One of the great things about the internet is one’s ability to discover and explore nooks and crannies, stumbling upon amazing things. Amazing in every sense of the word.

The other day on my way to look up something else, I wandered into a far-off corner of the Web, a place where reenactors gather. Reenactors as in (mostly) guys who dress up in costumes from a bygone era and build camps and fight mock battles. It all looks pretty healthy but it’s, you know, weird. But weird in a “Wo! I knew this stuff existed, but not  on this SCALE!” kind of way. Interesting way. But NOT in a way that would  tempt me to participate in any way. I just wanted to make that clear.

To me, reenactment is sort of like NASCAR; I don’t know anything about it except what has osmosed into my brain. Because NASCAR has so successfully infiltrated our popular culture, we know stuff about NASCAR even if we have no interest in it whatsoever. Reenactors don’t create that kind of buzz, which is probably a good thing.

In contrast to NASCAR’s TV contracts and product-promotion tie ins; reenactors have the occasional billboard reading: Civil War Reenactment Labor Day Weekend!

So reenactment and reenactors populate the hinterlands of the internet. Once I got into the interlinked websites, I was fascinated. I learned that the Civil War is only a part of the Reenactor Universe, a universe that spans continents. In the UK, they play out the wars of the Empire such as the conquest of India and the wars between the Saxons and the Britons in the 6th century. There are even pirate reenactors!

Once a body has found a good reenactment era “fit” and gotten in touch with some fellow travelers, it’s time to get geared up. Because of the Internet, this is vastly easier than it once was. There are plenty of websites out there willing to help you out.   Some sell historical clothing. Then there is Smoke-Fire.com, the Wal-Mart of reenactor paraphernalia!

OMG they sell stuff for KIDS! Can you imagine being the child of an avid reenactor?

“But Daddy, I don’t WANNA go to the Battle of Shiloh this weekend! They say I can’t text or talk on my phone.”

“You can go two days without that phone!”

“But Daddy…….”

“Don’t make me flog you!”

One thing to be aware of: there are a group of reenactors called “Farbs” that are looked down upon by the more hard core participants. Farbs are reenactors who spend relatively little of their time or money maintaining authenticity with regard to uniforms, accessories, or even period behavior. A ‘Good Enough’ attitude is pervasive among farbs, although even casual observers may be able to point out flaws. Anachronistic clothing, fabrics, fasteners (such as velcro), snoods, footwear, vehicles, and modern cigarettes are common issues.

If you’re interested in starting a group, I’ve taken the trouble of tracking down an article on how to get started.

More “must-have” links:

Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Norman and British Living History

Ancient warfare (Greeks, Romans, Assyrians, etc)

Skirmish Magazine (multiple eras)

 

 

 

Free at last!

The Iowa Caucuses (Cauci?) are over and everyone in our Hawkeye State is sleeping it off. Every four years, we are subjected to criticism that Iowa is too old, too white, too Christian, too homogenous, too Clem-Kaddidlehopperish to deserve the honor of being first in the nation in selecting presidential candidates.

Typical Iowan at caucus

You want to be first ? You got it. About this time, the only people who would fight you for it are the Iowa television stations that have been minting money for several months now. The rest of us have been on the receiving end of the attack ads. They were everywhere: local news, Wheel of Fortune, the Khardashians, Iron Chef, Sports Center, even the test pattern. Once you’ve had the opportunity to sit through a 30-minute Newt Gingrich infomercial, the Seventh Level of Hell doesn’t look all that bad.

The media makes a big deal out of the fact that Iowans go out on a frigid January night to caucus. Trust me, it ain’t all that altruistic; it’s the only way we’ve found to get away from the political ads.

The kingmaker who couldn’t pull the trigger

Representative Steve King (R-Far Right Fringe) has missed the bus. He coulda been a contender instead of a bum, which is what he is. Yep, the Man Who Would Be a Kingmaker snoozed through his opportunity to have an impact on the Iowa caucuses. He dithered. He fiddled while Rome burned. He pulled the old Rip Van Winkle.

Rep. Steve King: Fast asleep when his ship came in.

His refusal to endorse a candidate means if he tries to take credit for the most excellent showing of Big Rick Santorum (not to be confused with Little Rick Perry), he must also take blame for the total campaign collapse of his friend and fellow-wingnut, Michele Bachmann. In other word, he didn’t move the needle even a little bit. We can only hope he follows Bachmann into well-deserved oblivion. Iowa will be a focal point during the general election but King will be a non-player as the GOP tacks toward the center. His role leading up to the presidential election will be to dutifully round up and deliver the evangelical votes for the Romney campaign.

