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Weathering the Weather and Other Storms

The weather here in Wichita and south central Kansas has been eerily perfect for our urban and convertible driving tastes the past few weeks, with gorgeously blue skies and the temperatures in our favorite warm but not too hot mid-80s range, but otherwise it’s been a tough year for the farmers here in the heartland. The winter was bitterly cold and dry around here and brought blizzards to the north, the spring was so extraordinarily wet that the rivers around our Riverside neighborhood threatened to spill over and many of the nearby fields were under several inches or several feet of water during planing season, and now those same fields are too dry to sustain what crops did get planted.
We’ll leave it to the scientists to figure out what role humankind plays in our lately unusual weather, and what can be done about it, but there’s no denying that humankind and its inevitable screwups have aggravated the farmers’ most recent problems. Because of global overproduction commodity prices had been in a years-long decline even before President Donald Trump’s trade war provoked retaliatory tariffs from key foreign markets for America’s soybeans and corn and wheat and cattle and pork and other agricultural products, and lately someone or another has let a crucial irrigation system that previously provided water for 100,000 acres of farmland from Nebraska to Wyoming to break down.
Things have become so bad just north of here that even the city slickers at The New York Times have taken notice, and on Monday they unleashed a tear-jerking account of hard times in the country. One farmer they interviewed outside Gering, Nebraska, even said he’d had to put off the purchase of a much-needed new Ford F-150 pickup truck, which is the stuff of a crying-in-your-beer country-and-western song. Others testified that their crops were dying from dryness even as their neighbors’ fields were still a lake. Farm bankruptcies are up 19 percent over the past year, the biggest increase in a decade, according to the reliable Farm Bureau.
Which is bad news for everybody, even if you’re an urbanite enjoying the dry and moderate weather with your top down and wondering what those farmers ever did for you. The state governments here in the heartland have been struggling to balance their budgets even in the best-ever economy that Trump brags about, and the less than bumper crop harvests in the a couple of months won’t help. People everywhere will notice their grocery bills going up, and the national debt slowly rising, even if the heartland’s share of the gross domestic product is relatively small.
Those farmers and ranchers from Nebraska to Wyoming deserve some sympathy, too. You’ve probably never driven from western Nebraska to Mount Rushmore and the Dakotas and over to Wyoming, as the official Nebraska tourism slogan actually is “Nebraska, It’s Not For Everyone,” and people are few and far between and the scenery is very subtly beautiful, but if so you’ve missed out. The few folks you’ll find along those blue highways are invariably hard-working and friendly and likable sorts, and in its own subtle way their land truly is beautiful, and when the idiocies of nature and humankind conspire against them they deserve the full attention of the nation they have been such an essential part of.
Nobody, including our own brilliant selves, knows what to suggest. The recent weird weather might well be caused by to a significant extent by anthropological activities, as an apparent majority of climate scientists insist, but none of them can explain how to reconfigure the world economy without mass starvation. A lot of those Nebraska and Kansas and Dakotas and Wyoming farmers probably believe Trump’s assurances that his temporarily painful negotiating tacts will eventually yield the best trade deal ever, and they’ll all be buying Ford F-150s for their grandkids, but for now we’d suggest they keep their most important foreign trading relationships tariff-free. We’ve absolutely no idea why that irrigation system has shut down, but we hope that despite Trump’s deregulatory zeal the regulatory agencies responsible for the situation will be able to figure that out.
Between nature’s nature and human nature life is always a challenge out here in the heartland, not to mention what some city slicker from New York might do to further muck it up, but so far we’ve always struggled through. Here’s hoping that trend continues.

