Football and Freedom

The high secular holiday of Super Bowl Sunday is approaching, and in accordance with our contentious times it has already been preceded by the perennial Super Bowl controversy. These obligatory annual brouhahas usually involve the exhibitionist tendencies of the half-time performers or some slightly politically incorrect aspect of one of the commercials or the pre-game felonies of one of the players, but this year all the scolds are in a huff about the very existence of the sport of football.
Any sensitive and well-read football fans have surely noticed that their favorite sport has lately been blitzed with criticism. The courts have sided with a class action of brain-damaged ex-players in a lawsuit against the National Football League, the president has declared he would not allow his hypothetical son to play the game, such elite corners of the press as The New York Times are wondering if it is “Immoral to Watch the Super Bowl,” while everywhere the anti-football folks are getting their kicks in. There’s even talk of banning the game altogether, and anyone who thinks that football’s longstanding place of honor in American culture and its multi-billion dollar standing in the business community makes this idea far-fetched should try exercising such once-sacred rights as lighting up a cigarette in a barroom or installing an incandescent light bulb in a living room lamp. Despite the massive ratings that Sunday’s contest will surely generate, the combined power of the liability lawyers, the prudish pundits, and the easy gullibility of public opinion will be hard for even the most barrel-chested linemen to resist.
This time around the anti-football faction is citing some admittedly believable and alarming statistics about concussions, but we suspect they have other reasons for their opposition. Football is ruthlessly meritocratic, a last redoubt of exclusive and unapologetic masculinity, draws its best players from that remote region of flyover country which persists in voting for Republican candidates, provides an analogy to both warfare and capitalism, uses racially insensitive team names, and is in almost every other regard an affront to progressive sensibilities. At all levels of competition the sport is impeccably proletarian and multi-racial, with an abundance of tattoos and dance moves and other fashionable accoutrements, but even these culturally-sanctioned saving graces cannot rescue football from the damnation of a modern liberal. The modern liberal envisions a world where cooperation replaces competition, where multi-cultural commingling replaces physical contact, girls rule, and a mean old game like football has no place.
Football is a mean old game, and there’s no use denying it. The sport has slowly evolved from the “mob games” played in vacant lots of slum neighborhoods by New England ruffians, which were of course decried by the sophisticated inhabitants of that region, by the 1904 college season it racked up an impressive 18 fatalities, which of course provoked an intervention by the progressive Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, and its toll of seriously injured players has steadily increased ever since. The undeniably macho Roosevelt’s sensible reforms spread out the offensive to end the Greek phalanx “Flying V” offensive formation that once trampled over defenders, effectively ending the fatal era of football, and all the endless rules changes that have followed have also been intended to make the game safer, but nothing the rules committees have devised eliminated the risk inherent in the nature of the game. Like the regulatory agencies struggling to keep up with an ever-innovating economy, the game has always lagged behind the rapid pace of improvement in the speed and size and injurious strength of the players.
That squeamish editorialist at The New York Times who wonders about the immortality of watching the Super Bowls describes the queasy feeling he gets watching the bone-crunching hits that occur in every game, and we have to admit that we can empathize. Our own football-playing was limited to neighborhood bouts in the backyard and a nearby cow pasture, but it provided enough hard hits that we can extrapolate that skinny wide receiver must be feeling after 270 pounds of pure linebacking muscle puts a sudden stop to his seven-yard gain. Nor can we fault the president for advising his hypothetical son against playing organized football, even if his hypothetical son looked just like a young thug who was seen slamming creepy-ass cracker’s head against the pavement of a Florida suburb, as we reached the same decision even without his wise fatherly counsel. For all we know of corporate liability law the courts might even have reason to order the NFL to pay some compensation to the leather-helmet era players who had their bells rung once too often, and as far as we’re concerned anyone who will forgo the Super Bowl on moral grounds is wished a nice afternoon at the art museum or drum circle.
For those who prefer to watch the two best in teams in football fight it out for sporting immortality, we wish you a well-played contest. For those gladiators who take that frost-bitten arena in New Jersey, we wish you good health and the God-given right to test your God-given talents in a championship game. Should the effort to ride the world of football be successful the effort to rid it of roughness, risk, and Republicanism would be furthered, and that would be a shame.

