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Satire Without Retribution, and Other National Emergencies

Nothing much happened over this past cold weekend, despite a State of National Emergency, but of course the long running Saturday Night Live program on the National Broadcasting Company once again made fun of President Donald Trump. Trump, of course, “tweeted” back his indignant response.
Trump “tweeted” that “Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on fake news NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real collusion.”
Although we wouldn’t go so far as to declare a State of National Emergency, we did find Trump’s reaction to a comedy skit rather alarming.
There’s no accounting for taste, but we found the bit quite funny, and all too accurate a parody of Trumps rambling and incoherent and dissembling press conference on Friday, and we note that NBC’s “fake new” division is independent of the entertainment division that used to air Trump’s fraudulent yet hit reality show “The Apprentice,” and once featured Trump as a guest host on “SNL” during unlikely primary campaign. As for how the networks get away with it without retribution, we’re pretty sure there’s a loophole in the constitution that allows satirists to to satirize even a president. You can look into it, but if you do you’ll find it right there in  the First Amendment to the Constitution. As for that part about Trump calling the skit “the real collusion,” we have absolutely no idea what the hell he’s talking about.
Those late night network comics are an insufferably smug bunch, we must admit, but they make undeniably funny jokes and good points, and as old-fashioned constitutional conservatives we hope they’ll continue to do so without fear of retribution. We also wish Trump well in his efforts to make America great again, but we don’t hold out much hope if he doesn’t learn to take a joke.

— Bud Norman

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Happy Valentine’s Day, If Possible

Today is Valentine’s Day, although you probably wouldn’t notice it here at the home office. Ours is a contentedly solitary home life, shared only with a crabby cat named Miss Ollie, as we’ve had our fill of romance and true love and all that at this late point in life, but we nonetheless wish an especially good day to anyone out there who is still so foolhardy as to fall in love.
Based on our observations of our vast and very diverse friendships and friendly acquaintanceships, which includes a lot of young folk,  falling in love is less common than it used to be, and according to an astute columnist at The Washington Post there’s more scientific proof of that. He cites a professor’s study that 85 percent of “baby boomer” and “Gen. X” high school seniors went on dates, but that had fallen to 56 by 2015. Between 1989 and 2016 the percentage of twenty-somethings who were married had fallen from an already low 32 percent to unprecedented 19 percent, and we can count many many solitary individuals among our friends and friendly acquaintances of all ages.
Having come of age during the height of the Sexual Revolution, when everybody seemed to be heeding The Beatles’ advice to “Do It in the Road,” we’re quite surprised and entirely unsure what to make of the evidence that there’s also less sex going on, as the percentage of twenty-somethings who admit they haven’t been getting any lately has reportedly risen by half over the same ’89 to ’26 period. It’s fine by us if more young people have forgone the ephemeral pleasures and lasting pains of doing it in the road, but the same conservative instincts have us rooting despite all evidence for the propagation of the species, and when we note the falling birth rates, except in the poorest and most primitive parts of the world, it seems a mixed blessing.
All of these desultory statistics are backed up by our anecdotal evidence from the nightspots we visit,. We’ll often see attractive young couples in the next booth, but they’re invariably looking at those confounded machines in their palms rather into one another’s eyes. Our younger friends and friendly acquaintances frequently tell us about their sexual attraction to some other young friend or friendly acquaintance, but they don’t seem very hopeful, and they very rarely confess the sort of romantic yearnings we used to share with anyone who would listen. Try as we might to avoid the contemporary popular culture, it’s so unavoidable that we’ve noticed it doesn’t encourage romantic love the way it did back in the days of MGM musicals and clean-cut pop song crooners. Our politics are full of porn stars and Playboy playmates and serial marriages, and that’s just the Republicans, not to mention all the scandalous behavior those damned Democrats have long been up to..
Which is a shame, on the whole, as we figure it. True love entails risks, as we can readily attest, but so does life itself, and there’s no way life can go on without it. Among our many friends and friendly acquaintances we count many who have been happily coupled for many years, and like Walt Whitman we revel in “the chaste blessings of the well-married couple, and the fruits of orchards and flowers of gardens.”
We’ve been happily spared the perfunctory chores of buying chocolates and cards and flowers and expensive dinners at any restaurants the past several Valentine’s Days, but if you’re currently obliged to do so we urge you to do it hopefully. It might just work out happily ever after, and even if it doesn’t we can assure you there might be some memories you can warmly recall in some cold winter of your old age.