— Bud Norman

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The Weather and the Rest of It

There’s plenty of important news afoot today, as always, but around here and in much of the rest of the American heartland the big story is the weather. It’s wet, chilly, and bringing down catastrophic thunderstorms and hailstorms and tornados and flooding rains from the Texas panhandle to Lake Michigan.
So far our beloved hometown of Wichita has been spared the worst of it, but it’s been bad enough that we’ve lately been keeping a nervous eye on the sky and the Nexrad radar and the seven-day forecasts at wunderground.com, none of which are saying anything hopeful. Nearby communities are largely underwater, friends of ours in the outlying areas have been stranded in farm homes that are suddenly islands, and on Tuesday some very fine Kansas towns not so very far to the north of us were threatened by tornados that largely preempted our afternoon “Jeopardy!” viewing.
We’re also keeping a nervous eye on the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas Rivers that border our home in Wichita’s fashionable Riverside neighborhood, as well as the canal that runs along the overpass Canal Route through the middle of town and the Big Ditch that was dug in over on the west side, and although they’re all far higher than usual they seem safe enough for now, but the seven-day forecast calls for at least another week of heavy rains and chances of severe thunderstorms, so that’s something to worry about.
There’s plenty else to worry about in the rest of the news, as always, but one of the benefits of a harsh prairie upbringing is a certain soothing stoicism. Things can only get so bad, we’ve noticed, and despite our instinctive fearsome awe of God’s nature our prairie Protestant nature is assured by God’s promises of grace that everything will more or less work out in the end.
In the meantime, we’re obliged here on Earth to deal with both nature and human nature and the resulting problems as best we can. It’s a damnably tough job, but here’s hoping at least the weather will better. We’ve  confirmed that amazing Holzhauer guy won yet another huge payday on “Jeopardy!,” the feud between the executive and legislative branches continues to grind out in the judicial branch, the Kansas weather is always uncertain, and that some things can be counted on.

— Bud Norman

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Sunny Days and Stormy Forecasts

The weather here in south-central Kansas has been pretty much perfect the last couple of days, with the forecast calling for at least another a full week of it, but we’re reading that a strong hurricane is likely bringing near-biblical floods and God only knows what else to our friends on the mid-Atlantic coast. The rest of the news seems just as foreboding, despite the the admittedly healthy economic figures, but we’re holding out hope for a few more sunny days.
The states and counties and localities that are targeted by the latest forecast of Hurricane Florence are generally well-run, and no matter what we think of their crazy liberal taxes and regulatory policies we have to admit they’ve endured a couple of centuries of hurricane catastrophes, so no matter how hard of time of it they have we’ll bet on them to endure yet another storm or two. Certainly they’ll do better than New Orleans or Puerto Rico or any of those other badly run jurisdictions after their hurricane catastrophes, so at at least the debates about it will be short lived. If Hurricane Florence takes her way to Washington, D.C., however, all bets are off.
The Bible is provably right that the rain always falls on both on the just and unjust alike, as our blameless souls souls can testify after last week’s rainy weather around here, but at this point we expect it will be another rare ante=deluvian epoch before we see the Washington swamp and all the nation’s bi-partisan sins washed away.
In the meantime we’ll try to enjoy whatever warm and  sunny weather is left around here, and try our best to steer the rest of of the world to its best destination, an wherever your are we urge you to do the same.

