This Time in Baltimore

Monday’s baseball contest between the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles was postponed due to rioting, a rare occurrence in the history of the national pastime but what you might expect in post-racial America.
After more than seven years of hope and change the riots all follow a drearily familiar pattern. A young black man dies as a result of an encounter with the police, a mob gathers to demand its version of justice before any facts are known, people who should know better egg them on, and and it all ends badly for the poor black people who are left behind in the rubble. Only the location and details of the death seem to change. This time around it’s in Baltimore, where the rioting has spread right up against the fancy new Camden Yards ballpark, and the young black man died as a result of a spinal while in police custody, but none of that seems to matter.
The latest round of rioting started last summer in the previously unknown St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., where the tale of a gentle black youth kneeling with his hands up pleading “don’t shoot” turned out to be a clear-cut case of an officer defending himself against a potentially deadly assault by a criminal but caused weeks of arson and mayhem, then moved to New York, where the death of a man non-violently resisting arrest for the very petty crime of selling single untaxed cigarettes as the result of a headlock and a pile of policeman was less clear-cut and resulted in the assassination of two police officers. There was next a shooting of a black man in North Charleston, South Carolina, that was filmed by one of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras and seems to warrant a murder charge against a police officer, but charges were quickly filed in that case and the victim’s family noisily insisted that all rabble-rousers leave their alone, and little trouble has resulted. There are legitimate questions to be asked about the death in Baltimore, but once again the people inclined to arson and looting and violent assaults on people who had nothing to with any of it and just to want to watch a ballgame won’t await the answers.
The apologists for such behavior will explain that the rioters don’t trust the legal system to provide justice, and are therefore somehow justified in their destruction of the property and violent assaults on the bodies of people who had nothing to do with the alleged crime, even if their notions of justice don’t jibe with the facts as they will eventually be proved, but times have changed since those same justifications for charred black neighborhoods were trotted out by the Kerner Commission back in ’60s. Baltimore’s mostly black police force reports to a black police chief who reports to a black mayor, who in turn is held accountable in regularly scheduled elections by a mostly black population, and should that fail there’s always recourse to a federal Justice Department run by a black Attorney General who reports to a black President of the United States, who now apparently believes he is unaccountable to anyone. While the riots held a ballpark full of fans captive over the weekend the president was about 40 miles of interstate away regaling the White House Correspondents Dinner audience with a comedy routine about his attitude toward governance rhymes with “bucket,” and using some Comedy Central comic as an “anger translator” to convey his righteously black indignation with his critics, and all that apologia about the inherently racist nature of America seemed wildly out of date.
Even if you believe that Republicans and other sorts of nefarious white people still run the country along traditionally racist lines, they have clearly had little influence on Baltimore over the past many decades. Baltimore is a Democrat city in a Democrat state, just 40 miles of interstate away from the Democratic White House, and if the Democrats’ divide-and-conquer strategy of electoral politics didn’t cause the riots in Baltimore there’s no denying that it didn’t prevent them.

