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Public Issues, Personal Problems

The big story in the news these days is the congressional Democrats’ determination to thoroughly investigate every aspect of President Donald Trump’s campaign and transition team and inauguration committee and subsequent administration and the various businesses he still wholly owns, and Trump’s determination to thwart them at every turn. Alas, at the moment we’re too darned tired to keep up with all the sordid details.
Most weeks of the year we obsessively follow these sorts of things, and have plenty to say about it, but today and for the rest of the week there’s the Gridiron Show. The Gridiron Show is the local media’s annual satirical song-and-dance-and sketch revue to raise money for journalism scholarships, and for the past 25 years we’ve written and acted in a few of the sketches. We have no interest in raising money for journalism scholarships, and in fact consider it contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but we usually get some laughs that are almost worth the effort. None of our offbeat and discordantly dryly witty bits ever involves singing or dancing, as nobody wants to hear or see us doing that, but after so many years we’ve nonetheless found the rehearsal schedule exhausting.
You’re probably more enviously preoccupied, dear reader, so we can easily forgive you if you’re not fully apprised of all the damning charges and countercharges that flinging around the news these days. Even so we don’t want you to warn away from participating in any local amateur theatrics that might welcome you, as you’ll likely make friends and get some much-needed laughs along the way, yet we encourage you to keep watching the news. This looming Constitutional showdown between the damned Democrats and that awful Trump seems one of those important public issues that require time out from even the busiest personal lives, so we’ll try to get back to that on this damnably busy Thursday.
At worst, we figure we’ll get a good satirical sketch out of it if we do the Gridiron Show next year.

— Bud Norman

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Trump Versus Twitter

President Donald Trump met with head “Twitter” honcho Jack Dorsey on Tuesday, and it made for a lively discussion. According a a “tweet” from “Twitter” the two were to talk about “protecting the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 election and efforts underway to respond the opioid crisis,” but much of it was reportedly spent with Trump’s gripes about his favorite way of speaking directly to the public.
Trump’s battles with the old-fashioned print and broadcast media are well known, but he’s also been picking fights with all the newfangled social media and the rest of the internet industry. He’s accused Facebook of suppressing his supporters’ voices, charged the Google search engine with directing its users to unfavorable stories, and told reporters that the government “might have to do something about it.” He’s now complaining that the number of his “Twitter” “followers,” who automatically see Trump’s “tweets” on their computers or tablets or smart phones or whatever other kind of device they’ve devised, is lately falling.
Trump takes his crowd sizes and poll numbers and television ratings “Twitter” following personally, so we can imagine he was none too pleased, and implying that he would do something about it. Dorsey, a slim and bearded and hippy-looking of typical Silicon Valley youthfulness, who despite having more billions in net worth than Trump probably has was unable to purchase a neck tie for his Oval Office meeting, did not seem intimidated in videos and photographs the old media printed and broadcast.
Dorsey had reasons for Trump’s declining numbers that had nothing to do with political bias, and so far as we can tell, given our considerable ignorance about how this internet thingamajig works, they’re persuasive. He explains that the company routinely reviews the followers of all its “tweeters” to remove fraudulent “spam” accounts, partly to ensure its advertisers that the numbers are real and partly to guard against foreign meddling in the vast political conservation that “Twitter” plays an outsized role in. That might only persuade Trump to rail further against the practice, but at this point Dorsey is probably more intimidated by his paying customers and the Congressional oversight committee looking into foreign meddling and other Trump-related internet issues.
Trump is unlikely to “tweet” that the government should shut down “Twitter,” and this hippy-dippy billionaire Dorsey fellow has no incentive to run afoul of any branch of the government. He’s met with several right wing figures with complaints of censorship, which has angered left wing “Twitter” users who clamor for censorship, but he’s also allied with Facebook and Google and the rest of Silicon Valley’s Big Social Media.
Besides, Dorsey can plausibly figure that Trump needs “Twitter” more than “Twitter” needs Trump. The president has made “Twitter” famous, but it was already famous when Trump started “tweeting.” With some 60 million followers still logged in Trump is an even bigger draw than any of the athletes or musicians or movie stars on the platform, but for now he doesn’t have a better way to speak directly to those 60 million presumably real people without the mainstream media’s annoying edits and annotations. “Twitter” is the perfect medium for short attention span readers who enjoy a good schoolyard taunt and bully boy rhetoric and don’t mind the misspellings and improper punctuation, and we notice that Trump — or @realDonaldTrump” as he’s known to his followers — was uncharacteristically restrained in “tweeting” about “Twitter.”
“Great meeting this afternoon at the @WhiteHouse with @Jack from @Twitter,” Trump “tweeted.” “Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general. Look forward to keeping an open dialogue!”
Which sounds very chummy, and might well be, and if so that would probably be for the best. Even if all those damnable @’s and other internet gibberish are painful to our Gutenberg-era eyes, this internet thingamajig is how we’re communicating with you at this moment, so we hope this newfangled idea somehow endures through the old-fashioned principles of the First Amendment and free markets. If that means Trump keeps on “tweeting,” and so do all his equally illiterate and bully boy critics, so be it.

