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Modern Telephones and Ancient Arts

One of the unexpected habits we’ve acquired over the last couple of years is watching Youtube’s full-length videos of the Public Broadcasting System’s nightly “Newshour.” The program still has that ostentatiously high-brow and oh-so-soft-spoken public broadcasting tone that used to annoy us, but in these assertively low-brow days of splenetic talk radio show shrieking we now find it rather soothing, and we’ve also noticed that it has a high batting average for accuracy and does a pretty good job of giving all sides of whatever top story of the day they’re covering some unedited soundbites.
PBS also finds a few precious minutes in its daily “Newshour” for interesting and important stories that aren’t the hot topic of the day, which at long last brings us around to the subject of our daily missive. On Tuesday “Newshour” had a segment about the growing number of performing artists — from stand-up comedians to classical musicians — who are trying to keep their ¬†audiences from using their telephones during performances. Despite all that’s going on in the top stories of the day, we feel obliged to take a few minutes of our time to share their outrage.
Those newfangled telephones most people own these days have video cameras and digital audio recorders and “viral” videos and the latest baseball scores and answers to any questions that might pop into your head and pictures of some scant acquaintance’s private parts, and we’ve previously groused about how damned distracting and dumbing-down they can be. It’s a problem we’ve long noticed during dates and family gatherings and all sorts of civic events, so we can well sympathize with any old nightclub comic or concert hall virtuoso who looks out at an audience and sees people more engrossed by some glowing electronic rectangle and its “tweet” about a friend’s taco dinner than their carefully-crafted performances.
We’ve even noticed it here in Wichita, Kansas, and we’re sure the problem is worse is in America’s many bigger cities. Around here most of the performing arts we take in are either at the lowest dives in the roughest parts of the north and south ends, where the kids all seem to have those newfangled telephones but are more intent on drinking and digging the the sounds and perhaps getting lucky than whatever boring message some homebound friend had “texted” or “tweeted” them, or in the high-culture auditoria of downtown’s Century II, where the mostly genteel and graying audiences have their own old-fashioned reasons for savoring the performances they’ve paid for at a rather steep price for rather than looking at their glowing telephones.
Before every performance of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra or the Wichita Musical Theater — both of which are far better than you might expect, by the way — they always play a recording urging the audience to shut down those damnable newfangled telephone machines. The message was recorded by Samuel Ramey, an operatic bass singer from the small town of Colby, Kansas, who attended Wichita State University’s better-than-you’d-expect music and went on to a career that included bravura performances as La Scala and all the world’s great opera houses before returning to join his alma mater’s better-than-you’d-expect musical faculty, and although he’s best known for playing Lucifer in the great operas featuring that character his speaking voice sounds so much like what you’d you imagine God sounds like that you’d surely turn off your newfangled telephone.
Still, even here in our delightfully old-fashioned hometown we notice too many people more intent on documenting the moment rather than savoring it, everywhere from the lowest depths of Kirby’s Beer Store to the dizzying heights of Century II. There’s something timeless to be said for an idiosyncratic bar band in a north end dive or capable stand-up comic in a sleazy night club or a virtuoso musician in a concert hall, and there’s something to be listened to without the distractions of thpse damnable telephonic devices most people own nowadays.
While we’re at it, we’d also prefer that more people stop paying attention to the top stories of the day what’ else is on their newfangled telephones machines and start paying more attention to the wonderful and horrible things that are going on all around them.

— Bud Norman

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On the Bipartisan Problem of Misbehaving Men

The economy seems to humming along well enough and the stock market is humming along a bit too far ahead of it for our feverous tastes, and for the moment none of the nuclear threats around the world seem especially imminent, but every day seems to bring more stories about men behaving badly toward women. As much as we’d prefers to mull other matters, there’s no ignoring it.
The latest round-up of men credibly accused of sexual misbehavior includes an impeccably Democratic senator who was once considered a presidential contender, a star of the impeccably liberal Public Broadcasting System, and a New York Times reporter who has been a very effective tormenter of Republican President Donald Trump. All the Republican talk radio hosts are having a grand old time of it, and one can hardly blame them, but they also have to deal with a Republican president who has been credibly accused and caught on tape bragging about his bad behavior towards women and is still standing by a Republican senate candidate in Alabama who still stands credibly accused of even worse misbehavior toward considerably younger women, not to mention all the undeniable Fox News scandals.
It’s such a bipartisan mess that neither party or any political ideology will emerge unscathed, which is fine by us, but there’s no avoiding it even when you stop reading the news. Last week we stopped for a beer at a favorite dive of ours on the north end, and an old friend invited us to join her and a couple of other women on the still-warm patio, and we found ourselves in the middle of yet another conversation about men behaving badly toward women. All of their hair-raising tails about fellow students and co-workers and passersby seemed completely believable, based on what we’ve observed over the past decades of American life, and when our friend frankly declared that women have a certain unshakeable fear of men we could only sympathize.
Being the nocturnal sorts given to long brooding walks, we’ve often found ourselves on an an empty and dimly street-lighted avenue when suddenly a woman will round the corner just ahead of us and start walking in the same direction, and we assured our friend and her friends that from half a block away we can palpably sense her anxiety about the big scary man who is suddenly following her. Just to let them know there are still some nice guys out there, we explained how we always handled the situation by stopping to tie a shoe, even though it’s not come untied, and then crossing the street and looking at nothing in particular in shop window for a while, and then taking a smoke break until she gets safely behind a locked door or turns a corner or at least gets far enough ahead of us that we are no longer shivering with that uncomfortable sense of her fear of us.
God knows that woman’s fear of us isn’t our fault, but she doesn’t know that, and God knows and we know that it’s also not her fault. Some big and scary men have suddenly been suddenly been following us as rounded the corner on some empty and dimly street during some of our late night walks, so we can empathize with their anxiety, and for reasons that have nothing to do with partisan politics we strive not to menace anyone. Nor do we remark on women’s breasts and buttocks, no matter how remarkable they might be, and we most certainly don’t touch them without an explicit request, and we even try to lay off the saltier jokes in our repertoire until a woman has made clear she’s likely to re-tell them to her friends,.
Our old friend vouched to her friends that we’re among the rare good guys, although she also noted that we’re old-fashioned Republicans and she’s a newfangled Democrat. We asked them what percentage of men they figured were among the good guys, and were distressed to hear them all agree that about 80 percent of men are irredeemable pigs. The next day we ran into an older woman friend of longstanding who still performs in the local burlesque revues and is quite a colorful character in her own right, and when we put the same question to her she figured that only one out of five men are irredeemable pigs, which seemed more right to us, and she also vouched that we’re among the good guys even though we’re old-fashioned Republicans and of course she’s another one of those new fangled Democrats.
There seems to be a bipartisan consensus about men not behaving badly toward women, and we hope it prevails despite how awful both parties are at the moment. One of those friends of our old friend at the north side dive was a very young and very attractive woman who paid us a very welcome compliment that might be construed as sexual harassment if it had come from some big scary man, but instead of filing a human rights complaint we’ll relish the non-threatening remark and hold out hope that whatever percentage of men are irredeemable pigs, no matter what party or ideology, they’ll eventually figure it out.

— Bud Norman