Tommy, Clif, and Tommy, RIP

All of the original Ramones are now dead, two of the best rockers in our prairie city have recently passed away, and what’s left of rock ‘n’ roll music suddenly isn’t at all satisfying.
You probably had to be a troubled youth in the late ’70s and early ’80s to fully appreciate The Ramones, but we were there and you can trust us when we say they were one of America’s greatest musical creations. At a time when rock ‘n’ roll stars were absurdly overpaid prima donnas striking ridiculous poses in even more ridiculous clothes, pretending that a musical style derived from greasy-haired poor white trash in the hills and prairies and bayous in an unholy alliance with the no-account negroes on the street corners of the roughest slums was now some sort of effete art form, The Ramones came out of the garages in some nondescript New York suburb wearing leather jackets and torn jeans and cheap sneakers with shaggy hair in their eyes to pound out a fast and furious and funny reminder of what the real deal sounded liked. No synthesizers or drum machines or fancy production techniques or any pretense of redeeming social value, just an insistent man-made beat and a thudding bass line and three chords screeching from an electric guitar while a gloriously ugly lead singer wailed “I”m a Teenage Lobotomy,”  “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” “Gabba Gabba Hey,” or similarly understandable and socially irrelevant rock ‘n’ roll sentiments. The Ramones’ formula distilled rock ‘n’ roll to its intoxicatingly stupid quintessence, and even now when we slap the old sides on the turntable we still tremble at its all-American brilliance.
That basic idea of The Ramones became known as punk rock, and was eagerly embraced by a smattering of oddball kids here in Wichita. With the band’s music blaring on record players at parties and in the afternoons at the apartments of unemployed friends we’d share the half-baked ideas that had been inspired by the demonstration that rock ‘n’ roll or any other cultural expression was something to be created at ground level by ordinary Americans such as ourselves rather than a commodity to be purchased from the established manufacturers. The more musically inclined among us formed bands such as The Agaarns and The Dream Dates and The Inevitable and that classic international cult band The Embarrassment, others painted pictures, some took photographs, and a few of us were compelled to write breathless accounts about with a few pieces that were somehow sneaked into the pages of the local newspaper. It was great fun, the sort of giddy entertainment that can only be enjoyed at a young age and with plenty of rock ‘n’ roll, and seems to have had some lasting value.
Some of those troubled and creative kids we knew on the scene have died early deaths from various causes, one is locked away in a federal prison on some very embarrassing charges, others have drifted away to unknown fates, but many are still coming up with something worthwhile to contribute to the local culture, or at least offering some much needed friendship. The art shows that still draw a crowd on the “Final Fridays” of every month by collusion of the painterly part of town aren’t so interesting these days, but they’re still there and so long as they are it provides hope that another John Noble or William Dickerson or one of the other truly great Wichita painter will some day arrive. The band scene is in one of its periodic slow points around here, so far as well gather from our admittedly infrequent forays into the bars where live music is still heard, but there’s still enough of the real deal rock ‘n’ roll to germinate another generation.
The young punks will have to do it without Clif Major and Tommy Crabb, though, and that’s going to be tough. Major was a local guitar star going back to the mid’-’60s, when his screeching solos for the oh-so-southside band The Outcasts transformed the local scene. Most of the well-scrubbed Wichita youth back then preferred the bouncy rock ‘n’ roll of such uniformed midwestern horn bands as The Fabulous Flippers, while the more sophisticated college hippies went for the slightly jazzy psychedelics of the great Mike Finnegan and his Serfs or the San Francisco-connected Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, but The Outcasts introduced the bluesy working class that was being exploited by British bands such as The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones and wound up winning all the battles of the bands. The feat almost killed Major a couple of times, and we got to know him well enough that he laughingly recalled for us how a subsequent stint in a bluegrass gospel band saved his life by keeping him off the prodigious diet of drugs that had fueled those screeching guitar solos, but he lasted long enough to enliven the ’80s rock scene with some gritty sax-driven ’50s rock ‘n’ roll and offer guitar-playing advice to the 21st Century’s local rockers at his ultra-cool instrument shop and to raise a son who slaps a pretty mean rockabilly upright bass in the local bands. Major was a good musician and a good guy, right up to the point that he lost his long battle with cancer, and Wichita and the world can ill-afford to lose either of those.
Crabb was a longtime musical collaborator of Major’s, and his death in his early ’60s about a week after Major’s passing was an unexpected blow. Every local music lover we ran into had the same stunned reaction, that they’d just run into him a few days before and thought he looked great. He’d been drumming for local bands as long as anyone could remember, and it was widely expected to last forever. We remember with particular fondness a night that he and Major had a gig backing up the great Bo Diddley at a sleazy little strip mall on the near west side, and how their natural affinity for the good time music with the Bo Diddle beat had propelled the jaded old pioneers to new frontiers of the real deal rock ‘n’ roll. His last gig was The Tom Page Band, a rootsy outfit that jumps from old-time country to down-home blues to long-haired rock with an effortless knack and is about as good as it gets around here, and its sad to be dreading their next performance. Crabb was a good drummer and another good guy, and a friend of ours who used his bills-paying services laying tile in a renovated kitchen assures us he was quite good at that job, and we’ll miss a drummer a who could answer a cell phone call in the middle of a show without missing a beat.
Tommy Ramone and his fellow Ramones and Clif Major and Tommy Crabb all died younger than people are supposed to in this day of medical miracles, none of them reaching that three score and ten that the Bible described as the age of man, and we lament the work they each left undone. There was never going to be a Ramones reunion, as there’s no sense in sixty-something gray hairs banging out three chords about sniffing glue, and when replacement Marky Ramone tried to revive the old punk spirit at the Wichita River Festival last spring one of our original punk scene friends complained that some idiot was trying to start a “wave,” but we understand that Tommy Ramone was still performing some interesting acoustic folk music, going back to an even more democratic era of American music, and we would loved to have heard it. One of the guys from The Embarrassment is back in town to take care of his aging father, who was once a prominent player on the local big band swing scene, and the most famous local act is Split Lip Rayfield with their punk-meets-bluegrass blend, which can be quite exhilarating when the boys are on their game, and we hold out hope that Wichita will once again realize the glorious possibilities of that unholy alliance of greasy poor white trash and the no-account negroes on the street corners and the very heart and soul of working class America..
Maybe it’s already out there, and we’re just too inclined to stay home to have heard it. We’re always asking the young folks we run into about it, though, and they always glumly assure us that we’re not missing anything special. Nobody we run into eagerly debates who’s the best guitar players out there, the way that Major’s fans did back in the ’60s, and they certainly don’t argue about who’s the best clarinet player, the way our old fogey friends did even into our early youth, and these days the best drum players are all computer programs. America’s popular culture is now just another commodity bought from the established manufacturers, not something that ordinary Americans create spontaneously and joyously and rebelliously and dangerously, and we mourn that passing most of all.

