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

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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

Small Blue Dots and Big Red Splotches

Our humble hometown of Wichita is perfectly situated here in the middle of the country, we often boast, because if it were any farther from New York City it would just be that much closer to Los Angeles. This old jest came to mind as we were perusing a state-by-state rundown of the president’s approval ratings, which suggest that his low numbers are being propped up by a few densely populated spots far away from our discontented heartland.
The data was brought to our attention by the smart fellows over at the Powerline web site, who rightly conclude that the president’s unpopularity is even more widespread than the headline numbers would suggest, and it seemed full of interesting implications. Having some familiarity with all of the 48 contiguous states, and with a stereotype in mind for each, we were most interested to see where the president retains some following.
The president is most popular in Maryland, which is mostly Baltimore and the suburbs of the District of Columbia, both of which have a vested interest in federal largesse, yet only 56 percent of the state registers approval. Next up is the president’s native Hawaii, where 53 percent are still on board, a slight majority we attribute to the famously potent marijuana of the state. Coming in third is Vermont, which is basically a vast hippie commune with maple syrup, at 52 percent. The only other states where the president wasn’t below 50 percent were New York and Massachusetts, which requires no explanation, and even in those liberal redoubts he was right at the halfway mark. The combined populations of these states skews the overall results so, and that vexing 40 percent approval we keep seeing is mostly buoyed by a few other crowded states where the president’s standing hasn’t yet caved.
California remains the most populous state in the union, despite its best efforts to drive people away, and the president has only now dipped to 49 percent approval there, although we suspect the numbers drop drastically once your start polling outside of Los Angeles and San Francisco and a few of their more well-heeled suburbs. New York remains the second most populous state, despite its best efforts, and we further suspect that the president finds less approval the farther one gets away from the epicenter of New York City. In his adopted home state of Illinois, which also has a sizable population, the president is above the national average with an otherwise discouraging 45 percent, and we’d wager that number is far lower outside Chicago. A few other populous states are dragging the president’s approval ratings between below 50 percent but keeping it above 40, with the utan centers probably accounting for the crucial difference, and elsewhere the numbers are downright dismal.
Even in formerly supportive states such as Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida the president’s disapproval ratings are in the high 50s. In those deep red states that never did fall for the president’s promises of hope and change, the disapproval rates range from the high 60s to mid-70s. These numbers are unusual in American politics, where any Democrat’s 52 percent is routinely described as a landslide, and do much to explain some of the recent mid-term election stories.
Watch almost any Republican’s campaign commercials and you’ll see a scary-looking photograph of the president juxtaposed against a picture of the Democratic opponent, and listen to almost any Democrat’s campaign speeches and you’ll hear mention that the president isn’t the ballot. Both pitches are perfectly explained by the polling data. The president himself has declared that although he’s not on the ballot all of his policies are, which can only be explained by his characteristic belief that everything is about him, but the numbers are probably the reason he’s hitting the fund-raising circuit in those last remaining true-blue urban enclaves rather than hitting the campaign trail for the Democratic candidates he’ll need to get his policies enacted as law.
As encouraging as the numbers might to be to those of hoping for Republican victories in the coming mid-term elections, they’re discouraging to anyone with a vested interest in the continued union of these states. When small majorities of voters in a few densely populated urban areas can impose their political preferences on large but sparsely populated swaths of the nation where those policies are overwhelmingly hated it cannot help but fray the national unity. In the past such regional differences were ameliorated by federalism, an ingenious concept that allows California to be California and West Virginia to be West Virginia, but that’s one of the policies that urban enclaves seem intent on eliminating. The polling data suggest that the Republican party will have some greater degree of influence in the government following the elections, and if this proves true they would do well to make that old-fashioned notion a fighting principle.

