Saturday, July 30, 2016

Northwest Iowa, Haven't You Had Enough?

I was born in Iowa, raised in Iowa, and educated in Iowa.

And I'm ashamed that US Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was born in the Hawkeye State, too.

Matter of fact, I'm heavily ashamed.   

I remember when he decided he wanted to go out for a seat in this country's House of Representatives. 

The year was 2002, and King was seeking the seat that, at the time, was held by fellow Republican Tom Latham. (Redistricting sent Latham to head for another Iowa Congressional district to fight to keep his place in the US House.) 

The reconfigured 5th District- the prize King was looking for- included Council Bluffs. (Meanwhile, Latham ended up having to fight another Republican incumbent, Greg Ganske, for the right to represent Iowa's 4th District.) 

At the time, I read an Omaha World-Herald article that talked about one of King's early campaign stops...a church in Council Bluffs. In the article, it talked about how some African-American people were standing in the back of the same room where the then Iowa state senator was campaigning.

Storm Lake native King asked: "Is this the back of the bus?" 

I thought to myself: "Jim...can you say 'red flag?'"  

King (a state senator since 1997) went on to top three other GOP hopefuls in the 5th District's House primary; on 11-5-2002, he crushed his Democratic opponent, a Council Bluffs city council member named Paul Shomshor, 62%-38%. 

SAK grabbed every county in the district except Pottawattamie...the one that contains Council Bluffs. 

He went on to win the next four elections by landslides, winning reelection during that eight-year period by an average margin of 26.5%. In 2008 and 2010, King snared all 32 counties in his district. 

Then came 2012.

Because of the 2010 Census, a House seat was taken away from the Hawkeye State. (Iowa's population grew by 4% between 2000 and 2010- not nearly enough of an increase to allow the state to keep five places in the 435-member House of Reps.)

While the new 3rd District (Southwest Iowa) resulted in Latham having to fight Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell for the right to represent it, the reshaped 4th District (Northwest Iowa) placed King in competition with Christie Vilsack, the former Iowa first lady who moved back to the state to try to kick King out of Congress. 

King went forth, 53%-45%; then in 2014, he mowed down Jim Mowrer, 62%-38%. 

You know what hurt about King's win over Vilsack?

Six months after launching his sixth term of office, the man who calls Kiron, IA home popped off about proposed immigration legislation: "For every [undocumented immigrant] who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds- and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."

I cringed when I found out ol' Kingie said this.

*It wasn't the first time I cringed over something King said or did as a US representative. Three years earlier, King defended the use of racial profiling by law-enforcement officials: "It's not wrong to use race or other indicators for the sake of identifying people that are violating the law." 

*In an early (2005) House vote, King voted against the $52 billion package earmarked for victims of Hurricane Katrina. His excuse: "Whatever happened to fiscal responsibility?" 

I'll bet the next time a major atmospheric disaster hits Northwest Iowa, Steven Arnold King- if he's still in the House- will be the first to scream for money to repair the damage (especially if a tornado levels Kiron).  

*A lot of the information going into this post came from Wikipedia; because of, I found out that King has a Dixie Swastika (oops...I mean Confederate flag) on his office desk. 

Didn't somebody tell this man that Iowa was part of the Union during this country's Civil War? 

*King's one of the many, many reasons the Republicans can't draw Latino/a/x American voters...thanks to remarks like this about HUD Secretary Julian Castro: "What does Julian Castro know? Does he know that I'm as Hispanic and Latino as he?"

Yeah, Steven.

And I'm Spongebob Squarepants.  

*And how about Steve King's recent efforts to prevent Harriet Tubman's profile from replacing that of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill?
In trying to block this country's Treasury Department from modifying the currency, King called the attempt to put Tubman on the $20 "sexist" and "racist."

To him, it's not about the Underground Railroad's conductor. "It's about keeping the picture on the $20. Y'know? Why would you want to change that? I am a conservative. I like to keep what we have." 

It's a good thing King was in high school in 1964 (the year he turned fifteen)...when Benjamin Franklin's profile on the half dollar was replaced with John F. Kennedy's. (But then, King probably wrote a letter to the editor of his high-school paper to complain about the change.)

