “Sure, but then you have to stay on those drugs the rest of your life.” First off, check back with me in a year or two on that. The likelihood of regaining weight is somewhat debatable, and there are maintenance levels of these drugs as well. Second, we’re just at the beginning of these medications. There are a dozen similar meds being developed, and that’s going to eventually bring down the costs and make them easier to take (potentially not as an injectable, for example). And third, the same is also true with the meds I take (along with zillions of other people, of course) for cholesterol and blood pressure– or meds for diabetes, which I am trying to avoid. The first thing my doctors told me before I started meds for blood pressure and cholesterol was “diet and exercise,” but they still prescribed drugs. And of course taking Zepbound might mean that I’ll eventually be able to get off of the other meds.

So we’ll see what happens.

 

Traveling Thoughts

Annette and I have done a lot of traveling this summer– a get away to Glen Arbor, individual travel to conferences on the west coast (mine was Computers and Writing in Davis),  and then a vacation/tour to Croatia, Slavonia, and Venice. Judging from my social media feeds, just about everyone I know was doing something similar. It was great! Though I will admit I could have done without the Covid we picked up at the tail end of our trip to Europe, but that’s a slightly different topic.

Shortly before we left on this latest trip, I read in The New Yorker Agnes Collard’s essay “The Case Agains Travel.” At first, I thought I might have been reading it wrong because travel is so popular– or at least people very commonly describe travel (along with activities like reading and walking on the beach) as something they “love” to do But no, Collard is quite earnest, though in an intentionally contrarian tone. This passage made me feel seen:

If you are inclined to dismiss this as contrarian posturing, try shifting the object of your thought from your own travel to that of others. At home or abroad, one tends to avoid “touristy” activities. “Tourism” is what we call traveling when other people are doing it. And, although people like to talk about their travels, few of us like to listen to them. Such talk resembles academic writing and reports of dreams: forms of communication driven more by the needs of the producer than the consumer.

(My apologies to my tens of social media devotees who have had to endure weeks of Instgram posts from me chronicling my journeys, though as far as I can tell, y’all have been basically posting similar pictures and stories from wherever it is you went too).

Then I heard Collard interviewed just the other day on the NPR show “Today, Explained,” and an episode available here called “Vacation… all I ever wanted?” which features a short (and more accessible) interview with Collard on her thoughts on Travel. Her part of that 30 minute show is in the second half.

She does make one point in both her essay and interview which I do agree with thoroughly: travel does not in and of itself make one “virtuous,” much in the same way that an education does not in and of itself make one “smarter.” I mean, both travel and education can help each of us become better and more virtuous people, but I’ve seen enough “ugly American” style travelers (both domestically and abroad) and also enough half-assed students to know that the benefits of travel and education depend entirely on how each of us individually process and apply those experiences.

Further, travel (and education too) is undeniably a mark of privilege in that both require time and money. Obviously, different kinds of travel require different amounts of time and money, and the tourism I’m able to do now is at least more elaborate (if not better) than what I was able to do when I was in my twenties. There’s a reason why so many people wait to go on those big European vacations until they are closer to retirement.

But mainly, I think Collard is wrong in two crucial ways.

First, she makes no distinction between the different types of travel, which for me is very problematic. In both the essay and the interview, Collard uses her own experiences of a trip to Abu Dhabi and a visit to an animal hospital caring for falcons as evidence to the empty miserableness of travel. But as she makes clear in the interview, Collard travelled to Abu Dhabi not “for fun” but for a conference– that is, for work (she’s a Philosophy professor) and not exclusively for pleasure– and she went to the falcon hospital despite the fact that she describes herself as someone who “does not like animals.” So you sign up to go to a falcon hospital? This just doesn’t make sense.

The reasons for travel define the traveler’s role. When Annette and I visit our extended families, we are not tourists, even though these trips require many hours of car or air travel and usually hotel stays and a lot of eating out. I very much enjoy spending time with parents and sisters and in-laws and the like, and I’m looking forward to upcoming trips at Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, too. But these trips are not vacations for fun; these trips are obligations. 

My work travel is probably similar to Collard’s in that it doesn’t happen that often and I can usually get some more personal pleasures out of the experience– as I did recently when I went to California. But these carved out personal times are also not the same as a vacation, and for people who have to travel a lot for work, I have to think that the distinction between different types of travel are even more stark.

In contrast, the vacation Annette and I just went on was entirely for our own pleasure and amusement. It’s different from going someplace you don’t really want to go for work (even if you do find free time to look at falcons), and it’s different from seeing your siblings and parents and the like. You’re making the trip not as a part of any responsibility or obligation; you’re making the trip because you thought it’d be fun.

Second, Collard is setting the bar way too high.  Collard borrows the definition of tourist from an academic book which describes a tourist as someone “away from home for the purpose of experiencing a change.” That strikes me more how I hear a lot of people who prefer describe themselves as “travelers.” For example, while tourists wait in line and pay a lot to ride in a gondola for 15 minutes; travelers watch and scoff. Tourists take pictures of all the major sites as proof they were there; travelers take pictures that are less identifying and more suitable for framing.

Personally, I’m a tourist. While overseas, I don’t think I have a choice since no one in any other country is going to mistake me for anything other than a dopey white American dude. I can’t pretend that I’m just hanging out in Dubrovnik at a cafe table under a giant umbrella like the locals, especially since all the locals from surrounding areas are the ones actually working in this cafe (and working in the gift shops and the Game of Thrones tours and hauling in all of the cases of wine and soft drinks and hauling away all of the empty bottles and cans).

But again, Collard wants too much from tourism. As a tourist, I do want to see and experience different things, real, (re)constructed, or even sometimes completely contrived (in the form of things like roadside tourist trap attractions), but I don’t necessarily want to change. For me, a lot of the experiences of tourism (restaurants, tours, museums, architecture, vistas, sounds, etc.) are similar to the experiences of media. I certainly have been changed as a person in small and large ways by specific books or movies or songs, but that’s not something I demand or expect every time. “That was pretty good” or “That was fun” is usually enough; even “That was weird” or “Let’s not do that again” can usually be enough. And really, it’s the broader experience with tourism (or media) and not a specific trip (or book) that changes my perspectives and experiences in the world.

Ultimately, as Collard points out in the interview, travel is fun, and (she says) she doesn’t want to talk people out of doing it. I think she just wants people to be, I don’t know, a little less smug about it. That’s cool.

The Year That Was 2022 (turning some corners?)

If 2020 was horrible and 2021 was, I don’t know, what?, then I think the best description of 2022 was “shows improvement.”

My first prediction of what was to come in 2022 (I made in that last post of 2021) turned out to be wrong: we did not go to the MLA convention in Washington, D.C. because Covid numbers (oh hi, Omicron!) were through the roof. MLA’s approach to dealing with Covid was remarkably reasonable. As I understand it (from what my wife said since she was the one participating), the conference organizers told folks if they still wanted to present f2f they could (because it was too late for MLA to cancel the whole thing), but if people wanted to present electronically and via synchronous conferencing software, then they could do that instead. All the panel chairs/organizers had to do was give the MLA a link to how they were going to do it. In my opinion, that was a smart way to schedule and adjust a conference during Covid: let presenters figure out their own synchronous conferencing software instead of putting all the presentations and materials in a junky content management system behind a firewall. I wish my field’s conferences had taken this approach. Anyway, Annette did her presentation via Zoom with a typical conference audience; D.C. would have to come later.

January was the start of Annette’s and my own faculty research fellowships, and for me, that meant doing a whole lot of interviews of folks who had earlier participated in my “Online Teaching and the ‘New Normal'” survey, which is about the experiences of teaching online during Covid. I ended up doing around 37 or so of these interviews, and I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to analyze the pile of transcripts I’ve got. The sun rose and I took a picture. Travel included Annette going on a trip with friends to Puerto Rico and about at the same time, I went down to Orange Beach, Alabama where I met up with my parents and my sisters to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. Movies included the kind of forgettable Midnight Alley and the rest of The Beatles documentary Get Back!

February was work stuff– interviews and also some other writing, but also working off and on on my CCCCs presentation. I had been very much looking forward to going to the f2f conference in Chicago in March 2022, but that was (prematurely and wrongly, IMO) cancelled. I continued to make bread. Did more interviews. Saw (among many other things) Licorice Pizza and The Big Lebowski for about the 90th time.

