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Our Nostalgia for a Religious Right

Not so long ago Republicans were stereotyped as a bunch of blue-nosed religious fuddy-duddies, and a couple of stories that caught our eye on Tuesday made us nostalgic for that bygone era.
One unavoidable story was about President Donald Trump’s ongoing “Twitter” spat with a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels, which is another one of those cover-the-children’s-eyes things that didn’t happen to Republican presidents back in the party’s good old sexually repressed days. Daniels claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump back in his reality show days, a few months after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and although Trump denies it he’s been forced by public records to stop denying that he paid her $130,000 to stop stay quiet, and it’s been hard to keep the ongoing legal wrangling out of the papers.
At this point Daniels isn’t being at all quiet about it, as she’s figured out that her tawdry tale is worth far more than a mere $130 grand, and her recent best-selling tell-all book has included some rather explicit and unflattering descriptions of Trump’s penis and sexual skills, and these days it’s hard to keep that kind of thing out of the papers as well. Trump won a legal victory on Tuesday when a judge dismissed Daniels’ defamation suit against Trump for calling her claims “a total con job,” and she was even ordered to pay the defendant’s legal fees, with the decision explaining that “The court agrees with Mr. Trump’s argument because the tweet in question constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.”
At this point there really is no denying that “rhetorical hyperbole” and presidential “Twitter” feuds with pornographic video performers are now normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States, but that only makes us all the more nostalgic for pretty much every Republican president prior to Trump. We were also disappointed to see that the court didn’t even bother to put sneering quotation marks around “tweet,” but expect that the Twitter company’s lawyers will soon send it one of those threatening letters about using a trademarked term in a generic sense. Still, Trump couldn’t help gloating about his victory with one of his trademark ad hominem “tweets.”
“Federal Judge throws out Stormy Daniels lawsuit against Trump. Trump is entitled to full legal fees,” Trump “tweeted,” adding a link to his friends at Fox News. “Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the great state of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed! She knows nothing about me, a total con job.”
The true-blue Trump fans will love it, because “at least he fights” and all that blather, and they probably won’t notice that if you parse that last sentence according to the strict rules of the English language he’s confessing to being a total con job. By now the vast majority of the Republican party is no longer the least bit embarrassed to have its president engaged in a tawdry “Twitter” war with a pornographic video performer, and a more elevated level of presidential rhetoric is no longer one of those cultural heritages that conservatives care to conserve. They also won’t mind that “Horseface” nickname a bit, as that’s also by now normally associated with politics and public discourse, but they should be worried that Trump has picked a fight with an equally shameless and very formidable “Twitter” foe.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present your president,” Daniels “tweeted” back. “In addition to his … umm … shortcomings, he has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self-control on Twitter AGAIN. And perhaps a penchant for bestiality. Game on, Tiny.”
Trump fans can say what they want about this publicity=seeking pornographic video performer, but they must admit that at least she fights, and rather effectively by the current cage match rules of politics and public discourse. Most people figure that Trump probably did do the deed with Daniels, very few people pretend to believe he’s not at all the unfaithful sort of fellow who would ever do such a thing, and they’re already making excuses for him even if he did, so we expect that “Horseface” will fare better against “Tiny” in their mutually embarrassing “Twitter” war. That “Tiny” nickname will surely enrage Trump, and delight his critics to a similar degree, and might even explain a few things, so it could well stick.
We had previously been unaware of the existence of Dennis Hof, but we were intrigued by his obituary in The Washington Post on Tuesday. Apparently the 72-year-old Hof was the owner of a legal Nevada brothel called The Bunny Ranch, and thus became a star of a long-running reality show about the operation on some cable network that aired occasional nudity, but we were mostly struck by the fact he was also the Republican candidate for his district’s state Assembly seat. We’d like to think that candidates who proudly traffic in women’s flesh still wouldn’t pass Republican muster around here, but in the last presidential election most Kansas Republicans found no tolerable choice but the candidate who once ran a strip club in one of his bankrupt casinos, and for now we don’t see either side seeking the higher moral ground.
Oh how we long for those good old days of the stereotyped and ridiculed rock-ribbed and religiously upright blue-nosed Republican fuddy-duddies.

