On an execrably dishonest NYT editorial

A couple of very fine and much-liked-by-myself young people (well, young compared to me — I’ll still be calling them “young people” when they are seventy because they’ll still be fifteen or twenty-five years younger than I will be) recently expressed admiration of this exceptionally bad New York Times editorial about the Florida school shootings. I was sorry to see this, and I mean these youngsters no disrespect because they really are generally honest and intelligent most of the time…but great googly gopher guts, everything about this article could be used as textbook examples in a course of how not to either think rationally or argue honestly. It’s like Kristof (Nicholas Kristof, the perpetrator of the editorial) checked every box on the Lying Journalist’s Checklist.

If you are serious about reducing the number of mass school shootings and the bodycounts in the ones we still have, and you would like to read an article by somebody who actually has expertise in the subject matter and has thought the matter through – and whose ideas have already been put into practice in schools in Utah – you can go here. If, on the other hand, you prefer to read an article that is shamelessly dishonest from beginning to end and that essentially makes it very clear that the author and editor assume that their readers are deeply gullible people who can be lied to at will…why, then you should certainly go with Kristof and the Times.

Specifics, very briefly, taking it section by section in a sort of semi-fisking:

Section 1: “America Has More Guns Than Any Other Country”

Right off the bat, we have the standard trick of talking about “gun deaths” rather than “homicides, culpable manslaughter, and suicides.” I have talked at length about that elsewhere and will not repeat myself here.

Section 2: “We Have A Model For Regulating Guns: Automobiles”

Now we get the common and unimaginative argument that cars are properly analogous to guns, which can only be argued by two kinds of people. The first type consists of people who have not the slightest idea of what constitutes a valid argument by analogy, one of the conditions of which is that the analog must be similar in ALL relevant aspects to the issue on which the analogy purports to shed light. The second consists of people who simply dismiss as unimportant all of the differences between cars and guns – all the things that matter deeply to the people who disagree with them – even though this is simply begging the question — that is, saying, “I’m right because I’m right and while I will pretend to prove it I will really just repeat my own opinion with different words and then say, ‘See, I told you I was right.'” The right to have a convenient form of transportation is not a fundamental right, nor is it a Constitutionally guaranteed one; the right to self-defense is both a fundamental and inalienable right and also a Constitutionally guaranteed one. The purposes for which people own guns are quite different from, and both morally and Constitutionally far more important than, the purposes for which they own cars. Kristof doesn’t address the multiple ways in which its analogy fails to be relevant — hemerely pretends that irrelevancies are of no importance. Either he is very stupid or he is arguing in bad faith. (Or, given that this is the Times, quite possibly both.)

Section 3: “The Liberal Approach Is Ineffective. Use a Public Health Approach Instead.”

I have no huge problem with this section except that it is so vague as to be largely pie-in-the-sky. Of course there is also the fact that Kristof refers to “smart guns” as a possible solution, despite the very widely known issues with “smart guns,” which reinforces my point about the previous section. If a “feature” on a product renders that product largely useless for the primary use for which it is purchased in the first place, then the pretense that one is not using a back door to effectively hamstring a right that one claims to be honoring, is mere duplicity. There are a significant spectrum of self-defense situations in which putting a “smart gun” “feature” on a handgun renders it utterly useless for self-defense. But of course, Second Amendment be damned, Kristof doesn’t actually care about respecting the fundamental right of self-defense, as he promptly proves in the next section. Still, if you could come up with a smart-gun technology that would be genuinely smart enough to ensure that in a home invasion my properly trained twelve-year-old self of 1978 (and at twelve I bloody well was trained well enough to be a danger to a home invader but not to myself or my family) would have been able to use one of my dad’s hypothetical handguns to defend myself (though my dad actually was one of the few parents I know who didn’t keep handguns in real life; we only had a couple of rifles), then I think pretty much all NRA members would be all for using it – as long as it wasn’t imposed on them by regulation, progressives having long since convinced most gun owners that they (the progressives, I mean) do not deal in good faith when it comes to the Second Amendment and that if one gives them an inch they will try to take a mile. Before Kristof can really be taken seriously in this section, however, someone would have had to actually accomplish that technological task. Since they haven’t, he is merely waving his hands about vaguely while mouthing phrases that sound nice but have nothing concrete underpinning them.

Notice also that Kristof doesn’t really want guns abolished as a public health matter; he wants guns abolished because of “liberal reasons,” which in my experience always reduce (in the technical, logical sense) to, “We hate guns.” Here Kristof is merely suggesting that purely as a tactic of propaganda progressives should cast all their arguments in terms of “public health and safety,” rather than honestly stating their true reasons for desiring the effective disarmament of their law-abiding fellow-citizens, since stating their true reasons for wanting gun control has proven to be ineffective. This is, after all, the Times. What, you were expecting intellectual integrity and honesty? Aw, that’s so cute.

(By the way, Nicky my boy, your public health approach isn’t going to work any better than your more honestly liberal approach did, because you are still not taking the other side’s concerns seriously and nobody is going to be fooled.)

Section 4: “Fewer Guns = Fewer Deaths”

More absolutely and utterly dishonest abuse of statistics. The Times wishes to refute the idea that guns are an effective means of self-defense. This is an extremely difficult thing to accomplish given that even the lowest-end estimate of “Defensive Gun Use” (“DGU”), that of the NCVS, says that there are “only” 68,000 or so defensive uses of guns in connection with assaults and robberies per year, and 80,000 to 82,000 if you add household burglaries. The NCVS is actually a way-low outlier; there are numerous other surveys from which estimates of DGU can be drawn, and they imply rates of annual gun use that are closer to 500,000 per year. But let us take the lowest rate, the NCVS: 68,000 times per year potential crime victims use their guns to defend themselves. And what we know is that in the overwhelming majority of those cases, what immediately happens is that the attacker flees and nobody gets shot. Usually the trigger doesn’t even get pulled.

So how does Kristof deal with this highly inconvenient (for his agenda) reality? In three ways, one of which is standard journalistic special pleading that you can find wielded by any garden-variety journalistic liar, but the other two of which are breathtakingly and shamelessly dishonest, even for a New York Times journalist.

(a) I have rarely seen a more nakedly dishonest use of an actual fact, or one that more brutally insults the intelligence of its readers, than this, which Kristof actually presents as evidence that DGU is so rare as to be negligible: “One study by the Violence Policy Center found that in 2012 there were 259 justifiable homicides by a private citizen using a firearm.” Do you see the trick? If a home invader breaks into a single woman’s bedroom and finds her pointing a gun at him, and he does what 99% of the time happens, namely turns and runs away, to Kristof this does not count!! Either you actually kill the bad guy, or else Nicholas Kristof grandly informs you that you have not used your gun to stop violence.

WOMAN WHO RECENTLY DIVORCED A PSYCHOPATH: “So, my ex-husband violated the protective injunction and showed up my house waving a knife, and I pulled my gun and pointed it at his chest and told him if he wasn’t gone in ten seconds he’d be dead in eleven.”

NICHOLAS KRISTOF: “What happened then?”

WWRDAP: “He said I didn’t have the balls to pull the trigger and he charged me with the knife raised.”

OLD NICK: “And then what happened?”

WWRDAP: “I shot him twice in the chest.”

OLD NICK: “So he died?”

WWRDAP: “No, then I called 9-1-1 and the paramedics came and he wound up pulling through.”

OLD NICK: “He lived, then?”

WWRDAP: “Yes, I just said that.”

OLD NICK: “Ah, well I am relieved to find that you didn’t use your gun to stop violence.”

Personal testimony from Larry Correia, in the same article that I linked to at the beginning of this post:

So many defensive gun uses never get tracked as such. From personal experience, I have pulled a gun exactly one time in my entire life. I was legally justified and the bad guy stopped, put his gun away, and left. (15 years later the same son of a bitch would end up murdering a local sheriff’s deputy). My defensive gun use was never recorded anywhere as far as I know. My wife has pulled a gun twice in her life. Once on somebody who was acting very rapey who suddenly found a better place to be when she stuck a Ruger in his face, and again many years later on a German Shepherd which was attacking my one year old son. (amazingly enough a dog can recognize a 9mm coming out of a fanny pack and run for its life, go figure) No police report at all on the second one, and I don’t believe the first one ever turned up as any sort of defensive use statistic, all because no shots were fired.

That’s two DGU’s in one family — three if you count keeping the dog from maiming the one-year-old — and they live in Utah, not the South Side of Chicago. But according to Kristof, nobody in the Correia family has ever used guns to stop violence, because they never actually capped the bad guy. Because the Times is…well, it’s the Times.

Kristof and his editors actually expect their readers to be foolish enough, or careless enough in their reading habits, to think this is a reasonable statistic to use as a representation of all defensive gun use. If you are a subscriber to the Times, you should think long and hard about what this says about the opinion the Times has of you.

