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Try to Remember a Time in September

September is perhaps the most sporting month of the year in America, and usually provides some refuge from all the political and cultural squabbles that dominate the rest of the papers, but not this year.
This year the big story at the United States Open tennis championship was the women’s final singles match, which ended with a big brouhaha about sexism and racism. The professional football season started with the same acrimonious debate about free speech rights and proper respect for the national anthem that had already taken so much out of the past two seasons. Most of the baseball races in the big leagues have already been run, and around this double-A city our beloved Wichita Wingnuts have played their last-ever game in the gorgeous and history-laden Lawrence-Dumont Stadium that is scheduled for the bulldozer, which has the home folks arguing.
Not having followed tennis closely since way back when the undersized by scrappy Australian Rod Laver was winning his calendar Grand Slam sweep, we’ll not venture any strong opinions about what happened in the finals match between American Serena Williams and Japan’s Naomi Osaka. As even such casual fans as ourselves well know Williams has dominated her sport for the past couple of decades, but after the recent birth of a child and at the ripe old age of 36 her dominance is soon coming to and end, so fans were eager to see how she’d fare against an-up-coming who was three months old when Williams won her first Gland Slam title, but everyone hated out it turned out.
Youth proved better than experience in the first set, with Osaka racking up an easy win, but Williams has a long history of impassioned but calm comebacks in the second and third matches, and everyone was expecting another classic effort to tie Margaret Court’s record of 25 Grand Slam singles titles. The umpire made a couple of calls that annoyed Williams, one of them claiming she had illegally been getting coaching from the sidelines, which Williams took quite personally, and she wound up screaming loud and long at the referee and breaking her racket on the court and eventually getting penalized by two games, which put the set and match out of reach against such formidable competition.
A hard-earned win by either the aging superstar or the youthful newcomer who was playing against her life-long idol in her first Grand Slam final should have made for one of those corny feel-good stories we always look for on the sports pages, but in this case it ended for the aforementioned brouhaha about racism and sexism.
Some observers opined that tennis umpires routinely endure far worse verbal abuse from male players, and should extend the same courtesy to female players, while others suggested that the fact it was a strong black woman doing the screaming and racket-smashing might have had something to do with it. We don’t follow tennis closely enough to judge all the arguments about the calls or how commonly cheating violations are called or that particular umpire’s history of enduring verbal abuse from male players, but by now we’re all too familiar with the sexual and racial contretemps, so we’ll venture an admittedly ambivalent opinion that it’s much ado about nothing.
Ever since the days of America’s superstar tennis brats Jimmy Conner and Pat McEnroe those poor umpire’s in tall white chairs have indeed been putting up with a whole lot of verbal abuse from the male players, but we’d rather they stop doing that and start handing out game penalties rather than begin putting up with such nonsense from the fairer sex. Tennis is perhaps the most international and multiracial played on this increasingly interconnected globe, too, and in a match between a black woman and an Asian in front of an umpire with a Latin-sounding name, with Williams chasing a 25th Grand Slam title, it’s hard to imagine racism was much of a factor.
We fondly remember the days when tennis was a game of white shorts and shirts and friendly post-match handshakes and the most genteel standards of sportsmanship and decorum, with such great African-American champions as Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe best exemplifying the best of it, and if tennis wants to return to that better era we wish the sport well.
As for all that fuss about football and the flag, we’ve pretty much lost interest in the sport and are fed up with both sides of its ensuing controversies. Let the players rack up the debilitating brain injuries along with the hits that will likely hobble them into a premature old age, as that’s their choice and they make plenty of money for it, but we’ll choose to watch baseball and then wait until basketball season comes along. If we get to go to any more games around we’ll stand and hold our ever-present hat over our heart as the national anthem plays, with due respect to the freedoms the flag represents, and the men who fought and died for those freedoms, but we’ll not worry how some football player we won’t be watching exercises his freedom.
The Nike sneaker company has recently signed a promotional deal with one-time star quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the whole kneeling-during-the-anthem fuss and is now out of the league, partly because defenses started figuring him out and largely because of his politics, and we note that their sales have since gone up, but that others are burning their Nikes and vowing to never buy another pair from the oh-so-liberal company that makes its products mostly in Asian sweatshops. There’s no point in us boycotting Nike even if we were inclined to do so, as we’re old and creatures of habit and plan stick with the classic Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star footwear that have adorned our feet since our junior high days on the pickup courts, and as far as we’re concerned you can wear whatever you want.
The demise of the Wichita Wingnuts and the destruction of that grand old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium hits closer to home, of course, and serves as a sad reminder that politics will always prevail over sports. The mayor and some local capitalists are promising a far grander stadium somewhere along the same picturesque location on the west bank of the Arkansas River, with the same postcard view of downtown, and the preliminary sketches indicate there will be luxury boxes on a second deck, and they’ve already signed up a major league-affiliated triple-A team that wasn’t drawing well down in New Orleans. What’s left of the local media is making a big deal, and the talk is that if you build it they will come in far great numbers than the few thousand who showed up to watch independent and double-A Wingnuts in an aging old park for the very last time.
That “if you build it they will come” stuff is straight from a bad Kevin Costner movie, though, and we have our doubts about all the rest of it. No matter how fancy a park they build you won’t be able to tell your kid that Satchel Paige once pitched there, or how ‘Shocker and Toronto Blue Jays star Joe Carter once hit a homer clear across the street and into the Arkansas River, or share any of other history that the seventh-oldest professional ballpark in America has racked up over the years. Nor do we expect that whatever the losing “New Orleans Baby Cakes” are re-named will be as entertaining as the desperate outsiders’ hustle of the winning Wingnuts, and there probably won’t be a smoking section where we can watch with our cigar-chomping friends, and they’re even talking about how it’s going to screw up the scenic MacLean Boulevard drive along the river.
You can call all these developments social progress, we suppose, and there’s no denying that all the players in all the sports these days are bigger and faster and more scientifically conditioned than the heroes of our long-ago youth. Still, the kiddos should know of a happier time long ago when September offered a few more weeks of respite from the most brutal game of politics.