— Bud Norman

Summing Up a Life in a Two-Column Headline

A friend of ours is a formidable theater and movie critic, and over the weekend he fulminated on Facebook that the Scripps National news service ran an obituary with the headline “Albert Finney, who played Daddy Warbucks in ‘Annie,’ has died at age 82.” We don’t quite share our friend’s affinity for Finney, but we well understand the annoyance.
Finney was indeed an outstanding actor, and he earned five Academy Award nominations over a five-decades-long career and starred in such memorable movies as “Tom Jones” and “Two for the Road” and “Miller’s Crossing,” and although “Annie” was a nice enough flick and featured a typically fine Finney performance we’re sure he’d have preferred some other headline. It’s as if Dwight Eisenhower were remembered as a “well known amateur golfer,” or Tom Hanks is sent off as the “star of TV’s ‘Bosom Buddies,'” or Harrison Ford’s eventual obit identifies him as “One of the Soldiers in ‘Force 10 from Navarone.'”
Alas, the headlines on obituaries rarely put their subjects in proper perspective. The late and great country crooner Charlie Rich cut such little-known classics as “Lonely Weekends” and “Who Will the Next Fool Be?” for the legendary Sun Records label, but when he died all the “lede” paragraphs mention the schlocky major label hits “When We Get Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” The late and great musician Doug Sahm got short but respectful mentions in the country music press and the rock ‘n’ roll magazines and the jazz and blues publications as well as the pages devoted to Mexican-American music, but no one put them all together to explain his extraordinary and eclectic career. Most musicians and actors and writers and athletes and politicians and businesspeople, as it turns out, tend to be remembered for work they’d rather forget.
Poor Monica Lewinksy could discover a cure for cancer, but the obits will still someday remember her as the femme fatale fellatrix of Bill Clinton’s infamous sex scandal, which will also surely be mentioned in the “ledes” and headlines when Trump passes on. Such notable statesmen as Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Sen. John McCain had historic careers that culminated in their parties presidential nominations, but the headline was that they lost the general election. Such athletes as Yogi Berra and the recently deceased Frank Robinson were noted for the record-setting achievements on the playing field, but you had to read several paragraphs into the obituaries to hear about their excellent character and lifelong devotion to family and friends. These days we expect a number of very creative people will be recalled for the time they made an unwelcome pass or told an ethnic joke that would have passed muster just a decade or so earlier. Writers’ obits, we shudder to notice, almost always omit their best stuff.
So it will probably be for the rest of us, too.
We started our journalistic career on the “dead beat,” as newspaper folk waggishly call the obituary desk, so we know all too well that it’s an impossible task. Even the most mundane lives can’t be encapsulated in column inches, even on the rare occasions when they jump to a later page, and the parents and spouses and children and longtime friends of the subjects never find them satisfying. The “last writes” — as newspaper folk waggishly call them — never fully convey the human faults nor the exceptional qualities of the dearly departed, and only God can weigh them in the balance. Still, we’d wish the “dethwriters” — are we’re known in newspaper lingo — will take more care.
One day on the “dead beat” at a Kansas City newspaper we had to write up the death of a Kansas City area man who’d been hit by a semi truck and dragged for several miles underneath on a highway outside Needles, California. After getting the accident report from the California Highway Patrol we were obliged to speak with the poor fellow’s widow, who told us that her husband was a talented welder who couldn’t find work in the recessionary Kansas City economy, which was why he was hitchhiking in central California and came to be hit by that truck. After conforming the spelling of all the survivors’ names and the details of the funeral service, we ended the interview according to journalistic best practice by asking if there was anything that people should know but we’d neglected to ask about. A pregnant pause followed, then she told us that “Well, he never was a lucky man.”
In some cases, we suppose, a life can be summed up in single sentence.
The great novelist Jospeh Conrad wrote such masterpieces as “The Heart of Darkness” and “Lord Jim” and “Nostromo” and “The Secret Agent,” but we have a particular fondness for a little known work of his called “Chance.” The novel defied the literary rule that everything in the plot should derive from the characters’ actions, as Conrad believed that pure random chance plays a bigger role in real life, and by chance we came across a second edition in a used book store. Conrad had an introduction to the second edition which responded to his editors and critics, who had complained that the story was overlong, which is a common complaint of both editors and critics, and we cherish his advice. Conrad rightly noted that with sufficiently rigorous editing the story of all humankind “can be written on a cigarette paper — he was born, he lived, he died.”

