What’s On TV Instead of “Jeopardy!”

The House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump preempted “Jeopardy!” on Tuesday afternoon, so we figure this getting to be serious business. All the critics on the talk radio right are panning the televised hearings as boring and lacking pizzaz, and so far the ratings are not boffo, but we’re finding it “binge-worthy,” as the kids might say.
If you’ve been following the latest installment of Trump’s ongoing reality show, you already know why the Trump-loving talk radio right doesn’t like it. So far all the evidence indicates that Trump sought help from the Ukrainian government in his reelection campaign in exchange for much-needed military aid that Congress had appropriated to an important ally, the polls show that most of the country thinks it was not a good thing for an American president to do, and no one in the Republican party has yet come up with a coherent rebuttal.
The pilot episode of the televised hearings featured a West Point alum and Vietnam war hero and distinguished foreign service officer who’d been lured out of retirement by Trump’s Secretary of State to take over in Ukraine, and he testified that Trump had sought reelection help from Ukraine in exchange or that much-needed military aid, and that he thought it was a bad thing to do. There was also the distinguished foreign service officer he replaced as ambassador to to Ukraine, who testified under oath that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and two of his recently indicted associates were seeking help for Trump’s reelection, and that she was removed from her post because she thought it was a bad thing to do. In addition, there was an aide to Vice President Mike Pence who told pretty much the same story, and Trump of course “tweeted” that they’re both “Never Trumpers,” as if that’s a bad thing and necessarily makes them liars.
Tuesday’s episode started out with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testifying in uniform, replete with his many combat decorations from the Iraq War, with his credentials as a National Security Council member and America’s top expert on Ukraine mentioned in the introductions, and he also testified that Trump was leaning on the Ukrainians for political advantage and that he thought it was a wrong thing to do. Under questioning from the Republicans Vindman admitted that he’ been born in Ukraine and was fluent in both Russian and Ukrainian, and the Republicans thought it damned suspicious that he wound up as a high-ranking expert on Ukraine, but Vindman’s uniform and decorations and and impeccable record of public service and no apparent reason to lie seemed to carry the day. There was also corroborating evidence from Jennifer Williams, and aide to Vice President Mike Pence, who was also dismissed by “tweet” as a “Never Trumper.”
The Republicans got to call two witnesses in the hearings, but neither did them much good. Trump loyalist and former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker wound up vouching for the character of former Vice President and possible Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the very man Trump was allegedly seeking dirt on. He also derided the “conspiracy theories” that it was the Ukrainians and not the Russians were the ones who meddled in the last presidential election, depriving talk radio of a favorite talking point, and he couldn’t deny the bargain Trump is alleged to have sought political gain from Ukraine in exchange for the much-needed aid. Senior director on the National Security Council Timothy Morrison was no more helpful, admitting that when Trump admittedly asked the Ukrainian president for “a favor” it was “not what what we recommended the president discuss.”
Future guest stars in this embarrassing reality show surely include Gorland ┬áSondland, the billionaire who bought an ambassadorship to the European with a million-dollar donation to Trump’s inaugural and has already amended his testimony and now finds himself neck-deep in this mess, and potentially Giuliani and his recently indicted associates, and Trump himself is threatening to give written testimony. This will likely be increasingly hard for the talk radio right to explain, and it can only hope that the ratings remain low.

— Bud Norman

The Weather and the Rest of It

There’s plenty of important news afoot today, as always, but around here and in much of the rest of the American heartland the big story is the weather. It’s wet, chilly, and bringing down catastrophic thunderstorms and hailstorms and tornados and flooding rains from the Texas panhandle to Lake Michigan.
So far our beloved hometown of Wichita has been spared the worst of it, but it’s been bad enough that we’ve lately been keeping a nervous eye on the sky and the Nexrad radar and the seven-day forecasts at wunderground.com, none of which are saying anything hopeful. Nearby communities are largely underwater, friends of ours in the outlying areas have been stranded in farm homes that are suddenly islands, and on Tuesday some very fine Kansas towns not so very far to the north of us were threatened by tornados that largely preempted our afternoon “Jeopardy!” viewing.
We’re also keeping a nervous eye on the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas Rivers that border our home in Wichita’s fashionable Riverside neighborhood, as well as the canal that runs along the overpass Canal Route through the middle of town and the Big Ditch that was dug in over on the west side, and although they’re all far higher than usual they seem safe enough for now, but the seven-day forecast calls for at least another week of heavy rains and chances of severe thunderstorms, so that’s something to worry about.
There’s plenty else to worry about in the rest of the news, as always, but one of the benefits of a harsh prairie upbringing is a certain soothing stoicism. Things can only get so bad, we’ve noticed, and despite our instinctive fearsome awe of God’s nature our prairie Protestant nature is assured by God’s promises of grace that everything will more or less work out in the end.
In the meantime, we’re obliged here on Earth to deal with both nature and human nature and the resulting problems as best we can. It’s a damnably tough job, but here’s hoping at least the weather will better. We’ve ┬áconfirmed that amazing Holzhauer guy won yet another huge payday on “Jeopardy!,” the feud between the executive and legislative branches continues to grind out in the judicial branch, the Kansas weather is always uncertain, and that some things can be counted on.