–Bud Norman

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Thanksgiving Day

All the bad news of this annus horribilis notwithstanding, there’s still much to be thankful for. The weather’s been mostly great around here, the Wichita Wingnuts took their baseball season to the decisive game of the American Association’s championship series, the Wichita State Wheatshockers are off to an unexpectedly hot start in this suddenly chilly basketball season, some great old songs are playing on our new car’s old-timey cassette player, there are still a few righteous souls left in American politics, and we’re still free to grouse about the rest of it.
There’s family and friends, too, and we plan to spend the day sharing good food and convivial conversation with them, and to take time out to give thanks to God for such blessings. We urge you to do the same, and to momentarily ignore the worst of the latest news while you listen to some favorite old music or watch a favorite sports team, and to have a very happy Thanksgiving.

A Good Day in Wichita

We’re the first to decry the American culture’s overemphasis on sports, but there’s no denying that the outcome of that basketball game was of some ineffable but nonetheless very real significance to our humble little prairie town. One needn’t be from Wichita to understand the sense of civic well-being and even spiritual satisfaction that currently pervades Wichita, as an instinct to root for the plucky underdog of low breeding against the heavy favorite of aristocratic breeding is common of humankind, but it does help. Only Kentucky and North Carolina and Indiana and a few other states or cities are quite so basketball-crazy as Kansas, and no town in Kansas is any more basketball-crazy than Wichita, and none of them fully appreciate the mythic connotations and nearly perfect exemplification of the the plucky underdog versus entitled aristocrat nature of a WSU versus KU match-up, much less the giddy feeling that follows a WSU victory over KU.
Here in Wichita, which is the big city by Kansas standards, the game looms even larger, with the state’s basketball passion meshing perfectly with the games’s big city flavor. Early on Wichita developed its own basketball culture, with the great Wichita Athletic League, better known to Kansas sports fans as the the “City League,” developing a distinctly urban brand of basketball. In the early years Wichita High struggled against the disciplined farm boys in the surrounding rural towns, but by the time World War II and the aviation boom had created Wichita East and Wichita North and Wichita West and the rest of the City League were going they had Cleo Littleton playing at East and Wichita was suddenly a hotbed. Littleton joined the ‘Shockers as the first black player west of the Mississippi, playing in a Missouri Valley Conference then known as the “Valley of Death,” a league of urban colleges that would challenge the state schools and would shake up the order of college basketball with such players as the University of Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson, and that led to the Shockers’ signing of future pro star Dave “The Rave” Stallworth and a Final Four run in the ’60s. Those games were played at the old Forum downtown rather than on campus, and made ‘Shocker games a passion of the local aircraft-factory working citizenry rather than the student body, and Wichita State University was always associated more with then city than the state’s univeriy system.,
Mediocrity followed, despite a number of local players of note, while KU continued its annual appearance in those top-25 rankings, but a flowering of local talent in the early ’80s put Wichita State back in contention. KU had had all-American point guard Darnell Valentine from our our alma mater’s historic undefeated and greatest-of-all-time Wichita Heights High School’s 1977 Wichita Heights High School’s team, but Wichita State University had the star power ford Antoine Carr from the game group, who was a very cool if somewhat less clean-cut dude from that same team, and when they met New Orleans in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 1981 the guy who had stayed in the old hometown won, and the hometown remembers it still. Since then WSU has won at home with an ugly stall-ball victory over the great Denny Manning’s KU team,and KU won the next game at home by a 49-point route during the years of mediocrity that still stings, but on Sunday WSU prevailed again
