March Madness on the Prairie, Minus the Politics

An unaccountably warm February got all the trees and flowers budding around here, but March has thus far been back to its usual cold and windy way on the Kansas plains. The Kansas State University Wildcats played themselves into the round of 64 in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual men’s basketball championship tournament on Tuesday, though, and thus pretty much all Kansans are once again warmed by the fever of March madness.
Every state has its own distinct sports culture, but especially here in the hinterlands where there’s not much else to do. Down south in Oklahoma they’re mainly concerned with football, although they can boast about Oklahoma A&M’s basketball championships back in the ’40s with original big man Bob Kurland and many other big-time players since, and our kin in Oklahoma City do love that Thunder team in the National Basketball Association, and they can also boast about that injun Jim Thorpe as an all around-athlete and such stalwart baseball white boys as Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench. The sparsely populated eastern part of Colorado that looks just like the sparsely western Kansas plays eight-man and six-man football and mostly concerns itself with five-man basketball just like western Kansas, but in the western half of the state they seem to ski and root for the Denver Broncos in the National Football League. Up north in Nebraska they only care about football, and although the baseball’s not bad they don’t seem at all embarrassed that except for Omaha’s Catholic Creighton University their basketball is abysmal. Back east in Missouri baseball’s the big thing, especially the Kansas City Royals and more especially the St. Louis Cardinals, and although they used to wreak occasional havoc in the old Big Eight’s basketball competitions they’re seemingly content as an also-ran in the Southeastern Conference.
Here in Kansas we take football and baseball seriously enough to have produced our per-capita share of top-notch players, and we’ve got high schools girls winning Olympic gold in skeet shooting and can boast of some legends in track and field and the skateboarders aren’t bad, but the big game by far around here is hoops. There’s no professional franchise in a state where the biggest city has only a half-million or so in its metro area, but we’ve got three state universities competing in the collegiate championship, several more playing in their lower divisions’ tournaments, the state’s highly competitive community college teams are always contenders, and even at the small school tourneys the state high school championships always feature enough talent to draw the recruiters for the next level.
Even the kids who didn’t make the high school teams are playing in the driveways and playgrounds all over Kansas, and we’d put them up against the kids playing in the driveways and playgrounds anywhere else. Folks have been playing the game around here ever since it was invented by James Naismith for the Young Men’s Christians Associations that were here from the start, and ever since they’ve been pretty good at it. Naismith coached at the University of Kansas, where he’s the only coach with a losing record, and its program has won multiple national championships and is one of the most blue-programs in the country, with another number one seed in this year’s tournaments and a decent shot at winning it all. The land grant cow college Kansas State University has some big time wins to brag about, including several notable ones over the the snooty KU, many provided by those tough-nosed kids from the hard-luck small towns that those small school championships always seem to turn up.
As good as those small town Kansas kids are, we’re from the big bad city of Wichita and take a particular pride in our local brand of ball. The City League has sent several players to the pro ranks, including a couple of nice guys we went to school with, and many more to Division I collegiate glory, and we recommend that you get in shape for a pickup game around here. Although we spent a couple of all-too-carefree years at K-State and only a couple of hours at Wichita State University we root for the WSU Wheatshockers, because Wichita is our city and the ‘Shocks are its team. Back in the ’30s and ’40s they used to play their homes games at the old Forum building downtown rather on the campus, and tended to draw more from the local factory workers and businessmen and hoops aficionados rather than students, and although a local haberdasher built a roundhouse on campus in the ’50s and a local oil-refining billionaire rebuilt to state of the art more recently the Shocks still belong more to the factory workers and businessmen and hoops aficionados than the students. Over the years, Wichita State fans have had some lulls but also some things to cheer about.
Back in the ’60s WSU had some championship years in the then-feared Missouri Valley Conference, went to a Final Four in ’64, had another run in the ’80s that would have resulted in a Final Four if not for some recruiting violations and probations, made a few tournaments and won a few games in the ’90s, and for the past decade have been on another tear. Coach Greg Marshall inherited the team at a very down point, immediately started bringing it up, and has since notched a National Invitational Tournament victory and a Final Four and a 35-0 streak and a run of tournament appearances with at least one victory that bests some of the blue-blood programs, and we hopeful that will continue. As always the ‘Shockers are under-ranked as a 10 seed, but most of the sportswriters regard them as a favorite in their first-round matchup against Dayton University, and the Vegas line has the ‘Shockers as a 6.5 point favorite, and with all due respect to the hard-working factory of Dayton we like our chances. In the second round they’d most likely meet the University of Kentucky, which is about as blue-blooded a program as there is and the same ones who ended that 35-and-0 run in a down-to-the-final-second thriller, but who knows? The Washington Post’s supposed expert ranks the ‘Shocks as the sixth most likely winner overall, just behind KU and just ahead of Kentucky, and a Facebook friend altered us to some site that predicts WSU beating not only Kentucky but also the blue-blooded University of California-Los Angeles and University of North Carolina to get to another Final Four. Those scribes rightly note that “Wichita thrives on beating up snobs from the rich side of town and will relish giving UK a bloody nose,” and predicts “Wichita is going to the rich side of town with a pack of matches and a five gallon tank of gasoline and try to burn everything to the ground.
As nice as it sounds that’s a bit optimistic for our dour prairie souls to believe, but one can always hope. Next year the ‘Shocks are bringing everybody back from an already 30-win team, and they’ll all be one year better if Marshall’s methods once again prove true, and they’re also bringing in a juco player of the year and this 7’2″ Danish guy that looks pretty good from the YouTube videos, and the thought of how good that team will be should get us though one more change of the damnable seasons we experience around here.
In the meantime Kansas has three teams still playing, and even the hoops-crazed and more densely populated states of North Carolina and Indiana and Kentucky and New York and California can’t match that, and we’re even rooting for that snooty KU and hoping for a rematch next year, which would allow the ‘Shocks to go 3-and-0 against the rich kids in tournament competitions, and we’ll still put our Kansas kids in the driveways and playgrounds up against anyone. Back in the day we had a pretty mean hook shot ourselves, even if we never came close to playing on the high school team with those future pros, and on these cold and windy days that’s a warm memory of a cold wintertime’s most beautiful game.