–Bud Norman

Waiting for the Waters to Recide

America went twelve blissful years without a hurricane landing on its shores, but nature seems intent on making up for lost time lately, and the winds of two successive hurricanes have blown everything else out of the news. Last week Hurricane Harvey brought epic flooding to Houston, America’s fourth most populous city, this week Hurricane Irma seems likely to bring high winds and high water to almost everywhere in the state of Florida, where one of out 20 Americans live, and although so far it’s not as bad as feared it’s still very, very bad.
This is enough wind and water to fill the entirety of a 24-hour news cycle on its own merits, but it also brings compelling video footage of brave reporters being filmed by brave but nameless cameramen standing in the whipping winds and driving rains talking about how very, very bad the weather is, and no matter its political leanings no cable news network can resist that ripe opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Those ambitious reporters also find plenty of real heroism in those flood zones, too, featuring muscled first-responders and even more inspiring regular folk, and it always makes for great television. They’ve made a star of that daredevil pilot with the Gary Cooper-esque looks and taciturn speech who keeps flying toward the storm, hunted down a couple named Harvey and Irma Schulte in New Jersey who have been married for 75 years and have taken care of more than 100 foster children and were sad to hear about the storms, come up with some cute footage of the flamingoes at Busch Gardens walking in a straight line to a shelter, and covered pretty much every other angle we can think of.
Such rain and water and the rest of nature’s fury always brings plenty of tragedy, too, and no matter their political leanings all of the news media have also respectfully reported that. There are always human failings that worsen matters, too, and as always the media are on that story, but this time around they don’t seem as gleeful about.
So far the death tolls from these storms have been tragic for all included and anyone who knew and loved them, but they’re also so very much lower than the human cost of past lesser storms that there’s no denying the progress America has made in its ongoing struggle with nature. This should unite the country in a celebration of itself, along with all that footage of first responders and regular folk acting heroically in the worst of circumstances, but it doesn’t give any advantage to either side of the ongoing political divide.
We’ll leave it to President Donald Trump’s most staunch defenders to explain why he deserves any particular critic for things going so relatively well, but his most strident critics seem to find themselves unable to point to anything he’s done to make things worse. They can rightly ridicule his ham-fisted photo-op in dry and inland Texas, where he boasted about the big turnout of storm refugees, and his similarly ham-fisted follow-ups, but we doubt that anyone underwater cared much about that. The federal and state and local officials responsible for dealing with the storms have done their jobs in any case, along with all those remarkably heroic regular folks, despite what you might say about Trump or any other putative Republican.
All of those federal and state and local officials who have performed their duties imperfectly yet relatively well are the hated “establishment,” though, and those regular folk heroically pulling one another from the high waters are conspicuously multi-ethnic, so Trump’s most strident critics on both the most crazed fringes of the left and the more respectable right will have something to work with. Both Texas and Florida are Republican states, the former more so than the matter, but the cities that have been hit hardest skew Democrat, the federal officials involved are the “deep state” that Trump’s staunchest admirers blame for his poll numbers, and after the waters subside it’s going to be a matter of all sides dodging blame, claiming credit, and coming to some solution about how to pay for the rest of the country’s share for the unavoidable cost occasional nature’s fury.
We stubborn climate change skeptics enjoyed those 12 blissful years of no hurricanes landing in America, but all the climate change alarmists seem intent on making up for lost time during the recent disasters, and we have to admit a momentary disadvantage. That argument will continue into the sure-to-come calm days, and we doubt that anyone currently underwater will care much at the moment about that no matter his political leanings.
There was also a devastating earthquake in Mexico the past week, and wildfires in the drough-stricked America out west, Irma wiping out a couple of our impoverished and less-fortified Caribbean neighbors, a densely populous chunk of south Texas will drying out, and God only knowing what sort of natural disasters were occurring elsewhere. With only so much time in a 24-hour news cycle, however, those are relegated to the back pages and the scrollers beneath the radar images of that huge scary storm, and so is the rest of it.
The rest of it includes some intriguing developments in that “Russia” story we’re sure Trump was happy to see downplayed, as well some recently complicated politics deriving from Trump siding with the Democrats over the whole mess about how to keep the government open and with an ongoing line of credit to pay for these storm disasters along with all the rest of keeping the “deep state” and military readying for deployment to the Korean peninsula and the churches and the rest of the pulling one-another-out-of-the-water civil society going. We’re actually hopeful that Trump and those hated Republicans and hated Democrats in Congress will work it out, and that those hated Courts won’t foul it all it up, given how dire the stakes and how completely self-interested are all the parties involved.
After that we’re not as hopeful, but by now we’ve weathered enough storms to know that the waters always eventually recede, and that they reveal whatever they reveal. We have friends in east Florida who have evacuated or riding it out without power and waters lapping at the door, and one who retired a newspaper pension was is safely but discontentedly in an Atlanta hotel room, and the town of St. Petersburg where we happily lived during Kindergarten is next in the storms path, and for the moment that’s the big news.

