More Things That Make Me Mad

Man, can you believe Rick Santorum said this?
This was posted on Facebook by the group Americans Against The Tea Party. It has been “liked” by 2,348 people, generated 2,418 comments, and been shared 2,130 times. The fact that Rick Santorum never actually said this doesn’t seem to matter. Are we that eager to believe the worst about people we disagree with that we’re willing to resort to making stuff up?

On a completely unrelated note, can you believe the president said this?

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I’ve tried to imagine how someone could film a more skewed, vicious portrayal of Mitt Romney’s religion than this BBC documentary, but, for the life of me, I can’t imagine what it would look like.

It doesn’t make me angry, necessarily, but it does bother me that John Sweeney, the guy narrating this ominous thing, gets all the simple details wrong. For example, he constantly refers to chapels as temples; yet when he stands outside the Boston Temple, he claims Mitt Romney was “a bishop here.” Well, no. Regular meetinghouses and temples serve very different purposes. If you’re going to warn the world about Mitt’s scary cult, maybe you could get the little things right if you want us to trust you on the big things.

It’s clear who Sweeney trusts, though – dissidents. He spends about twenty minutes interviewing modern polygamists who have zero connection to the church to which Mitt Romney belongs, and then another twenty or so interviewing unstable people who’ve left the church, one of whom claims to have been “followed,” although whether or not it was the church that was following him, he can’t be sure. Sweeney makes one offhand comment that the vast majority of the people who knew Mitt as a bishop really liked and respected him, but that comment comes before a lengthy interview with the one woman who didn’t.

That’s the approach. If you hate the Mormons, then you’re honest and credible. If you like them, then you’re hiding something.

At one point, for instance, some wackadoodle, random hairy dude claims that Mormon spies are trained by the CIA to learn how to snoop on church members’ private lives. Sweeney then cuts to a spooky shot of the Church Office Building and scarily intones that he has contacted a CIA agent “who refuses to reveal his name.” This CIA wannabe Deep Throat confirms… that the CIA does, in fact, employ Mormons. That’s it. That’s the smoking gun evidence of some secret Mormon spy network. No word if Lutherans who work for the CIA are also being trained to spy on parishioners.

After giving full hearing to reports by the angriest people imaginable about all the horrors of Mormonism, he then ambushes Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and asks him to deny these horrors, which he does, after which Sweeney presents some variation of “Oh, sure, Elder Holland. You may claim that you don’t follow people and shun people and cut them out of their families, but I’ve found thirty people” – Sweeney’s own, admitted number – “who beg to differ.”

That’s the tone of this piece – thirty loopy, ex-Mormon cranks vs. the entire faithful membership of the LDS Church, the whole of which gets about a fifth of the total screen time.

Yeah, that ticks me off. And there’s just going to be boatloads more of this crap between now and November.

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You know who doesn’t make me angry? Gary Shapiro. He wrote a blistering indictment of Maureen Dowd’s anti-Mormon bigotry that is better than anything I could have come up with. It includes such gems as the this:

If a Presidential candidate was Jewish, a similar column could have been written about how Jews have strange views of the coming of the Messiah and are disproportionately wealthy and dominate so many visible professions and businesses. Yet, the New York Times would never print such a column.

And this:

Dowd has crossed a line of unacceptable bigotry by castigating a candidate because of his religion. No amount of quotes from other people (including saying that many “others” consider Mormonism a “cult”) makes it better. Holding one person accountable for all acts by their religion is as absurd as holding all Muslims responsible for extreme Islamic terrorists, all Jews responsible for the Jewish Defense League and all Germans for the Holocaust.

And, finally, this:

It is wrong and un-American to attack a candidate on the basis of religion, sex, race or ethnicity. If a major media outlet had attacked Sen. Joe Lieberman or New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for being Jewish, Obama for being black, or even Barney Frank for being gay, there would be outrage. Yet the Times published this xenophobic column.

Read the whole thing here while I find something else to get angry about.

Things That Make Me Mad

The Trayvon Martin case is really beginning to infuriate me.

I didn’t really plan on writing anything about it, because, really, what more is there to be said? But as a single, isolated tragedy becomes the genesis for a larger, warped racial narrative, I get more and more irate. And then I stumbled on this little gem, which was published in the free paper Salt Lake City Weekly:

This sent me over the edge.

I have a question for the race-baiting thugs who are trying to exploit this young boy’s death to score cheap political points. Can you cite me a single, genuine instance of a conservative saying anything what this straw man in a suit says in this cartoon? Find me just one right-wing pundit or GOP elected official who thinks it’s OK to gun down defenseless black kids wearing hoodies. Go ahead, dig through the latest bile from Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity et al. Check out all of Gingrich, Santorum, or Romney’s speeches. For Pete’s sake, read Ron Paul if you have to. Go back a few years, or as far as you want. I’ll wait.

You will never, ever find anyone of any reputation saying anything remotely like this.