– Bud Norman

About these ads

The Fissure at the Border

The president and his supporters in the press are trying their best to portray the Republicans as the villains in the ongoing border crisis, but it’s looking like more of a problem for the Democrats. All those unaccompanied minors who have illegally entered the country in the past months have unified the Republican opposition, annoyed the politically unaffiliated, and at long last exposed some dangerous fault lines in the Democratic coalition.
After so many years of successfully vilifying the Republicans as a bunch of stingy racist xenophobes eager to harass any brown-skinned people who innocently if illegally wander across the border it is now hard for the Democrats to argue that it was the GOP who lured all those unaccompanied minors across the border with promises of amnesty and ample social services. There have been some Republicans from the big business wing who were tolerant of an insecure border and willing to tolerate those who crossed it, but House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor lost to an under-funded unknown because of his welcoming attitude toward illegal immigrant even before the current mess started to dominate the headlines, and it’s a certainty that the next Republican majority in Congress will be almost entirely rid of such heretics. The smart people have long warned the Republicans that this stance will forever doom them to a demographic disaster, but it now seems likely to win the support of a lot of otherwise apolitical people who are suddenly being asked to pick up the tab for the education and health care and eventual imprisonment of tens of thousands of unskilled and non-English-speaking youngsters who hopped the freight trains across Mexico.
Worse yet for the Democrats, those demanding the immediate repatriation of the invaders include many voters they’ve come to depend on. “Every economist agrees” that importing a few million more unskilled and non-English-speaking people into a country already suffering high unemployment and declining wages is just the thing to get the economy booming, according to a president who is fond of spouting such obvious nonsense, but a lot of high school drop-outs and a Harvard economist have already noticed the damage being done by unfettered immigration to financial prospects of those at the bottom rung. The law of supply and demand are more ruthlessly enforced than immigration, after all, and is hard for the most unsophisticated worker not to notice when the fines show up in a paycheck. A perpetually unkept promise to redistribute some wealth their way has kept the lower working class in the Democratic column for more decades than anyone alive could remember, but the immigration issue offers Republicans a rare opportunity to peel off a few votes with their own naked appeal to economic self-interest.
A disproportionate share of those low-wage workers are minorities, too, and their displeasure with the invasion is making hard to pretend that the opposition is comprised solely of  Gadsen-flag-waving and tricornered hat-wearing white folks. Some videos that have “gone viral” over at the much-watched YouTube site belie the press accounts that protestors who blocked the entrance of a convoy of Homeland Security buses full of the recent illegal arrivals in the California town of Murrieta were a lily-white mob, and feature African-Americans offering full-throated rants against admitting the youngsters. Our favorite of the videos show a couple of impassioned black men, one of them in Rastafarian garb, arguing with the pro-illegal immigration counter-protestors who had flocked the barricades. The counter-protestors are waving signs about how America stole the land from the Indians and Mexicans, but even the Native American in the “Vietnam Veteran” ball cap seems unable to articulate and argument about how the arrival of tens of thousands of unskilled and non-English-speaking youths is going to benefit his people. Illegal immigration not only gives black Americans competition for jobs, but also the political racial spoils that suffice in lieu of a job, and it will be difficult to keep the black political leadership on board with the Democrats’ agenda. It will be interesting to see if they’ll be able to keep Rep. Charles Rangel, who has been re-elected in Harlem since Reconstruction, but barely survived a primary challenge earlier this year in a district that is now majority Hispanic.
Sooner or later the homosexual community might consider if it is in their interest to welcome a massive immigration from a more macho part of the world that still taunts its soccer opponents with the Spanish equivalent of “faggot,” and then another loyal Democratic constituency could be in revolt. Those limo-driven one per centers who needn’t worry that their children will be seated next to any of the recent arrivals at their swank boarding schools will still be loyal to the cause, as will those idealists who believe that America should be caring for all of the world’s many billion needy, but the rest of the Democratic coalition will be vulnerable to doubts.
The overwhelming ublic sentiment for secure borders is so apparent that even the president is talking tough about sending the invaders back home, and he’s attempting to blame the Republicans for his failure to do so because they won’t authorize his request for $3.7 billion to deal with the situation. The request is tough enough to offend such open borders advocates as La Raza, the radical and revanchist and explicitly racialist organization from whence the president’s top policy advisor on immigration came, but it’s pork-laden and mostly spent on caring for rather than repatriating the aliens and will likely continue a policy of setting the invaders free with a pointless of promise of show up at a far-off deportation hearing. It’s calculatedly too soft to win the vote of any self-respecting Republican, and the president is already griping that the Republicans are too interested in playing politics to vote for it. We suspect the president would be more comfortable vilifying the Republicans as stingy racist xenophobes, and is eager to get back to that as soon the headlines fade and the negotiations on “comprehensive immigration reform” begin with whatever wobbly Republicans are left in the Congress, but the border crisis is causing all sorts of trouble for the Democrats.