— Bud Norman

The Modern Age of the Smack-down Easter Bunny

Monday’s news was mostly dull, with the stock markets mixed and the Democrats holding off on impeachment but promising some downright colonoscopy-level investigations of President Donald Trump, but there was that viral video of the Easter Bunny smacking some guy around the sidewalk outside a night club. If you’re among the rare people who haven’t see yet it we recommend you take a look, as it’s really something to see.
The brawl took place on Easter Sunday in Florida, the nation’s leading supplier of weird stories and viral videos. Like most viral videos there’s no telling how it started or ended, and the south Florida news media doesn’t seem to have come up with any more details, but we can speculate.
The video begins with some guy scuffling with some woman outside the nightclub, and although she seemed to be getting the best of it some guy in an Easter Bunny costume — we assume it’s a guy — came chivalrously to her defense. With a crowd of onlookers and video-takers cheering, and the woman taking a chokehold on her combatant, the rather buff Easter Bunny raining down a series of blows. The fellow is taking quite a beating, with one onlooker shouting “Beat his ass, Easter Bunny,” and another commenting that “Easter Bunny’s got it goin’ on,” when a nearby law enforcement officer shows up to separate the three. The video ends with the man sitting on the sidewalk, the officer trying to calm the woman, the Easter Bunny thumping his chest, and the crowd still cheering.
Florida’s newspapers and television stations were once famous for getting the story, but so far they haven’t identified the fellow in the bunny outfit, or discovered if any charges were brought against either the man or the woman. The officer might have decided that both the man and the woman started what looked to be a fair fight, and the Easter Bunny was only doing his civic duty, that no one was likely bring charges, so best to just send everyone home and skip the paperwork. It might not even have been the weirdest thing that happened on his beat that night, just the only thing that was videotaped and went viral.
Even so, we found it a fascinating, almost high art example of  what the high-brow movie critics call cinema verite. Aside from the surreal comedy of the Easter Bunny laying some smack down on a sidewalk to the amusement of passersby, we found an all to real slice of contemporary American life. Our politics and popular music and comic book movies are all about the crowd-pleasing smack down these days, with no plausible beginnings and no satisfactory endings, and there’s no reason the Easter Bunny shouldn’t get in on the fun.

