Friday, December 9, 2011

PhD Student

Obviously, this is autobiographic...

PhD Student

As I pick out some thoughts
From the dramatic folds
Of pissed
My text collapses
Into pieces
Of minced

The harvest!
With my pita-scraper!

I moisture it with tears,
And bite
The paper.

December 8, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

George McGovern at TU Dortmund

Something very special happened last Thursday. That something was important to our department of the American Studies. At the moment, our Department (as well as other Humanities Departments at TU Dortmund) is in crisis. I am very concerned about our future at TU Dortmund. There are rumours that our Department will receive less funding, this might jeopardise our existence in this university. But, as I said, these are rumours. I have no evidence to support this information leak. If these "voices from the underground" are based on the facts, consider how important it was having Senator McGovern at TU Dortmund. The event was initiated by my supervisor, Prof. Walter Grünzweig, a talented professor, charismatic American studies scholar, and my forgiving academic "Father", who has a lot of patience reading my stuff.

First of all, a couple of words about McGovern in case the reader of this blog post is not aware about the many deeds of this man. And the narrative about his good deeds as a politician is very long, too long to be covered here. But many people, not only the citizens of the U.S., know McGovern as a former Senator from South Dakota and the Democratic candidate for the Presidential Elections 1972. Some even say, "He is a hero of my lifetime!"

Read more about McGovern's 1972 Presidential Campaign here.

Thanks to the courtesy of my colleague Elena Furlanetto, I have a photograph of me right after asking Mr McGovern a question about his book. To my surprise, the question raised an emotional response. Mr McGovern talked about his latest book, and he reflected on how the idea to write it came to him one day.

I noticed that Mr McGovern carried around a white book with him. He delivered his speech, but never looked up anything in the book, he touched the book several times while reflecting on the crisis of democracy in the U.S.; afterwards, he proceeded to another table where a glass of water was awaiting for him, he sat down, and kept the book right in front of him while answering the questions. I became curious about Mr McGovern's preferences, what books he reads. What is that special book? The Bible?

My question: "Mr McGovern, you brought a book with you onstage. Most of us are students here, and, I am sure, many of us would have liked to know: what are you reading? You are such a busy person, can you afford reading books?"

The answer: "I have read this book very carefully because I wrote it myself."

Laughter in the auditorium.

Mr McGovern wrote and co-authored a number of books:
  • War Against Want: America's Food for Peace Program, Walker & Co., 1964.
  • Agricultural Thought in the Twentieth Century, Bobbs-Merrill, 1966.
  • A Time of War! A Time of Peace, Vintage Books, 1968.
  • Guttridge, Leonard F. The Great Coalfield War, Houghton Mifflin, 1972.
  • Grassroots: The Autobiography of George McGovern, Random House, 1977.
  • Terry: My Daughter's Life-And-Death Struggle With Alcoholism, New York: Villard, 1996.
  • The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time, Simon & Schuster, 2001.
  • The Essential America: Our Founders and the Liberal Tradition, Simon & Schuster, 2004.
  • Social Security and the Golden Age: An Essay on the New American Demographic, Speaker's Corner Books, 2005.
  • Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith, Augsburg Fortress, 2005.
  • Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now, Simon & Schuster, 2006.
  • Donald C. Simmons, Jr. and Daniel Gaken (eds.) Leadership and Service: An Introduction, Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2008.
  • Abraham Lincoln, Times Books, 2008.
McGovern's latest book is titled What It Means to Be a Democrat, it is available for purchase. The product description:

A call to arms by the former presidential candidate that combines personal anecdotes and cultural critiques to remind liberals of their ideological compass and restore confidence.

George McGovern has been a leading figure of the Democratic Party for more than fifty years. From this true liberal comes a thoughtful examination of what being a Democrat really means. McGovern admonishes current Democratic politicians for losing sight of their ideals as they subscribe to an increasingly centrist policy agenda. Applying his wide- ranging knowledge and expertise on issues ranging from military spending to same-sex marriage to educational reform, he stresses the importance of creating policies we can be proud of. Finally, with 2012 looming, McGovern's What It Means to Be a Democrat offers a vision of the Party's future in which ideological coherence and courage rule.

