The Happiest People in the World

Back in 2021, I compiled a list of the best places to live in the world. The results were a bit surprising, especially considering how relatively poorly the United States scored. The list was based on a combination of how happy the citizens of each country were (based on the World Happiness Report), how free those citizens were (Based on the Human Freedom Index), and the cost of living in each country.

For the period of 2019-2022, Finland was the happiest nation on earth (Finns were also the happiest people on earth from 2016-2019). During that same period, the United States was the 16th happiest nation. There’s a lot that can be said about why people in Finland are so happy and why people in the United States are, comparatively speaking, so unhappy. Philosophy and psychology researcher Frank Martela, who teaches at Aalto University in Finland, says there are three keys to Finnish happiness.

  1. Finns Don’t Compare Themselves to Their Neighbors – Finns live by the motto “Don’t compare or brag about your happiness.” They really take it to heart. They also don’t flaunt their wealth. Most Finns, regardless of how relatively wealthy or poor they are, live very similar lives in very similar homes. In Finland, success isn’t living better than your neighbors. It is living very much like your neighbors.
  2. Finns Embrace the Benefits of Nature – Every year, Finns get four weeks of vacation during the summer months, and most spend at least part of that time immersed in nature. Whether hiking, canoeing, or camping, Finns routinely enjoy getting away from the modern conveniences of life to enjoy the outdoors, whether in the countryside or in urban parks. They find that time spent in nature increases their vitality, well-being, and gives them a sense of personal growth. They also fill their homes with greenery to mimic the benefits of being out in nature at times of the year when it is not as easy to get outdoors.
  3. Finns Trust Each Other – A “lost wallet” experiment run around the world showed why Finns trust each other so much. In Finland, researchers dropped twelve wallets around Helsinki to see how many would be returned. Of the twelve, eleven were returned to the owner of the wallet. Finns tend to highly value trust and honesty. Relatively small, polite gestures like holding the door for someone or giving up a seat on the bus or train tends to increase the trust that people have in each other. These gestures are common in Finland.

Do these three things sound like the way we live our lives in the United States? If not, maybe we should do something about it.


What Price Health?

I’ve had sinus issues for years. Since 1995, I’ve had three sinus surgeries, and I’m pretty sure I’m due for another one. Over the past few months, my sinuses have been all stuffed up, and it’s making me constantly dizzy. Trust me, it’s not much fun.

In December of last year, I called a clinic where I had been treated before to make an appointment. Since I hadn’t been there in almost twenty years, they required that I get a referral from my family doctor. To be clear, my insurance didn’t require the referral. The clinic did.

I called my family doctor and couldn’t get an appointment for three weeks. So for three weeks, I suffered with dizziness that, at times, was debilitating. When I finally saw the doctor at the end of December, he gave me some antibiotics and made a referral to the otolaryngology clinic.

It took a couple of weeks just to make the appointment with the otolaryngologist, and even then, they couldn’t get me in for two months. During my two month wait, the dizziness worsened, and I had to see my family doctor again, who gave me another course of antibiotics, along with a steroid. It didn’t help.

Finally, I get to see the otolaryngologist this week. A couple days ago, I received a packet of information in the mail from the clinic confirming my appointment and letting me know what the cost of the doctor’s visit is going to be. For this appointment that I’ve had to wait three months for, it is going to cost $714.13. Just for the appointment. Not for any treatment. Not for any medication. Just to walk in the door and be examined.

Thankfully, I have pretty good insurance. Even so, my portion of the bill is $568.15. Granted, it’s early in the year and I haven’t met my deductible, but $568.15 for a simple appointment with the doctor? Come on.

To give you an idea of how ridiculously expensive $714.13 is for a single doctor’s appointment, here’s how it compares to a few  items we normally wouldn’t purchase without giving it some thought and looking for the best deal:

  • 3-Day Pass to Disney World: $327.00
  • XBox Series X: $499.99
  • Dell Inspirion Business Laptop: $579.00
  • 3-Nights at the Hyatt Place Orlando : $612.00
  • Samsung 65″ Crystal Clear Smart TV: $647.99
  • 10-sessions with a Personal Trainer: $650.00
  • Apple iPhone 13: $679.78
  • A Single Doctor’s Appointment: $714.13

In the United States, the average person has less than $400 in savings. That’s a horrendous statistic when you consider that the United States is the wealthiest nation on the planet. This one doctor’s appointment, without any treatment or medication, would wipe out the savings of most Americans. That’s insane. There has to be a better way.

If I lived in almost any other first-world democracy in the world, my taxes would pay for universal healthcare that would cover this doctor’s appointment. One of the criticisms I hear about the healthcare systems in countries with universal healthcare is that it takes too long to get an appointment. That may be true in certain circumstances (for instance, elective surgery), but keep in mind that I’ve had to wait nearly three months for my upcoming appointment, and I had to see my family doctor twice in the interim, once to get the referral and once because my symptoms worsened. Neither of those appointments were free, so add that expense to the $568.15 out-of-pocket cost for my upcoming appointment.

Of course, the biggest criticism of universal healthcare is that it will raise our taxes. This is true, but when you factor in what you’re already paying for health insurance, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses, universal healthcare is cheaper.

The more important point to make about universal healthcare is that people can actually afford to take advantage of it. I am eternally grateful that I have the financial wherewithal to pay for my upcoming doctor’s visit. Sadly, not everyone can. So, they live with the often debilitating symptoms of easily treated injuries and illnesses. Their lives are negatively impacted, maybe even shortened, because, even with insurance, they can’t afford to go to the doctor.

It should be a point of shame for Americans that our healthcare system is the most expensive in the world yet has the worst outcomes of any healthcare system among developed countries. At the moment, the United States is the only nation in the developed world not to have some form of universal healthcare, and we join countries like China, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and a handful of other third-world countries that rely completely on private healthcare, which is another way of saying, everyone fends for themselves when it comes to taking care of their healthcare needs.

