Summer Gives Way to Campaign Season

Labor Day has come and gone, and by tradition Americans will now put away their white shoes and straw hats and start paying attention to politics. We have no idea where the white shoe rule comes from, but we haven’t owned any white shoes for the past several decades, what with the black Converse All-Stars being more dignified for our advanced age, and thus we pay it little heed. The straw hat rule was obviously concocted back in New England or some other northern clime where autumn weather arrives on a more fashion conscious schedule than it does here on the plains, so despite our ardent desire not to give offense to etiquette we’ll simply ignore that one for another couple of hot summer weeks or so. We’re the sorts who obsessively follow politics even through the summertime, so that rule also has little effect on us, but at least it makes some sense.
During the next two months there will be campaign commercials, soundbites, scandals, yard signs, billboards, fliers, barroom arguments, and all other forms of politics sufficient to sate the most unnatural appetite until the next round of elections in a couple of years or so. Our suspicion is that the adage about people not paying attention to politics until after Labor Day was coined by political professionals who didn’t want to begin the chore of campaigning until they had rested sufficiently on a full summer’s vacation, and wisely realized that an earlier start would be even more annoying to the amateurs. Besides, two months and a few days should be long enough a campaign for even the most low-information voter to figure out which candidate is the stingy poor-people-hating anti-government Tea Party fanatic and which is the God-hating Marxist tax-and-spend lunatic, and to choose according to taste, so Labor Day seems as good an arbitrary date as any to start the campaign season.
We will be interested to see what those political Rip Van Winkles who have been blissfully sleeping through this mild summer will think when they awaken to the current mess. If they were roused from that enviable slumber by the shrill sound of Vice President Joe Biden shrieking to a Labor Day union gathering that “It’s time to take our country back” they might get the impression that it’s all because those stingy poor-people-hating anti-government Tea Party fanatics have had full of control of the country, but after a couple cups of coffee and two months of non-stop television spots juxtaposing your local Democratic candidate next to an unflattering picture of President Barack Obama they might regain a hazy memory of the last desultory election cycle. The more sober and less sanguine mindset that people have when wearing dark shoes and cloth hats might even lead many voters to consider how the Democratic party’s policies have contributed to the lingering economic malaise, all those unaccompanied minors crossing over to the southern border to a school and social welfare agency near you, all those invasions and beheadings and swimming pool take-overs on the international scene, as well as an alphabet soup of scandals in the federal bureaucracy, but we expect that a certain number will be more concerned about the Republicans’ mythical War on Women and the nefarious influence of the Koch Brothers and all that income inequality that the president keeps bringing up in between $32,000-a-plate fundraisers.
Our guess is that more people will be concerned about jobs, the invasions in Ukraine and Texas and Arizona and elsewhere, and all those scandals by a government the Democrats are promising more and more of, and that it will take some ingenuity on the part of the Republicans to blow this advantage. The Republicans have proved up to the challenge in the past, though, and those people who don’t pay attention until after Labor Day can be easily lulled into another midsummer’s night dream.

– Bud Norman

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Pretty Safe in a Messy World

