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A Tie Score in the Sexual Harassment Game

All the attention on the sexual harassment front Thursday was devoted to Minnesota’s Democratic Sen. Al Franken’s announcement of his upcoming ignominious resignation, which is indeed a riveting tale, but we were more intrigued by the sidebar story about the resignation of Arizona’s Republican Rep. Trent Franks. Like most of America we’d never heard of Franks until he bowed out, whereas we’d been aware of Franken since his days on “Saturday Night Live” way back in the ’70s, but Franks’ denouement had one of those diverting twists that can only occur in these modern times.
Franks was apparently as impeccably a Republican conservative as Franken was a Democratic liberal, and still stands unaccussed of the alleged forcible kisses and groping and otherwise ungentlemanly behavior that brought Franken down, but in his statement of resignation he did admit it had to do with an investigation regarding his “discussion of surrogacy with two female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable.” Some unnamed sources to The Washington Post fill out the story by explaining that Franks and his wife had been frustrated by their inability to conceive a child, and although Franks’ statement insists he never “physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my staff,” he also pretty much admitted that he did ask a couple of young female staffer if they’d bear his progeny.
“However,” Frank’s statement stated, “I do want to take full responsibility for the ways I have broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals feel uncomfortable. I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”
We can well understand how uncomfortable Frank’s young female staffers might have felt when he broached the topic, and the distress such a discussion might have caused them, but we’ll give this Franks fellow for taking taking full responsibility right up the point of offering his resignation, but we’ll offer him some sympathy. It’s not been at all unbeknownst to us until recently that female co-workers are uncomfortable and even distressed by broaching the topic of bearing our children, but impeccably Republican conservatives such are ourselves tend to be nerds un-hip to the ways of the modern world, and we readily believe his claims that he never intimidated or coerced or attempted to have any sexual contact with his female staffers along with the rest of his admission of guilt.
That’s a shrewd move, because Republican President Donald Trump and the Republican Senate candidate he’s backing down in Alabama stand credibly accused of similar or even worse misbehavior, and we can’t blame the 50 percent or so of the electorate that is female for being fed up about now. They’ll no doubt try to make some political hay of Franks’ resignation, and we can’t blame them for doing so, but he’s a lot less famous than Franken and in the end he’s just another conservative Republican nerd who doesn’t understand how to go about negotiating such modern world matters as surrogacy childbirth. Franken’s an old-fashioned creep posing as an impeccable Democratic liberal and unapologetic to the nd, and although the Democrats can still point to Trump and that Alabama senate candidate the day on the sexual harassment front wound up in a desultory tie.

— Bud Norman

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Christmas in the Information Age

Today is Black Friday, when the annual Christmas shopping season begins with bargain-hunters duking it out over some Chinese-made gewgaw or another in the store aisles, and as usual we’ll pass on the ritual. This is expected to be the first Christmas when on-line sales surpass those in the old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores that you have to drive to and walk into and then interact with other people, but we’ll also take a pass on that.
As much as we resent all the current stores on the east and west sides of town for driving away Gateway Sporting Goods and Reader’s Bookstore and all the other locally-owned retailers who used to transform downtown Wichita, Kansas, into a winter wonderland during our youth, we don’t want to see them driven away by the computer or other newfangled device you’re using to read this. That would leave a lot of empty buildings, and a lot of unemployed shop clerks, and what with the drones Amazon is already using and the driverless trucks that Google is threatening to unleash it’s hard to see what space-filling businesses and jobs the new economy might offer them.
Such potentially dire economic consequences aside, the technological tectonic shift that’s expected to occur this Christmas season has a cultural effect we also don’t care for. Although today’s stores lack the personal touch of the mom-and-pop operations we so fondly recall, there’s still something to be said for driving to a store and walking into it and interacting with other people. The drive takes you past places that evoke fond memories and gives you a chance to hear the local radio, and if you don’t get hit by a car the walk across the parking lot is healthful, and maybe it’s just a Wichita thing but we find that most of our interactions with other people are generally quite pleasant and often have a very salutary effect on our mood.
Somehow, despite the crass commercialism and creeping secularism of this modern age, people always seem to become more pleasant to interact with the closer it gets to Christmas. Lay off the Black Friday sales or the Cyber Monday bargains, hunt down some fascinating shop some local oddball opened, and it might just instill some Christmas spirit. We also suggest you call your far-away family rather than texting them, and meet face-to-face if at all possible, and gratefully accept any invitations you might receive to a holiday party, and except for your daily visits here spend less time looking at some sort of screen.
There’s no fending off progress, even when it goes too far, but we’ll be damned before we go along with it.

— Bud Norman

Happy Thanksgiving

Our usual habit here is to lament what’s going on in the news, with whatever wit we can muster, but this is no day for that. Today is Thanksgiving, and we’re going to give thanks for everything that’s going right in the world.
We advise you to do the same, and enjoy some good food and the company of family and friends, and steer the conversation away from what’s going on in the news. Thanks for dropping by, though, and Happy Thanksgiving.

