These feet were made for dancing: Charlie and Jackie, still doing the “Shag” after 30 years

Clearly, I’m in a video mood today, as well as a dance mood.  It therefore seemed entirely appropriate when this video appeared on my Facebook feed.  Before you watch, you might want to know what you’re seeing:

The type of dance they are performing is called Shag. This phenomenon was found in the 1950s by Billy Jeffers and “Chicken” Hicks in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Shag clubs have sprung up from Baltimore to Miami totaling in over 100 clubs. ShagAtlanta, the club Charlie and Jackie belong to, was established in 1989 with the merger of two metropolitan Atlanta shag clubs, the North Atlanta Beach Club and the Atlanta Beach Club. Each year thousands of shaggers get together for the Shag Festival to celebrate Shag.

Once again, Amy Purdy’s turn on Dancing With The Stars blew me away

0709-amy-purdy-1836Maybe I’m overestimating the difficulty of doing a fast swing dance with two prosthetic legs, but all I can say is that, when I watch Amy Purdy, I am beyond impressed.  She’s the one who caught meningitis when she was 19, lost both legs below the knee, and went on to become a champion paralympic snowboarder.  Now, she’s trying to become a Dancing With The Stars champion.

I don’t know that Amy will win, because there are some better dancers on the show, but it’s not always clear on DWTS that dancing is what it takes to win.  Last season, Amber Riley won, even thought she wasn’t the best dancer.  She was good enough, but Corbin Bleu was an extraordinary dancer — but she won.  Amber’s strength was facial expression and upper body movement.  Purdy has all that . . . plus she can dance. (And it doesn’t hurt that she’s working with Derek Hough who is quite possibly the best choreographer working in America today.)

Amy Purdy’s cha-cha on Dancing With The Stars

I’ve mentioned here before my fondness for Dancing With The Stars.  I really enjoy watching people learn a new skill, and I enjoy watching ballroom dancing.  This season, I was completely blown away watching Amy Purdy do the cha-cha:

Nice cha-cha, right? If you were paying close attention, you might also have noticed something about Amy Purdy: she was dancing on prosthetic legs. She caught meningitis when she was 19 and had both her legs amputated below the knees. She just won a snowboarding bronze at the Paralympics in Sochi, and now she’s on Dancing With The Stars.

Derek Hough is the perfect partner for Amy. He’s probably the best choreographer in America today, as well as being one of the best dancers. That combination will enable him to come up with all sorts of wonderful ways to work around her prosthetics. I look forward to watching Purdy for however long she lasts on this season’s show.

Because I am a pedant, I instantly used Amy to remind my children that attitude isn’t everything, but it’s almost everything. We all come into the world with certain gifts — academic intelligence, athletic abilities, artistic sensibilities, organizational abilities, etc. — but they are meaningless if we do not put any effort into cultivating those gifts, and it’s our attitude that enables us to do the hard work of cultivation.

Found it on Facebook: Just because it’s so pretty

This is somewhat off the beaten track for me, because I don’t usually post images solely because they’re attractive.  This, however, was so pretty I couldn’t resist passing it along.  I have no idea if it’s a photograph of an actual “flower dress” or if it’s an exceptionally realistic drawing.  I don’t know who did it or where it’s from.  I just know that it made me happy to look at it.

Flower dress

Thinking about the autism spectrum — and what you can do — might make you feel more hopeful

Ido in AustismlandThe news can easily make one feel terribly hopeless.  The world is boiling, and we seem to lack direction.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that America has been in the past a very resilient nation; that there’s sometimes a virtue to shaking things up simply because change is inevitable, so let’s get it all over with at once; that people at home and abroad are beginning to appreciate that America was never an Evil Empire, but was always a force for freedom and stability; and that ordinary Americans are seeing what socialist policy — economic, international, and societal — looks like, and they’re not pleased with what they see.

