Youthful Idealism and Its Inevitable Woes

At the risk of sounding even older and more cynical than we are, which is admittedly rather old and cynical, we must say we don’t care much for youthful idealism. In fact, we’ve long regarded youthful idealism as one of history’s most destructive forces.
This has been our firmly held opinion since back in our high school days, when we couldn’t help but notice what a poorly educated lot our classmates were, and we continued to think so as we watched high school students here in Wichita and around the country staging walk-out protests on Wednesday against the country’s ongoing epidemic of mass shootings.
Not that we’re at all in favor of mass shootings, of course, and we can well understand why high school students would be especially anxious and opinionated about this peculiarly American problem. Nor do we disagree with more thorough background checks for gun purchases and a ban on “bump stocks” and certain other proposals the protest movement seems to be advocating. In any case, we steadfastly uphold the right of even the most ill-educated youngsters to express their opinions in a public forum.
America’s mass shooting problem is damned complicated, however, and won’t likely be solved by a high school level of analysis. Many of the students involved in the protests seem to favor a complete ban on private gun ownership, which is at least as futile as a ban on abortion or marijuana or illegal immigration or any other number pf bans they would instinctively reject. Others are merely advocating a ban on the semi-automatic rifles they imprecisely call “assault weapons,” which is somewhat less futile but still a pretty damned complicated matter with some valid if subtle arguments on the other side. Even the most reasonable demands about background checks and bump stocks and such are couched in youthfully idealist language that tends to demonize law-abiding gun owners and their constitutional rights.
Constitutional rights have survived countless challenges from youthful idealism, though, and we expect that trend to continue. The current children’s crusade is getting a lot of supportive press, and some of the high schoolers from the latest shot-up high school are so very well-spoken and telegenically sympathetic that the right-wing conspiracy theorists are plausibly theorizing they’re from central casting, and some big corporations have already stopping selling so-called “assault weapons” and offering discounts to members of the demonized National Rifle Association, but it will be hard to sustain.
The kids are competing for column inches and air time with the even more telegenic movie star babes protesting sexual harassment, that “Black Lives Matter” thing still lingers, all of the letters in the “LGBTQ” coalition continue to press their respective grievances, not to mention all the rest of the left’s constant carping about President Donald Trump. They all have their very valid arguments, of course, but they tend to get lost in the noise, and as always they also generate an equal and opposite amount of noise from the right, some of which also has some valid arguments.
Youth movements are hard to sustain, too, and often go awry. Our high school days came a few years after those halcyon days when high schoolers were walking out of class to protest the Vietnam War, which had come to a desultory end partly as a result, and many of our classmates were envious of the frisson of moral superiority they’d experienced, but they were relegated to staging walk-outs over such mundane matters as school dress codes. The opportunity to skip an algebra class always fueled the walkouts, but at our high school the dress codes were so permissive and the truancy rules so laxly enforced that it never came up.
Our guess is that a lot of high schoolers in America have parents who own firearms, including semi-automatic rifles, and well understand the valid reasons, and we note that the vast majority of high schoolers here in Wichita and around the country didn’t walk out. We’ll also guess that some of those walked out did so because it sounded like more fun than chemistry class.
Still, we wish the young punks luck in solving that damned complicated and peculiarly American problem of mass shootings. and hope they’ll nudge their presumably more wised-up elders to some sort of reasonable solution.

— Bud Norman

Jet-Setting and Leggings

Maybe it’s just because of a slow news cycle while the Republicans recover from their health care fiasco and the Democrats await the next big revelation about Russia or something helpful, but that flap about the two young women who didn’t get onto a United Airlines flight because they were wearing “leggings” is still getting a lot of attention. It’s a story with legs, as we used to say back in the newspaper days, and plenty of what used to be called sidebars.
By now you probably know, thanks to the diligent efforts of United’s crack public relations team, that the airline does not impose a dress code on its customers but does enforce one for its employees, and the two young women were attempting to board on company benefit tickets. There was nonetheless the predictable and understandable feminist outrage about women being told what to wear, and the usual fuddy-duddy but still-reasonable arguments about companies having a right to enforce dress codes, and a plausible counter-argument that the dress code in question is more restrictive of women’s choices than men’s, and a counter-counter-argument worth considering that there are practical reasons for that. The story mostly has legs, though, because it’s being argued across a generational as well as ideological divide.
Way, way back when we were in the early years of elementary school our beloved Pa used to fly almost constantly on business trips for his very big-time aerospace company, and our beloved Ma would often drive us out to greet his return at the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, and it’s hard to describe how it overwhelmed our childhood imaginations. You could could walk right up to the exit gates without any hassles back then, and Pop would always come through the door in slightly wrinkled but otherwise impeccable business attire with all the weariness and slight smile of someone has just solved a high-tech problem or swung a very big-money deal, and pretty much everyone else looked pretty impressive. Even the returning tourists had a prosperous and classy look about them, which was hard for us to maintain on the long car rides that our family vacations entailed, and it inspired a certain inspiration to be part of what was then called the “jet set.”
By the time we were grown up enough to buy an occasional airline ticket things had changed, though, and the people we found ourselves standing in line with at the departure gate looked pretty much like the people at the nearest bus stop. The “airline hostesses” weren’t nearly so hot as those R-rated “stewardess” movies at the drive-in had promised, the food was just as awful as all the standup comedians said, and “jet set” had somehow been dropped from the popular lexicon. Then came the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and after that airline travel joined dental appointments and colonoscopies on our list of most dreaded activities, and of course the standards of what people were now being forced to undress had also further declined.
Meanwhile we started noticing people showing up at funerals and weddings and Sunday morning worship services and all sorts of places in shorts and t-shirts and ball caps, and a perhaps related decline in public civility, as well as a general lack of aspiration for anything like our childhood yearning of a “jet set.” We’re not so old that we didn’t notice when almost all the young women started wearing those skin-tight pants, although we are old enough that we put “leggings” in quotation marks because it’s still a neologism to us, and we have mixed feelings about that. Some of the young women look quite good in those pants, there are others we’d advise to try something different, but in no case do we feel it’s our place to offer either compliments or advice, and we just try to be civil. Neither do we offer any comment on those young men wearing shorts on the coldest day of winter or wool sherpa caps on the hottest day of summer, even if they do look damned ridiculous, and we always appreciate when no one comments on our slightly wrinkled and decidedly fuddy-duddy attire.
Still, we can’t help yearning for that “jet set” of our childhood imagination, and can still see ourselves seated in suit-and-tie on a carefree flight to an exotic location next to an attractive woman of a certain age attired in a loose but revealing-in-a-flattering-way dress, drinking some well-mixed cocktails and sharing some screwball comedy flirtations while a comely “stewardess” re-fills the glasses, and we’re free to gallantly light her cigarette should she desire one, and a world of elegant possibilities still awaits. If the kids prefer their “leggings,” even the ones who really don’t have the legs to pull it off, we’ll not deny them the choice, but they don’t know what they’re missing. We hope that United Airlines will continue to impose a reasonably fuddy-duddy dress code on its employees, and that a free-market will somehow reward its decision, and that a certain dignity will return to both the airports and the bus spots, but mostly we’re in favor of freedom and will accept its results.

— Bud Norman