This ad ran shortly after the Las Vegas Townsite, now downtown, was auctioned off in 1905. Click on the image for a larger, readable version.
December 5th, 2015 · Uncategorized
November 22nd, 2015 · Uncategorized
A story from my hometown of Logan, Utah has made international headlines this week. Colby Nielsen, whom I don’t personally know, had his newborn baby girl Kaylee taken away from him against his will. Colby was not married to the birth mother. The birth mother unilaterally put Kaylee up for adoption, which can apparently be done under Utah law.
This is the kind of story that tugs at our collective heartstrings. Anyone who has experienced the miracle of welcoming their own child into this world simply cannot fathom the nightmare that Colby is experiencing right now. An injustice has been done. We all ache for Colby. People have raised money for Colby’s attorneys’ fees. The story has been shared on social media. Citizens have called upon Utah lawmakers to change this inequitable law.
Unfortunately, some have taken matters a step further. A step too far. Sadly, an internet shame mob has formed in Eden.
Here is a sample of the internet shame mob at work:
PLEASE SHARE. TIME IS CRITICAL.
[Name of couple who took Kaylee] of Cache Valley. He [works] at [place of employment], where the LDS grandmother worked. [Female in the couple] sure likes all the LDS Apostles and Jesus. Funny how being religious doesn’t make you moral.
Attached to the post were pictures of the couple culled from their social media accounts. There are other instances where the couple has been doxxed, but there is no point in cataloging each infraction of privacy here. For those unfamiliar, Wikipedia describes doxxing as “the internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual.” I was once the target of doxxing. It was a horrible, stressful experience. The doxxer even tried to get me fired. Fortunately, my employer saw through the doxxer and stood by me. Not everyone is so fortunate.
Doxxing and shaming the couple is vengeance, not justice. Only because so much of the doxxing against the couple has had a religious undertone, I invoke Paul’s counsel: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves [or third parties in stories you see on Facebook], but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
I know what some might be thinking. “But Tom, Colby’s baby was stolen from him by this couple! What kind of horrible people would do that? They deserve it. It’s justice!”
I agree that Colby and Kaylee desperately need justice. However, an internet shame mob is not justice. If you really want to help Colby and Kaylee, you’ll refrain from joining the internet shame mob. An internet shame mob, no matter how seemingly just the cause, is an emotional collective without accountability, consistency, conscience or due process.
The latest story of internet mob justice is a depressing one.
Two elderly hearse drivers driving the flag-draped coffin of a military man stopped to grab a donut before their long drive from one Florida town to the next.
A man saw the parked hearse and took a video of himself confronting them about this apparent disrespect to a fallen hero.
When they didn’t seem remorseful for stopping at a Dunkin Donuts, he sent the video to a pro-veterans group. One thing led to another and the video went viral, the internet freaked out, and the two men—both in their seventies—lost their jobs.
“Our lives are now ruined because of a donut,” one of the men wrote on Facebook. “God forgive me. We now have no means of income because of a donut and being human.”
Internet shame mobs can permanently maim the reputation of individuals and deprive them of the ability to make a livelihood. Does the husband in the couple deserve to be deprived of a career or employment in perpetuity? Forever? How would his inability to find a job affect his children and family? Do they deserve to be sentenced by the internet shame mob? Will you contribute to or perpetuate this pious faux ‘justice’? Because that is just one disturbing direction this internet shame mob is headed.
You may remember Dr. Walter Palmer, a dentist who infamously killed Cecil the Lion. He became the target of an internet shame mob. From Vox:
What Palmer did was wrong, and he deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law. But it’s easy to forget just how dangerous and unjust “mob justice” is while it’s targeting someone you despise. The more this behavior is normalized, the more likely it is to be deployed against targets who might not necessarily deserve to have their lives destroyed — including, perhaps one day, against you.