(b) There are at least fourteen studies that show DGU rates above 60,000 per year, the most extremely thorough of which (which so far as I know has not been successfully attacked on grounds of process and procedure) finds the DGU rate to be more than 1,000,000 per year. Kristof is very careful not to mention any of these studies to his readers. Nor does he mention that a disproportionate number of defensive gun users are women and minorities, despite the fact that the average reader of the Times claims (with what degree of sincerity the skeptical-but-charitable among us choose to leave as a matter between the Times readers and God) to care very much indeed about protection for women and minorities.

(c) Not only does Kristof go back to the “gun deaths” statistics, but he outright lies by referring to these statistics — but taking out the “gun” bit. It is demonstrably untrue that the removal of gun control has led to more deaths; it is demonstrably true that both worldwide and in the U.S. “More Guns = Fewer Deaths.” (This, by the way, does not prove causality, that is, it does not prove that Gov. Abbot was right to want Texans to have more guns than anybody so they could be safer than anybody. It only proves correlation. However, it certainly goes a long way to dis-proving the held-with-religious-fervor belief that gun control will reduce violence in general and violent deaths in particular; a person trying to maintain that stance is in much the same position as a person who, in the face of statistics showing a correlation between decreased smoking and decreased lung cancer, continues to insist that the best way to reduce lung cancer is to force people to smoke.) It is true that, generally speaking, “Fewer Guns = Fewer GUN Deaths”; the gun-death rate at the very height of Genghis Khan’s many genocidal military campaigns was after all 0%. And the two sets of statistics that the Times presents are both “gun death rate” statistics. But even in one of the graphics where the column with the number is headed, “GUN DEATH RATE,” the summary on the side says, “States in red have death rates above the national average of 10.5,” and the section is headed, “Fewer Guns = Fewer Deaths” – which is a lie direct.

The Guardian is hardly a right-wing paper, but even the Guardian isn’t so shameless as to deny (in this article) that in actual empirical fact the years-long American increase in gun ownership has been accompanied by a dramatic fall in violent crime: “Even as the US has grown dramatically safer and gun violence rates have plummeted, handguns have become a greater proportion of the country’s civilian gun stock, suggesting that self-defense is an increasingly important factor in gun ownership.” (The Guardian I think misspeaks by saying that “gun violence rates have plummeted;” I think it is actually “violence rates” in general that have plummeted and the Guardian, being left-wing, is so used to always talking about “gun violence” that it did so in this case out of sheer habit.) The Guardian uses a Fox Butterfield tactic to try to give its readers the impression (a) that Americans in general have taken the advice of the self-defense pro-gun activists, and (b) that what then happened (namely, across-the-board reductions in violence) was exactly what the self-defense pro-gun activists predicted would happen, and (c) that this proves that pro-gun people are really, really, really stupid compared to dutifully left-wing, pro-gun-control readers of the Guardian. (Really, that’s what the Guardiandid; see this explanation of the rhetorical trick they used). So the Guardianis just as invested in gun control, and just as eager to explain away the undeniable correlation between reduced gun control and reduced violence, as is the Times. It just isn’t quite shameless enough to outright lie and pretend that the correlation doesn’t exist at all.

But the Times, being itself, has not the slightest hesitancy in stooping to a tactic that even the Guardian is ashamed to resort to.

The rest of Kristof’s article is on the same level as the first four sections; I won’t spend more of your or my time addressing each section. I will, however, point out one more notable omission.

Kristof pretends to care about Protecting Our Children, and he waves around lots of carefully-chosen, cherry-picked statistics to bolster his case, while playing the Evil Bogeyman National Rifle Association card that he knows will play well with most of the readers of the Times. (Completely true fact which will never be acknowledged in the Times: in American history there have been more mass shootings by Bernie Sanders campaign volunteers than by National Rifle Association members.) But among the many relevant statistics he is careful not to mention is simply this:

In something north of 90% of the mass shootings over the last twenty years of our country’s history, the shooter has deliberately chosen a target zone that is publicly known to be a Gun Free Zone – that is, a place where he can be confident that he will face no effective armed resistance for at least an initial five to ten minutes. Furthermore, in attempted mass shootings where the police stop the killer the average body count is dramatically higher than that of attempted mass shootings where the killer is taken out by an armed civilian. There is ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBT that would-be mass murderers show a VERY strong preference for target zones in which nobody is supposed to be carrying weapons, and therefore nobody will be equipped to shoot back at him. This was even the case at the Fort Hood shooting – even though it was a freakin’ military base, nobody was allowed to carry guns in the mess hall, which the shooter knew perfectly well. In the most recent Florida tragedy, three male teachers were killed trying to protect children by shielding them with their bodies. What if, instead, they had been able to protect the children by shooting back? The most obvious way to reduce both the number of mass shootings that target schools and the death rates when schools are so targeted, is to allow those teachers who have concealed-carry licenses, to carry their guns – as they already can, for example, in Utah. For heaven’s sake, and for our children’s sake, repeal the laws that require public schools to advertise themselves to all would-be mass murderers that they are “Gun Free Zones” – it being perfectly reasonably to take every single “Gun Free Zone” sign in America and replace it with a sign reading, “Ideal Mass Shooting Target Zone” or “Innocent Victims Hunting Preserve,” with hardly any significant change in meaning.

But every member of the Times editorial staff could write an editorial on mass school shooting tragedies every day for the next fifty years, and not one of them would ever entertain such an idea. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that this is because they hate guns far more than they care about the safety of children in school.

I will close by referencing one more historical event, the first and (until Columbine) most notorious of all school shootings (loosely defined), the one at U.T. in 1966. Charles Whitman, an expert and well-armed sniper, was ensconced in a shooting position that commanded five city blocks. Furthermore, nobody in America had ever experienced or even imagined a mass shooting of this type. It took 90 minutes for law enforcement to reach the top of the tower and kill him…but in those 90 minutes he killed 15 and wounded 30 (counting David Hubert Gunby as a homicide, in agreement with the State of Texas’s classification, and counting the unborn baby as a person and therefore as a murder victim).

Except, actually, almost all of those people were shot in the first twenty minutes or so. Had he continued at the rate at which he began, the casualty count would have been easily triple what it ended up being. So what caused his drop in effectiveness?

Simple: this was Texas, in 1966. There was no rapid-response law enforcement unit, and not very many police managed to show up even in the first half-hour; that is one of the changes that began to happen later, in response to the shooting (just as police tactics changed again after Columbine). It took twenty minutes for members of the student body themselves to realize what was happening, get to their trucks, grab their hunting rifles, get back to where they could see the tower, and start shooting back, and for at least a few policemen (who typically carried useless handguns and therefore took a while to get their hands on rifles) to arrive and join in. From that point on, Whitman could no longer carefully sight in on a target, because whenever he poked his head out, a bunch of bullets came flying at his head. Furthermore, he no longer could see most of the target area, because he was forced to shoot through the storm drains. Once the good guys started shooting back, it was no longer open season on the innocents.

Every attempted mass shooting goes the same way: the bad guy first gets to a place where he knows (or thinks) nobody will be able to shoot back at first. Then he goes to work killing people who (unless they are trained American soldiers who happen to be on a French train, or off-duty security officers whom the terrorists did not expect to be packing) cannot effectively fight back. Then some good guy with a gun shows up, and puts an end to it.

You want to reduce the number of mass shootings we have at schools?

First of all, put an absolute embargo on publishing the names of the mass shooters and therefore rewarding them with exactly what they want, so that the most common reason they become mass shooters – public notoriety – will cease to be an incentive. The American news media and mass murderers have a long-standing symbiotic relationship: the shooter provides the ratings for the media, and in exchange the media eagerly provides the publicity for the shooter, knowing damned well (I use the term advisedly and in its most literal sense) that they are willingly helping to ensure that a similar high-ratings event will transpire in the fortunately-for-the-bottom-line-none-too-distant future, even as they piously publish pontifications on, “How Can We Stop All These Terrible High-Ratings Events From Happening In Our Beloved Country?” As long as the Times continues to blazon every mass shooter’s name and photograph all over its paper and online editions in hopes of raising subscription advertising revenue, I will not take seriously any Times employee’s pretense at wanting to reduce the rate of attempted mass shootings in America.

Next, take public schools off the list of “places where mass shooters know nobody will be able to shoot back at first.” Simple, obvious, effective…and anathema to persons such as Kristof.

Those two steps will do more than anything else to keep mass school shootings from being attempted in the first place. But there will still be sick and twisted teenagers who hate their schools and the people in them. Occasionally one of them will still decide to perpetrate a mass shooting at his school out of pure hatred, and will be able to get his hands on guns somehow. So in the (one hopes far more rare than at present) event of a school shooting, how do you minimize the number of children who die before the first good guy with a gun shows up? There’s no mystery to that: you let the good guys at the school, have guns.

