Et Tu, Republicans?

President Donald Trump claims full credit for a slight Republican majority in the Senate, but he shouldn’t count on it to always do his bidding. On Thursday the Senate passed one resolution rebuking Trump’s support of Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen, and then another resolution contradicting Trump’s claim that Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman didn’t necessarily order the murder of a legal American resident and Washington Post columnist, The votes mostly came from the Democrats’ slight and unanimous minority, but enough Republicans defied the president to pass the resolutions and give Trump reason to worry.
Trump highly prizes his close relationship with the Saudi dictatorship, for reasons ranging from arguably pragmatic geopolitical considerations to corporate America’s and Trump’s personal business relationships to the way they’ve always flattered him, so he’s surely irked at the Republicans who aren’t on board with his agenda. Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen is a humanitarian disaster disrupting America’s long and carefully made alliances in that volatile region, and all of America’s intelligence agencies and everyone around the world who’s been paying attention know good and well that the Saudi dictatorship quite obviously ordered the gruesome murder of that American resident journalist, but Trump expects the sort of loyalty that overlooks such troublesome facts.
The constitution grants the executive branch broad authority to conduct foreign policy, for whatever its reasons, so a couple of Senate resolutions won’t change things much, but such feistiness from even a few Republicans is a worrisome development. The Senate will soon be dealing with issues involving various legal investigations into Trump’s businesses and presidential campaign and presidency, so will a soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and Trump is currently finding it difficult to replace even he erstwhile administration allies he’s recently defenestrated.
Trump still holds considerable sway over the Republican party, which still holds significant sway over America’s destiny, but Thursday’s Senate votes exposed his weakened position. Trump takes no blame for the Republicans’ loss of 40 House seats by nine million votes in the past midterm elections, but he’s stuck with that Democratic majority that will surely be joined by at least a few of those House Republicans from suburban districts in Democratic states who somehow survived the Republican carnage. The past election had several Democratic Senators facing reelection in states that went for Trump, but the next one has several Republicans facing reelection in states that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won, and some of those Democrats in Republican states won last time around, and some Republicans will be running in in traditionally Democratic states that Trump barely won, and we don’t think Trump should expect blind loyalty from any of them. Trump ran against the Republican establishment as hard as he did against the Democrats, and except for the Saudis he suddenly finds himself without many loyal friends.

— Bud Norman

The Strange Case of Jamal Khashoggi

Over the years we’ve read a lot of improbable cloak-and-dagger novels and watched many fanciful films about international intrigue, but we’ve never come across a story quite so fascinating as the real-life disappearance and almost certain murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Even with unfettered access to the very best findings of America’s crack intelligence agencies President Donald Trump will not say with any certainty what has become of Kashoggi, and we can’t claim to have any better information. but we are far more objective and fairly certain of a few established facts. Khashoggi provably entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2 to deal with paperwork for an upcoming wedding, and so far neither the fiancee who was waiting outside nor the consulate’s constant security cameras nor anyone else can testify that he ever came out. It’s also a verifiable fact that Khashoggi was considered an enemy of the people by the Saudi Arabian government, with no other obvious enemies who might have access to a Saudi Arabian consulate, and although that’s not conclusive proof of anything it’s worth keeping in mind.
So far the government of Turkey is officially coy about its conclusions, but unofficially it’s been leaking a flood of information to various world media that they have audiotape from Khashoggi’s cell phone of his brutal torture and murder and dismemberment, that on the day after Khashoggi’s disappearance their investigators found the consulate both thoroughly scrubbed and freshly painted, and they’ve got the flight records of 15 suspicious Saudis with provably close ties to their government and an autopsy specialist with a bone saw who flew into Istanbul just shortly before Khashoggi’s arrival at the consulate. Turkey’s government is lately almost as Islamist and authoritarian and untrustworthy as Saudi Arabia’s, and has its own complicated geo-political reasons to embarrass Saudi Arabia, but they’ve also got the sort of highly effective domestic security apparatus that could prove such claims, and would be just as happy to embarrass Saudi Arabia with the truth.
By now even such steadfast Trump loyalists as South Carolina’s Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham say that the Saudis look pretty damned guilty, and it would take a pretty imaginative novelist or screenwriter to come up with some other plausible plot twist, but Trump holds out for the possibility that some group of “rogue killers” might have killed Khashoggin in defiance of the Saudi government’s wishes.
;Some of those cloak-and-dagger novels we’ve read and foreign intrigue films we’ve watched had some pretty glaring plot holes, but even dime novels and $10 Hollywood movies could never come up with such a convoluted plot twist as that. Getting a group of “rogue killers” into a Saudi consulate in Istanbul just as an expatriate Saudi journalist and enemy of the Saudi people showed up would be tough enough for the “Mission: Impossible” screenwriters, much less why fellow enemies of the Saudi people would want to kill him, and never the mind the crews of rogue cleaners and painters who showed up in the immediate aftermath to scrub the alleged crime scene clean.
One never really knows, though, so perhaps Trump is right to hold out hope that neither Saudi King Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud nor current dictator Prince Mohammad bin Salman had anything do with whatever unpleasantness that might have transpired at a Saudi consulate. Back during the campaign Trump publicly boasted that he got along great with the Saudis because they did tens of millions of dollars of business with him, and they rolled out quite the red carpet for him on his first state visit abroad, and these days Trump can rightly argue that they do billions in business with far bigger American companies and as always play a crucial strategic role in America’s tricky middle-eastern foreign policy. Surely they deserve some benefit of the doubt.
Besides, as Trump as always reminds his interviewers, this Khashoggi guy wasn’t an American citizen, and even if he did get tortured and murdered and dismembered it didn’t happen here, so it arguably isn’t any of America’s business. Khashoggi was a legal American resident, which by law means he’s entitled to same protections of the state as anyone else living here, but what’s that against the millions and billions of dollars in trade that Trump and America get from the Saudis. That Khahshoggi guy also wrote for The Washington Post, long considered a leading light of America’s free press, but these days they’re also deemed enemies of the people.
The biggest mystery at this point is why Trump doesn’t just come right out and say, “Yeah, so what if the Saudis tortured and killed and dismembered this guy?” Khashoggi wasn’t even an American citizen, after all, and he wrote regularly for those enemies of the American people at The Washington Post, so we doubt that many of Trump’s die-hard defenders give much of a damn about what happened to that guy. What happened to that Khashoggi guy might slightly heighten the fervor of Trump’s opponents, but it probably won’t much swell their number.
In any case, this poor Khashoggi guy’s tale seems headed to a more desultory conclusion than any cloak-and-dagger novel we’ve ever read or any foreign intrigue film we’ve ever seen, and we worry that America won’t come out any greater.

