When I was in my 20s and 30s, my dream was to publish the Great American Junk Novel. I had no illusions about my ability (or, rather, inability) to write something profound, but I truly believed I could write a Bridges of Madison County or Da Vinci Code. I was wrong. After innumerable efforts, I gave up. I have no imagination, no sense of character, and I’m incapable of writing dialog.
Thanks to the blogosphere, however, I discovered in my 40s that, while I’m not and never will be a novelist, I am an essayist. Over the past decade, I’ve written over 11,000 essays, which easily qualifies me for “expert” status. My blog has become a vast repository of my thoughts on just about everything: politics (mostly politics), parenting, education, Hollywood, social issues, national security, travel — you name it, and I’ve probably written about it.
Considering how many hours I’ve spent at the keyboard, I’ve always hoped that I could monetize my blog. Unfortunately, while I’ve got a solid, and very dear to me, following of readers who genuinely like the way I think and write, I’ve never leveraged my way into the Big Time amongst conservative bloggers. Not being in the Big Time means that any monetization I’ve done has earned me just enough money to buy a few books, not to make a mortgage payment or two.
A few years ago, it occurred to me that I might be able to make some money if I took my writings to a new readership. That’s how I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. I saw it all clearly: I would assemble my essays, package them attractively, upload them at Kindle Direct Publishing, and sell them for a profit on Amazon. It seemed so easy….
Sadly, it wasn’t easy, at least not the first time around. That didn’t deter me from publishing a second e-book and, just recently, a third. Each book has been easier than the one before, so I’d like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned, many of which I learned the hard way.
One of the scourges of the modern American mindset is the moral relativism which holds that no culture is better than any other – subject to the caveat that America’s is actually worst. This view allowed Michael Moore to apply the “freedom fighter” label to al-Qaeda, a definition that works only if one describes them as fighting for the people’s “freedom” to be unwilling subjects of Islamic totalitarianism. Likewise, it was under the banner of mushy relativism that Barack Obama likened the struggle to the death between two tyrannies in Egypt, one secularist and one Islamist, to some inchoate American “democratic journey [that] took us through some mighty struggles to perfect our union.”
Moral relativism is a staple item in the leftist arsenal because it’s hard to destroy a society that believes in itself, and all too easy to destroy a society that’s been convinced its values are valueless. An unexamined issue, though, is how it came about that Americans so quickly abandoned their belief in American exceptionalism. Shouldn’t late 20th/early 21st century Americans have had at least a little pride in themselves?
After all, despite her failings (one cannot whitewash our past conduct towards blacks and Indians), America is an admirable country. Neither our national identity nor our laws demand that we wipe out races or religions from the earth or that we rejoice in the death of innocents. When we go to war to defend ourselves, we view with despair, not enthusiasm, the fact that even just wars kill innocents. We therefore do not intentionally target noncombatants, and we judge ourselves harshly when they die. Having said that, we also understand that, when it comes to innocents and war, sometimes the greatest gift we can give them is to destroy the tyranny that rules their lives.
One of the problems facing people with non-verbal autism is that when they use a letter board the disbelieving assume that the autistic person is a mere puppet, with the real thoughts coming from the aide or parent holding the board and reading the letters. For many years, that was the problem faced by Ido Kedar, a non-verbal autistic teenager who wrote Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison (which I reviewed here at PJ Lifestyle earlier this week).
Time and time again, I witnessed Ido tap out sentences on the letterboard his mother held, only to have someone standing at my side saying “That’s not Ido. That’s his mother.” This was especially true when Ido first mastered the letterboard. His muscle control was so limited back then that he needed someone to support his elbow, heightening the illusion that the person supporting Ido’s arm, rather than Ido himself, was the creative force.
The wonders of technology, however, can finally put to rest the suspicion that Ido and other non-verbal autistic children are not capable of producing the thoughts that flow from their letterboards. The two videos here show Ido with his iPad. The only prompting he receives is a reminder to keep his focus on the writing. Other than that, all the work and all the content is Ido’s alone.
Ido is still getting used to the iPad, so it’s a slower process than when he writes using his letterboard. Once he gets comfortable with the new technology, I think the sky’s the limit for his communication skills.
Autism is a painfully mysterious syndrome. We don’t know what causes it, although we do know that about 1 in 88 births will produce an autistic child. We know that it’s the fastest growing developmental disability in America, although we don’t know why. The commonly used treatments have limited effectiveness, so increasing numbers of adult autism sufferers cannot care for themselves, requiring costly life-long maintenance.