.Unless you’ve been paying the same inordinate attention the intricacies of college of baskeball that Wichita has lately been playing, it’s hard to understand how thoroughly satisfying WSU’s victory on Sunday feels. The win in Omaha doesn’t have the same ring as the “Battle in New Orleans,” but that ’80s run was tainted somewhat by the recruiting scandals that followed and a certain sleaziness associated with the program of the time. The ‘Shockers who prevailed on Sunday were all righteously recruited from the overlooked ranks of non-McDonald’s All-Americans that the blue-blooded likes of KU deigned to recruit, including a spunky white boy from a small school in western Kansas, the second best player on the Wichita Heights High School team that won four state straight state champions, even if the star player did wind up on KU, an unheralded player from Georgia that completely shut down half of KU’s blue chip backcourt, and an all-American point guard from the KU coach’s home state of Illinois that the ‘Shockers had spotted and signed before KU had a chance. The overlooked kids at lowly WSU who were playing out their eligibility at WSU beat the KU media darlings were who were doing their one year in mere college competition before going on to million dollar contracts in professional basketball, and it wasn’t really that close, so we’ll hope you’ll forgive ur lack of attention of the rest of the day’s news. It truly was a sweet days of sport spectating here in Wichita.

— Bud Norman

The Silly Season of Politics

There are still a couple of weeks left in 2014, according to that damnable calendar icon that taunts us with the relentless passage of time whenever we log on to our computer, but the presidential campaign of 2016 already seems well underway. An otherwise slow news day was full of speculation about the Republican contest on Tuesday, but none of it was quite so compelling as the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball squad home court win over an unranked but upset-minded University of Alabama Crimson Tide by a score of 53-52. Our beloved ‘Shockers went on a 13-1 run over the final five minutes to seal the narrow victory, and we don’t expect the Republican race to be quite so exciting as the pre-season hype would indicate.
All the talk on Tuesday was about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who announced that he was thinking about pursuing the nomination. Bush is also the son of former President George Herbert Walker Bush and the brother of President of George W. Bush, and the grandson of Sen. Prescott Bush, and an heir to God only knows how many previous generations of big deal Bushes, so running the country is pretty much his family business and his announcement that he was all but announcing his candidacy for president was not a surprise. More surprising was that so much of the press took serious the notion that Bush might actually win, and regarded his admittedly impeccable “establishment” credentials as a likely reason. These scribes are apparently too far removed from the Republicans’ fly-over country base to know that “establishment” is now as much a pejorative to its primary electorate than it ever was the hippies, and that the Bush name is now synonymous with a big-government style of conservatism that is widely considered unsuited to the nation’s needs or the party’s desires. Bush has already staked on stands on illegal immigration and the federalization of education that are anathema to Republican stalwarts, both of which remind the party’s activist base of everything they hated about his brother and father and grandfather and all those previous generations of big deal Bushes, and no amount of fund-raising is likely to negate those disadvantages.
The press gleefully noted that Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul was already issuing advertisements against Bush, a clear signal of his unsurprising intention to seek the nomination, but neither do we regard Paul as pre-season favorite for the nomination. He’s certainly not at all “establishment,” being heir only to the quixotic campaigns of his father, former quadrennial presidential candidate and Texas’ Rep. Ron Paul, but he’s staked out accommodating positions on foreign policy issues that will not play well at a time when Russia and China and Islamism are all ascendant. There was even some attention paid to to disparaging remarks made about Bush by Donald Trump, a real estate mogul and reality star ever eager for paid attention, although we expect that “The Donald’s” ambitions are primary to produce publicity for whatever eponymous project he is planning in the private sector.
This is the “silly season” in presidential politics, to borrow yet another sports metaphor from golf, and the day’s headlines will be long forgotten by the metaphorical playoff time. The real contest begins with an impressive slate of governors get done with their necessary state business, and a smaller and less impressive slate of Representatives and Senators show what they’re willing to do with their party’s majorities, and a robust debate about who’s the most solid conservative is underway. The contestant from the prestigious confederation won’t necessarily prevail, as the Shockers’ hard-fought win over the Southeastern Conference demonstrated, and anyone who can plausibly deny responsibility for what’s been going in the big leagues of Washington will have an underdog’s leg up.
We expect an exciting race for the Republican nomination, and maybe even one of those improbable come-from-behind victories that cause you to shake hands with the bartender when you’re watching at Merle’s Tavern, but it never goes according to what the press is saying.

