The Latest Skirmishes in the Race Wars

Two more black men were fatally shot by police this week, this time in Charlotte, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and both communities suffered from the rioting and looting that now routinely follows these incidents. The initial news reports were once again inconclusive, all the same arguments regarding law enforcement and race in America were once-again re-hashed, both major party presidential nominees once again weighed in, and by now there’s a numbing familiarity to it all.
This time around the initial news reports out of North Carolina appear exculpatory for the black police officer in a largely black police department with a black Police Chief accountable to a largely black-run municipal government who shot a reportedly armed and black-life-threatening black man, which didn’t seem to give pause to the rioters and looters and their “Black Lives Matter” apologists, while the available videotape and press accounts and even the official police statements out of Oklahoma suggest that the black man shot by a white officer was unarmed and no imminent threat to the bevy of officers who had surrounded him, which somehow resulted in what seems to be a slightly more restrained round of rioting and looting than occurred in North Carolina.
By now we’ve learned to await further reports before reaching any tentative conclusions about these recurring things, and to be grateful that our tentative conclusions don’t settle these matters. The established facts that the shooter in North Carolina was a black man and that the one in Oklahoma was a white woman are deemed irrelevant in our rightward-leaning court of opinion, and we expect that the leftward-leaning sorts will have their own self-interested reasons for dismissing such information, so the rest of the autopsies and witness accounts and physical evidence and press reports will eventually be more or less resolved and then quickly forgotten. How this affects the presidential race, much less the way this objectively undeniable problem of police shootings and subsequent rioting is either resolved or brought to its unbearable conclusion, is also beyond our powers of conjecture.
The initial reports out of Oklahoma are bad enough that even proudly pro-police Republican nominee Donald Trump said he was “very troubled” by the video he’d seen, and rambled out a stronger anti-police case than we’d make at this point, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was “Tweeting” her shared outraged with even the North Carolina rioters and looters, even if her more expansive later comments made clear that she wasn’t in favor of the random attacks on white people that resulted. Perhaps she’ll be able to rebound by noting how Trump has tentatively presumed guilty a woman who has her own story to tell, and perhaps the North Carolina situation is more complicated that it seems and both candidates wind up looking silly in their premature pronouncements about it, but for now it seems his supporters won’t mind that he prejudged a white woman and with her prejudgment of a ┬áblack man she looks to come out slightly worse from it in this crazy election year. This is no way to judge a case, of course, but there you have it.

— Bud Norman

Without “Selfie” Regard

While wandering around the internet in search of something to divert our gaze from that gruesome presidential race, we happened upon a story about the rising toll of deaths resulting from “selfies.” We like to think ourselves the compassionate and nonjudgmental type, but we’re not so stone-hearted that we didn’t have to suppress a slight chuckle about it.
If you’re not au courant on the latest hep cat lingo, “selfie” is the neologism that probably best sums up our sorry zeitgeist. It’s broadly defined as a cell phone camera self-portrait, taken from arm’s length or a slightly wider angle with help of a “selfie stick” that some people apparently carry around, which is then shared with the self-portraitist’s friends on Facebook and Instagram and other social media, another newfangled nuisance we still like to call “social media,” with the quote marks there to express our hope it will soon go away. In some cases they depict the self-portraitist enjoying a satisfying meal at a nondescript chain restaurant or running into an old classmate or becoming so pleasantly drunk they felt compelled to share some documentation of the moment with their friends, in others they document that the self-portraitist was in camera range of some famous landmark or minor celebrity or ongoing natural disaster, and in some cases they depict the self-portraitist engaging in some sort of derring-do.
That lattermost genre has recently led to the deaths of two tourists standing astride the dangerous cliffs overlooking Machu Picchu, Peru, and the Conde Nast travel company is reporting that around the globe “selfies” have lately claimed more tourists’ lives than sharks. There’s already one of those newfangled Wikipedia pages devoted to the phenomenon, and it reports that other “selfie”-induced deaths involved a fellow who was electrocuted standing atop an electric train, another falling down the stairs of the Taj Mahal, and yet another posing with a walrus. Cliff-falling and drowning seem to be the most common sorts of fatal “selfies,” but sooner or later someone is bound to perish by posing for a “selfie” with a shark, and we guess the Conde Nast people will have to score that as a tie.
We lament these tragic deaths, being such compassionate and nonjudgmental types, despite having to suppress that slight chuckle, but we also lament the whole idea of the “selfie.” To get all Ecclesiastical on you, the whole “selfie” thing always brings to mind that fine Old Testament wisdom about “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” That ugly “selfie” coinage somehow signifies to us all the self-regard and self-centeredness and self-aggrandizement that makes for such an ugly zeitgeist, and we can’t wait for the fad to pass.
Most of the “selfie” fatalities so far seem to have been foreigners, but we’ve long been embarrassed that the current President of the United States is also an avid cell phone self-portraitist. He’s embarrassed himself and the country by posing for a smiling “selfie” with that hot Denmark Prime Minister at former South African President Nelson Mandela’s funeral, and he’s one of those people who carry around a “selfie stick” for some reason, and if he does somehow manage to make the sea levels lower in his lame duck months in office we’re sure he’ll be there to document the occasion at an arm’s length or longer. His likely successor’s only redeeming qualities are that they’re such old geezers neither claims to be au courant on the latest hep cat lingo.
The presumptive Republican Presidential nominee is a force on “Twitter” but always allows himself to be photographed from more than an arm’s or “selfie stick” distance, and the presumptive Democratic nominee is offering her geezer Luddite tendencies as an excuse for her should-have-been-indicted e-mail practices, and although both are by now probably right up there with the the bald spot in self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ head and the various Kardashians in the number of “selfies” taken with them neither is guilty of the practice. Still, they both seem so typically-of-the-zeitgeist self-regarding and self-centered and self-aggrandizing that there’s no respite anywhere on the internet.

