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Monday is a New Day

The past weekend was bittersweet here in Wichita. The weather was mostly fine, but there were intermittent rainstorms and the nightly temperatures made clear that autumn has arrived, with another winter sure to follow. We were obliged to attend a couple of wakes for a dear friend of ours who died far too young. On Sunday the local newspaper where we worked for a quarter-century had a front page scoop that the mayor steered a multi-million dollar deal for the city’s water supply to some golfing buddies. Here and everywhere else in America the rest of the news was about a seemingly inevitable impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Despite it all, we found a few reasons to wake up with a hopeful feeling today.
There’s always a chance that the ever-changing Kansas climate will deliver us another mild winter, as we’ve had the past few years, and if that portends a climate change disaster for the rest of the world so be it. As fed up as we are with the demand Republicans we don’t think that voting for some damn Democrats will avert any looming catastrophes, as the Chinese and Indians and the rest of the world will continue to emit carbons even if America commits economic suicide, so we’ll hold out hope that God’s nature is resilient to the worst mere mankind can do.
As much as we’ll miss our dear friend Jon Janssen, we’ll take some solace in knowing that he died of a heart attack after a strenuous day of yard work rather than AIDS. Jon was a talented pianist and a gifted conversationalist and one of those good guys who loved his fellow humans and never wished harm on any of them. He was also a homosexual, and way back in the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic he was one of the very first to test positive for HIV, but for some reason he never progressed to the AIDS that killed so many of our mutual friends, and he bravely volunteered for the scientists’ grueling medical tests to find out why. We’ll hold out hope that Jon helped with the research that has kept so many people alive, and that with God’s mercy his kind and loving soul will persevere.
We do hate to see Wichita’s mayor implicated in a corruption scandal, as in this small town we have come to know him to be a likable fellow, with a charming wife, but we’re glad to see the local newspaper get the scoop. The byline on the story belongs to a young fellow we know from Kirby’s Beer Store, as he’s been hanging out there since his days on the across-the-street Wichita State University Sunflower, and we’re proud of his well-sourced and well-written work. We’ve often kidded him about how he missed out on the good old days when we had front page bylines on a fat and profitable newspaper, rather than the emaciated rag they turn out these days, but next time we see him we’ll buy him a Pabst Blue Ribbon for making the paper once again relevant. The mayor is up for reelection next November, and we’d already planned to vote against him because he tore down our beloved Lawrence-Dumont baseball stadium kicked out our beloved Wichita Wingnuts and built something uglier and modern that benefits some out of town contractors, but it’s nice to see that what’s left of our struggling hometown paper has bolstered the case for a new regime.
We’re no longer drinking buddies with the national media these days, but we mostly believe all these national stories that are driving the Democrats to impeach Trump, and we’re glad they’re on the job. In the coming cold and dark months they’ll probably have plenty more to report, and our old-fashioned Republican souls will be disheartened to hear it, but they’ll probably be right, and we’re always looking for the truth, as much as we hate to hear it.
Even on such a bittersweet prairie autumn evening as this, tomorrow is another day.

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— Bud Norman

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Left Field, Right Field, and the Center of America

