Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Joyful, and Mournful, Journey of Lent

[Cross-posted to By Common Consent]

This year my employer, Friends University, a non-denomination Christian liberal arts college in Wichita, KS, decided to develop, in conjunction with our regular chapel observances, a calendar of Lenten devotionals, and they asked for students, faculty, staff, and others to contribute. Some of those who contributed were Roman Catholic or from other high church Protestant traditions, and thus the language and rituals of Lent were familiar to them. For Mormons like me, obviously, that isn't the case. Still, this is my contribution; hopefully it fits the spirit of the occasion well.

Sometimes, when I read one of the Psalms, I can’t get out of my head the image of an ancient gathering of people, speaking (or singing) in a language I do not know, in a time and place I can barely imagine, conveying sentiments that are pretty much exactly my own. Jews of twenty-five hundred or three thousand years ago, writing down the pleadings, the hopes, the fears, the longings, the demands, and the celebrations of their hearts, and the spiritual language they used sometimes manages to express something that strikes my modern, Christian self to the very core.

One such Psalm is 105. It is a psalm that surveys the history of the Jewish people, as they understood it at the time--and it also, from our Christian perspective, helps us see that history as pointing towards something else, something greater. “Give thanks to the Lord,” it begins (v. 1). “Invoke him by name, make known his deeds among the peoples.” And what great deeds they were! In 45 verses, the psalm reminds us of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Aaron. The Abrahamic covenant, which began with a single family—“A small company it was, few in number, strangers in that land” (v. 12)—is unfolded all the way through the Exodus and the arrival of the children of Israel in the land which was promised to them. “He opened a rock and water gushed out, flowing in a stream through a parched land; for he was mindful of his solemn promise to his servant Abraham” (v. 41-42).

Lent can be productively understood, I think, as time of wandering. Through fasting, prayer, and selective attempts at change (this year, once again, I'm attempting a Facebook break), I put myself, as much as possible, outside my daily routine, and attempt to see in myself not someone perfectly at home in this fallen world, but a pilgrim, an exile, a stranger, one who is wandering through the desert of preparation, waiting on God’s promise of Living Water. Turning to these ancient words--these songs, these poems, these heartfelt pleadings and hopes--is thus appropriate, I think. Abraham and the world of those who honored him in psalms is unimaginably distant from us today--yet we are part of that story nonetheless. It is a story which weighs us down with its length--but also lifts us up, with its promises of what awaits us at the end. Perhaps being reminded of this great distance, this immense journey, all encompassed by God’s reach, and all of it encompassing us as well, is exactly why we are invited, as Christians, to wait and wander through Lent every year.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Mid-Sized Meditations #14: Urban Questions (and Reponses) for Krugman

[Cross-posted to Front Porch Republic]

Over a month ago, Paul Krugman used his space at The New York Times to ask "what, in the modern economy, are small cities even for?" As someone who has been writing on and off for nearly 4 years about the topic of small and mid-sized cities, I was interested in Krugman's answer--which was that, economically speaking, that smaller cities today have "nothing going for them except historical luck, which eventually tends to run out."

That seems a tad harsh--or, if not overly harsh, then at least overly hopeless. Let me pose some questions back to Krugman, if only to figure out what kind of answers those of us whose localism wants to make space for smaller cities need to come up with.

First of all, which, or what kind of cities is he actually talking about?  Well, he's clearly talking about cities of the United States, or at most other towns and cities whose roots are to be found in the creation of politically and socially necessary central places in the midst of 19th-century (or earlier) colonial and agricultural expansions (so think Canada or Argentina...but particularly the U.S.). What became of these places, as technologicially-driven market demands and cultural expectations led to the shrinking and homogenizing of the agricultural sector? Some survived, or even flourished, as important industrial locations, to the extent which the "Marshallian trinity of information exchange, specialized suppliers, and a pool of labor" allowed.

So what happened next? According to Krugman--drawing up this column and other writings of his--it was apparently the mutually reinforcing logics of free trade, consumer technologies, and global finance capitalism that happened. As Saskia Sassen put it in the article which prompted Krugman's ponderings, "urban economies [today] need other major urban economies more than they need the standardized production economies of other cities in their country." Or to put it in another way, the financial networks and the capital and population and cultural flows between major metropolitan agglomerations are bypassing small and mid-sized cities, in the same the interstate highway system bypassed numerous rural towns, picking winners and losers, as it expanded across the country from the 1950s to the 1980s. Just as consumers will now travel to the nearest urbanized outpost to do their shopping rather than to the county seat (assuming they don't do all their shopping online anyway, that is), the corporate economic drivers of today don't look to the hinterlands of the U.S. for raw material and labor--the look to other global cities, which in turn look to their own hinterlands (as one scholar in the above article put it, "the hinterland for Silicon Valley is Shenzhen"). Hence, those small cities which survive this latest--and sure to be at least as enduring--bypassment will do so, if they do so, simply because various historical contingencies currently allow it. And Krugman's conclusion is that such contingencies and coin-flips will eventually run out--and would have does so if globalization hadn't unfolded the way it did, because urban concentration will always feed upon itself.

Keep in mind that what Krugman is talking about is cities, not towns--which, if you have to attach numbers to it, you might as well employ Census-speak, and refer to "metropolitan" areas, not "micropolitan" or rural ones. In other words, he's not asking about those isolated towns which, despite the transformation of agriculture, really do still function as center places for the hundreds of square miles of rural counties which surround them. (I can name a half-dozen such locations off the top of my head, all of them out in sparsely populated in western Kansas.) Nor is he asking about those towns that happen to have, as this Rod Dreher thread examined, a combination of reinforcing cultural resources and localized employment opportunities sufficient for those who reside there to plausibly withstand--and thus articulate their own sense of self and their own goals separate from--the aforementioned global flows...meaning they could, if they so choose, focus their efforts to build lives for themselves on the places where they already are. (It goes without saying that such towns in America are increasingly rare.)

No, Krugman is talking about cities: metropolitan urban areas that have already expanded beyond their origin as a central place and have benefited from a "chain of external economies" which "allowed the city to take advantage of particular new technological and market opportunities when they arose." Some other research can put this into context, and lend support to Krugman's assumptions--modern cities, as they've expanded and diversified over time, almost invariably seem to make themselves subject to what sociologists and political theorists have called the "growth machine," thus putting them into an entirely different relationship with their region than exists for the stereotypical, vanishing, small town of today (as well as in an entirely different relationship with their spatial situation and natural environment than existed for even large cities up through the early 20th century).

