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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

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A Day Without Women, and Another With Trump

Wednesday was a “Day Without Women,” and if not for all the news stories about it we wouldn’t have noticed. It was already the annual “International Women’s Day” on the calendar, so women got together and declared a general strike to protest President Donald Trump and other affronts to womankind, and a “Day Without Women” was the catchy name they came up for it.
The protest reportedly drew large crowds to rallies in New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and other large cities, with smaller ones scattered around the country, and enough public school district teachers joined in to force several districts to shut down for the day. Meanwhile Trump remained president, the Republicans in congress went right ahead with consideration of a budget that would cut funding for Planned Parenthood, and someone on the Howard Stern was telling a sexist joke, along with all the usual domestic abuse and unwanted cat-calls and the slightly indignities that accumulate every, and all the coordinated outrage about it went largely unnoticed around here.
Being the contentedly solitary sorts we’ve survived many a day without women, or even men, and usually found it blessedly hassle-free. Even to the extent that we count on women for fast-food service and other commercial transactions, or just for some friendly conversation, the “Day Without Women” was pretty much as usual. The same group of delightful women in the local amateur theatrical we do every year were there at rehearsal, afterwards a lovely and charming young lady at the Thai fried rice place on West Street got us out take-out order of the very spicy chicken fried rice with admirable efficiency, and the woman with the mellifluous voice on the old folks AM radio station was playing some sultry Peggy Lee on the way home. There was nothing in the station’s news break about the local schools being closed, which was too bad for the local kids because the weather was unseasonably perfect for a day off, and although we didn’t check our Facebook we don’t think the general strike had much an effect on Wichita, Kansas.
Even here in the middle of the big red splotch on the electoral map, and despite our blissful bachelorhood, we’re quite sympathetic to at least some of the striking women’s complaints. Especially the more striking ones, if you’ll forgive the joke, which we couldn’t resist. Although we’ve never hesitated to argue with a woman that de-funding Planned Parenthood doesn’t constitute a “war on women,” and neither did any of that silly stuff they used against Republican nominee Mitt Romney back in ’12, we aren’t so willing to start a potential shouting match in defense of Trump. Especially if we were at a party and she were attractive and drunk and flirty, which is also a joke we apologize for but couldn’t resist.
The relative dearth of female cabinet picks and that transgender bathroom rule and the rest of what Trump has thus far done as president doesn’t bother us all that much, and most of the women we know seem similarly unbothered by any of it, but we can well understand the objections to the whole Trump persona. Even the most die-hard Republican women we know, and being here in the middle of that big red splotch of the electoral map that includes some pretty damned die-hard Republican women, would have preferred that their party had beaten Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton with someone, for that matter anyone, who wasn’t a thrice-married and proudly adulterous strip club owner who habitually makes public comments on women’s looks and tells sexist jokes on the Howard Stern show and goes around grabbing women by their wherevers. That’s what our Republican women friends say, so you can easily understand that what our Democratic women friends have to say about Trump does not bear repeating in such a genteel and family-friendly publication as this.
Perhaps it’s some vestigial sense of chivalry, or maybe we’ve just been wussified the feminization of America, but we find it hard to argue with any of the women we meet who don’t like Donald Trump. Our God-fearing Church of Christ mother taught us an old-fashioned and even Old Testament respect for women, the old movies on the late show taught the same manly code, a series of ferocious girlfriends and fiancees and fleeting encounters have successfully demanded our full respect, and although feminism far too often makes a fool of itself we can’t deny it still has some valid complaints.
Trump doesn’t treat women well, either by the standards of early 21st century feminism or the manly code you’ll see in all those old movies that still pop up on the late show, and that is a conspicuous flaw in a President of the United States. If it hasn’t inarguably affected any of his policy decisions, it has given license to the up-and-coming comic who’s taken Trump’s place on the Howard Stern show to keep up the sexist jokes, and for the construction worker to feel unbound by political correctness and shout out his appreciation of female passerby’s breasts, and to confirm that the most vulgar aspects of our popular culture trump all.
This is bad news for both the old-fashioned fuddy-duddies on the right who thought they controlled at least the Republican party, and for those hippy-dippy do-in-the-road lefties who thought their domination of the popular culture would bring about a utopia of sexual equality, but that’s where find ourselves on another generally fine day without women.