March was the CCCs Online, which was, um, unpleasant. I think this post from Mike Edwards (where he does quote me, actually) sums up things fairly well. Here’s also a link to my first and second posts about the conference. I won’t be attending this year because (for like the fifth time in a row) the theme for the conference has nothing to do with the kind of research and scholarship I do. But that’s okay. Maybe I’ll go again someday, maybe I won’t.

March also took us on the road to the Charleston, South Carolina area to do something that got us out of the too cold for at least a while. We stopped in Charleston, West Virginia on the way (gross) and then spent a night in Durham, North Carolina to catch up with Rachel and Collin and a lovely meal out at a French restaurant they like. Then we spent a week at a condo on Seabrook Island. It was a pretty good get-away: we got some work done (we both did a lot of reading and writing things), went into Charleston a couple times (meh, it was nice I guess), went on a cool plantation tour, I attended (via Zoom) a department meeting while walking on the beach one nice day, and we did have some good food here and there too. It was all nice enough and I don’t rule out going again, but it wasn’t quite our thing, I don’t think. I started working on this Computers and Composition Online article based on my online teaching survey (more on that later too). Among other things, watched Painting With John on HBO, another season of Survivor, rewatched The French Dispatch.

April and more interviewing, more working on the CCO piece, and starting to work on the Computers and Writing Conference session. I was originally going to go to that (it was in Greenville, NC), but life/home plans got in the way. So once again I was online, and also once again, it was “on demand,” which is to say that I also ended up presenting to the online equivalent of an empty room– not the first time I’ve done that, but still, a group like computers and writing should do better. I posted my “talk” here. I’m afraid I will probably not be able to be there face to face for the 2023 CWCON at UC-Irvine; that trip is still TBA, though those organizers seem more committed to hosting a viable online experience.  In April, I saw probably the best movie I’ve seen this year, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and listened to (or started listening to) a book by Johann Hari called Stolen Focus which I’m going to assign in WRTG 121 this coming winter term. Started doing yard stuff, Annette got a kayak, I baked still more bread. Oh, also saw a movie called Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway that was bonkers.

May and more interviewing, more working o the CCO piece, the CWCON 22 happened (I wasn’t as involved as much as I should have been, but I did poke around at some other “on demand” materials that were interesting), started planting stuff in the garden, started golfing some, ate a fair amount of asparagus, etc. And then at the end of the month, we went up north to stay at a fantastic house on Big Glen Lake. We were planning on going back there in 2023, but after a series of events I don’t understand (was the house sold? is there a problem with the rental company? something else?), we’re staying someplace different. Stay tuned for early June 2023. Among other things, we watched Gog.

By June, I started having some “interesting” discussions with the editors of the CCO about my article. Let’s just say that the reviewer involved in the process was “problematic” and leave it at that. Eventually, I think the editors were able to give me some good direction that helped me make this into a good piece (IMO), but it wasn’t easy. More interviews, but that was the last of them. There was more gardening, more going out for lunch while Will was visiting, more of “the work,” seeing movies, etc.

July was a lot of travel. We went to D.C.– I suppose because the trip in January was scrubbed– and then to New Haven to see Will, then to New York City via train for a couple of nights (saw our friend Annette, a kind of off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors, and went walking on the high line park and to the Whitney museum), then to Portland, Maine (only for a night– I’d go back for sure), and then to Bar Harbor and Arcadia National Park. It was a really lovely trip. I think I am more fond of the grand “road trip” than Annette is, but she played along. After the cruise (see below), I believe I have two states left on my “having at least passed through” list: Rhode Island (which I figure we can tick off the next time we go out to visit Will) and North Dakota, which might require a more purposeful trip. Among other things this month, watched at least one Vincent Price movie.

August was more travel– and getting ready to teach too. We went to Iowa to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday party, and then (of all things!) we went on a cruise to Alaska. Among the lessons learned from that trip are if you are going to take a cruise for Alaska, you need to go for longer than just the 5 nights we went. Highlights include actually touching ground in Ketchikan, Alaska (briefly) and a stop in the delightful town of Victoria, British Columbia. Then back here and getting ready for teaching again– for the first time in eight months.

September and EMU started up again– at least for about a week. Then the faculty went on strike, which was the first time that’d happened around here since 2006. I blogged about some of this back here. It was interesting being one of the old hands around here this time around. I got here in 1998, and by 2006, I think we had been on strike or close to it twice before, and the 2006 strike was “the big one.” So 16 years between strikes was a long time. It was disruptive and chaotic and frustrating, but also necessary and probably the most justifiable strike I’ve experienced, and we did end up getting a better deal than we would have otherwise. Oh, and I need to note this here (since I will someday look back at this post and go “oh yeah, that’s right!”): One of the things that really seemed to make the administration want to settle things up is that Michael Tew, who was a vice provost and one of the four or five people who run stuff at EMU, was busted for masturbating while he was driving around naked in Dearborn with all of the doors and the roof off of his Jeep. Classy. Anyway, there was teaching on either side of the few days we had off on striking, and it was kind of a rough start of the term for me. I have said and written this elsewhere: it was like getting back on a bike after having not ridden one in a long time in that I remembered how to do it, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go too fast or to turn too quickly or whatever. My students in my f2f class (first year writing) seemed to feel mostly the same way. Among other things, we watched Shakes the Clown.

A word about Covid here: by the end of the first month or so of the semester, and after a summer of travel that included a LOT of potentially infectious places like crowded museums, restaurants, planes, trains, and a cruise ship, and I still haven’t had Covid– or if I have had it, I never knew it (and that’s perhaps most likely). I’m not saying it is “over” or it’s nothing at all to worry about, and I’m fully vaxxed up (and I got a flu shot too). But for the most part, it feels like Covid is mostly over.

October was more work stuff with a trip up north in the middle of the month. It was both nice and not: “nice” because it’s always good to get-away, we caught up with friends who live up there, saw some pretty leaves, had a Chubby Mary, etc., but “not” because the hot tub at the place we rented didn’t work (and look, that was the point of renting that place) and it was cold and rainy and even snowy. And as is so often the case in Michigan, it was stunningly beautiful weather for like 10 days after our trip, both up there and down here.  Also in a note of not being over with Covid but just not worrying about it a lot anymore: Halloween was back to full-on trick or treating– no delivery tubes, for example.

November started off with politics, and that turned out great in Michigan, pretty okay everywhere else. Yeah, the Republicans didn’t do as well as they should have, but they still control the House– well, they have more votes. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of “control” in the next year or so. Lots of teaching stuff and work stuff, some pie making, and then to Iowa for the Krause Thanksgiving-Christmas get-together.

December and things got a little more interesting around here. I blogged some about ChatGPT and having my students in a class use GPT-3 for an assignment. That post got a lot of hits. If I wasn’t already kind of committed to working on the transcripts of the interviews of people teaching online during Covid, I might very well spend some time and effort on researching this stuff. It’s quite interesting, and given the completely unnecessary and goofy level of freak-out I’ve seen on social media about, it’s also necessary work. Oh, and that Computers and Composition Online article finally came out. I’ll have to read some of the other articles in this issue, too. Then the semester was over and it was time for a trip to the in-laws, who moved into a smaller place. So new adventures for them, and for us too: we stayed at a pretty nice airbnb, actually rented a car, explored new restaurants and dressy dining rooms. And still a fair amount of damage from Ian.

Well, that’s it– at least the stuff I’m willing to write down here.

Higher Education Didn’t Cause the Rise of MAGA Conservatism and It is a Major Part of the Only Possible Solution

As a college professor who also follows politics fairly closely, I’ve been noticing a lot of commentaries about how universities are making the political divide in America worse. I think that’s ridiculous (and the tl;dr version of this post is college educated people are leaving the Republican party not because college “makes” people into Democrats, but because the party has gone crazy). I guess these ideas have been in the air for a couple years now, though it’s gotten a bit more intense lately.

The version of this most in my mind now is Will Bunch’s After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics—and How to Fix It, which I finished listening to a couple ago. There’s a lot to unpack in that book about things he got right and wrong (IMO), and I completely agree with this review in The New York Times. But in broad terms, Bunch argues higher education is the primary cause of political division and the rise of “MAGA” conservatism in the United States. Universities perpetuate a rigged meritocracy, they’ve grown increasingly liberal (I guess), and they have become horrifically expensive, all of which puts college out of reach for a lot of the same working class/working poor people who show up at Trump rallies.

