A Big Day in the Nevada Casinos

The state of Nevada hosted a couple of noteworthy on contests on Saturday, with a rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder that was the biggest heavyweight championship boxing bout in the past few decades and the Nevada caucus being the third contest in what’s looking like a knock-down drag-out contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The clear winner of the Nevada caucus, which is arguably the more important outcome of the night, was self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He didn’t get a majority of the vote but his sizable plurality of the vote gave him 13 of the state’s 16 delegates, and after his arguably first-place finish in the Iowa caucus and inarguably first-place finish in the New Hampshire primary he’s the darling of of Democrat’s loony left and and clearly the party’s front-runner.
There are still several territories and 42 states to go, and the next one is South Carolina, where the Democratic electorate is mostly black and a thus a very moderating influence on the party, what with its religiosity and disproportionate military experience and entrepreneurial bent and all that compared to white Democrats. So there’s a good chance that former Vice President to first black President Barack Obama and relatively sane centrist Joe Biden will get back in the race after a couple of disappointing finishes. Biden came in a respectable second in the vote count, which might allow him to eliminate a couple of pesky competitors for the relatively sane centrist┬áportion of the Democratic partying the upcoming Super Tuesday states, which might or might not be sufficient to win him the Democratic nomination at the end of what could well be a long, tough fight between the Democrats.
Which is good news for President Donald Trump and his unified Republican party, at least for now, but we’d advise them to not get too cocky about it. Trump lost the last popular vote by three million to the worst possible relatively sane centrist candidate they could have come up with, and for now he’s trailing both Sanders and Biden in the polls in the swing states that narrowly won him an Electoral College majority.
We’re not the betting type, and won’t take any wagers on how it all turns out, but we don’t expect any happy outcomes. Trump would do better against a divided Democratic party, but he’s never been all the popular himself, and given the divided state of the union and how much all of the the Democrats and most of the independents and a few stubborn Republicans such as ourselves dislike Trump it looks to be another close call in the Electoral College and another blow-out in the popular vote.
Meanwhile in Nevada, the Irish-British-Roma Tyson “Gypsy King” Fury won his rematch of a much disputed contest against the ferocious American Deontay Wilder with a seventh-round technical knock-out, which still leaves the heavyweight division in disarray. The chiseled black-British champion Anthony Joshua lost a heavyweight bout against by technical knock-out to the pudgy but tough and surprisingly quick Mexican-American champ Louis Ruiz but regained his three titles by a clear majority-decision in the rematch, and the next big heavyweight fight is clearly Fury versus Joshua. We have no idea how that might turn out, no more than we have any idea how the fate of the country comes out in the next election, but as much as we detest heard-injury sports it will all be well worth watching and hard and hard to turn away from.