— Bud Norman

Celebrities, Populists, and Celebrity Populists

Ukraine has apparently elected a populist celebrity with no previous political experience as its president, and we hope it works out better for them than it has for Italy, Guatemala, Peru, Liberia, Pakistan, the United States of America, and the other countries that have recently made similar choices.
The Ukrainian president-elect is Volodymyr Zelensky, a 41-year-old comedian best known for his starring role on the hit Ukrainian sitcom “Servant of the People,” about a comedian who somehow becomes president of Ukraine. We eagerly anticipate the English-dubbed version showing up on Netflix, as it’s apparently a compelling show. From what we can tell by the press accounts Zelensky’s character is constantly doing battle with the country’s entrenched and corrupt establishment, and although he doesn’t necessarily win he at least gets some humorous insults in, and according to a prominent Ukrainian political observer quoted in The Washington Post “People are voting for the plot of the show.”
None of the western press reports about the election say much about Zelennsky’s opponent, who might well have been just as awful as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the last American election, but it still strikes us as a fanciful choice. Zelensky will likely get some zingers in during his time in office, and his fans will surely love it, but recent experience indicates that only does so much good for a country.
Italy elected comedian Beppe Grillo as its leader, and although he’s gotten a lot of laughs the country is still the same corruption-ridden economic basket case it’s been for the past 100 years or so. Previously the Italians had elected multi-billionaire media mogul and crusading populist Silvio Berlusconi, but his several terms were frequently interrupted by indictments and convictions on various corruption charges, which majorities of the Italian people didn’t mind given his crusading anti-corruption populism.
In 2015 Guatemala elected anti-corruption comedian Jimmy Morales, who had also starred in a hit comedy about a comedian becoming president, but the country remained so violent and impoverished that a troublesome segment of its population is currently seeking aslyum in the United States. Liberia elected a popular soccer star, Pakistan elected a cricket star who’d become a national hero by leading the country to its only world championship, but neither has proved nearly so successful in playing the more complicated game of governance.
Once upon a time in America we could have rolled our eyes at such Third World craziness, but in the age of President Donald Trump’s we have no standing to sneer. Trump was elected by an electoral majority without any previous political experience partly because of his much-bragged about yet frequently-bankrupt business career, partly because he’d portrayed a tough-talking take-charge “you’re fired” businessman on the reality show “The Apprentice,” partly because he promised to use that experience to “drain the swamp,” and mostly because he had the good fortune to be running against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, who was arguably almost as corrupt.
Despite his political inexperience Trump has kept the American economy chugging along the same slow upward trajectory it was on when he elected, and during the two years his party controlled both chambers of Congress he won a budget-busting tax bill and installed a couple of conservative Supreme Court justices that any old establishment Republican would have championed, but mostly his fans love him for the zingers he gets in.
The people in the red “Make America Great Again” ball caps find Trump’s current hit reality show downright hilarious, but we admit we just don’t get it. They loved it when Trump mocked a reporter’s degenerative muscle disease, but it reminded of us how the kids at our elementary school laughed at the playground bullies’ mocking of the handicapped students, and they thought it funny that Trump called his Democratic nemesis Rep. Adam Schiff “Little Adam Shitt” in a “tweet,” but we thought it juvenile and vulgar and far beneath the dignity of the American presidency. A friend of our complains that the stuffily literal media took Trump seriously when he hilariously requested the Russian government to hack Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump himself has won laughs from his rally crowds by recalling how he said that during a raucous campaign rally where everyone was laughing and in on the joke, but in fact he said it at a somber press conference, where reporters pressed him to verify that he wasn’t joking, and the Mueller report makes clear that the Russian government didn’t get Trump’s sense of humor and attempted to hack the Clinton e-mails that same day.
Call us old-fashioned, but we preferred the more sly and subtle and profanity-free wits of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. These days much of America is so contemptuous of its fellow citizens on the opposite side of the political divide that it will happily settle for even the most puerile zingers, though, and hold out little hold that our differences can be reconciled through civil and reason debate. Apparently much of the rest of the Third and second and First Worlds have reached the same desultory state.
Here’s hoping it works out better for Ukraine than it has elsewhere. Zelensky is reportedly pro-NATO and anti-Russian, which is more than we can say for Trump, so we wish him the best of luck with that. Besides, for all we know the other candidate was arguably even more awful.
Even so, and at the risk of being called old-fashioned, we think there’s still something to be said for seasoned public servants making serious and fact-based arguments in a civil and reasoned debate. Maybe someone should make a show about that, but it probably wouldn’t get big ratings.

