When Coronavirus Hits Home

Our hometown of Wichita largely locked down at the moment, a response to the increase in coronavirus that followed a brief unlocking, and that’s unsettling enough. Worse yet, we’ve learned that we’re in the most infected part of town.
The 67203 zip code is a nice area, comprised mostly of the picturesque Riverside neighborhood and the adjacent historic Delano district, and the folks here are mostly friendly and don’t deserve this. We attribute the high infection rate to facts that it’s in heart of the city, and that Riverside’s many parks and art museum and botanical garden as well as Delano’s popular nightspots draw many visitors from all around the city. Also, people here tend to socialize with their neighbors more than in other parts of town.
These are usually selling points for the area, but not during a coronavirus epidemic. Suddenly it’s better to be of those boring suburbs no ventures into except to deliver packages and nobody even knows his neighbors.
There’s not much to do about it except to stay at home as much as possible and wear a face mask when forced to venture outside. We’ve already been doing that for what seems an eternity, and try to be even more strict about it until given an all-clear signal by the local health officials. At this point we’re willing toke our chances, but we don’t want to put any of our nice neighbors at risk.

— Bud Norman

The Saga of Ivanka and Wichita

The coronavirus and recession and anti-racism protests and recent high winds notwithstanding, the big story here in Wichita is about Ivanka Trump.
The First Daughter and White House senior advisor was invited to give a “virtual commencement address’ at Wichita State University Tech’s “virtual graduation ceremony,” then was disinvited after hundreds of students and faculty and alumni objected, and since then other alumni and some major donors have raised such a fuss about the dis-invitation that the WSU president found himself facing the Kansas Board of Regents Wednesday with his job on the line. For now Jay Golden remains president of the university, but the city remains divided about that.
We’ve not heard any explanation for why Trump was invited to virtually speak at the virtual ceremony in the first place, but guess it had something to do with her attention-grabbing appearance at the school last year with Secretary of State and hometown boy Mike Pompeo, which was in her tole as a member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which has something to do with WSU Tech. The outcry that led to Trump’s dis-invitation was more easily understood, given how Trump’s and her father’s policies offend liberal sensibilities.
The offense felt by the city’s many Trump-loving Republicans was also understandable, and some of them have considerable sway with the university, as well as the Board of Regents. There are no doubt many students and more than a few faculty at WSU who like both Trump and her Dad, but at this point they’re less likely than the anti-Trump types to sign petitions and make angry phone calls and send angry e-mails, and what put the university’s president in front of the Board of Regents were threats that many well-heeled donors might stop donating to the suddenly cash-strapped university. Early reports in the local media warned that might include Koch Industries, owned by local multi-multi-billionaire and philanthropist and free-market activist Charles Koch, who annually donates more than $10 million to his hometown university.
A Koch spokesman quickly clarified that the company intended to honor all of its commitments to the university, politely added that Koch’s very libertarian beliefs call for free expression of all points of view, but further explained that Koch did not involve himself in the university’s personnel matters. We were not surprised, given that Koch’s classical conservatism never cared much for President Donald Trump’s trade wars and immigration extremism and deficit spending and other governmental intrusions into a free market economy, and that given his far greater wealth he wasn’t much impressed by Trump’s business acumen. He didn’t give a dime to Trump’s campaign, and said that choosing between Trump and Hillary Clinton was like choosing either a heart attack or cancer. So long as the university’s Wheatshockers basketball team keeps winning at Charles Koch Arena, we figure he’s not likely to abandon WSU nor its president because Ivanka Trump’s feelings were hurt.
The dis-invitation of Ivanka Trump got a lot of play in the national print and electronic media, which is always exciting for us usually ignored Wichitans, and her complaint that it was a result of a “culture of cancel” set off some interesting debates. The rest of the country won’t concern itself with what becomes of our local university’s president in the aftermath, and it’s probably for the best we work that out here in Kansas.
Being from around here and having a rooting interest in the ‘Shockers we’re forced to take sides, although we prefer our usual seat on the sidelines. Even here in conservative Wichita modern academia does tend limit debate to the leftward side, which offends our homegrown conservative sensibilities, but we’re no more inclined than Koch to involve ourselves in WSU’s personnel matters. We also have our principled free-market objections to many Trump policies, and although we’re not nearly so rich as Trump we’re not nearly so indebted and therefore also doubt his business acumen, and we too care little about the feelings of the rich and pampered daughter and her nepotistic position in life.
This Golden guy hasn’t been president of WSU for very long, so it’s too early to assess how goo he is, but until this controversy he’d not been controversial. All in all, we think he’s handled it pretty well. WSU Tech is a technical school that trains workers for the local high-tech aerospace industry, and although it’s on the WSU campus it’s technically a separate entity from the university, so Golden could have plausibly passed the buck on both the invitation and the dis-invitation, but instead he said “I own it,” which we thought impressive in this day and age. He removed Ivanka Trump from the official “virtual graduation ceremony” but didn’t censor her, adding a link to her videotaped “virtual commencement address” for anyone who wanted to hear it, which struck us as a reasonable compromise.
WSU is a crucial component of our humble prairie hometown, which is reeling along with the rest of the country from coronavirus and recession and racial tensions and all the rest of it, and we wish it the best. It’s right across the street from Kirby’s Beer Store, and we know many of its students and faculty, and have watched all construction and activity going on there with great interest. Our liberal friends grouse that Koch and the local aviation industry are driving everything to have a capable workforce, but so long as the fuzzier disciplines are funded we don’t share their concerns about that, and despite a slew of transfers a strong recruiting class should make the ‘Shocks competitive if there’s another basketball season next fall.
Free speech will persist, and Ivanka Trump’s feelings don’t matter, so go Shocks! If This Golden guy is the right guy to make that happen, we hope he lasts.

