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The Days Grow Short When You Reach September

Labor Day went well around here, with the Wichita Wingnuts heading into the double-A American Association playoffs with a 4-1 regular season finale win over the Salina Stockade that featured several defensive gems, a hospitable old hippie friend of ours charbroiling copious amounts of bratwurst and burgers and other red Kansas meat while handing out Pabsts and blaring old Doors records on the sound system, and the weather was nice and hot. Still, there was no shaking that melancholy feeling the holiday always brings.
Although the autumnal equinox is still a couple of weeks away and the warm weather is likely to linger past that, today nonetheless marks the end of the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. School is back in session, Congress is ending its recess, and by longstanding social agreement everybody else also gets down to serious business. The rigorously timed violence of football has already started to supplant the more leisurely paced and gentlemanly sport of baseball, the white shoes and straw hats are replaced by more somber apparel, school buses are once again slowing traffic, and conferences are being convened all over to assess the various messes the summer has left us in, and what might become of it in the fall.
The reconvened Congress finds itself with plenty of work to do. Summer’s end brought a thousand-year-flood that left America’s fourth-most-populous city under several feet of water, so they’ll have to find some way to pitch in on the calamitous cost of that, which wouldn’t be easy in the best of circumstances. In these circumstances they also face hard and fast end-of-the-month deadlines to pass a continuing spending resolution to keep the government fully open and a debt-ceiling increase to pay for it, which is always hard enough even without a thousand-year natural disaster to help pay for, and that’s not to mention the nutcase North Korean dictatorship that’s been making increasingly plausible threats to start a nuclear war that would make that thousand-year-flood look like a minor inconvenience.
There’s also the complicating factor of Trump, and everything he’s been up to over the summer. The Republican-controlled Congress was never technically in recess, for fear that Trump would make some crazy recess appointment to inoculate himself from the ongoing congressional probes into “Russia,” and nothing that has transpired during their unofficial vacation has likely been reassuring to them. Trump threatened to force a government shutdown unless all the spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases and whatnot included funding for his campaign promise of a border wall, which is a cause few other Republicans and absolutely no Democrats are willing to fight for, but that was before the thousand-year flood happened so there’s some hope Trump once again won’t make good on his threats. He’s also ramping up the anti-immigration rhetoric on other fronts, and although there are plausible arguments for some of them this probably isn’t the best month to be making them.
Throw in the nutcase North Korean dictatorship threatening a nuclear war and Trump’s intemperate responses, the leaks about “Russia” that are reaching thousand-year-flood levels, and the more open animosity between the Republicans in Congress and the relatively newly-fledged Republican in the White House, along with the ongoing fact that the Democrats are as always a complete disaster, and it looks to be an anxious September. The political consequences of not offering needed help to the flooded fourth-most populous city of the country or allowing the government to shut down its assistance would be dire, though, and the federal default that would shortly follow a failure to pass another damned debt-ceiling increase would be comparable to a nuclear war, so we’ll hold out hope that all the self-interested parties involved will reach some mutually beneficial agreement just ahead of the hard-and-fast deadlines.
In the meantime we have own bills our to pay, as we’re sure you do, and we’ll trust that most of the rest of us will somehow get down to such necessary business. There’s still some baseball left to provide solace, and not long after that ends basketball season starts up, with the Wichita State University Wheatshockers looking like a championship contender, and there will always be another summer, perhaps one more lazy yet not quite so hazy or crazy as the past one, and hope springs eternal.

— Bud Norman

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Why We Now Prefer Chess to Politics or Football