— Bud Norman

The Finals Begin

Well, it looks as if former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton truly is the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee after all, even it wasn’t nearly so easy as promised and even if her long presumed status as the First Woman President remains somewhat in doubt. After nearly eight long years of waiting she was officially pronounced her party’s presumptive nominee by The Associated Press even before the voting in California, and her landslide win in that populous and crucial state makes it all but a fait accompli.
There’s still an outside chance this thoroughly awful woman will be indicted on felony charges for influence-peddling and for endangering national security by communicating through an insecure private e-mail server to avoid public scrutiny of her disastrous tenure as Secretary of State, but at this point the Democrats are so horrified by the prospect of the presumptive Republican nominee that the vast majority of them just don’t care. She also lost by blow-out margins to much peskier-than-expected rival and self-described socialist and full-blown nutcase Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the far less populous and even less crucial states of North Dakota, adding to a long streak of embarrassing defeats, and her presumptive status is still contingent on all those party establishment “super-delegates” who have been promising her the nomination for the past nearly eight years, but she also won in the more populous and crucial states of New Jersey and New Mexico, as well as South Dakota, and even Sanders’ most embittered supporters will eventually be forced to admit that over the long run she got by far more primary and caucus voters from the national party’s rank-and-file.

The presumptive Republican nominee, whose much easier win of the nomination was unexpected by almost everyone, is already making overtures to those disgruntled Sanders voters and promising a big speech about the presumptive Democratic nominee’s old and ongoing thoroughly awful scandals, but it remains to be seen how any of that will work out. The presumptive Republican nominee is Donald J. Trump, a self-described billionaire and real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul, and we expect that most of Sanders’ scruffy and resentful supporters will eventually glumly fall in line with their party’s chosen one the same way, and for the same reason of revulsion to the alternative, that most Republicans are now glumly siding with Trump. Although it’s hard to overstate the case against the Democrats’ thoroughly awful nominee the Republican will probably manage to do so, perhaps by doubling down on his insinuation that Clinton had a former associate assassinated, just as he once insinuated the father of one of his vanquished Republican rivals might have been in on the Kennedy assassination, or whatever else his friends at The National Enquirer might come up with, and the news cycle might yet wind up dominated by continued coverage of the thoroughly awful Republican nominee’s criticism of one of the “Mexican” of the three judges in the civil suit and ongoing scandal about that “Trump University” he ran that sure likes to be a case out of outright fraud against our most vulnerable fellow suckers.

