sex, sexism, silliness, stupid people

Woman freaks out when confronted by a trans woman in a locker room…

The featured photo is of the Friedrichsbad, perhaps Germany’s most famous nude spa… where everyone is naked. They do have days when the genders divide by sides, as well as co-ed days, when people can go through the spa on either side. Bill and I went on a co-ed day, and had a blast. No one bothered us.

One of the things Bill and I have come to enjoy, since we’ve been living in Germany, is the availability of nude spas. I will admit that it took us a long time before we got brave enough to try them. We never tried them when we were here the first time, and it took us almost three years to go naked once we moved back here. Once we finally did the deed, there was no turning back. Now, being nude at a spa is just not a big deal anymore. Not all spas in Germany are nude, but quite a number of them do have nude areas. Saunas and steam rooms all require patrons to be nude, and there are a lot of wonderful spa facilities here where bathing suits aren’t allowed at all.

I guess, in this way, Bill and I have kind of gone “native”. I don’t think we’d mind a nude beach. I know I wouldn’t. I don’t worry about perverts. Here, I’ve seen many people– especially men– urinating in public, although it’s technically illegal. But get caught in a Stau on the Autobahn, and if it’s bad enough, you can count on seeing someone pissing on the side of the road. They just don’t care. I’ve seen a lot of public urination at rest stops, too, whether or not facilities are available. Many of the rest stops over here require payment. Some people don’t want to pay, so they don’t.

I’ve also seen women openly breastfeeding. I’ve seen children change clothes or simply undress in the open air at Freibads. I’ve even seen kids in the nude spa areas, which personally I don’t agree with, because people go to spas to relax. Almost nobody cares. Maybe my ex landlady would. I don’t know. I would think she’d be smart enough not to go to a spa where there might be nudity if it bothered her.

To date, I’ve been to eight different spas in Germany, most of which had optional nude areas in them. Three of the spas were completely nude, meaning no bathing suits were allowed there at all. People carry towels and robes for sitting on things. Most of the dressing rooms at the spas are also unisex. They do have cubicles that allow people to change in private, but the lockers are all in one big room accommodating everyone. And in the nude spas, once you go to where the pools are, everyone’s nude, except for the people who are working there. And nobody cares.

There are people of all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, and persuasions running around at German spas. You are liable to see people sucking face in the pools. They’re mostly young people– teens or young adults– who can’t keep their hands off of each other. But I promise, the spas are mainly for health and relaxation purposes. It’s not a place where perverts hang out. If they are there, they’re below the radar.

Americans, as a whole, are very prudish about nudity. They aren’t the only ones. Brits are pretty shy about baring all, as are Swedes… or, at least the spa we went to in Sweden was very much bathing attire required. But here in Germany, I’ve seen signs with bathing suits and red lines crossed through them… and I’ve also seen signs that say “proper bathing attire required.”

Today, I read an article in the Washington Post about a customer at the Wi Spa, a facility in Koreatown in Los Angeles, who was “traumatized” when a trans woman changed in the women’s dressing room. The trans woman evidently still had male equipment, and the sight of it really upset another customer and her daughter. She confronted the spa staff about the intrusion. The spa manager asked the client if the trans woman had done anything specifically inappropriate. The client responded that the person’s genitalia was displayed, and that was “traumatizing”. This, in a spa where the “lack of modesty” is disclosed ahead of time. I wonder what the hell the upset client was doing checking out other people’s junk, anyway?

For some reason, many Americans seem to equate nudity with perversion. There’s this pervasive fear that child molesters and creeps are lurking at spas, just waiting to rape someone. Those who subscribe to this fear especially seem to believe that perverts are wanting to pose as transgender people so they can prey on women and girls.

I can’t pretend to be an expert on transgender people or sex offenders. But from what I do know, trans people aren’t necessarily sexual deviants, just as cisgender people are not necessarily sexual deviants. And I don’t think that hanging out in bathrooms or spas and pretending to be transgender is a reasonable MO for a person who is sexually deviant. I really don’t think a trans person in the locker room is the issue, anyway. I think it’s the attitude among many Americans that there’s no such thing as transgender people.

