Category: current events

Unable to Kick a Gun Addiction

I have written extensively on guns and gun control. My opinions are well known to any long time reader. I am 100% in favor of stricter gun laws, and I continue to find it revolting and mind-boggling that after all of the shootings and massacres over the past few years, we have still done absolutely nothing to even try to find a solution. No laws. Sandy Hook happened, and we didn’t change a thing.

But nothing I have written against guns has amounted to jack squat, clearly, and I can’t pretend that another diatribe will do anything, either.

Instead, I’m trying my best to understand the people in this country who believe our right to own firearms is so sacred and holy that it must remain sacrosanct, even in the wake of the tragedies that continue to happen here. Yes, they have their talking points. Yes, I’ve heard them all. No, I don’t believe they hold any water at this point, but they clearly do.

So what’s something I hold dear, and that I wouldn’t want to give up? What if people kept killing other people with video game systems? What if it turned out every time someone turned on a video game, there was a chance someone in the world would drop dead? What if study after study found that in America, high video game use was translating into a huge spike in our mortality rate?

Yes, I realize it’s a silly theoretical. But would I be willing to give up video game systems on the chance that other people would stop dying so much? I’d like to think that I would. I would be okay with legislation restricting their purchase and use. I am okay limiting some of my rights if that might help solve a much bigger problem.

I get that my gun owning friends wonder why in the world they should need to give up their guns just because evil people elsewhere in the country are using other guns to do terrible, despicable acts. They haven’t killed anyone, and perhaps they’re worried about someone with a gun trying to kill them, and so they’ve decided the best solution is to have a gun of their own. Others just talk about how much they love shooting guns. Or how they come from a “gun family.”

Honestly, I’m done arguing the point. Until gun control laws are enacted and allowed to stay for a few decades, I’m unwilling to listen to arguments that “gun control laws won’t work.” I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it now: gun control is THE political issue I care most about at this point in this country. When I vote, I first look to see what a politician’s record is on gun control. I respect Susan Collins for much of what she’s done in the senate. She’s thinking about running for governor. I think she would likely make a great governor. She voted against stricter gun control laws right after Sandy Hook.

I will not vote for Susan Collins again. Not if she’s running against someone who favors stricter gun control.

I encourage everyone to support Everytown for Gun Safety and other organizations working against the insanity of the NRA, an organization which still hasn’t made a statement about the Vegas shootings. At the very least, guns that are designed to kill people in mass quantities should be outlawed.

The saddest thing for me is that, as with healthcare, I seriously doubt anything real will be done to try to address the problems facing our country. Our legislative bodies are doing nothing to help. They wring their hands about very real problems, and then proceed to ignore them.

“Addiction” seems to be a popular word these days. You can be addicted to any number of things. And in some ways, slapping that term on a person seems to allow the person an out. An excuse for abhorrent behavior. They had sex with a string of prostitutes because they were addicted to sex. They played video games for hours on end, losing their job, because they were addicted. They maxed out five credit cards’ worth of debt because they were addicted to shopping.

I’m not a medical expert. I don’t understand how addiction works, though I do believe it’s a real thing, and I believe there are definitely people who are addicted to sex, video games, shopping, and the like. Certainly there are people who end up ruining their lives by their behavior in those areas.

It seems to me, then, that the country is suffering from a gun addiction. And maybe we need a 12 step program to kick ourselves of the habit. The first step (I’m told) is to acknowledge we have a problem. Many of us in America have long since done this. Apparently we need even more to do so. Because until we can all agree that guns are a serious problem for us in this nation, we’re never going to get to a place where we can come up with solutions.

And I suppose that’s all I have to say about that for now.

Newsflash: Don’t Idolize People

I feel like this is a post that almost shouldn’t need to be written, and yet I see this come up time and time again in the news. Someone who a ton of people look up to and respect is discovered to be human, just like everybody else, and that person’s fans get really upset. Today it’s Joss Whedon, whose ex-wife wrote a post about how he had cheated on her repeatedly when they were married, and how she wanted people to know because it seemed like so many people thought he was a shining example of feminism.