— Bud Norman

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Another Day in a Long, Hot Summer

Another day, another two police officers killed in the line of duty, and it suddenly seems a very hot summer. The latest deaths were inflicted inside the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan, where a detainee at the nearby county jail was apparently being led to a hearing and somehow managed to wrestle away an officer’s gun. So far as we can glean from the numerous yet sketchy press accounts this might or might not have something to do with the recent spate of police killings that have recently been inspired by a broad anti-police protest movement, but in either case it’s another sign of a something ongoing and troublesome.
The shooting followed ambush assaults on officers in Georgia, Tennessee, and Missouri over the weekend, which happened around the same time as the riots in Illinois and Minnesota and Louisiana that seriously wounded dozens of others, which followed the sniper fire at a “Black Lives Matter” rally in Texas where five officers were killed and several others wounded, and already the law enforcement death toll is up 44 percent over last’s year grim total. The most recent spate of deaths have also followed the widespread attention paid to internet videos that showed two young black men being killed by police officers, the sort of thing that has spawned the “Black Lives Matter” movement and its ensuing anti-police sentiment, and it seems all too likely in the nervous wake of so many cop-killings there might be more such videos hitting the internet soon, and that end is not yet in sight.
All of it is set in the broader context of the rapidly deteriorating state of race relations that has occurred since the inauguration of the First Black President, which was supposed to usher in a post-racial era of America. Shortly after that inauguration the newly fledged president’s Justice Department decided to let some New Black Panthers who had clearly been menacing white voters at a Philadelphia polling place off the hook, and not long afterwards he wound up in an embarrassing “beer summit” with a white cop because he had prematurely judged a situation involving a black Harvard professor, and when a volunteer community watchman with Hispanic heritage but a Jewish-sounding name wound up shooting a young black man who was sitting atop him and banging his head against the concrete sidewalk the president remarked that decedent looked just like the son he’d never had, and in each of the racially-tinged law enforcement incidents that keep popping up in America the president has reliably reached the same premature conclusions. He had an official representative at the funeral of young black man killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, some weeks before his own highly politicized Justice Department was forced by the irrefutable facts of the case to concede that it was entirely the fault of the thuggish young black man for assaulting an officer and grabbing at his gun and that all the accounts of a “gentle giant” on his knees pleading “Hands up, don’t” shoot before his execution that spawned the whole “Black Lives Matter” movement was all lies.
The underlying claim that police sometimes act badly and that black Americans are statistically more likely to be on the hurting end of it is not a lie, of course, but as always the truth is quite complicated. There are no doubt some unjustified killings of young black men and women by non-black police officers, and although we won’t jump to any conclusions we admit that video from Minneapolis looks very bad for the non-black officer involved, and even the one in Louisiana where there are some potentially exculpatory reports about what happened before the cameras were rolling surely deserves the thorough investigation that it seems to be getting, and even as we await further evidence before reaching any conclusions we concede that nothing’s been reported yet that doesn’t make the one in Minneapolis look very bad for the officer, and we readily agree that these black lives do indeed matter. The far greater number of black lives taken by black murderers also matter, though, and they’re on the rise in Baltimore and St. Louis and Chicago and New York and other cities where the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the First Black President’s highly politicized Justice Department have discouraged the proactive policing that had previously led to a significant decline in the number of black lives lost. Even the most pure-hearted followers of the the “Black Lives Matter” movement are badly misguided, from our admittedly pale perspective, and the rest of their progressive agenda seems just as counter-productive.
The First Black President has also ordered his Department of Education to bully local school districts into punishing miscreant students according to strict racial quota systems, which means that the worst black students will be around to interfere with the educations of the best of the black students in America’s most dangerous school systems, and he’s ordered his Department of Housing and Urban Development to bully certain jurisdictions into accepting a certain amount of potentially criminal diversity, which doesn’t seem to have done much good for anybody. Although the black unemployment rate has lowered during the post-racial era that’s marred by the same worrisome labor force participation rate that calls that statistic into question across the racial spectrum, and the unemployment rate for black teenagers is still at Depression levels and not likely to get any better if the First Black President gets the minimum wage hike he wants, and household incomes and business start-ups and every other economic indicator is just as bleak. In all the cities where the “Black Lives Matter” movement has gained ground the local governments have long been ruled progressive Democrats, and that fact seems to have gone largely unnoticed.
Nor does there seem to be honest discussion about it. None of those numerous but sketchy reports about the deaths of law enforcement officers in St. Joseph mention the race of shooter, which is standard journalistic practice even though every black and white and any hue-in-between reader is eager to learn that fact no matter how pure-hearted they might be, and the entire discussion about this undeniably racially-tinged issue seems somehow intent on denying its racial implications.
The First Black President of the United States has cut short a pointless visit to Europe to travel to Dallas to speak about the recent deaths of five white police officers there, and although we expect another exercise in moral relativism we cling to faint hope that hell say something eloquent and unifying and post-racial. The presumptive Democratic nominee to succeed him took the opportunity of five white cops killed by sniper fire from a clearly white-hating black man to lecture white people about how they must “listen to the fears of African-Americans.” The presumptive Republican nominee was uncharacteristically more circumspect, “tweeting” about both the tragedy of the slain officers in Dallas and the black men who had been videotaped dying at the hands of police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, which annoyed some of his more fervent white supporters, but we hold out no hope that he’ll be the unifying figure who brings this awful mess to a happy conclusion.
The Republican National Convention will convene in less than a week in Cleveland, and it promises to be contentious inside and just as downright riotous outside, and the convention of those godawful Democrats a couple of weeks later might prove just as 1968 godawful, and there’s something ongoing and troublesome about our politics that a more honest country would acknowledge.

