On a Sunny Day in Kansas

Monday was gorgeous here in Wichita, Kansas, with warm but not too-hot temperatures and a glorious blue sky, and we had an interesting conversation with a Canadian pal who works at Wichita State State University across the street from Kirby’s Beer Store and more interesting chit-chat and joke-swapping at Harry’s Uptown Bar and Grill with another set of delightful friends. No one was wearing s face mask, we got within six feet of one another, and although we’d previously spent an hour-and-a-half on the phone with tech support guy from India getting our e-mail back on-line and then even more time searching for an urgently needed used car we were briefly able to forget what a sorry state the rest of the world is in.
It’s in a undeniably sorry shape, as we were reminded when when came home and fired up the internet machine. The rate of coronavirus infections is down nationwide, but it’s up in 18 states we rather like, and it doesn’t look as if they or the rest of world can safely get back to normal anytime soon. The resultant economic downturn seems likely to persist past Election Day,
as even Trump’s appointed Federal Reserve Board chairman agrees, and the global economists all saying that times are a hard all over.
On top of all that there’s all the civil unrest that’s resulted from white cops killing unarmed and nonthreatening black people. When Minneapolis police knelt on a suspect’s head for nearly nine minutes and wound up killing him during an arrest on a misdemeanor forgery charge it set off both peaceful demonstrations and violent riots across America, and when the police responded to protests against police brutality with videotaped acts of police it grew worse, Yesterday a couple of cops in Atlanta shot a black man reasonably suspected of drunk driving twice in the back when he ran off with one of their tasers, even though they had his tag number and could have easily arrested him the next day without death or civil unrest or anyone getting fired. There’s never, ever a good time for police to shoot down an unarmed and unthreatening suspect could be easily and harmlessly arrested the next, but even the most racist redneck cop in Georgia should now that he’s less likely to get away with it at this moment in time.
It’s quite a confluence of catastrophes, and even on a sunny day in Kansas we worry how it will turn out.

— Bud Norman

A Grim Milestone and Bad News Cycle

The banner headline on all the papers Wednesday the death toll from the coronavirus passing the 100,000 mark. The 100,000th death was no more tragic than the 99,999th or the first, but headline writers can’t resist a round number.
Across the country the death rate has slowed over the past few weeks, but it’s increasing in several states, and as Americans emerge from their homes and get back to business the numbers are likely to worsen. President Donald Trump acknowledged the grim milestone by “tweeting” that “The Lamestream media” and “Do-Nothing Democrats” and boasting the death toll would have been far higher if not for the actions he took, while White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere helpfully added that “President Trump’s prayers for comfort and strength are with all of those grieving the loss of a loved one or friend as a result of this unprecedented plague.”
The death toll surely would have been higher if not for the travel restrictions and business shutdowns and “social distancing” that have occurred, most of which was done by state and local governments and individual citizens, but it arguably could have been lower if all that started earlier, and Trump is now urging an arguably premature end to it, and we harbor doubts that that Trump ever prays for others. This is a bad news cycle for Trump, and he seems to know it.
At the moment there’s nothing else in he headline to help Trump. The stock markets have recovered somewhat despite Great Depression unemployment rates and gross domestic product contractions, but that’s mostly due to an eye-popping $3 trillion deficit that once upon a time would have appalled Republican sensibilities, and is of little comfort to the tens of millions of unemployed. The death toll is declining nationwide, but increasing in states Trump needs to win. News about Trump’s continuing purge of inspectors general and “whistleblowers” and court fights about congressional oversight and feuds with any journalists who might his criticism also penetrate the news in the age of the coronavirus, but that doesn’t help.
The other big non-coronavirus story is about the black man who died shortly after being arrest by the Milwaukee Police, which is big news because a white officer was seen on videotape and cell phone photographs pressing his knee on the seemingly pacified suspect’s neck, which has resulted in predictable unrest, This followed after some attention-grabbing news about a black man in Georgia who shot on videotape by a white man while jogging, and has revived the centuries-old debate about race and America. Trump has quite quietly done the right thing by authorizing his Justice Department to look into these matters, which his most unabashedly racist supporters won’t notice or mind, but given Trump’s record of exhorting police to treat suspects roughly and calling black athletes “sons of bitches” for putting a knee down during the national anthem to protest racial injustice he won’t get many new voters.
For now Trump doesn’t have any compelling success stories, just reasons why everything would have been so much worse if not for him, and evidence-free accusations against the evil people arrayed against him. There’s a long hot summer and an early between now and Election Day, and there’s a chance that by then the coronavirus might miraculously disappear and the economy will be revved up and America’s race problem will be solved, but we’re not counting on it.

