A Not-So-Fond Farewell to 2013

Another year now comes to a close, and we bid good riddance to it.
We are not alone in this glum assessment of 2013, judging by the results of a year-end poll conducted by The Economist and something called YouGov. A full 54 percent of the respondents called the year “bad,” another 15 percent described it as “very bad,” and we presume the rest must have fallen madly in love or won the lottery or just weren’t paying attention. Except for the soon-to-pop stock market bubble, it’s hard to think of any positive developments that have occurred over the past 12 months.
Looking over another poll from The Christian Science Monitor regarding the ten biggest stories of the year, we find floods in Colorado, tornados in Oklahoma, terrorism in Massachusetts, Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread snooping on the American public by the National Security Agency, the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the disastrous debut of the billion-dollar Obamacare web site. The only feel-good stories to make the cut were the escape of those young women in Ohio who had been held captive in a basement for years by a sex fiend, George Zimmerman’s escape from a politically correct lynch mob, the defeat of gun control legislation in Congress, and the brief partial-shutdown of the United States’ government, which somehow topped the list, but we suppose that only the first of these made liberals feel good, and conservatives can only console themselves with knowledge of the disasters that didn’t happen.
Perhaps conservatives can also take some consolation in knowing that the public at long last seems fed up with it all, and seem to be wising up about who’s to blame. The more strident sorts of liberals will persist in blaming the floods and tornados on George W. Bush and his diabolical climate change machine, and the minority of Americans who want to jettison the Second Amendment and the right to self-defense can rightly resent the right for thwarting their schemes, but it will prove hard for the press to pin the rest of it on Republicans. The Defense of Marriage Act was signed by that notorious homophobe Bill Clinton, the NSA was greatly empowered by the Bush-era Patriot Act but didn’t start poring over your phone records until the next administration, the House Republicans accepted the partial shutdown of the government but didn’t attempt to make it as painful as possible for national park visitors or nostalgic World War II veterans, and only an intellectual could believe the increasingly obvious catastrophe that is Obamacare was caused by a Republican party which didn’t cast one single congressional vote for the damned thing.
This was also the year that a majority of Americans expressed disapproval of President Barack Obama, despite the continuing efforts by the news and entertainment media to bolster his popularity, and the year that a Louisiana duck-call entrepreneur got away with expressing unsanctioned opinions regarding sexuality, despite the outrage of all the right people, and the year that the gun-grabbers lost another round, despite the perfect emotional atmosphere after another horrific school shooting, and the year that some climate change advocates got stuck in the Antarctic ice, which is simply too perfect, so it could have been worse. The economy sputtered along well enough for the more enthusiastic media to proclaim good times, but record numbers of Americans are still out work and most of those who have seen gains know that fracking and free-market resilience deserve more credit than government “investments” and hyper-regulation. If the Republicans regard it as a bad year because they weren’t able to thwart more Democratic initiatives, they can at least take comfort it was a worse year for the Democrats because the failures of those schemes became apparent.
The Republicans could easily blow it, of course, but 2013 hast at least set up the possibility of a successful 2014. One can safely assume the year’s top stories will include floods and tornados, as have happened every year even before George W. Bush’s diabolical climate change machine, and there will be inspiring human interest stories and homosexual stories and stories about the government snatching ever more power, but unless the terrorists get extremely lucky while the NSA is looking into some Tea Party group’s phone records it also seems likely that more Obamacare outrages and the travails of an over-taxed and over-regulated economy will be big stories, as will the results of a feckless foreign policy, while its hard to see how the Republicans can be faulted for offering futile resistance.
Here’s hoping we make the best of it, because a few more years like 2013 will be hard to bear.

