12.15.2011

I had started to write a lengthy follow up post about the crapstorm unleashed by UI faculty member Steve Bloom’s article in the Atlantic. But all this is superfluous; the central issue is going to come down to tenure, that rare and anachronistic mechanism by which a faculty member, after a period of “vetting” by his or her peers, is granted what is de facto employment for life. The rationale is that academics need to be protected from retaliation so they will be free to pursue scholarship wherever it leads.

The UI administration is going to be pressed on several fronts to defend tenure and Steve Bloom is going to become the poster boy for everything that is wrong about tenure. Bloom replaces the University of Colorado’s Ward Churchill in the role of poster boy. Churchill, who basically offended everyone with a conscience with his remarks following 9/11, was eventually fired but not for what he said. Rather, the Colorado regents dug deep enough to find some evidence of scholarly shadiness that gave them the opportunity to avoid the academic freedom issue.

The UI is going to be caught dead in the middle and they are fully aware of this. It didn’t take Mason long to distance herself from Bloom’s article although UI spokesman Tom Moore did point out that Bloom has the right to say anything he wants. No recriminations coming, folks. No can do.

It’s like someone coming to your house, calling you an ugly idiot, telling you that your kids are fat imbeciles, your decorating taste sucks, your kitchen stinks, your toilet is filthy, your husband is a lazy bum and then demanding money. $105,000 a year to be precise. Chutzpah at its most exquisite.

For the most part, Iowans are fair people but this one is going to require some ‘splainin’. This flies in the face of common sense. It’s one thing to ensure that scholars are protected from reprisals when they advocate an unpopular stand based on their scholarship. It’s quite another to be protected from the type of stereotype-laced diatribe Bloom unleashed. If there is scholarship at all in this, it’s pretty well disguised as petty meanness. Bloom is acting like a prick and he’s going to get away with it. That’s what strikes Iowans as unfair.

The sideshow now will be to watch Mason and the UI defend academic tenure. Tenure is a sword with two edges. Academics will circle the wagons to defend it but departmental administrators who are stuck with non-productive faculty members drawing down big salaries rail against it in their management meetings. And when old professors who don’t teach and don’t bring in grant money hang around, there’s no room and no money for new blood to enter the academy. But that’s a different (albeit important) issue.

Bloom didn’t write this nasty stuff because he had tenure but if he didn’t have tenure, it’s a pretty safe bet he wouldn’t have written this stuff.

Bloom’s “boss” (faculty members don’t really have bosses in the traditional sense), UI J-school director David Perlmutter, says “Faculty members have academic freedom and freedom of speech, but that works both ways. Professors can write what they want to write, but everybody has the freedom to criticize or challenge that.”

Perlmutter is correct and the media, social and mainstream, is awash with criticisms of Bloom. But the real impact will be when Iowans contact their legislators and their legislators contact Mason. And contact her they must. Bloom has used a national forum to call their constituents meth addicts and their towns “skuzzy.”

Bloom is either completely unaware or uncaring about the delicate political situation Iowa’s public universities are facing in the legislature. At a time when the state budget is stretched thinner than tissue paper and at a time when a Republican sits in the governor’s mansion, this isn’t good. Bloom may have academic freedom but the legislature has the power of appropriations and I would bet my last $10,000 that the UI lobbyists have working overtime the past couple of days making nice with legislators.

Interestingly, Bloom is now casting himself as a victim. He says the enormous reaction to his story proves that he has touched a nerve. Could be. But if someone stereotypes a racial or ethnic group as stupid, lazy, dishonest and untrustworthy the reaction against that isn’t because of truth-telling. It’s because it’s offensive. Stereotypes are the refuge of the intellectually lazy, the kind of people who revel in ethnic jokes. Scholars don’t engage in stereotyping. While Steve Bloom may hold a tenured faculty position at a Big Ten university, I think it’s pretty clear that doesn’t make him a scholar.

