Sunday, December 22, 2013

So, freedom of XXXXX speech, you say?

Have you ever kicked a wasp's nest? I know that sounds like some kind of weak cliche, but the truth is that there are real life wasp nests, and it is possible to step on them. I know, because I have done it.

I was probably about ten years old. If you're too old to remember, or too young to understand, let me tell you that ten-year-olds get some pretty crazy ideas. My crazy idea is that I had a super-power, and my power was super-human resistance to bee and wasp stings. This was based on the fact that I had been stung once on the arm and didn't consider it "that bad".

The common wasp (Vespula vulgaris): the Samuel L. Jackson of insects. I laugh at them.

So my ten-year-old super self and a group of friends were running the hills in the village where I grew up, and we came across an old wrecked car. VW Beetle, to be specific. The old bug was rusted and had no wheels, and on the path alongside it where someone might walk, one of the cars doors was stripped from the wreckage and laying across like some kind of manhole cover. To a bunch of ten-year-olds, an abandoned car is an amazing thing; we can't sit in the driver's seat of our parents cars, but here we could all pile into the old beetle and I could crank on the steering wheel, wrestle the stick shifter into any position I liked, and make all kinds of engine sounds with my mouth. Good times.

It was really not in this good of a condition.

Eventually, one of us noticed that the stray car door had a couple of wasps buzzing around it. They would come out, hover around, and then retreat back under the door. It was pretty apparant that there must be more of them under the door. Ten-year-old Super Joey, full of confidence that he was, immune to the worst that these wimpy little bugs could do, decided that he must protect all of his young friends. That would mean disturbing the wasps so that they would go away from the car.

After getting all my cohorts to stand back, I took advantage of the fact that the door was on a path, and made a nice long run up to the door. Then, using my other super power (super speed, of course), I ran down the path and did a beautiful two-foot jump directly onto the door, bouncing off the other side and resuming my sprint across the path.

If I had a cape like this guy, things probably would have worked out differently.

For future reference, if you have the occasion to run across a wasp-infested car door, I offer you four words; Do not look back.

As I turned to inspect the carnage, one of the defending troops was able to catch up with me, and managed to get me with his stinger right on my eyelid. I have no words to express the pain that I experienced as a ten-year-old boy being stung directly on my eyelid by a wasp. But I can describe the next use of my super powers, which was to apply my remaining super speed to get my ass, swollen eyelid and all, directly home where I could bleat into my mommy's shoulder for the rest of the day.

"Cut me, Mom!"

If I could go back in time, I would have some advice for ten-year-old me; I'd tell him, "Don't be such a dumbass." Maybe not in those words, of course - it would be something more nuanced. But the truth is, I didn't have super powers, and kicking at wasps is neither a good idea for the wasps nor the kicker.

Unless you've been living in a bubble, you've probably heard that Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame has come under fire lately for some homophobic comments that he made in an interview with GQ. Admittedly, I don't watch Duck Dynasty and I care very little for what happens to the Robertson family, but I do see a lot of people springing to the man's defense which troubles me a bit.

Hey, Phil. With that thing in your mouth it looks kinda, well, you know..."

There is a misunderstanding among a lot of folks over what freedom of speech means. I hope that I can make my story about the wasp nest explain some things. There was no law preventing me from jumping on that door. I was intent on attacking the wasps, and I would not have understood any sympathy for the wasps, because... you know, they're wasps.  None of my juvenile friends thought it worth the effort to stop me, and they probably could not have restrained me. I did it, and I faced the consequences.

Now, I'm sure Robertson didn't mean any ill will towards gays. In his mind, they're sinners, and they should know they're sinners, so why would they be offended? After all, they're only gay people. His racist, sexist and homophobic comments all seemed fine to him, because can claim ignorance - he would like to say that he's just some duck hunter.

I find this attitude repugnant. Being oblivious to the "other" is not an acceptable defense.

More people taking advantage of their right to free speech.

So we have Robertson speaking his mind to an interviewer. The interviewer could have omitted the comments - I'm guessing that Robertson has said all kinds of hateful things over the years that have been left on the cutting room floor. But the comments were not omitted, they were published. And they are offensive, causing those who have been offended are retaliating. The offended parties includes his employer. There is nothing implied by the concept of "freedom of speech" that says you will not face consequences for your words - only that you should not be prosecuted or discriminated against. And Robertson is now facing the consequences.

