Our Depression About Another Great Depression

Our parents were born in Oklahoma during the the “Dust Bowl” days of the Great Depression, and we’ve long been fascinated by that era. While growing up we would constantly pester our parents and grandparents and older aunts and uncles about what it was like, and voraciously read everything we could find about the economic and political and cultural history of the time. Now there’s a good chance well be facing similarly hard times, but we expect it won’t be the same.
Economists at the Federal Reserve are saying that the unemployment rate might hit more than 32 percent because of the coronavirus shutdowns, despite the zero or negative interest rates and trillions of newly-printed money the central bank is now offering, and that the gross domestic product might soon be half of what it was not so long ago. This is even worse than the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate as at worst about one in four. and those who were on the on the job kept at the economy going at slightly more than than half of its former capacity.
As bad as ut was, the Great Depression turned out to be a golden age in American culture. The big bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie and Benny Goodman were swinging, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family were making great country music, and the bluesmen were naturally at their best. Hollywood had a splendid decade, and in ’39 it made at least 52 movies you really need to see.
We worry, though, that it won’t work as well this time. These days the big stay-at-home Netflix hit is about the wierd Oklahoma “Lion King,” which we have o admit is uncomfortably mesmerizing. Most of the new music doesn’t seem to help except for the great local music we cant go out and hear, what building continues around here is mostly boring glass-and-steel.We also worry that our generation and the younger folks aren’t so haras our ancestors.

— Bud Norman

Opening Day in a Closed Country

Yesterday was supposed to be Opening Day for major league baseball, one of those harbingers of spring we always look forward to, but because of the coronavirus that didn’t happen. Instead of poring over box scores, we were reading some grim statistics.
More than 1,200 Americans are dead, new infections are overwhelming the hospitals in several large cities and doubling every three days, a record-setting 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past month, and most of the country seems to be stuck at home with nowhere to go. The stock markets are up on news of a bill to spend $2 trillion of freshly printed cash to prop up the economy, but it looks to be months before people can safely leave the house and start earning and spending money.
We saw another story that the crime rate is down in much beset New York City, but that’s probably because there are fewer people on the streets to mug. There is other good news out there, but for now every silver lining seems to have a cloud.
Somehow it reminds us of that scene in Ken Kesey’s “Once Upon a Cuckoo’s Nest” where mean Nurse Ratched wouldn’t let the patients at her mental hospital watch the World Series, so they sat in front of a blank television and pretended to watch the game and cheer every play they saw in their imaginations. We’re already going a bit stir crazy ourselves, and spent part of our day envisioning how our beloved New York Yankees would have gone 1-and-O to start another championship season, and later tonight we’ll probably continue imagining that scenario to lull us to sleep.
Here’s hoping that sooner or later things will get back to something like normal, and that most of us will be around for it. Until then, we urge everyone to do the right thing and use your imagination.

— Bud Norman

In Search of Good News

The weather was quite nice in Wichita on Wednesday, with sunny skies and highs in the 70s, and on a brief walk around our picturesque Riverside neighborhood we noticed that flowers are blooming and the trees are coming back to life. Somehow the beauty of nature seemed slightly eerie, given that all the news is about nature trying to wipe out humankind, but we found it heartening nonetheless.
We returned home to read that the Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion spending bill in response to the economic effects of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which is expected to be quickly passed by the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Donald Trump, and we hope that turns out to be good news. The smart money on Wall Street seems to think so, as all the stock markets went up for a day, but no one expects it will stave off a severe recession and markets will likely go down with the next employment numbers. Despite the hopefully bipartisan agreement the bargaining it took get it seems to have exacerbated the the country’s political polarization, with everyone accusing the other side of exploiting a crisis for ideological reasons, which will make it harder for our democracy to make the hard decisions that are sure to come.
Sorry to sound so gloomy and doomy, but the news lately has little to offer but gloom and doom. A few days ago 100 Americans died of COVID-19 and now it’s more than 200 a day dying, and although the rate of increase in infections might be slowing — there’s no way of knowing given the limited testing that’s been done — there’s no sign of a decrease. Hospitals in such densely populated cities as New York and San Francisco and New Orleans and Detroit are running out of beds and
essential medical equipment, even the sparsely populated and mostly rural states have lost lives, and no one but Trump seems hopeful that it will take weeks rather than months before things will start getting better.
There’s still good news in the world that’s not in the news, though, and we urge you to look around and find it. The West Douglas Church of Christ is closed for the duration, but one of our fellow congregants called us today to say they’ll have carry-out communion bread and sealed communion cups, and to inquire if we needed anything the church might provide. We were happy to say that we’re getting, and volunteered for any errands that need to be run, and we much appreciated the call.
Some people have been selling stocks on inside information and hoarding toilet paper and otherwise acting with no regard for others, but we happily note that most people are being more considerate. We have to venture out of the house occasionally to obtain necessary supplies, and when we do the people we encounter maintain a polite distance but are friendly. Our Facebook friends keep posting hopeful messages and gallows humor, and people seem to be keeping in touch one way or another.
The flowers and the trees and greening grass and blue skies are good news, too, and if you’ve got that going on in your neighborhood we think it safe to advise you go out for a walk and take a look. We don’t expect to be able to celebrate Easter with our church and family and friends, but even in the spring of a plague year we believe in the miracle of resurrection.

