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Happy Halloween

There’s a lot of intriguing news out there, but we’ll take some time off today to enjoy Halloween, as none of the ghosts and goblins and monsters who arrive on our porch this evening will be nearly so scary as what’s going on in the real world.
Way back when we were young Halloween was for the young, and it was a favorite night of the year. Dressing up in costumes never had much appeal to us, but the free candy made it worth the trouble. Now that we’re old Halloween seems to be more of a grown-up thing, but at our age we find it rather undignified to go out in public in wearing some weird garb, and we’ve lost our sweet tooth, so we’ll enjoy handing out candy and watching the kids have their fun.
Among other advantages of not dressing up as anything, we’re unlikely to give offense to anyone. Halloween is fraught with political peril these days, given how touchy almost everyone has become. There are a few religious conservatives who consider Halloween a Satanic right, and Sean Hannity thinks it teaches socialism to children, and the left is even crazier.
Way back when we were young it was common for children to dress up as hobos, which we did on at least one Halloween, but these days those free-spirited kings of the road who rode the rails and lived job-and-tax-free lives have largely disappeared, and the very word “hobo” is now exceedingly rare, so a hobo costume probably would seem to be mocking the homeless. There was never a time we can recall when black-face wasn’t considered rude, and we wonder what the heck that Megyn Kelly woman was thinking when she said on a nationally televised network that it isn’t rude, and we still roll our eyes recalling a usually sensible friend who thought it was acceptable for her to show up at an adult Halloween party dressed as Adolph Hitler. Another friend went to a Halloween party as the “Flo” woman from the Progressive Insurance ads, with a name tag identifying herself as “Flow” and her white pants stained by menstrual blood, and we have to agree with pretty much all of our other women friends that it was tasteless.
Other than that sort of thing, though, people should just lighten up and let their fellow young and old Americans act harmlessly foolish for a night. In recent years we’ve noticed that the kids who arrive at our door favor comic book superhero costumes and princess or angel outfits, rather than the ghosts and goblins and monsters that predominated in our childhood, and we suppose that might well be a hopeful trend, and they look darn cute. Our friends’ adult costumes tend to have some twisted sense of humor or attempt to be erotic, which strikes us a damn silly, but we’ll indulge their once-a-year silliness just as they indulge us the other 364 days of the year.
So enjoy the cute kids and the childlike behavior of your adult friends, and take a brief respite from all the scary stuff that will resume tomorrow.

— Bud Norman

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On the Half-a-Centenary of the Breakdown of America’s Two-Party System

By now we’re well aware that Tempus does indeed fugit, as those wise old Romans used to say, but it was still jarring to be reminded on Tuesday that the memorable events of the 1968 Democratic National Committee happened in Chicago just a short half-century ago. The after effects of that event still showed-up in Tuesday’s round of mid-term primaries, as in earlier primaries even here in good old Kansas, and for now we worry that time doesn’t really change things much.
Then as now most big American cities were dominated by efficient if corrupt Democratic political machines, but back then Chicago was run by the non-nonsense boss Mayor Richard Daley, whose rough and ready and every-loyal police department laid a serious nationally-televised beating on those hippies and yippies and civil rights types. The civil rights hero and unrepentant Cold Warrior Humphrey wound up winning the nomination, but in the aftermath of the televised rioting no Democrat stood a chance back in ’68. The Republican nominee was former Vice President and Sen. Richard Nixon, who was more hawkish on Vietnam and more ambivalent on civil yet rights, yet whose nomination didn’t create such a ruckus at his later nominating convention in Miami, Florida,and with help from a former Democrat’s blatantly racist racist and nuke em’ all’s third candidacy Nixon wound up losing by a landslide plurality.
By ’72 the Democrats were taken over by the hippies and yippies and they wound up nominating Sen. George McGovern, who was a bona fide World War II hero but also far-left-of-center at the time, and he wound u0 losing in an historic popular and electoral landslide despite the early and retrospectively obvious intimations that Nixon would resign in disgrace just a few years later.These days, after so many years, seem to offer no better alternatives.
In some states and congressional districts and county commission zones the Democrats are offering up reasonable enough candidates, but they’re going far left in the Bronx and Queens district of New York City and in Tuesday’s Florida gubernatorial primary and elsewhere, and even in Kansas’ third district. They’re running some people running crazy left people we could never vote for. Meanwhile our Republican Party seems enthralled of our current President Donald Trump, whose presidency we fully expect and ardently hope will soon come to the same inglorious end as Nixon’s, and for now it’s hard to decide who we’ll vote for. Even after 50 years, we’re still not sure which desultory choices we would choose.