— Bud Norman</p

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After a Slow and Busy Weekend

For the next week or so the denouement of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination awaits the results of a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of his high school days, and for now the special counsel’s ongoing investigation of the “Russia thing” seems on a traditional hold until the mid-term elections, and although those mid-term-elections are already heating up in this cool fall weather they’re still more than a month away. In the meantime, we had a pretty good weekend around here.
The highlight of our weekend was accompanying our beloved Mom to the Saturday night opening of a new exhibit at the nearby Wichita Art Museum. She very much wanted to go, but these days our our beloved Dad isn’t getting around well, so she called to ask if we were willing to accompany her instead, and of course we couldn’t refuse the offer. Our Mom is the main reason we’re such culture vultures, as she dragged us every few months to the Wichita Art Museum and subjected us to the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s young people concerts and took us on weekly visits to the Wichita Public Library,as well as occasional visits to nights at the local theater, and we were eager to partially repay the debt and re-live the precious memories of our childhood.
The new exhibit at the Wichita Art Museum features some exceptional photographs of the subtly beautiful Kansas landscape, as well as some tough-but-true accounts of the off-beat Kansas farmers who keep it going, and if you happen to be in Wichita while it’s still up we highly recommend it. Our beloved Mom seemed impressed that we were friends with most of The Haymakers, the outstanding country-jazz-folky-and-bluesy outfit that played the opening, although the usual bass player was preoccupied due to his first-chair gig with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, and we were delighted to introduce her to several of our weird culture vulture friends, and they all seemed to enjoy meeting our beloved Mom, too.
The rest of the weekend was filled with a rousing but relatively early morning worship service at the West Douglas Church of Christ, followed by a long afternoon nap afterwards, and then some joke-swapping with a Navy veteran at Kirby’s Beer Store, and on the whole it was a pretty good weekend. All of the politics is for now unresolved, and won’t be for at least another five weeks or so, but in the meantime things seem to be working out well enough here on the south-central plains of Kansas.

— Bud Norman

A Hip-Hop Heave-Ho to “Suge” Knight

As caucasian and conservative Kansans of a certain age, our musical tastes tend  more to Peggy Lee and Hank Williams and the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and Chuck Berry and The Ramones than the latest cacophony, but we’re familiar enough with the “gangsta’ rap” genre that we took note “Suge” Knight has pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge which might result in what amounts to a life sentence.
If you’re not familiar with the oeuvre of Knight’s Death Row Records label we envy you, but you should know that over the past few decades it has exerted an undeniable influence on America’s popular culture. Back in the early hip-hop days that the youngsters now call “back in the day,” Death Row Records records made a ton of money peddling the most violent and misogynistic and generally nihilistic “gangsta’ rap” available on the open market. The shockingly violent lyrics were always delivered with a machine-gun staccato over a scary bass line, and they eerily echoed what we were reading in the local crime stories, and judging by the thudding music we’d hear every time we were stopped at a red light in certain parts of town it was a very lucrative trade.
At the time we covering the music beat for the local newspaper, and had interviewed Ice-T after his “Cop Killa'” peaked on the charts and one of the “Niggaz With Attitude” when they were the hottest thing going with equally anti-law enforcement sentiments, and even though  we witnessed the violence at their concerts we couldn’t argue with their rationalization that they were only expressing their reality. Even so, we argued with both that surely something more hopeful was going on in the ‘hood, and that things might better in the ‘hood if they stressed the best of it rather than glorifying the worst of it, and worried that “gangsta’ rap” might be both a cause and effect of the worst of it.
Back in the day, as the youngsters fondly call it, “gangsta’ rappers” used to shoot one another with alarming regularity. Death Row Records’ “artists” were often among both the victims and perpetrators, and Knight himself wound up facing various felony charges following various shoot-outs, but his record business was all the more brisk. Young black men of lesser renown were also gunning one another down at an alarming rate, here and everywhere else, and Death Row Records provided much of the soundtrack.
Since then things seem have calmed down a bit. Death Row Records is no long a major player on the music scene, and the few music critics we still occasionally read tell us that hip-hop is now about black empowerment and spirituality and other upbeat things. Ice-T has spent the last few decades playing cops on network television dramas, and that surprisingly friendly guy from “Niggaz With Attitude” has been playing the Dad character in some charmingly family-friendly blaxploitation flicks, and so far as we can tell from our red light stops in certain parts of town the latest hip-hop is less heavy on drive-by shootings and slapping  women and around and  generally defying law-enforcement and social norms. Except for a few mostly Democratic-run outlier big cities the black-on-black crime and the crime rate in general has been steadily declining since the heyday of “gangsta’ rap,” and we suspect both trends are both cause as well as effect.
It makes us feel suddenly aged to see that that this newfangled rap stuff is now so old that Knight is a rpideed 53 years old. Back in the day he’d have earned some valuable street cred by copping to a 28-year sentence, which would have been a mere 22 years if it weren’t his third felony strike, but these days he’s a hip-hop has-been who will go to prison for what might be the rest of his life with little notice.
C’est la vie, Suge. We well remember a better age of black music when Aretha and Sly and Otis and the Staple Singers were laying down far more musical tracks promising a new age of peace and brotherhood and equality, not to mention the likes of the great Duke Ellington Orchestra and Chuck Berry, and we hope it will long outlive the legacy of Death Row Records.

