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Renewing the War in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the war in Afghanistan will outlast his presidency, with at least 5,500 troops still there on his successor’s inauguration day, and we realized that it was the first mention of that unhappy subject we’d heard in some time. The 18-year-old privates who are still slogging it out in that godforsaken land were 4-year-olds when the conflict began, so by now it has about the same slight effect on the public’s consciousness as one of those long-running reality shows that you are only reminded of when they are inexplicably renewed for another season.
Obama was unmistakably disappointed to make the announcement, and understandably so, as it broke one of his solemn campaign promises from the heady days of ’08 and acknowledged that his Cairo speech and the rest of that open-handed outreach to the Muslim world hadn’t fully soothed the more savage Islamist breasts and that his hated neocon critics had been right all along, but he didn’t have any choice. Ever since he kept his campaign promise to “end the war in Iraq” an even more troublesome war has sprung up in that country and spilled into Syria and drawn in the Iranians and the Russians and unleashed a highly problematic flood of refugees into Europe, not to mention the war in Yemen and the instability in the Libya that he bombed into anarchy and the recent acts of violence against Israelis that he has to make excuses for, so leaving Afghanistan when it’s still so ripe for picking by the worst sorts of people would have been more than even a Nobel Prize-winning peacenik’s reputation could endure. Better to make the inevitable announcement now, let the unpleasantness in Afghanistan once again recede from public attention, and allow the more worshipful first generation of biographers to dwell on how he “ended” the Iraq War.
One hopes the decision will at least prevent the worst-case scenario of the Taliban regaining control of the country and re-opening the terrorist training camps that started the war in the first place, but at this point no one seems to be talking about a best-case scenario. Even in the Bush administration’s most hopeful dreams of democracy-building there were was never any thought that such a stubbornly tribalistic and bellicose and backward country as Afghanistan could ever transformed into something like a functioning state, although they did think that it might be achieved where some Iraqis could still recall a relatively modern and democratic Baghdad, so the goal was always to establish an Afghan government with some legitimacy that would impose at least enough order to shut down the terrorist training camps. That’s still the goal, so far as we can tell, but it’s not at all clear that the past six years or so of the effort have brought us any closer, nor can see how the 9,800 to 5,500 troops that Obama will continue to deploy are going affect any further progress.
The question hasn’t come up in any of the presidential debates, so far, and none of the candidates seem to be talking about it, and neither does anyone else. When we bring it up we’re forced to admit that we can’t see any more favorable outcome than a long hard slog by 18-year-old privates who weren’t even born when this mess began. There are 18-year-old privates in South Korea and Japan and Germany whose parents weren’t yet born when the wars that landed them there began, however, and sometimes that’s the price to be paid for a relatively peaceful global order, and no one likes to talk about that.

— Bud Norman

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On the Cheering in the Press Box