— Bud Norman

Reality Intrudes on a Otherwise Nice Weekend

The weather around here was atypically perfect over the Memorial Day weekend, with none of the vicious thunderstorms and potential tornadoes that usually drive all the campers away from the nearby lakes at some point in the holiday, and the news cycle was as slow as one can hope for these days. Still, there was no shaking a certain sense that real life and all its discontents would start up again today.
We did our best to put it aside for a weekend of gratitude to fallen heroes and other uplifting thoughts, attending church and doing some pressing chores and pursuing plenty of procrastinating, while sticking mostly to the sports news. On Monday we slept late and eventually got together with some gray-haired hippie friends who meet every year on the date at a charmingly dilapidated house in a charmingly dilapidated neighborhood, and we had some barbecue and drank some beer and talked mostly about music.
They were playing the Allman Brothers Band on an old stereo sound system, apparently in memoriam of Gregg Allman, one of the eponymous co-founders of the band and its longtime vocalist and organist and songwriter, whose obituary we had noticed in the news over the weekend, and we have to say it sounded great. As natural born rockabillies our tastes in rock ‘n’ roll tend to the pre-hippie generation, and in our relative youth we embraced the punk sensibility that rebelled against those aged hippies, but we could never resist that Allman outfit doing “Crossroads” or “Whipping Post” or especially that enticingly melodic “Jessica,” which we played over and over on our old stereo until it drove our mom crazy, so we shared with our hippie friends a sincere toast to an undeniably crazy old hippie who was also an undeniably great and quintessentially American musician.
There was plenty of grousing about President Donald Trump, too, of course, but our natural born rockabilly punk and old school Republican sensibilities weren’t much stirred to offer any defense. We left early and dropped in an another old friend, a woman who is a bit younger and far punkier than ourselves, and still quite attractive in an exotic and ripened sort of way, and after she she showed us some cell phone video of her cute grandsons she also started grousing about Trump. After such a long friendship she usually avoids political topics with us, but we invited her to vent her spleen without any fear of recriminations. This lead to an eerily civil discussion about our bedrock conservative principles, however weird they might seem at the moment, and even some lengthy discourse some about the authoritarianism on her side of the political divide, and it ended in a hug.
After that we still managed to make the last inning of the Wichita Wingnuts’ home-opening victory over the Salina Stockade at the old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on a glorious early summer night next to the Arkansas River, and although our New York Yankees lost to the Baltimore Orioles the Boston Red Sox also so lost so the Yankees were still comfortably in first place in the American League East. In our perusal of the sports pages we also noticed that Frank DeFord had died and Tiger Woods had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, so it wasn’t a great day in sports. DeFord was until his final day the best sportswriter of his generation, and at one point around 2008 Woods seemed poised to claim the title of greatest golfer and most heroic sports hero ever, and both of those stories came to a sad end over the weekend.
We dropped in on the last Wingnuts inning with a couple of our cigar-chomping friends in the smoking section of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, one of whom is a graying hippie professor at the local university and the other a gray-pony-tailed hippie who still musters a full-throated defense of Trump, and they briefly filled us in on what they’d been arguing about during the home team’s victory. At that point we tried to talk about the home team’s victory, and if we’d arrived early enough to purchase a beer we’d have raised a conversation-changing toast.
We can’t help a late night glance at the news, though, so naturally Trump came up in that. They don’t observe Memorial Day in Germany, so Chancellor Angela Merkel went ahead with a speech that didn’t mention Trump by name but made clear that in “my experience of the last few days” she spent with Trump she had concluded that Europe could no longer count on the support of “outside sources,” and her opponent in the upcoming election more explicitly agreed with her more subtle denunciation of Trump. Our liberal Facebook friends were meanwhile exulting in Trump’s admittedly unusual demeanor during the national anthem at Arlington Memorial Cemetery, and although we don’t think it necessarily damning we have to admit it is unusual. There’s the carry-over from the previous work week’s stories about Trump’s son-in-law and all-purpose appointee, too, and we had to warn our Trump-apologist friend that the upcoming testimony of the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director will likely require some difficult apologetics.
He seemed to take our warning to heed, and inquired about the well-being of our folks, whom he has also lately befriended. We appreciated the sincere inquiry, and assured him they seemed to be doing fine, and felt a hopeful thought that all this politics and sports and whatnot doesn’t really matter.
We also took a moment or two to remember Jerry Clark, who grew up in the Depression at an Atchison orphanage and got his toes blown off at the Battle of Manila in World War II and somehow wound up in the darkroom of the newspaper where we worked as young punks, ¬†where he became one of our very best friends ever. For all the difficulties of his life he was one of the funniest fellows we’ve ever known, and as we face the coming week we’d love to hear what he would say about this particular moment in time.

