Category: current events

BYU Can and Should Do Better

I was very upset to hear about the incident at the BYU Women’s Volleyball game on Friday evening. In case you haven’t heard about it, in a game against Duke, someone in the student section kept yelling racial slurs at one of the Duke players every time she served. (The N-word.) It apparently progressed to the point that they were also threatening to hurt them after the game. It got to the point that a security officer came to stand next to the Duke bench. After the game, BYU investigated the issue, identified the person who had been yelling the slurs (who turned out to not be a student) and banned them from all future BYU athletic events.

Too little, too late.

I wasn’t at the game, and I haven’t seen any footage of what went on, but I have a very hard time understanding how it got to that point. If someone is in the crowd yelling obscenities, and it’s established enough during the game to have officials post a guard by the bench, how does that happen? Either no serious attempt was made to find the offender, or no one in the crowd around the offender was willing or ready to point out who was doing it.

Perhaps the person yelling was just a monster of a human being. So physically imposing no one wanted to publicly be the one to point him out. I’ve certainly had some run ins with some mouth breathers over the years, and I wouldn’t always be jumping at the gun to get any more involved with them than I had to be. However, it wouldn’t have been difficult to “go to the bathroom” and talk to security out of sight of the offender. I have a hard time understanding how the person managed to continue to be unidentified.

Honestly, what I would have liked to see at BYU is for them to stop the game and not continue until the person was identified and thrown out. If the person couldn’t be identified, then the game could have continued without spectators. BYU should be much more sensitive to this because of the church’s thorny past with racism. Having this come out in the news only serves to have people think, “Yup. That makes sense for BYU.” (Though this isn’t just about the publicity. It’s about doing the right thing, when the right thing seems like such a clear thing to do.)

I’m a longtime, huge fan of BYU sports. And I understand that our players (and our fanbase) are not perfect by any stretch, but at the same time, I’d really like us to be doing better. I expect better, at least within the confines of the game. That means treating the opposite team with respect and kindness. That means playing a clean game and not resorting to dirty tricks. It’s a standard that BYU has fallen short of in the past, and it’s more than a little discouraging to have it happen again, particularly when it ends up involving the fan base, the students, and the administration, and it’s something that from the sound of it was such an obvious thing that had to be addressed immediately.

Saying “we have to do better” sounds like a bunch of empty words when we’re in 2022 and we’re dealing with a situation like that. We should have never gotten anywhere near where this ended up.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

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Uvalde: At a Loss

I have no idea what else to say at this point that I haven’t said before. Years ago, I started posting and reposting the same blog entry each time there was another mass shooting. That entry details the path I took to end up as opposed to guns as I am now. But I can’t just post the same entry again today. I didn’t post it last week, when the shooting in Buffalo happened.

It doesn’t do any good, so why bother?

I don’t understand the mindset of people who, upon hearing that 19 fourth graders were murdered in their classroom, still somehow think “DC had better not try to touch my second amendment rights.” In the ten years since Sandy Hook, has anything significantly changed in our gun laws? Perhaps they’ve gotten stricter in a few states. They’ve also gotten looser in others. But we still haven’t fundamentally even tried a single solution.

If you are praying for the families affected by this heinous act, and yet you do nothing to try to support actual solutions, I have a hard time seeing you as anything other than a hypocrite. God can handle the help, but you’re too . . . what? Worried about a zombie apocalypse? Wound up in your own machismo? Focused on your own fears instead of the right of 10 year olds to go to school without fear instead?

I have a daughter who’s 9. She’s about the same age as those kids who were gunned down yesterday, so it’s all too easy for me to put myself in the shoes of the parents, the students, and the community in Uvalde. The thought that I could send her off on the bus one morning and never have her return is terrifying.

My kids have to do “active shooter drills.” That’s something that’s changed since Sandy Hook. Knowing that the government has done nothing to try to solve this, but our children instead have started practicing what to do if someone tries to start killing them . . .

I really don’t know what else to do or say or write.

I try to understand people who disagree with me. I try not to point fingers or paint with too broad a brush. But when it comes to the murder of 10 year olds, I guess that’s just a bridge too far.

American society is failing its children in many more ways than just gun control, of course. In ways that are directly related to these acts of violence as well. We have a health care system that’s based around employment, so many do not get the help (medical or psychological) that they need. We have a minimum wage that is so broken, people have to work two jobs just to afford rent. In Maine, it’s around $13/hour right now, which is more than in many other places. But many employers won’t schedule someone for more than 30 hours a week, because then that person would become a full-time employee, and they would be entitled to things like healthcare, paid time off, and other benefits. That would affect the bottom line, which might make stockholders unhappy.