– Bud Norman

Every Picture Tells a Story

Perhaps it’s just our skewed right-wing perspective, but President Barack Obama seems to be losing his once unerring knack for public relations.
Consider that carefully posed and widely disseminated photograph of the president with his sleeves rolled up and his tie loosened as he shares a beer and a game of pool with the governor of Colorado. The image is obviously calculated to portray the President of the United States as a regular sort of guy and easy-going fellow you’d like to have a drink with, which is just the sort of thing that helped him win the presidency in the first place, but it seems to us not quite right for a moment so far into a second term. Especially at a moment when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors are pouring over the nation’s relatively nearby southwestern border and even the local Democrats are noisily clamoring for some presidential attention. One of the rare Democratic congressmen from Texas described the photo-op as “bizarre,” “aloof,” and “detached,” and we’re inclined to agree.
The President did fly down to Texas to meet with the state’s Republican governor, who controversially considered forgoing the usual handshake-on-the-tarmac photo-op, but the visit to the Lone Star State was devoted mostly to fund-raisers and did not include a visit to any of the makeshift detention camps where the Central American urchins are being piled up. The oversight is being widely described as Obama’s “Katrina moment,” an allusion to that long-ago time when his predecessor was pilloried in the press and buried in the polls for a perceived indifference to the human toll of a hurricane that had battered the Gulf Coast after he flew over the wreckage rather than land and interfere with the rescue efforts. The press was more eager to seize the moment against Bush, and would have been just as happy to lambaste him for landing and interfering with the rescue efforts, but even the most sympathetic media have lately had a hard time spinning the invasion of unaccompanied minor illegal aliens as a good news story.
Over at The New York Times’ the loyal scribes gave prominence in their coverage to the president’s predictable gripe that the Republicans were out to get him and wouldn’t set aside their petty political ploys to cough the few billion dollars that he expects will solve the problem, but even there it was impossible to pretend that the president hadn’t invited the invasion when he signed an executive order that promised two years without deportation to any kid who could hop a freight to the United States and that the Republicans have always been a bunch of soft-on-border-security sissies. There’s still some faint hope that the President will still win the amnesty-by-euphism “comprehensive immigration reform” that he’s been pining for the past six years, and the press doesn’t seem quite sure how to portray Obama’s sudden role reversal as a tough-talking border enforcer, especially when they can reasonably anticipate that he’ll eventually revert to his former compassionate self.
We suspect that the White House itself hasn’t yet decided how to spin this disaster, except for the usual play of blaming it all on the Republicans. Just as they thought that alleged-deserter-for-five-ferocious-terrorists swap was going to be a public relations boon, and even trotted out the alleged deserter’s Taliban-bearded and Koran-quoting crazy-pants dad for a photo-op in the Rose Garden, they probably thought an influx of adorably sad-eyed waifs would tug at the heartstrings of a weepy American and nudge that amnesty-by-euphemism bill over the line. With most of the arrivals being scary-looking teenagers, and the younger ones in such unpleasant circumstances that both the press and Congress haven’t been allowed a look, which is such bad publicity that one can only assume the pictures and interviews would be far worse, this is looking like just another recent public relations plan that hasn’t worked out.
Maybe that’s just our skewed right-wing perspective, though. No doubt many Americans are still unaware of being invaded by unaccompanied minor illegal immigrants, and thought Obama looked pretty cool hanging out with that regular guy-looking governor. Eventually the invasion will fade from the news, just as those kidnapped Nigerian girls and the shoddy treatment at the Veterans Administration and the illegal harassment of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service have been relegated to the inside pages or dropped from the news altogether, and the image of that cool dude at the pool table will linger.

