Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Pride of Iowa

Okay, so some background. If you two didn't know, I live in Iowa, and am very proud of that fact. Recently, Professor Stephen Bloom published an article in The Atlantic concerning Iowa. It's very long, but it really has to be read to be believed just how big of a dick one man can be towards a state. So, I felt it was my responsibility as a loyal Iowan to defend his state. Others have done it before I got done with mine, but I had work and finals. Plus, you know, being a cool guy that has things to do. Not really. My roommate took our TV. So, uh, this is a lot longer than my normal posts but I'd really appreciate if you could give it a look. I will be sending in a copy to the Atlantic itself, but they only accept submissions by mail, so that'll be a bit.
If you don't have the time to read the entire thing (either mine or his), here's a summary. tl;dr: Stephen Bloom is a doodyhead that is mean to my state.

            Perhaps I should thank Professor Stephen G. Bloom for his essay on Iowa. I know that seems a little odd, but even as a born and raised Iowan, I do find myself having this thought. All of my life, I have taken pride in my state, often presenting my views to anyone who would listen. Most of these attempts were met with silence, but now, because of Prof. Bloom, my fellow Iowans are now speaking up like I have been. Because of Prof. Bloom’s unfair and even sometimes slanderous composition, we Iowans have been given a target to unite against, and that is needed from time to time. The essay that Bloom had published in The Atlantic was originally, and supposedly overall, concerned with the fact that the first presidential primaries take place in such a small, out of the way state. Of course, he only covers this topic in the first five paragraphs and the last sentence, thrown in as if he had reached his word limit and needed a desperate way to tie his way back into the thesis statement.

            But, of course, in any rebuttal, perhaps we should start with the major topic first, and slowly move our way down each supporting paragraph as it crops up in the essay. Prof. Bloom starts his paper disparaging the political practices of glad-handing in the state that owns the first presidential primary, although we in Iowa hold a caucus. Why do we cling to this dated practice? Well, you see, I’m not entirely sure. It’s how it has worked in Iowa for some time and since we haven’t had any major problems with it, we Iowans haven’t gotten around to tackling the issue. Although for the record, the Republican Party does not use a caucus like the Democrats do, they subscribe to a secret ballot like most other primaries. And, with respect to Prof. Bloom, I cannot argue that the practice of politicians coming to Iowa to use its unique status as the first major stage in order to vault themselves to further heights is a negative. After they feel the bonus in national attention, they often drop Iowa by the wayside, without breakfast or a phone number.

            The major problem with this essay, other than its treatment of Iowans as a whole, is the assumption Bloom makes at the very beginning and bases the rest of his essay on. He seems to believe that Iowans hold the power to determine who is eventually nominated for his party (or her party, which is a possibility in 2012), and uses Barack Obama as his example. Because Barack Obama (or perhaps a different Obama, as Prof. Bloom does not use his entire name in the opening paragraphs) won the Iowa caucuses with an 8% lead over John Edwards in 2008, Bloom argues, he was given the fame and resources necessary to continue his run, eventually securing the nomination, and the presidency later still. Bloom jumps from this conclusion to suggest maybe Iowa should not be the state that wields this much power.

            What Prof. Bloom happens not to mention is that the Republican candidate that won that year’s caucuses was Mike Huckabee, with only 4% less of the support than Obama (38%-34%). Mike Huckabee went on to be mathematically eliminated some time before the Texas primaries. The man who eventually earned his party’s nomination was John McCain, who finished at fourth in Iowa, with a distant 13% of Iowans’ votes. According to Bloom’s implied hypothesis to begin his paper, Mike Huckabee should have earned the notoriety and name recognition through Iowa to continue a successful run towards the candidacy. Huckabee eventually was named winner of only two other primaries, in West Virginia and Kansas, both within the same week of each other.