— Bud Norman

No All-Star Game at the Halfway Point

The presidential political season has now passed the halfway point, without anything nearly so entertaining as the all-star games that mark the middle of more respectable professional sports, and although the front-runners in both leagues padded their leagues on Tuesday padded their leads the outcomes are at least still somewhat in doubt.
Over on the Democrats’ senior circuit, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was awful in each of those capacities, won decisive victories in the populous and all-important “swing states” of Ohio and Florida, as well as the Democratic stronghold of Illinois, and the populous and possibly Democratic state of North Carolina, and is neck-to-neck with her lone challenger in the populous and even more possibly Democratic state of Missouri. Such a good night gives her a better than two-to-one lead in the delegate count, with all the super-delegates and other cards stacked in her favor, but she’s also had some bad nights, and against the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, at that, and he looks to be sticking around. Sanders’ supporters are quite committed to his crazy cause, and quite sanely if inadvertently aware of Clinton’s dishonesty and corruption and incompetence and purely opportunistic stands on the issues, as well as generally low moral character, and they’re coughing up twenty bucks at a time to keep funding his anti-establishment insurgency at a faster pace than the hated Wall Street fat cats can fund her unappealing campaign, and even if the Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t get a game-changing indictment against her for her irregular and national-security-endangering e-mail practices, or her scandal-ridden family’s highly suspicious “foundation,” she’s still got problems between now and her long-predicted coronation.
By now Clinton’s unfavorable ratings are so high that the current Democratic administration might be tempted to let the FBI proceed with that indictment, so that some wild card might be played at a contested convention, but Tuesday night’s Republican results suggest she might be running against pretty much the only person in the United States of America with even worse polls numbers. Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-and-scam-university mogul, also racked up a sizable win populous and swing-state Florida, as well as Illinois and North Carolina, and is quite narrowly leading in Missouri as we write this, and with the winner-take-all rule in Florida and the more convoluted systems elsewhere he added to an already sizable delegate lead. There’s no denying it was another good night for Trump.
He’s got his problems, too, though, even if his own looming legal problems are merely of a multi-million dollar civil nature. He was humbled in Ohio, where favorite son Gov. John Kasich handily won all the delegates in a winner-take-all primary and some potentially important bargaining chips in the potential contested election, where they almost certainly would not go to Trump until at least the final ballot, and he was dogged in Missouri by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has several wins against Trump and almost certainly would have won Missouri if not for the presence of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is now mercifully out of the race after his un-favorite son finish in his home state, and the intra-party opposition to Trump is also committed and contributing and increasingly well-organized, and the deal-maker’s deal is far being made.
Even if he does seal the deal on a nomination, there are still those worse-even-than-Clinton’s polling numbers, and it’s hard to imagine that one of Trump’s stream-of-consciousness rants during his nomination acceptance speech will do much to change, and a certain number of us are going to start choosing between the Constitutionalists and the Libertarians and any other conservative-sounding third party, while a certain number of similarly picky picky Democrats will be investigating the Socialist and Green and other liberal-sounding parties, but until then there’s at least some outside chance of an honest conservative versus an honest liberal.

