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

Soyrietta on her 88th birthday in 2009

Today is my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. Hooray for Soyrietta. I honestly didn’t think she’d make it.

Soyrietta’s been living with us since late September 2010. Up ’til then, she’d lived by herself in Iowa City. Then she took a tumble, fractured a hip and had surgery. Broken hips at age 88 when you already have some other health issues are very dangerous. I think we all kinda-sorta figured this was a fork in the road that didn’t lead to someplace good.

It’s almost 15 months later, the hip healed up amazingly well and she is helping do laundry every Thursday. My t-shirts have never been folded so nicely! Last Saturday night, we all went to a brass band concert and then drove around a bit and looked at Christmas lights. She was really tired when we got back but it was obvious she’d had a great time.

I know she really misses her buddies in Iowa City. She misses going to exercise class at the indoor pool at the Iowa City Rec Center and she misses going to Panera afterward. She misses driving and going to church and being mobile. As I’ve watched her make big adjustments to her life with us, she has taught me many things about growing older.

A few weeks ago, Dixie sent out a call to her buddies reminding them the Big 9-0 was coming up. With the five that came today, Soyrietta has gotten 54 cards. Friday night, about 15 friends came by to sing her Christmas carols and Happy Birthday.

Dixie and Soyrietta at Dixie's non-birthday party, Oct. 2011

Soyrietta (pronounced like Sarita — she was named after the daughter of the local doctor) was born in a town called Cashiers(pronounced CASH-erz) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. It’s an incredibly beautiful part of the USA. The people there are great storytellers. Dixie’s cousin, Thomas Franklin Dillard, has a bunch of stories about bootleggers and cars that drove off the mountainside (“It was a ’56 Studebaker, Steve, and that car’s still down there.”)

Cashiers is high-dollar real estate these days with the rich people from Atlanta and Florida buying second homes in the mountains where it’s a whole lot cooler in the summer. Back when Soyrietta was growing up, it was hardscrabble Appalachia where people put ringer washers out on their front porch as a status symbol. Soyrietta got married when she was 14 (her parents disapproved) and had Dixie’s brother Tom when she was 16. Life hasn’t been easy for her but she’s the toughest person I’ve ever met. More than 60 years of smoking (and about that many enjoying the cocktail hour) and she’s made it to 90. Smoking is going to get her but she’s not going easily. She is the absolute living epitomy of Dylan Thomas’s words:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Soyrietta is very, very sweet to me, oftentimes giving me credit for something Dixie’s done and always giving me more credit than I deserve. I think she’s a little freaked out by a guy doing all the cooking but I only do it to get out of doing dishes. It sounds bad to say this but sometimes I think she flirts with me. We have dinner together every night. Before she moved in, Dixie and I would usually eat separately. (Remember, we spend an hour and a half in the car together commuting every weekday). Now, we get caught up on who came by — hospice, Meals on Wheels, Pastor Ed, the UPS guy — and talk about her day. It’s been great to have her here when we need the cable guy or a repair person comes by. If she wasn’t here, we’d have to be missing work to let them in.

Dudley and Soyrietta resting after working the crossword puzzle

She’s become big buddies with Dudley the Cat. She talks to him all the time and complains when he doesn’t come down and sleep on her bed during the day. Apparently she hasn’t noticed that he’s a hod or so shy of a full load of bricks. If she has, it hasn’t prejudiced her against him. Come to think of it, she probably views me the same way which explains why she’s so nice to me.

I like to make her laugh. One night I was re-telling the story of how Dixie and I met and got engaged in less than a month. I told Soyrietta that after we got engaged, I told Dixie the only thing left to make my life complete would be to have my mother-in-law live with us. I said that now she was living with us, I have attained Nirvana at last. She knew I was making that up and laughed.

Another time (last story, I promise), Dixie went up to the Lincoln Wine Bar with her buddy, M.B. Soyrietta said, “Dixie’s going up to the wine bar on a Thursday night?” I told her she just wanted to spend some time with her friend. I asked Soyrietta, “Didn’t you ever go out with girlfriends?”

“Not until later in life,” Soyrietta said.

I replied, “Dixie’s 60. This IS later in life!”

So Soyrietta is 90 and that’s way more later than life than the vast majority of humans ever see. I won’t lie and tell you it hasn’t been without its stresses. Dixie’s dad is in declining health and early this fall her dad had a stroke and I was hospitalized with a really funky gallbladder. With taking care of her mom and me, and worrying about her dad, Dixie got pretty stressed out.