            Again, one could argue that the 2008 race was simply out of the pattern, and for the most part Iowans do indeed choose the same man that ends up as his party’s candidate. But here lies another logical fallacy; correlation does not prove causation. Just because Iowans pick the same man that the party does, does not mean that Iowans caused that man to be picked for the national stage. In fact, it may suggest Iowans typically have their finger on the pulse of national sentiment. That conclusion would end in the decision that not only is Iowa an okay place to hold the first primaries, but it is the right place, a sort of straw poll that is historically backed to be accurate. Instead of Prof. Bloom’s idea that as Iowa sways, so does the nation, instead we might find that as the nation sways, so does Iowa.

            I could end the discussion here, and may be satisfied. I know that Descartes would say that if we can prove a logical doubt in anything, then we can never fully trust it again. But something compels me to continue, unsatisfied with simply negating the base of Prof. Bloom’s argument. It might be because of my pride in my state, my love for my fellow Iowans, a simple Midwestern stubbornness, or maybe I continue solely because it seems Prof. Bloom would be honestly surprised a 19-year-old who was born in Cedar Rapids and has lived in Iowa his whole life would know who Descartes is.

            Perhaps this would be a good time to tell you all about myself. My name is Michael (Mick) Dickinson, and I’m an Iowan. I was born, like I said, in Cedar Rapids (pop: 126,500) in 1992. I’ve lived in the same house my entire life, and attended the same school district until my graduation in the spring of 2010. Now I attend school at the University of Northern Iowa studying to become a high school social science teacher. I achieved a score of 31 on my ACTs and have been on the UNI’s Dean’s List both semesters that have been reported, with an average GPA of 3.65. I see no reason that I will ever leave Iowa.

            So. Now that you know more about me, (I promise that was not bragging, at least not entirely, and it will come up later) we can move on to the meat of Prof. Bloom’s essay. He begins the writings with a brief introduction to the geography of Iowa, and I have to say, I’ve got no problem here. Our state is different from one part to another. Although I’m not crazy about North America’s largest river being referred to as “muddy and polluted,” I can’t deny it has seen better days. As for the towns along the Mississippi being “skuzzy” and “crime infested,” I do have some problems with. Keokuk, the example Professor Bloom uses, does indeed have a crime rate higher than that of the national average. That’s a fact, and one Iowans shouldn’t be proud of. But Prof. Bloom’s previous city before he moved to Iowa of San Francisco boasts the title of being safer than only 9% of towns and cities around the U.S. Now, I don’t mean to make any accusations, because I, along with most Iowans, was raised not to make assumptions about places you have never lived, or won’t understand. I just make the suggestion that a town most Americans think of as beautiful and cultured is only safer than 9% of the rest of the country’s cities.

            Now, once again, Prof. Bloom raises the valid point that the state is split almost perfectly down the middle both in geography and politics. Congratulations, you’ve proven our state is not completely the same across the board. The state has bipartisan senators, Chuck Grassley (R), and Tom Harkin (D), one of only 16 states to have one senator from each major party, while 23 states have a homogenous representation in the Senate. The fiftieth state is Vermont, which has one Democrat, Patrick Leahy, and an Independent, Bernard Sanders.

            As for Prof. Bloom’s point about Rep. Steve King (R), he’s got Iowans on that one. I’m not in his district, so I cannot vote him out. However, I thought it was a little tacky to use Keith Olbermann as a reputable source on King’s conduct and decision making inside Congress. It would be the same as reasoning that Marion Barber be fired from the Chicago Bears football team because Chris Berman gave him a “C’mon Man!” during his spot on ESPN.

            Bloom next brings up Iowa’s legalization of gay marriage. He seems to be genuinely surprised, and implies that the overturn of that legalization will happen at any time. Bloom, it seems, is trying to paint Iowans as contradictory to their own loyalties. Meanwhile, his previous state of California, which is normally painted as the most liberal, Democrat state in the country, and despite the large homosexual population inside its borders, has yet to permanently legalize gay marriage, having the referendum fail on numerous attempts.

