Saturday, December 23, 2017

Movie Review: The Last Jedi

I don't get the hate for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
My wife and I just saw the movie in theaters last night, so we didn't go to an early or midnight screening, and we didn't pay extra for tickets, but we were packed in a theater full of a few hundred people of all different backgrounds and (while I can't be 100% sure on this, but I'm at least fairly confident in saying so) different experiences with Star Wars movies, lore, nostalgia, and the like.
To give a quick background on where I fall as far as that's concerned, I'd definitely call myself a fan of the franchise, but nowhere near "hardcore"; I've seen all of the movies and remember a bit of the 2D-animated Clone Wars, I casually played a few of the video games (like the Episode I podracer and the Lego adaptations), but that's about it. Never read any of the books, wasn't someone who got upset that the "extended universe" got pretty much thrown out the window, haven't obsessed with any facet of it at all. So, with that in mind, let's talk about the latest installment.

I will say now, it's going to be very hard to talk about this movie without going into spoiler territory, so please feel free to come back after you've seen this movie. Or if you don't care about that, then just keep going. And as another kind of disclaimer, I don't intend for this to come across as a rant; I more intend for this to be an analysis of the movie itself and the reaction of the community afterwards.
There wasn't a single part of The Last Jedi that I hated. There may have been parts I wasn't as much of a fan of than others, but nothing I'd straight up say "Nope. Can't have that. That was completely wrong." And while I do try to find enjoyment out of every movie I see, this one one deserves to be applauded, as is what happened when the credits rolled in our theater. Here are just a few of the moments that made me love this movie:
  • Poe and Hux having their banter at the beginning. Humorous moments are thrown in throughout multiple parts of the movie, and the laughter this scene generated was earned. From The Force Awakens, we're a little unsure of what we see Hux to actually be; he seems to be Snoke's right-hand man, but we don't know how worth fearing he is. Poe, and later on Kylo, make sure to put him in his place as the true punching bag he is. (And that's not to say that the actor, Domhnall Gleeson, didn't do a good job; he and most everyone were phenomenal with their respective roles throughout this movie.)
  • Kylo and Rey's Force conversations. They both show their youth and relative innocence; Kylo doesn't know how or why they're connected, and just wants someone who can understand him, and Rey tries to bring him back to the light. Their juxtapositions during these conversations, both from physical and philosophical perspectives, is a pleasure to watch.
  • Luke's behavior isn't as some sage, wise warrior. We could have seen Luke as another Obi-Wan Kenobi or Qui-Gon Jinn, being patient with his new apprentice and dutifully teaching them the ways of the Force. But we learn that when he tried that, during the interim of episodes VI and VII, we learn that it didn't go well because... well, Kylo Ren. Plus, and while this isn't gone into in depth in this movie but makes sense when you think about the series as a whole, Luke wasn't properly trained in the first place. He was advised by someone he barely knew – respected, but barely knew – to go find this "Master Yoda" on a remote planet. When he finally did, he was put through a ridiculous training procedure that probably made very little sense to him. He had to learn and train a lot on his own, and when that attempt to teach a new generation goes horribly wrong, of course he'll feel ashamed and be scared of trying again.
  • Yoda. Old, puppet Yoda. He comes back and enjoys the tearing down of old ways, literally watching the past burn, while leaving Luke – and the audience – with practical advice in his classic grammatical style: "The greatest teacher, failure is." (And if there was ever a fan-service moment that was well-executed, that would be it.)
  • Light saber tricks. This is always something I've thought about, and it seemed to happen a bit throughout the fight with Rey and Kylo in Snoke's chambers; if users of the Force, both Jedi and Sith, are so eloquent with light sabers, why couldn't they do a few more tricks with them while not actually in their hands? It's not always the most practical way to fight, I get that, but I mean... we've seen Kylo stop a blaster shot in midair, for crying out loud! The fact that Snoke was taken down by a saber without it actually being in someone's hand was greatly satisfying to see, and then the fighting immediately afterwards, finishing with a toss of the saber and it being ignited into a servant's head... It was fun, and again, satisfying.
  • Misdirection from the trailers. There were some moments I definitely thought would be as part of one scene that were still included, but just ended up as another, and it worked well; one in particular that I think most people would remember is where Rey is saying that she needs someone to teach her, show her her place in all of this, but while we see it looking like she's speaking with Kylo in the trailers, it's during a conversation with Luke (which, while it could have actually been a thing given what Kylo offered in Force Awakens, makes a bit more sense here because of the faith that Rey has in the light side of the Force).
  • Phasma. I liked that we saw a bit more of her, including a bit of humanizing fear as Finn struck her down, but I do wish that we saw more. Though given the 2 1/2 hour runtime, I understand that cuts would have to be made, and her part just wasn't quite as essential as others were.
