My Plan

I’m going to put this out there, even though someone might steal it. It just so happens that I have a foolproof plan to make over $100 billion per year – tax free!

It starts by building an island in international waters.

Building an island shouldn’t be too hard. All I need is some heavy industrial waste that I can pile into a mountain under the sea. Many people are trying to get rid of their heavy industrial waste, so if they’d just be so kind as to dump it in the middle of the ocean where I ask them to, I’d be more than happy to take it off their hands. I’d be more than happy to use an island nobody else is using, but I think everything’s pretty well mapped out now, and if I were to discover something, some other country might try to claim it. That’s no good. For this plan to work, I need a space that I can call my very own. I figure an island made of old cars and cement blocks will do nicely.

Once the island is built, I will claim it as the sovereign nation of Stallion Cornell.

I’ll probably need some kind of force field or ray gun to protect my claim, but I won’t be able to invent those until I start rolling in dough. (I admit, the lack of initial ray gun and force field funding is one flaw in an otherwise airtight strategy.) But the money should start coming in soon enough.

Once I have an island, I simply install a tube that reaches all the way down to the center of the earth. That sounds harder than it probably is. After all, I just built an island from nothing. What’s one more tube? Granted, this tube will have to be specially modified to automatically refine oil as it passes upward, but there are engineers who can handle those sorts of details. I’m the “Big Picture” guy, so I’m not too concerned about that.

With the tube installed, it will provide a virtually unlimited supply of free refined gasoline with no marginal cost. So then I will buy one of those gasoline handles they use at service stations, and I shall set up an automated process whereby tankers zoom up to my island, dock, and fill up with gasoline, for which I charge them a measly $1 per gallon. No other source of gas will be as cheap, so every tanker in the world will line up to gas up with the Stallion Cornell goods. So I sell at least 100 billion gallons a year, and all the money comes into the Bank of Stallion Cornell, which is incorporated on my cinder block island, so the tax laws are very lax, indeed.

With all that money, I pay myself a nominal salary and expense everything else. So the Stallion Cornellese government buys my house, my fleet of cars, my private jet, and my $49 million mansion at 973 5th Avenue, which used to be the LDS mission home back when my grandparents were mission presidents in Manhattan. (That’s right – I’ve run up and down that grand staircase many a time before I hit double digits, agedly speaking.)

That will be my base of operations as I funnel in ludicrous amounts of money to every cause and project that strikes my interest. I’ll donate at least a billion dollars per year to stem cell research on behalf of my daughter, Cleta. I’ll create a theatre district in downtown Salt Lake City where they’ll produce my musical, Neverland, along with other vanity projects that nobody will be able to stop. I may buy Simon and Schuster and publish whatever crap I decide to spew out on whatever whim strikes me. I’ll donate zillions of dollars to SuperPacs that support non-Tea Party, mainstream Republican candidates. And the best part is that nobody will know I’m a multibillionaire, because all the checks will come from this faceless Stallion Cornell Oil Company that cannot be taxed in the United States. (Except that might make political donations hard. Maybe I’ll rethink that. I’m sure there’s a loophole somewhere.) So I won’t have to worry about every sad sack hitting me up for cash. Get your own self-refining-oil-producing-earth-core-pipeline in international waters!

I’ll buy HBO and fire Bill Maher. I’ll run non sequitur television ads that say “blue is for chocolate” and “I eat a lot of eggs.” I’ll also drive cross country on a Harley Davidson, beginning in Salt Lake City and going west on the 80, and then north up PCH until I hit Canada. I’ll arc over Canada and come out over by Maine, wherein I’ll go down the east coast and trace the border down to Texas, after which I’ll cycle through Central and South America and catch a ferry at the bottom of Peru to London, where I’ll cycle through Europe, Russia, China, and then to Australia. Don’t worry – I’ll still blog, and you’ll be able to reach me on Facebook.

So, summing up: To make this happen, all I need is:

1. An island made of garbage in international waters that I can declare as a sovereign nation.
2. A pipeline that plumbs the center of the earth and refines crude oil as it bubbles up from the planetary core
3. An automated mechanism to pump this oil into tankers.
4. A Bank of Stallion Cornell that will collect the money and issue me a credit card that I can use for expenses.
5. A force field/ray gun combo to protect my cash cow from poachers.
6. Your mom.

If you have any of the above items, or no someone who does, please leave a comment below as to how I can gather them from you, free of charge.

Remember, this was my idea first. If anyone steals it, you know I’ll sue, don’t you?

Whose Fault Is It?

Watch. Then we shall discuss.

It’s the standard question that crops up in every presidential election cycle: Are you better off than you were four years ago? Personal disclosure: I’m not. I’m making less than half the money I made in 2008.

But is that really the president’s fault?

