Diversity, except for this kind

This being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which has become a celebration of diversity, Mike Rowe reportts on an example the kind of diversity liberals do not respect:

Mike Rowe has a habit of dismantling his critics. Perhaps it is his blue-collar demeanor and reputation that make him seem like an easy target. Yet people continue to push, like Rebecca Bright, who labeled Rowe an “anti-education, science doubting, ultra-right wing conservative.” If that wasn’t enough, she suggested he should be fired.

“I love the show How the Universe Works, but I’m lost on how the producers and the Science Channel can allow anti-education, science doubting, ultra-right wing conservative Mike Rowe to narrate the show,” Bright complained. “There are countless scientists that should be hired for that, or actors, if you must, that believe in education and science that would sound great narrating the show, example: Morgan Freeman. Cancel this fools [sic] contract and get any of your scientists so often on the show to narrate it.”

So Rowe responded.

“Well hi there, Rebecca. How’s it going?”

“First of all, I’m glad you like the show. “How the Universe Works” is a terrific documentary series that I’ve had the pleasure of narrating for the last six seasons. I thought this week’s premiere was especially good. It was called, “Are Black Holes Real?” If you didn’t see it, spoiler alert….no one knows!!!

“It’s true. The existence of Black Holes has never been proven. Some cosmologists are now convinced they don’t exist at all, and the race to prove their actuality has become pretty intense. Why? Because so much of what we think we know about the cosmos depends upon them. In other words, the most popular explanations as to how the universe actually works, are based upon the existence of a thing that no one has been able to prove.

“As I’m sure you know, it’s OK to make assumptions based on theories. In fact, it’s critical to progress. But it’s easy these days to confuse theory with fact. Thanks to countless movies and television shows that feature Black Holes as a plot device, and many documentaries that bring them to life with gorgeous CGI effects and dramatic music, a lot of people are under the assumption that Black Holes are every bit as real as the Sun and the Moon. Well, maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t. We just don’t know. That’s why I enjoyed this week’s show so much. It acknowledged the reasons we should question the existence of something that many assume to be “settled science.” It invited us to doubt.

“Oftentimes, on programs like these, I’m asked to re-record a passage that’s suddenly rendered inaccurate by the advent of new information. Sometimes, over the course of just a few days. That’s how fast the information changes. Last year for instance, on an episode called “Galaxies,” the original script – carefully vetted by the best minds in physics – claimed there were approximately one hundred billion galaxies in the known universe. A hundred billion! (Not a typo.) I couldn’t believe it when I read it. I mean, the Milky Way alone has something like 400 billion stars! Andromeda has a trillion! How many stars must there be in a universe, with a hundred billion galaxies? Mind-boggling, right?

“Well, a few weeks later, the best minds in physics came together again, and determined that the total number of galaxies in the universe was NOT in fact, a hundred billion. They were off. Not by a few thousand, or a few million, or few billion, or even a few hundred billion. The were off by two trillion. That’s right…TWO TRILLION!! But here’s the point, Rebecca – when I narrate this program, it doesn’t matter if I’m correct or incorrect – I always sound the same. And guess what? So do the experts.

“When I wrote about this discrepancy, people became upset. They thought I was making fun of science. They thought I was suggesting that because physicists were off by one trillion, nine hundred billion galaxies, all science was suddenly suspect, and no claims could be trusted. In general, people like you accused me of “doubting science.” Which is a curious accusation, since science without doubt isn’t science at all.

“This is an important point. If I said I was skeptical that a supernatural being put us here on Earth, you’d be justified in calling me a “doubter of religion.” But if I said I was skeptical that manmade global warming was going to melt the icecaps, that doesn’t make me a “doubter of science.” Once upon a time, the best minds in science told us the Sun revolved around the Earth. They also told us the Earth was flat, and that a really bad fever could be cured by blood-letting. Happily, those beliefs were questioned by skeptical minds, and we moved forward. Science is a wonderful thing, and a critical thing. But without doubt, science doesn’t advance. Without skepticism, we have no reason to challenge the status quo. Anyway, enough pontificating. Let’s consider for a moment, your very best efforts to have me fired.

“You’ve called me an “ultra-right wing conservative,” who is both “anti-education,” and “science-doubting.” Interestingly, you offer no proof. Odd, for a lover of science. So I challenge you to do so now. Please provide some evidence that I am in fact the person you’ve described. And by evidence, I don’t mean a sentence taken out of context, or a meme that appeared in your newsfeed, or a photo of me standing next to a politician or a talk-show host you don’t like. I mean actual proof of what you claim I am.

“Also, please bear in mind that questioning the cost of a college degree does not make me “anti-education.” Questioning the existence of dark-matter does not make me a “dark-matter denier.” And questioning the wisdom of a universal $15 minimum wage doesn’t make me an “ultra-right wing conservative.” As for Morgan Freeman, I agree. He’s a terrific narrator, and a worthy replacement. But remember, Morgan played God on the big screen. Twice. Moreover, he has publicly claimed to be a “believer.” (gasp!) Should this disqualify him from narrating a series that contradicts the Bible at every turn? If not, why not?

“Anyway, Rebecca, my beef with your post comes down to this – if you go to my boss and ask her to fire me because you can’t stand the sound of my voice, I get it. Narrators with unpleasant voices should probably look for other work anyway, and if enough people share your view, no hard feelings – I’ll make room for Morgan. But if you’re trying to get me fired simply because you don’t like my worldview, well then, I’m going to fight back. Partly because I like my job, and partly because you’re wrong about your assumptions, but mostly because your tactics typify a toxic blend of laziness and group-think that are all too common today – a hot mess of hashtags and intolerance that deepen the chasm currently dividing our country.

“Re-read your own post, and think about your actual position. You’ve publicly asked a network to fire the narrator of a hit show because you might not share his personal beliefs. Don’t you think that’s kind of…extraordinary? Not only are you unwilling to engage with someone you disagree with – you can’t even enjoy a show you claim to love if you suspect the narrator might not share your view of the world! Do you know how insular that makes you sound? How fragile?

“I just visited your page, and read your own description of you. It was revealing. It says, “I stand my ground. I fear no one & nothing. I have & will fight for what’s right.”

“Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think the ground you’re standing on is worth defending. If you truly fear “no one & nothing,” it’s not because you’re brave; it’s because you’re unwilling to expose yourself to ideas that frighten you. And while I can see that you like to fight for what you think is “right” (in this case, getting people fired that you disagree with,) one could easily say the same thing about any other misguided, garden-variety bully.

“In other words, Rebecca, I don’t think you give a damn about science. If I’m wrong, prove it. Take a step back and be skeptical about your own assumptions. Take a moment to doubt your own words, and ask yourself – as any good scientist would – if you’ve got your head up a black hole.

That lack of respect for intellectual diversity or viewpoint diversity is not King’s fault. It is the fault of some of those who consider themselves to be King’s followers, perhaps. It is more the fault of those who worship earthly authority, perhaps in order to get that authority themselves.

 

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The quotable King

My favorite Martin Luther King quotes, some of which you may not read or hear on Martin Luther King Jr. Day:

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.

A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. … I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values — that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.

Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.

The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.

Another reason I will probably burn in Hell

This has been going around social media for a while:

The images here of Holly Butcher don’t convey what’s happening inside her body. Ewing’s Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, is killing her. At 27, Butcher was facing the end of her life. Before she died, Butcher wrote a letter explaining what she was experiencing. When she died last week, her parents published her letter.

“It’s a strange thing to realize and accept your mortality at 26 years young. It’s just one of those things you ignore. The days tick by and you just expect they will keep on coming; Until the unexpected happens. I always imagined myself growing old, wrinkled and grey- most likely caused by the beautiful family (lots of kiddies) I planned on building with the love of my life. I want that so bad it hurts.

“That’s the thing about life; It is fragile, precious and unpredictable and each day is a gift, not a given right.

“I’m 27 now. I don’t want to go. I love my life. I am happy.. I owe that to my loved ones. But the control is out of my hands.

“I haven’t started this ‘note before I die’ so that death is feared – I like the fact that we are mostly ignorant to its inevitability … Except when I want to talk about it and it is treated like a ‘taboo’ topic that will never happen to any of us … That’s been a bit tough. I just want people to stop worrying so much about the small, meaningless stresses in life and try to remember that we all have the same fate after it all so do what you can to make your time feel worthy and great, minus the bullshit.

“I have dropped lots of my thoughts below as I have had a lot of time to ponder life these last few months. Of course it’s the middle of the night when these random things pop in my head most!

“Those times you are whinging about ridiculous things (something I have noticed so much these past few months), just think about someone who is really facing a problem. Be grateful for your minor issue and get over it. It’s okay to acknowledge that something is annoying but try not to carry on about it and negatively effect other people’s days.