Here’s the other good news:  There is always hope.  Otherwise, why bother?  Without hope, why bother reading the news?  Why bother writing about the things we want to change?  Why bother thinking, voting, talking, working, or even getting up in the morning?  Things can and do change, and we who are hopeful have a responsibility to do whatever we can — to contribute whatever skill we have — to fulfill that hope by changing the political and social dynamic.

Since 2008, hope has been an overused and misused word.  To begin with, it’s not a thing in and of itself.  Only very shallow people believe that you can elect something called “hope.”  Instead, “hope” is a very special human emotion that motivates us to leap over seemingly insurmountable barriers and face off against despair, all the while embracing behaviors that lead to increased individual and national freedom, self-reliance, and prosperity.

And while I’m on the subject of hope — real hope, not the politically-packaged pabulum — I’d like to take a moment to talk about families dealing with relatives who fall within the autism spectrum.  Ido Kedar is one of those people.  I’ve known Ido for a long time, although not as well as I could wish.  Mother Nature gave Ido what appears to be a raw deal:  His autism leaves his maturing brain in a body that responds to his wishes only with the greatest effort.  He’s almost non-verbal, impulse control is an issue, his spatial awareness is limited, and coordination is a problem.  On the plus side, though, he is endowed with a brilliant brain; a strong moral compass; hypersensitive senses, which means that, even though he can be easily overwhelmed, he sees, hears, tastes, smells, and touches a world of beauty denied to the rest of us; and a fierce drive to connect with the world which has enabled him overcome so many of his deficits.

If you read Ido’s autobiography, Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison, you see that he isn’t just the physical embodiment of the abstract word “hope.”  He doesn’t introduce himself to you by saying, “You can call me Hope.”  Ido is, instead, a person whose parents never lost faith in him and a person who always had faith in his own abilities. That faith gave them the emotion that is hope, and that emotion in turn gave them the energy to search, research, act, practice, and excel.

Ido is not unique. There are many other young people (and their families) in the autism spectrum who never give up. They take their belief in future possibilities and turn that into present action. One of the institutions that actively helps them with this (instead of just mouthing “hope”) is the Friendship Circle . . . which is having a fundraiser Bike Raffle. If you know someone with autism, or someone who lives with or cares for an autistic person, and you feel like contributing to the cause, this is certainly a nice way to do it.

For more information, check out Raising Asperger’s Kids.

 

Finding your spark of genius

Albert EinsteinIn the post immediately preceding this one, I spoke about American gypsy girls who are steered into young marriage, followed immediately by a career as a homemaker, no matter their talents.  There’s nothing wrong with being a wonderful mother and homemaker, but one does wonder, of course, whether those girls were deprived of the opportunity to discover a hidden talent within themselves.

I’ve been thinking about the whole “hidden talent” thing a lot lately.  It’s been a part of my thinking for years, actually, ever since my sister went to college.  Her first boyfriend there grew up in a small farming community and was the first person in his family to go to college.  When he got to college, he was required to take his first ever language class.  He chose French, which is where he met my sister.  She was also taking German, as a continuation of her high school studies.

Over the course of just one semester, my sister’s boyfriend became fluent not only in French, which he was actively learning, but in German, which he was passively absorbing, both from my sister’s studies and from my parents German-language conversations.  It turned out that, when it came to languages, he was savant, and could learn any language with passable fluency over the course of a few months.  Had he stayed home on the farm, it’s likely this gift would have remained dormant forever.  As it was, within two years of meeting my sister, he was one of six American college students selected to go on a special Russian language program to the Soviet Union.

I thought of this guy just last week, when my high-school-aged son came home from his first day in art class at school.  He’s never had an art class before, but he brought home an incredibly good representation of his own hand, meticulously worked in 3D.  He didn’t need lessons in perspective; he instinctively understood it.  Had he not been required to take this class as a prerequisite for graduating, he might never have known he has this gift.

