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Monday is a New Day

The past weekend was bittersweet here in Wichita. The weather was mostly fine, but there were intermittent rainstorms and the nightly temperatures made clear that autumn has arrived, with another winter sure to follow. We were obliged to attend a couple of wakes for a dear friend of ours who died far too young. On Sunday the local newspaper where we worked for a quarter-century had a front page scoop that the mayor steered a multi-million dollar deal for the city’s water supply to some golfing buddies. Here and everywhere else in America the rest of the news was about a seemingly inevitable impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Despite it all, we found a few reasons to wake up with a hopeful feeling today.
There’s always a chance that the ever-changing Kansas climate will deliver us another mild winter, as we’ve had the past few years, and if that portends a climate change disaster for the rest of the world so be it. As fed up as we are with the demand Republicans we don’t think that voting for some damn Democrats will avert any looming catastrophes, as the Chinese and Indians and the rest of the world will continue to emit carbons even if America commits economic suicide, so we’ll hold out hope that God’s nature is resilient to the worst mere mankind can do.
As much as we’ll miss our dear friend Jon Janssen, we’ll take some solace in knowing that he died of a heart attack after a strenuous day of yard work rather than AIDS. Jon was a talented pianist and a gifted conversationalist and one of those good guys who loved his fellow humans and never wished harm on any of them. He was also a homosexual, and way back in the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic he was one of the very first to test positive for HIV, but for some reason he never progressed to the AIDS that killed so many of our mutual friends, and he bravely volunteered for the scientists’ grueling medical tests to find out why. We’ll hold out hope that Jon helped with the research that has kept so many people alive, and that with God’s mercy his kind and loving soul will persevere.
We do hate to see Wichita’s mayor implicated in a corruption scandal, as in this small town we have come to know him to be a likable fellow, with a charming wife, but we’re glad to see the local newspaper get the scoop. The byline on the story belongs to a young fellow we know from Kirby’s Beer Store, as he’s been hanging out there since his days on the across-the-street Wichita State University Sunflower, and we’re proud of his well-sourced and well-written work. We’ve often kidded him about how he missed out on the good old days when we had front page bylines on a fat and profitable newspaper, rather than the emaciated rag they turn out these days, but next time we see him we’ll buy him a Pabst Blue Ribbon for making the paper once again relevant. The mayor is up for reelection next November, and we’d already planned to vote against him because he tore down our beloved Lawrence-Dumont baseball stadium kicked out our beloved Wichita Wingnuts and built something uglier and modern that benefits some out of town contractors, but it’s nice to see that what’s left of our struggling hometown paper has bolstered the case for a new regime.
We’re no longer drinking buddies with the national media these days, but we mostly believe all these national stories that are driving the Democrats to impeach Trump, and we’re glad they’re on the job. In the coming cold and dark months they’ll probably have plenty more to report, and our old-fashioned Republican souls will be disheartened to hear it, but they’ll probably be right, and we’re always looking for the truth, as much as we hate to hear it.
Even on such a bittersweet prairie autumn evening as this, tomorrow is another day.

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— Bud Norman

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Hooray for Barack Obama, the African Explorer

Africa is a long way to go just get away from home, but in President Barack Obama’s case it’s not quite far enough.
The official reason for the president’s African tour was to strengthen ties with a region that has lately been assiduously courted by the Chinese government, which is plausible, but it has inevitably been speculated that the unofficial reason was to get the president and the press away from the various scandals, political controversies, economic problems, and plunging poll numbers that have plagued him in the states. Foreign visits have long been thought to bolster a president’s statesmanlike image, even if they are to relatively inconsequential third-world countries that most Americans are only vaguely aware of, and one can certainly understand why Obama might be yearning for a change of scenery about now. In any case, though, the trip has hardly spared the president any hubbub.
Criticism began even before the journey did, when there was griping about the $100 million cost. A hundred million is a mere pittance by contemporary executive branch standards, of course, but it made for what the advisers call “bad optics” at a time when a sluggish economic recovery is forcing most Americans to travel on far less. The president’s apologists have lately been blaming everything bad in the world on sequestration budget cuts, too, so such a well-padded expense account makes their job even more difficult. There was enough concern about the budget that the president was forced to cancel a planned safari, which would have entailed the financial cost of military sniper team to protect the First Family as well as potential political risks. Having some mirrored-sunglasses-wearing military guy kill a poor innocent cheetah or lion would have also been “bad optics,” especially with that key vegan constituency that has been so loyal to the president, and having the president or First Lady mauled by a lion or cheetah would have been even worse.
Things didn’t get any better for Obama after Air Force One left the runway.
By one of those hilarious twists of fate that seem to bedevil the president at every turn, Obama happened to be in Senegal on the day that the Supreme Court delivered a ruling striking down key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act and handing what was considered a huge victory to homosexual rights advocates. When asked about the ruling during an obligatory press conference with his Senegalese counterpart, the recently pro-same-sex-marriage Obama couldn’t help exulting. President Macky Sall was then asked for his views on the matter, and replied that he didn’t believe Senegal should go so far as make homosexuality legal. Although Obama takes a back seat to no one in his heightened sensitivity to third world cultures and their venerable traditions, homosexuality trumps multi-culturalism in the contemporary hierarchy of liberal values and he was thus compelled to have a rather public spat with the president of Senegal. The debate was widely reported in the African press, with the African public seeming to come down squarely on the side of Sall, and it seems incident has not strengthened American ties with the region. The Chinese government’s assiduous courtship of the region, so far as we know, have not included any talk of homosexuality.
The trip moved on South Africa, where the failing health of anti-apartheid hero and former President Nelson Mandela prevented a much desired photo opportunity, and suddenly the trip’s $100 million price tag increased by another $7 billion. In a speech at a university in Cape Town the president announced he would spend that amount on a program to provide electrical power for Africa, then spoke at length about the necessity of affordable electricity for a modern lifestyle. At no point did Obama promise Africa that “under my plan electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket,” a economic masterstroke that he reserves for his own country, but he did suggest that the energy he intends to provide will be “green,” meaning that $7 billion of it won’t go very far.
Perhaps the greatest indignity of trip, and certainly the most awkward photo opportunity occurred in Tanzania. In the most extraordinary African encounter since Sir Henry Stanley met up with Dr. David Livingstone, Obama bumped into former President George W. Bush, whose wife happened to be hosting a gathering of First Ladies from around the world in the same unlikely location. The strange coincidence obliged the presidents to jointly lay a wreath at the site of a terrorist attack on the American embassy, a reminder of all that unpleasantness with the Islamists that Obama had hoped to get away from, and it also left Obama unaccustomedly upstaged. Although Obama’s African father and anti-colonial rhetoric give him an obvious appeal to the continent’s people, Bush’s HIV prevention programs saved millions of lives and have made him even more popular than his successor. Having to share the African stage with Bush likely had Obama pining for the peace, quiet, and friendly press of Washington, D.C.

— Bud Norman