— Bud Norman

Phyllis Schlafly, RIP

Iconic conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly died on Monday at the age of 92, and upon hearing the news we couldn’t help fishing our old “Stop ERA” button out of the button jar and reminiscing about her glory days. The button has been kept mostly out of the light for the past many decades and is still a bright stop sign shade of red, but so much has been changed since we last wore it that it sometimes seems from a different world, and we can’t help wondering what such an endearing old anachronism as Schlafly might have made of it.
She first became involved in conservative politics as a supporter of the old school Robert “Mr. Republican” Taft before we were even born, became a noted anti-communist spokeswoman afterwards, and by the time we tuned into our first presidential election in ’64 her book-length pro-Barry Goldwater essay “A Choice Not an Echo” was selling millions of copies and making her an acknowledged leader of the supposedly sexist right. It wasn’t until the Equal Rights Amendment debate of the ’70s that she became a household name, though, and that was when we started paying attention.
The amendment was first proposed back in the Jazz Age of the ’20s, with the support of all the upper class lady folk and the flappers, but the women working in the sweatshops and on the farms felt they needed some sex-specific workplace regulations that the amendment’s language seemed to proscribe, introducing the internecine class warfare that has afflicted the feminist movement ever since, and after that it pretty much faded away. Early into the rockin’ 70s the simply stated idea that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” came roaring back, though, and for a long while it seemed pretty much an inevitability. By then it was hard to argue with the basic idea of equal rights for women, so in ’72 the ERA passed both chambers of Congress and was passed on to the states for ratification, with the backing of the platforms of both major parties and such conservative stalwarts as Ronald Reagan, and by 1977 it had been ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 states, including our very own Kansas.
By ’75 or ’76 or so, though, people were beginning to wonder what sort of peculiar policies “The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation,” which was the briefly worded second article of the amendment, and to worry what craziness the courts might find even in that short and deceptively simple and seemingly benign first article, and what sorts of devils there might be in the details of that basic idea of equal rights for women. The young folks of today might find it quaint, but there were even worries that the ERA might ultimately result women being drafted into the military and creepy guys hanging around the women’s restrooms and showers. Quainter yet, the progressives of the day scoffed at the very idea they would ever suggest such foolishness, with all that women-in-combat stuff widely reviled by a feminist movement reviled by anything militarist and a young feminist and future Supreme Court Justice named Ruth Bader Ginsburg was writing an op-ed insisting that “Separate places to disrobe, sleep, perform personal bodily functions are permitted, in some case cases required, by regard for individual privacy. Individual privacy, a right of constitutional dimension, is appropriately harmonized with the equality principle. But the the ‘potty issue’ is likely to remain one of those ultimate questions never pressed to the final solution.”
As we well recall, it made for a contentious debate. Aside from all those thorny policy questions, there was also an ongoing cultural war about the broader implications of the feminist movement. The feminists frankly claimed that adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution would simultaneously ratify their most radical notions, and of course there was a backlash to that, and in all the ensuing controversy no one was more controversial than Schlafly. She became the old-fashionedly dignified face of the anti-ERA cause by pressing the conservative case against introducing language into the constitution that could lead into all sorts of consequences, and by pushing back against the more questionable assumptions of that already overreaching feminist movement. Needless to say, she was much beloved and much reviled.
Adding to both the love and the hate was that Schlafly was an undeniably formidable force. All the women she’d inspired to Goldwater’s true blue brand of conservatism were famously described as “little old ladies in tennis shoes,” but she was harder to dismiss. The daughter of a failed businessman and a highly educated housewife, she entered Maryville College at 16 and left at 19 with a Phi Beta Kappa key and a full scholarship to Radcliffe, where she earned a master’s degree in a year’s time. She worked at one of the earliest conservative think-tanks, wrote or edited 20 books, published an influential newsletter and spoke daily on more than 500 radio stations, was a regular commenter on the Columbia Broadcasting system in the ’70s and the Cable News Network in the ’80s, and always brought an old-school erudition and that old-fashionedly dignified face and a certain womanly bearing that the feminists could never quite match.
At the time Schlafly was somehow staving off any more ratifications and even getting several states to rescind while running out the clock on the Equal Rights Amendment, we were in high school and paying rapt attention. All the girls who inspired our romantic interest in those amorous days were of course avid proponents of the ERA, and then as now we were quite comfortable with their basic idea of equal rights for women, but we’ve never been able to help worrying about those devils that might be lurking in the details. We were also in favor of equal rights for all races, but had seen how that laudable idea had turned our schools in violence-ridden wastes of time, and those girls we pined for seemed to be doing well enough on their own, and the question of the draft and the “potty issue” didn’t seem something to be scoffed at. There was already a “separate but equal” precedent regarding public accommodations, with some judge or another out there eager to seize on it, and surely a law that conscripted people of one sex into combat duty but not another would violate an amendment with the plain language that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex,” and if it didn’t then what did it mean? Then as now we thought that having men use the men’s room and women use the women’s room was a sensible arrangement, and that sending only men off to war has had a similar social utility, and that in our society best efforts to “harmonize” such concerns with the “equality principle” the constitution ought to provide some wiggle room, which is why we wound wearing that “Stop ERA” button.
At the time we were less impressed with Schlafly’s more culturally conservative arguments for a more traditional notion of womanhood, being so very smitten with those self-fulfilled and enticingly assertive feminist girls, but after so many decades and so many changes we can’t say for sure that she was wrong about any of that. At this point we do feel vindicated for our long ago prediction that the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment wasn’t going to result in a dystopian future of barefoot pregnant women chained to stoves, and we’re pleased that all our former crushes have been free to make successes and failures of their lives, but we’ll lament seeing women being sent into combat and creepy men hanging around the ladies restrooms and showers, and we’ll continue to worry what further devils might yet be in the details of that basically sound idea of equal rights for all.
Schlafly stayed on the seen during the past controversial decades, and although we sometimes agree with her and sometimes didn’t we always had to give the opinions of such a formidable women due respect. Of course the left always hated her, and even in her more respectful obituaries there’s the old line about how she married a rich husband, and always taunted her feminist opponents by remarking how he “allowed” her to speak out, and offended the fundamental feminist principle of freedom of choice by choosing to embrace a traditional notion of womanhood. By the end of her long life the former Taft enthusiast and cultural traditionalist was embracing the candidacy of longtime Democrat and thrice-married Donald J. Trump more enthusiastically than we would have preferred, but we’ll forgive that final disagreement on the grounds that she was mostly against the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Not only is Clinton the latest devil in the details of that basically good idea about equality of the sexes, but she only got where she is due to her deal with a philandering husband, while Schlafly probably would have wound up just as prominent without help from her loving and loyal mate, and none of Schlafly’s critics will ever want to admit that.
Although she won the battle against the ERA, and scored a few other wins for conservatives since then, Schlafly seems to have lost the wars. Even the more conservative candidates in the Republican debates were endorsing the drafting of women last summer, the Republican nominee was critical of North Carolina’s attempts to retain the old restroom arrangements, and by now it’s a safe bet that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg won’t come riding to the rescue. The limited government notions of Goldwater seem hopelessly out of fashion in both parties, even if the isolationism of Taft seems to be making a comeback on the Republican side, and we can’t imagine that Schlafly died happy about it any of it. All the more reason we’re going to miss that formidable woman, and hope that she died happy with the personal life that her brave choices created.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Twist in the Weiner Saga