— Bud Norman

Sayonara, Sweet Miata

Today is Opening Day for another season of major league baseball, the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team is heading to the Big Apple for the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament, except for the Kansas wind the weather’s lately been good, and there’s probably other news afoot we should paying attention to. Even so, the big story here at the home office on Wednesday was our bittersweet farewell to a beloved Mazda Miata.
We bought the thing brand new way back in ’96, shortly after a devastating divorce, and boy was it a sweet ride. It had the elegant lines and quick acceleration and easy-shifting and road-hugging handling of a classic British roadster, but it also started up every time we turned the key, which is more than we can say for that stunningly gorgeous ’64 Sunbeam Alpine that preceded it. For most of the year we could put the top down, which could be easily done during a stoplight, and even a daily drive to our nearby downtown office felt exactly like what we imagined driving would be like when we were pedaling around in a very cool toy car our Dad bought when we were in kindergarten.
The car took us on a memorable trip to Las Vegas with our pal Michael Carmody, brought our late pal Balleau home from Albuquerque after he’d recuperated from an injury there, and there was another memorable trip to Minnesota with our pal Lori Fletcher for the wedding of a couple of mutual friends. There were countless trips up I-35 to Kansas City and trips down I-35 to Oklahoma City and San Antonio to visit the folks, and on a hot sunny day it was the perfect car for the scenic and curvy drive up U.S. 77 through the gorgeous Flint Hills of Kansas, well as countless more drives around town for both business and pleasure, and for the first 20 years and 150,000 miles or so it was blissfully trouble-free.
Even the best of us eventually get old and dilapidated, though, and after 21 years and 160,000 miles or so our beloved Miata proved troublesome. The “check engine” light would occasionally remind us that the catalytic converter had died, even though that didn’t at all affect the car’s performance, and did very little to affect the climate, and apparently there’s some regulation that President Donald Trump hasn’t yet deregulated that prevents a mechanic from disconnecting that damned sensor. There was a slow oil leak, too, but after so many years and miles we figured it was more inexpensive to occasionally pour in some lubricant than to have that fixed. Some idiot put a gash in the front driver’s side and sped away while we were having a beer at The Vagabond over in Delano, and we idiotically put another smaller gash in the rear of the driver’s side and damaged a roller arm in the process, but by that point we’d downgraded our insurance policy and figured that the repairs would exceed the value of even the sweetest ride with 21 years and more than 160,000 miles on it.
Around that same time our beloved Dad serendipitously decided that he’d grown too old to drive, and he generously gave us his beloved Chrysler Sebring. It’s bigger and bulkier than what we’re used to, and it has four seats and one of those old folks’ automatic transmissions, but the top comes down at the push of a button on warm Kansas day, and it’s also a pretty sweet ride.
For the past two years the Miata had been sitting in our garage and gathering dust and dirt from the Kansas winds, but earlier this week our pal Phil Burress “messaged” us on the internet that he’d heard we had a Miata we wanted to get rid of. We duly warned him about him the years and miles and other problems with our once-sweet ride, but he wanted to take a look anyway, as his son is rapidly approaching driver’s age and shares our fetish for classic roadsters.
After a cursory look our old pal Phil agreed to take it off our hands, and we’re glad that he did, and we hope that even after so many years and miles it will work out for him. Phil’s a top-notch guy and a first-rate bass player for several folkie and bluegrass bands around town, and he’s happily married to our aforementioned pal Lori Fletcher, who’s a damned good country singer, and their son, hilariously named Fletcher, is a prodigiously talented bluegrass fiddler and a classic example of Kansas boyhood.
After re-charging the battery and airing up the tires and filing up the crankcase with oil Phil was able to take a drive to nearby Park City with the top down on a warm but windy Kansas day, and you should have seen the excited look on Fletcher’s face as they pulled out the driveway, so we hope they’ll be able to get that Miata back in fighting shape for a few more years and a few more miles. Fletcher is a handsome and charming young fellow, and when you combine that with his musical gifts and a classic and fully-restored roadster all the chicks will probably dig him in his high school years. If he derives even half the enjoyment we derived from that old Miata, and we get to park the Sebring in the garage during the coming hail storms, we’ll call it a darned good deal.

– Bud Norman

Reflections on the President and the Porn Star Subplot in Our National Reality Show