— Bud Norman

What’s On All The Magazine Covers at the Check-Out Line

We have to admire Bruce Jenner’s courage. We don’t mean his publicly declared intention to undergo a sex change, which these days doesn’t entail any risk except fawning press coverage and a lucrative reality show deal, but rather his willingness to publicly state that he is a Republican and Christian, which does invite public public scorn and ridicule and economic consequences.
Jenner’s surgical transformation is big news, judging by all the celebrity magazine and gossip tabloids that adorn the checkout lines at our local supermarket, although we’re not sure why. Older readers with good memories for sports trivia will recall Jenner as the boyishly handsome and seemingly wholesome fellow who once won the Olympic decathlon and wound up on the Wheaties box, but that was way back when we were in high school, and we assumed he had long since faded into the obscurity that eventually awaits all but the most storied athletes of the professional ranks. Apparently he was living next door to some people called the Kardashians, whose lives are apparently broadcast on a television program that is apparently popular for some reason, and that and a 39-year-old Olympic medal are apparently enough to make his sexual identity issues a matter of national importance.
Once upon a less strange time we would have been quite content to regard it as a private matter what Jenner does with his impressively athletic body, but these days there are no private matters and some public opinion must be rendered about everything, so we find ourselves almost forced to give some consideration to such unsettling issues as that surgical genital mutilation Jenner intends to undergo, and to publicly admit our resulting uneasiness. We realize that bien pensant opinion expects us to celebrate Jenner’s choices, along with whatever other choices less celebrated individuals might make regarding their sexuality, but some hidebound Burkean aspect of our temperament can’t quite muster the requisite enthusiasm. At this point the sample of people who have undergone sex-change surgery is still smaller than any properly apolitical social scientist would draw any conclusions from, and it no doubt includes some who found that having their genitals surgically altered did not alleviate whatever happiness them to do such a thing, and almost certainly includes some who find themselves regretting the procedure, just as people often regret such far less drastic body mutilations as rhinoplasty and breast enhancements and tattoos, and we’ve not yet seen any convincing argument that surgically altering one’s genitals into an approximation of the opposite sex is ever a good idea. Social attitudes have previously been so negative toward the procedure that only the most determinedly “transgendered” have endured the stigma, so we expect there are some out there who are determinedly pleased with the decision, but one wonders what the numbers will be once those social strictures have been removed.
Nor do we believe that a sex-change operation actually changes a person from one sex to another, any more than having a prosthetic fin implanted on one’s back will make him a dolphin, but of course this runs up against considerable fashionable opinion from the cultural left about the liberating diversity of sexual identities, which are now seemingly more plentiful than the cable television channels on a premium package. All these expansive notions of human sexuality are new to us, so we can’t claim any definitive knowledge to disprove them, but they’re also relatively new to the rest of humankind, and we are unconvinced that anyone can definitively prove them. The old-fashioned dichotomy of male and female sexes is based on an easily observable biological fact, and has been recognized as such by every major religion of every successful society for the past many millennia of civilization, and informed their views on matters ranging from marriage to public accommodations to parental responsibility to the propagation of both the society and the species. All of which makes it unacceptable to the cultural left, of course, which hopes to replace such archaic biological facts with a brave new world of bacchanalian delights in exponentially increasing variations of sexual identity along with a rigid list of new regulations for every other aspect of your life. As imperfect as the past many millennia of human civilization have been, we have little confidence that this brave new world will fare any better. The cultural left might yet succeed in ridding humankind of religion, even if they’re likely to some more violent resistance in the Islamized portions the planets, which will create all sorts of multi-cultural dilemmas, but eventually biology will prevail.
Which makes it all the more imperative for the cultural left to assail the two sexes and the rest of that religious hoodoo, and all the more remarkable that Jenner would admit to an interviewer that he is not only a Christian and Republican but a Christian Republican. Bien pensant opinion regards Christianity and the GOP not only as the enemy of such such oppressed transferred souls as Jenner but anyone having fun outside a procreative marriage as evil, according to the cultural left, but worse is standing in the way of that rigid list of new regulations of every other aspect of your life. Lest one think we’re prone to straight white Christian male paranoia, we note that Catholic nuns are being forced to purchase contraceptive coverage as part of their health insurance, Christian businessmen are being denied the right to sell chicken sandwiches or work at the computer companies they helped found because of their religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage, and the woman widely presumed to the be the next President of the United States has declared that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed” to accommodate her views on abortion. The cultural left is more upset with Jenner for being a Republican than any Republicans are about him wanting to transition from a good-looking guy to a rather ugly woman, and the Republicans are certainly less likely to boycott the sponsors of any reality show that results from the whole affair, and eventually one has to ask which side is more intolerant.
Jenner can do as he pleases, as far as our hidebound Burkean selves are concerned, and we’re certainly not going to show up at the operating room in a suicide belt, and we wish him well and hope he’ll keep voting Republican, even if it does little good in California. We also hope that his Christian faith serves him long after his surgically-altered body has come to pass, but we would have preferred that he’d kept it a private matter. A certain public queasiness about this sort of thing is not inappropriate.

— Bud Norman

Of Teapot Dome, Watergate, and Uranium

Another day, another Clinton scandal, and one has to wonder how many it will take before Hillary Clinton’s presidency stops being inevitable.
The latest blow comes from The New York Times, which is nobody’s idea of a vast right-wing conspirator, and it’s a doozy. This one is about the Clinton family’s already scandal-plagued foundation raking in tens of millions of dollars on a deal with a Canadian company that acquired large holdings of American uranium and wound up selling them to the Russians and allowing Pravda to boast of their corner on the market for  a scarce resource crucial to America’s economic and national security interests, including $500,000 paid by a shady Russian bank for a speech that former President Bill Clinton gave praising the human rights record of Kazakhstan, another unsavory human rights-crushing dictatorship figuring in the sordid story, and the worrisome possibility that Russia might toss in some uranium along with the sophisticated anti-aircraft systems that it’s currently providing Iran, with whom the administration is currently negotiating a deal to accommodate and legitimize its nuclear power ambitions, or that the Russians might deny the uranium to the American nuclear energy industry that provides a fifth of our electricity, and the rather unsettling detail that it was all given official approval by a State Department run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The New York Times is required by journalistic convention to give the Clintons and their foundation a chance to downplay the matter, most of which has already been disproved, and none of which is the least bit convincing, but at this point even the most polite press no longer feel obliged to pretend that it isn’t a big deal. Any readers old enough to have been sentient during the good old days before Watergate will recall that headline writers used to affix the suffice “Dome” rather than “Gate” to any scandal du jour, which every schoolboy understood was a reference to the shocking “Teapot Dome Scandal” in which some undeniably Republican Warren G. Harding administration officials back in the celluloid collar days enriched themselves by accepting money from an American company that wanted its hands on some American oil resources, but even that gold-standard scandal didn’t entail hostile foreign powers or the possibility of the lights going out in a fifth of the country or Tel Aviv being blown to bit with American resources. There are now 25 years worth of Clinton scandals, which has had a cumulative effect on the family’s reputation no matter how strenuously the press has previously tried to downplay each of them, and all of which is dismissed by the Clinton apologists as “old news,” but even the most polite press now seem to have reached the limits of their patience.
The Clintons are no doubt surprised that anyone should be troubled their multi-million dollar deal-making, given the previous politeness of the press, and they had every reason to expect that the likes of The New York Times would chastise any Hoover Institution-affiliated right-wing nutcase who uncovered such embarrassing facts as a sexist reactionary. We admit to some surprise our right-wing nutcase selves, even if we did always hold out hope that even Democrats would realize sooner rather than later that Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy is a very, very bad idea. Our optimism always winds up dampened, though, and this time it’s that the Democrats seem less upset by Clinton’s outright corruption and incompetence and complete lack of any accomplishments than by her occasional heresies from left-wing lunacy. We can’t think of any Clinton heresies from left-wing lunacy, and we note that the multi-millionaire deal-maker is running as a Chipotle-patronizing regular American populist and that after 25 years of trashing the women her cad husband has victimized is billing herself as the standard-bearer of the feminist movement, but if Democrats are holding out for a faux-Indian millionaire-consultant purist such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or an unabashed socialist such as Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders or some guitar-playing unknown such who turned his reliably blue Democratic state over to the Republicans such as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley we won’t mind if they use the corruption and incompetence and lack of accomplishment as an excuse.