— Bud Norman

The Mueller Report and Its Thus Far Inconclusive Findings

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into the “Russia thing” has proved disappointing to President Donald Trump’s critics, as it didn’t recommend any criminal charges be filed against Trump. On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard supporters have some explaining to do.
The 448-page report confirms the findings of all of America’s intelligence agencies that the Russian government tried to tilt the last presidential election in Trump’s favor, which is no surprise given that it won an indictment of 13 specific Russian operatives. Trump continues to take Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word that it must have been some other country — or perhaps some 400-pound guy sitting in his bed — who hacked the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails and coordinated an internet disinformation campaign and attempted to sabotage state voting systems, and that requires some explanation. A nation also anxiously awaits Trump’s explanation for why his administration has taken no measures whatsoever to prevent foreign interference in an American presidential election from happening again.
Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge Trump or his campaign with conspiring with those Russian efforts, so Trump and his supporters are entitled to gloat about that, but the report also cites convincing evidence that the Trump and his top campaign officials knew about the Russian effort, welcomed the assistance, repeatedly lied about its contacts with Russian officials, which has already resulted in guilty pleas and guilty verdicts against Trump’s campaign chairman and national security advisor personal lawyer, and that Trump himself lied to the American public during the Republican primary race about his business dealings in Russia.
This might not amount to a federal conspiracy case, as the special counsel’s “witch hunt” seems to have reluctantly concluded, but it doesn’t look good.
The report also declined to charge Trump with obstructing justice during the special counsel investigation, but as Trump’s carefully chosen Attorney General William Bar admitted in his four-page version of the 448-page report “it also does not exonerate him.” Mueller was a well-regarded director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during both Republican and Democratic administrations, and he’s the sort of stickler for the rules who followed a Justice Department guideline against indicting sitting presidents, his report notes that the Congress is constitutionally allowed to decide what constitutes an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor, and it also documents several instances when Trump wanted to obstruct justice but his administration underlings prevented him from doing so. Most of those administration underlings are now long gone, but there’s a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives these days, and they’ll surely be holding hearings and demanding explanations.
Much of the 448-pages of the report are blacked out, as they involve the 14 ongoing criminal cases that were referred to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, and when they eventually come to light they’ll surely requiring some explaining.
Mueller’s punctiliously by-the-book report notes that it’s up to Congress to decide what constitutes impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and seems to suggest that’s an open question requiring Congressional consideration. Our guess is that the feisty Democratic majority in the House will see it one way, but despite a few defections the slim Republican majority the Senate won’t agree by the needed super-majority to remove Trump from office.
By the time Trump runs for reelection in ’20 it probably won’t matter much. Trump’s foes already believe the worst  about him, and Trump’s fans don’t care about anything he might have done to defeat that awful “Crooked” Hillary Clinton last time around. There’s still something to be said for punctiliously sticking the rules, but these days it’s a matter of situational ethics.

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— Bud Norman

Fasten Your Seatbelts, as Today’s News Will Be a Bumpy Ride

Wednesday was a pretty slow news day by recent standards, but today will almost certainly be different. Attorney General William Barr has announced a news conference to discuss the special counsel investigation’s report about the “Russia thing,” a few hours later a reportedly “lightly redacted” version of the 400-page-or-so is scheduled to be revealed, and the resulting arguments about it will surely dominate the conversations on television and newspapers and in bars and dinner tables across the country.
Barr has already released a four-page summary of the report — he doesn’t want anyone to call it a summary, but we can’t think of a suitable synonym — which revealed that the investigation found no proof a conspiracy between the Russian government and the campaign of President Donald Trump, and did not reach a conclusion about obstruction of justice. Ever since Trump has repeatedly claimed complete exoneration by the report, even though Barr’s brief account of the report explicitly said “it also does not exonerate him,” but he’s stepped up up his attacks on the investigators and clearly seems worried about the public getting to read a lightly redacted version of what they came up with.
Some of the investigators have anonymously told The New York Times that Barr’s condensed version painted a too rosy picture of their work, and we expect that despite the light redactions the full 400 pages will give Trump’s critics something to bite into. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani has said he’s preparing a counter-report to the report that supposedly exonerates his client, Attorney General Barr is eager to tell the public what to think about the report before it gets a chance to read it, and Trump and his most strident media allies are openly talking about charging the investigators for treason for writing the report they claim completely vindicates them.
The investigation has already won indictments against 13 Russian nationals for for interfering with the past American presidential in various ways, and indictments and guilty verdicts guilty pleas against Trump’s campaign chairman and co-campaign chairman National Security Advisor and longtime personal lawyer, and various other administration officials have had to revise their security clearance forms to include numerous contacts with Russian officials, but we already know no charges are currently pending against Trump himself. That’s a huge disappointment to to large segment of the population that would prefer to see Trump out of office, but we expect that some congressional Democrats will find some of those vaguely-defined high crimes and misdemeanors that are impeccable.
Trump and his talk radio apologists and other die fans, as well as a few congressional Republicans, will likely find some reason to charge those dastardly investigators with treason, and have them hanged by the neck until they are dead, even if they did completely exonerate The president by declining  to charge Trump himself. The Trumpian right remains enraged by the investigation that they swear exonerates Trump, and it might yet get is revenge.
We’ll see how it  turns out, as Trump likes to say, and for now we haven’t the foggiest idea. The only prediction we can make with any certainty is that he matter won’t be settled  by the end of this day, and that today will nonetheless prove interesting.