Interesting. Critical. Polarizing. But my question is: why did not he present me with this book? For such a PR effort, you know... Even though it was not intentional...

In his answer to my question, McGovern mentioned his book Terry: My Daughter's Life-And-Death Struggle With Alcoholism, which turned out to be a bestseller:
The former Democratic senator from South Dakota here presents a memorial service for his alcoholic daughter, Terry, who froze to death on the streets of Madison, Wisc., one pre-Christmas night in 1994. (Read the full book review here.)
I do not like politicians talking about their private lives onstage. What for? For compassion? To score some points? But McGovern was very open and calm. He did not dramatize, no tears running down the cheeks. It happened, and he wrote a book about it. And then he wrote other books about other things, most of them were about politics and history. The auditorium was impressed at McGovern's revelations. Not a single chair could be heard squeaking, no cookie crunching while he was talking about his daughter and her death. I think, the student audience adopted McGovern as a sad grandpa, and showed respect.

Unlike in the case of the representative of the Amerika Haus e.V. Nordhein-Westfalen speaking. The speaker said, "Mr McGovern, we were happy having you last night." And some 50 or so German students started giggling. It seems to me that many students in the large auditorium of Audimax were still in their puberty.

Meeting McGovern was a pleasure. It was also an important event for us, the American Studies scholars from Ruhrgebiet. Pr. Grünzweig was in his best mood, his mouth stretched in a wide smile when the audience stood up (!) and loudly applaused McGovern. Overall, the hall hosted more than 700 students, professors, guests... It was impressive.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cold coffee poem.

My beloved and I separate. This is a very sad period of my life because I still love him, but we have to do this to prevent from hurting each other emotionally. This is not a perfect time for writing a thesis chapter, but good enough for something lyrical...

My Love used to bring coffee in bed every morning. Yesterday and today I came home (I was staying at a hotel overnight) and found cold coffee in the kitchen. I thanked Gabor for leaving coffee for me. He replied on Facebook, "Why was it good? you don't like cold coffee..."

This is my reply.

Cold coffee.
of course,
I like my coffee hot.
But cold is what I've got.

Fresh coffee.
warms my lips,
my tongue and---even soul!
But experts drink it cold
for quality control.

the result of degustation
deserves to be on Twitter:
"Whether it's hot or cold---
Coffee is bitter!"

(c) me
Oh man, I cannot believe we are separating. I am deeply in love with him. Still.

Sipping cold coffee.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Warblogs Class Is Over: Here Are Some Great Student Projects

In my last class (last class this year or, maybe, in my life, I don't know), my students and I were reading American warblogs and milblogs. It was an exciting and challenging experience. Exciting because we had great discussions about controvercial topics. Challenging because I had a very diverse group of students: I had a bunch of Americans, a female student who was born in Pakistan, a German student who served in Afghanistan, a student from Poland, and German students who were explicitly liberal and anti-war. I also had several students who complained about my assignments in a disrespectful manner; I have never had such students in my class before. This semester was full of surprises: some of them were negative, but most of them were very-very positive. And as a matter of tradition, I like to write about the student projects, which, in my opinion, were special. (I am still in the process of reading and grading student projects, I will keep updating this blog-post.)

