Modern Telephones and Ancient Arts

One of the unexpected habits we’ve acquired over the last couple of years is watching Youtube’s full-length videos of the Public Broadcasting System’s nightly “Newshour.” The program still has that ostentatiously high-brow and oh-so-soft-spoken public broadcasting tone that used to annoy us, but in these assertively low-brow days of splenetic talk radio show shrieking we now find it rather soothing, and we’ve also noticed that it has a high batting average for accuracy and does a pretty good job of giving all sides of whatever top story of the day they’re covering some unedited soundbites.
PBS also finds a few precious minutes in its daily “Newshour” for interesting and important stories that aren’t the hot topic of the day, which at long last brings us around to the subject of our daily missive. On Tuesday “Newshour” had a segment about the growing number of performing artists — from stand-up comedians to classical musicians — who are trying to keep their ¬†audiences from using their telephones during performances. Despite all that’s going on in the top stories of the day, we feel obliged to take a few minutes of our time to share their outrage.
Those newfangled telephones most people own these days have video cameras and digital audio recorders and “viral” videos and the latest baseball scores and answers to any questions that might pop into your head and pictures of some scant acquaintance’s private parts, and we’ve previously groused about how damned distracting and dumbing-down they can be. It’s a problem we’ve long noticed during dates and family gatherings and all sorts of civic events, so we can well sympathize with any old nightclub comic or concert hall virtuoso who looks out at an audience and sees people more engrossed by some glowing electronic rectangle and its “tweet” about a friend’s taco dinner than their carefully-crafted performances.
We’ve even noticed it here in Wichita, Kansas, and we’re sure the problem is worse is in America’s many bigger cities. Around here most of the performing arts we take in are either at the lowest dives in the roughest parts of the north and south ends, where the kids all seem to have those newfangled telephones but are more intent on drinking and digging the the sounds and perhaps getting lucky than whatever boring message some homebound friend had “texted” or “tweeted” them, or in the high-culture auditoria of downtown’s Century II, where the mostly genteel and graying audiences have their own old-fashioned reasons for savoring the performances they’ve paid for at a rather steep price for rather than looking at their glowing telephones.
Before every performance of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra or the Wichita Musical Theater — both of which are far better than you might expect, by the way — they always play a recording urging the audience to shut down those damnable newfangled telephone machines. The message was recorded by Samuel Ramey, an operatic bass singer from the small town of Colby, Kansas, who attended Wichita State University’s better-than-you’d-expect music and went on to a career that included bravura performances as La Scala and all the world’s great opera houses before returning to join his alma mater’s better-than-you’d-expect musical faculty, and although he’s best known for playing Lucifer in the great operas featuring that character his speaking voice sounds so much like what you’d you imagine God sounds like that you’d surely turn off your newfangled telephone.
Still, even here in our delightfully old-fashioned hometown we notice too many people more intent on documenting the moment rather than savoring it, everywhere from the lowest depths of Kirby’s Beer Store to the dizzying heights of Century II. There’s something timeless to be said for an idiosyncratic bar band in a north end dive or capable stand-up comic in a sleazy night club or a virtuoso musician in a concert hall, and there’s something to be listened to without the distractions of thpse damnable telephonic devices most people own nowadays.
While we’re at it, we’d also prefer that more people stop paying attention to the top stories of the day what’ else is on their newfangled telephones machines and start paying more attention to the wonderful and horrible things that are going on all around them.