 

Iowans on a date

There’s been a lot (well, more like some) outrage over an opinion piece written by a University of Iowa journalism faculty member that appears in the Atlantic Online. The writer, a guy named Steve Bloom, (who is the Bessie Dutton Murray Professional Scholar at the UI journalism school) says he is trying to explain Iowa and its inhabitants (mainly the latter) to outsiders. He does so by providing such insights as:

In this land, deep within America, on Friday nights it’s not unusual to take a date to a Tractor Pull or to a Combine Demolition Derby (“First they were thrashin’, now they’re CRASHIN’!”).

Bloom has lived in Iowa for 20 years. I’ve lived here three times that long and have never been to a tractor pull. In fact, I can’t think of any friends who have been to a tractor pull but then that’s not something my friends would mention out of fear of ridicule.

In fact, just last Sunday, when my friends and I could theoretically been at a tractor pull, we were instead at a poetry reading in Mount Vernon (pop. 4,000) where I live. The event was the celebration of a newly published book of poems by a friend, Glenn Freeman, who was born and raised in Baltimore and who moved voluntarily to Iowa where he teaches writing at Cornell College.

The food for the event was provided by another friend, Matt Steigerwald, who owns the Lincoln Wine Bar (where the event was held) and the Lincoln Cafe, which has been written up in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Midwest Living, Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine, and many other publications. Matt, who has also competed in national competitions against the likes of the chefs from the French Laundry, hails from North Carolina. His culinary skills would be a hit in any major city. He to0 moved voluntarily to Iowa and has sunk extremely deep roots into the local community.

Music for the event was provided by another close friend, Dale Beeks. In addition to being a musical polyglot, Dale is a high-end collector and dealer in antiques, specifically scientific instruments. He literally wrote the book on antique surveying instruments and once owned surveyors tools purchased by George Washington. He was invited by Antiques Roadshow to be one of their on-air appraisers. Dale is originally from the Bay Area in California. He came to Iowa after a long and very thoroughly researched hunt for a new place for his family to live. Out of all the places in the USA, he selected Iowa and he loves it here.

When Bloom refers to Iowa as a”schizophrenic, economically-depressed, and some say, culturally-challenged state”, I’d suggest that he may be 1) pandering to a more effete segment of society; 2) hanging with the wrong crowd and; 3) intellectually so lazy that he reflects very poorly on the University of Iowa and its j-school.

In the interest of full disclosure, I hold a master’s degree from the UI School of Journalism. I earned this degree before Bloom arrived, for which I think I should be grateful. During my time at the school, (1982-84) there was great emphasis placed on accuracy in journalism. Get the facts right. Old school. Apparently, Bloom belongs to the Republican Party school of communication that says anything is a fact as long as you’re willing to present it as a fact. For example, in his article, Bloom writes, “Rural America has always been homogenous, as white as the milk the millions of Holstein cows here produce.”

In fact, the actual size of Iowa’s dairy herd is 209,000* and that includes some numbers of Guernseys, Brown Swiss, Jerseys, Ayrshire and Milking Shorthorns. It took me about a minute to find out this fact, apparently more time than a journalism professor with a named chair is willing to spend while “researching” an article.

A Holstein cattle. Note the bag between the rear legs, which is where the dairy products are dispensed.

Bloom also writes:

The corn grows so fast in Iowa — from seedlings to 7-foot-high stalks in 12 weeks — that it crackles nonstop throughout the summer months. The sound is like popcorn popping slow-motion in a microwave. That pop-pop-popping can be heard especially in the early morning hours, as dew and fog cover the acres of gently swaying cornstalks that surround farming villages the way the sea encircles an island.

Again, a minute on the internet would have cautioned Bloom against repeating what agronomists say is a very specious assertion. While I am willing to grant him the benefit of the doubt when he implies that he has actually been in a cornfield in the early morning hours, I would submit that with the leaves rustling and scraping, it’s too damn noisy out there to hear microscopic cell division no matter how rapidly it’s taking place.

If this Atlantic piece is what passes for “scholarship,” I bet old Bessie Dutton Murray wants her endowment back.