Soap operas rarely have any appeal for us, but somehow we just can’t turn away from the tawdry tale of Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin. In the latest installment of their long-running saga the tabloid-worthy political power couple are once again splitsville, and fans are once again left wondering if this might be the series finale.
If you’ve been too enrapt by the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of somewhere or another to have been paying attention, Abedin is a longtime aide and confidant to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Weiner is a former Democratic New York congressman and mayoral candidate, and ever since their fateful meeting at a Democratic National Committee retreat on Martha’s Vineyard back in in ’01 they’ve been a well-publicized Democratic item. She’s Muslim and he’s Jewish, both have a certain exotic if slightly equine photogenic look about them, and given such hackneyed Hollywood plot twists of course the press couldn’t resist covering their courtship. By ’08 even such an elegant print publication as Vogue Magazine was quoting Abedin gushing that “He was smart, he was passionate. When he wanted to do something that he thought was the right thing to do, he would not give up. The kind of dedication and passion he had for helping people, I found very attractive and inspiring.” With slightly less fanfare than Tiny Tim got when he married Miss Vickie on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” the couple married in ’10, with former President and noted philanderer Bill Clinton officiating, and its been a most fascinating downward spiral for them ever since.
When Clinton became Secretary of State even the more polite press started to notice that her longtime aide and confidant was not only a Muslim but the daughter of a mother and father who were both alarmingly high-ranking members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the radical Islamist group that pretty much started the whole modern radical Islamist thing in Egypt way back in the 1920s, and when the administration of President Barack Obama started inviting Muslim Brotherhood members to the front rows of his famous Cairo speech and later siding with the Muslim Brotherhood’s coup of a flawed but American-friendly regime in Egypt during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State the more impolite conservative press began to question her influence. Such rude sorts as ourselves went so far to liken her to the latest iteration of Alger Hiss, the commie who had high State Department security clearances during the Roosevelt administration, and to even make comic allusions to the persistent lesbian rumors. Her name kept popping up as a questioned witness during all the other unavoidable scandals that have attended Clinton’s political career, and the latest reports are that her Muslim Brotherhood mother authored some articles about women’s right that are not likely to pass muster with modern western feminism.
Meanwhile, Weiner was earning his own weird celebrity. As a Democratic congressman he had found a die-hard following of Democratic fans who loved his name-calling and schoolyard-taunting and “at least he fights” style of rhetoric against those darned Republicans, but at some point in ’11 even the most polite press were forced report that at the same time he’d also been “sexting” pictures of his underwear-clad private parts to various women who were unfortunately willing to go on the record about it. We suspect that Weiner’s impeccable Democratic credentials would have spared him ridicule on the late night comedy shows in most circumstances, but the guy’s name is “Weiner,” for crying out loud, and “sexting” was a hot topic, so even Weiner’s best friends on the late night comedy shows couldn’t resist making sport of him. It was enough to force his resignation from congress, which he announced with Abedin conspicuously not by his side, and to keep the melodrama going.
The pregnant Abedin continued her relationships with both Clinton and Weiner, and all the parties seem to heave weathered the scandal with reputations intact by modern standards, and in ’13 Weiner even announced his bid to become mayor of New York City. Fueled by his name-calling and schoolyard-taunting and “at least he fights” rhetoric against those darned Republicans, who are hardly a problem to anybody in New York City, he was rapidly gaining ground until the press was obliged to report that was still succumbing to the strange temptation to “sext” portraits of his underwear-clad private parts to various women who would go on the record about, which ended his mayoral campaign but not the strange saga of Weiner and Abedin.

Reportedly in the last few days there have been more “sexted” cell phone portraits of the inconveniently-named Weiner, and with the couple’s toddler son nearby, and this time around Abedin is apparently finally throwing in the towel. At this point we can hardly blame her, especially given her rather rigidly old-fashioned upbringing, and even the thrice-married-to-a-nude-model Reublican nominee was saying that “she will be far better off without him.” So it seems to have come along in recent years, but so it goes in this reality age, when everyone has a sex scandal and the Muslim Brotherhood’s second generation influence on a major party nominee hardly rates a mention.