— Bud Norman

The Ongoing Problem of Prominent Men

The list of prominent men who have lately been plausibly accused of various degrees of sexual harassment continues to grow, to the point that we’d now advise our women friends to avoid any encounter with a prominent man. By now here’s no keeping up with all the recent allegations, which have been hurled against such a remarkably diverse number of men that it’s impossible to pin the blame on any segment of society except prominent men.
This latest spate of stories started with heavyweight Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, and all the A-list actresses who joined a legion of women alleging he had harassed or outright assaulted them, and after all the years of Hollywood’s moralizing the right can hardly be blamed for relishing that. A screenwriter and film director of prominence named James Toback stands accused by some A-list actresses of similar behavior, the head of the newly fledged but already formidable Amazon Studios recently resigned after allegations of sexual harassment, not to mention all the Hollywood scandals going back to the silent days, and although they’re not as prominent as Weinstein or his A-list accusers it further suggests that Hollywood’s relentless critique of sexist America is ridiculous.
The rest of the left’s cultural redoubts now stand accused of similar hypocrisy. The frankly liberal MSNBC news network’s Mark Halperin is accused by five women of harassment and assault when he worked for the American Broadcasting Company, and he’s told the Cable News Network that “I know understand from these accounts that my behavior was inappropriate and caused others pain.” The newfangled Vox Media’s editorial director and a once iconic editor of the formerly venerable New Republic stand similarly accused, and the music biz has its usual scandals. These days academicians aren’t very prominent, but if they were we’re sure the academy would also provide a steady stream of scandals.
Which is not to deny the left it’s glee about all the scandals on the right. There was no more self-righteous a moralizer on the right than Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, so let them have their fun with the recent revelation that he paid $32 million to settle the latest in a series of lawsuits alleging sexual harassment. O’Reilly doesn’t dispute the settlement figure, but insists that he has “shocking proof” that the allegations were baseless. He claims that he chose to write a check for $32 million rather than present that shocking proof in a court of law only because he wanted to spare the embarrassment of a messy trial from his children, who would have surely endured it for the 32 mil and Pop’s vindication. He has lately admitted on his own website that he’s mad at God about it, and all his past moralizing looks ridiculous.
The Fox News network’s longtime head honcho died amidst similar scandals and expensively-settled lawsuits, it renewed O’Reilly’s contract knowing about the $32 million settlement and only fired him when the advertisers bailed, and it routinely fawns on a president who famously bragged about how could he could grab women by their wherevers, and still faces lawsuits by the some of the numerous women alleging he did just that. Creepy behavior by prominent men clearly is not limited to any particular ideology.
Even some of the prominent men who once enjoyed the respect of both the left and right now stand accused of creepy behavior. A respected journalist now claims that Elie Weisel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights activist, once put his uninvited hand on her buttocks. President George H.W. Bush, who was reviled for his policies by the left but never questioned for his gentlemanly behavior, just recently stands accused of the very same offense in past weeks, with each of the accusers telling the same story about how he made the same joke about his favorite magician being “David Cop-a-Feel,” which his spokespeople do not deny.
Bush’s recent alleged behavior is highly uncharacteristic of his long public life and probably best explained by the creeping dementia of the 93-year-old’s Lewy disease that has also consigned him to a wheelchair, and even if true Weisel’s offense should only slightly taint his otherwise distinguished life. Still, it’s inappropriate behavior, and should not be condoned no matter how prominent the man.
We’re by no means prominent men, and cannot fully appreciate the temptations that such status might entail, but we wish they would all stop with the boorish behavior. It’s giving the rest of us men a bad reputation.

