Independently wealthy entrepreneur Blake Ashby is known to most of his fellow University Citians as a sharp, pleasant, physically aloof bloke with an aristocratic-sounding moniker and a penchant for whiling away entire days at the Meshuggah coffeehouse.
It appears he was just saving his energy for the ultimate challenge: Last week the 39-year-old Ashby filed the necessary papers to confront incumbent President George W. Bush in the 2004 Republican presidential primaries.
While Ashby's campaign materials are sufficiently rudimentary to merit comparison to your garden-variety fringe candidate (Unreal to Ashby's graphic designer: Try not to make friends with every available typeface on your Mac), Ashby separates himself from the wackos on the strength of two key variables: cash, and brilliantly refined sound bites.
As to the former, the candidate purports to be a millionaire, having amassed a vast pile of money a few years back, when he sold a communications company he co-founded with a couple of buddies in the mid-'90s. Ashby 2004 campaign consultant Mittency Pastard says they're prepared to spend "whatever it takes" to give Bush a fight for the soul of the party.
Ashby says that soul has drifted too far right, and the Teddy Roosevelt Republican has the stances to prove it. Ashby favors decriminalization of marijuana and strict environmental safeguards and feels the federal government should keep its legislative nose out of women's pants, as it were. An old-school fiscal conservative who loathes Bush's tax and education policies, Ashby sees virtually all other issues through a fiscal prism. Hence the sound bites: "Our first and best line of national defense has always been democratic capitalism"; "an unfunded mandate is nothing more than drive-by government"; and "keeping our competitive economic advantage depends entirely on how well we provide a first-class education to our children."
Enough about all that. Ashby's campaign provided Unreal with 208 photographs of the candidate. Some depict him as stoic, some are sexy and some are so...Stuart Smalley. In fact, the images reveal Ashby to have so many different moods that Unreal feels a journalistic obligation to share them, along with our own interpretive captions.
The first photo appears at right. Look for another one here each week.
A Season on the Brink
Underdogs don't always win -- otherwise they wouldn't be called underdogs. After a startling 2-0 start, coach John Campbell and his Sanford-Brown Indians were rudely reminded of this reality, losing 94-56 to Bethel College (of Tennessee) this past Friday night at St. Louis Christian College. Bethel limited Sanford-Brown to a mere sixteen field goals, with Jermaine Gardner leading the Indians with eleven points, eight rebounds and four assists. Genuinely disturbing about the loss, however, was Sanford Brown's atrocious free-throw shooting -- 19 for 38 from the charity stripe -- which a frustrated Campbell chalks up to lack of practice time (the Indians, unlike other schools, only practice once or twice per week). The outcome of Sanford-Brown's Tuesday-night game against the University of Dubuque had yet to be determined as the Riverfront Times went to press.
I Mock, Therefore I Am
On a campus dominated by wannabe doctors and wannabe lawyers, the Washington University Absurdist Club stands out as a group that doesn't want to be anything.
Except, perhaps, annoying.
"We look around campus and everyone just walks straight ahead, looking glum," says group co-founder Zak Starer. "We want to make people turn their heads, laugh, get mad at us."
Earlier this year they organized Anti Plate Tectonics Week. Taking it way beyond the realm of bumper stickers, they held a mock debate between two earth and planetary science professors, and a benefit concert called Rock Tangea. But although 70 people showed up, the benefit wasn't much of a success. "We didn't actually charge or make any money," Starer admits.
More recently they've been protesting U.S. involvement in Columbia. As in Columbia, Missouri. "We built an encampment in the quad to get our point across," says Starer. "But it was kind of makeshift, because we don't like to spend any money."
Most people just laugh when confronted by an Absurdist cause. But others get belligerent. "We're mocking protest, and that offends a lot of people," Starer reports. "People are very self-righteous, very into what they're doing, so I feel like they're losing track of the big picture."
The Absurdists are considering a Speak in Clichés Day, but there's not much else on tap, other than making as big a deal as possible about the smallest possible issues. "I guess we're kind of passive-aggressive," Starer says of the group's fifteen or so active members. "We yell, but we don't really care if anyone pays attention to us."
It Was Only a Question of When
Just when you thought duct tape was permanently relegated to the butt-of-all-terrorist-jokes bin, it's baaaaaaack. This is due in no small part to Daehn Enterprises founder and CEO Jean Evans of Manchester, whose company has unveiled EaglePax, a "grab n' go terror response kit" that includes twenty terrorific survival items, among them the aforementioned adhesive.
Since the launch of her company's Web site earlier this month, Evans reports that "sales are a little slow." But she's quick to point out that 10 percent of all profits from kit sales -- $39.95 a pop, plus $6.95 for shipping -- go to benefit the American Red Cross, and that her company is "providing economic opportunity to disadvantaged individuals" by using Alpha Industries, eminent employer of the handicapable, to package and ship its product.
Drafting the developmentally disabled in the fight against terrorism: God bless St. Louis.
Unreal: Doesn't more terrorism equal more business for Daehn Enterprises and EaglePax?
Jean Evans: Um, I guess. That's sort of the unfortunate side of it. However, the kits are for disasters. Here, locally, that usually means tornadoes, but not necessarily. I was watching Meet the Press and one of the Senators said, "It's not a question of if, it's a question of when."
One of the pearls of wisdom dispensed in the "Four Pillars of Preparedness" portion of the EaglePax.us Web site is: "In a high-rise building, plan for the possibility." Say you're standing in the top floor of a building downtown and you see a cargo plane headed straight for your window. Whaddya do?
[Laughs] That's a good question. I think the most important thing you could do is call someone. Call 911 on your cell phone while you're making your way to the exit.
Glow sticks and whistles are two products included in each EaglePax kit. These are also items commonly found at raves. Does this mean that EaglePax is pro-electronic music?
We don't have a position on electronic music. I like the music, but I personally don't like going to raves.
Also included are the Pledge of Allegiance, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and a copy of the national anthem. How do these documents contribute to surviving a terror attack?
After 9/11, you saw this sense of community for the whole country. We are trying to contribute to that sense of community in the event that something happens. If something happens, people have something to cling to.
By subcontracting with Alpha Industries, a prominent employer of the retarded, and shamelessly pimping this partnership on your press release, aren't you exploiting retarded people for profit?
First of all, I resent that you used that term ["retarded"].
How should I refer to them, then?
They're disabled -- they're mentally disabled. Alpha also employs people who are re-entering the workforce after they've been incarcerated.
Frankly, it's not too reassuring for me, the consumer, that retarded people and ex-cons are solely responsible for packaging EaglePax.
We do have quality control. If you check the history of these disabled workshops, they have a long history of doing quality work.