This kind of thing seems to be in the air nowadays. For example, there’s this recent article from New York magazine, “How the Diploma Divide Is Remaking American Politics” by Eric Levitz. There’s no question that there have been shifts in how education aligns with political parties. Levitz notes that Kennedy lost the college-educated vote by a two-to-one margin, while Biden lost the non-college-educated vote by a two-to one margin. Levitz goes on to argue, with fairly convincing evidence, that higher education as an experience does tend to present people with similar ideas and concepts about things like science, art, ethics, and the like, and those tend to be the ideas and concepts embraced by people who identify as Democrats.

Or at least identify more as Democrats now– because as both Bunch and Levitz point out, college graduates were about equally split between the two parties until about 2004. In fact, as this 2015 article from the Pew Research Center discusses, more college graduates identified as Republicans between 1992 (where the data in that article begins) and 2004. And I’m old enough to vividly remember the presidential campaign between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000 and how one of the common complaints among undecided voters was Bush and Gore held the same positions on most of the major issues. How times have changed.

Anyway, U.S. universities did not tell state legislatures and voters during the Regan administration to cut funding to what once were public universities; politicians and voters did that. Higher education did not tell corporate America that a bachelors degree should be the required credential to apply for an entry-level white collar position, even when there seems little need for that kind of credential. That standard was put in place by corporate America itself, and corporate America is lead by the same people who said we shouldn’t support higher education with taxes. In other words, the systematic defunding of public higher education has been a double-whammy on poor people. The costs of college are putting it financially out of the reach of the kinds of students who could most benefit from a degree, and at the same time, it makes it easier for parents with plenty of money to send their kids (even the ones who did poorly in high school) to college so they can go on to a nice and secure white collar job.

I’m not saying that higher education isn’t a part of the problem. It is, and by definition, granting students credentials perpetuates a division between those who have a degree and those who do not. Universities have nothing to do with company polices that require salaried employees to have a bachelors degree in something, but universities are also very happy to admit all those students who have been told their entire lives that this is the only option they have.

But the main cause of the political division in this country? I’m not even sure if it’s in the top five. For starters– and Bunch acknowledges this– the lack of decent health care and insurance are at least as responsible for the divide between Americans as anything happening in higher education. A lot of Americans have student loan debt of course, but even more have crippling medical debt. Plus our still unfair and broken health care system enables/causes political division in “spin-off” ways like deaths and ruined lives from opioids and the Covid pandemic, both of which impact people who lack a college degree and who are poor at a higher rate. Plus the lack of access to both health care and higher education for so many poor people is both a symptom and a result of an even larger cause of political division in the U.S., which is the overall gap between rich and poor.

Then there’s been the changes in manufacturing in the U.S. A lot of good factory jobs that used to employ the people Bunch talks about–including white guys with just a high school diploma who voted for Obama twice and then Trump– moved to China, and/or disappeared because of technical innovations. One particular example from Bunch’s book is of a guy who switched from an Obama voter to a wildly enthusiastic MAGA Trump-type. Bunch wants to talk about how he became disillusioned with a Democratic party catering to educated and elite voters. That’s part of it, sure, but the fact that this guy used to work for a factory that made vinyl records and music CDs probably was a more significant factor in his life. I could go on, but you get the idea.

But again, I think these arguments that higher ed has caused political polarization because there are now more Democrats with college degrees than Republicans are backwards. The reason why there are fewer Republicans with college degrees now than there used to be is because the GOP, which has been moving steadily right since Bush II, has gone completely insane under Trump.

There have been numerous examples of what I’m talking about since around 2015 or so, but we don’t need to look any further than the current events of when I’m writing this post. Paul Pelosi, who is the husband of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, was violently attacked and nearly killed by a man who broke into the Pelosi’s San Francisco home. The intruder, who is clearly deranged in a variety of different ways, appears to have been inspired to commit this attack from a variety of conspiracies popular with the MAGA hardcore, including the idea that the election was fixed and that the leaders in the Democratic party in the US are intimately involved in an international child sex ring.

US Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy condemned the attacks after they happened on Friday, but just a few days later, Republicans started to make false claims about the attack. For example, one theory has it that the guy who attacked Paul Pelosi was actually a male prostitute and it was a deal gone wrong. Others said the story just “didn’t add up,” and used it as an example of how Democrats are soft on crime. Still other Republicans– including GOP candidate for governor in Arizona Kari Lake and current Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin— made jokes about what was a violent assault on the campaign trail. And of course, Trump is fueling these wacko theories as well.

Now, I’m not saying that college graduates are “smarter” than those who don’t have college degrees, and most of us who are college graduates still have a relatively narrow amount of knowledge and expertise. But besides providing expertise that leads to professions– like being an engineer or a chemist of an elementary school teacher or a writer or whatever– higher education also provides students at least some sense of cultural norms (as Levitz argues) about things like “Democracy,” the value of science and expertise, ethics, history, and art, and it equips students with the basic critical thinking skills that allows people to be better able to spot the lies, cons, and deceptions that are at the heart of MAGA conservatism.

So right now, I think people who are registered Republicans (I’m not talking about independents who lean conservative– I’ll come back to that in a moment) basically fall into three categories. There are people who still proudly declare they are Republicans but who are also “never Trumpers,”  though never Trumpers no longer have any candidates representing their views. Then there are those Republicans who actually believe all this stuff, and I think most of these people are white men (and their families) who have a high school degree and who were working some kind of job (a factory making records, driving trucks, mining coal, etc.) that has been “taken away” from them. These people have a lot of anger and Trump taps into all that, stirs it up even more, and he enables the kind of conspiracy thinking and racism that makes people not loyal to the Republican party but loyal to Trump as a charismatic leader. It’s essentially a cult, and the cult leaders are a whole lot more culpable than the followers they brain-washed.

Then there are Republicans who know all the conspiracies about the 2020 election and everything else are just bullshit but they just “go along with it,” maybe because they still agree with most of the conservative policies and/or maybe they’re just too attached to the party leave. But at the same time, it’s hard to know what these people actually believe. Does Trump believe his own bullshit? Hard to say. How about Rudy Giuliani or Lindsey Graham or  Kevin McCarthy? Sometimes, I think they know it’s all a con, and sometimes I don’t.

Either way, that’s why college grads aren’t joining the Republican party– and actually, why membership in the Republican party as a whole has gone down, even among people without a college degree. It certainly isn’t because people like me, Democrat-voting college professors, have “indoctrinated” college students or something. Hell, as many academic-types have said long before me, I can’t even get my students to routinely read the syllabus and complete assignments correctly; you think that I have the power to convince them that the Democrats are always right? I wish!

In other words, these would-be Republicans are not becoming Democrats; rather, they are contributing the growing number of independent voters, though ones who tend to vote for Republican candidates. I’ve seen this shift in my extended family as my once Republican in-laws and such talk about how they are no longer in the party. My more conservative relatives didn’t vote for Trump in 2020 and probably won’t in 2024 either, but that doesn’t mean they are going to vote for Biden.

One last thing: I’m not going to pretend to have the answer for how we get out of the political polarization that’s going on in this country, and I have no idea how we can possibly “un-brainwash” the hardcore MAGA and Qanon-types. I think these people are a lost cause, and I don’t think any of this division is going away as long as Trump is a factor. But there is no way we are ever going to get back to something that seems like “normal” without more education, and part of that means college.

Country White Bread Made with Poolish

The other day, I baked some bread that turned out exceptionally well and I posted a couple of pictures on Instagram (and that also showed up on Facebook):

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Steve Krause (@stevendkrause)

My friend Lisa asked about a recipe, and since I haven’t written/blogged about anything like that for a while, I thought I would procrastinate a bit (okay, procrastinate a lot) and write this.

Back in 2017, I wrote in some detail about my bread making ways as directed/guided by Ken Forkish’s excellent book Flour Water Salt Yeast. Sure, I have read other things about baking bread and have followed other recipes, but this is what I always go back to. It’s an extraordinarily detailed and well-written book, and considering the fact that the recipes in this book are all just variations of the same ingredients (thus the title) with slightly different techniques, I think that’s quite the accomplishment. And apparently, he has a new book coming out too.