  • The light speed moment from when Holdo went through Snoke's ship. This was probably my favorite part of the experience itself while watching it in a theater. And while I've gone on record to friends saying that I prefer to actually own the movie because it's usually cheaper, and you usually get more than just the movie itself, I will concede that moments like this are hard to beat. While there was the usual dull chatter going on throughout the movie, the buildup to seeing Holdo turn the transport cruiser around and kick it into light speed made everyone there pay so much attention that there was complete silence at that moment, matching the few moments of silence from the film itself while we processed what we saw. Not even a "whoa" or "oh my gosh"; total awe as we saw the clean strike through, understanding that Holdo made a heroic decision without trying to be a hero, helping Poe learn another valuable lesson.
To address a few of the concerns I've heard and seen around the internet this last week:
  • "Luke wouldn't behave that way!" Well, too bad, you're not him. You, the reader and moviegoer, likely aren't someone who works with Lucasfilm and Disney to produce it. You're not Rian Johnson; you're not the one making the movie. All that we know of what has happened since Return of the Jedi is very little, and what we have seen and heard from both Luke and Kylo – I feel that that justifies his behavior and attitude. His eccentricities and sarcastic behavior are radically different from the previous Jedi Masters we've followed, and it's a fresh change, as I mentioned above.
  • "The casino planet was dumb and pointless!" Not really. Finn and Rose went there for a purpose: they wanted to get a codebreaker to help the Resistance esacape from the First Order's ability to track them, and while the person they found to do so eventually betrayed them, it could very well be some kind of set up for a return in whatever Episode IX is going to be called. Lando Calrissian got his redemption; why can't DJ?
  • One thing that I didn't really like – and this would probably be the only nitpick I have – was the relationship between Rose and Finn. It may or may not turn into anything by the next movie, but the kiss she gives him before passing out did feel forced. My wife did bring up a point in that Rose could have just been clinging on to the closest thing within reach, emotionally speaking, since she had already been through and lost a lot in the last few days.
  • "Rey's parents have to be special since she's so strong with the Force!" I do hope that we eventually see Rey's parents, but it's not essential to the story. If what Kylo Ren said is true – that they're drunkards who didn't care about selling and leaving their daughter in the middle of nowhere – then I feel like that makes Rey and her abilities even more special. As Luke reminds us when he does try to teach Rey, the Force is with all of us, in everything; you don't have to have Skywalker blood in you to connect with it. That boy at the very end definitely pulled the broom to his hand using the Force, and we didn't even get his name. We just know he's someone who believes in the cause of the Resistance. And, lest we forget, Anakin Skywalker was originally a slave boy! He didn't come from royalty, or a long line of Jedi Knights. He was just someone who had a pretty strong connection to the Force, and happened to be discovered by someone else in tune with that same Force. Anakin came from nothing,* so why does Rey have to come from something?
I feel like those who are saying they didn't like it or even hated it aren't communicating well what they actually wanted out of this movie. And if that's the case, then I don't know that I really fault them for that; sometimes it can be hard to know exactly what it is you want. But it's hypocritical to say that you don't want a rehashing of what was done before (much like how The Force Awakens was a very similar story to A New Hope), and then complain when you get something like The Last Jedi that's different in almost every way.
For me, I don't want to go into a movie being able to predict every turn and plot device. I don't want to know beforehand what every character's motivation is for what they do. I want the movie to tell me all that for itself. I want it to show me. I want it to immerse me, surprise me, entertain me. I can't really be entertained if there's nothing new for me to take in. And regardless of what side you fall on the spectrum of loving it or hating it, you can't deny that this latest chapter in the Star Wars saga has defied expectation.
If you enjoyed it, great! Talk about it with others. If you didn't, then explain why and help me understand where you're coming from. It's far from hateable, and will definitely stand out among other chapters in this series. But please, don't just tear down someone else's opinion on it...
*technically not "nothing", he was supposedly born because of the high level of midichlorians... I know this post wasn't meant to be a rant, and it's not... at least about Last Jedi. I do take issue with the general consensus of how Anakin was born. His mother said in Episode I that "there was no father" and she can't explain what happened, so the understood meaning is that Anakin was the product of immaculate conception – at least Star Wars' version of it. This is just me theorizing, but it could just be that Shmi Skywalker was just too ashamed of who his father actually was to tell Qui-Gon. And Qui-Gon, with his gracious attitude, didn't pester her for more information. Maybe the father was who actually sold Shmi into slavery, and her resentment towards him for that made him in essence give up his rights to being a father? I just think it's more plausible than coming from essentially nowhere, given the lore of the Star Wars universe.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Plight of the Provo Bachelor: Lonely No More

This post has been a long time coming. Almost a year, actually, if I'm being honest. (And it's been a long time since I've written something anyway, sooo... welcome back!)

For anyone who's followed this blog at any point over the last few years, I've written on here multiple times before about how I've had issues with the dating scene in Utah, under this "Plight of the Provo Bachelor" subtitle. I've tried meeting girls through work, through school, through church congregations, online dating... and while I certainly had a lot of different experiences and made a lot of friends, nothing ended up lasting past those early stages friendship and numerous first dates. Nothing, that is, until last October.