It’s time that the USA join the rest of the developed world in offering their citizens universal healthcare. The citizens of the wealthiest nation on earth deserve the best healthcare system in the world.


Is Life Short or Do We Make It Short?

If you had to choose, would you choose more time or more money? I suspect most people would say they’d choose more time. More time to spend with their loved ones. More time to explore the world. More time to pursue hobbies or passions. More time to learn more, do more, see more. And yet, most of us spend the majority of our time pursuing money. Why is that?

The easy answer is, we need the money that our work provides to live our lives. We have bills to pay and families to support. Any travel plans we might have rely on the money we make from our jobs. For the most part, our hobbies and passions require money to pursue. All of this is true, as far as it goes.

But if we look closer, we find that there’s more to it than that. For many of us, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make more money. Many of us obsess over it. Trust me, I’m not immune to this trait, although I try to be balanced about it. Sure, I’d like to have more money, but not at the expense of my freedom, my happiness, or my peace of mind.

Maybe that’s the important thing: Balance.

I used to work with a guy that sacrificed his present for his future. His focus was on what his life would be like when he retired. He wanted to spend his time golfing, visiting with his kids and his future grandchildren. He wanted to travel with his wife. They made plans. They put money away for future travel. They scrimped and saved. He loved to golf, but only rarely did it, knowing he’d have plenty of time to golf to his heart’s content when he retired. He planned to retire at 60 and then start enjoying the life he desired. He died at 57.

My friend never got to experience the life he dreamed of and planned for. Planning is important, but not at the expense of the present.

Life is short and it doesn’t make sense to sacrifice now for an unguaranteed future. It doesn’t make sense to sacrifice our time—which most of us think is the most important thing—for money. If we do, we’re selling our time—our most important commodity—at an hourly rate. Usually, a pretty cheap hourly rate. And I don’t think any of us wants to do that.

If you’re not familiar with Lucias Seneca, let me tell you a little bit about him. He is known officially as Lucias Annaeus Seneca the Younger. He lived in the time of Jesus Christ (4 BC – 65 AD) and was a stoic philosopher. He wrote primarily about moral issues, and his writings have become central to stoic philosophy and the stoic movement.

In his essay “On the Shortness of Life,” Seneca tackles this idea that life is short. Seneca has a different take. If you’re interested in reading the entire text of Seneca’s essay, you can find it here. For our purposes, I’ll highlight a few passages that will give you a good idea of what Seneca was talking about, and about the challenges we all face when determining how to apportion our time and priorities.

“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it. Just as great and princely wealth is scattered in a moment when it comes into the hands of a bad owner, while wealth however limited, if it is entrusted to a good guardian, increases by use, so our life is amply long for him who orders it properly.

“Why do we complain of Nature? She has shown herself kindly; life, if you know how to use it, is long. But one man is possessed by greed that is insatiable, another by a toilsome devotion to tasks that are useless; one man is besotted with wine, another is paralyzed by sloth; one man is exhausted by an ambition that always hangs upon the decision of others, another, driven on by the greed of the trader, is led over all lands and all seas by the hope of gain; some are tormented by a passion for war and are always either bent upon inflicting danger upon others or concerned about their own; some there are who are worn out by voluntary servitude in a thankless attendance upon the great; many are kept busy either in the pursuit of other men’s fortune or in complaining of their own; many, following no fixed aim, shifting and inconstant and dissatisfied, are plunged by their fickleness into plans that are ever new; some have no fixed principle by which to direct their course, but Fate takes them unawares while they loll and yawn—so surely does it happen that I cannot doubt the truth of that utterance which the greatest of poets delivered with all the seeming of an oracle: “The part of life we really live is small.” For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time. 

“Think you that I am speaking of the wretches whose evils are admitted? Look at those whose prosperity men flock to behold; they are smothered by their blessings. To how many are riches a burden! From how many do eloquence and the daily straining to display their powers draw forth blood! How many are pale from constant pleasures! To how many does the throng of clients that crowd about them leave no freedom! In short, run through the list of all these men from the lowest to the highest—this man desires an advocate, this one answers the call, that one is on trial, that one defends him, that one gives sentence; no one asserts his claim to himself, everyone is wasted for the sake of another. Ask about the men whose names are known by heart, and you will see that these are the marks that distinguish them: A cultivates B and B cultivates C; no one is his own master. And then certain men show the most senseless indignation—they complain of the insolence of their superiors, because they were too busy to see them when they wished an audience! But can anyone have the hardihood to complain of the pride of another when he himself has no time to attend to himself? After all, no matter who you are, the great man does sometimes look toward you even if his face is insolent, he does sometimes condescend to listen to your words, he permits you to appear at his side; but you never deign to look upon yourself, to give ear to yourself. There is no reason, therefore, to count anyone in debt for such services, seeing that, when you performed them, you had no wish for another’s company, but could not endure your own. 

“Though all the brilliant intellects of the ages were to concentrate upon this one theme, never could they adequately express their wonder at this dense darkness of the human mind. Men do not suffer anyone to seize their estates, and they rush to stones and arms if there is even the slightest dispute about the limit of their lands, yet they allow others to trespass upon their life—nay, they themselves even lead in those who will eventually possess it. No one is to be found who is willing to distribute his money, yet among how many does each one of us distribute his life! In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most prodigal. And so I should like to lay hold upon someone from the company of older men and say: “I see that you have reached the farthest limit of human life, you are pressing hard upon your hundredth year, or are even beyond it; come now, recall your life and make a reckoning. Consider how much of your time was taken up with a moneylender, how much with a mistress, how much with a patron, how much with a client, how much in wrangling with your wife, how much in punishing your slaves, how much in rushing about the city on social duties. Add the diseases which we have caused by our own acts, add, too, the time that has lain idle and unused; you will see that you have fewer years to your credit than you count. Look back in memory and consider when you ever had a fixed plan, how few days have passed as you had intended, when you were ever at your own disposal, when your face ever wore its natural expression, when your mind was ever unperturbed, what work you have achieved in so long a life, how many have robbed you of life when you were not aware of what you were losing, how much was taken up in useless sorrow, in foolish joy, in greedy desire, in the allurements of society, how little of yourself was left to you; you will perceive that you are dying before your season!” What, then, is the reason of this? You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last. You have all the fears of mortals and all the desires of immortals. You will hear many men saying: “After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties.” And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained! 

