Race and the Mid-Term Races

The neighborhood is littered with yard signs, the mailbox is stuffed with fliers, the phone is constantly ringing with robo-calls, and there’s no escaping the negative advertisements on the radio and television airwaves. There’s no surer sign that election season is in full swing, though, than the biennial recurrence of racial controversies.
Even the most polite political observers no longer bother to deny that the Democratic party’s electoral fortunes rest largely on turning out large numbers of black voters, and that it routinely stokes racial resentments in order to do so. In the upcoming mid-term elections that task is more difficult than usual, without any black candidates at the top of ballot and the average black voter faring poorly under the current Democratic administration, so this year the party’s efforts have been unusually brazen. The tactics might succeed in dragging a few more black voters to the polls, but we expect they also run a risk of alienating the rest of the electorate.
Nothing seems to motivate black voters more than the idea that Republicans don’t want them to, and once again that reliable trope is being trotted out. This year’s variation on the theme is that photo identification requirements and other common sense rules limiting voting to eligible citizens are just the updated version of poll taxes and literary tests, and while the Democrats are waiting for the courts to rule in favor of massive voting fraud the Democrats are proudly touting their brave defense of the franchise of blacks and deceased Americans of all races. The stance is less likely to appeal to the vast majority of Americans who support such measures, however, and the Democrats’ arguments might prove offensive to those blacks who bother to listen. The Department of Justice introduced an “expert witness” to a North Carolina court considering that state’s voter identification law who calmly explained that the requirement in inordinately onerous to black citizens because they tend to be “less sophisticated,” “less educated,” and “less attuned to public affairs” than other Americans. This has been the apparent logic of the Democrats’ arguments all along, and such patronizing condescension seems to inform almost every Demcoratic position on matters of race, but hearing it so explicitly stated under oath isn’t likely to do much for the get-out-the-vote effort with anyone sufficiently sophisticated and educated and attuned to public affairs to have heard about it.
The Democrats also had great hopes for exploiting the past summer’s hooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, which led to weeks of protests and riots and looting and media frenzy. In Georgia, where the Democrats are hotly contesting a Senate race, black communities have been inundated with advertisements warning that a Republican victory would lead to countless more cases of trigger-happy racist cops gunning down innocent youths as they kneel in the streets with their hands up. Aside from the pertinent facts that the shooting occurred in a Democrat-controlled city and state, and no Republican we’re aware of is running on a platform of gunning down innocent black teenagers, the ploy has also been weakened by recent revelations in such not-all-right-wing publications as The New York Times and The Washington Post that all the forensic evidence and at least seven black eyewitnesses have corroborated the officer’s story of self-defense. None of this is likely to satisfy the lynch mob that has gathered around the country, but the vast majority of Americans who are uncomfortable with lynch mobs will not be impressed to see the Democratic handing out the pitchforks and torches.
Another race card being played is black America’s predictable loyalty to the first black president, complete with claims that a Senate controlled by Republicans would quickly oust him from office. Only the least sophisticated and uneducated voters who are not attuned to public affairs don’t realize that the Republicans have no chance of gaining the 60 seats needed to convict in an impeachment trial, and that the timid Republican leadership in the House of Representatives would never bring the charges without that magic number, so of course the Democrats consider this a winning argument. The president has also made the argument that although he’s not on the ballot his policies are, a line that almost every Democratic candidate and even the press and the president’s past advisors have regretted. By now the president is far more popular than his policies among blacks, and the rest of the country doesn’t seem to like either the man or his plans. Here in Kansas, where the black vote is rarely decisive, almost all of the Republicans have been endlessly re-running the president’s remarks to bolster their non-block turnout.
In states where the black vote is more numerically significant the Democrats’ strategy will probably provide some help, and elsewhere it’s not likely to them do much harm, but it’s hard to see how it’s going to improve the nation’s race relations. Facilitating voter fraud, fomenting lynch mobs, and supporting failed policies as a matter of racial solidarity will not win black Americans greater respect, and it won’t solve any of the daunting problems that disproportionately affect their community. The Democrats clearly believe that black voters aren’t educated or sophisticated or attuned enough to public to see through their cynical ploys, and will now even express this opinion under oath, but real progress will be measured how far this fails.