This campaign against Palmer has been disturbingly successful. His dental practice is closed at the moment, and his harassers are gleeful that they are denying him an income. But this also inflicts harm on people who did not kill Cecil the lion. Palmer’s family presumably relies on his income. So do his employees, whose livelihoods are now threatened as well. When a Reddit user pointed this out, over 1,500 users voted in support of the response that “His employees are better off working elsewhere.” The mob, naturally, has shown no intention of helping to find new jobs for the innocent dental employees it is seeking to put out of work.
Finally, we are a nation of laws, not of men. I know that sometimes sounds trite, but it is true. There is a system in place for Colby to seek redress, and that is our court system. Unlike internet shame mobs, the law is blind, equitable and ensures due process.
The internet shame mob forming against this couple will not help anyone. It won’t help baby Kaylee or Colby. It won’t mete out justice. Let’s put our iTorches and iPitchforks away and give the real justice system time to sort this mess out.
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October 15th, 2015 · Uncategorized
This is a question I am frequently asked by friends, both locals and visitors alike, usually triggered by the onslaught of billboards and TV commercials for local personal injury lawyers. The answer always surprises: “Nevada doesn’t have a lot of lawyers.” At least relatively speaking. Nevada has a much smaller per capita attorney population, as compared to the rest of the country. According to recent data from the American Bar Association, there are 1,300,705 active, practicing lawyers in the United States, a 17% increase from a decade ago. That’s one lawyer for every 247 Americans (322 million Americans/1.3 million lawyers).
In contrast, Nevada has one lawyer for every 414 Nevadans (2,839,099 Nevadans/6,858 practicing Nevada lawyers).
So why does it seem like Nevada has so many lawyers? And why does Nevada have a lower per capita population than the rest of the country?
It seems like Nevada has more lawyers because Nevada, especially Las Vegas, has a very transient population. As transients, Las Vegans don’t have the same deep social networks that more stable populations have. People are less likely to have established relationships with professionals, including attorneys. As a result, attorney advertising is far more important here than other states, especially for personal injury lawyers. That’s why there are so many personal injury billboards, TV and radio ads in Las Vegas.
Nevada’s (relatively) low attorney population may also be a function of Nevada’s very difficult bar exam and admissions process. Nevada has the fifth most difficult bar exam in the United States. Approximately 40% of July bar exam takers fail each year, and in February a majority fails! Nevada’s bar exam has more subjects than most other states, and, unlike most other states the exam is three days instead of two. On top of that, Nevada has no reciprocity, meaning that you can’t be admitted to practice law here simply because you’ve been admitted in another state. You may be the most accomplished trial attorney in, say, Colorado, but if you want a license in Nevada, you’ll sit your ass down next to the recent grads for three days and take the full exam. These barriers to entry are a deterrent to many who don’t have a firm plan to practice here, especially failed lawyers from other states.
Even though Nevada’s per capita attorney population is less than the U.S. average, Nevada probably still has far more attorneys than needed. For among UNLV’s law class of 2014 71% of graduates were able to secure full-time employment requiring bar passage (and, in fairness to UNLV, as low as that number is, it is still better than many law schools in the country – that’s how dramatic the oversupply is!).
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March 27th, 2015 · Uncategorized
This morning, Utah State Aggie Harry Reid announced that, after 30 years representing Nevada in the Senate, he would retire. In addition to being an Aggie, Senator Reid will have also served as Majority Leader for eight years.
Senator Reid is, without question, the most famous graduate of Utah State University ever. No other graduate of Utah State – or any other Utah school for that matter – has even come close to ascending to Reid’s height in U.S. government.
Reid was born into poverty, the son of a miner and a laundress who cleaned the laundry for the 13 or so brothels in Searchlight, Nevada. Reid learned to swim and play billiards in those brothels.
So what was the conduit between Reid’s hard scrabble beginnings and his ascendency to the very top of the most powerful deliberative body in the world?
His education. Reid received his bachelors degree from Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Utah State is the kind of place that can propel an impoverished kid playing billiards in a Nevada brothel to running the United States Senate. That’s a story that should be told and retold by Utah State, and part of telling that story is properly honoring Reid on campus.