By now everyone who keeps abreast of Republican politics knows that the judge in question is indeed of Mexican heritage, and belongs to a lawyer’s club that goes by the admittedly problematic name of “La Raza,” and that Trump has vowed to build a wall to keep their kind out, and that one top of that the guy’s an Obama appointee, but we doubt that any of those disgruntled Sanders supporters care much about any of that. So far as they and even some more sensible people are concerned, the judge was born in Indiana to naturalized citizens and is therefore not a Mexican, the complaint that any judge not tainted by any touch of Mexican heritage would have surely summarily dismissed the same case that is still going on in two other courts run by more Anglo-Saxon judges is patently ridiculous, that his original appointment to the bench was by a Republican governor and his subsequent career has included notable fights against Mexican criminal organizations, and they might even note that the case was indeed dropped in two other states after the Attorneys General received generous contributions from a presumptive Republican nominee who has openly bragged on Republican debate stages that he made contributions to gain posterior-kissing favor from politicians. We do hope that the presumptive Republican nominee’s big speech will make mention about the presumptive Democratic nominees phony-baloney influence-peddling “family foundation, but we don’t expect he’ll mention he was among the six-figure contributors, and we can’t say how this mud-slinging contest will come out, except to say that they’ll both be covered with plenty of mud.

— Bud Norman

Murder, Live on Television, and Its Complications

The murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward on Wednesday morning were broadcast on live television and posted on the internet by the murderer, which of course makes them impossible to ignore. Otherwise the media happily ignore it.
Both of the victims were white and heterosexual, their murderer was black and homosexual, and except for the inevitable arguments about the need for new gun laws there’s nothing about the case that advances the preferred media narrative. The heartbreaking tales of the victims’ promising lives make the Democratic Party’s sudden embarrassment to state that all lives matter seem callous, the murderer’s firing from the television news organization he attacked now seems well justified no matter or his race or sexual orientation, and his declared intention to start a race war with the shootings of his former colleagues doesn’t suggest that the post-racial era promised by the current president has come about. Except for the fact that there was a gun involved, nothing about these brutal murders is of much use to the press.
The more conservative portions of the press will properly note that the preferred narrative of the media is sympathetic to the grievances of blacks and homosexuals and especially black homosexuals, and that this might have led some obviously crazed black homosexual who kept getting local television news jobs despite his obvious mental and emotional deficiencies to commit such a horrible crime, but we will resist this temptation. We don’t like it when people who take a principled stand against late-term abortions are implicated in the murder of a doctor who performs late-term abortions, or when a rather insignificant political figure is blamed for a bizarre shooting of another obscure political figure because of a rifle-sight figure on a political blog, and for all our contempt for the Only Black Lives Matter movement we’re not going to blame them for some random lunatic’s amoral actions. We can’t say they helped, but we can’t say they’re to blame.
All we can say is that we’ll pray for the victims and their families and loved ones, and that the government doesn’t do anything crazy to undermine the right of self-defense as a result, and that the next news cycle somehow brings better news.