– Bud Norman

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The Battle Spreads

As we write this the details of the Wednesday morning attack on Canada’s Parliament are still frustratingly few, but enough reliable information has emerged to conclude it was intended as yet another skirmish in the war that’s been waged against the west over the past 1,400 years or so by the more enthusiastic adherents of the Religion of Peace.
The gunman who murdered a guard at a national war monument and then fired off several rounds in the nearby Parliament building before being shot down has been identified as Michael Zehauf-Bibeau, who had been known as Michael Joseph Hall until his recent conversion to Islam, and with an admirable forthrightness that Americans can now only envy the government has declared it an act of terrorism. The attack came the same day that a three-month-old Israeli girl was killed by a Hamas terrorist who crashed a car into a crowded Jerusalem rail station and wounded eight others, two days after another recent convert to Islam crashed a car into two soldiers and killed one in a strip mall near Montreal, less than a month after yet another recent convert to Islam beheaded a former co-worker at a food distribution in plant in Moore, Oklahoma, all while the Islamic State terror gang continues its bloody conquest of more and more of the mideast and its supporters take the fight to the streets of Hamburg, Germany, and other European cities, and by now even the most exceedingly sensitive press are obliged to acknowledge an Islamic angle to these events.
This hasn’t prevented the most hackneyed cultural relativism and moral equivalence and anti-western self-loathing and cries of racism other apologia from being “tweeted” across the internet, and the gun control advocates are making their usual efforts to exploit the tragedy despite having held up Canada as an exemplar of sensible regulation for as long as we can remember, and in disregard of the satisfying fact that further bloodshed was prevented by a very rare armed Canadian, but an attack on the seat of government of a democratic North American nation requires more than the usual exertions. Such a culturally sensitive newspaper as The New York Times conceded that the attack “heightened fears that Canada, a strong ally of the United States in its campaign against the Islamic State militant group convulsing the Middle East, had been targeted in a reprisal, either as part of an organized plot or a lone-wolf assault by a radicalized Canadian,” and that inevitably heightens a fear that they won’t target a United States that lately doesn’t seem so strong. The Islamic State terror gang that has been beheading and other brutalizing those who don’t share their specific religious beliefs in Iraq and Syria are calling on their ideological brethren around the world to commit similar violence against the infidels, people from Hamburg to Ottawa to Moore are acting accordingly, and America its allies are no more immune to Islamist terrorism than they are the Ebola virus.
By this late paragraph we are once again obligated to acknowledge the vast of majority of Muslims who have no intention of running a car into you or shooting up your nation’s capitol or chopping your head off, and to wish them well in whatever efforts they are making to pacify the more enthusiastic of their co-religionists, but that troublesome minority among them will require stern measures. Canada is at a higher level of security, we are hopeful that our own government is acting with a bit more more nervous energy, even the Germans seem properly appalled at the Middle East’s battles being fought on their streets, and throughout much of the western there seems to be a necessary stiffening of the cultural spine. The Canadian Foreign Minister “tweeted” to Secretary of State of John Kerry that his his country’s resolve to fight the Islamic State would not be weakened, one can only hope that Kerry will be shamed into a similar resoluteness. In Israel and Germany public opinion has rallied against the terrorists, Canadians do not seem to be responding to their wounds with any sense of guilt for standing against the most brutal excesses of Islamism, and our sense is that the American electorate will not support a policy of appeasement in the upcoming election.