– Bud Norman

An Almost Perfect Evening at the Ballpark

Tuesday provided us an almost perfect evening of Americana at the elegantly aging old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, just across the swelling Arkansas River from downtown Wichita.
The temperature was appropriately but not excessively high as the Sioux Falls Canaries took a worrisome lead at the top of the first, but as the Wichita Wingnuts kept within striking distance over the subsequent innings a picturesque prairie sunset descended upon the hallowed field and the clean Kansas air achieved an optimum warmth. We enjoyed hearing the familiar corny advertising promos that accompany almost every possible play of minor league baseball as we sat in the sun-blinding smoking section with a couple of stogie-loving pals, chatted amiably with a couple of late-arriving friends about some of the city’s more notorious crime stories of the past few decades in between our game commentary, and amused ourselves by annoying the more stridently liberal of the two with our speculation that a black baserunner on the opposing team was a threat to steal second. At the top of the eighth we overhead a young mother consoling her adorably chubby and mitt-wearing daughter that one doesn’t get to take home a foul ball every game, and in the bottom of the inning a sharply hit foul bonked off the head of our liberal friend’s sister and landed softly in the hands of that very girl. Better yet, the hometown team took its first lead, and the only one it needed, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
The combined talents of Norman Rockwell and George M. Cohan could not have concocted a more satisfyingly old-fashioned American night, and with the free admission coupon we obtained from a local convenience store chain it was a bargain despite the over-priced beer, but it was made infuriatingly imperfect from the moment we had to pass through a wand-weilding security guard to gain admittance. Security at the elegantly aging old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium isn’t so intrusive and insulting as what the jet set routinely endures, but it entails a pat on the pants pockets and is annoying enough to spoil the illusion that we’re still living in the old America of the brave and free.
There’s no telling why such measures are thought necessary by the ballpark’s otherwise astute management. Even the most unambitious jihadist is unlikely to bomb an elegantly aging old ballpark where an unaffiliated double-A team called the Wingnuts is battling a team called the Canaries, and even the most culturally savvy of them would be unlikely to realize what a pregnantly symbolic target it would be. If those heavily-armed and rather ferocious-looking guards are concerned that a unmedicated nutcase is going to start abusing his concealed-carry permit they should spend some time in the stands, where the folks are both reassuringly normal by modern standards and yet somehow still well-equipped to take care of things in any contingency even by old-fashioned standards. The Wichita Wingnuts draw their rather modest crowds mostly from the inelegantly aging white working class near-westside neighborhood that abuts the ballpark, an area that was once one of the Wild West’s wildest townships, and it’s an intriguing mix of family values and biker tattoos that we sit among with complete confidence that they won’t attempt mass murder nor put up with any such nonsense.
Perhaps the Wingnuts’ management is following the lead of the far more fabled and lucrative Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad, which subjects its more aged and well-heeled and less likely to defend themselves fans to the same inexplicable scrutiny, Anything governmental around here is even nosier, and more behavior-altering. Our country boy Pop once inculcated in us the habit of carrying a Swiss Army knife, but we long ago abandoned that useful trait because of the Osama Bin Laden-like treatment we got from those guards at the city and county halls and federal courtrooms we were required by our profession to cover. Sometimes we find ourselves in need of the scissors or corkscrews that those devices put at our disposal, and we long for a bygone era.
Wingnuts games always draw a lot of cute young all-American kids, usually accompanied by parents who look as if they would otherwise be in one of the nearby dives, and it does our heart good to see them playing catch in between innings by the beer stand as we head off to a post-game beer with our pal at a local dive. Satchel Paige and Ron Guidry and Arky Vaughn and the all-steroid outfield of Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Pete Incaviglia once played in that ballpark, and we like to think those urchins are feeling some connection to those happier days. We think it would be good if they could take their own kids to a ballgame some day, and to walk in unmolested by the irrational fears that pervaded their childhoods, sure in the good intentions of their fellow Americans.

– Bud Norman

What’s the Matter With Kansas Democrats?

One of those internecine Republican primary challenges is happening right here in Kansas’ fourth congressional district, but what little national attention it has received is because it is so atypical. Instead of a tri-corner hat-wearing tea party amateur challenging a squishy moderate incumbent, which is the modern media’s preferred matchup, this race has a second-term incumbent with impeccable conservative credentials being challenged by a former longtime congressman promising a return to the good old George W. Bush-era days of earmarking porkbarrel spending for the district.
There’s plenty to say about this peculiar political tactic, and at some point before the August primary we’ll get around to saying it, but at this point we’re most intrigued by the widely varied perceptions of the race we’ve been hearing. Almost all of our Republican friends expect an easy win by Mike Pompeo, the incumbent with the impeccable conservative credentials, while almost all of our Democrat friends are confidently predicting a victory by Todd Tiahrt, the former congressman promising to once again bring home the federal bacon.
The Democratic prognosticators don’t expect that any Republicans in these parts share their enthusiasm for porkbarrel spending, but instead expect Tiahrt to win because they well remember how very popular he was the anti-abortion forces in the district. Way back in ’94 Tiahrt knocked off a more-or-less moderate Democrat who had held the seat for 18 years by appealing to the union dues-paying machinists in the local airplane plants and the would-be sophisticates in the white collar jobs as well as wooing enough of the farm vote to complete a coalition, and Tiahrt did it with a lot of help from the religious right activists who were singing “Oh, What a Mighty God” at the election night victory party. The scene scared the bejeezus out of the local Democrats, who continued to attribute Tiahrt’s electoral success solely to the religious right even as his margins of victory swelled with voters who found that he was a more-or-less moderate sort of Republican who brought home the bacon and was predictably unable to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.
We try to explain to our Democrat friends that the anti-abortion movement is not a cult of personality that blindly follows any politician, and note that Pompeo’s voting record on abortion issues has been just as consistent and ineffectual, but they won’t believe it. We also try to tell them that while social issues such as abortion are still of importance to Republicans they are lately less important to the average primary voter than economic matters such as the outrageous national debt that Tiahrt wants to increase, but this is usually dismissed as crazy talk.
Kansas Democrats remain enamored of the “What’s the Matter With Kansas” thesis that Thomas Frank cooked up, which holds that no one really believes that capitalism and freedom nonsense except for the Koch brothers and a few other well-heeled plutocrats who have been hoodwinked the proletarian rubes into voting against their economic self-interests with a bunch of religious hooey. We note that conservative media ranging from National Review to the Rush Limbaugh show rarely mention the social issues these days, and then only because their liberal counterparts have forced the discussion with efforts to subsidize contraception and abortion or are employing McCarthyite tactics against religious dissenters, but of course they never pay heed to these voices and prefer to assume that it’s a non-stop Billy Sunday sermon. They can’t imagine any other reason that the district’s voters have consistently rejected the Democrats’ kindly offer to redistribute some wealth this way.
The past six years of stubborn unemployment and underemployment and falling wages and skyrocketing debt and even increased income inequality have done nothing to shake this faith, which could be described as religious if you really wanted to irk a local Democrat. Even those union dues-paying machinists at the airplane plants are finding it hard to see how it’s in their economic interests to support a president who routinely rails against “corporate jets,” and the thousands of locals employed by the much-hated Koch brothers have the same qualms, but the Democratic party that seeks their votes continue to regard their views as a result of some sort of snake-handling ritual. They might be right about the Republican primary, although we’re more inclined to the views of our Republican friends, but the Democrats are likely to find themselves out of power around here for at least another decade if they continue to believe in appealing myths.

– Bud Norman

Once the Bottom is Reached

President Barack Obama’s poll numbers have been plunging lately, to the point that a plurality of Americans now consider him the worst chief executive of the post-war era, and the rightward side of the political aisle has been pleased. The rising disapproval bodes well for the Republican Party’s chances in the upcoming mid-term elections, which would make it even harder for Obama achieve the transformation of America that he once promised, and it might even suggest that the public was wised up enough that Obama’s style of liberalism will still be out of fashion even when the next presidential race rolls around, so the schadenfreude is forgivable.
We hope this is so, but still can’t shake a nagging worry that a lack of public adulation will only provoke more outrageous behavior by the president. Once the president gets down to that 35 percent or so that is his absolute floor of public support, most of it coming from black Americans emotionally invested in the first black president and Hispanics eager for more ethnic company and whites dependent on his largesse or unwilling to admit that their naive hero-worship was unfounded, he might well decide there’s use trying to please the ingrates who comprise the rest of the country and just charge ahead on his agenda with no regard for the public’s opinion. We’ve been watching the fellow carefully over the past six years, and he strikes us as that sort of guy.
A more pragmatic president would be moving to the center at a time of plummeting popularity, seeking some sort sort of compromise with the opposition on any number of issues in order to reassure his former supporters that he’s still playing the game on their behalf according to the usual rules, but Obama has ramped up the rhetoric that seems calculated to prevent any deals with the hated Republicans and instead vowed to proceed by rules of his own making. The Supreme Court has lately been finding fault with those new rules, oftentimes even by unanimous decisions that include Obama’s own appointees, but he’s still cocky enough to taunt his opponents by saying “So sue me.” The policies he’s inviting lawsuits over are unpopular enough to cause consternation for the Democratic congressional candidates that he needs to get the policies enacted by constitutional methods, but he seems to have already concluded that such old-fashioned techniques are no longer tenable. Once the voters have ratified their objections at the ballot box, we suspect he’ll only be more insistent on overruling the views of the rubes he has so long despised as bitter clingers to guns and God and the most base prejudices.
That base of support that Obama cannot drop below seems to like that he’s abandoned the usual means of enacting public policy, and won’t mind a bit if he goes even further from that archaic old constitution written by dead white men to give them what the publicly-financed goodies they want. The bitter tone of the president’s recent pronouncements suggest that he no longer cares about the rest of us, and indeed feels betrayed by the public’s disapproval, so once he reaches that rock bottom he’ll probably start smoking in public and berating the less liberal Democrats and letting his freak flag fly. At that point, God help us all.