— Bud Norman

Straight Outta the Movies

Although we pay little attention to the contemporary cinema, we couldn’t help noticing that the big hit of the past weekend was titled “Straight Outta Compton.” The essential Drudge Report was of course on the story, and when we hit its link to a story about the box office booty it transported back in time to the days when the murder rate was soaring and here in Wichita and just about everywhere else and we were working the music beat for the local newspaper.
Just as we had suspected, the movie is reportedly about N.W.A., an acronym for “Niggaz With Attitude,” which is the “gangsta rap” ensemble whose debut album was also titled “Straight Outta Compton.” Middle-aged and middle-American white guys that we are, we were quite familiar with the subject matter. Back in the the glorious ’80s, when vinyl records were still widely available, we used to frequent a local music shop where the proprietors were familiar enough with our tastes that they would sometimes recommend a new release, and although they knew we’re predisposed to old country and old blues and old rock ‘n’ roll and old jazz and old pop standards they also knew we were also keen to hear anything that sums up the current zeitgeist, so they urged that we purchase a copy of “Straight Outta Compton.” Sure enough, when we laid it on our turntable and turned up the volume we were memorably stunned by the ensuing sounds. The record was the aural equivalent of the most stomach-turning horror flick you’ve ever seen at a drive-in motive theater, with a compellingly abhorrent beat underling underlying extraordinarily vulgar and immediately believable lyrics about the carnage that was then occurring in the Compton portion of the Los Angeles metro area and almost everywhere else, our humble prairie hometown included, which had a sizable black population.
By chance the group soon announced a concert engagement here in Wichita, at a venue built to accommodate the big swing bands, so we did our day job and called up the record company’s publicity department to arrange a telephone interview with one of the group’s members. We wound up speaking with with Ice Cube, identified in the record as a “crazy-ass nigga named Ice Cube,” and were surprised to find him a most affable fellow. When we asked about the controversy that had naturally resulted from his group’s success he explained that he they were just telling the awful truth about what was going on in his “‘hood,” which was the du jour defense of “gangsta rap” back in those days, we asked if it machine gun murders was really all that going on in in his neighborhood, and if nobody was falling in love or going to school in starting a business or something other than owing down naggers with a machine gun, and he stammered his explanation that the carnage was the most important development for N.W.A. to be going on about. Since then he’s gone on to a successful career as a mainstream Hollywood actor, with fine performances in the fine Iraq War caper flick “Three Kings” and a couple of moves that about black American life that entail a wider array of black American experience than street murders, and we’d like to think that our stumping questions had something to do with that.
Affable as he’d been, our conversation with Ice Cube and our multiple playings of “Straight Outta Compton” led us to insist that our newspaper buy us a ticket to N.W.A.’s performance so we could write an eye-witness account of the resulting shooting. Our niggardly editors were skeptical of our promise that would be a shooting at the concert, which was taking place at the old Cotillion Ballroom that had been built for the big bands of the swing era, but we explained that they hadn’t heard the album. We were sure that of all the people enticed to that that concerts by “Straight OUtta Compton” some among them were going to take a shot a someone. We were slightly worried when the the concert went without incident, and the group explained that they weren’t going to do with their hit “F**K Tha Police” because it has proved troublesome, but as the group finished its closing numbers and the shots rang and the glass broke and the crowd rioted we were able to make deadline by phoning from behind an old-fashioned phone booth that gunshots were fired at a performance of “Niggaz With Attitude,”
Nobody died at that concert, but there were more murders in Wichita that year than were were in Belfast, Ireland, which was still in thrall of its “troubles,” and we’re still not sure if the “Niggaz With Attitude” and their “Straight Outta Compton” was exposing this dire situation or glamorizing it. We do recall reading a story about how every stop on N.W.A.’s tour, from Honolulu to Wichita to New York, involved gunshots. We haven’t seen the new movie, and probably won’t until it show up on Netflix, but we’re eager to see how it deals with these unpleasant facts.
The murder rates have sharply declined here and elsewhere since those bad old days, but we’re nonetheless worried that “Niggaz With Attitude” are once again at the top of the box office and back in the the news. It seems to coincide with the “F**k Tha Police” attitudes of a “Black Lives Matter” movement that that boos down any suggestion that all lives matter, even those black lives lost to the lawlessness that too often prevails in black neighborhoods because of a lack of policing, and with the racial animosities that have resurfaced since the election of the First Black President. Some may welcome the black empowerment of the the Niggazs With Attitude, but we hope they’ll note that death total is mostly black.

— Bud Norman

On Sanctuary Cities and Senseless Murders

When an innocent young woman is randomly murdered by an illegal immigrant with multiple felony convictions, who despite was living in San Francisco despite multiple deportations because it is sanctimoniously a “sanctuary” city that will not cooperate with any attempt at enforcing immigration law, it is hard for those of who advocate the strictest possible enforcement of immigration law to avoid the tempting political implications of such a tragedy. We had resolved to keep a respectful silence on the matter, in deference to the apparently fine and lovely young woman who was killed, and being ever mindful that the complicated issues involved require more dispassionate consideration that such tragedies allow, but we cannot let it go unremarked that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest could not resist the temptation to blame the murder on those of us who advocated the strictest possible enforcement of immigration law.
Such an obviously counter-intuitive slur takes some doing, the administration’s spokesman made either a joshing or earnest attempt. He explained that the president’s y’all come immigration policies, which have been enacted through executive authority that the president spent the first five years of his presidency insisting he did not have the power enact, were mainly intended to ensure “we were focusing our law enforcement efforts on those individuals who pose a genuine threat. Alas, Earnest explained, due to factors apparently still beyond the president’s control, “Too often we see those limited law enforcement resources to be focused on breaking up families.” This situation is inconsistent with the president’s values, Earnest earnestly asserts, and if you’re still wondering why the president hasn’t been able to fix this awful situation it’s because “these efforts would be significantly augmented had Republicans not blocked comprehensive immigration reform.” He also had the gall to say “I recognize people will want to play politics on this,” and then the even greater and more irony-infused gall to go on to say “But the fact is that the president has done everything within his power to make sure we are focusing our law enforcement resources on criminals and those who pose a threat to public safety and it’s because of Republicans that we have not been able to make the kind of investment that we’d like to make in securing our border and making our communities safe.”
So far as we can gather from the news reports and YouTube videos, Earnest didn’t have any similar criticisms of the City of San Francisco, whose stated municipal policy is to not cooperate and actively interfere with any efforts to enforce immigration law, no matter of many felony convictions might have at long last aroused the attention of the federal authorities, or Rep. Nancy Pelosi or any other of the hippie-dippie but reliably Democratic leaders of that sanctimoniously tolerant town. The blame of course entirely lies with that pesky opposition party and its racist knee-jerk reaction to the president’s principled proposal to unilaterally re-write immigration law and allow in many hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, including trainloads of unaccompanied minors from the worst slums of Central America, most of whom didn’t bother to show up at their deportation hearings, but also give him a few more billions of dollars to make sure they’re all good and hard-working and law-abiding types who will fill the tax coffers and keep your pool clean and never commit a horrible crime. If only those darned Republicans and the enforce-the-law-dammit crowd hadn’t slowed the administration’s progress, and if only all the arguments about the cultural and economic and political consequences of an historically unprecedented wave of immigration hadn’t been made, we all surely would have had filled tax coffers and clean pools and no crime.
We won’t lower ourselves to Josh Earnest’s level by suggesting that the policies those Republicans fought for would have prevented this tragedy, or get into the arguments about immigration that are best considered dispassionately, but we will assert that those of us who advocate the strictest possible enforcement of immigration law are not responsible, and that we grieve for this outcome.