The world might seem dangerously out of control at the moment, what with Islamist terror gangs slaughtering people across a wide swath of Iraq and Syria and enjoying the swimming pool at the abandoned American embassy in Libya, along with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its threats of nuclear weapons, and the nuts running Iran in the process of getting their own bombs, not to mention the suddenly assertive Chinese and all the other crises popping up around the globe, but the President of the United States assures us this is all quite normal. Speaking to yet another group of rich people at yet another high-dollar fund-raiser recently, the president assessed that we’re actually “pretty safe.
This is not as reassuring an assessment at the president probably intended, but it’s probably the best one can hope for these days. Still, after paying $32,400 per plate the audience had every right to expect the famously silver-tongued orator to provide a more convincing case for even that rather modest boast.
“The truth of the matter is that the world has always been messy,” the president said, which is true enough, and rather generous in its implied acknowledgement that this was so even before the George W. Bush administration, but he added that, “In part, we’re just noticing now because of social media and our capacity to see in intimate detail the hardships that people are going through,” which is altogether wrong and quite strikingly stupid. Perhaps the president has only recently noticed the messiness of the world because of the “tweets” and Facebook postings that pop up on his cell phone, such as those hash-tagged missives his wife once sent out about the Boko Haram terror gang that is still running amok in Nigeria, but almost anyone old enough to have been aware of the world’s imperfections even before the invention of these new media can easily judge that the world is conspicuously messier lately. Islamist terror gangs controlling huge swaths of resource-rich countries is not a routine feature of history, invasions of European countries by other countries is a problem that had largely been eliminated by the post-war world order once imposed by American power, the various other crises are more numerous than usual, and all of this would be impossible to ignore even the good old days when three networks and a couple of newspapers got to decide what people knew.
It’s not so dangerous as the Cold War days, the president explained to his well-heeled friends, and it’s true that at least for the moment none of those Islamist terror gangs have a stockpile of nuclear atop intercontinental missiles. Iran’s working to get one during the seemingly eternal negotiations that the administration is so proud of, however, and Russia and China already have plenty and are clearly intent on expanding their territories. The president also believes that the Cold War was won “because the world stood as one,” as he put it to those gullible Germans who gathered to hear his highfalutin speech at the former Berlin Wall back in ’08 when people everywhere were believing such nonsense, so it’s hard to have confidence in his ability to handle the current challenge.
The president also told his friends that America’s military is preeminent in the world, which is true for the moment, but when the planned downsizing is complete and our enemies continue to beef up their defense budgets with the interest payments on the national debt or the oil fields they’ve seized from our former allies the advantage won’t be nearly so overwhelming. All that military might doesn’t mean much without a credible threat of its use, too, and the country’s enemies are all tweeting one another that it’s now a post-American world.
There are more alarmed voices in the administration, including those of the Defense Secretary and the Attorney General and the unnamed sources for a spate of old-fashioned news media stories about the possibility for another large-scale terror attack sneaking across the porous southern border some time soon, and the president seems content to know that they’re on the job with all those intelligence and national securities that his hated predecessor put in place. The harsh interrogations and Guantanamo Bay detentions and some of the other ideas are gone, which might explain the downgrade to “pretty safe,” but we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed.

– Bud Norman

Bending the Moral Arc

The Russians are invading Ukraine, the Islamic State terror gang is beheading and crucifying and otherwise slaughtering thousands of people across a wide swath of Iraq and Syria and Libya, and another American aircraft carrier is heading to the contentious South China Sea, but not to worry. Speaking recently about the Islamic State’s beheading of an American journalist, just before another tee time, President Barack Obama assured the country that “the future is won by those who build and not destroy.”
At a news conference on Thursday Obama admitted in so many words that “We don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with the Islamic State, but he seemed to retain his usual faith in history’s happy predestination nonetheless. He and his Secretary of State have dismissed Russia’s massive land grab as a sign of weakness and an embarrassingly out-dated way of doing things, assurances have been made that all of that even more old-fashioned beheading and crucifying and slaughtering that the Islamic State gang has been up to certainly “has no place in the 21st Century,” and thus far these messes have dominated the news thoroughly enough that no one in the administration has been obliged by the press to explain why another aircraft carrier is needed in the South China Sea. “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” as the president is fond of saying, to the point that he had it woven into the Oval Office carpet, and we are expected to share his confidence that the aphorism will prove true no matter what befuddled efforts America might make.
A couple of smarter fellows over at National Review have already written convincingly about Obama’s childish faith that the good guys always win in the end, no matter how wimpy their good guy ways nor how ruthlessly bad the bad guys might be, but we would add that such fantastical notions are characteristic of modern liberal thinking about almost everything. Not just foreign policy, but  economics, social issues, and the very nature of man.
Liberal foreign policy presupposes that the rest of the world closely resembles one of those impeccably multicultural Benneton clothing ads with the rainbow coalition of good-looking hipsters that you can tell are so much cooler and up-to-date than any of those troglodyte Republicans we’ve got around here in America, and that if we just stopped doing the things that mean old George W. Bush used to do humanity would resume its normal state of peace and cooperation. This theory cannot explain why a troublesome portion of the rest of the world remains intent on beheading and crucifying and slaughtering or reestablishing Soviet Empires or making other sorts of mischief, no matter how unlike George W. Bush the American president might be, but this has not shaken the liberal faith. Those Islamic State terrorists with American or other western passports will still be waved past airport security while the wheelchair-bound old white woman heading from Cleveland to see her son in Chicago is given the full search, lest Islamic sensibilities be offended by our outrageous profiling, and it remains a moral imperative that we not acquire any information about the plots afoot by harshly interrogating a prisoner at Guantamo Bay. Diplomacy and sanctions and a chin-up moral superiority will surely sway those who are beheading and crucifying and slaughtering or reestablishing Soviet Empires, and we’ll not ask about that aircraft carrier heading to the South China Sea, and if those miscreants continue such out-of-date behaviors they’ll just look all the worse, at least in the eyes of American liberals.
The same sort of cocksureness infects liberal economics. For all their railing against unfettered American capitalism, liberals apparently believe it is such a magical cornucopia of prosperity that no matter what taxes and regulations and energy costs and cultural scorn that is imposed on it the invulnerable machine will continue to generate enough wealth that it’s just a matter of divvying it out to the right interest groups. When people and companies flee a city, county, state, or country to avoid such impediments they are derided for their lack of patriotism, which liberals define as a mindless obeisance to their agenda, and the resulting economic decline is more than offset by the increase in the liberal sense of moral superiority. America is such a rich country that surely we can do this generous thing or that compassionate thing, we are constantly told, even when those things are entirely antithetical to the capitalist ethos that once upon a time made America rich.
Liberalism similarly holds that you can smash the patriarchy and an army of social workers will fill in nicely for fathers, despite the results apparent on the streets of slums from New York City to Los Angeles to Ferguson, Missouri, and that a moral society can exist absent a moral framework that stigmatizes anything other than a lack of appreciation for homosexuality and contraception and the rest of the sexual revolution. When such rampant licentiousness results in what the feminists are now calling a “culture of rape” at the nation’s colleges we can simply do away with due process and a presumption of innocence for those nasty frat boys who seem the main beneficiaries of that still-lauded sexual revolution, while nuns can compelled to pitch in for the contraception of the more willing co-ed sexual revolutionaries, and with a few other coercive measures we should be able to maintain a more perfect sexual freedom. Some of those mean old Republican rednecks and those dastardly nuns won’t like it, but the addition of a few million more illiterate and unskilled workers from Third World countries to their benighted communities should provide just the right enlightenment and communal peace.
All of this derives from the liberals’ touching but ridiculous belief in the inherent goodness of man. The idea that a noble human spirit once held sway in a pre-agricultural epoch is as old as Jean Jacques-Rousseau’s 18th-century musings on the supposedly idyllic “State of Nature,” and it has done more damage to mankind than all the carbon it ever emitted. Rousseau’s philosophical opposite Thomas Hobbes was more correct in describing the state of nature as “nasty, brutish, and short,” and all the good that have been accomplished over the years was achieved by fierce resistance to the beheaders and crucifiers and slaughterers, all the wealth that has enriched mankind was created by individuals acting in their own enlightened self-interest, and the most tolerant and the most well-ordered societies in human history have been informed by the dour postlapsarian view of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It would be tempting to believe that the moral arc of the universe bends toward the justice that can be found in these timeless truths, but history shows that we have to do the bending, and it looks as if we’re blowing it.