“Once you do that, get out there and take a freaking big breath of that fresh Aussie air deep in your lungs, look at how blue the sky is and how green the trees are; It is so beautiful. Think how lucky you are to be able to do just that – breathe.

“You might have got caught in bad traffic today, or had a bad sleep because your beautiful babies kept you awake, or your hairdresser cut your hair too short. Your new fake nails might have got a chip, your boobs are too small, or you have cellulite on your arse and your belly is wobbling.

“Let all that shit go.. I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go. It is all SO insignificant when you look at life as a whole. I’m watching my body waste away right before my eyes with nothing I can do about it and all I wish for now is that I could have just one more Birthday or Christmas with my family, or just one more day with my partner and dog. Just one more.

“I hear people complaining about how terrible work is or about how hard it is to exercise – Be grateful you are physically able to. Work and exercise may seem like such trivial things … until your body doesn’t allow you to do either of them.

“I tried to live a healthy life, in fact, that was probably my major passion. Appreciate your good health and functioning body- even if it isn’t your ideal size. Look after it and embrace how amazing it is. Move it and nourish it with fresh food. Don’t obsess over it.

“Remember there are more aspects to good health than the physical body.. work just as hard on finding your mental, emotional and spiritual happiness too. That way you might realise just how insignificant and unimportant having this stupidly portrayed perfect social media body really is.. While on this topic, delete any account that pops up on your news feeds that gives you any sense of feeling shit about yourself. Friend or not.. Be ruthless for your own well-being.

“Be grateful for each day you don’t have pain and even the days where you are unwell with man flu, a sore back or a sprained ankle, accept it is shit but be thankful it isn’t life threatening and will go away.

“Whinge less, people! .. And help each other more.

“Give, give, give. It is true that you gain more happiness doing things for others than doing them for yourself. I wish I did this more. Since I have been sick, I have met the most incredibly giving and kind people and been the receiver of the most thoughtful and loving words and support from my family, friends and strangers; More than I could I ever give in return. I will never forget this and will be forever grateful to all of these people.

“It is a weird thing having money to spend at the end.. when you’re dying. It’s not a time you go out and buy material things that you usually would, like a new dress. It makes you think how silly it is that we think it is worth spending so much money on new clothes and ‘things’ in our lives.

“Buy your friend something kind instead of another dress, beauty product or jewellery for that next wedding. 1. No-one cares if you wear the same thing twice 2. It feels good. Take them out for a meal, or better yet, cook them a meal. Shout their coffee. Give/ buy them a plant, a massage or a candle and tell them you love them when you give it to them.

“Value other people’s time. Don’t keep them waiting because you are shit at being on time. Get ready earlier if you are one of those people and appreciate that your friends want to share their time with you, not sit by themselves, waiting on a mate. You will gain respect too! Amen sister.

“This year, our family agreed to do no presents and despite the tree looking rather sad and empty (I nearly cracked Christmas Eve!), it was so nice because people didn’t have the pressure of shopping and the effort went into writing a nice card for each other. Plus imagine my family trying to buy me a present knowing they would probably end up with it themselves.. strange! It might seem lame but those cards mean more to me than any impulse purchase could. Mind you, it was also easier to do in our house because we had no little kiddies there. Anyway, moral of the story- presents are not needed for a meaningful Christmas. Moving on.

“Use your money on experiences.. Or at least don’t miss out on experiences because you spent all your money on material shit.

“Put in the effort to do that day trip to the beach you keep putting off. Dip your feet in the water and dig your toes in the sand. Wet your face with salt water.

“Get amongst nature.

“Try just enjoying and being in moments rather than capturing them through the screen of your phone. Life isn’t meant to be lived through a screen nor is it about getting the perfect photo.. enjoy the bloody moment, people! Stop trying to capture it for everyone else.

“Random rhetorical question. Are those several hours you spend doing your hair and make up each day or to go out for one night really worth it? I’ve never understood this about females 🤔.

“Get up early sometimes and listen to the birds while you watch the beautiful colours the sun makes as it rises.

“Listen to music.. really listen. Music is therapy. Old is best.

“Cuddle your dog. Far out, I will miss that.

“Talk to your friends. Put down your phone. Are they doing okay?

“Travel if it’s your desire, don’t if it’s not.

“Work to live, don’t live to work.

“Seriously, do what makes your heart feel happy.

“Eat the cake. Zero guilt.

“Say no to things you really don’t want to do.

“Don’t feel pressured to do what other people might think is a fulfilling life.. you might want a mediocre life and that is so okay.

“Tell your loved ones you love them every time you get the chance and love them with everything you have.

“Also, remember if something is making you miserable, you do have the power to change it – in work or love or whatever it may be. Have the guts to change. You don’t know how much time you’ve got on this earth so don’t waste it being miserable. I know that is said all the time but it couldn’t be more true.

“Anyway, that’s just this one young gals life advice. Take it or leave it, I don’t mind!

“Oh and one last thing, if you can, do a good deed for humanity (and myself) and start regularly donating blood. It will make you feel good with the added bonus of saving lives. I feel like it is something that is so overlooked considering every donation can save 3 lives! That is a massive impact each person can have and the process really is so simple.

“Blood donation (more bags than I could keep up with counting) helped keep me alive for an extra year – a year I will be forever grateful that I got to spend it here on Earth with my family, friends and dog. A year I had some of the greatest times of my life.

“…’Til we meet again.

“Hol”

I have never, thankfully, faced a life-threatening illness. (Unless my 1983 appendicitis would have failed to have been diagnosed, my appendix would have burst, and no one would have done anything about it.) It’s undeniably tragic to die before you have had a chance to live, and it’s even more tragic to be the parents of someone who dies that young. (Long-time readers know I had an older brother who died before I was born.)

Perhaps because of my apparent lifelong effort to interject “yeah, but” into everything, I have to disagree with a lot of this. (Why do I feel compelled to rebut something a terminally-ill young woman wrote? Because I’m that way, I guess, the explanation why, in addition to being a journalists, for the headline.) For instance:

“Those times you are whinging about ridiculous things (something I have noticed so much these past few months) …” (I assume the G in “whinging” is silent) is a variation on the title of the Richard Carlson self-help book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … and It’s All Small Stuff. That phrase is comparable to sports statistics, which, if you think about it, show what did happen, but do not show what is going to happen. Perhaps bad traffic or something else that delays you makes you late for something. Being late is a sign of disrespect for whoever or whatever you’re going to see, and is a bad example. As someone whose irritation level with things has grown as I age, I observe that maybe tomorrow, or later today, some irritant is a small thing, but you don’t know that at the time, do you?

She did, however, note: “Value other people’s time. Don’t keep them waiting because you are shit at being on time. Get ready earlier if you are one of those people and appreciate that your friends want to share their time with you, not sit by themselves, waiting on a mate.” Perhaps the terminally ill value time more than those who are merely irritated by someone else wasting our time.

Here’s another example specific to my line of work: If someone’s name is misspelled in something one writes, that indicates at least sloppiness on your part, not caring about the quality of your work, or not believing that person is important enough for you to get his or her name right. (Or perhaps a combination of all three.) Someone not happy about your misspelling his or her name will be even less happy with your advice to not sweat the stuff, like his or her own name.

I suppose that flies in the face of her suggestion we “Work to live, don’t live to work.” But as I’ve written here before about how and why Americans take less vacation time than those in other countries, we are on this earth to work, and to serve others by our work. (That’s in several places in the Old and New Testaments; she may not have been religious.) My advice, as you know, is to never love your job, because your job does not love you back, which is not synonymous with doing a lame job with your work, the minimum to get regularly paid.

My two favorite quotes from Vince Lombardi (other than the all-purpose “What the hell’s going on out there?”) are:

  • “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while… you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.”
  • “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

A lot of what’s wrong with this country (outside of politics) is the result of what a college basketball coach acquaintance of mine calls “settling” — in his case for a lower-percentage shot instead of working harder for a better shot, and elsewhere, I think, doing the minimum necessary (something I have been occasionally accused of, and not without reason sometimes) instead of doing something as well as you can. (And, as I learned from my music experiences, doing something well whether or not anyone notices.) We disrespect those around us — those paying us to work, our coworkers and our customers — by doing shoddy work.

She wrote something half-correct in telling us “Don’t feel pressured to do what other people might think is a fulfilling life.. you might want a mediocre life and that is so okay.” The half that is correct is the first part, to make decisions on what is best for you and not based on what someone thinks you should do. (If I didn’t feel that was wise advice I wouldn’t be writing this and risking the condemnation of those who think I’m heartless.)

With my present employment I have become known for a lot of coverage of police and courts. One reason is that I think people should know who the bad people in their neighborhood are. I guess I might be engaging in public shaming as well, though it’s questionable if that works anymore. If someone wants to screw up his or her own life, fine, but that person doesn’t have the right to screw up someone else’s life, regardless of the so-called root causes of that criminal’s lawlessness.

