(And yes of course it's ironic that she's being lectured by a Brit.)
If you're like me, sometime this past weekend you learned that Christmas is just around the corner and began scrambling about to get ready. There's a good chance you've found yourselves in need of stocking stuffers too, and I'd love to help you out. Unfortunately, my book "Why Mommy Loves the State" - which makes an excellent stocking stuffer - sells for an insanely high price. I wouldn't pay that much for it and neither should you. Fortunately, there's another option. I used to offer the PDF download for free, but for some reason Lulu no longer allows that. You can still get it for $1.99 though. So... don't buy the book, but if you're still looking for stocking stuffers, do get the download.
Well I've gone and done it. Today, after what must be nearly 40 years, I went and watched "J.T."
For those who didn't grow up in the '70s, J.T. was a film that was played around Christmastime every year when I was growing up. Any description of the story would make it sound cliche, formulaic, or corny. It is neither of these. It is one of those films that is so perfectly written and beautifully crafted that it seems simple and easy - as if no effort at all went into making it. But it is filled with wonderful little moments, has big themes that could easily have been made clunky or preachy, a flawless script (written by Jane Wagner) and an absolutely beautiful performance from a very young Kevin Hooks.
I was surprised to find that a couple of things weren't precisely as I had rememberd them, but the impact of the film was just as powerful as it was back then. No, if anything, it was more so. It's a lot harder to watch this film as a mother to a seven-year-old son who loves animals and who is beginning to confront harshness and meanness in the world, than it was to watch it as a child.
I'm not going to say anything more about it. Just that it is probably the best Christmas film ever made and I can't begin to fathom why it does not seem to be available on DVD. You can get the book here, and you can watch the entire film on YouTube, here.
Oh and make sure you've got a box of tissues handy.
A few years ago, I had an idea for an alternative kind of 911 service. It would be a network of membership groups throughout the country, made up of people who pledged to respond when alerted to incidents of police violence. Anyone who witnessed, or was the victim of, a police assault could call a number and their call would be sent out as an alert to their local group. People receiving the alert could show up and act as witnesses, taking video of whatever happened and potentially convincing the aggressors to back down.
These guys have done much better. Peacekeeper aims to put private individuals back in charge of their own protection and the protection of their communities, with the help of an app that allows members to connect and form local networks of responders who will come to each others' aid when called.
Here's how the app works:
Just last week, Peacekeeper launched a new program to help Peacekeepers get training in firearms use and tactics. The "Guardian" program partners with Pulse O2DA to provide online training in the form of videos, manuals, tactical simulations as well as workshops and field days. The folks from Peacekeeper asked if I'd take a look and post my thoughts on the program, and I have to say that - with the qualification that I am neither a gun person nor a tactical expert of any kind - what I saw looks promising.
The focus of Pulse O2DA is more about building private defense networks and teaching non-professionals the art of gaining control of a crisis situation, than it is about firearms skills alone. From that perspective, it has developed what looks to be a very well-thought out training program that is not aimed at self defense, but at the defense of entire communities. From the Pulse O2DA website:
"At it's core, the Pulse Engine shapes conflict to your advantage, and to the disadvantage of your attacker. The Pulse Engine methodology focuses on rapidly exchanging initial disadvantage for advantage by increasing your interaction with your environment (cover/concealment, etc.) while simultaneously isolating and breaking your adversary down so that he is no longer a threat to you or others. Through the MoC1 courses we will show you how to empower those in your community to do what you have done already, self-organize and bring security to your community when needed."
Americans seem slowly to be waking up to the reality that our current system of granting monopolies on justice and law enforcement do not serve the people they are intended to serve - to put it very politely. After decades of police officers getting away with assaulting and even killing the people they are sworn to protect; as police forces become more and more militarized, waging war on the communities they are meant to serve; and as our prisons overflow with the perpetrators of crimes that have no victims, giving this country the highest prison population on the planet, even non-libertarians are starting to question whether this system really is in our best interests, whether it does in fact produce an orderly and peaceful society or whether it might in fact produce just the opposite.
Rather than tinker with a fundamentally flawed institution, or appeal to those with a monopoly on the use of force to weild it more justly, one of the most important things we can do to bring about a real system of justice is to start creating real alternatives right now. That's what Peacekeeper and Pulse O2DA are doing, and they are not alone. Groups like the Peaceful Streets Project, CopWatch and others are taking action to create real-world solutions to the problem that is monopoly law enforcement. I can only hope this is the start of a very big trend.
We've struggled with "screentime" for a while now. Neither of our children watched any TV, movies or anything else on a screen before they were two, and very little in the first few years thereafter. But when they get to a certain age they start wanting what they want, even if it's not what you want them to want. So then the question becomes: How do you raise your kids so that they don't end up "respecting authority", but learn to think and make decisions for themselves - while also protecting them from dangers and ills that they are not yet old enough to appreciate?