– Bud Norman

Independence Day

The past several Independence Days have been bittersweet. It is still sweet to celebrate the ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that gave birth to our nation, but there’s no escaping a bitterness when looking around at what has become of them.
Almost everywhere is evidence of the decline and fall of America. The news briefs on the radio invited us to take heart in the latest job numbers that have pushed the unemployment rate down to a more or less respectable 6.1 percent, but they were too brief to mention that the number of working age Americans not working actually increased, that the number of full-time jobs actually decreased, and that the more the U-6 rate which includes the underemployed and involuntary part-time workers and discouraged workers remained at a Depression-era 12.1 percent. That $17 trillion of debt and all the bubble-inflating money printing that has kept the numbers even at these sluggish levels also went unmentioned, and of course there was no time to consider if the looming disaster of Obamacare and its incentives for employers to hire part-time workers who rather than pony up for the mandates on full-time workers has anything to do with it.
Obamacare and all the rest of the thousands of regulations and taxes and assorted governmental intrusions into the economy are clearly part of the problem, but there’s a nagging suspicion that it’s not all that’s gone wrong. The government is bossier and more lawless and as as incompetent as ever, as shown by the relentless storers about everything from its use of the almighty Internal Revenue Service to punish the dissenters to the endless waivers and delays and recess appointments and far-reaching executive orders issued by the president to the infuriating mistreatment of American veterans by their health care service or the administration-made invasion of illegal immigrants unfolding on the nation’s southern border, but none of that would have happened if the public hadn’t allowed it.
Another one of the great ideas that gave birth to our nation was a notion that America and its and government aren’t quite the same thing. The government had important work to do, and over the years it has done it with varying degrees of success and ethical behavior, but the heavy lifting was done by the likes of Thomas Edison in his laboratories and Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club and Milton Friedman in his office at the University of Chicago’s School of Economics and those guys eating lunch on the beam of the New York City skyscraper in that iconic photograph. The people used to do great things, and the government would let them, but for whatever reason we’re seeing less of it these days. Nowadays the great inventions are new social media and libido-boosting pills, the music no longer swings or bops or boogies or rocks but rather just thuds a monotonous nihilism, the big economic idea seems to be that no one should be allowed to get rich, and the photographer in search of an iconic image will have to find a disgruntled fellow in casual Fridays attire sitting glumly in an office cubicle. There’s still some space left between the government and the people, but it isn’t being put to good use.
Fireworks are already being ignited around our neighborhood in defiance of the city’s ridiculous ban, though, and the people of a small town in southern California have just risked the wrath of the high-minded media to repel an invasion of illegal immigrants, and some encouraging polls show people are wising up about the government. Ideas such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not easily extinguished, and might yet reassert themselves. There’s still some room left to make them happen again, and people who still prefer them to free contraceptives or the state’s protection from an oversized soft drink, and reason for hope.
A former Miss Texas has invited over to her swank lakeside home for a party, and a hipster pal down the street has asked that we join him in blowing things up along the banks of the nearby Arkansas River, and we’ll charcoal some hamburgers and bratwurst in between and revel in the sweetness of the American idea. Come Monday we’ll resume our modest efforts to make it come true again, and we urge you to do the same.

