Choosing ‘The Chosen’

By Christopher Harper

The Chosen, which ended its second season last week, provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of Jesus Christ and the apostles.

When someone talks about a saint, I usually think of a holy person without flaws. The Chosen depicts the lives of primarily ordinary men and women who were called to follow Christ, mainly because of their flaws.

The show’s creator, Dallas Jenkins, has a degree in Biblical studies and has a team of scholars to ensure the accuracy of the stories. The scriptwriters took the gospel accounts and added plausible details about the lives of the figures found there. They added backstories to well-known characters and fleshed out other characters who might receive only a passing mention in Scripture.

Simon Peter is sometimes a hothead who tried to outfox the Roman authorities. His brother Andrew seems to be a good man who often is unsure of himself.

John and James, the other fishermen, are tried and true but often prone to anger. That’s why they are called the “sons of thunder.”

Matthew is the odd man out of Christ’s followers, a tax collector hated by almost everyone. He is by far the most intelligent, but The Chosen portrays him like someone with a Asperger’s disease or autism. Nevertheless, he becomes quite close to Christ because of his ability to write down the Messiah’s actions and words for what would become one of the four gospels.

Thomas is the consummate doubter—a good man who has his doubts up until the end.

Phillip is a follower of John the Baptist, who provides a rational balance and is sometimes the arbitrator of disagreements among the apostles.

Simon the Zealot once served in a group of militant Jews bent on ridding the Holy Land of the Romans.

James the Lesser, Bartholomew, and Thaddeus haven’t significantly been featured in the first two seasons, but it’s likely that they will play greater roles over the next five seasons that are planned.

At the end of Season Two, Judas Iscariot becomes a follower of Jesus Christ. He’s described as a man who is an orphan and a poet. He’s a real estate wheeler-dealer who helped the apostles rent the land on which the Sermon on the Mount took place.

But there are many other interesting followers of Christ, including Mary Magdalene. She’s a prostitute who came to follow Jesus because he cast out her demons with the simple touch of His hand. The Blessed Virgin also travels with Christ during his trips throughout the Middle East, making sense because she is now a widow and has little money to provide for herself.

One engaging figure is Nicodemus, a Jewish rabbi and powerful leader considered a saint in some Christian religions. He decides that Jesus is the Messiah, but he is conflicted about stating in public what he believes because of his position in Jerusalem.

All told, The Chosen provides a fascinating backstory of Christ’s apostles and other followers.

Although the series can be challenging to find because it doesn’t appear on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon, try https://watch.angelstudios.com/thechosen.

It’s definitely worth a watch, even if you aren’t sure about your personal beliefs.

History and critical race theory

By Christopher Harper

Amid the debate over teaching critical race theory or CRT, I decided to search for how a K-12 curriculum would look.

I found a website for Learning for Justice, an organization founded by the Southern Poverty Law Center. See https://www.learningforjustice.org/

Many people should recognize the law center as a leader in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The organization maintains that more than 500,000 individuals access the teaching materials on a continuing basis. 

Under “A Framework for Teaching American Slavery,” Learning for Justice argues that “most students leave high school without an adequate understanding of the role slavery played in the development of the United States—or how its legacies still influence us today. In an effort to remedy this, we developed a comprehensive guide for teaching and learning this critical topic at all grade levels.” Note: I would argue that most students leave high school without an adequate understanding of anything to do with U.S. history.

The “Teaching Hard History” curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade includes 10 basic tenets:

1. Slavery, which Europeans practiced before they invaded the Americas, was important to all colonial powers and existed in all North American colonies. Note: Many Black African countries also engaged in slavery–as did the many empires, such as the Romans.

2. Slavery and the slave trade were central to the development and growth of the colonial economies and what is now the United States. Note: Not all colonial economies depended on slaves.

3. Protections for slavery were embedded in the founding documents; enslavers dominated the federal government, Supreme Court, and Senate from 1787 through 1860. Note: There was a lot of other good stuff in the founding documents.

4. Slavery was an institution of power designed to create profit for the enslavers and break the will of the enslaved and was a relentless quest for profit abetted by racism. Note: I wouldn’t disagree with this statement.

5. Enslaved people resisted the efforts of their enslavers to reduce them to commodities in both revolutionary and everyday ways. Note: I learned about John Brown in the 1960s in high school. I assume his rebellion and others are still taught in schools.

6. The experience of slavery varied depending on time, location, crop, labor performed, size of slaveholding, and gender. Note: I couldn’t disagree with this statement, although I’m not sure what exactly it means in terms of a school curriculum.