Soyrietta and I had always been friendly but over the last 15 months, we’ve become friends. One thing I know for certain. When Soyrietta does crosses over to the other side, I am going to miss her ever so much more because of the time she spent with us.

Happy 90th, Sweetie!



We continue our series, The Really True History of America.*

While stock car racing’s roots run all the way back to the days of the chariot, in America its history goes back at least to the colonial era. As early as 1760, Earl “Jimmy George” Washington, a cousin of our nation’s first president, was careering through downtown Fairfax, VA in a carriage covered with decals for Boar’s Head Ale Lite, Ye Foxe and Hounde Tavern, Lobsterback Uniforms and Boots, NAPA Buggy Parts, the Colonial Action Army, and Sam’s General Store Clubs.

Colonial racing fan. "Show us thy bosoms!"

Because of his aggressive driving style and pugnacious attitude, he was known as “Ye Olde Intimidator” and developed a devoted fan following. Those fans were known for their penchant for drunk and unruly behavior. They would often stand on street corners, yelling “show us thy bosoms” at members of the fairer sex. The less reputable ladies would comply. Each year, Fairfax hosts a National Stock Buggy Racing Re-enactment. You can see a video clip here.

Andrew Jackson. He once beat a driver to death with a silver-headed cane.

The sport faced an existential crisis when Gen. Andrew Jackson of Tennessee was elected president. Until that time, federal support for wheeled racing had risen and fallen. During the presidencies of southerners, it spiked and when a northerner took office, it plummeted. The thinking going in was that Jackson would be good for racing. Um, not so. As it turned out, Jackson was a big fan of horseracing and he felt that wheeled racing was starting to pose a threat. Jackson revealed his prejudices when he beat a driver to death with a silver-headed cane at a track near Chattanooga, crying “you monstrous cad, you monstrous cad,” as he delivered the rain of fatal blows.

Just before the outbreak of the Civil War/War Between the States, Wayside Chester Garner, a young Iowa bicycle mechanic and tinkerer, invented the first stock car. It was powered by a steam engine, a steering tiller and four wooden wheels. Garner was afraid of the car to drive it. He turned instead to his friend Dale Kenny Petty. Petty was a natural. With incredible vision and magnificent reflexes, he immediately took to the vehicle and was soon playing it like a cello. For two summers leading up to the War, Garner, Petty and their entourage made a comfortable living challenging (and beating) buggies, wagons, carts, phaetons, and even galloping horses pulling nothing at all. Petty and Garner had a falling out over Petty’s demand for more pay and no yellow M&Ms in his dressing room. The Civil War/War Between the States intervened. Neither survived the War. Garner died while being mugged by a gang he had sought out to pay a member $100 to enlist for him in the Union Army. Petty was killed when the heel of his boot caught in a crack in the sidewalk, pitching him directly into the path of an onrushing bicycle with the big giant front wheel. Petty died instantly and the wheel was ruined. It was was repaired by Garner and was the last known bicycle component he ever touched. He climbed aboard the train heading off to his army company and never returned.

Stock car racing maintained an even, if somewhat down-scale presence in the American psyche throughout the last half of the 19th and first half of the 20th century. A major leap forward was the invention  of the internal combustion engine in Germany. By World War I, American youth had already begin “hopping up” their cars.

Stock car driver Fireball Roberts in 1933

When the Depression hit in the 1930s, a young man named Bill France headed to Florida to 1) find meaning in his life; 2) look for work; and 3) see how fast old cars could go. He ended up in Daytona Beach, which had drawn dozens of similar young people who were biding their time waiting for surfing to be invented. Before long, the sands at Daytona were littered with blown engines, dropped transmissions and abandoned human body parts. Being unable to find work, France invented the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) and settled in to wait for television to come.

It wasn’t until after WWII (AKA, “the Big One”) that racing began to go mainstream. Young people, adrift in the 1950s and with a taste for liquor honed in lonely European and Pacific outposts, began learning the ropes from bootleggers in the piney woods of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. Before the decade was over, stock car racing (and its poor cousin, demolition derbies) had spread to county fairs across the country.

Jimmy Carter's campaign promise: "A camshaft in every pot!"