– Bud Norman

Of Sleeping Dogs and WMD

The late Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction are back in the news, and they’re proving an embarrassment to both sides of the debate about the Iraq War.
Readers of a certain age will recall that the WMD, as they were popularly known, were one of 23 casus belli cited in the congressional resolution authorizing the war in Iraq but the only one that anyone seemed to notice. When the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq failed to provide the press with large stockpiles of newly-made WMD to photograph the critics of the war started chanting “Bush lied, thousands died” and public opinion began to turn against the effort. President George W. Bush had always taken care to truthfully state only that our intelligence agencies and those of several of our allies had suggested a high probability of a WMD program, even someone so reputedly stupid would have been unlikely to launch a war on a basis he knew would be disproved, the lack of proof of the WMD did not prove their non-existence, there were sporadic reports of the chemical weapons that Hussein had indisputably used against in the past and credible theories that the weapons had been shipped to Syria during the debates in congress and the United Nations, several Democrats including both Senators who wound up serving as President Obama’s Secretaries of State also found the intelligence reports dating back to the Clinton administration credible, and there were still those other 22 writs that had been widely ignored, but such arguments neither fit on a bumper sticker nor rhymed and were not enough to persuade a war-weary public.
The missing WMD and that “Bush lied, thousands died” line became such cherished beliefs of the establishment media and the rest of the left that it was noteworthy that such a established paper as The New York reported last week that “American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells, or aviation bombs … ” The report was quick to add that the weapons were “remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West,” and “the discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale,” but that didn’t stop the war’s supporters from claiming long-awaited vindication. The Times spends most of its article explaining the toll those weapons have taken on American soldiers, and it is hard to reconcile that with its claims that they posed no threat to civilians. If taken at face value the facts laid out in the story also show that Hussein was not in compliance with his treaty obligations regarding weapons of mass destruction, and suggest that he retained his old willingness to use anything at hand against his enemies. As much as they hate to cite The New York Times as a source, the war hawks have found a weapon there to use against the “Bush lied” calumny.
Which raises the infuriating question of why the Bush administration didn’t avail itself of the evidence to defend its arduous efforts in Iraq while public opinion was turning against the war. Conservative suspicions naturally turn to political adviser Karl Rove, who has long been a leading figure in the demonology of the left and has lately assumed the same role for the right, and over at The Daily Beat the usually reliable reporter Eli Lake provides quotes from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and some unnamed “insiders” to bolster the case. Rove reportedly felt that that the public had already concluded no significant WMD were in Iraq, t and by 2005 was telling Santorum to “Let these sleeping dogs lie; we have lost that fight so better not to remind anyone of it.” The strategy was not without some merit, given that that the shrillness of the opposition was likely to drown out any claims of WMD and a hostile press was not going to offer any help, but given the continued decline in support for the war and the drubbings that the Republicans took in the ’06 and ’08 elections it doesn’t look good in retrospect. The Lake article has provided the more strident right-wing talk radio hosts with material for further rants against Rove, and in this case he seems to deserve it.
Rove wasn’t the president, though, and the ultimate responsibility for the decision rests with his boss. Perhaps he had his own reasons for declining to publicize the discovery of the WMD, and perhaps they had to do with military considerations that he considered more important than his own political standing, but we’ll have to await some long-off history book to learn what those reasons might be. Those history books will likely be full of facts that will change the public’s understanding of the war, and they’ll surely record that “Bush lied” and “blood for oil” and all the other bumper sticker slogans proved false, and they might just conclude that Bush’s invasion was a bad idea and Obama’s premature an even worse one, but until then no will get to enjoy any vindication.

