Hail to the Chiefs

Football has a lot of its appeal to us in recent years, what with all the head injuries and thuggery and political spats and endless video reviews, but we weren’t going to miss Sunday’s LIVth Super Bowl. Watching the big game is pretty much a patriotic obligation, and here in Wichita rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs is a civic duty.
The game proved quite entertaining, even if it was bogged down with a longer-than-usual halftime and even more commercial interruptions than a regular season game. After an early field goal by the San Francisco ’49ers the Chiefs took the end-of-the-first quarter lead with a touchdown by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but the bad guys got the better of the second quarter and the teams went into locker room tied at 10 to 10. Things looked bleak for the Chiefs after the ’49ers scored another field goal and one touchdown during a third quarter of offensive futility for the Chiefs and their superstar quarterback, but the good guys had overcome bigger fourth quarters deficits in winning their two previous playoff games, as well as the regular season finale that earned them a first-round bye and home field advantage, so nobody around here was changing the channel.
Sure enough, the Chief’s underrated defensive unit shut down the ’49ers, Mahomes snapped out of a brief slump and his underrated running backs and receivers and offensive line came up with big plays, and after three unanswered fourth-quarter touchdowns the Chiefs won by a deceptively convincing score of 31 to 20. There were gunshots and fireworks and audible cheers on our way home, as the Chiefs fans celebrated the team’s first championship in 50 years, so the pent up emotion was understandable. That last championship was so long ago that we and some of the neighborhood kids played a pickup game in the backyard during the uneventful halftime show, there’s a famous picture of the Chief’s then-star quarterback Len Dawson smoking a halftime cigarette in the locker room, and the game was still called the AFL-NFL World Championship, although it’s been retroactively re-named Super Bowl IV.
All the rest of Super Bowl’s much-ballyhooed sideshows also reminded us of how much things have changed in a mere half-century. As we recall the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl half-time show featured a guy flying around with a James Bond-style jet pack and a brief performance by the aging but still-beloved Broadway diva Carol Channing, but since then audiences have come to expect something far more extravagant. The acts have included such baby-boomer favorites as The Rolling Stones and Sir Paul McCartney, along with some younger and hipper entertainers we’d not previously heard of. This year’s show featured Jennifer Lopez, who’s so famous that we have heard of her, although we couldn’t name a song she’s recorded or any of the famous men she’s been famously involved with, and another woman we’d not previously heard of named Shakira.
We must admit, it was quite extravagant. Both women are quite comely and extremely callipygian, and were accompanied by what seemed a cast of thousands of comely and callipygian and similarly scantily-clad backup singers dancers, along with some high-tech and state-of-the-art stagecraft that seemingly plunged them all into an infernal pit of orgiastic excess as fireworks went off and laser lights beamed. Both of the undeniably gorgeous and talented women are reportedly more than 40 years old, which some of our 40-something female Facebook friends proudly noted, and they included a lot of cute kids singing something vaguely patriotic toward the end, but a much younger friend we’ve known since her birth predicted the halftime show will eventually wind up on Pornhub.com.
These days the interminable advertisements are part of the ostensible appeal of the telecast, as Madison Avenue always unleashes its most ambitious efforts on the most-watched and most-expensive show of the year. We pride ourselves on being inoculated to Madison Avenue’s most market-tested enticements, but we try to assess their creativity and chuckle-worthy cleverness with the objective eye of a cultural critic, and we give this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads a mixed review. Part of the problem was that the ads were populated with celebrities we are supposed to recognize but don’t.
There was a Cheetos commercial featuring M.C. Hammer, who was a hip-pop star so long ago that we remember his hit “You Can’t Touch This,” which was amusingly about how you can’t touch anything after eating Cheetos. Another had a woman we used to enjoy on “Saturday Live” and the guy who so endearingly played “Jim” on “The Office” and some other guy pitching for some company’s self-parking car, but at first we didn’t recognize the guy who played “Jim” behind his fashionable, we still have no idea who the other guy is, but at least we got the joke about the Boston accents and the cameo by Boston Red Sox legend Dave “Big Papi” Ortiz, even if we can’t remember what company invented this seemingly amazing self-parking vehicle.
We also got the joke in the Doritos ad that featured rapper Li’l Nas X challenging the taciturn and mustached and gravelly voiced western movie star Sam Elliot to a break-dancing duel on the dusty streets of an Old West town, and Billy Ray Cyrus coming in at the end. As old time country music fans we took an interest when X rose to the top of the country-and-western charts with a western-themed rap number called “Old Town Road,” and how Cyrus was one of the few country stars to object when Billboard pulled it from the country charts as insufficiently country, and how it sparked an interesting debate about what the hell is country music anymore these days? We have our own opinions of the matter, and rather enjoyed the ad, but the joke’s so obscure we can’t imagine it selling a lot of Doritos.
Politics once gain intruded, which didn’t happen last time the Chiefs won a Super Bowl. Starting with President Barack Obama it’s become a custom to kick off the Super Bowl festivities with a nationally televised pre-game presidential interview, and of course that’s the one thing Obama ever did that Trump wants to continue. Obama always gave his interviews to friendly media who allowed him to assure the public that on Super Bowl the state of the union of strong, and Trump granted his time to Fox News sycophant Sean Hannity, who allowed Trump to warn the nation that if he didn’t win reelection the country was inevitably headed toward communism. Fortunately, in both cases the broadcasts were relatively low-rated.
Both Trump and his much-more-billionaire Democratic rival Michael Bloomberg spent $10 million on Super Bowl ads, and we wonder if either of them got more out of it than Cheetos or Doritos or the company with the amazing self-parking car. We missed Bloomberg’s ad, as we were in the men’s room or taking a cigarette break or on a liquor store run, but we hear it was all about his gun-grabbing policies, which is not likely to appeal the considerable good ol’ boy audience tuning into a Super Bowl, nor to many minorities. We did catch Trump’s ad touting his pardon of an elderly and woman non-violent black drug offender, and boasting how he had freed even more black felons by passing a criminal justice reform bill that Obama couldn’t get passed, which seems to be playing to what Madison Avenue euphemistically calls the “urban audience,” which Trump is assiduously courting with the low black unemployment numbers he can credibly claim.
The good old boys should know, though, that the non-violent and elderly woman drug offender Trump pardoned was sentenced at age 41 for leading a multi-million-dollar cocaine ring, and although there was no proof she’d ever committed a violent crime the drug ring she ran had plenty of them. Reality show star Kim Kardashian and wife of Trump pal Kanye West lobbied for her presidential pardon, as they’re somehow related, and although a lot of those felons freed by the criminal reform act some of them probably deserved they release, but most good old boys would agree that some didn’t. Trump’s not likely to win over a decisive majority of the “urban audience,” given his long history, which the “urban audience” by now well knows, and most of it doesn’t know either Kim Kardashian or Kanye West personally, although he still won’t lose any of the good ol’ boy vote.
By the way, as inconsequential as it is, Trump also “tweeted” his congratulations to “the great state of Kansas” for the Chief’s victory. We mostly love the Chiefs here in Kansas, until you get so far west they start rooting for the Denver Broncos, but in fact the Arrowhead Stadium where the Chiefs play and most of the Kansas City metropolitan is located in Missouri. Before Trump could delete and correct the “tweet” people were posting “memes” showing a crude “Sharpie” drawing including the entire Kansas City metro, which is a funny allusion to a previous Trump story about including in Alabama in a hurricane, but by now a bit obscure.
The important thing for the moment, though, is that the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and all the Democrats and Republicans and homosexuals and heterosexuals and socialists and libertarians and good old boys and the “urban audience” around here are at least momentarily happy about it. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another long, long half century before it  happens again,