He has now been suspended from his job. Why is that? He works as a celebrity; his job is to speak on behalf of Duck Dynasty and A&E, and he has gone off message. If you are someone responsible for public relations at A&E, you would not want these comments to be what your viewers bring to mind when they watch Duck Dynasty. This man is not a plumber or a carpenter who is being criticized for overzealous evangelism on street corners on his weekends, this is an individual using the avenue that has been made possible by his position as a public persona. He is spreading a message that is discriminatory and contrary to the message that his employers wish to be associated with. It is not only Robertson's freedom of speech that needs protected here, but also A&E's - if he is paid to be their spokesperson, and he does not deliver their message, then they are right to correct him.

Now if they could just come up with an idea more original than this.

So freedom of speech can backfire. But it still must be protected. As the quote goes, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” If someone wants to say something that I disagree with, I am free to object, but I will not stop that person from speaking. However, just because you are permitted to say it does not mean you should. This is where non-Phil-Robertson-types use a little thing called "discernment".

Sometimes when the consequenses have been weighed and the message is important enough, someone will decide to speak out even their words will be unpopular. If Robertson had it to do over, I'm guessing he would not have said those things to GQ. I'm sure he would still go on about other things that I disagree with, because he feels the message is important and saying some other things would not have him pay such a steep price. Similarly, I know that some people take offense to things I write in this blog - I watch the pageviews drop after I write something controversial, and I'm sure that some of the people who read such posts and do not read any more are going to be more reluctant to say "Hi" to me on the street. That is a a price I am willing to pay because I feel that the things I am talking about are things that I need to talk about.

I compare this with the recent attempt by Center For Inquiry to enlist Pattison Outdoor to run a billboard campaign in Vancouver. CFI is an organization that promotes a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry and humanist values. In a nutshell, they are atheists, and the billboards they wanted to place in Vancouver were encouraging people to loo to themselves as a measure of what is good, rather than God or the Bible. Religious people often take offense to even the suggestion that there may not be a god, and Christians are sensitive about criticisms of the Bible. These are things that CFI had weighed out and decided that getting their message out was more important than avoiding offense of these people.

I think Dave is somewhere after II Thessalonians.

Unfortunately, Pattison Outdoor is owned by an evangelical Christian and decided that it would reject CFI's advertisements. This would not be such a big issue if Pattison did not have a near monopoly on advertising space in Vancouver. Of course, CFI used this rejection to get the maximum publicity for themselves by going to every media outlet they could. And who could blame them? But the fact remains that CFI has a message, and they were prevented from speaking. Whether you believe in God or not, others should be allowed to express their beliefs. That, my friends, is a genuine free speech issue.

CFI ended up taking their billboards to CBS Outdoor, the company that pretty well owns the remainder of Vancouver's billboards. CBS accepted the campaign without issue, and the signs are currently up in Vancouver. CFI is laughing now, since they got a whole load of free publicity, which helped them to get their message out. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that they went to Pattison in the first place, knowing the man's personal views and hoping to get rejected. You could say that they kicked a wasps nest, knowing that the display of wasps circling around the nest is what they wanted all along. I consider this an example of exercising good judgement, something that we have already established to be lacking in Phil Robertson's actions.

When we talk about free speech, people often think that means that they are free to say what they want, when they want, without consequences. But that is not the case. It is especially complicated when your livelyhood is to deliver someone else's message - sometimes you just have to keep your mouth shut. But if you do trample on a wasp's nest, don't be surprised if you get stung.

And Phil: don't be such a dumbass. That's a message from forty-year-old Not-So-Super Joey.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Hate Midi-chlorians and Religious Fundamentalism

Now that I have "come out" as a humanist rather than as a biblical moralist, I can imagine being accused of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." I disagree, and in fact I think it is this very tendancy to preserve things that are obviously wrong that gets us into difficulties in the first place. If people were more willing to be honest about what the text of the Bible is really saying, the words would be genuinely more useful. For my part, I am willing to say that the Bible contains truth without saying that it is truth. To help frame this all in terms that make things clearer to more people in my peer group, I'm going to discuss something more relevant to everyone: Star Wars.

