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Welcome to the Actual New Year

Today is the actual first day of the new year, no matter what the calendar says. Anyone who can takes the official if fake first of day January off from the time and space continuum, for darned good reason, and procrastinates at least until today what sooner or later needs to be done. Everyone’s back on the job of getting through another year starting today, unless you’re one of those federal employees temporarily furloughed by the latest partial government shutdown.
That’s just one of the dreary stories that civic-minded citizens will be obliged to read about in the coming days and weeks and months, although it will probably at least the next several 24-hour news cycles. President Donald Trump has vowed he won’t sign anything keeping the government fully funded that doesn’t pay billions for the big and beautiful wall running across the Mexican-American border that he promised his voters, the Democratic majority that’s to be installed in the House of Representatives tomorrow morning won’t be inclined to pass anything that includes any funding for even a small and ugly border barrier, and we expect a bad start to the new year for all those federal employees.
The stock markets reopen today, too, and we’ll not venture any guess about that how turns out. There are stock markets all over the crazy planet, each reacting to their own internal craziness as well as the craziness elsewhere, but on the other hand the American economy is still on a sluggish but upward trajectory and the unemployment rate is still low and the resulting interest rate increases are well within historic norms, but on yet another hand there are trade wars and all sorts of other populist uncertainties afoot. In any case, we’ll hope for the best and expect the worst.
Meanwhile, on the domestic political news front we civic-minded citizens are obliged to follow, there’s already enough pent-up news to fill a year. The special counsel’s investigation into the “Russia thing” surely will shortly start announcing more subpoenas and indictments and guilty pleas, the newly-installed Democratic majorities on all those House investigative committees will no doubt begin making their own trouble, and all the “fake news” will make hay of it. Along with the ongoing scandals about alleged trysts porn stars and Playboy playmates and all the resulting alleged campaign law violations, as well as the other scandals and hubbub-causing “tweets” that can be counted on, we expect this to be a busy year for for Trump’s apologists.
The rest of the world doesn’t offer much hope, either, with the Russian-Iranian-Syrian axis poised to take control of a big chunk of the Middle East, Trump-ian populist and protectionist and unabashedly nationalist movements gaining power around the globe, and the weenie sort of semi-socialistic parties resembling America’s current Democratic are faltering elsewhere. For now Trump is relying on an acting Secretary of Defense with no military experience, following the resignation of the four-star general who told the public that his four decades of immersion in foreign policy led him disagree with Trump’s gut instincts about America’s international alliances, and for now we’re inclined to worry that the four-general is right.
Even so, we’ll hope for the best and know for sure that things could be worse.
The temperatures didn’t top the low-30s today here in Kansas, by the time we dropped by Kirby’s Beer Store after sunset for a procrastinating swig before another damned year the wind chill was down in the teens, and oh how we hate this time of year. Except for a bearded and burly and very friendly bartender and a charmingly crabby old homosexual there was no one else to enjoy the cranked-up if ratchety old furnace, but we were soon joined by three rather short and squat and heavily-adorned but somehow attractive in a young hipster sort of way women and a young hipster man, who introduced themselves as the evening’s band, whose name we already forget. Hoping to show them the gracious hospitality one can expect at Kirby’s Beer Store and Wichita and Kanas in general, we asked where they were from, and they replied that they lived in North Dakota. In that case we didn’t feel obliged to apologize for the bad weather, as the wind chills are  in the minus-20s up there, and they all remarked about how balmy they found it down here.
Better to begin our new year here rather than in North Dakota, we suppose, and we certainly wouldn’t trade places with Trump.

— Bud Norman

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Happy New Year’s

There hasn’t been much news worth noting for the past few days, and we hope that will continue least  through today. Even if the news does somehow intrude, we suggest you pay little attention. There are parades and sporting events to be watched, hams and black eyed peas to be eaten, and an opportunity gird for the inevitable avalanche of news to come.
Here’s a wishing a happy new year to all, and we’ll resume the usual grousing soon.

