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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How the Family Is Changing

When I once asked, “Is there any combination of consenting  adults you *wouldn’t* accept as a marriage?” only one of my more liberal acquaintances really addressed the question with a substantive response.  He said he wouldn’t support legalizing polygamous unions because of the confusion they would create.

He was absolutely right, but this is another example of how social progressives must not have truly examined the likely consequences of changing the definition of marriage, because such a reality will absolutely be the actual result of where our society is going.

I know this because we’re already well on the way.

In 2012, Brazil formalized a three-person union.

Also that year, a bill was introduced in California to allow children to have more than two legal parents.  The bill made it all the way to the governor before being vetoed.  Obviously, such an outcome is inevitable if same-sex marriage is sanctioned.

As the journal Public Discourse noted:

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A Plea For Civility About Same-Sex Marriage

The video is a shorter version of this script:

The most common assumption today is that if someone doesn’t agree with changing the definition of marriage to include gay couples, it’s because they’re ignorant and hate gay people.  That’s wrong.  So assuming that someone who disagrees with you must be evil and stupid does not help make the world a better place.  It’s divisive and cruel.  It’s also an ad hominem attack and a straw man argument that should be beneath all of us.  I’m not going to make the case for traditional marriage here.  There’s something basic that needs to be done first.

I want to make five main points today:

First: Society doesn’t work well when we misrepresent people we disagree with.  We have to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

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If the Mormons Accepted Gay Marriage, How Would the World React?

Imagine that the Mormon church announces tomorrow that they’ve received a revelation from God telling them to accept gay marriage.

(Please note that I am absolutely NOT “agitating” for something like this.  This is merely a thought exercise to make a point.)

In a perfect world, mainstream society would react like this: “They’ve worked so hard for so long to make sure we all know that they love us and want to be friendly with us, we can’t deny that only fidelity to their beliefs was what led them to the policies they had.  Their efforts at explaining those beliefs kindly and reaching out to everyone in welcoming were nothing short of amazing.”

Of course, the more realistic reaction would be: “Well, it’s about time those morons decided to stop being so mean and hateful.”

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Family Matters

From a recent edition of NPR’s Talk of the Nation:

When you have very low fertility rates, it may be OK for a while, but over time your population gets older and older. And as your population gets older and older, as I think Stan was pointing out, what you start to see is, if you will, the ecosystem for families begins to weaken.

You have – the schools begin to close down. The kind of restaurants and facilities you have, the tax system has to change in order to support the older people. So there are a lot of things that happen. But fundamentally, it’s not like we can have the population we have now, and that population will be, in terms of age, like it is. It will be very old. You have to start thinking about societies by 2050, where there’ll be more people over 80 than under 15.


PATRICE: Well, in my circle of friends, I’m about 24 hours old, and when I talk to a lot of my friends, we – a lot of them don’t seem to be interested in having kids at all. You know, it’s sort of the concept is odd, or they just think oh, well, it’s – kids are expensive, and they’re going to tie me down, I’m not going to be able to have the lifestyle I want, kind of like the guest is saying.

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What is Marriage?

As our society debates what the definition of “marriage” should be, we would do well to remember that by defining a term at all, we must exclude everything that does not fit that definition.

If we say that a chair must be a thing on which you can sit and which has four legs, we can say that a table is a chair, but a rock is not.  If we feel that that is unjust to the rock, we can remove the requirement about four legs, and then say that a rock is a chair, also.  But what if clouds feel left out of the status and benefits of being recognized as a chair?  Eventually, the good intentions of inclusion render reality silly.  Loosening a definition–stretching the field of things that can fall within its purview–weakens the nature of the thing being defined.

However we define marriage, we will, by the nature of “definition,” exclude some people and types of relationships.  It stands to reason that some of those excluded will be good, kind, decent people who only want respect and rewards for committed relationships.  But to expand the definition to a point where all such people are included would necessarily make the definition so broad as to be meaningless.

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Evaluating the Arguments For and Against Gay Marriage

My attempt at an objective analysis of some popular points:

Pro-Gay Marriage Ban Arguments Evaluation Anti-Gay Marriage Ban Arguments Evaluation
“Homosexuality is morally wrong.” WEAK. While people have the right to campaign for laws based on their beliefs, civil laws are not obligated to honor them.  This opinion is actually irrelevant to the issue. “We’re born that way and should be treated equally.” WEAK.  Establishing that something is natural is not the same as showing that it’s good or deserves to be protected.  Further, while fairness is a virtue, equality is not automatically universal, but is dependent on a number of factors—insisting on immediate equality is an attempt to circumvent discussion.
“It would open doors to abuses like polygamy and bestiality.” WEAK.  Even if this actually would be the case, it would be irrelevant.  You can’t ban something because it might lead to something else.  The issue has to be considered only on its own merits. “Banning gay marriage fosters discrimination and harassment.” WEAK.  Like the opposing slippery slope argument to the left, even if this is true, it’s not relevant.  Laws are not based on whether or not they might be interpreted in ways that will lead to positive or negative behavior.  Certainly mistreatment of others is bad, but laws cannot be altered because they might contribute to a more civil citizenry.
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Irrational Anti-Christian Hatred Is Real

Last month, my college classes had an assignment to write a problem/solution essay.  Being young adults, almost all of them wrote from a politically liberal perspective.  Now, some of those papers were clever, articulate, and well-written, even if I personally disagreed with their premises and conclusions.

But not many of them.  Many of them were angry, juvenile rants with no more basis in reason or reality than the most fevered stereotypes of leftist loonies.  One guy wrote three pages about how global warming puts “all life on earth in danger of destruction very soon,” for example.  Several wrote about cheerfully banning anything they don’t like, from fast food to cigarettes to belief systems.  One student summed up that philosophy like this: “If people can’t make the choice to stay away from it themselves, it should be banned.”

I admit, I find this tendency to automatic tyranny scary.

But wait, belief systems?  They wrote that they want to ban belief systems?  Yes.  The most popular subject was gay marriage, and some writers were quite assertive in their condemnation of anything that wouldn’t agree with them.  By far the scariest lines in any paper I read were these:

“[He] was picked on because of his sexual orientation and now those who believe that his sexual orientation does not go along with their religious beliefs can bully him.  Apparently Al Qaeda was completely okay and the Holocaust can be justified too.  Al Qaeda occured because of religious beliefs…Then the Holocaust killed millions of Jews simply because of Adolf Hitler’s moral beliefs.” 

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“Gay” Has Got To Go

The insulting slang term, that is, not the people.  I’m talking about when someone says, “That’s so gay!” meaning that something is bad.  I knew that would get you hooked, though!

Seriously, is there anything in our society now that’s really uglier towards gay people than this?  To make their identity synonymous with “bad?” 

The closest thing out there to this is the widespread use of the N-word (against which I’ve railed before), but even that is usually used as an inside-term by some black people, not meant to cause hurt.  Equating “gay” with “bad,” however, can only be the most degrading kind of slur. 

This is especially important for those of us who, as Christians, hold that marriage must be only between a man and a woman, while asserting our love and brotherhood with all people, including those gay people who might disagree with us.  When conversations go there, though, the response we often get is, “Yeah, right.  Of course you love us.  That’s why you call us names.” 

Can we blame them?  If we’re using their identity as an insult, of course our declarations of respect will ring hollow.  There is definitely something wrong with our civility–and our discipleship–if we call something we don’t like “gay.”

A Pair of Pessimistic Political Predictions

I’m not saying that these things will happen, but the way our society is going, I think it’s likely that they might happen. 

1.  Any straight people who get married will be seen as inherently oppressing gays who can’t marry.  This came to mind as I heard recently about a growing slew of celebrities who refuse to get married, saying they won’t do it until everybody can do it.  The logical end of that train of thought will be stigmatizing anybody who doesn’t get in on this “boycot.”  Cohabitation will explode even further as marriage rates drop drastically.

2.  The concept of nationality will come to be looked down on as narrow-minded, old fashioned, and akin to racism.  Under the guise of embracing all of humanity and “celebrating diversity,” many will decry those who assert that being an American–or any other nationality–has some intrinsic meaning.  Valuing your country over other countries will be the new “racism,” as the more “enlightened” among us will disavow their allegiance to any one nation and declare themselves “citizens of the world.” 

I know, I know–the seeds of both of these are already well sown into our society.  My fear is that they will become far more prevalent, that within a decade they will be the mandatory mantras of the mainstream, the same way that gay marriage, amnesty, and socialism suddenly became orthodox doctrines during the last ten years.

The Left Needs To Make Up Its Mind About Marriage

It’s ironic that America is now embroiled in an all out cultural war over whether or not gay couples should be able to get married.  It’s ironic because for the last several decades the cultural left has been waging a war against marriage itself.  The mantra with which we’ve all been bombarded is that marriage is “just a piece of paper.” 

So on one hand, a huge segment of the cultural left in America clings to its established dogma that marriage is outdated, oppressive, or irrelevant, while a growing faction of the same population battles to convince us that marriage is a crucial necessity worth fighting over.  Thousands of flexible, hip, cohabitating straight couples all blithely ignore the foundational covenant of civilization, while at the same time thousands of aggrieved, angry, entitled gay couples take to the streets to campaign for what seems to be a life-or-death need.

Perhaps it’s just traditional marriage that’s bad.  Alternative marriages–surprise!–are great.

This contradiction makes the convenient, experimental wishes of the left ever more difficult to take seriously.  Will America’s counter culture please make up its mind?  Either marriage is important or it isn’t.  Either it’s a vital ceremony with real value, or it’s just an optional piece of paper.  It can’t be both.

When you come to a consensus, let us know.  Then we can talk.

Domestic Violence Is All The Rage

It’s undeniable that popular singer Chris Brown savagely beat his girlfriend Rihanna last month.  Even more sadly, it’s also undeniable that too many–maybe even a majority–of young people are siding with Brown.

The second half of this article from the New York Times addresses why that is.  One expert highlights the influence of hip hop’s insistence that aggression is an appropriate response to stress, but more disturbing still is this theme:

Moreover, teenage girls can’t be expected to support Rihanna just because of her gender, youth culture experts say. They see themselves as sharing equal responsibility with boys. Parity, not sisterhood, is the name of the game.

And there you have it.  For a generation of kids who have been raised with the de facto cultural mantra that men and women are absolutely the same, physical violence between them has lost its social taboo. 

Which makes one wonder, thirty years ago when the LDS Church campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment on the grounds that removing all legal distinctions between the sexes would result in irreparable harm for women, were they actually foreseeing something?

Which also begs the question, when the LDS Church campaigns against gay marriage today, on the grounds that removing the legally special sanction given to traditional families would result in irreparable harm towards children, are they actually foreseeing something? 

Or, as we survey the sad damage done to a generation of young women who don’t even know that they’re entitled to be protected from masculine violence, will we live to see the results of another of society’s experiments wrought upon the next generation?

Gay Marriage “Twilight” Protest?

Just wondering: since a lot of people have decided, in light of the LDS Church’s advocacy on behalf of California’s Proposition 8, to boyott anything even remotely Mormon (including the Sundance Film Festival, because it’s held in Mormon-heavy Utah), will proponents of gay marriage also boycott the new movie Twilight?  The Twilight books were written by Stephenie Meyer, a BYU graduate and active Mormon. 

This could cause something of a conflict of interest for the pro-gay marriage crowd out there, especially if any of them happen to be melodramatic 12-year-old girls.

An Example Of Genuinely Bad Behavior Towards Gay People

The burgeoning physical culture war over gay marriage (as evinced by a rowdy protest that almost looked like a riot at the LDS church’s Los Angeles temple and an older Christian woman being savagely harrassed in Palm Springs) is sobering and scary.

I’ve already explained my defense of barring “gay marriage” at length elsewhere on this blog, but today I have a more sympathetic thought about this culture war in mind.

The 2005 crossword puzzle documentary Wordplay is one of my favorite movies.  As it celebrates the English language and the joy of being well educated in it, I’ve shown it several times to various high school classes and even in English 101.  It enjoys the mark of a successful lesson: intelligent, serious students always love it, and truculent, lazy people tend to hate it. 

One of the great puzzle solvers featured in the film is a man named Trip Payne.  In one scene, Trip refers to his boyfriend as “dear,” then gives him a quick peck, the kind of chaste little kiss that any of us would feel comfortable giving to our mother.  Invariably, any time I ever show this award-winning documentary about real-world linguistics to students, this scene elicits groans, laughs, and even crude comments.

Nobody would ever think of treating a racial minority this way.  I honestly believe that racism is dead in our society.  Sure, pockets of ignorance might still pulsate here and there, but then there are still some people out there who think the world is flat and that Star Trek V was a good movie.  People might criticize or be leery of social mores that seem to condone, or even encourage, what the mainstream would view as anti-social criminal behavior, but that’s a far cry from assuming inherent inferiority, and you just don’t see public belittling of any racial minority just for being a racial minority.  The very thought is unspeakable. 

And yet, regardless of our views about law, religion, or family, almost every segment of our society is comfortable openly mocking gay people.  Continue reading

“Once More Unto The Breach” On Gay Marriage

Reviewing my post on gay marriage last week, as well as the comments on it here and on other people’s blogs, has brought a few more ideas to mind. In previous material, I’ve belabored the fact that my analysis of gay marriage is based on religious beliefs and an objective understanding of the factors involved, with no ill will towards anybody, homosexual or otherwise. As that olive branch has already been either taken at face value or rejected by individual readers, I will forego it here and proceed with my opinions.


“How would gay marriage hurt my marriage?” It wouldn’t, of course. The only things out there that could hurt my marriage are Norah Jones and Drew Barrymore. The odds of that, however, are pretty low. Darn restraining orders.


“OK, Mr. Funny Man, how would it hurt any marriage?” This is like asking how legalized drugs would hurt any individual non-drug user. Directly, it might not. But a climate where formerly-illicit things are available quickly becomes a climate where such things are desired and encouraged, and the traditional alternative—sobriety—declines.


Is increasing homosexual activity a detriment to a stable society, then? At least in the sense that it compromises the integrity of the traditional family unit, yes. I suspect the wife and children of former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey would agree with that. If my previous reference to desegregating public bathrooms based on gender (here) wasn’t eye-opening, then try this one, which gives a good example of the slippery-slope in action.


It’s easy to brush that off as paranoid, but if there’s nothing to the slippery-slope theory of social disintegration, then how do we account for the drastic increase in (and tolerance of) cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, divorce, and, for that matter, things like tattoos and body piercings, in recent decades? After all, if anyone had suggested one day in 1973 that we instantly undergo all the social transformation that we’ve actually had over the last 35 years, they would have been scorned by even the most progressive liberals. Does anyone think that legalizing gay marriage would be the very last such demand for social experimentation to which we would be asked to adjust?


A society can allow everything, allow nothing, or compromise somewhere in between. As the first two options are totalitarian, the third must be the rational recourse. “Compromise” sounds all fine and good, but it still means drawing a line for acceptable behavior somewhere, and if you draw a line anywhere, then you’re going to have people, even a lot of good people, on one side of it feeling disenfranchised. There’s just no way around it.


Think of it this way: why do governments regulate marriage at all? Well, why does government regulate anything (other than because there’s profit involved for them)? They do it because it’s their job to maintain an atmosphere in which their nation may be successful. The only relevant question here is this: would allowing homosexuals to have their relationships be recognized and given the same status as heterosexual marriage be beneficial to society?


What does a heterosexual marriage produce that benefits society? It produces an obligation on adult partners to be hard working and law abiding for the good of their family. The sociological research on the commitments of homosexual couples is sketchy, at best, but I don’t see that experimenting with the situation to see if it gets any better is really a responsible course of action. What we’ve seen so far is that the law of unintended consequences promises to wreak havoc on our already ailing society if we blur the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behavior any further. (The sad, tragic case of poor little Isabella Miller provides an instructive cautionary tale.)


Which brings us to the issue of children. Ultimately, society institutes marriage—with all the moral codes that surround it—so that children may be raised to continue that society. The contrarian argument here now says, “So what about infertile couples? By that logic, they shouldn’t marry.” But that ignores adoption. So shouldn’t gay couples be allowed to adopt?


Does a gay two-parent home offer the same benefits as a heterosexual two-parent home? On one thing, the research is convincing: the traditional mom-and-dad family is by far the best way for a child to be raised. Proponents of gay marriage do themselves a grave disservice when they then point to divorce and infidelity and say their plan is no worse. That’s like saying that meth isn’t as bad as heroin.


Yes, where children are involved the only acceptable position is the very best one: being raised by loving, involved, biological parents. All of society’s power should be directed towards promoting that goal. Suggesting that we change the standard which has been successfully enshrined by every major civilization in history just to accommodate the wishes of some adults, with no evidence that it won’t harm society’s children the way that we can reasonably infer that it will, is simply not something we can condone.


Comments are welcome, but let’s be mature here: no insisting that those who disagree with you, no matter what they say, must be drooling Nazis; also, since it’s been the basis of the success of Western Civilization for thousands of years, let’s not breezily dismiss the doctrines of the Judeo-Christian tradition just because it’s convenient to do so.