In the end, whatever outrage Iowans may feel toward Bloom’s journalistic fuck you, it’s probably compounded by the fact that Bloom continues to cash checks underwritten by their tax money. While as a “scholar,” Bloom would claim he has academic freedom to say the things he says, in reality being a dick has a downside. For example, you never get invited to poetry readings on Sunday afternoons and instead have to spend your spare time in river towns like Keokuk, “a skuzzy depressed, crime-infested slum town.”

If I might offer some bits of advice to the poor forlorn Bloom:

Finally, why are you here? If you are so fundamentally unhappy, so professionally unfulfilled, so intellectually lonely why don’t you just move on? Is it tenure that keeps you here? The last third of the article is such an unvarnished venting of loathing for what you perceive to be the “real” Iowa, it’s hard to imagine the depth of your despair. Dude, life is too short to spend it among people who are not worthy of your presence. Go. Leave. Find another university’s tit to suck.

*http://www.iowadairy.org/facts/index.html

Bruce Braley, Democrat?

Next year there will be new Congressional districts in Iowa. I will be in the First District, which is currently represented by Democrat Bruce Braley. I see in today’s news that Braley showed up at a rally the corporate jet manufacturers’ association held in Cedar Rapids. Also there were Republican extremists Charles Grassley and Steve King. Nine percent unemployment and Braley is playing shill for a corporate PR event.

Here is the text of an email I sent Braley:

Dear Congressman Braley,

What could you have been thinking when you showed up at the Cedar Rapids rally put on by the corporate jet manufacturers’ association? As a result of the newly drawn congressional districts, you will be campaigning for election in a district that includes Mount Vernon, where I live. I assure you my loyalty to the Democratic Party does not prevent me from refusing to vote for a candidate who appears at an event like this.

The email could actually be translated to read “get your head out of your butt and act like a Democrat for god’s sake.”

 

Until I met a vegan who broke a tooth on an olive pit. Obviously, the merchant was highly negligent in allowing that pit to remain hidden deep within the olive, lurking there sadistically until an unknowing windmill tilter bit down and destroyed his organic, biodegradable and progressive tooth. For many of us, this would be just more evidence that life can really suck,  but for the Congressman (America’s Most Courageous Congressman, according to his own website), it was an affront that needed redress for grievance through threat of a lawsuit.

For illustration purposes only. These teeth not broken on olive pit.

More than 65 years after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we have a leader who channels FDR’s spirit: Senator  Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. After generations of liberal politicians sans cojones, here’s a guy who will stand up and send a powerful message to politicians across the spectrum, from right-wing nut jobs to wishy-washy liberals.  That consists of two short words, seven measly letters. OK, so he’s more diplomatic than that but it’s the same message.

I am 58 years old and until now, I have had one politician-hero in my life: Eugene McCarthy. Now I have two. My only question for Sen. Sanders: How can I support you?

More Sen. Bernie Sanders links:

C-Span coverage of filibuster speech

Wikipedia entry

Friends of Bernie Sanders

Now we’re going to see if the civil rights movement has any gas left in its tank. Glenn Beck and the Tea Party co-opting MLK’s dream? I guess they are welcome to it if no one is willing to fight them for it.

Guy in a chicken suit

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)

Harry Reid. Oh poor Harry Reid. He’s gone all chicken-y on us over the Islamic Center near the sacred former site of the World Trade Center, now known in hushed whispers as “GroundZero.” Harry Reid, a Mormon who ought to know a few things about religious intolerance. Harry Reid, who did yeoman’s work on behalf of Barack Obama’s socialist-liberal-communist-Martian-animal-sacrifice-Druid agenda. Now Harry is joining some of the most serious nut jobs in America in telling the Muslims that while they have the right to build their center wherever they want, they better not do it in the shadow of “Ground Zero.”

Which makes me wonder if you can have a freedom of religion when powerful people lean on you not to exercise it.