— Bud Norman

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One Weird Trick

We seem to be living in the age of the one weird trick. The phrase is now frequently encountered in advertisements, which promise one weird trick that will do almost everything from reducing belly fat to increasing penis size to providing a steady income stream, while the concept seems to be popping up everywhere.
The one weird trick for reviving an ailing economy, for instance, has been to print gazillions of additional dollars. This is called “quantitative easing” in the modern parlance, but it is an old weird trick that has been frequently attempted over the years. It didn’t work out well for the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe or countless other countries inclined to such weird tricks, but this time around it is credited with keeping America from sliding into third-world poverty and the earth from hurtling into the sun. Future historians will adjudge these claims better than we can, but it already seems clear that after more than five years of unprecedented money-printing the program has worked well enough that for the time being the Federal Reserve will slow down to pumping a mere $65 billion of bond purchases into the economy every month. This one weird trick is called “tapering,” and is prompted by the fact that enough Americans have at last given up any hope of finding a job to reduce the unemployment rate to below 7 percent, which is the one weird trick the government uses to make the economy look rosy.
The stock markets are supposed to be reassured by the optimistic rationale behind the tapering, but thus far investors seemed more concerned about the suddenly missing billions of newly-printed money that wouldn’t have had anywhere to go in a zero-interest environment other than the irrationally exuberant stock markets. Aside from the phony baloney unemployment numbers the stock markets’ recent unaccountable record highs were the only reasons for the Fed’s optimism, so a steep dive in stock values might cause a perception or a slumping economy which leads inevitably to the reality of a slumping economy and thus forces a return to the quantitative easing that created the perception of a booming economy, so there might be hope for your 401-K yet. The one weird trick then becomes even weirder, and thus all the more brilliant.
Anyone who contemplated economics back in the days of Ronald Reagan or Calvin Coolidge or Adam Smith would probably prefer unleashing the entrepreneurial energies of a free people from the heavy hand of taxation and government regulation and subsidization of sloth, in which case they would almost certainly find the current supply of dollars quite sufficient to meet demand, and they might have a point. We would be tempted to use weird tricks to flatten our bellies and swell our endowments and thereby earn a steady income stream in the gigolo trade, thus contributing a far greater share to the gross domestic product, and there’s no telling what weird tricks more imaginative and industrious fellows might come up with, but apparently free market capitalism is a bit too weird a trick in a the age of the one weird trick.
That “one weird trick” catchphrase always seemed a strange marketing ploy, as “weird” had previously implied a troublesome sort of strangeness and “trick” had negative connotations in almost every sense of the word. Tricks are what cheesy nightclub magicians do to make an audience think they’re witnessing something extraordinary, or what prostitutes do with their clients, or what the devious pull on the trusting and gullible. In its most modern incarnation the word seems to hold out the promise of a short-cut to success that doesn’t entail hard work or actual accomplishment. We’re still trying to figure out what weird trick Justin Beiber used to become famous, or Barack Obama used to be elected and re-elected, or how we arrived at this age of the one weird trick, but we are not happy to be here or at all confident that it is a sound economic policy.

