Thom on January 30th, 2015

Well, this is pretty darn cool! What can’t they do with this technology?

Thom on January 30th, 2015

The leadership of my church recently re-iterated a call to balance social change with religious freedom. Not unexpectedly, they met with criticism. It’s pretty much a given that you’re going to tick off someone these days, no matter what you do or say. After all, a recent poll supposedly found that 82% of those surveyed would prefer a meteor hitting the stadium during the Super Bowl over either of the competing teams winning. (I could write an entire post about that, mind you.) We are in an era where the more gray things become the more some people try to deal in absolutes. The goal is increasingly becoming not to avoid offending anyone, but to offend only the right people.

As I said, the Church’s stance drew criticism–from both sides. A few of the Church’s apostles met with the media to further clarify and address the issue.

LDS leaders knew they wouldn’t satisfy everyone when they held a news conference Tuesday to call for fairness for both LGBT people and religious people.

So criticism from both ends of the spectrum didn’t surprise Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But people who prefer all-or-nothing solutions on either side are avoiding the hard work of balancing LGBT and religious rights, they said Thursday in a visit with the Deseret News.

Elder Oaks and Elder Christofferson said LDS Church leaders will be disappointed if their proposal for laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination while safeguarding religious rights doesn’t influence the national debate.

While they expressed gratitude for people on both sides who responded favorably, they said the criticism is a sign they got it right, and that their position is needed.

I especially agree with the third paragraph. Calls for all-or-nothing solutions are not only lazy, but intellectually weak. It demonstrates the lack of serious thought and a definite lack of imagination. If you cannot conceive of situations that would challenge any all-inclusive law, you’re not really trying. An example given in the article is in the realm of housing and discrimination. Certainly in most normal situations there’s no reason why a landlord would deny housing based on sexual preference. But consider the situation of a widow renting out rooms within her home. Should the same laws apply there, or should she have some say over what behaviors she will allow in her own house?

I see nothing wrong with calling for people in good faith to come together to see if we can’t work out a better way of living together. I hope that’s something we can do. Those who want to paint either side with a single brush are intellectually dishonest, and not the sort of prejudiced people we want directing the national debate. As Elder Christofferson said:

“In general, the idea of saying ‘this is just a license to discriminate’ or ‘you’re seeking a license to discriminate’ is a way of avoiding the hard work of finding a way to balance competing values that are both critically important. Frankly, what we’re saying is, we gotta do the hard work. We can’t just throw out a slogan and get away with that. It’s not good enough.”

And yes, that goes both ways. We also can’t sit back and claim that any gain by the LGBT community is just an effort to stamp out religious freedom. In response to criticisms by a columnist in the New York Times, claiming that the Church’s position is just an effort to gain legal permission to discriminate against gays, Elder Oaks had this to say:

“When I heard that I can tell you my reaction,” Elder Oaks said. “I thought, well that illustrates how much we need to have people educated about the principles we are teaching of fairness and balance, because that’s a very unbalanced statement.

“I would be ashamed to make a comparable statement saying that nondiscrimination is just trying to wipe out religious freedom,” he added. “That would be the equivalent. I’d be ashamed to make that kind of a statement, and I’m sorry that a responsible voice in the New York Times made it. I’m hopeful that he’ll see that’s not our motivation and that’s not the intended effect of what we’re doing.”

We don’t need more extremists on either side of the debate. What we need are people willing to come together and work out the details. There is nothing wrong with compromise. What far too few realize is that by allowing for compromise now you may very well be protecting your own future, too. The laws that give you what you want today may just as easily be subverted by someone else to take away from you tomorrow. I know it’s hard to see that, as we all love to think “Oh, that’ll never happen,” but as social taboos continue to fall, our society will continue to accept behaviors that they used to see as unacceptable. Surely there will be behaviors gaining acceptance in the future that homosexuals will see as offensive and something they wouldn’t want to have to allow in their home just because they’re renting out a room and are legally obligated not to discriminate. Set the laws too severely in one direction and you may later find yourself on the wrong side of that same law someday.