– Bud Norman

Taking the World Series-ly

The World Series commences today, and folks around these parts are enthused because the locally beloved Kansas City Royals have ridden an improbable hot streak into the fall classic, and almost every sports fan outside the rooting area of the opposing San Francisco Giants seems favorably inclined toward the plucky under-paid underdogs from the relatively small midwestern market, but it’s not like the old days. Perhaps it’s just the difference in perspective of a wide-eyed youth and a wizened old man, but nothing in sports or aught else seems like the old days.
For a long period of time that began many decades before our birth and stretched into our childhood, the World Series was by far the most important event on the American sports calendar. One of the rare advantages of attending a mediocre elementary school in the ’60s was getting an autumn afternoon off to watch the daylight games on a fuzzy black-and-white television that had been wheeled into the classroom to placate the boys, whose boyish tendencies were still indulged by the country’s public education systems. An eerily similar example of the World Series’ former cultural significance can be found in Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” in which the denizens of a snake pit mental hospital were willing to endure all the drugged indignities of a cruel nurse but finally rebelled when she forbade them to watch the games. There was a time, you youngsters should know, when any man or boy who wasn’t enrapt by the World Series would have his red-blooded Americanness questioned.
Since then there have been labor strikes and steroids and assorted other scandals, and the salaries have skyrocketed and the ratings for the night games lasting well past a boy’s bedtime have plummeted, and the World Series is now just the biggest event of the week on a calendar that constantly offers up some heavily hyped sports event or another. The National Football League’s single-game Super Bowl is now the biggest deal of the year, to the point that even the gazillion dollar commercials are scrutinized to a greater extent than Democratic presidential nominees, and only the old-timers can recall when it was a little-watched exhibition game against an upstart league in the aftermath of the all important NFL championship game, and the half-time entertainment was a college marching band and a guy flying around the stadium in one of those James Bond jet packs. Even when the locally beloved Kansas City Chiefs won it all in one of the Super Bowls that was so early you could understand the Roman numerals the kids on our block all left at half-time to have our own contest in a nearby cow pasture.
Those neighborhood football games were rough and tumble affairs, conducted without pads or helmets or agents, and particularly rough on such undersized but game sorts as ourselves. The basketball games that took place on the driveway, whether one-on-one or two-on-two or three-on-three or the free-for-all variation we called “21,” were just as bruising and as likely to knock to the wind out of you. Baseball usually involved some adult supervision, but the gloriously free sandlot contests also involved a violent degree of contact. The most popular pastimes of our boyhoods would probably get an entire neighborhood of parents arrested for child endangerment these days, yet another reason for nostalgia, but even such exhilaratingly dangerous physicality would have never kept a neighborhood kid from watching the very best of the big kids duke it out in a World Series.
The constant saturation of sports on cable television and the networks and the social media and your local tavern and the average guy’s casual clothing have somehow diminished its significance, a development that some part of our culturally conservative nature welcomes, but we can’t help lamenting that in sports our aught else in our culture there’s no longer the same society-wide appreciation of how well the best of the big kids are playing the games. This year’s Kansas City Royals only won 89 games and snuck into the play-offs via that one-game system we have derided as sports socialism, which provided the nail-biting local interest in the last days of the season which the cynical ploy intended, but since then they’ve been playing with an undefeated and record-setting and Hollywood-scripted extra-innings excellence which commands respect in any human endeavor.
Our favorite baseball team is the Wichita Wingnuts, which has already wrapped up a double-A American Association championship after compiling a remarkable-at-any-level .730 winning percentage in the regular season, and our second favorite is the New York Yankees, which finished out of the socialistically expanded plays-offs despite its usual heavy payroll, but we’ve always had a certain fondness for the Royals. We’re old enough to remember that long ago time when George Brett and Frank White and Bret Saberhagen and Willie Willson and Hal McCrae and Dan Quisenberry gave our beloved Yankees heck in the reasonably two-tiered playoffs of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and the town was kind enough to us during our stint as obituary writers for the Kansas City Star that we wish it well, so we’ll be tuned in and hoping for a Royals victory. They’re playing the 89-win but suddenly hot San Francisco Giants, too, so any sort of conservative’s choice should be clear.