— Bud Norman

A President Popular by Default

President Barack Obama is unaccountably popular at the moment, with a bare majority of Americans expressing approval of him. That’s hardly Mount Rushmore stuff, and far short of the falling oceans and fundamental transformations he promised during the peak of his popularity during that first crazy presidential campaign of his, but for now it’s enough to make him the most popular politician in America. The only way we can account for it is the year’s even crazier election.
It’s not just that both of his major party would-be successors are wildly unpopular, with landslide majorities of Americans quite reasonably finding both dishonest and altogether unfit for the office, but also the way that their daily groan-inducing scandals keep the president contentedly out of the news altogether. Those obsessive sorts of news readers who dive beyond the front page headlines and delve deep into the rest of it are vaguely aware that the president recently paid a huge ransom to the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy for some hostages and then offered a preposterous explanation about why he didn’t, that Milwaukee has lately been burning from flames fanned by the “Black Lives Moment” the president has encouraged, that much of south Louisiana is underwater and the main form of federal assistance has been a memo sternly warning that rescue efforts not be racially discriminatory, and that the president has been playing golf and living it up with a bunch of rich white people on a lavishly-funded vacation to Martha’s Vineyard the whole time, but the rest of the country has been pleasantly preoccupied with America’s rout at the the Olympics and the latest gaffes from the president’s would-be successors.
We can recall past times when shady hostage deals went down with the Iranian theo-thug-ocracy and American inner cities burned and south Louisiana was underwater, and how it used to be a much bigger deal, but then again all that happened during slower news cycles and Republican administrations. During a slow news cycle in a Republican administration a president golfing and living it up with a bunch of rich white people while the rest of the nation churns along uneasily would be a major scandal, but with a Democratic administration and the happy distraction of a can’t-look-away-train-wreck of a presidential election such scandals suddenly become quibbles. The desultory state of the economy and that awful labor force participation rate that obscures the more happy-face unemployment numbers, the mounting debt that sustains the slow pace, the politicization of the Justice Department that allows the Democratic nominee to be running in the first place, the generally unsettled state of world, as well as the general cultural decline made apparent by the current sorry choices of presidential nominees, are all as easily relegated to the inner pages of your increasingly scant newspaper.
Any old well-funded Republican should be able to make something of it, but this year the nominee isn’t any old well-funded Republican but rather the not-quite-self-funding-self-described billionaire Donald J. Trump, and he hasn’t seized the opportunities. The self-described deal-making-artisan made a strong case against the ransom for hostages arrangement, but the press was able to focus on what he had later had to admit was a bogus claim that he’d seen secret video footage of the payment. He made a persuasive argument that the past many decades of Democratic machine politics have caused the plight of the recently burning inner cities, but his attempts to bolster his current 1 or 2 percent favorables among black Americans were rather clumsily phrased in the pitch that they’re all poor and uneducated and therefore have nothing to lose by voting for him, along with the rather fanciful even-by-Trump-standards boast that after four years in office he’d win 95 percent black vote. Trump showed up in Louisiana for a meaningless photo-op several days before the vacationing Obama plans to do the same, but unless starts spending some serious ad buy money we doubt it will do him the same good that it once did Obama when a Republican administration was in charge while south Louisiana was underwater.
Thus far the supposedly boundlessly wealthy Trump has been quite parsimonious about ad buys, and instead continues to rely on all the “free media” that has suddenly turned so hostile ever since he wrapped up the Republican nomination, not to mention all those gaffes, and yet he’s still within shouting distance in the national polls if not so much the states that add up to an electoral majority. That’s because a clear majority of Americans understand that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is dishonest and unfit for office, and we also take heart that a near-majority of them also think little of the current president. That so few of us have any regard for our next president, no matter how it turns out, is also heartening in an unaccountable way.

