The Weather and the Rest of It

There’s plenty of important news afoot today, as always, but around here and in much of the rest of the American heartland the big story is the weather. It’s wet, chilly, and bringing down catastrophic thunderstorms and hailstorms and tornados and flooding rains from the Texas panhandle to Lake Michigan.
So far our beloved hometown of Wichita has been spared the worst of it, but it’s been bad enough that we’ve lately been keeping a nervous eye on the sky and the Nexrad radar and the seven-day forecasts at wunderground.com, none of which are saying anything hopeful. Nearby communities are largely underwater, friends of ours in the outlying areas have been stranded in farm homes that are suddenly islands, and on Tuesday some very fine Kansas towns not so very far to the north of us were threatened by tornados that largely preempted our afternoon “Jeopardy!” viewing.
We’re also keeping a nervous eye on the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas Rivers that border our home in Wichita’s fashionable Riverside neighborhood, as well as the canal that runs along the overpass Canal Route through the middle of town and the Big Ditch that was dug in over on the west side, and although they’re all far higher than usual they seem safe enough for now, but the seven-day forecast calls for at least another week of heavy rains and chances of severe thunderstorms, so that’s something to worry about.
There’s plenty else to worry about in the rest of the news, as always, but one of the benefits of a harsh prairie upbringing is a certain soothing stoicism. Things can only get so bad, we’ve noticed, and despite our instinctive fearsome awe of God’s nature our prairie Protestant nature is assured by God’s promises of grace that everything will more or less work out in the end.
In the meantime, we’re obliged here on Earth to deal with both nature and human nature and the resulting problems as best we can. It’s a damnably tough job, but here’s hoping at least the weather will better. We’ve  confirmed that amazing Holzhauer guy won yet another huge payday on “Jeopardy!,” the feud between the executive and legislative branches continues to grind out in the judicial branch, the Kansas weather is always uncertain, and that some things can be counted on.

— Bud Norman

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The Kansas Weather and the Rest of the News

The neighborhood tornado sirens went off Sunday evening, which seemed odd given the light rain and even lighter winds we noticed outside the window, but we nonetheless did the Kansas thing and turned on the old-fashioned AM radio and checked the newfangled internet radar. Kansas is our favorite of the 49 very fine states we’ve visited, and we urge you to pay it a visit sometime, but you do have to be careful about the weather around here.
Kansas gets hotter than Hades in the summer, colder than the proverbial well digger’s ass in the winter, and the few in-between weeks of spring and fall are either eerily perfect or downright scary. On the good days you can drive around with the top down and watch a spectacular prairie sunset of shot gold, maroon and violet, dazzling silver, emerald and fawn, with the earth’s whole amplitude and nature’s multiform power consigned for once to colors — as Walt Whitman once memorably described it — but on the bad days Mother Nature is a mean old bitch old around here. Kansas goes through droughts when the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers slow to a trickle, and such rainy seasons that both rivers would have overflowed their banks and flooded our Riverside house if the damned know-it-alls at the City and County Halls hadn’t defied local anti-government opinion and dug the Big Ditch on the west side of town. Every spring, and to a lesser extent every fall, the state also gets lightning strikes and medicine-ball sized hail and ferociously high winds and car-window-shattering barometric pressure drops and torrential flash-flooding rains and Wizard of Oz-sized tornadoes that can quite literally kill you, and on several occasions we can well recall each of them have come quite close to killing us.
The Kansas weather hasn’t killed us yet, however, and we like to think the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he said “That which does not kill us makes stronger.” Life on the prairie can be harsh, but so can life be anywhere you might go, so maybe the weather has something to with Kansas being able to stumble along as well as it has since it righteously entered the Union as a Free State.
Despite the tornado sirens we only got a brief heavy rain and moderates winds on Sunday, although the unlucky neighborhoods to the west did get some hail that will probably involve an insurance claim or two, and that’s the way a lot of the media scares always seem to work out. Barring bad weather we’ll try to get back to the rest of the news today, and we’ll try not to be alarmist like some of the meteorologists around here, but we’ll also keep in mind just how bad things sometimes get.