— Bud Norman

Tragedy, Obituaries, and the Public Relations Fallout

Life itself is ultimately tragic, as our jaded souls know all too well, but the news from the past few weeks have brought more than usual amount of tragedy.
Two historic hurricanes brought death and devastation to densely populated parts of Texas and Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands and pretty much wiped out a few Caribbean countries you probably couldn’t name, two successive earthquakes killed hundreds in Mexico and therefore went largely unnoticed in America, a third deadly hurricane left Puerto Rico flooded and without power or potable water, and a severely troubled soul in Nevada killed at least 59 of his fellow human beings and wounded more than 500 others. Not to mention the sudden plausibility of a nuclear exchange with a nutcase dictatorship in North Korea, the normal and quotidian slaughter on America’s streets, and the names you can’t help noticing for some personal reason in the always full obituary page.
That’s an awful lot of tragedy to comment on, especially if you want to do so with the requisite respect and dignity and humility, and we’d never be so boastful as to claim being up to the job. Therefore the job instead falls on President Donald Trump, who is not known for being respectful or dignified or humble, and as much as we hate to cast stones we think he could have handled it better.
The historic hurricanes went about as well as can be expected in Texas and Florida, with the long and arduous rebuilding process and the requisite federal assistance coming along so far and so good despite all the legislative rigmarole, and except for the usual unpersuasive carping about climate change there was no way to blame Trump for the storms. Trump seemed to be taking a bit too much credit for things going as well as can be expected, with not enough credit given to the state and county and civic officials and plain old citizens who were pulling one another out of the water, but other than that he did well enough.
After that hurricane in Puerto Rico, however, Trump gave his critics plenty to work with. Trump “tweeted” boasts about how the governor of Puerto Rico had praised the federal response, but his Homeland Security secretary described the federal response as a “good news story,” so when the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital and most populous went viral with her answer that its a “people-are-dying” Trump wound up in another bad news cycle. Trump “tweeted” his criticism of her leadership abilities, but the unfriendly media had footage of her wading in chest deep water while Trump was hosting a fancy golf tournament, and the three-star general who turned around President George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina disaster was on the ground in Puerto Rico and noting the difference, and Trump continued to “tweet” about Puerto Rico’s debt and effect on the American budget and an insinuation that Puerto Ricans are too lazy to save themselves from nature’s fury.
As bad as the public relations disaster was for Trump, he was temporarily rescued by all the media attention paid to that troubled soul who killed at least 59 people in Las Vegas and the wounding of at least 500 others. Trump offered a a very respectful and dignified and humble statement about the victims, lowered all the nation’s flags to half-staff in honor of the victims, and handled the tragedy as well as can be expected. He put off the inevitable debates about gun control to another day, which is probably the best that can be expected, and until that inevitable debate happens we think he did well enough.
Trump was in Puerto Rico on Monday to convey his sympathy to the quasi-Americans on the island, though, and that gave all his critics even more work to with. He once against boasted about how the governor had praised the great federal response, this time with looking rather embarrassed as he sat beside him, and made a joke about how much Puerto Rico was costing America that left everyone looking pretty darned embarrassed, and boastfully compared the death toll of 35 — which he understated at 16 — to the thousands of deaths of deaths that resulted from a “real catastrophe” such as fellow Republican President George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina, which actually resulted in slightly fewer than a thousand deaths. He was overheard offering praise to a ran Puerto Rican for the mayor of the island’s capital and most populous city, and had an awkward handshake with her, but we doubt it played well with anyone in Puerto Rico and Americans other than Trump’s most loyal supporters.
Puerto Rico has in fact racked up an irresponsible debt, neglected to maintain up-to-date electrical grids and plumbing systems and other crucial infrastructure, and that plucky and telegenic if crazily leftist mayor does bear some responsibility for that, but with the island still largely without power or potable water this seems an inappropriate time to bring that up. The Puerto Ricans and the rest of the Democrats can also plausibly argue that past American laws that made them a temporary tax haven for foreign investment enticed them to rack up all that debt, that a later American law denying them the same bankruptcy protections afforded to other American jurisdictions and certain Trump casinos had made the debt unsustainable, so it’s a complicated debate that’s best left to less emotional times.
When Trump touches down in tragic Las Vegas the inevitable debates about gun control will still be best left to less emotional times, and we hold out hope he’ll strike the right note with a respectful and dignified and humble tone in a scripted and stuck-to speech. The victims were all country music fans, even the mainstream media has found that all of them were sympathetic no matter what you think of country music fans, so we count on Trump being appropriately respectful and dignified and humble. That inevitable debate about gun control will hang over the event, but Trump should be able to delay that for at least a respectful interval, but there’s going to be some serious arguments about the commercially-available ways to convert to semi-automatic to more-or-less automatic weapons that will be hard to win.
Despite all the tragedy we note that many of our Facebook friends are also focused on the death of Tom Petty, who was a rock ‘n’ roll star of some note, so we’ll take a moment out of these past few dreary months to note his passing. We were never such ardent fans as so many of our dear friends, but Tom Petty and His Heartbreakers did cut more than a few true blue rock ‘n’ roll tracks we remember well, and along with everyone else we mourn his passing.
Not so long ago we were at a local dive and ran into an old friend with excellent musical taste, and she recommended we check out an obscure guy named Charles Bradley, who turned out to sing sweet soul music the way remembered it from the glorious but tragic late ’60s and early ’70s. Looking up this valuable information we also discovered that Bradley had died last months after 68 tragic years of life, just a couple of years of slight recognition for his musical talent, and we also mourn his passing. Before he died he sang a song called “Why Is It So hard,” and for now we’re finding it more comforting than anything Trump or any of his critics might say.