— Bud Norman

Scaring the Young for Mother Earth

The most stubborn winter we can remember has at long last ended here in Kansas, and we seem to have skipped spring altogether and headed directly into summer. May arrived at a chilly 35 degrees, but since then we’ve had nothing but high 90s and low 100s in at the afternoons with just a few brief moments of ideal moderation in between. We can’t complain, not after eight straight months of relentless griping about the cold, but neither can we consider it an unalloyed good. There’s suddenly a lot of lawn work to be done, for one thing, and worse yet, global warming alarmism is now back in season.
All the hysteria that now accompanies warmer days is annoying to old-timers such as ourselves, who have been through enough of Kansas’ famously cussed weather to have noticed how very erratic it is and how little it cares about human activity, but apparently it is downright nerve-wracking for the young folks. According to an intriguing report in Canada’s The Globe and Mail, “Child psychiatrists, psychologists and educators say they’ve seen an escalation in the anxiety levels of today’s youth, who are constantly exposed to doomsday talk about the destruction of our planet.” This strikes us as unfortunate, and even akin to a sort of mass low-level child abuse, but the scribes at The Globe and Mail seem to regard it as a positive development. The story is “part of a series examine the health repercussions for Canadians of a changing climate,” and argues that making the next generations of Canadians even more neurotic than usual is just one of those repercussions and perhaps the one that will finally force Canada to revert to a pre-agricultural society that will surely result in paradise.
The Globe and Mail’s story begins with the obligatory anecdote, and concerns a sweet-sounding 14-year-old whose downtown Calgary neighborhood was recently devastated by floods on the Bow and Elbow rivers. We can readily sympathize with the poor lass, as we are nestled between the Arkansas and Little rivers that occasionally interrupt the persistent droughts by threatening to jump their high banks, and would have flooded our humble bungalow on a few occasions if not for the enormous Big Ditch that the city plowed on the west side five decades ago, and we are therefore saddened to learn that she has since become such a global warming enthusiast that she’s joined her school’s Model United Nations program to “take an active role” in combatting the stuff. It’s sad enough that the poor lass has had the bejeezus scared out of her by nature’s savage fury and humankind’s recklessly high-minded conjecture, but to think that she’s also been taught to place her innocent youthful faith in the likes of the United Nations is downright heart-breaking. The authors of The Globe and Mail’s story are encouraged by this tale, though, and hold out hope that it will spur the change needed to reassure all the panicked 14-year-olds that the future will be saved.
“While the Alberta floods haven’t been directly linked to climate change,” The Globe and Mail rather glumly conceded, but it was quick to add that “destructive weather events are expected to increase in the future.” Those expectations come from the same experts who cannot explain why there has been no global warming during that 14-year-old’s lifetime, a “pause” that rudely defied all the experts’ computer models that continue to predict an increase of destructive weather events sometime in the future, but this goes unmentioned in the story. Also unmentioned is the possibility that the Bow and Elbow rivers rise and fall on their own, as they’ve done for the past many millennia, or the possibility that Calgary needs to dig a Big Ditch or devise some other man-made solution for flood control. Such counter-intuitive notions are unlikely to occur to the United Nations, but we hope at some point they pop into that 14-year-old girl’s head.
A warm early summer night on Monday allowed us to sip a beer and catch up with an old friend at the patio of Harry’s Uptown Bar and Grill, and during our far-ranging conversation he lamented all the global warming propaganda that his 10-year-old son daily encounters. We know his son as an all-American boy, bright and buoyant and being readied for an uncertain future, and we were relieved to hear that he’s being taught a healthy skepticism about the imminent end of the world. The kid is such a classic Kansas boy that meteorology is one of his many intellectual enthusiasms, and he can already name the kinds of clouds that dot our skies and predict the calamities that are likely to follow with the accuracy of a grizzled old-timers, and he’s seemed to have acquired the stoic respect for the unconquerable power of nature that is the beginning of Kansas wisdom. There’s an avuncular right-wing internet wag in the boy’s life who has warned of impending economic collapse user the weight of unsustainable debts and an irreversible decline in his nation’s cultural standards, and his dad is probably sowing the same doubts, but at least he’s not worried that the family’s big ol’ Chevy Suburban is going to cause the apocalypse.
That 14-year-old Canadian girl and our 10-year-old Kansas pal aren’t hearing anything new. Our youth was in the era when Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome and every other Hollywood filmmaker was predicting a bleak future of mass starvation and Soylent Green, but instead we’ve arrived at a time of mass obesity and human remains are being used for furnace fuel rather than a dietary staple. Most of our peers wound up rather screwy as a result, now that we think about it, and if the likes of The Globe and Mail have their way future generations will similarly suffer, but we’ll leave that to the future. It’s summertime, and the living is easy.