— Bud Norman

A Very Happy New Year’s Eve, to Whatever Extent Possible

The calendar on our computer screen says that today is the last year of 2018, and as hard as it is to believe we assume that’s true. Although it’s been a long and and hard slog through the past 12 months, the years still somehow seem to pass more quickly the older we get.
Longstanding journalistic traditions dictate that our New Year’s Eve essay be either a look back and the year that’s ending, or a look ahead to the year to come, but on this frigid Kansas night we can’t quite muster the energy for either desultory chore.
In keeping with our own recent tradition we’ll once again joke that we’re hesitant to look back on the past year for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, an Old Testament allusion our more modern readers might not get, and this year the joke seems more apt than ever. We’re talking about 12 long months of President Donald Trump and the damned Democrats, after all, and all those screwy other countries and the business world and the broader popular culture and our own personal lives added little to savor. The obituaries were more brutal than usual, too.
The annus horribilis of 2018 saw the the passing of First Lady Barbara Bush and President George H.W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain, and we also sensed the passing of a more family values and war heroic and fact-based era of the Republican party. When the novelist and journalist and essayist Tom Wolfe died we failed to think of a new favorite living writer, and when the Middle Eastern expert Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton and triumphant-in-the-Cold-War Russian expert Richard Pipes of Harvard we knew there was no replacement, and the death of the imminent columnist Charles Krauthammer left the intellectual ranks of an increasingly anti-intellectual conservative movement seemed at least as severely depleted.
The ranks of the American popular culture that used to provide succor from politics were similarly depleted. The fleet-fingered guitar-and-banjo-picker and all-around country-and-western music entertainer Roy Clark died, so did the elegantly incisive and hilariously New York City Jewish novelist Philip Roth, as well as the long under appreciated television sit-com actress and big-time movie director and idiosyncratic sexpot Penny Marshall, and William Goldman, the guy who wrote the screenplay for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” as well as Stan Lee, the guy who invented “Spiderman” and a bunch of other still-hot comic book super heroes we remember from our comic book-reading youths. Judging by what we occasionally hear on the radio or see on television or watch on the internet or read from the last offerings from the bestseller lists, we don’t find any sufficient replacements standing at the ready.
Those far more hip and up-to-date folks at The Washington Post filled some space on a slow news day with a traditional list of what’s “in” and what’s “out” in the coming year, and we must admit we can’t make neither hide nor hair of it, as we still sometimes say here in Kansas. Out here in Kansas we hadn’t noticed most of what was apparently “in” in 2018, much less noticed that it’s soon to be “out,” and as of now we’re only vaguely familiar with what’s about to the “in.” It seems that the Marvel comic books’ superhero Captain Marvel is due to supplant D.C. Comics’ Captain America as the “in” superhero at your local cinema, and certain celebrities we’ve never hard are will surpass some other celebrities we’e never heard of, and so far none of them seem half so entertaining as the recently deceased Ken Berry, the minor sit-com star who memorably pratfall-ed his way through the short-lived but still-hilarious “F Troop” way back in the ’60s.
On the political front, we don’t need the more hip and up-to-date fellows at The Washington Post to tell us it’s going to a long slog through 2019. Trump won’t budge on his campaign promise from way back in 2016 to build a big beautiful border wall, the upcoming Democratic majority soon to be installed after a landslide mid-term election won’t give him a penny for it, and a partial government shutdown will probably dominate at least the first few days or weeks or months of the new year. Political gridlock will probably prevent anything else from getting done legislatively, that pesky special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” will persist, so we’ll hold out hope that the free market economy and longstanding governmental institutions that have somehow so far survived both Presidents Barack Obama and Trump will continue to prevail.
In the meantime we’ll focus on making our personal lives go somewhat better in the coming year, and urge you to do the same, as we can’t do much about the rest of it.  No matter how it works out over the next 12 months, have a most merry New Year’s Eve.