7. Slavery was the central cause of the Civil War. Note: I would hope that all students, like me in the 1960s, learns this truism.

8. Slavery shaped the fundamental beliefs of Americans about race and whiteness, and white supremacy was both a product and legacy of slavery. Note: I would call this statement a gross generalization.

9. Enslaved and freed people worked to maintain cultural traditions while building new ones that sustain communities and impact the larger world. Note: I don’t know, but it’s probably true.

10. By knowing how to read and interpret the sources that tell the story of American slavery, we gain insight into some of what enslaving and enslaved Americans aspired to, created, thought, and desired. Note: It would seem better to address current issues than these historical ones.

The organization provides various materials, including lesson plans, videos, podcasts, and consultations with critical race theory proponents, to teach students about these issues. 

Education Week, which broadly supports critical race theory in schools, provides some background about the debate over the inclusion of CRT into schools.  

“Critical race theory emerged out of postmodernist thought, which tends to be skeptical of the idea of universal values, objective knowledge, individual merit, Enlightenment rationalism, and liberalism—tenets that conservatives tend to hold dear,” EdWeek’s Stephen Sawchuk wrote recently. “In history, the debates have focused on the balance among patriotism and American exceptionalism, on one hand, and the country’s history of exclusion and violence towards Indigenous people and the enslavement of African Americans on the other—between its ideals and its practices.” See https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-is-critical-race-theory-and-why-is-it-under-attack/2021/05

That seems to me to be a fair assessment of precisely what the debate is about. I would fall on the side of promoting universal values, objective knowledge, and individual merit. I’m not so sure about Enlightenment rationalism and liberalism. I would hope the first set of values are not only held by conservatives.

Biden’s debacle in Afghanistan

By Christopher Harper

The Biden administration’s pullout of the U.S. military from Afghanistan is deployable and disheartening.

After 20 years in the country, the United States left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield by shutting off the electricity and slipping away in the night without notifying the base’s new Afghan commander, the Associated Press reported.

“We (heard) some rumor that the Americans had left Bagram … and finally by seven o’clock in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram,” Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, Bagram’s new commander, told the AP.

Before the Afghan army could take control of the airfield, which lies about an hour’s drive from the Afghan capital of Kabul, it was invaded by a small army of looters, who ransacked barrack after barrack and rummaged through giant storage tents before being evicted, according to local military officials.

The sprawling air base was at the center of America’s war to unseat the Taliban and hunt down the al-Qaida planners of the 9/11 attacks on America.

Used by the U.S. and NATO forces, Bagram includes two runways and more than 100 parking slots for fighter jets known as revetments because of the blast walls that protect each aircraft. The base also consists of a prison with about 5,000 prisoners, many of them from the Taliban.

The U.S. forces reportedly left behind thousands of civilian vehicles, many of them without keys to start them. The departing troops took heavy weapons and blew up ammunition on the base.

The military did leave tens of thousands of bottles of water, energy drinks, and military ready-made meals, known as MREs, which will prove of little use in the fight against the Taliban.

The AP spoke with Afghan soldiers at the base that had once seen as many as 100,000 U.S. troops. The Afghans criticized how the United States left Bagram, escaping in the night without telling the Afghan soldiers who patrol the perimeter.

“In one night, they lost all the goodwill of 20 years by leaving the way they did, in the night, without telling the Afghan soldiers who were outside patrolling the area,” said one Afghan soldier.

Biden plans to pull out all U.S. troops by August, leaving a vacuum that will almost certainly lead to the Taliban taking power once again.

In northern Afghanistan, for example, district after district has fallen to the Taliban, and most analysts think the group will retake the country.
Although I concede that the United States stayed too long in Afghanistan, the departure of troops under the cover of darkness sends a clear signal to allies that the United States can no longer be trusted.

Hypocrisy on the Fourth

By Christopher Harper

The Biden battle to prevent a July 4th celebration at Mount Rushmore is yet another example of the disingenuous notion that this president intends to bring the nation together. 

Instead, Joe Biden and his cronies want to divide and conquer.

In an eloquent response to Biden’s crew, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem examines the hypocrisy of Biden’s arguments.

“There is no better place than Mount Rushmore to celebrate America’s birthday. Independence Day is the celebration of our nation and our founding principles of freedom, equality, and opportunity. Thomas Jefferson wrote the beautiful document that declared the United States of America free and independent. George Washington’s leadership in the American Revolution ensured that our independence was established and protected,” Noem wrote in  The National Review.

Point One: The Biden administration argues that the pandemic should preclude a fireworks celebration. But South Dakota’s COVID cases are the lowest they’ve been in 14 months. Moreover, there were no cases from last year’s event.