— Bud Norman

The End of the Season

Basketball season is over in Kansas, spring has not yet arrived on these windy plains, and gloominess has settled over the Sunflower State.
Spring will get here sooner or later, we hope, and basketball will be back next year, we can be sure, but for now there’s simply no shaking that pervasive sense of gloom. The collegiate tournament lingers on, the professionals will keep playing until the sun is hot, and the local driveways and park courts will then be full of aspiring young Kansas hoopsters, but another year of diabolical basketball disappointment was entered into the state’s record books this past weekend. Kansas State University’s Wildcat squad went down with a fight in the first round of the tourney to the Wildcats of the University of Kentucky, the University of Kansas Jayhawks lost a close game in the round of thirty-two to the Stanford University Cardinal, and our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers missed a last-second three-point attempt in an epic battle to fall at the same point in the tournament to that pesky Kentucky team.
In other states where football or NASCAR racing or surfing some other such nonsense dominate the sporting scene it will be hard to understand, but in Kansas this is a rather devastating development. We take our basketball all too seriously here in Kansas, no matter how the loyalties are divided. The KSU team has enjoyed some notable success over the years, and gave the world Tex Winter and his sophisticated triangle offense, as any stereotypically hayseed fan of that fine cow college will tell you, so first-round losses to even the most storied programs are hard to take there. The KU squad has been playing the game since its inventor joined the faculty and has won the whole she-bang on three separate occasions, as any of its alumni will tell you ad nauseum, so losing to an even snootier school such as Stanford is a bitter disappointment, especially when they had one of those one-and-done pro prospects that was supposed to wow the world. Even lowly WSU has had some good years, too, and although many of them ended in second-round losses there were tantalizingly plausible reasons to believe that this season would be stretch deep into the competition.
The ‘Shockers hadn’t lost since last April, after all, when they took the eventual national champions to the wire in the semi=final round of the tournament. Since then the plucky band of overlooked recruits had beaten all comers, including four tournament teams along with the mid-major nobodies, and after steamrollering a hapless Cal-Poly University squad they went into the second round with an unprecedented 35-game winning streak. It was only unprecedented because Indiana University’s ’76 squad didn’t get as many games, and a couple of UCLA teams from the dynasty days stretched their much longer winning streaks over consecutive seasons, but by any measure it was a good run. Even the most fatalistic long-time ‘Shocker fans were emboldened to an unfamiliar hope, and the city at large was awash in the black-and-gold of the hometown team. Almost everyone around here had become fond of these lads, including a friend of ours who works at a local restaurant where the team had a weekly meal, who swears they’re the most respectful college students she’d ever encountered, and the city seemed to gained a pep in its economically depressed step because of their efforts.
A predictably bad break of bracketing luck had put them against a blue-chip laden team from Kentucky, which has won the whole she-bang five times more than even almighty KU and was the pre-season favorite to add that total, and in the end their height and talent and a some questionable calls and few missed ‘Shocker free-throw attempts made the two-point difference. There was considerable satisfaction in a 35-and-one season, and seeing the our blue-collar local boys put up such a spirited fight against the blue bloods, but we will always look back on this great season with a nagging realization of what might have been. That was a damned good team that could have shown those pro prospect blue chippers how it’s done, and the city will have to take an immense satisfaction in that.
Spring will be here sooner or later, we still hope, and soon our attention will turn once again to the Wichita Wingnuts. Our local unaffiliated minor-league baseball team tore up the American Association’s roster of similarly odd-named teams from similarly mid-sized cities last year but lost in an upset in the championship series, and we’re hoping that another summer of drinking beer in the smoking section of our charmingly antiquated ballpark will provide the same welcome distraction from dreary reality. In the meantime our most wonderful mother is battling a serious illness in a San Diego hospital, and we’re awaiting a call to assure that all is well, and even in this basketball-crazed state we are reminded of what’s really important.

