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Democracy at the Local Level

Tuesday was an election day here in Wichita, with the primary for mayor and three city council seats and an at-large seat on the school board at stake, so of course we did our civic duty and drove several blocks to a church up in North Riverside to cast our vote. Voting is a long ingrained habit of ours, even in these low turnout contests, and we are creatures of habit.
There’s always a certain satisfaction in exercising one’s franchise, but it’s changed over the years. When we were kids our elementary school was a voting place, and the Monday before every election day we’d get to go into the booths with the red handle that closed the curtains and click on the levers to cast our mock ballots for the candidates our parents had endorsed. Back then no one doubted the election results, and everyone accepted them no matter how it turned out, and there was something very Norman Rockwell about the process.
Nowadays you need a driver’s license or some other sort of photographic identification that they scan through a machine, which is fine by us, but we notice that doesn’t reassure those who are convinced illegal immigrants are deciding the elections. They also hand you a couple of computer printouts you run through a couple of computers in order to vote, which strikes us as rather convoluted, and we notice it also hasn’t done much to bolster public faith in the electoral process. The same anti-immigrant Secretary of State who got the photo ID requirement enacted resisted a system with a paper trail that could counter any foreign computerized meddling in Kansas elections, and we can’t blame our Democratic friends for being suspicious about that.
Another thing that’s changed is the media landscape, which is not as useful as it used to be in making our choices. The local newspaper is down to about 20 newsroom employees, the three local television statements are similarly understaffed and preoccupied with car wrecks and local crimes, and it’s hard to find any information about the various candidates. They still do the thumbnail sketches where the candidates get to say all the same things about good government and honest dealing, but that’s about it. Somehow we were unaware of the race for the at-large seat on the school board, which we care about even though we’re long out of school and have no kids, and were embarrassed to cast no vote in the race.
We follow local politics as best we can, though, and made our choice accordingly. One of the mayoral candidates ran ads on the talk radio stations that described a platform of repairing the city’s sidewalks and making Wichita a sanctuary city for the unborn, but we’ve not noticed the sidewalks in a state of disrepair and wonder how fetuses might find their way to sanctuary here, and he flier that showed him next to an embarrassed-looking President Donald Trump was another reason to write him off. Several of the candidates were the usual kooks who always run for local office, and only the incumbent and a couple of challengers seemed like serious people with relevant credentials.
Incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell has generally done a good job, and Wichita being such a small town and ourselves being so well connected  we personally know him to be a nice enough guy with a very charming wife, but he tore down our beloved Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and ran off our beloved Wichita Wingnuts to build a shiny new ballpark and attract a Major League-affiliated team, in a deal that gave some businessman or another some recently hot Delano property for a dollar a lot, and there’s no forgiving that. The two non-kook challengers were Lyndy Wells and Brandon Whipple, both businessmen with long lists of the boards and commissions of local agencies and charities they’ve served on. A former city councilwoman we always thought too liberal for our tastes but whose honesty we never doubted knocked on our door to to make a pitch for Wells, our very conservative businessman friend “Hatman” Jack Kellogg, who has lots of dealings with the city government, also endorsed Wells, and when a couple of trusted  realtor friends made the same recommendation we settled on Wells.
Not that we had anything against Whipple, who wound up slightly behind Longwell in the race for the two slots in November’s run-off. We can’t be sure that Whipple was a Wingnuts fan, or that he’ll be any less likely than the usual Wichita politician to go knocking down perfectly good buildings to erect something more shiny or new, but except in the unlikely case that what’s left of the local media comes up with some pretty serious dirt on him he’ll probably get our vote. If Longwell wins we figure Wichita could do a lot worst, as so many big cities seem to do.
So long as we get to vote, we’ll retain an optimistic feeling. While voting we ran into a longtime friend who lives down the street who had come to vote and brought his soon-to-be-third-grade son along to demonstrate what civic-minded citizens do on election day, and when they accepted a cookie and an “I voted” sticker from the nice lady at the door he thanked her for volunteering her time to democracy and had his son do the same, and that also gave us a hopeful feeling.
Here’s hoping the kid winds up with the best possible person serving in the at-large seat on the school board, no thanks to us or the local media.

