I Was Wrong


I thought Americans knew that when you restrict energy exploration, you would get less of it and what you got would be more expensive.

I thought Americans knew that $4.00 a gallon gas was simply outrageous and evidence that the administration did not know what it was doing.

I thought Americans knew that gas prices are more a function of government regulations than gas company greed.

I thought Americans knew that gas companies make about 7 cents a gallon profit and the government makes 65 cents a gallon.

I thought Americans knew that when you steal car companies from the shareholders and give them to the unions, you would get more expensive, less competitive cars.

I thought Americans knew that demand drives innovation and that force-feeding us “clean” energy like solar and electric cars before we want, can afford, or need them would result in products no one wanted and energy no one could afford, and the bankruptcy of “clean” energy companies.

I thought Americans knew that we have 500 years of natural gas just waiting to be extracted.

I thought Americans knew that new technologies for recovering oil and natural gas are the key to America’s future and we should encourage the exploration and extraction.

I thought Americans knew that “fracking” is safe for ground water because the available natural gas is separated from ground water reservoirs by three miles of solid rock.

I thought Americans knew that nuclear energy is safe and clean and cheap.

I thought Americans knew that NASA is not a Muslim outreach program and we should have colonies on the moon by now.

I thought Americans knew that the space program is not only why we went to the moon but why we have Teflon, microwave ovens, Kevlar, and a host of other technologies, including the phone they stupidly text on while driving.

I thought Americans knew that no Republican economist ever called Reagonomics “Trickle-Down” economics; that it was a disparaging moniker that is not what lower taxes are designed to do, which is free up capital and enable its most effective use, which includes employing people and creating lower-cost products.

I thought Americans knew that a rising tide lifts all boats and that lower taxes across the board will result in a booming economy, as J.F.K. and Reagan knew and as we experienced.

I thought Americans knew that 45 million people on food stamps is proof certain that the economy is not improving.

I thought Americans knew that 8% unemployment is actually half again that much, when you count those who’ve quit looking for work.

I thought Americans knew that every recession prior to this one healed itself without massive government TARP and stimulus programs, usually in four to five years.

I thought Americans knew that Calvin Coolidge purposely did nothing during the recession of his time and it was over in less than two years.

I thought Americans knew that government does not create wealth; it only redistributes it, and does so according to political calculations, not need.

I thought Americans knew that the 33% depreciation of their homes’ value was the result of the government forcing banks to make loans to people who would likely default on their loans.

I thought Americans knew that when the entire system robs Peter to pay Paul, everyone is soon impoverished.

I thought Americans knew that eventually Peter quits making money that is going to be stolen from him via the tax code anyway.

I thought Americans knew that Atlas Shrugged is the most important book they could read right now.

I thought Americans knew that the Democrat party is nothing more than a collection of special interest groups agitating for special treatment and money from the government.

I thought Americans knew that Santa Claus is fictional and that only children believe in him.

I thought Americans were not children.

I thought Americans knew that when you allow a union to automatically take money from its members for political purposes, whether they want it or not, you have a recipe for overly-powerful unions who no longer represent their members.

I thought Americans knew that hating the rich is un-American.

I thought Americans knew that no poor person ever hired anyone.

I thought Americans knew that rich people spend money and help the economy too.

I thought Americans knew that laborers build the yachts rich people purchase.

I thought Americans knew that teachers’ unions are far more interested in teachers than students, which is why teachers are better-paid than ever and students are dumber than ever.

I thought Americans knew that a foreign policy of “leading from behind” would lead to the misunderstanding of the true aims of the “Arab spring,” the debacle in Benghazi, and the coming debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I thought Americans knew George W. Bush won the Iraq war with his roundly-condemned surge policy.

I thought Americans knew that Obama continued every facet of the Patriot Act he so roundly condemned and increased drone strikes, cell-phone tapping of American citizens, and basically eroded their privacy rights.