It may seem odd, but a series of movies can inspire something that is almost like a religion. Star Wars is probably the greatest example, and I can confirm I was converted when I was a young'un.
I think I have the materials at home to test my own midi-chlorian level.
I expect that anyone should be able to guess that, as a boy growing up in the eighties, I was a Star Wars fan. I had a bin full of space Lego that I used to build starships, I had a Millenium Falcon, and I even slept on Star Wars bed sheets.
Gina won't let me use these now.
This all means that I have spent the adult years of my life fuming over all the things that George Lucas has been doing to destroy my fond childhood memories. First, he started mucking with the original movies, completely ruining Han Solo's swagger by having him shoot Greedo in retaliation. Then he went to work on undermining the entire series by releasing a set of prequels that thrust upon us the maddening Jar Jar Binks, the unwelcomed "Yippee!"-ing of pod-racing little kid, and the atrocious acting of Hayden Christensen. But one of the worst fouls I believe he committed was when he introduced us to midi-chlorians. For those of you that need some background, here you go:

In the first part of this video, we have the unfortunately named Qui Gon Jinn explaining to little Darth Vader, (er... Anakin Skywalker) how the Force comes from midi-chlorians. If you're like me, you find yourself wishing at this point that his cellphone would ring and that the caller would be his daughter, informing him of her present kidnapping. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. Within an hour we are all relieved when Neeson's character dies, releasing him from this disaster before he has to do two more of them. The second part of the clip is from the original Star Wars movie, showing Obi-Wan Kenobi explaining the Force to a bratty Luke Skywalker, son of the aforementioned Anakin.

"I'm so happy to be here and not on Tatooine! I'm still going to kill you, though !"
In the original movies, there was no "pseudo-scientific" explanation for the Force - it simply is what it is. A very poetic idea, the invisible Force moves through all beings, directing them, and directed by them. Characters debate whether one should be on the Good Side, or the Dark Side, or whether the mysterious Force even exists at all. But for the viewer, there is no need for uncertainty in our minds - the narrative makes it clear to us that the Jedi way is right, and that the Dark Side is the wrong way to go. In the end we know that we are watching a movie - a work of fiction - and the suspension of disbelief is enough for us to get behind Luke and recognize the evil that the Emperor represents.

For some reason beyond imagination, Lucas must have thought that the viewers lacked faith, because he felt the need to introduce some kind of mechanics to explain this Force. An explanation that tries to sound scientific, but fails miserably to anyone that has any understanding of real science. This cheapens the experience greatly, and honestly affected my ability to buy into "the Force" from that point on.

I'll admit that I was disappointed that the romance that I had with the Force was now gone, but it is not the end of the world. After all, a motion picture, even a from a sacred franchise like Star Wars, is still a mundane thing. But thinking about this has given me an idea about something meaningful that follows a similar pattern. I see a lot of harm to be done in this world by people that honestly believe they are in the right, and these beliefs that drive them come from another mystical source - the Bible. Although most of us have moved on, apparently some people did not get the memo that the stories in it didn't really happen.

I'm not going to argue in depth for why I say this, as that would require me to explain a lot about science, archaeology, history, and literature, and textual analysis to an audience that may not be interested in any of those fields. Perhaps that can be in a future post. I think it should suffice to say that if humankind was not created only 6000 years ago in 7 days with two individuals being formed from dirt (which it wasn't), and if we acknowledge that there is no evidence of a global flood and the prohibitive difficulties of gathering all the animals of the world into a boat for a few weeks (to then let them all migrate from the Middle East, with both of the kangaroos hopping all the way across the Indian Ocean to Australia before they started making baby kangaroos), I think we can safely say that the authors of the Bible are prone to telling tales.

And what is wrong with that? Why are people so unwilling to acknowledge that? It's as if admitting that the book is not a history textbook means that it is no longer useful. Frankly, I have difficulty enjoying the Bible for this very reason. I think mythologies are fantastic, and I love the stories of Greek or Norse mythology. But I also have never had anyone threaten me that Zeus or Thor are going to strike me down with lightning. If one is to call the Bible what it really is, that person will promptly be told by some zealot that he or she is going to Hell. Hey, yeah - thanks for showing the love of Christ.