– Bud Norman

The Climate and the Political Climate

Perhaps it would all make perfect sense if only we held the fashionable faith in the gospel of anthropogenic global warming, or the divine omniscience of President Barack Obama, but a reported plan for the administration to go around the usual constitutional requirements and oblige the United States to a treaty that would restrict its carbon emissions and thus save the world from climatic catastrophe seems wrong in every way.
As heretical as it might sound in this devoutly post-religious age, we remain skeptical that there is any anthropogenic global warming going on. Such skepticism is now considered somehow anti-science, an odd state of affairs, but we’ve read the hacked e-mails where the global warming alarmists were alarmed by the 18-year-pause their almighty models didn’t anticipate, and noticed the lack of predicted hurricanes and tornados and other calamities that were confidently predicted but have not materialized on schedule, and find ample reason to suspect the science isn’t so darn settled that we should hobble the American economy because of its tentative conclusions.
Even if there is a problem, there’s no reason to believe that the proposed treaty would solve it. Most countries will ignore it, including such heavy carbon-emitters as China and India as well as such erstwhile economic allies as Australia and Canada, and happily take up whatever profitable and job-creating enterprises the United States high-mindedly relinquishes for the sake of a futile gesture. The New York Times’ hopeful description of the plan says it would “name and shame” countries to force them into compliance, but it’s hard to imagine any country sacrificing economic growth for fear of being named and shamed by Obama. We’re nearly six years into the Age of Obama, and thus far the rest of the world still seems to be acting in its own perceived self-interest without much regard for Obama what thinks about it.
That part about going around the usual constitutional requirements is troubling, too. On issues ranging from those pesky immigrations laws that the president never liked to the eponymous Obamacare legislation that the president himself signed into law, Obama has already drawn criticism not just from his usual Republican critics but also the more principle liberals about his disregard for the constitutional restraints on his power, and this treaty ploy or a rumored amnesty for millions of illegal aliens and especially a combination of the two would have to be considered a constitutional crisis. We rather like the constitution, and would prefer to see it survive the present administration, and we’re sure most liberals would as well if the next administration turns out to be Republican, and a non-solution to a non-problem seems an especially poor reason to jettison such a successful system of governance.
There might be some political advantage that the president stands to gain from the gambit, but we can’t spot it. Heretical skepticism about global warming is widespread, and even most of the people who read about it in the paper and figure it must be true are not going to pleased that Obama has kept his campaign promise to make electricity rates “skyrocket.” Administration officials freely concede that they’ll try to bypass the 67 votes in the Senate that the constitution requires for ratification of a treaty because there’s not a snowball’s chance is global warming that they’ll ever find enough suckers in the chamber to vote for this awful policy, and that implicitly acknowledges that public sentiment is such that even in the most red states even the most entrenched senators would fear the wrath of their constituents. Like the threatened executive action granting amnesty this might be meant to provoke an impeachment, which would rally all those dispirited Democrats who see no reason that Obama shouldn’t be granted dictatorial powers, but he’s picking the fight over stands that the public overwhelmingly oppose and are likely to bring those opponents to the polls in record numbers.
The only explanation is that the president has not only a fashionable but a very sincere belief in the gospel of anthropogenic global warming, and an even more fervent faith in his own divine omniscience. That is not reassuring.