Back in the 1990s, I was often disgusted with Clintonites who touted all of Bubba’s major accomplishments – a balanced budget, robust growth, and welfare reform. Why did Bill get to take the credit? Clinton opposed all those things until Newt Gingrich shoved them down his throat. (Yes, I know – that’s a disturbing image for a number of reasons.) People who praised President Clinton couldn’t cite a specific thing he had actually done that could account for our national prosperity, other than sign into law all the things he had decried in the Contract for America. For six years, Clinton proposed nothing on his own, beyond trifles like school uniforms, V chips, and midnight basketball. He spent his entire presidency playing small ball after he got his electoral head handed to him in the 1994 midterms. (Yes, another disturbing image. Metaphors involving Bill Clinton are always double entendres, whether you want them to be or not.)

So here we are in 2012, and instead of a president trying to take credit for Republican accomplishments, we have one that’s trying to get his predecessor to take all the blame. President Obama tells us that “frankly, the [Bush] mess has been bigger than I think a lot of people anticipated,” so we’re supposed to be patient with the fact that it’s taking more than three years to clean it up.

That begs the question: what, exactly, constitutes the Bush mess?

Well, it turns out that specifics are pretty hard to come by. Usually, the answer to that question leads into a discussion about unfunded and unnecessary wars or some such, but arguing that heavy military spending is the reason we’ve had sky-high unemployment and underemployment for over three years doesn’t make much sense. Then there’s the housing bubble, which was a worldwide phenomenon and therefore very hard to attribute to specific action by W., although not for lack of trying.

But okay. You want to blame Bush? Fine. I think you’re confusing partisan emotions with facts, but I can’t stop you. So go right ahead. But if that’s the way you’re going to write the story, then you also have to tell me what Obama has been doing to make it all better.

Yeah, good luck with that.

Let’s review just three of President Obama’s major accomplishments.

1. A gargantuan health care bill that nobody has read, nobody understands, and which places onerous new financial burdens on the private sector, in addition to now being projected to cost twice as much as originally estimated.

2. A trillion-dollar stimulus that failed in its intended purpose to keep unemployment below 8% and collapsed under the weight of bureaucracy, patronage, and corruption.

3. Dodd-Frank, a bill that massively increases financial regulations and makes it almost impossible for companies to prepare initial public offerings of corporate stock.

None of these things have cleaned up the mess. At best, they’ve just smeared around what was already there. In the case of Dodd-Frank and Obamacare, they’ve dumped buckets of new, fresh mud all over the nation’s floor. (Clinton isn’t involved in this metaphor, so I think we’re safe.) Can you cite me a single instance where President Obama has made it easier to do business in this country instead of harder? Where he has favored the growth of the private sector over the public sector? You can try, but it’s not an easy case to make. If it were, Obama would be making it. And he isn’t. Instead, he’s still trying to parcel out blame.

I am not one to subscribe to the theory that this or any president determines my course in life. I cannot, then, attribute my current economic circumstances to anything President Obama has done. But there are plenty of people who will. And that is the fact that gives me more confidence than I’ve ever had that Mitt Romney might actually win this thing come November.

McGonagall’s Legacy: In Praise of Good Badness

About twenty years ago, I completed the first draft of my first play. Titled The Butcher’s Apprentice, it was based on the same premise as the box office flop Anonymous – i.e. Shakespeare was really Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. The whole thing was narrated by William Shaxper of Stratford, who I wrote as a sort of Cockney country bumpkin. I dutifully shoehorned every biographical detail about de Vere that supported the Oxfordian theory into the narrative, whether it belonged there or not, and that gave the whole thing the flavor of a staged Wikipedia article. I topped it all off with a really lame attempt at writing colloquial Elizabethan dialogue, and presto – the turkey was done. I had a colossal stinker of a play on my hands.

I gave it to an accomplished playwright friend of mine to read, and he offered excellent suggestions for improvement, all of which involved performing major surgery in restructuring the play, the plot, and the dialogue. I’ve written at least a dozen drafts since then. Nowadays, decades later, I still dabble with it sporadically – it’s much better, although I’m pretty sure no one would want to produce it. (Don’t worry – thus concludes the Oxfordian portion of this post. No more Shakespeare conspiracies from here on out.)

My friend recognized that my first stab at playwrighting was rough going, but he also acknowledged that such is to be expected, and that that shouldn’t discourage me from going forward. He also gave me a piece of advice that I’ll always remember:

“Keep in mind,” he told me, “that it’s just as hard to write a bad play as it is to write a good one.”

That’s stuck with me, partially because, in the strictest sense, it isn’t exactly true. If I were to set out to write a bad play, I could do it fairly easily. I’d use some kind of random text generator and produce an incomprehensible piece of dramatic nonsense within minutes. Or I could create a handful of characters and cut and paste their dialogue from the spam cluttering up my email junk folder. The play might have a bigger/longer/harder theme, and it might not even be in English or any recognizable language, but it would certainly be bad.