“Finally, everybody agrees that no one pursuit can be successfully followed by a man who is preoccupied with many things—eloquence cannot, nor the liberal studies—since the mind, when distracted, takes in nothing very deeply, but rejects everything that is, as it were, crammed into it. There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living: there is nothing that is harder to learn. Of the other arts there are many teachers everywhere; some of them we have seen that mere boys have mastered so thoroughly that they could even play the master. It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and—what will perhaps make you wonder more—it takes the whole of life to learn how to die. Many very great men, having laid aside all their encumbrances, having renounced riches, business, and pleasures, have made it their one aim up to the very end of life to know how to live; yet the greater number of them have departed from life confessing that they did not yet know—still less do those others know. Believe me, it takes a great man and one who has risen far above human weaknesses not to allow any of his time to be filched from him, and it follows that the life of such a man is very long because he has devoted wholly to himself whatever time he has had. None of it lay neglected and idle; none of it was under the control of another, for, guarding it most grudgingly, he found nothing that was worthy to be taken in exchange for his time. And so that man had time enough, but those who have been robbed of much of their life by the public, have necessarily had too little of it. 

“Can anything be sillier than the point of view of certain people—I mean those who boast of their foresight? They keep themselves very busily engaged in order that they may be able to live better; they spend life in making ready to live! They form their purposes with a view to the distant future; yet postponement is the greatest waste of life; it deprives them of each day as it comes, it snatches from them the present by promising something hereafter. The greatest hindrance to living is expectancy, which depends upon the morrow and wastes to-day. You dispose of that which lies in the hands of Fortune, you let go that which lies in your own. Whither do you look? At what goal do you aim? All things that are still to come lie in uncertainty; live straightway! 

“Life is divided into three periods—that which has been, that which is, that which will be. Of these the present time is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain. For the last is the one over which Fortune has lost control, is the one which cannot be brought back under any man’s power. But men who are engrossed lose this; for they have no time to look back upon the past, and even if they should have, it is not pleasant to recall something they must view with regret. They are, therefore, unwilling to direct their thoughts backward to ill-spent hours, and those whose vices become obvious if they review the past, even the vices which were disguised under some allurement of momentary pleasure, do not have the courage to revert to those hours. No one willingly turns his thought back to the past, unless all his acts have been submitted to the censorship of his conscience, which is never deceived; he who has ambitiously coveted, proudly scorned, recklessly conquered, treacherously betrayed, greedily seized, or lavishly squandered, must needs fear his own memory. And yet this is the part of our time that is sacred and set apart, put beyond the reach of all human mishaps, and removed from the dominion of Fortune, the part which is disquieted by no want, by no fear, by no attacks of disease; this can neither be troubled nor be snatched away—it is an everlasting and unanxious possession. The present offers only one day at a time, and each by minutes; but all the days of past time will appear when you bid them, they will suffer you to behold them and keep them at your will—a thing which those who are engrossed have no time to do. The mind that is untroubled and tranquil has the power to roam into all the parts of its life; but the minds of the engrossed, just as if weighted by a yoke, cannot turn and look behind. And so their life vanishes into an abyss; and as it does no good, no matter how much water you pour into a vessel, if there is no bottom to receive and hold it, so with time—it makes no difference how much is given; if there is nothing for it to settle upon, it passes out through the chinks and holes of the mind. Present time is very brief, so brief, indeed, that to some there seems to be none; for it is always in motion, it ever flows and hurries on; it ceases to be before it has come, and can no more brook delay than the firmament or the stars, whose ever unresting movement never lets them abide in the same track. The engrossed, therefore, are concerned with present time alone, and it is so brief that it cannot be grasped, and even this is filched away from them, distracted as they are among many things. 

“Decrepit old men beg in their prayers for the addition of a few more years; they pretend that they are younger than they are; they comfort themselves with a falsehood, and are as pleased to deceive themselves as if they deceived Fate at the same time. But when at last some infirmity has reminded them of their mortality, in what terror do they die, feeling that they are being dragged out of life, and not merely leaving it. They cry out that they have been fools, because they have not really lived, and that they will live henceforth in leisure if only they escape from this illness; then at last they reflect how uselessly they have striven for things which they did not enjoy, and how all their toil has gone for nothing. But for those whose life is passed remote from all business, why should it not be ample? None of it is assigned to another, none of it is scattered in this direction and that, none of it is committed to Fortune, none of it perishes from neglect, none is subtracted by wasteful giving, none of it is unused; the whole of it, so to speak, yields income. And so, however small the amount of it, it is abundantly sufficient, and therefore, whenever his last day shall come, the wise man will not hesitate to go to meet death with steady step. 

“The condition of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but most wretched is the condition of those who labour at preoccupations that are not even their own, who regulate their sleep by that of another, their walk by the pace of another, who are under orders in case of the freest things in the world—loving and hating. If these wish to know how short their life is, let them reflect how small a part of it is their own. 

“It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”


The Best Books I Read in 2022

Wow! What a year 2022 was for books. I read more great books this past year than I have in the past two or three years combined. I continued reading more nonfiction than I have in the past (with the exception of 2021), but I also had the great good fortune to spend time with terrific works of fiction. From a reading perspective, 2022 was a great year!