— Bud Norman

Hard Times, Then and Now

American cities from coast to coast have suffered rioting, vandalism, arson and violence in the aftermath of unarmed black man George Floyd’s death by the Minneapolis Police Department, but we’re happy to say that for now race relations remain mostly amicable here in Wichita.
There were a couple of peaceful and conspicuously multicultural protest marches in downtown over the weekend, which culminated with the mostly black protest marchers and the mostly white sitting police officers sitting within social distancing rules of each other at a local park and sharing some barbecue, but that’s about it. Even our most liberal and reflexively antipolice Facebook friends gave some of the credit to Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsey, who has made a very public and apparently sincere outreach to the city’s diverse communities since taking office and was one of the first big city police chiefs to publicly decry Floyd’s death and even call it a murder, and he also marched in those demonstrations wearing his uniform and a face mask. Although we’re not the name-dropping types we will admit we’ve had beers and swapped jokes with Ramsey, and he seemed an OK guy, and we also we think he’s done a good job of keeping the relative peace around here lately.
We also think it has something to do with the civic spirit and mostly good people of all colors and creeds and classes and the ever-expanding number of genders you’ll find here in Wichita. There’s the usual percentage of awful people you’ll find among all colors and creeds and classes and ever-expanding gender groups, too, but for the most part we open doors for one another and don’t insist on our place in line and sometimes chat in a friendly way while we wait. For now the folks ’round these parts seem to prefer that to rioting and vandalism and arson and violence, and we concur.
America writ large, alas, isn’t faring so well. All the coast-to-coast rioting and vandalism and arson and violence, which we’ll henceforth refer to as “civil unrest,” is said to be the worst since the annus horribilis of 1968, which we well remember because we turned a very impressionable 9-years-old that year. As best as our precocious yet eight-and-nine-year-old minds could comprehend, the “negroes” or “colored people” or whatever the polite adults were calling them were righteously indignant about slavery and segregation and police brutality and a host of other things, but that burning down their own neighborhoods seemed an unlikely way to rectify that. We also felt the anxiety of even the most polite adults among us that the “civil unrest” would reach their neighborhoods, and we carried that anxiety with us as went through most of the ’70s with six years of racially diverse and riot-prone and generally shabby junior high and high schools.
By the end of it, though, we’d survived the worst of all the awful people of all colors and creeds and classes and whatever genders existed at the time, and found that most people are OK, and that most of them seemed to think we were OK. We figured things had calmed down since 1968, when it was seemingly a choice between law and order and racial justice, and that America could amiably move forward, but lately our hopes have been dashed. The politics of the moment are even more convoluted than in 1968.
One things that different from 1968 is that these riots are remarkably more racially integrated, judging by all the video, and that kid leading the riot storming of the Cable News Network last week was clearly a white skateboard punk. Some black speculators have speculated that white nationalist provocateurs have fueled the riots to start a race war, and for now that’s as plausible a conspiracy theory as you’ll find on the internet. Even Trump is blaming the far-left but mostly-white “Antifa” movement for much of it, and has officially declared it a “terrorist organization,” which means he can legally spy on any American citizen who might have visited its website. “Antifa” isn’t really an organization of any kind, though, just a ridiculously disorganized group of like-minded dumbass white goys who want to punch anyone wearing a “Make America Great Again” ball cap, who will likely get their asses kicked..We also suspect that some opportunistic awful people of certain other colors are also taking advantage of the situation.
Back in ’68 Nixon became president on o promise of restoring law and order, despite former segregationist Alabama governor and independent candidate George Wallace’s promise to restore it even more brutally, and President Donald Trump seems intent on replicating that, but that was a long time ago. This time around, a platform of both law and order and racial justice seems attainable, and might be the winning argument. So far, at least, we’ve worked it out here in Wichita.