— Bud Norman

Reflections on the Eleventh Homicide of the Year in Our City

We awoke Friday morning to the news that more than 20 years of excellent friendship with an extraordinary woman had come to a sudden end with her brutal and senseless murder, and for now everything else in the papers seems unimportant, and nothing at all seems to make any sense.
Tanya Tandoc was one of those “most memorable character” types, although very much of the post-modern variety you’d be unlikely to encounter in Readers’ Digest, and even after so many years we retain a vivid memory of the very first time we met her. A friend had invited us to a party, something we desperately needed at the time, but when we arrived at the address he’d given us, which turned out to be an aging apartment building in a particularly rough part of the generally rough north end, we were embarrassed to have only a half-dressed young woman in an otherwise empty studio answer our knock at the door. We apologetically explained our reason for being there, and she laughingly replied that our mutual friend had given us the right address but the wrong time, as she wasn’t expecting guests for another hour or so, so with more embarrassment and profuse apologies we offered to return later, but she laughingly insisted that we come right on in and provide her with company while she finished her preparations. A most enjoyable conversation somehow ensued, with her characteristic graciousness and charm and gift for small talk overcoming our characteristic embarrassment and awkwardness and reticence with half-dressed strangers, and by the time the other guests started arriving and inevitably crowding us away from her magnetic presence we had commenced an excellent friendship that would last to her dying day.
That party was a significant event for much of the rest of our humble prairie hometown, too, as it announced the arrival of Tanya Tandoc as an inexorable force on the economic and social and cultural history of Wichita, Kansas. We learned in that first conversation that she’d grown up in the nearby and charmingly Frank Capra-esque but too-small-for-the-likes-of-Tanya town of Newton, then gone off to some fancy culinary school in the seemingly-perfect-for-the-likes-of-Tanya city of San Francisco, but then decided for some reason she could never quite explain to us to split the difference by making her mark in the big-by-prairie-standards city of Wichita. Her master plan for the domination of our city started in that empty studio apartment in that aging building in a particularly rough part of the generally rough north end, but even then she was able to attract the cream of the city’s hipster crop to her swinging barrio debutante ball, and to the observant eye of an ink-stained newspaper wretch and aspiring serious writer it was already apparent that something of importance would surely follow.
Tanya Tandoc could play the cello well, converse about even our arcane choice of topics with the delightful flair of a witty and worldly and well-read woman, riposte our friendly verbal jabs and innocuous flirtations with the élan of a screwball comedy heroine, and oh how that woman could cook. She was drop-dead gorgeous, too, with an exotic beauty of almond eyes and Betty Boop lips and an enviable mane of somehow perfectly askew hair inherited from her Filipino father and white American mother, all packed into a petite but formidable frame and adorned in the most impeccably hip fashion sense, and given the obvious enjoyment she derived from it we’re sure she wouldn’t be the least bit offended that we mention this important fact of her life. In a variety of other ways she was just so damned interesting, but it all might have proved forgettable if she hadn’t also been such a surprisingly shrewd and hard-headed and quintessentially Kansas capitalist.
She first started making the papers around here when she became chef at The Larkspur, the swankest joint in the Old Town dining-and-drinking district that the city government created out of an abandoned warehouse area to give the impression of a hip and up-to-date metropolis, and whipped it into such stellar shape that the local aviation executives weren’t at all embarrassed to take a client from San Francisco or any other fancy-pants city. We were going through the last of a devastating disintegration of a marriage at the time, and found Tanya’s upbeat personality and heartfelt encouragements and innocuous flirtations most ameliorative, and The Larkspur was right across the street from the newspaper where we wearily labored, so we spent enough time at its bar to notice how very efficiently our weird hipster friend ran a business. When she announced her intention to start her own restaurant, an idea which attracted the attention of all the local media and food aficionados, it was the first and only time we ever advised a friend her business plan seemed a good idea.
Tanya’s Soup Kitchen soon opened in an old train station right next door to the newspaper, and in short order everyone in the newsroom and the rest of the nearby office buildings were lining up for the friendly and efficient service, especially from that pretty and friendly redhead we’re still pleased to run into now and then, as well as its impeccably hip atmosphere, reasonable even-by-Wichita’s-stingy-standards prices, of course the gracious and charming encounters with the owner, and mostly because of oh how that woman could cook. Our newspaper couldn’t resist several enthusiastic reviews, the local television stations soon followed with feature stories about the damned interesting and drop-dead gorgeous woman and her red-hot restaurant near downtown, and the resulting long lines inevitably crowded us out of Tanya Tandoc’s magnetic presence and over to the greasy spoon diner on the other side of newspaper building where they made a good enough and quick enough patty melt and fries to get us through an afternoon, but we were delighted by our friend’s success.