— Bud Norman

Try to Remember a Time in September

September is perhaps the most sporting month of the year in America, and usually provides some refuge from all the political and cultural squabbles that dominate the rest of the papers, but not this year.
This year the big story at the United States Open tennis championship was the women’s final singles match, which ended with a big brouhaha about sexism and racism. The professional football season started with the same acrimonious debate about free speech rights and proper respect for the national anthem that had already taken so much out of the past two seasons. Most of the baseball races in the big leagues have already been run, and around this double-A city our beloved Wichita Wingnuts have played their last-ever game in the gorgeous and history-laden Lawrence-Dumont Stadium that is scheduled for the bulldozer, which has the home folks arguing.
Not having followed tennis closely since way back when the undersized by scrappy Australian Rod Laver was winning his calendar Grand Slam sweep, we’ll not venture any strong opinions about what happened in the finals match between American Serena Williams and Japan’s Naomi Osaka. As even such casual fans as ourselves well know Williams has dominated her sport for the past couple of decades, but after the recent birth of a child and at the ripe old age of 36 her dominance is soon coming to and end, so fans were eager to see how she’d fare against an-up-coming who was three months old when Williams won her first Gland Slam title, but everyone hated out it turned out.
Youth proved better than experience in the first set, with Osaka racking up an easy win, but Williams has a long history of impassioned but calm comebacks in the second and third matches, and everyone was expecting another classic effort to tie Margaret Court’s record of 25 Grand Slam singles titles. The umpire made a couple of calls that annoyed Williams, one of them claiming she had illegally been getting coaching from the sidelines, which Williams took quite personally, and she wound up screaming loud and long at the referee and breaking her racket on the court and eventually getting penalized by two games, which put the set and match out of reach against such formidable competition.
A hard-earned win by either the aging superstar or the youthful newcomer who was playing against her life-long idol in her first Grand Slam final should have made for one of those corny feel-good stories we always look for on the sports pages, but in this case it ended for the aforementioned brouhaha about racism and sexism.
Some observers opined that tennis umpires routinely endure far worse verbal abuse from male players, and should extend the same courtesy to female players, while others suggested that the fact it was a strong black woman doing the screaming and racket-smashing might have had something to do with it. We don’t follow tennis closely enough to judge all the arguments about the calls or how commonly cheating violations are called or that particular umpire’s history of enduring verbal abuse from male players, but by now we’re all too familiar with the sexual and racial contretemps, so we’ll venture an admittedly ambivalent opinion that it’s much ado about nothing.
Ever since the days of America’s superstar tennis brats Jimmy Conner and Pat McEnroe those poor umpire’s in tall white chairs have indeed been putting up with a whole lot of verbal abuse from the male players, but we’d rather they stop doing that and start handing out game penalties rather than begin putting up with such nonsense from the fairer sex. Tennis is perhaps the most international and multiracial played on this increasingly interconnected globe, too, and in a match between a black woman and an Asian in front of an umpire with a Latin-sounding name, with Williams chasing a 25th Grand Slam title, it’s hard to imagine racism was much of a factor.