— Bud Norman

Football, Politics, and Other Hard Hitting Sports

The youngsters will never believe it, but we recall a time when Americans could take weekends off from politics and watch sports. These days politics permeates the entire popular culture, though, and even the football stadia and basketball arenas don’t offer a safe space. Over the past weekend the biggest sports stories were all political stories, with President Donald Trump playing his usual leading role in all of them.
Sunday’s slate of National Football League contests featured the usual pin-point passes and fancy football and hard hits, but the most-watched highlights were the widespread protests staged by the players during the playing of the national anthem. In case you don’t follow either football or politics, the fad started last season when the San Francisco 49ers’ back-up quarterback, a fellow named Colin Kaepernick, knelt to one knee during the anthem to draw attention to the “Black Lives Matter” movement protesting police violence against minorities. All the polls showed that most Americans found the act disrespectful to the country’s most cherished symbols, but it gave Kaepernick a certain cachet among a significant percentage of the population, and a fame far greater than what he’d earned on the gridiron, and then a few other players in the NFL and the National Basketball Association joined in. All the sports talk and politics radio stations talked about it, but they eventually moved on to the next insignificant-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things sports squabbles.
Although Kaepernick had shown great promise in his first two starting seasons his performance had dropped precipitously since then, and when he was cut from the ’49ers no other teams chose to add him to their rosters for this season, but of course the story didn’t end there. Some pointed to his past signs of promise and argued he was blackballed in retaliation for exercising his free speech rights, while others pointed to the recent decline in his performances as the reason for his unemployment, so that argument was revived through the entire off-season. We figured that Kaepernick had his free speech rights to be a pretentious jerk but that any team owners who didn’t want to hire Kaepernick for whatever reason were entitled to their opinions, and we aren’t at all qualified to evaluate football-playing horseflesh, nor do we take much interest in the game at all these days, so we were hoping the whole fracas would finally fade away.
Which it might have done by now, if not for that speech Trump gave to a raucous in a packed Huntsville, Alabama, sports arena last Friday. The speech was quite a doozy even by Trumpian standards, and we urge any students of classical rhetoric to study it carefully and revise all theories accordingly. Trump bragged at length about hid electoral victory, assured the crowd the Russians had nothing to do with, basked in the crowd chanting “lock her up” about his vanquished Democratic opponent, had everyone lustily boo Arizona’s Republican Sen. John McCain, lobbed some schoolyard taunts at the now-nuclear-armed nutcase dictator of North Korea, and made a couple brief mentions of the Republican candidate for Senate he was ostensibly campaigning for, including an admission that he may have made a mistake by endorsing by the guy, who’s currently trailing in the polls to a more zealously Christian conservative. He also marveled at how Alabamans love him so much despite the fact that he’s a much richer guy than any of them “who lives on Fifth Avenue in the most beautiful apartment you’ve ever seen,” and regaled the audience in the football-crazed state with his gripes about the professional game.
First Trump complained that the game is becoming sissified, with attention-seeking referees throwing penalty flags for what would have been considered hard but clean hits back when the game was great. This probably would have been a talk radio topic on both the sports and politics shows, given the mounting evidence that players suffered high rates of debilitating and even deadly injuries to the head other and vital body parts back when the game was great, but Trump also revived the whole national anthem brouhaha from last year.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now Out. He’s fired. He’s fired,’ Trump said, with the language left unexpurgated here because that’s by now apparently one of those things that connect him with Alabama values, as the crowd seemed to love it. Trump predicted that the first owner to do so would immediately become the most popular man in America, where the most pressing problem seems to be a few overpaid athletes you might never have otherwise heard about kneeling during a national anthem, and even scored a few points about all the on-field rules the league has imposed regarding end zone celebrations and some right-of-center statements some players have made tried to make.
As you might have expected, and by now surely know if you follow either sports or politics, an unprecedented number of NFL players made some gesture of disrespect to the flag during Sunday’s games. Most of the players and coaches and whatnots on both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars chose to stay off the field during the anthem, several other teams chose to stand arm-in-arm during the anthem rather than with a hand over the heart, every team had some player making some sort of statement, including players holding a hand on a kneeling teammate’s should while pledging allegiance. Jaguars owner Shahid Kahn, the leagues only Muslim owner, joined his team in its protest, as did the Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, whose team name entails enough trouble already, and Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. Thirty of the 32 owners issued statements expressing various degrees of disagreement with Trump, including a few who had been big money donors to his campaign, and not a one of them fired any of the disrespectful sons of bitches, if you’ll pardon an old Alabama expression.
Odd as it may seem to have a president of the United States engaged in a “twitter” war with the National Football League, it’s been a longstanding feud between Trump and those haughty football elitists. They first locked horns way back before the ’83 season, when an NFL franchise cost about $80 million and Trump instead invested a mere $6 million in the New Jersey Generals of the newly-formed United States Football League. The USFL was based on the sound idea that Americans love hard-hitting football but only get it in the fall and early winter, so a league that offered fairly well-played games in the spring and summer should draw a profitable number of ticket holders, but Trump had other ideas. He persuaded his fellow owners to move to a fall and early winter schedule, and when the networks inevitably chose to broadcast the superior brand of NFL football to sue the league for a violation of the anti-monopoly law and win billions of dollars.
Trump’s lawyer, Roy Cohn, who’d previously worked for Sen. Joe McCarthy and various mafioso, won a verdict for the plaintiff, but the jury only awarded the USFL a one dollar in damages, given how ridiculous its new business model was, although the judge trebled the amount, but the three dollars didn’t keep the league from going bankrupt shortly thereafter. By now it’s obvious that Trump was scheming to win a settlement that would have him in possession of the an NFL franchise at the bargain-basement price of $6 million plus legal fees, didn’t much care which of his co-owners didn’t get in on the planned league expansion, and clearly came out the loser in his first clash with the NFL. Trump still talks about how he “hammered” the league, but he can also boast that at least there wasn’t a single New Jersey General who was seen disrespecting the flag on Sunday.
Back when he was signing two consecutive overrated Heisman Trophy winners to multi-million dollar contracts Trump boasted that he could have easily afforded an NFL franchise such as the Dallas Cowboys, but that he’d rather create a professional football powerhouse from scratch than be the poor sap who inherited a powerhouse and got no credit for its continued success or all the blame for its off-seasons. Thus Trump wound up losing an estimated $22 million on his fantasy football team, bona fide billionaire Jerry Jones wound up buying the Cowboys for $140 million and now owns what Forbes magazine estimates is worth $4.8 billion, and Trump surely feels some lingering resentment. He was turned down on a bid for the lowly Buffalo Bills franchise, too, and as they say on talk radio that’s got to smack.
Still, we can’t argue with the idea of standing up for the flag, and we suspect Trump has shrewdly that a vast majority of America does as well. The points these overpaid athletes you might never have otherwise heard about are making involve more complicated questions than most of them realize, and if they wind up with less policing in black communities they could very well result in the loss of those black lives matter, and it’s really quite ridiculous that football players who give one another head injuries for a living are so prominent in the discussion. Trump might just have picked a winning political battle.
The broader culture wars seem lost, though. That flag we stand for at every sporting event we attend stands for freedom, which is why we stand and take off the hats and put hands over the hearts for however long it takes, and merely roll our eyes and heave a sigh at the pretentious jerks who act otherwise for whatever reason they might have. If everyone took a similarly tolerant stand in this all too modern age we think the sports and political talk radio would be much more pleasant and enlightening, and we could all get on with the rest of that ready Monday-through-the-Friday-night-news dump, but there’s a lot to tolerate these days.
All the political talk on radio and television and “twitter” is screamed these days, and all of the screaming from the sports and entertainment and media and corporate and occasionally the military segments of the establishment is screamed at Trump, and even Trump can scream only so loud. Trump can gloat that the NFL’s ratings are down, and that all the flag-disrespecting has something to do with it, but there’s also a guilty feeling about watching all the head injuries all that annoying penalty-flag-throwing is trying to prevent, and the undeniable fact that the NFL is more popular than either Trump or the USFL.
This was going to be the year we completely gave up on football, but so far the Kansas City Chiefs and the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the Wichita Heights High School Falcons all look like championship contenders, so we’ll be obliged to look up those scores. If none of those work out we’re done with the game for good, and if we can somehow figure out how to escape politics we’ll be done with that as well.