In any case, I haven’t seen or heard of a lot of people being victimized at German spas, where modesty is not the word of the day. I just don’t think transgender people are out there attacking people. They simply want to change clothes or do their business in rooms where they feel safest. I don’t believe most men are rapists. I think even fewer people of the transgender persuasion are sexually deviant. And I cringe when I read the many frightened and angry comments by ignorant people who seem to think that people who are different than they are are somehow dangerous.

Sadly, the incident in Los Angeles led to a protest, which eventually turned violent. Transphobic people brought guns to the protest and brandished them at counterprotestors. Another person was hit on the head with a lead pipe at the protest. Personally, I’m a hell of a lot more frightened of all the American idiots with weapons than I am of a trans woman in the ladies room. I think they are a much bigger threat to my safety than people who identify as a non-binary or transgender.

The woman who caused this ruckus made an Instagram video and said she wouldn’t be at the protest, because she’d heard Antifa would be there and she worried about her safety. Um… Antifa isn’t a group. It’s a movement. It’s an idea. This lady is grossly misinformed.

Thanks to my friend, Julie, for sharing this.

It would be one thing if someone actually saw another person doing sexually inappropriate things at the spa. It’s quite another if someone is just minding their own business, changing their clothes or using the toilet. Every single one of us has sex parts. The presence of those parts aren’t what make someone a deviant. Germans have figured this out. Why can’t we figure it out in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave? Grow up. And stop looking at other people’s private parts. Frankly, I think the woman who complained is the pervert in this case.

I hope the German nude spas reopen again soon.

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mental health, modern problems, true crime

Americans are both awesome and awful people…

There has been quite an interesting array of news stories lately. Last night, I read a truly heartwarming story about a young man in Alabama who showed up to work the morning shift at a Waffle House on his graduation day. He’d had the day scheduled off, but his mom had to work and couldn’t take him to the ceremony, and he is not in touch with his dad. So he went to work, instead.

The 18 year old, whose name is Timothy Harrison, wanted to walk across the stage to get that diploma he’d worked so hard to earn. But since there was no way to make it happen, he resigned himself to going to work and making some money, instead. Timothy’s boss, Cedric Hampton, wasn’t having it. He and the assistant manager, as well as other co-workers and a couple of customers banded together to see to it that Timothy could have that rite of passage experience that is so important for so many.

By the time I’d finished reading this uplifting story, I had tears welling in my eyes. I was truly moved to read this story about good people doing great things. Americans love to help an underdog, and they are capable of great support and largesse for people who have a good story. Timothy Harrison’s story was so good that he also got a full scholarship from Lawson State Community College, whose faculty members got wind of his work ethic. Now, instead of following his plan continuing to wait tables at the Waffle House and, perhaps, later joining the military (which isn’t actually a bad plan for many people), Harrison will be going to college to study business and computer science.

As you know, I have nothing against people who join the military. It’s a great career for plenty of folks, my husband included. BUT– it’s not for everyone… and thanks to the kindness of Timothy Harrison’s “Waffle House work family”, Harrison will have another choice that could potentially change his life’s course forever. And that change could have significant ripple effects for other people in Timothy’s life. Thinking about that made me feel great and hopeful for the future.

But then I woke up this morning and read another sad and senseless story about violence over face masks… I was reminded that Americans can be awesome. They can also be awful!

Although a lot of people are ditching the masks as COVID-19 infections are waning among the vaccinated, not all areas are yet finished with the mask requirements. Such is the case in Decatur, Georgia, where Victor Lee Tucker, age 30, had stopped to pick up groceries at a Big Bear Supermarket. Mr. Tucker was not properly wearing a mask when he approached the cashier (now identified by police as Laquitta Willis, 41) to pay for his items. Tucker and the cashier got into an argument about how he was wearing his mask (according to the Washington Post, Tucker was wearing a mask, but not correctly). He got pissed off and left without buying the items. But then he immediately came back and shot the cashier, killing her.

Tucker also shot 54 year old Danny Jordan, the off duty police officer who was moonlighting as a security guard at the store. Fortunately, Jordan was wearing a bulletproof vest, which probably saved his life. Another cashier was slightly wounded by a bullet that grazed her. She was treated at the scene, while the cashier and Tucker, who was shot by the guard, were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital. Tucker is listed in stable condition. Deputy Jordan, who was shot twice, went to Atlanta Medical Center, where he is also listed in stable condition.

