Monday, October 27, 2014

Facing Death with Dignity

On New Year’s Day, at the age of 29 and married for only a year, Brittany Maynard was diagnosed with brain cancer and given only a few years to live. By April, she learned she had the worst and most aggressive form of brain cancer, and this time doctors gave her six months. No treatment could save her, and it wouldn’t be an easy end. “I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it,” she says, “and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die.”

Facing this, as well as the pain of putting her family through her decay, Maynard chose “death with dignity,” an end-of-life option for terminally ill patients. A physician has prescribed a medication she can self-ingest to end her suffering at her discretion, and in fact, she has settled on a date to do so: this November 1, just beyond her husband’s birthday.

She and her family moved from California to Oregon, one of only five states where death with dignity is authorized, and she is living her remaining days to the fullest. When she recently explained her decision in an essay called “My Right to Death with Dignity at 29,” it went viral. In it, Maynard defended herself against accusations that she was committing suicide:

I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms… Who has the right to tell me that I don't deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?

This power to choose how and when to end her life has given her a sense of control and peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain. “Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying,” Maynard explains. Less terrifying for her family too, who have an unusual opportunity to work through the grieving process on their own terms as well. “I will die upstairs in my bedroom with my husband, mother, stepfather and best friend by my side and pass peacefully,” says Maynard. “I can't imagine trying to rob anyone else of that choice.”

Her poignant story raises difficult and uncomfortable questions about an issue most of us prefer not to think about at all – our own passing. We naturally wonder, “What would I do?” and it’s hard not to agree with her decision. Facing a certain, torturous end, the thought of being able to control how and when one passes from this world has undeniable appeal. Who wouldn’t want that power and that right, to ease oneself gently into that good night?

Then along came Maggie Karner, who answered Maynard with her own essay at The Federalist entitled “Brain Cancer Will Likely Kill Me, But There’s No Way I’ll Kill Myself.” Karner was diagnosed this spring, at age 51, with the same stage-4 glioblastoma tumor as Maynard. As her title suggests, Karner is critical of Maynard’s choice. She embraces Thomas Aquinas’ determination that “it belongs to God alone to pronounce the sentence of death and life”:

God wants me to be comfortable in my dependence on Him and others, to live with Him in peace and comfort no matter what comes my way. As for my cancer journey, circumstances out of my control are not the worst thing that can happen to me. The worst thing would be losing faith, refusing to trust in God’s purpose in my life and trying to grab that control myself.

Ever since St. Augustine in the 6th century, Christianity has viewed suicide as a sinful loss of faith and a usurpation of God’s judgment. It irks Karner that “assisted suicide” has been given the more palatable euphemism, “death with dignity,” which she considers less about dignity than it is about seizing a power which should be God’s alone.

I am a Christian too, but I don’t subscribe to a blanket condemnation of suicide. I remember once when I was a boy, there was news of a local teen’s suicide. My mother, a Sunday School teacher, chided a fellow Christian who disapproved of the boy’s lack of faith. “No one knows what passed between that boy and God in his final moments,” my mother said, and her compassion stuck with me.

Enter Heather Knies. In 2005, at the age of 24, Knies too was given six months to live. She battled not one, but two brain tumors – one of them the same kind as Maynard and Karner. But,

I wanted to defy [the doctor] and the medical world and show that no one is a statistic. I was immediately defiant. I never once thought it would be the death of me… The mind is so much more powerful than anyone can imagine. People believe that when they get cancer, it will kill them. But I never once thought that.

And she was right. Today, at 33, she is married, a mother, and cancer-free – and her doctors at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix cannot explain why. Her surgeon states that in his 35 years in practice he has never seen anything like this. “It’s one of the most malignant tumors there is,” he said. “It’s not unheard of that a few survive – it’s a bell curve and there are outliers. But in her case, not only has she survived, but she is perfectly normal and there is absolutely no evidence of a tumor on her MRI scan.” He isn’t comfortable thinking of it as a “cure,” but “her survival is remarkable.”

Knies attributes the miraculous healing not only to “a great team of doctors and wonderful family and friends with a positive attitude,” but also to her certainty that “God had a plan for me… As my dad said, so many angels must be sitting on my shoulders.”

Divine intervention or not, in light of the fact that a few grade 4 glioblastoma sufferers have beaten the odds, does Brittany Maynard’s willing surrender now seem premature? Should she cling to hope?

Not facing a terminal prognosis, it’s impossible for me to truly put myself in Maynard’s shoes and answer for her. But I can’t help thinking that I would rage against the dying of the light and hold fast to any thread of hope that I might be among those few “outliers” who survive, like Heather Knies – not so much for myself, but for my wife and children. After all, even if the possibility of a miracle is infinitesimally slim, it’s not impossible.