And in this same vein, I’d like to recommend a bad, but wonderful documentary.  The documentary is called “Blood Brother,” and it’s playing on PBS.  The young man who made the documentary focuses on his friend, an almost paralyzingly ordinary boy from Pittsburgh, who did wonderful things.  The documentary is bad because it’s poorly constructed, poorly photographed, poorly narrated, poorly everything . . . but it’s still worth watching.

The ordinary young man is Robin “Rocky” Braat.  Rocky grew up in a dysfunctional home, suffered terrible abuse at the hands of his mother’s many boyfriends, got shunted to his grandparents for a few years, and then ended up with his father.  He describes himself as a kid who was so bad in school, he was “marginally retarded.”  When he speaks, he has the slurred, dull cadences of a stoner (although there’s no indication that he is, in fact, a stoner).

Rocky was aimless.  He had a short attention span, and felt that there was nothing for him in Pittsburgh.  He decided for no reason whatsoever to go to India, because he wanted to go someplace “authentic” (although why Pittsburgh, in its own way, isn’t as “authentic” as anyplace else in the world, I do not know).  Once there, Rocky came upon an orphanage.  What makes this orphanage unique is that all of the children and all of the staff have HIV.  Rocky had found his place on this earth.

Although Rocky readily admits that he didn’t like children when he arrived at that orphanage, there was something about the children there that called to him.  Watching the boundless love he feels for them, and the equally boundless love they return to him, is incredibly moving.

The best part of the documentary comes at the end, so you have to stick with it or, if you have it on TiVo, fast forward a bit.  One of the HIV-infected boys, a kid maybe 9 or 10, ends up in the hospital with God knows what.  His skin is a festering, bleeding, peeling mass; his eyes are so crusted and white they look like a corpse’s; he’s coughing his lungs out from tuberculous; and his kidneys are shutting down.  The child looks gangrenous and he’s in an Indian hospital in a remote region where care is minimal and death a certainty.

Rocky cares for that child as if the boy is his own flesh and blood.  Wearing only gloves to product his hands, he bathes the boy’s endless wounds, oils his broken skin, cleans his oozing eyes, and holds him as he cries in pain.  It is an outpouring of selfless love that would make Mother Teresa proud.

It turns out that, when it comes to caring for HIV-infected children in a remote region of India, Rocky is a savant.  Had he stayed in Pittsburgh, he would have been nothing.  If he worked, he would have had a low-level job.  He probably would have drunk too much on weekends, and wasted his days away in a haze of bad television, cheap food, and a kind of nagging existential despair.  Instead, because he wanted something more, he found himself.

One of the blessings of living in America is that so many of us have the opportunity to explore different pathways in life.  Maybe we’ll just have a variety of experiences that we’ll talk about later (and boast about when we’re old).  But for the lucky ones, their travels in America will introduce them to the genius within themselves.

Best flash mob ever!

You always read that something is the “best flash mob ever,” and many really do seem to live up to that billing.  Orchestras play beautiful music, dancers swirl across the floor, and people break into song as if they’re living in a 1930s Hollywood musical.

This particular flash mob, however, is truly the best one ever.  Not only is the performance delightful on its own terms, but its context raises it to amazing new heights of flash mob-ness.

To enjoy it fully, think about these facts before you start watching:

Irving BerlinIn 1893, five-year-old Israel Isidore Beilin and his family arrived in New York, having escaped the terrible anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia. After surviving (and, indeed, thriving in) a childhood of extreme poverty in New York’s Lower East Side, he grew up to become Irving Berlin, one of the most successful songwriters of all time.  He was also a man who never lost his sense of gratitude for the wonders of his adopted country, a sentiment he expressed perfectly in “God Bless America.” He wrote other songs celebrating American life, everything from Easter, to white Christmases, to the wonders of New Yorkers “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (written in 1929, right before the Roaring 20s came to a whimpering end).

Soviet May Day paradeIn 1917, the Soviets took over Russia, and settled in for a seventy year totalitarian run. America was the enemy and American culture a dangerous weapon that had to be banned from the Soviet Union at all costs.