I have not made it a secret that I despise the face masks. I think that while they are helpful in preventing the spread of virus particles, they also cause a lot of problems for many people. For that reason, it’s my hope that they go away soon. Too many people are being inconvenienced by the masks, but more troublingly, people are also DYING over enforcing their use. Imagine trying to avoid getting COVID-19 and dying anyway because you asked someone to wear a mask properly and they shot you! Edited to add, June 16th– the indoor mask mandate was in effect in Decatur, Georgia on Monday, when Willis was killed. It’s due to expire next week.

But people definitely shouldn’t be killing and dying over the face mask issue. Of course Tucker was absolutely wrong to kill the cashier over something so utterly stupid. He probably shot her because he felt the need to “protect his freedoms”. Maybe he felt like the mask was oppressive and was finally fed up with being “oppressed”. Maybe that was why he felt justified in killing an innocent person. But that was an erroneous notion on his part. And now, he will lose his freedom and be forced to wear a prison uniform and, it’s very likely, a face mask, along with all the other stuff prisoners are forced to wear.

In all seriousness, it does make me sad to think about Tucker going to prison over this. He’s a 30 year old man, who had his whole life ahead of him. I don’t know what kind of a person he is when he isn’t losing his cool and blowing hourly wage earning cashiers away over face mask rage. I’d like to hope he’s not all bad, as I don’t think most people are all bad. But it’s hard to understand why someone would be so unhinged that he’d just callously snuff out some innocent lady’s life because of a face mask. It’s tragic and ridiculous on so many levels.

Personally, I think if I were in the States, I wouldn’t confront anyone over the masks. It’s just not worth it. Our culture is so strange– people are encouraged to be “nice”, and we hate confrontations and conflict. And yet, so many of us are carrying weapons! And so many are apparently on the edge of insanity! Would Tucker have killed anyone two years ago, before COVID-19 face mask requirements was a thing? I honestly think that the risk of getting the virus may be lower than the risk of being shot in some parts of the USA. There have been so many stories about people killing and dying over face masks! It’s crazy! It baffles me that so many Americans seem to enjoy busting people over the masks. The New York Times called it a “new American pastime.” I think I’d be too scared to say anything to someone about the masks. I’d rather just get away from them.

I don’t know if the cashier was required to enforce the mask policy or she just decided to on her own. I would certainly never say that she shouldn’t feel free to enforce the mask requirements in a private business. BUT… there is a real danger in doing so, as her story, as well as so many others, have shown. I hope there will come a day soon when the mask requirements go away so this particular issue won’t be something people continue to die over.

And that makes me think of something else… does it seem to you like America has gotten way more extreme? It seems like fewer people are moderate nowadays. I feel like I run into more extremely “woke” people and extremely conservative people than I used to. I still tend to be pretty middle of the road– leaning a bit more left lately, but not extremely so. But the past five years, which I have not spent in the States, make me a little scared to go back home. I feel like today’s America is not the America I knew.

According to the Washington Post, 2020 was the deadliest year for shootings and, so far, 2021 is even worse. Within the first five months of 2021, 8100 people in the United States lost their lives to gun violence. Much of the violence seems to come from frustration and anger over the pandemic situation and all of the problems that are affiliated with it. The Washington Post reports that the violence started to edge upwards from April 2020, when the virus started to become a real problem. I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to “normal”… but it sure is sad to me that a deadly virus killed so many people and so many citizens are also dying because of gun violence… or they’re being hit and run, like my old friend Matt was last month. The week Matt died, another person was also killed in a hit and run in the same area. It’s also a problem on the rise, perhaps caused by very angry people who have no regard for other people.

Well… at least I was able to start this post with a feel good story. I wish Timothy Harrison much luck as he embarks on what could be a very bright future. I hope he avoids gun violence and the virus. I hope he goes to school and sets the world on fire as he puts his promising work ethic to the test in a tough world. I, for one, would not want to be young again for anything! But I have high hopes for Harrison and his Waffle House family. His story, coupled with the cashier’s story, really show how awesome and awful Americans can be.