I read the piece, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I definitely agree that people shouldn’t be hypocrites. On the other, I have this thing about idolizing people. Having anyone be “my hero.” Because in my experience, the one thing you can count on from anyone is that they will have faults. They will not be perfect. And I do believe you can strive for an ideal, even if you fall short of that ideal. I believe you shouldn’t have to go around constantly spouting disclaimers about yourself, as well.

When I do something stupid in my personal life, I occasionally blog about it. (Running my lawn tractor into my car would be the latest example.) But for the vast majority of the stupid things I do in my life (especially the recent ones), I don’t go public. Not because I want everyone out there to think I’m a perfect person who makes no mistakes, but because . . . I don’t particularly like highlighting the idiotic things I do and say.

So when people read my commentary and think, “Wow. Bryce said another cool thing I agree with,” that’s great. (Or maybe they roll their eyes and say, “There goes Bryce, spouting off again.” Who knows?) But just because I’ve taken a position publicly doesn’t mean I apply it perfectly. I don’t think anyone does. This is often one of the main arguments used against religion. “They don’t practice what they preach.” And I guess I can get it when someone is flagrantly hypocritical. When they’re condemning people for affairs, all while hiding their own. Or if they’re castigating people for tax fraud while they hide millions in off shore accounts.

So my first reaction was to disagree with the “Joss Whedon is a scumbag” sentiment that’s pervading many corners of the geekosphere at the moment. It’s not like he was out there yelling at other people who were having affairs, right? But as I thought more about it, I realized there’s a far cry between “slipped up” and “had a string of affairs for 15+ years.” That’s chronic. That’s habitual. And to do all of that while saying how much you respect women is much more than I initially gave it credence for. Some of his fan sites just shut down over this. Many are very disappointed that this man who they thought was a huge feminist . . . has some serious character flaws. And I can definitely see their point. But does it have to be binary? Are there two categories of people in the world: scumbag and not scumbag? And what do you have to do to be squarely in one category or the other?

Some have vowed to stop watching his movies and shows. This isn’t something I plan on doing. I’ve never really thought of him as this knight on a horse riding in to save the day. I believe Whedon has written strong female characters. Stronger than many Hollywood movies and television shows often portray. I think I can still enjoy those shows and movies and characters, even now that Whedon has been revealed to be a chronic adulterer. But I also love Woody Allen movies. I have a whole post about separating the art from the artist, and I still stand by that, four years later.

TLDR: Hearing about Whedon is disappointing, for sure. But it doesn’t make me any less of a Marvel, Buffy, or Firefly fan. I admire my favorite artists because of their art, not their personal lives, just as I’d hope people reading my books would like them for the writing, not because I’m a nice guy.

On Trump, “White Culture,” Mormonism, and Reality

I have a thousand different thoughts flying through my head right now, which probably explains why the subject of this post is so broad. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get them all down into a coherent blog entry, but I’m going to try. Wish me luck.

Right off, I want to express my extreme disappointment in Donald Trump. His news conference yesterday, in which he denounced “both sides” for the violence committed in Charlottesville, was a sign to me that the man has totally lost touch with reality. But to justify the statement I just made, I have to back up and talk about “reality.”

We like to think we can all come to an agreement on events that happened in recent history. In today’s cell phone culture, there’s typically video evidence of just about any event of significance. I saw first hand the incident where the car plowed through a street of people. I didn’t have to read someone’s description. I could click a link in YouTube and see it for myself. Likewise, there’s video evidence of the alt-right protesters. What they were dressed like. The flags they were carrying. The slogans they were chanting. There are interviews with some of their leaders, in which they outline their goals.

This is reality. There is no debating that these people said or did these things. I don’t have to wonder if they’re racist, because they helpfully talked about how Jews are ruining society, and how black people are destroying us all. How they want to make their ideology mainstream and accepted.

On the other side of this, there were people who showed up to protest the protesters. And there’s video evidence of them getting into physical violence against those protesters. Hitting them with sticks (and being hit back). Punching them. Macing them.

