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The Rage on the Left and the Rage on the Right on Our Doubts Here in the Middle

Thursday was so full of infuriatingly unresolved news that we couldn’t decide what to write about, so we went to the reliably idiosyncratic Drudgereport.com to see what it considered the top story of the day. The very top of the home page featured a picture of comedian Amy Schumer raising a defiant feminist fist above the headline “Rage of the Left.”
Schumer has frequently cracked us up, even if that Netflix special of hers struck as both unfunny and downright distasteful, and we’re always fascinated by how annoyingly raging the left can be, so we “clicked” onto the “link.” It turned out to be an Associated Press story about the many women publicly objecting to the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, which we’re quite sure isn’t “fake news,” and although Schumer is mentioned in passing after several paragraphs it seemed a bit of “click bait.”.
Our long and desultory experience of both male and female human beings tells us that what she said is usually if not always more reliable than what he said, and with no particular political affiliation these days that’s how we’re assessing the news these days.
Presidential namesake Donald Trump Jr. has both sons and daughters, which we admit is more than we brag about, and he’s worried that his sons face a greater chance of being falsely accused of being charged by a woman with sexual misbehavior than his daughters do of suffering the sexual misbehavior of men. Given the numerous accusations against his boastfully pussy-grabbing father we can well understand the worry, but given his family history we’d also advise him to keep a watchful eye on his daughters. There are no doubt some false accusations against men that the right has every reason reason to be furious about, even if the right isn’t all furious about the frequent occasions when men on the left are accused, and we can well understand the rage. On the other hand, too many males do undeniably sexual misbehave on frequent occasions, and we can’t blame the suddenly fuddy-duddy left for being outraged about that.
We’ll leave it to the Senate and the movie studios and the rest of the broader popular culture to sort it all out, and in the meantime we’ll continue to try our best to comport ourselves as gentlemen.

— Bud Norman

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Our Neutral Position on “Net Neutrality”

As embarrassing as it is to admit, we have only the vaguest idea about how this newfangled “internet” thingamajig you’re reading us on actually works. Which makes it hard for us to make sense of the big “net neutrality” controversy of the day.
The fuss all started when President Donald Trump’s choice of chairman of the Federal Communications convinced the other Republicans on its board to repeal a regulation imposed by President Barack Obama’s choice of FCC chairman and the rest of the board’s Democrats, and for most Americans these days that’s all they need to know to choose sides. We have no affection for Obama or Trump, though, and were thus obliged to consider all the arguments on their merit.
So far as we can glean from all the shouting about it, the “net neutrality” regulation required internet service providers to allow their customers access to all sites that post on the internet and at the same download speeds. Our understanding is that internet service providers are those people you pay every month for your internet, and are the “ISP” that you’re supposed to type into those pesky “pop-up” boxes that pop up whenever your internet thingamajig goes off-kilter. There are only so many of these very profitable companies, so far as we can tell, and according to all our friends who live out in the Kansas boondocks they’re lucky if the current regulations compel any of them to offer their services in such unprofitable areas, so it’s hard even for such instinctively de-regulating Republicans such as our ourselves to take a rooting interest in them.
Any liberal Democrats who accordingly choose sides must acknowledge, though, that all the “content providers” who are opposed to the de-regulation include some very profitable business interests as well. “Content providers” are apparently all the people who post on the internet, even such sympathetic pajama-clad mom and pop operations such as ourselves, but they’re also that Netflix outfit that’s suddenly as big a player in Hollywood as any studio or network, those Google guys who have a picture of your house with the garbage can still on the curb and are threatening to start driving your car for you, along with such nefarious characters as Microsoft and all those quickly conglomerating media giants.
Liberals love to decry the corrupting influence of big business on American politics, but they never seem to understand that the various big businesses have very varying interests. Federal regulators have their own interests in resolving the conflicts, which mostly derive from the interests of the political parties that appointed them, and with no one to root for but the lowly consumer it’s best to resolve these matters on the merits of the arguments. In this case the liberal argument is that unrestrained service providers will have an economic incentive to steer their customers to their preferred content providers, which seems reasonable enough, but the conservative counter-argument is that if they did so in a free market their customers would go elsewhere, and even in such a limited marketplace as the IPS biz is these days that also seems reasonable enough.
The Republican rule that regulations have a constraining effect on economic activity is self-obvious and usually reliable, but even such conservative souls as ourselves have to admit it’s not infallible.
We once co-authored a history of a local country and western radio station, which was for a long while the best got-danged country and western radio station in the whole wild world, and in the course of our exhaustive research we learned how the FCC first came into being back during the impeccably pro-business and Republican but un-fondly remembered administration of President Herbert Hoover. Radio was the newfangled mass communications thingamajig of the time, with all the savvy business interests of the time eagerly buying in, but a free market free-for-all proved unprofitably chaotic.
Without any regulation the radio stations such as the one we wrote about had an economic incentive to ramp up their wattage to a point it drowned out their competitors, who then had an economic incentive to ramp up their wattage, and even such a ruthless businessman as Hoover realized the government had to assure each content provider enough space on the AM dial to provide the lowly consumer with choices. A profitable industry resulted, Americans were suddenly communicating with one another from coast-to-coast, a lot of great American music and comedy and drama were aired along with a lot of crackpot commentary from right-wing and left-wing kooks, and even liberals will admit it was one of Hoover’s good ideas.
Since then the FCC has had a more decidedly mixed record, with both liberals and conservatives objecting at any given time, depending on which party is in power, and by now we won’t offer any guess about “net neutrality.” We still haven’t figured out how our car’s radio actually works, much less this even more newfangled “internet” thingamajig, yet our bewilderment only bolsters our faith that in the long run it really doesn’t matter.
By now we’ve seen enough to know that lawsuits are already being filed, the opposing profitable business interests are already laying out big money for lobbying, political parties come in and out of power, and that these slow-moving dinosaurs are always a step or two behind the faster pace of technological evolution. Right now someone far smarter than ourselves, and even smarter than those big business interests and federal regulators, is coming up with some newfangled thing that causes an even bigger fuss.
In the meantime we won’t worry that any of the internet service providers will discriminate against our content, which is very wordy and video-free and causes little strain on the bandwidth, and is too little-read to cause much controversy, and so long as we can watch YouTube and Netflix at a reasonable speed we have no dog in this fight.