I would like to start with a research paper and presentation by Phil Mack. This is not a very original project in terms of performance/form. There are more interesting ways to interact with a text. Phil wrote a traditional research paper with an intriguing title "Forbidden Words". Phil writes, "For decades two of the greatest world powers reared their heads through military might and yet today only one will readily admit it. Germany and the United States have been two of the world's superpowers, controlling massive market shares in the industrial market and military market places, but today Germans are seemingly ashamed of it." These are the first two sentences from the introduction of Phil's argumentative paper. Phil introduces his research question right away. He asks, "How was it become that one of the most influential states to grace this planet is not able to even look itself in the mirror, and yet the other puts on display what they are and has allowed it to become their national identity?" Phil compares the differences between the anti-war sentiments in the United States and Germany, and comes to a conclusion that "were it not for the fact that Germany did not win WWII and was then partioned, they would be in a similar position with their anti war sentiments as the US today". Considering the class discussions, Phil Mack's paper is a valuable response. Unfortunately, I could not arrange a session with the American soldier in class. But Phil explained how "an average American" can be anti-war, yet supporting the U.S. military; "support the troops not the cause" dilemma. Within the context of this course, Phil Mack's research paper and presentation provided a critical perspective on the contemporary anti-war sentiments in the U.S. and Germany, which was very different from that of the majority students in class. It was noteworthy because Phil presented his controvercial point of view in a very considerate manner. It was a very valuable contribution, Phil. Thanks for that.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

German Students Exploring the Basics of the Muslim Women Fashion

The students who wanted a grade from me had to take an exam this Tuesday. The exam was made up of two parts: test (10 questions) and essay (min. one A4 page, max. three A4 pages of handwriting). The students could earn an extra point for the test. They had to draw women wearing: 1. hijab, 2. niqab, 3. burqa. Most of the students writing the test completed the task successfully. (One must mention, most of the students taking the test could be identified as white Germans). So, here are some great/funny/strange drawings, which I would like to share with you in my blog. :) No names of the students will be revealed---don't even ask me. Enjoy!

These are my favourites. I like the second drawing very-very much. However, the characters in the first drawing "show" emotions. Hence, the first drawing is the Top1 on my list. The second drawing reveals the author's better drawing techniques, though. :)

The drawings below are neat. The characters have smiles on their faces.

The clothes of these Muslim women are darker and have texture.

This Muslim woman does not smile anymore.

An example of a Muslim woman who has "a window to look through"...

And here is an example of a faceless and empty-eyed Muslim woman.

Vampire Muslim woman.

I think, the students wanted to save time and forgot to dress up some of the women. :)


The most abstract woman wearing burqa I have ever seen on paper. XD


I am happy that the majority of students can distinguish hijab from niqab. In my humble opinion, it is not intelligent to call any item on the Muslim woman's head --- burqa. Please, stop doing it!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Student Project "Digital Nomadism: Freedom or Slavery?"

Yesterday evening was remarkable.

The group of students working on the project "Digital Nomadism: Freedom or Slavery?" presented the fruits of their hard work in class, which is part of the Intensiveseminar organized by Amerikanistik for the "creams" of our student body. For four weeks Alina Guender, Benjamin Zich, Kristina Stapels, Marina Piatkov and Martin Graebe have been working on a documentary for the class. The raw three-hour film had to be cut, of course. But I do hope the longer version of the film will be available on YouTube or any other video-sharing social network on the Web.

Martin Graebe started the presentation with a quest for definition: "Who is a digital nomad?". The definition the group provided was as follows:
A digital nomad can either change places or not, s/he has the freedom to decide when and where to work, s/he is place-independent, but always dependent on the digital world.

Basically, from the very beginning the group pointed at the ambivalence of the phenomenon: the construct defined as a digital nomad is a liberated and entrapped individual at the same time. I absolutely agree with this approach to studying digital nomadism.

Alina Guender proposed that digital nomads is a not a homogenious group. The first group of digital nomads adopted a new lifestyle as an inevitable and ESSENTIAL way of doing business. These freelancers and employees do business differently. Benjamin Zich has provided an informative overview about this trend in the contemporary bussiness world. Big companies like BMW, AOL, Silicon Valley, Google, SAP, Deutsche Bank , etc. compete for professional workforce and attract top-specialists by letting them choose where to work. However, this is a pragmatic decision as well: by working at home, companies save money, which could have been spent on a reular office. There were occasions when employees had no other option but working for the company from home. As for the freelancers, from an episode from the film prepared by the students for this presentation, the class could see that these digital nomads come from creative industries: music industry, architecture, design, IT, etc.

