Remembering a Good Father

It seems that with many of the truly important things in life, we don’t really understand how to value them until they’re gone.

Dad would have been 88 this Tuesday. Father’s Day always fell around, or on, his birthday. So we’re doubly mindful of him this weekend.

I honor him today by reposting the eulogy I delivered on behalf of my siblings at his homegoing service several years ago.

 

John F. Holland

June 20, 1929–October 11, 2010

It is customary, at a moment like this, to mention some of the attributes and achievements of my father–in other words, to talk about who he was. Instead I want to share a few thoughts about who Dad was not.

Our father was not pushy.

At home, as in his work life, he was not prone to imposing his will or asserting his opinions. And he did not enjoy confrontation. I get that. I’m temperamentally wired in a similar way.

I vividly remember one of the few occasions in which he really tried to change my mind about something–probably because it was such an unusual occurrence.

As a father, he would offer you his opinion but wouldn’t push it. He would occasionally offer you his advice unsolicited. Most of the time he would not opine unless asked. When he did offer advice, He was usually right. And when you ignored his advice, as I often did as a younger man, and made a royal mess of things, he would invariably be right there to help you mop up in the aftermath and without the standard and customary I-told-you-so.

It was the early seventies, I was about 13, and I had been lobbying Mom heavily to buy me my first pair of big bell bottom pants. Dad got wind of it. He had already, with some difficulty, reconciled himself to the longer hair which had increasingly become the fashion since the late ’60s. But now his oldest son was asking to dress like some character from Laugh In or Love American Style. He wasn’t a fan.

I remember being startled at how strongly he tried to talk me out of those pants I wanted. It was so out of character for him. I parried with the universal comeback utilized by all kids challenging a mystifying directive from a parent: “Why?”

He initially struggled to come up with a cogent, logical case for his ban on bell bottoms.  After floundering for a minute, he finally asserted–in so many words–that wearing bell bottoms could make me gay.

My recollection of his argument was not that bell bottoms would make me look gay, but rather that the pants were somehow imbued with exotic properties and powers that could actually make me gay.

I’m reasonably sure he was wrong about that. But he was right about most things–especially the things that mattered.

The long hair and the bell bottoms were just superficial manifestations of deeper cultural shifts taking place in our country in those years. And he didn’t like the way the winds were blowing. He was absolutely right to be wary.

I think that was one of the things that moved him to relocate our family from Oklahoma City to Wilburton. In the summer of 1965–the year the nation saw escalation in Vietnam, rising unrest on college campuses, and race riots in Watts–he moved the four of us as far out in the country as he possible could while still improving his job prospects as an aspiring college professor.

He saw the hills of rural southeastern Oklahoma as a good place for a kid to grow up. And he was right about that, too.

At that time it was just me and my younger brother, and we reveled and thrived in the wildness of the place. We roamed over the hilly, wooded countryside like two wild men of Borneo.

Dad made sure we knew how to properly tie a fishing lure and to use a gun safely. He saw that we got plenty of fishing, hunting, exploring and camping in. And when we got old enough, he served as co-Scout Master of our Boy Scout troop.

He wasn’t a perfect parent. But he got the big things right where my brother and I were concerned. And then “the girls” came along.

My parents really raised two waves of children. My younger brother and I (two years apart) and then ten years later two girls came in quick succession (a little more than nine months apart).

As he entered his early 40s, something wonderful and astonishing came alive in my Dad when those girls arrived in our home. He was suddenly animated, funny, and playful in ways we had never seen. When he was home, he invariably had both of them in his lap–one on each knee. And oh how he loved to tease them.

On Sunday mornings when they were three or four years old, Mom would dress them up and then send them downstairs to be inspected by my father. The first one downstairs would present herself to Dad, do a twirl, and then ask, “How do I look?”

Invariably, he would get a look of complete rapture on his face and gush, “You look absolutely grotesque!” And my sister would beam with delight.

This became a tradition that extended well beyond the time they came to understand the true meaning of the word grotesque. When they were teens he would create good-naturedly derisive nickname/titles for all the girls’ friends, among them, “Here Comes Trouble,” “Get Out of Town,” and simply “Toots.”

They adored him.

My father was not ambitious.