— Bud Norman

Sunny Days and Stormy Forecasts

The weather here in south-central Kansas has been pretty much perfect the last couple of days, with the forecast calling for at least another a full week of it, but we’re reading that a strong hurricane is likely bringing near-biblical floods and God only knows what else to our friends on the mid-Atlantic coast. The rest of the news seems just as foreboding, despite the the admittedly healthy economic figures, but we’re holding out hope for a few more sunny days.
The states and counties and localities that are targeted by the latest forecast of Hurricane Florence are generally well-run, and no matter what we think of their crazy liberal taxes and regulatory policies we have to admit they’ve endured a couple of centuries of hurricane catastrophes, so no matter how hard of time of it they have we’ll bet on them to endure yet another storm or two. Certainly they’ll do better than New Orleans or Puerto Rico or any of those other badly run jurisdictions after their hurricane catastrophes, so at at least the debates about it will be short lived. If Hurricane Florence takes her way to Washington, D.C., however, all bets are off.
The Bible is provably right that the rain always falls on both on the just and unjust alike, as our blameless souls souls can testify after last week’s rainy weather around here, but at this point we expect it will be another rare ante=deluvian epoch before we see the Washington swamp and all the nation’s bi-partisan sins washed away.
In the meantime we’ll try to enjoy whatever warm and  sunny weather is left around here, and try our best to steer the rest of of the world to its best destination, an wherever your are we urge you to do the same.

–Bud Norman

How to Spend a Late Summer’s Afternoon

The weather around here on Wednesday was unusually perfect, and despite a recent losing streak the local Wichita Wingnuts baseball club has secured a spot in the double-A American Association’s playoffs, a most delightful and unusually good-looking young married couple we’re friends with have recently given birth to a healthy baby boy, and pretty much everyone we’ve run into lately has been eager to have a friendly talk about pretty much anything other than the latest politics.
It’s been a nice diversion, we must admit, and has led to some interesting discussions about the Film Noir genre and the hidden subtexts of “The Man Who Liberty Valance” and the subtleties of the Book of Acts, and of course how unusually perfect the weather has been lately, along with other more local and personal topics. Still, there’s no avoiding all the rest of the more noisome news of more national and international interest, and we’re still doing our best too keep up with it.
None of it is at all conducive to the happy mood that has lately prevailed around here, though, regardless of what your political beliefs might be, so despite all we have to say about that we’ll skip all that until at least tomorrow. In the meantime some delightful and good-looking couple is having a healthy baby near you, the sun is shining at a perfectly warm temperature somewhere, whatever local sports team you root for probably did its best even if it failed to make the playoffs, and you really should watch those great Film Noir movies and re-watch “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” for all the hidden subtext about how great nations are created.
We’ve still got lots to say about all the rest of it, none of which any of our Republican or Democratic or many somewhere-in-between friends will want to hear, but we’ll take a day off from our usual screeds about all that. Thanks for dropping in, though, and we hope that you have good weather and good news and friendly conversations with all the people you run into. From our reading of the rest of the  news, America could use a whole lot more of that.