— Bud Norman

The Good, the Bad, and the Coronavirus

The coronavirus has reduced to us keeping in touch with family and friends as best we can through the modern miracle of Facebook, which is not satisfying but at least better than nothing. Several of our musician friends have been streaming live concerts from their living rooms or basements or the otherwise empty Kirby’s Beer Store, a very fetching woman of our acquaintance has posted videos of herself reading aloud from a favorite novel, other friends are offering to deliver food and toilet paper and other essential items to the porches of those in need, and many more are posting much-appreciated messages of hope and encouragement.
Some of the people we encounter on Facebook are still in denial about the threat, and acrimoniously respond to anyone who dares criticize anything about President Donald Trump’s undeniably slow and inadequate and oftentimes irresponsibly dishonest response. Our guess is that a few of them are among those stripping the local grocery stores’s shelves bare by hoarding more than they’ll need with no regard for the pressing needs of others. Elsewhere in the news, we read of people trying to profit from this catastrophe at the great expense of others.
At the top of this list we’ll point an accusing finger at Republican North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Republican George Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who sold large amounts of stock markets after getting early intelligence briefings that warned of the dire economic effects of the coronavirus even as they assured their constituents there was nothing to worry about. Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe and California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein also sold a lot of stock around the same time, but both claim it was done by the people managing their portfolios in a blind trust, both have invited ethics committee investigations to verify that, and neither were peddling happy talk to the public.
Burr was caught on tape telling a gathering of big-bucks donors early on that hard times were coming around again, Loeffler’s financial disclosures reveal that after a big sell-off in soon-to-be-hard-hit industries she put a lot of money in a telecommuting company that’s one of the few likely to benefit from an at-home economy, and even at Fox News some very conservatives voices are calling for both Republicans to resign and faces charges on insider trading.
Partisanship and petty political squabbling has thus far been immune to the coronavirus. When asked about the four accused senators at a daily press briefing where he’s supposed to be reassuring the public about the government’s response, Trump chided the reporter for not mentioning Feinstein, the only Democrat among them, and vouched for the character of all four, but especially the Republicans. Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is a frequent critic and the only Republican senator to vote for Trump’s conviction on an impeachment article, and when he was informed by a reporter that Romney was in self-quarantine Trump’s voice dripped with sarcasm as he said “Oh, that’s too bad.” Trump also uses the briefings to disparage the reporters who are providing the public with more accurate information than he presents, which is so often quickly contradicted by the federal government’s best health care experts, but the hard-core fans among our Facebook friends seem to love it.
We have Democratic friends who are as bad, and hope to use the virus to resurrect self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ quixotic presidential campaign, and blame everything on the capitalist system that was chugging along well enough until recently, and largely created all the science and commerce and the governmental and social institutions that we still hope will help get us all through this. History will likely record that Trump did some things right and a lot of things wrong during this pandemic, assuming there will be history, and for now we’d prefer that everyone be more objective and civic-minded.
Despite everything all of the federal government is still meeting and telecommuting to come up with some multi-trillion dollar bailout and stimulus deficit-spending bill to slow the economy’s rapid slide into the abyss, and although almost everyone agrees that desperate measures are required there’s the usual partisan disagreement and petty political squabbling about what it should be. The Democrats instinctively want to subsidize the workers, while as is their wont the Republicans want to sustain the businesses that employ those workers, and as usual everyone is looking out for the constituents in their districts and states.
There must be some reasonably sufficient compromise that might do some good, we’d like to think, but it won’t be easy in a time when a pandemic panic has exacerbated all the partisanship and petty political squabbling. Even so, we’re heeding the encouraging messages we find from our friends on Facebook and holding out hope in America and the rest of humanity.
Sooner or later you’ll have to leave the house and drive on inexpensive gasoline to the store for beer and other essential items, where some brave clerk will dare come face-to-face with you to make the sale. If not you might have some brave nurse in a days old face mask provide you care for whatever ails you, or have some other brave soul deliver what’s needed to your door, and in most cases you’ll have no idea if they’re a damned Democrat or a damned Republican, or how they’ll vote in the next election, if that happens.
In any case, we urge you to be kind and grateful and friendly to anyone you encounter in virtual reality or actual reality these dark days, as we’re all going to need one another. At an earlier dark time in our nation’s history a wiser and more eloquent Republican President Abraham Lincoln urged that “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as they surely will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