In addition, while at Utah State, Reid joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a decision that would have a profound impact on the direction of his life.
Yet, strangely, there isn’t any kind of significant acknowledgement on campus that Reid’s improbable path included the Spot Where the Sagebrush Grows. UNLV has named a building after Reid, and Reid didn’t even go to school there! If a visitor walks around Utah State’s campus today, they are given absolutely no indication that Reid went to school there. It’s really quite unbelievable.
Utah State should proudly claim Reid as one of it’s most prominent graduates by naming a major building or facility after him. No doubt that some yokels will balk, simply because Reid’s politics run contrary to most Utahns (and, frankly, my own), but this is obviously not a legitimate reason to not honor Reid. By honoring Reid, Utah State increases it’s it’s prominence and tells the important story that through an education at Utah State anything is possible.
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February 13th, 2015 · Uncategorized
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February 12th, 2015 · Uncategorized
As a kid growing up in Cache Valley, I have fond memories of some crazy games between Utah State and Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels in the Spectrum. The Spectrum was especially raucous when UNLV came to town. Of all the great stories in Spectrum lore, however, the infamous 1990 Jerry Tarkanian water bomb is an incident that Aggie fans love to relive and retell.
Engineering students rigged a water pump in the vent behind the UNLV bench. Triggered by remote, the pump soaked the Shark with Aggie blue water.
Now, a lot of coaches would have been pissed about that, and some would have likely even given a lecture about “class”.
He loved it.
And you gotta love that about him.
RIP, Tark, from this Aggie and many others who have nothing but fond memories of you.
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February 12th, 2015 · Uncategorized
Major League Soccer isn’t coming to Vegas. It appears that simply putting the Soccer Stadium taxpayer subsidy on the ballot was enough to drive MLS away.
The partnership of Findlay Sports & Entertainment and Cordish Cos won a $56.6 million subsidy from City Council in December to build a $200 million, 24,000-seat stadium in Symphony Park in its effort to draw an MLS team.
But the 4-3 council approval on Dec. 17 stirred political turmoil, as Councilman Bob Beers successfully sued his own city to get the stadium subsidy on the ballot to allow city votyers to decide in June.
“They’re waiting for a response from the league (MLS),” Coffin said. “They’ve been beaten up pretty bad and they’re not public people. They’re not used to being criticized by everyone.”
Sorry, Councilman Coffin, I just can’t muster the same sympathy for the investors. Did you know that the median household income in Clark County is just $52,873? So when the soccer investors asked for a $57 million handout from Las Vegas taxpayers, they ceased being private persons and became very public persons. They voluntarily opened themselves up to be “criticized by everyone.”
Of course, if they didn’t want to be “criticized by everyone,” they could have funded the stadium privately. And, under basic market principles, if there had been any actual demand for a downtown soccer stadium, there wouldn’t have been a problem raising sufficient private capital.
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February 4th, 2015 · Uncategorized
For a century and a half, the narrative of the Restoration was told and retold, passed from one generation to the next with little to no professional historical treatment. Like a faith promoting game of “telephone,” as the narrative was passed along, it evolved away from fact. That evolution was fueled by the excited, pure faith of the storytellers, who wanted to present the sacred in the most inspiring light possible. Now, to be sure, the people involved in this narrative evolution did not have nefarious intent. In fact, they did not know about the evolution at all! They just told and retold the narrative that meant so much to them, that had profound, and very real spiritual meaning, even if it had departed from the facts.
By the late twentieth century when professional treatment of Church history began in earnest, a wide chasm had developed between the factual historical record and the narrative that Latter-day Saints were taught around the dinner table, at FHE, in seminary and in Sunday School. Complexities about the Prophet Joseph Smith, airbrushed over for generations, re-emerged. Initially, those blemishes were only known by wonky academics. The average lay member of the Church was completely oblivious to the chasm.