I had been making mostly natural levain (aka sourdough) breads the last two or three years, but besides taking a few days to revive the starter and proofing, my results lately have been inconsistent and not great. Maybe I need to make some new starter. So I went back to Forkish’s book and gave the poolish recipe another try.

First things first (and this is stuff I kind of cover in the post from a few years ago):

  • This recipe makes two French “boule” style loaves of bread: round, ball-shaped loaves that are very crusty and the sort of thing that’s great for hearty sandwiches, toast, or just eating by the slice when it’s still warm. It’s not like baguette (though you can use this dough to make baguette, but that’s a different thing),and definitely not like soft sliced grocery story bread.
  • This isn’t rocket science, and if you follow the recipe closely, it will probably turn out well even if you don’t do a lot of baking. There are a lot of details here both because I had a lot of procrastinating to do, and also because I wanted to describe the steps in as much detail as possible. That said, this does take a bit of practice and your results might not be that great right out of the gate. Just keep trying.
  • The measurements matter, both in terms of ingredients but also in terms of temperatures and time. I can never get it perfect (the original recipe calls for .4 grams of yeast for the poolish, for example), but you want to get as close as you can and actually measure things. And as a tangent: that’s basically the difference between “cooking” and “baking,” as far as I can tell.
  • This does require some special equipment.
    • At a minimum, you need a kitchen scale and at least one four or five quart cast iron Dutch oven that can go into the oven at 475 degrees– so not one with a plastic knob on the top. I think the kitchen scale I’ve got cost me $10 or $20 and I use it all the time, so a very worthwhile investment. I have a fancy enameled Dutch oven I use for stews and soups and stuff, but for baking bread, I use the much less expensive, cast iron models you can get for around $50 at a hardware store (and those work just as well for stews and soups and stuff as well). Everyone who cooks regularly should have both of these things anyway. I bake bread at least once a month (and usually more), so I have two of the cast iron Dutch ovens– and as you will see with the steps below, if you bake a lot, using two instead of just one Dutch oven helps speed things up A LOT.
    • It’s helpful to have a couple of large food storage containers, too; here’s a link to what I’ve got on amazon, though I bought mine at the local Gordon Food Service store. You can just use a couple of really big bowls and some plastic wrap to cover them, but besides being  great for baking, these containers are also useful for things like brining a chicken or a turkey.
    • While not essential (and probably not something you want to spend the money on unless you want to regularly bake bread like this), a couple of wicker proofing baskets. Besides helping to create the cool texture of the finished bread, they also allow the dough to proof properly– and it’s what professional bakers use. Here’s a link to the kind of ones I have (also on amazon); I’d recommend just getting the baskets and none of the other baking doodads like a “lame” (which a French knife used to score the bread– I just use a razor blade or a sharp knife) or weird pattern molds or anything else.
    • Finally (and also all stuff in the category of you probably already have these things if you cook at all regularly), a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients (or large food storage containers), two medium-sized bowls lined with clean tea towels for proofing each loaf (or the proofing baskets), a dough knife/board scraper, a razor blade or very sharp knife, an instant read thermometer to measure the water temperature and some very heavy-duty oven mitt or grill gloves (which is what I use) to handle the smoking hot Dutch ovens, and a cooling rack for the finished bread. Oh, also: two plastic shopping bags, or a couple of small plastic garbage bags.

Okay, with all that out of the way:

Ingredients:

For the poolish:

  • 450 grams white flour
  • 50 grams whole wheat flour
  • 1/8th teaspoon of instant dried yeast
  • 500 grams of water (a bit warm, at about 80 degrees or so)

For the final dough:

  • 450 grams white flour
  • 50 grams wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon of instant dried yeast
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
  • 250 grams of water (quite warm, at about 105 degrees)

Steps:

  • You want to start with high quality flour. My go-to is King Arthur, though I also sometimes splurge on some kind of artisanal, stone-ground, small batch flours once in a while too. You can also make this with all white flour or try adding more wheat or maybe a little rye flour, but be careful about using too high of a ratio of not white flour because it can throw things off in terms of amount of water, yeast, time, etc.
  • At about 6 pm and the evening before you plan to finish and bake the bread, make the poolish. In a 6 quart tub (or a very large bowl), whisk together the flours and the yeast, and then mix in 500 grams (by weight, though volume is the same) of somewhat warm (80 degrees) water. Mix thoroughly so there are no pockets of dry flour left at all. Snap on the lid or cover snuggly in plastic wrap, and leave it out on the kitchen counter overnight.
  • At about 8 am the next morning, start to make the final dough. You have a little bit of “wiggle room” on when to start this step– a bit earlier, a bit later, etc.– but you don’t want to start much earlier than 12 hours after you started making the poolish, and not much later than about 14 hours.
  • In another larger bowl (or a 12 quart tub), whisk together the final dough flour, yeast, and salt until well-combined.
  • Measure out 250 grams of very warm/bordering on hot water, around 105 degrees. Uncover your poolish, which by now should be quite bubbly and tripled in size. Carefully pour the water around the edges of the poolish to loosen it from the container, and then poor the whole thing into the larger container where you mixed the other dry ingredients.
  • Mix this dough thoroughly. Now, Forkish goes into surprising detail about “the best” method for doing this by hand with large pinching motions, but I honestly don’t usually want to get my hands that goopy with the dough. So I just use a big metal spoon I like that keeps my hands a bit cleaner and that gets at all the dry flour bits out of the corner of the container. Mix this so there are no dry parts left and cover it back up.
  • This first proofing/resting lasts about 2 hours, though you do need to fold the dough at least twice. Again, Forkish goes into a lot of detail about what “folding” means, but what I do is lightly flour my hands and then scoop underneath the dough, folding it back over onto itself. I go all around the tub so that I’m folding/turning over the whole mess of dough so what was on the bottom is on the top. I try to do this the first time after it’s proofing/resting for about 30-45 minutes and then the second time about another 45 minutes later. After 2 or 3 hours, the dough should be more than doubled in size.
  • Next, it’s time to make the loaves. You’ll want to start this at about 10 or 10:30 am; again, there’s some wiggle room here, but it should be ready in about 2 hours and you don’t want to wait longer than 3 hours. You’ll need about 2 feet of cleared off and squeaky-clean counter space to deal with the dough; once you have that, spread a light dusting of flour onto the counter. If you don’t have wicker bread baskets, you’ll need two bowls that are each about 8 or 9 inches wide and a couple of clean tea towels. Set up your bowls/baskets first by liberally flouring the inside of them. This helps the dough to not stick, and it also gives that cool color/texture to the finished bread. Set the bowls/baskets nearby.
  • Take the lid off of the now proofed dough, flour your hands, and dump the dough out of the container and on to the floured work surface. You don’t want to add too much more flour to the dough, but you also don’t want to make it into loaves while it’s sticky. So what I tend to do is flatten the dough out into roughly a rectangle shape, add a little more flour to the top of the dough, flip it all over, and flatten it out again. You don’t really have to knead the dough much, but you do want to work it so you squeeze out some of the bigger air bubbles that will have developed.
  • Using a dough knife/bench scraper, divide the flattened out dough in half. You don’t need to obsess over it or anything, but you want to shoot for more or less equal halves. Bring the corners of each half of dough up together and form the dough into a tight ball and smooth ball. Put the rougher side/seam side of the ball in the bottom of the basket/bowl.
  • Put each basket/bowl inside a large plastic bag, making sure that the opening of the bag is bunched up/closed at the bottom. The best thing for this are the sort of plastic shopping bags you get from the drugstore or grocery store, though a (obviously clean and never used) small garbage bag works as well. These loaves will be ready for baking in about an hour.
  • Right after you bag up your bread for the final proof, put your Dutch oven(s) on the middle rack of the oven and pre-heat it to 475 degrees. You want to have the lids on too because you are preheating both the larger oven and the smaller, baking Dutch oven(s).
  • If you only have one Dutch oven, you’ll have to bake in stages. So after about 40 minutes of the oven pre-heating and the loaves sitting out on the counter for their final rise, put one of your proofing loaves into the refrigerator, still contained in that plastic bag. You’ll take it out of the fridge again after the first loaf bakes. Of course, if you have two Dutch ovens, you can bake both loaves at the same time.
  • Either way, about an hour to 90 minutes after you divided the bread up into two loaves and after the oven has been preheating with one or two Dutch ovens for at least 30 minutes and after it is indeed at 475, you’re ready to bake. This step moves kind of quickly and can be a little nerve-racking because the dough can be a little tricky to handle, and of course, the pots you’re going to cook this in are dangerously hot. But here’s what I do:
    • Put on this grill gloves or heavy-duty oven mitts, take the Dutch Oven(s) out of the oven, place them on top of the stove, and remove the lids. Take off the grill gloves.
    • Turning to the bread, take them out of their plastic bags and carefully invert the dough on to the floured counter. Using either a single razor blade or a very sharp knife, make a few scoring cuts on the top of the loaf. You can get super fancy with this or you can skip this step entirely, but I like to make two or three gashes in the top because it helps release some steam and it looks cool at the end.
    • With floured and otherwise bare hands, carefully scoop under the dough to pick up the entire loaf and then gently lower it into the waiting and ripping hot Dutch oven. Now, three important things to note. First, the dough at this point can be kind of tricky to pick up; it’s sort of like handling a half-pound blob of jello, so you kind of have to get your fingers under the loaf and cup it with your hands. Second, that pot is super-duper hot so be careful to lower the dough into the pot while not touching the pot with your bare hands! Third, don’t worry too much if the dough ends up being kind of uneven or whatever when you put it into the Dutch oven(s) because as long as it is proofed properly, it will still bake fine.
    • Put those grill gloves or oven mitts back on, put on the lid(s), and put the Dutch oven(s) back into the oven at 475. Don’t peek! Keeping the Dutch oven(s) closed for this first 30 minutes is key to a crunchy crust, and also it is what enables the “oven spring” that will cause the bread to rise and round-out further, and, unless you really fumble getting the bread into the Dutch oven(s) (it happens), this is also what will “round out” (so to speak) the shape of your loaf.
  • Bake for 30 minutes– again, no looking and no opening the oven, either.
  • After 30 minutes, get out those grill gloves/oven mitts again, open the oven, take off the lids and briefly admire your now lovely but not quite browned bread, and close up the oven again. Set up a cooling rack on the counter.
  • Reduce the heat to 450 and continue baking for about 30 more minutes without the lids, checking it again after about 20 minutes to make sure it’s not getting too dark on top. How dark (burnt?) is too dark/too much is probably a matter of personal tastes, but I’d encourage you to let it get really dark brown even to the point of a few burnt-looking spots for the best crusty flavor. If it looks like it is getting just too dark too quickly, you can always turn the oven off and let the bread continue to bake, or, after about 20 minutes, take the Dutch oven(s) out of the oven and leave it on top of the stove to bake through for another 10 minutes.
  • For one last time, put on those grill gloves/oven mitts and tip your now complete bread onto the cooling rack. The best (and most satisfying) sign that you have succeeded in making a lovely and crusty bread is the cracking sound it makes as cools.
  • Leave the bread alone at least an hour before you cut into it! This is a “discussion” I have with my wife all the time who always wants to cut immediately into the steaming hot bread. I understand that, but the bread is still basically baking as it cools, and if you cut into it too early and while it’s still really hot, you’ll release a ton of heat and steam and the inside of the bread (the “crumb”) will be more sticky than ideal. It’s hard to resist, but it’s worth it.