But that is my choice. Like Maynard, I would not want to deny anyone else in similar circumstances the right to take control of their passing. Philosophers and physicians have debated the complex ethical dilemmas of assisted death for many centuries; but those philosophers and physicians won’t be taking Maynard’s journey (or Maggie Karner’s) with her. Her choice should be respected because when Death comes for Brittany Maynard, the carriage will hold just themselves and Immortality, as Emily Dickinson put it. That will be true for each of us as well, so that moment – perhaps more so than any other in our lives – belongs to us.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 10/23/14)

Rescuing Boys from Disney Princesses

One of feminism’s favorite targets is the Disney princess films which, it is widely assumed, implant passivity and helplessness in young girls and perpetuate damaging gender stereotypes. I have to wonder if the critics of these princess films have seen one since Cinderella in 1950, because the Disney heroines haven’t been passive and helpless in a long, long time, while the male characters have become more companions than saviors. But that stereotype persists.
In The New York Times’ “Motherlode” blog last week, Zsofia McMullin wrote about how the “save the princess” theme of fairy tales like that found in some Disney movies was destructive not only to girls but to boys as well. She has a 5-year-old son and “a complicated relationship with fairy tales and the princes and princesses who live in them.”
That relationship seems more fearful than complicated, and what she apparently fears is her son’s masculine nature. McMullin writes that she “loves it when my son decides to play princess.” She and he “break out the nail polish and the sparkly eye shadow” together and watch Sophia the First, the animated TV series about a princess-in-training—a choice that hints at where she is steering him. “I am excited,” she admits, “when he wants to explore a different part of himself.”
But she is not so excited about him exploring his masculine side. Once, they were playing together and her son told her that “princesses don’t know how to use swords,” so they need to stay in the castle and wait for him to come to the rescue. McMullin found this chivalrous attitude disturbing:
I really don’t want my son to grow up with the perception that girls are princesses. I don’t want him to expect women to be passive, weak, waiting at home to be rescued and incapable of rescuing themselves… I don’t want him to think for one moment that women are not as strong and smart as he is. I don’t want him to want women like that. I want him to know women who can wield swords and drive fast cars and scale castle walls. Because we can. And we do.
She needn’t worry, because he’ll discover all that as he grows up. Like every other little girl and boy, he’ll learn that reality is more complicated than fairy tales, and that people are more multi-dimensional than morality tale archetypes—although that does not necessarily invalidate archetypal truths.
But “what if [boys] are not the rescuing type? What if they are scared of the dragon?” McMullin worries. “I don’t want my son to think that he himself can’t be a princess. I want to tell him—and I do—that it’s O.K. for boys not to be the rescuers.”
I’m sorry, but by definition a boy can’t be a princess. As for absolving him from coming to someone’s rescue because he’s “not the rescuing type” or he’s too afraid, that’s a worrying message to inculcate in boys. As the saying goes, courage isn’t the absence of fear—it’s the judgment that something else is more important than fear. If someone needs rescuing, your son needs to put aside any feminized insecurities and rise to the occasion, because that someone is depending on him.
McMullin wants to reassure her son that “it’s O.K. to not know how to use a weapon.” This also is odd advice. It’s wise and honorable and reasonable to know how to protect yourself and your loved ones. If you—male or female—don’t know how to use a weapon, then you and your loved ones are at greater risk of being victimized by someone who does.
“I want him to know that women—real women—will not expect him to be a rescuer and so he does not need to pretend to be that if it doesn’t come naturally.” As much as McMullin, in her feminist naiveté, would like to believe otherwise, women in the real world don’t respect men who aren’t prepared to protect them or to step up and handle an emergency.
But McMullin believes it is “necessary” for her son “to have some of that princess softness inside of him.” I seriously doubt McMullin would be so quick to encourage such weakness and passivity and softness in a daughter. What women like McMullin are really fashioning in their gender-erasing zeal is a world full of strong princesses and weak princes. This is at least as socially and culturally problematic as the reverse.
Ironically, McMullin ultimately faults herself more than Disney, because her own life—cooking dinner, shopping, letting her husband fix things around the house—reinforces the traditional gender roles that she fears are warping her boy. But if those traditional roles work for her and her husband, then what’s wrong with them? Absolutely nothing.
“I hope that with time,” she concludes, her son “will discover both a prince and a princess in himself.” My hope for him is that he grows to become a chivalrous prince, not a damsel in distress.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 10/21/14)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

'The Equalizer': Hero in a World Without Knights

Action flicks these days aren’t solely the domain anymore of chiseled, one-note actors like Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Statham (although those icons have found a home in The Expendables series). Now the leading men of the best “actioners,” as they’re known in Variety-speak, are heavy-hitting thespians like Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington, whose acting chops elevate the genre to a whole new level. In The Equalizer, for example – his newest – Denzel brings compelling depth to a character that might be one-dimensional in lesser hands: a chivalric hero in a world without knights.


Denzel (and let’s face it, he has reached the stratosphere of one-name celebrity now, like Sting or Madonna) plays Robert McCall, a quiet, mysterious loner whose unassuming demeanor belies his devastatingly bloody special ops training. Living like a monk while working at a Home Depot-type store, the widowed McCall flies under everyone’s radar.