Now though, according to Krugman (and Richard Florida, and many other students of urbanization), growth has changed: it's faster, more far-flung, and more cognitively demanding and technology-dependent than ever before. Many of these smaller and mid-sized cities, regional cities all, when they feel that their historical luck is running out, will attempt to keep up nonetheless, usually by accepting the idea that the revenue-demanding distributive and individuating work which they, as places of personal freedom and urban opportunity, are presumably committed to, will require "liberal expansion," with its imperative of ever-greater integration with and ever-greater dependence upon governments and corporations beyond the city. In short, cities that had experienced growth (and all its attendant obligations), but are no longer quickly growing, will often double-down on engineering further growth, with the ultimate goal of growing ever more some again. Paging Charles Marohn!

So--is Krugman right? Well, he's ignoring for the most part the role played by local businesses and political elites in choosing to pursue that aforementioned "chain of external economies," and he's ignoring the role of state and national governments, whose revenue bases presented certain cities with the possibility of chaining themselves to "external economies" in the first place. If nothing else, recognizing the role played by governments which consciously chose the rat-race of expansion (perhaps because of a desire to maximize middle-class suburbanization within city limits), or that played by the federal governments in providing key cities with enormous amounts of investment unrelated to any actually existing local economic chains (defense spending, NASA, etc.), arguably lessens the sense of inevitability attached to Krugman's assumptions about small or mid-sized cities today. What it doesn't lessen, I think, is the bottom-line correctness of his basic diagnosis.

The historical advantages which helped slowly develop many smaller cities really are being thoroughly bypassed by global networks which make their one-time specializations--be they raw materials or manufactured goods or trained labor--either irrelevant or (more commonly) prohibitively costly in comparison to what the financial, industrial, insurance, government, or real estate interests of the global cities of the world can get in bulk from either Guangzhou, China or Saltillo, Mexico. And for Krugman, that's the end of story, because he simply sees no other way the urban game can be played in this day and age. The innovations which matter most today--at least in terms of being able to generate import-replacing wealth and thus expand job opportunities and attract investment within the city itself--build most frequently upon already existing concentrations of people. And since success, as always, breeds success, those cities that, by this point, have missed out on the global flows can probably only prolong the inevitable, at best.

I disagree--I think there are, and will have to be, other ways for the urban game to be played in the years and decades to come. Right now, I can imagine three alternatives to Krugman's pessimism, three possibilities for localists who want to hold onto their small and mid-sized cities, concerned citizens for whom the agrarian option is not available, and joining the great inversion and returning to America's largest cities isn't an option either. I'm not sure which--if any--of these three are actually achievable, and it is interesting to consider what kind of culture of resistance to liberal assumptions regarding individual opportunity and capitalist growth the cities who took these routes would have to develop if they were to pull off the change. But for now, here's the alternatives as I see them.

First there is, quite simply, conservatism. I am not thinking here of the cities whose political cultures tend to track in the direction of self-identified conservative Republican candidates (in fact, often the latter seems to present a real obstacle to "conservatism" in the sense I am considering here). Rather, I'm thinking of stereotypically "conservative" economic traditions of frugality and austerity, ones which eschew expansion unless the financial benefits of growth are assured. Marohn's Strong Towns has been a consistent proponent of the need, in his view, of cities to allow themselves to shrink their footprint and their aspirations, to--as he put it nearly ten years ago--hibernate (stop building), prune (abandon or convert existing urban projects), retool (think in terms of regulations appropriate for a smaller spatial arena), plan (involve the population in embracing a different vision for the city), look inside (identify strengths for local production, but avoid going all in on import-replacement schemes that simply aren't cost effective in the age of Walmart), look outside (re-acquaint oneself with the resources of the immediate local region), and above all, take small steps (the idea that any large tourist or infrastructure or industrial project will be able to solely and dramatically change the reality which cities of this size and in this situation face simply invites more of the same debt rat-race or various problematic liberal expansionist solutions). This kind of conservatism isn't simply a flat rejection of urban development, but it is a load of cold water dumped upon it.

The main problem with this alternative is that Marohn was actually making those suggestions for small towns, not cities--meaning places that probably don't have cultures and economies in place whose relative diversity will probably politically oblige local leaders to at least acknowledge metropolitan aspirations. That's not to say there isn't much to learn from the civic-strengthening which comes along with re-emphasizing more fiscally responsible and democratically engaging city policies (the fight over the fate of a downtown park here in Wichita exemplified this well, I think). Many of his suggestions are important and valuable--but the underlying liberalism, meaning the underlying imperative of providing resources of individual opportunity--makes articulating a small-c conservatism appropriate for small and mid-sized cities is more complicated than just shrinking, I think.

But related to some of the key points of the conservative approach, there is sustainability. The term can mean a huge amount and apply to a huge range of urban approaches, obviously. But I'm thinking specifically here of the writings of Catherine Tumber, and her arguments that slow-growth regional cities have a unique opportunity to orient their markets around immediately available resources (agricultural and otherwise) on the outskirts of their suburban and exurban developments, something that isn't (or at least isn't as obviously) the case for massive urban agglomerations that spread across thousands of square miles. It is true that this alternative is probably only conceivable for smaller or mid-sized cities that are distant enough from other urban centers for there to be "hinterlands" of their own in relative proximity. Moreover, Tumber and other urbanists who focus on environmental impacts tend to premise their arguments regarding the possibilities for sustainable cities on the likelihood of oil depletion; and if it turns out that peak oil isn't a real phenomenon, then it might seem that the particular value which Tumber sees in these hypothetical "small, gritty, and green" cities--which are able to model local food and alternative energy production and the small-scale manufacturing such would allow for--would be quickly undermined by larger cities simply expanding their energy-dependent developments and product-chains ever further. But I don't think so, and not just because I assume, peak oil or not, that our energy-dependency simply can't expand infinitely. No, even if our energy problems can be addressed in the medium term, the model of a more sustainable city--one that embraces a moderate degree of autarky in the midst of, and despite of, globalization--is something that could potentially speak strongly to many smaller cities who feel their luck in running out. The key problem, again, would be trying to make the political and cultural case to the residents and the leadership of such cities for valuing the limits which any kind of autarky would have to involve.

Finally, if the ability to smaller or mid-sized cities to persuasively articulate, or even just develop, a coherent plan for scaling back in a conservative, or re-assessing in a more sustainable, direction, simply isn't there, what remains? Waiting for Krugman's predicted gambler's ruin? Or, perhaps do-it-yourself futurism? I'm an old fan of the writings of economist Juliet Schor, and I've used one of her books regularly when I've taught my Simplicity and Sustainability courses, even though the premises of her arguments involve some assumptions I seriously question. Basically, Schor suggests that in an environment where the internet has almost entirely liberated us from traditional, grounded means of conveying information, the DIY possibilities of the modern world--in which anyone can learn to be a farmer, a plumber, an app-designer, a freelance artist, or more--and almost endless. There is a sense here in which her projected "time-rich, ecologically light, small-scale, high-satisfaction economy" follows from Krugman's (admittedly well-supported) assumption that global financial capitalism has "cut [wealth] loose from the land"; that is, perhaps it is only because of the the ubiquity of big-city-developed technologies that our own urban hinterlands can now develop DIY alternatives to the economic chains of production and service whose profits are mostly passing those hinterlands by.  If that sounds vaguely similar to certain Marxist or progressive claims, in the sense of asserting that certain negative developments had to emerge for better options to follow them--well, you're right.

