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OKC is Doing OK

A holiday gathering of our extended family drew us down to the greater Oklahoma City area on Tuesday, and we are pleased to report the town is booming. Perhaps it’s just the Christmas season that’s put us in such a generous mood, but we’ll acknowledge that taxes and government have apparently had something to do with it.
Oklahoma City is a politically and culturally and religiously conservative town even by prairie standards, which largely explains its recent prosperity, and of course the most recent oil boom also has a lot to do with it, but even our most rock-ribbed Republican kinfolk will concede that a series city government-run and taxpayer-financed Metropolitan Area Projects have also played a part. The “MAPs,” as everyone calls them, renovated the Civic Center Music Hall, a convention center and the state fairgrounds, built a new main library and a canal that helped turn an abandoned warehouse district into the thriving drinking-and-dining area called Brick Town. Such improvements have prompted private investment, which has been helpfully coordinated with the very pro-business City Hall. The National Basketball Association’s Thunder is now the city’s first major league professional sports team, if you don’t count the University of Oklahoma Sooners football squad, and the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers baseball team is playing in a gorgeous new stadium. There’s a privately donated collection of impressionist art that was privately donated, big time shows are now routinely scheduled at various venues in the revived downtown area, and just about any chain restaurant you might want to eat has at least one location.
Such quality-of-life improvements has made it easier fur the city to lure all sorts of big and small business, which has helped diversify a local economy that was previously prone to the boom-and-bust cycles of the oil business, and no one seems to mind the slightly socialistic aspects of the MAPs. Conservative concerns have been allayed by a strict adherence to a pay-as-you-go policy, with the entire city chipping in through slight increases in sales taxes, and it was done at the local level and with the blessings of the voting public. The first $350 MAP payed for all those much-needed renovations, and the second paid for $700 million is in more desperately needed renovations to the local public schools, and the third will spend $777 million on trails, parks and sidewalks, which for some reason have long been rare in this city. That third one passed with only 54 percent of the vote, and there seems to be a sense that the next one will be a tough sale, but for now most Oklahoma Citians seem pleased with the results if not all of the methods. The city is adding jobs and new residents at a fast clip, and the old-timers like their city even better.
We would like it better, too, and we’ve had a soft spot for the city for all the years we’ve been coming here for the extended family gatherings. Mainly we like the extended family, who are mostly a politically and culturally and religiously conservative bunch, but we do like the city they’ve made.

— Bud Norman

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Earning Respect for a Religion