– Bud Norman

Roving Off the Reservation

Although we like to think ourselves rock-ribbed Republicans in the conservative tradition of Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Calvin Coolidge, we can’t quite work up the requisite red-hot hatred of Karl Rove.
Perhaps it’s just a habit ingrained during the George W. Bush years, when all the liberals tried to reconcile their contradictory beliefs that Bush was a drooling moron and his administration a brilliantly elaborate right-wing conspiracy by casting Rove as the evil genius behind it all, but the notion that Rove is now the evil genius thwarting an otherwise inevitable right-wing revolution seems implausible. The Bush years were by no means a conservative heyday, what with all that deficit spending and governmental growth and unfettered illegal immigration and the rest  of its many heresies from the right-wing religion, but given that the alternatives were Al Gore and John Kerry we retain a begrudging gratitude for Rove’s political machinations. In the unhappy aftermath of the Bush administration Rove has earned the further enmity of the true believers by backing some “establishment” Republicans over the more true-blue “tea party” challengers in Republican primaries, which is indeed annoying, but we’re still willing to assume that he did so only for fear that the upstart would lose to a even more noxious Democrat. Such pragmatism is now offensive to the many of our ideological brethren, however, and the more rigid right-wing talk radio hosts and their avid fans would have Rove banished from the party.
Ordinarily we give little thought to Rove, who seems to be shrewdly sitting out the current election cycle, but his bi-partisan pariah status came to mind when reading another excellent column by Kevin Williamson in the National Review. Williamson is lately one of our favorite writers, and The National Review has been the definitive conservative publication since before we could read, so it was interesting to see them offer even a qualified defense of Rove. Even more interesting were the voluminous comments, which were almost unanimous in their outrage. The National Review’s long tenure is enough to confer it establishment status, no matter how resolute it remains in espousing conservative causes, but its readership apparently is in no mood to forgive any deviation from the rightward path.
Which is fine by us, but the vehemence of the commenters makes us worried about the Republicans’ chances of fending off the Democrats. Most of the dissenters seem to regard anything less than the conservative ideal as unacceptable, even when it’s the only option left on the ballot other than a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and would apparently prefer letting a Democrat win rather than voting for a impure Republican. Their theory seems to be that conservatives enjoy an overwhelming majority of even in San Francisco and Boston and Honolulu, and that far-left candidates prevail there only because the Republicans are too timid to offer up a sufficiently right-wing candidate, but we can’t shake a suspicion that a more squishy centrist sort of candidate might fare better in these jurisdictions and would at least be more preferable.
This tendency can be problematic even here in such a reliably Republican state as Kansas, where Sen. Pat Roberts finds himself in a hotly contested race against a Democrat posing as an independent because much of the Republican electorate is tempted to sit out the election in protest of Roberts’ occasional deviations from the conservative line. Roberts has an 86 percent lifetime rating by the American Conservative Union and scores much higher in the past six years of a Democratic administration, but that 14 percent of deviation might well hand the race to a far more liberal candidate if Kansas conservatives can’t bring themselves to vote for a less than perfect Republican over a far more imperfect challenger. The race might well determine which party controls the Senate and has drawn enough national attention that the right-wing talk radio hosts are covering it, with the more fervent among them touting Roberts in the most half-hearted way and with a constant admonition that the state should have nominated the scandal-tinged but more robust primary challenger, and at the risk of sounding like Rockefeller Republicans we’d like to see a more pragmatically enthusiastic endorsement.
It’s a hoary cliche that politics is the art of the possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Given the popular culture’s leftward tilt and the near-majority of Americans reliant on government largesse and lockstep uniformity of the Democratic party it is wishful thinking to believe that an electoral majority is just a matter of nominating the most conservative possible candidates, and for all our disagreements with Karl Rove we can’t blame him for seeking a least-worst middle ground. We’d prefer to enlist his formidable help in fending off the craziness of the Democrats, and then to deal with his kind.

– Bud Norman

The Real Threat of the Ebola Virus

We still haven’t panicked about the Ebola virus, but the news that President Barack Obama cancelled two days of fundraising to deal with the disease has made us a bit more nervous. Only a matter of the utmost seriousness would interrupt the president’s fundraising, judging by some of the earth-shaking events that haven’t dented the schedule, and we’re not reassured that he’s taking charge.
The news is chock full stories suggesting that we’re all going to die, and even the most optimistically skeptical reader can’t help concluding that the government’s response has thus far been inept, but we suspect that the president’s newfound urgency has more to do with a growing threat to his approval ratings in the public opinion polls, which are lately low enough that the Democratic candidates in flyover country are declining to say if they ever voted for the guy. People get skittish about deadly diseases flying in unimpeded from the third world, and there’s already a widespread public perception that the president spends an inordinate amount of time fundraising and golfing and hanging out with his fellows celebrities while the world burns, so some photo-ops with a few anonymous health care workers and the equally anonymous cabinet are just what the spin doctor ordered.
Thus far Democratic efforts to score political points from the Ebola virus have faltered, with even The Washington Post giving a “Four Pinocchios” rating to the claim that evil Republican budgets are the reason we’re all going to die and the more conservative media having great fun with all the frivolous studies of feces-flinging chimpanzees and other esoteric subjects that the relevant agencies have been spending all those billions on rather fighting deadly viruses that fly in unimpeded from the third world, but the president’s photo-ops might prove more effective. They not only reassure his dwindling fan base that he’s still on the job, but also distract attention from a variety of other unsettling stories. The Islamic State terror gang’s rampage through the Middle East has spilled into the streets of Europe, the stock markets continue to slide in response to a slew of bad economic news, all those long-forgotten scandals are still under investigation, a wily unpopular executive action granting amnesty to millions of people who have already snuck into the country is still being threatened, and the kids are still grousing about the First Lady’s school lunch menus. Success stories for those Democratic candidates in flyover to tout are hard to find, too, so the making the Ebola virus a higher priority than even fund-raising and the fact we haven’t all died yet is bound to help more than another speech about billionaire-loving Republicans in front of a bunch of billionaire Democrat donors.
This might seem a cynical assessment, but the only alternative explanation is that the threat posed by the Ebola virus is as dire as the most alarmist stories suggest and that the president feels he needs to personally take control. This would cause us to panic, and we’d prefer not to.

