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Rats, Rocky and Other Racial Matters

As usual, President Donald Trump finds himself in a few “twitter” feuds that are racially-charged. One is with black Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and the mostly black district of Maryland that he represents, and more surprisingly another is with the very white government of the very white country of Sweden.
Cummings is a frequent critic of Trump, so it wasn’t surprising at all when president “tweeted” that Cummings is a “brutal bully” and his part of Baltimore is a “disgusting and rat and rodent infested mess.” Naturally it’s caused an argument for the talk show talkers to talk about and the opinion writers to opine about, and both sides of the argument seem to relish it.
The “tweet” does contain at least a kernel of truth, as there are definitely parts of Baltimore you’ll want to drive through quickly and with the windows up and doors locked on your way to that world-class seafood restaurant we know in one of the better parts of town, and there’s something to be said for frankly acknowledging that unhappy fact. Trump is always brutally frank about his opponents, even if he’s far less forthcoming about his own shortcomings, and his fans love him for it.
The other side has its own arguments, and as always is not intimidated to make them. The part where Trump calls Cummings a “brutal bully” is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black — if you’ll forgive the possible racial implications of that cliche — and there’s plenty to argue about with the rest of it. Trump’s “tweets” were provoked by Cummings’ criticisms of the conditions at the detention camps where the Trump is keeping illegal immigrants and legal asylum-seekers, but his argument that the detainees are better off than Cummings’ free-to-leave-with-their-families-intact is arguable at best. Trump also “tweeted” that Cummings’ long tenure in the House hasn’t solved all of Baltimore’s problems, which is inarguably true, but his suggestion that Cummings should spend less time in Washington futilely arguing for federal help doesn’t make much sense.
It’s one thing to argue that much of Baltimore and many other cities run by black urban machines are a mess that deserves federal attention and a different kind of local leadership, but it’s another thing to suggest, as Trump seems to do, that those jurisdictions deserve what they get and don’t deserve the rest of the country’s consideration. Trump’s fans will love it, but the rest of the country might see it differently. There’s also a Washington Post story some of the rodent-infested apartment buildings in nearby Baltimore are owned by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Meanwhile, Trump seems to be currying favor witha black Americans by funding with Sweden’s prime minister on behalf of someone who calls himself A$AP Rocky. Being of a certain age and just as white as the Swedish prime minister we had not previously heard of this Rocky fellow, but apparently he’s a popular “rapper” with the “hip hop” crowd, and for some reason was recently in Sweden, where he was arrested for assault and battery in a street brawl for some reason or another. He’s also apparently a friend of bona fide nutcase and popular rapper Kanye West, who is for some reason a good friend of Trump, as well as the husband of Trump’s friend and fellow reality star Kim Kardashian, and Trump has taken a peculiar presidential interest in the case.
Trump apparently requested the Swedish prime minister to release Rocky forthwith, and “tweeted” that he was “disappointed” the prime minister replied that his nation’s constitution wouldn’t allow him to interfere with an independent judiciary. Trump further “tweeted” that the prime minister had betrayed America’s black community by upholding the Swedish constitutional order, and he seemed to care less about Swedish public opinion than how it might curry favor with black voters in America’s most rat and rodent infested neighborhoods.
The fans won’t mind, and might even appreciate how the right-wing talk radio hosts argue it proves that they and Trump aren’t the least bit racist toward well-to-do and well-connected black people. The rest of the country probably won’t be much impressed, on the other, and we think that Trump might be overestimating black America’s emotional investment in someone called A$AP Rocky’s fate at the hands of the previously uncontroversial Swedish justice system.
From our old Republican white guy perspective here on the political sidelines in a fashionable and left-leaning yet well-run Riverside neighborhood here in other conservative Wichita, Trump looks ridiculous on all fronts. Although we don’t want to prejudge Rocky’s case we wouldn’t be at all surprised if the report videotape evidence proves that a prominent American “rapper” committed assault and battery while on vacation in Sweden, and we’ll leave it to the Swedes to sort it out. Trump expects any old Swede or any other foreigner who comes to America to obey our laws and submit to our justice system if accused of a violation, and he should expect the same of Americans who travel abroad no matter who he might know, and he shouldn’t expect any other head of state to act differently than he would if some tourist from Sweden or anywhere else wound up in an American jail.
We’d happily defend any Republican who made a compassionate rather than racist case against the racial resentments and identity group politics and social pathologies and socialist economics that have done so much to make Cummings’ portion of Baltimore and so much of the rest of urban America undesirable places to live, and offered old school culture ideals and free-market ideas and nose-to-the-grindstone educational solutions, but Trump doesn’t seem to have any ideas about how to help and is clearly more concerned with shoring up support from his white base in rat infested neighborhoods with racial resentments of their own.
When we leave our fashionable and left-leaning and inordinately homosexual and almost entirely white yet will-run neighborhood here in Wichita we travel through all sorts of neighborhoods, each with their own political leanings and racial resentments and social tensions, but every journey proves uneventful and friendly. We have no problem with the black and brown and yellow and red folks we encounter daily, and are always happy to open the door for them at the convenience store, and they’re always happy to do the same for us if they arrive at the door first, and we’re sure we’d all do the same for any Swedish tourist who somehow happened to be in Wichita.
That’s how we mostly deal with all these very complicated race and class and sex issues here on the ground level in Wichita, and we’d very much like for Trump and those damned Democrats to do the same.