And this, too, goes both ways. Religious freedom should not trump all, either. The dangers of that should be quite apparent in the Muslim nations of the Middle East. Compared to the goals of the LGBT community here in America and the goals of the theocracies of the Muslim world, I and my Church stand far, far more closely aligned with the LGBT community than we do the Muslim theocracies. And, in many ways, we stand apart from many of the conservative and religious leaders here in liberal America:

Some conservatives and faith leaders worry the LDS Church proposal would open the door to anti-discrimination laws that could hurt religious believers.

“That’s very much like taking a position that religious freedom is an absolute and there are no exceptions,” Elder Oaks said, “and it should override in any and all circumstances the values of nondiscrimination. We don’t believe in that extreme, any more than we believe in the extreme voiced by the New York Times.”

The free exercise of religion is critical to Latter-day Saints, but they recognize exceptions for things like safety and public health, he said.

“There’s great danger in thinking religious freedom is abolute and overrides everything about nondiscrimination,” Elder Oaks said. “And there is great danger in thinking nondiscrimination in absolute and overrides religious freedom.”

One should also not equate the Church and its stand with the example set by some of its members who engage in politics. As a recent Utah transplant I find myself regularly alarmed by political positions espoused by some of the members of the church that exceed the Church’s own statements on the matter. As mentioned before, this was not the first time the Church has made statements in favor of non-discrimination in public interactions, and yet several bills to accomplish just that have encountered opposition in the political process. There are extremists in every group. I acknowledge that, and I’m embarrassed and alarmed by those who adhere to “my camp”. Whenever given the opportunity I vote against them.

Just this morning on the way to work I listened to a recent talk given by Elder Oaks in our recent General Conference. He emphasized that while we as members of our religion have an obligation to vote our consciences on political matters when given the opportunity, he very clearly stated that when the majority will goes against us we have a civic and moral duty to continue to be kind and patient with those who disagree with us. We are still expected to work with them on issues where we can agree. Some battles we will lose–and have lost–but that shouldn’t mean we refuse to work together in the future on issue of common interest and in smoothing relations between us and working out the rough spots where rights sometimes collide.

The extremists in both camps would have us believe that these issues are insurmountable, that either they win and we lose, or we win and they lose. That way lies madness, and lays the groundwork for forces that bear both sides ill will to divide and conquer. If you think that whether or not someone can refuse to bake a wedding cake is a critical issue, just imagine how difficult life would be if those who think gays should be publicly executed should gain control. And they are trying to.

When that day comes I would prefer to be able to fight shoulder to shoulder with my LGBT friends and allies in defending our right to quibble over who gets grandma’s spare room than fight alone against those who would execute us both for who we are. It would be absolutely foolish if we all lost everything we hold dear just because we were still fighting over relatively small things that could have been worked out.

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Thom on January 29th, 2015

I’m still here. It’s been a crazy week with no sign of letting up any time soon. So I give you “Starvation” by Thomas Bergersen, which evokes for me the image of rampaging hoards. And, as with most things, some days you’re the rampager, some days the rampaged. Stay strong, do good work, and may your children all be above average.

If you’d prefer something a little more relaxing, there’s always this:

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Thom on January 26th, 2015

Anyone who reads me regularly should probably know by now that I’m something of a luddite. I don’t trust technology, and I don’t invest heavily in it, which is a bit odd considering I make a living from IT. I should be the guy with all the gadgets, right?

Well, I’m not. One minor exception (and I’m still behind the times) is audiobooks. Since my commute take 30+ minutes each way, I find it’s a good time to fill my head with something more positive than endless news cycles or pop music. So I’ve been listening to books while I drive.

And then the unthinkable happened. My book broke.