– Bud Norman

Resisting the Invasion in a Small Town

The tiny southern California town of Murrieta had entirely escaped our notice until Wednesday, when a large group of Murrietans blocked at the city limits a convoy of Homeland Security Agency buses that were attempting to bring in some of the tens of thousands of illegal aliens detained during the recent invasion of unaccompanied minors, but we now admire its spunk.
Such a bold act of civil disobedience is especially remarkable in California, a one party state where the one party is enthusiastic about illegal immigration and intolerant of any dissent, and the media reaction has been predictably disapproving. The Los Angeles Times devoted most of its coverage to the views of a local resident who had hoped to welcome the illegal immigrants into the warm embrace and financial support of the community, and was appalled by the alleged lack of compassion shown by her townsfolk, while other outlets seemed distressed by the American flags that were waved at the blockade. Perhaps the heroine of that Times story is correct about the self and xenophobic motives of her neighbors, and there is no doubting that her own intentions are altruistic, but even if we assume the worst about the the town it is still right to resist.
Impoverished youngsters seeking the freedom and prosperity of America are ordinarily sympathetic subjects for a sob story, but not when they’re mostly precociously tough teenagers from some of the Third World’s most notorious slums and are coming in overwhelming numbers that include a sizable share of gang members and disease-carriers and future wards of the welfare state. The concerned young woman in the Times story could surely muster some compassion for the legal residents of her town who are reluctant to assume the considerable cost of dealing with a sudden infusion of unskilled and unemployable and very much uninvited youths, or at least for the victims of the crimes and social disruptions that are sure to follow. If Murrieta is indeed the hotbed of unkind bigotry that the times would have us believe it only seems all the more unlikely that infusion of a few hundred foreigners will work out well for anyone.
If Murrieta were to offer its warm embrace and financial support and unthinking compassion to the unaccompanied alien minors it would have the even more unfortunate result of inviting a few more tens of thousands of them to join the invasion. Already the invaders are overwhelming the ability of the federal government to care for them, with social service agencies as far away and well-funded as New York City pleading for relief, so it seems inevitable that tiny towns such as Murrieta will soon exhaust both their resources and compassion. The president’s oh-so-compassionate executive order to defer deportation of unaccompanied minor aliens for two years started the invasion, and even he is now trying to stave it off with threats of sending the invaders home.
We don’t take those threats seriously, and we doubt that anyone in the slums of Central America does, so it is likely the invasion will continue and the blockades will pop up at the city limits of other tiny towns. The blockaders are advised to avoid anything so offensive to media sensibilities as an American flag, and to add the words “Sorry” and “We’d really like to help” to their placards, but we hope that one way or another they’ll hold the line.

– Bud Norman

Let the World Keep Its Cup

Some fellow on the radio tells us that the United States’ soccer squad has been eliminated from the World Cup competition by a team from some country called Belgium. Being properly patriotic sports rooters we were disappointed to hear it, especially as Belgians are apparently some sort of Europeans, and it’s always embarrassing to lose to those guys in anything, but we must confess some relief that the nation’s attention can once again be diverted from our pressing economic and political problems by baseball.
Go ahead and watch soccer if you want to, as we are of a libertarian bent and therefore tolerate all kinds of cultural rot, but as a mindless distraction from the world’s woes we much prefer baseball this time of year. This prejudice might well be proof of what old-fashioned fuddy-duddies we’ve become in our middle age, as well as the nativist xenophobia and heterosexist preoccupation with phallic symbols and all that stuff that is so typical of people with our right-wing political views, but we make no apologies. We’re Americans, damn it, and prefer an American game.
We’re Americans of a certain age, too, which we means grew up playing sports other than soccer and haven’t failed at the game nearly enough to appreciate the talents of those who play it well. Soccer fans have tried to convince us of the aesthetically-pleasing athleticism and subtle strategies that they swear are involved in the seemingly random meanderings of the players, but we remain unconvinced. Despite our best efforts at objectivity, we find the sport suspect for several reasons.
You can’t use your hands in soccer, for one thing, and this strikes us as an offense against both God and sport. We used to suspect that soccer was a communist plot to keep America’s youth from hurling hand grenades against the invading Russky hordes, and although soccer seems to have outlasted the Soviet Union and we can’t think of any other plausible conspirators it still strikes us as damned suspicious.
All those foreigners in the game are troublesome, too. Soccer fans seem to regard the overwhelming presence of foreigners in the sport as proof of its worthiness, and will wax poetic about the “world’s game” and cite their affinity for the game as evidence of how very cosmopolitan they are, but we are unimpressed by their claims of being citizens of the world. When the world ratifies a constitution that guarantees our rights of freedom of speech and bearing arms and not having soldiers quartered in our homes we will consider renouncing our American citizenship and embracing a game that doesn’t allow the use of hands, but at the moment the world seems downright hostile to these ideals and unhealthily willing to forego the use of hands.
Nor does the rest of the world seem any more civilized than the average American baseball, basketball, or football fans. The stadia where the National Football League conducts its brutal contests are famous for the fisticuffs and boorish behavior that pervade the stands, but the most face-painted fans there are a veritable PGA gallery compared to the hooligans that predominate at soccer games. Even the Oakland Raiders don’t have such a grisly death toll as soccer, and their fans are more well-behaved than the hooligans who populate the seats at soccer games around the world. Racists taunts are reportedly common at soccer games, by both players and fans, but rarely heard at American sporting events where almost everyone has a rooting interest in a competitor of another race. One of the more intriguing side stories of the World Cup was about the Mexican fans’ traditional chant of “puto” against a certain hated foes, which we’re told translates as “homosexual prostitute” and is intended as a most hateful epithet, and it was fun hearing the politically correct press reconcile its revulsion for anything homophobic with its indulgence for anything foreign.
Such exquisite sensitivities seem an essential part of soccer’s appeal, and another reason we’re indifferent to the game. When soccer first became a part of the American sporting scene it was through the American Youth Soccer Organization, and all the bumper stickers that adorned the minivans hauling the kiddies to the little league “pitch” promised that “Everyone plays.” This is taking egalitarianism too far, as even the most carefully raised youngster intuitively understands that playing time should be earned by superior performances, but has an understandable appeal to the doting modern mom. Those “soccer moms,” so assiduously courted by Democratic candidates for the past many election cycles, also seemed to prefer soccer to baseball because it didn’t involve the supposedly soul-crushing failure involved in a sport where even the best major league teams will lose 60 games a season and the most skilled batters fail to get a hit more than 60 percent of the time. Soccer is a fairly rough sport, judging by all the melodramatic flopping that the players indulge in whenever they make contact with a momentarily outstretched limb, but we can’t imagine that it inures a kid to life’s inevitable failures the way an 0-for-4 day at the plate does.
Go ahead and watch soccer if you want to, though, and we’ll hope you enjoy it. Perhaps you’ll notice that aesthetically-pleasing athleticism and those subtle strategies we keep hearing about, and we really wouldn’t want to deny the satisfaction. None of the teams will be wearing “USA” on their jerseys, but feel free to root for any country that isn’t currently at war with us. The Wichita Wingnuts have a home stand coming up, though, so we’ll be down at the ballpark watching men use their hands.