— Bud Norman

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Someone Called Lil Nas X, Some Familiar but Dangerous Old Town Roads, and the Crossroads of America on a Sleepless Weekend

After a long and mostly sleepless and stomach flu-afflicted weekend, which entailed an early-morning trip down to Oklahoma for the funeral of a beloved family member and a caffeine-fueled late afternoon drive back up I-35, and a near-wreck with some idiot who blew past a stop sign at ten miles an hour over the speed limit on the way home from the worship service we’d somehow made it to at the West Douglas Church of Christ, and then a much-needed nap and a couple of much-needed beers at Kirby’s Beer Store, we tried to catch up with the rest of the news. There was some cold comfort, at least, in finding that the rest of the world seems to have its own troubles.
One story that caught our eye was about some some rapper called Lil Nas X being removed from Billboard Magazine’s list of top-100 country-and-western top-sellers, where it had debuted in the 19th spot a few weeks ago and begun climbing up the chart. We’d previously never heard of Lil Nas X nor his his country-and-western song “Old Town Road,” but for various reasons we found it interesting nonetheless.
For the past half-century or so Billboard Magazine has been the definitive source of the weekly top 100 charts for American music and all its various branches, with all the authority of the Dow Industrial Average or the Bureau of Economic Analysis on the state of the broader economy, and for many years of our life we paid even more rapt attention to Billboard’s findings. The magazine has apparently dropped “Old Town Road” from its country-and-western charts because it’s insufficiently country-and-western, too, and as lifelong fans of country-and-western and all the other branches of the glorious tree of America’s music that all grabbed our attention. These days the debate about the culture is as dreary as the one about the economy, with the left talking all sorts of “cultural appropriation” nonsense about the interracial and cross-cultural pollinations that have made American culture in general and American music in particular so rich, and the right seemingly suddenly intent on making American great again with its own racialist agenda, and somehow some rapper called Lil Nas X and his “Old Town Road” is caught up in that.
We’re old and grew up in Kansas with all the kinfolk down in Oklahoma, so we also grew up with Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and Buck Owens’ Buckaroos and Merle Haggard and his Strangers playing on the 8-track or AM radio, and thus have some pretty fixed ideas about what constitutes country-and-western music. We followed the internet links to hear (and watch) Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” and although it doesn’t meet our strict standards we wouldn’t kick it off the country-and-western charts. The recording has some bucolic lyrics and some banjo licks “sampled” from previous recording, the video features some old west imagery from some violent cowboy shoot-’em-up video game, and it’s as least as country-and-western as anything we find on the radio on two drives between Wichita and Oklahoma City on Saturday, or any of the godawful bumper music that New York City-born-and-bred Sean Hannity uses on the right-wing talk radio show where he’s constantly apologizing to his heartland audience for the New York-City-born and bred President Donald Trump.