— Bud Norman

‘Crazy’ Bernie Sanders, Crazy Like on Fox

More pressing matters kept us from watching independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander’s two-hour “town hall” on the Fox Network Monday night, but despite an infuriatingly busy day of play rehearsal and car troubles on Tuesday we couldn’t help hearing about it. President Donald Trump was apparently watching, as he “tweeted” quite a bit about it.
Trump is usually a big fan of Fox News’ programming, but was quite displeased about it giving Sanders two full hours to make the case for his presidential run. “So weird to watch Crazy Bernie on @FoxNews,” Trump “tweeted,” adding “Not surprisingly, @BretBaier and the ‘audience’ was so smiley and nice. Very strange, and now we have @Donnabrazile?”
In case you’re only a casual fan of the media game, the
@” thing with the missing spaces is newfangled internet lingo, “Crazy Bernie” is Trump’s usual nickname for the duly elected Senator, along with Chris Wallace Bret Baier is one of the few Fox News journalists who occasionally poses hard questions to the Trump administration, and Donna Brazile is the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman recently hired by Fox News to add some balance to its panel debates. The audience Fox News chose for the “town hall” reflected the mix of Republicans and Democrats and independents and right-wingers and left-wingers that make up the swing district in the swing state of Pennsylvania where the broadcast took place, and although it was hardly “so smiley and nice” we can see how it was a bit too civil and fair and balanced for Trump’s tastes.
As old-fashioned Republicans wer’e not at all fans of Sanders’ self-proclaimed socialism, but neither do we care much for Trump, and as old-school newspaper journalists we reckon that Sanders got the best of it.
The town hall was held in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, one of those de-industrialized Rust Belt towns that have been left behind in high-tech and service economy, and a majority of its citizens twice voted for President Barack Obama based on his promises of a futuristic revival, and when that predictably pan out a majority voted for President Donald Trump’s promises turn back time to the good old days of his steel-making and coal-mining and less-Mexican youth. Now that those promises are predictably proving hard to keep, the district and the state’s sizable and potentially crucial 20 electoral votes are one again up for grabs. Sanders’ unabashed tax-and-spend and even more-socialistic-than-Obama shtick almost certainly won’t work out well for the people of Bethlehem, but they’ve already fallen for both Obama’s pie-in-the-sky futurism and Trump’s for Technicolor promise to turn back the clock to the good old days of hard and sweaty and life-shortening labor in the steel mills and coal mines, and “Crazy Bernie” might well convince them he couldn’t do worse.
Sanders was shrewd enough to not describe those Rust Belt Obama-voters-turned-Trump-voters as racist “deplorables,” as the last Democratic presidential nominee stupidly did, and he emphasized his policy disagreements with Trump more than the president’s undeniable character flaws and countless scandals. Sanders has his own character questions and political scandals, including an out-of-wedlock son he recently declined to endorse in a Vermont political race, and a wife who runs a currently bankrupt college, but in an age when the sitting president is a boastfully adulterous womanizer who apparently cheated on his nude-model third wife a porn star, and an openly homosexual mid-sized city mayor is climbing in the Democratic primary polls, that sort of old-fashioned stuff doesn’t seem to matter much.
At times got Sanders got some big applause from all segments on the Bethlehem audience, at other times he got some boos and hisses, so we can well understand why Trump didn’t like what Fox News was doing. He’s come to rely on the highly-rated Fox News network for unceasing hosannas, is understandably perplexed why they should hand over two hours of prime time to someone who could very well beat him the crucial state of Pennsylvania, and why they should fine air time for that awful Brazile woman. As old-fashioned Republicans we can empathize, but as old-school newspaper journalists we have no problem with how Fox News handled it.
As crazy as he quite arguably is, Sanders is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination, and seems to have a good chance of knocking off Trump in Pennsylvania and the rest of the Electoral College next time around, so that’s a solid reason for Fox News or any other journalistic outlet to grant him a couple of hours to expound his crazy ideas. Bret Baier and his co-host did ask some pretty tough questions, and if they were civil if not quite “smiley and nice” about it, that doesn’t bother us a bit.
One of the other character questions about Sanders is that the self-proclaimed scourge of the millionaires and billionaire and 1 percent has learned more than a million dollars over the past two years, putting him well into hated 1 percent, so the self-proclaimed billionaire of course “tweeted” about that hypocrisy, given that Sanders got a huge break from Trump’s tax reform bill. Trump should have noticed that even Brett Baier asked about that, and that Sanders accurately responded he’d voted against the bill. We’re no fans of Sanders’ soak-the-rich socialism, nor Trump’s wildly overstated tax cuts that worked out best for the wealthy, but we have to admit that Sanders voted against the bill and his self-interests and seems to have the courage of his quite arguably crazy convictions, which is more than we can say for Trump and whatever convictions he’s espousing today.
There’s been some grumbling among the Democrats that Sanders would boostt ratings in two highly-rated hours for the hated Fox News, and the Democratic National Committee has determined that none of its primary debates will be aired on the network. Most Republican politicians these days are similarly wary of the Cable News Network and MSNBC and the rest of the widely-watched broadcast and cable and print media, but they’d probably do well to follow Sanders’ example and wade into enemy territory. They won’t find a nice and smiley audience, to be sure, and there are likely hard questions to be asked, but it will likely be at least civil, and we still hold out hope an old-fashioned Republican who doesn’t make grandiose promises should be able to make a persuasive case to at least some of those people in such crucial places as Bethlehem.
In an ideal world there’d be an old-fashioned Republican party telling the white underclass what its been telling the brown and black underclass for decades, that it needs to get off its lazy ass and relocate and reinvent itself for the modern economy, but that now seems unlikely, and the damned Democrats don’t have anything better to offer. For now we have little regard for either side of the political divide, but we still hold out hope that a free and open press might somehow hold the center.