— Bud Norman

Happy Labor Day

Labor Day is no no day for doing labor, so we decided to re-post last year’s brief and rather lazy post.
Today is Labor Day, which is our most bittersweet holiday of the year. We like the idea of everyone taking a day off to honor all the hard work folks are doing the of the year, and relish the bratwurst and beer and baseball the day always brings, but it’s always followed by a Tuesday when the summer is over.
There will probably be a few more hot and sunny and top-down driving days here on the Kansas plains, but we’re already noticing that the days grow short when you reach September, even here on the western edges of the vast central time zone, and Labor Day always signals that the blissfully lazy and hazy days of summer are officially over. School is back in session, those crawling school speed zone limits are back in effect, pretty much everyone on the streets is back at some unpleasant chore, the nation turns its attention from the elegant sport of baseball to the more primal combat of football, and an even more brutal political season begins.
Our advice is to put all that off until tomorrow. Better you should charbroil a plump bratwurst and put it in a toasted bun with some roasted jalapeño slices and smother it in plenty of mustard, drink a beer or two or three, and enjoy what a great country all that labor has brought forth. There will be time enough for the rest of it starting on damned Tuesday.

— Bud Norman

The State of the State of Kansas, as Well as the Rest of the Union

President Donald Trump belatedly got to give his State of the Union address on Tuesday, but here in the state of Kansas there were more pressing matters. We had another writers’ meeting for the local media’s annual Gridiron, and the muted television was of course tuned to the big basketball game between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State University Wildcats.
Being patriotic Americans and the geeky sort of political junkies, we did later read the transcript and catch snippets of it on YouTube. All in all we’d have to say Trump had his moments, and that it could have been far worse, but to borrow a phrase from President Abraham Lincoln we expect the world will little note nor long remember what was said.
Trump’s spokespeople had promised a message of bipartisanship and unity and even comity, he started on that note. He got bipartisan applause when he praised America’s victory over the Axis in World War II, and introduced a couple of D-Day veterans and heroic astronaut Buzz Aldrin, was they all got a big hand from both sides of the aisle. Trump then declared that “we must reject the politics to revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good,” and that “We must choose between greatness and gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.” All that alliteration added an uncharacteristic poeticism to Trump’s typically un-parsable prose, we must admit, but there was no way he could keep up through entire one-hour-and-20-minutes oration.
Trump quickly moved on to his more characteristic bragging about great America has become since he took office, implying as usual that the country had previously been a hellhole of American American carnage, and argued that “the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.” Which had an uncharacteristically nice ring to it, but put in context it was Trump’s unusually subtle way of hitting back ten times as hard and extracting retribution and and threatening destruction. There was also some hopeful talk of farm bills and Veterans Administration reforms and infrastructure spending and other issues where some bill or another might become law, but on the matters of war and politics and partisan investigations Trump seemed to hold out hope that the country would unite around his unpopular positions.
Presumably the “foolish wars” that Trump referred to were America’s longstanding but limited roles in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, but he’s lately been losing that argument. Respected-on-both-sides-of-the-aisle Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in protest over Trump’s announced withdrawal from Syria, a majority of the Senate’s Republicans voted for a resolution rebuking the decision, his Secretary of State and top national security advisor have talked him into partial and gradual withdrawal, and only the most dovish sorts of Democrats are on his side. Pretty much everyone in the know is trying to talk Trump into staying the course in Afghanistan, and he’s recently been talked into keeping the decades-old deployment of 30,000 troops in South Korea, and Trump seems unlikely to go down in history as America’s most peacenik president.
It’s easy to understand why Trump regards politics as a problem, as it constantly interferes with his efforts to do things his way. Trump also talked at length about border security, which all reasonable people agree is important, but he continued to insist the only solution was a big beautiful barrier wall, which is one of those things people can reasonably disagree about. The politics of the moment clearly favor the Democrats, who forced Trump to end a government-shutdown without any funding for the wall Trump had promised the Mexicans would pay for, and most the Republicans in Trump’s audience seem to have little taste for another shutdown. Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency so he can spend government on his wall, but few of the Republicans and none of the Democrats giving him slight applause will go along with that.
As for those “partisan investigations,” we expect they’ll continue apace, despite his rhetoric, and eventually come to no good end for Trump. The House has a Democratic majority in the investigative committees that plan to reveal Trump’s tax records and scrutinize his businesses relationships with foreign governments, and an independent judiciary is looking into Trump’s inaugural committee and a special counsel investigation is racking up indictments against Trump’s closest associates, and the Republican majority in the Senate has thus far declined to try stopping any of it, and has little reason to do so given how many seats they’ll be defending in blue states come next year.
By the time you read this Trump will probably be back to “tweeting” schoolyard taunts about those damned Democrats and lily-livered establishment sorts of Republicans, and everyone will be back at the messy business of politics, with all the resistance and revenge and retribution that necessarily entails.
Meanwhile, here in the state of Kansas, the plucky blue-collar Wildcats of KSU beat the snooty blue-blooded Jayhawks of KU, and the ‘Cats currently hold a half-game lead over their rivals  in the Big XII standings, so at least things are as they should be around here.