That, however, involves recognizing that guns are tools, not independently evil demon-possessed moral agents; that violence is not always bad because very often the innocent can only be protected against evildoers by violence, in which case violence is a very good thing and the more effective and overwhelming the violence the better; and that people who like guns (this is the thing that urban progressives such as New York Times editorialists will find hardest to accept) are in no way morally or intellectually inferior to people who hate guns. As I have said before, the arguments in favor of gun control are – witness this particular Times article, for example – grotesquely irrational, patently fallacious, and utterly unconvincing to intelligent people…until you sneak in the unexpressed but necessary premise lurking in every pro-gun-control argument I’ve ever encountered, namely: “Guns are inherently evil.”

Without that premise, no gun-control argument, at least in the American context, holds up under rational scrutiny. And unfortunately for would-be gun controllers, that premise is simply and unalterably false.

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What Rick Perry should be advocating…

…is made clear by this article.

I am of course teasing. What Rick Perry had to say about the role of fossil fuels in reducing incidences of sexual assault in sub-Saharan Africa was perfectly sensible so far as I can tell, and the odds are good that the studies referenced in the article are bogus, since (a) I haven’t read the studies myself to check the methodology and (b) the overwhelming majority of “scientific studies” produced by the “social science” part of American academia have rather less to do with science than does astrology. So there’s not a serious political point here…I just couldn’t help but laugh at the mental image of Rick Perry, of all people, carrying pompously on about what Africa needed was More Prostitutes.

UPDATE: Actually this was a paper by economists, not social scientists (unless you consider economists to be a subset of social scientists). Which means that next month the same people will probably produce, without shame, another article proving that the primary cause of rape is prostitution…

Bloom County economists

(From Bloom County online, a site I personally consider indispensable.

A prediction

I’m going to make a political prediction here just so that I will have to admit it when it turns out I was wrong…

It seems to me that Our Orange Overlord has just played the NFL in exactly the way he has been playing the news media and other liberal-dominated institutions for the past year — and that the NFL players and owners have proved that they have learned precisely nothing from watching Triple-O deliberately push liberal buttons for the express purpose of getting them to discredit themselves in the eyes of, and indeed thoroughly to alienate, literally tens of millions of ordinarily apolitical people.

In the following analysis I am not endorsing either side, merely analyzing the political efficacy of the behavior of the parties involved.

Consider the following points:

1. The overwhelming majority of people in this country do NOT want politics to infest every area of life, and very strongly want their sports to be politics-free.

2. The overwhelming majority of people in this country do NOT consider showing respect for the national anthem and flag to be a political statement; they consider it to be a deliberate setting aside of political differences for a limited time so that everybody can just enjoy some football.

3. The current controversy began when a rather mediocre quarterback whose effectiveness had been greatly exaggerated by the skills of an exceptional coach, and whose effectiveness had so badly degraded as soon as that coach left that he found himself quickly benched, chose to draw attention to himself by using the national anthem as a means to inject partisan politics into an arena that most sports fans saw as one of the last refuges from partisan politics. Furthermore he chose to do so in the most offensive way he could think of, and to do so in order to condemn the U.S. as r-a-a-c-i-s-t and to condemn the police in particular as violent and murderous, with a very broad brush. And remember that it wasn’t just sitting for the national anthem — there were numerous other despicable (in the eyes of a probable majority of football fans) actions that were clearly motivated by stereotype-based hatred, such as wearing socks depicting the police as pigs.

4. On top of this, the sports media culture instantly stopped talking about football and insisted on talking about nothing but Kaepernick Kaepernick Kaepernick r-a-a-a-c-i-s-m effectively 24/7 — and overwhelmingly talked as though this jerk (as most sports fans considered him to be) was some kind of hero, thereby greatly compounding the frustration of the majority of America’s sports fans.

5. On top of THIS, the sports media culture piled insult on top of injury by openly making it clear that if you thought Kaepernick should be in any way penalized for his “protest,” this was proof that you were…and here everybody in America who is to anywhere to the right of JFK rolls their eyes because they know what is coming…r-a-a-a-c-i-s-t!

6. Note that the single biggest reason that Our Orange Overload is now President, is that fact that tens of millions of America voters — and specifically tens of millions of American voters who on a Venn diagram would also make up a big whopping percentage of the circle labelled “sports fans” — got tired of being called “r-a-a-a-c-i-s-t!” every time they tried to voice doubts about leftist policies or disapproval of leftist behavior.

7. Note also that the kind of people who are shamelessly willing to label a hundred million or so of their fellow Americans “deplorables” and “racists” and “white supremacists” and “hate-speechers,” and who therefore rushed to Kaeperneck’s defense, are overwhelmingly people who suffer from full-blown Trump Derangement Syndrome and react to pretty much anything Trump tweets as though he had just said, “Managed to capture a couple of Jewish children today; they should make great lampshades” — and that every time such people grotesquely over-react to a Trump tweet that non-political Americans in general don’t think is particularly unreasonable, they remind millions of swing voters that they, the swing voters, are hated and despised by precisely the sorts of people who hate and despise Donald Trump.

8. Furthermore there is surely not a single sports fan in America who doubts that if a WHITE football player were to use the NFL field as a platform to make a statement that liberals disagreed with, the same sportscasters and talking heads who have so self-righteously and endlessly talked about the importance of freedom of speech, would instantly and without shame demand that said player be instantly and permanently and forever banned from the game. For example, imagine if a player were to sit for the national anthem and announce that he was ashamed to be a part of a country whose political establishment refused openly to admit that black people commit murders at ten times the rate other ethnic minorities do, which he claimed as proof that the country was run by people who didn’t care a bit about the lives of innocent black people, who when they are murdered are overwhelmingly murdered by black criminals, and who are murdered at an obscenely higher rate than are the members of any other ethnic group. Does anybody doubt for a moment that ESPN’s staff would unanimously denounce him as a “white supremacist,” demand that he be driven forever from the field, and repeat approximately sixty times an hour the (completely false) mantra, “Free speech does not apply to hate speech” (which most people outside the liberal bubble have long since figured out means, “Free speech does not apply to the speech of people whom we liberals hate”)? More importantly, if Trump were to denounce him and call for his firing, are there very many people who think the entire Pittsburgh Steelers team would refuse to come out of the locker room during the national anthem in order to “avoid making a political statement”? (I actually think that’s possible but I don’t think many other people would agree with me.)

9. At least half the sports fans in America would whole-heartedly approve if the NFL were to say, “No matter what your political views, they stay off the football field, and while we will not take any disciplinary action against you if you offend people by what you say publicly on your own time and your own social media platforms, you WILL show respect while the national anthem is played in our stadiums, and any NFL game at which you choose to disrespect the national anthem will be an NFL game in which you do not participate.” I imagine you would actually get more than a two-thirds’ majority of the people who pony up the money that makes the NFL possible, and that pays the salary of NFL players who actually do nothing of value to earn that money other than make the customers’ lives more pleasant, to support such a policy. In other words, a solid majority of America’s football fans probably think that Donald Trump’s opinion about what the NFL should do is a lot more sensible, and a whole lot less offensive, than what Donald Trump’s critics in the NFL have actually been doing.

10. The NFL has seen a VERY significant drop in attendance and revenues since the whole Kaepernick debacle started, and anybody who thinks that isn’t in large part because millions of sports fans despise the way the NFL has handled the situation, is deluding himself. And you know who else I think is deluding himself? Anybody who thinks that the majority of people who disapprove of the NFL’s behavior and who are intensely annoyed by the forcible intrusion of political statements into their Sunday afternoon entertainment time, have already quit watching. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there are millions and millions of fans who have been offended and upset, but who love football so much that what the NFL has done so far hasn’t quite honked them off enough to make them walk. In other words, there’s a great big slice of the fan base that hasn’t gone yet but is not in a mood to put up with much more.

10. The Orange One understands everything I have just said.

So — just as he has been doing for months — Donald Trump has taken a position that he knows is generally perceived, outside of the liberal bubble, as being a reasonable, but non-liberal, position on some controversial issue. In this case he has taken a position that most non-liberals will consider to be more or less reasonable on precisely the behavior of NFL players and associated sports figures that a majority of sports fans find offensive and intensely annoying. Having chosen his troll bait, he has then exaggerated it slightly, as is his wont, in order to make the targets of his trolling more likely to overreact (most people would probably support suspension rather than firing, but would think that Trump’s general idea was basically a good one in need of fine-tuning, which is where “seriously but not literally” comes into play). And then he has used his Twitter account to say, “Here, fishie, fishie.”

Now, at this point, if the NFL had ANY SENSE WHATSOEVER, it would simply IGNORE the President. The NFL had an easy win handed to them on a platter — all they had to do was shrug and say in as bored a tone of voice as they could manage, “Hey, the dude has his opinion, and if he manages to buy an NFL team then he’ll get a vote. Does anybody have a question about, you know, football?”