“Country-and-western” is a vague enough term to encompass everything from Jimmie Rodgers’ primitivism to the string-laden elegance of Patsy Cline, “rock ‘n’ roll” ranges from the soft rock of Simon and Garfunkel to the hard rock of The Ramones, “jazz” stretches from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane and beyond, and even the best of “it’s a black thing” “rhythm and blues” and “soul” and “hip hop” involve some talented white boys and European instruments and musical techniques who complicate the leftist racial narratives about that great stuff. Country-and-western is considered a white boy thing, but Rodgers and Williams and Wills and Monroe and Owens and Haggard always freely acknowledged everything they learned from their black friends, and we’ve found that if you want to fully enjoy the best of America’s great music you should set all of the left’s and right’s racial politics aside.
The definitions of “country-and-western” and “rock ‘n’ roll” and “jazz” and “hip hop” and the rest of American music gloriously diverse genres have mostly been defined by whatever the self-identified fans of those of genres have liked, and until recently they’ve done a pretty good job of it. Lil Nas X “Old Town” isn’t a great a recording by any of American music’s historic standards, but we’ve heard worse, and we hate to see it kicked off this week’s Billboard “country-and-western” charts, even if it’s still faring well on the “rhythm and blues” chart, which these days is the magazines old-fashioned way of saying “hip hop.” Billboard has always judged sales of “country-and-western” and “rhythm and blues” based on what the self-indentified “country and western” and “rhythm and blues” stores were selling, and although that’s harder to gauge in a time when all the kids are downloading their music off the internet it does seem that Lil Nas X was fairly popular with the country-and-western audience.
We rather like it that these young whippersnapper country-and-western fans are willing to embrace someone so obviously black he’s called Lil Nas X, and that black urban culture is culturally appropriating banjo licks and cowboy imagery, but we hope they all learn there’s better cross-cultural stuff on both sides of that divide, and start learning from that.
Meanwhile we notice that former Vice President and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden once again stands credibly accused of touchy creepiness toward women, and given the Democratic party’s currently strict standards that should be a problem for the him and the Democrats. We also notice that the leader of the erstwhile family values Republican party is President Donald “Grab ’em by the pussy” Trump, and that it doesn’t seem to be a problem for him or the Republicans. There’s also talk of Trump shutting down the border with Mexico, his ongoing trade wars and growing trade deficits with almost everyone else, most of the rest of the Democratic presidential field is so far to the crazy left that Biden’s creepiness toward women doesn’t seem so bad, and the economic and political news is almost as bad as what else is on the radio.
Even so, we’ll try to get a good night’s sleep and face another April Fools’ Day with help from the music and history of better times.