Incidentally, that’s always been one of my pet peeves with Mel Brooks’ The Producers, both the movie and the musical, when Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom set out to create a Broadway flop. To fail, all they had to do was gather up a bunch of homeless people, give them no script, and put them on a stage that was poorly lit, with no set or orchestra to speak of. They could call it Reality: The Musical, and their entire audience would be out the door within the first fifteen minutes. Instead, they create a rather polished production with talented singers, dancers, and actors. They actually worked as hard on their bad play as they would have on a good one, and it paid off, although not as they intended.

And that, of course, illustrates the truth of what my friend told me – it’s just as hard to write a bad play as a good one if, all along, you’re trying to write a good play. I tried to write a masterpiece. Instead, I wrote a piece of hud, but not for lack of effort.

Which brings me to my latest discovery: William Topaz McGonagall, the man who many of the literati view as the worst poet in history.

McGonagall was a 19th Century Scottish weaver who, sometime around his 52nd birthday, had an epiphany, which he described thusly:

I seemed to feel as it were a strange kind of feeling stealing over me. A flame… seemed to kindle up my entire frame, along with a strong desire to write poetry. I began to pace backwards and forwards in the room, trying to shake off all thought of writing poetry; but the more I tried, the more strong the sensation became. It was so strong, I imagined that the pen was in my right hand, and a voice crying, “Write! Write!”

When forced to confront the written results of that encouraging cry, one is left to wonder what it was that Mr. McGonagall’s muse had against him. Witness, for instance, this stanza from the epitaph he composed for Sir John Ogilvy:

Alas! Sir John Ogilvy is dead, aged eighty-seven,
But I hope his soul is now in heaven;
He was a public benefactor in many ways,
Especially in erecting an asylum for imbecile children to spend their days.

It’s bad poetry, yes. It’s also delightful. The total contempt for meter and pace, along with the ridiculously inappropriate mention of imbecile children in asylums, give this bit of dreck a color and flavor that you can’t find in most literary garbage. McGonagall was trying very hard to write good poetry, which makes his spectacular failure to do so even more compelling.

I posted this McGonagall couplet on Facebook, and only one of my Scottish friends recognized it for what it is. I suspect most people didn’t realize that it was supposed to rhyme:

And when life’s prospects may at times appear dreary to ye,
Remember Alois Senefelder, the discoverer of Lithography.

Or perhaps you’ll be inspired by this tribute to his physician:

He told me at once what was ailing me;
He said I have been writing too much poetry,
And from writing poetry I would have to refrain,
Because I was suffering from inflammation of the brain.

Lovely. It reminds me of the Christmas letters we get from relatives who complain about urinary tract infections.

As for Mr. McGonagall, utimately, such inflammation didn’t stop him. He spent the rest of his life writing and performing poetry, despite the fact that he was frequently pelted with vegetables by the audience. He sent a sample of his poetry to the Queen and received a polite rejection letter back, which thanked him for the efforts. For the remainder of his days, he referred himself as “the Queen’s poet,” as he considered that form letter commendation to be genuine praise. He didn’t care what others thought of him, and he pressed onward. Today, you can still find plenty of samples of his deliberate doggerel when his more lettered – and more talented – peers have been long forgotten.

What’s the moral of the story? There are several. I love that McGonagall didn’t discover his “gift” until he had passed 50, proving it’s never too late to start churning out crap. I love that McGonagall refused to accept criticism and willed himself into history through tenacity and grit, not talent. I also think he proves that it does take as much effort to write bad stuff as good stuff, but that effort, in itself, is worth something.

To get all religious on you, I belong to a Church that teaches that we will be judged not just by what we do, but why we do it. If we mean well, it matters.

“For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.”
– Doctrine and Covenants 137:9

I take comfort in knowing that it is the road to heaven, not hell, that is paved with good intentions. That’s a great lesson to draw from a master of drivel.

Welcome Back, Utah GOP

So I was a delegate to the Utah Republican State Convention on Saturday. It was a surreal experience, and, ultimately, a positive one.

Two years ago, I found myself on the outside looking in as the Tea Party swept into power and replaced a respected U.S. Senator with Mike Lee, a lunatic who wants to repeal the constitutional amendment that made slaves citizens and completely abolish Social Security.

Orrin Hatch watched that happen and spent two years pretending to be the king of the Tea Party, abandoning any pretense of reasonableness and voting in lockstep with Lee. At the same time, he hired the entire corrupt political apparatus that swept Lee into power and groveled to every right wing loonbat who came calling. He especially sucked up to David Kirkham, the dippy head of the Utah Tea Party who was instrumental in Lee’s victory two years previous.

What a difference two years makes.