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true crime, Virginia

Double repost: the tragic case of Crystal Ragin

Here are two posts that originally appeared on the Blogspot version of this blog. I wrote the first one, not knowing anything more about the case than what little was in the paper. One of Ragin’s relatives sent me a private message. She was initially upset about my comments, but then told me more about what had actually happened and asked me to write more. So I did… and I am including the second post with the first. As usual, these posts are mostly unedited and appear “as/is” from 2014.

This is a truly tragic story…

I like to read The Daily Press sometimes.  It’s the newspaper I grew up with and I used to read the paper version of it every day when I was growing up.  Today, I check it a few times a week to see if anything interesting is going on in the area where I grew up.  Today, there was a very sad story about a woman who made a very poor choice in husbands.  Now she and three of her four children are dead.

Fort Eustis Army Sergeant Crystal Ragin was an exemplary soldier who was going to go to school to become a drill sergeant.  She was well-known for being very good at her job, responsible, punctual, and very hard working.  A mother of four, she had been married to her second husband, John Moses Ragin, since 2006.  They met in South Carolina, when Crystal was a guard at the prison where John Ragin was serving a 15 year sentence for manslaughter.  He had killed his childhood best friend.

Once John Ragin was released, Crystal, who by then had joined the Army, was free to marry him.  She did, and he became a father figure to the three children she had with her first husband, Mike Burton.  Then Crystal and John had a child of their own, I’Kaos.

John Ragin was apparently a very jealous and controlling husband.  He insisted on Crystal calling him often.  He never wanted her to go out alone.  He demanded that she live according to his wishes, which included swearing off eating meat.  He was very suspicious of the men Crystal worked with in the Army.

On August 19, 2011, John Ragin had apparently had enough.  He brutally murdered his wife and her three older children, Sierra, La’Kwan, and Rasheed, stabbing them 74 times, and setting their home on fire.  Then he took I’Kaos and went back to South Carolina, where he was arrested the next day.

Ragin now may face the death penalty and his son is being raised by his maternal relatives in South Carolina.  What an awful thing for that family to have to deal with… and what a terrible legacy that little boy now has.

I’m sure Crystal Ragin was a wonderful woman, based on the article written about her.  I wonder why she was attracted to John Ragin.  I can’t imagine finding a killer attractive, but I realize that these things aren’t always based on logic or common sense.  Sometimes people can change…  or so they say.  I can’t imagine I’d want to have my children around someone who had done time for killing someone, but I know that sometimes there are mitigating circumstances.

I just think it’s very sad that this woman, who had four beautiful children and a promising career, ended up with someone who obviously couldn’t control his rage or impulses.  I don’t know what Crystal’s reasons were for choosing to marry John Ragin.  It would be easy for me to blame her for being unwise.  But really, she just sounds like someone who trusted someone who was ultimately untrustworthy.  She and her kids paid the ultimate price for that choice.  Her young surviving son will now have to carry on with a father in prison or dead and a mother and siblings who were brutally murdered.

My experiences being Bill’s wife have taught me that people sometimes make very poor choices when it comes to finding mates.  Bill made a bad decision to marry his ex wife and he paid a dear price.  But at least he’s still alive and healthy.

Reading about this case reminds me of the old story about the scorpion and the frog.  A scorpion wants to cross a stream, but doesn’t know how to swim.  So he asks the frog to help him.  The frog worries about being stung, but the scorpion points out that if he stings the frog, they will both die.  So the frog trusts the scorpion and halfway across the stream, gets stung.  As the doomed duo start to sing, the frog asks the scorpion why he did it.  The frog says, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.  It’s nature.”

With some of these people, I have to think that it’s in their nature to be violent and controlling.  In some cases, no amount of love and understanding can overcome that.  I wish Crystal’s family much peace.    

AND the follow up piece… Originally, I had a link to the 911 calls regarding this case. Unfortunately, those were taken down. Listening to those recordings really drove home how dangerous John Ragin was and how Crystal Ragin and her children were completely failed by the Newport News police department.

How the police failed Crystal Ragin and her kids…

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about Crystal Ragin, a soldier at Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia who, along with three of her four children, was brutally murdered by her husband, John Moses Ragin on August 19, 2011.  The lone survivor was the youngest child, a boy named I’Kaos, Crystal Ragin’s son with John Moses Ragin.