Meanwhile, Back in Wichita

There’s a lot going on in the rest of the world, what with the impeachment trial and the Israelis and the Palestinians and the North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs and the deadly Chinese coronavirus all that that, but there’s also plenty to worry about right here in Wichita. We’re slightly more hopeful, though, that we’ll work things out well enough around here.
The talk of our town is mostly about the lousy weather and the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad and the Kansas City Chiefs football team and the massive layoffs at one of the biggest local employers and a proposal to remake a big chunk of downtown along the Arkansas River. There’s nothing to be done about the cold weather, and the young ‘Shocks are back in the top-25 and the Chiefs are in the Super Bowl with a decent chance of winning, but the layoffs at Spirit AeroSystems have everyone worried and the downtown renovation plans are being hotly debated.
Opinion is somewhat more divided about those downtown redevelopment proposals, but we’re enjoying the company of the diverse forces arrayed against it, and are hopeful it will prevail. Forgive us for summarizing the controversy so succinctly, but the gist of it is that some well-connected developers want to knock down some locally beloved buildings and replace them with something newer and uglier and more expensive. That includes the Century II building, a distinctive round and blue-domed concert and convention hall which was opened in 1970 to commemorate Wichita’s centennial and still suits its purpose, and the adjacent former main branch of the Wichita Public Library, which is currently unoccupied after the city built a new location across the Arkansas River tto alleviate the homeless problem but is also a fine example of late 20th century architecture.
So far as we can tell the only the people in favor of it are the developers and politicians who stand to benefit and the newfangled “tear it all down” sorts of conservatives. Most conservatives around here prefer to conserve the best of the city’s hard-earned architectural and cultural heritage, and the local liberals have an odd but endearing affection for the venerable old buildings, and most conservatives hate these public-private partnerships because because the public is picking up some part of the tab, while most of the liberals hate them because private interests might benefit. Which makes it easier for us to converse with all sort of Wichitans about the local news of the day, and folks tend to be polite and open doors for others and say “howdy” around here, so we’re hopeful things will work out.
The rest of the news is further away, though, and we rarely encounter the people involved in the big events, so we’re less hopeful about how all that turns out.