The Tea Party was stymied at every turn on Saturday. Kirkham’s status as kingmaker was destroyed by his ineffectual attempt to unseat the sitting governor. Hatch was forced into a primary, yes, but just barely, and by Dan Lilljenquist, who is a bright, practical legislator and not a wacky ideologue. Ironically, Hatch’s two year attempt to mutate his political persona may not have helped him much, as his support came from a massive backlash to the Tea Party coup that took place in the last election cycle. Tea Party darlings Morgan Philpot, Carl Wimmer, and a host of other miscreants watched their political ambitions go up in smoke.

Especially encouraging was the success of Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, who will now be the Republican candidate for Utah’s fourth congressional seat. Mark Shurtleff, Utah’s Attorney General who has repeatedly solicited large political contributions from people who are under investigation from his office, championed his candidate, Carl Wimmer, by dismissing Mia Love as a “novelty,” presumably because she’s African American, female, and Mormon. Newsflash, Mr. Shurtleff – she’s also brilliant, and she stands head and shoulders above the tired hack you were backing. Oh, and you’re kind of a racist besides. (Shurtleff has since apologized.)

So, once again, in Utah it is acceptable to be both reasonable and Republican.

All in all, Saturday was a good day.

 

 

Meet Mitt’s Mormons

I begin with an experience that doesn’t paint me in the best light, religiously speaking.

The year was 1986. All of my Mormon friends had fled Los Angeles for Provo, Utah and Brigham Young University, and I, since I considered myself too “sophisticated” – i.e. arrogant – to subject myself to a Mormon majority experience, remained in the City of Angels to attend the University of Southern California and pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theatre. I prided myself on my ability to live the gospel in a more hostile environment, but, at the same time, I didn’t want to call attention to myself, so I rarely said a word about my faith to any of my classmates.

The BFA program brought me into closer proximity with my classmates than most university students experience in more traditional programs. There were about twenty-five of us, and we all took the same classes with the same professors, and, when the day was over, we all participated in the same extracurricular theatrical productions. These people were essentially the only people I saw, day in and day out, but I still didn’t connect with them all that well.

Why? The Mormon thang, naturally.

Because I was unwilling to talk about my faith, I was holding back a huge part of myself in ways I didn’t fully realize until much, much later. I was frightened to share my opinion on subjects where my religion would be an issue. I also ducked out of cast parties and other social occasions where I would be forced to account for my non-imbibing of adult beverages. I therefore created an artificial distance between me and some very good people, and I refused to provide an explanation for why I was doing it.

This came to a head when another Mormon classmate attended one of my classes shortly after an area conference in which Ezra Taft Benson, then President of the Church, addressed the faithful. “Wasn’t it inspiring to see the Prophet?” he asked me – in full view of other people who had no idea what he was talking about. Yes, I thought – but can’t we talk about this someplace else? I hemmed and hawed and tried to make little jokes, which disappointed my Mormon friend and confused the other ones.

“What does he mean, you saw the Prophet?” one of my genuinely curious friends asked. I don’t remember what my mealy-mouthed, weasel-worded answer was, but rest assured that you probably won’t be finding it quoted in the Ensign anytime soon.

I mention this because the Washington Post has a fascinating piece today where Republicans are telling Mitt to “own” his Mormonism. Now that he’s the presumptive nominee, he doesn’t have to worry as much about evangelical resistance to his faith, so he shouldn’t shy away from it. Right now, Mitt’s treating his Mormonism the way I did in 1986 – it’s important, yes, but can’t we talk about something else? The result, as it was twenty five years ago, is artificial distance, awkwardness, and a sense of strangeness that Mitt really doesn’t deserve. Some mistakenly interpret that distance as “richness.” Mitt’s so out of touch because he spent all his days at the yachting club eating caviar and sipping Chablis.

No, he didn’t. While he was a bishop and stake president, he spent all of his days visiting widows, going to Scout Camp, ministering to the poor, counseling troubled youths and troubled adults and fixing troubled marriages, and, above all, conducting and presiding at gazillions of really boring meetings.

19th century Mormon weirdness looks pretty strange in the plain light of a 21st Century day, but the practical aspects of Mitt’s faith hold up very well under scrutiny. It would help Mitt immensely if 60 Minutes or some such were to take a tour of Welfare Square in Salt Lake City and see just how remarkable the Church’s humanitarian efforts are, for example. Or perhaps they could attend a Mormon sacrament meeting, where volunteers, not paid clergy, provide the inspirational and (usually) unloony messages every week. Real life contemporary Mormons are actually quite boring, but it’s a good boring – a reassuring, kindhearted sort of boring.  See? Mormons don’t spend all day sacrificing goats and perfecting their voodoo skills – they fall asleep in their pews and bring really bad-tasting red Hawaiian Punch to a never-ending series of potluck dinners. More importantly, they also look out for each other, spiritually, emotionally, and temporally. Seeing that side of the Church would go a long way toward diffusing explosive misconceptions, and they would also provide valuable insight into a man who has purposely been holding the best part of himself in reserve.