McCall confesses that he had once done bad things that he wasn’t proud of, but he promised his now-deceased wife that “I would never go back to being that person.” And indeed, he now lives by such an honorable code that he chides acquaintances about things like swearing and eating junk food. But he is supportive and inspiring as well: he helps coach a hapless coworker to become a security guard, for example, and he encourages the dream of a singing career for a young Russian call girl he has befriended at the local coffee shop, where he hangs out during sleepless nights. Coming to the aid of this damsel in distress brings down the wrath of the ruthless Russian mafia – but they, like everyone else, underestimate McCall.

McCall is also a big reader, working his way through a list of the 100 Best Books. At one point the call girl sees him with a new book and asks what it’s about. “It is about a guy who is a knight in shining armor,” McCall replies, “except he lives in a world where knights don’t exist anymore.”

Though the title is never mentioned, it’s clear even from this short description that the classic he is reading is Don Quixote, the massive novel by Miguel de Cervantes published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (its full title) is considered the grandest monument of literature in Spanish and an extraordinarily influential work of modern Western literature. In 2002, 100 major writers from 54 countries voted Don Quixote the best work of fiction in the world. It has been translated into more languages than any book but the Bible.

The book was written and set in an era after the high point of chivalry in the Middle Ages; the knightly class in which that ideal flourished had essentially died out, and the world moved on. But Don Quixote was a man so obsessed with tales of knightly heroism that he made it his mission to “travel the four corners of the earth in search of adventures on behalf of those in need, this being the office of chivalry and of knights errant.” Through him, he felt, chivalry would be reborn.

The point of the Don Quixote reference in the movie, of course, is that McCall is himself a knight in shining armor, in a world in which chivalry is scorned by men and women alike and knights are in short supply. Even the cops in this flick are corrupt, which infuriates McCall; after delivering a serious beatdown, he lectures them about having dishonored their badge and having failed “to protect and to serve” – a motto which could easily have been derived from the medieval chivalric code. That code emphasized service, the defense of the defenseless, and – as one 19th century writer put it – “always and everywhere to be right and good against evil and injustice.”

Don Quixote may have been tilting insanely at windmills, imagining them to be dragons, but Robert McCall puts himself between very real evil and the innocents he feels compelled to defend. He does it because “to protect and to serve” is in his nature, and because it’s the right thing to do. At least one critic complained that the movie’s “sense of good and evil is a little too clear cut,” but in a jaded world too often awash in moral ambiguity, it’s refreshing to see a character who harks back to the uncompromising, selfless heroism of an earlier time.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 10/20/14)

The Death of Adulthood Means the Death of Culture

Recently A.O. Scott posted a piece in the New York Times entitled “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” which stirred up online discussion about whether our grownup culture has shifted into a protracted childhood. What was largely absent from the observations is where this arrested development is taking us.

Scott argued that in doing away with certain iconic TV characters of the last decade – Tony Soprano, Walter White, and Don Draper – we have “killed off all the grown-ups.” Meanwhile Hollywood cultivates movie franchises that promote “an essentially juvenile vision of the world.” The same complaint goes for literature, Scott says; American fiction, which introduced “a new crop of semi-antiheroes in flight from convention, propriety, authority,” is all young-adult fiction now. He concludes that we now perceive adulthood as “the state of being forever young.”

Vulture’s Adam Sternbergh admired Scott’s piece and responded with “The Death of Adulthood and the Rise of Pleasure, or Why Seth Rogen Is More Serious Than Woody Allen,” in which he states that what Scott is really lamenting is “the death of seriousness.” Sternbergh sees no problem in being unserious and believes that nothing is more grownup than rejecting “a bunch of inherited precepts about cultural seriousness” from the previous generation.

The death of adulthood/seriousness came over us swiftly, historically speaking. Childhood, as a cocoon of maturation distinct from adulthood, is a fairly recent cultural development. Prior to the 17th century, children were essentially little adults; life was nasty, brutish, and short, as Hobbes put it, and didn’t afford them the luxury of a period of protected innocence.

But philosophers like Rousseau and Romantic poets like Wordsworth thereafter helped spark the relatively new notion that childhood was an important stage in its own right, and children needed sheltering before taking on the demands of adulthood. American peace and prosperity in the 1950s enabled us to establish permanently this phase of childhood as we know it today: a period of sustained innocence, play, and freedom from responsibility.

But over the course of the few decades since, we have witnessed the prolongation of childhood and, as A.O. Scott wrote, “the erosion of traditional adulthood in any form.” This development has found cultural expression in the accelerated ascent of our youth-obsessed pop culture and a concomitant decline of “high” culture (some would argue that there is no longer a distinction, but that’s a topic for another day).

Scott himself isn’t even sure that we should bemoan this death of adulthood; after all, it can be a lot of fun: “The world is our playground, without a dad or a mom in sight,” he says. “I’m all for it.” Sternbergh believes that seriousness is overrated and we should just kick back and enjoy “the rise of pleasure.” Neither one addresses what this means in the long run. If they’re correct that adulthood has morphed into a childhood without end, then how long can that be sustained? What’s next?