— Bud Norman

Life in Pandemic Times

Today is the first day of spring, and the local weather forecast here in Wichita is for temperatures in the 70s, and the trees in our picturesque Riverside neighborhood are starting to come alive, which is all good news. The forecasts have the temperatures falling below freezing and nipping all those buds over the weekend, though, and everything else seems to be bad news.
The coronavirus pandemic and its resulting panic have the stock markets and every other measure of the  economy in a free fall, all of the schools in Kansas are closed, and worse yet the notorious dive bar called Kirby’s Beer Store, where we watch “Jeopardy!” and discuss the issues of the day with our friends is now shut down indefinitely. Our beloved Dad, the best man we’ve ever known, is currently in the health care ward of his retirement home due to non-coronavirus reasons and we can’t visit him because of a lockdown, and although we had a face-to-face encounter the other day with our beloved Mom, the best woman we’ve ever known, we had to give her an “elbow bump” rather than a much-needed hug.
Things are bad all over lately, and there’s no telling when it will get better, but we’re hanging on, and holding out hope. We have no expertise in epidemiology or anything like that, but we’re advising the friends we mostly meet on Facebook to be careful but not panic. There’s no holding back spring, even if it brings tornados and no baseball, and sunny summer days are sure to follow. Here’s hoping we’ll all be around to enjoy it.