Of course, the Republicans could still lose to either Clinton or some slightly-less corrupt yet more purely left-wing lunatic. Eventually the press will discover an unpaid parking ticket or a family vacation with the dog on the car roof in the Republican candidate’s past, or the time he winced at a same-sex kiss scene during an episode of “Glee,” and making tens of millions on a deal that comprised America’s economy and national security will pale in comparison. Still, we’re glad that almost no one outside the Clinton family and their circle of business associates seems very enthused about her inevitability.

— Bud Norman

Marketing Legalization

Yesterday was “Earth Day,” and we found ourselves in an appropriately unambitious state, so we’ve decided to recycle a script that we wrote for the recent “Gridiron” show. The script was cut from the show, which we took as a grievous insult given the utter witlessness of much of the material that was included, but we found it amusing nonetheless. The vast majority of readers residing outside Wichita should know that it’s pegged to a recent city-wide referendum to lessen the penalties for possession of marijuana, and that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is notorious among the state’s liberals for his strange insistence that voting in Kansas elections should be restricted to eligible voters.
(Scene opens with three hippies seated at a table.)
HIPPIE ONE: Okay, dudes, this meeting of the Committee for the Legalization of Marijuana in Kansas is now, like, you know, in order.
HIPPIE TWO: Wow, “order.” What a concept.
HIPPIE ONE: As you know, our campaign to get weed free and legal here in Kansas isn’t going well. We had a hard enough time getting Wichita to just reduce the penalty for possession, and that’s in Wichita, where if you ain’t smokin’ weed I don’t know what the hell you’re doing.
HIPPIE THREE: That’s a bummer, man, but what are we going to do about it?
HIPPIE ONE:  figured I’d call in a consultant to see if he has any ideas. This guy is a big deal in public relations and marketing and lobbying and all that stuff, so maybe he knows what to do.
HIPPIE TWO: Maybe you’re right. I mean, I’ve had relations in public, and I go to the market when I get the munchies, and I hang out in the lobby with this old wino dude, but I don’t claim to be any big deal about it, so maybe he can help us out.
(A professional-looking CONSULTANT enters.)
CONSULTANT: Hello, I’m Chip Wilson, from the Chip Wilson Public Relations, Marketing, Lobbying, and Pizza Delivery Group. Thank you so much for your time.
HIPPIE ONE: That’s cool, we’ve got plenty of it.
CONSULTANT: It’s an interesting little cause you’ve got going here, I must say, and I’m eager to help with your noble efforts. I’ve been taking a look at the strategy you’ve been employing thus far, and I think I’ve identified your main problem, public image-wise.
HIPPIE ONE: What’s that?
CONSULTANT: Well, basically, the problem is that you’re a bunch of dirty hippies.
HIPPIE THREE: Oh, man, that’s harsh.
CONSULTANT: I mean that with all due respect. Some of my best friends are dirty hippies. My dear mother was a dirty hippie. I’m just saying that it’s not the image that’s going to drive a successful public relations campaign.
HIPPIE TWO: So what do we want?
CONSULTANT: What you want is that white collar, middle class, mostly law-abiding pothoead next door. You want that engineer who’s designing safety systems for Cessna all week and unwinding with a bowl on the weekends, or that winning criminal defense attorney with all the good connections. You want a more upscale, wholesome, mass appeal pothead. Our slogan will be, “Pot — It’s Not Just for Dirty Hippies Any More.”
HIPPIE TWO: Where do we find these people?
CONSULTANT: That’s where we run into a problem. The people you want to be out front on this issue are reluctant to publicly confess their marijuana use.
HIPPIE THREE: What’s the deal with that?
CONSULTANT: They’d be confessing to a crime that involve a potential prison sentence, for one thing. Worse yet, they’re afraid people will regard them as dirty hippies.
HIPPIE ONE: I can dig that, man. I guess I’ll still have to be the spokesman, but hey, at least I’m all articulate and well-spoken and shit.
CONSULTANT: I wouldn’t recommend that. Again, I say this with all due respect, but you’re really not very articulate and well-spoken and … such. In your case, it does seem that marijuana use has impaired your verbal abilities.
HIPPIE ONE: I’m not even high, man. I happen to take this committee seriously, so I’m not indulging until 4:20.
CONSULTANT: That just proves my point. Even when you’re straight, you’re still a dirty hippie. Now, look at me. I took two monster bong hits of Hindu Kush out in the parking lot before I came in here, I’m high as a proverbial kite, and still this presentation has been polished and professional and in the Queen’s friggin’ English.
HIPPIE TWO: Wow, man, you can really handle your weed. Maybe you’re the guy we’re looking for.
CONSULTANT: Sorry, but I’m strictly a behind-the-scenes consultant, and I’m afraid my more lucrative clients in the pharmaceutical field wouldn’t like that. Besides, I like my weed untaxed and unregulated, and it’s not like the cops are profiling a middle-aged white guy in a suit and tie, so what do I care if it’s legal or not?
HIPPIE ONE: So what good are you?
CONSULTANT: We’re still in negotiations, mind you, but I think we’re about to line up a perfect spokesman for your cause. I don’t want to mention any names at this point, but let’s just say he’s a former Choom Gang member and current president of the United States who still takes a puff of that righteous Hawaiian bud to deal with having his mother-in-law living at the White House.
(The hippies look at one another quizzically, unable to guess who the CONSULTANT is talking about.)
CONSULTANT: For crying out loud, you dirty hippies, I’m talking about Obama.
HIPPIE TWO: Oh yeah, Obama. I know that dude. He’s cool. I saw him slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon. Do you think he’d do it?
CONSULTANT: Term limits, baby. He’s coming up against them, and at this point he doesn’t care what anybody thinks. He’s vetoing pipelines, making deals with the Iranians, inviting in illegal immigrants, and to hell with the polls or his party’s next presidential election. He’ll be racking up speakers fees and book deals, the press and the Europeans will start being polite, Hillary or some Republican can deal with the Iranian bomb and the rest of it, but he’ll still have that mother-in-law in the house and he figures some legal weed might come in handy.
HIPPIE ONE: All right, then, It looks like we’ll finally get weed legalized here in Kansas.
CONSULTANT: Oh, wait, you’re right, this is Kansas. I’m afraid Obama doesn’t poll well here. In fact, in the latest numbers I saw, about 63 percent of the state thinks he’s a dirty hippie. What was I thinking? And why am I suddenly craving chips and salsa? Would any of you guys like to get a beer and maybe some tamales at this Mexican place I know up on North Broadway? Which reminds me, we should be able to get the Mexican vote on our side, and if that damned Kobach guy doesn’t get in the way I know how to round up a lot more of them …
(Lights fade.)