At least not in the way we usually think about ambition. Dad wasn’t driven to get ahead, climb anyone’s ladder, or draw attention to himself. He didn’t have a10-year plan, or even a 5-year plan. Actually, I don’t think he had a 5-day plan.

What he did have is something exceedingly rare in our day. Contentment. We live in a day in which few people seem to know how much is enough. However much they accumulate, they seem to always need more.

Dad knew what he wanted. A piece of land to call his own. The opportunity to dig in the dirt and grow a little food; cut some wood for his fire; to hunt and fish a little; to help out his neighbors when they needed a hand and the kind of neighbors who would do the same. A difficult crossword puzzle to master every day was vital, too.

And one other thing. To see his children doing well. He had all of those things. And that was enough for him.

Dad was not successful.

At least not in the way the world tends to measure success.

When he stepped over into eternity the other day, he did not leave behind much in the way of wealth, or titles, or headline-making achievements.

What he left behind was a 30-year long string of students—a lot of whom will tell you what they tell me whenever I meet one–that John Holland was the finest teacher they ever had.

He left behind a community of people who, to a person, will tell you he was good-humored and decent and kind and honest.

He left behind children who adored him. And a wife of 55 good years who had made him a better man.

I once heard a wise man say that he thought the world’s definition of success had it all wrong. He said real success was being the kind of man and living the kind of life in which—the people who know you the best respect you the most.

Come to think of it, John Holland was a success. In those terms, he was and is the most successful man I’ve known.

One Quick Thought About North Korea

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair. Or don’t. 

An official mouthpiece for the chubby lunatic kid running North Korea started talking tough to the government of China today. China! Told ’em they’d be very sorry if they continued to “betray” them.

For decades the Chinese, sitting on North Korea’s northern border, have been their only friend and ally in the world. Which makes this chest-poking of China ultra-crazy, even by North Korean standards.

It’s quite possible, however, that Kim Jong Un actually thinks he can take on China, the  U.S., South Korea and Japan. How could he possibly think this? Because in brutal dictatorships, no one dares tell the boss bad news. They only tell him what he wants to hear.

You may recall that this was precisely the situation in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The entire ground attack portion of First Gulf War only lasted 100 days. Iraqi forces melted like butter. We later learned that Hussein had a wildly inflated view of his defensive capabilities precisely because everyone around him was lying their backsides off.

Saddam surrounded himself with generals who’d learned to maintain their positions of privilege by assuring the boss that their piece of the military machine was the awesomest ever.

In regimes where the tellers of unwelcome truths frequently die horrible, public deaths, the dictator lives in a bubble of fantasy. I have a feeling young Kim’s bubble is about to get popped.

It’s 1981 in America Again

Watching the news and social media over the last week or so produced a strange, non-specific sense of deja vu in me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I saw some teeth gnashing and garment rending on Twitter about President Trump stabbing Big Bird in the heart with rusty scissors.

That’s when I realized I’d seen this movie before . . . back in 1981 in the opening months of Ronald Reagan’s first term.

Reagan ran on rebuilding our national defense and cutting the size and reach of the national government. He’d even promised to eliminate the recently created Department of Education—established by Jimmy Carter to help the teacher’s unions strengthen their grip on the nation’s education policy.

As History shows, Reagan proved unable to keep that or most of his other promises related to shrinking the ever-expanding super-state. In fact, with Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress throughout most of his two terms, the best Reagan could manage was to slow the rate of growth.

But that didn’t keep the liberal media and political opposition from depicting him as a heartless fiend who delighted in oppressing widows, orphans, the poor, and the homeless.

To hear the wailing and caterwauling, one would have been forgiven for believing Reagan was personally running from hospital to hospital unplugging preemie infant incubators and cackling hysterically, twirling a long black moustache, as he shoved widows out of the second story windows of their homes.

Those “Reagan budget cuts” became a one-size-fits-all phrase for attributing to Reagan every individual hardship or hard luck story anywhere in the world. Each evening’s newscast featured the most pitiful story the reporters could dig up.

Every item about a layoff, flu epidemic, tornado, and pothole became an opportunity for some man on the street to condemn “them damned Reagan budget cuts.”

Which brings us to this week, wherein I made the mistake of taking a peek at Twitter. In a few short minutes I found literally scores of things like this:

Now, Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan. My reservations about Mr. Trump are well documented in previous posts.  Nevertheless, 36 years later, this is a pure repeat of 1981.