– Bud Norman

The End of Satire

The art of satire, according our well-considered literary theory, should be rendered with a certain subtlety. A burlesque too broad is bound to be vulgar, and it also robs the more sophisticated reader of that smug self-satisfaction that comes with recognizing an inconspicuous joke. Alas, The Daily Mail’s account of President Barack Obama’s remarks before and during a recent high-dollar fund-raiser falls well short of this high standard.
The article is presented as straightforward journalism, in keeping with the Fleet Street mainstay’s usual offerings, but despite the paper’s impeccable reputation for accuracy it seems the work of a rather ham-fisted satirist. It claims that Obama sent one of those poverty-pleading e-mails soliciting donations from the basement-dwelling Democratic hoi polloi, in which he lambasted the Republican opposition as the party of the fabulously wealthy, then flew to Connecticut to headline a $32,400-dollar-per-ticket fund-raiser in the Greenwich home of a real estate mogul named Rich Richman. This is irony cut with a chain saw, rather than the requisite scalpel, and had we been the editors we would have insisted in the interest of verisimilitude on something slightly less gaudy.
Take the small detail of that mogul host’s improbable name, for instance. We’ve dabbled in fiction enough to know the exhilirating sense of omnipotence that comes with naming our creations, and have always looked to the hilariously overstated nomenclature of the great Evelyn Waugh as our model, but calling the rich, rich man “Rich RIchman” is a bit lazy and self-indulgent to our tastes. Not since Arthur Miller named the lowly protagonist of “Death of a Salesman” Willy Loman has a name been so uncomfortably pregnant with ponderous significance. At the very least, we would have insisted it be transliterated into French or some other obscure language. Other reports joshingly indicate that the president’s middle name is “Hussein,” however, so  we commend the authors for omitting that rather over-the-top invention.
A wryer sort of satire can be found at The Weekly Standard, which quotes the president at length during another pricey fund-raiser, this one at a swank Manhattan restaurant. According the this account, the president acknowledged to his well-heeled supporters in the fight against income inequality that “there’s a sense possibly that the world is spinning so fast and nobody is able to control it,” then reassured them by citing his recent successes against the Islamic State terror gang, which continues its territorial gains in a key swath of the Middle East, rallying the North Atlantic Treaty Organization against the Russians, who currently control much of what used to be Ukraine, and mobilizing the entire “world community” against the carbon emissions causing global warming, which hasn’t been happening for the past 18 years. This is all quite droll, especially the implied suggestion that people would really pay $32,400 to hear such apparent balderdash, which should be especially satisfying to the class-envying sorts or who worry about income inequality, and we appreciate the painstaking effort to make it sound like something the president might have actually said.
There’s a disconcerting possibility, though, that both stories by these usually reliable publications are actually true. If so, we fear that the ancient art of satire might be rendered obsolete.