NASCAR was officially recognized as an American institution when Jimmy Carter established the cabinet position, Secretary of Stock Car Racing. Carter nominated and the Senate unanimously confirmed Col. Beauregard P. Dayton of Florida as the first secretary. Secretary Dayton, whose great-great-great grandfather had founded the town of Daytona Beach, Florida,  served only five weeks in the position before choking to death on a biscuit at a fried chicken restaurant. His body was placed on a catafalque covered with endorsement decals and placed on train to take him home. Millions of Americans lined the tracks all along the route, paying silent tribute to the Colonel. The entourage took a detour to the Bristol, TN track where more than two thousand former drivers, mechanics and pit crew members actually took showers and put on clean clothes for a moving service.

By 1990, NASCAR had replaced thoroughbred racing as America’s Most Popular Sport Where You Watch Stuff Run Around On An Oval. Discussions were underway to open the sport for parimutuel wagering but once regulators realized the general moral turpitude of the average driver, the conversation was quickly ended. The potential revenue was replaced by convincing advertisers such as Tide detergent to spend millions to have their logos emblazoned across the hoods of the cars. Think about it. What does Tide do? It makes your clothes clean. Do stock car fans care about clean anything? I rest my case.

It’s just three days from Christmas (unless you’re Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or heathen) and you might be panicking about a gift for that Bubba-Who-Has-Everything on your list. Why not give him lessons at the Dale Jarrett School of Stock Car Racing, where he can drive more than 165 mph. It might be a way to cross him off your Christmas list permanently!

In closing, I offer these quick assessments of some prominent stock car figures:

Junior Johnson — The Grandaddy of Modern Racing. Author Tom Wolfe made Junior the subject of one of his earliest Esquire articles. Won the first Daytona 500.

Lee Petty — Richard Petty’s daddy, grandaddy of Kyle Petty. Won the second Daytona 500 and is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Richard Petty — The King. He would have been called The God but that would have been sacrilegious.

Dale Earnhardt –– The Intimidator. Died doing what he did best, which was to be a maniac. Secretly, his peers don’t miss him.

Cale Yarborough — The first driver to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Also appeared in two episodes of the TV show Dukes of Hazzard and also appeared in a movie with Burt Reynolds.

Jeff Gordon — The Mama’s Boy. A wuss. Couldn’t hold The King’s feathered hat. The first driver to earn $100 million. Pretty much hated by other drivers, mainly because he speaks understandable English. Is way overexposed in the media, having hosted Regis and Kelly about 10 times. Also has his own video game.

* We invite you to read the entire Really True History of the USA series:



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.




The Winter Solstice officially occurs tomorrow morning (Dec. 22) at 5:30 am UTC, which is 11:30 pm tonight (Dec. 21) Central Time. After that, the days start getting longer. Yay.

The winter solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet’s polar hemisphere is farthest away from the star that it orbits. Earth’s maximum axial tilt to our star, the Sun, during a solstice is 23° 26′. Yay.

But what does it MEAN? For the ancients, it symbolized the fine line between a partay and starvation. The wine and beer made from the previous growing season’s crops were now alcoholic enough to induce intoxication. Knowing the months ahead were going to be sketchy from a food point of view, some cultures slaughtered animals rather than feed them scarce grain. This meant a feast, followed inevitably by several months of pretty lean viddles. The Winter Solstice was so important that the ancient Celts invented engineering so they could create Stonehenge which was a giant rock calendar to indicate when the solstice had arrived.


Although the Xians will holler bloody murder, Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25 because in ancient times, the Winter Solstice occurred on or about that date. Historians actually think Jesus of Nazareth was born in summer, probably in August.

Ancient Celtic Druid

The people most inextricably linked to the Winter Solstice are the Druids, Celtic priests who engaged in ritualistic magic and blood sacrifice. Today, many Druidic practices are frowned upon but you can create a druid character on World of Warcraft and level him up without shedding any real blood. Just watch out for the murlocs.

A murloc

On the cusp of this astronomical event, I invite you to join the ancients in celebrating the longest night/shortest day of the year. Rather than slaughtering livestock, why not send me a nice meat bundle from Omaha Steaks? In return, I will perform sacred and arcane rituals on your behalf, rituals that include mud, skins, dancing around a heelstone, shaking rattles, and a certain amount of nakedness under the moonlight. Check YouTube for the videos.

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.



