The Tragedy of Jack

I just read a scary social criticism essay that discussed, among many other things, the self-destruction of feminism, and included this great bit:

But when that ends, and reality comes crashing down, it’s sad how quickly they scramble to validate the feminist lives they’ve led by simply telling themselves more lies. 40 is the new 20! Test-tube babies! MILF’s and Cougars! When, frankly, it just means nobody’s visiting you in a nursing home in the end.

And when I read that, I remembered Jack. That’s not his real name; I forgot his real name.

My dad died last July, and in the two months leading up to it, he made the rounds of a few hospital rooms and convalescent homes. In one, his bed was in a room with Jack, their areas separated by a curtain. Whenever I went to visit Dad, Jack would invariably interject himself into the visit, speaking up through the curtain, or even wheeling himself around it if he could get into his wheelchair.

He wasn’t a bad guy, but his desperate loneliness made him aggressive. Sometimes my dad would yell at him for horning in on his time with his family. He openly longed for attention. I tried to talk to him for a bit on each visit, though he clearly wanted more.

Once, when he’d asked if I had kids, he seemed joyously surprised at the total. I asked the same of him, and he scowled.

“No, never wanted them. Never liked them.”

The irony was sickening. Here was an old man who had chosen not to have any descendants, and now he was desperately lonely as he died.

As birth rates continue to drop, as our civilizational death spiral swings on, this scenario will become more common. In fact, it will explode exponentially. Soon, our nursing homes will be a bursting industry filled will dying invalids who never wanted to make a family, and who may bemoan their loneliness and dependence on strangers.

Contrast this with my wife’s grandfather, who had an army of three generations ready to care for him after a stroke.

If you’re a young person looking for a stable career, look into elder care. The 21st century will give you fantastic job security.

Notes and Quotes, June 2014


  • List of technology-enhanced activities for secondary English classes.
  • Examples of worthwhile technology-enhanced lesson plans.
  • Quick thoughts from the Hardings, homeschooling parents of ten who have sent seven kids to college by age 12.
  • Recently found this silly video I made for a class I was taking two years ago.  Amusing.
  • Instapundit nails it: the humanities lost relevance when they decided to preach that nothing has intrinsic value.  It’s been my experience that students (yes, even at-risk, underprivileged minorities!) appreciate the classics.  Everybody likes the egalitarian ideal of participation in the uniting, universal canon, rather than manufactured niche curricula that only panders to trends.


Language & Literature

  • Great WSJ essay on one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • Cute chart collects insults from famous authors who hated each other’s work.
  • Fascinating memoir of writing the script for Star Trek: Insurrection. Included here because it shares so much about that specific writing craft.  Also, Insurrection is often over-maligned—it is not great, but not nearly as bad as many say.  This long essay shows how it could have been great.
  • Long lost introduction by Anthony Burgess to Dubliners.



Living Well

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No Woman Is An Island

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” So wrote John Donne.  This is true for all of us.

Donne’s point is that we’re interdependent, not autonomous.  In everything from its emphasis on the crucial need for service to the sealing requirements for exaltation, the gospel agrees with this philosophy of connectivity.

I was reminded of Donne by reading Alison Moore Smith’s, “A Mormon Mother of Daughters Talks to a YSA Bishop About Intimacy ,” a response to a Meridian piece about modesty for women.

Smith writes[i] that men need to do a better job of not objectifying women[ii].  Fair enough.  However, there are numerous flaws in her essay.  The greatest error isn’t in anything she writes, though.  It’s in what she doesn’t write.

She’s correct in her assertion that men have a duty not to lust after women.  But nowhere does she note any reciprocal duty of women towards men.

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50 Shades of Grey Conspiracy Theory

I had to see what the fuss was all about, so today while the family and I were at Costco, I picked up one of their several hundred copies of 50 Shades of Grey, opened to the middle, and read three pages (the end of chapter 18 and the beginning of chapter 19).

Wow.  Everything I’ve heard about it seemed confirmed in just those three pages: an insecure, immature female narrator finds her security in submitting to a powerful man whose own stability is less than healthy.

So basically, it’s Twilight, except that the writing here is absolutely execrable.  I know we all make fun of Twilight, but Stephanie Meyer’s writing really isn’t awful, just servicable–it’s a plain, dull instrument, but at least it’s competent.

But E.L. James’s writing is so bad it’s scary.  I haven’t seen supposedly professional writing this bad since Eragon.  I read plenty of labored narration and stilted dialogue in just those three pages (“Holy cow!  I’m going to meet his parents!” sticks out in my memory right now), as well as botched metaphors and hilariously juvenile descriptions of sex.

It’s so wretched that I have to wonder if it’s on purpose.  Here’s my theory: 50 Shades of Grey was actually written by a group of misogynistic 12-year-old boys.  These jerks have a twisted plan: they want millions of women to fall in love with this stuff, identify with it, and publicly proclaim allegiance to it (a blockbuster movie is in the works).

Once stage one of the plot is complete, the boys will reveal their scheme to the world.  They wrote the book to embarrass women everywhere.  They want to confirm every pitiful anti-woman stereotype out there.  Fans of the book will be exposed as emotionally damaged, and women’s public image will be set back half a century.

So far, their plan is coming off without a hitch.

Be suspicious, ladies.  Be very suspicious.  I smell a trap.


Some Thoughts on Feminists and Mormonism

Last month there was a fascinating exchange of ideas over at Millennial Star about the hype surrounding a resurgence of interest in feminism among some Latter-day Saints.  Eventually, the comments were closed, as they were becoming acrimonious.  My only contribution to that thread was a sarcastic jab, so here are some of the more substantial thoughts that have stuck in my mind since then.

The Mormon feminists (if I may lump them into a monolithic group for argument’s sake) don’t respond well to a major issue raised in the original post: the undeniable fact that most Mormon women are happy with the status quo…without being oppressed Stepford wives.  The first thing I’d like to hear them address is this: how do you know that your crusade to alter doctrinal emphases and the priesthood won’t result in unwanted burdens for the majority of LDS women?  Most importantly, can anyone address this need without resorting to insulting their sisters (“They just don’t know what they want / They need to have their eyes opened.”)? 

Or, to put it another way, have the feminists tried to account for the law of unintended consequences?  For example, would a universal priesthood result in an expectation for young women to all serve missions, as young men do?  Wouldn’t that naturally follow?  If so, how might this impact the college graduation rates of young women, or the increasingly precarious nature of dating and marriage for Mormons in their twenties?  Continue reading

Politically Incorrect Thought of the Day

I once spent three years teaching in the room next door to a woman who, after we’d spent all that time sharing and discussing many of the same students, made a startling observation that, although it contradicted her own political beliefs, she said she could no longer deny. After yet another female student from a broken home had made huge mistakes due to her low self esteem, the other teacher said, “I’m going to lose my feminist credentials for this, but the fact is that girls need affirmation from men. All these sad girls we see wasting their lives are doing it because their fathers aren’t there for them. If girls don’t get attention and affection from their fathers, they’ll just go out and get it from some guy at school.”

Of course, there are also girls who ruin their lives with sex or drugs despite having great fathers, but she was right: the vast majority of girls with social, emotional, or academic problems got that way lamenting the lack of adequate attention from a male.  I suppose this is just one more example of the damage wrought by our easy divorce culture, but certainly one of the most tragic.  The correlation between a strong father-daughter relationship and her success is well established. Does this influence how much extra positive regard I try to give to my own girls at home? Yes it does.

Absolute Girl Power Corrupts Absolutely

As I watched a cartoon with my kids on Saturday morning, I saw a commercial for Huffy bikes where two little girls on new “princess” bikes decide to go rescue a prince. They jet off on their shiny Disney machines and successfully retrieve a teddy bear that had apparently been held hostage by nefarious forces.

Now, I have no problem with girl power, and there’s nothing wrong with the ad itself, but it does make me think about just how totally society has not equalized, but rather reversed, gender roles, to the exclusion of what comes naturally to boys. Would anyone be willing to make an ad that showed two little boys riding to the rescue of a girl? Would anyone support a product that did? Such a simple show of chivalry may well be met with protests and discrimination lawsuits.

I think the first real wave of “girl power” media hit when I was growing up in the 80s, when more TV shows had girls being assertive and competing with boys (thank you, Punky Brewster and She-Ra). By the late 90’s it had actually become a cliché, when Lisa Simpson dared to try out for a boys’ football team, only to find a warm welcome and three other girls already playing. So, by today, the Huffy princess bike ad is literal, devoid of any irony and of any especially empowering message it may have once had. It’s par for the course.

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Girls and Self Destruction

Every year after I teach Lord of the Flies–the classic novel about a bunch of young boys who crash on a tropical island and have to survive on their own–I point out to classes that the novel was inspired by the brutality of World War II, in which the author saw the worst aspects of humanity run amok.  In the novel, the boys form a mildly successful society for a while, with authority and chores, but it eventually degrades into savage anarchy and chaos–the author’s grim commentary on his lack of faith in human nature. 

Among other things, since the book is based on unchecked masculinity, I ask students to then consider how they think the book might have been different if a plane full of girls had crashed there, instead of boys.  Their answers always fall into two clearly demarcated camps.  The vast majority of boys, every year, say that stranded girls would just “have tea parties and paint each other’s toenails and stuff.”  Far more disturbing than this simple stereotyping, though, is what an even larger majority of girls almost always says: “No, they’d all kill each other by the end of the first day.” 

A pessimistic confession of their own burgeoning awareness of the social flaws inculcated into their gender?  Hardly.  That wouldn’t explain why most of the girls who say this tend to say it while laughing and smiling, almost proud of their prediction of massive failure.  They practically high five each other while saying it. 

How exactly have we apparently taught our young women to expect so little of themselves, in stark imitation of their masculine counterparts, to the point of competing with the boys for who can be the least successful?  I wonder if this is the dark side of social progress, a worrisome elephant in the room: As we have tried to encourage girls to be more assertive and involved in the public realm over the last few generations, have we inadvertently also magnified within them or brought to the front of their personalities those negative characteristics that we traditionally associate with young men–the violence, thoughtlessness, and nihilism that we’re warned about in Lord of the Flies?

An Open Letter To The Rebel Yell

There are really only two reasonable responses to the controversy surrounding your paper’s printing of The Burger Grind’s ad featuring “Juicy Lucy:” you could apologize to the community for a lack of good taste, or you could defend the ad as not overtly offensive.  People might not agree with one or the other, but at least we could all respect such a stand.

But what you’ve chosen to do is not reasonable, respectful, or responsible.  Your official editorial response to the controversy is to say that you have no connection to your advertising content, and to essentially step out of the way so you can egg on the crowd that’s gearing up to storm the Burger Grind, torches and pitchforks in hand. 

I’ve never seen such a shameless example of throwing someone under the bus.  The majority of your critics may be complaining of your lack of consideration towards women, but I’m more bothered by another failure of character.

Shame on you for being cowards.

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Sexism in UNLV’s Newspaper?

On the way to a class last week, I picked up a copy of The Rebel Yell, UNLV’s student newspaper.  As I finished flipping through it, what I saw on the back cover made me cringe a bit, and I wondered if there would be any problems over it.

The back cover consisted entirely of an ad for a hamburger joint called The Burger Grind, and the ad featured a picture in the corner of a nude 1950’s-era Betty Page-esque model, kneeling and shown from behind, her body divided up by dotted lines and labeled with common kinds of cuts of meat–“tenderloin,” “rump,” etc. 

Within days, I was getting mass emails that had been sent out to the entire staff, apparently, by people at the school’s Women’s Center who wanted to protest and boycott what they called an example of misogyny. 

Now, it’s certainly their right to be offended and to make their voice heard, but I have to wonder if this is really an appropriate stand to take. 

First of all, the picture, while tasteless and not nearly as clever as the advertiser seems to think, is hardly obscene or deeply offensive.  The “joke” is that young men (such as those who might read the student paper and frequent a burger joint) might see a woman as “a piece of meat,” not unlike a cow.  Yes, that’s rude and tacky, but in Las Vegas, it’s also pretty much par for the course.  With all of the many kinds of exploitation of women going on here, why would someone choose this one as the one that crosses the line?  When there are so many more serious violations of dignity out there, why make your stand here?  What’s the goal–contrite apologies from any men involved in the ad and promises to sponsor day care facilities for the daughters of working moms? 

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