Our Lord and Savior one of few endorsements not on Santorum’s list

According to a Wikipedia entry no doubt maintained by the Rick Santorum campaign (with a little assistance from the Holy Ghost), Santorum received endorsements from several major Iowa conservative leaders in the fall of 2011. Prominent social conservatives Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, both leaders of the Family Leader social conservative advocacy organization, praised Santorum’s conservative record on social issues. Sioux City conservative talk radio host Sam Clovis cited Santorum’s beliefs in “a constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, strong national defense and unflagging devotion to life and traditional marriage.”[22]

Other endorsements include Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, Cornerstone Church pastor and evangelical leader Cary Gordon, and bestselling thriller novelist Brad Thor.

Just sayin’.

Toasted!

Michele Bachmann

Within hours of finishing last among a weak field, Michele Bachmann, a congresswoman from neighboring Minnesota, announced she was “suspending” her campaign. In today’s political lexicon, “suspending” means “running away with your tail between your legs like a whipped dog.” But hey, it’s not like we didn’t get a chance to get to know Michele. Remember when she was the “frontrunner” because she “won” the Straw Poll? This tells us two things: 1) the Straw Poll is not a serious thing; 2) the national media are desperate.

I will miss her. She filled a lunacy gap in the Clown Car and did her best to make even Donald Trump look presidential. Her candidacy offered a glimpse into the Pit of Doom where the 1630s Puritans meet 21st century Revolutionary War re-enactors. In Bachmann’s world, the line between reality and delusion is never clear and is often crossed. God bless us all.

We won't have the governor of Texas to kick around anymore

It was a long slog, America, but we Iowans did what we’ve been called to do: we winnowed. We did the dirty work so you don’t have to. We’re down to one. The media, hungry for anything to expand beyond and dilute their preternatural fixation with kidnapped blondes and psychotic mothers who kill their kids, will figure out some way to gum the results of the Iowa caucus like a toothless hag working on a slice of white bread. It’s all a sham. Ladies and gentlemen of the universe, Iowa presents your GOP nominee, Mitt Romney!

We’ve learned a lot about the candidates in the past 18 months (like dentist-chair time, the time leading up to the caucuses drags out so that minutes seem like…well, hours). We learned that Texans have elected the closest approximation to Bozo the Clown that doesn’t come with orange hair and gigantic shoes. We learned that Michele Bachmann’s husband’s name is Marcus and that he casts out demons. We learned that Ron Paul is even crankier than he was in 2008. We learned Herman Cain is ALL man and that 9-9-9 upside down in 666.

666: Number of the Beast and 9-9-9 upside down

We also learned that green trumps white. White, as in 91% white (and vastly whiter for self-identified Republicans). Green as in the color of money. Rick Santorum, who right now is thinking he is coming out of the Iowa caucuses riding on the shoulders of Uncle Moe Mentum, has in reality just become the next target of Restore Our Future, Romney’s Super PAC. Restore Our Future, carved up Newt Gingrich like roast beef on a Sunday brunch sideboard. And it only cost a few million dollars.

Santorum, who as one wag said, ran a fantastic gubernatorial campaign in Iowa, ain’t got game. If you’ve been paying attention over the past, oh, forever, money = game. Santorum has no money and no organization. What he does have is the evangelical, anti-gay, anti-21st century base who could have coalesced around Rick Perry or Bachmann. When Santorum (who brings new meaning to the word “froth”) takes away your votes you have some serious wound licking to do.

We can now call him “Big Rick” as opposed to Perry’s “Little Rick.” But Big Rick has problems beyond money and organization. For one thing, he’s a single-issue candidate. Oh sure, he’s cobbled together some economic talking points and he’s cut and pasted something that looks like a foreign policy, but Santorum’s only issue is his stance against gay people. And folks, he’s on the wrong side of public opinion on the gay thing. It’s been obvious for a long time that the American public is vastly more tolerant of gays than the GOP will admit. Bashing gays seems more and more akin to dog fighting all the time: it’s patently offensive. But it’s a hot-button issue with the evangelicals who took over the Iowa Republican Party back in the days of Ronald Reagan.

