Why Sports is Sometimes Better Than the Rest of The World

The past weekend was cold and windy and slightly snowy here in Wichita, with plenty of state and national and international and personal problems for everyone to worry about in the upcoming week, but it worked out well for the local sports fans. In the grand scheme of things it’s not very important that the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad and the Kansas City Chiefs football team both won big games, but at this time of year in this part of the world one relishes whatever good news comes along.
Our beloved ‘Shockers blew a nine-point lead in the final minute of regulation on the road against the University of Connecticut Huskies, but hung on over two hard fought overtimes to escape with an 89 to 86 win. The victory runs their season record to 15-1, one of the six best in the country and second only to the Auburn Tigers’ and San Diego State Aztecs’ thus-far unblemished records, and after a home win earlier in the week against the University of Memphis’ then-22nd-ranked Tigers the ‘Shocks are alone atop the tough American Athletic Conference’s standings and will likely be in both of the top 20 polls today.
More than 50 years of rooting for the ‘Shockers have taught us to not be too hopeful, but we can’t shake a feeling that our boys are pretty darned good this year, maybe good enough for a couple of wins in the March tournament. They’re a very young team with one senior and six freshmen and four sophomores, and most observers expected them to be pretty darned good next year, but they’re already there, which has us looking forward to next year.
Wichita’s greatest sports passion is hoops, but folks also take their football seriously around here. The only college football in town is played by the Quaker-affiliated Friends University in the most tiny-school division, so local college fans are divided between the University of Kansas’ mostly hapless program and Kansas State University’s more respectable team and the perennial powers at the equidistant University of Oklahoma, but most of the football fans root for the nearest National Football League franchise, the Kansas City Chiefs. We’ve mostly given on watching football, what with the prolonged pauses for video reviews and the wife-beating and the head injuries and all, but we’re Wichitans and can’t shake a lifelong habit of rooting for the Chiefs when we check the scores.
We’re old enough to remember when the Chiefs won the IVth Super Bowl, way back in ’70, when star quarterback Len Dawson was smoking cigarettes in the locker room at halftime, and how happy everybody seemed about that. Our parents hosted a Super Bowl party for the neighbors, which was before that became a thing, the kids scrimmaged in the backyard afterwards despite the cold, and we’ve always wanted to enjoy that feeling again. Over the subsequent years the Chiefs have some great offenses and great defenses, but rarely at the same time, and every season has ended in a heartbreaking loss. The past few years the Chiefs have been pretty darned good, though, and this year they’re one win away from a shot at another Super Bowl title.
The Chiefs embarrassed themselves in the first quarter of their game against the Houston Texans, falling behind by three touchdowns, but we missed that and didn’t tune in until the second half when they finished off a 51-to-31 romp, so they looked good to us. The Tennessee Titans also scored a big upset win against the odds-on Super Bowl favorite Baltimore Ravens, which means that Kansas City and its superstar and non-smoking quarterback will be playing in famously loud Arrowhead Stadium as the odds-on favorite. Which means one can hold out realistic hope.
Which is no big deal, as we said before, but it seems to lighten the mood and bring people together around here. For reasons we cannot explain the Chiefs have a large following among Wichita’s lesbians, and all the ones on our block in the fashionable Riverside are flying Chiefs flags cheering loudly enough for us to hear them whenever the Chiefs score. If you find yourself standing in a long line at a bank or grocery store it’s something safe to talk about, even a sort of superficial bonding, and everyone’s a little cheerier despite the massive layoffs at the big aerospace factory in the south part of town because somebody at Boeing screwed up the 737 Max airliner.
We’ve lost enough games over the years to empathize with those fans in Memphis and Baltimore and Hartford and Houston, who surely have their weather and other problems to cope with, but we hope they’re brought closer together in commiseration, as always happens here in Wichita. As silly and pointless and head-injury-inducing as it might seem, sports has socially redeeming qualities.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, on the Mean Sports Pages