Point Two: The administration argues that there were environmental concerns with holding the event. But the National Park Service determined that no significant impact occurred from last year’s celebration.

Point Three: The administration points maintains that certain Native American tribes opposed the event. But Noem said she and others consulted with them before last year’s celebration and included programming to celebrate Native American heritage.

A federal district court judge recently sided with the Biden administration, but Noem promised to continue the legal battle.

As Noem puts it, the cancellation is simply another example of the Democrat tilt to the far left. “They wish to cancel the great men on that mountain who accomplished so much to make America the most special nation in history. It’s but their latest attack on American history and our founding principles.”

I’ve spent a lot of time in the state. In fact, I graduated from high school in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I couldn’t agree more with the governor!  

A good man gone too soon

By Christopher Harper 

I lost a former colleague and good friend last week. 

Jim Sicile worked as a cameraman for many news outlets, particularly ABC, covering many of the most significant national and international events over the past 30 years. See https://www.yahoo.com/gma/abc-news-photographer-jim-sicile-175104719.html 

Jim started in the ABC News mailroom at the age of 18 and worked his way up to become a well-respected cameraman. He covered everything from the World Trade Center attacks and Hurricane Katrina to the Haiti earthquake and the Olympics. He interviewed world leaders and covered every president from Nixon to Biden, which was his final assignment that stopped abruptly because of illness. 

Jim was compassionate. At his funeral, ABC news anchor John Quinones recalled how Jim called one time about an ethical question. Jim had interviewed a man who had lost his job and his home because of the pandemic. Jim took some cash out of his wallet and handed the man the money. 

A bit later, Jim called Quinones to ensure he hadn’t violated some network rule to give the man the cash.  

I worked with Jim for nearly a decade at 20/20. In fact, he was there for my first segment for the broadcast in 1986. The shoot had been complicated, involving a helicopter, a speedboat, and an ill reporter. 

In the end, Jim, a bona fide foodie, remarked on only one facet of the seven-day extravaganza. He loved the huevos rancheros at a nearby San Diego diner! 

His taste buds became renowned. For example, he created a line of hot pepper sauces. Moreover, the prayer card at Jim’s funeral included a background of his famed peppers.

His family organized a bevy of food trucks from jerk barbeque to crepes for a “celebration of his life” after the funeral. A rock ‘n’ roll band played Jim’s favorites from Elton John and Billy Joel.  

But there’s also a maddening part of Jim’s death. During the pandemic, his doctors focused on COVID-19 and misdiagnosed his illness. During several conversations with Jim, an incredibly patient man, he told me about his frustration with his doctors.  

It turned out that Jim, who had never smoked, did not have COVID. Instead, he had lung cancer. It is unclear whether the several months of misdiagnosis would have made any difference, but I bet it would have given Jim some more time.  

Before he died, Jim told his family and friends: “People say I am stronger than the cancer. The cancer didn’t take my sense of humor from me, I am still a good husband and a good father and friend. In those ways, yes, I am stronger. The cancer did not win.”

At 66, a good man was gone much too soon!  

Foreign follies

By Christopher Harper

If the recent international trips of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are any indication, the next four years will be a disaster.

At the G-7 conference in Great Britain, Biden interrupted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ask for an introduction of the leader of South Africa. He was greeted with snickers from other leaders as he somehow missed that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the only black man in the room, had already been introduced.

Later, at a news conference, Biden continually confused Libya and Syria. 

“There’s a lot going on where we can work together with Russia. For example, in Libya, we should be opening up the passes to be able to go through and provide — provide food assistance and economic — I mean, vital assistance to a population that’s in real trouble,” he told reporters.

After confusing the two countries several more times, Biden aides had to inform journalists that the president meant Syria rather than Libya. 

What a comfort as Biden headed for Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin!

But the media played along and ignored the gaffes, reveling in the lack of Donald Trump’s presence and puffing up Biden’s “accomplishments.”

“G-7 leaders come Together on Global Minimum Tax, Democratic Ideals.” The New York Times bellowed at the end of the meeting. “The agreement represented a dramatic return of America’s postwar international diplomacy, and Biden said it was evidence of the strength of the world’s democracies in tackling hard problems.”

I am genuinely heartened that the G-7 can agree on democratic ideals. Unfortunately, I still haven’t figured out precisely what the global minimum tax will do other than stifle business and individual enterprise throughout the developed world. 

The Washington Post reported, “[P]erhaps the most striking part of the first G-7 summit in the post-Trump era was its sheer normalcy and even the bland scriptedness that undergirded most of the proceedings.”