— Bud Norman

Up Above Our Heads, We Hear Music in the Air

The big story across the United States today is an exceedingly rare coast-to-coast solar eclipse, and it feels as if the sun and the moon and all the heavens have providentially aligned to spare our nation one blessed day off from the rest of the news.
It’s the topic of conversation everywhere we go, and a welcome change of subject from the past week’s talk about torch-bearing American neo-Nazis and nuclear-armed North Korean commies and such, and so far as we can tell from all the press coverage it really is sort of a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Solar eclipses are rare, far rarer yet when they happen where the sun happens to be shining down on you, and even the children who are born today will probably never again get in on another one that at least partially obscures the sun from one coast of America to another. To use a hackneyed cliche quite literally, the odds really are astronomical.
Here in Wichita, Kansas, in the heart of America, it’s rigorously scheduled to go down between 11:36 a.m. and 2:32 p.m., with 92 percent of the sun blocked out by the moon at the height of the eclipse shortly after 1 p.m., and we plan to be here for that. Many people we know have purchased those very dark sunglasses or upgraded welders’ masks that promise to let you watch it happen without going blind, others are using the old-fashioned pin-prick in paper shined on another piece of technique that we used way back in elementary school days when the last partial eclipse came around here, some have even purchased sunglasses for the pets, and our plan is to avert our eyes from the sun and instead watch our fellow Wichitans and Americans watching the eclipse.
Even on a normal day we know better than to look at the sun around here. There’s an old Clint Eastwood movie where he snarls that Kansas doesn’t have anything but sunshine, sunflowers, and sons of bitches, and we have to concede there’s some truth to that. If you’re heading west on the Kellogg freeway at a certain point before sundown, especially around either of the equinoxes, you need heavy-duty sunglasses just to keep your corneas from being burned out, and we’re always relieved to hear on the local news radio station that there’s not been a major pile-up. The Kansas state motto is “ad aspera per astra,” which roughly translates from the Latin to “to the stars through difficulties,” and the first rule any Kansan learns about how to get there is that you don’t look at the brightest star even on the most normal day.
At some point this early afternoon the sun will be 92 percent obscured by the moon, and it will be interesting to look around the parks and the buildings and notice what effect that has. Our interests tend to the sociological rather than the astronomical, though, and we’ll be more eager to see what our neighbors and their pets make of it. At a few places out west and off to the east the eclipse will be total, and in certain American towns the morning and evening will become night for a few eerie moments, and we’ll be eager to read about what that was like, but unlike some friends of ours we haven’t booked a hotel room in those places to experience it ourselves.
We don’t doubt that it’s a memorable experience, but we’re not envious, as we’ll share it vicariously. For us the fun is knowing that from coast to coast the entire United States is sharing in a rare astronomical event, that we’re well-informed enough that few of us will go blind as a result, and watching our fellow Americans somehow united by the inexorable facts and unalterable rules of the universe.
Tomorrow the sun and moon and the rest of the heavens will once again follow their usual rules, the body politic probably won’t, but it’s nice that providence and its astronomical odds provided us a day off from all that and a reminder that we’re all still subject to the same objective reality.

