I kind of like trigger warnings

[Trigger warning: trigger warnings]

Confession time: I actually kind of like trigger warnings.

A little over a year ago there was a flurry of media attention around trigger warnings, hardly any of it kind. Warnings heralded the death of academic freedom and represented everything that was wrong with America’s coddled youth, etc., and I bought into it for a bit until I read an argument for them.

I could … imagine good people using trigger warnings to increase their ability to read things that challenge their views. Suppose you are a transgender person who becomes really uncomfortable when you hear people insult transgender people. Gradually you learn that a lot of people outside the social justice community do this a lot, so you stop reading anything outside the social justice community, forget about genuinely rightist sources like National Review or American Conservative. Now suppose sources start trigger warning their content. Most right-wing arguments don’t insult transgender people, so all of a sudden you have a way to steer clear of the ones that do and read all of the others free from fear.

I wasn’t totally convinced by the argument in that post last year, but after regularly visiting places on the interwebs that use content warnings, and seeing how it makes navigating the web more of an enjoyable experience, I’m pretty much converted. There’s still a lot of handwringing over academic freedom — oh hey, Politico and “trigger culture” — and spoiled kids and GREAT LITERATURE IS DEAD!!! but there’s something to be said for politely warning your readers what they’re in for.

This is because the sheer amount of upsetting things on the internet. Writers focus on misogyny, rape, and race, but that’s only a small part of it — I’ve been reading about evolution and genetics lately, and sometimes come across discussions of infanticide. Like look, I’m not a prude, but sometimes I’m just not in the mood to read about evolutionary health and dead babies, yeah? I might even save it for later when I feel more like reading something like that. I imagine most people have strong reactions to discussion of at least some topic, and it’s a nice gesture by the writer to warn the reader.

It also keeps me from crossing certain sites off my list (except for Gawker et al sorry Gawker et al) because I know that I’ll get to choose what I see.


On Horses

Today American Pharoah will try for the Triple Crown. I wish I could’ve been there but am in Boston this week.

In honor, here are a few excerpts from a couple of my favorite books, not just on horses, but period.

Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses:

What he loved in horses was what he loved in men, the blood and the heat of the blood that ran them.

Finally he said that among men there was no such communion as among horses and the notion that men can be understood at all was probably an illusion.

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Blood Horses:

We are no longer frightened of nature; what frightens us is the idea that we have triumphed over nature, and what that triumph will mean in the long run, when we understand, too late, that we were nature, that our triumph has been a suicide. This is what the unbroken horse symbolizes now: the strange power of that which is both defenseless and indispensable, that which exists by our leave but without whose existence we would change, become something less than what we are.

Century after century, we have prosecuted our insane conflicts from atop their backs, resting on their sturdy necks when we grew weary, eating their flesh when we were starving, disemboweling them and crawling inside their bodies when we were freezing.

Nothing to Envy

“We have nothing to envy in the whole world.”

This phrase belongs to a song known by every North Korean old enough to sing. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick takes issues with this song as she interviews six North Korean defectors and paints a picture of North Korea so bleak that it makes Orwell’s 1984 look like a colorful paradise.

It is a study in a totalitarian regime but takes on a surprising quality of personal touch as the author follows six lives.

Some examples from the book:

When the famine of the 1990’s hit the hardest, the regime told its citizens that, “Their government was stockpiling food to feed the starving South Korean masses on the blessed day of reunification.”

I had always known that Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-Il were dictators in every sense of the word, but I hadn’t realized the extent to which they have gone to not only establish themselves as the Stalin of North Korea–where fear begets submission–but also as the father and god of the people. Every year on the leaders’ birthdays, kids are expected to bow and pray to the portraits hanging in every room in every house. An offhand remark about Kim’s height got a man sent to a labor camp for life. He is their father, their bread-winner, their god, their everything. Or so the propaganda says.

“For history class, the children went on an excursion. All of the larger elementary schools had one room set aside for the purpose of teaching about the Great Leader, called the Kim Il-sung Research Institute. The children from the mining kindergarten walked to Kyong-song’s main elementary school to visit this special room, which was housed in a new wing and was clean, bright, and better heated than the rest of the school. The Worker’s Party conducted periodic spot checks to make sure the school janitors were keeping the place immaculate. The room was like a shrine. Even the kindergartners knew they were not permitted to giggle, push or whisper when in the special Kim Il-sung room. They took off their shoes and lined up quietly. They approached the portrait of Kim Il-sung, bowed deeply three times, and said, ‘Thank you, Father.'”

The NCAA and the rule of law

There is a great piece over at The New York Times that should merit more attention than it gets.

It would be difficult to find a year in college sports that could better highlight the special treatment that major programs get and the extensive violations that occur. For starters, the Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton, found himself in quite a bit of hot water after the NCAA started an investigation. Turns out that his father probably knew what he was doing and did it anyway. Jim Tressel of Ohio State has never really given a clear explanation of why his football players blatantly disregarded the NCAA by selling “branded” merchandise. They were punished, but the punishment was deferred until next season, after they had all competed in the Sugar Bowl (big money) and after most had graduated.  Jim Calhoun received a similar “punishment,” after the NCAA found out he lied, repeatedly, to investigators about 8 counts of recruiting violations.

It is against this background that makes the suspension of Baylor’s Perry Jones feel so….unjust. Jones, a freshman, was not allowed to finish his season and was suspended shortly before the post-season. Here is Sokolove, who wrote an excellent article on the situation:

According to a Baylor press release, his [Perry Jones’] mother accepted short-term loans from his A.A.U. coach while he was in high school to pay the family’s mortgage. Perry was unaware of the loans, according to Baylor. The loans totaled no more than $1,000, and were paid off, Lawrence Johns, the coach, told a New York Times reporter yesterday. Johns also was reported to have paid for Jones to travel from his Texas home to a preseason football game in San Diego while he was in high school.”