— Bud Norman

On the Only Subject at Hand

Try as we might, we simply can’t find anything in the news to write about other than the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Pretty much everyone we run into as we continue to get out and about brings it up, and there’s at this point there’s no avoiding the topic.
Most folks in this hoops-crazy state like to talk sports, especially during “March Madness,” but the coronavirus cancelled both collegiate and professional basketball and will delay baseball and has temporarily shut down sports. Pop culture usually provides something salacious to talk, but right now the entertainment news is all about beloved movie star Tom Hanks and his lovely wife coming down with coronavirus and all the late television comedians doing their jokes about President Donald Trump without studio audiences to laugh along.
The coronavirus is pretty much all that matters for now in the economic news, which has lately been quite awful. The sports industry and school districts are shutting down, and music festivals and business meetings are being cancelled, and entire cities and countries are being quarantined. and travel bans are being imposed, and globalist supply chains are being interrupted, which is not good for the global economy or your favorite hometown business. Stock markets are plummeting, the Federal Reserve Board and the central banks of the other major global economic players are all slashing interest rates to zero and beyond and printing up more money to assuage the markets, and everything indicates that now is the time to panic.
Which of course makes the coronavirus the biggest political story of each passing day, which of course is bad news for Trump. He’s done his best to downplay the coronavirus as no big deal that would soon be forgotten, and even dismissed it as yet another “hoax” to torpedo his presidency, but now that he’s talking about massive government bailouts and travel bans from most of continental Europe he’s conceding that the coronavirus is a pretty big deal, and so far his proposals have not stopped the economic carnage nor quelled a public panic.
None of the damned Democrats seem to have any better ideas, but having been mostly out of power during two of the past three years they can’t be credibly blamed for the current mess, and they have plenty of talking points. According to the consensus opinion of America’s leading experts on this sort of thing, including some who are still on board with the federal government, the country is doing a woeful job of testing its citizens for the disease, and is therefore unable to do other things the country might do if it knew where the corona virus was popping up. Travel bans might be a painful necessity at the moment, but Trump’s European travel band doesn’t extend to Ireland and the United Kingdom, where there have been confirmed cases of coronavirus, and anyone in continental Europe could easily fly to the UK and then to the United States, so the damned Democrats are entitled to wonder if that has anything to do with Trump’s failing golf resorts in those countries.
For now the Democratic nominee seems likely to be former Vice President Joe Biden, rather than self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and we figure that’s also bad news for Trump. Biden is a very boring fellow, which a wary country might well long for come November, but Sanders is kooky enough that Trump might persuade a wary country he could be more destructive than the coronavirus. Biden was vice president during the administration of President Barack Obama, and you can way what you want about his slow-growth policies — we had plenty to say about it at the time — but they did take over shortly after an economic catastrophe and were in charge during eight of those 11 years of Bull Markets that went into Bear Market territory during Trump’s administration. Biden will also have plenty to say about how Trump fired the National Security Council’s pandemic response that the Obama administration had created.
We don’t give much credit to either Obama or Trump for the long run of the Bull Market, but rather credit the ingenuity and resilience of free Americans operating in a free market, trading freely with all the free people of the world. Here’s hoping that not only survives this coronavirus, but also the likes of Trump and Biden, and that there’s something else to talk about.

— Bud Norman

Go Ahead and Panic

The National Basketball Association has indefinitely suspended the rest of its regular season, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association won’t allow any fans to attend its men’s or women’s “March Madness” post season basketball games, so we’re starting to take this coronavirus pandemic seriously. Universally beloved movie star Tom Hanks and his wife have reportedly tested positive for the disease, so apparently no one is safe.
President Donald Trump went on prime time television from the Oval Office on Wednesday to reassure the public that there’s no need for panic, but he also announced he’s banning any travel from European countries for the next 30 days and is preparing to deficit spend billions propping up a suddenly ailing economy, so you can draw your own conclusions based on how much you trust his self-proclaimed very stable genius. From what we’ve seen of it over the past three years, we’re inclined to panic.
Trump was loudly sniffing at the end of every sentence, but he’d been doing that long before anyone had heard of a coronavirus, so we’re not bothered by that, even if Trump has come in contact with with several people who are self-quarantining themselves after coming into contact with people who have contracted the virus. We’re more bothered that Trump fired all of his National Security Council’s experts on global pandemics when he came into office, spent the first weeks of the pandemic claiming it was yet another hoax concocted by his political opponents to make him look bad, so far failed to deliver on a promise of testing for everybody, and has urged people to keep going to work and coming to his campaign rallies even if they have reason to believe they’ve contracted the virus.
Even before anyone ever heard of a coronavirus Trump was eager to restrict any interaction between America and the rest of the world, and the travel restrictions he’s imposed in the wake of the pandemic might well prove sound public policy, but it’s not good for either the global nor the intertwined American economies. Trump has declared himself pleased that Americans will stay in America and spend their dollars here, but as a luxury hotel mogul he should know that America gets more from international travel it spends, and that when basketball games and music festivals and intrastate business meetings and domestic airline flights and cruise ship bookings are being cancelled and supply chains are being interrupted there will be serious economic repercussions.
All the smart money is already panicked about it, with all the major stock exchanges down by 20 points over the last weeks into what is now officially Bear Market territory, after a remarkable 11-year run of Bull Markets, which any Republican will have to admit is eight years longer than Trump has been in office. Trump is urging the Federal Reserve Board to further lower interest rates, which are already pretty much zero, and to keep up the “quantitative easing” of freshly printed money that Republican used to decry, which now have the 2- and 10- and 20- and even the 100-year bond yields at pretty much zero, and is promising to add a few few puny billions of dollars to the nation’s latest $1 trillion dollar deficit to offset all the economic carnage. We’ll find out today and in the coming days how the smart money reacts to that.
Shortly before Trump’s address to the nation, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, who seems to know even more about this coronavirus thing than than Trump, warned a House oversight committee that “Things will get worse.”