The political and economic and cultural news is full of scary developments lately, and the weather around here is damned cold, but on Monday we took a day off from all that to find some warmth in a good news story from the sports pages. The University of Oklahoma Sooners’ quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy for college football’s most outstanding player on Saturday, which we are obliged by family tradition to be happy about, and we were further gladdened to see that the young man is hanging up his football helmet and will instead pursue a career in professional baseball.
This was the second consecutive year that a Sooner won college football’s most prestigious individual honor, the first such back-to-back for any school since the 1945 and ’46 seasons, if you don’t count the Heisman that was taken back for reasons of corrupt rule-breaking from the first of two consecutive University of Southern California players in the 2005 and ’06 seasons, and it’s OU’s sixth Heisman overall, which is second only to those damned Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame. The Sooners have also won seven national championships, 41 championships in the high-level Big Six and Big Eight and Big XII conferences, and Murray’s Heisman further burnishes the Sooners’ reputation as one of America’s greatest sporting enterprises. God help us, we can’t help but be glad about that.
We grew up in Kansas and like to think ourselves true-blue Bleeding Kansas sorts of Kansans, but all our forbears were Okies from the territorial days and thus we grew up on Sooner football. Our beloved Pop attended OU back during the Bud Wilkinson days, when they set a still-standing win streak record on their way to three national championships during his four years of matriculation, and although he’s a very reserved and cerebral sort of fellow who takes only the usual red-blooded American male’s interest in most of the sporting scene he’s always been somewhat fanatical about Sooner football. In our youth the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas State University Wildcats and Wichita State University Wheatshockers were all infamously bad at football, and although each had some serious bragging rights about basketball we always went with the extended family’s winner through the pigskin season. Along the way we witnessed some memorably extraordinary athletic feats and rousing victories and heart-breaking losses by the Sooners, and we’re grateful for such family traditions.
Even so, we’re glad to see this young Murray fellow is hanging up his football helmet and pursuing a career in baseball. For the past few football seasons we’ve followed the fortunes of the Sooners and the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, both of which are championship contenders this seasons, but we haven’t been able watch a single down of it. Football’s such a violent game that it leaves an alarming number of its players with debilitating and life-shortening injuries, too many of its players are violent sorts of people such as the fellow that the Chiefs recently kicked off the team for pushing down and kicking a woman, and that takes a lot of fun out of the game for us.
This young Murray fellow is apparently one of those rarely gifted athletes with both the God-given athletic ability and hard-earned-on-his-own talents to play at least two games at the highest level of competition, and although our slow and awkward and wheezy selves can only imagine what that’s like we’re pretty sure he’s right to choose baseball. To its most gifted players baseball offers a longer and more lucrative career than football, and although it entails certain persistent aches and pains they’re far less likely to be debilitating or life-shortening than those from several other sports. Baseball’s a more cerebral and beautiful sport than football, too, and offers such a talented athlete as this Murray fellow at least as much glory on the baseball diamond as he might find on any football gridiron.
The previous Sooner Heisman trophy winner was Baker Mayfield, an arguably even better quarterback who is currently a contender for the National Football League’s rookie of the year award. As the top pick to the last place team in the NFL draft, Baker and his Cleveland Browns have a mediocre record of five wins and seven losses and a tie, but that’s four more wins than the franchise had in the previous three years, and with the NFL’s weird play-off system they’re still in the hunt for a very long-shot championship, so that’s more bragging rights for the Sooners. We wish this Mayfield fellow the best, by which mean we mean hope he has a long career and somehow enjoys his millions without a brain injury.
The season of Kansas’ beautiful game of basketball is well under way, with the Wildcats looking mediocre and the ‘Shockers looking worse and those snooty Jayhawks looking like championship contenders, although we happily note our beloved Wichita Heights High School Falcons are currently leading the City League. Come spring we won’t have any baseball pro baseball around here, as those stupid city father have torn down the venerable old Lawrence-Dumont stadium and won’t have a new up the net summer when they promise a shiny new affiliated Triple-A club to replace lovable Wichita Wingnuts, and until then we won’t mach to cheer about.. Meanwhile the political and economic and cultural news seems unpleasant, and we’ll take our vicarious victories wherever we can, so godspeed to this young Kyler Murray fellow.