— Bud Norman

If I Had a Hammer

Etiquette requires a respectful silence about any less-than-exemplary qualities of the recently deceased, but an exception should be made in the case of Pete Seeger. The obituaries for the famed banjo-strumming folkie, who died Monday at the age of 94, have been all too adulatory.
Lionized in life and death by the likes of The New York Times as a “Champion of Folk Music and Social Change,” and honored by the President of the United States as a man “who believed deeply in the power of song” and “more importantly, believed in the power of community,” Seeger did indeed exert a powerful influence on America’s musical culture and politics. That influence was mostly baleful in both cases, however, and there’s simply no use hemming and hawing about it at the graveside. The hipper corners of the conservative press have already duly noted that Seeger was an unapologetic communist who long advocated changing society by Stalinist methods, a defining fact of the man’s life which the president and the more respectable media outlets have politely ignored, but it should also be noted that his main contribution to American music was reducing its most glorious traditions to mere pap and agitprop.
Seeger first came to the public’s attention in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s as a member of The Weavers, who achieved such widespread popularity with their smooth and polished renditions of old rural standards that they inspired an abundance of suburban hippies fancying themselves folk singers to converge in the remotest corners of Greenwich Village in the early ’60s and set off a “folk boom” that reverberates to this very day. This is considered an admirable achievement by Seeger’s more awestruck obituarists, but one can only wonder how many of them still subject themselves to the cloyingly precious and oh-so-political dreck that mostly came out of that scene. The local old-folks AM radio station that we listen to for Tony Bennett and Peggy Lee classics has an infuriating tendency to mix in Joan Baez and The New Christy Minstrels and The Kingston Trio and the rest of those buttoned-downed and well-pressed folk boomers, and it always causes us to hit the scan button in search of some right-wing talk radio host’s rant.
There was some good that came of the folk boom, as is bound to happen when you’ve got a million earnest young well-scrubbed white kids strumming guitars on every street corner, but it was rarely half as good as what it emulated. The Weaver’s sweetly-sung recording of “Goodnight, Irene” was a far bigger seller than the one by Leadbelly, the convicted murderer and barroom-brawler who authored the durable romantic tune, but it  lacked the rough edges required to make its romanticism truly heartfelt. A similar tendency is found in most of the so-called “folk music” of the ‘60s that followed the Harvard-educated Seeger, as most of the feisty young rebels from affluent families could never quite replicate the rough and rowdy sound of the sharecroppers and coal-miners and cowboys on whose behalf they claimed to sing. For the real deal American music you could listen to the oil patch Okies in Bakersfield and their Fender electric guitars, or the pimple-faced sons of Midwestern factory workers banging out industrial strength three-chord rock ‘n’ roll ditties in their two-car garages, or some zonked-out old black men in leopard-skin leisure suits playing the seedier bars of Memphis or Chicago, but that was all just a bit too authentically proletarian for the tastes of the collegiate and strictly-acoustic bohemians in Greenwich Village.
Real deal American music was thought insufficiently political, too, and we will never forgive Seeger and his many acolytes for trying to correct that. The rich vein of traditional American folk music that the folkies mined did include an occasional song about disgruntled workers and community action, but for the most part the American folk sang little about Bolshevism and a lot about love, and a disturbingly large amount of the time about death and natural disasters, with very patriotic and even jingoistic sentiments commonly espoused, and the biggest portion of the very best of the catalogue are songs expressing a fervent religious belief that a doctrinaire Marxist such as Seeger would have decried as the opiate of the masses. Songs of tragedy and faith have no use to a cultural movement openly dedicated to “social change,” however, and thus Seeger and his cover-artists tried to impose a political program on those private emotions of life that music can best address. Lavish tributes to Seeger by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and other recent stars demonstrate how his ideological approach has permeated every genre of American music, and this should not be counted as a success.
As with Walt Whitman’s epic “Song of Myself,” the very best of America music is a celebration of the creator’s individuality and an invitation to the listener to celebrate his own individual self. At its best American music is primitive and rustic and urbane and sophisticated, earthy and spiritual and rebellious and loyal, and always makes palpable the exhilarating freedom to choose from any or all of the mutually-exclusive options. The music that Seeger made in his long and lucrative career celebrated only the collective, was limited by its creator’s severely constrained view of life and America and life in America, and will be long forgotten in a far-off but long-awaited time when the real deal American music is still playing on the late-night airwaves.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Union and Other ‘Shockers