— Bud Norman

The End of Football

This was the football season when we at long last stopped caring a whit about the game, but lacking anything better to do on a cold winter Sunday night we wound up watching most of the Super Bowl. It proved an entertaining game, and we enjoyed the company at the Super Bowl party where we spent most of the first half and the dive bar where spent all of the the second half, but we’re in no hurry for another football season.
Enthusiasm for the professional game is apparently down around the country, judging the attendance at the stadia and ratings on television, and there are various explanations afloat in the sporting media. One school holds that fans are offended by some of the players’ kneeling rather than standing during the national anthem, another holds that the public is put off by all the debilitating injuries so many players suffer through the rest of their troubled lives, and a certain minority complains the game has become too sissified. The even more rough-and-tumble sport of American politics somehow has something to do with all of this, and we think also has something do with the pro game’s declining popularity.
Football always was our third favorite of the big three sports in America’s holy athletic trinity, and the only one we never played on an organized basis or with any zeal. Being mostly but not entirely left handed, and possessed of poor eyesight and an instinctive fear of fast-moving hard objects, we were entirely ill-suited to baseball but nonetheless learned to appreciate our more athletically gifted peers and the mathematically quantifiable brilliance of what they did. As slow and earthbound as we always were, we could at least drive to the left or right and fade away and hit a short jumper if the defender shut off either lane, and we developed a fade away hook shot with either hand that even the bouncy kids couldn’t block, and although we were never anywhere good enough at basketball to even try out for a high school team that had two future National Basketball Association players and a couple of other top-tier collegiate players and another guy who would have been a star if he hadn’t accepted a baseball scholarship instead, but we got good enough that we held our own in some local and even back east pick up games and learned to appreciate how very good are the truly great players of the beautiful game of basketball.
Football, on the other hand, always seemed a more primal sort of sport. Our backyard and cow pasture experiences of playing the game with neighborhood kids taught us that it mostly involved players running into one another as fast and hard as they could, and thus advantaged the bigger and faster and harder fellow to an extent that the other fellow’s wile and cunning and strength of character could not negate, and by high school we opted for the debate team rather than the football team. Our pop attended the University of Oklahoma back when Coach Bud Wilkerson was racking up national championships and a still-standing record win streak, so all those Saturday afternoon Sooner games taught us an appreciation of the game’s subtle nuances and undeniably essential-to-civilization masculinity, but it was always our third-favorite sport.
The Super Bowl party we attended is annually hosted by a couple of local folk musicians as an excuse for all their folkie friends to have a winter hootenanny, and the few regulars at the dive bar were similarly uninterested in the game playing on the television, and according to stadia attendance and television ratings the rest of country is similarly losing interest in the pro game. That probably has something to do with those players who don’t stand for the national anthem, but as far we’re concerned they’re being disrespectful jerks to a flag than stands for their right to be disrespectful jerks, and we’re more bothered by all the wife-beating and bar-brawling and firearms violation charges all the hyper-masculine players rack up every year. All the head traumas and other debilitating injuries the players experience during the spectacle also take some of the fun out of it, as do the politicians who make hay of the national anthem and decry the supposed citification of the game.
Still, it was a good game. The long-suffering Philadelphia Eagles upset the recently dynastic New England Patriots, and it involved some missed point-after kicks and a risky-but-successful trick play on a crucial fourth-and-short situation at the end of the first half, and all-time great Patriots quarterback fumbling the ball at the end of the game because the big and fast and hard guys on the Eagles defense were bigger and faster and harder than the guys on the Patriots. We had no rooting interest in the game, just as we have no rooting interest these days in the more rough-and-tumble sport of politics, but it proved a diverting spectacle.
In any case, football season is over and the remaining cold weeks of winter will be preoccupied with the most beautiful game of basketball, and although our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers have lately been slumping we hold out hope they’ll be back in championship form come the championship tournament in March, and our beloved Boston Celtics have the eastern division’s best record in the pro game. Before the basketball season ends the pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring baseball training, the first sure sign that summer’s soon to follow, with our beloved New York Yankees and Wichita Wingnuts looking good, and we’ll hold out hope the more rough-and-tumble game of politics turns out just as well.