Way back when the presidential debate schedule was first announced the Republican nominee objected that this coming Sunday’s clash would be airing at the same time as a National Football League contest. It wasn’t clear if he was worried the game might draw viewers from the debate, or vice versa, but in either case we go into the weekend with the first debate setting viewership records and the second expected to do the same while the NFL is in a steep ratings decline.
There’s no accounting for taste, as the saying goes, but we figure the best explanation for the presidential debates’ ratings bonanza is that they feature more boo-able villains and seem likely to produce more memorable body slams than can be found in a typical pro football contest. The most common explanation for the NFL’s rating slide, on the other hand, is that the contests have become too political. If you haven’t been following the professional gridiron news the big story this season is that a backup quarterback on a 1-and-4 San Francisco ’49ers squad has been taking a knee rather standing during the pre-game national anthems in support of the “Black Lives Matter” protest movement against America’s police, which involves a even more complicated and consequential question than those nickel defenses and spread offenses and other matters that football fans prefer to argue about.
Black lives do matter, of course, but so do the lives of black and white and every other color of police officers who are charged with protecting those lives, and each of those too-often times a police officer of any race takes a black life requires a detailed consideration of the circumstances, and that’s exactly the sort of the thing one tunes into a football game in hopes of getting away from. Although we’re more prone to look at the specific circumstances than is the Black Lives Matter movement, and certainly more so than that second-string quarterback on that losing ’49ers squad, we’ll nonetheless credit the NFL with allowing him his First Amendment right to take a knee. The league wasn’t so generous as to allow the Dallas Cowboys to express their sympathy to the five Dallas police officers who were gunned down during a “Black Lives Matter” protest, however, and we can well understand why significant number of football fans might be disgruntled.
We gave up on professional football a couple of seasons ago when we sat through an interminable 20 minutes or so of commercials and official videotape reviews and other inexplicable delays on an ultimately inconsequential play in a game that the our Kansas City Chiefs wound up losing during another desultory season, and since then almost the entirety of sports has seemed unsatisfying. Both the Oklahoma Sooners and the Kansas State Wildcats are by now out of the running in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s championship football race, and our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers are heading into an uncertain basketball season without a couple of promising pro prospects and an all-time great role player, and the NCAA is boycotting the state of North Carolina for insisting that men use the men’s rooms and women use the women’s rooms, which also takes a lot of the fun out of collegiate sports.
On our way to a late-night meeting with some friends at a local bar Thursday evening we heard a thunderstorm-delayed radio broadcast report that the Wichita Heights Falcons had outlasted bitter Catholic-school rivals Kapaun-Mt.Carmel High to go 6-and-0 in the City League, which is about thrice the number of victories it had during the three years when we were attending that oh-so-public school, but even our enthusiasm for high school sports is diminished by the news about the national anthem protests that are now occurring at that level. Upon our return home we sought some solace in a game of internet chess, where we noticed even that pristine game once again once again involved politics, but at least we were able to be down with the cause.
In case you haven’t been keeping up with high-level chess, as most people haven’t, the championship-contending Georgian-born but naturalized-American female grandmaster Nazi Paikidze is boycotting the women’s world championship because it is being held in Iran, where the Islamic theocracy is insisting on women wearing the hijab as a symbol of their subjugation to men. Despite her unfortunate first name, we’re entirely in agreement with her stand.
Given the peculiar nature of American politics at the moment, we’ll also go right ahead and note that Paikidze also demolishes other stereotypes of chess by being something of a cutie, as are many of of the other top women chess players of the moment, and that reigning world champion Magnus Carlson is something of a pretty boy. Our guess is that Azerbajaini-born and now-American former world champion Garry Kasparov would still be on top of the game if he hadn’t retired to purse a position as anti-Russian political spokesman, and recently as an opponent to the Republican nominee’s pro-Putin stance, and although it’s all as complicated as the “Black Lives Matter” movement or the board of a grandmasters’ chess game we find ourselves rooting more the chess players.
Those damned presidential politics will probably have more effect on our lives, but at least in the meantime we can root for the chess players, and hope that the ‘Shockers will have another great basketball season.