— Bud Norman

Politics, Hoops, and the Politics of Hoops

March madness has descended over the globe, and we don’t mean the mess in Ukraine and the South China Sea and all over the Middle East and at the Federal Reserve Board or any of the rest of the world’s reigning insanity. We’re talking about the excitement attending the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s championship basketball tournament, a matter that is arguably of less importance but generates far more wagers and press coverage. At least the president’s priorities are in order, as he has once again found time in his presumably busy schedule to fill out his brackets.
The presidential picks have become a much-ballyhooed annual event over the past five years, and are always presented with appropriate pomp and circumstance on the almighty ESPN cable network. So far the president’s picks haven’t proved more prescient than any other office-bound amateur’s, but ESPN takes them seriously enough to have come up with some fancy “Barack-etology” graphics and a nauseatingly fawning program featuring the president himself, and the rest of the media are obliged to take note. No one ever notes that the president seems to be watching an awful lot of college basketball while the world comes apart at the seams and the economy continues to sputter, so the White House can assume with some confidence that enhancing the president’s basketball-watching regular guy image compensates for any damage to done to his reputation as a serious statesman.
Our main interest in the story was that the president did not predict our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers squad would prevail, despite their thus-far- unblemished record and number one seeding, but this did not surprise us. The ‘Shockers are lightly regarded by many experts because they play in the lightly-regarded Missouri Valley Conference rather than one of those fancy-schmantzy football-playing conferences, and their impeccable underdog credentials are offset by their undeniable political incorrectness. Our boys play in the Charles Koch Arena, named for the local half of the billionaire businessmen brothers who are the Democratic party’s favorite boogeymen, the defensive-minded coach makes his recruiting trips on corporate jets loaned by the local corporate jet-makers, another popular whipping post of the progressive movement, and the team is whole-heartedly embraced by the God-and-gun-clutching denizens of this old-fashioned town smack dab in the middle of that vexing red splotch on the electoral map. There’s no political point in the president pandering to Wichita or anywhere in Kansas except perhaps Lawrence and the more, ahem, “urban” portions of Kansas City, Kansas, so most ‘Shocker fans were not expecting his endorsement.
The president apparently prefers the Spartans of Michigan State University, which is also unsurprising. Michigan is a bluer state than Kansas, although the unions have recently been on the run there and it seems in danger of growing purple, and the Spartans are  a good team who also play in one of those fancy-schmantzy football-playing conferences. Just as the pridefully egalitarian types tend to insist on Ivy League credentials for high public office, they also tend to be downright elitist in their basketball prognasticating. While perusing the comment boards on the latest college basketball news the other day we saw a posting by a fellow we happen to know who was dismissing our beloved ‘Shockers as the equivalent of Cowley County Community College, and we found it amusing because we happen to know him as a self-professed Marxist professor of some sort at at some prestigious College Back East. He went to the University of Kansas, where James friggin’ Naismith himself once coached and Wilt Chamberlain once roamed the lanes and there are more storied basketball stories than you can bear to hear to a KU alum recount, and we think it a hoot that our friend learned both his Marxism and his basketball snobbery there.
As is our strict policy here, we offer no predictions regarding the outcome of anything. Such prudence ensures that we’ll have a better track record than the president, whose picks from the Baltics to the brackets have proved questionable, and we don’t claim his expertise in these matters. We certainly can’t say we have the spare time to devote to scouting every team in the field that the president apparently enjoys. Even so, we’ll admit to a faint hope that a politically incorrect underdog from that God-and-gun-clinging red splotch in the middle of the U.S.A. will do well.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Union and Other ‘Shockers