I thought Americans knew that telling your enemy the day you’ll quit fighting him will simply result in his quiescence until that day and the next day, when you’re gone, he’ll go back to doing what he’s always done.

I thought Americans knew that a man who won’t release his college grades either fudged them or failed his classes.

I thought Americans knew that a man who oversaw the least impressive issue of The Harvard Law Review—and indeed never even wrote an article for the Review— was certainly not the “smartest person in every room he’s entered.”

I thought Americans knew that a man who only had two jobs, that of “community organizer” and a half-term senator, would know literally nothing about running anything.

I thought Americans knew that a man who left his own brother in abject poverty knew nothing about “loving your neighbor.”

I thought Americans knew that a man who was schooled by radicals, anti-Americans, anti-colonialists, terrorists, and communists would have a different vision for America.

I thought Americans knew that lying about your political opponent says more about you than him.

I thought Americans saw the real Obama in the first debate.

I thought Americans would know that good fences make good neighbors and that allowing everyone who can swim across the Rio Grande into our country is bad for our country—as well as theirs.

I thought Americans knew that allowing mass-illegal immigration from Mexico is bigoted against all those who wish to come here from countries from which cannot swim to America.

I thought Americans knew that abortion is murder and a man who voted for partial-birth abortion four times while an Illinois state senator sanctioned murder on his watch.

I thought Americans knew that even if Roe v. Wade is overturned in the Supreme Court, the states could then vote to keep abortion legal, if they wanted to. And then we’d see what happens.

I thought Americans knew that 50 million abortions since 1970 is a holocaust.

I thought Americans knew that the embryo is a human being guaranteed Constitutional rights. What else could it be?

I thought Americans valued innocent life over “choice,” which 98% of the time is the choice to terminate an inconvenient pregnancy, not rectify a rape or act of incest.

I thought Americans loved life more than death.

I thought Americans knew that the Executive branch of the federal government is supposed to enforce laws passed by Congress, not create laws on its own directly contrary to the will of the people and Congress.

I thought Americans knew that if you took 100% of the money all millionaires in America have, you could run the country for less than a week, and then who would we hate?

I thought Americans knew that work is noble and that paying your way in life is one of the greatest feelings there is.

I thought Americans knew that they should buy their own contraceptives.

I thought Americans knew that “global warming” is a fiction invented by rent-seeking scientists who need dire predictions to get money for studies.

I thought Americans knew that the polar bear population has quintupled over the last 25 years.

I thought Americans knew that climate change is ongoing and there is nothing mankind can do to affect it.

I thought Americans knew that the site of the Exxon Valdez oil spill is now a thriving ecosystem.

I thought Americans knew that Yellowstone’s million new lodgepole pines (spontaneously generated when the 1989 fire released seeds) is proof that man does not know how to “manage” nature.

I thought Americans knew that mankind is also a part of nature, and that everything we do is as “natural” as a shark, and look how long they’ve been around.

I thought Americans knew that no one wants dirty air and water.

I thought Americans knew that all countries go through the manufacturing phase and that we are now in the intellectual property phase of civilization and thus we simply cannot make a car as cheaply as China can, nor should we even try.

I thought Americans knew that we should save money by buying inexpensive goods from overseas and focus our imaginations and energy on new products and new ideas and let manufacturing-phase countries grow their economies and increase their standard of living by building those products for us.

I thought Americans knew that manufacturing buggy whips “Made in America!” is wrong not only because we no longer need buggy whips, but even if we did, they could be made cheaper elsewhere.

I thought Americans knew that we are no longer a manufacturing economy but a service and innovation economy.

I thought Americans knew that going on disability and having others pay your way eats away at the soul.

I thought Americans knew that no one can “have it all.”

I thought Americans knew that being “rich” in America is no guarantee you’ll always be rich, and you want that to be a door, not a wall, so you have hope of perhaps becoming “rich” yourself someday.

I thought Americans knew that the 1960s college radicals never left college after all and now they have tenure and are infecting your children with ideas that have never worked, which is why they stayed in school.