— Bud Norman

Talkin’ Coronavirus Blues

Way back in his early Cold War folk music period Bob Dylan had a song we quite liked called “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” and we’ve been reminded of it lately. The lyrics tell how Dylan had a dream he was the only survivor of a nuclear armaggedon, then went to a psychiatrist who told him “I’ve been having the same old dream, but mine’s a little different don’t you see, I dreamt the only person left after the war was me, and you weren’t around nowhere.”
What brings it to mind is a couple of clearly coronavirus-inspired dreams we’ve had lately, which we read is a common thing these days, and also the crowds who have lately been taking to the streets to lately to protest the shutdowns and social distancing measures that state governments have imposed to slow the spread of the disease. They seem quite confident that they’re going not going to get sick or die, and callously blithe about those who will.
It’s an understandable human impulse. Having survived the swine flu and bird flue and SARS and Ebola and other plagues we’re also pretty cocksure about outlasting this one, just as we’d dodged enough tornadoes here on the plains to be unafraid of them until we took a direct his above ground from an F4 one day and found the company car we’d been driving upside-down a block-and-a-half from where we’d parked it, and we’re also eager to get back to church and Kirby’s Beer Store and business as usual. We also share the protestors’ instinctive aversion to being told what to do by bossy governments.
The older we get the less invincible we feel, though, and the more we appreciate that a certain amount of luck and a certain amount of government are necessary to get by in this imperfect world. Even in the best of times there are good reasons for those stop signs and speed limits and other restrictions of liberty as well the cops that glare at you from behind mirrored sunglasses as they write a ticket. We’re old enough to have heard our parents’s childhood stories about the rationing cards and other government impositions on the populace that occurred during World War II, and how hoarders were shunned by their neighbors, and stories from our grandparents about people only venturing outside wearing face masks during the Spanish Influenza epidemic, and figure that even in such a ferociously freedom-loving land such as this there are occasionally drastic situations that call for drastic measures.
Americans should insist that when we this crisis passes they should regain all the liberties they enjoyed before, and be suspicious of any attempts by inherently bossy governments to permanently retain their temporary powers, but until then we’ll do our best to follow the rules. We hope it’s sooner rather later, and although it looks to be a long while in large part of the federal government’s slow and clumsy response, but we’ll give it a while. All the gas rationing and bacon grease and scrap metal collecting and occasional coastal blackouts of World War II lasted four long years, and when people discarded their face masks and gathered in large crowds after decline in infections to celebrate victory in World War I here was a second and even deadlier wave of Spanish Influenza.
All the shutdowns and social distancing have had a catastrophic effect on the economy, and we well know how onerous they are for even for those who still have a job, but for now they seem the sort of sacrifices previous generations made to pass along a still-great nation. Maybe it’s just the hard-earned apathy of a fatalistic 60-year-old more than any patriotic spirit, but staying at home and sleeping 10 hours a day and watching a lot of Netflix and keeping up with our friends through Facebook and posting our daily bitches and moans about Trump on the internet seems the least we can do to honor our what our forebears put up with for us.
This can’t go on forever, of course, but so far nothing has except for life itself. We’d like to see life’s streak continue, and it will be hard to say when that moment comes when it has to get back to normal. That’s going to require some hard data we’re not yet getting and the expertise of scientists who are now being widely ignored, and a measure of prudence and patience that a large chunk of the populace and the President of the United States don’t seem to possess. We trust that most of our fellow citizens will come out when they damned well feel it’s safe to do so, no matter what Trump and his Confederate-flag-waving supporters who have been blocking ambulance traffic say.
Mostly, we hope that as a nation we will somehow grope our way toward whatever works out best for everybody, even if it doesn’t work out best for us. As good old Bob Dylan put it, “Time passed, and now it seems, everybody’s havin’ them dreams, everybody’s seein’ themselves walking around with nobody else … I’ll let you be in my dream if you’ll let me be in yours.”