— Bud Norman

The Students are Revolting

The latest of wave of student protests have claimed a couple of high-profile scalps at the University of Missouri and Yale University, which will likely encourage similar efforts elsewhere. By the time it’s all over, we expect, even the most exceedingly progressive and exquisitely politically correct professors and administrators are likely to be targets of the mob they’ve created.
Both of the most recent brouhahas have been beyond satire, as usual. At MU — we’ll continue to call it by its old Big 8 and Big XII acronym, even though the cowardly turncoats bolted for the Southeastern Conference some years ago — it all started with a claim by the president of the Missouri Students Association that someone in a pickup shouted a racial slur at him, then a claim by a group called The Legion of Black Collegians that another man who walked by their gathering also taunted them with racial slurs, which led to a general conclusion that the campus was suddenly a hotbed of racial slurring. All of which seems highly suspicious. Our experience of the contemporary college campus, even the ones in Missouri, is that racial slurs are now the only curse words that students and their professors don’t routinely employ. Although we don’t doubt that some redneck might have passed through and shouted something rude from his pickup truck, that hardly suggests “systemic racism” at a university where the president of the Students Association is apparently black. We also think it would take a most unusually badass white boy to taunt an entire Legion of Black Collegians with even the mildest of racial slurs and get away with it.
Still, the university’s chancellor took everyone at their word and responded with an announcement of mandatory online “diversity training” for all faculty, staff, and students, who were presumably previously unaware that racial slurs are now frowned upon in polite society. In recent years this would have satisfied the mob, but these days they’re emboldened to ask for more. A group calling itself Concerned Student 1950, with the number harkening back 65 years to when black students were first admitted to MU, quickly held a protest that blocked the car of the Missouri University System’s president during the homecoming parade, and later issued a list of demands that included the president’s formal apology followed by his resignation, “mandatory racial awareness and inclusion curriculum” to be “controlled by a board of color,” increasing black faculty and staff to a ten percent quota, and, more sensibly, “An increase in funding to hire more mental health professionals for the MU Counseling Center, particularly those of color.” A couple of days a later a swastika of smeared feces was found on a bathroom wall in an MU dormitory, which might or might not have been the work of some unhygienic racist, given the recent spate of hoax hate crimes perpetrated at colleges where students are all too eager to feed a narrative of “systemic racism,” then there was the inevitable hunger strike by a student who would rather die than live in a world where the stray redneck in a pickup truck shouted racial slurs, and when the administration refused to grant any of the previous demands the Concerned Student 1950 made even more extravagant demands, including the outgoing UMS president’s public admission of his “white privilege” and his culpability for a protestor allegedly being hit while blocking the president’s car during the homecoming parade, and his failure to prevent the police from intervening in the protest, as well as his failure to get out of the car and have a nice apologetic chat with the mob.
Even in this age the UMS president and the university’s chancellor might have weathered the storm, but then a large number of the school’s football players threatened to sit out an upcoming game against Brigham Young University if the demands were not met. In the Big XII or the SEC or any big-time football conference this is when a campus controversy becomes serious, even if Missouri’s football team is faring no better in the SEC than it did back in the Big XII days, and with a reported $1 million in gate receipts and television revenues on the line the president agreed to step down. Both seem to have spared themselves the indignity of the demanded groveling apology for their pallor, so it remains to be seen if their sacrifice will satisfy the mob and those all-important football players, but we anticipate that even greater demands will soon be made. Once the legions of black collegiate athletes realize their bargaining power, the current protest movement could even exceed its ’60s and ’70s predecessors in destructiveness.
As befits its more elite Ivy League status, Yale’s controversy is even more ridiculous. In Yale’s case there were no alleged racial slurs or swastikas smeared in feces, but rather a worry that some student or another might don an offensive Halloween costume. This dire prospect prompted the university to issue some official warnings, which in turn prompted an atypically sensible member of the Yale faculty to compose a widely-disseminated e-mail to the students of Yale’s aptly named Silliman College, with the endearingly old-fashioned salutation “Dear Sillimanders,” which duly noted her credentials as a lecturer on early childhood development as well as her “concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community,” then advised students to lighten up and respond to any offense by either ignoring it or politely raising an objection, put in a plea for free expression, reasonably asked “Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people?,” and humbly concluded “It’s not mine, I know that.” Such raw hate speech of course offended the refined sensibilities of Yale’s young charges, who responded with attacks on the author’s husband, who happens to be the “Master” of Silliman College, a title that had already caused some recent controversy at the university, and who has apparently failed to protect his easily-offended students from everything that might offend them.