I must admit, what I knew about that case was based on one article I read in the  Daily Press, which is the local newspaper for the Newport News area.  Though I was born and raised in the Hampton Roads area, I haven’t lived there since 1999.  I only occasionally read the news that comes from there, and that article from the Daily Press was the first I had heard of Crystal Ragin.  This morning, Ragin’s former sister-in-law contacted me on Facebook and asked me to take another look at the story.  So I started reading more about the tragic relationship between Crystal Ragin and John Moses Ragin.  What I’ve learned is very disturbing.

In June of 2011, John assaulted Crystal and threw her to the floor.  She hit her head on a dresser.  The week of the murders, Crystal faced John in court on the assault charge resulting from that attack.  A judge found that there was enough evidence to convict John, but for some reason, decided to defer sentencing for two years.  This decision was especially strange, since Crystal Ragin met her husband in a South Carolina prison; she was a guard and he was an inmate serving time on a manslaughter charge because he’d shot and killed his best friend in 1991.  He was released in 2005 after serving just 14 years.  John Ragin already had a history of violence that, somehow, the court didn’t take into account.

After the hearing, Crystal Ragin filed a protective order against John, saying she “feared for her life”.  As it turns out, her concerns for her life were entirely valid.  However, it took over 24 hours for a Newport News Sheriff’s Department Deputy to attempt to serve John Moses Ragin with the protective order.  Between the time the order was granted and a deputy made an initial attempt to serve it, John Moses Ragin stabbed his estranged wife and stepchildren 74 times and then tried to cover up the crime by setting their apartment on fire.

By the time the deputy had arrived at the apartment to serve the papers, it was already a devastating crime scene.  This makes me wonder, too, how was it that the deputy didn’t already know about what had happened?  Don’t the police agencies communicate with each other?  Or was it the deputy who initially discovered the crime scene?  Given that there was a fire involved, I wonder why no one called the authorities until after the fire was out.  Didn’t the other residents at the apartment complex notice the fire?

Crystal Ragin called 911 on August 18, 2011, while she was at a Shell gas station with the kids.  John Moses Ragin confronted her and wouldn’t let her leave.  According to a Daily Press article, John Ragin was confronting Crystal because he wanted his son, I’Kaos.  He planned to take the boy to South Carolina and was blocking Crystal from her truck because she wouldn’t let him have their son.

Crystal told the 911 operator that there was a pending order of protection she had filed that hadn’t been served.  In the background, you can hear John Ragin repeatedly telling Crystal to “stop lying”.  He sounds very menacing, yet Crystal is very calm as she speaks to the 911 operator.  She sounds like a well trained soldier, keeping cool in a crisis.  I think if I had been in her shoes, I would have been hysterical.  I can’t imagine how very terrified she and the kids must have been.

Though Crystal Ragin had a protective order pending against John Moses Ragin, when a police officer arrived at the scene where he had been threatening her, they let him go. The second call is from maintenance supervisor Johnny Kennedy. He’s calling about the apartment that the Ragins shared, which looked like it had been on fire. Mr. Kennedy could see a body and was calling to report his findings.

Officer E. Jenkins of the Newport News Police Department was one of the police officers who came to the gas station after Crystal made her 911 call.  Officer Jenkins describes Crystal Ragin as obviously scared and “shaking”.  He called a dispatcher in an attempt to find the protective order that had not yet been served.  Somehow, despite looking for 35-40 minutes, the dispatcher was unable to find the pending protective order.  John Ragin claimed he knew nothing about it and, in fact, he said he and Crystal had had sexual intercourse the night before.

Crystal denied having sex with John Moses Ragin and claimed that he was “crazy.”  The police officer offered to escort John Ragin to the apartment so he could pick up his belongings.  Somehow, that didn’t happen and Ragin was able to get to Crystal and her kids, where he violently ended their lives.

I read an article from May 2012 about how angry Crystal Ragin’s family is about how the protective order was handled.  Apparently, because the protective order was signed late in the afternoon, the police department’s policy was to wait until the next day to attempt to serve it.  Ragin’s family asserts that the Newport News Sheriff’s Department’s tardiness may have played a direct role in the murders.  I don’t have any direct experience with Newport News police; I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket in Newport News.  But if it takes them 24 hours to act on a protective order, I have to wonder how much good the order would have done in this case… or any other case, for that matter.      