— Bud Norman

A Church Burns Down, and Perhaps Rebuilds

The fire that did “colossal damage” to Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral dominated the news on Monday, and although we were disheartened by the tragedy we took some hope in that fact that at least respectful attention was being paid. The Notre Dame Cathedral was one of those glorious relics of western civilization and the Christian faith that for so long sustained it, and it’s good to see people still care about that.
The fire destroyed all the wood in the guts of the more-than-700-year-old building, including the iconic spire that topped its masterpiece architecture, but its stone base is reportedly still intact, and French President Emmanuel Macron has said that “I tell you solemnly tonight: We will rebuild this cathedral.” He added that “Notre Dame of Paris is our history. The epicenter of our lives. It’s the many books, the paintings, those that belong to all French men and French women, and even those who’ve never come.” We found his words encouraging, but they couldn’t quite convince us that the modern world can ever fully restore anything to the glory of the old world.
The Notre Dame Cathedral was built by the fervently Christian France of the 14th Century to the glory of God, and the secularized French people of the 21st Century will rebuild it as a tourist attraction and a monument to the glory of France. The modern world has some very amazing gizmos, and can perform astounding acts of engineering, but it can’t make up for that soulful difference.
There are many aesthetic theories to explain the ironic and rigorously logical and up-to-date appeal of modern architecture, but they cannot persuade us to abandon our preference for the older buildings. That’s true here in Wichita, where they’ve lately been building very fashionable structures, but the best of it is still the old County Courthouse and the Carnegie Library and the fabulous old City Hall and Scottish Rite Temple by the great Proudfoot and Bird and the rest of the stone structures that might survive a fire, and it’s true pretty much everywhere we go. Our only brief European travels have been in Ireland and Great Britain, but the old stuff was better there, too, and everyone we know who’s more widely travelled abroad went in search of the old rather than new.
There are also cases to be made for the modern books and paintings and the rest of the culture that Macron is rightly concerned with, and the modern world has also wrought such new art forms as cinema and “internet memes,” but even the most enthusiastic critics acknowledge a certain soullessness. Modernity has largely abandoned the very concept of the soul, and is too enlightened to imbue its art with that sense of awe at what mankind could hope to derive from God’s truth and beauty that those primitive Christians once had.
Most of the coverage focused on the loss of a historic Gothic architecture masterpiece in the heart of Paris, but it was also occasionally mentioned that it was a house of worship that burned down Holy Week. Any old place where people have gathered to worship is God is sanctified as far as we’re concerned, and we reckon its loss is a loss to humanity.
In Mark Twain’s brilliantly scathing travelogue “Innocents Abroad” he describes a group of American tourists marveling at the beautiful cathedrals of Europe, and posits a strong argument that the congregants would have done better to upgrade all the dilapidated homes that surrounded their church. We’re member of a protestant denomination at the opposite side of the low-church-high-church side of Christianity from Catholicism, a group which actually prides itself on its very plain buildings that never cost of any its members needed home repairs, so we’re sympathetic to Twain’s atheistic argument, but we wish he could have appreciated the beauty of a church.
Our dwindling congregation over in the rough Delano district has a very attractive Depression-era brick-and-stone castle-looking building, but lately has been meeting in the newly-built annex where we’re seated closer together, and there’s another Church of Christ down south in Peck next door to a hippie friend of ours that’s a gorgeously humble Norman Rockwell white clapboard and looks like a imminent tinderbox given the aging electrical system it probably has. There’s a brown clapboard Foursquare Apostolic Church down the street that might or might not still holding services, so far as we can tell as we pass by, and there’s something quite beautiful about it despite the fading paint.
Despite our low church Protestant upbringing, we’ve always felt a sense of awe at the truth and beauty inside some of those Catholic and Episcopal and Greek Orthodox churches that mere humans built to glorify God. The Cathedral of the Plains up in Victoria, Kansas, and war and church hero Father Kapaun’s old St. John Nupemucene in Pilsen Kansas, and the St. Joseph Catholic Church just around the corner from the West Douglas Church of Christ all inspire the awe of our primitive Christian souls. We’re told that the Notre Dame Cathedral was even more beautiful, so it’s hard to comprehend the loss.
We feel the same respectful feelings for synagogues, mosques, temples, and anywhere else people meet to find God, rather than what’s merely modern, and we mourn anytime they are destroyed. The blaze at Notre Dame was reportedly just one of those things that sometimes happen to 700-year-old buildings, unlike the arson of madmen who routinely burn down synagogues and mosques and temples and the churches where black Christians worship, or even the most just wars that have destroyed countless houses of worship, so we’ll take some comfort in that.
The stone structure of the Cathedral of Notre Dame has reportedly survived, so with the help of the government and its dwindling congregation the church might yet be rebuilt. The hellfire of modernity has pretty much gutted the wooden frame of the church universal, but it also has a rock-solid foundation, so during this Holy Week we hold out hope for a renaissance.