I thought Americans knew that you cannot send children to college for four years to be infected with anti-capitalist, anti-American propaganda and not have them vote for anti-capitalist, anti-American candidates.

I thought Americans knew that nationalizing student loans merely ensures that more children will go to college, fewer will pay the loans back, and they all will graduate with anti-capitalist, anti-American sensibilities.

I thought Americans knew that nationalizing healthcare will result in the same kind of service you get at the Post Office. Ever wait in line for a surly employee at UPS?

I thought Americans knew that most health care costs would come down if insurance providers were allowed to do business across state lines, like auto insurance companies. There is no auto insurance crisis, is there?

I thought Americans knew that the smaller medical care safety net there is, the more they will monitor their own health choices, like eating right.

I thought Americans knew that there is an inverse correlation between increased drug abuse (legal and illegal) and the destruction of our civilization.

I thought Americans knew that legalizing another drug that saps personal initiative and destroys lives was a bad thing.

I thought Americans knew that real compassion is teaching people to be responsible for their own decisions and not to expect someone else to foot the bill.

I thought Americans knew that making someone else pay for your massive end-of-life health care is immoral and people themselves should not saddle their descendants with a huge bill in the last six months that didn’t even save a life.

I thought Americans knew that religion should not be a disqualifier for public office.

I thought Americans knew that voting for a man because of his skin color is no different than voting against him: you’re still a racist.

I thought Americans knew that government will never care for you as well as you care for yourself.

I thought Americans knew that history repeats itself and that when Rome voted itself “bread and circuses,” it was over for Rome.

I thought Americans knew that, while America is not Greece, the same harsh and inviolable economic truths also apply to us, and our economic crash will destroy civilization.

I thought Americans  were ready to return to time-honored values and behavior.

I was wrong.


I Have a Problem with Facebook®

IT'S NOT ONLY THAT Facebook® is a kind of pathetic display for people (including me, I’m sorry to say) who need to inform their friends of their opinions, events, and interests—the problem lies in the definition of “friend.”

I don’t know how anyone can have 50 real friends, much less 5,000. When I sit down to count how many friends I have, the number is much less than 50. Indeed, under the most stringent definition, the number may actually be closer to 5. So it depends upon how you define “friends.”

Like you, I believe that friends are the cement that holds society together, whether they are friends-by-sanguinity or those we meet out in real life. In addition, all friends are not alike; they have a pecking order just as families do. My parents had a greater impact on me than my grandparents or my siblings. Spouses and children hold special places in our hearts because they often have the greatest impact of all. Where friends fit in this hierarchy depends upon the friend . . . and upon us.

I have a couple of friends I esteem higher than some of my siblings, though none as much as I esteem my parents. Thus, in my hierarchy, parents hold the highest position, but it’s possible for friends to be right up there in the top 5.

All well and good, but what about the friends we make on Facebook®—I’ll call them Facebook Friends®— who, but for the Internet, we would never have met at all? Or those we have met on occasion, maybe done business with, or in my case, people who appreciate my artistic endeavors? Can these people truly be Real-Life Friends®?

Of course not, though I credit the Internet with reacquainting me with friends who got lost in the past. I have reconnected with several friends from high school. But note, I say “reconnected.” Four decades ago, we knew each other and now we’re catching up. One friend is now an avid runner, another a talented tile contractor, still another a nascent marketer of her own homemade chili.

We reconnected, and for that, I’m happy, but the question remains: is it possible to connect online in the first place? Can a real friendship be built upon shared recipes, look-what-my-child-did-today postings, political rants, and pictures of kitties napping with puppies?

Highly unlikely, I think.

But I’m torn about letting my Solomonic sword fall. I’m flattered that people I’ve never met (except perhaps briefly at a book signing) want to be Facebook Friends®, but I know they’re not on the same level as Real-Life Friends®. The answer lies in not only whether I would share my deepest beliefs with them, but whether they really want to know my deepest beliefs.