A dear old friend has kindly offered us a ticket to a basketball game pitting the third-ranked and undefeated Wichita State University Wheatshockers against a lightly-regarded Loyola of Illinois Ramblers squad with a losing record, so we’ll have far more important things to do tonight than watch the State of the Union address. We probably would have skipped the speech in any case, however, and expect that most of our countrymen will do the same.
Article II and Section 3 of the constitution require that the president “shall from time give to congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge the necessary,” and we are far fussier sticklers about the constitution than the current president has been, but the practice of an annual oration to a joint session of Congress is a relatively new custom and one whose time has clearly passed. For all the fuss that the networks and the newspapers make about it the speeches have become a drearily predictable affair, as quickly forgotten as a New Year’s resolution, and there is no reason to believe that this year’s edition will be any different. Even without the benefit of leaked transcripts from highly-placed sources we are certain of what will be said, how the chattering classes will react, and what the political consequences will be.
There will be much somber reflection by the networks’ most familiar faces about the earth-shaking importance of the speech, followed by footage of every Democrat and a few forlorn Republicans from purplish districts jockeying for handshake position as the president proceeds with a royal swagger down the aisle toward the podium, along with all the other pomp and circumcision that attends these events. The president will then begin by declaring that the state of the union is sound, without any of the derisive laughter that such a ridiculous claim would ordinarily provoke, and then launch into an over-written, over-long, obviously self-serving account of the nation’s woes. He will briefly touch on the ongoing debacle of Obamacare, touting the few million who have signed on without mentioning that most of them previously had better plans that they liked and were promised they could keep, and he will spend the rest of it blathering endlessly about income inequality and proposing various fanciful solutions to this ineradicable fact of a free society.
All the talking heads on all the news stations save Fox will love it, and do their own endless blathering about how eloquently it was stated, but nothing will become of it but a bunch of ineffectual executive orders. Even the squishiest Republicans from the most purplish districts will not be persuaded, nor will the voters in any of the contested jurisdictions, and every item on the president’s ponderously explained agenda will be soon be a mere bargaining chip in the next round of debt ceiling negotiations. The only thing the president will talk about that might actually occur is immigration reform, as there seems to be some enthusiasm in both parties for flooding an historically weak labor market with millions more unskilled laborers, but the main interest will be in seeing which Republicans applaud and thereby invite a bruising primary challenge.
There will be the usual inspiring baritone delivery, and the gospel music cadences that have long wowed the pundits, but nothing that amounts to must-see TV. We’ll check a post-speech transcript to see what we missed, and it might be worth commenting on, but we’re confident it won’t be anything worth missing a ‘Shocker game.

— Bud Norman

Nuns Dare Call It Conspiracy

When they’re not pursuing the economic policies that have brought female workforce participation rates to a post-feminism low, or chasing interns around the office, or bemoaning the Republicans’ “War on Women,” Democrats have lately been waging a war on the Little Sisters of the Poor. Surprisingly enough, the Little Sisters of the Poor seem to be getting the better of it.
For those unfamiliar with this fine organization, the Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of Catholic nuns who have been caring for the elderly since Saint Jeanne Jugan brought a blind and paralyzed old woman in from the cold of a French winter in 1839, and despite its good works in cities across America since arriving in Cincinnati in 1868 it went largely unnoticed until the Obamacare law mandated it provide contraception coverage for all its members and workers. The order’s vow of chastity rendered such coverage unnecessary for its members, and its strict adherence to Catholic doctrine made facilitating the use of contraception by any of its more permissive-minded employees a moral hazard, so it took its much-publicized case to court. Although the matter remains to be sorted out by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which will no doubt take its sweet time deciding if the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom still means anything, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Little Sisters of the Poor can continue their good works in accordance with their consciences until the case reaches a definitive legal conclusion. The injunction was issued without dissent, which bodes well for the Little Sisters’ chances when the case inevitably reaches the highest court.
That would be the highest secular court, of course, and the Little Sisters seem quite confident in winning on their most final appeal. They also stand a good chance of winning in the court of public opinion, which is almost as important and has more far-reaching political implications. Bullying a bunch of nuns who have devoted their lives to serving the aged and needy into subsidizing the swinging sex lives of libidinous young Democrats cannot be good public relations, even in this day and age, and the cautious tone of the mainstream press coverage suggests they’d rather not be talking about the at all. The very name of the case — “Little Sisters of the Poor, et al, V. Sebelius, Sec. of H&HS, et al” — is too damning for most reporters to mention.
Some Democrats are so reverent of government and hostile toward religion that they will instinctively side with the defendant, and for reasons we cannot quite ascertain they are especially annoyed by anything Catholic, but we hope this remains a minority view. Whatever one thinks of the Little Sisters’ theological reasons they cannot be faulted for their undeniable altruism for the neediest people of our society, as much as Democrats might resent the proof they have no monopoly on that virtue, and they make for a very sympathetic plaintiff. The more hysterical leftists are already alleging a papist conspiracy by the Court’s unprecedented Catholic majority, but they can’t deny that the majority is comprised of justices from both the right and left, that none of the Protestant minority offered a dissent, that the plaintiff’s “et al” includes numerous Protestant charities, that the main defendant and many of her own “et als” are Catholics, and that the underlying issue of freedom of religion is of vast importance to any person of faith no matter his creed.
Higher costs, less coverage, massive federal debt, bureaucratic bungling, and countless other practical problems are the main reasons for Obamacare’s widespread unpopularity and eventual repeal, but here’s hoping that its iron-fisted authoritarianism and lack of regard for individual rights has something to do with it as well. If the government can force the Little Sisters of the Poor to act against their highly-refined consciences, it will be hard for anyone to resist, and if the Little Sisters of the Poor can prevail, it will be a victory for everyone.