And then, in February 2012, a young couple got married on a cold day in Moscow and their friends put on a most amazing show for them. Enjoy the show, and don’t forget the history as you watch it.

Happiness is a moral obligation, says Dennis Prager

Smiley-FaceI couldn’t agree more with the principle that happiness is a moral obligation (an argument Dennis Prager makes at length in the excellent Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual). I often tell the children, when the describe mean kids at their school that those children are more to be pitied than censured. Happy people, I point out, aren’t mean. Someone mean must be very unhappy. Give them a wide berth, but don’t add to their misery.

As for me, I’m trying to be happy, despite having misread a contract I signed, and having inadvertently signed on to a more expensive project than I intended. I’m reminding myself that, on the information available, this service provider is still the best in the market (a market sadly marked by a lot of shoddy work), but I’m feeling dumb. It was, after all, a stupid mistake. We’ll still get what we want, but not on the terms I thought. Sigh.

Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts.

It’s not Christmas at the Bookworm Room without Josh Groban’s “O Holy Night”

As is the case every year, I have so much for which I am thankful. When my children ask me what I want for Christmas, I never have an answer, because I already have everything I need or want (although they could empty the dishwasher more often). One of the gifts in my life is all of you, so thank you so much for becoming my friends through this site.

Merry Christmas!

Ido Kedar — author of “Ido in Autismland” — is profiled in the L.A. Times

Ido KedarLast year, I reviewed Ido Kedar’s Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison. It is a very important book, since it turns on its head all of the conventional wisdom about non-verbal autism.  Because of his book, Ido has rightly become a big deal amongst people affected by autism, a group that includes autistic people, their families, and their teachers.

Ido’s increasingly high profile caught the eye of a L.A. Times reporter who spent several months interviewing Ido, his family, and those who have worked with and gotten to know him.  The result is a glowing profile in the L.A. Times which really gives an insight into the overwhelming and often very beautiful world that Ido inhabits:

Autism, Ido says, is like being on LSD, something he learned about in health class, and his experience in the world can be at times terrifying and overwhelming. Sensory minutiae that in other people are filtered and organized, collide indiscriminately in his brain. Feelings of anger, sadness, even silliness can escalate, and he can have difficulty calming down.

The water surges around them. The sound of the waves and sea gulls, the voices and screams of children and families, the surf, rising and falling, its ceaseless crescendo and diminuendo, rushes at Ido as a terrible cacophony like the buzzing of mosquitoes, loud and inescapable.

As unsettling and as unpredictable as autism is, it also brings a strange pleasure to Ido’s life. Glints of sunshine, pockets of shade mesmerize him, and objects in motion reveal traces of acceleration, like stop-motion photography.

He grabs a strand of kelp, strips off the leaves and begins whipping it over and over in an S-pattern against the dissolving foam. Waves rise and fall against him, but he stays focused on the movement that he’s created against the water’s surface.

Like many of his repetitive behaviors — arm-flapping, finger-dancing, string-twirling — this gesture, referred to in the autistic community as a “stim” (for self-stimulation), enhances sensations around him and has a narcotic effect.

They take me to a sensory experience that is pretty intoxicating. I don’t get lightheaded, but I can get so absorbed in a stim I sort of vanish from my personhood.

Please read the whole thing.  I think you’ll be amazed.

Please help pro-American rock group Madison Rising

I got this in my email today:

Dear Patriot,

The goal of our Star Spangled Banner Challenge is to reach 5 million views on our Star Spangled Banner video by December 31st and show all the naysayers that Americans still believe in this country and in our National Anthem.

We are currently at 4.9 MILLION views – but we need YOUR help to make sure we can get that through that last 2% by the end of the year.

So – we’re asking all of our fans to PLEASE watch the video and share it any way you can – on Facebook, through email, on Twitter, or just by telling other people about it.