Kim Jong Il (Quaker Oatmeal commemorative package)Another great world figure has passed from the stage. RIP Kim Jong Il.

Sure, Vaclav Havel served as an inspiration to millions, the poet-politician who became president of the Czech Republic. Havel was described by the Christian Science Monitor as “Impish, shy, a playwright and poet, a friend of both rock and roll stars and physicists, Havel offered not just a voice, but a deeply moral and spiritual vision for human rights and for addressing what he called “our crisis of civilizational values.”’

That’s great. But Vaclav Havel never ever had 11 holes in one in a single round of golf. He never shot an incredible 34 under par. Upon finishing this, the first and only round of golf he would ever play, Kim announced his retirement from the sport.

As a poet and playwright, Havel published six books of poetry, 19 plays, nine books of nonfiction and a novel. Impressive but far from the 1,500 books Kim is reported to have written during a three-year period in college.

Kim Jong Il (Al Davis impersonation)

Vaclav Havel never had the panache to carry off the jumpsuit and platform shoes look, not to mention the pompadour.

Unlike Kim, Havel never even approached spending $800,000 a year on Hennessey cognac, and this in a country where the average annual income is a buck and a half.

A North Korean government website once stated that Kim Jong-il never needed to urinate or defecate. Havel peed and pooped.

In summation: Vaclav Havel = great man. Kim Jong Il = godlike.

Al Davis (Kim Jong Il impersonation)


Sometime soon, just for laughs, take an informal poll among your friends and relatives; ask them “who da man?” Good question. Who IS Da Man? If you want, we can meet back here after the holidays and compare notes.

How would YOU answer the question? Would you select a great political leader? A brilliant scientist? A star athlete” A religious figure? Perhaps a military hero? Who IS da man?

I humbly submit there is ONLY ONE “Da Man” and his name is Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, AKA, "Da Man"

Last night, we were at a brass band concert here in Mount Vernon. During the encore song of a very nice program, a door to the auditorium opened, spilling light down the aisle. When people turned to see who was coming in so late in the program, they saw Santa Claus himself entering the room, stopping to shake hands, wave and wish people Merry Christmas. After the song ended, the young female conductor turned around and when she saw Santa, she lit up. Santa had done what he does better than anyone who ever lived; he brought joy to someone.

It’s a big shock when you learn the literal truth about Santa. Sometimes you’re young (as in when an older sibling rats it out) and sometimes you’re older (my nine-year-old grandson still believes!). Sometimes you learn slowly (rumors grow more numerous, you start to figure out the story is illogical and violates common sense in any number of ways). Other times, it’s as quick as a slap across the face with a wet mitten. Boom, it’s over for me so it’s over for you, kid sister!

But after a while, if you want, you can build an alternative world for yourself where Santa and Aristotle can both exist.  Of COURSE there’s not just a single Santa. There’s too many people around the world for one individual to be able to give joyservice to them all.

Merry Old Santa by Thomas Nast (1886)

Even if you figure a big fraction of the world’s 8 billion people aren’t part of the Santa orbit (Jews, Muslims, commies, Hindus, Ba’hais, etc) there is STILL a ton of work. So many years ago, the Main Santa decided to open some recruiting posts. Given the fact that Santa is a rotund man, it was logical for M.S. to turn quickly to Iowa as prime recruiting ground. The state’s economic development office immediately offered some choice locations, conveniently TIF’d so as to sweeten the pot. It was a big success! Given the unemployment rate in the state, the fact that a good portion of the state’s workforce is idle over the winter (farmers, etc.) and given the fact that Iowans have a neutral accent (experience has shown that Santas with pronounced drawls or New Jersey accents encounter legitimacy problems in the field). Plus, Iowans are nice which is a required quality for Santa.

So those Santas you see around town are trainees, interns if you will. Hard-working rookies who are learning the Santa ropes. But why? The pay is bad; being a Santa isn’t going to help you crack the 1%. The suit is hot, the hours long, the beard itchy, the likelihood of some kid dumping a Slurpee down your pants is high. Money is not the motivator. Nor is fame. If anyone labors in anonymity, it’s the guy behind the Santa suit.