The writer didn’t appear to be writing about the scourge of the 21st century, taking offense at everything, especially third-party insult (for instance, being offended at American Indian-derived sports team nicknames when you’re not one) or hypersensitive outrage at so-called ______ privilege. To borrow from the author’s language, that just shows you’re a hypersensitive humorless asshole who can’t figure out what is actually important in life.

One tragedy of the writer’s tragic death is that she never got to experience the most humbling and maddening experience of a lifetime — parenting. I cannot imagine someone with a large ego being a parent, because it is the most ego-deflating experience possible in life. There is nothing that can make you feel more personally inadequate as having to apologize to your child when you overreact to something he or she did, or when you don’t do something you told your child you were going to do.

Had she been a parent, she would have probably not included this advice to “Say no to things you really don’t want to do.” That list for parents could include changing diapers that could turn your house into an EPA Superfund site, cleaning up other messes your child made but can’t clean up, going to parent–teacher conferences where you may not hear good news about your child’s schoolwork, not alibiing for your child when he or she does something he or she shouldn’t have done or didn’t do what he or she should have done, or other activiies that would not ordinarily rank high on your list of things you’d like to do, except because they involve your child you have to do them. (When you are a parent you gain insight into the vast numbers of things your parents did for you for which you probably didn’t thank them. My advice: Don’t wait until Mother’s Day or Father’s Day to thank them.)

This observation is sadly ironic: “I tried to live a healthy life, in fact, that was probably my major passion.” It sounds flip to note that life is unfair, and yet life is unfair. I assume she didn’t go around making other people’s lives worse, unlike some of the people I get to write about in my profession who are alive when she is not. This doesn’t mean to eat dessert first, or eat nothing but desserts, but you should eat desserts you like. In the past week there have been deaths of a nine-day-old baby and a two-week-old baby, and recently a 17-year-old high school student died in a pickup truck crash. To quote the late Harry Caray, who certainly followed his own advice until his own advice degraded his own health, “Live it up, boys, it’s later than you think.”

It’s nice that she apparently got to spend the last year of her life basically doing whatever she wanted. That is not probably the reality for most people with terminal diseases. The same can be said for her advice to “remember if something is making you miserable, you do have the power to change it – in work or love or whatever it may be. Have the guts to change. You don’t know how much time you’ve got on this earth so don’t waste it being miserable. I know that is said all the time but it couldn’t be more true.” Maybe it couldn’t be more true, but it’s not as easy as that sounds, as the mother of a mentally-ill 26-year-old daughter pointed out in the comments. Parents don’t get to walk away from their children.

The piece of advice that probably should be engraved on my gravestone except that there’s no way it would fit comes from my one-size-fits-all graduation speech. To quote from myself:

You may be sick of where you are right now, ready to get out of school; you may think to yourself that, if I could only get out into the work world, or if I could get a higher educational degree, then my life will really begin. And then you may find your first job out of school is not only not what you really had in mind upon graduation, but that this job of yours is clearly beneath you, and you may think to yourself, if I could only find a better job than this, then my life will really begin. Or you may be dissatisfied with your social life, and you may think to yourself, if I could only meet a special someone, then my life will really begin. Or you may not really like where you live, and you may think to yourself, if I could find a bigger and better house, then my life will really begin.

I hope you can see where this point is going. Your life is what is happening while you’re waiting for your idealized life to begin. There’s nothing wrong with self-improvement, with looking to better your circumstances. But ultimately your circumstances should not define who you are or how you feel about yourself or your life. And if you’re determining your overall level of contentment based on your job, or your status, or how much stuff you have, I predict that you will have an ultimately unfulfilling life.

She wrote a lot about appreciating what you have. I admit to being terrible at that. In my four-month experience of doctor’s offices, surgery and hobbling around trying not to fall on my surgery-mangled foot, I could at least see, in every doctor’s office waiting room, people who were obviously worse off than myself.

The ugly truth is that we should probably abandon seeking happiness, even though the pursuit of happiness is one of our inalienable rights endowed by our Creator. It’s not clear that God really intends for us to be happy, but it certainly seems true that doing things just because you think they make you happy probably isn’t going to make you happy. I suppose if I ever actually did get a Corvette, one of which I have wanted as long as I could remember, I’d love it until it stopped working, needed expensive parts, was drivable only during nice weather, or whatever reality intervened in my dream of Corvette ownership.

At least she did admit, “Anyway, that’s just this one young gals life advice. Take it or leave it.” I would write that too, but as an opinionmonger I expect readers to follow my own wise counsel, except that I’m unlikely to know whether or not you do.

 

Those who serve and those who don’t

Alice Hunt Friend:

Reportedly, the president told Myeshia Johnson that her husband, Sergeant La David Johnson, “knew what he was signing up for.” Set aside Gold Star father and retired General John Kelly’s claim that Trump spoke based on Kelly’s counsel, and hold off on the important discussions about whether this entire episode was inappropriately politicized. Instead, consider whether what President Trump reportedly said to a grieving widow is what much of the country actually believes about military service. Consider whether we are all too casual about the ultimate sacrifice that service sometimes requires.

To say that soldiers know what they’re getting into is to acknowledge that ours is an all-volunteer force. Members of our military are not conscripted, but consciously choose a profession that involves physical risk. And we, as taxpayers and citizens, hire those professionals to perform that dangerous work. We outsource the necessity of security to a subset of the population. We believe that we compensate those serving us at fair market price and that, because they accept that price, our role in the transaction is over. And we have begun to act as though we are entitled to that service by virtue of paying the bills.

But to think about our sociopolitical contract with the military in purely transactional terms dramatically limits how we understand our responsibilities to each other. This is not a customer-company relationship, but one between citizens equal before the same constitution, vulnerable to the same threats, sharing the same interests. The fact that only some Americans defend those interests at risk to their own lives in order to benefit all of us elevates national military service beyond being a mere market solution to a labor problem. It makes it a moral debt. We pay some; they pay more, and differently.

To be sure, many Americans have a sneaking sense of this uncomfortable fact. But that is why telling ourselves that “they signed up for it” is so reassuring. How many Americans have seen the names of the dead on television and paused for just a moment before changing the channel to shift from discomfort to entertainment? How many have marveled that anyone could have signed up for a job that gets them sent to Iraq? How many have read the stories about the four men killed in action in Niger on October 4 and felt badly but not known what to do and therefore done nothing? Very many. That’s the social contract we have with our all-volunteer military: They sign up, and we busy ourselves elsewhere.

It is true that they signed up. Military professionals are professionals. As a profession, it is fulfilling and sometimes demoralizing. We should not dismiss sacrifice, but neither is the point to pity those who have suffered in the course of work the country depends on. The point is that we should also feel invested in it. The point is that it is work we should acknowledge through more than just taxes. We should pay some attention. We should care about what these men and women are doing.

In the grind and rush of our daily lives at home, many of us don’t think very hard about where we are sending our fellow citizens. Many people are asking what our soldiers were even doing in Niger in the first place, as if U.S. counterterrorism efforts had never been covered by the news, discussed in congressional hearings, or explained on the Africa Command website. Why did we have to lose four soldiers before we all began to pay attention to where they’d been?

There has been a lot of debate recently about the quality of our democracy. One of the measures of that quality is whether all citizens engage in the gravest decisions our government makes. It is both ethical and healthy for those who don’t fight to reflect on the service done on their behalf. It isn’t sufficient simply to adjust our rhetoric or occasionally thank a Marine for her service. We must pay attention. We must try to understand. If there is no sense of debt nor reflection on our responsibility to the soldier and his widow and his orphan, then the service and its outcomes are taken for granted and thought of as unrelated to how we live our own lives. People in uniform do indeed know what they sign up for. So should those of us who do not serve.

TWTYTW 2017

For, let’s see, about the 18th year and the 11th consecutive year, it’s time for That Was the Year That Was 2017, patterned on …

In contrast to the ’60s British TV series “That Was the Week That Was,” rarely has been a year of so many things that defied rational description. Some of them had nothing to do with America’s First Tweeter, either.

Let’s start with the worst trend of 2017, a continuation of the last few years — tribalism and people’s stubborn refusal to judge things on their merits. That includes unthinking praise of everything Donald Trump does, and knee-jerk criticism of anything Donald Trump does.

Worst trend number 1B is also a continuation of the last few years — hypersensitivity and, on the left, unthinking accusations of racism, sexism, misogyny and every other -ism they hate, and on the right, unthinking accusations of disloyalty, particularly when confronted by ideas they don’t agree with but cannot say why or what’s wrong with those ideas.

I saw an example of that Sunday — the latest Star Wars movie, which some conservatives have been complaining about because of what they claim to be too much diversity. As if normal viewers should care one way or another about that.