What is worse, though - and this draws me to my point - is that people feel the need to justify and add rationalizations to what is written in the Bible. Rather than simply examining it and considering a rational reading of the text, people make up the biblical equivalent of "midi-chlorians" - details that are designed to sound like real science or history to justify their irrational reading of the text. There is a whole organization called "Answers in Genesys" led by the Australian Ken Ham, that uses this pseudo-science and pseudo-history in an attempt to reconcile the narrative of the Bible with reality. Or maybe better to say to reconcile reality with the Bible, since there is a total unwillingness to modify the group's accepted interpretation of the Bible in favour of facts.
Ken Ham. Never trust a man with a chinstrap unless he is riding a horse-cart or wearing a top hat.
What is really unfortunate is the attempts to make children believe this stuff by trying to get it taught in schools. This kind of pseudo-scientific nonsense holds back public education and discourse. It prevents future researchers and medical professionals (i.e. our kids) from getting the education required to save and improve lives in the future. Additionally, the skepticism of real science caused by these ideas causes people to eschew vaccinations, and to dismiss the climate change emergency; these are things that affect us right now. AIDS is being spread in Africa because the Catholic Church takes the nearly 2000 year old words of Paul to mean they should prohibit condom use. LGBT teens are committing suicide because their peers, who have been indoctrinated with a hateful and unnatural morality, are harassing them. People with bad information have trouble shaking it, and end up making bad decisions. And this is often (dare I say frequently) by people who haven't even read the book themselves, but are relying on others to tell them what it says!

(NOTE: All of my criticisms would likely apply to the Koran, or any other book that is held up as holy. I simply am not familiar with those texts the way I am with the Bible, so I cannot discuss them in detail. However the very existence of these other ancient holy books, with their own adherents and contradictory accounts of history, should really just add to my case. )

I have trouble enjoying the Bible these days. When I read it, I am thinking about what kind of crazy ideas some other person might get from the passage I'm seeing. I worry that at the very moment, someone is doing ill to humanity because he or she believes these words are literal and directive. In Star Wars, a character would be urged to, "Use the Force!" You know what is true. When we put parameters around the Force, when the rules about how the force abides are declared, it loses it's magic. But the Force cannot be explained without invoking magic. As it is with the Bible. Do us all a favor -  do not expect the world to conform to a contrived interpretation of the foreign translation of words written in a dead language in a collection of books that was expressed in the stories and poetry and intended for peoples that have long since passed from this earth. When the text is wrong, we must admit it, we must correct it - we cannot change reality to fit. When our beliefs are wrong, we must adjust.

Unless it's the Force. We can believe in the Force; but we don't live in the Star Wars universe, we live in this one.

Feel free to tell me off for trampling on your beloved ideas. That's why I do this in the first place - I'm looking for feedback. Comments and private messages are welcome.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why you might think I'm a jerk

Online discussions are tough. It's pretty well known that no level of emoticon usage can properly convey the tone with which a comment is intended, but there is more to it than that.

I have always been driven mad by people that express opinions when they are ignorant of facts. That very sentence is inflammatory - have I offended you yet? The problem I find is that people will read a sentence like that, and they instantly make a couple of assumptions.
  1. I am talking about them.
  2. I am not including myself
In fairness, I have been accused of arrogance in the past. Mostly by my wife. It's a criticism that makes me uncomfortable, but I can't deny that is is often true. As the saying goes, "I'd rather be a smartass than a dumbass".

That being said, I hope that people have a little more patience with me. If you know me in person, and not solely online, I don't think I come off as quite so smug. Admittedly, I do tend to forget that others dislike having their opinions challenged, whereas I do not. I will frequently disagree, but I rarely take it personally.

Disagreeing online, especially on Facebook, is an entirely different proposition with unique challenges. Usually I will avoid it because I know that people posting are usually expecting their "status post" to be just that; a one-way message letting people know where they are, having their friends respond with "likes", either via the "like" button itself, or with verbal "attaboys" or "we're praying for you" or "wow, I can't believe that happened". Sometimes, though, people post and they are actually soliciting feedback. If I believe this is the case, then there is nothing I love more than a good online discussion.

I try to live by a few rules in these discussions. Some of them are to prevent me from looking like a jerk, and others prevent me from looking like an idiot. Sometimes these are at cross purposes, and I have to choose which it's going to be. The medium itself often dictates the result, but if you are having trouble understanding why something I said is either dippy or douchey, here's why:

  1. Say what you have to say with as few statements as possible.
    When I am reading a discussion and one particular person is going on and on, I often only read the first sentence to see where they are going. Facebook makes this necessary by truncating longer comments. If you can limit your reply to a single point, do it, even if it means that something important is left unsaid. You can always elaborate later on.

