On a Sunny Day in Kansas

Monday was gorgeous here in Wichita, Kansas, with warm but not too-hot temperatures and a glorious blue sky, and we had an interesting conversation with a Canadian pal who works at Wichita State State University across the street from Kirby’s Beer Store and more interesting chit-chat and joke-swapping at Harry’s Uptown Bar and Grill with another set of delightful friends. No one was wearing s face mask, we got within six feet of one another, and although we’d previously spent an hour-and-a-half on the phone with tech support guy from India getting our e-mail back on-line and then even more time searching for an urgently needed used car we were briefly able to forget what a sorry state the rest of the world is in.
It’s in a undeniably sorry shape, as we were reminded when when came home and fired up the internet machine. The rate of coronavirus infections is down nationwide, but it’s up in 18 states we rather like, and it doesn’t look as if they or the rest of world can safely get back to normal anytime soon. The resultant economic downturn seems likely to persist past Election Day,
as even Trump’s appointed Federal Reserve Board chairman agrees, and the global economists all saying that times are a hard all over.
On top of all that there’s all the civil unrest that’s resulted from white cops killing unarmed and nonthreatening black people. When Minneapolis police knelt on a suspect’s head for nearly nine minutes and wound up killing him during an arrest on a misdemeanor forgery charge it set off both peaceful demonstrations and violent riots across America, and when the police responded to protests against police brutality with videotaped acts of police it grew worse, Yesterday a couple of cops in Atlanta shot a black man reasonably suspected of drunk driving twice in the back when he ran off with one of their tasers, even though they had his tag number and could have easily arrested him the next day without death or civil unrest or anyone getting fired. There’s never, ever a good time for police to shoot down an unarmed and unthreatening suspect could be easily and harmlessly arrested the next, but even the most racist redneck cop in Georgia should now that he’s less likely to get away with it at this moment in time.
It’s quite a confluence of catastrophes, and even on a sunny day in Kansas we worry how it will turn out.

— 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

Unfunny Valentine

Today is Valentine’s Day, which obliges us to forgo our usual glum political and economic assessments in order to address the matter of people falling in love.

People do still fall in love, we presume. Not often in our circle of acquaintances, at least not lately, and not even an old school chum who used to fall in love with an exasperating frequency, but there must be somebody out there still doing it. Many of the people we have Facebook-befriended announce on their pages that they are in a relationship, which is not necessarily the same as falling in love, as we understand the modern parlance, but surely a few of these vaguely familiar people must be feeling some deep emotion or another.

The lack of romance among the company we keep isn’t just a result of advancing age. We make a point of socializing with the young folk from time to time, and have found them generally disinclined to fall in love. Indeed, the young nowadays are often quite cynical about the very idea. There seems to be some “hooking up,” as the youngsters so delicately put it, but that’s also not necessarily the same as falling in love, and judging by the hard luck stories we’re forced to endure there doesn’t even seem to be as much of that as in the past.

If you’ll forgive the brief interjection of a glum political and economic assessment, the younger set’s romantic desires might be constrained by its bleak financial prospects. Parents’ basements are notoriously lousy bachelor’s pads, wining and dining are increasingly expensive, and the prospect of parenthood is downright daunting to a debt-laden twenty-something with an unmarketable bachelor’s degree. The contemporary aversion to romance seems to have predated the economic downturn, however, and even the most financially well-off young people we know seem content to parlay their success into a series of relationships rather than fall in love.

Perhaps it’s a consequence of all the divorces over the past many years, something our young friends mention with depressing regularity, or the sweeping social changes that have obliterated the traditional sex roles and mating rituals without having settled on any universally recognized new ones. There certainly isn’t much falling in love going on in the popular culture, where romance once ruled but is now reviled. Violence is more common across the cultural spectrum than any kind of love, and there’s usually an ironic detachment from both.

We no longer keep up with the latest pop music, which is even more of a young person’s pastime than falling in love, but what little we hear of it as we scan across the radio dial is more likely to be an angry screed than a soulful declaration of love. The couples on the television sit-coms seem to insult one another constantly. Romantic comedies remain a popular movie genre, but they always seem to find the notion of romance comedic. Romance novels still sell in large numbers, but are not considered respectable. There might be romantic poetry in print, but no one reads poetry.

Despite it all, though, there’s bound to be someone out there falling in love. It just keeps happening, no matter what. To those hearty souls willing to take the risk, defy the odds, and let hope triumph over experience, we wish you a happy Valentine’s Day. Here’s hoping it all works out.

— Bud Norman