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked upon as something shocking,” as the great Cole Porter once wrote, “but now, God knows, anything goes.” Porter penned that memorably musical lyric way back in the Great Depression ’30s, but it somehow seems more apt than ever in the Roaring Teens of President Donald Trump. Once upon a time in America, and as recently as the day before Trump took that famous escalator ride down Trump Tower to launch his improbable presidential campaign, it would have been a pretty big deal that a sitting president sure seems to have had a sexual encounter with a pornographic video performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child.
But now, God knows, it’s just another one of those Trump stories that most newspapers relegate to the inside pages and most cable news networks mention at the bottom of every other hour, and that Fox News happily ignores and the smutty late night television comics giddily lampoon. God also knows that according to all the public opinion polls approximately 80 percent of our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters still believe Trump is going to make America great again, and we wonder what He makes of that.
All of those back page and bottom-of-the-hour news stories and even the late night comics concede there’s no videotaped or otherwise definitive evidence and one party denies it and the other is being quite coy about it, which gives Fox News and our evangelical Christian brothers and sisters a plausible reason to ignore the matter, and we’ll also concede that one never really knows about these things. Even so, we’ll edge up against those loosened libel laws that Trump has threatened and reiterate that it sure does seem to us that a sitting president once had a sexual encounter with a pornographic video performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child. The circumstantial evidence is so convincing that we doubt any of Trump’s apologists would ignore it if Trump was still a self-proclaimed pro-choice Democrat and check-writing supporter of President Bill Clinton and his presumptive first woman president wife “Crooked” Hillary.
The story had been rumored and reported and denied by Trump for nearly ten years, but surfaced again when The Wall Street Journal reported that during the presidential campaign Trump’s attorney had formed a shell company to make a $130 thousand payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels in exchange for an agreement she wouldn’t disclose anything she might know about Trump. The shell company was set up with phony names for both the payer and payee, but the attorney used his own name on all the papers and is not issuing any denials that might lead to disbarment, and the story has similarly liable-proof documented evidence for the real identities of the payer and payee. One of the callers to one of the right wing talk radio dismissed it as “fake news” from a “foreign-owned tabloid,” but even the left wing admits The Wall Street Journal is no tabloid and the wing should know that its Australian owner is the same Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox News, so we’ll the paper’s word for it that for whatever reason Trump did write a $130 thousand check to a porn performer during his presidential election.
Perhaps we should be generous and assume Trump was just trying to help the wayward lass get back on the straight and narrow path, but by now even his most die-hard supporters aren’t buying that.
After the Journal’s big scoop a publication we’d not previously heard of called In Touch Magazine published an interview it had with Daniels back when Trump was just another reality television star and long before any non-diclosure payments had been made, and in it she gave a luridly detailed account of a sexual encounter with a future president. So far as we can tell In Touch is a sort of tabloid, but at least it seems to be American-owned, and they claim to have verifiable audiotapes of the interview, and we assume their lawyers verified that before they put their own names on any court filings Trump’s lawyers might have made. All the parts about Trump and Daniels both being in Las Vegas during a professional golf tournament have been confirmed, and there’s even a picture of a beaming Trump with his arm around the buxom Daniels at the event, which looks pretty bad.
After that one of Daniels’ fellow porn performers was telling both People and Newsweek magazines and the National Broadcasting Company that she had declined Trump’s invitation to make it a threesome, and both news organizations confirmed the parts about her also being in Las Vegas during that golf tournament. After that Daniels her buxom self did an interview on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show,” and that looked so bad it almost upstaged the president’s State of the Union address.