— Bud Norman

Smarter Phones, Dumber People

The news was slow and the weather stormy over most of the weekend, which gave us a chance to ponder some of the big-picture think pieces in the high-brow media. For the past 160 years Atlantic Magazine has been among the most high-brow of them, as well as one of the most reliable sources of ponderable big-picture think pieces, and they offered up an excellent essay about the modern age of the “smart phone” and its dire effects on its youngest generation.
It’s a lengthy and complicated article, but even if you’re not rained in and there’s another bombshell Russian story on the front page we highly recommend it. The author has been spent the past 25 years studying how Americans differ from generation to generation, with his research stretching from the 1930s to the present, and he reports on an anomalous change in the usual ebb-and-flow of cultural shifts that have occurred since 2012. That was the first year that a majority of Americans owned “smart phones,” the author notes, and when “I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states.”
The author also posits there’s a causal connection between these two things, and based on our more anecdotal evidence we think he’s on to something. He briefly and glumly summarizes all the widely-observed ways that “smart phones” have altered the daily lives of all generations — a more complete assessment would require shelves of upcoming social science dissertations and satirical novels — but finds his most alarming data among the youngest generation that never knew what life was like before the damned things. What the author calls the “Gen-I” generation reports markedly higher levels of lack of social interaction, loneliness, depression, and suicide, and links these to hours spent on texting, social media, and other time “on screen.” We’re short at the moment on very young friends, as all of our friends’ kids are all grown up but haven’t yet had kids that are even old enough for “smart phones,” and we’re proudly among the dwindling minority of Americans who still don’t own one of the damned things, but we’re not surprised by the author’s findings.
At this point we’re tempted to take some time off and write a satirical novel of our own about “smart phones,” so outraged are we with the way the damned things have made people so damned dumb. When we’re out arguing politics with our friends at the local hipster dives we always notice the attractive young couples sitting across a booth from one another and staring into their “smart phones” rather than into the other’s eyes. A conspicuous number of our similarly-aged friends lately seem frustratingly forgetful, and instead of an unexercised and flabby memory rely on their “smart phones” to tell them the name of the guy that they’re talking about. By now all of the great adventures tales would have to be re-written if they were up-dated to an age when the hero could ask the palm-sized device in his pocket for an answer, we have friends who can’t get from one place in Wichita, Kansas, to another without help from a “smart phone” global positioning system, and we don’t count it all as progress.
Shudder to think, then, what it’s like for those poor kids who can’t remember the good old analog age of actual rather than virtual reality. The Atlantic’s highbrow correspondent also provides the unsurprising and commonsensical data that children who spend less time “on screen” and more time social interactions with other children in extra-curricular activities and religious services and sports and local playgrounds, and spent their other hours with either family or books, were less likely to be lonely, depressed, or suicidal. The real world is a daunting place, but people there seem happier than the ones in the virtual world.
All the data shows the younger folks tend not to date, in the traditional sense of the term, and although that’s had a salutary effect on the teen pregnancy rates we think it’s a mixed blessing. The Atlantic reports that teens are also postponing getting a driver’s license, which would have been unimaginable to our teenaged selves, or any previous generation of red-blooded Americans, and spending way too much time in their bedrooms and worrying that the picture they posted on Instragam won’t get a self-affirming number of “likes.” The youngest of them are now tethered by a global positioning system every hour of the day and every day of the week to their parents, too, and we shudder again to think of what that must be like. We were blessed with diligently watchful parents, but we’re sure they won’t mind us saying that we’re also grateful that the technology of the time didn’t preclude those occasional moments when we were blissfully free to act according to our own better judgement. Every previous generation, after all, had those moments.
This might seem yet another old folks’ rant against modernity, but we’ve got some state-of-the-art social science data from such a highbrow publication as Atlantic to back it up, and we think there’s something afoot that’s even more significant than the next presidential “tweet.” We finally got an old-fashioned “flip phone” a while back to be constant communication with our still-watchful folks, who are now old enough to require our watchfulness, and we have to admit we’re taking up some of your own “on-screen” time, so we can’t deny that some progress has been made. Every generation has also lost something dear to every technological revolution, though, and we hope that the next one will still know something of a real-life and primal childhood.