I've mentioned the dating app Tinder on here before, and if I remember right I actually said I'd sworn it off, along with all other forms of online dating. (I may edit this post to link back to where I said it specifically, but I digress.) However, a little over a year ago, I moved up to a city called Sandy, much farther away from where I'd previously set myself up to look for a potential girlfriend. I thought that, since Tinder is based partially on your geographic location, I'd give it one more go (which would have been my fourth or fifth time doing so). And it didn't take long to eventually match with one incredible young woman named Chellie Dazey.

Chellie messaged me first through the app, which was a pleasant surprise, and she and I quickly were able to talk about things we had in common. We're both nerdy, both active in the Church, both avid movie goers, both open to new experiences, and we even had a unique connection: even though she lives in Utah, she's originally from North Carolina – specifically from the same city that my brother-in-law's family is from, whose family she's actually known for longer than I have. We "matched" through Tinder in late October and went on our first date in November. It wasn't anything fancy; literally we went to Taco Bell and watched some movies back at my place. But from that point forward, we hit it off very well, and officially began our relationship in early December.

One of the things that I've loved about our relationship is the open level of communication we've had since day one. We'd both had mixed experiences with dating in the past, and neither one of us enjoyed the dating "game" that so often gets played these days. We knew what we wanted, which was to eventually go to the temple to have a marriage that would last for all eternity. Yet we knew that that didn't mean we couldn't have fun while dating; many of the funniest moments I can remember have been with Chellie and I'm certain that she can say the same thing as well. We've had certain conversations where we try to out-pun each other; sometimes we just message each other only using GIFs, or we could spend an evening doing almost nothing and still say that we had a good time. We've got enough interests in common to know that we always have things to do, but she's also helped me to try new things, getting excited when I like them too and understanding if it's not quite my thing. She can make me laugh without saying a single word, sympathizes with any issues I may have, and comforts me out of pure love. I can say with full confidence that she is my best friend.

I can go on and on and on and on about this truly best thing that's ever happened to me, but that's really it. I don't have any kind of argument to discuss with this post or heated debate to join in on; those can wait for other posts. I just wanted to rave a bit about the wonderful woman I will wed next week.
From our engagement pics
When we got to meet Weird Al Yankovic, alongside a good friend of ours
At FanX, one of the conventions in Utah that we'll probably be making an annual tradition to attend
Taken at the Midway Ice Castles. I keep this one on my desk at work.
P.S. The title "Lonely No More" is taken from a Rob Thomas song of the same name, though aside from the title there's really not a whole lot I have in common with that song.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Things wanted or needed

Found this poem while looking through things belonging to my grandfather a while ago and just thought it was very share-worthy.

Go placidly among the noise & haste, & remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull & ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud & aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain & bitter; for always there will be greater & lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity & disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not stress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees & the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors & aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery & broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

While a note at the bottom of the page says it was found in Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore, from 1692, a quick online search actually revealed it to be from Max Ehrman, from the year 1927. The link provided in this paragraph gives a brief history of how it got its usual attribution. Also of note is that in the version I found among my grandfather's things, the second to last sentence reads "Be careful" rather than "Be cheerful." I much rather prefer the latter version, as I've posted above.

Strive to be happy, everybody. I don't think there's much better general advice than that.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Voting with my conscience

"The word 'politics' is derived from the word 'poly', meaning 'many', and the word 'ticks', meaning 'blood-sucking parasites'."    – Larry Hardiman (attrib.)
So unless you've managed to keep yourself disconnected from the whole world for the last year or so - in which case I somewhat envy you - many of the headlines these days are dealing with the upcoming US presidential election in just a few weeks. And the two main candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, seem to be creating more tension than any previous election ever has (at least from what I've noticed in my lifetime). That, to me, doesn't seem to be what election campaigns are supposed to do; obviously you want to make yourself look better and more desirable than your opponent(s), but this year there's been so much mudslinging and badmouthing that it's hard for me to take either of these two candidates seriously. Even in their final debate last night, while it looked like they might actually keep their cool during the first twenty minutes or so, it eventually ended in arguments and generally making the both of them look very unappealing. Let's take a look as to why:

Republican Party
I first came to know who Donald J. Trump was because of the reality TV show The Apprentice. Obviously he didn't just show up as this TV star out of the blue, he's been in business for pretty much all of his life, but again that's where I really first had a chance to pay any attention to him. And that's part of the issue I have with him: he's a businessman, not a politician. And with his business tactics and business morals, he managed to quite literally bully his way to become the Republican party's choice for president. Which is just ridiculous! Half of the things that come out of his mouth are to demean and belittle other people, and the other half is just lies or ridiculous claims of what he'll do once elected. Building a wall and having Mexico pay for it. Creating a better health care program while completely scrapping the existing one and having no experience in doing so. Vetting more than is necessary, extreme levels of stop and frisk, etc. Banning Muslims from entering our country. Radical claims that have little to no support behind them, because he just doesn't have the experience as a politician.
Lately a lot of the focus on him has been about recent negative comments he's made about how he treats women. He gave an apology for it, but just from watching it when it was first given and when he talked about it at the second debate, it looked and sounded like one of the most canned, insincere apologies ever. And even after that apology, more people are coming up to accuse him of past transgressions that he's just denying left and right. Are any of them true? I don't know, but it's far from a good sign that there are people making these accusations in the first place. All of his supporters accept that he's changed, dismissing it as "locker room talk", and while most of what he's said seems to have been just that - talk, and nothing more - I don't want to give a person like that the opportunity to act on that kind of talk as a president of our country. Aside from the allegations of women over the years that are now coming forward - even if none of them end up being true, I still don't trust this... man. He's not a politician, he's a celebrity that's trying to gain even more fame and recognition to help dig himself out of failing ventures.