– Bud Norman

Have It Your Way, or the Federal Government’s

On those rare occasions when we resort to fast food we’ll sometimes drop by a Burger King. There’s one nearby, and although it’s on a shady strip of North Broadway the drive-through service is usually prompt and the food is a more or less fair trade for the meager amount of money being charged, especially by the standards of two o’clock in the morning in our early-to-bed town, and we don’t always insist on gourmet fare. Now that Burger King is becoming Canadian we’ll probably be expected to boycott the chain, but we won’t willingly forgo those greasy burgers and salty fries for any political reasons.
According to news reports the Burger King company is purchasing a controlling share of the Tim Horton’s chain of coffee and donut stores in Canada in order to reincorporate itself as a Canadian entity, which means it will be paying a cumulative corporate income tax rate of slightly more than 26 percent rather than the world-decor 40 percent that the federal and state and local governments take here in the United States. This strikes us as a sound business move, and a good way to keep those Whoppers and fries affordable and the pimply-faced fellows at the drive-through windows employed, but the left is already denouncing the chain for its lack of “economic patriotism.” So far as we understand the concept, it means that when companies respond to the economic incentives that the federal government has created according to a rational self-interest rather than the way the government would prefer it is somehow the company’s fault rather than the government’s. This hardly seems a good reason not to have our burgers our way, which involves lots of mustard and no ketchup or mayonnaise and little regard for the tax liabilities of the burger chain.
America’s high corporate tax rates have been driving an increasing number of American corporations to friendlier shores in recent years, including most of the country’s former pharmaceutical giants, and the administration’s response has been to ratchet up the attacks on those companies’ reputations. This does nothing to increase the revenues to the federal government, of course, but it seems to make the administration happy. A better idea would be to make America’s tax code competitive with such countries as a Canada, which would almost certain provide the feds more money to spend on punitive corporation regulations and any other nonsense they might come up with, but that would be good for corporations and thus anathema to the modern left.
If you’ve seen any movies from the big-time and tax-coddled Hollywood movie studios lately you already know how much the left hates those dastardly corporations, which are supposedly so evil that they substituted for the International Communist Conspiracy in a remake of “The Manchurian Candidate” a few years ago. The left’s more idealistic sorts are constantly sending out anti-corporate messages on Facebook over their Apple computers while driving their General Motors hybrid cars to the local Starbucks, usually with money they’ve been paid by some profit-driven corporation, and they always seem surprised that while their war on corporations is going so well the economy doesn’t seem to be gaining any steam. They’ll definitely be boycotting Burger King, which will probably provide the next villain for the next bit action-adventure epic starring some muscle-bound Hollywood leftist, but at least we won’t have to sit behind them in line at the franchise at North Broadway.