–Bud Norman

The Election Year of Anything Goes

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking,” the great Cole Porter once tunefully observed, memorably adding “But now, God knows, anything goes.” That was way back in 1933, so we shudder to think what the oh-so-sophisticated songwriter of that scandalous era would be thinking if he had stuck around for 2016. The latest rap and rock and pop cacophony would have surely appalled him, the rest of the popular culture would no doubt also dismay the sensibilities of the fellow who lamented that “Good authors, too, who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose,” and even such a classy and contentedly closeted homosexual of that bygone era as Porter would probably be confounded by all this current public enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms.
What he’d make of this crazy election year, well, God only knows.
This crazy election year has gone far beyond a glimpse of stocking to include stark naked pictures of a major party nominee’s third wife exposed on the cover of a New York tabloid, and more widely disseminated across that newfangled internet thingamajig without those minuscule but pesky stars over the naughtiest bits that even New York tabloids still feel obliged to use, along with some suggestively sapphic poses with an anonymous naked woman or two that easily meet the late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell’s definition of pornography as “I know it when I see it.” That same major party nominee used to run a strip joint before it went bankrupt, has boasted in print about the many married women he’s bedded, once offered assurances about his sufficient penis size during a presidential debate, often cusses in front of the kids, seems to share the unaccountable current popular enthusiasm for creepy guys hanging around women’s restrooms, and for crying out loud he’s the Republican nominee.
Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee is the wife of former President Bill Clinton, the predatory serial philanderer best remembered after two terms and nearly 16 years of historical reflection as the punchline to countless late night comedy show fellatio jokes, and for crying out loud she’s running as the long awaited culmination of the feminist revolution. The long-presumed and still potential First Woman President is as always committed to the pro-abortion stand that her Republican opponent took right up until he decided to run as Republican and rather clumsily tried to be anti-abortion, and a lot of the older feminists are still grateful that she protected her pro-abortion woman against the women who spoke frankly about his predatory serial philandering, and a lot of the younger feminists find the Republican just as icky, so she might well get away with it. She’s not about to be outflanked for the creepy guy in the women’s restroom vote even if the Republican nominee is offering them concealed carry, she’ll always enjoy the advantage of that double standard that regards scorned women as admirable victims and betrayed men as laughable cuckolds, and even the current Republican nominee with the naked model third wife and newfound anti-abortion zealotry is unlikely to overcome the party’s cornball reputation for old-fashioned family values.
What’s most striking to us, and would surely get the attention of a resurrected Cole Porter or any other previous American, is that none of this seems to matter. The only interest that the more respectable press took in those naked pictures had to do with the fact that they were apparently taken in in America in 1995, and that the potential first lady’s first work permit was issued in 1996, raising doubts about her future husband’s stand against illegal immigrants taking jobs from natives. Some of the feminist sisterhood even came to her defense, the right to pose naked and especially to do the sapphic sorts of shots being the most up-to-date version of the cause that even the aging Democratic nominee didn’t want to argue with, and no one except such fuddy-duddies as ourselves would wants to be on record saying that there’s something somehow unsettling about naked pictures of one major party’s nominee’s third wife and his opponent being in no position to say anything about it. We grew up long after Cole Porter’s heyday but still in a time when the happily married Rob and Laura Petrie were sleeping in separate beds on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and when Lyndon Baines Johnson was holding bathroom press conferences and Richard Milhouse Nixon was creating the familiar phrase of “expletive deleted” but never doing it in front of the kids, and both the cutting-edge feminists and the retrograde family values types had an unease with the sort of objectification of women that recently appeared on the front page of that Republican-nominee-endorsing New York tabloid. Call us old-fashioned, but in this crazy election year we feel a certain nostalgia for the hopeful hypocrisy of those long-lost days.
We rarely find ourselves in sympathy with The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, but we rather liked his recent essay about how this crazy election will in one way or another be the culmination of the sexual revolution that coincided with the feminist revolution during those lamentable ’60s. He astutely likens Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s braggadocios sexism with the Brat Pack and Hugh Hefner and of course Democratic icon John F. Kennedy and the rest of the alpha males of the “Mad Men” era of early ’60s sexual liberation, and Clinton with the adversarial if equally libidinous feminism that reacted in the latter part of the decade. Regardless of the outcome of the next election one of the two will be ratified, Douthat suggests, and while we doubt we’re in complete agreement about which would be best he seems to share our concern that neither is at all satisfactory. For that matter, we can’t imagine that any self-respecting feminist or intellectually honest family-value types sees any hope in this crazy election year.
There are more important issues than such long-lost causes, we suppose, such as the ever-harder-to-dispute fact that the Democratic nominee was running an utterly corrupt influence-peddling “family foundation” while in public and that the Republican nominee who openly brags about buying influence was one of the donors during his exclusively private sector career, and that a certain level of personal and financial and political sleaziness is now assumed by both sides and it’s all a matter of deciding which is more objectionable. We can’t help thinking that the lowered cultural standards have something to do with the lowered political standards, and that the range of acceptable debate has shrunk even as the rules about how views can be expressed have expanded, and that Cole Porter and his better generation of contemporaries would be startled what happens when anything truly goes.