— Bud Norman

Football Season and Its Discontents

The Wichita Wingnuts baseball team has concluded its season as champions of the American Association, our New York Yankees are unlikely to earn even one of those socialistic one-game playoff spots that we hate, and being normal red-blooded American males we now turn our sporting attention to football. There’s an appropriate chill in the air, evoking nostalgia for the heroic gridiron exploits we witnessed in our innocent youth and stoking our hunger for some more hard-hitting football, but so far all the stories seem to be about domestic battery and child abuse.
Such stories are by now a routine feature of football season. Nobody’s died, so far, which makes this a relatively placid season, but the bad news stories have been more than enough to take the fun out of spectating. One highly-regarded running back has become a YouTube sensation by cold-cocking his then-fiancee in an elevator, and although the same sordid video shows her throwing the first punches and some spits for good measure it still leaves one with an unfavorable impression of the fellow’s character. An even more highly-regarded running back has since been charged with beating his son, and although we’ll happily leave it to the criminal justice system to decide if he was acting within his legal rights as a parent to discipline a child or crossed over into criminal conduct we are disinclined to root for him in the meantime. The rest of the league seems populated largely by players eager to convey an equally thuggish public image, and there’s something suspicious about the ones who don’t, and we can’t help wondering what Walter Camp would have to say about it.
Only the most history-minded fans now know about Walter Camp, but without him there probably wouldn’t be any football fans at all. He was a star player for Yale University way back when that meant something, and later coached his alma mater to Ivy League championships when that still meant something, but his greatest contribution to the game was as a writer and journalist. Football had evolved from the “mob gangs” that ruffians played in the streets of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, and in the early days it suffered an unsavory reputation despite its association with the elite Ivy League, but Camp’s prose persuaded a nation that the game inculcated all the the masculine qualities of teamwork, discipline, and the clean living needed for the physical rigors of such a brutal game. Camp invented the All-American team, and named it with the idea that its players represented the best of America both on and off the field. This was utter nonsense even then, of course, but it was so widely agreed upon that football survived the numerous fatalities and countless other scandals of its early days to become a prominent feature of American culture.
Along the way football often has served the country well, at times even approaching that exemplary American manliness that Walter Camp described. America has been well suited to a rough world because it has played a rough game, and if the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton it is just as true that the battle on Omaha Beach was won by banged-up boys who had learned how to break through a line on some godforsaken rural football field. The game once produced mythically manly characters, and in our confused ’60s boyhood the stoic and fedora-topped Tom Landry and his Naval Academy quarterback just returned from Vietnam and the rest of “America’s Team” seemed to reassure that the best of American manhood could still find a place in an increasingly emasculated society to flex its muscles and excel at something rough and impolite and somehow beautiful. Even without such mythos there’s something to be said for that unknown fellow in the green helmet making such a gusty play and taking that vicious hit just to keep a drive alive.
Those disreputable mob game origins were there all along, though, and football’s history is mainly a tale of the mob getting bigger, stronger, faster, more injurious. The University of Oklahoma Sooners team that we’ve been weaned to root for now has an offensive front line averaging 321 pounds, according to the graphic that the television network imposed on Saturday after a big gain against a relatively puny University of Tennessee Volunteers’ line that averaged only 271 pounds, and anyone who wanders into the melee ensuing after a snap in an even heftier professional game must have a certain predilection for both inflicting and enduring pain. We are no longer surprised that many of the game’s most talented players are prone to violate the rules against violence that prevail in society after the game is played. Our favorite football movie, of many worthy choices, is the original version of “The Longest Yard,” a testosterone-drenched drive-in flick in washed-out color about a team of imprisoned criminals who prevail over their guards because their anti-social tendencies give them a natural advantage in football. it makes the occasional good guy seem all the more heroic, and makes us long for the days when hometown hero Barry Sanders would simply toss the ball to the referee after a touchdown rather than stage a minstrel show, but we have no delusions about that guy who just laid that vicious hit on the wide receiver.
The latest scandals have provided plenty of fodder for the commentators who still hope to eradicate the mob game, which is another drearily routine feature of football season. The meritocracy and manliness and Walter Camp Americana of the game are all offensive to a certain modern sensibility, and when you throw in allegations of domestic battery and child abuse and God only knows what goes on at those after-game parties the game is going to have a public relations problem when all those class-action concussion suits go to jury. Football represents all that is wrong with our violent and thuggish society, we will be told, and it won’t be hard to find twelve people willing in any jurisdiction to along with that.
We’ll be sad to see it go, though. Those soccer games where “everybody plays” and nobody keeps score aren’t likely to win any military victories, which will still be required in what remains a rough world, no matter how ardently those soccer moms might wish otherwise, and as phony-baloney as it always was that Walter Camp ideal of football was always something worth aspiring to and on certain Saturday and Sunday afternoon and even on Friday nights in those godforsaken rural football it was sometimes almost attained. That kind of football entails a code of chivalry and manliness and Americanism that football’s critics have long sought to extinguish along with the game, and their demise is not the fault of football.

— Bud Norman