Kimmel is one of those uniformly liberal late night comedians who relentlessly bash Trump every night, but he’s not so smutty as most and has a reputation as a faithful family man that allowed him to have some emotional sway in the debate about repealing and replacing Obamacare, and he’s no dummy. He ran some footage of some conservative woman criticizing him for booking an interview with Daniels but never saying anything about President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal with much-younger intern Monica Lewinsky, he was able to follow it with videotape of him interviewing Lewinsky on three separate occasions in previous talk show incarnations. When Daniels opened the interview by saying that she could neither confirm nor deny that she had accepted money in a non-diclosure agreement, he noted that if she had not she would be free to deny that she had, and the pornographic video performer replied “You’re so smart, Jimmy.”
When Kimmel asked Daniels about her signature on the official statement she’d just issued denying any sexual encounter with Trump, which all the pro-Trump media had seized on, and why it didn’t remotely resemble her signature on an earlier statement or any of the autographed glossy photographs he’d somehow and encountered, she dodged it by talking about all the other crazy rumors about her on the internet. She didn’t quite deny that the In Touch interview was more or less accurate, and dodged some of the smuttier questions about the more lurid details just as carefully, but the pornographic video performer seemed instinctively self-revealing and left the viewer with the impression that, yeah, all that’s been alleged sure seems to have happened.
There’s a case to be made that Daniels and her fellow pornographic video performer friend are exploiting that fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol predicted everyone would eventually have, and there’s something to it. Until that Wall Street Journal broke we’d never heard of Stormy Daniels or her friend, but after a Bing search and a few not-safe-for-work mouse clicks on the internet we now feel we know them more intimately than any of our exes, and Daniels has been promoting her strip club tour with the slogan “Make America Horny Again.” Daniels can now add “As seen on TV” to her handbills, even if it is late night comedy, and we don’t doubt it’s good business for a pornographic video performer.
The question is whether she’s cashing in on “fake news” or something that sure seems to have actually happened, though, and that still looks bad. We’re disinclined to take the word of a pornographic video performer, but by now neither do we put much stock in what the President of the United States has to say. Trump has long bragged in undisputed interviews and his own ghost-written memoirs about his enormous sexual appetites and numerous exotic conquests, and his flagrant disregard for his own or anybody else’s marital vows, and that lurid In Touch detail about him wanting to be spanked with a rolled-up copy of Forbes Magazine with his picture on the cover also has a disturbing verisimilitude about it.
But now, God knows, Trump’s critics can only chuckle about it along with the late night comics, and Trump’s fans can either deny it altogether or make some sort of rationalizations. The afternoon talk radio hosts and other fans will note that the male Clinton had several just as tawdry encounters with far less buxom women, and that even the self-righteous sorts of feminists now admit that the awful female Clinton was complicit all along, and we was president at time, and they have a point. We shared their disappointment that Clinton’s peccadilloes had so degraded the Oval Office at the time, as did that smart-ass liberal late comic Kimmel, and at this point we’re on the side of anybody who’s been consistent on insisting some reasonably attainable standard of moral behavior in the White House.
Not that we’re blameless, as God knows and our recent internet browsing history will attest, but over our many years we have managed to hew to some old-fashioned moral rules about married people and hygienic concerns about porn stars, and as lowly as we are we feel entitled to expect a higher standard from those who occupy high office. It doesn’t say anything more to about that tax bill Trump signed than Clinton’s transgressions had to do with his budget-balancing deals, but then as now we can’t shake a certain depressing sense that it’s a pretty big deal.

