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A Chilling Effect

Please be forgiving if our ordinarily precise prose dissolves into a stream of consciousness, but a severe case of cabin fever is making us delirious. Brutally cold air and an amount of snow sufficient to shut down the city have kept us almost entirely homebound for the past week, and even for such avid indoorsmen as ourselves it’s becoming quite tedious.
We briefly ventured out into the elements once, heading a few blocks to the home of a friendly neighbor with cable television to watch the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team grind out a hard-fought win over a feisty Indiana State University Sycamores squad and improve its season record to a perfect 24 and 0, but nothing else has come up to justify such Jack Londonesque derring-do. We have otherwise been left alone with our thoughts, which is a chilling prospect in any weather, and forced to make do with whatever entertainments are at hand.
With great foresight we had stockpiled an extensive supply of old books and 33 rpm recordings of ancient American music in case of such an emergency, so at least we have not been relegated to contemporary pop culture. The internet machine informs us that Jay Leno broadcast his last Tonight Show, for instance, but Willie Nelson was singing “Hello, Walls” on the stereo so we didn’t bother to tune in. Leno always seemed an affable sort of fellow, far more so than his time-slot rival, but the talk shows have lost their luster along with the rest of show biz since the days when Frank and Dean would schmooze and smoke and make risqué with Johnny. Toward the end of his run Leno endeared himself to conservatives by cracking the occasional joke about President Barack Obama, which somehow made the white-haired comic the most daringly transgressive artist in mass media, but for the most part he hewed to the Hollywood line. Over the course of a long career Leno let loose with some good jokes, but it’s hard to do so consistently within the Hollywood line.
Two other comedy-related stories we’ve come across the past week make the same point. One was an interview with Lorne Michaels, who has produced the Saturday Night Live since it premiered on the old Dumont Network back in the silent television days, and his admission that the show has tended to ridicule conservatives more often than liberals because conservatives are willing to laugh at themselves and liberals respond angrily. This same cowardly approach to comedy explains why show biz prefers to ridicule turn-the-other-cheek Christians rather than slay-the-blasphemer Muslims, and why Saturday Night Live and other contemporary comedies are so rarely funny. The other story was an interview with Jerry Seinfeld, who rightly took umbrage at questions about the lack of racial diversity of the casts in his programs. “This has gotta represent the actual pie chart of America? Who cares? Funny is the world that I live in,” Seinfeld said to CBS This Morning, “You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that.” We suspect that Seinfeld was so obviously offended because he holds political views that are generally in line with his show biz peers, but his admirable willingness to set them aside during working hours is one reason that his work is so often funny.
The rest of the news seems to be about the Winter Olympics, and it has less to do with sports than matters of geo-politics and security concerns and homosexual rights and poor hotel accommodations. All of these seem to have culminated in poor attendance, although the television ratings might benefit from all the viewers homebound by a lack of global warming across the northern hemisphere. Olympic sports no longer have the old Cold War drama, and winter sports are far too cold for our tastes, but we might tune in if the ‘Shockers aren’t playing and we’ve run out of rockabilly.
We’re hoping that the city will get enough salt from nearby Hutchinson to make the streets drivable, and that tomorrow’s temperature to will climb high enough above zero to allow for the few blocks of walking to the Wichita Art Museum for the opening of an exhibit of some fine old George Catlin paintings of buffalo, but it seems frighteningly possible that we’ll be stuck here for as long as the pizza rolls and chicken nuggets hold out. Our friendly neighbor calls it Dr. Zhivago weather, and the political climate is starting to seem the same, but we need to get out of the house.

— Bud Norman

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The Wide World and Sports

Maybe it was because the stock markets and the politicians and the culturati took the day off in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., but the all the big news on Monday seemed to be about sports. At this unhappy moment in our history even the sports pages can’t offer refuge from economics and politics and culture, however, so reality seems to have intruded on all the stories.
The Winter Olympics are about to begin, for instance, and thus far the headlines have mostly been about the possibility of a terror attack. Although there are always worries about security at any international gathering the last significant terror attack on the games took place in Munich back in ’72 and was directed against the Israeli athletes, who are for obvious reasons not prominent in the winter events except for their Russian émigré figure skaters, but because these games are taking place in Russia there are understandable worries that Islamist nutcases will want to take revenge for that country’s efforts at self-defense in Chechnya and other Islamic outposts of its past empire. This time around there is a specific threat from the “Black Widow,” a deranged woman whose terrorist husband was killed in his deadly efforts, and one can only hope that Russia’s security forces will live up to their reputation for ruthless efficiency.
Winter sports have no appeal to us, as skiing is not a common activity here in Kansas and the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers rarely freeze solid enough for figure skating or ice hockey, but we wish all the participants well. The other big story from these games concerns the Russian government’s recent attempts to discourage homosexuality, which has annoyed the west’s left far more than the Ukrainian famine or the purges or the gulags or anything the country’s former communist regime ever did, but here’s hoping that even the biathletes have a safe and successful competition.
As in every January, another big story is the Super Bowl. This year’s match-up features some team from Denver and another from Seattle, neither of whom are the Kansas City Chiefs, so we’ve paid little attention to all the Xs and Os and other minutiae of the pre-game analyses, but as always it provides plenty of manufactured social implications. The cheeky fellows at The Drudge Report dubbed the game “The Pot Bowl” to draw attention to the fact that both contestants reside in states that have recently liberalized their marijuana laws, but we suspect this might be mere coincidence. If legal marijuana truly does produce championship football we expect that Texas will quickly make pot-smoking mandatory, and that all the states with teams in the collegiate Southeast Athletic Conference will soon follow suit, so we await a definitive scientific judgment on the matter.
Another prominent piece of the pre-Super Bowl hype was a Seattle player’s on-air rant against one of the San Francisco squad that fell in the National Football Conference play-off game. We missed most of the game while attending a friend’s birthday party and have no idea what he was going on about, but we caught the post-game interview and it was vituperative enough to worry us that the fellow might do a drive-by shooting at whoever it was that had “dissed” him. Perhaps it was justified, as professional football is a rough game, but it seemed a unpleasant reminder of the kinds of deplorable people that America venerates each fall and winter, as well as the even more consequentially deplorable people that rule our economy, politics, and culture throughout the year.
Ah well, at least all three of our big-time Kansas universities are among the ranked teams in college basketball. The Wichita State University Wheatshockers are in the coaches’ top four, and there is hope for the world in the sports pages.

— Bud Norman