Take the Challenge: Help Madison Rising reach 5 million views by December 31, 2013 and let’s celebrate what being an American is all about!

As a thank you for being a fan, please enjoy this free download of our new blockbuster track, Hero: http://shop.madisonrising.com/products/hero-free-limited-time-download

There is goodness out there to offset the evil

I was exchanging emails with a friend about our despair regarding the current political scene.  Sure, Obamacare is performing as badly as we all predicted and doing what we knew it would, but so what?  Republicans are busy snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and Americans and their economy seem to be on the verge of implosion.  Some days, even though you believe in the silver lining, somehow the only thing you can see is the cloud.

And that’s why we need posts like this one, to remind us that the silver lining often resides in the individuals we don’t see, rather than in the politicians and politics we do see.  Much as Obama would like to deny it, we are a nation of individuals, not of special interest groups and victim classes.

Relationships and attitude matter

My teenage son just learned a life lesson, which is that relationships and attitude matter.  I can’t get into too much detail here, out of respect for the privacy of those involved, but I can say that my son wanted very much to qualify for something . . . and didn’t.  He was devastated by this failure, not so much because he wasn’t picked, but because of the chaotic process that led to him being left out.  He didn’t feel as if he’d been cut on the merits, which he could have understood but, instead, felt as if he just hadn’t connected with the decision-makers enough for them even to look at his merits.

Still, he had two things on his side right from the start.  The first was that he had great attitude throughout the process.  The decision-makers may have been poorly organized, but my son was always there, always on time, always striving, always engaging with people to learn how to improve.  He radiated “I want this.”  The second thing he had going for him was that he’d formed a good relationship with someone who, while not in charge, has pull.  Moreover, my son hadn’t formed that relationship to use this person.  Instead, he’d formed it because he genuinely respects and likes the person with pull, and that feeling was reciprocated.  It was a true mentorship.

The one other thing my son learned was that he had me on his side.  I know myself enough now not to react quickly, because my thoughts are ill-formed and my emotions high.  That’s when I go charging in like a maddened bull.  It took me a few decades, but I figured out that, while the general rule is that one should strike when the iron is hot, my iron needs to cool down a little or else I just burn myself.

As it happened, I’ve also got a nice relationship with my son’s mentor.  Once I got my thoughts lined up, I very politely approached the mentor, told him that I was confused by my son’s version of events (which I described in non-emotional terms), and asked if he could discover for me the viewpoint of the other people involved, especially the decision-makers.  No pressure, no expectations, no putting him in an uncomfortable position.

The end result is that my son is being reconsidered this coming week, in part because the decision-maker did notice his good attitude and in part because his mentor hustled for him.  Even better, my son is remarkably sanguine about the strong possibility that he still might not get what he wants.  What matters to him is that he’s being considered on the merits, instead of feeling as if he was thrown around on a high tide of disorganization and then just tossed out without any regard for his abilities and commitment.

A friend of mine who is wise in the ways of leadership told me this when I first heard about my son’s predicament:  “One of the leadership lessons I try to teach is the fact that leadership is all about relationships. Many leaders never get this and have little to no understanding of their impact on those around them.”

Truer words were never spoken.  Once my son understood that there was a relationship that involved him being seen as a real person, he was able to face cheerfully whatever consequences came his way.

I’ve spoken before at my blog about leadership.  Because my kids are so involved in so many sports, I’m fascinated by those coaches that inspire the kids — and equally fascinated by those coaches who know what they’re doing, and who love the sport, but who never succeed in bring the  kids along with them.  My friend is right that it’s about relationships.  But my son learned today that relationships run in two directions.  If you want a leader to be there for you, you also have to be there for the leader.  And unless someone is manifestly a dangerous enemy (whether to your person or to other aspects of your life), treat them in a friendly way and with respect, both because it will make your world a happier place and because you never know what will matter at the end of the day.  Don’t use people, but do appreciate them.