— Bud Norman

On Politics, and Trying to Talk About the Weather Instead

One thing we can say for this crazy election year, as awful as it’s been, is that at least the weather has been unusually perfect here on the Kansas plains. A mild and almost snow-free winter made the desultory results of the early primaries somewhat more tolerable, then an early and warm and eerily storm-free spring provided a pleasant distraction from the ominous clouds that continued to gather on the political horizon. The summer had just enough of those stifling hot days to feel like summer but mostly provided ideal conditions for long walks through the lush local parks as the two worst presidential candidates in American history wrapped up their party’s nominations, and a glorious Indian summer of a fall has stretched clear into November and the final week of a crazy election year and its incongruously stormy political climate.
There’s a chance of storms for today in the weather forecast, with a weeklong drop in the temperature expected after that, which somehow seems appropriate, but the storms aren’t likely to be severe, the next week’s temperatures will probably only drop into the not-bad-to-this-time-of-year 60s, and after that we can hold out hope for another mild winter. The political forecasts are all over the place, though, with that awful Republican clearly gaining on that awful Democrat, and that awful Democrat still clinging to a slight advantage in the national average of the polls and a slightly better advantage in the average of the polls in the states that everyone thinks will decide the matter, and all the partisans clearly quite nervous about how it might turn out.
All of the more mathematical pundits are calculating the odds for all the various possible scenarios, including the popular and electoral votes once again disagreeing, or neither nominee getting an electoral majority and the matter being settled in the House of Representatives, where that guy from Utah that nobody’s ever heard of would have at least a one-in-a-million shot because at least nobody hates him the way both of the their majority party nominees are hated by a majority of the country, not to mentioned the even more far-fetched possibilities. We have a friend who plays harmonica and does pen-and-ink sketches well and is willing to bet money that there won’t be an election next Tuesday, another friend who is one of the better heavy metal drummers in town and agrees that a reptilian race of super-human alien invaders have already rigged the results, and we have a Republican nominee who has intimated that a former primary rival’s dad had President Kennedy offed and also says the election is rigged, and a Democratic nominee that makes it all very plausible, so at this point in such a crazy election year we can’t dismiss any possibility.
What doesn’t seem at all possible, from our perspective here on the Kansas plains, is any sort of happy outcome. The one thing all the polls agree on is that either nominee would be the most unpopular president ever on Inauguration Day, all the pundits on both sides of the partisan divide have made clear they keep this crazy election year’s fights going, but from our position in the middle of the country and on neither side of this awful race we’re just hoping for a mild winter and storm-free spring.

— Bud Norman

‘Twas the Monday After Christmas

Christmas is entirely over, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are still a few dreary business days away, the weather has taken an awful turn, and suddenly spring seems far, far away. That’s pretty much the news, so far as we can tell from our usually busy sources, and after a long drive back from our kinfolks’ home in south Texas we’re too worn out to formulate any of those big think pieces that are supposed to fill these slow news days.
Although it’s only of more or less purely personal interest we will note that the long drive up and down that hellish stretch of I-35 was well worth the intermittent traffic jams and blemished scenery and grueling distance. We caught up with both the paternal and maternal sides of the family, who are all fine company, and with the cutest and most polite children, and it sure beat another plastic pouch of microwaved turkey and a round at Kirby’s Beer Store. We can also recommend that if you’re heading north from San Antonio the big bypass around Austin has unblemished Hill Country scenery blasting by at 85 miles per hour with no traffic jams and is well worth the extra few miles and few bucks of toll.
There was some driving rain along the way, and a few freakish winter tornados just a couple of counties to the east as we crawled through the Dallas-Fort Worth sprawl, but we’re sure the Paris climate accord will solve that sort of thing soon enough. Somehow we heard that former Sen. Jim Webb might for president as an independent, which raises all sorts of interesting possibilities, but this is now time to sort out what those might be. The stock markets re-open tomorrow, which might yield something, but in the meantime the president is enjoying another swank Hawaiian vacation and the Congress is off doing God only knows what, the college football games haven’t yet gotten underway, and there’s no reason not to stop writing right now and enjoy another bowl of our famously red-hot chili.