Democratic Party
Hillary Clinton obviously has the experience of being in politics for longer than I've even been alive. She's served as a First Lady, a Senator, and up until this election she's served as Secretary of State. So as far as experience goes, at least versus Trump, she's got him beat. But a lot of the things that she and her party stand for are very contrary to what I believe in. She's got some scandals of her own, which of course keep getting brought up by her opponents (her private email server, Benghazi, and her husband's own lasciviousness that she defended [though to be fair, she's the one running, not Bill]). With her being able to get off clean for some of these things, it's hard to imagine a presidency where even more scandals and controversies can just get swept under the rug. For her, the recent announcement of emails being brought forth by Wikileaks is being said by certain news outlets that "you're only able to learn about it from us", that it's different for the media than for the general public, obviously giving way for bias to come through. That's a scary thought on its own as well: I can only learn about something so seemingly significant from one source? That just doesn't feel right at all to me. And yes, I understand that there are even people who have been staunch Republicans – even high profile ones – for the majority of their lives that are now voting for Clinton, but I can't in good conscience do the same. I don't want to vote for the "lesser of two evils", which I've seen and heard many people talk about over the last few months.
Kinda how it feels. Also, one of my favorite animated movies, and a particularly brilliant scene at that.
Conscience. That's a word that I've heard thrown around a bit lately as well. It's that little voice in our heads that's supposed to tell us what's right. It's that Jiminy Cricket or Shoulder Angel guiding us to do what we know we should, and letting us know when we don't. It's hard to know for sure if everyone involved in this presidential race is listening to their own conscience based on what they talk about; even Ben Carson said during an interview with MSNBC "I love the fact that all of a sudden you wanna talk about morality in our country. I would love us to bring back our Judaeo-Christian values and begin to teach those things and to emphasize them at a time other than a political election. Let's do that, but right now the train is going off the cliff." (Emphasis added) This is Dr. Ben Carson saying this, who, when he was still running for the Republican nomination himself, seemed to be one of the most looked-to candidates for traditional Christian values and morality. But now he, and pretty much all the other candidates who were running for the Republican nomination, are backing the same man who insulted just about all of them and fails to represent those values because the focus of the party is to beat "crooked Hillary". Where did their conscience go?! Again, I'm far from supporting Hillary at all, but at least she's able to somewhat answer questions in a debate without always deflecting or placing blame on her opponent!

It's so disheartening for me, and a lot of people from my "millennial" generation, to be faced with such abysmal choices. Bernie Sanders seemed to attract a lot of attention for people my age when still in the running for the Democratic nomination, though I personally never had any interest in him. Four years ago, Mitt Romney was my candidate of choice, but obviously he didn't win the election at the time and even now people who bashed on him are wistfully hoping that that outcome could have been different. So now a lot of people are looking toward third party candidates with the hope that, instead of getting the lesser of two evils, we actually get a somewhat good choice. John Oliver from Last Week Tonight discusses two of them here. (And by the way, he also goes into some detail about the scandals of the two main candidates here – keep in mind though, there is some language as he's a on an HBO show, and able to get away with a bit more than standard cable standards. But he brings up some very good points in each one.)
"To be fair, Johnson's anger [at being called a spoiler for the two main party candidates] is understandable. Just dismissing third-party candidates as spoilers shuts down debate. And while the argument that the only thing that stops Trump is a vote for Hillary Clinton is a powerful one, so is the argument that people should vote for the candidate who most closely shares their values."
That last phrase actually echoes counsel that's been repeatedly given by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who encourages members to not only vote but also "spend the time needed to become informed about the issues and candidates you will be considering... Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties, and members should seek candidates who best embody those principles." (Emphasis added.)
There's a website I've been seeing posted a lot on social media lately, It's a site run by two friends, who say in their About section that while they each have very different views of politics they both want to just increase voter awareness by compiling information and data, and together they made the site to make it easier for people to figure out exactly who best represents them based on their values and cared-about issues. I did their quiz, and ended up siding 91% with a third-party candidate named Evan McMullin. He's already made a name for himself here in Utah, but he's incredibly late to the party (forgive the slight pun), and seems to be hinging on the fact that enough third-party votes can prevent either of those two big candidates from winning the main election and having the vote go to the House instead of through the electoral colleges. However... Even with that against him, I feel like voting for him would put my mind more at ease than voting for Trump or Clinton. I can't 100% say he's going to be the candidate I vote for this year, but I can assure you that before election day I'll be doing my research and will know for sure by the time I'm casting my vote.
Google image search never fails me.
Just a last note, I know I've seen some criticism (not to me, but in general) of following the more comedic talk show hosts like John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Seth Myers, and the like for getting news coverage, since there's a good chance again for it to be biased. My argument against that is just this: in a world where we've got clowns running amok, scaring people across the country, and some clowns running for president, on TOP of all the other awful news over the last couple years, it only makes sense that we get a good laugh once in a while. We can't even have a somewhat entertaining election awareness video made by some very recognizable actors without it getting parodied and criticized. Sure, the original may be bashing on Trump and leaning more towards Hillary, but to be fair the need for this kind of call to action is almost necessary with how low the actual voting population has been in the last couple decades, and how significant of an impact this election really will have for citizens of the United States and our relationships with countries around the world. (Oh, and don't read the comments for the majority of the videos I've linked to in this. It just gets toxic down there in that part of YouTube.)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Oh hey, this is a thing I used to do.