– Bud Norman

Race, Ferguson, and the Movies

Hollywood used to love making movies about brave independent thinkers standing up against the mindless passions of the mob. Dipping into a rich tradition of American literature and drama they came up with such motion pictures as “The Ox Bow Incident,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Twelve Angry Men,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Bad Day at Black Rock,” “The Crucible,” all those “Billy Jack” flicks, and several others that we’ll later kick ourselves for failing to mention. These movies vary widely in quality, but all share an annoying self-congratulatory quality. Hollywood types like to think themselves brave independent thinkers standing up against the mindless passions of the American mob, even as they pander to its basest instincts, so the oh-so-noble protagonists of those movies always seemed to derive in some saccharine way from the filmmaker’s heroic self-image.
That was back when the mobs were still likely to be central casting southern rednecks itching for some ad hoc justice against a black man or an Asian-American or a communist or a hippie freak or a space alien or some other sort of sympathetic “other,” and the consensus of bien pensant opinion was always solidly on the side of the brave independent thinker. These days the mob is invariably of a more politically correct hue, the polite people with the right credentials are therefore obliged to go along with whatever they say, the lone dissenters are such unwashed and un-photogenic right-wing bastards as ourselves, and Hollywood seems to have moved on to zombie movies. We don’t expect to see any big-budget epics about the lynch mob brewing in Ferguson, Missouri, or any of the other recent outburst of mob mentality, and if we do the movies will have to stand the old conventions on their head.
Monday’s funeral for the unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot in Ferguson by a white police officer, as he is invariably described in press reports, was a perfectly cinematic bit of mob mania that will never portrayed as such by any Hollywood director. Among the eulogists was the exaggeratedly buffoonish Rev. Al Sharpton, whose long disgraceful history of whipping up fatal programs against Jews in particular and racial animosities against  peopler another color in general would make him a perfect stock character if only he could have been portrayed by Strother Martin, the mourners included the former filmmaker Spike Lee, who became a Hollywood darling by romanticizing race riots in his breakthrough movie “Do the Right Thing” and such blatantly anti-Semitic fare as “Mo’ Better Blues,” and all were crying out for justice. By “justice” they didn’t mean a dispassionate examination of the facts of the shooting, but rather an immediate execution of the harsh verdict that the mob had already reached based on most dubious sort of hearsay and its pre-existing prejudices.
The facts of the matter are frustratingly unclear, but the intense media coverage has already yielded reports that suggest the mob’s verdict is premature. A popular narrative that the decedent was gunned down for no possible reason other than racial animus while peacefully surrounding himself to the unfairly suspicious police has been disproved by the independent autopsy conducted by his own family, an embarrassing video of the oversized decedent manhandling a diminutive convenience store clerk for a box of Swisher Sweets cigars just before his fatal encounter with the police has effectively undermined the heart-warming tale of a college-bound young exemplar heading to his grandmother’s house, and stories about injuries to the police officer’s face add credence to his apparent explanation that the decedent was going for his gun and it was all a case of self-defense. All these facts of the matter have been muddied by the ham-fisted response of the Ferguson Police Department, which managed to offend even the most law-and-order sorts of Republicans with its heavily militarized presence during the inevitable looting, but there’s still ample reason that at this point in the plot of a movie a brave independent thinking hero might start to harbor doubts about the mob. It would make a compelling scene, especially if interposed with a montage of headlines about the race-baiting Attorney General and all the fashionable media promising to placate the mob, but Hollywood is the fashionable media and is thus unable to get the scene quite right. Nor will they ever make a convincing movie about the fraudulent accusations of rape against the Duke University lacrosse team, which had a disgraceful 88 members of that supposedly august faculty proudly sign on the lynch mob that judged them by the holy trinity of race, class, and gender of the team and its accuser rather than the scientifically incontrovertible and entirely exculpating evidence, or the case of that “white Hispanic” down in Florida who shot a young black man for no reason except that the young black man was banging the “crazy ass crackers'” head against the pavement, or any of the other recent failed attempts at demonstrating the overpowering white racism that the independent thinkers of Hollywood still desire to bravely oppose.
By far the contemporary classic account of these ginned-up racial contretemps is the great Tom Wolfe’s novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” which somehow grows more classic with every new brouhaha. There are no heroes in that forlorn masterpiece, especially not the unexceptional young black decedent who hilariously becomes an “honor student” in all the frenzied media coverage, a peculiar feature of every racial controversy that has since come up, and the only character willing to defy the mob for principled reasons is a cranky old Jewish man who inadvertently suborns perjury in his court by the tale’s flawed protagonist. Hollywood completely ruined the book, of course, and changed the cranky old Jewish man to a more heroic black woman, but we suppose this is as close as we’ll get to a new take on the old brave independent thinking hero standing up to the mindless passions of the mob genre. It’s a shame, because we always liked those movies for all their self-congratulatory flaws and we need them more than ever.