Although it’s a good problem to have, after reading so many good books, some really terrific books didn’t make the top 10 list. For instance, there were five books I read in 2022 that just missed this year’s top 10, but which would have easily made the list in any other year. Those books (in alphabetical order) are:

All five of these books were terrific, and there’s a part of me that feels guilty for not including them in my top 10.  Of course, that means that the books that did make the top 10 were exceptional. Here they are:

!0. Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal — Americans–particularly white Americans–take a lot for granted when it comes to the Constitution. We’ve been taught things about what different parts of the Constitution mean, and that has become common knowledge. And often, that common knowledge is wrong. Mystal does a great job of explaining the history of the Constitution in clear, easily digestible language, and then goes on to show how what we believe about the Constitution today is simply wrong. In fact, in many cases, what we believe about the Constitution is often unconstitutional (i.e., not in compliance with the Constitution). Throughout the book, Mystal is not only informative, but entertaining and often righteously indignant. The title of the book might lead readers to believe this is a book for black Americans, but it’s a book that should be read by all Americans who care about the history of the Constitutional and the truth of its meaning.

9. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman — I tend to be a realist. If a story takes place in the real world (as opposed to a sci-fi created world), I expect things to make sense. People should act the way people act in the real world, which usually means, they should act in their own best interest (If you’ve never heard my rant about the implausibility of the novel Gone Girl, you don’t know what you’re missing). Anxious People breaks this rule. Even so, I’m okay with it. Backman has a way of creating characters that the reader comes to care about so deeply, that they accept just about anything the character does, even if their behavior is unlikely. So, when an otherwise law-abiding citizen decides to rob a bank and the police investigating the crime choose to overlook the criminal behavior, what is a realist to do? In the hands of a master like Fredrik Backman, even a realist like me can accept the unlikely behavior. Why? It’s the characters. With Backman, it’s always the characters.

8. The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders — George Saunders is the best short story writer of his generation. But he’s not limited to short stories. In 2018, he published Lincoln in the Bardo, one of the finest novels I have ever read. The Braindead Megaphone is neither short stories nor novel. It is a book of essays. And true to Saunder’s form, it is brilliant. The Braindead Megaphone is not a new book. In fact, it was first published in 2007. Yet, much of what Saunders writes feels fresh and relevant today. Like all of Saunders’ writing, the essays are smart, witty, and exceptionally well written, with the unique Saunders’ voice. The essay that has stuck with me the longest is “Buddha Boy,” which was originally published in GQ Magazine. It is a travelogue of sorts, chronicling Saunder’s transcontinental journey to witness a meditating boy, purported to be the reincarnation of the Buddha. It is at once absurd, deeply spiritual, and steeped in the beauty of the human condition that Saunders brings to all of his writing.

7. Life’s Work: A Memoir by David Milch — Back in 2019, I wrote a blog post listing my favorite TV shows of all time. The top two shows on that list (Spoiler Alert!) were Hill Street Blues and Deadwood. In fact, I loved Deadwood so much, that I wrote a two-part deep dive (Part 1 and Part 2) into the show. The one common denominator between Hill Street Blues and Deadwood: David Milch. Milch was a writer on Hill Street Blues, and he created and wrote Deadwood. Both were groundbreaking shows. Sadly, Deadwood ended after just three years. Milch had much more of the story he wanted to tell, but he couldn’t reach an agreement with HBO to continue. For ten years, viewers and Milch yearned to return to Deadwood, but the deal with HBO was dead, the show’s actors had moved on to other projects, and Milch himself, who was the driving force behind the show, was in failing health, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  But in 2019, Milch was able to get the band back together to do a movie. It wasn’t a return to the series, but it was mighty good just the same. Throughout his career, Milch was a creative genius, as both a show creator and writer. But he was also troubled, struggling with alcohol and drugs. He made a lot of money, lost most of it, and always relied on the strength and loyalty of his wife and kids. In Life’s Work, Milch brings his raw, gritty, unflinching style to his most personal story; his own. It was sad knowing his life story would be the last story he would ever share with the public, but it was also satisfying hearing it from the man who lived it.

6. The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant –In literary circles, Matt Bondurant is well known. His books have won several prizes and have been made into movies. He teaches creative writing at the University of Mississippi. I knew of Bondurant, but I had never read his writing until this past year. I’m glad I did. It’s an overused cliché to refer to literary writing as “rich” or “lush,” but that’s exactly what Bondurant’s writing is. It surrounds the readers, enveloping and engrossing them. In The Wettest County in the World (a moniker given to Franklin County, VA by famed writer Sherwood Anderson), Bondurant tells the true story of his grandfather and two grand uncles, all notorious moonshiners and tough guys in prohibition-era Virginia. The three men lived outside the law, protecting what was theirs with their fists and, when necessary, with guns. The Wettest County in the World was made into a movie (entitled Lawless) starring Shia Lebeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jessica Chastain. I’ve never seen the movie, but if it’s half as good as the book, it would be worth watching.

5. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles — In my 2021 list of the ten best books I had read, I commented that Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow may be the best written book I had ever had the pleasure of reading. I went on to say that Towles plot, despite being so well written,  was plodding and uninspiring. In The Lincoln Highway, Towles writing isn’t quite as brilliant (it’s still really good), but his plot is better. The story takes place in mid-1950’s Nebraska. Emmett Watson returns home from a juvenile work camp to his family’s empty farm. His mother ran off years before, and his father has died. His precocious younger brother, Billy, who worships Emmett, is living with the neighbors. To Emmett’s surprise, two of his pals from the work farm have escaped and joined him in Nebraska. Their appearance derails Emmett’s plans and sends him and Billy off on a cross-country adventure. They want to go to California to find their mother, but instead end up in New York City. Along the way, they meet interesting characters, suffer indignities, and experience the expansion of the nation along the Lincoln Highway.