We fondly remember the days when tennis was a game of white shorts and shirts and friendly post-match handshakes and the most genteel standards of sportsmanship and decorum, with such great African-American champions as Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe best exemplifying the best of it, and if tennis wants to return to that better era we wish the sport well.
As for all that fuss about football and the flag, we’ve pretty much lost interest in the sport and are fed up with both sides of its ensuing controversies. Let the players rack up the debilitating brain injuries along with the hits that will likely hobble them into a premature old age, as that’s their choice and they make plenty of money for it, but we’ll choose to watch baseball and then wait until basketball season comes along. If we get to go to any more games around we’ll stand and hold our ever-present hat over our heart as the national anthem plays, with due respect to the freedoms the flag represents, and the men who fought and died for those freedoms, but we’ll not worry how some football player we won’t be watching exercises his freedom.
The Nike sneaker company has recently signed a promotional deal with one-time star quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the whole kneeling-during-the-anthem fuss and is now out of the league, partly because defenses started figuring him out and largely because of his politics, and we note that their sales have since gone up, but that others are burning their Nikes and vowing to never buy another pair from the oh-so-liberal company that makes its products mostly in Asian sweatshops. There’s no point in us boycotting Nike even if we were inclined to do so, as we’re old and creatures of habit and plan stick with the classic Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star footwear that have adorned our feet since our junior high days on the pickup courts, and as far as we’re concerned you can wear whatever you want.
The demise of the Wichita Wingnuts and the destruction of that grand old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium hits closer to home, of course, and serves as a sad reminder that politics will always prevail over sports. The mayor and some local capitalists are promising a far grander stadium somewhere along the same picturesque location on the west bank of the Arkansas River, with the same postcard view of downtown, and the preliminary sketches indicate there will be luxury boxes on a second deck, and they’ve already signed up a major league-affiliated triple-A team that wasn’t drawing well down in New Orleans. What’s left of the local media is making a big deal, and the talk is that if you build it they will come in far great numbers than the few thousand who showed up to watch independent and double-A Wingnuts in an aging old park for the very last time.
That “if you build it they will come” stuff is straight from a bad Kevin Costner movie, though, and we have our doubts about all the rest of it. No matter how fancy a park they build you won’t be able to tell your kid that Satchel Paige once pitched there, or how ‘Shocker and Toronto Blue Jays star Joe Carter once hit a homer clear across the street and into the Arkansas River, or share any of other history that the seventh-oldest professional ballpark in America has racked up over the years. Nor do we expect that whatever the losing “New Orleans Baby Cakes” are re-named will be as entertaining as the desperate outsiders’ hustle of the winning Wingnuts, and there probably won’t be a smoking section where we can watch with our cigar-chomping friends, and they’re even talking about how it’s going to screw up the scenic MacLean Boulevard drive along the river.
You can call all these developments social progress, we suppose, and there’s no denying that all the players in all the sports these days are bigger and faster and more scientifically conditioned than the heroes of our long-ago youth. Still, the kiddos should know of a happier time long ago when September offered a few more weeks of respite from the most brutal game of politics.