            This next paragraph is can be labeled the spot where Prof. Bloom steps from speaking out against Iowa being the state to hold the first presidential primaries, and instead jumps over a line into speaking out against Iowa in general. The opening line of the thirteenth paragraph illustrates just what Bloom thinks of the state. “Whether a schizophrenic,” I might suggest the more positive ‘ideologically diverse,’ but whatever, “…economically-depressed,” again, I‘d advise a fairer description as ‘vulnerable to the same economic downturn the rest of the country is facing,’ but once again, Bloom chooses negative terms. He continues, “and some say, culturally-challenged state like Iowa” so Iowa isn’t holding operas every Saturday night, and we are a little behind on fads. To illustrate how I’m not convinced that this is a negative on the same level as the others, please allow me to quote a Minnesota-based rapper I follow, Slug from Atmosphere, in his reference to living in the Midwest, “So the night life ain’t all that, but that’s okay/ I don’t need to be tempted by the devil every day.” But in defense of Iowa’s culture, the school that Prof. Bloom taught at for twenty years, the University of Iowa, holds the extremely prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, which was well-run enough to attract renowned author Kurt Vonnegut into a teaching position, and even helped him hone his enormous talents. Grant Wood, painter of possibly the most recognizable American painting, American Gothic, was born in Iowa, died in Iowa, and between he painted scenes from the state that he loved.

            In the same paragraph, Bloom preaches that “In a perfect world, no way would Iowa ever be considered representative of America, or even a small part of it.” The major reason that Iowa would be unrepresentative of America that jumps to mind is its small population of just over 3 million people. However, while Iowa is 30th in population, that seems a might sense more representative of the country at large than those states with tens of millions of people. What I think Prof. Bloom means is that “Iowa is not representative of the important states,” which is unfair. Iowa’s urbanization rate, although ahead of the world average, is indeed smaller than the country’s usual rate. But to suggest that because Iowa is more rural than those states on the coasts, that it does not represent anything at all, is plain ignorant. Iowa’s farming communities can have parallels found as far south as Alabama, and as west as the Rockies. States like the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas can identify with Iowa, and although the states may grow different crops, many of the same attitudes and opinions are spread throughout the Midwest.

            “Still, thanks to a host of nonsensical political precedents, whoever wins the Iowa Caucuses in January will very likely have a 50 percent chance of being elected president 11 months later,” or as we discussed, those that are elected President also probably won the Iowa Caucuses. “Go figure.” Academic. For a professor that taught journalism classes for so long, Prof. Bloom is not one to present a fair portrait and let the reader make their own conclusions.

            Skipping ahead, “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. Rows upon rows stretch further than most urban minds can fathom, leathery husks and silky tassels bending in unison to the shimmying breeze.” Okay, maybe here we can make a distinction. If that sounds like a negative to you, then I don’t know if we will ever be able to reach a satisfying conclusion. Peace, calmness, and tranquility all seem like a heaven to escape to from the busy, bright, loud streets of major cities. If Prof. Bloom seeks to paint this environment as a negative, it is more than likely that, had the technology been available when he was a child, he would have taken his cell phone on family camping trips and spent the entire time online.

            By the way, Prof., “elevators in rural America raise and lower grain, not people,” we here in Iowa do indeed make the distinction between the two. Sure, the tallest building in Iowa is only 45 stories, laughable to anyone from a major city, but we do indeed have elevators (for people, in case you couldn’t get that from my context) in this rural state.

            “Each isolated Iowa homestead is marked off by a stand of trees,” each homestead may be separated from the other, usually measured in fractions of or full miles, Iowa farming communities are far from isolated. Incidentally, some of my happiest childhood memories involve climbing those very trees you’re talking about. “Ailing windmills stand unsure next to sturdy no-nonsense homes and dilapidated peeling-red barns.” I could dispute with Prof. Bloom about the overt negativeness embedded in the words ‘ailing’ and ‘dilapidated’, but unfortunately, there is a nugget of truth. Often, a farmer will leave his old barn to collapse through weathering instead of spending the money and time to demolish it himself. And as a point of information, very few barns in Iowa are actually red. I shudder to think how many Iowa farms Prof. Bloom has been to when he still generalizes barns in that way. The professor may have accidentally crossed the border into Wisconsin, where the barns are, more often than not, indeed red.