Kristina Stapels took over the "invisible mike" :) and provided a very well-structured overview of the "nomadic" trends in education. The second group of digital nomads is a priviledged group of the educated individuals: students and teachers occupy this very vast niche. Kristina raised questions about using the applications useful for students and teachers (the so-called "web 2.0 tools"), and proceeded with a discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of studying on-line. The discussion turned out to be a success: students, course instructors and even the Dean of the Department shared their opinions in class. Some students appeared as very open to the "possible" or "inevitable" change, while others expressed scepticism about "universities going on-line". The discussion raised such issues as generation gap, gender equality and postcolonialism.

Meanwhile the avid users of social networks were put into the third box. The third group of digital nomads is represented by bloggers, on-line gamers, Facebook junkies, etc. This group is far too diverse and could be broken into more groups. Unfortunately, few research in general has been done about these individuals. The group working on the project for this class and I classify these individuals as digital nomads in their heads or, as the students put it, in their minds. These people are not necessarily high-tech overloaded travellers. These digital nomads are carried away by a matter of clicks. And there you go, they travel spaces while sitting on a chair in a bedroom. We insist this is also digital nomadism, but of a different quality. There is no exhaustive study of these journeys so far. There is some metaphysical literature about this, though. My dissertation touches upon this topic. Hopefully, my outstanding students will address this issue in their future projects, research papers, dissertations, etc.

The culmination of the presentation was a summary of the findings to the question whether digital nomadism is a triumph of freedom or just another manifestation of slavery (dramatic binary opposition, isn't it?:). From beginning to end, Alina, Benjamin, Kristina, Marina and Martin tried to show the complexity and ambivalence of the phenomenon of digital nomadism. Flexibility, choice to decide who you work with, how and when, establishment of your own organization, independence from your working place---all of these are advantages of adopting the digital nomadic lifestyle. But what are the costs of this lifestyle?

In the very beginning of the presentation, we encountered technical problems. Once the students figured out the problem, suddenly there was a loud skype call in class! We used a laptop of one of our students. He did not log off from Skype, his mother saw her son was on-line and decided to skype him while he was about to deliver a presentation. The student was embarassed. Though it was not planned, the situation served the purposes of the presentation! :) One of the costs for the digital nomadic lifestyle is that the barriers between your private and academic/work life are blurred (at times, deliberately destroyed). The "liberating" gadgets and applications, at times, turn against us, though we wanted to use them to take control over our lives and freedoms. One of the students listening to the presentation shared her personal story, when her father's company kept calling while the whole family was, actually, on holiday. The company expected him to be avaialable: "Not picking up the mobile phone would appears as unprofessional."

Technologies accelerate our lives, promise faster solutions to the problems standing on our way to "pursuit of happiness". But that also means we burn out physically and mentally much faster. As the students pointed it out, we find ourselves isolated because, for example, the cozy atmosphere of a coffee shop or a long list of Facebook friends do not necessarily make us more sociable and happy. One of the students from the audience said he feels forced to use Facebook. He is clearly aware of the disadvantages and dangers of having a Facebook account; he pays a high price for the sake of staying in touch with his friends.

In class, students complained about addiction to social networking. Some were open about the uselessness of the time spent Facebooking: "I wish I did not waste so much time, and spent it on doing something more useful instead." However, the abstinence from social networking can result in anxiety because the social networking junkie feels s/he is not participating in the social life of her/his friends and will miss important news.