Though it’s terrible enough that John Moses Ragin killed four people, it’s even worse that they really suffered before they died.  Crystal Ragin was stabbed 18 times.  According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn, one of the stab wounds went through Ragin’s face, “from one side to the other”.  Crystal Ragin’s daughter, Sierra, was burned so severely that her lips “curled back from her teeth”.  Sons La’Kwan and Rasheed were repeatedly stabbed.  Their deaths were not instant.  The medical examiner who testified in this case described the conditions that led to their deaths, noting that there were stab wounds in their heads, necks, and torsos.  Some of the wounds were so deep that they actually went through the bodies.  Rasheed was only six years old and weighed just 40 pounds, yet he had 27 stab wounds.

John Moses Ragin was charged and convicted with three counts of capital murder in the deaths of the children.  In the death of Crystal Ragin, he was charged and convicted of second degree murder.  He was also charged and convicted of felony arson and unlawful stabbing.  Though the death penalty was considered in this case, shockingly enough, Ragin was sentenced to three life sentences in the deaths of the children, 40 years for the death of his wife, a life sentence for arson, and five years for each count of unlawful stabbing.  The jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision to sentence Ragin to death, so he will spend the rest of his life in prison. 

I am no fan of the death penalty, though I stop short of saying that it’s never appropriate.  I have no idea why the jury wasn’t able to come to a unanimous decision for death in this case.  John Moses Ragin is obviously an extremely violent and dangerous man and it’s very clear that he’s guilty as charged.  Moreover, Crystal Ragin’s family was hoping he would get the death penalty and clearly made their wishes known to the court.  Yet there were people on the jury who did not feel the death penalty was appropriate, so by law, the judge had to sentence Ragin to life in prison.

Perhaps the people of Virginia can take some comfort in knowing that John Moses Ragin will never be a free man again.  He’ll likely eventually end up at a supermax prison in Virginia’s coal mining country.  Though things may have improved there since 1999, it’s my guess that Ragin’s time won’t be easy if he ends up going to either Red Onion or Wallen’s Ridge prisons.  Given Ragin’s propensity toward violence, it won’t surprise me if he winds up in Wise, Virginia with the worst of the worst, like Lee Boyd Malvo, one of the D.C. snipers.  

In the wake of this case, the Newport News Sheriff’s Department now serves protective orders at night.   
As for Crystal Ragin’s family, there have already been more casualties related to this case.  According to Crystal’s former sister-in-law, two family members have already died with broken hearts.  The family has known no peace since the terrible day they lost Crystal Ragin and her three oldest children.      

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musings, racism

Repost: Is Liam Neeson guilty of a “hate crime”?

Here’s a repost of an article I wrote for my Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife. It originally appeared February 6, 2019. I’m sharing it again, because last night, I watched Liam Neeson’s Taken series– three movies worth– because Bill had to work very late. As I watched Liam’s character, Bryan Mills, kicking the crap out of bad guys in a very satisfying way, I was reminded of this post I wrote just before I had to shut down access to my old blog. I think it’s worth another look.

I believe that old song in Avenue Q.  I think everyone’s a little bit racist, even though some people believe that you can only be racist if you’re a member of the “dominant” racial group.  Actor Liam Neeson is a White man who recently confessed that after a friend was violently raped by a Black man, he prowled the streets with a club, looking for a Black man to beat up.  He said he was actually “hoping” to be approached by someone giving him an excuse to beat the shit out of them with a “cosh” (British word for club).

Neeson’s violent revenge fantasy occurred about forty years ago.  He never did beat anyone up. He was simply very angry about the violent crime committed against his friend and he wanted to avenge her.  He says he’s ashamed of how he reacted to the rape and sorry for having those violent impulses to hurt other people.

Liam Neeson talks about that controversy from 40 years ago. I think he should be commended for his honesty and integrity.