4. Reimagining Blue: Thoughts on Life, Leadership, and a New Way Forward in Policing by Kristen Ziman — Kristen Ziman and I share a couple things in common. First, we were both born and raised in Aurora, IL. When we graduated from high school–me 13 years earlier than Kristen–we both joined the Aurora Police Department. I decided I really didn’t want a life as a cop. Kristen went the other direction, becoming a patrol officer, moving into leadership, and eventually becoming Chief of Police in Aurora. I wrote a complete book review of Reimagining Blue previously, so I won’t re-do that here. Instead, I’ll simply say that Ziman’s book caught me off-guard. I did not expect to be so entertained or inspired by her stories. Neither did I expect to be so impressed with her writing. Reimagining Blue is part history, part memoir, and part treatise on leadership. It is also a deep and badly needed look at policing in America. Ziman is unapologetic in her support of local law enforcement, but she refuses to turn a blind eye to the corruption and bad behavior that plagues many departments across the country. She believes that law enforcement plays an important and noble role in our society, but thinks we are getting it wrong when police departments take actions to separate themselves from the communities they are sworn to serve and protect, rather than enmesh themselves within those communities. Reimagining Blue is both an entertaining read as well as an invaluable resource when it comes to American law enforcement.

3. Heat 2 by Michael Mann — In 1995, Michael Mann wrote and directed the movie Heat, starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, and Amy Brenneman. It was a blockbuster and went on to earn more than $180 million. For years, ideas for a prequel or a sequel rolled around in Mann’s mind. He wanted something big that would be worthy of the success he experienced with Heat. But as time went on and the nature of big blockbusters changed, the opportunity to make a prequel or sequel to the film vanished. Instead of a film, Mann turned his attention to a book. And instead of choosing a prequel or a sequel, he chose both, all in one book. Reading Heat 2 is like watching a movie. Mann’s descriptions and characters are cinematic in nature. His dialogue evokes dialogue from a movie. I can’t fully explain it, but reading Heat 2 was a unique experience for me. Other books reminded me of a movie. Heat 2 was like watching a movie. It is fast-paced, switching between timelines, relentlessly moving the story forward. Heat 2 was a fun, non-stop thrill ride.

2. The Dispatcher/Murder by Other Means/Travel by Bullet by John Scalzi — Imagine this: The world is exactly as it is today, but suddenly, people cannot die at the hands of another human being. In other words, people still die from disease, including old age. They still die from suicide. They still die from car crashes and other types of accidents. But they can’t die at the hands of another human. If another human is the cause of a death, the victim disappears from the site of the murder and reappears, usually at home, naked, but otherwise uninjured. Imagine how that would change our world. That’s exactly what John Scalzi did in these three short novels. And in this new world, the government employs people called dispatchers who, in certain circumstances, are empowered to kill another human in the name of saving their life. For instance, let’s say a young woman is critically injured in an auto accident and is rushed to the hospital. Doctors agree they cannot save her. Or perhaps she’ll never walk again. In this case, a dispatcher is called in to end the young woman’s life. Once killed, the young woman will disappear from the hospital and reappear at home, in the same condition she was in six or ten hours previous. It’s an intriguing premise and one that takes a lot of twists and turns throughout Scalzi’s three books. I’m not sure if there will be a fourth book, but I’m hopeful.

1. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman — Everyone has heard of A Man Called Ove now that it has been made into a movie starring Tom Hanks (somewhat oddly retitled, A Man Called Otto). I hear the movie is good, but I seriously doubt that it is as good as the book. As I stated in my review for Anxious People (see above), Backman is a master at creating characters that find their way into the reader’s heart and wedge themselves there. Often, these characters start out as unlovable. Maybe they’ve made a mess of their lives, or in Ove’s case, they are grumpy beyond reason. He has built a metaphorical suit of armor around himself to repel any sort of human affection. Of course, as the suit comes down and the real Ove emerges, we are sucked in. We care about Ove. We want to see him make friends and open up to the world again. Despite whatever missteps or hardships he’s had in the past (in fact, precisely because of these missteps and hardships) we want him to win, to experience some good in his too dark and callous life. This is Backman’s formula, and it works time and time again. A Man Called Ove will melt the heart of even the most curmudgeonly reader.


Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips for Writing Great Short Stories

Kurt Vonnegut is an interesting guy. I’ve written about him a couple of times before, and each time I do, I tend to learn something about Vonnegut, something about myself, and above all, something about writing.

Vonnegut was not only a great writer, most well-known for writing the novel Slaughterhouse-Five. He was also a veteran of World War II, a former POW, and a unique and deep thinker.

In the introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box, his 1999 collection of previously published magazine stories, Vonnegut offered eight tips on writing great short stories.

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Despite his advice, Vonnegut admitted that the best writers often break these rules. For instance, Flannery O’Conner, who Vonnegut considered to be the greatest short story writer of her generation, often broke these rules. “She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that,” Vonnegut is quoted as saying. Even so, he maintained that it is important to know the rules and learn how to follow them before breaking them.


REPRINT: Letter From Birmingham Jail

This post was originally published in April 2022, and is being reprinted here in observation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2023.

In early April 1963, the civil rights movement, led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and it’s co-founder, Martin Luther King, Jr, seemed to be stalled. Despite non-violent protests across the nation, the Kennedy Administration, which had come to power promising civil rights legislation, had seemingly turned a blind eye. They were still supportive, or so it seemed, but they weren’t doing much to fulfill their promise.

The SCLC, along with the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, had planned to stage demonstrations in Birmingham, known as one of the nation’s most racist cities. But on April 10, Circuit Judge W.A. Jenkins issued an order prohibiting “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing.” Leaders of the movement quickly decided they would disobey the judge’s order, and King decided that he would put himself in position to be arrested, a move he hoped would garner the attention of President John F. Kennedy, and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

King was arrested and spent eight days in a dark and dank Birmingham jail cell. Early in his stay, King was given a local newspaper that contained a letter written by eight white local clergymen taking King to task for his methods. In the letter, the men agreed that things needed to change. They indicated that the nation needed to treat blacks more fairly and with more respect, but they felt King and his followers needed to be more patient. They said that blacks should wait and allow the nation to come around in its own time. They blamed King and his protests for creating tension and backlash among whites, and they complained that the protests and sit-ins that King was leading were illegal.