 

2021 was, I don’t know, what?

I mean, what just happened? Was it better than 2020? Worse? Absolutely no different to the point where we might as well group 2020 and 2021 into one Covid memory?

Hard to say.

I was feeling hopeful and optimistic around New Year’s and with last year’s wrap up/reflection post because a vaccine was on the way. Biden won and Trump lost. Then there was January 6, which at the time seemed like a dangerous bunch of idiots and confused Qanon supporters, but as the year went on and Congress and the media investigated, the insurrection seems to have been a lot more than that. 100 years from now, will people remember this time for this kind of nonsense and Trump or the plague of Covid? Both? Neither?

In late January/early February, my former EMU colleague and friend Clayton Eshleman died– I blogged about it here. He was 85, had been in ill-health, and I hadn’t been getting together with him for lunch for a while. It was still sad to see him go.

But things started getting better in March. Biden was still popular, Covid numbers were down, vaccines were starting roll out. We took a few days to go down to Hocking Hills in Ohio and hung out at a cool airbnb and hiked around a very icy Old Man’s Cave with our friend Michelle.  And then the light at the end of the tunnel: on March 17, Annette and I both got our first doses of the vaccine (Pfizer, it turned out). It was not easy to do. I searched for appointments for us for about a week and finally found a couple at a pharmacy in Coldwater, which is a little town in the very red south central part of Michigan about 90 miles away. I swear every other person there to get the shot was also from around Ann Arbor. We followed that up with shot number 2 in early April, and back then, Annette and I thought of ourselves as “cured” or at least now able to get back to our lives.

We started going back to the gym again (which is still requiring masks), and after the winter semester wrapped up, we were rarin’ to go. I took a long weekend roadtrip out to Iowa to see my parents who I hadn’t seen in person since Christmas 2019. We went to fucking Las Vegas in May— and saying that now after everything that’s happened with Covid since then seems absolutely crazy, but back then, we thought the vaccine would protect us from everything and we were just getting a bit of a head start on what was going to be a great summer.

Then, summer. I’m not going to go into it and it wasn’t all Covid, but stuff got dark. But it did get better. We returned to the same cottage we had near Glen Arbor in 2020, ate some fancy food, saw some nature, hung around the cottage in lovely weather. Before and after that, there was golf for me and kayaking for Annette, and before too long, another semester at EMU. And then August came and after a family trip to see folks in Iowa, it was time for another school year.

As I wrote about here, my mindset coming into this school year was different (and perhaps not great) because of a lot of the unpleasantness in the previous term and because EMU had a buyout offer which I could have taken. It was the first time in my career where I really thought about retirement– not that seriously because there’s no way I could afford it, but not completely unseriously either. After all, I did have at least one colleague younger than me who took this deal (and good riddance to that person as well), and a friend just a bit younger than me left his job for good too. Maybe it’s all connected to the great resignation, I don’t know.

You’d think after the 2020-21 school year that things would have been better in fall 2021– at least students would be used to the online format of most classes by now. But in a lot of ways, it was quite a bit worse. Some of that is what I’d describe as “the luck of the draw” in terms of the individual students I had, though most of it was just everything that was lingering on, including higher Covid numbers in Michigan than we’d seen before (and we’re climbing again with Omicron too). Everyone was tired and defeated and at least a little (and sometimes a lot) depressed. So it was rough. I certainly didn’t do my best work, and a lot of my students crashed and burned all the way to the end.

And yet at the same time, it also got better. I have been reading about Covid every single day for almost 18 months now, and the reality of the situation as far as I can tell– even now with the Omicron variant and the breakthrough infections it has been causing– is serious illness and death from Covid 19 is almost exclusively limited to the unvaccinated and to people with serious pre-existing conditions. So at some point this past fall, I decided that the worry and anxiety about Covid (not to mention not doing anything in public for fear of the virus) caused by all the preventive measures was worse than the possibility of getting the disease. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to get Covid, I always wear a mask in stores or whatever, and I’m still not fully back to doing everything I did in the before-times. I don’t hang around in coffee shops much anymore, for example. But Annette and I got boosted as soon as we could, and with some reasonable precautions, I think we both felt ready to do more things.

So we had friends over around the fire pit, we went back up north to stay at a fancy bed and breakfast, we had a great Halloween. We had the Krause version of Thanksgiving/Christmas in Kansas City, and then the Wannamaker version of Christmas in Naples. And now here we are, at the end of 2021, whatever that was. I have a lot of friends and colleagues who think that all of those outings and roadtrips and airplanes and airports and getting together with folks is just flat-out dangerous. Wait more until it’s safe. But I don’t think covid is ever going to ever completely end, and we’re going to have to start to learn how to live with it.

Last year, I was feeling optimistic because of Biden, the vaccine, and what people were predicting was the beginning of the end of Covid. This year, I’m not going predict much of anything for 2022. Annette is going to be presenting at the MLA convention in Washington, D.C. next week and I’m going along as a tourist. As of today, the conference is still on, I think mainly because it was too late for the organization to cancel (though I don’t rule out some kind last minute change). I was looking forward to a f2f CCCCs in Chicago in March, but that’s been all moved online. I understand that decision, but based on what I read and hear about Omicron, there’s a very real chance that Covid will be a lot more under control by then. Who knows?