— Bud Norman

“Bump Stocks” Take a Dive

Every mass shooting incident is inevitably followed by a renewed push for stricter gun control laws, but so far none of them have brought about any significant policy changes. Sunday’s record-setting massacre in Las Vegas, though, seems likely to result in some sort of ban on something called a “bump stock.”
Despite the public’s natural instinct to do something to after a mass shooting, gun control advocates have been unable to come up with anything short of a total ban on private ownership that would have averted or mitigated the tragedy. A total ┬ában on private gun ownership would require two-thirds of the states ratifying a constitutional amendment to repeal the Second Amendment, which isn’t going to happen in any living American’s lifetime, followed by a nationwide confiscation program, and you don’t have to be paranoid about your gun-owning neighbors to foresee how that would wind up with a lot of guns being pried out of a lot of cold, dead fingers, so the proposals have mostly been limited to background checks and waiting periods and limits on the number of bullets in a magazine and bans on certain types of guns, along with other assorted tweaks. Background checks and waiting periods are already law, though, magazines can be so quickly replaced that limits are ineffective, and the deadliest firearms have been banned for decades.
Partly because gun control advocates are proud they know nothing about guns, and gun enthusiasts pride themselves on knowing everything about them, the Second Amendment has largely survived all the debates, even when the Democrats were in charge. The longstanding attempts to re-ban “assault weapons” have faltered when the gun enthusiasts rightly noted that it’s a meaningless term, sometimes used to describe rifles that are no more deadly than your pop’s hunting rifle but have certain scary-and-military looking features, and the gun control advocates seemed not understand the difference between the now-common semi-automatic weapons and the long-banned fully automatic ones.
“Bump stocks” blur that distinction in a deadly way, though, and both sides of the debate seem to understand that. It’s news to us, as well as to many far more enthusiastic gun owners than ourselves, but a “bump stock” is a gizmo that allows one to alter a perfectly legal semi-automatic rifle so that with one pull of the trigger it fires bullets as rapidly one of those long-banned fully automatic rifles. As of now the sale and purchase of these gizmos is legal, and although actually using one is a felony the fellow who killed 59 people and wounded more than 500 others in Las Vegas also decided to break that law. Such a deranged person would have broken any gun law you might have passed with any guns he could have gotten his hands on, of course, but it seems certain that he wouldn’t have killed and wounded quite so many people if a law had deterred someone from selling him those gizmos that he used on his armory of legally-acquired weapons.
The Democratic Party in general and its gun control advocates in particular sense a rare winning issue, and the Republican Party in general and its gun enthusiasts in particular don’t seem eager to fight this battle. The Speaker of the House has signaled his willingness to ban “bump stocks,” and even the National Rifle Association has agreed the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco and Firearms should tweak their interpretations of existing law to stop people from selling the gizmos. In the past they’ve taken a never-give-an-inch stance on any gun control regulation, with a plausible argument that it might wind up with a police state confiscating guns from cold, dead fingers, but the starting point on slippery slope has been a ban on fully automatic weapons ever since they were first banned in the 1930[s after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and were more fully banned during the Reagan years, so they’re not giving much ground this time around.
Those sorts of gun enthusiasts who are preparing for a revolution against the better-armed “deep state” or the Zionist Occupying Government or a mass shooting on some public square will object that their Second Amendment rights are being violated, but we’d like to think that the vast majority of our gun-owning neighbors have no need for a “bump stock.” No one uses them for hunting, our more knowledgable gun-owning friends tell us that home defense is probably best handled with a semi-automatic hand gun with a full magazine, and for now we’re not ready to foment any armed revolution in the country. Let the gun-grabbers win this battle, as far as we’re concerned, and let a reasonably-interpreted Second Amendment win the war.