–Bud Norman

Burt Reynolds, RIP

Burt Reynolds died on Thursday at the age of 82, and we were sad to hear about it. He was in a few movies we quite liked, a few more that were forgettable but well worth a couple of hours and the ’70s and ’80s prices for a movie ticket, and even in the lousy movies that made up the most of his filmography he was always an appealing figure on the screen. Also, his passing makes us feel old.
At our age we can remember way back when the handsome and hunky and hirsute Reynolds was the biggest box office star and premier male sex symbol of the day, and suddenly it seems a long time ago. Reynolds was good-looking in a hyper-masculine way that is out of fashion with women in these oh-so-sensitive times, and he offset it with a self-aware sense of humor that today’s tough guys eschew, and his biggest hits had a low-tech earnestness about them that will probably strike the current crop of movie-goers as downright corny. There’s something to be said for such modern sensibilities, perhaps, but we hopefully expect that the best of Reynolds’ work will endure in our popular culture.
After an injury ended his promising career as a football player at Florida State University, Reynolds joined the theater department at the school in hopes of meeting hot co-eds, and thus began an acting career that started with co-starring roles in “Gunsmoke” and other television shows, followed by co-starring roles in some forgettable low-budget movies. He got his big break when he was cast in “Deliverance,” a hard-to-watch but must-see classic, and gave a clean-shaven and critically acclaimed performance as a hyper-masculine city slicker on an ill-fated canoe trip in hillbilly country, and after that he was for several years a very big movie star.
The eventual hero of “Deliverance” was the oh-so-sensitive character played by Jon Voight, and despite Reynolds’ nuanced performance it was his undeniable on-screen machismo and charmingly self-deprecating wit on all the talk shows that made him a much bigger movie star. Reynolds had a long run at the the top of the box office with the likes of “Smokey and the Bandit,” an extended car chase involving Reynolds’ macho-but-self-deprecating “Bandit” character trying to win a bet involving a six pack of Coors while a stereotypical southern sheriff played by Jackie Gleason pursues, and it’s not nearly so bad as it sounds. Another big hit was “Cannonball Run,” which has a cast of B-list all-stars on a coast-to-coast interstate highway race, and you could do worse on a rainy day of movie watching, although we can’t say the same for “Cannonball Run II.” He also made movies such as “Gator” and “The Longest Yard” for the southern white boy exploitation drive-in market, which were also huge hits, and despite our art house tastes we can heartily recommend “The Longest Yard.” Reynolds quite convincingly portrays a wisecracking football star who winds up in prison, where he leads an excellent cast of tough-guy character actors to victory over the guards’ semipro team, and it’s a faded color testosterone-laden little flick that is far better than it sounds.
While he was hot Reynolds also directed and starred in “The End,” a very dark comedy about a businessman with a terminal illness, and although it bombed at the box office we and the rest of the critics agreed that it was well worth watching, and that Reynolds really could act when given the chance. After years of relative anonymity his last round of critical acclaim and Oscars came with “Boogie Nights,” a very fine film about the pornography industry of the late ’70s and early ’80s, with the the graying but still-handsome Reynolds playing a pornographer with with artistic ambitions he could never achieve.
Although he always seemed a likable enough enough fellow to us, he was such a fixture of the news for so many years that we also read about what a jerk he could be, and we don’t doubt that at least some of it is true. He was married to Judy Carne, the British actress who went on to be the bikini-clad “Sock it to me” girl on “Laugh In,” and after the divorce and at the height of his male symbol status he dated the 20-years-older diva Dinah Shore, followed by a well publicized romance with “Smokey and the Bandit” co-star and America’s Sweetheart Sally Fields, and then a very public and acrimonious divorce from the blond and buxom sit-com star Loni Anderson. He always admitted everything in his self-deprecating way, however, and we’ll miss having him around in America’s increasingly crazy popular culture.

— Bud Norman

Happy Labor Day, and Good Luck With Tuesday

Today is Labor Day in America, which is our most bittersweet holiday of the year. We like the idea of everyone taking a day off to honor all the hard work folks are putting in the rest of the year, and relish the bratwurst and beer and baseball that the day always brings, but it’s always followed by a Tuesday when summer is over.
There will probably be more than a few hot and sunny top-down driving days left here on the Kansas plains, but we’re already noticing that the days do indeed grow short when you reach September, even here on the far western edges of the vast central time zone, and Labor Day always signals that the blissfully lazy and hazy days of summer are officially over. School is back in session, those crawling school zone speed limits are back in effect, pretty much everyone on the streets is back at some unpleasant chore, the nation turns its attention from the elegant sport of baseball to the primal combat of football, and in these even-numbered years an even more brutal political campaign season commences.
Our advice is to put all that off until tomorrow. Better you should charbroil a plump bratwurst and put it in a bun with some roasted jalapeño slices and smother it in plenty of mustard, drink a beer or two or three, watch your hometown baseball team if the game doesn’t get rained out, as our local forecast warns, and enjoy what a great country all that American labor has somehow produced. There will be time enough for the rest of it starting on damn Tuesday.