— Bud Norman

How to Begin a Stormy Monday

Although the rest of the world seemed to continue right along on its downward trajectory, judging by the snippets of news we found time to peruse, at least the rest of the weekend here on the prairie provided some much needed distractions.
Our retreat from reality began Friday evening, when we noticed that Netflix had at long last come through with a fourth season of “Orange is the New Black,” its very popular and oh-so-critically acclaimed women-in-prison saga. Despite our usual aversion to anything popular or acclaimed by the current batch of critics we’ve always been suckers for a women-in-prison saga, so we devoted an embarrassing amount of the next 24 hours to binge-watching that. To avoid the risk of any plot spoilers we’ll just say we found it pleasantly distracting, despite a disappointing paucity of the nude shower scenes and lesbian frisson that makes the women-in-prison genre so compelling, and we’re pleased that this previously very feminist take on the genre seemed very sympathetic to some of the male characters, and it even takes the side of the flawed but mostly idealistic warden over his obnoxious girlfriend, even if it blames that on her corporate job at a for-profit prison company, and we’ll eagerly be awaiting for who knows how many months to find out how the season-ending and racially-charged cliff-hanging prison riot turns out. Oops, sorry for that plot spoiler.
Saturday involved a funeral for the very fine and most interesting fellow who always sat just one pew in front of us at church, and an overdue haircut with our neighborhood barber, who is so good at his job and charges such reasonable prices that you have to book an appointment a week in advance, and in between these choirs and throughout the evening there were the thunderstorms that often pop up around this time of year. The recent torrential rains have made the grass throw thick and tall, but provided us with an excuse for not cutting it, and for finishing an entire season of a women-in-prison saga, and on the whole they were another pleasant and slightly cooling distraction.
Sunday was Father’s Day, and our Mom and Pop have moved back to town from Back East after a few decades so following church we had a pleasant lunch with the both of them, with the conversation only slightly touching on the news as we all agreed it’s too unpleasant to talk about on such a nice sunny day. Of course Father’s Day always comes during the final round of the United States Open Golf Championship, and our Pop was an avid golfer who once hit a much-bragged about hole-in-one, so there was some talk about that, as well as ancient horse racing history, due to some movies they’d recently watched, as well as the evening’s deciding seventh game in the National Basketball Association’s championship. Our Mom’s a rather astute sports fan as well, and was able to correct our Pop that the NBA finals were indeed that night, but we wound up not missing it all while at the Wichita Music Theater’s production of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” at downtown’s Century II building.
As former theater critics for the local newspaper, back when it had the money and staffing to review local theater, we can tell you it was such as great show that we didn’t mind missing the games at all. A guy we always liked named Dustin Johnson won his first major championship at the U.S. Open, the Cleveland Cavaliers won that city its first major professional championship in 52 years, upsetting the defending Golden State Warriors and depriving San Francisco of yet another trophy, and we had Gershwin music happily in our eyes as we read the results. We took a peek at the rest of it, and will get around to that during a dreary week that includes dentistry and other unhappy chores, but for now we’re savoring the respite from reality.