A Trumpian Thanksgiving

Presidents traditionally refrain from making news on Thanksgiving Day, but of course President Donald Trump is not a traditional president. While the rest of the country was feasting with family and friends and giving thanks to God for it all, Trump was making the day all about himself with a variety of newsworthy outbursts, and when asked what he was grateful for he replied, “I made a tremendous difference in our country.”
Trump started the day with a “tweet” wishing a “HAPPY THANKSGIVING DAY TO ALL!,” which except for all the Trumpian capital letters is the sort of anodyne statement that most presidents would have settled for, but after that he started seeking attention.
There was a phone call to all the men and women in the military currently deployed overseas, which would have been a nice gesture if he’d limited himself to some fulsome thanks and best wishes, but Trump is not one to limit himself. At one point Trump asked one Naval officer if he preferred the old steam-powered system or the newfangled electromagnetic system for catapulting fighter jets from an aircraft carrier — he’s long made clear he prefers the steam-powered system, and seems quite confident that his expertise in the matter is better than the admirals’ and their experts — and was clearly disappointed when the officer bluntly endorsed the electromagnet method. At another Trump asked yet another officer to endorse his trade policies, and was once again clearly disappointed when the officer replied that he hadn’t noticed any trade problems in the part of the world he’s current patrolling. There was a couple of times when Trump asked questions about troop deployments that arguably revealed sensitive information to the world, and inadvertently suggested that Trump doesn’t know such important information.
Trump also renewed his war of words with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the judiciary in general, and of course lobbed a few more verbal grenades in his ongoing war of words with the press. He reiterated that he doesn’t believe the Central Intelligence Agency’s report that it assesses with “a highest level of confidence” that Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of an American resident and Washington Post journalist, and is more inclined to believe the dictator’s assurances the he feels even worse about the slaying than Trump himself. He threatened deadly force against a large group of asylum-seekers heading toward America’s southern border, and then threatened to shut down the entire border with America’s second-biggest trading partner, and then reiterated a threat to shut down the American government if the soon-to-be Democratic majority in the House of Representatives doesn’t give him billions to build a wall along the entire border. There was more than the usual number of misstated facts, too, about everything from the CIA’s assessment about bin Salman to the number of jobs that Saudi Arabia funds in America and how bad the economy was in the last days of President Barack Obama and how well it’s been doing since Trump was elected.
Despite his busy schedule, Trump fit in a round of taxpayer-funded golf at his opulent Mar-a-Lago resort in warm southern Florida, as well as a what sounds like a delicious meal of turkey, ribs, Chilean sea bass, Florida stone crab and beef tenderloin. He’ll probably need the recreation and repast, as there’s no longstanding tradition against presidents making attention-grabbing news on Black Friday. God and football hogged all the attention Thursday, and Trump can’t rightly object that today will be mostly consumed by crass consumerism and Wal-Mart riots, but we expect he’ll continue to attempt to dominate all the news cycles through Christmas.