I’m certainly fine with the self-demolition of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, Matt Lauer, U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, etc., whose past bad acts ended their careers this year. Due process was completely ignored, of course, which will make for interesting days depending on which liberal icon is next claimed to be a sexual harasser like Bill Clinton. (Who skated, as did Hillary, because of their positions on abortion rights.)

How did The Donald do? Rob Saker posted this list …

… I expected Jeff Sessions to be beyond horrible. I think I am on the record as saying I believe him to be an authoritarian religious zealot who isn’t very bright. To date, I can’t think of anything he has done that I disagree with (Any suggestions on how to prepare crow would be appreciated).

My list of great accomplishments…

1. Signed an Executive Order demanding that two regulations be killed for every new one creates. He cut 16 regulations for every one created, saving $8.1 billion.

2. Gorsuch on the SCOTUS.

3. Tax cut bill.

4. Jerusalem announcement, ending a game of delaying tactics and signaling our firm support for Israel (after they were attacked by Obama’s administration).

5. Revoking the EPA’s navigable waters interpretation, which was an egregious seizure of property rights.

6. Nominated 73 federal judges. Trump is filling up lower courts with lifetime appointees.

7. Recognized opioids as a national epidemic and putting resources against it. This is possibly Obama’s greatest failure.

8. Removed the gloves on the fight with ISIS. What was believed a year ago to be a war that would last years is now in its last stages.

9. Eliminating the Obamacare individual mandate.

10. Generating such confidence in the economy that a mature market saw record gains (Yes, Obama saw large gains but on an artificially low market thanks to the crash).

11. Respect for law making process. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Department of Justice will cease the practice initiated by President Obama of issuing “guidance memos” to enact new regulations that sometimes have had the effect of changing federal laws.

12. Diversity of opinions. EPA Director Scott Pruitt placed 66 new experts on three different EPA scientific committees who espouse more conservative views than their predecessors.

13. Manufacturing. During Trump’s first six months, the manufacturing index was the highest it had been since 1983 under President Reagan. Michigan’s ISM reported its June barometer of manufacturing rose to 57.8, the fastest pace in three years (50 is flat).

14. Withdrawal from a Paris climate treaty that would have required huge sums on the US with no appreciable beneficial impact on the climate.

15. Rescinded Title IX “dear colleague” letter that led to kangaroo courts and the denial of due process. There are numerous general benefits such as VA reform, reducing waste in government spending, and a healthy uptick in government job attrition.

… to which was added:

Arctic wildlife drilling, keystone pipeline, UN budget cut
Hiring freeze at State.
Placing a Secretary of HUD who has lived in public housing.
With respect to policy toward North Korea, no longer kicking the can down the road.

How did the stock market do?

Based on admittedly a small sample size, Trump could be said to be the most pro-business president in the nation’s history. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained one-third in the 14 months since Trump was elected president.

As someone who did not vote for Trump but has vowed to praise Trump when praise is due and condemn Trump when condemnation is due (see previous comment about tribalism), I find that to be a pretty good list of accomplishments, whether Trump actually accomplished them or regular old Republicans did. Trump’s various idiotic tweets and public statements make some people forget those actual accomplishments, while other question, with some validity, who deserves credit — Trump or “establishment” Republicans — for those accomplishments.

Meanwhile, how was Gov. Scott Walker’s year?

The project at the top made Kevin Binversie comment:

You know who I feel sorry for sometimes? The children of deeply-committed Scott Walker haters who due to their parents’ obsessions will never own either an iPhone, Nintendo Switch or 3DS.

All three products are assembled by Foxconn.

The MacIver Institute assembled its own top 10 list, which included:

#10 – WISDOT Audit

It was a bad sign when Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb resigned just weeks before the Legislative Audit Bureau was set to release a report on the State Highway Program. When the report came out in January, it was in a word – devastating.

The auditors found the DOT regularly breaks state law in budgeting, negotiating, communicating, and managing contracts. Among these statutory violations: the department does not always solicit bids from more than one vendor, it does not spread out solicitations throughout the year, it does not post required information on its website, its cost estimates to the governor are incomplete, and it skips steps in the evaluation process for selecting projects. These practices manifest themselves through an inescapable reality: the cost of major projects tends to double after the DOT gets approval from the governor and Legislature to proceed. The auditors looked at 16 current highway projects and found they are over-budget by $3.1 billion.

Some public officials tried to spin the report, claiming it indicated the state is not spending enough on transportation. That didn’t fly. Instead the audit became an insurmountable obstacle for those seeking to raise the gas tax. It also sparked a series of reforms that aimed to make the DOT more transparent and accountable to the taxpayers of Wisconsin.

#8 – UW Regents Protect Free Speech

As protests and demonstrations gripped campuses across the country, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents took a stand for free expression this year. In October, the Regents voted to allow any UW campus to expel students who repeatedly disrupt speakers or stifle speech.

The sole dissenting vote was that of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who is running for governor.

Jose Delgado, a UW Regent who came to America from his native Cuba in 1961 at the age of 13, spoke to MacIver about his yes vote. Delgado’s family fled the oppressive Castro regime, which brutally struck down dissenting speech. Delgado said that back then, the Cuban government would simply arrest and murder anyone who disagreed with it. For that reason, the 70-year-old said, he has always been passionate about his freedom of speech as an American. He’s been deeply troubled by the decline of peaceful dialogue, especially on university campuses.

Summing up his reason for the vote, Delgado said “I cannot make you listen, but I can certainly prevent others from preventing you from listening. You have the right to listen.”

#7 – Gas Tax Battle Heats Up

Predictably, the forces behind a push to increase the state gas tax, vehicle registration fee, or other source of revenue for transportation saddled up in 2017.

Gov. Walker – insistent he would not sign a budget that raised the gas tax or registration fees – made the first move when he appointed Dave Ross to be secretary of the Department of Transportation after the resignation of Mark Gottlieb. Since he took over in January, Ross has been steadfast in insisting the department doesn’t need new revenue, it needs to find savings in the multibillion dollar budget it already has.

Members of the Legislature spent the summer sparring over the issue. A protracted public relations battle raged across the state – possibly manifesting itself in a series of phony letters to the editor that appeared in newspapers from Janesville to Rice Lake begging lawmakers to increase taxes. All along, MacIver was suspicious that more revenue was truly needed – and we found plenty of examples to back us up.

Proponents of an increased gas tax have advocated putting more money into a department with a record of wasting it. We, at MacIver, refuse to just go along with this ‘increase taxes first, ask questions later’ mentality. We’ve suggested instead that Secretary Ross should have the opportunity to scour the department for savings before Madison lawmakers foist a permanent tax increase on Wisconsinites.

#6 – Russia, Russia, Russia!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no human contact throughout all of 2017, you’ve likely heard the words “Russia” and “collusion” on a near-daily basis.

Ever since President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, liberals – still in shock that they lost – have been charging that the Trump campaign was working with Russian agents behind the scenes to hack the election, propagate fake news, and swing the election. Throughout 2017, a special investigation being run by former FBI Director Robert Mueller has produced nonstop daily headlines that might sound nefarious to the casual observer. But other than nabbing Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI (never do that, by the way) the probe has so far come up mostly empty-handed.

We saw the birth of this story all the way back in December 2016, when members of Wisconsin’s electoral college cast their ballots for Donald Trump at the state Capitol – the first time Wisconsin Republicans did so since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide. While they voted, they were serenaded by protesters screaming about selling out the country to Russia and Putin and ushering in fascism. …

#4 – Foxconn

At the beginning of 2017, it’s likely the vast majority of Wisconsinites had never heard of Foxconn, but most had likely used their products.

Then earlier this year, President Trump hinted that the state would soon get good economic news when visiting a Snap-on plant in Kenosha in April. The mystery soon was lifted, and a months-long saga of negotiations, deal-making, and legislative action ended in a contract signing between the electronics manufacturing giant and the State of Wisconsin.

The deal that was inked is the largest development agreement of its kind in American history, offering Foxconn up to $3 billion in tax incentives if the company invests $10 billion in a massive manufacturing campus and creates 13,000 jobs. Foxconn’s Wisconsin operation — now on track to begin construction in 2018 — won’t just be a plant, it will be a small city unto itself in southern Racine County.

Emerging over the course of a few months in 2017, the Foxconn deal will surely be a transformational project for the entire state of Wisconsin. The company’s leaders have signaled their goal is to establish a high-tech manufacturing hub right here in Wisconsin to rival (and supply hardware to) Silicon Valley.

From groundbreaking ceremonies to other new announcements related to the massive new development, we expect 2018 to bring lots more news about Foxconn.

#3 – Wisconsin State Budget: Entire Taxes Eliminated, No Tax Increase

What would a list of the top stories of the year be without talking about the state budget? It might’ve crossed the finish line months late, but the 2017-19 budget included some historic reforms, including completely eliminating two taxes.