In any case we’ll hope for the best. We won’t being showing up at anyone’s campaign rallies, as no one seems to know what to do about this, but we will try to show up at the West Douglas Church of Christ and Kirby’s Beer Store, and maybe even watch all the great basketball on our computer or some local tavern’s television. If we’re lucky, life will go on.

— Bud Norman

A Long, Long February

This is a leap year, and we usually enjoy leap years. They quadrennially bring presidential elections and summer Olympic competitions, which can be quite entertaining and sometimes have the players we root for winning. This year the coronavirus might cause the cancellation of both events, and we probably won’t be taking a rooting interest in the election even if it does come to pass, but we’ll hope for the best.
The problem with every leap year is that extra day of February. We’ve never understood why the extra day of the year is tacked on to end of February, when it could just as easily be added to July and August and give us an extra day of summer.
Who needs an extra day of February? The month is always cold and windy and sometimes snowy around here, the few days of 60 degree or so highs are just a tease, and although it’s not so dark as December and January it’s still took dark for our tastes, and Daylight Savings Time won’t arrive and bring its blissful extra hour of evening sunlight until March. By February all that strenuous holiday cheer from Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Year’s Day is long dissipated, and February is just a long slog on the way toward spring, which can be damp and chilly and scarily stormy around here.
The tradition delays the March bills and Tax Day for another 24 hours, which is nice, but that’s scant compensation for an elongated February. This one’s been especially desultory, what with that deadly coronavirus and the resulting stock market crash and the awfulness of the incumbent president and all of his potential rivals.
Ah, well. The Wichita State University still have an outside shot at getting in on college basketball’s March Madness, the New York Yankees and the rest of major league baseball are well into spring training, and summer will eventually arrive.

— Bud Norman

A Big Day in the Nevada Casinos

The state of Nevada hosted a couple of noteworthy on contests on Saturday, with a rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder that was the biggest heavyweight championship boxing bout in the past few decades and the Nevada caucus being the third contest in what’s looking like a knock-down drag-out contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The clear winner of the Nevada caucus, which is arguably the more important outcome of the night, was self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He didn’t get a majority of the vote but his sizable plurality of the vote gave him 13 of the state’s 16 delegates, and after his arguably first-place finish in the Iowa caucus and inarguably first-place finish in the New Hampshire primary he’s the darling of of Democrat’s loony left and and clearly the party’s front-runner.
There are still several territories and 42 states to go, and the next one is South Carolina, where the Democratic electorate is mostly black and a thus a very moderating influence on the party, what with its religiosity and disproportionate military experience and entrepreneurial bent and all that compared to white Democrats. So there’s a good chance that former Vice President to first black President Barack Obama and relatively sane centrist Joe Biden will get back in the race after a couple of disappointing finishes. Biden came in a respectable second in the vote count, which might allow him to eliminate a couple of pesky competitors for the relatively sane centrist portion of the Democratic partying the upcoming Super Tuesday states, which might or might not be sufficient to win him the Democratic nomination at the end of what could well be a long, tough fight between the Democrats.
Which is good news for President Donald Trump and his unified Republican party, at least for now, but we’d advise them to not get too cocky about it. Trump lost the last popular vote by three million to the worst possible relatively sane centrist candidate they could have come up with, and for now he’s trailing both Sanders and Biden in the polls in the swing states that narrowly won him an Electoral College majority.
We’re not the betting type, and won’t take any wagers on how it all turns out, but we don’t expect any happy outcomes. Trump would do better against a divided Democratic party, but he’s never been all the popular himself, and given the divided state of the union and how much all of the the Democrats and most of the independents and a few stubborn Republicans such as ourselves dislike Trump it looks to be another close call in the Electoral College and another blow-out in the popular vote.
Meanwhile in Nevada, the Irish-British-Roma Tyson “Gypsy King” Fury won his rematch of a much disputed contest against the ferocious American Deontay Wilder with a seventh-round technical knock-out, which still leaves the heavyweight division in disarray. The chiseled black-British champion Anthony Joshua lost a heavyweight bout against by technical knock-out to the pudgy but tough and surprisingly quick Mexican-American champ Louis Ruiz but regained his three titles by a clear majority-decision in the rematch, and the next big heavyweight fight is clearly Fury versus Joshua. We have no idea how that might turn out, no more than we have any idea how the fate of the country comes out in the next election, but as much as we detest heard-injury sports it will all be well worth watching and hard and hard to turn away from.