Of course, this is a propaganda war, and facts don’t really matter. Even so, the facts about Sesame Street are:

  • Mr. Trump’s proposed budget—which has to be approved by the House and Senate—cuts funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • The NEA, on the whole, is an appalling boondoggle-y waste of taxpayer money.
  • Yes, the NEA used to help fund creation of new Sesame Street episodes. But that’s done by HBO now. PBS only runs old episodes of SS.
  • So NEA cuts will likely have no effect on production of Sesame Street. But even if they did, corporate America or the billionaire liberal funders of our weekly protests could easily fund it out of spare pocket change.
  • The licensing for Sesame Street characters is essentially a money printing machine.

Pause to consider the irony of the outpouring of liberal outrage here. The folks at Sesame Street allowed themselves to be acquired by a premium cable channel that the poorest Americans cannot see. But it’s Mr. Trump who is evil-personified for cutting the budget of the ridiculous NEA.

As I said, what we’re witnessing is a propaganda war against Mr. Trump’s efforts to restore some fiscal sanity and boundaries to national government spending; and restore our neglected defensive capabilities in an increasingly dangerous and volatile world.

Celebrities are doing their part. Here’s the spectacularly wealthy author Stephen King taunting the elderly people ands shut-ins who voted for Trump concerning (grossly misleading false) reports of cuts to the federal “Meals on Wheels” program:

 

This is despicable. Sadly, it would probably never occur to a Progressive like Mr. King that some patriotic older Americans might not vote based purely on what most benefits them personally. Or that some of the few surviving members of the “Greatest Generation”—who grew up during the Great Depression and weathered the rigors of World War II—might just care more about their nation’s future than their own comfort.

Or that they might understand what few liberals seem to grasp—that it’s better when local charity is funded at the local level, where there is more accountability and less opportunity for waste and graft.

Unfortunately, King’s mockery isn’t the worst of it. Here’s Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof, yesterday:

Dear God in heaven. If there is a more reprehensible form of political argumentation than the above, I don’t know what it is. There has been an ongoing human tragedy unfolding in Yemen for a couple of years now, but until yesterday, the only people who seemed to care were a handful of conservative groups.

It’s not wrong to care about tiny Udai above. On the contrary, it’s essential. What’s wrong is  choosing to care only when you can use him as prop to score points against your political “enemy.”

Several people I follow noted that within a few days of Mr. Trump’s election, we suddenly started seeing hand-wring-y news reports about America’s “homelessness crisis” after an eight-year disappearance. It astonishing how we had our homelessness problem solved for eight years but that it’s suddenly back with a vengeance.

Journalists have also just discovered that presidential vacations cost a lot of money, after eight years of utter obliviousness to that reality.

Again, all of this  represents a repeat of 1981 (Reagan’s election) and in some respects 2001 (George W.’s).  As I point out from time to time on this site . . . “We’ve seen this before.”

H   H   H   H   H

There is a complementary pair of assumptions underlying this hysterical resistance to cutting federal spending. One, that is pretty much an article of faith for most people today. It is:

  • If a thing is good, the national government must fund it, or even better, mandate it.
  • If a thing is bad, the national government should ban it.

At it’s heart, this brand of thinking is a form of idolatry. It assumes a powerful, centralized government can and should be:

  • the bestower of all blessings.
  • the judge of all vice,
  • the coercer of all virtue,
  • the insulator from all negative consequences from bad choices,
  • the picker of all winners and losers.

It’s messianic and utopian. The problem for the Christian is that we already know Who the Messiah is, and it ain’t Uncle Sam. Yet Government is a jealous god. (See this great essay for more on that.)

It’s 1981 again. But this time around I don’t have a full head of hair or a soon-to-be-obsolete collection of eight-track tapes.

Some Words of Gratitude for the Gospel on International Women’s Day

Permit me to point something out that isn’t widely understood or acknowledged in our Postmodern, Bizarro-World times.

Whereever the gospel of Jesus Christ has spread and taken root, the lot of women has radically improved. Conversely, the places where Christianity is least historically present and welcome . . . these are the most hellish places on our planet to have the misfortune of being born a girl.