A big cable television company bought out the property where Tanya’s Soup Kitchen had thrived, and for a while she did catering and teaching and food preparation for commercial photo shoots and whatever else her considerable talents would bear on the Wichita culinary market, much to the dismay of ourselves and the rest of the newsroom and all those other downtown office workers who had lined up for her yummy soups and simple yet delicious sandwiches. We’d still run into her frequently on the local arts and music and culinary and hipster scenes, and get some valued invitations to her parties full of local swells and interesting oddballs and terrific food, and it was always damned interesting and a delight. She got married to our mutual friend Wayne Gottstine, a very talented musician and damned interesting fellow in his own right, who is a leader of the band called Split Lip Rayfield, which has earned a small but fervent and international cult following for its offbeat and uptempo punk-bluegrass style, and their wedding was the social event of the year and their marriage was the hippest in town. At the time we were dating Tanya’s much younger and equally drop-dead gorgeous and just as damned interesting sister, who was so much younger than ourselves that it was something of a local scandal, but our friendship was happily unaffected by any of it. She seemed to find it amusing that the friends she had always joshed about being so straitlaced and old-fashioned found themselves temporarily scandalized, and given her own admitted knack for creating far juicier scandals she wasn’t one to judge, and the situation with the sister ended harmlessly enough, and Tanya’a apparent happiness as a respectable married woman and doting stepmother and attentive guardian of some so-ugly-they’re-cute Pugs somehow made her all the more delightful to be around in our occasional encounters.
Eventually Tanya’s Soup Kitchen re-opened at an unlikely location on a starkly commercial strip of East Douglas well past downtown, where the lines once again became so long for our impatient temperament that we were crowded out of her magnetic presence, even if the service was still friendly and efficient and the prices still reasonable even by Wichita standards and oh how that woman could still cook, but with the local art and music and cuisine and hipster scenes being so small around here we’d still have those occasional delightful encounters. Her local legend continued to grow, with her popular restaurant reviews on the local public radio station and her generous fund-raising efforts on behalf of several worthy causes and the continued slavish devotion of all the local media, not to mention the ever-expanding circle of friends irresistibly drawn to her magnetic personality, but during those occasional delightful encounters and the swinging parties she hosted with the fashionable crowds and great food, she continued to generously share the rest of her damned interesting life with us, for better and worse.
Married life proved difficult even for the hippest couple in Wichita, and probably all the more difficult with one being a very talented musician with a fervent cult following and the other being such an inexorable force and both being so damned interesting, and although we heard rumors heard of the split some months ago the divorce apparently became final just in the past week or so. The passage of more than 20 years and a constant proximity to such tempting food as Tanya created had added a few pounds to her formerly petite but formidable frame, and her exotic beauty had matured in the usual ways, and her collection of tattoos grew beyond what our admittedly straitlaced and old-fashioned tastes would prefer, but she was still eager to show off her hard-earned voluptuousness and ripened beauty during the public belly dancing performances and burlesque shows that became her favorite hobby, and it further increased her local legend as many of the women who once were spitefully envious of her came to appreciate her public demonstration that a few years and a few pounds couldn’t stop such an inexorable force from being drop-dead gorgeous and perpetually alluring and unashamed to flaunt it.
Tanya Tandoc had flaws, of course, but she always readily forgave ours and hers were so essentially tied in with the best of her and had so little to do with our own lives that they were in turn easily forgivable. One of the local photographers who employed her food preparation skills still rolls his eyes as he recounts the salty things she’d say to shock the staid corporate clients hovering around his shoots, but we found that rather amusing, and we were frequently warned to never get on her bad side, but we can’t imagine any reason we’d ever want to do that anyway, and women being women there was some unavoidable gossip about cat fights, but in most cases we chalked that up to the difficulty some women will always have with exotic beauties and inexorable forces. We’d sometimes kid her about how much she seemed to relish her local celebrity, or the exorbitant number of photos of herself she would post on Facebook, in turn she would playfully chide us about our reluctance to trumpet the noteworthy qualities that she always stubbornly insisted we possessed, and as usual we think she got the better of the exchange. Her very high opinion of herself was entirely justified by her undeniable fabulousness, as far as we were concerned, and she still had plenty of love left over for the rest of us. We were just one of the many hundreds of her friends around here, and probably not among the most damned interesting of them, but on every single occasional encounter there was nothing perfunctory about her questions regarding how we were doing, and she was always genuinely delighted to hear the good news and sincerely saddened by the bad, which we felt blissfully free to share in either case, and even the jaded soul of an ink-stained wretch and aspiring serious writer would always walk away with the slight but essential amelioration of an excellent friendship with an extraordinary woman.