            “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,” yes it is. I’m not going to lie, tractor pulls exist. I have to think that tractor pulls of Iowa are like dirty, trashy beaches of the coasts. Most people have never been, and probably would not go, but it is a stereotype that exists because it allows us to make fun of those that are different from our own culture. Not that Iowans or Midwesterners as a whole do that very often, mind you.

            “There are few billboards along the washboard-bumpy, blacktop roads that slice through the countryside, only hand-drawn signs advertising sweet corn, cattle, lemonade, or boar semen.” You say that like it’s a bad thing. Once again, if you see this as a negative, I’m not sure where else we can go. Mass advertising falls only on the main roads, leaving the side and back ways open for personal sales and interactions. Sure, the boar semen sign appeals to the giggling adolescent in all of us, but it is a very necessary detail to raising a good, and profitable, herd of pigs. Us Iowans, although with our increasing Wal-Mart density, still hear the call to interact commercially in addition to socially. Once again, those farm houses may be separate, but they are not isolated.

            “Driving through these throwback towns, a stranger might receive a slight nod from a farmer on the side of the road, or a two-finger driver's greeting from knobby fingers atop a pick-up's steering wheel. Strangers are rare in these parts. Why would they be here?” Farmers don’t wave because they might know you, and are totally ignorant that a stranger may be passing through. Farmers, and most Iowans in fact, wave because it’s the nice thing to do. We try to treat each other with kindness and polite manners, and if those manners manifest as a slight wave while crossing on a back road (remember to slow down, to reduce the amount of dust that your fellow human will have to drive through) then that’s how we’ll do it. And unlike people in cities that buy pickups as status symbols, that farmer that is waving at you will be driving one because he actually has to use the bed to transport all sorts of things. And “Locals don't bother to put on their turn signals,” (although we do), not because “everyone knows where everyone else is going,” but because we’re courteous enough not to tailgate every driver on the road in order to get to whatever activity is planned for us on the other side, as fast as possible.

            Bloom, after explaining Iowa’s economic troubles as if it was the only state going through such hard times, reaches one of his original points. Barack Obama, in reference to Midwesterner’s frustration over their economic downturn (we’re raised not to be used to failure) said, “So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Any critique of this statement that can be written already has been, and by more eloquent writers than I. But I have to suggest, doesn’t the fact that we’re more than willing to distance ourselves from such a stereotype mean that we’re not nearly as ignorant as Obama, in this statement, and Bloom in the essay, are trying to illustrate? We know that those are negative things, and claim not to belong to that. If we truly believed in “clinging” to these elements, wouldn’t Iowans, and the Midwest in general, have given a resounding “You’re damn straight!”?

            Instead, Bloom constructs a straw man so off the mark that at first I wasn’t sure if it was satire or not. He gives this quote as a sort of typical Iowan’s response, “Whaddaya expect from a Harvard-educated, black city slicker who wouldn't know a John Deere tractor from an International Harvester combine?" Firstly, as a point of fact, it’s immensely easy to tell the difference between the two. All John Deeres are green, and all International Harvesters are red. Plus, combines and tractors are different vehicles. But that’s neither here nor there. The first negative Bloom tries to pin on Iowans is their fear of education. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills test, that bane of the primary school student’s existence, was developed, naturally, in Iowa. It is given country wide, and more states have developed similar tests in its wake, modeling their exams after Iowa’s example. The American College Testing test, or less redundantly known as the ACT test, which is given to high school students as a level to judge college applications and readiness for higher education across the country, was similarly developed in Iowa and still holds its headquarters in Iowa City. You think Professor Bloom would have noticed, as he spent 20 years in the same city. My point is that education is intensely important to Iowans. Later in the essay, Bloom mentions (although in a parenthetical) that on a per-capita basis, Iowa has more high school graduates than 49 other states, which is a less positive way of saying “the most high school graduates per capita”. The newest generation of farmers, my generation, is going to college in order to learn how to do their job even better, and supply the country with more food and products.

            Secondly, he paints Iowans as racist. If a man or woman chooses to identify the President as black first and foremost, and use it as a negative, they usually receive more scorn than agreement. Of course, Iowa, like any other state, does have its bad apples, but Prof. Bloom might not have been to the Deep South if he thinks that Iowans are racist at large.

