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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

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The Super Bowl and the Changing of the Seasons

Football season finally came to an unexpectedly dramatic end on Sunday, so we’re now only a few long weeks away from pitchers and and catchers reporting to baseball training and other harbingers of spring, and on Saturday the Wichita State University Wheatshockers played their best basketball of the season against their only serious rival in the Missouri Valley Conference and looked as if they’ll keep us watching well into March Madness. Our nearly as beloved Kansas State Wildcats won a road game against the second-or-third ranked Baylor Bears, the hated but secon-or-third ranked University of Kansas Jayhawks lost to Iowa State University, and for the most part sports provided us a pleasant distraction from politics here on the Kansas plains.
Although the game turned out to be a compelling come-from-behind and history-making victory by The New England Patriots over a worthy Atlanta Falcons squad, we don’t expect that Super Bowl LI set any ratings records. The past season has seen declining viewership across all the networks that have paid dearly for the broadcast rights, attendance and arrests for drunk and disorderly behavior at the stadia have been down almost league-wide, and even on Super Bowl Sunday none of our friends at church nor the more more unchurched friends we called in search of a Super Bowl party evinced much interest in the game. Some say that the second-string quarterback on a second-rate San Francisco Forty-Niners squad’s refusal to stand for the national anthem had something to do with, other say that the league’s characteristically politically correct stand on that had ore to do with it, several callers to sports talk radio programs we’ve heard it blame it on all the interminable video reviews and annoying advertisements that prolong less than hour of actual play through more than three hours, writers in sophisticated magazines and lawyers in pending legal cases note all all the worrisome injuries to the brain and other important body parts that players seem to suffer every year, and we suspect that all of it had something to do with the public’s ennui.
Nor did the matchup offer much in the way of a proper storyline. The New England Patriots were favored from the outset due to the record-matching number of Super Bowl victories they had won since coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady first teamed up a million years or so ago, and by now most of the football-watching country was tired of that storyline. Belichick is an annoyingly snarling fellow who seizes every advantage no matter how it might skirt against the rules of the game, Brady is an annoyingly handsome fellow married to an annoying gorgeous underwear model, both had run afoul of the football establishment during the much over-inflated “inflate-gate” controversy, and it was all to political for a football to endure. Despite being in New England Brady is also an admitted friend of President Donald Trump, and has even been photographed wearing one of those red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, so we assume that the portion of the American sports-watching public that worries about all those worrisome injuries to the brain and other important body parts were also rooting against the Patriots. That meant they were de facto rooting for the Atlanta Falcons, and we can’t imagine that did the ratings any goods.
By half-time the Falcons were up to a seemingly insurmountable lead, and then came Lady Gaga for the big half-time show, and we expect that the intriguing combination nudged the Nielsen numbers a percentage point or two. So far as we can tell Lady Gaga is a popular song-and-dance entertainer, and according to numerous YouTube videos she’s also a shape-shifting reptilian alien who is part of the Illuminati that surreptitiously controls The New World Order, and we have to admit that she put on quite a show-biz performance, even by our MGM standards. There was some anticipation that she would make sort of anti-Trump political statement, but she opened with a surprisingly rousing rendition of “God Bless America,” warming our old-fashioned hearts with some Irving Berlin, then segued into “This Land Is Your Land,” which we recognized as a composition of Woody Guthrie, who was pretty much a Commie but also a through-and-through Okie as well, and we doubt that either Lady Gaga or any of her fans were were aware of the very subtle implications of this beloved American folk classic. The rest of it was a high-kicking extravaganza the likes of which you’d have to pay good money to see at a Las Vegas casino, and Mr. and Mrs. Gaga’s daughter Lady is indeed as leggy and musical a lass as you’d be likely to see there, and all in all we found it pleasantly apolitical.
The other big attraction of these annual Super Bowl spectacles is the advertisements, and for the most part they were dreary but at least apolitical. The same Budweiser beer-brewing company that usually provides uplifting scenes of Clydesdale horses hauling their product through nostalgic small town streets through driving snow storms had an already-viral spot of its German immigrant founder encountering anti-immigrant prejudice on his way to founding an iconic American brand, which is now majority owned by Brazilian investors, and there was no mistaking a slightly political slant to that. Some other company selling computer services or some such modern annoyance had an ad that was all about diversity, judging from all the diverse faces that kept matching together in modern Madison Avenue style, but we had the sound turned down at that point.
We also missed most of the Patriots’ remarkable and record-setting and argument-for-greatest-ever comeback, right up to the time when we tuned into watch Brady and the rest of the cast tie it up and then play out 20 or seconds of defense to bring it into overtime. At that point we figured that Belichick’s and Brady’s experience and all those million years or so of Patriot dominance would win out, if our 50 years or so watching grown men play this silly game told us anything, and sure enough that’s how it turned out. We expect that most of the country was disappointed by the outcome, no matter how it might be spread out around the Electoral College, and like most of us we weren’t at all enthusiastic about either team to begin with, and even such a compelling game seems to be losing some appeal, but at least it provided some distraction from the state of the world.