– Bud Norman

The Islamist Threat Survives the Charm Offensive

As recently as the past presidential election the administration was assuring the country that the threat of Islamist terrorism had all but disappeared. Osama bin Laden was dead and General Motors was alive, the stable and democratic Iraq that America had left behind was one of the administration’s greatest achievements, that unpleasantness in Libya was a mere matter of an internet video that had unnecessarily offended Muslim sensibilities, and a deft mix of multi-cultural sensitivity and lethal drone strikes had left the Islamists on the run. There was no longer any need for an American military presence in the Middle East, such such measures as the previous administration’s harsh interrogation policy and Guantanamo Bay prisoner of war camp were no longer necessary, and the number of guns could now be reduced to pre-World War II levels in order to pay pay more butter.
It was an appealing point of view, and if you were willing to overlook that 13 deaths that resulted from the “workplace violence” of a man shouting Alahu Akhbar at a Texas army base or the ambassador and the three other Americans who died as a result of that unnecessarily offensive internet video or the slaughter being inflicted by Islamists in a variety of countries it was persuasive enough to win the administration re-election. Lately, however, the administration has been striking a more worrisome tone. No less an administration official than the Secretary of Defense is describing the Islamic State in Levant, the terrorist group that the president dismissed as a “jayvee” team last January and has since conquered a portion of Syria and Iraq the size of Belgium, as “beyond anything we’ve seen.” Among assets ranging from captured American military equipment to billions of dollars of stolen money to an overpowering ruthlessness, the group also claims more than 500 soldiers who hold western passports that will be waved through any airport in the United States, and a Democratic Senator loyal to the administration is among those warning that the president’s hometown Chicago seems a likely target. Even the president himself was obliged to delay his tee time at the Martha’s Vineyard golf course to deliver an impassioned remark about the beheading of an American journalist captured by ISIL, although he did assure the public that his Attorney General was working up an indictment and that the good guys always win.
The more worrisome tone has resulted in some action, including air strikes against ISIl that have apparently slowed its advance toward Baghdad, some of those always foreboding military advisors heading back to the once stable and democratic Iraq they had left behind, and a complete withdrawal from the Libya that our earlier airstrikes had liberated from a quiescent dictator and descended into the chaos that led to all the unpleasantness over that unnecessarily offensive internet video and where the Islamists now control the airport on the shores on the Tripoli. All of this is well and good, we suppose, and the administration should be commended for what must be a painful acknowledgment that the president’s Cairo speech and his boyhood days in an Indonesian madrassa and his uncanny ability to not do stupid stuff haven’t resulted in the promised world peace. We doubt that this administration is willing to deviate any further from its past campaign poses, though, and that leave us all the more worrisome.
Those western passports flying in from Syria and Iraq probably won’t get any more scrutiny than those of the wheelchair-bound old Eglish ladies behind them in the the line, lest the administration be accused of racial profiling, which it only countenances in the case of white police officers involved in a shooting. Our intelligence community might get wise to a terror plot against Chicago if it runs through your phone or internet connection, but they won’t learn about it by harshly interrogating a prisoner who has been brought to Guantanamo Bay. We’ll continue to seek diplomatic solutions, much like the ones that that have been going on with Iran during the past many years of their progress toward a nuclear weapon, but it’s hard to imagine even the most diplomatic diplomatic gaining any substantial concessions from the people who chop the heads off American journalists. Another aircraft carrier has been sent to the South China Sea to counter the aggressions that the Chinese hate lately made to take advantage of America’s suddenly many distractions in the Middle East and eastern Europe, but we don’t expect that the administration’s next budget proposal will include the money for what the Navy says it needs. Those military advisors might have some good ideas for the under-funded and under-armed allies who face our same enemies, but perhaps they’ll also tell them to fight with the same restraint that has been urged on our Israeli allies in their most recent fight against the same barbarism.
The Islamist threat to the world order has been around since it started attacking trade caravans some 1,300 years ago, and has driven as far into the western world as the Iberian Peninsula and the gates of Venice, and was seizing American sailors before our country had been around long enough to give any offense to Muslim sensibilities, and was never going to be pacified with profound oratory or even the most exquisitely sensitive treatment. The good guys have gotten the better of it for most of that that arduous time, and might yet ultimately prevail, but it’s going to take guns rather than butter and a willingness to admit that a war is ongoing.