    There are problems with this strategy. Firstly, Facebook is not a true real-time medium, and so it may be a while before someone returns to the conversation, if ever. You have to accept that your case my remain unfinished. If it does, then there was not enough interest in the first place. Secondly, you can come across as being harsh and unsympathetic. This is because you are leaving out phrases like "with all due respect", or "I see you point, but...". To be honest, I find these kinds of phrases to be patronizing, so I don't like them anyways. We are all grownups, so you should assume that whatever I say is meant with respect and that I am trying to understand your point of view - I shouldn't have to reiterate it.
  2. Support your argument, but don't paraphrase your evidence.
    If you have data backing up your point, I am positive that somewhere on the internet is a reliable source that contains information. When you describe the information yourself, it is difficult for readers to determine what is data and what is your interpretation of the data, and they should assume it is all interpretation. If you use a quote, quote it exactly and indicate who said it and where it can be confirmed. Don't make me use Google to confirm your points - I'm going to assume that you just made it up. However, if I am really interested in the discussion I will have no problem clicking on a link to read what you are talking about. Also, links usually take up less discussion space, so you can avoid being truncated (see point number 1).

    The downside of this is that some people don't want to put in the effort to read any external sources. They're not lazy - the argument just isn't important enough to them. They also may find this a bit colder than hearing you present it in your own voice: think about the difference between reading a history book versus sitting on Grandpa's lap and hearing a story. Again, if they are interested in really knowing truth, they will understand that Grandpa may not be the most reliable source.

  3. Do not attack ad hominem.
    Bad ideas are usually based on incorrect data. Incorrect data is usually believed by well-meaning people. You and I are both parties who are exposed to a lot of data, often incorrect, and it is typical to assimilate some of this information because we can't tell the difference. We need to attack bad ideas and flawed epistemology, not the people who hold to these. I'll be honest, I am often guilty of breaking this rule: usually not directly, or even intentionally, but in a passive-aggressive manner that I don't even recognize myself. Not like, "you're an idiot", but more like "anyone who believes x is an idiot."
    For more Mimi and Eunice, go to

    This is a very fine line to walk. People often have really strange reasons for believing the things that they do, and it is hard not to inadvertently make comments that get personal. People see "that thing you just said is not true, and here is the proof" as "you're a liar and I won't listen to you." Add to this the fact that a lot of people identify themselves by their ideas, and so an attack on the ideas is seen by them as a personal attack, even when it isn't. If I have done this to you, I am sorry. But please look closely at my comments, and make sure that you didn't read something into them that isn't there. I am, for the most part, a very confident writer, and I don't think that people should assume I am putting them down when I am really just trying to make myself look good.
One of my phavourite philosophers.

It was the great Canadian philosopher, Marshal McLuhan who said "the media is the message". McLuhan died before Facebook became a thing, but I bet he wold have had a field day reviewing the changes in culture, language, and ideas that have been brought on by social media in general. Facebook has different attributes that are not the same as Twitter or Pinterest, although they are all about expressing ideas. One of the reasons I started writing this blog was because of the limitations of Facebook. I love discussions, but I cannot express my thoughts adequately on Facebook, so here I am. If anyone finds my thought interesting enough to read more than 140 characters by me, they won't mind following a link to see this. And maybe when the see how much more eloquent I am when not trying to condense my arguments into a little box, they might realize that I am not such an arrogant jerk.

Unless I really am. If so, I'm sure my wife will tell me.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Fight Against Fighting

I have been a fan of hockey as long as I have been conscious, I think. Over the years, I watched a good lot of hockey, in all it's guts and glory. Gina, on the other hand, has no interest in hockey and watches as little as possible. When we were visiting Vancouver a couple of years ago I insisted that we attend an NHL hockey game, and being the loving wife that she is, Gina agreed to buy a cheap Canucks t-shirt and come to the game with me. I could tell that she was humouring me the entire night, as I had her take my picture with the Roger Neilson statue. I could see her rolling her eyes when I made her stand in from the of the giant Alex Burroughs banner and show off her t-shirt for another picture. She thinks I am cute like a little boy, and I love her for it.

My beautiful wife, proving how much she really loves me.

But when the subject of fighting in hockey has come up, I can see the blank stare on her face as she struggles to find, somewhere in her brain, an explanation for why this phenomenon takes place and why someone might defend it. I have given up on trying to justify hockey fights to her, but being a man who is prone to self-examination, I can't help but to start looking at my own rationalizations for fighting.