Part of autism’s mystery lies in the nature of the condition itself: in its most severe form, it leaves the autistic person entirely unable to communicate, either verbally or physically. It’s not just that someone with autism cannot speak. As most who have lived with or seen autism know, a child with serious autism seems entirely disconnected. Autistic children do not make eye contact and they don’t play. Instead, they flap their hands, roam around a room’s periphery, engage in endless repetitive activities, and seem locked away in their own world.
Some experts contend (erroneously, as it turns out) that autistic children dislike physical contact, cannot emote, and lack the capacity for loving. This seeming emotional isolation led the misogynistic Bruno Bettelheim to conclude that mothers caused autism when they (allegedly) withheld affection from their child. This wrongheaded theory inspired generations of loving mothers to suffer enormous guilt.
Even though Bettelheim has mercifully fallen by the wayside, non-verbal autism still contains many questions. This mystery is about to undergo a significant challenge, though, due to Ido (pronounced “Ee-doh”) Kedar, a 16-year old young man who has written about his journey from isolation to communication in Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison.
In the last few days before the election, many moderate Democrats are contemplating breaking up with Barack Obama. Parting with a political party or candidate can be every bit as wrenching as severing a personal relationship with a girlfriend or boyfriend. The problem whenever one walks away from a serious breakup is that doubts keep creeping in: “Am I doing the right thing?” “Will there be someone else for me?” “Was there something wrong with me that I was attracted to such a manipulative, unkind person?” “Will I be ridiculed for being blind to his/her faults?”
Republican political groups (the Romney campaign, the RNC, PACs) have recognized that there are a lot of voters out there who need permission to change their minds about Obama. The Independent Women’s Voice has recently released several videos that recognize that political relationships are just as real and deep as romantic relationships. These videos address people’s struggle to balance a sense of loyalty with a belief that their survival depends on leaving a damaging relationship:
Because this election is going to depend on people breaking away from their toxic relationship with Obama and the Democrat party, we should acknowledge their emotional pain and extend a helping hand. This doesn’t just mean helping them decide to break-up, it also means validating their feelings and inspiring them after the breakup.
We need to remind them that they’re stronger and better for having abandoned a damaging relationship. It’s not their fault that they were charmed by a shiny smile and a glib line. We’ve all been there, but the smart ones walk away, having learned from the experience. Here, then, are the top seven “I am so done with you” breakup anthems.
For Americans over 40, Leave It To Beaver is an iconic television show, complete with archetypal American characters. Every week during its Eisenhower/Kennedy heyday, Americans watched a handful of naifs (Beaver and Wally Cleaver, and their innocent little friends) stumble into dangerous or embarrassing situations thanks to Eddie Haskell’s slick, dishonest machinations. Eddie, a skinny, duplicitous young man, was adept at ingratiating himself with adults when called upon to do so, but his main goal remained to upset the placid social order prevailing amongst Beaver-ville‘s young. When anarchy threatened, Beaver and Wally always knew that their mother June would express worry and dispense kisses, while their father, Ward, acting in a lovingly magisterial way, would impart wisdom, impose appropriate consequences, and generally restore sanity.
Although the show ran for only six seasons (1957-1963) and pre-dated the upheavals of the 1960s, decades of repeats ensured that it resonated in the American psyche. Generations of Americans have laughed with (and yes, sneered at) the tight little world of Beaver-ville, one predicated upon stable nuclear families: wise fathers, stay-at-home mothers, and grateful children.
Perhaps the scenario is a fairy tale that never reflected the majority of American families, but it’s a lovely fairy-tale, one that promises lasting security for the child who can escape the bad boy’s enticements and embrace the elders’ wisdom. It presents an America as we wish it would be, although we’d be glad to update its monochromatic cast. In the 21st century, Beaver’s neighborhood would have different races, colors, and creeds, and it would probably be home to a conservative gay couple down the block, raising an adopted orphan from China.
What’s so satisfying about Leave It To Beaver is that it presents a time-tested way of ordering the world: it trusts maturity. Even the best-intentioned young people lack the wisdom and knowledge to cope with instability, danger, dishonesty, and disorder. Their innocence and naivete mean that they’ll too easily trust demagogues and make foolish, hurtful, and potentially harmful mistakes.
What kept the show from being a tragedy, and turned it into an amusing morality tale, was that week in and week out, the grown-ups in the room were able to sort out the child’s chaotic world. Sadly, real life isn’t like that. Too often, naive voters put their faith in demagogues and there is no rescue. This election, though, there’s still a chance that Ward Cleaver’s political stand-in can win the vote and save the day.