            Third, he suggests that Iowans blow off any ideas given by “city-slickers.” This may have a seed of truth contained inside it, but only because Iowans don’t like being judged by those that have never experienced our culture and lifestyle. Especially those that even Prof. Bloom describes by saying “few of whom could pick out Iowa from Nebraska.” But Professor Bloom contradicts himself from when he said Iowa was not representative of any part of America? If it was as a singular anomaly as he has suggested, then even San Franciscans should have no troubles distinguishing the two.

            “Coastal elites love to dump on Iowa the same way Manhattanites trash New Jersey.” Namely by calling it “skuzzy” and “crime infested”.

            Then, for the next nine paragraphs, Professor Bloom explains Iowa’s economic downturn, influx of illegal immigrants, and attempt at making a new business for its citizens. You may say Iowa is experiencing the same troubles that a large majority of the country is. It’s a pretty good representation as a whole, I’d say. Maybe not as bad as some parts of the country, that’s a given. For example, Bloom mentions Detroit’s troubles in the same breath as Iowa’s, but manages to neglect the Michigan primary and the controversy that surrounded that experience. One would think this would be a good time to segue back into the supposed main topic, that Iowa’s primary is outdated and misrepresentative of the country.

            Instead, Bloom finishes off the paragraph following a promise of positive industry surrounding wind power with this statement. “Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated [the most ironic sic ever]) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that ‘The sun'll come out tomorrow.’” Okay, you know, fair. Everyone in our state falls into four categories: scared, dumb, meth addict, and stupidly hopeful. Nothing is mentioned about actually having pride in one’s state. This is odd coming from a man who moved to Iowa and stayed for 20 years. Is he too timid to leave? We know he’s not lacking in educated, as he teaches a college course at the University. He doesn’t seem to have much hope for Iowa, so according to his four categories, well, I’m sorry, but it seems Professor Bloom is either a waste-toid or a meth addict. Which would be surprising, because in 2004 Iowa actually had the lowest illicit drug use with only 6.1 percent of citizens 12 and older reporting their use. And as I mentioned earlier in this paper, I have academic credentials that could have gotten me into a large number of schools across the United States, but I chose UNI. Why? Because of its amazing pedigree in educating teachers. And after I graduate, I plan on staying inside Iowa. Not because I’m too timid, or lacking in educated, or a druggie, or even because I believe better days lay ahead. I will stay because I love this state.

            “It's no surprise then, really, that the most popular place for suicide in America isn't New York or Los Angeles, but the rural Middle,” Bloom writes. I’d say it’s quite surprising (although thanks for telling people that our state is so lame it makes us want to understandably kill ourselves), namely because Alaska, actually, has the highest suicide rate in America, with 24.6 suicides per 100,000 people, almost double Iowa’s rate of 13.55 per 100,000. But he even sprinkles opinions inside of his misreported facts, continuing “…where guns, unemployment, alcoholism and machismo reign.” First of all, I’m not sure which two sources Bloom is getting his info from, because the Iowa unemployment rate is actually slightly below the national average. The other three are up for each opinion on just how much these factors ‘reign’.

            “Flyover Country,” you know, it’s just where I was born and raised, but hey, thanks for the support. We’re just the majority of America’s landmass.

            “The first day I arrived from San Francisco, wandering about Iowa City during spring break, billed as a bustling Big Ten University town, I kept wondering, ‘Where is everyone?’” Oh, you know, just in a ditch doing meth before we go hunting endangered animals with our phallic symbol shotguns. We here in Iowa call it “a Sunday afternoon”.

                Indoor parking lots are ramps, soda is pop,” good luck getting two Iowans in a row to agree to this, lollipops are suckers,” because you suck on them, you see. “…grocery bags are sacks, weeds are volunteers,” I’ve lived in Iowa my entire life and I’ve never heard weeds referred to as ‘volunteers,’ “miniature golf is putt-putt,” or, mini-golf, supper is never to be confused with dinner, cellars and basements are totally different places, and boys under the age of 16 are commonly referred to as ‘Bud.’” Alright, I’ve decided. Prof. Bloom is right. Iowans sure do things slightly differently! How crazy. However, I fail to see the connection to the presidential primaries. At all.  “…the aroma of pig shit is absolutely venerated in Iowa: It's known to one and all here as ‘the smell of money’," I’ve lived in Iowa my whole life, and the only thing I’ve heard referring to pig crap is “disgusting.”