The best part of our gloriously warm and sunny Memorial Day evening was spent at the venerable Lawrence-Dumont Stadium just across the Arkansas River from downtown, where our beloved Wichita Wingnuts used some solid pitching and even better fielding to eke out an entertaining 1-0 win over the visiting Cleburne Railroaders. We relished every pitch and play wistfully, though, as this is likely the last season for the venerable ballpark and its beloved independent double-A team.
This is mostly a matter of local interest, of course, but it should also be noted by readers far from our humble prairie hometown. The city government and the handful of big-time local building contractors they always contract with are proposing to demolish an important piece of America’s baseball history to lure a Major League-affiliated team and perhaps get an upgrade to the city’s past triple-A status, and it also has national political implications that we discussed at length with our cigar-chomping old hippie friends in the smoking section along the first base line.
Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is the seventh oldest professional ballpark in the country, for now, and to our eyes is a beautiful example of classical American baseball architecture. Last season they took down the old manual scoreboard with a cut-out wooden goose that slid along the box score and dropped an egg in the opponent’s slot after a shut-out inning, and replaced it with a big video screen that has the current batters statistics and lots of ads and presumably more entertaining music videos, but otherwise the old ballpark imbues a visitor with a comforting frisson of a better era of baseball. If you’re the sentimental sort of fan that baseball seems to attract you’ll even get a slight sense of all the great play that has happened there over the past 84 years.
Lawrence-Dumont is so named in honor of the otherwise long-forgotten mayor of the city on opening day, and a still well-remembered cigar-chomping and fedora-wearing promotional genius and unabashed hustler named “Hap” Dumont. A brand new baseball park was a risky venture in the dustiest days of the Great Depression, but Dumont was able to lure a sufficient number of fans by concocting the National Baseball Congress championship of America’s semi-pro teams. To kick it off Dumont rounded up a few thousand bucks to get Satchel Paige, who was relegated to the Negro Leagues by segregationist tradition but was widely regarded as the best pitcher of his day, to desert his regular team for a couple of weeks and participate in his semi-pro championship, which set still-standing records and established a still-ongoing tradition. One of the best parts of the NBC is the “round-the-clock baseball” portion, which always draws a number of hard-core fans who want to brag about watching 24 hours of baseball and many more who seem to show up in a raucous mood just after the bars close, and who once memorably booed a 12-year-kid who was up way past his bedtime and dropped a foul ball hit his way.
Nobody knew their names at the time, but the NBC wound up drawing such future Major League stars as Ron Guidry and and Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro and Pete Incaviglia and Bob Eucker, and the various minor league teams yielded such future Major League stars as Lee Smith and Andy Benes, and according to local legend during one of the occasional college games Wichita State University Wheatshocker great Joe Carter hit a homer into the Arkansas River that was even more impressive than the walk-off homer he hit in the 1993 World Series to win the Toronto Bluejays their only title. There were countless others who play in the ballpark and made it to the bigs, even they weren’t as notable, and on Memorial Day the Railroaders’ line-up included the aforementioned and 53-years-old Palmeiro, who was still playing partly in faint hopes of a Major League comeback but mostly for the fun of playing with his son, a promising third baseman who’s batting average is currently a full hundred points better than the old man’s.
Even on a gloriously warm and sunny Memorial Day such an intriguing subplot didn’t fill a fourth of the venerable 6,400 seat ballpark, though, and one of the arguments the city and its big-time contractors are making for a new one is that a Major League-affiliated and maybe even triple-A team would draw more fans. We have our doubts, though. The people who do show up at Wingnuts games mostly have the tattoos and wife-beater t-shirts and tough look of the surrounding Delano neighborhood, which has a wild west history of its own, but they also have the cutest kids that they carefully watch over and explain the game to, and despite their affection for cowbells that disturb our political conversations with our cigar-chomping friends after every opposing out they’re a very charming lot of real deal baseball fans. Wingnut fans seem to like the outlaw status of unaffiliated baseball, which allows it to welcome the banned-from-Major-League-baseball great Pete Rose and hire his son as the manager, and doesn’t mind that Palmeiro’s remarkable Major League career was cut short by his proved steroid use and the fact that he lied to a congressional committee about using performance enhancing drugs, even though at the time he was a paid spokesman for Viagra.
Some number of more respectable east-siders and west-siders and suburbanites and their overly-watched kids might be lured to a Major League-affiliated team with a less goofy name in some fancy new ballpark, and the city government and its handful of big-time local building contractors are all making the same promise from the corny Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams” that if “If you build it, they will come.” If you’re the kind of minor league baseball fan who follows a player’s progress to the big leagues, though, you’d probably be showing at Lawrence-Dumont. Whatever features the sort of fancy new structure the city and its big-time builders might construct, it won’t be able to claim that Satchel Paige and Ron Guidry and Andy Benes once pitched there and the likes of Bonds and Palmeiro and Incvagilia and Carter once roamed the outfield and batted there.
Another argument for tearing the venerable old ballpark and piece of American baseball history down is that it has aging pipes and wiring and whatnot, and although we don’t doubt that’s true we’re suspicious of claims that the remedies would be less expensive than a whole new ballpark. The city and its handful of contractors are admittedly more expert on these matters than we are, but they also have their own self-interested ways of reckoning things, and we cast a suspicious eye on their stats.
These public and private partnerships pop up almost everywhere at the local and state and federal level, and we’ve noticed that somehow it’s always the poor folks and liberals who want to conserve that physical remnants of the best of our culture, and that lately it’s the conservatives who are chanting “burn it down.” One of our cigar-chomping aging hippie friends in the smoking section along the blinding first base line is a predictably liberal professor at the local university, the other is a semi-retired systems analyst and reluctant Trump supporter, but we all agreed it’s a damned odd thing.
Around here the far-right and the far-left always align to oppose whatever the city government and its big-time building contractors concoct, the former being offended by government involvement in private business and the latter offended by private business’ influence on government matters, and for now that’s the only hope for venerable Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The folks on the far fancier east side and west side and the suburbs seem more comfortable with these arrangements than those of us on the old side of town, and don’t seem to give much of a damn about the better era of baseball and the way some things used to be. Which made for a bittersweet Memorial Day, no matter how warm and sunny.