The conclusion of the presentation was constructive. Marina Piatkov introduced the class to a possible solution to the problems occuring as a result of leading digital nomadic lifestyle: "Co-working--a new way to work." Marina explained how co-working spaces like the one in Dortmund brings together digital nomads from creative industries. She showed episodes from the interviews with the satisfied customers, e.g. digital nomads who used these spaces. Basically, these spaces look like normal offices. But you can rent a place at the table, the whole table, a small room, a large room and so on whenever you need it for a day or two, a week and longer. If you are a freelancer without an office and want to meet with your customers, renting a table for one day and meeting customers there would make much sense. Or if you work on a project while being away from your office, which is located in another city, renting a "creative space" could be a much better alternative to working in your hotel room. Co-working space is not an ultimate answer to the problem of leading digital nomadic (business) lifestyle; however, it might be a better and even healthier alternative (digital nomads working in creative spaces are more motivated to clean their teeth and brush their hair, right?).

I want to thank Alina Guender, Benjamin Zich, Kristina Stapels, Marina Piatkov and Martin Graebe for choosing to work on this project (the students taking the Internsiveseminar were asked to choose the instructor to work with and the project to work on in class). You are hard-working and creative, and I learned from you a lot. It was awesome to be a part of your project. I hope, you enjoyed it as well. :)

Friday, April 1, 2011

A New Course About Warblogs and Milblogs

Next semester, I start teaching a course titled "Warblogs: Front-line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan". In my courses, I talked a lot about liberal bloggers. I think, it is time to take a closer look at the blog-posts of the bloggers who supported war, or, actually, reported the war from the battlefields.

In addition, the perspective and approach to the text analysis will be different. In this course, I would like to invite the students to examine the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as examples of the corrosions of the Enlightenment vision, which dominates the U.S. culture and politics, and manifests in the the American ways of leading wars. Each session will be about that kind of Corrosion. For example, the very first session will be Corrosion 1: Reason. The next session will be Corrosion 2: Science. By reading the blogs of the bloggers-"crusaders", we will recognize the grand-narratives of the Enlightenment, and become witnesses of their delusion, and even madness at times.

Course Description:
This course takes a critical approach to reading warblogs and milblogs maintained by the outspoken conservative pro-war U.S. citizens and the U.S. service members deployed in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom). Arguably, these personal narratives are "the first real-time history of war, a history written even as the war continues" (Matthew Currier Burden, Former Major, U.S. Army, 2006). The selections from some of the most popular warblogs and milblogs are available on-line and in print.

Disclaimer: Some course material contains graphic and non-graphic images of both, bloodletting or tissue damage (for example, stories of soldiers in combat, images of torture and prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, etc.), and includes war representations (for example, raw combat footage by American soldiers released on the internet and Hollywood movies about the Operation Iraqi Freedom).

Course Prerequisites:
1. Interest in the topic of the course
2. Fluent English
3. Basic German (one guest-presentation will be in German)
4. Technophilia (enthusiasm for new technologies)
5. Good presentation skills

Method of Instruction

This is a proseminar; it is essential that you take part in the class discussions and other in-class activities. The student who wants to get 1.0 or A is expected to:
1) attend every class (missing two classes is acceptable, though); 2) prepare home assignments for each class; 3) submit MOZes* by the end of each class; 4) participate constructively in the class discussions, 5) deliver an excellent presentation;
6) successfully pass the exam; 7) complete and submit a student project on time.

MOZ*: Moments of Zen. The idea of “moment of Zen” came from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart available at the Comedy Central (go to Yet for the purposes of this class The Daily Show`s concept was transformed. In the end of each class students will be asked to write down (creative/controvercial/insightful/etc.) ideas related to the class reading material and discussion on a sheet of paper. These should be in a form of a hypothesis or research question (max. three). The quality of the MOZes matters. So make sure you take notes effectively during the class. (See the handout “The Cornell Note-taking System” as an example) The ideas should be signed and dated. NOTE: This is an in-class task which is to be completed and submitted in class only.

Required Texts
1. Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence (2003). Captain America and the Crusade against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 392 pp.
2. The Holy Bible: King James Version. Dallas, TX: Brown Books Publishing, 2004.
3. The Qur'an: Translation. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Elmhurst: Tahrike, 2000.