— Bud Norman

On Sports, Water Heaters, and the Nation’s Fate

The news has slowed to a trickle at year’s end, as all the newsmakers have safely ensconced themselves in swell warm-weather vacation digs where they can do little harm, but the rest of the world seems to continue turning in its usual ways. Results of the National Football League’s last regular season contests provided plenty of fodder for the headline writers, and around here the big story was our aged water heater announcing its final demise by spewing water into the basement.
These occasional breaks in the news cycle are welcome, even for such politically-attuned sorts as ourselves. They not only provide a needed respite from worries about the country’s wayward direction, but also offer perspective on the political problems that will soon enough confront us.
One tries to imagine the likes of Rep. Nancy Pelosi or President Barack Obama confronting a gushing water heater at 3 a.m., muttering the appropriate curses as they desperately search for the valve that will halt the deluge, but the image does not come readily to mind. All water heaters will eventually betray you, as many of our home-owning friends have sympathetically assured us, but in the case of Pelosi or Obama or almost any other politician the more likely scenario has them delegating the duty of dealing with it to a servant, probably one of those oppressed minorities they always claim to care so much about, and it can be safely assumed that the price of a shiny new replacement will not seem so dear to them as it does it to the likes of us. This is a fundamental flaw in our democratic system as it is currently constituted, we believe, as we think that the more direct experience of dealing a spewing water heater would make the average politician less inclined to think the could manage the country’s health care system and more empathetic about the costs they impose in the effort.
Even the National Football League scores seemed somehow significant on an otherwise news-free weekend. So far as we can tell everyone in the league is a testosterone-raged and overly-tattooed thug or a pretty boy quarterback, but we have our arbitrary preferences about which cities get to brag on their boys. The Philadelphia Eagles vanquished the Dallas Cowboys to win their division and a spot in the playoffs, and our pop lives in Philly and has become a supporter of the team, and the Cowboys don’t have the same cultural significance they did back in the hippie days when a guy named “Tex” owned the team and clean-cut Vietnam veteran Roger Staubach was the quarterback and straight-arrow Tom Landry was prowling the sidelines, so we were pleased with the result. We have a brother who loves living in the Colorado Rockies and has become an avid aficionado of the Denver Broncos, who earned the top seed in the American Football Conference with a win over the hapless Oakland Raiders and will thus be favored to win it all, so we’re also pleased by that outcome. Our own Kansas City Chiefs lost a meaningless game to the San Diego Charters, giving the divisional rivals a spot in the playoffs that will surely please a beloved cousin who’s working for Qualcomm in that temperate city, and after the Chiefs’ past several years of futility we’re happy just for the remote chance of a playoff win.
Sports rooting being a purely personal pastime, we were more energized by the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team running its record to a perfect 13-and-0 by beating a Davidson University squad that is far better than its record would indicate. We trudged through single-digit wind chill temperatures to witness the victory with a cherished old boyhood friend who is mad for “the ‘Shocks,” and who was later treated to a win by his beloved Green Bay Packers that clinched a playoff despite the team’s mere eight wins, and the victory was not only worth the cold but almost worth a new water heater. Throw in a win by the Kansas State University Wildcats’ football team over the once-mighty University of Michigan’s Wolverines, a team favored by an old girlfriend of ours, and it made for an encouraging final weekend of the year.
Sports metaphors are of limited utility, as are sad tales of such quotidian disasters as broken water heaters, but they’re all we’ve got as head into the penultimate day of 2013. Weightier matters await us in 2014, but we will gird ourselves with the lessons learned from the trivial. If the Kansas City Chiefs can turn around a 2=14 season into a playoff spot, if a gritty blue-collar college basketball team from such a gritty blue-collar city as Wichita can be ranked above the traditional elites of the sport, and if such klutzes as ourselves can cope with a basement-flooding water heater catastrophe, then surely there is hope for such a great country as America.

