This is how summer ends

The main stage at twilight, Wheatland 2014.


I don’t know about you, but for me, summer doesn’t end with Labor Day, or the first day of school. It ends this weekend, on an old farm in mid-Michigan, where my family, family-by-choice, and 15,000 of our closest friends gather for a weekend of camping, making music, and listening to music.

The author and his wife.

The Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, MI, has become our end-of-summer tradition since we first went with friends in 2009. While this is my family’s sixth Wheatland, some in our group have been going since 1975, the festival’s second year. Our camp now boasts three generations of native “Wheaties,” as attendees are known.

For 41 years now, the Wheatland Music Organization, has been dedicated to preserving, celebrating, and showcasing the richness of traditional music and dance. This isn’t Burning Man or Bonaroo. This is a folk festival in the best sense of the word, because the people at the festival are as much the musical fabric of the weekend as are the performers that grace the stages.

Guitars and new songs at camp.

At our camp we have guitars, banjos, fiddles, Irish flute and whistle, autoharp, mountain dulcimer, upright bass, and the best harmony our voices, liberally lubricated with whiskey and coffee, can put together. While the official Sunday morning gospel sing is at the main stage, we pregame it with a camp sing of our own.

Our numbers are a little diminished this year with some cherished members of camp missing for health reasons. It’s the second year now without our daughter, down in college in Tennessee.  And it’s likely the last one for a while for our son, who will himself head off to college at the end of this year.

The advance party for our group set off in the predawn darkness this morning to line up so that when the festival gates open they can claim our traditional camping spot and begin to lay out the dimensions of our home for the next two days. I’ll be bringing up the rear this year, hitting the road for the two-hour drive north as soon I’m done teaching for the day. By the time I get there the tents will be up, the camp kitchen organized, the instruments will be out, and the whiskey will be flowing.

I will have some catching up to do.

Happy end of summer.

Wait, what?

Taylor Swift, glamorizing colonialism, with lion.
Taylor Swift, glamorizing colonialism, with lion.


In the category of Controversies I Never Thought Could Exist, I give you Taylor Swift as glamorizer and apologist for White European colonialism in Africa. Or, as the Guardian’s headline put it:

Taylor Swift accused of racism in ‘African colonial fantasy’ video

The fuss centers on the video for Swift’s new single, “Wildest Dreams,” in which the singer plays an actress falling for her hunky co-star

Critics are shocked that,

Taylor Swift, her record label and her video production group would think it was OK to film a video that presents a glamorous version of the white colonial fantasy of Africa.

Here are some facts for Swift and her team: Colonialism was neither romantic nor beautiful. It was exploitative and brutal. The legacy of colonialism still lives quite loudly to this day.

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. All of that is true. But wow, that’s a lot of indignation to heap on something as inconsequential as a Taylor Swift video. At least in my book. So I watched the thing (the sacrifices I make for you, dear reader), and while it pains me to say so, I have to agree with the director, Joseph Khan, who told NPR in a statement:

This is not a video about colonialism but a love story on the set of a period film crew in Africa, 1950.

But then he ruins it with the equivalent of “I have lots of black friends …”:

The reality is not only were there people of color in the video, but the key creatives who worked on this video are people of color. I am Asian American, the producer Jil Hardin is an African American woman, and the editor Chancler Haynes is an African American man.

I chalk this one up to our current fascination with the Outrage of the Day. And I totally didn’t write this just so I could post a clickbait photo of Taylor Swift and her leg …

Oh yeah, here’s the video.

A ranger, a rogue, and a druid walk into a bar …

How did you spend your Saturday evening?

There are some distinct advantages to coming back to Dungeons and Dragons as an adult. For one, the refreshments are better. Not that I have anything against Nacho Cheese Doritos and Mountain Dew.

Another thing is that if you’ve hung around the game as long as I have — I got my first set of rules back in 1977 or ’78 — you’ve found that the rules have come nearly full circle after the disastrous detour into World of Warcraft territory that was the game’s 4th edition.

The beauty of that is I can dust off a lot of my old materials and with some quick updating get a game up and running again.

But I guess the biggest kick of all, is being able to recapture what were really good times, rediscovering the power of imagination, and sharing that with friends all over again.

I’m old enough now to have passed the game along to my kids, and talking with my son about the adventures he is designing and hearing him recount the misadventures of his friends’ characters is pretty damn cool too.

The writer Ta-Nehisi Coates is another longtime player of the game. He says it as well as anyone:

The sordid scandals of the holier-than-thou

Michigan Republican state reps Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, in happier times. (Photo from The Guardian.)


It would be all too easy to devote this blog to nothing more than cataloging the seemingly endless hypocrisies of the religious right. So I just don’t think its worth much of my time, or yours, pointing out the obvious.

But low-hanging fruit can be pretty damn juicy, especially when it’s ripe for the picking in your own backyard. So meet Republican state representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, Tea Party favorites, Christian conservatives, and probably the loudest advocates and defenders of traditional marriage in the Michigan legislature.

Especially if your definition of traditional marriage includes adultery.

Rumors of an affair between Courser and Gamrat — who regularly invoke Christian values to support their political positions — had been swirling around state political circles for months. But the whole thing exploded into public view earlier this week thanks to Courser’s comical attempt to enlist his staff in a scheme to divert attention from the affair by floating claims that he had been caught paying for gay sex behind a Lansing nightclub.

Apparently Courser believed the charges of illicit gay sex would distract his constituents from the more mundane adultery he was actually engaged in. More precisely, as the Detroit News revealed when it broke the story, Courser (married father of four) told his aides the exaggerated claims would “inoculate the herd” and make “anything else that comes out after that — that isn’t a video — mundane, tame by comparison.”

While Gamrat has so far kept quiet about the whole thing, the same can’t be said for Courser. MLive has a terrific overview of the story and the reaction in Courser’s Lapeer district. Here’s a taste:

The story revealed Courser, R-Lapeer, tried to get an aide, Ben Graham, to send an email making the false claim Courser was a bisexual deviant who skipped out on legislative duties to pay for homosexual sex behind a “prominent Lansing nightclub.” The email was meant to “inoculate the herd,” Courser said, for when news of his actual affair with Gamrat leaked.

Courser’s attempts to douse the fire — a 27-minute recording of him accusing ex-staffers of conspiring against him, the release of texts from a person he’s referred to as “The Blackmailer” to prove the conspiracy, accusing a political consultant of being The Blackmailer and tweets accusing Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter of working against him — instead acted as accelerant.

Despite all the free advice from public relations professional urging resignation and silence, Courser continues to press his story of blackmail.

The whole thing is almost too absurd to believe. Almost.