For the whole of human history, the default setting in our fallen world has been to treat women as property or sex slaves. Paganism is the original “rape culture.”

Jesus shocked the sensibilities of the dominant culture in His day by welcoming women into His inner circle–accepting their worship and follower-ship. And wherever the movement He launched has spread—relentelssly, progressively, although imperfectly—women’s lives have improved and their status has risen.

This, in part, because redemption produces more civilized, responsible, peaceful, compassionate men.

Western Civilization is, in essence, a manifestion of Christian civilization, a.k.a., the Kingdom of God. The Gospel is the greatest force for human equality ever unleashed. The seeds of the end of slavery in Europe were scattered from Britain’s Protestant pulpits. It took longer, but the same was true in North America.

 The Gospel is the greatest force for human equality ever unleashed.

The Abololitionist movement was born and fueled by churches. Just as most of the concern, energy, and money for fighting modern slavery (in the form of human trafficking and sex slavery) is coming from Christian people in Christian ( and formerly Christian) nations.

Perversely, a majority of the self-identifying feminists of our day view Christianity as Enemy Number One, while being inexplicably willing to accommodate Islamic Culture and actively embrace Hindu Culture in the form of Eastern Mysticism.

A few facts for your consideration on this International Women’s Day:

I am a husband to an extraordinary  woman, and father to three more of the same. A few weeks from now, twin girls will be added to our clan. How grateful I am they were born in a Gospel-infused, Gospel-informed culture.

It is a privilege I seek and pray for every little girl in every corner of the world.

 

A Quick Comment on the Oscars

Skipped the telecast but heard there was much earnest fist-shaking at the current president.

Younger viewers may be excused for assuming this is some sort of new phenomenon. For those of us with longer memories, there’s a weary familiarity:

  • These same characters said the same things about George W. Bush with the same levels of righteous ferocity. This, even though W. wasn’t all that conservative and was, by all available evidence, a profoundly decent human being.
  • And the usual suspects said similar things about W’s father—who was even more moderate and temperate than his son.
  • Of course, a previous generation of Hollywood elites mocked, derided and denounced Ronald Reagan as a war-mongering, simple-minded nutjob as well.

No, this isn’t new. Things are simply back to normal for when a Republican sits in the Oval Office. Mr. Trump may or may not be a monster (although he has filled his cabinet with competent, decent, admirable people.)

Thus, the fist shaking in Hollywood tells us nothing—other than that after an eight-year break—our nation’s actors  get to play the most coveted, most romantic role of all: That of the courageous artist “speaking truth to power.”

On Lion Ted

Lion Ted

What follows is the inevitable violation of my pledge not to speak of Donald Trump again prior to the election. (You called it, reader Ted.)  I’m about to do so only in the context of responding to some requests I’ve received to share my thoughts about Sen. Cruz’s non-endorsement speech at the Republican Convention last week.

But first, as is often the case with me, a little historical context . . .

In February of 1988, two candidates were locked in a heated battle to be the Republican nominee for President. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole  mounted a serious challenge to Vice-President George H. W. Bush’s plans to succeed Ronald Reagan in the White House.

Dole had massive momentum coming out of a strong win in the Iowa caucuses and heading into the New Hampshire primaries. Bush, the sitting vice-president and consensus favorite, had come in a distant third in Iowa. (Do you recall who finished second? Pat Robertson!)

Suddenly, New Hampshire became a must-win for for the stumbling Bush campaign. Not surprisingly, Bush went negative—attacking some of Dole’s past Senate votes throughout the New Hampshire primary. When the votes were tallied on February 16, 1988 Bush won New Hampshire by nine points.

In an inteview with NBC News later that night, Tom Brokaw asked a clearly dissappointed Dole if there was any thing he’d like to say to Bush.

Cranky Bob

Stop lying about me. And get off my lawn.

Dole groused, “Tell him to stop lying about my record.”

{Cue the sounds of a record needle being dragged across a record; men gasping in horror; women fainting; and the media shifting into high dudgeon mode.}

Dole’s testy use of the word “lying” became an instant scandal. Political historians widely view this as the moment Dole lost his chance to become president.

For days afterward, media headlines and office watercooler chatter revovled around the question of whether Dole’s cranky use of the “L” word revealed that he didn’t have the temperament or character to be President of the United States.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Only seven presidential elections ago, simply saying your opponent was lying disqualified you for the White House in this nation because you were clearly some sort of loose cannon.