This is also reality. And if you listen to Donald Trump and some of the voices on the right, they would have you believe the anti-protesters are at the very least equally to blame for what happened. For events spiraling out of control. According to them, “the media” is just not reporting on all the violence caused by those on the left. So, researcher that I am, I took some time to delve into the filthier nooks of the alt-right to see just what their arguments were. To see what sort of video evidence they had of all these “terrible terrible things.” Could it be possible the media was just turning a blind eye to it all? Theoretically, yes.

But there’s no “there” there. The videos I’d already seen represented the totality of their “evidence.” People with sticks whacking and punching the other side, and the other side whacking right back. They would have you believe a bunch of anarchists, socialists, and communists showed up to battle. To pick a fight. Even in the videos they posted, all I saw was people enraged that neo-Nazis, the KKK, and blatant white supremacists were able to flaunt their beliefs in public. Yes, some of them showed up with helmets and sticks. Many of the alt-right showed up with guns and knives. (It’s amazing they didn’t shoot anyone, though some of them are already threatening that they will the next time it happens.)

Some have argued not all of the protesters were KKK members or neo-Nazis. They claim the media cherry picked video shots and pictures to make it seem like the group was far worse than it was. (I’ve even read some people claiming those KKK and neo-Nazis were actually LARPers (Live Action Role Players), which wins the award for most inventive excuse of the year thus far.) “Just because a few of the seedier people on the alt-right showed up doesn’t mean the rest of them were anything but earnest, concerned Americans who only wanted to exercise their free speech.”

Here’s the thing, folks. If you’re ever at a rally, and you look to your side and find a guy there literally waving a Nazi flag or wearing a white hood? Maybe it’s time to question what sort of a rally you’re attending. If the whole crowd starts chanting “Blood and Soil!” (the English equivalent of Blut und Boden, a Nazi rallying cry)? Same thing. If you’re against Nazis and the KKK, and you don’t want to be associated with them, you have a choice. Either leave that rally, or kick out the people dressed like that and chanting that. You can’t decide to let them stay and then claim you’re not affiliated with them.

There were two groups in Charlottesville. One of them was there to show support of white supremacy, nationalist ideals, racism, and bigotry, whether directly or indirectly by standing shoulder to shoulder with those bigots. The other group showed up to show their disgust of that ideology. Some of that group came planning to physically stop it with violence. Sure, you can debate whether violence was the right answer, but that debate doesn’t give a Get Out of Racism Free card to any of the folks on the alt-right. If it were up to me, no violence would have happened in Charlottesville, because I believe in free speech, and I believe violence just gives those on the alt-right the fodder they so desperately crave to try and prove their asinine point.

So now you’re wondering how in the world Mormons fit into all of this. For that, you’ll need a bit more background.

My church came out with a statement on Sunday in the wake of Charlottesville. I read it and thought it was a nice, fairly generic gesture. Racism, hatred, and intolerance are bad. Love and unity are good. Great. But then on Tuesday, they came out with an updated statement:

It has been called to our attention that there are some among the various pro-white and white supremacy communities who assert that the Church is neutral toward or in support of their views. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the New Testament, Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39). The Book of Mormon teaches “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).

White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a “white culture” or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.

I read that and had to wonder what in the world had precipitated it. What Mormon out there was actually trying to argue the church was secretly cool with white supremacy? Yes, Mormons have had a checkered past with racism, but neo-nazis? Anti-Semites? Whoever it was had to be pretty vocal to get that sort of a response from the church so quickly. And what’s up with this “white culture” thing? I get the white supremacy. But why single out that other phrase? What did it even mean?

So, researcher that I am, I did a little digging. It didn’t take more than one Google search to come across @apurposefulwife, a woman who used to be a vocal proponent of LDS women getting the priesthood, but has since decided she’s much more in favor of being a submissive wife and an ardent defender of (you guessed it) “white culture.” (I’m not going to link to her, because I don’t feel like giving her any more of a soapbox, but you can find her easily.)

