Sunday, May 8, 2016

On a Hard Day

Today was a hard day.

Mother's Day is hard not because of my mother or my mother-in-law. They are both fun, strong, sweet women and I'm lucky to have them.

No, what makes today hard for me personally is the celebration of the status quo.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

We Are Not Alone: Eliza R. Snow and Women's Shared Trauma

Today's guest post comes to you from Eliza N. She is an editor who lives and works in Salt Lake City. She grew up in the Midwest and misses the cornfields. When she's not working, reading, or watching Netflix, she enjoys running, playing volleyball, and hanging out with her dog.

Ed. Note: Trigger warning for discussion of rape.

I have some things to say.

Last week I attended the Church History Symposium co-hosted by the Church History Department and BYU's Religious Studies Center. I attended Dr. Andrea Radke-Moss's presentation that has been quite the talk over the weekend in the Mormon Studies world because of new information that she presented identifying Eliza R. Snow as a victim of rape in Missouri during the persecution of the Mormons there in 1838. Her write-up at the Juvenile Instructor as well as this one at By Common Consent by my friend Kristine A. give excellent overviews of Dr. Radke-Moss’s presentation and explanations of her sources and reasoning.

Since Thursday, there’s been plenty of pushback in the comment sections of pretty much every article and post that’s discussed the bombshell regarding the validity and credibility of Dr. Radke-Moss’s source, the validity of her conclusions, and whether or not this information should have been revealed. Dr. Radke-Moss handily rebuts this criticism in her JI post, but here are my thoughts about her presentation and some of the pushback I have seen.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Evaluating the Republican Presidential Candidates Once Again (aka Cruzin' to the Trumpocalypse)

A while back I introduced an exhaustive yet succinct graphical representation of the Republican presidential field. Well, a lot has happened since that requires an update, including the implosion of Scott Walker, the rise and fall of Ben Carson, the surprising ineptitude of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie still hanging around for some reason, Marco Rubio doing who the hell knows what, and the emerging battle between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump [shudder] I need a shower here's the chart:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

You Have Two Big Strong Hands That (Surprise!) You Have Control Over

A friend of the blog since before she was born, today's contributor Madelyn is Brooke’s baby sister. Madelyn is in her second year of college and spends most of her time working and singing in her institute choir.

My great-great-grandmother, Bertha A. Kleinman, wrote the adorable children's song "I Have Two Little Hands." I grew up being fond of the sweet tune and clever words. This morning, my father, the great-grandson of Bertha A. Kleinman, sent this photo to me and my sister.

It is a shot of a slide shown in a seminary class. He expressed disgust with this desecration of the song, and I'm going to express my own feelings here. In case you can't read the image, the twisted version of our family's favorite primary song reads:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Rejected Millennial Star Posts

Regular readers may be surprised to learn this, but Expert Textperts is not the only blog that occasionally touches on Mormon topics. In fact, in spite of blogging losing the "cool" factor it used to have, there are still dozens, nay, tens of dozens of blogs about Mormon stuff.

One such blog is called Millennial Star, best known in certain circles for its..shall we say... selective...commenting policy. It's also an online home of proudly rigid orthodox and conservative Mormon thought (FINALLY), although for some reason that doesn't extend to reviving discredited RLDS apologetics...but I digress. The more perspectives the merrier, says I!

This guy's view is a valid as anyone's.

What you might not know is that M*, as it's colloquially known, actually rejected me as a permablogger, for personal reasons (specifically, that they technically don't know who I am and I think I misspelled my email on the application). Still, I had a lot of great topics to pitch them, so as a service I now offer them to the world.

You're welcome.

Monday, January 11, 2016

We're Starting a Movie Blog! (Plus a Few Thoughts on the Future of Expert Textperts)

Many readers are probably aware that the two most frequent and arguably best looking contributors to this blog, me and Brooke, are actually married. To each other! And, like many human people, we like to watch movies. This year we set a goal of increasing our familiarity with film history by watching more classic movies, using Roger Ebert's Great Movies list as a reference. Thus, we thought it would be fun to combine all these elements into a new project, Brooke and Casey at the Movies.