How long has it been since I've actually posted here? ...July? ...LAST July? Holy cow. Better do some cleanup.
Honestly I've meant to post well before now, and even had a few drafts written, at least one of which I'll probably post next week after making sure it gets polished up. Plus, this whole week I've been fairly sick, and while sick I don't really feel like going out and doing anything... So I'm gonna start writing again, as I used to be so wont to do before.

Just to get anyone up to speed for those who missed anything I've posted on Facebook over the last year or so, things are going much, much better for me now than the last time I posted. So I'll try to do a brief recap of all the big events from 2015 I didn't talk about, plus what's happened in 2016 so far.
  • At the beginning of June last year, I went with some friends down to San Diego to see some other friends of mine get married. The whole thing was great to watch, and a fun time was had by all.
    Chance and Nicole Molen, amazing friends of mine for the last few years
  • September of last year was the first Comic Con that I went to, which was the Salt Lake Comic Con (now the third largest of its kind). Besides seeing panels, collecting merchandise, and other "normal" Con activities, I helped join a group of 1,783 other people to break the Guinness World Record for "Largest gathering of people dressed as comic book characters". A fairly specific one, yes, but it's still something I'm proud of.
    Posing with my former roommates, Ryan Stevens (Captain America), Ryan Hernandez (Winter Soldier), and me as Star-Lord
  • I took a serious look at my health and started actually doing something about it. I began working out with a personal trainer, and while that did go on break for a while for a few different reasons, I have picked that up again and have goals set in place for what I want to achieve, one of the biggest being just losing weight.
    While I don't actually use FitBit anymore, I did keep track regularly - and still do!
  • Star Wars came back in full force (pun intended). My family and I went to go see it on Christmas Day, and it was actually good! I don't know if there's ever been more hype for a franchise to come back and have it be as successful as they hoped, because now there's going to be an episode 8 and 9, as well as a number of other Star Wars Story movies (like Rogue One coming out this year).
  • Speaking of Star Wars, I went to Salt Lake Comic Con again this year, and one of the big names they got for visiting actors was Mark Hamill himself. Few other actors in the sci-fi genre are as recognized and honored, and on top of that he has a prolific voice acting career as well, most notably as the Joker in the Batman animated series. He held a panel the day he was here, with thousands of people there watching, and just being able to see him in person and hear him talk about the amazing career he's had was so much fun.
    Purposely chose to sit at the top so I wouldn't be fighting for a "good" seat - these screens were plenty good.
    See? View was just fine. SO many fun stories he shared... No spoilers, though!
  • This February I got a job with Marriott Vacations Worldwide. To be clear, this is separate from Marriott International, which is in charge of the hotel chain (so Marriott hotels, Springhill Suites, Courtyard, etc.). This is the timeshare division, which is its own entity. I don't do any timeshare sales, which I'm kinda grateful for – from how much we help out our owners, timeshare ownership can get pretty complicated. But for the most part it's really not too bad, I help those who already own at certain locations make their own vacation plans for the upcoming year, or sometimes even for just a quick getaway. I honestly love it; they do a great job from day 1 to make you feel like you're part of a family there, and while it is technically work they also try especially hard to keep it fun and exciting for us. That's not something that can be said about most other call centers, which this is, but since our focus is so much different than other call centers it's easier to have that different feel. I've been working there full-time since February and have very much enjoyed it.
  • I helped a friend of mine make a parody of Phantom of the Opera for a class at UVU. (Hopefully that link works to watch the video; if not, then just message me and I'll figure out a way for you to see it.) Apparently all of the videos for that class had to be musical-based, and related to politics, so we centered it loosely on the upcoming election. Loosely. We actually had a blast making it, and despite having a short time frame to make it in, it helped her get one of the best scores in the class, so that was something. Just a heads up, for those who do watch it: we're fully aware that the acting and singing is far from professional; again, the point was to parody the musical and current political situation, so hopefully it garners a laugh or two.
  • This summer we had a reunion for my mom's side of the family. We had I think around 70 people show up throughout the course of the weekend, some from close by and others from across the country. It was a great opportunity to catch up with some family members I hadn't seen in years, and it was an even bigger celebration because we were also celebrating what would have been my grandfather's 100th birthday.
    Our family tree, with my mom's parents centered at the bottom. I think we're up to 130 descendants so far just from them, not including those who have married into the family.
  •  I moved from Alpine, where I'd been living with my parents for a while to save some money while not in school, up to Sandy, which really isn't that far but does significantly help in my commute to work every day to south Salt Lake City. It's basically on the other side of a mountain, for those who are unfamiliar with the geography in Utah. I've been here for a couple months now, and could easily see myself staying here for a while. Still trying to get to know my roommates, as we've not got exact schedules, but from what I do know about each of them they're pretty cool and very easy to get along with.
  • I've been to a couple more wedding receptions for friends this year and am already planning on going to more, including one this weekend for a mission buddy of mine.
Those are the biggest things that have happened so far. There are obviously other things going on, and more possible events – I'm hoping to go out to Hawaii this Thanksgiving with the rest of my family to see my oldest niece get baptized, there's a presidential election coming up in a few weeks (I'll have a blog post just about that, don't worry), and maybe even some more things going on before the end of this month that I'll be able to write about. I do hope to get better at writing regularly again, because I know that it's helpful for me to write as an outlet, and there are some who seemed to enjoy my posts when I wrote before. So hopefully these new posts can be found just as enjoyable as before to those who used to read them. And if you're new, well... Welcome! This is my place to rant about whatever I feel like, separate from Facebook or other places online, just because sometimes it feels good to go on and on about whatever subject I want. I understand that it's not necessarily something that everyone would want to see on their walls, tweeted at them, or what have you, so I usually just provide a link so that people can choose to come read my random thoughts if they want to. Sooooo..... Enjoy!