To be fair, my take on fighting is entirely as a fan, and not as a player. I play a couple times a week, in a pickup game and in a league that has a fighting ban. The closest I have every come to being in a real hockey fight was in peewee, when I wrestled the jersey over another player's head after the game for a joke. Oh - he was a teammate, and we discussed it beforehand, so it hardly qualifies. This is probably just as well, since my 5'7"-150lb frame is not the idea platform for a scrapper (unless I make a return to peewee). If I were an NHL fighter I would certainly see things differently.

I'm prompted to write this because of a couple of excellent articles on fighting that were published this week. Seth Wickersham writes an article for ESPN going in depth on George Parros. Parros is one of the more interesting players in the NHL, so Wickersham has a lot of good material to work with. Parros has a degree in economics from Princeton, yet plays the role of a "goon" in the NHL. He is a fan favorite, well-spoken with the press, and is charismatic with his trademark dark moustache (execpt when he shaves is at the beginning of every Movember). His status as a posterboy for fighting in hockey took a weird turn when he was stretchered off the ice during the first hockey game of the season as a result of a fight "gone wrong".

This guy's a beauty

The second piece is written by Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) at the Score's "Backhand Shelf" blog. Justin writes what may be the most revealing and accurate work on the the state of fighting in hockey today that I have ever read. In it he turn on its head the often-claimed idea that fighters in hockey are simply dropping gloves for the good of the team. If you can only read one story on fighting in hockey, stop reading mine and go read his instead.

To be honest, I enjoy watching hockey fights. It is a guilty pleasure. I know that these hockey players are taking risks, a fact that was driven home this season when the rule prohibiting players from removing their helmets took effect. Even Parros, who prided himself on never getting knocked out, now has a concussion history to show for his efforts. In this day, when the League is trying to reduce injuries (and I agree with them), why do I still want to see hockey players put the game on hold to throw knuckles at each other? Why did the movie "Goon" resonate with me so strongly? (And not just because I'm in love with Liev Schrieber. Does that make me gay?)

I'll admit, a large part of it is nostalgia. We have romanticized this old-timey world where men were men, and hockey games were rowdy. There is an image in my head of hockey players, in the heat of competition, going over the edge and taking care of business mano y mano. But this is rarely what happens.

Bourne details this well, but essentially the game has devolved into a situation where our tough guy who can't play hockey at an NHL level will have a fight with your tough guy who can't play hockey at an NHL level, merely in order to justify their own existence. And I think that even most pro-fighting hockey fans will agree that this situation is hot garbage. It has nothing to do with passion, it has nothing to do with honour, it has nothing to do with "The Code" - it's just sad.

Parros almost admits as much, but can't bring himself to it. He talks about all the reasons he fights, but you don't hear him talking about how it helps his team win games. Because it doesn't, the numbers are pretty clear on that.

So we are left with a problem. Hardly anyone is happy with the status quo, but a great number of "purists" are resistant to change for fear that is will mean the end of fighting completely. I think there needs to be a more nuance approach to this.

I would like to see a way that makes guys like Parros (and I mean no offense to him personally) obsolete. The mechanism needs to punish teams that keep these guys on the roster without being too hard on players who fight periodically. Here's my two-fold proposal: 1) make the two-minute instigator penalty mandatory - even if it means giving both fighers the instigator (similar to removing one's helmet), and 2) if a player in any game accumulates more minutes in penalties than they do time on ice, they should receive an automatic one-game suspension, good for the team's very next game. The reason why I think this might work, is that a lot of these players only play 5 minutes a night, and a fighting major is 5 minutes long. If the instigator is called every time, it will force teams to create a roster where every player on the team can be trusted with at least 7 minutes of hockey a night. It will also make players much more cautious about entering fights, since they do not want to take the extra 2 minutes and put their team down a man. That being said, it will not ban fighting outright - it only makes it difficult to be on the team if that is your raison d'ĂȘtre.

Do these guys feel shame?

The strongest argument against this idea that I can see is that the mandatory instigator penalty would discourage all fights. This could be perceived as a way for "rats" (i.e. players who play dirty but won't fight) to get away with dangerous plays without having to answer for them. My response to this is that the instigator penalty already exists, and applies to exactly this situation. I am not calling for a new rule but only for the enforcement of the current rule. Aside from this, the league has taken great steps in the last few years to punish these offenses (i.e. dangerous plays) with supplemental discipline. Finally, I believe the truth is that a player on the ice is probably not a better judge of the legality of the other team's play than the actual officials on the ice are.