A proverb that has withstood the test of time

I was watching a high school soccer game (our side won), and letting my mind wander a bit, when Proverbs 15:17 popped into my mind:  “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.”

Isn’t that lovely?  It’s also a pithy piece of wisdom that is as true now as it was when written down thousands of years ago.

Do you have a favorite Biblical passage that reminds you what’s important in life?  (And no fair citing John 3:16, because I know that trumps all other passages.)  After all, one of the reasons the Bible lives on today is because of its timelessness, not just when it speaks directly to man’s relationship with God, but also when it speaks to man’s relationship with his fellow man or with his inner needs and drives.

Something to make you happy as you head for Saturday night

One of the regular shticks on Jay Leno’s show is for a comedian “take over” one of those gas pump news outlets that have popped up all over, and to surprise people who are peacefully pumping gas.  When Will and Monifa Sims pulled up, however, the shtick went from lame (which it invariably is) to just wonderful.  Watch and enjoy:

And Part II (where you get to meet them):

Only in America — the Samurai sword wielding Mormon bishop superhero

(I originally wrote this one for Mr. Conservative, but it deserves a place at the Bookworm Room table, if for no other reason than the martial arts slant.)

America is such a great country. Where else would a stalker who’s viciously mugging his victim be scared off by a Mormon bishop who wields a Samurai sword, collects DNA, and memorizes license plates? The thug who had the misfortune to cross paths with Bishop Kent Hendrix was so frightened that he turned himself in later the same day.

It all began in Salt Lake City early Tuesday morning, when Hendrix’s teenage son banged on his dad’s bedroom door to say that someone was being mugged right in front of their house. A 35-year woman living in the neighborhood had been stalked by 37-year-old Grant Eggersten, a former co-worker. He grabbed her as she was leaving her house, knocked her down, and went after her keys. Fortunately, the intended victim had pepper and a panic alarm, and she used them both.

An older neighbor with the heart of a lion saw what was going on, and grabbed a little baseball bat. Nancy, another neighbor who witnessed what was happening, said that this bold lady “ended up whacking him a good one.” Unfortunately, Eggersten was undeterred. Hendrix’s appearance on the scene changed the dynamic.

It turns out that Hendrix isn’t just a Mormon bishop, father of six, and pharmaceutical statistician. He’s also a martial arts instructor with a 4th degree black belt in Kishindo martial arts, a weapons-based martial arts discipline. The moment Hendrix heard what was happening, he grabbed the 29” long, high-carbon-steel Samurai sword he keeps by his bed in lieu of a baseball bat, and headed out of the house.

Kent Hendrix

On the street, Hendrix discovered what he called a “melee” between the woman and Eggersten. While Hendrix’s son called 9/11, Hendrix drew his sword, something he never expected to do. He later said “This is my home defense weapon. First time I’ve had to draw it.” Hendrix didn’t even have to attack Eggersten with the sword. Instead, he just waved it at Eggerston and ordered him to drop to the ground.

According to an interview Hendrix later gave, “His eyes got as big as saucers and he kind of gasped and jumped back. He’s probably never had anyone draw a sword on him before.” Eggersten ignored Hendrix’s instruction to hit the ground and, instead, jumped into his car. Hendrix then had the presence of mind to pick up a ChapStick that Eggersten had dropped and to memorize his license plate.

It’s entirely possible that Eggersten heard Hendrix as the latter hollered after the car, “Ha! I’ve got your DNA and I’ve got your license plate. You are done.” After all, why else would Eggersten turn himself into the police an hour later, where he was booked for robbery, trespassing, attempted burglary, and violation of a stalking injunction?