Oh, random last thought, I'm also trying out having facial hair. I'm really not one for selfies, so here's one I took a couple weeks ago that I actually liked, and it's not likely I'll take many/any more. But hopefully this gives an idea of what it looks like on me.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

July journal update

Still want to get this week's post in before the night was over, so it'll be a quick update on life, followed by some thoughts I've had lately on social media.

For the last couple weeks, we've been lucky to have my sister Katie and her family in town visiting from Hawaii. Her husband is in the Navy, so having enough time off to make a trip out here worthwhile is somewhat rare. But he was able to stay for a full week, and the rest of them will be with us for a few more. We had some family pictures taken that should be finished soon, so I'll post some once I have access to them.

Yesterday, being Independence Day here in the States, we all went up to my brother's house in Salt Lake and had a great little barbecue, followed by some fireworks. I've always enjoyed fireworks shows, and by far the best one I've been to is the Stadium of Fire in Provo. They hold it at the BYU football stadium, and they often have a famous musical performer/group performing shortly before they set it all off. This year they had Journey, and in years past they've had acts like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and the Beach Boys (who were there the year I saw it). While there have been people claiming that there are bigger shows, and I'm sure there are, the fact that it was a concert as well made it a pretty great experience. And they sounded great, even for it being their 50th anniversary tour!

I haven't been able to use my Fitbit for the last few weeks because I lost the charger for it in the deep recesses of my room. (It's actually pretty clean, I just have no idea where it could be...) But another plus of my sister visiting is that she's got a charger for hers that works for mine as well. The model I use was actually recalled a while back because a few people got rashes, but since I never had a problem with it I never bothered to replace it. I've got a new charger on its way from Amazon already, but in the meantime I can get back on track by using the one she brought. I made it down to about 232 pounds, and I'd love to get below 200 before the end of the year.
K, so maybe this will be longer than I planned on it being. Oh well, I'm on a roll.
I've just been thinking a bit about what kinds of social media I've been using. My main ones, in the order of frequency used, are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and to a much lesser extent Blogger. YouTube is technically a form of social media as well, though much different than any of the ones I've mentioned. And I used to have Snapchat, but I got rid of the app a while ago because 1) it took forever to do anything with it on my phone (although it's a four-year-old phone, and it's been a while since I updated the iOS on it) and 2) I just never really enjoyed communicating through it. It's a novel idea, certainly, but often times if I was ever sent videos they'd go too fast to really get a good feel of what they were. And picture messages a lot of times were without much context, which I guess is fine for people who are used to messaging that way, but I just never really got into it too much.

After the Supreme Court decision a little over a week ago (and I'm not going to get political on this post, don't worry), it was incredibly interesting to see how much people showed their feelings over it. And I say interesting in an honest sense, not just as a passive adjective to move this paragraph along. While I don't ever plan on studying psychology as a career or anything, some concepts of psychology have held my curiosity every so often. And I can't say that it's "research" by any means, but what is so interesting to me is to see how vocal some people get behind the shield of the internet. A lot more people feel open to share what they feel, what they think, what they believe, because they're not afraid of being harassed "publicly" about it. At least, most people I know feel free to openly express themselves – many celebrities still need to be careful of any backlash, much like Jim Carrey on Twitter recently stating his opinion on vaccinations. (For the record, he is pro-vaccination, but "anti-neurotoxin", as he stated in a few later tweets.)

I don't post as much on my Facebook as much as I used to some years ago. And on Twitter, I mostly just have it to follow other accounts, big names, some organizations, etc. Occasionally I'll retweet a funny comment or share a post, and every so often I'll post my own status, tweet something, put up a picture on Instagram and have it post to my other accounts, but that's about it. I like writing here because it's hard to get misinterpreted about what I mean for whatever I say. I can be as lengthy or brief as I want, and since I share these posts on Facebook where there's the highest chance for people to see it, anyone who really wants to know what's going on, how I'm feeling, "what's on my mind?" as Facebook is currently asking in its status box – anyone can come see any of that whenever they'd like. And on top of all that, I feel like writing is becoming a lost art form; sure, we're still taught how to write and type and communicate properly, but with texting and tweeting and messaging all being the dominant ways we communicate, doing stuff like this just isn't really seen all that much anymore. Vlogging has been popular, though I think a lot of people got into it to try to make money off of YouTube. That's all well and good, though I hope they realize how much work it takes to actually make a successful living off of online videos. And that you need a somewhat exciting or enticing personality to pull it off – you can't just sit yourself in front of a camera, talk into it for five to ten minutes in a monotone voice, put it online, and expect people to love it immediately. Building up a fan base takes time, skill, and dedication for it. Internet fame can happen overnight, but lasting internet fame requires work.

Maybe that's why people feel the need to be so brazen on social media every so often. Maybe they're hoping to make the controversial status that will be seen across the country, or make the trending hashtag that everyone will use for a few days, or put up the picture that gets them thousands of followers. Or they could just troll everyone they talk to for the sole purpose of annoying them. Again, they have the shield of a computer screen and who knows what actual distance they have between the person they're insulting. Alfred from The Dark Knight said it best: they can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

I don't know if I'd ever like to be "internet famous". It'd be nice, but there's a lot of unseen drama that can go with it. But if it ever were to happen, I do want to be transparent about what I put up, what I represent, and what I come across as to everyone who sees what I do.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

#LoveWins doesn't mean I hate you

Friday was interesting.

June 26, 2015, marks what will probably be viewed as a significant day in US history. The Supreme Court ruled, after much deliberation, that marriage can be between two people, regardless of whatever gender either one is. The official statement from the Court can be seen here, though it is quite lengthy.

The last time I wrote about a topic like this happens to be exactly two years ago, when Proposition 8 was overturned in California. And when I posted the link to that post on Facebook, it was met with a lot of negative feedback from some of my old high school friends. I don't know if the algorithms that Facebook uses today will cause them to see this post as well, since even before I shared that post we were no longer "friends" on Facebook, so we'll just have to see what happens.

This picture pretty much sums up what it's been like to get online in the last two days:
And yes, I know this has been shared by George Takei, who is openly gay.
One of the things that I've seen amongst all the posts saying that people are so happy for this decision, all the newly rainbow-fied profile pictures, etc., is this: #LoveWins. It's been used all over, from companies who previously had never expressed any political statements whatsoever to the White House Twitter showing the building being lit up in rainbow colors. And that hashtag has been included pretty much everywhere.

So if this was a win for "love", then that has to mean that someone lost, right? Well, what's the opposite of love? Hate? And if I'm against gay marriage, then that means I'm on the losing side – the side of hate – right? Correct me if I'm wrong or going too fast down a slippery slope here.
In my last post about this, I felt like I was pretty clear about what I believed a marriage should be: a privilege, not a right, between a man and a woman. And my belief that it should be between a man and woman is religiously based. When I shared that previous post on Facebook, while most of the comments were respectful, it did hurt to be told "shame on you" or that I could "move to another planet". It felt like many of those who were slamming me didn't read through all of what I wrote, but rather just picked and chose what to criticize.