— Bud Norman

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Meanwhile, Here in Wichita

There’s a much-watched gubernatorial election with national significance in Virginia today, but for the moment we’re happily preoccupied with the City Council and School Board elections being held in our part of Kansas. Local politics is a pleasant distraction here in the big city of Wichita, where things generally seem to be going well enough.
These off-year elections always produce a civic government and school board that’s reliably more liberal than this staunchly conservative city at large, as the turnout is low and therefore city and school district employees have an inordinate share of the vote, so the last time we were  invited to address the local Pachyderm Club at the swank Petroleum Club several stories above down we recommended the elections be re-scheduled to the general election season when more Republicans are voting. The city government has gone crazy with bike lanes lately and seemingly scheduled a decade’s worth of road work all at once, with orange cones tying up traffic everywhere, and the local schools seem to be graduating a steady stream of very ignorant young people, so things could clearly be better around here.
Things could be a lot worse around here, though, and whenever we look at the state and national and international news our city seems in pretty good shape. Wichita is a beautiful city except in the coming winter months, with parks and libraries and an efficient way of getting around, the crime rate is lower than most of the 49 or so bigger cities, its schools continue to produce graduates with boast-worthy accomplishments, and we’ve noted recent improvements in our beloved core of the city even as its outer boundaries expand. We’re sanguine enough about things around here that we only recently bothered to research the now-scant media for how we should vote for the city council and school board, and found ourselves well satisfied with the choices.
In the last presidential election we voted for an obscure write-in candidate because “none of the above” wasn’t on the ballot, but our neighborhood’s city council ballot offers two choices we wouldn’t mind at all. One is a woman named Cindy Clayborn, a 60-year-old political neophyte who is assistant to the president for strategic planning and a professor of marketing at Wichita State University, which has a hell of basketball team coming up, and who has an extensive resume of community involvement in all sorts of do-good causes. The other is 59-year-old Sybil Strum, who lists her past occupations as nurses’ aid, medical assistant, waitress, homemaker, teacher, and latchkey worker, and previous community involvement as safety patrol. Clayborn is clearly winning the yard sign race in our neighborhood, with her professional-looking popping up on the lawns of liberal and conservative and Democratic and Republicans friends of ours along our daily routes, and based on what we’ve gleaned from the local media she’s got our vote as well, but we won’t be frightened by a very long-shot upset.
Much of what’s gone wrong and much of what’s gone right around here lately is the result of private and public partnerships in local developments, and it’s a matter of much public squabbling. The far right elements object to the public involvement, the far left objects to the private interests that clearly benefit, and the center-right and center-left seem satisfied that  the results have been generally favorable, and we’re sympathetic to them all. So far as we can tell from the brief interviews that the local media provide Clayborn is more knowledgeable about what’s going on than Strum, so she’ll get our vote, but we won’t much mind if a skeptical homemaker winds up winning.
The school board race makes for a tougher choice. We’re proud graduates of the Wichita Public School District, the goodest schools in America, but we’ve always tried choose the least objectionable candidates for its board. This time around they all at least have credible credentials. One holds a high school diploma from Wichita East and a bachelor’s degree from Kansas University and a doctorate from Michigan State and previous experience on a California school board, another is a retired Boeing executive with extensive experience in local government, and the third is a long time teacher with a master’s degree in education. The brief interviews by what’s left of the local media suggest they’re all too moderate for our anti establishmentarian tastes, but none plan to disappoint all those off-year election-voting school who pine for a long-delayed pay raise, and none of them strike us as utterly unqualified for the job as  the past two presidential nominees. We’re tentatively inclined to go with that Walt Chappell fellow, but no matter the outcome we won’t worry the local schools with at long go totally crazy.
At some point today we’ll wander over to the lovely Gloria Dei Lutheran church here in the picturesque and fashionable and liberal-leaning neighborhood of Wichita to cast our votes, but we’ll then anxiously turn our attention to that gubernatorial race in Virginia. Things seem safe enough around here for now no matter the local election results, but the rest of the country and the rest of the world seems a very scary place.