She’d been slated to be one of the original speakers at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. She Tweets all about the importance of saving “white culture” from being destroyed by minorities. She’d been so happy with the church’s first statement, because she felt like it was a coded message that said she was right. And she was crushed by the second statement, which she now says is just a petty PR message that she doesn’t need to listen to. She has a full blog post up about why white culture is so awesome.

(Allow me to digress for a moment. White culture isn’t a thing. It’s putting a skin color in front of a heritage. This woman tries to conflate other cultures together. “There’s black culture and Asian culture and white culture. See?” But that’s now how culture works. There’s Irish culture. German culture. Chinese culture. Japanese culture. Somali culture, Ethiopian culture. And sure, you can try to jam those cultures together by race, but who does that? Racists. If you look at all those cultures and all you see is skin color? You’ve got problems. But this blog post is too long for me to go into detailed arguments about just how confused and wrong that line of thinking is.)

Where was I? Oh yes. Mormons and “white culture.”

I’m very happy my church spoke out so strongly against that woman and those of her ilk. I’m disappointed to see so many blatant racists still trying to hide in church doctrine, and I hope this sort of thing will shove them into the light, where they can either shrivel to nothing like the spiritual vampires they are, or come to an understanding of just how off base they’ve been.

But let’s bring this back to “reality.” Because I believe for people on the alt-right, they sincerely think their flavor of reality is the only one. They listen to news stories that confirm their prejudices. They ignore “fake news,” and they throw that label on anything that shocks their worldview. In many ways, they remind me of the dwarfs in CS Lewis’ The Last Battle. They’re a group of people so convinced of how right they are that they are unable to break through those beliefs, no matter what evidence is placed before them.

Which is just where Trump is. When he spoke at his news conference yesterday, you could tell exactly what news sources he had been reading and paying attention to. He’s a perfect example of the end result of that line of thinking, and he has become a literal Nazi sympathizer. And if you’re reading this and thinking I’m wrong to call him that, then you’re a Nazi sympathizer too. You can try to disavow the Nazis who showed up to that rally, but no one at that rally did. Which means they were all cool with the Nazis being there. Which is what “Nazi sympathizer” means. And if you’re defending them, then you’re sympathizing with sympathizers. Do the math. And if you’re not defending them, and you still support Trump, then ask yourself what in the world he’s thinking.

When a bunch of racist scum online is singing the praises of a US President’s news conference, what does that say about the news conference?

Because being a Nazi isn’t just about wearing the uniform and sieging the heil. It’s sitting back and being content to use those people in their uniforms to get the things done you want to do. Regardless of what other consequences using them may have. There is only one responsible choice when a Nazi shows up at your party, wanting to keep being a Nazi and still play along with you. Show them the door.

And now I’m officially out of lunch break time, so that’s all I’ve got to say today. Comments are welcome, but keep them civil.

Nazis are Bad

I watched videos of the event at Charlottesville over the weekend. Seeing a car plow through people, with bodies flying left and right and pedestrians running in terror. It was horrific. I’ve been trying to come up with an adequate response to it, and I’m just left speechless. How in the world is it difficult to say “I abhor white supremacy”?

On November 15, 2015, Trump Tweeted: “When will President Obama issue the words RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM? He can’t say it, and unless he will, the problem will not be solved!”

Well, if words are so important, when will President Trump issue the words WHITE SUPREMACY? He can’t say it, and unless he will, the problem will not be solved!

Though of course I realize that simply acknowledging the white supremacy movement is real and evil won’t magically make it go away. But I do wish I lived in a nation where the cockroaches of society felt the need to scurry to the shadows and hide, rather than one where they feel like they can make themselves comfortable and maybe check the fridge for tasty leftovers.

It continues to astound me that a man who prides himself on being brash and the antithesis of political correctness suddenly becomes this person who has to weigh his words oh-so-carefully and be sure to analyze all the sides of a complex problem as soon as someone asks him “Are white supremacists bad?”

There are many evils in the world. There are people who do awful, terrible things for all manner of reasons. Conservatives and liberals. But I’d always just sort of assumed we could all agree on some basic tenets. Tenets like “Nazis are bad” and “Hitler was not a good person.” And that we could agree on those tenets without feeling the need to throw in any qualifying statements.