— Bud Norman

The Immigration Debate, Where Extremism Is Mainstream

Although it’s still far too early to make any decisions regarding the Republican party’s presidential nomination, we’re liking Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker better all the time. On Monday we learned how very Nazi-like some of his political opponents acted in an unsuccessful attempt to thwart his impressive reforms of Wisconsin’s collective bargaining agreement with its public sector unions, and on Tuesday we heard him take another daring stand on immigration.
Immigration hasn’t been much of an issue during Walker’s governorship, as Wisconsin has been little troubled by an influx of unaccompanied minor Canadians, and some of his past comments have hinted at a certain squishiness regarding the problems that some of more southwestern states have lately encountered with new arrivals from other countries, and there was some skepticism from conservatives who were otherwise attracted to his potential candidacy. Walker has now clearly expressed his support for strict border enforcement, including “e-verification” requirements for employment to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants, and has even gone so far as to say that the current unprecedented levels of legal immigrations should be adjusted according to a “system that’s based, first and foremost, on protecting American workers and American wages …” The liberal press has reacted with predictable hysteria to such “extremism,” which The Huffington Post fears will strike at “a concept at the very core of what it means to be American,” which is the same sort of rhetoric that was used to justify those Nazi-like tactics of some of Walker’s in-state opponents, but it strikes us as both good policy and good politics.
There are the usual slew of economists who insist that unfettered immigration is the key to America’s prosperity, but we can’t help noticing that they’re usually well-compensated by business interests that benefit from lower wages and they’re not at all worried some Mexican immigrant will wind up spewing the same blather at a lower rate. The argument that a massive influx of labor won’t depress wages runs up against the law of supply and demand, and although over the past centuries slews of economists have fought the law, much like The Bobby Fuller Four, the law has always won. At a time when the labor participation rate is at a 40-year-low, and job creation has failed to keep up with the combined legal and immigration, the economic arguments for keeping the floodgates open are unpersuasive. Nor are we persuaded by the cultural arguments, usually couched in the sacrosanct terms of “diversity” and “tolerance” by the same people who insist on ideological conformity lest those average American rednecks out there in the red states unleash another genocide. Here in Wichita we’ve already got more great Mexican and Asian and Middle Eastern eateries than we can eat at, the cultural conflicts have been within the immigrants groups or with longstanding minorities more often than with the average American rednecks, there has been an associated cost that those slews of economists might not have accounted for on the local educational and social welfare systems so beloved by the “diversity” and “tolerance” crowd, and our guess is that many of those new arrivals aren’t yet on board with same-sex marriage and the rest of the cultural left’s brave new world.
Some surprisingly plucky Republican congressional staffers have compiled a round-up of the latest polling from the big name pollsters, and they all indicated solid support for limiting immigration. The numbers are even higher among Republicans, but they’re also dangerously high among blacks, low-wage workers, union members, and other usually reliable Democratic constituencies. Eventually even the Latinos already here will start balking before America reaches that seven billion figure, and by 2012 a full 59 percent of them were telling the Pew Survey they wanted to slow immigration. Walker seems shrewd enough to make his pitch two at least black and low-wage workers, and perhaps even tweak his Democratic opponent for toeing the corporatist rather than populist line on the issue. The Wall Street Journal has already been obliged to note that Walker’s stand is contrary to the preferences of the Koch brothers, despite David Koch’s apparent endorsement of his candidacy, and it will be fun to tie the Democrats to a corporate-sponsored position for a change.
The Washington Post calls Walker’s newly-staked position a “flip-flop,” and perhaps it is, but we’re never disappointed to see someone flip to the right position. Most of the other Republican contenders are making similar shifts, if not so daringly, and if the Democrats don’t do the same we expect they’ll simply flop.