But, no — the league, and far more importantly the PLAYERS of the league, promptly lost their minds. Taking the perspective of millions of heretofore loyal, but generally patriotic and non-liberal, NFL fans: Colin Kaeperneck outright slanders the overwhelming majority of the men and women of this country who daily put their lives on the line to protect the innocent, including the innocent black people who are overwhelmingly the victims of black crime…and the vast majority of the NFL’s players are like, “Whatever, dude.” President Trump tweets out something that half the people who make possible the lavish lifestyles of professional NFL players think is pretty much reasonable and comes pretty close to what somebody ought to be saying — and THREE ENTIRE TEAMS get their panties so tightly wadded they are in danger of creating their own personal-sized black holes and actually REFUSE TO COME OUT FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM AT ALL, while most of the rest of the players do their little arm-link stunt. In other words, the players go out of their way to make it clear that they are happy to put up with an open and shameless cop-hater, but they HATE Donald Trump, and presumably those who support him or even agree with him, with the heat of a thousand suns. And they use the national anthem to make that over-the-top, blatantly political statement.

(I should say here that I am sure that not all the players who linked arms meant to express disapproval of Trump, and in the case of the Steelers and the Seahawks at least, the intention of staying off the field entirely during the national anthem was to avoid making a political statement at all, so that I think they are guilty not of Trump-hatred, but simply of an astonishing inability to understand how their actions were likely to be perceived. Remember that my point is to predict how millions of fans who are sick of seeing players do anything at the national anthem other than show respect for the flag are likely to interpret the players’ actions, not to give my own opinion of the players’ actual motives and character. Still, it is undeniable that when Kaepernick started his antics, most players saw no need to rush to America’s defense, while the moment Trump criticized the protestors, suddenly practically every player in the league felt this urgent need to show “solidarity.” How can the players possibly think that this can make any impression other than they are far more loyal to each other than they are to their country?)

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anybody who was as good at taunting his enemies into unintentionally blowing their own brains out as Trump. I am not saying that this is an ADMIRABLE skill, only (a) that it is a politically useful one, (b) that Trump has it down to an art form, and (c) that not even His Orangeness, probably, could have imagined that the NFL players would take the bait to this astonishingly suicidal degree.

My prediction is that NFL viewership is about to crater. My prediction is that HUGE numbers of fans have just said, “That’s it; @#@#$@ all of you @#@$@s.” I think the NFL’s players just alienated half of the NFL fan base, perhaps irretrievably. (Remember how long it took major league baseball to recover from the 1994 players’ strike? Fans are used to hating owners; but once they start despising the players it’s Katie bar the door.) And I don’t think they have the slightest idea of how much they have just screwed themselves.

And of course I may be completely wrong, in which case I will laugh at myself at the end of the year — and the main point of this post is to remind myself to do so. We naturally remember every time we have ever been right and conveniently forget all the times we’ve been wrong. If I turn out to be wrong this time, this blog post won’t let me forget.

PREDICTION: the slide in ratings and attendance between now and the end of the year will be greater than the slide in ratings and attendance from the beginning of Kaepernick’s protests up through last Thursday night.

PREDICTIVE COROLLARY: Trump will use the phrase “Bad ratings!” in at least fifty triumphant tweets between now and then.

ADDITIONAL PREDICTIVE COROLLARY: At least some of the people who chose to refuse even to be on the field for the national anthem will accuse Trump of being “divisive,” and at least some of the people who habitually use the terms “white supremacist,” “fascist,” and “racist” to mean “white person who does not vote like I do,” will complain bitterly that Trump has used “inflammatory rhetoric” and has “normalized hatred.”

Now we wait and see whether I was right. When the final ratings and revenue numbers come out at the end of the year I’ll post the results.

P.S. ESPN has no intention of interrupting its determined, slow-motion corporate seppuku. Today there were half-a-dozen thrilling games with great story lines. Tom Brady produced another magical comeback. Aaron Rodgers threw a seventy-seven yard pass to win in overtime. The Lions appeared to have completed yet another last-minute comeback on a touchdown pass on the last play of the game, only to lose when the touchdown was overturned on review. And a rookie kicker gave the Eagles a victory over the Giants with a walk-off sixty-one yard field goal.

So, naturally, here were the first eight stories on the ESPN NFL home page a few minutes ago:

“How the player who wasn’t there [Kaepernick, obviously] won the day”

“What NFL players, coaches are saying about protests”

“Images of protest: NFL players describe Sunday”

“NFL players who protested during the national anthem in Week 3”

“‘Hopefully it’s not a one-week thing’: Malcolm Jenkins [protestor] on what happens now”

“Locked arms, kneeling dominate NFL anthems”

“Understand why the national anthem is a protest, every time it’s sung”

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your “sports” network. Oddly, its viewing audience is rapidly becoming what Ian Faith would call “more selective.”

P.P.S. You are not going to find a town more liberal than Boston, nor a team more beloved by its fans than the Patriots…but watch the video and listen to the fans’ reaction to the Patriots actions during the national anthem.

Thoughts on my seventh wedding anniversary

Looking back seven years…

I didn’t expect to laugh so much, and I didn’t expect it to be so hard for Helen. And I didn’t expect her to change so many people’s lives.

——————-

I married Helen seven years ago today. I had known her five months to the day. There were people who thought I was taking a big risk; I was not one of them, and I was right. The past seven years have not been easy, but they would have been far harder without her, and immeasurably less full of joy.

Back when I announced my intention to marry Helen on the blog I maintained at the time, I tried to describe to my American friends just what kind of person Helen was. I think that’s a good place to start: after seven years of marriage, how much do I agree with my younger self?

  • She has a lively and sneaky sense of humor.

I so underestimated this. This isn’t just true; it’s far more true than I could have imagined back then. Especially after the first couple of years, as she slowly found her footing in the midst of the storm that she unwittingly hurled herself into by marrying into my life, it seems as though whenever I have been around her I have always been more or less constantly laughing. She sees the world so differently from the way I see it, and yet so accurately in her way, that I never know what she will say next that will strike me as both true and hilarious.

I have often told, for example, the story of how, after months of nagging, the kids and I finally convinced Helen to watch football with us. When we finally got her to look at the screen and pay attention, she watched intently for about two minutes and then said, with a tone of astonished dismissal, “This is a very rude game.” Now I will wager two things. First, Gentle Reader, I wager you have never heard football described that way ever before in your life (unless you have heard me tell this story). And second, I wager that now that you have heard her describe it that way, you have to admit it’s a pretty accurate description.

Helen is so good-natured that she is a delight to tease, because she takes it all in good fun – and also, because she can give as good as she can get. I hadn’t realized how much of our conversation consisted of this affectionate, tongue-in-cheek give and take until my son Rusty’s girlfriend spent two days in the car with us en route from Houston to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for his boot camp graduation. Poor Christy…we didn’t realize it, but she spent the whole two days in a state of confusion, because she literally couldn’t figure out whether we were really fighting or just playing. But whatever it was, we did it constantly. (Rusty assured her that we are careful never to fight in front of the children and therefore she could relax and enjoy herself.)

You can tell from this that I was pretty much on point for the next two as well:

  • She is of an astonishingly even temper and calm disposition.
  • She has just enough occasional air-headedness about her to make her empathize with my habitual absent-mindedness, and to be amused by it.

Even after seven years, and occasional episodes of absent-mindedness on a truly epic scale, she responds to what most people would consider provocations with pure grace. (“Oh, you’ve gotten to work and you’ve just realized you forgot to wear a shirt? Ah. Well, don’t drive all the way back home; just go to Wal-Mart and buy one. I still love you. See you this evening.” This really happened, and that’s really pretty much how she responded.)

Of course we haven’t gotten through seven years without any fights at all. But really truly furious with each other fights, involving yelling and stomping out of the house and staying away from each other until we could calm down and apologize? I think we have one of those about once a year. Oh, Helen gets mad at me more often than that. (The two times I have accidentally addressed her with my ex-wife’s name? Yeah, that’s a three-day recovery period.) But when she does, she has the immense good sense to simply stop talking to me, rather than say things that hurt. And I have the sense to stay calm myself and offer periodic conversational olive branches. So our marriage has been astonishingly peaceful, in this respect.

But in other respects, peaceful was the last word you could have applied to the life we lived when Helen first got to America. I mentioned earlier “the storm that she unwittingly hurled herself into by marrying into my life.” Those first four or five years were difficult to a degree I can’t describe without violating other people’s confidentiality (and legal non-disclosure provisions). But I have to talk about them at least in general terms in order to address the next few points my younger self made all those years ago.

  • She walks around wearing joy the way other people wear clothing.
  • She has a habitually positive attitude and does not indulge in self-pity.
  • She has an extremely robust sense of responsibility, and whatever she considers her responsibility to be, she does whatever it takes to fulfill it.
  • She keeps her word.
  • She has enormous emotional resources and resiliency – her heart may be as soft as warm butter in its compassion and concern for others, but it’s indomitable in its strength and courage.
  • She is very, very smart; very, very prudent; very, very hard-working; and very, very practical. I strongly suspect that I will never, ever have to ask her to be more careful or less foolish with money, and if anybody gets lazy and tries to get away without carrying their fair share of the load it’ll probably be me, not her.