— Bud Norman

The Occasional Re-Thinking About Immigration

Wednesday’s news included an actual policy proposal, for a change, and for another change we found ourselves siding with President Donald Trump. The issue is a Trump-backed Senate bill that would significantly alter America’s legal immigration policies, so despite our support it’s likely to be controversial.
The Senate bill would halve the million green cards that grant permanent residency rights to immigrants every year, award the remaining number on a “points system” that rewards English proficiency and high levels of education and marketable skills, tightens the rules regarding family members following, as well as restricting immigration from certain countries almost altogether. There are strong arguments to be made for all of it, without any appeal to nativist or xenophobic passions, and for the most part Trump made them well enough during a Wednesday speech.
The un-repealable laws of economics dictate that expanding the labor supply faster than demand for it lowers the price it is paid, and Trump rightly and shrewdly noted that black and hispanic workers are proportionally even more affected by than white and Asian workers. We’ll leave it to our privately-schooled readers to calculate what small percentage a mere one million green cards annually makes on a population of 325 million Americans, but even our publicly-educated selves know that after 50 years of it there are now some 50 million foreign-born residents in the country, and you don’t have to be a Trump enthusiast to worry how it affects the broader culture, which Trump wisely didn’t go on about it.
We’ve never shared the left’s opinion that the white working class is a bunch of a knuckle-dragging racists who’ve been itching since the Civil Rights Acts of ’65 for some Republican demagogue’s dog-whistle to start lynching all the darker folk, but neither have we ever accepted their assurances that you can annually bring millions of non-English-speaking and low-skilled and rootless people from very different cultures into the Trump precincts without some unpleasant social disruptions. Our weekly commerce includes very pleasant interactions with a family of Laotian immigrants who sell the cheapest beer in town, Mexican immigrants who bake the city’s best and most reasonably-price doughnuts, some Chinese immigrants who sell drive-through Kung Pao Chicken at a price so low we’re almost embarrassed to pay it, and our social circle of friends includes a charming Bolivian playboy and a delightfully bawdy English wench who are now fellow American citizens, but immigration has been an undeniably mixed bag of results.
Economics is almost as complicated as culture, however, and the bill’s opponents also make some credible arguments. For better or worse America as we know it today began with a wave of European immigrants who wound up disrupting not only the lives of the natives but also the European powers they rebelled against, and the country’s economic and cultural fortunes were greatly enhanced by massive immigration waves prior to the Civil War and the First World War, and that the third wave which began just prior to the Vietnam War has for the most part proved a similar boon. By now foreigners are as American as apple pie, and the left is trotting out that tear-jerking Emma Lazarus poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty and all the old black-and-white-movie success stories about plucky immigrants, and we’ll have to see how Trump counters all that corny Americana without appeal to nativist and xenophobic passions.
One of the most un-repealable laws of economics is that things change, though, so those past success stories about immigration require some reexamination. The first wave of mass legal immigration came at a time when the American economy was shifting from an agrarian to an industrial model and needed to fill a rapidly-expanding economy’s demand for unskilled labor, and needed to find soldiers to fight the agrarian and slave-holding states of the rebellious south in a bloody Civil War. The second wave came just as the country was approaching both economic and cultural preeminence among the industrialized powers, and could make use of all the unskilled labor and genius physicists and future black-and-white movie moguls and other creative types who were pouring in. The third wave has persisted through the past 50 years of ups and downs in the economy, probably having something to do with both swings, and it’s made undeniable contributions the country’s culture and our weekly commerce, but has also caused some social undeniable social disruptions.
At this point the country is quite rapidly shifting from an industrial model to some sort of high-tech and talking-robot post-industrial economy and a starkly post-modern kind of culture, so it seems reasonable to re-think the nation’s legal immigration policies accordingly. The Senate bill favors the Albert Einsteins and Nikolai Teslas and Andrew Carnegies whose exceedingly high skills did so much to enrich America during the previous waves of mass immigration, restricts the entrance of the workers in the lower-skilled ranks that have not seen any economic gains for most of the past 50 years, and offers benefits to such a diverse group of people that it really doesn’t require any appeals to nativist or xenophobic passions.
There’s no telling what great and transformative ideas the Senate bill might wind up excluding from the American culture, of course, but at this point the country could probably survive a brief respite in its economic and cultural evolution. The first two waves of mass legal immigration were followed by a pause to to get all the economic and social disruptions settled, and there’s a case to be made we could use another one after the past 50 years of the third. The left celebrates those first two waves even as they grouse that it was almost entirely white folks from European countries with certain ethnic and religious and cultural similarities to native-born Americans, and they rightly note that the Asian minorities who trickled in on the second wave and poured in on the third have mostly proved model citizens, but things change.
In the first and second and even third waves the immigrants were cut off from their ancestral cultures, forced to assimilate to some functional degree with the broader culture, but the current wave remains connected by wire-exchange and the internet and the permission of the cultural left to the cultural values of their homeland. By now some of those immigrants are coming from cultures where most people are openly hostile to the values of America and the broader West, and you don’t have to be at all nativist or xenophobic to worry about that. All in all, the Senate bill has some strong arguments.
We wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Trump and the rest of the Republicans lose that argument, though. Even the Rust Belt’s Democrats and the ones from the most nativist and xenophobic black districts won’t sign on, and the business lobby with its preference for an ever-expanding labor supply still holds enough sway in the Republican party to peel off at least a few congressional votes, and we can easily imagine Trump resorting to some dog-whistled appeal to nativist and xenophobic passions that puts it beyond the pale of polite discussion. Trump’s lately claiming credit for ┬ásuch a booming economy that a low-skilled labor shortage seems imminent, too, which further complicates the discussion.
The left will also rightly note that the Senate bill leaves intact the low-skilled visa program that Trump’s still-wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago resort relies on for maid and janitorial services, and that Trump has long relied on immigrants to build his buildings and be his wife, and that he can’t credibly claim to be not all nativistic or xenophobic. That doesn’t reflect on the Senate’s bill and is no way to make policy decisions, of course, but here we are.