— Bud Norman

Battering Rams in Wisconsin

This is America, where a citizen is free to express opinions and participate in politics without fear of retribution. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, but the ideal seems to be slipping away. The diminution of fresh speech is not just a matter of the increasingly confined parameters of polite opinion, enforced by boycotts and restricted career opportunities and the howling of mobs, or even the usual heavy hand of government, such as the harassment of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service or the politicized prosecutions by the Department of Justice or the extra regulatory scrutiny applied to those businesses donating to the wrong candidates. It has now come to the point that armed agents of the government have been invading homes, seizing property, and bullying ordinary citizens into silence for no reason other than their political beliefs.
If this sounds like the most far-fetched sort of paranoid right-wing fantasy, we’d urge you to read David French’s chilling article, headlined “Wisconsin’s Shame: ‘I Thought it Was a Home Invasion,'” at The National Review. Although there had already been scattered reports about the outrageous “John Doe Investigation” that a renegade prosecutor and a rubber-stamping judge had launched against various groups that supported Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to reform the state’s collective bargaining laws regarding public sector unions, a fishing expedition which was eventually halted by a higher court that rightly considered it a clear attempt to intimidate the prosecutor’s political opponents into silence, only now are those targeted in the investigation coming forward with stories about doors being broken down with battering rams, computers being confiscated, children being terrified, neighbors being scandalized, and dozens of heavily armed police officers shouting warnings that no lawyers were to be contacted and no was to be told. The descriptions evoke Nazi-era Germany or the Soviet bloc, but it happened in Wisconsin, the birthplace of the “progressive movement.”
One can hope that it was a rare occurrence, now ended by the prevailing cooler heads of a higher court according to constitutional design, but one can only hope. There’s no way to be sure that other similarly terrified citizens are still staying silent as warned, and that an indifferent press is happy to leave it to the likes of a high-brow and relatively little-read right-wing publication such as The National Review to report on such inconsequential news if they ever come forward. Given the gleeful ostracizing of anyone who dissents from the consensus of progressive opinion regarding same-sex marriage or global warming, the hateful lies of the lynch mobs that are roused by racial hustlers and Rolling Stone fabulists and the “community outreach teams” of the Justice Department, the presidential rhetoric that warns any critics their dissent “needs to stop,” the increasingly apparent realization that no one at the Internal Revenue Service or the Justice Department or any of those regulatory agencies will ever suffer any consequences for their misdeeds, the indifference of the press, and the sheer seething hatred toward anything conservative we hear from all the liberal media and all the liberals we know, a hatred that seems to have overwhelmed whatever love they once had for freedom and the rule of law, we are no longer surprised to hear even the stories that evoke Nazi Germany and the Soviet bloc.
Please pass along that chilling story about what happened in Wisconsin, because we expect that most of the mass media will regard it as local and of little consequence and not nearly so important as anything slightly embarrassing they might come up with about Gov. Scott Walker. At the risk of a battering ram at the door, we’ll say it’s a matter of the greatest consequence. This is America, after all, where a citizen should be free to express an opinion and participate in the political process without fear of retribution.