From the moment Mitt Romney became the presumptive Republican candidate, this election took on the trappings of a contest between Ward Cleaver (played by Mitt Romney) and Eddie Haskell (played by Barack Obama). The comparison was easy at a superficial level: Romney bears an almost uncanny resemblance to Ward Cleaver, complete with commanding height, combed-back black hair, square jaw, and fatherly meme. Obama, too, is Eddie Haskell’s double since he shares the youthful face, lanky body, and manipulative, hustler’s demeanor.
If one digs beneath the superficial similarities, it’s uncanny how Mitt and Obama still stay close to the Ward and Eddie characters. Let me count the ways…
Reading my friend Laer Pearce’s book Crazifornia: Tales from the Tarnished State – How California is Destroying Itself and Why it Matters to America made me crazy. Laer is a wonderful writer with straightforward, prose, a witty sense of humor that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and a commanding mastery of facts about California’s politics, business, education, and public policy. In theory, I should have galloped through Crazifornia in three hours. In fact, it took me three days to read.
Why did I have a problem with this fascinating book? Because, when I started I did not know how deep the Crazifornia rot ran in the state, nor was I aware quite how infectious the insanity is when it comes to the rest of America. To keep up with the deluge of evidence proving that California is indeed crazy, I repeatedly stopped reading so that I could scratch out little notes to myself: “California’s all-powerful bureaucrats are an army of Leftist Rube Goldberg’s with guns.” “This is a perfect example of voter credulity and bureaucratic overreach.” “California takes a legislatively created energy crisis and makes it worse with more legislation.” The scariest note I wrote was also the shortest: “As California goes, so goes the nation.”
That last note is why you should read the book — and give it to friends and family — in the days remaining before the election. California isn’t just a basket case, it’s a proselytizing basket case, with its environmental zealots, community organizers, and wishful economic thinkers aggressively selling their ideas to other states and to the federal government. As Laer demonstrates, while the recession is slowing the other forty-nine states from buying into California’s governing philosophy, the Obama government is an enthusiastic supporter. Another four years of Obama, and California won’t be the only bankrupt crazy place in America.
Unlike the federal government’s swift, Obama-driven belly flop into bankruptcy, California actually has a long and occasionally honorable history of Progressive politics. Crazifornia explains that back in the early years of the last century it was California Progressives who helped bankroll the movement across the United States. These early ideologues were actually fighting some legitimate battles, most notably against San Francisco’s utterly corrupt alliance between railroad moguls and local government. Take away these honorable battles, though, and you learn that the early California Progressives were exactly the same as today’s California’s Progressives: they were the rich and the educated, which meant that they could fund their ideas and pass them on to subsequent generations.
Because California had long been blessed with enormous natural resources and a vital, growing population, it had the wealth to keep the impractical Progressive dream going for decades. It could abs0rb the enormous financial and human losses from almost heroic bureaucratic ineptitude (Chapter 5); laws and regulations that suck the life out of both new and established businesses (Chapter 6); ridiculous educational experiments and an all-powerful teachers union that has little interest in student well-being and education (Chapter 7);* environmentalism run amok (Chapter 8); and public sector unions and pensions that have managed to go wherever one ends up when “amok” is a distant memory (Chapter 9).
Lately, though, things haven’t been going so well for California. Part of the problem is the national recession. The other part is the fact that California’s collection of Progressives, Environmentalists, Educators, and Reporters, whom Laer collectively christens “the PEER axis,” have destroyed the state’s ability to tap into her resources, both natural and human. Take, for example, the Prop. 50 fiasco, which is one of a huge subset of fiascos generated by a California citizen’s right to vote on legislative ballot initiatives.
The City That Knows How, which is how long-time San Francisco columnist Herb Caen viewed his beloved adopted city, is at it again, this time with proposed legislation saying you can’t enter restaurants nude, nor can you, as a nude person, sit down in a public space without putting something under yourself first. How about something completely different? In the interests of decency and healthy sexuality, how about, you don’t let people wander around naked in public!
The human body is a wondrous thing. To that end, I prefer to keep some of that wonder alive by seeing less of most people’s bodies, rather than more. Economics 101 holds that, the rarer a commodity is, the more precious it is. When you have wrinkled old hippies (link is not NSFW) and emaciated drug addicts wandering the streets showing their all, it tends to cheapen the premium we in the West have traditionally placed on God’s (or Nature’s) special design.
In a question and answer he set out in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Woody Allen pretty much sums it up: “Is sex dirty? Only if it’s done right.” Trying to make the human body as ordinary as yesterday’s newspaper is definitely doing it wrong.
(Cross-posted at Bookworm Room.)