— Bud Norman

All Politics Isn’t Local, Alas

Today is election day here in Wichita, where the citizenry will exercise its democratic right to choose a mayor and an at-large school board member. These odd-numbered year elections are usually dull and low turnout affairs around here, but this time the mayoral race has been so ruthlessly fought it has attracted so much local media attention that even The Washington Post took notice, so turnout is expected to be somewhat higher than the norm.
The two candidates on the ballot are incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell and state Representative Brandon Whipple, but there’s also a write-in campaign by local businessman Lyndy Wells, who was barely edged by Whipple in the primary, and he’s well-funded enough to tout his numerous endorsements from locally prominent Republicans and Democrats. Given the low turnout and scant public opinion polling the local media can afford to do, not to mention the write-in campaign and all the other complications that have come up, we have no idea how it will turn out.
One of those complicating issues is an attack ad that ran on Facebook and YouTube, alleging that Whipple had sexually harassed a female intern at the Kansas statehouse. The ad, urging “Stop Brandon Whipple,” cited reporting by The Kansas City Star about sexual harassment of interns at the statehouse, but the stories made clear that Republicans were being accused of the misdeeds, and Whipple is a Democrat. Whipple immediately threatened to sue whoever ran the ad for slander, but at first it was unclear who who it was.
The local paper was able to link it to a New Mexico company called Protect Wichita’s Girls LLC, but state officials were unable to provide any further information. Eventually the local paper tracked down one of the voice actresses on the tape, who swore she’d been told it was a generic anti-sexual harassment and was embarrassed to find out she’d been part of such a shameless smear, which led to a 21-year-old named Matthew Colborn who had filmed the video in an office shared by Republican state Rep. Michael Capps and Wichita city councilman James Clendenin. Capps denied having anything to do with it, but the local Republican establishment has nonetheless been calling for his resignation, and now Capps is accusing the county Republican chairman of approving the ad.
Wichita’s local elections are officially non-partisan affairs, with no Ds or Rs next to the candidates’ names, but of course everyone knows who the Democrats and Republicans are. Usually it makes no difference to the civic-minded sorts who show up at the polls even on odd-numbered years, as local governance is pretty much a boringly non-ideological matter of paving the streets and keeping precious water flowing and maintaining some semblance of law and order and adding the occasional aesthetic flourishes to the city. These days both parties regard all politics at levels as blood sport, though, and in this battle the Republicans seem to have hoist themselves on their own petard, to borrow a phrase from the Bard.
Which was entirely unnecessary, as far as we’re concerned, because this could have been another pleasantly dull local election. Wichita’s a small enough town that we know Mayor Longwell and his charming wife, and he doesn’t seem a bad fellow, and some good things have happened in the city since he took office, but we’ll never forgive him for tearing down our beloved old Depression-era ballpark and proudly unaffiliated Wichita Wingnuts to build a fancy new stadium with some suspicious private investors snatching up the nearby lots in lovably un-gentrified Delano at a bargain price, and there are questions about his friendly relationship with the company that got the big-bucks contract to keep the water flowing. Whipple’s undeniably a Democrat, but so far as we can tell he’s not much of an ideologue, and he promises to be as transparent as possible while paving the streets and updating the pipes and all the rest of the wearisome business of running Wichita. Wells is a successful businessman with a long record of involvement with local causes, which seems to turn off a lot of the local Democrats, but we liked his business-as-usual approach enough that we voted for him in the primary over Whipple.
Whipple won the run-off by a hundred votes or so, and this time around we’ll be voting for him. Business as usual has become very chummy between public officials and private interests, and although public-private relationships have often worked out well for the city at large we think it best that the citizenry know in advance what’s going on. The low turnout in city elections has always meant that city and school district employees are overrepresented in the electorate, leading to a City Hall and school board more liberal than this very conservative city at large, so we’ve usually voted for the civic-minded businessman types and religious warriors to resist their worst impulses, and for the most part the city has progressed on this godforsaken patch pf prairie, at least to the point we don’t feel any pressing need to live elsewhere.
We know a lot of reasonable Democrats around here who basically share our views on paved roads and clean water and some semblance of law and order and all the rest of our local chores, and the necessity of carrying them out in the most transparent and stringently ethical way, and for now we’ll trust them more than the local branch of our once Grand Old Party.
In any case, we’ll expect Wichita to progress fitfully along as it always has, from its humble origins as an Indian trading post to its current top-50 status as a hub of high-tech aviation and agriculture and fast food franchising, with some surprisingly lovely neighborhoods and better-than-you’d-expect arts and music and theater scenes, and a lot of people well worth befriending.
We’d like to think that the rest of the country will work things out as amicably as Wichita probably will today, but we have our nagging worries. New media and constant us-against-them rhetoric from talk radio and the presidential podium have addled the brains of Republicans at all levels of government, the damned Democrats are as bad as ever, and it’s all irreconcilably ideological. Both parties talk about infrastructure and clean water and law and order and civil liberties and all that jazz, but most of it is delegated to the lowest levels of government, where the turnout is usually low, and mostly the national parties are concerned about whose side wins.
At this point in our grumpy old manhood we don’t much give a damn for either side, as we feel free to say in this age of frank and vulgar political discourse, and are more concerned about the roads and water and law and order and such. We also worry about the national debt and America’s standing as the leader of the free world those worrisome declines in business investment and the manufacturing index, as well as the suspicious deals that seem to have been made on the national and international level, but that’s ultimately up to the rest of the country.
For now there’s one of the city’s electronic traffic messages just up the street from us telling us we can’t turn left on 13th, even though there’s no apparent road work going on, and we’ve been turning left there for more than 25 years, dagnabbit, so that’s temporarily a more personal issue to our admittedly self-interested selves. At least we’ll get to gripe about to the next mayor we inevitably run into him around this still very small town of ours.
Nice to know, too, that what’s left of the once-grand Wichita Eagle where toiled for 25 years is still doing some good work on emaciated resources, and that what’s left of the rest of the local media is also keeping the citizenry riled up. There’s hope that turnout will reach a full 10 percent of the electorate here in Wichita, and that a free press will also inform the nation.