— Bud Norman

The Last Dying Gasp of “The Media”

Pretty much all of the news and entertainment media are just horrible these days, even to the point that most of them have made Donald J. Trump the presumptive Republican nominee and are now unable to keep their favored presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the lead in the general election race, and we cannot deny they deserve their fate. Not all of the media and certainly not all of the rest of the country deserves this sorry slate of choices, though, and we hope this will eventually prompt a reconsideration and perhaps even a thorough reconsideration of the sorry media landscape.
Trump got twice the airtime minutes and column inches of the rest of his largely distinguished 16-person-field of Republican competitors combined, and there are two obvious reasons why this is so. One is that his already scandal-ridden tabloid career as a self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-scam-university-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul with a penchant for saying news-worthily crazy things that made for circulation- and ratings-generating great copy, and the other is that he seemed to exemplify all its well-worn racist and sexist and crony-capitalist and generally heartless stereotypes of a presumptive Republican nominee. It might have seemed a win-win proposition from the outset to stick the Republicans with such a noxious candidate and bolster the circulation and ratings in the process, but now they’re starting to regret that they’ve not only created a monster their plummeting circulations and ratings cannot slay but are actually abetting his rise to power.
Trump’s unfavorable ratings in the public opinion polls are still sky-high, yet his undeniably horrible presumptive Democratic opponent’s are unfavorables are now even slightly sky-higher, while the reputation of “the media” are somehow worse yet. Even the prestigious names at Salon.com, which is a mere internet publication but is staffed by refugees names from the from the formerly most prestigious yet-soon-to-be-bankrupt empires of the ancien regime print media and by now have a larger readership than their former employers, quite rightly acknowledges that the public’s hatred of “the media” actually benefits the hated Trump. The press hates Trump, the public hates the press worse yet, so his much-publicized press opprobrium works to his benefit.
As recently as the last election cycle “the media” still had the ability to portray the quite gentlemanly and quite legitimately rich and evil Republican nominee as an incorrigible sexist just because he’d made a a brief remark about the “binders full of women” he’d hired as a Governor of Massachusetts, and as vile racist because of the the remark about “self-deportation” that that even the current presumptive Republican nominee decried as “mean,” and the hundreds of millions he’d earned by rescuing failing companies from bankruptcy seemed so awful that the country re-elected Barack Obama. This time around the the Republican’s presumptive nominee truly is a sexist pig, and he really has settled a lawsuit over the racist housing policies of his real estate empire, and he grossly exaggerates his ill-gotten wealth, but this time around they’re out of ammunition. The gross sexism of the Republican’s presidential nominee is arguably less than the presumptive Democratic nominee’s enabled perv husband that has been covered up for so many years by the more polite “media,” his undeniable racism is no more infuriating than the undeniable racism of the First Black President “the media” carried through two disastrous elections, and his self-described billions are clearly more unsavory than the self-described billionaire’s, but any medium that tries to describe the presumptive Democratic nominee’s exorbitant wealth as any more honorable will be rightly discounted.
The presumptive Republican nominee’s sexisms was openly expressed by countless on-the-record hours on fellow shock jock Howard Stern’s naked-lesbian-stripper show, but even such once-formidable media as The New York times wound up embarrassing itself in an effort to make the point by going after some women that had been disrespected by Trump but ultimately wound up preferring the self-described billionaire to their interviewers from a dying industry. The article was written by the same guy who wrote that pathetic piece about Trump rival and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio taking out a loan to to buy a rather modest, and published by the same newspaper that made excuses for the presumptive Democratic nonimee’s perv husband for so many years, so at this point Trump is probably relishing its opprobrium. So far no one’s made much of his premature call for the execution of some black teens wrongly accused of raping a Central Park jogger, or that aforementioned settlement regarding his racist housing policies at one of his properties, but at this point people will recall how so much of the press overlooked the Democrats’ equally vile racist rhetoric on behalf of minorities and much of the white portion of that public will side with a presumptive Republican nominee who “re=Tweets” the worst of his unabashedly racist supporters.

Most of the entertainment media will do their part to bring down Trump, but they’re also no longer so formidable. The late night comedians are trying to destroy the presumptive Republican nominee, and we have to admit that the otherwise execrable Stephen Colbert has been doing a pretty witty job of it, but they’re currently preoccupied with trying to bring an even farther-left Democrat into the race, and we suspect their audience skews to a younger demographic that will wind up voting for the Democrat in any case. The movies will do their bit, but they’ve been on an absurd “Bush lied, people died” tangent that the presumptive Republican nominee has already co-opted, and even they seem suddenly inconsequential. All those years of professional wrestling and reality show seem to have better prepared the presumptive Republican nominee for the the current sorry media landscape.

There are all sorts of media, which is a plural form, after all, but few are free of blame. In recent years there’s been a rise of self-described “conservative media” on talk radio and the internet, and a hide-bound conservatism has been in print for decades, but most of them have been happy to sign on with a self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul in from time to time in favor of a soak-the-rich tax policy and letting all the “good” immigrants he kicked out promptly back in and thinks North Carolina was crazy for keeping men out of its women’s restrooms and is generally no more reliably conservative than his presumptive Democratic opponent, and at this point we find little to like in the entire media. There’s still such old fogies as The National Review and The Weekly Standard and The Central Standard Times who are willing to admit that both sides are awful and it’s an awful situation the country faces, but at this point it doesn’t matter much.