Besides, it’s the economy stupid and Santorum, who was a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania back when earmarks were the unapologetic oil in the legislative machine, can’t really run on an economic reform platform beyond making sure there aren’t any illegal immigrants to compete with Americans for those $5 an hour hotel maid and fruit-picker jobs.

So it’s Mitt. In retrospect, the whole thing seems like a bad Clive Cussler novel. There’s a beginning, a lot of incoherent plot twists and then a predictable ending. As I’ve said all along, Romney is the only near-sane person in the crowd. Sane, perhaps, but ruthless. By using his PAC to do his dirty work, the Mitten has done his best to keep his cardigan clean. It will only get worse as we enter the general election cycle. These days, politicians don’t seem to give a rat’s ass what the landscape looks like after they’ve achieved their near-term goals. Win now and worry about the mess later.

Newt Gingrich's inner troll is about to be unleashed

This is not to say there won’t be some entertainment ahead. Newt Gingrich, who seemingly tried to keep his inner troll under wraps here in Iowa, has signaled that he’s pulling out the long knives to seek vengeance on Mitt for all the attack ads funded by Restore Our Future that sank his campaign. Newt Gingrich crying foul is like Genghis Khan complaining someone broke a gentleman’s agreement.

Let’s hope Newt’s anger burns hot enough to keep things interesting at least through Memorial Day. I am not getting my hopes up. Newt’s money is going to dry up and I don’t think he’s the type to self fund a campaign of retribution.

The other interesting plot line will be how the Tea Party, which was so full of itself just one year ago, reconciles itself to Romney. He is as old-school as they come, essentially a centrist Democrat pandering to the wingnuts. If the Tea Partiers don’t rise up to fight him, they’ll be consigned to the vacuum cleaner bag of history. If nothing else, that will make the right wing of America a lot less interesting. It will also be the death knell of the subculture of retailers selling tric0rn hats and colonial waistcoats.

Many years ago, a then-famous professional wrestler named Macho Man Randy Savage was being interviewed on television just before a match. When asked for a prediction about the outcome, Savage turned to the camera, jabbed an index finger toward the lens and said, “I predict pain! Pain and injury!”

As I look ahead to the New Year, I am sorely tempted to be Savage-esque. The biggest political event, the presidential election is shaping up to be 1) very, very nasty; 2) very, very expensive; 3) very, very divisive and 4) very, very disappointing. But on the other hand, it will also be 5) very, very entertaining.

Let’s get real here folks: The only Republican who isn’t a stone’s throw from the asylum is Mitt Romney. He’s a good-looking, very wealthy former governor who acted very much like a centrist Democrat when he was running the Massachusetts state apparatus. By all accounts, he’s smart, capable of analytic thinking when he wants to be, and quite probably better presidential timber than Obama was four years ago. But he’s gone all creepy and sycophantic to the Tea Party. The result has been this very weird serial repudiation of his own actions, which if he would own up to them, would get him a lot of votes in the middle. The fact that two-thirds of the GOP loathes him has been the story so far.

The winner of the Republican race will face off against the champion, Barack H. Obama. If the economy gets better, he’ll win. If it doesn’t, he might still win. The Republicans are doing everything in their considerable power to sandbag the economy. Obama seems to be finding a voice, and hell yes, that voice is about the haves and have-nots in America. Reagan would never have allowed that to happen. He always calibrated his message to align it with the middle. As long as the tax structure was woven into a quasi-folksy line of BS that included “morning in America” and fighting for freedom even if it meant invading Grenada, Reagan’s ass was covered. It also helped that he didn’t get multiple thousands of Americans killed in wars that bankrupted the treasury. In short, he talked a good game which is why he is called “the Great Communicator” by those who worship him.

Wait! I got off on a rant! I started out with a look ahead at 2012, so here we go!

January — Following up on his twin wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, a triumphant Ron Paul headed to South Carolina and Nevada with high hopes of sealing the deal on the Republican nomination. With his vast ground forces consisting nearly equally of college students and cranky nursing home residents, Paul hit a solid wall in South Carolina when he refused to repudiate charges that he wanted to shut down the Parris Island Marine Corps facility. His fate in South Carolina was sealed when a SuperPAC funded by a coalition of advocates for tattoo parlors and brothels began running vicious anti-Paul TV ads.

February — Oddly enough, Ron Paul’s campaign was resurrected only days later in Nevada when a SuperPAC funded by a coalition of advocates for tattoo parlors and brothels began running TV ads strongly supporting him. As a side note, a large contingent of cocktail waitresses at Caesar’s Palace formed their own PAC, which they named the “Pro-Paul Harem”.