— Bud Norman

Netflixing, Chillin’ and Feelin’ the Bern

(Scene opens with a MIDDLE AGED MAN sitting on a park bench looking with a perplexed expression at a laptop computer. He notices a YOUNG WOMAN walking by.)
MAM: Pardon me, miss.
YW: Yes?
MAM: You look to be a rather young woman.
YW: Thank you.
MAM: Well, I didn’t mean that as a compliment, but you’re welcome. Actually, I was thinking you might be able to provide me some assistance, if you can spare me just a moment of your time.
YW: All right, what can I do for you?
MAM: A young woman of my acquaintance has sent me one of those electronic mail messages on my computer thingamajig, and I’m hoping you can help me make some sense of it, because she speaks in the latest jive.
YW: Jive?
MAM: You know, the latest hep-cat lingo.
YW: Hep-cat? Lingo?
MAM: She speaks in an unfamiliar young people’s argot.
YW: Oh, an argot. A specialized idiomatic vocabulary peculiar to a particular group or class of people. Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. So what does she say?
MAM: Well, she starts out by inviting me to “Netflix and chill.” What on earth could that possibly mean?
YW: Ooh, that sounds promising.
MAM: Really?
YW: Yes, she’s asking you over to watch something on Netflix, which is an on-line streaming service …
MAM: I’m familiar with the company, I just didn’t know it was a verb.
YW: … and she wants to “chill,” so you know what that means.
MAM: That’s a synonym for “relax,” I believe. As in, “chillin’ like a chili bean.”
YW: That’s not bad, actually.
MAM: Thanks. I remember overhearing a black man say that once.
YW: Wow, how cool is that?
MAM: Well, Netflixing and chilling sounds harmless enough, I must say, even if the gerund form of that noun really grates on my ears.
YW: Oh, but it’s more than that. An invitation to Netflix and chill has certain, you know, implications.
MAM: You mean like “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” implications?
YW: Maybe, depending on whatever the hell it is you’re talking about. It’s kind of like way back in the olden days when a would woman invite a man up for a drink.
MAM: Ah, good times. I’m a little worried, though, that in this next like she says she’s “Feelin’ the Bern.” Because she doesn’t say where she’s feeling it, and at my age I’d hate to catch anything.
YW: Don’t worry, that just means she’s an enthusiastic supporter of the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders. You have heard of him, haven’t you?
MAM: But of course. I do try to keep up on the latest political news. It’s an ingrained habit from back when I held out some hope about that stuff.
YW: So you know he’s leading the revolution that’s going to bring about perfect economic justice, and not only make those billionaires pay for their crimes but also my multi-cultural studies degree.
MAM: Yes, and that’s all well and good, I suppose, but then again, he is a pinko, you know.
YW: Really?
MAM: You mean you hadn’t noticed?
YW: No, not at all. What’s a pinko? Is that some kind of gay thing?
MAM: Well, no, not necessarily. A pinko is anyone who might not be fully a Red, but he’s Red enough that he’s pink.
YW: Oh. And by “Red,” do you mean “red state”? Because Bernie’s from Vermont, so he’s certainly not one of those.
MAM: No, no, by “Red” I mean “Commie.”
YW: Commie?

MAM: You know, a communist.
YW: Oh. And that’s a bad thing?
MAM: Well, people used to think so, back in the good old days when a woman would just invite you up for a drink and you didn’t have to mess around with Netflixing and chilling and all these other damn neologisms. Oh, well, what difference, at this point, does it make? This young woman of my acquaintance also says she’s planning to “tweet” me soon, so I guess that sounds pretty promising as well.
YW: Sorry, but that’s not as promising at it sounds.
MAM: Oh, well. There’s also a bunch of pound sign this and Instagram that, and something about something called a “meme,” and bunch of initials like “YOLO” and “BLM” and it all looks like those indecipherable vanity license plates.
YW: You’ll get the hang of it.
MAM: I was just starting to get the hang of CB slang.
YW: Don’t worry about it. Just Netflix and chill, that’s my advice, if you know what I mean.
MAM: I’m not sure I do at all.
YW: I’m sure you don’t, but the best of luck to you.
MAM: You, too, and ten-four, good buddy.
YW: What?
MAM: Never mind.
(Lights fade.)