Sokolove then notes here that this case is very similar to Newton’s, who was allowed to play in the BCS championship game because he did not know what his father was doing. He continues:

“In writing Sunday’s cover story in The New York Times Magazine, I spent a lot of time around Baylor and Jones this season. At the risk of endangering my own status — that of strict journalistic objectivity — I’ll say that I liked him a great deal. He’s a sweet kid. His mother, the person who reportedly received the advances for her mortgage payments, without her son’s knowledge, manages a grade-school cafeteria and has a progressive heart condition that may necessitate a transplant. If you read my magazine story, you’ll probably come away thinking that Perry Jones is so sweet-natured that he might not fulfill his athletic potential and could easily become a huge disappointment if he jumps too soon to the pros.

What I did not anticipate is that he would not finish this season. Without Jones, Baylor got clobbered last night by Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament — excuse me, the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship. What exactly did Perry Jones do to warrant a harsher penalty than Jim Calhoun or the players and coaches at Ohio State? Was he more grasping? More brazen in his violation of the N.C.A.A.’s notions of amateurism? Did he personally withhold information about possible major rules violations — as Tressel, a lavishly paid adult, was said to have done?”

All good questions. Sadly enough, the answer to most of these questions probably involves both the fact that Perry is poor and Baylor is not a power program.

Zuckerberg to Speak at BYU

Apparently Mark Zuckerberg has been invited to speak at Brigham Young University along with Orrin Hatch. I hope, though, that Zuckerberg avoids broaching such topics as time-management and proper arrangement of priorities; otherwise, considering the countless and mindless number of wasted hours, isn’t this kind of like inviting Charlie Sheen to speak at a PTA meeting on being a responsible citizen?

Criminal Records Equal Wins

The state of college athletics is a joke.

Recruiting violations, blatant dishonesty, sex scandals, drug use, and academic fraud abound in nearly every beloved NCAA sport. By kicking Brandon Davies off the team with only a few weeks to go in the season, Brigham Young University is doing something that isn’t done very often anymore—attempting to put honesty and morality before wins.

The NCAA, especially in the realms of basketball and football, isn’t exactly a system that encourages academic and moral excellence. For that matter, the world of sports isn’t exactly the type of world that encourages those virtues. Last year I read a report about the graduation rate of the 64 teams in the NCAA tournament. Some records were impressive, but the majority were barely mediocre. Maryland was somewhere near the bottom with an eight percent graduation rate. You would imagine that Maryland probably had to pull a lot of strings to keep a team like that eligible, but they did a decent job of playing ball last year. There is a high cost, though, to pulling strings for athletes that are clearly not mature enough to act decently.

The NCAA will never have enough support to take a stand against it all—and even if they did I am not sure they would want to. We like our Michael Vicks and our Tiger Woods too much to put up a big protest. I think that the NCAA turns their heads a lot more than we realize, only occasionally investigating certain programs for recruiting violations. These investigations, though, are just often enough that it makes you wonder how many violations there are that no one ever hears about. And that is just recruiting violations—think of what an accumulative police record of our student athletes would look like, as well as those non-criminal acts that are blatantly immoral.

There will most likely be a lot of Hollywood-esque speculation as to what it was that Davies actually did. Then there will be a lot of people who question the Honor Code and whether or not it is too strict. There will be people claiming that Davies has been exiled and comments about why judgment doesn’t have a place in the Honor Code. I don’t think he will be exiled, but he will be treated like every other student at BYU; and that certainly isn’t too much to ask from our athletes. Word is that Davies turned himself in. If so, good for him; he will be better off in 10 years than a Michael Vick will be in his entire lifetime.

So can BYU ever win by putting principle (and a relatively strict one, at that) over winning games? The obstacles are indeed great. Several analysts at ESPN think, though, that it is certainly possible if everything falls together. They have a good point in that we could have been very close this year, and we did win the national championship in football. In today’s world, though, I am not so convinced. I think this season was exceptional, and it would have still been a miracle if we had actually won the championship. I think that a deep run into the tournament is a possibility, it just isn’t probable enough to make a difference.

Especially after today’s loss vs. New Mexico, I am starting to see that if BYU is serious about an NCAA championship, something needs to change. I think, though, that what BYU is doing has far better consequences than what other programs are doing for their athletes. By never allowing them to grow up, they are doing them a huge dis-favor. If all they care about is winning, though, in the words of an anonymous post that I found while following the game online:

“BYU needs sum bruthas with criminal records.”

God and Nature

I have started watching National Parks: America’s Greatest Idea, by Ken Burns. The first episode is entitled “Scripture and Nature,” and I was surprised by the open references to religion and God while talking about nature. The writings of John Muir, who was a naturalist, traveler, scientist, and a deeply religious writer, are used often.

There was a historian in the film that said something to the effect of, “When you want to see God, you don’t enter a cathedral. You don’t open a book. You go to the mountaintop.” I believe Mormons can identify with that. There is something of God in the quiet solitude of nature, something that is often difficult to see when only focusing on one aspect of His creation—His children.

Often times while working on the ranch I can’t help but feel that people who do not take time to appreciate nature in their lives are missing something. Even if you do not believe in God, there is something about nature that lifts a little bit higher. Try being alone in a vast forest or at the foot of a mountain without being humbled. Take time to look at the majestic, then lay down at the foot of a tree and take time to see the finer details.

Because, as Muir wrote, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”