The nasty anti-Mormon pieces have already started, and more are undoubtedly on their way. Will there be a commensurate amount of positive press? Well, that’s largely in Mitt’s hands. If he chooses to “own his Mormonism,” then the press will pay attention, and it will likely be a net positive both for both Mitt and the church.

If not, well, he might end up like me. Believe me, nobody wants that.

Feeding my Persecution Complex

So Daniel has diagnosed me with a “Persecution Complex” for my (over?)sensitivity to attacks on my faith by those on the left. In honor of my new condition, I thought I’d share some of my paranoid reasons for irrationally identifying hostility toward my faith from the tolerant, open-minded folk who are more enlightened than a troglodyte like me.

By the way, did you know Mitt Romney is a Mormon?

Certainly ABC, NBC, and CBS want you to know that. They’ve made 57 mentions of Governor Romney’s faith since October 31 of last year. Between January 1, 2011 and last Halloween, they mentioned Romney’s Mormonism 100 times. Is this a good thing?

Put it in this context, as shared by Newsbusters.org, a conservative media watchdog site:

Unlike their colleagues at MSNBC, network reporters can’t openly attack Romney’s faith. But they can make sure nobody forgets what it is by including it in nearly every story that mentions him. They can wonder if “Mitt Romney`s Mormon faith is problematic” to Christians, as CBS’s Bill Whitaker did in January. They can cite “misconceptions” about polygamy, as NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren did in February. Last fall, the Culture and Media Institute released “Baptism by Fire,” a study of how ABC, NBC and CBS covered the religion of the Republican primary contenders versus that of Democrat candidates in the 2008 cycle. CMI found that Republicans’ faith was discussed seven times more than Democrats, and their faith was 13 times more likely to be criticized or challenged.

Well, wait a minute. What about Barack Obama’s faith? Wasn’t it all Jeremiah Wright all the time for a while back there? Actually, no.

Not surprisingly, the networks gave Barack Obama a near-total pass on his religion. Questions about Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, surfaced in early in March 2007 and were covered on Fox News and in newspapers, but it took an entire year for any of the networks to mention Wright. Out of 11 mentions of Obama’s religion, not one challenged, criticized or took his statements at anything other than face value.

So, it seems, if I have a persecution complex, so does Newsbusters, who concluded their report with the following:

Now, with Romney all but certain to be the Republican nominee, the networks won’t be dialing back their obsession with Mitt’s Mormonism anytime soon. Whether to remind moderates that Mormonism is a little “weird,” or to exploit what they see as a division between evangelicals and conservative Catholics on one hand and Mormons on the other, they’ll continue to mention Romney’s faith.

Yes, they will. And when they mention it, it’s usually not complimentarily, although not everyone goes as far as Lawrence O’Donnell did when he claimed that “Mormonism was created by a guy in upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it.”

This is such a colossally ignorant statement that I don’t know where to begin. I’m not really interested in defending the doctrine of plural marriage – I discussed that at length here – but all you need to know is that by the time polygamy even became a consideration, Joseph had published a new volume of scripture, organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and had been married to the former Emma Hale for several years. If the first time he’d thought about religion was when he was caught in the act, so to speak, then one has to explain where the heck the Book of Mormon came from.

But I should be mollified. After all, O’Donnell “apologized” today. Watch it and see if it warms your heart as much as it did mine. Because from my vantage point, any apology that relies on an “if” isn’t really an apology at all. Behold:

“I am truly sorry if I said something inaccurate about Joseph Smith,” he says, “and I am happy to provide time on this show to a Church of Latter Day Saints spokesman to correct any inaccuracy.” [Emphasis mine.]

If? You’re not sure, Lawrence? Is it just that those ignorant Mormons are making a lot of noise? Replace “if” with “that,” Larry, and then maybe we’ll talk. It would also help if you got the name of the church right, too.

This is not unprecedented. When Romney ran against Ted Kennedy in 1994, Kennedy loudly and vociferously beat up on the Mormons, only to backtrack when Romney likened Kennedy’s bigotry to the crap JFK railed against in the speech that made Rick Santorum want to throw up. Kennedy quickly apologized, but that gave him the best of both worlds.He could wash his hands of the thing and pretend it was just an innocent slip up, but the damage had been done; the message had been delivered. Hey, Mr. Catholic Dock Worker in Shrewsbury – this guy is not one of you. 