— Bud Norman

What to Talk About in a Crazy Election Year

This should have been the best week yet for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Every poll shows the presumptive Democratic nominee is already considered dishonest and corrupt by a majority of the country, so it couldn’t have helped that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday publicly excoriated the former Secretary of State and her colleagues for being “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” conceded that state secrets might well have fallen into enemy hands as a result, and definitively refuted many of the lies she’s long been telling about it. That he did so while exonerating her from any criminal charges hardly helped, as he struggled to explain why to the resulting Congressional hearing on Thursday and the polls were already showing that a majority of the public thought it smacked of unforgivable dishonesty and corruption and even some of her most reliable apologists in the press were admitting that it did indeed look pretty bad.
All that any old presumptive Republican nominee had to do get a much-needed bump in the polls out of it was to deliver a well-written speech that factually outlined all the perfectly valid reasons every objective American should be outraged about the whole sorry affair, then get the hell out of the way and make sure he didn’t provide anybody any reason to talk about anything else. In this crazy election year the formerly Grand Old Party doesn’t have any old presumptive nominee, however, but is instead saddled with Donald J. Trump. The self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-joint-and-scam-university-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul’s greatest talent is for always giving people something to talk about, and even in what should have been his best week yet he couldn’t resist providing some entirely unnecessary distractions.
The presumptive Democratic nominee’s horrible week began over the weekend when some lucky Phoenix television reporter was tipped off that her ex-president husband, widely considered a thoroughly dishonest and corrupt creature in his own right, had left his private plane at the city’s airport to meet on the private plane of the Attorney General overseeing the Justice Department’s investigation in his wife’s extremely careless handling of very sensitive and highly classified information, which even the most reliable apologists had to admit made the whole affair look even worse. Around the same time the presumptive Republican nominee was “re-‘Tweeting'” an internet “meme” that showed an unflattering portrait of the presumptive Democratic nominee imposed over a pile of cash and a red star where the text accused her of being “the most corrupt candidate in history,” and because the red star had six points just like the Jewish Star of David and originated on an unabashedly white supremacist site that also cheered the death of Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Weisel there was inevitably some talk about that.
Despite the presumptive Republican nominee’s annoying habit of occasionally “re-‘Tweeting'” bogus statistics and rude “memes” from white supremacists web sites, even such philo-Semitic goyem as ourselves aren’t so hypersensitive to anti-Semitism that we noticed the star had six points or thought to associate them with any Jewish stereotypes, so we were willing to give the benefit of the doubt to any amateur staffer who had “re-‘Tweeted'” the image. In any case it wasn’t such a big deal as the extremely careless handling of very sensitive and highly classified information by the presumptive Democratic nominee, and we expect that almost everyone was willing to let this minor screw-up pass from the news cycle except for the presumptive Republican nominee himself. He kept “Tweeting” and kvetching about it, and the man who promises to make America great again by hiring the best people publicly criticized the amateur staffer who had changed the six-pointed star to a less offensive circle, and he “Tweeted” a photo of some children’s toy that also featured in a six-pointed star on its packaging in a context that had nothing to do with greed or corruption and came from the Disney corporation rather than a white supremacist web site, and he thus happily obliged all those apologists for the apologists for the presumptive Democratic nominee who would have preferred to write about something other than her obvious dishonesty and corruption.
The presumptive Republican nominee did get around to that more important matter during a typically well-attended and enthusiastic rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Tuesday, and with what we have to admit was a fairly well-written speech that factually outlined all the perfectly valid reasons America should be outraged about it. Then he went into a seemingly impromptu and stream-of-consciousness rant about how the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, although a “very bad guy,” had nonetheless been a bulwark against terrorism. “But you know what he did well?,” Trump asked the crowd, answering his own question by saying “He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights, they didn’t talk. They were a terrorist — it was over.” The presumptive Democratic nominee’s press apologists were mostly willing to let this slide, given in its implicit criticism of the same George W. Bush that they and the presumptive Republican nominee accuse of lying to start the Iraq war, even if it was unclear whether Trump was blaming Bush’s entry into the war or President Barack Obama’s pull-out for turning Iraq into the “Harvard of terrorism,” but on both the left and right people were talking about Trump’s grossly ahistorical account of the facts. Although Hussein did indeed kill a lot of terrorists who had plotted against him, along with many thousands of people who had merely sought peacefully political resistance to his rule or otherwise expressed some dissatisfaction with, he was also a gracious host to a an all-star roster of Islamist terrorists who didn’t oppose rule, and a generous benefactor to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and hardly an exemplar of the supposedly stable Middle East that Trump now claims was de-stabilized by either the Iraq War or its early end, not to mention whether Trump seemed to be endorsing such stern tactics for American policy.
One could argue these points all day, but that would mean arguing about something other than the more pertinent and politically exploitable facts about the presumptive Democratic nominee’s extremely careless handling of highly sensitive material and inarguable long history dishonesty and corruption, which is surely what any old presumptive Republican nominee other than Donald J. Trump would prefer people be talking about. Trump always prefers that people are talking about him, however, so he offered yet a third distraction from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s travails by scheduling meetings with the formerly Grand Old Party’s members of Congress.
On the same day the congressional Republicans were holding the hearings that made the FBI chief look ridiculous and promising authorizations for fresh investigations and quite persuasively arguing that the presumptive Democratic nominee is indeed at least as dishonest and corrupt as a majority of the country already believes, the presumptive Republican nominee was in a closed meeting with many of his party’s members vanquished squished roll-over establishment types, and by all accounts it did not go well. Several of the Senators in attendance have been either ambivalent about or more openly hostile to their party’s presumptive nominee, and as is his wont Trump preferred the vinegar rather than the honey approach to persuading to be more supportive. Trump reportedly greeted Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake by saying “you’ve been very critical of me” and threatening verbal attacks against him that would make his re-election impossible, and Flake reportedly responded that he wasn’t up for re-election because “I’m the other Senator from Arizona — the one who didn’t get captured,” which defiantly recalled when the presumptive Republican presidential ridiculously called into question the prisoner of war heroism of past Republican nominee Sen. John McCain. Not in attendance was Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who withdrew his endorsement of Trump last month when the presumptive Republican nominee lambasted the Indiana-born judge in one of his scam university lawsuits as a “Mexican,” but Trump reportedly called the reluctant Republican a “loser” and vowed he was going to be out of office after Trump wins the electoral votes of Obama’s home state of Illinois. In attendance was Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, perhaps Trump’s most outspoken Republican opponent, and although he declined comment after the meeting his spokesman later allowed that “Mr. Sasse continues to believe that our country is in a bad place, and with these two candidates, this election remains a dumpster fire.” The presumptive Republican president also reportedly promised his fidelity to the First and 12th articles of the Constitution, although there is no 12th article, and in a meeting with the generally more receptive Republicans in the House of Representatives he urged they “say only great things” about him.
Such bully-boy tactics will surely play well with Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters, who seem to find it all very¬†alpha male, but we don’t expect it to play well with the majority of country that is telling pollsters they’re resolved to vote against him and even the majority of formerly Grand Old Party members who voted in the admirable likes of Flake and Kirk and Sasse and are saying they’d rather vote for someone else as their party’s presumptive nominee. It certainly doesn’t speak well to his common political sense that he wouldn’t prefer everyone was talking about how very awful that presumptive Democratic nominee is instead.

— Bud Norman