A dear old friend has kindly offered us a ticket to a basketball game pitting the third-ranked and undefeated Wichita State University Wheatshockers against a lightly-regarded Loyola of Illinois Ramblers squad with a losing record, so we’ll have far more important things to do tonight than watch the State of the Union address. We probably would have skipped the speech in any case, however, and expect that most of our countrymen will do the same.
Article II and Section 3 of the constitution require that the president “shall from time give to congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge the necessary,” and we are far fussier sticklers about the constitution than the current president has been, but the practice of an annual oration to a joint session of Congress is a relatively new custom and one whose time has clearly passed. For all the fuss that the networks and the newspapers make about it the speeches have become a drearily predictable affair, as quickly forgotten as a New Year’s resolution, and there is no reason to believe that this year’s edition will be any different. Even without the benefit of leaked transcripts from highly-placed sources we are certain of what will be said, how the chattering classes will react, and what the political consequences will be.
There will be much somber reflection by the networks’ most familiar faces about the earth-shaking importance of the speech, followed by footage of every Democrat and a few forlorn Republicans from purplish districts jockeying for handshake position as the president proceeds with a royal swagger down the aisle toward the podium, along with all the other pomp and circumcision that attends these events. The president will then begin by declaring that the state of the union is sound, without any of the derisive laughter that such a ridiculous claim would ordinarily provoke, and then launch into an over-written, over-long, obviously self-serving account of the nation’s woes. He will briefly touch on the ongoing debacle of Obamacare, touting the few million who have signed on without mentioning that most of them previously had better plans that they liked and were promised they could keep, and he will spend the rest of it blathering endlessly about income inequality and proposing various fanciful solutions to this ineradicable fact of a free society.
All the talking heads on all the news stations save Fox will love it, and do their own endless blathering about how eloquently it was stated, but nothing will become of it but a bunch of ineffectual executive orders. Even the squishiest Republicans from the most purplish districts will not be persuaded, nor will the voters in any of the contested jurisdictions, and every item on the president’s ponderously explained agenda will be soon be a mere bargaining chip in the next round of debt ceiling negotiations. The only thing the president will talk about that might actually occur is immigration reform, as there seems to be some enthusiasm in both parties for flooding an historically weak labor market with millions more unskilled laborers, but the main interest will be in seeing which Republicans applaud and thereby invite a bruising primary challenge.
There will be the usual inspiring baritone delivery, and the gospel music cadences that have long wowed the pundits, but nothing that amounts to must-see TV. We’ll check a post-speech transcript to see what we missed, and it might be worth commenting on, but we’re confident it won’t be anything worth missing a ‘Shocker game.

— Bud Norman

Life Goes On

A steady stream of cute kids in scary costumes dropped by our front porch in search of candy on Thursday, a scarier-looking bunch of the hated Boston Red Sox won the World Series on Wednesday, but our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad will commence a season with great expectations on Saturday. Each passing day has lately been shorter and cooler and every night longer and colder as one season gives way to another, but the neighbors will decorate the long cold nights with bright lights until the warmth and storms of spring surely come again.
Those of us who pay too much attention to economics and politics and world affairs and such will occasionally lose sight of the fact, but life goes on. The economy has been limping along on artificially low interest rates and endless money-printing that will inevitably come to an end before the high unemployment and limited opportunities do, for the time being politics has bestowed a government-run health care system so calamitous that even the press cannot pretend otherwise, and the world seems to be readying itself for a contentious and bloody post-American era that will begin with the apocalyptic suicide cult of medieval nutcases that runs Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, but life goes on. Most people still get up and go to their jobs, or their two part-time jobs, and they come home and watch over those cute kids, and they watch sports, and the rest are still are getting their benefits or struggling along somehow. The guys on the talk radio shows and the people who call in are all plenty steamed about it, and all but most naively idealistic of the millions who have lost their insurance plans or seen them become vastly more expensive as a result of Obamacare probably feel the same, but it doesn’t seem to come up in conversation so often as the kids or the sports teams as life goes on.
Perhaps this is proof of the resilience of the American spirit and what’s left of capitalism, and we certainly hope so, but sometimes it feels more like a supine acceptance of American decline. The extraordinary number of Americans no longer bothering to even seek work goes largely unremarked, the broken promises of a conspicuously inept government are merely laughed at in the late-night monologues, and America’s diminished role in the world is little noticed and widely regarded as a welcome respite from the messy business of imposing some sort of international order. There’s an eerie lack of outrage about any of it, at least when the radio dial is tuned away from the talk shows, and a palpable sense of resignation.
Neither is there much of talk of hope and change and the fundamental transformation of America, as liberalism seems dispirited by its manifest failures and struggles to make the obligatory excuses, and it suddenly seems possible that the public’s discontent will at last express itself loudly at next year’s mid-term elections. In the meantime some of those people who are still going to a full-time job are pulling new energy out of the ground with astounding new technologies despite the government’s best efforts to stop them, and others are creating equally amazing innovations that will revolutionize other industries in ways the bureaucrats haven’t dreamed how to regulate, and many will go home from more mundane enterprises to raise cute kids who will someday come up with something even better.
Unless the country can muster a little more outrage, though, those cute kids could inherit a lot less than they deserve.