— Bud Norman

Try to Remember a Time in September

September is perhaps the most sporting month of the year in America, and usually provides some refuge from all the political and cultural squabbles that dominate the rest of the papers, but not this year.
This year the big story at the United States Open tennis championship was the women’s final singles match, which ended with a big brouhaha about sexism and racism. The professional football season started with the same acrimonious debate about free speech rights and proper respect for the national anthem that had already taken so much out of the past two seasons. Most of the baseball races in the big leagues have already been run, and around this double-A city our beloved Wichita Wingnuts have played their last-ever game in the gorgeous and history-laden Lawrence-Dumont Stadium that is scheduled for the bulldozer, which has the home folks arguing.
Not having followed tennis closely since way back when the undersized by scrappy Australian Rod Laver was winning his calendar Grand Slam sweep, we’ll not venture any strong opinions about what happened in the finals match between American Serena Williams and Japan’s Naomi Osaka. As even such casual fans as ourselves well know Williams has dominated her sport for the past couple of decades, but after the recent birth of a child and at the ripe old age of 36 her dominance is soon coming to and end, so fans were eager to see how she’d fare against an-up-coming who was three months old when Williams won her first Gland Slam title, but everyone hated out it turned out.
Youth proved better than experience in the first set, with Osaka racking up an easy win, but Williams has a long history of impassioned but calm comebacks in the second and third matches, and everyone was expecting another classic effort to tie Margaret Court’s record of 25 Grand Slam singles titles. The umpire made a couple of calls that annoyed Williams, one of them claiming she had illegally been getting coaching from the sidelines, which Williams took quite personally, and she wound up screaming loud and long at the referee and breaking her racket on the court and eventually getting penalized by two games, which put the set and match out of reach against such formidable competition.
A hard-earned win by either the aging superstar or the youthful newcomer who was playing against her life-long idol in her first Grand Slam final should have made for one of those corny feel-good stories we always look for on the sports pages, but in this case it ended for the aforementioned brouhaha about racism and sexism.
Some observers opined that tennis umpires routinely endure far worse verbal abuse from male players, and should extend the same courtesy to female players, while others suggested that the fact it was a strong black woman doing the screaming and racket-smashing might have had something to do with it. We don’t follow tennis closely enough to judge all the arguments about the calls or how commonly cheating violations are called or that particular umpire’s history of enduring verbal abuse from male players, but by now we’re all too familiar with the sexual and racial contretemps, so we’ll venture an admittedly ambivalent opinion that it’s much ado about nothing.
Ever since the days of America’s superstar tennis brats Jimmy Conner and Pat McEnroe those poor umpire’s in tall white chairs have indeed been putting up with a whole lot of verbal abuse from the male players, but we’d rather they stop doing that and start handing out game penalties rather than begin putting up with such nonsense from the fairer sex. Tennis is perhaps the most international and multiracial played on this increasingly interconnected globe, too, and in a match between a black woman and an Asian in front of an umpire with a Latin-sounding name, with Williams chasing a 25th Grand Slam title, it’s hard to imagine racism was much of a factor.
We fondly remember the days when tennis was a game of white shorts and shirts and friendly post-match handshakes and the most genteel standards of sportsmanship and decorum, with such great African-American champions as Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe best exemplifying the best of it, and if tennis wants to return to that better era we wish the sport well.
As for all that fuss about football and the flag, we’ve pretty much lost interest in the sport and are fed up with both sides of its ensuing controversies. Let the players rack up the debilitating brain injuries along with the hits that will likely hobble them into a premature old age, as that’s their choice and they make plenty of money for it, but we’ll choose to watch baseball and then wait until basketball season comes along. If we get to go to any more games around we’ll stand and hold our ever-present hat over our heart as the national anthem plays, with due respect to the freedoms the flag represents, and the men who fought and died for those freedoms, but we’ll not worry how some football player we won’t be watching exercises his freedom.
The Nike sneaker company has recently signed a promotional deal with one-time star quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the whole kneeling-during-the-anthem fuss and is now out of the league, partly because defenses started figuring him out and largely because of his politics, and we note that their sales have since gone up, but that others are burning their Nikes and vowing to never buy another pair from the oh-so-liberal company that makes its products mostly in Asian sweatshops. There’s no point in us boycotting Nike even if we were inclined to do so, as we’re old and creatures of habit and plan stick with the classic Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star footwear that have adorned our feet since our junior high days on the pickup courts, and as far as we’re concerned you can wear whatever you want.
The demise of the Wichita Wingnuts and the destruction of that grand old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium hits closer to home, of course, and serves as a sad reminder that politics will always prevail over sports. The mayor and some local capitalists are promising a far grander stadium somewhere along the same picturesque location on the west bank of the Arkansas River, with the same postcard view of downtown, and the preliminary sketches indicate there will be luxury boxes on a second deck, and they’ve already signed up a major league-affiliated triple-A team that wasn’t drawing well down in New Orleans. What’s left of the local media is making a big deal, and the talk is that if you build it they will come in far great numbers than the few thousand who showed up to watch independent and double-A Wingnuts in an aging old park for the very last time.
That “if you build it they will come” stuff is straight from a bad Kevin Costner movie, though, and we have our doubts about all the rest of it. No matter how fancy a park they build you won’t be able to tell your kid that Satchel Paige once pitched there, or how ‘Shocker and Toronto Blue Jays star Joe Carter once hit a homer clear across the street and into the Arkansas River, or share any of other history that the seventh-oldest professional ballpark in America has racked up over the years. Nor do we expect that whatever the losing “New Orleans Baby Cakes” are re-named will be as entertaining as the desperate outsiders’ hustle of the winning Wingnuts, and there probably won’t be a smoking section where we can watch with our cigar-chomping friends, and they’re even talking about how it’s going to screw up the scenic MacLean Boulevard drive along the river.
You can call all these developments social progress, we suppose, and there’s no denying that all the players in all the sports these days are bigger and faster and more scientifically conditioned than the heroes of our long-ago youth. Still, the kiddos should know of a happier time long ago when September offered a few more weeks of respite from the most brutal game of politics.

–Bud Norman

Happy Labor Day, and Good Luck With Tuesday

Today is Labor Day in America, which is our most bittersweet holiday of the year. We like the idea of everyone taking a day off to honor all the hard work folks are putting in the rest of the year, and relish the bratwurst and beer and baseball that the day always brings, but it’s always followed by a Tuesday when summer is over.
There will probably be more than a few hot and sunny top-down driving days left here on the Kansas plains, but we’re already noticing that the days do indeed grow short when you reach September, even here on the far western edges of the vast central time zone, and Labor Day always signals that the blissfully lazy and hazy days of summer are officially over. School is back in session, those crawling school zone speed limits are back in effect, pretty much everyone on the streets is back at some unpleasant chore, the nation turns its attention from the elegant sport of baseball to the primal combat of football, and in these even-numbered years an even more brutal political campaign season commences.
Our advice is to put all that off until tomorrow. Better you should charbroil a plump bratwurst and put it in a bun with some roasted jalapeño slices and smother it in plenty of mustard, drink a beer or two or three, watch your hometown baseball team if the game doesn’t get rained out, as our local forecast warns, and enjoy what a great country all that American labor has somehow produced. There will be time enough for the rest of it starting on damn Tuesday.