– Bud Norman

Hobby Lobby and the End of the World

The Supreme Court released a rather minor ruling in favor of religious freedom on Monday, and from the reaction on the left one might have thought that American womanhood had been consigned to a cruel fate of bare feet and pregnancy. All the wailing and gnashing of teeth resulted from a decision that the staunchly Christian and anti-abortion people who own the Hobby Lobby chain of stores, as well as a relatively small number of other similar-minded owners of “closely held” companies won’t be required by Obamacare to provide insurance coverage for their employees ‘abortifacient costs, and it would seem that a “Handmaiden’s Tale” type of theocratic patriarchy has been instituted as a result.
Any women toiling for the Hobby Lobby chain of stores will still be able to purchase contraceptive coverage that the company will still be be forced to pay for under an arrangement that provides a mere fig leaf of moral distance, and of course they can fornicate to their hearts’ content with the easily affordable coverage they can purchase out of their own pockets, but the Court’s failure to force the company’s owners to directly participate is regarded as a dangerous blow to women’s rights. The White House grouched that “women’s health will be jeopardized,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg served up an outraged dissenting opinion that predicted “havoc,” journalists were bemoaning “an enormous expansion of corporate rights,” and the “Tweets from the left spewed a more foul-mouthed assessment. It all seems disproportionate, given how very narrow the decision was, but at least those foul-mouthed “Tweets” had the virtue of unvarnished honesty,
The White House’s claim that women’s health is jeopardized only makes sense if the life-saving contraceptives in question work only when paid for by employers with a fig-leaf arrangement to provide them moral distance, and its official claim that “women should make personal health decisions for themselves” will be quickly recanted when it argues in an upcoming case that the nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor shouldn’t be able to decide to forgo contraceptive coverage. Ginsburg is predicting “havoc” because of the slippery slope that slides down from a decision that people should be allowed to follow their own consciences rather than a Democrat-passed and Democrat-signed law about contraceptives, apparently because an unruly populace will start to wonder why it has to put up with any number of other bossy and stupid rules that it never voted for, but she’ll ever admit that on the other side of that metaphorical mountain there is a slippery slope that descends into her preferred judicial precedent that if the government can force staunchly Christian and anti-abortion people to pay for abortifacients there’s nothing it can’t do. Those journalistic complaints about the “enormous expansion of corporate rights” come from journalists employed by fat-corporations that have no moral objections to anything except Republicans, and as always eager they’re to follow the storyline about the Republicans’ “war on women” and their mythical crusade against contraception.
So we’ll at least acknowledge the frankness of that fellow calling himself “ginge” who tweeted an obscene suggestion for Hobby Lobby, religion, and America. In the requisite 26-or-less characters he succinctly summed up the left’s disregard for the rights of businessmen or anybody else with viewpoints differing from the post-modern consensus, for the ancient religious convictions that still give rise to such irritating disagreements, and for a country that has traditionally allowed such dissent. The modern left expects conformity, on almost every issue but especially on matters of sexual behavior, and anyone with qualms about the extermination of fetuses or the celebration of homosexuality are to keep quiet about it, so even a narrow and five-to-four Supreme Court decision to the contrary is irksome. One might well wonder who is trying to impose their moral values on others in this case, but such wonderings are an invitation to anarchy.

– Bud Norman

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 650 other followers