— Bud Norman

The Beat Goes On in the Heartland

Wichita is a surprising city, and even after more than half a century here we have recently been surprised to discover that the local music scene is better than ever and suddenly as good as you’ll find in far bigger cities.
Kirby’s Beer Store held its annual “Meat Fest” on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and you should have been there. The notorious little ghetto dive bar has been holding the event in the dead of winter for the past couple of decades are so, and it always features plenty of free meat grilled on the patio, a non-stop lineup of local bands, and a massive crowd of young and old hipsters, but this year’s edition was the best we can recall. The hot dogs and sausages and burgers and pulled barbecue barbecue were delicious, and the music even more so. We didn’t get to hang around long enough to hear all of the 38 — count ’em, 38 — local acts, but we heard enough to confirm that Wichita at the moment is one of America’s most musical cities.
Aside from the quality and quantity of the output, we were also struck by its diversity. On Thursday we heard an intriguing jazz-rock-hip-hop quarter called the Lewelheads, the next night was a hard-rocking but straight-up country-and-western outfit called Sunshine Trucking, and Saturday’s highlight was a rough-edged punk band with a slightly country woman singing called Herd of the Huntress. Sunday brought an assortment of small group and solo acts, including a sleepy-eyed six-foot-six or so fellow of approximately 280 pounds who bills himself Tired Giant and had some heartbreaking songs about his alcoholic dad, a dreadlocked young white woman named Juliet Celedor, and a hard-to-define trio of bass and cello and guitar called Sombre Sangre. Local hard rock legends Black Flag also performed, as did the popular blues chanteuse Jenny Wood and the venerable jazz guitarist Sterling Gray, and the always excellent guitarist and singer Tom Page did a set, and we’re told we missed a whole lot of other good stuff.
Somehow some of the city’s best missed the lineup, too. The top-notch folk-country-jazz-blues Haymakers couldn’t be there, Folk rocker and standards singer Nikki Moddelmog and her crack brand were unavailable, and although the lovely rock chanteuse Lalanea Chastain was in the audience she never took the stage, and there’s a very hot young trumpet-playing jazzbo named Nathan williams who didn’t appear with either of his two very good outfits. Not to mention all the great show tune singers and gospel shouters in town who didn’t get an invitation.
Not bad for a mid-sized city in the middle of the country, but Wichita does have its advantages. Folks have been playing music all along around here, and the city has produced such notable performers as rockabilly legend Marvin Rainwater and hippie heroes The Serfs and the all-time great punk band The Embarrassment, as well the punk-bluegrass Split Lip Rayfield with its small but fervent internal cult following, and a surprising number of globally acclaimed opera singers. Here in the middle of the country Wichita was a regular stop for all the great jazz bands of Kansas City’s heyday, as well as northern stop for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and all the great western swing outfits, the southern bluesman also played here on a regular basis, and Wichita always welcomed all the hard-rocking bands from the industrial midwest during the ’60s and ’70s. The music departments at Wichita State University and Friends University supply the city with well-trained classical and jazz players, too, and the city’s churches provide plenty more thoroughly educated musicians, not to mention all the autodidacts that Wichita seems to spawn.
Wichita’s big enough to have talented people from each of America’s many rich musical traditions, but it’s small enough that they all wind up meeting one another and playing together and creating some intriguing combinations of styles you won’t find elsewhere. The city is racially diverse, as well, and lately several of its best bands feature talented white and black and Latino and Native American and Asian players, and the teenagers and the twenty-somethings and even the players we fondly remember from our long-ago youth on the Wichita music scene also get together.There’s a variety of venues of various sizes that offer them a place to play, and the city government has even started a free bus service along the stretch of Douglas where you’ll find most of them. Lacey Cruse, another talented singer, was recently elected to the Sedgwick County Commission, and music retains a powerful influence in Wichita.
Throughout America’s rich musical history such cities as New Orleans and Chicago and Memphis and Nashville and New York and Los Angeles have always played an outsized role, and at times such locals as Akron, Ohio, and Athens, Georgia, and Minneapolis and Oklahoma City have their eras of prominence, but American music lovers shouldn’t overlook Wichita, especially now.
If you’re out of town and can’t make here for a night at Kirby’s or Barleycorns or the Shamrock or the Artichoke or the Cotillion or that new Wave place over in rocking Old Town, we suggest you venture out in your own hometown to see what’s cooking in the local dives. What’s on the radio and television these days is mostly awful, and the best American music has always popped in the most unusual places, so there’s a good chance you’ll find something better.