— Bud Norman

Java Jive

Last week entailed our annual three night run on the local amateur stage, and it was so exhausting that we’ve decided to forgo our usual trenchant analysis and simply run the satirical skit we composed and starred in. It’s premised on a few-weeks old story about the Starbucks coffee shops making it a policy to discuss race relations with its customers, and we already groused about it a few weeks ago in a columned headlined “Black Coffee, White Guilt,” but we’re still annoyed by the company’s self-righteous racial hectoring, even though we’ve never patronized any of its zillions of shops, and it got some laughs on each of our three nights, and we’re plumb puckered, so we’ll go ahead and once again present the script, which was dubbed “Java Jive” in the program.
The scene opens on any old Starbucks, where a CUSTOMER is yawning as he finally takes his place at the counter where a pretty young smiling and chirpy BARISTA greets him:
BARISTA: Good morning and Welcome to Starbucks. I’m Julie, you’re barista.
CUSTOMER:”Barista,” you say? I’m afraid I might not be speaking to the right person, then. I just wanted a cup of coffee.
BARISTA: I’d be glad to help you, sir. What would you like?
CUSTOMER: Just a cup of coffee, please. You know, a cuppa joe, a mugga java, a jolt of the ol’ caffeine.
BARISTA: We have a wide variety, sir. Would you like a tiramisu latte, our signature espresso with hints of cream mascarpone, finished with our whipped cream and a dusting of rich chocolate powder? Or perhaps a caramel flan latte, an espresso with steamed milk and caramel flavors of creamy flan, topped with caramel-infused whipped cream and flan drizzle?
CUSTOMER: I’m not much for flan.
BARISTA: Then how about a tiramisu Frappuccino blended beverage, a coffee blended with creamy mascarpone flavor, milk and ice, topped with whipped cream and a dusting of rich cocoa powder? We also have caffe Americano, caffe latte, caffe mocha …
CUSTOMER: I was really hoping for just a cup of coffee. You know, a plain old hot-water-run-through-coffee-grounds cup of coffee. Do you having anything like that?
BARISTA: But of course, sir. We are a coffee shop, after all. Would you like that blonde roast, caffe mist, our featured dark roast, or our clover-brewed coffee?
CUSTOMER: I’m sorry, but I grew up in an age when we only had three channels on TV and two kinds of blue jeans, and I’m afraid I’m a bit overwhelmed by all these choices. Could you please just sell me a cup of coffee? Just black coffee, no cream or sugar or flan or any of that stuff.
BARISTA: I understand, sir. What size would you like?
CUSTOMER: At this point, I’m going to need the biggest you’ve got.
BARISTA: Very well, sir. that would be our “venti.” And would you care to engage me in a meaningful discussion about the state of race relations in America?
CUSTOMER: Uh, no, not really. Thank you, though.
BARISTA: Are you sure, sir? It comes with the price of the coffee, and it will finally give me a chance to put my multi-cultural studies degree to use. It was very expensive, you know.
CUSTOMER: I’m sure it was. Still, I’ll be quite content with just the cup of coffee, thank you.
BARISTA: It’s our company policy to engage customers in conversation about racial issues. You don’t object to that, do you?
CUSTOMER: Oh, no, not at all. I mean, I’m all for racial equality and social justice and all that jazz, but really, I just wanted a cup of coffee.
BARISTA: Don’t you think it’s time America had a serious conversation about race?
CUSTOMER: America has been having a conversation about race for more than 200 years, not to mention a Civil War and a civil rights movement and all those miniseries and Academy Award acceptance speeches.
BARISTA: But we haven’t had the conversation where whitey agrees to pay reparations.
CUSTOMER: But you’re white, and your whole multi-national corporation, and your one-percenter CEO with this annoying policy, and almost all of your customers, they’re all white.
BARISTA: At least we’re remorseful. I think you need to check your white privilege.
CUSTOMER: White privilege? Lady, I haven’t been laid in months. Find me one brother who will say that. And what the hell good is white privilege if you can’t get a cup of black coffee without two lumps of white guilt?
BARISTA: Sir, your micro-agressions are not appreciated here. Starbucks is a micro-aggression-free space, and if you persist, I’m afraid I’ll be forced to ask the security guards to beat you to a bloody pulp.
CUSTOMER: I’m sorry, I just wanted a cup of coffee, and I’m afraid that a thorough discussion of the past 400 years of American history will make me late for the racial sensitivity training seminar at my office. Besides, I’m not even white.
BARISTA: Really?
CUSTOMER: Yes, I self-identify as a Uygher-American, and as I understand the new rules you’re supposed to regard me however I self-identify.
BARISTA: A Uygher? The Turkish ethnic group of eastern and central Asia?
CUSTOMER: That’s right, but we pronounce it “Uyg-ah,” and you don’t get to stay that.
BARISTA: Please forgive me, sir. Here’s your coffee, and that’ll be six dollars. You know, we don’t get a lot of Uyger-Americans in here.
CUSTOMER: And at these prices, you won’t get a lot more.
(Lights fade.)