— Bud Norman

Hail to the Chiefs

Football has a lot of its appeal to us in recent years, what with all the head injuries and thuggery and political spats and endless video reviews, but we weren’t going to miss Sunday’s LIVth Super Bowl. Watching the big game is pretty much a patriotic obligation, and here in Wichita rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs is a civic duty.
The game proved quite entertaining, even if it was bogged down with a longer-than-usual halftime and even more commercial interruptions than a regular season game. After an early field goal by the San Francisco ’49ers the Chiefs took the end-of-the-first quarter lead with a touchdown by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but the bad guys got the better of the second quarter and the teams went into locker room tied at 10 to 10. Things looked bleak for the Chiefs after the ’49ers scored another field goal and one touchdown during a third quarter of offensive futility for the Chiefs and their superstar quarterback, but the good guys had overcome bigger fourth quarters deficits in winning their two previous playoff games, as well as the regular season finale that earned them a first-round bye and home field advantage, so nobody around here was changing the channel.
Sure enough, the Chief’s underrated defensive unit shut down the ’49ers, Mahomes snapped out of a brief slump and his underrated running backs and receivers and offensive line came up with big plays, and after three unanswered fourth-quarter touchdowns the Chiefs won by a deceptively convincing score of 31 to 20. There were gunshots and fireworks and audible cheers on our way home, as the Chiefs fans celebrated the team’s first championship in 50 years, so the pent up emotion was understandable. That last championship was so long ago that we and some of the neighborhood kids played a pickup game in the backyard during the uneventful halftime show, there’s a famous picture of the Chief’s then-star quarterback Len Dawson smoking a halftime cigarette in the locker room, and the game was still called the AFL-NFL World Championship, although it’s been retroactively re-named Super Bowl IV.
All the rest of Super Bowl’s much-ballyhooed sideshows also reminded us of how much things have changed in a mere half-century. As we recall the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl half-time show featured a guy flying around with a James Bond-style jet pack and a brief performance by the aging but still-beloved Broadway diva Carol Channing, but since then audiences have come to expect something far more extravagant. The acts have included such baby-boomer favorites as The Rolling Stones and Sir Paul McCartney, along with some younger and hipper entertainers we’d not previously heard of. This year’s show featured Jennifer Lopez, who’s so famous that we have heard of her, although we couldn’t name a song she’s recorded or any of the famous men she’s been famously involved with, and another woman we’d not previously heard of named Shakira.
We must admit, it was quite extravagant. Both women are quite comely and extremely callipygian, and were accompanied by what seemed a cast of thousands of comely and callipygian and similarly scantily-clad backup singers dancers, along with some high-tech and state-of-the-art stagecraft that seemingly plunged them all into an infernal pit of orgiastic excess as fireworks went off and laser lights beamed. Both of the undeniably gorgeous and talented women are reportedly more than 40 years old, which some of our 40-something female Facebook friends proudly noted, and they included a lot of cute kids singing something vaguely patriotic toward the end, but a much younger friend we’ve known since her birth predicted the halftime show will eventually wind up on Pornhub.com.
These days the interminable advertisements are part of the ostensible appeal of the telecast, as Madison Avenue always unleashes its most ambitious efforts on the most-watched and most-expensive show of the year. We pride ourselves on being inoculated to Madison Avenue’s most market-tested enticements, but we try to assess their creativity and chuckle-worthy cleverness with the objective eye of a cultural critic, and we give this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads a mixed review. Part of the problem was that the ads were populated with celebrities we are supposed to recognize but don’t.