To work my persecution complex into overdrive, then, this is the same message I see when a DNC hack attacks Mitt for being “old fashioned” and Ann Romney for “not working a day in her life” because she was a stay-at-home mom with five kids. After all, what kind of woman has five kids in this day and age? What kind of woman thinks children are a bigger priority than a paycheck? Weird women. Religious women. They don’t have to use the word “Mormon,” but the message is clear – this woman is foreign, alien, strange – she is not one of you.

So am I being oversensitive? Perhaps. But as garbage like this keeps coming down the pike, I’m not ready to put on my tin foil hat just yet.

UPDATE: I’m not alone in my complex, it seems. National Review has an online poll with this question:

“Will the Left make Mormonism an issue?”

92% of respondents say yes.

The Stupidity Narrative

It seems some have mistakenly interpreted yesterday’s post as a defense of Sarah Palin.

It was not a defense of Sarah Palin.

While I, like many, was initially impressed with Ms. Palin’s speech to the Republican National Convention in 2008, it quickly became apparent that she was, in the words of Peggy Noonan, a nincompoop. My point, then, was that the nation’s knowledge of Palin’s nincompoopery came by means of Saturday Night Live, which acted as the delivery vehicle, not the creator, of the Palin Stupidity Narrative.

The Stupidity Narrative, generically speaking, assumes that its target barely has enough brainpower to generate enough energy to keep their limbs moving. It seems to be a more frequently used tool in the arsenal of the left than the right, although the fact is that there are people on both sides of the aisle who deserve to be labeled as too dippy to function in polite society.

Case in point: can anyone find an example of a Republican representative as stupid as the guy who was worried that an enlarged military presence on Guam might cause the island to capsize?

So, clearly, there are some people who deserve to have their story filtered through the Stupidity Narrative. Sadly, Sarah “Revere-warned-the-British” Palin is one of them. But some people get labeled as imbeciles who don’t deserve it, while others who are objectively boneheads escape the Stupidity Narrative scot-free.

Allow me to elaborate.

I was a Mormon missionary in Scotland during all of1988, so I essentially missed the entire presidential election of the same year. When I came home, I was startled to discover that America had apparently elected its densest citizen to the office of Vice President.

It seemed like every time Dan Quayle his mouth, something subhumanly asinine would tumble out.

You remember all the examples as well as I do. He claimed that President Roosevelt took to the television airwaves after the stock market crash of 1929, even though Roosevelt was then the governor of New York and television didn’t really exist. He dropped the F bomb at one of the president’s most important bill signings, and he made racist comments about Indians in a local Dunkin’ Donuts. He flubbed the lines of his own swearing in, condescendingly referred to a prominent black politician as “clean” and “articulate,” plagiarized an entire speech from a British labor party leader, claimed to have finished in the top of his law school class when he actually graduated as #76 out of 85, invited a paraplegic supporter to stand up at a rally, told the Irish prime minister he was sorry his mother died when she was still very much alive, referred to an Internet URL as a “website number” and later said “the number-one job facing the middle class… happens to be… a three-letter word: jobs. J-O-B-S, jobs,” called Justice John Paul Stevens “Justice Stewart” and called Barack Obama “Barack America.”

Barack America? Oh, wait.

No, Quayle didn’t do any of those things. He just misspelled “potato.” The previous laundry list of stupidity burbled forth from the mouth of our current veep, the supposedly brilliant elder statesman Joe Bunion. Or is it Paul Biden? Can someone use the Google and interface the website number where I can find out?

Yet the narrative is that Quayle’s a stone cold idiot, whereas Biden’s a genius and a lovable character. How is that fair? An you imagine the endless stream of jokes if Quayle mistakenly referred to a prominent research scientist as “Dr. Pepper,” the way Biden did last week?

It’s also true that it’s very hard to assign the Stupidity Narrative to a politician who has already been defined as something else. By the time Rick Santorum made mention of “the brave men and women who signed the Declaration of Independence,” he had already been tagged with the Scary Religious Zealot Narrative, so piling on with a stupidity label would have been overkill.

Of course, Mitt Romney has said some stupid things, too, but it’s doubtful the Stupidity Narrative is going to take hold with him. Why should it? I have feeling that the Mormon Weirdo Narrative will do very well in its first time around the track.

Laughing at/with Mitt

So Santorum is out. He was inevitable before, but Mitt is now the de facto nominee. So what should he do next?

He should host Saturday Night Live.

That’s not a joke.

On Facebook, I’ve been having a long-running discussion with my friend Daniel about the amount and the intensity of the Mormon-themed attacks against Mitt that are coming down the pike. He insists they aren’t coming; I think he’s wrong. I do, however, think they aren’t going to come in a full front assault – they’re going to come in the form of “harmless’ comedy. You’re not going to see a whole lot of “we hate the Mormons” messages, but you are going to see more of Stephen Colbert circumcising hot dogs to turn dead Mormons into Jews.

I would prefer the “we hate the Mormons” messages.

Let me demonstrate. Anyone remember this slice of heaven?