As King read the letter in the newspaper, he began writing a response in the margins of the story. When he ran out of space in the margins, he wrote on small note pads his attorney had left behind. Finally, he was able to get his hands on a legal pad. What he wrote became known as “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Although King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. is more well known, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” may be King’s most important, most powerful work.

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” was first published on May 19, 1963 in the New York Post (after the New York Times Magazine decided against publishing it), and was subsequently published in the June issue of Liberation Magazine, the June 12, 1963 edition of The Christian Century, and the June 24, 1963 edition of The New Leader. It later was reprinted in The Progressive and The Atlantic Monthly, and was part of King’s 1964 book, Why We Can’t Wait.

Although it is long, I encourage you to read “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” It is one of the most important documents in our country’s history, and it is a classic publication on civil disobedience by a man who was being held, in essence, as a political prisoner.

Letter from Birmingham Jail


Martin Luther King Jr.

Birmingham City Jail

April 16, 1963


Bishop C.C. J. Carpenter
Bishop Joseph A. Durick
Rabbi Milton L. Grafman
Bishop Paul Harmon
The Rev. George M. Murray
The Rev. Edward V. Ramage
The Rev. Earl Stalings


My Dear Fellow Clergymen,

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every Southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliate organizations all across the South, one being the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Whenever necessary and possible, we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago our local affiliate here in Birmingham invited us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promises. So I am here, along with several members of my staff, because we were invited here. I am here because I have basic organizational ties here.

Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.

You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts. On the basis of them, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then came the opportunity last September to talk with some of the leaders of the economic community. In these negotiating sessions certain promises were made by the merchants, such as the promise to remove the humiliating racial signs from the stores. On the basis of these promises, Reverend Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to call a moratorium on any type of demonstration. As the weeks and months unfolded, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. The signs remained. As in so many experiences of the past, we were confronted with blasted hopes, and the dark shadow of a deep disappointment settled upon us. So we had no alternative except that of preparing for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community. We were not unmindful of the difficulties involved. So we decided to go through a process of self-purification. We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” and “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?” We decided to set our direct-action program around the Easter season, realizing that, with exception of Christmas, this was the largest shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this was the best time to bring pressure on the merchants for the needed changes. Then it occurred to us that the March election was ahead, and so we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that Mr. Conner was in the runoff, we decided again to postpone action so that the demonstration could not be used to cloud the issues. At this time we agreed to begin our nonviolent witness the day after the runoff.

This reveals that we did not move irresponsibly into direct action. We, too, wanted to see Mr. Conner defeated, so we went through postponement after postponement to aid in this community need. After this we felt that direct action could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask, “Why direct action, why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. So, the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. We therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that our acts are untimely. Some have asked, “Why didn’t you give the new administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this inquiry is that the new administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one before it acts. We will be sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Mr. Boutwell will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is much more articulate and gentle than Mr. Conner, they are both segregationists, dedicated to the task of maintaining the status quo. The hope I see in Mr. Boutwell is that he will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from the devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well timed” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes an “I – it” relationship for the “I – thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court because it is morally right, and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

Let us turn to a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow, and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because it did not have the unhampered right to vote. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up the segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout the state of Alabama all types of conniving methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote, despite the fact that the Negroes constitute a majority of the population. Can any law set up in such a state be considered democratically structured?

These are just a few examples of unjust and just laws. There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.

We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate  is obeying these anti-religious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

In your statement you asserted that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But can this assertion be logically made? Isn’t this like condemning the robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical delvings precipitated the misguided popular mind to make him drink the hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because His unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to His will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see, as federal courts have consistently affirmed, that it is immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth of time. I received a letter this morning from a white brother in Texas which said, “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but is it possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry? It has taken Christianity almost 2000 years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time. It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodyness” that they have adjusted to segregation, and, on the other hand, of a few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because at points they profit by segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred and comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. This movement is nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incurable devil. I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need not follow the do-nothingism of the complacent or the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. There is a more excellent way, of love and nonviolent protest. I’m grateful to God that, through the Negro church, the dimension of nonviolence entered our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, I am convinced that by now many streets of the South would be flowing with floods of blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble-rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who are working through the channels of nonviolent direct action and refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes, out of frustration and despair, will seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies, a development that will lead inevitably to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come. This is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom; something without has reminded him that he can gain it. Consciously and unconsciously, he has been swept in by what the Germans call the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America, and the Caribbean, he is moving with a sense of cosmic urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. Recognizing this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand public demonstrations. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out. So let him march sometime; let him have his prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; understand why he must have sitins and freedom rides. If his repressed emotions do not come out in these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence. This is not a threat; it is a fact of history. So I have not said to my people, “Get rid of your discontent.” But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. Now this approach is being dismissed as extremist. I must admit that I was initially disappointed in being so categorized.

But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice? — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist? — “Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist? — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the  question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this. Maybe I was too optimistic. Maybe I expected too much. I guess I should have realized that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too small in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some, like Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, and James Dabbs, have written about our struggle in eloquent, prophetic, and understanding terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They sat in with us at lunch counters and rode in with us on the freedom rides. They have languished in filthy roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of angry policemen who see them as “dirty nigger lovers.” They, unlike many of their moderate brothers, have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

Let me rush on to mention my other disappointment. I have been disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand this past Sunday in welcoming Negroes to your Baptist Church worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Springhill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say that as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say it as a minister of the gospel who loves the church, who was nurtured in its bosom, who has been sustained by its Spiritual blessings, and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

I had the strange feeling when I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery several years ago that we would have the support of the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some few have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and with deep moral concern serve as the channel through which our just grievances could get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say, follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother. In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sidelines and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues which the gospel has nothing to do with,” and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which made a strange distinction between bodies and souls, the sacred and the secular.