— Bud Norman

A Not-So-Fond Farewell to 2013

Another year now comes to a close, and we bid good riddance to it.
We are not alone in this glum assessment of 2013, judging by the results of a year-end poll conducted by The Economist and something called YouGov. A full 54 percent of the respondents called the year “bad,” another 15 percent described it as “very bad,” and we presume the rest must have fallen madly in love or won the lottery or just weren’t paying attention. Except for the soon-to-pop stock market bubble, it’s hard to think of any positive developments that have occurred over the past 12 months.
Looking over another poll from The Christian Science Monitor regarding the ten biggest stories of the year, we find floods in Colorado, tornados in Oklahoma, terrorism in Massachusetts, Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread snooping on the American public by the National Security Agency, the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the disastrous debut of the billion-dollar Obamacare web site. The only feel-good stories to make the cut were the escape of those young women in Ohio who had been held captive in a basement for years by a sex fiend, George Zimmerman’s escape from a politically correct lynch mob, the defeat of gun control legislation in Congress, and the brief partial-shutdown of the United States’ government, which somehow topped the list, but we suppose that only the first of these made liberals feel good, and conservatives can only console themselves with knowledge of the disasters that didn’t happen.
Perhaps conservatives can also take some consolation in knowing that the public at long last seems fed up with it all, and seem to be wising up about who’s to blame. The more strident sorts of liberals will persist in blaming the floods and tornados on George W. Bush and his diabolical climate change machine, and the minority of Americans who want to jettison the Second Amendment and the right to self-defense can rightly resent the right for thwarting their schemes, but it will prove hard for the press to pin the rest of it on Republicans. The Defense of Marriage Act was signed by that notorious homophobe Bill Clinton, the NSA was greatly empowered by the Bush-era Patriot Act but didn’t start poring over your phone records until the next administration, the House Republicans accepted the partial shutdown of the government but didn’t attempt to make it as painful as possible for national park visitors or nostalgic World War II veterans, and only an intellectual could believe the increasingly obvious catastrophe that is Obamacare was caused by a Republican party which didn’t cast one single congressional vote for the damned thing.
This was also the year that a majority of Americans expressed disapproval of President Barack Obama, despite the continuing efforts by the news and entertainment media to bolster his popularity, and the year that a Louisiana duck-call entrepreneur got away with expressing unsanctioned opinions regarding sexuality, despite the outrage of all the right people, and the year that the gun-grabbers lost another round, despite the perfect emotional atmosphere after another horrific school shooting, and the year that some climate change advocates got stuck in the Antarctic ice, which is simply too perfect, so it could have been worse. The economy sputtered along well enough for the more enthusiastic media to proclaim good times, but record numbers of Americans are still out work and most of those who have seen gains know that fracking and free-market resilience deserve more credit than government “investments” and hyper-regulation. If the Republicans regard it as a bad year because they weren’t able to thwart more Democratic initiatives, they can at least take comfort it was a worse year for the Democrats because the failures of those schemes became apparent.
The Republicans could easily blow it, of course, but 2013 hast at least set up the possibility of a successful 2014. One can safely assume the year’s top stories will include floods and tornados, as have happened every year even before George W. Bush’s diabolical climate change machine, and there will be inspiring human interest stories and homosexual stories and stories about the government snatching ever more power, but unless the terrorists get extremely lucky while the NSA is looking into some Tea Party group’s phone records it also seems likely that more Obamacare outrages and the travails of an over-taxed and over-regulated economy will be big stories, as will the results of a feckless foreign policy, while its hard to see how the Republicans can be faulted for offering futile resistance.
Here’s hoping we make the best of it, because a few more years like 2013 will be hard to bear.

— Bud Norman