March — Continuing the Paul-Caesar’s Palace connection, the candidate escapes an assassination attempt in the casino on March 15. Bloggers and the chattering class in D.C. begin referring to him as “the new Julius Caesar.” For Paul, Super Tuesday (March 6) dealt his presidential ambitions a serious blow when he mistakenly thought it was Super Wednesday and didn’t show up. Super Tuesday ended up being Super only for newly announced candidate Callista Gingrich, who swept all 10 states whose delegates were up for grabs that day, including Virginia where she officially changed her name to Mitt Romney in order to get on the ballot. The sweep put her in a commanding position to claim the nomination but she frittered it away less than a week later when she visited her husband, candidate Newt Gingrich, in the hospital where he was being treated for laryngitis to serve him with divorce papers.

April — As T.S. Eliot said:

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

April 2012 was indeed a cruel month for the Republican candidates. Michele Bachmann’s hopes suffered a major setback when  her husband, Marcus, was discovered in an airport restroom stall with a pitching wedge and a stuffed penguin.  Gingrich dropped out after a surgery resident at the Mayo Clinic “accidentally” removed his vocal chords during a tonsillectomy. According to news reports, Jon Huntsman was kidnapped, a tragedy that was compounded when the kidnappers sent the ransom note to Mitt Romney. Oops.

Speaking of dried tubers, Ron Paul continued his quixotic pursuit of the GOP nomination even as a rehabilitated Herman Cain and his new wife, Callista Gingrich-Cain, re-entered the race with the backing of the Koch Brothers. Political bloggers couldn’t resist themselves, saying the race was down to three: one black, one blonde, one befuddled.

May — The month of May witnessed three critical events that completely upended the nomination race. Ron Paul, who had benefited significantly from the accidental silencing of Newt Gingrich, suffered a broken leg during the Kentucky Derby while watching the race with his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. After many hours of consultation with the finest veterinarians, Paul was put down. A plaque commemorating him was erected at Claiborne Farms and his cremains interred next to Secretariat.

More race-day excitement unfolded later in the month during the Indianapolis 500 when Michele and Marcus Bachmann were discovered inflagrante delecto with Indy driver Danica Patrick and the entire pit crew of Patrick’s team mate Marco Andretti. Although Bachmann claimed she was “just taking a closer look at the STP decal”, amateur videos tell quite a different story.

Finally, in a Memorial Day tragedy that will forever mark the holiday, frequent presumptive front runner Mitt Romney was badly injured when he tripped coming down the steps of his campaign tour bus during on swing through Tennessee during his “Just Tell Me What To Believe” tour. The spill knocked out Romney’s two front teeth, removing the main reason anyone had ever supported him: he looked presidential. After the accident, he really looked more like Goober from the Andy Griffith Show.

June — Because of the incredible run of bad luck and rash of injuries among the GOP candidates, June 1 found Texas Governor Rick Perry trailing only “none of the above” in the race for the nomination, a remarkable showing given the fact that Perry hadn’t left Texas since January. His amazing staying power was attributed to the fact that his SuperPAC, Patriotic Religious Zealots to Preserve the 1880s American Way, had raised and spent more than $2 billion during that period, most of it from oil tycoons and the Koch Brothers. Insiders noted that the Koch brothers had contributed more than $1.5 billion to each of the candidates, figuring that owning the American government was worth a few billion dollars.

Roused from his slumber in Austin, Rick Perry asked what month it was and re-entered the race for three reasons (you know this punchline).

Meanwhile, the suicide rate among mainstream Republicans spiked around Arbor Day when the approval rating of their party dropped to less than five percent (although if inmates in various mental institutions were include, that number rose considerably).

The first half of 2012 was capped off in the final week of June when Mitt Romney publicly destroyed more than 10,000 CDs of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and called for the arrest and imprisonment of Donny and Marie Osmond.

Meanwhile, Jon Huntsman outlined his foreign policy to a gathering of six people in Missoula, MT.