– Bud Norman

As Long as You’re Looking Good

By happenstance we found ourselves chatting with a most affable Venezuelan fellow the other night at a local bistro. We don’t mean to pretend we’re so cosmopolitan as this atypical evening at a West Douglas hipster dive in Wichita would suggest, but there was also a delightfully bawdy Englishwoman and a couple of polite but circumspect Poles in attendance. At any rate, we commiserated with our newly-fledged Venezuelan friend about the political and economic woes in his homeland, which are even more socialistic and screwed-up than the situation here, and he shrugged his shoulders and waved his hands and said it had been a bad 14 years for his country. We joked that we were surprised President Cristina Kirchner had proved so awful, given that she was kind of hot when the country elected her, but he seemed to take our jest in earnest as he sighed the same disappointment.
From our conversation we had gathered that the fellow has made something of a success of himself in our ruthless local capitalism, and he seemed quite sensible, so it was surprising to surmise that he had apparently expected the stark raving left-wing Kirchner to lead his country anywhere but bankruptcy just because of her past comeliness. Although we’ve long been enamored the sultry appeal of the Latin bombshells, from Lupe Velez and Dolores Del Rio to the invariably naked Sonia Braga of ’80s and the latest offerings from multi-cutural Hollywood, but we’d like to think we’re not such suckers for a pretty face that we’d entrust any of them with a head-of-state position, especially if they were stark raving left-wingers, as most of the probably are. By that point in the evening we were starting to overlook the tattoos on that delightfully bawdy Englishwomen, though, and we had to admit that personal appearance plays a disproportionate role even in our own politics.
In vain we tried to remember the last American major party presidential nominee who was outright ugly. Nixon, maybe, although we expect that in ’68 a still-significant silent majority of the country foun his receding hairline and ski-slope nose somehow reassuringly seasoned, and that in the hirsute year of ’72 it didn’t matter what he looked like against such a grizzled old hippie freak as George McGovern. We got a lot of laughs back in ’04 by asking “Why the long face, John Kerry,” but even he was rescued from outright ugliness by a certain Boston Brahmin quality to his visage. Kerry still lost to the good-old-boyish looks of George W. Bush, Nixon got edged out by the more photogenic John F. Kennedy, and the most physically appealing candidates have usually prevailed in almost every election as far back as we can remember. The buff young fighter pilot that was once Sen. John McCain might have stood a fighting chance against the smooth-skinned Barack Obama and his ivy-covered Afro-cool, but the war-wounded old man who ran instead never had a prayer. Mitt Romney’s wholesome handsomeness was too redolent of those corny old ’50s sit-coms, and were thus trumped by the grayness and wrinkles that four years of fruitless administration had gadded to his opponent’s already ivy-covered Afro-cool. Lincoln is generally regarded as the great of all presidents, even by the egomaniacal current occupation of the office, and he was widely derided for his ugliness at the time of his administration, but that was a pre-electronic age of media that will unfortunately never be recovered.
This disturbing human tendency toward superficiality might yet provide our collective rescue, however. The conventional wisdom’s horrifying conclusion is that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States, and it is reassuring to think we might spared that eventuality by her increasingly haggard and harridan looks. There are ample other reasons to oppose this awful woman’s ascendance to the presidency, but in her case we’ll take whatever we can get. It would be nice if the country could up with a majority for some bland-looking but high-performing chief executive such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry or even better yet but less-handsme Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but we’ll be hoping for an outright ugly Democrat to oppose them.

– Bud Norman

Happy Birthday to Us

Our apologies to you faithful few who drop by every day to read our take on the latest news, but Wednesday marked the fifty-fifth anniversary of our birth and we took a day off from the latest headlines to honor the occasion. We have no idea what sort of shenanigans that darned president of ours was up to, or whether the stock market has yet wised up to the present economic calamity, or what those head-chopping barbarians of the new caliphate are lately inflicting on the 21st Century, or whether the hitherto unknown Missouri town of Ferguson still exists in the wake of its race riot, or any of the latest developments in the rest of it, and our conscience is untroubled by our temporary ignorance of these matters.
We had hoped that the achievement of such an advanced age would deliver some all-encompassing and melodious truth that we might eloquently impart to the internet, but no such luck. Instead we slept until a decadent hour of the afternoon, drank the usual two large cups of coffee, and ambled about aimlessly until the early evening while reading the numerous happy birthday wishes that arrived via the miracle of Facebook. After a briskly cold bath we headed out to a favorite tavern for the free beer it generously provides to all the regulars on their birthdays. We won’t mention the name of the establishment because the bartender, an old friend who has been pouring us beer since since the Spot Recreation was still extant, reminded us that the policy of offering free beer was illegal in this state. He’s a good guy but he’s homosexual and staunchly democrat and he meant this to chide us for our law-and-order Repblucan ways, but we noted that we’re the radical anti-government type of Republicans that chafes against all those silly laws and regulations, so we commended the establishment on its scofflaw ways and drank the beer without qualms.