There’s only one thing I know about 2022 right now: Annette and I are both are on research fellowships, which means we’ll get a break from teaching until September so we can focus on our scholarship. I’ll be spending my time away from teaching working on the interview and then writing part of the project I started last year, along with other writing, reading, and other stuff away from the office. Crossing my fingers.

Recipe: Spaghetti and Meatballs

Ingredients:

Sauce:

About a tablespoon of minced garlic

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

28 oz (a “big can”) of crushed tomatoes

16 oz (a “small can,” or if you want more sauce, another “big can”) of diced tomatoes

About a good tablespoon worth of your favorite Italian Seasoning

About a teaspoon of grated nutmeg (optional, of course)

Salt and pepper to taste, maybe a 1/2 tsp of each  (go easy on the salt because you’ll be adding the meatballs)

A half cup or so of wine, beef stock, or water (optional)

Meatballs

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1/2 pound ground turkey thigh or ground pork

Between a 1/2 and a full cup of bread crumbs

About a good tablespoon worth of your favorite Italian Seasoning

About a 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese

A handful of finely chopped parsley and/or basil (if you’ve got it)

A teaspoon of grated nutmeg (again, optional)

3 or 4 tablespoons of milk or cream to bind it all together

Salt and pepper to taste, maybe a 1/2 tsp of each (the cheese adds a fair amount of saltiness, so just a bit)

Cooked spaghetti or a similar pasta

This is a meal I make all the time and one where I never have to look up any of the ingredients or steps in the process, so why is it worthy of a recipe? And what if it’s something so common that it’s just another thing “everybody” makes? Who needs a recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or for a hamburger? And since I can look up pretty much any recipe for anything nowadays, why write any of this down? I mean, it’s not like there aren’t already a zillion spaghetti and meatball recipes on the internets. What’s the point of any of this?

Didn’t mean for this to turn dark like that. Anyway…

When my wife wants a comforting and homey dinner, this is it. I make this at least once every two weeks, sometimes more often than that. This recipe with a salad and maybe some garlic toast or whatever can serve four people, though this is what I make for me and Annette, and the leftovers are good for lunch for a couple of days. This is one of those things where you can do from start to finish in about an hour and it’ll be good, but it’ll be better if you let the sauce cook on the back of the stove for closer to two hours. Obviously, there are a million variations.

Instructions:

  • Start the sauce. Put a large sauce pan on a not yet lit stove burner. Add two or three tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of chopped garlic. Turn the burner on to medium, and give it a stir once in a while for three to five minutes. The idea here is to infuse a little garlic-flavor into the oil and what will be the sauce, but without really browning the garlic.
  • When the garlic starts to just barely simmer, add the tomatoes. Purists might say you should only use whole tomatoes canned in Italy or whatever. I do tend to buy not the cheapest canned tomatoes, but I don’t usually have the time or interest to hand crush them. So I tend to use one “big can” of crushed tomatoes, and one “small can” of diced tomatoes. Sometimes I want more sauce and I’ll use two “big cans” of tomatoes.
  • Add the Italian seasoning, nutmeg, and a touch of salt and pepper and bring it up to a simmer. It won’t taste right until it simmers at least 20 or so minutes while you make the meatballs, but do taste it as you go. I also suggest going easy on the salt at the beginning because once it simmers and cooks down for a while and once you get the meatballs and cheese and stuff involved, it’ll get more salty. Simmer that sauce for a minimum of about 45 minutes, and for pretty much as long as you want. You’ll simmer it some more after you add the meatballs.
  • While the sauce simmers, make the meatballs. Dump the ground meats into a large bowl. I always use at least half ground lean beef, and then half of either ground turkey thigh or ground pork. Either way, I do think the different meats do add a flavor you don’t get with just one variety– the same is true with meatloaf. Add the Italian seasoning, a bit of salt and pepper, parmesan cheese, and (if you’re using) fresh chopped parsley and/or basil and grated nutmeg. Then start with about a half cup of breadcrumbs– and either use some you’ve made yourself from leftover bread (and of course you should make your own breadcrumbs with your leftover bread simply by cutting it up in chunks, toasting it a bit, and then running it through the food processor), or just some normal/plain supermarket breadcrumbs. I wouldn’t use panko here–save that for the fried foods. And finally, start with about a quarter cup of milk or cream and mix in more if necessary.
  • With your previously washed and sparkly clean hands (and if you haven’t washed your hands yet in this process, what’s wrong with you?), roll up those sleeves and get mixing until everything is thoroughly combined. If the mixture is too sticky, add some more breadcrumbs– but be careful because no one likes meatballs (or meatloaf or crab cakes either) that have too much breading. I make them a little bigger than a golf ball, and I usually get 13 or 15 meatballs out of this mix. You can make them bigger or smaller of course, and adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  • You could pan-fry them, but I cook my meatballs in the oven because it’s a lot less mess. Put the meatballs on a sheet pan and broil them so they get a little browned on each side– about 3 minutes a side (I flip them over halfway through)– or until they feel like they’re starting to cook through. They don’t have to be done because they will cook in the sauce for a while. If you want, you can deglaze the sheet pan with a little red wine or beef stock and add that to the sauce.
  • Put the meatballs into the sauce and turn it down so it is barely or not quite a simmer. The meatballs should be cooked through in about the amount of time it takes to heat up a big pot of water and to cook the pasta, but I like to let the meatballs slow simmer in the sauce for 30 or 40 minutes.
  • Cook the pasta according to the directions. I of course like spaghetti with my meatballs, but any pasta will do. Put the pasta into bowls, top the pasta with sauce and the desired number of meatballs (usually 3 or 4), and grate on lots and lots of good parmesan cheese.

 

 

Clayton Eshleman, 1935-2021

My friend Clayton Eshleman died last week. He was 85 and I knew he had been in declining health for some time.

Clayton was an enormously successful and prolific poet, translator, writer, editor, and most of that is captured on the Wikipedia page about him. He published hundreds of chapbooks and books of his own poetry, a couple dozen translations, a couple more dozen books of prose and other writings, the best of which (IMO) is probably Juniper Fuseand lots of collections and anthologies of previously published works. He won a ton of prizes and recognitions, he and his wife Caryl were editors of a couple of important literary magazines, Caterpillar  and then Sulphur, he published other peoples’ books and chapbooks in different venues, and people have written books about him too. Like I said, that’s all there on Wikipedia.

We were only kind of colleagues because I started at EMU in 1998 and he retired from EMU in 2003, and while I do have an MFA in Fiction Writing, my PhD and work at EMU has been in composition and rhetoric. So our paths really didn’t cross much professionally. I did know he was a “presence” in the department, so to speak, the kind of senior colleague/older professor/important writer who was quite capable of striking fear in students and younger faculty– probably a few older faculty too. He was challenging, difficult, practiced radical honesty far too often, etc. But I really have no memories of him in any sort of committees or other work things at EMU.

Mostly, our relationship was about food, wine, and web sites.

As far as I can tell from looking at some old journals/calendars of mine, the first time I interacted or talked with Clayton in any detail was at the 2001 department Christmas party, and I am sure we mainly talked about cooking. Somehow, he floated the idea that we should have a dinner party where I bring a dish or two and he makes a dish or two. I thought he was just trying to be nice after we’d each had a few glasses of wine, but several months later in spring 2002, that’s what we did at Clayton and Caryl’s house. I want to say it was close to twenty people over there total.

For many years after that, Annette and I would get together with Clayton and Caryl for dinner, usually a couple of times a year, usually at their house. Looking back at it now, I realize that while I was back then already a pretty decent cook, Clayton and Caryl introduced both Annette and me to a different level of sophistication with food. The meals he served weren’t showy or gimmicks of any sort– just really good and classic food, usually with a turn toward the French. He had a fantastic dish of rabbit stuffed with prunes. I think the first time I had duck confit ever was at Clayton’s house.