Sports was about the only beat we never covered during our many years of toil for the local newspaper, but there was one occasion many basketball seasons ago when the Wichita State University Wheatshockers and the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats all made the men’s collegiate tournament, and the Lady Jayhawks and Lady Wildcats qualified for the women’s contest, and the sports staff was stretched so thin that even we wound up with some swell court side seats and free eats and drinks and the fanciest hotel rooms of Lincoln, Neb., and all the other media perquisites for the opening two rounds. One of the games involved teams our readers had no interest in and we were not obliged to write about — we still somehow recall it was the Vanderbilt University Commodores pitted against the Pittsburgh University Panthers — but it proved such a compelling scrap that when a skinny young Commodore shooting guard heaved a half-court shot at the buzzer to send his underdog team into overtime we raised our arms and said something to the effect of “wow.” The more seasoned sportswriter we were assisting was visibly embarrassed by such an emotional outburst, and he leaned over to sternly remind us of the old journalistic dictum that “There’s no cheering in the press box.”
That long-ago hard-learned lesson was brought to mind as we read up on a more recent sporting event, the Democratic Party’s first televised presidential debate, where the reportorial young whippersnappers were violating that once ironclad rule with impunity. When self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders declined to make political hay of rival candidate and former First Lady and Senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ongoing private e-mail scandal, and instead snarled that he was sick of hearing about it, which was the event’s equivalent of a skinny underdog heaving a half-court buzzer beater to tie the game, most of  the press room reportedly responded with unembarrassed cheer. Reporter Dave Ruben was so unabashed about it he immediately “tweeted” how “The entire press room just exploded when Bernie said that about Hillary’s e-mails,” another unapologetic “tweet” by his colleague Hunter Walker confirmed “Audible clapping and laughter in the press room after Bernie Sanders’ ‘enough of the e-mails moment,'” and given our long familiarity with the press we have no doubt of it. There might well have been a few more seasoned political sportswriters around who were embarrassed by the outburst, and they might even have offered some sternly glaring reproach, but so far as we can tell none have bothered to deny it happened.
It is hard to say, we must admit, who those cheerers in the press box were cheering for. They could have been rooting for Clinton, who had just been handed the unexpected gift of her most threatening rival taking her most troublesome scandal out of the Democratic primary debate, or they could have been celebrating Sanders, who got all the thunderous applause and came off looking rather gallant to Democratic eyes and seems to have made more hay among his party’s faithful than he ever could have by attacking a female rival before a Democratic audience, or they might have been cheering against themselves, who have lately been obliged to report on the continuing revelations about Clinton’s arguably illegal and inarguably national-security-endangering and obviously-intended-to-cover-up-embarrassing-stuff e-mail practices when they’d much rather be digging into some Republican’s parking tickets or some other Republican’s sensible pronouncements about the inadvisability of electing a Muslim president at this point in time. In any case, our conservative temperament and old school sensibilities are still embarrassed by the cheering in the press box.
As with so many other once iron-clad rules, there were sound reasons for the prohibition on cheering in the press box. When you’re cheering you’re not watching, for one thing, and as the late and great baseball player Yogi Berra once explained, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Whatever portion of those press box cheerers who were rooting for Clinton were probably too preoccupied to observe that Sanders had received the most thunderous applause and came off looking very gallant and confirmed to his most loyal supporters that he’s more concerned with their socialist revolution than any fellow Democrats’ trustworthiness. Those cheering for Sanders did so while neglecting to observe that he actually had just taken her most troublesome scandal out of the primary debate. As for those reporters who were cheering against themselves in hopes they’d at last be freed to write about Republican perfidy, they likely enjoyed their momentary forgetfulness that Clinton’s e-mail scandal is still a bigger deal to most of their readers than some Republican candidate’s most recent misconstrued statement and that they’re still stuck with it through at least several more news cycles of Congressional hearings and criminal investigations and the latest leaks from highly placed administration sources.
The obvious obverse of the old journalistic rule about cheering in the press box is that there’s no booing in the press box, and we think our few friends in the conservative media would do well to comply. Most of the right-wing commentariat seems to have concluded that Sanders declined an opportunity for a devastating attack, and Clinton’s more polished performance thus won the day and made her nomination once again inevitable, but we think they fail to notice that by the very different rules of Democratic politics Sanders seems to have gotten the best of it. Aside from the gallantry and polite insouciance about official misconduct of his gift to Clinton, Sanders’ lack of polish probably appealed to a yearning for even the most rough-hewn authenticity that both parties suddenly seem to have.
Striving to be appropriately stoic here in our self-appointed Internet press box, we observe that the game is still in play. Although we’re not so dispassionate about the contest as we were when the Commodores and Panthers squared off in that memorable game of hoops, we are about equally predisposed to Clinton and Sanders, and we’re trying to follow the game according to these convoluted Democratic rules, so we consider ourselves more or less objective, and to further mix the sports metaphors a bit with boxing we’ll score the round to Sanders. Whether this is something we should cheer or boo remains to be seen, as it depends entirely on which of them proves more palatable to the public and which of the political neophytes or more stridently anti-establishment office holders the Republicans might choose to put against either of these horrible people, so we’ll keep following the game. There will be some cheering and booing, of course, and at times one can’t help raising his arms and saying some to the effect of “wow,” but we’ll try to do that only only when justified by our more dispassionate observations. In the meantime we note that the same Democratic debate press box that cheered for either Clinton or Sanders or against themselves largely did not rise for the national anthem. They were in another room, which might mitigate the seeming disrespect, but it does seem an odd contrast to their more unrestrained enthusiasm for Clinton or Sanders or their own self-loathing.
We always enjoy watching the most seasoned of the local sportswriters at his court side and free-eats and perquisite-laden seat at the ‘Shocker games whenever we get the chance to attend. He always looks so bored, even when a ‘Shocker is heaving a buzzer-beating half-court shot to send in the game into overtime, and although he always, writes it up  with the partisan perspective that his readership expects he rarely neglects to mention the big moment that occurred when everyone was too busy cheering or booing  to notice. He stands for the national anthem, too, and although he also looks understandably bored during that we give him credit for the gesture. There’s something to be said for the old school, and it is always good to know which side the writer is on.

— Bud Norman

The Democrats Put on a Show

Five Democratic candidates for the presidency had a debate Tuesday night, and it made for a most discombobulating spectacle. We sometimes try to imagine how our Democrat friends see the Republican debates, and to understand their cognitive dissonance, but we simply can’t conceive it strikes them as quite so far removed from objective reality as what we observed on Tuesday night.
According to all the candidates everything bad that has happened since President George W. Bush left office in ’09 is still his fault, the problem with the economy is not that you’re poorer but that somebody else out there is richer, the public is clamoring for an influx of millions of low-skilled non-English-speaking workers and a simultaneous raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, if Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts business doesn’t get a big subsidy the health of every woman in America will be endangered, draconian gun regulations are needed to make America an unprecedentedly safe space on Earth but don’t worry that anybody’s coming after your guns, the Middle East will sort itself out, and Black Lives Matter, but not the ones who are killed by the black criminals that all the Democrats want to go easy on and certainly not anybody else’s, and despite all the problems they’re bickering about none of it has anything to do President Barack Obama, who is the best president ever. None of this comports with our experience of reality, or the public opinion polls we routinely consult to make sure we’ve not gone completely crazy, but it seemed to play well with an audience full of Democrats.
There was something about the whole production that was somehow jarringly dissimilar from the Republicans’ shows, as well. The Cable News Networks’ Anderson Cooper struck a deceptively dogged pose as moderator, confronting each of the candidates with the harshest criticisms that have been made of their records, but it always seemed intended to provide them with a chance to offer their well-scripted and focus group-tested responses without any threat of pesky follow-up questions. There were no questions about evolution or Armageddon or anything else that might elicit an embarrassing confession of religious belief, even though it would have been darned interesting to hear their thoughts on the Republicans’ efforts to make contraception pills available over-the-counter, and nothing that wasn’t clearly intended to identify the most impeccably liberal candidate.