— Bud Norman

Hard Times at Your Hometown Newspaper

Have you noticed lately that your hometown newspaper is a mere shell of its former self? That seems to be the case all over, and it pains us to say that the situation is particularly dire around here.
A couple of days ago we were taking home some blue-hot Khao-Paad chicken fried rice from the terrific Thai House joint over on West Street, and we ran into a fine old newspaper colleague who glumly told us about the latest round of newsroom layoffs that had come down earlier in the afternoon. We long worked with all three of the victims she mentioned, and well know all of them as good guys who did good work, and it occurred to us that they’re the kind of ever-loyal employees a business lays off right before it goes under.
Our friend told us there were still nearly 20 newsroom employees left, between the writing and editing and photographic and clerical staff, but that’s hardly enough to cover all the daily newsworthy events in a fascinating metropolitan area of half-a-million complicated souls, much less a fascinating state with some two-and-half-million complicated souls. Back when we first started as college drop-outs at the very bottom of the newsroom hierarchy, way back in the year President Ronald Reagan was first elected, the newsroom had well over a hundred extremely complicated employees we dealt with, and even then that remarkably talented group was never quite up to the task.
That was before the epochal internet, however, when the only way to get stock quotations and baseball scores and maybe a few relatively in-depth paragraphs about the latest local and state national scandals was by paying a full 25 cents for a thick and full-sized ad-filled copy of your hometown paper. Our hometown paper was printing money almost as fast as the basement’s presses churned out the state and county and hometown editions, and lavishly endowed its newsroom with well-credentialed new hires and generous expense accounts for statewide travel and even the occasional visit to Broadway for the theater critic and the Paris Air Show for the aviation writer, and it was an exciting time to be in the newspaper racket, and we’d always walk home through the empty downtown streets of early morning downtown Wichita with satisfaction that we’d helped to put out a pretty damned good newspaper for our hometown, and that it was at least worth one measly quarter from a Wichitan’s spare change.
These days the up-to-the-minute stock quotations and baseball scores are just a couple of free clicks away on the internet machine where you’re reading this, and high-tech targeted job sites and the clunky-looking Craigslist and various other for-sell sites have stolen all the once lucrative classified advertising business, so the old business model is no longer sustainable. Which leads to the lay-offs that devalue the product, which then goes up in price, and these days the paper is literally smaller — not quite tabloid-sized, but less than the full broadsheet of the glory days — and the remaining staff is stuffed into a start-up sized office space in Old Town and the rag now costs a full buck and a half. There are still some capable journalists left, but as much as we admire their daily efforts they’re hard press to come up with a full buck and a half’s worth of journalism from a dwindling number of readers every day. The news out of Topeka is mostly reported by the skeletal crew at the fellow McClachy-owned Kansas City Star, which the hometown paper once tried to scoop on any statewide story, the national stuff is all from the decimated wire services, and now that the paper is printed in Kansas City and trucked down the turnpike all of the Royals’ west coast baseball scores are a full day old.
By the time we’d scratched and clawed our way from the copy boy’s desk to a front-page by-line things were changing, but it was just in time to get in on the last of a golden age of local journalism. The expense accounts were no longer so generous, but we still spent an entire legislative session in Topeka, and routinely a couple of fill-ups in the western expanse of Kansas, There was plenty to gripe about with our local newspaper, but its crusty old executive editor frequently feuded with his corporate bosses and allowed us to freely vent during the daily staff meetings, and the paper did a lot of good work. Most of our colleagues had been inspired to enter journalism by the movie “All the President’s Men”, and wanted nothing more than to bring down the local equivalent of President Richard Nixon, whereas we’d been inspired by the movie “His Girl Friday,” and mostly wanted to wear fedoras and shout into candlestick phones and wind up with such a hot sassy gal as Rosalind Russell, but between us we came with a full half-bucks worth of daily reading.
Those crusading left-wing baby-boomers did uncover a lot of shady dealings by both Republican and Democratic officials, and  for a couple of decades we enjoyed a middle class lifestyle by filing factual accounts of some obscure public  another as well as some occasional right-of-center commentary and numerous well-told New Journalism tales of what it was like for some folk artist recreational vehicle owner to be alive on the Kansas plains on a certain day. Despite the occasional corrections and the numerous times that the factual reports largely missed the point, none of it was “fake news,” except in a couple of cases the paper fully confessed while firing the offending reporters, and we still say it was well worth the two or four bits you’d have paid for it.
There was always a certain left-wing tilt to paper, and those out-of-town editors the corporate owners brought in never did get the hang of a place like Wichita, but it wasn’t “fake news,” and we mostly blame the internet and Craig’sList and those high-tech targeted advertising sites and the creative destruction of capitalism that has also wiped out coal-mining and the photographic film industry, as well as the growing indifference and illiteracy of the reading public. We can’t at all blame any of our three recently laid-off friends, and only wish them the best.
The three most recent lay-off victims are just the latest in a decades old decline, which has seen the defenestration of several dozen top-notch reporters and writers and photographers, and reduced our hometown paper to its current sorry state. The paper had already laid off several worthy staffers when we quite in disgust, and we’ve been astounded about who’s been laid off since, and we wonder how long the rest of the emaciated staff will stay on the job. We put in enough time in the corporate chain to be vested in a pension, which assured is not invested in media stocks, and we hope our erstwhile colleagues will eventually enjoy the same benefit, although we don’t know what kind of deal offered when they came on board, and we wish all of us the best.
Which is bad news for everyone who used to enjoy a middle class lifestyle by working in daily journalism, and bad news for the rest of our prairie hometown and everyone in your locality as well. Those public officials can now pad their expense accounts with less worry, the state legislature can more comfortably do something astoundingly stupid with less public notice, and voters will wander into voting booths less knowledgable about the scoundrels they’re voting for. It should go without saying, but these days we feel obliged to vouch that our three recently unemployed friends are by no means enemies of the people.