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson scratched across the pages of history the majestic word of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. For more than two centuries our foreparents labored here without wages; they made cotton king; and they built the homes of their masters in the midst of brutal injustice and shameful humiliation — and yet out of a bottomless vitality our people continue to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

I must close now. But before closing I am impelled to mention one other point in your statement that troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I don’t believe you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its angry violent dogs literally biting six unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I don’t believe you would so quickly commend the policemen if you would observe their ugly and inhuman treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you would watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you would see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys, if you would observe them, as they did on two occasions, refusing to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I’m sorry that I can’t join you in your praise for the police department. It is true that they have been rather disciplined in their public handling of the demonstrators. In this sense they have been publicly “nonviolent.” But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the last few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.

I wish you had commended the Negro demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer, and their amazing discipline in the midst of the most inhuman provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose facing jeering and hostile mobs and the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman of Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride the segregated buses, and responded to one who inquired about her tiredness with ungrammatical profundity, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” They will be young high school and college students, young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’s sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Never before have I written a letter this long — or should I say a book? I’m afraid that it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters, think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,



The 10,000 Step Myth

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that for maximum health benefits and weight loss, you should walk 10,000 steps per day. But is that really true? Probably not. In the very least, it’s not based on science.

According to Harvard paleoanthropologist Daniel Lieberman, in his book, Exercised, the 10,000 step myth began as a marketing campaign decades ago in Japan. The originator of the myth, Yamasa Tokei, made pedometers known as “Manpo-kei” (translated as “10,000 step meter”) in the 1960s. The marketing campaign eventually ended, but the underlying message has carried on through the years and across the ocean.

When I bought my first Fitbit several years ago, I did so because I thought tracking my steps would help motivate me to hit 10,000 steps per day. I have no idea why I thought walking 10,000 steps should be my goal. It just seemed like common knowledge. In fact, science tells us that 10,000 steps should not be the goal.

According to Dr. I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the goal should be significantly lower. In a study she conducted on 16,741 women and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), women who averaged 4,400 steps per day had significantly lower mortality rates compared to those who walked 2,700 steps per day. Increasing the number of steps increased longevity, but only up to 7500 steps per day. There was no noticeable benefit to study participants who walked more than 7500 steps per day.

A study conducted at University of Massachusetts-Amherst by epidemiologist Amanda Paluch, had similar, but slightly different findings. The mega-study, which used a compilation of other studies involving more than 50,000 people on four continents, found that adults 60 years and older maximized their mortality benefits at between 6,000 and 8,000 steps. For those less than 60-years of age, the maximum benefit occurred at between 8,000 and 10,000 steps. One important finding in Paluch’s research was that getting more steps over the maximum for each age group (8,000 for those 60 or older, and 10,000 for those younger than 60) did not provide added mortality benefit.

What about weight loss? Do more steps per day lead to increased weight loss? Not necessarily.

If you’re sedentary or don’t exercise much, adding steps to your daily routine will help you lose weight. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Denver, Wake Forest University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Pittsburgh, found that increasing steps from 3500 per day to 10,000 led to weight loss in study participants. That seems to make sense, since burning more calories naturally leads to weight loss.

However, Duke University evolutionary biologist Herman Pontzer has some bad news. His research, which is chronicled in the book Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Stay Healthy, and Lose Weight,  indicates that while more exercise initially leads to weight loss, the body has a way of adapting, so that when more exercise becomes the norm, weight loss decreases or stops altogether.

This isn’t necessarily bad news. Exercise is good for overall health. It’s just not great for weight loss. “Diet and exercise are two different tools for two different jobs. Diet is the tool for weight loss. Exercise is your tool for everything else,” according to Pontzer.

Part of Pontzer’s research involved monitoring the number of calories burned by traditional hunter-gathers in Tanzania. The findings surprised even the researcher. The data indicates that the hunter-gathers, who routinely walk several miles each day, didn’t burn significantly more calories than sedentary Americans. The reason? Our bodies tend to budget energy based on expected activity. So, the bodies of the hunter-gathers expected them to walk several miles every day, and budgeted energy accordingly, just as the body of a sedentary adult expects very little movement, so budgets calorie burn based on that expectation.

Pontzer makes the point that exercise is good for us. Progressively increasing exercise levels benefits most people. It’s just not great for weight loss. By contrast, a sedentary lifestyle is not good for our health, even if those who spend way too much time on the couch don’t necessarily gain weight.

The bottom line is that a reasonable number of steps each day—somewhere between 4,400 and 10,000—is good for our health, leading to increased longevity. Even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to weight loss, it’s still a good idea.

If your goal is to lose weight, focus on your diet, not exercise. Research indicates that exercise has limited impact on weight loss, but can significantly increase mortality. Diet, on the other hand, while having some impact on longevity, is the number one tool for weight loss. You might want to keep this in mind as you’re putting together your New Year’s resolutions.


Don’t Sell Me A Car, Tell Me A Story (Part III)

Chevrolet, Audi, and Dodge have done a masterful job of selling their cars by telling emotionally engaging stories that feature their vehicles, but don’t focus on their vehicles. They often release the video around Christmas, helping to ramp up the emotion even further. I’ve written about this strategy of telling stories to sell cars twice before. You can find those posts here (#1) and here (#2).

Chevy in particular has made a tradition out of producing an extended (i.e. longer than a regular commercial) video for Christmas, often featuring a vehicle they no longer produce. This year, it’s a 1957 Chevy Bel Air Nomad, a cool looking two-door station wagon. A brand new Chevy Blazer EV (I think) makes a brief appearance, but the 1957 Bel Air Nomad is the star of the show.

This five-plus minute video spans 50 or so years in the life of Mrs. Hayes, a widow lady who befriends the neighbor kids, and becomes a second mother to one young boy in particular. Take a look.

Merry Christmas!



Help Us Help At-Risk Children

For the past twenty years, I have been associated with Heart of a Child (Inima de Copil), a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Romania. An NGO is what we in the United States would call a non-profit.