            “Rural houses are modest, some might say drab. Everyone strives to be middle-class; and if you have some money, by God you'd never want to make anyone feel bad by showing it off. If you go to Florida for a cruise, you keep it to yourself. The biggest secret often is -- if you still own farmland -- exactly how many acres. Ostentatious is driving around town in a new Ford F-150 pickup.” Sorry we don’t party. I am sitting here, trying to think why this is a bad thing. I honestly cannot. Saving your money for things that matter, like your kids’ education, instead of spending it on superfluous things like a house that’s too large to fill, or a car that looks nice but will skid out on gravel roads? That sounds like a plus to me. I’ve been raised all my life not to flaunt being well-to-do in front of others.

            My father worked the same white collar job since he graduated from college, an accounting position at Rockwell Collins (one of the largest employers in Cedar Rapids, producing aircraft and radio technologies that power the airplanes that fly you over this country). After so many years with the same company, my father was often promoted or given raises. As I write this, my core aches cause I’m afraid it’ll sound like I’m bragging, something I’m wont to do. But my father was rewarded for his loyalty to the company, and was able to buy the same house that I was born in, the same house that we were still paying off when my oldest brother applied for student loans to go to Coe College, a quite good private college in downtown Cedar Rapids, and the same house that they still live in now that all of their children have left home. But little by little, being happy with a middle class existence, my father was able to put enough money away to pay the entirety of my education at UNI, and my older brother’s at ISU.

            Some others who are up to their eyeballs in debt may call me entitled because daddy pays my way through school. But every night at 5 o’clock, I put on my polo and travel the twenty minutes into Waterloo to work my job as a freight worker at The Home Depot. From 6 to midnight, I work a good, hard, honest job, sometimes using my junior-level Spanish in order to communicate with customers, or waiting politely for members of Waterloo’s burgeoning Bosnian population to work through a family member as a translator. I work not because I’m bored, but in order to begin making money for myself so that I can pay for my kids’ educations like my father did for me. Lord knows I need to start now, being a public school teacher.

            Why am I so far off my original mark? Well, unlike Prof. Bloom, I can relate this story back to the point. By giving up unnecessary spending, which isn’t easy to do in college, I can store the money I save in a savings account, where I can remove it later when I actually need it. Iowans are taught not only to be thrifty because it’s the smart idea, but it finds its roots in courtesy and kindness. The only time you should look at your neighbor’s plate is not to see if he’s getting more than you, but to make sure he’s getting enough. I’m sorry if that was a lot. That was a section that meant a lot to me, and I can save time by skipping over some of Prof. Bloom’s inane writings.

            “NASCAR is a spectator sport that folks can't get enough of.” I don’t know one single person who watches NASCAR seriously.

            “ You can't drive too far without seeing a sign for JESUS or ABORTION IS LEGALIZED MURDER.” Just like in every state, people are fond of expressing their opinions. Opinions that not all Iowans share, but these signs are very, very seldom vandalized, because it’s not our place to tell others what to think.

                “A professor I know at the University of Iowa chides her students for sitting in the back of a lecture hall, saying, ‘This isn't church, you know.You see, in Methodist and Presbyterian churches, which are common in Iowa, people often fill in the back first. Not because if they get too close to the cross it might burn them, but because they do not wish to show everyone else just how much they are worshipping, and are just fine not being at the front of the crowd.