That was then. Now . . .

The new Democrat nominee just narrowly avoided a federal indictment in the middle of the primary but instead was only declared to have been “extremely careless” bordering on “gross negligence” with national security secrets.

And, as I noted here, the Republicans just nominated a man who uses boasts and insults as a substitute for arguments and schoolyard taunts in place of reasoned rebuttals.

In response to critiques of his policy positions, he reflexively resorts to crass mockery of his oppenent’s appearance or name. A few examples from the primaries:

  • Lyin’ Ted; “liar, crazy, or very dishonest” (Ted Cruz)
  • Little Marco; “this little guy”; “total joke artist” (Marco Rubio)
  • “this low energy guy”; “a loser”; “a pathetic figure”  (Jeb Bush)
  • “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” (Carly Fiorina)
  • “ran him out of the race like a little boy” (Lindsay Graham)
  • “a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain” (Rand Paul)
  • “should be forced to take an IQ test” (Rick Perry)
  • “pathological”; “a sick puppy”; “incapable of understanding foriegn policy” (Ben Carson)
triumph

Winning. You can’t spell Triumph without Trump.

In other words, “lying” may the most gracious, temperate thing Mr. Trump said about any of his opponents in the primaries. And it worked. Running as Triumph: The Insult Comic Dog cost him nothing. Two weeks ago the Republian party made him their standard bearer.

Keep in mind, Mr. Trump has shown little interest in wooing or reassuring the sizable portion of the Republican base that supported Ted Cruz.

On the contrary, three weeks before the convention, Trump was still dragging out the “Lyin’ Ted” smear in front of the microphones out on the campaign trail.

That’s right. With the nomination already sown up and Cruz out of the race, Trump was still using precious media minutes—not to criticize Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama—but rather to jab a stubby thumb in the eyes of Cruz’ voters one more time.

I was flabbergasted when I saw it. I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This has to be some old footage, I hoped. Nope.

In a moment in which a rational candidate should be seeking to reassure and woo and the supporters of his most successful rival, Trump was going out of his way to rub salt in their wounds.

Hand to heaven, the thought passed through my mind that Trump doesn’t really want to win. That his fragile, insatiable ego is enjoying the attention but doesn’t want the headaches, responsibilities, or constraints of actually governing. (And that was before I saw this!)

“The Speech”

Which brings us to Ted Cruz and his now infamous speech before the Republican National Convention. As you probably know, Cruz’s decision not to endorse Trump, and to close his address with the words, “Vote your conscience,” enraged many, disappointed others, and bewildered the rest.

Cruz was booed off the stage and instantly vilifed for being “self-serving” and “selfish.” He “betrayed” his party. He was “cowardly.” It was a cold “political calculation” designed to advance his own personal interests rather the interests of the party and the nation.

Every word of this is nonsense on stilts—but that last bit most of all.

Cruz was most likely setting fire to any future national aspirations with that speech, and he knew it.

No, the move most in alignment with Cruz’s self-interest and future political prospects was to bow to party pressure, hold his nose, and endorse the bloviating, know-nothing gas-bag clearly troubled individual. The next-best, next-least-career-damaging option for Cruz was simply to stay home, as Ohio governor John Kasich did.

Cruz took neither of these path-of-least-resistance options. In my view, he took the path of honor. Allow me to explain.

Keep in mind that the RNC, with Team Trump’s approval, invited Cruz to speak in a prime time slot. Keep in mind that all were given copies of his speech in advance.

Also keep in mind that during the primary campaign, Mr. Trump saved his nastiest and lowest smears for Cruz. (Yes, I know all political campaigns turn ugly and run negative ads. I’m not naive. But Trump’s attacks on Cruz were orders of magnitude beyond the pale.)

They are legion. But two of the most egregious of these were Mr. Trump’s repeated references to a nutball conspiracy theory that Ted Cruz’s father, a devout evangelical Christian, played some role in the assassination of JFK.

Even worse was Mr. Trump’s approving retweet of a rabid Trump fan’s side-by-side comparison of Cruz’s wife, Heidi, with Melania Trump, a former model, featuring a particularly unflattering shot of Mrs. Cruz:

Trump-TweetBy the way, for the record, here’s a couple of more-representative samples of Heidi Cruz’s grotesque visage. Brace yourself:

heidi-cruz 2

Heidi Cruz

I warned you.

Yes, we’ve come a long way since 1988. Today, being the kind of candidate willing to say, “my wife is so much hotter, so vote for me” actually works with a large swath of the American electorate.

What a time to be alive.

My point is that Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement speech at the RNC had absolutely nothing to do with selfishness or self-promotion, and everything to do with family honor.

That’s right. Honor. An old-fashioned and nearly extinct concept in our postmodern era.

In other words, I believe Cruz chose to walk into a no-win situation simply because being a loyal husband and son means more to him than being a successful politican. Isn’t this at the heart of the explanation he offered in a meeting with the Texas delegation the very next day?:

“I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father. That pledge [to support the Republican nominee] was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi, that I’m going to nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say thank you very much for maligning my wife and maligning my father.”–Sen. Ted Cruz

Why not take him at his word? It’s just too simple for many to grasp. Most in our dying culture are too jaded and cynical to believe a politician can choose principle over self-promotion. But there it is. And it is perfectly consistent with the way Cruz has handled himself since entering the Senate.

Before announcing his candidacy for president, Cruz was already one of the most unpopular figures in Washington precisely because he stubbornly refuses to play the game. Former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn was like this, but Cruz is Coburn on steriods.

It is clear to me that Ted Cruz is constitutionally incapable of compromising his principles to advance his own interests—of “going along to get along.”

Frankly, I’m really not interested in hearing complaints about Cruz from any person who has ever whined about how all politicians abandon their values once they get to Washington, and put career advancement above their principles.

Here is one who didn’t, and it seems to be wildly unpopular.

Running to the Left

As I write here in the days immediately following the Democrat’s convention, Mr. Trump displays much more interest in wooing Bernie Sanders voters than courting skeptical conservatives like me. This speaks volumes about Trump’s ideology (or lack thereof.)

It actually makes some political sense because Trump is running to Hillary’s left on a number of issues—among them national defense, trade, and a couple of other issues. In other words, a number of Trump positions are more in line with the left-wing Bernie voters than than conservative Cruz fans.

Me? I’m with Lion Ted.

I plan to vote my conscience. I’ll try to explain what that looks like in an upcoming post. (Just as soon as I figure it out.)

Giving Honor Where Honor is Due

I attended a funeral service in the old hometown in Oklahoma yesterday.  Dr. J. N. Baker was of one of the finest Christian men it has ever been my privilege to know. He was 96 when he passed into heaven last week and was buried with full military honors yesterday.

At my house growing up he was a respected and beloved family friend, and very much a surrogate grandfather to my younger sisters. For many who knew him as the former Dean of Students at OSU and then the president of Eastern Oklahoma State College where my parents were on the faculty — he was always “Dr. Baker.”

For the thousands of fighting men who served under him in both World War II and the Korean conflict, he eventually became “General Baker.”

He was born in 1919 in rural southeastern Oklahoma but was orphaned before he was old enough to begin attending the one-room school nearby. One of his daughters noted at his service that he liked to observe: “My parents came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, yet I’ve lived to see men walk on the moon and to hold a powerful computer in the palm of my hand.”

ThunderbirdIn the 1930s he joined the Oklahoma National Guard while still in high school. (Apparently that was possible back then.) For the next three decades he was an integral part of the Oklahoma’s 45th Infantry Division—the Thunderbirds—established in 1920. The 45th was one of the very first guard units called up when the U.S. entered World War II in 1941.

In 1943 the Thunderbirds were part of the tip of the spear in the invasion of Italy, beginning with the amphibious assault on Sicily and then the intense fighting at Anzio and Monte Casino.

This was followed by an amphibious invasion of southern France at Dragoon, then the push across France and into Germany. Ultimately it would be the 45th that liberated the infamous German concentration camp at Dachau.

Their work finally done, the division got to come home in 1945. Five short years later Cold War hostilities erupted on the Korean peninsula. At that point, only 20% of the men of the 45th had fought in WWII, but Dr. Baker was one of them.

Eventually, he became the Thunderbird’s final commanding General, serving from 1964 to 1968.