— Bud Norman

Across the Street From Kirby’s Beer Store

While we were watching “Jeopardy!” and drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon at Kirby’s Beer Store on Thursday there was some big news going on across the street at Wichita State University. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was back in his hometown for a photo-op at WSU’s high-tech aviation training program and a friend’s wedding, and he brought along First Daughter and White House senior advisor Ivanka Trump, as well as a lot of questions about state and international politics.
Pompeo is up to his neck in the administration’s controversial Syrian policy and that hubbub about American-Ukrainian relations that seems to be leading to President Donald Trump’s impeachment, and here in Kansas and around the nation there’s been much speculation that he’ll get out of the administration while the getting’s good and come home to run for an open Senate seat that is pretty much his for the asking. This was the fourth time the Secretary of State has taken time out from his busy schedule of globe-trotting to vista Kansas in the past few months, and all the latest national and international news makes a nice safe sinecure in the Senate look all the more tempting, so questions were inevitable.
The local television stations were understandably grateful for the more star-studded than usual photo-op, and obligingly aired footage of the Barbie-esque Ivanka Trump doing her best impersonation of Rosie the Riveter, but one of the last standing reporters from the now emaciated local newspaper where we toiled for 25 years got a lengthy interview, and we’re proud to say he gave Pompeo a good grilling. The national media were largely shut out of the visit, so the local paper’s reporting was widely quoted and linked to by  some of the nation’s biggest media, which we hope helps with its clicks.
The reporter asked Pompeo if a photo-op in Wichita was the best use of a Secretary of State’s time at the moment, if the abandonment of our Kurdish allies in Syria undercut rest of the world’s faith in America’s alliances, some pesky questions about the Ukraine matter, and of course some peskier question about his possible future in Kansas politics, which at this point is also of national interest. For the most part Pompeo handled the interrogation well, deftly blaming President Barack Obama for some of the mess and dodging some questions that weren’t related to aviation workforce development and challenging the “predicate” of others, and our experienced local news watching eyes noticed he was more genteel than the usual Trump administration in bashing the media when being interviewed by his hometown paper. The hometown paper’s reporter also works for its corporate sister at what’s left of Kansas City’s hometown paper, even though the papers used to vie for statewide scoops back our in day, so any shrewd politician seeking statewide office would be well advised to at least be polite.
Pompeo is a first-in-his-class West Point grad and Harvard Law Review editor who made a fortune in the high-tech aviation business in Wichita, easily won four terms as the Fourth District’s congressman before becoming director of the Central Intelligence and then Secretary of State, and he remains a big deal here and all around this Republican state. The old-fashioned establishment wing of the Republican party is panicked by the possibility that the nomination will go to former state Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is so much an anti-immigration zealot and Trump impersonator that he lost the last gubernatorial election to a center-left Democrat — and a woman, at that — even in such an anti-immigration-with-certain-exceptions and reluctantly pro-Trump state as this, and for now Pompeo is the establishment choice while his close association with Trump only bolsters his chances in an already certain Senate race.
Close associations with Trump have often run awry, though, and by now Pompeo is surely shrewd enough to have noticed. In the interview with the local paper that was linked to an international audience he continued to insist he was solely focused on doing his job as Secretary of State, which is what one does in such a situation, but he seemed to leave open other possibilities of public service. Things are now going swimmingly with America’s foreign policy, Pompeo argued, but that might be all the more reason to get out while the getting’s good. Assuming the getting’s still good.
The Republican party’s representatives in Congress have have already largely repudiated the Trump Syrian policy that Pompeo has gone along with, and if Trump is impeached over that Ukrainian thing Pompeo likely will be as well, as he’s up to his neck in it, which would make for a damned interesting Senate race here in Kansas. We’ve watched enough Kansas Senate races in our many years to figure that any old Republican would continue the party’s eight decades-long winning streak, no matter what happens back in Washington, but we’d hate to see the state go through it. Although we proudly voted for Pompeo to represent our beloved Forth District four times, in the next Republican Senate primary we’ll cast our ballot for some center-right establishment woman you’ve never heard of, who we’re sure would just as easily beat any nominee that the Democrats might come up with.
That’s the view from the notorious dive bar just across the street where this story of national interest was unfolding, at any rate, and for now we stand by it. One of the Kirby’s regulars is an old friend who used to be a Democratic legislator and now holds a patronage workman’s comp judgeship, and he’s convinced his party has gone almost as crazy ours, and for what it’s worth he shares our bleak assessment of the situation.

— Bud Norman

A Tense Scene in Riverside

The rest of the world’s news seemed fairly uneventful by recent standards, so the big news on Tuesday in our fashionable Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, was the massive law enforcement presence just a couple of blocks to the north and a block to the west.
There were five Wichita Police Department patrol cars already in the area as we headed out on an afternoon chore, once of which stopped just ahead of us and blocked our way, as the cops around here are particularly fussy about citizens driving around, but he waved us ahead and we waved our thanks as we passed. By the time we drove home there were several more WPD patrol cars, a similar number of patrol cars from the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Department, at least one from the Kansas Highway Patrol, a few heavily armored vehicles, and numerous men in full combat gear wielding actual assault rifles, and not just the semi-automatic kind that the gun-grabbers like to call “assault rifles” but the real deal.
Which is not at all what we usually see on a drive home. Most Riverside homes aren’t all that fancy, but almost all of them have a certain unpretentious 20th century charm, and they’re all nestled between the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers — both pronounced “Are-Kansas,” by the way — with several public parks and the art museum and the botanical gardens and a disc golf course and a real golf course, so it’s a fashionable neighborhood with all sorts of arty types and more than the usual number of of delightfully neighborly homosexuals, and it’s usually quiet and quite placid. We had a bike swiped from a back porch once, and a long while ago the “Riverside rapist” was terrorizing the neighborhood, and there’s the usual graffiti and other low-level crime you’d expect in the heart of any large American city, but in more than 25 years here we’ve never seen anything that so closely resembled a battleground.
We didn’t see any cars marked with the logos of any of the local media, which wasn’t surprising, given the late hour and the budget-cutting state of the local media. Once upon a time we’d have run down the street and flashed our credentials at the big city newspaper and demanded to know what was going on, but these days we’re not considered considered credentialed by the local authorities and don’t run very well, and the cops around here can be impatient with citizens asking question.
By happenstance one of our Facebook friends and actual friends lives exactly a few blocks north one and one block west where it was happening, and he’s one of those video-phone-owning and Facebook-posting types, so he was providing live coverage of it all from his porch. He could provide no explanation for anyone of it in his audio commentary, but had plenty of expletives to describe what was going on, and it indeed did look at least that curse worthy crazy. He posted that the cops were asking if he could use his bathroom, and we posted a question about what he’d learned, but he didn’t answer, and for all we know he told them to go around back and thus blew a journalistic scoop. Our friend’s a good guy, but he’s the type who might do that.
The first reporting from a credentialed local news source came from radio station KNSS, which did not surprise us. For most of the day KNSS is right wing talk radio and late night shows about the supernatural and unidentified flying objects and weird conspiracy theories, along with a lot of ads for tax debt experts and hail damage repair and other businesses, but they always fit a few timely and reliable minutes of reporting into every hour. It ranges from everything about the traffic tie-up at Kellogg and the Canal Route to the latest shenanigans at City Hall, and they gainfully employ our pal Ted Woodward, whose honesty and good intentions we will vouch for, even if it’s our personal opinion they’re working him into an early grave. They still maintain 24-hour shifts, too, which comes in handy when there are routine severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings or a very unusual amassing of military fire power down one’s block.
According to KNSS it all has something to do with a man who has a handgun and is “having a mental health crisis,” and we’re inclined to believe it. The poor suckers pulling the late shift at KNSS are usually pretty reliable, the cops around here aren’t inclined to lie to them, and these days it’s not hard to believe that there’s someone with a handgun and a mental health crisis just a few blocks away, even here in the fashionable Riverside neighborhood of Wichita.
Sorry to leave our readers in suspense, but for now we’ve no idea how this turns out. At this late hour we haven’t heard any gunfire, which is heartening, but even in our modern media age, where we all think we instantaneously know everything that’s going on in the world, that’s all we know about what’s going on a few blocks away. According to the latest report from the usually reliable 24-hour news team at KNSS, “police will provide an update on the situation Wednesday morning.”