This is how a significant chunk of the Democratic primary electorate will be judging the field, of course, so it’s on that basis we’ll try to adjudge the winners and losers. Self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ran the ball further down the left side of the field than the rest, but we think he might have come short of the metaphorical goal line. He was unpolished and sometimes surly and embarrassingly earnest, which of course conveys the sort of authentically populist appeal that the Democrats seem to be yearning for, and his insane rants about Wall Street and the dreaded One Percent and the Iraq War had a subtext about Clinton’s record that we’re sure our most ardently Democrat friends will easily read, and he was shrewdly gallant enough to let her off the hook about that whole endangering-national-security-and-breaking-the-law e-mail thing. This, along with the chorus of sycophancy that followed from the others candidates ensures that it won’t be problem in the Democratic race, and maybe even old new by the time of the general election, but we notice that Sanders got the biggest applause.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and erstwhile presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton did fine. She didn’t have the melt-down that her bullied aids have anonymously worried about in the press, and she had smiling answers to all those seemingly hard questions about the utter failure of everything she’s ever done in her life, and she cracked a joke and got angry and demonstrated other human behaviors, and it was enough that all the pundits were spouting rave reviews in the post-game show. We can’t imagine that anyone who is still loyal to Clinton’s candidacy was put off, but we can’t imagine that she wowed any of those Sanders supporters, so we’ll call it a tie.
Former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley probably picked up a few points in the polls just by virtue of the fact that a few Democrats realized there was someone in the race other than Clinton and Sanders. He had to apologetically explain that the tough-on-crime measures he enacted had saved thousands of black lives, which of course puts him at odds with the Black Lives Matter obsession of the current Democratic Party, but at least he got some air time.
Former Marine combat veteran, Secretary of the Navy, and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb also probably made some gain by the fact that the audience is now aware of his existence. He gave us a nicely nostalgic memory of the long ago Cold War era of Sen. Scoop Jackson and Sen. Daniel Moynihan and similarly hawkish Democrats, but we expect he gave most our Democratic friends of today the chills. Still, one can hope that are still enough relatively sensible Democrats left to nudge his poll numbers into the single digits.
That Chaffee guy, who used to be a Republican and was something or another a couple of times in Rhode Island, was clearly hurt by the fact that the audience is now aware of his existence. The most embarrassing point of the night was when he tried to explain his vote against some crazy financial regulation scheme he said that he’d just come into office and that his father had just died and everyone else was voting against it, and it was the only moment of actual booing in the debate. Surely the producers of this reality show will soon replace his character with Vice President Joe Biden, who will assume the mantle of the gloriously successful and overwhelming popular Barack Obama, and the plot can start to take more interesting twists.
How the general election season play out remains to be seen, but the Democratic plot line is looking altogether implausible. If Donald Trump weren’t the current star of the Republican show, we’d think they have a problem.

— Bud Norman

J.B., RIP

The wife of our old friend J.B. has recently updated his Facebook status to “dead,” and although you’re unlikely to have ever heard of him we think his passing is worth noting. J.B. was one of those American boys who went off to fight a war in Vietnam and never really came back, and between his rough and rowdy ways and his exquisitely sensitive soul he was something of a local legend around here, and he was another small but important piece of a more ruggedly individualistic America that seems to be slipping away.
It took years of beery and heartfelt conversations before we found out that his name was actually Gerald Brown. Even in the tough south side neighborhood where he grew up no one would dare call him by such an inappropriately refined moniker as “Gerald,” however, although he would tolerate the less pretentious “Jerry” from a select group of childhood chums, and most of the rest of us acceded to his preference for J.B., which somehow seemed most apt for such an colorfully abbreviated character. To an even more select group of friends that he served with in Vietnam he was “Rap” Brown, which had nothing do with the black nationalist leader H. “Rap” Brown, whom our south side white boy friend hadn’t even heard of at the time, and instead was earned by how well he “rapped” on the radio when calling in an airstrike. It took many more years of beery and heartfelt conversations before he divulged that to us, though, and even then we were warned to keep calling him J.B.
Those conversations started when he was owner of The Spot Recreation Center, a notorious dive that just happened to be located exactly halfway between the newspaper where we toiled and the cheap apartment where we resided. The Spot had a pool table and a shuffleboard table and a straight-out-of-a-western-movie bar and an authentic dive flavor, and drew its clientele from the more disgruntled downtown office workers and neighborhood derelicts and local biker gangs, and the chili and the burgers were the greasiest in town, and it regularly booked such spectacular rockabilly acts as Sleepy LaBeef and The LeRoi Brothers, and there was this very attractive barmaid who sometimes wore the most provocative attire, and it was quite conveniently located, so we spent enough time there to strike up an acquaintance with the proprietor. We enjoyed his ribald sense of humor, admired the way he kept a watchful eye out for that attractive barmaid in the provocative attire, and we weren’t the least intimidated by his unmistakeable aura of danger.
J.B. wasn’t a big man, and in fact was several inches shorter than ourselves and possessed of a physique that can most charitably described as wiry, and he had a lot of years and even more miles on him, but anyone with a modicum of street smarts would have immediately  recognized that he was not someone to be messed with. We hadn’t the slightest desire mess with him, of course, and his far superior street smarts immediately recognized this, and he wasn’t the type to menace such friendly types, and he seemed to enjoy our highfalutin conversations about the latest events, and thus we gradually became friends. Eventually he even asked us to write about his war.
J.B. freely admitted he only went to war because he was drafted, not being the sort of guy who could swing an educational deferment, but once he was dragged in he went full hog. He volunteered for paratrooper and Ranger duty and anything in the worst of it. There was a certain exhilaration in his war stories, but also a horror, and he had a drawer full of snapshots that confirmed the worst accusations about America’s behavior in the war, and first-hand accounts that the enemy had behaved at least as badly, and this rough and rowdy man confirmed to us that war truly is hell. He had stories about his jeered return to civilian life, too, still too young to drink in the bar he would later run, and it was always obvious to us that his war had never ended.
We did our best to write that story for the newspaper where we toiled, and we can’t say it did our career any good. Some readers objected to our sympathetic portrayal of such a rough and rowdy fellow, who had done a little time in prison on a rap involving some fraud scheme or another, and who ran a notorious dive just east of downtown, and who was known as someone not to be trifled with, but we still wonder what sort of men they expect to fight their country’s battles. The story also  raised some money for a charity that helped Vietnam veterans by taking them back to their battlefields to find healing, we proudly note, and  J.B. was one of those veterans who took the trip. He wound up moving to Vietnam several decades ago and spent most of the rest of his life there.
After a couple of marriages we know of, one of them with a woman we thought quite sound, he wound up marrying a much-younger Vietnamese woman, who was kind enough to send news of his recent illness and ultimate death, and that’s pretty much all we know about the intervening years.
An occasional e-mail or Facebook posting from “Rap” Brown would invite us to join him for a vacation in Vietnam, where he promised all manner of carnal delight and other great deals on the Yankee dollar, but that was about all we heard of him the past couple of decades. He was going by the name of “Rap” Brown at that point, having decided to fully embrace his nom de guerre, but we’ll still think of him as J.B. We rather liked that south side kid who wasn’t  to be messed with, and we can’t be sure that he was ever really reconciled with his war, so we choose to remember all the spectacular rockabilly and the fine  friendship and the greasy chili and our pal J.B.