I think it’s grand that the leaders of the developed world can agree on normalcy and blandness. What a great accomplishment! 

Harris, the designed hitter on the border crisis, didn’t perform much better in her brief swing into Latin America to talk with the leaders of Mexico and Guatemala. 

The vice president hasn’t even visited the border since being anointed as the border crisis queen, and the administration has failed to articulate what it plans to do about the problems. In May, the U.S. Border Patrol reported that it stopped 180,034 people trying to cross through there, the highest number since Biden took office and nearly eight times the 23,000 stopped in May 2020.

Harris has fumbled several interviews about the border crisis.

The most awkward was an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, when she told him, “We’ve been to the border.” 

He corrected her, pointing out that she has not been to the border. 

That’s about the only aggressive question anyone from the mainstream media has made about the growing incompetence of Biden and Harris’ foreign policy. 

Silly me, why should I be surprised? Everything is just great because Trump is no longer president. 

Leave Mother Nature alone

By Christopher Harper

I don’t claim to be a climate expert, but a recent trip to what’s known as the Pennsylvania Wilds demonstrates how Mother Nature does a pretty good job of taking care of herself.

In the rolling hills and valleys of north-central Pennsylvania sits Pine Creek Gorge, known as The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. See https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/LeonardHarrisonStatePark/Pages/default.aspx

A friend who has traveled throughout the world said as she looked over the landscape: “That’s a wow!”

Indeed, it is.

According to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, an estimated 90 percent, or 31,000 square miles of the state, was covered with forests before William Penn and his fellow Quakers settled the state. By the American Revolution, lumber became one of the leading industries in Pennsylvania. Trees were used to furnish fuel to heat homes, wood for construction, furniture, and barrel making. Rifle stocks and shingles were made from Pennsylvania timber, as were a wide variety of household utensils and the first Conestoga wagons.

By the mid-19th century, up to 20 million board feet of timber floated from the area to the West Branch Susquehanna River and to sawmills near Williamsport, a few miles from my new home. At the time, Williamsport boasted the highest number of millionaires per capita in the country.

But the timber barons cut down too much lumber and did not replenish what they had harvested. On May 6, 1903, a local newspaper ran the headline “Wild Lands Aflame” and reported landslides throughout the gorge. The soil was depleted of nutrients, and it became known as the “Pennsylvania Desert.” Much of the wildlife died or left the area.

Fast forward to today. Left to its own devices, Mother Nature has replenished the forests, renewed the land, and wildlife has returned.

The area is part of a state forest, but nature, not humans, did the bulk of the work.

As I said, I’m not an expert. But could you examine if you had all of today’s climate doomsayers trying to intervene in reviving the forestland? I’d rather leave the work to Mother Nature and God!

Humor and politics

By Christopher Harper

Dick Tuck was a political operative I met in the 1970s in Washington, D.C., and I later reconnected with him in the 1990s in New York City.

During his years as a campaign aide to the Democratic National Committee, Tuck became Richard Nixon’s nemesis.

In 1962, Tuck worked for Pat Brown in the gubernatorial campaign that Nixon tried to win after losing the presidential race to JFK two years earlier.

At a fundraiser in Chinatown in Los Angeles, Nixon was confused when the guests started to smile during his presentation. Tuck had snuck in fortune cookies that read: “Vote for Pat Brown.” During a whistle-stop campaign, Tuck ordered the train to start moving in the middle of Nixon’s speech. Nixon even complained about Tuck in the infamous Watergate tapes.

Whatever the case, Tuck brought humor to campaigns—a device sadly missing in today’s venomous political scene.

Rand Paul brought back memories of Dick Tuck when the Kentucky senator brought some humor to Washington during a speech about wasteful spending.

To make his points, Paul displayed several poster boards about specific research projects that he said taxpayers would be astounded to know their tax dollars were funding.

Among the projects he highlighted were: $357,000 to study “Cocaine and Risky Sex Habits of Quail” and $1.6 million for researching “Lizards on a Treadmill.”

One poster board featured legendary singer Dolly Parton to highlight that Uncle Sam is spending $250,000 to send “kids in Pakistan to Space Camp and Dollywood.” Another claimed the National Science Foundation spent $700,000 to figure out whether astronaut Neil Armstrong said: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” or “One small step for ‘a’ man.”

Paul said Americans might be alarmed by such frivolous studies, but it happens routinely “because we never vote for less money. It’s always more. Somebody’s got to point out that the waste and abuse of money goes on.”