— Bud Norman

The Highest Form of McCarthyism

Being of a certain age, we can remember a time when liberalism prided itself on tolerance, dissent, and above all a tolerance of dissent. One needn’t be all that old to recall this bygone era, as it came to an abrupt end only six years or so ago.
The change was immediately and conspicuously noticeable, with all the “Question Authority” stickers adorning the bumpers of the shiny new hybrid cars and rusty fume-spewing VW microbuses replaced seemingly overnight with those dawn-of-a-new-age Obama logos. At the long-anticipated demise of the Bush administration dissent was no longer the highest form of patriotism, much less Pulitzer Prize-bait or a requirement for academic tenure, and questioning authority was suddenly regarded as a sign of dangerous anti-government extremism. The results still resonate in the headlines over stories datelined from New York to Hollywood and all points in between, and it’s becoming all too familiar.
After years of being subjected to self-congratulatory movies about the dark days of McCarthyism when Stalinist screenwriters and fashionably leftist actors were blacklisted for their boldly against-the-grain political opinions, we were naturally struck by two recent tales of Tinseltown. One concerned the comely actress Maria Conchita-Alonso being dumped from yet another performance of “The Vagina Monologues” because she had appeared an a campaign commercial for a candidate associated with the “Tea Party,” and the other was about the Internal Revenue Service’s heightened scrutiny of a group of conservative-leaning actors and other show-biz professionals. We can’t say we’ll miss Conchita-Alonso performance in “The Vagina Monologues,” as we’ve never been fans of ventriloquism, and we assume that club of Hollywood conservatives is quite small compared to other groups that have caught the attention of the IRS, but the irony of their fates is galling nonetheless. As a woman of both Cuban and Venezuelan ancestry Conchita-Alonso knows better than the most the rationale for the limited-government objectives of the Tea Party movement, those openly conservatives actors are far more defiantly non-conformist than anyone who was hauled before the House Un-American Activities ever were, and the lack of protest from their left-leaning peers is pure hypocrisy.
While on the subject of the movies, we also heard that the fellow who made a widely-distributed anti-Obama documentary has now been charged by the feds with making an illegal campaign contribution, something that never seemed to happen to the far more numerous documentarians who flooded the Oscar nomination ballots with celluloid anti-Bush screeds. We’ve already expressed our disappointment that the governor of New York has dis-invited us from visiting his fair state because our political views don’t align with his, but we we have since been further saddened to read that newly-inaugurated Sandanistan mayor of New York City has reiterated that we’re especially unwanted there. At least we’re not black, which would make our views even more slander-worthy to the head of North Carolina’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. If misfortune confined us to a wheelchair we would even expect to be mocked for it because of our political, as Texas gubernatorial candidate George Abbott was by the supporters of the eminently respectable but not-quite-accurate Democratic contender Wendy Davis. Throw in the recent fit that the homosexual lobby threw over some Louisiana redneck reality-show star’s crudely stated preference for vaginas over male anuses, and a pattern becomes clear.
Such liberal intolerance isn’t a recent phenomenon, of course, but it has become more brazen since liberalism seized power. We now encounter it routinely in our social encounters, even here in the Republican outpost of Kansas, and are still struck by the cocksureness of its conviction that whatever was said in the past some sorts of dissent simply should not be tolerated. It strikes us as a sort of narcissism, grounded in the belief that anyone who resists their noble efforts to create a paradise on earth must surely be an awful person deserving oppression, but it should be curable. Get another of those nasty Republicans back in the White House, or even the Senate Majority Leader’s chair, and questioning authority will be back on the bumpers and dissent will once again be the highest form of patriotism.