Heart of a Child is an organization that serves poor, homeless, and handicapped children, including children with HIV. For the past two years, I have been blessed to serve on the board of directors of Heart of a Child’s American informational and fundraising arm, Heart of a Child-US (HOCUS).

Heart of a Child runs on a small, very lean, annual budget. Each year, they do a tremendous amount with relatively little money. This past year was especially challenging. When Russia attacked Ukraine beginning in February 2022, kicking off a bloody, unprovoked war, refugees from Ukraine began flooding into Romania.

Heart of a Child is located in Galati, Romania, on the eastern side of the country, near the border with Ukraine and Moldova. In fact, Galati is only about 220 miles from the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, the fifth largest city in all of Ukraine. Galati and Romania welcomed the Ukrainian refugees with open arms, helping them find food and shelter upon their arrival.

However, life has not been easy for the Ukrainian refugees. Most arrived with just the clothes on their back. They had little money, nowhere to live, and they didn’t speak the Romanian language. The government helped shelter them, but most of their other needs were met by NGOs, including Heart of a Child.

This past summer, Heart of a Child took more than 80 Ukrainian children and their parents to a summer camp in the mountains near Galati. A week away at the camp allowed the Ukrainian refugees to put their troubles behind them, if only for a short time, to enjoy nature and each other.

When school started in August, Heart of a Child provided more than 200 Ukrainian children with backpacks filled with school supplies. Staff from Heart of a Child also worked with the refugee children on their school assignments and their language skills.

Dr. Anna Burtea

And keep in mind, the work they have been doing with Ukrainian children is in addition to all of the great, important work they are doing with poor, vulnerable Romanian children. I’ve seen first hand the conditions these kids live in. The work being done by Heart of a Child is invaluable.

Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. President of Heart of a Child, Dr. Anna Burtea, does an amazing job of stretching the organization’s meager budget to meet the needs of all the children they come in contact with. Their work is important. Even vital. But they need help.

With prices rising, budgets tightening, and the demand for their services ever increasing, Heart of a Child faces a challenging future. And by extension, the children that rely on Heart of a Child face a challenging future.

If you’d like to help, I’d encourage you to make a donation to Heart of a Child via Zelle (you can donate to or via Paypal (click link). Either way, your money will go directly to help children badly in need this holiday season.

I donated. I hope you will too.


What a Long, Strange Year It’s Been

Me at 63

I’m not sure what happened. I didn’t see it coming. But somehow, when I wasn’t looking, I turned 63-years-old. Trust me, no one was more surprised about that fact than me.

This past year may have been one of the craziest of my life. So much went on. Some good, some not so good.

In February, I attended my first NASCAR race. I’ve been to dozens, maybe hundreds, of sports car races, but until February, I had never gone to a NASCAR stockcar race. My friend, Linda Luciani, invited me to go with her to the Daytona 500. Other than breaking one of my teeth, we really enjoyed ourselves. The racing was exciting, the crowd was crazy, and the company was great. Thanks, Luch!

In April, my brother and his husband moved from California and lived with me while they looked for jobs and a place to live. It was great having them with me. We had a lot of fun, laughed a lot, and I ate better than I had in a long time, with Tut doing the majority of the cooking.

In June, I had surgery on my right shoulder, which I injured in 1987 or 1988. It had gotten bad enough to where I couldn’t sleep. My labrum and rotator cuff both needed to be repaired, then for the next five months, I went through physical therapy. Sadly, my right shoulder hasn’t recovered as well as my left shoulder did when I had the same surgery in 2015. I still have some work to do.

In July, I defended my thesis and earned a master’s degree in political science that I started in 1984. (I wrote about it here.) I went back to Macomb, IL, to Western Illinois University, where I started the master’s degree program 38 years ago. The old town didn’t look quite as promising to my 62-year-old eyes as it did when I was 23 or 24. Even so, it was good to be back on campus.

In August, I bought an office building in Wisconsin. It has taken some time to get it ready to occupy, but we’re finally ready to move in. In fact, we’re moving in today (12/9/22). I’ve owned a business for nearly 23 years, but this will be the first time I’ve owned the building where my business is housed. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m excited to make the move.

In September, I started thinking seriously about moving back to Wisconsin. I was living in Florida, and I often missed Wisconsin, especially in the summer and fall. I missed the change of seasons. I missed the trees and the hiking. And I missed being close to my office. After giving it some thought, I decided I would move back to Wisconsin in the spring or summer of 2023.

In October, I brushed aside the decision to wait to move until 2023, and bought a new home in Wisconsin’s driftless region, about twenty minutes from my office. I couldn’t pass up the property, which included 26 acres and a log home. It was exactly what I was looking for.

I was excited about buying a new home, but my excitement was cut short when, just a few days later, one of my employees had a heart attack and died. She was only 49 years old with no known health issues. It was an absolute shock.

In November, I sold the house in Florida that I had just built in 2021, and which I loved. It was a wonderful home and there was part of me that hated to leave it. Yet, I felt a strong pull back to Wisconsin. On November 28, I closed on the property on Carter Mountain (it’s not a mountain) in tiny Readstown, WI. I’ve only been here a little over a week, but I already feel completely at home. Mojo and I love hiking through the woods and just tromping around the property. Living here is a dream come true.

If you’ve followed me on Facebook for any time at all, you know of my love for log cabins. Over the years, I have posted a lot of pictures of cabins. At one point a few years ago, my friend, Brett Morley, asked, “Why don’t you just buy one?” I finally have, Brett. I only wish you were here to see it.

As I mentioned earlier, today, we move into our new office. It’s the start of a new chapter for my business, just as moving back to Wisconsin is a new chapter in my life. Even at 63, I’m not ready to slow down. I have too much I want to do, too much I want to accomplish.

As I get started on the final third of my life (Does that sound too morbid?), I can’t claim to know what’s going to happen, but I’m excited just the same. I’m ending the year in much the same way I started it, with a great deal of gratitude for the people and things I’ve been blessed with. To paraphrase a line from my favorite movie, it really is a wonderful life.