*If you're not cringing along with me right now, maybe this is the tip of the iceberg for you: King's equally infamous remarks delivered at last week's Cleveland Hatefest (oops...I mean Republican National Convention). 

Iowa's longest-tenured current US rep appeared on MSNBC's coverage of this year's GOP confab. He was part of a panel moderated by Chris Hayes (of All In fame); Esquire columnist Charles Pierce was there, too.

Pierce talked about how the 2016 Republican assembly could be the last one where "old White people would command the Republican Party's attention." 

The message made King bristle, so he said: "I'd ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?" 

Well, if this gun-rights advocate from Northwest Iowa had calmed down for a little bit, he would've realized the Chinese gave the world gunpowder. And he would've come to understand that we use Arabic numerals (that's right, 0 through 9) in our everyday lives.

Plus, King would've come to dig that the corn harvester (what's Iowa without corn?) came from the mind of Henry Blair, a Marylander who came up with this invention in 1834. 

Blair was the first African American (or one of the first) to receive a patent after coming up with an invention. 

And all that's just scratching the surface. 

So, there you have it. If you live in Sioux City, LeMars, Spencer, Storm Lake, Spirit Lake, or some other community in Northwest Iowa, ask yourself what Steven A. King has done for your House district...other than keeping it in the headlines. 

Are you really proud to get "represented" by the man InsideGov labeled as the least productive member of Congress? (What legislation of his has King managed to get out of committee?)

What keeps you voting for this proven bigot?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Real Pain

These last sixteen days have basically been the pits for me.

I'm still in pain...even if it's not the physical kind.

First and foremost, I'm grieving the loss of a friend from my Adult Children of Alcoholics days, Rosemary "Billi" Whelton (12-24-1944/7-21-2016), who went on to become a Great Plains Ragtime Society member. 

Here's how she looked in 1963, the year she graduated from Omaha Cathedral High School.

I really loved Billi's sense of humor...and her generosity.

Next, I'm hurting inside over the consequences of a corporate, job-related decision. (I'll just leave it at that.)

And I'm still unhappy about how this year's Ragtime to Riches Festival went. Billi didn't get to attend it, because she spent the bulk of 2016 in hospice after being diagnosed with the cancer that ultimately cost the former smoker and recovering alcoholic her life. 

On the run-up to R to R 12.0 (in fact, an hour before the event's workshop got started), I took heat over missing this year's World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival...the first one ever held in Mississippi after the previous 41 took place in Illinois.

My absence from this year's Memorial Day weekend get-together was labeled a "disappointment."


I emailed several other OTPP wheelers-dealers to tell them I couldn't make the trip this year.

To repeat: I'm to undergo cataract surgery in my left eye later this year (or early in 2017).

Before the surgery can begin, I need to pay the $165 I owe for the work done on that same left eye (12-14-2015) to repair its retina...and cough up an additional $1,500 before the clinic that did the retina work can touch my left eyeball again.

Yes, I've got health insurance through the place where I work...but it's useless in a case such as this.

It takes at least two weeks for people to recover from cataract surgery. I've got two weeks- ten working days- left here in 2016 to use as paid vacation time.

Because of the impending surgery, this year's personal paid vacation time is spoken and accounted for.

All of this on top of the University of Mississippi charging more than the Old-Time Music Preservation Association (the previous OTPP steward group) did not only to attend the contest, but also to enter its events.

Here's my question for those who've criticized my decision not to try to come to Oxford, MS, for OTPP 42.0:


You tell me. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I've Got Some Really Good News and Some Very Bad News

First, the very bad news:

Only six tickets were sold for this year's Ragtime to Riches Festival, held at Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ. (Last year, the Great Plains Ragtime Society sold thirteen ducats.)

Now here's the really good news:

All the attendees really enjoyed themselves at this past Sunday's event.

Admittedly, 7-10-2016 was a scorcher here in the River City. (7-12-2015- the day of the previous R to R Festival- turned out to be hot outside here in Nebraska's largest city, too.) 

Well, some things were different about the twelfth R to R. One of the differences was...a new workshop presenter. 

2016 represented Faye Ballard's first year of giving a Ragtime to Riches workshop. This year's topic was one that one of the 2006 performers, Nan Bostick (one of the best ragtime historians who ever lived), touched on: "Women in Ragtime." 