— Bud Norman

Let the Women Stay

Although we are generally in agreement with the Republican Party’s policies, we cannot endorse its new idea of kicking all the women out of the country. We were quite unaware of this Republican scheme until Democratic National Committee chairwoman and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz recently brought it to our stunned attention. Appearing on the Cable News Network, she explained that “Look, between the 15 Republicans that are left — all of whom are trying to out-Trump Donald Trump — by saying, ‘Yeah let’s kick women. Let’s kick them and immigrants out of the country. Let’s take away health care from women.'”
Thus far we cannot confirm that any of those 15 Republicans, even Trump, are actually advocating any of this, but there are several among them who could probably say even more outrageous things without the press or anybody else noticing, and we’d hate to think the chairwoman of a major American political party would resort to slanderous hyperbole to make a point, so until all of those candidates provide solid proof that they’re not plotting to kick all the women out of the country we’ll assume the worst. There’s a grain of truth to the rest of Wasserman Schultz’s rant, too, as most of the Republicans do seem willing to kick out some of the more troublesome illegal immigrants, and if by “health care” she means continued subsidies for late-term abortions and Planned Parenthood’s baby parts business, well, most of those 15 Republicans are on the record as being against that as well, so we can’t in good conscience accuse Wasserman Schultz of being a liar.
In which we case feel compelled to state, despite our longstanding registration with the Republican Party, that we are not favor of kicking all the women out of the country. Indeed, we even share Wasserman Schultz’s indignation with the very notion.
It’s not good politics, for one thing, what with women being such a sizable share of the electorate. Our guess is that most women will be opposed to such a policy, unless it involves being kicked out to a country populated entirely of unusually well-built yet endlessly attentive and impeccably liberal men, which is unlikely, so it could prove problematic in the general election. If the Republicans did somehow survive the issue and actually carry out the policy it would be a boon to the party, given its decisive edge in the male vote over the years, but it doesn’t seem worth the risk.
Neither does it seem good policy to kick all the women out of the country, despite the tempting obvious benefits. There’s that whole biological imperative thing to be considered, even if it doesn’t seem to figure in the debate about subsidizing late-term abortions and Planned Parenthood’s baby parts business, and even in the Obama age when women’s workforce participation is sliding to pre-feminist levels we recognize a certain economic value to having women in a country. There are a number of women we rather like, too, despite our Republicanism, and even though most of them tend to vote wrong we’d hate to seem them summarily kicked out of the country.
Strange as it seems to be in agreement with Wasserman Schultz, we proudly stand with her brave defense of having women in America. One can only hope that at least one of those 15 Republican candidates will be similarly brave.