— Bud Norman

A Family’s Leave From the Daily News

There’s no escaping the news lately, but we did a pretty good job of dodging the worst of it on Wednesday. A gorgeous first day of summer on the southern prairie was instead to devoted to a celebration of a beloved cousin’s 50 years of fruitful marriage to about as a great a guy as you’d ever hope to meet, complete with a most ameliorative reunion with some other beloved family members, and some classic regionalist school prairie scenery and some excellent music from the classic American songbook coming direct from outer space along the way.
The day began damnably early at 11:30 a.m. when we arrived groggy-eyed but fully intact and neatly-pressed at our folks’ swank and hard-earned retirement village, where we had coffee and french fries and some convivial conversation with the folks. Our beloved Pop also dearly loves our beloved cousin and that great guy she’s been married to for a noteworthy 50 full years, along with the rest of his beloved wife’s complicatedly extended family, but some recent back problems prevented him from attending the party, so the drive from Wichita, Kansas, to Edmond, Oklahoma was just us and our beloved Mom.
As usual the folks’ television was tuned to Fox News, and although the sound was muted the caption at the bottom of the screen explained that the special counsel investigating President Donald Trump on various possible charges had hired as an investigator yet another donor to the presidential campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. We’d been listening to Rush Limbaugh on the way across town and we’re already hipped to that fact on our way from the heart of the city to its far-eastern edges, but were fortunately distracted from all that by a tricky shower curtain Pop needed installed, and which eventually brightened up the bathroom. After brunch we headed south with Mom toward good old Oklahoma in the folks’ swank and hard-earned Lexus, with the default Fox News playing on the radio from outer space, but when it started repeating itself on the way down I-35 we agreed to switch over to the outer space station that plays Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett and Blossom Dearie singing the songs from when Mom was young and before we were born.
That lulled our also nocturnal and less caffeinated Mom into a half-sleep, not quite sleepy enough to prevent her fine harmonizing to the standards, while the folks’ fancy car did half the driving for us in a strangely unfamiliar smooth way, and except for the blight of those windmills that pepper the route we enjoyed the music and the sight of the southern plains on a gorgeous first day of summer. A sultry-voiced global positioning expert guided us to our destination, and after we punched in the correct address she led us through a complicated maze of the northern greater Oklahoma City area to our actual destination, where we got to spend some quality time with a beloved aunt and her damnably beloved husband, who is after so many years of fruitful marriage a fully-fledged whether-he-likes-it-or-not uncle. Our Mom and our aunt are the last surviving sisters of beloved grandparent’s four daughters, and it was good to share in their hard-earned intimacy, and to share some guy talk with an uncle who is a guy we can’t describe without going novel-length.
From there we went to the swank and hard-earned venue where that beloved cousin and her greatest guy you’d ever hope to meet husband were celebrating 50 years of marriage and and wonderful children and wonderful grandchildren, and along with everything else the food was great. We’d been ring-bearers at the couple’s wedding and our cuter selves were featured in many of the photographs, and we shared a much-needed hug with the bride’s younger bachelorette sister, who might even be a more favorite cousin of ours, and we shared a couple of slightly salty doctor jokes with the couples’ doctor son, which he seemed to enjoy, and shared a delightful hug with the still-gorgeous second cousin or cousin one removed or cousin-in-law or whatever she is who had been the flower girl. All the couple’s grandkids were seated at a nearby table, and we noticed that the girls were all quite pretty and the couple of grandsons quite handsome, and they were all so well-behaved.
The trip back was under a starless sky, but the great old American songbook was still coming in from outer space and the ride was still seductively smooth and Mom was at her nocturnal best. There was the kind of frank family talk that only comes after 57 years or so of intimate familiarity with one another’s depressions and ecstasy, some shared appreciative chuckles about that crazy but uncannily brilliant uncle who’s been so happily married to her sister for all these years, fond reminiscences of that beloved niece and cousin celebrating 50 fruitful years together, worries about Dad’s back, and us impressing Mom with our ability to identify all those singers of songs from back when she was young and before we born..
There’s more than a couple of hours between the northern part of the greater Oklahoma City area and that far-flung fancy-schmantzy northeastern part of Wichita where our parents reside, so at some point politics came up in the conversation. Our Mom was worried that the special counsel and all his Clinton donor colleagues were out to get Trump, and although we couldn’t deny the possibility we also warned her that there might be plenty to get him on.
That’s how it looks to us, as we scamper across the broader dreary media landscape after a daylong road trip, but we’re nonetheless hopeful. There are well-married couples out there with promising grandchildren, and great American music is being beamed into cars from outer space, and there are loving Moms and Dads and their disappointing children, and summer has just begun here on the southern plains of the United States of America. It’s bound to be damned complicated, but it might just work out in the end.

— Bud Norman