— Bud Norman

The Beat Goes On in the Heartland

Wichita is a surprising city, and even after more than half a century here we have recently been surprised to discover that the local music scene is better than ever and suddenly as good as you’ll find in far bigger cities.
Kirby’s Beer Store held its annual “Meat Fest” on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and you should have been there. The notorious little ghetto dive bar has been holding the event in the dead of winter for the past couple of decades are so, and it always features plenty of free meat grilled on the patio, a non-stop lineup of local bands, and a massive crowd of young and old hipsters, but this year’s edition was the best we can recall. The hot dogs and sausages and burgers and pulled barbecue barbecue were delicious, and the music even more so. We didn’t get to hang around long enough to hear all of the 38 — count ’em, 38 — local acts, but we heard enough to confirm that Wichita at the moment is one of America’s most musical cities.
Aside from the quality and quantity of the output, we were also struck by its diversity. On Thursday we heard an intriguing jazz-rock-hip-hop quarter called the Lewelheads, the next night was a hard-rocking but straight-up country-and-western outfit called Sunshine Trucking, and Saturday’s highlight was a rough-edged punk band with a slightly country woman singing called Herd of the Huntress. Sunday brought an assortment of small group and solo acts, including a sleepy-eyed six-foot-six or so fellow of approximately 280 pounds who bills himself Tired Giant and had some heartbreaking songs about his alcoholic dad, a dreadlocked young white woman named Juliet Celedor, and a hard-to-define trio of bass and cello and guitar called Sombre Sangre. Local hard rock legends Black Flag also performed, as did the popular blues chanteuse Jenny Wood and the venerable jazz guitarist Sterling Gray, and the always excellent guitarist and singer Tom Page did a set, and we’re told we missed a whole lot of other good stuff.
Somehow some of the city’s best missed the lineup, too. The top-notch folk-country-jazz-blues Haymakers couldn’t be there, Folk rocker and standards singer Nikki Moddelmog and her crack brand were unavailable, and although the lovely rock chanteuse Lalanea Chastain was in the audience she never took the stage, and there’s a very hot young trumpet-playing jazzbo named Nathan williams who didn’t appear with either of his two very good outfits. Not to mention all the great show tune singers and gospel shouters in town who didn’t get an invitation.
Not bad for a mid-sized city in the middle of the country, but Wichita does have its advantages. Folks have been playing music all along around here, and the city has produced such notable performers as rockabilly legend Marvin Rainwater and hippie heroes The Serfs and the all-time great punk band The Embarrassment, as well the punk-bluegrass Split Lip Rayfield with its small but fervent internal cult following, and a surprising number of globally acclaimed opera singers. Here in the middle of the country Wichita was a regular stop for all the great jazz bands of Kansas City’s heyday, as well as northern stop for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and all the great western swing outfits, the southern bluesman also played here on a regular basis, and Wichita always welcomed all the hard-rocking bands from the industrial midwest during the ’60s and ’70s. The music departments at Wichita State University and Friends University supply the city with well-trained classical and jazz players, too, and the city’s churches provide plenty more thoroughly educated musicians, not to mention all the autodidacts that Wichita seems to spawn.
Wichita’s big enough to have talented people from each of America’s many rich musical traditions, but it’s small enough that they all wind up meeting one another and playing together and creating some intriguing combinations of styles you won’t find elsewhere. The city is racially diverse, as well, and lately several of its best bands feature talented white and black and Latino and Native American and Asian players, and the teenagers and the twenty-somethings and even the players we fondly remember from our long-ago youth on the Wichita music scene also get together.There’s a variety of venues of various sizes that offer them a place to play, and the city government has even started a free bus service along the stretch of Douglas where you’ll find most of them. Lacey Cruse, another talented singer, was recently elected to the Sedgwick County Commission, and music retains a powerful influence in Wichita.
Throughout America’s rich musical history such cities as New Orleans and Chicago and Memphis and Nashville and New York and Los Angeles have always played an outsized role, and at times such locals as Akron, Ohio, and Athens, Georgia, and Minneapolis and Oklahoma City have their eras of prominence, but American music lovers shouldn’t overlook Wichita, especially now.
If you’re out of town and can’t make here for a night at Kirby’s or Barleycorns or the Shamrock or the Artichoke or the Cotillion or that new Wave place over in rocking Old Town, we suggest you venture out in your own hometown to see what’s cooking in the local dives. What’s on the radio and television these days is mostly awful, and the best American music has always popped in the most unusual places, so there’s a good chance you’ll find something better.