— Bud Norman

The End of Football

This was the football season when we at long last stopped caring a whit about the game, but lacking anything better to do on a cold winter Sunday night we wound up watching most of the Super Bowl. It proved an entertaining game, and we enjoyed the company at the Super Bowl party where we spent most of the first half and the dive bar where spent all of the the second half, but we’re in no hurry for another football season.
Enthusiasm for the professional game is apparently down around the country, judging the attendance at the stadia and ratings on television, and there are various explanations afloat in the sporting media. One school holds that fans are offended by some of the players’ kneeling rather than standing during the national anthem, another holds that the public is put off by all the debilitating injuries so many players suffer through the rest of their troubled lives, and a certain minority complains the game has become too sissified. The even more rough-and-tumble sport of American politics somehow has something to do with all of this, and we think also has something do with the pro game’s declining popularity.
Football always was our third favorite of the big three sports in America’s holy athletic trinity, and the only one we never played on an organized basis or with any zeal. Being mostly but not entirely left handed, and possessed of poor eyesight and an instinctive fear of fast-moving hard objects, we were entirely ill-suited to baseball but nonetheless learned to appreciate our more athletically gifted peers and the mathematically quantifiable brilliance of what they did. As slow and earthbound as we always were, we could at least drive to the left or right and fade away and hit a short jumper if the defender shut off either lane, and we developed a fade away hook shot with either hand that even the bouncy kids couldn’t block, and although we were never anywhere good enough at basketball to even try out for a high school team that had two future National Basketball Association players and a couple of other top-tier collegiate players and another guy who would have been a star if he hadn’t accepted a baseball scholarship instead, but we got good enough that we held our own in some local and even back east pick up games and learned to appreciate how very good are the truly great players of the beautiful game of basketball.
Football, on the other hand, always seemed a more primal sort of sport. Our backyard and cow pasture experiences of playing the game with neighborhood kids taught us that it mostly involved players running into one another as fast and hard as they could, and thus advantaged the bigger and faster and harder fellow to an extent that the other fellow’s wile and cunning and strength of character could not negate, and by high school we opted for the debate team rather than the football team. Our pop attended the University of Oklahoma back when Coach Bud Wilkerson was racking up national championships and a still-standing record win streak, so all those Saturday afternoon Sooner games taught us an appreciation of the game’s subtle nuances and undeniably essential-to-civilization masculinity, but it was always our third-favorite sport.
The Super Bowl party we attended is annually hosted by a couple of local folk musicians as an excuse for all their folkie friends to have a winter hootenanny, and the few regulars at the dive bar were similarly uninterested in the game playing on the television, and according to stadia attendance and television ratings the rest of country is similarly losing interest in the pro game. That probably has something to do with those players who don’t stand for the national anthem, but as far we’re concerned they’re being disrespectful jerks to a flag than stands for their right to be disrespectful jerks, and we’re more bothered by all the wife-beating and bar-brawling and firearms violation charges all the hyper-masculine players rack up every year. All the head traumas and other debilitating injuries the players experience during the spectacle also take some of the fun out of it, as do the politicians who make hay of the national anthem and decry the supposed citification of the game.
Still, it was a good game. The long-suffering Philadelphia Eagles upset the recently dynastic New England Patriots, and it involved some missed point-after kicks and a risky-but-successful trick play on a crucial fourth-and-short situation at the end of the first half, and all-time great Patriots quarterback fumbling the ball at the end of the game because the big and fast and hard guys on the Eagles defense were bigger and faster and harder than the guys on the Patriots. We had no rooting interest in the game, just as we have no rooting interest these days in the more rough-and-tumble sport of politics, but it proved a diverting spectacle.
In any case, football season is over and the remaining cold weeks of winter will be preoccupied with the most beautiful game of basketball, and although our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers have lately been slumping we hold out hope they’ll be back in championship form come the championship tournament in March, and our beloved Boston Celtics have the eastern division’s best record in the pro game. Before the basketball season ends the pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring baseball training, the first sure sign that summer’s soon to follow, with our beloved New York Yankees and Wichita Wingnuts looking good, and we’ll hold out hope the more rough-and-tumble game of politics turns out just as well.

— Bud Norman

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

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