— Bud Norman

Tragedy, Obituaries, and the Public Relations Fallout

Life itself is ultimately tragic, as our jaded souls know all too well, but the news from the past few weeks have brought more than usual amount of tragedy.
Two historic hurricanes brought death and devastation to densely populated parts of Texas and Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands and pretty much wiped out a few Caribbean countries you probably couldn’t name, two successive earthquakes killed hundreds in Mexico and therefore went largely unnoticed in America, a third deadly hurricane left Puerto Rico flooded and without power or potable water, and a severely troubled soul in Nevada killed at least 59 of his fellow human beings and wounded more than 500 others. Not to mention the sudden plausibility of a nuclear exchange with a nutcase dictatorship in North Korea, the normal and quotidian slaughter on America’s streets, and the names you can’t help noticing for some personal reason in the always full obituary page.
That’s an awful lot of tragedy to comment on, especially if you want to do so with the requisite respect and dignity and humility, and we’d never be so boastful as to claim being up to the job. Therefore the job instead falls on President Donald Trump, who is not known for being respectful or dignified or humble, and as much as we hate to cast stones we think he could have handled it better.
The historic hurricanes went about as well as can be expected in Texas and Florida, with the long and arduous rebuilding process and the requisite federal assistance coming along so far and so good despite all the legislative rigmarole, and except for the usual unpersuasive carping about climate change there was no way to blame Trump for the storms. Trump seemed to be taking a bit too much credit for things going as well as can be expected, with not enough credit given to the state and county and civic officials and plain old citizens who were pulling one another out of the water, but other than that he did well enough.
After that hurricane in Puerto Rico, however, Trump gave his critics plenty to work with. Trump “tweeted” boasts about how the governor of Puerto Rico had praised the federal response, but his Homeland Security secretary described the federal response as a “good news story,” so when the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital and most populous went viral with her answer that its a “people-are-dying” Trump wound up in another bad news cycle. Trump “tweeted” his criticism of her leadership abilities, but the unfriendly media had footage of her wading in chest deep water while Trump was hosting a fancy golf tournament, and the three-star general who turned around President George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina disaster was on the ground in Puerto Rico and noting the difference, and Trump continued to “tweet” about Puerto Rico’s debt and effect on the American budget and an insinuation that Puerto Ricans are too lazy to save themselves from nature’s fury.
As bad as the public relations disaster was for Trump, he was temporarily rescued by all the media attention paid to that troubled soul who killed at least 59 people in Las Vegas and the wounding of at least 500 others. Trump offered a a very respectful and dignified and humble statement about the victims, lowered all the nation’s flags to half-staff in honor of the victims, and handled the tragedy as well as can be expected. He put off the inevitable debates about gun control to another day, which is probably the best that can be expected, and until that inevitable debate happens we think he did well enough.
Trump was in Puerto Rico on Monday to convey his sympathy to the quasi-Americans on the island, though, and that gave all his critics even more work to with. He once against boasted about how the governor had praised the great federal response, this time with looking rather embarrassed as he sat beside him, and made a joke about how much Puerto Rico was costing America that left everyone looking pretty darned embarrassed, and boastfully compared the death toll of 35 — which he understated at 16 — to the thousands of deaths of deaths that resulted from a “real catastrophe” such as fellow Republican President George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina, which actually resulted in slightly fewer than a thousand deaths. He was overheard offering praise to a ran Puerto Rican for the mayor of the island’s capital and most populous city, and had an awkward handshake with her, but we doubt it played well with anyone in Puerto Rico and Americans other than Trump’s most loyal supporters.
Puerto Rico has in fact racked up an irresponsible debt, neglected to maintain up-to-date electrical grids and plumbing systems and other crucial infrastructure, and that plucky and telegenic if crazily leftist mayor does bear some responsibility for that, but with the island still largely without power or potable water this seems an inappropriate time to bring that up. The Puerto Ricans and the rest of the Democrats can also plausibly argue that past American laws that made them a temporary tax haven for foreign investment enticed them to rack up all that debt, that a later American law denying them the same bankruptcy protections afforded to other American jurisdictions and certain Trump casinos had made the debt unsustainable, so it’s a complicated debate that’s best left to less emotional times.
When Trump touches down in tragic Las Vegas the inevitable debates about gun control will still be best left to less emotional times, and we hold out hope he’ll strike the right note with a respectful and dignified and humble tone in a scripted and stuck-to speech. The victims were all country music fans, even the mainstream media has found that all of them were sympathetic no matter what you think of country music fans, so we count on Trump being appropriately respectful and dignified and humble. That inevitable debate about gun control will hang over the event, but Trump should be able to delay that for at least a respectful interval, but there’s going to be some serious arguments about the commercially-available ways to convert to semi-automatic to more-or-less automatic weapons that will be hard to win.
Despite all the tragedy we note that many of our Facebook friends are also focused on the death of Tom Petty, who was a rock ‘n’ roll star of some note, so we’ll take a moment out of these past few dreary months to note his passing. We were never such ardent fans as so many of our dear friends, but Tom Petty and His Heartbreakers did cut more than a few true blue rock ‘n’ roll tracks we remember well, and along with everyone else we mourn his passing.
Not so long ago we were at a local dive and ran into an old friend with excellent musical taste, and she recommended we check out an obscure guy named Charles Bradley, who turned out to sing sweet soul music the way remembered it from the glorious but tragic late ’60s and early ’70s. Looking up this valuable information we also discovered that Bradley had died last months after 68 tragic years of life, just a couple of years of slight recognition for his musical talent, and we also mourn his passing. Before he died he sang a song called “Why Is It So hard,” and for now we’re finding it more comforting than anything Trump or any of his critics might say.