— Bud Norman

Just Another Manic Tuesday

There was no big story of the day on Tuesday, but there were more than enough small ones to fill the remaining newspapers and the cable network’s 24-hours. The partial government shutdown continues, so does the “Russia thing,” and Republican congressman has been rebuked for his long history of racist sentiments. On the pop culture front President Donald Trump served the reigning national collegiate football champs a feast of fast food, and a legend of a better era of show biz showed up in the obituary pages.
The Democrats who now comprise a majority of the House of Representatives declined Trump’s invitation to a negotiating session to end the partial government shutdown, and we can’t blame them, as Trump would have insisted on funding for his long-promised wall along the entire southern and every public opinion poll shows that majority of the public doesn’t want it. Public disapproval of the both the wall and the partial government shutdown are such that a few Republican senators up for a ’20 reelection in purplish states will vote for a spending bill to fully reopen the government with no wall funding, a few more are willing to vote for a bill with less wall funding than Trump insists on, while a few more are willing to vote for a deal that gives Trump his border wall funding but also the Democrats’ position on amnesty for the “dreamers” who were illegally brought into the country as children. At this point the Democrats can plausibly win a veto-proof number of votes in both chambers of Congress to end the shutdown on their terms, and have no reason to let Trump act tough in front of the cameras for his die-hard base of support.
Meanwhile, the “Russia thing” keeps getting worse for Trump. The special counsel investigation have made new court filings about former Trump campaign manager and already-convicted felon Paul Manafort, and although they’re heavily redacted for national security reasons they all indicate  his contacts and  financial dealings with the Russians were even more extensive than theist year’s alarming reports had already indicated. In other interesting “Russia thing” news, Trump’s Treasury Department’s attempts to lift sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, whose name keeps popping up in this “Russia thing,” met with congressional opposition, and eleven — count ’em, eleven — Republican Senators joined every last one of the Democrats in voting for the resolution to stop the deal. So far as we can tell this Deripaska fellow is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg, as W.C. Fields would have put it, and we can’t blame any Republican who doesn’t want to explain why he’s siding with Trump’s Treasury Department about it. What with the recent reports about Trump’s disdain for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and keeping his talks with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin secret, this “Russia thing” keeps looking worse.
Elsewhere in the news the House of Representatives voted to rebuke Rep. Steve King of Iowa and take away his committee assignments for his long history of outrageously racist statements, with the resolution passing by a margin of 424-to-1, which of course of included all but one of the remaining Republicans. Although King has long been over-the-top in his defense of what he calls “western civilization,” but his recent lament to The New York Times about how “white supremacy” and “white nationalism” somehow have a negative connotation these days was too much for even the most wall-building sorts of Republicans.
Trump did well with the fast food feast in the White House dining room, on the other hand. There was the predictable snooty sniping about the portrait of Abraham Lincoln looking down a White House dining table stacked with McDonald’s Quarter Pounders and Big Macs and Wendy’s double-cheeseburgers and Burger King’s Whoppers, along with some Domino’s pizza, but Trump reportedly paid the few thousand-dollar tab himself in honor of the partial government shutdown and the visiting Clemson University Tigers seemed to appreciate it, including that very promising quarterback with the hippy-dippy haircut.
Once upon a more genteel time in America President Franklin Roosevelt treated the King and Queen of England to a meal of hot dogs in the White House dining to room, an apparent attempt to reassure Great Depression America he had the common touch, but First Lady Eleanor spoiled the effort by passing the accent on the second part and asking the Queen if she’d like another “hot dog.” Trump’s affinity for fast food is obviously more authentic, the reigning champions of college football seems to share his tastes, and for whatever that says about America’s diet Trump got a rare photo opportunity with some winners.
Also on Tuesday we were saddened to note the passing of Carol Channing at the ripe old age of 97. It’s such a ripe old age that most Americans won’t remember her long career as a Broadway show-stopper, but we’re old enough to know from her occasional show-stopping and Oscar-winning movie roles and frequent variety show appearances and several hit records, and can testify that she was really something. She was a gangly six feet tall with weirdly wide eyes, yet inexplicably attractive enough to star in Broadway and Hollywood movies, and she had a raspy voice that all the nightclub comics did impressions of, yet she’s still one of our favorite singers, and Republicans and Democrats alike agreed she had one of those irresistible personalities that projected all the way to the back of any theater.
We expect that today will bring lots more news, too, and hope that some of it will be good.