What you will find, however, is Spike Lee tweeting the home address of the wrong George Zimmerman in the hopes that some vigilante will break into his home and wack him. You’ll find a Twitter account advocating the murder of George Zimmerman that, as of this writing, nobody has bothered to take down. You have the New Black Panthers offering a $10,000 bounty on George Zimmerman, dead or alive. 

In the aftermath of this hideous event, right-wingers are repeatedly accused of violent intent. And, meanwhile, all the incitements to violence are coming solely from the Left. What’s wrong with this picture?

This reminds me of when Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot, and all the pundits instantly blamed the Tea Party. Then they discovered that the shooter was a deranged, stoner leftist who hated the Tea Party. Remember all the televised apologies from the people who claimed Sarah Palin had Gabby Giffords’ blood on her hands? Neither do I.

So now we have a case where a young black man was gunned down on the street by a white man supposedly for no other reason than he “looked suspicious” and was “wearing a hoodie.” Except the facts that keep coming in contradict the conventional wisdom at every turn. Some witnesses say Trayvon was the aggressor who had broken Zimmerman’s nose in a scuffle. The white-on-black racist angle is undermined by the fact that Zimmerman is Hispanic. There is much more to this story, but that hasn’t kept people from calling for blood and indicting all white people – or at least white conservatives – as innately genocidal, and that George Zimmerman is indicative of what all Republicans want to do when they see a person of color with a hood over his head.

Yes, that makes me mad.

Do all black people want to gun down British tourists? Do all Hispanics secretly long for the murder of six-year-old girls?  If you’re from Texas, does that automatically mean you’re eager to kidnap, torture, and murder teenagers? Even if the all the initial assumptions about the Martin case were accurate, which they’re not, how is this incident an indictment of every white person in the United States?

How did George Zimmerman somehow become my spokesman?

I lament Trayvon Martin’s tragic, needless death. I also lament the fact that some people are eager to find widespread racism where there is none and then stoke hatred in the name of decrying hatred. We’ll never become a color-blind country if we keep learning the wrong lessons.

Obamacare Observations

As I listen to the breathless reports pouring out of the Supreme Court about the oral arguments for and against Obamacare, I recall my own visit to the Supreme Court in October of 2009. Unlike the U.S. Senate, where senators give fiery speeches to an empty chamber, all nine Supreme Court Justices actually show up, complete with robes and everything. I was sitting just a few feet way from Justice Alito, and I had watched people argue a case that had something to do with probable cause and overturning a conviction, although it was very hard to figure out the specific details. Anthony Kennedy was a bit of a blowhard; Chief Justice Roberts made the most sense, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg looked and sounded precisely like Hans Moleman from The Simpsons.


I should also note that, although I’m a fan, I found myself distinctly unimpressed with Clarence Thomas, who said nothing and actually fell asleep during the proceedings.

In his defense, Justice Thomas has said repeatedly that he considers oral arguments to be a tremendous waste of time, and he’s probably right. I don’t think that by the time something winds its way to the Supreme Court that the justices are learning any new information when they ask their questions. It becomes an impressive display of verbal dexterity, but it probably doesn’t do much in terms of changing anyone’s mind. What seems shocking to anyone watching the current debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is that Anthony Kennedy, the weather vane justice who votes whichever way the cool kids are voting, seems to be in agreement with the four conservatives this time, which means Obamacare may not survive long enough for a Republican to repeal it.

There are a number of political prognosticators who are attempting to read the tea leaves and determine what this does to the president’s reelection prospects, and, frankly, I’m not one of them. The reality is that nobody has a clue what this will do to his reelection chances. Passage of Obamacare triggered an overreaction on the part of conservatives and swept the Tea Party into power in 2010. Mitt Romney’s ascendency proves that the power of the hardcore zealots is waning. So will the death of Obamacare reenergize the Tea Party, or will it undermine their whole rationale for existing? I personally think it would defang the president in the eyes of the general electorate and make him more palatable to moderate voters. Without the pressing need to get a Republican in there and repeal it, the urgency of electing a conservative president becomes far less intense.

That said, I think it’s pretty sad that our national health care discussion, along with everything else, quickly dissolves into a partisan morass. Whether or not the law is upheld, it would be nice if people could step away from the horse race analysis and look at the bigger picture, which includes the following elements:

1. The health care status quo is unacceptable.

In their opposition to Obama’s overreach, Republicans have not offered any substantive alternatives and have instead become the de facto defenders of the health care status quo. Lost in the bickering is the fact that the status quo stinks. It’s unsustainably expensive, ridiculously bureaucratic, and too many people fall through the cracks. There are certain conservative solutions that need to be part of the mix – tort reform, primarily, in order to reduce obscene malpractice insurance costs – but both sides of the aisle have to acknowledge and address that there are fundamental structural problems with the current system, and it’s not enough just to oppose reform – one needs to offer something constructive in its place.

2. We already have universal health care in the United States.

Granted, it’s the most expensive, convoluted, and inefficient universal health care system in the industrialized world, but the fact remains that we don’t allow American citizens to die in the street for lack of health care. Emergency room and hospitals are required by law to treat all patients, regardless of their ability to pay. Opponents of the flawed Obama solution ignore the fact that the current system already has enormous hidden costs as insurance holders shell out for higher premiums to compensate for the costs of covering the indigent. In addition, there is no political will to create a system where health care becomes 100% “market-driven,” so that if you can’t afford it, you can’t get it. Consequently, if we’re going to provide universal health care, we ought to figure out how to provide it at a reasonable cost rather than pretend we’re not doing it.

3. It is impossible to get insurance companies to overlook pre-existing conditions without an insurance mandate.

Since the individual mandate is the bedrock of the case against Obamacare at the Supreme Court, conservatives who once championed such a thing as a viable alternative to a single-payer system have suddenly – and recently – decided that this is the most hideous aspect of the law, the death of freedom, the rise of Big Brother, yada yada yada. Now there is a legitimate argument as to whether or not this should be a federal responsibility, but there is no legitimate argument that maintains that an insurance pool can survive if people can wait until they get sick before they join it.  Incidentally, the argument against the Obama mandate allows for the fact that states can step in provide this kind of regulation even if Washington can’t. This is why, even though both contain mandates, Mitt Romney’s plan in Massachusetts is constitutional and Barack Obama’s plan isn’t.

4. The Solution: Catastrophic Coverage and Health Savings Accounts

Insurance should cover catastrophes, not maintenance. Your car insurance will replace an engine and an auto body that are destroyed in a wreck, but it doesn’t reimburse you for gasoline and oil changes. Health insurance should follow the same model. In addition, tax incentives need to be shifted in order to separate medical benefits from the employer, and insurance companies need to be given the freedom to do business across state lines.

None of these reforms will fix the problem entirely, and if there were an easy way to do it, it would already be done. But as conservatives get excited about tearing down a bad law, they need to recognize that this marks the beginning, not the end. It’s time to start building something better in its place.

Games of Hunger

Hunger GamesI first started reading The Hunger Games in the Draper LDS Temple. Mrs. Cornell and I had volunteered to help shepherd visitors through the sacred edifice before its dedication, after which it would no longer be open to the public. Our job was to sit in an anteroom and wait around in case anyone needed us.

No one did.

So I snuck out to the car and got all the reading material that was scattered in the backseat. that included my daughter Cleta’s copy of The Hunger Games, which proved to be a compelling, if not temple-appropriate, read. It’s a book that actually deserves all of the acclaim and attention it is received, unlike all the other pretenders to the post – Harry Potter young adult literary throne. (Twilight, I’m looking in your direction.)

So it was with equal parts excitement and exhaustion that I sat at the Jordan Commons Megaplex at midnight on Thursday, awaiting the much ballyhooed movie adaptation of the same to take the screen. I’m way too old for midnight screenings, but my daughters aren’t, yet they also aren’t old enough to drive themselves home. That meant that one parent or another would have to accompany them to the midnight showing. Guess which one? (Oh, that’s right. I already told you.)

So what’d I think? Well, for the first twenty minutes, I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it through the whole film without throwing up. This had nothing to do with the violence and everything to do with the shaky, herky-jerky handheld camera work. Big chunks of this flick looked like they were filmed on a camcorder by the proud father of a girl at a post-apocalyptic piano recital. I’ve read interviews with artsy directors who talk about handheld cameras providing a gritty, “you are there” feeling. But just as 3-D movies don’t accurately mimic real world depth perception, neither does watching footage bob and weave like a drunken sailor make me feel grittier or presenter. All it does is make me want to down a bottle of Dramamine.

The sloppy cinematography had at least one advantage, however. By obscuring the action, they managed to tone down what was literarily R-rated violence to PG-13 levels. It’s very hard for an audience to be shocked by what they’re seeing if they can’t tell what’s going on.

That’s not to say I hated the film, or even disliked it. They held the camera still long enough for me to be able to notice the outstanding casting and solid performances, along with the serviceable adaptation of what is a very tricky book, cinematically speaking.

Tricky because all three of the Hunger Games novels are written in the first person, which means that the majority of the exposition takes place in the main character’s brain. Consequently, the movie has to show us things that Katniss can only guess are happening. That’s why Seneca Crane gets a lot of screen time, even though he makes no appearance in the first book and is only mentioned in the second book after he’s “dealt with,” so to speak. They could’ve handled this problem with an intrusive narration, but I’m glad they didn’t. If they had, we wouldn’t have had a chance to see Donald Sutherland’s delightfully unctuous performance as the snakelike President Snow.

The casting in this movie was note perfect. Jennifer Lawrence didn’t impress me in X-Men: First Class, but she certainly impressed me here. She’s a great Katniss, while Josh Hutcherson pulls off Peeta with the requisite stalker earnestness. I had imagined Cinna to be exactly the way Lenny Kravitz embodies him, and while I had imagined Haymitch as someone very different from Woody Harrelson, now that I’ve seen Woody’s performance, I can’t imagine him any other way. Gale looked older and hunkier than he should have, but that’s a quibble, and, really, who am I to decide what’s hunky and what isn’t?

This movie proved the old adage that directing is 80% casting and 20% showing up with sharp pencils.

I couldn’t think of any necessary plot points from the book that didn’t make the transition to the big screen, and, overall, it left me eager for the sequel, although the Hunger Games follows the Star Wars sequel pattern – great first installment, superior second installment, disappointing finale. They’re talking about breaking the final book into two movies, which is really stupid, given that not nearly enough happens in Book 3 to justify slicing it in half.

Still, I’ll be there for all four, although you’d think that with a multimillion dollar budget for a big studio tentpole franchise, they’d be able to afford a tripod.

Spring Thoughts

Spring is here! Spring is here! Life is skittles and life is beer! I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring! I do! Don’t you? ‘Course you do.

Newt Gingrich also noticed spring is here this past weekend, when, instead of campaigning in Illinois, where he would ultimately come in fourth behind Ron Paul, he decided to spend the day with his third wife/second mistress wandering the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. and admiring the cherry blossoms.

He still refuses to drop out despite Santorum’s repeated calls to do so in order to clear the way for a “two-man race,” even though Newt’s already done that by ignoring the need to actually, you know, campaign. Santorum’s point would carry a little more weight if Newt’s presence were actually making a difference. As it stands, even if Newt had dropped out pre-Illinois and in the unlikely event Santorum had picked up 100% of the Newt voters, then Mitt would have won the state by four points instead of twelve.

But, as this Gallup poll shows, Santorum wouldn’t pick up 100% of the Newt voters. He would split them evenly with Mitt, which also undermines the whole rationale for why Rick and Newt are staying in the race – they recognize they can’t win the thing outright, so they hope to play dog in a manger in order to keep Mitt from winning it, and then they’ll convince enough Mitt delegates that their guy stinks, and so they should abandon him on the second convention ballot and rally behind Newt/Rick/Sarah Palin/Tim Tebow. They don’t seem to believe it’s possible that if Mitt arrives in Tampa with, say, 1,000 delegates instead of the magic 1,144, he’ll probably have an easier time finding 144 disaffected Newties or Santorumites than they will picking off 500 – or in Newt’s case, 750 – Romneybots. Both of them churlishly insist that Mitt is running with the unfair advantage of a superior organization, adequate funding, and genuine momentum, so the preferences of actual voters at the polls should be taken with a grain of salt. Newt, particularly, released a whiny little diatribe after the Illinois results came in that harped on the fact that Mitt was able to outspend Santorum 7-1, as if that somehow meant the results should be read with a Maris-like asterisk.

Newsflash, Newt – you know why Mitt spent seven times the money Santorum did? Because he could, and you can’t. Why is that? Because donors believe in Mitt, and they don’t believe in you. That may have something to do with why your campaign is why your campaign is now millions of dollars in debt.

Of course, Mitt isn’t helping matters with his spokesman’s little Etch-a-Sketch hooey, which is only remarkable in that Mitt is now relying on his underlings to make his gaffes for him. This awkward moment has produced at least one fun campaign artifact – a picture of Rick Santorum demonstrating to petulant toddlers everywhere what it looks like to take your toys and go home.

My Etch-a-Sketch! Mine! Mine!

All these two clowns are doing by staying in the race is postponing the general election season, which means we may have to wait until the summer to read the mounds of stockpiled stories about how Mormons baptize corpses/still practice slavery/believe the Lost Tribes of Israel have spent the last two millennia partying in a hollowed-out cavern directly underneath Greenland.

I’m sick to death of the primary election, to be honest. Despite it dominating this blog, it’s not the only thing I think about. In my free moments, I find the time to ask why a blogger in his forties can still get acne, or ponder why Chevy Chase was ever considered talented enough to merit a movie career. I muse on the injustice of the existence of cats, and I query the powers that be with philosophical conundrums like: if a tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody around to hear it, would my dog still crap on it?

Happy second day of Spring!

A Violently Bad Decision

Truly stunning news out of South Carolina today, as we learn that a middle school teacher has been suspended for reading Ender’s Game to her students. The sci-fi classic is apparently “pornographic,” and the teacher may end up losing their job over this.

Had I known the way to get rid of a lousy teacher was to get them to read a dirty book, I’d have plenty of reading recommendations for my instructors over the years. Those recommendations surely wouldn’t have included Ender’s Game, which doesn’t have an ounce of sex in it. Correct me if I’m wrong, as I don’t have a lot of experience in these sorts of things, but isn’t pornography supposed to be sexy? Any smut peddler with Ender’s Game in their product line is going to go out of business very quickly.

That’s not to say Ender’s Game could ever be confused with a Disney princess film, as it has a smattering of vulgarities and isolated scenes of unsettling violence. But has anyone in a South Carolina middle school read The Hunger Games? It’s ten times more violent than Ender’s Game, and it’s poised to be the biggest movie of the year. My middle school-aged daughters bought their midnight showing tickets weeks ago. Would I be able to submit my eighth grade book report on Lord of the Flies to a South Carolina middle school? For crying out loud, how about Harry Potter? The body count in those books is ridiculous, and there’s snogging in them besides!

It gets confusing to try and define what is and is not offensive. When I used to review movies, it was my job to count swear words and chronicle acts of sex and violence in order to warn people away from inappropriate films. I remember reviewing a truly execrable flick called Cop and a Half, starring Burt Reynolds in a really bad toup. This movie had violence aplenty, including several uncomfortable moments where a young child elbows grown men in the crotch. It was the kid’s signature move, and it was always played for laughs. Had the violence in the movie had real world consequences, the movie would’ve been rated R. As it was, the film got a PG rating, because all of the violence was treated as if it never happened three minutes later, so it then becomes silly, not shocking, to see men with damaged testicles double over in pain.

That’s one of the reasons I get uneasy whenever my kids watch the Home Alone movies. Unlike Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, real people who get bricks dropped on their heads from five stories up or slip and fall, back first, down an iced-up stairwell tend to, well, die. Yet as the Home Alone mayhem piles up, so do the giggles.

Compare and contrast that with the violence in Ender’s Game. There are two scenes where the titular protagonist is faced, one-on-one, with a merciless attacker who intends to kill him. Ender responds with blunt force, and the scenes are brutal, harsh, and disturbing. The book portrays violence as a messy, terrible thing with stark consequences. That lesson may not sit well with many a parent or child, but isn’t that a better message than the idea that all violence is cartoon violence, that the Coyote can always get back up and chase the Road Runner again even after plummeting from a thousand-foot cliff?

Between Ender’s Game and Home Alone, which of the two is more likely to inspire kids to try this at home?

Believe it or not, I’ve had some personal experience with this. A couple years back, longtime followers of my blog were enlisted as beta readers for a novel that, at one point, I was finally able to get a prominent publisher to read. They liked it, but they asked for a new draft with the violence toned down and the “sex” removed entirely.

The rules they laid out for any violence were a little warped. People were allowed to die, but not by natural or sloppy means. In other words, they could magically vanish, but they couldn’t be hit by a car. Absolutely no blood. People could still tussle with each other, apparently, but they couldn’t break the skin.

Removing the sex was trickier, especially since there is no sex in my book. There are, however, people who transform, Hulk-like, into giants, and when they transform back, they aren’t wearing any clothes. This is never an erotic moment, and body parts never make appearances in the descriptions. Yet this was not OK.

So I rewrote it, and they claimed to like it even more, but, in the end, they still passed. So I’m rewriting all the naught bits back into it. I mean, come on! If kids in South Carolina can’t read Ender’s Game anymore, I’ve got to put something spicy on their Kindles.

“Nakedly, he elbowed the dude in his little factory…

Baptizing a Dead Horse

“Is Elvis a Mormon?”

That was the screaming headline on Maureen Dowd’s column in Sunday’s New York Times. Apparently, MoDo is the first to discover a secret, controversial practice of Mitt Romney’s church. It seems these Mormons perform proxy baptisms on behalf of dead people! Isn’t that bonkers?

Yes. So bonkers that it has been a prominent part of the national political discussion since Mitt ran the first time, four years ago. So bonkers that Bill Maher recently unbaptized Ann Romney’s father and Stephen Colbert circumcised a hot dog to transform all dead Mormons into Jews. So bonkers that the proxy baptism of holocaust victims has been on the front pages of Dowd’s newspaper since it first came to light in 2002 – a decade ago.

At what point does this become old news?

I recently had a Facebook discussion lamenting the fact that Romney’s Mormonism will continue to come under fire throughout the general election, to which a liberal friend of mine responded that President Obama will never attack Mitt for his faith. I think that’s true. The reason it’s true is that he doesn’t need to. As long as Maureen Dowd can write a new column every couple of weeks about how weird the Mormons are and pretend it’s the first time anyone’s ever noticed, no elected official has to waste any time spouting anti-religious nastiness. They’ve got Dowd and Maher and Colbert and any number of wannabe pundits carrying all their water for them.

Is anyone else as tired of this as I am?

I’m not trying to reboot the discussion on whether or not the practice is offensive - I’ve wasted enough bandwidth on that subject already. I concede that that’s a legitimate discussion to have, if you really want to go there. What I find tiresome on this occasion is that Dowd et al raise the issue as if it’s the first time anyone’s noticed. She also deliberately distorts and sensationalizes the practice – the Mormons have forcibly converted Elvis, Gandhi, Marilyn Monrie, Charlie Chaplin, and Hitler! – while burying the exculpatory tidbit that the Mormons consider proxy baptisms to be invitations, not conscriptions, in the final paragraphs. These people aren’t Mormons, and they’re not recorded as such on the records of the church. If they want to become Mormons, they’re free to do so, but unless one of them comes back from the dead, we won’t know how it all turned out.

So the answer to MoDo’s snarky Elvis question in the headline is “no,” and she knows it, yet she’s not willing to offer that information up front, because it might sabotage her attempt to make Mitt look like a wack-a-doodle.

Proxy baptisms in the LDS Church have been around for over 150 years. So have Brigham Young’s racist statements, The Book of Mormon, 19th Century polygamy, and just about every other bone of contention people have with my faith that the news media seems to discover every five minutes. True, we haven’t had Mormons running for president in many of these election cycles, so none of these things have gotten the kind of national scrutiny they’re getting now. But how often are they allowed to repeat themselves and pretend they haven’t said all this before?

Just how many bites at the “Mormons-are-freaks” apple do they get?

Why Can’t It Be Done, Mr. Hayes?

Yesterday, out of the blue, a reader commented on a post made just before the 2008 election about the following video. You don’t have to watch the video – indeed, I recommend you don’t. Just know that it’s a bunch of washed-up has-been celebrities praying to Barack Obama to save America and lower gas prices.

Well, three and a half years on, the gas prices are higher than they were before Cyndi Lauper and George Costanza gave their alms to the Almighty Obama. Why, Barack? Why are your people still in darkness? Why haven’t their petroleum prayers been answered?

Well, if you listen to the president’s remarks yesterday, you’d think it were all Rutherford B. Hayes’ fault.

President Obama is seeing his poll numbers plunge in direct correlation to the price at the pump, and, as is his wont, he’s chosen to blame somebody instead of take practical steps to solve the problem. He’s not blaming Hayes directly, but he’s comparing current Republican contenders to be our forty-fifth president to President #19. It seems the Republicans, like “founding members of the Flat Earth Society,” despise science and are therefore resisting the technological changes necessary to transfer from fossil fuels to the alternative sources of energy that would bring down fuel costs.

From the president’s speech in Largo, MD:

One of my predecessors, President Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone: ‘It’s a great invention but who would ever want to use one?’ That’s why he’s not on Mt. Rushmore. He’s looking backwards, he’s not looking forward. He’s explaining why we can’t do something instead of why we can do something.

If that’s the case, Mr. President, then your predecessor has for more in common with you than he does with your Republican opponents. None of them oppose alternative sources of energy. They simply recognize that they’re nowhere near ready to pick up the slack, so, in the meantime, they think increasing domestic production of fossil fuels is a really good idea. They’re right. More domestic energy production will lower costs, decrease reliance on foreign oil, and create a buttload of jobs.

So who’s the one telling us we can’t do it?

“Since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plans for two dollar gas. I’ll save you the suspense: Step one is drill, step two is drill, and step three is keep drilling… We’ve heard the same thing for thirty years…It’s not a strategy to solve our energy challenge.” – Barack Obama. February 23, 2012

“But we can’t just drill our way out of this problem.” Barack Obama, March 3, 2012

“We can’t drill to lower gas prices.” – Barack Obama, March 10, 2012 

Really? Why can’t it be done, Mr. Hayes?

Yes, the President has made some recent halfhearted gestures toward increased drilling – it is a presidential election year, after all – but for every step forward, he takes a Keystone Pipeline-sized step back. In North Dakota, the fracking boom has lowered that state’s unemployment to 3.2% and forced McDonalds to pay burger flippers $15 an hour after getting $300 signing bonuses. There are similar resources in oil shale throughout Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Yet Obama ludicrously maintains the US only has 2% of  the world’s oil reserves.

He’s dead wrong.

From Investors.com:

When you include oil shale, the U.S. has 1.4 trillion barrels of technically recoverable oil, according to the Institute for Energy Research, enough to meet all U.S. oil needs for about the next 200 years, without any imports. And even this number could be low, since such estimates tend to go up over time.

So tell me again why it can’t be done, Mr. Hayes?

Actually, comparing Barack Obama and Rutherford Hayes isn’t fair at all to President Hayes. Because while ol’ Rutherford may have been a telephone skeptic, he didn’t bring the full weight of the federal government to bear against the telephone industry. He didn’t insist that we all wait until technology produced the iPad and we could FaceTime cheaply and conveniently. To be like Obama, Hayes would have had to give a speech saying “Skype is the future, my friends. We can’t just phone our way out of our communication problems.” Yet one of President Obama’s first acts in office was to cancel 79 oil and gas leases in Utah that had been in the works for seven years. He canceled the Keystone Pipeline. With a few token exceptions, he has done everything in his power to stifle domestic oil production.

Why can’t it be done, Mr. Obama?  Because you won’t let us do it.

UPDATE: Charles Krauthammer says all this better than I do here.

Mormon Momentum

I was giddy with excitement Tuesday night as I checked the Drudge Report before election returns came in. His headline was “Mitt takes Mississippi- Alabama still tight.” Intrade had Mitt up to 87% likely to win in Mississippi, and Drudge’s main photo was of a Mitt campaign rally, with the caption “South’s New Favorite Son?”

When the actual returns came in and Mitt narrowly lost in both states, the narrative shamelessly shifted from “Mitt wins in the South! This race is over!” to “Mitt came in third! His candidacy is collapsing!” in the blink of an eye. It was a dispiriting night for us Romneybots, but it really shouldn’t have been. All it shows is that the media loves a dramatic narrative, when, in fact, the real surprise last night was that Mitt was even in contention, which nobody predicted as recently as a week ago.

So here’s the truth.

Mitt Romney won more delegates Tuesday night – 41 – than Rick Santorum – 35 – or Newt Gingrich – 21 – or Ron Paul – 1. He did so by virtually tying Newt Gingrich in his backyard of Alabama, and coming in a very close third in what was essentially a three-way-heat in Mississippi, where Santorum’s supposedly overwhelming win netted him precisely one more delegate than Mitt. And then Mitt blew everyone else away in Hawaii and American Samoa, and he widened his delegate lead as he continued to inevitably plod on to the nomination.

This is a showing that was only disappointing in light of recently raised expectations. Had you told Mitt Romney at the end of February that he would be neck-and-neck with both Gingrich and Santorum in two strongholds of the Deep South, he would have been thrilled. On Super Tuesday, everyone was talking about how the next week was in territory “unfavorable” to Romney – i.e. they hates them Mormons down in Dixie – and everyone expected him to lose. The fact that winning became a considerable possibility should be seen as nothing less than miraculous. Mitt also won with minimal campaign expenditures – he didn’t start investing in these two states until very late in the game. The current narrative that insists Tuesday night was a disaster for Romney is based on goofy perceptions, not reality.

The problem, of course, is that with politics, perception is realty.

Very few people in the media are willing to openly discuss the real reason Mitt lost Mississippi and Alabama. The Associated Press talked about it this way:

In Mississippi and Alabama, 80 percent or more of voters leaving their polling places said they were born again Christians or evangelical. Those voters have been reluctant to rally to Romney’s side in the primaries and caucuses to date.

So those voters are “reluctant.” What a nice, gentle expression. It certainly sounds better than “Those voters think Mitt Romney’s church is an anti-Christian, demonic cult, which means that 80 percent of the electorate in these states don’t wanna legitimize Satan by voting for one of his minions.”

Perhaps that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it’s closer to the truth than “reluctant” is.

National Review Online contributor Michael Walsh offers this helpful tidbit:

Nobody wants to talk about it, but one possible explanation is that Romney’s Mormonism is playing poorly in the Deep South.

Yes, quite. That’s one possible explanation. Another is that aliens have tampered with the election results. The first possible explanation is the only plausible one. Yet still we have to suffer through feints and dodges that imagine that the Mormonism isn’t what’s dragging Mitt down, such as National Review’s contention yesterday that Romney’s “trouble with blue-collar voters will not be so easily fixed.”

Blue-collar voters?!

That’s a problem, but it’s so tiny compared to the religious problem that it’s really not worth mentioning. Most of those blue-collar voters are evangelical voters, and it’s Mitt’s Mormonism, not his money, that troubles them most. And, in fact, those troubles would be fixed instantly if Mitt were to walk away from his faith.

Presto! Mitt’s now a Presbyterian. Trouble fixed.

So today, as I’m faced with headlines screaming “Romney looks weaker with every contest” and “Worst of outcomes for Mitt Romney,” I get increasingly frustrated with everyone’s insistence on ignoring the obvious. Mitt went into a region where he was able to be competitive among people who think he’s an agent of the Devil, and he managed to walk away from that region with almost as many delegates as the guy who won – and then widen his overall delegate lead with a Hawaii win. He lost the evangelical vote in Mississippi by only 8%, as opposed to when he lost the evangelical vote in Tennessee by 18% just one week earlier. That shows a candidate getting stronger, not weaker. That shows momentum, a momentum that misleading headlines and warped expectations are designed to squelch.

I don’t know if the headlines will be successful, but I do know that Mitt will continue to plod on, and that he’s doing far better than this Mormon ever thought he could. I feel I live in Bizarro World when the “worst of all outcomes for Mitt Romney” is that the guy continues to widen his lead.

Sexual Ignorance

So it seems that out brilliant state legislature has passed a bill that allows schools to stop teaching sex ed. From the Salt Lake Tribune:

“To replace the parent in the school setting, among people who we have no idea what their morals are, we have no ideas what their values are, yet we turn our children over to them to instruct them in the most sensitive sexual activities in their lives, I think is wrongheaded,” said Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden.

Groan.

In Utah, this is doubly stupid, because kids and parents already have the choice to opt out of sex ed if they’re concerned about what moral values are being imparted along with basic biology. Of course, this presumes that schools are really teaching “morals” and “values,” when, for the most part, they aren’t. Just this past year, I accompanied my twin boys Cornelius and Corbin as they attended their first “maturation” lectures, wherein any talk of values and morals gave way to discussions about when and why they should start using deodorant. I suppose a stink-free body is a value, but that’s pretty much as far as the school’s moral advocacy goes.

I doubt sex ed has changed all that much since I had it way back when, and I’m pretty sure sex itself hasn’t changed. While societal mores on the subject are markedly different than they were when I was first learning all the boring goodness re: sperms and ovums and the like, there are basic facts that every child ought to know, and those facts ought to be taught in school. Removing those facts from the school curriculum does not negate them, nor does it make it any less necessary that children learn them.

Oh, you don’t like those facts? Well, I don’t like algebra, but I’m not going to tell my school to stop teaching it.

I agree that it would be ideal if all parents had the time, ability, and confidence necessary to teach such things to their kids. Barring that, I think a really boring biology class is a much better place to learn this stuff than on the playground with that weird kid who has a mustache at the age of twelve and tells girls that they can get pregnant from sitting on a dirty toilet seat. Nixing legitimate sexual questions from approved academic discussions teaches values, all right – it teaches children that they should be ashamed or embarrassed when they wonder what’s happening to their bodies. It teaches them to trust urban legends and breathless rumors. It creates a taboo which mystifies basic biological facts and thus leads to Beavis-and-Buttheadism, where immature boys giggle whenever they hear the word “penis.”

(Huh huh. “Penis.” Huh huh. Huh huh.)

I think back to my own spotty sexual education, and I recall a discussion with a kid named Danny in the back of our station wagon on the way home from Little League. While my mom listened to the radio, Danny, in hushed whispers, told the rest of the carpool that we could go into a drug store and buy a condom any time we wanted to, and that he had done it once, or at least tried to, but then he decided he couldn’t go through with it.

I listened with rapt attention, not having the slightest idea what a so-called “condom” was. I could tell, however, that it was dirty and forbidden, but I had no idea who I could ask about it. And NO WAY would I have brought it up with my parents. In contrast, I would very much like my own children to know what a condom is and to be given that information in a setting where the straightforward, clinical explanation of same won’t pique their curiosity. Treating facts like really exciting secrets is a much greater enticement to misbehave than simply telling the truth.

That principle applies, incidentally, whether you’re teaching sexual biology or the sexual “values” and “morals” that have Senator Stuart Reid’s panties in a bunch. (Huh huh. “Panties.” Huh huh.) Allow me to share a somewhat embarrassing personal example.

When I was eleven years old, I received a copy of a pamphlet titled “For Young Men Only” written by Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It explains that young Mormon boys should be aware of something. I read the thing from beginning to end, and, for the life of me, I had no idea what that something was. Here are some of the more pertinent paragraphs.

I wish to explain something that will help you understand your young manhood and help you develop self-control. When this power begins to form, it might be likened to having a little factory in your body, one designed to produce the product that can generate life.

This little factory moves quietly into operation as a normal and expected pattern of growth and begins to produce the lifegiving substance. It will do so perhaps as long as you live. It works very slowly. That is the way it should be. For the most part, unless you tamper with it, you will hardly be aware that it is working at all.

As you move closer to manhood, this little factory will sometimes produce an oversupply of this substance. The Lord has provided a way for that to be released. It will happen without any help or without any resistance from you. Perhaps, one night you will have a dream. In the course of it the release valve that controls the factory will open and release all that is excess.

Now you, who are, in all likelihood, a literate, reasonably-educated adult, can read that and probably get a sense of the idea that Elder Packer is dancing around. Now try reading that to an eleven-year-old boy and see if he has the first clue as to what on earth you’re talking about. What little factory? What valve? What life-giving substance? Dreams about what? Is the factory unionized?

Again, other than the unionization issue, those were my questions. I didn’t understand this had anything to do with sex. (Then, as now, I considered the manufacturing sector to be wholly unerotic.) Had Elder Packer, or anyone else, been blunt enough to use real words and not tortured industrial euphemisms, it would have spared me a tremendous amount of unnecessary shame and embarrassment.

Now, is it true that some people might get the wrong message from a sex ed class in school? Sure. But my point is that people get bad messages when they’re out of school, too, even if the source supposedly shares your morals and values. I think, as a general rule, more information is better than less, and eliminating sources of legitimate information is not a good thing.

That’s why Mrs. Cornell and I talk about this stuff with our children as soon as they’re curious, with our oldest, Cleta, inquiring around the tender age of five. We hadn’t intended to address the subject that early on, but when she came to us with questions, we answered them openly and frankly, doing everything we could to give her no cause to be embarrassed. At the time she asked these questions, she knew that her aunt and uncle, who I’ll call Carl and Celia, were struggling in their attempts to get pregnant.

“So that’s where babies come from, huh?” she said.

Yes, we assured her.

“You know,” she mused thoughtfully, “someone ought to tell Carl and Celia about this.”