So, what say you? Fighting opponents or apologists - would this strategy work for you? Let me know, and if I get enough support I'll take it to Gary Bettman ;)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Why I love gays.

NOTE: When I wrote this, I made a smart-alecky comment about my confusion on terminology. It should have probably just asked someone so that I could be more PC. I plead ignorance, and beg your forgiveness :)

I started to write this post on National Coming Out Day. That has been a while ago now, but it's still relevant since I have a confession to make.

One of the best things that ever happened to me is that gays started coming out. That's not the confession; that's simply a fact that precipitated an important change. Bear with me on this. I know my title is misleading, since the main point of this post is the confession itself and not the fact that I love gay people. That being said, I need to deal with the issue of the title:

I love gays because they are people, and I love people. Not only that, but I have some great friends who are gay, and I enjoy their friendship immensely. Even if the story I'm about to tell was not true, I could still not help but to love these people.

Also, when I use the word "gay" I mean any person of alternative sexual orientation or gender identity. I have lost track of the LGBT mix of alphabet soup - every time I look, someone has added new letters to it. I'm pretty sure most of you are OK with the term "gay". It has the added bonus of meaning happy or carefree - and I agree that you deserve to be "gay".  I do love you and hope you are happy with however you identify yourself. I know that this is not technically correct, but for shorthand "gay" is the best word I have. OK, so on with the post...

If I left you out I'm sorry. Here is a rainbow just for you.

Like many people in this part of the world, Christianity is a big part of my culture. I attended Sunday School as a child, went to a church youth group as a teen, and was fairly involved in my church as an adult. But this same religion that taught me "God is love" also seems to have it in for the gays. This was really not important to me for a lot of years. For the most part, I didn't really know anyone who was gay. Not openly, anyways. "Out of sight, out of mind," as it is said. Since I am not gay myself I was little affected by the fact that the Church considered these people to be sinners. I can be selfish, just like everyone else.

But in the last several years a couple of things happened to me. They probably happened to you too.

First is that I got to know people who were gay, or people that I already knew started to come out. I recognized pretty quickly that these people deserved more respect that what I was trained to give to "sinners".

Now she looks friendly, eh?
Secondly, this thing called the internet came along. Now I could see things that were happening all over the world instantly, and I could discuss these events with people who I had never met. People were gay, people were straight, and I could see all of their stories unfolding from the comfort of my own home. I noticed that the only people that seemed to be giving the gays a hard time were those who claimed that the Bible told them that they should do so. I tried to put it off for a while, but eventually I could not ignore the thought that was haunting me:

"If I believe the Bible, should I hate homosexuality too?"

A lot of people know that the Bible says something on the subject. They choose to deal with this information in one of three ways:
  1. Hate gays;
  2. Assume that the translation/interpretation/context of the biblical passages must be wrong; or
  3. Study and find out how this stuff got into the Bible in the first place, and follow this where it leads.
Christians that choose path No. 1 are what we call "fundamentalists". They are unwilling to believe that the words in the Bible could be saying anything other than what they appear to say. If the Bible says it's a sin, then it must be a sin. They are big on using platitudes like "Love the sinner, hate the sin" - this way they can interact with those who don't agree with them while maintaining a level of superiority. This is a patronizing and passive-aggressive way of condemning someone. There is another maxim I know that says "Judge not lest you be judged". In the end, every piece of wisdom must be subjected to our interpretation and evaluation, whether one admits it or not. It seems to be more important for some people to condemn (or if they prefer "not condone") sin than to give another person the benefit of the doubt. (Fun exercise: one of these sayings is in the Bible; the other is not. Can you tell which is which without looking?)

How most Christians deal with homosexuality.

Most Christians I know choose path No. 2. I like to call this the "poly/cotton blend exemption". And it works for the most part, since the strongest passages against homosexuality are in the Old Testament, in the same section where the wearing of garments of mixed fabrics is forbidden. 

For me, though, both of these approaches caused me cognitive dissonance. The first one, because I knew in my heart that there was nothing gay people should be ashamed of (and I don't mean they should be tolerated - I mean nothing wrong). I could not believe that I had been given the ability to reason moral conclusions, and that this ability should not be used. But this second approach forced me to pick and choose passages from the Bible. Why would God give us laws when he does not want us to follow them? Why would He make things so difficult for us to understand? Why would God be fighting against common sense? I had ignored this contradiction long enough, I had to once and for all resolve it.