On the one hand, because Annette and I are so much younger than them (Clayton was five years older than my father), a lot of these affairs felt stiff and formal. If the evening’s events were to begin at say 6:30 pm, you were there at 6:30 pm– and whenever we had a party and invited them, they were always the first to arrive. The Eshleman’s house was an eclectic and eccentric space, and I often felt like a little kid just staring at all the stuff: all the paintings from notable artists they actually knew, an enormous wall of books in a case that filled half the living room, some preposterously giant decorative wine glasses on top of the sideboard in the dining room, an inflatable pterodactyl hanging from the ceiling. They had a teeny-tiny powder room tucked under the stairs, the kind of space where it took some careful maneuvering to use the toilet. The walls were completely covered with decades worth of snapshots of Clayton, Caryl, and all sorts of various friends usually sitting at large tables covered with empty bottles of wine: pictures from France, from New York, from trips to the caves he wrote about in Juniper Fuse and where he used to lead tours of classes studying the ice age paintings. So these dinners were often strange and intimidating affairs.

But mostly these dinners were fun and we kept going back because Clayton and Caryl both had such fantastic stories of decades of life as wholly committed to art and poetry and writing. I think my favorite Clayton story was the one he told about essentially stalking Allen Ginseberg in the early 1960s (or possibly late 1950s) in New York City. I never quite understood how that happened– did he just look him up in the phonebook?– but Clayton said he found him and he knocked on Ginsberg’s door and asked him to tell Clayton about poetry. Ginsberg said he would if Clayton bought him a hamburger, and so they had hamburgers and talked about poetry.

When Juniper Fuse was published in 2003, I volunteered to set up a web site for him. I did it as a friend, but also for some additional experience in making web sites– I teach this stuff so I need to stay up with the technology. Clayton did “pay me” in a matter with bottles of very good wine I would have never bought for myself and by taking me out to lunch once in a while. We went different places over the years, but we tended to always circle back to a Mexican place in Ypsilanti near campus, La Fiesta. The food was pretty good (it frankly isn’t as good as it used to be, unfortunately), but I think he liked it most because the owner would always dote on Clayton when he came in. We gossiped about EMU academic politics, about whatever events, and about the web site and what new things he wanted to put on it– new books, new chapbooks, another interview someplace, a series of readings in New York or wherever. One of the really extraordinary things about Clayton’s productivity as a writer is it actually increased after he retired; I think he wrote something like another 20 books in his last 20 years.

Annette and I did go out to some restaurants with Clayton and Caryl, but it was very tricky to find a place in Ann Arbor that satisfied them. Some of Clayton’s favorite restaurants didn’t strike me as very good– there was a Chinese place he was fond of in Ann Arbor I remember as mediocre, and it closed down years ago now. The last place I remember going with them that they liked a great deal was Mani Osteria, which is probably my favorite place still open in Ann Arbor. But even though he was a harsh critic and demanding customer, most of his restaurant recommendations were correct. On one trip through Chicago, we had a splurge of a meal at Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo which Clayton had recommended– he liked going to it when he had a visiting teaching gig in Chicago. Still haven’t made it to The French Laundry, but I learned from him about Thomas Keller’s cookbooks and his other more affordable restaurants like Bouchon. When Annette and Will and I went to Paris for about 10 days for a sort of working vacation, Clayton suggested some reasonably priced but more upscale bistro kinds of places that were fantastic.

In the last five or six years, we saw each other less frequently. I think Clayton’s energy and enthusiasm for making elaborate meals had understandably declined as he got into his eighties. As I got better as a cook, I would sometimes bring him some of the molé I had been trying to make (based on a Rick Bayless recipe), and he always seemed happy for those gifts. We talked less about what to put on the web site because Clayton wasn’t writing as much or giving as many readings as he had a few years before, but he still had good stories up until the last time I had lunch with him, which I think was about a year and a half ago.

So rest in peace, Clayton. You were a difficult, interesting, sometimes angry, eccentric, brilliant, and often a surprisingly kind friend.

What didn’t suck about 2020?

I usually write a post at the end of the year to kind of sum up highlights of the previous year (particularly highlights from blogging and social media posts), mostly as a reminder to myself of how things went. You know, like all these “the year that was” articles in MSM. And I had started here recapping all the ways that Covid disrupted everything and how it all sucked and all of that, and then I thought: who needs more of that? I am quite sure I’ll remember all the ways that 2020 was a disaster for the planet and for the country for the rest of my life, and I’m also sure I’ll get the chance to re-remember in movies and books and television shows for some time to come. I’m quite sure I’ll remember the ways 2020 hurt me and my family personally, and those are things I’d rather not go into in a blog post. Not now anyway.

So instead, I thought I’d take a bit of time to write about/meditate about what didn’t suck about 2020, about what I still managed to do that was good, about what I learned about myself. Part exercise in living in the moment/mindfulness (which I think is mostly a bullshit way of looking at the world, but I’ll play along), part needing to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Here it goes (in the order it occurred to me):

I’m grateful I didn’t have any close friends or family members who became seriously ill or worse from Covid (knocking on wooden things). Annette and I both thought we might have had it several different times (who hasn’t wondered if that cold or cough was something worse?) and we’ve been tested a couple of times as well, but so far, so good. Same with Will, though he gets tested about weekly because of the stuff he’s doing at Yale. I have some more extended family members and friends who have had it, some with barely any symptoms and others who felt it like a hard flu. Given some of the terrible stories I’ve heard from some of my students, I am grateful and feel lucky about this.

I’m happy my day-to-day life and work carried on mostly the same. Don’t get me wrong– this has all been much different and it’s hard. I have been in my EMU office three times since mid-March. I haven’t been to a restaurant at all since things locked down– not even outdoor dining– and I have been to a coffee shop/beer garden kind of place exactly once when I met Derek for a beer at Cultivate Coffee and Tap House and then we sat a picnic table distance apart in the outside area on a lovely day back in September. I used to go to the gym at least four days a week and then often went shopping for whatever I was planning on cooking for that night, and I haven’t done any of that since mid-March. No movies, no shows, no museums, none of that. I go to the grocery store or places like Meijer about twice a week, and I make a point of trying to get outside to walk around a bit. That’s about it.

But the thing is I was already mostly working from home and mostly teaching online before Covid. Ironically, I spent a lot of January trying to make more use of my EMU office, which has kind of been a failed New Year’s resolution for a few years now. The short version: I keep thinking I need to draw a firmer line between my “life” and my “work,” this despite the fact that I’ve spent the last 30 years working from home and coffee shops with few boundaries (physical, intellectual, emotional, etc.) between life and work. Plus I have a very nice office that seems wasted with me not using it for much of anything beyond office hours and storing junk. So once again in January, I was trying to work more from my office, and once again, I had given up on working more at EMU by mid February. All of which is a long way of saying shifting to working at home and teaching online wasn’t exactly a big lift for me.

And of course, let’s not forget the basics: Annette, Will, and I all still have jobs, insurance, money in the bank, etc. Speaking of which:

Annette, Will, and I all are very lucky to be able to comfortably shelter in place/just stay home. Will started his PhD program in Cellular Molecular Biology at Yale in Fall 2019 and he had (continues to have) a nice (albeit student-y nice) apartment in New Haven, and since his work mostly shifted to working on qualifying exam/pre-dissertation portion of things, he was fine. With Will out of our modest three bedroom house (and this has been the case since he was living on campus at Michigan), there is plenty of room for Annette to do her thing in her work space/library downstairs and me to do mine in my hard to beat office/study/man cave area upstairs. Which is to say we just had each other, mostly: no pets, no really little kids, no school-aged kids, or none of the other things (many much worse than this of course) that made staying close to home challenging. Sure, having more people around means, well, having more people around, so there’s an advantage there. But let’s just say I think that having all three of us here would have made for a very difficult year.

Despite it all, we did get to travel a bit. We mostly got our travel jollies out in 2019 with trips that took us to three different continents (not counting North America), and we did have a couple trips we were going to go on in 2020 canceled. But we weren’t completely at home in 2020. We went to Las Vegas at the end of February, one of the nicest trips we’ve taken there. We had a room that was basically free at the Wynn (long story), saw some shows, did some gambling, stumbled across a Banksy exhibit in a shopping mall, and went to Red Rocks. Covid was just starting to leak into everything, though we didn’t think a lot about it then. I do remember seeing some people in masks (mostly Asian tourists, so I honestly didn’t think much about it), and I also did make a point of getting up to wash my hands about every hour while playing slots.