— Bud Norman

Knocked Out on Boxing Day

These mid-week holidays are quite discombobulating for creatures of habit such as ourselves. Much of yesterday was spent confirming the day of the week, as it didn’t feel t all like a Thursday, what with the light traffic on the streets and all the college football on the television, and the rest of it was spent putting off the resulting chore of taking the trash out to the curb.
Our daily routine is largely devoted to keeping abreast of the day’s news, and that has also been thrown askew by the holidays. Most of the newsmakers have taken the week off, as have the news commentators we count on to get us good and peeved about the news, and there seems to be little going on in the world other than the post-Christmas sales and the usual frantic efforts to exchange unwanted gifts. The president took time out from his lavish Hawaii vacation to sign that awful budget bill, the stock markets were open for another day of irrational exuberance, and The Drudge Report had a full slate of stories about people acting badly, but there was nothing that provided a satisfying fix for a hard-core news junkie.
More ambitious writers would seize the opportunity for a big-picture essay, or pen something philosophical or folksy, but we just can’t muster the energy on the day after Christmas. The lazy writer’s time-honored options are the end-of-the-year wrap-up or a purely subjective best-of list or some predictions for the coming year that are meant to be forgotten before they are disproved, but we’re saving all of those for the holiday-interrupted week ahead. Something else might come up, but we get the feeling that all the newsmakers aren’t any more ambitious than we are at the moment.
So, let us be the very first to wish you a merry Christmas, and urge that you also take it easy enough to let the holiday spirit linger into the New Year.

— Bud Norman

Reflections on a Winter’s Night

Christmas was a happily low-key affair around here. With no family nearby and the streets treacherously icy we were content to stay mostly inside, enjoying the solitude and old recording of the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s swingin’ rendition of “The Nutcracker Suite.”
There’s something to be said for such a Christmas. We ventured out to hear a couple of songs by the hillbilly band that was playing at Kirby’s Beer Store, where a few of the hipster kids kindly pushed our light and rear-wheel-driven vehicle out of the ice-covered parking lot, and we had a couple of heartfelt telephone conversations with some longtime friends, but there was nothing to do that entailed the slightest stress. The schedule allowed for plenty of rumination, on matters ranging from the personal to the political, and the spirit of the day provided a welcome hopefulness.
All the personal stuff will remain personal, as is our wont, but it might interest a reader to know that we even found reason to be hopeful about the political. We are skeptical of the claims of an economic recovery and expect that the imminent enforcement of the Dodd-Frank bill and all the other recent regulations will outweigh whatever entrepreneurial spirit the private sector can muster, quite sure that the Obamacare news will grow even worse, and don’t expect any good to come of America’s clumsy relations with the rest of the world, but we do sense that Americans are becoming so discontent with it all that they’re ready to consider the hard measures that are the only alternative. They’re gradually growing wise to the notion that just a bit more government and a little more guidance by the elites is is all that’s needed, at least, so there is at least an opening for any articulate conservatives who might make the case for letting us unwashed masses work things out for ourselves.
Perhaps no such articulate conservatives will emerge, and maybe the Republicans’ internecine squabbles will rescue a Democratic party despite its manifest failures, but it now seems possible to hope otherwise. It might be nothing more than Christmas spirit, or the passing of the winter solstice and the certainty that days are growing imperceptibly but inexorably longer into an inevitable summer, but even in these dark and cold and icy days there’s still hope.

— Bud Norman

What Not to Talk About

We’ve donned our flannel long johns and brewed a cup of hot chocolate, much like that creepily androgynous “pajama boy” in the Obamacare advertisements, but we will not spend Christmas Eve talking about health care.
The First Lady of the United States of America has urged us to talk about the health care reform law during the holidays, but we are resolved to ignore her admonition just as we have ignored her dietary advice. Unless the National Security Agency rats us out she won’t even know what we’ve been saying during her latest Hawaiian vacation, and in any case she probably wouldn’t care to hear what we think of her husband’s stupid law.
Some egg nog-fueled discussions about Obamacare around the nation’s fireplaces would probably drive the stupid law’s approval ratings down further still, but even so we recommend other topics of conversation at your gatherings of family and friends. Let the old folks go on about their ailments, let the young folks go on about the latest pop hits or dance crazes or whatever it is that young people go on about these days, and let the rest of them talk sports. This is that magical time of year when college basketball and bowl season overlap, after all, and it shouldn’t be wasted on something so dreary as politics.
Prior to brewing that hot chocolate we had attended a Christmas party where most of the guests were from the local artistic, journalistic, and assorted hipster circles, and we are pleased to report that no one brought up health care. Except for one pony-tailed but right-wing friend’s conversation about Islam with an all-too-tolerant Mennonite woman we didn’t hear anything remotely political, and it made for a most pleasant evening. The First Lady might not have approved, but we think she would be well-advised to avoid the topic of Obamacare herself.