Overall, Schor's detailed suggestions form a powerful, almost utopian vision, and one that is greatly appealing: surely there are millions of people who would love to believe that they could stay in their own places, and develop financially rewarding lifestyles through universally available small-scale industries and services, even as the distant economic powers of the world become centralized even further. I don't want to rain on that possibility--but I must note that, to the extent Schor doesn't imagine standards of living or socio-economic expectations in these otherwise bypassed cities to signficantly change, she assumes that much larger changes would have to have taken place before the liberating shift away from office-bound, car-dependent work begins: portable health coverage that isn't tied to a job and wage supports as people embrace to working fewer hours being two of the largest and most radical proposals. Those are good proposals, to be certain! But I can't help but think that, in a crucial way, they displace the problem Krugman originally posed. After all, if the logic that he sees pushing small and mid-sized cities towards decline were changed...well, then, perhaps alternative urbanisms wouldn't be necessary in the first place, would they?

Those of us who want to figure out how to talk about urban localism, and not be locked into 1) recognizing global mega-cities as our only future, or 2) accepting that small-town agrarian sufficiency is the only other alternative (as well as 3) agitating for some kind of anti-capitalist revolution which would change the urban game entirely), there is a need to find an urban theory that can work with what small and mid-sized cities can offer. Of the three possibilities offered here, I think the sustainability approach makes the most sense, while elements of the conservative (and, to a lesser extent, the futurist) perspective would likely be valuable. But whatever elements of these three, or any others, may work best remains an open question--one that I hope more and more people, within their various disciplines, one way or another, will be thinking about. In the face of Krugman's despair, some of us want to hold on to our smaller cities, after all, and the idea that there are only two poles--or perhaps only one!--remaining when it comes to how all communities are to be organized is too much to accept just yet.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Songs from '78: "Night Fever"

"Night Fever," released today in 1978, was the sixth and final single released--four of which had been written by the Bee Gees--from Saturday Night Fever, the monster soundtrack which accompanied the okay (but thoroughly dated) movie by the same name. They both came out in 1977, but the former stayed on top of the charts for half a year, and stands today as the first or second best-selling film soundtrack of all time (it depends on how you calculate these things). Was "Night Fever" my favorite song off that album (which my older sister had and treasured)?  Probably not; I might have to choose the disco ballad "If I Can't Have You," sung by Yvonne Elliman. But, honestly, if you were alive in 1978, it was the Bee Gees you heard, everywhere, all the time, and whether you found disco music (which, I later learned, was already dying out as a style in the clubs at the time when John Badham, John Travolta, Hollywood money, and, of course, Polydor Records took a mostly fictional story and gave the scene a massive shot in the arm) appalling or loved it, you did buy the album, and your head does bounce along with this groovy little dance number. Don't deny it.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Thoughts on Friendship

[Cross-posted to By Common Consent]

Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of 'Mormonism'; [it is designed] to revolutionize and civilize the world, and cause wars and contentions to cease and men to become friends and brothers....Friendship is like Brother [Theodore] Turley in his blacksmith shop welding iron to iron; it unites the human family with its happy influence.

Or so Joseph Smith, the founder of my religious tradition, was recorded as saying on July 23, 1843. To my mind, it's heavy doctrine--and the fact that I take his claims about friendship so seriously has been on my mind lately, for a variety of reasons.

For starters, I would bet that just about everyone who happens to read this is likely connected to a particular web of online associations which, thanks to the power of capitalist branding, has gotten away with labeling everyone involved in its operations as "friends" (and we keep using that term, even though some research shows that most of your Facebook friends are anything but). The influence of this technologically enabled shift in our social perspective is so great that the Powers That Be behind it can just make up "Friend Day" holidays, one of which probably popped up on your FB page just yesterday, like it did mine--and based on clicks, people appear willing to go along with it.

Of course, some of you have escaped the tentacles of Facebook. If so, you have my admiration. But Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, and so much more (blogs included!) inundate us nonetheless. And all of it, no matter what the honest exchange of information or entertainment or empathy or interest they enable, nonetheless depending upon a virtual simulacrum of friendship, as a substitute (and, sometimes, a replacement) of the real thing.

This semester, I'm teaching an honors seminar focusing on technology, and I started out the class by giving my students three open-ended questions that relate to various technology-related issues, one having to do with jobs, one having to do with teaching, and one having to do with social media. Nearly every student chose the social media topic, and nearly every one of them said the same thing--that while they'd never give up their phones, they were pretty certain technology had made them more frustrated, more lonely, and more isolated. (A couple of students went so far as to describe themselves as "trapped" by their phones and all the attendant expectations and norms that come with them.)

As it happened, a cool, off-beat, local Christian organization here in Wichita, the Eighth Day Institute, hosted just this past weekend a symposium titled "Friendship in a Fractured Age"; the keynote speaker was Ken Myers, of Mars Hill Audio, and the main theme of his address was  "Social Media and the Commodification of Friendship." I shared with him the anecdote from my class, and in response he shared some other research and surveys he had access to which showed such attitudes aren't rare. The kids aren't dumb, my fellow Gen Xers and Baby-Boomers and even older folks; they know that, at least in some ways, at least some of the time, they are relying upon social media platforms and tech companies and buzz phrases to create the sort of memorable, personal, intimate, tactile connections and friendships which they've learned all about from us, from their parents, from television programs and movies and books, all of which celebrated friendships...and are often finding, unfortunately, that the commodified substitutes of the day just don't do the trick.

Don't believe these weird, Wendell-Berry-reading conservative Christians? Well, then how about former president Barack Obama? In the first episode of David Letterman's new Netflix show, Obama talked for a while about social media, which his 2008 campaign for the White House depended heavily upon, but which has now shown us not only how the increasingly sophisticated algorithms those social media platforms employ can easily generate and entrench "completely different information universes," but also how "people in power, special interests, foreign governments, etc." can essentially set the terms for how so many of us judge what to believe and whom to trust. I suppose one could argue that this sort of prostitution and manipulation of the human desire for knowledge and belonging and friendship has been going on as long as any kind of print or electronic media has existed; it's not like fake news or the pre-internet versions of catfishing and bullying and all the rest didn't exist before the invention of phones that we can carry around in our pockets. But all the same, to assume that if one can point out antecedents to contemporary distrust, tribalism, and alienation, that therefore there is no reason to think contemporary complaints about such can possibly represent something genuinely new and threatening to what Joseph Smith was talking about is, I suspect, profoundly wrong.