— Bud Norman

Our Annual State of Satire Address

Some of the time we usually spend perusing the news and composing our thoughts about it has been taken up this past week by our annual appearance in an amateur theatrical production, a revue of skits and songs spoofing local and state and national newsmakers, so we hope you’ll forgive any resulting lack of our usual depth of analysis and gloominess you might have noticed over the past few days. The show has been a rather desultory affair this year, and as usual all the money is going to journalism scholarships that we don’t approve of, so on a slow news  day that and an infuriating speech by “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau have set us to thinking once again about the sorry state of satire.
The other folks involved in the show are mostly a swell bunch, and we highly recommend the brief camaraderie that amateur theatrical productions provide to anyone who is looking for a once-a-year hobby, but of course there are always what we show biz folk call “creative differences” involved. This year we were limited to a few lines in a skit about a recently deceased cast member, which got some nervous laughs on opening night, and a more featured role in our own script about a poor fellow who just wants to order a cup of coffee at Starbucks without being subjected to a meaningful conservation about the state of racial relations in America, which got even more nervous laughs, and perhaps that was for the best. There’s an entirely apolitical bit by one of the veterans about dealing with computer tech support robots, a version of “Mein Herr” from “Cabaret” about Bruce Jenner’s sex change that would be considered egregiously transphobic in more enlightened communities, and a sharply partisan skit about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and what might be on them, all of which we found very funny, but the rest was mostly about Kansas’ Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and we weren’t in on the joke.
Those of you who are out of state and also not in on the joke need only know that Brownback is a sexually repressed Puritan who gleefully slashed the state’s education budget to such levels that the poor urchins in the state’s schools cannot afford the alphabet, and Kobach is such a racist that he does not want illegal immigrants to vote in Kansas elections. All the right people here in Kansas seem to think so, so audiences are grateful to be let in on the joke, but even that exquisite frisson of blessed conformity that comes with thinking like all the right people and being let in on the joke can’t quite square those creative differences for us.
Having known Brownback since we were 18 and working as summer interns for the now-venerable Sen. Bob Dole, and having run into him often on the campus of Kansas State University when he was student body president, and having run into him again here and there on campaign trails and at Kansas State Fairs during his other stops on a long career of public service, we know him as a nice guy and decent family man, and although he would probably be sympathetic toward any baker who didn’t want to bake a same-sex wedding cake, and he did support that stupid “sin tax” to raise revenue on the backs of smokers and beer-drinkers and other fine Kansans we know,  otherwise we can assure you that he does not seem to harbor any sexually-induced neuroses that might affect his duties as governor. As for the education cuts, we note that the average school district in the state was spending around $13,000 per pupil the last reported year, which for some reason doesn’t include the generous bond issues that voters have approved, and which is around the national average, and with the lower-than-average cost of things around here that means we’re still ahead of the rest of the country, and we’re ahead of all the countries in the world except Sweden and Norway, and we’re way ahead of countries such as Japan and South Korea, which seem to have better math students, and there’s no denying that the Catholic schools around here do a better job for a lower fee, and a friend of ours has a kid in this “classical school” who is clearly getting three times the education at nearly one-third the cost, and we guess that all the right people who are in on the joke just don’t know this.
Neither do we get the joke about Kobach hating Mexicans because he doesn’t want them to vote in Kansas elections, any more than we feel the least bit hated because the Mexican government doesn’t want us to vote in their elections. Such policies have been a fixture of representative government since its inception, and consistently poll more than 70 percent approval, which is more than same-sex marriage or the latest Spielberg movie or the First Amendment gets, and it was enough to win Kobach an easy re-election just last November, but apparently all the right people who are in on the joke think otherwise.
All the right people who are in on the joke, we have begun to suspect, are the wrong people to do satire. This suspicion was heightened by reading Trudeau’s speech accepting Long Island University’s George Polk Career Award, which is as annoying a piece of drivel as we’ve come across lately. The award is named in honor of a journalist who died in the line of the duty, yet Trudeau took the occasion to criticize the editorial staff of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing the cartoons that offended their murderers. Poking fun at the sort of radical Islam that would murder the staff of a satirical magazine is “punching down,” said the once-edgy Trudeau, noting that it satirized a “powerless” and “disenfranchised” minority rather than “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” The Muslims are France are not disenfranchised, of course, and their growing demographic strength will soon make that fact unhappily apparent at the polls, even if a French Kobach should somehow emerge, and they are not so powerless that they can’t slaughter the staff of any magazine that offends their strict notions of proper respect for their religion, and enlist the support of award-winning and well-heeled and oh-so-respectable cartoonists and other gullible examples of the right sort of people who are in on the joke, and we’d like to think this is the reason no one outside Long Island University has heard of “Doonesbury” since the early ’80s.
Satire and journalism should indeed comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, tiresome as that old cliché has become, but Trudeau and all the rest of the right people who are in on the joke should know that the roles have been reversed since the good old days when Groucho Marx and his brothers were sticking it to Margaret Dumont’s society dame. These days it’s the Starbucks and the computer tech support robots and the rich and corrupt feminist ceiling-breaker Hillary Clinton and the award-winning cartoonists who are the comfortable that need afflicting, and now  it’s the guy who just wants a cup of coffee, the reader subjected to the latest developments in Bruce Jenner’s sex change,  the guy who just wants his e-mail working, and the guy who sees through Clinton’s champion-of-the-common-man schtick, and the taxpayer who’s expected to pay more for an educational system that needs thorough reform more than it needs more money, and the people who are being slaughtered rather than merely offended, who need comforting.

— Bud Norman

What Do the Simple Folk Do?