A fascinating video posted on the essential YouTube site shows the “Master” being surrounded by a group of mostly black students at his college, which we hesitate to describe as a mob, while trying to get to his office, with one young woman shrieking curse words at him, telling him to “be quiet” when he tries to respond, contending that his wife’s e-mail requires that he quit his job, and shrieking that “This is not about a creating an intellectual space,” apparently without any intended irony. She’s presumably a student at Yale, which somehow retains a reputation as prestigious university, and we note that she’s rather attractive even when shrieking, so if she succeeds in mau-mauing the university to grant her a degree she’ll forever have a job-seeking advantage over any white male who was graduated from a more rigorous but less prestigious land-grant cow college, but apparently the Ivy League is somehow so rife with racist rednecks that she retains her victim status. This followed allegations that one of Yale’s fraternities had denied Elis of Color admission to one of their parties, we will concede, but even if that’s true we’re not sure why it’s problematic for progressives that the frat boys chose to sexually exploit only white women in their “culture of rape.”
In one of those coincidences that no satirist could ever get away with, the potentially offensive Halloween costume controversy occurred right around the time when then the university’s William F. Buckley Program was hosting its fifth annual conference on “The Future of Free Speech.” The eponymous Buckley launched his distinguished career as a conservative author with “Man and God at Yale,” which presciently described what would happen after the university abandoned its Christian roots in favor of a secular humanist approach to education during his years at the school, and free speech necessarily entails hate speech, so the conference was indignantly protested from the outset, buttwhen one of the symposiasts opined that people on campus were responding to the Halloween costume controversy as if the e-mail author “had burned down an Indian village,” which the mob took it as a callous joke about the genocide that he no doubt secretly desired. Protestors were hauled off by the ample security guards, panelists were spat upon, a “hashtag” campaign that “genocideisnotajoke” was quickly launched, and a group that we won’t hesitate to call a mob attempted to stop the free speech taking place.
We’re reminded of the student protests of our long ago youth, but we somehow recall that had something to do with a so-called “Free Speech Movement” launched at the University of California-Berkley, and that there was lots of talk of questioning authority and doing your own thing and dressing however the hell you wanted to dress even on Halloween, and as ridiculous as it was it made more sense the current “Revolt of the Coddled.” The more seasoned fellows over at the Powerlineblog site reminded us that back then there were still university administrators such as former San Francisco State University president S.I. Hayakawa, who defied black militant’s demands for open admissions and autonomous black studies departments and other efforts to undermine his institution’s mission, and was backed up by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, and who later switched his party affiliation to Republican and won a noteworthy term as a United States Senator. Since then all those “free speech” and “question authority” and “do your own thing” students have taken over the faculties and administrations of America’s colleges and universities, and it’s a safe bet they’ll go along with whatever speech codes and strictly enforced regulations and busybody limits on personal autonomy and Halloween costume rules their unruly students might insist on.
Those former questioners of authority who now find themselves in positions of academic authority would do well to consider the fate of their colleagues at Yale and MU. The beleaguered bureaucrats of those schools almost certainly thought themselves the very model of a modern academic, with a proper enthusiasm for mandatory online diversity  training and a considered concern for the cultural and personal representation and a willingness to have curses shrieked at them by coddled yet hysterical students, yet they all found themselves targeted by the mob. The protestors have even turned on the press, and  threatened to call the hated cops on them, which suggests they aren’t nearly so media-savvy as their ’60s and ’70s predecessors, so they’re likely to turn on anyone insufficiently enthusiastic about their brave new world. We don’t know if they still bother to teach about the French Revolution and the ensuing Reign of Terror at America’s universities these days, what with all the dead white males involved, but the rest of academia might want to bone up on the fate of Robespierre.