Under the new budget, the state Forestry Mill Tax and Alternative Minimum tax are both deleted from the books. The budget also holds the line on income taxes and continues the push to reduce the property tax burden, while increasing spending in classrooms.

It’s easy to forget the old days when Jim Doyle and the Democrats were raising every tax imaginable and increasing spending by leaps and bounds. It’s also easy to take today’s momentum for reducing taxes for granted.

It’s for exactly that reason that here at MacIver, we work hard to celebrate these conservative wins. It’s certainly not every day that entire taxes are eliminated, and it’s certainly not every state that is determined to walk down a path of lowering taxes and shrinking government. On, Wisconsin.

#2 – John Doe Returns

In last year’s annual roundups, we had hoped that 2017 would bring a new era of toleration for ideas from all sides of the debate, including for the victims of the John Doe probes. With the Supreme Court officially declaring the efforts illegal and ordering that they be shut down immediately, we hoped that those victims would see some justice.

After all, those individuals had their private information illegally seized, their homes searched in pre-dawn raids, their rights to free speech trampled, and their names dragged through the mud, all while an unsympathetic media continued to cover the story with an eye on Gov. Walker.

Unfortunately, in 2017, that new era did not come. Rather, we learned that government employees had continued their unconstitutional search through private records. The very watchdog meant to uphold the government’s standard of ethics seized even more personal records – including private text messages between a Senator and her daughter – and put them in a file labeled “opposition research.”

This all came to light after the state’s Department of Justice looked into leaks, suspecting that private records had been illegally handed off by members of the Ethics Commission – the old Government Accountability Board. In the end, the DOJ declined to press charges in the leak, saying that the wrongdoing was so widespread and the data so mishandled that they couldn’t determine who exactly was the source of the leak.

In many ways, John Doe returned to headlines this year…but in reality, we found out that it never went away at all. In its report, the DOJ itself refers to the new probe as “John Doe 3.” Just before Christmas, the Senate Committee on Organization voted to authorize the DOJ to dig deeper into the wrongdoing. While we hoped that the saga would come to an end, we now know that the last chapter of this story has not yet been written.

Without further adieu, the biggest story of 2017…

#1 – Time to Cut Taxes – the federal government’s first go at significant tax reform since ‘86

The last time they did this, Top Gun was the highest-grossing movie in America, the world met Ferris Bueller, and Whitney Houston’s self-titled album was at the top of the charts. That’s right — it was 1986 the last time the federal government took on tax reform. Boy, has the world changed.

This year, congress made good on its promise to pass a tax reform bill and get it signed into law by Christmas. Among many (many) other things, the bill cuts both individual and corporate rates, cleans the tax code, and nearly doubles the standard deduction. According to the Department of Revenue, the average Wisconsin family will see a tax cut of more than $2,500. That’s more than $200 every month that hard-working families won’t have to turn over to the IRS.

Not only will individuals be able to file their taxes on a form the size of a postcard, our economy will take notice, too. By lowering the tax burden on everyday Americans and unlocking the secret to economic success, the plan is undeniably pro-growth.

Sean Davis has a list of the top 10 undercovered stories, including …

2. The economy roared

The U.S. economy came roaring back in 2017. GDP growth is strong and steady, and the unemployment rate now approaches lows not seen since the early 2000s. The economy has added over 1.9 million payroll jobs this year. Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high. The 2017 economic recovery is nonetheless a major story widely ignored by the political press. …

4. Islamic State was crushed in Raqqah and Mosul

A year ago, the Islamic State wasn’t just on the rise in the Middle East, it was firmly in charge, with wide swaths of the region under its control. But in October, U.S.-backed forces completed the total liberation of Raqqah, the Islamic State’s Syrian capital. That followed the liberation of Mosul, a major Iraqi city captured by the Islamic State in 2014. In less than a year, Trump and his national security team accomplished what the previous administration suggested was impossible.

5. Thanks to James Comey, the FBI’s reputation is in tatters

This year we learned that the FBI’s top ranks were infested with political actors eager to use the agency to settle scores. Not only did former Director James Comey abscond with confidential documents, he leaked them to his friends and the press, then refused to give those documents to Congress. In addition, his top deputies — those responsible for investigating both Hillary Clinton and Trump — were sharing text messages about how important it was to defeat Trump. One of these Comey deputies even mused about deploying a secret “insurance policy” to keep Trump out of the White House. Comey’s biggest accomplishment wasn’t equitable enforcement of the law; it was the corrupt politicization of the agency’s leadership ranks and the destruction of its reputation.

6. We still know nothing about what motivated the Vegas shooter

Months after the deadliest mass shooting in American history, we don’t know why the gunman fired on a crowd of innocent concertgoers. If law enforcement authorities have any leads or theories, they’re not sharing them with citizens eager for answers. Perhaps the feds don’t have a clue, either. Either way, it’s shocking that, months later, the country is still in the dark about what happened.

7. The Iran deal’s facade collapsed

Despite the Obama administration’s assurances that Iran would be a reliable partner for peace, the opposite has proved true. By deliberately funding and fomenting terror against the U.S. and its allies in the region, Iran has shown that it cannot be trusted, and the Obama administration’s claims about the peaceful intentions of the top terror sponsor on Earth had no basis in reality.

8. Persecution of religious minorities continues across the globe

In the U.K., Jews were targeted in record numbers in 2017. Just weeks ago, a synagogue in Sweden was firebombed. Throughout India, Christians continue to be targeted by violent religious extremists. In North Korea and China, totalitarian atheist governments regularly imprison and torture those who openly worship and proselytize. And in the Middle East, Muslims remain the No. 1 target of radical jihadists hell-bent on purging from the Earth anyone who rejects the authority of the Islamic State’s caliphate. …

10. Due process and rule of law were restored to college campuses

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos finally restored the rule of law to college campuses and put an end to disastrous campus courts. Prior to her much-needed rule change, campuses across the country declared that secret proceedings, bereft of due process, were the best way to handle sexual assault allegations. That kangaroo system, justifiably gutted by DeVos, resulted in predators who were allowed to avoid law enforcement, victims who never received justice, and innocent people who were denied basic rights such as jury trials and access to attorneys.

As far as football was concerned, to quote Charles Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of recent times. The Badgers had their best season that didn’t include a Rose Bowl berth, winning a record 13 games and their first Orange Bowl. With a young team, this season might not be the best season of the decade.

The Badgers’ season was particularly good because the Packers’ season was quite bad, thanks to the second broken collarbone of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ career, which served to expose all the holes the Packers have on both offense (including backup quarterback) and defense (for which defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be sacrificed). Every football problem today can be traced back to the players, but the person responsible for getting those players, general manager Ted Thompson, hasn’t shown signs of departure, voluntarily (he could retire) or not.

As always, may your 2018 be better than your 2017. It can’t be stranger … can it?

Merry whenever

Mike Rowe got theological on Tuesday:

Can someone please tell me if this is a work day? If it’s not, why not? And if it is, how come no one is working? What about tomorrow? For that matter, what about the rest of the week? I’ve been asking around, and increasingly, it seems like no one is quite sure what to do when Christmas falls on a Monday. Wouldn’t it be simpler if we celebrated Christmas on the third Thursday of every December, like we do with Thanksgiving every November?

I ran this by the minister at church on Christmas morning, and he was surprisingly supportive. I thought I might get some push-back regarding the embrace of a fungible birthdate for Jesus, but he assured me no one has the faintest idea when the birth actually occurred. This triggered a lively debate among a dozen or so congregants, including a very knowledgeable Elder who explained to all assembled that an angel named Gabriel revealed to a man named Zechariah that his wife – a woman called Elizabeth – would conceive a baby called John (who later become a famous Baptizer,) while Zechariah was performing his priestly duties on the Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur.

At this point, a Deacon named Roger jumped in to explain that Yom Kippur always falls in late September or early October. According to the Gospel of Luke, when Gabriel later announced to Mary that she would conceive Jesus, Mary went to visit Elizabeth, and Elizabeth was at that time in the sixth month of her pregnancy. Ergo, if Elizabeth conceived in late September, and Mary visited her in her sixth month, that means Mary conceived Jesus and visited Elizabeth in late March. And if Mary conceived Jesus in late March, that places his birth sometime in late December.

With great respect to the Elder and the Deacon and the apostle Luke, I commented that “sometime in late December” is no more precise that “the third Thursday of December,” and the choir director seemed to agree, adding that, “If we accept the virgin birth as fact, we should also consider the possibility that Mary’s pregnancy didn’t comport with all the traditional time-frames.”