The news has been rather maudlin lately, and will likely remain so for a while, but at least we’ll have the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to provide comic relief for the next year and a half. Every campaign’s attempts to make the candidate seem a regular down-home American are faintly ridiculous, but in Clinton’s case it is downright hilarious. The spectacle evokes the image of Bill and Hillary Clinton at leisure in one of their mansions, much like King Arthur and Guinevere in “Camelot,” wondering “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” and coming up with the most wildly inaccurate conjectures.
Just this week has seen Clinton scooting across Grant Wood’s Iowa in a vehicle that has been dubbed the “Scooby Doo van,” making her putatively routine visit to a Chipotle franchise, chatting amiably with plain old midwestern folks at some Frank Capra-esque watering hole, wandering the halls of some distinctly non-Ivy League campus, and grousing about the indue influence of rich people’s money on America’s once-pristine politics. All of it was so obviously contrived that even the press noticed, and actual regular down-home Americans were far less likely to be fooled by any of it.
Even the playful moniker for her upscale black van has managed to rile some fans of the old “Scooby Doo” cartoon series, who recall that Scooby and Shaggy and the rest of the show’s ghost-busting gang of wholesome teenage sleuths travelled in a psychedelically colorful vehicle called “The Mystery Machine.” We’re just young enough to have some familiarity with the show, and just old enough to have noticed how very awful it was even by herky-jerky animation standards of the Hannah-Barbera studio, but there’s a younger cohort of voters who take such details seriously and will note the inauthenticity of the allusion. The “Scooby Doo” characters didn’t have two accompanying black vans full of Secret Service agents, either, nor did any state Highway Patrols clear traffic for their madcap capers, and such details will not go unnoticed by all those “millennials” who take their childhood television favorites more seriously than politics. Clinton might yet get to say the familiar catchphrase of the cartoon’s villains during their inevitable bad end just before the last commercial break, “I would have gotten away with it if not for those meddling kids,” but otherwise any attempt to suck any good will out of that awful old cartoon series will run false for its fans.
That highly-publicized visit to Chipotle also struck a discordant note. We’d hate to sound more regular down-home American than thou, but we’ve never once set foot inside in a Chipotle because our regular down-home American town has seen such a wave of immigration from Mexico that the place is chockfull of Mexican eateries far more deliciously authentic and inexpensive than those franchised and suspiciously modern Chipotle places look to be. Our last visit to Iowa suggested that most of its towns have similarly benefited from the immigration wave, so Clinton would have been well advised to drop in one of the many seedier but tastier joints that her “Scooby Doo van” surely passed, even if that did entail the risk Sen. Marco Rubio or Sen. Ted Cruz or Gov. Estella Martinez or even Gov. Jeb Bush or any other other potential Republican contenders upstaging her by dropping in on the same joint and ordering in Spanish. Putting a buck in the tip jar might have been a nice touch, too, and spared her some sneering coverage from usually friend press.
Those regular down-home Americans that Clinton was photographed chatting with turned out to be Democrat operatives, of course, although it took Britain’s Fleet Street press to uncover that easily uncovered fact. The wandering through the hallways of that non-Ivy League necessitated locking the non-Democratic operative students in their classrooms, lest they come into unscripted contact with the regular down-home American candidate, and even the American press acknowledged that. All that blather about the undue influence of rich folks’ money was respectfully reported, although without any ironic reference to the stories running elsewhere about the $2.5 billion campaign fund that Clinton is raising from her friends in Hollywood and Silicon Valley and Wall Street and other environs of the rich folk.
This charade might impress the accompanying press corps, who at various stops have outnumbered the “everyday people,” in the condescending phraseology of the Clinton campaign’s announcement video, but that’s because the reporters who get such plum assignments aren’t regular down-home Americans. Out here in flyover country even the Democrats are bound to notice how very phony it is, and the Clinton campaign would be well advised to switch to the aristocratic hauteur and claims of Ivy League entitlement that somehow made “Camelot” such an appealing image for the Kennedy administration.

— Bud Norman

Putting the Corker on the Iran Deal

This deal that the Obama administration has been negotiating with the Iranians regarding their nuclear weapons is looking just awful, but there doesn’t seem to be much that anyone can do about it. The Constitution, which requires that two-thirds of the Senate ratify a treaty, doesn’t seem to offer much hope. The Corker-Menendez Bill, which will allow Congress some say in the matter if it can garner a two-thirds majority to override a veto, seems unlikely to do any better.
Still, we’re grateful to Tennessee’s Republican Sen. Bob Corker and New Jersey’s Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez for introducing the bill. It’s nice to see the legislative branch standing up for some meager portion of what once was its constitutional authority, the Iranians might feel obliged to offer a few concessions if they know that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry aren’t the only Americans they have to deal with, and it provides an opportunity to express the general American public’s skepticism about the “framework” of a deal that’s been announced. The public skepticism is sufficiently widespread that the Corker-Mendendiez Bill passed the Senate’s foreign relations committee by a 19-0 vote and a veto-proof margin seem assured in both chambers of Congress, prompting such headlines as The New York Times’ “Obama Yields, Allowing Congress Say on Iran Nuclear Deal” and Reuters’ “In setback, Obama concedes Congress role on Iran,” and we’re always delighted to see such words as “yields,” “setback,” and “concedes” in any sentence that also includes Obama.
Corker did agree to a couple of face-saving amendments that allowed the Obama administration to claim victory even as it yielded and conceded to the setback, and permitted The Washington Post’s headline writers to describe it as “Congress and White House strike on Iran legislation” and the paper’s pluck reporters to explain it as a “compromise with the White House that allows President Obama to avoid possible legislative disapproval of the pact before it can be completed.” Even the very skeptical writers at Commentary were asking “Did Obama Win By Losing on Corker Deal?,” and some smart analysts were worrying that it will all wind up with enough Democrats being able to stick with the president and still assure their constituents that they tried to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons under the cockamamie deal the president struck, which seems a valid concern the way the president keeps getting away with doing as he wishes regardless of what the Constitution, Congress, or the American public think.
And yet still, we are grateful to the eponymous authors of the Corker-Menendez Bill, and to those veto-proof majorities in both chambers that supported their work. Even the White House and its allies at The Washington Post don’t have the public relations centrifuges to spin away the fact that the bi-partisan consensus of Congress represents America’s wariness of the deal that is being cooked up, and raises the hope that some restraint on executive authority is still possible, and that maybe even America won’t wind up conceding to Iran’s apocalyptic nuclear ambitions, and for now that’s about the best we can hope for.

— Bud Norman


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,011 other followers