We've written about film a few times here, notably back in 2013 when we recapped the Oscar best picture slate, but we wanted to do something more narrowly-focused and conversational than Expert Textperts has generally been. Rather than traditional reviews or essays, we'll be posting lightly-edited chat recaps about once or twice a week as we work through Ebert's list (or any other movie we choose), hopefully with insight and sensible amounts of humor. Here's a sneak preview:

Monday, January 4, 2016

Calling White Militias "Terrorists" Will Only Hurt Marginalized Groups

On January 2, a group of up to 150 western ranchers and militiamen, led by a member of the Bundy clan (the uncomfortably Mormon family that initiated 2014's standoff with government troops in Nevada), occupied a government building in Oregon to protest what they view as the loss of "the people's constitutional rights," which at its core boils down to a dispute over a western brand of libertarian ideology and federal land management policy. Nobody has been hurt yet, but the heavily armed ranchers seem to be settling in for the long haul, and I don't think any responsible person can guess how things will play out.

The social media response, however, has unfolded in predictable and often dispiriting ways. Obviously, right-wing cheerleading of the militias is often ignorant and distasteful, but I want to talk about responses from the left, since that's where I and most of my social circle come from. In particular, I want to address a damaging trend that I believe can only backfire and hurt the people it means to support. I'm talking about people condemning the militias as "terrorists" and contrasting the restrained government response to violent mistreatment faced by black and Muslim Americans. You probably know exactly what I'm talking about:

You can find various permutations of the same themes all over the place. At one level, these critiques are obviously true: America is a racist nation, and were the occupiers black or Muslim activists I have no doubt the reaction would be alarmist and possibly violent. We’d have round-the-clock media coverage of the standoff, with Very Serious pundits and politicians wondering with furrowed brows how to stem the rise of radicalism in marginalized communities. We'd have calls for Mosque surveillance and travel restrictions, or we’d be hearing about the Black Panthers, armed thugs, and the Ferguson Effect. Things have gotten out of hand, we'd be told, and These People need to be dealt with.

Given this reality, isn’t it fair that white militias get painted with the same brush? Isn't it obviously true that they're using violence and intimidation for political purposes? Isn't that exactly what terrorism is?

My response is: have you been asleep for the last fifteen years!? Have you not seen the consequences of the War on Terror?  We know that terrorism has been used to justify extraordinary, extralegal government authority. We know what the national security state has brought us: ubiquitous government spying. Militarized policing. Crackdowns on nonviolent protests. Furthermore we know who ends up feeling the consequences most severely: marginalized groups, labor organizers, left-wing activists, nonviolent drug users, and so on. Not to mention the millions of deaths and displacements our global fight against terrorism has caused. In most cases, the victims are black and brown. Does anyone really think labeling a few fringe white guys "terrorists" will alter any racist fundamentals in our society?

The War on Terror and its consequences

I think people on the left would generally agree that America’s response to terrorism has been varying degrees of disastrous. Many could offer offer nuanced takes on how overapplication of the "terrorist" label in the Middle East escalates violence and radicalizes populations. They might also be aware that police use anti-terror legislation to crack down on drug users, dissidents, and protestors.

But when it comes to these militias, what am I hearing? They're terrorists! Drone strike them! Set the National Guard on them! Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if my ideological cohorts actually want this or if they're just making a rhetorical point, but the effect is generally to justify the language and policies of the national security state. It becomes a call to fight injustice by spreading injustice, adding wrong upon wrong in hopes that somehow it will make a right. Then there's the fact that a violent confrontation is exactly what these militias want, and that cycles of violence and radicalization apply at home as much as abroad. But why worry about that when there's a great zinger to deliver?

The reality is, the word “terrorist” is not some benign label from the dictionary. It’s an ideological category, used by the state to justify massive invasions of privacy and aggressive, militarized violence. This should be reason enough to create suspicion, let alone the knowledge that most of the violence will ultimately fall on the marginalized and powerless.