— Bud Norman

Keeping Close at a Distance

Our internet access has been intermittent all day, which is frustrating in the best of times but downright infuriating in times like these. During the coronavirus scare, the internet is an essential connection to the world outside our house.
Lately our Facebook friends have been entertaining one another with parlor games, which are an interesting diversion from all the bad news we keep reading on the internet. In one game a person lists nine jobs he’s had and one he hasn’t, and invites others to guess which one is the lie. In another a person lists nine famous people he’s met and one he hasn’t, and the object is the same. Other popular pastimes include asking others to list 10 things they don’t like that everyone else seems to like, or name 10 movies they’ve frequently re-watched yet never grow tired of.
A hot topic of discussion is what to binge watch on the internet while stuck at home. The Netflix documentary series “Tiger King” is getting lots of rave reviews, but after binge watching that it goes on our list of 10 things we don’t like nearly as much as most people seem to do. The good folks at HBO have kindly offered a free month of streaming at its web site, and we’ve taken advantage of that to revisit “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” and unless you’re queasy about cinematic violence we highly recommend both. People are posting their favorite YouTube videos, too, many of which have been well worth watching, and as soon as we figure out how to post YouTube videos on Facebook we’ll be posting  Nicholas Brothers dance numbers and W.C. Fields’ great “Honest John” pool routine from “Six of a Kind” and other favorites from better times.
The internet also brings us the daily bad news, but we try not to be obsessive about it. We’re trying to get some walking in, but the weather’s not lately been conducive to that, and we’re ignoring that government doctor’s advice to not go the grocery store, as we figure that starvation is a deadly as the coronavirus. It’s good to know that the friends and family were in touch with from a distance are safe at home, although they’re all going stir crazy and some of them are now grieving the loss of a loved one, and we we sure hope the internet doesn’t succumb to the coronavirus. We wonder how anyone survived the 1918 flu epidemic without it.

— Bud Norman

Driving the Eerily Empty Streets

Forty million Californians are now under house arrest due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus, and millions more Americans across the country are voluntarily staying at home. For now, there’s not much to do even if you dare leave the house.
Being daredevils we ventured out last night to get some drive-through fast food, handed to us by a gloved cashier, and figured that as long as we kept the windows rolled up and the doors locked it would be safe to use some suddenly inexpensive gasoline to drive around town. The Old Town and Delano districts are usually packed with customers for the popular bars and restaurants there, but both were eerily dark and empty. The elaborate neon marquee of the grand old Orpheum Theater where we had hoped to perform in the annual Girdiron Show next month announced that it was indefinitely shut down, and our friends who produce and perform at the nearby Roxy’s Downtown theater are also on hiatus.
Our favorite dive bar is locked up, so is our second favorite dive bar, and although our church is still holding services it has cancelled classes and attendance is down. We can’t visit our parents because their retirement community is locked down and its residents confined to the apartments where the staff delivers meals, and now seems an inopportune time to drop in on our friends.
When the weather warms up again we’ll figure it’s safe to take a long walk through our picturesque neighborhood and its several parks, but the nearby art museum and botanical garden are both closed for the duration, and we’re advised to avoid coming within six feet of another human being.
This might be an overreaction or it might be necessary precautions — as we have no expertise in epidemiology and can’t say –but we do know that it’s not a happy situation. The economic repercussions from everyone staying at home will surely be severe, as so many of our friends are already all too aware, and the psychological effects might be worse. By nature human beings need to interact with family and friends and the interesting people you might encounter in a public place, and the patriotic call for “social distancing” requires real sacrifice.
If you have a job that can be done from home and are happily married with well-behaved children you can home school, it might not seem so bad and could even have its advantages, so count yourself lucky. If your business is shut down and you live alone or, worse yet, with someone abusive, these are hard times.

— Bud Norman