— Bud Norman

As the Republican Party Turns

The more politically obsessed news-readers have no doubt already heard that California Rep. Kevin McCarthy has withdrawn from the race for Speaker of the House, a position that was open following the resignation of Ohio Rep. John Boehner, and that it all bodes ill for the Republican Party. The “establishment” favorite McCarthy apparently has withdrawn, Boehner did indeed announce his resignation, and given how many things do prove to bode ill for the Republican Party that last part might also be true. Still, we’ll await the final outcome and assume that it won’t be consequential.
Much of the media has gleefully seized on the storyline that those crazily far-right and reckless “Tea Party” types in the party are in open revolt against the more cautious and accommodating and country club-going moderates that are still left, which is a fair enough assessment of the situation. All that gleefulness is because much of the media assumes that the public will be revulsed by those conservatives and their extreme positions, however, and we question the assumption. Boehner was driven to resignation and McCarthy was forced to withdraw from the race mostly because they were thought to be insufficiently resistant to executive actions throwing the borders wide open, unleashing an aggressively anti-business Environmental Protection Agency and nixing the XL Keystone Pipeline, negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran that will surely end up with nuclear weapons in that nutcase country, and various other affronts to conservative sensibilities, but none of these positions are so extreme that they don’t poll solid majority support from the public. There’s always the realistic hope they’d shut down the non-essential services of the government to get their way, which usually does not poll well, but even the most kamikaze sorts of conservatives wouldn’t do that late in an election cycle.
McCarthy’s departure was prompted by a boneheaded gaffe that will in the short term help the Democrats. Under fire from one of those conservative cable television channels, McCarthy boasted about how Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers have dropped as a result of the House investigations to the Benghazi tragedy. A better way to put it was that the Congress was committed to getting to the bottom of an important matter that involved the death of an Ambassador and four other Americans and that if the facts reflected poorly on Clinton so be it, but the in-artful phraseology seemed to confirm the Democrats’ preferred story that the Republicans are just out to get their poor woman. The same conservative pundits who had egged on the Benghazi investigation were quick to denounce McCarthy, his even more conservative colleagues in the House were happy to cite the quote as proof of his incompetence, his majority was in doubt even before the gaffe, and suddenly there’s much uncertainty regarding who will lead the Republican Party in Congress.
Although much of the media are serenely resigned to death and taxes, they have an affinity to anything uncertain. Such disorder as you find in the Republican Party of the moment is anathema to liberal sensibilities. Thus the storyline about sensible and moderate Republicans striving to stave off their more unruly colleagues will prevail, at least until the general election when those previously more sensible and moderate types are also portrayed as right-wing crazies, and the inevitability of Clinton’s scandal-plagued candidacy will be offered in soothing contrast, unless new marching orders are given on behalf of gaffe-prone Vice President Joe Biden. They might even pull it off, but it seems a hard shot.
Clinton’s poll numbers should go down as a result of the facts of the Benghazi tragedy, as well as the e-mail scandal that is closely related and all the other scandals she’s become involved in over her 30 years or so in the public eye, and we expect that will be more on the public’s mind come Election Day ’16 and that an in-artful attempt to placate a conservative cable television host by a little-remembered loser in a House Speaker will be long forgotten. Unless the Republicans wind up picking someone just awful as the Speaker of the House the whole episode will only be recalled by the most obsessive news-readers. Someone just awful is a possibility, of course, given the Republicans’ history, but it doesn’t seem likely. The most extreme conservative they might pick would still be on the winning side of all the big issues, the squishiest moderate they might wind up with
would still be far better than the last Democratic Speaker of the House, who was as far-left as a liberal might hope for and wound up giving the Republicans their problematic majority, and in any case some other issue will decide the next round of presidential and congressional elections.
There’s also faint hope the Republicans might do something right, and pick someone who can rally conservative support without provoking any futile confrontations with political reality. The name of Rep. Paul Ryan, who was once such a conservative hero that presidential nominee Mitt Romney picked him as a running to placate the base, but who has since become tarred with the “establishment” label, but he’s reportedly not interested in the job, which speaks well of him, and we have to assume that there’s someone in that Republican majority that’s up to the task. If they dispense with seniority and reject advice to let the Democrats in on it they could find someone that will help the party on Election Day ’16, and even then his or her name will probably not be widely known. Being obsessive news-readers ourselves, and suckers for any tale of intrigue, we’ll continue to keep abreast of the latest development nonetheless.