At the very least, the fact that friendship, its range or quality or absence, is something much talked about today is undeniable. (Within my own Mormon tribe, the discussion has been near constant for a while now.) Ken Myers, at the conclusion to his presentation, reminded us all of the promise of scripture that someday we would see God and one another "face to face," and that the friendship Jesus Himself offers all His disciples is tied to "speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech"--which, I would warrant, doesn't include emojis. Myers expressed his fear that our overwhelmingly--and, increasingly, our economically mandated--networked and wired world would lead those who move through it (namely, all of us) to form their hopes, their expectations, and their faith completely separate from that beautiful vision. In a small way, I suspect that endless the social media-driven arguments I mentioned above over who can be a friend to whom are at least partly shaped by this loss of the face-to-face.

Count yourself lucky if you don't know what I'm talking about. The FB friend, the Tweet responder, the anonymous e-mailer, all of whom wonder how you could possibly support that cause, or forward that article, or agree with that comment, when this other perspective on that cause, or this other reading of that article, or this other context for that comment, clearly shows its ugliness, its violence, its self-loathing, its incoherence, its immorality, its Trump-supporting awfulness. Can't you see this is anti-Christian? Can't you see this is racist? Can't you see this targets that group, this undermines that principle, this excludes that obvious and necessary truth? How can you call yourself a Mormon/an American/a leftist/a decent human being while you tolerate such nonsense? What kind of monster are you anyway?

In my experience, in the midst of such faceless back-and-forths (which, I state for the record, I actually kind of like, because I dig arguments, and because I usually fail to recognize if something has become poisonous until long after it became such), saying that you know the author or the situation personally, that you've talked with them face-to-face, that you've spent time and sweat into engaging with these issues, that you've broken bread and been silly and personal and private with all of the above, and thus can't quite accept the reductive accusations about these individuals and movements being tossed around, rarely makes much difference. And, of course, maybe it shouldn't (the curt "so what if they're nice people? Hitler liked puppies too"-style of response is kind of silly, but not without a point). But more than I fear for the loneliness of my students, or for the stress of juggling multiple Facebook friends groups, I fear that the absence of the personal, the intimate, the tactile, the face-to-face in our friendships is resulting in a shrinking and contorting of our ability to feel love for our fellow human beings. When the first thing we learn about a person, or the thing about them which most consistently comes through our algorithms and screens, is that they participated in the Women's March (and therefore are pink-hat-wearing, religion-hating, exclusionary SJWs) or that they like some Republican candidate (and therefore are gay-bashing, theocracy-building, white supremacist Trump supporters), the narrowing and maximizing and personal-difference-and-nuance-crushing logic of our electronic tribes is only strengthens.

It isn't uncommon, I think, for people who hold to Christian teachings to insist that you can keep these different tracks separate, and hence that our ability to exercise love--meaning charity or agape--towards all our fellow human beings isn't undermined when we also willingly cultivate (or passively allow our commodified arts of "friendship" to cultivate for us) a complete loathing of everything this particular segment (or segments) of our fellow human beings say or do or affirm. Call it just the latest iteration of the whole deceptively simple "hate the sin, love the sinner" nonsense. It is nonsense with a long pedigree in Christian thinking. Kierkegaard, among others, said Christians shouldn't be bothered by mere friendship, or presumably or the lack of it; in his view philia, that form of love which is fundamentally characterized by freedom and partiality (we choose to be friends with this person, but not that one; we choose to be loyal to our friend; if the friendship comes to an end, it's because we choose it), was essentially pagan, and an unworthy companion to the rigorous (and admittedly, sometimes de-humanizing) universality of Christian charity.

At the Eighth Day symposium, there was also a presentation given by Protopresbyter Paul D. O'Callaghan, from St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral here in Wichita. He's written a short, fine little book, The Feast of Friendship, which makes a solid case--drawing upon Bible stories, the Patristic tradition, personal observations, and a great deal of philosophy and psychology--for seeing in our human ability to choose to make and maintain particular, partial friendships, even (perhaps even especially) in the midst of great differences, something holy. He writes:

Fundamentally, genuine friends grant us access to the most creative dimensions of our souls by receiving us and reflecting us back to ourselves. In this way, we are able to see what could not be seen before. We encounter our own identity and possibilities in fresh and dynamic ways. We can act in a manner previously unthinkable to us. Friends liberate our own inner resources for God's disposal, and thus are channels for the mediation of his grace to us (p. 96).

And also:

To answer Kierkegaard: yes, in this world, the practice of unrequited agape is essential to the Christian life. But one cannot survive on agape alone. We share vital loves within our families, and in addition to that, the philia between friends deepens and enriches love's place in our lives. It does not matter if it is experienced within the confines of the fixed social hierarchies of traditional societies or in the fluid and free associations characteristic of modern Western culture. Friendships realize the vital communion of love given and received (p. 125).

O'Callaghan's modified defense of modernity in that last passage should indicate that it's not as though the only sort of friendship which he thinks ought to be considered acceptable to concerned Christians is one untouched by technological tools of connection. (Both he and Ken Myers, when I saw them at the conference, both had smartphones, for whatever that's worth.) The more important point, I think, is that the freedom which characterizes real--not fake--friendship, can withstand all sorts of diversions and differences. (Even, I should note, gender differences; while O'Callaghan is quite traditional in his thinking about sexuality and sexual morality, and appropriately so, he has little sympathy for the "fundamentalist" notion that women and men can't choose to be friends; he writes that such rigidity denies "the essential primacy of the person, created in the image and likeness of God"--p. 109.) To confront those differences, to see and know and come to enjoy the association with the actual human being or the actual living organization that generates those perspectives from which we differ or experience challenges or even suffer embarrassment is part, I think, of the process by which God opens up ourselves to ourselves, thus teaching us better just what our capacity to feel charity both towards our friends and our enemies (and, I suppose, our frenemies in between) really is. But it must be a real friendship, I think, one grounded in, or at the very least characterized by, our lived-in, and not wholly mediated, materiality.