Let's suppose that these militiamen are terrorists and not common criminals, which implies that the state should use extraordinary means to surveil and stop them. What happens next time? What if a union bars entry to a work site and stages a sit-in? Or if black activists protest at a police station? Or Muslim clerics denounce Israeli violence in Palestine? What if students illegally download a few movies in violation of a cybersecurity law? But those are different, you protest! And you're correct, they are different. Do you think the state, which has assumed ever-increasing power to fight terrorism, will care? It has already treated hackers, environmentalists, Occupy Wall Street, and #BlackLivesMatter as terrorists. Maybe you trust the Obama administration to do the right thing. Do you trust the next Republican president with the same kind of authority?

How about this guy?

I hope I've made the case that calling people “terrorists” has consequences beyond the desire for ideological point-scoring. To respond to the meme at the beginning of this post, the proper argument is not that the national card should be called out against these militias, but that it should not have been called out in Ferguson and Baltimore. Maybe the people sharing it feel that way, but that's not at all clear based on the language they're using.

So what should liberals be arguing? Certainly, these people in Oregon shouldn’t be allowed to get away with anything. Whatever laws they’re breaking—trespassing, intimidation, assault—should be tried in the courts after this situation is diffused as peacefully as possible, and the state should not be the party that initiates any violence. It might be a long and unsatisfying process. Just remember, the apparatus of anti-terrorism, like the forces it claims to fight, disdains peace and courts by its very nature. Is that what we want?

Liberals ought to push back hard against the national security state, whether it's perpetuated by Democrats or Republicans. We should be aware of anti-terror policies and hold politicians accountable for their bad effects. And we should continue to be outraged that state violence disproportionately affects minority communities. As we've learned, the rule of law means little when police can kill innocent people without consequence.

Pointing out hypocrisy in sarcastic or self-satisfied Facebook posts might be cathartic (God knows I do it plenty myself), but it's not helpful when its ultimate effect is to validate the Dick Cheneys of the world. There are violent, reactionary forces in American society, forces that propagate racist, and colonialist policies in the name of protection and order. Let’s not fight them by giving them the rope they’ll use to hang us.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Toys are from Mars, Women are from Venus

The internet is buzzing about the newest Star Wars movie. Don't worry, I promise I won't reveal anything plot-wise in this post, so all I'll say is that I liked it and it fits solidly into the greater universe while introducing fascinating new characters.

One of these new characters is Rey. You've undoubtedly already seen her in the trailer and floating around a lot of the promotional materials, including this poster:

She even carries a big stick. Don't get on her bad side...

Rey is obviously the center of the film. The poster places her as the focal point, so you don't have to see the movie to know she is a big deal.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Some Thoughts On Shame

It's been a tumultuous couple of weeks in the world (especially if you live in Paris, Beirut, Japan, Mexico, or Baghdad, or if you are LDS) and after a couple of weeks of watching my Facebook News Feed, I have a some advice:

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Pit of Despair

The Princess Bride is easily one of the best movies of all time. This is not an opinion; this is fact. For any plebs who haven't seen it yet, it is a love story that makes Romeo & Juliet look like common street trash (I never liked that play anyway. Why didn't we read Much Ado About Nothing in high school instead?).

Oversimplified plot: Wesley, the hero of the story, must fight to save the love of his life, Buttercup, from her engagement to a snobby prince. More detail is necessary to state my point, but we're far past the statute of limitations on spoilers here, so...

After a daring rescue, Wesley and Buttercup face terrors together only to have Buttercup end up back in the clutches of Prince Humperdink. Buttercup makes the prince promise that Wesley will be returned safely to his ship, to which request Humperdink swears his life. Little does she know that Humperdink is not nearly as forgiving as she had assumed, and the prince's right hand man, Count Rugen, instead knocks Wesley out and takes him into the forest to his deranged laboratory: The Pit of Despair.