— Bud Norman

The Presidential Boob Tube

As much as we’d like to be snobbish about it, honesty compels us to admit we rarely watch television for reasons that are not all high-minded. We’re too much the cheapskates to shell out the exorbitant prices for cable television, our nocturnal schedule is out of sync with the networks, and most of our spare time is spent listening to antique honky-tonk music or reading English comic novels or brooding about the sorry state of the world. Not watching television no longer has the intellectual cachet it had back in the days when the high-brows lamented a “vast wasteland,” anyway, and except for the classics we occasionally find on Netflix what little television viewing we do is mostly devoted to such low-brow fare as the “Green Acres” and “Sea Hunt” re-runs that come over-the-air as we fall to sleep.
Even so, we can’t help feeling a wee bit superior to the President of the United States. We have been apprised of the President Barack Obama’s viewing habits by no less an authority than The New York Times’ television critic, and what he reports is alarming.
Which is not the reaction that The Times intended, of course. Ever eager to flatter the president, and without anything flattering to plausibly say about Obamacare or the deteriorating situation in the Middle East or any of the other consequences of the administration’s policies, The Times has apparently been reduced to bolstering the president’s reputation as an intellectual by lauding his exquisite taste in television programs. Headlined “Obama’s TV Picks: Anything Edgy, With Hints of Reality,” the story gushes over the president’s masterful command of the White House channel changer. After noting the weighty responsibilities of Obama’s office, the writer notes with unmistakable approval that “in his quiet moments, this president seeks not to escape to the delicious back-stabbing of the ‘Real Housewives’ or the frivolity of the singing teenagers on ‘Glee.’ By his own accounts, Mr. Obama is drawn in his spare time to shows like HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ the kind of heavy, darkly rendered television that echoes the sadness and strife that make up so much of his workday.” Similar admiration shines through as the writer notes that Obama is watching a box set of “Breaking Bad” discs, is eager for the next season of the Netflix series “House of Cards,” and is also a regular viewer of “The Wire,” “Mad Men,” “Homeland,” and “Downton Abbey.” The Times believes these choices provide a hopeful insight on the president’s political philosophy, and quotes the creator of “The Wire” saying that his show represents “the America that Mr. Obama is keen to transcend.”
We’ve seen either little or nothing of most of the shows mentioned, and thus cannot render judgment on the president’s tastes, but we doubt that his preferences reveal an unusual profundity or justify his presidency. Each of the shows are famous enough that we are aware of their acclaim by the likes of The New York Times’ television critic, which is effusive enough that one needn’t be embarrassed in sophisticated circles to admit to watching them rather reading Thucydides or Noam Chomsky or the Dodd-Frank Act or similarly weighty fare, but we are not at all amazed that president’s taste align so neatly with the consensus of pseudo-intellectual opinion. We’ve seen enough of “Glee” to be slightly surprised that the president isn’t susceptible to both its teenaged frivolity and its relentless propagandizing for homosexuality, and after enthusiastically watching every episode of the terrific “The Wire” we’d have expected the president to be a bit put off by its frank depiction of a thoroughly corrupt African-American political machine and the dysfunctions of a fatherless urban underclass, neither of which he seems at all interested in transcending, but otherwise it’s much as we’d have assumed.
Perhaps it is heartening that the president isn’t indulging in “Green Acres” and “Sea Hunt” through the old rabbit ears in the early morning hours, but we can’t help being worried by what a dedicated couch potato they president seems to be. Each of the president’s favorite programs are sprawling epics that require considerable time, and we’ve binge-watched just enough of them to know how they can cut deeply into a working day. Dishes have gone unwashed and floors unswept around here as a result of old premium cable series on Netflix, and it is therefore worrisome to think that the far more consequential chores of a president might go undone as a result of a television addiction. Elsewhere in The Times we are told that the president’s unprecedented presidential golf habit is “Carrying On a Presidential Tradition, One Leisurely Round at a Time,” as if Obama’s time on the links somehow makes him another Eisenhower, but it cannot dispel a nagging suspicion that Obama isn’t quite the workaholic one might want in the Oval Office.
On the other hand, given what the president has done during intermittent time on the job, we might grateful for any distractions he might encounter. A while back we became hooked on Netflix’ always-available episodes of the “The Tudors,” an obviously expensive multi-season tale about a megalomaniacal monarch’s treacherous intrigues, to the point we got almost nothing else done, and we’d highly recommend the series to the president.

— Bud Norman