That bit about joy? Well, at first, I clobbered that well and truly. I had tried to explain to Helen honestly some of the difficulties she would take on by becoming my wife; but she simply had not been able to imagine how incredibly difficult it was going to be. I still had my divorce lawyer on retainer because my ex-wife’s behavioral episodes required legal attention with monotonous frequency. I was trying to fight my way out of bankruptcy while paying mountainous legal bills and trying to deal with an IRS liability that ultimately took several years and over a hundred thousand dollars to settle; as you can imagine, this meant that it took years of scrimping to get back to even a $0 net worth. When Helen first set foot in my house, I had living with me my oldest adopted daughter (who pretty much spoke only Russian and also suffered from severe epilepsy), her student-visa-holding husband who couldn’t work without risking deportation, their infant child, my second-oldest adopted daughter, a foster daughter in her late teens, and my adopted son who was four years older than Kevin, Helen’s seven-year-old. Of these, all but my youngest adopted son spoke Russian, not English, as their primary language (I myself spoke much more Russian at home than English); and they were culturally Russian in behavior and diet. So Helen was trying to adjust to American culture but also to the quite different Russian culture at the same time, while dealing with crippling debt. There were also five other children who under the initial terms of the divorce decree were to live at my wife’s house; it didn’t stay that way, but here we start getting into some of the really nasty stuff that I simply can’t share, so we will just leave it there.

All of these burdens, which I had carried for years and continued to carry for years after our marriage, became Helen’s. And they became her burdens all at once.

I had friends who expressed astonishment that I had been able to survive those last few years of my catastrophically bad first marriage and insanely nasty divorce. They credited my faith in God, and there is no doubt that without that faith, and without the knowledge of the Biblical principles by which I tried to guide my dealings with my ex-wife and children, I don’t know how I could have survived. But in comparison to Helen I had so many advantages. I at least was more or less used to the stress. For example, I didn’t go from having no children to having nine; I worked up to it gradually, one or two kids at a time, not, “You did okay with one so let’s go straight to ten.” In the same way, all the other stressors in my life, as unbearable as they might have seemed to outsiders looking in, were stressors that I had years of practice in learning to bear.

But Helen’s life in Shanghai had been very well-organized and simple and fully optimized for her happiness. She had been making good choices for a long time and so she had her life set up exactly as she wanted it. She was full of joy, partly because she loved God, but also because her life had few problems – since she had not created a lot of problems for herself by bad choices. Life was almost perfect for her until she met me…

…and then she walked into my life. From one child to, effectively, ten. Americans and Russians crammed into the same house, and behaving in ways she found unpleasant and incomprehensible and sometimes outright shocking. An ex-wife to whom I was legally tied, as co-conservators of children, for years to come, and against whose malice I had constantly to defend myself, at great legal expense. A country, or at least a state, in which it was not possible to function without being able to drive a car. Every friend and family member she’d ever known in all her life, seven thousand miles away. A mountain of crushing debt, with years of scrimping ahead just to get to zero and start all over, and then a husband who would have to find a way to put up forty-five years’ worth of retirement savings in only fifteen years, unless he planned to work until he was eighty.

Those first two years here…well, there were a lot of days when you wouldn’t have been able to find much joy in her eyes. Several times she went so far as to ask whether I would agree for us to stay married, but for her and Kevin to go back to live in China while I lived with my kids in Houston for the six or seven more years until the youngest graduated from high school and I could move to China myself. Sometimes I could go as long as two or three days without seeing her smile or hearing her laugh.

But however much she wanted to leave, she never actually left. Her time of testing was severe, and it was long in duration, and even to this day there are still burdens. But she stayed the course, shouldered her part of the burdens (without her black-belt Chinese saving skills I’m sure my net worth would still be negative), climbed that long mountainous road right along with me even though not one of the burdens was of her own creation or fault. And even at the worst, I don’t think I ever went for a full week without our laughing together.

And eventually, by God’s grace, the joy started coming back. Meanwhile she grew spiritually at an insane rate. And she began to accomplish things that neither of us could have imagined.

  • She has exactly the kind of simple, yet inquisitive, vibrant and deeply pragmatic faith in Christ, and love for God, that my parents have.
  • She has the gift my mother has, of finding natural joy in serving and loving other people.
  • She couldn’t be selfish or manipulative if you held a gun to her head.
  • If there’s a kinder, sweeter, gentler person alive than Helen, then whoever it is I haven’t met ’em.

Helen did learn to drive, but she was terrified of driving on Houston freeways those first couple of years. We even decided that we needed to change churches from our beloved Houston Chinese Church, up near Reliant Stadium fifteen freeway miles away, to Fort Bend Community Church, a Chinese church in our own community that Helen could drive to using ordinary streets.

But at about that time there was a little girl from a remote and impoverished Chinese village, who was brought to America by an organization that had arranged for the child to have critical heart surgery here at the medical center. Of course the child’s mother couldn’t drive or speak English, and the local volunteers from the charity either couldn’t speak Mandarin or weren’t available to drive the child back and forth to the doctor. Helen forced herself onto the freeway, terror or no terror, so that she could get the little girl to the hospital for her appointments. Then our friend Ju from Houston Chinese Church asked Helen to help her assist Chinese cancer patients who had come to America for a last, desperate attempt at survival by seeking treatment at M.D. Anderson. Being Helen, she simply went up there and loved them. It wasn’t just that she helped them and never asked for money; it’s that the love of Christ simply radiated from her and from Ju, and these patients knew that they were loved. They couldn’t understand it – how could two strangers love them, with such obvious sincerity and such utter lack of self-interest? “You don’t even know me,” at least one patient told them in astonishment, “but you care about me more than my own family members do.”

And so, one by one but steadily, they started asking Ju and Helen where that love came from; and then they started becoming Christians. So of course they needed to go to church. And it happens that almost none of them could speak English; so they needed to go to a Mandarin-speaking church. And it also happens that most of them lived within three or four miles of Houston Chinese Church, which may be fifteen freeway miles from our house but is not much more than a few stones’ throws from the Medical Center. But we had switched churches, and the children (especially Rusty) had made friends and gotten involved at the new church and it didn’t seem right to make them switch back; so we really felt like I needed to keep taking the kids to the new church…

So Helen started driving that freeway every Sunday morning, white-knuckling the steering wheel for the first few months, in order to pick up cancer patients and take them to church, and often multiple times during the week, in order to take them to medical appoints or grocery shopping or even just to the outlet mall. And before we continue with that story, let’s bring in a couple more things that I said:

  • She has a very sweet and pure singing voice, but oddly enough a very rich chuckle with a lot of texture and timbre to it.
  • She’s rather absurdly modest.

Now here is where I grossly underestimated her. This woman is the single most talented person I’ve ever met, and all I said about her was that she sings nice.

God has a habit of rewarding faithfulness with unexpected impact. I didn’t foresee that Helen was going to play a major role in helping lead fifty or so (not kidding) Chinese cancer patients to peace with God. I also didn’t foresee that I was going to find myself married to a celebrity.

I knew that Helen had a blog that had quite a few regular followers, and I knew that, in the past, one series of her blogposts had been selected by the editors of the largest blog site in China to be linked on their home page as an “Editors Choice.” I knew that she was very diligent about responding personally to people who wrote to her – and, because the blog post dealt with the difficulties of life as a single mother in China, and because she wrote about the trials she faced honestly but with grace and without bitterness, many other single mothers wrote to her in some desperation. But I had no idea how good a writer she really was – because I couldn’t, of course, read Mandarin.

It turns out that she is astonishingly good. I have been told this by others who read Mandarin fluently, and I have gotten to where I can read Mandarin well enough to be able to translate her work with reasonable accuracy, and even in my deeply inadequate translations she writes movingly and powerfully. Literally thousands of people in China have signed up to make sure they automatically get copies every time she posts anything, and one piece that she wrote over the weekend of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was read so widely in China that she got an e-mail from one of the bereaved thanking her for the comfort they had found in her article. (You can read my English translation here.) As the years went by and she continued to grow deeper and deeper spiritually through her faithfulness in helping me bear my burdens, her articles grew richer and richer and her audience wider and wider. There are several Chinese online magazines now that not only publish her work regularly, but occasionally contact her and ask her whether she can write bespoke pieces on topics they badly want to address but on which they can’t find adequate pieces. She even edited a book with true stories from the cancer patients.

Along the way, as we went to funeral after funeral of nice people who had prayed for healing and died anyway — I was the videographer for one wedding, you know, that took place in the bride’s hospital room. (In any room full of Southern Han Chinese people and me, I will be the obvious candidate to stand on the back row and look over everybody else’s heads.) Her parents and the nurses had dressed her in her bridal gown, and when it was time to kiss the bride, he removed her oxygen mask to do so. Even the four nurses from that wing of the ICU, who had quietly come in to stand in the back, were weeping through their smiles. She died five hours later. She and her parents were Christians. We spent time in the special burn unit down in the Galveston hospital with the parents of one young man who hadn’t been burned — he had had a severe allergic reaction to chemotherapy that caused 90% of his skin to die and fall off. He and his parents were Christians.