Gay rights activist and brilliant pundit Camille Paglia said of this hateful little spot, “Want to cause a nice long backlash to gay rights? That’s the way to do it.” The people who produced this thing didn’t do their side any favors, nor did they do any damage to their enemies. People can easily recognize ignorance and bigotry when it’s exposed to direct sunlight.

But, to paraphrase Mary Poppins, a spoonful of humor helps the prejudice go down.

There aren’t going to be scads of articles and negative ads about how awful the Mormons are, but, in the end, a thousand blog posts aren’t worth a single cutting joke in John Stewart monologue. Now that we’re heading into the general election season, the dialogue is no longer going to be driven by political junkies who write blogs that may or may not have the word “moist” in their titles. It’s going to be driven by real people who avoid politics unless Leno/Letterman/Stewart/O’Brien bring them to their attention. That’s where Mitt’s going to get killed.

If you doubt that, then think back eight years and ask yourself which hurt the Republican ticket more – Sarah Palin’s disastrous interview with Katie Couric, or Tina Fey as Palin chirping “I can see Russia from my house?”

People still quote that line today as if Palin actually said it. She didn’t. But unless you’re a Republican activist who thinks Palin walks on water, or you’re a Bill Maher junkie and you think Palin is synonymous with unspeakable vulgarities describing female genitalia, your image of Palin was likely shaped more by Fey’s caricature than by Palin herself.

Mitt’s already a popular SNL target, with Jason Sudeikis playing him as a weird, pandering automaton.

Mormonism has been mentioned several times, although it has yet to be the central focus of any sketches. Sudeikis-as-Romney thanked Alec Baldwin’s Rick Perry for not playing “the Mormon card,” and, in one strange reference, Sudeikis shows up as Jesus in a Tim Tebow sketch and offhandedly comments that “Mormonism is true. Every word.” As the GOP nominee, the SNL folks are going to be looking for more material to fill the demand for Romney mockery, and Mormonism comes tailor made for just such an occasion.

The best thing Mitt could do, then, is to get out in front of it.

He’s delivered Letterman Top Ten Lists with grace and aplomb,

and he’s smart enough to think on his feet and look like a good sport. It will be much harder to mock him if he shows early on that he’s willing to get in on the joke.

Other politicos have hosted SNL, but usually they wait until the election’s over, or at least until right before the election, when the narrative has hardened and there’s no changing anyone’s mind. Mitt still has time, and if he gets out in front of this thing, he would do something unexpected and interesting, and it would likely do him a whole lot of good.

A Bad, Bad Idea

 

So it’s Thursday. I haven’t written a post since Monday. I’m going to be traveling tomorrow. So this is my one shot to write something profound to take you into the weekend – and beyond.

The problem is that all the pressing issues of the day are really tiresome. Is there anything left to say about the Trayvon Martin case other than everything everyone though initially was wrong, and that NBC reallyneeds to fire somebody? Golly, with Mitt solidly on the road to 1,114 delegates, Rick Santorum ought to drop out like Newt Gingrich did. (What? Gingrich is still in the race? How can you tell?) President Obama is now saying it would be “unprecedented” for the Supreme Court to strike donw an unconstitutional laws, which is true if you pretend there aren’t any precedents. And blah blah blah blah blah…
No, what I really want to talk about is this, perhaps the worst idea in rock and roll ever.

Paul [McCartney]’s son, 34-year-old singer/songwriter James McCartney, told the BBC that he’d be up for forming a band with some other musically inclined Scions of the Fabs. The group could be called “The Beatles—The Next Generation,” the BBC interview helpfully suggested.

Yes, that’s right. The kids of the Beatles are threatening to form their own band. Just as Iran should never be allowed to gain a nuclear weapon, the civilized world must stand united to ensure that this abomination never happens.

In the first place, have you seen James McCartney?

He looks like some kind of kewpie doll gone to seed.

Then there’s George Harrison’s hippie kid and Sean, spawn of Yoko. Can Yoko Ono DNA coexist with any band associated with the Beatles? Behold, I say unto thee, nope! Fortunately, none of Ringo’s kids are up for it, which means probably Ringo himself would have to sit in, as he doesn’t have anything better to do.

I cannot define why this idea is so colossally sucky, but if you search your feelings, you will know it to be true. It’s terrible for the same reason that Bill Murray won’t do Ghostbusters 3. Terrible like the upcoming Triplets movie with Arnold, DeVito, and Eddie Murphy will be terrible. It’s terrible for the reasons why Blues Brothers 2000 was a crime against nature. Its terrible because James McCartney said this:

[Growing up, I] dreamt of being better than the Beatles. I’m not sure if I can do that. If anything, I would love to be equal to the Beatles— but even that’s quite tough.