Father Christmas

The reward of being Santa comes from being plugged into the myth, to be part of that big river of belief that’s been flowing through Euro-Western society for more than a thousand years. Based mainly on St. Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop, Santa Claus also draws on Germanic pagan traditions such as that of Odin. By the middle ages, a character named Sinterklaas had emerged in what is now Holland. The stories about Santa’s employment of elves derive directly from the Sinterklaas story, although Sinter used mischievous helpers in blackface and colorful outfits. These assistants were called ‘Zwarte Pieten’ or Black Peter. You can look all this stuff up.

While the Santa you see in the store, at the mall, on the corner, may not be Main Santa, he (I’ve never seen a she-Santa) IS a continuation and culmination of centuries of tradition. And while for kids, Santa’s main job is to haul the merchandise, for many of us who have exited through the one-way door of belief, Santa still brings a smile to our faces. We smile because we remember the magic Santa brought when we were kids, when we looked for cookie-remnant evidence of his presence. We smile at the thought of a rotund man controlling an eight (or on foggy nights, nine) reindeer hitch flying through the sky. We smile because we remember the Night Before Christmas, and yes, Victoria and trying to figure out how Santa moved his throne from Sears to J.C. Penney faster than we could walk between those stores. We smile when we remember the letters we sent him c/o North Pole, so carefully written, so lovingly addressed. We remember focusing on being good just after Thanksgiving and hoping it would be enough. We smile to remember marking years by the arrival of Christmas.

1918 parade featuring Santa Claus who is about to use a ladder to climb onto the balcony

Mainly we smile because Santa is Da Man.


It’s Saturday night!

Saturday Night Fever! Saturday Night Live! Saturday night’s alright for fighting! Saturday night special! Saturday night massacre! Saturday night and Sunday morning. As those inimitable philosophers, the Bay City Rollers, sang:

Gonna dance with my baby till the night is thru
On Saturday Night, Saturday Night
Tell her all the little things I’m gonna do

Tonight, we’re taking my mother-in-law, who will turn 90 in exactly one week, to the Mount Vernon school auditorium to listen to the Eastern Iowa Brass Band. If I tell my mother-in-law “all the things I’m gonna do” it’s likely to be “I’m gonna put your oxygen machine under your seat and hang your coat on the back, OK?” or “I’m gonna get another cookie, do you want one?”

The local paper says the program will be in two parts. The first part will be the EIBB’s program from the recent US Open Brass Band Championships competition. After intermission, the band will play Christmas (OK, “holiday”) songs. The audience can sing along. Santa Claus is expected to show up. Afterward, there will be a cookie reception. How did my life come to this?

John Travolta as Tony Manero

Saturday night holds an exalted place in our culture. You know you’re growing up when Saturday night starts to become important, the  pinnacle of the week, when that brief respite from the alarm clock combines with the desire to socialize, to get out and boogie, to mix and mingle, to participate in the pursuit of the opposite (and in some cases, the same) sex. Friday night, you’re too tired from the work week. Sunday night, you’re thinking about the work week.

Saturday Night Special, Version 1

Time was, on a Saturday night I would dress carefully, slap on some pre-Axe fragrance and head out for some rock and roll. That was then. This is now.

My earliest memories of Saturday night are of my parents going out. Parents gone, good. We can stay up late. In high school, I was introduced to mixed gender parties. Parties, good. It wasn’t long before I was introduced to beer. Beer, good. When I reached legal drinking age, I was introduced to bars. Bars, good. Bars with rock and roll, very very good. Bars with women who like to drink and dance to rock and roll, most excellent! Bars with women who like to drink and dance and…well, you get the picture.

Saturday night was

This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This precious stone set in the silver sea…

OK, so I edited a few lines from the Shakespeare’s Richard II. I needed to get some high culture in this post. I didn’t want you to get the impression that I was a boozehound who frequented bars and stalked women. Not any more.

Saturday Night Special, Version 2

As I grew into my 30 and 40s, Saturday nights found me less and less likely to be in a bar and more and more likely to be at a dinner party. Relaxing with some friends around a table of good food and a good vintage. By the time I reached my 50s, I’d given up alcohol (having consumed my share and your share too) which made me rethink some of my core beliefs in the structure of Saturday night. I spent a few Saturday nights at AA meetings, which offer camaraderie but which don’t offer the same level of excitement of your average dinner party. Or even of your average brass band concert. But it had to be done.

Sad to say, I no longer anticipate Saturday night the way I once did. Saturday night is for the young and the young at heart but that’s all relative; In the unlikely event I make it to 90, I hope I’ll have any desire to get out at all.


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.


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