— Bud Norman

A Chilling Wind and Childhood

Wednesday was wet and chilly and glum, at a time of year that is expected to be dry and hot and cheery in our prairie city, and we took a moment in our melancholy to feel sorry for the local children.
Even in our middle age we can well remember how very irksome it was to be homebound by the weather on any day of summer vacation. Those precious days of freedom were meant to be spent on a bicycle, on rides into town or out to the remotest countryside, and the rain that would sometimes fall on the just and the unjust alike was a hated imprisonment. The driveway basketball games could still go on in soaked t-shirts and shorts, except during lightning strikes or hail, but otherwise it meant being confined to the indoors. There were great old movies from the golden black-and-white era of Hollywood showing on the “Dialing for Dollars” afternoon show, and an ample supply of books the folks had stocked, and a chess set that a younger brother also knew how to use, but even these sublime indoors entertainments could not compare to the glorious Huckleberry Finn feeling of being out in the open air and away from adult supervision.
Much good and little harm came to us during those early boyhood forays into the world, or at least that prairie portion of it that could be reached by bicycle and returned from by dinnertime, and we fret that the urchins we encounter on our walks around the neighborhood will never know the same benefits or learn from the same slight scrapes. All of the kids scurrying around the nearby parks and playgrounds always look to be excessively supervised, not only by their omnipresent parents but also by the regulators who have welded the old metal spaceship shut and made all the other public playthings so boringly safe, and in our middle-class and well-educated neighborhood they don’t have much scurrying around time left in between the violin lessons and crafts classes and the rest of highly structured schedules that middle-class and well-educated parents insist on these days. The slightly swarthier kids from the nearby barrio predominate in the local parks, and we’re pleased to note they’re at least allowed to frolic in the modern art fountain near the old zoo on the sultry days, but they also have parents watching over them with a wariness that teaches a fear of even a dry and hot and happy day in a picturesque park on the prairie.
At Reason Magazine we read of a mother who was jailed for her letting her nine-year-old daughter play alone at a nearby park, and we think of the times we climbed three stories up a rusty steel ladder to the top of an abandoned cement factory miles from home at about the same age, and we wonder what’s become of a country that won’t allow reasonable latitude to its children. If it is truly so unsafe for a nine-year-old to wander a few blocks to a public park by herself that her mother should be charged with dereliction of parental duty, the community should insist on a higher standard of public safety. Those afternoon black-and-white movies always featured an “Our Gang” short that documented how kids would wander their worlds even in the dangerous days of the Great Depression, and that ample supply of books on our parents’ shelves included Twain and Dickens and other authors who testified about the unfettered childhoods of even earlier generations, so we conclude this is a modern complaint.
More wet and chilly and glum weather is forecast for today, but we’re hopeful that we’ll eventually some of that global warming that the alarmists have been terrorizing the kids about. When it comes we hope some of the local youngsters will sneak off and do something that hasn’t been scheduled for them. We’ll try to do the same, and will revel in the memory of America’s lost freedoms.

— Bud Norman

Scaring the Young for Mother Earth

The most stubborn winter we can remember has at long last ended here in Kansas, and we seem to have skipped spring altogether and headed directly into summer. May arrived at a chilly 35 degrees, but since then we’ve had nothing but high 90s and low 100s in at the afternoons with just a few brief moments of ideal moderation in between. We can’t complain, not after eight straight months of relentless griping about the cold, but neither can we consider it an unalloyed good. There’s suddenly a lot of lawn work to be done, for one thing, and worse yet, global warming alarmism is now back in season.
All the hysteria that now accompanies warmer days is annoying to old-timers such as ourselves, who have been through enough of Kansas’ famously cussed weather to have noticed how very erratic it is and how little it cares about human activity, but apparently it is downright nerve-wracking for the young folks. According to an intriguing report in Canada’s The Globe and Mail, “Child psychiatrists, psychologists and educators say they’ve seen an escalation in the anxiety levels of today’s youth, who are constantly exposed to doomsday talk about the destruction of our planet.” This strikes us as unfortunate, and even akin to a sort of mass low-level child abuse, but the scribes at The Globe and Mail seem to regard it as a positive development. The story is “part of a series examine the health repercussions for Canadians of a changing climate,” and argues that making the next generations of Canadians even more neurotic than usual is just one of those repercussions and perhaps the one that will finally force Canada to revert to a pre-agricultural society that will surely result in paradise.
The Globe and Mail’s story begins with the obligatory anecdote, and concerns a sweet-sounding 14-year-old whose downtown Calgary neighborhood was recently devastated by floods on the Bow and Elbow rivers. We can readily sympathize with the poor lass, as we are nestled between the Arkansas and Little rivers that occasionally interrupt the persistent droughts by threatening to jump their high banks, and would have flooded our humble bungalow on a few occasions if not for the enormous Big Ditch that the city plowed on the west side five decades ago, and we are therefore saddened to learn that she has since become such a global warming enthusiast that she’s joined her school’s Model United Nations program to “take an active role” in combatting the stuff. It’s sad enough that the poor lass has had the bejeezus scared out of her by nature’s savage fury and humankind’s recklessly high-minded conjecture, but to think that she’s also been taught to place her innocent youthful faith in the likes of the United Nations is downright heart-breaking. The authors of The Globe and Mail’s story are encouraged by this tale, though, and hold out hope that it will spur the change needed to reassure all the panicked 14-year-olds that the future will be saved.
“While the Alberta floods haven’t been directly linked to climate change,” The Globe and Mail rather glumly conceded, but it was quick to add that “destructive weather events are expected to increase in the future.” Those expectations come from the same experts who cannot explain why there has been no global warming during that 14-year-old’s lifetime, a “pause” that rudely defied all the experts’ computer models that continue to predict an increase of destructive weather events sometime in the future, but this goes unmentioned in the story. Also unmentioned is the possibility that the Bow and Elbow rivers rise and fall on their own, as they’ve done for the past many millennia, or the possibility that Calgary needs to dig a Big Ditch or devise some other man-made solution for flood control. Such counter-intuitive notions are unlikely to occur to the United Nations, but we hope at some point they pop into that 14-year-old girl’s head.
A warm early summer night on Monday allowed us to sip a beer and catch up with an old friend at the patio of Harry’s Uptown Bar and Grill, and during our far-ranging conversation he lamented all the global warming propaganda that his 10-year-old son daily encounters. We know his son as an all-American boy, bright and buoyant and being readied for an uncertain future, and we were relieved to hear that he’s being taught a healthy skepticism about the imminent end of the world. The kid is such a classic Kansas boy that meteorology is one of his many intellectual enthusiasms, and he can already name the kinds of clouds that dot our skies and predict the calamities that are likely to follow with the accuracy of a grizzled old-timers, and he’s seemed to have acquired the stoic respect for the unconquerable power of nature that is the beginning of Kansas wisdom. There’s an avuncular right-wing internet wag in the boy’s life who has warned of impending economic collapse user the weight of unsustainable debts and an irreversible decline in his nation’s cultural standards, and his dad is probably sowing the same doubts, but at least he’s not worried that the family’s big ol’ Chevy Suburban is going to cause the apocalypse.
That 14-year-old Canadian girl and our 10-year-old Kansas pal aren’t hearing anything new. Our youth was in the era when Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome and every other Hollywood filmmaker was predicting a bleak future of mass starvation and Soylent Green, but instead we’ve arrived at a time of mass obesity and human remains are being used for furnace fuel rather than a dietary staple. Most of our peers wound up rather screwy as a result, now that we think about it, and if the likes of The Globe and Mail have their way future generations will similarly suffer, but we’ll leave that to the future. It’s summertime, and the living is easy.