— Bud Norman

Why We Now Prefer Chess to Politics or Football

Way back when the presidential debate schedule was first announced the Republican nominee objected that this coming Sunday’s clash would be airing at the same time as a National Football League contest. It wasn’t clear if he was worried the game might draw viewers from the debate, or vice versa, but in either case we go into the weekend with the first debate setting viewership records and the second expected to do the same while the NFL is in a steep ratings decline.
There’s no accounting for taste, as the saying goes, but we figure the best explanation for the presidential debates’ ratings bonanza is that they feature more boo-able villains and seem likely to produce more memorable body slams than can be found in a typical pro football contest. The most common explanation for the NFL’s rating slide, on the other hand, is that the contests have become too political. If you haven’t been following the professional gridiron news the big story this season is that a backup quarterback on a 1-and-4 San Francisco ’49ers squad has been taking a knee rather standing during the pre-game national anthems in support of the “Black Lives Matter” protest movement against America’s police, which involves a even more complicated and consequential question than those nickel defenses and spread offenses and other matters that football fans prefer to argue about.
Black lives do matter, of course, but so do the lives of black and white and every other color of police officers who are charged with protecting those lives, and each of those too-often times a police officer of any race takes a black life requires a detailed consideration of the circumstances, and that’s exactly the sort of the thing one tunes into a football game in hopes of getting away from. Although we’re more prone to look at the specific circumstances than is the Black Lives Matter movement, and certainly more so than that second-string quarterback on that losing ’49ers squad, we’ll nonetheless credit the NFL with allowing him his First Amendment right to take a knee. The league wasn’t so generous as to allow the Dallas Cowboys to express their sympathy to the five Dallas police officers who were gunned down during a “Black Lives Matter” protest, however, and we can well understand why significant number of football fans might be disgruntled.
We gave up on professional football a couple of seasons ago when we sat through an interminable 20 minutes or so of commercials and official videotape reviews and other inexplicable delays on an ultimately inconsequential play in a game that the our Kansas City Chiefs wound up losing during another desultory season, and since then almost the entirety of sports has seemed unsatisfying. Both the Oklahoma Sooners and the Kansas State Wildcats are by now out of the running in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s championship football race, and our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers are heading into an uncertain basketball season without a couple of promising pro prospects and an all-time great role player, and the NCAA is boycotting the state of North Carolina for insisting that men use the men’s rooms and women use the women’s rooms, which also takes a lot of the fun out of collegiate sports.
On our way to a late-night meeting with some friends at a local bar Thursday evening we heard a thunderstorm-delayed radio broadcast report that the Wichita Heights Falcons had outlasted bitter Catholic-school rivals Kapaun-Mt.Carmel High to go 6-and-0 in the City League, which is about thrice the number of victories it had during the three years when we were attending that oh-so-public school, but even our enthusiasm for high school sports is diminished by the news about the national anthem protests that are now occurring at that level. Upon our return home we sought some solace in a game of internet chess, where we noticed even that pristine game once again once again involved politics, but at least we were able to be down with the cause.
In case you haven’t been keeping up with high-level chess, as most people haven’t, the championship-contending Georgian-born but naturalized-American female grandmaster Nazi Paikidze is boycotting the women’s world championship because it is being held in Iran, where the Islamic theocracy is insisting on women wearing the hijab as a symbol of their subjugation to men. Despite her unfortunate first name, we’re entirely in agreement with her stand.
Given the peculiar nature of American politics at the moment, we’ll also go right ahead and note that Paikidze also demolishes other stereotypes of chess by being something of a cutie, as are many of of the other top women chess players of the moment, and that reigning world champion Magnus Carlson is something of a pretty boy. Our guess is that Azerbajaini-born and now-American former world champion Garry Kasparov would still be on top of the game if he hadn’t retired to purse a position as anti-Russian political spokesman, and recently as an opponent to the Republican nominee’s pro-Putin stance, and although it’s all as complicated as the “Black Lives Matter” movement or the board of a grandmasters’ chess game we find ourselves rooting more the chess players.
Those damned presidential politics will probably have more effect on our lives, but at least in the meantime we can root for the chess players, and hope that the ‘Shockers will have another great basketball season.