— Bud Norman

On America’s Mean Streak

By now we should be well inured to such behavior, but we were nonetheless taken aback by how very rude and insulting President Donald Trump was to a couple of women reporters who dared asked unwanted questions at his Monday news conference.
Trump was eager to tout the greatest trade deal ever that he’s recently reached with Mexico and Canada, and when one woman at the back of the press gathering asked about something else he basically told her to sit down and shut up. The next question went to the American Broadcasting Company’s Cecilia Vega, and while she waited for the microphone he taunted that “She’s shocked that I picked her.” When the microphone at last arrived she said “I wasn’t thinking…,” and Trump interjected that “I know you’re not thinking. You never do.” By now Vega should be even more inured to such presidential behavior, but she was taken aback enough to say “Excuse me?,” and Trump condescendingly told her to go right ahead and ask her question, then berated her when it was about the big news Supreme Court nomination rather than the greatest trade deal ever made.
As obviously ungallant as it was, this fell well short of Trump shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, which Trump has famously boasted he could do without losing a single supporter, so of course his die-hard defenders defended it. They had a convincing argument that Trump wasn’t being the least bit sexist, as he’s routinely every bit as rude and insulting to male reporters who dare to ask questions he’d rather not answer, and that the “fake news” “lame stream media” and the rest of the “lib-tards” have it coming, but as old white heterosexual and Christian long-registered Republican males with plenty of unpleasant questions of our own we were not placated.
Somehow we missed the press conference footage on Monday, along with all the sneering fun that the late night comics of course had with it, but it was the first thing we saw on the internet after awakening Tuesday afternoon, and it somehow stayed with us all day. While running a pressing chore we tuned our car radio into one of the talk radio hosts on the AM dial, who was as usual screeching at the top of his lungs about how the “Democrat party” is actively undermine the American way, and we got the impression that all the white and heterosexual and Christian males registered as Republican were in dire danger of being locked up in a Soviet-style gulag, and that he thought they all needed to be locked up in advance of this diabolical plan.
At one point we found ourselves stopped at a red light next to one of those new-fangled and now-discontinued Volkswagen Beetles, whose owner had painted a message on to the rear to his fellow motorists to “back the ***** off,” and when we took a glance at him we noticed he was for some reason or another glaring at us. It was at that point we started contemplating a certain mean streak in our otherwise beloved American culture.
Having completed our pressing chore we retreated to a favorite dive up on the rough northeast end, where we nursed a beer through a couple of episodes of “Jeopardy, getting enough answers in the form of a question right that we could have made some serious bucks if we’d been playing for real. After that the bartender started playing one of his favorite heavy metal bands at a very high volume, however, and our dour mood returned.
We’ve heard enough heavy metal music in our time to recognize that the band was indeed quite tight and technically accomplished, and we’re sure that if that’s the kind of thing you like you would quite like it, but to our ears and in our momentary mood it sounded rude and insulting with nothing more to say than “back the **** off.” That’s the same message you’ll hear from the rappers thudding out of the amped-bass speakers of other bars and the cars we find ourselves next at red lights in the northeast end, and we seem to get the same communique at the fancy art galleries we visit around here, and by now it’s pretty much ubiquitous. There’s no escaping to the sports page, where the Ultimate Fighting Championships have supplanted the Sweet Science of boxing in popularity, because the sport that rendered Muhammad Ali to a pathetically slurring and prematurely dead victim just wasn’t violent enough, and the “back the **** off” end zone dances in the violent combat of professional football are now far more popular than the humble home-run trots and appreciative cap salutes of the erstwhile national pastime.
There’s no blaming Trump for this longstanding sad state of affairs, of course, and the left surely shoulders a large if not lion’s share of the blame. It was the liberals who made a civil rights hero out of Lenny Bruce for peppering his astoundingly unfunny night club comedy routines with vulgarities, thus paving the way for today’s astoundingly unfunny and vulgar comedy. Every “transgressive” cultural movement from the end of World War I, from Dadaism to Deconstructionism to the hippies and hip hop and heavy metal, has been championed by the left. In the realm of politics, one doesn’t have to be an Aleksander Solzhenitsyn or Andrei Sakharov to know that some elements of the left would happily back you the **** off into a barb-wired prison camp.