— Bud Norman

A Change in the Climate

The top came down on our aging automobile for the first time in what seemed liked a Little Ice Age, the local Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team was heading into the collegiate tourney undefeated and a likely number one seed, the light of a cloudless day stretched one minute and a full hour further into the evening, and Monday on the plains seemed to promise even warmer days ahead. Back in Washington the Democrats in the United States Senate were commencing an all-night gripe about the coming catastrophe of climate change, but on such a nice day it was hard to get appropriately exercised about the idiocy of it all.
Let them rail against the weather, we decided as we settled into a gin-and-tonic and some earnest talk of the important issues of the day with an old friend at an affordable tavern on the near east side of town. After some discussion of the weather and the ‘Shockers’ continued success, which is by now a civic obligation in these parts, we moved on to the debacle in the Ukraine and its likely ramifications for the even bigger debacles in Syria and Iran and all those places that China is itching to grab, as well as the sorry state of the economy and the general decline in the culture, but at no point did we worry that world might become warmer. We would likely be outliers among at almost any tavern in the country,, but are nonetheless confident that few other patrons of Harry’s Uptown Bar & Grill or any other American establishment were much concerned with the prospect of warmer days ahead. At Harry’s the patrons seemed more transfixed by the televised image of University of Connecticut’s remarkable women’s basketball team’s dismantling of a very good University of Louisville squad, and we expect that at bars everywhere the people had similarly sensible priorities.
Like photo identification requirements for voting, the raising of the minimum wage for insolent fast-food workers, and the allegedly insidious influence of the Koch brothers, climate change is one of those issues that gets a hard-core of Democratic zealots in an envelope-stuffing and contribution-making rage but does little to motivate the average voter. We don’t worry that it will have much affect on the vast of majority of Americans. Should the Republicans emphasize the costs required by the Democrats’ cap-and-trade solutions to this fictional problem it could even be a net gain to the cause of conservatism. The debate about human-caused climate change might be settled among the faithful, but it is also settled on another side among the regular folk, and the more the left grips about the weather the more apparent it is that they’d rather not talk about the Ukraine or its ramifications in Iran and elsewhere, and certainly not the sorry state of the economy and the decline of the culture.
Even those problems are easily ignored when the sun comes out, and it remains to be seen how the politics turn out when the leaves turn to red and yellow again. That all-night gripe will be long forgotten by then, however, and it more of a worry how the Republicans will sabotage their own chances. Until then there’s always a hope that the ‘Shockers will make a good run in the tourney.