Has the President of the United States sent an emissary to your house of worship to commend it for its good works? Our humble little low church on the near westside hasn’t yet been so honored, despite its many commendable efforts on behalf on the poor and unfortunate, so we’re feeling a bit slighted. The Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City recently got a high-ranking visit and official effusive thanks, after all, and none of our congregation have beheaded anyone.
The mosque wasn’t being thanked for the beheading, we are assured, but rather for its past support of the rescue and recovery efforts in the aftermath of a devastating tornado last year in the nearby town of Moore. We don’t mean to diminish the mosque’s good works, and will freely acknowledge Islam’s longstanding reputation for charity, but there’s no shaking a suspicion that the official effusive thanks from our government has more to do with the more recent beheading committed by one of the mosque’s newest converts against a former co-worker in that very same nearby town. Islam also suffers a longstanding reputation for such brutality, especially lately, and by now it’s an obligatory rite to respond to every Islamist outrage with official pronouncements that Islam is a religion of peace and has contributed greatly to world civilization and most Muslims aren’t going to chop your head off and the rest of the familiar boilerplate. The practice began shortly after Islamist terrorists slammed airliners full of terrified passengers into the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon, when even good old President George W. Bush felt compelled to immediately rush to the nearest mosque and pose for a religiously tolerant photo-op, and after nearly six years of the current administration it has become an act of prostration.
The murderer had been fired from the food distribution plant where he committed his horrific crime, so polite opinion can conclude that it was just another one of those instances of “workplace violence” that happen so often in our capitalist society, like the time that poor fellow shot up the Fort Hood Army Base while shouting “allahu akbar,” but this requires an extraordinary politeness. In this case the murderer had been fired for making his female co-workers uncomfortable with talk of stoning them to death for their wanton western ways, had a Facebook page full of rants about jihad and sharia, and chose an unusual method of murder that had recently been recommended by the Islamic State terror gang currently running amok in the Middle East. Such an obvious Islamic angle to the crime requires an extra amount of distraction, so the murderer’s mosque is not only to be absolved of any suspicion but praised for its past largesse.
The obvious and understandable rationale for such obfuscation is to prevent a violent nativist purge of that vast majority of Muslims who probably won’t chop your head off, but by now that is no longer convincing. Similar outrages by people espousing Islam have been frequent for the peat several decades, but the people attacked for the religion are mostly Jews, and the torchlights and pitchforks never seem to materialize. There are reports that the mosque has received threatening messages, and we don’t doubt it, as Oklahoma City is full of people and we can’t vouch for the friendliness and tolerance of all of them, but our long experience of the city tells us that it’s not likely to embark on any ethnic or religious cleansing. Oklahoma City is a city of peace, has contributed greatly to world civilization, and the vast majority of its citizens will not chop your head off or otherwise molest you, but somehow our government never gets around to making such official pronouncements on its behalf and instead makes high-ranking visits to mosques to imply they’re all a bunch of Islamophobic rednecks ready at a moments ‘s head off to another crusade with shotguns on the racks of their pickup trucks. We’d like to think this notion isn’t all wrong, but it’s wrong enough that the government can please spare us another round of the usual cliches.
As annoying as they are to us, we can only imagine that the next nutcase plotting to chop someone’s head off finds such apologia a siren call. The multi-cultural theory behind all this praise for Islam holds that Muslims crave only respect, and that once it has been properly supplied they will take their rightful place in the glorious tapestry that is the global community, but by now the more criminally inclined among the faith have surely noticed that it is skyjackings and bombings and beheadings that prompt the official pronouncements of respects from the infidels. When an Islamist terror gang killed an ambassador and four other Americans at our country’s consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the president blamed it on an obscure internet video and the country’s lamentable constitutional practice of allowing such free speech, and told the General Assembly of the United Nations that “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” and those who believe that anyone who harbors doubt about the Prophet of Islam are slandering him were no doubt encouraged.
Thinking back to the culture wars of past decades, when crucifixes were being dunked in urine and pictures of the Virgin Mary were being covered in elephant dung on the taxpayers’ dime, and polite opinion regarded it as the height of religious fanaticism to object to such free expression, we find it hard to imagine President Barack Obama or any of his acolytes scolding that the future must not belong those who slander the Christian faith. Nor can we imagine the administration taking a stand on behalf of the rights of Jews to defend themselves against Islamist terror or to rent an apartment in Jerusalem, and for that matter we can’t even see it siding with the homosexuals or women who are routinely targeted for the most horrible abuse in an enlightened Europe that already routinely turns a blind eye to such offenses.
In the absence of anything more governmental or official, let us give our thanks to Oklahoma City and its well-above-average number of churches, and we’ll assume there are at least two synagogues down there and offer them our thanks as well. We trust that you’ve also chipped in generously on a variety of worthy community causes, that none of your congregants have chopped anybody’s head office, and we believe that it’s important what we celebrate in our culture.