Last Friday when I went to get in my car to go to work my mp3 player wouldn’t even turn on. It didn’t just give me a “low battery” warning (I have a USB charger in my car, so I could have gotten around that). It was dead. I checked it out some more when I got to work. It wouldn’t even register as a device on my computer when I plugged in the USB cable. It was a completely inert chunk of plastic and metal. And I was only about a third of the way into my latest book.

Vindication should feel better than this. I love physical books, and this is why. I’ve never once picked up a book and found it to be completely inoperable. Warped pages, yes, but never has the cover refused to open or the pages refuse to turn. It just doesn’t happen.

And so I’ve been unable to continue my book. I could have checked out a copy from the library this weekend, but that doesn’t help my commute. I tried using my other mp3 player, but it’s not Audible compatible. It refused to recognize the file type. There was no way I would be finishing this book unless I got a new, compatible player.

Interestingly enough, the book I’ve been listening to is “American Gods”. I wonder if someone is trying to tell me something.

This morning I came in to work, and there was my dead mp3 player sitting on my desk. It being dead, I didn’t even bother to take it home or attempt to secure it at all. On a whim I tried to turn it on again. Nothing. I whacked it against my palm and tried again. It turned on. It’s back. Evidently it just needed percussive maintenance.

Books should not require percussive maintenance. They should perhaps be a means of implementing percussive maintenance. I’m just sayin’.

Thom on January 23rd, 2015

Looking back, it seems like I’ve been a bit negative this week. That may have been a by-product of some heavy pressure at work. One of our team is in the Army Reserve, and is being mobilized to go to Africa to assist in the Ebola fight over there. I’ve been assigned to drop what I’ve been doing and take up his workload, and we’ve had about two weeks to make the transition.

I certainly don’t mind, and I completely understand. I support our military, and I support sending them out to help relieve some of the suffering in the world. And this guy is a good guy. I appreciate his sacrifice. He’ll be away from his family for nine months, and he’ll have to miss his daughter’s high school graduation, among everything else. Staying here and picking up his work certainly seems the least I can do.

But that said, picking up his work has been stressful. It’s an entirely different part of the system we support, and my contact with it has been minimal thus far. There’s a lot of complexity, and a lot of messy edges. It’s not enough to just be able to do his work. There’s a lot of deeper understanding needed to be able to re-create his work. I began the two week countdown feeling like the fairy tale girl placed in a room full of straw and ordered to spin it into gold.

Fortunately I now feel like a farm girl placed in a room full of wool and told to spin it into thread. I understand the process involved, but I don’t have much experience with actually doing it yet. That will come. Unfortunately, it will come under fire. Our system roll-out continues apace, and they’re not going to slow down for li’l ol’ me. So yeah, even though I’m feeling okay about all of this, I’m still a little more stressed than usual.

But soon it’s the weekend! And so I leave you with, hopefully, a few things to make you smile.

Like the latest NFL Bad Lip Reading!

And a little Dr. Who parody:

Of Studio C’s “Breaking Bad” parody:

“I divided by zero.”

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Thom on January 22nd, 2015

No wonder my daughter is freaking out about high school. It’s not high school itself that’s got her worried. It’s how her choices in high school will impact her ability to go to college. They started early on this school year pounding it into her and her fellow eight-graders that everything they do from here on will determine where she can go to college and whether or not she’ll be able to afford it. In typical teen fashion she’s been taking this to mean “one slip-up and you’re through.”

But I didn’t really understand just how heavily this message is getting pounded into them until last night. I accompanied her to a meeting at the high school discussing options for advanced academics. When I was in high school they had a handful of honors courses you could take, and three or four AP subjects you could for college credit. Today her high school is offering around 40 AP-focused classes, and around a dozen classes that can be taken for both high school and college credit.