— 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

Taking a Kick at Soccer

We know little about soccer, having grown up on wholesome American games that allow the use of hands, as God and Abner Doubleday intended, but even we knew that the sport’s international governing body is corrupt. It was therefor no surprise to hear that legal action is being taken against them, but we were a bit startled that it was America’s Department of Justice that is doing it.
The Federation Internationale de Football is not based in America, as the foreign name and its galling misuse of “football” would suggest, and so far as we can gather from numerous press reports none of its alleged crimes took place here. Authorities in Switzerland, where the organization is based, and where the alleged crimes seem to have allegedly occurred, and where the populace presumably cares more about soccer than do Americans, are also taking action, so it’s hard to see why America’s legal system should be bothered. All of the 14 FIFA official indicted on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy are from other other countries, there’s going to be a lot of fuss over extradition, it complicates foreign relations with the numerous countries involved to the point that we have to admit Vladimir Putin has a point when he calls it “another case of illegal extra-territorial implementation of American law,” and none of the bribes they’re said to have accepted for awarding international tournaments seem to have been paid by Americans, who won’t be hosting any FIFA tournaments in the near future in any case, so the only point seems to be cleaning up a sport that few Americans bother to watch.
The smart fellows over at the Powerline web site are avid soccer fans, which strikes us as odd given their usually sound political opinions and excellent taste in music, and they contend that the Department of Justice is still sore that FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar despite the long trip to Zurich and personal lobbying of former Attorney General Eric Holder. It won’t be the least bit surprising if it is eventually proved in court that the Qataris prevailed by means of millions of dollars of illegal bribes, as such things are a feature of Arab culture and there is no other plausible explanation for awarding the world’s most-watched sporting event to such a remote and backwards desert hellhole as Qatar. The country’s pledge to air-conditioned stadia large enough to accommodate a soccer field and many thousands of spectators in the 100-plus degree summers has already been reneged on, the tournament has thus been moved to winter during the middle of the seasons of the professional leagues that supply the players, and the Indian, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi laborers who have been imported to build the vast infrastructure that FIFA absurdly requires have died at the rate of one per day. Nor would we be surprised if this is all about Holder holding a grudge, as he always struck as that sort of guy.
Besides, the Obama administration was still smarting from its snub by the International Olympic Committee way back in ’09 when it award its games to Rio de Janeiro over of Chicago. Obama personally flew to Denmark to make the pitch, bringing along Oprah Winfrey, who might or might not be a big deal in Denmark, and giving a speech about how Chicago was his kind of town and recalling how “Nearly one year ago, on a clear November night, people from every corner of the world gathered in the city of Chicago or in front of their televisions to watch the results of the presidential election,” and basically suggested that having the Olympics culminate his eight years in office and welcome the world to his transformed America would give the games new meaning. All the press speculated that of course the deal was already done or no president would put his prestige on the line by making the trip, so when the Olympics went to an even more crime-ridden kleptocracy than Chicago it was the first bad press that the administration got after all the messianic treatment in ’08, and although the loss of the 2022 World Cup went entirely unnoticed we’re sure it still stung.
The blow to Obama’s and Holder’s egos notwithstanding, and despite the lucrative deals that Valerie Jarret’s Chicago buddies would have made preparing for the Olympics, and whatever deals might have been made for a World Cup, these are two games we’re glad America lost. These big international sporting events are lucrative to whatever network makes the sufficient bribes, and they transfix much of the world for a brief time, but they’re usually a severe burden on the communities that get stuck with them and the useless stadia they paid for. Even in soccer-mad Brazil there were riots in response to lavish sums that poverty-stricken country doled out to host the most recent World Cup, and the police are gearing up for more of the same during those ’16 Olympics that Chicago wanted. The only Olympics that we can recall proving profitable for a host was the ’02 winter games in Salt Lake City, and that was due to the organizational skills of Mitt Romney, which the public apparently found less impressive than that soaring “on a clear November night” rhetoric of Obama. The Olympics have lost much of their appeal since the end of the Cold War, not to mention all believable rumors about the IOC’s shenanigans, but they’re still a bigger deal to the real American sports fan than some FIFA contest with a bunch of foreigners kicking a ball around a “pitch” — we know that, too, along with with the corruption of the governing body — to a 1-0 score after some incalculable amount of time.
A country such as Qatar might decide that the millions in bribes and billions in soon-to-be-useless stadia and the daily deaths of Indians, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshi is well worth the prestige of hosting a highly-rated sports event, along with all the hooligans that soccer somehow always attracts, no matter how remote the backwards hellhole, but we’d like to think the United States of America can still earn its international prestige elsewhere.