Soon, the conversation grew animated. I tried to change the subject to the importance of eliminating daylight savings time, but it was too late, so I quietly excused myself from the fray …

Well, there’s an additional time–space continuum issue. Christians commemorate Good Friday, Jesus Christ’s death, and Easter, Jesus Christ’s rising from the dead, on different dates every year. Those days are determined by the Jewish Passover (as depicted in the Gospels, since Jesus was a devout Jew), which itself takes place the first full moon after the vernal equinox. That means that Easter can be anywhere from March 22 (last in 1818, and not again until 2285) to April 25 (last in 1943 and not again until 2038), according to the always accurate Wikipedia. So we celebrate Christmas not knowing if it’s the right date (or if it was just, shall we say, borrowed by the early church from the pagans celebrating, for reasons unknown to anyone stuck in this frozen wasteland, the winter solstice), and we celebrate Easter with only one of those 34 days being the date of the Resurrection.

Ponder all this as you’re toasting the New Year sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning.

The 2017 Presteblog Christmas album

Starting shortly after my birth, my parents purchased Christmas albums for $1 from an unlikely place, tire stores.

(That’s as seemingly outmoded as getting, for instance, glasses every time you filled up at your favorite gas station, back in the days when gas stations were usually part of a car repair place, not a convenience store. Of course, go to a convenience store now, and you can probably find CDs, if not records, and at least plastic glasses such as Red Solo Cups and silverware. Progress, or something.)

The albums featured contemporary artists from the ’60s, plus opera singers and other artists.

These albums were played on my parents’ wall-length Magnavox hi-fi player.

Playing these albums was as annual a ritual as watching “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” or other <a href=”https://steveprestegard.com/2011/12/23/media-of-the-season/”>holiday-season appointment TV</a>.

Those albums began my, and then our, collection of Christmas music.

You may think some of these singers are unusual choices to sing Christmas music. (This list includes at least six Jewish singers.)

Of course, Christians know that Jesus Christ was Jewish.

And I defy any reader to find anyone who can sing “Silent Night” like Barbra Streisand did in the ’60s.

These albums are <a href=”http://www.great-songs-of-christmas.com/”>available for purchase online</a>, but record players are now as outmoded as, well, getting glasses with your fill-up at the gas station. (Though note what I previously wrote.)

But thanks to YouTube and other digital technology, other aficionados of this era of Christmas music now can have their music preserved for their current and future enjoyment.

The tire-store-Christmas-album list has been augmented by both earlier and later works.

In the same way I think no one can sing “Silent Night” like Barbra Streisand, I think no one can sing “Do You Hear What I Hear” (a song written during the Cuban Missile Crisis, believe it or not) like Whitney Houston:

This list contains another irony — an entry from “A Christmas Gift for You,” Phil Spector’s Christmas album. (Spector’s birthday is Christmas.)

The album should have been a bazillion-seller, and perhaps would have been had it not been for the date of its initial release: Nov. 22, 1963.

Finally, here’s the last iteration of one of the coolest TV traditions — “The Late Show with David Letterman” and its annual appearance of Darlene Love (from the aforementioned Phil Spector album), which started in 1986 on NBC …

… and ended on CBS:

Merry Christmas.

The real meaning

Erick Erickson:

I rarely put my cooking messes on Instagram. I put up a picture the other day of my messy desk, and people were surprised. One thing I do try to do is be open about my family’s life and struggles when I can as best I can. I do it not to put the spotlight on me or as a plea for attention or help, but because in the internet age we all have perfect lives. At least that is the image so many of us convey. The perfect meal perfectly plated is placed on the perfectly set table as we, perfectly dressed, consume it with the perfectly paired drink. There is no illness. Our children are model angels in service of the Lord.

Except it is all a lie. Our houses are wrecks, our cookies are not perfectly round, and the chicken is dry out of the oven. Our clothes are wrinkled. Our lives are all messes to one degree or another. We all have struggles and, if I can live mine a bit publicly at least, you might realize you are not alone or realize even that you have it better than you thought. It is not a ploy for sympathy, but a reminder that you are not alone in sometimes feeling overwhelmed at the holiday season. All of us go through periods of life that are far from postcard picture perfect, even when we may not show it.

My wife has a rare, genetic form of lung cancer. There is no cure. She takes a daily pill that keeps her cancer at bay, but the cancer will one day mutate around the pill. We live in increments of a few months at a time between CT scans. And I worked myself up into being convinced I was ready to leave Fox after five years and said so. Then it turns out they were ready for me to go anyway. Now suddenly I realize half the family income is going away in a month and I’ve got credit card debts, car payments, a mortgage, and I know I’ve got a big tax bill coming even with the tax cuts. I have no idea how we will make ends meet. It sucks, I’m worried, and it’s Christmas.

But I know other people who have it far worse. I still have a radio job and I know people who are unemployed right now. I know a man in my town with kids who just lost his wife to cancer. Life is not perfect and sometimes it can overwhelm us. Sometimes we don’t see our way out of the mess we find ourselves in. And at Christmas, it is all the more stressful. We want the perfect presents, the perfect bows, the perfect tree, and the perfect memory. We want a postcard image or a magazine cover after photoshop. Such things do not really exist though.

What does exist, however, is the perfect savior. He can take your burdens and He can take mine. He wants to. He tells us He wants to. We may not know our next steps, but He has already planned them out for us. He knows where we will go and He tells us that all things work for the good of those called according to His purpose.

Christmas time can be terribly stressful as our Instagram perfect lives go searching for a perfection that does not exist in the real world. Our burdens and stresses can get the better of us. My motto is “why pray when I can worry.” I have a hard time practicing what I preach. But still, I try and so should you. We are not going to escape the worries and burdens of this world. We may wish to be relieved of present ones we constantly relive over and over knowing that it just means we will get new ones. But we do have relief in a babe in a manger who wants a personal relationship with us.

While you are overwhelmed with worries, He is knocking at your door. Will you answer?

Look, this year I know how overwhelmed you can feel. I know the stress. I am living it right now. And I know it is easier to say “trust in the Lord” than to actually trust in Him when you cannot see the way ahead. But you, like I, can pray. We can ask Him who already knows to make our paths plain. We can ask Him to help our unbelief.

The Lord God was willing to wander the desert in a tent with His people because He wanted a personal relationship with them. And He wants one with you. All you need to do is accept His invitation. There is no better time to do that than now, at the Christmas season, where we remember God made flesh, born in a food trough in the lowliest of circumstances. From a tent to a manger to a cross to a tomb and then on to glory, the whole way wanting to share your life.

If you are overwhelmed and stressed out, turn to Jesus and His perfect sacrifice and elevate your imperfect life to an eternity far greater than the best photoshop on Instagram. Merry Christmas.

Capra, Stewart, and a Christmas classic

No, this is not a blog about “Die Hard.”

Certainly “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which NBC stations will carry Sunday at 7 p.m. Central time, is a Christmas movie. What’s somewhat unexpected about it is that it was considered a box office failure when it first came out, as in making approximately half its production costs at the box office. (Some of that was due to stiff competition around Christmas 1946.)

What’s more interesting is the story behind the movie, particularly its star, James Stewart, as reported by the London Daily Mail:

Jimmy Stewart suffered such extreme PTSD after being a [bomber] pilot in World War II that he acted out his mental distress during ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

Stewart played George Bailey in the classic movie and channeled his anger and guilt into the scenes where he rages at his family.

Stewart was haunted by ‘a thousand black memories’ from his time as an Air Force commanding officer that he took with him back to Hollywood after the war.

Pilots who flew with him said that became ‘Flak Happy’ during World War II, a term to describe what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Stewart wrestled with the guilt of killing civilians in bomb raids over France and Germany including one instance where they destroyed the wrong city by mistake.

Stewart felt responsible for the death of his men and especially one bloodbath where he lost 13 planes containing 130 men who he knew well.

Stewart’s anguish is laid bare for the first time in author Robert Matzen’s Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the fight for Europe, published by Paladin Communications.

Stewart never spoke  about it, even to other veterans, and bottled up his emotions that came out in the acting parts he chose when he returned to Hollywood.

He acted it out during It’s a Wonderful Life, where character George Bailey unravels in front of his family – the emotional core of the film after a lifetime of setbacks, including being unable to go to war while his brother becomes a decorated hero.

Films like Shenandoah and Winchester 73 allowed Stewart to explore his dark side which was never there before he went to war.

Matzen writes that Stewart’s decision to join the military was less surprising than his decision to become an actor; his grandfather fought in the Civil War and more distant relatives fought in the Revolutionary War

Stewart was finally called up shortly before the assault on Pearl Harbor in 1941 which forced America into the World War II.

Asked by a studio boss why he wanted to give up his life in Hollywood, Stewart said: ‘This country’s conscience is bigger than all the studios in Hollywood put together, and the time will come when we’ll have to fight’.

Stewart was initially put in the Air Force Motion Picture Division because commanders wanted to use him to make films to convince more airmen to sign up.