— Bud Norman

On the “I Hope You Get Cancer and Die” Style of Political Discourse

Our best advice and usual practice is to never wade into any political controversy on Facebook, and instead just offer happy birthday wishes and condolences for the loss of a loved one and compliments on the cuteness of your friends’ children and pets. Even so, we waded into more controversy and vituperation than we expected on Friday when we frankly told a couple of our friends we didn’t share their frankly expressed glee about the death of David Koch at age 79 after a decades-long battle with cancer.
If you’re not from Wichita or New York City and don’t follow the left-wing demonology closely, you should know that Koch and his brother Charles built their father’s multi-million dollar oil company into a multi-billion dollar oil and paper towel and plastic cup and cookie and various other things conglomerate, and they’ve spent much of their money on various causes. Charles stayed here in Wichita, where you can’t go to the local art museum or symphony or musical theater or zoo or a Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ basketball game without noticing his generous contributions. David Koch cashed in after a cancer diagnosis and moved to New York City, where he seems to have enjoyed everything a rich guy can find in New York City, which we can hardly begrudge him as he spends two decades dying of cancer, and he was a generous donor to New York City’s arts institutions and gave billions more to build a cancer hospital and fund cancer research.
Both brothers donated billions more to political advocacy, though, and lots of reasonable people have reasonable arguments with the policies they advocated. By now the notorious “Koch Brothers” have a starring role in some less reasonable left-wing conspiracy theories the same  way multi-billionaire George Soros does in right-wing conspiracy theories. Their father was a pioneering petroleum engineer who got rich on a contract with Joseph Stalin to extract oil the Soviet Union’s best engineers couldn’t get to, he later became a founding member of the extreme anti-communist John Birch Society, and both brothers inherited his entrepreneurial genius and antipathy to bossy governments and preference for unbounded liberty and very low taxes.
Oftentimes they’d take it too far even for our libertarian instincts, just as the John Birch Society’s anti-communist zealotry often exceeded what our strongly anti-communist principles would prefer, and there’s no denying the very low taxes enacted by the Kansas Governor they funded didn’t pay for themselves as promised. There are all sorts of reasonable arguments reasonable people might make against many Koch-favored policies, but we figure that there are also still reasonable arguments reasonable people might make against bossy governments and for as much individual liberty as a free-market economist figures  a society can get away with. It’s all very complicated when you get down to the details, where the devil is said to be, but we hope we don’t go so deep into it that we start wishing a fellow human being gets cancer and dies.
Yet we have friends on the left that we know to be decent and loving people who exulted in the death of someone because of his different opinions on environmental and tax policy. Both Koch brothers advocated for same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana and abortion rights and as much left-approved individual liberty as a society can get away with, and neither were gun nuts nor supporters of President Donald Trump, and they held a variety of views on the Iraq war and various other issues our friends on the left would begrudgingly agree with, but apparently 100 percent fealty to the one true leftist faith is required to qualify as a human being. We’re told that Koch knew damned well he was poisoning the Earth, and that capitalism was a globalist conspiracy conceived to impoverish the fattened working class, and that he twirled his mustache and demonically laughed about it as he lit up cigars with hundred dollar bills stolen from the proletariat, so he therefore had it coming, and some of our friends seem to truly believe that their seething hatred of the man somehow demonstrates their moral and intellectual superiority.
There’s plenty of the same poisonous “I hope you get cancer and die” rhetoric on the right, of course, including from our internet troll of a President of the United States. We have friends on the right we know to be decent and loving people but are suddenly willing to enforce border laws with maximum cruelty and forgive anything President Donald Trump says or does so long as it gives “butt hurt” to the “libtards.” The right also demands  100 percent fealty to its one true faith, which used to prominently include Christianity, with its suddenly outdated superstitious mumbo-jumbo about loving one’s enemies and judging not lest  ye be judged and come let us reason together, but  lately seems whatever hateful thing Trump is saying. Our leftward friends should give a listen to talk radio talker Mark Levin, who every weekday shrieks that they’re a bunch of dirty hippies who hate God and America and the Constitution and everything good, and that they should all get cancer and die, and will defiantly spit out that “Yeah, I said it.” He seems to make a good living riling up the faithful that way, but his business model clearly doesn’t include persuading any reasonable person who might tune in but is not already fully on board.
Neither side is at all persuasive to anyone not fully on board with their “I hope you get cancer and die” stuff, but both sides think the other side is winning with it, and are convinced that  even more hateful rhetoric is therefore required, so the hateful rhetoric will probably continue to escalate. Neither side will ever persuade  the other to commit the mass suicide that is  so hoped for, neither side will be shamed into silence by fear of a “tweet” or Facebook post, and at this point we can only hope they don’t start brawling it out and killing each other the way the Nazis and Commies used to do on the streets of the late Weimar German Republic. Our friends on the right will think us squishy globalist RINOs, and our friends on the left will call us corporatist sell-outs and capitalist running pig-dogs, and some on both sides might agree that both we and David Koch fall too short of the one true faith to be fully human, but we’ll be hoping that friendships persist, the center somehow holds, a less hateful conversation arrives us at some sufficient compromise solution to at least a few of our problems, and that no one gets cancer and dies.
In the end we’ll all be dead, and we’ll all have it coming, and none of us will have been either right about everything or wrong about everything all along,  so we’ll also hold out continued hope in that outdated superstitious mumbo-jumbo about a merciful  God ultimately judging all our souls. Sorry to interrupt anyone’s gleeful orgy of hate,  but we implore our high-minded and self-righteous friends on both the left and the right to stick to the best policy arguments they can make, stop reveling in anyone’s cancer death, and leave the ad hominem attacks and outright hate speech to the more intellectually lazy and unabashedly hateful types.
There are already plenty of those on both sides, and for now they both seem to be winning.