— Bud Norman

The Economy and the Cold

The winter has been so cold around here that we’re running out of snappy “it’s so cold” lines, and have lately been reduced to likening it to certain unmentionable portions of witches’ and well-diggers’ anatomies, but the fine folks at the Bureau of Labor Statistics have helpfully provided us with a brand new cliché. Whenever the arctic breezes push the wind chills down to double-digits below zero we can now say “It’s so cold that the jobs report is lousy.”
In case you couldn’t hear the news over the chattering of your teeth, the past two monthly jobs reports have been unexpectedly lousy. We say “unexpectedly” because all the media stylebooks now require that any bad economic news be described that way, as they apparently expected the economy to be chugging along toward egalitarian utopia with Barack Obama in the White House, but even the most enthusiastic cheerleaders in the press have been forced to admit that the jobs numbers — along with other data ranging from consumer confidence to manufacturing activity to the trade deficit — have indeed been lousy. Reluctant to stop telling their favorite tale of a rebounding economy, the press has endeavored to explain the recent bad news as a mere interruption caused by various factors having nothing to do with administration policies. The devaluation of some third world currencies has been one common explanation, as is whatever mischief those darned Tea Party Republicans have been up to lately, but the most popular excuse has been the cold and snowy weather.
This explanation has the obvious advantage of plausibility. The weather has indeed been miserable the past two months in much of the country, and it’s bound to have had some chilling effect on the economy. Here in Wichita the streets have been covered with enough snow to deter the hardiest car shopper from taking a test drive, workers have stayed home to mind children taking an unscheduled winter break from school, and commerce has been frozen as solid as the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers. We hear it’s been worse elsewhere, and almost as bad in places even more unaccustomed to such icy hassles, and those warm weather regions that have been spared the worst of it are probably used to taking life easy. Such awful weather likely explains some of the recent economic data, but we are not reassured that those long awaited green shoots will soon start to sprout through the melting snow.
Even before winter set in the jobs reports were pretty lousy by historical standards, showing just enough job creation to keep pace with population and not nearly enough to make a dent in the record number of long-term unemployed and labor force drop-outs, and it’s hard to see what might have brought improvement even in a mild winter. The Federal Reserve Board’s quantitative easing of gazillions of newly-printed dollars into the stock market seems to have worked well enough to entice so many discouraged workers out of the labor force to push the official unemployment rate down to 6.6 percent, just a tick ahead of the announcement benchmark for ending the scheme, and the markets have responded with a two-month slide that has abated only on the hope that things are still bad enough to keep the presses running at the mint. There’s also been an energy boom based on fracking and drilling on private lands, but the administration has been working on stopping that and the recent problems with the trade deficit suggest it might be succeeding. The economy is increasingly controlled by people who think it’s a good thing that Obamacare will pay a couple million workers to stop working and live on the dole, and that more job-killing regulation is needed to stop global warming.
An economy that is truly chugging along toward utopia, egalitarian or otherwise, should be able to plow through a few feet of snow. Many of the economic effects of the weather can be blamed on the failure of state and local governments to competently deal with the foreseeable challenges of the weather, and their inability to acquire enough salt for the frozen streets should cause some doubt about their ability to run the entirety of the economy and make it fair and sensitive and hurtful to no one’s feelings. A change in the political climate is required, and that is at least two more winters away.
If the weather is to blame for the past two months of economic data the next jobs report should be another lousy one, as February is proving the worst month yet. At this point we have no optimism regarding March, and we expect the April showers will bring a flowering of new excuses.

— Bud Norman