— Bud Norman

Happy New Year, and the Extra Day

So far, at least, 2017 is off to a promising start. The very last of the past annus horribilis was mostly spent in the company of some dear old friends at a fabulous Tahitian-style bar improbably located in our dearest and oldest friend’s old barn well south of town, but we were home well enough in advance of the drunk drivers and police patrols and in time to hoist a still-sober and solitary beer for the New Year.
Although somewhat groggy we were among the relatively few in the pews at Sunday morning’s worship at our humble church on the near west side, and after that we somehow made our way across Kellogg and up the Canal Route and over the northeast-side by-pass and on to our beloved folks’ swank old folks home, where we had a nice meal and some good conversation. A nice nap soon followed, followed by tape-delayed but convincing Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ win over the Bradley University Braves on the internet, and nothing on the internet seemed all the disturbing, and because the first day of the New Year falls on the first day of the week the federal government and America’s business arrangements seem to have allowed us another days’s procrastination from some bothersome chores of another year.
That faulty kitchen sink won’t wait another day, nor the long-delayed kitchen clean-up we’ve been procrastinating until that chore has been completed, or any of the other household repairs that need tending, and there’s no putting off all the rest of what surely comes Tuesday. All the rest of the world’s news will surely come back through the internet then, too, and we’re no more hopeful about any of that. One of the dear old friends we spent much of New Year’s Eve with is a fellow Republican and quite hopeful about the coming year, as he’s convinced president-elect Donald Trump will soon make America great again, and our beloved parents who have been through a Depression and a World War and a Cold War and more recessions and relocations than they can count are somewhat more cautiously hopeful, but we all happily agreed not to talk about any of that.
Until all that comes to some sort of conclusion we will wish each and everyone of you, and all your dear friends and beloved family, a very happy and extended-by-one day New Year.

— Bud Norman

Happy New Year, and What’s to Come

This will be our last essay of 2016, and a longstanding journalistic tradition dictates that we either write a fond remembrance of the past 12 months or a hopeful look ahead to next year. We can’t bring ourselves to look back at the past year for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt, yet we’re the hidebound sort of traditionalists who live and die by such wise Old Testament allusions, so we suppose we’ll have to peek through the nearly crossed fingers over our eyes at what’s coming.
Our powers of prophecy are as limited as the next guy’s, so don’t go making any stock picks based on our conjecture, but by now we’ve been to enough figurative and literal rodeos to venture a cautious guess that no matter how bumpy the ride we’ll all get through it for at least another trip around the sun. That’s not for certain, as a few of our friends and loved ones and many more famous people and countless others found out during the latest journey, and the off chances of the whole she-bang going up in flames are as present as always, but past experience and the lack of other options make us wiling to make that cautious prediction. Should it prove wrong about either us or you, at least we won’t have to hear any taunts about it.
The big story of the past year was Donald Trump somehow being elected President of the United States, and it doesn’t take an Old Testament prophet to confidently predict that will also be the big story of the upcoming year. Despite all the figurative and literal rodeos we’ve attended, and the many other improbable things we’ve witnessed over the years, it’s still hard to believe, Nonetheless, on this year’s end we’ll offer up some publicly proclaimed hope that we all survive. The only other option offered by that year we won’t look back on was Hillary Clinton, and along with an Electoral College majority of the country we’ll even acknowledge that it could have been even worse.
Somehow, though, we and you and almost all the rest of us and everything else seem to yearly survive all that sort of thing, with the smartest and the luckiest among us even thriving as they live fulfilling human lives throughout the worst of it. That’s what we’re wishing and hoping for on this nearly New Year’s Eve, for us and you and all the rest.

— Bud Norman

Another Annus Horribilis

Years always seem to end in the dead of winter, when the trees are bare and the skies are gray and the prairie winds blow bitterly cold, and thus far 2015 is proving no exception to that desultory rule. In this case it seems altogether apt, as 2015 has been a desultory year. Even the most determined optimist would find it hard to identify much good news from the past six months of headlines, in any section of the paper.
The economy sputtered along steadily enough that the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates a teensy-weensy bit, and the unemployment rate didn’t seem so bad if you just excluded all the underemployed and the huge number of people who’d given up on finding any sort of work, but the working stiff’s wages were still stagnant and even the investor class was having the hardest time making a profit since the legendarily hard times of the Great Depression. The global state of affairs further deteriorated, with the Middle East exploding in an even greater than usual hatred and the deadly repercussions being felt as far away as Paris and San Bernardino, refugees from that troubled region and Central America and elsewhere in the Third World pouring into the west in such numbers that they overwhelmed the resources and generosity of the First World, and elite western opinion blaming it all on capitalism. Academia went utterly mad in 2015, government regulations proliferated at an unprecedented rate, the popular culture offered no compensatory movies or songs or novels or dance crazes that we noticed, and our favorite sports teams suffered frustrating seasons.
The new year that starts tomorrow promises an extra Leap Year day, an inevitable spring, and a long and leafy summer that will lead to an autumnal Election Day that could possibly put some of this right, but the past year doesn’t make us hopeful. So far the Democrats seem more riled up about impoverishing the rich than enriching the poor, and the polls predicts that they’ll nominate a woman who has parlayed political influence into extraordinary wealth to make the point, so there’s little chance for progress there. Meanwhile the Republicans, until recently infuriated by crony capitalism and Russian arrogance and a shallow popular culture, are threatening to nominate a man who brags about buying off politicians and revels in the praise of Vladimir Putin and was the star of a long-running reality television show to make their point. The infuriation of 2015 will make level-headed decision-making difficult in 2016, although we can hope the warmer weather will help.