Like every good Generation Xer, I was taught by They Might Be Giants that, at some point, the racism--or the anti-Mormonism, or the homophobia, or the classicism, or the Trump-defending, or the insistence upon any number of other perceived slights and/or genuine evils--might become so explicit, so indicting, that you need to rethink the partiality by which you choose to view the person or cause or idea that you feel affection for. "Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding" isn't wrong. But note, in closing, that the context of that song, and the point of decision it describes, the realization that one's friend really is a devil, is an actual, bodily experienced party. Not a chat room, not an FB group, not an e-mail chain, not a Tweetstorm, but an actual, face-to-face encounter, with actual "bobbing and pretending," hearing words actually spoken complete with their whole history and their body language and their social cues along with them. The friendship Smith praises was liked to welding iron to iron--which means a real physical unity, a real handling of the different shapes of iron in hand, with real heat applied to see if their edges can come together. Nothing virtual there. Maybe if we kept ideal as our rule of thumb, and sought for such whenever and however we can, if only as a necessary supplement to all the other wired connections in our lives, then perhaps the twin poles of alienation and extremism might lessen in force, and our confusion over the holiness of simple friendships could be a little lessened as well.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Songs from '78: "Baker Street"

Forty years ago today, the first single from Gerry Rafferty brilliant--and criminally forgotten among even many serious pop listeners--album City to City began to make its way up the charts. That single, which for nearly every casual pop listener in America who happens to know Gerry Rafferty's name (and for a long time, I wasn't one of them) pretty much defines the man is, of course, "Baker Street." He cranked out multiple great pop songs in the late 70s and early 80s, songs marked by lyrical wit, a wonderful balance of jazz, blues, and folk instrumentation and straight-ahead guitar-based rock, and a subtle tone that fit his retiring, introspective, distrustful approach to the pop world as a whole--"Night Owl," "Right Down the Line," "Get it Right Next Time," etc. But "Baker Street" is the song that took root in my skull and never left. I'd forget the tune or lyrics months or years at a time, and then I'd catch a moment of it on the radio, and it would all come back. Apparently, for Rafferty the song is an expression of finding new hope in the midst of the frustrating urban banality of the lawyers and studios of the music business, but to me it's always been a song of the summertime and outdoors. Not the hopeful beginning of summer, but late summer, when the vacations are over and everyone is tired of swimming and school is about to start and it's time to get back to work...and yet, maybe, just maybe, the good times aren't quite over yet. And out into the late, hot (but finally cooling down!) sunset-colored world you go.



Friday, January 26, 2018

Can Wichita Elect a Governor?

[The Wichita Eagle ran a shortened version of this argument this morning; he's my fuller piece. And yes, I've already handicapped the governor's race as I see it today; consider this an addendum.]

Wichita is the largest single city in Kansas; more than a fifth of the state’s total population resides in our metropolitan area. It’s the regional economic center for over half the state. Its media outlets have greater penetration across the breadth of Kansas than those from any other city. And yet, for all that, it’s been a century since a Wichitan was elected to live in the governor's mansion in Topeka. Why?

True, Mark Parkinson (who was governor from 2009 to 2011), was born in Wichita–but he lived his adult life, and built his political career, in Overland Park and Olathe. And it's true that Edward Arn (1951 to 1955) came to Wichita and had a law practice here–yet he left for his military career, and when he got involved in politics he relocated to Wyandotte County, only returning to Wichita later in his life.

No, the only real example of a Wichitan in the Kansas governor’s mansion was Henry J. Allen (1919 to 1923), a newspaperman from Clay County who came to Wichita as a young man and built a small publishing empire here before being elected governor, then later returning to live the rest of his life in our city. (You can visit his historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, the Allen-Lambe House, in College Hill.)

There’s no law mandating where governors come from, obviously. If you look through the list of Kansas’s 46 governors, dozens of Kansas cities, towns, and rural counties are represented. Still, there are some commonalities among nearly all of them, especially over the past half-century: namely, some strong connection to the University of Kansas, to the state capital in Topeka, or to the cross-border urban agglomeration of Kansas City.  Given the way in which politics is often a function of path-dependency–people making use of the connections, both personal and financial, that others have already established, thus deepening them–maybe it isn’t surprising that Wichita, despite its large population and economic base, should go a century without providing a successful gubernatorial candidate.

Will 2018 break the streak? Among the serious candidates there are multiple Wichitans running: Republicans Wink Hartman and Mark Hutton (and maybe we could claim Ed O’Malley as an adopted son), and Democrats Carl Brewer and Jim Ward. Since this a year--thanks to the deep divisions in the state Republican party caused by Brownback’s great unpopularity, as well as the increased fired-up enthusiasm one sees on the Democratic side--in which state politics may be rather unpredictable, perhaps this will be Wichita’s chance.

But then again, perhaps not. I was recently asked, during a presentation I was giving to a local civic group here in the city, if I thought both parties coordinated to maintain the political dominance of the Topeka-Lawrence-KC corridor. I seriously doubt that--I’m not a conspiracy theorist by nature. But when one compares the positioning taking place in our state parties, and adds to that a close look at the campaign finance analysis provided by the Wichita Eagle, one may begin to wonder.

Kris Kobach, thanks to his name recognition and his small core of ideologically committed followers, is widely--and, I think, rightly--considered the favorite to win the Republican nomination, with Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer, seen as his most plausible rival. Yet this is despite the fact that Hartman has more money to spend on his campaign than both of them combined, and that O’Malley and Hutton both have had more individual donors here in Kansas than either of the front-runners as well.

Similarly, on the Democratic side, the late entrance of Topeka-based state senator Laura Kelly into the race was surely at least partly the result of a panicked party establishment convinced that, in this year of opportunity, they needed a better connected candidate than a couple of politicians from Wichita. Yet this despite the fact that their level of state-wide name recognition (Brewer’s in particular) dwarfs hers. That Kelly’s fund-raising has quickly outpaced (if not entirely overtaken) all of the other Democratic candidates might reflect the reality of this judgment–maybe it’s just another reminder that the entrenched political connections of northeast Kansas are self-reinforcing.

I suspect that Wichitans running for governor today face challenges similar to our city’s social and economic prospects as a whole: namely, we often seem stuck in the middle, too big not to be considered a major player, but not big enough to compete with the major players who came before us. We clearly have the people (look at those candidates!) and the money (Wichita-area donors max out their possible contributions more frequently than those anywhere else in the state). But is that enough to convince political operatives and party establishments to take us seriously? Not to mention the voters in the primary contests in August?

As always, success breed success. So if any of those Wichita candidates break through--and if course, there are many other variables at play here than just location--they’ll be doing more than ending a long political drought: they may also open the doors to a political change in our state parties which is long overdue.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Songs from '78: "Dust in the Wind"


This week, 40 years ago, "Dust in the Wind," the second single released from Kansas's fifth studio album, Point of Know Return, starting climbing up the charts. It would take months, but eventually it achieved the omnipresence which it was perhaps fated to enjoy. (Oh, don't lie: you started humming this song the moment you read the title of the post.) True, progressive rock was probably on its last legs by 1978, but its makers, like the band Kansas, still hung around, wondering what was going to come next, incorporating power pop hooks into their elongated symphonic-hard rock compositions, as well as throwing some folky art-rock into the mix. Like pretty much every other outfit grounded in rock and roll who ever turned, for whatever reason, however briefly, to poetry, the results were, as one delightful review put it, a "wan and ridiculous rehash of bargain-basement exoticism," which really sounds more like something that ought to have been said about The Moody Blues (of course, it probably was). Still, I don't care. Is this one of my favorite songs? Not nearly. Was it very much a part of the zeitgeist of 1978--and, for that matter (thanks, I suppose, significantly to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure), probably still part of today's as well? Damn straight.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

How to Stop This Man?