            Next, he tells about his annual lecture surrounding not bidding strangers “Merry Christmas!” for the fear that they might not be Christian. Once again, Bloom and I strangely agree. It is presumptuous and possibly rude to just assume such a thing as religion. But when Bloom uses a student who disagrees with him to illustrate just how deep religion is ingrained inside our Iowan society (negatively, of course), I have to disagree for the umpteenth time. You see, although this particular student may, in fact, have been clinging to religion, (who knows about guns!) it’s entirely possible that we Midwesterners just don’t like being told what to do. Maybe we’re stubborn to a fault. THAT would be a fair critique. We don’t like having people come in and tell us what we’re doing is wrong. But then again, what region of people likes having that done? As for “sticking it to the ethnic interloper!” how about something that paints Iowans as slightly less racist? In fact, it wasn’t even until this line in the paper that I even found myself wondering just what Prof. Bloom looked like. After all, it was his idea that I’m disagreeing with, not his skin color, whatever it might be. I still don’t know, I haven’t looked. Also, I’d like to see two sources that prove this exchange actually happened. I have no doubt it did, but still, I think proof is necessary. After all, that’s basic journalism, right?

            “…one of my students got arrested for public intoxication,” that’s the U of I for you. Although I’m intensely proud of my state at large, I’m not exactly ecstatic about the state of its largest university. Maybe someone could write an essay about how to improve that, but of course, we’d get caught up in how crappy California is. “All arrests in Iowa City are published in the local newspaper, and I asked her what had had happened. ‘When my parents find out, they're going to be furious. I'll get called home for a Come-To-Jesus talk.’” So this girl’s parents are (righteously) going to be furious for her getting arrested? That sounds like good parenting. But then again, it’s not the parenting that Bloom is writing about, it’s the religion (wait, I thought it was the presidential primaries?). Are you telling me that Christian lingo finds its way into common conversation? If a non-Christian stubs his or her toe, I’m still more than willing to bet a born and raised American would let out a loud “JESUS CHRIST!” But maybe that’s just me.

            “Of the students I teach, relatively few will stay in Iowa after they graduate,” I wonder why, with such positive professors as Prof. Bloom here!

            Okay, stick with me here. It may not seem like it but I have a point. Prof. Bloom writes, “Most, if not all of these teenagers, have worked for a couple of weeks in the summer as detasselers, when they remove the pollen-producing tassel on the top of each corn plant, letting it drop to the ground, so that two varieties of corn will cross-breed and make a hybrid.” Here is where I want to question Prof. Bloom’s experiences in Iowa. For a man so self-proclaimed to be well travelled and intimately familiar with Iowa’s bests and worsts, how can he completely screw up the entire point of detasseling? You remove the tassel to prevent cross-breeding. Iowa farmers don’t want a hybrid, because that would be less productive. They want specialized corn so they know who to sell it to. You don’t want an ear of corn that has the kernals of sweet corn but the taste of feed corn. I’ve lived in Cedar Rapids most of my life, never detasseled, and I know that.

            “…serious crime is tee-peeing a high-school senior's front yard…” Crime-ridden, indeed! Those skuzzy Mississippi cities are simply COVERED in toilet paper. Maybe that would explain why the Mississippi is trash filled.

            “If rural Iowans ever drive on the highway (not much reason to do so, really),” except, you know, to get places, they welcome other vehicles accelerating on the entrance ramp, smiling, often motioning with their hand to move on over, as though gently patting the butt of a newborn.” Bloom seems to believe that the thing that the country could possibly benefit the most from, an effort to stop being dicks to each other, is now a negative.

            “The only smog comes from a late-autumn bonfire. Crime isn't way rampant in these rural towns, but it's edging upwards, particularly in towns adjacent to slaughterhouses. On summer nights, you can still keep your keys in the ignition and run into the local Casey's for an Icey or to get a cherry-dipped cone at the DQ one town over. Rural Iowa is still the kind of place where parents drop off their kids at the municipal pool to swim all day long.” A lack of smog, crime, and fear of strangers is definitely ruining this state year by year. Hell, I’m surprised we can even maintain a base social structure with this anarchy. I’m sorry, I’m not being fair. It’s just that I fail to see, one, why this is a negative aspect, and two, how this relates to the original point of the essay.