— Bud Norman

Searing and Wearing Words

One of the many peculiar features of our modern age is the t-shirt controversy. Obsessive news-readers will encounter several of them almost every month, usually involving a student who has run afoul of his school’s dress code, sometimes a disgruntled shopper complaining that some censorious rent-a-cop denied him entry to the local mall, and always a result of our popular culture’s strange insistence on expressing itself on its chest. These days the offending opinions are likely to be religious, patriotic, or otherwise offensive to prevailing polite opinion, which is yet another peculiar feature of our modern age.
The latest spate of t-shirt controversies include a young girl who was forbidden to wear a t=shirt declaring that “Virginity Rocks” and a prominent quarterback for a professional football team wasn’t allowed to appear before the press in a t-shirt with the words “Know Jesus, Know Peace.” There’s another story about an Army officer who wasn’t allowed in his daughter’s school because of his uniform, and of course the recent federal court decision upholding a school’s right to ban any wearing of the American flag for fear of offending the foreign students. The Arkansas middle school that objected to the pro-virginity slogan said it was simply trying to avoid any uncomfortable discussions about sexuality, the professional football league invoked a higher power by saying that the pro-Jesus t-shirt wasn’t an officially licensed Nike product, the Detroit school that stopped the Army officer at its door hilariously explained that it was because he wasn’t wearing a tie, as if anyone in Detroit wears a tie and an Army uniform isn’t sufficiently businesslike by the standards of the Detroit public schools, but even if one buys in to any of this a trend is apparent. Another controversy occurred when some college students wore t-shirts with an obscene suggestion for “Safe Zones,” but that was because of its offense to the school’s up-to-date speech codes rather than any concern for old-fashioned notions of propriety.
Although we stand foursquare for middle school virginity, Jesus, the United States Army, and the American flag, and certainly find them less offensive than the obscenities and insults and likenesses of Che Guevara that shout at us from t-shirts all over the public square, we find it hard to work up much indignation over a t-shirt. Here’s hoping the unwelcome Army officer gets even more groveling apologies from that school for its absurd insult to his service, but the people who could have shown up in primary colored t-shirt free of unasked opinions, or even a nice button-down, must fight their battles without us. Libertarian principle forbids us from any governmental attempt to squelch even the most frivolous forms of free speech, but a traditionalist streak in us can’t help yearning for a bygone era when people voluntarily didn’t wear their opinions on their chest.
In most cases the t-shirts proclaim the wearer’s allegiance to some sports team or rock ‘n’ roll band or clothing manufacturer, which is probably a starter to the most interesting conversation you can have with him, but otherwise it is always something calculated to give offense to somebody. Even when the words are agreeable to us we can’t help wondering if any idea that can be expressed on a t-shirt is worth expressing, and whether those ideas wouldn’t be more persuasively expressed by someone dressed in an adult and serious fashion. The notion that individuality is best expressed by t-shirts and tattoos and vaguely Afro-French-sounding names is of recent and uncertain vintage, and cannot explain why the most daringly transgressive and individualistic figures of the pre-modern era all looked pretty much like else. There were always the extravagant sorts, from Oscar Wilde to Gen. George Custer to Isadora Duncan and her fatally-long scarves, but even these showboats would never have thought of donating their chests to free advertising for some sports team or political cause or foul-mouthed joke. According to the old black-and-white movies even the gangsters aspired to look like respectable Republican businessmen, and and embarrassingly betrayed themselves with a street-level garishness.
So far as we can tell the clothing controversies started when switchblade-wielding kids started showing up at mostly-white high schools with black leather jackets and white t-shirts and rolled-up jeans and basketball shoes a look now regarded as classic continually evoked by subsequent counter-cultures, and intensified when all those long-haired and tie-dyed hippie freaks started filling the local parks with that odd sweet smell. Anyone old enough to recall that era is probably discombobulated by a time when virginity and Jesus and the American flag are the controversial attire, but we mostly lament that people no longer feel free to be themselves without imposing themselves on the fellow just ahead in the grocery store check-out line.

— Bud Norman