But then the information revolution changed everything.
Suddenly, the previously forgotten messy, contradictory, unflattering and often disturbing elements of our origins were just a few clicks away. The chasm had grown so large for many, that claims about Joseph Smith marrying other men’s wives or a 14 year old girl could only be understood as bombastic anti-Mormon lies. Those who kept digging, however, were forced to face a difficult jarring reality- the narrative they had been taught, and upon which they had built their lives, was radically different than the historical record.
This experience has been heart wrenching and anguishing for many Latter-day Saints. Marriages and families were in jeopardy. Spouses who discovered the chasm often faced marital discord, and even divorce. Though the Internet has been commercially available to the masses for twenty years now, until very recently, the Church essentially ignored this growing phenomenon. No resources were developed or offered to those in a crisis of faith. Those who fell upon a crisis of faith were alone.
Until John Dehlin came long.
John discovered the chasm while serving as an early morning seminary teacher. Instead of struggling alone, John created a forum, Mormon Stories, to discuss the chasm issues in depth, honestly and respectfully. That’s what has made John unique. Every topic he has covered on Mormon Stories has previously been discussed elsewhere. However, religion generally, and Mormonism specifically, are extremely volatile and polarizing. Apologists and polemicists offer such charged, diametrically opposite treatments of Mormonism as to be essentially useless to a person struggling in a faith crisis. John’s unique contribution to Mormonism was the one-on-one help he has provided to thousands, as well as the even handed approach to discussing the chasm.
John invited experts on Mormon Stories to discuss, in hours long interviews, the difficult issues carefully and in depth. Unlike apologists and polemicists, John’s agenda has never been to convince his audience to view Mormon issues in a certain way, but instead to provide a forum to discuss the issues openly and understand them better. By having a thoughtful, steady, balanced forum to discuss Mormon issues, many thousands of Latter-day Saints worked through their faith crisis.
Personally, John’s wide ranging interview with “Rough Stone Rolling,” author Dr. Richard Bushman was pivotal in my ability to accept the historical record in Mormonism while finding a way to see the Divine in our history. John pressed Dr. Bushman with the kind of blunt questions that I had. Dr. Bushman responded with brilliant, honest answers. I still distinctly remember driving down 400 North in Logan listening to the Mormon Stories episode where Dr. Bushman bore his testimony of why and how he believed even though he fully understood the disturbing parts of our history. Things finally “clicked” for me. It was a resource that only existed through Mormon Stories. The Church offers no equivalent, sadly.
Of course, John’s work has upset some people. Discussing these difficult issues or even acknowledging the existence of the chasm makes some people feel threatened. After all, these issues raise the possibility that the sacred narrative we have been taught isn’t entirely accurate. That scares some people. So instead of engaging the issues, they project their spiritual fears and anxieties onto and against John Dehlin, the very man who has put himself out there to help people work through their faith crisis.
John’s fate is set. His Stake President wants John to remove all of the Mormon Stories episodes, which address difficult, controversial issues, which are unflattering to the Church. In other words, John’s Stake President wants him to deny the existence of the chasm, and from now on to ignore it.
John is a man of integrity and won’t deny that the chasm exists or that it continues to hurt families, marriages and individuals.
That’s the real reason John is being excommunicated. In a twist of irony, the man who has helped Mormons navigate the effects of proof-texted history is the target of proof-texted accusations. Of ten years of John’s work, the accusers have hand picked, and proof-texted a few Facebook comments as the basis to terminate John’s membership in the Church. These Facebook comments, like any Facebook comments, were not polished thoughts but informal, undeveloped statements. Of course, that’s a flimsy pretext. John is being excommunicated for refusing to deny the existence of the chasm.
John will be excommunicated on Sunday evening, February 8, 2015 in North Logan, Utah.
Excommunicating John Dehlin won’t make the unflattering facts about Joseph Smith’s life or our origins go away.