— Bud Norman

A Dark and Wendy Day in Texas

Politicians have always tended to embellish their autobiographies, but Wendy Davis has apparently given the practice a peculiarly modern twist.
In case you don’t follow Lone Star State politics or feminist fads, Davis is the Texas state senator who became a darling of the left with a talkathon filibuster of an abortion bill. The bill was a very reasonable and quite mainstream proposal to restrict the late-term abortions that are opposed by a vast a majority of Americans and banned outright in almost every political jurisdiction in the world, as well as providing the same sort of regulatory oversight of abortion clinics that is required of every other health care provider, but to hear Davis’ admirers tell it she was standing alone in her pink running shoes against a vast patriarchal plot to chain bare-footed pregnant women to stoves. She was hailed in the national press as a distaff version of the title character in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” except that Jimmy Stewart wasn’t fighting so bravely on behalf of infanticide and grisly unregulated Philadelphia-style abortion mills, and the publicity and resultant coast-to-coast fund-raising bonanza propelled her to the top of the Democratic party’s list of potential gubernatorial candidates.
Davis was further aided by her inspiring life story as a struggling single mother who rose from a Fort Worth trailer park to Harvard Law School and on to national political prominence. It’s the stuff of a Lifetime Network movie, but has unfortunately turned out to be just as realistic. An intrepid reporter at The Dallas Morning News checked out the tale and found several inaccuracies of various significance. Davis was 21 when she divorced her first husband, not 19 as she has testified under oath and claimed in her campaign literature, she spent only a short time in the trailer park before moving in with her mother and then to an apartment, and her divorce settlement included the Texas treasure trove of a three-year-old Pontiac Grand Prix, a ’72 Firebird, and a ’67 Chevy pickup. More embarrassingly, Davis’ studies at Harvard were not paid for entirely by the student loans and scholarships she mentions in her stump speeches but mostly by her well-heeled second husband, who tells the Morning News that she dumped him on the day after the last payment was made. Further undermining the image of a heroically independent single mother, Davis had left her children in Texas while attending law school and after the ensuing divorce the second husband was awarded custody not only of their child but also of Davis’ child from the previous marriage.
These cold facts are so insufficiently heartwarming that they have provoked the inevitable cries of sexism. While admitting that “My language should be tighter,” Davis has blamed a potential Republican opponent for leaking the truth, a pointless point that the Morning News reporter adamantly denies, and clumsily attempted to throw some mud of her own. With some more loose language she said that Republican nominee George Abbott is “running scared” and “hasn’t walked a day in my shoes,” which strikes many Texans as insensitive given that Abbott has his own inspiring struggles as a longtime paraplegic. Her professional media allies have been more carefull to dismiss the embellishments as a mere “gaffe” or chalk it up to gynephobia, while the more hysterical supporters in the social media have alleged a nefarious scheme to keep women subservient.
Such feeble arguments sufficed to get the exceedingly white Elizabeth Warren elected to the Senate in Massachusetts after her absurd claims to be Cherokee were predictably disproved, but it remains to be seen if they’ll work in Texas. Texans are quite so insane as Massachusites, for one thing, and Davis’ brand of Warren-style liberalism is thus a harder sell in Texas. Warren also has a hard-earned reputation as a gun control crusader, and anyone who would restrict the right to kill a would-be burglar or rapist while defending the right to kill a viable fetus was probably a long-shot to be Texas governor no matter how many Upper East Side donors send contributions.
Even the campaign-approved biography struck us as a bit cloying and all too up-to-date. Candidates always emphasize any hardscrabble origins they might have, claiming to have been born in little log cabins that they built with their own two hands, but the traditional narrative never involved trailer parks or teenaged divorces or Harvard Law School, none of which are inherently admirable accomplishments. Single motherhood seems to be a modern requirement for secular sainthood, with a special appeal to the “Girls”-watching segment of the unmarried female demographic that the Democrats have so successfully courted, but surely it should involve having a custody of the kids before the violins swell. In any case we hope that Texans will vote for the better candidate rather than the more tear-jerking story, and that they will insist the stories at least be true.