He was also used for PR stunts until he demanded that he see combat like other airmen.

Stewart’s chance came with the creation of a B-24 bomber group, the 445th, and he was appointed commander of the 703rd squadron.

Matzen writes that the ‘key moment in Jim’s life had arrived. There would never be another like this, not before, not after’.

Speaking to DailyMail.com, Matzen said that Stewart signed up because he ‘felt he had to prove himself, especially with women, to prove he was attractive enough, charming enough’.

He said: ‘He wanted to prove he was responsible enough, that’s the key with him. He wanted to prove he was responsible enough to be an officer, that he could handle this, he could make his dad proud of him’.

According to ‘Mission’, Stewart and the 445th were deployed to Tibenham in East Anglia in England where they would carry out bombing raids on German targets.

Stewart did not stay on the ground and flew with his men.

Unlike other commanding officers Stewart, who was a Captain, took time to get to know his men as he wanted a team atmosphere.

The tactic worked but at a huge personal cost – when they started to be killed off it hit him harder.

Their first mission was to bomb a Nazi submarine facility in the city of Kiel and went off better than Stewart had expected.

As the flight got underway Stewart’s dream was finally realized – he was in combat. 

Matzen writes that he ‘became part of something vital, something like the phalanx of the Roman legions’.

The biggest shock was the flak from anti-aircraft guns.

Matzen writes that the training about it ‘bore no resemblance to the experience’ and their bombers yawed left and right and pitched up and down as explosions went off all around them in the sky.

None of Stewart’s planes were shot down during the raid – but soon the bodies began fall.

During a raid on Bremen, the second largest port in Germany, enemy fighters took down a bomber called ‘Good Nuff’. Of the crew of ten, just three parachuted out.

Not for the first time, Stewart had to write a letter to the parents of the dead airmen saying they were missing and presumed dead.

A mission over Mannheim ended in catastrophe when they lost two planes with 20 men inside.

And as the weeks went on, this all began to weigh heavily on Stewart.

Matzen said: ‘He was a perfectionist and he was so hard on himself. It wasn’t just that he had responsibility for his plane, if he was in a group it was 15-20 planes and it was sometimes 75-100 planes.

‘It just got to him and it got to him pretty fast.

‘Every decision he made was going to preserve life or cost lives. He took back to Hollywood all the stress that he had built up.’

In total Stewart flew 20 missions and the stress manifested itself physically and mentally.

Stewart could not keep his food down which became a problem when he was embarking on draining eight or nine hour missions.

Stewart survived the war on peanut butter and ice cream which meant his diet consisted of just protein and sugar.

Unable to sleep, he became more and more wore down by the demanding flights – that became more and more bloody.

The worst was one that Stewart did not actually fly on, but his squadron did.

The raid on the city of Gotha, Germany, led to the loss of 13 planes, or 130 men all in one go.

Those who survived told horrific tales of bodies flying through the air and planes exploding in front of them.

More more than two hours Nazi fighters ‘poured death and destruction’ at Stewart’s men from every direction.

They used cables with bombs attached to them to bring their bombers down, fired rockets ‘like the Fourth of July’ and fired rockets at will.

Nazi pilots followed the planes as they went down to make sure there were no survivors.

Stewart heard all this and knew that the next day he had to lead the next nearly identical mission.

That night he did not sleep – miraculously his flight was nowhere near as bad.

Perhaps the episode which disturbed Stewart the most was a raid which went terribly wrong.

The 453rd were assigned to bomb a V-1 rocket facility in the northern French village of Siracourt.

The instruments in Stewart’s cockpit malfunctioned and 12 bombers deployed their payloads on the city of Tonnerre instead.

At least 30 tons of general purpose bombs rained down causing unknown numbers of civilian casualties.

Stewart’s pilots tried to cover for him but he took the blame himself, something which earned him their ultimate respect.

In all Stewart had served four-and-a-half years during World War II and was awarded the Air Medal with oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Croix de Guerre.

Matzen told DailyMail.com that he interviewed one of the pilots who flew with Stewart who told him that Stewart once said that he had gone ‘flak happy’ and was sent to the ‘flak farm’.

‘Flak happy’ refers to what has now become known as PTSD but was little understood at the time, while the ‘flak farm’ was a treatment center for soldiers.

For Stewart his soul had been ‘ground down to nothing’ and his ‘youth had died’.

When Stewart’s mother Bessie and his father Alex saw him for the first time they were ‘shocked by what they saw – their boy had aged what seemed decades’.

Matzen writes that he was a decorated war hero, was rake thin and had gray hair and a ‘command authority’ that made his father uneasy.

Stewart faced a grim reality: He was 37 but looked 50 and his career as a romantic lead was over. He struggled to find work until director Frank Capra hired him for It’s A Wonderful Life.

Matzen said that it was a lifeline for Stewart and rehabilitated him in the eyes of Hollywood, showing directors that he could still act.

Speaking to DailyMail.com, Matzen said: ‘Jim came back from hell on earth and groped around for a movie to make, and his only offer he had was for what would become the most beloved motion picture in all American culture.

‘In an unlikely life full of unlikely things -this gangly stringbean becoming a movie star and then a war hero -this was the unlikeliest.’

The movie also provided an unlikely outlet for his still raw emotions.

Matzen said: ‘I don’t think he had that kind of capacity before the war. It enabled him to be ferocious and to have that raw emotion.

‘You see it time and time again; I think he would look for scripts where he could demonstrate that rage. I think that was the side of him that in there all the time and that’s how he would let it out.’

Stewart did not leave the military and continued to serve until May 1968 when he retired after 27 years of service during which time he was a bomber pilot during the Vietnam War.

But the memories of World War II never left him and he would see people in the street who reminded him of the airmen who had died under his command.

In ‘Mission’, Matzen writes: ‘Was he still flak happy, on a flak farm? Who could tell what was real after all that had happened over five long years.

‘The nightmares come every night.

‘There was on oxygen at 20,000 feet with 190s zipping past, spraying lead and firing rockets, flak bursting about the cockpit. B-24s hit, burning, spinning out of formation.

‘Bail out! Bail out! Do you see any chutes? How many chutes? Whose ship was it? Oh God, not him?

Not them! Bodies, pieces of bodies smacking off the windshield.

‘And the most frequent dream, an explosion under him and the plane lifted by it and the feeling that this was the end.’

The movie was directed by Frank Capra, of whom University of Nevada Prof. John Marini writes:

Frank Capra was born in Sicily in 1897 and came to America in 1903. Yet by the 1930s, his movies—movies like Mr. Deeds Goes to TownMr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Meet John Doe—were said to embody the best in America. Capra’s films were nominated for 35 Academy Awards and won eight, including two for best picture and three for best director. But Capra’s star faded after the Second World War, and by the end of the revolutionary decade of the 1960s, the actor and director John Cassavettes could say: “Maybe there never was an America in the thirties. Maybe it was all Frank Capra.” By that time, Capra’s films were widely viewed as feel-good fantasies about a country that never was. But is that view correct?

Capra, like Lincoln, believed that our inherited political edifice of liberty and equal rights is a fundamental good. He believed that if our treasure is in the ideas of our fathers, it is the duty of each generation to make those ideas live through the proper kind of education—including through literature and art, including his own art of filmmaking. Accordingly, he believed it is important to celebrate the deeds of those ordinary individuals who continue to exercise the virtues necessary to maintain those ideas.

In celebrating these deeds in his movies, Capra rejected social or economic theories based on progressivism or historicism—theories in which the idea of natural right is replaced with struggles for power based on categories such as race and class. Such theories had taken root not only in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, but elsewhere in the West—especially in the universities. …

Capra was often thought to be a populist. But Capra did not assume that a virtuous opinion existed in the people, or that the people simply needed mobilizing. He was aware that the modern public is created by modern mass media whose techniques spawn mass society, posing a danger to individual freedom. Capra wrote that his films “embodied the rebellious cry of the individual against being trampled into an ort by massiveness—mass production, mass thought, mass education, mass politics, mass wealth, mass conformity.” He did not believe in the use of mass power to improve society or to right historical wrongs. Reform, he thought, must take place through moral regeneration—thus through moral education.

Consider Capra’s 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which an idealistic man goes to Congress, runs into rampant corruption, becomes despondent, is later inspired at the Lincoln Memorial, decides against hope to stand on principle, and prevails. Capra had doubts about making Mr. Smith. While in Washington preparing for the film, he attended a press conference in which President Roosevelt outlined the great problems facing the nation. Capra wondered whether it was a good time to make a dramatic comedy about Washington politics. In his troubled state he visited the Lincoln Memorial, where he saw a boy reading Lincoln’s words to an elderly man. He decided, he later wrote, that he “must make the film, if only to hear a boy read Lincoln to his grandpa.” He left the Lincoln Memorial that day, he recalled,

with this growing conviction about our film: The more uncertain are the people of the world . . . the more they need a ringing statement of America’s democratic ideals. The soul of our film would be anchored in Lincoln. Our Jefferson Smith [the film’s lead character, played by Jimmy Stewart] would be a young Abe Lincoln, tailored to the rail-splitter’s simplicity, compassion, ideals, humor. . . . It is never untimely to yank the rope of freedom’s bell.