For most of our lives the Republican party and the broader conservative movement in general resisted these darker angels of our national soul. President Abraham Lincoln waged a ruthless war to preserve the union, but then vowed to heal the nation’s wounds with “Malice towards none, and charity towards all.” President Calvin Coolidge sought a “return to normalcy” of the pre-World War I era. President Dwight Eisenhower was steadfast against both communism and McCarthyism, quietly nudged along racial equality, and sagely urged that America not become “the richest and most powerful country in the graveyard of history.” Even Richard Nixon kept his vulgarities and lock-’em-all-up tendencies confined to the White House and its tape recording machines. President Ronald Reagan couched his hard-core conservatism in terms of a Shining City on a Hill, always with a sweet and sunny disposition, and he never jabbed harder at a political opponent than to say “There you go again.”
After that President George H.W. Bush offered up an even “kinder, gentler” style of conservatism, however, and most of the Republican party has been restive ever since. Despite the rare third term he won for his party and decisive victory Bush won in the first Iraq War thanks to the sort of international coalition that only a seasoned diplomat could achieve, there was a slight but ill-timed recession and a billionaire narcissist third-party candidate drawing Republican votes and he wound up losing to Democratic President Bill Clinton, so Bush is now considered a loser.
After Clinton won re-election from the tough-talking Republican nominee Robert Dole, once again with the help of that same billionaire narcissist, he was succeeded by the even kinder and gentler President George W. Bush. Despite the son’s undeniable difficulties with a second Iraq War he beat the lefty Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, and for a while that enough to satisfy the talk radio hosts and their agitated callers.
Another ill-timed recession led to the election of President Barack Obama, however, and over the eight excruciatingly long years of his presidency much of the Republican party grew more restive yet. No Republican could have possibly prevailed in the recessionary year of ’08, but to hear the talk radio hosts and their equally fervid callers tell it the bona-fide war hero Sen. John McCain only lost because he was too much of a wimp to come right out and say that Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim intent on locking kup all the straight white Christian conservatives. The morally upright and gentlemanly Gov. Mitt Romney came in closer in ’12 on a traditional Republican platform of assertive American leadership in foreign affairs and mostly free markets at home, but the consensus of party opinion was that Romney was a loser who lost because because he was too morally upright and gentlemanly and that the traditional Republican platform was hopelessly out of date.
By ’16, a winning plurality of Republican primary  votes nominated Trump, whose obvious moral rectitude and defiantly ungentlemanly behavior and brash heresies against traditional Republican foreign policies and free market principles were by then seen as features and not bugs. He was was seen as the “grab ’em by the *****” and “back the **** off” candidate the county needed who would lock up those rude and insulting and vulgar “demon rats” before they could lock up the rest of us God-fearing Americans. Since then Trump has gained  overwhelming support from the Republican party, which now seems to mostly agree America’s border laws should be enforced in the cruelest possible way and that it doesn’t really matter if that Supreme Court nominee actually did once attempt to rape a classmate and is now brazenly lying about it.
At this point we can well imagine far too many Republican parents pointing to Trump’s rude and insulting behavior and telling their sons that’s how a real man acts, and that’s what real presidential leadership looks like. We can also imagine them telling their daughters not to be one of those uppity women who ask men unwanted questions, and we’ve already seen far too many Republican women in televised focus groups saying that attempted rape is just boys being boys.
Please spare us the argument that the left is just as bad in its own way, as we’ve  long  known that’s true, and it doesn’t make us feel any better. Even that usually friendly bartender who indulges our “Jeopardy” habit got bent slightly out of shape when we opined that his heavy metal favorites struck us as a wee bit hostile, and that their music might play some small part in why we have a shock jock insult comic internet troll as President, and a noisy debate arouse among the few other regulars. A gray-haired middle-of-the-road sort of Democrat friend of ours bought us another beer and took our side, though, and by the end of another round we parted everyone in the joint with handshakes and assurances that no hard feelings were meant.
We’d like to think that America’s political and cultural divides can be similarly bridged, but until at least the mid-term elections we expect that much of America will be waving an updated Gadsen flag that substitutes “Don’t Tread On Me” with the new but not-at-all improved “back the **** off.”

— Bud Norman

A Hip-Hop Heave-Ho to “Suge” Knight

As caucasian and conservative Kansans of a certain age, our musical tastes tend  more to Peggy Lee and Hank Williams and the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and Chuck Berry and The Ramones than the latest cacophony, but we’re familiar enough with the “gangsta’ rap” genre that we took note “Suge” Knight has pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge which might result in what amounts to a life sentence.
If you’re not familiar with the oeuvre of Knight’s Death Row Records label we envy you, but you should know that over the past few decades it has exerted an undeniable influence on America’s popular culture. Back in the early hip-hop days that the youngsters now call “back in the day,” Death Row Records records made a ton of money peddling the most violent and misogynistic and generally nihilistic “gangsta’ rap” available on the open market. The shockingly violent lyrics were always delivered with a machine-gun staccato over a scary bass line, and they eerily echoed what we were reading in the local crime stories, and judging by the thudding music we’d hear every time we were stopped at a red light in certain parts of town it was a very lucrative trade.
At the time we covering the music beat for the local newspaper, and had interviewed Ice-T after his “Cop Killa'” peaked on the charts and one of the “Niggaz With Attitude” when they were the hottest thing going with equally anti-law enforcement sentiments, and even though  we witnessed the violence at their concerts we couldn’t argue with their rationalization that they were only expressing their reality. Even so, we argued with both that surely something more hopeful was going on in the ‘hood, and that things might better in the ‘hood if they stressed the best of it rather than glorifying the worst of it, and worried that “gangsta’ rap” might be both a cause and effect of the worst of it.
Back in the day, as the youngsters fondly call it, “gangsta’ rappers” used to shoot one another with alarming regularity. Death Row Records’ “artists” were often among both the victims and perpetrators, and Knight himself wound up facing various felony charges following various shoot-outs, but his record business was all the more brisk. Young black men of lesser renown were also gunning one another down at an alarming rate, here and everywhere else, and Death Row Records provided much of the soundtrack.
Since then things seem have calmed down a bit. Death Row Records is no long a major player on the music scene, and the few music critics we still occasionally read tell us that hip-hop is now about black empowerment and spirituality and other upbeat things. Ice-T has spent the last few decades playing cops on network television dramas, and that surprisingly friendly guy from “Niggaz With Attitude” has been playing the Dad character in some charmingly family-friendly blaxploitation flicks, and so far as we can tell from our red light stops in certain parts of town the latest hip-hop is less heavy on drive-by shootings and slapping  women and around and  generally defying law-enforcement and social norms. Except for a few mostly Democratic-run outlier big cities the black-on-black crime and the crime rate in general has been steadily declining since the heyday of “gangsta’ rap,” and we suspect both trends are both cause as well as effect.
It makes us feel suddenly aged to see that that this newfangled rap stuff is now so old that Knight is a rpideed 53 years old. Back in the day he’d have earned some valuable street cred by copping to a 28-year sentence, which would have been a mere 22 years if it weren’t his third felony strike, but these days he’s a hip-hop has-been who will go to prison for what might be the rest of his life with little notice.
C’est la vie, Suge. We well remember a better age of black music when Aretha and Sly and Otis and the Staple Singers were laying down far more musical tracks promising a new age of peace and brotherhood and equality, not to mention the likes of the great Duke Ellington Orchestra and Chuck Berry, and we hope it will long outlive the legacy of Death Row Records.

— Bud Norman

In the Mean Times

We can be quite scathing in our criticisms at this publication, but we always strive to do so with a certain literary subtlety and a proper respect for decorum and the bounds of reasonable discourse. By temperament and policy we forbid foul language, ad hominem arguments, or the snide sort of punning nicknames typical of schoolyard taunts, and in no circumstances will we ever wish a slow and painful death on any person’s children.
That last prohibition seems the least one can do, but these days even that modicum of civility is becoming distressingly rarer. A seething hatred that hopes for the death of political opponents’ children, and is not embarrassed to publicly express itself, is now commonplace. Three typical examples have recently appeared in the news, and although we are heartened that such vitriol is still considered newsworthy each of the stories illustrate that this murderous tendency has gone beyond the comment sections of the more fevered internet sites and into the mainstream of politics and academia.
One story concerns the Sacramento Democratic Party’s communications chairman, of all people, who responded to a “Tweet” advocating the de-funding of Obamacare by writing on his own “Twitter” account: “May your children all die from debilitating, painful and incurable diseases.” The author of this witty riposte is not only a paid spokesman for the Democrats in the capital of the nation’s most populous state, he’s also a self-described “communications pro” who has a web site named “It Matters How You Say It.” He eventually apologized for his outburst, but only after a series of even more vulgar responses to his critics and a fair amount of public pressure on his employer, and has since been forced to resign from his party post.
Similarly hateful invective is being hurled from the ivory of towers of academia, of course. Another story concerns a prominent fundraiser for the University of California-San Francisco who “tweeted” her desire that all “Obamacare nonbelievers” be denied healthcare. She cheekily added “Let them eat their McDonalds,” which can be interpreted as a death wish as well as the usual San Francisco culinary snobbery. Sarah Palin earned much ridicule and scorn by fretting about the existence of politically-motivated death panels in Obamacare, but openly advocating for them apparently earns a nice job in California’s higher education system.
Yet another story involves a journalism professor at the University of Kansas, who took to the “tweets” after the mass murder at Washington’s Navy Yard to say “The blood is on the hands of the NRA. Next time, let is be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” Simultaneously mean-spirited and self-righteous, the “tweet” has attracted much attention in the Kansas media, even if many of them have politely declined to mention the professor’s desire for the murder of young children and instead explain the controversy in terms of an “anti-NRA” argument, and has become a popular topic of conversation in the state. Even with such friendly reportage, presumably from past students still grateful for an easy “A” in his courses, the outburst has sparked enough outrage among the gun-loving Kansans who pay his salary that the professor has been suspended. Academic freedom advocates have rushed to defend his right to be a simple-minded boor with no respect for the freedoms of others, and they might well have a point, but surely he can be relieved of his duties at a journalism school named for the great Republican writer and editor William Allen White because he uses ALL CAPITAL LETTERS like some deranged internet troll.
The same sense of anonymity and invulnerability that drives the average deranged internet poll is no doubt responsible for these harangues by supposedly respectable people, and a popular culture that is constantly blaring out profane boasts and violent threats over a thudding hip-hop or heavy metal beat probably has something to do with it, but we suspect the serious nature of the current political controversies is the primary reason. Democrats will have plenty of examples of similar hatefulness coming from their ideological opposites, but it’s far more common and widely accepted among their own party. All of the political power achieved by the left does not seem to have placated it, and the embarrassing results of their power seem to have left them downright snippy.
The more polished Democratic politicians still refrain from violent fantasies about their opponents’ children, at least in public, but even the most prominent among them are now prone to incendiary insults. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has recently described the “tea party” legislators attempting to limit the debt and de-fund Obamacare as “anarchists” and “fanatics.” It’s nice to know that “anarchist” is still a term of opprobrium in Democratic circles, given their longtime indulgence of the black-masked thugs going by that name who terrorized the past several international economic summits, but the insult does not bode well for any bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems. At the very highest levels of the Democratic party the president routinely tells audiences that his opposition is motivated by the desire to cause the poor and sick to suffer while making the environment uninhabitable, and it invariably gets a big hand from the hand-picked crowds of true believers. With such mean rhetoric coming from the leaders, it’s not surprising that the followers would start hoping for the death of sons and daughters.
It would be nice to see a more cordial discourse, and not just because it would return the debate to matters of fact of logic and undeniable results which the Democrats would prefer to avoid. Such hateful talk is not good for those Democrats’ impressionable young children, and we wish those little whippersnappers nothing but the best.

— Bud Norman