— Bud Norman

Politics is Down-Sewer From the Culture

On a slow news weekend The Washington Post tends to feature stories about contemporary popular culture, and they always make us feel old and out of touch. The paper’s weekly update about Saturday Night Live’s opening sketch mentioned someone named Tekashi 6ix9ine, along with actress Lori Loughlin, whose name we learned only after she was arrested in that big deal college admissions scandal, and lawyer Michael Avanatti, who of course is best known for representing pornographic video performer Stormy Daniels, whom we’d never heard of until she broke her nondisclosure agreement with President Donald Trump.
Judging by the Post’s extensive coverage, we’re apparently the only people in America who don’t watch “Game of Thrones,” and despite our lifelong literary bent it had not previously occurred to us wonder where’s the great millennial novel. The contemporary popular culture questions on “Jeopardy!” almost always stump us, and we can’t converse much with the under-40 set about anything but politics, sports, and the weather.
Our mostly disgruntled younger friends assure us that we’re not missing out on much, and based on our occasional and brief encounters with the contemporary popular culture we tend to believe them. We looked into this Tekashi 6ix9ine fellow — apparently that last name is pronounced “six-nine,” but spelled according to modern educational standards — and we’re told by Wikipedia that “His musical career has been marked by an aggressive style of rapping, while his controversial public persona is characterized by his distinctive rainbow-colored hair, excessive tattoos, public feuds with fellow celebrities, and legal issues.” Given all the great Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee and Hank Williams and Duke Ellington and Ramones records and other great American music in our extensive collection, we saw no reason to look any further.
Although we took a sociological interest in the big college admissions scandal we didn’t bother to investigate Loughlin’s work, as she’s apparently mostly starred in sit-coms and cable channel movies we’e never heard of. For reasons solely related to our political punditry we checked out a couple of Stormy Daniels’ performances, and you can go right ahead and call us old-fashioned, but all we can say is that she’s no Hyapatia Lee. People seem to like “Game of Thrones,” which we’re told features a lot of nudity and violence, but we’re not about to pay cable bills to see that when there’s so much of it for free on the internet. As for the awaited great millennial novel, we’d advise to the youngsters to read such timeless classics as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” and “The Things That are Caesar’s.”
Although the current popular culture doesn’t provide any refuge from the current politics, we suppose we should be paying more attention. Cultural conservatives have long said that “politics is downstream from culture,” and way back in in the ’72 Pat Buchanan was rightly observing that President Richard Nixon had won the election but lost the culture to the dirty hippies, and the downward trend seems to continue. We fear to see where it might go next, but probably out to take a look through our slightly opened fingers. Something eerily parallel does seem to be going on.
The current President of the United States was previously a star of one of those wretched reality shows, and much like that 6ix9ine fellow he has an aggressive stye of rapping and a flamboyantly weird hairstyle and a weird way of spelling words, and although he doesn’t have any tattoos we’re aware of his controversial public persona is clearly characterized by feuds with fellow celebrities and legal issues. We’d also note that Trump is the main reason Stormy Daniels is now a household, with countless husbands and horny high school students nervously erasing their search engine history. Except for the soft-core porno photos of the First Lady that are just a few clicks away on the internet the Trump presidency the Trump presidency has been blessedly free of nudity, but the president does seem to relish violence, and a lot of the more high-brow critics are claiming that “Game of Thrones” is a metaphor for our times. Nobody seems to read books anymore, and that notably includes the President of the United States, so even if the great millennial novel does appear it probably won’t make much difference.
That’s just the sorry state of the political right, too, and we shudder to think about what the political left that has been cheering on the decline of American culture since at least the ’60s might wind up nominating. We’ll keep listening to Bing Crosby’s crooning and watching Frank Capra’s sappy cinematic tributes to small-town Americana, and hope for a comeback of the more dignified American style of politics it fostered.