This was all prefaced by a presentation where they presented statistics about how much better AP students do in college than regular students (I wasn’t entirely impressed. Sure, AP students average a 3.3 GPA, as opposed to a 2.5 GPA for regular students, but if they care enough about their education to take AP classes they’d likely be focused, motivated students that would get a 3.3 GPA even if they skipped the AP classes.) I could feel my daughter’s blood-pressure rise as she took this all in. “Take AP classes or you’ll fail college!” was the message I think she heard.

The other message I heard was that AP and CE (Concurrent Education, ie. the classes for both college and high school credit) classes save you money. This is undoubtedly true. The ability to pass some college classes before even going to college will reduce your tuition, certainly. But there, too, they’re mostly succeeding in convincing my daughter that she needs to start working a part time job at age fourteen to get enough money for college. Yikes! While I commend her for her dedication, I’d hate to see her have no fun at all for the next four years just so she can go to college and no longer remember how to have fun.

If her experience is typical, it’s no wonder kids go to college and lose their minds, getting involved in all sorts of stupid things. The focus seems to be on “cloister yourself now to ensure college success later” while totally forgetting that once you get to college you still need to perform. Eight years of high-intensity schooling just for a bachelors during a time in their lives when kids are still figuring out who they are can’t be healthy. It’s bound to lead to high-intensity partying just to keep from going totally bonkers.

And, assuming they make it that far, they still face a high rate of unemployment upon graduation, while facing mounds of student loan debt. I think we’re about to create a new “lost generation”.

On the way home I had a talk with my daughter and tried to reassure her we’re not expecting her to work herself to the bone during high school, and that we’ll find a way to help her get through college. I would hate to see her have no fun, have no further chances to explore and discover herself, because she’s so stressed out about getting into college. Being a kid is tough enough. We don’t have to go out of our way to make it worse.

Thom on January 21st, 2015

What relevance does the State of the Union Address have any more? It’s just more political theater in which everyone cheers for their guy and (mostly) resists booing the others’ guy. It’s a chance to see how good a president is at telling lies with a straight face as they take credit for everything good that’s happened and distance themselves from, or blame the other side for, everything bad. It’s just another piece of performance art to convince us our politicians are really, really trying hard to make things better, while all the while they intend to start in again the next day doing the same old things.

I’m beginning to understand now why my dad always yelled at the TV set.

I always love the carefully-worded statements implying how “I’m in favor of warm hugs, puppies, and cocoa before bedtime, and if it were up to me we’d all have those, but my opposition keep getting in the way because they obviously hate puppies, hugs, and cocoa! It’s as if they’re totally oblivious–or rather expect us to be totally oblivious–to the fact that the trouble is not necessarily that the sides disagree over the result, but rather disagree over the means of getting to that result. Seriously, do they really expect us to believe that the other party is opposed to a strong economy?

In short, the SotU Address is the yearly event in which our political class attempts to get away with calling us stupid to our faces. They bury us in red tape and tell us its a ticker-tape parade in our honor.

For all the hype, the feel-good lines, and the vague, glowy promises, the only truth that came out last night was when President Obama stated that he isn’t running for office any more and a bunch of Republicans applauded. Obama fired back with something like, “I don’t need to, because I won twice.”

In spite of all the words, this moment revealed the truth about what is going to happen when they all get back to work today: more of the same sniping, name-calling, and childish behavior. I was embarrassed for both sides. That was low-class all the way, both the Republicans who started it and the President for refusing to rise above it. It’s a prime example of why Americans have a low opinion of both the President and the Congress. You could lower them all into a shark tank and they’d spend their last minutes arguing over which side most resembled the sharks and whose blood would be more American.

Is it any wonder why most Americans would probably support that a possible, or at least entertaining, solution?


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Thom on January 20th, 2015

It’s no secret that Disney is hard on parents. To be a Disney protagonist you have to have lost one or both of your parents, and chances if you still have one of them alive they will be clueless and largely uninvolved in your life.