I guess we’re not there yet. A guy can keep dreaming, though.

A Few Remarks on Immigration

I’ve been writing lots of long posts the last few days, and I’m about long-posted out. But then I come across news stories like this one, detailing how Trump and other Republicans are pushing for a bill to drastically cut back on legal immigration to this country. In a nutshell, the plan is to put up some requirements to allow someone to come to this country on a path to citizenship. They’d be rated for their job skills, ability to speak English, and their level of education. The importance of family ties to current citizens (something which is now a big avenue to citizenship) would be reduced.

This morning on my way into work, I listened to the senator sponsoring the bill talk about why it was important. America, he claimed, had too many low educated immigrants flooding into the country, taking jobs from hard working lower class citizens and driving wages down for everyone. So they’re hoping to cut the flow of immigrants in half, and ensure the ones coming into the country are educated, English speakers who will, essentially, add to the country instead of take away from it. Be an asset instead of a liability.

Honestly, I find such rhetoric disgusting, and it’s being used consistently by Trump and his minions to try and demonize immigrants the same way it’s been used by despots in the past. It plays upon the need to target someone different than most people and blame that someone (or someones) for as many problems facing voters as possible. Some politicians would have you believe immigrants were the main cause of unemployment, crime, our failing health care system, and more. That “America” would be so great if not for all “those people” holding it back.

The sad thing is, the rhetoric works. It works because people don’t personally know many immigrants. (Or if they do, they don’t recognize that they do.) Instead, they listen to politicians who describe “those people:” they speak no English. Came here illegally. Deal drugs. Corrupt “our children.” Pay no taxes. Leech off the system. You could play “immigrant hate BINGO” during these speeches. And because people don’t know immigrants well, they believe the speeches. After all, isn’t it easier to think all your problems are someone else’s fault? Isn’t more attractive to think you’d be doing swell if it weren’t for that group of people who has taken the job you could have had? It’s not your fault. It’s theirs.

But I have had many conversations with actual immigrants. Immigrants who are trying to learn English. Immigrants who are fluent. Immigrants with great jobs. Immigrants with jobs that hardly pay anything, They come here for a plethora of reasons. Each has his or her own story. But one thing I noticed in all my dealings with immigrants?

They’re hard workers. They’ve struggled and fought to do something that is far from easy. Come to another country, learn its ways, and try to succeed? That’s tough stuff. I remember speaking to one man who had come to the US from South America. At home, he had been a doctor. Here, he was a janitor. He wasn’t planning on staying a janitor, though. He was learning English so he could help his family establish themselves here. Why did he move? Because he thought he could make a better life for his family in America. The same reason most people came here from overseas a century or two or three ago.

Almost all of us are descended from immigrants these days. It’s just our ancestors got here before people turned off the Vacancy sign. Some would have us believe that our ancestors came here for “the right” reasons. That the immigrants in the 1800′s were somehow different or better than the immigrants of today. Don’t fall for that trap. Don’t let small minded people stop this country from being the beacon of hope it’s been since its founding.

One of the biggest lessons to me about immigration and the Other came while I was a missionary in Germany. For two years, I was the Other. I struggled to speak fluently at first. I felt like an idiot. I was still the same person I’d been before I went to Germany, but that language barrier was real. It made me easier to look down on. Easier to dismiss. Once I had the language mastered, it all became so much easier. I don’t dismiss people because they can’t speak English, because I know your language has no real bearing on who you are as a person.

The next time you hear someone on TV blithely blaming your problems on an entire group, recognize that for what it is. Garbage. We made our own problems, thank you very much. We’re the ones who need to fix them. And we won’t fix them by turning away the motivated, hard working people ready to come here and pitch in. Not because they want to mooch off our system, but because they want to be part of us. They want to contribute. And just because they don’t speak English or have a degree today doesn’t mean they won’t be fluent and well-educated tomorrow.

I hope this legislation is stopped in its tracks.

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