After a delicious drive-thru meal of Mexican food from one of those many fine restaurants that have resulted from the influx of legal and illegal immigrants we dropped by a tavern in the more  nearby Delnao district that was once of the wild west’s more notorious districts. A delightfully bawdy Englishwomwn that drops by from time to time treated to us another free beer in honor of our birthday, and we wound up in a conversation with her and a couple of nice Polish fellows and a very charming Venezuelan fellow, and it was all quite convivial and multi-cultural for a night on West Douglas in the prairie city of Wichita. There might be some all-encompassing and melodious truth about the modern world in that, but at that point we didn’t care any more than we cared about what shenanigans our president was up to. It was a good birthday, and all the good wishes were much appreciated,

— Bud Norman

Two Towns, Two Police Shootings

Our favorite news-and-talk radio station informed us of another fatal police shooting Tuesday afternoon. Not the one in St. Louis that you’ve probably heard about, which happened just a few miles from the one in Ferguson that even the head-chopping terrorists in Iraq have heard about, but the one that happened just south of Wichita in the small town of Haysville. If you live outside the limited broadcast range of Wichita’s radio and television stations or the shrinking circulation zone of the Wichita Eagle, it has almost certainly escaped your attention.
Even if you are within shouting distance of the Wichita media the facts of the matter are frustratingly few. Authorities responded to a domestic disturbance call at an apartment complex during mid-morning, a man is dead and a woman injured, and official investigations are underway. That’s about all we can glean from the local coverage, and we’re regarding even that scant information with the requisite skepticism. The more enterprising local reporters will probably harass the incident’s neighbors into making off-the-record speculations of dubious value to fill air time and news hole in the next few days, and there will be another spate of stories when those official investigations are concluded, but if you’re somewhere out in the ethernet beyond the south-central Kansas media don’t expect to hear about any of that.
No matter what facts might emerge in the Haysville shooting it almost certainly won’t pique any national interest, except perhaps a passing mention in some trend piece about police brutality at one of the more fashionable and thorough publications. None of the local news coverage makes any mention of the decedent’s race, from which we can reasonably infer that he was white, and without a racial angle police shootings lose much of their press appeal. The undisputed fact that the shooting happened in Haysville also suggests a very high probability that the decedent was white, and ensures that there won’t be any of the rioting or looting or other expressions of supposedly righteous anger that so enthrall the national media.
Our only previous mention of Haysville in this space was about the town’s public indignation at being made the butt of all of the hick town jokes we tell at our annual Gridiron Show, but we can testify that it’s not a bad place. We pass through occasionally on our way to the Fabulous Tahitian Room near Peck,  which has recently re-opened under the new management of a dear old friend of ours, and we’ve always found the town quite pleasantly bland, and not at all a place where we were in fear of our lives. There’s still a bit of the old hick Kansas town charm we so affectionately satirize, but it’s now surrounded by a few miles of nice but cliched split-levels and a few cookie-cutter apartment complexes that rub right up against the vast Wichita sprawl, and it’s still just rural enough to lure the urban-weary workers in the nearby aircraft factories. It’s the kind of town that might well harbor some hostile male who would threaten the police while brutalizing a woman, or could screw up and hire some trigger-happy cop who overreacted to a lovers’ spat, or could provide for some fatal combination of the two, but in any case it’s not at all the kind of town that will respond to any of these possibilities by burning down the local convenience stores. Instead we expect the Haysvillians to await the results of those official investigations, accept their conclusions in the absence of any overwhelming contradictory evidence, and to get work on time.
In such an imperfect world where police occasionally fatally shoot citizens this is about the best outcome one can hope for. Apologists for the rioters and looters and convenience store arsonists in Ferguson will attribute Haysville’s more restrained response to white privilege and all the rest of that academic nonsense, but they’ve never passed through the town and heard its hard-luck stories or sat in a relatively big city show where Haysville was the butt of hick small town jokes. If Hasyville is a bastion of white privilege, the concept is utterly meaningless. The shooting in Haysville warrants the same intense scrutiny aa the ones in St. Louis and Ferguson and all the other more racially-charged towns, and its citizens deserve the same guarantees against abuses of police power, and it speaks well of the town that it won’t get any attention.

– Bud Norman

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