— Bud Norman

The Whisker Rebellion

The ongoing and seemingly endless argument about a border wall and its resulting partial government shutdown seemed the most absurd story of the day, but then we caught our first glimpse of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wearing his newly-grown beard.
Apparently we were late notice, as the beard looks fairly far along, and the terms “Ted Cruz” and “beard” yielded more than 5 million “hits” when we typed it on the Bing search engine. So far the beard seems to be getting decidedly mixed reviews, as beards usually do. Some find it rather dashing, others consider it ridiculous, and quite a few paid the backhanded compliment that at least it covers up a certain portion of Cruz’s face.
Cruz does have an unlovely visage, which bears an unfortunate resemblance to Al Lewis’ “Grandpa Munster” character on the old “Munsters” sit-com, and that has no doubt been an impediment to his political ambitions. It can’t explain his runner-up finish in the Republican primaries to President Donald Trump, who is by no means a matinee idol, but it probably had something to do with his relatively narrow win against the crazily leftist but youthfully handsome Democrat Beto O’Rourke last November. Our guess is that the close call prompted Cruz to grow the beard, as these days beards are thought to convey a hip and up-to-date style.
Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, James Garfield and Benjamin Harrison all wore beards, while Presidents Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft all sported mustaches, and President Martin Van Buren had some formidable sideburns, but back then facial hair was meant to convey the wisdom of age and an Old Testament sort of seriousness. Since Woodrow Wilson every president has been clean shaven, as until recently beards were largely associated with bums and beatniks, and except for Kansas Gov. Bob Bennett back in the mid-70s we can’t recall any politicians with any sort of notable whiskers. Former Vice President Al Gore famously grew a beard, and might still have it for all we know, as he hasn’t been in the news for a while, but that was after he’d lost the electoral vote to President Bush and around the same time he got divorced.
Beards are back in fashion, though, and might yet reappear on a presidential portrait. They no longer convey the wisdom of old age and a certain sort of Old Testament seriousness, but those qualities are by now hopelessly out of fashion, and we can well imagine modern voters preferring something more hip and up-to-date. Even so, we think the Cruz beard is a mistake.
To our admittedly heterosexual tastes few men look better with facial hair, and Cruz is not the exception. In his case a beard won’t fool anyone into thinking that he’s anything but a bookish and ideological square, and we still think he’d do better with that image. He can’t maintain the tough guy image he once sought to portray after so much obsequiousness to the victor who dubbed him “Lyin’ Ted” and ridiculed his wife’s looks and insinuated that this father was in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, and he’ll never be anybody’s idea of hip and up-to-date, and he’s unlikely to ever be president, so he might as well be the authentically clean-cut conservative that we hope still lurks behind that shiny new beard.