When watching Mr. Smith, it is important to notice where Capra locates the corruption. FDR customarily attacked “economic royalists,” or the private corruption of corporations and monopolies. For FDR, the solution to corruption was to be found through the government and through the unions, which would combat the economic forces of the private sphere. But in Mr. Smith, Capra located the corruption not in the private but in the political sphere—it was the politicians who had usurped the institutions of government on behalf of their own interests and the special interests. When Smith goes to Washington he reveres a Senator from his state who had been a friend of his father. Smith’s father, a newspaperman, had been killed while defending an independent prospector against a mining syndicate that was likely in cahoots with the union. Capra, like Smith and his father, understood America in terms of a common good—a good established by the principles of equality and liberty as the foundation of individual rights.

The setting of Mr. Smith is deliberately timeless. There is no mention of the Depression or of impending war. There is no indication of partisanship. What Capra hopes to bring to life are the words that have been carved in stone on Washington, D.C.’s monuments, but which are now forgotten. That is Jefferson Smith’s purpose as well. In a central scene in the movie, gazing at the lighted dome of the Capitol, Smith says:

… boys forget what their country means by just reading “the land of the free” in history books. Then they get to be men, they forget even more. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. … Men should hold it up in front of them every single day … and say, “I’m free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn’t. I can. And my children will.”

What Smith is advocating in the film is the establishment of a boys camp that will teach them about the principles of their country. Moreover, it is not to be paid for by the taxpayers, but with a loan from the government to be paid for by the boys themselves. At the climax of Smith’s battle in the Senate, he says this:

Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome—that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes. … You won’t just see scenery. You’ll see … what man’s carved out for himself after centuries of fighting … for something better than just jungle law—fighting so he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent—like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see. There’s no place out there for graft or greed or lies—or compromise with human liberties. And if that’s what the grown-ups have done with this world that was given to them, then we better get those boys camps started fast and see what the kids can do. It’s not too late. … Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here. You just
have to see them again
.

For Capra, like Lincoln, the problem is how to make people see the principles again.

The politicians in Washington in 1939 did not like their portrayal in Mr. Smith. Many tried to keep the movie from being shown. Capra thought it to be a ringing defense of democracy—and the people agreed. It was a tremendous success, not only in America, but throughout the world. In 1942, a month before the Nazi occupation of France was to begin, the Vichy government asked the French people what films they wanted to see before American and British films were banned by the Germans. The great majority wanted to see Mr. Smith. One theater in Paris played the movie for 30 straight nights.

By the time America entered World War II, Capra had become America’s most popular director and was president of the Screen Directors Guild. Yet four days after Pearl Harbor he left Hollywood to join the Armed Forces. He was sent to Washington and was given an office next to the Army Chief of Staff, General George Marshall. Marshall was worried that millions of men would be conscripted, many right off of the farm, having little idea of the reason for the war. He assigned Capra to make “a series of documented, factual-information films—the first in our history—that will explain to our boys in the Army why we are fighting, and the principles for which we are fighting.” Capra was nearly cowed by the assignment. He had never made a documentary. But after giving it some thought, he brilliantly dramatized the difference between the countries at war by using their own films and documentaries, in this way illustrating the character and danger of tyranny.

After the war, with the danger gone, it became increasingly clear that American intellectuals, who had rejected the political principles of the American Founding, had not understood the phenomenon of tyranny. For them, it was simply historical conditions that had established the distinction between right and wrong—or between friend and enemy—during the war. For them, in fighting the Nazis, America had simply been fighting a social movement. Subsequently, they looked on those who still revered America’s Founding principles as representing a reactionary economic and social movement to be opposed here at home. For the same reason, Capra’s wartime documentaries—known collectively as Why We Fight—came to be seen merely as propaganda.

Capra never thought of his documentaries as propaganda. He saw them as recognizing the permanent human problems—those problems that reveal the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice. The fundamental distinction in politics is between freedom and slavery or democracy and tyranny. Winston Churchill said of Capra’s wartime documentaries, “I have never seen or read any more powerful statement of our cause or of our rightful case against the Nazi tyranny.” In his view, they were not propaganda at all. Churchill insisted that they be shown to every British soldier and in every theater in England. At the end of the war in 1945, General Marshall awarded Capra the Distinguished Service Medal. And on Churchill’s recommendation, Capra was awarded the Order of the British Empire Medal in 1962.

Capra’s last great movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, was made in 1946. Shortly before making it, he said, “There are just two things that are important. One is to strengthen the individual’s belief in himself, and the other, even more important right now, is to combat a modern trend toward atheism.” This movie, he wrote, summed up his philosophy of filmmaking: “First, to exalt the worth of the individual; to champion man—plead his causes, protest any degradation of his dignity, spirit or divinity.” Capra understood that Hollywood would be changing, because the culture and society had begun to change. The historical and personal categories of class and race had become political, and self-expression and self-indulgence had replaced those civic virtues that require self-restraint. In his 1971 autobiography—imagine what he would think today—he wrote that “practically all the Hollywood filmmaking of today is stooping to cheap salacious pornography in a crazy bastardization of a great art to compete for the ‘patronage’ of deviates.”

In 1982, when he was in his 85th year, Capra was awarded the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. In his acceptance speech, he touched on the things that had been most important in his life. He spoke of celebrating his sixth birthday in steerage on a 13-day voyage across the Atlantic. He recalled the lack of privacy and ventilation, and the terrible smell. But he also remembered the ship’s arrival in New York Harbor, when his father brought him on deck and showed him the Statue of Liberty: “Cicco look!” his illiterate peasant father had said. “Look at that! That’s the greatest light since the star of Bethlehem! That’s the light of freedom! Remember that. Freedom.” Capra remembered. In his speech to the Hollywood elite so many years later, he revealed his formula for moviemaking. He said: “The art of Frank Capra is very, very simple. It’s the love of people. Add two simple ideals to this love of people—the freedom of each individual and the equal importance of each individual—and you have the principle upon which I based all my films.”

It is hard to think of a better way to describe Frank Capra’s view of the world, and America’s place in fulfilling its purpose, than to turn to another great American who made his living in the world of motion pictures. Ronald Reagan was a friend and admirer of Frank Capra. They were very much alike. The inscription that Reagan had carved on his tombstone could have been written by Capra: “I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there is purpose and worth to each and every life.” Both Capra and Reagan looked to a benevolent and enduring Providence, and the best in man’s nature, as the ultimate grounds of political right. For them, as for Lincoln, America was more than a geographical location or a place where citizens shared a common blood or religion, or belonged to a common culture or tradition. America was a place where an enlightened understanding of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” had made it possible to establish those principles of civil and religious liberty that gave “purpose and worth to each and every life.”

Capra was aware that the moral foundations established by those principles, as well as belief in God, had become endangered by the transformations in American life following World War II. He saw the necessity of reviving the moral education necessary to preserve the conditions of freedom, because he understood that in a democracy, the people must not only participate in the rule of others, they must also learn to govern themselves.

In his last and most personal tribute to his adopted country, Capra recalled his family’s arrival at Union Station in Los Angeles after their long journey across America in 1903. When they got off the train, his mother and father got on their knees and kissed the ground. Capra’s last words to his assembled audience were these: “For America, for just allowing me to live here, I kiss the ground.” Capra did not believe that he had a right to be a citizen of America. Rather he was grateful for the privilege of living in America. He understood that freedom not only offers economic opportunity, but establishes a duty for all citizens—a duty to preserve the conditions of freedom not only for themselves, but for their posterity. Only those willing to bear the burdens of freedom have a right to its rewards.

For Capra, the real America was to be understood in terms of its virtues, which are derived from its principles. In his view, his art was dedicated to keeping those virtues alive—by making those principles live again in the speeches and deeds of that most uncommon phenomenon of human history, the American common man. It was the simple, unsophisticated, small-town common American that Capra celebrated in his films. But for Capra, as for his friend John Ford, no one epitomized this phenomenon better than Abraham Lincoln.

Stayin’ aliiiiiiiii-hiiiiii-hi-hi-hi-hiiiiiiiiii-ive

A dance-off to raise money for a high school scholarship fund and sports program prompted these thoughts that combine the theme song, the movie from which came that theme song, a famous American poet, a famous American rock band, one of the first famed teen novels taught in many schools today, and myself as a middle-schooler.

I apologize in advance for this earworm …

… though this song from that movie is better: