Friday, August 28, 2015

The Autism Acceptance Book

"Everyone you know and everyone you will ever meet is special and different in some way.  The world would be a boring place if people were all the same. It’s our differences that make us all unique and interesting."   autism acceptance

That’s the starting point of the Autism Acceptance Book by Ellen Sabin, written to help elementary school students look beyond the often confusing surface to see what they have in common with classmates or friends with autism.

The direction this book takes is affirming and positive, starting with the perspective that a child with autism is “one of us.”  The first section discusses the ways that all people are the same and different, and that everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses.  Then the book takes a look at autism and the ways that people with autism may behave differently, and why.  For example, sensory differences are connected with the way all of us can feel overstimulated at times.  Behaviors are presented as both strengths and weaknesses – for example, covering ears may indicate very good hearing, and liking orderly spaces may be because of a strong ability to notice detail.  Throughout the book are suggestions for being a good friend in various situations.  All are respectful of the friend with autism’s perspective and ability.

special needs acceptanceThe book is laid out in an inviting, colorful workbook format, so it looks like it would be most useful with family members or friends.  However, an innovative teacher could easily take the information and opportunities for self-reflection to help them work through the ideas with a class, and more effectively include a student with autism.

Recommended for ages 8-12. You can buy a copy at by clicking here. Ellen Sabin has also written The Special Needs Acceptance Book, for a more general audience but with a similar format.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Time will run back

by Henry Hazlitt
368 pages / 1951

As novels go, this is intriguing. As economics textbooks go it is downright amazing.

Like 1984...

In Time Will Run Back author Henry Hazlitt envisions a future in which the communists won and have been in power for more than 100 years. As Henry Hazlitt himself acknowledges, his novel bears some similarities to 1984 (published two years earlier) since both take place in a dystopian future in which the government manages every aspect of citizens' lives. But Hazlitt didn't read 1984 until after he had finished the first draft of his own book, so no plagiarism was involved. Instead, as Hazlitt puts it, authors like Orwell, Aldous Huxley (and his Brave New World) and himself were:
plagiarizing from the actual nightmare created by Lenin, Hitler and Stalin....All the writers had done was to add a few logical extensions not yet generally foreseen.
In Hazlitt's envisioned future the government has not only taken over the capitalist West, but they've wiped away any memory of capitalism, even editing Karl Marx's books so that no one could deduce from them what sort of economic system it was that Marx was writing against.

Into this setting Hazlitt places the ultimate outsider. The world dictator's son, Peter Uldanov, has grown up far away from his father, isolated on a Bahama island. When his mother and father split, he agreed to let her take Peter, so long as she agreed not to teach Peter anything about history, politics or economics. So when the world dictator calls his now adult son to Moscow and informs Peter that he is to succeed his father as dictator, father first has to bring son up to speed in these three key areas.

Peter's education takes up the first third of the book, though there is some palace-intrigue as well: the second-ranking member of the ruling Politburo is eager to see Peter dead, but doesn't want to be caught doing the deed.

...and Screwtape Letters

This first third bears more than a passing resemblance to C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, with Peter's teacher filling the role of the elder Screwtape explaining to his younger devilish charge why they do things the way they do them. For example, at one point Politburo member Adams and Orlov, the editor of the world's state-approved and only remaining newspaper, explain to Peter how what is carried in the paper has nothing to do with the truth, but instead has to do with what is useful for the masses to hear. It turns out "what is useful" can be hard to determine.
"It is for the Politburo to decide, for example, whether we shall say that the production record is very bad, in order to exhort and sting everyone to greater output; or whether we shall say that it is very good, in order to show how well the regime is doing and to emphasize the blessing of living under it."
"These decisions are sometimes very difficult," Adams put in. "We often find that a zigzag course is best. For example, if goods are shoddy and fall apart, or if too many size nine shoes are made and not enough size eight, or if people cannot get enough to eat, there may be grumbling and complaints – or silent dissatisfaction. We must make sure that this unrest does not turn against the regime itself."

"Therefore," said Orlov, "we must lead the complaints. We must ourselves pick scapegoats to denounce and punish."
In the middle third of the novel Peter takes on the role of the ultimate benevolent dictator. He wants to help his citizens, so he tries desperately to figure out ways to make socialism work. He has the help of his country's greatest minds, and near absolute power, so he is in the best sort of situation to make it work. But try as he might, they can't make it work.

The biggest trouble Peter keeps running into is trying to figure out the value of what they are making. They have no money (since no one buys anything, but is instead given what they need) so they can't use price to calculate how valuable one product might be compared to another. And if they can't calculate value, then they also can't determine if the country is producing more overall this year vs. the last. Sheer tonnage is one proposed measure – that could use that to compare how much grain they grew from one year to the next. But even this falls short, because grain can come in different qualities. How then should they evaluate things if one year more grain is produced but of a lower quality, and in another year there is less but of a higher quality? Which was the better year?

After ruling out tonnage as a helpful means of measuring output, one alternative after another is proposed only to have the shortcomings of each then exposed. The alert reader will see where this is leading: what this socialistic  economy lacks are markets in which the value of a product is assessed by consumers as a whole.

In the final third of the book Peter gets more desperate and more radical in his efforts to make real improvements and give citizens real freedom, and he ends up discovering some economic principles that really help: open competition, property ownership, and the rigorous prosecution of cheats and swindlers. To help his citizens he is forced to invent capitalism!


Though the book is most obviously about communism, the warning Hazlitt offers here - that freedom and prosperity cannot co-exist with an economic system that prioritizes equality of distribution – is directly applicable to communism's democratic twin, socialism.

This book sat on my shelf unread for many years because I didn't believe a world-renown economist could also be a credible novelist. I was wrong. There is a conversation here and there that gets bogged down by the economic lesson Hazlitt is trying to teach, but overall this is not just readable, but engaging and entertaining, able to stand up to comparisons with 1984 and Brave New World, which themselves are not read for their wonderful prose, but rather for their insightful investigations of human nature in the face of tyranny. So this is a readable, intriguing and important novel with a few slow bits. And as an economics textbook, there is none better – Hazlitt makes a strong and compelling case for the free market.

The e-book can be had for free here. Or you can buy a paperback copy at here and here.

Note to Teachers

Though 1984 and Brave New World are important books, they both have sexual content (Brave New World more so) that make them problematic to discuss even in the high school setting.

Sex is also discussed in Time Will Run Back but in a way that parents and teachers may find more palatable: brief mention is made of how the government manages even citizens' sex lives, mandating that no one can pair up for longer than a month, lest they form familial bonds that compete with the bonds they should have to the state. But this is sex at is most boring - nothing titilating here.

I believe you'll find find Hazlitt's offering a worthy substitution for either of these other two - just as engaging, as insightful, as thought provoking, and without the sexual content.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Freedom, Justice, and Hope: Toward a Strategy for the Poor and the Oppressed

by Marvin Olasky, Herbert Schlossberg, Pierre Berthoud, and Clark Pinnock
(foreword by Tetsunao Yamamori)
1988 / 171 pages

Here I am again, recommending a book that's more than 25 years old. At least one of its authors is still writing, though, and the situation it examines is still an ongoing problem, so it's worth your reading time.

Freedom, Justice, and Hope (FJaH) is an ideal read alongside a book I recommended two months ago, When Helping Hurts, which clarified some of the basic Christian principles behind effective relief and development. In a sense, FJaH  prequels When Helping Hurts by debunking some of the myths behind Christian development initiatives motivated too often by guilt and hostility to free markets. That debunking left room for the much more Biblical proposals of When Helping Hurts.

So what does FJaH reveal that is still very relevant today? The foreword, by Tsetsunao Yamamori, the president of the aid organization Food for the Hungry International, sets the stage by posing three questions about relief and development: "..are we spending funds in a way that truly helps man and glorifies God? Are we providing material and spiritual nourishment? Are we following the Bible or worshiping the idols of our age?" The rest of the book, a collection of papers shared at the 1987 Villars Conference on "Biblical Mandates for Relief and Development," answers these questions.

Marvin Olasky (who has three other books recommended in this blog) opens the discussion by asking "Is There a Way Out?" - dealing with the frustrations involved in seeking to save Ethiopians from the famine ravaging their country at that time. Olasky stresses that material aid without spiritual change and diplomatic pressure on oppressive governments that divert that aid to their own military is useless, and possibly worse than useless, since it feeds into our materialistic views of relief and development. Jesus Christ gave the poor of his day more than material aid, and so should we, in His name.

Pierre Berthoud's essay, "Prophet and Covenant," explains the implications of the prophecies of Amos, a book that is often used by left-wing Christians to justify governmental and even Marxist approaches to helping the poor. Berthoud reveals that the book of Amos is not "a call for class warfare...." Rather Amos condemns Israel's refusal to to acknowledge God as the only Lord of creation, to work out God's creation mandate, and to recognize God's image in other human beings. All of these sins and failures still hinder development today, and understanding that makes clear that more than food and funds are necessary to help the poor.

Two of the essays following, both by Herbert Schlossberg (author of the excellent Idols for Destruction), contrast the subjective reasoning and fallacies behind models of development that stress the need for centralized planning (i.e. government control) with the objective research into the success of the free economy. Sandwiched between these two essays is Clark H. Pinnock's analysis of "The Pursuit of Utopia," revealing why failed statist programs keep coming back - because human beings want to set up the kingdom of heaven on earth, without acknowledging the King.

Schlossberg then outlines such "Imperatives for Economic Development" as a Biblical worldview, discerning oppression when it occurs, and Christian discipleship. Strangely, many Christian authors seem to believe that an economy can be successful without Christian values - when the people do not believe in developing the earth, when the nation is mired in corruption, or when leisure is more important to the people than work. No amount of aid will help a nation that, as a whole, rejects the fruits of the gospel.

Olasky then describes "The Beginning of Hope." He tells how even a pair of secular liberal reporters were able to discern the crippling effects of fatalism, a belief in evil spirits, a lack of respect for family, and the shunning of necessary work - although their proposed solutions (population control and still more government aid) were irrelevant to these forms of spiritual bondage. It is only the gospel that can change things in the Third World (or the "majority world") from the ground up instead of from the top down.

The last chapter of the book is a set of principles for economic development agreed upon by forty evangelical scholars, known as "The Villars Statement on Relief and Development." It summarizes the ideas of the Villars Conference, and affirms that Freedom, Justice, and Development are the best way to help the Poor and Oppressed. You can get a copy of this insightful book at here.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Green Ember

by S.D. Smith
2015 / 365 pages

“Rabbits with swords” – it’s an irresistible combination, and all I had to say to get my two oldest daughters to beg me to start reading.

As you might expect of a sword epic, this has a feudal feel, with rabbit lords and ladies, and noble rabbit knights and, of course, villainous wolves. This is children’s fiction, intended for preteens and up, so naturally the heroes are children too.

The story begins with siblings Pickett and Heather being torn from the only home they’ve known, pursued by wolves, and separated from their parents and baby brother. It’s this last detail that might warrant some caution as to how appropriate this would be for the very young. It isn’t clear if mom, dad and baby Jack are dead…but it seems like that might well be, and that could be a bit much for the very young (I’m planning on skipping over that bit when I get to it with my preschool daughters). They escape to a community that is hidden away from the ravaging wolves, made up of exiles, rabbits that once lived in the Great Wood. Their former and peaceful realm fell to the wolves after it was betrayed from within, so now these rabbits in exile look forward to a time when the Great Wood will be restored. Or as one of the wisest of these rabbits puts it,
…we anticipate the Mended Wood, the Great Wood healed…. We sing about it. We paint it. We make crutches and soups and have gardens and weddings and babies. This is a place out of time. A window into the past and the future world. 
Though God is never mentioned, and the rabbits have no religious observance of any kind, author S.D. Smith’s Christian worldview comes through in passages like this, that parallel the way we can recall a perfect past, and look forward to a perfected future. It’s this depth that makes this more than just a rollicking tale of rabbits in peril.

The only downside to the book is that we’ll have to wait until April 2016 for the sequel. There is prequel, The Black Star of Kingston that is also good, but very short – at 152 pages and a smaller page size it has maybe a quarter of the content of The Green Ember.

So, my overall take is two very enthusiastic thumbs up for anyone ten and up. To buy from Amazon click here for The Green Ember and for The Black Star of Kingston.