— Bud Norman

Democracy at the Local Level

Tuesday was an election day here in Wichita, with the primary for mayor and three city council seats and an at-large seat on the school board at stake, so of course we did our civic duty and drove several blocks to a church up in North Riverside to cast our vote. Voting is a long ingrained habit of ours, even in these low turnout contests, and we are creatures of habit.
There’s always a certain satisfaction in exercising one’s franchise, but it’s changed over the years. When we were kids our elementary school was a voting place, and the Monday before every election day we’d get to go into the booths with the red handle that closed the curtains and click on the levers to cast our mock ballots for the candidates our parents had endorsed. Back then no one doubted the election results, and everyone accepted them no matter how it turned out, and there was something very Norman Rockwell about the process.
Nowadays you need a driver’s license or some other sort of photographic identification that they scan through a machine, which is fine by us, but we notice that doesn’t reassure those who are convinced illegal immigrants are deciding the elections. They also hand you a couple of computer printouts you run through a couple of computers in order to vote, which strikes us as rather convoluted, and we notice it also hasn’t done much to bolster public faith in the electoral process. The same anti-immigrant Secretary of State who got the photo ID requirement enacted resisted a system with a paper trail that could counter any foreign computerized meddling in Kansas elections, and we can’t blame our Democratic friends for being suspicious about that.
Another thing that’s changed is the media landscape, which is not as useful as it used to be in making our choices. The local newspaper is down to about 20 newsroom employees, the three local television statements are similarly understaffed and preoccupied with car wrecks and local crimes, and it’s hard to find any information about the various candidates. They still do the thumbnail sketches where the candidates get to say all the same things about good government and honest dealing, but that’s about it. Somehow we were unaware of the race for the at-large seat on the school board, which we care about even though we’re long out of school and have no kids, and were embarrassed to cast no vote in the race.
We follow local politics as best we can, though, and made our choice accordingly. One of the mayoral candidates ran ads on the talk radio stations that described a platform of repairing the city’s sidewalks and making Wichita a sanctuary city for the unborn, but we’ve not noticed the sidewalks in a state of disrepair and wonder how fetuses might find their way to sanctuary here, and he flier that showed him next to an embarrassed-looking President Donald Trump was another reason to write him off. Several of the candidates were the usual kooks who always run for local office, and only the incumbent and a couple of challengers seemed like serious people with relevant credentials.
Incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell has generally done a good job, and Wichita being such a small town and ourselves being so well connected  we personally know him to be a nice enough guy with a very charming wife, but he tore down our beloved Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and ran off our beloved Wichita Wingnuts to build a shiny new ballpark and attract a Major League-affiliated team, in a deal that gave some businessman or another some recently hot Delano property for a dollar a lot, and there’s no forgiving that. The two non-kook challengers were Lyndy Wells and Brandon Whipple, both businessmen with long lists of the boards and commissions of local agencies and charities they’ve served on. A former city councilwoman we always thought too liberal for our tastes but whose honesty we never doubted knocked on our door to to make a pitch for Wells, our very conservative businessman friend “Hatman” Jack Kellogg, who has lots of dealings with the city government, also endorsed Wells, and when a couple of trusted  realtor friends made the same recommendation we settled on Wells.
Not that we had anything against Whipple, who wound up slightly behind Longwell in the race for the two slots in November’s run-off. We can’t be sure that Whipple was a Wingnuts fan, or that he’ll be any less likely than the usual Wichita politician to go knocking down perfectly good buildings to erect something more shiny or new, but except in the unlikely case that what’s left of the local media comes up with some pretty serious dirt on him he’ll probably get our vote. If Longwell wins we figure Wichita could do a lot worst, as so many big cities seem to do.
So long as we get to vote, we’ll retain an optimistic feeling. While voting we ran into a longtime friend who lives down the street who had come to vote and brought his soon-to-be-third-grade son along to demonstrate what civic-minded citizens do on election day, and when they accepted a cookie and an “I voted” sticker from the nice lady at the door he thanked her for volunteering her time to democracy and had his son do the same, and that also gave us a hopeful feeling.
Here’s hoping the kid winds up with the best possible person serving in the at-large seat on the school board, no thanks to us or the local media.