— Bud Norman

The Democrats Put on a Show

Five Democratic candidates for the presidency had a debate Tuesday night, and it made for a most discombobulating spectacle. We sometimes try to imagine how our Democrat friends see the Republican debates, and to understand their cognitive dissonance, but we simply can’t conceive it strikes them as quite so far removed from objective reality as what we observed on Tuesday night.
According to all the candidates everything bad that has happened since President George W. Bush left office in ’09 is still his fault, the problem with the economy is not that you’re poorer but that somebody else out there is richer, the public is clamoring for an influx of millions of low-skilled non-English-speaking workers and a simultaneous raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, if Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts business doesn’t get a big subsidy the health of every woman in America will be endangered, draconian gun regulations are needed to make America an unprecedentedly safe space on Earth but don’t worry that anybody’s coming after your guns, the Middle East will sort itself out, and Black Lives Matter, but not the ones who are killed by the black criminals that all the Democrats want to go easy on and certainly not anybody else’s, and despite all the problems they’re bickering about none of it has anything to do President Barack Obama, who is the best president ever. None of this comports with our experience of reality, or the public opinion polls we routinely consult to make sure we’ve not gone completely crazy, but it seemed to play well with an audience full of Democrats.
There was something about the whole production that was somehow jarringly dissimilar from the Republicans’ shows, as well. The Cable News Networks’ Anderson Cooper struck a deceptively dogged pose as moderator, confronting each of the candidates with the harshest criticisms that have been made of their records, but it always seemed intended to provide them with a chance to offer their well-scripted and focus group-tested responses without any threat of pesky follow-up questions. There were no questions about evolution or Armageddon or anything else that might elicit an embarrassing confession of religious belief, even though it would have been darned interesting to hear their thoughts on the Republicans’ efforts to make contraception pills available over-the-counter, and nothing that wasn’t clearly intended to identify the most impeccably liberal candidate.

This is how a significant chunk of the Democratic primary electorate will be judging the field, of course, so it’s on that basis we’ll try to adjudge the winners and losers. Self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders ran the ball further down the left side of the field than the rest, but we think he might have come short of the metaphorical goal line. He was unpolished and sometimes surly and embarrassingly earnest, which of course conveys the sort of authentically populist appeal that the Democrats seem to be yearning for, and his insane rants about Wall Street and the dreaded One Percent and the Iraq War had a subtext about Clinton’s record that we’re sure our most ardently Democrat friends will easily read, and he was shrewdly gallant enough to let her off the hook about that whole endangering-national-security-and-breaking-the-law e-mail thing. This, along with the chorus of sycophancy that followed from the others candidates ensures that it won’t be problem in the Democratic race, and maybe even old new by the time of the general election, but we notice that Sanders got the biggest applause.
Former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and erstwhile presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton did fine. She didn’t have the melt-down that her bullied aids have anonymously worried about in the press, and she had smiling answers to all those seemingly hard questions about the utter failure of everything she’s ever done in her life, and she cracked a joke and got angry and demonstrated other human behaviors, and it was enough that all the pundits were spouting rave reviews in the post-game show. We can’t imagine that anyone who is still loyal to Clinton’s candidacy was put off, but we can’t imagine that she wowed any of those Sanders supporters, so we’ll call it a tie.
Former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley probably picked up a few points in the polls just by virtue of the fact that a few Democrats realized there was someone in the race other than Clinton and Sanders. He had to apologetically explain that the tough-on-crime measures he enacted had saved thousands of black lives, which of course puts him at odds with the Black Lives Matter obsession of the current Democratic Party, but at least he got some air time.
Former Marine combat veteran, Secretary of the Navy, and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb also probably made some gain by the fact that the audience is now aware of his existence. He gave us a nicely nostalgic memory of the long ago Cold War era of Sen. Scoop Jackson and Sen. Daniel Moynihan and similarly hawkish Democrats, but we expect he gave most our Democratic friends of today the chills. Still, one can hope that are still enough relatively sensible Democrats left to nudge his poll numbers into the single digits.
That Chaffee guy, who used to be a Republican and was something or another a couple of times in Rhode Island, was clearly hurt by the fact that the audience is now aware of his existence. The most embarrassing point of the night was when he tried to explain his vote against some crazy financial regulation scheme he said that he’d just come into office and that his father had just died and everyone else was voting against it, and it was the only moment of actual booing in the debate. Surely the producers of this reality show will soon replace his character with Vice President Joe Biden, who will assume the mantle of the gloriously successful and overwhelming popular Barack Obama, and the plot can start to take more interesting twists.
How the general election season play out remains to be seen, but the Democratic plot line is looking altogether implausible. If Donald Trump weren’t the current star of the Republican show, we’d think they have a problem.

— Bud Norman