— Bud Norman

Foul-Mouthed Parrots and a Day Off From the News

Monday was a busy news day, but it was also our birthday, so we decided to take a day off from all that important stuff. We can’t break our habit of writing something every weekday about something we’ve come across in this press, however, so we’ll pass along this amusing true story about a firefighter and a foul-mouth parrot in England.
The story reminded us of a good friend who has the parrot’s offensive phrase tattooed on his forearm, and we also recalled all the great foul-mouthed parrot jokes we’ve heard over the years. Lacking anything else to say at the end of  a long celebratory revelry with old friends, we’ll re-tell our favorite of the genre:
A guy is walking down the street one day, and as he passes a pet shop that has a parrot in a bird cage on the sidewalk the bird says “Asshole.” The guy stops, turns around and walks up to the cage, looks at the parrot and says “What did you call me?” The parrot looks back at him and says, “Asshole.”
So the guy storms into the shop, demands to speak with the owner, and starts railing about the foul-mouthed parrot on the sidewalk and what if a child walked by and how it’s a public nuisance and he’s going to call the cops. The owner apologizes profusely, says he’ll take of it, and promises that it won’t happen again.
The next day the guy walks down the same street past the same pet shop, and this time the parrot on the sidewalk doesn’t say anything. The guy stops, turns around, walks up to the cage and looks at the parrot, then says “Well, I guess I shut you up.” The parrot looks right back at him, and says “You know what you are.”
That’s all we’ve got for now, but we’ll be back on the job tomorrow, and hope we’ll find something else amusing in the news.

— Bud Norman

Just Another Manic Wednesday, and Probably Manic Thursday

Our Wednesday here in Wichita was largely spent complying with the city’s housing codes regarding weedy lawns and broken brick work and similarly embarrassing mtters, along with other desultory chores, but somewhere in between we garnered enough national and international news from the car radio and the internet to be apprised that things are tough all over.
Our only important appointment today is to tape an appearance on a local low-rated but ultra high frequency television station’s libertarian talk show, and the host is an old friend of ours from the punk rock days who has asked us comment on the Kansas gubernatorial race, so we also had the desultory chore of catching up on that. So far as we can tell Kansas’ politics is what the World War II GIs used to call “SNAFU,” if not so dreadful that we couldn’t come up with some light-hearted comic material about it, but we’ll save that for those lucky few who tune into the ultra-high frequencies in this relatively blessed part of the world.
As for the rest of it, we’re just too plum tuckered — as we old folks still say here in Kansas — to offer any in-depth analysis. We’ll get around to some of what we’ve noticed soon enough, but on this busy Thursday it’s probably best that we all mind our more pressing business.