After all, they may have just liked a book I wrote or a speech I gave or a movie I directed—they may be horrified to hear my views on religion or politics, just as I was disappointed to learn too much about certain musical heroes’ political views online. Artists I had admired for decades suddenly became knuckleheads to me because they let slip what they thought about people who believe what I believe. I’ll never hear their music again without thinking about this and it makes me sad. As they say, TMI.

In like fashion, I’m sure there are people out there who, drawn to me by my writing, are disgusted with me after hearing my politics or religious views.

You see, when I share my beliefs on religion or politics with Real-Life Friends®, they have a context within which to place my views. We’ve often known each other for so long that they can remember when I campaigned for George McGovern or served a mission for the LDS church. Thus my current politics and heresies can be seen by them as evidence of a man capable of change and that may ameliorate their negative reaction to my belief that Obama is an affirmative-action failure or that Thomas Monson does not brunch with Jesus.

In other words, I’m pretty sure my comments are blocked by many of my Facebook Friends®, who never really wanted to be Real-Life Friends® of the sort I want and need: people who will not only share their successes, recipes, and favorite quotes with me but will listen with an open heart as I express my deepest existential anxieties, as did a dear friend just yesterday.

So I want to be the kind of Real-Life Friend® that when a friend of mine is having a difficult time, they will think to call me so I can listen with the same open-heartedness I’ve seen in their eyes. (Note that real friendship needs and desires occasional Face-to-Face® contact.)

I think that’s why Facebook® has a Facebook Fan® page. I don’t think Don Fagen of Steely Dan wants to have my politics pollute his Timeline. He’s a lunatic leftist and I’m a reactionary conservative. What he wants is for me to buy his next album and see him in concert. In short, I’m not Don’s friend—I’m a fan.

So I’m going to be making a change, or an exchange, to be exact. I’m going to cut loose my Facebook Friends® in favor of Real-Life Friends®, those who know and like me enough to email me once in a while, ring me up for dinner, or call when they’re in town. These are the people I’ll gratefully and simply call “friends.”

To my Facebook Friends®, if you’re really interested in knowing my personal proclivities as well as my public posturing, there’s a way: contact me and let’s get to know each other better.

You never know: it may be, as Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, the start of a “beautiful friendship,” no trademark registration required.

Why Harry Potter Works . . . Yet Doesn't

I'M ONE OF THE FEW who were not captivated by Harry Potter. When the first book came out, I judged that a story about witchcraft was not my cup of tea—not because it was evil but merely because I think children’s literature should prepare them for the real world, where magic is not an option.

Now don’t get me wrong. When I was young I devoured science fiction, but the stories focused on ordinary people in fantastic worlds, not fantastic people in fantastic worlds. Sure, the hero had a laser pistol, but he usually met his adversary armed only with guts, grit, and gumption.