— Bud Norman


Is Jeopardy! in Jeopardy?

As regular readers of this publication know, we are avid followers of all the major sports. These days we don’t much follow football, what with all the head injuries and domestic violence charges and endless video review delays, but we still keep a keen eye on basketball and baseball and any sport where someone is doing something no one’s ever seen before.
Perhaps our very most favorite televised sport is the quiz show Jeopardy!, and lately it’s been the most riveting half-hour of entertainment in America’s daily popular culture. For the past 18 episodes has starred James Holzhauer, whom you might well have heard of by now because he’s playing the game like no one’s ever seen before. Watching this guy play Jeopardy! is like watching Babe Ruth play baseball or Wilt Chamberlain play basketball or Barry Sanders darting around a football field. There are numbers to back that up.
In Babe Ruth’s first year as a daily player he hit 45 homes to shatter the record of John “Home Run” Baker, who earned the nickname by smacking a mere 15 homers over a season. Chamberlain had a year when he averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds and more than the regulation 48 minutes of playing time per game. Sanders wisely retired just short of a head injury and some all-time records, but watching Holzhauer dart around all the arcane trivia on a Jeopardy! board reminds us of that.
Until Holzhauer came along the average winning score on Jeopardy! was around $20,000, which is a nice chunk of change for a half-hour’s work of answering trivia questions, and the record for a single-day score was around $73,000, which is even better. So far in his 18-game winning steak Holzhauer is averaging around $70,000 per game, and he holds the game’s top five single-day records, with a best of more than $130,000, and only a couple of challengers have come close to toppling him.
Although Holzhauer is surely driving the Jeopardy! accounting department crazy, the advertisement department is probably loving him, as the show’s ratings have been spiking with each of his victories. Holzhauer is a handsome and physically fit 34-year-old, and although he’s supremely self-confident and always smiling a slightly smug smile he doesn’t come across as arrogant or cocky. He’s always introduced as a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas, but he makes bets that pay off according to the dates of his apparently very happy marriage and the birth of his obviously beloved daughter, and he always send a shout-out to his parents and siblings and family and friends when he nails the Final Jeopardy question.
As much as he endearingly seems a family and friend values sort of guy, Holzhauer is also very much a Las Vegas sports gambler. He likes to go for the hardest and most high-dollar questions first, and rack up the big money on the way to the Daily Double questions he routinely gets, which allow a contestant to wager all of his earnings, and he always seems to know the answer. He’s usually several times ahead of his nearest competitor going into Final Jeopardy!, where you only need double the score to be assured of victory, and he usually calculates to the dollar how much he can afford to wager and then nails the question, racking up another record-setting total.
Of course Holzhauer’s dominance has spurred a controversy, as some people will always resent excellence. Holzhauer’s been in all the newspapers, and some of them are griping that his unorthodox strategy and astounding immediate recall of general information just aren’t fair. When one player is so clearly better than all the rest, the critics snipe, it takes all the fun out of the game.
Call us old-fashioned, but we still think there’s something to be said for unsurpassed excellence in any old thing that humans pursue, including the accumulation of knowledge and a quick recall of it on afternoon quiz show, and a self-confident willingness to bet 20 grand or so on the answer to a trivia question. Nor does Holzhauer’s talent diminish our interest in the game. Most days Holzhauer wins by the same lopsided lengths that Secretariat won the Triple Crown at the the Preakness, but we still well remember that display of all-time excellence.
On Monday Holzhauer found himself in a tight game, and it was better television than anything Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association has on offer. One of the challengers was some endearingly boring and balding middle-aged egghead with impressive academic credentials, exactly the sort who usually wins on Jeopardy!, and he gave the champion a hell of run. Holzhauer took a double-digit lead by winning a big wager on a Double Jeopardy question, but his challenger landed on the next Daily Double, and although he’s clearly not accustomed to wagering double-digit sums he had no choice but to go in big to stay in the game, and after he gulped hard and correctly answered the hard question it went down to a dramatic Final Jeopardy!
Holzhauer was up a few thousand more dollars at that point, and when he correctly answered the Final Jeopardy! question he had a mere $18 more than his formidable opponent, who had also correctly answered and wagered enough that he would have easily won in an ordinary game and if only Holzhauer had gotten a very rare question wrong. Not since the great Boston Celtics versus Los Angeles Lakers rivalry back in the ’80s have we watched anything quite so riveting.
Our main sporting obsession these days is the blood sport of politics, but we don’t find anyone there of Ruth’s or Chamberlain’s or Sanders’ or Secretariat’s ability, much less Holzhauer’s. We hope all the games will go on, however, and that no matter how jealous human nature might be we continue toward a greater excellence in every weird thing that humans do..

— Bud Norman