Naturally, the papers have been having a field day with the story.  Lots of people seem to think Mr. Neeson needs a good public flogging for something that happened 40 years ago.  I don’t condone Neeson’s violent impulses to hurt just anyone who happened to be Black.  However, I do feel like he should be commended for his honesty.  It’s not an easy thing to do, admitting those feelings publicly, as hateful and hurtful as they are.  It’s awful to hear about them, but it does get people thinking and talking.  Is that a bad thing? By the way, I HIGHLY recommend listening to Neeson speak in the above video. He makes a lot of sense.

Neeson eventually came to the conclusion that violence begets violence.  He found more constructive ways to deal with his rage, to include power walking for two hours a day.  He spoke to his friends and a priest.  He also said that if the man had not been Black, he still would have had those same feelings of primal rage and wanting to get revenge. In this case, it was apparently a Black man who perpetrated the crime against his friend.  It could have been anyone, though.  Also, consider that this happened in Northern Ireland forty years ago, during “The Troubles”.  It was a pretty violent time all around, particularly between English people and Irish people.  I’m sure that contributed to Neeson’s state of mind.

In my opinion, Liam Neeson’s situation isn’t really the same as Governor Ralph Northam’s situation in Virginia.  He’s under fire for having been in a racist photo 35 years ago.  Governor Northam is in a leadership position, though, and is a physician.  The photo was taken when he was in medical school.  And it had nothing to do with being justifiably angry.  That photo was about simple mockery of people not like him.  To my knowledge, it wasn’t prefaced by violent crime or anything that would cause a person to feel “passionate”.  It was just plain stupidity.

I can understand being so angry that one becomes blinded by rage.  I don’t condone acting on that rage. It turns out, Neeson never did. He never hurt or killed anyone in reaction to his friend’s rape.  Soon afterward, he was ashamed of himself and took active steps to mend his ways. Forty years later, people want to cancel him for simply admitting that he had these dark thoughts after a dear friend was raped.

Is it awful that Neeson had those violent and racially biased fantasies?  Yes, I believe it is, although I think having them is pretty “human”.  Is it awful that he publicly admits to having those fantasies?  I don’t think so.  Why punish the man for simply being honest?  At least he’s worked on his issues.  At least he acknowledges them.  Apparently, that incident from Neeson’s past has also been used as a tool in his movies, like Taken and Ransom.  That just goes to show that even the worst impulses can be used for something positive if we’re careful.

Another perspective from the other side of the pond. Quite interesting and refreshing.

I do think people should be able to live down the things they did in the past, particularly if they acknowledge them and show that they’ve tried to make amends. We are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done or said or thought… or, at least I believe we should be. I think Neeson has taken steps to make amends for having those violent, racist impulses over forty years ago.  Northam, to my admittedly limited knowledge, has also apparently tried to change his ways.  He supposedly has a good reputation as a physician and as a governor, aside from this unfortunate relic from his past. 

Of course, now there’s been talk of a sexual assault claim against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who would be poised to take Northam’s place if he resigns.  Personally, I think the hullabaloo in Virginia is more about people upset about Northam’s comments on abortion and desperate folks wanting to get the Democrats out of office in Virginia.  The timing of this is just too funky.

As for Liam Neeson… I think people should stop and think before they pick up their torches and pitchforks.  Should we be more concerned about people who are honest about having racist feelings or those who hide them?  Truly, I think everyone has prejudices.  No one is immune to preconceived notions about other people.  I, for one, think Neeson was brave to share his story, knowing how public backlash can happen and what it can lead to.  It’s good to think and talk about these things.  But then, Liam Neeson is probably in a position where he can talk about these things and not fear losing everything.

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book reviews, LDS, true crime

Reposted review of Under the Banner of Heaven

Here’s another Epinions review that I reposted on my old blog and am reposting as/is on this blog. Jon Krakauer’s book about Mormonism is well worth a read, even years later. I wrote this review in June 2006, but the book remains relevant today, especially as Netflix airs its new documentary, Murder Among the Mormons.

The official trailer for Murder Among the Mormons, which I haven’t yet seen.

Those of you who regularly read my book reviews on Epinions.com may have noticed that recently, I’ve been reading and writing reviews of a lot of books about Mormonism. I thought I would take a break from the subject until I happened to run across Jon Krakauer’s 2003 book Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith at Fort Belvoir’s thrift shop. I had just read several very interesting Epinions reviews about the book and had already planned to purchase it at full price. I couldn’t resist when I saw it priced at $4 at the thrift shop. I picked it up last weekend and wasn’t able to put it down until I finished reading it last night.