In H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, the 19th century protagonist travels hundreds of thousands of years into the future and discovers that humankind has evolved, or more correctly devolved, into a childlike race called the Eloi living in a seemingly peaceful paradise. Facing no dangers or challenges, the Eloi have become artistically and intellectually apathetic, as well as physical atrophied. But their Eden is an illusion; the Eloi’s fate is that they exist only as food for the bestial race of Morlocks.

Our lack of seriousness, our comfort zone of perpetual childhood, is the death of culture. As rapidly as we have come to this point, it won’t take us hundreds of thousands more years to become Eloi. That may be a rather extreme example to make my point, but eternal youth, while very tempting, is not growth, either biological or cultural. Refusing to venture beyond the safe shallows of childhood kills our creative and intellectual and spiritual hunger. It leaves us passively captivated by a culture that increasingly produces more kinetic spectacle than meaningful art. This apathy marks the end of curiosity, of aspiration, of change; it leaves us vulnerable to being overtaken, perhaps even literally, by cultures that do embrace adulthood and seriousness.

Sternbergh, and possibly Scott (who joked, “Get off my lawn!”), might dismiss me as being hung up on “propriety” and a “suspicion of cultural pleasure,” but I’m a child of pop culture. I was raised on The Beatles and Bewitched, not Beethoven and Bellini, but now I can appreciate both. An adult doesn’t have to put away the things of childhood forever, only know their place and limitations. But a child who resists adulthood too long risks becoming, as Scott puts it, an irrelevant loser. And that’s where the rise of pleasure will leave us.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 10/16/14)

Is Virginity Making a Comeback?

Last month an Arkansas high school student caused a stir when she was asked to change her t-shirt, which read “Virginity Rocks!”, because the message was potentially provocative to the other students. But what’s more interesting than the free speech brouhaha it raised is that the message represents one more sign that virginity is making a comeback among American teens.

Losing one’s virginity is a profound rite of passage not to be treated lightly. Since the sexual revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s, though, it hasn’t been especially prized in American culture. It’s viewed as an embarrassing condition, like acne, to get rid of as soon as legally possible or be marked a loser. I suppose it has never really been valued highly for males – losing it is a badge of honor for them – but there used to be the shared cultural assumption that saving oneself for marriage, unrealistic though that may be, was an ideal for girls.

It doesn’t help that American pop culture is relentlessly sexualized. The media have elevated as our young daughters’ most influential role models – you know who they are – celebs who pose before giant neon signs proclaiming them “FEMINIST,” but are really poster models for rampant sluttiness.

Yet despite (or perhaps because of) the best efforts of the entertainment biz to put sex front and center in our children’s consciousness, evidence seems to point to a newfound appreciation for virginity. Teens seem to be waiting longer to have sex than they did in the recent past, for example. Thanks in part to a handful of non-conforming celebrities like Jessica Simpson, Adriana Lima, and the Jonas Brothers, taking pride in preserving oneself for marriage has gained acceptance, and public expressions like purity rings have boomed in popularity. This is contributing, thankfully, to sharply declining teen birth and teen pregnancy rates. All of which suggests that American girls are increasingly rejecting the sex-soaked Siren of popular culture and embracing the notion that virginity is to be guarded until the right moment and given for the right reasons.

In China recently, a court ruled that the “right to virginity” should be protected by law, as it is a moral right related to “sexual freedom, sexual safety and sexual purity.” A woman identified only as “Chen” (her age is unreported) had taken a man to court for violating her right to virginity. The two had been dating since 2013 after meeting online in 2009. He promised to marry her, but after a romantic trip to Singapore where they consummated their relationship, the man – identified only as “Li” – suddenly stopped calling. The woman broke into his home seeking an explanation and discovered, to the awkwardness of Mr. Li, no doubt, that there already was a Mrs. Li.

Chen sued Li for more than $81,000 in psychological damages, plus medical costs of $250, accusing him of violating her rights to virginity and health. The court felt the amount was excessive, awarding her less than $5,000, but sided with her and concluded that “violating the right to virginity might lead to harm to a person’s body, health, freedom and reputation. It ought to be compensated.”

The notion that a woman might take a man to court for defrauding her of her “sexual purity” sounds quaintly Victorian to us, but perhaps Chen and her judge are on to something – not with the lawsuit (because it shouldn’t be illegal to take a woman’s virginity in consensual sex, even if tricked into it like Chen), but with the public recognition that giving up one’s virginity is a powerful, once-in-a-lifetime act, and a young woman has the “moral right” to lose it at her discretion, when she has the maturity to know when she’s ready, and for her right to be held in serious regard by society. That seems more like true sexual freedom and feminist achievement than reveling onstage in your own sexual objectification.

Apparently, American girls are increasingly viewing their virginity as such a right, and they are resisting cultural pressure to give it up at the earliest opportunity and for the wrong reasons. In that respect, that Arkansas teen’s t-shirt bears a proud message that deserves to be seen and discussed openly with her classmates and teachers as well. Virginity rocks, indeed.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 10/17/14)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Would a Curfew for Men Curb Violence Against Women?

This week the Colombian city of Bucaramanga began experimenting with its first “women-only” night, an effort launched by the state governor’s office to stem a tide of sexual assaults against women. Is there a workable, partial solution here for dealing with violence against women in other cities, even in America?

As reported at, bars and clubs in Bucaramanga are being encouraged to host women-only events on this evening. Men out after the curfew (it’s unclear exactly what the curfew time is) must present a safe-conduct permit issued by the mayor's office or be fined (also unclear: what’s to prevent someone with a safe-conduct permit from committing sexual assault?).

Bucaramanga – with a population of just under 600,000 – is no small village. It’s hard to imagine how such a curfew could be enforced effectively; and indeed, Juan Camilo Beltrán, president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and a proponent of the curfew, said that it is essentially symbolic. “We can only hope men accept the challenge [to stay at home],” he said, making the curfew seem more like a plea than a law.

Its real purpose is largely as an awareness-raising tool and a means to drive discussion about the issue of sexual assaults in a city apparently plagued by them. But similar curfews have been attempted elsewhere, including the Colombian capital Bogota, and so far none has made a noticeable difference in preventing sexual violence. As Suzanne Clisby, the director of postgraduate studies at Hull University's School of Social Sciences, puts it,

The best a formal curfew could hope to do is send a message from the state that violence against women is seen as unacceptable and will be taken seriously, but unless this were followed through in a whole range of other ways, it is fairly pointless.

A men-only curfew could never, and should never, be implemented in a free society like the United States. First of all, it infringes on the freedom of half the population, the vast majority of whom are not sex criminals. Second, even if it does keep some bad men off the street at night, it also clears the street of far more good men who might be able to prevent sexual assaults by their mere presence, if not through actual intervention. And again, it would quite simply be impossible to enforce effectively.

Another down side: since sexual assaults are usually perpetrated not by strangers in nightclub alleys but at home or the workplace by men known to the victims, Clisby warns that such curfews “could perpetuate the myth that violence against women happens only at night by strangers.”

Alison Phipps, director of gender studies at the University of Sussex, argues that awareness isn’t enough – moral education is necessary: “The message we need to convey is that men need to behave differently, rather than women and men being separated—in whatever way—for women's protection.” Clisby concurs – or at least seems to, in academic, gender studies jargon:

We need to look at and challenge the ways boys can be gendered into particular forms of hegemonic masculinities that can be damaging for themselves, as well as for women and other people around them. Also, we need to look at the ways girls may learn normative constructions of femininities that can leave them vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

If these women are saying that men need to be taught not to rape, we already do that, which is one reason I insist that we don’t live in a “rape culture.” Rapists commit their crimes not because they’re unaware it’s wrong and a heinous crime, but in spite of our society’s clear condemnation of it.

If, by complaining that “normative constructions of femininities… leave [women] vulnerable to sexual exploitation,” Clisby is saying women need to learn to defend themselves (and I doubt she is), then I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly. However, suggesting self-defense gets one irrationally condemned these days as being “pro-rape” by those who think the answer is not to empower women but to “gender boys out of their hegemonic masculinities.”

A curfew is not the answer, even as a teachable moment. Sex criminals will always be with us. If you want women to be less vulnerable, teach them to fight back. If you want men to behave more honorably toward women and further marginalize the rapists, teach boys chivalry, a male code of behavior that radical feminism has driven from our culture. Don’t “gender” boys out of their masculinity – encourage them to exemplify the best of it.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 10/15/14)

Purple Penguins and the Radical Gender Agenda

Just when you think you’ve heard the most outrageous example of progressive irrationality in our public schools – usually something to do with anti-gun hysteria – along comes word that a school district in Nebraska is training teachers to abandon “gendered expressions” such as “boys and girls” in favor of “gender inclusive” euphemisms like “purple penguins” instead. You read that right.

“Don’t use phrases such as ‘boys and girls,’ ‘you guys,’ ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ and similarly gendered expressions to get kids’ attention,” instructs a training document given out by a staffer on a “district equity team” to middle-school teachers at Lincoln public schools. Instead, say “hey campers” or “create classroom names and then ask all of the ‘purple penguins’ to meet on the rug,” it advises.

“When I read about this,” said a friend of mine, “I was sure it was satire.” Well, we inhabit a satirical world now, and our children inhabit an educational culture perverted and dumbed-down over the last several decades by political correctness and social justice progressives. Our schools are no longer focused on educational standards that will make us competitive in the real world; instead, they are obsessed with pushing social justice – and that includes a radical agenda to indoctrinate kids as early as kindergarten about sex. Its ultimate goal is the promotion of promiscuity and the dissolution of the very concept of gender, thereby destroying “patriarchal” culture, delegitimizing parental authority, and dismantling the family unit.

The instructions distributed to Lincoln teachers are part of a list called “12 steps on the way to gender inclusiveness” developed by Gender Spectrum, an organization that “provides education, training and support to help create a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for children of all ages.” All ages. The document warns against asking students to “line up as boys or girls,” and suggests organizing them instead by whether they prefer “skateboards or bikes/milk or juice/dogs or cats/summer or winter/talking or listening… Always ask yourself,” the document says, “‘Will this configuration create a gendered space?’” Actually, what teachers should always be asking themselves is, “Are my students learning?”

Also on the list? Decorating the classroom with “all genders welcome” door hangers and asking all students about their preferred pronouns – because the gender spectrum is apparently so broad now that our current set of pronouns is insufficient. If teachers absolutely have to mention that genders exist at all, the document advises that they be listed as “boy, girl, both or neither.” Both? Neither?

“Avoid using ‘normal’ to define any behaviors,” the document urges. By all means, children should be taught to tolerate others who are different; but eradicating the very notion that normal behavior even exists is not tolerance – it is a denial of reality and an irrational reorienting of children’s understanding of themselves and the natural order.

Speaking of tolerance, the training materials instruct teachers to be intolerant of anyone who references gender “in a binary manner… Provide counter-narratives that challenge students to think more expansively about their notions of gender.” It’s unclear how teachers are supposed to find so much time to discuss gender with students without cutting back on their readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic.

The teachers were also given a handout created by the ironically-named Center for Gender Sanity which explains to them that “gender identity... can’t be observed or measured, only reported by the individual.” And they received an infographic called “The Genderbread Person” produced by Sam Killermann, who describes himself as “a social justice comedian” and is the author of The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender.

Al Riskowski, executive director of the Nebraska Family Alliance, said his group has supported legislation to combat bullying, but that these training materials go “way beyond trying to teach someone how to respect another individual” to a “whole new idea of boy-girl.” The idea that “your biology at birth doesn’t designate who you are” is at odds with the beliefs of “almost everyone in the community.” He said that the school district shouldn’t have to re-educate the 99% who aren’t transgender. Clearly Riskowski must be re-educated to understand that there is no such thing as normal behavior.

He noted correctly that the materials seemed geared to children younger than those in middle school. A sister organization that works on such issues nationwide told Riskowski that it’s “some of the most radical material we’ve ever seen.”

Lincoln Superintendent Steve Joel noted that the training documents are not intended as hard-and-fast rules, only recommendations, and he has declared that he is “happy” and “pleased” with them. As for the controversy those documents have engendered (pun intended), he explains that “We don’t get involved with politics… We don’t get involved with gender preferences. We’re educating all kids... and we can’t be judgmental,” he said.

But by sitting back and letting these gender radicals insert their indoctrinating materials into the classroom, Mr. Joel is caving in to people who are consumed with politics and gender preferences. That’s the problem with not being “judgmental” – moral neutrality equals moral impotence.

These are our schools now. Our educational system, in the grip of social justice missionaries, is hopelessly broken. Homeschooling is increasingly becoming the best option for raising educated, free children with actual critical thinking skills instead of progressive brainwashing. So of course, the progressives are beginning to target homeschooling – as in Connecticut, where the state intends to increase its oversight of homeschooled children, purportedly because they are considered to be potential Adam Lanzas.

The truth is that they are a threat not to other students but to the state’s authority. As National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson put it in his forceful article, “They Are Coming for Your Children”:

Home-schooling isn’t for everyone, but every home-school student, like every firearm in private hands, is a quiet little declaration of independence. It’s no accident that the people who want to seize your guns are also the ones who want to seize your children.

It’s also no accident that the people who want to indoctrinate your children about sex want them too.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 10/15/14)

Marcus Luttrell’s Rules for Dating Daughters

Afghanistan war hero and author of the harrowing memoir Lone Survivor (and portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in the outstanding movie of the same name), retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell is the very definition of “tough as nails.” So when he lays down rules for dating his daughter, young suitors would be well advised to think long and hard before proceeding.

He recently posted an amusing Facebook status that went viral, listing the daunting Herculean tasks he requires of prospective dates for Addie when she grows up (she is currently only two years old, but Luttrell is getting a head start):

Yea if FB is around when it's time for her to start dating I'm gonna make him contact every father of a daughter on here, MMA fighter, boxer, police officer, fire fighter and let's not forget the toughest of all Prison guards. to get their blessing. Oh... in person by the way. Then he will have to do the same thing w/all my teammates while they show him the team armory. Paint the house, mend some fence, cut the lawn, rope a tornado, bottle up a hurricane, and put out a Forrest fire w/a squirt gun etc... He gets that done then I'll let him have my cell number so they can face time while I hold the phone. Thinking about having a chastity belt made w/a SEAL trident engraved on it and reads "Ask father for key." He's the 6'5 250lbs tattooed maniac that's chained to the wall. w/the bad temper and foaming from the mouth that's sleeps under the tarp in the back yard w/the fire ants and snakes. Nothing to difficult. Look forward to seeing the first candidate in about 16 years I'll be waiting.

As the father of two girls who are around the same age as Addie, I can assure you that Luttrell is only half-joking. This Papa Bear protectiveness has been around since the beginning of time. I and every father I’ve ever known have “joked” similarly about greeting our daughter’s would-be date while pointedly cleaning a shotgun at the kitchen table, growling lines like “I’m not afraid to go back to prison” – but the subtext is very serious indeed: don’t even think about approaching my daughter with dishonorable intentions.

Many internet commenters complained that this attitude is archaic, “patriarchal,” and even damaging to the daughters and to their relationship with their dads. “Luttrell will be lucky if his daughter doesn't rebel and get pregnant just to spite that kind of control,” one said. “What this teaches his daughter is that some man is in charge of her body: her daddy,” wrote another. One commenter went so far as to say that “bigots and misogynists often hide behind humor, and this ‘dating my daughter’ bit has always reeked of patriarchal misogyny to me.”

In addition to their humorlessness, people like this seem incapable of accepting that it is a father’s natural and proper instinct to protect his daughter – yes, even with lethal force if necessary – until she is ready to leave the nest. It’s instinctual and right to protect one’s son as well, of course, but especially one’s daughter. Sons bring their own set of problems, and should be raised to be chivalrous gentlemen, but they don’t get pregnant and are highly unlikely to be sexually assaulted by their female dates.

A few months ago, a very different set of rules for dating one’s daughter went viral as well – the “Feminist Father” t-shirt which Huffington Post described as “pitch-perfect.” It reads:

Rules for Dating My Daughter
1) I don’t make the rules
2) You don’t make the rules
3) She makes the rules
4) Her body, her rules

One commenter who approved of this “feminist” take wrote that until society realizes that “we can't control a woman’s choice… we will continue to have gender issues in this country.”

To put it bluntly, this is just politically correct absurdity. A teenage girl is not yet a woman, and until a daughter (or son) is legally an adult and on her or his own, the parents make the rules. This is not patriarchy or misogyny or slavery; it is common sense – something that feminist extremism has driven into uncommonness. Teenagers are bundles of agitated hormones and sexual impulses that they barely can understand, much less override. They are normally not mature enough to rein in those impulses to protect themselves (indeed, many adults never reach that level of maturity).

It is a father’s duty (a mother’s too, but we’re focusing on dads here) to raise his daughter to respect herself and protect herself by making smart life choices (too many commenters assumed that, based on his lighthearted Facebook post, Luttrell himself doesn’t understand this obvious point).

Toward that end, to borrow from Meg Meeker’s excellent book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, a father must recognize that he is the most important man in his little girl’s life, that he is her first love and her hero, that she wants him to protect her, and that the best thing he can do for her is to be the role model for the man that he would want her to end up with someday. That is better protection for her than any shotgun – although a shotgun makes a great backup.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 10/13/14)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

'Rockin' the Wall' Screening and Panel Discussion

I'll be a panelist for this event which includes historian Larry Schweikart (A Patriot's History of the United States), my friend J.E. Dyer, and musicians Jimmy Haslip and Rudy Sarzo (all described below). Be there or be square.

Please join us for a
screening of the Award Winning Film Rockin' the Wall 

This November is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Join us for the fascinating story of rock music's part in bringing down the Iron Curtain with our special guest,

Dr. Larry Schweikart
Professor of History, University of Dayton and Award-winning Filmmaker 

Thursday, November 6, 2014
7:00 p.m.

Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel
11461 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Dessert Reception and Panel Discussion with Special Guests
following screening
Rudy Sarzo and Jim Haslip are among the many rock and rollers who appear in "Rockin' the Wall," offering touching insight to the fall of Communism.
Dr. Larry Schweikart, the prize-winning historian and former drummer for the opening band for Steppenwolf, brings his award winning film, Rockin' the Wall, to Los Angeles for an exclusive screening and special guests from the film.
Rockin' the Wall is both an engaging history lesson about the Berlin Wall and life behind the Iron Curtain, and an entertaining exploration of the power of rock music as a force for social change and liberation.

When the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, it became the worldwide symbol of communist oppression. While the Wall kept people in, it could not keep Western influences like rock music out. Through Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, rock music penetrated the Iron Curtain with messages of freedom and rebellion.

Rockin' the Wall presents the history of the Berlin Wall through the experiences of well-know rock musicians and those who lived behind the wall. Among the rock musicians featured are Robby Krieger (The Doors), Mark Stein and Vinny Martell (Vanilla Fudge), Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot), David Paich (Toto), Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets), and the group Mother's Finest who played in East Berlin just weeks before the Wall fell.

People who lived behind the Iron Curtain in several countries describe what their lives were like and how rock music provided them an important lifeline and inspiration -- giving them hope and exposing the short-comings of the communist system.

The film includes historical footage of the famous speeches at the Berlin Wall by Presidents Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy, as well as interviews with former government officials and with European rocker Leslie Mandoki who recalls being visited by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss the power of music.

Features original music written for the film, as well as live music from several of the groups in the film.
Panel discussion will follow the screening with special guests:

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary's Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.

Mark Tapson, a Hollywood-based writer and screenwriter, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He focuses on the politics of popular culture. 
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$25 per person - cash or check at the door
Film Screening, Dessert Reception, Panel Discussion
$5 valet parking

DVDs and Soundtrack CDs will be available for purchase

This is Rockin' The Wall exclusive screening in Southern California with special guests, Larry Schweikart, award winning filmmaker, and rockers,Rudy Sarzo and Jimmy Haslip.

Remembering the Battle of Tours

The month of October marks the anniversary of an epic event that unfortunately is no longer widely known but which nonetheless shaped the future of the Western world, and which may still hold inspiration for the West today.

After the death of the Muslim prophet Muhammad in 632, Islam spread like a bloody tide throughout the Arabian peninsula, north to the Caspian Sea and east through Persia and beyond, westward through Egypt and across North Africa all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. From there it crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and consumed all of the Iberian peninsula, or al-Andalus as the Saracens called it. In a mere one hundred years, Muhammad’s aggressive legacy was an empire larger than Rome’s had ever been.

By 732 that fallen Roman empire had devolved into a patchwork of warring barbarian tribes. When Abd-ar-Rahman, the governor of al-Andalus, crossed the Pyrenees with the world’s most successful fighting force and began sweeping through the south of what would become France toward Paris, there was no nation, no central power, no professional army capable of stopping them.

No army except one – led by the Frankish duke Charles, the eventual grandfather of Charlemagne. His infantrymen, as Victor Davis Hanson puts it in a fascinating chapter of Carnage and Culture, were “hardened veterans of nearly twenty years of constant combat against a variety of Frankish, German, and Islamic enemies.” Hanson writes that the Roman legions had crumbled “because of the dearth of free citizens who were willing to fight for their own freedom and the values of their civilization.” But Charles had spirited, free warriors under his command who were willing.

Sometime in October (the exact date is disputed), on the road between Poitiers and Tours (and so it is sometimes called the Battle of Poitiers) less than 175 miles from Paris, Abd-ar-Rahman arrayed his cavalry against Charles’ solid block of Frankish footsoldiers, which at 30,000 was by some estimates half the size of the Arab and Berber army (Hanson speculates that the armies were more evenly matched).

The opposing forces sized each other up for a full week. And then on Saturday morning Abd-ar-Rahman ordered the charge. But his cavalry, which counted on speed, mobility, and terror to defeat dying empires and undisciplined tribes, could not splinter the better-trained and better-armed Frankish phalanx. At the end of the day’s carnage, both sides regrouped for the next day’s assault.

But at dawn, Charles and his men discovered that the Muslim army had vanished, leaving the booty stolen from ransacked churches behind, as well as 10,000 of their dead – including Abd-ar-Rahman himself. It was not the last Muslim incursion into Europe, but it was the beginning of the end.

Some contemporary historians downplay the magnitude of the Muslim threat, claiming that Abd-ar-Rahman’s force was only a raiding party. They minimize the significance of the battle’s outcome, too; at least one historian even claims that Europe would have been better off if Islam had conquered it. But Hanson notes that “most of the renowned historians of the 18th and 19th centuries… saw Poitiers as a landmark battle that signaled the high-water mark of Islamic advance into Europe.” Edward Creasey included it among his The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World. Many believe that if Charles – whom the Pope afterward dubbed Martel, or “the Hammer” – had not stopped Abd-ar-Rahman at Tours, there would have been nothing to prevent Europe from ultimately becoming Islamic. Edward Gibbon called Charles “the savior of Christendom” and wrote in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776 that if not for Charles’ victory, “perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford.”

If only Gibbon could see Oxford now. Not only is the interpretation of the Koran taught there, but Islam thrives in Oxford, thanks partly to the patronage of dhimmi Prince Charles. In his essay “Islam in Oxford,” faux moderate Muslim scholar Muqtadar Khan writes smugly that “Gibbon would have been surprised to learn the lesson that military defeats do not stop the advance of civilizations and the globalization of Islam is unimpeded by the material and military weaknesses of the Muslim world.”

Apart from his dubious suggestion that Islam has anything to do with the advance of civilization, Khan is right. Today the Islamic invasion of Europe and the rest of the West is of the demographic, not military, sort. The continent faces an immigration crisis from at least one generation of young Muslims, many of whom not only are willfully unassimilated, but who are waging cultural and physical aggression against their hosts, establishing parallel communities ruled by sharia and “no-go” zones of violence toward infidels. “Nothing can stop the spread of Islam,” insists Islamic apologist Reza Aslan. “There are those who would try, but it simply will not happen. Absolutely nothing can stop the spread of Islam.”

But Charles Martel begged to differ in 732. The tide was turned back then, and if necessary it can be turned back again, by new Martels. The conflict is different now – it’s far from being as straightforward and elemental as two armies facing off – and so those new Martels won’t necessarily be soldiers. They will also be culture warriors and activists and ordinary citizens willing to put themselves on the front lines against this new incursion. We need “free citizens willing to fight for their own freedom and the values of their civilization” – as Charles Martel and his warriors once were.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 10/10/14)