— Bud Norman

Paging Dr. Carson

Thus far in this early season of presidential politics we’ve written little about Ben Carson, but now seems as good a time as any to start paying attention to his candidacy. The retired pediatric neurosurgeon, political neophyte, and former long shot is now leading the Republican field in one national poll, quickly catching up to real estate mogul and fellow political neophyte Donald Trump in all the rest, and suddenly looks like a serious contender if not the outright frontrunner.
Which is fine by us. Our most preferred candidates, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, both of whom had impressive records while in office, have already dropped out of the race, the Republican party presently seems intent on nominating someone who has never held public office at all, and among those boasting that odd qualification Carson strikes us as clearly superior to Trump. Former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina also fares well by that admittedly low standard, too, and we’re liking her better with every mainstream media interviewer she slays, and we note that she’s a solid third and rising in all the polls, but today we’re writing about Carson.
So far as we can tell from his rather vague policy pronouncements we are generally in agreement with Carson about the major issues of the day, and on the also important matters of personality and character and electability we are even more impressed. Carson’s campaign vagueness is probably appropriate, given that at this point nobody knows all the minutiae about what the major issues for the first days of a Carson presidency will be, and he’s at least been specific enough to articulate a political philosophy that promises whatever mistakes he might make won’t be the result of a pro-government or anti-American bias. These days we’ll settle for such small favors, and gratefully note that the rest of Carson’s campaign is least as appealing. We suspect it will also appeal to those uninformed folks who comprise the decisive vote in every election, which is arguably the most important argument of them all.
Carson is a cerebral and soft-spoken sort of fellow, which we find a comforting contrast to the emotional and bombastic style of Trump, and it’s proving effective. The pundits have criticized Carson’s performances in the two televised debates, where his meek and mild persona was seemingly lost amid all the blustering back-and-forth between the rest of the candidates, but on both occasions his poll numbers rose afterwards. The great Ray Charles discovered that when they turned down the lights and he lowered his voice to a smoldering rendition of an old Harold Arlen tune the audience listened more intently than it did to even his most rollicking rhythm and blues, and every movie director worth a lick knows that people’s ears are most attuned not to the explosive actions scenes but to the whispered denouements, and Carson seems to have figured out the same time-honored principle. You wouldn’t know it from the Nielsen ratings or the Hollywood box office take or the top 40 on the Billboard charts, but there’s surely still an audience for that.
There’s obviously also an audience for defiantly and unapologetically frank talk, too, but Carson has lately provided plenty of that in his soft-spoken way. He was widely criticized for saying he would not support a Muslim presidential candidate, which those critics disingenuously took to mean that he would impose an unconstitutional religious test on nominees, but given his subsequent poll numbers it would seem that the 95 percent or so of the country that would also not support a Muslim presidential candidate at this particular moment were unconcerned. Those impressive poll numbers have since prompted some of the media to seize on his statement that citizens should respond aggressively to any mass shooting incidents they find themselves in, twisting it into a criticism of the victims of the latest mass shooting, but we don’t expect this will be reflected in the next round of polls. Trump’s fans like to boast that he has triumphantly challenged the media’s politically correct rule that you just can’t say certain correct things about certain politically incorrect issues, and we reluctantly acknowledge that he has, and thereby made some compensating contribution to our political discourse, but we hope they’ll concede that Carson has more quietly done the very same thing.
The press attacks will continue, of course, but they will be complicated. The usual press narrative about any candidate leading the Republican field is that he is either a dithering idiot or diabolical genius, but Carson’s remarkable career and made-for-TV life story render both stories implausible. He was head of pediatric neurosurgery at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University medical center, so the Democrats can’t say it wasn’t brain surgery, because it was, and unless they nominate a pretty darned good rocket scientist they’ll be hard-pressed to say that Carson’s a relative idiot. The evil genius slur will be even harder to pull off, given the heroic and well-verified tales of growing up in poverty with a single mother in poverty and learning to separate joined-at-the-head Siamese twins and without getting rich by the standards of recent Democratic nominees, and the fact that he’s just so darned cerebral and soft-spoken, and if they have to debate him on the issues they’ll be forced to seize the pro-government and anti-American ground.
Carson is black, too, and although it is a testament to his sincerely post-racial candidacy that we’ve neglected to mention that fact until the seventh paragraph it does merit noting. He’s not only black, but has that all-important slave blood and single mother that even the First African-American President (TM) didn’t have. Although Carson admirably does not put this out as a qualification for the presidency, we’ll be so defiantly and unapologetically frank as to say that it will at least further complicate any of the politically correct media efforts to portray him as a dithering idiot or evil genius. If the Democrats don’t nominate The First Female-American President (TM), which is looking increasingly possible, and if the Republicans don’t seize the opportunity instead, which they might, given Fiorina’s strong performance on the campaign trail, the geriatric old white man that does wind up representing the Democratic Party would be the one constrained by political correctness for a change. As much as we detest race- or gender-based calculations, they seem a safer path to the presidency than an emotional and bombastic white guy such as Trump. Throw in the fact that Carson might even draw a few more than usual votes from the Democrats’ essential monolith of black voters, and he’s looking more electable than Trump or any of the others.
Which is not say we’re endorsing Carson. He’s still a bit vague for our policy wonk preferences, Fiorina is still looking better every time she shows up in the news, something in our cautiously conservative temperament likes that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has actually held office, and something in our disgruntled Republican soul likes that he’s been enraging the establishment ever since. There’s still plenty of politics left before the first votes are cast, too, but for now we don’t mind that Carson is doing well.