– Bud Norman

Illiberalism and Free Speech

The deadly Ebola virus has flown from west Africa to the United States, the head-chopping terrorists of the Islamic State are within striking distance of Baghdad, and the stock markets are retreating in the face of dire economic news, and there are more scandals and screw-ups and sob stories afoot than can possibly be fit into a lead paragraph, but at least we’re free to gripe about it. Even that small compensation is increasingly endangered, though, and that might be the worst of it.
The latest outrage against free speech comes from the formerly sane community of Houston, where the municipal government is threatening a contempt of court charge against a group of Christian pastors if they don’t turn over copies or recordings of any sermons mentioning homosexuality, “gender identity,” or the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. Throughout the past governments within the United States of America have not concerned themselves with the content of sermons in the nation’s churches, a blessing conferred by the First Amendment to the Constitution and the sanity that once prevailed in our communities, but of course homosexuality and “gender identity” and openly lesbian mayors are now more important than such timeworn traditions. The subpoenaed pastors had been part of a coalition that included 400 Houston churches opposed to a city ordinance that would end sex segregation in public restrooms, among other things, so there was a special urgency to scrutinize their opinions.
Such fashionable causes seem especially censorious, and have frequently proved intolerant of any chicken sandwich shops or computer geniuses or t-shirt printers who won’t conform to the expected enthusiasm for homosexuality or trans-gendered identities or whatever they’re peddling on the premium cable channels, but the modern left’s intolerance of dissent is spreading into other issues. The Internal Revenue Service’s unequal treatment of conservative groups, that proposal to amend the First Amendment to allow for regulation of political speech, all those stories out of academia about speech codes and bans on conservative speakers, the pesky litigiousness of climate scientists, the denunciations of pro-capitalist private citizens from a Senate floor that is exempted from any libel suits, and a seemingly endless stream of similar stories all testify to the left’s ardent desire that any dissenters be made to shut up.
There’s not much chance of us right-wing bastards complying, however, and it should make for an interesting battle. The left has been getting the best of it lately, but Houston seems the wrong place to pick a fight and unisex restrooms a most unpromising issue. Our experience of Houston suggests that most of its women will not be pleased to share restrooms with the sort of creepy men who will insist on invading their formerly segregated space, the men will be just as put off by the far more infrequent women who prefer their facilities, and that even the most heathen among the will sympathetic to the pastors who raised objections. Our experience of the city further leads us to believe the Democratic coalition that elected the city’s first openly lesbian mayor is largely comprised of black and Hispanic voters who aren’t entirely comfortable with the latest addition to their identity group coalition, and there is likely to some backlash even if some court doesn’t rediscover the First Amendment. It’s easy enough to suppress the free speech of an unpopular minority, but a multi-racial majority that includes a whole lot of women is going to problematic for the left. Targeting Christian churches who hew to a traditional disapproving but tolerant view of homosexuality for scrutiny while forbidding investigation of mosques that advocate an even harsher attitude will also be a hard sell, but until the heads start getting chopped off in Houston we expect liberal sensibilities will continue to insist on such inconsistent notions of tolerance.