People told me Harry Potter did just that; he did not use magic to solve his problems. But I doubted it, so I stayed clear of the books and movies. I found, however, that staying clear of Harry Potter was difficult; it has so infused our culture. And this gave me pause.
Now, I’m writing a book series that targets Harry Potter’s audience: young boys (girls have Hermione, but she’s outnumbered by Harry and Ron) and I’m curious as to why Harry Potter is such a phenomenon, so I gave the first book another look and here is what I found:
For 90% of the book, Harry is a cipher. Granted, he’s a famous cipher, but he barely speaks and we rarely hear his inner thoughts. Ron and Hermione are far better developed and more proactive. But Harry has these inborn powers. For example, the first time he reaches out for the broom, it pops up into his hand. This immediate success violates the mainstay of fiction, the try-fail cycle. Even Luke Skywalker gets zapped in the hind end by the remote with which he’s sparring. It takes at least a couple of minutes for him to take his “first step into a larger world.”
But Harry has no difficulty with the broom. Or with Quidditch—he single-handedly wins the very first game in which he plays. He easily bests Malfoy throughout the book and navigates Hogwarts with only minor difficulties.
And yet Harry is such a shade throughout the book that I wondered how he was going to survive the inevitable confrontation with Voldemort, much less prevail. Of course he does, but his success has nothing to do with him; his parents are more responsible than he is. Indeed, as an infant, Voldemort couldn’t kill him, and then, in the climax, Quirrell can’t kill him either, due to the fact that he cannot touch Harry’s bare skin because of Harry’s innate “goodness.”
It is at this impasse—Harry unable to subdue Quirrell and Quirrell unable to touch Harry—that the lights go out. Harry wakes up three days later to discover that Dumbledore arrived in the nick of time—a deus ex machina—and defeated Voldemort. (For now, of course.)
Deus ex machina (lit. “god from the machine”) was a device used in Greek plays, most of which involved mortals getting into trouble and the gods arriving via a literal elevator to resolve everything. This device has been eschewed for hundreds of years because it deprives the hero of the power to resolve his difficulties.
Dumbledore deprived Harry of his greatest moment by arriving and defeating Voldemort. Not a very good showing for our young hero. At least Luke Skywalker fired the shot that destroyed the Death Star.
But the first question remains: why, given the passivity of the hero and his marginal involvement in the climax, did Harry Potter find his way into our consciousness?
I think it goes back to the same issue faced by all authors of fantasy and science fiction. The world in which they place their plot, whether it is outer space, Middle Earth, or Hogwarts, is fantastic, and thus the world itself becomes a character in the story, and in the cases I’ve mentioned, unfortunately the main character.
Tolkien’s dwarves in The Hobbit are so interchangeable as to be the same person with different names. George Lucas put his storm troopers behind masks in order to remove their individuality. And Harry Potter is allowed to be a cipher because it’s not so much what he does at Hogwarts, it’s what Hogwarts does to the reader: it captivates with potions, spells, ghosts, secret passageways, floating candles, and, in the single stroke of true genius I saw in the book, the Mirror of Erised, wherein our hero sees that which he most desperately desires: himself with his parents. In this moment, Rowling achieves what she is unable to do through the first half of the book: she gives Harry humanity, shows us his pain, and promises healing.
So the book really works, not because Harry is at Hogwarts, but because we are. This fantastic place, where magic is real, is the secret hope of all children, who are faced with a world that is too big, too confusing, and too powerful to overcome. In reality, we must wait to grow up to drive a car, understand politics, or get money. But for the children at Hogwarts—and their tag-along readers—magic is a shortcut to adult power.
Unfortunately, in the real world, there is no magic, and so Harry can’t help an 11-year-old boy understand fractions. In fact, his constant disobedience, fighting, cheating, and general disrespect of rules gets him in hot water and people are injured and die, right under the noses of the very adults who were entrusted with these children. Dumbledore is guilty of child abuse for allowing Harry, Hermione, and Ron to go into the trap door to confront Voldemort, where they might have been killed. He could have stopped the whole adventure at any time by destroying the Sorcerer’s Stone. Instead, he encouraged them and even secretly gave Harry the invisibility cloak to allow them to sneak around Hogwarts undiscovered in the middle of the night. Seems to me the most dangerous person at Hogwarts is not Voldemort’s ghost—it’s Dumbledore.
That aside, the fantastic place that is Hogwarts may convince you that I’m just a killjoy curmudgeon. To you I say: J.K. Rowling has cast a spell on you. The story you love so much is at best unsatisfying dramatically and at worst destructive of the very virtues you teach your own children. A child who grows up thinking, even on a subconscious level, that his problems can be solved with magic is going to be terribly disappointed when real life proves impermeable to wizards, wands, and wishful thinking.
Sure, it’s just a book, but a book you let your child read instead of the classics you grew up on. Unless your 11-year-old boy reads Treasure Island and Kidnapped before you let him eat the cavity-causing cotton candy that is Harry Potter, you’re depriving him of a balanced literary diet and a fighting chance at the gladiator camp that is real life.