— Bud Norman

On Profanity and Politics

Michigan’s newly sworn-in Rep. Rashida Tlaib got a lot of attention over the weekend after she was inadvertently taped telling a group of liberal activists that she hoped to impeach President Donald Trump, It wasn’t her use of the so-called “I Word” that drew notice, however, but rather that she called Trump a very vulgar term that implies he has Oedipal tendencies.
Trump responded that Tlaib had “disgraced herself” with such language, and of course there was also much tsk-tsking about it on the right, but they’re all hypocrites for doing so. Trump himself has used the alluded-to term in front of a large crowd knowing that the microphones were on and the cameras were rolling and it would live forever on YouTube, and he has done as much as anyone to drag America’s political discourse into the rhetorical gutter. Such Trumpian language as “schlonged” and “son of a bitch” and the use of “pussy” in a certain sense were once dutifully bowdlerized by such respectable publications as this, but these days all those asterisks seem unnecessary for even such a respectable readership as ours..
Which is a gosh-darned shame, as far as we’re concerned.
The coarsening of the American language has long been a project of the left, starting with the vastly overrated nightclub comedian Lenny Bruce and all those foul-mouthed hippy-dippy protestors and Hollywood movies of the ’60s and ’70s. President Bill Clinton’s administration also prematurely introduced the kiddos to all sorts of adult subjects on the evening news, and it’s still mostly Democrats cussing in from the children. Leftist publications and podcasts are also more prone to profanity than those on the right, too, and their audiences are clearly comfortable with except when Trump says it, as they’re also all a bunch of hypocrites.
There’s always been plenty of cussing on the right, to be sure, but for the most part it’s been saved for discreet occasions. President Richard Nixon infamously had to have numerous expletives deleted from the transcripts of the White House tapes, but at the time he thought he was only talking to his co-conspirators and didn’t guess that posterity was also listening in. Subsequent Republican presidents have surely used salty language as well, but they saved it for the appropriate occasions and took care not to do so in mixed company or with any microphones around. The erstwhile “party of family values” seemed to appreciate the effort, and fought a revanchist culture war for a more polite bygone era of popular culture and political discourse.
By the time Trump started running for president, however, much of the Republican party was in no effin’ mood for such niceties. They were convinced that they’d only to that $#@^%* President Barack Obama because their candidates had been too genteel in their attacks, and focused to much on policy disagreements rather than Obama’s African heritage and other perceived personal shortcomings, and they could clearly see Trump wasn’t going to repeat that mistake. Trump’s die-hard defenders found his frequent vulgarity “authentic,” the same meaningless word the left had always used to defend its foul-mouthed heroes, and some even misconstrued it as honesty.
Since taking office has at least been presidential enough to lay off the “f-bombs,” but he sat silently the rap star and obvious nutcase Kanye West filled the Oval Office with them, and he’s often used slightly less salty language himself, and his administration has also prematurely introduced a new generation of kiddos to some very adult subjects on the evening news.
Go ahead and call us old-fashioned, but it really does seem a dad-blamed shame. On occasion we’ll resort to profanity, but only on special occasion. There are a few jokes we like to tell which require them, but we save those for our more disreputable sort of friends, and we try not to make a habit of it lest we blurt something out in a job interview or when meeting an attractive woman’s parents or children. Besides, we’re old enough remember a time when the popular culture and political discourse were more polite, and we recall it was one of the things that made America great back then.

— Bud Norman

A Very Happy New Year’s Eve, to Whatever Extent Possible

The calendar on our computer screen says that today is the last year of 2018, and as hard as it is to believe we assume that’s true. Although it’s been a long and and hard slog through the past 12 months, the years still somehow seem to pass more quickly the older we get.
Longstanding journalistic traditions dictate that our New Year’s Eve essay be either a look back and the year that’s ending, or a look ahead to the year to come, but on this frigid Kansas night we can’t quite muster the energy for either desultory chore.
In keeping with our own recent tradition we’ll once again joke that we’re hesitant to look back on the past year for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, an Old Testament allusion our more modern readers might not get, and this year the joke seems more apt than ever. We’re talking about 12 long months of President Donald Trump and the damned Democrats, after all, and all those screwy other countries and the business world and the broader popular culture and our own personal lives added little to savor. The obituaries were more brutal than usual, too.
The annus horribilis of 2018 saw the the passing of First Lady Barbara Bush and President George H.W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain, and we also sensed the passing of a more family values and war heroic and fact-based era of the Republican party. When the novelist and journalist and essayist Tom Wolfe died we failed to think of a new favorite living writer, and when the Middle Eastern expert Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton and triumphant-in-the-Cold-War Russian expert Richard Pipes of Harvard we knew there was no replacement, and the death of the imminent columnist Charles Krauthammer left the intellectual ranks of an increasingly anti-intellectual conservative movement seemed at least as severely depleted.
The ranks of the American popular culture that used to provide succor from politics were similarly depleted. The fleet-fingered guitar-and-banjo-picker and all-around country-and-western music entertainer Roy Clark died, so did the elegantly incisive and hilariously New York City Jewish novelist Philip Roth, as well as the long under appreciated television sit-com actress and big-time movie director and idiosyncratic sexpot Penny Marshall, and William Goldman, the guy who wrote the screenplay for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” as well as Stan Lee, the guy who invented “Spiderman” and a bunch of other still-hot comic book super heroes we remember from our comic book-reading youths. Judging by what we occasionally hear on the radio or see on television or watch on the internet or read from the last offerings from the bestseller lists, we don’t find any sufficient replacements standing at the ready.
Those far more hip and up-to-date folks at The Washington Post filled some space on a slow news day with a traditional list of what’s “in” and what’s “out” in the coming year, and we must admit we can’t make neither hide nor hair of it, as we still sometimes say here in Kansas. Out here in Kansas we hadn’t noticed most of what was apparently “in” in 2018, much less noticed that it’s soon to be “out,” and as of now we’re only vaguely familiar with what’s about to the “in.” It seems that the Marvel comic books’ superhero Captain Marvel is due to supplant D.C. Comics’ Captain America as the “in” superhero at your local cinema, and certain celebrities we’ve never hard are will surpass some other celebrities we’e never heard of, and so far none of them seem half so entertaining as the recently deceased Ken Berry, the minor sit-com star who memorably pratfall-ed his way through the short-lived but still-hilarious “F Troop” way back in the ’60s.
On the political front, we don’t need the more hip and up-to-date fellows at The Washington Post to tell us it’s going to a long slog through 2019. Trump won’t budge on his campaign promise from way back in 2016 to build a big beautiful border wall, the upcoming Democratic majority soon to be installed after a landslide mid-term election won’t give him a penny for it, and a partial government shutdown will probably dominate at least the first few days or weeks or months of the new year. Political gridlock will probably prevent anything else from getting done legislatively, that pesky special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” will persist, so we’ll hold out hope that the free market economy and longstanding governmental institutions that have somehow so far survived both Presidents Barack Obama and Trump will continue to prevail.
In the meantime we’ll focus on making our personal lives go somewhat better in the coming year, and urge you to do the same, as we can’t do much about the rest of it.  No matter how it works out over the next 12 months, have a most merry New Year’s Eve.