Aside from being a great story about a neighborhood that hung together; a very possessed, responsible 14-yeear-old boy, and a rockin’ Mormon bishop, Hendrix’s heroism also demonstrates that weapons are a force for good when they are held in the hands of good people. Despite owning a significant sword collection – and knowing how to use it – Hendrix does not go around randomly or malevolently stabbing and beheading people. Instead, consistent with his lifestyle, he uses his martial chops for pleasure and to be of service to others. As between a responsible gun owner and Bishop Hendrix, there is no meaningful difference – which may explain why, for the first time in a decade, Americans are becoming increasingly supportive of a gun in the home as the best tool for self-defense.

Life is becoming a Hollywood musical — and I mean that in a good way

I awoke in the night with a song stuck in my head and a post ready for the writing.  Then reality intruded.  Let me explain….

The song was “It’s a grand night for singing,” from State Fair, a very popular 1945 musical with songs from Rogers and Hammerstein.  Aside from the fact that I find the song charming (as I do most songs in old musicals), I’ve also liked the idea that all the people attending a busy state fair simultaneously burst into song to express their happiness:

I was going to go on about the fact that movies aren’t mirrors of a society as actually is, but that they often reflect a what a society wishes it was.  In the old days, people who wouldn’t be caught dead singing in public nevertheless liked the idea that people would express joy quite publicly through song.

The next stop in my planned post would have been to point out that today’s movies, to the extent they mirror a society’s collective self-image or desires, reveal how far our societal goals — what we want to be, not necessarily what we are — have fallen. Movies today are frantic, cynical, crude, hyper-sexual, etc. I was going to wrap up with a rousing “Is this what we have become?  Is this all that we, as a society, dream of for ourselves?”

All of which is true. But I suddenly realized that I was wrong about one very fundamental thing: We have finally achieved the Hollywood vision of 1945.

You see, thanks to the flash mob phenomenon, just as Hollywood once imagined in movies, people all over the world are expressing joy in public by bursting into song. What Americans dreamed of in 1945, the whole world is doing in 2013. That’s a hopeful sign, isn’t it? In at least one innocent, joyful way, we are becoming the best side of ourselves, as we envisioned ourselves long ago.

Everything You Think You Know About Autism Is Wrong

I have a new post up at PJ Lifestyle, and I would like it to get as much readership and distribution as possible, because it’s about a very special young man and a very important topic:

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.

Read the rest here.

Another wonderful recording of “O Holy Night”

O Holy Night is my favorite Christmas carol.  In an earlier post, I put up a video of Josh Groban singing it.  Old Buckeye responded with a link to this beautiful rendition by Ernie Ford (whom I always knew just as a funny guest on the I Love Lucy show, and Gordon MacRae, one of my favorite sing movie stars of the late 40s and early 50s.  It’s so lovely, I had to share it with you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have to admit that having Obama for another four years in the White House, having Harry Reid serve as Majority Leader for another two to four years (at least) in the Senate, and having Israel poised on the brink of a major war with another Iranian proxy, doesn’t give me that warm, comfy feeling that I’d like for Thanksgiving.

Having said that, there is still so much for which I am thankful, ranging from the micro (my own life) to the macro (the world outside my home).

Starting small, I’m thankful for my family, including both family by blood and by marriage; for my friends in the “real” and the cyber worlds; for my health; for my dog who is a daily delight to me; for my lovely home; ; and for the delightful community in which I live. These people may have gotten the wrong end of the political stick, but they are still fine human beings.  I wish for them the blessing of an open mind.

And going big, I’m thankful that America, although a bit wobbly now, is still the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I’m thankful that Israel has an Iron Dome system and that she, unlike her enemies, believes that innocent lives are not cannon fodder.  I’m thankful that we have the best military in the world, not just because it is well armed, but because it is well staffed, with courageous men and women who willing undergo the rigors of training and service to help defend America.

We know that eight years of President Obama will change this country, but I’m also thankful for a Constitution that may work to prevent the “fundamental transformation” of a country that has been a shining beacon for so long.  I haven’t given up hope yet and the mere fact that all of you come here means that you haven’t either.  We still have a lot for which to be thankful, and many reasons for hope.

Happy Thanksgiving!