And like Nan's presentation from a decade ago, Faye's presentation hit the spot. 

The Champaign, IL native presented a dozen rags by women composers. (Did you know that at least 500 women wrote one rag or more apiece during the 1899-1917 period?) 

For me, some of the standouts in Faye's workshop were "The Allen Glide," written by Louise Allen in 1915; "Chicken Chowder," penned a decade earlier by a St. Louis teenager named Irene Giblin; Adeline Shepard's rousing "Pickles and Peppers;" "The Thriller," a 1909 May Aufderheide rag; and a 1907 number, Julia Lee Niebergall's "Hoosier Rag."

When it came time to change from workshop presenter to concert performer, Faye switched the focus to some of ragtime's men composers. First up was "The Harlem Rag," the Tom Turpin piece that was the first published rag written by an African-American composer; then 1899's "Original Rags," the first of five Scott Joplin numbers the recently-retired office manager from Central Illinois played at this year's R to R. 

Faye didn't leave the other two members of ragtime's Big Three behind; she turned in James Scott's "Frog Legs Rag" and Joseph Lamb's "Ragtime Nightingale."

Then she gave two examples of what rag pianists would play in the "cutting contests" of that 1899-1917 period: "It Had to Be You" and "Mack the Knife," both of which actually were written in the 1920s...long after the Ragtime Era ended. 

Faye wrapped it all up by coming up with a fine, fine version of "Twelfth Street Rag." 

I was scheduled to go up at 4:15 PM (Central time)...but I ended up deciding to start my own concert at 4:30 PM after helping Marty Mincer get set up for the anchor leg of R to R 2016. (We'll take a look at the anchor leg later!) turn at bat had a head start, preceding the workshop by ten minutes, the better to help out a festival fan who needed to attend her oldest grandson's birthday party. 

So I wrapped up the festival's open-piano session with my first two concert selections: "In the Good Old Summertime" and "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans."

Once the clock ticked 4:30 PM, I picked my own concert thread back up and continued to focus on tunes I'd done in competition at the event Faye serves as its coordinator: The World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival.

Mindful of the fact that the Illinois-turned-Mississippi competition started out as a fundraiser for the Monticello (IL) Railway Museum, and thinking about how contestants initially had to choose a rail-related song among their selections, I offered up "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad..." one of just two numbers I'd been able to play as a finalist (the year was 1994).

In addition, George Giefer's 1899 winner "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" worked out fine (well, at least the audience thought so); so did my closer, "In My Merry Oldsmobile."

This concert included three rags: Charles Hunter's 1899 "Tickled to Death," W.C. Polla's 1904 "Funny Folks," and E. Warren Furry's only rag of consequence, his 1902 "Robardina Rag."

And this machine operator from here in Omaha (by way of Des Moines, IA) called an audible, replacing would-be selection "Grand March (from 'Aida')" with "Take Your Girlie to the Movies (If You Can't Make Love at Home)."

Speaking of movies...the R to R anchor leg was a movie. 

For the first time in R to R history, we'd show a silent film. In this case, it was Harold Lloyd's 1920 winner "Get Out and Get Under." 

And instead of giving a conventional concert, Marty was in town to cue the movie. 

With Marty (the apple farmer from Hamburg, IA) providing the DVD, some friends from the church I go to providing a DVD projector, and First Central itself coming up with a DVD player, we were ready to go. 

We didn't even need a screen.

The DVD projector went on top of the church's turn-of-the-20th-Century Anderson & Newton upright piano and was aimed at one of the blank walls at the church's Memorial Hall.

That setup worked out fine. 

Marty's accompaniment (on the church's turn-of-the-21st-Century Yamaha grand piano) was right on. (He even threw some post-1920 wrinkles in there, and also pulled out a song from 1962- "Puff, the Magic Dragon-" during a scene where Harold was lighting up a cigarette.)

"Get Out and Get Under" was some kind of hilarious. 

Now if we'd been able to get more people to come to First Central this past Sunday. 

I'm thinking of some projects that can get more people (especially people here in the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area) to check out the R to R Festival...and help keep old-time piano alive.

If you've got any suggestions, feel free to pass them along. ( up isn't an option!)

It's time for some really good news and some very GOOD news.