Now, I realize that this is as much a simplification made neccessary by the medium as anything; do you really need two parents in a cartoon when every character you include takes dozens of people to include? Not if one will do. The same goes for plot. Do you really need two parents interfering with the protagonists destiny? Not really. And we can’t have them too “with it”, either, or their heroic offspring would be locked in their room instead of out having death-defying adventures and generally saving the world.

I’m bringing this up because last night our family watched Disney’s “Tarzan” for the first time. Only two out of six parents survive the movie. One of the dead was a “blocking figure” father who  provided the larger arc of Tarzan’s story: getting his “father” to accept him. And of course we can’t have him just accept him, it has to be on his death-bed. The on father that survived was of the largely-clueless and impotent variety who largely served as an excuse for Jane to be out in the jungle in the first place, and to give her permission to shack up with jungle-boy at the end. Jane’s mother was dead before the story even opens, and Tarzan’s birth parents were dead mere minutes into the movie.

I may be alone in this, but I really would have liked to have known more about Tarzan’s parents. How did they come to be on that ship? What happened to that ship in the first place? Who were they that they were able to build such a phenomenal house in such a short time?  (I realize Disney takes liberties here.) His mother was perhaps the loveliest character ever drawn by Disney, if you ask me–and I’m a guy who fell hard for Belle. His father seems like the ultimate man–even from what little we saw of him it seems highly unlikely a jaguar could have taken him down.

They both deserved so much better than the Disney standard “death and dismemberment” program. Theirs was a story I would have liked to have known–and have had turn out differently.


Thom on January 19th, 2015

Okay, we’ve become accustomed to Hollywood crowding themselves into their risk-averse corner and producing mainly remakes, reboots, and movies from popular novels. But evidently TV, which in recent years has been the only place left to go for original, risk-taking entertainment, is beginning to follow suit. Fox has revealed plans to create a ’24’ continuation (sans Kiefer) and revival/reboots of ‘X-files’ and ‘Prison Break’.

No wonder I don’t have time for TV or movies any more. It’s an investment of time I can’t afford to make when when they really just want to show me the same old same old, re-prettified and updated for “modern sensibilities”, ie. sexed-up and explosion-packed.

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Thom on January 16th, 2015

Something I read recently mentioned the movie “Gone Girl”, which I knew nothing about. So I looked it up in Wikipedia, which is a great tool for finding out the plots of movies without ever having to waste my time watching them. Often there will be a section about the movie’s critical response. I was a bit surprised to find that this movie was pilloried by some groups as being anti-feminist, among other things. Based on the synopsis I read, if you could really say the movie was “anti” anything, it was anti-crazy-people.

But clearly we aren’t allowed to watch a movie as just a movie. Every movie is Important, and cannot be taken as just a small, personal story, but as representative of something larger and broader. Amy in “Gone Girl”, evidently, can’t just be Amy, who goes a little crazy, she’s supposed to be taken as Everywoman, and therefore anything negative she does is a slam against women and a sign of the writer/director’s misogyny.

Strange, but every time some group or another complains about the levels of sex or violence in a film many of the same people are quick to claim “Hey, it’s just a movie! It’s not meant to be viewed as anything but itself!”

Now, I’ve always thought that most human beings are able to tell truth from fiction and know that just because something happens in a movie doesn’t mean that it’s the same way in real life in every circumstance. I thought nearly everyone can figure out that just because Amy framed her husband as being abusive doesn’t mean that every woman who claims she’s been abused is lying. I was under the impression that people were able to evaluate situations on a case-by-case basis. Silly me.

Clearly, I’m behind the times and need to adjust my thinking yet again. So just to be clear:

  • Sex in movies: Good
  • Graphic violence in movies: Good
  • Negative depictions of men: Good
  • Negative depictions of women: Bad
  • Decent plots in movies: Optional (so long as there is sex and/or violence and/or explosions)
  • Critical thinking about movies: Unnecessary (You will be told what to think)

And people wonder why I don’t watch many movies.