— Bud Norman

Merry Christmas, 2018

Today is Christmas Day, and the only news story worth mentioning is now more than two millennia old. One of the first reports was in the Gospel According to Luke, a few decades after the fact, but it hasn’t been improved on since an angel of God first told it to some shepherds shivering in the cold outside outside a small town called Bethlehem.
“And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all peoples. For today in the city of David there has been born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Except to wish you and all those you love a most Merry Christmas, we’ll leave it at that.

— Bud Norman

Merry Christmas Eve

These days people tend to celebrate Christmas from Black Friday until the penultimate day of January, but we’ve always preferred to more fully focus our attention on Christ’s birth over a couple of days.
In our family we always decorated the house around mid-December but only began the festivities in earnest on Christmas Eve, when we’d share a feast of pizza and open all the gifts from family and friends, and sing carols and read from the Nativity scriptures, and then pose for the family portraits that Dad’s camera-and-flash-bulb timer always took several infuriatingly long attempts to get right. On Christmas morning we’d wake up with the brothers and greedily unwrap the presents that had been brought by Santa Claus — yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus — and then enjoy the traditional feast of turkey and ham and mashed potatoes with gravy and other all-American culinary delights, followed by televised football games, but at some point we’d sing a few more carols about that long ago Oh Holy Night and reflect on those scriptures that hinted at its ineffable meaning.
Over the the past many years we’ve added a tradition of attending the Christas party that our friends Art and Joanne annually host at our friend Stan’s house on the night before Christmas Eve, which is always the most swinging soiree one can hope to be invited to here in Wichita. Stan’s place isn’t much to look at if you drive by it up in North Riverside, but if you’re invited inside it’s as cool a bachelor pad as you’ve ever seen, and every year on the night before Christmas Eve it’s jam-packed with excellent people. Between Art and Joanne and Stan they seem to know every worthwhile beatnik and hippie and punk and musician and local media celebrity and ballet dancer in town, and it’s always nice to be reminded of how many of our friends are friends with other friends of ours in this small town of more than half-a-million souls. There’s always an open bar with a voluptuous barmaid, and no one’s singing Christmas carols or reciting Nativity scripture, but an appropriate feeling of peace on Earth and good will toward man always prevails.
We’ll probably wake up late today with a slight hangover, but as always with a realization that today is Christmas Eve, and that today is one of those special days of the year. We’ll have some sort of feast with our beloved parents at their swank retirement home, then maybe a beer with some of our weird friends at a nearby favorite dive of ours, try our best to ignore what’s going on with the government and the stock markets and the rest of the world, and to take a moment to reflect on the even better next world that Christ’s birth promises.
We suggest you do the same, and have a very merry Christmas Eve.

— Bud Norman