— Bud Norman

No News Today

There was no news on Sunday, so far we can as tell, and it was good to have a day off from the stuff.

The world keeps right on churning out news, we suppose, but this time of year it is more easily ignored. Obamacare is a continuing disaster, millions of Americans remain out of work despite all the happy talk about the economy, Iran is happily for proceeding with it apocalyptic plans, and that “Duck Dynasty” guy is still on suspension from his reality show, yet it all seems so easily put off until the next year. All of the politicians are on vacation, as are the mass media muckrakers, and there are all the chores that must attended to before everything shuts down for Christmas.

Here in our humble prairie hometown it was a good day for doing even less. Bitter cold and just enough snow to justify staying off the roads kept most sane folk indoors, where they could sit by the radio and hear a play-by-play account of the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad run their record to 12-and-0, which is some consolation for all the aforementioned bad news. The weather also provides a welcome break from all the global warming doomsaying, which seems to have gone into hibernation for the weather, although we’re sure the Envivornmental Protection Agency will be back on the job of solving this non-existent problem ust as the soon as the holidays are over.

Something might come up in the next few days, most likely from one of those heathen countries that care little for the Christmas spirit, but in the meantime we’re hating the cold and enjoying a respite from news. Here’s hoping you will, as well.

— Bud Norman

There’s No Ducking It

We had hoped to spend the day heaping more ridicule on that “pajama boy” advertisement for Obamacare, which is the health care reform law’s latest and most hilarious embarrassment, but there was no avoiding all the ruckus about that “Duck Dynasty” guy’s opinions regarding homosexuality. Commenting on these ruckuses is becoming a tiresome duty, as they seem to occur with a boring regularity, but such is the lot of pundits in our contemporary popular culture.
So far as we can gather from the voluminous news coverage, “Duck Dynasty” is a “reality show” broadcast by the “Arts & Entertainment” cable television company that chronicles the daily lives of a family of hirsute rural Louisiana entrepreneurs who have earned a sizeable fortune in the duck-hunting equipment business, and apparently one of the family members granted an interview to the GQ fashion magazine that included some disapproving and crudely-worded remarks about homosexuality. That a hirsute rural Louisianan who has made a sizeable fortune in the duck-hunting equipment business should hold such views and state them in such blunt terms hardly seems newsworthy, but all the people who make their livings being offended by this sort of this thing complained loudly enough to get the fellow suspended from the program, numerous other people were offended by the cable company’s censorship of its employee. “Duck Dynasty” has a reported 14 million viewers, which would have gotten a program mid-season cancellation back in the day days of three channels but is now enough to make the debate to dominate two days of news.
We have no opinion regarding “Duck Dynasty,” as we cancelled our cable subscription years ago and have never seen an episode, but it is so often written and talked about that we are aware of its reputation for offering a positive depiction of a rural, working-class culture with traditional values. This strikes us as something that deserves a place among the gazillion or so shows on the cable menu, if only in the cause of cultural diversity, but it is by now predictable that the self-appointed defenders of tolerance would once again insist that any such deviation from the modern orthodoxy must suffer economic punishment. Every so often some beauty queen, football player, or chicken sandwich mogul will dissent from the current enthusiasm for homosexuality, and they are routinely subjected to the same sort of public shaming that was once reserved for adulterers and unwed mothers. It’s a peculiar feature of the contemporary culture, and one on which we feel required to hold an opinion.
Homosexuals should not be bullied or forced to endure second-class citizenship, but neither should anyone who has moral objections to homosexuality. Both should be free to to live their lives according to their own convictions, to whatever extent it does infringe on the rights of others, and both should be tolerated if not celebrated by the broader society. None of the remarks attributed to the “Duck Dynasty” guy advocate violence or legal discrimination against homosexuals, just his own personal objection to the practice, so in this case it seems to be those demanding his suspension who are engaged in bullying.