Three surviving World War II veterans who served with him were there at the funeral to pay their respects  yesterday. Yes, members of ” the Greatest Generation” were in the house — but we’re losing them rapidly. Soon the last of them will be gone.

However, it wasn’t the military man my family knew and loved—although his perfect posture and a meticulous, squared-away approach he brought to every project and enterprise hinted at his training. Otherwise, you might never have guessed his background and rank.

He wasn’t the course, gravely George Patton stereotype. Quite the opposite. He was soft-spoken, humble, gentle, immensely thoughtful, and carried a deep, abiding faith in God.

He a was regular guest at my parent’s Sunday table for lunch after his cherished Helen, his wife of 64 years, died after a long illness that left her blind in her final years.

Whenever someone would remark admiringly about the tender, extraordinary efforts he was expending in caring for her in those years of heartbreaking decline, he would smile and brush them off. “She took care of me for sixty years. It’s my privilege to take care of her now.”

Whenever any of us was home for a weekend visit, it was our privilege to participate in those lunches with him. As the elder statesman at the table, the honor of blessing the meal frequently fell to him.

I remember being deeply impacted by one of those Sunday lunch prayers a few years ago. I can honestly say it changed me.

As we prepared to dive into mom’s pot roast, it wasn’t his prayer’s eloquence or profundity that marked my soul that day. It was the genuine gratitude that welled up out of his heart and flowed from his lips.

“Heavenly Father, you’ve been so very good to us. (long pause) . .  Thank you. (longer pause) Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . “

This was no perfunctory, religious saying of “grace” over a meal. Those repeated thank yous were an offering.

Thank you, Dr. Baker.

I’m grateful to have had the example of a life so well-lived.  Strength in kindness. Confidence in servanthood. Gratitude in selflessness. Cheer in hardship. This was the gold standard of Christian manhood.

Now he has joined that great cloud of witnesses who waits to see how we’ll run the balance of our races.

You’ll have to excuse me now . . . I’m suddenly feeling the need to lay aside some weights.

J. N. Baker (1919-2016)

Crowdsourcing Bad Information

 

FindingYourRoots

Here at Hacienda Holland,  we enjoy watching the PBS show “Finding Your Roots”—where each week three celebrities, politicians and other people of note have their family trees researched by professionals and learn previously unknown and often startling facts about their ancestors. It’s a fascinating and often quite moving viewing experience.

For example, this week’s episode profiled the genealogies of Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear, and Bill Hader (formerly of SNL.) You can watch that episode here.

Lear learned that several branches of his direct Jewish ancestors came to America fleeing horrific, genocidal pogroms in Russia. He also discovered he carries the Cohanim gene, meaning that he is likely descended from the priestly Hebrew tribe of Levi.

Hader, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was stunned to discover he is a direct descendant of the 9th Century emperor Charlemagne.

FamilyTreeA few years ago I bought Mrs. H a subscription to Ancestry dot com for her birthday after she’d expressed some curiosity about her roots (she’s half Czech).

Research, however, is one of my super-powers, not hers (she has many others). As a result, I have been the one who has spent the most time online trying to fill in blanks on our respective family trees.

Originally, the Ancestry dot com site simply allowed subscribers to search record archives (births, deaths, baptisms, census records, etc.) and then start building a family tree based on the information they discovered. Eventually, the site—due to popular demand from users, no doubt—began to let members share their family trees and related research with others.

This is where it all went horribly, hilariously wrong.

Oh sure, this feature was great at first. It allowed you to glom onto the hours of painstaking work some diligent, meticulous researcher had put in determining the parentage of some common ancestor. With a couple of mouse clicks you could grab all that information and watch it pop right into your own tree.

The problem is that this same feature also allows bad information to go viral, spreading through Ancestry dot com family trees like Dutch Elm disease.

And the internet’s genealogy sites are awash in bad information. Really, really bad. Why?

Because, when researching one’s genealogy, there’s nothing more frustrating than hitting a dead end. Human nature being what it is, many people address that frustration by attaching their family line to a branch to which it doesn’t belong.

This is doubly tempting when that branch has some cool factor. You see, everyone wants to be Bill Hader, tracing his or her lineage back to the European royalty or a famous person in history.