— Bud Norman

Two Towns, Two Police Shootings

Our favorite news-and-talk radio station informed us of another fatal police shooting Tuesday afternoon. Not the one in St. Louis that you’ve probably heard about, which happened just a few miles from the one in Ferguson that even the head-chopping terrorists in Iraq have heard about, but the one that happened just south of Wichita in the small town of Haysville. If you live outside the limited broadcast range of Wichita’s radio and television stations or the shrinking circulation zone of the Wichita Eagle, it has almost certainly escaped your attention.
Even if you are within shouting distance of the Wichita media the facts of the matter are frustratingly few. Authorities responded to a domestic disturbance call at an apartment complex during mid-morning, a man is dead and a woman injured, and official investigations are underway. That’s about all we can glean from the local coverage, and we’re regarding even that scant information with the requisite skepticism. The more enterprising local reporters will probably harass the incident’s neighbors into making off-the-record speculations of dubious value to fill air time and news hole in the next few days, and there will be another spate of stories when those official investigations are concluded, but if you’re somewhere out in the ethernet beyond the south-central Kansas media don’t expect to hear about any of that.
No matter what facts might emerge in the Haysville shooting it almost certainly won’t pique any national interest, except perhaps a passing mention in some trend piece about police brutality at one of the more fashionable and thorough publications. None of the local news coverage makes any mention of the decedent’s race, from which we can reasonably infer that he was white, and without a racial angle police shootings lose much of their press appeal. The undisputed fact that the shooting happened in Haysville also suggests a very high probability that the decedent was white, and ensures that there won’t be any of the rioting or looting or other expressions of supposedly righteous anger that so enthrall the national media.
Our only previous mention of Haysville in this space was about the town’s public indignation at being made the butt of all of the hick town jokes we tell at our annual Gridiron Show, but we can testify that it’s not a bad place. We pass through occasionally on our way to the Fabulous Tahitian Room near Peck,  which has recently re-opened under the new management of a dear old friend of ours, and we’ve always found the town quite pleasantly bland, and not at all a place where we were in fear of our lives. There’s still a bit of the old hick Kansas town charm we so affectionately satirize, but it’s now surrounded by a few miles of nice but cliched split-levels and a few cookie-cutter apartment complexes that rub right up against the vast Wichita sprawl, and it’s still just rural enough to lure the urban-weary workers in the nearby aircraft factories. It’s the kind of town that might well harbor some hostile male who would threaten the police while brutalizing a woman, or could screw up and hire some trigger-happy cop who overreacted to a lovers’ spat, or could provide for some fatal combination of the two, but in any case it’s not at all the kind of town that will respond to any of these possibilities by burning down the local convenience stores. Instead we expect the Haysvillians to await the results of those official investigations, accept their conclusions in the absence of any overwhelming contradictory evidence, and to get work on time.
In such an imperfect world where police occasionally fatally shoot citizens this is about the best outcome one can hope for. Apologists for the rioters and looters and convenience store arsonists in Ferguson will attribute Haysville’s more restrained response to white privilege and all the rest of that academic nonsense, but they’ve never passed through the town and heard its hard-luck stories or sat in a relatively big city show where Haysville was the butt of hick small town jokes. If Hasyville is a bastion of white privilege, the concept is utterly meaningless. The shooting in Haysville warrants the same intense scrutiny aa the ones in St. Louis and Ferguson and all the other more racially-charged towns, and its citizens deserve the same guarantees against abuses of police power, and it speaks well of the town that it won’t get any attention.

— Bud Norman

The Riot This Time Around

Yet another riot is raging after yet another fatal police shooting of a young black man, and in most respects it seems all too familiar. Al Sharpton and the New Black Panther Party and Eric Holder’s Justice Department and the national press and all the other usual rabble-rousers are once again on the scene, once again the facts of the shooting are infuriatingly unclear, and once again individuals and businesses and public institutions that obviously had nothing to with it are among the victims. What’s different this time around, in the previously unheard of town of Ferguson, Missouri, is the reaction from the right and left ends of the political spectrum.
On the right there have been the usual denunciations of the pathological lawlessness that pervades too many majority African-American communities, the same wondering why the death of a young black man at the hands of the police warrants so much more outrage than the vastly more numerous deaths of young black men at the hands of other young black men, and the routine insistence that a police officer deserves the same presumption of innocence that would be afford to any person accused of a crime. Such obvious truths must be stated, and if not for right-wing bastards such as ourselves as they would go unsaid, so the points are by now almost obligatory. This time, though, there’s been a different emphasis from the conservative side. From the most robustly right-wing talk radio ranters to the more reserved columns of the venerable National Review, there’s been a painstakingly made acknowledgement that the most damning version of  the police officer’s actions might well be true and that the response to the predictable demonstrations might be dangerously heavy-handed. The heavily militarized police forces that many conservatives have lately decried has been on full display in Ferguson, where armored vehicles and the sorts of machine guns once trained on Iraqi terrorists have been on the streets of a little-known midwestern town, and those critics have stubbornly refused to recant their views even when such military might is deployed against opportunistic looters and the more criminally inclined sorts of Fergusonians that would not ordinarily inspire a conservative’s sympathy.
Some on the left will go ahead and charge those critics with hypocrisy for a failure to speak out about the issue now, lacking any sufficiently incendiary soundbites from any prominent Republicans, but this is easily refuted. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was singled out for his silence on the armored response to the riots, but that was only because he was busily composing an updated diatribe against such law enforcement for Time Magazine. Those eminently respectable scribes at The National Review have remained consistent, too, as has the brilliantly pugnacious Canuck conservative Mark Steyn. Throw in Texas Sen. Mark Cruz and Michigan Rep. Justin Amash and our own misgivings about all that armor on the streets of Ferguson, and its fair to say that conservatism has been quite intellectually consistent. The only hypocrisy is on the part of the left, which is suddenly scandalized by a police force that was militarized by its beloved Obama administration. Even the Obama is administration is scandalized by inevitable results of its policies, it seems, and is apparently confident that it won’t be forcefully confronted with the contradiction.
No one on the right is abandoning conservatism’s inherent preference for law and order, of course, but as National Review’s headline writers put it, “More bobby sticks, fewer M-16s, please. The sort of rioting that has lately occurred in Ferguson is unfortunately routine in American history, and has traditionally been quelled with more low-tech methods, so traditionalists have good cause for continuing this policy. Almost all of those meddlesome bureaucracies now have their own armies to enforce their ever-expanding array of regulations, most of which aren’t so commonsensical as “don’t burn down the neighborhood convenience store,” and it no longer seems mere paranoia to wonder what sort of popular uprisings all that military power might yet be unleashed upon. The Department of Homeland Security has identified veterans and advocates of low taxes and limited government as national security threats, the “tea party” is routinely vilified as a brewing violent revolution, strict adherence to government’s wise mandates is the stated goal of modern liberalism, and no can seriously believe that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder intended all that military might at your local police force to intimidate some black youths angered by the plausible but yet unproved claim that a policeman in a previously unheard of Missouri town unnecessarily caused a young black man’s death.
On the left there is the usual talk of income inequality and racial prejudice and economic deprivation and all the usual rationalizations for burning down the neighborhood convenience store, but without the usual enthusiasm. This comes more than six years into the post-racial era of hope and change, after all, and by now even the thugs burning down the neighborhood convenience store have noticed that the current administration has done nothing to improve their lot in life. They might never notice that the right is demanding a thorough and unbiased investigation of their grievances, or protesting the harsh methods used to put down even their most peaceable protests, or advocating policies on issues ranging from immigration to entrepreneurship to gun rights that would improve their economic fortunesErick, or that Republicans aren’t the racist rednecks they’ve been led to believe, but it seems unlikely that the left will derive any benefit from the latest riot. That’s something different about this time around, and something hopeful.

— Bud Norman