— Bud Norman

The All-Too-Wide World of Sports

As summer slowly fades into to autumn, baseball just as inevitably gives way to football, with dreams of a mid-winter night’s basketball game to follow, and then the eternal promise of baseball’s spring training and another turn of the sporting globe. Alas, these days none of it offers any respite from all that awful politics that keeps going on.
The upcoming Labor Day weekend has a full slate of college football games, including such season-making contests as the top-ranked University of Alabama’s “Crimson Tide” against Southern California’s unranked but perennially tough “Trojans,” and the University of Oklahoma’s third-ranked Sooners knocking heads with a dangerous and 15th-ranked University of Houston squad, but so far the big football story this season has been some second-string quarterback on some second-tier National Football League team refusing to stand for the national anthem. As we scan through the AM radio offerings during our daily chores he’s being talked about on both the sports talk and political talk stations, and all of the more respectable sports and political media have been equally attentive, so by now it’s unlikely that any American hasn’t yet heard of The San Francisco Forty-Niners’ Colin Kaepernick.
Although we no longer pay much attention to professional football we vaguely recalled the name from a Sports Illustrated cover a few years back, when he was reportedly tearing up the league about being touted as a star, but apparently he has since declined to second-string status on a team in a similar slide, and we can’t recall him being mentioned until the recent brouhaha. The biracial and multi-million-dollar-compensated Kaepernick says he won’t stand for the national anthem of a country that oppresses its black citizens by allowing police to indiscriminately execute them, even though he’s hard-pressed to show how that’s actually happening, and he’s also taken to wearing socks that depict police officers as pigs. So far as we can tell the general public’s reaction has been that our oppressive country does grant him the right to express such idiotic opinions, but that it will exercise the same right to say that he’s an overpaid idiot.
That’s how these politicized sports brouhahas always turn out, yet they keep occurring nonetheless. Sometimes they involve a homosexual athlete, or a transgendered one, or one with some similarly fashionable predilection, but usually it’s something to do with race, sometimes even with Asians, and of in the case of falsely-accused lacrosse teams there are also occasionally class issues. Unless it’s Tim Tebow being criticized for some on-field Christian gesture or a cable network’s commentator getting fired for politically incorrect “tweets” or a rare college basketball coach wondering why the hell the president is on the same network making his bracket predictions, it’s almost always someone taking some trendy stand that all the trendy pundits consider very brave, and which the general sporting public lustily boos.
We can’t see how it’s good for business, but the sports leagues and the networks that bring them to the general public seem to relish the same stupid controversies. The National Football League was once the last bastion of unabashed old-fashioned American machismo, and we well remember the days of The Dallas Cowboys’ when plaid-fedora-topped Tom Landry was prowling the sidelines and Roger “Captain America” Staubach was quarterbacking “America’s Team,” but these days the league has its players playing in pink shoes, and celebrating the drafting of an undersized but homosexual linebacker, and standing by an employee who sits through the national anthem because of unspecified murders by police, but prohibits the current sorry iteration of the Cowboys from wearing stickers on their helmets to honor the very specific policemen in their city who had been murdered in the line of duty. By late fall the National Basketball League will be back in the business of protesting North Carolina’s law against creepy men hanging out in women’s restrooms, and probably celebrating its latest diverse draftees, and otherwise taking brave stands on various trendy causes, and probably fining one of their up-from-the-streets employees who predictably “tweets” a dissenting opinion.
More careful observers of professional football than ourselves are speculating that Kaepernick’s bold stand for social justice is actually a cynically shrewd ploy to protect his sizable fortune, the theory being that he’s so expensive from the glory days when he signed his contract that the team can’t afford to risk a big injury payout if they send him in as a mere second stringer, so he’s giving himself a case that he was cut due to his bold stand for social justice. This seems plausible enough, although we don’t follow professional football closely to have any strongly held opinion, but such bottom-line calculations can’t plausibly explain why so much of the entire sports industry seems to have gone similarly crazy. Most paying sports fans want to watch good game far away from the annoying distractions of politics, preferably somewhere deep within the last bastions of old-fashioned American machismo, and we can’t see how it’s good business to offer them a bunch of wimpy anti-Americanism.
Already the networks that broadcast these company’s offerings are seeing declines in their fortunes, especially the for-pay Entertainment and Sports Network that has lately dominated sports but is now seeing its increasingly obsolete cable business model dissolve, and one wonders why they’re sticking with those trendy causes that the general sports public so lustily boos. Our best guess is that all of them, that tattooed Kaepernick fellow included, share the same longing that everyone who has prospered in entertainment and sports has to be taken seriously as intellectual types. The easiest way to do this is always to champion some trendy cause that all the trendy pundits are also championing, then take the lusty boos of the general public as proof that you were right all along, and most of your entertainment and sports celebrities are intellectually and temperamentally incapable of seeking out any other way than the easy one.
Which is not to say that these people of extravagant gifts of limited social utility shouldn’t be denied their rights of speech, or that they won’t occasionally have something of interest to say. One of the more memorable moments of the past Olympics was when a Second Lieutenant in the Army Reserves with the less familiar name of Sam Kendricks stopped halfway in his run toward to individual glory in the  pole vaulting finals to stand at attention for a national anthem that was playing somewhere in the arena, looking around awkwardly for a flag to address, then picked up his pole and went on to win a gold medal. This strikes us as a more eloquent political statement than the likes of that Kaepernick fellow will ever make, albeit a much less lucrative one, and it  reminds us of the many other times when sports so well expressed the best of both masculinity and America. We recall some worthy sports protests against America’s imperfections, too, but that was back in a time when they were more easily explained and weren’t so trendy and required real courage.
There’s still plenty of baseball left, with The New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals still holding out hope for play off slots, and down here in the heart of America the Wichita Wingnuts head into their final regular season home stand with a comfortable lead in the southern division of the Double-A American Association, with no race, class, or gender issues to speak of, and those OU Sooners look good enough to keep us distracted through college football and into the Wichita State University Wheatshockers start of  another promising basketball season, and though winter will no doubt come there will just as surely be another spring training. All that politics  stuff will inevitably intrude, but we’ll try to enjoy the games.