We live in a society where individuals are wealthy enough to fund space exploration or casually purchase huge companies, and yet we have so many who ultimately work for those same individuals, yet don’t have enough money to cover their basic life expenses.

Our society is so broken, people get angry at people for pointing out it’s broken in the first place. The very thought that perhaps there are events in our past which are far from the American ideal is so threatening, people try to ban those thoughts from being taught in school.

Yes, there are many (many) reasons to be discouraged and depressed right now. I don’t have to list them all off, but it’s gotten to the point that instead of actually dealing with any of those immediate problems, it’s more convenient to distract from whatever the most pressing problem seems to be by pointing to another equally pressing problem.

And nothing changes.

Where do we go from here? Do we put metal sheets across all the windows of our schools? Do we triple the security staff? How far do we have to go to avoid enacting even those most reasonable of gun laws? Background checks for all gun sales, including private and gun shows. Requiring a license before purchasing a gun. Banning high capacity magazines. Increased mental health care.

And if that doesn’t solve the problem? Then we come up with additional measures.

A functional society doesn’t ask its grade schoolers to prepare to be shot.

But honestly, why even bother bringing any of this up? Minds are made up, and anyone who disagrees with me likely didn’t even read this post, and if they did, they’re insulted that I’m accusing them of being part of the problem. Don’t worry, folks. I’m part of the problem as well. I’m as much a part of this country as you are, and we’re all on the line when it comes to what happens here.

The first step to fixing a problem is admitting one exists in the first place. Unfortunately, we can’t even seem to be able to agree on that.

Religious Freedom Under Attack?

We had an interesting lesson in church on Sunday, and it’s been banging around inside my head since then, so I wanted to explore it a bit more here on digital paper. It stemmed from a talk given this past General Conference, arguing that religious freedom is under assault. I’d read the talk ahead of the lesson, and I’d listened to it back when it was given live in April. At the time, I didn’t think that much of it one way or the other. As I said in our meeting Sunday, “I’m in favor of religious freedom,” and that seems like a pretty tame assertion.

But when I read the talk again, and as we discussed it in class, I started really delving a bit more into what I thought about the concept. I know that many have argued that religious freedom is under attack, but I also believe often people use that as an argument to try and justify things they want to do, despite the fact that no real religious freedoms are being attacked. I also think it’s becoming a bigger mistake with every passing year to interpret church talks at General Conference as being aimed at Americans and only Americans. As is pointed out time and time again, more than half of Latter-day Saints live outside the US these days.

So to break this down further, it came to a few questions. First, is religious freedom under assault in America? Second, is it under assault in the world? And third, what should we do about it?

There have been many right-wing pundits who have argued that religious freedom in America is continually being eroded. I will say that I personally have never been in a situation where I’ve been denied the ability to practice my religion in a way I see fit, though I’ll add that the way I practice my religion is almost always pretty low impact on anyone around me. I’ll also add that just because I haven’t seen something personally doesn’t make me doubt that it happens. But when I’ve seen this religious freedom debate happen in the states, it’s usually come down to gay marriage, and more recently trans rights. Sixty years ago, it would have been centered around civil rights.

From what I can see, there are many conservatives who continue to believe homosexuality or anything like unto it is a choice and a sin. People aren’t born that way, they choose to live that way. And because it’s a choice, it becomes a pretty clear cut decision to oppose it in any way, shape, or form. On the other hand, those on the left (and an ever-increasing amount of scientific evidence) argue that one’s sexuality is very often not a choice and so when there are laws limiting the rights of non-straight people, those laws are discriminatory.

So when a cake shop decides it doesn’t want to make a cake for a gay wedding because the owner of the cake shop is opposed to gay marriage, the battle lines quickly become drawn. In the case in point, Colorado (where the case happened) has a law prohibiting people being discriminated against due to their sexuality. The cake shop argued it was a matter of religious freedom. The couple in question argued they were being discriminated against illegally.

Is this an attack on religious freedom, or a defense against discrimination? You could see it either way, depending on your politics.

The same happened over the pandemic with churches claiming they were being required by the government to shut down in-person services. Whether it was a question of religious freedom or public health policy again typically boiled down to politics.

I personally don’t believe religious freedom in America is under attack. I believe that certain areas of religion that cause particular friction points are being considered and defined. If I have a religion that says people with brown eyes should be beaten over the head with a club, I don’t think I’m going to be able to get away with going around actively beating brown-eyed people with a club for very long before the government steps in and puts an end to my rampage. It’s not a question of my religious freedom being restricted any more than the ban on running into a movie theater and yelling FIRE is a question of freedom of speech being impinged. Any time you have people with different views gathered in one country, you need a way to ensure there’s a balance between individual rights and the collective good. That balance will feel restrictive on both sides from case to case.

Note that I realize there are some who believe I’m wrong when it comes to the assault on religious freedom. There are many who believe I’m wrong on a lot of topics, and I no doubt am wrong in multiple instances. But until I see a persuasive argument to change my views, that’s where they’ll stay for now.

(This is not to say I don’t believe the concept of religion is under attack. I have personally been ridiculed for my religious beliefs many times, both in person and online. But I see a big difference between someone telling me I’m an idiot for what I believe and someone telling me I can’t worship in a way I see fit (when that way has no real negative impact on anyone else). I do wish there would be more tolerance for religious beliefs in our country, but that’s a topic for a different blog post.)

Onto the second question: is religious freedom under attack elsewhere across the globe? One example brought up in the lesson was the ban on Burkas in France. The majority of citizens in France felt that the practice of wearing a full face-veil was discriminatory to women, and so they made it illegal. There were arguments given by Muslims both for and against the ban. Arguments in favor of it talked about how the Niqab or Burka had no place in Islam. Arguments against talked about how it was a personal religious choice, and as such should be protected. It wasn’t as if people were running around trying to make non-believers wear Burkas.

On a global scale, I do believe religious freedom is in danger. There’s the Uyghur genocide in China (where Muslims are being persecuted) and the rise of ISIS in the Middle East (where non-Muslims were persecuted), to name two significant examples. Any time you have people being literally killed because of their religion, I don’t think there’s much debate about whether religious freedom is under attack. This goes far beyond smaller scale “assaults” like “should I have to wear a mask?” or “should I have to be vaccinated?” And when viewed in this light, those smaller debates feel a lot more trivial. (Though I realize they’re anything but to some of the people involved.)

So the third question: what can we do about all of it? For me, this often comes back to the eleventh article of faith of my religion: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” (Again, this is clean cut when those religious practices don’t impinge on other people. When they do, things get messier.) I do believe living this principle is harder in practice than in theory. It means sometimes letting people do things you might personally not agree with. It’s easy when your beliefs line up with my beliefs. But I also believe this extends to the right of people to not worship or believe in God at all. If “how, where, or what they may” doesn’t include the empty set, then it doesn’t really include everything. And if there are more people who are atheist or agnostic now, then that is what it is. I’d like to hope all sides can get along peacefully, but it’ll take some contested court cases to keep that process in line.

Globally, there’s not much I feel I can do, which feels like par for the course for many issues . . .

What about you? What do you think about all of this, and how do you handle it?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

You Don’t Know Celebrities

In the aftermath of Will Smith’s infamous slap, I’ve heard and read remarks that basically boil down to, “I just didn’t think Will Smith of all people would do that. He’s such a nice guy.” I’ve blogged about this before (five years ago, when Joss Whedon turned out to be far from a shining example of awesome), but it bears repeating: unless you’ve spent significant time around someone, you don’t know them. (And honestly, even if you *have* spent significant time around someone, you still don’t necessarily know them.)

In the case of celebrities, all you really know is the persona they project onto the world. True, some of them seem to be more “authentic” than others. Kanye tweets enough to make you fairly sure who he is in person. Same for Donald Trump. See enough off-the-cuff remarks by people (especially people with filter), and you can begin to get a feel for who that person is, especially when those off the cuff remarks leave a significantly bad impression. Most people don’t try to project a persona that’s actually worse than their true self.

But for everything else? You’re typically seeing a slice of that person that they want you to see. Whether it’s attending charity events, or visiting sick kids in a hospital, or joking around at a public performance. We see little glimpses here and there, and we feel like we can fill in the blanks between those glimpses, so that we get to the point where these celebrities no longer feel like strangers. They’re friends.

Will Smith seemed like a genuinely good person, from what I’d seen of him. He played funny characters in movies and on television. He always seemed to be more or less the same when we saw him. And yes, we all have bad days, but I’m not sure we all have “I got up on stage in front of millions of people and slapped someone because they insulted someone I love” days. I mean, I love Denisa, but I don’t think I have it in me to ever ever (ever) respond that way to someone making a joke at her expense. (Sorry, Denisa.)

People are talking about how they admire Smith for sticking up for his wife. At first, I tended to believe that as well. But the more I think about it, the less I accept that. There are so many other things he could have done. He could have stood up and left the room. He could have scowled at Chris Rock. He could have waited until he won his Oscar, and then told everyone how much he loves his wife, and how petty it was to make fun of someone because of a medical condition. (Or any other reason, honestly.)

Should Chris Rock have made the joke? I’d say no, but then again, he made it at the expense of a movie star. Someone who makes millions of dollars to be out there, for better or worse. It comes with the territory, sadly, and it’s not something Smith hadn’t encountered before. But none of that really matters, in terms of how Smith responded.

He might have always seemed like a good person, but the fact is, he’s now proven himself to be a person who’s ready to do exactly what he did. And then after the slap, when the Academy asked him to leave, he refused, apparently convinced he wasn’t the one at fault. (Or at least, the fault was on both parties.) And then he stood up and tearfully explained how he was trying to protect someone he loves. Then he got a standing ovation for it.

At the time, I felt sorry for him. My knee jerk reaction was to justify what he’d done, and I think that’s because (even though I try not to) I felt like I knew him. Will Smith wouldn’t do something like that unless it was very necessary. I don’t like Chris Rock (or at least, the persona he wears in public). So I wanted Rock to be wrong and Smith to be right. And because all of this happened in the setting of movie-land, it was perhaps a bit easier to justify what had happened. It’s the sort of thing that might happen in a film.

But what if that had happened in front of me? What if I were in the middle of a work meeting, and someone said something someone else disagreed with strongly, and that person stood up, marched over to the speaker, and slapped them? I have a hard time seeing how that would ever be acceptable.

If someone is attacking you first? Sure. Defend yourself. But to respond to insults with violence? No.

I’m not sure what the fallout for Smith will end up being. Since it’s Hollywood, probably not much. Mel Gibson still has acting roles, after all. Though then again, Smith did this against Hollywood itself in many ways, and that might be enough to make him a pariah. But one thing’s for sure: there are a whole lot of people who no longer view Will Smith as Mr. Nice Guy.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Where’s the Outrage?

I’m more than a little puzzled by the significant lack of any sort of real response on social media today. I woke up to the headlines of Russia rolling into Ukraine, and I’ve been reading the updates as the day has unfolded: attacks on sites across Ukraine, military coming in on three sides of the country, planes and helicopters being shot down, missile strikes being videoed.

A couple of my friends have posted something about these events on Facebook, but by and large my feed is filled with the same memes and chatter that they’re filled with every day. On the one hand, I’m not really expecting the world to stop these days whenever any one thing happens, but there’s a big difference between “unanimous outrage” and “a couple of mentions.” I remember when an event like the attacks in Paris caused everyone and their brother to change their profile picture to the French flag. Now a European country literally is invaded by another, and we’re talking about cat memes?

This isn’t to shame all the people who are posting anything other than outrage, but rather just to question what changed? My guess (and it’s only a guess) boils down to a few things:

  • General social media outrage fatigue. Since the election of 2020 and the events of COVID since then, people are just tired of saying anything at all of substance on Facebook. It’s easier to just ignore anything that might be remotely controversial.
  • There’s been a slow build up to the invasion. We’ve been hearing for weeks that Russia was likely going to do this, and now (surprise surprise) they actually did. So the shock is missing that comes with an attack out of the blue.
  • Americans just aren’t as familiar with/sympathetic to Ukraine. It was behind the Iron Curtain back in the day, and they don’t feel the same connection to it that they feel with more well known countries like Paris. (Speaking as the husband of a Slovak, which shares a border with Ukraine, I am anything but unconcerned about today’s invasion.)
  • People are somehow worried about causing a ruckus on Facebook. Yes, you’d think “invading a nation” would be something we can all agree is a bad thing. However, since just a day or two ago, some called Putin’s moves “genius” and “wonderful,” apparently that isn’t a unified sentiment, after all.

When I was growing up, I was fairly convinced we were going to have World War III in the not too distant future. I was worried about being drafted when it happened, and I was worried about nuclear strikes on America. So maybe this resonates with me more than it does with people who didn’t grow up in that environment? I really hope somehow this situation doesn’t deteriorate further, but I’m also not sure simple sanctions are going to do the trick. That’s what happened back with Crimea, and here we are with a worse situation on our hands.

I don’t know. I’m not an expert in geopolitics. All I know is I’m concerned, and I’m worried the seeming lack of concern being voiced by others will only make things worse. Hopefully I’m wrong.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking this PERFECT PLACE TO DIE Amazon link. It will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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