[Long, and of interest to only three people. You've been warned.]

Donald Trump has been President of the United States for a year. He shouldn't be. Completely aside from his utterly changeable--and I think most bad--policy preferences, he's not remotely qualified, he doesn't have the minimum level of responsibility, empathy, or basic competency which the presidency ought to presume, and on top of that he's an obviously incurious, narcissistic, vindictive, demagogic, and paranoid human being. Also, he may be mentally ill, and at the very, very, very least, he showed basically no civic allegiance whatsoever to the laws of the country he pledged to enforce in his utterly casual attitude toward offers from various Russian actors, including possibly the Russian government itself, to help him attack his opponent in the general election. So, in short, he's a horrible president and public servant. What do we do about it?

(Is there any new insights in this post? Not really. Is it worth reading anyway? You decide.)

The goal is to get Trump out of the presidency. (There are other goals, but that's the goal I'm talking about in this post.) Setting aside any violent, non-constitutional options, we have about three serious possibilities: impeaching him, having the Republicans drop him as their presidential candidate in 2020 (thus either forcing Trump to run as an incumbent independent president, or obliging him to retire once the election takes place), or defeating him in the general election (this would have to happen even if the Republicans didn't re-nominate him, should he choose to run as an independent, which he very well might). True, there's also the "25th amendment option," but I'm going to lump that in with impeachment, since in both cases it would require, at the present time, members of Trump's own party, either in Congress or in his Cabinet, turning on him.

Of course, given the way the major political parties currently operate, and have operated for nearly a half-century (or really, even longer; the last time it took either the Republicans or Democrats more than a single vote to "decide" who their presidential nominee would be was 1952, and the last time any party refused to re-nominate an actual sitting president was a full century before that), I actually think impeachment or a 25th amendment-style coup is more likely over the next two years than the Republican party going into 2020 with any plan up their collective sleeves besides backing their president in the general election. But since this is an post addressed to political enemies of Trump, let's set that aside, and settle on focus on politics: what political strategies might be employed to convince Republicans to dump Trump, or failing that, convince Republicans not to vote for him in the 2020 general election?

A few friends of mine and I got into an argument about this after Senator Jeff Flake attacked Trump on the Senate floor. There were those who praised Flake, and saw such attacks as crucial: what was needed more than anything else, they thought, was for more Republicans like Flake, Republicans who otherwise agreed with Trump's agenda nonetheless recognizing, and speaking out about, what a corrupt, despicable person he is. But others (including me) disagreed. It's not like we dismissed Flake's speech, but we didn't see what was so useful about him giving it. Was he prepared to oppose Trump's agenda in the Senate? Was he going to actually turn against the Trump administration with the only and best tool he had: his votes? It seemed to us that the most important things was to use every tool available to us--money, organizing, protests, mockery, whatever--to try to convince Republicans that Trump was a drag on their own agenda, and thus that getting Republicans to betray their own president would be a great success--while anything less than that, while certainly not worth condemning, isn't particularly worthy of praise.

The argument made by those in the former camp was that, should we get our wish and Flake and other Republicans start voting--sometimes, strategically, with clearly broadcast talking points explaining the anti-Trump reasons why they are so voting--along with Democrats, then it would be likely that Trump would simply frame such acts as coming from a bunch of RINOs who had joined up with Democrats and liberals, aiming to bring down Trump for partisan reasons, and that would only help him--because nothing serves to fire up Trump's base more than giving him a partisan enemy to beat up in front of his supporters.

It's not a bad argument. It builds upon the idea that Trump's demagoguery, though it relied upon partisan structures and partisan expectations to come to power (that is, the Republican party, much as many of them didn't like Trump, fell in line behind him in order to protect their agenda), is now operating free of the partisan realities which shape the incentives of Washington DC, and is a sui generis threat in the history of America's constitutional order. As such, political suggestions are short-sighted, because our strategy should be focused solely on demonstrating Trump's unfitness for office (as one of my interlocutors put it "talk about his Tweetstorms and not his policies"). A political strategy which attempts to break apart the Republican agenda that enabled his rise to power, by disrupting, blocking, and interfering with the goals of those who allowed Trump to be nominated, perhaps particularly by goading Republicans to stymie their own party in Congress, is all, from this way of seeing things, so much crying over a horse that has left the barn, because now that Trump is in office, convincing Republicans they made a bad choice by working to make Trump and them, collectively, ineffective will only rebound to Trump's benefit. Essentially, since he doesn't really care about the Republican party which he leads, striving to knee-cap it will only give Trump something else he can rant about...maybe all the way back to the White House.

It's persuasive case, but I disagree with it. Sure, party tribalism runs deep for all sorts of psychological reasons. But Republican-thinking voters vote for the Republican party because it does Republican things. If some Republicans helped stop their own party from being able to do Republican things, well sure, Trump would denounce them as traitors. But would it really have no affect on the thinking of all the other Republicans, the ones who want to see Republican things get done, the ones who had "fallen in line" behind Trump? I find that hard to believe. Rather, it seems to me that if Republicans like Flake were to start sabotaging their own party's agenda through their votes, demonstrating to the Republican leadership that the continued presence of Trump at the top of their party is actually making it harder for the party to get anything done, it would be an obvious call to all those Republicans who fell in line that there's no incentive for them to remain in that line any longer. In which case, impeachment or no re-nomination at at least lots of Republican voters staying home in 2020 becomes an even greater possibility than it already is.

I'm not mocking Flake, or saying his words have no significance. Such attacks on Trump are needed so as to build understandings that others may be persuaded by. But insisting that the threat posed by Trump is so sui generis that it is actually hurtful to urge those in a position to do so to hurt him an a partisan, political way, and to affirm instead the need that the attacks on Trump, to be successful, must not be sullied by partisan politics, but instead be expressed in non-partisan expressions about Trump's constitutional unfitness, seems wrong to me. Perhaps that's because I'm simply unable to see a way of talking about politics in a way that 1) actually addresses the realities of power as it is being exercised by a dangerous individual in our country at this moment, and 2) doesn't involve engaging with the partisan realities and seeking partisan leverage. Maybe, in some sense, Trump really is beyond party, because perhaps the real base of his power structure is his Twitter cult and not the Republican party. But even if that is so, it is still a fact of our system of government that his power and influence, whatever it rests upon, is wielded through the aegis of the Republican party, and thus undermining that--through votes!--is fundamental to stopping his reign.