— Bud Norman

In the Dead of Winter

There is no drearier day on the calendar than today. Christmas and its cheerful spirit have come and gone, the New Year’s revelries have been completed and the resolutions already forsaken, and all that remains of a seemingly eternal winter is the cold and the dark and the back to business as usual.
Holiday lights are still flashing around the neighborhood, but at this point they only represent a chilly chore that remains undone. No one can rouse himself to spend New Year’s Day taking down all those decorations, but the more industrious neighbors will get around to it on the weekend, most of the others will take care of it within another week or so, and after that only the worst procrastinators will leave any lingering trace of festivity. An older couple down the street who decorate for every holiday will come up with something for Valentine’s Day in another month or so, but otherwise our block will be unadorned for the remainder of the winter.
The sub-freezing temperatures that have prevailed the past couple of weeks and are expected to continue forever discourage our daily walks around the neighborhood, but the forays into the world that necessity requires us to make will be less aesthetically pleasing. Although our prairie city is surprisingly picturesque through three seasons, this is an ugly time of year around here. Dingy brown and depressing gray is the basic color scheme, with the occasional snows being wind-blown to leave brown patches on every lawn and the drifts soon turning the color of automotive exhaust. All the cars are dirty, too, and even the most meticulously tended lawns are strewn with the last of the leaves from the skeletal trees and the piles of fast food litter tossed by the increasingly inconsiderate citizenry. The pretty girls are so well hidden beneath layers of bulky clothing that they seem to have vanished altogether, leaving nothing to pleasantly distract us as we go about our business.
We have a good friend who claims to love the winter, and he drives around on even the coldest nights with his car windows rolled down to prove it, but he’s a fair-skinned fellow of arctic origin who starts to gripe about the heat on the first warm day of spring. He’s also a stickler for old-fashioned protocol who still observes the prohibition against sipping cocktails before sundown, so he regards the scant amounts of daylight as more of a blessing than a bother. Being of more tropic stock and teetotaling lineage we are tormented by the cold from the time we crawl out from under our massive pile of blankets until we return to their warm embrace, no matter how many sweaters we don or how far we push the thermostat, and no amount of alcohol can compensate for the nearly constant darkness.
Washington’s newsmakers usually oblige us by making little news at this time of year, and they are almost always kind and shrewd enough to take the holidays off altogether, but this time around the “fiscal cliff” crisis intruded on our determinedly apolitical holidays. Some sort of agreement to avert a catastrophic cliff-diving was apparently reached at the twelfth or thirteenth hour, but we could not rouse ourselves to the chore of reading about it at length any more than we could bring ourselves to store our very modest amount of Christmas decorations. A cursory glance at the headlines suggests that it’s a disaster, perhaps not as bad as the worst possible outcomes but a disaster nonetheless, but a more considered judgment will have to await the post-New Year’s Day routine.
Until then, we will gird ourselves with a final holiday libation and the certainty that God will always bring a spring. Although we haven’t the slightest bit of paganism in us we’ve been counting off the days since the winter solstice, which this year was supposed to bring the Mayan apocalypse but apparently didn’t, and we note with some satisfaction that already the day will stretch twelve minutes further into the night. Just a few short months from now the irises will begin to bloom, and snow and ice can mean a good year for irises. In a good year for irises our old neighborhood on the prairie is a most beautiful place.

— Bud Norman