— Bud Norman

A Fast Break from the News

The nuclear-armed nut cases who run North Korea have declared a state of war with their southern neighbors and are threatening missile strikes on America, the European Union’s economy is staggering under so much debt that it has resorted to the outright theft of a member country’s private bank accounts, and there’s plenty more bad economic news even closer to home. Still, the big story around these parts is basketball.
Those plucky underdogs of the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad have somehow advanced to “Final Four” of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual championship tournament, and suddenly all that other stuff has been rendered at least momentarily unimportant. The team’s black-and-gold colors are on display all over town, that ferocious-looking shock of wheat that is the “WuShock” mascot seems to adorn every other shirt, and everywhere citizens are greeting one another with the plain-spoken battle cry of “Go Shocks.” All the local media have found little time for anything else, with even a good bloody crime or car wreck relegated to a few seconds after the first commercial, and the locally-produced ads for the car dealers and electronic stores are also featuring some sort of ‘Shocker reference.
It might seem slightly quaint and perhaps even a bit parochial to an outsider, but it doesn’t seem to have done any harm and has provided a rather pleasant diversion from reality. Wichita was very much in need of one, too, as the times have been hard and the mood glum lately.
Although the unemployment rate here is lower than the national average it’s still far too high to satisfy this hard-working city, and the political trends are even more worrisome than the economic data. The mainstays of the local economy are corporate aviation, agriculture, oil and gas, health care, and the United States Air Force, none of which seem to enjoy the favor of the current presidential administration or the “progressivism” it represents. Indeed, corporate jet owners have become the epitome of capitalist decadence and a favorite whipping boy of the administration, agriculture is being regulated right down to the last dust particle, oil and gas are to be punished so that “green energy” might flourish, with our hometown’s arena-sponsoring Koch Industries being the arch-villain of them all, there’s Obamacare to deal with all those doctors and nurses, and the defense budget seems to be the only part of those trillions of dollars of deficit spending that can be cut. Nor do gay marriage, gun control, subsidized contraception, or any of the other great leaps forward being offered have much appeal to this very traditionalist town.
It sometimes seem that the brave new world being created by the liberal elites will have very little use for a city such as Wichita, which heightens the usual insecurities of a middle-sized city in the middle of nowhere. Being a city that provides the world with some of the best darned airplanes in the world, an iconic campfire lantern, top-notch carnival rides, gas for the ride home, the literal bread on the table, and a base full of crack airmen who can re=fuel a bomber on its way to bomb the hell out of anyplace on the globe that needs bombing doesn’t get the much national recognition or respect, so we’ll gladly take it if the local basketball team is the lead story on SportsCenter. Basketball is another thing we do around here, with the same sense of pride felt in all the work that gets done. The driveways and park courts are full of basketball when the weather permits, and he Greater Wichita High School Athletic League, known around this hoops-crazed state as “The City League,” has produced decades of top-notch players and teams. The ‘Shockers are part of the city, too, with all the mechanics and barkeepers and small businessmen keeping the team’s schedule posted on the wall, whether they went to the school or not, and almost everyone feels obliged to root them on even if they went to snooty old KU with blue blood tradition. Over the years the team has been pretty good, too, with a few good tournament runs and unhappy periods of futility thrown in, but they haven’t been this far since the long-ago days of All-American Dave Stallworth, still a beloved figure in this town, so the city’s momentary giddiness should be forgiven.
Wichita knows basketball well enough to know that the ‘Shockers are a long-shot in the next game. They’ll face the University of Louisville, which has rolled through the tournament and earned its berth with a convincing win over perennial big-time college power Duke University, and the odds makers will give our boys little chance. Anything seems possible, though, and at the very worst the hometown heroes made it to the “Final Four.” That’s quite a accomplishment, and one can hope that the good feeling will last long enough to help out with the inevitable return to reality.