— Bud Norman

Manliness and Modernity

Although we’re not at all the macho type, and try to maintain a gentlemanly demeanor whenever possible, we can’t fathom the modern aversion to masculinity. We notice it daily, in the stories about schools cracking down on the most traditionally boyish behaviors, in the sit-coms and chick flicks that ridicule regular guy activities, in those Obamacare ads with the cocoa-sipping boy in his pajamas, and in almost every encounter with those bearded and tattooed and yet oh-so-sensitive hipsters at the local dives. We’ve recently come across two articles, however, that take it to an infuriating level.
One was at a newly-discovered web site called The College Fix, which reported on Vanderbilt University’s “Healthy Masculinities Week.” Kicking off the event was a speech by Jackson Katz, apparently the first man to minor in Women’s Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, who showed clips from his film “Tough Guise” and fretted about how the G.I. Joe toys and action movie stars have been flexing ever big arms. There was also a screening of the film “The Mask You Live In,” which features a former National Football League player warning that “The three most destructive words that every man receives when he’s a boy is when he’s told to ‘be a man.'” There was also a panel on “Maintaining Bro Status,” in which one panelist, ironically named Bill Savage, expressed his contempt for the phrases “man up” and “don’t be a pussy.” Other panels addressed such topics as “Masc 4 Masc: Policing Masculine Identity in the Gay and Bi Communities,” and “Masculinity XXL: The Portrayal of Manhood in ‘Magic Mike.'”
One shudders to think how the famously rough-and-tumble Cornelius Vanderbilt, eponymous founder of a suddenly ridiculous university, might have reacted. We’re certain Vanderbilt would not have fretted that America’s fictional he-men lately have bigger biceps, or that even point guards and other formerly lean athletes are also sporting them, which apparently went unmentioned at the panel but is something peculiar that we’ve noticed the last several basketball seasons, and we expect he would advise the panelists to man up and not be a pussy. This is not to say the southern gentleman and educational philanthropist would be urging rape and pillage and unrestrained flatulence and similar sorts of fraternity hijinks, just that he wasn’t the sort to advise not being a man and being a pussy. There is a middle ground, in our experience, and by our reckoning Vanderbilt occupied that area better than any of the panelists at his namesake university.
We can’t even guess what the late Col. Vanderbilt might have thought about policing masculine identity in the gay and bi communities, or that illiterate “Masc 4 Masc” in the title, and we’re not even sure what we think about that. If the panelists are talking about banishing all the bulging biceps and leather-jacketed machismo in those Tom of Finland cartoons that all our homosexual friends seem to adore, we suspect the gay and bi communities will respond by manning up and not being pussies. Although we haven’t seen “Magic Mike,” and can’t comment on whether it promotes an XXL or otherwise unhealthy masculinity, we are given to understand that it’s about a male ecdysiast whose bulging biceps and otherwise buff physique make him wildly popular with a female audience, which seems plausible enough. All sorts of people seem to like bulging biceps, and it’s going to take a lot of hectoring from academic panels to change that.
One can always count on The New York Times to help with the effort, though, and it’s latest contribution is a list of “27 Ways to Be a Modern Man.” Not all of them are awful, and we even rather like the idea that “The modern man won’t blow 10 minutes of his life looking for the best parking spot,” and “The modern man uses the proper names for things,” and although we’re not familiar enough the terminology to be sure we also like the sound of “The modern man has never ‘pinned’ a tweet, and he never will.” Most of the rest is pure bosh, though. We’ll not argue with the part about knowing a spouse’s shoe size or showing consideration for one’s fellow movie-goers, even if the former does seem a bit excessive and the later is merely common courtesy, but other rules for the modern man are far more modern than manly. “The modern man listens to Wu-Tang at least once a week,” for instance, or “The modern man has thought seriously about buying a shoehorn.” The modern man also has a melon baller and all of Michael Mann’s films on Blu-Ray, prefers daughters to sons, re-charges his wife’s batteries and buys her flowers for reasons other than special occasions or apologies, makes sure the dishes are dry before putting them in the cabinet, and otherwise act in a manner that the pre-modern man described as “whipped.”
The New York Times’ version of the modern man sleeps on the side of the bed closer to the door in order to protect his spouse from an intruder, but its 25th rule is that “The modern man has no use for a gun. He doesn’t own one, and never will.” In this case we hope the modern man has some awesomely bulging biceps to deal with that intruder, who probably doesn’t read the Gray Lady and is old-fashioned enough to be carrying a firearm. We’re also told that “The modern man cries. He cries often,” and that “On occasion, the modern is the little spoon. Some nights, when he is feeling down or vulnerable, he needs an emotional and physical shield.” The modern man will presumably hope that won’t occur on the night an armed intruder enters his marital bedroom, but if it does he’ll be entitled to a good cry.
So much for modernity. Say what you will about the old-fashioned variety of manliness, but back in the bad old pre-sexual revolution days no one was complaining about a “culture of rape” on the nation’s campuses. The dad of yesteryear might not have been checking the dryness of the dishes he’d done or buying melon ballers, but it was far more uncommon to find a home with no father at all. The husband of yesteryear might not have been so solicitous of his wife, but he seems to have suffered a far lower divorce rate. The old notion of manliness also entailed self-reliance, a willingness to defend family and country even if it required a gun, and an instinctive disdain for the pointy-headed drivel that lately emanates from academia and the elite press, so perhaps we can understand the modern aversion to masculinity.

— Bud Norman

Baseball, Politics, and Prognastication

Watching the opinion polls at this point in a presidential race is as pointless as checking the baseball standings in the first few weeks of the season, but we’re the obsessive sort of fans who do both. It’s never too early to start cheering your favorites, in politics or baseball, those early season wins and losses count, and there’s a certain fascination in watching it all play out over time.
At an analogous point in the recently concluded baseball season we were confidently predicting The New York Yankees would outlast The Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles to win the American League East, that The Detroit Tigers would be a in nip-and-tuck race with the Kansas City Royals down to the wire in the Central, and that all that talent on The Los Angeles Angels would eventually prevail in the West. We did slightly better predicting the outcome of the National League races, partly because they’re more predictable and partly because we paid less attention, although we would have never guessed the Chicago Cubs being in the playoffs. Any analysis of the political races is therefore offered with due humility, but we can’t resist a few too-early observations.
There’s a new poll from Iowa indicating that formerly inevitable Hillary Clinton is deep trouble in that first-to-vote and therefore inordinately influential state, and we think it’s predictive of future problems. Although she’s still leading the current field in the primary race, she has less than a majority and her lead over self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has shrunk to 11 points, and when you add the now seemingly inevitable entrance of Vice President Joe Biden into the race it shrinks further to five points. Among all of the state’s registered voters, Clinton is currently enduring a blow-out. Her unfavorable rating is at 59 percent, and after a quarter century in the public eye it’s hard to see how she can turn that around, and she’s losing badly to all of the possible Republican contenders in hypothetical match-ups. She fares worst, interestingly enough, against the former high-tech executive and failed senatorial candidate and equally female Carly Fiorina, who is currently beating her by a 52-38 margin.
A lawyer friend of ours who’s a Democrat by profession and a Kansas City Royals fan by vocation always bets on the money and brand name, and is convinced that whatever candidate has the biggest campaign chest and most recognizable name will always prevail, and that his beloved small-market ball club will always be denied its due by some evil free-agent-laden franchise from the bigger, badder cities and their capitalist ways. This is the way to bet, as Ring Lardner would have put it, so there’s no denying our friend right is more often than wrong, but his gal Clinton is looking a lot like one of the exceptions to the rule. We’ve rooted for The New York Yankees long enough to know that money and brand name don’t always translate into performance on the field, and Clinton’s game thus far has not been up to a self-described socialist and Vermont senator or an as-yet-undeclared Vice President Joe Biden, or even a trio of Republican political neophytes or a smattering of Republicans who have actually held public office but might be sufficiently anti-establishment to satisfy the party’s ravenous base. Throw in the fact that Sanders is reportedly raising even more money than Clinton, and with a far broader base of admittedly less well-heeled donors, and is drawing crowds that exceed the big rock star tour that candidate Barack Obama headlined back in ’08, and Sanders is looking like one of those small-market contenders that occasionally win the title.
Another prediction offered with due humility is that Biden will get into the race, and with the implicit or explicit endorsement of President Barack Obama, thus garnering all the dwindling yet still significant-voters within-the-Democratic-Party that entails, as well as the significant organizational and fund-raising benefits that go along with it, and that he’ll mostly draw his support from Clinton. We’ve seen exactly one Clinton bumper sticker, which was somehow sitting outside the local grocery store, but at all the culture-vulture and hipster events we attend there are far more Sanders ’16 buttons. The Sanders constituency seems to genuinely like the guy, the Clinton supporters seem to be betting on money and name recognition, and even this early on it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is one of those exceptions to the rules.
The rules seem to be enforced with the now usual disregard on the Republican side, as well, where the buffoonish billionaire and political neophyte Donald Trump is still leading what was once thought a strong field. That’s still true in that same Iowa poll that showed Clinton in trouble, although his lead has been whittled down by retired neurosurgeon and fellow political neophyte Ben Carson, with that pesky female Fiorina in third place and within striking distance. We can’t help noticing a newer poll that shows the soft-spoken and humble Carson ahead of the brusque and self-aggrandizing Trump, through, and we take that as a hopeful trend. Trump seems to have already hit that part of the season where that .600 average inevitably starts to run up against gravitational forces, and the same faith we place in both the Republican Party and the American League gives us hope he won’t make the finals. We’ll take Carson over Trump any day, and we’re liking Fiorina better all the time, even if she has to run against some old white guy, but we’re still holding out hope for someone who has actually held office, and it looks to be an interesting race.
Baseball’s post-season should prove interesting, as well. Our New York Yankees, for all their money and brand name and free-agent-laden roster, are down to one game against a Houston Astros squad we never expected. They’ve got the home field advantage, at least, which would have meant an automatic slot in the quarterfinals before this newfangled socialistic system, and in any case we expect it to come down to the small market Royals and Toronto Blue Jays, and despite a one-game deficit over the regular season the Blue Jays suddenly seem the team to beat, and we won’t wager any actual money on how it turns out. Over on the National League side The St. Louis Cardinals seem the way to bet, but that doesn’t always work out. At this point, out best advice for politics and baseball is to stay tuned.