The U.S. Constitution wasn't written with parties in mind. The rise of political parties--which was necessary, if you're going to have a mass democracy; at least, no one has yet seriously proposed any way of running such a polity without them--fundamentally changed how its internal levers of power operate. While it is appealing--and I'm speaking here as someone who likes much of the civic republican rhetoric which shaped those early, non-partisan understandings of democratic government!--to think that Trump ought to be taken down as Trump, the bad president, rather than as Trump, the bad Republican president, I just don't see any reason to believe that such is possible--and I am unconvinced that Trump is so separated from any need for a political party to enable to him to reach those aforementioned levers that doing the latter (I think inevitable thing) will backfire. Maybe it'll turn out that I'm wrong; maybe later I'll change my mind. But for now, it seems to me that, for better or worse, stopping Trump means electorally defeating him everywhere possible--and not simply expressing constitutional sorrow over what a creep he is. If nothing else, it give me a game plan to attempt, in whatever small and local ways I can: and no, as decent a fellow Flake may be, he's not planning, to my mind, the right anti-Trump game.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Songs from '78: "Werewolves of London"

For much of last year, I got caught up in just how fine a year I thought 1987 was, at least insofar as the pop/rock radio I tuned into was concerned. I ended up celebrating ten different albums from 1987, all of which I still regularly listen to 30 years on. I was kicking around doing something similar for this year when an FB friend of mine pointed out this fine blog, which is going to be looking at all sorts of albums that are hitting their 50th anniversary throughout the year. Well, 1968 was an important year--in additional to everything else, it was the year I was born, for whatever that's worth--but I can't reach back 50 years in my musical memories. But 40 years? I could do that. After all, it was 40 years ago, 1978, the year I turned 10 years old, that really first started to listen to the radio, or at least so I remember.

Moreover, the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that I loved and still love much of the music of 1978. Yes, there was a ton of crap on the radio--but there's always a ton of crap for every ounce of good pop; it's always been that way, and always will be. More importantly, I think back to what I was listening to in 1978, and I'm remembering a tremendous amount of solid rock and roll--shaped as it was by the rise of funk, the rise and (relative) decline of both punk and disco, and the decline and (almost total) fall of progressive rock. All those influences, ebbing and flowing, flooding and retreating (but sometimes enduring), making a pop sludge that spread across the airwaves in a late 70s world. Why shouldn't radio have been loud and mixed-up and filled with little discoveries in such a cultural environment? The late 70s were a moment when almost no one could successfully lie to themselves and pretend that the post-WII dominance of the supposed American Century wasn't collapsing all around us, but no one (yet) had any idea of what was going to come next. The twin forces of global finance capitalism and the personal computer and internet revolutions were still just glimmers in the eyes of a few bankers and geeks, and the death gasps of the old studio system was allowing a bunch of film and art school graduates to make some of the finest films that had ever come out of Hollywood, and probably ever will. And pop music? Well, I'm here to tell you: if you're willing to search for it, it was a very, very, very good year.

So I've picked out 30 or so songs that were released in 1978, or that achieved prominence in 1978, or that--in a couple of instances--I just strongly associate with 1978, my first year as a radio listener, and I'm going to share them here, usually as close as possible to their actual listed release dates. Get ready for a lot of fine rock and roll, everyone; I'll be here at all year.

******

Warren Zevon was a terrifically talented songwriter and musician, and he wrote and recorded a lot of wonderful, cool, catchy songs. But "Werewolves of London"--released on January 18, 1978, the first single from his marvelous album Excitable Boy, the only fully realized work of his whole musical career--was the big one, a lean, driving rock tune and a monster hit, with a bluesy rhythm (provided by half of the original Fleetwood Mac line-up) and lyrics that are just winking and clever and ridiculous enough that their macbre nihilism--are we singing to the werewolf? do we admire him? what's the deal?--becomes part of the whole song's outrageous charm. How many times have all of us sung along with it (even though we probably don't get all the lyrics quite right)? Hundreds, I'm sure. From the dirty, glorious, decadent yet still solid underbelly of 1978, this is the right song to start us out.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Handicapping the Kansas Governor's Race

Back to blogging? Well, I'll try.

So a little over a week ago, the day before Governor Brownback's final State of the State address, I gamed out some possibilities for Kansas's 2018 gubernatorial race on Facebook. The post attracted a fair amount of attention, and let to a couple of long private conversations with some campaign insiders. I'm posting an updated version of my post here, adjusted some things I've learned and by the latest campaign fund-raising numbers, which were released just a couple of days after my original post.

1) The longer Sam Brownback remains as governor--meaning the longer the Republican leaders in Congress fail to take a simple vote on his nomination to an put-him-out-to-pasture ambassadorship--the harder it will probably be for any Republican gubernatorial hopeful who isn't Secretary of State Kris Kobach to put together a financially and electorally successful coalition of "of-course-I-reject-Brownback-but-of-course-I-embrace-the-Kansas-Republican-majority" GOP primary voters.

2) Why doesn't Kobach have to thread such a needle? Because his name recognition and his small-but-disproportionately-powerful-and-well-connected base of GOP true believers (not just in Kansas, but among Trump-supporters and immigration-bashers across the country) make him the prohibitive favorite for the nomination already, especially assuming a large and divided field, and in particular if Brownback remains governor for weeks (or months?) more to come, forcing all of his other Republican competitors (with the possible exception of Wink Hartman, who is essentially self-funding and will appeal to the libertarian faithful and probably no one else) to dance among each other while he focuses on winning the general. His comparatively low campaign fund-raising numbers thus probably worries Kobach only a little; through his association with President Trump, his talk radio show, and his constant inserting of himself into battles over voter rights across the country, his narrative--one which is guaranteed to be persuasive among at least one segment of Kansas Republican voters--has been set.

3) Kobach being chosen as the GOP nominee is probably Greg Orman's only actually plausible route to the governor's mansion as an independent candidate. To win the governorship, he will need to capture both Democratic voters (which will be a much harder proposition in 2018 than it was when he ran, without any Democratic competition, against Republican Senator Pat Roberts in 2014, but ultimately probably not all that hard; being a young, moderate, self-made millionaire will always appeal to some) and, more importantly, Republican voters. Why more important? Because there is simply no evidence I am aware of which plausibly suggests that there are enough actually "independent" (however you define that) voters in the state of Kansas to carry him to victory, even if he also won every single vote cast by Democrats. State-wide, registered Republican voters often outnumber registered Democratic voters by 2-to-1, which means his winning over GOP voters is crucial. (Might we have a repeat of 2014 with the Democratic candidate pulling out? That seems to me astonishingly unlikely, given the rise of activism and energy among Kansas Democrats since Trump's election, to say nothing of the excitement of the blue wave that has been slowly building for Democrats all through 2017).

4) In other words, if the polarizing, extreme, no-daylight-between-me-and-Trump Kobach is the GOP nominee, then Orman just might, perhaps, have a real shot of picking up enough alientated segments of the Republican electorate in November.