— Bud Norman

A New York State of Mind

Apparently we are no longer in welcome in New York, and we’re sorry to find that out. It’s a nice place to visit, a great place to play chess, and we’ve encountered many kind people there, but the governor has made clear that he doesn’t want our kind around.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently gave a radio interview that included a lengthy rant against “extreme conservatives,” and told his interlocutor that “They have no place in New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.” He defined “extreme conservatives” as “right-to-life, pro-assault weapon, and anti-gay,” which does not quite describe our views, but it’s close enough to suggest he might mean us. We’re not entirely “right-to-life” by Kansas standards but neither do we have the requisite enthusiasm for abortion to be bona fide New York sophisticates, so far as we can tell “assault weapons” are no more or less effective at killing burglars and commies than any other semi-automatic rifle, and we have far too many homosexual friends to be considered “anti-gay” even if we do sometimes disagree with them about what legal arrangements society should make to accommodate their sex lives, but otherwise we’re so extremely conservative that we know when we’re not wanted.
The governor has since objected to the New York Post’s headlining paraphrase that he said “conservatives should leave New York,” and emphasized that he further said it was “fine” to oppose gun restrictions, abortion on demand, and official recognition of same-sex marriages, but we note that he also claimed 70 percent of all New Yorkers are properly appalled by such insanity, and listening to the audiotape we noticed he spat out the word “fine” with the same bitter tone that peeved wives and girlfriends use whenever uttering it. Despite his efforts to placate the tourist market here in flyover country, we can’t escape the conclusion that he doesn’t much like us.
As disappointing as it is, we’re not really surprised. For all their fine qualities New Yorkers are often quite parochial compared to us prairie folk, and lefties everywhere tend to be intolerant of dissenting views. We remember Cuomo as the Clinton-era Housing and Urban Development honcho who came up with the novel idea of forcing banks to make subprime mortgage loans, even if so many New Yorkers have forgotten that unfortunate experiment that he somehow enjoys as reputation as a moderate, and it’s understandable why he wouldn’t want the likes of us around to remind anyone.
With New York City’s new Sandinista mayor poised to take the Big Apple back to the days of those dystopian ‘70s movies we weren’t planning any visits in the near future, and it’s a pricey vacation in the current economy, but it’s still sad to think that we’re not welcome back. There’s always a possibility that New Yorkers will embrace a new political leadership that is as open-minded as our leaders here in Kansas, where the governor is an extreme conservative by anyone’s standards but a welcoming fellow even to New York lefties, but until then we’ll be content with smaller towns.