– Bud Norman

Rock ‘n’ Roll and Other Museum Pieces

The Sedgwick County Historical Museum was rockin’ and rollin’ on Tuesday night, which somehow seemed sadly appropriate.
Headlining a fundraiser for the elegant but cash-strapped museum was Los Straitjackets, a crack surf rock quartet clad in matching black suits and skinny black ties with Mexican wrestling masks, and Deke Dickerson, a famously ferocious rockabilly guitarist wearing a brand new cowboy hat acquired just down the street at Hatman Jack’s Wichita Hat Works, and it made for quite a commotion. The music was rough and rowdy and inventive and goofy, and altogether fitting for the gorgeous old limestone venue that the city’s great Proudfoot and Bird architectural firm built as Wichita’s original City Hall back in the days when public architecture inspired awe and respect rather than rolling eyes and a run through the metal detectors. Such real deal rock ‘n’ roll is now a relic of a long lost past, just like the nearby display of antique toys that a friend of ours acquired from his Depression-era pop and has loaned to the museum, or the once-upon-a-time locally-built Jones 6 automobile that is exhibited two stories up, or any of the other intriguing artifacts that clutter the place, and it now makes for a worthy museum piece.
It was heartening to think to that such delightfully low music had found a place in the local pantheon, a shrewd choice we attribute to another old friend of ours who was once a key figure in the original local punk rock scene and is now the museum’s outstanding director, but sad to realize how small a role it plays in the contemporary popular culture. The gradual demise of surf rock and rockabilly and all the other beer-fueled styles of all-American music wouldn’t be so bad if something worthy had come along to replace them, just as those genres had knocked off jump blues and big band swing and hillbilly boogie and Tin Pan Alley pop quartet Gospel and all the other rough and rowdy and inventive and goofy ideas that had preceded them, but when we scan through the local radio stations or search for the latest offerings from the hippest web sites we never find anything comparably cool to take its place in the progression. Every so often we’ll ask the young hipsters who hang out at the local bistro where we mull over the day’s events with a gray-ponytailed friend if we’re missing anything great, but even the most immaculately tattooed yo among them tell us that it’s all as just bad as we’d suspected. There’s no doubt something very cool going on out there if you dig deep enough for it, as there always is, but it’s not like the old days when you just had to turn on the radio and let it come pouring out.
The same lack of new ideas seems apparent in our visits to the local art galleries, and our perusals of the new releases at the local independent bookstore, and our occasional samplings of the latest cinema on Netflix, as well as all our other occasional forays into contemporary popular culture. There’s no shaking a nagging suspicion that it’s somehow related to the same paucity of innovation in our politics, where liberalism offers the same old policies that have had Europe in decline for the past century and conservatism is still hoping for another Ronald Reagan to talk the public out of such foolishness, or in a an economy where the big money is flowing towards new social media that allow people to more efficiently disseminate pictures of their cats or share their gripes about the service at a local restaurant. Perhaps the artists are lacking the big ideas that come from social change, or social change is stalled by lack of artistic impetus, but in any case the result is inescapably desultory.
We’re in search of a big idea as well, and our best guess is that we’ll find it in the museums. Given a choice between the old ideas that have had Europe in decline for the past century or another Ronald Reagan to thwart such nonsense we’ll opt for the latter every time, and given a choice between surf rock and whatever it is they’re playing on the FM stations we’ll spin the former. There’s something to be made of such rough and rowdy and inventive and goofy stuff, we’re sure, just as the surf rockers drew on rockabilly and Reagan drew on ideas at least as old as Edmund Burke, and maybe someday it can added to the museum to inspire yet another generation.