Sometimes the answer is easy: Obviously you grab your toddler before he or she runs into a busy street; obviously you keep fire and electrical appliances out of reach before a certain age. But with screentime it wasn't so obvious. And it turned out I was a little wrong in my assumptions about who is old enough to appreciate what.
So here's what happened. Starting over a year ago, when our son really started getting into computer games (notably: Minecraft), we had a talk with him about how too much playing of computer games or watching movies wasn't good, and that we wanted to put limits on it. He agreed in principle, and we set some limits - an hour each weekday and a chunk of hours on the weekends. We changed the specifics a few times, went to screentime only on weekends once, and found that it was a little hard to enforce - either because he didn't want to stop what he was doing, or because we would forget to set an alarm, etc. but that it basically worked out alright.
Then summer came. And for a while, all he wanted to do was play Minecraft and watch videos about Minecraft. He didn't draw much anymore, or make the books he used to make, which made me a little sad but I had to admit he made some pretty cool stuff in the Minecraft world. And I started thinking: Maybe this is just what he needs to do right now. Maybe this IS where his creativity is coming out and we shouldn't fight it. What would be so bad if we just took off all screentime limits (excepting limits on things like realistic violence or pornography, which limits he doesn't even really know about)? What if we just let him do as much Minecraft and other "screen" stuff as he wants to?
So that's what we did. Starting in late summer, we took off all screentime limits - with the proviso that we would consider limits again when the school year started. My prediction was that he would be doing so much of it by then that we would feel we had to limit it again when school started. And he did. He was on his computer for most of the day, every day, unless he had some outside activity.
We didn't change anything right away when school started, but a few weeks into school my son came to me and said that he wanted to stop doing Minecraft. In fact, he wanted to stop doing all screentime for a while. My jaw dropped. It wasn't at all what I was expecting.
"I don't feel as peaceful," he told me. "Before I was playing Minecraft, I felt a lot more peaceful."
We've always known that our son is very sensitive and very aware. But this surprised me. What surprised me more was how I had underestimated him. And I would never have had the opportunity to find out what was going on inside him - or to see that I had underestimated him - had we not given him the opportunity to find out himself. Had we not taken off those screentime limits.
So we talked about it, and decided that he would take a break from all screentime. At first he said he wanted to do it for a year, but I talked him down to a month. After a few weeks, we decided to continue it until the beginning of December, and then to the end of the year, but with the ability to make exceptions from time to time most especially, of course, on December 17th.
He said that he would need my help in keeping him on his break. He asked us to change the password on his computer, and on the iPads. He said that it might be hard for him to stick to it and I told him I would help him, and that I would remind him that this was his idea and that it was something that was really important to him. At the end of the conversation I felt more like his Sponsor than his policeman.
It's early December now, and I can honestly say it's gone pretty well. Most of the time, when he asks to do screentime, we'll talk about it and he'll remember why he decided not to. We did make a big exception over the Thanksgiving holiday and watched a bunch of movies. And he did a little bit of Minecraft when he went over to a friend's house for a play date. But for the most part, he just finds other things to do. He is drawing again, and making sculptures and flying machines out of paper. We started teaching him Lord of the Rings Risk and he decided to make his own version of the game, with a better board and rules, and his own dice.
His break from screentime isn't going to last forever, and before January we'll have another talk with him about what kind of limits he wants to set for himself so that he can continue playing games he enjoys and watching movies sometimes but can still feel peaceful in his life too. What will make these new limits so much better than the old ones is that the impetus for them comes from him, and from a powerful awareness of the impact that screentime has on his mind and sense of wellbeing. And it's an awareness that may never have surfaced if we had kept those initial limits in place, if he hadn't had the freedom to experience it for himself.
Marc Guttman, who put together the anthology Why Peace (in which I have a chapter), has gone and memed me. And just in time for Christmas! If you haven't yet read Why Peace, you might want to put it on your list. I admit I still haven't finished reading it myself, but I have been very impressed - and in some cases blown away - by the quality of the essays. It makes a great stocking stuffer too - for anyone whose feet are the size of a 636-page book.
Tom Woods interviews Jay Richards, co-author of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Richards quotes Tolkein as saying that his "...political opinions lean more and more to anarchy, philosophically understood meaning abolition of control, not whiskered men with bombs."
Richards also talks about the implicit Christianity that imbues both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. On a side note, I find it amusing that the Christians who advocated burning the books of J.K. Rowling missed out on the obvious Christian values that were the foundation for her works. The Harry Potter series has much in common with Tolkein's work, and this unspoken Christianity is one of the strongest features of both. It's funny how easy it is for so many "Christians" to miss out on their own message when it doesn't come in the right packaging.
See the full interview: