stallioncornell

Can forgiveness win, too?

The Civil War was brought to a close when General Robert E. Lee arrived at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia to surrender on behalf of the Confederate Army. The terms of the surrender were remarkably generous. Confederate soldiers were promised immunity from prosecution even though they were officially guilty of treason, and they were allowed to keep both their weapons and their livestock. As General Lee rode away, many of the Union soldiers felt that a certain measure of gloating was in order. But as they burst into applause, General Ulysses Grant ordered them to stop immediately.

“The Confederates were now our countrymen,” General Grant reasoned, “and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

We can be grateful that the war over gay marriage was not fought with muskets and bayonets, and that the casualties have been, for the most part, emotional and spiritual rather than physical. The war is now over, and gay marriage has won. But I fear that the divisions between the combatants over the rainbow will be harder to heal than they were between the Blue and the Grey. Neither side sees the other as fellow countrymen, and there are plenty who stand ready and willing to exult over their enemy’s downfall.

This is why I’m uneasy in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that is the cause for so much celebration among the victors and such major lamentation from the defeated. Personally, I think this conclusion has been all but inevitable for quite some time, and I’ve said my peace on the subject numerous times on this blog. I see no point in revisiting any of the underlying arguments, which are largely irrelevant at this point. The decision, in my mind, was merely a confirmation of an already existing reality, much like when the electors gather to select a president months after all the actual votes are cast.

So it’s not the fact that gay marriage is legal that makes me uneasy. Indeed, I’m happy for my gay friends and family, and I think there are a great deal of positives to a future where married gay couples have access to the benefits and responsibilities that married straight couples have. My uncertainty, then, is rooted not in where we are, but in how we got here.

It is an unhealthy reality of our civic life that ideological opponents increasingly see those on the other side not just as misguided or incorrect, but as the embodiment of evil. Where General Grant saw the defeated confederates as “our countrymen,” today’s politicos insist that those who oppose them are either devil-worshipping Stalinists or Nazi Klansmen, depending on whether you watch Fox News or MSNBC. Victory is not achieved by persuasion, but rather by character assassination. The opposition must not only be defeated; they must also be destroyed.

Which brings us back to gay marriage, i.e. the Forces of Love vs. the Army of Hate.

#LoveWins was the trending hashtag in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and the unambiguous implication was that hatred had lost. From the outset, gay marriage advocates have characterized those who oppose them, even to the slightest degree, as motivated solely by terrible, horrible, hideous feelings of animus. There is no such thing as principled, good faith opposition to gay marriage – there is only bigotry, ignorance, and white-hot hatred. And now that love has won, it’s not enough that hate has lost.

Hate now has to be punished.

Already, a columnist at Time Magazine has called for religious organizations to lose their tax-exempt status. Expect these calls to increase and intensify as the Forces of Love rally against the Churches of Hate. Already, Catholic Charities is being limited in their adoption services because they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Businesses that won’t bake cakes or take pictures for gay weddings are getting sued into oblivion. Gay marriage opponents have long been branded as “intolerant,” but now the haters themselves will no longer be tolerated by the Forces of Love.  Apparently, intolerance is only a bad thing when the bad people are doing the intolerating.

So here’s my message to those who are tempted to gloat:

Congratulations! You won! I look forward to sharing a bright future with you in a world where two people who love each other can legally marry without opposition. But those who oppose you are still your neighbors, your friends, and your family, and some of them may have behaved abominably during the battle. Shouldn’t the goal now be to help them understand rather than punish them for their ignorance? Can you accept them for where they are rather than demand that they move to where you want them to be? Is it too much to ask for a modicum of grace from you for those you have defeated?

If love wins, can forgiveness win, too?

Jenner Thoughts

Recognizing that anything I write on this subject will be offensive to somebody, I decided to plow ahead regardless. Batten down the hatches; here we go.

While surfing the web, I stumbled on an article in Canada’s National Post that introduced me to the concept of “transabled” people. According to the article, transabled individuals feel like “imposters in their bodies” and have an overwhelming desire to create some kind of physical disability in themselves. Such was the case with a man who now calls himself “One Hand Jason” when he deliberately sliced off his own arm with a power tool in order to feel normal.

Granted, this kind of compulsion is extraordinarily rare. The article identifies only 37 people worldwide who identify themselves as transabled. But in light of the current media frenzy surrounding Bruce Caitlyn Jenner, I think it’s a phenomenon that challenges the rigid cultural authoritarianism that has sprung up in the wake of Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair cover photo.

The conventional wisdom is that everything surrounding Bruce’s transformation into Caitlyn should be celebrated as brave, bold, and wonderful. Conversely, no one is permitted to publicly deviate from that opinion even in the slightest degree. One programmer created a bot with the handle “@she_not_he”  for the purpose of “scrubbing Twitter, looking for anyone who uses the ‘he’ pronoun in conjunction with Caitlyn Jenner’s name.” And when actor Drake Bell tweeted, “Sorry… still calling you Bruce,” he was raked over the coals by both the press and the public and ultimately forced to delete the offending message. He has repeatedly apologized, but it’s still not enough. Twitter users continue to call on him to deactivate his account and, in the words of one especially harsh critic, “deactivate his life.”

Apparently, tolerance for Caitlyn is as mandatory as intolerance for anyone who disagrees.

For my part, I think kindness is always a good approach. If Bruce Jenner wants to be called Caitlyn Jenner and wants me to use the “she/her” pronouns to describe she/her, I’ll be happy to comply with her wishes. I don’t know Caitlyn Jenner personally, and I don’t feel like I’m in any position to pass judgment on her. I wish her and her family nothing but happiness. In any case, nothing about this entire episode will have any personal impact on me, and I don’t want to waste even a minute of my life getting upset over it.

That said, I think the unanimous applause for what Caitlyn Jenner is doing is drowning out many legitimate questions that society ought to be asking.

For instance, how are the drastic changes Caitlyn is making to her body all that different in kind from what One Hand Jason did to himself in order to feel comfortable in his own skin?  If we know someone’s about to slice off their arm, would we tell them, “Hey, if it makes you feel better about yourself, have at it?” I don’t think we would, yet we don’t apply that same logic to our approach to transgender surgery. In addition, we don’t celebrate those who commit suicide because they loathe their own bodies, but how are the desires of such people so different from Jason’s or Caitlyn’s? If a person feels compelled to surgically alter themselves in irreparable and potentially disabling ways, shouldn’t we do everything possible to find psychological solutions before putting anyone under the knife?

It’s also odd to me that the arguments used to applaud Jenner’s choices are precisely the opposite of arguments made against anti-gay bigotry. If you’re gay, you’re born that way, which means that you need to find happiness with who you are rather than try to be something you’re not. But if you’re transgender, you ought to take radical action to surgically alter yourself in a way completely contrary to how you are born. Isn’t that wildly inconsistent? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on accepting who we are rather than taking extreme measures to try and transform ourselves into something we can never be?

Because the cruel fact is that Caitlyn Jenner will never truly be a woman, at least not biologically. Sure, she can use feminine pronouns and make all the cosmetic changes she likes, but her DNA and internal organs will remain decidedly male, and nothing she can do can change that.

I recognize that even these questions will likely brand me as a hater or a “transphobe,” and that’s unfortunate, because these are questions born of genuine concern, not hatred or fear. Indeed, it’s hatred and fear that are being used to silence legitimate discussions and vilify anyone who departs from the media-enforced orthodoxy. Those praising Caitlyn for her bravery ought to be brave enough themselves to consider other points of view.

Post-American Possibilities

In response to my “Writing” post, my nephew Jeffrey has this to say:

It’s not numbered, but I’d like to hear more about “America has about ten years left. Fifteen, tops. But that might not be a bad thing.”

Ask and ye shall receive, sir.

Actually, I’ve addressed this in pieces before – I talk about the impossibility of America meeting its unfunded liabilities here, and I talk about our tribal future here. But in this post, I’ll try to put all the pieces together.

It begins with the fact that there is not enough money in the world to pay America’s future obligations.

This is no conspiracy theory. This is simple mathematics. America’s entitlement programs – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and now Obamacare – eat up about 110% of all the money the government collects in taxes. Future funding at current levels will require money that does not now and will not then exist, nor can it possibly exist.  No tax increase will be enough. Benefits will be slashed drastically, but it will reach a point when the United States will have no choice but to default on a significant chunk of its obligations. 

That time is coming faster than most people realize.

Social Security is going broke sooner than predicted and has about a decade before benefits start getting seriously gutted. Medicare has less than half that time. The Medicare disability fund is already insolvent. As costs continue to rise, the day of reckoning comes faster, and a bankrupt government runs out of options. Think Greece, only with an exponentially larger GDP and no EU or anyone else large enough to bail us out. 

All that is essentially a given. The real question is – what happens after that?

When I wrote my post about our tribal future, frequent commenter Moisture Farmer said “Well, if you really feel that way, the best advice I can offer you is to buy as much gold and silver as you can. If there is indeed a collapse coming, nobody is going to honor that 401K crapola or anything else on paper afterwards. You’d be wise to arm yourself too.”

I think that’s hooey, but many other do not. Prophets of doom predict that after America, we will instantly descend from civilization into chaos, with “Mad Max: Fury Road” serving as the template for what the world will look like.

But why? If the government can no longer function properly, what will that really change? Will my house spontaneously burn to the ground? Will my car collapse in the middle of the freeway? Will people start running naked through the streets throwing dead birds at passers-by?

Nope. Everything will still be here. What will change is how we will manage all of it. 

The fact is that the world is unknowingly in the midst of a post-nation-state society, and when the nation state fails – and it will fail, all around the world – people will look to the infrastructure that’s already being built. 

Commerce, for instance, has already outgrown provincial governments. 

Consider McDonalds. It gathers its raw material from all across the globe and sells burgers on every continent but Antarctica. Should America cease to function, would the Golden Arches close up shop? Of course not! They’d probably be grateful to have one less tedious governmental relationship to negotiate. Their business model would remain unchanged, and customers would soon realize that trade doesn’t depend on Washington DC to provide a stamp of approval. 

The same is true of just about every major industry across the globe. No more American political system wouldn’t mean no more iPhones or Range Rovers. In fact, it might mean an explosion of capitalistic productivity that produces better products at lower prices. 

Communication has also outgrown borders. The Internet has shrunken the world to the point where the geographical justifications for nation states make far less sense than ever before. When the nation states prove to be impotent, people will begin to wonder why they ever mattered in the first place. I think it will startle people to discover how little the absence of a centralized government will change their everyday lives. 

The private sector will also end up assuming functions of government that many thought couldn’t be managed without a nation state. It had long been assumed, for instance, that there was no way to produce a functioning currency without a government printing press churning out dollars and pounds and yen. Bitcoin has shown that’s not the case. As the nation state becomes less reliable, new solutions will present themselves and surprise everyone.

I realize I’m painting in broad strokes here. I don’t think the concept of the nation state will vanish altogether, at least not in my lifetime. I think, however, that it will diminish significantly to the point of irrelevance. There will also be hiccups, of course, and some will be major. What happens to the military in the absence of a functioning nation state? Even a collapsing bureaucracy isn’t going to willingly give up its guns. That part is going to get messy, and I’m not sure how it will work. 

Honestly, I’m not sure how any of it will work. This is all wild supposition, and large chunks of it will certainly be wrong. But I think people need to be open to the idea that the system that is currently in place is not immutable, and the world needs to consider new possibilities of evolution rather than try to keep the dinosaur of the nation state from going extinct. 

The Clinton Discount

clintons

It took me two years at Brigham Young University to earn an MBA, but I can boil down that whole experience into three words that summarize everything I learned during that time. So, after reading this post, you can consider yourself a Master of Business Administration, too. Heck, if you’re a Clinton, you can probably put that on your resume.

Ready for your three-word Master’s Degree?

Here it is:

MARKETS ARE EFFICIENT.

That’s it. That’s the summum bonum of all business wisdom in three little words. Please feel free to send me your tuition payments.

The idea is that the market operates efficiently based on all available information. If there is a known demand, the market swings into action to create the supply. And if a stock is selling at a certain price on the NYSE, the market has incorporated everything that is known about that stock into the price. So when people who tell you they are smarter than an efficient market and can get you a return better than the market as a whole, they’re generally full of crap.

This info is also helpful in understanding the concept of “discounts.” Suppose, for instance, that you’re a publicly-traded company teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, and you’re going to miss your earnings targets for the next quarter by a wide margin. Surely that means your stock price is going to collapse, right?

Well, yes and no. Yes, your stock prices are going to collapse if the public doesn’t already know your company is collapsing. But, as is more likely, all your travails and woes have played out online and in the press and at your competitor’s water cooler, then that misery has already been discounted and is reflected in your current stock price. The earnings reports confirming what everyone already knows won’t have any additional impact, because the discount has already been applied. In fact, if your next earnings report shows you missing your targets by a smaller margin than the market expected, you will likely see your stock price rise even as your company is collapsing.

Which brings me to Hillary Clinton, who is all but assured to be the next President of the United States.

I don’t say that because I want her to be president. I don’t. Good gravy, I really, really don’t. I think Bill and Hillary Clinton are the two most despicable human beings to ever live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And, here’s the irony – a clear majority of the public agrees with me, and they’re still willing to vote for her.

From the New York Post:

A majority of US voters — 54 percent — say Hillary Clinton is not honest or trustworthy according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. Only 38 percent said they trust the Democratic frontrunner. …

And she beat every Democratic and Republican rival in head-to-head match-ups.

This is why I have no patience for those who think this latest round of Clinton scandals – the deleted emails, the multi-million-dollar slush fund known as the Clinton Foundation, the transparent bribes from foreign governments – are going to somehow do her in. Remember, this is the wife of a man who perjured himself before a grand jury while he was the sitting president, who spent the final two years of his office telling people that felonies committed to cover up sexual dalliances are no big deal, who has been credibly accused of both rape and sexual assault and dismissed the charges by calling his accusers trailer park trash, who sold the Lincoln Bedroom to the highest bidder, who bilked seniors out of their life savings in Whitewater, who collected FBI dossiers on his political opponents and unleashed the IRS on his enemies…

Need I go on? Because I could. (The Travel Office firings based on false accusations. Rose Law Firm billing records. Foreign campaign donors. Stealing tens of thousands of dollars of White House property on their way out…)

You get the idea. And so does everybody else.

So remember that the next time you hear a news report with some breathless anchor saying, “This just in! The Clintons may have taken bribes!” Consider that it’s a bit like the lousy earnings report of the company everyone already knows is a complete mess. There’s nothing in an accusation of bribery that isn’t already factored into the Clinton Discount. What, a bribe to the Clintons? You mean like Marc Rich’s wife buying a pardon? Or Hillary making a 1000% return in the commodities market from a broker buying influence? Tell me something I don’t know. Tell me something an efficient electoral market hasn’t already discounted into the Clinton stock price.

This, incidentally, is why the Clinton defenders lean so heavily on the idea that “this is old news” every time another tiresome scandal rears its head. These pundits are applying the Clinton Discount. They’re saying, “Remember, Joe Q. Public, these are the Clintons were talking about. You know them, and you know what to expect.” A Romney taking bribes? Well, that’s outrageous! A Clinton taking bribes? Well, that’s usually just twice before breakfast.

Keep in mind, too, that the Clintons earned this discount by actively degrading expectations while in office. People forget that when the Lewinsky news broke, nobody thought that Bubba could possibly survive if the allegations were, in fact, true. Even Hillary Clinton admitted as much.

Anyone remember this little exchange with Matt Lauer on the Today Show?

MATT LAUER: If an American president had an adulterous liaison in the White House and lied to cover it up, should the American people ask for his resignation?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, they should certainly be concerned about it.
LAUER: Should they ask for his resignation?
CLINTON: Well, I think that—if all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true.

Yeah, okay. But by the time it was proven true, the Clintons had subjected the nation to months on end of relentless apologetics designed to discount the initial outrage. When Bill was finally in front of a grand jury dancing around what the meaning of the word “is” is, the nation had been deliberately exhausted into acceptance. “OK, fine, he lied, blah blah blah. But the economy’s good, and this is all old news.” This discount applied to every aspect of Clintonism. In 1991, when Clarence Thomas allegedly suggested to Anita Hill that there was a pubic hair on his soda can, it was an outrage. But in 1998, in the midst of Clinton tirelessly grinding away at the nation’s patience, Juanita Broaddrick showed up with a credible charge of rape and nobody even noticed.

So once the country looks at that squarely in the eye and just shrugs its shoulders, what could the Clintons possibly do to go beyond the boundaries of decency that they spent their entire administration obliterating?

Well, there are some things they could do, certainly. Perhaps they could campaign for the return of slavery. Maybe Bill could kill somebody, although that probably wouldn’t shock anyone. (“What? You mean he’s a rapist and a murderer? Well, who isn’t? And wasn’t his victim a Republican?”) Or, worst of all, perhaps they could become conservatives.

None of those things are going to happen. Which means that the American voters already know everything awful about these awful people, and they’re still prepared to let them back to defile the country regardless.

Markets are efficient. Sadly, so are elections. Which is why Hillary Clinton will put her hand on a Bible in January of 2017 and take an oath that nobody in the country will expect her to keep.

Writing

“Writing isn’t hard – just get out a piece of paper an open a vein.”

I don’t remember who said that, but it’s a popular cliche among those who consider themselves to be literarily minded. The meaning of it, if you didn’t grasp at the outset, is that writing is a painful, personal experience that requires tremendous sacrifice from the writer.

I used to think that was bunk. I don’t anymore.

When this blog debuted in 2007,  I made it a goal to write something significant on a daily basis, and for well over a year, I was successful. I went through droughts now and again, but I always came back and had long stretches of lengthy posts, which, of course, were undeniably brilliant. I mean, come on. I’m Stallion Cornell.

You may have noted a dearth of postings of late.

I have excuses. Some of them are even actual reasons. But the heart of all of it is the unpleasant reality that writing, just as a process, has become far more psychologically difficult for me than it has ever been. This probably means I’ve become lazier and/or crazier, or both, but it frightens me that this may become the new normal.

So here’s what I’m going to do to prevent that.

Over the weeks and months, I’ve had dozens of ideas for blog posts, but I haven’t taken the time to flesh them out. So today, I’m just going to write down some of them, and, if you’re so inclined, please leave a comment and tell me which of these theses you’d like to see explored in a full-length essay.

Here they are:

1. The only way Hillary Clinton can avoid being elected president is if she becomes a Klansman and starts using the N-word in casual conversation. (And even that might not do it.)

2. If it took nearly half a decade to excommunicate John Dehlin, a man who makes his living by tearing down the truth claims of his former church online, then the idea that the Mormons are purging themselves of doubters and heretics is ludicrous on its face.

3. When I personally struggle with doubts, they’re never doubts about whether or not there is a God, as I find atheism largely ridiculous. My doubts always focus more on the character of God – i.e., what if God is actually kind of a jerk?

4. Most people who invoke scientific authority in political discussions do so because what they believe is diametrically opposed to actual science. 

5. The LDS Church’s missionary program needs to be re-thought from the ground up. I think that means no more knocking on doors, no more white shirts and name-badges, more specialization and online engagement, and a far greater emphasis on community service. Mostly, it means a great deal of localized experimentation, much of which will fail before it stumbles on an approach that will succeed.

6. Despite centuries of attempts, no one has yet produced an adequate explanation for the existence of The Book of Mormon other than the one offered by Joseph Smith. 

7. I have not encountered a new or interesting religious or political argument online for years, if not decades. 

8. The CW’s “The Flash” is the best live-action superhero story ever told, and “Agents of SHIELD” no longer sucks.

9. I know everything that’s going to happen in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and I’m still wildly excited to see it.

10. I have no favorite potential Republican presidential for the same reason I have no favorite Libertarian or Green Party candidate, as the none of the nominees from any of these parties has the slightest chance of ever becoming president.

Oh, and America has about ten years left. Fifteen, tops. But that might not be a bad thing.

There. Vein officially opened. Let me know what you think. 

OSC nails it!

It’s remarkable to me how many people are asking me about my assessment of the 2016 presidential field. I suppose I should be flattered, and to some degree I am, but I have largely lost my appetite for American electoral politics. I also think our republic is riddled with deep structural fault lines that cannot and will not be repaired by means of a national election. 

I also feel somewhat excluded from partisan debates, as I’m deeply disgusted with both Democrats and Republicans, although I’m ideologically far closer to the GOP than the party of Obama. But the ideological excesses of the Tea Party combined with Republican recalcitrance to do anything significant on immigration make it difficult for me to find anyone in the political arena who shares my point of view.

And then I read this article – “The American Disease” by Orson Scott Card. 

I agree with this article. 

That doesn’t sound as significant as it ought to sound. The fact is, I agree with all of it. I agree with every word. Indeed, had I decided to sit down and effectively summarize the entirety of my current political unorthodoxy, I would not have been able to do as fine a job as Card does with this essay. 

Let me share just a few of my favorite excerpts:

Card on Obama

Barack Obama is not the cause of America’s ills. He is only the most visible symptom.

We think that because he has spent his term systematically weakening the power of the United States in the world, his removal from office will make us strong again.

Not likely… The disease is already so deeply rooted that washing out one handkerchief is not going to cure anything.

Card on foreign policy/global warming:

When Barack Obama is no longer President, our children will still be taught… that if we weren’t so aggressive and arrogant, all the other nations would be nice.

That this is obviously false, after six years of Obama’s “nice,” apologetic foreign policy, will not change the ideology.

Since there was never either truth or evidence supporting this belief, contradictory evidence will hardly make a dent in it, any more than twenty years of global cooling has made a dent in the “climate change” panickers.

Card on leftist economics:

The Leftist ideology does little harm to the economy — as long as it’s just talk, and business is left alone to do its job.

Thus someone as deeply ignorant of economic laws as Barack Obama and his entire administration think that they can fiddle with the economy and redistribute it “fairly.”

No, they can’t. Their “fairness” is, in fact, sabotage — literally, putting a wooden shoe into the machinery so it grinds to a halt. The irony is that when the whole thing crashes, the people who are hurt the worst are the very poor people whom the Left meant to help.

Card on the GOP:

There are smart Republicans who understand the economy, the process of government, and foreign policy, but they are constantly and savagely attacked by the fake “Tea Party” Republicans as RINOs — Republicans In Name Only… The Republican Party deserves to fail, has chosen to fail, and this deathwish continues in full force.

They could have elected Mitt Romney in 2012 and stopped the national nightmare by installing in the White House the most competent man to be a major party nominee since Dwight Eisenhower.

But the evangelical Christians stayed home in droves rather than vote for an evil Mormon — thus remaining “pure” but refusing to govern.

Card on Republican opposition to immigration reform:

In practical terms, the “no amnesty” litmus test for Republican candidates is a political mistake… But I think the harm it does is far deeper. It’s a hypocritical, hateful attitude, that the poorest of the poor should never be forgiven for the crime of going wherever they had to, regardless of risk, in order to feed their families.

It poisons the Republican Party the way support of slavery poisoned the Democratic Party before the Civil War.

Card on Republican refusal to compromise:

But when every compromise that leads to good government is treated as an indelible stain on a candidate’s record, how can the Republican Party nominate anybody with the capacity and wisdom to begin to repair the damage to America caused by eight years of the disease of which Obama is the symptom?

Card on our 2016 choices:

Both ideologies are insane, self-contradictory, and destructive, and we give power to either of them at our peril…The Democrats are poised to offer us the proven incompetent, dishonest Hillary Clinton. The Republicans are selecting from a menu of people crazy enough to pass their purity tests.

Card’s solution:

There is a cure for our current ills. It’s for one of our political parties to grow up and decide to govern for the public good, seeking, not purity, but consensus…And since both Parties are grimly determined to purify their faction rather than unite the nation, we have no reason to hope for any improvement.

Again, I recommend that you read the whole thing. He doesn’t get into entitlement spending, which is the specific problem that will ultimately break us, but he addresses the philosophical reasons that created that problem in the first place.

So when you ask me what  think of the current political landscape, maybe you should be asking OSC instead. I cannot recall stumbling upon any other opinion piece that so perfectly encapsulates my own positions without qualification or exception. It’s pretty cool, albeit more than a little bit spooky. Is this guy reading my mind? 

Say, where did I put my tinfoil hat?

I survived “The Dr. Phil Show.”

From the outset, you need to understand that I didn’t watch an episode of “The Dr. Phil Show” by choice.

Here’s how it happened. I took my car in for a safety inspection and an oil change, and my iPhone was dead. So there I was at the lube job place, and there were no magazines or other diversions to occupy my time. I had no other option but to watch the waiting room’s flat-screen TV.

With no remote control available, I was unable to escape Dr. Phil McGraw and his guest panel of brain-dead, morally repugnant miscreants swapping tales of infidelity, alcoholism and slug-like stupidity. If aliens with ray guns had intercepted this transmission, they would have concluded that humanity is a lost cause and blown Planet Earth to Kingdom Come. And they would have been right to do it.

I spent the whole time trying to understand the thinking of the people who volunteer to be objects of Dr. Phil’s derision. If I were having booze-fueled affairs with random strangers, the last thing I would want to do is show up on daytime TV to advertise the fact. Then again, we’re talking about people with the kind of judgment that leads to booze-fueled affairs with random strangers in the first place.

But these folks had camera crews follow them around to capture B-roll footage of them looking shifty in cutaway shots before commercials. Conceivably, they were asked to do multiple takes of shots recreating them doing sleazy things. Wasn’t there some point in that process that one of these people thought, “Hey, maybe I’ll just conduct my depravity in the privacy of my own home”?

Of course, they’re not the only ones engaged in questionable behavior. This kind of show remains on the air because millions of people like to watch it, which I don’t understand.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming to be high-minded in my artistic tastes. It takes all kinds, I guess. Personally, I like superhero movies where grown men in tights and capes make things go boom, so I’m in no position to deride someone else’s viewing choices. But what could possibly be entertaining about watching terrible people discuss their self-inflicted misery? Perhaps people enjoy feeling superior to the worst specimens the human race has to offer. Or maybe it’s so bad, it’s funny. Or perhaps they just can’t live without a daily dose of Dr. Phil’s artificially folksy wisdom. But I doubt that very much.

The “Doctor” label attached to his name gives him a credibility that he doesn’t earn by means of his on air behavior. At least “The Jerry Springer Show” made no pretense of being anything other than a showcase for freaks. Dr. Phil pretends that he’s actually doing some good, and every now and again, he offered some obvious piece of advice like, “You know, you really need to be there for your children.” But does one really need a medical degree to think up stuff like that? One could open a fortune cookie and get thoughts more cogent than the kind of bon mots Dr. Phil delivers between copious commercial breaks.

I’m pitching this concept to producers, incidentally. I really think “The Stallion Cornell-Reads-Fortune-Cookie-Fortunes-to-Lowlifes Show” could be a huge hit. Plus, I’d probably get to eat a lot of free cookies. And it would be more fun to watch if you were trapped in a waiting room with nothing else on TV.

The moral of the story is simple: always keep your phone charged.

The Rise of Ad Hominem (and the decline of everything else.)

(Title gleefully lifted with apologies to Hugh Nibley.)

Sadly, the Mormon faith has become a place that incentivizes the survival of the least fit. Since strict obedience is demanded and harshly enforced, only the least talented, least articulate, least nuanced thinkers, least likely to take a stand against abuse, and the least courageous people thrive in the Church today.

– Kate Kelly, former Mormon and current leader of Ordain Women, writing for the UK Guardian.

So there!

As one of the untalented, inarticulate, nuance-free, abuse-tolerating cowards who remains in the church, I obviously have no standing to answer this charge. Which, ultimately, is Kelly’s purpose here. Once you accept her premise that all Mormons are knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, you can save yourself the aggravation of listening to anything they have to say.

If not “skeptic,” what should the opponents of climate science be called? … The dissenting scientists have been called “lukewarmers” by some… It is perhaps no surprise that many environmentalists have started to call them deniers.

The scientific dissenters object to that word, claiming it is a deliberate attempt to link them to Holocaust denial. Some academics sharply dispute having any such intention, but others have started using the slightly softer word “denialist” to make the same point without stirring complaints about evoking the Holocaust.

The above is from a column in the New York Times devoted to finding the appropriate ad hominem label with which to utterly dismiss people who notice the earth hasn’t warmed at all in 17 years and that all the alarmist climate models have been wrong by a factor of 300%, and so maybe a regressive tax on the poorest of the poor that even alarmists admit won’t lower global temperatures might not be a good idea.

I’ve written about Shakespeare denialism many times before… and I’ve started to feel like I’m running around in circles while simultaneously banging my head against a wall (do not try this)… When the media use false balance in stories about the “authorship question,” they also bestow undue legitimacy on a discredited notion. Shakespeare deniers have received sympathetic treatment in surprising places for a long time.

A recent article on skeptic.com from an orthodox Shakespeare scholar that maintains the best way to deal with the myriad of problems with the conventional wisdom about Shakespeare’s authorship is to call those who ask questions “deniers” and refuse to create the “false balance” that comes from letting them speak.

“And lest we get on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

– President Obama, February 10, 2015

Rather than be concerned about the barbarism being perpetrated in 2015 in the name of Islam, Christians should recognize they are disqualified from passing judgment because other Christians committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ a thousand years ago.

To sum up:

Contrary opinions no longer need to be refuted; they only need to be disqualified. And disqualifying opinions these days is remarkably easy to do.

Heaven help us all.

Logan’s History of Sound and Fury

“It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.”
 – William Shakespeare

Sonia Johnson, like John Dehlin, came from Logan, Utah. And like John Dehlin, she asked a lot of questions and didn’t much care for the church’s answers. Johnson’s issue was the Equal Rights Amendment, and she cited the Church’s opposition to same as evidence of “savage misogyny” in the Mormon hierarchy. She refused to support church leaders and even vocally shouted “No! No! No! E.R.A. says no!” in the Tabernacle when it came time to sustain Spencer W. Kimball as the President of the Church. She gave speeches across the country counseling people to turn away Mormon missionaries until the church reversed its position on the ERA. Finally, when she was excommunicated in December of 1979, the news media reported it as a major story that would generate a tremendous backlash against the LDS Church.

Indeed, excommunication did little or nothing to slow Sonia Johnson down.

She chained herself to the gates of the Seattle Temple to protest the church’s position, and she found herself thrown in jail for her efforts. She ran for President of the United States in 1984 and came in fifth, with over 70,000 votes. (She lost to Ronald Reagan, who got considerably more than 70,000 votes.) She announced she was a lesbian and founded an all-women commune in Arizona. She spoke at a number of radical feminist gatherings and made a name for herself in various academic and feminist communities.

She is still alive today, but no one knows where she is.

Wikipedia says her last known speaking engagement was in 2007,  and in 2010, a Logan newspaper tried to do a follow-up, “Where are they now?” story about Johnson and came up short. The reporter of that piece contacted one of Johnson’s relatives, who said they thought Johnson was now living in Costa Rica, but they weren’t sure. My own Google searches have come up empty, too.

This is very different from the 1980s, when national stories about the church often included a quote from Sonia Johnson, who invariably used the occasion to criticize the church of which she was no longer a member. Johnson had every bit the national profile that John Dehlin and Kate Kelly now enjoy, and her arguments were very much in line with what Kate Kelly is now saying to every media outlet that will listen. Yet in Johnson’s case, we now have more than three decades of hindsight to determine what kind of lasting impact her excommunication and subsequent anti-LDS activism has had on the Church at large.

Time has not been kind to Ms. Johnson’s legacy.

The Church has not made the requisite changes to its doctrines and practices that Sonia Johnson demanded, yet it has somehow continued to grow and thrive. The media, once infatuated with Sonia Johnson, have forgotten her entirely, as have the vast majority of current church members, most of whom have likely never heard her name. It’s hard to argue that all the sound and fury she generated all those years ago has signified anything other than nothing, at least as far as Mormonism is concerned.

Understand my purpose here. I am not trying to mock or vilify Sonia Johnson, just as I am not trying to mock or vilify  John Dehlin or Kate Kelly or anyone else whose spiritual journey leads them outside the boundaries of the Church. I am, rather, trying to provide some needed perspective. If you  think Dehlin’s excommunication is some kind turning point, or that it heralds the inevitable decline of the corrupt Church he has exposed, or that Dehlin’s and/or Kelly’s influence will continue to expand while the Mormon house of cards comes tumbling down…

If you’re of that opinion, you might want to talk to Sonia Johnson about how all that worked out for her.

If you can find her, anyway.