— Bud Norman

Nudes in the News

Perhaps it’s just a prurient interest on our part that has led us to notice, but there seems to be an awful lot of nudity in the news lately. None of it is nearly so significant as all that economics and foreign affairs and the rest of the world’s crises, but it makes for an interesting diversion.
Most of the headlines have been about that anonymous computer hacker who somehow got hold of a large cache of naked pictures of prominent movie actresses and put them out on the internet, but we’ve paid only scant attention. We don’t keep abreast of the contemporary cinema, so to speak, and it’s hard to work up any voyeuristic interest in people we’ve never heard. There’s been quite a bit of feminist outrage generated, what with the invasion of women’s privacy and the objectification of their bodies and all that, but we’re also finding it hard to work up any indignation. So many people have an all-too-natural curiosity about the people who move around in such meticulously objectified bodies that whenever we type the name of almost any movie star into our favorite search engine a window pops up with suggested searches that always include “nude.” It pops up even with the antique movie stars from the black-and-white that we’re most likely to be investigating, and so far as we can tell nude pictures of screen sirens go back all the way to the beginning of motion pictures. Back in our more avid movie-going days in the ’70s almost all the flicks would throw in at least one nude scene, probably on the longstanding Hollywood theory that you have to give the audiences something they couldn’t see on television, but now that you can get bare bodies on the boob tube, so to speak, it’s all computer generated images and shoot-’em-ups, and it doesn’t represent an improvement. We feel a bit badly for the women who had their nude pictures taken with the assurance they would remain private, and worry if anything can remain private these days, but can’t help wondering what they did intend.
Another story at Cosmopolitan, which we assume is a reliable source for this sort information, suggests that posing for naked pictures is a surprisingly popular pastime these days even for people who aren’t movie stars. The famously risqué women’s magazine took a survey of “millennial women” and found that a whopping nine out of 10 had been photographed nude and that only 14 percent regretted it while 82 percent said they would do it again. The survey doesn’t delve into motives, leaving us to speculate why so many young women want their nudity photographed. For the benefit of boyfriends, perhaps, but modern relationships being so fleeting it hard’s to imagine that there wouldn’t be more widespread regrets if that were case. We suspect that the narcissism that is also so common of the younger generation is a more likely explanation.
Oddly enough, this widespread naked photography seems to be breaking out at the same time jurisdictions around the world are banishing public nudity. According to the New York Post even the famously free-minded French Riviera has ceased the topless sunbathing that formerly did so much for France’s tourism industry. Apparently the practice hasn’t been officially banned but merely become passé, in part because of the ubiquity of cell phone cameras and the potential that the bared breasts will turn up on that darned internet. The article lists several other exotic locations that have recently banned public nudity, including Hainan Beach in China, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Barcelona in Spain, all before we even realized there were naked people there. In most cases it’s because the locals have grown weary of naked tourists, who probably aren’t walking around unclothed in their own home towns, and it seems a reasonable request.
Getting far less attention is a minor nudity problem just up the turnpike Topeka. The city had apparently never gotten around to passing a law requiring clothing in public, which is the sort of thing a city really shouldn’t have to pass a law about, and until recently Topekans had always extended this courtesy to one another without legal coercion, but apparently one fellow has recently taken to nude strolls around the town. We’re not sure why, although the weather here in Kansas has been just beautiful lately, and it might well be the economy, or maybe global warming, but in any case he’s forced the city council take up the issue. Even in such a staid town as Topeka, it seems, the modern tendency to bare it all has become sadly literal.

— Bud Norman