— Bud Norman

Beyond Winning and American Leadership

We have witnessed some pretty awful presidential press conferences in our time, but President Barack Obama’s performance in Turkey on Monday surpasses them all. There was nothing so memorably pithy as “I am not a crook” or “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” but it was packed with more pure nonsense and un-presidential prickliness than anything we can recall.

The Cable News Network reached into its thesaurus to describe the president as “unyielding” in the headline, but by the second paragraph was forced to settle for “testy,” and even such polite press as Politico.com described him responding to reporters questions with “mild irritation.” We’d have gone with “annoyed,” “arrogant,” “dismissive,” “snarky,” “snarling,” and “downright un-presidential,” but that would only be a warm-up for all for the pure nonsense that he spouted. Little wonder that the president was “defensive,” as other press outlets put it, as the recent victories of the Islamic State in Paris and Beirut and over the skies of Egypt and across an expanding caliphate in the Middle East, as well as his venue in recently-bombed and refugee-swarmed Turkey, forced him to defend his foreign policy in general and his dealings with the Islamic State in particular. Pure nonsense is necessary to defend such a record, and some un-presidential prickliness is inevitable.

Obama had once scoffed at the Islamic State as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, and even after it seizure of an area larger than most European countries and its downing of a Russian jetliner over of Egypt and successful bombings against its Shiite enemies in Lebanon and another deadly attack in Turkey, and just hours before it launched a coordinate attack on six sites in Paris he boasted they were “contained,” so even the most cooperative press had to ask if he might have underestimated the enemy. The president explained that the expansion their Middle Eastern caliphate had not lately increased, a claim that even one of the most reliably supportive Democratic senators disputes, and which ignores its recent incursions into Lebanon and Turkey and the very heart of France, and we think even the most sympathetic observer would note some mild irritation on the president’s part.
Obama was more upbeat as he announced that “What is different this time” is that all the major parties involved in the Syrian civil war now “agree on a process that is needed to end this war, and so while we are very clear-eyed that this will be a very, very difficult road still ahead, the United States, in partnership with our coalition, is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian, and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.” This is hardly Churchillian in its rhetorical spelndor, even without the accompanying prickliness, and only reminds how very, very difficult that road to surrender to Iran over its nuclear ambitions proved to be, and it was immediately undercut by his comments on how relentless the United States will be on the military front. “And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terroristic attack from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist attack that’s operating anywhere else — in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?”
This is a devastating rebuttal of whatever straw men Obama imagines are advocating 50,000 troops in Syria, but it raises unsettling and unasked questions about what Obama would do in the case of a terrorist attack from Yemen or the former Libya that he bombed into chaos or North Africa or Southeast Asia or some other likely place of origin, and it has little to with the debate that’s actually occurring. Not only in the Republican nomination race but even in the most respectable foreign policy think tanks there is a growing consensus that some change of course is necessary, and the president responded to such contrary opinions by saying that “if people want to pop off and have opinions about what they think would do, have a specific plan. If they think somehow that their advisors are better than my joint chiefs of staff or my generals on the ground, I would like to meet them. I would like to have that debate.” Reports indicate that those generals on the ground are being ignored, and the joints chiefs of staff at this point are more considered concerned with gender equity and a welcoming atmosphere for non-traditional recruits, and the advice Obama has been following has turned out as it has, so the president is left with prickliness.
“What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people and protect the people in the region who are getting killed to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that,” the president, sounding rather testy. The statement implies than “winning” and “American leaders” are scare quote-worthy slogans that have no relationship to what will protect America and the people in the regions we’re doing some of the killing and for allies as well as “people like France,” and if it were only pithier it would live in presidential press conference infamy with “I am not a crook” and “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The historical consequences of such thinking, though, are likely to be far worse.
There was the familiar talk about not being at war with Islam, which Obama noted that even George W. Bush had said, and some worries that you can’t deal with suicide bombers, which isn’t even Rooseveltian, given that FDR had the Navy stand up against kamikaze pilots, and similar prickliness, but he topped it all with his insistence that America grant asylum to at least 100,000 “refugees” from the Syrian civil war, and his support for Europe taking in millions more. Those “refugees” include a suspiciously high number of fighting-age males, many have proved not be from Syria at all, at least one was involved in the horrific attacks on France, and despite his administration’s earnest assurances that they’ll all be carefully checked out there’s really no way of knowing, given the lack of Syrian record-keeping and current poor relations with the Syrian government, who might be a bad guy among the newfound wards of the state. This is all part of that humanitarian front, apparently, and the president insists it would be racist and xenophobic and downright un-American to question the wisdom of relocating the Middle East’s apparently unmanageable pathologies into America and the rest of the west, and that his more enlightened attitudes will eventually win the heart of the Muslim world.
We expect that most of the western world, even the bluest portions of the formerly stiff-spined America, will expect a less prickly and more robust response to the latest outrages. The Islamic State seems poised on further outrages yet, and far more robust responses will be required.