— Bud Norman

The Wide World and Sports

Maybe it was because the stock markets and the politicians and the culturati took the day off in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., but the all the big news on Monday seemed to be about sports. At this unhappy moment in our history even the sports pages can’t offer refuge from economics and politics and culture, however, so reality seems to have intruded on all the stories.
The Winter Olympics are about to begin, for instance, and thus far the headlines have mostly been about the possibility of a terror attack. Although there are always worries about security at any international gathering the last significant terror attack on the games took place in Munich back in ’72 and was directed against the Israeli athletes, who are for obvious reasons not prominent in the winter events except for their Russian émigré figure skaters, but because these games are taking place in Russia there are understandable worries that Islamist nutcases will want to take revenge for that country’s efforts at self-defense in Chechnya and other Islamic outposts of its past empire. This time around there is a specific threat from the “Black Widow,” a deranged woman whose terrorist husband was killed in his deadly efforts, and one can only hope that Russia’s security forces will live up to their reputation for ruthless efficiency.
Winter sports have no appeal to us, as skiing is not a common activity here in Kansas and the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers rarely freeze solid enough for figure skating or ice hockey, but we wish all the participants well. The other big story from these games concerns the Russian government’s recent attempts to discourage homosexuality, which has annoyed the west’s left far more than the Ukrainian famine or the purges or the gulags or anything the country’s former communist regime ever did, but here’s hoping that even the biathletes have a safe and successful competition.
As in every January, another big story is the Super Bowl. This year’s match-up features some team from Denver and another from Seattle, neither of whom are the Kansas City Chiefs, so we’ve paid little attention to all the Xs and Os and other minutiae of the pre-game analyses, but as always it provides plenty of manufactured social implications. The cheeky fellows at The Drudge Report dubbed the game “The Pot Bowl” to draw attention to the fact that both contestants reside in states that have recently liberalized their marijuana laws, but we suspect this might be mere coincidence. If legal marijuana truly does produce championship football we expect that Texas will quickly make pot-smoking mandatory, and that all the states with teams in the collegiate Southeast Athletic Conference will soon follow suit, so we await a definitive scientific judgment on the matter.
Another prominent piece of the pre-Super Bowl hype was a Seattle player’s on-air rant against one of the San Francisco squad that fell in the National Football Conference play-off game. We missed most of the game while attending a friend’s birthday party and have no idea what he was going on about, but we caught the post-game interview and it was vituperative enough to worry us that the fellow might do a drive-by shooting at whoever it was that had “dissed” him. Perhaps it was justified, as professional football is a rough game, but it seemed a unpleasant reminder of the kinds of deplorable people that America venerates each fall and winter, as well as the even more consequentially deplorable people that rule our economy, politics, and culture throughout the year.
Ah well, at least all three of our big-time Kansas universities are among the ranked teams in college basketball. The Wichita State University Wheatshockers are in the coaches’ top four, and there is hope for the world in the sports pages.

— Bud Norman

Friends, Neighbors, and Big Brother

President Barack Obama spent much of last Friday trying to reassure the country it is not living under the watchful eye of Big Brother in a high-tech police state, but despite his best efforts we can’t quite shake some nagging suspicions.
Just the very fact that a president felt compelled to offer such reassurances is discomfiting enough, as it was when Nixon thought it necessary to explain that he was not a crook, but there were other troubling aspects to Obama’s lengthy oration on the National Security Agency’s surveillance and data-gathering operations. There are several questions to be raised about the rather modest reforms that the president announced, which mostly amount to continuing all the agency’s data-gathering about Americans’ phone and internet use but storing it with another entity of unknown reliability and accountability, yet there was something about the very tone of the speech that was even more troubling.
The president began with a brief but adulatory history of American intelligence operations from the Revolutionary War through Harry Truman’s founding of the NSA, an epoch he has never expressed much admiration for on any previous occasion, then sought to appeal to his political base of aging hippie radicals with horror stories about the domestic spying of the ‘60s, at which point he suddenly sounded far more sincere, and he spent the rest of it trying to strike a chord incorporating both dissonant notes. With the same exasperated smile one might use on a pouting child, Obama added that “After all, the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors and our friends.” We live in a dangerous world that requires the vigilant efforts of a vast national security apparatus, Obama explained, but he was quick to let his supporters know that he hadn’t gone all J. Edgar Hoover on them by touting the layers of law and regulation that will prevent it front intruding on the private lives and political activities of individuals. He noted that the nation has “benefited from both our Constitution and tradition of limited government,” and that “our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power.”
Coming from a president whose entire career has been devoted to the unlimited growth of government power, has frequently waived key provisions of the laws he himself signed, made recess appointments while Congress was not in recess, flouted the constitution on various other occasions, and has recently declared his intention to act “with or without Congress,” this is not entirely convincing. Coming from a president who also promised that if you like your health care plan you can keep it, that the deadly attacks on America’s consulate in Benghazi were a spontaneous reaction to an obscure internet video, and that just his nomination to the office of the presidency would begin to heal the planet and lower the sea levels, and who offered his good intentions as proof of all these absurd claims, it is especially hard to believe.
Those aging hippie radicals can be confident that Obama won’t use the data being collected by the NSA to quash their protests against the Vietnam War or capitalism, but anyone whose political opinions aren’t so neatly aligned with Obama’s can be forgiven a doubt. Those who have lately been audited by the IRS or attracted more than usual attention of the regulatory agencies overseeing their business can even be forgiven if they think it’s all bunk.

— Bud Norman