Attendance Policy and Class Participation
COME ON TIME. Class attendance is mandatory.The students are expected to be present in class and prepared to contribute to the discussions in the proseminar. Closer to the end of the class, the attendance sheet will be distributed. The students are expected to put down their names and signatures. Notice: You may not sign the participation list on behalf of your colleague. If you miss more than 2 classes during the semester, every additional absence will lower your grade for the Class Participation by 1,5 points. The maximum number of Class Participation points you can accumulate is 20. (See Grading Policy)

Laptops, Cellphones and Drinks
As this is a class dealing with the new media, LAPTOP USAGE IS PERMITTED. There will be sessions when having a laptop in class will be encouraged. NOTICE: surfing, emailing, instant messaging---all in all, the irrelevant activities of whatever kind---are not permitted. TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE(S) and other gadgets which might distract you and the class.

COFFEE/TEA: I do not mind if you bring your morning coffee/tea and brötchen in class. Just make sure you disturb no one by drinking/eating.

Student Project
The project is an opportunity for students to enhance their understanding of the American cultural narratives, conduct an in-depth study of a topic of particular interest. This is also an opportunity to demonstrate independence and originality, gain extra knowledge and develop research skills. The topic must be related to the content of this course.

The student project will be negotiated between the course instructor and 1) the student (if s/he prefers working individually) or 2) a group of students (if you prefer working in a group). In each case, the student must acknowledge the advantages and disadvantages of the group versus individual decision-making.

Given the time constraints, please, realistically assess the time you will need to complete this project. To ensure your project is successful, keep in touch with the course instructor: inform about the preparation progress and (technical) problems, (optional) show the preliminary version of the student project, attend the office hours (Tues. 10:00-11:00) or make an appointment with the course instructor to discuss the project.

The maximum number of Student Project points you can accumulate is 40. (See Grading Policy)

Student Presentation
Every student attending this course is expected to deliver an effective presentation of a student project. You are required to attend and evaluate every presentation in class. Carefully read the syllabus and the attached handouts. For your convenience, this syllabus includes very helpful handouts.

You are encouraged to consider the tips for making an engaging presentation; please, read: 1) the presentation guidelines handout, 2) the presentation skills self-evaluation form and 3) the presentation skills evaluation form. Note: the group presentation is evaluated on the basis of the general performance of the team.

Group Prsentation
Presentation time: 15 minutes for each group.
Number of presenters: All the group members (maximum 3 students).

Individual Presentation
Presentation time: 10 minutes for each presenter.
Number of presenters: 1 student.

The maximum number of Student Presentation points you can accumulate is 20. (See Grading Policy)


The exam is made up of two parts: test (20 questions) and essay (min. one A4 page, max. three A4 pages of handwriting). As a matter of tradition, water, tea, coffee and cakes are served. The maximum number of points you can accumulate is 20. (See Grading Policy)

Mocking Exam
Note: Optional, not mandatory! Prior to the exam, a mock-exam will be organized on Sunday. This overview session also includes helpful takeaway materials for all who attend. Attending the mock-exam does not guarantee a better grade for the final exam, but this practive turned out to be vey helpful to some of my students.

Your grade will be awarded based on the total number of points. Make sure you clearly understand how the points will make up your desired grade. No part of your grade will be based on anything other than your class performance. You are encouraged to take advantage of instructor office hours for help with coursework or anything else connected with the course and your progress.

Class Participation, In-class Tasks and MOZes 20 points
Student Project 40 points
Student Presentation 20 points
Exam 20 points
Total: 100

Instances of plagiarizing will not be tolerated and will result in a dismissal from the course. Whether you are a scholar or a blogger – try to sustain a reputation of a credible voice. Always give proper credit to information generators whose ideas you decided to use.


According to the latest list, 27 students will take this class. Looking forward to interesting and challenging discussions.