— Bud Norman

Oh Yeah, the Economy

Perhaps it’s just because we’re not hanging out with a high-rolling crowd, or because baseball season is underway and the National Basketball Association’s playoffs just concluded, but nobody seems to be talking about the economy these days. All of the non-business news media seem equally uninterested, to the point that it takes another announcement from the Federal Reserve Board to get any front-page play for those poor newspaper scribes stuck on the economy beat.
We suspect this has something to do with the diocletian nature of all that boring data that the Fed went on about Wednesday. The economy isn’t quite bad enough for the Republicans to make an issue of it, and not nearly good enough for the Democrats to do any bragging, and apparently not so bad that the Fed feels obliged to again ramp up the money-printing that fueled that newsworthy stock market boom, but not so good that it intends to raise interest rates above 0 percent any time soon, and only the economics geeks understand what any of that means and none of them seem agree about it. Better to talk about baseball and basketball and whatever else might be going on, we suppose, but we can’t shake a nervous feeling that something important is going unremarked.
Perhaps it’s also because no one seems to know what to do about it. President Barack Obama’s only big economic initiative since that pork-laden “stimulus” bill and all the other debt-increasing “investments” he and his Democratic majorities in Congress foisted on the country back in the bad old days has been his Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal with most of Asia, and the Republican congressional majorities that resulted from those earlier fiascos have been largely supportive, and it’s suddenly the remaining Democrats who are balking, and by now it’s more a story about our troubling politics than our troubled economy. David Brooks, The New York Times’ token “conservative” who fell in love with the perfectly pressed crease in Obama’s pants way back in ’08 and has never quite gotten over it, blames it all on what he calls the “Tea Party” faction of the Democratic party, which is wedded to labor unions and their protectionist preferences, and although he admits that Obama’s characteristic secretiveness prevents anyone without top-secret security clearance from knowing what the free-trade deal is he rightly notes that those same Democrats don’t seem to mind they have no idea about the wacky deal he’s making with the even wackier mullahs of Iran about their nuclear weapon ambitions. Our conservatism requires no quotation marks, and we’re staunchly Republican, and will grouse that the “Tea Party” analogy belies Brooks’ putative conservatism because the “Tea Party” was pretty much right about the growing debt and all the regulatory red-tape resulting from all those expensive “investments” and everything else, and we’re free-traders to our Adam Smith core, but even we are so spooked about Obama’s negotiating record and what might be hidden in that Trans-Pacific partnership that we’re willing to wait another two years or more for a better and more transparent agreement. There’s some fun in watching all the presidential hopefuls in both parties try to finesse this mess, even if the smart ones seem to understand they can simply ignore it, but otherwise we can well understand why people are following the divisional races in major league baseball and The Golden State Warrior’s long-awaited basketball championship.
Eventually everyone will be forced to pay some attention to the economy, certainly by November of ’16, and at that point it will be all about politics. The Republicans will argue that the numbers regarding jobs and household wealth and Gross Domestic Produce could have and should have been been much better, the Democrats will reply that those admittedly unimpressive numbers would have been so much worse without the president’s “investments” and resultant regulations and trillions of dollars of debt that everyone would have stopped going to work and buying groceries and falling for the latest advertised seductions and we’d all be rubbing sticks together in some cave, and that the same president’s secretiveness and lack of meaningful relationships with anyone else in government sank that Trans-Pacific Partnership that might have helped, and there’s no way way of knowing who the public will blame.
They’ll blame somebody, though, because there’s no getting around the end-of-the-month fact that economy isn’t that good. Even through the rose-colored glasses of the Federal Reserve Board the economy is expected to grow at at only 1.8 to 2 percent this year, barely enough to sustain those much-touted jobs number that haven’t quite kept up the arrival of new legal and illegal immigrants, another issue proving problematic for both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, and on those rare occasions when people talk about the economy nobody seems to singing that happy days are here again. Whatever the economic numbers might be deep inside the business section around the next election day, we expect the Democratic nominee will be griping about the inequality of it all, which will resonate with a large resentful population of the country, and the Republican nominee will be talking about tax-cutting and de-regulating and unleashing the potential of the economy, which will resonate with the more hopeful portion of the electorate, nd the electoral numbers will decide the matter.
Until then, we’re as confused as anybody else. Zero percent interest rates don’t seem to provide any incentive for making the loans that could fuel an economic boom, and it isn’t any good for those poor old folks counting on interest-bearing retirement plans, but anything higher is likely to scare away investors in such uncertain and debt-laden and over-regulated times such as these, and that free-trade deal with a crucial foreign might or might not be a good idea, as only those with a top-secret security clearance would know, so we’ll anxiously await whatever happens. In the meantime we note that The Kansas City Royals are back on top of the American League’s Central Division and that The New York Yankees are within striking distance of the lead in the Eastern, and we’ve had a certain sympathy for The Golden State Warriors ever since they won their last title 40 years ago with that arrogant white boy Rick Barry as the star, so we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