— Bud Norman

Abortion Back in the News, Darn It

The abortion issue is lately back in the news, and we admit we hate to see it there. Even after so many decades of noisome debate we don’t really know where we stand on the matter, and we notice that the more cocksurely opinionated people on both sides are further apart than ever, and at this point we figure that it will be left to far future generations of as-yet unborn babies to resolve it.
Emboldened by President Donald Trump’s last two appointments to the Supreme Court, the Alabama legislature has passed and the Alabama governor has signed a law that would punish any doctor who preformed an abortion at any stage of a pregnancy with a life sentence except in the case where the life of the mother’s life was threatened, and makes no exception for cases of rape or incest. The law is plainly unconstitutional according to the 1972 Roe v Wade decision, which has been a source of constant contention ever since, but Alabama is betting that a couple of Trump appointees on the Supreme Court will be able to overturn that hated decision.
Meanwhile, the other side seems to be digging into an equally extreme position. Self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders’ state of Vermont has recently passed and signed into law that guarantees a right to abortion rights up to the moment of childbirth, and arguably makes allowances for infanticide, and although the rest of the Democratic party hasn’t gone quite that far it’s still far out on the pro-choice side of the debate.
According to all the opinion polls most of the American public is somewhere in the middle about all this, and as much as we hate to admit we’re common so are we. Our beloved hometown of Wichita was the epicenter of the abortion debate back in the ’90s, when we were working for the local newspaper and local abortionist Dr. George Tiller was performing very early and very late-term abortions, and a very angry anti-abortion movement in this very Christian town caused traffic jams and mass arrests and public nuisances by effectively shutting the practice down for a short while. We’ve never had a serious pregnancy scare — knock on wood — so both our pro-choice and pro-life friends can reasonably claim we have no standing to opine.
They’re probably both right, of course, but we’ll nonetheless stand by our centrist position. We’ve been fortunate to know some very fine women who have shared very personal stories about their first trimester abortions, and our Christin faith tells us not to stand in judgment of them. No matter how it was conceived a fetus is a potential sacred human life, on the other hand, and certainly by the time it could survive outside the womb it is entitled to the full protection of the law.
We’d like to think that America’s political institutions and judicial systems will sort it all out, but we doubt it. The Republicans are currently led by Trump, a thrice-married and oft-bankrupt Casino-and-strip-club mogul who has publicly bragged about his extra-marital love life, and was a staunch pro-choice supporter until he decided to run for the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, the Democrats seem likely to nominate someone who’s openly anti-life. and we hope that’s also not a winning stance.
The matter is more likely to be settled in the courts, but we don’t holda out hope it will end there. Even if those two Trump appointees overturn the Roe v Wade that guaranteed a right to first trimester abortions they won’t dare declare a constitutional right to life from the moment of conception and ban abortions altogether, and if they did it would result in one hell of an uproar. The very best the pro-life Republicans can hope for is that the matter is returned to the states, with Vermont going one way and Alabama another, and all the rest of the states arguing about it endlessly, with at least half of the states sending its citizens to the next state for an abortion, and the Republican Party probably coming out on the losing end.

— Bud Norman