I came to terms with the suffering of good people long ago; either you come to terms with it or you don’t stay a Christian very long. For Helen, however, it was shattering. I gave her the philosophical answers, which was the easy part, since those answers are straightforward and logically unanswerable — but also not worth very much, as the problem of suffering is fundamentally an emotional problem: how am I supposed to love such a God? She began to read book after book from the classic Christian treatments, and eventually she found her way to the autobiographies of Joni Eareckson Tada. Here, in the words of a Christian who had gone through terrible suffering and found joy and ministry on the other side, Helen began to find some peace.

Well, she told cancer patients about Tada’s A Step Further, as well as other books by people like Nick Vujicic. Here she ran into a problem: for many of the patients, especially those in advanced stages, it was difficult or impossible for them to read. At first she started to read Tada’s book to them; but then it occurred to her that it would be more efficient for her to record it once and then give everybody copies.

Now, being Helen, she immediately thought of the podcast websites that had become popular in China by then, where people recorded themselves reading books and articles and then posted them. But on those podcasts, people don’t just read books and articles aloud. They perform them, with sound effects and music tracks designed to heighten the emotional impact.

Of course what that actually means is that somebody who is good at writing, writes stuff that is worth reading. Then somebody who is good at reading reads the stuff, usually with several takes, each of which usually gets some of the reading just right and some of it not. Then somebody who is good with music finds, or composes, music suitable to the reading. Then somebody who is technically good with computer software, and who has an ear for timing, mixes the music and the reading together, including mixing readings from different takes to produce what sounds like a single read-through but is really a painstakingly and seamlessly patched-together set of cuts of the various takes, using the best of each. And lastly an editor looks at the length and, if it’s just too long or in places wanders too far afield or slows the pace too much, figures out which pieces to cut out in order to tighten everything up. I’m quite serious; this is a typical team for a professionally published audiobook or artistic podcast.

Helen listened to all of this and did not think, “Oh, I need to get a team of people together.” She listened to all of it and thought, “Oh, so that’s what I need to get this book to sound like.”

So she did.

It turns out that she has a highly expressive reading voice that is also extraordinarily calming and comforting. It turns out that she has a keen ear for just what kind of music each piece needs, and near-flawless judgment in exactly where within the reading the music should appear, and where it should swell up or die off. It turns out that she has the patience to take two hours of reading takes and transform them into twenty minutes of reading perfection. And all this, with no training whatsoever.

She read all of A Step Further onto her iPhone and transferred it to her computer. She found production-mixing software on the internet and downloaded it, and taught herself to use it. The patients loved it. Then one asked her to read one of her own articles. She turned a couple of her articles into podcasts and took them up to the hospital; the patient listened to them and then asked if Helen could do one every day. One a day was too much, but she did a few more.

I could tell the podcasts were something special, even with my limited Mandarin. So I bought her a high-end microphone, and the next thing you know – I kid you not on this – she had done a series of podcasts that was the entire text of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity in Chinese, doing everything from reading to post-production single-handedly…and it went to the top ten on the podcast download charts for the People’s Republic of China for religious podcast audio books. By this time she had established her process: every time she wrote a blog or magazine article she would do a podcast version of it, a process that would take several hours; and then the podcast would go out with the article. By the time the year was out, not only were there more than a thousand people who were downloading every self-written, self-performed, self-produced podcast she published as soon as she published it, but she had been contacted by a lady in Wuhan who wanted Helen’s permission to collect those podcasts and publish them on a CD. Which she did, and people ordered that CD from every province of China, I think. Last year the local Chinese Christian radio station got in touch with Helen and worked out a contract under which they pay Helen every month to produce content specifically for them to air.

To top it off, a few months ago Helen was contacted by the director/producer of a documentary about Steve and Xinwei, a couple in China who for years have run a private orphanage for children with extreme special needs – spina bifida, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, paraplegia…just a truly astonishing couple. The director had years of documentary footage available, but needed to be able to tie it all together with explanatory commentary, which she wanted to be told from Xinwei’s perspective. Tragically, however, Xinwei died of cancer a couple of years ago. But the director had heard Helen’s podcasts…

So last month the documentary came out, and I have rarely sat through a more moving and inspiring two hours. And the narrative sections are in fact told through the voice of Xinwei – as provided by Helen.

But all those people in China weren’t just reading and listening. Helen publishes on the Web, primarily; and when you publish on the Web, you get comments. And when Helen gets comments, she answers them. A Web community started to form around Helen’s posts, and it migrated from there to WeChat, which you can think of as the Chinese version of Facebook, more or less. People began contacting Helen privately, in desperation, because they were struggling with ferociously difficult problems, and they knew Helen had fought through ferociously difficult problems in her past, and they didn’t have anyone else to turn to. For a not insignificant number of people, Helen’s podcasts became a lifeline, the one thing above everything else they hung onto in order to make it through, the one voice of comfort they could find (for China can be a cold, hard world to the lonely, and there are many Christians in China who are the only Christians in their village and who therefore endure a special kind of spiritual loneliness). They would listen to her podcasts until they had them practically memorized. And they would reach out to her to thank her…and often, to ask for help, for advice, for a word that would help them find their way.

I’ll tell you frankly, this scared Helen. It still does. She has researched what it would take to get a degree in Christian counseling simply because she finds herself doing counseling already – because for so many of her listeners there is nobody else to do it. She feels the weight of the responsibility keenly. She comes and asks me for help, sometimes – “What can I say to somebody who is going through this? Could you write something about this that I could translate?” She tries, I think, to communicate as much love and acceptance as possible without giving much advice, because she feels so inadequate to advise but wants so badly for them to know they are loved.

Only, I’ll tell you a true story. At one point Helen mentioned on WeChat that she was struggling with the decision of whether or not to go back to college and get a counseling degree. It turned out that one of the members of her WeChat community is in fact a professional counselor, with at least one and I think more than one doctoral degrees to go with years of experience. And her response to Helen was, if memory serves, “Why do you need a degree? You’re already one of the best counselors I’ve ever seen.”

At any rate, in the meantime she started finding that lots of her listeners were struggling with the same problems. So she began starting special-project WeChat groups dedicated to having a small community of a hundred or so people take on short-term sort of group-therapy projects: “One Hundred Days Without Catching Fire,” for example, which is a Chinese way to say, “We are all going to try to make it a hundred days without losing our temper and yelling and screaming at our spouses and kids.” She has done several of them, and they fill up promptly. And every day, she checks all the comments, and follows the conversation, and if she finds anybody who makes a comment and then doesn’t get any reply, she answers herself, so that she can be sure that nobody in the group feels ignored and left out.

And all this time, she has still kept on ministering to the cancer patients.

One last note: she recently has taken up drawing with pencil, and from there moved on to painting. A couple of weeks ago she decided to try her hand at acrylic on canvas, applied with a palette knife rather than a brush, which was a technique she had never used before. She found an instructional video on YouTube and started to follow the artist’s instructions to paint a nice little study of bright color on a background that is deliberately muted and dark in order to render the splashes of color even more vivid by contrast. But she was literally painting this during Hurricane Harvey, and she wound up turning what the artist thought of as the background into the lead character, as it were, and she decided not to add the bright colors at all – thereby completely changing the character and mood of the piece into something I think is best described as “elegaic.”

I thought it was awesome. I put a picture of it on Facebook and people thought it was awesome. I took it to work and co-workers thought it was awesome. And it happens that one of my company’s partners has a sister who has made her living for years as a painter in oil and as a commercial artist and instructor; she has sold hundreds of paintings. My partner’s wife sent her a photograph of Helen’s picture and asked whether it was actually good enough to sell, and if so, how Helen ought to go about trying to sell it.

The answer came back today – and remember, this is the first time Helen has ever tried to paint with a palette knife instead of a brush. The professional artist said Helen should frame it (which – I’ve checked already – would cost about $110), and that it absolutely was good enough to sell, and that if Helen wanted to start selling paintings, she (the professional artist) was willing to offer consultant services to help her.

Oh, and she even said what she thought Helen should expect to be able to get for that painting, if she were willing to sell the original. That would be $900, plus the cost of the frame.

A thousand dollars.

Weeping Houston

I pause here to note that Helen got to read the first section of this post before I wrote this section, and she complained of various “inaccuracies.” One of them was that she objected very strongly to my statement that she was “very, very talented.” This she had marked with a big “X,” along with the annotation, “Just have some hobbies.”

I leave it to the Gentle Reader to decide whether I have been guilty of an “inaccuracy.”

Now at this point, you are probably getting annoyed, because this does not seem to be a piece about our marriage, actually, but has so far simply been a panegyric of Helen, an extended riff on, “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” So I should say that I don’t think Helen would have been able to do all this on her own – our marriage has enabled her. Let me start describing how it has done so by bringing in another of my opinions from seven years ago:

  • She is very good at business, but is interested in business only as a means to seeing to it that the people she loves have all that they need in order to be happy – and is literally incapable of carrying on business in a dishonest or unethical manner.