The Immigration Debate, Where Extremism Is Mainstream

Although it’s still far too early to make any decisions regarding the Republican party’s presidential nomination, we’re liking Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker better all the time. On Monday we learned how very Nazi-like some of his political opponents acted in an unsuccessful attempt to thwart his impressive reforms of Wisconsin’s collective bargaining agreement with its public sector unions, and on Tuesday we heard him take another daring stand on immigration.
Immigration hasn’t been much of an issue during Walker’s governorship, as Wisconsin has been little troubled by an influx of unaccompanied minor Canadians, and some of his past comments have hinted at a certain squishiness regarding the problems that some of more southwestern states have lately encountered with new arrivals from other countries, and there was some skepticism from conservatives who were otherwise attracted to his potential candidacy. Walker has now clearly expressed his support for strict border enforcement, including “e-verification” requirements for employment to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants, and has even gone so far as to say that the current unprecedented levels of legal immigrations should be adjusted according to a “system that’s based, first and foremost, on protecting American workers and American wages …” The liberal press has reacted with predictable hysteria to such “extremism,” which The Huffington Post fears will strike at “a concept at the very core of what it means to be American,” which is the same sort of rhetoric that was used to justify those Nazi-like tactics of some of Walker’s in-state opponents, but it strikes us as both good policy and good politics.
There are the usual slew of economists who insist that unfettered immigration is the key to America’s prosperity, but we can’t help noticing that they’re usually well-compensated by business interests that benefit from lower wages and they’re not at all worried some Mexican immigrant will wind up spewing the same blather at a lower rate. The argument that a massive influx of labor won’t depress wages runs up against the law of supply and demand, and although over the past centuries slews of economists have fought the law, much like The Bobby Fuller Four, the law has always won. At a time when the labor participation rate is at a 40-year-low, and job creation has failed to keep up with the combined legal and immigration, the economic arguments for keeping the floodgates open are unpersuasive. Nor are we persuaded by the cultural arguments, usually couched in the sacrosanct terms of “diversity” and “tolerance” by the same people who insist on ideological conformity lest those average American rednecks out there in the red states unleash another genocide. Here in Wichita we’ve already got more great Mexican and Asian and Middle Eastern eateries than we can eat at, the cultural conflicts have been within the immigrants groups or with longstanding minorities more often than with the average American rednecks, there has been an associated cost that those slews of economists might not have accounted for on the local educational and social welfare systems so beloved by the “diversity” and “tolerance” crowd, and our guess is that many of those new arrivals aren’t yet on board with same-sex marriage and the rest of the cultural left’s brave new world.
Some surprisingly plucky Republican congressional staffers have compiled a round-up of the latest polling from the big name pollsters, and they all indicated solid support for limiting immigration. The numbers are even higher among Republicans, but they’re also dangerously high among blacks, low-wage workers, union members, and other usually reliable Democratic constituencies. Eventually even the Latinos already here will start balking before America reaches that seven billion figure, and by 2012 a full 59 percent of them were telling the Pew Survey they wanted to slow immigration. Walker seems shrewd enough to make his pitch two at least black and low-wage workers, and perhaps even tweak his Democratic opponent for toeing the corporatist rather than populist line on the issue. The Wall Street Journal has already been obliged to note that Walker’s stand is contrary to the preferences of the Koch brothers, despite David Koch’s apparent endorsement of his candidacy, and it will be fun to tie the Democrats to a corporate-sponsored position for a change.
The Washington Post calls Walker’s newly-staked position a “flip-flop,” and perhaps it is, but we’re never disappointed to see someone flip to the right position. Most of the other Republican contenders are making similar shifts, if not so daringly, and if the Democrats don’t do the same we expect they’ll simply flop.

— Bud Norman

Presidential Speeches and Other Domestic Battery

The President of the United States is scheduled to give yet another major speech today about the direr threat posed by to ur national security by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq or the Islamic State in the Levant or whatever you want to call it, and all the chatter seems to be about the professional football player who cold-cocked his then-fiancee and now-wife wife on an elevator at some ritzy hotel.
We don’t mean to downplay the repugnance of a professional football player cold-cocking a women on any sort of elevator, of course. Such violence against women is never acceptable, and when the male perpetrator is sufficiently physically formidable to earn a living in the National Football League we have no problem with him being banned from that burly profession as a result of the offense. The same video evidence that led to the player’s banishment show that the woman threw the first punches and added a couple of spits for good measure, but this does little alleviate our opprobrium. Our consistent advice to men embroiled in a relationship with an abusive woman is to shield yourself as best as possible from the blows, ignore the spittle, and immediately explain the resultant break-up in a carefully-worded e-mail. This fellow wound up married to the woman, and our libertarian instincts incline us to believe that at point it’s their business rather than National Football League’s, but a traditionalist streak in our temperament makes it hard to root for his gridiron exploits. To recall a favorite old W.C. Fields joke, we’ve never hit a woman, not even our own mother.
Still, we wonder why such a quotidian domestic dispute between such an atypical couple would overshadow the even more office violence being indicted by ISIL or ISIS or whatever you want to call it on the Christians and other religious minorities in a portion of the earth where American military might once held sway. Our best guess is that the domestic depute can be more readily identified with than that the far-off threat of beheadings and crucifixions and other horrors being inflicted on far-away peoples of whom we know little, and that by now few people put much stock in yet another of the speeches of the President of the United States.
Back in the heady days of ’08 we were seeking solace from all the political mania at a local tavern, and an especially annoying acolyte of the soon-to-be president demanded that the television be changed to one of the many channels showing the presumptive president’s bit speech rather than the American League’s baseball playoffs.The combined objections of ourselves and another barfly were overwhelmed by popular consensus, and we wound up enduring yet another tedious oration about how peace was merely a matter of American capitulation to the beheading and crucifying armies of radial Islamism. By now we suspect that even such a hipster dive as that would insist on baseball or whatever other sporting alternative the season might offer, even with a a fiancee-batterer in the starting lineup, and that says more about the diminished status of presidential orations than about the public’s tolerance for spousal abuse.
Whatever the president might say about the horrific violence being perpetrated by ISIL or ISIS or whatever you might want to call it, most people will take it as yet another meaningless red line drawn in the sand against the worst of the of a theology that the president seems o regard with a certain sympathy, or yet another meaningless assurance that if you like your secular 21st Century western civilization you can keep it. The chances that someone you know has been a victim of domestic abuse, no matter how ambiguous the circumstances, is far greater than chances that someone you know has recently been beheaded by a terrorist organization that the the media haven’t yet decided what to call.

— Bud Norman