– Bud Norman

Earning Respect for a Religion

Has the President of the United States sent an emissary to your house of worship to commend it for its good works? Our humble little low church on the near westside hasn’t yet been so honored, despite its many commendable efforts on behalf on the poor and unfortunate, so we’re feeling a bit slighted. The Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City recently got a high-ranking visit and official effusive thanks, after all, and none of our congregation have beheaded anyone.
The mosque wasn’t being thanked for the beheading, we are assured, but rather for its past support of the rescue and recovery efforts in the aftermath of a devastating tornado last year in the nearby town of Moore. We don’t mean to diminish the mosque’s good works, and will freely acknowledge Islam’s longstanding reputation for charity, but there’s no shaking a suspicion that the official effusive thanks from our government has more to do with the more recent beheading committed by one of the mosque’s newest converts against a former co-worker in that very same nearby town. Islam also suffers a longstanding reputation for such brutality, especially lately, and by now it’s an obligatory rite to respond to every Islamist outrage with official pronouncements that Islam is a religion of peace and has contributed greatly to world civilization and most Muslims aren’t going to chop your head off and the rest of the familiar boilerplate. The practice began shortly after Islamist terrorists slammed airliners full of terrified passengers into the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon, when even good old President George W. Bush felt compelled to immediately rush to the nearest mosque and pose for a religiously tolerant photo-op, and after nearly six years of the current administration it has become an act of prostration.
The murderer had been fired from the food distribution plant where he committed his horrific crime, so polite opinion can conclude that it was just another one of those instances of “workplace violence” that happen so often in our capitalist society, like the time that poor fellow shot up the Fort Hood Army Base while shouting “allahu akbar,” but this requires an extraordinary politeness. In this case the murderer had been fired for making his female co-workers uncomfortable with talk of stoning them to death for their wanton western ways, had a Facebook page full of rants about jihad and sharia, and chose an unusual method of murder that had recently been recommended by the Islamic State terror gang currently running amok in the Middle East. Such an obvious Islamic angle to the crime requires an extra amount of distraction, so the murderer’s mosque is not only to be absolved of any suspicion but praised for its past largesse.
The obvious and understandable rationale for such obfuscation is to prevent a violent nativist purge of that vast majority of Muslims who probably won’t chop your head off, but by now that is no longer convincing. Similar outrages by people espousing Islam have been frequent for the peat several decades, but the people attacked for the religion are mostly Jews, and the torchlights and pitchforks never seem to materialize. There are reports that the mosque has received threatening messages, and we don’t doubt it, as Oklahoma City is full of people and we can’t vouch for the friendliness and tolerance of all of them, but our long experience of the city tells us that it’s not likely to embark on any ethnic or religious cleansing. Oklahoma City is a city of peace, has contributed greatly to world civilization, and the vast majority of its citizens will not chop your head off or otherwise molest you, but somehow our government never gets around to making such official pronouncements on its behalf and instead makes high-ranking visits to mosques to imply they’re all a bunch of Islamophobic rednecks ready at a moments ‘s head off to another crusade with shotguns on the racks of their pickup trucks. We’d like to think this notion isn’t all wrong, but it’s wrong enough that the government can please spare us another round of the usual cliches.
As annoying as they are to us, we can only imagine that the next nutcase plotting to chop someone’s head off finds such apologia a siren call. The multi-cultural theory behind all this praise for Islam holds that Muslims crave only respect, and that once it has been properly supplied they will take their rightful place in the glorious tapestry that is the global community, but by now the more criminally inclined among the faith have surely noticed that it is skyjackings and bombings and beheadings that prompt the official pronouncements of respects from the infidels. When an Islamist terror gang killed an ambassador and four other Americans at our country’s consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the president blamed it on an obscure internet video and the country’s lamentable constitutional practice of allowing such free speech, and told the General Assembly of the United Nations that “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” and those who believe that anyone who harbors doubt about the Prophet of Islam are slandering him were no doubt encouraged.
Thinking back to the culture wars of past decades, when crucifixes were being dunked in urine and pictures of the Virgin Mary were being covered in elephant dung on the taxpayers’ dime, and polite opinion regarded it as the height of religious fanaticism to object to such free expression, we find it hard to imagine President Barack Obama or any of his acolytes scolding that the future must not belong those who slander the Christian faith. Nor can we imagine the administration taking a stand on behalf of the rights of Jews to defend themselves against Islamist terror or to rent an apartment in Jerusalem, and for that matter we can’t even see it siding with the homosexuals or women who are routinely targeted for the most horrible abuse in an enlightened Europe that already routinely turns a blind eye to such offenses.
In the absence of anything more governmental or official, let us give our thanks to Oklahoma City and its well-above-average number of churches, and we’ll assume there are at least two synagogues down there and offer them our thanks as well. We trust that you’ve also chipped in generously on a variety of worthy community causes, that none of your congregants have chopped anybody’s head office, and we believe that it’s important what we celebrate in our culture.