— Bud Norman

The Sisterhood and Its Generation Gap

According to all the public opinion polls and press reports and other political tea leaves, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will likely lose today’s New Hampshire primary to self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, of all people. At this point it’s apparently an acceptable part of the political vocabulary to say she’ll be “schlonged,” which seems as apt a description of any for what is being forecast, and that’s how the long-planned coronation has lately been going for the long-presumed First Woman President.
The elders of The Sisterhood are not at all pleased by any of this, of course, and we’re not entirely unsympathetic to their laments. We quite agreed when they objected that “schlonged” shouldn’t be an acceptable political part of the political vocabulary, although in our case it was because we thought it vulgar while their objections had something to do phallic privilege or cultural appropriation or something, and for that matter we often find ourselves in agreement with the elders of The Sisterhood about those tawdry hip-hop chanteuses with their “twerking” and “tweeting” and scantily clad activism, but that’s just the same shared fuddie-duddiness of us old folks. One would have a heart of stone not to feel some sympathy for any lady in distress at the sight of seeing her dream of a First Woman President dashed by the likes of a bumbling self-described socialist and Vermont Senator named Sanders, too, but our sympathy only goes so far as a freshly laundered handkerchief, a consolatory pat on the shoulder, and a little bit of “there, there.”
Such formerly formidable feminists as Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright are especially aghast that the younger of The Sisterhood are abandoning the long-awaited First Woman President for such a schlub as the self-described socialist Sanders. The once-famous journalist Steinem told an incredulous talk show host that young women were at Sanders rallies because “that’s where the boys are,” fondly recalling an old Connie Francis tune for us, and the First Woman Secretary of State Albright warned the little hussies that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” A writer for The Washington Post lamented that Clinton is a victim of sexism because Sanders’ schlubbiness gives a certain authenticity and that as a woman she isn’t allow to be as schlubby. Although we strive to not be sexist, some manly instinct still residing in our soul thinks this all goes a bit too far.
Steinem was still something of a household name back when she defended Bill Clinton against the sickening allegations of Paula Jones, writing that even if he did use his office to order a state trooper to summon a young and low-level government employee to a hotel room where he exposed himself and made a suggestive remark and then used his office to tarnish her reputation it was no reason he shouldn’t be president, and she some retained some credibility when she later wrote that an allegation Clarence Thomas might have made an off-color joke and an unwanted request for a date should disqualify him from the Supreme Court, but by now she won’t do Clinton’s wronged wife any good. Today’s young women have plenty of chances to “hook up” with bearded and disheveled and self-described socialist young men, who in most cases they won’t care what candidate she prefers, even if it’s a Republican, and few of them have ever heard of Steinem. Albright was a lousy Secretary of State, as was Clinton, and even such racist Republicans as ourselves much preferred the First Black Woman Secretary of State in between, and the worst of all might turn out to be John Kerry, who is the first White Male Secretary of State since John Foster Dulles or John Quincy Adams or one of those guys, so by now we figure that all of us can expect some special place in hell, and we don’t expect those young women at the Sanders rallies will pay her any mind. As for the idea that a woman can’t be schlubby and play in politics, the fine observer Ann Althouse suggested a look at any old video of Rep. Bella Abzug back in the ’70s glory days of The Sisterhood, which looks and sounds eerily like a Sanders rant.
At some point the elders of The Sisterhood are going to have cowgirl up and admit that at last part of the problem is that Hillary Clinton is awful and old and obviously incompetent and thoroughly corrupt and phony,and while sanders is also awful and old his incompetence isn’t yet proved and he’s untainted by all that Wall Street money the young folks so despise and he quite authentically is a full-blown crazy socialist as he describes himself, and he’s promising more free stuff than Clinton can and a full-blown bound-to-be-fun revolution to boot. The feminist cause has always been subordinated to the First Black This or First Hispanic That or stopping whatever war the left was griping about, and forced genital mutilation and honor killings of rape are always subordinate to multi-cultural tolerance, and there’s a young woman in Germany who sent out a selfie with hand-drawn offer to “Trade Rapists for Racist,” and every part of the whole leftist project has been in service of The Revolution that the schlubby Sanders somehow seems to be leading.
In all the excitement, and after more than seven desultory years of the First Black President, the next First This or First That no longer seems so motivating. Sanders would be the First Mostly Secular Yet Ethnically Jewish President, but he never mentions that, nor do his supporters in a party that no longer supports Israel and is often explicitly hostile toward Jews in general, nor do his Milton Friedman-loving and Republican opponents who are far more offended by his self-described socialism and lack of support for Israel, and it even goes unmentioned in the press. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas could be the First Latino President, but they only allude to their immigrant roots to inoculate themselves against charges of racism for being tough on border enforcement, and their opponents insist that their Cuban heritage and all the anti-communism that implies make them not really Latino at all, even though the Laotian and Vietnamese and Chinese and other immigrants who fled communist horror are still considered Asian, and the Czechs and Poles and Hungarians are still just white people, and everyone seems to have far better reasons for liking or disliking both senators.
We’d have no problem with a theoretical First Woman President, and on many a warm spring day we have lolled on the grass and daydreamed about a Margaret Thatcher or a Golda Meir coming our to rescue, but Clinton is one of the last one hundred or so women in this populous country that we’d choose for the honor. That’s at least one thing that we and those randy young women at the Sanders rallies seem to agree on.