Just like when Prop 8 was overturned, this vote among the Supreme Court Justices wasn't unanimous (both were a 5-4 split), and I feel like many of those who are rejoicing over the decision are either forgetting that fact or just don't acknowledge it. Here are some excerpts from the justices who dissented from the decision, and as an example here's a quote from Chief Justice John Roberts:
If you are one of the many people Americans – of whatever sexual orientation – who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today's decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.
The Constitution doesn't explicitly state anything about marriage. But it is the duty of the judicial branch of our government to interpret the law. Apparently the majority of the current Supreme Court feels that they have the need to add their own definition in of what marriage is.
Some friends of mine have already pointed out that since this ruling has happened, it could quite easily lead to other forms of marriage. I mean, since we're redefining what marriage is and has been for centuries (really millennia), why stop at just making it legal for two men or two women to get married? Why not shake things up a bit and make it so that a man and two women could all be married? Let's bring polygamy back into the picture! Or maybe three men, three women, two kids, and their dog could all be married together? It sounds outrageous now, but so did gay marriage to many, many people just a few decades ago.
My honest opinion on it? It's probably going to happen. Maybe not soon, but if we live in a world where 1) it's acceptable by many to change your gender or even race to whatever you want it to be simply because that's what you "identify as" (referring to Bruce, now Caitlyn, Jenner, and Rachel Dolezal, respectively) and 2) it's already legal to marry inanimate objects... well, it just doesn't seem too far off. A friend of mine posted that "if hearing 'I love you' were enough we would all buy a parrot and get it over and done with." Funny now, but one day it might actually be someone's solution to singleness.

I don't hate gay people. I don't hate that gay marriage is legal throughout the country. And it's not that I hate the fact that homosexuality is even a thing. What pains me is that it's something I don't believe to be right, and yet people who I care about can't fully receive blessings from God if they're not keeping His commandments. Is it easy to tell someone who deals with same-sex attraction to just not act on those feelings? Yeah, it's easy for me to say that, but certainly not easy for someone to hear it or follow it, especially if many of them don't know or believe there's a reason for them not to act on those feelings. I'll freely admit, I really don't know all that many people who identify as anything but straight. So I haven't yet had the chance to really empathize for those who struggle with this. But many of those who I do know and have talked to who are gay, bi, queer, pan, etc. – many of them don't believe in any kind of God in the traditional Christian sense: that He is our creator, that Jesus Christ is His son, etc. Someone from that Facebook thread flatly said "I don't believe in any higher power." That's frustrating for me to hear (in this case, read) when I know that God exists, I know I've been blessed by Him in my life. From another one of the dissenting Justices, Clarence Thomas:
When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal" and "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this nation was built.
Religion is what helped found this country. Even if you don't believe in the same things I do, or don't believe in anything, that fact is undeniable. And while this may be the new trend that's been set, it's strayed far from what We the People originally believed. From George Washington himself:
It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor. (source)
Just because it's what five out of nine people believe and have voted on, that doesn't necessarily make it right. Just because there are millions of people screaming that things should be a certain way doesn't mean that it really should be. Just because you don't believe the same things I do doesn't immediately mean either one of us is wrong. And just because I want to try to love you like a friend, like a brother or sister, that doesn't mean that I accept everything that you ever do.
Now please, please don't immediately interpret that as me hating you. Because that's not my intent at all. I don't mean to step on your happiness just as I'm sure you don't mean to step on mine. If it's something that truly does bring you joy, then there isn't much I can do about it, is there? But understand this: I have my beliefs, and I will not hesitate to share them, and share why I hold them.

I'd like to reemphasize what I wrote at the end of my other post about all this. I don't mean to come across as hating anyone for any reason, and I really don't feel like that I did in any part of this post. I apologize if previous words of mine have offended you, and yet I do hope that you can understand where I'm coming from. If you'd like to understand more of why I believe what I believe, I'm happy to point out places you can go.
  • and are the two main sites to learn about the doctrine of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who are often referred to as Mormons. is another site from the Mormon church that specifically details what our intent is with those who deal with same-sex attraction and how we should interact with each other as part of the human family.
  • A document called "The Family: A Proclamation to the World", which has been a long-standing resource for Mormons that explains why we value the traditional family so much. An article called "The Divine Institution of Marriage" explores that document in depth and relates it to many of the issues at hand, citing various sources (not just scriptures).
  • A short video with transcript from Michael Otterson, a spokesman for the Mormon church, who stated that while we may not agree with everything that groups such as the Human Rights Campaign lobby for, we do believe and support their equal protections – "We join our voice with others in unreserved condemnation of acts of cruelty or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different – whether those differences arise from race, religion, mental challenges, social status, sexual orientation or for any other reason."
  • A couple speeches from men who I sustain as living apostles. Every six months they, along with many other leaders of the Church, hold a conference available for everyone around the world to watch, hear, or read, and though these aren't the only opportunities to hear them speak, quite often they are the times where they talk about the most pressing topics that the world is dealing with. These two speeches that I've linked to talk a bit about why I feel it's important for me to stay firm to what I believe in, and they express it much better than I usually can.
  • A few other perspectives on the whole debate.
I'm not going to rainbow-tint my profile picture on social media. I'm not going to try to tell my bishop to hold a wedding for some gay friends of mine, or write a letter to the leaders of the Church saying that the doctrine should change since that's what's legal in the country. (It's very clear that it won't change because of that.) But that doesn't mean I'll try to degrade or protest outside of a chapel where two men will be getting married, or that I'll insult you through the shield of the internet because I feel that you're wrong. I would much rather talk with you and maintain a friendship instead of spit venomous words at each other.

I don't support everything you do. But I am far, far from hating you.