— Bud Norman

Trump and the NFL Go into Overtime

Major League baseball has some intriguing pennant races heating up, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League both have their championship series underway, and of course the big sports story on Tuesday was about the National Football League and President Donald Trump.
Even in the off-season, the rivalry between the NFL and Trump is almost as riveting as the Boston Red Sox’ and New York Yankee’s classic brawl in the American League East. On Tuesday Trump put it back at the top of the sports and politics pages by rescinding at the last moment an invitation for a traditional visit by the winners of the last Super Bowl. It’s not really all that big a deal, but it does illustrate something about Trump and his times that is more worrisome.
If you somehow haven’t been following this bizarre subplot of the bigger Trump reality show, it all started when a few NFL players knelt on one knee during the national anthem to draw attention to their beliefs about several recent cases of police killing black suspects. Many fans understandably regarded the protests as disrespectful to the flag and national anthem and the nation itself, and Trump eagerly championed their views, getting huge cheers at his ongoing campaign rallies by calling on owners to “fire that son-of-a-bitch” who took a knee. The die-hard fans loved it so much that Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence back to Indiana just to walk out of an Indianapolis Colts game where some player took a knee, all the right-wing talk radio hosts agreed that Trump obviously loved America and that his critics did not, and eventually the NFL owners passed a policy that mandated respectful standing and hands over hearts by all its employees during the national anthem.
Trump could have spiked the ball and done his end zone dance at that point and moved on to the next bizarre subplot, but he milked it just a little bit more by calling off the traditional visit by the NFL champs. This year’s champions are the plucky underdog Philadelphia Eagles, none of whom ever took a knee during the national anthem, except for a guy who got cut in the pre-season, which should have made a hell of a photo-op for Trump, but less than a dozen of the players wanted to pose for a picture with the president, so Trump called it off. He blamed the team for various dubious reasons, none of which included the vast majority of the players’ reluctance to be photographed with him, but no one’s buying that, and Fox News tried to help out by showing some photos of a few Eagles kneeling in the end zone but later had to admit it showed a pre-game and pre-anthem prayer ritual for good health, and the die-hard fans don’t care.
Trump filled the scheduled time by having what was once John Phillip Sousa’s U.S. Marine Band play the national anthem and “God Bless America” on the White House lawn, with Trump standing at attention with a reverent gaze at the flag and his hand on his heart and his lips mouthing some approximation of the the lyrics, and he clearly implied that this is what true patriotism looks like. The die-hard fans probably loved it, even the Eagles fans among them, but we’ve read enough Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis that it looked like political kitsch to to us, the sort of tear-jerking but all-too-easy sort of patriotism that draft-dodging demagogues always appeal to.
At every Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball game and Wichita Wingnuts game we always stand and doff our hat and hold it over heart during the national anthem, and we join in the “Pledge of Allegiance” whenever it comes up at commencement ceremonies or public meetings, and we do our best at the harder chores true patriotism entails.
We’d prefer that those football players find some way to protest police shootings other than kneeling during the national anthem, and acknowledge that in many if not all cases those police shootings were justifiable acts of self-defense, and more thoughtfully confront the complicated matter of the crucial role police play in the far bigger problem of black-on-black civilian shootings, but we acknowledge their right to disagree. Most of the Philadelphia Eagles also stood at respectful attention during the national anthem but didn’t want to be photographed with a president who wanted to impose that decision on them, and we don’t disagree at all.
Trump also had to cancel a traditional visit from last season’s NBA championships due to their reluctance, and this year the Cleveland Cavaliers’ all-time superstar LeBron James has said that neither team in the finals, even if his plucky underdog squad could pull off a miracle comeback against the Golden State Warriors, would accept a White House invitation. NBA championship players are all multi-millionaires but usually black, and remain friends with black guys who have legitimate concerns about getting shot by the police, and however complicated the arguments are we can see why don’t care to pose with Trump. Whoever prevails in that red-hot race in the American League East is our pick for World Series champion, and all the contenders are diverse enough that we’re sure a a decisive few will decline Trump’s invitation for a White House visit and photo-op. The NHL finalists are both United States franchises, not the few remaining founding franchises from those damned Canadians we’re lately waging trade war with, and they’re almost entirely white, but they’re mostly manned by damned foreigners taking jobs from hard-working Americans.
Although Trump likes to tout himself as a winner, for now he’ll have to forgo a lot of photo-ops with the winners of America’s professional sport championships. Even the players who stand respectfully with hand over heart during the national anthem don’t seem to like Trump’s attempts to bully them into doing so, and in the highly unlikely event we ever found ourselves on a championship team we’d surely feel the same.
If standing for the national anthem ever comes to mean standing for Trump, we’ll ruefully take a knee ourselves. That would be a big deal.

— Bud Norman