Really? It’s “quite tough?” Not at all! I did it last Thursday. Rosie O’Donnell does it every day of the week. Oprah can do it when she passes gas in her sleep – and she passes a lot of gas, let me tell you! Everyone can be equal to the Beatles. All it takes is a little bit of elbow grease, perhaps a handful of some hallucinogenic drugs, and a fierce defiance of reality.

Gaaargh! Why do I live in a world where people can even think of these kinds of things?

On the plus side, however, Keith Olbermann is unemployed. Maybe he can be the drummer. I’d pay to see that.

Me Am Conservative

Kari Norgaard, the Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon who looks unsettlingly like Gary Busey in drag, has diagnosed me as diseased because of my unwillingness to embrace the increasingly convoluted and contradictory assumptions inherent in the latest faddish thinking re: anthropogenic global warming.

In other words, global warming skeptics aren’t just wrong; they’re sick.

This is just a variation on a popular theme: that conservatism isn’t a legitimate way of thinking, and that it’s adherents aren’t just wrong; they’re defective.

That’s the rationale behind a study released a couple months back claiming that conservatives are biologically dumber than liberals.  Not having seen the study, I can’t debunk it directly, and, being a conservative, I probably wouldn’t be able to understand it, as it probly yooses big werds and stufff. But reading the short summaries in the news articles shows me there’s some intellectual sleight of hand that undermines the central premise.

The researchers claim, for instance, that “individuals with lower cognitive abilities … gravitate towards more socially conservative right-wing ideologies that maintain the status quo” because it makes them feel “safe.” In other words, then, the word “conservative” is used to describe someone who is protective of the way things as they currently are and resistant to change. But that’s a bait-and-switch. If the status quo is liberal, is it really appropriate to say that those who are resistant to change are conservatives?

I addressed this in a post a few years back, but since most of you aren’t going to click through and read my old stuff, then let me sum up: The word “conservative” has two distinct definitions, and you don’t get to mix and match them. In one sense, you are conservative if you want to keep things exactly the way they are. In a political sense, you are conservative if you want to limit the size and influence of centralized government. So if you’ve got a big centralized government and you’re a political conservative, then the status quo is not your friend.

The fact is that great conservatives are more than happy to mix things up, while plenty of liberals cling to an ossified New Deal ideology that hasn’t changed in 75 years. I’d have to see the research questions to prove the point, but it’s likely the study didn’t include questions like “do you think Social Security should be modified to include private accounts, or should the program stay unchanged?” The conservative/right wing answers would lean toward private accounts. But the conservative/no change answers would all say “leave it alone.” Try the same thing with school vouchers, increased domestic oil production, and welfare reform. What positions on these issues are more likely to make a dumb person feel safe?

And who determines what questions represent a “conservative” point of view? Case in point: the individual health care mandate at the core of the current debate over Obamacare. When Mitt Romney signed the Massachusetts health care bill that’s still getting him into trouble, such a mandate was a conservative alternative to a single-payer system. Now the individual mandate is considered a left-wing assault on the Constitution. So is that idea conservative or liberal?

Determining whether or not you’re conservative is not like testing whether or not the sky is blue. The definition of “blue” is not really in dispute. The definition of “conservative” is. How you define that term inescapably reflects a personal bias, and, inevitably, that bias becomes apparent over time. You’ll notice that the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute don’t have a lot of published research on this question. It’s always liberals with an axe to grind who find this subject fascinating. It’s guys like Satoshi Kanazawa, a left-wing “evolutionary psychologist” who published a similar study in 2010 that nobody cites anymore.

Kanazawa’s findings were a really big deal at the time they were published, and the conclusions were heralded as further evidence of the indisputable fact that if you vote for someone with an R by their name, you’re brain damaged. But that only lasted until the kook who conducted the study published a not-so-charming article the next year titled “Why Black Women Are Less Attractive Than Other Women.” I can’t link to the piece, because it no longer exists online. Needless to say, Kanazawa was fired; his work was discredited, and it’s as if the 2010 study never existed.

What’s sad about this is that it’s a sophisticated way of promulgating a logically fallacious argument. Or, in smaller words for you dumb right wingers, it’s a way to insult conservative people in order to avoid responding to conservative ideas.

Think of it this way. I know some really, really dumb people.  All of them, however, believe the sky is blue. So by proving these people are dumb, do you prove the sky is green? If you prove conservatives have lower grades and test scores than liberals*, do you therefore make the case that we need a single-payer healthcare system? Does a professor who attributes scientific skepticism to disease no longer have to account for well over a decade of stagnant global temperatures?

Ad hominem arguments don’t become efficacious when they’re gussied up and presented as science. Or, in words my fellow troglodytes can understand, sticks and stones may break my bones, but you liberals are still wrong.

_____________

* George W. Bush had better grades than both Al Gore and John Kerry. Fact.