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness -

The only answer for me was to look at the Bible honestly to find out why it said what it did. I knew I had the skills as a scholar, since I had studied in university. I had just never had an issue that pressed me into study before. What I thought would be a simple study of a couple passages turned into a much bigger project. But I was dedicated to understanding.

I have never been to seminary. If I had, maybe I would have reached this point a lot earlier in my life. I wondered things for a long time, like how the Old Testament could look so different from the New Testament - but now the first item I had to settle was where these books actually came from. The answer I had always lived with was that God was the author, using men as his scribes. But it seemed obvious to me that if different places in the Bible were saying things at cross purposes, then the "scribes" must have influenced the writing more than I had always believed.

What happened to me over the next while was like the breaking of a spell. The closer I looked at the Bible, the less certain I became that anything the Bible had to say could be divine. The Bible is a mass of contradictions. The question of the appropriateness of homosexuality was no longer the only struggle I was having with the meaning of the books. I was roadblocked by all kinds of problems just figuring out what the Bible was saying about elemental things. This was before I could even begin to judge the content and what it might be telling me about right and wrong.

Wait, what did you say? (Click to see what I mean).

Secondly, when I did feel I could understand what the meaning might be, it often disagreed with common sense or modern knowledge (or both). It's all well and good to prohibit the consumption of pork when people don't have safe methods to prepare it, but as a society we've gotten past that. Yet the Bible has not been updated, and never will be.

I had spent years thinking that my difficulties with the Bible were caused by my lack of effort to find the true meaning. Yet, when I removed the "sheen" of divine inspiration and looked honestly at what it was saying, it looked less and less like it was something a God would have written, and more like a book written by men. Often very mistaken men. This book was no longer helping, it was only causing harm. As a moral handbook, the Bible is an utter failure.

I was stunned.

The Good Book: not so good.

Why did nobody tell me this? Pastors study the Bible - don't they see this? The use it as a source, and omit everything that is objectionable. Of course, the lay people in the church would not recognize this, because it is not what they are really looking for it. They are reading Christian books by Christian authors written to reinforce the things that they already believe. They are reading small passages, and reading with preconceptions about what the passage says. They are listening to preachers who have already worked things out for them, and hearing sermons that omit anything that might be difficult to explain. I know this because this is the zone I was stuck in for years. I'll admit I was naive; it's not like I didn't know about any of this, but I had just never let it sink in. But I was now looking at things differently, and I could not turn back.

This was a painful realization for me. I had believed for years that the Bible was God's way of communicating with me. Seeing that it was so ineffective at that task made me very disappointed.

At first.

I realized that in my years of lackadaisical Bible study, I had really figured these things out on my own. I never really bothered looking to the Bible for answers, because I could come up with them on my own more easily. And my answers were good and worked well. I assumed that if I took the time to inspect them they would match scripture, although I know now that not necessarily true nor relevant. They were certainly better answers than those of the people who did seem to look to the Bible for everything. Once I recognized that I did not need to give the words of the Bible that kind of reverence, a sense of freedom started to grow in me. I shouldn't even be giving it lip service - that's confusing people like I myself had been confused.

Things that I puzzled over for years all made so much sense to me. Why would God ask Abraham to kill Isaac? It doesn't matter - that's just a story. Why would God say such awful things about how we should treat women? He didn't - but the men writing this down thought those rules would be useful. Why does Jesus curse a fig tree simply for being in his path at the wrong time of year? Who cares? He's Jesus and he kicked a fig tree's ass!

BAM! How'd ya like me now, Fig Tree!

So then, why would God make people gay and then condemn them for being so? He doesn't. They should be loved, and there is nothing wrong with them. It is no surprise that they are becoming more and more accepted by our society at the same time that our trust in the Bible is waning. Christians are not doing themselves any favors by pretending that they are standing on some moral high ground When the public stands up against Christian attempts to treat these people unfairly, they are not persecuting the Christians. It didn't work for slavery, and it can't work now.

So it took a lot to get here, but I did it. I love gays because they are great people, and knowing this fact is what lead me to learn the most important lesson in my life - that I can decide what is right and wrong, that my morality need not be at odds with my reason, and that no one with any book will ever make me feel wrong about that.

Comments are open - let me have it. Or send me private messages if you prefer.