Helen has done many things of impact outside our family in the last seven years, but most of them she has done as volunteer ministry. And for years, she would periodically suffer bouts of severe guilt over feeling that she was not helping me enough – I was working very hard, very long hours, trying to support our family and get us out of debt, and she felt that she had a moral obligation to go find a job with a nice salary to help take that burden off of me. This is completely in character: she didn’t want to go out and get a job in order to get rich, because she has little desire for wealth. She wanted to go out and find a business so that I wouldn’t have to work so hard. This was particularly true before she began bringing in income through part-time jobs with the radio station, and the occasional magazine article, and serving as the local representative for a Chinese plastics products company that gets raw materials from the Texas Gulf Coast but doesn’t want to keep a full office running here. Those first few years she wasn’t making any money at all because all the ministry was volunteer work; and, as I say, from time to time she would suddenly have a guilt attack.

Whenever this happened, I would patiently explain that she had no business feeling guilty, and that I was very happy with what she was doing. In the first place, by taking over the management of the finances and doing it spectacularly well, she already was taking a huge load off of my shoulders and contributing very materially indeed to our financial well-being.

But there was a much more important reason that I wanted her to keep doing what she was doing rather than going out and finding a paycheck. I tried to explain it several times before finding the phrasing that made the penny drop for her:

“I make money. But you make a difference.”

And the thing is, because Helen does all this ministry, I get to be a part of it, too, and these are ministries I could never have participated in without her. My Mandarin isn’t anywhere good enough to help Chinese cancer patients or WeChat counselees on my own. But I get to help. In the first place, by working as hard as I do, I free her up to be able to do those ministries full-time. In the second place, I can cook when we invite Chinese speakers to our house, and I can go to the get-togethers they have and just basically walk around and smile at people, which has a bigger positive effect than you would expect. In the third place, there are things I can do that Helen can’t, and she calls on me at need – I served as an ambulance driver at 2:00 a.m. once, for example. Also, while I’m pretty sure Helen loves God more than I do, I have known Him longer, and I know the Bible far better than she does; and so when she gets into deep waters theologically or apologetically, she comes to me and I write up answers for her, which she translates. She has helped lead lots of people to peace with God, far more than I. But there are a couple of people who got as far as Helen’s love could take them, and ran aground on difficult philosophical or emotional barriers to take the final step into faith; and I was able to answer those questions and see them become Christians and know that there was now another house in Heaven I will someday be welcome in. But those people would never have come to the point where I could help them if Helen hadn’t brought them there by loving them first.

I even got to be a part of that documentary about Steve and Xinwei – chunks of the dialogue were in English and chunks were in Chinese, and the director decided to subtitle the whole thing in both Chinese and English. Only, nobody on the team really knew English very well…so now I have had the fun of translating all the dialog for a two-hour Chinese documentary into English subtitles. What do you think my odds of doing that would have been if I weren’t Helen’s husband?

My most important role in her ministry, however, is something rather different. I said earlier that as Helen has grown in faith and maturity, her ministries have grown in influence and power. Helen’s ministry is grounded in, and inseparable from, our family life in three ways.

First, her audience exploded when she reached America and began writing what amounted to an open journal of a Chinese girl trying to adjust to America, and to being married to an American, and of all things being married to an American man who already had eight children, and who had grown up in a Christian culture that had American Christian expectations of husbands and fathers, which are very different indeed from typical Chinese expectations of family men. Many Chinese are avidly curious about life in America, and they ate it up.

Many of her pieces compared American culture to Chinese culture, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively; many of her pieces more specifically compared American Christianity to Chinese Christianity, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. But the pieces that had the greatest cumulative effect were her honest sharings of how we went about building a marriage that was neither Chinese nor American, but something in between. I play a huge part in her ministry, you see, simply by providing her with material.

Seven years ago I said:

  • She is transparent and honest; what you see is what you get.
  • She has no talent for dishonesty whatsoever.

In one respect this proved false: she tells everybody in China about everything good I do, and leaves out all the bad, so that there are women all over China who regularly wish that their husbands were like “Shū-shū de lǎogōng,” Shu-shu’s husband. I tell them I wish I were like Shū-shū de lǎogōng, my own self; he seems like a pretty awesome guy. But about her own struggles she is utterly transparent…and so her readers have been able to watch as she has grown. For they have seen not only her struggles; they have watched, in real time, as the Biblical principles that our life as a family is built on have succeeded and triumphed, and they have retooled their own family lives to build success on those same principles.

This leads to the second element: it is overwhelmingly the trials that we have faced, in our family life and in a ministry that takes us to lots and lots of funerals, that people respond to. It does very little good for someone whose life has been easy to talk to people who are suffering about faith. But people look at the things Helen has dealt with and say, “When that woman talks about how God is with us in suffering, she knows what she is talking about.” Helen wasn’t likely to create a lot of problems for herself, back in her well-ordered life in Songjiang – but she wasn’t likely to have very many people coming to her blog and finding comfort there, either. So God dropped a whole bunch of problems on her that weren’t in any way her fault but that she had to deal with…and her struggles gave her a voice to thousands of other people who were struggling as well.

Which brings me to the third reason our family life is the basis for Helen’s ministry. God gave Helen a bunch of problems that she did not know how to handle. But He also gave her me. Now I am very far from a saint, and Helen loves God far more than I do and will rank very much higher in the Kingdom of Heaven than I. But I know what to do in the face of trials; if my first marriage did nothing else besides giving me eight children whom I love, it gave me one whoppin’ ton of experience in enduring through suffering. I am not much of a saint, but I am at least a very experienced and knowledgeable Christian. So I have had the privilege of being her pastor and guide as she has gone through incredible growth. And as we faced problem after problem that seemed to Helen at first to be unbearable, and time after time I walked her through how God wanted us to respond to each problem as it arose, and as she saw the principles of God work and grew by leaps in bounds in faith…well, she brought her readers right along with her as she learned.

That pattern has been remarkably consistent over the last seven years. A difficult problem arises; we work through it, usually with me explaining how God tends to work and what He wants us to do in such situations; Helen grits her teeth and tries to do the will of God; and when to her joy God’s way works, her readers hear all about it.

I don’t want to imply, by the way, that the knowledge transfer all goes one way. When Helen first got here, she was appalled by what she perceived as the dynamic between my children and myself, and she frequently challenged me – but always in private – about whether the choices I were making were really the best for the children. I had a lot to teach her about giving grace to people whose behavior is a long way from what it should be, and about looking for progress rather than looking for perfection, and about unconditional love. But I also know about myself that I pathologically hate conflict, and that my avoidance of conflict had already done my children a lot of harm during the decline and fall of my first marriage; and there were times when I decided that she was right and that I needed to change tactics. Sometimes I decided she was right; sometimes I decided she was partly right; sometimes I just flat-out disagreed with her. I didn’t always follow orders, as it were, and she spent a lot of time frustrated by my choices. I’m sure I didn’t listen as often as I should have. But when I didn’t listen, she didn’t pretend to agree with what I was doing – but she also accepted the decision. Our marriage could very easily have been shipwrecked by the gap between our natural parenting styles; by God’s grace, and because we both tried to treat the other the way God says to rather than the way either American or Chinese culture urges us to, our marriage ultimately was strengthened in the fire, as it were.

What’s more, just as she made me a better father to my children, God used me to make her a better mother to her son, and to challenge her on the one point where she has trouble loving her neighbor.

  • She is of an astonishingly even temper and calm disposition.
  • She can pray the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” in perfect safety – I’ve never heard even a shade of anger or bitterness in her voice when she talks about the past.
  • She has never allowed herself or any member of her family or friends to ever say anything bad about Kevin’s father in front of him, because that’s Kevin’s dad.
  • She has the gift my mother has, of finding natural joy in serving and loving other people.

On these, it turns out, a little bit of correction needs to be made. These are the almost the only points on which I had slightly overestimated where she was spiritually seven years ago. I would say there really were only two major issues of character that she needed to address when we wed. First, major relational issues between herself and Kevin surfaced. Second, she has practically infinite capacity for self-sacrifice and love…to those whom she deems worthy of help. But to people who consistently make what she thinks are bad decisions or who respond to other people’s self-sacrifice with selfishness and indifference and ingratitude, she finds it hard to be charitable: Christ’s ability to love the worst of sinners is something that she is building up only slowly and painfully, and while she has a very great capacity for self-sacrificial love, she came equipped with pretty much no natural capacity for unconditional love.

When we started, Helen was often deeply frustrated with my willingness to stay in relationships with friends and family members who were treating me badly, and thought I was wrong not to demand good behavior or else. Why would I put up with it? They had no business acting that way! And to a certain extent she was right to challenge me, to make sure I wasn’t just avoiding conflict (one of my worst besetting sins and the single most destructive of my many failures in my first attempt to be a husband). But through the years she has come to see that some of what she at first perceived as weakness was actually unconditional love. Not all, by any means, but certainly some. There was a point when she recognized that in this respect there is a journey she has to make, and that on this particular journey of faith I have (thanks to my having grown up with the parents I grew up with, not thanks to any great natural virtue of my own) a head start on her. And I have seen her set her jaw and set out on that journey.