— Bud Norman

Madison Avenue and the Hipsters

The Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ improbable success in the early rounds of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual championship basketball tournament recently prompted us to tune into prime-time network television for the first time in many years, and the experience has left us struck by the ubiquity of hipster culture. It’s not so much the tattoos and over-sized shorts and tonsorial strangeness of so many of the players, although that is a jarring contrast to the clean-cut and defiantly old-fashioned cagers we recall from the days of Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, but rather all those unshaven young fellows with their shirts hanging out who populate the advertisements.
Our limited television viewing is usually devoted to the late-night fare on the low-budget ultra-high-frequency stations, where the programming is dominated by ancient sit-coms and the advertising is mostly on behalf of bail bondsmen, thrift stores, pawn shops, workers’ compensation lawyers, and other businesses catering to a lower-class audience that can’t or won’t shell out for cable’s over-priced fare, so this development took us by surprise. Madison Avenue’s enthusiastic embrace of what used to be called the “slacker” type also seemed somewhat counter-intuitive, as we would not expect the proudly unambitious sorts portrayed in the spots to be the likely consumers of the pricey goods being pitched. Having fashionably disheveled youngsters in the fast food and beer commercials make some sense, as those products are easily affordable by the low-paid denizens of parents’ basements, but it is a most baffling development that these days even most slovenly youngsters are apparently well-equipped with the latest electronic gizmos, sporty cars, and retirement investment plans.
Perhaps the target audience for these high-end advertisements is not the latte-sipping bohemian but instead the hard-working and dutifully conformist company man who quietly yearns for the supposed freedom of the skate-boarding and panhandling youngsters he passes by on his way home from a grueling day at the office. Simply buy our product, the ads seem to promise, and you too can be a youthful rebel and strike a blow against mindless consumerism.
This theory would explain the presence of Iggy Pop, of all people, in an advertisement for Chrysler automobiles, of all things. Pop was once the epitome of punk rock menace, prowling the stage of seedy venues with his emaciated and scarred torso proudly bared as he sang his anthemic “Lust For Life,” snarling its memorable refrain of “Of course I’ve had it in the ear before,” but that was before the punk rockers starring in today’s commercials were born. Only someone edging in the Chrysler demographic is likely to have the slightest idea who Pop is, much less recognize his weathered visage in an advertisement too cool to mention his name, and his tacit endorsement can only be meant to suggest that his equally well-heeled contemporaries can reclaim some of their lost rebelliousness by purchasing a car once stereotypically associated with middle class suburbia. Although we retain a certain fondness for Pop’s music, and cherish memories of Wichita’s original punk rock band, The Lemurs, performing a heartfelt rendition of his “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the ploy leaves us even less interested in owning a Chrysler.
We are disinclined to judge people by their apparel, and indeed are in no position to do so, as the dress code here at The Central Standard Times is notoriously lax, but this celebration of hipster culture has disquieting political implications. Several American cities have banked their futures on an economic theory of the “creative class” which holds that a town can do without an industrial base or noisome children so long as it has enough espresso bars to attract the cool kids, a notion so convoluted  that even its most famous proponent is now expressing doubts about it, and even such a stalwart base of rock-ribbed conservatism as Wichita has devoted a couple of city-subsidized neighborhoods to the hipsters. Worse yet, if the hipster is held up as a social ideal it cannot benefit a Republican party that is routinely and properly associated with its office-working, lawn-mowing, child-bearing antithesis Liberal politics is as essential an accessory to the modern hipster as rectangular spectacles, three days of stubble, and an ironic sense of humor. Perhaps it should also be pointed out that Chrysler was bailed out by Obama, with the bond-holding retirees and politically-unconnected dealers getting the worse of it, so Chrysler might enjoy some hipness after all.
Still, we find some hope out there for the squares. The Wheatshockers’ board-banging forward Carl Hall has shorn his dreadlocks and gone with a slightly Urkel-esque buzz-cut ‘do for the tournament, and now his team finds itself in the “Sweet 16” with a good chance at making the “Elite Eight.” It might be mere coincidence, but we doubt it.

— Bud Norman