— Bud Norman

Free Speech and Racist Frat Rats

The latest battle against censorship on campus is being fought at the University of Oklahoma, just a few hours drive down I-35 from us, and it’s an ugly affair. Modern academia and its censorious impulses provide free speech advocates with plenty of opportunities to stand up for reasonable opinions that somehow offend liberal sensibilities, but in this case we are obliged to defend the right to some unabashedly old-fashioned racist boorishness.
It all started when the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers chartered a party bus and decided to celebrate the occasion with a boastful chant about their racially exclusive admission policies, replete with frequent use of a certain notorious fighting word and a jocular reference to lynching, and not in the ironically anti-racist manner of the more up-to-date nightclub comedians. Somebody recorded the event with a cellular phone’s video camera, of course, and it wound up on the internet, of course, and of course much offense was taken. The outrage was such that hundreds of OU students and faculty staged a protest, the national fraternity revoked the offending chapter’s charter, and the university’s president summarily expelled the two students who had been identified as leading the chant.
As free speech advocates we have no quarrel with the peaceful protests, and acknowledge the national fraternity’s right to restrict its membership however it chooses, but the expulsions are another matter. The courts have long held that public universities are bound by the First Amendment and cannot punish students for their speech, no matter how offensive, and for a variety of good reasons. Aside from the plain language of the Constitution, any restriction on free speech will inevitably lead to another, important ideas will be squelched because some well-organized group or another will find them offensive, and given how very touchy academia is these days there’s no telling where it all might end. Already America’s universities are restricting debate on a variety of issues, from the global warming issue to Israel to the “culture of rape” that is said to pervade the modern campus, but the dialogue about race is especially constrained. Anyone challenging liberal orthodoxy on matters of race is routinely branded a racist, even if they are trying to address the frequently disastrous results of liberal orthodoxy for black America, and any effort to ban racism, no matter how well-intentioned, will allow the keepers of the faith to shut down debate completely. Given how many well-organized groups are taking offense at the slightest provocation these days, placating them all would require limiting scholarly discourse to quiet, guilty shrugs and sympathetic nods.
Which is not to say that you shouldn’t be offended by those boorish frat boys and their witless chant, or that you shouldn’t avail yourself of a heaping portion of free speech to express your offense, or that widespread public scorn isn’t an appropriate way of dealing with such unambiguously racist sentiments. In fact, we note that such stigmatizing has rather effectively made the public expression of such racist sentiments rare, and improved race relations to the point that a bunch of drunk frats joking about lynching seems to be a more pressing problem than actual lynchings. Similar results might be achieved if society were to once again attach a stigma to deliberately vulgar language and contraceptive abortion and unwed parenthood and a host of other social ills that the left doesn’t seem to find offensive, but even in these cases we would prefer social persuasion to governmental coercion.
The president of OU might soon find himself in one of those courts that have long held that public universities are bound by the First Amendment, and we won’t mind seeing him lose this one. He was formerly a governor and senator for Oklahoma, back when then state used to elect Democrats to such high offices, and was known for his occasional liberalism and constant devotion to state’s oil and gas industries, so we suspect the same political instincts led him to expel those two students. The controversy caused OU to lose a potential football recruit to the University of Alabama, after all, so the students had not only offended liberal sensibilities but also posed a threat to a crucial business interest. This will only exacerbate the public’s scorn for the two students, and further deter future racist chants on campus, but we’re not so concerned. If that potential football recruit truly believes he won’t encounter any racist frat boys at the University of Alabama he won’t be able to comprehend a playbook, much less an American history textbook, so he probably wouldn’t have done the Sooners any good even if those racist frat boys hadn’t been too stupid to know that there are cell phone video cameras everywhere these days and everything winds up 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

Presidential Speeches and Other Domestic Battery

The President of the United States is scheduled to give yet another major speech today about the direr threat posed by to ur national security by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq or the Islamic State in the Levant or whatever you want to call it, and all the chatter seems to be about the professional football player who cold-cocked his then-fiancee and now-wife wife on an elevator at some ritzy hotel.
We don’t mean to downplay the repugnance of a professional football player cold-cocking a women on any sort of elevator, of course. Such violence against women is never acceptable, and when the male perpetrator is sufficiently physically formidable to earn a living in the National Football League we have no problem with him being banned from that burly profession as a result of the offense. The same video evidence that led to the player’s banishment show that the woman threw the first punches and added a couple of spits for good measure, but this does little alleviate our opprobrium. Our consistent advice to men embroiled in a relationship with an abusive woman is to shield yourself as best as possible from the blows, ignore the spittle, and immediately explain the resultant break-up in a carefully-worded e-mail. This fellow wound up married to the woman, and our libertarian instincts incline us to believe that at point it’s their business rather than National Football League’s, but a traditionalist streak in our temperament makes it hard to root for his gridiron exploits. To recall a favorite old W.C. Fields joke, we’ve never hit a woman, not even our own mother.
Still, we wonder why such a quotidian domestic dispute between such an atypical couple would overshadow the even more office violence being indicted by ISIL or ISIS or whatever you want to call it on the Christians and other religious minorities in a portion of the earth where American military might once held sway. Our best guess is that the domestic depute can be more readily identified with than that the far-off threat of beheadings and crucifixions and other horrors being inflicted on far-away peoples of whom we know little, and that by now few people put much stock in yet another of the speeches of the President of the United States.
Back in the heady days of ’08 we were seeking solace from all the political mania at a local tavern, and an especially annoying acolyte of the soon-to-be president demanded that the television be changed to one of the many channels showing the presumptive president’s bit speech rather than the American League’s baseball playoffs.The combined objections of ourselves and another barfly were overwhelmed by popular consensus, and we wound up enduring yet another tedious oration about how peace was merely a matter of American capitulation to the beheading and crucifying armies of radial Islamism. By now we suspect that even such a hipster dive as that would insist on baseball or whatever other sporting alternative the season might offer, even with a a fiancee-batterer in the starting lineup, and that says more about the diminished status of presidential orations than about the public’s tolerance for spousal abuse.
Whatever the president might say about the horrific violence being perpetrated by ISIL or ISIS or whatever you might want to call it, most people will take it as yet another meaningless red line drawn in the sand against the worst of the of a theology that the president seems o regard with a certain sympathy, or yet another meaningless assurance that if you like your secular 21st Century western civilization you can keep it. The chances that someone you know has been a victim of domestic abuse, no matter how ambiguous the circumstances, is far greater than chances that someone you know has recently been beheaded by a terrorist organization that the the media haven’t yet decided what to call.