— Bud Norman

Cultures of Rape, Cultures of Denial

Few Americans are up to date on the latest events in Cologne, Germany, or Rotherham, England, or Malmo, Sweden, and far too many Americans are altogether unaware that such places even exist, which is a shame. Here in America we’re understandably preoccupied with our own problems ranging from rape to immigration to our entirely unsatisfactory presidential contest, but the events elsewhere should provide some applicable lessons.
It took a few days for even the most knowledgable Germans to learn to about it, but the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne and Hamburg were marred by the coordinated attacks of gangs of as many as a thousand young men robbing and groping and often raping young women revelers in the public squares. It took a few years for the English to learn that more than 1,400 young women and girls in Rotherham were systematically abused by organized gangs over a 16-year period. Even now most Swedish media would rather not admit that their country rivals Lesotho, South Africa, as the “rape capital of the world,” and that its third-largest city of Malmo can probably claim that awful distinction. The American media are mostly just as reticent about the matter, and not just because of their audience’s stubborn parochialism.
Even the most polite press have been forced to admit that those gangs in Cologne and Hamburg were described by their victims of being “North African or Arab,” the gangs that terrorized Rotherham are described by even the most discreet British presses as “Asian,” and by now only the most steadfastly proper publications in Sweden deny that the horrific rise in their country’s rape rate is caused by its carefully undefined “immigrant population.” Most of the American media are just as reticent as about it, given their fealty to a variety of storylines that are severely complicated by these facts.
When forced to confront such inconvenient truths, the more forthright of the liberals will bravely argue that tales of rape and pillage have always been used by white folks to oppress the “other,” from “The Birth of a Nation” to lurid pulp tales of the Sheik of Araby’s harem to the white slavery of the Yellow Peril, and that after all a rapist of color is no more deplorable than the more pallid sorts of rapists, and we’ll stipulate to all of that. We’ll also stipulate to the undeniable fact that most “North African and Middle Eastern” and “Asian” and immigrant people and whatever else you want to call Muslims are not inclined to rape. Such arguments are of little consolation to the victims of Cologne and Rotherham or Malmo or countless other cities throughout the west, however, or to those who love them, and there’s no denying that the victims are increasing in number or that is has something to do with a policy of admitting large numbers of immigrants from cultures with vastly different notions from the west regarding women and their rights as fully-fledged human beings.
Better to leave to such matters unmentioned, so far as the polite press is concerned. The polite press is more concerned with the “culture of rape” that supposedly permeates the modern American campus, where the administration and other smart folks claim that one in five co-eds endure a rape along with that all that crushing student loan debt, and celebrates a Columbia student who hauled a mattress around campus for years to protest the treatment of her thoroughly-debunked claim she was raped by a foreign student, and worries about such sexist micro-aggressions as presuming a student’s preferred pronouns, and never seems to notice that the modern American campus is the most liberal institution in America. They’re also busy promoting an open-door policy toward parts of the world that have vastly different notions regarding women and their rights as fully-fledged human beings, not to mention the rights of homosexuals and transgendered reality television show stars, so they’d rather not get into a discussion of how that fits with the happy rainbow multi-cultural storyline. They’ve also got the difficult chore of sustaining the candidacy of a feminist heroine whose husband has been believably charged with everything from groping to rape to jet trips with pedophile billionaires to islands full of underage sex slaves.
The modern liberal can somehow reconcile all of this. Bill Clinton’s worst offenses can be forgiven because of his support of abortion, and of course of his wife shouldn’t be held responsible for the behavior she merely enabled. Multi-culturalism trumps feminism, just as everything else always seems to trump feminism in liberal politics, and if Donald Trump is predictably rude enough to point that out, well, Donald Trump is easily ridiculed in liberal circles. The feminist hero is insisting that all should be welcome and that Islam has nothing to with anything but peace, and that all victims of sexual abuse save her husband’s should be believed, and the news from Cologne, Rotherham and Malmo will go largely unmentioned, and the crackdown on collegiate sex and the welcoming of millions of unassimilable young men from parts of the world with vastly different views regarding women and their rights as fully-fledged human beings will all somehow make sense.

— Bud Norman

Wishing You a Happily Apolitical Thanksgiving

Perhaps the most peculiar tradition that has been added to Thanksgiving in recent years is the annual spate of essays advising readers how to deal with any political discussions that might arise during a family get-together. Mostly it’s liberal writers¬†and the Democratic Party itself offering debating tips for like-minded readers about how to deal with any crazed right-wing uncle’s or cousin’s objections to Obamacare or a few hundred more thousand immigrants from the Middle East, but occasionally even conservatives will weigh in on how to deal with the left-wing kinfolk’s irrational support for an obviously failed Obamacare system or a flood of refugees from the most insane part of the world, and in every case we think it’s all bosh.
As perhaps the most crazed right-wing cousins of our mostly Republican extended family, one of our favorite dinnertime rants is about how those darn leftists want to politicize even the most personal aspects of our lives. “The personal is the political,” according to the wisdom that feminists passed down to the rest of liberalism, and thus the movie theater and the concert hall and the art gallery that once addressed themselves to the broader human condition are now more narrowly concerned with the latest diktats, those beery sexual encounters between libidinous college students now require consent forms, the well-intentioned opening of a door for a differently-abled person of another color and indeterminate gender is now fraught with potential for some micro-aggression or another, the jokes the guy at the next bar stool tells must now be carefully scrutinized before being laughed at, and even the family gathering for Thanksgiving dinner is seized as an opportunity to harangue that dissenting Uncle into submission.
Well, we’ll have none of that, and an extra helping of the white meat turkey slathered in gravy instead. As much as we appreciate the efforts of the fine folks at the American Enterprise Institute, we’ll ignore their well-considered points to rebut those buttinsky liberal relatives and instead endeavor to steer the conversation toward local sports teams and a piece of that tempting pumpkin pie. We’ll focus on family, food, and football, and all the rest of those still somewhat apolitical things we have to be thankful for. There’s little talk about the politics that will yield any thankfulness at the moment, so we’ll stubbornly insist on at least one day of the year to gratefully contemplate the many blessings that stubbornly persist elsewhere in this mostly wonderful life.