– Bud Norman

For a Few Billion Dollars More

The national nervousness regarding the Ebola virus seems to have gone up another notch with the latest case, but rest assured that the leading experts are all hard at work to limit the potential political consequences.
At first glance the disease’s introduction to the United States would seem a problem for the Democrats, who for multi-cultural rather than medical reasons have resisted a ban on travel from the countries where the Ebola virus has become epidemic. This and other missteps also undermine the Democrats’ argument on behalf of letting government handle every aspect of American life, bolster the Republicans’ argument that the government is a gargantuan fool, and distracts attention from free contraception and the recent availability part-time jobs and anything else the Democrats might prefer to talk about. Despite these obvious disadvantages, however, the Democrats are still hoping to score a few points with the Ebola virus.
The first small effort came from Van Jones, the former Obama administration “green czar” and a self-professed communist, who told his fellow panelists on the Cable News Network’s “Crossfire” program that “We can’t let the Republicans get away with some of the stuff they’re doing this week, just trying to bash Obama. Hey, you know, government is always your enemy until you need a friend. This Ebola thing is the best argument you can make for the kind of government we believe in.” We take this to mean that it is a legitimate function of government to protect the country from the outbreak of deadly diseases, which is such a reasonable argument that only the conservative straw men of Jones’ demented imagination would dispute it, and that the country should therefore rack up further debt to pay for the cell phone bills of Cleveland crack addicts and the phony-baloney “green energy” scams of the administration’s big contributors and all the rest of the pernicious nonsense that comprises the kind of government Jones believes in, which is complete non sequitur. The argument clearly needed some refinement, so the non-profit and allegedly non-partisan Agenda project has unveiled an advertisement in several states with close election races that explains how Republican budget-cutting is responsible for the Ebola virus’ arrival in the United States. The smart folks over at Reason persuasively makes the case the that funding for a variety of agencies devoted to preventing epidemics is hardly stingy, and we’d question the advertisements premises in any case. No evidence is presented that a few more billion would have made these programs any more effective, nor is the magic amount that would have kept the disease out of the country ever stated, and there’s always a conservative counter-argument that any necessary amount should have come out of the budget for the Cleveland crack addicts’ cell phones and those phony-baloney “green jobs” scams.
The argument that just a few more billion dollars of government spending would have the difference is growing less persuasive with each passing day and every billion added to the national debt, and is especially weak made on behalf to he current efforts to control an Ebola virus outbreak. A timely ban on travel from the infected countries would have prevented a brave young nurse from battling this usually deadly disease, and it would have been cost-effective.

– Bud Norman

Christopher Columbus, Ray Charles, and the Way It Turned Out

Today is Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day, depending on your preference as a freeborn American. We have nothing against indigenous peoples, and count some among our ancestors, but we’ll spend the day playing old records by Ray Charles in celebration of the fellow who set off from the Old World and inadvertently found a new one.
To the more progressive way of thinking, ironically enough, Columbus is one of history’s greatest villains and his voyage one of history’s greatest catastrophes. If only Columbus had suppressed that dangerous human instinct to discover what is beyond the horizon, according to this progressive line of thought, the indigenous people would have been spared all the subsequent unpleasantness and the rest of the world would been spared the annoyance of modern America. This alternative history has a certain appeal, what with everyone living in perfect harmony with nature and bare-breasted women cavorting on the sandy beaches and all that, but it’s always struck us as rather hopefully speculative. One must ignore the likelihood that the indigenous people would have inflicted all sorts of unpleasantness on themselves over the past many centuries, as all people tend to do, and forgo all the life-enhancing discoveries that have resulted from that dangerous human instinct to discover what is beyond the horizon. One must also deny that America, for all its past sins and remaining faults, is one of the greatest things that has happened to humankind over the past five centuries and perhaps far greater than what might happened if everyone had just stayed put in their diversity-lacking homelands.
The late Flip Wilson had a very funny bit about Christopher Columbus in which the great explorer explains to Queen Isabella that “If I don’t discover America there’s not going to be a Benjamin Franklin, or a star-spangled banner or a land of the free and the home of the brave, and no Ray Charles.” In Wilson’s telling the queen panics at the thought of no Ray Charles, and immediately agrees to finance Columbus’ journey to America when he explains “That’s where all those records come from.” It’s a shrewd bit of anachronistic humor, but it also seems a profound rebuttal to all the Columbus-bashers who would rather celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Living in perfect harmony with nature would be cold in the winter and hot in the summer, the beaches where the bare-breasted women cavort will always be far away, the rest of the progressive vision of history’s perfect conclusion sounds quite dull and lacking in adventure, and the part about no Ray Charles is too horrible to contemplate.
We’ll do what we can for the indigenous peoples, which will probably involve modern medical discoveries and a technological economy, but we’ll also take some time out today to be grateful that Christopher Columbus brought the Old World’s know-how to this hemisphere. Christopher Columbus was one of those rare men who refused to stay put and dared to find out what was beyond the horizon, and he discovered the land where the Ray Charles records came from, and that’s worth a day of celebration.

– Bud Norman


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