— Bud Norman

Let the World Keep Its Cup

Some fellow on the radio tells us that the United States’ soccer squad has been eliminated from the World Cup competition by a team from some country called Belgium. Being properly patriotic sports rooters we were disappointed to hear it, especially as Belgians are apparently some sort of Europeans, and it’s always embarrassing to lose to those guys in anything, but we must confess some relief that the nation’s attention can once again be diverted from our pressing economic and political problems by baseball.
Go ahead and watch soccer if you want to, as we are of a libertarian bent and therefore tolerate all kinds of cultural rot, but as a mindless distraction from the world’s woes we much prefer baseball this time of year. This prejudice might well be proof of what old-fashioned fuddy-duddies we’ve become in our middle age, as well as the nativist xenophobia and heterosexist preoccupation with phallic symbols and all that stuff that is so typical of people with our right-wing political views, but we make no apologies. We’re Americans, damn it, and prefer an American game.
We’re Americans of a certain age, too, which we means grew up playing sports other than soccer and haven’t failed at the game nearly enough to appreciate the talents of those who play it well. Soccer fans have tried to convince us of the aesthetically-pleasing athleticism and subtle strategies that they swear are involved in the seemingly random meanderings of the players, but we remain unconvinced. Despite our best efforts at objectivity, we find the sport suspect for several reasons.
You can’t use your hands in soccer, for one thing, and this strikes us as an offense against both God and sport. We used to suspect that soccer was a communist plot to keep America’s youth from hurling hand grenades against the invading Russky hordes, and although soccer seems to have outlasted the Soviet Union and we can’t think of any other plausible conspirators it still strikes us as damned suspicious.
All those foreigners in the game are troublesome, too. Soccer fans seem to regard the overwhelming presence of foreigners in the sport as proof of its worthiness, and will wax poetic about the “world’s game” and cite their affinity for the game as evidence of how very cosmopolitan they are, but we are unimpressed by their claims of being citizens of the world. When the world ratifies a constitution that guarantees our rights of freedom of speech and bearing arms and not having soldiers quartered in our homes we will consider renouncing our American citizenship and embracing a game that doesn’t allow the use of hands, but at the moment the world seems downright hostile to these ideals and unhealthily willing to forego the use of hands.
Nor does the rest of the world seem any more civilized than the average American baseball, basketball, or football fans. The stadia where the National Football League conducts its brutal contests are famous for the fisticuffs and boorish behavior that pervade the stands, but the most face-painted fans there are a veritable PGA gallery compared to the hooligans that predominate at soccer games. Even the Oakland Raiders don’t have such a grisly death toll as soccer, and their fans are more well-behaved than the hooligans who populate the seats at soccer games around the world. Racists taunts are reportedly common at soccer games, by both players and fans, but rarely heard at American sporting events where almost everyone has a rooting interest in a competitor of another race. One of the more intriguing side stories of the World Cup was about the Mexican fans’ traditional chant of “puto” against a certain hated foes, which we’re told translates as “homosexual prostitute” and is intended as a most hateful epithet, and it was fun hearing the politically correct press reconcile its revulsion for anything homophobic with its indulgence for anything foreign.
Such exquisite sensitivities seem an essential part of soccer’s appeal, and another reason we’re indifferent to the game. When soccer first became a part of the American sporting scene it was through the American Youth Soccer Organization, and all the bumper stickers that adorned the minivans hauling the kiddies to the little league “pitch” promised that “Everyone plays.” This is taking egalitarianism too far, as even the most carefully raised youngster intuitively understands that playing time should be earned by superior performances, but has an understandable appeal to the doting modern mom. Those “soccer moms,” so assiduously courted by Democratic candidates for the past many election cycles, also seemed to prefer soccer to baseball because it didn’t involve the supposedly soul-crushing failure involved in a sport where even the best major league teams will lose 60 games a season and the most skilled batters fail to get a hit more than 60 percent of the time. Soccer is a fairly rough sport, judging by all the melodramatic flopping that the players indulge in whenever they make contact with a momentarily outstretched limb, but we can’t imagine that it inures a kid to life’s inevitable failures the way an 0-for-4 day at the plate does.
Go ahead and watch soccer if you want to, though, and we’ll hope you enjoy it. Perhaps you’ll notice that aesthetically-pleasing athleticism and those subtle strategies we keep hearing about, and we really wouldn’t want to deny the satisfaction. None of the teams will be wearing “USA” on their jerseys, but feel free to root for any country that isn’t currently at war with us. The Wichita Wingnuts have a home stand coming up, though, so we’ll be down at the ballpark watching men use their hands.