— Bud Norman

On the Murders Sunday in Las Vegas, Lawrence, and Elsewhere in the United States of America

Three people were killed and two others were injured early Sunday morning when at least 20 gunshots were fired on a crowded downtown street in Lawrence, Kansas, but you probably didn’t hear about it. Later that same day a shooter in Las Vegas killed at least 59 people and injured another 500 or so, setting a new American record, so that understandably took up almost all of Monday’s news.
By now mass shootings are almost numbingly routine, and despite the outrage and heartbreak they always provoke most Americans would be hard pressed to recall any details of the last one or the one before that, but this time might prove more memorable. There’s the record-setting death toll, the apparent use of a fully automatic weapon, the much older than usual age of the shooter, and an especially frustrating lack of any plausible explanation.
There’s never an adequate explanation for these slaughters, of course, but usually there’s some detail or two in the initial stories that gives some clue what going on the deranged mind of the shooter. Sometimes they’re named Mohammad and shout “Alahu Akbar” and had posted Islamic screeds on their Facebook pages, other times they’re white guys with haircuts and Facebook postings that announce their racial grievances, the guy who shot up the a Washington, D.C., softball field and wounded a Republican congressman had a deep-seated hatred of Republicans, and the guy shot up a political rally in Arizona and wounded Democratic congresswoman apparently did so because she had failed to an incomprehensible question he’d asked at a town hall, and usually they turn out to be kind of crazy that family and friends and neighbors had long noticed but never knew quite what to do about it.
None of that amounts to an adequate explanation, but it’s something to cling to as we humans instinctively search for some reassuring reason when tragedy occurs.
This time around the Islamic State terror gang claimed the shooter was a recent convert who had heeded their call to jihad, but they always they do that whenever someone kills random people, and it’s quite unusual for recent converts to any religion to keep quiet about it and so far everyone who knew the shooter says he never expressed any religious opinions at all. The target of the shooting was an outdoor country music festival, so there was immediate internet speculation that the shooter was someone who wanted to killed a lot of Republicans, which quickly led to some irresponsible right-wing sites fingering an innocent fellow with a lot of pro-Democratic Facebook postings, but apparently this shooter never expressed any political opinions of any sort, and was said to be a country music fan himself. According to everyone the armies of reporters have rounded up to interview, the shooter was an undeniably odd duck but not in a way that made you think he’d spray automatic rounds at a crowd of random strangers.
According to the neighbors he mostly kept to himself in his comfortable gated over-50 community in rural Nevada, and was often away from home for long periods of time during high-stakes gambling binges in Las Vegas. He’d apparently done well as an accountant and made some savvy real estate investments, and without any children to worry about he could afford the indulgence and still lavish gifts on his mother, so neither the neighbors nor his family found it worrisome. His brother gave a lengthy interview to a cluster of news cameras and microphones that was clearly too distraught to be at all disingenuous, and he was clearly surprised to learn that shooter had acquired a veritable armory or deadly weapons.
The usual post-mass-shooting debates about gun control are already underway, but this time around they’re all the more complicated for both sides. Apparently all of those weapons had been acquired legally, with the shooter’s previously pristine legal record and lack of any noticed mental health problems carrying him through all the required background checks, and automatic weapons have long been illegal, it’s too late to charge the now-dead-by-self-inflicted-gunshot shooter with the apparent crime of altering his semi-automatic rifles to fully automatic, and it’s hard to think of anything that would have stopped this guy without imposing onerous restrictions of the rights of the vast majority of peaceable gun owners. Those peaceable gun owners have long made the reasonable argument that if there’s some crazy guy shooting up a crowd you don’t want him to be the only one there with a gun, but in this case he was shooting from 400 yards away where none of those of presumably gun-toting country music fans would have known where to shoot, and if any of them had drawn their weapons during the panic the police and security on hand would have been well within their rights to shoot them.
The same dreary arguments will continue, nonetheless, along with the ancillary debates about why so many Americans wind up getting shot to death every year. Across most of America the murder rate has happily declined over the past few decades, those mass shootings and the daily carnage in Chicago and a couple of other cities notwithstanding, but the numbers are still high by first-world standards and merit national concern. Those mass shootings are by now a longstanding problem, too, dating back at least to a sniper attack from the University of Texas’ landmark tower in Austin in 1966, and back in ’76 a guy started shooting from the balcony of what was then the tallest building in our hometown of Wichita, and there was a kid shot up his junior high school in a nearby suburb back in ’85, and when we think about we can recall the schoolyard in Connecticut and the homosexual nightclub in Orlando and far too many details of other mass shootings.
An autopsy showed that the Texas shooter had brain disease, that guy in Wichita had just been jilted by his girlfriend, the junior high kid in the nearby suburb had endured the usual junior high bullying, the Connecticut shooter was so clearly crazy his mom had been warning the cops about him, the homosexual nightclub was another one of those “Alahu Akbar” incidents, and when we think about we can recall some semblance of a reason for all those other mass shootings. According to the police in the normally placid university town of Lawrence those three victims who died there early Sunday morning weren’t random targets, and that the violence was the result of some beef between low-lifes who have always used guns to settle their differences, and we note that the incident followed a rap concert at the school’s arena, so we’ll make the same stereotypical assumptions that some people make about country music concerts, and hope it’s all enough to satisfy our all too human need for some reason that tragedies occur.
None of it amounts to an adequate explanation, though, and we hope that America in its extraordinary greatness will take time out from the usual political to ponder why it has such a persistent and extraordinary problem with Americans getting shot to death, and how it might be addressed without stripping the vast majority of cherished rights.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Episode of the GOP Turns