Paul’s hilarious and poignant rant reminded me of U.S. Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin and his Golden Fleece Award, which he gave to public officials squandering public money in the 1970s and 1980s.

I hope that Paul continues the tradition of humor in politics, which seems far more effective than the vitriol we’ve seen in recent years.

The true meaning of Memorial Day

By Christopher Harper

In many small towns throughout America, Memorial Day is special.

Almost everyone knows someone who served in the military; most know someone who died.

Here in Muncy, Pennsylvania, two memorials stand out.

A few years ago, the town and the state recognized two fallen soldiers by naming bridges after them.

Army Pvt. Walter L. Smith, who served in the Spanish-American War, and U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. William F. Merrill, a Vietnam War veteran, died in service to their country.

The war against Spain was declared in April 1898 after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor. On May 12, 1898, Smith enlisted at Williamsport and was mustered into service as a private in Co. D, 12th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, According to historical documents found by his family, Smith met his fate while on a supply patrol with a small detachment in the Philippines on July 28, 1901. “[He] bravely and selflessly defended men in his company against an overwhelming attack by some 60 native insurgents. During the battle, Smith’s sergeant, the only other armed man, was shot and killed. Fighting alone, Smith saved the lives of two unarmed soldiers but was overpowered, captured, and taken prisoner,” according to the local newspaper.

While his remains never were recovered, in 2006, family members honored his service by placing a government-issued memorial headstone in the Smith family plot at Muncy Cemetery.

Merrill was with the 1st Marines during Operation Oklahoma Hills, an operation to clear out the enemy from their base camps and infiltration routes southwest of Da Nang, Vietnam.

On Nov. 26, 1969, Merrill and nine fellow Marines came to a ravine. The first to cross hit a wire attached to a booby trap, and he called out for Merrill, who guarded the device as the rest of the Marines went around it. As Merrill and his sergeant were standing at the device, the explosive detonated, killing Merrill and fatally wounding the other man. Merrill’s body was returned home to his family for interment at Boalsburg Cemetery.

“These were two sons of Muncy who went off to do their duties – like many sons of Muncy – but were unfortunately never able to come home.”State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, a former U.S. Air Force member, said at the bridge dedication ceremony.

The service of Smith and Merrill in two distant wars underlines the true meaning of Memorial Day.

The COVID coup

By Christopher Harper

Two crucial statistics jump out at me about the pandemic.

The nation is recording about 50,000 COVID cases a day, roughly the same as before the election. 

The daily average of deaths stood last week at 610, which compares with 817 in the week before the November election.

Despite all the mask-wearing, lockdowns, and vaccinations, the numbers are roughly the same after Joe Biden took over.

Sure, the numbers are better than January and February. Still, the country is roughly at the same place after the Democrats repeatedly attacked Donald Trump for his incompetence in handling the pandemic.

That then leads me to the rather obvious question: Wasn’t the pandemic more about politics than science?

The COVID coup was successful in getting rid of Donald Trump. Now it’s time to return to the mask-less, feckless, and reckless job of ruining the country. 

I’m more than happy to rid myself of the rather useless mask and return to the restaurants and shops without a face covering.

But isn’t it somewhat disingenuous of the Democrats to declare victory? 

The Democrats, combined with their friends in the media, used the pandemic to get Trump out of office. Although the talking points convinced many to vote for Biden, the reality is that Trump did a pretty good job of dealing with a crisis no one had faced for a century.

The Democrats and the media scared people almost to death or at least to vote against Trump. Without the pandemic, Trump would have been easily elected based on the country’s economy alone.

I won’t get into the idiocy of wearing masks because of the “science.” We’ve gone from the scientists telling us that masks were ineffective to the need to maybe wear two masks to the CDC announcement that masks weren’t needed anymore for many people. 

The most damaging part of the coup was to lock down almost everyone across the nation. Not only did the lockdowns, which were mainly the decisions of state officials, tank the economy, but the actions also exacerbated the disease for many people. 

For example, the CDC has determined a reason for a higher percentage of Blacks and Hispanics dying during the pandemic. “[P]ersons from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups might be more likely to live in multigenerational and multifamily households.” Therefore, more Blacks and Hispanics died BECAUSE of the lockdowns. See https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6942e1.htm

That findings are even worse for those 65 and older. From May 1 to August 31, 2020, 78.2 percent of those who died were 65 and older. That’s three out of every fourth death was a senior when they represent only 16.5 percent of the population. 

Simply put, the lockdowns made life deadlier for many seniors who died during the pandemic.

Although it’s unlikely, I hope some people realize that they got played by the “scientists,” the media, and the Democrats. The numbers don’t back up the “science.”