— Bud Norman

The Cultural Contradictions of Liberalism

There was another mass shooting in another “gun free zone” last week, so of course there is the usual clamoring for more restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. This time around the President of the United States has gone so far as to praise the gun laws of Australia and Great Britain, where the right to keep and bear arms has essentially been revoked altogether, and we were once again reminded of the strangely contradictory logic of modern liberalism.
The smart fellows over at Powerlineblog.com smartly observed that the same president who sneers it would be absurd to even contemplate rounding up and deporting an estimated 11 million or so illegal immigrants is now suggesting the country emulate laws that would involve rounding up and confiscating an estimated 350 million presently legal firearms. We are told by open borders advocates that rounding up and deporting so many illegal aliens would require not only a police state but a society of snitches and would foment open rebellion, and we take their argument seriously even as we insist on some level of enforcement of the immigration laws, yet they offer only a condescending chuckle in rebuttal to the argument that rounding up a far greater number of weapons from law-abiding citizens long accustomed to exercising their constitutional and God-given rights to self-defense might raise similar concerns. We’ve known enough gun-owners during our long life on the plains to understand that all that talk about prying guns out of cold, dead hands isn’t just bumper sticker braggadocio, and in the circles we run in we’ve also met enough anti-gun zealots to know they’d happily cooperate with whatever police state was required to satisfy their bien pensant souls, and on the whole we think it would be a far messier project than enforcing a border, but somehow the more liberal eye sees it otherwise.
Similar contradictions occur elsewhere in the immigration debate. We’re always struck that the same people who decry the incurable racism and xenophobia of American society are the ones assuring us that the introduction of tens of millions of foreigners into a rotten-to-the-core country, at an unprecedented rate that currently exceeds the number of jobs being created by a debt-laden economy, will prove no problem at all. Although we don’t share the same low regard for our fellow countrymen, most of whom seem to be enjoying all the excellent authentic Mexican and Asian restaurants that are suddenly flourishing in our town, and otherwise getting along with everyone reasonably well, we do understand human nature well enough to worry about how two separate cultures might co-exist within the same space. In our extensive reading of history we haven’t encountered any previous occasions when this occurred, but we’re aware that modern liberals tend to get their history from other books.
The immigration debate has lately been enlivened about what to do with the mass of reggaes fleeing the outbreaks of war in the Middle East, where the president is boasting about the peace he has wrought, and the same people who decry the incurable sexism and homophobia of American society are insisting that our allegedly Judeo-Christian culture can bring in tens of thousands of people from cultures that don’t allow women to feel sunlight on their faces and toss and homosexuals off tall buildings without any ensuing cultural conflicts. This is also with precedent, of course, and will strike anyone other than a doctrinaire liberal as unlikely.
All the rest of that blather about about the racist and sexist and homophobic nature and the moral equivalence of societies that condone slavery and forced genital mutilation of women and toss homosexuals off tall buildings seems rather contradictory, too. We can think of other examples of the mutually exclusive arguments offered by modern liberalism, but the hour is growing is late and at this point we’ll be satisfied if the latest gun-grabbing proposals are easily repelled as the more modest proposals that were put forth after the last mass shooting. The latest mass-shooting was by a mixed-race nutcase with an apparent animus toward Christians, so there’s little chance we’ll be having one of those “national conversations” about anything else.

— Bud Norman