The brutal and senseless murder of a local celebrity chef has been the big story in all the local media lately, and the mayor issued a statement of regret, and it’s being talked about everywhere from the boardrooms to the hipster dives and all sorts of places in between, which we’re sure Tanya would have appreciated. All those feature stories the papers and televisions stations did over the years have provided enough video footage and file photos of the newsworthily fabulous victim to make for some tear-jerking coverage, and our former newspaper has unleashed a retrospective of pictures dating back to her early smokin’ hot days not long after that cheap studio apartment party on the north end, and KAKE news has re-posted an old “Hatteberg’s People” segment about her, sort of the local television equivalent of the Readers’ Digest’s “Most Memorable Character” feature, which is not bad and has an added poignance because of her quotes about living each day to the fullest because one never knows when it might end and how she was always eager to wake up and begin a new day because she figured she could she sleep when she was dead. Still, none of the local media’s best efforts, of course, are at all satisfactory.
Those poor fellows who now occupy our former desk at the local newspaper are understandably constrained by the questions of who, what, where, when, and why, and the ostensible necessity of fitting them all into the “tweet”-sized characters of an inverted pyramid lead paragraph, and after writing more murder stories than Agatha Christie our long and desultory experience of the task suggests that it simply can’t be done. The when and where of it are facts that can be objectively established, and what happened is just as undeniable, but the matter of who would require an epic novel far greater than our talents could render, and the matter of why will never be explained. We also knew the man who has reportedly confessed to Tanya’s murder, although not nearly so well, only to an extent that we’d formed a tentative conclusion that we didn’t really care to know him any better. He was a minor figure on the local music scene, with a reputation for being a charming enough fellow while sober but not otherwise, and apparently he had been living in Tanya’s basement for some months prior to the murder, and our friends on the music scene describe the rapid deterioration of the confessed “suspect’s” already dubious mental health following the failure of the guitar shop he’d operated across the street from Tanya’s Soup Kitchen, and the trial will eventually yield more and better established details, and we’re sure the local media will be on the story, but it will never amount to why. In any case we’ll be pleased not to run into that guy ever again, and whatever the justice system metes out we won’t be having any more of those delightful encounters with  Tanya.
To explain the who of Tanya Tandoc, you’d need more than the clips about her surprisingly shrewd and hard-headed and quintessentially Kansas capitalism, or footage of her cello-playing and inspiring quotations about eating and drinking and being merry for tomorrow we might die, or file photos of her exotic beauty with the almond eyes and Betty Boop lips and perfectly askew hair, or the rave reviews of her mostly women fans about her belly-dancing, or the audio of her own rave reviews for the other fine locally-owned restaurants, or the voluminous testimonials about oh how that woman could cook, or our own futile efforts to convey how very gratifying it was to have an occasional encounter and such an excellent friendship with an extraordinary woman. To explain the why of it you’d have to note that such a witty and worldly and well-read and shrewd and hard-headed and quintessentially Kansas capitalist and exotically beautiful woman was still somehow a Kansas girl from a Frank Capra-esque small town at heart, the sort of vain but gentle and loving soul who laughingly invited even the most unlikely lonely souls who inadvertently knocked on her door to come right on in and keep her company while she made her preparations for the rest of her fabulous life, and that the very best of her might have led to her demise just doesn’t make any sense at all.
We’ll also forever remember and cherish our last encounter with Tanya Tandoc, not so long ago, when she was out at a favorite dive of ours in the very roughest part of the north end, escorted by a graying but still-handsome and very fine fellow we’ve happily known for many years, and how the notorious Queen Bee laughed heartily at a slightly heteronormative Jewish mother joke we like to tell, and how ready and eager she seemed to wake up early and get on with the rest of the long and damned interesting life that a more perfect world would have granted her. Tanya Tandoc was ten tantalizing years younger than us, and she would have made a damned interesting old lady, so our excellent friendship with this extraordinary woman should have lasted to our dying day, not hers, and the way it’s turned out also doesn’t make any sense. We’ll forever remember and cherish all those occasional encounters in between those memorable first and last ones, as well, and what she taught us about the hottest peppers being the smallest ones, and we’ve spent the last few days dropping in on the hipster dives and musical joints and sharing old and excellent friendships with the most extraordinary and lovable losers we find there, who were of course also friends of Tanya Tandoc and are suddenly asking about our well-being with the same sincerity as when she asked us, and we’ve shared tears and fond wishes, and we feel a certain sense that the exquisitely human-to-human thing about our excellent friendship with that extraordinary woman will somehow inexorably persist in our humble prairie hometown. We surely hope so, as we’ll need it in such a cruel world as this.