— Bud Norman

The Cities Farther to West and Further to the Right

The Wichita Wingnuts baseball team has a wide lead in its Double-A American Association division, the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad will likely be ranked among the top 10 or so teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association when the pre-season polls come out, and despite everything the Wichita unemployment rate is a bit below the national average, so our civic pride is holding up pretty well these days. Still, we were a bit embarrassed to learn that we are only the 17th most conservative city in the country.
This alarmingly low ranking comes from no less an authority than The Economist, a very high-brow and oh-so-Tory publication from England that we have come trust. We have no idea how they compiled these rankings, conservatism being a rather hard-to-define and even harder-to-quantify concept, but the list does seem plausible. Coming in at the coveted number one spot is Mesa, Arizona, and our limited experience of the city suggests that it’s pretty darned conservative. There seem to be a lot of military veterans there, which does wonders for a community’s conservatism, and it seems fairly affluent, which is another good sign. Arizona is also the home of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, peace be upon him, and they clearly have an enviable number of wised-up old folks and a paucity of tattooed hippie freaks, so we won’t begrudge them the distinction.
Coming in at number two is Oklahoma City, a city we know well, as it is our ancestral hometown, and we think that if anything it is underrated. As recently as our grandfathers’ Dust Bowl days it was a yellow dog Democrat city in a yellow dog Democrat state, but as the party has moved away from the ferociously church-going and defiantly individualistic Okies the city and state have become even more Republican than even Wichita and Kansas, which have been solidly Republican since the Bleeding Kansas days when those slave-owning Democrats were slaughtering the local abolitionists. We still have plenty of beloved kinfolk in the Oklahoma City area, even if most of them have fled north to the Mesa-like suburbs, and will humbly acknowledge the more conservative nature of their communities.
Virginia Beach, which of course is in Virginia, and Colorado Springs, which of course is in Colorado, took the next two spots. Both are also rife with military veterans, sailors in the former case and airmen in the latter, and we are glad to see them ranked so high even at the expense of Wichita. Virginia and Colorado are both “purple,” prone to vote for either Republicans or Democrats in presidential elections, and it’s good to see some solid outposts of resistance in these crucial states. Jacksonville, Florida, is next up, and we don’t know what to make of that. Our only experience of the city was on an extended hitch-hike, which involves a hard-luck fellow we encountered under a bridge during a rainstorm outside Lakeland, and is too involved to allow re-telling here, but suffice to say we were more struck by the cacophony of different languages and the cosmopolitan feel of the dock areas than the city’s conservatism. Arlington, Texas, was next, and although there’s a distinctly George W. Bush aura to the city our most vivid memory of it was a bachelor party at the most elaborate and upscale strip bar we’d ever encountered. Anaheim, California, ranked seventh, making it an essential outpost of Republicanism in a Democratic state, and we are therefore proud to report that a brother of ours stranded in southern California is rooting for the Angels of Anaheim rather than the Dodgers of very liberal Los Angeles.
Omaha, Nebraska, comes in next, and despite our affection for The Economist we must object. The University of Nebraska Cornhuskers have abandoned the Big 12, the Creighton University Bluejays have split the Missouri Valley Conference, Omaha is the hometown of the notorious crony capitalist Warren Buffet, and we will never concede they are more conservative than Wichita. Tulsa, Oklahoma, is right behind, and we have mixed feelings about that. It’s one of those sui generis towns you have to experience first-hand, a strange and always enjoyable mix of Christianity and capitalism and criminality, but we’re not quite sure that the home of Cain’s Ballroom and Hot Lips Page and the Gap Band can ever be quite so conservative as our town. Then there’s Aurora, Colorado, another important bloc of votes in that purple state, and a nice a place to visit, and Anchorage, Alaska, which we suspect is ranked so high because the population is 95 percent single white males and only 5 percent exhausted women. Fresno, California, adds a few more votes against that state’s lopsided Democratic majority at number 13, Corpus Christi and San Antonio add to Texas’ lopsided Republican majority at numbers 14 and 15, and Nashville, Tennessee, also edges out Wichita, probably on the strength of its reputation as the capital of country music.
All of these are fine cities, but a certain chauvinism still resents seeing them considered more conservative than Wichita. Strange, too, to come in just head of Las Vegas, Nevada, also known as “Sin City.” If we could just trade a few of our hometown hipsters and dues-paying machinists for a couple of those grizzled old veterans in the military towns we’re sure we’d move up on the chart, and we also blame the trade unionism of the local aircraft plants and the subversive effect of a state university. Even so, we’re plum prairie proud to be so far ahead of the likes of Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Los Angeles and San Franscico, California, and Washington, D.C. We’ve spent enough time in each of these places to know what Wichita is far more livable, and that so are all of the cities ranked ahead of them in The Economist’s rankings of most conservative cities, and we don’t doubt that our relative conservatism is the reason why.

— Bud Norman