— Bud Norman

Defending Miss Schumer

We long ago cut off our cable television connection, and do our best to keep the rest of contemporary popular culture out of the house, but we must admit that we have succumbed to the comedic charms of Amy Schumer. She’s suddenly quite controversial, of course, and the criticisms are yet another example of how very humorless the modern left has become.
If you were not already aware of Schumer’s existence, it was bound to happen sooner or later. We only heard of her a few months ago when a friend recommended her work, following one of our frequent rants about the sorry state of comedy, but since then she’s become a full-blown media sensation. Her eponymous “Inside Amy Schumer” is a hit on the Comedy Channel, with the best of it showing up free and widely watched on YouTube, she has a new movie out that’s been heavily hyped, and her hard-to-define style of satire has inspired countless think pieces in the the more high-brow publications. In the old days of Lennie Bruce and Ed Sullivan the controversy would have been about her exceedingly profane language and shockingly frank sexuality, but these days that’s unlikely to raise any eyebrows and instead all the tsk-tsking concerns her occasional heresies against the left’s received wisdom on the holy trinity of race, class, and gender.
An adjunct professor of African-American history and an associate professor of something called “critical culture, race, and gender studies” teamed up to write an op-ed for The Washington Post that found a few of Schumer’s stand-up comedy lines offensive. One was an observation that “nothing works 100 percent of the time, except Mexicans,” which strikes us a vast improvement on the old Jose Jimenez routines and their now-outdated stereotypes of the siesta-taking Mexican that the Sullivan show used to feature. Another was Schumer’s confession that she used to date Latino men but decided she liked consensual sex better, which does seem to imply that Latino culture is more tolerant of rape, but the professors seem to make the same point by claiming that 80 percent of the Central American women and girls who illegally immigrate to the United States are raped while en route through Mexico. Another joke included in the montage of offense that accompanies the article has Schumer talking about “hanging out with literally all my black friend,” whose name is “Tamimba or whatever, Tapestry, something wild,” and includes a very stereotypical impersonation of a white girl acting like a stereotypical black girl and a throwaway line about black people being noisy at the movies, but to us the joke seemed mostly about herself.
Thus far Schumer has largely avoided any criticism on gender grounds, partly because she is a woman, albeit a white woman, and partly because she skewers the most boorish aspects of dude culture with such savage wit she is routinely described as a “feminist comedian,” but we expect that will last only until her fans get the bigger joke. Not long ago one of the world’s foremost scientists, Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, was forced to resign from his post at University College London and a committee seat with London’s Royal Society because of a brief public jape that seemed to imply women are too often overly emotional, which of course caused many women to become overly emotional and demand that his distinguished career of making great advances in the live-saving field of biochemistry be halted, but Schumer seems to be making the same point in a masterpiece sketch titled “How to Fight Like a Girl,” and she seems genuinely sympathetic to the men who have to put up with it, yet her feminist credentials remain temporarily unquestioned. She has a sketch about football and rape that is traditionally feminist yet still very funny, and another very funny sketch about a beleaguered secretary back in the beleaguered secretary days, but she’s more likely to turn her satirical sights on the fairer sex. Like Mary McCarthy and Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark and Dorothy Parker and all the great distaff literary wits, Schumer is a keen observer of the peculiarities of other women, with hilarious takes on the unexplainable tendency of modern young women to respond to every compliment with a self-deprecating denial, their one-upwomanship over such matters as whose “rescue dog” was rescued from the most heartbreaking circumstances, the age-old cattiness of womankind’s inhumanity to woman, and of course women’s more recently liberated sexuality.
Schumer convincingly plays a wide range of roles in her skits, which are much better than her stand-up comedy, but her usual comic persona is that of an alcoholic, narcissistic but insecure, not very bright, and recklessly promiscuous modern woman, which is apparently confusing to many of both her most ardent fans and dissatisfied critics. Several young women we know don’t like Schumer because they don’t like alcoholic, narcissistic but insecure, not very bright, and recklessly promiscuous modern women, several men we know are fans because her character seems an attainable ideal, and we think both are missing the joke. Perhaps we’re reading more into a late-night cable sketch comedy program than is actually there, but to us Schumer is casting¬†an observant eye on the post-sexual revolution American culture and rightly finding it ridiculous. Her account of a one night stand, and the wildly divergent reactions of the man and woman involved, is another scathing satire of dude culture but comes down even harder on the naive young women who go along with it. Another sketch, charmingly titled “Gang Bang,” is first-rate satire about the second wave feminism’s strange notion that sluttiness is somehow empowering. An encounter with God during a herpes scare is a surprisingly funny reminder about the other problems that come with her comic persona. We don’t know what to make of Schumer’s “Time Travel” skit, except that she’s always self-deprecating and smart. None of this sort of sexual counter-revolutionary humor is exactly feminist, at least not as the term is now understood, and we eagerly await the maelstrom when her fans figure this out.
When they do, we expect there will be the usual charges regarding class. We have no idea about Schumer’s background, but by now she’s surely rich enough to expect some criticism regarding that. She’s an attractive woman, with blonde hair and a round face and a pleasingly plump figure that the friend who introduced us to her work describes as “hot, but in a realistic way,” and her debatable appeal is a recurring joke in her comedy, and already she’s getting criticized for making jokes that only attractive women can appreciate, which Schumer’s comedy convincingly suggests is also a class issue. That should give the left another reason not to laugh, no matter how funny the jokes are, and another reason to insist that all the laughing stop unless the approved targets are in the punchline. It’s no way to make comedy, or run a society, but we’re glad that a few counter-revolutionary humorists are still out there.

