Little Change in Small-Town Life
When the family of seven sitting near the front of Connie's Corner restaurant discreetly held hands and bowed their heads in prayer before their meal, no one in the bustling diner seemed surprised.
At the same moment, 400 miles east at Sotheby's auction house in New York City, "Saying Grace" sold for $46 million. The painting by Norman Rockwell vividly depicts a crowded restaurant (not so unlike Connie's Corner) where a grandmother and her grandson pray at a table as truck drivers watch.
In the 62 years since Rockwell brought a family in prayer to life on canvas, some aspects of how Americans conduct their lives have remained the same - such as a family praying before dinner in this northern panhandle town.
"I love that about Chester and small-town American cities," said Scott Paulsen about the family giving thanks for their food. The 54-year-old WDVE morning radio host in Pittsburgh spent his childhood here, exploring the nearby woods and finding adventure along the train tracks.
Connie's Corner was Allison's Restaurant when Paulsen moved here from Baltimore as a seventh-grader. Connie Hissam was a waitress then; today she owns the restaurant. "What a great American success story," Paulsen said of her rise from employee to employer.
When Paulsen's family moved to Chester for his father's management job in the steel industry, a red-and-white building in the shape of a teapot sat across the street from their new home; attached to a pottery outlet, it was used to sell trinkets and hot dogs to travelers. Today, after the town rallied to save the 1930s roadside relic, it sits proudly on a corner of the Lincoln Highway, a beacon to locals and visitors.
In the beginning, Chester's prosperity depended on the very soil upon which it rested and the river that curved around it; the clay and the water were ideal for making pottery. The town rose and fell with both the pottery and steel industries.
"We do fine here," said Hissam, who has owned the restaurant for nearly 10 years. The Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort and the Homer Laughlin factory are the area's biggest local employers, she said.n her diner, brightly colored Fiestaware dishes and platters made a mile away at the Homer Laughlin factory are filled with eggs and bacon, turkey and stuffing, meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Homer Laughlin employed more than 3,500 locals in its heyday in 1929, but the decline in American-made pottery already had begun when tariffs were removed from pottery imports in 1910.
This is a slice of America that has ebbed and flourished over the years. Yet, for the most part, the people who live here remain the same; they still go to the same church on Sundays, still walk "up the street" to pick up milk and eggs, and still go hunting with friends and family.
What they don't do is protest for higher wages outside a small business like Connie's Corner; they don't feel entitled to much of anything - other than some peace and quiet to watch a football game or a boxing match - and they find irony in President Obama speaking about economic inequality while standing on one of the wealthiest patches of real estate in the country.
Most of all, they enjoy hard work and being part of a community. Just ask a woman named Irene, who retired from Homer Laughlin after 42 years as a brusher in the decorating department; she returned to the plant less than two years later, she said, because she missed both of those things.
Rockwell's "Saying Grace," played out in real life here, gives an observer the emotional tug of roots and continuity; it makes you feel good about yourself, your community and your relationships, and it provides a texture that is sometimes missing in our daily lives.
Our constant news cycle and the politics of Washington tend to make us believe that we live in a nation filled with self-indulgence and hatred. But most folks don't see it that way. The truth is, we are surrounded by good deeds. They are not exceptional, newsworthy moments, but they are there - and all you have to do is look up from your iPhone to see them.
The Liberal God Dies Again
The god of liberalism is an idea and ideas are notoriously fragile things. They fall apart once they make the transition from the ivory tower of the mind to the mud and dross of reality. Every writer and artist has had the experience of holding a perfect ideal in his mind only to lose it as he struggles to set it down on canvas or paper. The creative process is that recognition that the ideal cannot be made real.
Liberalism, progressivism and the various names by which the modern left identifies and is identified is the belief that the ideal can and must be made real. That anything short of the ideal is a savage state of repression, tyranny, patriarchy, fascism and the whole litany of crimes against ideal humanity.
The liberal god rises as an idea and dies again. And rises again. No matter how many times the whole thing ends in blood and bankruptcy, the worshipers return to worship the coming of the god again.
"People in every corner of the globe who saw in him a hope for the future and a chance for mankind. We weep for our children and their children and everyone's children: For he was charting their destinies as he was charting ours," Art Buchwald wrote in the International Herald-Tribune after the assassination of JFK.
In Buchwald's crude Stalinist panegyric, JFK was a deity who charted the destinies of the whole world. "He cared about all of us," he writes. No sparrow could fall but that JFK would see it. JFK would help the "Negro", the "working man", "the artist, the writer and the poet", "teachers and pupils" and even "old people".
But John F. Kennedy the man with flaws and strengths is not present in the North Korean scale orgy of leader worship because it isn't really him that Buchwald is mourning. It isn't Kennedy the man that liberals weep for every year. It is liberalism.
Camelot is liberalism. The death of Kennedy was the death of the idea. Liberalism didn't die, but its best avatar did. The ideal became the real with a magic bullet. The man who was supposed to chart the destiny of the world couldn't save himself from a "single lousy Communist" who killed the hope that he was supposed to represent.
The god of liberalism vests in an avatar like Kennedy or Obama. The avatar is messianic. It is superhuman. Its empathy is unlimited. Its liberal godhood elevates us all by merely being in its presence, hearing it speak or reading one of its speeches. It is the idea made flesh. The secular god.