— Bud Norman

At Long Last, Assange’s Arrest

Julian Assange has gone from left wing hero to right wing hero to an arrestee of the United Kingdom awaiting extradition to the United States, where there’s no telling what might happen to him next.
By now you probably know that Assange is the founder and publisher and editor and seemingly the only employee of the Wikileaks web site, which has won a worldwide readership by exposing documents illegally obtained from governments around the world. Way back in ’10 he published a trove of documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq obtained from Army Private Bradley Manning, who somehow had access to the material that exposed to American allies and tactics to the enemy, and has since had government-paid sex change surgery and become Chelsea Manning while serving a 35-year prison sentence. Of course he or she became such a cause celebre on the left that his or her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama, which of course outraged everyone on the right.
In ’16 Wikileaks published a trove of illegally hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee that proved embarrassing for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, which might or might not have been but almost certainly were obtained from the Russian government, and at that point the left disavowed Assange and a strange new right embraced him. “I love Wikileaks,” Republican presidential nominee told his enthralled rally crowds, and his apologists were explaining how Assange was no different from The York Times publishing the “Pentagon Papers” about the Vietnam War Daniel Ellsberg had illegally purloined, which the left still celebrates and the right used to consider treason. Trump won the nomination either in spite of or because of his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well the war he draft-dodged in Vietnam, so his embrace of Assange seemed entirely fulsome.
Shortly after becoming a left-wing darling back in ’10 the Swedish government issued a warrant for Assange’s arrest on charges of sexual assault and rape, but Assange claimed he was the victim of a right-wing American plot that the Swedish government was somehow in on and thus gained refuge from the left-wing and anti-American Ecuadorian government at its embassy in the United Kingdom. He’d been stuck inside the building until Thursday, but after Wikileaks recently leaked some documents he was rather brusquely escorted out of the embassy and into the rough arms of the British authorities.
Although we assume that Ecuador’s embassy in London is a pleasant place to be, the years Assange spent entirely inside its walls do not seem to have been unkind. The last photos of Assange showed a rather dashing young fellow with a full head of distinguished wavy white hair, but the video of of him being dragged out showed a crouched and balding fellow with an ugly white beard, clutching a copy of some conspiracy theory book, hardly the sort of heroic figure that either the right or left could embrace.
The Brits plan to turn him over to the Americans, rather than the Swedes, which will surely prove interesting.
The “fake news” National Broadcasting Company has some all-too-real video of Trump praising Wikileaks 141 times at 56 campaign rallies, but on Thursday Trump was telling reporters that “I know nothing about Wikileaks. It’s not my thing. I know there’s something about Julian Assange, I’ve been seeing what happens with Julian Assange. And that will be a determination, I imagine, by the Attorney General.” Meanwhile, Assange’s erstwhile apologists on the left looked almost as ridiculous.
As modestly reluctant as we are to claim the moral high ground, we never did like this Assange fellow. Although we’re free press purists who will defend the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the Wikileaks disclosures revealed the identities of American collaborators who were killed as a result, which was more than the Pentagon paper did and was far more than was necessary to make a case against an arguably unjust American policy, and we think that’s a crucial difference. We never cared much for the Democratic party or its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, but we nonetheless thought it outrageous that someone would illegally hack the party’s e-mails and that her opponent would publicly ask the Russian government to illegally hack her e-mails.
By now Assange is a crouched and balding and white-bearded arrestee with no friends to his right or left, and from our current vantage point on the political sidelines we don’t much care what happens to him, although it will surely take up much news space..

— Bud Norman