— Bud Norman

The Dialogue on the Monologues

In the course of our voluminous reading of the news we’ll occasionally run across one of those little items that seems to neatly illustrate a far bigger story. Such was the report that Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts has cancelled a planned performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” a seemingly inconsequential bit of far-off-Broadway show biz news that not only confirms the cultural contradictions of liberalism but also further confirms our longstanding suspicion that the world has gone completely mad.
The impeccably up-to-date college didn’t cancel the performance because “The Vagina Monologues” is the most over-rated and over-done piece of sexual agitprop in the liberal repertoire, of course, and naturally it wasn’t because they aspire to a higher ideal of theater than a uninteresting group of women sitting around talking about their private parts. Instead the women-only institution objected because the play is “exclusionary” toward the “transgendered community” and might offend women who do not have vaginas. We checked several reliable sources to make sure that we weren’t falling prey to some satirical web site’s fanciful hoax, and apparently this is actually the reason that Mount Holyoke College won’t be staging “The Vagina Monologues.”

We confess to certain amount of schadenfreude toward “The Vagina Monologues,” as we never much cared for the work and have long fretted that its strange status among the intelligentsia as feminism’s greatest gift to the canon of western drama was a worrisome cultural development. The play has been relentlessly performed in venues from every elegant tax-subsidized theater to every community playhouse in the smallest hick towns, with everyone from Hollywood actresses aspiring for intellectual responsibility to hometown housewife thespians with the same lofty goal clamoring for a role, and its ubiquity on the American stage is such that we once wound up interviewing its playwright as part of our chores as the theater critic for a local newspaper. She was quite charming and interesting to speak with, and she even laughed at our joke about how we hadn’t seen “The Vagina Monologues” because we don’t care for ventriloquism, but we believe the conversation was so enjoyable largely because for the most part the conversation steered away from vaginas. The topic quickly exhausts its interest for most people, men or women, with or without vaginas, and we don’t feel the least bit sexist for saying so. We’ve worked enough construction jobs to have endured two hours of men talking about their genitalia, and neither did we much enjoy those monologues.
Still, it’s also a worrisome cultural development when the women without vaginas can exercise a heckler’s veto against the performance of a play. Despite our wide travels and broad range of experience we’ve never met a woman without a vagina, so far as we know, and we suspect this segment of the “transgendered community” is approximately the size of Kechi, Kansas, even if it does seemingly stretch from Mount Holyoke College to the trendier districts San Francisco, so it hardly seems democratic that such a small population should be able to determine the nation’s playbills. Next thing you know the men without testicles will demand the same power of censorship, and judging by almost everything else we encounter in our voluminous reading of the news they compromise a far greater percentage of the country. America’s theater, cinema, literature, music, and political discourse have already grown bland enough, and one shudders to think of the North Korean-style pep rallies we’ll be left when the offerings at even the local college theater have been chosen by the prize-winner of the most oppressed minority group contest.
We anticipate a meaningful dialogue on the cultural about the race, class, and gender implications of post-modern feminism generally and “The Vagina Monologues” specifically, with everyone trying to establish the dominant narrative regarding womanhood and empowerment and the empowering nature of womanhood and its genitalia and whether women should really enjoy that genitalia along their womanhood lest they give offense to some other woman who doesn’t possess the same genitalia, probably due to Republican budget cuts and the Koch Brothers, and we expect that no one will acknowledge the longstanding conservative criticism that a woman’s identity should not be defined by her genitalia, and we are certain it will be quite vicious and divisive. A well-thought think piece over at the cheeky Brietbart.com web site recently examined the schisms in the cultural left, from the consistent atheists vs. the atheists who make an exception for Islam to the free speech absolutists who condemn the murder of a French satirical magazine to the free speech advocates who will make an multi-cultural exception for Islam, to which we would add the rift between the feminists who object to the forced clitoridectomies performed throughout much of the Islamic world and and the multiculturalists who would excuse such misogynistic behavior even as they object to men on construction sites talking about their genitalia, as well as a host of academic and culture issues that inevitably arise when people decide to abandon the past and create their own brave new worlds where reality is blithely ignored, and the schisms seem likely to widen.
Just a couple of weeks ago “The Vagina Monologues” was still the exemplar of modern feminism, and today it’s been condemned by the revolutionary cadres as too “exclusionary” for an all-women’s college. Such are the changing tides of public on the left. The right stays busy defending Shakespeare and mathematics and the Bible and all that dead white male detritus, but at least it doesn’t have to worry that this week’s progressive cause will be next week’s angry hashtag backlash from the more-progressive-than-thou types. In a world that has apparently gone crazy, this is somewhat reassuring.

— Bud Norman