— Bud Norman

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.

The Politics Around Here

Kansas holds a primary one week from today, and the state is already awash in politics. Yard signs are proliferating, the mailbox is full of fliers, the pitchmen for identity theft protection agencies and the guy from the Good Feet Store have been chased off the talk radio airwaves by campaign commercials, and some of the races are intriguingly nasty.
All of the action around here is on the Republican side, as usual. The state’s beleaguered Democrats always pick their candidates well in advance of the primary at some committee meeting or another, where a strange cabal of airplane plant union bosses and political science professors and some die-hard lefty activists left over from the good old Prairie Populist days take care not to choose anyone who might have a chance in the long-awaited favorable election cycle. There’s some faint hope of knocking off incumbent Governor Sam Brownback, a budget-cutting anti-abortion stalwart who is hated by the state’s Democrats with a red-hot fervor usually reserved for the likes of Dick Cheney or Sarah Palin, but the supposedly mainstream candidate they’ve come up with is not only a Democrat but also from Lawrence and will have a hell of a time explaining those embarrassing facts to the rest of the thoroughly Republican and decidedly non-college town state. Meanwhile, all the Republican races are being hotly contested between the go-along-to-get-along crowd and the tar-feather-and-pitchforks folks.
Even. Sen Pat Roberts, who has been winning elections in the state since it joined the Union just prior to the Civil War, has lately been forced to resort to some strenuously negative advertising to stave off a primary challenge by Kansas City-area radiologist and political neophyte Dr. Milton Wolf. Wolf’s shoestring campaign got off to a good start with free publicity about his distant family relation to President Barack Obama and scathing commentary on everything Obama has done, and picked up further free steam from media reports that Roberts hasn’t actually lived in the state for years, but was derailed through the summer by news accounts of how the kindly doctor had posted his patients’ x-rays on his Facebook page with darkly humorous commentary. Lately one of those anti-establishment Republican groups have taken to the airwaves with a compelling critique of all the debt and failed grand bargains that Roberts has voted for after so many decades of practical politics, and a prominent national talk radio host has championed Wolf’s cause, but Wolf’s name recognition remains low and he’s yet to make the case for himself. Wolf’s challenge is serious enough that Roberts is unaccustomedly spending campaign money on a primary, and we’re still undecided how we’ll cast our own vote, but our sense is that Roberts will survive and suffer little damage in what should be an easy general election campaign against whoever it is that the Democrats have already offered up as a human sacrifice.
The weakness of Wolf’s campaign should be taken into consideration when reading the inevitable stories about the establishment-versus-insurgents rift within the Republican, but other races indicate where the rift is actually occurring.
Here in the Fourth Congressional, which includes relatively densely-populated Wichita and the rest of relatively sparsely populated south-central Kansas, an incumbent who is still an impeccably insurgent sort even after two terms is being challenged his predecessor from the Bush-era of the Republican establishment. Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt always ran as a rock-ribbed Republican, and voted as one often enough to thrice win re-election, but to distinguish himself against his post-Tea Party opponent and explain his past spending votes he’s made an old-fashioned pitch to bring home the earmarked pork to the district in general and its key aviation industries in particular, with his ads making special mention of an “aviation zone” project that his opponent declined to fund. Rep. Mike Pompeo, the incumbent, has responded with spots arguing that the aviation industry needs to be freed from burdensome regulation rather than subsidized, touting his own proposed legislation to achieve that, and noting he is a