5) Which puts the ball in the Democrats' court. The Kansas Democratic party may yet be years away from fully shifting in a metropolitan, diverse, progressive/populist direction, but it has definitely at least begun to do so; James Thompson's win back in March of the Democratic to run in the special election over Dennis McKinney, who as a perfect example of a traditional, socially moderate/conservative, rural-based, New-Deal-appealing Kansas Democrat, proves that. All of which means that if former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty gets the nomination, who hues to that old model at least insofar as his religious opposition to abortion rights is concerned, then part of the state Democratic base will likely fracture at least slightly, even despite the momentum which the nomination of Kobach will inspire locally. The pro-choice Orman would be the obvious beneficiary of any such fracturing, assuming he reaches out to the right women's groups and says the right things (which he surely would; I think he's politically naive, but he's definitely not politically stupid).

6) That means you're going to see some Kansas Democratic activists playing some three-level chess if Svaty seems to be hanging on in the run-up to the convention over the next few months. (Which he might: more than one local Democratic insider has pointed out to me the decent number of millennial activists, who played a big role in Thompson getting his nomination, who are trumpeting Svaty's youth, as well as the fact that he seems to be taking the Sanders approach when it comes to fund-raising; he had the greatest number of small individual donations of any candidate, Republican or Democrat, who reported.) The question they'll ask themselves is simply: do they want to stop Kobach more (which an Orman win would do), or want to elect a Democratic governor more, especially if the unlikelihood of that, thanks to a nominee with little name recognition and with a divisive impact on the party, was increasing? I could easily see Orman managing to poach for his team a number of prominent Democrats if Svaty seems capable of capturing the nomination.

7) But such three-level chess won't only happen among some Democrats in the (I think ridiculously unlikely) case of Svaty going all the way. Every serious Democrat knows the registration disadvantage in Kansas, and every one of them knows that none of the alternatives for the Democratic nomination--former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer, Kansas state senator Laura Kelly, and Kansas state representative Jim Ward--can remotely compete with Kobach's name recognition. (Fox News watchers from Idaho or Indonesia know the man, for heaven's sake.) They also know Orman has the money to make the run, and thus they know Democratic vote poaching will happen no matter what they try to do. And finally, they will also know that, among Republicans who don't like Kobach, Orman will, on average, have a much better shot of grabbing them than any Democratic candidate would, for all the usual partisan tribal reasons. So which gubernatorial candidate, they may think to themselves, will best be able to control the bleeding and do some triangulation in a three-way race that will likely be Kobach vs. Orman vs. a Democrat? (Obviously if Kobach's people fail to carry him through to the nomination, and the GOP gubernatorial nominee turns out to be an establishment Brownback-clone like current-Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer, this calculation will change...though perhaps not that much. Though if the Republican primary electorate somehow, bizarrely, actually manages to nominate a moderate without ties to either the Brownback legacy or the exciting-but-distasteful-to-many Kobach machine--say Kansas Leadership Center president Ed O'Malley, another relatively young man who is wildly popular among Wichita's donor class--then not only does this whole calculation get thrown out the window, but both the Democrats and Orman might as well just call it good and head home.)

8) Wasn't all this Orman-inspired angst--in the midst of what, in the wake of the unpopular Brownback administration and facing the polarizing Kobach juggernaut, was supposed to be year of hope for state Democrats--going to be avoided by Kelly's late entrance to the race? Her fund-raising numbers support that: after announcing only a month ago, and having to report her donations after only two weeks, she had still out-raised both Ward and Brewer. More than a few observers declared her the prohibitive Democratic nominee the day she announced, and with good reason; after all, she's from northeast Kansas (it has been more than a half-century since either state party had a successful flag-bearer who wasn't part of the Lawrence-Topeka-Kansas City nexus), and she has former governor Kathleen Sebelius--and her donor list--on her side. But worries remain. Her name recognition is minuscule (less than half of either Ward's or Brewer's). And her getting into the race so late smacks of...well, of a bunch of people getting desperate, fearful that the wrong candidate will result in the Democrats losing their best shot at the governor's mansion in years. Ward, despite his tireless efforts on behalf of the Democratic party and progressive causes, has a personal history that will likely make at least some Democratic donors and activists leery, with their memories of how 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis was treated (one meeting with a client at a bar/strip-club = Davis, lifetime pimp and pornographer) driving them to aforementioned game of three-level chess. And Brewer?

9) Well, here is where my somewhat adjusted predictions come into play. Moving from the city level to the state level (or higher) of government makes good sense in terms of policy experience; less so in matters of politics. For better or worse, voters think about local and city politics differently than they do about the much more partisan levels of politics above that. And here in Kansas, especially in terms of trying to organize a financially and electorally plausible route to a major party nomination and then a general election win, while being from Wichita (which is already often seen as conservative also-ran city by many state Democrats) as opposed to being from metropolitan Kansas City poses...well, some image problems. Still, Brewer was basically a successful mayor of the state's largest regional economic urban engine, and as a consequence--and given the fact that the Wichita media market has far more penetration throughout the state than anything from the northeast corner--he has more positive name recognition than any of his Democratic competitors. Yes, his fundraising numbers have been terrible, but there have also been shake-ups in the campaign to get things going...and more importantly, Brewer's strongest financial basis will likely be, frankly, moderate Wichita professionals and business-people, and so long as there's a shot that an O'Malley, or even an establishment Republican like Colyer, could win the nomination, many of them will be keeping their pocketbooks closed.

10) So, my conclusion? So long as Orman moves forward with his plan for a no-holds-barred run, and so long as Kobach seems on track to be carried over the finish line to the Republican nomination (likely against the wishes of at least a few major figures in the Kansas GOP) by his devoted fans, you'll eventually see certain Democratic players and donors looking more and more at Brewer. Why? Because despite not having the same organization or base of support that Kelly and Svaty and Ward all do, and despite being from the wrong part of the state, he has two things going for him. First, there is very little evidence that any remotely sizable portion of the Democratic base would be turned off by his candidacy (and the fact that it was apparently African-American turnout that made the difference in Doug Jones's recent election in Alabama will not be lost on the people who seriously contribute to the local Democratic party, I think). Second, his leadership record, because he's been out of state politics, will lack the sort of red flags which might prevent a disaffected moderate Kansas Republican who really doesn't want to vote for Kobach from considering the Democratic alternative, and turning to Orman first. (And that goes double, obviously, for moderate Kansas business-people who liked and worked with Brewer in Wichita, and basically don't have any problems with Democratic priorities, but could be scared away from donating to his campaign by anything that looks, or could be painted as, too extreme.)

11) Long story short? I wonder if perhaps the single greatest variable as to whether or not the state of Kansas might actually elect not just a Democratic governor (we've had those), but a black governor (we've never had one--in fact, so far as I've been able to discover, no African-American has ever been elected to any state-wide office in the entire history of Kansas), is whether or not Trump and the Republican majority in DC, in whose hands Brownback's nomination rests, continue to be a bunch of Keystone Kops, thus Kobach's path to the Kansas GOP gubernatorial nomination through a crowded, divided field that much more likely.

Okay everyone, have at me.