– Bud Norman

Bitterly Clinging to the Last Remaining Certainties

During the past week our usually quiet and placid block of this prairie city was rocked by an earthquake and a home invasion. Both are almost unheard of around here, and therefore unlikely to reoccur, but that’s only contributed to what was already an unsettling sense of uncertainty about the state of the world.
The earthquake was minor and momentary and caused no reported damage, but it was sufficient to rattle our rolling chair and then our nerves. It wasn’t so bad as the one that happened late last year, which was several seconds longer and so much stronger it shook the lamp fixtures, but it was all the more unnerving because it was happening a second time. We had lived more than a half century on the plains before experiencing an earthquake, and our childhood education included annually rehearsed instructions on what to do in case of tornadoes but no one had ever bothered to tell us how to respond an earthquake, so the idea that this might now be a regular event seemed yet another irksome thing to worry about. All the local lefties are blaming it on the hydraulic fracking for oil and natural gas that’s been going on down in Oklahoma, which we cannot disprove, but we are reassured to note that on that same day fracking was going on in places where there weren’t earthquakes and earthquakes were happening where there wasn’t any fracking, Some sort of end times scenario from the Book of Revelation seems at least as a likely, and if human agency isn’t involved we will be glad.
The home invasion that happened just across the street and a couple of doors down cannot be blamed on anything other than humans, which makes it all the more threatening. We first heard about it on the local talk radio station, with the mention of our neighborhood and our street and our block piquing our attention, and then got the rest of the details from a couple of alarmed neighbors. It seems the 60-year-old woman at the home was chatting with a 50-year-old woman friend when two men burst through the door wielding handguns, forced the women into a bathroom while ransacking the house for a small amount of cash and booty, then sped away into the night. A few years back the “Riverside Rapist” terrorized women in the neighborhood for several months until he was apprehended, and since then the occasional bike has been swiped from a back porch and the police have been infrequently dispatched to adjudicate the domestic disputes that happen in even the best neighborhoods, but otherwise the violent crime seemed anomalous. Our fashionably old-fashioned neighborhood isn’t so swank that a criminal would expect to find an especially risk-worthy reward here, and it’s the sort of well kept and seemingly solid area that the Broken Windows Theory predicts will deter crime, but it’s still not possible to believe that it can’t happen here.
The neighborhood is so fashionably old-fashioned that it’s become a liberal enclave in this otherwise conservative city, with a conspicuous number of hipsters and homosexual and other childless households, and the vast majority of yard signs that pop up every election season advertising that the homes probably aren’t protected by a firearm, and we suspect the crime is even more discomforting to our neighbors. The two we spoke with about the crime are both single women, who rightly suspect that such cowardly criminals are more likely to target a home without a male, but they still seemed embarrassed to divulge the pertinent information that the men who invaded their neighbor’s home were black. Another man who also happened to be black was recently spotted on another neighbor’s porch late at night, both women told us, and they apologetically advised that that we be lookout for similar activity. We noted that the recent spate of ideal weather had drawn large numbers of homeless people to the picturesque riverbanks that border the neighborhood, and that their number had lately spilled into the streets, and both women acknowledged the same concern with an apparent sense of guilt. Riverside doesn’t like to believe that race and homelessness can ever be predictive of criminal behavior, and being forced to do so upsets the certainties that people rely on.
As wised-up right-wing bastards we have no compunction about regarding the saggy-pantsed black men or the old men carrying their belongings in a shopping cart with some suspicion when they appear on our lily-white and middle-class street, and we have a white male’s privilege in knowing that knowing that invading our home carries a slightly higher and probably effective risk of anyone on the street invading our home, but there’s no shaking a sense that everything is a little less certain. Deadly diseases that we once thought were confined only to the most third world regions of Africa are now in a Dallas hospital. The people of Moore, Oklahoma, once thought that of all the many things they had to worry about beheadings by radical Islamists were not of concern. It was once unthinkable that the Internal Revenue Service would be used to harass an administration’s political enemies, or that people who millennia-old definition of marriage would be denied employment opportunities because of their opinions, or that our country would be at war while the politicians refused to call it that, or that a Republican Senator in Kansas would would find himself in danger of not being re-elected. Each days’s perusal of the Drudge Report reveals another story we never thought would have happened, and the comments sections at each story has responses we never thought we’d hear, and it’s getting harder to think of anything we can be certain about.
The door is locked and weapons are ready in the unlikely case of a home invasion, and we’re boned on what to do in the even more unlikely case of the earth shaking until the buildings collapse, and the rest of it we’ll just have to get used to. God and guns and our own abilities are still certainties in life, and we’ll bitterly cling to them.

– Bud Norman

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