There was a Cheetos commercial featuring M.C. Hammer, who was a hip-pop star so long ago that we remember his hit “You Can’t Touch This,” which was amusingly about how you can’t touch anything after eating Cheetos. Another had a woman we used to enjoy on “Saturday Live” and the guy who so endearingly played “Jim” on “The Office” and some other guy pitching for some company’s self-parking car, but at first we didn’t recognize the guy who played “Jim” behind his fashionable, we still have no idea who the other guy is, but at least we got the joke about the Boston accents and the cameo by Boston Red Sox legend Dave “Big Papi” Ortiz, even if we can’t remember what company invented this seemingly amazing self-parking vehicle.
We also got the joke in the Doritos ad that featured rapper Li’l Nas X challenging the taciturn and mustached and gravelly voiced western movie star Sam Elliot to a break-dancing duel on the dusty streets of an Old West town, and Billy Ray Cyrus coming in at the end. As old time country music fans we took an interest when X rose to the top of the country-and-western charts with a western-themed rap number called “Old Town Road,” and how Cyrus was one of the few country stars to object when Billboard pulled it from the country charts as insufficiently country, and how it sparked an interesting debate about what the hell is country music anymore these days? We have our own opinions of the matter, and rather enjoyed the ad, but the joke’s so obscure we can’t imagine it selling a lot of Doritos.
Politics once gain intruded, which didn’t happen last time the Chiefs won a Super Bowl. Starting with President Barack Obama it’s become a custom to kick off the Super Bowl festivities with a nationally televised pre-game presidential interview, and of course that’s the one thing Obama ever did that Trump wants to continue. Obama always gave his interviews to friendly media who allowed him to assure the public that on Super Bowl the state of the union of strong, and Trump granted his time to Fox News sycophant Sean Hannity, who allowed Trump to warn the nation that if he didn’t win reelection the country was inevitably headed toward communism. Fortunately, in both cases the broadcasts were relatively low-rated.
Both Trump and his much-more-billionaire Democratic rival Michael Bloomberg spent $10 million on Super Bowl ads, and we wonder if either of them got more out of it than Cheetos or Doritos or the company with the amazing self-parking car. We missed Bloomberg’s ad, as we were in the men’s room or taking a cigarette break or on a liquor store run, but we hear it was all about his gun-grabbing policies, which is not likely to appeal the considerable good ol’ boy audience tuning into a Super Bowl, nor to many minorities. We did catch Trump’s ad touting his pardon of an elderly and woman non-violent black drug offender, and boasting how he had freed even more black felons by passing a criminal justice reform bill that Obama couldn’t get passed, which seems to be playing to what Madison Avenue euphemistically calls the “urban audience,” which Trump is assiduously courting with the low black unemployment numbers he can credibly claim.
The good old boys should know, though, that the non-violent and elderly woman drug offender Trump pardoned was sentenced at age 41 for leading a multi-million-dollar cocaine ring, and although there was no proof she’d ever committed a violent crime the drug ring she ran had plenty of them. Reality show star Kim Kardashian and wife of Trump pal Kanye West lobbied for her presidential pardon, as they’re somehow related, and although a lot of those felons freed by the criminal reform act some of them probably deserved they release, but most good old boys would agree that some didn’t. Trump’s not likely to win over a decisive majority of the “urban audience,” given his long history, which the “urban audience” by now well knows, and most of it doesn’t know either Kim Kardashian or Kanye West personally, although he still won’t lose any of the good ol’ boy vote.
By the way, as inconsequential as it is, Trump also “tweeted” his congratulations to “the great state of Kansas” for the Chief’s victory. We mostly love the Chiefs here in Kansas, until you get so far west they start rooting for the Denver Broncos, but in fact the Arrowhead Stadium where the Chiefs play and most of the Kansas City metropolitan is located in Missouri. Before Trump could delete and correct the “tweet” people were posting “memes” showing a crude “Sharpie” drawing including the entire Kansas City metro, which is a funny allusion to a previous Trump story about including in Alabama in a hurricane, but by now a bit obscure.
The important thing for the moment, though, is that the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and all the Democrats and Republicans and homosexuals and heterosexuals and socialists and libertarians and good old boys and the “urban audience” around here are at least momentarily happy about it. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another long, long half century before it  happens again,

— Bud Norman