Excommunicating John Dehiln won’t resolve issues surrounding the historicity of the Scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, Bible and Book of Abraham.
Excommunicating John Dehlin won’t heal the wounds Latter-day Saints have felt in the battle against same-sex marriage.
Good, faithful Latter-day Saints will continue to spiral into faith crisis when they discover the chasm.
And John Dehlin’s work will still be there to help them.
When the sun breaks over the Bear River Mountains in Cache Valley early Monday morning, February 9, 2015, the chasm will still exist.
Eppur si muove.
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January 23rd, 2015 · Uncategorized
You may have noticed this morning that the Review Journal has disabled comments on news articles. Currently, each article in the RJ is appended with this notice:
Due to an increase in uncivil behavior and dialogue the Review-Journal has temporarily disabled the comment boards. The Review-Journal will use the time to evaluate the effectiveness of the comment boards and find an appropriate time to reintroduce them to reviewjournal.com.
A more detailed explanation can be read here.
That reads as though the RJ has put the Vegas Valley in time out for bad behavior, and maybe the valley, or at least some in the valley, deserve it. I admit that though I read the RJ every morning, I haven’t read the comments section in a while, so I have no idea whether there was an actual increase in uncivil behavior recently, though, to be honest, it’s hard to see how the comments could have become more uncivil than they have traditionally been.
The RJ is not the first news outlet to struggle with how to handle comments, nor will it be the last. That said, I have mixed feelings about the RJ’s decision.
I sympathize with the RJ as to the burden that these comments place on their resources. Any effort to create and enforce boundaries through a comments policy inevitably drains the very limited resources of the newspaper.
From the RJ’s more detailed explanation:
The reality is that there are simply not enough resources to effectively moderate every story on our site, especially when high-profile stories can rack up hundreds of comments over the course of a few minutes, many that have nothing to do with the topic at hand. We are not unique in this. In an age of ever-leaner newsrooms, not many are in a situation to pull from elsewhere to keep hate-mongers at bay.
Though the RJ doesn’t reference it, I am sure that over the years they have also received numerous “preservation letters” as to potentially defamatory comments. A preservation letter is a demand by someone, usually the person who has been allegedly defamed, that a third party, such as the RJ, preserve certain electronic evidence such as the IP address, email address or other data about the anonymous commenter who engaged in allegedly defamatory conduct. Though the RJ itself is shielded from liability from the defamatory comments of anonymous users by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, there could potentially be liability for the RJ if they failed to preserve evidence upon receipt of a letter. And then there’s the not insignificant administrative cost and burden of dealing with preservation letters.
That said, I do see value in the comments section of the RJ as much of a cesspool as it may be at times. I recall last year that RJ columnist Steve Sebelius commented on twitter that while the overwhelming majority of comments have little to no substantive value or insight, there are a smattering of smart takes that appear. I tend to agree with this. And even the comments which are bigoted, racist and hateful serve a limited purpose as they remind us of the harsh reality that such ignorant darkness exists right here in our own valley. That dark reality would exist whether or not revealed by the comments section in the RJ. We are better off as a community knowing that it exists.
Additionally, sometimes the subjects of a news article will appear in the comments section to engage the public, at times promoting their cause, at other times setting the record straight as they see it. This can act as a check on the RJ, as well as give people in the news the opportunity to speak directly to the public. This is especially valuable where the person in the article is a lay person without a bully pulpit.
Of course, comments on the RJ have been anonymous, which is both a blessing and a curse. Anonymity removes the social consequences of airing a particular point of view which both liberates otherwise marginalized voices to speak freely but also allows bullies to romp unbounded by social norms and decency.
I hope the RJ finds a way to make comments work on their website, though I sympathize with the many problems and burdens the comments bring.
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January 12th, 2015 · Uncategorized
From The Spartanburg Herald-Journal, September 8, 1970:
Apparently, The Chairman of the Board and Caesars Palace patched things up because, according to this write up in the Review-Journal, Sinatra was back performing at Caesars by 1974.
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