Under the Banner of Heaven is a fascinating book. It seems to be part true crime, part history book, and part expose. At this book’s core is the story of Dan and Ron Lafferty, two brothers who, on July 24, 1984, believed they had received a commandment from God to brutally murder their sister in law, Brenda Lafferty, and her fifteen month old daughter, Erica. July 24th is a significant day in LDS culture. It’s Pioneer Day, which is the anniversary of the day Brigham Young and his followers found the Salt Lake Valley. Brenda Lafferty was a vibrant, outspoken woman who had apparently encouraged her sisters in law to be assertive in their dealings with their husbands. She paid for her rebellious streak with her life not long after Ron Lafferty’s wife decided to leave him.

The Lafferty brothers were members of a fundamentalist sect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Popularly known as Mormon Fundamentalists and collectively known as the FLDS church, this group is not the same as the mainstream LDS church. One of the most striking differences between the FLDS church and the main LDS church is that Mormon Fundamentalists practice plural marriage, which is a form of polygamy. Although the mainstream LDS church denounced polygamy in 1890, Mormon fundamentalists are ultra conservatives who believe that polygamy was an essential teaching according to the LDS church’s founder and first prophet, Joseph Smith. True believing Mormon Fundamentalist men take multiple wives and typically have many children who grow up in the faith.

In Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer relates the story of the Lafferty brothers, but he also includes the history of the LDS church and its splinter groups. He writes about Colorado City, Arizona/ Hildale, Utah the FLDS community on the Arizona/Utah borders and Bountiful in British Columbia. He includes chapters about famous and infamous FLDS church members who have been in the news over the past few years. There’s a chapter on famed polygamist Tom Green and one on Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Krakauer weaves these stories in with the core story about the Lafferty brothers and their gruesome murders, effectively showing how everything is interrelated.

Krakauer, who grew up an agnostic among Mormons in Corvallis, Oregon, writes in his epilogue that this book turned out differently than he expected. He wanted to write a book that explored and compared the LDS Church’s present with its past. But as he started writing Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer found himself drifting onto a different path. I was very impressed with Krakauer’s ability to look at the many aspects of the LDS church’s very convoluted and colorful history and write a book that was both very interesting and informative. Krakauer writes that his book was generally not well-received among many members of the LDS church. I never detected any bias for or against the church on Krakauer’s part. Yes, he did expose some of the more troubling aspects of the church’s past, but he also wrote about how Mormon pioneers were persecuted. I came away with the idea that Krakauer was just reporting the facts without necessarily passing judgment.

I will warn that parts of this book are very sad and upsetting. Krakauer does not mince words as he describes how Brenda Lafferty and her daughter were killed. Reading about Brenda Laffety’s murder was very troubling; but to me, it was much more disturbing to read about the way her innocent child was butchered. You may not want to read this book if graphic descriptions of brutality keep you up at night.

Although this book was published three years ago, it’s quite timely today. Krakauer provides a lot of information about Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Jeffs was very recently put on the FBI’s most wanted list for sexual conduct with minors and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with minors. Krakauer explains how Warren Jeffs came to be a prophet and provides chilling information about Jeffs’ late father, Rulon Jeffs, the former prophet who was once known as “Uncle Rulon”.

On the surface, Under the Banner of Heaven seems to be about a double murder. Looking deeper, this book is about much more than two heinous crimes. It casts a revealing look at the relationship between mainstream Mormonism, the fastest growing religion in America, and Mormon Fundamentalism, a faith that few people understand. Krakauer spent many hours interviewing people for this book, including Dan Lafferty himself. The Lafferty brothers insist that they were on a mission from God when they killed Brenda Lafferty and her daughter. In fact, they meant to kill at least two more people that day, but perhaps God intervened on their behalf.

Under the Banner of Heaven is not an easy book to read. Krakauer packs a lot in 365 pages and he does a good job of explaining a religious environment that is foreign to many people. I think he’s written an important and riveting book, although I suspect that it’s not a popular choice among devout Mormons. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about true crime and history. I found this book well-written, well-researched, and extremely hard to put down. I also learned a lot more than I bargained for when I bought this book.

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