It only takes one person erroneously connecting their ancestor to the wrong person to lead astray thousands of others who share that same ancestor. And clearly people are easily led astray—just uncritically assuming everything presented to them is correct.

Anytime I’m researching my family lines, I’m presented with countless suggestions—based on other users’ trees—that contain one or more of the following based on the associated dates:

  • Men who became fathers when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth with they were 73 or 74 or 104 years old.
  • People who are older than their parents.
  • Couples who give two of their children the same first name.

The greatest safeguard against falling prey to these errors is the ability to do simple math (subtraction mainly) and a rudimentary understanding of the human reproductive cycle–two skills that are clearly rarer than I’d previously presumed.

growthcurveNevertheless, it’s fascinating to see how one individual’s mistake can snowball into something huge and seemingly universally accepted. Two or three people replicate that one person’s error. Then others observe that three or four people seem to all agree. Soon it seems like hundreds of people have all reached the same conclusion. It must be true!

Which reminds me . . .

Something very similar roughly seventeen centuries ago may be the reason we’ve all been taught that John, the Beloved discipled, penned the book of Revelation in the A.D. 90s when John was in his 90s.

But I’ll save that for another day.

The Biggest, Under-Reported News Story of 2015

Media Self-Censorship

In the 1850s and ’60s, courageous writers exposed readers to the horrors of slavery and the Abolitionist Movement was born.

In the early 1900s, Upton Sinclair pulled back the curtain and gave America a horrifying look at the meat-packing industry, triggering a public outcry that produced significant reforms.

In the same era, other journalists, who Teddy Roosevelt admiringly dubbed “muckrakers,” went undercover to expose other festering societal cancers to the light of day.

Fast-forward to 2015. As I pointed out in this blog post, journalism is largely dead.

Today the the entire news gathering, news reporting apparatus in the United States is wholly dedicated not to keeping the powerful accountable but rather keeping liberals/Progressives in power and advancing the liberal/Progressive agenda.

Some journalists now take talking points directly from the White House. Many others participate in large email listservs that allow them to shape coverage and therefore shape narratives. (See the JournoList Scandal for example)

Media bias doesn’t just manifest in the way stories are covered. It’s most insidious manifestation is in the way certain stories are ignored (see: Benghazi/Hillary/”What difference, at this point, does it make?”)

The American deaths and heroics at Benghazi, and the subsequent government cover-up, was the most underreported story of 2013. So what about this last year—2015?

That would be the explosive exposé by The Center for Medical Progress of Planned Parenthood’s gruesome harvesting and marketing of baby parts. Over the course of six months in 2015 the courageous group released  a series of videos of clandestinely taped conversations with various Planned Parenthood officials.

The released videos included:

Planned Parenthood Uses Partial-Birth Abortions to Sell Baby Parts

Second Planned Parenthood Senior Executive Haggles Over Baby Parts Prices, Changes Abortion Methods

Planned Parenthood VP Says Fetuses May Come Out Intact, Agrees Payments Specific to the Specimen

Human Capital – Episode 2: Inside the Planned Parenthood Supply Site

Human Capital – Episode 3: Planned Parenthood’s Custom Abortions for Superior Product

Top Planned Parenthood Exec: Baby Parts Sales “A Valid Exchange,” Can Make “A Fair Amount of Income”

Planned Parenthood TX Abortion Apprentice Taught Partial-Birth Abortions to “Strive For” Intact Baby Brains

“PROFIT” – Planned Parenthood’s Illicit Moneymaking From Baby Body Parts

“HARVEST” – Planned Parenthood’s Custom Abortions for Better Baby Parts

In a fairer, more just world the content these videos would have unleashed a firestorm of media attention so ferocious that Planned Parenthood would have been fully defunded and no donor this side of Josef Mengele would have given it a penny.

Obviously, that is not the world we’re living in. The mainstream media completely ignored the first few videos. In fact, the first time most of the major news outlets even acknowledged the existence of the bombshell exposé is when Planned Parenthood issued an official response.

The truth about Benghazi could not be suppressed. Americans are finally learning the truth. Hopefully the horrifying truth about Planned Parenthood’s barbarism will not stayed buried either.

However, as I write, Planned Parenthood, with deep pockets from fat-cat donors and taxpayer dollars, is suing The Center for Medical Progress.