— Bud Norman

A Murder in Oklahoma

A young man was senselessly shot and killed Tuesday in small town Oklahoma, and yet another racial controversy has followed.
The usual admonitions about the questionable reliability of early press reports and the presumption of innocence are hereby made, but the known facts of the case are sufficient to provoke an emotional debate. Christopher Lane, a handsome and by all accounts likeable 22-year-old who was attending Oklahoma’s East Central University on a baseball scholarship, was shot in the back while jogging in a well-to-do neighborhood of his girlfriend’s hometown of Duncan. A short time later three teenagers were arrested for the crime, and police say that one confessed they had committed the murder with the explanation that it was done “for fun” to relieve the boredom of their last days of summer vacation.
As horrific as the crime and its shocking motive might be, the story would probably have never been heard of outside south-central Oklahoma if not for the fact that Lane is from Melbourne, Australia, and the papers there regard such a murder as big news. The angle there is America’s murderous culture, of course, and the Australian media seem as eager as their American counterparts to exploit any story that will advance the cause of draconian gun control. America’s difficult race relations are apparently of less interest to the Australian media, but neither are they bound by the rules of racial etiquette that prevail in American newsrooms and the reports all included photographs revealing that Lane is white and two of his three alleged killers are black.
The race of the victim and his alleged killers might or might not have anything to do with the murder, but most American media are disinclined to report on any crime involving white victims and black perpetrators. Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report seems to relish such stories, however, and trumpeted his links to the Australian news reports with a banner headline. The Drudge Report has more readers than all the famous American newspapers put together, and is therefore hated by the mainstream American media with a especially intense passion, so its interest in Lane’s death has forced it into the national conversation. Such reliably liberal commentators as MSNBC’s Piers Morgan have quickly seized on the murderous culture and draconian gun control angle, while others have hewed to the usual rules and either left out the racial identifications or ignored the story altogether, but the more daringly conservative outlets have addressed the racial aspects of the story with a startling frankness.
This reaction was quite predictable in the wake of months of relentless coverage of the trial of George Zimmerman for shooting Tryon Martin in far away in Florida, which was widely portrayed in the media and by prominent politicians as a typical case of a racist white man gunning down an unarmed black teenager in murderous America with its insanely permissive gun laws. That trial ended with an acquittal after evidence clearly demonstrated Zimmerman, who is mostly Hispanic and a former Bema supporter, was being severely beaten by Martin, who turned out to be something less than the angelic child in the years-old photographs that routinely accompanied the stories, and since then press critics have been waiting for the chance to see how the press might cover a story with less promising racial implications. They might have expected that they would see the story of an law-abiding man being killed at random by people flouting the guns laws as further proof that more laws are needed for the law-abiding to abide by, just as they had seen the case of a law-abiding man protecting himself from a potentially deadly assault as proof that more guns laws are needed for the law-abiding to abide by, but Lane’s death still provides an irresistible opportunity to expose the hypocrisy.
Those critics have a point, given that black-on-white violence is eight times more common than white-on-black violence yet receives far less attention from the media, and in the case of Lane’s tragic death there are early indications that race might have played a deadly role. The first thing a reporter in the modern age does when reporting on a crime is to check the social media postings of the suspects, and in this case they reveal two young men steeped in the violent ghetto sub-culture with an unabashed hatred of white people. Both of the suspects had posted pictures of themselves in gang paraphernalia and flashing gang signs as well as various firearms, and one “tweeted” a claim that “90% of white people are nasty” and a boast that he had “knocced out 5 woods since Zimmerrman court!” For those unfamiliar with the latest slang, “knocced” is a spelling of “knocked” that employs a popular signature of the Crips street gang, and “woods” is an abbreviation of “peckerwoods,” a racial slur against white people. The reference to “Zimmerman court” should be self-explanatory.
Some good might come of this if the story forces a frank acknowledgement of the violent sub-culture that has affected far too many young black men and women, and mitigates some of the hysteria that shows up in the “tweets” of accused murderers in the wake of the relentless hyping of the Zimmerman trial. If the story reminds America that the last notable murder of an Australian occurred during the Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, when the eminently respectable Rev. Al Sharpton whipped the mob into such a frenzy that Yeshiva student Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed by a man who would later be acquitted by a sympathetic jury, all the better. It will be of little comfort, however, to those who knew and loved Christopher Lane. Whatever the facts of his tragic death, we can only hope that there will be some measure of justice to comfort his loved ones.

— Bud Norman