But the god of the left must die. It is a mad illusion to think that any man can chart the destinies of the world. Buchwald put far too great a burden on JFK. Had a lousy Communist not killed him, then, like Obama, he would have lived to disappoint and infuriate his followers.
The Russians went mad when Stalin died. The North Korean weeping was equally insecure. When you believe that your destiny is charted by a man who is the only hope for your future; what can you do but weep, not for him, but as Buchwald writes, "We weep for the millions of people who are weeping for him."
The ideas of the left always fail because the avatars and muses always fail. The ideas that seem so bright in theory fail when confronted with the actual task of charting human lives and the unpleasant reality that the Negro, the working man, the old people and the students may not want the same things that the idealists want for them.
For a golden moment, the avatar of liberalism makes it seem as if all things are possible, he weaves an enchanting spell of transcendence that promises that paradoxes can be reconciled and that people will set aside their "selfish" needs and interests. They will stop thinking of themselves and start thinking of what they can do for their country. They will become the change they were waiting for.
The progressive ideal is that all men and women will become avatars of the liberal god in the same way that what we think of as Communism was only meant as a temporary system of rule that would give way to the true Communism in which there would be no more need for rulers and secret police because each man would be a true Communist with no need for external pressure and coercion.
Instead of this golden age, the tyranny of the avatar grows, coercion increases, protests spread and the project decays into a totalitarian state or is overthrown. The golden age never arrives. The ideal is slain by the real. And the true believers go into mourning for what might have been.
The tyranny of the ideal is the most brutal of all tyrannies for men and women are not ideal; they are real. Its plans are bound to fail and yet it has such a passionate grip on the minds of its believers that it is bound to rise again and again.
And so this cycle of the liberal god who dies and rises again, dies and rises, keeps repeating. As long as the tyranny of the ideal remains a rallying cry, as long as men and women choose to believe that a better world can be created through central planning, forcible redistribution and mass reeducation then the cycle will continue. No matter how often the liberal god dies, he will rise again.
The secular god of the progressive ideal has become an entity of life, death and rebirth. Its failures only incite its followers to believe that it will come again. It does not matter how many gulags and mass graves lie in its wake. It is a matter of faith. And in a secular world, there is nothing left to believe in except a better world.
Obama is dying now. ObamaCare, his great work, has failed. Like Ra and all the others, he will pass into the darkness and the ideas will reemerge again in a new avatar. Perhaps it will be Elizabeth Warren. Or someone else. And it will not be remembered that health care nationalization does not work. Like Communism, it will only be another experiment that was carried out incorrectly.
Men are flesh and blood. They are born and they die. But ideas appear to transcend them. That is what attracts men to ideas. Even the worst of them carry the taste of immortality on their lips.
"Alone--free--the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he IS the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal," O'Brien declares in Orwell's 1984.
And so the messiahs come offering transcendence through submission to the Party. But they die and they fail, and the Party, that ugly confused creature with a million mindless heads, a trillion talking points, and no soul, looks around for a new avatar to embody its secular religion.
A man who will call for the submission of the world so that the world may become the Party and the Party may become the world.
"'We are the priests of power, god is power," Orwell tells Winston. This is the liberal priesthood of community organizers and activists, NGO chiefs and talking heads, senate aides and prattling pundits who wait for a god who will justify their power and their cruelty, who will convince them that their immortality within the body of the Party is within reach.
And then he dies and they appoint another avatar to embody the progressive godhood and wait again for their community organizer god to be born anew.
This liberal avatar will care for the Negro, the working man, the artist, the poet and writer, the teacher and the pupil, he will "save us from war", "command" us and "chart the destinies" of the whole world. He will do what he was unable to do in any of his prior reincarnations-- he will make the ideal into the real, he will make the impossible ideas of the left finally work.
ATF Ruins the Lives of Disabled Teenagers to make themselves look good
If you don't already know by now, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms can't even run a store without royally screwing up. Nearly one year ago, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on an ATF sting gone bad when the bureau tried to catch bad guys by setting up a store. The sting ended in a damaged rent space, $35,000 in stolen goods and with a fully automatic machine gun lost on the city streets.
Now it appears ATF failed during another store front sting and is punishing teenagers they convinced to help them by throwing them in jail. We're talking about ATF agents convincing mentally disabled kids to get giant squid neck tattoos, having them participate in a sting operation, arresting them for participating and then calling it a success. You can't make this up:
Aaron Key wasn't sure he wanted a tattoo on his neck. Especially one of a giant squid smoking a joint. But the guys running Squid's Smoke Shop in Portland, Ore., convinced him: It would be a perfect way to promote their store.
They would even pay him and a friend $150 apiece if they agreed to turn their bodies into walking billboards. Key, who is mentally disabled, was swayed.
He and his friend, Marquis Glover, liked Squid's. It was their hangout. The 19-year-olds spent many afternoons there playing Xbox and chatting with the owner, "Squid," and the store clerks.
So they took the money and got the ink etched on their necks, tentacles creeping down to their collarbones.
It would be months before the young men learned the whole thing was a setup. The guys running Squid's were actually undercover ATF agents conducting a sting to get guns away from criminals and drugs off the street.
The tattoos had been sponsored by the U.S. government; advertisements for a fake storefront. The teens found out as they were arrested and booked into jail.
In an effort to cover their behind for this insane and reckless behavior, ATF has tried to pin failed storefront incidents and the abuse of the disabled on the "this was an isolated incident," argument. The Sentinel further reports these kinds of incidents are hardly isolated and are happening all over the country.
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