successful aviation entrepreneur backed by all the titans of the local industry. Tiahrt still enjoys the loyalty of many of the substantial number of anti-abortion voters in the district, who played a key role in his initial upset victory and were always rewarded with his undying loyalty, but Pompeo’s voting record on abortion issues has not been faulted by any of the anti-abortion scorekeepers, and the Pompeo campaign has also been airing ads with religious right hero and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee extolling the incumbent’s solid family values. We’re solidly for Pompeo, partly because the top-of-his-class West Point grad and high tech business success strikes us as a far more intelligent fellow, but also because we’re more worried about paying off the debt than bringing home the bacon. Despite some recent tightening in the polls we’re still expecting most of the Republican voters in these parts will reach the same conclusion.
There’s no telling what stories the national media will tell about the Fourth District race, but at least they won’t embarrassed by any attention paid to Sedgwick County’s Fourth District Commission race. The battle between incumbent Commissioner Richard Ranzau and longtime state Sen. Carolyn McGinn is our favorite political pastime of the the summer, much as the Wichita Wingnuts’ campaign in the Double-A American Association is our current sports passion, and we like to think that both of these seemingly local concerns potentially portend the future of the United States of America. Any national media in search of a more rock-ribbed Tea Party insurgent anti-establishmentarian will find no one more closely resembling their favorite stereotypes than Ranzau, who has become locally famous by County Commission standards for voting “no” against almost everything. He’ll spend a Sedgwick Countian’s hard-earned tax money on water and roads and locking up the roustabouts and all of the few other things than even a Republican originalist such as Abraham Lincoln would have sanctioned a county commission doing, but when it comes to the rest of the hogwash that the do-gooders and the teachers’ unions cook up he’s been on the losing end of a lot of four-to-one or three-to-two votes. So principled is Ranzau in his stinginess that he has even voted against programs that would be paid for entirely by federal funds, a response to the nation’s $17 trillion dollar debt that the local media, machine Democrats, and even the more of Chamber of Commerce-y sorts of Republicans regard as utter madness. Ranzau could happily dine in the hippest bistros of San Francisco or New York or anywhere else outside Sedgwick County in complete anonymity, although the other customers would probably notice something suspiciously Sedgwick County Republican about his ill-fitting brown jacket, but among the polite opinion in Riverside and downtown and the other semi-fashionable portions of the Fourth District he’s as reviled as a Koch brother.
Running against Ranzaus and his outrages is McGinn, an exemplar of the more respectable sort of Republicanism that has prevailed in Kansas pretty much since the Reconstruction era. She can legitimately claim a fairly conservative voting record on spending in her ads, in which she proudly declares “I demand accountability,” but she also boasts of having the “courage” to vote for “investments” in the future of the county. We’ve covered enough economic-development conferences and hearings and bill-signings to recognize the reference to the same old eco-devo boondoggles that have become such an entrenched part of federal and state and county and local government it takes little courage to vote for them, so we’re inclined to to Ranzau’s and Pompeo’s preference for lower taxes and fewer regulations. McGinn seems a fine woman, conservative enough by the standards that prevailed through most of our lives in the Republican Party, and we don’t worry that Sedgwick County will perish by rule, but we’d like to see Ranzau’s underfunded re-election bid prevail. We enjoy taunting our more polite neighbors about him, much as we enjoy taunting them with our admiration for the Koch brothers, and would like the think the rest of the Republican party is just as serious as he’s been about the government’s proper roles..

— Bud Norman