I spent a long time — 10 minutes or so — thinking up this solution to the illegal immigration problem. I’m offering it to the first Republican legislator who wants it. It’s a career maker FOR SURE!

It’s really silly to spend billions of dollars patrolling the borders to capture and deport the same illegal immigrants over and over. They’re coming here because they can get JOBS! At the same time, we have a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, which they always say is higher than that “due to Americans who have become disillusioned and stopped looking for work.”

Let’s look at the numbers. Estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in this country range from 12 to 20 million. Let’s go with the higher number like the Republicans and Lou Dobbs always do. Let’s assume that half of them are in the workforce. Heck, let’s assume they’re really, really motivated and three-fourths of them are in the workforce. That’s 15 millions jobs being held by illegal immigrants.

In June (the most recent month for which we have data), there were 14.6 million unemployed Americans. DING! We can solve our unemployment problem by taking away those jobs from the illegal immigrants and giving them to AMERICANS! But how? Here’s where my idea really shines! (Republicans take careful notes…Sarah, you can write on your hand.)

We deputize the unemployed into the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Instead of making them spend long hot days along the dusty border, we put them in teams of six, outfit them with spiffy SUVs with government seals on the side, and send them into workplaces where illegals hold down those jobs that SHOULD GO TO AMERICANS! Five of the deputies stay on to take over the jobs held by the illegals, and the sixth loads up the five illegals being sent home into the SUV and drives them back to the border where they are kicked out.

Meanwhile, the five unemployed AMERICANS get right to work busing tables, cleaning motel rooms, cutting grass or picking tomatoes. Bingo! US unemployment rates plummet, the number of illegal immigrants drops precipitously, and the economy, driven by all those workers earning all those paychecks, rebounds. Not only does this recovery eliminate the deficit (which allows us to start another war or two) but it also provides cover for the Goldman Sachs traders who will then be able to cash their multi-million dollar bonuses without a lot of pesky media coverage.

As I said, this is an open-source idea, freely available to any Republican who wants it. Of course, Democrats are also eligible but I’d encourage the Republicans to get right on it since if the Democrats adopt it, Obama is re-elected in a landslide in 2012!

It’s not everyday that a guy gets a personal invitation to a birthday party for the President of the USA. I am SOOOO excited! What should I wear? What time will the President arrive? Should I get there early so the secret service can pass me through security? What should I get him as a gift? Transformers? A DVD? A BB gun?

A recent survey indicated Americans hold an 11 percent approval rating of Congress. Heck, they’re hard to like even when you like them.

Some time back, I used the Web to send a message to my U.S. representative, Dave Loebsack. (I support Dave and think he’s a good guy.) In the message (which was triggered by the oil spill in the Gulf), I suggested that we needed a federal law requiring all products that contained petroleum to be labeled as such. My argument is that consumers could then make choices whether or not to buy those products. All of this grows out of my strongly held opinion that we need to get off the oil tit and find alternatives to it.

After about 10 days, I received a response from Rep. Loebsack’s office, basically giving me a canned package of what his communications staff had put together to send to people whose emails would be classified under “Gulf Oil Spill.”

I then hit “reply” to the email and sent an admittedly snarky response indicating that the email hadn’t acknowledged the subject of my letter but was instead simply a canned response. I then got the following reply:

Thank you for taking the time to communicate with me via e-mail, which helps reduce our impact on the environment and allows for faster communication. (Snarky Steve comment: 10 days to reply to an email?)


Unfortunately, this e-mail address only processes outgoing mail and does not accept replies.

Please visit my website www.loebsack.house.gov to send me a message, stay up to date on the issues, and sign up for my e-newsletters to stay informed of the work I’m doing in Congress. It is an honor to serve Iowa’s Second Congressional District; my priority is to provide the best representation and constituent service as possible.

Sincererly,
Dave Loebsack
Member of Congress

I was sincererly disappointed with this interaction and will mention it to the congressman next time he sends me a fundraising letter, which, if history is any indication, will for sure be in the next couple of days.

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