The latest episode of the long-running reality show that is the Republican presidential nomination race aired last night, and we found it most entertaining. There were the usual reality show spats, although more serious policy discussion than usual, and we think it even advanced the plot a bit.
The thus-far star of the series, real estate mogul and reality-show veteran Donald Trump, had a rough night. During the serious policy discussion part of the proceedings he was asked which leg of the nation’s nuclear triad he thinks needs the most attention, and he answered “the nuclear part,” allowing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to patiently explain “to those listening who might not be familiar with the terminology” that all the parts of the land-sea-and-air triad are nuclear. Eager to demonstrate that whatever he might lack in familiarity with defense terminology he makes up for in toughness, Trump also promised to not only kill any terrorists who attack the United States but to go after their families as well, thus ushering in the Cosa Nostra Doctrine of American foreign policy. He also sounded rather sanguine about the continued existence of the Assad regime in Syria, as well the benefits that delivers to an even peskier Iranian regime, and his “one thing at a time” explanation suggests he might not be up the multi-tasking that foreign policy sometimes requires.
Trump didn’t even fare well during the usual reality show spats, and judging by the live audience’s reaction his shock jock shtick seems to be starting to wear thin. During an entirely unnecessary confrontation with the increasingly irrelevant former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Bush got a far bigger round of applause that his dwindling number of supporters could have possibly provided by saying “You can’t insult your way to the presidency.” The never-back-down Trump even backed down from his recent criticisms of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ confrontational legislative tactics, which were widely criticized by the crucial conservative talk radio hosts who egged Cruz on, and we expect it disappointed the loyal Trump fans who are already concocting “birther” theories about Cruz while doing little to win over those put off by Trump’s own confrontational style.
Worst of all for Trump, the intriguing subplot involving Rubio and Cruz drew much attention. Both of the first-term Senators are quite good at this debate stuff, Rubio has lately displaced Bush as the “establishment” candidate while Cruz has become the most formidable “anti-establishment” alternative to Trump, so their frequent clashes made for good television. Cruz scored with jabs against Rubio’s past heresies on the all-important issue of illegal immigration, Rubio came off tougher on national security because of Cruz’ past opposition to some data-gathering programs that used to be an important issue, and our guess is that Cruz got the better of it.
Some of the supporting cast were also good, but we can already see them being written out of future scripts. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is also good at this debate stuff, and his background as a federal prosecutor on terrorism cases served him well in a debate focused on national security, and his tough-guy is far more charming than the others’, but he’s way too northeast for a party that’s dominated by flyover country voters to have a chance. Former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina turned in her usual strong performance, and she does tough guy as well as any of the guys, but at this point she seems to be running for vice-president. Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who has been dropping in the polls ever since the terrorist attacks on Paris and San Bernardino pushed security issues to the forefront of the campaign, probably helped himself with some credible answers in the serious policy discussion part and a reassuring promise that his nice-guy persona won’t stop him from inflicting some collateral damage if he’s forced to.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul were also involved, some reason for another, but we expect this will be their last appearance.
The best news was Trump’s seemingly sincere promise that he won’t launch an independent run if he’s denied the Republican nomination, which would have guaranteed that next season’s general election reality show would end badly for the Republicans. There’s still hope for a happy ending, and that’s what keeps viewers tuned in.

— Bud Norman

Explaining Harry Reed’s Face

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada showed up in Washington earlier this year with a face that looked like it had been worked over by some brass-knuckled mobsters, along with an improbable explanation about a rubber band snapping on an exercise device in his bathroom, and most of the media were content to leave it at that. The general public and those pesky bloggers are more curious about such things, however, so there was eventually talk that the improbable tale of the exercise device in the bathroom was too improbable to be true and that maybe the rumors circulating in Las Vegas about Reid being worked over by some brass-knuckled mobsters were at least somewhat more probable.
Such gossip has now reached a point that the impeccably liberal Matt Yglesias at the impeccably liberal Vox.com site acknowledges it has “migrated from the water cooler to the mainstream,” the Bloomberg news service feels obliged to give it a “second installment of ‘Whoa, If True,’ an occasional look at the conspiracy theories that migrate from the wilds of the internet to the well-covered tundra of presidential campaigns,” and the left-wing Wonkette.com web site gave it the full snark. None of Reid’s defenders can definitively disprove the beaten-up-by-mobsters theory, of course, and none of the right-wing crazies being criticized for perpetuating the theory have actually said that Reid actually was beaten up by mobsters, just that it sure looked like he had been beaten up by mobsters, and that it seemed somewhat more probable than that obviously phony-baloney story about rubber bands and exercise devices in his bathroom, but such is the state of modern journalism, and the state of modern American politics.
Ordinarily we would feel some sympathy for any person forced to defend himself against fact-free slander, even a politician, but Reid is not an ordinary case. Among the myriad characters flaws that have made Reid one of the most odious public figures of his generation is his tendency to level the most outrageous accusations against his political opponents with no proof but full confidence that the target won’t be able to disprove them in time to ward off electoral defeat. The most notable example occurred during the 2012 presidential election when Reid took to the Senate floor to declare that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hadn’t paid federal income taxes in several years, which was not a mere mistake or slight exaggeration or the usual election-year rhetoric but rather an outright lie, and in a recent interview with CNN he said “They can call it whatever they want. Romney didn’t win, did he?”
So if that’s the standard Reid wants to set, we’ll go ahead and figure that he got roughed up by some mobsters that he double-crossed. Come to think of it, it does seem at least more probable than that rubber band in the bathroom story.

— Bud Norman