Next time: July through December 2012

12.21.2011

After the January 3 Iowa Caucuses, we won’t have Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum to kick around anymore. For each, one of three post-Iowa fates await them: 1) they will take the hint and end their so-called “presidential campaigns.” Like their old adversary, Herman Cain, they may choose to “suspend” their campaigns so as to milk the last drop of fame and TV exposure for themselves; 2) the media will end their campaigns for them, relegating them to spots alongside Buddy Rohmer/Gary Johnson/Jimmy “The rent is too damn high” McMillan; 3) they may simply disappear, taken away by space aliens or voluntarily entering the witness protection program where they will be given a Hispanic surname and relocated to the Mexican border to serve as undercover agents in the coming shooting war with illegal immigrants trying to sneak across the border to work as gardeners and hotel maids for a buck fifty an hour.

Alien vehicle arrives to pick up discarded Republican candidates on Jan. 4 (artist's conception)

Think about what they’ve experienced in the past year! They’ve split their time between trying to convince Iowa Republicans they are serious candidates, trying to convince rich people that they deserve large checks (see also: throwing money down a rat hole), fighting homosexuality wherever they find it, standing at podiums at the outer edges of debates waiting for their 30 seconds of airtime in a 90 minute event, and doing endless interviews with reporters from weekly papers.

It’s been sort of interesting getting to know them. Naw, not really. Neither one ever really came up with any ideas beyond their broad anti-gay dogmas. Bachmann was a fundraising fool as a bomb-throwing Congresswoman but she didn’t wear well with most people who don’t handle snakes as part of their prayer ritual. I personally don’t think she ever recovered from the Newsweek cover that made her look like a meth chef desperate for a tank full of anhydrous. The campaign “peaked” at the Republican straw poll which pretty much erased any pretense to legitimacy that event might have had. The past year hasn’t been real kind to first-gentleman-wannabe Marcus Bachmann, about whom we learned ever so much more than we really wanted to know. And if raising kids was a foundation from which to build a campaign, Kate Gosselin would be right in there. Aw, crap you don’t think she’d ever…???

What can you say about Rick Santorum that hasn’t already not been said by the media? I mean, the guy was really, really trying but what was he trying to do…run as a former Senator AND as an outsider? His dilemma was trying to get voters to remember that he had been in the Senate while the approval rating of Congress dipped down to about the same level as the alcohol content of O’Doul’s.

Bob Vander Plaats -- Once compared homosexuality to second-hand smoke.

Interestingly, two of the self-described heavy hitters in the Hawkeye State’s homophobe ranks — Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley — came out yesterday and endorsed Santorum. It seems pretty stupid to me for “heavy hitters” to wait until the caucus is less than two weeks away to endorse a guy with low-single-digit poll numbers. I’m not political strategist but it might have made more sense when Santorum was trying to differentiate himself from the rest of that raggedy bunch.

Can they really be so self-delusional as to think they’re endorsements might actually MEAN something? Heck, Vander Plaats’s far-right group, The Family Leader, had to rely on money from the Deep South to fund its successful recall campaign of the Iowa Supreme Court Justices. If there is a righteous higher power, the endorsements will be a complete fail and they’ll be relegated to sending ranting letters to the editor to all 300 newspapers in Iowa for the rest of their lives.

Justice Clarence Thomas is Rick Santorum's fave

So requiescat in pacem, guys. The 2012 Republican Campaign Clown Car will be a little less crowded on Jan. 4. Bachmann can head back to D.C. where actually she has a job as a non-insider US Representative. Santorum will return to Pennsylvania and pursue other interests. He’s already had a colorful law career, including representing the World Wrestling Federation, arguing that professional wrestling should be exempt from federal anabolic steroid regulations because it was not a sport. OMG, how many things are wrong with THAT? (As an aside, Santorum — remember he’s a lawyer — says Clarence Thomas is his favorite Supreme Court Justice).

On Jan. 4, we’ll be down to Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry in the Clown Car. On to New Hampshire!

The surviving candidates look ahead to New Hampshire. Pictured: downtown Concord.

 

 

 

Like all politicians, Ron Paul likes to stand in front of American flags.

As many of you know, I am a confirmed OC personality. My wife calls me “Man of Action” and it’s not because of what you think. Nope, I am the guy who will drive two miles to avoid waiting at a crossing for a train that will pass in three minutes. As my mom used to say, I’ve got ants in my pants.

That’s why I’ve decided to be the first person to call the Republican results in the January 3 Iowa Caucuses (cauci?). It’ll be Ron Paul and it won’t be all that close. You can pass those songbooks down to the end of the pew now.