— Bud Norman

On Sports, Water Heaters, and the Nation’s Fate

The news has slowed to a trickle at year’s end, as all the newsmakers have safely ensconced themselves in swell warm-weather vacation digs where they can do little harm, but the rest of the world seems to continue turning in its usual ways. Results of the National Football League’s last regular season contests provided plenty of fodder for the headline writers, and around here the big story was our aged water heater announcing its final demise by spewing water into the basement.
These occasional breaks in the news cycle are welcome, even for such politically-attuned sorts as ourselves. They not only provide a needed respite from worries about the country’s wayward direction, but also offer perspective on the political problems that will soon enough confront us.
One tries to imagine the likes of Rep. Nancy Pelosi or President Barack Obama confronting a gushing water heater at 3 a.m., muttering the appropriate curses as they desperately search for the valve that will halt the deluge, but the image does not come readily to mind. All water heaters will eventually betray you, as many of our home-owning friends have sympathetically assured us, but in the case of Pelosi or Obama or almost any other politician the more likely scenario has them delegating the duty of dealing with it to a servant, probably one of those oppressed minorities they always claim to care so much about, and it can be safely assumed that the price of a shiny new replacement will not seem so dear to them as it does it to the likes of us. This is a fundamental flaw in our democratic system as it is currently constituted, we believe, as we think that the more direct experience of dealing a spewing water heater would make the average politician less inclined to think the could manage the country’s health care system and more empathetic about the costs they impose in the effort.
Even the National Football League scores seemed somehow significant on an otherwise news-free weekend. So far as we can tell everyone in the league is a testosterone-raged and overly-tattooed thug or a pretty boy quarterback, but we have our arbitrary preferences about which cities get to brag on their boys. The Philadelphia Eagles vanquished the Dallas Cowboys to win their division and a spot in the playoffs, and our pop lives in Philly and has become a supporter of the team, and the Cowboys don’t have the same cultural significance they did back in the hippie days when a guy named “Tex” owned the team and clean-cut Vietnam veteran Roger Staubach was the quarterback and straight-arrow Tom Landry was prowling the sidelines, so we were pleased with the result. We have a brother who loves living in the Colorado Rockies and has become an avid aficionado of the Denver Broncos, who earned the top seed in the American Football Conference with a win over the hapless Oakland Raiders and will thus be favored to win it all, so we’re also pleased by that outcome. Our own Kansas City Chiefs lost a meaningless game to the San Diego Charters, giving the divisional rivals a spot in the playoffs that will surely please a beloved cousin who’s working for Qualcomm in that temperate city, and after the Chiefs’ past several years of futility we’re happy just for the remote chance of a playoff win.
Sports rooting being a purely personal pastime, we were more energized by the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team running its record to a perfect 13-and-0 by beating a Davidson University squad that is far better than its record would indicate. We trudged through single-digit wind chill temperatures to witness the victory with a cherished old boyhood friend who is mad for “the ‘Shocks,” and who was later treated to a win by his beloved Green Bay Packers that clinched a playoff despite the team’s mere eight wins, and the victory was not only worth the cold but almost worth a new water heater. Throw in a win by the Kansas State University Wildcats’ football team over the once-mighty University of Michigan’s Wolverines, a team favored by an old girlfriend of ours, and it made for an encouraging final weekend of the year.
Sports metaphors are of limited utility, as are sad tales of such quotidian disasters as broken water heaters, but they’re all we’ve got as head into the penultimate day of 2013. Weightier matters await us in 2014, but we will gird ourselves with the lessons learned from the trivial. If the Kansas City Chiefs can turn around a 2=14 season into a playoff spot, if a gritty blue-collar college basketball team from such a gritty blue-collar city as Wichita can be ranked above the traditional elites of the sport, and if such klutzes as ourselves can cope with a basement-flooding water heater catastrophe, then surely there is hope for such a great country as America.

— Bud Norman