Also, just as, through the years, she has challenged me on whether I am making decisions that are in my children’s best long-term interest, so have I, through the years, taken on the task of helping Kevin and Helen work on the patterns of behavior between them. And while she is no more of a perfect mom to Kevin than I am a perfect dad to “my” eight, still she has come a long way, possibly much farther than she realizes.

And in the end, isn’t that what a Christian marriage is supposed to be about? Iron sharpening iron, God using two people who get different things wrong to help each other get more things right? We have faced daunting problems together; we have disagreed with each other’s decisions in certain areas; we have disapproved of each other’s behavior from time to time. But we have for seven years simply refused to hurt each other on purpose. We have been honest about the issues and we have not avoided confrontation and straight talking when it has been necessary. But we have largely avoided speaking in anger; in the language we use in our house, almost always, when one of us has felt it necessary to confront and challenge the other, we have done so in “solution” mode rather than “blame” mode, and even in the darkest times neither of us has ever doubted the other’s love. I said earlier that we get in a real fight no more than once a year or so; but Helen challenged that – she said she only remembered two times in seven years when I have lost it and yelled at her (anyone who knows my temper knows from that alone that she must be insanely easy to live with), and I can’t remember more than a couple of times that she has left the house to cool down because our conflict got too heated – and they may well be the same two times. I get mad at her and frustrated by her much more often than once a year, you understand, and I’m sure that there has been more than twice in seven years that I have royally honked her off. And it’s not like we can’t tell that the other is angry. But we refuse, generally speaking, to hurt each other: if we are angry we keep silent until we can talk in a way that will help solve the problem rather than make it worse; and if we can see that the other one is angry we try to speak and act reconciliation, not defend ourselves. So the challenges we’ve faced have brought us together rather than driving us apart, and those challenges have given Helen, and to a lesser extent myself as her meet help, a platform to help other people in ways I couldn’t have imagined seven years ago.

And among those people are the people I care about more than anybody else in the world save Helen herself: my children. I will not violate my children’s privacy by talking in any detail about the hell I had to watch them go through as my first marriage disintegrated and then the divorce battered and damaged them, nor about the challenges my adopted children brought into the family with them, through no fault of their own, from all they had suffered before I even met them. I had no goal about which I was more passionate, thirty years ago as I entered into my first marriage, than that of protecting my children and giving them the blessings of the same kind of family environment with which my parents blessed me; and in this respect, I could hardly have failed them more catastrophically. But in the end I got at least one thing right: I gave them Helen as a stepmother. And, again, I will not share details, but I will say this: Helen has brought a great deal of healing to my children, and among the various children, the more time they have been able to spend around Helen, the more healing I have seen. I am grateful to Helen for many things, but for few things am I more grateful than for how she has loved my children – and for how she has helped me love them more effectively myself.

Oh, yes, there was one last thing I told my friends seven years ago.

  • When she smiles at me the world wobbles and my blood catches on fire.

Seven years later – it’s still true.

On reporting vs. advocacy

Yesterday, while working at Starbucks, I overheard one side of a phone conversation between an AP “reporter” and the lawyer for a group of illegal aliens who were witnesses to a crime of some sort and who were uncovered by the police in the investigation of the crime. The questions were all about what the lawyer’s strategy was for keeping the illegals in the country, and what the barriers to success might be (“How many of them had pre-existing deportation orders?”). The last thing the “reporter” said before hanging up was, “Well, I just want to make sure the victims’ voices are heard for as long as we can manage it.”

Now this is precisely why the press has no credibility. This “reporter” is not doing journalism; he is doing advocacy. (This is why the word “reporter” will appear within quotation marks throughout this post.) He has a desired political outcome (for which, as it happens, I have great sympathy), and he is shaping his coverage in order to achieve the desired political outcome. But his piece is not going to appear in the editorial pages. It will appear in “straight” news pages.

I do want to emphasize here, before going further, that I really do have a lot of sympathy for his cause. I myself know people whom I like very much and whom I know are here illegally and whom I do not want to see deported, and I have for years censored my social media postings pretty ruthlessly in order to be sure I didn’t accidentally say anything to get them in trouble. I am rather bitterly opposed to the deportation of DREAMers, and while I don’t think we have any business giving a general amnesty as if the law had never been broken, I want to find a compromise that allows thirty-year-olds whose parents brought them here when they were six months old, to stay as long as they want in literally the only home they have ever known. But the fact that my sympathies are with the reporter in this case does not change the fact that he is being deeply dishonest – and probably is sufficiently morally crippled that he has no idea that there’s anything wrong with what he’s doing. So this post is not about illegal immigration. It is about the difference between reporting and advocacy.

I would not accuse him of advocacy based purely on his questions – but he has explicitly stated his intent and motivation, in so many words. So it is perfectly reasonable to assume that he means it. Given that, it is safe to say that, for example, whether the answer to the question about pre-existing deportation orders will appear in the article at all depends entirely upon the answer. If the reporter answered, “All of them,” then you would be pretty safe to bet that the question of pre-existing deportation orders will not appear in the article; it will be as though the question had never been asked. If, on the other hand, the lawyer’s answer was, “None of them,” then the fact that none of these “victims” had pre-existing deportation orders will figure prominently in the article, as proof that these “victims” are not really “criminals.”

After all, if they were all under deportation orders, then if the general public were made aware of the fact that all the victims had already been rounded up once and were supposed to have been deported, that would make it much less likely that the “victims’ voices would be heard,” which is victim-language for “the victims would get what they want.” (If someone whom a Leftist considers a victim says, “Here is what I want,” and the general public listens, deliberates, and then says, “We understand, but we regret to inform you that you can’t have it,” then I’m not sure there is a Leftist alive who would agree that their “voices were heard.” In the minds of the Left, a “victim’s” voice is only “heard” when the “victim’s” demands are met in their entirety. Note that the reporter could, with a higher degree of confidence in precise correspondence to objective fact, have said, “Well, I just want to make sure that the people who have been discovered to have come here in violation of this nation’s laws will not be required to comply with this nation’s laws.” But precision in the statement of facts rarely is conducive to Leftist-designated “victims’” having their “voices heard;” and it has been a while since the AP has given any sign that factual precision is high on their list of professional goals.)

On the other hand, if none of these unfortunates were under deportation orders, then this can be used to paint them as harmless. None of them are “criminals,” since any laws that Leftists disapprove of are spoken of as if they do not exist and as if the people who break laws disapproved of by Leftists are not lawbreakers. The facts will be included in the story only insofar as they can be used to create the desired emotional effect on the reader – that is, that the reader will feel about the “victims” the same way the reporter does. For this “reporter” does not have the goal of presenting the facts; he did not ask about deportation orders because he thought the public had a right to know how many of the persons in questions were under pre-existing deportation orders. His goal is to ensure that the individuals in this case who are illegally in this country, are allowed to remain here because people feel sufficiently sorry for them; and he asked the question in search of ammunition for his propaganda. He is not reporting. He is pretending to report, while actually attempting to manipulate his audience into supporting his desired political outcome.

And again, I myself happen to be in great sympathy with his pity for the individuals involved, assuming that they are like the overwhelming number of the people I know who are in this country illegally and whom I have spent a decade being careful not to report because I don’t want them deported. With his pity I have great sympathy. With his complete and utter lack of integrity, however, I have no sympathy at all.

You know what, though? If you could see him, it would be hard to be very hard on him. He looks to be about twenty-five, and his car has a “Northwestern University” sticker on it. It is entirely possible that in his entire university career he has never met a person of honesty and integrity, and that nobody has ever made clear the difference between journalism and advocacy, and that he has no idea that what he is doing is in fact unethical and dishonest. He has probably been told that “speaking truth to power” is the mission of the journalist, by Leftist professors who have not drawn the connection between their abandonment of “bourgeois” or “middle-class” standards of journalistic integrity, and the fact that modern Americans trust journalists even less than they trust Congressmen. He probably is simply one of the legions of young reporters that Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes so contemptuously manipulated (“We created an echo chamber…they were saying things that validated what we had given them to say”), and so sneeringly described in these words: “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

The saddest thing about this whole incident is that this pitiful young man almost certainly wants to Do The Right Thing, and sincerely believes he is doing his job well. It’s the people who pretended to educate him that deserve the reprobation. At any rate, the “reporter” followed the call to the lawyer with a call to a government representative. All of his questions had to do with allowances the government planned to make for the difficulties that the undocumented immigrants were going to have in collecting their documents in the wake of Harvey. They were perfectly reasonable questions to ask and I actually would like to know the answers to them, and I hope the answer is that generous accommodations will be made.

But the reporter was very careful NOT to tell the government official that his goal was “to make sure the victims’ voices are heard for as long as we can manage it.”

That, you see, would have involved honesty and integrity. So it was never going to happen.