            But Prof. Bloom has an answer, writing, “Iowa is a throwback to yesteryear and, at the same time, a cautionary tale of what lies around the corner.” Okay, here we are, his coup de grace. Finally, we’ll hear how all of this relates back to the presidential primaries. The end of the essay is at hand, and the killing blow should be here shortly.

            “Which brings up my dog.” Okay… well, let’s hear him out. I’m sure it’ll come soon. Bloom goes to buy his son because a boy deserves a dog, and that draws another surprised agreement from me. Dogs teach a boy responsibility, how to be kind to those less fortunate or able than him, and respect for animals.

            “Our son, of course, got tired of Hannah after a couple of months, and to whom did the daily obligation of walking the dog fall? That’s right. To me.” Okay, so maybe not the responsibility part in this case. I don’t know about other Midwesterners, or even other Iowans, but I was raised that once you accepted a responsibility, by God (oh I’m sorry, I’m pressing my religion), you were going to carry out the responsibility come Hell or high water (damnit there I go again).

            Bloom writes that, while he was doing his son’s job of walking the dog, people would try to establish friendly conversation with him concerning if the dog hunted or not. I think I can safely assume he’s still in Iowa City, which is a large, fairly liberal town, so I wouldn’t think this would happen very often, but Prof. Bloom writes that he “couldn’t tell” us how many times that occurred.

            Finally, in the last two paragraphs, Bloom returns to the topic he seemed to have forgotten in the last 5,000 words. Just for reference, by the end of this sentence I will be at 6,244 words.

            “To me, it summed up Iowa. You'd never get a dog because you might just want to walk with the dog or to throw a ball for her to fetch. No, that's not a reason to own a dog in Iowa. You get a dog to track and bag animals that you want to stuff, mount, or eat.” Here in Iowa, we love our dogs. We love our dogs so much that when those of us that hunt get up at 4:30 in the morning to go hunting, we bring them with us. Dogs, especially those officially classified as ‘hunting’ dogs, like the same yellow lab that Prof. Bloom bought, love the outdoors. If you have never seen a dog on the hunt, I’m not sure you’ve ever seen a truly happy canine. In between patches of high grass, following a scent on the ground, and heeding the calls of its master is where a dog seems to feel it belongs. After all, dogs were once wolves, living solely in nature, hunting as part of a pack, and hunters give their pets an outlet to return to that lifestyle. Instead, Prof. Bloom believes that a dog should be kept in the house, walked on the pavement, thrown a tennis ball (which simulates bringing a kill back to its master), and over all, not given the chance to return to its roots. Iowans can’t imagine keeping a tiny dog in a small, dark purse, using them as status symbols. I have never met a man who loves his dog more than a hunter.

            You know what? Prof. Bloom has convinced me. Iowa is not a good representation of what America is. After all, no one state could be. But over the course of this essay I’ve realized that Iowa is a good representation of what America should strive to be. Iowans are kind, hardworking people. We help others when they need it, and we aren’t afraid to ask for help ourselves. When the floods of 2008 happened in my hometown of Cedar Rapids and other parts across the state, volunteers from dry towns made a flood of their own on the way to Cedar Rapids to clean and rebuild our city. Iowans are taught to be frugal, to avoid ostentatious flaunting of the wealth that may be gone by the end of the year. We know that it’s important to keep an open mind about issues, but we don’t change our mind at the drop of a hat. Our citizens in smaller towns gather together like families, and we put an emphasis on education. Iowa doesn’t have the culture that some states boast, but if that goes along with lower crime rates and drug use, then those states can keep it. Our farms and factories produce food and products that feed and supply the nation, and even the world. All through this, Iowa remains a quiet, humble place that’s willing to play its part in the country at large without much noise or fanfare.

            That's the place that may very well determine the next U.S. president.” We should damn well hope so.

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. A special thanks to Sam "Bud" Pritchard for ideas and support.

An American first but an Iowan close behind,

1 comment:

  1. Here’s our show about Bloom’s article:

    “Yale talks with four native Iowans about the depiction of them and the state they call home in Stephen Bloom’s scathing and controversial article in The Atlantic Monthly, his motives for publishing it, the response its generated across the state, and its national implications with regards to Iowa’s first in the nation voting status.”