OK, so some of you want an explanation. Here’s why it will be Ron Paul:

1) Attending a caucus requires commitment. Ron Paul’s followers are committed. Maybe not suicide-bomber committed but still more likely to suffer pain and inconvenience than, say, Mitt Romney’s. Unlike those wussy primaries where you just flit into a voting booth, pull the lever and head out, a caucus requires a whole evening. You have to sit down with your fellow caucusees (?) and discuss WHY you support a certain person. People then have the opportunity to grill you and try to dissuade you from your choice and persuade you to convert to candidate they’re supporting. What this means is that the Michele Bachmann supporters who say they support her “because the voices told me to” are likely to come under intense psychological pressure. Likewise the Gingrich advocates who like him “because he uses big words.” Hey, sometimes the voices use big words too.

Like the Man With No Name, Ron Paul stands for something

2) Ron Paul stands for something. Iowans, especially Iowa Republicans, like things in black and white. That’s why so many of them (the Republicans) take the Old Testament literally. Ron Paul gives it to them in black and white. The fact that a great deal of what he says is demonstrable lunacy doesn’t matter. He talks straight talk. His opposition to the war in Iraq and his support for a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion has seduced some left leaners into considering him as a candidate. Once people stop to realize a country such as the one Ron Paul describes would be pretty similar to the border town of San Miguel in the Clint Eastwood spaghetti western “A Fistful of Dollars” where the residents are caught between the warring factions of the Rojos and the Baxter families, libertarianism doesn’t look so good. When you don’t pay taxes, you don’t get any services…unless the Man With No Name rides into town.

The evil Rojos who make a living violating the rights of the residents of San Miguel

But what if you think about the Rojos as the Republican Party and the Baxters as the Democrats?? Does that make Ron Paul the Man With No Name? I’m going to have to get the movie and watch it again!

The evil Baxters who accidentally shoot two-thirds of the residents of San Miguel while trying to kill the Rojos

 

3) Ron Paul has youth on his side. First, let’s point out the obvious: anyone under 30 who doesn’t have a nice trust fund is absolutely insane to be a Republican. But let me stipulate that such crazy young people do exist and Ron Paul has been successful reaching out to them. Young people are often portrayed as being passionate in support of causes and if this is so, Ron Paul will be the beneficiary. Paul is lucky that the caucuses are at night because if they were at 7 am, the youth participation would be negligible, especially in college towns.

4) The rest of the field is so repugnant. Come on, people! Can you imagine a serious person actually sitting face to face with other Republicans and arguing that Rick Santorum should be the Republican candidate? Or Bachmann? Or Newt Gingrich, whose unfavorables within his own party are off the charts (not to mention his wife)? Or Mitt Romney, who a) is a Mormon which most Republicans think is something like a B’hai or the Amish; b) has been running for president since 2007 but hasn’t seemed to have gotten around to visiting Iowa since he got his ass handed to him on a silver platter in 2008; c) is really the reincarnation of Teddy Kennedy with a few less pounds.

In summary, if you can find yourself a bookmaker, liquidate all your capital assets and put them down on Ron Paul of Texas in the Iowa Caucuses. I guarantee you’ll be richer than Romney on Jan. 4.

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

This interesting slide show lists the 10 states that have the highest percentage of their populations on food stamps. Guess who loses. Yes, Mississippi. Again. To put this in context, I’d like to reference a post from many moons ago detailing some of the many ways that Mississippi is not just bad but pathetic. I know some of you are saying, “Lighten up, Steve. We know Mississippi has problems but you’re relentless.” Guilty as charged. As long as Mississippi keeps electing clowns like Trent Lott, Haley Barbour, and Ross Barnett (OK, Barnett is a stretch), I’ll keep mocking you.

Every week or so, the Republican Presidential Race Clown Car pulls over to let someone crawl out of the back seat to ride shotgun. As always, Mitt Romney stays in the driver’s seat. This week, it was Newton Leroy “Newt” Gingrich, deep into his third or fourth incarnation as a rehabilitated presidential wanna-be, who got to sit in the front seat. He replaced Herman Cain, who was told to go sit in the backseat and keep his hands to himself. It may be telling that Perry, Santorum, Paul, and Huntsman were told to sit between Cain and Michelle Bachmann. Coincidence or is there a message in this?

Let’s hope Newt doesn’t get too comfortable up there. There have been two constants throughout this race: Romney is always the driver and everyone takes turns sitting in the front seat. Santorum, Paul and Huntsman have been whining ever since the last potty stop. At some point, we’re going to have to pull this car over and set a few things straight.

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