In July, we went “up north,” staying at a really cool cabin on Glen Lake– well, not on Glen Lake because that’s pretty much all multimillion dollar homes, but across the road from Old Settlers Park, which meant we kinda/sorta got a lake view. We didn’t get out to any of the fancy restaurants up there (a number of them were closed anyway) and we didn’t get into Traverse City or do a whole lot of shopping, but we did get to do some hiking, we looked at a lot of trees and nature, we got to see some friends who live up there, and we did a lot of relaxing and hanging out.

And then in September, we took a road trip to Maggie Valley, North Carolina to spend a four-day weekend with Annette’s parents– they rented a house there. Frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to making the trip (the driving, during the midst of the school term, an area of the country that isn’t really my cup of tea, etc., etc.), but it was a nice change of scenery, and it’s certainly not a trip I would have been willing to make with the current crazy spikes in Covid.

We watched A LOT of movies, and a lot of kind of weird and/or old ones too. I generally write down the movies we watch (I keep a list as part of my journal), and I think we saw about 170 of them last year. In normal times, we watch a lot of movies, but 170 or so is, well, A LOT. Mind you, that includes multiple viewing of some comforting favorites (The Big Lebowski, Dirty Dancing, A Knight’s Tale, Star Wars), rewatching of a lot of movies we’d seen before, and a few new ones too– got to see Parasite in the theater before Covid and again at home on demand during Covid, too. But it also included a lot of odd/weird/old movies, including True Storiesthe almost 5 hour long Until the End of the World, Killer Klowns from Outer Spacethe Sean Connery sci-fi flick ZardozFoodfight! (which is perhaps the worst animated movie of all time), the fantastic Forbidden Planet, Vincent Price’s Theater of Blood, Eating Raul, the fantastic musical Golddiggers of 1933 and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 silent thriller The Lodger. And more than that too, of course, not to mention a lot of other shows– The Queen’s Gambit, working our way through Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.

Oddly enough, a pretty good year for me in terms of scholarly activity.  For me– which is to say it isn’t a lot compared to really prolific and famous scholars, but it’s plenty for me.

What will probably be my one and only single-authored book (at least in terms of academic writing) More Than A Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs came out in January– actually, it was already available in December 2019, but it has a 2020 copyright date. Kind of a bittersweet moment because I think the book was published too long after MOOCs and of course Covid didn’t help, but still, it’s done. And it did get at least one good review, too.

But beyond that, I once again was reminded that the weird thing about blogging is it is very much like writing the proverbial message in a bottle: every once in a while, someone somewhere picks up that bottle on the beach, reads what’s inside, and reaches out to find the writer. Startled and confused by the number of faculty who have decided to teach online synchronously with Zoom, I wrote a blog post, “‘Synch Video is Bad,’ perhaps a new research project?” Not a lot of people read it, really (I think my most popular post of this past year was “No One Should Fail a Class Because of a Fucking Pandemic”), but the right people read it– namely, someone at Media & Learning, which is a Belgian group promoting “the use of media as a way to enhance innovation and creativity in teaching and learning across all levels of education in Europe.” They invited me to submit a version of my post as a newsletter article, and also invited me to participate in a panel discussion for a conference they had in November (all via Zoom, of course). And this is all motivating me to kick off a new research project about teaching online during the 2020-21 school year– see this post here to see what I mean and maybe take my survey.

So like I said, kind of small potatoes in the general scheme of academia and scholarship, but I don’t often get to add a short publication and an invited presentation to my CV just as a result of a blog post.

And last but not least, Biden won and a cure is coming. Last but far from least, imperfect and incomplete as of this writing for sure because who knows what craziness Trump and the Republicans are going to attempt before January 20, and we’ll likely see another 100,000 or more deaths in this country before the vaccine is widely distributed. But still, it could be much, much worse. Developing a vaccine so quickly was far from a foregone conclusion back in April and May, and if Trump and his administration had done an even half-assed job in dealing with the virus back in the spring, I’m pretty sure he would have won a second term. So yeah, I’m thankful that what is a terrible time now and what will probably be a terrible time for a few more months at least is not being made more terrible by another four years of Trump.

So let’s hope that 2021 continues on that path.

2019 was quite the year around here

I wasn’t going to do the usual “end of the year” blog post this year (kind of clichéd, isn’t it?), plus with Trump and impeachment and guns and climate change and global crisis and with the whole world feeling like it’s on fucking fire most of the time, it doesn’t exactly feel like a time to be celebrating anything– despite the admittedly good points in the big picture of things Nicholas Kristof makes in this column.

But as I was looking over my Instagram account, I was reminded that A LOT of stuff happened for me and the family this year, and most of it was good.

So, more or less in order:

After some of the typical January/February events (our annual Mardi Gras party, for example), Annette and I took our first of what would turn out to be three (well, two and a half) trips to New York and, among other things, I managed to order a cocktail brought to me on fire.

I went to the CCCCs in Pittsburgh in March— probably the most unpleasant version of that conference I’ve ever attended, frankly. My 8 am Friday morning panel– which included the completely pleasant and always interesting Alex Reid— had a total of three people at it: myself, Alex, and an audience of one, though it happened to be the also pleasant and interesting John Gallagher. So we chatted for a while, Alex and I went off to have breakfast together, and after a bit of wondering around the halls, I actually went back to my room, packed my things, and left a night early. I’m going to the CCCCs in Milwaukee this year; I’m definitely not going to the CCCCs in Spokane in 2021; and we’ll see what happens after that.

Probably the biggest bit of family news of the year– at least the first part of the biggest news– is Will graduated from the University of Michigan and various graduation hijinks were had with both sets of grandparents. Originally, Will wanted to just do the small group graduation event for his major, and that was nice in and of itself:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Probably my favorite graduation weekend moment: “oh! William Krau-Z!”

A post shared by Steve Krause (@stevendkrause) on

But in the end we went to the “Big House” commencement too, and I’m glad we did.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Steve Krause (@stevendkrause) on

Oh yeah, then we went to freakin’ China, which I blogged about here. Amazing trip, got a chance to cross some stuff off of my list, and it introduced us to Gate 1 for travel stuff.

After a summer that included many of the usual things (a Krause family get-together in a weirdo house in Wisconsin on the Minnesota border, a quick anniversary trip to Traverse City, front-yard gardening, a little golf, no more summer teaching, etc.), we packed Will up and moved him out to New Haven, Connecticut, which brings me to the second part of the biggest family news of the year: Will began a PhD program at Yale in a version of biology I don’t really understand. Needless to say, we’re incredibly proud of him. We went out to visit him in October– this was the first part of the “half” trip to New York because we flew into LaGuardia and then rented a car to drive to New Haven– and got a chance to tour around campus and the town a bit. My personal favorite highlight was the Cushing Center (aka the brain room).

But I’m getting ahead of myself: after we got Will all moved in, Annette and I went to Sweden, Norway, and Amsterdam (aka continent #2 of the year). I’m not quite sure why I didn’t blog about that trip, but the very short version: Annette had a conference in Stockholm to go to plus Annette and I both were on research fellowships this past fall, which meant neither of us had to spend time in August preparing to teach and our schedules were a lot more flexible, so we decided to make it a longer trip. After Stockholm (I had some solo tourist time there while Annette conferenced), we took a cruise along the Norway coast basically because I had heard or read someplace a long time ago that a cruise is one of the best ways to see it all. And then, because we could, we spent a week in Amsterdam in a lovely apartment at the top of the steepest stairs I have ever seen. We hung out in the apartment and read and wrote, went to lots of art museums, wandered around the groovy streets, ate good food, etc. Here’s a bunch of pictures.

Meanwhile and/or around the same time as all this, we both worked on our research projects (I’ve blogged about mine a fair amount over the year) and I also had the time to review proofs and such for More Than A Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs. I guess that too is an event from 2019 because that’s the copyright date and all, but I basically finished my work on the book back in 2018 and it’s not going to be for sale until 2020 (next week, I think), so it kind of doesn’t feel like 2019 to me. Still, my first and only single-authored book; like I said, a lot of stuff happened around here this year.

And then, after a typical Krause family combined Thanksgiving-Christmas and before a typical Wannamaker family holiday that included a visit to the beach on Christmas day, Annette and I went to Morocco (continent #3 for the year), with a stop before and after in New York. I just blogged about that a couple of weeks ago.

Inevitably, there will be less on 2020– I’m guessing fewer continents. And hopefully less Trump come November or before.