— Bud Norman

Yes, Wall Street, There is a Santa Claus

“Santa Claus rally” is a stock market slang term that the highly-caffeinated fellows on Wall Street like to throw around this time of year, but the jolly bearded fat man who delivered Wednesday’s big gains was Ben Bernanke.
The out-going Federal Reserve Chairman has been very generous to the stock markets during his long reign, having printed up so many billions of dollars of that had nowhere to go in a zero-interest economy but Wall Street, and his parting gift was an announcement that the printing presses will now slow a bit. This might seem at first glance a veritable lump of coal to investors who have become addicted to the Fed’s unprecedented “quantitative easing,” but the stock market responded by pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average up an impressive 293 points to a new record close.
Most of the media, who occasionally take time out from bashing those greedy Wall Street fat cats to tout their obscene profits as proof of a roaring economy, at least when there’s a Democrat in the White House, saw the gains as a reason to declare that happy days are here again. The Fed is “tapering” its money-printing because of recent encouraging economic data, the media helpfully explain, and the markets are now responding to same hopeful signs of growth. This beats writing stories about the record number of workers who remain out of the labor force, and there might even be some truth to it, but the good news seems wildly overstated.
Although the Fed will cut back on its bond purchases by $10 billion a month, it still believes that the economy is wobbly enough to require a $75 billion monthly infusion of freshly-printed cash. This is still a huge amount of monthly money even by Washington standards, and the more likely explanation for Wednesday’s big jump was the market’s relief that it will likely keep coming when incoming Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen takes over. A 7 percent unemployment rate and the best year for housing starts since the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic popping of the last housing bubble might be good news by recent standards, but it’s hardly a reason for the record highs on the stock market.

— Bud Norman

No Time For Family Squabbles

Maybe it’s just Christmas spirit, or the fatigue that comes with the season, but at the moment we cannot work up the requisite hatred for any Republicans. As loyal members of the Grand Old Party we are expected to be livid about its congressional leadership, but even after that lousy budget deal the Republicans have capitulated to we’re not in any mood to bash anybody the Democrats.
Those shrieking voices on the talk radio shows have a point, of course. The budget deal does increase short-term spending in exchange for long-term cuts that might never materialize, it does include tax increases even if they are in the slightly more tolerable form of user fees, and it does once again inflict budgetary indignities on the military, among other affronts to a Republican sensibility, and above all it’s a far cry from what’s needed to put the country’s finances in order. We note with satisfaction that our Senators and Representative all opposed the deal, right down to the bitter end, and we’re certainly not inclined to vote for any Democrat as a result.
Still, neither are we inclined to punish House Speaker John Boehner or Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan or any other of the Republicans who went along with this nonsense. As bad as the deal was, those congressmen are in a better position than almost any of their critics to know how much worse it could have been. The Democrats are also infuriated by a deal that didn’t include punitive taxes on those they consider rich, it didn’t restore the trillion dollar deficits of their glory days, and extracting further concessions from them would have required the risky tactic of yet another partial government shutdown. We have no qualms about even a total government shutdown, but many of the people Republicans will need in the upcoming mid-term elections apparently do, and it seems impolitic to offend them at a time when they’re so fed up with Obamacare and a sluggish economy and a snooping national security apparatus that they’re willing to do so something so gauche as vote against the Democrats.
Compared to what’s needed the budget deal is a great disappointment, but compared to what the a Democratic majority in the House would do with the current Democratic Senate and Democratic White House it’s a godsend. With Democrats like that to loathe, even in the Christmas season, we have no anger left for Republicans who sincerely intend to stave off their electoral ambitions.

— Bud Norman